From Endurance to Dressage
When You're the Weak Link
Speedy and I finally had another lesson with JL. It's been more than six weeks since he's seen her, and after yesterday, I am sure he is ever so grateful. She helped me see that I was once again being the weak link.
I started the lesson by explaining that Speedy has been heavy in my hand and basically running through my aids. Since he's been out of work for the better part of five weeks, I just chalked it up to loss of fitness on his part and a glitch in communication on my part.
JL reminded me to swing him off the heavy rein and to remember to work only one rein at a time. I nodded my head, yes, yes, yes. I remember all of this, but it hasn't been working. I am the first one to admit that when something is wrong it's probably my fault, but I can't fix it if I don't know what I am doing wrong.
So while I am was working on softening Speedy to the inside, left rein, JL asked me to leg yield to the rail. I could practically see the light bulb flashing over her head. I don't know if she's more aware of my position since we've been working with Austin in the jump saddle, but all of a sudden she felt that I was really hunching my shoulders and bracing my arms.
I didn't doubt it for a second. Of course I am bracing and hunching. That's what struggling ammies do!
To help me develop a better upper body position, she picked up a whip with an eye to slipping it through my elbows, behind my back. Uh ... no. I know it's a technique that many trainers employ, but I didn't trust Speedy to keep it together for me to ride around with my arms locked behind my back. Instead, I just imagined the whip holding my elbows back.
When I questioned the purpose of the exercise, (I was really worried that she wanted me to always ride with my elbows that far back) she explained that it is simply an exercise to teach riders to sit up and move their elbows.
Holy heck, people. I LOVE this exercise. Once my chest was open and elbows were bent, Speedy miraculously softened and was even in both hands. Gone was the tension in the left rein and the constant tipping of the nose to the outside. If that wasn't a huge indicator that I am once again (or continue to be) the problem, someone needs glasses.
With my elbows pushed behind my back and my hands up near my boobs (sorry), my whole body started moving. All of a sudden, the tension simply melted out of me. The best part for me was to feel the suppleness in my wrists. Normally, I find myself pressing my hands down to "soften" my horse. With my elbows bent and my chest open, my wrists got soft and giving.
The next thing I found happening was that my legs also got longer. No longer was I reaching for the stirrups like I do when I hunch over. I felt stronger through my core and really well balanced. Even at the canter I was able to stay soft and supple though my body.
But best of all was Speedy's reaction. With almost no encouragement from me, he got loose and elastic. His trot got bigger and he started really carrying himself without expecting me to hold him up. As we circled and added in changes of direction, I felt my hands come down to a more "regular" position and my elbows came forward, but I didn't lose the openness in my chest or the suppleness in my wrists.
JL remarked that I presented a much lovelier picture. She said that my posting was actually elegant (no way!) and pleasant to watch. And of course Speedy looked like he was enjoying himself. I can't wait to add this new exercise to my warm up. JL joked (but was actually serious) that I need to walk around with a whip or crop tucked behind my back through my elbows just before I ride so that I can develop some muscle memory.
Where's that crop?
This is How Trail Riding Should Be Done!
I am not sure if it would have been better (doubtful), but due to high winds, the trail ride was moved to the Tejon Equestrian Center rather than being staged at one of the ranch's other fixtures (fox hunting lingo?). I was actually glad; it was a much shorter drive, and the eq center's amenities were very welcome.
I had been to the Tejon Ranch for endurance rides and a trail trial, but I had never actually been to the Equestrian Center. I was impressed; it's lovely and has ample parking. Since I haul a pretty big trailer (3-horse with living quarters), good parking is always welcome. Our hostess, Lori, even brought up the idea of organizing a spring dressage show in 2016. I told her to go for it!
I pulled past the indoor ring and parked out back. Several other rigs pulled in after me, and I was delighted to see some familiar faces. We tacked up our horses and then walked over to the covered ring to check in with our hostesses and enjoy some mimosas and home-made blueberry muffins.
While Speedy proved to be a bit of a nut out on the trail, his barn manners were impeccable. He and Harry hit it off immediately ... bromance for sure!
The ride started out great. There were fifteen of us which included the ranch's Master of Hounds (they fox hunt regularly), and the ranch's horse manager. Everyone moseyed out onto the trail perfectly sanely, but it didn't take too long though before the differences in training levels started to show.
Speedy didn't start the shenanigans, but he certainly participated. Eight of the horses belonged to the ranch and were rented by the out-of-town riders. They were all quite well behaved. The rest of us were on our own ponies. One pair of riders was on a youngster and a trail greenie. There was some rearing, leg scrambling, huffing and puffing, but both riders did a great job of staying in the saddle. And by the end of the day, both horses had gained a ton of experience.
Early on in the ride, we rode up several steep hills. Speedy was so excited about being in a large group that he wanted to bolt up the hill. When I said no, he grabbed the bit and made a break for it. I kept him mostly in check, but he bucked, lunged, and reared himself to the top of the hill. I was pretty certain I was going to hit the ground so I gave a warning yell and held on tightly. We made it to the top together, but I was quite embarrassed!
My favorite thing about Speedy is his confidence. He never buddied up with anyone, but he never growled or threatened anyone either. He spent the entire ride grazing his way down the trail oblivious to who went ahead of him or who lagged behind. When he would come up for air, he did try and jog his way back to the front, but he never cared who was near him. I love that about him.
Our trail guides arranged for a cooler of ice cold water to be left on the trail. It was a nice break for us and the horses. We actually came back to the water stop twice. Speedy enjoyed the break as he hasn't seen grass like this in a very long time.
After the first water stop, Speedy was a perfect gentleman. He motored where I pointed him and did so with a smile. From the second he stepped off the trailer, he was in heaven - I could see it all over his face. He genuinely enjoyed being out on the trail with a group of horses. Initially, I think he thought we were at an endurance ride which is why he was so eager to GET MOVING. He had a serious adrenaline rush and just needed to move out faster than a walk.
I don't know if it is still said on the endurance trail, but when I was riding, we had a saying: his brain is trying to write a check that his body can't cash. That's a tweaked version of the familiar phrase, but what it means is that the horse THINKS he's superman and can maintain that pace all day, but in reality, he can't.
While he felt like Superman, I wanted him to finish the day just as healthy as he started it. While Speedy gets worked daily, we don't do hills anymore, but that's what we spent several hours doing. So even though he wanted to blast down the trail, I insisted that he walk. And to my complete happiness, when I turned him out in the arena at home for his post-trailer-ride roll, he leaped up bucking and galloping. So much for a tired horse!
When the ride was finished, we regrouped in the indoor ring for a fabulous lunch. Again, my pictures do not do the table setting, nor the food, justice.
I know it's hard to see, but the front table held a tower of amazing cupcakes: red velvet, chocolate, and champagne. There were also beautiful party prizes. Lori had taped a "winner" coupon under several of the chairs.
Each gourmet lunch was artfully arranged in a beautiful "to go" box. We had fancy napkins, pretzels, fruit, cheese, a sandwich (that was way above a typical sandwich), pasta salad, and carrot and jicama sticks.
Lori is so creative. The carrot sticks and jicama were actually stacked in little mason jars with dip resting in the bottom. The pasta salad and lemonade were also packaged in a small mason jar. The jars kept everything fresh and clean, and frankly, it was just fun to open your own little serving and eat it out of a jar.
I drove home with a big smile on my face, a very full belly, and a happy, healthy horse riding shotgun (sort of). Many thanks to Lori, Edyta, and the Tejon Ranch for a truly lovely day!
I think the phrase is actually Suit Up!, but in our case, boots are more appropriate than suits.
Speedy has been back to work for about a week now, and other than the loss of training (PAY ATTENTION - I am saying that at every stride), he's doing well. He's very sound and happy to be working although if you ask him, he would probably be happier hitting the trail (more on that tomorrow).
While I am not over-cautious or over-reactive, I am pro-active which means that if I genuinely think a change in my routine will help my horses, I am willing. Speedy has been in bell boots at times, mostly when he was wanting to pull shoes, but he's never really needed leg boots.
When I say he hasn't needed boots, it's because he doesn't interfere. Lately though, I have been using leg boots since I am asking him to do more lateral work and a more collected canter. And since we had that recent bout with forging and sore heels that caused him to be lame, I decided that he need some protection, so we now have a new "normal."
All velcro all the time except when I forget ... sheesh! You all probably boot up regularly. Am I the last one to the party?
Tejon Ranch Trail Ride
Speedy and I are going to the Tejon Ranch for a trail ride today. I've heard there are some very special things lined up for us: a knowledgeable guide, lovely views, and even fancy schmancy food. Mimosas and blueberry muffins will be awaiting us upon arrival, and I think there is a luncheon planned with special place settings and trimmings. Ooh la la!
I know the ladies (very kind and friendly) who are organizing this event, and they are definitely hostesses with serious flair. I am not sure how I made the guest list as we all know that I don't really roll with the cool kids. I mean, I only just started wearing a belt with my breeches, and I still drink from the hose!
Either way, I am going to enjoy myself and pretend like I am totally used to all the fanciness that these ladies will no doubt bring. I guarantee pictures ... lots of pictures!
Sometimes You Just Need to Hang Out
I had a haircut scheduled on Thursday afternoon, but on the way to the appointment, I sent an "I'm running late" text and found out my stylist had been injured and wasn't at work anyway. I have long hair so a haircut wasn't necessary, but the whole thing disrupted my timing so my barn visit turned out to be a ground work day instead of a riding day.
I was actually glad for the break as it gave me time to just hang out with this dude.
There are just so many things that a young horse needs to learn. I had forgotten how many lessons that Speedy has had over the past seven years; I bought him as a three year old. Since Izzy arrived, Speedy is looking more and more like a seriously solid equine citizen. He falls asleep in the cross ties, walks into the trailer without any discussion, and plods along quietly on the lead rope. Now it's Izzy's turn.
So instead of lunging and riding, I put Izzy in the cross ties. It's hard to understand how boring that must be for a young horse, but it must be. Izzy was really patient for the first fifteen minutes or so, but after that, he rattled those cross ties incessantly ... clang, clang, clang.
I made him stand there a good thirty to forty minutes while I pulled his mane, curried his coat, and changed his bandage. I doled out lots of cookies, but he bounced and shook his head without stop anyway. Too bad. Grown up horses have to learn to stand and wait patiently.
Once I knew he'd had enough, I took him to the arena for a different kind of lesson. This one involved lots of moving around. Since I didn't feel like lunging or riding, I figured Izzy could learn how to do a trot out. I think most people take it for granted that a horse just "knows" what to do when asked to trot out quietly beside you. Believe me, they don't.
If your horse just trots alongside you politely, you have either spent time teaching him, or you should send a little prayer of gratitude to his first trainer or owner. Trot outs can be difficult to teach - they either fly around you like a rocket on a string, or they plant their feet and require some dragging. Izzy fell into the latter group.
No matter. I told him that I'd seen that show before. When he balked, I simply turned him into a very small lunging circle and wave the tail end of my rope at his hindquarters until he got them moving. I then jogged along side him as we made the circle bigger. By staying in the circle at first, I could haze him from behind if needed, but then I flattened out the circle until we were trotting in a line.
Each time that be balked, I repeated the small circle and flicked my lead rope's tail at his hind quarters. Within about ten minutes, he was trotting along beside me from a standstill all the way through to a quiet halt.
He'll definitely need some more practice, but I was pretty pleased that he was respectful of my space once we were trotting, and he was quick to halt without running off into the sunset. He's really lazy so I knew the stop wouldn't be the problem. The go button was the piece that he was missing.
We finished the day with a roll and some turn out. He's still not brave enough to wander the entire arena, but he's exploring further and further down the fence line. My spring break begins this afternoon; I am looking forward to a week of solid work.
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%: