From Endurance to Dressage
I was thumbing through my most recent issue of Dressage Letters, the monthly membership publication of the California Dressage Society, when an article about the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) caught my attention. If you don't show, USEF is the organization that provides us with our adult amateur status. Either I am totally out of the loop, or this will come as a surprise to you as well: we are no longer members of the USEF.
Apparently, the USEF has once again rebranded itself as a new organization, United States Equestrian. They even have a new logo.
I was a slightly worried that my $55 membership fee had been spent in vain, so I did some quick digging. First, the website is still to be found at USEF.org, and second, my membership card, which I hadn't even looked at before shoving it in my show binder, had tried to warn me of the impending change if I had only bothered to look at it.
Notice the new logo. The US is large and in red while Equestrian lies just beneath as in the above logo. It, too, is in a bold font while the now defunct Federation is pencil thin and in danger of not being noticed at all. It would seem that the name change had been thought about for some time. Next year, all they need to do is simply drop the Federation, and the transition will be seamless.
This is not the first time that USEquestrian (I simply can't use USE) has changed its name/or and logo. This has been going on for some time.
I am sure the name change was accompanied by tons of political squabbling, but since I don't show internationally and have no plans to be ranked nationally, the change doesn't really mean anything to me. As long as my $55 wasn't wasted, I'll just sit back and wait for the next card to show up sans Federation.
Was I the last one to notice that I am now a member of USE?
I never in a million years ever expected to get to the point where I would be lamenting our lack of collection, but here we are.
Speedy's connection is now pretty good. He has developed some relatively good impulsion, and the thrust is mostly there. He is steady in the bridle, and is in every practical sense, a very broke horse.
As I reviewed the purpose of the Second Level tests, a few things caught my eye.
To confirm that the horse demonstrates correct basics, and having achieved the thrust required in First Level, now accepts more weight on the hindquarters (collection); This is where we're a wee bit stuck, that part about accepting more weight on the hindquarters.
moves with an uphill tendency, especially in the medium gaits; and is reliably on the bit. Well, no, not so much. He is reliably on the bit, but the uphill tendency is still a bit of a problem.
A greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness, balance and self-carriage is required than at First Level. I feel reasonably solid here. The dude is bendy, swingy through his back, and while he has sufficient self-carriage at the trot, he doesn't want to always sit and push at the collected canter.
As I was hauling Speedy's butt to a halt on Saturday, I started thinking that I might need a new bit. It occurred to me that I should pop Izzy's correction bit on him or even the double bridle. With a snaffle, Speedy is able to just lay on my hands and let me carry him.
He's in a French link Baucher right now, but when he gets ridden next, hopefully this afternoon, I am going to pop the above bit in (after I put the chain back on) and see what I get. This is an MP 04, a comfort snaffle with low port. This is a Level 2 mouthpiece which means that while it still uses tongue pressure, the slight port allows some tongue relief if the horse is relaxed and carrying himself.
This particular mouthpiece is USEF (now USEquestrian) legal, but the Kimberwick cheek pieces are not. I don't care right now. I am hoping that the mild curb action of the cheek pieces will get Speedy's attention and get him to SIT. Right now, when I ask for a half halt, he is leaning on my hands which means there is not enough weight on his hindquarters.
If I get the reaction I want from this bit, I'll consider buying it with legal cheekpieces. It might also just be enough to switch back and forth between it and the Baucher.
I'll keep you posted!
If you have two X chromosomes, you probably carry a purse of some kind. Recently, mine grew into a bag almost large enough to tote around a dead body. At first, I thought it was ridiculous to have so much empty space hanging off my arm, but you know what happens. Little by little I had less empty space.
I stopped by the pharmacy this week. When I placed my purse on the counter, it made quite the thunk. As I dug down through the debris, I heard a jingle sound that hadn't been there the day before. I reached in to grab my wallet and pulled out a hunk of metal instead.
I had tossed it in my purse so that I could drop it off at the barn later that afternoon. I forgot to make the delivery though, so it spent the night next to my keys and wallet. It's completely normal to pack around a bit in your purse though, isn't it?
Fess up. What's in your purse?
Obviously it wasn't an emergency visit. I don't normally do vaccinations in February, but since we have a mid-March show planned, I thought it prudent to get it done earlier rather than later. Both boys can get a wee bit puny after their annual vaccinations, so I planned the visit to coincide with the wet weather and far from the show date.
A few weeks ago, I realized that I hadn't driven my truck in ... several months? It took the engine a while to finally turn over, so I drove it around for a few days charging up its battery. After I made the vet appointment, I realized that I hadn't used or moved my trailer since at least September. Where does the time go?
I hooked up over the weekend and dragged the trailer out of the weeds and bushes to give it a once over. Everything looked to be in working order, but I drove it around the neighborhood to be sure. The next day, I decided to give Izzy a quick trailer loading lesson. To my delight, he hopped in super quietly after Speedy, and both boys stood like rockstars.
On Monday, both boys loaded confidently and we headed on over to Bakersfield Vet Hospital. I have an amazing vet in Dr. Tolley. His first question is always to ask about each horse. He knows we're there for vaccinations and dentals, but he also likes to know if anything has changed and what other "little" thing we might have going on.
On Sunday, after having been sound for a good six weeks, Speedy came out of his paddock a little ouchy. I immediately assumed it was the same old right front foot problem we've dealt with for the past few years. On a quick trot out on the lunge, he looked sore on the right. On Monday, after a trim by the farrier, he looked almost sound. What the heck? I explained all of this to Dr. Tolley who quickly put the pieces together.
He lunged Speedy to the right and noticed that Speedy was actually sore on the left on one of the bars of his hoof. Speedy came up quite positive to hoof testers, so Dr. Tolley poked around a little looking for an abscess. While nothing oozed out, Speedy was immediately more comfortable as Dr. Tolley shaved away some of his sole. Dr. Tolley's diagnosis was a build up of fluid on his bars which was trying abscess. Removing some of the sole released the pressure.
After that, Speedy got his teeth done and his annual vaccinations. After some poking around Speedy's sheath, right front tendon, and his eyes (an area to watch as there's a weird thing to keep my own eye on), Dr. Tolley gave Speedy a clean bill of health.
The big brown horse also got a once over. The sarcoid that we removed a year or so ago has left some funky scarring on his sheath, but Dr. Tolley thinks it's just that, a scar. As always, he advised me to keep my eye on it. We also discussed the possibility of ulcers, but Dr. Tolley didn't get too excited by the idea. A horse with free choice hay and 24 hour turnout isn't a likely candidate. We shelved the discussion for another day.
Izzy also got his vaccinations and the sharp edges of his teeth smoothed out. This led to a discussion about bitting. If you haven't read yesterday's post, check it out. I explained to Dr. Tolley the whole bitting saga we've gone through, and he listened intently. He said it was possible that the small points Izzy had formed since last year could have contributed to some bit discomfort, but he agreed that it was also quite likely that Izzy simply didn't like the snaffle.
We talked about his own opinion regarding bits and tongue relief, and he echoed my own recent conclusion that tongue relief is important for horses. He reminded me though that he rides well broke ranch horses that don't need the micromanaging that dressage horses do. He understands the needs for bits of all shapes and sizes.
I always enjoy my visits with the vet. Dr. Tolley is always interested in developing the doctor/client relationship. The more communication between vet and owner, the better off the horse will be which is always his number one priority. And if that means we chit-chat about bits, he's happy and interested to do it.
Anybody else use their vet as a sounding board, or I am just a weirdo?
In December, I did a review of the Mylers' book, A Whole Bit Better. Mine is an updated and revised fourth edition, copyrighted 2004. It's a great book but has since been revised again. In 2010, the book was republished under a new name, The Level Best for Your Horse. I just got my hands on a second edition, published in 2016.
It's no secret that I am a Myler bit fan. It's not that they're necessarily the best bit brand around, but they are nicely designed and constructed. I also appreciate the many options that the Mylers build into their bits. You can get the same mouth piece with different cheek pieces for example.
I wasn't sure that this re-written version would offer much more than was in the copy I already had, but some of their newer mouth pieces weren't in my book, and I wanted to read about them. With a purchase price of $13.95, less if you use a Riding Warehouse coupon, it was worth the risk.
I am glad I bought it. One of the things I most respect about the Myler brothers is their ongoing effort to learn more about horses and how they work. Since writing their first book, the Myler philosophy about tongue relief has evolved. They've always been huge proponents of tongue relief for horses, but now they've gone on to say that, interfering with a horse's ability to swallow impedes his overall balance and motion. Tongue relief remains the underlying principle of the Myler Bitting System. It's about understanding your horse's personality so you can give him as much tongue relief as he can handle.
They go on to explain that when they first assigned levels to their bits, they focused on a horse's training and his abilities. Could he do this or could he do that? Now, they've expanded their philosophy to focus less on the horse's ability and more on the horse's disposition. In the preface, the Mylers say A horse's disposition is perhaps the most important consideration in bit selection. I love this way of thinking.
The book has a number of chapters meant to be read: "Bitting for Communication," "The Anatomy of Bitting," and "Basic Bit Knowledge" for example. The true value of the book though lies in its encyclopedic structure. Interspersed amongst the more "wordy" chapters are those that have detailed descriptions paired with illustrations explaining how each mouth piece and cheek piece work: does it apply tongue pressure, how much? Does it rotate onto the tongue or not? Does it collapse on the bars and tongue, and if so, to what degree?
Reading through the book prompted me to stop and reconsider what I am using on Speedy and why (a boucher with a French link mouth piece). I have some more thinking to do for sure.
As I continue to search for the best bitting situation for Izzy, I read what the Mylers now have to say about this particular correction bit: If the horse is relaxed, the tongue can pass comfortably under the wider opening. The pronounced corners of the port apply two points of pressure on the tongue for increased control. The result is a mouthpiece that offers maximum tongue relief for the horse, but very good control for the rider.
That is exactly what I need for Izzy. But.
The correction bit isn't legal for dressage, mainly because of the curb action created by the Kimberwick cheek pieces. So even though Izzy is going super well in this bit, and even though the Mylers have designed this bit for long term use (unlike their other correctional bits), Izzy needs to eventually transition to the show legal bit.
So back to the book I went. There are four basic levels in the Myler Bitting System that recognize stages of learning balanced with a horse's disposition: Levels 1, 2, 2-3, and 3. Izzy, for example, should probably go in a Level 1 bit (most of the snaffles), but with his disposition, he needs a Level 3 bit that gives him the greatest amount of tongue relief.
The Mylers are now recognizing this need and are finding ways to guide riders in selecting a bit and cheek pieces that take into account a horse's disposition. I bought another bit - a Kimberwick MB 33, to help him transition to the legal Level 3 bit even though he might not be the trustworthy, finished horse that typically goes in that level of bit.
This bit, also a Level 3, should be the perfect transitional bit for Izzy. The mouth piece is nearly identical to the legal bit. The port is only slightly higher at 1½" and only slightly narrower which still gives him ample tongue relief. But unlike the loose rings of the show legal version, this bit has Kimberwick cheeks which will give me some mild leverage as Izzy's still learning to behave himself. Right now, I still need that control.
I think most riders would benefit from having this book on their shelf. It's a great resource to turn to as your horse becomes more finished and his bitting needs change. I also think more of us should have a better understanding of what our bits are doing in our horses' mouths. I know that I rode with a much different frame of mind over the weekend after having read this book. Knowing how to use my bit to give Izzy the tongue relief he needs will certainly make me a better rider.
I can use all the help I can get. Let me know what you think.
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%: