From Endurance to Dressage
House Hunters: Equine Version
I don't like to move. At all. As a kid, we moved a lot. I can't tell you how many places I lived in. As a teen, things were a little more stable, but then came college. I moved more times than I can count. As an adult, even though I HATE to move, we've moved four times in 22 years of marriage.
When it comes to my horses, I try not to move them either, but it happens. In the nine years that I've owned Speedy, he's lived in two places: four years at Silverado Stables, and five years at my current barn. I hate moving. And yet ...
Welcome to my new barn, although it's actually a ranch. It's across the street from my old barn. From this picture, to my back is my old barn's back lawn. I can't say that I've ever moved my horses where I was able to lead them to their new property. Until now. I moved all of my stuff by truck (loooong story - it took two days), and then I just walked the boys over. Pretty convenient.
There are so many reasons to change barns. Equus just had an entire article devoted to what you should look for in a new barn:
Izzy's new paddock is as big as some arenas. Pictured above is only half of the space. He's standing next to a gate that opens into the other half. Once he proves that he isn't going to try and kill himself, we'll open the gate and he can use both halves. When we're sure that he can handle that, my new barn owner said that we can take down the panels that divide the paddock, and he'll have the whole thing to himself.
Speedy is in a much smaller paddock. It's normal sized, but even that is only temporary. This ranch has many dry pastures, most of which are quite large. The row of pens where Speedy lives all open into a HUGE sandy turn-out alongside the river.
Right now, Speedy only has one neighbor. When Speedy can prove that he is NOT going to run around like a lunatic and re-injure himself, his paddock gate will be opened every twelve hours to allow him access to the huge turn out. He and the neighbor will take turns.
Last week, I helped the barn owner clean out and organize her feed/tack room to make room for my stuff. How and when did I get so much junk? It took five truck loads to get all of my stuff moved. I have water troughs, garbage cans for feed, poles, a water tank, bales of hay, stall bedding, more buckets than horses, tack, blankets, and on and on.
Of course, I have a big pile of stuff outside the window too: wheel barrow, shelves, muck bucket and cart, more buckets, and so on.
The property is about ten acres, so even if I just want to do a short hack, I have plenty of room. There is also a round pen and a place to park my truck and trailer.
The arena has great footing and is nearly dust free. It's about 60 meters long and close to 30 meters wide. Instead of square corners like in a dressage ring, it's an oval. The best part is that I no longer have to drag the sprinklers around. I am in Heaven! The ranch owner has a caretaker who lives on the property, so he has already freshly dragged the arena and pruned back the trees for me.
Before even moving in, my new barn owner suggested I use the arena to give Izzy a new place to school. It is a wonderful place to ride!
The owners live on the property as well. They have nine other horses on the ranch, most of them are old timers who have been with my barn owner for most of their lives. She believes in giving the old guys a place to live out their days. She also abhors small pens and insists that all of her horses live in large paddocks, especially as they get older.
Lucky for Izzy, eh?
As we settle in and get to know the place better, I am sure I'll post more pictures. For now, I am super excited about this place!
Intro B at White Birch
I don't have anything mind blowing to share about our second test other than we made it through without too many hysterics. In all honesty, I was surprised that the second test earned nearly the same score as the first. I didn't think it went as well.
That happens to me more often than I'd like actually. Sometimes, I ride a test and think that I've nailed it only to discover that the judge was less than impressed. The opposite is also true: I'll ride what feels like a horrible test only to get a 72% - true story.
Izzy was much more tense in this test, yet we earned a 58.438% which was only 0.5 points less than the first test. I am not criticizing the judge, but sometimes it's hard to see what they see.
I always try to take away some big idea after a show or clinic, but I didn't have any serious AHA moments this weekend. The one thing that I did realize was that my hard work is paying off. Even on our drive down to the show, I was feeling much more relaxed. Each time I take Izzy somewhere, he shows me that he's figuring out his job.
His confidence in getting on and off the trailer is growing, I am feeling confident in tying him to the trailer, and I love that he is now eating and getting a drink. His newfound awareness as to where I am is also encouraging. While he's still easily distracted, he is now paying attention to me as I groom and saddle, and he stood really well at the mounting block. All of these things show me that he is more self-assured or at least looking to me for guidance.
Showing me some growth is all I really need. I can deal with the tension and baby theatrics as long as there are forward steps. Right now, I am actually looking forward to the rest of our summer schedule. I have four schooling shows and one CDS show lined up along with at least two lessons with Chemaine. Mileage is what this horse needs now.
Things are starting to come together: his saddle fits, his hocks have been injected, his nutritional needs are being met, and his home life has been ... expanded.
More about that tomorrow!
Intro A at White Birch
In case you're not a dressage aficionado, Intro A is the lowest level dressage test that you can ride. It is a walk and trot test only. In fact, the purpose of the test is "to introduce the rider and/or horse to the sport of dressage. To show understanding of riding the horse forward with a steady tempo into an elastic contact with independent, steady hands and a correctly balanced seat. To show proper geometry of figures in the arena with correct bend (corners and circles)."
In other words, it's not rocket science. Even so, I was quite pleased with Izzy's Intro A Test. It's not beautiful, it's not rhythmic, the tempo was wonky, and the rider's hands were all over the place, but it was BETTER than the last two. Take a look.
That halt! Not perfectly square, but it was so soft and forward thinking that the judge rewarded us with an 8! The rest was just so-so, but there was still much to like. Everything Izzy did was distinctly better than in the first two shows he did, and it wasn't because of the different judges. He's just developing confidence.
Here are his scores from all three tests from this season. The last score shown is from this show.
We finished up with a score of 58.750%, 5th in a class of 5, but several other riders finished with scores nearly identical to ours. It was a class of (mostly) very green horses.
A sub-60% score is never what I am looking for, but I was so excited by Izzy's effort. For the first time, there was no spooking, rearing, bucking, squealing, or wild head flinging. He was nervous and worried, but he kept himself together.
In the warm up, I didn't just shoot for survival. I was actually able to school him. He walked down to the test ring without a companion, human or equine, and he walked right into the ring without any hesitation. If you saw our Saturday lesson, you'll know he was quite spooky at C, but for the test, he got tense in front of the judge, but he stayed with me.
As I scrolled through the video, frame by frame, looking for bloopers, I had trouble finding any truly horrible moments. The shot in front of the judge was the most tense and ugly shot I could find. It wasn't a great test, but it wasn't bad either.
I am really excited about this show. Progress, even a little bit, is all I am looking for. My plan for the next few months is a lesson or schooling show every two weeks. I think we're finally getting somewhere!
Next up: the Intro B Test.
So Much Progress!
I wrote yesterday's post before I left for this weekend's lesson and schooling show. Izzy's effort showed me that our progress is now picking up speed!
Last week, Izzy and I had a couple of knock down, drag down fights. The dude just wants to do what he wants to do. I tried to work through his issues by doing suppling exercises, rebalancing, and so on. Finally, I chucked the dressage exercises and simply cowgirled up on his butt.
What does that mean? I grabbed the whip and dug my spurs in. There can be no rhythm or connection if the horse won't move forward. When Izzy realized he couldn't run through my aids, he tried balking and sucking back. I quit worrying about where his head was and how we looked and instead, I kicked his butt forward, HARD. Repeatedly.
It took three days of me kicking the heck out of him for an hour each day. By Friday, he was a perfect gentleman again. Our connection was still unsteady and his rhythm still faltered, but he was back on my team and willing to try. I loaded him up on Saturday afternoon for our trip to Moorpark. I was much encouraged.
The plan for the weekend was to take a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, on Saturday evening and then show at the schooling show on Sunday. Izzy stabled over-night in the show barn with three other horses and my friend, Kathy, and I camped in the trailer.
Izzy has now done three schooling shows this year, and while we don't have scores yet that are exciting to share, he has shown huge growth over the last few months. For each show he has gotten obviously better. This is something that I never got with Sydney - he got worse. Izzy's progress has been very linear at shows, and it is clear that his confidence is building.
He ate and drank like a rock star this weekend, something he hasn't done all year, even at away lessons. And while he had worried moments in his stall and while tied to the trailer, most of the time he was simply alert and watchful. In fact, we left him in the barn with complete confidence while we drove into town for dinner.
What I love about this video (above) is that it is from very early in the lesson. We had a few big spooks during the lesson, there was a lot of activity outside of the ring, and another horse was schooling with us, but he was almost the same horse that I get at home.
I felt like we could have packed up and gone home after the lesson. He did everything that I was hoping: he stood quietly while I mounted, he walked into the ring without issue, and I was actually able to school his way of going as opposed to simply getting his attention.
This video (above), shows where we are. He was really spooky at the judge's booth because there were a bunch of sheep baa'ing down there, but you couldn't see them. We spent a few minutes there so that I could work on keeping him packaged together when he wanted to spook. Sheep or a judge, both are scary. In the video you can see that he is a lovely mover, and when we eventually eliminate the tension, he's going to be (even more) gorgeous.
Next up - the show!
What is Progress?
I am a glass half full kind of person. I always look for the good in a situation, but that doesn't mean I don't feel the same kind of frustrations and disappointments that everyone else deals with. Lately, I've been feeling as though I am going to be stuck at Intro Level with Izzy forever.
This is actually quite humorous as I said those exact same words several years ago in regards to Speedy G. I said those same words again at Training Level, and I feel the same way at First Level as we're trying to move on to Second.
It's hard to feel progress when it's slow or when you're starting yet another horse. This idea of "spinning my wheels" and "getting nowhere" made me think about my years as an endurance rider...
If you don't know much about endurance racing, the first thing you should know is that it is probably the hardest thing you can do with a horse. Not only does the horse need to be super fit, but so does the rider. Once the horse is fit, keeping her sound and healthy is truly the hardest part.
You've probably heard people say, "My horse would have been great at endurance racing. He has so much energy; he never gets tired." Don't believe it. Being energetic is only a small part of an endurance horse's job. Endurance racing takes a very special kind of horse, and they're really hard to come by. Finding a great endurance horse is like trying to find your next Grand Prix horse. How do you know you have one until you put in years of hard work?
What generally happens in the sport of endurance is that you start out with whatever horse you have. I was lucky. I had an Arab already when I first started out in the mid-90s. But like most everyone else, after ten or so 50-milers, it turned out that the sport was a bit too tough for her, so I moved her on as a solid family horse.
Most riders share this experience. A lot of horses get started in the sport, but not many make it. Sometimes it's because of their brains - they can't cope with vet checks, horses passing them, leaving their buddies, or being on the trail for 24 hours. Just as often, it's because their bodies can't do it. Endurance racing/riding is hard on joints and soft tissue.
When Sassy couldn't make it, I started over with another horse. This time, I picked an Arabian that had been scouted out by a local endurance trainer as one with potential. I got really lucky. I ended up with a "Grand Prix" horse, but it took a lot of time to get her there. She had been started as a youngster and then put out to pasture until I bought her as a nine year old. Sounds a bit like Izzy's start, huh?
I first worked on helping her become a riding horse. Then she had to learn how to travel, stand tied over-night at the trailer, go through vet checks, and on and on. All the while, I also had to build her fitness level. Ultimately, she competed in hundred mile races and multi-days (50 miles a day for days in a row).
As my super-star began to age, I bought another horse as a back up. Once again, I started over. Mickey wasn't broke to ride at all. In fact, he was barely halter broke. I had to teach him everything. I competed on him for six years until he too started to have soundness issues. Montoya just kept going.
So I started over, again. I bought Speedy G, another Arab who had also been scouted out by an endurance trainer. Each time I started a new horse, I had to go through all of the same steps. They each had to become safe trail horses, learn to deal with the pressure of hauling and standing over-night at the trailer, and then they had to become fit enough for at least 50 miles in a single day. The process took years.
Why was I so incredibly patient as an endurance rider, yet as a dressage rider, I am expecting a Grand Prix horse in just a year? Pretty unrealistic when you think about it. I really need to cut Izzy some slack, Speedy too.
Starting a barely green broke horse in the sport of dressage is pretty similar to starting an endurance horse. It's going to take years to get Izzy where I want him, and that really should be okay. Like I said the other day, it's all about perspective, mine in particular.
I keep reminding myself that we are making progress. It's just slow and steady, just like it would be if I was building my next 100-mile horse. From endurance to dressage - it all takes time.
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%: