From Endurance to Dressage
Teaching to Learn
As an elementary school teacher, I've learned over the years how valuable peer coaching can be. On a typical school day - a day where we aren't teaching remotely, I frequently assign peer tutors. Kids who "get it" help kids who are struggling. This partnering of kids accomplishes several things. First, kids are apt to use kid-friendly language with one another which generally enables the struggling learner to grasp the idea more easily. Second, kids are often less intimidated by their partners and are more likely to ask questions of other kids. Finally, and in my opinion of even more value, the "teacher" usually walks away from the experience understanding the concept even better than before.
"T" reached out to me early in the week asking if she could come out over the weekend to ride Speedy. Of course I said yes. She probably doesn't realize this, but T's "lessons" might benefit me more than they do her. During this weekend's lesson, I found myself really listening to what I was teaching, and I was shocked to discover that I actually know what I am talking about.
T hadn't been out to ride in nearly a month, so I had had plenty of time to think about what to show her next. What's usually fresh in my mind sounds like a great thing to teach her, but then I'll stop and realize that she's not ready for that particular exercise. So instead, I try thinking about what I needed to know in order to do that particular exercise. Those kneed to knows, or building blocks, are what I've been teaching T. They form the foundation of everything to come.
When I first left the endurance world to test out this whole dressage thing, I was essentially on my own. I couldn't find an actual dressage instructor, so I took basic riding lessons from people locally. One of them had some limited dressage experience, but she had never shown up the levels. Another trainer was great with young horses, but she had never ridden past Training or First Level either. A third trainer was actually a hunter/jumper so she left it up to me to tell her what I needed to work on next. That was definitely a case of the blind leading the blind.
In the very beginning, I wasn't ever in what you might call a "program." I wasn't with a trainer who had done it all from start to finish. I couldn't see the intended progression or how one exercise was actually a set up for later movements, and neither did my teachers. It wasn't until I met Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that I started to understand how each level was designed to prepare the horse for the next level. Chemaine knows how each movement prepares the horse for something else, and she makes sure I know it as well. In Chemaine's "program" I started to learn that the movements at Training Level weren't the end all; they were simply the first steps needed in order to progress to the next level.
Chemaine has had me using the quarterline a lot lately. It's something I forget to use when I am riding alone. With Izzy though, the quarterline has become my best friend. So when T came out, I had an exercise planned that would help her become more familiar with the parts of a dressage court.
I set up cones on both short sides marking the quarterlines. The last time T had ridden, I had her leg yield from the centerline to the rail, but I noticed that she didn't have enough bend to make the 10-meter half circle from the rail to A and up centerline. This of course made the leg yields more difficult as Speedy's shoulders were falling out. For this lesson. I had her ride up one quarterline and down the other. The only thing I asked her to think about was getting enough bend to accurately ride the 10-meter half circles at A and C.
What amazed me was that I was able to diagnose the issue and then devise a strategy to fix it. As T rode through the exercise, I found that I was also able to see when she had Speedy's shoulders in front of his haunches and when she had him collected enough to make those half circles. And when he was strung out or bulging through one shoulder or the other, I continued to astonish myself by being able to coach her through the turns and actually make a difference in her riding.
I am not a trainer, and I don't know know everything, but I do know some things. Having the opportunity to teach someone who is dipping her toes in the dressage waters is very similar to the way I use peer tutoring in my own classroom. My student "teacher" doesn't know calculus, but he or she sure might understand how to simplify a fraction or do long division, and teaching someone else is only going to help both students understand the concept better. I wish that I had more opportunities to coach my peers. When we explain it to someone else, we generally walk away with a better understanding ourselves.
Anybody out there want to do some peer tutoring? We can take turns!
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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%: