From Endurance to Dressage
I've mentioned this once or twice over the last week, but Speedy and I will be gone this weekend to participate in yet another Christian Schacht clinic. When we rode with him in December, Speedy was really fussy on the first day, and I felt a little disappointed that we weren't able to show off our improvement.
For this trip, I am going to start out feeling a lot more humble and a lot less eager to show what we've learned. If our canter work really has improved, Christian will be able to tell. If my position really has gotten better, again, he should be able to see it. I won't need to tell him.
If you're anywhere in the Ventura area this weekend, come on out to audit, or better yet, come and ride! The first ride begins at 10:00 on Saturday; I ride at 12:00. On Sunday, I ride at 10:30. The weather is predicted to be rainy, but White Birch has a large covered arena so even the auditors should stay dry.
Since I've been riding both Austin and Marty in jumping saddles for the last month or so, I wanted to work on lengthening my leg this week. That leg position in a jumper saddle is pretty tough. My body is feeling the new angles, and frankly, there's a lot of complaining about it.
As I rode Austin the other day (two days after our little tumble), I felt myself uncharacteristically whining about riding. This is haaaaard ... Normally, I relish hard; I thrive on the challenge. I even have a hard time getting off my horses because I like riding so much.
When riding Austin, I time my rides as I don't want to over-do anything. I set my watch's chronograph: we walk for five minutes to start, then we do thirteen minutes of walk/trot work, all of which is followed by two minutes of walking to cool down. It's a twenty minute workout.
Those first five minutes are fine, but somewhere during that thirteen minutes of dang this hurts, things start to well, HURT. I am not going to lie. Sometimes I sneak some walking into those thirteen minutes. If I don't, I really think I might die of some weird muscle spasm.
With Speedy being a bit wonky for a few weeks, I hadn't used my dressage saddle at all. This had me worried as Speedy and I are heading to Ventura for another clinic with Christian Schacht over the weekend. I was worried that with so much work in the jumper saddle, my position in my dressage saddle was going to suffer.
Thinking that I needed to stretch out my tense and cramped legs, I took the stirrup leathers off my saddle completely. I love that I can get on Speedy after two weeks of just hand walking and two short lunge sessions without even batting an eye at riding without stirrups. He's a total rock star.
The instant my butt settled into that buttery soft buffalo leather, I gave an audible moan of happiness. The bliss! I dropped my legs down along Speedy's sides and reveled in the deliciousness of a long and draped leg. Heaven!
I don't know that Speedy was all that enamored with the return to work, but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Sorry, ladies, but I really don't see a switch to the h/j side of things in this girl's future!
It's been three days of no stirrup bliss. If you would have suggested that riding with no stirrups would ever feel good, I would have laughed derisively at you and thrown tomatoes or something. But being without stirrups did feel better than cranking my knees and hips into such an unnatural and painful contorted position that those jumping saddles require.
And lest you think that all I did was tootle around swinging my legs in joy, I should point out that I've been working on my sitting trot (still horrible) and canter departures. Even without stirrups, it was still more comfortable than riding in a jumping saddle. For the clinic, I will definitely have my stirrup leathers back in place, but for the next day or so, I am working on stretching out my kinked-up legs.
Yah for no stirrups! Feel free to call me crazy.
I talked to my vet over the weekend, and I got the go ahead to "substantially" increase Izzy's work load. Thank goodness because this is what a bored horse looks like ...
I am not exaggerating when I say the interest in the box lasted approximately forty-five seconds. I checked the time stamp on the series of photos. You would think that a box from Smartpak would have kept his interest slightly longer than that, but alas, it did not.
Before I got the go-ahead to put Izzy to work, I had already decided to lunge him at a walk and easy trot. It was when I told my vet later that day what I had done that he agreed Izzy's wound had reached a point where movement was not going to interfere with the healing process as long as I change the bandage after exercise.
I had made the decision on my own after seeing Izzy doing back flips in his small paddock. I decided that controlled exercise is better than what he was doing on his own. I feel much better with the vet's endorsement however.
I used my thick cotton lunge line for the work. It's a round rope that is soft, heavy enough for rough play, and long enough to let him make wide circles.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk with the trainer who put the first sixty days on Izzy. She confirmed what I've been seeing: he's not afraid, and he's basically lazy. He's also a bit stubborn and likes to argue when he doesn't want to do it. With that said, I can tell that she did a lot of really good work with him. Even though she didn't do much lunge work with him, he still knew what it meant and was happy enough to follow the rules.
When I bought Izzy, I saw him zip around in the round pen like a giraffe. He never relaxed or showed the movement that I suspected he could offer. And when I got on him in the round pen, we just walked a few steps in either direction to prove that he could carry a rider.
When he was with "the trainer" up north, I worked him in the round pen a few times, but he was pretty tense up there, and I still didn't get to see a nice forward trot or canter.
When I put him on the lunge line for some walk and light trot work, I got all giddy inside. He didn't offer a beautifully lifted back or anything, but he did show me a glimpse of the nice movement that I knew he had.
This was the first time that he's been on a lunge line in quite some time. He was remarkably well behaved and only pulled a few shenanigans - crow hops, head tossing, etc. And while he did try and pull away once or twice, as soon as he felt that tug on his halter, he immediately halted and turned to face me.
I had him walk for a few minutes, and then I sent him into a quiet trot. I laughed out loud when I saw how slow and easy he moved out. Right from the start his trot showed rhythm and balance. He didn't pull or lean on the lunge line, and he was quick to look to me for a whoa cue. In fact, I had to do a fair amount of kissing and clucking to keep him going. I don't think he's much of a bolter.
Now that we can officially work on the lunge line at all three gaits, I can help him burn off some of that extra energy by long lining him and maybe putting him in the side reins. The bridle and saddle are not far behind.
Although I shouldn't say that quite so loudly, but I do so with the utmost gratitude and humbleness. It took only a few days before Speedy was sound at the walk, but it was the better part of a week before he was sound at the trot as well.
I've hand walked him every day for two weeks, adding a short trot out down the blacktop each day. I meticulously noted a percentage or grade to indicate his soundness level. At first, he was grade three lame, obvious at the walk. But over the course of the week, his lameness was downgraded to grade one, and then I recorded his degree of soundness at 90%, 95%, 99%, sound with a (?), and then just sound at the trot.
My farrier watched him jog out last Tuesday, and while he thought Speedy looked sound, I saw an unevenness to his gait. A few days later, he looked even. On Saturday and Sunday, I lunged him for a few minutes at all three gaits and he still looked good.
I finally saddled him up on Monday afternoon, but I pulled my stirrups off. I wanted to get a really good feel for his soundness at the sitting trot. It also just felt good to be back in my dressage saddle with a super long leg.
We did some free walk to start out, and Speedy felt 100% sound. His stride was long and even, and he was enthusiastic about moving out. I then asked for a trot which he offered willingly. The more I focused on my position, the less I worried about his soundness. It's easy to feel a lame step when you're trying to find one. I quickly realized that he felt good.
I've cancelled my cancellation of the Christian Schacht Clinic, which means we're going (this weekend!). I did consult with my vet, of course, and he said to ride him. Since he improved so quickly, combined with the fact that we were never 100% certain it was the CL last year, the vet thinks there's no sense wasting time with a healthy horse until he proves that he's not a healthy horse. If he comes up sore, then we know there's something going on with that collateral ligament.
I really appreciate that my vet didn't over-react. We're taking a "cross that bridge if we get to it" mentality.
It doesn't happen very often, but on Sunday, I hit the dirt. Thankfully, both of us are okay. I say both of us because I was riding Austin, the neighbor's horse, and he fell on me while doing some trot work.
Have you all seen this video that's making the rounds on Facebook? If not, it shows a rider doing a pretty tough jump course, and the horse stumbles and falls, trapping her beneath him. The horse remains motionless as other riders and grounds crew rush to the rider's aid by flipping him over, freeing the trapped rider.
Fortunately for me, Austin's owner was sitting on a bench watching me ride. Everything was going well. I was working on my h/j position (still enormously funny) while I put Austin through his paces. We had finished up with some canter work and were doing some trot circles and serpentines. He was getting a bit heavy in the turns and wasn't really listening to my half halts.
As we came through the corner at a slow trot, I felt Austin lose his balance behind. He stumbled in the front, but I hoped he would catch himself. Suddenly, all I could see was the dirt fast approaching, and I knew he was going down. Initially, I worried that he was going to summersault on top of me, but he managed to gain a little bit of control.
Instead of flipping over, he fell to the side with me still sitting on him. I hit the dirt softly, but my left leg was underneath him. He didn't move a muscle. I let go of the reins and dragged my leg out from underneath him. Once I was completely out of the way and standing up, he slowly heaved himself back to his feet. By the time he was back on all four legs, his owner was beside him checking to see if we were both alright. When Austin went down, I went out of sight, which worried her greatly. She thought I was completely underneath him.
I've heard people talk about horses taking care of their riders, and I can now say it has definitely happened to me. I could have been seriously injured, but I know that horse was completely aware of where I was, and he did everything he could to avoid hurting me. Even though he was trotting, he tried so hard to keep his balance. I've mentioned before that he's a skyscraper. The dude is a solid 17 hands with a body to match his height. He's huge.
Even so, he went down as softly as he could. And when he hit the ground with me underneath him, he held himself up so that he didn't put all of his weight on my leg. I was able to drag myself free and and stand up without a single smudge of dirt on any part of my body other than on my hip and leg.
We walked Austin around and he looked okay. He does have a bit of a stifle issue on his left side which we think caused his fall. We think the stifle may have locked up a bit, causing him to lose his balance in the hind end. His toe probably caught the dirt which caused him to stumble in the front. He's closer to having his AARP card than he is to being carded so these things happen occasionally. The farrier is scheduled for today so we know his toes were at their longest which might have made it a bit more difficult for him to break over with that inside hind foot.
When it was all said and done, we were both okay (me probably more than him). And like I said, I am SO grateful his owner was there to see the fall. I felt terrible as it was even though I know I didn't cause him to fall, but explaining that to her would have been horrible. His owner took the whole thing in stride though and encouraged me to keep riding him.
I am not sure I could have handled watching my horse go down with as much grace and understanding as she showed. Have you ever watched your horse fall with another rider aboard? Have you ever fallen with someone else's horse? What did you do, or what would you do? I'd love to hear your story.
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%