From Endurance to Dressage
At this point, I think I could load Izzy up and do a trail ride by myself. He was super good for Monday's trail ride. Eventually. We had to school through a naughty moment or two, but KG and Taz hung out behind while we worked through the issue, and that was it!
For this trip, we decided to park at the barn in Hart Park. I've parked here many times and shared pictures before. There are a few corrals, a wash rack, hitching posts, and picnic tables. There's not a lot of room for multiple trailers, but for a small group of three or four rigs, it's perfect. We generally head east and go around Lake Ming and come back in front of the California Living Museum (CALM), a small zoo for indigenous animals.
Unlike the other two trails that we've ridden this month, this trail has lots of potential to be scary and a bit technical for a green bean. To access the trails, you have to walk down the gravel road to cross Hart Park's main road, two lanes that carry a fair amount of traffic.
The way Izzy halted so quickly at the lines painted on the blacktop suggested that he probably hasn't crossed a lot of actual roads in his life. We ended up crossing the road a few different times, so that by the time we returned to the barn, he only eye-balled the bright yellow lines, but he crossed them willingly.
Because this is a multi-use park, there are a lot of people-friendly structures like a soccer field complex, a campground with TENTS, frisbee baskets, bridges, stand alone restrooms, playground equipment, boat docks, water pumps, parking areas, and so on. Every inch of the trail offers something new and unusual to look at. Most of the time Izzy was pretty solid, but there were a few booger moments.
When we crossed the road and made it onto the trail, we had to follow the bike path for a bit. For some reason walking along the pavement got Izzy more and more excited. While he didn't try to bolt or rear, he jigged pretty consistently for 20 solid minutes. I was able to get him round though so while he was jigging, he wasn't pulling; it was just a super short-strided movement that was a bit rough on my back.
When we got to the back side of CALM, there is a small stream that flows through a culvert beneath the dirt road. The stream is surrounded by trees, so if you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right past it. Izzy heard it though and hit the brakes HARD.
And then he backed up ... fast! And suddenly, he realized he had learned a new trick. Instead of just stopping and staring at whatever was scary, he decided that it was much more effective to go from marching forward to a mach ten reverse. KG kindly stood back while Izzy and I had a little discussion.
Now, before I hear all of the when they want to back up make them back up even further comments (sorry, but I know they're coming), that is simply not a safe option on most trails. It's even less safe in a line of horses. The trails we ride can be steep, have drop offs, or be lined with wire fences, among numerous other obstacles. In my neck of the woods, going forward (or simply stopping) is the only correct answer.
In the arena, we can back up all day, but that's another situation.
So what did our discussion look like? Well, it looked a lot like me kicking the crap out of Izzy's sides while smacking him across his withers with the reins and growling very loudly. Taz just stood to the side while providing zero support for his buddy. He's not stupid.
It took about three of these discussions before Izzy returned to the land of stop and wait when I'm nervous. Good boy!
Once I saw that this backing up thing was looking to be his go-to answer, I started to play around with fixing it. When I spotted something ahead that looked funky, I asked him to stop. I patted his neck and gave him lots of good boys and then asked him to walk on. If he even rocked back slightly, I goosed him and smacked him on the shoulder. KG agreed that my timing was impeccable.
You should have seen the wheels turning. After about the third time he got smacked, he started re-thinking his new answer and quickly decided that his old answer was better. I agreed. Stopping and standing still when you're scared is perfectly fine. Eventually, he would simply slow down but with a gentle squeeze, he would again start moving forward. I think our Trust Bank got a pretty hefty deposit.
Other than the issue with the backing up at full throttle, Izzy was amazing. And we really challenged him. We did several long trots through the bushes, which he seemed to enjoy. We walked along the edge of the camp ground which can even make me nervous. Sometimes people pop out of those tents right under your nose and start stampeding toward the horses. I sometimes think our version of naturalists have never seen a horse up close!
We also did some serious bushwhacking that would have frightened a lot of horses. The trail simply disappeared at one point until I was forced to hang over Izzy's neck while he dragged his nose along the ground. Rather than get scraped off, I opted to lead him on foot. There was a wire fence to our right and deep brush to the left and over us. Had he begun to feel claustrophobic, we could have had big trouble on our hands.
We also rode past the golf course, which makes both KG and I jumpy. When the balls are hit, they make a whistling sound that is a bit unnerving, especially when you're not sure where the ball is headed.
There was one steep descent that proved too technical for Izzy. Even though we sent Taz down first, Izzy spun up the incline. I made the executive decision to dismount quickly. I'd rather he feel safe than over-faced and off balance. As soon as I hopped off, he followed me willing all the way to the bottom. There was a steep slope off to the side, and the trail is only about two feet wide. We'll try again on another day.
I go back to work next week and KG has some vacation plans lined up, so we may have time for only one more trail ride before I am limited to the occasional weekend ride. I am so grateful for the rides I've been able to put on this horse over the past month though. At this point, I feel as safe on him as I do on Speedy. He's proven to be level-headed, brave, and happy to be working in new places.
I would feel quite comfortable marketing him as a safe and sane trail horse. Not that he's for sale, but knowing that I could throw him in the trailer and join a group for a trail ride makes him worth a lot more to me than if he was only safe in the arena.
On Sunday, Speedy didn't get a lunge. He did get his morning walk, but I skipped the lunge work out of a healthy respect for the wet ground. He didn't seem to mind.
My rides on Sunday were late, very late. I rode just before 2:00 p.m. and then just shortly after. It was a warm day, but Speedy was back to his regular self. Instead of being sluggish, I had to deal with the usual resistance and fussiness in the bridle. For Test 2, he was being a bit of a stinker and just did not want to let go. It would seem that my task is to get the same level of obedience with energy that he offered when he was sluggish!
After the test, I went back into the warm up with Chemaine. She wanted me to get him deeper and rounder with a small release accompanied by some leg. When he's deeper and rounder, I can push my hands forward a bit to give him some room so that when I add leg, he can shoot forward into a longer stride. So we played around with that for a minute before I headed over to ride First Level, Test 3.
While on paper this test earned a solid score, I was really disappointed in how I rode it. I was having trouble hearing my reader, and since I don't have this test truly memorized, I didn't always know where I was going. I ended up making three pretty big mistakes that affected how well I rode the movements.
Movement 2 is a trot lengthening across the diagonal. Right after that, the test calls for a leg yield from the corner to X. I didn't hear my reader, so instead of leg yielding to X, I rode straight toward M. As I neared X, I finally remembered what I was supposed to be doing and was able to change the bend quickly enough to get the next leg yield from X to H.
The first leg yield earned a 5.0 (it wasn't a leg yield at all, so thank you, Judge!). The leg yield left earned a much more respectable 6.5. I detest giving away points. Not that I would have necessarily earned the 6.5 for the leg yield right as it is the harder one for us to do, but a 6.0 wouldn't have been out of the question.
The second error I made was on the 15-meter canter circle at C. For this movement, you come from a free walk to S where it becomes a medium walk. At H, you pick up a working trot and then a working canter at C. But instead of cantering into the corner, you have to pick up the canter already making the turn for the smaller 15-meter circle.
It's an easy enough movement if you're paying attention. I wasn't. I simply asked Speedy for the canter without having the necessary bend for the 15-meter circle. Fortunately, within just one stride I realized what I was doing and I added a boatload of outside leg and rein and managed to get Speedy's shoulder up and over for the 15-meter circle. He was a very good boy to make such a quick adjustment.
The judge commented that we needed bend, but we still scored a 6.5. You can see the score and comment at movement 12.
The third riding error I made was after the left lead single loop at canter. I was so focused on getting a good canter to trot transition that it happened a smidge early (movement 21). Once we were trotting, I realized that I didn't know where to go; again, I hadn't heard my reader. At the last second, I remembered that the final trot lengthening comes after that canter loop.
I don't know how good the half halt in the corner was, but the panicky feeling I had must have been read loud and clear by Speedy because he hustled himself out of the corner and across the diagonal. I don't know what the lengthening looked like, but the judge gave us a 7.0 for the whole debacle!
As I look back over the test and my scores, I realize that while I felt the mistakes quite acutely, I must have made accurate and timely corrections as they didn't have too much of an effect on my scores. Either way, I need to make it a priority to get that test 3 memorized. I'll be riding it three times at the RAAC in late August.
So. I think my First Level debut at a USDF/USEF-rated show went as well as I could have hoped for.
While the scores are fun to tabulate and apply, having a good time with friends and bringing home a healthy horse is really the best part. A small pile of ribbons to stash in my ribbon jars is also fun, too.
My ride times were fairly late in the morning which is always nice. I was able to take Speedy for a good walk in the morning followed by a rather scary lunge. He always insists on being hand walked before the sun comes up. It's a good thing I am an early riser.
At this venue, I always hand walk him around the cross country field. Once I am tired of jogging with him, I grab my lunge line to let him play. To make the footing soft enough, the facility spreads composted manure. This makes the top layer pretty soft, but unfortunately, there had been a massive amount of rain the week before. Under the fluffy top layer was a soaked layer of clay; I didn't know that until later.
Speedy was cantering around really nicely on a long line when all of a sudden his hind legs shot out from under him and his whole body hit the ground, even his face. He scrambled back up to his feet with a really surprised look on his face. My heart sank. He looked fine as he walked off, but he was super muddy. The ground was soft enough that he wasn't injured on the surface, but all weekend I worried a bit about a strain. There was no need to worry though; he was fine.
I warmed Speedy up with Chemaine coaching. We went through the exercises from the day before, and Speedy felt great. He was listening and rounding up without being particularly heavy or resistant. I was excited and feeling pretty confident. My first test was First Level, Test 2.
When the judge rang the bell, I entered at A and suddenly had a different horse. Speedy's energy oozed out of his body and he became a wet rag. It took all of my strength to push him to X. The whole test rode that way. He was very obedient, but excessively sluggish. If I had taken my leg off for a single moment, he would have come to a screeching halt.
Chemaine later said that the test was super steady, but lacked any kind of thrust or forward thinking energy. The judge gave us a 61.406% with the comment " ... ride more ground covering strides in lengthenings." Ya think?! Every remark had that same tone - needs more. She was completely right. Click thumbprints to see the judge's scores and remarks.
My second test, First Level - Test 3, came after the very next rider. Chemaine's advice was to rev him up a little on the outside of the court before I entered at A. I got a little "more" out of him, but the second test rode much like the first - steady, but with no wow moments. We earned a 60.735%.
The second I put Speedy back in his stall to untack, he took a HUGE pee. Aha. That explained the sluggish behavior. Speedy is NEVER behind my leg at a show. The second he enters at A, he is always excited and happy to be there.
I was a teeny bit disappointed in our effort, but knowing why he was a pile of molasses makes me feel better. My goal was to break 60% for each test that we rode, and we did that. The judge was quite fair in her assessment; she wasn't generous or stingy. I think she did reward Speedy's methodical steadiness though. Had he been more energetic, those 6.0s could have easily been 6.5s or even 7.0s.
Later that evening, I was able to meet up with Sarah of Eventing in Color for dinner in Camarillo. We've been friends for a while now, so our visits are always about catching up on what's happening in life. We must have had a lot of sharing to do because dinner lasted three hours! The waiter was patient however, and no one kicked us out before we were ready.
Day two tomorrow ...
I really enjoy showing at El Sueno. The show manager is thoughtful and organized, the grounds are lovely, and the stabling is safe and secure. As an added bonus, I am allowed to camp on the grounds without paying an additional fee.
I rode Izzy on Friday morning and then loaded Speedy for the two and a half hour drive to the Ventura area. I let him settle in and have lunch, and then I saddled him up for a lesson with Chemaine.
Each time I ride with Chemaine, I get a new lesson. We never repeat anything. I don't know if that's because I show up each time with a little improvement, or whether Chemaine just has a bazillion exercises to teach me. For this lesson, she showed me one particular exercise, but we did it two ways.
At the Trot -
As Speedy trotted down the long side tracking right, Chemaine had me do a slight counter bend (bend him left) and leg yield him just a stride or two off the rail. I put him back on a right bend and pushed him back to the rail. Chemaine had me do as many of these mini leg yields as I could before hitting the corner. It was basically left bend away, right bend on, left bend away, right bend on ...
The purpose of the exercise is to get the horse more and more supple and listening to your seat and leg aids. As I get better about weighting my seat bone, Speedy should change the bend in response to my seat and not need so much help from my hands.
At the Canter -
To help me get a better change of lead through trot and improve our loop at the canter (with the counter canter section in the middle), Chemaine had me repeat the exercise but at a canter. It took me a few tries to coordinate my aids, but once I figured it out, the exercise was fun and gave me a much better idea of what needs to happen to hold the counter canter and to make the change from one lead to another.
As we cantered down the long side, again on the right lead (we did both), Chemaine had me open the new outside rein, in this case the right, play with the new inside rein to get some bend, and push sideways off the rail. I then straightened Speedy for a stride, opened the new outside rein (now the left), played with the inside rein, and pushed him back to the rail.
When we schooled the change of lead through trot, I was able to (mostly) pull this all together. From C to M, we were on a right lead canter. As we started across the diagonal to K, Chemaine had me think about the work down the long side: I changed from a right bend to a slight left bend, weighted my new outside seat bone for the downward transition to trot, and then leg yielded a tiny bit to the right to push him onto my new outside rein (the right). From there, it was easy to ask for a left lead canter at A.
When I rode the change of lead through trot during my tests, both judges gave us a 6.0 for the change of lead through trot, which is "satisfactory." For the counter canter loops, we scored a 6.5 for the right and a 6.0 for the left from the first judge. The next day, we scored 6.0 for both the right and left loops. I would certainly like to improve that to a "fairly good 7," so we'll be using this exercise a lot over the next few weeks.
Day one tomorrow...
As my summer vacation winds down, I am using every second to get as many miles on Izzy Zweibrücker that I can.
On Thursday, KG and I drove up Rancheria Road, which quickly turns to dirt as it climbs into the southern Sierra Nevada. It's a FANTASTIC ride for a green bean: it's almost two car widths, there's very little traffic, it climbs relatively slowly at the bottom, there are cows, and the footing is excellent.
Izzy has just gotten better and better on the trail rides. This time, he stood nice and still for me to get on, and he moved right on out at the walk with zero jigging.
When we got to the first gate and cattle guard, Izzy tried to dodge left or right. He wanted nothing to do with the cattle guard, which was great. On the flip side, he did a funny little dance as I tried to walk through the gate that KG opened. He was certain I was going to ask him to step close to that cattle guard. (click photos to enlarge)
There is one section of the road that climbs up steeply, so it's paved. We've never ridden the paved part as the cattle have carved some trails into the hillside. From Izzy's back, the trail looked much steeper than I remembered, but Taz plodded up so Izzy followed.
I was grinning wildly on the way back down because Izzy felt unbelievably sure-footed, especially for a horse who has never carried a rider up and down that kind of terrain. And I know what sure-footed does and doesn't feel like. Izzy wasn't at all worried about the unevenness of the footing, but more importantly, he paid attention to where he put his feet and packed me up and down that hill like he'd done it a thousand times. And he was on the buckle!
Once we got to our turn around spot, KG gave both boys some treats. I got off and stood in the shade to visit with Izzy. The goal was to find a little burm and climb back on. It was risky because he's pretty tall, and I wasn't sure he'd stand still. I shouldn't have worried. He sidled right up to the side of the hill and let me clamber on. I couldn't have asked him to do it better.
On the way back down, Taz went into endurance horse mode and started picking at the tall grass growing alongside the road. Many owners don't appreciate a horse who grazes along the trail, but for endurance horses, it's an essential skill. It sometimes take a long time to teach a horse to relax enough to go from a canter to a graze (ahem, Montoya, I am looking at YOU!).
I was woot wooting my greenie as he tucked in right beside Taz and started munching away. He hadn't shown much of an interest on our earlier rides, even though Taz has been grabbing grass all along.
As good as Izzy was for the two-hour tour, the thing that made me most proud was that he drank at the water trough. I've used this trough many, many times, and it ALWAYS scares the horses. And not just this trough, but most of the cattle troughs we come across are scary for horses.
They're usually really big, surrounded by ditches and holes created by the cattle themselves, and they just look weird. Our endurance horses learn to navigate the clumsy footing and dodge the various floats, covers, partitions, and hardware.
When I pointed Izzy toward the trough, he marched along smartly until he got to within about ten feet of the water, and then he slammed on the brakes. I could hear him clearly exclaim, Holy shizola! What the heck is THAT thing?
He swerved left and right totally intent on avoiding the pool of death. KG gave Izzy a moment to think about it, but then Taz walked up slowly and began to drink. It took Izzy another moment to evaluate the situation, but then he stretched his neck as long he could and touched the concrete sides with his lips.
And then very cautiously, he scooted closer and closer until he could drink. And that was it. He tanked up, took a deep breath, and then drank some more. We stood at the trough for several minutes letting both boys get their fill.
As is our routine, we let both boys hang out at their trailers with a snack while we sat in the shade having a cool drink ourselves. Izzy was a stinker about loading up to go home, but a quick lunge session with the dressage whip reminded him that his job is to load up with a yes, ma'am attitude. Other than that little blip, I couldn't have asked for a nicer trail horse.
And guess what? We're heading to a new trail and staging area today!
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%: