From Endurance to Dressage
I know what you're thinking. My horse is tense and short-strided. How is bunching him up even more going to help? I know, but it worked for Izzy.
When I drove down on Tuesday for a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, trainer and owner of Symphony Dressage Stables, I wanted to work on two things:
1) Find a specific exercise to help Izzy relax when he's all bunched up in a tense ball, and ...
2) Continue working on filling up the outside rein (particularly when he's tense).
When we first walked into the ring, Izzy let his emotions take over. He shortened his neck, hollowed his back, and stabbed at the ground with his hind legs. Chemaine immediately asked what he would do If I shortened his reins. Not knowing for sure, I shortened the reins so that I had a firm contact. She had me think piaffe, and within moments, he forgot about the stuff happening around him and started to focus.
Now, don't get me wrong. We weren't really piaffing, but she had me think about how to get a piaffe: trot, but don't go forward. Since Izzy already wasn't going forward, this wasn't difficult for him. I asked him to lift his back and soften without going anywhere. As soon as he softened to the rein, I "let" him go forward. At first, it was more of a passage (in feeling if not in reality) than a trot, but he was at least able to start moving forward.
That idea of riding a lengthy half halt became the theme for the day. Any time and every time that Izzy got hollow or quick, Chemaine reminded me to think about the piaffe. She encourage me to hold the half halt for a longer period so that Izzy started to think of the half halt as a time to slow down, rebalance, and soften his neck ... even if it meant we walked.
Ignore my chatter, I was asking about rein length, but this clip shows me firming up the outside rein until he gives to it. (Someday I'll be able to share a video where I look like I know what I am doing.)
Once I had the idea of an extended half halt, Chemaine put us to work in a double figure eight. This exercise encourages inside bend which in turn helps the horse to fill up that outside rein.
1) Trot a 20-meter circle tracking left.
2) Approaching X, slow down and make a 10-meter circle tracking left. This circle should encourage inside bend, the inside hind should step under, and the horse should recognize this circle as a place to rebalance and rest.
3) Expand out of the circle at X and make another 20-meter circle, still tracking left. If the horse is till tense, keep this circle slow. As he relaxes, you can lengthen the stride as you move into the bigger circle.
4) As you approach X, slow down, change the bend and track right into a 10-meter circle. Again, the horse should have a good bend and the inside hind should step steeply.
5) Expand out of the circle at X and make another 20-meter circle, still tracking right. If the horse is till tense, keep this circle slow. As he relaxes, you can lengthen the stride as you move into the bigger circle.
6) Repeat. Do a 10-meter circle, expand to the 20-meter circle, slow down, change the bend, do the the other 10-meter circle, expand to the 20-meter circle, and so on.
Over the course of the lesson we kept coming back to that idea of a lengthy half halt. Izzy already has so much forward energy that those long half halts are more about softening and not about pushing him up to the bit. I don't really need any leg in those half halts. Instead, I really need him to soften so that he can rock back a bit and sit more on his hocks. When he does that, then I can ask him to move forward again.
We also schooled the canter. Now that I can get and hold the canter on both leads, we focused on the quality of the canter departure. Chemaine had me think about the same idea of firming up the outside rein until he softens to it.
This video is pretty representative of our work right now. You can see how tense he is about the canter. He wants to just throw himself into it. He can be soft and relaxed, but it takes me quite a while to get him there. What we're doing now is trying to keep him soft in the departure so that I don't have so much work to do once he's already cantering.
We have a long way to go, but the canter work was much better than the last time we were at Chemaine's barn in April. I had been feeling pretty dejected about what I perceived as a lack of progress. During this lesson though, I started to feel much better about things.
Obviously, we're not as far along in our training as we would be if I sent Izzy to Chemaine full time. Plenty of other, better riders would have had him cantering along just fine by now. Doing so wouldn't teach me anything though. We might be moving along slowly, but I am getting a decent education out of the process.
We have a schooling show on Sunday, still just Introductory A and B (you have to have a canter departure for Intro Test C). My one and only goal is to help him keep his cookies in the cookie jar. With Chemaine coaching me through the warm up, I think we can help him have a pretty positive day.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%