From Endurance to Dressage
On Tuesday, I was able to ride in 90% of my arena for the first time since fall. We have had standing water in the corner at K for three solid months. Under normal winter conditions, it can rain, and I can ride that same day. We have excellent drainage with sandy footing that is never slick. Usually.
This year, we've had almost double the amount of average rainfall, and up to four times as much as we've had in the past few years. With a rising water table and relentless storms, there is just nowhere for the water to go. We have had a storm pretty much every Wednesday for the past four months. Just about the time I think the standing water is gone, we get another deluge that soaks the footing for yet another weekend.
Despite being confined to a 25-meter by 20-meter riding area, I am having more fun riding Izzy than I ever have in the past. We're managing two to four rides per week even with the soggy days. My rides aren't usually more than 30 minutes, and sometimes they're less than 20, but he's happy, and I'm happy.
With such a limited riding space, I've focused on transitions and connection to the bit. Since Izzy is a horse who prefers to be braced and stiff, I've used this winter to do endless circles where softness is the only goal. When all I can do are transitions, they have to improve, and Izzy's have. I have seen him morph from a camelephant to a horse who knows how to lift his back and reach for the contact. He still has plenty of goober moments, but for the first time, he is volunteering.
While it seems impossible to school flying changes in a 20 by 25-meter dressage court, we are. We're not getting them consistently, but we're also not having any theatrics about it either. I use my very short diagonal to set him up, and then I either ask for it or I don't. Izzy has given up trying to freak out about it. He might squeal a bit or grunt, and half of the time he loses the canter, but that's it. I ignore everything except a change - for that he gets tons of praise, and just canter on.
Rather than feel despondent about the lack of good riding weather, I've tried to roll with the punches. We ride when we can, we school what we can, and more than anything else, I've tried to take off any pressure To Succeed. I don't know what will happen when we get back to actual lessons, but I am hoping that the friendly horse I am seeing will stick around. I've always played games with him at the mounting block, but now I've also added some groundwork games at the end of every ride. Each day Izzy seems happier to be with me than the day before.
With my spring break beginning this afternoon and a week of mostly good weather in front of us, I am up early ready to have some fun with my big brown horse.
Over the past month, I've written more times about the tiny little Kern River than I have in the entire 12 years I've been blogging. I've seen some of the rivers back east, and ours are nothing like those, but when you're used to a mere trickle, a creek really, seeing millions of gallons pouring off the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains gets your attention.
On Sunday, with my boys recuperating from their annual vet visit, we decided to head up to Lake Isabella and into the small town of Kernville, the one that recently made the news when the river more than overflowed its banks. Before arriving in Kernville, we first pulled over to check out the dam and the height of the water level. You've all seen reservoirs that were low. Before this winter's rain, Lake Isabella was a swamp with some funky hillocks poking out of the murky water. No more. The lake is currently at 65% of capacity with a mountain of snowmelt headed our way.
Without seeing what it looked like just six months ago, it's hard to appreciate just how much it has filled already. Right now, the lake is holding 193% of average. Normally, there are sand dunes and dirt roads that criss-cross the shoreline. All of that is currently underwater. The lake now reaches the grass line, and even that is slowing being covered up by the rising lake level.
When we arrived in Kernville, we took the dogs down to the park to see the devastation that was caused by the wall of water that poured through the river's channel. Surprisingly, much of the damage has already been repaired. Some of the slabs that form the large sidewalk that follows the river have already been replaced, but many of them lay scattered like cards from a deck.
We ate lunch at a restaurant that sits high above the river with floor to ceiling windows. As we watched, a pair or rafts came hurtling by with all aboard paddling fiercely as they tumbled through the river's rapids. Many people come from all over southern California to raft the Kern River in its wet years. Rafting season has already begun.
As the river exits the dam, it flows through a narrow canyon as it plummets to the valley floor. We pulled off the road a few times to stare in awe at the sheer volume of water hurtling westward. The sound of the water rushing towards the valley was a roar that made it impossible to talk. We live just a handful of miles from the canyon's mouth, so as you exit the canyon, you can see our neighborhood perched on the bluff to the west. It's hard to believe that so much power is just minutes from our quiet neighborhood.
Just before leaving the canyon, my husband hiked down to the water to get a closer look at the cascading white water. I stayed up on the road where it was a bit calmer. If the water roared where I was, it was deafening standing on the boulder's edge.
Men, you just can't take them anywhere!
First off, my visit to MARE was a total fail in terms of pictures, so you're getting practically zero visual stimulation. Sorry about that, but I wasn't sure I was actually going to stay and volunteer. My experience the week before had left me doubting whether this was the place for me. The only reason I showed up was because I had already committed, and I know that even if just one volunteer doesn't show up, a kiddo doesn't get to ride. I showed up.
Like always, I signed in and pinned on my name tag. Most weeks, someone greets me. Usually it's the Barn Captain - BC; she is a really kind and easy going person who will point out a "mistake" in such a way that you feel supported instead of criticized. While the BC was there, it was actually someone whom I'd not yet met that introduced herself. She's the Program Director - PD, a position I was unaware of until last week. She is one of only a few who works full time, five days a week. She oversees the riding program. Unfortunately she been dealing with a health issue the past few months which was why I hadn't yet met her.
I couldn't resist the opportunity to get more information, so I turned that initial hello! into an interview. What I discovered was that it is the PD who assesses each new rider. She does the intake. She also mentors T1 and T2, supporting them in their lesson plans as they follow the PATH International system - Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. She oversees the trainers and everything that happens with the riders and horses. She struck me as friendly and welcoming. She asked me a few questions, questions I knew were designed to feel me out, but that was the extent of our communication. I didn't see her again for the rest of the day.
As I waited for the four o'clock lesson to begin, I again set out to clean one of the bridles from the extra bridles bin. Since it's not a NEED RIGHT NOW kind of thing, I am the only one working on the project. As I cleaned and oiled, T2 came over to chat. Without wanting to call anyone out or get anyone in trouble, I made a discreet comment about the drama from the week before. She gave a knowing nod and said that volunteer relations has been an ongoing issue.
After the lesson, T2 and I picked up the conversation. I explained in detail how I had felt the previous week, and she listened thoughtfully. In the end, she explained that the volunteer coordinator can come across as harsh, and she has been spoken to before. It's just the way she is. To the volunteer coordinator's credit, she is good at bringing people in and training them, and T2 swore that she truly has a heart of gold. T2 said that she was going to take my concerns to the Program Director though as there had been other complaints recently as well.
I don't hold grudges, and I always try to remind myself that God loves that person as much as he loves me, so it's my job to find the lovable in people. When we remember that each person is loved by someone, it's easier to overlook the prickly parts. That's something I have to do regularly at school with students. Somebody loves that kiddo for a reason; I just need to find it.
Once I had cleared the air, my afternoon of volunteering was fun. I listened in and laughed at the story of Morey the mini getting out when a volunteer forgot to close the stall door behind him. Apparently, Morey is quite fast for a pony whose legs are only twelve inches long. The Barn Captain, another volunteer, and myself all chatted and laughed as we groomed the horses and tacked up. We all headed out to the arena and waited for our riders. We all laughed about the crazy weather as we contemplated zipping up or shedding our layers as the sun went in out of the clouds.
The lesson was pretty interesting as T2 used a few new strategies with the riders. They sang "If You're Happy and You Know it ..." which helped the riders move their bodies while engaging their brains. Instead of "your face will surely show it," she sang "then your horse will surely show it" which was a fun change to the song. She had the riders circling colored cones, weaving through tall cones, and dropping Beanie Babies into colored buckets. When my young rider grew a bit bored, her mom and I threw in other questions and verbal activities to keep her engaged. We asked what color is this? Can you count like a cat? What's your dog's name? Anything to keep her engaged.
I realize that volunteering isn't about me. God certainly led me to this endeavor for a reason, but I can't do my job joyfully if I am not wanted or seen as adding value. I hope that the next time I work with the volunteer coordinator I see her as a person expressing God's love instead of as a prickly nitpicker. I am not perfect myself, and I definitely want people to see my strengths first rather than my faults.
The world would be a lot better place if we all remembered the Golden Rule.
On Saturday afternoon, both of my boys saw Dr. Tolley at Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital for their annual check ups. I don't know why I like spending so much money for something so mundane, but going to the vet for vaccinations and dentals is one of my favorite spring activities.
Dr. Tolley makes the visit interesting; I always learn something new. For this visit, Kathryn, BLAH's office manager taught me about a Latin American musical instrument created from an equine or bovine jaw bone. It's classified as an idiophone. When the flesh is removed and the bone is clean, the teeth are loosened and make a buzzing sound when struck with a stick or the hand. Relevancy? you might ask. It's why horses don't exactly love their teeth worked on. They feel the buzzing at the top of their heads which is annoying. Again, I love going to BLAH.
If I take Speedy anywhere by himself, he is confident and happy and trusts me to come back if I leave him. If I bring another horse, all of that goes out the window, and I become a nobody. That meant Izzy had to go in a holding pen first so that Speedy didn't get left by himself. While Izzy will call and whinny for Speedy, he won't actively try to maim himself like Speedy will do. So, Izzy was put in a pen while I walked Speedy over to the scale. He usually weighs 950 exactly, but for this visit he clocked in at 968. Not sure where he's putting it, but I was happy to see the higher number as he looks a little thin to me.
Dr. Tolley Gave Speedy a thorough exam. The one thing he always comments on is a weird shape in Speedy's left eye. There are a few black dots that always cause Dr. Tolley to pause, so he urged me to keep my own eye on it as uveitis can be painful and dangerous to the health of an equine eye. According to Dr. Tolley, Speedy looks good, his weight is good, and his teeth were in great shape for a horse who will be 19 in three weeks.
Even though Speedy's teeth looked great, Dr. Tolley couldn't resist "cleaning" them up just a little bit. Once he was finished, I grabbed the ever present bucket with cotton and soap and gave Speedy's sheath a good cleaning. Dr. Tolley can do it of course, but I always beat him to it. My boys are pretty good about letting me get up in there, but it's a lot easier when they've dropped all the way. While I finished with Speedy's man parts, Dr. Tolley gave Speedy his vaccinations. And with Speedy drunk off his butt - those afternoon cocktails work quickly, we led him over to Izzy's catch pen and swapped horses. As Izzy walked out, Speedy didn't even look his way. A drunk horse is a quiet horse.
Izzy is much better behaved than Speedy, but Dr. Tolley gave him a cocktail as well. Before doing so however, we weighed him on the outside scale, and for the first time in more than eight years. Izzy topped the 1,400 mark. He weighed in at a solid 1,410, sixty pounds more than usual. Dr. Tolley was really impressed with Izzy's overall condition. He felt that Izzy finally had a body condition score of 5. Izzy's a pretty big horse at 16'3," but he's not easy to keep weight on. He eats a massive amount of grass hay along with a bucket of beet pulp and rice bran each day, but grass hay is just not the type of hay to feed a horse who could use more weight. If we give him alfalfa or any other fat supplement, his energy level skyrockets, which is something I don't need.
Izzy's teeth were also in pretty good shape, not quite as nice as Speedy's but he's also a few years younger. As I had done with Speedy, I also cleaned Izzy's sheath, he lets me pick off junk every time I tack up, so there wasn't much to be cleaned off. Once I was finished, Dr. Tolley vaccinated him, and that was it. Kathryn took Izzy over to wait in the pen next to Speedy while I followed Dr. Tolley back to the office to pay my bill. I also bought an extra tube of Dormosedan Gel to keep on hand and got certificates of vaccination for each horse. The entire staff at Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital is simply the best. I am always treated like a friend and never just a walking checkbook. The doctors, vet techs, and office staff all care a great deal about their clients - both equine and human.
And by the way, BLAH is offering a 25% discount on dentals through the end of the month. You still have time to take advantage of the discount!
OMG. The list of things I love is long: breeches, belts, vests, technical riding shirts, ... SOCKS! Socks are easy to love because they are relatively cheap and they always help out a shopping cart that needs just a few more dollars to qualify for free shipping. I can't tell you how many times I have spent $20 in socks to avoid paying $7.95 in shipping. Admit, you've done the same, am I right?
My two favorites are Over the Calf Peddies by Noble Outfitters and C4s. These two brands wear the longest, they stay up, and they're thin enough to wear with tall boots. Despite loving socks, a year or so ago I had to put the kibosh on buying more. I had a draw full of tall socks AND a pile of brand new socks that I had yet to even wear. To get control of my sock pile, I decided that when I saw a hole in the toe or heel of a current pair, then and only then, could I open a new pair, but I also had to throw out a pair. And wouldn't you know it, my old pairs suddenly turned into kevlar. I could not wear the darn things out.
Over the past couple of months, I have finally thrown out a couple of pairs and have been able to open a new pair here and there. This weekend, I started looking at my available sock choices and realized that half of them are looking pretty threadbare with holes imminent. I fell off the proverbial wagon and opened a new pair of C4s without throwing out an old pair first. In my defense, I was doing laundry and didn't have a lot to choose from. As my back stock of socks quickly becomes everyday socks, I think I may need to start ordering socks again. Unfortunately, the C4 socks are available on Amazon which means free shipping. On a single pair of socks.
Uh-oh, I might be in trouble!
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%: