- more bend in the corner to PREPARE for the shoulder-in
- shoulder-in to PREPARE for the trot half pass
- get him SOFT before the canter half pass
- get him SOFT before the release of the reins in the canter
- THINK shoulder-in for the extended canter
- HALF HALT before the extended trot and ride it UPHILL
- LEG ON at the end of the medium trot
If you would have told me back in the beginning that Speedy and I would make it to Third Level, I would have known that you were lying to me. How in the world could a rangy endurance horse and his grimy rider become a sleek and polished dressage team? That just doesn't happen.
I never had a formal lesson until I was an adult. I could post, but I didn't know how to change my posting diagonal. I could ride fearlessly over the toughest terrain, stick almost any buck or rear, but I had no idea how to put the finishing touches on a horse, the stuff that makes a horse truly beautiful.
And yet, here we are. Tomorrow morning we'll be showing Third Level at a two-day USDF-rated show. I should be more nervous, and maybe I will be tomorrow, but for now, I feel pretty confident. I don't expect to wow the judge, but I am still excited to get out there to find out just where we stand. What's good, what's great, and what needs more work? I am looking at this show as an opportunity to get an honest critique of our work so far.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came out for a last, pre-show lesson on Saturday. This time, the lesson was all about tightening up everything in order to give us some kind of chance at getting a qualifying score.
At every moment she was shouting some kind of reminder:
Of course getting Speedy listening and willing to move his bootie can be a real challenge. These next pictures show a behind the scenes view of what has to happen before we look show ready. You have to admit that the dude is super athletic. It's just a matter of channeling it in the direction I want us to go.
Even with all of his No No Nos, I am still feeling confident. Speedy loves to show and always brings his "A" game. And like Chemaine pointed out on Saturday, If they're not being opinionated, you're not asking for anything new or hard. And the only way to get better is to ask for new and hard.
If you've got a few minutes, wish us luck. We could definitely use some. Have a great weekend!
Half pass at canter is hard. Really hard. Super hard if you're on a horse who just doesn't really like lateral work. You know, horses like the gray speedy pony. Speedy doesn't much care for the half pass at trot or canter. He's not particularly fond of leg yielding either.
After getting some good lateral work after that hard-to-name canter exercise, I thought I'd try a canter half pass with the correct bend. Since the canter half pass is still a relatively new movement for me, I don't always know how to best set it up. The flailing fail we had was probably a lot my fault since I decided to half pass from the center of my very wide arena to no place in particular.
As we came around the corner, I set Speedy up as we came down the middle of the arena. I asked for sideways and he shot forward as though he had never stepped sideways a day in his life. When I say shot forward, I mean he kind of bolted. Jerk. I immediately changed the bend, and smacked his hip with the whip and said move it, mister! in a pretty stern voice.
As soon as I changed the bend and threatened his butt with another good whack, he was all about the sideways. Unfortunately, a canter half pass with the wrong bend is not going to score very well.
Not wanting him to think that a canter half pass has a wrong bend, I tried it again, but the next effort was out of the corner and back to the rail. That he can do. I am fairly certain his "success" had a lot to do with the fact that I was aiming at tree (I don't have letters) and riding it like renvers along a diagonal line.
If the canter half pass is broken, it's totally my fault. That's what you get when you play around with something without using it correctly. Stuff gets broken. Good thing I have a good trainer and a lesson (hopefully) this weekend.
Enjoy your weekend!
When I had my last lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, she showed me an exercise that I haven't yet shared. It came as we ended the lesson, kind of in response to a question I had about getting Speedy to MOVE his hind end over, particularly in the half pass. Be prepared for your brain to melt just a little bit.
Speedy is built to go forward in a pretty level frame. Moving sideways is hard for him. Sitting is equally difficult. Third Level is all about lateral movements with collection though, so we're always looking for ways to show him how to move his body over and stay balanced.
The exercise Chemaine showed us doesn't really have a name. On Facebook, someone called it a "counter canter leg yield." If that helps you visualize it, then the name suits. Essentially, it's a canter half pass with the wrong bend. How do you even ... and why would you? I know, smoke came out of my ears, too.
Here's how it goes: pick up a canter. For us, the more difficult half pass and flying change is the right to left canter, so we started with a right lead canter. As you come through the corner, cross the diagonal. Change the bend, BUT HOLD THE LEAD. Push the haunches to the right with the intention of getting them parallel to the shoulders. Once you arrive at the rail or corner, do the flying change.
The difficulty with this exercise, of the many actually, was keeping my inside leg forward to say hold the lead while at the same time pushing my outside hip into him to tell tell him to move his hips OVER.
We only did the exercise with Chemaine once or twice in each direction, enough so that I understood what I would be asking for. When I rode Speedy a day or two later, I tried it again near the beginning of the ride while he was still fresh. A battle of near epic proportions ensued.
Instead of moving his haunches and body, he barreled through my right rein with his shoulder, and gave me a huge middle finger. I jerked him to halt and then picked up the right lead canter again. And again he blew through my rein and again I halted him. We ran through the exercise until he finally started to respect my right rein, and suddenly, he could move laterally. He gave a very good flying change, and that was it.
The next time I rode him, there was no fight in the exercise, and he did it correctly in both directions. The flying changes were smooth and easy. This exercise is now my go-to for fixing a dragging hind end. Here's a quick video of riding it with Chemaine explaining.
If you've used this, share what it fixed, and if you try it, share how it helped. I am still trying to get the hang of it.
On Tuesday, I had one of those lessons where your brain gets buzzy, and you almost feel like you had too much to drink. But in a good way. With Sunday's show likely to be cancelled, I told Chemaine, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that I just wanted a regular lesson. There wasn't any need to try and polish anything up for the show. I am glad that's the direction we went because we tackled some of our fundamental weaknesses.
The first was our consistency. Chemaine used that word over and over throughout the lesson: consistency of frame. consistency of rhythm, consistency of bend, and so on. Now that we're showing Third Level, we have to kick it up a notch, tighten things up, and smooth out the rough edges.
Keeping Speedy consistent in his frame is my job. Too often he plays around trying to avoid the frame that I've established. As soon as Chemaine encouraged me to "get him consistent in the frame," something just clicked. She probably didn't see the light bulb come on over my head, but I sure felt it. By maintaining that consistency in his frame, he'll be more balanced in his collection and of course steadier in the bridle.
For the rest of the lesson, consistency became the theme. For the shoulder-in, Chemaine reminded me to keep a steadier tempo. Move the shoulders over, half halt to keep him on the rail, but then release the halt halt to allow him to move. So often my half halt is too long, preventing Speedy from moving forward. Chemaine encouraged a half halt, half halt, let go. Half halt, half halt, let go rhythm to encourage more fluidity in the shoulder-in.
She employed the same strategy for the renvers and the half pass. Half halt to move the haunches, keep a consistent bend, and allow him to move forward. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When we moved to the trot half pass, she changed the aids slightly by directing me to do shoulder-in slightly to haunches in to shoulder-in to haunches in. By putting all of this together, I was able to keep better flexion while keeping his haunches to the inside of the bend all while still maintaining a consistent tempo.
One weakness that's no longer is our medium trot. A year and a half ago, I could barely sit a working trot. I made it my mission to be able to a) sit the trot so that I could show at Second Level, and b) sit the trot so that I could someday get out of Second Level. I worked on it over last winter and by our first show in March of 2018, I could sit the collected trot, but I bounced all over the place for the medium.
I continued to work at it last summer until I could more or less sit the medium trot without too much air beneath my butt. Chemaine promised me that as Speedy's medium trot got more balanced, more powerful, and more uphill, the medium and extended trot would be easier to sit. She was right. I still don't sit it as effortlessly as I would like, but I am sitting it, and more importantly, I am actually creating the medium trot with my seat.
This series of screen shots is from one medium/extended trot across the long diagonal. Our extended trot looks suspiciously like our medium trot. Maybe the judge won't notice.
We couldn't finish the lesson without schooling the flying changes. They are so much improved, but there's still work to be done. The left to right change is almost reliable if I set him up correctly and remember to look in the direction of the new lead. The right to left change is still a bit hit or miss. It happens, but they're often dramatic or not clean or he simply changes before I ask. Here's a left to right change done relatively correctly (after about five attempts).
At the end of the lesson, I asked Chemaine to be straight with me. Compared to other adult amateurs on horses that they're bringing up from ground zero - in other words, riders not on school masters or $80,000 imports whose extended trot has to be tempered rather than developed, how do I stack up? I don't need to be awesome. I don't need a 70%. I just don't want to embarrass myself or her at a show. I don't want to be that rider that causes the judge and everyone around her to cringe.
While Chemaine's response didn't make me shout out hell yeah!, I was relieved. She replied, Let me put it this way: everything is recognizable. You know what? I'll take that. Recognizable is at least a 5, and maybe even a 6. We're ready.
Yesterday, I mentioned something about that pesky shoulder-in to renvers that shows up in Third Level, Test 2. It's not easy, that's for sure.
Fortunately, I have an excellent trainer in Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. When I still don't get something after she's explained it ad nauseam and then shown me with her own body - always remembering that I need to see it from the back rather than with her facing me because seriously, that mirror image just confuses me even more, she goes out and finds a video for me.
As soon as I watched this ... okay, I had to watch it twice or maybe three times, I TOTALLY got it. In fact, a bunch of stuff clicked. When I went and rode the next day, Speedy suddenly had a shoulder-in WITH ANGLE.
Whatever level you're at, browse through Amelia Newcomb's other videos on her YouTube Channel. She has a great way of showing and explaining what the movements or ideas should look like. I found her videos a few months ago. You should also check out her website as it's chock full of great resources. Since she's based in the Northern Los Angeles area, I definitely plan on watching for her during this show season.
Speedy and I might just have a shoulder-in to renvers for the show next weekend!
On Monday afternoon, Speedy and I had a lesson. There is only one to go before we make our Third Level debut.
I know which movements are required at Third:
With Speedy tacked up and ready go, I dragged him over to a shady spot and quickly pulled up test 2 on my phone. My eyes raced through the movements but jerked to a halt when I read numbers 7 and 8, "K-E shoulder-in right" immediately followed by "E-H renvers left." Huh? I gave an audible uh-oh realizing that I needed to start hooking the movements together PDQ if I had any chance at earning that first 60%.
When Chemaine pulled in, I quickly filled her in on the reason for my sudden panic. I didn't know test 2 and needed some quick help. As I finished my warm up, Chemaine was quick to point out that our trot work had improved over the week and that our shoulder-in had a better angle. As I ride it, I hear her in my head shouting MORE ANGLE! I think it has helped.
While we have a better angle, and we can "do" a renvers (haunches out), I needed help riding them one after the other. Chemaine's advice was this: first, ride the shoulder-in. To develop the renvers, open the inside rein (which becomes the outside rein) to draw the shoulders into the arena. Change the bend, and then keep the haunches on the rail. And all of this happens in just a few strides.
The rest of the lesson was spent schooling the half pass, both at trot and canter, followed by the flying change. Speedy still wants to get charge-y after the change, so Chemaine showed me a new exercise that both gets him to sit and helps him wait for the flying change.
In test 1, there is a medium canter down the entire long side followed by a 10 meter circle at V. The flying change comes between X and R. To keep Speedy balanced, Chemaine had me do a walk-canter-walk transition anyplace I would do a half halt, so between the medium canter and the start of the 10-meter circle, I asked for a simple change but stayed on the same lead. Instead of a flying change, I asked for a simple change. We ran through this pattern a few times in hopes that Speedy would start to memorize the pattern of half halts.
Here's how the exercise went:
Our left to right change is getting pretty reliable. The other way is to still kind of wild and wooly.
We have just over a week to polish everything as much as we can.
But honestly, this horse is so much fun to ride that we'll have fun no matter how many movements I botch. It's a good thing that I have a trainer who embraces the idea that dressage is a long process where horses and riders develop over time.
Right now, Speedy and I are schooling both the half pass and flying change as diligently as possible. Our first show, only CDS-rated, is in less than three weeks. The judging at this show is pretty tough however, and always proves to be a good barometer for how we'll do at a USDF-rated show.
While we're working hard, I am super careful not to over-school the movements. Speedy tries so hard that if I keep asking, he assumes he's making a mistake, and that makes him very grouchy and resentful. The flying changes are now there, but they can still be a bit dramatic. Not this one though, it's a pretty quiet one.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here on Sunday for a lesson. Right from the start I told her that we need to continue cleaning up the lateral movements, namely the half pass, and getting those flying changes a little less ... exuberant.
I have to laugh at myself really. Last year at this time, I was dreading the show season. The move to Second Level simply terrified me. While I would stack my horsemanship skills up against anyone else's without feeling a moment of doubt, my dressage skills are still in the development stage. I can ride a horse a hundred miles, but 40-meters of medium trot in front of a judge turns my legs to jelly.
We made it through Second Level with decent scores though, even winning some honors along the way, but all season long I felt certain that someone was going to get wise to my subterfuge and point it out to the rest of the world. Even after working hard on it, I still feel like a bit of a hack.
This year? I can't wait to get in the show ring. We're probably going to lay down some questionable tests that will likely earn us some scores in the 50% range, but I am totally fine with that. I know that if I continue to work hard, Speedy and I will get those two scores we need to earn our bronze. With such a simple goal, the season seems more than manageable.
Instead of focusing on THIRD LEVEL - insert ominous tone, I've been breaking the three tests down into manageable chunks. For test 1, all we need to add is a more energetic shoulder in, a short half pass in trot, the flying changes, and a bigger medium trot. Right now, it's all there. It might not be fabulous, but it doesn't have to be. We only need to be satisfactory. Can I get an amen for mediocrity?
For test 2, we need to maintain everything from test 1 while making it better. We also need to add in a bit of renvers and show a clear release of both reins for 4-5 strides over centerline. That may or may not happen for our first show. By late in the season, it'll be automatic.
Since not getting overwhelmed is my strategy for the year, I haven't paid much attention to test 3 (yet). On Sunday, we did school the canter half pass to centerline to the half circle. For a horse that anticipates the flying change - looking at YOU, Speedy!, this series of movements is likely to be a bugger. I am honestly not worried though. Speedy and I haven't taken any shortcuts through the levels, so the foundation is there. And every week, we get better and better.
My homework for the week is to work on Speedy's lateral suppleness by doing extreme leg yields across the entire diagonal. I am to follow those with half passes that also cross the diagonal. Making them as steep as I can get them will serve us well when we have to do them from the centerline to the rail. They'll seem practically "easy" then.
Chemaine also showed me an exercise to help with the canter half pass. In it, I am to ride a circle where the shoulders transcribes a smaller circle than the haunches, and then the haunches will transcribe an even smaller circle than the shoulders. She called it a waterfall: first the shoulders, then the haunches all the while "falling" in on the circle to make it ever smaller.
I am constantly amazed at how hard Speedy will work for me. He wasn't bred for dressage. He doesn't have a naturally uphill balance. He's just a nicely put together Arabian gelding who was bred to be able to do whatever his rider asks, and if she says please, he usually gives it to her.
That doesn't mean he'll do it opinion free though. I've learned to ask and then hold on!
I wonder how many horses don't learn to do the flying change until they're 15? Speedy knows how to change his canter leads; I've seen him do it a million times during turn out. They're beautiful. Doing them when and where I ask is an entirely different conversation. As difficult as they are, Speedy is working his heart out to do them for me. Bless him.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came out for a lesson on Good Friday. Frankly, I need all the help I can get, so if we get a little extra help from the Divine on a day meant to be holy, I'll take it.
My goal for the lesson was to check in on our new and improved shoulder in and to continue cleaning up our flying changes. Chemaine seemed pretty pleased with our trot work, both at the shoulder in and the medium.
When Chemaine was here last, she had me use the idea of a medium trot while doing a shoulder in. For the life of me, I just couldn't figure out what she wanted me to do. After watching video of the lesson, I did a palm to face and shook my head at my idiocy. She wanted me to use the energy reserved for the medium trot during a shoulder in. What's so confusing about that? Apparently a lot if you're me.
For a medium trot, Chemaine has taught me to use the corner to rev Speedy up and build energy in his hind end by applying the brakes (half halt) while at the same time pressing on the gas (adding leg). Once we come out of the corner, I straighten him up so that when he finally gets to use that coiled up energy, he can lift his front end just like a plane taking off.
So how does this work to improve the shoulder in? Chemaine had me set it up exactly the same. From A to K, or whichever corner you're in, build the energy by half halting while adding leg at the same time. From K to V start thinking about shoulder fore so that by V you can put your horse into a shoulder in.
Unlike the medium trot, the horse doesn't get to launch forward though. Instead, Chemaine had me slowly release the energy into the shoulder in by pulsing the rein. If you let all of the energy go at once, you'll lose the angle of the bend. Instead, let it out in short spurts.
Speedy has learned the aids for the medium trot so well that I can now use them to improve his collected trot even while not in the corner. He knows that a "revving up" half halt means that we're getting ready to GO, like in the second picture above. Transitions within the gait, right?!
And then we moved on to the flying change. Speedy has it, he's just still quite sassy about it. The main problem we have is the right rein and right shoulder.
The right to left flying change is much easier because Speedy naturally wants to lean on my right rein. The other way? Let the sparks fly!
Lest you think he's just beyond incorrigible, these are only blips in time. He really just wants to do it right, but he thinks he knows better than I do what's "right." Silly boy.
Right now, the process goes like this:
We have a flying change. What we don't have is an obedient and relaxed flying change. We're almost there though.
I've learned that with this horse, being patient and persistent will pay off.
He makes my heart sing.
I have two bits of homework to work on with Speedy: more push from behind in the lateral movements and pushing his hind end over for the flying change. Right now, it's all about Speedy's butt.
Last week - I am really behind in sharing this, Speedy got to have a lesson, our first in several months. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came down on Sunday. My plan for the lesson was to work on the elements in Third Level Test 1. After watching a boatload of videos, I've concluded that if you have a flying change, 3-1 is much easier than 2-3.
We ultimately worked on two exercises. The first one was designed to improve our scores at the shoulder in (and as a result, the trot half pass). While Speedy generally gets 6s and 7s on his gaits, he's not a big, bold mover like many of the warmbloods. Anything I can do to get him moving bigger with more power coming from behind will only improve our scores.
For the medium trot, Chemaine has taught me to use the corner to "rev" him up. As I straighten Speedy for the medium trot across the diagonal, I can then let him "go." The stored up energy launches us forward. Chemaine wants me to use that same idea for the shoulder in.
The process is still the same: rev him up in the corner. As we approach the second letter (whichever one it is), I need to bend him and start the shoulder in. But rather than let him fly across the diagonal like I would for the medium trot, I'll release that stored up energy by directing his hind end to push stronger and deeper under his body. This will encourage Speedy to carry more weight behind so that he can free up his shoulders for a better shoulder in.
In theory, anyway. It sounds a lot easier than it was. When I "let him go" the first time, Speedy tried to veer off across the diagonal. That's when I discovered my steering needed some work.
The second exercise was for calming down the flying change of lead so that we get less of this.
I've found that Speedy needs a lot of reminding that he can't brace in the change. To address that, I do a lot of bending and counter bending on a circle. This has helped him learn that changing the bend is not the cue for the flying change.
Now that he's more comfortable changing the bend, Chemaine had me work on better positioning his hind end. As we prepared for the flying change across the diagonal, she had me change the bend and then leg yield with the outside leg. Then I asked for a walk followed by a simple change of lead from the walk.
The first time I did it, Speedy's ears flicked quite dramatically. He did the exercise well, but he was working hard to put it all together. The leg yield served to position his hind end, and the walk steps were a big half halt. When he was more willing to walk (wait!) for the cue for the flying change, I was able to skip the walk steps.
I've left the flying change alone for the past few rides to give him time to process what he learned. Instead, I've focused on getting a more powerful, uphill trot for the shoulder in. For our next ride (hopefully this morning), we'll tackle the flying change again.
Speedy's a hard worker, and incidentally, so am I. We'll have the flying change down pat before I know it. I hope.
I had a lesson on Sunday about which I still haven't had time to write. It was a good one, too, so I will get to it. In the meantime, I am dying to show you Speedy's "flying" change when he's feeling particularly spicy.
Changing in front ...
Changing in back ...
What I didn't screen shot was the gallop that ensued immediately after. The good thing is that they're "clean" changes. Now we just need to work on keeping control once we're on the new canter lead.
Oh, and you can laugh. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was laughing her head off. This horse just tries SO hard. He thinks there are bonus points for predicting what I might ask for which is why he tries to beat me to the change. It's always a race to see who can ask for it/offer it first. He obviously won that round; smarty pants!
Second Level, you suck. Third Level, you had me at A, enter collected trot.