From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy and I were the last to go on Saturday. And even though Chemaine's day had started with a two-hour drive, she was just as friendly, relaxed, and encouraging for her eighth lesson as she was for her first. If you live anywhere near southern California, you really need to check her out. She's a remarkable trainer, show coach, and all around lovely person.
All photos by Edyta.
Since Izzy is still a green bean, there are too many things to list as problem areas. With Speedy, both Chemaine and I know what we need to work on. With Izzy, we're still just working on the basics: go when I say, seek the contact, and keep your shoulders where they belong.
When the first trailer pulled in and Leo was unloaded, both of my boys hit the roof. They were both wound up and way over-stimulated. There is rarely any activity at my barn unless I cause it, so for them, the day was quite exciting. It turned out to be an excellent opportunity for Izzy to experience a bit of a show atmosphere from the safety of his very own home.
By the time I hopped on, he had watched several hours of exciting action, and it was pretty warm, but he was still charged up and very forward. I ditched the whip rather quickly as he didn't ever balk or get stuck behind my leg.
For this lesson, Chemaine had me focus on three things. The first she called structure. Speedy is such a rock star that I can get away with losing focus or not riding every single stride. When he's in the mood, he'll even try and pick up the slack.
As an example, Chemaine got on him on Sunday and tried to ride him between the poles to work outside of my dressage court in a larger area. Speedy assumed she had made a mistake and veered so that he remained within the court. Chemaine laughed at how well "trained" he is. But that's what I mean about him picking up the slack; he more or less knows his job and can do it even if I am not directing him. I can't do that with Izzy.
Riding Izzy requires that I give him something to do and think about every stride. I can't let myself be lulled into a sense of ho-hum. When he feels my lack of direction, he tries to fill in the blank, but not in a good way. JL used to call it riding a loose horse. Chemaine's use of the word structure resonated more with me as that's what I do with my students. I structure the day so they are never at loose ends; they always have something constructive to do or think about.
So with Izzy, I need to keep my reins shorter and keep expecting him to soften, go forward, and so on. He doesn't get to just skate by. He needs to be actively working.
Once I had the understanding of providing structure, we worked on helping Izzy to soften to the inside rein. Like Speedy, Izzy has problems with the left rein and both shoulders. To the left, Chemaine had me hold the inside rein really steady at my knee or the saddle so that I could work the outside rein.
Chemaine called it "chainsawing," but she certainly didn't mean I should saw away at his mouth. Instead, she wanted me to give several sharp, firm pulls to very clearly tell him to get that outside shoulder back in line. While I worried about the "severity" of my corrections, Chemaine stressed that quick and firm is far better than nagging repeatedly with an aid that he can't hear or understand.
You can see from this series of photos that he is softening very nicely to that inside rein. Once I had his outside shoulder under control, I could then start to sponge or play with the inside rein. In the picture just below, you can see that the inside rein is actually loopy. And by the next picture, it is even more so. We've also lost some of the forward energy that he was carrying, but I love how relaxed and supple he became.
The third exercise that Chemaine had us a do was one where I slowly moved Izzy down the arena towards the spooky end without him knowing it. We started with a 20-meter circle at A, but as we neared the top half of the circle, I leg yielded him out towards C. As we circled back to A, I used a firmer outside rein and pushed him into the circle (think half pass), effectively lopping off the bottom of the circle.
Each time we came around, I leg yielded him farther toward C and pushed him into the circle at the bottom. Before he knew it, we were deep in the spooky end of the arena, circling. From the C end, we crossed the diagonal back to A and repeated the exercise tracking the opposite way.
Chemaine really likes this exercise because it encourages the horse to really focus on the rider, so the rider can do small leg yields to move out on the circle and then collect the horse and move his shoulders to make the circle more shallow.
Chemaine was so pleased with how well he handled being put into the spooky end of the arena that she had us try the same exercise at the canter.
Even at the canter, Chemaine had me steady the inside rein and really work that outside rein. His left lead canter is more balanced than his right.
While I love Speedy to death, he just won't ever have the same expressive gaits that Izzy is developing. Even as a green bean he wants to be uphill.
Still on his forehand, but since I am not losing his shoulder, he's a lot straighter.
Moving him down the arena in Chemaine's exercise also helps the inside hind step deeper which in turns helps him get a little more uphill.
And now you can really see that deeper stride, although I've lost the inside bend.
My take aways for the first day's lesson are three-fold: provide structure, get the inside bend by first gaining control of the outside shoulder, and work on pushing him out on the circle and then collecting him on the bottom of the circle to bring him in.
Tomorrow, Chemaine gives Speedy a bit of a butt kicking!
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%: