From Endurance to Dressage
First Level - Test 1
I am all smiles today. Sort of. I am hot and sweaty from schooling Izzy through a sassy lesson, but once I cool off and get out of these stinky breeches, I'll return to the land of Basking in Success.
If we're friends on Facebook, you already know that Speedy kicked some First Level butt. That dude is a total rock star. He showed up and was nothing but business. I tied him to the trailer with his hay bag and a bucket of water and left to check in and visit with friends. Knowing that he will stand there for hours and hours without causing any trouble takes away so much stress and worry. I "heart" you, Speedy G.
Shows are a lot more fun when you know people, which is why the Tehachapi summer series is so much fun. I watched my friend, Wendy, ride her charming mare, Bloo. I also visited with friends who have seen Speedy and I morph from baby endurance horse to hey, that's an Arab doing dressage. Those friends are fun to visit with because they've seen how far we've come and can remind me of what we used to look like (and sometimes still do).
Speedy is one of those horses who either needs thirty minutes to warm up, or just ten. The problem is that I never know until I am on him. For this show, he needed about 6 minutes. I've been his partner for so long now that I know when he's giving me all he has. When he offered a nice, rhythmic trot, a few steps of leg yield, and a canter transition that was relatively smooth. I dropped the reins and rode him up to the ring. Riding him more won't make anything better.
Once again, I asked for a reader; being out of the country for two weeks didn't give me much time to work on memorizing the tests. I hate relying on a reader, but I have to say, I rode much better for having one. Instead of having that dual conversation running through my head ... half circle right 10-meters, returning to the track at M combined with inside leg, half halt, weight on the inside seat bone ... I was able to focus completely on riding my horse in every moment without worrying about where to go.
The ride started very steady although Speedy kept eyeballing the turned out horses off to our left. The judge caught it and noted that he was inattentive for the halt. After our entry and halt, he refocused and lost interest in what those horses were doing. From there, the ride got better and better. We even earned an 8 for our working canter left lead.
If you've been following our journey for a while, you'll know that we s.t.r.u.g.g.l.e.d. with the canter departures for a long time. A 4.5 wasn't unusual, and eventually, a 5.5 was the normal. Then we started getting the occasional 6 and maybe even a 7, so to earn an 8 (and we did it on test 2 as well) shows pretty remarkable improvement.
The only mistake we made was in the right lead canter, and I call it a mistake because I could have ridden it better. I let Speedy get too heavy in the right lead, so when we made the 15-meter canter circle, he lost his balance and dropped the lead behind. I wanted our downward to trot to have a chance at a better score, so I had him trot and then picked up the canter again.
I knew our 10-meter circle was going to get a low score anyway, but by fixing the canter and rebalancing, I was able to set Speedy up for a better downward transition at A. My strategy worked as the judge gave us a 7 for the transition.
When we saluted at G, I felt really good. We performed the test almost as well as we could have at this moment in our training. Of course it can be ridden better, but I was pleased. We finished with a 65.741%, which was good enough for a win ... out of two riders in the class.
I was fortunate to have a friend (thanks, S!) shoot a couple of snippets of video. She didn't think the footage was "blog worthy," but as my mom likes to say, beggars can't be choosers. The video just shows bits and pieces of our ride, but happily, S managed to catch Speedy's "inattentiveness" at the beginning and the goofy 15-meter canter circle to the right.
Tomorrow, look for First Level, test 2.
A Quick Funny ...
Yesterday's show went really well, but I need a day or so to write it up. For today, here's that funny graphic that's been going around on Facebook.
The babies icon cracks me up. I don't have kids, on purpose, but it makes you wonder why anyone would have them when you can have a dragon or a horse for the same amount of effort but with a higher fun factor.
I am guessing most baby owners would disagree. When I get a dragon, I'll let you know if they're really all that much fun.
How's It Rated?
Speedy and I are off to a CDS show this morning. I've talked about this before, but many of you are probably wondering what a CDS show is. The California Dressage Society (CDS), is my United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Group Member Organization (GMO). CDS is one of the largest GMOs under the USDF umbrella. There are more than 3,200 members in the California Dressage Society.
You can look up any GMO and see the names of each member, including their USDF membership number. Click here for the CDS roster.
Unlike schooling shows, CDS-rated shows carry some weight, meaning the scores count for the CDS Championship (last year there were more than 1,500 tests ridden at the Championship), the Regional Adult Amateur Competition (North, Central, and South), and a host of other awards programs (rosettes).
The show we're doing is only rated CDS; it is not a USDF/USEF show. CDS-only shows are cheaper than USDF/USEF shows, and they tend to be one day shows. They do use USEF-licensed judges, and formal show attire is standard.
For this show, I am aiming for scores of 60%. Scoring at a CDS-only show is typically 5 - 10% higher than at a USDF show, but not always. The judge at this show is an "R" judge (registered), meaning she can judge all of the tests through Fourth Level. "R" judges are sometimes known for being tougher than the "S" (senior) judges who can judge all levels at national shows.
If I can get two scores of 60% or better, Speedy and I will be qualified for the Southern Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC). We've been to the RAAC three years running, and have done fairly well. The first year we won the Introductory Level Novice class, but tanked at Training Level with a 57%. And even though we were the only entry in the Intro class, we scored a very respectable 67%, which was the highest Intro score posted for the three regions.
The next year, we showed at Training Level only, but again our score of 61% kept us at the back of the pack. Persistence pays off however, as last year we once again won a RAAC class, this time at Training Level, with a whopping 72%.
As in 2013, I don't think we can be competitive at First Level if we make it to the 2015 RAAC. I don't care though. It's a fun show for Adult Amateurs only. I enjoy the atmosphere and the chance to see how I stack up against my fellow riders. Sometimes we've done well, other times we've been dead last (twice!).
And to make this year's RAAC even tougher for me, riders who have competed at a CDS Championship Show, that would be me, are required to compete in the Elite division rather than in the Novice classes. I know that rules are rules, but many of us have discussed this rule with a former CDS president.
It was suggested that it might be more "fair" to only show in the Elite Division if you've shown at that same level at the Championship. Meaning, if you showed Training Level at the Championship, but three years later you are on a new horse, but still showing Training Level, you should show in the Elite classes. Conversely, if you are moving up the levels, and you are showing at a level you've never shown before, you should be able to return to Novice Level for the RAAC.
The rule hasn't been changed, so if we get our qualifying scores, Speedy and I will be showing in the Elite division at RAAC. But you know, the rest of the riders in the class might be in my same boat experience-wise, so I guess it all evens out in the wash.
In any case, wish us luck. I'd sure like to make it to the regional show whether we're competitive or not!
What GREAT Weather!
For humans and well-behaved horses, it's horrible. It was a 104℉ on Thursday, and it was 105℉ (and climbing) as I wrote this post. It's hot.
It's great weather though for naughty horses. This kind of weather gets submissiveness really fast. Izzy is a good boy, but he also has some misguided ideas. Right now, he doesn't think he needs to bend to the right. Or get in the trailer without asking a few questions. Or get his face hosed off. Or have the clippers touch his ears.
As one of my favorite NH trainers says, 'if you find a spot they don't want touched, you better start touching it.' That's not exactly how the quote goes, but you get the idea. Let's just say that Izzy had a busy day yesterday.
We started out with the under saddle work. His trot work is getting nicer and nicer ... to the left. To the right, he has decided that he doesn't need to turn off of my outside leg or other aids. So I worked on moving his outside shoulder. As we tracked right, I started counter flexing him (a little like Chemaine showed me with Speedy), but instead of returning to the correct bend, I sent Izzy sideways (to the right) with the outside leg for one or two steps. Then, I turned it into a left tracking circle.
Of course, the neighbor fired up his sonically loud riding mower, which gave Izzy a serious jolt of energy, but it became a great opportunity to use his forward energy to send him sideways as we did lots and lot of "move off my left leg." One thing JL stressed about this exercise was that when we turned the leg yield into a left circle, the rhythm had to stay the same. It took me a few tries, but once I figured out that I needed to really stay solid in my new outside rein, I could feel the resistance to my left leg slowly melting.
I pulled Izzy's saddle while still in the arena, and scratched his face as he took a deep drink from the water trough. He rolled and came back to the gate ready for a nap. Instead of a siesta, I put him back in his stall so that he could pee, get another drink, and grab a bite to eat. In the meantime, I gathered my butt rope (aka a rope lunge line), and opened up the trailer door.
I am always advising people to practice trailer loading, but I hate doing it myself. It just takes so much effort to get the trailer pulled out and ready to use, and I even have my own trailer that is always hooked up. So what's my excuse? Since I hadn't put the trailer back after our trip to see Chemaine, I decided to take my own advice.
Izzy loaded up really nicely, but as I was putting on his fly mask, he gave me a "whatcha gonna do?" look as he hustled himself backward and off the trailer. I use blocker tie rings to secure my horses, so if they decide to go backwards, nothing will stop them. My trailer is a slant load, so there isn't a butt bar either. When he started backward, I had to just let him, but he was sorry once I got out.
I grabbed the dressage whip, which I keep in the trailer at all times, and told him him that it was fine if he wanted to back up. We have tons of space in which to practice. I thumped his chest with that whip and marched his sassy rear end back, back, back until the expression on his face changed.
We then got on and off the trailer a few more times, with the whip in hand, until he decided that standing there was much better than flying out backwards. At one point, I loaded him, secured him with the Blocker Tie Ring, and then stood outside with the door open. He didn't try to unload himself again.
And then I shut the door and drove him to the gas station. I checked on him as I was filling up, but other then having big eyes, he stood really quietly. I have trailered him a few different times, but it has been awhile, and most of those trips have been to the vet. He needed an easy ride that didn't end in poking and prodding.
When we got home, he unloaded quietly, although he's nervous about the step down. That means he needs more practice, so got on and off a few more times.
For a variety of reasons, I decided to just hose him off at the trailer rather than using our wash rack. When I got the hose near his face, he sat back HARD, and then shook his head, fully intent on getting loose. It wasn't a fearful sit back; it was an I'm done with this pull back. I ALWAYS secure my horses with the Blocker Tie Ring, but this time, I simply pushed a loop of the rope through the tie hook and did a soft half hitch. I am glad I did.
With this kind of half hitch, the rope doesn't over tighten. To free him, I just jerk the tail end of the rope down, and he's free. The rope doesn't even have to feed through the tie loop because I don't run the tail end through the loop, just a small bubble goes through the tie loop. If you look closely at the photos, you can see what I mean.
In this kind of pull back situation, I don't want my horse to get free. I want his butt to be very sorry about pulling back. When he did it the second time, I smacked him on the hip and sent him forward. And then I walked away.
I went in the barn and sat in the shade where he couldn't see me. I could see him though, and was just seconds away if there was a problem. I watched him paw the ground, look to the left, look to the right, and even look in the trailer.
Once he had given up and was standing there quietly (about 20 minutes later), I brought him back inside the barn. But rather than call it a day, I pulled out the clippers and shaved his bridle path. When he was fussy about his left ear, I rubbed the clippers all around his head until he quit trying to get away. I only like to clip that little tuft that sticks out from the bottom of the ear, so I wasn't asking for total compliance. Once he tolerated the clippers being rubbed on his ears, I called it quits.
By the time we had finished for the day, I know he was hot. I was soaked in sweat myself. My eyelids were even sweating. I love the heat for schooling green beans though. We'll do a repeat this morning since the trailer is still sitting where I left it. He'll get ridden, loaded and driven around the block, and then "clipped." Hopefully he reconsiders some of his misguided notions. If so he'll be napping pretty quickly rather than working in the heat.
Yeah for this GREAT weather!
Ready for USDF
I ride five to seven days a week. Two horses. Quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality. I haven't had a real dressage lesson since the end of February. Speedy and I have just been plunking along on our own. I've been riding Izzy with JL every week, but those lessons are more about basic flat work and not dressage (or showing) oriented.
Don't get me wrong. JL is a great instructor, but when it comes to putting the movements together in a test environment, she'd be the first to tell you to seek the help of a professional. So that's what I did.
I had finally reached a spot where I started to feel like I might be doing more harm than good. I had schooled everything that I had picked up at the last clinic with Christian Schacht, but we had definitely reached a plateau, and I had more questions than answers. So, I scheduled a lesson with Chemaine, my away-from-home trainer.
Getting to Moorpark, Chemaine's home base, is more than a two-hour drive south, so I roped my best friend in the world into coming with me. All it took was an ice chest full of sandwiches, a bag of Lay's potato chips, and some apples slices. You feed her lunch, and she's all in.
Before we started the lesson, I told Chemaine what I was wanting to work on. That's always kind of funny to me since in reality, I need to work on EVERYTHING, but I limited my request list to the leg yields and canter lengthening (which is really about coming back to the working canter).
I always put forth my "needs to work on" list with the caveat that the trainer knows best. Just because that's what I think I need to work on, the trainer might see something totally different. For this lesson though, my list was pretty accurate, so Chemaine got us started.
If I were to sum up the whole lesson, every exercise was about getting Speedy to let go of the left rein and move over on to my right rein. Every issue we're having is because he wants me to hold him up on that left rein. Chemaine had a great way of describing how to fix it. She explained that I need to play with that left rein so that it makes it difficult for him to get a purchase on it, which gives him no choice but to be on the right rein.
The first exercise we did was a warm up one. She had me start out at a trot but she had me get Speedy really deep and round and trotting slowly. As he stayed balanced, she had me lengthen his neck a bit and push for a more forward trot. When he rushed forward or popped his head up, I half halted, slowed him back down, and rebalanced him. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
To help get him on my right rein, we tracked right at a nice, forward trot. She then had me change the bend by counter flexing him while stepping into the new inside leg (my left). Oh how he resisted that! But as soon as he let go of the left rein, I put him back on a regular bend and weighted the inside leg. We did this over and over on a 20-meter circle until he felt more malleable.
I liked this suppling exercise because the purpose was really clear for both Speedy and me. He didn't like it, but he understood that once he let go, his reward was to be back on the right bend.
We moved on to the canter lengthening and 15-meter canter circles. I was really pleased that Chemaine didn't have to school us on the departures themselves. They still need a lot of work, but Chemaine could see a lot of improvement, so we focused on the quality of the lengthening and getting Speedy back to the working canter.
Instead of cantering down the long side, Chemaine had us canter the C end of the arena like we should, half halting in the corners for balance, but when we got to the open side of the circle, we used a wider circle to lengthen. On the left lead canter, Speedy needs more inside bend, so Chemaine had me almost over-exaggerate the bend in the corners, so that when we came out of the corner, Speedy still had an inside bend. Then, instead of going down the long side, we lengthened on the circle, but I opened the outside rein (to move his shoulders over), while playing with the inside (left) rein to encourage him to let it go.
Speedy also tries to get me to sit right, even when on the left lead canter, so I also had to pay close attention to weighting my inside (left) seat and leg. This too will push him to the outside (right) rein.
The rest of the lesson was spent schooling the leg yields and the trot lengthening. Chemaine showed me a few exercises to work on to straighten Speedy for the leg yield. I had been losing control of the outside shoulder which was making the leg yield a bit difficult. The earlier exercises helped that a ton.
One exercise we did was to leg yield across the diagonal while switching the bend. So as I asked him to leg yield to the left, he was bent slightly to the right, and then the left, and then the right. Tricky stuff, but it worked a lot like the counter flexing exercises from earlier to get Speedy more malleable.
In the leg yield, I also had to pay attention to where my weight was. Speedy tries really hard to make me sit to the right, so leg yielding right is harder. Essentially, Chemaine showed me that I need to guard or protect the outside in the leg yield. Speedy wants to fall or drift to the rail instead of stepping over. This means I need to ask with the inside leg, but catch him with the outside leg.
We finished up with some trot lengethings. Chemaine and I have worked on this together before, so it didn't take much to get a pretty decent lengthening of the stride from Speedy. In the past, Chemaine had me half halt in the first corner, and then half halt in the second corner so that we could sort of shoot out of that corner into the trot lengthening.
In the new First Level tests (1 and 2), the trot lengthenings are now shorter and start at S or V. This means I can't use the corner for that last half halt. Chemaine showed me how to use the two corners to rebalance as before, but then she had me think of S or V as corners as well. So instead of just aiming for F or M, she had me half halt at the letter and then make the "corner" before "shooting" out into the trot lengthening.
When we were finished, Chemaine said that we are definitely ready to show First Level at a USDF show; before the lesson, I had asked her to give me an honest evaluation. We got a nice 63% on test 2 at a CDS show last month, but the expectation at a USDF-rated show is much higher. So, we've made a plan for a USDF show in late July. She'll be able to give me a lesson on Friday afternoon and then coach me through the two-day show.
Speedy and I are going to another CDS show on Sunday. I think we'll do okay, but I won't be terribly disappointed if we don't break the 60% mark. We're still just putting some of this First Level stuff together.
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%: