From Endurance to Dressage
I've made a few changes in my riding routine that are making me so much happier. I really hate complaining about a First World problem - having too many horses, but when we live a life that is so dependent on a clock, time becomes as valuable as any other resource.
For most of my adult life, and even as a teenager, I've had two horses. While it was difficult to keep two endurance horses fit at the same time, it was more about choosing who to ride each day and for how long. It was rare to ride both in a single day.
When I made the switch to dressage, it seemed silly to ride for 45 minutes and go home. I was used to riding 4 - 5 hours at a time. That's when I started riding two horses a day. I've been doing that pretty regularly for four years. I am finally tired of it.
I realized that I was rushing through my rides to get them done along with all of my other chores: feeding, cleaning stalls, caring for tack, doctoring, and so on. For the past month, I've given myself permission to ride only one horse each day without feeling guilty about it. Riding is once again fun and the chores seem like a lot less work.
Speaking of fun, I had some really interesting rides on both boys over the weekend. Speedy and I are chipping away at a few things we're going to need for Second Level. For me, that's the sitting trot. I am working on it, and I had some really good moments this weekend, but I have a long to go if I want to sit a trot lengthening.
For Speedy, I need to get a canter to walk transition. The walk to canter is there. It might not get a 7 or an 8, but at least I can get it every time on both leads. Chemaine had me doing some great exercises to teach Speedy to sit so that he can go from canter to walk. This weekend, he gave me several clear canter to walk transitions. They definitely need to be straighter, but they were round and clean. Chalk one up for Team Speedy.
With Izzy, I've been working on the canter: getting it, maintaining it, and steering it. Over the weekend, his left lead was pretty spot on, and he did it without the usual tantrum, although he thought about it. I counted that as definite progress.
To the right, the rodeo continued, but there was a difference. After the work that we had done with Chemaine, I had much better control of the outside shoulder and was able to keep him tracking right without ever losing him to the left. With control of the shoulder, I also started to get control of his haunches.
Each time his haunches fall out, he does a flying change to get on the left lead. Instead of bringing him back to trot and reorganizing, I have been able to counter flex him and push his haunches in. The result is that I get a flying lead change back onto the right lead.
So as we cantered a 30-meter circle tracking right, he could hold the right lead until we came to the gate side of the arena. If I wasn't careful enough, I would lose his haunches to the outside and he would swap to a left lead. Without missing a beat, I counter-flexed him, pushed my inside seat bone forward, pushed my outside leg back, and asked for the right lead canter. He got the flying change every time.
Ideally, I'd rather catch his haunches before I lose them, but I love that he is slowly figuring out my aids and that he is really trying. And if nothing else, it's kind of cool to feel how easy the flying change is for him!
Of course, that was this weekend, last night was a hot mess to the right. One step forward ... two steps back.
If you only started following recently, Sydney has several nicknames. When things aren't going too well, he's Mr. Hyde. When he's right there with me, he's Captain Awesome all the way. Last week, we had a serious Jekyll and Hyde afternoon. It was so terrible that I didn't even want to write about it.
I jinxed myself, of course, because it came after a day that I had flippantly tossed out that Sydney's normal fall freak-outs had not happened (yet). Sure enough, the very next day, all hell broke loose. Not half way down the arena, on a loose rein while walking, Sydney spun violently to the right, his preferred direction for freaking out, and stood at full attention with his heart pounding beneath my thigh.
Shit. Pardon my language.
I spent the next 45 minutes riding a 2 x 4. I tried every single suppling exercise that I know, but nothing worked. Eventually, I felt that he wanted to canter, and I knew it would be good for him, if he could stay in control. I told him that he could canter, but it was going to be on the left lead, to the left. He tried everything he could to whip his head to the right, but I planted my inside rein on my knee and repeatedly asked for a left lead canter.
Finally, he let go through his neck just enough that he could pick up his inside shoulder and canter on the left lead. I let him burn off some of his tension in a good hand gallop, but then I slowly asked him to collect and get back on his haunches. By the time we finished, much of the tension was gone, but it took the better part of a week to get rid of the rest of it.
I rode him nearly each day, focusing solely on relaxation. He got better and better. On Monday afternoon. Captain Awesome finally showed up with his cape snapping smartly in the wind. He practically saluted me. We worked in the scary end of the arena for the first time in nearly a week. That's where the freak-out had occurred. We cantered the whole arena, we rode big looping circles, and even did 15-meter circles, all on both leads.
What a relief. I know I don't have an easy horse to ride, but it's always frustrating when Sydney takes ten giant backward steps. Those weird freak-outs are occurring less and less, but that doesn't make them any more fun to get through.
When we finished our ride on Monday afternoon, Sydney got TONS of hugs and kisses followed by a handful of cookies. He looked pretty pleased with himself, and maybe even a bit surprised. I hope he remembers that feeling for the rest of the fall.
I won't say that JL "fixed" it, but she certainly helped me find Sydney's right lead canter, again. Over the weekend, I was able to get a right lead canter, but it wasn't as nice as it had been. JL helped me figure out what I was missing.
Sydney has been so good lately that I've inadvertently gotten a bit lazy or lax with my outside rein. Or rather, my left rein; it's a problem both directions. When I give that rein too much, everything falls apart. So, I put my bucking strap back on so that I could remind myself how firm I have to be with that left rein, especially to the right. I hold it and the rein in my left hand.
During Monday's lesson, JL had me go through my regular walking warm-up, trot work, and then we picked up a left lead canter. During the canter she had me flex him to the outside to see if was willing to bend his neck to the right. All of that work went well with no tenseness or resistance. And then we went to the right.
JL could see that I was not supporting Sydney enough with my outside (LEFT) hand, so she showed me a new game that I can play with him. While holding the rein and the bucking strap in my left hand, I asked him to look at my knee with my inside rein. At first, there was no movement and I questioned whether he was able to bend to the right with the left rein so firmly fixed.
JL pointed out that if he rocked back a bit, yes, he could flex his neck. She was right. So now, the game is to ask for inside flexion at the walk and trot while fixing my left hand firmly so that I don't give it away. She even suggested I keep a treat or two in my pocket so that I can make the game a bit more fun for Sydney.
Once he was willing to flex his neck with the fixed outside rein, we went to the canter. I kept hold of the bucking strap and gently rocked the inside rein as I asked for a canter. It wasn't perfectly smooth, but he did pick up the correct lead and after only a stride or two of argument, he settled into a nicely, rhythmic canter that was balanced.
Over the last few weeks, I have been so focused on getting the inside bend that I have been giving him my outside rein, which leaves him off balance. When Sydney is off-balance, he gets very anxious, and his go-to response is to run fast and far. So now I am left with the task of reminding him that he is balanced (if I am doing my job correctly) and that he can canter to the right.
My homework for the next however long is to play the flexing game (along with all of the other suppling exercises we've learned) and to work on firming up my left hand. It felt good that I knew where the problem was, (left rein), but it feels better to have a very concrete solution. Yah for good trainers!
Sydney can pick up a right lead canter; you saw it on a video last week. When I rode last night, we simply couldn't make it appear …
We've been doing some fun stuff lately. With my trainer, we've been collecting the canter (mostly left lead), really schooling a good stretchy trot, and most recently, we've learned how to do a stretchy CANTER (left lead). Who would have thought my Jekyll/Hyde of a horse could do a stretchy canter?
It's been fun playing around with it, and more importantly, Sydney seems to really enjoy it. The stretchy canter proves whether your pony is on the forehand or not. If he's not really working over his back, he'll kind of dive into the stretchy canter and zoom through it. When the connection is good and he's carrying his own weight, you'll get a lofty canter that's got a good swing to it.
With our warm weather (it's cooled down to the high 80s) and long afternoons, I decided to take advantage and rode both ponies after work last night. Speedy reminded me of why I adore him (we got our first decent leg yield to the right that actually felt connected and "correct"), which gave me all kinds of we rock attitude. I saddled Sydney with a plan to do a little bit of stretchy canter on the left and then get one right lead canter departure.
What do they say about best laid plans?
Everything was going swell: we did our suppling exercises at the walk and trot. I asked for some nice stretchy trot and was really pleased with how light he was. We picked up a long and low canter that had the right kind of lofty feel. We took a little walk break and moved onto the right lead canter.
I spent the next 15 minutes trying everything I could think of to get the canter departure, with zero success. I am not quite sure what was wrong. After struggling with it and realizing that it just wasn't going to happen, I went and got my lunge line. As soon as I stepped away, Sydney burst into a right lead canter that looked painful. His hind end was fishtailing every which way and his head was flinging about in an effort to keep from falling down.
I brought him to a halt and unbuckled his reins in order to turn them into side reins. I tied the outside rein pretty firmly to his girth in hopes that it would give him more support. I also tied the inside rein, but I gave him a bit more room there. As soon as I asked for the canter, he looked much more comfortable and was soon cantering around in a balanced frame. He had a very surprised look on his face as well.
After just a few rounds, I quietly asked him to halt. Throughout the whole ride and lunge, I never got upset. I just kept trying to work through the problem. Sydney is so sensitive though that if he feels like he's not getting the right answer, he gets more and more tense. I told him what a good boy he was and stroked his face. We walked over to the water trough where he took a long drink. I continued to remind him of how awesome he is.
Today, I am going to put my bucking strap back on so that I can use it to really support my outside hand as I hold onto that outside rein as firmly as possible. I think we need to go back to our crabbing exercise where I push his haunches in and lead with the inside shoulder. It takes a firm hold on the outside rein to make that happen. Hopefully that works and we can get a right lead canter. That's all I am going to ask for.
Sydney has never tried to duck behind the contact like Speedy. Instead, he tries to just run right through it. On Sunday, I realized that I am developing some really good feel for what an elastic connection is. Sunday was a definitely a good riding day!
With Sydney, I am really working on transitions into the canter and then schooling the downward transition into the trot. Now that I am focusing on not just getting the transition but improving it, I have reached a whole new level of feel. I love it!
As I cued Sydney into the right lead canter, I got several out of the starting gait canter departures. It didn't even phase me. I sat up tall, and brought him back down to a trot and asked again. The third canter departure was perfect. He heard me whisper, and rather than bolt into the canter, he gave me a super soft and light departure that was quiet and lovely.
I can now maintain the contact no matter what he does. This allows me to keep him under control without ever dropping him, which gives him confidence. I am really looking forward to the next time I can take him to a show. I think we're finally getting it!
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 …
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
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