From Endurance to Dressage
It feels like a first show for Sydney, even though it's not. Last September I took him to this same venue where I rode him Intro A & B, and then we went to a schooling show in April at the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, While it's not his first show, it is the first rated show where we'll canter.
I ride Intro C at 8:46 and Training Level Test 1 at 9:44 which means I'll be pulling out of the barn by 6:00 a.m. I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning tack and braiding.
Braiding .. aarrgghhh ... seriously. Worst invention EVER! This time, I skipped the bands and tried to go traditional. I used yarn and did the tie the braid in a knot method.
I had been pulling Sydney's mane a little each week, but when I tried to do a practice braid in the spring, I realized that I had pulled it too short so I quit pulling in April. It is now the perfect length for this style of braid.
The first one looked pretty nice. The next six or seven went haywire, but as I neared the end, I finally figured out how to keep the "button" round and straight. Next time I do it, it will be better.
They may not be the perfect braids, but I am not embarrassed by them either. Sydney's braids are the least of my worries. Not looking like a giraffe careening out of control is of far more concern!
My arms were pretty tired by the time I got to his forelock. I am not too thrilled with that braid. I actually do a pretty decent forelock braid, but both of us were hot, tired, and bored by the time I finished the button braids so I just left it as is. Next time, It will be tighter and neater.
With a fly sheet on 24/7, Sydney stays quite clean and shiny. I rode before I did the braids. I was prepared to give him a bath, but this is what he looked like after I had ridden and swiped the brush over the sweat marks; pretty clean and shiny, huh?!
By the time you read this, I'll probably be done with both tests already and possibly heading home. I have three goals for the day: enjoy myself first and foremost (why do it if it's not fun?); complete both tests; and get some of the relaxation that we have at home. I know he can't give me a home level of relaxation - I can't be as relaxed for him either. I am just hoping for some relaxation.
Oh, after I get home from the show, I am trailering both boys over to Rancho Rio Stables to have my saddle refit for both boys. I'll definitely report back on that and show results will also follow. Wish us luck!
I have the greatest husband. I fully acknowledge that he is extremely tolerant of my (completely obsessive) horsey life and even supports me in my endeavors, wherever they lead.
Last weekend he showed up at the barn with two boxes in tow. To my surprise, and delight, he revealed that he had been to Camping World (still not sure why) and had bought me a small gift. Check it out!
Yep. Hubby bought me wheel covers. Cool gift, huh?! This side of my truck and trailer gets a lot of sunlight which is hard on tires. The other side is fairly well shaded throughout the day. So now my tires will have a little sunscreen for this summer's heat. Thanks, Hubby! You're the best!
A super absorbent sponge!
I am having one of those months where my brain and body have become super absorbent sponges. I am soaking up an amazing amount of information while simultaneously developing a new level of body awareness. Don't panic, I am quite certain my thick headed, awkward self will be back in the saddle in no time. Meanwhile, I am grabbing on with both hands and enjoying every minute of this learning curve.
I've been using my new laced reins when I ride Sydney, and I already like the lack of rein slippage. Keeping my grip on the reins is helping me maintain a steadier and more even contact.
Unfortunately, they turned out to be a tad short. They're 54 inches, but apparently, not everyone measures from the same point. It's okay though as I had already planned on buying another pair for Speedy's schooling bridle. I'll use this pair for Speedy and buy a second pair of Stübben reins for Sydney's bridle. They're what I use on Speedy's show bridle so I already know that I like them.
Even with the slightly shorter reins, I had what might possibly be the best ride ever on Sydney on Wednesday evening. I've been using some of the squeeze-into-the-stretch ideas with him as well. Sydney's frame and training are different from Speedy G's. Sydney wants to stretch into the bridle. He also wants to be heavy where Speedy wants to avoid the contact. These are two very different problems.
I am finding that a heavy horse is easier to deal with than a horse who curls under and drops behind the vertical. The good thing is that both problems have a similar solution - more leg! In Sydney's case, squeezing him forward does get me more stretch. When he gets heavy, I have several exercises that will lighten him up. The first one I do at the canter.
As we canter on the left lead, I count one-two, one-two, one-two. On the first one-two, I swing his head into the circle. For the second count, I ride straight for two beats. For the second count, I ride with his neck counter bent. Then it's back to straight for two beats and in for two beats.
Getting the counter bent strides took a massive amount of leg and effort on my part. At first, when I tipped his nose out, his whole body spun out and he blew through the outside shoulder. After much trial and error, I learned how to use my knee (in particular) to send his shoulder IN while swinging his head and neck out.
We nailed it on Wednesday. I started by just getting the canter somewhat even, but when he wouldn't soften, I started with the two count to the inside, then straight-straight, back to the inside, and then straight-straight. Almost immediately he let go through his poll and jaw. Then I started swinging his neck and head out for two beats and straight for two. Within just a few repetitions, I felt like I had a bobble head doll. My reins were soft and loose, and he was willingly swinging his neck to the inside and then outside, inside and outside. When we returned to the trot, he was so supple!
I keep shaking my head in absolute wonderment; this is not the same horse I was riding 6 months ago. I am so impressed with how much bend he can give me, how uphill his canter can be, and how forward he can be. With him, I have to really focus on ME as that is how I get the most correct work from him. The instant I quit "riding," he falls apart. He is certainly not a school master, but he is very quick to offer correct work when asked correctly.
We have a show on Sunday, Intro C and Training Level Test 1. I hope we can get some of this at the show. I know what he is doing is really nice; I only hope he is confident enough to show it to the judge. No matter what, I'll keep working on it.
It's not that big of a deal, but I was pretty pleased by it. This past weekend, I decided to get Sydney back out of the arena and onto the trail. I bought him at the end of June in 2011. I tried some small around-the-barn trail rides, but he was so anxious about it that I abandoned the idea. I didn't have a trail buddy so it just didn't feel safe.
Once I moved to where we are now, I tried a few more times, but he was always so tense that it made me tense which was just a bad combination. This summer, I am committed to getting him on the trail. I know that it would build his confidence for showing, and it will help his body develop in other ways.
I decided to get working on it this past weekend. I did my regular arena ride, and before either of us could change our minds, I hauled the mounting block out of the arena and got back on. We only did a small loop around the three properties closest to the barn, but that "loop" involves losing sight of the barn and all other horses.
The first part of the loop involves walking by the neighbor's two yellow labs. Whenever I pass by, I call out their names, Blue and Dallas, to give them a heads up that we're coming. They like to bark and charge up to the fence so I prefer they do it before I get there rather than behind me as I am walking off. They behaved as expected which gave Sydney a small jolt of fear. I could tell that he wanted to spin and go, but I planted my inside hand into his neck and asked him to go forward. I was so pleased that he trusted me enough to do as I asked.
The rest of the loop is pretty simple: a stretch of wide open dirt road, a shady tree area, and then we return to the backside of our property. Since things had gone so well on loop one, I decided to go again. I didn't even come back through the gate; I just kept right on walking. When we got to the dogs, Sydney was looking, but he didn't spook.
By this point, he was so relaxed that I decided to trot the long dirt road. It might seem silly that this felt risky, but never before have I felt like asking for a quicker gate was at all safe, especially with nothing but a long straight road in front of us. That sort of seems to invite a RUN! mentality. But not on Saturday. When I asked for the trot, he flicked an ear at me as if to ask, "are you sure?" but then he moved off at a very relaxed pace.
Near the end of the road, he did get a wee bit strong and ignored my request for a walk so I planted my inside hand and gave a strong WHOA! He jammed his nose out and resisted momentarily, but then he came back to the walk. Even better, he actually walked with no jigging. I was grinning from ear to ear. We repeated the same ride the next day with just as much success.
You don't know how embarrassing this situation is to me. Endurance riders are not afraid to hit the trail. When we have a tense or nervous horse, we know that all will be well as long as you keep them moving forward. When I was starting my endurance horses, four of them, I always had an equine trail buddy for the first few rides. Once my horse had a basic understanding of being on the trail, I was able to become the "trail buddy" and my horse got his confidence from me. I was able to ride alone with no fear.
I haven't had the chance to ride Sydney with another horse so we've never developed that first bit of confidence. I have a plan, however. On Saturday, a local college student who is looking for saddle time is coming over for a demo ride. She's going to ride Speedy while I ride Sydney. We're staying in the neighborhood, but if it works out, I may have found a way to get the boys together pretty regularly (at least through the summer) for trail rides away from the barn.
Keep your fingers crossed for me!
The concept, I mean. Sorry, but I may be on this idea for a while. I can tell that Speedy and I are on the edge of a pretty big breakthrough. We've had others along the way, but this one is feeling like the last chunk needed to complete the base of our foundation. I think that once we get a solid stretch, we'll be ready to start tackling some of the First Level movements.
Our lesson on Monday night was just a repeat of last Monday's lesson, only we got "more" and went farther. The principle was the same: it takes a lot of leg to get a good stretch. You know how all of the books use a visual as a metaphor for a dressage element? Sally Swift used a ton of them: legs made of melting ice cream, energy staying within the banks of a swiftly moving river, holding the birds in your hands, etc. A lot of them work for me, but just as many don't. What's funny is that as soon as I truly get the idea, the metaphor then makes perfect, logical, brilliant sense, and I wonder why I didn't see it before!
Right now, I have toothpaste on the brain. I keep walking around seeing toothpaste being squeezed from a tube. That is truly a great image for explaining how to get the stretch. For so long, I've been giving Speedy the reins while hoping that he'd take the contact out and down. Uh ... yeah ... no. It hasn't really been working. In order to get the toothpaste out, you have to squeeze it forward through the tube. OH!
For whatever reason, JL's explanation is finally making sense. She didn't just decided to teach us the stretch last week; she's been laboring on that concept for nearly two years. I am just now aware of what I need to do to achieve it. In order to get a stretch, I have to squeeze Speedy's hind end forward (like the toothpaste) so that his front and hind end match in pace and rhythm. Once he is truly moving forward from the leg, I can slowly move my hands forward. If he is really moving forward, his neck will lengthen and the contact will remain the same.
If you're like me, you're sick of reading, allow the horse to stretch forward and down. I've been "allowing" for two years now and nothing has come of it. I can't guarantee that these steps will work for you, but here's what JL is having me do to achieve a forward and downward stretch.
After doing this for several days, Speedy is now trying to stretch his neck at the walk as soon as I pick up the reins. Woohoo, Buddy! Over the last few weeks, I have also noticed way more saliva than I have ever seen before. Again, this is an excellent indicator of acceptance of the bit (it's not a dental issue!). One final thing that we've seen is Speedy's regular warm-up cough hasn't shown up in a few weeks. Instead, he is sneezing/snorting like crazy as he warms up. It has a nice, this feels good sound to it. I don't know if the cough will come back, but for now it seems to have been replaced.
None of this is from Speedy finally deciding to play ball. This has everything to do with me asking him in a way that he gets. JL remarked several times on Monday that my contact was much more elastic and following and far less restrictive. So yah, me! as well. The more I get and understand, the better Speedy moves and looks.
So, here's to stretching it out!
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 Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read