From Endurance to Dressage
Hahaha ... That's kind of funny. With Speedy, there were always tons of awards. We've won all sorts of things from USDF and CDS both. I have plaques, neck ribbons, coolers, halters, pins, a medal ... you name it - we earned it. Things haven't gone quite so well with Izzy. We certainly haven't won anything, and our list of things earned is really short.
Are you ready for it? It's one of those blink and you miss it sort of things.
Yep. That was it. Izzy earned one score of 60% or higher (it wasn't higher) at a USDF/CDS show in October of 2020 - the start of the 2021 show season. It was at Second Level. At that show, we actually earned two scores in the 58% range (along with a 55%). Those are not scores to be proud of for sure, but they were higher than most of the scores we earned last year.
The California Dressage Society, my USDF Group Member Organization, offers some really great award incentives. One of which are the plates. After you've earned five scores of 60% or higher in a single year you receive a plate. Thereafter, you're eligible for a plate for scores of 60% or higher earned in a single season, no matter if it is only one. Speedy always earned a plate. Sometimes we only earned a single score, but those were the years he was injured. Most years we earned quite a few.
Izzy has two plates on my plaque, and I am grateful to have earned those. If it weren't for him, there would be nothing in 2021 as Speedy retired at the end of 2020 after earning a USDF Bronze Medal for me. I am hopeful that Izzy will earn a few scores that are eligible for a plate in 2022.
And the Oscar goes to ...
It has been a hot minute since you all have laid eyes on the reason this blog even exists. Not much has been happening with Speedy which is both a good thing and a makes me sad kind of thing. It's good that he hasn't needed any vet care, but no one has ridden him since October. I have seen him galloping around while he plays with Izzy, so I know he feels good. He was lame about a month ago, but that seems to have resolved itself. I think he would enjoy a ride, but he doesn't to seem to need it.
We had beautiful weather on Sunday, low 50s with bright, blue skies. While I rode Izzy, I left Speedy out in the aisle way between the paddocks. It's the space where he's standing in the photo above. There's plenty of grass to graze, but he prefers hanging out along the fence line with the mares in the field to the left. While they adore him, they like to remind him that he had better behave. I hear occasional squeals, but we all know it's just talk. They all love Speedy.
The corners of Speedy's eyes were crusty and gross, so I gave his face a scrub with baby shampoo and carefully picked off the dried boogers. While he acts offended about it, I know he secretly enjoys it. Once I get the wet washcloth over his eyes, he leans into my hands, begging for me to rub just a bit harder. With his face cleaned up, I picked out his feet, and knocked the dirt off his coat. I conditioned his mane and tail and then brushed them smooth. Speedy's mane and tail are rarely tangled, but they look nicer combed out. I finished off by trimming his bridle path.
Since his face was wet after the eye wash, I had to wait a few days to trim his old man beard. He had hair that was close to four inches long. It always makes him look so rangy; I am not sure why I didn't trim it sooner.
He certainly looked a lot less abandoned after a simple haircut. As hets older, Speedy's hair is getting longer and longer each winter. He has a polar bear coat each winter, and it usually takes him into early summer to shed it. He does have PPID (Cushing's Disease) for which he is medicated, but so far, he hasn't developed the typical long and curly coat that you would expect from a Cushing's horse.
A month or so ago, I had started to feel his ribs beneath his heavy coat so I increased his daily beet pulp and rice bran. I was happy to feel a new layer of flesh over his ribcage this weekend as I groomed him. Since he hasn't been ridden in months, he has no muscle, but he still feels sturdy and healthy. If someone doesn't come ride him soon, I just might hack him around the neighborhood. I know he would love that.
Speedy lives turned out in a large sandy paddock so he has plenty of opportunity to move throughout the day. And while I don't groom him nearly as often as I used to, I give him a quick check every day just to make sure he's healthy and not in need of anything. I also turn him out in the yard at least once or twice a week so he gets a change of scenery.
I am not quite sure what to do with him lately. Sometimes, I think he would love a new girl who wants to play with him every day. But then I wonder if he would miss his quiet, peaceful days. I know he loves me (as well as a horse can), and I can't help but think that living with a new girl might be too stressful for him.
As long as he looks peaceful and satisfied, I'll keep doing what I am doing. It seems to be working.
Izzy loves to work midmorning under a bright blue sky. Sunday was that kind of day. After some big shifts in my thinking from the lesson the day before with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I was ready for a fantastic ride, and overall, that's what Izzy gave me.
Keeping everything in mind that Sean and I had discussed the day before, I thought about control as a conversation between Izzy and me. Rather than flipping the control switch, I just asked him questions, something Sean has been saying for six months. Finally though, I understood what he meant. The way Izzy answers those questions will let me know how much control he is willing to let me have. Understanding those words and feeling those words are two totally different things. I finally felt what Sean meant.
The true test came at about twenty-six minutes into the ride. We had just finished some great canter work to the right, and I was hoping to wrap things up with a bit of canter to the left. At the C end of my arena is a tall stand of trees, and on the other side of the trees lies the neighborhood. There is always some movement in that direction, and Izzy long ago decided that the C end of the arena is often times a no fly zone. Using the corner at C-H can be very tricky.
As soon as I started putting him back together for a left lead canter, Izzy decided that there was something behind those trees, and he wanted to look. I knew a fight was brewing. I didn't even need to see one of Izzy's tells to know, I could feel it. I realized I was being given the perfect opportunity to show Izzy that I wasn't going to fight with him nor was I going to force him to give me control. I was going to be patient. In the video below, you can see him flip me off at about 20 seconds.
The whole conversation lasted six long minutes; I only showed you thirty-two seconds. Since I was using my Pivo to record, I was able to watch the entire thing later that day. For six minutes, I sat there quietly and kept asking him to bring his attention back to me. At about five minutes, he took a deep breath, and much of the tension left his body. Thirty seconds later, he took another deep breath, and we got back to work.
As we were finishing with the left lead canter, I reached down to pat him and praise him. I am not sure if he spooked or just lost his balance, but Pivo caught a great video of both of us nearly hitting the ground.
As I watched the video of the ride, I found myself smiling despite the blooper moments. Nothing about the ride was prefect, but I was able to see glimpses of the proactive rider that Sean is teaching me to be. By being a thinking rider, I am definitively cracking through Izzy's shell of resistance and anxiety. Throughout most of the ride we were checking in with each other. How's that? Are you good with this? Depending on the response he gave me, I took more control or took a step back as he worked things out.
It was as though the rough moments were passing in slow motion allowing me to adjust the amount of control I was taking to suit that moment in time. I never lost control; I just never forced it on him. By giving him time to cope with his urge to check things out, the tension de-escalated without much effort on my part other than sitting their patiently; that's really hard for me to do. Sean insists that little by little Izzy will begin to understand that I am not going to force him which will teach him to trust me.
For the first time, I think I really can do this.
Back when I was getting a lesson once a month or maybe even every few months, an AHA happened every time. When you struggle on your own week after week or even month after month, it doesn't take much for a trainer to rock your world. Now that I have been riding every week with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, the AHA moments are generally smaller, but they happen weekly.
Over the past year, the big take aways have included:
I had less-than-fun rides on Thursday and Friday. Both rides were about control; Izzy refused to let it go, and I needed to have at least some of it. I did the best I could to use my toolbox of AHAs, but I was discouraged. When Sean joined me virtually on Saturday morning, I delivered my rehearsed litany of failures.
His feedback is always the same: This is a process. Unfortunately it takes time, but you're making excellent progress. Thanks? I don't know what I want him to say, but that's not usually it. This week, he very gently told me that there is no magic formula, so there is going to be a lot of trial and error. That was in response to my I took too much control complaint. His response actually did make me feel better because I hadn't actually screwed up. I just found out that I had taken too much which tells me to take less next time.
Of course, Izzy behaved beautifully during the lesson. He was focused, attentive, and very willing to let me call the shots. Thanks for making a liar out of me, dude. Sean kept repeating how pleased he was with the big brown horse. And it was true, I rode well, and Izzy let me be in control. When we moved on to some canter work, I told Sean that the day before I had really struggled with getting Izzy to let go of the right rein in the left lead canter. My solution was to "bounce" him off of it, but all that accomplished was me pushing Izzy off the rein only to have him slam back onto it, and he's heavy!
Here's where the One Big Take Away came in. Sean explained that Izzy is learning how to carry himself in the canter. Instead of insisting that he let go of the rein he's using for balance, I need to have him fill up the other rein. Gobsmacked! Poor Izzy. Think about a kid who needs help on the balance beam. He keeps falling to the right, but rather than actually helping him, you just keep shoving him to left a little bit assuming that he can center himself. Spoiler alert: he can't.
Sean suggested I counter flex in the canter and ride Izzy straighter so that he is able to balance equally on both reins. Once I did that, he magically stood up (instead of falling on his outside shoulder), found his balance, and let go of the right rein. I rolled my eyes and quipped, now why couldn't I think of that?
One big take away is worth the price of ten lessons.
After my recent trip to STC Dressage, I came home ready to tackle my homework. It turns out that I still need some tutoring. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer, has the patience of a mountain. Every time we meet, I grumble about my lack of ability. Each and every time he reminds me that this all takes time. We're teaching Izzy a new way to work, and letting go of the old way is hard for him.
Now that we're eliminating a lot of Izzy's tension, we can now deal with his reluctance to give up control. Izzy has it in his mind that he making the decisions is in his best interest. He's wrong, of course, but convincing him is taking some doing. While I rode last week, I had a pretty big AHA moment. Sean has encouraged me to take control when Izzy is behaving. He has stressed how important this is because there is a moment when Izzy looks to me for direction. If I don't give him something to do right then, if I wait too long, he's going to yank control back, and we know what that looks like.
Even with all of this running through my head, I had a couple of rides that didn't go so well. I felt the moment that Izzy offered me an opening, and I took it. And then I kept it. I started to insist, and I stopped checking to see if he were still on board with me. When he started chomping on the bit, I realized that I had put too much pressure on him. His anxiety returned, and nothing good was happening.
I understood that getting what I wanted was not the point. Building a trusting relationship was more important than getting a soft left lead canter. I stopped asking for anything and returned to the walk. I worked to deescalate the situation which meant a lot of walking and bending. Eventually, Izzy gave me a nice round halt with a smooth, even rein back.
After thinking about it, I realized that control is a two-sided coin. On one side, I can take control, and if I do it gently, I can probably keep it. On the other side of the coin is Izzy giving control. If he doesn't keep giving me that moment, taking the control isn't going to achieve what I want. Right now, we're having a conversation about who should have control. To start out, we just walk and talk about things. Then I start asking whether he is willing to flex left or right. I ask if he can trot. I ask if he can move away from my leg. Depending on how he answers, I either ask for more - that's taking control, or I keep asking until he (hopefully) gives up control.
It's definitely not the kind of riding that most people want to do. Izzy is complicated, but I am ever so slowly figuring out how to work with him. He's not broken or damaged, he just has a personality that takes more rider tact than most other horses need.
Control seen as a two-sided coin makes a lot of sense. Now I just need to figure out whether to call heads or tails.
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%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%