From Endurance to Dressage
On March 28, 2013, I finally became the sole owner of a 27 foot, 3-horse, Silverlite horse trailer. No, no, no ... I haven't just gone out and bought a new trailer. I hope I don't have to do that again for a very, very long time. Nope, what I mean is that the bank no longer holds the title; I do. Well, I will as soon as the DMV gets their paperwork done and mails it to me. Let me start at the beginning ...
I've ridden my whole life; I don't remember my first ride. I don't even remember my tenth ride. My grandmother had horses, three of my uncles were farriers, and I rode my neighbor's horses until I finally got my own horse as a teenager.
Going places with my horses didn't happen very often as we didn't have a trailer, but it did happen. I went camping, trail riding, and even rode Sunshine in the rodeo parade. Each of those trips happened because someone else generously offered to bring my horse and me along.
I remember each of those trips with my horses very vividly. I adored driving down the road with a horse in tow. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world. Whenever we were driving and a horse trailer went by, I gave it as long a look as I could before it was out of sight. Hubby even learned to point out trailers for me when we were first dating. I wanted a horse trailer in the worst way.
Fast forward a few years ...
After college I bought Sassy, but of course I had no way to get her home. I paid a driver to transport her across town to her new barn. While there, I soon met Jim who did have a trailer, several in fact. I spent the next five years bumming rides with him, my mentor MC, and later from my pal Taz's Mom.
Those were actually very helpful years. I learned how to load horses, keep them comfortable while traveling, and most importunely, how to keep them healthy while traveling. As an endurance rider, we traveled all over California (and even into Nevada) all of which gave me quite a thorough trailering education.
The problem with bumming rides was that I was always at the mercy of my driver. I went when they went and where they went. There were many times when I didn't get to go somewhere because no one else wanted to go.
In 2000, I was on track to place in the AERC Desert Southwest Region. I had done two hundred-milers earlier in the year, but needed one more to really guarantee myself a spot in the year-end point standings. Jim suggested I do the Swanton 100 up in the Santa Cruz area. With no trailer and no friends interested in going, I shrugged it off and hoped my points would hold up through the remainder of the season.
In June of that year, Hubby and I bought a truck suitable for hauling a trailer. We now had the truck, but no trailer. I decided to ask Taz's Mom if she would consider loaning us her horse trailer for the weekend. Friends do some pretty remarkable things; she and her husband graciously agreed to the loan. I share this because it was that trip that enabled me to get my first trailer.
We went to Santa Cruz to do the 100-miler, and Hubby offered to go as my crew. This particular 100-miler was a single loop trail which meant that the horse and rider never came back to camp for supplies, food, or water until the finish. Any items needed must be given to the rider while out on the trail or at the away vet checks. I am not sure Hubby knew quite what he was getting into.
For nearly 24 hours, he met me on the trail and at the vet checks. He brought me warmer clothes, fresh water bottles, and food. He provided hay and water for Montoya, brought a cooler for her while she ate, and held her while I made the occasional stop at the port-a-potty. We arrived back at camp at 5:00 a.m., vetted Montoya through, and tumbled into our sleeping bags which we had arranged in the back of the trailer.
Although we were both exhausted, neither of us could sleep; we were cold, uncomfortable, and aching. Hubby pointed out what a terrible experience it was. Having already competed for more than four seasons, I already knew how unpleasant endurance camping could be.
As we lay there, Hubby started talking about what kind of trailer we should get. Our plan was to buy a sensible two-horse much like the one we had borrowed. He began wondering what it would cost to upgrade to a gooseneck with a finished dressing room. He had seen those trailers that were carpeted and had room for a mattress in the trailer's neck. I quickly agreed that it was a good idea. He went on to add that a sink would also be nice for hand washing and teeth brushing. I couldn't agree more.
Two months later we went trailer shopping. We started out looking at the sensible two-horse trailers, but Hubby gave a quick look and kept on walking. We finally ended up looking at gooseneck trailers, but after calculating the price to customize a stock trailer, it seemed easier, and only slightly more expensive, to buy one with full living quarters.
At the time, we already had a hefty truck payment so a large trailer payment was out of the question. To lower the payment, we financed the trailer for twelve years. Today of course, we would do no such thing; we're far too conservative to finance anything for that long. But back then, we did what we could.
I drove the trailer home in November, and the next weekend, Hubby and I took it to the Sunland 50 for its first time out. As I showered at the end of the ride, Hubby asked if I was glad that he had thought to upgrade. I just smiled.
This should be the end of my story, but it is not. The trailer that I own today is not that cute two-horse with living quarters that I financed for twelve years back in 2000.
To be continued ...
My Wednesday ride on Sydney was yet again, so, so nice. The reason it's even worth mentioning is because of the tractor...
At the "C" end of our arena is a small, tree-lined driveway, and immediately beyond the driveway is a large orchard of baby trees. Occasionally, the farmer who owns the orchard finds it necessary to work in said orchard with various loud machines. If this were an everyday occurrence, Sydney would be long used to the noise, but it is not an everyday thing. On the rare instances when the tractor approaches, its loud grumblings and grindings even make me a bit nervous.
In the past, the noises have frightened Sydney so much that I found it easier to simply lunge, or just do turn out. As I was tacking up, he seemed to not even notice the tractor. As I mounted, he stood with his ears flopping to the side. When I saw that the tractor was heading in the opposite direction, I decided this was my chance to at least ride the perimeter of the arena for our walking warm up.
I ended up doing the entire ride without any issue from Sydney. Granted, I did keep to the bottom two-thirds of the arena, but in truth, he ignored the tractor completely. As I brought him to a final halt, my heart swelled with both love and gratitude for this horse. Just a few months ago, he was still trying to bolt, and even small noises caused his whole body to tense with fear. That's not to say that Sydney will never be tense again, and we'll see what happens at the HDEC show next weekend, but he sure has changed.
Just think how great he'll be in another year. Last year, I would have never even considered making such a statement.
I mentioned the other day that Speedy and I were to have a lesson on Wednesday. Jl hadn't seen him since the week before the HDEC show. At that lesson we worked on straightness, especially coming out of the left lead canter down the long side. For this lesson, I felt that I needed to improve the inside bend. She agreed.
I had been working on the inside bend for the better part of a week; she noticed the improvement right away. Nothing is ever perfect though, so she had some suggestions. First, she liked my opening inside rein. Speedy has gone back to an old trick, however that I wasn't catching. When he doesn't want to bend, or when I am not being vigilant, he tucks his nose down which allows him to duck behind the contact and straighten out of the bend.
Little booger. When I want straightness, he curls around; when I want a bend, he fights to be straight. Grrr ... When I saw what he was doing, I paid a lot more attention to the inside rein, lifting it when I felt him duck under.
The second part to confirming the bend was to be more effective in lifting the outside shoulder. When I felt him bending, JL had me rock the outside rein to lift his front end. I was surprised to hear, More! Huh? Apparently, Speedy can handle a much more assertive outside rein. She was right, of course. Once I firmly rocked the outside rein in rhythm to his stride, he got lighter and quieter. As I was working the outside rein, I had to be aware of maintaining the inside bend, too, without letting him duck behind the contact. Talk about walking and chewing gum at the same time!
Once that was going well, we worked on the 1-loop serpentine. This is a fun exercise that brings together a lot of different skills. JL had me go back to a standard figure 8 so that I could rebalance Speedy in the straight part where the two circle meet. She had me really slow his outside shoulder as we straightened so that I could begin to move him sideways before actually making the next turn. The point of the exercise was to fix any crookedness that he had without letting his shoulder drift out.
Once I had a better feel of the straightness and moving sideways, I returned to the loops of the serpentine. Ah - much better! The trick to getting the new bend is to slow down the outside shoulder (ultimately just a half half), get him moving away my new inside leg, and then establish the new bend. Once we broke it down into those three parts, the serpentine became quite easy!
I love it when other bloggers post pictures of their horses' stalls, runs, and turn outs. Even more than those photos, I love pics of their tack rooms and trailers. I've discovered that what I think of as normal horse-keeping is anything but. Everyone does it differently.
Below is a "sketch" of my BO's barn. I think she did a lot of the design herself. It's a very cleverly planned barn that suits our hot climate quite well. The heavy line represents the roof. The two stalls on the left side have a wall at the edge of the roof that is about 8 feet high, but it doesn't touch the barn roof. This is the windy and hot side of the barn. This creates an "inside" that extends as far out as the cross ties wall. The right hand side of the barn doesn't have a wall, but the stalls are longer and the roof covers a bit larger of an area.
Each horse has an "inside" and outside run. The wall at the cross ties is about six feet high and solid. For the hay cube and grain bin storage areas, the wall is a heavy gauge wire so that air can pass through and the horses can see each other. No horse shares a wall so there is absolutely no bickering, fighting, biting, or kicking.
Each run has two access gates: one is under the roof near where each horse is standing, and the other is in the farthest, diagonal corner from each horse.
The hay cube section is completely open to the outside so you can drive a vehicle right up to unload. Between the the hay cubes and the cross ties there is a short wall (3 feet?) with a human-sized pass through gate for easy access. The tack room is completely closed in with its own roof which keeps out the dust and makes it cooler since it's actually "double-roofed." There is a large, swinging door on both sides of the tack room. The grain bin area is also open on the backside to allow vehicle access when necessary. I did a video when I first moved in that you can check out here.
On Monday, Hubby needed me for a full day appointment so my planned rides were postponed. I did have enough time in the afternoon to tinker around at the barn though. My side of the tack room was pretty dusty so I decided to move most everything outside and give it a good sweeping. As I started moving stuff, I noticed that the Daddy Long Leg spiders had set up quite a community along the ceiling and corners so they got the boot.
I forgot to take a before picture until I was partway done moving stuff out. Here they are.
Yes ... all of this is mine with the exception of that rickety cloth covered shelving unit. I do have stuff in there, but we need to replace that thing. I am not sure how it's still standing! I didn't move it out as I am not sure it would have made the journey. Our bridles are hanging on the inside of the tack room door.
Once the floor was swept and the ceiling de-spidered, I hauled everything back in. Sweeping and moving stuff served a second purpose: Sydney got a really long turnout which I think he enjoyed. After the tack room project, I moved on to the stalls so Speedy got his turn to roam as well.
Now that I look at the photos, the end product doesn't look as good as it did in person. All of those tubs in the shelving unit had been covered with a layer of dust which is now gone. The blankets were also covered with dust which I beat off with the broom; they look better, too. I rearranged my mountain of saddle pads so they're no longer about to topple off as easily. If nothing else, I got a good workout and Sydney got some time to wander around and play. Some days, nesting is just a peaceful thing to do. And after my semi-stressful Monday, it was a good way to spend some time at the barn.
I've been writing so much about Sydney lately that I thought Speedy G deserved a post. He got a few days off after the HDEC show, but then it was back to work.
A week or so ago, I watched my BO take a lesson. She's working on developing the feel of steady contact so her lesson was mostly walking with some trot work. It was a great lesson for me to watch as I am working on confirming my contact at the canter. Watching her develop the feel of steady contact at the walk was like watching the process in slow motion. It was very helpful.
The number one issue that my BO had was letting the horse take the contact from her. She could tell when this would happen because all of sudden she would have straight arms with no bend in her elbows. JL would remind her to bend her elbows and shorten her reins. How many times have I heard those words?
The second issue RM dealt with was not using enough outside rein. Sounds familiar. Seeing it happen from the sidelines helped paint a very clear picture for me as the observer. As soon as RM's lesson was finished, I zipped back over to our barn and saddled up Speedy. We got to work on the canter, specifically to the left where he tends to get really heavy. Keeping in mind what I had just watched, I refused to let him take the contact from me.
I didn't hold him up, but rather I pulsed the inside rein to say let go, and I lifted his outside shoulder with the outside rein. I didn't let him pull the reins forward. If he got too heavy, I added lots of leg, and I made my circle smaller and smaller. When he lightened up, I made the circle larger.
Over the last week, I've worked on our canter departures and transitions back to trot always keeping in mind that he can't take the contact back. When I rode on Tuesday, I was particularly pleased with his canter; it wasn't perfectly uphill, but he has certainly lightened up a bit which makes the turns easier to navigate and the downward transition much softer.
I think we might be making a bit of forward progress! Lesson later today - hopefully we can show JL the improvement.
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%: