From Endurance to Dressage
Long and Low
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, was here for a clinic this weekend. I rode Speedy first, and then it was the big brown horse's turn. It took us a while, but Izzy really showed some relaxation and maturity for our first lesson. Nothing fancy happened, no cool exercises were learned, but Izzy behaved and showed glimpses of the horse he is going to become.
When I first hopped on, he was pretty good, but then he got sassy. He balked, he hopped up, he gave a good effort at a bolt, and he kept his back tight. But. He wasn't afraid, just sassy.
That took about twenty minutes to work through. He was tense, but it was more of an, OH MY GOSH I NEED TO RUUUUUN kind of tension. So we did.
We cantered for a good while. I got up off of his back in a modified two-point and just let him go forward. Little by little he started to focus until finally, he was flicking an ear back and forth at me.
Once he remembered that I was up there, I sat a little deeper and we got to work. Izzy is an interesting horse because he doesn't have any trouble with the movements; he's naturally talented. What he needs is confidence and focus.
The one thing that Chemaine had me doing that I wasn't consciously working on before was to do lots of changes of bend. Big ones if needed, but small, subtle changes are a good way to talk to him without forcing the issue. She really stressed that I need to keep "talking" to him to keep his focus on me. Can you flex left, can you flex right? Can you half halt here, can you stretch down here?
Here's a short clip of some canter work to the right. At the end of the clinic, Chemaine and I were chatting about where we're heading and what I need to work on and so on. While I was a little disappointed about Sunday's ride (more on that in a day or two), I was thrilled with the fact that Izzy now has a confirmed right lead canter. A year ago, we couldn't pick up a right lead at all. Six months later, we struggled to hold the lead. Now, with some work, we can canter a 10-meter circle on that same right lead.
In tomorrow's post, we do it all again!
I Need a Lesson
It's a good thing I am getting a lesson on Tuesday; I really need one. I am hauling Izzy down to Simi Valley to meet up with Chemaine Hurtado, my trainer and fixer of all dressage problems. When I saw her last, she helped me finally get a right lead canter on Izzy. I shared a great video of how she helped make that happen; here it is again.
That lesson was just about a month ago, and during that time, I've been able to pretty consistently pick up both a left and right lead canter and ride them without any flying changes or cross cantering in the rear. Sounds great, right?
The problem is that Izzy is getting really opinionated about having to pick up the lead that I am asking for. He has started kicking out as soon as I send my outside leg back. After he kicks, he's tries to bolt into the lead and gets really pissy when I give a strong half halt and insist that he roll or jump into the lead rather than bolt or fall into it.
I need a lesson with Chemaine because I am not 100% sure I am reading the situation correctly. It feels like he's being sassy, but in my experience, if something isn't going correctly, I am probably doing something wrong. I need her to point out where my mistake is. On top of that, I have finished treating Izzy's sarcoid, but man does his sheath look ugly. I haven't posted an update because I am waiting to see if it is going to heal up soon or need to be seen by the vet.
It's definitely looking better each day, and the swelling is gone, but the skin still needs to heal. He lets me wash it and poke at it, so it's not like it's too painful to touch. In fact, the other day, he let me pull a pretty big scab off. He flinched at the final pull, but then he want back to grazing.
So, is his sheath so uncomfortable that cantering is painful? It could be, but he's working at the trot just fine, and when I turn him out, he bucks and gallops and whips around enjoying his freedom. Once he is cantering under saddle, he works just fine.
We'll see what Chemaine has to say.
When it's Right, it's Right
Since I quit trying to ride both boys every day, it sometimes feels like I never ride at all. I ride every day of course, but each boy goes out every other day which means they only get three to four rides a week each, and that's if I don't miss a barn day.
Izzy doesn't always come out of his stall ready to work on my agenda; he sometimes has an agenda of his own. That's what happened last Tuesday. I really wanted to work on the right lead canter since I hadn't been able to work on it since our lesson three weeks ago (we were out of town the weekend before last). He was simply too distracted. Instead we schooled the left lead and worked on changes of direction.
On Thursday, I was on a totally different horse. He was actually feeling a bit lazy and required a pony club kick to get a trot.
I hadn't planned on starting with a right lead canter, but as I put him together tracking right at the trot, I could feel that it was in there. I straightened his shoulders, moved my inside hip forward, and put my outside leg back. Without missing a beat, Izzy picked up a right lead canter and held it!
If you haven't been following our struggle with the right lead canter, you can watch the video that I shared last week.
We didn't make any kind of circle, and my half halts weren't getting through, so we ended up careening around the arena a few times as I vainly tried to get his neck to move. As long as I kept him counter bent, he held the lead, but that's not a long term solution. We picked up the lead several times and held it, but he was stuck on his forehand.
I brought him back to a walk and told him how awesome he is. We then worked on the left lead canter of which he is quite proud. That gave him some confidence and made him feel like he was pretty hot stuff. We tok another walk break and then went back to the right. To my delight, he easily picked up a right lead canter that actually had a bend. We even made a 20 meter circle or two and both lived to tell about it.
I brought him back to walk and praised him like he'd just won gold. I called it a day with that. I use a chronometer when I ride to keep myself from riding too long. A 30 minute ride means we got the job done. Longer, and I know we struggled. This ride took us 24 minutes - I was thrilled with how quickly he settled and got the job done.
I am hoping that switch clicked - maybe we've installed a right lead canter!
I know I said that last lesson post was (probably) the last one, but Chemaine Hurtado (Symphony Dressage) sent me one more video chunk. It's a good one which is why I want to share. The picture and sound quality are quite good, so it's a good one to watch if you're struggling with the canter.
In the video, we're schooling that pesky right lead. As you watch it, you'll be rooting for Izzy because he's so close to getting it. He did about 50 flying changes in an effort to avoid the right lead, but when he finally gets it and holds it, you'll want to cheer for him.
The best part of the video is the transformation in his body as he goes from stiff and resisting to softer and giving. Let me know what you think.
February Lessons Day 1 (Izzy)
Day one with Izzy was all about one thing - changing the bend. With a willing change of bend, I will be able to do anything with this horse.
Right now, he is happy to bend left, but he struggles with bending to the right. It's not that he's stiff, he just feels insecure about his balance, and this horse is all about confidence. If he doesn't feel it, he assumes he can't do it. So, everything we did was about helping him to feel balanced so that he feels confident. The dude's got a fragile ego.
For both days of lessons, Izzy was a really good boy. That doesn't mean we didn't struggle, but he was completely rideable. He threw a couple of fits that involved some squealing and kicking out, but I never lost control of him, and he never did more than get sassy. On Saturday, he did try to run through my outside rein, but before he could take the tantrum too far, I asked for a whip and reminded him that he did have to listen to my outside aids.
I was able to use the whole arena without the worry of riding a run away rocket. Instead of riding a green-broke horse, I felt like I was finally schooling a young horse in the basics of dressage. In fact, I never once though of him as a green bean.
We started out with some simple trot work and moved immediately into the left lead canter. None of our work is perfect of course, but Chemaine had nothing to criticize. His left lead canter is coming along really nicely. It's adjustable, fairly balanced, and easy for him to do. I didn't want to use our time schooling what I can already work on by myself.
We moved on to the right lead canter which is where our current trouble lies. I haven't touched the right lead since our lesson in January. We had too much missing for me to tackle it. The first thing I needed to establish was a right bend without losing the haunches to the outside. I am really proud of how I was able to work through that.
Now that we can track right at the trot while keeping the haunches in the same hemisphere, I felt good about attempting the right lead canter with Chemaine's help. Izzy can pick it up, but within just a handful of strides, he either loses the lead in the back and cross canters, or he cross canters and then tries to fix the problem by swapping leads in the front.
Chemaine's fix is proving to be brilliant. It doesn't punish the left lead canter, which he feels quite proud of, while at the same time insists that Izzy work harder than he would if he just maintained the right lead canter. Essentially it works like this:
You can see it all happen in the video. At exactly 20 seconds, you'll see the first lead change and hear me growl. As we continue to work, you'll see him get softer and softer to the inside rein. Cantering him on the left lead while tracking right is really hard work, so while we're fixing this right lead thing, we're also building a lovely counter canter (Second level stuff - go figure!).
At about 2:28 minutes, you'll see the smoothest lead change ever. At about 3:07 you'll see him easily swap in the back and a few seconds later he follows that up by switching in the front. The boy loves his left lead canter.
After schooling the canter departure and softening to the inside rein thing, we moved on to trying to get and KEEP the right lead canter. We started the work on Saturday and then built on it the next day.
Chemaine's next fix involved changing the bend - what else?! Once I got the right lead canter, I immediately changed the bend and rode the true canter in a counter bend. And rather than stick to a 20 or 30-meter circle, I used the entire arena. By cantering longer lines and making the turns more gradual, I had better control of his haunches. Once I was able to get and keep the canter, we wrapped up the day in order to revisit the exercise the next day.
To be continued.
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%: