From Endurance to Dressage
On Monday, the day after the Mid-Summer dressage show, I gave Izzy the day off and played around with Speedy. Even after all of these years, especially after all these years, Speedy still makes me laugh. I love him more each day. I gave him a good grooming, doctored a few little owies, and then set him loose. Lord have mercy! Now that he and Izzy don't charge up and down the fence line every day, Speedy needs an outlet for all of his energy. He charged around the yard for a good fifteen minutes. There is nothing like seeing your dressage horse galloping around to both make you grin like an idiot and pray fervently that he doesn't kill himself.
He's still so handsome!
When you go to the grocery store and use your debit card to pay, and it asks if you want cash back, do you think to yourself, "Yes! I DO want cash back. Someone else's, that is." I think it every. Single. Time. They say money won't buy you happiness, but I sure as hell would like to give it a try.
I must have needed some retail therapy last week. Either that, or I completely ran out of stuff to watch on Netflix, Prime, and Disney+, but since that can't be true, retail therapy it must have been. It all started with that fly mask I bought Izzy. (Which, by the way is now $11.98 with the discount code and no minimum for free shipping!) In order to get "free" shipping, I threw in a Kerrit's Sports Tank (in Walnut) that was 20% off the yellow ticketed price. At $18, how could I resist?
The problem with pulling out your credit card and leaving it on your desk next to your laptop is that it tends to get used. A lot. The next thing I knew, Amazon was reminding me about Prime Day. Yes, it's a made up holiday, and yes, Amazon suckered me in. Before I knew what was happening, I bought a five-pack of athletic wear t-shirts for $32.99. That's $6.59 a shirt.
The color block on the sides bumps these up a notch from your basic t-shirt, and the poly/spandex fabric means they're nice and stretchy. They're also super thin which makes them perfect for our scorching summer heat. And really, for the price, they're practically disposable, so who cares if they only last through one hot season.
While I was on the hunt for summer weight tops to freshen up my riding wardrobe, I also landed on these Champion tank tops. Have I mentioned how hot it is here in the summer? I bought three of them; ebony, ebony heather, and mulled berry. At $16.99 each, they weren't a great steal or anything, but they're exactly what I needed to replace some rather funky and stained tank tops.
While nine, new, summer riding shirts isn't that much of an extravagance, I didn't stop there. Dover suckered me in AGAIN with one of those 50% off TODAY ONLY deals. I usually resist, but this deal was for a pair of their Riding Sport™ Ladies’ Full-Seat Tech Tight. I have two pairs of these and really like them. They're not as nice as my new favorites, Esprit Equestrian, but at $24.99, I couldn't say no. I ordered them in this really pretty chocolate/olive combination. Oh, and to get free shipping, I through in a pair of one of my favorite socks (on sale!), the Noble Equestrian™ Over the Calf Peddies™.
It does seem a bit weird to be stocking up on summer wear in late July, but our heat lasts until Halloween, and even November can have some warm afternoons. Frankly, I was just sick to death of most of my summer day-to-day riding tops. All of them were really old, and most had pit and slobber stains front to back. When my new stuff arrived, I ruthlessly threw out a dozen or more tops. I like to stick to the strategy of bringing something in means something else must go. And usually, I toss out two old things to every new thing.
After I pay off this bill, I'll be ordering one last new thing, a new pair of Classic Esprit Equestrian breeches in either navy or chocolate or mahogany or white. Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy me a pair of breeches (or seven)!
We went to a CDS-Rated show on Sunday, and we actually made it into the ring this time. I know Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage is going to hate me saying this, but without some self-reflection, I can't grow. So here it is: while Izzy was FANTASTIC, I walked away disappointed in myself but with a much clearer picture of what I need to do for the next one.
Because she is one of the greatest human beings on Earth, my dearest friend in all the world came with me to the show to not only hold the Pivo so that Sean could coach me virtually, but she also recorded my test so that Sean and I could watch it later. We pulled into the Equestrian Center with plenty of time to let Izzy stand and rest. He wasn't naughty, but he was a bit anxious and high headed. After we checked in, got my number, and saddled up, we headed over to the warm up arena so we could start the Pivo Meet.
The instant I sat in the saddle, Izzy's back melted like butter. He was completely relaxed and workmanlike. He acted as though he's been to a hundred shows and this one was no different. Sean joined me virtually, but before I could even pick up a trot, the connection was broken. My phone had overheated when the sun beat down on the screen. I quickly walked over to where Kathy was holding my Pivo. I jumped down, threw her the reins, grabbed the Pivo, and sprinted to my trailer. I grabbed two cold packs from the ice chest and sandwiched the phone between them. Within just a minute, the temperature of my phone dropped and I was able to text Sean. I restarted the Pivo Meet and handed everything back to Kathy along with a cold pack. We repositioned her in a less strategic location, but there was more shade. I was certain that was the end of Izzy's relaxed attitude.
I got back in the saddle and found the same relaxed and willing horse underneath me. I on the other hand, couldn't breath. My chest was tight, my legs would not hang, and my shoulders were up around my ears. Sean worked very hard to help me focus on my riding, but I was fighting a near debilitating anxiety. I couldn't even explain it to myself. I have been showing successfully for more than a decade, but the years of riding such a tense horse have made me defensive. Sean urged me to forget about the judge, the score, the act of showing itself and simply focus on riding my horse. I tried, I really did.
At the show we did in May, our plan was simple: we would only show if the warm up was fantastic. The warm up went well, and by the time we were done, Izzy was quiet and relaxed, but we opted not to show because we wanted to end on a very positive feeling. For this show, the entire warm up was brilliant. Izzy never once put a foot out of place or acted anxious. I was the one who was being a Looney Tune. Sean reminded me that Izzy was taking his cue from me, so I needed to focus on my riding. My mouth said yes, but my body just couldn't let go of the stiffness.
Before I knew it, it was time. I don't know when we made the decision to actually show, but suddenly we were at the in-gate with Sean reminding me to ride my horse. I pulled out my ear buds, ended the Meet, and headed through the gate. I greeted the judge, took a deep breath, and walked Izzy toward A. When I heard the bell ring, I asked Izzy to pick up a trot, but as we neared the end of the arena, he got a look at the cow pens below the arena and told me no for the first time all day. I truly did not care about the time or whether we made it in or not. I just asked again until he was willing to walk past. We picked up the trot just as we entered at A.
I made one pretty big error - for the free walk, which should have been from E-F, I rode it from H-F. I tried to hide the mistake by drifting a bit towards the E-F line, but the judge caught it and docked us the 2 points. Fortunately, she didn't ring the bell but let me carry on. She also hated his free walk all together. She couldn't know that it was the first free walk he has ever done in a test without jigging. It earned a 10 in my mind, but she gave it a 4 plus the 2 point deduction for the course error. That one movement killed our overall score. I don't care though, really I don't. We earned a nice string of 6.0s, but we also had three 5.0s, all of which had coefficients of 2. We also had a 6.5 and two 7.0s for a total of 56.538%. We missed a 60% by 9 points, most of which were lost in the free walk.
While I am incredibly proud of Izzy, I am disappointed in myself. If I had actually ridden every stride instead of sitting there hoping he kept it together, I could have fixed much of what the judge noted in her remarks. There were moments were I was actively riding, but not enough of them. During the warm up, Sean asked me what my goal was for the day. I told him that I thought we might make it into the ring. Nope. That was wrong. Since I didn't know what my goal was, I told him he had better tell me what it should be. Your goal is to RIDE your horse! was the answer.
I get it now. I tried to ride my horse; I really did. I rode him some of the time, but next month, my goal will be to ride him the ENTIRE time. So yes, I am disappointed in myself, but I do acknowledge that I did a lot right. Sean reminds me again and again that when Izzy is listening and working with me, it is because of my hard work. He was relaxed in the warm up because I had done everything right. He did what I asked for (as puny as my requests might have been) in the show ring because of my hard work. Now that Izzy has let me take control, I have to honor that gift by demonstrating that I can actually be in control and make good decisions for the two of us.
I didn't admit it to Sean or Kathy, but one of the reasons that I was so disappointed in myself was that I was very aware that Izzy was carrying me that day. I used to ask that of Speedy all the time. When the pressure of trying to do well would make me freeze, I always knew that Speedy had my back. He was famous for saying, "hold on; I got you." As I rode, I thanked Izzy for shouldering the load for the both of us even though I knew it should have been me supporting him. He did more than his part on Sunday, and I felt like I let him down just a little bit.
As I rode the test, I was distinctly aware of the complete silence from the bleachers. It was as though everyone held their breath along with me. When we finally halted at X and I saluted the judge, there was a very enthusiastic round of applause. Everyone there knows my story, but rather than judging my mistakes, I could feel their desire for us to do well. They wanted Izzy to succeed as much as I did. That silent support was very much appreciated.
Do I wish I had ridden better? Yes. Am I discouraged? No. In fact, I am especially encouraged as I know what needs to be done. That's what Sean was hoping for. We needed to see where we are. Now that we've slowly peeled back the layers of our showing issues, it seems that the next layer is all about me. I can handle that. I have a three-day boot camp at STC Dressage planned beginning this Friday. I have a feeling that Sean might be working on my need to ride every single stride.
I say bring it because I want our next show to be one where I can tell Izzy, I got you!
Do you all remember this song ...
That song was stuck in my head for a long while, but instead of Meghan Trainor's lyrics, I would sing ...
Because you know I'm all about that bend
'Bout that bend, no trouble
I'm all about that bend, 'bout that bend, no trouble
I'm all about that bend, 'bout that bend, no trouble
I'm all about that bend, 'bout that bend (bend, bend, bend, bend.)
Seriously, try to get that song out of your head especially with my word substitutions. Sorry, not sorry. You'll thank me later.
Anywhoodle ... I had my regular weekly lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage on Saturday. The theme for the past year has been control. How to get Izzy to let me have it, and then how to keep it once I do get it. Over the year, Sean has helped me differentiate between forcing and enforcing, keeping my emotions out of my riding, and finding ways to get Izzy working with me instead of against me.
All of that means that we are now working almost exclusively on stuff rather than staying in the ring while being mostly in a dressage frame. I say mostly because Pivo lost me on Saturday as Izzy balked at the canter in the corner and chose to exit stage right. When Sean aimed Pivo in my general direction, there was a moment of puzzlement as to why we were off course. Despite that particular one-off moment, we're mostly on course these days and mostly in a respectable frame.
One area in which we still struggle is staying round and working over the back across the diagonal. We can shoulder-in/renvers/travers down the long side and even up centerline all day long because ... say it with me ... I'm all about that bend, 'bout that bend, no trouble. When we cross the diagonal though, Izzy grabs that opportunity to push his under-neck muscle against me and hollow his back. Since there's an expectation of straightness, I've really struggled with how to keep him round.
Sean's suggestion was so simple. Instead of over-collecting him with vertical flexion to achieve "roundness" which has been my solution, Sean suggested I over exaggerate the lateral bend in the corner and maintain a slight bend as I cross the diagonal. And to really aid Izzy in maintaining his balance, Sean encouraged me to wait before changing to the new bend until just before the other long side, especially when doing a rising trot. Of course it worked brilliantly. With slight bend, Izzy can't push his under neck muscle out. Sean predicts that it will take just a few rides to show Izzy this new "habit" of not pushing against me.
Maintaining bend has been Sean's solution for a lot of our issues. When cantering down the long side and asking for a transition to trot, same thing. Maintain a slight bend so that Izzy can't push back against me and drop his back. The more I can bend this horse, the more it teaches him to bring his inside hind under and his back up. When he can't push that under-neck muscle, he is able to use his body so much more effectively.
I guess I need to put "All About That Bass" back on my playlist to remind me to use the bend more often.
We are now on rabbit number four. The first rabbit lived for two years or so. The next two didn't last more than a few months. Our newest friend seems pretty smart. Just like her predecessors, she has learned to come out when I arrive because she knows she gets fed. I call her a she, but who knows? Bunny might be a he.
Besides giving her a handful of rice bran every day, she eats all the alfalfa leaves that she could possibly want. Other people bring her fruits and veggies, so she is definitely well-fed. I also clean and fill a water bowl for her. You can see it in the photo above. The bowl sits underneath the old stock trailer that I use as a place to tie up the horses for grooming and saddling.
Either the bunny is cautious or the horses are, because she never gets too much underfoot. The first bunny we had would sit quietly as the horses sniffed along her back, and she would even sniff noses with them. This bunny isn't quite as brave. Besides the bunny, we also have a new friend, a ground squirrel.
While the ground squirrels dig big holes in undesirable places, I just can't find it in my heart to send him packing. It has taken him some time to recognize me as a "friend," but little by little he has decided that I mean him no harm. He also seems to have figured out that the water and rice bran are for him as well. Bunny and squirrel seem to get along quite nicely for now.
As long as the squirrel minds his Ps and Qs, he can stay. If new holes start appearing anywhere near where I walk the horses, he might not find me quite so pleasant. I am starting to feel a bit like a Disney princess though with all of my woodland creatures coming out to greet me.
If any of them start singing though, they're history!
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%