From Endurance to Dressage
If you would have told me back in the beginning that Speedy and I would make it to Third Level, I would have known that you were lying to me. How in the world could a rangy endurance horse and his grimy rider become a sleek and polished dressage team? That just doesn't happen.
I never had a formal lesson until I was an adult. I could post, but I didn't know how to change my posting diagonal. I could ride fearlessly over the toughest terrain, stick almost any buck or rear, but I had no idea how to put the finishing touches on a horse, the stuff that makes a horse truly beautiful.
And yet, here we are. Tomorrow morning we'll be showing Third Level at a two-day USDF-rated show. I should be more nervous, and maybe I will be tomorrow, but for now, I feel pretty confident. I don't expect to wow the judge, but I am still excited to get out there to find out just where we stand. What's good, what's great, and what needs more work? I am looking at this show as an opportunity to get an honest critique of our work so far.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came out for a last, pre-show lesson on Saturday. This time, the lesson was all about tightening up everything in order to give us some kind of chance at getting a qualifying score.
At every moment she was shouting some kind of reminder:
Of course getting Speedy listening and willing to move his bootie can be a real challenge. These next pictures show a behind the scenes view of what has to happen before we look show ready. You have to admit that the dude is super athletic. It's just a matter of channeling it in the direction I want us to go.
Even with all of his No No Nos, I am still feeling confident. Speedy loves to show and always brings his "A" game. And like Chemaine pointed out on Saturday, If they're not being opinionated, you're not asking for anything new or hard. And the only way to get better is to ask for new and hard.
If you've got a few minutes, wish us luck. We could definitely use some. Have a great weekend!
For the last two years, Izzy has had body work about every three months. This year, I decided to see how he did by spacing the visits out on an "as needed" basis. He saw his chiropractor in early November, and hadn't needed him since.
On Saturday we did a technical trail ride that had a few dicey sections. There wasn't anything horrible, but Izzy did slip and slide a few times throwing his head and neck up to regain his balance. The next day all was well, but the day after that, he was pretty adamant that his neck was broken and no amount of suppling on my part was going to get it to bend.
It took me all of 20 minutes to realize that he needed an adjustment. In the past, it's taken me three rides to figure out that he's hurting. The first ride I always blame on poor riding. The second ride I blame on his sassy attitude. The third ride is usually when I start questioning what the heck is wrong with my horse. As soon as I ask what's wrong with you?, the lightbulb goes on. Not this time; I figured out within 20 minutes which saved us both a lot of frustration.
It took CC less than a minute to pinpoint where Izzy was hung up - the C7, the last cervical vertebra. Normally, the trouble originates in Izzy's poll. Once the C7 was dealt with, CC moved on to Izzy's rib heads. He was a little tender on the last couple, but a firm nudge had him feeling much better. And that was the extent of the adjustment - a single cervical vertebra and a couple of ribs.
CC has been doing my horses for a number of years now. After all of this time, I finally discovered the method(s) that he uses. CC combines traditional chiropractics with the Masterson Method, developed by Jim Masterson. Coincidently, my endurance pal Marci has used CC as well. After he mentioned the Masterson Method to her, she bought the book which she generously lent it to me. I have found it to be thoroughly interesting.
Chapter 1 is titled, "What is the Masterson Method?" The first sentence offers a sort of explanation. "The Masterson Method - Integrated Equine Performance Bodywork - is a unique interactive method of equine bodywork in which you learn to recognize and use the responses of the horse to your touch to find and release accumulated tension in key junctions of the body that most affect performance." It's a mouthful, I know.
CC explained that he takes many of Masterson's techniques for helping the horse to release tension and combines them with the traditional approach of manipulation, or adjustment, of an affected joint and tissues. This restores mobility, alleviating pain and muscle tightness, allowing tissues to heal.
I am sold. In my experience, CC has more than proven himself to be an excellent chiropractor/bodyworker and horseman. My horses love him, and they ALWAYS feel better once he's done. If there's a name for the method he employs, great. If not, I am not opposed to winging it.
I only wish he worked on people.
In the fall of 2017, Speedy sliced open his coronary band and separated the hoof capsule from the coronary band in the process. The injury kept him on the disabled list for several months. This link will get you to my last update which has links to the original injury.
While he's been back to work without any effects from the wound, his hoof has never quite looked the same. My farrier hasn't expressed any concerns about it, but I've kept a close eye on it just the same. When Speedy was in to have his tooth pulled, I asked Dr. Tolley to have a look at the line that runs down the length of his hoof.
Dr. Tolley whipped out his Dremel and went to work on Speedy's hoof. He closely examined the "line" running down Speedy's hoof wall. My farrier calls it a line, but it has always looked like a crack to me. The vet confirmed my farrier's diagnosis; it's a just a line and isn't causing any structural damage. When Speedy injured his coronary band, it left scar tissue which is affecting how one small bit of hoof grows out, but it's only on the surface. The "crack" doesn't extend into the hoof wall.
Now that I know that it's just a scar and not a crack, I can quit worrying about it. I'll have to tell my farrier that he was right. The next time he calls it a "line," I won't insist on calling it a crack!
In other news, after 4 years of ruining fly masks, Izzy has decided to wear one. He's kept this one on for about a week. After riding and cooling my horses off with a shower, they get to graze freely on the grass down by the paddocks and pastures. One at a time though, I learned my lesson. One horse won't go anywhere; two horses wreak havoc just because they can.
I decided to use the grazing time to see exactly how he was getting the fly mask off. I slipped it on under his halter, so that when I put him back, it was already on him. Instead of worrying about the thing, Izzy spent his whole time grazing. I think he forgot he was wearing the fly mask. When I came out the next day, it was still on him.
So that's been the routine: I hose him off, slip the fly mask under the halter, and let him graze for 30 - 40 minutes. When I put him away, I slide the halter off, and he doesn't notice a thing.
I promised him a new one if he'd keep the old one on, but I am afraid to ruin what's working. For now, I am just going to continue with this ratty old thing until he's a confirmed fly mask wearer. After that, we'll see about a new one.
Over the years, my preference in grooming totes changes based on what I am using at the time. As a teenager, I was desperate for a monogrammed trunk and a wooden brush caddy. I am sure I saw one in a horse magazine and thought it epitomized what a true equestrienne used as she groomed her glossy steed. Today, I think about how heavy and awkward those things are.
Growing up in the 1980s and then again as a young adult in the '90s, I used a plastic-styled caddy. I am pretty sure I found the first one at the hardware store as they're pretty multi-functional. I know for a fact that later ones were found at Target. Totally off topic here, but I hate having to write the "19" in front of the 80. That's what happens when you get old; your childhood experiences happened in another century.
After the plastic caddy, I moved on to the soft bucket grooming totes. I had several different versions, and up until recently, one of these lived in my horse trailer.
When those got to be too small for all of my bottles of this and that, I moved on to a similar but larger soft bag. It was almost like the switch from the hard-sided Samsonite suitcases of my youth (only you old folks will remember the gorilla slamming around that orange American Tourister) to the expandable, soft-sided luggage that became much more fashionable. It's funny that hard-sided luggage is back in vogue. Maybe it never left.
I know the jumbo, soft-sided grooming totes are still readily available. I have the bag below in burgundy. And up until a few weeks ago, it served me well for toting around Speedy's many brushes and hoof picks.
A year or more ago I started schlepping Izzy's stuff in a small, 8-quart bucket. I groom him in his dirt pasture, so I needed something to haul his hoof pick and jelly scrubber in. Before I knew it, there was also a soft brush, some fly spray, and some coconut oil to daub on his boo-boos. Speedy's bag got a lot lighter. A few weeks ago, I pulled out Speedy's necessities and put them in a similar bucket.
All of a sudden, I found the floor space int the feed room/tack room occupied by a lot of buckets. The ranch owner has her daily buckets, and I have a boatload of my own. There is one for Speedy's morning senior feed that I leaved filled every afternoon. There are two more for both boys' lunch. Izzy's grooming bucket sits next to my shelf o'things alongside a bucket that holds clean towels and sponges. There's also one for my shampoo stuff. Suddenly there was another bucket for Speedy's grooming supplies.
I rolled my eyes in total exasperation. Enough was enough. I dumped all of my grooming supplies from both buckets on the floor and decided to consolidate everything that I use daily into one bucket.
It's a bit of a squeeze, but everything fits. I have all my essentials in one place:
What's in your bucket, bag, tote ... ?
Well, not like Tevis technical, but it was the most challenging trail that Izzy has seen. On Saturday, Izzy and I met up yet again with my longtime endurance partner Marci and her Arabian gelding Gem. And this time, I was able to get some photos!
Since last riding with Marci, she has started developing Gem's trot. An endurance trot and a dressage trot are two very different things. To be able to trot for 10 or more hours, an endurance horse learns to carry himself in a much longer frame with free use of his head and neck. It takes a different kind of balance to be steady on your feet while carrying a quarter of your body weight over uneven and ever-changing terrain.
It also takes a long time to build up the kind of muscle that can handle that workload. Endurance horses need bone and soft tissue that are like iron. Their legs and feet need to be conditioned enough to withstand the constant torque put on their joints and tendons. It's not just about cardio fitness. The longer you spend slowly building up your horse's systems - cardio, bone, and soft tissue, the better prepared he'll be to withstand injury and fatigue.
Gem is in the early stages of his training. Endurance riders call it long, slow distance. It starts with a lot of walking over varied terrain for longer and longer rides. Little by little the rider starts asking for more speed by introducing trotting and later cantering. Marci plans to spend 6 months legging Gem up for his first endurance ride which will be later this fall. By then, his cardio fitness will be well developed as well.
Luckily for me, Izzy is well conditioned and able to keep pace with Gem during the early phase of his endurance training. Eventually, Gem will need to do far more trotting than Izzy will need. But for now, they're a good match. Both horses are learning where to put their feet when the trail is more technical and how to deal with scary obstacles.
I couldn't have been more pleased with Izzy over the two and a quarter hours we were on the trail. He started the ride a little above the bit, but within 15 minutes he was walking with a low slung neck and droopy ears. The last few times he's been out, he has insisted on leading. For this ride, he was quite happy to look at Gem's butt. It was almost as though he's realized that the lead horse has to do all the work.
With Gem finally sporting steel shoes, we were able to tackle some new parts of the trail. As before, we rode up the bluff trail, but instead of doubling back, we continued along the top of the bluffs and dropped back down to the river bottom via a narrow gorge with fetlock-twisting rocks and ruts carved by this winter's heavy rains. Izzy tried to just rest on Gem's "laurels," but when I asked for a small half halt, he realized I needed his attention to be on his feet and where he was putting them. From then on, he kept a respectful distance and never took a misstep.
With Izzy being so relaxed on the trail and Gem needing to start toughening his own legs, we took the opportunity to do some trotting where the footing was flat and level. Izzy picked up the most lovely trot, carrying his own head and neck without balancing on my hands. Every once in a while I asked for a bit of lateral flexion to remind him to rebalance himself, but for the most part, he did the work all on his own.
We plodded through spots with deeper sand, stepped over fallen logs, squeezed though overgrown brush, and again crossed the bicycle bridges. Izzy took some urging when he was in the lead, but for a later crossing of a different bridge, he followed Gem without missing a beat.
Late in the ride, we crossed over the weir, one of the many low dams built across the Kern River to regulate and redirect its flow into irrigation canals. We crossed it only for the experience. When we reached the other side, we rode up to the dirt road and then turned around to recross it. The noise of the rushing water is what is so scary for most horses. You'll notice that Izzy hardly bat an eye. Here's a quick video.
I've never doubted that trail riding is good for our horses, but the first summer I tackled it with Izzy, it was just too stressful for him. Even with trail riding twice a week one summer, he found no relaxation or joy in being out of the arena. This summer, he is showing a much greater sense of relaxation and enjoyment. And it's finally paying off in our dressage work. Izzy is much more willing to carry himself without leaning on my hands, and he is much less reactive to the "make-believe" stuff.
I only hope Gem doesn't develop his endurance legs too quickly. I need him to be a bit of a slow poke for the rest of the summer. Happy trails!
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%: