From Endurance to Dressage
Oh, boy, was Saturday's lesson a good one! It all started with me forgetting my phone - kind of hard to take a virtual lesson without a phone. I had to race back home to find it and then haul butt back to the barn. That round trip usually takes 40 minutes. I did it in about 30. I also hadn't ridden all week, and my phone over-heated partway through the lesson and closed the Pivo Meet. Despite all of that, I walked away with some pretty good things to think about.
The first was about how much to push Izzy at the beginning of a ride. My warm up routine includes trot serpentines and canter in both directions. Given that Izzy's back has been so tight for so long, when I start to ask for the leg yield, I keep them long and shallow. In our last lesson, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, decided that it's time to push for much steeper leg yields, I asked whether I should continue starting with the easy leg yield and then work towards making it steeper, or just go for deep right away. Sean's answer was crystal clear, forget the shallow stuff. Do the steep leg yields.
His explanation made a lot of sense. Understanding why I am doing leg yields helps me determine how steep to make them. Now that izzy knows how to do a leg yield, it's not about the leg yield anymore. Now it's about checking to see how responsive he is to my leg aid. After more than a year of working with Sean, Izzy and I have finally arrived at the point where I can give him the aid, and he actually stays in the leg yield without me needing to keep my leg on. Sean calls it "allowing the horse to do the movement." It's when the horse stops doing the movement that you need the aid again.
As we came through the corner, it took some pokes of the spur to get Izzy to readily yield away from my leg. He wanted to let his haunches trail, so I applied the aid that said move it! Izzy heard me so clearly that in the next corner he started the leg yield with his haunches leading because he was trying so hard to figure out what I wanted. Rather than correct him, I just rode a small circle and started again.
Sean helped me understand that riding the leg yield is a tool for getting the horse to be sharp off the leg. Riding a shallow leg yield won't achieve that if the horse can already leg yield. A steeper leg yield will help a more educated horse cross his legs and step away from the leg aid. Sean was right. By using the leg yield as a barometer for responsiveness to my leg aid, I was able to get Izzy moving sideways much more freely. This idea of moving away from the rider's leg led to the next new understanding.
Since I've been riding the steeper leg yield in a zig zag pattern, a precursor to the half pass zig-zag, I've discovered that my aids for the transition from one direction to the other haven't been correct. Izzy's momentum makes it a challenge for me to redirect him when I need him to yield the other direction. Of course Sean had a solution.
As you come across the diagonal line, there must be a moment of straightness before sending the horse the other way whether it be in the leg yield or the half pass. For the leg yield, Sean encouraged me to slow the outside shoulder while pushing the haunches just a bit more to the outside so that when that moment of "straightness" comes, the ribs can be pushed in the new direction, and the haunches will already be in position. Sure, I got it I said as I biffed it completely on the first try.
Each time I tried it, I put it together a bit more until I could feel exactly what he was trying to get me to feel. A leg yield is mostly straight, but there is a slight bend at the poll and the shoulders will lead slightly which means the haunches trail ever so slightly. In order to zig zag, the horse must get completely straight in order for there to be a slight bend in the new direction and for the other shoulder to lead slightly. When the rider asks the horse to leg yield in the opposite direction, the haunches need to be trailing ever so slightly, but if the haunches haven't been allowed to "catch up" they will be leading in the new leg yield. Confusing I know. This is why the haunches must be moved over a bit while also slowing the outside shoulder.
I may not have ever performed it spectacularly - when do I ever?, but I was able to grasp what Sean wanted me to do. With a bit more practice, I will be able to push Izzy here and there while helping him to balance through those transitions. Besides asking for this new way of moving, we also continued tackling the change of bend in the canter in preparation for flying changes. Izzy is still very locked in his neck and poll, especially in the right lead canter.
To help, Sean suggested I start alternating which lead I ask for during trot transitions, even while on a circle. That means asking for a counter canter on the circle tracking right. Izzy was definitely not a fan of that, and his willingness to work quickly evaporated, but that was good news in a way. Each time we find and fix one of those places where Izzy is reluctant, we end up with an ever more willing horse.
With our current heat wave, I won't be able to do much this week, but I definitely have some homework waiting for me once the temperature drops a little. And with the show season just about over, for us anyway, I'll have all fall and winter to chip away it.
Two steps forward, and lately, rarely one back.
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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%: