From Endurance to Dressage
Uh-oh. Sweet Sydney, kind and gentle giant, has a dark side. I first saw it after he'd been at my barn a few days. When I asked for a trot, his hunter nose popped up and memories of his track days sent him rocketing FORWARD. I brought him back to a walk, asked again, and got the same response. Rather than fight a new horse, I worked him instead at the walk and chalked it up to new horse nerves. He was fine for several days, but Mr. Hyde resurfaced a week or so later when Coach came out to give us a lesson. Her strategy was for me to lunge him and then focus on relaxing and quieting him with my core. Things went well for a week or so after that, including a dynamite lesson on Friday where after some softening exercises, Sydney got nicely round and was working well in front of my leg. We were all pleased with how quiet and compliant he was, especially while on a field trip. I like Dr. Jekyll.
Mr. Hyde showed up on Saturday morning with a very loud, "I'm back!" I started with some walk work which he did very nicely. When I asked for the trot, his nose shot out and he started plowing through my hand. I decided to get off and lunge some of the tension out of him. It seems as though Sydney really likes to be lunged before being ridden. In fact, it seems as though he needs to be lunged. And his lunge work is just a big, reaching gallop. I've never had a horse that could RUN like he can. I am seriously seeking advice here: is this typical Thoroughbred behavior? Do they all like to run this much? And does it get worse if I let him run it off each day? Won't he just get stronger and stronger? [by the way, he gets ridden and/or turnout daily]
After I lunged him until I was bored, although he wasn't, I climbed on. He again worked nicely at the walk, but as soon as I asked for trot work, he got ... ornery. His nose went up and he cocked it at an angle so that he was completely in front of the bit and I had very little control. He balked. He spun around. He threw his body to the side. All he kept saying was, no, no, no. I am not going to go forward. Back to walk. Again at the trot, but this time he threatened to rear. No matter how I worked my seat or reins he just would not give me anything even remotely safe to ride. I got off and put him back on the lunge line. And waited, and waited, and waited some more. There was no quitting. He wanted to run.
I finally stopped him, took off the lunge line and hand walked him for a couple of minutes to see if Dr. Jekyll would make an appearance. When he seemed quieter, I got back on. We walked a bit, but as soon as I asked for the trot, same thing.
Having spent so many years paying attention to equine health, my first thought was, does something hurt? We had had a solid lesson the day before and I thought it was possible that he might be sore. In fact, as resistant to doing anything that he was, I really began to think that it might be pain causing him to be so naughty. I focused on just walking quietly in a very relaxed frame. That can't be painful, and if nothing else, will make sore muscles feel better. I encouraged him to lengthen and stretch his topline. After a bit I noticed that the naughty behavior was most obvious at one point in the arena, but better elsewhere. Still at the walk, I pressed the issue. I let him know that he WAS GOING TO WALK nicely around that corner. It took a few times around, but he eventually started listening to me and we made several nice circles. Hmmmm...
We did a change of direction and had some issues at a different spot in the arena, but again, I let him know that he was going to walk through. When his walk was finally soft and responsive, I asked for the trot. His head came up, but not as high and not as cocked to the side as it had been. Back to walk. Back to trot. And this time I put my legs on him and pushed him forward ... HARD. He wasn't pleased, but he finally started moving forward. It took some time, but he finally softened his jaw, stretched over his back and neck, and went forward. We circled both directions until I felt that I had "won" the battle, and then we went back to the walk. We walked, and halted ... or tried to. He FUSSED. Walk. Halt. Walk. Halt. We did at least twenty walk/halt transitions until he gave me one teensy-tiny-very-nearly-square halt.
Before riding, I always stretch my horses' legs, front and rear. I was actually pleased at how well Sydney stretched on his left side that morning. When he first came to me, he was really tense about stretching his left hind. So when he gave his leg to me freely, I was quite happy. Since he had stretched so nicely before being ridden, I was very puzzled about the tenseness that he'd shown under saddle. I gave him a few minutes to himself and then I decided to do some investigating. I palpated his back, nothing. I kneaded his neck muscles, lip wiggles with a lean into my knuckles. I massaged his muscles from hip to croup, leg cock. Overall, I got no responses that would indicate this horse was in pain.
So ... What was this all about? Was this a temper tantrum? Was this a sore horse? (He sees Dr. Blanton On Tuesday.) I know I did the right thing by working through it, but I hope we don't have to do that very many times. I rode and lunged him for more than an hour. This wasn't a ten minute tantrum. So why has he been so ... explosive on some days, but very quiet most of the time? Is this typical of a Thoroughbred, is he just testing me, is he anxious about being in a new place, is he feeling the benefits of the weight he's put on? By the way, his lunch doesn't include grain, just beet pulp and rice bran.
Once I was finished riding, he walked quietly to be unsaddled, stood politely in the wash rack, walked quietly into his stall, and enthusiastically asked for his lunch. There you are, Dr. Jekyll!
A post script since writing: I ran this by Cha Ching's mom, and realized that I forgot to mention one little thing. I ran out of horse cookies, so for a couple of days I was giving him a handful of grain as his "Good Boy!" treat. Hmmm ... (again!). Cha Ching's mom thinks my problem may be three-fold: a little grain is too much, a lesson might call for a day off after, and new horse new barn new arena new new new. Her suggested solution? NO grain, more days to rest and process, and time.
Sounds reasonable to me!
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%: