From Endurance to Dressage
A week or so ago, I shared a post about lunging Izzy with draw reins. I don't want to be overly dramatic or anything, but the change in Izzy over the past week and a half has been almost miraculous. Chemaine's suggestion that I use these on him was genius.
I have so much to say about this transformation that it would probably be easier if I start at the beginning...
When I first went to look at Izzy a year and a half ago, the one thing that I wasn't so thrilled with was his movement. I felt like his gaits were choppy, and he carried his head quite high. I didn't hold it against him though because while he'd been started as a four year old, he then spent the next 18 months in pasture doing nothing. I am not an expert at judging conformation, but I instinctively liked Izzy's short back and how his neck tied into his body. I figured with some work, his gaits would improve.
Since bringing him home, Izzy has always looked tight through his back. During turnout, he never stretches down and trots like Speedy does. He rarely canters in turnout either. He either gallops with his head sky high or does this convoluted I am trotting ... now I am kind of cantering ... and now my back legs are trotting. Basically, he's been a bit of a mess.
Since about February though, I've started to see some real changes in his movement. For one, he's actually starting to bounce a little when he trots in turnout, and he can actually trot a straight line. Instead of galloping, he now picks up a pretty quiet little canter. And even more amazing is that he is now picking up a RIGHT lead canter. And all of it is looking so much more relaxed and comfortable - for him.
I don't have any recent conformation shots, but you can see how much he has filled out in the picture above when compared to the shot taken in 2014. His head doesn't look nearly so large now that it's attached to a neck that has filled out. He also now has some back muscles.
This change is not due to a week's worth of lunging in draw reins, of course. It's clearly the result of a year's worth of (at least somewhat) correct riding. While things have been progressing well, we had kind of hit a glitch though when it came to relaxing over the topline. Chemaine suggested lunging with draw reins as a way of teaching Izzy how to stretch his back under saddle and accept contact.
I don't know how it worked so quickly, but after only a half a dozen short sessions, Izzy gets it. On the lunge line, he is now quiet and soft and stretches down in the trot. When he starts to get quick in his stride, I simply say, easy and lower the whip. He immediately slows himself down and rebalances.
Our lunging sessions take 11 minutes: 5 minutes per side with 1 minute to change the lunge line to the other side. I have him walk for 1 minute, trot for 1 minute, do walk-trot-walk transitions for a third minute, and then I ask for a canter. He now picks up the correct lead every time. I let him canter for a 4th minute, and then I ask for a couple of trot to canter to trot transitions before we switch directions.
After I lunge, I ride. Not only has the lunging helped him to stretch his back and relax, but it's all transferring to his under saddle work. He has gotten better and better each day. On Sunday, he picked up both canter leads with hardly any fuss, and it was quiet and controlled. I was laughing out loud in delight. I am loving this work right now because I know that we'll challenge him again before too long, and he'll tell me he can't do it. For now, this is fabulous!
For those of you who are interested in trying the draw reins/sliding side reins, I wanted to share a quick how-to-build-your-own for about $5. They're not pretty, but they get the job done and are very adjustable.
You'll need a length of ¼" - ½" diameter rope about 18 feet long. I bought some cheap poly rope at Home Depot a number of years ago. You'll also need a trigger snap and two bolt snaps.
Slide the trigger snap onto the rope. This is the piece that connects to your girth ring between the front legs. Tie a bolt snap to each end of the rope. To adjust the length, tie the knot farther down the rope. I untie one end and shorten it depending if I am connecting it to the surcingle (above) or my saddle. When I connect it to my saddle. I just run the rope behind my billets and then snap it back onto itself using the bolt snap.
To apply the draw reins, I clip the trigger snap to the girth and then grab one end of the rope and run it from the inside of the bit ring to the outside where it attaches to my girth. Then I grab the other end and run it through the other bit ring and attach it to the other side of my girth. The first few times I did it, I started fairly loosely, but now that Izzy knows what's going on, I don't bother to change the length.
The way this type of draw rein works is that it encourages the horse to stretch down. The rein slides from either right to left or up and down, so the horse never gets held in a fixed position. If he raises his head too high, he'll feel pressure in his mouth. The moment he drops his head, he gets instant relief. This is probably not a good tool for horses who already want to travel behind the bit (like Speedy), but for a horse who wants to be a giraffe, this is an awesome self-correcting tool.
I checked with the 2016 USEF Dressage Rule Book and found that this type of "draw rein" is legal for the warm up.
DR 121 Saddlery and Equipment
Right now, I am using the draw reins before each ride. Once I am certain that Izzy can start a ride already relaxed through his back, I'll try to only use them a few times a week. Using them only adds 15 minutes to our ride time so it's not an inconvenience to attach them. And really, if they get him working more effectively before I get on, then the 15 minutes is time well spent.
If you end up trying these, let me know what you think.
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 …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
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