From Endurance to Dressage
Just as summer begins to wind down for me - I go back to work in just a few short weeks, "J" has finally been able to come ride Speedy pretty regularly over the past month. While we were in Nashville, and then again while I was coping with a cold, she came and rode without me. That's pretty huge as I have never permitted anyone to ride him without my being there.
The ranch owner made herself available in case J needed any help, and of course she texted me to let me know how she thought things had gone. One thing she mentioned was Speedy's attempt to evade bending through his ribcage and his ambivalence about vertical flexion. So once I was finally able to be there while J rode, I asked her why we ride in circles.
As a classroom teacher, I know that open ended questions can be a bit scary for students as no one wants to give a wrong answer. I could see that J felt a bit like a deer in the headlights when I asked the question, so I told her that there wasn't just one correct answer. If she is going to be riding Speedy without me there, I want her to feel confident in her riding choices. Knowing why we ride round and round in a circle is probably a good thing to know.
For this ride, I made a concerted effort to let J do the riding while I just offered feedback. Normally, I think of exercises for her to try, but I think she now needs to take on more of the decision-making as she rides rather than just doing what I suggest. The answer to the question about why we ride in circles is that we are trying to affect some kind of change. A twenty-meter circle might be the start to a stretch, a smaller circle increases the stretch. A twenty-meter circle can help rebalance a horse. It can also be used to spiral in and spiral out as we encourage the horse to step deeper underneath himself.
In other words, we don't circle just to circle. Circles are a way for us to help our horses become more supple, better balanced, in front of our legs, etc. I could see J really processing that answer which led to discussing why we ride an oval, a leg yield, a simple change and on and on. Everything we do in the arena should be purposeful.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has really had me think about walk breaks. What are they for? How can I use them to accomplish something? Rather than just throwing away the reins and sitting there like a lump, Sean encourages me to think about the extended walk as we walk around. It's an opportunity for Izzy to catch his breath, but that doesn't mean I can't use the time to school the walk or take a stretch by doing a bit of leg yielding or even asking for a bit of a large turn on the haunches which is what I did yesterday in preparation for work on the simple change. I used the walk "break" to prepare for the next thing.
I can't say for sure that J found the "lesson" helpful or not, but it did help me think about why I am doing the exercises that I do. Am I simply filling the time with movements for the sake of the movement, or am I using those movements to achieve greater suppleness, balance, and a better connection? I know that since I started riding with Sean, my goals have certainly changed.
Besides wanting to advance up through the levels, I now find that I am always searching for ways to improve my relationship with Izzy. I didn't need to do that with Speedy. Our years on the endurance trail had already established that. Riding Izzy though is a very different experience, and I find that the more I focus on the relationship, the better our rides get. Paying attention to why I am asking him to perform a specific movement or exercise is what helps establish that day's "connection." For me, knowing why I am riding that twenty-meter circle strengthens my relationship with my big brown horse.
That's just me though. There are a lot of other reasons we ride circles.
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%: