From Endurance to Dressage
I wrote a post the other day which generated some not-so-constructive criticism. In the post, I shared an exercise that my trainer thought would be helpful. In essence, she suggested I over-flex Izzy to the inside and then use a firm half halt to flex him vertically. The purpose of the exercise was to slow him down, bring his shoulder in, get him round, and help him focus. I said to think rollkur. Here's a photo from that lesson.
Here's how Izzy wants to carry himself...
I am very honest on my blog. While I don't share every disappointment, frustration, shortcoming, or ineffective moment, I don't sugarcoat things either. When we're successful, I share it. When we suck, I share that too. I get lessons as often as I can, which for a long time has been about once a month. Lately, it's been twice a month. My trainer is based more than two hours away, so I don't get a lot of trainer rides either.
While I am not a trainer, and I've never even hinted that I could be, I am in essence training my own horses. Poor things. Little do they how good their lives could have been.
With that said, I have to rely on the help that I do get. And while it isn't weekly, I know in my heart of hearts that the training I get is good training. It's correct training. My scores on Speedy offer proof. We've finished each level (Intro, Training, and First) with scores in the high 60s and 70s.
I trust my trainer. She doesn't use shortcuts. She doesn't use gadgets. She wants horses to progress with a solid foundation. She treats each horse as an individual which means not every horse learns in the same way. When she suggests an exercise, I know she is trying to get through to the horse to teach him how to move more correctly.
So what is Rollkur exactly? Basically, it is the practice of forcefully pulling a horse's head into an extreme low, deep and round position, often for an extended period of time. That's not what I am doing. And anyone who has ever seen me ride in person knows that.
Instead, what my trainer suggested I do was create a situation where Izzy wants to stretch down. When I flex him to the inside, there is no force. He flexes easily. What he doesn't know how to do is to lengthen his neck. By over-flexing him to the inside, and then flexing him vertically, it is showing him that there is a more comfortable position that he can choose.
Within moments of putting him in this "hyper-flexed" frame, he immediately lowers his head and asks to stretch down. I am NOT holding him in hyper flexion. I let him stretch down, and if he'll take it, I'll give him all the rein.
When I rode him on Friday afternoon, I "felt" how the exercise can do even more for him. As I over-flexed him to the inside and then half halted to flex him vertically, I realized that this straightened him so that I could then push my hands forward and ask for a longer stride.
In no time at all, he started snorting and swinging over his back. I don't think that's what rollkur does.
I think a lot of things get lost when looking at stills. You have a dialog with a trainer that spans months and years. We're only hearing an extremely small segment of one thought. It's hard to capture the entire conversation without also burying the reader in minutia.
2/19/2018 06:57:15 am
As you well know, Mia, blogging/writing can be difficult. Your comment explains it perfectly. Thanks!
2/19/2018 09:32:57 am
I know the FEI is still struggling with its definition of what Rollkur is and what LDR is. To name names, we know that A V-G trained by SJ trains in rollkur, that's proven and indisputable. Izzy's chin is not to his chest. I would consider this more along the lines of LDR, if you want to categorize anything, rather than Rollkur which is used, specifically, as a control method and a way to get the horse so hyperflexed that the grand prix frame is /relaxing/ for him, because of the pressure and tension the rollkur position creates. So, in theory, he will more willingly take a more vertical head carriage because that /is/ the stretch.
2/19/2018 03:00:07 pm
"My current trainer says sometimes we need to exaggerate what we want so the horse has the lightbulb moment." So very true!
2/19/2018 06:20:13 pm
Yes! I call those moments "caveman cues". You can make them prettier, more subtle, and softer after the horse gets the concept, but sometimes you have to be really loud for them to figure it out at first!
2/20/2018 05:10:31 am
"Caveman cues" - that's a great way to express it, Dom! I am definitely going to have to remember to use that one. :0)
2/19/2018 10:35:49 am
I have felt a tight, short neck like you described. It is counterintuitive, but meeting the horse where he is and creating positive tension really does show him how to stretch down. It can't be done with loose reins and legging him on just allows him to run off. Also, lowering the horse's head, raises his back which helps the stretch. Once the horse feels how nice it is to stretch, he is usually more than happy to repeat it. Getting that stretch reliably from a horse that gets tight is tough.
2/19/2018 03:05:06 pm
I can tell you've ridden what I am riding, Val, because you explained it exactly. My trainer even "got me" on exactly what you described - riding with a loose rein. I keep hoping he'll just lengthen his neck to find the bit. Nope. And you're also right that adding more leg just sends him bolting or running off as he loses his balance.
2/19/2018 10:41:27 am
I missed reading about the last lesson, sorry I'm getting this so late. Thank you Karen for your trust in my perspective and experience! I love Marianne's reply, well said. I sometimes joke about rollkur, but this is not that. All that we are trying to do is show Izzy that this frame(stretching) is a much better option than that frame(deep and low). As Marianne said so well. The longest he is in this overflexed frame is a few strides, then he wants to stretch out of it. He is a little bit of a special case, as he finds things a little too easy on the one hand and reaching over his back seems impossibly hard to him. We have explored so many exercises that usually work to open up that stretch, but Izzy finds it too easy and therefore doesn't feel the need to relax. One thing is for sure, once Karen gets him working over his back nothing will stand in his way! I hope that I explained our strategy, although not so well as Karen and Marianne...
2/19/2018 03:12:09 pm
I always trust your judgement and experience, Chemaine, and when I am confused, I ask. :0)
I just wanted to jump in to say that I liked reading your previous post about this because this is EXACTLY what my trainer is having me do with a client horse with a similar issue. I know in my case (and I'm guessing yours?) this method is teaching this particular horse to accept the contact and to truly be ridden from back to front. It's teaching her that closing the leg = go to the bit. She can't go to the bit if there is no contact, so I have to meet her where she is at the moment.
2/19/2018 03:10:15 pm
"She can't go to the bit if there is no contact, so I have to meet her where she is at the moment." EXACTLY!
2/19/2018 08:10:33 pm
A double bridle on an intro level horse = both a gadget *and* a shortcut
2/20/2018 05:00:19 am
We used the double as an experiment (it lasted about 4 days) to see if I could control the bolting with that. What the double showed us was that Izzy was resisting tongue pressure. As soon as I moved to a ported bit, much of his resistance faded. He's still a jerk, but he's getting broker month by month.
2/19/2018 08:49:12 pm
I can see how people have gotten this impression from your blog. In January you talk about compress compress compress. Over flexing is a common term, including using it as a punishment. You talk about bending and booting with his nose on your knee. You say your trainer doesn't believe in shortcuts or gadgets and yet you put a horse with a tendency to be unwilling to stretch into the contact in a double bridle. While I am no means an expert this seems totally backwards in my knowledge and experience.
2/20/2018 05:09:24 am
Several of the above commenters have explained it better than I have. Izzy is NOT an easy horse and not the best choice for a lower level rider (but I like him, he likes me, and I have fun learning on him). He is extremely opinionated, but lacks confidence. He doesn't like to try and tends toward the fearful. His first response is always NO with a tantrum that includes bolting and rearing.
2/20/2018 07:14:18 am
One last thing, the double can be used as a snaffle and/or curb. I suggested it for Karen as a way to ride mainly with the snaffle, but when she needed the breaks she could use the curb. I have to say that everyone can criticize, but to be open and honest about almost every ride to a huge audience takes serious bravery! And, Karen has bravery in spades! I hope that we can all learn together and that Karen and Izzy will be able to be the proof in the pudding. ♡
2/20/2018 04:10:50 pm
Just wanted to chime in one more time and say that, Karen and Chamaine, don't let the "keyboard warriors" tear you down :). Everyone means well but there are many ways to rome, as they say. Chamaine if you are ever in the peninsula I would love a lesson, also!
2/21/2018 04:52:58 am
"I feel like he's the type of horse that is either ignorant of or unwilling to take the olive branch approach, as it were, and I don't think anyone has the time or willingness to wait around for what could be YEARS for him to extend a peace offering." OMG, Yes! Have you met this horse? Does he text you? That is him EXACTLY!
2/21/2018 02:29:06 pm
Can't remember if I ever got in a comment or not. Why is life so BUSY :(
2/26/2018 06:59:22 am
Thanks, Elinor. You're exactly right. If he is getting softer and more willing, then we're doing the right thing. :0)
This is exactly how my trainer has me get my mare to want long and low - I made her explain it out thoroughly because I got hung up on the one movement that makes it look like Rollkur. I know exactly what you are talking about when you explain what you are getting Izzy to learn - and frankly, having read along with your progress since you got him, I think it's INCREDIBLY safe to say you would never engage in behavior that would be detrimental to your horses' health/safety. I don't think you need to explain yourself at all. You guys are doing great.
2/23/2018 01:14:58 pm
First, Sarah, thank you for such "sureness" of my motives. The very few people who voiced criticism did rattle my chain a bit because it felt as though they were suggesting that I don't put my horses' welfare before anything else. I appreciate that you recognize that. Thank you.
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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
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%: