From Endurance to Dressage
Now that's a title you don't see every day. Suffice it to say that I had a nasty eye infection last week which required two doctor visits (three if you count the one later this week), a very sharp object with which to lance the affected area, and gobs of goopy eye meds.
So yeah … I am writing this with one good eye.
So why do I feel compelled to write with only one eye? Well, Speedy has had one hell of a week, too. We're peas in a pod, that dude and I. Here's his story:
Well son of a bee-biscuit. I really didn't know what to think. I saddled him up anyway. I only rode around the neighborhood at a walk. Sometimes a short ride can help clear up why a horse is lame: do they work out of it, or does it get worse? I threw some easy boots on him hoping that would tell me if it was foot soreness. He still minced around, clearly sore, but he was well-behaved and spooky in all the right places, but he also got a bit freer in the walk as we passed the half way point.
Weird assessment, I know, but it showed me that whatever was wrong wasn't bothering him enough to suppress his appetite or make him indifferent to his surroundings. I ruled out laminitis. Besides, he had no digital pulse. Everything about him was systems normal: he was happy to see me, eager to come out and "play," eating, drinking, peeing, pooping, spooky, girthy, grazing, etc. He was just very lame in the front.
Completely perplexed, I sent a frantic message to my farrier: WHAT COULD BE WRONG? Jaime, being the great guy that he is, asked if I could bring Speedy to his house so that he could finally look at him himself. Within 15 minutes I had Speedy loaded up and we were off to my farrier's house, 55 miles away. I have never been so grateful to have my own truck and trailer.
Jaime spent at least two hours assessing Speedy. He used the hoof testers multiple times. He pulled the shoes. He dug out every inch of sole that was non-essential for survival looking for any red flags. He quickly ruled out laminitis, stone bruises, abscesses, or shoeing malfunctions. He remeasured Speedy's feet, re-examined his angles, measured again, studied him from the front, the back, above, below, and then did it again.
And then, just to be sure, Jaime called over one of his boarders, a vet tech, to re-examine Speedy with him. The vet tech put the hoof testers on, palpated Speedy's tendons and ligaments, examined the white line, and then said, "huh." Neither of them could find a problem with Speedy's feet.
A few things did pop up during the exam, though. The first, and most telling, was that Speedy had "sprung" both front shoes. Even though he's only at 5 weeks in the shoeing cycle, both shoes had "lifted" away from the hoof, but they weren't loose; they had been bent. This is not normal. My boys are shod every 5 to 6 weeks, and when Jaime comes to re-shoe them, the shoes are always tightly attached to the hoof wall with no gaps and they never get loose and clanky. Additionally, the left front had a small amount of bruising on the outside of the hoof wall with one, small tender area near the heel, not enough to make him this kind of sore though.
The second thing that Jaime discovered was that Speedy was "out" in his withers even though he had just been adjusted a few days before. A small amount of pressing almost sent Speedy to the ground. His withers and shoulders were quite tender. As we hand walked him, it became quite clear that if it wasn't his feet that were bothering him, it had to be something above his feet that would affect both feet. In other words, it couldn't be a fetlock or knee. Something structural was causing him to be sore on both feet.
As the vet tech asked me questions (have you changed his feed, is there anything he could get hung up on, does your saddle fit okay?), one question caught me by surprise. The tech asked if Speedy ever steps on the rails of his pen. Why yes, yes he does do that!
And suddenly, we had a hypothesis that matched what little we were seeing. The tech suggested that Speedy may have had one or both feet up on the rail when something startled him. As he tried to pull his foot (or feet) back out, the back of the shoe might have gotten hooked on the rail, forcing Speedy to wrench it out. This could have "sprung" the shoe and tweaked his shoulders. The chiropractor may well have "fixed" him last weekend, but while he was turned out on Friday, bucking and galloping, he may well have re-tweaked his front end causing the lameness to reappear.
The hypothesis made more sense than anything else that had been proposed. It also explained how Speedy could be sound one day and then completely lame the next. It also gave a reason for how he was back to normal and then unsound yet again over the weekend.
Between the three of us, Jaime, the vet tech, and myself, we decided that a trip to the vet was not yet necessary. Instead, I got the chiropractor on the phone and he and Jaime had a long pow-wow. Jaime did a very careful trim on Speedy, and we left him barefoot until Jaime can come back out early next week to re-shoe him. This way, in case I do need to go to the vet for x-rays, the shoes are already pulled.
I left Jaime's house late in the afternoon and headed down to the chiropractor's place which happens to be on the way home. Jaime lives in Tehachapi, a small mountain community in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. It's a pretty good climb to get there as Tehachapi sits at over 3,000 feet in elevation. The chiropractor lives closer to Bakersfield, but it's in a tiny little community off the highway, down a rather steep hill into the Caliente Valley.
It was 4:45 p.m before I pulled into CC's ranch. Almost as soon as CC started adjusting him, Speedy's back and withers were pain free again, much to my relief. CC felt that it was not a foot issue either and seemed to think that our getting hung up hypothesis made sense. He worked on Speedy for a good 45 minutes. Speedy wasn't sound when we left, but he was certainly improved.
CC's recommendation was the same as before: Speedy should feel better in a day or so, but this time, I am not to turn him out. If he has energy to burn, CC suggested I ride him instead.
Again, I am so grateful to be able to just load up my horse and take him to the people who I think can help him feel better. Neither Jaime nor CC were able to make the drive into Bakersfield on Saturday, but they were able to make time for us to just show up.
So that's where we are right now. Speedy and I both had a long week and an even longer Saturday. I hope that Speedy feels better quickly. And if not, I feel like we're definitely on the right track. We'll get it sorted out. We always do.
Yep. I went from eyeballing the bridle skeptically for nearly a year to owning two of them in less than two months.
Speedy's Micklem arrived the other day. Fitting the bridle the second time was much faster and easier than the first one. This one arrived a bit stiffer than Sydney's did, but it could simply be that I've conditioned the heck out of Sydney's which has made it quite soft and pliable.
Speedy's has gone through "softening boot camp," and it's rounding up quite well, but it still needs some use along with regular conditioning to really soften up.
I've hacked Speedy in the Micklem twice, but I can't say whether he was softer or more relaxed in it. I didn't really buy it expecting any change in his way of going. I really just like the ease of cleaning this bridle, and truth be told, it looks more comfortable for the horse. I should be able to put in a good schooling ride today. I'll let you know how Speedy does in it.
Said with a huge smile by the way!
I've had some really good rides on Sydney this week. Not good in as he was perfect, but good as in got your number, Dude!
We did have one really good moment though. I almost always water the arena before I ride. One day during the week, I watered it so that I could see my tracks as we rode, and since mine are the only ones out there, it's easy to see where I've been.
I had done some warm up trot work down the long sides and across the diagonal when I decided to do some quick left lead canter work. I came down to A and asked for a canter transition. Sydney picked up the most lovely left lead canter. As I completed the circle, I marveled at how round the circle appeared based on our clear tracks in the sand. I decided to spiral in.
Each time I came around, I was able to come inside, just off our tracks in the sand. Having such a clear reference point made the spiral in so much easier and consistent. Sydney's left lead canter is such a joy to ride. He relaxes into it and loves the spiral in and out exercise.
Throughout the week I also worked on shutting some doors. Sydney is no longer a fan of whirling to the inside. He has also started evaluating whether or not he still likes to rear. He now knows that I adore the teeny tiny circle and am quite happy to spend our whole riding time doing it!
On one day that I rode, I started out with some trot work down the long sides to get him moving forward, but then I made a 20-meter circle at C and cued for a right lead canter. He was so relaxed that he forgot to get tense about it. It was a lovely transition. I brought him back to a trot, crossed the diagonal and asked for a left lead canter at A, which he also gave willingly.
Each day I've varied the canter work a little, but I always finish with some you must halt RIGHT NOWs. He got one or two small rears in on me, but I was able to anticipate almost every other resistance. I tried to make each ride as short as possible so that he learns that there is a good thing about following my directions. Each day that I got a really submissive/cooperative halt from the outside, left rein. I praised him enthusiastically and hopped off.
Interestingly, he has been particularly snuggly this week. I think he is finding some safety in these exercises.
I had a lesson on Monday. I shared my hallway and closed doors analogy with my trainer, and she loved the images. She was very encouraging and explained that we just have this one last little door to shut, and then we'll really be ready to rock and roll.
I had a few rides in the week before the lesson that were real doozies. Our homework had been simple: travel a round circle. Instead of nice round circles, I got whirling to the inside with a humped back or running straight through my outside rein while launching into a rear. Sydney can throw a serious temper tantrum when he wants to.
The good thing that came out of those "homework rides" was that my feel got ratcheted up a few notches. All of Sydney's antics started to happen in slow motion. Not really, of course, but I started to feel what was going to happen before it actually happened. Any last bits of fear that I've had just melted away as I countered all of his shenanigans. It really felt like shutting doors.
Nope, not this one. Oops, try the next door. Oh, darn; that one's closed, too.
So for the lesson, JL broke the circle exercise down into smaller chunks. We were still to stay on that prescribed circle, but we were going to teach Sydney to be more respectful of my outside aids without allowing him to escape through an "inside" door.
We picked up the trot tracking right, and halted with the outside rein. But, not only did he have to halt RIGHT NOW, he wasn't allowed to drift to the right or left, and his haunches had to stay right underneath him. And not only did he need to halt RIGHT NOW, he also needed to rock back slightly onto his hocks. And then, when he walked forward, he had to take a step to the outside by moving his shoulders over; no sagging into the circle.
We did this quite a few times until Sydney started to look for a doorway that led to OUT OF HERE. I was almost glad he did because I got to work on preventing a rear or whirl to the inside.
When he started to whirl, JL had me think, YAH! I love teeny tiny circles. Let's do it for three minutes straight! And we did. I bent his nose to my knee and sent him into the spin with my outside leg. We only had to do it twice. Slammed that door closed.
The next evasion he offered was the rear. Sometimes he simply threatens, other times he launches straight up. It used to terrify me, but I've learned that he's well-balanced, and that he doesn't really intend to lose me. Even so, it's not a behavior in which he gets to indulge. I've learned to NOT PULL BACK. Instead, I keep my weight forward and get his neck bent as quickly as possible and send him in a little circle once his feet are back on the ground.
JL helped me identify why he's rearing and how to prevent it from happening. Once I get an inside bend, the inside rein doesn't do anything, which means I need to take hold of the outside rein to do a halt. Sydney will then rush through it and ignore my half halts, which forces me to really haul back on that outside rein. THAT'S when I know I am going to get a rear.
So the solution is to get a halt before he can rush. As soon as I feel the tension forming in his back, he follows it up with these teeny tiny mincing little steps. As soon as I feel that, I am to tell him to halt RIGHT NOW!
It was a short lesson, maybe 30 minutes long. JL's plan was to teach Sydney to love to halt RIGHT NOW. So once he figured out that all of the doors were closed, he halted RIGHT NOW, and even quite trying to fall in, fall out, fall over. He just gave a sigh of resignation, with a little exasperation thrown in for good measure, and simply stopped square. I hopped off and that was it.
It was a GREAT lesson because it was one of the first times that I really saw Sydney trying to think his way through it. He was actually trying the knobs of different doors: is this one open? How about this one? When he couldn't find a doorway to get through, he simply gave up.
I hope this piece of the puzzle falls into place as quickly as JL thinks it will. I know this is a big step for both of us, and I know I am more than ready to get it behind us.
[Post-publish edit: I took Speedy out for another neighborhood hack this morning and he was a new horse. I couldn't feel or see any tenderness!]
I sure hope it's a small one and that it is resolved quickly, but Speedy's … kind of lame. There's no swelling, heat, or signs of trauma, but he's definitely ouchy on his front end.
I rode him last Thursday and had a fantastic ride, and he hasn't given me any moments of was that a mis-step? So I am not quite sure what this is. I checked him on Friday and didn't notice anything amiss. I was out of town on Saturday and didn't see him again until Sunday. At a glance, I knew he was grade three lame. For those of you not familiar with the term, grade three means obviously lame at the walk.
My fist thought was another abscess. To go from sound to lame overnight usually means acute trauma, laminitis, or an abscess. Since there was no injury site and no bone sticking out, an abscess seemed like the obvious choice. Just to be sure, I called the chiropractor which I had been meaning to do for the better part of two months anyway.
The chiropractor was able to come out on Monday, which gave me some measure of relief. Speedy looked improved by Monday morning, but I knew he needed to be adjusted either way. Unfortunately he really needed an adjustment. He was out everywhere. Ankles to poll … poll to tail … tail to ankles.
After the adjustment, which he loved, he certainly looked better, but he was still "off" in the front (both feet). The chiropractor suspects he might need a shoeing adjustment, and I've called my farrier with this information, but he's not due out for two more weeks. Without being able to see what Speedy's feet look like today, Jaime couldn't really offer an opinion, but he promised to do a thorough evaluation when he's here.
I decided to take Speedy for a short hack around the neighborhood on Tuesday. I figured it would either let him stretch out his soreness, or it would make obvious what was hurting. He started out very short-strided in front and was definitely more ouchy on the hard packed surfaces, like the road. On the grassy or sandy shoulder, he was better. About halfway through the ride, his stride got longer and he offered a trot which took some of my worry away.
Once back at the barn, he was still sore when asked to pivot on either front foot (like turning around in the cross ties). I started to worry that he might have had a small laminitic episode so I gave my vet a call. He agreed that it was very unlikely for Speedy to founder, and from what I described, he really felt that it wasn't the cause. He reminded me however, that it was possible, just not likely. Knowing that it wasn't likely removed that worry from my mind; no point borrowing trouble. But now I'm left with, what the hell's the matter?
I'm hoping the chiropractic adjustment just needs a bit more time to work its magic and that Speedy gets back to normal very soon. I'm hoping to see even more improvement today. And at least Speedy doesn't seem bothered by being sore. His appetite his good and he's still enthusiastic about playing and goofing off. He even bucked and galloped during his turn out on Monday. He just acts tender footed without an obvious reason.
I also had the chiropractor look at Sydney, my bucking, rearing, wild child. All he needed was a wave of the hand over three of his rib heads. He needed so little the chiropractor didn't even charge me. Last time, he was the one who needed all the work. Go figure.
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 …
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
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