From Endurance to Dressage
When I first got Izzy, he had been living out in pasture for more than a year and a half. Actually, I think his owner might have had him on pasture for pretty much his first six years of life. While pasture is fantastic, especially for young horses like Izzy, it can be pretty tough on their feet.
Izzy had developed a crack up the front of his hoof, but I knew it would grow out with good farrier work. While Izzy was with the "leg wrecker" trainer (start here and scroll back to find the beginning), I had her farrier shoe him because he was starting to get footsore (he was barefoot). It was a fairly mediocre shoe job at best.
Within just two or three visits by the farrier, the crack disappeared, and the hoof started taking on a much more balanced shape. Farrier work is one thing I don't try to micromanage. I always have good farriers and trust them to do their work. I can recognize a really bad shoe job, and a nice shoe job will stand out just as easily. Outside of that, I leave the angles and length to them. So far, that has worked out okay.
My current farrier has been working with my horses for almost a year, and both of their hooves look really great. Speedy has been able to go barefoot, which I love (no more lost shoes), and Izzy only needs to be shod in front.
My farrier was out this week. I forgot to take pictures of Speedy's toes, but I did get some shots of Izzy's freshly shod feet. They have really changed shape over the past year and look like they are now an excellent weight bearing structure.
I follow a six week shoeing cycle, how often do your horse's feet get done?
We all know that I am not much into grooming and hair products, but I do enjoy seeing my horses look good. I must be doing something at least partially right because both of my horses have lovely coats, beautiful, barefoot hooves, and healthy manes and tails.
It's more likely that I've just been blessed with horses who posses good hair and hoof genes.
Manes, and to a lesser extent, tails are my least favorite parts of the body to address. I enjoy a thick mane and tail which means I use a fair amount of detangler, but I only comb them out once or twice a month. Frequent combing thins the tail and shortens long mane hairs. This has been a great strategy for Speedy because Arabians are "permitted" to have a running braid while showing. Other breeds can as well, but it's not as traditional.
Izzy's mane is a hot mess. Number one, it wants to hang on the "wrong" side, and even worse, it splits down the middle where it can't decide what it wants to do. Enter the amazing Smart Tails Professional Mane & Tail Thinning Comb By Smart Grooming. I ordered mine via Amazon for $32.89 plus $6.82 for shipping and handling. It came all the way from Germany and was supposed to take a month to arrive, but it was at my door within about a week and a half.
A friend of mine shared this mane and tail thinner on Facebook, and I was immediately intrigued. She shows regularly, so I knew that I could trust her recommendation. The tool is beyond simple to use. You simply start at the base of the mane or tail and gently drag it through the hair. Within just a stroke or two, an entire section of mane can be thinned.
The comb is quite sturdy, and the blades are sharp. It comes in three blade types; coarse, medium (which I ordered), and Fine & Superfine.
I still need to do some more work on Izzy's mane, but already, it is starting to lay on the correct side, and it's half as thick as it was.
When I saw how easily it worked on his mane, I decided to clean up the bushy hairs from around his tail head. If I don't want to pull his mane, you can bet that there is no way I am pulling tail hairs. With this trimmer, I had his tail looking quite tidy in less than a minute. I even did Speedy's!
As I continue to shape and thin his mane, I am certain that braiding will get easier and easier. The only trouble with this thinner is how easy it is to get carried away. It combs the thickness out so easily that before you know it, you'll have no mane to thin!
You've been warned!
A week or so ago, I shared a post about lunging Izzy with draw reins. I don't want to be overly dramatic or anything, but the change in Izzy over the past week and a half has been almost miraculous. Chemaine's suggestion that I use these on him was genius.
I have so much to say about this transformation that it would probably be easier if I start at the beginning...
When I first went to look at Izzy a year and a half ago, the one thing that I wasn't so thrilled with was his movement. I felt like his gaits were choppy, and he carried his head quite high. I didn't hold it against him though because while he'd been started as a four year old, he then spent the next 18 months in pasture doing nothing. I am not an expert at judging conformation, but I instinctively liked Izzy's short back and how his neck tied into his body. I figured with some work, his gaits would improve.
Since bringing him home, Izzy has always looked tight through his back. During turnout, he never stretches down and trots like Speedy does. He rarely canters in turnout either. He either gallops with his head sky high or does this convoluted I am trotting ... now I am kind of cantering ... and now my back legs are trotting. Basically, he's been a bit of a mess.
Since about February though, I've started to see some real changes in his movement. For one, he's actually starting to bounce a little when he trots in turnout, and he can actually trot a straight line. Instead of galloping, he now picks up a pretty quiet little canter. And even more amazing is that he is now picking up a RIGHT lead canter. And all of it is looking so much more relaxed and comfortable - for him.
I don't have any recent conformation shots, but you can see how much he has filled out in the picture above when compared to the shot taken in 2014. His head doesn't look nearly so large now that it's attached to a neck that has filled out. He also now has some back muscles.
This change is not due to a week's worth of lunging in draw reins, of course. It's clearly the result of a year's worth of (at least somewhat) correct riding. While things have been progressing well, we had kind of hit a glitch though when it came to relaxing over the topline. Chemaine suggested lunging with draw reins as a way of teaching Izzy how to stretch his back under saddle and accept contact.
I don't know how it worked so quickly, but after only a half a dozen short sessions, Izzy gets it. On the lunge line, he is now quiet and soft and stretches down in the trot. When he starts to get quick in his stride, I simply say, easy and lower the whip. He immediately slows himself down and rebalances.
Our lunging sessions take 11 minutes: 5 minutes per side with 1 minute to change the lunge line to the other side. I have him walk for 1 minute, trot for 1 minute, do walk-trot-walk transitions for a third minute, and then I ask for a canter. He now picks up the correct lead every time. I let him canter for a 4th minute, and then I ask for a couple of trot to canter to trot transitions before we switch directions.
After I lunge, I ride. Not only has the lunging helped him to stretch his back and relax, but it's all transferring to his under saddle work. He has gotten better and better each day. On Sunday, he picked up both canter leads with hardly any fuss, and it was quiet and controlled. I was laughing out loud in delight. I am loving this work right now because I know that we'll challenge him again before too long, and he'll tell me he can't do it. For now, this is fabulous!
For those of you who are interested in trying the draw reins/sliding side reins, I wanted to share a quick how-to-build-your-own for about $5. They're not pretty, but they get the job done and are very adjustable.
You'll need a length of ¼" - ½" diameter rope about 18 feet long. I bought some cheap poly rope at Home Depot a number of years ago. You'll also need a trigger snap and two bolt snaps.
Slide the trigger snap onto the rope. This is the piece that connects to your girth ring between the front legs. Tie a bolt snap to each end of the rope. To adjust the length, tie the knot farther down the rope. I untie one end and shorten it depending if I am connecting it to the surcingle (above) or my saddle. When I connect it to my saddle. I just run the rope behind my billets and then snap it back onto itself using the bolt snap.
To apply the draw reins, I clip the trigger snap to the girth and then grab one end of the rope and run it from the inside of the bit ring to the outside where it attaches to my girth. Then I grab the other end and run it through the other bit ring and attach it to the other side of my girth. The first few times I did it, I started fairly loosely, but now that Izzy knows what's going on, I don't bother to change the length.
The way this type of draw rein works is that it encourages the horse to stretch down. The rein slides from either right to left or up and down, so the horse never gets held in a fixed position. If he raises his head too high, he'll feel pressure in his mouth. The moment he drops his head, he gets instant relief. This is probably not a good tool for horses who already want to travel behind the bit (like Speedy), but for a horse who wants to be a giraffe, this is an awesome self-correcting tool.
I checked with the 2016 USEF Dressage Rule Book and found that this type of "draw rein" is legal for the warm up.
DR 121 Saddlery and Equipment
Right now, I am using the draw reins before each ride. Once I am certain that Izzy can start a ride already relaxed through his back, I'll try to only use them a few times a week. Using them only adds 15 minutes to our ride time so it's not an inconvenience to attach them. And really, if they get him working more effectively before I get on, then the 15 minutes is time well spent.
If you end up trying these, let me know what you think.
Well, not the last bandage ever. Anyone who has followed my equine story knows that I am quickly becoming an expert in all aspects of bandaging. What I mean to say is that I finally applied the last bandage that Dr. Tolley prescribed before our next, and hopefully, last ultrasound.
To catch you up, six or seven weeks ago, Speedy got a little bit wild during turn out. A day or so later I noticed a very slight swelling on the back of his tendon, and he was decidedly lame. Dr. Tolley diagnosed it as tendonitis (too small to be called a "bow").
Dr. Tolley created a treatment plan that involved several months of rest and bandaging. For the first month, Speedy was confined to his stall only, no paddock access, and I changed out a pressure bandage every other day. At month's end, a follow up ultrasound showed that the slight damage to the tendon had healed, but it was still slightly thicker than the healthy one.
Dr. Tolley recommended a cast for two weeks followed by a second cast for the following two weeks. I applied cast number two over the weekend.
Bowed tendons are certainly not anything that an owner wants to deal with, but they can heal well and permanently with proper care. Speedy's injury was very slight, but Dr. Tolley is treating it as conservatively as possible to ensure a full recovery. After the first pressure bandage was removed, all swelling at the injury site disappeared, never to return.
While the "divot" at the base of the tendon looks dramatic, it was actually really hard to see (and even feel) until the hair was shaved away. That thickened area has also disappeared.
Seeing how Dr. Tolley's cast needed a bit of shoring up, I preempted Speedy's desire to chew away the knot by doing a top layer of vet wrap (not pictured). This cast will stay on for another two weeks. Following that, Speedy will again visit Dr. Tolley for a third ultrasound. Since getting the first Gelocast, he's had access to his paddock and is allowed to go on walks.
A few times over the past week he's tried to let loose in his paddock. He looked fantastic with zero lame steps. I don't encourage any play, but it's hard to keep such a large animal confined. A grazing hand walk at least every other day has been enough to keep him pretty happy.
I know he misses being worked and played with, but the time is passing quickly. Before he knows it, he'll be grouching and grumbling at me as we return to schooling the walk to canter to walk transitions.
Just take it easy, Speedy G; we're not done yet.
I wish I could remember who suggested this dressage pad. I am pretty sure I saw it on a Facebook page moderated by Sprinkler Bandits. In any case, I was in need of a dressage pad for Izzy that is show legal. Everything legal that I own is Speedy-sized. The other white pads that I own have some kind of logo or monogram which is not allowed at rated shows.
I am sure the Union Hill Dressage pad is available from a variety of vendors, but I found mine at SmartPak. When buying dressage pads for Speedy, I have to be very selective about the pad's dimensions as most dressage pads are made for BIG horses. I am finding that I have to be nearly as careful when buying pads for Izzy. In his case, the bigger the better.
The Union Hill dressage pad is an excellent fit for Izzy's large, but shorter backed frame. It has a moderate spine length at 23", Speedy sized actually, with a generous 22 1/2" drop. And like any good dressage pad, it is nicely contoured along the spine with a small amount of extra padding at the withers.
I don't know what most riders prefer, but I like a pad with some substance. I find that the thinner pads tend to wrinkle and bunch up. This pad has a solid weight to it, but it's not too heavy. It seems to be sturdily constructed, but I won't know for sure until it's gone through the wash a few times.
While I haven't actually girthed up my saddle with this pad yet, I think it should fit okay. I compared it to the pad I used at last weekend's schooling show, and it has the same drop.
The pad retails for $20.95, but if you're a regular SmartPak shopper, you can easily get it for less with a Smart Perks, USEF, or similar discount. If my girth ends up fitting too closely to the edge of the pad, it can easily become a schooling pad, and I can never have too many of those!
Overall, for around 20 bucks, the Union Hill Dressage Pad is a pretty smart purchase - inexpensive, but more than serviceable. I think I am going to break it in 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%: