From Endurance to Dressage
Trail Ride #6
Sydney got Thursday off as Speedy was begging to do some work. That was a very interesting ride with a great take-away, but telling it will have to wait for another time. While I was riding Speedy out on the trail, Sydney was turned out where he galloped and galloped. He was probably due for some mindless exercise.
On Friday, we trooped back out to The Field for another go round. If nothing else, these rides have reduced my anxiety and fear of him bolting across the black top. Now, I find that I am bored by his shenanigans and just wish he would get over it already. I am pretty sure that's a positive move.
An interesting thing happened as we walked out of the drive way: from behind, I heard the rumble of what sounded like a dirt bike. A glance over my shoulder revealed a dune buggy driven by two teenage girls who were giggling and lost in their own Friday antics. I quickly turned Sydney to face the roaring beast as the girls zipped by us, unaware that they were going a bit too fast. I sat deep, fearing a bolt and spin, but was instead baffled by Sydney's complete lack of interest. WTH? How is that not spooky when trotting in a grass field creates a fire breathing dragon?
As the girls in the dune buggy went one way, we went the other way to the grass field. Sydney was very relaxed and even strolled by the dogs without spooking or tensing. As soon as we hit the grass, Sydney begged to graze, but I asked for some work first. He happily picked up a trot to the left. he was supple, quiet, and really listening to my half halts. I had a gigantic grin on my face. I did a couple of changes of direction and made sure that we trot equally to the left and right.
I realized that this was the perfect day to ask for a canter. Sydney read my mind and rolled into a lovely left lead canter. He was quiet, submissive, and very relaxed. I brought him back to a trot and then asked for a walk. He immediately stretched down for a bite of grass, and I let him. He walked and grazed, stretching his neck.
I was grinning like an idiot. It's a large field with undulating terrain. It is a fairway after all. There's also a small lake in the distance and a large grove of trees on one side. I fully recognized that cantering in a space that wide open is a nice step forward for us.
After he had grazed for a few minutes, I asked him to go back to work. I wanted to do a quick canter to the right and then call it a day. Unfortunately, or not, depending on your view point, the neighbors came out into the yard at about the same time. They were about 75 yards away, but it was just enough of a distraction to grab Sydney's attention.
I spent the next 30 minutes trying to get it back. We did small circles, counter bends, changes of direction, but nothing worked. He was pissed that I was insisting on maintaining his attention. He squealed a few times, tried to bolt a few times, and just generally threw a temper tantrum. Eventually, I realized I wasn't getting anywhere, so when he asked to walk, I just did a million neck flexes to the left and right and then worked on halting without needing to pull back.
It took quite a few minutes before he would actually halt and stand still, but he did it. I could see the wheels spinning in his head. He finally decided to use his powers for good. I was disappointed that I couldn't get any decent work to the right, but then I reminded myself that we had cantered in an open field where just a few days ago he had refused to even walk.
I'll ride this morning, but I am not sure what my plan should be. I know I'll start in the arena as I want to get some relaxed canter work done to remind him that yes, he can work nicely. I don't know if I'll work in the field or not; I would really like to end the day on a positive note with nothing to cause me to worry. I also need to give him a bath and braid his mane.
Really, I have no expectations for the show. I have a feeling that things will go pretty much as they have been, but I suspect that I will have much more control during the warm up. We ride Intro C at 10:21 which means I won't have to leave at 5:00 a.m. - yah for that! I ride Training Level Test 1 at 11:04 which gives me a half of an hour between the two tests in case I need to work him some more. My plan is to be on him by about 9:15 a.m. for my warm-up. I think he is going to need a full hour to figure out that listening to my aids is his best option.
I'll keep you posted.
Trail Ride #5
Since Tuesday's ride had gone off with no real drama, I knew I had to find yet another way to challenge Sydney, and myself by extension. I am sure some of you are wondering why I feel the need to keep pushing his envelope. It's not because I want to master tail riding or anything, I've been there and done that. A lot. For many years. Over thousands of miles.
The only way I can simulate the tension that Sydney shows me in the show ring is to find places near home where he feels the same tension. So far, that appears to be most anywhere outside of the arena. As he gets comfortable in each place, I have to keep stretching to find a new place that causes tension.
My plan for Wednesday, which was still hot as holy hell by the way (99℉), was to skip the neighborhood loop and go straight to the grass field. I again gave Sydney a quick shower, saddled him up, and left the barn area. As anticipated, he dove for the grass, but this time I said, no, and urged him forward.
We passed the two barking labs with a small spook, but he came back to me very quickly and we continued on. Once we arrived at the field, I sent him in a circle in the grass. We road a circle or two at the walk, and then I let him graze. We did this a few times, moving down, and further into the field, after each circle.
When I thought that he was relaxed and listening, I asked for a trot. It wasn't great work, but at least it wasn't a hell bent for leather kind of thing either. He wasn't super round or completely on the bit, but his mouth was dripping foam, and he gave some really good stretches. There were also a few tense moments where I had to make the circle smaller and remind him that my spur was there, and I was prepared to use it!
We worked for a good twenty minutes and then made the turn for home. As we entered the last grove of trees, I have to duck a bit, Sydney saw an opportunity and threw a small fit that involved some crow hopping. Drat! I righted myself and sent him in some circles that required a ton of effort on his part. It seemed to send him a message. As we entered the driveway, I spent some time working on halts.
Each day, Sydney has shown drastic improvement. My secret goal (although not so secret now), is to work him in the field at walk, trot, canter without feeling like an explosion is imminent. At the walk, check. At the trot, mostly check. I don't know if I can get to the canter before Sunday's show.
We've made a ton of progress in a week, but I just don't know if it's enough.
Trail Ride #4
With no turnout or riding on Monday, I was a wee bit worried about what kind of wild child I might have in Sydney for Tuesday's ride. It was still hot, 101℉, but the humidity had fallen, there was a breeze (like a blow dryer), and the sky was clear. I can ride in that kind kind of heat.
Sydney seemed pleased to see me which was encouraging. I gave him 15 minutes to eat dinner while I cleaned stalls. Since it was so hot, I gave him a quick shower and saddled him while he was still wet. He had done a great job riding the loop to the left, so I knew it was time to challenge him again by riding the loop in the opposite direction. You know, the whole right eye, left eye thing.
We walked out of the driveway and turned left. Sydney immediately yanked the reins out of my hands to graze. Booyah! Normally, that would be considered somewhat rude, but when you're riding a horse who has shown an exceptional ability at bolting and rearing, that low level rudeness is tolerated, and maybe even welcomed.
I asked him to pick up his head and we continued on. To the next patch of grass where he again insisted on grazing. Okay, now. This is a horse of a different color!
I let him graze a few more times, like 20, but then I told him that this was serious business and we had a schedule to keep. Move it, Dude! When we made the turn to Dog Alley, that's what I am now calling that section with six dogs on one side and two on the other, he did get a little bit high, but I just pulsed my ring fingers while adding leg and just repeated, put your head down, put your head down, put your head down. And he did.
When we got to the back side of the barn, I was expecting some resistance when I asked him to continue on to the dirt road. There wasn't any. And Speedy wasn't helping as he whinnied his head off for us. Sydney just motored on by. The dirt road, the Field of Dreams (I do have a sense of humor), was now on Sydney's left. We never even stepped into the grass. There was no circling. He simply marched down the middle of the road, strolled by the neighbor's two labs, and made the final turn to home where he of course tried to graze his way into his stall.
The whole thing took about 20 minutes. I was quite pleased with his effort, especially since doing things in the opposite directions is usually like starting brand new. Not this boy; he seems to be ambidextrous, or at least able to use his right and left brain equally!
A new challenge tomorrow!
Monday Was a Bust
But first, please let me say thank you to all of you for your many comments. Holy cow, I think I have tapped into a serious vein here. This little topic seems to be resonating with many different people!
I always try and respond to all of your comments as I appreciate that someone has taken the time to let me know what they think, but in this case, you guys are overwhelming me! I went back to work this week so my writing time has been slashed, but please know that I read every comment with interest, and I visit all of the links you share. Right now, I am not sure I can respond to every comment.
With that said, onward to Monday's non-ride. Our summer weather, normally brutal at this time of year, has been extra mild. It's been in the low 90s with low humidity accompanied by afternoon breezes. Can't hardly complain about that. Sunday's weather was very humid, but the temperatures were fairly low, mid 80s. By Monday morning, the humidity had risen to an unbearable level, and the mountains around us were experiencing heavy thunder and lightening.
By afternoon, it was 108℉ (42.2℃) with excessive humidity and non-stop thunder. The national extreme (in Death Valley) was only 113℉, just five degrees warmer. It was hot, too hot to be riding. I was supposed to have a lesson at 4:45, but even I realized that those are pretty unsafe conditions in which to be working outside. I called JL and cancelled.
I really wanted to ride because we've been on such a solid roll that I didn't want to let a single day pass with no work. I have no fear while riding Sydney in the arena (mine or JL's). We long ago conquered that elephant. I really wanted to share with JL how our lesson in Tehachapi went and get her feedback, but it just wasn't a safe riding day.
Tuesday, on the other hand, gave me a whole new opportunity. More on that ride tomorrow.
Trail Ride #3
You are either finding this detailed struggle interesting, or you're bored as hell. I apologize for the dog with a bone choice of topics, but I am determined to win this battle. I think I deserve a fist bump for Sunday's ride.
I started with a quick ride in the arena just to work on softening our canter transition, apparently I have a tendency to pull back there as well, and then we head out to do The Loop. No Drama. We did it in 10 minutes. Yes, you read that correctly, 10 minutes! The first day it took an hour, and the second time it took 20 minutes. I'd say we've made progress.
Near the beginning, he needed one little reminder circle to help him focus. The rest of the time, I used my legs and pulsed my ring fingers to tell him to get his head back down where it belonged. When he ignored my fingers, I picked up the reins and insisted that he flex his poll to the right and left. As soon as the stiffness was gone from his neck, I gave him all the rein back.
When we passed through the far end of the loop where there are barking dogs on both sides, I noticed that the house on the left had every dog in the yard - 3 HUGE Mastiffs and three little yappy things. The house to the right had two big dogs. Sydney marched right down the middle of a single lane road with all EIGHT dogs barking furiously at him through wrought iron fences. He had Eeyore ears the whole way. Woo hoo!!!!!
There was no way I was quitting after only 10 minutes so we continued on to the dirt loop. The barn owners were parked in the middle of the road with a wooden pole lying over a wheelbarrow with an electric saw and a big orange extension cord. I stopped to chat while they dragged everything to the side so that we could pass. No drama. We then passed by the neighbor's two large labs who did bark at us today; still no drama.
The grass field was next. As Sydney stepped onto the grass, he thought about getting a bit high, but I put him into a 10-meter circle with a lot of inside leg and told him he could trot all he wanted. He made it through several circles before he decided that walking seemed like a better idea.
Instead of making circles to the end of the field, we did loops instead - at the walk. At one point, he begged to stretch his neck so I gave him the rein all the way to the buckle. He ambled along with his nose touching the ground for a bit before he realized that he was walking on grass and that he really likes to eat grass. FINALLY!
He grazed a bit and then we head on back towards home. We passed though our fence with a dry coat. My BO was working in the garage so we stopped and chat with her for a few minutes until Sydney realized that rooting the reins out of my hands wasn't going to happen. I untacked him and gave him lots of love and cookies.
I have no idea how Sunday's show is going to go. I don't know if I am just desensitizing him to our trail, or if he is getting the concept that ignoring my aids is a lot of work. I think I need to ride the loops backwards this week and see what I get. He's also getting the Focus Equine, but I don't think that is having any affect yet.
As before, my confidence is growing which can't do anything but help.
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%: