From Endurance to Dressage
For the most part, if the wheels are falling off the riding bus, I know it's my fault. Sometimes it takes me a little while to realize that I am the errant partner, but once the realization has been made, I am all business about fixing myself.
While things hadn't deteriorated beyond all repair, Izzy and I were heading down the wrong path. It became painfully clear that it wasn't him; it was definitely me. I was being way to "handsy" and wasn't letting him go forward. That's what they call riding front to back. Guilty.
Lunging Izzy in the sliding side reins isn't about letting him get his wiggles out. It's so, so much more than that. In fact, some days, I lunge for almost 30 minutes and ride for fewer than 15. From the ground, I work on balance, adjustability, transitions, and so much more.
What I am seeing from the ground is that Izzy needs help maintaining his balance, especially when asked to move out big. As our relationship developed, I never let him move out big. Frankly, I wasn't sure he could stay on all fours. As he has gotten stronger, I've continued to keep him in a very short, compact frame, but I've been revving his motor up and not giving him a place to go. The dude was about to pop out of his skin.
As I lunge him, I can see his unbalanced moments, which from the saddle feel like spooks or naughty behavior. When I felt those moments of unsteadiness while riding, I was always quick to shorten his stride and package him back up. Now I can see that he is not being naughty, he just needs to develop his coordination to handle his bigger stride.
Quick aside: while I don't think he has grown that last little inch to put him at 17 hands, I do wonder if other parts of him have grown enough to change his balance. While I've brought along a handful of youngsters, I've never had one as big as Izzy. Over the summer, could he have had a little growth spurt that changed his shape enough to upset his balance? Things were going along pretty smoothly until about July. He turned eight in May.
Either way, I am doing what I can to help us both. He is a much, much happier horse when allowed to move out big. Once we finish out lunge work, I hop up, but I am being vigilant about my hands. I am keeping them low and steady and resisting the urge to sponge and pulse and get his head down. Instead, I am riding him more and more forward until he brings his head down on his own. D'oh - back to front ...
If he gets too silly, I just set my hands like side reins and let him bump into them until he softens on his own. If he picks up too much speed, I think shoulder in and spiral in a bit to help him rebalance himself. He has quit squealing and trying to bolt.
On Sunday, he picked up the canter both directions easily, and while I had to do some pretty strong half halts to the right, he didn't drop the lead behind, and he didn't exit stage left.
It's clear that the problem has been with me. Once I allowed him to move out big (as intimidating as it is), he loosened up through his back and has been much happier. I am riding in another clinic with Dr. Christian Schacht (the German trainer whom I adore) this upcoming weekend. I hope, hope, hope I am on the right path.
As always, dressage has humbled me yet again.
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%: