From Endurance to Dressage
I officially suck at taking pictures. Sheesh ...
Speedy's new best buddy, "T," came out for a lesson on Saturday morning. I had been thinking about what we might try next, so I was more prepared than normal. For most of T's lessons, I just come up with something on the spot. Since she's progressing fairly quickly, I am going to need to start planning ahead.
For this lesson, I decided she was ready for some spiral in, spiral out. I constantly remind her that she's getting what she pays for though. My lessons are free so she can't expect a whole lot. I am a teacher by profession, but teaching long division is a lot easier than teaching someone to ride.
I've approached the lessons with an eye to explaining the things that confused me when I was first starting out. Most of the time I didn't know why we were doing what we were doing. I may be overwhelming T, but I am trying to show her how what might look like a basic exercise now actually leads to more difficult movements later on.
After doing some simple warm up exercises like getting a marching walk and turning it into a longer stride at the free walk, and doing trot-to-almost-walk transitions, we got to work. Since so much of dressage is about lightening the front end and moving the shoulders, spiraling in and out is a super useful exercise at all levels.
Teaching T has really helped me think about why we do certain exercises. Each movement has a purpose, so at the lower and mid-levels, those movements form a foundation for the more difficult movements to come. As T struggled with the spiral in, I shared with her that every rider, no matter the level, is working on that same exercise. As she did the spiral in at the canter, I explained how that exercise is translated into quarter and full pirouettes.
I know that I am an excellent classroom teacher, but I don't know how I stack up as a dressage instructor. Nobody has cried, and T keeps coming back, so the lessons must not be too terrible. T is working a green quarter horse across town. He's broke to ride, but he hasn't been taught the finer points of riding. She's taking what she learns on Speedy and trying it out on the other guy. This weekend she explained that since she doesn't have a dressage saddle to ride in, she can't really school the dressage stuff.
I told her that western dressage is a thing, so she should be able to do everything she's learning in a western saddle. After a bit more discussion, we determined that steering is a problem on the other horse, so I gave her some exercises that might help.
Coming across town every weekend is a big commitment, but I hope T will continue to come out and ride Speedy. He definitely enjoys having a job, and I enjoy seeing him happy. If it works for T, it's a win-win for us both.
"T," the young woman who has been riding Speedy, came out for another lesson over the weekend. I am always so amazed at how Speedy behaves during these lessons. He never puts a hoof out of place, and if T asks in the right way, he gives her the right answer. Every time she rides him, my heart swells with pride.
Each time she comes out, we work on something new. The last time T came over for a lesson, we worked on serpentines at the trot. On Saturday, we revisited that idea, and after one or two wonky attempts, she and Speedy got it sorted out, changing the bend nicely over the centerline.
On our trail ride, T had difficulty rating Speedy's canter. She asked for canter, and Speedy picked a pace that was just a little faster than what we wanted. When I would ask T to slow it down, Speedy dropped back to trot. When T asked again for a canter, I yelled out, ask for whoa and go at the same time!
After T shared that galloping on Speedy during our trail ride was the first time she had ever galloped a horse, I suggested we work on lengthening and collecting Speedy's canter. She thought that sounded like fun.
Speedy is still a bit of a handful in the extended canter, and he doesn't transition perfectly to collected canter, but before he was semi-retired, we were both getting much better at preparing for and implementing that transition.
For T's attempt at a canter lengthening, we used just two-thirds of the arena. From F to K, I instructed her to work on collecting Speedy - the whoa and go at the same time, and from K to E she lengthened his stride. From E to B she rode another half circle, again collecting his stride. We did the exercise on both leads.
Since T doesn't yet understand a half halt, I explained it by saying that asking for whoa and go at the same time is partly what a half halt does. It tells the horse to keep going while stepping deeper with the hind legs. I explained that it creates a moment for the horse to rebalance and bear more weight on the hind legs in preparation for a big push forward, like when we ask for a lengthening of stride.
T started Speedy out on a circle, balancing and softening his trot before asking for the canter. Once the canter felt good to her, T sent Speedy forward with a squeeze of her legs. As she neared E or B, I instructed her to bend him to put him on the outside rein, and then to ask for whoa and go at the same time. By the time they reached the other long side, Speedy's canter was more collected, and he was ready to again lengthen his stride.
Eventually, T was able to focus on asking for the bigger or more collected stride by scooping bigger or smaller with her seat. As a student,T is very interested in using her aids correctly. Since she doesn't have a lifetime of bad habits to overcome, it's easy to show her the "correct" aid. While she's still struggling with her own balance - aren't we all?, she's very eager to do things right.
With our busy work schedules and my plans to see my parents this coming weekend, T probably won't make it out until the middle of next week. We both have Thanksgiving week off, so maybe she'll be able to come out several times over the break. Until then, Speedy is quite happy with his semi-retired lifestyle. I don't think he misses schooling Third or Fourth at all.
I think he's happy that Izzy has finally started doing his share of the work. About time.
I love Speedy. I really do, so keeping him active, if not in training is important to me. Those who suffer from arthritis don't do well without an active lifestyle. Fortunately, Speedy lives in a large, sandy field, so he can move all day. He and Izzy get pretty rowdy at times, galloping up and down the fence line and rearing as they "fight." Walking around and play-fighting are not really enough to keep Speedy fit though. He needs to be ridden.
With virtually all of my energy focused on Izzy with a laser beam intensity, It's been hard to ride Speedy, too. "T" the young rider whom I met in August was coming out once, sometimes twice, during the week for lessons. Over the pst month though, she was out of the state getting married and visiting family. Then I went to a show, our afternoon light got shorter because of the time change, and this weekend I'll be at another show. Riding Speedy has been solely up to me.
Over the past month, I've done a pretty good job of keeping Speedy ridden. We've done work in the arena and a couple of trail rides. I realized that it wasn't fair to ask him to work hard in a lesson without being ridden in between. So even though I've been busy with Izzy, Speedy still got worked. And then T came back!
Our schedules finally aligned, and she was able to come out for a lesson on Wednesday afternoon. Over the month that T was gone, I spent some time thinking about the pyramid of training. As I moved through the levels, I didn't have a good understanding of how each movement set the horse up for more difficult movements down the road. Of course, now I see the progression from Training Level through at least the beginning of Fourth. I've been thinking about which movements to teach T now to help her understand future movements.
Since T hadn't ridden Speedy in a month, we reviewed what she had learned so far: riding from her core to help keep her from tipping forward, shortening and lengthening Speedy's stride, smooth transitions from walk to trot and trot to walk, and crossing the diagonal. T is a quick learner, and she remembered the earlier lessons. On Wednesday, I introduced her to the three loop serpentine at the trot.
We started with just two circles, so she could learn how to straighten and change the bend for the next circle. Once she had that fairly well under control, I had her ride all three loops, straightening and changing the bend as she crossed the centerline. I discovered that it is really hard to call out all of the steps for a movement because the moment passes before you can get all the words out. I eventually found myself just saying YES, a little more, TURN, watch the shoulder ...
I have a trail ride scheduled for Wednesday with a good friend, so T will be joining us. I think she'll enjoy using some of the skills she's learned while out on the trail. If nothing else, Speedy will enjoy himself, and that makes me happy.
Have a great weekend!
While Speedy is semi-retired, he's not retired from life. He still enjoys working and playing. When I rode him last night though, I found myself wondering how much work should I be asking for? If he's no longer going to compete, should I still ask for some collection? Should we still play around with the medium gaits? How about the extended gaits?
I rode him in the double bridle as I have since learning about his fusing left hock, but this was the first time that he really resisted sitting. I wasn't asking for a lot, just some feeling of lightness. With "T" riding him weekly (not lately as she just got married and is till out of state), I want to make sure he stays fairly well tuned up for her sake.
Since he's sound, I want him to stay that way, but I also want to keep him fit and strong. Sitting around and "babying" his joints is a surefire way to reduce his ability to articulate those joints. But what's the perfect amount of work? For the first half of the ride, he just would not get off his forehand. When I started thinking in terms of a low level horse, one working at Training Level with an eye toward First, I decided that Speedy could do a little more. I tapped him with the whip.
He bucked. I tapped again, and suddenly I had a much more forward horse who started using his hind end. I played around with canter/trot transitions and had to encourage him to actually trot, not walk in the downward transition. Speedy was so prepared to sit that he was giving me walk transitions instead of a trot. We also did some flying changes as he really enjoys them.
By that point, he was pretty sweaty, but he was also fired up and really moving well. I came to two conclusions. The first was that I don't think he needs to work in the double bridle anymore. He was fussy in it, and seemed a little grouchy at being made to work. When T rides him in his old snaffle bridle, he looks much happier and more willing to work than I felt he did with me in the double.
The second thing I realized is that I am going to have to commit to riding him at least once a week to ensure that he stays fit enough for T to ride, especially if she can't make it out more than once a week. Dressage is hard, even at Training Level. If he's going to do low level work, once a week is not enough to keep him fit. And if he's not fit enough, he's more likely to sustain an injury. In all the years I've owned him, he's never suffered a riding injury, and I don't want one now. He needs to stay fit which means a bit more riding.
Ultimately, I just want him to be happy. For now, he wants to be ridden. At what level, I just don't know. It's hard to know if he resists because it's hard or because it hurts. Speedy's never been one to beg for more challenging work. He's always been the type to do just enough to stay out of trouble. It's going to be a challenge to recognize when he's saying that's too much versus I don't want to. I thinking he's got a few more years of being able to put in a solid work day.
He just might need some convincing.
Since "T," Speedy's new friend, is going to be busy for the next few weeks, I decided I had better hop on him at least once a week to keep him in shape. While I love that gray pony to pieces, he was more than a bit of a stinker!
Just for fun, I decided to give Pivo a try with Speedy. Since I was riding in the morning, I had to put Pivo on the opposite side of the arena so that it wasn't facing the sun. Every time I glanced over, it looked like it was tracking us just fine. Upon review however, either Pivo or my phone's camera did something rather annoying toward the end of our 29 minute ride.
Pivo did lose us a couple of times at the A end, but it quickly found us. Once we started the canter work though, the video looks as though Pivo was watching a tennis match. We stayed in the frame, but it appeared as though Pivo was looking left and right really quickly. Once we walked, Pivo calmed back down, tracking us smoothly until the next canter when it again got glitchy. I haven't used the Pivo enough times to know if this was a problem with my phone's camera or with the Pivo. It could also be that I missed a setting.
I kept the ride to just under thirty minutes. Now that Speedy's not in regular work, It's hard to judge how much of his resistance was due to being tired or possibly pain. He's 100% sound, but when he got heavy or resistant, I tried not to be too picky. And as much as I wanted to school certain movements, the canter half passes were a hot mess, I didn't think it was worth the fight if he was feeling a bit ouchy.
I did school most everything from Third Level though, including the shoulder in and half passes, both in trot and canter. We didn't touch on the medium gates though since he was heavy in my hand. I didn't want him barreling around on his forehand, but I also hesitated to ask him to sit too much either.
The one thing that Speedy did want to do were the flying changes. He got every single one of them right, even when we worked on the line of changes from Fourth Level - three changes across the diagonal. He was so sharp off my leg that I even gave a try at counting strides between each change rather than just aiming for the first quarter line, centerline, and second quarter line. Speedy practically danced through those changes.
I thought it would be harder to "retire" Speedy than it has been. If I didn't have Izzy, I might be feeling blue about it, but Izzy's a lot of fun to ride, and he's giving me plenty to work on. If all I get to do are play around with flying changes and teach a lesson on him here and there, I'm perfectly happy to let Speedy pick and choose what he wants to do.
He's given me more than enough in our 13 years together. If we spend the next 13 just playing around, I will be one very happy girl.
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read