From Endurance to Dressage
This last month or two has been about me breaking, wrecking, and generally trying to destroy things, although not intentionally. Fortunately, my ship has started to right itself. My truck is driving and handling well, the zippers on all of my boots zip up and down as intended, and my horse trailer no longer looks like it has been through a war.
Yesterday, I got the call that Delaney Manufacturing had finished repairing the fender, and my trailer was ready for pick up. While I know these guys do good work, when I dropped it off, they hadn't sounded like they were sure it would come out looking very good. Their specialty is manufacturing stuff, not necessarily pounding out dents. When I pulled around to the back lot to hook up, I approached the funky fender with my eyes closed. I wasn't sure I really wanted to see. To my delight, it looks almost like it did before I crunched the fender with a brick column.
In total, my small lapse in concentration cost me two, slightly out of the way trips and $400. My husband said it could have been worse; my first thought was it could have been better (if I had been paying attention). When it comes to money, I tend to think in terms of shows and lessons rather than in dollars. So this little SNAFU just cost me the price of a show or five lessons. Saying it only cost $400 sounds less painful than the lost five lessons.
None of that is a reflection on Delaney Manufacturing. They can't be held responsible for my stupidity, so if you live locally and need something made from metal, or need something repaired, check these guys out. DeLaney's can be found just off Rosedale Highway and Fruitvale at 2920 Wear Street. You can call Mike Combs at 661-587-6681. We are once again ready to hit the road which is good timing since Speedy will be at a show on Sunday. More on that next week.
I am grateful it's Friday. Let's hope I don't manage to wreck it.
Sunday morning started off super early. My first ride of the day was at 8:52 a.m. which doesn't seem too bad if you're stabled at the show, but we weren't. By 6:00 a.m. I was braiding, and by 7:00, Izzy was in the trailer ready for the short drive to El Sueno. It wasn't until I turned on my truck that I realized I had a flat tire. I never panic in a crisis, but that doesn't mean I don't want to. I knew it wouldn't help, so I just dug deep, and made a plan. When my husband starts to get upset about a situation, my response is always the same, work the problem, so I did.
There's a line in one of Bruce Willis's Die Hard movies that has always stuck with me. It's during a scene with the goofy tech guy that MacClane has drug around with him as he attempts to save the world. The kid asks, "Then why are you doing this?" MacClane answers, "Because there's nobody else to do it right now. That's why."
That's how I deal with problems. If I don't do it, who will? By the time the tow truck came and my tire was repaired, my chances for a Zen day were rapidly diminishing. I may be that guy during a crisis, but afterwards, I tend to fall apart. As much as I wanted to throw a bit of a pity party for myself, I pulled up my big girl panties and got to work. I saddled Izzy and headed down to the warm up ring, flat tire forgotten.
Second Level Test 1 - 53.378%
During our warm up, Izzy was fabulous. It was one of those warm ups where you're looking around for the judge, desperately wishing she could score the movements RIGHT THEN. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, agreed. He was really happy with Izzy's relaxation, especially compared to just one day before. Without wanting to upset things too much, Sean asked me to think about making the questions just a bit harder. If Izzy was willing to work and listen to me, it would be a good idea to ask for just a little bit more from him.
By the time I made it down to the ring, I was feeling hopeful, but not overly confident. Izzy is Izzy after all. To no one's surprise, the tension slammed into Izzy's body as soon as we entered at A. Our 5% of progress from the day before went up in smoke. At about half way through the test, I finally quit riding him like he was on egg shells and told him to get with the program. It didn't fix the first twelve scores, but it made me feel better, and it was probably a relief to the big brown horse. You can see in the last half of the test that my scores started to get a bit better. Actually riding your horse will do that.
Second Level Test 2 - 58.537%
As soon as we finished Test 1, we went back to the warm up ring as the second test was less than thirty minutes later. Izzy was really braced and telling me that he was grumpy and OVER IT. Mentally, I was in the process of throwing in the towel. Well, this one is going to be a disaster, I said to myself.
For all of the other lessons and warmup rides that I've done with Sean, we've used the Cee Coach two-way communication system. Since we had so little time between tests, I opted to skip the process of putting the earbuds back in. I won't be doing that again. As Izzy and I rode the struggle bus around the warm up ring, I realized how much I missed hearing Sean's quiet feedback. He doesn't say a lot, but what he does say is very meaningful.
So there I was throwing in the towel, wanting the whole show over and done with. Sean must have seen the expression on my face (or possibly read my mind), because as I circled by him, he quietly said, "When Izzy is like this, unable to focus or relax, it's up to you to be the leader. You need to be his support." I don't know how Sean knew to say those words right then, but I needed to hear them. For the second time that day, I was forced to pull up my big girl panties.
As I entered the ring, I changed my game plan. Instead of trying to get more from Izzy, I reverted back to our plan for the last show - get a steady tempo. Nothing was going to be fancy, but we were going to do it right. You can see the results in our test. We earned six scores of 6.0 in the first seven movements, and a long list of 6.0s follow. There were even two 7.0s for good measure. The medium trot is killing us right now (4.0), but in every other area we showed a solid effort. The first simple change was rough (4.0), but we pulled out a 6.0 for the second one and another 6.0 for the quality of the serpentine.
In the end, we missed a 60% by a mere six points. Our score of 58% and some change was six percent higher than Saturday's score, and eight percent higher than the Sunday score from the show in April. We're so close. Will Izzy let all the tension go for our next show? I doubt it. Even Sean said it's probably going to take us a while, but just seeing that little bit of improvement each time is enough to reassure me that we are heading in the right direction.
Izzy and I are scheduled to ride with Sean about every other week for the foreseeable future. Our next show is at the end of June. We were so close to a 60% for this show, so I know it's out there waiting for us.
Just one percent better each time will have us there (and beyond) before the end of summer.
The Warm Up
An alternate title might be "When Sucking Less Is a Big Improvement." Let's just get this out there - we did not do well. We did not get any qualifying scores. We did not wow anyone with our not-so-fabulous movement. And yet, by Sunday morning, I was teary-eyed with immense love and pride for my wonderful horse. (For as long as they're up, you can see photo proofs that tell a beautiful story.)
The truth is nothing went "well," but everything went better, and in some instances, a lot better. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, remarked on the drastic improvement numerous times over the three days he coached us. For Friday's warm up ride, Izzy was a ball of tension, but with Sean's help, he became rideable. Not just I-survived-and-didn't-die rideable, but the kind of rideable where you can actually ask for something and get it.
The three biggest things that I learned during this show were these:
I loved Sean's phrasing about the baiting. He's right. Izzy wants me to let him do what he wants to do, but since he has so much fear, his choices are not good ones. Even so, he continues to try it, and each time that he successfully jerks the rein from me, he is able to do what he wants which leaves him feeling alone and worried. As I started to feel the jerk coming, I kept him bent around my leg and moved the bit in his mouth so that he couldn't jerk the rein from me. When he did manage to get it from me, I was able to recover much more quickly, so much so that by the end of the show, I had control over that issue.
One thing that I said to Sean after the show was this: there are a lot of ways to earn a 5.0. With Speedy, there was only one way - the movements were just not good enough. With Izzy, he can do all the movements with ease, but his tension affects his stride length, impulsion, bend, angle, and straightness. We earned a lot of 5.0s. We also earned a lot of 4.0s, mostly for his non-existent medium trot. With such a tight back, he simply can't get a longer stride. It will come though.
Second Level Test 1
While the scores tell the story one way, they don't tell the whole story; things like getting a 6.0 for the 10-meter canter on the right lead. This was the first time we've earned a 6.0. It was also the first time that he held the canter for the entire circle. If you watch the video from 2-1 (down below), you can probably catch the moment where he loses the canter rhythm for half a stride. I knew it was coming and was able to catch it before he lost the canter. On Sunday's 2-1 test, which was the worst feeling of the four, he couldn't hold the canter, but I'll take the improvement I saw on Saturday's test.
Second Level, Test 1's scores and video are below with more about Second Level, Test 2 further down. It's a lot to read, I know, but it feels right to share my thoughts about the whole day in one long post.
Second Level Test 2
After our initial warmup and first test, I was able to take Izzy back to the barn for a quick drink of water, and then we walked back to the warm up. He was better than before. in fact, each time we went back to wherever it was, he was better. Standing at the trailer all alone, being in the warm up all alone - he just developed a tiny bit of confidence each time. Sean is a mind reader; he knows what I am thinking, and he knows what Izzy is thinking. Being able to fix things before they get big is one of Sean's super powers.
No matter how many times I lamented our scores, Sean held fast to his commitment to the idea that even Rome wasn't built in a day. I really appreciate his vision. He can see our future even if I can't. Sean reminded me again and again that the scores don't matter. Getting Izzy to "let me in" so that I can make the decisions is all that we're focusing on. At one point during a warm up, I can't remember before which test or day, Sean told me to forget about the movements as Izzy already knows them. Instead, I need to focus on getting him soft and round enough so that he can do them. That one comment lifted so much pressure off my shoulders that I could actually work on what Sean wanted me to accomplish.
When both tests had been ridden and Izzy untacked and resting at the trailer, I went up to the show office to grab my tests. I knew they wouldn't be great, but I did expect a little more, and so did Sean. He looked them over and felt that the judge had been a wee bit tough on some of the movements, but that might have just been his papa bear don't mess with my cub reaction. For Second Level, Test 1, we scored 56.081% and for Test 2 we earned 52.927%.
If I keep in mind Sean's reasoning that 1% improvement will compound over time, I should be thrilled as the Test 1 score was five percent better than the last two Test 1 scores earned in April (51.486% and 51.892%). For Test 2, the progress is not so obvious. Our 52.927% fell right in the middle of the last two Test 2 scores of 50.854% and 53.537%. Of course I want higher scores, but I am going to trust Sean's process. He has been right about every suggestion so far, and when I implement them, good things happen.
The score sheets and video for Test 2 are below.
Part 2 coming up. Stay tuned for more.
If I have anything to do with it, it soon will be - broke that is. Shall I list everything that has recently failed, broken, fallen off my truck, or been wrecked? Let's see ... My truck's steering damper was replaced in February, then, after being looked at again a few weeks ago, it fell off. While my truck was at Ford having the steering damper replaced for the second time, I locked the keys in the rental necessitating a call to AAA. Two pairs of boots had zipper blowouts in the same week. I dented my tailgate when we drove out to the desert for a trail ride. A week later, I dented my trailer coming home from a lesson after waiting all day for the highway to reopen after a traffic hazard had shut it down for nearly the entire day.
Life goes on though, so I took my truck to Ford, and the steering damper was replaced (again). I had the zippers replaced on both sets of boots, and while the brass zippers were a bit shocking at first, they work really great and will work for now. The dent in my tailgate is hardly noticeable, so I won't do anything about it. Yesterday afternoon, I dropped my trailer off at DeLaney Manufacturing for repair. They did a great job on the last repair I needed, so I am confident that I'll be happy with whatever they do to fix it. You would think that my run of bad luck would have exhausted itself by now. Until Saturday morning, that's what I thought, too.
I made it to the El Sueño Equestrian Center this past Friday afternoon in plenty of time for a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. Afterwards, I drove Izzy over to Sean's barn to stable for the night. The next morning, I got in my truck to head back to El Sueño for this weekend's show. Sean and Valerie had already left with Clooney and Cinco, Valerie's two geldings. I was meeting them there.
I loaded Izzy and settled myself into the driver's seat ready for a fun day of showing. I turned the key and was concerned to see a different screen light up on my dash. On it, I saw three very healthy tires and a fourth with very low tire pressure. Oh, hell. At first glance I thought it was the tire on my trailer where the dent was, but then I remembered that my gauges only read the truck's tires. I jumped out and gave the offending tire a thorough exam. Right in the center of the tread, I spotted a very small screw dug into the rubber. I couldn't hear any air leaking, and the tire felt mostly solid after a swift kick, so I decided to try and make it to El Sueño which was just a ten-mile drive down the road.
As I drove - ridiculously slowly I might add, the tire pressure actually came up a pound or two as the tire heated up. As I pulled into the parking area at El Sueño, I pried my clenched fingers from the steering wheel. Before even unloading Izzy, I opened up AAA's app and requested help. Once Izzy was tied to the trailer and eating his breakfast, I also unhooked the trailer.
Fortunately, I had arrived with plenty of time before I needed to show, so at least that pressure was off."T," one of Sean's other students, came over to wait for the tow truck with me. What a way to make me feel like one of the team. Everyone was quick to offer me help, and they were all genuinely worried about my safety and mental well-being. Showing with this group has already turned out to be so much more fun than I was expecting.
It took about forty-five minutes for the tow truck to arrive, but the technician who showed up made up for the wait. He was jovial and seemed downright happy to help. Rather than put on the spare, he offered to fix the tire on the spot. Once my tire was fixed and the trailer hooked up, I took a much needed mental break by hanging out with my new coach and team. The rest of the weekend went well, but more about that to come.
Universe, if you can hear me, I think I am done with all of the shenanigans.
Since this post is about cookies, I have to continue with, the cookie crumbles. I won't know for sure until lunch though.
Izzy's lunch bucket is filled with entirely too much stuff. He gets:
Then I did a little more reading, just to remind myself of why I thought the flaxseed was worth it in the first place. While I don't necessarily see the benefits, I worried about what might happen if I stopped feeding it. Izzy looks so good right now that I decided it wasn't worth the risk. Is the milled flaxseed one of the reasons his coat is so shiny, or is it just because he's no longer rubbing himself raw thanks to the prednisolone? Either way, I reordered, and a new bag arrived last Thursday.
When the box was delivered, my husband asked if I had ordered a bag of bricks; the box was really heavy, especially for it's size. Nope, I told him. It's just a twenty-five pound bag of milled flaxseed. The few times I had previously ordered, I bought the 25 pound bucket. As the buckets started to pile up in the feed room, I realized I could order the product in a bag instead and just pour it into one of the buckets I already had. Doing so saves a few dollars as well.
With each bucket order, the company has always included a thank you note and a bag of chocolate chip cookies. When I poured out the bag of flaxseed, I didn't even both to look for cookies since the bag was fit as snugly into the box as a pillow in a pillow case. To my surprise, as the last of the bag slid out of the box, so did a mini bag of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Along with the cookies was the thank you note. When I picked up the cookies, I laughed. The bag was as thin as a pancake. I do not know how the could have survived the journey. At some point, the cookies had to have been underneath the bag of flaxseed. I am not sure I'd want to eat a cookie that could survive that.
They're in my lunch bag today. I'll soon find out if I have cookies or just cookie crumbs.
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%: