From Endurance to Dressage
I attended a clinic with "S" judge, Barbi Breen-Gurley, a week or so ago. She's coming back at the end of August, so I have been particularly motivated to show some improvement in the areas she felt needed some work.
My mom came down to visit for a few days last week, so I asked her very nicely if she wouldn't mind shooting some video. I knew she'd say yes, but still, it's only polite to ask. Barbi's list of "needs to improve" included keeping my left shoulder back, creating the correct bend by looking between Izzy's ears, and following with my hands at the walk and canter. That's all I've been working on over the past week, so those were the things I was looking for on the video my mom shot for me.
I'll be honest; I've either fixed it, or I simply can't see my rogue left shoulder. I looked hard through the videos to find an example of a leading left shoulder, but it must be too subtle for me to see. Either way, I understand what Barbi was getting at, and I have definitely been aware of keeping my shoulders aligned with his.
I will say that she very correctly nailed me on the look between his ears thing. I can't believe how many times I've had to rethink where I am looking. Barbi was absolutely right; I am looking precisely where I want to be going, but my horse most definitely is not. By looking between Izzy's ears, I've noticed a few different things. First, the bend is getting much more correct as is his wayward right shoulder. Second, my shoulders are in a better position when he and I are both looking at the same thing. I can't say I've fixed "it," but I am quickly becoming motivated to keep him looking where I am looking.
It's the following with my hands/elbows thing that is definitely throwing me for a loop, and I don't think it's because I can't. I have naturally soft hands - too soft actually. From all my years of endurance racing, I have a long ingrained habit of opening my hands as I search for no contact. I want my horses to be too light, which is what I tend to get. This has been a tough habit for me to break, and Izzy's not helping any.
Izzy has learned to shorten his neck and duck behind the bit. In an effort to draw him out and forward, I drop the contact, crossing my fingers that he'll find the bit on his own and lengthen his neck. Spoiler alert: it doesn't work. At the walk, we're both getting it. I am no longer pushing my hands forward and allowing a sloppy contact. It's hard, but I keep a soft feel on his mouth no matter how short his neck gets. I think he's starting to trust that I'll follow as his neck is getting longer.
It is in the canter is where I am struggling the most. Since his neck is so tight and retracted, he barely moves it which means there's little to no movement to follow. As Barbi suggested,I keep glancing down at my elbows to see if they're sliding backwards and forwards. Most of the time, they're just sitting there, motionless. When this happens, I flex him to the inside and ask him to lower his head and neck. The instant that he does, I try diligently to follow with my elbows no matter how small his movement.
Am I instantly successful? No, but there is already some excellent progress overall. While I have a great trainer in Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, it never hurts to get a fresh set of eyes. It's been refreshing to tackle our issues from another angle, and I can't wait to get both Chemaine's and Barbi's feedback over the next month.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%