From Endurance to Dressage
When I sent Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, a message that I needed a lesson on Sunday, I had forgotten that Izzy hadn't been anywhere in months. He went to the vet with Speedy in November for a vaccination, but the last time he had been trailered and ridden was the end of August.
After I rode on Saturday afternoon, we had a little trailer loading session. If I was going to be surprised by a refusal, I wanted it to happen while I had all afternoon to fix it. To my delight, Izzy marched right on the trailer. I clipped him in, closed the door, and gave him a minute to think about it all. He backed out politely, and before he had a chance to reconsider, I put him straight back on and again closed the door.
The next morning, a small refusal came, but I had my dressage whip in hand and gave him a reminder of what refusals earn - a hard and quick back up with a tap, tap, tap to the chest. He walked on politely after that. In fact, once we hit the road, I didn't hear a peep from him. I stopped twice to check on him, and both times he was standing there quietly without the nervous sweat that's he's shown in the past.
This was a really great day for the both of us, and I want to write about all of the super fantastic things he did, but since they're what all grown up horses are supposed to do, you would be bored to death. Let me just give you a fast forward version. He stood to be saddled, he stood quietly for mounting, he LET ME WALK HIM AROUND THE RING (this is huge, really huge), he didn't buck or rear, and he hung out in a strange stall as happily as could be.
Essentially, Izzy let me have a lesson where we worked on dressage type stuff instead of trying to stay on, stay in the ring, and not die. I know I am wearing richly tinted rose colored glasses, but this horse makes my heart sing! I can feel how much potential he has, how athletic he is, and how awesome he is going to be ... if I don't screw things up, and if I can just keep up with him.
If I had to pick a theme for this lesson, it would definitely be It's all about the bend, 'bout the bend, no trouble. We spent the entire lesson working on getting the inside bend. Chemaine wanted to see the bend start from his nose and go all the way to his tail. This is not so easy with a very distracted horse.
It was quite breezy, there were new mirrors in the ring below, and the awning tarps were rustling and snapping in the breeze. There was also a group of trail horses cantering up the hill near the end of the arena, and a very yellow horse in the ring below gave Izzy a bit of a scare. All of these things were wonderful distractions because I had to deal with all of them - just like at a show.
Every other word from Chemaine was about getting his attention and keeping his attention. She wanted me to remind him at every stride that I was still up there and that he needed to be focusing on me. In order to do that, I had to get some inside bend while really firming up the outside rein to create a sort of barrier.
The best piece of training advice that Chemaine was able to share with me for this lesson was that if I have some inside bend, Izzy can't use that muscle under his neck to throw his head in the air. Can you see that muscle in the photo above? Unfortunately it's pretty well developed. His number one evasion is to throw his head up and try to run away from the work.
If I can keep playing with the inside rein while keeping the outside rein locked down, I'll be able to keep the inside bend which will prevent him from using that muscle under his neck. It's all about that bend, 'bout that bend, no trouble!
It's easy to say more inside bend, but getting it can be a challenge. One exercise that Chemaine had me do with Izzy was to spiral in - isn't that a solution to most problems? As we spiraled in, she had me really focus on getting the bend from his nose to his tail while encouraging him to get soft on the inside rein. Once he could do that 10-meter circle with a soft inside bend, she asked me to spiral out.
Izzy has a clear talent for lateral work which can be easily seen in his leg yields. The problem is that he steps very deeply, but he doesn't step far enough forward. Spiraling out will help. As long as I keep an inside bend and weight my inside seat bone, I can push him into a longer stride while also asking him to leg yield out on the circle. The exercise will supple his back and get him stepping further forward, not just sideways.
After we worked on getting the bend at the trot, we moved on to the canter. Knowing what was coming, Izzy started to rush and get a bit naughty. Chemaine reminded me to only trot when he was bending and soft. She had me focus on keeping my inside seat bone forward and my outside leg back to keep his haunches in. She really wanted me to just set Izzy up for the correct lead and encourage him to offer the canter.
He has a beautiful canter when I can be strong enough in my half halts. I's not easy though as he is a powerful horse who isn't very disciplined yet. Here's a video of work on the left lead canter. There's a lot of ugly, but there are also some lovely moments. The best part is listening to Chemaine coach me through the work. It's interesting to hear what she thinks is important - getting the correct lead wasn't her focus. She was more interested in getting that inside bend, just like we did at the trot.
You can watch for yourself ...
I grabbed a few still shots from the canter work that illustrate how much potential this horse really has. Ignore whatever it is I am doing, but check this out ...
This one's not too shabby either ...
And here's one as he's starting to settle ...
When we moved on to the right lead canter, sorry no media, we struggled with getting the lead, but Chemaine didn't care. She told me to continue cantering even if he was on the counter canter or cross cantering. If I keep asking for the forward, he'll find that it is easier to work on the correct lead and he'll stop trying to evade the work.
That's my homework for the next few weeks: It's all about that bend, 'bout that bend, no trouble! I am going to focus on keeping his attention with an inside bend. I also need to be much stronger in the half halt - I love Chemaine's tip about thinking "canter in place for two or three strides." With better inside bend and a strong half halt, we'll get a decent canter in no time!
I'll leave you with a pretty cool parting shot. Check out that inside hind and the muscle on that badonkadonk!
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%: