From Endurance to Dressage
First of all, THANK YOU! Many people responded to my recent post about Izzy's issue with the gnats. Along with the virtual hugs and sympathy, came some good tips. Unfortunately, I am already doing most of the things that were suggested, or have at least tried them, but there was at least one thing I had not yet thought about.
Last summer, I tried a bucket of products, some of which you can see in the photo above. I've used a variety of fly sprays, including Swat, Equiderma and EcoVet, but none of them worked. Pyranha keeps the flies off long enough to ride, but in our summer heat, even that doesn't last long. Besides that, it's not the flies that cause the extreme itchiness; it's the gnats. I've used Coat Defense Powder and Mud and a variety of salves meant to heal once the skin is rubbed raw, but those only helped soothe what was already there. Nothing has prevented the itchiness.
One thing that would help would be a fly mask and sheet, but Izzy refuses to wear them. Any body covering - whether it's on his feet, head, or torso, is systematically shredded bit by bit. If it took months for him to destroy something, I would be fine with replacing things, but he is a fast worker, and usually has the job done within hours.
Near the end of last summer, my vet finally recommended we attack the issue with pharmaceutical help, in other words, steroids. I am mostly fine with that, but I would rather find a solution that doesn't involve quite so much chemistry. I have also tried attacking the problem with feed. Izzy had been on flaxseed oil for over a year, but it was a bit messy, so I switched to milled flaxseed. A year later, he still gets a heaping cup each day. Along with his hay and beet pulp, he also gets three pounds of rice bran daily - a fat supplement that should, in theory, help keep his skin and coat healthy and shiny. Along with all of that, but not related to repelling the gnats, he also gets a daily vitamin/mineral supplement as well as GastroElm to keep his tummy feeling good.
Thanks to the recommendation of a Facebook friend, I have ordered Buggzo!, a product made by HorseTech. I buy my milled flaxseed from the same company, so I am hopeful that it will be just as good of a product. Buggzo! comes highly reviewed, so it's worth a try. I am sure Izzy will eat it, but I hope Speedy will find it palatable as well. My boys live in large, side-by-side paddocks in the middle of the ranch. While there are horses in front of and behind them, they don't share a fence line, so I am hoping that the Buggzo! might create a small bubble around them with fewer gnats if both horses eat it. That's if it works at all.
This poor horse. I am throwing everything that I can at the itchiness: milled flaxseed, rice bran, fly spray, topical steroid (Triamcinolone), ingestible corticosteroid (prednisolone), and now a feed through product (Buggzo!).
Let's hope this works before the gnats really come to life.
When you toss on your red Converse sneakers with no socks and wear black riding tights to work that look almost like regular black leggings because it's a virtual teaching day and no one is going to see what kind of shoes or pants you're wearing ...
But when you get to the barn that afternoon, you realize that not only are you not wearing any socks, but you've also forgotten to pack tall socks, so you slip on your muck boots anyway to clean water troughs ...
And then, even though you know know it's going to feel really gross, you slip on your tall boots for an afternoon ride on your amazing big brown horse ...
All because life is way too short to be waylaid by the lack of a pair of socks.
Working with Speedy's ladies has given me a whole new way to practice dressage. Doctors practice medicine, attorneys practice law - it only makes sense that we practice our discipline as well. While I will never master the sport as a rider and competitor, I have learned enough that I feel competent to participate in the sport in a whole new way - as a coach and trainer.
I have done other things for the sport. I am the Vice Chair of our California Dressage Society chapter, Tehachapi Mountain Chapter. In that capacity I created and run our website as well as our Facebook page. I put together the show premiums for our summer dressage show series, the first of which "T" just showed in, and I share ride times and publish show results as I get them. I've also been giving lessons since early fall (I am not paid for any of these jobs). But now, thanks to one of Speedy's ladies, I've been able to view our sport through the eyes of a trainer and coach.
As a competitor, I used to feel so much pressure to make my own coach and trainer look good. I always worried that my ineptitude would reflect poorly on her. At one of my very first shows, maybe even the first, a "trainer" - I won't say her name, actually told me not to tell anyone that I had ridden with her. She didn't want anyone to think that my failure in the court was her fault. That left a huge impression on me, and it wasn't a good one.
Since I began showing Izzy in earnest, and since we're clearly not making Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, look good, and since he has yet to fire me, I have finally been relieved of the ridiculous notion that it's my responsibility to make the trainer look good. Now, I feel like it's my trainer's job to make ME look good, not the other way around. I wish I had learned that lesson long ago. Shame on that "trainer" for introducing someone to the sport in that way.
As I coached "T" throughout the day, it never once occurred to me that she might make me look bad. Instead, I endeavored to make sure that she and Speedy shined like the stars they are. Speedy's braids were lovely, his coat gleamed, and T's turnout was impeccable. I was so proud of them as they completed each of their tests. Now I know how Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has felt watching me show all of these years.
Helping T prepare for the show reminded me why I like dressage; it's fun. It's also stressful, nerve-racking, and anxiety-inducing. I watched all of those emotions play across T's face on Sunday, but I also saw pride, joy, and happiness there, too. Showing gives us the opportunity to show off not only what we've learned, but also how fabulous our horses are.
After T's tests were finished and Speedy had been untacked, we walked up to the show office to gather her tests and ribbons. Both tests sported scores above 60% which made me even prouder. Speedy was a complete rock star for the entire show. He never fidgeted, said no, or did anything even remotely unsafe. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be owned by such a generous and kind horse.
T's husband joined her for the day as did several other of her friends. I slso invited "J," one of Speedy's ladies, as well as "K," a friend who has done some trail riding with me in the past to join us for the day. I may or may not have had an ulterior motive.
T and her husband are starting the next phase in their life together - home ownership and his medical residency, all of which will not be happening in Bakersfield. This means T will be leaving us in just a few weeks. Hopefully J and S (who isn't pictured) will continue taking lessons on Speedy, but with T leaving, I may have room for one more.
Now that I've been bitten by the trainer/coach bug, I am hooked!
I've written these word before, but here I go again: I might love this horse more now that I am not riding him. I thought I couldn't love him any more than when he earned us a USDF Bronze Medal; I was wrong. My heart simply melted this weekend as I watched him happily carrying "T" through her first ever dressage show. Speedy was simply perfect.
A few weeks ago, T rode through several different tests so that we could determine which tests she should choose to show. While we've done all of the movements from Training Level, we haven't really worked on the leg yields or stretchy trot circle enough to show them, so we decided that she should do Introductory Level Test C and Training Level Test 1.
The week before the show, we schooled both tests a few different times. We also spent quite a lot of time talking about how to show. If you've never been to a dressage show, it can look like everything is done in secret. We practiced everything she would need to do before she even started the test. Things like:
Once we'd done all that, T came out for a final warm up ride on Saturday. She did her twenty minute warm up (with me keeping track of the time), and then we ran through each test one last time. Afterwards, she gave Speedy a good bath, and we loaded the trailer. Then we sat down to map out her day.
It's a little less than an hour and a half drive to the Bear Valley Equestrian Center, but things around me have a tendency to go haywire, especially lately, so we built plenty of extra time into the schedule. I ended up arriving a few minutes early, but nothing ever goes perfectly. T's gate pass didn't go through, so it took some extra time for me to make some phone calls to get the gate pass for her.
Bear Valley is a private, gated town, and all non-residents need a pass to enter. Most of the time the system works, but I always expect issues, and Sunday morning was one of those days where things didn't work out smoothly. Since I had built in extra time in our schedule. T arrived just after 8:30, but I already had Speedy unloaded with hay and water so there was no need to feel rushed.
To be continued ...
I have used this title before, I am sure, but if the shoe fits ...
Last summer, the gnats attacked Izzy with a vengeance. He ultimately rubbed out his entire mane, all the hair at the top of his tail, and the hair off his withers and shoulders. I tried no less than a dozen products including all manner of wipes, sprays, muds, salves, and oils. None of it worked. I finally took him to the vet where he was prescribed a hefty dose of steroids - injectable, topical and oral. By winter, his hair was growing back and he felt much better.
In mid-March, as prescribed by my vet, I started the prednisolone again - 20 tables every other day. My vet's recommendation was to try each dose for two weeks. I could then reduce it by 2 tablets every two weeks until I found the lowest dose that kept Izzy from reacting to the gnats. Until about two weeks ago, he was on 16 tablets every other day, and his mane and coat looked fabulous. It was so nice that at our last show someone asked if she could take a picture of his mane.
About ten days ago, I showed up to the barn and saw some messy mane, a clear sign that Izzy had been rubbing. I bumped his dose back up to 18 tablets. A few days after that, I came out to the barn to see a hunk of his mane rubbed out.
I immediately called my vet to see what was the maximum dose of prednisolone tablets that I could safely give and for how long. According to my vet, prednisolone is a corticosteroid that works on the immune system to help relieve swelling, redness, itching, and allergic reactions. It is a short acting corticosteroid which is good in some respects - it's not as likely to cause problems like some steroids, but on the other hand, it only stays in the system for about twelve hours. By giving it every other day, it gives Izzy's body a break from the steroid.
Since Izzy is such a large animal, he can tolerate a higher dose than a small horse like Speedy. Even so, there's only so much you can give safely. For now, we're bumping him up to 20 tablets every day for two weeks to see if we can calm down the allergic reaction. Then I'll go back to every other day, but in all likelihood, I won't be able to get down to a lower dose like I had hoped. What's so frustrating is that it has been really cool here, especially in the mornings, which means the gnats aren't even at full strength yet.
For Izzy's sake, I hope this high dose eases his itchiness. If he would only wear a fly mask and fly sheet, it would help a whole lot, but he won't. If anyone has a miracle gnat repellant, I'd love to hear about it.
I guess the good thing about no mane is that I won't have to braid. I'd rather braid.
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%: