From Endurance to Dressage
Whew. This has been some kind of a week. Since I am not working right now, it's hard to complain about being busy, but there it is. My husband took the week off so that we could celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Which, by the way, if you still feel like a 20-something year old, realizing you've been married for a quarter of a century will quickly snap you back to reality. Having him home every day has just meant a busier than usual schedule.
On top of being at the barn every morning, I started the week with a pedicure. Not stressful, but one more thing on the list of things to do. We also dealt with barfing dogs all week. That ordeal deserves its own post. The quick version is that I cooked ground turkey meatballs (boiled - gross!) and rice every day for more than a week as we transitioned them to a new brand of dog food which will hopefully eliminate the barfing. So far so good.
On Tuesday, we drove over to the beach for lunch. Yes, that involved a 6-hour round-trip drive, but lunch was good. On Wednesday, I had an amazing body work appointment for myself (more on that next week.) I finally got a much needed haircut on Thursday which made me wonder at the things we insist we do for our horses but won't do for ourselves.
I also had a lesson on Thursday morning, the last one before we show again on Sunday. It's "just" a CDS show, but since realizing that I am not going to meet my one and only goal for this season - earning my USDF Bronze Medal, I've lowered my expectations to earning as many 60% scores as possible. We have two so far. I'd love to add another two on Sunday.
Today, I need to ride both horses, clean tack, and load my trailer for Sunday's show. I won't have time to do it on Saturday because my dad and step-mom, neither of whom we've seen in ... well, let's just call it ages, are coming for a long weekend. Unfortunately, the weather gods have decided that this weekend will be the hottest weekend we've had all summer. In fact it's going to be nearly as hot as it can get here. My poor parents; they're going to die.
We planned this trip to coincide with a show weekend so that they could both visit and watch me do my thing on Speedy. Too bad hell also decided to head north for the summer.
One last thing before I go: we acquired a bunny at the ranch, long story, but he finally got brave enough to check out Speedy's feed pan. I snapped a bunch of photos, but this one I loved because both the bunny and Speedy introduced themselves to one another in the quietest, softest way possible. It reminded me of how much more gently we should tread as we interact with one another, both in real life and on social media.
Have a great weekend!
Back when I was endurance riding, it took completing my 1000th race mile before I felt enough confidence (that word again?!) to count myself as a member of the endurance ranks. Since the sport is about enduring, it didn't seem right to claim an ability to endure until I had. It wasn't until I had finished my first 100-mile race that I felt as though I really and truly belonged to that elite group of riders.
If I ever earn my USDF Gold Medal, I don't think even that would give me a sense of command or expertise in this thing we call dressage. No matter how many awards I win, no matter how many levels I complete, there will always, always be more to learn. Not that there wasn't in endurance, but after successfully completing so many 50-milers, multi-day rides, and hundreds, I felt that I had more or less mastered the sport. From that point on, it was about proving (to myself) that I could keep a horse fit and healthy enough to continue on year after year. That's what endurance meant to me.
I don't think dressage can ever be completely mastered. Do you think Robert Dover or Carl Hester feel as though they've learned it all? Are they still discovering elements of this sport that they hadn't grasped before? I hope so.
So where are you going with all this? I have a point, really I do. Well, not a point exactly. More like some things that I've learned over the past month or so. Just when I think I'm really getting somewhere, I'll have one of those moments where I'll feel something new that is really basic and think to myself, what the hell have I been doing over the past 10 years? How did I not know THAT? Insert whatever it is I've just learned.
This month, I am finally, finally starting to feel the hind legs. I've read so many books and articles that talk about giving the aid when the hind leg is in the right position for the rider to influence it. I've always just nodded my head and thought, my horse has a hind leg. If I keep squeezing, kicking, tapping, half halting, etc., he'll eventually move it to where it needs to go.
I am being honest here. I have never actually been able to tell when that right moment is. And not that I can tell today either, but I am definitely getting closer. Wednesday was one of those days.
Riding two horses every day is a luxury that I will never take for granted. So often I start an idea on one horse and then get to really explore it on the second horse. Influencing the hind leg is something that I've been working on as it pertains to the flying change. This year, I learned that the flying change has to come from behind first. If the horse changes his front legs first, it's called a late change.
The flying changes have really forced me to pay attention to what's happening with Speedy's hind legs. The canter half pass and half turn on the haunches have required a similar focus. Squeezing and kicking just isn't going to cut it at Third Level.
The big OHHHH ... that I am getting is coming from the walk to canter transition, something we did a lot of at Second Level. If you're at Second right now, (Katy!) pay attention to your simple changes because they're going to get really important at Third Level.
I am starting to feel a connection between my outside rein and Speedy's outside leg. Yes, we could get a simple change at Second Level, but now we have to get a really good canter so that the hind leg is active enough to carry us through the corner into the canter half pass and later, across the diagonal with enough jump to get a flying change. The hind leg's quality of activity has become really important.
I am not schooling the flying change on Izzy, but I have. No, the hind leg connection that I am feeling right now is the inside leg to the outside rein. OH MY GOD, HOW OLD OF A CONCEPT IS THAT? And yes, I am shouting because that is the mother of all ideas, and I am rolling my eyes that I am still struggling with it.
Over the past month or so, Izzy has really learned how to stretch over his topline AND push with his hind end. Or, could it be that I've learned how to ask him to stretch and push? Either way, I am finally able to put him on the outside rein and feel him bend around my inside leg. It doesn't happen every time, but now that I know what it feels like, it's getting easier and easier to recreate the feeling.
If you're still struggling with the same idea, it's a feeling of riding the inside leg. I can really feel it in the leg yield. It's as though I am pushing that inside leg to M or H. I can actually feel his inside leg step under and over.
The good thing about feeling something new, especially when I've created it on purpose, is that once I feel or learn something, I can't unfeel or unlearn it. If you like to finish a task, dressage is probably not your best choice. You'll never be finished. If you like torture and humble pie, then this is your lucky day.
I'll have two slices, please.
Last week, I wrote a post about what confidence means to me. Essentially, to me, confidence is an appreciation of one's own strengths. Perceived confidence is a funny thing though. One can have boatloads of it that the rest of the world simply can't see. What one person feels is mettle, grit, or conviction, the rest of us see as over-confidence which is nearly always viewed as a bad thing. To the person letting it all hang out (so to speak), I say, run with it, girlfriend. Is that how I want to live my life? Well no, but more power to those that do.
While I got a lot of positive feedback on that post - some of you expressed an appreciation of my honesty, others took me to task. I was criticized for the example of "over-confidence" that I chose to share - the rider who claimed to be at a higher level than she had previously demonstrated. Several people pointed out that it was petty to include that example.
If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you'll know that I make a point of not writing negative things about other riders. I definitely write critical things about myself though, always in an effort to show my learning curve. I generally avoid too much negative self-talk - unless it's funny, then game on. But I don't bash on people, ever.
So why did I mention that other rider? I think if we revisit what I said, it might be more clear. What I said was this: "she was claiming to be a Fourth Level rider and had her Training Level horse decked out in a double bridle in an attempt to make it so. My thoughts? Wow. That's confidence."
Do I think she overstated her abilities? Yes, but that's how she perceived her abilities. I wasn't exaggerating or lying. She confidently stated what she believed she could do. The rest of the world just couldn't see it so we label it as being over-confident. My actual comment was "Wow. That's confidence." But hey, you run with it, girlfriend.
I am sure that I have been over-confident more than once in my life. And no doubt, I either kicked butt or more likely, learned a valuable lesson. Isn't that how we gain confidence? We think we can and then we do it, or we think we can and then find out we can't, so we work even harder the next time. Success breeds confidence, failure motivates us to try again.
The truth is, I am very careful about claiming what I can do. I think most perfectionists are. I frequently call myself an under-achieving over-achiever (That's going to be the title of the book I someday write.). Meaning, I expect far more from myself than I can deliver. I am never happy with a dressage test because I know that it can always be done better. And that's me in a nutshell, trying to do everything better.
In response to that same bog post, I was accused of ignoring a judge's comments in favor of just trying to earn more points. Anyone who has been reading about my journey for more than the past five minutes knows that I dissect every. single. judge's. comment. Yes, I try to earn more points because more points means progress. Progress comes by taking what the judge says and then working hard to apply it.
I guess it all comes down to this: competing in a sport that deliberately invites criticism is tough. Writing about that criticism and then sharing it with the rest of the world means you had better have a thick enough skin to withstand the negative feedback. On top of that, I ask readers to share their opinions here, whether I agree with them or not.
Really. What do you think?
I am not offering advice, I need some. I rode Izzy in rubber reins for several years until I felt that I needed something lighter. I switched to your basic web reins with hand stops. Those are working okay. For quite a few years, I've ridden Speedy in black laced reins. I know they're not too terribly traditional in the dressage court, but they're what I've liked until recently.
Unfortunately, the laced reins suddenly started giving me a painful callous on my left ring finger. The callous began forming about the same time that we started schooling Third Level in earnest. Sort of like how my left hip went wonky as soon as I started sitting the trot for Second Level. What do I get at Fourth? A broken leg? Sheesh.
I am using a pair of web reins on Speedy now, but they are absolutely lifeless in my hand. They're like poly lead ropes, limp and inanimate. That was the one thing I really liked about the laced reins, how "alive" they felt. Rubber reins are too "heavy" in my hand for Speedy, meaning I don't get the softer connection I like.
I asked my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, what she thought, and she recommended I give ThinLine Reins a try.
I've read the reviews, which seem overwhelmingly positive, but I'd like to hear why you all hate or love them. Do you like them with or without handstops? Do you like the ThinLine lined reins or the ThinLine English version? I am leaning towards the English version without handstops.
I also researched the cheapest place to get them, which seems like directly from ThinLine Global. Right now, they're selling for $90 which is a lot less than the $135 they go for at Dover or SmartPak. I am not sure if this is a sale price or if ThinLine regularly undersells their distributors.
So. Any advice for me?
Speedy is a wet noodle and extremely flexible. In most ways this is a good thing. In other ways, it means that he is the king of evading because packaging up a bowlful of cooked noodles is pretty difficult.
As a younger horse though, Speedy needed to see the chiropractor a lot. Back then, I could tell when he needed an adjustment. These days, he feels pretty good. In fact, he hasn't needed to see the chiropractor since February of 2016. And even that visit just required a "minor" adjustment.
When the saddle fitter found that Speedy was tight in his back though, I put in a call to my chiropractor. He was out the next day. Besides being a noodle, Speedy is also expensive. I spent a lot this winter at the vet dealing with his numerous injuries and issues. Last year was also expensive.
Izzy is the opposite of a noodle; he could use a weekly adjustment, but instead, he gets one every quarter. As I explained to CC, my chiropractor, when your wallet is not a deep pit of money, you tend to put out the biggest fires first. So even though Speedy probably would have benefitted from a visit a year or so ago, it just didn't happen.
Since Speedy hadn't been seen in several years, I was somewhat worried that CC was going to find an assortment of issues. To my relief, there were just a few things. He was out in his poll, a bit in the neck, and his lumbar region needed loosening up. It was all pretty basic though. Izzy has more issues every other month than Speedy did after three years!
By the time CC was finished, Speedy's eyes were much softer than I've seen them in quite a while. As CC ran his hands over Speedy's body looking for anything missed, it was obvious that the tightness was gone. If you've had your horses worked on, you know that sleepy look they get when they're feeling really good.
Even though CC was out last month to do Izzy, he just couldn't leave without checking on the big brown horse. Like I said, that horse could use a weekly adjustment. CC did his usual little tweaks: poll, ribs, and lumbar region. He had actually started on Izzy before I got there, which was a first, so he was just finishing when I walked up.
While it's tough to spend so much on things like saddle fittings and chiropractic work, I know that it keeps my horses healthier and definitely sounder. I don't buy and sell horses very often. That means I need to keep the ones I've got feeling their best so they can work well into their senior years.
I do wish people would stop inventing ways to help our horses feel better though. If I am not careful, I am going to be getting a horse communicator and family therapist out here. I want them to feel good, but there has to be a line somewhere!
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%: