From Endurance to Dressage
Creating Softness with an Inside Leg
As usual, I used my Pivo Pod to record my Sunday ride. While I love having a lesson on Saturday with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, it's my Sunday rides that give me a chance to try out what I learned the day before.
While I have learned to be flexible with each day's riding goals - Izzy doesn't usually read the same playbook as me, I knew that playing around with creating bend from the inside leg was definitely a must do. It didn't matter if we did it in the canter or not, but we were going to work on it. I warmed Izzy up as usual, but I kept reminding him that if he braced and leaned into my inside leg instead of bending around it, a sharp poke would be waiting for him.
Just to be clear, the goal is not the sharp poke. The goal is to encourage softness and bend around my inside leg with the lightest possible aid. Ideally, that would be a weighted inside seat bone. Right now, I haven't made that aid clear enough for Izzy which is why I am helping him to connect the dots: inside leg at the girth means bend. If he doesn't bend, he will feel a sharp poke. If I can become very consistent in asking and reinforcing, he will learn very quickly to wrap himself around my leg and soften through his neck and poll. He is already making those connections.
Early on in the ride, I asked for the right lead canter. As soon as he braced and leaned into my inside leg, I gave him a poke and carried on. It only took three circles for him to make better life choices. In the video below, you can tell right when I put my spur in because he hops away from me, but about the third time around, I had convinced him to stop bracing as we passed the gate end of the arena. Was it perfect? No, but he demonstrated that he was listening. We went on to something else.
Throughout the ride, I put on my teacher hat and presented the idea of creating softness from my inside leg in lots of different ways. So often, my students only learn a new idea after seeing a number of different examples. With Izzy, I walked up each quarterline asking for a change of bend with my inside leg. It was like dribbling a soccer ball: bend to the left, bend to right, bend to the left, bend to the right. Each time I asked for the new bend, I did it by first weighting the new seat bone and then pressing my calf at the girth. Only if he didn't change the bend did I poke him with the spur.
I also asked for some steeper leg yields which he is doing really well. We still have too much shoulder one moment followed by too much haunches the next, but that's really all just pilot error. I need to remember to ride him forward into both reins evenly while monitoring the haunches. I tend to ask for too much haunches which is something Speedy "taught" me.
To finish up the idea of creating bend and softness with my inside leg, we worked on traverse to half pass. The half pass to the right was a real struggle. He kept fighting to take the bend away from me. I had him do the half pass twice, and when he gave me a half pass that was at least better than the first one, I took what he was willing to offer and moved on to the left side. It wasn't great by any means, but I was really encouraged by the effort he offered.
In the video below, his traverse is pretty decent, maybe not super consistent, but the bend is there. In the half pass, the bend is not nearly enough - at least I don't think so, but what I was rewarding was his effort. He didn't take the bend away; instead, he kept trying which is all I ever really want from him - the try.
The one thing that I have learned about this horse is that as he's learning something new, it tends to get worse before it gets better. It might take him a few weeks to accept my inside leg as an aid for bend. And for certain, I know that over-using the spur is a recipe for disaster which is why I've asked Sean to keep an eye on my effective use of the aids (as it were). Even knowing it might get worse for a bit, I am so encouraged by the progress we're making. I know none of this is brilliant, but I am proud of our progress.
Who knows? Maybe we'll get to show Training Level, Test 2 next year!
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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%: