From Endurance to Dressage
I like to read random pages.
A few years ago I bought a library discard copy of Bengt Ljungquist's book, Practical Dressage Manual. My copy of the book still sports the call number (798.23) and the bar code stamped Marin Country Free Library. I don't remember what I paid for it, but this is one of the best dressage books that I own. It was first published in 1976, but my copy is from 1978.
I like to just open it to a random page and start reading. It is absolutely the easiest book to read, and it has very useful diagrams of the movements described.
I've been re-reading parts of it lately and have been amazed how much clearer it is to me since the last time I thumbed through it. SInce I've been dealing with a crooked horse, I flipped to Chapter 5: To Make the Horse Straight. No fancy language here - just a chapter designed to help me straighten my horse. Colonel Ljungquist writes:
No horse is absolutely straight. He is crooked when his forehand and haunches move on different tracks against the rider's will. Such a horse has a stiff (convex) side and a hollow (concave) side. If he, for instance, is stiff to the left, he pushes his left shoulder out, leans more heavily on the left rein, bends too much to the right and carries the haunches to the right. He steps shorter on the hollow side, right side, to avoid bending the joints, (the stifle, the hock and the fetlock) of his right hind leg and avoids moving it straight forward under the body. The effect of the reins does not go through to the haunches.
Yep. That's Speedy G all the way. I had read this passage at least ten times before, but in the context of my most recent lesson, I had a new understanding of Speedy's resistance. It is not in his neck as I thought. I could not understand why he was so "stiff" to the left when he can easily tough his nose to his hip. His "stiffness" actually comes from the hind end: his right hind to be specific. He doesn't want to carry as much weight on that leg so he resists my inside leg to outside hand which would put more weight on his outside hind leg.
Here's what's even more interesting. Speedy is very asymmetrical in his butt cheeks. I am pretty sure I wrote about this long ago, but if not, his left butt cheek is noticeably larger than the right. We did an ultrasound when he was four and could find nothing "wrong" with him. To this day, the right cheek is simply less developed than the left cheek.
Coincidence? I think not!
For Monday's lesson, JL came down to my arena where my dressage "court" is laid out. I wanted to run through Training Level Test 2 and get her help on our left lead canter circle. We pick up the left lead canter between C and M, do a 20-meter circle at E and then transition to trot between E and K. Making that left "turn" at E is very difficult as is the downward transition to trot because Speedy is usually running through the outside shoulder which makes my outside rein ineffective.
After watching me botch the turn and downward transition several times, JL was able to figure out precisely what the problem is. I am not getting Speedy straight as I come out of the corner. When we track left out of the corner, his haunches are still on the rail, but his forehand is on the inside track. I need to straighten him out by getting his shoulders in front of his haunches. To do this, I have to move his haunches off the rail. Doing this will give me control of the outside shoulder. If his butt stays on the rail, he runs through my outside rein, and I can't slow him down in the canter.
One exercise JL gave us is to plant my inside hand on my thigh, or use a really short rein and grab mane such that it creates a bend for me. We trot or canter the circle. When I ask for a halt, I CAN'T let him take away the inside bend or pivot INTO the circle. I ask for the halt by keeping that inside hand solid (maintain the bend), applying inside leg at the girth to keep his shoulder from falling in, and holding the outside rein firm enough to keep his nose from turning in (controlling the bend). If necessary, and it was, I even used my spur on his shoulder to push him OUT.
By keeping him from pivoting in and swinging his haunches OUT, my outside rein (right) was effective and he quit blowing through the outside shoulder. He actually came back onto his haunches for the downward transition. What I realized was that by pushing his haunches into the arena, I was actually only straightening him. It only felt as though he was traveling with his haunches in; he was no longer carrying his haunches to the right.
We ran through that part of the test again, and I was delighted with how much softer he was. My homework for the next couple of days is to keep working with my hand planted to the inside to maintain a left bend while not allowing him to swing his haunches out when I use the outside rein. When I ask for a half halt, he can't swing his nose in, and he can't pivot his whole body in to keep from working that right hind.
I hate having so much new to work on just days before a show, but it is what it is. Here's to some solid training rides over the rest of the week!
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%: