From Endurance to Dressage
Speedy is as loosey goosey as they come. When he's tense or excited, he gets sproingy and very elastic. When he gets just enough of this positive tension, his movement positively sparkles.
When Izzy is tense, nervous, or simply excited, his back muscles contract and the underside of his neck bulges. It's not attractive and does not add anything to his quality of movement.
During my last lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, trainer and owner of Symphony Dressage Stables, she suggested an exercise to help get Izzy's back to loosen up. I took the exercise one step further and have built a new warm up routine for him that is working wonders.
When I first get on, I start by letting him look around. So many trainers discourage this insisting that you should get the horse to focus on you instead. I totally agree, but Izzy seems to need just a minute or two to stare. At what, I usually don't know, but it seems to help if I let him just get it out of his system.
The next thing we do is walk at least ten minutes. During that time, I start out by weighting my inside seat bone until I either feel his back swing away from my seat bone or until he drops his head. Then I ride with both seat bones evenly weighted for a few strides forward until he drops his head. Then I weight the outside seat bone until he either swings away from it or drops his head.
While this sounds incredibly boring, it is doing wonders for Izzy's back and giving me a better sense of my own weight aids. As I feel him begin responding to these shifts in my weight, I start asking for inside flexion when I weight my seat bone to the inside, vertical flexion when both seat bones are evenly weighted, and outside flexion when I weight my outside seat bone.
Once I have him listening at the walk, we pick up the tiniest trot and repeat. When he's particularly tense like he was on Sunday after having several days off, I keep the trot as small as he needs. With his back so tight, he can't stretch into a bigger trot.
As I loosen his back by weighting one seat bone and then the other, he starts sneezing and breathing and asking to stretch down bigger. When he does, I encourage a longer stride and then do a change of direction to work the other side. If I think he's feeling ready, I'll also ask for some shallow leg yield as he stretches down.
On Sunday, Izzy was super tense and mad about something that happened while tacking up. I don't know if you've seen the movie Memento, with Guy Pearce, but in it, he suffers from a rare form of short term memory loss wherein he will forget what happened ten minutes ago. I have finally realized that Izzy suffers from the same condition.
He gets mad, but after a few minutes he can't remember why he's mad. I've taken to pretending that instead of mad, he got scared, and I comfort him. All of a sudden, he's thinking I am his best friend instead of the one with the dressage whip who just took him to a come to Jesus meeting. Even though Izzy started the ride tense and worried, in no time at all he was working with me and asking to stretch and lengthen his stride.
The more I work on relaxing his topline with the changes in my weight aids, the more relaxed and trusting this horse gets. Once he'll trot around with a relaxed frame, I ask for a quiet canter. The fabulous thing is that I am getting it every single day. I can start on the right or left lead, neither makes a difference. We canter around a few minutes, and then I call it a day.
I've been keeping his rides as short as possible, around 25 minutes, to show him that he is making great choices. I don't want him to feel tired or resentful or burned out. Instead, I want him thinking, wait, that's it? That's all she wants?
I've tried this exercise with Speedy, but he just gets lazier. He's so loose and relaxed already that he just takes advantage of the time and piddles around. With that horse, I need to build energy, not calm it down. That's good to know though since it tells me this is definitely a relaxing warm up for Izzy.
I am so excited about the progress we've made in the last few months. A switch has definitely flipped. I am hoping that maybe we will get to start showing this summer after all.
Let me know if you try this warm up with your hot, tense horse or if you've done something similar. I am probably just a really slow learner and everyone else already knows how to do this!
In a very round about way. But first, I want to share an endurance story ...
I don't want to give you the wrong impression about endurance riders. Just like in any sport, there are a few pain in the patooties in that field as well. I was nearly run down by an FEI rider at the 20 Mule Team 100 miler a few years ago. I was walking down the trail, when from out of nowhere, an FEI rider came blasting up and blew by me without uttering a single word. Montoya spooked pretty hard and I ... wait for it ... GLARED at the rider as she disappeared from view. Did she see me glare at her? I doubt it. Would she have wondered what the hell my problem was? Probably. Who was in error? No one.
You may not know this, but walking is allowed during an endurance race. In fact, I walked nearly 200 miles of the Death Valley Encounter beside THE Grand Dame of endurance riders, Trilby Pederson. Trilby holds the record for the most miles ridden by anyone, ever. She has completed over 60,000 race miles. To ride with her was truly an honor.
You might wonder how that happened. To be honest, it was because I was stuck in my trailer barfing from anxiety, and I missed the ride start. I just couldn't get on my horse. I knew that Trilby always started last, and finished last as well, so I formulated a plan to at least begin the ride tagging along behind her. She agreed, and no doubt assumed I'd trot off as soon as the anxiety passed and I felt better. As it happened, we were deep into a discussion about saddle fit when I realized that I felt fine, but it was too late to run off and leave her alone. We agreed to hang out together until the first vet check. As it turned out, we didn't part company until near the end of the fourth day.
Riding those 175 or so miles with Trilby was a true learning experience. She taught me a lot about endurance riding and how to achieve longevity with your horse. The only reason I left her on the final day was because she wanted me to get back to camp in order to clean up so that I could go to the big New Year's Eve bash being held back in camp with Hubby. I argued, but she insisted that I hurry back for the party. What a gal! Did I mention that Trilby was in her late 60s at the time?
So what does all of this have to do with the warm-up ring? I guess I wanted to illustrate that I have encountered thoughtless riders in the endurance world, and I lived to tell about it. And maybe I've even been the thoughtless rider. No one ever thinks that they're in the wrong. I have also gratefully accepted the mentorship of those most in the know. I am a lifelong learner who doesn't hold a grudge. I take things as they come, learn from them, and move on.
If you read yesterday's post, you no doubt saw the many comments, some pretty critical, and others more supportive. I don't feel the need to further explain my point of view. I think I made my point, but I wonder if an explanation of the blogging process is in order. A Blog is a web log, a diary or journal of someone's experiences shared with those who care to read it. Each person uses their blog in their own way. Me? I use it as a way to analyze and record my equine experiences. For me, the topics that most interest me are equine health, endurance experiences, and my foray into dressage.
All of that means that this blog is simply my interpretation of my equine world. Am I always right? Certainly not. Am I always wrong? Definitely not! Can we each see things differently? Absolutely. I will continue to get pissed about whatever pisses me off, and I will also delight in the things that amuse me. And I will write about all of it honestly, from my perspective.
I don't need the last word ... ever. With that, I close with this: The warm up ring is a confusing place with a lot of riders of varying levels of experience which tends to muck up the works. Throw in a bunch of Type A personalities, and let the dance begin! Please offer the last word, and I promise not to reply!
The warm-up ring has become my scab. Ew. Yeah. I know. But I am just going to keep picking at it. Based on comments from the other days's post, many riders have conflicting opinions about the warm-up ring's "rules." And by the way, thanks for all the comments since they served to illustrate my point. There are a lot of interpretations of the warm-up rules! All of you had something to say about this or that. How can such a precise, stringent, and governed sport not have more clear cut rules for the warm-up ring?
And before someone gets all "preachy" and tries to tell me me that I'll get it with more experience, that's just bullpucky. In what sport do you have to participate for a decade before the rules are revealed to you? None. For the record, I'm in my third season of showing. So far, I've attended seventeen shows at eight different venues. I've shown in schooling shows, one-star events (CDS-rated), and three-star events (USEF/USDF/CDS). So I think I have just enough experience to speak on this topic. Mind you, I am NOT saying I am E-X-P-E-R-I-E-N-C-E-D, but I have been to enough shows to know that the rules are a bit gray, especially regarding right-of-way.
At not one of those seventeen shows was there a posting for the warm-up rules. Yes, lunging has a designated spot, but the rules for ridden warm-up are not posted. And it's not as though they're understood. Clearly they're not or people like Louisa Zai wouldn't have to be writing articles for Dressage Today!
In many of the comments made the other day, the importance of shared rules was brought up over and over. Crossing the diagonal is probably what caused my previously mentioned scab. I am not expecting an answer here, but how in the world can anyone follow any kind of order when someone is charging across the diagonal? And when I mention that, it is NOT because I want to school across the diagonal (or ride my entire test or whack anyone with my whip), but that others do. If I am making a 20 meter circle anywhere within the warm-up, the horse charging across the diagonal either has to speed up or slow down to not t-bone me. Or I have to.
How does this make a warm-up effective? For lower level riders especially, establishing a nice working rhythm is essentially the warm-up. If I am constantly slamming on the brakes to avoid Sir Charge-a-lot, I might as well just walk the rail. Oh, wait. The "understood" rule is that slower riders take the inside track, but walkers are usually seen on the rail. Huh? Oh, wait, another "understood" rule is that faster traffic passes to the inside. How can they if the slower riders take the inside? Shaking head.
I know what you're thinking: Get over it already and just get in there, keep your eyes up, watch where you're going, and do your best to be polite and not cause any trouble.
I hear you, and that's precisely what I do. But. I take offense when Sir Charge-a-lot glares at me for being in her way and then feels compelled to tell someone else that I am causing trouble. I also take offense when Sir Charge-a-lot's twin sister roars up behind me and scares the crap out of my clearly lower level pony at a schooling show.
What's to be done? Well, probably nothing, and since I am no doubt preaching to the choir, I will just have to start warming up with my lance and shield with my armor-face firmly positioned to glare as equally pissy as Team Charge-a-lot.
And with that, here is a list of "official" warm-up rules as posted by the United States Dressage Federation. To see the full document, which I have also added here (it's called Dressage Protocol), visit USDF here. By the way, the Dressage Protocol document is actually quite informative and should be read by all competitors, especially newbies.
All USEF rules apply from the time the entries arrive on the show grounds (when the show office opens).
If you arrive the day or evening before the competition, ask permission before entering the competition areas. Management sometimes allows schooling in or around the competition ring, but do not assume that you may enter the competition arenas to school. The prize list may describe the schooling policy.
Numbers must be worn whenever a horse is ridden, exercised, or out of his stall or away from the trailer. Some management issue two numbers; if they want you to wear two, the second number is not a spare in case you lose the first one.
The size and layout of the warm-up areas will vary greatly. Find out if management has a stated policy for warm-up and schooling areas. Think of “warm-up” as the arena for the work you will do immediately before entering the competition arena. The warm-up area is not the place to train a horse or give a riding lesson. Other schooling areas for lungeing, exercising, and coaching are to be designated.
The warm-up area is primarily for the use of competitors preparing for an upcoming test. Others should give these competitors priority. Sometimes only the next two or three competitors are permitted in the warm-up ring. Others will be advised to use schooling areas. When entering the warm-up arena, be careful not to cut off another rider. Slower gaits take the inside track.
Pass left shoulder to left shoulder and look where you are going. When overtaking traffic in the same direction, pass to the inside with care and plenty of clearance. Better yet, take a circle or cut across the arena to avoid passing.
Keep at least one horse’s length from any other horse.
Plan halts for the center of the ring.
When turning, check your “rear view” first.
Be careful how you use your whip. Other horses may react more enthusiastically than your own.
Fractious horses should be removed from the area immediately.
Upper-level riders should be careful not to frighten green horses and riders in the warm-up arena.
Make way for ring maintenance crews in the warm-up arena. Some competitions post ring-maintenance schedules. Be aware of them.
Be courteous to other riders who are trying to concentrate on their own warm-up.
Do your schooling in a positive manner. Do not school after a test if you are angry. Perform your warm-up routine with a purpose: do not merely meander around the arena.
Be polite. Foul language is never tolerated.
Horses not entered in the competition do not belong in the warm-up area.
Remember the warm-up arena is for work. Do your final tack adjustments outside of the warm-up arena. Most competitions request that trainers and helpers stay on the rail, with no foot traffic allowed in the warm-up.
Ring stewards are required to spot check tack after your exit from the competition arena. Keep in mind that some equipment allowed in warm-up is not allowed in the performance arena. Tack permitted in the warm-up area and the competition arena is specifically stated in the USEF rule book.
Lunge only in designated areas, and give all horses enough room. When you are finished, pick up your lungeing equipment—do not leave it on the ground as a hazard.
Be especially courteous to show volunteers. They keep the competition running smoothly and facilitate communication between competitors and management. They are there to help you, but it is your responsibility to get to the right arena at the right time.
Inappropriate behavior by a competitor or his/her family members or assistants can be an unpleasant experience for others at the show. In addition, be aware that a competitor can be penalized for USEF rule violations as a result of inappropriate behavior of family members.
I don't think it's really possible to eliminate the warm-up chaos, but apparently Louisa Zai thinks it can be done. She wrote an article for the April edition of Dressage Today entitled, "The Golden Rules of the Warm-Up Arena: Learn how to stay sane amid the pre-test chaos." It's a good article, mostly. But before I share her rules, I would like to share an epiphany I had while at the Santa Barbara Dressage Show. Here it is ...
Politeness is not the driving force in dressage. Holy shit, Batman! That's where I've been going wrong. And before you get all hostile on me, I am not saying that dressage riders aren't polite, although I am saying that some of them aren't. What I am saying is that politeness isn't an integral part of the dressage mentality. And, so what? Well, here's what! I've been operating under the assumption that being polite was necessary to the functionality of the dressage show process. Why would you do that? Because in endurance racing, politeness (and by extension, friendliness) is the cornerstone of the sport. What?
I know. It sounds weird, but it's true. Politeness is valued over just about any other thing in the endurance world. It's so important that most Ride Managers clearly state on the entry form that if you demonstrate unsportsmanlike conduct or are rude to any race staff member or volunteer, your butt will be disqualified and you will be thrown out! There are many ways in which you are expected to be polite: if you come upon a horse at a water trough, you are expected to wait quietly and not barge in. If a horse comes up to a water trough while your horse is drinking and that rider waits patiently, you are expected to wait while he or she drinks rather than go racing off and leaving the horse distraught. If you come upon a rider on foot, it is expected that you will offer assistance or at least inquire as to what you might do to help. If you arrive at a gate that has just been opened, you are expected to wait until the rider who has just opened the gate has remounted her horse and is ready to leave. And it would be even more polite to let her take the lead.
And the list goes on ... there is no end to the number of ways that you are expected to be polite. You should thank the in timer, the out timer, the P & R person, the vet, the vet secretary, and especially the volunteer who is holding your horse as you scramble to pee behind a bush (if there is one). When you show up to camp, you thank the RM for hosting the ride. You thank the ride secretary for checking you in. You thank the the guy that grease-penciled your number across your horse's butt in lime green goo. And you definitely thank the water truck guy.
You thank anyone and everyone who has anything to do with the race because you know that without them, there would be no event. There's no money being made at en endurance race. There is no trainer earning big bucks coaching her students. There is no one showing off a barn full of horses to sell. There is a just a group of people who want to ride the crap out of 50 miles and know that it can't be done without a butt-load of volunteers. So you are NICE TO THEM! Politeness is the driving force behind an endurance race.
So back to the rules of the warm-up arena ... No wonder I've been bumbling along. I thought being polite was required. It's not. It's a nice way to behave, but you're not getting kicked out for giving someone a dirty look or crashing into them because no one knows where anyone else is going.
So what are the rules? Well, according to Louisa Zai, here they are: (her words and ideas are italicized, mine are in standard font)
1. Riders should pass each other left hand to left hand. There are exceptions however. If you are circling, stay to the inside of oncoming riders. But what if they're coming across the diagonal and you're circling? Who's on left?
2. Slower gaits take the inside track. Again, me asking, But what if they're coming across the diagonal?
3. The warm up arena is for work. So basically if you're just standing there, get out. That one I understand.
4. Control your whip. Really? That needs to be a rule? Sheesh ...
5. Prepare for the pre-test warm-up. This one covered a broad range of things and actually seemed to go in favor of the green horse or green rider. If you have a loud, thundering horse, know that he is probably scaring the crap out of those intro and training level horses. Since no one knows where you're going, please give a heads up or on your left.
I love this next one. It's so good I'm quoting her directly, "If you can steer, you are supposed to be more generous and self-aware than those who cannot. If you are a princess, you get no dispensation. Make your tempis around the helpless novice rider, not through them!" THANK YOU!!!!! Oh, and one more, "I think it's up to the advanced riders to keep their antennae up."
6. Using wireless headsets - basically, pay attention. No one else can hear where you're being sent. Even if your trainer says do this and that, make sure there is room to DO this and that!
7. Use warm-up time effectively. The warm-up is not the place to run through your test. You should do that at home. Seriously, I've tried to warm up in a standard-sized court with someone riding their test. What would you like me to do? Follow you?
And basically, that's it. If you follow these rules your warm-up should go super-duper. Oh, wait. There was a follow-up paragraph, "Polite riding can keep you and your ringmates from getting further stressed out. Niceness often perpetuates itself."
Well, hell. Maybe the endurance riders have it right after all!
I'll be honest ... I am disappointed. It's not the score really, as 58% is not that bad, it's more in how Speedy behaved.
He travelled well, he unloaded quietly, he stood at the trailer happily munching his hay, and he was very polite to the many people who came to greet such a nice looking Arabian (said with surprise at least half a dozen times throughout the day).
So what was the problem? It was the riding part that was such a bummer.
The show at Classic Equestrian Center was well run. There were competitor bags for each rider filled with cool goodies. The ride secretary was easy to find and ready with show numbers. The footing was lovely. Things were on time. But ... It was the warm-up ring that did us in.
Since Speedy and I had such a long drive to make, two and a half hours each way, the ride secretary graciously let us ride our tests after lunch. The problem with that plan was that the more advanced horses and riders go after lunch. And I don't mean to offend anyone here, but those "advanced" riders were a tad bit rude. The warm up was done in a standard-sized dressage court, which isn't huge by anyone's definition, and which was made much smaller by the three riders schooling their large, loud horses. I tried very hard to follow the hunter/jumper rules of left side to left side and so on, but these ladies were oblivious. One was actually riding the entire test! I tried to stay on the rail. No good. The "test rider" came barreling behind us which sent Speedy into a tizzy. He reared to the side and nearly leaped out of the ring. Another came flying at us from the side. It was quite obvious that we were beginners, but those gals didn't care. It didn't matter that this was a simple schooling show. They were not going to share that space with me.
In frustration, and nearly in tears, I left the warm-up area and tried to warm up along the dirt rode that wound around the two dressage courts. Speedy did get a little softer, but really, it was just too late. He was so anxious by the "near attacks" in the warm up that nothing I did could soften or relax him. My name was called and I rode up to the judge's booth to introduce myself and verify the test that I was to ride. To my dismay, I saw that I had forgotten to attach Speedy's number. Tears welled up in my eyes. I was already frustrated, and now I was going to have to scratch.
The judge kindly asked if a runner could retrieve Speedy's number, but I pointed out that I had arrived alone. She saw my tearful expression and gently reminded me that it was only a schooling show and that schooling shows were where we made mistakes and learned from them. It was no big deal. I could ride without my number and she wouldn't disqualify me or take off any points. She encouraged me to have a good ride and sent me out so that she she could ring me in. I took a deep breath and plowed through the test the best I could. Speedy was a pain-in-the-patootie as he hadn't heard the judge say it was just a schooling show. He was still pretty upset by the horses in the warm-up.
After halting at X and thanking the judge, I walked back to the trailer and had a good cry. I was very frustrated with Speedy G. He has been to a handful of endurance races, many camping trips, and at least nine dressage shows. He really doesn't have any reason to be so unwilling to listen. I gave myself a little talking to, and went back to the warm-up ring for my final test. Since I was third from the last of the day, I figured it would be nearly empty. There was one rider, from the previous group, and I made it clear (with words) that I needed the far end of the ring to school some of the naughtiness out of my horse. She said fine and kept walking her horse.
It took a good 15 minutes, but I finally got some softness out of Speedy and a few canter transitions that didn't include kicks and bucks. When we were called to ride the test, I approached the judge with a big smile, called out my horse's number, and thanked her for her earlier kindness. She smiled and encouraged me to have fun and enjoy the ride. It wasn't a perfectly ridden test, but at least we got the canter without too much fuss. There were no 4s this time, but also no 8s.
We collected our ribbons, loaded up, and began the long drive home. The next morning I rode Speedy G and was pleased to find my softer, more willing pony. We did some nice circles and cantered with just the mental thought ... and canter here.
Here's Test C - Walk-Trot-Canter:
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2022 Shows Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Completed …
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: