From Endurance to Dressage
Do you remember the first time you learned to trot? I have very vague memories of trotting on my grandma's gray mare, Sissy. My grandma gave riding lessons, and while I didn't get to take them for long - traveling across Sacramento each weekend was a bit too much for my single mom, I do remember how much I loved it. I couldn't have been but eight or nine years old.
Even though I've owned and ridden horses all my life, I didn't take riding lessons again until I was in my late 30s or early 40s. I've ridden thousands and thousands of endurance miles, nearly all of them at the trot, but it wasn't until I started taking dressage lessons that I learned to do a "correct" rising trot. Before then, I just learned to hover. And while I could post the trot, I didn't know which diagonal was the right one or even how to switch from one to the other.
A correct rising trot, or posting, is pretty essential for a dressage rider. I remember many lessons where that was pretty much all I could work on. Even though I had trotted down thousands of miles of trails, keeping my balance on a twenty-meter circle was like trying to walk on a waterbed. Besides keeping my own balance, I had to teach my young horse how to keep his. I knew that green on green wasn't the best combination, but it was what I had, and I decided that while not ideal, I still wanted to try.
Speedy is no longer that green bean. In fact, he somehow become a pretty solid schoolmaster. Each time I give one of his ladies a lesson, I am even more amazed at his generous heart and willingness to show someone the ropes. On Wednesday, that someone was "S." S had been out twice before for lessons, but since Speedy was still working on his latest abscess, we only worked at the walk. Speedy was happy for the exercise, and it gave S an opportunity to get her toes wet.
Speedy is finally sound again, so when S came out, I told her that Speedy was ready to take her to the next step. For two weeks we had worked at steering while at the walk and making sure that Speedy was listening to her leg. We had also worked on getting what I like to call a "smarter walk" - a walk with purpose and intent. It was time to finally start the trot work.
I don't know S at all; we've only met four times. She has ridden, but dressage is very different from trail rides on the beach or along a mountain trail. I explained to S that trail horses don't really need to be told where to go; they either follow the butt in front of them, or they keep their eyes on the trail. In an arena, the horse has no idea where to go, so it is up to the rider to tell the horse where to go, as well as in what gait and how fast or slow.
To those of us that have been riding in the arena for at least a month or so, that sounds ridiculously easy, but if you stop and really think back to when you started trotting, you'll no doubt remember riding what felt like a drunk partner. As your balance shifted from side to side and even forward or backward, your horse no doubt drifted along weaving drunkenly from one long side to the other.
The first difficulty S had was getting Speedy to trot, and once she did, she had to keep him trotting. Speedy's reluctance made me love him even more. I explained to S that he could sense her hesitancy to trot. If she wanted to trot, she needed to think TROT, and then she needed to reinforce her polite ask with a firmer MOVE IT! if needed. Once she felt as though she had permission to cowgirl up and thump Speedy with her heels, he saluted, and gave her a yes ma'am.
For a few rounds, Speedy weaved back and forth not quite sure what she wanted, but then he figured it out. I could almost see the speech bubble pop up over his head. Oh, you want me to just trot around the circle, maintaining a steady tempo so you can get your balance. Why didn't you say so? I got this.
For the rest of the lesson, that's exactly what he did. It almost didn't matter what S wanted. He just kept his nose down and let her sort it out on top. In fact, when she needed a walk break, she almost couldn't get him to walk. I explained that he wasn't intentionally ignoring her. Instead, he thought he was helping. Once she understood, she was firmer with her aids and insisted that he wait for the signal to trot again.
I love this horse to infinity and beyond. The day before, he had been a bit spicy for T, who has been riding him much longer than S. When it came time to do his job on Wednesday, he took stock of who was on him and did just what she needed. S was worried that her perceived bouncing around and loss of balance were going to negatively affect Speedy. I told her that was not even an issue. Not only does Speedy understand his new job, but he loves it! Once he understood that all S needed was for him to trot that circle, he did it without altering his tempo or even lifting up his head. It was the best non-lunge line lunge lesson I could have given.
Teaching others to ride has definitely given me a whole new appreciation for trainers. What a challenging job they have. As a classroom teacher, I know how difficult it is to teach a concept. The difference is that I only have to teach the child(ren) in front of me and not them plus the pet frog in their pocket. Horse/people trainers have to teach the horse and the rider at the same time. If I haven't said thank you to a trainer recently, THANK YOU!
As I've said many times, no matter your level of experience, it's all just walk, trot, and canter.
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%: