From Endurance to Dressage
I like puzzles. I rarely do them because once I dump the pieces out of the box, I can't focus on anything else. My strategy is to locate all of the edge pieces first so that I can build the frame of the puzzle. Once that's done, I begin working on the different pictures of the puzzle, usually by color. Every once in a while, I'll get to a point where I'll really need a certain piece to connect several sections. I'll know what it should look like: red on the bottom with a bit of a blue stripe, three "outs" and one "in." When I find that one elusive piece, a section of the puzzle is revealed.
Over the weekend, I took a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. My ride from the day before had been a complete disaster. It was so bad that after just 26 minutes in the saddle, I burst into tears, jumped down, and put Izzy away. I sent a very sad faced emoji-filled text to Sean and started writing Izzy's for sale ad. Sean called me later that evening to help me figure out what had happened, and we came up with a game plan for the next day's ride.
The next morning, with Sean in my ear coaching, Izzy started out really focused and happy. Sean explained (once again) that I had made a good decision the day before. Quitting when things are going nowhere is a good training choice if the rider - that would be me, can't control her emotions. Izzy's willingness to work with me on Saturday proved that what had happened the day before hadn't caused any resentment on his part. While I was happy about his willingness to once again be my partner, I still needed to know just what the hell had happened. It didn't take us long to figure it out.
With a CDS-rated show the next day, the plan was to run through the tests a few times to see what might be fixable in 30 minutes. As soon as I turned up centerline and tried to track left, Izzy spooked hard. I tried it again, and again, and again. It became apparent very quickly that centerline was going to be a very big problem. Suddenly, there was the missing puzzle piece.
We've known from the very beginning that Izzy gets show nerves. We've been able to do really good work in the warm up, but as soon as we get in the dressage court, Izzy gets so tense that he becomes very difficult to "ride." During the year that I've been working with Sean, he's been able to slowly uncover the many causes of Izzy's tension. In the beginning, I had so little control while riding him that it was hard to know what the problem was. The list has been pretty long, but we have steadily addressed them one by one, checking them off as we go.
At the top of Izzy's Tension Causing Issues list is now centerline. Fortunately, Sean has seen this one before and had a plan ready. Sean was able to recognize that Izzy knows the difference between simply schooling and test riding, not even showing, just test riding. Izzy has associated centerline, rightly so, with a test. He clearly has test anxiety even if it is just at home with no judge.
To overcome this anxiety, Sean's strategy is to ride the centerline - sometimes halting, sometimes not, into one movement. He does that until the horse no longer worries about the centerline and the first movement. From there, he builds on a second movement and a third, all very slowly doing only as much as the horse feels comfortable doing.
I now have homework, a lot of homework. Every ride will now include work down the centerline. Speedy loved showing so much that going down centerline was always so much fun. He earned his best scores on both the centerline and crossing the diagonal, and he especially loved the last centerline because he knew he was done with the test. It was a part of test riding that I rarely worked on. Don't fix it if it isn't broken. Izzy's centerline is definitely broken.
Having a problem isn't discouraging to me if I have a plan to work on it. A problem with no plan makes me want to throw in the towel and quit. I am really encouraged by this new puzzle piece, and I can't wait to get started on this next section of our puzzle.
Now, where's that blue piece with with the straight edges?
What a Debbie Downer I've been this week. My life balances on three legs - my home life, work life, and barn life. If one of the legs of my life tripod is a bit wobbly, I can keep it together. If two of them aren't okay, I am a mess. If all three are broken, scrape me off the floor, please. This past few weeks, all three have been NQR - Not Quite Right for all you non-horsey peeps. None of them were wrong enough to send me on a tail spin, but it was enough to unbalance me.
The only leg of my life tripod relevant to this space of course is my horse life. As small a thing as it is, knowing that Izzy needed some body work really rocked my little world. I think it was because his behavior when he's sore - bracing more than normal and being mildly aggressive, could also be attributed to poor riding. I am getting quicker and quicker at recognizing his signs, but still, my inner voice snidely says, you suck.
The universe was looking out for me this week; CC was able to come on Sunday afternoon instead of Monday. Just as I had suspected, Izzy needed work in all the usual areas, particularly his poll, C7, and rib heads. CC remarked that the way Izzy's ribs were feeling, he should have been fussy about bending. To my credit, I had realized he was body sore before he gave me that indicator. Where I felt the bracing was in his inability to lift his back and soften through his poll.
CC is such an experienced and talented horseman that I consider his feedback very carefully. While Izzy was indeed sore, CC never lets me feel as though it is my fault or even Izzy's fault. He also makes jokes about me breaking my horse which lets me know that Izzy is not actually broken. Does that make sense? CC will come as often as I need hm to, but he's happiest when Izzy doesn't need work at all.
I haven't been on Izzy much this week - I worked a 12-hour day yesterday, but he felt much better on the days that I was able to ride. I am really hopeful that this weekend will also be filled with things I am not expecting. While last weekend didn't go as planned, it turned out just fine.
A month or so ago, a Facebook friend asked about trail riding, so I volunteered to set something up. I immediately texted my friend Wendy who, besides being a fellow dressage rider, also barrel races and trail rides - all with the same horse! It took a few stops and starts - finding a date where three horses and three riders are all healthy and sound can be difficult, but we finally met at Hart Park this past Sunday morning.
With Izzy still being body sore, I crossed my fingers and asked Speedy if he were ready. I had given him a good bath the day before and was pleasantly surprised by his energy level. He has always loved to go places, but I was worried about his fitness level. The loop we do is nearly eight miles, but it's flat, and even if he doesn't get ridden anymore, he lives turned out. Speedy and Izzy play hard nearly every day, so he keeps himself fit enough for light work.
I wasn't a hundred percent sure who I was going to ride until Sunday morning. I hooked up the trailer and then went to check on both horses. Izzy looked just fine, but I just didn't want to fight with him on the trail. He's not scary, and I don't worry about coming off, but Wendy and I were riding with someone who I've never ridden with, and I just didn't want to ruin her day. Speedy still looked quite interested, so I loaded him up.
Wendy arrived at the Barn first; Hart Park has a fabulous staging area for trail riding. Many years ago, the big barn was remodeled, picnic tables were installed, and corrals were built. The barn is really just for parties as it's not actually set up to house horses. The parking is somewhat limited, but three trailers fit easily. As I was pulling into the park, Wendy called letting me know that a bunch of trailers were already there. Yikes! She scoped it out though and determined that Lisa and I would be able to pull through without blocking the first group.
Horse people can be incredibly rude or incredibly polite. The gentlemen who arrived before us were the latter. They managed to park four or five trailers so far out of the way that we had no trouble parking. They headed out on the trail just before we did, and despite mentioning that we had food, we never saw them again.
The weather was a tad warm, but we were blessed with some clouds that kept the day quite pleasant. While Lisa is an accomplished reiner - Ruby showed us some pretty fancy moves, she had never done any trotting or cantering out on open trail before. Knowing that, and knowing that Speedy was pretty out of shape, we spent the first hour just walking and chatting.
Just before we got to the lake, we did do a small stretch of trotting, and from that point on Lisa was game on. We ended up trotting the entire back stretch of the lake. We threw in a bit of canter, but Ruby got a bit strong for Lisa's liking, so we kept it to a trot. From the lake back to the barn, we spent our time chatting and trotting when the footing was nice.
We finished the loop in about two and half hours. There were so many families at the park this time of year that we felt compelled to stop for every group of children and every family who wanted a photo. That tends to slow down the riding, but being good ambassadors for the equestrian community benefits us all. Once we got back to the barn, each of the horses got a cool shower - there's a wash rack at the barn, and a bucket of water. With all three horses resting comfortably, we dragged out chairs and a table and enjoyed chips and guacamole, meats and cheeses, pasta salad, and Wendy's famous chocolate chip cookies.
Given how blue I've been feeling, it was much a needed day. Many thanks to old friends and new!
Considering I started the weekend in such a funk, I did make the best of it. Playing with Speedy certainly helped, but I also spent time some non-riding time with Izzy. When he needs an adjustment, he gets a bit aggressive in his play. I let him take it out on the hose.
Better the hose than my t-shirt or zippers!
Since I didn't have a lesson on Saturday, I slept in. And since I wasn't going to ride, I piddled around the house, completed my mail-in ballot, and did some laundry. By the time I made it out to the barn, it was in the lows 80s with a clear blue sky. I decided that Speedy was due for some pampering.
With Speedy, baths and grooming are part of a love-hate relationship. He loves to be clean and enjoys the attention, but he hates getting wet. He wouldn't walk through a puddle if his feet were on fire. My bathing station is next to his girl Allie, but it didn't matter; he was miserable for the entire bath. Even though I hurried, he was eventually a shivering pile of pissed off pony. Speedy has too much class to bite or kick or shove me around. Instead, he throws disgusted looks over his shoulder and reminds me that I am lucky to be allowed in his presence.
When he was squeaky clean, we hung out on the lawn so that he could dry off. I thought I could flip through TikTok and relax, but Speedy needed to remind me that I had hurt his feelings. Instead of grazing politely, he turned into a fire breathing dragon and put on an Arabian show. He huffed and puffed and piaffed in circles until I finally walked over and grabbed Izzy to join us. That wasn't the best plan either because then I found that I had a fire cracker in one hand and a tank in the other. Guess which one was which.
By the time Speedy was dry, I was a sweaty, dirty mess. Fortunately, he had enough tact to not stop, drop, and roll as soon as I put him away. It helped that I had thrown him some lunch, but I am quite sure he enrolled a good sandy roll once I had driven away.
While I thought I would spend my Saturday differently, it was hard not to enjoy an afternoon with my best boy.
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
(Q) Must Qualify
2022 Shows Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Completed …
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: