From Endurance to Dressage
I am still teaching remotely. It was definitely a real struggle in the beginning, but there are things about it that I have grown to love. I can run a load of laundry, get an early start on dinner, and I get to skip the 30 minute commute to work. I work longer hours, but they're more comfortable hours - I am in yoga pants. I do miss a few things though like interacting face to face with people and standing up. If things go according to plan, my students and I will report back to school on March 18th. My last day with students was March 17, 2020. Our return will be a full year and a day later.
While there are a few things I like about being able to work from home, overall, the experience has been daunting. Most of the country is screaming for the heads of teachers; I can't count the number of times that I have heard that I should be fired for "refusing to go to work." I know that there are teachers' unions around the country who are making certain demands before teachers venture onto school campuses, but that isn't us. Instead, we have dug deep to meet the demands of our kiddos.
While I've always considered myself pretty tech-savvy, I had to instantly acquire a whole new set of skills in order to meet the educational and emotional needs of my students. They've cried, I've cried, but we've survived. Quarterly assessments have shown that my kiddos are not just meeting expectations, but in many cases, exceeding them. Through it all, I had to learn how to run Canvas, Jamboards, Zoom and Google Meet, a brand new science program, AND a brand new history program, both of which have digital platforms. It's been tough. I frequently work ten hour days (and sometimes longer), so when I hear that I ought to be fired for "refusing to go back to work," something I have zero control of, it's pretty demoralizing.
On Thursday morning, as I checked my email while waiting for my tea to steep, a student message popped up. They email me at all hours of the day, and I make it a priority to respond immediately. I opened it up to read this:
Of course it was important. Anything they send me is important. When they take the time to compose an email, it's because they're worried, sad, frustrated, concerned, happy, or just need to connect with someone outside of their home's four walls. I opened the Jamboard link, and my heart melted.
And that's why I do this job.
I can't say that I've ever found a supplement that actually did what it claimed. Most of the time I feed whatever it is in hopes that it's working, but I never actually see results. Izzy gets a daily scoop of a good quality vitamin/mineral supplement in an effort to improve his overall health and maybe prevent his coat from fading. He's healthy, but his coat still fades. He also gets a full cup of milled flaxseed to help his skin, but he still got eaten up by the gnats last year. Would things be worse without those products? I don't know. They're certainly not hurting him, but I can't tell if they're helping either.
In early January I started Izzy on GastroElm, a blend of Slippery Elm Bark, Milk Thistle, Marshmallow Root, and Dandelion Root. According to the manufacturer, it forms a smooth gel when mixed with water that coats and soothes the stomach and digestive tract to help the animal feel better almost immediately. After six weeks of use, I have to say that the product does exactly what it says it does. This is the first time that I've used a supplement where I can actually tell that it is working.
Within one or two days of beginning GastroElm, Izzy's tummy was clearly feeling better. He quit being sensitive to grooming, his poop piles began firming up, and he was a lot less grumpy. For the first three weeks, I syringed the first dose and top dressed his feed with a second dose. For the past three weeks, I've only top dressed his feed. There was one day where he was again sensitive to being groomed on his left flank and his poop got ploppy, so I both syringed and top dressed his feed that day. By the next day, he was back to normal.
Not only did the grooming sensitivity and ploppy poop go away, but his face is even more relaxed. After I give him his daily cookies, his eyelids droop as he licks my hand. For so long his face has had a bit of a worried expression on it. Even that has changed. He just looks more relaxed. His appetite is also more consistent. He has always had a tendency to eat a lot for a few days and then eat less for a few days. His appetite was just never very regular. That too has changed over the past month, and he has definitely put on weight. His girth is now one hole lower. I am looking forward to our spring vet visit so we can weigh him. At his heaviest, he clocked in at 1,350 pounds, The last few times he's been weighed, he was under that at around 1,275.
I am so convinced that the GastroElm has helped that I just ordered a six month supply. It's easy to feed - I add a tablespoon to a little plastic container, fill it with ½ cup of water, cover, and shake vigorously. I fill both boys' buckets with their beet pulp and other stuff, and by then, the gel has formed. It dumps out in one solid clump. Once I mix it in, Izzy gobbles everything up without leaving a trace. It's great to have found something that I can actually see working.
Expensive poop that isn't ploppy, is worth the price of admission.
Unless you just started reading this page yesterday, you'll know that Izzy is not an easy horse to ride. That may be one of the biggest understatements I've ever made. He's downright challenging to ride. Do I sometimes wish that he were a bit easier? Sure, but easy doesn't teach you a lot. Easy can also be boring. It should be clear by now that I thrive on difficulty. You need proof? I trained my endurance horse to be a dressage horse and together we earned a USDF Bronze Medal. Difficult doesn't scare me. Difficult and I are friends.
While difficult doesn't scare me, I do like my money, so I try to spend it wisely. The 2021 show season is upon us. Unlike last year, it really seems as though we might get to actually show. That means I need to make some decisions pretty quickly. Initially, I was going to show at El Sueño at the beginning of March, but my trainer wasn't going to able to come, so we decided that SCEC at the end of March was a better option. I like SCEC a lot. Speedy and I earned our final bronze medal score there, and Izzy earned his one and only qualifying score there in October.
The decision to go to SCEC in March is pretty well established. It's what we should do after that that is in question. Here's the problem. We're in the midst of refinancing our house which will knock ten years off our payback date. This is going to push our house payment up a fair amount. In the short term, it's forcing us to tighten our belt just a bit, but the long term benefit is huge. That money has to come from somewhere, and the most obvious place to cut expenses would be from my show budget.
So here is what I am thinking about:
Even if we're not particularly competitive, I still want to take Izzy to RAAC as it's one of the best shows of the year. If you think adulting is hard, consider this: it's even harder to be 50 and have to make decisions that affect your retirement!
Man, I'm getting old!
If we're friends on Facebook, you already know this, but on Friday afternoon, I hopped up on Speedy bareback with his specially knotted rope halter that has rings to attach reins. We walked around the neighborhood brushing off the cobwebs. As we made the turn toward home, Speedy got a little bit spicy. I like spicy Speedy, so when we got back to the ranch, I took him into the arena. Although it came with a sassy attitude, he agreed to pick up a canter. I asked for a flying change of lead each direction, got them, and called it a successful day.
Speedy's little hissy fit only reinforces my belief that he doesn't particularly want to do the hard stuff anymore. He's always liked the flying changes though, so it doesn't hurt him to work for five minutes. When we were done, I gave him lots of pats and walked him over to a patch of grass. I unclipped his reins and gave him the run of the yard. While he gets sassy at times, he also loves feeling successful. I know he doesn't really mean it when he swishes his tail and puffs himself all up. That's just his personality, and he's always been a bit of a drama queen.
"J" came out for another lesson on Saturday morning. As sassy and smart-alecky as he is for me, Speedy is just as patient and steadfast with his ladies. He never pins his ears or swishes his tail. The worst thing he does is try to hollow his back and avoid working hard. When they get their aids correct though, he's all business. My heart just melts when I see how much he enjoys his new job. J asked if Speedy liked her. (What's not to like?) I explained that Speedy knows who is in his tribe, and as far as I know, he's never kicked anyone out. As long as his riders are fair and kind, he'll give them his very best.
Giving these weekly lessons has brought back all kinds of memories. I'm amazed at how far we've come, but I am also reminded of where we began. I started this blog as a way to connect with other riders who, like me, were just beginning their own dressage journeys. It's hard to remember a time before the internet, but in 2011, when I wrote my first blog post, there weren't very many websites yet devoted to dressage. Of course we have the opposite problem a decade later. There's so much to dig through that it can be hard to tell what's good, what's junk, and what you should believe.
Not that I know everything, or even all that much, but I still feel that Speedy and I have an obligation to share what we've learned. I try to remember where we struggled and what things I wish someone had told me. Those are the things that I am showing J and T. Most of my early trainers either didn't have much of a dressage background, or if they did, they hadn't progressed much past First or Second Level. It wasn't until I met Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that I started to learn how the different movements laid the foundation for harder and more complex movements later on. Chemaine has ridden and trained horses all the way to the Grand Prix, so she knows how the pieces all fit together.
Those are the things that I am showing both J and T. When I present them with a new exercise, I try to always turn the page so to speak so they can see why they need to work on whatever it is that we're doing that day. On Saturday, I had J disengaging the hind end and then doing turns on the forehand. It seems like such a simple exercise until you try to do it for the first time. That very first attempt at "lateral work" shows the rider how effective her aids are. J worked hard for at least 15 minutes trying to get Speedy to step away with his hindquarters without allowing him to swing his front end around. The turn on the forehand involves moving the horse's hindquarters around his front legs. Instead of turning around his forehand, Speedy wanted to spin around an imaginary pole much like a carousel horse.
It took a few minutes, but ultimately she was able to ask Speedy to do a turn on the forehand. Once we finished with that exercise, J looked at me and let out a deep breath. Whew! She loved the challenge of the exercise as it gave her a chance to use all of her aids and allowed her to check her effectiveness.
We then moved on to trot serpentines, something we've been working on already. For this lesson, she had better control almost immediately so we revisited the idea of getting a trot to walk as Speedy crossed the centerline (an exaggerated half halt). After several attempts, I finally stood in her path on the centerline and told her she had better get the walk because she was going to have to run me over otherwise. Suddenly, she got a crisp downward transition without flattening me!
I applauded her effort and asked what she had done differently. Her answer was preparing sooner and being firmer in her request. I had her repeat the transition as I blocked her path until she felt like she had the aids confirmed. Then she asked me to move so that she could try it without me there as a crutch. She got a lovely trot to walk, and I knew she felt good about how effective her aids were.
Wanting her to see why there is a reason for a trot to halt through the walk, we finished the lesson with having her come down centerline with a halt at X. We all know how hard that is in the beginning. Of course, like all of us have done, J over-shot the center line. Before letting her do the transition, I had her repeat the turn until she was able to successfully make that 10-meter half circle. And as I knew he would, Speedy gave her a very nice trot to almost halt at X. In the lower levels, the horses are allowed to halt through the walk.
Teaching J reminds me how difficult dressage is. Now that I've shown to Third Level and have a Bronze medal, I feel so much pressure to be a "good" rider. Isn't that what being a Bronze/Silver/Gold medalists means? J is helping me see that it just means that I've learned a lot, but it doesn't mean that the rest is supposed to be easy. Whether it's your first turn on the forehand or your first canter pirouette, it's going to be hard, and I don't think anyone more accomplished than me is going to criticize me as I continue to struggle. If anything, I think watching a rider struggle through the levels you've already "learned," gives you a new appreciation for how difficult this sport really is.
I love having a schoolmaster to share, but I wish I had two of them!
On Friday, February 19th, my blog celebrated its 10th anniversary. Wow, where does the time go? In some ways, it feels as though I've been writing about my dressage hits and misses forever. At the same time, it seems like I am still just a dressage newbie tootling around the arena. I used to publish a new post seven days a week, but after a few years, I decided Monday through Friday was enough. My platform doesn't give me a count, but I estimate that I've posted in excess of 3,500 posts.
I've never gone back to reread from start to finish; it would take too long. Occasionally, I'll search for an old post, and when I do, I have to laugh at myself. I always sound so cheerful, so enthusiastic. Of course, there are the times I sound sad and frustrated too, but there are far fewer of those posts. I'm a Pollyanna at heart; I can't help but look for the silver lining.
From the very beginning, I vowed to be honest. In general, I am not the sort of person that toots my own horn. Sure, I share my successes, it would be unhealthy not to, but I tend to write more about the train wrecks; they're more interesting to write about. The truth is, there's not nearly so much to be learned from winning whereas the opportunities to learn from failure are many.
While I wrote about a variety of things in those first few weeks, by early March I was already critiquing my own riding and striving to get better. I had been riding all my life, but I had never had formal lessons. Staying on was what I was good at. I could ride 100 miles in less than 24 hours, but I didn't know my posting diagonals nor did I know how to pick up "the correct" lead. I knew from the start that whatever Speedy was doing wrong was because of me. Evaluating my riding was a theme I would continue to explore for the next ten years.
Right from the beginning I connected with a lot of other riders who felt like I did. We weren't beautiful riders, but that's all we saw in magazines, television, and movies. I figured that if I honestly documented my journey by showing the bad photos and voiced my "dumb" questions, someone out there was going to learn something without all of us needing to be embarrassed. I took one for the team so to speak.
While I didn't get many public comments on the blog itself, readers regularly emailed me instead. I loved getting those messages from people who thanked me for showing what it's really like to struggle. I still do. Of course, I also got public comments from people who thought (and still think) that I am a tone deaf idiot. Last year I had to finally close the comments. I felt that if someone took the time to reach out to me, I felt an obligation to respond. Eventually, I just couldn't keep up with the conversations.
Of course, this all coincided with COVID-19. One thing I have learned this year is that my viewpoint is not that of the majority of Americans. The things I hold dear and sacrosanct are not the same things that the rest of the world values. I am a registered Libertarian, and the platform of that political party is one I stand behind 100%. The basics are these:
Throughout the ten years that I have been blogging, I have been criticized numerous times for my beliefs. When it comes to how I spend my money, or how I don't spend my money, I've been characterized as cold and heartless. When I've spoken about COVID and schools, I was called tone deaf and insensitive. I think someone even called me a psychopath. For what? For questioning the choices that our government has made on our behalf?
There was a lot more in the middle ...
Choosing to write so publicly about my life and my life choices is of course an invitation to evaluate, judge, and critique those choices. I get it. I welcome it. Not everyone is going to agree with me, and you shouldn't. I insist that my own students think critically for themselves. I give them opportunities each day to participate in the conversation with the only rule being that we treat each other respectfully. I start the conversation, but I only manage it without voicing my own opinions unless it's to say good thinking to a student or to challenge her to clarify her thinking.
This little piece of the internet is a place I love to visit. I enjoy writing about my dressage journey, stuff to buy, my four legged family members, books, travel, and sometimes even what is happening in the world. Just as much, I value having YOU to talk to. As I write, I picture YOU on the other side of my screen. What will you think about what I've written? What is your experience? Is it different from mine? Will you respond? Sometimes you answer, most times you don't, but each day I still look forward to what you might have to say, even when we disagree.
So, here's to the next ten years. Will they bring world peace? Probably not. Is there a USDF Silver Medal in my future? Fingers crossed. I hope you'll keep reading and maybe even comment now and then, but if not, that's okay too. I'll keep writing even if it's just to my mom(s) and dad.
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%