From Endurance to Dressage
Speedy is as loosey goosey as they come. When he's tense or excited, he gets sproingy and very elastic. When he gets just enough of this positive tension, his movement positively sparkles.
When Izzy is tense, nervous, or simply excited, his back muscles contract and the underside of his neck bulges. It's not attractive and does not add anything to his quality of movement.
During my last lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, trainer and owner of Symphony Dressage Stables, she suggested an exercise to help get Izzy's back to loosen up. I took the exercise one step further and have built a new warm up routine for him that is working wonders.
When I first get on, I start by letting him look around. So many trainers discourage this insisting that you should get the horse to focus on you instead. I totally agree, but Izzy seems to need just a minute or two to stare. At what, I usually don't know, but it seems to help if I let him just get it out of his system.
The next thing we do is walk at least ten minutes. During that time, I start out by weighting my inside seat bone until I either feel his back swing away from my seat bone or until he drops his head. Then I ride with both seat bones evenly weighted for a few strides forward until he drops his head. Then I weight the outside seat bone until he either swings away from it or drops his head.
While this sounds incredibly boring, it is doing wonders for Izzy's back and giving me a better sense of my own weight aids. As I feel him begin responding to these shifts in my weight, I start asking for inside flexion when I weight my seat bone to the inside, vertical flexion when both seat bones are evenly weighted, and outside flexion when I weight my outside seat bone.
Once I have him listening at the walk, we pick up the tiniest trot and repeat. When he's particularly tense like he was on Sunday after having several days off, I keep the trot as small as he needs. With his back so tight, he can't stretch into a bigger trot.
As I loosen his back by weighting one seat bone and then the other, he starts sneezing and breathing and asking to stretch down bigger. When he does, I encourage a longer stride and then do a change of direction to work the other side. If I think he's feeling ready, I'll also ask for some shallow leg yield as he stretches down.
On Sunday, Izzy was super tense and mad about something that happened while tacking up. I don't know if you've seen the movie Memento, with Guy Pearce, but in it, he suffers from a rare form of short term memory loss wherein he will forget what happened ten minutes ago. I have finally realized that Izzy suffers from the same condition.
He gets mad, but after a few minutes he can't remember why he's mad. I've taken to pretending that instead of mad, he got scared, and I comfort him. All of a sudden, he's thinking I am his best friend instead of the one with the dressage whip who just took him to a come to Jesus meeting. Even though Izzy started the ride tense and worried, in no time at all he was working with me and asking to stretch and lengthen his stride.
The more I work on relaxing his topline with the changes in my weight aids, the more relaxed and trusting this horse gets. Once he'll trot around with a relaxed frame, I ask for a quiet canter. The fabulous thing is that I am getting it every single day. I can start on the right or left lead, neither makes a difference. We canter around a few minutes, and then I call it a day.
I've been keeping his rides as short as possible, around 25 minutes, to show him that he is making great choices. I don't want him to feel tired or resentful or burned out. Instead, I want him thinking, wait, that's it? That's all she wants?
I've tried this exercise with Speedy, but he just gets lazier. He's so loose and relaxed already that he just takes advantage of the time and piddles around. With that horse, I need to build energy, not calm it down. That's good to know though since it tells me this is definitely a relaxing warm up for Izzy.
I am so excited about the progress we've made in the last few months. A switch has definitely flipped. I am hoping that maybe we will get to start showing this summer after all.
Let me know if you try this warm up with your hot, tense horse or if you've done something similar. I am probably just a really slow learner and everyone else already knows how to do this!
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%: