Saturday, May. 25, 2024

Amateurs Like Us: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward



Setbacks can come in many forms but sometimes the timing of a setback can actually be a good thing.

After my last blog, Echo developed a bad case of skin funk on his hind legs that caused lots of swelling and pain. We went about a week of my lessons consisting of either very light work or just walking around on a loose rein because he wasn’t sound enough to do anything else. Dr. Jen Jordan came out and heavily sedated him in order to scrub the crud off—something I was totally unable to do without that level of sedation!

Normally I would bemoan the fact that during our two-month boot camp, we have to take almost an entire week off.


How adorable is this barn cat? Camilla loves to ride in the wheelbarrow! Photo by Samantha Silver

BUT! The week prior to the skin funk incident, Echo was where I was physically after our first week here: sore and exhausted. See, our first two weeks of lessons were hard but not terribly tough because we didn’t want to injure him as he had just been released to full work.

So Week 3 hit and the lessons get significantly tougher.

And Echo was TIRED! At one point, I was leading him to turnout and Allison asked me if I had sedated him—nope, he was just that worn out!


So while I was not happy that we had almost a week of light to no work, it sure helped Echo’s body feel better. The day after Dr. Jordan treated Echo, he felt incredible. He was loose, supple, relaxed, and powerful and sound as could be—yay!

Echo feeling great and in the double bridle. Photo by Dana Ellwanger

Echo feeling great and in the double bridle. Photo by Dana Ellwanger

We made huge strides in our training in several lessons and actually went back into the double bridle for the first time since September 2016. He continues to feel amazing and I actually have even more exciting news than the double: we started the changes!

They were quite unexciting, Echo trying his hardest to figure out what I wanted and being very confused when he was asked to not counter-canter as usual. We got several clean changes using a pole on the ground to help us get more air time so I had time to fumble my way through asking for the change. Allison said she thinks once he understands the aids for the change it will be no big deal. She has yet to steer me wrong, so I believe her in this too.

Echo is not naturally a supple animal—I joke that he is allergic to bending. Our lessons have been an education in how to create suppleness when it is a tough thing for the horse to achieve. We do a ton of changing of bend, overbend, counterbend, and much more. Head-to-the-wall leg yields have become our close companion and going from head-to-the-wall leg yield to shoulder-in the opposite way requires a huge amount of suppleness and quick reactions from both of us.

Allison is constantly challenging me to get his hind legs more active, his reactions to my aids faster and for both of us to be softer through our bodies. It is very easy to fall into the trap of: he’s stiff, so I’ll be stiff.

After weeks of lessons where we were requiring more suppleness, I had the most amazing WOW moment! Haunches-in/travers has always been a very sticky issue with Echo and I—to the point where when I initially got here, I asked Allison if she could get on and work on that particular movement when it came time to start working it again.


She agreed but has sneakily worked it into our program by having us do shoulder-in the opposite way we are going (for example, tracking right, do shoulder-in left in between the quarter line and the rail) and then do renvers.

It is amazing when I keep thinking forward and renvers instead of haunches-in, how my body stays so much looser and more relaxed! Plus, all of the work we have put in over the past few weeks has really paid off in that the movement is easier for him to do now, so there is less fussiness and fighting.

The below video is not perfect, and it was taken at the end of our lesson so he is definitely tired but you can see the exercise she was having us do. I hope you enjoy watching and fingers crossed for no further setbacks!

When amateur rider Samantha Silver got the chance to spend two months as a working student for dressage trainer Allison Spivey, she grabbed it. Silver uprooted her life in Richmond, Va., arranged to telecommute for her job and shipped her off-the-track Thoroughbred Jimmie Echo two hours away to Middleburg, Va., for an adventure in learning, work and life. 

Read all of Samantha’s COTH blogs.



Follow us on


Copyright © 2024 The Chronicle of the Horse