From Endurance to Dressage
Green Horse Under Saddle
I've started five or six green horses, but Izzy has proven to be the most sensitive. All the others that I started, including Speedy, already had a let's go button. They weren't worried about a rider on their back, except for Mickey, but that only took a few weeks to work out. Izzy is proving to be much more sensitive and worried about what is happening to him.
The good thing is that once he figures out the lesson, he is foolproof in his execution. When he first came to me in January, there were a lot of holes in his training. He didn't pick up his feet smartly, he wiggled in the cross ties, and he was very protective about his head.
For three months, I did a ton of ground work. He now picks up his feet willingly, lowers his head to be bridled and unbridled, and falls asleep when I groom him. He isn't bothered by the clippers or fly spray, and he waits patiently while I dump in his feed. All in all, he trusts that everything will be okay when I ask for something from the ground.
While I worked him in the side reins with the surcingle and then rode him bareback, things also progressed smoothly. I worked him slowly and methodically. Everything was done just one step at a time. I spent several days just leaning on his back. I added in lying over his back. Then I sat on him for a few days. You get the idea. I gave him lots of time to get used to each little step.
When it came time to saddle and start riding for real, I think I may have rushed it a bit. The "Follow the Fence" thing showed me that I was going too fast for Izzy. After just a few days of riding him with the saddle, he started to show some signs of anxiety. He still stood very quietly for mounting, but once we were walking along or even trotting, he started to flip his head violently, groan, sneeze, and rush forward.
He never bolted or reared, but he did start to balk at going forward, and the head tossing got really bad. The first thing I did was to slow down. I gave my saddle a thorough check (again) and did some tests with my bit. When all of my tack seemed to be in good order, I tried a new approach. I rode Izzy closer to the barn and took a light contact. Before, I had given him a free rein thinking that he would develop some balance on his own.
Shortening my reins helped a lot, but by the third day, the head flipping was back. I decided I needed help. I asked my trainer to come down for a lesson/consultation. She checked over his tack, watched me bridle him, and then we got started.
Within just a minute she had the situation figured out. In her opinion, Izzy trusted what was happening while I was on the ground since I had been so thorough in my ground work, but he seemed very unsure of what was going to happen once I was on board. She suspected that his worry came from what happened while he was with the trainer up north. She worries that they worked him too aggressively with unrealistic expectations.
She instructed me to be very quiet and simply walk him in a very prescribed circle. I was to keep his nose from counter bending and gently ask for a sideways step. Each time he stepped sideways without hurrying, I was to give him a big release with the reins for a stride or two, and then take up the contact again. I was also to insist that he walk rhythmically without hurrying. Everything was about walking in a regular circle while giving to the inside rein.
Both of us got silent and before long, Izzy was calm and relaxed without any head flinging. We continued to walk for a few minutes more until JL could see that his tension was starting to return. She had me stop him and pat him and let him stand quietly. She explained that he was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Okay ... we've walked, now when does the scary begin? She explained that I need to show him that this is it. All we're going to do is just this - walk in a circle.
After a short break, I asked him to walk forward again. Initially he started snorting and flipping his head, but I continued asking him to step sideways and giving him a release when he stepped over. After only one or two quiet circles, JL told me to stop and get off. The ride was over.
I repeated the exercise the next day, and Izzy was very good. I set my watch's timer so I could see how long it took to get him relaxed and quiet. He started out flipping his head again, but by the end of five minutes, he was walking that same circle quietly without any fussing. I asked him to stop and just patted him for a full minute, and then I sent him forward again. This time, he was quiet and relaxed from the start. I rode him one minute longer and then hopped off.
JL's instructions are to do this same walking circle until it is no big deal. I can move the circle to a new place, but all I am going to do is walk that same circle - no changes of directions, no trotting, just quietly walking. She said that we want him walking into that arena totally confident that he knows what is going to happen to him.
When he feels confident about walking that same circle, I can start to trot the circle using the same technique - nose can't be counter bent, no rushing, and moving from the inside leg. When he feels confident to the left, we'll work to the right.
The good thing is that Izzy doesn't feel as though he's going to explode or bolt or rear. I am not worried about any of that. He was showing signs of building tension and anxiety though, and I don't want that. I want him to feel safe and confident in his job. So far, he's shown me that when he is given ample time to develop some trust and confidence, he learns the task easily and fairly quickly.
I am in no rush with him. If it takes us walking for weeks or months, then that's what we'll do. I have a feeling though that he'll figure it out pretty quickly. That's how everything else has gone with him. I'll keep you posted!
4/14/2015 12:18:53 am
My trainer called him a shy horse. He's worried about not being liked or being hurried into something that he doesn't trust. Slow and steady is my middle name - we'll get there. :0)
Another example of how awesome you are at young horses! Kudos on noticing his tension, and realizing it's not dangerous but instead just something to work through. He's so young, I wonder if these nerves will melt away with your methodical and reassuring work, or if that is always going to be part of his mentality. Either way, you guys will work out a system to communicate through the tension, and that's a REALLY important lesson.
4/14/2015 12:23:48 am
The funny thing is that he's not so young in age, almost 7, but mentally, he is definitely a three year old!
4/14/2015 01:29:03 am
I love what you're doing here! Izzy is getting an excellent start.
4/14/2015 01:42:34 am
Wow, if he gets worried that easily, I can't even imagine what a trainer pushing him would result in. Poor fellow. My Paint horse was a HUGE worrier - he needed to know that he was the best and doing the right thing at all times, or he would get so anxious. We worked a lot of trust and gently pushing the boundaries, and in the end he would do anything for me. The good news with that type is that they LOVE to please and are quick learners!
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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
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Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
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3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: