From Endurance to Dressage
I have a really great team of professionals who keep my horses fit and healthy. My vet, farrier, chiropractor, trainer, and saddle fitter are all genuinely concerned about the well-being of my two boys as well as my success as a competitor. Unfortunately, they rarely get to meet - how cool would that be?, but I make sure to pass on any observations to the team member who most needs to know.
Even though she was out less than a year ago, I was able to have Tina Fitch, saddle fitter extraordinaire, out on Wednesday to evaluate my saddle's fit. I use the same saddle on both horses, so I am pretty vigilant about keeping up on its suitability for what, at first glance, looks like two, totally different shaped bodies. Speedy is 15'1 with good withers and a well sprung ribcage. Izzy is 16'3 also with well formed withers and a lot of back.
Even though my saddle has felt balanced while I ride, I decided that with the move to Third Level, it was worth having it looked at again sooner than expected. It didn't take Tina long to say that everything was in great shape; no adjustment was needed. She liked the fit better on Speedy and reminded me that she doesn't love it on Izzy, but with careful placement of my half pad, it still works.
I didn't get off scot-free though. Before she even looks at a saddle, Tina always gives the horse a pretty thorough hands-on exam. Seeing where a horse is tight or tender gives her an idea of what she might expect to find on the saddle. To her surprise, and mine, she immediately discovered that Speedy's back was pretty tight. That's the first time she's ever noticed anything amiss.
She asked a lot of questions - was my trainer happy with my position? I think so. Has Speedy been behaving differently? He's been kind of grumpy. What pad am I using? The same one as last time. Try as she might, she just couldn't find an issue with the saddle that would account for the tightness in his back.
I told her that we made the move to Third Level this year which has meant an increase in Speedy's workload. She agreed that the work we were doing could explain the tightness, as could just general anxiety associated with his "winter of woe." I had told her about the three abscesses, the Cushing's diagnosis, the lacerations to his front legs, the knocked out tooth, and the recent bubble wrap debacle. His pasterns are nearly healed by the way.
Tina shook her head in amazement and said that all of that combined stress could have just added up to a tense, sore back. While she was working on the other two saddles, I put in a call to my chiropractor. He was at a cutting show, but assured me he'd make it to the ranch within a day or two to give Speedy a check. Like I said, I have a great team of professionals.
While a saddle fitting isn't free, getting a professional evaluation of my horses' backs and comfort level is worth the fee. What I thought was just grumpiness as Speedy recovers from his woeful winter, might actually be due to some soreness. And if my chiropractor can adjust him before it turns into something more serious, the saddle fitting (and chiropractor) fee will be more than worth it.
Asking my horses to work so hard for me means that I owe them these small courtesies. They're worth it.
As my abilities develop, my confidence both waxes and wanes. One minute I am the world's greatest rider, and the next leaves me feeling as though I should sell everybody and move on to something else. We've all felt that way, I know.
Earlier in the year, a rider contacted me wanting to know about Bakersfield's dressage scene. She had just moved here and was getting ready to show at Third Level. I was excited because that was right where we were, and everyone knows misery loves company.
Fair warning. I am a score stalker. When you say you're showing Third Level or Second Level or PSG, I'm going to look you up and see if your stats support your claim - especially if we're going to be building a relationship. I quickly discovered that this particular rider had shown a few times at Training Level in 2018. That was the extent of her showing experience.
The next time I heard anything about her, 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.
Writing about my journey so publicly, I know it is impossible to fool anyone. I use my real name. I use Speedy's real name. I make it incredibly easy for anyone to check my "credentials." I post more blooper photos than I do of the carefully selected screen shots even though they paint a lovelier picture. For that matter, I post videos of our rides with the score sheets attached. There is no way I can claim to be anything other than what we are.
So why do I write this blog? Why do I show everyone the ugly moments? The truth is that when I jumped into this dressage thing, I couldn't find any resources for a low level beginner like myself. Of course, that was before Twitter and Instagram and the explosion of social media. I decided that I'd be that resource for someone else. I knew that if I was struggling, others had to be as well.
I've always referred to myself as a low level rider, but I think I need to adjust that moniker. While it feels arrogant and over-stepping, I think I should now consider myself a member of the mid-level ranks. That's going to take some confidence to pull off though. It's not that I don't think I belong there because I do. It's just that I don't want people thinking that I think I am better than I really am.
All of which brings me to the lyrics of a song by Devin Dawson that have really resonated with me lately. The line comes from his song, "Dark Horse." In it he sings, "No, it ain't that I'm self-conscious, I'm just conscious of myself. And I don't know how to be nobody else." To me, that's confidence - an honest awareness of yourself and your abilities.
Confidence is defined as a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities. While I certainly struggle, I am also quick to recognize my strengths. Because of that awareness, I think I'd rather identify myself as a struggling rider and surprise myself rather than label myself accomplished and prove myself to be very, very wrong.
What do you think?
The first time here.
Our Third Level Test 3s were pretty similar to the Test 1s, if maybe slightly better. Still no 60%s, but again, if it weren't for that one movement ...
Seriously, doesn't this look familiar?
It should, because it looked exactly like the nonexistent left to right flying change during 3-1 (below) which earned a 1.0. Guess what the nonexistent change above scored? Bingo, another 1.0. And if we didn't get our 60% during test 1 with a non-flying change, we sure as heck weren't going to get it at test 3 with another non-flying change.
Aside from some disastrous changes, the Test 3s weren't too shabby. The walk and trot work was mostly where it needed to be. Our turns on the haunches scored 7.0, 6.5, 6.5, and 5.5 (not sure what happened on the last one, but it was wonky.) Our half circles earned 6.0s and 6.5s. Our last extended trot even earned a 7.0.
The trot half passes are still developing, but we did earn a 6.0 on one of them. The last section of the test - an extended canter to a collected canter to a collected trot and finished off with two left turns to the halt, is really fun to ride. We had a lone 5.5 for a transition from collected canter to trot, but outside of that, we earned a handful of 6.5s and even a 7.0 during those last four movements, both times. Too bad none of them carry a double coefficient.
To my relief, we finally got both of the flying changes on Sunday's Test 3. We were rewarded with a 6.5 for the first one and a 6.0 for the second one. During one of the judge's breaks, she walked past me and congratulated me on getting the changes. The missed changes must have been pretty memorable for the judge to recognize me even in my shorts and Symphony Dressage sun shirt! I thanked her for her feedback and joked that changes are even harder when the canter is broken. She laughed good-naturedly and encouraged me to keep at it.
No matter what kind of scores I get at a show, I always learn something. Being at a show causes my mental neurons to fire like crazy. I absorb everything like a gigantic sponge. In turn, I ride with this scary intensity as I struggle to put it all together. Struggle being the operative word.
At one point, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, yelled something like think haunches in as you blah, blah, blah. I rolled my eyes at her as I cantered past telling her that I had no room for that last piece of advice as I was already trying to remember to do the other hundred things she had already told me to do. She laughed.
Despite the teary moments, or maybe even because of them, I had a great time. And really, having fun has to be the number one goal at a show. If it's not fun, it's not really worth spending so much time and money doing it. I learned a lot that I've already used this week while riding both Speedy and Izzy, and I am eagerly looking forward to our next show in just over a week. While it is only CDS-rated, my feelings won't be hurt to earn a 60% there.
Below are the score sheets if you're interested - Saturday's on the left and Sunday's on the right. Below those are the videos of each day's Third Level Test 3 rides.
Saturday's Test 3 here.
Sunday's Test 3 here.
I do have one final thought: I am actually showing Third Level, and that fact on its own makes me giddy with happiness. If Second level sucks, Third Level is awesome!
How is it possible to be so disappointed, yet at the same time, have the time of your life? Because that's what this weekend was all about; chagrin followed immediately by merriment. Despondency followed by hilarity. Plain old frustration followed by good natured laughter.
Progress toward earning my USDF Bronze medal is the same as it was on Friday; we have our First and Second Level scores, but we're still missing the two scores from Third Level. I am not going to say we haven't made any progress though as I am gaining a ton of experience by missing the mark. It's expensive experience for sure, but showing is how I learn what we're good at and what needs improving.
I learned that our trot work, when I use the corners effectively and half halt at least occasionally, is Third Level worthy. We're not getting 8.0s, but we rarely did at First or Second either, and there is no shame in that. For Third Level test 1, our collected and medium trot work was firmly in the 6.0 - 7.0 range. The trot half passes at 3-1 were a bit sketchy on Saturday - we lacked a correction position, but I was able to mostly fix that for Sunday's test. We improved our scores from 4.0s/5.0s to 5.5s/6.0s.
The rein back and the turns on the haunches were also just fine. We earned respectable 6.0s and 7.0s. I can hear you asking if you're so solid at Third, why aren't you pulling in those 60% scores? Well, I'll tell you. Speedy's canter got broken this weekend. The best example? He threw in a flying lead change during the medium canter. What the what?! was all I could say.
I am not kidding. Here it is. I can sort of see how it was my fault as I was desperately trying to half halt him so I could get the collected canter. He felt me pick up that outside rein and thought Change? Now? Well if you insist.
On Sunday's Third Level Test 1, we would have had a qualifying score but for one movement. One movement. Speedy would not give me the flying change from left to right. He was set up for it, he looked and felt ready for it, but he would not. Out of sheer desperation, I rocked him back as hard as I could onto his haunches, and he still gave me an emphatic NO. By that point, I had run out of long side and needed to trot at C. What did it look like, that moment of rocking him back on his butt? A lot like this ...
We earned a 1.0 for our nonexistent flying change of lead. With a double coefficient, that movement is worth 20 points. We earned 2. Yeah, that will pretty much kill any shot at a 60%. Way back in the beginning, I had goals like no 5.0s on a test. That's pretty much my goal now except that I need to add a clarification: no 5.0s or lower!
Like I said, highs and lows ... Just as we passed C, preparing for the medium trot (HXF), the judge rang her bell and told me that I was supposed to halt at C. Morgan, Chemaine's daughter, was reading for me, and I know the test pretty well. I was 100% certain I was NOT supposed to halt at C, so I sat at F waiting for the judge to realize her mistake. She gave an audible oops, and apologized profusely. This has actually happened to me before. The judge told me to carry on.
What made it so funny to me was that I didn't feel as though I had revved Speedy up sufficiently for the medium trot anyway. We were coming into it kind of flat, so once the judge sent me back around, I was able to get better organized. She gave us a 6.5 for the medium trot. I don't know if it was because it was a good medium or she just felt guilty. I was happy with the score either way. I usually find it's better to laugh than to get upset, and it was kind of funny.
While I had a great time, I won't lie. I was pretty disappointed at missing that 60%, and there were some teary moments as proof. We're really close though. and it will happen. Maybe not this summer, but we'll get those two scores eventually. Here are both of the Third Level test 1 videos as well as the score sheets side by side. Saturday's 3-1 scores are on the left, and Sunday's 3-1 scores are on the right. The videos, if you're so inclined, follow.
Saturday's Third Level Test 1 here.
Sunday's Third Level Test 1 here.
Third Level Test 3(s) tomorrow ...
Show recap tomorrow. In the meantime ...
Man, that sucker is intense. It's not hard in the way that Second was - Second Level, YOU SUCK!, but it's not easy either. The trot work is well within our wheel house; I even find it fun. The canter work is where it gets tricky.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, talked me into ditching 3-2 in favor of 3-3. There's not a whole lot of difference between the two until you get to the canter half pass. It's longer, wider, and you have to straighten it out before making a 10-meter half circle followed by the flying change at X (or near X).
Lateral work is Speedy's nemesis; he hates it. He's willing to offer softness OR a lateral movement, but not both at the same time. He's willing to half pass OR canter, again not at the same time. With a show only days away (I wrote this last week :0), I was feeling pretty frustrated. I might have even cried a little bit. Thankfully, Chemaine was able to come down for a lesson on Wednesday morning.
One of the things I most respect about Chemaine as a trainer is that she always asks me how things are going, knowing that I am going to rattle off a list of what needs fixing. I so appreciate that she trusts my feelings about where we are. She doesn't just consult her agenda and insist we stick to that plan. And then, even though it's on the spot, she is able to instantly devise an exercise to address whatever struggle I am having. It's one of her super powers for sure.
After I had finished with my little melt down, she had me work first on softness at the canter. That meant picking it up from the walk softly. If he braced, we came back to walk and did it again. If he hung on my inside rein AT ALL, we walked and did it again. It was amazing how quickly Speedy realized that why yes, he is able to canter and be soft at the same time.
Then we moved on to the canter half pass. The idea was the same. As soon as he made a mistake, and Chemaine was very clear that it wasn't me making the mistake this time, we walked, BUT WE KEPT HALF PASSING. That was the crucial part. Speedy has figured out that if he braces, I'll either whack him forward, or circle. In either case he gets out of the half pass.
With Chemaine's exercise, he had to half pass even if it was at the walk. And there was lots of half pass at the walk because as soon as he quit moving off my leg, I insisted he walk AND CONTINUE HALF PASSING. It never got perfect, but at least we were finally going in a somewhat recognizable sideways direction at the canter.
Then Chemaine had me ride the second half of the test: 1) canter half pass left, half circle, flying change; 2) canter half pass right, half circle, flying change; 3) extended canter, collected canter, trot and centerline.
It is clear that we are still a "developing" Third Level pair, but at least the movements are there and worth scoring. Ww had follow-up lesson on Friday afternoon at the show. I'll let you know how we did.
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%: