From Endurance to Dressage
If Izzy's going to my "new" show horse, I need to start thinking of him as such. Imperioso. That's Izzy's RPSI registry name. Sounds kind of fancy to me. Let's hope he can live up to such a regal name.
It's only been a week since he became my number one ride, and already things are different. It's not like I've been riding him all this time with no goals, but now I'm riding with a lot more intent.
Having ridden through Third Level, my bag of tricks is a lot deeper than when I was bringing Speedy along. Long ago, I chafed at the idea that I was supposed to be schooling a level (or more) above what I was showing. Had I followed that advice, I would never have gotten anywhere. Things are different now. With Izzy, I school everything I know - stretchy trot circles, leg yields, half passes, walk pirouettes, simple changes, flying changes, halting at X, shoulder-in, 20-meter circles, 15-meter circles, 10-meter circles, and on and on.
I am also discovering that Speedy and Izzy are two very different learners. What took me forever to teach Speedy, Izzy often picks up within a day. Take the simple changes. I schooled those things for freaking EVER on Speedy. I've played around with them off and on with Izzy, but over the past week, I've been schooling them in earnest. At the end of the first day, Izzy started to anticipate what I wanted, especially in the canter to walk.
I am not saying Izzy is smarter than Speedy. He's certainly more athletic which helps, but the biggest difference is that I know a heck of a lot more than I did when I was trying to teach Speedy. Bless that pony for being so patient with me.
My local CDS chapter has a couple of clinics coming up - another dressage clinic with Barbi Breen-Gurley and a cavaletti clinic with Erika Jansson. I was slated to do the same cavaletti clinic last winter over in Ventura, but Izzy whacked himself the night before, pulling a shoe and banging his leg all to heck. Besides the two clinics, I am also planning on doing a USDF show in late October. That means I have two months to decided which level to enter. It's funny to be wondering if we'll have a flying change for Third, a good enough simple change to do Second, or be put together enough for First.
Those are good problems to have.
I attended a clinic with "S" judge, Barbi Breen-Gurley, a week or so ago. She's coming back at the end of August, so I have been particularly motivated to show some improvement in the areas she felt needed some work.
My mom came down to visit for a few days last week, so I asked her very nicely if she wouldn't mind shooting some video. I knew she'd say yes, but still, it's only polite to ask. Barbi's list of "needs to improve" included keeping my left shoulder back, creating the correct bend by looking between Izzy's ears, and following with my hands at the walk and canter. That's all I've been working on over the past week, so those were the things I was looking for on the video my mom shot for me.
I'll be honest; I've either fixed it, or I simply can't see my rogue left shoulder. I looked hard through the videos to find an example of a leading left shoulder, but it must be too subtle for me to see. Either way, I understand what Barbi was getting at, and I have definitely been aware of keeping my shoulders aligned with his.
I will say that she very correctly nailed me on the look between his ears thing. I can't believe how many times I've had to rethink where I am looking. Barbi was absolutely right; I am looking precisely where I want to be going, but my horse most definitely is not. By looking between Izzy's ears, I've noticed a few different things. First, the bend is getting much more correct as is his wayward right shoulder. Second, my shoulders are in a better position when he and I are both looking at the same thing. I can't say I've fixed "it," but I am quickly becoming motivated to keep him looking where I am looking.
It's the following with my hands/elbows thing that is definitely throwing me for a loop, and I don't think it's because I can't. I have naturally soft hands - too soft actually. From all my years of endurance racing, I have a long ingrained habit of opening my hands as I search for no contact. I want my horses to be too light, which is what I tend to get. This has been a tough habit for me to break, and Izzy's not helping any.
Izzy has learned to shorten his neck and duck behind the bit. In an effort to draw him out and forward, I drop the contact, crossing my fingers that he'll find the bit on his own and lengthen his neck. Spoiler alert: it doesn't work. At the walk, we're both getting it. I am no longer pushing my hands forward and allowing a sloppy contact. It's hard, but I keep a soft feel on his mouth no matter how short his neck gets. I think he's starting to trust that I'll follow as his neck is getting longer.
It is in the canter is where I am struggling the most. Since his neck is so tight and retracted, he barely moves it which means there's little to no movement to follow. As Barbi suggested,I keep glancing down at my elbows to see if they're sliding backwards and forwards. Most of the time, they're just sitting there, motionless. When this happens, I flex him to the inside and ask him to lower his head and neck. The instant that he does, I try diligently to follow with my elbows no matter how small his movement.
Am I instantly successful? No, but there is already some excellent progress overall. While I have a great trainer in Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, it never hurts to get a fresh set of eyes. It's been refreshing to tackle our issues from another angle, and I can't wait to get both Chemaine's and Barbi's feedback over the next month.
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.
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. We're currently showing Third Level for the 2020 show season. 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 schooling and showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2020 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2020 Pending …
10/11 A. Newcomb (c)
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2020 Completed …
10/26-27/19 SCEC (***)
6/20-21/20 SCEC (***)
6/29 Ulf Wadeborn (c)
7/11-12 SLO-CDS (***)
7/27 Breen-Gurley (c)
8/30 Breen-Gurley (c)
9/20 Caveletti Clinic (c)
2020 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
2 Scores/1 Judge:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
3 Scores/2 Judges:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
Score 3: 61.750% Johnson
Stuff I Read