From Endurance to Dressage
Leap Day feels like a day to hit the reset button, doesn't it? It couldn't have come at a better time. Sunday's lesson left me feeling pretty discouraged. I have some ideas as to why I was so dejected, but I am not quite ready to put pen to paper. I even skipped my barn visit on Monday. Just the thought of going to the barn left a bad taste in my mouth which distressed me even more. How could the thing that brings me the most satisfaction be unpalatable? Deep sigh.
Tuesday dawned bright and crisp. I knew I needed to get to the barn, but my regular enthusiasm just wasn't there. Who wants to race off to yet even more frustration? As I left work, I quipped to two of my colleagues that I was off to face a demon. And that's what it felt like: off to do battle.
When I pulled into the barn's yard, the tension and anxiety that I had been feeling simply slipped away as I saw Speedy's inquisitive face peering into my car window. He waits for me every afternoon and is always happy that his human Pez dispenser has arrived. Whatever. I'll take the greeting! As I entered the barn, Sydney reached over his gate to greet me with a very kind and eager expression. I felt a little knot in my gut just dissolve. I think I thought that he was going to be angry with me over Sunday's ride. Instead, hIs expression said, Hi! What are we going to do today? It was such a relief.
My visit to the barn was very relaxing, uplifting, and peaceful. I even rode. Thank you, ponies!
It's not often that I just don't feel like writing. I love to write about my equine experiences. It brings me great joy. It keeps me excited about riding. It helps me process what I am learning. The blog is like my box of secret treasures. I like to pull a story from the box and look it over and remember where I was when I "found" it. I place it gently back in the box and take out another. I take great delight in adding new treasures to my box. But like every box of treasured mementos, some are more fabulous than others. Some are little pebbles, found in the dirt. Some are ticket stubs to a favorite show. Others are like a delicately dried flower given to you by a cherished love. Each one is in the box for a reason: it represents a special memory of a past experience.
Not so right now. Sunday's lesson has nothing but negative, inadequate, and scary feelings attached to it. I can't put that in my treasure box. I am frustrated. I am disappointed. I am discouraged. I'm disheartened. And since I don't want to write about the lesson, nothing else will come either. And while I have a stack of drafts ready to publish, I feel dishonest posting those while this one is weighing so heavily on my mind.
The sting of Sunday's failure is slowly fading. I hope that by tomorrow I won't even perseive it as a failure, but rather as a simple indicator of what work I still need to do with Sydney. When the memory can become something useful, I'll share it and happily add it to the box. Until then, can I just say thank you to those of you who have already kindly shared your experiences with me about how long the get-to-know-you period lasts with horse? I appreciate those "keep on trucking" comments. Here's to a new day.
I am not ready to talk about Sunday's lesson. Instead I'll share how the halter releasing went.
End result - excellent! But the truth is, I was really worried about being successful.
Frankly, I was able to buy Sydney cheaply because he had baggage. I don't know exactly what size his luggage is or whether it's an indestructible Samsonite, soft-sided, or just a small carry-on. I do know that he was bred and raced in New Zealand and then exported to the USA, which isn't cheap. Someone got him his Hunter/Jumper card thing which also means someone was spending big bucks on showing and trainers. Neither thing, racing or jumping, worked out for him, so he slowly made his way to the barn of Debbie Davis, re-homer of the can't quite make it where they were.
Why didn't Sydney make it on the track or as a hunter/jumper? Was he simply too slow, too clumsy, or was it something more insidious? Was he untrainable? Too sensitive and anxious? I tend to gravitate toward the no one really wants 'em kind of horses. I've had hot ones, wild ones, and even one that tried to kill me. [That was Speedy G - and he really did try!] In the end, they've all turned out to be really great horses that garnered a great deal of respect.
Each time I start a new one, I go through a period of buyer's remorse. I think, holy crap! What have I done? There's no way I can make this one work. And each time, I figured the pony out and was honored to have him or her in my life. Right now, I'm there with Sydney. I keep reminding myself that it's been less than a year and we are making progress. But every time I lick one issue, two more crop up. This haltering thing was just one more in a line. Take a number and all that.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, how to fix it consumed me. I thought about it long and hard but was overwhelmed with feelings of doubt and fear. What if it just gets worse, and I can't resolve it? And there it was, the root of all my anxiety, especially the issue we worked on at our lesson. What if I don't have the skills to deal with Sydney's baggage? What if he's untrainable? What if I get hurt?
Meet my new elephant. His name is What If. Unfortunately, he's lived at my barn before, so I know him well. I kicked him out a couple of years ago, but you know how these freeloaders are. They sneak back in while you're not paying attention.
So dealing with the halter thing was a big deal. And when I solved it, even if just for one day, I felt some of my confidence return. Sydney is teachable!
I didn't do anything special. I just used what I know. I started in the outside run of his stall and asked him to lower his head by pulling steadily on his lead rope. Once he lowered his head, I gave a good boy. Next, I gently rocked his head toward me. More good boys. Then I wrapped the lead rope around his neck and repeated the first two exercises. Downward pressure, sideways rocking. I loosened the halter and moved as though I was going to "release" him. As I knew he would, Sydney tried to jerk away. I was hip to his game and caught him smartly, and sharply, with the rope. The halter was back on before he knew what had happened. And I will say he had a mildly surprised expression on his face. Something like, what the hell just happened?
I love that look because it says a lot about a horse's ability to follow the rules. There was no pinning of the ears or swishing of the tail, gestures that say, screw you, lady! Instead, just surprise. I repeated the process again, and was rewarded with a pony whose feet were bolted to the ground. He was rewarded with a small cookie and lots of very good boys!
I gave Sydney a break while I did some other chores and then we moved the lesson to the arena. No bolting, jerking, or other shenanigans. Just a pony who seemed happy with the rules more clearly defined. I think that as long as I insist on a lowered head and a nose bent to me, we'll have no repeats of the jerk to be free maneuver.
Mr. What If, would you kindly remove your over-sized butt and get the hell out of my barn? You are decidedly not welcome here.
I came home from Saturday's ride and stopped in the bathroom. I glanced up and saw this. I cracked up laughing. Yep, Sydney. I heard you!
This is my toilet paper butler. He holds the really spare roll. You only grab his if the cupboard is bare because without him, you'd be ... well ... up Sh*t Creek without a paddle.
Here's what he normally looks like.
Sydney was terrible on Saturday. Sigh. The trot work was great, the canter work was not. I literally wrestled with him for the better part of an hour over the damn right shoulder. I did every exercise I know to make that circle. Ultimately, I got it, but it took way too long and I think Sydney might think he has a new trick up his sleeve. After riding, I hiked on over to JL's and ran it by her. She called it Sydney's Trick of the Week. I asked for a lesson on Sunday instead of Wednesday to FIX THIS RIGHT NOW! She agreed.
I hope that as you read this I'll be fixing the on-again, off-again right shoulder blow out. My lesson is at 4:00 p.m. PST.
Do you remember this? What I actually do ...
I was so there Saturday afternoon ...
Sydney has started another naughty trick. This is the one where he jerks away from me when I turn him out. It started with a little joyful head toss, but the next time he flat out jerked away. The last time I turned him out I was ready for it. I wrapped the lead rope around his neck and JERKED him as he tried to bolt. Whoa. That got his attention. I know this is yet another issue I now have to work through. There will now be daily lessons on how we stand while the halter comes off. Yuck.
I am not sure that it was officially 80 degrees yesterday afternoon, but it was sure close. I rode, again, in a tank top. Our summer might be scary hot and long, but for right this minute, the weather is glorious. And so was my ride on Sydney. It's rare to have consecutive rides on both horses that go so well. It's usually a great ride on one and holy crapola on the other.
I don't know what has happened, but everything that JL and I have worked on for the past six months is finally gelling. Just like Speedy G, Sydney was naughty yesterday, but I had an answer for each goofy offering. When he squealed and flung his head, I bent his nose to my knee and worked him around my inside leg to outside rein. When he got stiff, stiff, stiff, I pulled his head left with inside leg and then I pulled his head right with inside leg and then left and right, over and over.
When I even suspected that he might blow through my outside aids, I made the circles very, very small and added lots of outside leg. If that wasn't enough, I used the pulley halt, especially at the canter. When we take our first canter strides, Sydney tries to explode away from me. I usually wrestle him back onto the circle and repeat the attempt. JL suggested instead that if he hangs on my rein and runs off, I should halt him hard, and get him off my outside rein and leg. So that's what I did. I used the pulley halt, and then MOVED him with the outside rein and leg back and over. I did it a few times and viola ... success.
It was not a pretty ride, but again, I was able to successfully school through every single "naughty." I was able to work him both directions at the trot, we cantered to the left, and all of the work took only half an hour. That might seem puzzling. I was glad for the 30 minute ride because sometimes it takes 45 minutes before I can get him to listen. My goal right now is to simply get him on my aids. If that takes 12 minutes, we're done.
We did it in 30 minutes yesterday. Here's hoping for 15 minutes today!
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%: