From Endurance to Dressage
After Saturday's show was over, I spent the rest of the day hanging out with my friend Jen who manages the show. We first popped in to Dressage Extensions - the ladies who work there must give back their paychecks. How could you work there and not buy something every day? While I fingered everything, I only bought two small items. I'll share that in another post. We then went to Jen's new barn to visit her lovely horses, Paola and Peaches. After dinner, we went back to STC Dressage and hung out working on an unexpected project for Jen.
Hanging out with another dressage rider really helps put things in perspective. This is all supposed to be fun, and most of us - the cash poor adult amateurs of the world, have had both low scores and challenging horses. Jen and I laughed about my tests and about everything else under the sun.
I woke up early on Sunday morning to give Izzy a quick lunge in the predawn darkness. Afterwards, I put him in the crossties to braid his mane and found myself feeling ridiculously excited by how bored by it he was. The day before it had taken him about ten minutes to even start to relax. By Sunday, he was chewing on the crossties, trying to grab his leadrope, and looking for other ways to alleviate his boredom.
This might seem like a silly reason to be happy, but my goal for the weekend was to give Izzy a good experience because each time he finds an experience that he is comfortable with, we can check it off the list and build from there. As I was finishing up, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, stopped by for some last minute advice: work on getting a steady tempo no matter how slow it is. The tricks will come later. Get his focus on you and be elastic in your arms. Roger that!
I made the short drive to SCEC and was so happy to see my friend Sarah heading our way. I never have a groom, so letting someone help me is a new experience. I love to serve as groom for other riders, so I am not sure why I felt guilty letting Sarah do the heavy lifting; she's more than capable. She hauled Izzy's water bucket, brushed out his tail, helped bridle and saddle and then talked me out of an impending meltdown.
As we were heading to the ring, I felt a draft on my calf, and then my boots felt like they were untied which can't happen since there are no laces. I looked down in horror to discover that my zipper had had a blowout. Eek! As I began working myself up into a bit of a tizzy, Sarah kept repeating, it's no big deal, deal with it later. And then she marched us forward. She was right. Once I was in the saddle, I completely forgot about it. By the time we came back to the trailer, I was already thinking about the fun of getting brand new boots.
My plan for Sunday was to ride the test as slowly as possible. I know that doesn't seem "forward thinking," but Sean agreed with my strategy. The goal was to ride at a steady tempo. Instead of pushing for bigger movement, I wanted steady. Keeping Izzy firmly in hand wouldn't allow him to get away from me. Keeping him more firmly in control would also allow me to "catch" him when he lost his balance or spooked.
Based on the score for 2-1, 51.892%, the judge didn't think I rode the test any better than I had the day before. I didn't really care though as Izzy felt much more relaxed and rideable. We did earn an additional 1.5 points, so there was at least some progress. The judge couldn't see what I felt, so I wasn't too disappointed as I knew progress had been made, slight as it was.
There was just one rider between my two tests, so I didn't really school anything in the few minutes between tests. Instead, I spent that time walking Izzy, asking him to stretch. He seemed a tired which I felt was a good thing. When Izzy is tired, he spends more time listening to me and less time looking around for monsters. When the judge blew her whistle, I entered at A with more confidence.
It wasn't a great test; it wasn't even a good test, but I was thrilled. Again, Izzy felt far more rideable than he has in the past. Like Sean said - just 1% better will compound quickly. While we only scored a 53.537%, it was a full 11 points (nearly 3%) better than the day before. Yes, there were a lot of 4s and 5s, but there were eight 6s and two 7s (for the turns on the haunches).
We're still a long ways from a 60%, 26.5 points to be exact. But if we improve by 11 points on the next test, and another 11 on the one after that, within just a few more shows we'll be earning qualifying scores. I am sure some (many?) of you are wondering what the heck I am even doing out there with such low scores. You're probably thinking Izzy's not ready to show. The thing I've learned though is that if you always wait until you're "ready," you'll never do anything.
Izzy loads and hauls well. He stands quietly tied at the trailer. He's patient in a stall. He's getting more comfortable in the warm up ring. How can he overcome his stage fright if he never gets into the ring? He knows the difference between schooling and showing which means we just have to keep getting in there until he realizes that it's just another part of his day.
Here are the score sheets and video of the test.
We're not "there" yet, but we're getting closer each time we go out. Our next show will be at El Sueño in mid-May. We'll have one or two more lessons with Sean before then, so hopefully we can improve by another 10 or so points.
And with that, I am off to work but looking forward to this afternoon's ride. Enjoy your weekend.
Speedy is 17 years old today; he's been with me since he was 3. The older I get, the faster time seems fly. I was in my 30s when Speedy joined my family in 2007, and unbelievably, I am now 50. When I bought Speedy, I planned to have him for a long time, but I never pictured myself getting older. But that's how time works; Speedy and I are getting old together.
I don't know how many times that I've written a happy birthday post, but I do know the first one was in April 2011. For whatever reason, the media connected to that post has been lost, but the one from 2012 is still there. There doesn't seem to be one from 2013, but there is an early one for 2014. There is also one from 2015, a late one in 2016, another late one in 2017, but nothing for 2018 - I was dealing with a health issue that spring. I got back on track in 2019 and 2020, which brings us to today's birthday.
I've shared so much of Speedy's life here in this space that there really isn't anything that you don't already know about him. Some of you have been with us from the very beginning. Back in 2011 when I first started this space, we were just getting into dressage and leaving the endurance world behind. Since then, you've seen all of our ups and downs. There was never anything that I didn't share with you. You've seen our wins, our losses, our injuries, and our recoveries. Through it all, Speedy has led a very full and interesting life.
He started life with me as an endurance horse. He wasn't fast, but he took excellent care of both of us. He earned every single one of my USDF Bronze Medal scores, and now he's proving to be an excellent schoolmaster. I don't know what else his future might hold, but I am hoping it means more of whatever.
While I hope that Speedy lives out the rest of his days with me, I have always known that he might choose another girl. If he does, the only thing I'll be able to do is honor his wishes. I hope that doesn't happen though.
Happy birthday, Speedy G. You are the most special of heart horses, and I don't know how I got so lucky.
On Saturday morning, I woke up refreshed and ready for the day. I was also anxious, but encouraged. Knowing that Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, was going to be there coaching me, I felt a lot less responsibility. On Speedy, I liked having a reader for a new test once or twice, but after that, I was able to memorized my tests. I rode them better that way.
With Izzy, there is so much to manage while riding him that I gave up memorizing the test and asked Sean to read them for me. Besides having Sean there to support me, other friends jumped in as well. The show manager is a great friend of mine so she did video. Her assistant Morgan, also a friend, read for me on Sunday when Sean couldn't be there (he had long before booked the date, so I knew he wouldn't be there to coach me). Another friend, Sarah, did me a huge favor by showing up on Sunday to be my groom. She schlepped water buckets, helped me tack and untack, took Izzy's braids out, and did video. Having those ladies be there to support me took away all of the anxiety of showing such a high maintenance horse like Izzy.
Our warm up ride ran just like it had the day before. Sean kept reminding me to be elastic in my arms and to ask Izzy lots of of questions. He said our goal was just to ride the test with a steady rhythm; the "tricks" could come later. That was the first time I had heard advice like that. While I've taken Izzy to nine shows (most of them schooling or CDS-rated only), my goal has always been to survive AND try to do well.
Sean's goal for us was much simpler and therefore much easier to achieve. Again, it was that idea of just getting 1% better each time. Sean didn't care if we had the medium gaits or crisp simple changes. He wanted me to ride with a clear tempo and rhythm and to keep control, and he wanted Izzy to realize that I was up there talking to him. That was the goal, not to achieve a certain score, only getting Izzy to work with me just that little bit.
We rode Second Level Test 1, and it was a disaster. On the other hand, it was better than we had done at Santa Barbara, but much worse than the show in October at SCEC. When I came out of the ring, I asked Sean what I could have done better, and his response was, nothing. Izzy just couldn't get over his stage fright. And that's what we've kind of discovered. Izzy can relax in the warm up ring, but entering at A feels different for him. Is it my tension? Maybe, but I think it's more his own tension.
My friend Jen had some difficulty with the first video - she shot the first part in time lapse which shows everything in fast forward which is AWESOME when you score a 51.486%. Nobody needs to see that. Even so, the rest of the test is below with the score sheets. They show a lot of wildly low scores, but there are also some scores in the 6s - ten of them in fact, so we're definitely capable.
The second test - Second Level Test 2, didn't score any better (50.854%), but I felt like it rode much better. I came out of the ring feeling like we had made progress. The judge disagreed. I did hear that she was a tough judge, but even a more generous judge couldn't give me the scores I wanted. Even so, we earned another ten 6s, but when you see 3s and 4s, you just can't get a 60%. The score sheets and video are below.
As disappointing as it was to earn scores in the very low 50s, I was actually really encouraged. Sean has laid out a clear path for us, and it feels as though he really can get us earning qualifying scores. Last night both professional photographers sent me their proofs. Based on those photos, spread over two days, Izzy looks spectacular, so I am really pleased with that. If only I could present to the judge those moments, we'd score in the 70s for sure!
There's more ... to be continued.
So much happened at this weekend's show that you'll have to forgive me if I ramble. To begin with, our scores were terrible - not in the 40s, though, so we definitely improved over the show in Santa Barbara in November. Even with really low scores, I came home elated.
The weekend started off with a warm up ride on Friday evening with trainer Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. He met me at SCEC so that he could work with both Izzy and me in the warm up ring and the dressage court. Izzy was his regular oh-my-gosh-I-am-about-to-die self, but Sean was expecting that, and he was completely unfazed by it. How many times have you heard the trainer say, don't worry about, it's no big deal, doesn't matter ... ? If you've heard it 10 times, Sean said it 1,000 times. Like, literally every other stride.
In no time at all, I was taking his advice. When I mentioned to Sean that I was feeling like the worst rider out there, he shot right back at me, "Don't worry about it because no one is looking at you. Instead, they are all worrying about being the worst rider themselves." Somehow, Sean was able to take the burden of doing well off my shoulders. He wasn't going to quit when we sucked. He wasn't going to quit when I made a mistake. He wasn't going to quit when Izzy made a mistake. He is prepared for the long haul. Instead of one and done, he was looking at this show (and however many after) as a stepping stone to help Izzy build confidence in me. He firmly believes in the idea that improving just 1% at a time will reap huge rewards in the end.
Over the past two weeks, I had already taken two lessons with Sean, but the third time was the charm. During Friday's warmup ride, nothing about his advice surprised me, and I started to understand what he meant. His favorite thing to say, to me anyway, is ask him lots of questions, but they need to be questions that Izzy can answer correctly. Right now, those questions are very, very easy. Can you flex left, can you flex right? Can you move away from my leg? Can you lengthen your stride just a teeny bit? Can you collect just a teeny bit? And so on.
Sean assured me that Izzy will start to answer those questions more and more reliably, and once he does, the questions can start to be a little more challenging. It will probably be a slow process, but as Izzy begins to trust that I will ask questions that he can answer, he will begin to feel more and more comfortable at shows. He will know the routine. I can already see results after only a few weeks of working with Sean.
The other thing that Sean said to me (again and again) was to be more elastic in my arms. While he has mentioned this each time before, I started to feel what he meant, especially in the canter. As hard as it is, Sean had me really think about moving with Izzy even when I am fighting to gain control. I can't pin my elbows to my sides; they have to continue moving, as does my seat.
That Friday evening warm up ride wasn't spectacular, it wasn't even good, but both Izzy and I learned a lot. After the lesson, as planned, I trailered back to Sean's barn where Izzy would stay the night. Sean and I both thought it might help Izzy relax to be at a quieter barn. It was the right decision. Izzy ate and drank well, and looked rested each morning. Sean's barn is super quiet which was just what Izzy needed. Each morning, I braided him in the cross ties without the distraction of horses being moved here and there and whinnying at each other. It was just Izzy and me in the near dark, together, alone.
After giving him a few minutes to relax in his stall after braiding, I loaded him back into the trailer for the 20 minute drive to SCEC. I didn't get a day stall. Instead, I tied him to the trailer, hung a hay bag and a bucket of water (which he drained each day), and went about my day. He was a complete and total rock star.
For the first time in longer than I can remember, I actually slept through the Friday night before a show without waking up even once. Normally, I wake up several times certain that I've overslept or just listening for anything going amiss in the barn. Camping out at Sean's place was good for both Izzy and me. In fact, I loved it so much at STC Dressage that I've asked if we can do it that way for the near future. Sean graciously agreed.
Whew. All of that, and we still haven't even made it to day one of the show. Stay tuned. This might take a while.
To be continued ...
Last month, I wrote about the need to find a new half pad. The fleece half pad I use for schooling, a Fleeceworks pad, never washes up well, and I didn't like that it fit so tight to the saddle, meaning the front and back fleece parts were right at the saddle's pommel and cantle. I suspect it has either shrunk or was never long enough to begin with. Nothing is "wrong" with mine other than the fact that it is a pain to keep clean. I have to "comb" it out after every wash, and it takes forever to get it to fluff back up. You can see it the photo below.
As I've already mentioned, my first choice was the Kavallerie 3D Air-Mesh Half Pad, but as luck would have it, it sold out in black. When I messaged Kavallerie to see how soon it would be back in stock, I was told the wait time would be about three months, so I ordered the LeMieux version from Dover.
First of all, this pad is much nicer than the retailers' photos show. No matter which site I checked, they all used the same photo of the pad which made the grip portion look like gray cloth. Now I can tell that it's silicone, much like you would see on a pair of breeches.
I've never not liked a LeMieux product that I've purchased - I have a pair of breeches, two different pads, a saddle cover, and a bridle bag, so I wasn't surprised to like this pad, too.
Price: From Dover, the pad costs $111.95 with free shipping. If you're also a USEF member and remember to use the discount code, CMXUSEF, you can save an additional 10%. Most "nicer" half pad are selling for upwards of $200, so this pad earns all the stars for value.
Fit: I didn't like how my Fleeceworks pad fit underneath my saddle, so I was extra careful when ordering the LeMieux. I wanted to make sure it was long enough for my saddle so that its edges didn't create a ridge of pressure underneath my saddle's panels. My Fleeceworks pad is 21", so I needed something longer. The LeMieux is 22" which gives me several inches for adjustability, and without the ridge created by the fleece at the front and back of the pad, I can shift the pad forward or backward as needed. I also love the high contour of the pad, something that LeMieux uses in all of its saddle pads. Again, this pad gets all the stars for fit.
Function: I've only ridden in the pad once, so this review is only very preliminary. Once my butt was in the saddle, I never even gave it another thought. For me, that's a good thing. I didn't need the grip of the X-Grip System, as my saddle doesn't move around, but I will say that for now, the pad is GRIPPY. After placing my saddle on Izzy's back, I usually slide it around until I get it in the position I like. When I tried to do that with the new half pad, I realized it was "glued" to the bottom of my saddle. If you're looking for a half pad that wont's slide around, this is the one. Again, the pad gets all the stars for function.
Durability: How well will it wash up? That, I don't know yet, but it seems pretty sturdy and durable. I am not sure how sticky the Grip System will stay, but since I didn't order the pad for that particular feature, I won't be concerned if it wears off. I suspect it should last well though as it is similar in feel to the silicone on all of my breeches, and all of those get washed far more frequently than this half pad will. All of the stitching is super tight, and the material is soft but heavy duty. Over all, it feels like it will be able to take some use and abuse. I want to give it all of the stars for durability, but that will remain to be seen.
For now, I am quite pleased with the Lemieux X-Grip Half Pad and feel that it was money well spent. The price was within my budget, it fits perfectly, does what it's supposed to, and seems like it will be easy to maintain. Once I use it for a month or two and wash it once or twice, I'll do a follow up review.
For now, I am super happy!
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 …
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 (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
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