From Endurance to Dressage
Just before I went to bed last night, I got an email from C4 Belts about a BOGO sale. I could barely sleep.
I have a pile of C4 Belts already and don't actually need another one, but BOGO sales are hard for me to resist. I am a sucker for perceived value. As soon as I got up, I eagerly loaded my shopping cart with a turquoise dressage belt and a hot pink Stephen Gamson.
I typed in the BOGO code and ... nothing. I typed it in again, still nothing. Ultimately, I got an error message saying the code was invalid. Whomp, whomp.
My shopping cart is still full, but I hate it when a discount doesn't work. I know C4 will get it fixed, but I don't have time this morning to get it sorted out. I'll send them an email and then call if no response. Maybe it's just too early in the morning for the code to work.
Let me know if you use the code and have better luck than I do. Until then, maybe it's the Universe's way of telling me that I don't really need to add to my pile of belts. My husband would agree.
This story has come up here and there over the years. I've never really told it start to finish, but in the mid-1980s, I was crowned Garberville Rodeo Queen.
I was horse crazy from birth. I couldn't get enough of it, so when I got my first horse, I wanted it all - shows, travel, parades, the works. Unfortunately, we didn't have a trailer, nor was my dad interested in schlepping me around the county doing any of those things.
I had thousands of acres at my disposal though, so I did everything you could do for free. We jumped logs, ditches, and anything else that would hold still. We swam the horses in the river and even skied behind them with one person riding and another grabbing on to the tail. We camped out in the hills with the horses tied to trees. I even rode my horses to school one day to use them as a demo for the junior high agriculture class.
I was always on the hunt for something else though. A friend of a friend of a friend once trailered us out to a popular trail head and let us ride for a few hours. Watching that trailer behind the truck was like winning the lottery. Another time, a friend of my dad's, who was just getting into endurance riding, took me along with him for a camping/trail riding weekend with a big group at a local ranch. I was definitely hooked on travel after that.
I don't remember how it happened, but the summer before high school, I heard about the Garberville Rodeo Queen contest. I had never aspired to pageants, but I did want to ride in a parade. I went to the meeting, signed up, and before he knew it, my dad was schlepping me around more than one county selling raffle tickets.
My dad drove me to the Laytonville rodeo where I sold tickets and he maybe had a beer or two. He drove me to a number of bars where he camped out for the afternoon as I manned the door catching patrons both coming and going. In the small town where I grew up, it wasn't unusual to have someone's kid hanging out at the pool table or jukebox.
My step-mother also helped out by picking me up in town on her way home from work. I'd ride the bus to Garberville after school and sell tickets all afternoon. Other rodeos in our area had "horsemanship" or "poise" portions of the contest, but my town was solely interested in ticket sales. I could sell tickets, and I did.
Being rodeo queen was the coolest thing that toothy 14 year-old had ever done. I led the rest of the girls down main street in the parade and then we drove out to the rodeo grounds for two days of as much fun as I could stand. We borrowed a trailer from a friend, and I slept under a tree at the rodeo grounds with Sunny tied to the trailer. We rode in the rodeo's Grand Entrance where I got to do a victory lap in front of the grandstands.
Eventually, I left home and went to college. I couldn't afford a horse back then; I could barely afford to feed myself. Within a year after graduating though, I had a horse and shortly after that, I was hitting the endurance trail with friends.
For the past 25 years I've taken my horses everywhere and done a lot of cool things - camping at the beach, endurance races, play days, poker rides, dressage shows, and even another school demonstration. Once you've been bitten by the horse bug, there's simply no cure. The only thing you can do is scratch the itch!
How I got so lucky with my speedy pony is a mystery to me. That dude is something else. He can be a bit of a stinker sometimes, but it's only to keep things entertaining. When the chips are down however, he steps up and gets the job done.
We've been dinking around at First Level for more years than I'd like to admit. I'm ready to move on. We could tackle a Second Level test, but I am not interested in moving up a level if we can't even eke out a satisfactory 60%.
So Speedy and I have been hard at work. The simple change is the skill we're really trying to confirm. He's got a pretty cute walk to canter, but the other half of the equation, the canter to walk, is not quite where it needs to be.
Speedy's not a fan of the half halt because it asks him to shift his weight to his hind end which is haaaarrrrrd. So, we've been doing a million half halts a la Verizon ... can you hear me now? What about now? And ... now? It's tedious, but he's really starting to listen.
The other issue is his wildly swinging haunches. He doesn't have to sit if his butt is in the next county. The other day, I finally put both reins in one hand and just tapped the holy heck out of his haunches behind my left leg until he pivoted around his front feet. He was more than a bit peeved at me, but it worked. The next time I asked for a canter to walk, he halted with his butt squarely beneath him. Aha!
For the past two rides, Speedy has figured out how to keep his butt underneath him on a left lead canter. The downward transition while on the right lead was the one that was still giving us trouble. To show him what I wanted, I used my trainer's trick of asking for a turn on the forehand (half pass style) as soon as I lost his haunches in the transition to walk.
After a few rounds of that, I got a very tidy canter to walk. It wasn't perfectly clean, but effort was written all over Speedy's face. He was genuinely trying to balance himself and keep his butt squarely beneath him. Even though I wanted to try a few more, I patted his neck enthusiastically and hopped off.
Like I said, that dude just makes life fun!
Speedy is as loosey goosey as they come. When he's tense or excited, he gets sproingy and very elastic. When he gets just enough of this positive tension, his movement positively sparkles.
When Izzy is tense, nervous, or simply excited, his back muscles contract and the underside of his neck bulges. It's not attractive and does not add anything to his quality of movement.
During my last lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, trainer and owner of Symphony Dressage Stables, she suggested an exercise to help get Izzy's back to loosen up. I took the exercise one step further and have built a new warm up routine for him that is working wonders.
When I first get on, I start by letting him look around. So many trainers discourage this insisting that you should get the horse to focus on you instead. I totally agree, but Izzy seems to need just a minute or two to stare. At what, I usually don't know, but it seems to help if I let him just get it out of his system.
The next thing we do is walk at least ten minutes. During that time, I start out by weighting my inside seat bone until I either feel his back swing away from my seat bone or until he drops his head. Then I ride with both seat bones evenly weighted for a few strides forward until he drops his head. Then I weight the outside seat bone until he either swings away from it or drops his head.
While this sounds incredibly boring, it is doing wonders for Izzy's back and giving me a better sense of my own weight aids. As I feel him begin responding to these shifts in my weight, I start asking for inside flexion when I weight my seat bone to the inside, vertical flexion when both seat bones are evenly weighted, and outside flexion when I weight my outside seat bone.
Once I have him listening at the walk, we pick up the tiniest trot and repeat. When he's particularly tense like he was on Sunday after having several days off, I keep the trot as small as he needs. With his back so tight, he can't stretch into a bigger trot.
As I loosen his back by weighting one seat bone and then the other, he starts sneezing and breathing and asking to stretch down bigger. When he does, I encourage a longer stride and then do a change of direction to work the other side. If I think he's feeling ready, I'll also ask for some shallow leg yield as he stretches down.
On Sunday, Izzy was super tense and mad about something that happened while tacking up. I don't know if you've seen the movie Memento, with Guy Pearce, but in it, he suffers from a rare form of short term memory loss wherein he will forget what happened ten minutes ago. I have finally realized that Izzy suffers from the same condition.
He gets mad, but after a few minutes he can't remember why he's mad. I've taken to pretending that instead of mad, he got scared, and I comfort him. All of a sudden, he's thinking I am his best friend instead of the one with the dressage whip who just took him to a come to Jesus meeting. Even though Izzy started the ride tense and worried, in no time at all he was working with me and asking to stretch and lengthen his stride.
The more I work on relaxing his topline with the changes in my weight aids, the more relaxed and trusting this horse gets. Once he'll trot around with a relaxed frame, I ask for a quiet canter. The fabulous thing is that I am getting it every single day. I can start on the right or left lead, neither makes a difference. We canter around a few minutes, and then I call it a day.
I've been keeping his rides as short as possible, around 25 minutes, to show him that he is making great choices. I don't want him to feel tired or resentful or burned out. Instead, I want him thinking, wait, that's it? That's all she wants?
I've tried this exercise with Speedy, but he just gets lazier. He's so loose and relaxed already that he just takes advantage of the time and piddles around. With that horse, I need to build energy, not calm it down. That's good to know though since it tells me this is definitely a relaxing warm up for Izzy.
I am so excited about the progress we've made in the last few months. A switch has definitely flipped. I am hoping that maybe we will get to start showing this summer after all.
Let me know if you try this warm up with your hot, tense horse or if you've done something similar. I am probably just a really slow learner and everyone else already knows how to do this!
I should, but I don't. I've had a busy school year. Selling and buying a house and then moving during the first quarter of the school year has really wreaked havoc on my life. Furnishing the house and getting things repaired and in working order prolonged the mayhem. There are days when I am just too tired to do anything.
I go to the barn every Saturday; It's what I do. This Saturday however, I realized it wasn't going to happen. I did my grocery shopping, mailed my Dad's birthday present, started some laundry, and then gave myself permission to go fishing. I caught a fish. And then I sat down.
The day was drizzly but there were moments of brilliant sunshine. Even so, I finally told myself that it was OKAY to skip a riding day. I ride at least 300 days a year. There is no crime in sitting on the bench and letting a prime riding day slip by.
I felt much more motivated by Sunday morning and had an excellent ride on each horse. Do you ever just sit one out, and do you feel guilty when you do?
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%: