From Endurance to Dressage
Crack the Nut!
Some of you have probably wondered if I am still riding on Wednesday evenings with JL. Rest assured, I am still riding with her. In fact, I have had a weekly lesson with her every single week for seven months without a single miss. It’s now become a contest to see which of us can ”out-healthy” the other. Technically, she probably already won. We moved my last lesson to Monday since it was a holiday. I woke up sick that morning and had to cancel, but it rained most of the day so my lesson would have been cancelled any way. We ended up doing the lesson on Wednesday as previously planned. So there you have it. Seven months of weekly lessons without a single miss!
I’ve mentioned this at least a million times, but JL is not a dressage trainer. I don’t say that to disparage her training at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I am amazed at what must be a very deep understanding of classical riding. The things we work on, rhythm (energy and tempo), relaxation (with elasticity and suppleness), and connection (acceptance of the bit through acceptance of the aids) are straight from the dressage pyramid. I’ve shown her a picture of the pyramid, but it’s not like it’s a poster hanging in her barn. It’s just what she thinks every horses needs in order to be a suitable riding horse. Early on she shared with me that once I get to the point where I need to work on movements that require maximum collection (increased engagement, lightness of the forehand, self-carriage), I might need to find another trainer. How did she know that collection was at the very top of the pyramid? Fortunately, impulsion (increased energy and thrust) and straightness (improved alignment and balance) are before collection so maybe I’ll be able to stay with her longer than she thinks!
I share all of this because after hearing about my scores and the judge’s comments from last week’s show, JL watched me warm up and quickly formulated her next step in helping me with some of the judge’s feedback.
Okay, now let’s see the canter. Already? Usually we work on softening the trot for most of the lesson. Nope. Since I ditched my personal elephant, Fear, (do you remember him?) we are now officially moving onto the canter which means we are now working on all three gates, both directions. I felt like I had moved up a level. On what scale I am not sure, but it still felt like a promotion!
So we cantered. Sydney was quite strung out and popped his right shoulder out so much that I had trouble making the turn. In fact, we missed the turn altogether. (We train at one end of JL’s jumping arena.) Okay, bring him back to a walk. For the remainder of the lesson we worked on two very useful strategies. At the canter, of course!
The first one JL called crack a nut. It was something a physical therapist recently told one of JL’s other students to do, and she thought it was a visual that might work with me. Imagine a nut between your shoulder blades. Now squeeze. That’s how JL wants me to ride. Cracking a nut does several things. First, it puts my elbows at my sides and forces me to keep them bent. Try straightening your elbows while cracking a nut. Second, it opens up my chest and gives me full range of my shoulders. Squeeze your shoulder blades and roll your shoulder backwards. Easy, huh? Third, it turns my hands so that my thumbs are up. AHA! When Sydney stiffens, I almost always turn my hands down and “break” my wrists. Riding as though I was cracking a nut eliminated the broken wrists since I was able to engage my shoulder blades.
The second thing we worked on came straight from the crack a nut strategy. Sydney was popping his outside shoulder because he wasn’t bending. He was running straight through my outside rein and leg. Move his neck! came JL’s command. It took me a number of tries, but I finally figured it out. As I asked for the canter, I immediately started rocking both reins so that he couldn’t lock his neck and shoulders. The reason I could rock both reins and unlock his incredibly stiff and heavy neck was because I was cracking a nut and had full range of my shoulders and had a straight line from bit to elbow - no broken wrists. Success!
2/20/2012 08:13:49 am
When I first read your post title, I thought you were referring to a dressage nut. In which case, this one (meaning me) is already cracked!
2/20/2012 10:01:45 am
You are very right - never enough! :0)
2/22/2012 10:18:56 am
This one little image has helped me TONS! It helps me connect my shoulder blades to my riding. I am so glad she shared that visual with me. Some of the visuals work for me and others don't. This one was spot on!
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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%: