From Endurance to Dressage
... but I haven't had any really big AHAs lately although one is just about to happen. I can feel it. For weeks now, I've been working on achieving some collection with Speedy G. I am not asking for a lot, but I need him to start carrying more weight on his hind end.
I am not sure where this certainty has come from, but it seems as though I just woke up one day and thought, my horse needs to lighten up his front end. I think I might have started feeling it when we were schooling the leg yields. Speedy can move pretty freely off my left leg, but off my right, he really struggles.
To the left, he can't/won't get his left shoulder straight and he falls onto it. It occurred to me that if I could get his shoulder in line with his hind end (better straightness), he might be able to pick up his shoulder with more ease. That's when I realized that would require him to carry more weight behind.
When I shortened his frame, I also realized that he needs to go more slowly in order to balance himself; he doesn't have the strength to carry more weight with a bigger stride ... yet. That's the big AHA that I've had, but it's been a theoretical epiphany and not one of feeling. I like the latter better.
When I went back and read the purpose of the First Level tests, I saw this: ... in addition to the requirements of Training Level, [the horse] has developed the thrust to achieve improved balance and throughness ..." And there it is - thrust. That's what Speedy and I have been working toward. I don't know if I am schooling him correctly, but JL said that first we get him on his butt working, and as he develops strength, I can ask for a longer stride.
To achieve this, I chant over and over slow motion. At both the trot and canter, I have my reins much shorter than I would for a Training Level frame, and I am using a TON of half halts with a boat load of leg to keep him moving forward without throwing him away.
Trotting the poles has really helped me feel that I like to throw away my reins. To help me feel it, JL had me set up my poles three feet apart, I am now using three in succession. As we approach the poles, I am to keep Speedy straight and most importantly, I have to help him keep the rhythm; he wants to speed up and dive over the poles.
When I keep him straight and rhythmic, and when I don't push my hands forward, he has to really lift and lengthen to clear the poles without tapping them. It usually takes him two or three passes before we get it right, but when we do, even he knows he's done it right.
I read a great article in the December 2014 issue of Dressage Today by Laura Graves (with Beth Baumert). Laura compared connection to a shape that's suitable for the work the horse is doing. For horses at Training and First Level, the shape is more like an oval. At Third and Fourth level, Laura describes the shape as a circle. And for horses working really well, the circle might become a box because the motion is crisp and clean.
This visual image has really helped me see that a longer frame is suitable for a lower level horse, but as Speedy bears more weight on his hind end, the oval will compress into a boxier shape like a circle or square (someday).
So right now, I feel like we're regressing, but I am trying to remember that what I am asking for is very difficult. Speedy isn't really built super uphill. He's built for covering the ground going forward with a long stride. You can see it in this photo.
For him to lift his front end, it takes a lot of hock articulation so can "sit." It's hard for him to do. It's hard for most horses to do. You can see in this next photo that he's getting stronger and is definitely bearing more weight on his hind end. This photo is from a recent clinic with Christian Schacht. Now I need to get this level of collection (and more) without Christian in my ear coaching me!
Dressage is definitely a long road, and there are no short cuts.
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%: