From Endurance to Dressage
Finding the Natural Circle
Since Monday's lesson, Speedy and I have been working very hard on that left lead canter-to-trot transition. It's getting better each day. I've been reading Riding in the Moment by Michael Schaffer and happened to hit the perfect part at the perfect time. His descriptions of riding the square, the turning square, the octagon, and finally the circle helped me "get" what I need to do to make the transition work.
The square is what you would image: from a standstill, turn your belly button in, have an open inside rein, place the outside rein in front of your belly button, and use a gentle outside leg to help your horse turn in.
The turning square takes the exercise a bit further: instead of turning in from a standstill, the horse is asked to turn in and then walk forward, turn in and walk forward. As your horse becomes better at turning in, you can add an element by turning in for several steps and then move out for several steps. This exercise eventually becomes a shoulder in. (The stuff I am learning, wow!)
Once the turning square is going well, Schaffer turns the square into an octagon. In this exercise, the horse moves out for several strides and then turns in for several strides. Once that has been accomplished, the horse can now move on a circle. I really loved Schaffer's explanation of how the movement is the same on the circle as the 8-sided figure: turn in, move out, turn in, move out, but in such a subtle way that it happens at each stride.
This is essentially what JL has been teaching me, but with Schaffer's diagrams and simple explanation, the whole concept really clicked. I tried this series of exercises with Speedy G last night and was thrilled with the result. Schaffer doesn't intend for this to be done all at once, but since Speedy knows how to turn and move out, I figured I could string it all together.
I started with the turn in from the standstill and slowly progressed through each exercise. I was really pleased with how quickly Speedy was chewing the bit and how supple he started to feel. Once he was turning in and moving out nicely at the walk, I moved on to Schaffer's Perfect Circle exercise.
According to Schaffer, the Perfect Circle is one "just small enough that he has to move sightly laterally to stay on it." If done correctly, it puts the horse in a shallow shoulder in. JL calls it "letting the geometry do the explaining." I do it quite frequently with Sydney, but haven't done it much with Speedy G. When Sydney gets resistant, I make the circle quite small so that he wants to move out. As he stretches his outside and releases the tension, I allow him to spiral back out. If he tenses or braces, I spiral back in. Schaffer's explanation clarifies the purpose of the exercise. Speedy is going to be doing more of those.
JL had me do this with Speedy by planting my inside hand on my thigh, or by grabbing mane with a shortened rein. This simply helped me maintain the bend, especially at the canter. I started with a small circle and gradually widened it as he got softer. This worked great for the circle left at both trot and canter.
The next part of Schaffer's exercise includes fixing circles. His book has an excellent section on the three main problems that arise: the horse who falls in, falls out, or runs outs. Speedy does two of them; he runs out or falls out when tracking left.
Speedy runs out the moment I exit the circle to continue down the long side. Schaffer suggests that the best "fix" is to simply stop him (even if it is abruptly), and start again. He feels that the horse will eventually "quit looking for the weak spot to burst through." This is exactly what JL had me do. But in Speedy's case, an abrupt halt wasn't enough. I also had to keep his haunches from spinning out by not letting him fall into the circle. Keeping his front end facing forward and catching the hind end as it wants to swing out is hard work.
Falling out is when 'the hollow side is on the outside of the circle.' Schaffer says that the solution for the horse who falls out is to take up more of the outside rein. That seems a bit vague, but when I combined that idea with what JL had me doing, it does work. In order for the outside rein to be effective, I have to maintain an inside bend, and I have to get his haunches back underneath him by pushing them away from the rail.
Speedy's "Hollow" Side
Since Speedy's inclination is to be hollow on the right side of his body, I need to stretch the right side and get those haunches to move to the left. The image on the right is cut from a larger image from Michael Schaffer's book. The diagrams in his book are excellent. It shows Speedy's body perfectly. This is why the left lead canter is so challenging. He wants to carry his nose and haunches to the right.
Now that I have a solid visual of what I am dealing with, I feel confident that I can help Speedy straighten out. We're going to be doing a lot more turn in/move out as well as Natural Circles. Both of those exercises will supple Speedy's right side and get him carrying himself with more ease.
I am still showing tomorrow* which means you won't hear from me again until Monday. My times are great for Saturday, T-2 at 1:53 and T-3 at 2:22. This gives me time to watch some other riders, braid Speedy G's mane, and warm up slowly. My times on Sunday are pretty late considering I have a two-hour drive home: T-2 at 11:28 and T-3 at 1:47. It's okay though; I'll make it work.
Have a great weekend, and I'll see you on Monday!
*uh-oh ... woke up with severe lower back spasms which is a brand new thing. I am currently on the floor with a heating pad. We shall see ...
3/15/2013 01:27:11 am
Thanks, Dom. Those 10 pages in Schaffer's book are excellent! His diagrams make the ideas crystal clear. The rest of the book hasn't been as helpful, but his description of the square to circle including the perfect circle are very useful. :0)
3/15/2013 11:49:15 pm
Thanks! Back us much better. Warm up on Friday was glitchy, but I am still ready to go!
3/15/2013 03:45:31 am
Uh-Oh is right! Hope your back is better in time for the show, have fun!
3/15/2013 11:50:05 pm
3/15/2013 04:07:03 am
You made that explanation so clear.. I now understand what I suspected but no one has clarified the circle so accurately ...also loved the picture.. That is definitely my horse.. Good luck at the show and I can't wait to hear about your successes..
3/15/2013 11:51:11 pm
Glad it helped, and thanks for the well wishes. :0)
3/15/2013 06:47:56 am
Great for visualization!
3/15/2013 11:54:52 pm
My trainer also teaches the circle as straight lines. The book gave the process a good explanation and included some excellent diagrams which really make it clear. Our warm up did't go so well on Friday. His haunches were way outside and I just couldn't get them back underneath. I'll try again this afternoon.
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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
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Third Level: 63.514%
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