From Endurance to Dressage
California EHV-1 Causing EHM Disease Update as of 4 pm 5/31/2011
California has one new confirmed case of Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM) caused by EHV-1. There are now 20 confirmed EHV-1/ EHM cases in the state.
God created a little girl who was wildly in love with horses.
I wrote this last fall and published it as a Facebook Note, but I thought my non-Facebook readers might like to know what my equine experience really is. So, here it is one more time.
Grandma Fleeta and Gypsy, 1968
I’ve been around horses, on horses, near horses, and sometimes even under horses, my whole life. My first horse was a little Welsh-Morgan cross mare with a coat as brilliant as a new copper penny and a mane and tail the color of straw. I was under that little mare every time I rode her until I learned to stick her sudden right-left swerve.
My grandmother, Fleeta Finnegan, had horses. I always loved grandma’s first name, Fleeta. It even sounded horsey. She and my grandpa Charles leased a farm and covered it with hot wire stalls, several ramshackle sheds, and even an arena filled with jumps. And of course there were the horses. Some were hers, some belonged to boarders, but in the stories that I would weave as I sat in the dirt near their pens, they all belonged to me.
Riding Corky, with Gideon being ponied, 1987
I longed for those Saturdays when my mom would utter those glorious words, “We‘re runnin’ out to Momma and Daddy’s. Get in.” She really called them that. Momma and Daddy. Even as a kid I thought it odd that an adult woman would refer to her parents in that way. It didn’t really matter though. A trip out to grandma’s meant that I was going to see the horses, and with any luck, Grandma might need help feeding or grooming.
I know now that having a little girl helping her was anything but help. I would follow my grandmother around racing ahead to open gates, tote buckets filled with grain, and push the alfalfa-laden wheelbarrow from paddock to paddock. I can still hear the clack ...clack ... clack of her electric fence humming and see the big green and red light bulbs that adorned the front of that machine. It hung on the wall of the screened in porch on the back of the house. It had a thick pile of dust over it and often times I would wipe the dust off the bulbs to check which of the bulbs, green or red, was lit. I learned that fence stung if you forgot which bulb meant “fence on.”
Grandma Fleeta gave riding and jumping lessons to little girls and ladies wanting to ride. Her arena was filled with brightly painted jumps, white cavelleti poles, and even a dingy old mirror mounted to a wooden frame. She would sit on a jump painted to look like a brick-wall drinking Diet Pepsi and call out instructions to the ladies riding. To me she was beautiful in the tan breeches, sleeveless tops, and tall black boots that she always wore.
For a very short time, my mother arranged for me to take riding lessons with Grandma Fleeta. And even though she was my grandmother, my mother refused to take anything for free. After taking a lesson, I was required to clean pens with a wheelbarrow and a big metal shovel. And while I enjoy cleaning my horses’ stalls today, as an eight year old, the wheelbarrow and shovel that I was assigned were both heavy and clumsy. I resented the work, but I would have done anything to be around those horses. The lessons didn’t last long however, since spending money on gas to drive all the way out to grandma and grandpa’s house for a weekly riding lesson was just not a priority for my single mom.
My mom’s brother and his wife lived a bit closer so we spent more time with them. My uncle was a horseshoer, as were his two other brothers. It seemed as though everyone had something to do with horses, everyone except me. Even my cousin delighted in tormenting me with the fact that she had a black and white pony named Joker and I didn’t. She never wanted to ride him of course, and worse, would never let me ride him either. I spent many afternoons on the fence daydreaming about what it would be like to ride Joker. I never did.
Then at twelve years of age, all of that changed. I moved north to live with my dad and suddenly, I had a horse. And then there was another, and another, and my days were filled with riding with no one saying I couldn’t. The only rule was that I be home by dark and that if I got hurt it was my own fault. It was as though the very doorway to Heaven had been opened to me. I spent every afternoon, and both weekend days, exploring the Coast Mountain’s logging roads and meandering the Eel River’s beaches.
Riding Sassy, 1998
During those years of riding as long and as far as I wanted to, I became a horse person. I knew then that horses would always be part of my life. And so when college came and I was horseless yet again, I knew that it was only temporary. Six years passed before I was able to bring a horse back into my life. During those horseless years I graduated from college, began a career, and got married.
The first horse that found me was a lovely little Arabian mare named Sassy. I found her on my daily search of the newspaper’s classifieds and bought her on the spot. I had no place to keep her, no tack with which to ride her, and I hadn’t mentioned to my new husband that I was even purchasing a horse! As it is with horse people, help arrived almost immediately. A co-worker contacted her stable’s manager and arrangements were made for the mare’s transport to her new barn. And once again I was exploring dirt roads through rolling hills and trails that lined a meandering river.
Before long, I spotted a fellow boarder at the equestrian center where I boarded Sassy, riding his Arabian gelding off into the distance. I soon discovered that he was an endurance rider, said with a bit of derision by others at the barn. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had also been watching me ranging farther and farther along the trails each week on my own sturdy little Arabian. Endurance riding is a sport with limited, but growing numbers, and can only survive if more people join up, and so endurance riders have become well-known for their powers of recruitment. At Jim’s invitation, I started tagging along with him and his family, and before I knew it I was competing at nearby endurance rides. I quickly found out that endurance riders ride their horses a lot.
And as always happens, one horse became two, and life with horses continued.
Truck and Trailer
Never having had a trailer, or access to one, I had never experienced the world of showing or competing with horses until I met Jim and his family. Now an adult, I realized that I could make that happen if I wanted to, and I decided that I would. Several years, and thousands of endurance miles later, I finally purchased a trailer of my own. As a kid, I had thought the ultimate joy in life would be to tow a trailer down the road with an equine nose poking out the window. I wasn’t disappointed when I hauled my first trailer home from the dealership. I was certain that every other driver on the road was staring at me in admiration, and maybe even a bit enviously. I was truly in Heaven. Many years, and thousands of highway miles later, I still grin as I haul my horses to wherever we’re going. And I still enjoy seeing a nose poke through the window.
Riding Montoya DSA, 2009
As one horse left my life and another entered, endurance riding began to lose its appeal. I started endurance riding in the spring of 1996 doing a few limited distance events, but quickly moved on to 50 milers, 100 milers, and multi-day rides. Sassy carried me over 500 race miles before becoming a family trail horse. Montoya DSA, my super star, carried me 2,550 race miles, 500 of which were one-day hundred mile races. Montoya also carried a friend for 200 miles when she needed a horse to ride. Mickey Dee, my project horse, carried me more than 300 race miles before he too, became a trail horse. And then came G Ima Starr FA, also known as Speedy G. He was supposed to be my next endurance horse, but after just a few limited distance rides, and a couple of 50 mile rides, I just seemed to lose my enthusiasm for the sport.
I am not sure that it was any one thing. It might have been losing Montoya to colic in 2010. Or maybe it was the 15 years of having to ride three to four hours every Saturday in order to condition the horses. It might also have been Speedy G’s less-than-enthusiastic attitude about riding 50 miles in a single day. I didn’t plan on quitting endurance riding, but I went to an endurance ride in early June of 2010, and I didn’t put my endurance saddle back on a horse for five months.
During the summer of “no endurance riding,” as I called it, I took twice weekly dressage lessons and accidentally found a new love. After each lesson, I counted the hours until the next one. I quickly went from dusty, dirty endurance rider to a black coated, white breech wearing dressage rider! Even though we weren’t quite ready, I took Speedy G to four, one-star dressage shows over the summer of 2010 and loved every minute of it. That same fall and winter I took Speedy G to a triple-rated show and a schooling show where we did well. Or well enough. As with endurance riding, we’re riding to improve over our own previous score, not so much in competition with other riders. At least for now.
Riding Speedy G at the GEAHS Spring Open Dressage Show, 2011
Membership dues are renewed in the fall. Sadly, for the first time in 14 years, I did not send the American Endurance Ride Conference a check. Instead, I now carry around membership cards with new abbreviations: CDS, USDF, and USEF. I will miss that AERC card. It’s a special group of people that ride endurance and one that I will no doubt miss. Even though the letters on my membership cards will be different, life with horses will continue.
And as long as I am around horses, on horses, near horses, and sometimes even under horses, I will continue to be a horse person.
Finally, some impulsion. And all it took was a winter's day in the month of May. Any of the California readers already know this, but for those of you reading who live elsewhere ...
Winters in the southern central valley of California are very mild compared to winters around the world. We can pretty much ride 365 days a year. Our winters are typically very short with only 4 - 6 inches of rain, and temperatures from the low 40s to the high 60s℉ (4℃ - 15℃). It can get into the teens, there has been snow, and our ground-to-sky fog can be very wet and chilly, but compared to say ... Minnesota, our winters are very conducive for riding.
Our summers, on the other hand, can be quite brutal by anyone's standards. They are long, sometimes lasting five months, with temperatures that do not drop. Once summer is in full force, we see heat waves with lows in the 80s and highs up to 112℉ (27 - 45℃). These conditions might last 10 to 15 days.
As I write, it is currently a very uncharacteristic 62℉ (16℃) which is ten degrees warmer than when I rode in the morning. It has also been raining off and on since last night. When I first woke up this morning, my first thought was, how great the footing is going to be!
Once at the barn, I had a moment's hesitation about riding as the wind was gusting pretty fiercely and rain drops were falling in big wet splats. Throwing caution to the wind, literally, I saddled up with the side reins and started out with some lunging exercises. It was either the cool weather, or Speedy being more respectful of the lunging cues, but he had much better impulsion and was far more balanced. After some quick trot to canter to trot transitions he looked ready to get to work. I hopped on and felt a delightful sense of lightness to his feet. Too light in fact.
I had forgotten the running martingale. Speedy gave a couple of "squirty" bolts before I decided that the martingale was less of a training device for today and more of a safety feature. I got off and retrieved the running martingale. Once we were finally set up and ready to go, I had a delightful schooling ride.
The weather certainly helped Speedy to be more forward, but I think the time off also refreshed him. I am also really liking, for now, the switch back to the french link snaffle. I haven't quite been able to put my finger on it, but I think that since it is a thinner bit, he's not leaning on it as with the thicker lozenge bit. It certainly has a different feel.
Whatever the reason for the perkier, more forward ride, I'll take it!
We're back ...
Huh? Did you go somewhere?
Not physically, but mentally, Speedy G and I have not seen eye to eye in a few weeks.
It's my fault of course. My mental state dictates how I approach the world, and lately, it's not been peaches and cream. Oh, I could list all the reasons why, but they're the same kind of problems everyone else has. You've got your own problems to deal with and don't need to hear about mine. Let's just say that I find it very interesting that Thursday was the first day that I recorded 100% (albeit with a question mark) for Speedy's way of going on my barn calendar, and Friday was the last BIG work day that I'll have for a while. Coincidence? Don't think so.
I woke up on Saturday ready to get back to it. "IT" being riding with a purpose and a sense of togetherness. I am not sure Speedy G woke up the same way, but he eventually got the message. I wore a nice collared shirt, good breeches (the ones I like to save for lessons), and my field boots (which I've never done before - I usually carry them reverently in their bag and put them on only immediately before riding). I am sure this all sounds pretty feeble to you, but the point was to go to the barn in a purposeful, meaningful, professional way. No more pussy-footing around, whining, or excuse making.
If nothing else, this blog helps me see things more clearly. Here is what I've seen lately: Speedy will only do what I explicitly ask him to do. He's not going to do anything extra for me. He's the kid in school who did just enough for a C. Don't get me wrong, he's not dumb. Quite the contrary. He's just a very smart pony who takes very good care of himself which means not expending any extra energy.
When I was lunging him the other day I discovered this by actually using my stick's string to thwack his butt. WOW! Finally got a reaction. After that, when I waved the stick at him with a purpose, he stepped up his pace. Aha! So, back to Saturday's "ride with a purpose" - as I led him to the arena, he kept trying to walk slower and slower. Swish, I snapped my left hand back and popped him with my dressage whip in the ribs. Aha ... again! He picked up the pace. I worked him on the lunge line with the side reins at both the trot and canter until I had him moving nicely forward. It was amazing how sound he looked!
I got on him without the side reins, added the running martingale, and used all my seat and core strength to push him forward. Toe dragging was not going to be an option, but neither was running with his nose jacked in the air. And you know what? He went forward. He did some nice round circles, good changes of direction, and even his upward transitions into the canter were done without a bunch of fussing.
I worked really hard to maintain a steady contact without throwing my outside rein away, and the ride went really well. I felt like I had a better connection using the french link snaffle rather than the Mikmar lozenge bit. He also seemed quieter in his mouth. I think that for now, the Mikmar bit might just be too thick in his smaller mouth. Last summer he worked in it much better than he had in the French link. Maybe this shows that he's learning something about acceptance of the bit.
Don't get me wrong, we have a long way to go, but it felt good to feel balanced and moving forward. And he gave me some lovely, elevated trot strides. He was truly connected from back to front which felt like I was riding a cloud. I'll take it!
A quick video of Speedy's turn out after riding. He looks more forward in the first half of the video when he was looking for me to bring him back to the barn, and pokier when he realized I was "sending" him for more work. I told you he was a smarty pants!
Things are very s...l...o...w... around my barn these days. It would seem that with EHV-1 on the loose, no one feels like grooming, doing turn out, or even hand walking their horses. Good for me, I suppose. I've had the barn completely to myself the last two weeks.
Cha Ching's mom, sweetest person around, asked me on Thursday how Speedy was doing after he yanked that shoe off nearly two weeks ago. If you'll remember, I mentioned that it HURT, and that he was pretty sore. I've been doing regular turn out and some light lunging over the two weeks, but no under saddle work. Each day that I leave the barn I record on my calendar what I did that day: t/o, arena ride, etc. I also note any funkiness that might have occurred: scratched face, whacked knee, etc. This last week or so my calendar has looked like this: Saturday - lame, Sunday - lame (?), Tuesday - better, Thursday - 95% sound (?), Saturday - 98% sound (?), Sunday - 98.5%, Tuesday - sound 99% (?), Thursday - sound 100% (?).
The problem with a lazy horse, and Cha Ching's mom has had to listen to this already ... side note: she really is a good friend. I have talked about this lazy horse issue with her at least 38 times and she still nods her head in sympathy ... is that they always look lame.
Let me explain ... I've had a HOT horse (more than one, actually). Montoya was hell on wheels and NEVER looked lame. That was no doubt because she was always higher than a kite and R...E...A...D...Y... to rock and roll no matter what might hurt. That mare sucked it up. She NEVER lacked impulsion. If I asked for a trot-out, she stepped out and meant it. It was actually quite difficult to pinpoint any soreness because she was so forward. Hot horses just never look lame. They pick up their feet, they don't drag their toes, and they step well under themselves which gives them good, forward movement.
And then we come to Speedy G ... who is not very speedy, and who pokes along even if the barn is on fire or dinner is being served. When asked to trot-out, he literally drags all four feet through the dirt. It frequently looks as though he is going in reverse, or at the very least as though he might actually fall down.
Really ... after watching that, doesn't he look lame?
And that is the problem with lazy ponies.
So even though I wanted to give him a few more days of rest, in case he is still sore from that pulled shoe and not just being lazy, I decided to do some bareback work anyway. Speedy WILL NOT trot with me on his bare back, so I don't really worry about him getting a wild hair and bolting after several weeks of rest.
I had brought my step-stool and helmet to the arena and had used my riding halter to bring him out, so I was able to hop on without a lot of fuss. Truthfully, I had a great time. I focused on riding with my seat while consciously bending my elbows and holding my hands in a firm position. We worked on softening, flexing, and moving off my leg. It's hard to deceive yourself when your butt is right on their back. You can feel it immediately when you're off balance.
Is he lame? I doubt it. He's just lazy. The upside, of course, is that I have a pony that I can hop on bareback after two weeks of no work and KNOW that I am going to be toted around safely. Not a bad trade-off!
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%: