From Endurance to Dressage
After my lesson with Dr. Christian Schacht, I had a chance to talk to him about it over a glass of wine. You know you've found an awesome clinician when he's willing to have a casual conversation about your ride, the day, and life in general.
I asked him how he knew that I needed to just think about something else while riding, and I was curious to know how often he'd used that strategy with other riders. To my surprise, he didn't know it would work, and he'd never done a lesson quite like that one before. In fact he offered a sort of apology because it wasn't really what you'd call a "dressage" lesson.
Typical lesson or not, I felt like it was the best lesson I'd ever had from him, and there have been many from which to choose. I rode with him again on Sunday, but that lesson turned out to be more like what you'd expect. While more traditional, he still incorporated exercises from the day before, and even threw in a few new ones.
#1 - What's in Your Refrigerator?
I explained this one yesterday, but in case you missed it, it works like this: think of the answers to questions that force your memory to recall information. For me, a simple Q and A wasn't sufficient as I frequently multi-task at work. So riding and answering a simple question wasn't enough.
Answering a two-step question proved to be much harder. Diving a number that left a remainder was so hard that it literally took me minutes to solve even the simplest problem. Think of 35 divided by 2 - nearly impossible for me. The more steps the problem took, the less I focused on my riding.
The refrigerator question was particularly challenging for me because I had to visualize each shelf to identify what was on it. I wasn't able to simply recall that there is juice and butter. My brain had to create a picture of the shelf. The more detailed the picture was, the less aware of riding I became.
#2 - Count to 20.
This isn't a novel strategy, but it worked wonders for me. Christian instructed me to count strides. To help, he counted aloud for me: 1, 2, 3 ,4 5 ... 10 ... 11 ... 12 ... 13 .... 14 ..... 15 ...... 16 ......... 17 .............. 18 ............... 19 .............................. 20 ... walk. Like magic, Izzy was walking when Christian said 20. I didn't do a single thing except follow his counting rhythm.
When I repeated the exercise and counted aloud, it didn't work. When I did it silently, I discovered that I could walk at any number as long as I started to slow my counting early enough. Christian also insisted that I count when my butt was in the saddle as opposed to when I rose. He also limited the count to 20. After twenty, the rhythm doesn't hold true.
#3 Bend and Go.
The third exercise was challenging enough that it felt as though my brain's wires were getting crossed. It forced me to go back and forth between left and right which always throws me off. By trying to to differentiate between left and right, I quit micromanaging my horse's stride.
The exercise was simply a series of changes of bend. It distracted me because of the confusing elements, but its real purpose is to supple the horse. I didn't worry about whether my horse was supple though as I was too busy counter bending, pointing my belly, and counting.
Simply begin by trotting a 20-meter circle tracking either left or right. Every three strides, change the bend and your rising diagonal, but turn your belly in the direction of the bend. For example, trot three strides tracking right, change your posting diagonal, change the bend to the left, and point your belly to the outside. Trot three strides, change your posting diagonal, change the bend, and point your belly to the inside.
It's a hypnotic exercise that requires a strong coordination of the aids, especially the use of the outside thigh. When the horse is counter bent, you will need to use the outside thigh to make the circle. After doing this exercise for a few minutes, Izzy got super adjustable and felt like putty in my hands.
This was a great clinic primarily because it restored my confidence. I had been having a sort of crisis of faith. I was constantly second guessing my ability level. I was quickly feeling like a completely incompetent rider who had no business bring along such a nice horse as Izzy.
Christian showed me that the problems were not my riding ability. In fact, the only time he corrected my position was to insist I sit taller and back in the canter, and that I lower my hands. Other than that, he felt my position and application of the aids was fine (at least for where we are right now).
Getting even that small amount of validation was huge. I don't need to be the best or even great. I just need to know that I am at least effective. And as we all know, getting a diagnosis eliminates a lot of the worry.
My diagnosis? Over thinking it. Prescription? Quit thinking about it so much.
I haven't ridden since Sunday (tired plus tons of life stuff to deal with), but I am looking forward to trying this all out on my own. Let me know if you try any of these exercises. I'd love to hear about it.
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%: