From Endurance to Dressage
Christian Kicks MY Butt!
During the night, the huge storm that was predicted finally arrived. It poured rain off and on all night long, but by dawn, the skies cleared and were a brilliant blue. Thankfully, White Birch’s show barn is quite substantial. All of the horses weathered the storm peacefully and seemed no worse for wear by morning. The grounds on the other hand were sodden with lakes where none had been the day before. So while the round pen and small arena were too wet for any schooling, the covered arena was dry and ready to go.
For this lesson, Christian asked if there was anything specific I wanted to address. I hesitated to say, again knowing that he was going to work on whatever presented itself, but the trot lengthenings are an issue for us, so I said so.
As I knew he would, Christian set us to work on everything BUT the medium trot. Like he has done so many times before, he worked on ME for a large part of the lesson. He noticed that I was holding a fair amount of tension in my upper body, so he directed me to get loose. I did some shoulder rolls and a bobble-head shake to get rid of the tension. Christian reminded me to let my heels sink in the rising trot so that I wasn’t gripping anywhere with my legs. As I focused more on relaxing my body, Speedy got softer and softer himself.
We returned to the work from the day before where Christian asked me to really ask with my inside leg. When Speedy got more and more engaged behind, his head kept popping up, and I apparently had a displeased look on my face. Christian called me over to him and asked what I found so upsetting. It wasn’t that I was angry, I was just trying to figure out how to get Speedy to stay with me as I asked for more engagement.
Christian explained that Speedy wasn’t doing anything wrong. As he got more energetic behind, he had to lift his neck and head to keep his balance. Christian instructed me to ignore where Speedy’s head was and instead focused on me for a bit. We tried something that was a bit new for me, in thinking anyway. Instead of fighting with how heavy and resistant Speedy felt in my hand, he asked me to focus on developing some feel for the give.
I later talked with Jen, the clinic organizer and a Fourth Level rider, about this exercise. Christian had her doing the same thing with her boy when he started the lesson tense and heavy. He had told her that when her boy won’t soften, it’s up to her to let go first. If she’ll let go, he’ll follow suit. To let go, without simply throwing the reins away, he asked me to play with the bit with my ring fingers.
He suggested that I can make the bit more interesting to Speedy just by talking to him with my ring fingers and by making my wrists softer. Don’t pull back or hold on, just gently move the bit around with the ring finger. I was really surprised at how much softer Speedy got when I did this at the trot.
As is the case with horses, Speedy had more energy and tension for the second day’s ride so it didn’t take long for something to spook him. He gave a big buck and broke into a wild and wooly canter. As Christian always does, his response was to say in a soothing voice, that’s okay, make it your idea. The horse didn’t do anything wrong. So we worked at the canter for a bit using Speedy’s energy for some canter lengthenings down the long side.
Once he was a bit more in control, Christian had me do the same ring finger work at the canter. Again, I was really surprised at how quickly Speedy responded. Most of the time, Speedy is a really good worker who is willing to try to do what I ask. He does get the occasional wild hair, but he’s quick to come back to the conversation.
Christian wanted me to use the forward energy that Speedy was offering in the canter to work on developing the medium trot. We cantered down the long side, transitioned to a trot at C, or tried to, and came out of the corner ready to lengthen his stride.
Overall, we did get some nice medium trot. Christian had me really focus on getting a longer stride rather than a quicker one by rising higher and quicker in the posting trot while still using my inside leg. To help myself keep my balance and not throw Speedy off during the lengthening, I usually change my posting diagonal as we make the turn before the lengthening. Christian pointed out that while my rationale was good, it wasn’t the correct way to change rein.
Instead, he suggested that it was better to stay on whichever diagonal I was on and make the switch at the end of the trot lengthen. And if it takes the rider a stride or two to get on the correct diagonal at the end in the turn, it was no big deal. In some ways, this helped because I wasn’t trying to “shoot out” of the corner AND change my posting diagonal at the same time.
I really enjoyed the lesson. Christian’s final words were also very gratifying. He shared with me that when we first started working together two years ago, all he could work on was my seat. Later, he was able to work on teaching me correct use of the aids. Now he feels that I am at a point in my riding where he can begin to focus on helping me refine and develop my feel.
I am definitely looking forward to his next visit!
I'm constantly amazed at how effective softening my own body is in softening my horse's. You'd think that would stop being such a revelation after all this time, but it never does. I tend to carry a lot of tension physically, so working on these sorts of exercises is really helpful. Thanks for the reminder to stay present, loose, and relaxed!
3/5/2015 09:18:22 pm
What's tough for me is that I am not aware of my own body's tension. I make a conscious effort to breath deeply, but it seems that if I release the tension in my lower body, it oozes up to the top, and when i get my shoulders to relax, the tension drops to my legs. Grrrr. :0)
3/5/2015 09:20:15 pm
Christian teaches all over the world! I don't have contact info for him, but do some googling. If you have at least 8 - 10 riders who are interested, you could arrange your own clinic with him. He teaches anybody. You don't have to be at any particular level. :0)
3/5/2015 09:21:44 pm
Thanks, Lauren. I tried to make sure that all of the photos were level, based on something in the background. Even I can see that in the "working" photos, his withers are definitely higher than his croup. :0)
3/5/2015 09:23:39 pm
I can't remember what the joke was now, but Christian made a crack about my blog title, Not-So-Speedy Dressage. It might have been when we were zooming around at full throttle, but in any case, we are getting somewhere ... we're just doing it slowly. :0)
3/5/2015 02:47:59 pm
Aha, again you've brought up a topic that brings me back to my dressage days in America. My wonderful trainer would tell me to soften just before the horse does. It never made sense to me, but it worked like magic.
3/5/2015 09:26:32 pm
Christian is very quick to laugh at jokes, even those made at his own expense. And he doesn't actually yell, but he does poke at those students that he knows well. Since he's been working with me for a while now, he knows that I can get a bit sassy so I get LOTS of pokes. He would LOVE it if I made a sassy comment in German. Even something that I could just say all of the time would be great. Maybe you could give me a "here's my inside leg" line. :) LOL
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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%: