From Endurance to Dressage
My plan (HAHAHAHAHA) for yesterday was to get back on Izzy after our marathon ride from the day before to see if I could get a few answers right in a short amount of time. You know, get a few relaxed strides at the walk and maybe the trot just to show him that it's all good. The weather had its own nefarious plans though - cue maniacal laughter.
It was a lovely day, even balmy. As I hung out at the traffic light on my way home from work, I stared in amazement at the trees on the opposite side of the intersection; they seemed to be doubled over in pain. I started scanning the foliage on my side of the street and was shocked to see that they too were being bent into submission by an angry wind. Where did that come from?
Bakersfield's weather can be quite strange. It can be pouring rain on the east end of town and dry as a bone to the west. The wind can howl at one end and be eerily silent on the other. I prayed that was the case on Thursday. As I pulled into the barn's drive, I saw Izzy bolt from one end of his stall to the other and quickly realized that a relaxing ride was not in the cards.
At my last lesson lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, she suggested that I try lunging Izzy in draw reins to help him understand how to get a bit more through by fighting with himself rather than me. She has a wonderful description for him which really sums up his tension. She describes him as emotional about his work.
And it's true. It's not just anxiety or tension; he has strong feelings about what he's doing, and he's quite vocal about it. I usually see it as being opinionated, but describing him as emotional elicits more of a nurturing response from me. So rather than try to fight it out with him in, I pulled out my home made set of draw reins and got to work.
Nothing will stir up the controversy pot faster than the mention of draw reins. They can be dangerous. Horses can panic and flip over and try to kill you or themselves. They can easily become a crutch, but when used correctly, they can also be a valuable tool. I first lunged Izzy with just a lunge line and then I attached the draw reins. For a few minutes, I set them so loosely that he could fling his head wherever he liked. Once I was certain that he wasn't going to flip over or try to kill either one of us, I tightened them to where they are in the photo.
Chemaine is a very knowledgable trainer who does not rely on gadgets to get the job done. In fact, when she suggested using draw reins, I was quite surprised as the only gadgets I've ever seen at her barn are whips and spurs, and those are used judiciously and fairly.
Her Grand Prix mare, Belle, has done some funny stuff with her mouth and head lately. During a recent lesson with her own coach (how good must he be?), he noticed it and right away knew it had to do with Belle avoiding the contact by sucking back her tongue and moving it over the bit. He suggested lunging her in draw reins to encourage her to stretch and loosen her back. Chemaine says that in just a few short weeks, Belle is even softer and more relaxed than ever before.
Chemaine thought the draw reins could do the same for Izzy. Much like Belle, he doesn't want to carry himself long and low. He wants to be in an upper level frame, but he's not supple enough or relaxed enough for that.
My draw reins are a single length of poly rope with two scissor snaps that slide freely in the middle of the rope. I attached these to the girth ring. Each end has a trigger snap that can be attached to the surcingle. If applied differently, these draw reins can also be used from the saddle, although I don't use them that way. In fact, I only used these on Speedy a few times way back when we first started dressage.
It took Izzy about five minutes to figure out that the lower he kept his neck, the more comfortable he became. I lunged him with the draw reins for about 20 minutes, and I changed directions no less than four times varying the diameter of my circle. When he was soft and trotting forward nicely, I made the circle bigger. When he got off balance or tense, I drew him closer and focused on pushing the inside hind deeper.
The transformation was almost miraculous. He started out with a back that was so tight, it looked painful. His legs stabbed at the ground and he looked like he might fall over at any second. Gradually, his head came down and his stride got longer and slower. His ears started to flick back to me, and he even started to correct himself when he lost his balance. Rather than speed up to rebalance, I saw him start to slow down on his own.
When I called Chemaine to let her know how it had gone (she evens does lessons over the phone), she suggested I lunge him again today before riding and then again tomorrow at the show. Oh, right - a show. Yes, we're doing Intro A and B at a schooling show north of Bakersfield tomorrow.
I'll let you know how it goes on Monday. Have a great weekend!
Draw reins are a very useful gadget when used correctly! When my TB decided spooking and leaving the ground was a good idea, I popped them on him loosely while I rode so that when he went to invert and spook and spin, he'd hit them and then come back down. I also used them when I was riding in the dark back when I didn't have an indoor... mostly they helped me remind Mikey that he needs to connect, not gawk. Glad they helped Izzy out! I really like them for that kind of thing. Penn totally can't use them, he already wants to carry his head between his knees.
4/15/2016 07:21:54 am
Any gadget can be helpful, and can also be abused. I don't use draw reins but I use a chambon and side reins pretty regularly. All of them can help build muscle and help the horse understand his job - both of which I'm all for! I'm glad they helped Izzy! Just be careful using them at the show - if they're going by USDF rules, the ONLY thing you are allowed to longe in is side reins.
4/15/2016 10:11:58 am
So glad you found another tool in the toolbox to help Izzy.
4/17/2016 12:13:44 pm
I thought those were called sliding side reins, draw reins being the ones that a rider holds to gain leverage from the saddle. I do not like draw reins, but from what I have read sliding side reins are actually gentler than regular side reins. They are less restrictive and allow the horse some choice in his head position. I can see why they might be good for Izzy.
I think lunging (sometimes with gadgets) can be really, really useful for horses. It allows them to work and learn without a rider, which is incredible valuable especially for those of us amateurs. I often feel that I'm the one holding back my horse, so without me to deal with, my horse can learn even more quickly!
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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%: