From Endurance to Dressage
Not long ago, I was chatting with my friend Wendy about something she learned in a recent lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. Chemaine had helped her see how much she was letting Beanie lean on her inside rein. I laughed because I've done that too. I've also let my horse lean on the outside rein and my inside leg. It seems as though every time we fix one problem, the next one is in line waiting waiting its turn.
On Sunday, I drove up to Tehachapi to have a lesson at Chemaine's house. While I've been to her house many times, her arena hasn't really been ready for riding until recently. I get plenty of good riding at home, but overcoming Izzy's tension can only be done off the property. So it was "good" that Izzy was very distracted by the newness of being at Chemaine's, particularly at the A end where there was a broken mirror, a mounting block, and a few other arena related things.
Before even saddling up, I talked to Chemaine about the things I am struggling with. Izzy's tension is, of course, always at the top of the list. The second thing was how short his neck gets when he's tense. I want to figure out how to encourage him to lengthen it, especially when he's tense. The final thing had to do with my outside leg.
Izzy has "trained" me to take my outside leg off which is not a good thing. He is so wild with his haunches - they drift in and out as he works to avoid being straight and pushing forward, that I have hesitated to put my outside leg on for fear of pushing his haunches even further out, or in. My inside leg pushes his inside leg to my outside rein, but my outside leg just hovers off his side doing nothing. It's only been in the last month that I have become aware of my "floating" outside leg.
As always, Chemaine came up with plan on the spot. It was pretty simple: PUT THE OUTSIDE LEG ON. Inside leg to outside rein is correct, but then I need to use BOTH legs to drive him forward. We immediately found a stressful place to work, the A end of the arena. Since Izzy was trying really hard to avoid that end, I was able to work on both lengthening his neck and using my outside leg.
While I have been driving his inside hind to the outside rein, I haven't created a good connection with the outside rein. Chemaine instructed me to hold that rein FIRMLY while flexing the inside rein. She had me visualize my rein aids as though I were using them as long lines; Izzy had to travel between the lines without his shoulders falling in or out. At the same time, I had to drive him forward with BOTH legs.
This sounds so simple, but in the past, Izzy was nearly unrideable if I pushed him forward with both legs. He now respects the bit and is less likely to bolt through my aids. So as he tried to squirt past the "scary" end of the arena, I held that outside rein firm, flexed the inside rein, and dug my spur in to tell him that he had to go forward while being straight.
As we continued to circle past the scary end, Chemaine also had me push my hands forward while adding leg when he wasn't being tense with a short neck. Each time we passed by the scary end and headed toward the less scary part of the circle, his neck got longer and longer as did his stride. Eventually I was able to convince him to keep his neck long all the way around the circle. I just had to remember to think about "long lines" while keeping my outside leg on.
We continued the same exercise at the canter, but Chemaine added a new element. She had me do three strides of legs on with hands forward and then three strides with my legs off. The thinking was this: when my leg was on, the rein was longer which gave him a release. Eventually we changed it to six strides with my leg on and hand pushed forward with six strides of collecting the canter. After the collecting phase, I put my leg on and pushed, which gave him an even greater sense of release after the collected six strides. In no time at all, his neck was long and he was pushing from behind.
I've ridden him at a home a couple of times, and I can kind of get the same feeling, but I think I need another lesson soon, like this weekend, to really help me feel when his hind leg is truly stepping under without losing his haunches to the outside. It is amazing how hard it is to effectively use all six inside and outside aids (two hands, two legs, two seat bones) in a coordinated and effective manner. And if I engage my core and turn my shoulders, I'll have a straight horse. Or in my case, he'll fall in because I've over-corrected.
I now to find some good middle ground.
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%: