From Endurance to Dressage
The horse I pulled out on Sunday was definitely not the same horse I had put away on Saturday. Before I rode, the ranch owner and neighbor took a group lesson. A few of their friends and family members came over to watch. They also strolled around the property enjoying the nice weather.
This was too much for my big brown horse. His alarm bells started ringing. While he stood quietly as I tacked him up, he had some very wet and sloppy poops that told the tale. As we walked up to the arena, I could see the tension in his body.
We had decided that for Sunday, I would ride Izzy in the legal bit, especially since he had been so willing on Saturday. Although I cringed as I slipped the bit in his mouth, I knew it was the right choice. Just in case though, I brought my every day bridle with me.
From the moment we started, Izzy was coiled up like a spring. His top line was pulled tight, and he couldn't have stretched his neck down even if he had wanted too. These are the times that I have the most trouble riding him because he gets so behind the bit that I can't develop a connection. If I had leg, he just bounces higher and higher.
Fortunately, Chemaine had a solution. While she didn't call it natural horsemanship, that's really what we worked on. Since there was no way I was going to get any longitudinal flexion (from the nose over the poll down the neck and along the back down to the hocks), we worked on lateral flexion instead.
First at the walk and later at the trot and canter, Chemaine had me flex Izzy to the inside while also sending his haunches in. And when I say "flex," think carrot stretches but with an outside rein. It's a lot harder than you might think.
So here's how it worked: I flexed Izzy deeply to the inside while establishing the rhythm with the outside rein. I also sent his haunches in. The instant I flexed him, his brain said run faster because I am off balance.
As you can imagine, doing this exercise requires a good amount of coordination from the rider. I had to keep my weight to the inside seat bone while still pushing my outside leg back for the haunches in. I also had to maintain the flexion with the inside rein and also slow him down with the outside rein until I felt him soften to the inside. The instant that he gave, I gave. I allowed his haunches to travel straight, and I released the flexion.
Of course he resisted in the very next stride, but I simply repeated the flexion and haunches in every single time he tried to brace his neck. Things got a bit wild and wooly at the canter, but he eventually gave in.
What I liked most about this flexion work was that I was able to build some connection even though he wanted to be behind the bit. By flexing him, it put him on the outside rein. From there, I could start to get longitudinal flexion, which is what we did next.
Chemaine had me visualize the "horse" and bit from Disneyland's hearse. If there were a horse there, he would be on the bit. Keeping the bit in mind, Chemaine encouraged me to think about placing the bit wherever I wanted it to be. In this case, that meant down.
Once I had established a certain amount of lateral flexion with Izzy, I started lowering the bit. To do this, I asked for some inside flexion and then held the inside rein firmly while sponging the outside rein. As soon as Izzy's head dropped a little, I flexed him slightly to the outside, and held that rein firmly while sponging the new outside rein. Back and forth I flexed and held, flexed and held as he slowly started to drop his head.
Even though Izzy was a jerk on Sunday, I was really pleased with how much we were able to accomplish over the weekend. I don't know that he'll ever be a horse that doesn't carry some amount of tension, but we're both learning how to deal with it.
You can bet that I am going to be doing a lot more work with both of those exercises.
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%: