From Endurance to Dressage
Prepare to be bored because this is one of those write it down before I forget it posts. Or, better yet, go and check out what Mia has to say over at Avandarre in Dressage. I am sure you've felt just like she does right now!
The reason Speedy is so heavy on the forehand, and particularly heavy on the left rein, is that I have let him get out of shape.
Since the end of July, he and I have just been taking it easy. I ride him for 15 to 20 minutes three or four days a week, but I haven't really been asking much of him. We do a little trot work both directions, pick up a canter and do some counter canter work, and then we call it quits.
Apparently, I haven't been asking for very correct work. That is why he's heavy in my hands and stumbling around the ring. I have been assuming that he was as strong in his hind end as he was in July. Poor assumption.
I was finally able to squeeze in a Saturday lesson with JL. She could see his lack of strength and balance right away. Her solution? Go back a few steps. Yuck. Speedy is no longer able to carry his own weight and mine at the bigger gait that I need for the show ring. With a longer topline, he simply falls onto his forehand since he doesn't have the strength in his hind end to lift us both up. So, I went back to a really short neck and a very slow little trot.
Speedy hates this kind of work because it's well, WORK! When we do this exercise, I have to be hyper vigilant about not letting him change the rhythm (speed up to outrun his butt) and not letting him drop the contact by curling under in the front (slowing down his butt). It's hard work for me, too since I feel like I am doing my job and his.
When he increases the rhythm, the fix is easy; I resist through my core and use an outside half halt. If he's being a real pain in the patootie, I might have to get really firm with that outside rein, but that doesn't happen too often at such a baby trot.
Correcting the curling under is much more difficult to do because I can't always feel that he's slowing down behind until it's already happened. When I feel his head begin to duck under, I need to lean back through my shoulders and add LEG to get his butt moving again. This is his preferred evasive maneuver as he knows it is harder for me to correct.
So that's what we did for most of the lesson, trot around in a tiny trot trying to convince Speedy that maintaining a rhythm while engaging your butt is fun. Once he was mostly participating, we began the figure eight exercise. It's not any different from what you'd think, except that JL has me really focus on slowing down the outside shoulder and moving sideways as we approach the spot where the two circles meet. This asks him to reach under with the inside leg.
It is interesting that if we are tracking right, he finds it relatively easy to change his balance at X to begin tracking left. When we are tracking left, he puts up all kinds of a fuss when asked to shift his weight to begin tracking right. He gets very hollow or tries to canter. The solution has been to go even more slowly as we approach X so that he can rebalance himself.
At the bottom of the circle, start slowing down with the outside rein and ask for a sidewise movement as you approach X. During the straight stride at X, change the bend and move sideways to the other direction to the top of the circle. Ride from the top of the circle to the bottom of the circle in a steady rhythm.
The good thing about taking a step back is that we've already done these exercises before so I know how to do them, and so does Speedy G. He's also not completely out of shape. He's been being ridden regularly since the show season ended so we don't have that far to go to get back into fighting trim.
JL also likes where we are in the canter and thinks that doing more of that will also build his butt back up, especially to the right. My goal at the canter is to really focus on establishing a rhythm that he can hold easily. Through all of the canter work that I've done with Sydney, my feel for maintaining contact in the canter departure has improved, which is also helping Speedy.
Our next outing is the Christian Schacht clinic in mid-December. I have plenty of time to rebuild Speedy's level of fitness so that we are better prepared to move on at the clinic. Once again my rides will have purpose, something I like!
Enjoy today's extra hour.
Before I get to the show, I need to tell you about the fantastic lesson I had with Chemaine on Friday evening.
After having some lunch and getting settled in, I saddled Speedy and head out to the warm-up ring. I started out with lots of walking and a suppling exercise that I had learned from Chemaine the month before.
Chemaine Hurtado, of Symphony Dressage Stables, is based at CastleRock Farms in Moorpark. She is an outstanding trainer. If you live anywhere near Ventura, and you're looking for dressage help, I suggest you give her a call at 805-340-3246.
The walk work and the trot work seemed to go okay. I wasn't as happy as I had been at the show two weeks prior, but it wasn't a total disaster until I asked for the canter. Crap. I knew I was in trouble.
The first summer I showed, back in 2010, I got lots of comments that read hollow, needs steadier contact, needs better energy, and above the bit. It took a while to start feeling what those things really meant. Now that I know what hollow feels like, I do everything to avoid riding it. Speedy's canter on Friday was so hollow that I felt as though I was riding a hammock with a head and a tail. His back couldn't have been any lower without his belly dragging on the ground.
When I asked for a canter, I got a buck and a kick followed by a leap and a rear that was followed by a dirty slam on the brakes. Repeatedly. I had told my mom that she chould sit in the shade along the arena's edge and relax for a moment as my warm-up would be quick and we could head back to the trailer.
After a half hour, I started to feel sorry for my mom, but I felt like I just had to get something that approached a canter transition or I was going to be in big, big trouble on Saturday. I never did get a good transition, but at least the bucking and kicking tapered off. To say I was discouraged, frustrated, and bummed out would be a classic understatement. I just didn't want my mom to have driven 650 miles to watch a 55% dressage test. I put Speedy away and sent Chemaine a frantic text: HELP!
The plan had already been for Chemaine to coach us through both tests each day as needed. She needed to be at El Sueno anyway later that evening so we planned to meet at 6:30 for an emergency pull us together lesson. Knowing that help was on the way, I was able to relax and visit with my mom.
When Chemaine arrived, my mom was quite impressed that I would be using the ear pieces to hear Chemaine's instructions. She thought Chemaine's whole approach was pretty classy and upscale. After listening to the lesson and watching me magically improve to become an actual dressage rider, Mom promoted Chemaine to Trainer Extraordinaire!
Chemaine's quick assessment was that Speedy was tight in the back so we worked on getting him to stretch over his top line. If you've been following any length of time, you already know that the stretchy trot is my nemesis. Chemaine was finally able to show me a way to effectively ask Speedy to consistently stretch down. By Sunday afternoon, I could get him to stretch down nearly on command and he liked it! I earned three 6s and a 6.5 for our stretchy trot during the tests. That 6.5 was one of my favorite scores of the weekend!
For those that are like me and find the stretchy trot to be a complete mystery, here's how we did it.
I discovered that while I am not afraid of him bolting and running off, I am afraid of "handling" that bigger and bolder movement. It takes a lot of balance and control to keep that energy connected without falling apart (as in the trot loops at Training Level Test 3). I also discovered it's a lot like riding a bike: if you go too slowly, the bike wobbles and you fall over. If you can get your bike zooming along, you can ride the energy forward.
Do I see trot lengthenings in our very near future? More tomorrow ...
First things first. Thank you so very much for refraining from offering advice the other day. Even more thanks go to those of you who kept your criticisms to yourself. Seriously ... thank you. To those of you who commiserated, I really appreciate that you were willing to share your same feelings of suckiness; sucking collectively is far better than sucking alone.
And with that ...
I had THE BEST ride on Sydney on Saturday morning.
During the school year, both boys get ridden about 4 days a week. When school is out, they each go 5 days a week. I try to keep my weekends free so that I can hang out with Hubby, but Friday's weather was so unbelievably hot that I chose to do barn chores instead of ride. It was so hot (and unseasonably humid) that Bakersfield earned the national extreme temperature for the day - 106℉/41℃. No kidding.
So instead of riding on Friday, I squeezed in quick rides on Saturday morning. The weather was seriously improved and almost felt cool. It was 68℉/20℃ when I headed to the barn at 7:00 a.m.
Speedy and I went through our usual practice from our Wednesday lesson. We've been doing some one loop serpentines from the Training Level 3 test. They're fun to do, and Speedy seems to enjoy them. It's also a good way to practice our sideways movement, especially left leg to right right.
When I get to C, I do the other half of the serpentine, H-X-K, and go back to A for more. I also like to throw in a change of direction across the diagonal to reverse the direction of the serpentines.
But on to Sydney!
I really took JL's advice to heart and started asking for more. From the walk, I asked for "quicker" which meant a few taps of the whip. No biggie. Sydney marched forward happily. When we moved on to the trot work, I again squeezed and said, go! Sydney happily gave me more energy. To slow down, I simply sat back, with no rein pressure, and Sydney dropped back into the walk. We did some 20 meter trot circles, both left and right, asking for more activity than we had the other day. Again, no biggie.
Since all was going so well, I decided to use the long sides of my "dressage court" (it's 20m by 45m) to work on maintaining a steady rhythm without the circle. I couldn't have been more pleased. We trot the long side and focused on balancing and slowing for the corners. After tracking left for a lap or two, we crossed the diagonal to repeat the exercise tracking right. I was so proud of how happy and relaxed Sydney was in his work.
And best of all? I truly didn't give a damn what I looked like. It was the most fun I've had in a while.
Pitons back in place ready for a summit bid up Mt. Self Doubt ...
This is a "short" court - 20 x 40 meters
Continuing the series on Riding Figures, here's Part 2, borrowed from Wikipedia ...
(See Part 1)
The 20-meter circle is one of the most important training figures in dressage, first seen in the most simple tests possible, and continued on through Grand Prix. It is one of the first ring figures taught to beginner riders and young or green horses. Due to its size, it does not require that the horse or rider have incredible skills to ride moderately well, but circle-work should increase in quality as the horse and rider become more adept. This circle is a great test of the horse's suppleness and the rider's ability to keep the horse on the aids. Incorrect position or application of the aids, such as overuse of the inside rein, will often become apparent on the 20-meter circle.
The 20-meter circle fits very well into both the small (20 x 40 meter) and standard (20 x 60 meter) arenas, allowing the rider to use points on the wall to determine if the circle is the correct size and shape.
The 20-meter circle should be round, not egg or pear-shaped. This means that each side of the arena that touches the circle should only be met at a single point, and should not be ridden along for any period of time. Many novice riders go too deep into the corners of the arena, causing their circle to bulge out. Bulging or falling in both indicate that the horse is not correctly bent on the circle, or that he is leaning against the rider's leg and falling in or out.
The 20-meter circle can be used in all steps of training. Variations may include shoulder-in or haunches-in on the circle, transitions between and within gaits, extension and collection, and eventually something as advanced as flying changes, including tempi changes, on the circle
End of Part 2 - more to come ...
After riding with Leslie Webb, I realized that while I have some theoretical dressage knowledge gained by reading, it is not enough. Cha Ching's mom and I were laughing over the correct pronunciation of renvers (haunches out) and travers, haunches in. There, we've both learned something today. Anyway ... I realized that dressage is not just having a good seat and hands, but it's also about accuracy. How can I ride a test accurately if I don't know what each figure should look like? I started web surfing and found this great Wikipedia article on riding the figures. By great, I mean simple and easy to understand.
So, here is part 1, straight from Wikipedia ...
Riding figures are figures performed in a riding arena, usually for training purposes. Figures may also be performed out in a field or other open area, but a riding arena provides markers that can help indicate the correctness in the size or shape of a figure.
The riding school, showing its centerline from A to C, and two quarterlines.
Ring figures are a valuable training aid, giving the rider feedback as to his horse's training and weaknesses. A poorly-executed ring figure may point out where the rider is lacking in control, and areas in which the horse needs additional training. For example, when riding down the diagonal, a rider may struggle to keep his horse on the correct path, suggesting issues with straightness. A poorly performed 20-meter circle may indicate that the horse is not truly between the aids, perhaps falling out through a shoulder, or that the rider is sitting crookedly.
Figures are required components of dressage tests, are used in reining competition, and may also be asked for in equitation classes. Additionally, jumping courses may often be broken up into riding figures.
It is important to work the horse on figures in both directions, to ensure an equal build of muscle on either side.
End of part 1 ... 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. 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%: