From Endurance to Dressage
Closing That Last Door
I had a lesson on Monday. I shared my hallway and closed doors analogy with my trainer, and she loved the images. She was very encouraging and explained that we just have this one last little door to shut, and then we'll really be ready to rock and roll.
I had a few rides in the week before the lesson that were real doozies. Our homework had been simple: travel a round circle. Instead of nice round circles, I got whirling to the inside with a humped back or running straight through my outside rein while launching into a rear. Sydney can throw a serious temper tantrum when he wants to.
The good thing that came out of those "homework rides" was that my feel got ratcheted up a few notches. All of Sydney's antics started to happen in slow motion. Not really, of course, but I started to feel what was going to happen before it actually happened. Any last bits of fear that I've had just melted away as I countered all of his shenanigans. It really felt like shutting doors.
Nope, not this one. Oops, try the next door. Oh, darn; that one's closed, too.
So for the lesson, JL broke the circle exercise down into smaller chunks. We were still to stay on that prescribed circle, but we were going to teach Sydney to be more respectful of my outside aids without allowing him to escape through an "inside" door.
We picked up the trot tracking right, and halted with the outside rein. But, not only did he have to halt RIGHT NOW, he wasn't allowed to drift to the right or left, and his haunches had to stay right underneath him. And not only did he need to halt RIGHT NOW, he also needed to rock back slightly onto his hocks. And then, when he walked forward, he had to take a step to the outside by moving his shoulders over; no sagging into the circle.
We did this quite a few times until Sydney started to look for a doorway that led to OUT OF HERE. I was almost glad he did because I got to work on preventing a rear or whirl to the inside.
When he started to whirl, JL had me think, YAH! I love teeny tiny circles. Let's do it for three minutes straight! And we did. I bent his nose to my knee and sent him into the spin with my outside leg. We only had to do it twice. Slammed that door closed.
The next evasion he offered was the rear. Sometimes he simply threatens, other times he launches straight up. It used to terrify me, but I've learned that he's well-balanced, and that he doesn't really intend to lose me. Even so, it's not a behavior in which he gets to indulge. I've learned to NOT PULL BACK. Instead, I keep my weight forward and get his neck bent as quickly as possible and send him in a little circle once his feet are back on the ground.
JL helped me identify why he's rearing and how to prevent it from happening. Once I get an inside bend, the inside rein doesn't do anything, which means I need to take hold of the outside rein to do a halt. Sydney will then rush through it and ignore my half halts, which forces me to really haul back on that outside rein. THAT'S when I know I am going to get a rear.
So the solution is to get a halt before he can rush. As soon as I feel the tension forming in his back, he follows it up with these teeny tiny mincing little steps. As soon as I feel that, I am to tell him to halt RIGHT NOW!
It was a short lesson, maybe 30 minutes long. JL's plan was to teach Sydney to love to halt RIGHT NOW. So once he figured out that all of the doors were closed, he halted RIGHT NOW, and even quite trying to fall in, fall out, fall over. He just gave a sigh of resignation, with a little exasperation thrown in for good measure, and simply stopped square. I hopped off and that was it.
It was a GREAT lesson because it was one of the first times that I really saw Sydney trying to think his way through it. He was actually trying the knobs of different doors: is this one open? How about this one? When he couldn't find a doorway to get through, he simply gave up.
I hope this piece of the puzzle falls into place as quickly as JL thinks it will. I know this is a big step for both of us, and I know I am more than ready to get it behind us.
WHOA and GO
Wednesday's lesson, which was actually on Monday, was really good. I wish I had sat down to write about it while it was still fresh in mind. Going back to work this week has gobbled up quite a lot of my free time. Even though it's been a few days, I do remember the gist of the lesson: WHOA! and GO!
Part one involved only some whoa, and it was done sans yelling, represented by capital letters, italics, and a bold font. JL had me repeat the previous week's lesson, but to the right: planted inside hand and outside pulley rein to halt. We did it at both trot and canter. The next step involved the same level of halt at the trot but without planting the inside rein; I had to just hold that inside rein very steady in the air. It was a bit challenging, but since Speedy was listening to my outside rein, we were successful at that exercise very quickly.
Part two focused on putting all of the pulley rein stuff to work at the canter. Here is how it went: canter, ask for slower pace with the outside rein, no response, pulley halt in two counts or less. When Speedy decided that he didn't like the pulley halt anymore (demonstrated by some rearing which isn't scary on him), we played Race Horse again. When he wasn't responsive enough off my leg, which was most of the time, JL instructed me to make my aids louder, A LOT LOUDER. JL's comment was that she wanted to see his eyes pop in surprise when I asked for the canter. It didn't matter if the lead was right or if he was soft or balanced. She just wanted a sharp response to my leg.
After a lot of cantering (our high was 110℉ that day so the morning was already pretty toasty), the pulley halt started to look pretty good to Speedy so we went back to that. I asked for a nice canter, which he responded to much more quickly (image that), and then I asked for a slower pace with the outside rein. When we finally got it, I switched to rocking the inside rein to get some bend. I rocked BIG at every stride: BEND, BEND, BEND.
By the end of the lesson, JL gave us a 50% for our canter. That wasn't a failing mark, instead, she meant that we were about 50% there on our canter work. The trick for me is to understand when to rock the outside rein, and for how long, before finally shutting him down with it all the way. JL had to tell me when. On my own, I either stopped him too quickly, or let him fuss with me for too long. The other problem is with the inside rein. I fuss with it too much and he curls under, especially to the right.
Our trot work has improved tremendously, and I know our canter work will follow. Going back to work means that the improvement will come more slowly over the next two months, but I know it will come. While it's hot, lessons will continue on Wednesday evenings, but once it cools down we'll move to Mondays. I'll miss the mid-week work; I enjoyed having something to look forward to on Hump Day!
I said HALT!
I need to create a new category for this topic - the pulley rein. JL and I have been working on this for about a month on both boys. I think most hunter/jumper and event riders are familiar with the pulley-halt, but I realized that the technique might not be widely used by the rest of the equine world. I know I never saw it used as an endurance rider.
Just so you'll have a better picture of what JL is teaching me, here is a video of Julie Goodnight employing the pulley rein to stop a western horse.
Many of my current problems with Speedy come from the fact that he has no whoa. He stops of course, but not always when I want. He's bolted a number of times and has dumped me more than once in the process. Without a strong whoa, we don't have a very good half halt. All of this stems from my weakness with the outside rein.
JL understands that executing a good halt with the pulley rein does send a very loud message to the horse. Slamming him to a stop with the pulley rein is a little like running into a fence. It will stop your horse, but it's not a very effective way to ride every day. Once the horse understands the mechanics and effect of the pulley rein, the rider can use it in a much, much milder manner.
JL started us at the walk. Once she was certain that Speedy and I were crystal clear in our understanding of the pulley rein, she had us move to the trot and finally the canter.
The trick with using the pulley rein is that the rider must execute it perfectly in order for the horse to understand. The purpose is to get a square STOP without the horse "escaping" to the right or left. If the inside hand is not fixed firmly on the horse's neck, he will evade the stop by twisting his head, falling in, or falling out. If the horse can escape the rider's halt, the horse has won and will only continue to find ways to avoid the halt.
That is/was Speedy's problem. My halts were puny so Speedy just blew through the outside leg and hand. I firmed up my outside aids, so Speedy found another open door - my inside leg. Every time I asked for a halt, even a regular salute the judge halt, his hind end fell inside.
I had to close that door as well so we started to employ the whip. In order for Speedy to move off my inside leg, I had to get really tough with the outside aids. There could be no forward movement. We did lots of whip, outside hand, more whip, more outside hand. I was finally, finally able to feel that I was consistently losing him to the outside hand. Once I felt the connection from my inside leg to my outside hand, I was able to stop his shoulder from falling out and was able to get him to move away from my inside leg. Success!
We had one more problem - the inside hand. With strong outside aids and a firm inside leg (supported with the whip, we were so close to getting it. My inside hand was the last problem. Oh, I am sure there are many other problems, but as far as keeping Speedy pointed in the right direction, the missing piece was a firm inside hand.
At Wednesday's lesson, Jl had me trot and canter with my inside hand planted on Speedy's neck so that I could effectively control his sideways movement with my inside leg to outside hand. By planting that inside hand, I was able to control the bend so he he couldn't counter bend his neck at the trot and canter. Again, success!
I was able to put the whole thing to the test at the end of the lesson. The far end of JL's arena had a scary corner that morning. When I had tried to warm up there earlier, Speedy tried to bolt and put up a big stink about riding into that corner. By planting my inside hand, I was able to keep a firm bend so that he had to listen to my inside leg. My outside hand controlled the pace. There was to be no running through the corner.
Oh, hallelujah! You should have head the angels singing. We rode that corner at the trot and canter, and we rode it DEEP.
I was very pleased with our effort and was eager to try it out at home. Fortunately, I was given an excellent opportunity the very next morning. Someone had fired some alarming shots with a rifle right before I arrived at the barn. They were apparently so close that a patrol car was dispatched to investigate. Speedy was quite nervous about the whole thing so I quickly saddled up to take full advantage of his anxiety. I wanted to ride him through the anxiousness because I knew he was likely to spook or shy.
Sure enough, he was a bit spooky. There was a puddle left over from the sprinklers so I used it as my "test corner." He tried to bolt, but I had him firmly between my aids. Early in our attempt to go through the puddle, Speedy splashed through it but bolted as soon as he was across it. I planted my hand and STOPPED him, hard. We turned around and went right back to work. We did some trot and canter circles with my inside hand planted, and before long, Speedy was marching through that puddle without a wiggle.
I hopped off him and congratulated him as though he had won that gold medal instead of Great Britain's Valegro. Well done, Speedy G!
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. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. 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 showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: