From Endurance to Dressage
Whose Idea Is It, Really?
I am always "trying something new" with the big brown horse. It's not really that I am trying new things; it's probably more accurate to say that we're moving on to something different. This usually happens when we're delving more deeply into something.
The last time I took a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, she said something interesting. She said that while focusing more on the movements themselves, I might have been ignoring the basics. Not literally ignoring them, and not on purpose, but maybe sacrificing them in an effort to get the movement. She didn't say it exactly like that of course, but it did sound true of my recent riding.
I started to think about what "the basics" would mean for Izzy. The first thing I did was ditch my spurs. I reasoned that more activity or more drive from behind wasn't what he really needed. Instead, I decided to focus most of my efforts on getting softness through his poll, jaw, and neck. When those are locked up tight, it doesn't matter how much leg I apply, nothing good is the result.
I also decided to slow things way down. There is no sense in driving him forward when his back is tight and his neck's under muscles are bulging. That doesn't mean I've been ignoring his hind end though. As I ask for a half halt, I am also tap, tap, tap, tapping with my calves to say keep coming from behind.
Over the past month, our rides now look like this: when Izzy spooks or when his head pops up to stare at something I can't see, I just flex his neck and keep adding leg. I keep his poll and neck bent to the inside until he finally lets the tension go and asks me to let him go straight. Sometimes it takes longer than others. Sometimes we go from one ten-meter circle to another, but it almost always achieves softness.
The beauty of this approach has been that once he is willing to be soft, he also wants to lengthen his stride. Throughout our entire ride, I think softness first, movement second. No matter what I am asking for, whether it's a leg yield or a half pass, I can always flex him to the inside or do a 10-meter circle or just think about shoulder fore until he softens.
I am still trying to get a flying change, but since he is so resistant, I've gone back to just asking for changes of bend in a canter on the circle. As I change the bend while cantering, I am also asking his body to shift over just that little bit like I would in preparation for the change. If he gives it to me, we go straight, trot, and then do a change of lead through the trot. If he resists, I just flex him back to a true bend and start over.
Izzy is so different from Speedy who has always been like riding a bowl of steaming hot noodles. Getting all of the noodles to go in the same direction took a tremendous amount of patience. Izzy's more like a cold block of clay. You just can't do much to it until it has been warmed up and worked back forth. As the potter continues to shape the clay, where once stood a red brick, now stands an elegant vase or pitcher. Of course, there are still those days when the potter presses a little too firmly and the whole thing collapses. We still have those days, too.
Over the weekend, Izzy gave me wonderful rides that felt much more like a partnership. When he spooked or his head shot up, I just refocused him by flexing him to the inside until he let the moment pass. Suddenly we were again dancing. By not driving him forward, I was able to convince him that he wanted to lengthen his stride on his own.
Isn't that the best way to convince someone - let him think it was his idea all along?
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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)
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3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: