From Endurance to Dressage
Creating Bend From Behind
Izzy has always been a difficult horse to ride, but it's more accurate to say that both of my horses have been difficult. Speedy and I managed to earn quite a few awards and wins, but it wasn't easy. He's a great horse, but he never just "did" it. I had to ask, beg, insist, and only after months of struggle would we finally get it. Speedy's sticky moments were just a lot less visible than are Izzy's. I think the moral of the story is that dressage is hard no matter who your horse is.
Now that I am getting better at riding Izzy, he's offering me a place to sit. When his back is tight and he refuses to bend, it's like riding a log, but when I can get his back to swing, even just a little bit, he really starts to look and feel like the dressage horse he was bred to be.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came to Bakersfield on Sunday to give a string of lessons across town. Izzy and I were her first stop. Even though the temperature was in the high 20s, Izzy was relaxed and happy to work. Since we've had a lesson each of the past several weekends, there wasn't anything specific that I wanted to work on. I asked Chemaine if I could just ride while she offered feedback when she saw that I needed it.
That's what we spent the next 45 minutes doing - I rode, and Chemaine simply coached me. Don't let him push you off that inside seat bone. Think about leg yielding him out on the circle. Ask for some counter flexion. Bring his haunches in when he wants to brace against your inside rein. I love lessons where I get a huge epiphany, but those lessons wherein I get to hear Chemaine's voice riding my horse through me are the ones that really help me when I am riding on my own.
When Chemaine is explaining something new, something big she thinks I am ready for, I get pretty wrapped up in trying to figure out what I am supposed to feel. Later, I write it down so that I can think about it and process the idea she wants me to learn. It usually takes me a while to put into action the new learning. When we work on just fine tuning things, like we did on Sunday, I attach her voice to the feeling Izzy gives me, and then I can hear her voice coaching me when I ride alone. Eventually the voice I hear becomes my own. That's when I know I truly understand something.
For a while now I've been working on suppling Izzy's back so that he can lengthen his stride. One way we've been tackling that is by moving his shoulders around and then moving his haunches. It's as though the middle of his back is rusted so solidly that he can't move his front and back independently. We're slowly oiling that "joint," and it's finally beginning to break free.
As we trotted around on a 20-meter circle, Chemaine had me think about an exercise I learned from Barbi Breen-Gurley this past summer. It goes like this: flex in, flex out, down if he'll take it. As a suppling exercise, it has worked wonders with Izzy. As I flexed Izzy in, Chemaine suggested I leg yield him slightly out on the circle, and when I flexed him out, I should push him into the circle. As I pushed him back and forth, in and out on the circle, his body began to really relax and his neck and stride both got longer. When this horse lifts his back and pushes, I feel about ten feet taller.
Most horses have a side they prefer, a side that bends more easily than the other. Izzy struggles to bend to the right, and since he likes to lean on his right shoulder, it is sometimes impossible for him to bend to the right. His shoulder is in the way. When tracking right, it occasionally feels like I am riding a motorcycle that is leaning hard to the right, moments away from sliding out from underneath me.
When he's especially tight, pulsing or sponging the inside right rein feels like I am trying to lead an elephant with a piece of thread. No insult to the elephant, but if he can't "hear" you, he can't do what you want. Chemaine reminded me that flexing the horse to the inside isn't the only way to get the bend. Bend can also be achieved by sending the haunches in, but it's a lot more work on the horse's part.
This is especially effective at the canter. When Izzy got stiff to the right at the canter, Chemaine had me think about bringing his haunches in to achieve some inside bend. As long as Izzy braced against the bend, I kept my outside hand out and back. The instant he relaxed his neck, I allowed his haunches back on the circle, and I brought the shoulders in instead. Think about a carousel horse rotating around a pole where you as the rider are the pole. The horse can rotate his front end or his back end into and out of the circle.
At one point during the lesson, Chemaine apologized for not doing much teaching that day. I laughed and said that she was helping tremendously. Sometimes, students don't need to learn something new. Instead we need a chance to practice and get feedback.
And if anyone needs more practice, it's definitely me! I felt that my money was well spent that day.
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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%: