From Endurance to Dressage
I know I've mentioned it, but who can keep track? I am taking Sydney to another Christian Schacht clinic this Saturday and Sunday. In preparation, I've been riding the pants off him to a) eliminate the rearing, b) keep him as tired as possible, and c) maybe take a few steps forward.
Our rides over the weekend involved some hairy stuff (no rearing though), but I decided to let the dressage aspect of it all fall to the wayside in favor of tackling it all like a young horse training issue. What does that mean you ask? Well …
When there was nothing but a tense ball of fury beneath me on Saturday, I decided to get in two-point and ride it out in a hand gallop. Which I did for a Very. Long. Time. So long in fact that I started to worry he might never slow down. Once he did begin to tire, I asked for a bit more canter, and then I put him to work at the trot.
The next day, a less tense ball of fury returned, but I was again able to ride it out in two-point with my fists planted in his mane. I told him to trot. Go. I just sat there up/up/downing the whole while as we used the entire arena doing circles and crossing the diagonal at a blistering trot pace. It didn't take him long to come back to a more sensible rhythm.
My approach was to say, see I am not going to hold you back, but if you keep going like a maniac, you're going to be very tired. It seemed to work since by Sunday, I was able to do 10-meter figure eights but I had to show him that he could walk the straight side between the two circles. When he finally figured out that speed was not the purpose, he started to anticipate the walk stride and relaxed completely. Finally, Dude!
It seems as though he's trying to figure this out. He can't go left, right, up, or back. WTF? is what he's thinking. So it now seems as though he's going back through his list of evasions trying to find the right answer. His oldest evasion was to run through my aids and get the hell out of the conversation. That didn't work for him this weekend so I am hoping that we are finally, finally getting somewhere.
I explained all of this to JL before Monday's lesson. She snapped her fingers in an I have an idea gesture and put me to work. She agreed with the let him go but stay with him idea, but added a new element to it. With horses who expect to get their mouths pulled on, they often run off once the pressure is released; that's Sydney. Even though I have learned not to pull back, when he's anxious, his response is to bolt for the finish line.
He can't hear my seat when he's like that, so my recourse is to pull him into a smaller and smaller circle until the difficulty of that maneuver slaps him in the face and he remembers that I am up there. If I can't pull back and he won't listen to my seat, I have to do something other than let him bolt around the arena; hence the small circles.
Since he was tired already, JL had me work on asking him to go faster so that I could practice slowing him down with a rocking rhythm. Since he already wanted to slow down, it worked beautifully! Here's how it goes.
As he increased the speed (because I asked for it), I planted my inside hand and rhythmically rocked the outside rein to a specific count: hold for two counts, let him go. Hold for two counts, let him go. If he slowed quickly, I let him coast a bit. If he didn't slow, I rocked firmer and held for longer and released for less. This is supposed to teach him that when I let him go and he takes that to mean RUN faster, there will be a follow up hold. It's a steady rhythm that he knows is coming. It's not just a hold until he slows down.
He was already a bit tired from his previous days of work, but he tuned into the exercise almost immediately. Once I had it to the left, our more reliable direction, I worked it to the right to a great deal of success. I still need coaching on the frequency of the hold and release time, but I get the exercise and have been using it all this week in preparation for this weekend's clinic.
JL is hoping that when we enter the arena for the clinic, I'll be able to use the technique to slow Sydney's RUN reflex and get him under control.This won't work if he's gone totally looney tunes, but if he's at least partway with me, it might help. I'll let you know how it goes.
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.
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 …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
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