From Endurance to Dressage
Straighten Up and Fly Right
So I may not be as dumb as I first thought, and Speedy might not have earned my poor baby either.
He's a smart horse, that one. And he's very lazy. He's very fit, he's very healthy, and all of his parts work quite well. He can touch his nose to any part of his body, and he can do it standing on one foot!
As I mentioned the other day, Speedy and I are are working on advancing and improving on our current skill level. What was satisfactory last month is now on our needs improvement list. I know we're ready to press on because what was once hard is now easier.
Take the canter for example. Six months ago, every canter transition came with a flying kick from the outside hind or an out-and-out buck that involved both feet and a grunt. While our canter departs aren't perfect, they are now fairly smooth and quiet-ish. We're ready to start insisting that the canter be more uphill. He is ready to carry more of his own weight behind.
When you look at the Pyramid of Training (PoT), straightness is near the top just below collection. And while I may not be an expert at dressage, I am an "expert" at teaching and learning.
Every U.S. state has what are referred to as the Standards of Education; the what that every kid is supposed to know (soon to be called Common Core State Standards). In each grade level's standards, you will find Number Sense, Reading Comprehension, Grammar, and so on. This does not mean that a kindergartener will have the same number sense or reading comprehension skills as a 6th grader, but he or she will be expected to have a certain proficiency appropriate to his or her age and grade level.
I think the same holds true for the PoT. A Training Level horse, much like a first grader, should have some proficiency at each level of the pyramid. A Second Level horse should have more proficiency, and a Grand Prix horse should demonstrate mastery.
Which brings me to Speedy G and our recent struggle with straightness. Is Speedy G going to be as straight as a Grand Prix horse? Of course not, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have to show at least some proficiency. So after my I just don't get it lesson on Monday, I set to work to understand the exercise that JL had laid out for us, riding a square.
While cooking dinner during the week, I used a small patch of tiles on my kitchen floor to simulate a corner. I tracked forward three or four tiles with my shoulders hunched over to create "four legs." I quickly realized that to make the turn, I had to do a turn on the forehand to get my hips around the corner, and then I had to finish the movement with a turn on the haunches to get my shoulders to line up with my hips. AHA! (Thank you TPR.)
Do you remember my post about the Affective Filter? If so, you'll remember that my area of specialty is language acquisition. TPR is another component in that field of study. Wikipedia, take it away:
Total physical response (TPR) is a language-teaching method developed by James Asher, a professor emeritus of psychology at San José State University. It is based on the coordination of language and physical movement. In TPR, instructors give commands to students in the target language, and students respond with whole-body actions.
Since I wasn't understanding JL's "language" during the lesson, I replayed her instructions in my mind as I used my whole body to do it, and viola, I got it! This isn't exactly true TPR, but the approach is pretty close. I told you dressage was a foreign language. Who knew my university education was going to help me figure out my chosen equestrian sport?
On Friday, I saddled Speedy with a purpose: we were going to make the turns with some semblance of straightness. We started at the walk; my expectations were at the kindergarten level. I rode into a corner and tried to do a turn on the forehand. Nothing. I came out of the corner and tried to do a turn on the forehand in a more open space. Again, nothing. I dug my spur into his side; nothing. I gouged him with my spur and still nothing. Not only was there nothing, but he flicked an ear at me and said quite loudly, I can't heeeeaaarrrrr yoooouuuuu!
I realized immediately that the problem wasn't entirely mine. Speedy flat out just didn't want to move his butt over as it is hard. I calmly hopped off, led him back to the barn, and quietly picked up my riding crop. I pat his neck, hopped back on, and rode back out into an open space. You know what's coming; he didn't. I shortened my reins, tapped him with my left leg, and then smacked him sharply right behind my leg.
Guess, what? After a wide-eyed, WHAT? he took a quick step away from my left leg. We worked on turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches for at least 15 minutes. Every single time that he ignored my left leg, I gave him a smart whack with the crop. It was amazing how much quicker he moved away from my left leg.
The next day, I worked down both long sides and up centerline focusing on moving him away from the left leg. It was amazing how much better he was making the turns. He moved into the corner away from my leg, and came out of the corner much straighter. I can't say that we're perfectly straight yet, but things are looking much better.
I'll be at at the barn later this morning for another day of practice. My goal is to have him moving off my leg pretty smartly in preparation for Monday's lesson. I'll let you know how it goes!
2/24/2013 01:50:31 am
The "hearing aid" does wonders for communication. ;D
2/24/2013 02:09:04 am
HAHAHA! That it does. :0)
2/24/2013 05:48:28 am
Thank you so much for posting this! I am having the same basic problems with my horse Varro! I am still at the "bucky" canter transitions and the refusal to just plain move out straight! LOL Hearing your "Woes" gives me ideas on how to improve my communication with him!
2/24/2013 06:43:08 am
Glad to be of help, Sandra! :0)
2/24/2013 11:51:17 am
Oh Boy, I can't wait for all this snow to melt and mud to dry so I can practice riding a square! My trainer, Deb, has talked about it and even shown me it, but I must admit ,I have been a bit in the dark! Thanks for shinning a flashlight on the subject. I'm going to bookmark this and practice!!
2/25/2013 10:38:13 am
We put it all together tonight and were pretty successful at it! It's a fun exercise and definitely helps you get a feel for what's happening underneath 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%: