From Endurance to Dressage
Just Thinking Aloud
I read a lot of dressage stuff: books, Dressage Today, USDF Connection, other blogs, etc. There's an awful lot of contradictory information out there. There's also a lot of ambiguous stuff, too. I know I am a little bit behind the eight ball in that I started dressage with zero prior formal lessons, but jeez ... how many more times do I have to ask, How do I get him soft and round?
This last week it occurred to me that I have been asking the wrong question, especially when it comes to Speedy G. He is already round, too round in fact. It's a little like sitting atop a giant beach ball. He's also too soft, or more accurately ... he's too light in the bridle.
Rather than asking for soft and round, of which I am getting plenty, I think I should be asking, How do I get him working through? And by that I mean, pushing off with his hind legs, lifting his back, and seeking the bit rather than trying to duck behind it. Until he starts working more through, our canter work will never improve.
At a lesson a week ago, we finally got there, or closer anyway. JL had us working to the right, our limp way. She had me think about riding a pentagon, or an octagon, or better yet, a dodecagon.
Even though our geometry is much improved, Speedy is still slightly escaping through the outside shoulder which means that he doesn't have to listen to my outside rein, and his butt is not really underneath him.
By straightening him up, he started listening to my outside rein. We did some very gentle pulley-halts, basically a firm halt with just the outside rein. To my surprise, he stopped square and his nose quit popping up. Somehow, by straightening him up, I was able to get his butt working underneath him.
The next problem we worked on was getting Speedy's nose up to, or even in front of, the vertical. Every time he dropped behind the bit, I was to lift with my outside hand. I was allowed to give him a few chances to come up, but if he ignored my request, it meant that he was running through my hand. I halted him firmly with the outside rein.
Once I started to develop a bit more feel, I was able to keep his nose at the vertical while still keeping his hind end active. And there we were: put together, and working through.
When I rode later in the week, I was able to recapture the feeling of thoroughness. I was even able to play around with a little bit of lengthening. To the right. Tracking left is a different story. This is his stiff side, if he has a stiff side. When his nose begins to drop behind the vertical tracking left, I am not nearly as effective at correcting him. We obviously need more trainer help.
Back to the idea of thinking aloud. I so want Dressage to be about do this, get that. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. (Preaching to choir, I know.) Instead, I think Dressage is much more about developing feel. Some have it more naturally while others, like myself, must work much harder to develop it.
10/1/2012 11:35:37 pm
I have the same trouble with the vagueness of many "training" articles. Although I don't really know anything about the woman who writes this blog -- http://www.schoolyourhorse.com/#!/blog/ -- I have been pleasantly surprised to find her suggested exercises very easy to "implement." Good luck.
10/3/2012 10:15:10 am
Heather, I have her blog saved in my favorites and read it now and again. You're right. She does offer some really good exercises that seem to work! Thanks for sharing!
We've been struggling with straight, connected, and working over the back for almost two years now. Just when you think you've figured it out, you realize you're only at the tip of the iceberg. It's a never ending journey. I find that frustrating and motivating all at the same time. ;)
10/7/2012 10:18:39 pm
I agree, Mia. I am finding that fixing the ducking thing is going to take time. I didn't realize how crooked we were until I straightened him out by riding the dodecagon. That exercise is really helping. Our halts are 1,000 times improved.
7/25/2014 05:39:36 am
Wow! Forgot about this. It's always helpful to go back and read where we were (and sometimes still are)!
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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.
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