From Endurance to Dressage
Spicy to Schoolmaster
If we're friends on Facebook, you already know this, but on Friday afternoon, I hopped up on Speedy bareback with his specially knotted rope halter that has rings to attach reins. We walked around the neighborhood brushing off the cobwebs. As we made the turn toward home, Speedy got a little bit spicy. I like spicy Speedy, so when we got back to the ranch, I took him into the arena. Although it came with a sassy attitude, he agreed to pick up a canter. I asked for a flying change of lead each direction, got them, and called it a successful day.
Speedy's little hissy fit only reinforces my belief that he doesn't particularly want to do the hard stuff anymore. He's always liked the flying changes though, so it doesn't hurt him to work for five minutes. When we were done, I gave him lots of pats and walked him over to a patch of grass. I unclipped his reins and gave him the run of the yard. While he gets sassy at times, he also loves feeling successful. I know he doesn't really mean it when he swishes his tail and puffs himself all up. That's just his personality, and he's always been a bit of a drama queen.
"J" came out for another lesson on Saturday morning. As sassy and smart-alecky as he is for me, Speedy is just as patient and steadfast with his ladies. He never pins his ears or swishes his tail. The worst thing he does is try to hollow his back and avoid working hard. When they get their aids correct though, he's all business. My heart just melts when I see how much he enjoys his new job. J asked if Speedy liked her. (What's not to like?) I explained that Speedy knows who is in his tribe, and as far as I know, he's never kicked anyone out. As long as his riders are fair and kind, he'll give them his very best.
Giving these weekly lessons has brought back all kinds of memories. I'm amazed at how far we've come, but I am also reminded of where we began. I started this blog as a way to connect with other riders who, like me, were just beginning their own dressage journeys. It's hard to remember a time before the internet, but in 2011, when I wrote my first blog post, there weren't very many websites yet devoted to dressage. Of course we have the opposite problem a decade later. There's so much to dig through that it can be hard to tell what's good, what's junk, and what you should believe.
Not that I know everything, or even all that much, but I still feel that Speedy and I have an obligation to share what we've learned. I try to remember where we struggled and what things I wish someone had told me. Those are the things that I am showing J and T. Most of my early trainers either didn't have much of a dressage background, or if they did, they hadn't progressed much past First or Second Level. It wasn't until I met Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that I started to learn how the different movements laid the foundation for harder and more complex movements later on. Chemaine has ridden and trained horses all the way to the Grand Prix, so she knows how the pieces all fit together.
Those are the things that I am showing both J and T. When I present them with a new exercise, I try to always turn the page so to speak so they can see why they need to work on whatever it is that we're doing that day. On Saturday, I had J disengaging the hind end and then doing turns on the forehand. It seems like such a simple exercise until you try to do it for the first time. That very first attempt at "lateral work" shows the rider how effective her aids are. J worked hard for at least 15 minutes trying to get Speedy to step away with his hindquarters without allowing him to swing his front end around. The turn on the forehand involves moving the horse's hindquarters around his front legs. Instead of turning around his forehand, Speedy wanted to spin around an imaginary pole much like a carousel horse.
It took a few minutes, but ultimately she was able to ask Speedy to do a turn on the forehand. Once we finished with that exercise, J looked at me and let out a deep breath. Whew! She loved the challenge of the exercise as it gave her a chance to use all of her aids and allowed her to check her effectiveness.
We then moved on to trot serpentines, something we've been working on already. For this lesson, she had better control almost immediately so we revisited the idea of getting a trot to walk as Speedy crossed the centerline (an exaggerated half halt). After several attempts, I finally stood in her path on the centerline and told her she had better get the walk because she was going to have to run me over otherwise. Suddenly, she got a crisp downward transition without flattening me!
I applauded her effort and asked what she had done differently. Her answer was preparing sooner and being firmer in her request. I had her repeat the transition as I blocked her path until she felt like she had the aids confirmed. Then she asked me to move so that she could try it without me there as a crutch. She got a lovely trot to walk, and I knew she felt good about how effective her aids were.
Wanting her to see why there is a reason for a trot to halt through the walk, we finished the lesson with having her come down centerline with a halt at X. We all know how hard that is in the beginning. Of course, like all of us have done, J over-shot the center line. Before letting her do the transition, I had her repeat the turn until she was able to successfully make that 10-meter half circle. And as I knew he would, Speedy gave her a very nice trot to almost halt at X. In the lower levels, the horses are allowed to halt through the walk.
Teaching J reminds me how difficult dressage is. Now that I've shown to Third Level and have a Bronze medal, I feel so much pressure to be a "good" rider. Isn't that what being a Bronze/Silver/Gold medalists means? J is helping me see that it just means that I've learned a lot, but it doesn't mean that the rest is supposed to be easy. Whether it's your first turn on the forehand or your first canter pirouette, it's going to be hard, and I don't think anyone more accomplished than me is going to criticize me as I continue to struggle. If anything, I think watching a rider struggle through the levels you've already "learned," gives you a new appreciation for how difficult this sport really is.
I love having a schoolmaster to share, but I wish I had two of them!
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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%: