From Endurance to Dressage
I know I mentioned this briefly a time or two, but now it's here (or will be very early tomorrow morning)! That's right, we're going on vacation. In case you missed it, Hubby and I will soon be in Belize with a side trip to Tikal in Guatemala.
We have quite a trip planned: zip lining, rappelling, cave-tubing(!), snorkeling, swimming with nurse sharks and sting rays, fishing, and of course, horse back riding! Not only will we be riding (hopefully - weather can be an issue) in the jungle, but we're riding to some Mayan ruins. Cool, huh?!
You can read more about riding with duPlooy's here. We'll be in the jungle for most of our vacation, but then we're headed to Ambergis Caye, one of Belize's many islands, for the remainder of our trip.
I look forward to catching up with you all when we get back. You should expect to see me blogging by the middle of June at the latest. See you soon!
Ear to ear, no less! What's to be so happy about? A 48% should have left me hopelessly depressed. Except it hasn't, and I am not. I really don't care about the number and kind of find such a low score funny. How low of a score can you actually get anyway? Not that I want to find out first hand, but someone has surely earned a really low score somewhere along the way.
I am actually smiling because of the work that Sydney did the very next day. Yep. He had a lesson on Monday. If Speedy has a show over the weekend, I generally give him a lesson-free Monday as I don't feel as there is anything to gain by it.
With Sydney, going straight back to work seemed like a very good way to reinforce the idea that he has a J-O-B and must leave home to perform it. At JL's and spent a few minutes walking the whole perimeter of the arena, not something I regularly do. At the far end, he got a little high headed and tense, but I saw it as an excellent schooling opportunity. I added lots of leg and leaned back. As soon as he stretched his neck forward, I softened my hand and leg pressure and allowed him to really reach down into the bridle.
JL met us at the working end of the arena where we discussed the show and came up with even more strategies for dealing with Sydney's nervous and anxious attitude. She put it like this: we need to really start putting some pressure on him so that he'll know how to react at a show. He'll be used to the "loud" exercises so he won't be scared of them when I do them during a warm-up. Her strategy sounded a lot like school a higher level than you're showing. Sure enough, that's what she had me do.
Before we really started working though, I showed her where we are. She had nothing to add or correct. He worked beautifully at the trot and canter in both directions stretching into the contact with a nice bend. I was so proud of him, and me too, frankly.
In order to show off the trot and canter that we have developed, we need to accustom him to harder work. The first exercise was to lighten his front end. You'll remember that JL is a hunter/jumper, and not a dressage trainer. I am guessing that thinking of lightening the front end is much the same as having him collect himself more by using his hind end.
To achieve this, we went back to the 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 canter (two counts neck bent in, two counts neck straight, two count neck counter flexed). Once we had that rhythm going smoothly, she directed me to shorten my reins and and ride the canter with only the counter bend. As we circled, she had me make the circle smaller and smaller. It took me a few tries to recognize that doing this takes a boatload of outside leg to lift the outside shoulder with just as much inside leg to keep the canter going.
Once I could coordinate both legs and hands, we got some really small canter circles. When he would get stuck, I had to really shorten my reins so that I could rock, rock, rock him past the stuck spot. Eventually, I aimed for just a few strides where he was really light in my hands and lifting his shoulders. As soon as I felt that softness, we returned to a normal bend for a few strides where I sent him back out on the circle. We then came right back to being counter bent on the small circle and then back to the regular bend.
JL summed up Sydney's training like this: I need to get him to let go and move forward, and that's basically it. So from here on out, everything I do will be with that in mind: forward and let go. That was the problem at the show; I had the forward, but he wouldn't let go through his poll, neck and shoulders.
The second exercise was virtually identical to the first, but it was done at the trot. This version felt harder for me as the canter has more jump to it. But we did the same thing; counter bend in a small circle to pick up the shoulder for a few strides, but then back to a regular bend and a large circle.
By the time we finished, he was so light and responsive. He made me feel like such an accomplished rider. I really think he has a lot of buttons already installed; I just need to learn how to press them correctly. I see a lot of road for us to travel. He definitely has a lot of potential that I haven't seen yet.
Love a good Sunday race ...
I love the number 48, especially when it's painted on the side of the Lowe's Chevrolet. I've been a fan of NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson since before he became "Five Time." He's won five consecutive championships, a feat no other driver has accomplished. Speedy G was almost named JJ in honor of my driver. While Jimmie's name didn't quite make the cut, I still chose a racing inspired name, Speedy.
I am not as much of a fan of the number 48 when it's written on my score sheet. Yep. A 48.something% is what we earned for our second test of the day. I've never earned a score in the 40s, but pal JK pointed out that now that it's happened, I don't have to worry about it anymore. And in reality, I don't really care. This show wasn't about the score. It was about having fun, riding the tests, and getting some relaxation ...
I did get some relaxation, but it wasn't during the second test.
After finishing the Introductory C Test, I went back down to the warm up. We had some trouble getting back into the warm-up ring as some (ahem) guy, kept CRACKING the whip at a pony just as I trying to pass by. Sydney spun and left the vicinity. The warm-up is nestled below a hill, and to get to it, I had to funnel through between the hillside and the round pen. We tried three times, but each time I was dead center, the dude cracked the whip. For the third pass, I had tipped Sydney's nose toward the sound so that he couldn't whirl around which meant that he just leaped sideways instead.
I did one of those outside toe hanging in the stirrups but the rest of your body is in midair things. And I did it all while Sydney leaped up the hillside. Fortunately, my pal JK saw what was going on and hustled over to lead Sydney past the scary round pen. In the meantime, I will admit that I gave a loud, DUDE! EASY WITH THE WHIP! He glanced my way and seemed quite surprised to see anyone standing there.
JK stood outside of the warm up ring with me as we let Sydney nibble at the weeds. A lowered head is good for a nervous horse so I decided a green mouth was worth what I gained in relaxation. We stood there chatting, me mounted, her gently guarding the reins, for at least 20 minutes. With my eye on the clock, I finally decided we should get back to it.
He was better for this warm up round, even though there were some tense moments. I was finally able to stake out one corner of the arena (it's HUGE), which helped him to settle down. We were finally able to canter, and I was able to use one my 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 exercise: two counts neck bent to the inside, two counts straight, two counts neck counter flexed. His left lead canter got really relaxed (yah - goal number three met). The right lead canter was definitely problematic. He had no bend that direction at all which was just a foreshadowing of what I would get in the show arena.
In retrospect, I think I over-rode him for the Training Level Test 1. By that I mean that I felt like he was more relaxed so my expectations got higher. I pushed for a little more. As soon as we made our first trot circle at E, I knew it wasn't going to happen. He was so strong and racey. The judge's comment on the collective marks was that he was too trapped between hands and legs. I just didn't know how to let go without having him bolt.
At one point, I had to haul his neck around to make the right turn. There was absolutely zero bend in his body despite how much leg I was using to move him sideways. So yeah, he was trapped between my hands and legs.
On Monday, I asked my trainer about the judge's comment. Knowing Sydney like she does, JL felt that he wasn't really trapped because if he had been, he would have launched himself. Instead of being trapped, he was simply too forward into my hand. She agreed that when a horse gets like that, keeping them from exploding is the best you can hope for.
I earned my first ever 3, and just to make it extra special, I got two of them, both at the canter. For the first canter, he bucked all the way through which caused him to drop the lead. I wasn't upset about it at all. I just brought him back to trot and picked up the canter again where he bucked and swapped leads. I think we went through that pattern three times during movement 3 and 4 and then again for 11 and 12!
The one thing I really liked about the test was his free walk. I thought it was fabulous, but the judge only saw it as a 6. I probably liked it so well because it was the one time during the test where he actually relaxed and stopped trying to run off. I let the reins out slowly and he gratefully dropped his neck and walked off.
The rest of the test was just as wonky. He was all over the place drifting or bucking. After our final halt, I thanked the judged for her patience. She and her scribe both laughed when I said that I liked how relaxed he was as we left the arena on a loose rein. The judge said she liked my attitude.
Rather than go back to the trailer, I had Sydney stand around the arena with the spectators as I chat with some friends. He acted as though he had done this part a thousand times. He nibbled the weeds, flicked an ear at the applause and hammed it up with random people passing by.
He literally grabbed one woman as she passed us on her way by. She had a cup of coffee that must have smelled enticing. She passed just close enough that he was able to wrap her in a head hug. Fortunately, she didn't mind and returned the hug. He schmoozed all over her and she hugged him and gave him lots of love. He got those super cute doe-eyes and his ears flopped all Eeyore style.
We stood there for at least 30 minutes watching different riders do their tests. Sydney never moved a muscle. he was happy to stand there and looked quite relaxed. I hope, hope, HOPE that he'll remember feeling relaxed and happy at a show. We waited until JK's friend, Sarah, finished her test, and then we walked back to the trailers together.
I unsaddled Sydney, gave him some beet pulp and rice bran, and went to change. He seemed very relaxed at the trailer, although he did call for me a few times and seemed relieved when I came back into view. I left him for a while as I went up to get my tests. I was able to watch Sarah ride her second test and then get a photo of her and King Casanova leaving the arena.
I am encouraged to try again. Sydney will go back to Tehachapi for the show on June 23rd and then head to Hansen Dam the very next weekend, June 30th. With Speedy, I had the benefit of having done so many endurance rides before we started to show. The show experience was nothing exciting for him. Will Sydney ever get the ho-hum attitude that Speedy has? I don't know, but I'll certainly keep trying.
Here he is at the end of the day looking pretty mellow and a lot handsome. Not that it's any good, but the score sheet is down below.
I wouldn't say I am disappointed per se, but I am certainly not spinning cartwheels either. My goals were to have fun, complete both tests, and get some relaxation. I did all of those things, but only just barely.
I very much enjoyed seeing some friends. The weather was brisk and cool, a welcome changed. The show staff was incredibly friendly and supportive, as usual. The judge was über friendly. The warm up was huge, the dressage court well watered and groomed, and the other riders were very supportive and kind. Except for wanting to throw up for the better part of an hour, I enjoyed the day.
Complete Both Tests ...
Sydney went Looney Tunes in the warm up. Nothing I tried helped. He couldn't walk, he couldn't trot in any kind of circle, and there was no way I was going to canter in a space that large. I pretty much kept an inside hand planted on my thigh and just rode out the bucks, bolts, and squeals. At one point, I could tell that a true explosion was imminent. I hopped off and turned him loose in the round pen where he proceeded to squeal, grunt, kick, buck, fling himself around, and generally cause havoc.
With my eye on the clock, I got back on just hoping for a walk, but if anything, he was worse than before. With fewer than ten minutes until my test time, I told the ring steward that I was scratching, something I've never done before. My second test was in an hour so my plan was just to stay on for the hour in the hopes that he might eventually relax even just a little bit.
Just minutes after deciding to scratch, Sydney took a breath and decided to stretch his neck and walk. I know that most will think that I must have also taken a breath when deciding to scratch, but I really don't think I was the source of his tension. I was actually feeling very relaxed, if not a bit frustrated that I wasn't able to help him relax. Right from the start of the day, I had decided that the day would be what it was and whatever happened, happened. I wasn't aiming for any particular score; I just wanted some relaxation.
The ring steward kept her eye on me and didn't scratch me. When she saw that we were finally walking, she knew there was still a chance I'd make the test. With some very encouraging words from the other rides, I walked up to the dressage court after all. The ring steward very kindly gave the judge a heads up that I might not ride the whole test.
As I came into the arena, still walking, I approached the judge to greet her. She very kindly told me to ride whatever parts of the test that I felt comfortable doing and that I should feel free to school him as necessary. She would still give me scores and comments no matter what happened. That simple gesture took away any last worries I had. Knowing that I could walk the whole thing gave me a different mindset.
I should point out that this was not a schooling show, but rather a rated CDS show. I know that at a USDF show the judge couldn't be so accommodating, but I've never had one be so at a CDS show either.
I walked all the way to A and only picked up a slow trot as I entered. As I trot up the centerline, I debated whether to halt and salute or just keep on going. I could feel that Sydney was trying to listen, so I took a deep breath and sat deep. He halted, I saluted, and then we kept on going.
None of the test had anything good, but it was MUCH improved over last September when I brought him to Tehachapi. Last year, I couldn't get him to move at all forward. He was so sucked back that we did nearly walk the whole thing. This time, he was forward and trying to listen.
As I approached the three-quarter canter circle, I debated whether to just trot the thing and get through the test. But then I reconsidered. I had an understanding judge, a safe venue, and if not now, when? So I gave the canter cue and was pleased that he got the correct lead and even came back to trot when asked. She gave us a 5. And that was for our right lead canter! When we approached the same spot for the left lead canter, I again decided to go for it and we scored a 6. Not bad for a horse who ten minutes before was in the throes of lunacy.
It was not a nice test by anyone's standards, but I am encouraged and equally discouraged at the same time. I know that I rode him as well as he could have been ridden. I was really pleased with what I was able to get from a very nervous, tense horse. He was literally quivering for most of the ride and calling plaintively to no one and anyone. JK, a friend and talented rider, couldn't say enough kind things about how well put together he looked considering what he had looked like just moments before. We scored a 58% which was good enough for a first out of three. I find it funny that I "finally" won a class only to do it with such a paltry score.
I say that I was discouraged, too. It felt like a total crap ride, and yet I have had the same score on Speedy more than once and those rides have felt far better than this one did. My rides at day 1 of last year's RAAC come to mind. I felt so good about those rides only to get this same score. It does confirm for me though that Sydney has a lot of potential. I feel it when we school at home. He gives me so much more roundness and reach than Speedy can or does.
I haven't even read the comments for the directives; I don't need to. I could have written them for the judge. Needs bend, drifting, etc. What he was able to give me at the show was nothing like we have at home. This show was really just for mileage. I just wonder how many "miles" we'll have to do before he starts to relax a little bit more.
On a brighter note, the remarks in the collectives are more meaningful. He scored a 7 for gaits and 6s the rest of the way down which confirmed for me that I really rode this horse as well as I could have. I absolutely love the judge's further remarks, "Good for you." That about sums it up.
The second test tomorrow ...
I had an appointment with Tina Hoover, saddle fitter, late yesterday afternoon after the Tehachapi show. I got back from the show before 1:00 so I took a chance that she might be willing to come to my barn earlier than scheduled. In the original plan, I was going to load both boys and drive over to Robertson's Stables for the fitting. Luckily, I caught her just as she was finishing her lunch and Googling things to do. She was at my barn before 2:00.
Tina is a sales rep for a variety of equine products as well as a knowledgeable saddle fitter. She's based in the Los Angeles area, but will travel to wherever you are. Lori, a local rider and photographer (see her work at Simplee Focused), arranged for Tina's visit.
Tina's schedule for Sunday and Monday included 17 fittings! She's done my saddles twice now, and I have found her to be very knowledgeable about saddles and other tack (she gave me some excellent bridle fitting advice). She's also a genuinely nice person. You can find her contact information here. If you're interested in meeting her today, she'll be at Quiet Creek Ranch (331 Wegis Avenue, Bakersfield, CA) first thing this morning and all afternoon. She'll be at Leslie Webb's until lunch.
When she was here last, my saddle took quite a bit of work to even out the flocking to achieve a level fit. And since I use it on two different horses, Tina took some extra time to accommodate both boys' shapes. Last year, it was determined that Speedy was the rounder of the two. She encouraged me to ditch the half pad and ride him with just a thin saddle pad. As Sydney was narrower, she suggested a dressage pad with a riser pad.
For this visit, she was pleasantly surprised to find that both boys had changed in shape, but in very good ways. Speedy has become narrower which she attributed to better muscling. Sydney is now wider than before which is also due to a better developed top line. She laughed and said that both horses had morphed into the same shape of back.
She added a little bit of flocking and did some shifting of the flocking, but not much. She placed the saddle on Speedy and was pleased with how level it sat. She had me ride around for a few minutes to see if it felt level and comfortable. My one complaint before the adjustment was that it felt as though it was slipping a bit to the right. Speedy is more slab sided to his right and rounder to his left. Her adjustment corrected that feeling.
We pulled the saddle from Speedy and sat it on Sydney. Last summer, it wanted to fall a bit in the front since he was narrower than Speedy. This time it sat nearly perfectly level. When she pressed the magic button on his belly, he lifted his back and filled in the saddle nicely. No more riser pad needed!
I am fairly new to the world of English saddles. My first two saddles were western, both of which were given to me. I've owned three endurance saddles; none of which could be adjusted. My first two English saddles were Wintecs that didn't have flocking. This saddle is the first nice English saddle I've had; I bought it two years ago. I can see how regular adjustment will prolong the life of the saddle as well as ensure that it fits my horses comfortably.
If you've never had your saddle's flocking replaced or adjusted, I heartily recommend that you try to have it done. I don't know what other saddle fitters charge, but Tina charged $80 for the fitting. Not that I have money to toss around, but since she made a special effort to come out to my barn, which saved me from having to haul my ponies around, and she took the time to check the fit on Sydney, I gave her an extra $20. So technically, I spent $50 for each horse. That seems like a bargain to me!
With regular chiropractic work and a well fitting saddle, I know that any resistance to training is poor riding on my part as opposed to a pain issue. Good thing I have a lesson this afternoon. Show report tomorrow ...
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%: