From Endurance to Dressage
I know I come across a bit like a Pollyanna, but I can't help it. I ALWAYS look for the silver lining, and if one isn't readily visible, I keep working the problem until I see a solution or benefit.
I've had a rough last couple of weeks with Izzy. I know I've stretched his comfort level by doing so much traveling, and moving barns added to that stress, but he's also had plenty of down time and a lot of space to stretch out. I also had the saddle fitter and chiropractor look at him and he got his hocks injected.
Even so, we had hit a road block. Our rides were spiraling down into a hot mess. He was getting more tense and short in his back instead of better. He was getting sassy, heavy in the bridle, and he was starting to bolt again, something we had worked through months ago. I wrote about that just the other day. I figured it had to be something I was doing wrong, so I got off him and put Izzy back in the sliding side reins.
How is it that when we fix a problem, we completely forget about it the next time that problem comes up? The sliding side reins have once again proved miraculous.
When I used the sliding side reins in the spring, Izzy had very little balance. I used them to help him figure out how to adjust to the contact and keep his balance at the same time. I kept things pretty slow and did lots of walk to trot transitions.
This time, I used them to help him go FORWARD while keeping his balance. The trouble (to my uneducated seat and eye) is that he has so much power behind, that he propels himself forward but can't keep up in front so he dives onto the forehand and then panics.
Since I am not the world's best rider, I have been using my hands A LOT to get him to soften but I wasn't letting him go forward because he would race out of control. We were stuck in a nasty cycle.
Chemaine suggested I do two things: first, let him work it out in the sliding side reins. The second thing she suggested was to allow him to go much more forward. I am not afraid of a galloping horse, but his balance is still so sketchy at that bigger stride that I've been a bit worried about getting tossed.
So, I put him on the lunge line and let him figure it out without a rider on board. The first few days we spent 20 - 30 minutes just doing lots of trot to canter to trot transitions without me interfering too much. It was almost painful to watch. His whole topline was inverted and his butt was clamped tight. I didn't ride him for the first two days, just lunged him with the sliding side reins.
When he galloped so tight across his back that he was doing the motorcycle lean, I spiraled him down to a trot and tried again. It only took a few minutes each day for him to realize that it was okay to go big. By the fifth day, he was so relaxed that I could hardly get him to move forward.
I am terrible at lunging and videoing at the same time, so you only get a snippet, but rest assured, this is pretty much how he went by the fourth and fifth day. There was some racing around on the first two days, but for the most part, he very quickly figured out that he could open up his stride and really stretch. This video was from the fifth day, so all of the big, expressive trot is gone. What's left is a very relaxed and workmanlike gait.
By the third day, I felt ready to get back on him. My goal was to ride the bigger trot without holding him back. I lunged him first with the sliding side reins. When I asked for the trot, there was a sassy moment or two, but I just sat quietly and held the reins steady. Instead of asking him to soften, I asked him to move forward with a bigger stride. I kept my hands steady without sponging the reins. I wanted to see if he could balance himself. Of course he did!
For third and fourth days, I lunged first and kept my rides less than 15 minutes. By the fifth day, I lunged for only 10 minutes and rode for another 10. He was amazing. I was able to ride that huge trot and we even cantered. He picked up the correct lead both directions and his ears swiveled happily.
One thing that I am most surprised about seeing is that he is finally starting to over-stride with his hind legs at the walk. It's not much, just a few inches, but he hasn't been able to do that before now. I noticed it on the lunge line, but I really felt it once I got on. For the first time I felt his back really swing at the walk.
I am going to continue lunging before riding for the next week or so. After that, I'll decide wether to lunge based on how he feels. No matter what he looks like, I have COMMITTED to at least one day of lunge work from here on out. No matter how good I think he is, I am going to keep on using those sliding side reins - he clearly needs them for a while.
I am pretty happy to have my big brown horse back on my team. It was looking kind of iffy there for a few days.
Izzy and I have come to a little bump in the road. I am 100% positive that it is the result of doing so many trips and moving barns all in a short time. His ground manners are fine, but in the saddle, he's fighting the contact.
Since I can't take a lesson right now, I called my trainer instead. After listening to what was going wrong, Chemaine pointed out that it sounded like Izzy had gone back a few months in his training. She asked me what had worked in the spring to get him back on my side, and then she reminded me that I had been working him in the sliding side reins.
Palm to face. Oh yeah.
I had actually been thinking of giving them another go, but things had sort of escalated in the two days before Sunday's show, and I didn't have time to give them a try.
I dug my sliding side reins out yesterday afternoon and popped them on. As before, Izzy stood perfectly quietly as I adjusted them. I can't say that he likes working in them, but he definitely doesn't have any fear or anxieties about them.
From the minute I stood back and asked him to step forward, I was amazed at how much his gaits have improved over the past several months. His walk is freer and his stride is longer. When I asked him to trot and then canter, everything that is happening under saddle was made plainly obvious.
After watching my video from Sunday's show, Chemaine's critique was that i am not riding him forward enough. That's a tough one for me because if I let him go bigger, he dives onto his forehand. When he's using so much power behind and falling onto my hands, my balance and core strength aren't developed enough to keep my own self in place. We end up fighting against each other.
On the lunge line, I could see this happening. Izzy pushes so big with his hind end, but his front end can't keep up so he scrambles and hollows his back. When I used the sliding side reins in the spring, I encouraged him to slow down to find his balance. This time, since he is stronger and has slightly better balance, I decided to let him fight himself.
Eventually, I saw him relax his back and lift his front end. It was the best I've ever seen him move. While it was lovely to see, it also left me feeling a bit frustrated as I want to get that quality of movement while I ride.
I played around with trot to canter transitions and found that if I just let him go forward, he did eventually find his balance. Tracking left was a lot harder for him. He careened around quite a bit before he softened his topline and lifted his withers.
I only lunged him for 20 minutes, but by the end of that time, he was blowing pretty good and was completely wet. I hopped up on him and rode around the ranch's 10 acres to cool him out. His walk was amazing. He tensed up at a few things that he hadn't seen before, but the walk he showed me was definitely show worthy - long strided and very forward thinking.
I am so happy to have a three-day weekend. I am going to lunge each day before I ride. My hope is that he can work out his balance issues on the line without me up there throwing him off. I am also going to get braver and let him move out bigger once I am in the saddle.
I'll let you know how it goes. Have a great weekend!
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%: