From Endurance to Dressage
Keep His Head UP!
Since my lessons have moved to Monday evenings, I am finding it hard to write about them while they're still fresh in my mind. Even though it's late as I write this, I really want to get something down on "paper" so that I won't forget the important points of the instruction.
Speedy likes to travel behind the bit. It has proven to be a difficult training issue. No matter how much leg I employ, he just gets rounder and rounder until I feel as though I am riding a headless horse. This prevents any throughness from happening.
Last week, JL had us working to the right. Speedy doesn't get as behind the bit in this direction, but when he does, the fix is fairly simple: if he comes behind the vertical, I simply give a tug on the outside rein with added leg until he engages behind and gets his nose back where it should be. I had to be very consistent, but in a short while, he understood the rules.
After that lesson, tracking right became much easier. I could feel better activity behind, and I had a visual reference for when he dropped behind the vertical. Tracking left proved to be a bigger challenge.
Jl had a solution: as we track left, I keep my hands ridiculously high. Not very "dressagey," I know, but it worked. Speedy hated the exercise at first. But as I insisted that he keep his head higher, his footfalls got quieter and he got softer in my hands. JL explained it like this: Speedy has to learn that he can't escape the contact. Dropping behind the vertical means that he doesn't have to use his hind end.
As we traveled to the left, Speedy tried everything he could to get his nose down to his chest. I just insisted that he keep his nose in front of the vertical. Sometimes I spread my hands wider, sometimes I had to give a tug on the inside rein, and sometimes I simply had to halt him with the outside rein.
After being seriously consistent and insisting that he stay in front of my leg, Speedy quit fighting and figured out that I wasn't going to let him escape the contact. Victory! It felt great to have a horse with activity behind who was actually really striding out.
As we repeated the circle, I finally started to feel when he was "stalling out" in the hind end. A little spur and a lift of the inside rein to remind him to get his head up got him working from behind again.
I know this all seems counter productive: who wants their horse to get his head up? But when Speedy's nose is so far behind the vertical, there is no way to ask for any kind of extension or collection. With a little more practice, I think Speedy will be happier with this change to our riding. I just have to work on being very, very consistent in not allowing him to drop behind the vertical.
10/4/2012 01:06:51 am
hey, that's what i was gonna say - holding the hands ridiculously high! did you see the classical vs. classique video? when phillipe karl got on that horse who was habitually ducking behind the bit, he just did what you described and fixed the horse's way of going, also explaining to the owner how to do that. that was such an eye opener for me! apparently the french school does that with all their horses, holding the hands up high to keep the horses' heads up, and then allowing them to drop over time, opposed to getting them as low as possible and eventually trying to bring them up. the argument is that they can't use their hind ends as well when their heads are too low. it's fascinating to me, and i want to learn more.
10/4/2012 11:11:09 am
Lytha - thanks so much for sharing that! I think your explanation was better than mine. My trainer gets a lot of flack from this blog's readers because her methods aren't always today's "dressage flavor du jour." I like her though because what she tells me to do seems very much rooted in classical instruction even though most of her work is with hunter/jumpers.
I have the opposite issue with Riva - her head isn't up, but out - she was bred for hunter/jumper. Since she is not allowed to jump - dressage it is! She does love the free walk and stretchy trot circle though :)
10/4/2012 11:18:55 am
I have a similar problem with Sydney. Riding one who gets behind the bit and one who is in front of the vertical, I think it is much easier to work on the in front of the vertical thing. Like you say, at least they can stretch! Speedy can't/won't stretch because he's too busy trying to touch his belly button!
10/4/2012 04:19:50 pm
here is PK demonstrating, at 1:30 he says, "if he's OK, i keep my hands low - it's the result, not the beginning" (his english isn't that great) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OgBfZhzm18
10/4/2012 10:52:16 pm
THANK YOU!!!!! Lytha. I am going to share that video here on the blog. That's very close to what JL was sharing. I had to keep my hands up MUCH longer though as Speedy wasn't as quick to give up as that horse was! i am pretty sure I'll be watching that video a few times.
10/5/2012 01:28:27 am
i recommend renting classical vs classique where you hear him argue with one of germany's "USDF" people, where the german says all the things we read, all correct, the training pyramid, but isn't able to get results at the end where they test the two against each other on real horses. well, i admit it's very dry unless you are a dressage freak.
10/7/2012 10:41:03 pm
I am definitely going to check this out!
10/5/2012 05:21:35 am
I agree that it is very difficult to correct a horse who ducks behind the contact.
10/7/2012 10:33:29 pm
I think this is a tough problem, too. To the left, it is the inside rein that I need to lift. Interestingly, to the right, I have to use the outside rein which is the SAME rein as to the left! If I lift the inside rein while tracking right, I lose any straightness that I might have had going for me.
10/9/2012 06:56:58 am
I would love to!
10/9/2012 11:01:50 am
Very interesting, Val. I will certainly give it a try. Speedy lowers his head with ease, BUT he doesn't stretch forward and down. He just goes straight down. If this will encourage more forward stretch, I'm all for trying it!
Comments are closed.
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%: