From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy has proven to be very easy to train. It only takes a few times for me to show him what I want, and then he's got it - with no flashbacks to earlier behavior.
In the months that I've owned him, I've worked on polishing up a bit of the rough edges before moving on to riding and schooling. Most were simple things, but until your horse does them correctly, they're annoying and slow down the process.
Lowering his head was the first thing that needed to be tackled. His go-to avoidance was to simply raise his head as high as he could to avoid whatever it was that was asked of him. And at 16'3, he can get his head much, much higher than my vertically challenged body can reach.
Before I even worked on bridling him, I had to ease his concern about the reins going up over his head. He wan't terrified, but he didn't know what I was going to do, so he raised his head as high as he could to avoid the reins passing in front of his eyes. I worked on that in a halter for a few days until I could swing the lead rope all around his head while he grazed or just stood with his nose brushing the ground.
When it came time to bridle, the lower your head cue was well imbedded. It took one or two lessons to teach him how to drop his head to be unbridled, but now, as soon as he walks into the cross ties after being ridden, he has his head dragging on the ground because he knows that's how the bridle "falls off."
The first time I tried to put on the fly mask, his lifted his head with a concerned look in his eyes. It took me two mini-training sessions to show him that the fly mask is his friend. Just like everything else, he now lowers his head on command.
I share all of this to illustrate that he is quite easy to train. He doesn't explode or fight. He evades if he can, and when he can't, it seems as though he is internalizing his tension rather than acting out like my other horses have done.
In truth, I don't he think he's much of a reactor anyway. Speedy on the other hand is all about protecting his assets, so if there is any question about his perceived safety, he exits the building. Seven years later, he still panics over plastic bags touching his body, being girthed up too quickly, or anything else that makes him feel attacked or trapped. Not Izzy. He's proven to be pretty spook-free.
When I first started riding him, I was a bit surprised that nothing spooked or distracted him. Cars roared by on the road, a group of teenagers went barreling by on a "Mule" blasting music, the neighbor working loudly in his yard ... none of it even caused Izzy to look up.
While I think he just has a very tolerant personality, I suspect that at the beginning of his under saddle work with me he was so wrapped up in his own head that he wasn't even aware of what was going on around him. He has since started to wake up a little and be more expressive in how he communicates. He actually gave a bit of a buck the other day, and he's now starting to rubber neck a bit.
I am actually glad for these demonstrations of naughtiness. I don't want him internalizing all of his anxiety or fear. I'd rather he voice his irritation or tantrums in a more visible way so that I can reassure him that it's all part of the job with no need to worry.
When I first started riding him with tack a few weeks ago, he started to show some real anxious behavior - flinging his head, tensing his body, hollowing his back. I was only asking for a walk, but when he offered a trot, I let him thinking that he needed to use up his energy. I also had no contact thinking that he should first learn to carry himself. It turned out all of that was too much too fast without enough direction.
The first time JL came down to work with us, she had me make the lesson as simple as possible: walk in a circle, stop, walk in a circle, stop. Izzy needed a simple task that he could understand. JL had me take up a light contact and insist that he keep an inside bend - no looking to the outside of the circle. The purpose was to show Izzy that nothing bad was going to happen to him.
I did that lesson for a day or two, but then missed a week when I got sick. As soon as I was well enough to ride, we repeated the circle walking. When JL came down for our next lesson, she was very pleased with how much improvement he had shown. Izzy was much more confident and was ready to move on to the trot.
For two weeks I've been working on walking and trotting to the left. We haven't done any work to the right yet which means no changes of direction. I've never started a horse this way as in the past all of my youngsters where headed for the endurance trail. With those horses, we hit the trail as soon as they had a gas pedal, steering wheel, and brakes.
While I hope to get Izzy out on the trail soon, I'm focusing on teaching him to accept the bit and listen to my seat aids. As we work, I keep a light feel of his mouth and simply follow wherever he goes. If he leans on me or tries to hurry, I just resist with my upper body. I never pull back, and if I really need to slow him down, I just bend him to the inside with a one-rein stop.
We are now up to twenty minute rides that include three trot sets of five to seven minutes each. He is a delight to ride. His trot is elastic, he's naturally uphill, and he loves to maintain the rhythm. He listens really well to my seat, which make my half halts feel as though they're getting through.
He doesn't travel around the circle perfectly yet though. There's still a fair amount of testing: head held high, head dragging on the ground, head shaking back and forth - all in an effort to avoid the contact (or the conversation, as JL puts it). No matter where he goes with his head, I just follow him.
Each day it seems as though he accepts the contact a bit more than the day before. When we have those few strides of happy contact with rhythm and relaxation, I can see the wonderful horse that he will become.
Rather than feeling rushed to get this "done" quickly, I am relishing the opportunity to work one stride at a time. Sydney taught me so much about riding difficult horses that Izzy's little tantrums simply make me laugh out loud. And when I feel a resistance, I have the tools to address it all thanks to Sydney.
Here's to riding the ribcage, feeling the steps beneath you, and raising happy horses!
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read