During all my years of showing - a puny ten, I've rarely practiced the tests at home because Speedy is the king of anticipation. He likes to tell me when we should do a movement. I've always worried that he would memorize the tests and stop listening to me. After looking over my spread sheet of movements however, I could clearly see that we need to practice the tests at home so that I can focus on what is making things difficult at shows.
The analysis of my data shows that our half passes and our left to right flying changes are weak. I decided to ride those sections of the tests at home. Was that ever a great idea. Did Speedy start to anticipate? Why, yes. Yes, he did. I love it though because I was able to school him a bit on waiting for my aids. It's okay if he anticipates. I sort of like that he does because it tells me he's with me; he knows what's happening. Asking him to wait is like building in a half halt.
Schooling the left to right flying lead change has been really helpful. By doing 4 or 5 of them in a row, I am discovering why he doesn't always change. Sometimes, he's just being a stinker, but most of the time it's because I am doing something wrong. Yesterday, I realized that I was losing the new bend, so when I asked for the change to the right, I was letting him look left. Ain't gonna happen like that.
I've also found that by schooling a series of movements in their entirety, like the canter half pass to the flying change, I can really focus on what my aids need to look like. For the canter half pass left, we need to start with a walk to canter at K followed by the half pass left followed by the left to right flying change. If the canter depart stinks, I stop, and we do it again. If the half pass sucks, we stop and do it again. Same thing with the flying change. I am able to isolate each movement when and where it should happen which is helping pinpoint the problems.
Surprisingly, it's not boring either. I offer Speedy lots of praise, and somehow he has stopped feeling picked on for repeating an exercise. In the past, doing it more than two or three times seemed to suggest to him that he was doing it WRONG WRONG WRONG. Maybe I am approaching the repeats differently. I keep telling him that he's a good boy and asking him to try to get it even better. I also feel like I am building his fitness level. Three days of riding at a show - Friday's warm up combined with tests on Saturday and Sunday, was sort of wearing him out. He needs to be able to do more than four flying changes over a weekend.
We'll be going to show next weekend, fingers crossed - damn you, COVID-19! I am feeling better about our chances of scoring closer to the mid-60s. I am hoping that by really honing in on our weak points, it will pay off in higher scores. We'll see.
Oh, man, this has become my new favorite movement. It's non-concussive, so there's not a lot of wear and tear on your horse, which means you can do a lot of them. While it does require a certain amount of strength, you can always modify it by only doing a quarter turn or simply make the circle bigger. What makes it so great is that it teaches your horse to sit and when done correctly, he gets really light in the bridle.
The turn on the haunches first shows up in Second Level, but it's a movement that you see again and again as you move up the levels. When we first started the turn on the haunches, I didn't really understand its role in the grand scheme of things, but I am starting to really see its value.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has had me use the walk pirouette to improve practically every other movement, like using it to help Speedy bend for the canter half passes. In the walk pirouette, the horse has to move in the direction of the bend, just like in the half pass. Chemaine recently suggested a new exercise that sharpened Speedy up instantly: walk pirouette to medium trot to walk pirouette to medium trot. Game changer.
The first time I tried the exercise, I used the center line so that I could use as much of a walk pirouette as I wanted. It took Speedy exactly two reps before he figured it out. Suddenly, he was shooting forward in the medium and rocking back in preparation for the next walk pirouette.
Since that went so well, I decided to use the pirouette in an exercise Chemaine had shown me a few weeks ago: walk pirouette to canter. Essentially, it's the same as doing a simple change of lead through walk, but with the added collection of the pirouette. Just like when we did it at the trot, Speedy's canter depart was crisper because he had his hind legs underneath himself.
The next way I used the walk pirouette was to help Speedy balance for the flying change. Since I haven't schooled them much lately, his left to right change had gotten a bit sticky, and his right to left change was rushed; a problem we've encountered before.
As we crossed the diagonal in canter, instead of asking for the change, I asked for a balanced canter-to-walk transition, and then moved straight into a walk pirouette. I did that several times, but on the next diagonal, I asked him for the flying change instead of the walk transition. Viola, much improved. Instead of rushing or getting stuck, he jumped into the new lead cleanly.
Walk pirouettes. Who knew they were so handy?
Winter finally made it to California, and with it, so did Izzy's "sillies." The good thing is that he's no longer a jackass. A few days ago, he came out of his field with his skin on fire, coiled up like a spring. Rather than fight through it, I walked him over the round pen and let him work it out in there.
My first reaction was to be annoyed. REALLY ANNOYED. I found myself saying, "Oh, great, here we go again." But then I realized that the complete jackassery of years past was nowhere to be seen. Instead of bolting and launching himself into the air, he was just spooky, looky, and twitchy. I can live with that.
This horse likes cold weather. He doesn't hate the heat, but it definitely takes away all of his sillies. I can barely get him moving in the summer. Once that mercury drops though, his energy level sky rockets. If I give him a day or two off, he practically vibrates.
As he's become more educated, me too for that matter, he's much easier to redirect. Now that I can get him off his forehand, I can add leg. Just the other day I felt him sucking back a little, and my first reaction was to take my leg off. Just as suddenly, I thought to myself, "Uh-huh, mister. My leg is going on!" Now, he knows what a "frame" is, he knows how to carry himself, and he knows that I am going to push him forward into the bridle. And he can deal with it.
He's a lot more fun to ride this winter than he's ever been before. When he wants to lean on my hands, I now have a way to encourage him to shift his weight back. With lateral flexion and a firm inside leg, I can push him forward until HE decides to soften his poll and neck. It works like magic. When he softens, I straighten him a bit and send him forward. As soon as he braces, I flex him, firm up my inside leg, and drive him forward into the outside rein.
Sometimes that's all I get to work on, like last night, but that's fine because in the long run, it's all about the quality of the connection anyway. Our journey is anything but linear. With this horse, we spiral around and around, all the time getting more and more educated.
We're Not-So-Speedy Dressage for a reason.
Brown horse is still brown. His winter black hasn't yet started to show through. But color isn't what makes a horse good though, is it?
What makes a horse good is genetics and time. Lots of time. Like years. Izzy has good genes; his sire line is quite respectable. He was sired by Inbegriff whose own sire was the Oldenburg stallion, Ideal.
Liberty Work presented by Michelle Ives-Purdy with the famous stallion IDEAL. When this video was made IDEAL was the number one Oldenburg Breeding Stallion in the World. This work was a testament to his temperament and her patience. By the way, Michelle is still teaching and training.
Izzy's dam was a Thoroughbred mare named Banjo Rose (born 1989). I don't know much about her other than what appears in her online pedigree. Her family tree looks like a road map of Europe with horses from Italy, Great Britain, France, and even a few from Canada for good measure. In Izzy's RPSI passport under Mutter/Dam/Mère she is listed as Hauptstutbuch, but I don't know if that puts her in the Oldenburg Registry NA's Premium Mare Book or Main Mare Book. If you're in the know, I would love to have that explained.
Izzy's genes are what they are. It's up to his people, that would be me, to invest the time. While it has taken me a very, very long time, he is finally turning into the horse I hoped he'd be. Every ride is now about dressage, not about turning him into a semi-respectable equine citizen. He goes in a legal dressage bit to which he mostly respects and gives. He occasionally forgets his manners, but he is easily persuaded to GET OVER IT.
For the past few months, I've been schooling the quality of the gaits. His back is now supple and he can stretch deep and round over his top line. I've created a bit of a monster though. For so long I worked on RELAXATION, and now that's all he wants to do. I am trying to put a bit of zip back in his stride. It takes a ton of leg to get his butt to move forward. It's a good problem to have.
Our rides are now filled with transitions, lots and lots of transitions. We collect and lengthen at the trot. We do the trot to canter transition over and over until it's soft. We do the same thing, if not more of them, for the canter to trot transition. Now that I know what's looming ahead at Second Level, I am fixing those blooper moments now rather than later.
I am having fun riding him, and he seems very happy. That's really all I can ask. We have some schooling shows lined up for the fall, and if all goes well, he might actually make it to a USDF-rated show next summer. For now, I see a lot more transitions in his immediate future.
And that, too is a good problem to have.
I've had a couple of kicked my butt weeks. The switch from having the summer off to going back to work full time is always a bitter pill to swallow. It's not that I don't like working, I do. Teaching is very rewarding - usually. It's the fact that August and September afternoons are still flipping hot, 100 degrees hot, and I just can't do that to myself or my boys. After not having ridden mid-week for two straight weeks though, Friday's heat was finally tolerable enough to ride.
Somewhere along the way, Izzy has grown up. I think it happened last March. Of course, once fall and winter hit, I expect some of his jackassery to return, but until then, I am having the most rewarding rides.
As I continue up the levels with Speedy, I occasionally think of the adage show a level below what you school. I've always found that idea to be arrogant. If I knew how to do the movements above where we are, I'd be schooling them. But since I am learning right along with Speedy, we show right where we are schooling.
It's different with Izzy. Now I know what a leg yield should feel like. The same for a shoulder in. I know how much bend I should look for in the half pass, and I know that a change of lead through trot is setting him up for flying changes. As I was schooling him on Friday afternoon, I laughed when I realized that the only "movement" from training level that we were schooling was the stretchy trot. I now finish my rides on both boys with long and deep stretches.
Since it was 100 degrees, I kept the ride pretty short. We did a quick walking warm up, focusing on being really round and deep with lateral flexion. From there, we did a few 20-meter trot circles with changes of bend across the diagonal. I also asked him to lengthen his stride. We did a few leg yields followed by some trot half pass to get a change of direction. That took care of the trot work.
I followed the trot work up with a few trot to canter transitions and then did some changes of lead through trot. Next was the canter half pass to check on his suppleness. And since we don't have a flying change yet, I rode the counter canter along the short side and then did a few more changes of lead through trot.
So now, I can actually show several levels below what we school. Our 21-minute ride had movements from First, Second, and Third Levels. It's a lot easier when you already "know" what you're doing.
Here are a few clips of what we worked on over the weekend.
Oh, I forgot to mention that we went to another show on Sunday! More on that tomorrow.
Well, not on Monday. But that's only because I had no lesson or show planned. In fact, it was downright lovely. Our normally 90 plus degrees were tempered with this series of winter storms that has invaded California. So instead of 90 degrees, it was in the 70s. Instead of searing blue skies, we had big puffy clouds. Overall, it was quite a lovely day.
Of course on Sunday, the day I was supposed to ride with Sean Cunningham of STC Dressage, it poured and poured and poured some more. I rode with Sean about a month ago and was really looking forward to hearing what he thought about what we look like now. I also had a stack of questions for him now just growing taller.
Even though Sean couldn't make it to Bakersfield for a lesson, I still tried to ride. If you count saddling up and then hunkering down in the hay barn as the rain cascaded off the roof. I eventually just gave up and pulled Izzy's saddle.
Even without a lesson, things have really started to come together since that lesson a month ago. Shifting my focus to lateral flexion above all else has really helped Izzy relax. When he gets tense or worried, the tension just builds until his brain falls out. Sean's idea of going back to lateral flexion seems to allow the tension to simply dissipate.
It is in the trot work that I am really seeing the relaxation. One thing that I "discovered" on my own about the efficacy of lateral flexion is that when Izzy gets tense and braces through his poll, I flex him to the side and then I turn to look at the hip on the same side. I insist on the flexion as I ride him forward into the turn. Even though it feels like magic, I know it's just a matter of more weight being put on my inside seat bone and aligning my shoulders to his. It still feels like a magic trick though as his tension slowly melts.
On Saturday, we worked on the canter. Lateral flexion, especially to the right, is much harder to get so I asked him for a lot of counter canter and then counter flexing in the true canter. With counter canter I also asked for canter half pass, and then on a whim, I asked for the flying change. Of course he nailed it.
For Monday's ride we did a fair amount of leg yielding in the trot before moving to the canter. And then in the canter, I again asked for shallow counter canter loops. I can't say that he ever truly gave to the right rein, but he actually settled in to a nice rhythm and accepted the half halts.
I am hoping to make the drive to Moorpark in a couple of weeks to meet up with Sean again. While it's more convenient if Sean could make it here, the trip off property will be good for Izzy. We're progressing slowly, but I still have summer plans for him.
A show maybe?
It doesn't matter how many times I write those words, I still find days where they mean something even more than the day before. I am either the world's slowest learner, or the idea of leg to hand is just as complicated as the words half halt. I am going with the latter.
I haven't had a lot to say about Izzy over the past few weeks. We've been working, but we seem to have hit a new stage in our working relationship. On the ground, he is in my pocket, sometimes literally. Under saddle, we're dealing with something old that feels like something new.
He finally has some length to his stride and his back is moving, but he is now locked onto that bit like he thinks it's actually going to hold him up. Dude, you're 1,350 pounds to my 124 - ain't no way I am holding you up! The other thing I am wrestling with is his wayward right shoulder which is actually great since that's the same issue I have with Speedy. I now get to work on it ALL. THE. TIME.
For so long, my rides were about getting Izzy to let go over his top line so that he could stretch down. Once that was mostly happening, I was able to ask for a bigger stride. I recently realized that we're now past stretching forward and downward as the primary goal. The emphasis now needs to be on suppleness from his jaw to his poll to his withers. That's the old that feels like something new.
While last night's ride started out as frustrating, I quickly changed my goal from encouraging strictly relaxation (there has to be some relaxation after all) to being supple in his neck. I wanted to be able to get right or left flexion whenever I wanted it. It took nearly an hour, but he started to give it to me.
The difficulty is that he wants to be spooky which means strong reins on my part to keep him from veering off - usually to the right. I also had to use the whip to make my leg aid loud enough for him to hear. Eventually, I brought everything back down to a walk so that I could control the forward while insisting with my leg/whip that he step OVER.
After he realized that spooking in the same corner that he's passed through a bazillion times wasn't getting him anything but the leg/whip combo, I was able to get some interesting work done. Essentially, I bent him to the inside to put him on the outside rein, and then I added leg to send him forward and sideways, first in leg yield then in half pass all while changing the bend. Leg to hand. Leg to hand. Leg to hand.
He never makes things easy, but for a thinking rider, he'll give you plenty of puzzles to solve. I just put one more piece in the puzzle.
If I am frustrated and dejected with where Speedy and I are, I am on Cloud 9 with Izzy's progress. After nearly four years of work, Izzy has finally decided to join my team. My mom and her husband were here over the weekend and even she commented on how obvious it is that he loves me.
My mom is a generous soul. She knows how much I need to ride, so even though they had driven nearly the length of California over the past week, she happily agreed to sit on the mounting block and shoot pictures while I schooled Izzy.
As I rode, I described what I was working on. She loves horses and thinks dressage is pretty cool, but she doesn't yet recognize all of the movements. I am sure it didn't help that we weren't doing them spectacularly either. But even so, it helped her to know what I was at least trying to do.
Right now, my rides on Izzy are no longer about teaching him how to be a good equine citizen. I am now schooling most of the movements from Second Level and even some from Third. The more complicated the movement, the happier he is.
Most days, I can now school the walk pirouettes, the counter canter, and the trot half pass. He loves it all. The turn on the haunches still throws him for a bit of a loop, but if I start it big, he really starts to sit for the second or third stride, and suddenly it's a full pirouette.
The counter canter hasn't come easily, he loves to throw in a flying change, but he now understands it. I simply have to reassure him that I won't let him fall. As long as I have a solid hold on the "inside" shoulder and remind him to stand up on it, he relaxes into the counter canter and holds it easily. We can now do a full lap around around the arena without losing the lead. The flying change is next!
None of what we're doing is fantastic. His stride is still a bit short, but he's begging to stretch, and he is 100% with me. He doesn't check out anymore, and he wants to work. He's enjoying himself, and he genuinely likes what we're doing. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I stuck it out with him. There were many days that I wrote for sale ads with every intention of posting them.
Those days are gone; I've finally decided to keep him. Check back with me next week though. I am enjoying this version of him while it lasts!
Early summer has arrived here in Central California which means our temperatures are solidly in the upper 80s and low 90s. When you're not yet acclimated to it, 90 is hot.
Because I was busy doing a few other things - the Summerlane Farm trail ride, shopping for Mother's Day, and a lesson on Speedy, Izzy had a few days off. At first, he seemed happy to come out and play. He was a bit tense about something in the yard (long story), but he kept his marbles locked up tight.
His walk was mostly fine, but he wasn't really willing to stretch over his back. I tried a variety of exercises including the shoulder in/haunches in on a circle, but he he just wouldn't quite let the tension go.
Sometimes I find that the canter will do what a trotting exercise won't. Izzy disagreed. He refused to pick up a left lead canter. I kicked and asked and kicked some more, but he emphatically said NO, it's too hot. I finally hopped off and got the whip.
From then on, his motor was revved, but he was even more tense because he knew he'd done something wrong, and he hates to be wrong. I didn't even have to use the whip. He finally agreed to pick up the canter but it was not soft nor was it relaxed.
I focused on relaxing my seat and upper body. I insisted that he could only pick up the canter if it wasn't against my hand. As soon as he softened, we walked. We repeated this several times to the left. By the time I asked for a right lead canter, he was listening but was still tight across his back.
The right lead canter is the one that can be the most difficult when he's tense. He doesn't want to give me an inside bend because he falls in on his inside shoulder. He also loses the rhythm of the canter in his hind legs. He'll swap leads back and forth or sort of stutter with his hind legs. All of a sudden I could hear my trainer's voice in my head. Half halt. Where's your inside bend? Half halt! More!!!!
I bent him to the inside to put him on my outside rein, and then I half halted. And all of a sudden I knew why I needed a half halt and what feeling I was trying to achieve.
He had lost the rhythm of the canter, and I could feel that he needed to slow down his front end so that his hind legs could reorganize. It was the clearest sense of understanding that I've had in a while. While maybe not perfectly executed, I could feel that my half halts were making perfect sense to Izzy.
We schooled the canter for a few more minutes. Every time he relaxed and felt balanced, we took a walk break. He was still tight and worried, but he was completely focused on me and was doing his best to do what I was asking. I finally felt like my aids were very specific, and I was actually helping him.
Little by little Izzy and I are becoming a team, and his level of trust in me is growing. He's still not an easy horse to ride, but he's getting less and less complicated. I was thrilled with what we were able to work through yesterday. My diamond in the rough is really starting to shine.
I hate to tempt the universe, but I just have to go ahead and say it: Izzy has been freaking AWESOME this past week or so.
We all know he has his moments. Most of them tend to be not-so-brilliant, but those are quickly becoming less frequent. Okay, maybe more like 50/50. But when he has good moments, they are getting really good.
Over the weekend, he gave me two amazing rides in a row. Yes, IN A ROW! On the first day, the UPS truck pulled in, turned around, pulled out, and basically tried to ruin my ride. Izzy didn't even bat an eye. In fact, he gave me the best connection I have ever felt from him.
As we were trotting around, I just kept asking him to keep his head down. And while he was at it, I asked him to carry the bit at the same time. And then he DID! And it wasn't just for one stride either. All of a sudden, I felt him take the bit gently as he softened through the neck and lifted his back. We trucked around for at least half a circle, totally connected and bouncy. And then of course he lost his balance a bit, but then he was back with me.
The next day, the ranch owner walked by while I was warming up, and then the neighbor came by a minute or two later. Just a month ago, that would have sent Izzy over the edge. I gave him a warning, and after a quick think, Izzy decided that his life is much more comfortable when he lets me do the thinking. We went on to have another great ride.
Since I ride Speedy through the various movements of Second Level, I've decided to be more specific with Izzy as well. For so long it's felt like our rides were more about steering. Could I keep him more or less in a circle or straight down the long side without a leap to the left or right? Now, I am choosing specific movements from Training Level through Second (and even some from Third).
From Training Level, we're doing the canter work: pick up the canter in the corner, circle at B/E, and cross the diagonal with a transition at X. From First Level, we're doing all of the leg yields. From Second Level, we're doing shoulder in and travers. And believe it or not, we even fool around with Third Level's renvers which he finds stupidly easily - in fact I can send his haunches back and forth at will. The other day, we actually did a trot half pass across the entire arena. He was high as a kite and didn't realize what was happening, but he did it so easily.
My winter break is over which means he won't get ridden every day like he was. Hopefully we made enough progress over these past few weeks that 4 - 5 days of riding a week will be enough to keep him happy.