From Endurance to Dressage
Sydney's nose buried in the hay bag.
I am not really sure this is Fluphenazine related, but since it was the Fluphenazine that got this topic going, I figure this is still a follow up.
But before that update, here's another: Sydney is on day 3 of Smartpak's SmartCalm Ultra Pellets. Smartpak says, Is your horse especially anxious, inattentive or spooky? SmartCalm Ultra Pellets are an herb-free formula designed to support proper nervous system function, helping to minimize skittishness. SmartCalm Ultra Pellets offer a comprehensive approach to calming by providing 10,000 mg of Magnesium, 550 mg of Vitamin B1, 2,000 mg of Inositol (a B vitamin relative), and 125 mg of L-Tryptophan. This essential amino acid is converted into serotonin, a hormone that may increase feelings of wellbeing and contentment, helping to calm and soothe.
I put zero stock in its efficacy, but hey, maybe it will do something productive. By the way, I did run it by Dr. B. first. Her response? Probably won't hurt, might help. Basically, she and I both feel that it just makes his poop a bit more expensve. In any case, I am giving it a try. It's not terribly expensive, and if it helps, then it's worth it.
Back to the hay discussion. Erica, over at Of Academia and Horses described Sydney's food anxiety perfectly. She referred to it as his food alarm. That's precisely what it has felt like! Tuesday's feeding schedule worked perfectly. I pulled Sydney out of his stall and plopped a hay bag in front of his nose. While his head was buried in the bag, the neighbor came by to feed the other three horses. Sydney never even looked up. He munched as I groomed and saddled which took at least fifteen minutes.
I headed out to the arena and was pleased that he already seemed slightly more relaxed. I hopped on and discovered that I still had a pretty naughty boy.
Me: Are you sure, Sydney?
Sydney: Yes, OMG let me RRRUUUUNNN
Me: Okay, If that's how you feel, but you're going to have to move a lot.
As I asked for the canter, I was rewarded with some small bucking, some small rearing, and a hell bent for leather gallop which I was forced to pulley halt. After that, I was able to keep him on something that resembled a circle as we galloped. Around, and around, and around. Little by little, he began to let up and the gallop became a softish canter. After asking nicely for a downward transition and getting no response, I pulled him to a hard halt. I immediately sent him the other direction which started out just as ferociously as the left circle had.
He finally asked to trot, but I put my leg on and pushed him with my seat forward into more canter. I could just hear him thinking, crap. Good! I finally asked for a trot, and got it! He gave me some pretty decent trot circles both directions and offered something similar to a stretch. Okay! This was something I could work with. We tried to finish the whole thing off with some stretchy free walk, but he decided to be a stinker in our far corner. This required some more Oh, crap! work, but it served the purpose. As soon as he walked by the corner without a freak out, I halted in the corner and hopped off. I hand walked him through the corner a few more times to really make my point and then we were done.
When we got back to the barn, I put the hay bag away, placed him on the cross ties, and took my time unsaddling and grooming. My point was to make getting finished not such a wildly rewarding experience. When Sydney went back to his stall, his feeder was empty. I could see the wheels turning as his eyes followed me to the hay stack. I grabbed his dinner and nonchalantly tossed it into the feeder. This may not sound all that encouraging, but last week I accomplished nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Goose egg. On Tuesday, I at least got some decent trotting and even achieved some stretch. I think we're on to something.
Did he learn anything? I don't know, but I am hoping he catches on to the idea that the afternoons mean LOTS of cantering if he's not relaxed.
And the testing continues.
It's not in full force, but it has finally arrived. After riding on Monday afternoon, the plinking on the barn roof began. I finished my barn chores in the near dark as black clouds covered the last of the sun. Our season's rainfall now sits at 1.75 inches, 0.34 higher than just the other day. Here's a quick video of what the rain sounds like in the barn.
Dressage horses are big. Even compared to Sydney's 16 hand frame, dressage horses are big. Speedy G is not. He's generously sized for an Arabian, but compared to most dressage horses, he's little. I've complained about the absence of Arabian sized tack before, but not today. I finally found a dressage girth that fits my smaller-than-average dressage horse.
Stock photo of each end of the girth.
I bought the Ovation Dri-Lex Dressage Equalizer Girth from Dover Saddlery. Here's the product description: This Ovation™ dressage girth features a synthetic fleece lining enhanced with Dri-Lex technology for even moisture management. Stainless steel roller buckles with elastic at both ends.
I think I may be the only dressage rider who doesn't use a leather girth. It's not that I don't like leather, but Speedy G can be really "girthy." I have found that the thicker and more plush the girth, the less he objects. For my endurance saddle I use a top quality Toklat, fleece girth. For my Wintec Isabell, I bought a 24" SMX Fleece Girth that is is very soft and plush. With my "new" Custom Saddlery Revolution, the billets hang differently which make my 24" girth too long. It's been working, but the girth comes to the bottom edge of my pad. The 24 inch girth works well for Sydney, but I needed something slightly smaller for Speedy G. Not to mention that it's kind of icky putting a wet girth on horse number two.
I have been looking for a 22 inch, or even smaller, fleece girth for quite some time. They're not exactly easy to find. The ones that I have found have been cheapos without good billet keepers. I know because I bought one of those cheapos a year or so ago and was pretty disappointed. So when I saw the Ovation girth, I was skeptical. Really? $39.90 and in a size that will fit my boy? I ordered it and figured I could always ship it back.
I won't need to return it. It fits Speedy G perfectly and he never flinched when I pulled the billets through the roller buckles. There are actually too many keeper straps so I simply tucked my billet ends into the bottom keepers. For showing I'll slide my billets through all three keepers for a neater appearance.
Need an inexpensive, but nicely made dressage girth? This may be it!
Me and Hubby, Sunday mornng at 6,300 feet, 2 -3 inches of snow.
Winter tried to arrive in California this weekend. We woke to the glorious sound of rain on Saturday morning. A quick peek out the window revealed gray skies and wind swept tress. Finally! Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. By 9:30 a.m. the gray skies were breaking up and blue was reappearing to the west. Saturday's storm brought 0.10 of an inch of rain. Bakersfield's season total is now 1.41 inches of rain.
It had been something like 60 days with no precipitation, and as it is, we only get any measurable precipitation in the winter. Our spring, summer, and fall are typically very dry. We depend on winter’s storms for our annual supply of water. The Sierra Nevada Mountains, a long chain that lines the eastern edge of the state, hold our yearly water in the snow pack that accumulates during the winter months. The snow pack melts during the hot summer months and is captured in various lakes and reservoirs in the foothills above California’s central valley. The water is then sent to California’s towns and cities via a complex aqueduct system that is part of the California Water Project.
Our entire state depends on the winter rains and snow pack. The rain soaks our foothills which allows grass to grow for grazing beef cattle. Without the grass, our ranchers are forced to feed hay which dramatically increases the cost of raising beef cattle.
Without the melting snow pack, the Central Valley’s farmers don’t receive their water allotments from the reservoirs and must instead use pumps to daw water from underground aquifers. This forces farmers to raise the price of their crops.
Without an adequate amount of rain and snow during our wet season, the price of horse-keeping can be driven quite high. When the demand for hay increases, like when the ranchers need it because there’s no grass, the price goes up. When farmers must pay higher electrical costs for using water pumps, the price of hay, grain, and other feeds goes up.
We left town on Saturday morning for a quick visit to our cabin which is located in the southern end of the Sierra Nevada. We were greeted with cloudy skies, wind, and a smattering of snow and hail. It was great to see the white stuff, but disappointing to see so little of it. Come on, Winter! Bring us some snow.
Click photo for larger view.
More Fluphenazine? Sort of, but not really. I should have called it an Anxiety post, but it goes with the fluphenazine topic. I have a new theory that I am working on. I call it a theory because I can't prove that I am right, and frankly, I don't have enough data to truly support my current hypothesis. But here it is: Some of Sydney's riding anxiety is tied to the evening feeding.
Over the last month, most of my riding has been done during the late morning since I had several weeks off for Christmas. I also administered some Ace and the Fluphenazine. This past weekend, I had three days off (thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and was able to ride three consecutive days in the late morning. By the third day, Monday, Sydney was absolutely fantastic. I had a lesson that day and even JL was impressed by his mellow mood and loose body. I crowed about his success and knew we were over the mountain. Show season here we come!
I worked late on Tuesday and couldn't make it to the barn. Wednesday brought me back to my regular 4:00 barn visit. I try to be saddled by 4:15 and riding by 4:30. This gives me a good 45 minutes of riding time before the daylight disappears. Wednesday also brought out the old, tense, worried Sydney. Really? What the heck? I was completely baffled and couldn't offer any explanation for the complete and total transformation. I chalked up his behavior to the single day off.
To my horror, Thursday's ride was identical. His neck and body were so stiff that he essentially pivoted off his hind end. No amount of rein rocking, counter bending, or cantering could loosen his body. I was completely and utterly dejected and started thinking that maybe selling him was my only option. I came home in a pretty dark mood. Off topic interjection: it was that same evening that my wonderful Hubby surprised me with roses, a bottle of red wine, and some luscious chocolates. It might be that his offering allowed my brain to shift gears.
I continued to mull over the situation and asked myself what had changed between Monday and Wednesday? Even though I am puzzled, I know there has to be an explanation for Sydney’s sudden changes in behavior. I mean really, he’s not a schizophrenic and he’s not trying to ruin my life. So what might possibly be different between the weekend rides and the after work rides? Could it have something to do with dinner time?
With that particular thought, a gargantuan light bulb flashed in my head. It makes perfect sense. It’s not that he’s starving at dinner time, Sydney is well fed and always has hay scattered in his stall, but he must feel the same sense of anticipation of fresh hay that all horses feel. Our evening feeding is done by the neighbor. They feed their own horses first so the horses in our barn know when dinner is about to appear. It’s not always that I am still riding as dinner is being fed, but Sydney certainly knows that meal time is fast approaching.
I wanted to give my new theory a test on Friday evening, but frankly, I was beat after a busy work week and was just not in the mood to fight an anxious, naughty horse. Instead, I turned Sydney out while I cleaned stalls. The neighbor’s barn was quiet. Sydney started out with a few jogs and a roll, and then he started moseying about. Little by little I started to see his anxiety level rise. It didn’t look fear based. At all. He looked pissed. The neighbor started to feed and the squealing and kicking out began. I grabbed my lunge whip and headed out into the arena.
Since the right lead canter is weaker, I sent Sydney away from the gate tracking right. Every time he tried to stop or slam on the brakes near the fence closest to the gate or barn, I clucked and gave the lunge whip a small crack. While he galloped away, I lowered the whip and stood quietly. I let him buck and run wherever he wanted, but I guarded the gate and fence. Any time he bee-lined for the gate, I sent him to the right with a cluck and snap of the lunge whip.
My, oh, my - what a tantrum he threw! Once he figured out that he couldn’t pace the fence line, he started ranging farther and farther from the gate and fence in an angry gallop. When he circled back to the fence and gate, I simply got in his way and redirected him OUT. I wasn’t aggressive about it, but I also held my position and firmly said, NO!
It didn’t take him long to figure out that he wasn’t coming back to the gate. His frantic galloping became a softer canter that turned into a trot. When he stopped, I stopped. I invited him to me, but he didn’t quite understand my invitation. Instead, he stopped and stood somewhere near the middle of the arena, lowered his head, and turned to look at me. I waited. He waited. I approached him quietly and he stood still for me. I patted his shoulder and started walking to the opposite fence line. He quietly fell in step beside me. I slowly turned and made my way to the gate, grabbed my halter, and slid it on.
And no, he didn’t get to go back to his stall. We walked side by side all around the arena. I asked him to move away from me with my body. When he got forward, I lightly swung the rope and smacked the top of his nose. He quickly dropped back and put his nose just behind my shoulder. We did this until his breathing was quiet and his attention was completely on me. I patted his neck, gave him several good boys and returned him to his stall with no hay. During the wild galloping, I had asked the neighbor to let me do the evening feeding.
My plan is now two fold. I think I want to be the one to give Sydney his dinner when I am at the barn. I want him to return to his stall each evening to find it empty. I will be the one to fill his feeder. I am hoping that he will see that dinner comes from me. Maybe this will diminish his anxiety about missing out and maybe he’ll see that there is no rush to get to his stall. Secondly, I plan to hang a hay bag while I am tacking up so that he feels as though he’s already had his dinner. Again, maybe this will diminish his anxiety about missing out.
Form a theory, develop a hypothesis, test it, draw a conclusion. Who knew the scientific method would have anything to do with dressage?
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%: