From Endurance to Dressage
If I got cash for every birthday, I think I'd be willing to have two birthdays a year even if that pushed me to 60 a lot sooner than I would like. My dad would like that because I'd pass him by in no time. He's facing 70 right now which he finds as shocking as I found 50. As it turns out, turning 50 wasn't such a big deal after all.
My mom is always so generous when it comes to my birthday. She loves horses, too, and she loves that I love horses. So while she can't go with me to shows and clinics, she likes to support me by at least buying me the stuff that I won't usually buy on my own. Multiple helmets comes to mind. She paid for the first one.
This has been a long, hard week, so during my lunch "break" yesterday, I might have indulged in some retail therapy. Does it still count as RT when you're spending someone else's money? The gift card my mom sent me still had a hefty amount on it, but I did need to chip in an extra $30. For the way it lightened my mood - throwing this and that in one's cart is very liberating, the thirty bucks was money well spent.
So what did I get? Well it should be a bit obvious. I started with the black LeMieux Acoustic Noise Reduction Ear Bonnet Fly Hood which has been on back order until yesterday. I know because I've been checking daily for the past two weeks. I already have the navy version; both are for showing. Then I moved on to a navy pair of Roeckl gloves. I am currently using a previously discarded pair since they're in better shape than my current working pair. I need to learn to throw stuff out.
Then I moved on to the Equine Couture Fly Bonnets. I really like the one I bought a couple of weeks back, but it turned out to be much fancier than I thought. I am going to save it for when I want to dress Izzy up a little for lessons or clinics.
Originally, I wanted a black fly bonnet for schooling rides, but I liked the look of the Equine Couture Fly Bonnet with Studs so much that I bought it in both black and navy. It's only money, and it wasn't really even my money, so I splurged. Thanks, mom! Everything should get here by Monday, if not sooner.
You gotta love it when Riding Warehouse is only two hours away!
First of all, let's just get this out there: the minimum number of helmets that a rider needs is clearly one. The maximum number is more of a mystery. Until recently, I had four. One is old. It never hit the ground, but after five or six years of living in our brutally hot and long summers, most helmets should probably be retired. I keep it in storage just in case I need one in an emergency. It's an Ovation Sync. I really liked that helmet.
Helmet number two is also an Ovation, and I hated it from the moment I bought it. It's called the Competitor, but it was always ugly. It's covered in black velvet and seems more than a little dated. It lives in my trailer as an emergency show helmet in the event that I get tossed and crack my go-to show helmet.
Helmet number three is my Ovation Glitz in black - are you noticing a theme? I LOVE this helmet and have purchased at least THREE of them. Besides being super stylish and more than reasonably priced, it fits me perfectly. No more mushroom head. I use this helmet for daily schooling rides.
Helmet number four is another Ovation Glitz; this time in navy. This is my regular show helmet. My show coat is navy, and together they look quite dashing.
Four helmets seems like quite an acceptable number. Each helmet serves a purpose although not necessarily a good one. That velvet covered thing has got to go. With that in mind, I recently purchased a second Ovation Glitz in black for those days when coats are waived, and I wear my burgundy show shirt. I just didn't like the way it looked with the navy helmet. That brings my number up to five. I haven't even worn it yet.
If five helmets is starting to sound a wee bit excessive, six helmets is going to push me firmly into the category of hoarder. I have to admit, I just purchased YET ANOTHER Ovation helmet. Hear me out. When I bought the black Ovation Glitz, what I really wanted was a burgundy helmet but knew (without even looking) that a burgundy helmet was not going to be in my price range, if one even existed. And then the strangest thing happened. My trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, sent me this text.
I glanced at the link and almost had a heart attack. An Ovation helmet in burgundy!!!! I clicked on the link and my bubble burst. Tack of the Day only had it in navy. Secretly, I was sort of relieved as I had just bought a brand new helmet, and well, I currently have five helmets. Yes, I need to get rid of the velvet monstrosity and the Sync is there just in case, but still.
But you know, I just couldn't get that helmet out of my mind. While it looks sort of pink in the photo above, Ovation calls it maroon. The more I looked at it, the more I decided that it was meant to be mine. I started searching for it in earnest. Riding Warehouse carries it in black/black and black/gray, but those are the only colors available right now. As I searched one site and then the next, I finally hit paydirt.
Adams Horse and Pet Supplies isn't my favorite online store, but I have perused their website a time or two. Shipping isn't free unless you order $100 worth of merchandise, but you also don't have to pay California's ridiculously high sales tax either. The hot deal with shipping came out to $80.88. Given that the navy version is going for $68 over at Tack of the Day, I felt that the price (even with the shipping) was fair.
The helmet should be here in a few days. Now my fingers are crossed that it fits as great as the Glitz and that it truly is maroon and not pinkish. It's a gamble for sure, but I think it was worth it.
Time always tells, doesn't it?
Entire books have been written on the half halt. As any dressage rider can tell you, it has to be the most mysterious element of dressage. When?, how much?, too much?, where?, and on and on. These are all questions I find myself asking Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. When she says more, she either means more half halt or more leg, but usually both. Knowing when and where and how much half halt to apply is probably something that every rider of every level asks themselves. Well, maybe not Carl Hester.
Chemaine came down on Sunday for a lesson. This past two months have been great as we've been able to do a lesson nearly every week. Sometimes I don't need that many, but right now, Izzy and I are in a really good place where he is happy in his work and feeling confident, so I am delighted to build on that confidence while I can. Since I am still not really struggling with anything major, I keep asking Chemaine to come up with new and different exercises to help me create bend and suppleness on a horse whose back tends toward the tighter side of things. As always, Chemaine had something in mind.
After a bit of a stretchy warm up - I continue to be amazed at how happy Izzy is to get started these days, Chemaine suggested we do some test preparation riding. While I probably won't go to a show until March - there's a February show I have my eye on though, keeping the test movements in mind is always a good thing. For this lesson, Chemaine wanted me to string together the shoulder-in to the 10-meter circle to the travers (haunches in) while incorporating half halts before and after each individual movement. She calls it riding your test from half halt to half halt.
To help Izzy understand what we wanted, we started schooling it in the leg yield first. Now, compression is not a new idea for Izzy, and in fact, the exercise wasn't brand new either, but as Chemaine and I talked about it later, she explained that exercises take on new meaning as your knowledge deepens. I am constantly rolling my eyes and accusing her of withholding information. Why haven't you ever told me this before? I'll whine. She rolls her eyes right back and laughs. She knows I am kidding. It's just that things feel brand new when you understand them in a new way.
So in the leg yield, Chemaine wanted me to apply a big half halt in the ten-meter half circle from long side to centerline. In those few strides, I was to compress him and power him up, making him beg for the release. As we started the leg yield, I could release him slowly and send him forward so that in the movement itself, Izzy would stretch forward as he pushed from behind. As we neared the corner, I was to once again compress him and power him up by adding leg so that by the time we started the actual movement again, the leg yield, he would be begging to stretch forward and really go.
Then, we moved to shoulder-in with the same idea. Through the corner I compressed him while adding leg, leg, leg, until he was begging for the release which he got as I sent him into the shoulder-in. Just before B or E, I again compressed him and revved him up so that I could then send him forward into the 10-meter circle. If he resisted, I reminded him how much nicer the release felt by again compressing while adding leg. Once he was softer, I could then give him that release by pushing my hands forward while sending him forward into a new shoulder-in.
Then we put it all together with the haunches in. On the short side, I compressed him while powering him up while also thinking about riding him up. As we came through the corner, I gave him the release he was asking for but it came in the shoulder-in. As we neared E or B, I again compressed and powered him up. The release came as I sent him forward into the 10-meter circle. Before the end of the circle, I again compressed and revved him up before giving him the release while pushing him forward into the haunches in. As Chemaine had described it earlier, this is what is meant by riding the test from half halt to half halt. Each compression is a half halt. Wait while I insert a huge eye roll and whine, why haven't you told me this before?
I write all of this as though I got it all correct the first half dozen times I rode it. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I rode Izzy left, all I could hear on the video was forward, forward, FORWARD! Clearly I wasn't "powering him up" like I thought I was. While I reorganized at the walk, Chemaine went through the exercise again. By the time I did it to the right, the light went on. Oh, you mean half halt right before each new movement? While Chemaine didn't actually do a "palm to face," I know she had to be thinking it.
Then we did a new-to-us exercise called The Ribbon. I am not sure how to explain this, and I certainly couldn't draw it very well, but here goes. It's essentially a bunch of very shallow serpentines done from one long side back to the other. My little sketch looks like how we rode it - wildly inaccurate. The point is to make a tear drop shape and head back to near where you started, doing a half halt, a simple change, or even a flying change at X. Then you continue on looping back and forth a lot like ribbon Christmas candy.
We did it at the canter to school the simple changes. The glory of this exercise is how many repetitions you can do from one end to the other. I think we got close to six or seven because you can keep going back downfield so to speak. After we made our way from A to C, we made a big circle and then cantered the whole arena to give Izzy a chance to unkink his body. That exercise will just about twist them up in a knot, but it does get them sitting on their hind end. And then we did it again.
Even with all of that, we weren't done yet. To finish off the lesson we schooled the medium trot. For a horse who has a perpetually tight back, the medium gaits are nearly impossible to coax out of him, but we're slowly getting it. As Izzy becomes more comfortable with the idea of compression and release, he is now starting to actually reach in the medium trot. A lot of it has to do with how well I can set him up for it.
To the left, his right shoulder wants to leak out which means his shoulders aren't in front of his haunches which means he can't push us forward. When I can correct that, I get more reach. To the right, I have to bring his left shoulder out around just a bit to get him off his right shoulder. And through both mediums, I have to really compress him in the corner and then allow his neck to get longer before I ask him to push.
Izzy is far more complicated than Speedy ever was, but I enjoy the challenge and find every one of his successes so very gratifying. We just need to keep piecing it all together.
Speedy and I have been partners for thirteen years. Together, he and I have done more than I ever planned for him. When I bought him in December of 2007, I was simply looking for a backup endurance horse for when Montoya needed time off after a particularly hard endurance race, or in a worst case scenario, due to injury. When she ultimately died in January of 2010. My back up horse, Speedy G, became my main ride. And back then, endurance riding was all I cared about.
When that sport began to lose its luster for me, losing Montoya sort of sped that process along, I started looking for something else to do. I've told this story before, but as time passes, hindsight colors our impressions of the past and maybe even changes the way we remember it. I do know that I had high hopes for Speedy, but dressage was never on my radar.
I've never been content to just ride. I've always felt compelled to achieve things with my horses. Not to prove that I am a good rider or particularly skilled, instead, I love to test the boundaries of our relationship and push them ever farther, strengthening it as we go. When I sat up and looked around at other equine disciplines, dressage seemed as good a place to start as any.
Speedy rose to the challenge, and for the next ten years, he joined me in my dressage journey, happy to go in whichever direction I sent us. We climbed through the levels, agonizingly slowly for the most part, but in the last few years things really started to come together for us. In the summer of 2020, he helped me achieve a USDF Bronze Medal.
In August, when he was diagnosed with advanced arthritis in his left hock, the decision to retire him was made quickly and easily. He has given me more than I could have ever hoped for. The thing is, I don't think Speedy wants to be entirely done with living though. He still loves to go; he just doesn't necessarily want to go to Fourth Level. As easy as it would be to just let him live out his days in his field playing with Izzy over the fence, I think he would rather still work. He always has such a self-satisfied look when he packs around someone new. I know I am not wrong.
In September, I let the Universe know that I was ready to share my horse with others. And while Speedy wasn't such a dependable horse just a year or two ago, he's now ready to get to know other riders. Without me in the driver's seat demanding so much precision and correctness, his patience and tolerance have expanded hugely. Over the past few months, he's packed several riders over the trail and carried them willingly around a dressage court with grace and dignity no matter how little they knew about the correct aids. When they get it right, he rewards them with a feeling of flying. When they don't, he carries on as they struggle to master their own bodies while trying to control his.
When you let the Universe know that your horse needs new friends, you answer that email and you smile and offer your horse to a complete stranger knowing that the Universe has got your back. We all know it's risky to let a stranger hop aboard your most precious friend, but if we never take chances, we never reap the benefits that a gamble can produce.
I get a fair amount of "do you know of any horses I might ride?" emails because I am easy to reach here on this space as well as on the CDS website I manage for our local chapter. So when J reached out to me a few months back asking about the area - she was relocating, I politely replied and answered her questions as well as I could. Once she bought property, she reached out to me again looking for a riding opportunity. As you can see, she found it.
After a few emails and then texts, J and I worked out a day that would work for us both. I introduced her to Speedy, gave her a detailed explanation of his likes and dislikes, and helped her saddle and bridle him. Having been out of the horse world for a few years meant that she was a little rusty, and her dressage experience is pretty much limited to books and TV.
The first lesson was really about letting her find her balance - she'd never been in a dressage saddle before. I gave her a quick tutorial in the basic aids, and then we got to work. After spending a fair amount of time at the walk and trot, I asked if she wanted to give the canter a try. It takes a lot of trust to canter a horse that you've never met especially when you've never before ridden in a dressage saddle. Not having ridden for half a decade also gives a gal a reason to say no.
Not so surprising, J was up for the canter work. I wasn't terribly surprised though as Speedy had given her a very obedient ride which no doubt had her feeling more confident. If I had asked her about cantering before she got on him, her answer might have been different. From the walk I explained the progression of aids. Once they picked up the trot, I started to offer some additional coaching, but Speedy gave me a look that said pipe down over there, Sweaney, I got this.
As though he had listened to my earlier explanation, the instant J got herself in roughly the position needed to ask for a canter, I watched Speedy tuck his pelvis, lift his back, and step smartly into a very collected canter. Maintaining a collected canter is hard for Speedy right now, so I asked J to push her hands forward and send Speedy on. While his canter got flatter and a bit downhill, it was easier for J to move her body with a longer canter. I don't think Speedy minded the easier gait either.
To my utter delight, Speedy has matured into a delightful schoolmaster who is unbelievably patient, kind, and willing to work as hard as his rider wants. He shows great appreciation for their hugs and treats and seems to know that just doing his job brings great joy and satisfaction. His circle of friends is expanding, and having too many friends is never a problem. Scheduling lessons for both "T" and "J" might take some creativity on my part and a bit of flexibility on theirs, but I think Speedy will benefit from it.
Anyone else want to join Speedy's circle of friends? His only request is that you bring treats.
I have never been a fan of ear bonnet/ear hoods/ear veil. I just didn't see the point. As an endurance rider, my practical side screamed about the excess heat buildup a fly bonnet would cause. Furry ears actually help keep horses warmer in the winter, so why would anyone deliberately bundle up a horse's ears in the heat of summer?
Now I get it.
We don't get the nasty insects that some of you get, but I imagine your horses wear the bonnet to keep the gnats from driving them bonkers. I don't have that issue, but the bonnet seems to be helping Izzy focus. He's still the same horse, and he still spooks at invisible monsters, but the fly bonnet seems to be taking his mind off what's out there, so that he can focus on what's right here.
Now that Izzy is wearing a bonnet daily, I've taken an interest in what's available. I have an old black bonnet that has no bling or special features, but it works well for schooling. The ears are made of cotton though, so they don't stretch. He doesn't hate it anymore, but I have discovered that bonnets are not all the same. Enter the Equine Couture Fly Bonnet.
The ear bonnet that arrived was not the one pictured on the website - I can't even find it on the website, but I am glad! There is nothing about this bonnet that I don't love. First, it was a steal at $17.95, and in fact I am waiting for an invoice telling me I owe another $40 bucks. Riding Warehouse wouldn't do that of course, but this bonnet looks and feels like it should be much more expensive.
Unlike my other two bonnets, the ears on the Equine Couture are spandex which means they are nice and stretchy. The yarn, 100% cotton, shouldn't be stretchy, but it is which makes the whole bonnet a lost easier to put on, and it just looks more comfortable. The knitting is also heavy and knit together tightly so it feels really sturdy. The bling speaks for itself. Each pearl is sewn on as is the string of crystals. The rope detail is shiny and woven with even more bling.
There are a few other details that I also like. First, the part that goes over the horse's poll is nice and wide so that accommodates the full width of a bridle's crown piece making it less likely to get shaken off; Izzy has tried and failed. I also like the piece of fabric sewn over the end of the bling. It protects the decorative edge, but it's covered by the bridle so you can't see it.
I now have both a black and navy bonnet for schooling, although the navy bonnet is definitely nice enough for shows. At $15.25 (I used a coupon code), I won't feel too bad if the decorative pieces start to fall off. I am waiting for the black LeMieux Noise Reduction Bonnet to be back in stock, but when I order it, I think I'll grab another Equine Couture Bonnet. The quality of that bonnet is at least equal to the LeMieux, and maybe even better. I am really liking this one, although you have to look closely to see the detail.
If Izzy has to wear a bonnet to keep his focus on me, I might as well have fun with them.
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
3/6-7 El Sueño (***)
4/17-18 El Sueño (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read