From Endurance to Dressage
Third Level is taking more out of Speedy than First or Second ever did. I remember when he could do a Friday warm up ride and then two tests a day without any issues. Now? Not so much. Based on the results of this show, I am going to have to change the way I am doing things if I want to ride three tests over a two-day show.
We weren't brilliant. We weren't even decent. We finished the test with a sad little 58% and change. It was deserved though. We gave away our 60% in three movements - the walk pirouette to the left (4.0), the canter at C (4.0), and that pesky left to right flying change (3.0). In the walk pirouette, Speedy started to poop just as I asked for the turn. In the video (3:45), you can see him step wide which cost us several points. The canter depart at C has plagued us since the beginning. If I am not super correct in my aids, Speedy picks up the left lead. It's now a "thing." The change of lead was just him saying, NO. He basically flipped me the bird. We all know he can do a lovely left to right change. He just didn't really want to.
Were it not for those three errors, we would have had a score in the low 60s as we had a smattering of 7.0s to help the 5.0s. What this test showed me was that Speedy gets tired which makes him grumpy. We'll attend another two-day show in mid-July. My plan will be to do a short ride on Friday afternoon, no longer than 30 minutes total. My warm up on Saturday will be no longer than 20 minutes. On Sunday, my warm up can't be more than about 12 minutes, and it can only consist of a stretchy walk, trot, and canter. I am finding that Speedy is giving me his best work in the warm up.
If I ask for a movement too many times, he starts to feel like he's getting picked on and pretty much throws in the towel. That definitely happened with the flying changes on Sunday. I did a few in the warm up to "sharpen him up," but when I asked for them during the test, he felt like he had already shown me his best effort so he said nope. Lesson learned, Dude.
It wasn't all bad though. Our entry was still good with a 6.5, our rein back was solid with another 6.5, our second walk pirouette was spot on with a 7.5, and our medium canter showed some improvement with a 7.0. My friend Jen, the show manager, had shot a slow-motion video of parts of the ride that revealed I needed more outside rein in my 10-meter circles. I added that in and bumped those scores up to a 6.5 and a 7.0. And as usual, our last centerline was a 7.0
Shooting video for me for this test was my trainer's daughter. She had a young friend with her who is just getting into dressage, so on the video you can hear Morgan coaching her young student. After I listened to it, I felt sorry for the friend because some of the movements weren't performed well enough to be able to identify them. I am looking at you extended gaits! Here's the video with the score sheet following.
More tomorrow ...
While this is probably the best Third Level test we've done, at a USDF show anyway, I can still see we have so much work to do. We earned a 61.750%. It was "enough," but like I mentioned yesterday, I want us to get better. My goal is to ride tests that earn scores in the mid-sixties.
While we have plenty of room for improvement, I didn't make any obvious errors, and there were some parts that were pretty good. We scored an 8.0 for our first centerline, and our walk pirouettes, always a strong movement for us, scored a 7.0 and an 8.0. In the video you'll hear hear Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, tease us a bit right before the first walk pirouette when Speedy spooked. He actually spooked because the scribe made a sudden and loud noise, and while you won't hear it on the video, she gasped out an audible oops in apology. Given the dramatic spook (look for at it the three minute mark), I thought his recovery was pretty spectacular.
While the flying changes weren't brilliant, they were on my aids, and they happened at the centerline. While a 6.0 just means sufficient, it's a much better score than the 1.0 we got twice last year.
The left to right flying change also went pretty well. Again, not spectacular, but it was when and where I asked for it. The screenshots make his changes look so dramatic, but on the video you can barely see him make the jump.
What I love about these two changes is how rhythmic they were. We've worked really hard to be able to do the changes without a change in the tempo. It was only a few weeks ago that I was able to figure out why he was rushing through them. For so long I had to really put on the gas to get some jump in the canter. I realized that I was still asking for that rev up even though he doesn't need it any more. Once I quieted my seat down, his changes started to happen within the canter rhythm.
My half passes still need a lot of work, and the shoulder-ins weren't as nice as in Test 1. But again, nothing was catastrophic. Last year we struggled with some 3.0s and 4.0s (and even some 1.0s and 2.0s), but this year, I've turned them into 5.0s and 6.0s. With a little work, I know I can turn those into 6.0s and 7.0s, and that's how I'll get scores in the mid-sixties.
Here's the video, again with Chemaine offering some feedback. The score sheet follows.
Tomorrow - day two.
I've only been home from this weekend's Southern California Equestrian Center show for a day or two. Like I said yesterday, I should be more excited about having earned my Bronze Medal scores. If winning ribbons, trophies, and medals were my ultimate goal, I would be thrilled. I've come to realize though that is not what motivates me. What keeps me going is knowing that I can always make things better. That I need to make things better, cleaner, sharper, more confirmed. So when I watched the 3-1 test yesterday, I cringed at my mistakes, noting what needs improvement and thinking about how to make that happen.
Before I rip apart where we're making our biggest mistakes, I was really pleased by some of the movements, and I can definitely see how much we've improved since last fall. Our walk pirouettes are getting quite nice and have turned into an opportunity for easy points. On test one we earned a 6.0 and a 7.0. On test three we bumped those up to a 7.0 and an 8.0. They're easily a strength. Our centerlines have always been good - we earned a 6.5 and a 7.0 on this test, and our shoulder-ins are coming along nicely - 6.0 and 6.5.
Our medium and extended trots weren't as good as they can be, but I had tweaked my back earlier in the week, and it was killing me over the weekend. That tightness in my back came through on the test and showed in our scores, 6.0 and 5.5. The first real mistake that I made on this test was in the 10-meter half circles after the shoulder-ins. My geometry was way off, and I am not sure why. That should have lowered my half pass scores, but fortunately, the judge either couldn't see it or it didn't influence her scoring.
Our biggest mistake though, and I am blaming Speedy a bit for this one, is our left to right flying change. I can get those nice and neat at home, but that is the one that gets sticky at a show. On Sunday he flipped me the bird when I asked. On Saturday, he tried to fake me out with a little jump in his canter, but he didn't actually change. In the video you can see me lean over to check (about 5:20 in the video). By the time I got it sorted out, we were on the rail when I got the change which left us with a 5.0 and the comment "not on aids."
Even though we "only" scored a 60.676%, I am not disappointed. The two tests on Saturday were definitely improved overall when compared to last year, and that's all I can really ask for. Here's the video with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, offering some quiet, and sometimes funny, feedback as she recorded the test.
Third Level Test 3 tomorrow ...
On Friday morning, I had a really interesting lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. With a two-day USDF show coming soon, I needed a lesson that would address my sudden onset of confidence eroding inferiority.
When I go to "big" shows, I suffer from feelings of not belonging. I feel like Speedy and I are just completely outclassed. True or not, relevant or not, it feels like everyone has more money which so often means better tack, better clothes, better training, better everything. So each season, I am forced to put on my big girl panties and suck-it-the-heck-up. Life is not fair. Do what you can with what you have. The end.
When Chemaine rolled up, I told her how I was feeling even though we've been busting our butts to improve our Third Level work all winter. I asked if we could just do a lesson that focused on test preparation. What could I improve on in just a few days, and where could I stop "leaking" points? Since Speedy was already warmed up, Chemaine told me to ride 3-1, and we would take it from there.
Overall, Chemaine was pretty pleased, but she had lots of great tips for me.
For the canter work, Chemaine also had some suggestions for ways to either raise our score a bit, or keep us from losing points.
We worked on each component of the test, with me trying to implement Chemaine's tips. She was right about each one. Every movement was improved just by turning my shoulders or looking where I wanted Speedy's shoulders to be. I've ridden several times since that lesson, always working on keeping my shoulders turned or looking at a particular letter to keep Speedy in a better position.
We last showed in October, so it's been a while for both of us. We were supposed to go to a show this weekend, but it got cancelled on Monday. The property owner was afraid the county would levy fines for a COVID-19 violation. Things are pretty confusing here as professional sports have been allowed - with no spectators, but some some Ventura County officials are calling horse shows a "festival."
I sent in an entry for a show next weekend, also in Ventura County, but that property owner is confident that her facility meets all of the county's requirements. We're about as ready as we can be for our first show, whenever it happens.
Over the weekend, Speedy and I worked with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. As always, I laid out our current struggle: he's in front of my leg, but I can't shift his balance back as much as I need to for the half pass. It's always the half pass. Chemaine's solution was to focus on weighting the outside hind leg and then reposition the new outside leg. Sound confusing? Yeah, for me too.
There is video of this first pirouette, but it's too embarrassing to show. Speedy understood Chemaine's directions, but I didn't. The exercise goes like this: use the outside rein to weight and control the outside hind leg as the horse's shoulders come around the circle. That part I undersood. But as we were finishing the turn, Chemaine instructed me to ride a shoulder in to the new direction. I could not figure out how to do it.
To perform one walk pirouette to another, or half pass to canter pirouette to lead change - something in our future, the rider needs to be able to control the outside hind leg and then the new outside hind leg. In the photo above, the red arrow shows the new outside hind, but because I've "lost" the shoulder - see how it's bulging out?, the new outside leg isn't in position to carry Speedy's weight in the new pirouette.
You'll understand the exercise much better if you watch Chemaine coaching me through it.
Then we took that exercise and applied it to the half pass. Chemaine had me "ride a square" - an exercise that fixes so many things. In the corner, we walked and did a quarter pirouette, striking off into the trot and again walking in the corners. In each corner, the walk pirouette told him to sit down, bend, and soften. After going around the square a few times, we then did a trot half pass out of the corner after nearly walking. This really asked him to sit down in preparation for the half pass.
One of the pieces of homework that Chemaine has given me over the past month has been to keep Speedy at the same tempo before, during, and after the flying change. In the beginning, we were just excited to get a change, so we didn't focus on the quality of the canter after. Then Speedy started to anticipate the change, rushing into it. It was a challenge to teach him to wait for my aid, and sometimes, it's still a challenge. As I got the anticipation under control, his next evasion was to bolt through the change which left him unbalanced. Just this past week I have been able to get flying changes that are smooth without any change to the tempo.
The changes are now definitely confirmed and much more quiet, but they're still pretty expressive.
Of course, we still struggle with it because Speedy is not always as light in my hand as he needs to be. To fine tune the changes, Chemaine is now having me focus much more on the preparation before I even think about the change. As we come through the corner, Speedy needs to start getting softer and softer so that I can achieve the new bend more quickly. This will help us in Fourth Level where we'll need to do three changes across the diagonal - a movement we can do about 50% of the time.
In this video, I got him softer, but then he missed the aid for the change. When we tried it again, you can see him start to rush, but with a bit WAIT, he came back to me, and then we got a nice, clean change.
Chemaine rarely rides Speedy, but during this lesson, she asked if she could get on him. I was struggling with the left bend, and she couldn't see why. It wasn't until she got on him that she felt how heavy he actually was. We joked about the fact that I was hiding it quite well. She worked him left and right, pushing him back and forth off both reins and legs. He was happy to be heavy on either rein/leg, until Chemaine convinced him that yes, he could work between the aids.
When she handed him back over to me, she gave us both a lot of praise. "He feels like a dressage horse," she exclaimed. Since she's only ridden him once or twice in the past year, that was great to hear. This will never be "easy" for Speedy, but it's nice to hear that we're on the right track.
If everything goes to plan, we'll have one more lesson before out first show of the year. We're still showing Third Level of course, so maybe this will be the year we get that score ...
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read