From Endurance to Dressage
I wish this were not such a loaded question. I wish there was an easy answer. I wish I knew the answer already. So what is the question? Well, it's one we've all asked before, and one we all struggle with I am sure. Essentially, when do I move up a level? Or rather, when do I move completely out of a level, and by that what I really mean is are we ready to go all in at training level?
I started showing at Introductory A & B before there was an Introductory C. We showed those two tests through the last half of 2010. In 2011, the new tests were introduced so I showed Introductory B & C which felt like I had moved up a level because the C test was somewhat similar to the old T1 test. The C test is where the canter is introduced.
At the end of 2011, I ditched the B test and moved on to Intro C and Training Level 1. My scores at Intro C have been steadily climbing and are firmly in the mid to high 60% range. In fact I've already qualified for the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition at Intro C. My scores at T1 have also begun their rise and are resting pretty solidly at over 60%. The T2 test appears "easy," or rather it seems very much like what I am already riding: changes of rein, canter circles, and a left bend stretchy trot.
Are we ready to go all in at Training Level? I don't think anyone was intended to show Introductory Level indefinitely. Right? I have a schooling show this weekend which is an excellent chance to give T2 a try. I've entered T1 and T2. What do you all think? How did you know when it was time to move up?
I haven't met very many dressage riders who are showing for the first time as adults. Most of the riders I meet showed in another discipline before dressage, and most of them as kids or teens. I think I am a bit of an anomaly in that I never "showed" as a kid or as an adult before striking out into the world of dressage.
That doesn't mean I don't have any competition experience.
In fact, not to toot my own horn (doesn't that mean I am about to?), but my fifteen seasons (82 races) of endurance riding taught me a lot about navigating the world of competition and how to do it with patience, perseverance, honesty, and tactfulness. Even though endurance races might not look like serious events, they are.
Here's a quick rundown of how a race works: you show up on Friday and present your horse to the vet. You receive a vet card that will travel with you throughout the next day, usually in a Zip-loc baggie. (How's that for serious?!) The vet notes your horse's current condition on the card. You start the ride the next day. Depending on the length of the race, you will see the vet three to six times, or more, during the course of the day. He or she will continue noting the condition of your horse. If at any point during the day your horse does not meet the established criteria for pulse and respiration, hydration, and way of going, you and your horse are eliminated. At the finish, you must present your horse for a final check where he is evaluated one more time. If your horse doesn't meet all of the established criteria, you are eliminated even though you have finished the entire course.
During my first decade of riding, a pull, non-completion, was viewed by your competition as something of which to be embarrassed. Finishing was the ultimate goal. Not finishing meant that you made an error. You weren't fit enough, or your horse wasn't. And even though AERC's motto has always been To Finish is to Win, it means something different today. Not finishing no longer carries such a palpable stigma of failure. I think this is in large part to the change in the vet/rider relationship. In the old days, there was more of an adversarial relationship between riders and vets. It often felt that the vets were out to get us as opposed to helping us. During my last few years of endurance, that atmosphere changed. The climate of the vet check changed considerably to one where the vets became part of your team.
The vet is very similar to a judge. The vet fills out your card with scores and comments. In the old days, the ride manager would occasionally mail your vet card to you once the race was over so you could keep the vet's comments and scores for your records. (I've posted one below.) It is the vet who determines whether you get to keep going, or whether you're done. When a horse appears questionable, the relationship that you've fostered with the vet can be utilized to get a better understanding of where your horse truly is which can prevent an unnecessary pull. As with judges, a pleasant attitude with the vet will go a long way toward making your day a better one.
Why the heck am I even comparing vets to judges? What does this have to do with showing?
I was on the fringe of a conversation recently where dressage judges were being discussed. Oh, all right it was at Saturday's clinic! The conversation went something like this. "Pick your shows based on the caliber of judge. "R" judges aren't as good as "S" judges and should be avoided. Furthermore, pick your shows based on which particular judge is presiding as there are mean and unpleasant judges out there who should be given a wide berth."
My response to this was a simple, hmm. I added the comment that I choose my shows based on which ones will give me the experience that I am searching for at that moment (three-star experience, new venue, repeated venue, a chance for a CDS score, schooling shows for trying new tests, etc). Remember that this is my view of my equine experience - my opinion wasn't taken very seriously.
Here's yet another endurance story which might illustrate my point: Not all endurance vets are friendly. Some are downright cranky, although those old and cranky dudes seem to be fewer and fewer. There was one particular vet a number of years ago that was a complete ass. He was so nasty to me that I swore to never attend a race where he was vetting. And I didn't. I also didn't drag his name in the dirt, nor did I publicly discourage other people from attending races where he was vetting. He was a jerk, and not just to me, but it's up to each rider to accumulate her own experiences so that she can make informed decisions about her own competitive journey.
I am not ready to choose shows based on the judge. I want to show for as many judges as possible so that I can (once again) fill my own Bag of Experience. It is only with first-hand experiences that we gather enough information to make informed choices. Making decisions based solely on someone else's experience, no matter how generously offered, serves only to cheat yourself out of a potential learning opportunity. And as a life-long learner, I'll give it a try myself, thank you very much.
Click photos for captions and larger view.
Speedy G's been getting all of the attention lately, but Sydney is still being worked daily and is moving along well. We're not cantering yet (again), but I have gained a great deal of control over that outside shoulder. At our last lesson, JL was very pleased with how well he moving off my outside leg to the left. That used to be his really stiff side. Now, he moves off my leg to the left better than he does to the right!
At our lesson last Wednesday, there were some tense moments. He did a couple of spectacular leaps into the air. The kind where you think, oh, crap! I am definitely coming off this time. But I didn't. I am not saying I am the world's best rider, but I am saying my instinct for staying on is pretty damn strong. He also reared ... once. This time, I was ready. I didn't pull back, I didn't panic, and I had him under control in no time. I simply bent his neck, got him back on the ground, and pat his neck as though it were no big deal.
We continued with the sideways movement, but once we started tracking right which has been his easier side, he decided to hang on the outside rein. JL had me tip his nose to the outside. This pissed him off big time, and he bolted. With JL's voice guiding me, I held that rein firmly as he tried very hard to escape. I repeatedly stopped him, hard, with the outside rein until he finally softened and let it go. It was scary, but he finally gave in, and I stayed in the saddle.
I'll admit that I was a bit nervous to get back on him the next day, but I knew he still had to work. Instead of riding, I dug out my trusty rope halter and did some serious yielding of the hindquarters and turns on the forehand from the ground. It was fun and Sydney actually enjoyed it! I also did more games at liberty with him. We've been playing the ground work games since Thursday and he's getting quite good at them. He's also being ridden, but the ground work is definitely helping.
Speedy G will go to Wednesday's lesson since we have a schooling show coming this weekend, but I am eager to show JL how far Sydney and I have come in yielding the forehand. I think she'll be impressed.
And again, several steps forward, a step back, but forward again. We'll get there!
CT riding her husband's trail horse ... future dressage pony?
Saturday's clinic was a success largely in part to CT and her dad. Many thanks go to the both of them for allowing us to use their wonderful arena, and for all their hard work in grooming and watering it. They were even kind enough to do it all with no haul in fees!
The morning started hot and humid which was only the appetizer for the day's main entrèe, REALLY HOT AND HUMID. We have had wet, cool weather for weeks so mid-90s was a bit hard on our un-acclimated bodies.
Interestingly, the heat didn't slow any of the horses down. Most were fresh and ready to rock and roll. Speedy started out relaxed and groovin' until the neighbor started shuffling cows through the pasture. And then like dominoes falling, each horse got on his or her tip-toes and started the Dance of Terror. Speedy spent some time in the round pen which helped him jumpstart his brain. After that he got to work.
Betsy Shelton, the clinician, had us do lots of walking work to encourage more throughness at the walk. She also had me work on leg yielding in order to get Speedy off my inside leg. We then did some whip work where I opened my inside rein to tip his nose in and then used the whip to tap, tap, tap behind my inside leg. The end result was less over-reaction to the whip and more sideways movement away from my leg. It's an exercise I'd like to try at home since by tipping his nose inside, and using the whip on the inside, Speedy couldn't kick out at the whip like he sometimes does.
I thought I'd take more photos, but it was just so danged hot that I kind of forgot about it. I never even took a photo of Speedy and I forgot to ask anyone to take a few of us. Sheesh! Here are a couple that I did manage to take.
Throughout the entire winter we had no rain. It was cold, but dry. So I rode. Daily. Spring rolls around and we've had rain, lots of rain. Last weekend the hills just above us were covered in snow. Today's weather prediction: 68℉ at 5:30 a.m., 86℉ at noon, and a toasty 89℉ by 4:00 p.m. I know Speedy G still has some winter hair left. I bet he lets it go today!
Here's the schedule for today's clinic. Pictures and more tomorrow!
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%: