From Endurance to Dressage
The next 6 weeks are dedicated to the walk. For most of us, I think the walk is probably the most neglected gait. Let's face it; it just doesn't have the glam that the other gaits have. There's no suspension, no sense of elevation, and it's really slow. Who can blame us for wanting to do something with more pizazz?
Since I am not supposed to do anything more than walk with Speedy right now, I am embracing the gait and plan to milk it for all that it's worth. For those who are wondering, Speedy came up REALLY lame two months ago, so lame that he didn't even want to walk. After radiographs, nerve blocks, and a thorough lameness exam at one of California's premier equestrian medical centers, it was decided that Speedy either had a deep bone bruise or a collateral ligament injury in the hoof capsule. (I still suspect an abscess.)
Without an MRI to confirm which injury Speedy might have, I decided to follow the most conservative treatment option which was only going to cost us some time. We've finished the 45 days of hand walking and have moved on to 45 days of walking under saddle. In about 6 weeks, we'll be able to add some trotting and then continue from there.
The best news of course is that since the day after we returned from the vet, Speedy has not taken a single ouchy step. This is also frustrating as he is very, very sound. I would love to throw caution to the wind and just get back to full training, but the risk of a repeated injury, whatever it was, is just not worth it. I kind of like this horse and would prefer that he have many years of sound riding in front of him.
So here's my current walking plan:
He was very happy to be back to work, and I didn't realize how much I had missed the view from between two white ears!
While I might not belong to Club Skinny, I've certainly lost a few pounds and inches since the end of summer. I needed to. I had let myself get a little chunky and wasn't feeling my best. Most of my colleagues and friends think I am pretty thin now, but I know what lurks under my waist band!
Funny story: I went to a CAbi party the other night, hosted by my friend, Shelly, a CAbi consultant. As we were all trying on clothes, I whined about my little fat belly that was pooching out under a cute top I was trying on. Shelly teased me about being worried about my "muffin top" while laughingly claiming that I had nothing on her; she had the whole bakery!
Don't we all feel that way - like bakery owners? Why can't we all own the liquor store instead with our rock hard six packs?
I've already written about getting my OH MY GOD! weight back to a reasonable level here, here, and here. After my last consultation with my nutrition/exercise expert (friend, Lori), I quit weighing myself and instead paid more attention to how I looked and felt. I have gained a couple of pounds, but I know those are muscle pounds (yeah, yeah … that's what everyone says).
My clothes are fitting better than ever, and I feel really healthy. My energy level is astounding: I get up at 4:45 a.m., exercise, work a full day, ride and mess with two horses daily, cook dinner, and keep our life organized and running. But most importantly, I am just genuinely happy!
My workout routine consists of a slew of exercises designed to strengthen my core and back while also improving my balance. Each morning I do a 60 second plank, several sets of exercises with my resistance band to tone my ams, diamond pushups, 100 jumping jacks, a pilates core exercise where I lie on my back holding my legs up while paddling my arms (don't know the name), and then I get on the treadmill for at least 5 minutes. I repeat the jumping jacks in the evening as well as 5 - 20 more minutes on the treadmill.
The last morning exercise I do is done while brushing my teeth. This one has done a lot to help me find my balance and to lower my center of gravity. I call it my Toothbrush Exercise. To do the exercise, you cross one leg on top of your knee and crouch slightly. I hold the pose for 90 seconds while I brush my bottom teeth with my electric toothbrush. I then return both feet to the ground for 30 seconds. When my tooth brush next beeps, I cross the other leg for another 90 seconds. For the final 30 seconds I return both feet to the ground again.
The whole thing takes four minutes; my toothbrush beeps every 30 seconds and shuts off at 2 minutes so I run through the cycle twice. I spend only three minutes strengthening my core, butt, thighs, and calves, but it is really helping. The bonus is that my dentist loves how clean my teeth are!
I obviously need to spend more time with my resistance bands; those arms don't look as firm as I thought! Things just don't stay as tight and firm in your 40s as they do when you're in your 20s (said with a deep sigh and a shake of the head).
Here's what I looked like last summer … Speaking of which, those exercise bands are calling my name!
Next time I'll share how my Nike Fuel Band inspires me to MOVE!
I know. Not the kind of title you would typically see me use. In fact, I hate selfies and avoid them whenever possible. Not saying there is anything wrong with them, but I look barely acceptable in a posed, deliberate photo. In a selfie, forget it. But a butt selfie is a whole 'nother story!
What the heck is this brownish mark on Speedy's back?
If you guessed a dusty butt print, you're absolutely right. I've got the matching mark on my breeches to prove it.
Yep, that's right! Speedy is back under … saddle. Sort of. We just finished our first 45 day chunk of the heal and rehab process. Those 45 days were spent hand walking daily. The next 45 days are for walking under saddle. Boring work, but worth the effort.
Rather than view this as drudgery, I have made it my mission to turn these few months of boring into something productive. Believe it not, the 45 days of hand walking were good for Speedy. His ground manners were already pretty good, but he does have a bad habit of spooking into me when he's frightened. We worked hard on that this last month so that he is now trying to not run me over when he gets spooked.
I have to give my boy some serious kudos. I hadn't planned on riding him yesterday; it was a spur of the moment idea. I threw my riding halter on (it's a rope halter with rings for the reins) and grabbed my helmet. I had picked out his feet but hadn't even bothered to run a brush over him. As we walked out to the arena, I realized that I hadn't even changed out of my Mudruckers.
So there I was: rubber boots, bareback, halter, and a horse who hasn't been allowed to even trot for more than 6 weeks. A recipe for total disaster, but it wasn't. Speedy stood patiently by the mounting block as I popped up. We spent the next 20 minutes getting reacquainted. I did a lot of just walking on the buckle, but then I started to ask for a bit of a frame and some simple lateral work … in a halter! He was quite simply a perfectly well behaved, well schooled boy. My heart swelled with pride!
We have 6 weeks to play around with the walk. I am going to use that time to first ride with no saddle so that I can work on my balance and seat aids, but then I plan to move to rides with no stirrups. By the end of April, my goals are to improve my own position, have Speedy really listening to my seat aids, and improve his desire to reach for contact.
By the way, he was so fat and round that it felt like I was on a sofa!
How long ago was it that I couldn't get a right lead canter departure? A couple of months? Can you believe that I am now working on improving the downward transition from trot to canter? I thought the day would never come.
Leaving that thought to muse for a moment …
I am really hard on myself. No, I am really hard on myself. My criteria for success is perfection, anything less is simply unsatisfactory. This is extremely odd as I am a teacher by profession and recognize, no embrace, the concept that any progress is to be celebrated and rewarded. Unless it's me of course, then anything less than perfection is to be rejected, scorned, and basically scoffed at with derision.
You know I jest. Sort of.
In reality, I don't suck nearly as much as I claim. Being self-depracting is how I cope with my perceived sense of failure and lack of success. In reality, I know that I am actually a fairly strong rider who just has stuff to learn. Load me up; I can take it. All I really need is to be shown; I get it pretty quickly and don't forget.
That sort of brings me back to Monday's lesson. I hadn't ridden with JL for several weeks so I was eager to talk about my last show and the lesson I took with Chemaine. I shared what Chemaine had said about doing more shoulder fore, sitting deeply, not leaning forward, opening the outside rein, and remembering to do more patting and praising. JL was on board with all of it and more than happy to incorporate those ideas into our lessons.
And so we got to work on the right lead canter. Our departures still aren't super smooth and balanced, but I can definitely feel what I need to do; we just need more practice. Simply sitting with the inside hip forward, inside leg at the girth, and outside leg behind the girth isn't enough. Sydney needs a lot of support from his rider, which means very precise use of the outside rein during the transition.
And interestingly enough, he needs the same amount of finesse with the outside rein during the downward transition. Who knew? Not me obviously as it took several rather awkward and ugly transitions where his back dropped about 18 inches as his nose reached for the sky for me to put the whole picture together. Oh, you mean I need to help in the downward transition, too? D'oh!
And that's what we focused on. I asked for a right lead canter, made the circle smaller, and then asked for the downward transition while trying to provide a lot of support with my outside rein. It took a few tries, but then we got it. Frankly, JL was rather impressed with how quiet and submissive Sydney was. She said that she's never seen him this relaxed and happy. Ah … music to my ears.
I must be doing something right.
I already wrote about the need to sit up and lower my center of gravity. Sydney gave me an excellent chance to put all of that together on Sunday afternoon.
I am not sure what got his panties in a bunch, but as soon as we reached the "scary" end of the arena, he tensed, whirled, and reared when I hauled him to a stop. It wasn't that I particularly wanted to have that conversation with him, but I grabbed the moment with both hands and went for it. I sat deep, exhaled, and lowered my shoulders.
We spent the next 30 minutes discussing whether or not he should rush and be heavy on his forehand, or better, simply listen to my aids and be more relaxed. He chose to relax, but it took a lot of work on my part.
What I ended up doing was using Chemaine's voice to coach myself through the ride. Every time I felt myself tensing my core above my belly button, I let out my breath and imagined a heavy sack of potatoes. Immediately, my center of gravity dropped and my seat felt much freer.
As Sydney tried to rush the corner, I told myself to close the outside rein and outside leg. As we continued on the circle, I was able to feel when I could be neutral. That moment was followed by the need to open the outside rein while still maintaining contact as I asked for flexion with the inside rein and leg.
And round and round we went. Fortunately, Sydney doesn't get bored with an exercise like this. We worked the circle for more than a few minutes until he really started to get even between my aids. I laughed out loud and remembered to praise him a lot.
We took a walk break, and then repeated the exercise to the left. What I really started to feel was that he isn't trying to run off and dump me. Instead, he's just very unbalanced and running to keep from falling down. Each time he rushed, I reminded myself that my job was to help him lift his front end. I sat up, gave two squeezes with my outside hand and added leg.
Eventually, we repeated the exercise at the canter. To the right, I opened the outside rein and asked for flexion with the inside rein when he wanted to fall in, but then closed the outside rein when he wanted to fall out. To the left, I really just needed to ask for inside flexion; he doesn't fall in that direction.
I am sure many of you think I must be an idiot: how hard can all of this be? This horse is much more difficult to ride than any other horse I've owned. Frankly, he's just a lot of horse. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn on him however, as he doesn't let me fake anything.
The good thing is, I am making tons of mental connections right now and developing a level of feel that I would probably not have achieved on Speedy. I wake up each day eager to ride because I know I am getting closer and closer to having a really fancy horse that I can actually show off!
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%: