From Endurance to Dressage
I ride five to seven days a week. Two horses. Quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality. I haven't had a real dressage lesson since the end of February. Speedy and I have just been plunking along on our own. I've been riding Izzy with JL every week, but those lessons are more about basic flat work and not dressage (or showing) oriented.
Don't get me wrong. JL is a great instructor, but when it comes to putting the movements together in a test environment, she'd be the first to tell you to seek the help of a professional. So that's what I did.
I had finally reached a spot where I started to feel like I might be doing more harm than good. I had schooled everything that I had picked up at the last clinic with Christian Schacht, but we had definitely reached a plateau, and I had more questions than answers. So, I scheduled a lesson with Chemaine, my away-from-home trainer.
Getting to Moorpark, Chemaine's home base, is more than a two-hour drive south, so I roped my best friend in the world into coming with me. All it took was an ice chest full of sandwiches, a bag of Lay's potato chips, and some apples slices. You feed her lunch, and she's all in.
Before we started the lesson, I told Chemaine what I was wanting to work on. That's always kind of funny to me since in reality, I need to work on EVERYTHING, but I limited my request list to the leg yields and canter lengthening (which is really about coming back to the working canter).
I always put forth my "needs to work on" list with the caveat that the trainer knows best. Just because that's what I think I need to work on, the trainer might see something totally different. For this lesson though, my list was pretty accurate, so Chemaine got us started.
If I were to sum up the whole lesson, every exercise was about getting Speedy to let go of the left rein and move over on to my right rein. Every issue we're having is because he wants me to hold him up on that left rein. Chemaine had a great way of describing how to fix it. She explained that I need to play with that left rein so that it makes it difficult for him to get a purchase on it, which gives him no choice but to be on the right rein.
The first exercise we did was a warm up one. She had me start out at a trot but she had me get Speedy really deep and round and trotting slowly. As he stayed balanced, she had me lengthen his neck a bit and push for a more forward trot. When he rushed forward or popped his head up, I half halted, slowed him back down, and rebalanced him. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
To help get him on my right rein, we tracked right at a nice, forward trot. She then had me change the bend by counter flexing him while stepping into the new inside leg (my left). Oh how he resisted that! But as soon as he let go of the left rein, I put him back on a regular bend and weighted the inside leg. We did this over and over on a 20-meter circle until he felt more malleable.
I liked this suppling exercise because the purpose was really clear for both Speedy and me. He didn't like it, but he understood that once he let go, his reward was to be back on the right bend.
We moved on to the canter lengthening and 15-meter canter circles. I was really pleased that Chemaine didn't have to school us on the departures themselves. They still need a lot of work, but Chemaine could see a lot of improvement, so we focused on the quality of the lengthening and getting Speedy back to the working canter.
Instead of cantering down the long side, Chemaine had us canter the C end of the arena like we should, half halting in the corners for balance, but when we got to the open side of the circle, we used a wider circle to lengthen. On the left lead canter, Speedy needs more inside bend, so Chemaine had me almost over-exaggerate the bend in the corners, so that when we came out of the corner, Speedy still had an inside bend. Then, instead of going down the long side, we lengthened on the circle, but I opened the outside rein (to move his shoulders over), while playing with the inside (left) rein to encourage him to let it go.
Speedy also tries to get me to sit right, even when on the left lead canter, so I also had to pay close attention to weighting my inside (left) seat and leg. This too will push him to the outside (right) rein.
The rest of the lesson was spent schooling the leg yields and the trot lengthening. Chemaine showed me a few exercises to work on to straighten Speedy for the leg yield. I had been losing control of the outside shoulder which was making the leg yield a bit difficult. The earlier exercises helped that a ton.
One exercise we did was to leg yield across the diagonal while switching the bend. So as I asked him to leg yield to the left, he was bent slightly to the right, and then the left, and then the right. Tricky stuff, but it worked a lot like the counter flexing exercises from earlier to get Speedy more malleable.
In the leg yield, I also had to pay attention to where my weight was. Speedy tries really hard to make me sit to the right, so leg yielding right is harder. Essentially, Chemaine showed me that I need to guard or protect the outside in the leg yield. Speedy wants to fall or drift to the rail instead of stepping over. This means I need to ask with the inside leg, but catch him with the outside leg.
We finished up with some trot lengethings. Chemaine and I have worked on this together before, so it didn't take much to get a pretty decent lengthening of the stride from Speedy. In the past, Chemaine had me half halt in the first corner, and then half halt in the second corner so that we could sort of shoot out of that corner into the trot lengthening.
In the new First Level tests (1 and 2), the trot lengthenings are now shorter and start at S or V. This means I can't use the corner for that last half halt. Chemaine showed me how to use the two corners to rebalance as before, but then she had me think of S or V as corners as well. So instead of just aiming for F or M, she had me half halt at the letter and then make the "corner" before "shooting" out into the trot lengthening.
When we were finished, Chemaine said that we are definitely ready to show First Level at a USDF show; before the lesson, I had asked her to give me an honest evaluation. We got a nice 63% on test 2 at a CDS show last month, but the expectation at a USDF-rated show is much higher. So, we've made a plan for a USDF show in late July. She'll be able to give me a lesson on Friday afternoon and then coach me through the two-day show.
Speedy and I are going to another CDS show on Sunday. I think we'll do okay, but I won't be terribly disappointed if we don't break the 60% mark. We're still just putting some of this First Level stuff together.
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%: