From Endurance to Dressage
Nothing Crazy, Just Another Exercise
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.
2/19/2014 11:10:40 pm
I'm not sure I can think of a bigger challenge than to turn a race horse into a dressage horse.....but you do thrive on challenges! I can't think of one horse challenge that you ever gave up on. Come on Sydney, you can do it!
2/20/2014 09:58:30 am
I know … I have NEVER hd an easy horse. They've all been hard. :0) We may be on to something right now; Sydney is getting this exercise very quickly and seems to like it. Fingers crossed.
2/19/2014 11:19:24 pm
I am so enjoying reading about your adventures working through this. :-) You have your head on straight and your trainer on board.
2/20/2014 10:00:39 am
Thanks, SB. My head may be on straight and my trainer may be on board, but that doesn't mean we're not a little bit crazy! If JL hadn't been willing to work through this with me, I surely would have given up long ago. Every time I think we're at the end of my rope, she comes up with another lifeline. Her toolbox must be enormous, especially when it comes to the OTTBs!
Have you thought about going into Equine Psychology? ;) Seriously great reasoning here, and that "ride 'em till they listen" is an old TB standby. It seriously works. Unfortunately, TBs are notorious for wearing out their riders before themselves (ask me how I know....)!
2/20/2014 10:05:14 am
Can I make money doing that? :0)
2/20/2014 10:08:35 am
Thanks, Lauren, I'll be here all week (I even have discounted tickets available)!
2/24/2014 03:07:00 am
I also have one of those "full speed ahead!!!!" horses, although he's not an OTTB. I have discovered that if I let him just trot it out, after 10 minutes or so he's ready to work. Much easier to let him get it out of his system than fight it. It sounds like you're making huge progress, though, and riding through some tough stuff. Good for you!
Don't know how I missed this post before. I LOVE that you let him run when he needs it. IMO it can be very healthy for both horse and rider and too few riders (especially dressagers!) do this.
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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.
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