From Endurance to Dressage
Working on the Minutiae
When I take a lesson on Speedy, I always have a list of things that I need to tackle. On Izzy, there's a list, but he never lets me work on it. That boy must have a thing against agendas because he never follows mine. Take this week's lesson: as I was warming up before Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, arrived, I realized that I needed to run back to the tack room and grab some spurs. Izzy just would not move; he was literally trotting in reverse. I think he was maybe trying to moon walk.
As I was walking back, Chemaine pulled in and asked if everything was okay; I am always riding when she arrives. I rolled my eyes, hurrumphed in exasperation, and showed her the spurs. I buckled them on and pulled Izzy over to the mounting block. Sensing that I was now armed, or rather, footed, Izzy tensed up his back, and rather than just trotting off quietly, he decided to jig.
Palm. To. Face. Might as well toss that agenda right in the trash.
So instead of working on some of the finer points of First Level tests 1 and 3 like I had planned - we have a CDS show at the end of the month for which to prepare, we went back to establishing a true connection to the bit. Chemaine, always creative, turned what might have been a boring lesson into one that showed me a whole new way to use my seat bones. The idea was so absorbing that I never noticed that all we did were 20-meter circles.
Because Izzy's number one way to resist is to brace his neck and suck back (see photo above), Chemaine had me work on convincing him to let go through his poll and neck and reach forward to the bit. Sounds like every other lesson, right? I know, but she added a new aid. Basically it went like this:
Because Izzy is so strong, I tend to be too firm with the outside rein which effectively shuts down the forward. By pulsing softly and driving him forward with my seat and legs, I was able to insist that he sit which helped him lift his shoulders and push forward into the bit.
It took me some time to figure out how much to pulse because at first I got no response. After some trial and error, I started to feel him what I needed to do in order to get him to actually sit and collect. Once he was really collected, he started asking to stretch forward and down to the bit. When he did, I was able to use my seat to ask for a bigger stride.
In the past, my half halts at the canter had to be really firm and long (several strides). He so easily tipped over onto his forehand that it took huge half halts to say slow it down buddy and hold your own self up. Now that he can carry himself, I need my half halts to be much more subtle and to convey more information.
Chemaine has really ingrained in me the need to sit on my inside seat bone. I think she finally decided I was ready to start including my outside seat bone in a new way. Now that Izzy needs a smaller half halt with the rein, Chemaine had me straighten with the outside rein and use both seat bones to drive the hind legs forward.
My inside seat bone already drives the inside hind leg. I use that to ride leg yields and shoulder in. On Speedy, I have been using the outside seat bone and outside rein for straightening to prepare for the medium and extended trot. I just hadn't been using it on Izzy.
As we cantered round and round, Chemaine had me flex to the inside, and then straighten with the outside rein and seat bone until he gave and softened to the outside rein. Izzy likes to try and fool me into thinking that he's soft by shortening his neck and letting go of the bit.
To address this problem, Chemaine had me use the outside rein until he was actually soft, not just "off" the bit. Sometimes that meant counter flexing him until he reached forward and down. The whole purpose was to be able to swing his neck from left to right all the while feeling a "soft and elastic connection."
I know this all sounds incredibly boring, but it was absolutely fascinating to feel Izzy respond to the subtle shift in my weight. Normally, being stuck on a 20-meter circle is like being in one of Dante's circles of Hell. Not for this. I could have ridden that circle all day shifting my weight from seat bone to seat bone and feeling his reaction.
That lesson was on Friday. Since then, I've ridden Izzy twice, always with the goal of using less and less rein and more and more seat bone. On Sunday, it was as though he were reading my mind. Speedy thinks he's smarter than me, and in some ways he probably is, so convincing him that I know what I am doing can be a real challenge. Izzy only tries to be bossy when he doesn't see a clear set of directions. Once I offer him a clearly defined way forward with a clear aid, he is happy to comply.
Izzy's still not "easy" to ride, but the more buttons I get installed, the easier things get. His cruise control doesn't work yet, but we're getting closer!
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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%: