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Saturday, August 13, 2011

How specifically does Dressage help?

I haven't given my normal "dressage will make your endurance better plug", in a while so it's time to dig out one of my old draft posts and give it my best shot.

Of course, we could consider that I haven't actually RIDDEN my horse in some time (24 weeks to be exact - and no, the couple of 5-10 minute under-saddle walks do NOT count), much less taken a dressage lesson on her. Or ridden an endurance ride. Or done much of anything besides feed and give her pedicures. And play "you can't catch me". But I have plans to change that!!!!!

Which is probably a silly resolution considering that school is a mere 2 days away.

But I digress.

In the ride report of the 20 mule team ride this year, I mentioned that it was probably the best example EVER of a ride where Farley and I ride OUR ride - no one else's. The answer to every schooling issue that came up in that ride was dressage. For the first time I had the tools I needed.

Now assuming that God hasn't given me my angels-singing-aha!-I-can-finally-outride-my-horse-moment, only to never let me play again....I'm REALLY looking forward to Farley's next ride.

I'm also blissfully assuming that Farley hasn't been studying her "Endurance Mare Avoidance Techniques" manual in the interim.

But I digress. AGAIN.


...shall we review what kinds of dressage-y things I did on the trail that day?

Half halts - all sorts and kinds. I used them re-balance, to help her through technical sections, to support speed down hill, as a "check" for "are you listening?". I used half-halts throughout the ride and used them often.

Submission/flexion - Specifically, asking for the head to lower by flexion and a little positioning. She usually got to do this exercise (her favorite of course - NOT!) after she ignored, or worse - threw a hissy fit - about a half halt. We do NOT ignore half halts!

Center line attitude - in the dark when I had nothing to judge position, speed, or trail, I just had myself. I constantly asked the questions: Do I have equal feel in both reins? Equal feel in both stirrups? These are the same questions you ask when you are going down centerline towards the judge and are being *perfectly* straight. It's easy in the dark to second guess your horse and make it harder for them to do their job. Concentrate on being balanced and centered in the motion and having equal feel on both sides of your body.

Rhythm - A change in rhythm would be my first clue that I needed to intervene with a half halt, or a gait change etc. I would leave her alone as long as the rhythm didn't change. I was only AWARE of rhythm because of dressage (and jumping). It seems simple, but it's a difficult concept to recognize before it it all goes to he11 and FIX without destroying some other part of your harmony and relaxation (at least it was for me - my dear and gentle readers probably have a magic wand they wave to fix all these vexing problems.

Another digression - can you believe that Tess has ALREADY destroyed the dollar store toy I gave her at the beginning of this post? New toy = distracted Tess = Melinda allowed to be creative and productive. This equation only works if the toy in question is NOT squeaky. Now I shall be the distracted Melinda. Get out of the laundry basket! Stop chewing rocks! Don't you dare! Stop antagonizing the grumpy sheperd!


Eek! Get out of the litter box!

Let's try a new equation.

Puppy in 'da kennel = completed post.

Where were we?

Go forward without jigging - In dressage lessons, while working on getting Farley truly into the bridle and on the bit at the walk, Farley's reactions was to raise her head and jig. Because it required her to actually WORK. And be FORWARD. And SUBMISSIVE. Things she's marginally good at when at rides, but sees unnecessary in the confines of the dressage court.

The solution was to hold her with my seat, NOT let go of the half halt and keep my leg on. The 20 MT 65 mile loop is a lollipop with repeat trail coming into camp. She is INFAMOUS for jigging this section when I ask for a walk, especially because it has a lot of slightly downhill terrain in good footing. In the past, I've been tired and sore at this point, and would try to fix the jigging with my hand and leg, ignoring my seat completely.

This year, when she tried that crap on me near mile 60 as we headed to camp, I asked for a walk and a half halt - just like I would in dressage when asking for more walk on the bit. She tossed her head up and jigged - just like in dressage. I IMMEDIATELY knew what to do because it was like reading I was the exact same script as in the lesson. It worked like a charm. Keep the leg on, continue the half halt, hold with my seat. Problem solved.

She doesn't jig often, so it was PERFECT that we were able to recreate this in our training and then move that lesson to the trail.

Looking back, these tools seem so simple and basic. It seems silly that I haven't had them all along. Some skills you can learn by reading and talking and researching. However, I think some of the nuances and application are best learned by having someone knowledgeable act as your mirror and guide. Hopefully I'll be able to maintain the basics of these skills on my own, since it will be a while before I can take lessons again.

Speaking of riding, what ARE my plans, you ask?

Farley has been off almost 6 months, except for the occasional under saddle walk here and there.

Her weight looks great - a bit plump but I like that going into winter - and her tendon is absolutely tight and cold (and has stayed that way week after week, month after month). I'm going to start her riding rehab seriously in the next week, working up to an hour or two of walk/trot on flat ground.

In December we will get rechecked and if everything looks good, we will plan on LD's in 2012 - hopefully enough to earn our LD patch - I think I'm ~4 LD rides away from that.

If everything continues to look good, we will move into 50's and finish up her 1,000 endurance miles (120 miles needed).

I think it's realistic to do LD's in vet school. I'm not sure about the 50's so we'll just take it one step at a time.


  1. Awesome post. Good work keeping Tess occupied. :)

    I do not ride endurance, but I find dressage skills to be very helpful on the trail.

  2. Excellent post, and you articulated several things I've been trying to spit out for weeks. Yay!

    I don't love dressage. I don't even like it. But I *do* love the skills that dressage practice gives me and my horse.

  3. Well, it took me 6 months to get thet post out and a couple of revisings - for such simple concepts it was hard to articulate.

    I don't love dressage like I do endurance. Its hard to explain - but it's probably closer to how you feel about it - I like the things and skills it's developing within me - but I think beyond that I don't love dressage for itself.

  4. Your posts and some articles in Equus have been what is pushing me to take lessons. I figure if anything will give me the tools to sit a horse while using a pistol and saber; it will be dressage (except for the tww-handed thing).



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