From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy and I have been peeling back the layers of the dressage onion for way more years than I'd like to admit, especially since we're not nearly as far along as I think we should be. With Speedy looking at retirement, I have finally been forced to start working the big brown horse in earnest. It's not like we've been doing nothing the past six years, but now I am motivated like never before.
We're going to a USDF show at the end of October whether we're "ready" or not. We've done a couple of schooling shows and a couple of CDS shows, and while those have tremendous value, they don't count in the eyes of the dressage world. It is at USDF shows where you really get to put your money where your mouth is. So when I scheduled a mid-week lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner at trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, we put Izzy to work with an eye to actually showing him off at a show rather than merely surviving a show.
While watching the video that Pivo recorded, I think I heard the words more and bend and forward at least 5,000 times. Sometimes they were used seperately, but usually they were strung together, more bend ... more, more, more, MORE BEND! MORE FORWARD! Poor Chemaine. She either thinks me deaf or dumb or possibly both. As a side note, if you are thinking about getting a Pivo, if you don't have a barn full of friends willing to record, if you ride alone, GET THIS GADGET, it really is that cool.
Like I always do, I told Chemaine what I wanted to work on - Izzy's just so flat. I need him to have more bounce. Oh, you mean he needs more swing. Well okay, that sounds good, too! When Chemaine asked me how I thought we would get more swing, I immediately said we need more forward because that seems to be the solution to everything. I was half-way right. What Izzy needs is more sideways with forward. According to her, moving him laterally with get him more supple in the hind end which will allow him to step more deeply which will create more swing. Okay, roger that.
Chemaine walked over to two of my corners and rearranged the poles to create a fan of three cavaletti poles. And then she put Izzy and me through five different exercises using the cavaletti poles to either start an exercise or to finish it.
By the end of the lesson, Izzy was snorting and swinging. Those two things seem to go together. At least they do when he's doing them. Of course, we also did some canter, and that was just a bunch of flex in, flex out, go down if he'll take it. We did it on the circle, around the entire dressage court, on smaller circles, and on the serpentine. That's something that I need to do every single ride. He wants to be so tight in his back and neck at the canter, but it's because he doesn't quite believe me that relaxing feels so much better. He's getting there though.
The Pivo gave me access to so much more information. It's tough for a trainer to teach well and capture great video. By being able to rewatch the entire lesson, I got a clearer sense of where Izzy started, and where he ended up. I was able to see the exact moment that he gave or the exact moment when he got something. An hour of video takes a long time to watch, but it's like getting a second lesson for free.
The video also showed me that we're not as far "behind" as I think we are. We definitely have more nice moments than bad. And in another month, I am excited to see where we'll be.
I'm feeling very punchy at the moment. I've been sitting at my desk working for 14 hours, so no telling what you're about to get. This is supposed to be yet another Pivo post, but my mind may wander.
I had the Pivo fully charged. My phone was fully charged. I brought both to the ranch for my Wednesday lesson. I was fully prepared. Or so I thought. The one little thing I had forgotten was my GorillaPod tripod. Well, shoot. I looked around the feed room trying to spot something tall enough upon which to rest Pivo, but nothing looked as though it would work.
Then I remembered that I have some of those super big, foamy twist tie things. I have no idea what they're called, but they worked just fine. I wrapped them around the Pivo and then twist-tied the whole thing to the top rail of the fence. I pushed all the right buttons on the app, and walked away. I never looked at the Pivo for the entire lesson.
I scanned the entire 54 minutes and 28 seconds of video and could only find one or two very short moments when Izzy and I weren't on the screen. That's way more footage than I would ever get from a friend. And who could blame someone for not being willing to video for nearly an hour? Of course, now I need to find time to sit down this weekend and truly watch the video because we worked on some pretty hard core stuff, including a bunch of cavaletti exercises that I want to write about.
For now, my fingers are crossed that no new updates come out for a bit. I just updated my phone, so I was really glad that didn't change anything. Pivo peeps, can you give me a few weeks before you make any changes? Thanks in advance!
With all of the ideas from the clinic with Barbi Breen-Gurley rolling around in my head, I then took a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. She came out on Wednesday afternoon. We chatted for a few minutes about what I had learned, and then we worked on fitting those pieces into my every day riding.
I wasn't expecting anything big to click into place, but this turned out to be one of those lessons where a bunch of little puzzle pieces fall into place and suddenly you see the picture that all those little colors were trying to make. We took the suppling exercise that Barbi showed me - flex in, flex out, let him go down if he'll take it, and applied it as a softening aid once Izzy was supple. In fact, I bent him in, out, and down for the entire lesson. I just never stopped. The more I moved his poll around, the softer and softer he became.
We spent the entire lesson on a three-loop serpentine. Originally, Chemaine's plan was to have me work up to the simple changes on the centerline, but instead, we used all of those changes of direction to get Izzy soft in the poll and working over his top line all while keeping his hind end active. The result was the most amazing canter I've ever ridden.
With a new feel for how to more effectively move his poll around, Chemaine was able to help me move other parts of his body at the same time. When he let himself be softer in the poll, I could also move his shoulders around. Being able to move his shoulder allowed me to also move his haunches. Eventually, the whole ride turned into a lesson in straightening. It seems counter intuitive to say that more movement in his body helped achieve straightness, but that was the result.
One way that I was able to get a better connection, particularly to the right, was that Chemaine had me think about what was happening to the reins when I flexed him. When I flexed him to the outside, did he connect with the inside rein or was it just loose? It became an exercise in putting him on the rein and then letting him off, putting him on the rein, and letting him off until eventually, he truly made that connection with the rein.
As we continued to work, Izzy just got more and more supple. Every time I think I've felt "supple," this horse surprises me with yet another layer. In fact, I joked about it a bit because while I adore Speedy and am immensely proud of him, he just doesn't have the same depth that Izzy has. I teach Izzy something, and then when I teach it some more, he gives me more.
Wednesday's ride was something else. Yes, we struggled with achieving that connection and suppleness, but once Izzy was there, he rocked that canter. I have never before felt that line of muscles from poll to tail move like they did on Wednesday. It was a truly amazing feeling. And once I feel something, I know I can get it again. I am like the elephant that doesn't forget. I don't know that we'll have a good enough simple change for Second Level in time for October's show, but then again, we might!
I am not taking anything off the table just yet.
I like to have goals. It's actually more truthful to say that I have to have goals. They don't need to be huge, although I always have one or two that are, but I do need a target, something I'm working towards. Right now, Izzy has become my main ride, and so I am trying to figure out what a reasonable expectation is for his USDF debut.
Since he doesn't have a flying change yet, I am shooting for Second Level in late October. If the simple change is not quite reliable, we can always drop to First Level, but for now the goal is Second. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was able to come down on Sunday for a lesson. I told her what I was thinking and asked what she thought.
One of the many things I love about Chemaine is that she is always willing to shoot for the stars. She doesn't look at low scores as a negative reflection of her character. She totally gets that some of her clients are risk takers and some are not. If I want to aim for Second Level, she's totally on board to help me get there. Of course, I've made her promise many times to not let me make a total fool of myself, so I trust her to tell me if my goals are not realistic.
So with our rocket ship aimed at a distant constellation, we started tackling some of our weaker areas in preparation for Second Level, namely getting a bit more loft in Izzy's trot work. Chemaine had a great metaphor for upping my game with the big brown horse. She described it as putting him in a box. When he is tense and resisting, the box will be made of steel. The frame is non-negotiable. He simply has to "get used" to working in a more tightly packaged frame. When he accepts the parameters that I've established, I can turn my box into cardboard. He can stretch and push on the box as long as he's lifting his back. If he gets hollow or braces, the box will once again be unyielding.
That sounds horrible, doesn't it? Metal, unyielding, get used to it, but the metaphor made perfect sense. Instead of throwing away the contact because he's tense, she had me firm up the outside rein, slow him down, and add leg. In essence, she had me think piaffe. I wasn't actually asking for piaffe, but in a way, it's the same idea. Engage the hind end which means making it more active and carrying more weight. That's when he's in the metal box. He can't push forward. He has to carry himself. Once I could feel that he was comfortable with that work, I could slowly push my hands forwards and allow the sides of the box to soften like cardboard so that he could push forward and lengthen his stride.
We kept coming back to that idea of a metal box. When he resisted or hollowed his back, she encouraged me to slow down, compress his frame, and ask him to work harder. As he accepted the harder work, I could offer him a release by letting him more forward with a longer stride. Even if he didn't accept my invitation, he knew it was there. Even during just this one lesson, he did start looking for that release.
We used the same idea at the canter. I used a steel box with unyielding sides to say, look, this is where I need you to be. Accept this work, get comfortable with this work, and we'll go big. Physically, Izzy can do everything I am asking of him. He just doesn't know it. Once he sees that he can do it, he trusts me and resists less and less. During this lesson, he showed tons of progress and genuinely tried really hard to do what was asked of him.
He's always been a fun horse to ride, but I think we're going to make a lot quicker progress if he's my only horse to ride. I still adore Speedy, and I am hopeful that he might return to higher level work, but in the meantime, I've got something brewing that might keep him working at least lightly, which will make him a lot happier. My fingers are crossed that it's a good fit for everyone involved.
In the meantime, Big Brown Horse and I have our work cut out for us. I think we're up for the task though, especially since we've got Chemaine guiding our path. I sure do hate Second Level though.
On Monday, I shared what Izzy and I learned at our most recent lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. When I got on Speedy, I told Chemaine that I wanted to work on Test 3 of Third Level. With a show just two days away - I swear that write up is coming beginning tomorrow, this ride needed to be my show warm up.
After a quick "loosening up," I started test 3. After the center line halt, there is a medium trot followed by a shoulder-in to two 10-meter half circles: E-X Half circle right 10m, X-B Half circle left 10m. Immediately after the second half circle, you half pass left.
Speedy's shoulder-in right is easier to do but Chemaine had me ask for more vertical flexion to get him rounder and softer. We struggle much more with the shoulder-in left. What I've been doing is asking with my inside leg only which has just let his hip swing out. Chemaine had me really think about establishing a wall with my outside rein and leg as I use my inside leg. With a firmer outside rein, Speedy's hip can't swing out. Instead, his inside hind has to step under and cross over.
As soon as I understood how to more effectively ride the shoulder-in, particularly to the left, we moved on to the trot half passes. While my scores over the weekend were still wildly erratic (half pass left - 5.5, 7.0 and half pass right - 5.0, 4.5), Chemaine gave me some great strategies to help me get them under control. The first tip was to make sure my 10-meter half circles were deep enough to help me establish some bend. The second tip was to take an extra stride or two in the half circle as I started the half pass. I can't say I implemented all of that particularly well over the weekend, but I now see what I can do to improve those scores.
I had spent several weeks schooling the canter work from test 3, but the canter half pass still needs work. Chemaine had me think about getting a much more collected canter that had more jump rather than being slower. She counted the strides from K to A and then from A to F where the canter half pass left begins. By collecting the canter (getting more strides), Speedy carries more weight on his hind end which allows him to lift his shoulders which is how to get a fluid half pass. Ours still isn't fluid. And it's barely a half pass, but we're working on it.
The work we did during the lesson must have paid off at least a little bit because our canter half pass scores did show improvement. For the canter half pass left, we earned 6.5 and 6.0. For the half pass right, we still have a lot of work left. We earned a 5.0 and a 4.0 with the comment, "struggling, lacks bend." Yep. I know what I'll be working on for the next month.
The one movement that we only reviewed (instead of schooling) was the flying change. Based on my matrix of scores, I had realized that my left to right flying change was a real weakness, so for the past three weeks, I've done a boatload of them. You can see the result in the photo above and below.
Over the course of the three tests that we rode over the weekend, we did six flying changes which carry a double coefficient. That means they're counted twice. We earned a 7.0 on five of them. The lone sub 7.0 score was for a right to left change that earned a 5.0 with the comment, "late in front." I watched the video and couldn't see it, but it's obvious that our changes are now becoming a strength. In fact, Saturday's judge wrote in her further remarks, "Confirmed changes."
If we're friends on Facebook, you already know how the show went. We're out of town for a day or two which is why this post is so late in the day, so tomorrow's post may or may not happen, When it does, it will be a show recap.
More to come ...
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. We're currently showing Third Level for the 2020 show season. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are schooling and showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2020 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2020 Pending …
10/11 A. Newcomb (c)
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2020 Completed …
10/26-27/19 SCEC (***)
6/20-21/20 SCEC (***)
6/29 Ulf Wadeborn (c)
7/11-12 SLO-CDS (***)
7/27 Breen-Gurley (c)
8/30 Breen-Gurley (c)
9/20 Caveletti Clinic (c)
2020 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
2 Scores/1 Judge:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
3 Scores/2 Judges:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
Score 3: 61.750% Johnson
Stuff I Read