From Endurance to Dressage
Softening the Jaw and Poll
I gave Izzy most of last week off. He had done a show on Sunday and then the next few days were in the 106℉ - 108℉ range. It was just too hot to ride. When I finally got on him on Friday afternoon, I was more than pleasantly surprised. While not an upper level horse, he was not the same horse I had ridden the week before.
He was suddenly softer and more supple throughout his body. I kept the ride short, only 15 minutes, but in that time, we managed to both trot and canter quietly. Saturday was nearly the same. By Sunday, some of the wiggles had returned, but I schooled through them easily.
During the last few lessons with Chemaine Hurtado - owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, she had me think of compressing Izzy's stride to balance him and suppling his jaw and poll in the canter. Both of those ideas have really helped me put together a bunch of loose pieces, especially in the walk and canter.
I've never had a horse who wasn't naturally balanced in the walk, so it's not a gait that I've schooled a lot. Izzy is not balanced at the walk. With Chemaine's comments ringing in my ear, I've started to play around with the walk as an end in itself, not just as a way to rest my horse.
I can now feel that Izzy wants to fall forward and scramble at the walk. By using a firm half halt and compressing his frame, I can ask him to come off the bit and soften. When he does, I can soften in return and then ask for a longer stride. The more I practice this compress, soften, lengthen exercise, the more quickly he is starting to soften and as a result, his walk is getting longer and more relaxed - exactly what we've been missing at shows!
While still a long way from show worthy, Izzy's canter is also starting to come together. For so long, I thought I needed to sponge the inside rein almost exclusively. Chemaine helped me see that it's not only about suppling his neck; his jaw and poll are pretty stiff as well. She helped me see that I need to sponge whichever side he's holding. And in Izzy's case, more often than not, it's the right rein.
Tracking right means that I need to work the outside rein to keep his shoulders in line, but the inside rein needs work as well to get some bend. When we track left, it's almost all outside rein - the right. When I get him to let go of that rein, the bend comes more easily.
As we've been working the canter, I've paid much more attention to the idea of getting his poll and jaw to loosen rather than focusing on his neck. Once I can get his rhythm under control with a huge half halt, I then use a milking the cow image as I massage the reins in his mouth. His canter has gotten better and better over the past two weeks.
We're going to a California Dressage Society show on Sunday. CDS shows are normally judged more strictly than are schooling shows, but not usually as tough as the judging at a USDF show. With a only a few days until the show, my focus is to continue improving the walk. If I can get a relaxed walk in the ring, Izzy's level of relaxation will improve, which should help our overall score.
We were so close to a 60% at our last show. Maybe this will be it, and if not, it doesn't really matter as we'll keep working anyway.
Walk on, Dude, walk on!
I've often felt like the walk is one of the most neglected gaits for many riders and horses -- I fall victim to the "this is slow and boring" and don't spend that much time on it. But over the last year or so, I've made a point to school the walk even for 5 minutes each ride, and the change is really amazing!
8/24/2016 06:35:53 pm
I hear you! I shoot for at least 12 - 15 minutes of walk. I start at the walk, walk after cantering, and then finish with the walk. It's really helping.
8/24/2016 11:34:27 am
Oh man, I am far too familiar with horses that fall forward in the walk and scramble - or stomp, lol. It's like riding a very fine wave to get enough energy without dumping them on their faces, and yet stay relaxed. Walk is SO hard!
8/24/2016 06:37:32 pm
Yes, yes, yes! That's it exactly. It took me a while to figure out that he was so unbalanced. I just figured he was eager to get working. That might be the case too, but I think he rushes and then gets anxious because he has to run to keep from falling on his nose.
8/24/2016 06:38:25 pm
I wish he's watch more of them because he must have watched some cat videos over the past few days - he was a knucklehead. :0)
Walking, gahh. But this winter while we were rehabbing Fiddle's mysterious stifle injury, I was confined to riding the walk...every day...for up to 40 minutes.
8/24/2016 07:13:19 pm
I actually enjoy it because I am doing what you suggested: I am moving his shoulders around, doing a bazillion changes of direction, testing how low I can keep his nose, and so on. Before I know it, 7 or 8 minutes will have gone by without even noticing. I shoot for at least 15 total minutes of walking, but I probably do more.
Nilla has walk problems as well. Technically Nilla has issues at all gaits. I like to do a lot of reins free work at the walk to get her really listening to my legs. I've had a lot of success with that. Now we just need to get her to do a free walk and we'll be good.
9/3/2016 04:57:18 pm
Now that I am really focusing on it, it is getting better. It's just new to me to have to school the walk.
9/3/2016 04:57:42 pm
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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%: