From Endurance to Dressage
Wow, a lot has happened over the past week or two. Besides going to Nashville for five days - more on that in a day or two, Izzy and I went to STC Dressage for two days of lessons, I took him on a nearly ten-mile trail ride, I roached his mane, and I did some more work on my saddle recoloring project - more on that next week. Today, I would like to reflect on the two-day lesson.
I say this All. The. Time. We are making progress; it's just really slow. Besides being the world's slowest learning team, Izzy and I also do a lot of back tracking. Over the years, Izzy has shown that once we lurch ahead a few steps on our journey, it is nearly guaranteed that the progress will freak him out and he'll try to revert back to what he thinks is his how he should move. That discourages me so I write a for sale ad, cry a few tears, and then get back to work.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and I have talked about this many, many times. Why does Izzy do this? Sean's answer is always the same: Because it's what he knows. For a long time I hated that answer because doing something uncomfortable like stabbing the ground as you fling yourself around the ring is pretty dumb. It also hurts. Even so, that's what Izzy knows. When he feels the need to grab control, he's not worried about how uncomfortable his body feels (or mine), he's more worried about his loss of control. Now that I understand him so much better, I am able to keep control by showing him that I will support him by not asking him to do something that he can't do. The more he trusts me, the more he allows me to make the decisions.
When I started the lesson last Saturday, Izzy was tense and looking for a way out. Following what Sean has taught me, I started asking Izzy little questions while I put him on 10-meter circles. Within just a minute or two, he let out his breath and agreed to follow my lead. Because I was there for him, he worked for nearly an hour trying to do everything we asked. While there were some very good moments, there were also some wonky ones, but Izzy never stopped trying. He tried so hard in fact that we schooled some things that we haven't done in a long while. And really, he was workmanlike for the entire lesson. That is a victory.
Sean just kept adding onto the work we were doing. When shoulder-in looked good, we turned it into renvers. When I had control of the shoulders, Sean asked for travers. And since that went well, we took it into the half pass. Then we did it all at the canter. We haven't schooled travers in the canter ever, but since our struggle isn't with the movements themselves, once Izzy was letting me direct him, I simply put him in position, and he did the movement. Of course when Sean saw that Izzy was willing to accept the canter travers, we turned it into canter half pass. Izzy showed us that he can do the work, he just needs the correct aids from me. Like him, I too am a work in progress.
We did work on one thing in particular that drives me crazy - my swinging left leg. This happens particularly during the left lead canter. Despite working on it for months, it still swings. I finally just stopped, looked at Sean, and told him to be very SPECIFIC. It took him a moment or two, but then he was able to diagnose the problem. Since I too have learned how to protect myself by doing what I know, I have a tendency to ride in a slightly defensive position. I lean forward just a bit and grip with my upper thigh. This means I have less weight in my stirrup which allows my leg to swing.
Sean's suggestion was to ride more confidently by sitting down on my left seat bone, lengthening my leg, and opening up my hip angle in the canter. Of course it worked very well. I am not afraid of Izzy even though he has certainly given me reason to be, but my body knows what he can do, so I instinctively position myself so that I don't get dumped. Now that Sean has made me aware of how I am using my body, I can consciously work to change how I sit.
Besides working on my position in the left lead canter, Sean threw us a whole new exercise to work on: shoulder-in down centerline. Because I try to always be honest here, I am going to admit that I thought I knew how to do shoulder-in down the centerline, but I was very, very wrong. Holy smokes, that is a much harder exercise than you would think. Sean loves to use exercises that show whether or not you truly have control over your horse's body. Renvers is another favorite of his. Now that I understand how to ride renvers, I use it all of the time to get control over Izzy's body. I have a feeling that shoulder-in down centerline will soon be my new best friend.
My struggle with shoulder-in down centerline, or anywhere away from the rail, is that I am actually allowing the haunches to go out instead of moving the shoulders off the track. It took several tries for me to feel the difference. I discovered that I had to hold the haunches on centerline as I moved the shoulders off. When doing shoulder-in down the long side, the rail keeps the haunches from stepping out. This exercise really showed how much more control over the shoulders I need.
While I see how much further we have yet to go, Sean was thrilled with how far we've come. The best thing that has started to happen these past six months is how much more readily Izzy is allowing me to take control. When he trusts me, we get a lot of work done. As long as we're making steady progress, I find the journey to be quite rewarding. So again, when we hit the next rough patch, remind me that the way will smooth out again.
If you're looking for ways to challenge yourself and your horse, work on renvers and shoulder-in down centerline. You'll thank me later.
New strategy. Poor Izzy. For the past three or four years, Izzy's summer itch has been such a struggle. I can't even list all of the products and strategies I have tried or used to alleviate his itching. This summer, I am trying something a bit more drastic; I roached his mane.
Izzy had already rubbed out at least the bottom quarter of his mane, and he was working on getting the rest rubbed out as quickly as possible. The parts that weren't yet completely rubbed out were sticking up at odd angles, fuzzy and tangled from his incessant rubbing. I had hoped that by moving him into the stallion pen, which has no-climb wire on all four sides, he wouldn't have a way to rub his mane. Unfortunately, where there is a will, there is a way. Last week, I grabbed the clippers and gave him a buzz cut.
It actually doesn't look that bad as Izzy has a pretty neck. He's like a bald dude with a nice head. I am hoping that I'll be able to keep his mane cleaner and that he'll feel less itchy and sweaty without the hair tickling his neck. I left what mane he had at least an inch tall so that his skin would have some protection, and I buzzed his bridle path as short as always. So far, he has stopped rubbing his neck, but now he is once again rubbing his shoulders. I am also working on soothing that with Zephyr's Garden Skin Rescue which definitely helps.
I hope a bad haircut relieves some of his itchiness. Poor guy.
Hey! We're back. More on our trip in a day or two ...
A few days before we left for Nashville, Izzy and I met up with MC, my endurance mentor and riding partner. MC and I rode thousands of miles together. MC has been an endurance competitor since at least the early 1980s, and is one of AERC's highest milage riders. What she doesn't know about the sport isn't worth knowing.
The Central Valley of California regularly experiences 6 months without rain from March through November. Occasionally we'll see some rain during the monsoon season (July or August), but it's rare. Last Wednesday, we had a record setting rainfall with thunder and lightening. The weather was cooler than normal - high 80s, but the footing was perfect with no dust. We left MC's place right around 8:30 a.m.
While Izzy has turned into a pretty reliable trail horse, this was the first ride where he did not jig even one single time. He was a bit of a camelephant here and there, but after the first 30 minutes, I was able to ride him on the buckle.
The Panorama Vista Preserve covers 936 acres with the Kern River flowing through the middle. Thanks to the efforts of a lot of different people, the area contains miles of equestrian trails and has been planted with hundreds and hundreds of trees that now provide shaded trails over many parts of the river bottom. For many years, I boarded my horses in the area and rode through the preserve daily. Over the years, the trees have matured, and what was once a pretty desolate area of the river is now a lush habitat for birds and other wildlife.
With MC leading, we covered most of the preserve. MC's gelding Gem is a well traveled endurance horse with quite a few miles under his girth. Since he doesn't have a race until fall, MC kept the pace slower for Izzy but that doesn't mean we poked along. We did quite a few long stretches of trotting which was just what Izzy has needed. In the beginning, he was pretty high headed, but before long he was willing to trot in a more level frame.
I normally don't ride for quite that long, but Izzy really needed a good solid day. We rode 9.41 miles in two hours and thirty-five minutes - definitely not an endurance pace, but it was fun.
I was really proud of the big brown horse. He didn't do a single thing wrong, and he was very rideable. Once we got going, Izzy settled into the rhythm of the ride and never showed any resistance. We even crossed the river twice. The first time it was belly deep and pretty reedy, but he plowed right across and even stopped to drink both times. By the time we finished up, he and Gem were good buddies.
MC and I have a mutual friend who has been riding on Fridays with MC as she and her horse attempt to get fit enough for a fall endurance ride. I am hoping to tag along with the two of them at least a few times this summer. Even though Izzy and I have done a lot of trail riding every summer, I think he is finally ready to learn from the experience.
I just might need to check next Friday's weather ...
It's that time again. We are flying out early tomorrow morning for a NASCAR-filled, long weekend in Nashville, Tennessee. We went last year at about this same time. Here is the post I wrote the day before we left, and here is the one I wrote after we came back. This will be the first time that we've gone back to someplace that we've already visited (other than here in California). We enjoyed Nashville so much though, that we decided to go again.
Like last summer, we have tickets to Sunday's NASCAR race as well as tickets to the Grand Ole Opry. Even though we hit most of Nashville's highlights last summer, there were a few things we missed that we'd like to get to this time. We have tickets to visit Andrew Jackson's Hermitage as well as a moonshine distillery, Ole Smoky Distillery. We are also planning on visiting Opryland for dinner before the show. I am also hoping to see a little more live music as well as the Tennessee State Museum. Of course, all of this means that I will not be posting for a bit. So ...
See you all next week!
For many of you, this would be a meh kind of experience. For those of you like me - someone who lives two hours or more from the nearest tack shop, you'll know why I was so excited to visit a Dover location in person. I live in cowboy/Quarter Horse country, so there are plenty of feed stores, but none of them carry English tack, clothing, or grooming supplies of the fancier variety. Is Dover my all-time favorite store? Not necessarily - Riding Warehouse rates right up there, but Dover is reliable, has fair pricing, and their return policy works for me.
Some time ago, Dressage Extensions, which is based in Somis/Moorpark, was purchased by Dover, but it remained a separate, brick and mortar location. When I would show or take a lesson in Ventura County, I would try to squeeze in a visit to the shop. And in a pinch, my trainer or a friend would stop by and pick something up for me if they knew I was going down soon. When Dover opened its location in Moorpark, the Dressage Extensions store was moved, so now everything is in one building.
This past weekend, I made a trip to STC Dressage for a lesson and a schooling show. Unfortunately the schooling show was cancelled - I wasn't disappointed, but I made the trip anyway and simply took a lesson on Sunday instead of going to the show. I though it was money better spent. More on that in another post. While in Moorpark, I met up with my very good friend Jen.
Jen has been my dressage idol for many, many years. Jen's a regular person. She's not wealthy - not even close, but she successfully showed her home-bred gelding Paolo to the FEI levels. She has earned both a USDF Bronze and Silver Medal, and she did it with grace and style. Over the past decade (or more), she almost single-handedly runs the Ventura County Chapter of CDS while at the same time manages many USDF and local schooling shows, and she does it all with a smile and friendly attitude. I am not the only one who adores her. Jen is very much loved and appreciated by the entire Southern California dressage community. I am very lucky to call her my friend.
After my Saturday lesson, Jen came and picked me up. We started our girls day with a stop by her beautiful barn to get her newly acquired Pivo set up and running. After a quick tutorial in the barn, we headed up to the covered arena (in the background of the above photo) to give it a trial run. In order to see how it worked, we took turns leading Peaches around the dressage court so Jen could get a feel for where Pivo might lose her (which it didn't do). We also started a few different Meets so Jen could test out earbuds and her cell signal from inside the covered arena. We laughed the entire time though because Peaches now thinks dressage is the most fun thing there is to do. Wait, all I have to do is walk serpentines? This is FUN!
Once Peaches was back in her stall, we headed into town to give my credit card a workout. As soon as we walked into Dover, we both stopped, took a deep breath, and smiled. Jen made a joke about bottling the scent of a tack store. I would buy that candle. To the left was Dressage Extensions, and to the right was everything else. We turned left. I am not a very good shopper. I am easily overwhelmed by the choices, so to cope with my anxiety, I simply followed Jen around like a lost puppy. Jen was an excellent guide though, and never got impatient as I stopped and oohed and awed over all of the beautiful things.
I didn't have a list, but there were a few things I had been hankering for. As we made our way around the store, my focus improved. First, I grabbed a black bun cover with sparkles. I have one in navy and another one in beige that I had hoped would match my maroon coat, but it did NOT. I have tried ordering a black one, but they are never in stock, so once I spotted that, I knew it had to come home with me.
Once I had one item in my hand, my wallet fell open, and I started spending more freely. My Roeckl gloves - the only gloves I use, are starting to show quite a lot of wear, so even though they are getting more and more expensive, I grabbed a new navy pair. I am on my second pair of ThinLine reins, and while I LOVE how they feel, they haven't held up too well. I've been considering replacing them with rubber reins, so Jen and I worked our way through Dover's rein selection until we spotted a pair of Schockemöhle Rubber Reins that had a yellow tag which meant 50% off. I also tossed in a bag of black braiding bands before I made my way to the register.
While a young rider was checking out, I overheard her ask about a current promotion - a free fly mask with a $75 purchase, which the cashier said was only for online orders. As I had the email open already, I piped up with a just a second. I read the email aloud, and cleared up the misunderstanding. The free fly mask was for in-store or online orders. Jen pointed out that I should get a fly mask free too. Well, thank you very much! The young lady and I made our way to the back of the store and picked out our free fly masks. She smiled gratefully when I let her choose the last black one - I figured it was thanks to her that I was getting the fly mask so it seemed only fair that she should get her color choice. Horse people, we stick together.
Once we were back in Jen's car, we sent a quick text to Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. It was dinner time, and Jen and I were both hungry. Sean recommended a yummy Mexican joint we had eaten at before, and when Jen asked if they served margaritas, Sean quipped that they were the BEST margaritas. He wasn't wrong. After a bowl of delicious guacamole, humongous platefuls of food - can't beat a chile verde burrito, and more than three margaritas, we waddled out to the car. I gave Jen a big hug. I don't know when I'll get back for a show or an in-person lesson, but I hope it's sooner rather than later. Sean ended up driving me back to the barn where we checked on the horses before bed.
The next next morning I took a second lesson (more on that later) and visited with one of Sean's other clients. I had a fantastic weekend. Two lessons, visits with friends, shopping, and Mexican food - what else does a girl need?
Maybe a credit card that someone else gets to pay. It was worth it. Some things you just can't put a price on.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(*) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: