From Endurance to Dressage
What We Don't Know
You all know how much I love Speedy. He is simply the best horse: patient, kind, and so eager to please. Since his "retirement" back in 2020, there have been at least seven ladies who have either come to take lessons on him or just trail ride him. And for every one of those ladies, he has been a complete saint. He truly loves being a lesson horse.
On Sunday, Brooke came out to ride. I never have an actual lesson plan when someone comes out to ride Speedy. It's partly because I don't know how energetic Speedy will be, and lately, the arena has had standing water so there are just some things we couldn't do. On Sunday, we finally had an arena that was dry enough to allow us into all four corners.
One thing that Brooke has been pretty good at doing is keeping Speedy fairly round. She doesn't let the reins slip through her fingers, so Speedy doesn't get too strung out. With that being said, she is struggling with the idea of following with her elbows. When she doesn't follow, Speedy will open his mouth as he resists the non-elastic contact. The more Brooke gives and follows, the quieter he is with his mouth.
Speedy has always been expressive with his mouth. Even when he doesn't have a bit, he still gapes his mouth and smacks his lips when I ride him in a halter. I don't use a flash on either of my horses. There isn't anything inherently wrong with a flash; I simply prefer riding without one so the horse can tattle on my hands. If my horse needs to gape his mouth, I am probably doing something wrong.
That idea became the topic for the lesson. Brooke doesn't yet have an independent seat, so she's still trying to find her balance which means she occasionally uses the reins for balance. And here is where Speedy really shows how fabulous he is; instead of getting fussy or irritated by that, he gapes his mouth as he searches for the give. I had Brooke try a few different things in order to encourage her to follow at the walk and canter.
One thing I showed her, and we have all done this, is that I had her stop so that she could be "the bit." I held the reins and showed her what it felt like to be both heavy and light. We also practiced flexing to the inside to help Speedy let go of the bit and carry himself. I explained that as long as she let him lean on her hands, he would be happy to let her carry him. If, however, she kept him from hanging on the bit, he would be lighter in her hand, especially if she also gives and follows. It's hard to follow though when you use the reins for balance.
Please don't think I am judging. I've balanced on the reins myself. We all have. I think that I have developed a fairly independent seat, but that doesn't mean I am not making plenty of other mistakes as I struggle with my own balance issues. The thing is, we don't know what we don't know, so unless someone helps us adjust our riding, we never improve.
Because Speedy is such a saint, I had Brooke put him into a canter where she ignored his frame. After all, she's not teaching him anything - he already knows how to canter. Instead, it is Speedy's job to teach her, so by giving Speedy his head and allowing him to canter basically on his own, she was able to focus on her weight aids. What I wanted her to feel was that by weighting her inside seat bone and turning her shoulders to the inside, she didn't need to balance on the reins because Speedy would give her a comfortable place to sit.
Riding only two or three times a month isn't enough to effect a lot of change in a rider's position and balance, but Brooke felt that by cantering on a horse who can maintain the circle by himself, she was able to take her focus away from steering and look inward to search for that elusive "feel" we are always looking for. For me, once I "feel" something, I get it and know what to search for the next time.
The longer I give these lessons, the more I understand how hard dressage really is. If you're a beginner or moving up the levels, and you think you suck, give yourself a break. This is really and truly difficult. I can't believe how much I have learned over the past thirteen years. It's probably a good thing I didn't know how much I didn't know back when I started, or I might have quit. Now, I know that there is a lot I don't know. It's obviously more than thirteen years' worth of learning though.
Maybe in another thirteen years I'll know what it is I don't know. Until then, I'll just be over here in the dark looking for a pinpoint of light.
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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%: