From Endurance to Dressage
Last week I was reading back through some old posts and shook my head at the number of times I've readjusted what my boys eat. I have tried so many different products in an effort to heal hooves, shine coats, soothe tummies, and keep emotions on a more even keel. By now you'd think I'd have figured out that most of that stuff doesn't work all that well.
For the record, here's what my boys are getting this year.
At this point, I've whittled the supplements down to the most basic of items. Since Izzy eats primarily grass hay, he really does need the extra calories found in the beet pulp and rice bran. I've tried several "cooler" feeds, but all of them sent his energy through the roof. Rice bran (fat) and beet pulp (forage) are the only feeds besides the grass hay that he can tolerate. My vet agrees that the vitamin/mineral mix and milled flaxseed are probably doing more than just making expensive poop. He feels that the flax probably helps with Izzy's summertime itch, and being on grass hay alone means he's probably not getting enough minerals and vitamins.
As far as the GastroElm, I know that it works when Izzy needs it. I am still trying to determine just how frequently he does need it. For the past three weeks I've given it to him on Saturday after my lesson. So far, that isn't making things worse, but I don't know that he needs it weekly. I need to give it a few more weeks to see if the occasional sloppy poop piles disappear or continue.
Eating really shouldn't be this complicated.
Over the past year, I've taken a fair amount of lessons from Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. I've never had a bad lesson, but this last one created a massive lightbulb moment. Sean and I have been teasing back and forth about my "bright" moments; I call them Vegas marquee signs, and he jokes that he'll need to coach me in sunglasses if I keep "getting it." This last epiphany was a Luxor moment. I am sure my lightbulb could be seen from space.
It was really a two-fold AHA. The first was huge, but the second one had a slow burn. I didn't realize how big of an AHA it was until the next day. Before I get too far off topic, let me explain the first one first.
Over the past month or so, I've been working on improving my understanding of keeping Izzy on both reins evenly. That's not a wildly unique concept; everyone knows that's what we should be doing, but some horses achieve that balance more easily than others. Izzy has struggled with it. As I was riding the shoulder-in, I brought Izzy to a complete halt, and told Sean that I needed to ask a question. It was this: How do I keep Izzy even on both reins in the shoulder-in? It is something that I really struggle with. Sean's answer started out pretty simple, but then he said just the right thing at the right time.
In order to get Izzy even on both reins, I can't achieve the angle, bend, and forward if I use only my inside aids. It was as though someone had ripped my blindfold off. I have been using my inside leg and inside rein to try to do exactly that. How many more times do I need to hear inside leg to outside rein? Apparently, a lot. When Sean said that I instantly realized that I have been trying to pull Izzy into the shoulder-in when I should have been using my inside leg to drive him forward while using my outside rein and leg to send him around my inside leg. It's almost like riding a circle where the outside aids make the turn, not the inside aids.
As soon as I started the next shoulder-in, I felt how my inside leg keeps Izzy on the track while the outside aids maintain the angle. I'll admit that I squealed and shouted my own version of Eureka! Then we did another one and then a few more going the other way. It was as though Izzy was on rails. Suddenly, I was no longer blocking him which allowed the movement to flow. When I say it's not him, it's me, I mean it.
The next day, it all went to hell. I was psyched about doing the shoulder-in and was totally prepared to wow myself. That didn't happen, and I felt an incredible sense of disappointment. What the hell? What was the freaking problem, and what was I doing wrong? That's when I remembered the second big thing Sean had shown me.
I had asked Sean why he thought Izzy preferred to go around bracing against me with his back hollow. It's horribly uncomfortable to ride, and it can't feel good to Izzy either. Sean answered very matter of factly, "It's what he knows." Yeah, I get that, but he now knows something better. Sean explained it like this: "Yes, he does know you are asking for something else, but by bracing, he keeps control and can bolt or spook or tuck his bootie and boogie if he feels the need. By softening, he gives up control, and that is not easy for him to do."
Sean has spent the past year helping me understand why Izzy does the things he does. By understanding what Izzy is (probably) thinking, I can apply a different tool to help him feel more confident. This realization helped me understand that it is a trust issue which is very different from being stubborn. Since he has such a dominant personality, giving me the literal reins is really hard for him.
So when the shoulder-in didn't go so well, I immediately realized that several things were happening. First, I didn't have Izzy balanced on both reins, and secondly, he wasn't giving me control as a result. So what did I do? I changed the topic. I went back to moving him around in his neck to see if I could achieve some suppleness. All the while I kept it in my mind that I was asking him if he trusted me enough to let me make the decisions.
It wasn't a perfect ride, but he wasn't upset, and I could see him really thinking about what I was asking him to do. To further convince him that he could trust me, I gave my hands forward every time he offered to soften instead of pushing against me. That's something Sean has been suggesting for a while, but I wasn't quite understanding the purpose until this weekend. Even if Izzy doesn't reach for the bit, even if I lose the contact for a moment, I am giving him the opportunity to seek the bit. One of these times, he's going to realize that the pressure is off, and he's going to follow my lead and reach for the bit.
Having this whole last week off gave me the opportunity for some real consistency. While I normally ride three or four days a week, having ten days in a row to practice what I've been learning helped me put together several new ways of thinking and riding. Whether we are ready to show or not has been pushed to the side. I am more focused on the conversation that Izzy and I have been having. I can't say for sure that he's hearing everything I say, but I know he has been listening more than ever before.
If I need to buy Sean some new Ray-Ban sunglasses because my lightbulb keeps getting brighter, it will be more than worth it!
A week or so ago, I wrote about ordering a new hay net along with a few other things. I got around to filling it with a fresh flake over the weekend; I am not sure I am in love with it though. For under ten bucks, I don't think I am allowed to complain about it. But first, here's photographic proof that my last hay net truly was on its last legs.
I am only kind of picky about hay nets. First and foremost, I only use the small hole nets for safety reasons. Izzy likes to play, so I avoid using any products that I consider "leg breakers." Besides that, large holes defeat the purpose of a nibble net. Other than the size of the holes, I don't have any other requisites when it comes to buying a hay net.
The last net I purchased, the one stitched together with baling twine, lasted long enough that I have no idea when or where I even bought it. It was made of a pretty study nylon with an extra thick drawstring for hanging. I definitely got my money's worth out of that net.
The new net was not at all what I was expecting. I should have read the reviews first. That being said, I don't hate it, I just don't know if it is going to last. The drawstring is very, very thin, so we'll see how that wears. If it does break, I can easily create a new drawstring from baling twine. And, no, I am not trying to be funny.
Unlike my old net and its predecessors, the material of the net doesn't feel like poly rope. This net feels almost like cotton, but when I looked back at the description, no mention is made of the rope's material. I looked at several other hay nets and couldn't find a description of the material they were made from either. In any case, it feels softer than my old hay net, so maybe Izzy will find it more comfortable to snack from.
As far as the size, it's perfect. This net could easily hold several flakes of alfalfa, although I usually only put in one at a time as that tends to be enough for the week. It's not meant to be a meal, just a snack to help reduce Izzy's anxiety while he stands tied.
One thing that I really like about it that has zero bearing on its usefulness as a hay net is the color. I chose the purple, and it is pretty. I know the color will quickly be hidden beneath hay dust, but for now, it is very striking. If the net lasts for six months, I'll feel as though its purchase price was money well spent. And again, it's hard to complain when the things cost less than $10.00.
I'll let you know if it doesn't last longer than a week.
During my week long spring break, I had a little more time than I usually do to spend at the barn, so I hopped up on Speedy. It's been months and months since I last rode him, and since the end of October, he's only had a rider up on him two or three times. Even so, I rode bareback with a halter. Speedy is that dependable.
As we headed out into the neighborhood, I settled in for what I assumed was going to be a lengthy ride. I wasn't sure we were even going forward. Speedy's walk was so slow that time was traveling faster than we were. Since the ride was about changing Speedy's view, I figured he could do it as slowly as he wanted to. And then we got to the Haner Family Farm.
Mr. Haner is a very nice guy, as is his wife and now very grown up children. When I first moved my boys to this neighborhood more than ten years ago, I would often see the Haner kids playing outside. I always stopped to let them pet whichever horse I was riding. I don't think they are kids anymore. When I rode by last week, the Haner dog came streaking across the yard straight for Speedy's hind legs. On the other side of the road, Mr. Haner's neighbor's two horses came charging up from across their pasture. Speedy tucked his hind end deep underneath himself and prepared to launch.
Since I was bareback, I slipped right and then left but managed to hang on. I got control and promised Speedy that it was all okay. Mr. Haner called off the dog and apologized profusely. I laughed. "He's just doing what dogs do." I replied. And it was true. Mr. Haner always keeps some kind of herding dog because he has a farm full of animals. He keeps pigs, geese, turkeys, ducks, sometimes bees, and anything else that can be butchered or harvested.
By the time we left the Haner's place and made the turn toward home, Speedy was on fire. As quiet as the stretch was going up the neighborhood, the long side coming back was bustling. There was a pack of loose dogs, workers pouring cement in a driveway, horses working in an arena, and flowers blooming. At one point, I almost jumped off to walk back on foot. While there's no traffic, we do walk on the asphalt, and I was worried about Speedy spooking hard enough to slip and fall.
Instead, I sat squarely on both seat bones and collected Speedy into a little prancing ball. One neighbor we passed gasped in delight. "He's beautiful!" she shouted. I waved and laughed. If she only knew that riding that kind of "beautiful" comes with a Lord, don't let me die prayer. While Speedy was a handful, I never doubted that he would be mostly sensible. He was just super excited to be out, not stupid.
When we got back, I unclipped Speedy's reins and let him go. He's so sassy; he gave me a look and then marched himself back over to the mares. Apparently, they are more interesting than I am.
You're welcome, Speedy!
I know I am a yoyo - up one day, down the next. But lately, let me tell you about lately. We're not ready to throw down a 70% test, but we're definitely getting a lot closer to that goal than we've ever been before. The last couple of lessons that I've taken with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, have shifted some pretty heft pieces of the puzzle into place.
There have been three major shifts in my thinking. In a nutshell:
That brings me to point number two. What is it that I want? Well, frankly, I am just two Fourth Level scores away from a CDS Sapphire Gem Award. That's what's next on my list of goals. Speedy and I were on track to get there when he was diagnosed with arthritis in his hock back in 2020. I could have tried some pain management strategies or more hock injections to see if I could get just a little bit further, but that wouldn't have been fair to Speedy.
Speedy was so forgiving that even though I didn't - and maybe still don't, ride like a Third Level rider, he winked at the world and said, "I gotcha!" Without him to pick up my slack, I am finding that I am not as educated as I thought I was. Between Sean's coaching and Izzy's feedback, the two of them are doing their best to help me get where I want to go. Over the past year, and I can't believe it's been that long since I started working with Sean, he has slowly reshaped how I ride. He has a lot of work left to do, but suddenly I am seeing my riding through a whole new lens.
I had all of last week off, so I was able to ride each day without feeling rushed to get home to cook dinner or stressed out from a day of trying to answer five bazillion questions. As I rode, I took my time. I spent as much time as it took to get Izzy supple through his neck and back. I moved him around in his neck and body until I felt that he was truly ready to start working.
Throughout every ride, I kept two things in the forefront of my thinking. One, I couldn't let him brace his neck; I had to keep moving him. And two, I needed to feel him evenly on both reins. The right lead canter has been such a struggle lately because he wants to fall in on his inside shoulder. Understanding how to ask him to fill out the left rein has been such a struggle for me. Over the past few weeks though, Sean has coached me to a much better understanding of how to accomplish that.
On Friday, I actually laughed out loud from the sheer joy of having accomplished what I've struggled so long to figure out. Izzy was balanced between both reins, and he was truly trying to work with me instead of fighting against me. We'll have more frustrating days ahead of us, I am sure, but now that I am learning how to better communicate with him, I can actually see our progress.
We're still a good ways from Fourth Level. In fact, we're still a good way from showing at Second Level. I trust Sean when he says that once I get control of Izzy and show him that he can trust me to make good decisions, we won't have any trouble moving up through the levels. Sean is confident that Izzy can already do the movements. I just need to get myself caught up to where my horse is.
Seeing real progress is so motivating!
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
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(*) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: