From Endurance to Dressage
Give yourself one point for each one you've ever done.
If you're anything like me, you scored all ten points. Wanting a horse isn't quite enough to make you a horse girl, but falling off one and then getting back on does. At least I think so, but that might just be because I've fallen off a lot. Speedy has dumped me on more than one occasion, but until last week, he hadn't tossed anyone else. To his credit, he looked horribly embarrassed when it happened.
While on our Poppy Ride this past Sunday, the group agreed to to do a canter to the top of the rise. The trail we were on was actually a wide, dirt road with plenty of visibility in all directions. "J" and I were in front with Wendy and Brenda bringing up the rear. Since J is very new to this kind of trail riding, I explained that we would first pick up a trot and then ask for an easy canter. We would stop at the top of the rise.
J did get a great job getting the trot and then canter transition. Speedy loves to go, so I told her to slow him down just a bit. We all know that a horse in the lead with nothing but miles in front of him will begin to get strong. About the time that I told her to slow it down a bit, Speedy spotted a plank of wood just off the road in the grass. He gave it the stink eye, so J looked over his shoulder to see what he had been looking at. That was all it took.
Speedy felt her lean over, so he dodged left and then right and J lost her balance. For just a moment it looked as though she were going to right herself so I did what every onlooker does. Sit back! I yelled. Rarely does that work, but I tried again, Sit Up! To her credit, J got him nearly stopped before gravity won. To my dismay, she dropped off the side, hitting the dirt with her butt.
The rest of us stopped in place; chasing down a loose horse only gets you the opposite of what you want. Instead, we waited as Speedy circled back and found Izzy and me. I grabbed his reins, and told him that we still loved him even though he should be quite embarrassed. J said that she was fine as she stood up and dusted herself off. Later, she told me that she was very embarrassed which is why I wrote this post. If you haven't come off a horse at least once, you're not a horse girl. Welcome to the club, J.
Once J was back in the saddle, we talked about why Speedy had been able to dump her. I explained that it was her lack of direction that fueled Speedy's uncertainty. Not that it was her fault in any way, but I wanted to help her avoid future tumbles. I explained that when cantering out in the open like that, it's important to keep your eyes forward, watch where you're going, and keep your leg on, ready to push him forward.
I let J catch her breath and relax while we chatted and walked. Seeing that the road continued to stretch before us, wide open and sandy, I suggested we try it again. I didn't want coming off to become "a thing." You know what I mean. Unless we face what scares us, we can't be rid of it. I didn't want J to have time to let it scare her. Before we started, I reminded her to get in a modified two-point position and to keep her eyes up and looking forward. The ladies behind agreed that a canter was a good idea, so off we went.
As we came to a crossing in the road, I had J come back to the walk. To my relief, she had a huge smile and gushed about keeping her eyes forward and her leg on. Speedy loves his job, and I know that at the moment that he lost his rider, he felt quite worried. In all the years that he has expressed his opinion - see all the photos above, he never intended to get rid of me. The times that he did toss me were (almost) always on the trail, and always because something frightened him.
On Tuesday, J came out for a short lesson. She was still a bit sore, but she wanted to get back on as soon as possible. That's what makes a horse girl; the attitude that nothing is going to stop you from riding your horse. One of my favorite quotes has been attributed to John Wayne - "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."
If you earned at least five points, you're a horse girl.
A week or two or three ago, after haltering Izzy, he walked off really crookedly with a weird spasm over his mid-section. I gave him a thorough exam, but nothing seemed amiss. I chalked it up to a weird moment. He did it again a week or so later. Whenever Izzy isn't moving right, I know he needs some body work. Over the next few rides, he seemed to alternate between being stiff to the right to being stiff to the left. I texted CC, Izzy's chiropractor/body worker.
Fortunately, CC was able to come out on Saturday. As soon as he saw Izzy, he looked at me and asked what I'd been doing differently. He almost didn't recognize Izzy. I laughed and told him that it was HIS advice concerning ulcers that had helped me find the GastroElm Plus that has completely changed the way Izzy looks (and feels). CC thought Izzy looked really good. Not only does his coat look good, but CC liked the extra weight and muscle tone that Izzy is developing. It's nice to hear such positive feedback from someone who doesn't see Izzy every day.
CC and I have worked together for so long now that we both know the routine. I tell him where I think Izzy is hurting, CC listens but he knows Izzy so well that he can always figure out what's hurting without my feedback (which is usually wrong). This time, I was mostly right; it was the ribs. As CC ran his hands over Izzy's top line, his hind end buckled and he gave an audible OUCH!
I was both surprised and not surprised. I suspected his ribs, but with Izzy, it's normally his poll and neck that need the most work. There was a little bit of discomfort at his poll, but most of it was in the ribs. I expressed my surprise to CC, but he reminded me that horses tend to complain about their biggest hurts first. Izzy's tummy has probably been the biggest point of discomfort for quite a while. Now that that isn't bothering him, the lesser hurts are making themselves known.
No one wants their horse to be hurting, but I am happy I am starting to eliminate the things that make Izzy uncomfortable. There have been times when it has taken CC more than hour to help Izzy get some relief. For this visit, CC was able to get Izzy feeling better in less than fifteen minutes. It was money well spent. Hopefully we'll get to a point where Izzy rarely needs any work. We've gone from every three months to about every six to eight months.
Izzy loves CC, but we would rather that he didn't need him.
For several years, I've been reading about my friend Wendy's spring rides in the poppy fields. Last year, I finally convinced her to invite me to one of these rides. The poppy is California's state flower. While it is beautiful, it is also very short lived. We get just a few weeks each year to enjoy its color, and that only happens if we get enough rain. This year, we didn't get enough rain.
Late in the winter, Wendy messaged me, and we picked a Poppy Ride date; this past Sunday. Besides riding in the flowers, we also planned a barbecue for after. We were to be a small group, but we were all very eager for the date to arrive. As mid-April drew closer, we knew our chances for poppies were slim to none. California is once again in a severe drought. In the days leading up to the ride, our hostess, Brenda, informed us that the poppy fields were empty.
The lack of color was disappointing, but it was really the horses and the people that were the real draw. We decided to ride even if there were no flowers to admire. Since "J", one of Speedy's ladies, lives in Tehachapi, I asked her if she wanted to meet me at Brenda's so she could ride Speedy. Bakersfield is in the valley. Tehachapi lies in the mountains between the valley and the desert. Of course J was willing. I later found out that she hasn't done much trail riding, so a bit of trotting and cantering across the desert was a new experience for her.
As luck would have it, we rode the day of a pretty good rain storm. Whenever the weather is about to change in California, the event is preceded by heavy winds. We enjoyed the blue skies and approaching clouds, but the wind made it a little harder to chat while we were riding. In all, we covered 5.7 miles, shorter than I would have done back in my endurance racing days, but it was perfect for a trail ride with friends.
The footing out in this part of the Mojave desert is always great. We had nothing but wide dirt roads nicely covered with a layer of sugary sand. It makes cantering so inviting. Being able to canter or trot for long stretches is such a treat when you live somewhere without the kind of room to stretch your legs that the desert offers.
Once we all made it back to the house, we were pleased to discover burgers on the grill. Wendy brought guacamole and chips - a staple here in California, along with chocolate chip cookies. With my macaroni salad and J's divine pastries, we all felt just a little bit rounder for the drive home.
Oh, and before I forget, we DID find some California Poppies!
I really like my new truck, Newt, even though Newt's not so new anymore; I've had her for nearly a year and a half. Considering I owned Blue Truck for almost twenty years, a year and a half means we're still in the honeymoon phase. Newt hasn't had the greatest track record though. Last fall, she developed a terrifying "death wobble" - Google it, but my Ford dealer fixed her right up, and everything was great. And then it wasn't.
In early April, Newt developed a new vibration. Not as frightening as the "death wobble," but it was still pretty awful. It was enough that I couldn't go faster than 40 miles per hour. The thing is, it only happened while towing the trailer and only on one particular piece of road. That would suggest the road was at fault, but to the naked eye, there was nothing on the road that would cause my truck to feel like it was driving over raised caveletti poles.
Last Monday, I took it back to my Ford service department and explained how this vibration, while not quite as severe as the "death wobble," was still pretty scary. They looked it over on Tuesday, but couldn't find anything. They looked at it again on Wednesday, but still couldn't find anything. By Thursday, I was more than a little bit grouchy. I didn't spend many tens of thousands of dollars to own a tow vehicle that couldn't safely tow my horse trailer.
On Thursday afternoon, I dropped by the service department for a little chat with the service department supervisor. I laid it out pretty plainly. They had had my truck for three days, and so far they had considered, and then ruled out pretty much everything. I even paid them to have my shocks taken apart to see if they were bad. They weren't. After three days, and after calling Ford's engineering hot line, they were no closer to figuring out what was wrong.
I told them they either needed to figure it out, or I was getting rid of it and heading over to GMC or Dodge. Suddenly, everyone had some new ideas. While I thought it was nuts, they decided it might be my tires, so they swapped out my still fairly new tires for an even newer set. We decided that the only way to see if it indeed was the tires was to hook up my trailer, load my horse, and drive it to the suspected stretch of road.
I took Friday off and drove to Ford, I exchanged the rental car for Newt, and drove out to the ranch where I hooked up the trailer and loaded Izzy. Sal, the service department foreman, met me at the ranch. Together we headed south to the Grapevine, one of California's busiest stretches of highway. From the base of the Grapevine, four lanes twist and turn up a steep grade that tops out at just over 4,000 feet in elevation. It reaches that elevation in less than ten miles. It's a pretty serious haul with a horse trailer, and in fact, a lot of drivers of passenger cars dislike that particular stretch of highway.
It's a good forty-five minute drive from the ranch to the base of the Grapevine, so Sal and I had plenty of time to chat and get to know one another. We shared all sorts of interesting stories, like the one where he taught his adult wife to swim so that they could go snorkeling in the Caribbean. He was a swimmer on his high school team. When they finally took their trip, his wife had a great time while he ended up needing a life preserver as snorkeling turned out to be harder than he thought. He was pretty embarrassed.
Before we headed out on our road test, Sal had hooked up a computer to Newt so that he could scan all of her systems as we made the climb. As we approached the beginning of the climb, we both tightened our seatbelts, looked at one another, and felt like Thelma and Louise as they drove off the edge of the cliff. With Sal watching the data play across his screen, I hung on as my truck vibrated and jarred the living heck out of us both. When the vibration got too strong, I lifted my foot off the gas and slowed down. When things were calmer, I pressed my foot down and we rode another wave of vibrations with our teeth rattling and the engine roaring.
Once we reached the top of the grade, I exited the freeway, got back on heading north, and slowly descended. At the bottom, Sal instructed me to make the climb again. At the Grapevine exit, I pulled off the freeway, circled around, and got back on heading south, or back up the grade. For the second attempt, Sal asked me to put my cruise control on. This is a really tricky section of highway for cruise control because the traffic speed is anything but constant. We were in luck though as the traffic was lighter than usual, so I was able to keep the cruise control on long enough for him to see some results.
To my complete surprise, the instant I started cruise control, the heavy vibration stopped. We tested it over and over as we climbed the grade: cruise control on - no vibration; cruise control off, and our teeth rattled in our head. At the top, we got off the highway again, but this time I pulled over to check on Izzy. He was standing there like nothing had happened. Knowing my horse hadn't been knocked to his knees by all of Newt's shaking and quaking, I felt better for having brought him along. We got back on the freeway and headed back down the hill.
Sal had both good news and bad news. The bad news was that the vibration might go away, but it would depend on me. The good news was that he knew what the problem was. On that particular stretch of Interstate 5, the road is really rough. Since my truck and trailer are both so long, the wheels don't sync as they cross the seems in the asphalt. This causes my truck and trailer to bounce at odds with each other which then bounces me around. Even though it feels as though my foot is steady on the accelerator, it's not.
Vehicles today now have an electronic throttle control (ETC) which means there is a sensor in the throttle that tells the vehicle to add or reduce fuel. As I've been getting bounced around by the rough road, my foot's pressure is coming on and off the throttle. This is telling the ETC to give and take fuel which causes the truck to lurch forward and back. Sal explained that since I am now aware of the issue, I should be able to control it a little bit.
Now that I at least have an explanation, I am no longer worried about my truck falling apart as I head to a show. In fact, I'll be driving over that section of road on Saturday as I head to STC Dressage for a lesson. Instead of feeling stressed out about it, which is how I've felt all month, I am now curious to see how well I can manage my foot control.
Thank you, Ford. Without your help, Newt would have been a goner.
Wednesdays have become "S's" lesson day. It works out for me since by the middle of the week I am usually ready to give Izzy a day off. Last week was tough though as I had to solve a week-long crisis which meant I didn't get to ride. Teaching S helped me forget about life for a minute, so it was worth it.
So far, we've been working on building S's leg and core strength. Sustained trotting is still hard work for her, but I've seen tremendous progress in the month or so that she's been riding Speedy. She has also been able to canter on both leads. Each time she comes out to ride, I appreciate Speedy even more. That horse has the most generous nature. He never gives her more than she can handle.
In true schoolmaster fashion, he doesn't do anything that she hasn't asked for. He doesn't spook or bolt, and he will only trot if she really wants it. For this lesson, I had S work on her mental commitment. I think she has had a small amount of fear which Speedy has obviously picked up on. She has to really insist that he trot or canter, or he simply won't. For this lesson, I encouraged her to ask for the trot by simply shouting in her head, TROT!
I knew that Speedy would feel that intensity, and I hoped that her body would sense the empowerment that comes from a strong shout. It worked. The power that it takes to shout, if only internally, gave S's body the confidence that she needed. As we all know, success breeds success. I had her do trot to walk to trot transitions over and over so that she could begin to feel a sense of confidence.
Throughout the lesson, S kept worrying that the lesson was boring for me, and she expressed her gratitude for my patience. My response was always the same. I don't care if she walks or trots or does passage. It's not about me; it's about her journey. Who cares how long it takes?
Knowing that her confidence is just beginning to build,I wanted to make sure she cantered again for this lesson. As in the trot, she continued to have trouble getting Speedy to lift into the canter. Instead of cantering, he just began to trot faster and faster. Since I wasn't sure why, we came back to walk and discussed it. S explained that it was making her tired trying to ride through that faster trot. Oh! That explained a lot.
What I had not thought to say was take your time. How many times has a trainer said that to me? Getting the transition is not important. What really matters is getting a good transition which means not rushing into it. When we started again, I made sure to watch and tell S to slow back down when Speedy started to get quicker. We don't want to chase him into the canter. I told her to take her time, slow him down, rebalance, and ask again. I also reminded her to use the outside rein.
I've taught Speedy to canter with my inside leg at the girth, outside leg back, a scoop with my seat, and a little outside rein that says sit and push with your outside leg. Once S knew that she could take her time, Speedy transitioned into a lovely, collected canter that S was able to ride. As they cantered, I encouraged her to try to go with Speedy's movement and enjoy the moment. Cantering a forward thinking horse can feel like flying, especially when the horse is as well behaved as Speedy.
It was a great lesson for me because I was reminded that taking your time gets you much farther in the end.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%