From Endurance to Dressage
I really expected to see horses in Washington, DC. I am not sure where exactly, but I figured there would be horse drawn carriages or something. Nope. The only live horses we saw were at Mount Vernon.
I did see several statues though, although none of them were that exciting. Surprisingly, the best non-living horses that we saw resided in the National Cathedral.
The National Cathedral, or more formerly known as Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, was begun in 1907 and completed in 1990. Although it took 83 years to complete, parts of it have been in use since the first chapel was completed in the early part of the 20th century.
The cathedral is one tenth of a mile long and was built in the Gothic style. If you've been to Europe, you can imagine the cathedral's grandeur as it rivals many of Europe's finest churches.
I had to look hard, but I finally found a very fine horse. If Darth Vader made an appearance, an equine had to as well!
This lovely carving was found in the choir pews. There were many others, including a dragon!
If you get the chance to visit this lovely building, I recommend it. One of the things I most enjoyed was how the architects and designers incorporated so many elements of math, science, and history into the art and decoration of the church. The self-guided tour pamphlet says, " … the planned system of images and symbols designed to teach Christian beliefs, reveal the presence of God, and pay tribute to our country's history and values."
I always take my boys to the vet for their spring vaccinations, dentals, and fecals on the last day of my Easter Break. That way, I get to ride all week, and I don't have to take a day off work. But since Easter came so late this year, I sort of feel like calling them summer vaccinations. Sheesh!
I know many riders have the vet come to their barn, but since I've never boarded at a trainer-run barn, I've always found it easier to just haul my boys down to Bakersfield Vet Hospital. It's only about a 20 minute drive, they have a nice, airy bay for working on teeth and doing other exams, and it saves me the ranch call fee.
This year, both boys got a little something different done. We always vaccinate for Eastern/Western Encephalomyelitis, Rhino, Influenza, Tetanus, and West Nile Virus. Since both boys might get to go to Chemaine's for a lesson this summer, we added the Strangles vaccine. Most of you probably give that one anyway, but where we live, it only occurs rarely (and epidemically), so most people don't do it annually.
Since I've only had Sydney for three years, we don't know if he has ever been vaccinated for Strangles. Giving the vaccine to a horse with no history of the disease can be dangerous. If he has already had it, he could have a very serious reaction to the vaccine, so we did some blood work to check his titers. Based on the numbers we get back, we'll either forgo the vaccine, give him one dose, or vaccinate him with a follow up booster.
After an exam by Dr. Tolley, both boys' teeth were determined to be in tip top shape; no dental work was needed this year. There is a lot to be said for regular dental care. Both boys get looked at each year which means there is never any big, dramatic issues. Next year I'm sure they'll need some work, but I appreciated saving a little money this year!
I do fecal counts to check for worm eggs twice or a year. None of my horses ever test positive, but that's not entirely due to our cleaning practices. It's so dry and hot here that fly eggs don't have much of a chance for survival. Even so, I was glad the tests came back negative. Both horses will get their dewormer this weekend. Even though they always test negative, I still administer the dewormer in case of encysted worms.
Aside from the regular stuff, I also talked to Dr. Tolley about Speedy's "injury." I explained the nerve blocks to isolate the soreness, the x-rays, the trot out, Dr. Judy's tentative diagnosis, and finally, his conservative plan for recovery.
We've been following that plan religiously:
Next on the list would be to add 1-minute trot intervals for 30 days, followed by adding 2-minute trot intervals for the next 30 days, and finally adding some canter for the final 30 days. Dr. Judy also recommended a re-check at 60 days.
Since the day we came home from Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, Speedy has been solidly sound. The lameness never returned. All along, I have felt that the injury behaved more like an abscess or a "hot" nail. To my delight, Dr. Tolley agreed. In his opinion, this did not present as a collateral ligament injury. The sudden onset and fast resolution are not consistent with a ligament issue.
A "normal" wear and tear ligament injury would normally begin with intermittent lameness with some days showing improvement until the horse was consistently lame. Speedy's injury was sudden with no heat or swelling. And while it came and went for a few weeks, he was either completely lame or completely sound, never in between.
Dr. Tolley was not critical of Dr. Judy's initial diagnosis (collateral ligament, bone bruise, or abscess). Without the MRI (and even with it we might not have known for sure), Dr. Judy really just took a best guess and then treated Speedy accordingly. Two months later, it seems as though we have a best case scenario, which Dr. Judy also hoped for.
The good news? Dr. Tolley has cleared Speedy to return to work! He even did a flexion test which Speedy passed with flying colors. I'm still going to be somewhat conservative, meaning I am not going to go out tomorrow and do a full schooling ride. And since he has felt a bit puny from his injections, he needs a few more days of walking until he's completely recovered. I'm going to work out a revised mini-version of Dr. Judy's plan that introduces the trot and canter over several weeks. Even though he may be sound, Speedy has certainly lost some fitness.
I feel quite comfortable with this plan. I am pretty careful with the health of my horses and would never jeopardize their soundness to suit my own purposes. My worry has been that Speedy's weight (he's put on a few pounds) and lack of an energy outlet are going to cause an entirely different problem. Tubby horses are prone to laminitis, diabetic issues, and other diseases. Bored horses are not only destructive to property, but they tend to hurt themselves as they try to alleviate their boredom.
While "round," Speedy has not yet reached a worrisome weight nor has he caused himself any harm, but those things have been on my radar. Now that he has been cleared to get back to work, I won't need to worry about secondary injuries caused by inactivity.
We might even salvage this show season yet!
While in Washington, DC, our first stop was George Washington's Mount Vernon. We took a river boat cruise up the Potomac to reach the plantation.
Washington acquired Mt. Vernon in 1754 and spent the last 45 years of his life working and expanding his farm. He considered himself a farmer above all else. He found the farming practices of his day to be quite inadequate and is credited with inventing and utilizing many innovative farming techniques.
Washington invented a round threshing barn that had two stories. On the upper level, harvested wheat was piled on the floor. Horses were sent trotting around the circle. Their hooves helped separate the grain where it would fall through the cracks to the level below.
Washington was also the first person in the United States to build a structure to compost manure, or dung, as it is referred to at Mt. Vernon. I'll let the placard explain it.
Mt. Vernon has been restored and functions as a living, thriving farm. There are sheep, a blacksmith, gardens, and of course horses. There are approximately 15 horses that work at Mt. Vernon throughout the year. They help till the fields and pull visitors in a large wagon through Pioneer Farm. Hubby was quite accommodating when I insisted we take a turn.
If you live here in California, imagine La Purisima or any of our other larger missions. That's what Mt. Vernon felt like. The mansion was very pretty, but humble. The outbuildings are numerous, but also small. And while the place hums with activity and noise, it was hard not to be moved by the fact that this was the home of a great Revolutionary and our first president.
Ambitious title, I know. If it was that easy, we'd all be riding wet noodles, but my trainer helped me get there on Monday.
When I showed up for my lesson, JL gave me a sight for sore eyes look. It had been a few weeks since my last lesson. I immediately told her about Sydney's stiffness issues from the last two days and asked what I could do to get back on the right track. As always, she came up with a series of exercises, and an explanation, that had us back in form by the end of the lesson.
With a week off, Sydney had definitely gotten stiff and braced. JL felt that there was probably some anxiety as well. Not that he could tell us, but he probably felt a little pressure about getting back to work. It was as if he didn't think he would be able to do what I was asking of him. As if in demonstration, I asked for a trot and got a stiff as a board in answer.
Right away JL started with some suggestions. Rather than ask Sydney to work over his back and round up, she broke the lesson down into very small parts that Sydney could do.
I really dig Captain Awesome!
By Sunday, I was ready to get back into the real swing of things. I had unpacked, done all the laundry, and restocked the refrigerator. My house was clean (thanks to the house keeper, really), and I had had a good night's sleep. I drove out to the barn mid-morning with nowhere else to be.
I started out by giving Sydney a thorough grooming. It wasn't that he was particularly dirty, but I felt the need to reconnect. I also pulled his mane and conditioned his tail. He's a very good boy when it comes to mane pulling, but I think I tested his patience. I gave him a number of breaks, but by the last couple of tugs, I could tell that he was getting annoyed. I gave him a final go-over with a soft brush and led him out onto the lawn to graze.
By the time that I started saddling, his anxiety to finally do something had gotten the better of him. While he stood still to be tacked up, he wasn't the head drooping, ear flopping fellow that he usually is. I grabbed the side reins and lunge line.
I rarely lunge Sydney as it actually makes him more anxious. I am pretty sure that in his previous life lunging was done to simply run the energy out of him. Over the nearly three years that I've owned him, I've used the lunge line only when I've had a very specific plan, never to get rid of extra energy. On this day, I needed him to relax his body so that when I got on, he wasn't a rocket on a string. Since I knew he was going to resist the contact, I attached the side reins, but I set them to the loosest setting.
I sent him to the left first which is easier for him. I kept the circle fairly small and let him choose the gait. To my delight, he didn't go careening off around me like he would have done a year or two ago. I spoke soothingly to him and let him know that he was a good boy. He was tense, but he kept flicking an ear at me so I knew he was trying.
I had him change directions and got pretty much the same result. He was very tense to the right and just seemed worried. The neighbors were having a family bar-be-que and my barn owners were doing tractor work. On most days, these things might illicit a spook or two, but Sydney was ready to just lose it.
I lunged him for about 10 minutes. Not enough to even make him sweat or breath hard, but long enough that he got to move while giving the world the stink eye. I really didn't want to get on him, but I wanted to help him see that the world wasn't going to eat him up.
By the time I had the side reins unhooked and the lunge line coiled up, he looked much more relaxed. He stood quietly while I mounted, but I could feel that anxious buzz as soon as I asked him to do a walk warm up. He was primed for a bolt and whirl. Rather than give him the opportunity, I cut across the arena and walked back to our "safe" end. And then we just walked.
We spent the next 30 minutes or so just walking, but with a purpose. I had him do 10-meter figure eights until he started to reach and stretch over his back. The entire time we walked, I patted his neck and praised the heck out of him. We moved on to leg yields and voltes in the corners with a ten-meter circle at B. When he finally seemed as relaxed as he was going to get, I asked for a halt and got off.
I popped up on Speedy for the next 45 minutes. We did some work in the arena, and then we did a walk around the neighborhood. I'm still just riding bareback in the halter, but I can't tell you how proud I am of that horse. He hasn't been allowed to trot or canter for almost three months (no turn out even), but he's still willing to work in just a halter.
You should see his rein back! We've been working on this for a while since it's a good exercise to do while bareback, and it doesn't require any twisting on the front end. He's to the point where I can ask for one backward step with just a tap of my calf. He stops and waits for me to ask for the next backward step with my other calf. I do nothing with my hands except to say no forward movement. And after the first step, there is slack in the contact.
I put Speedy away and re-saddled Sydney. He was quite surprised, but also in a much better frame of mind. For this ride, I had something to work with. I was able to ask for walk, trot, and canter without that feeling that I was on a rocket. We didn't have any spectacular moments, but at least we were able to work on our right lead canter without the duck and whirl of just a few months ago.
I recently read an article* about the rider who does nothing for fear of interfering with her horse. I think I am guilty of that sometimes. I may not be doing anything to "hurt" my horse, but I am certainly not helping him to be balanced. While I was riding, I kept this in mind. That's why I got on him the second time; I wanted to help him. Rather than just riding through the tension, I worked diligently to help him relax his muscles and to let go. By the end of our ride, he was looser and more balanced.
I am going to keep this in mind for a while. With all of the other things running through my mind while I ride, I am going to keep asking myself if I am helping him to achieve a healthier weight carriage or am I just being a passive rider. Hopefully it will be the former!
* I keep meaning to share this site. Horse Listening is a really good blog with gentle lessons on what we all do incorrectly, but it comes with real solutions and tips that you can try today.
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%: