From Endurance to Dressage
I didn't know how much I had missed giving lessons until I gave one last week. All of Speedy's regular ladies have either moved on or are dealing with life. For a while there, he had more than a few lady friends. One rode for a month or so, and then she just stopped calling me, no offense taken.
Another, a junior, only made it out once and realized that dressage wasn't as much fun as group H/J lessons. "T" moved to another part of the state and has since bought her own young mustang, and I couldn't be happier for her!
The last of Speedy's ladies still sends texts to let me know she's thinking of us and desperately wants to come back. We want her to come back, too!
Besides the ladies who have come out to ride regularly, Speedy has made a lot of other friends. "K," who has done something spectacularly awesome for me - I can't WAIT to show you, has ridden Speedy and spent time out here at the ranch riding one of the ranch horses.
Speedy has also carried both old and new friends on trail rides, particularly E, the immigration attorney for whom I have done some writing. She had a great time riding him.
Out of the blue, another horse friend reached out to see if Speedy had room on his calendar for yet another friend. "L" is horseless at the moment and was feeling the need for some horsey time. Of course I told her to come out.
While L has owned her own horse, he was a senior citizen and not likely to throw in a buck and a bolt. She has also been in a lesson program doing some jumping. Even so, unless I've known someone and seen them ride myself, I am not likely to just toss someone up on Speedy and let her have her way. If someone is going to ride my unicorn, I like to explain his buttons.
Speedy is not at all complicated to ride, but if given a tour, I find that riders appreciate all of his bells and whistles. In L's case, she's been riding lesson horses who aren't as sensitive to their riders as is Speedy. L has also been riding in a jumper saddle, so helping her adjust her position for a dressage saddle seemed only polite.
I guess all of that is my round-about way of saying I gave L a lesson of sorts. When I had asked her what she was expecting from the day, she had said that she was open to whatever I was up for. In my book, that means game on! She spent most of the time just walking as she hasn't had a lot of saddle time this year, but Speedy is a confidence builder, so before she had finished, I talked her into a small trot.
When riding Speedy, you really only need to think trot or whoa, and he's happy to deliver. I've taught Speedy that a deep sigh is a cue to either come back to the trot from a canter, walk, or halt depending on what you were doing before hand. I think L appreciated how well educated Speedy is.
I LOVE teaching, and as much as I've always said that barn time is my break from teaching, I've discovered over the past year and a half that I actually really dig giving lessons. I am good at it, and I have the perfect lesson horse. L will be relocating to the coast in June, but until then, I hope she'll come around at least once a week.
It's fun for me, and I know Speedy LOVES to show off for his ladies.
I worked for a decade to earn a USDF Bronze Medal. In all the years I rode Speedy, I thought I was at a disadvantage by not having a purpose bred horse. I now know that it takes a lot more than a well bred dressage horse to win and be successful. In my opinion, a good mind is more important than huge fancy gaits or raw talent.
Now that Izzy is my main ride, I appreciate Speedy's giving nature even more. While Speedy was sassy and a lot less talented than Izzy, when it came to show day, he was game on. I knew that if I could more or less get it at home, whatever "it" was, he would do his best for me at a show.
As Izzy and I ride mile after mile on the struggle bus, I often complain to Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, that I am back to being an intro level rider. I just can't do anything right. Sean always rolls his eyes at my drama llama moments and then sagely reminds me that the world's best riders spend most of their time working on the basics. One of his favorite sayings is that beginners want to spend 90% of their time on the tricks and only 10% of their time working on basics. Top level riders spend 10% of their time working on the tricks and 90% of their time schooling the basics.
I saw this meme on Facebook a few months ago, and it seemed to illustrate Sean's point exactly. There is a lot of fancy in a dressage test, but none of it happens without good basics. If something is going to go wrong, it's probably something as simple as a halt. Or a transition. Or correct geometry. Or ...
Maybe I am doing more right than I realize.
Most readers will know that Izzy struggles with tension. He's so tense and worried that he gives himself a sour tummy. A little over a year ago, he had a minor colic. Before that event, I had tried numerous attempts at soothing his tummy including a month long experiment with Ulcer Guard. I've talked to my vet about it, and we've done all of the things - free choice hay, 24 hour a day turn out, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, magnesium, and on and on. After the minor colic, I finally found a product that soothed his tummy; Gastro Elm.
The GastroElm worked so well that by the end of the first month, Izzy had gained a hundred pounds, the tenderness at his flanks disappeared, and his poop was once again falling in satisfying balls. I bought another bag. At the end of that bag, I started buying two bags at a time. It worked so well that I was all in. I determined that Izzy would get a dose every day for the rest of his life.
For the first month, he was getting at least two doses a day. After six weeks, I put him on the maintenance dose of one tablespoon per day. Sometime in the fall, his poop started to get sloppy again. My job got crazy busy in September which I wasn't at the ranch every day, so he wasn't getting a dose every day. I chalked the sloppy poop up to the missed doses. Through November and December, his poop ranged from cow pies to super soft balls that looked more like mash potatoes than equine road apples.
By January, his poop had started to stink. All poop stinks of course, but horse poop has a "good" stink. The stink Izzy was pooping out was anything but good, It smelled sour and reminded me of the smell of bile and vomit. So gross. I really didn't know what to do about it. He has been gaining weight all winter and his coat looks pretty good. It's not fabulous, but he also started shedding so he's in that molting stage where he looks a bit mangy with patches that have shed and others that haven't.
When CC, Izzy's body worker, came out this past weekend, we got to chatting about the weird, sour smell Izzy was emitting when he pooped or farted. CC told me that he has since put several of his own horses on GastroElm after seeing what it had done for Izzy over the past year. Recently, though, one of his mares hasn't been looking as shiny as she should be, and an old skin irritation has returned, all of which prompted him to wonder if the GastroElm might be too much of a good thing.
His plan is to take his horses off of it for a few weeks and reintroduce it. He suggested giving it for ten days and then taking the horse off of it for twenty days to see what happened. In Izzy's case, he wondered if the ingredients, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow Root, and a few other herbs, might be altering Izzy's gut flora too much. Horses and humans all need the microorganisms, predominantly bacteria, that populate our intestines. Getting rid of all the bacteria can cause diarrhea.
According to GastroElm's website:
It forms a smooth gel that acts almost like an internal bandage when mixed with water. It coats and soothes the stomach and digestive tract to help the animal feel better very quickly.
Slippery elm soothes and lubricates the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract. That makes it an excellent treatment for ulcers, gastritis, colitis and other inflammatory bowel problems. It’s high in fiber, which helps normalize intestinal action.
I know it works because for the first three or four months that Izzy was on it, he looked and felt better. Now, he's still gaining weight, but his poop and the odor that comes with it seem to suggest he might need a break. So, over the weekend I pulled the GastroElm from his diet. My plan is to give him a three to four week break, watching for any changes in the odor or texture of his poop. I'll make changes based on what I see.
I know that GastroElm is a great product, and I will continue using it. In fact, two new bags arrived the other day. It seems that a dose a day for the rest of Izzy's life might have been a bit of overkill. I'll see what happens in a couple of weeks, and then I'll use it more on an as needed basis.
Apparently, too much of a good thing can be bad. Who knew?
I hadn't ridden Speedy in ages. And when I say ages, I mean at least a year, maybe more. It's not that I dislike riding him, it's just that he can't do the work that I want to do, and he's been happy doing lower level stuff with his ladies. "J," the rider who rode him through most of 2021, hasn't been able to come down since October. She's had some health concerns as well as work commitments.
I've lunged Speedy a few times over the past couple of months, but no one has ridden him since October. He lives in a very large, sandy paddock, so he has plenty of opportunity to move around. He and Izzy play pretty hard throughout the week, so I don't worry about him getting stiff and sore. Besides living turned out, he also gets "turned out" into the yard to graze and visit with the other horses. Speedy is very respectful of the rules, most of the time anyway - on Sunday he came 90% of the way into the feed room before I could herd him out.
A friend who I've introduced to a few other horse friends is now horseless. She recently reached out to me asking if Speedy needed a new lady. I was thrilled to hear from her as I have made it very clear to the Universe that Speedy could use a girl who needs some horse time. She's coming out on Thursday afternoon to see if she and Speedy connect.
Since it had been at least four months since he'd been ridden, I figured I had better check on his level of "brokenness" before tossing someone else up on him. I consider him a schoolmaster, but before he can start doing real work again, he needs to knock some of the feral off. No matter how long it's been since anyone has been on him, I know that I can hop on without any fear. I can't expect anyone else to ride through those threats to buck though.
I gave him a thorough grooming which he very much appreciated. After saddling. I decided to ride in his riding rope halter. I had cleaned Speedy's bridle a few weeks ago and put it in storage, so I didn't want to get it dirty. He's perfectly manageable in a rope halter. He was spicy though. Even getting on took a bit of growling on my part. He threatened to buck when I got on, but it was just excitement. He's too well schooled for any real nonsense. He just likes to let me know that he could if he wanted to.
He pranced his way around the ranch chomping at his imaginary bit. When I suggested we just walk without the jigging, he tossed his head saucily. It was all in fun though. Speedy doesn't have a mean bone in his body.
The ranch covers ten or eleven acres, and there are all sorts of little paths and roads to cover. After we made the first loop around the ranch, his brain re-engaged, and he remembered his job. He also saw how much grass had grown over the winter. Suddenly, the jigging and prancing were replaced by diving head first into the lush grass.
Before too long, the grass will turn yellow and the foxtails will make things miserable. For now though, the ranch is as pretty as it gets. By the second loop, Speedy had settled down enough for me to hold the reins in one hand and my phone in the other. I couldn't resist shooting a minute a two of video. At 0:01:42, you can see one of our regular avian buddies, the egret. The first time I went by, he would not get out of the road. On our second lap, he was perched on the fence prepared to give Speedy a heart attack.
As much as I love this horse. I love sharing him even more. I hope he and "L" make a connection. While he needs to move, it's the interaction that he loves the most. I told the Universe to find a girl for him, or maybe three. I am going to trust that the right ones will show up.
How lucky am I? Pretty lucky, I think.
If you've been here for a while, you might remember that five years ago we moved out to the edge of town into a golf course community. The golf course sits just 100 yards to our south. A golf course on the edge of town means wildlife. For the most part, we don't see many of the animals, but we know they're around.
Our backyard faces one of several reservoirs used to provide water for irrigation for the golf course. Our lake - some insist it is just a pond, is the largest of the reservoirs. It is home to a plethora of birds including egrets, herons, Canada Geese, and tons of different ducks. The lake is filled with bass, turtles, crawdads, and of course frogs. One of the reasons we bought this house was because of its proximity to such a diverse ecosystem. We're just minutes from the grocery store, gas station, and bank, but once we're home, the bustle of urban life disappears.
On Thursday afternoon, we had a little visitor. While my husband was watering plants in the back yard, he noticed a lump of gray fur nestled into the pillows of our patio furniture. He frantically waved me outside asking what the lump might be. I took a step closer and saw that the bundle of gray fur was a raccoon. Its head was tucked under the pillow so it was hard to tell at first. Of course, we both leaned in closer to see if it was alive. The steady rise and fall of its belly told us that he was indeed breathing.
I began cooing about its cuteness, while my husband threatened to sic the dogs on it. I of course declared that there was no way we were doing that. Instead, I grabbed one of the throw pillows as a shield and a broom as my lance, and I set to work trying to shush the tubby guy off the furniture. I've met my share of raccoons, but this guy had a set of huevos the size of grapefruits.
I first poked him softly with the business end of the broom to which he said, hey! He grabbed the broom in both paws and tried to jerk it from me as he growled and hissed, clearly cussing my lack of hospitality. I poked him a bit more firmly and told him to get off my furniture.
It quickly became quite apparent that the broom was doing nothing but annoying my new friend, so my husband grabbed the pool net with the plan of poking it with a bit more force. Our unwelcome guest did not like getting poked, and he showed his displeasure by growling even louder and doing little somersaults along the sofa. Eventually, my husband irritated the little dude enough that he crawled through the back of the sofa and got down under it.
My husband kept poking with the pool net, but the little raccoon was having none of it. He simply scampered from one end of the couch to the other as my husband tried to fish him out. I kept warning my husband not to hurt it, but I doubt he could have; that raccoon was pretty sturdy. The sun was beginning to set, so I suggested we leave him be and check on him in the morning. It was clear that no amount of prodding was going to get him to come out from under the sofa.
We kept our eye on on him all evening, and by the morning he was gone. We've seen our share of skunks, and my front yard has been sprayed more than once this winter, but this is our first raccoon visit. He was super cute and braver than I would have liked. His tough guy attitude certainly worked on me. I wouldn't mind an occasional visit, but we hope he hasn't decided that our patio sofa is a good place to crash.
If he is going to hang out, he'd better clean up after himself at the very least.
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%: