From Endurance to Dressage
More Under Saddle Work
You would think that trotting a 20-meter circle for twenty-five minutes would get boring. Surprisingly, it really doesn't. In fact, I have to force myself to quit riding Izzy after twenty minutes or so as I don't want to sour him on the work.
As soon as I step up on the mounting block, I set my timer. I watch it carefully to make sure we stand there at least thirty seconds, and usually more. I need Izzy to know that standing around quietly is a really good thing. As soon as he does stand relatively quietly without too much fidgeting, I ask him to walk forward. I am not torturing him by making him stand perfectly still, but he needs to wait for me to give the forward cue. And really, he's getting it.
We've been starting to the left to be consistent. Speedy is easily bored and needs each ride to be new and different, but Izzy seems to appreciate the monotony of knowing the routine.
There is nothing exciting about riding baby horses. We walk for a minute or two, and then we start a slow trot. As we work, I keep repeating in my head that we're working on maintaining a rhythm. So that's what I do. I keep my eyes focused in front of me so that I know where we're going, but I am only asking Izzy to keep the rhythm and to keep a small amount of inside bend.
I find it amazing how many small nuances are involved in keeping a rhythm. Each circle has a "downhill" side where he wants to pick up speed, and then there's the "uphill" side where he slows down. My arena is flat however, so how he decided where the hill is remains a mystery!
My goals are pretty simple right now. I just want a rhythmic trot in a round circle with acceptance of the bit. To me, that means stay trotting at the speed that I asked for in the place where I asked for it, and keep your head quiet. That's a super simplified way of explaining it, but JL reminds me that for Izzy, everything needs to be crystal clear.
As we're trotting, I keep my eyes where I want us to go. JL has done such a good job of teaching me to ride my horses from back to front that I am mostly focused on where his ribcage is. When he's leaning on my inside leg, I bump him back out; this happens mostly when we track right. When I feel him falling out onto his outside shoulder, mostly when we track left, I weight my inside stirrup and lift his shoulder up and over with my outside leg and rein.
When I feel him approaching the downhill part of the circle, I sit taller and resist his motion with my seat. If he ignores that, which doesn't happen too often, I send him sideways into my outside rein and release the inside rein when he softens.
Trotting a baby horse around in a circle might seem like such a simple task, but I am determined to get this part of his training as perfect as possible before we work on changes of direction. I want a good half halt to be embedded in his thinking, and I want him truly listening to my seat aids. We're in no hurry. So while it might look like we're just doofusing around and around, I am really riding every single footfall and trying to make it as perfect as possible.
The other task that I school while trotting around is the spiral in and spiral out. This exercise gets him thinking better than anything else does. It also gets him to lift his shoulders and carry more weight behind. I spiral in as slowly as possible, meaning it takes five to ten circles before we hit the 10-meter circle.
We spiral out much more quickly, usually back to the 20-meter diameter within one circle. This way it's more of a leg yield. I like the spiral in because it really shows me if I have control of his shoulders. As my circle gets smaller, I also ask him to slow down with my seat since it gets harder and harder to make the circle.
The spiral in exercises also helps with contact. Right now, I am only asking Izzy to accept the contact, but spiraling in gives him a feel for being more on the bit. Izzy doesn't really want to go above the bit, but when he does, I simply follow with my hands, but I am also adding some resistance. I tighten my core and keep my hands steady. As soon as he relaxes and drops his head, I give a big release with the inside rein.
It's been a lot of fun teaching him to accept the contact because he is already a hundred times lighter than Sydney or Speedy. He's finding the "sweet spot" much more quickly than they did. While riding him, I am finding many moments where he is relaxed, maintaining a rhythm, and accepting the contact with a lovely connection.
Of course, there are even more moments where his head is in twenty different places as he's groaning through a tantrum while he trips and stumbles because he's not watching where he's going. Even with all of that, he is still fun to ride because in the next stride, we've pulled it all together again.
my bio-mechanics trainer is a huge proponent of using circles (20m or smaller) to work on balance and engagement without necessitating a lot of 'noise' from the rider. even my busy body arab mare will actually really settle into the exercise. glad Izzy is doing so well with it!
5/12/2015 09:21:35 am
I love the spiral exercise for all the reasons you described.
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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.
National Rider Awards
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CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
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