From Endurance to Dressage
Memorial Day weekend was a busy one for me. I both took a lesson and gave a lesson and a half. "J" came out on Saturday along with "K," who really just wanted to watch and see what this whole dressage thing might be about. K is a trailer rider; we rode the Clydesdales with her a few years ago. I had told her at the last show that she was welcome to come out any weekend. Surprisingly, she called and asked to watch J's lesson this past Saturday. All right then!
J hadn't been out to ride in more than a few weeks, so she needed a bit of a refresher in getting her balance. Building (correct) muscle memory takes so long (ask me how I know), but it's even harder to achieve when you can only ride a few days a month.
Since I am not in any hurry, I never worry about Speedy's ladies needing a "refresher" lesson. Now that J has been riding for a few months, it usually only takes a few reminders to help her find her balance. Like a lot of us - myself included, J's position isn't perfect. Having ridden hunters, she's still struggling to sit up and back on her seat bones. Letting her legs hang instead of pushing her heels down is also something she's working on.
At the lesson I took on Saturday with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, he reminded me stride after stride to be elastic in my elbows. I joked with him how every rider has to be told in the beginning to bend at the elbows. Once a rider fixes that, she then hears be elastic with her elbows. There is simply no end to the "faults" our trainers can find with us.
I didn't think of any wildly entertaining exercises for J to work on. Right now, she just needs more miles in the saddle to firm up her position and find her balance. A horse has a lot of moving parts and learning to manage all of them plus your own takes time, lots of time (OH MY GOSH ASK ME HOW I KNOW!).
Once J felt a bit more relaxed in the saddle, we went to work on a change of direction. Riding a 20-meter circle can feel safe and let you feel confident, but I think that it's too easy to get stuck there, so I try to ask whoever I am "teaching" to leave that circle even if it's just to do a change of direction to do another circle on the other rein, which is what J did.
Crossing the diagonal to change rein is probably a bit easier, but I prefer doing the change of bend from one 20-meter circle to another 20-meter circle with a straight stride in the middle like you would do in the three-loop serpentine. Except of course, you come back onto the same circle instead of going on to the third loop.
J's struggle was in not letting the two circles connect as in a figure of eight. I wanted her to ride two round circles with just a moment of straightness at the point where the circles touch on the side. It's not an easy exercise because the rider has to initiate the change of bend through the horse's ribcage first, and then tip the nose in the new direction of travel. The rider must also change her weight aids from one seat bone to the other. All of this happens in two to three strides.
Once J was finished, I coaxed K up into the saddle. K's riding experience has been almost all on the trail and on well-behaved horses. I explained that being a passenger on a trail horse is far different from riding a dressage horse in an arena. First of all, Speedy doesn't know where to go unless you tell him, so that's where we began - with steering. Having only ever ridden trail horses, K didn't know how to steer with her legs and not the reins.
I could see that she was really shifting some mental blocks around to make sense of the idea that to go left, you use the left rein and the right leg. That just didn't make sense to her until suddenly it did. I saw the moment that she made the connection. It was like opening a treasure chest of gold; her face lit up. The way that she described the feeling was one of empowerment. Once she understood how she could influence Speedy's direction of travel she couldn't get enough. I am hopeful she'll come back out. Dressage can be very addictive.
Move over, Charlie, Speedy's Angels have got this summer covered.
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%: