From Endurance to Dressage
But first, please let me say thank you to all of you for your many comments. Holy cow, I think I have tapped into a serious vein here. This little topic seems to be resonating with many different people!
I always try and respond to all of your comments as I appreciate that someone has taken the time to let me know what they think, but in this case, you guys are overwhelming me! I went back to work this week so my writing time has been slashed, but please know that I read every comment with interest, and I visit all of the links you share. Right now, I am not sure I can respond to every comment.
With that said, onward to Monday's non-ride. Our summer weather, normally brutal at this time of year, has been extra mild. It's been in the low 90s with low humidity accompanied by afternoon breezes. Can't hardly complain about that. Sunday's weather was very humid, but the temperatures were fairly low, mid 80s. By Monday morning, the humidity had risen to an unbearable level, and the mountains around us were experiencing heavy thunder and lightening.
By afternoon, it was 108℉ (42.2℃) with excessive humidity and non-stop thunder. The national extreme (in Death Valley) was only 113℉, just five degrees warmer. It was hot, too hot to be riding. I was supposed to have a lesson at 4:45, but even I realized that those are pretty unsafe conditions in which to be working outside. I called JL and cancelled.
I really wanted to ride because we've been on such a solid roll that I didn't want to let a single day pass with no work. I have no fear while riding Sydney in the arena (mine or JL's). We long ago conquered that elephant. I really wanted to share with JL how our lesson in Tehachapi went and get her feedback, but it just wasn't a safe riding day.
Tuesday, on the other hand, gave me a whole new opportunity. More on that ride tomorrow.
Most of you already know that I am teacher; fifth grade most recently. This is dressage related as my days of riding both boys 5 days a week are nearly at an end. I go back to work next week to prepare, and the kids come back the week after that. So, until my official first day back, August 15th, I am using every calendar day to its fullest.Borrowed internet photo
Even though I was busy showing Speedy a week or so ago, Sydney still got his 5 rides last week, including a lesson on both Friday and yesterday. Somehow, riding Speedy with Chemaine's coaching helped me develop a new level of feeling on Sydney. It could also have been just taking a three day break from riding him enabled a few things to really settle and sprout.
In any case, I had a huge AHA! moment on Sydney when I rode him on Monday after the El Sueno show. I suddenly realized that while tracking left, he was hanging on my inside rein and wasn't filling up my outside rein. Which means that to the right, he wants me to hold him up with the outside rein. In both cases, it's always the left rein that's bearing the whole load.
I say it was an AHA! moment because not only did I become aware of this un-evenness in the rein on an intellectual level, but I knew how to fix it! It took a day or two of Sydney fussing about it, but by the end of the week, JL was very impressed with the results of my new "feel."
So here's how I fixed it:
1. Tracking left at the trot, I made it unpleasant for Sydney to lean on the inside (left) rein by flexing (rocking, sponging, pulsing) the inside rein. If he has nothing to lean on, he must carry more of his own weight.
2. I kept the outside rein steady and firm so that he had a secure place to go. JL calls it helping him to stay on the balance beam. In order to get off that inside rein, he has to trust that the outside rein will truly be there to help him balance.
3. I also added inside leg. The goal is to "push" him into the outside rein so that he fills it up. He needs to engage his inside hind leg so that he's reaching farther underneath himself which sends his barrel farther out which allows more bend (sort of).
4. Once I could feel him taking hold of the outside rein, I could now use my outside aids to lift his outside shoulder and make the turn. As I felt him fill up the outside rein, I used Chemaine's tip of releasing the inside rein while scratching his withers with my inside hand.
Tracking right was a totally different story. For some time now, JL has been telling me that Sydney is falling off the balance beam to the outside. To help him, she has described it as riding outside leg to inside hand. I've nodded my head, yeah, yeah, yeah, but really, I've been trying to figure out how to actually do that.
As I was riding those first few days after the show, it hit me like a ton of bricks: by keeping a strong hold on the outside rein and keeping him straight through the bend, he is able to balance on the beam. I imagine myself to be like the woman above holding the girl's hand. I am helping him to NOT fall off.
Since he needs an inside bend, I flex the inside rein steadily to ask him to soften his hold on the outside rein. At the same time, I am using my outside leg to turn. Outside leg to inside hand. Sydney hardly needs any inside leg, as he's already moving out onto my outside rein, too much so. Instead, I have to catch him with my outside leg and asked him to bend into the turn.
It's an odd way to ride a dressage horse: both directions, I need to be very supportive with my left leg and left hand. Chemaine kept pointing out that I need to sit more on my left seat bone when tracking left and add slightly more weight to that same seat bone even when tracking right. In other words, my whole left side needs to be a lot stronger!
At yesterday's lesson, I was able to demonstrate to JL how much better I was able to keep Sydney balanced in both directions. Seeing that I finally was able to keep him "up," JL challenged us with several good exercises. More about those tomorrow.
By the way, do you remember my elephant named Fear? I haven't seen him in a really long time, which is a great thing. I am pretty sure he has completely given up on me since this is what I saw him trying to do the other day. :0)
I am so glad that I didn't sell Sydney this past fall. I am even more grateful to Hubby for encouraging me to stick with him. I am absolutely head over heels in love with that Kiwi from down under. Thank you New Zealand Racing for sending this very lovely horse to the USA.
As I was preparing Speedy G for the two-day HDEC show, Sydney had eight days off. He was turned out plenty, but he had no under saddle time. I got on him for Monday's lesson, a little apprehensive; eight days is a long time off for a healthy OTTB. No worries - I was treated to a very well mannered boy. Tuesday was much the same, but an appointment and a sick day kept me from riding on Wednesday or Thursday.
Pick a Card - I'll take this one!
I worked a short day on Friday which gave me sufficient time to ride both boys. Even though I still wasn't feeling well, I hopped up on Sydney anyway (Speedy, too). I was so glad to find my boy just as relaxed as he had been on Monday and Tuesday. Each time I rode him, I worked on a small circle to the right to encourage Sydney to stand up and fill up my outside rein. He got better each day.
I enjoyed a very pleasant ride on Saturday. His left lead canter is something to die for. He has become so light in the front end that I can put him anywhere I want to. One difficulty that I've been having is using too strong of an outside rein. When I do, he drops back to a trot. On Saturday, I really focused on following his motion so that when I wanted to pick up his shoulders to move, I asked when he was already lifting his shoulders. AHA!
Wow. What a great feeling. By fine tuning my feel at the canter, I was able to get him even more collected. It was like flying ...
On Sunday, my plan was to work the right lead canter again in the small circle to help him balance and learn to move out. He foiled my plans by picking up a very balanced right lead canter without the need for the small circle. Now that he and I have finally connected emotionally, he is working so hard to do the right thing for me. Over the last few months, he has developed a keen sense of what I am trying to ask. If he thinks he knows the answer, he will volunteer before I can even ask the question.
During our loose rein warm up, the neighbor boy b-b-b-b-bounced around on his roller coaster car, startling Sydney. He gave a give "scooty" hop over, but then quickly returned to his pleasant trot with an ear flicked to me as if to ask, everything okay up there? I gave him a good boy pat and reassured him that everything was indeed, okay.
I have fallen in love with this horse ...
I really need to find a more entertaining way to write about the progress I am making with my Thoroughbred. Since it has become dull for me to write about how well and fast we are progressing, it must be equally uninspiring to repeatedly read, We Cantered! I obviously need another lesson on him so that we can work on something new.
Repetitive as it may be, it is far more fulfilling (for me at least) to write about our new found success than to feel the need to unburden myself about my old frenemies, Fear and Self-Doubt. I haven't seen those dudes in quite a long time to which I say good riddance anyway! If you're new here, or are only an occasional visitor, Fear is a gigantic elephant who likes to occupy the room or arena in which I am working. Over the past six month, it seems that I have kicked his ass to the curb and the taxi that was there waiting. And Mt. Self-Doubt, while still a geographical feature of my learning field, is slowly eroding and being washed away. I've summited it many times now and find it easier and easier to do.
So, monotonous as it is, we had a lovely right lead canter on Saturday! My rides on Sydney now all begin the same way: one walk lap around the outside of my "dressage court" with my hands planted in my thighs; a variety of circles, half circles, long side work at the trot with my hands still in my thighs; and then we canter. I always canter left first as that direction is very relaxing for Sydney. We spiral in and out, go down the long sides, and finish with another circle or two. I bring him back to a trot where we do a little spiral in and out and maybe a change of direction across the diagonal.
After our work to the left, we track right. Since he's already warmed up, we do some spiral work, and then I ask for the canter. Just two weeks ago, getting a canter that was somewhat in a forward direction might take 5 tries. And before we could even think about cantering, I had to work hard to get him rolled outward so that he wasn't leaning/falling in on my right leg and hand. Only when I thought he was properly balanced would I even try for that right lead canter. Most of the time we weren't successful until the 5th or 6th attempt.
That was before. Before what I am not exactly sure. I suspect it has to do with my deepening understanding of the outside rein. You know when you read, the outside rein controls the bend? those masters really meant it. The outside rein does control the bend. Sydney was falling in at the canter and I was helping him by not using my outside rein to control how much bend he had to the inside. The outside leg also helps by not letting the haunches drift out. So by controlling the bend with the outside rein, and keeping his haunches underneath him, he can now go forward into the canter rather than spin and fall into the canter.
I can read it 1,000 times, but it doesn't make sense until I actually feel it.
On Saturday, it took one request to get a nicely forward trot-to-canter transition. And then, since it was so nice, I decided we were ready to try canter to trot to canter transitions. I couldn't even think about doing those before as just getting one trot to canter transition took all day. I was so pleased with the transitions he did. I can see where we have some work as they weren't as smooth as they need to be, but at least I was able to keep him straight in the departures instead of falling in.
Here's to continued monotony and repetition!
I rode Sydney again on Wednesday evening, but this time, he was terrible (compared to Monday). I mean head jacked up, body stiff as a board, and every muscle in his body shrieking, RUUUUN! You OTTB!
But he didn't.
I said, noooooo, we're going to beeeeend.
He didn't ...
at least not for about 23 minutes. When he finally did bend, the ride was over.
It sounds simple, but it wasn't. It sounds scary and hard, but it wasn't. Instead, it was a fabulously, wonderful opportunity for me to add to my sense of feel.
As soon as I knew that this wasn't going to be one of those canter-so-that-he'll-move-his-feet rides, I focused completely on my aids. I quieted my hands, lightened my seat, and worked through my core.
For the better part of 20 minutes, I placed my left hand on my thigh to say you can bend while my outside rein said no faster. Any time Sydney loosened his neck and relaxed, I gently gave him the inside rein by lifting my hand back to a regular position. Without fail, he squealed and tried to jerk his head away. He was just having none of it.
I continued on with my hand planted in my thigh and encouraged him to soften his jaw, neck, and shoulders. I even said it out loud. I kept my seat light, but my legs on. When he gave an ounce of softness, I softened every part of my body. When he stiffened back up, usually in the very next stride, I lengthened my back and put my leg back on.
Just a few months ago, I would have been pretty nervous about his desire for an explosion, but now I feel no fear (bye-bye Elephant. Hasta luego!). Chris Cox was right. When we replace fear with knowledge, we have confidence.
As we continued, I started to worry that it might get dark before Sydney finally relaxed and gave me some sequential strides of softness. I doubled my efforts and really focused on what I was trying to achieve. Sally Swift talked about riding with soft eyes. She felt they remove tension from our bodies. I softened my eyes and looked inward. I turned my ear to Sydney and really listened for where the tension was coming from.
I suddenly felt that my outside rein wasn't working together with my inside softening rein. All at once, I felt something click in my brain, and a new AHA hit. In order for the half halt to be effective, the inside rein had to be steady. OOOOHHHHHH!
With a giving inside rein, my half halt was simply wagging his head from side to side. I stiffened my inside rein, and said HALT with the outside. Oh, hallelujah, I got a halt! I asked for a walk, he sprang into a jig, and I repeated the halt. We repeated the exercise several times until he knew what I wanted.
The softness that I'd been searching for happened within just a few minutes. All of a sudden, I understood that I could ask for softness and bend with that inside rein, but I also needed to be firm when I said no faster with my outside rein. The coordination between the two reins suddenly felt like a dance.
No longer was I was "sawing" back and forth. I could genuinely feel the difference between the two reins. One was asking for softness while the other was slowing down the outside shoulder. We were truly connected.
And it was AWESOME!
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%