From Endurance to Dressage
Striving for All Three Gaits
When it comes to Izzy, my goal right now is simple: I want him to be able to walk, trot, and canter when and where I ask. A few years ago, that would have seemed like a silly goal; all horses can walk, trot, and canter. At least all the ones I had ridden could.
Having brought Speedy along to where he is today, I have learned that trotting and cantering down the trail utilize a totally different kind of skill set than does ring work. Trail horses require a degree of physical fitness, at least a certain amount of bravery, and enough trail savviness to keep themselves and their riders from getting hurt.
Before I started riding dressage, I wondered how riders weren't bored to death going round and round over the same patch of sand. Boring. I now know better, which is why my goal for Izzy is that he willingly accepts my aids for the walk, trot, and canter. Ring work requires a level of precision that I never knew existed.
Just five months ago, Izzy couldn't or wouldn't walk where I asked. He balked, he bucked, he squealed, and he often refused. All of that is now behind us. When I get on now, I can actually use the walk to begin suppling his body. He listens as I ask for shoulder in, haunches in, and leg yields. None of it is perfect of course, but the walk is there.
The trot work is almost as reliable as the walk. For a good while, when I asked for a trot, a bunch of squealing and bolting was his first reply. Recently, I have begun to feel pretty confident that when I ask for a trot, I am going to get it. As with the walk, I am now able to use a variety of trotting exercises to access his body. We can do things like serpentines, changes of direction, and baby leg yields. He is still fussy in the contact and looking for me to give him a more consistent connection, but a dependable trot is (mostly) there.
The gait that remains unreliable is the canter. Although the left lead is far more submissive than the right, it's not reliable enough to be sure that I'll get it when asked. Many of the exercises that Chemaine has shown me have helped, particularly using haunches in and shoulder in, but even so, we need a bit more time to confirm the gait.
I rode Izzy twice with Chemaine, once each weekend day. The first day's lesson was super short. She watched us warm up without needing to add too much. Even last month when she was here, I needed a lot of help getting him to turn and go where I pointed at the trot. Just one month later, Chemaine remarked that he is showing some real maturity.
We played around with some baby leg yields, and I know that she was quite pleased with his progress. I need to work on my aids, but he can do them easily when asked correctly.
I love the part where Chemaine tells me to take the shoulders out a little bit (0:37 seconds), and I actually do it. The instant my aids are correct, he moves his shoulders over into the space I give him. I was really pleased with that responsiveness. Here's a screen shot from the video.
When I felt that he was loose and supple and willing, Chemaine suggested an exercise to help us develop the canter departure. Using the short width of the arena, she wanted me to do a shoulder in down the "long" side with a haunches in at the 20-meter half circle of the short end. The goal was to ultimately turn the haunches in into a canter half circle where we then returned to trot with a shoulder in down the long side followed by another canter half circle.
Nope. Somehow, Izzy knew that we were asking for something new, and he immediately threw a fit and said no. As he squealed and kicked, and whirled, and tried to bolt, I cowgirl'ed up on his butt and laid into him with the whip. I tapped his outside shoulder over and over and sent him into a spin until I heard him say yes ma'am and mean it.
Once we could go forward again, it took quite a lot of time to reestablish that dependable trot. In order to get it, I had to repeatedly give a solid jerk on the right rein every time he gave us his opinion.
Chemaine explained that he was grabbing the rein to tell us that he didn't want to even try what I was asking for. His version of sulking and sassing was to grab that right rein (no matter which way we were tracking) and bolt for the gate. Every time he grabbed it, I bumped it hard and repeated what Chemaine had said, Nope, we don't want to hear your opinion on the subject.
It was a long argument, but I eventually won and was able to pick up the canter going both directions. In this video clip, we've just started tracking left. It gets bumpy here and there, but I got it done. You can see him still thinking about grabbing the right rein as we approach the white fence and track left. That's when you'll you hear me give a loud "Good boy!"
When I finally got a canter, I told Chemaine that I wished I could get judged on my ability to cowgirl up because I can ride the crap out of a naughty horse. In her reply, which you can hear as the video starts, she jokes that she always wins the warm up!
We did school the canter to the right, but there is no video. It was wild and crazy, but again, I got it. The problem I am having is that I lose his haunches to the outside and then he steals the inside bend. Once that happens, he blows out to the left, and escapes the conversation.
Chemaine had me tackle the problem by using a very strong, short outside rein with my outside leg way back to keep his haunches in. From there, I worked that inside rein, insisting on some kind of a bend. I also focused on riding his shoulders by keeping them in front of me and straight. Sometimes I had to counter bend him with a really strong halt halt to pick up his front end and move it to the right.
The hardest part was riding out the cross cantering. When he couldn't fling his shoulders around, he tried to get me to quit by losing the lead in the back. It would seem that I've been letting him come back to trot when he loses the lead. He learned really quickly that I'll let him stop when he does that. Oops.
Chemaine's advice was to push him through it and let him go around uncomfortably. She was right. When I insisted that he continue to canter, he made the switch and fixed it himself.
It was a productive two days. I have lots to work on over the next few weeks, but Chemaine was confident that we're going to get there. Who am I to argue?
12/31/2015 07:08:25 am
Izzy's looking good!
1/2/2016 07:35:27 am
Sometimes I am amazed at how fancy he can be. :0)
1/2/2016 07:36:40 am
Funny though, huh? You have to start somewhere. If you can get all three gaits clean and promptly, you can really start schooling the more collected and smaller movements.
12/31/2015 07:44:00 pm
I just recently came across this blog when I was googling a young horse issue. Wow, does Izzy ever sound like my naughty four year old! At this point, I'd be happy with canter. Have it, don't have it, have it , don't have it....sigh. Could he just let me think I'm in control for one day????
1/2/2016 07:40:07 am
Nope - he can't. :0)
1/2/2016 07:42:35 am
Yep. It is very reassuring to hear that I am not the only rider going through this. Every time I read about one of your successes, I think, "Thank God, there's hope for us yet." And when you have an issue, I also am relieved because it means my horse isn't just the world's biggest idiot. All babies go through the same obnoxious crap. :0)
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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
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Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
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