From Endurance to Dressage
The thing I most like about big shows is that I always come home a better rider. I don't know if being in that environment just inspires me, but I wish I could bottle that atmosphere and spritz it on as needed.
Even though I was dog tired on Monday (after the show), I took Sydney to a lesson. I took Tuesday off, but then we had another lesson on Wednesday, and I also rode him on Thursday. By Friday, I was completely wiped out and took that day off too.
JL wanted to focus on our canter to trot transition. We're not sure what has happened, but Sydney's right lead canter is now far softer, rounder, and much prettier than his left. It could be that we just improved the right lead so much that it's giving the left lead a bad name. Whatever the case, the downward to the right is pretty decent, but to the left, we go completely downhill in the transition.
Every time we move to something new, Sydney takes a step backward. This week was no exception. After about the third downward transition, Sydney threw in the towel and quit. Interestingly, his tantrum was so obviously just that, that JL was actually laughing about his shenanigans. Six months ago, she would have been quite concerned for my safety, as would I have been, but this week, she giggled every time he squealed and shook his head.
And to my credit, I just shook my head and RODE HIM! My confidence level is getting higher and higher on this horse, some of which is certainly due to my recent success with Speedy G. In a discussion after one of the lessons, I asked JL how much of Sydney's tension is because of me. She made it clear that it's not me; this horse just has baggage. He's still the same horse he was three years ago, but I have become a much stronger rider, and I have helped him by explaining things to him so that he understands what I want.
I say all of this because I had a break-though of sorts when I rode yesterday. I wanted to work on the left lead downward transitions, but after one or two, Sydney decided that it was too hard, and he didn't want to do it. He got super tense and stiff. The kind of tense where he is trying to bolt and has his head jacked up in the air to avoid the contact.
JL's words rang in my head: he will be as heavy as I let him be. And somehow, a massive light bulb went on. This had nothing to do with a downward transition and everything to do with being heavy on the forehand.
I abandoned the canter work and decided to get him off my hands, carrying his own weight. For EVERY SINGLE STRIDE that was heavy, I rocked the rein and sat tall while adding leg, lots of leg. And I rocked it firmly. If he would let go for even an instant, I softened. I don't know how long it took or how many times we rode that 20-meter circle, but little by little, he let go of that inside, right rein and started to carry his own head. He got light on the reins and his whole body turned to putty.
I rode him counter flexed for half the circle and then put him on a true bend for the second half of the circle. We did it over and over. I realized that when we track left, I have been losing his outside shoulder by letting it bulge out. When that happens, my outside rein is useless. And if I ask for any flexion with the inside rein, it just sends his shoulder out further. By doing the counter bending, I got control of his shoulder which then allowed the outside rein to go through. Epiphany!
By the time we finished, we were making ten-meter turns, figures of eight, and doing a variety of changes of direction with absolutely no tension and zero moments of hollowness. He was long and low and chewing the bit softly.
I was so incredibly proud of myself. It was the first time that I have been able to supple him so completely by myself. In fact, he was the most supple that I have ever seen him. His whole body moved like warm taffy. It was absolutely delightful.
I'v been meaning to share this for a while, but there's been so much else happening that I kind of let it go until now. Have you ever used these jelly scrubbers?
Seriously. You could take every brush out of my grooming bag and leave me with just this one. Over the summer, this thing has become my go-to grooming tool. Speedy absolutely loves the thing and has gotten to the point where he BEGS for it each morning. Really. He does.
As soon as I pull in, he walks away from his food and starts talking to me. If I clean his stall first thing, he gets as close to me as he possibly can and starts shimmying along my side until I get the jelly scrubber. Once I start, he simply melts.
Not only does he love how it feels, but that thing gets out serious amounts of dirt and loose hair.
It also makes scrubbing legs a lot easier. And you know that gunk that geldings get on their hind legs? This thing loosens that stuff too without being painful.
And anything that makes Speedy feel like this, is totally worth the money, especially since it costs less than a coffee at Starbucks!
So … here I am, back home, having had some time to think. I learned a lot at this show about sportsmanship in general and about what kind of competitor I am. I mentioned before that I had several experiences to chew on, so this post will be a collection of short stories (starting with one long one). Here's the first one.
Most everyone was friendly at the show. I find that to be the case most of the time. This was the first show that I've been to where I saw less-than-gracious sportsmanship shown. It all started in my own barn aisle.
As everyone was unloading their trucks and settling in their gear for the weekend, conversations were started and horses were admired. Most riders had a trainer with them and often times there were several barn mates as well.
There was one trainer/student team that stands out. The first question the rider asked me was what level I was showing. Just Training Level, was my reply which was followed by some self-depracating comment as a way to appear friendly and to let her know that I was there to have fun.
Her response was that her friend so-and-so was also showing in that level and would probably win because she's really good. I replied with something like, Wow, how exciting! I am sure she will. I found that quite an odd thing to say to someone. As it turned out, she didn't win any of the classes in which I rode.
Throughout the weekend, I heard her trainer make several comments designed to boost the rider's ego while diminishing the success of others. While at the score board, she pointed out to the rider that our scores were all very close which meant that her non-winning placing didn't really mean much because on any other day she could have easily beat everyone; am I invisible? I was standing right there.
I definitely compare my scores to the other riders in the class. I do so because I want to know if I am riding at an appropriate level. If everyone else is scoring 65% and I post a 49%, maybe I am not riding where I should be. I also like to see how far away from the winning score I really am. This gives me an indication of what I need to do to improve. I never look at scores and casually toss out that I should have/could have/would have won if … That struck me as less than a gracious competitor.
Another woman also made a strange remark while I was examining the score board. I like to take photos of how I placed in the class so that I know how many riders there were and what the range of scores was. I do this whether I am dead last or not.
As I was taking the photo, the woman leaned over and said in a rather snarky tone, you must have done well since you're taking a photo. My reply was this: well no, not in this class, but I did do well in that class, as I pointed.
And then, of course, there was the issue of zero applause after my winning ride in the RAAC class. I share all of this not because I thought I deserved any recognition, but because it was the very first time that I was aware of any of the sharper edges that reveal themselves during competition. I am sure that attitude has always been present, but this was the first time that I was the recipient, or even aware of it. Have I just been blind all of this time, or has the subtle snarkiness always been there?
Beware the Deals We Make
True story … I had been considering going to the CDS Championship show, but I needed one more score at RAAC to qualify. Right before going to RAAC though, I decided that even if I got the score, I wasn't going to the championship because it was just too expensive.
And then, as I was on the road without much to do but think, I made this deal with myself: IF I won the RAAC class with a score ABOVE 70%, I would go the championship. I knew I was safe since I've finished dead last in RAAC classes for two consecutive years, and I had yet to break higher than 68% at Training Level.
Who knew I'd not only win but do it with a 72%?
True to my word, I've already sent in my entry for the CDS Championship. There will definitely be more about that show in the coming weeks.
It's a Horse Show, Not a Rodeo!
And then this happened.
When we won the Novice Introductory RAAC class in 2012, Speedy got a neck ribbon exactly like the one he wore this year. He gave it the stink eye the whole time we did our honor round back then, so I knew to be a bit cautious in placing it around his neck. In fact, we had some help.
While standing off to the side with the other riders of my class waiting for introductions, Speedy reached down and ripped the ribbon off. When he did so, he held it in his mouth so that the pieces flapped around his face. He bolted hard to the side (with the ribbon still stuffed in his mouth), scattering the rest of the horses. I gave a hard yank as I rode out the bucks, all the while yelling, look out! He finally dropped the ribbon and gave it a wary look.
I am sure we made quite a sight - the first place horse bolting and bucking through the crowd all because his blue ribbon was stuffed in his mouth! The ribbon was picked up out of the dirt, meticulously dusted clean, and very carefully placed back on his neck (thank you, Donna!). After that, most riders gave us a wide berth.
Of course, as we continued to wait and model for photos, I watched Speedy like a hawk as he continued to worry at his ribbon hoping to get it off. Even Orion, the chestnut Arab, thought he was being a weirdo!
And Finally ...
When I told JL, my trainer, about just getting really lucky at this show, she characterized my "luck" like this: Isn't it funny how the harder we work, the luckier we get? That is a thought I am going to keep in mind!
This is the card my husband picked out for me after I got home. How true for dressage is that?!
Back to real life tomorrow.
At my final salute in the RAAC class, I was a bit startled at the lack of any applause. There were bleachers along the long side, and while they weren't packed, there were at least ten to fifteen people seated there during my test. I don't expect a standing ovation, ever, but a smattering of gratuitous hand-on-hand noise was at least somewhat expected. I know I always applaud.
As I turned to walk out on that long rein, my heart crumpled. I knew (or thought I did, anyway) that the test wasn't great, but I didn't think it was that bad either. I walked back to the barn feeling rather dejected, but I didn't have time to check the score board because there were only about 30 minutes between the RAAC class and my second ride, which was in the regular portion of the show in Ring 2.
I'll admit it, I beat myself up a little bit. I didn't cry or boo hoo, but I let myself know that I am just a mediocre rider with no talent on a very forgiving, if not very fancy, horse. I didn't know about the 72.600%, and I didn't let myself think about the great scores that we earned just a few weeks prior. I let the lack of any applause dampen my enthusiasm and tell me what kind of rider I am. I won't make that mistake again!
Speedy G took a long drink back in his stall, for which I was thankful. I may not be an extraordinary rider, but I will proudly put my horsemanship skills up against anyone else's and feel quite confident that I will hold my own. In that arena, I rock!
I got on and walked over to the warm-up for the River View ring. We tootled around for a bit, chatting with some of the riders and enjoying the nice weather. My expectations were low so my motivation was not particularly engaged. The ring steward gave me the sign so we ambled over to the ring.
The test rode well enough, but I made a few slight errors when I let my attention wander a bit. Our stretchy circle was back to being kind of sketchy which really dinked our score (5.5 with a double co-effient), but the rest of the test was about where we've been this season. It was what I expected.
The judge awarded us with a nice, middle of the road 64.400%. It's a good score, and one that I usually really appreciate. We didn't earn any 8.0s, but we did pull off seven 7.0s, seven 6.5s, four 6.0s, and then there was that single 5.5 for the stretchy trot. These are good, solid scores. Had I not talked myself out of being a competent rider though, I might have scored closer to the high 60s; lesson learned.
It wasn't until an hour or so later that I finally had time to walk up to the score board to see our RAAC score. VG's husband saw me coming and pulled me aside to tease me about my scores before I could get to the board. When I finally made it close enough to read them, I was pretty shocked. And then when I saw this score, I was even more pleased. I didn't think it was going to be much above 60%. So in all, we earned some pretty nice scores to add to our Centerline Scores data bank. And I think our average went up a scooch!
For the weekend, we earned ...
I do have one more post I'd like to write about this show. A couple of funny things happened, and I became aware of a few things. So, one more show story tomorrow ...
Saturday's rides had been part of the SLO-CDS Fall Fling USDF show, but Sunday was the reason most of us were there. Ring one was (mostly) reserved for the Regional Adult Amateur Competition classes. The RAAC has two divisions: Novice is for those riders who have never shown at the CDS Championship, and the Elite division is for riders who have. I was riding in the Novice division, Training Level Test 3.
When I woke up on Sunday morning, the air crackled with tension. The horses were calling to each other, trailers rolled in purposefully, riders hurried from here to there. The atmosphere was definitely charged with electricity. Speedy was dancing in his stall before dawn and wanted out. Before the sun had even risen, I had taken him for a long walk around the show grounds and out into the nearby fields. I even turned him out in the lunging paddock to free lunge, but he just couldn't relax.
He might have been picking up on my mood. I wasn't tense or anxious in the traditional sense; there were no butterflies or shaky hands, but my mood was pretty somber. My excitement from Saturday's success had long since evaporated, and in it's place I felt dismay. There was simply no way that I could repeat Saturday's performance. I worried that I had simply gotten lucky and that today was my day to really tank. And besides, I spent the last two years finishing dead last in the RAAC class. What made me think that this go-round would be any different?
Yeah, yeah … I get it. Have more confidence. Grow a set. Man up, girl!
I gave myself a little pep talk, but my expectations, while ever hopeful, were still pretty low. I saddled Speedy G and walked over to the warm-up ring a little earlier than necessary. The instant Speedy's little prima donna hoof hit the dirt, he humped his back and gave some pretty threatening crow hops. I immediately turned around and left the warm-up. Nothing was going to be accomplished by fighting with him.
I know this dude really well. He wasn't ready to get to work. I dropped the reins and started circling the show grounds. Golden Hills Farm is a pretty big place; I heard more than 90 acres. I figured we could just do some exploring. Gradually, Speedy's back let go and his stride lengthened. He motored wherever I put his nose and seemed much happier to just march around.
With fifteen minutes to go before our RAAC class, I went back to the warm-up. His head shot up, his back hollowed, and he set himself against my hand. I sent him into a hand gallop and did several pretty hard halts to tell him that he needed to listen to my half halts. We galloped for most of my warm-up, tracking right and left, until I felt that he was starting to listen.
With five minutes to go, I walked over to the ring and dropped my reins. Within thirty seconds, Speedy let go of his breath, and I knew I had my horse back. I even patted his neck and welcomed him to the party. At that moment, I didn't care how we placed. I was just grateful to have my tried and true partner back, and at the very least, I knew we'd get one of our regular, mid 60% scores. That was fine by me.
I've watched the video (once), which I can't seem to rip from the DVD, so you'll just have to believe me when I say it looks like most every other video I've shared. There were definitely some mistakes, and it was still me riding. My left hand doesn't work at keeping the outside rein; I let it drift forward. We jigged at the start of the free walk and were early/late for a few transitions.
The one thing that I can see that the judge probably rewarded us for was how completely steady and pleasant Speedy rode. He looked like a horse that I would want to ride. He just motored right around with a very good-natured expression on his face. And, it was a harmonious ride. At our final halt and salute, I felt like it was a pretty solid test, but not a winning ride. Boy, was I wrong.
Before I share the score sheet and final score, I should point out that Judge Creeky Routson is an (S) judge, which means that she can judge all levels, even the FEI tests as long as she does it here in the USA. Her credentials are impeccable, so who I am to say that she doesn't know exactly what she's seeing. I am a bit afraid to add up the scores myself for fear that I'll find a huge error. So with that, here's what Creeky Routson (S) thought of our ride.
How do you frame a test like this without looking like a retard? Honestly. I didn't know we had it in us. I had to actually count each mark. We earned a total of six 8.0s, one 7.5, and twelve 7.0s. And not a single 5 or 6 to be seen. I am sitting here shaking my head in disbelief.
But like I said yesterday: I'm over it. The euphoria has vanished although in truth, it never really enveloped me as I was stunned at the score and never really owned it as mine. It was more of a freakish anomaly than anything else. In place of the pseudo-giddiness is the same old nagging feeling of self-doubt settling itself comfortably back in place.
There was one other test, and since it has a bit of a story, I'll share that tomorrow. I also have a long list of items that are food for thought, mostly for me, but you might find one or two of them worth chewing on. Or maybe, you'll have something to add. So for now, I'm trying to figure out what to do with that lovely cooler since I already have one from winning the Introductory Level Novice RAAC class back in 2012. Oh, what a problem ...
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%: