From Endurance to Dressage
My life is finally settling back into a comfortable routine after December's "reset." Our daylight hours are increasing, I am volunteering at M.A.R.E., I am back to having weekly lessons, and just as fun and fulfilling, I am giving lessons on Speedy again. I know Speedy's ladies have felt like they get the better end of that bargain - lessons for free, but the truth is, I get way more out of the experience than they do.
Brooke was out to ride on Saturday morning. She's had quite a lot of trail riding experience, and she's had her own horse before, so she's not a true beginner. She is a bit rusty though, and she has definitely never approached riding quite like this. After seeing how well she sat Speedy's shenanigans the previous Monday, I figured she was ready for some canter work.
I don't have a lesson playbook or a prescribed order in what I teach. Frankly, I teach whatever I have been thinking about the most recently. At the CDS Judges Symposium that I attended a week or so back, I heard one statement that really gobsmacked me. The judge was describing the test movements as the rider rode them. The test included a canter down center line with a halt at X. The judge said that the halt will only work if the horse's hind legs are stepping under deep enough.
The idea of collection into the halt isn't new, of course. But for some reason, the way the judge said it, just made a lot of little pieces of my dressage understanding snap into place. So as Brooke was warming Speedy up in the walk, I really watched his hind end closely. I explained the idea to her about the hind end needing to be active in order to achieve smooth transitions up or down. When she had his hind end better engaged, he was able to better lift off into the trot.
When the trot departures were smooth, I had her focus on the transition from trot to walk to trot. The transitions were smoothest when she kept Speedy actively coming through from behind. What amazed me was how clearly I could see all that I have learned over the past decade. Riding the horse from back to front is not just something "smart" to say. It really is the way to create a more balanced horse.
Once Brooked had worked on the transitions from trot to walk and back again, I talked her through the aids for canter. While Brooked has had lots of saddle time, it hasn't been on dressage horses. I explained that when riding Speedy, she wouldn't need to kick or cluck or pull on the reins (unless he was being naughty). To get a smooth and balanced canter, all she needed to do was put her body in the right position and then think, "canter!" For Speedy, the rider needs to look with eyes and shoulders in the direction of the desired lead, keep the inside leg at the girth, sweep the outside leg back, and lift the inside seat bone.
I encouraged Brooke to ask Speedy for a balanced trot. A bad walk to trot transition will not set him up for a good trot to canter transition. Once their walk-to-trot was nice, she thought about the canter for a bit. I don't think she quite believed it would be that easy. As she approached the corner C-M tracking left, I coached her through the ads, and as I knew he would, Speedy picked up a lovely canter. Unfortunately, he also fell in on the circle and spiraled in instead of cantering out on the 20-meter circle.
Once Brook brought him back to the walk, I explained how important it was to sit on the inside seat bone. I could see her struggling with her balance as she let her weight fall to the outside. All that does is push the horse's ribcage in which means he can't stay bent to the inside. The second time she picked up the canter, I rattled off the aids:
For me, being able to "play" with someone else's body in order to affect the changes I want to see in the horse is enormously fun. It is is also deeply gratifying to see the horse that I trained myself be such an awesome schoolmaster. Speedy almost never puts a foot out of place, and he never gets irritated no matter how unbalanced a rider may be. He also won't do it correctly unless the rider's aids are pretty close to right. The better the aids, the better he performs. Brooke is a quick learner. I only hope she doesn't learn too fast, or I will run out of material to teach.Maybe I can talk Speedy into being naughty for a few weeks. That way, she won't learn so fast.
Most happy hours come with booze, and that is a good thing. I'll have a bourbon. Neat, please. This one was not that kind of happy hour. Instead, my Friday happy hour was filled with a wonderful, beautiful, sunny sky.
I have made it through the darkest part of winter and already feel a sense of gladness and joy. I made it to the barn at my regular time on Friday, about 3:15. It was cold and there were scattered clouds, but there was actual sunshine. I saddled Izzy and had a very pleasant ride that finally used more than a single 20-meter circle. The arena had finally dried up enough for me to have 35-meters of length. It was enough to do a few changes of direction and try a bit of a canter lengthening.
While it was a short ride, I never felt rushed or hurried. With the sun still above the treetops, I found I had enough time to trim Izzy's bridle path and then pull Speedy out for some grooming, too. Both boys' bridle paths had gotten a bit shaggy, but over the past two months, there hasn't been daylight enough to do those small chores. Those few minutes of daylight we gain each week are finally starting to show themselves. As I walked towards my truck ready to head home, I glanced over to see the sun still peeking through the trees.
Happy hour, indeed. I'll have another, please.
I love farrier day; it's almost as good as filling up the barn with hay. Or leaving the feed room stocked with feed bags. Or even walking away from a clean stall. Taking care of our horses provides plenty of opportunities for feelings of satisfaction. That's what I love about Farrier day; it's a fresh start.
My boys are done every six week without fail. And sometimes I try to get them done at five and a half weeks. Whether it happens or not, I don't like the thought of dramatically changing my horses's hoof angles. I am pretty sure it takes more than six weeks for them to feel the difference, but I am not taking any chances. Silly, I know. Even so.
Izzy's feet aren't at all complicated. Not much happens to his feet. Speedy, on the hand, is a bit trickier, although my farrier would disagree. Speedy is barefoot all around, and frankly, he almost doesn't need to be trimmed. He keeps his feet pretty evenly worn down just by walking around his paddock every day. With his proclivity for abscesses though, I like my farrier to keep a close eye.
When the farrier texted yesterday morning that he would get my boys done that morning, I asked him to check out Speedy's left front for signs of an abscess. He assured me that they would dig it out if they saw anything (he always has a helper). He agreed to text me if they found anything. I completely forgot about it until I arrived at the ranch later in the day and saw hoof trimmings on the ground. No text must have been good news.
I scraped out all of the mud from Speedy's hoof, the one that had had an abscess, and saw that it looked good with no drainage hole. I took him into the grass to graze (and clean his feet on the wet grass) and then I trotted him out on the long dirt track just outside the pastures. His trot out was big, bold, and too quick for me to keep up. As he dragged me along, I tried to watch for a head bob, but he was simply too eager to move out for me to keep up.
I ended up trotting him out several times, and not once did I notice even the slightest of a head bob. Until I see something that proves otherwise, I am calling this abscess resolved. It only took seventeen days.
Speedy should be good to go for a lesson this Saturday.
Sometimes, we just need to laugh and quit taking ourselves so seriously. And when I say we, I mean me. Yes, the world has gone insane. Yes, I have a complicated horse that I don't ride all that well. No, none of that is going to change. So today, rather than trying to figure out how to solve one more problem, let's laugh about the world instead.
Now that that's over, back to real life!
On Monday, Speedy's newest girl came out for a ride. Speedy's abscess hasn't cleared up 100%, but he was sound enough for a trail ride. This horse loves to play so much that a short trail ride is better than most any other medicinal thereapy. On Friday, I had reapplied a fresh poultice and then turned him loose to graze. Instead of grazing quietly while nursing his tender toes, Speedy gave me the look, flipped his tail up, and gaily cantered off down the dirt track to the west of the pastures. When he reached Izzy's end of the fence, he saucily spun around and did an extended trot past me as if to say I still got it!
With a bit of adreniline coursing through his veins, he wasn't a bit off. In fact he looked pretty darn good. By Sunday afternoon, Speedy was sound at the walk and only grade two lame at the trot. I messaged Brooke and asked if she wanted to do a trail ride. She happily agreed; it didn't matter to her whether it was a lesson or a trail ride. She was happy to have any horse time.
With the weather threatening to turn sour at any time, we opted for an earlier ride rather than later. As it was, by about 2:00 it stared to pour, so we chose wisely. I rode Izzy before Brooke came out, and I was pleasantly surprised. I had read on some Facebook page something about fiddling with one's hands - that even a little is too much, so I rode with that intenion in my mind. Every time Izzy braced or popped his head up, I resisted the urge to pull his head back into my atmosphere and instead put my leg on. It's amazing what correct riding can accomplish.
I finished my ride on Izzy just as Brooke was arriving. I tied Izzy up and pulled Speedy out for Brooke to groom and tack up. While she has ridden as a kid and adult both, it has been a decade or so which means she's a little rusty. It doesn't help that I like things done just so. Brooke is still working on mastering the Blocker Tie ring, and the girth for a dressage saddle can be a bit overwhelming with all of its keepers and buckling system. This time, she asked if she could take some photos to serve as a reminder. That's a girl after my own heart.
My plan for the ride was to first circle the ranch. If anybody was going to come off - that included me as well, it would be a lot easier to deal with a loose horse and a potentially sore rider if we were still on the property. As it turned out, Izzy was such a jerk that after circling once, I jumped off, ran into the tack room, and grabbed a whip. We ended up doing a second loop before heading out onto the nieghboring properties.
Izzy never really did straighten up, but I know Brooke enjoyed herself despite his Tom foolery. The first time we made the loop, we startled the horses next door who were in a three-sided, run-in shed. The pinto popped out which scared the bejesus out of Izzy who spooked which startled Speedy. I gave a laugh as both Izzy and Speedy shot forward as though the starting bell at the track had just rung. To her credit, Brooke sat the spook quite well and had Speedy stopped within a single stride.
Hearing her laugh made me feel a lot better about venturing off the property. Speedy is rock solid in the arena, but out on the trail he can be much spicier. The day was blustery with dark clouds hovering as they threatend to let loose their moisture. It was perfect weather for spooking and shying, both of which Speedy did. On our way headed back home, he saw some black weed blocking cloth flutter in the wind. I heard Brooke give an audible oomph as Speedy slammed on the brakes.
Later as we crossed a natural channel that feeds the river on really wet years, Brooke gave a delighted whoop as Speedy tried to launch as he crested the top of the channel. He has always enjoyed the down and up whoop de doos. Sometimes he gets particularly excited which can be a bit scary when he launches on the uphill side. Knowing he was feeling quite sassy, I had both horses enter the wash at a diagonal and then we turned at the bottom to climb back up at another diagonal approach. I didn't feel much like hitting the dirt either.
We finished up right at the forty-five minute mark. After untacking, I checked out Speedy's poultice. It was mostly still on, but after closer inspection I decided to pull it and rewrap it. As I did. he yanked his foot back with an irritated expression. Once I got all of the Numotizine cleared out, I could see that a bunch of Numotizine was matted in his fetlock hair, the more I pulled the more annoyed he became. After using my fingers, a comb, and the scissors, I realized that what he needed was for all of the hair to be cut away so I pulled out my clippers. What I saw was the very tiny beginning of a bandage rub. Sometimes the "cure" causes a new set of issues.
After putting the hoof testers back on and not getting a reaction, I decided that after fourteen days, it was time to let nature take its course. I opted to leave his foot naked with no more poulticing. The poultice had done whatever it could do. He walked off just fine without any obvious soreness. The tiny bit of soreness that he had shown might even have been from the gunk matted in his fetlock hairs combined with the beginnings of the bandage rub. I felt confident that he was just fine.
For now, Brooke is scheduled to come back out on Saturday. I know Speedy will be happy to see her.
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
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: