From Endurance to Dressage
I am certain that I am going to horrify most trainers and classical purists, but it just can’t be helped. I am not a professional trainer, but I’ve been able to get the job done more than once by doing it in my own fashion. And frankly, I am a little bit soured on anyone who has hung out a shingle with the words “trainer” engraved on it. If anyone is going to ruin or damage my horse, at this point, I’d prefer it be me.
So with that disclaimer made public, here’s how I’ve been working Izzy Zweibrücker.
I start with a surcingle over a fleece half pad. This horse is the opposite of girthy or sensitive. I walk out of the talk room with my arms full of pad and surcingle dragging along behind me, and then I simply throw everything on him. He never flinches or spooks or even snorts at anything I do. I am sure a lot of that has to do with his very uncomplicated personality, but it also speaks to the care that his first owner and trainer took with him.
I don't hook the side reins on until I am in my lunging spot. They're only hooked here for the photo.
By the way, he’s all sweaty in this photo because I’ve just brought him in from turnout. That boy has a lot of pent up energy. Standing around and doing nothing more than a walk for eight weeks while his leg was healing was pretty hard on an energetic six year old.
For the last several weeks, I’ve opted to use my halter instead of a bit for the side reins. It took me about a week to figure out the best halter configuration, but as soon as I landed on this particular set-up, Izzy got much quieter with his head and started accepting the pressure of the halter over his nose.
At first, I attached the side reins to a lunging attachment, but that caused him to bob his head as he tried to play with the all of the stuff beneath his head. Then I attached the side reins directly to the rings of the riding halter and clipped the lunge line to the lunging attachment. That too gave him too much with which to play and fling his head. I am not sure why it took me so long to figure it out, but the best system turned out to be the one with the simplest attachment. Now, I clip each side rein to a ring, and I hook the lunge line to the inside ring. When we change direction, I halt him and just clip the lunge line to the other ring.
My plan with the lunging is not necessarily to tire him out, but if he does have some woo hoos that he wants to get rid of, I am certainly okay with that. Instead, all I am looking for on the lunge line is that he develops a little bit of a rhythm, acceptance of the “contact,” and that he starts to see that I am the one directing his feet. It only took a week or two for him to settle right into the work.
He isn’t working in a long and low frame yet, but I have the side reins set pretty loosely so that he can lower his head if he wants to. And frankly, with his lack of experience, I am not too concerned that he hasn’t learned to lower his neck and stretch in the trot. He’s still trying to keep all of his legs moving in the same direction, especially at the canter. While he is very athletic, he’s not Mr. Coordination.
Once he settles on the lunge line at the trot and canter, both directions, I unclip the side reins from his halter and clip them back to the surcingle. I’ve been finishing the lunging work with some handy stick exercises. I “whip” him with the tail of the handy stick, something that Clinton Anderson calls "lashing with kindness." I flick the lash all of his body, VERY GENTLY, so that he is accustomed to weird flying objects and things tickling his hocks, ears, and belly. I also rhythmically smack the ground with the lash on both sides, behind, in front, and even over his head. He stands with a leg cocked, ignoring all of my shenanigans. He mastered this exercise much more quickly than did Speedy.
Once we finish with all of that work, which really only takes fifteen minutes at the most, I walk him back to the front of the arena and clip my reins to the halter’s rings. We do a minute of reins over the head, reins off, reins stuck on his ear, and reins down low. When I first bought him, he didn’t want anything to do with the reins going over his head. Now it’s a game that he is happy to play.
When all of that is done, I scoot him up next to the mounting block and hop on right over the half pad and surcingle. While the surcingle presses into my thighs a little bit, it’s actually a bit comforting to have so much to grab onto if I need to. Once I am in place, I do a bunch of carrot stretches from his back, and then we walk off.
Right now, I am walking him back and forth at the home end of the arena doing lots of figures of eight and bending exercises. So far, he hasn’t bucked, spooked, or bolted. He’s tried to break into a trot a few times, but I simply pull his head around and send him into the turn with my outside leg. He comes back to a walk almost instantly.
During my Easter Vacation, I'll start lunging with a bit. By the time his wound has healed completely, he should be ready to start trotting under saddle. I am certainly starting to feel ready!
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%: