From Endurance to Dressage
After I gave the Haas brush a glowing review, someone asked if I had tried Epona's Tiger's Tongue Horse Groomer. Why no, no I had not. But at $7.80 with free shipping with my Amazon Prime account, one was on its way to me immediately after I read her comment and the reviews on Amazon.
If you haven't seen one of these scrubbers, they come shrink wrapped at about a tenth of their thickness. As soon as I cut away the plastic, it poofed up nicely. Once again, I used Yellow Dog to see if I liked the way it felt in my hand. She was less than impressed, but Tobias, our black lab, gave it a big smile. When I saw how much dirt came off of him, I rinsed it off with the hose and was surprised to see the scrubber grow even more in thickness.
The day after it arrived ended up being too hot to ride; it was over a hundred degrees, so I decided to make it a grooming day instead. I love getting new stuff, so I was happy for the excuse to try out the Tiger's Tongue on Speedy and Izzy. I adore Izzy, really I do, but that horse isn't picky about much, so Speedy's response to new stuff is my real litmus test.
To manage the dust, the ranch owner runs sprinklers in all of the horses' dry pastures twice each day. The horses just stand there enjoying the respite from the heat, but it makes them rather crusty by the time I get there. Speedy was really gross that afternoon, but rather than being annoyed, I rubbed my hands in delight. The Tiger's Tongue was going to get a real work out.
Except it didn't. To whomever recommended this thing to me, THANK YOU! Within jut a few swipes of the groomer, Speedy's coat was clean and soft and free of rough patches. I've owned horses for nearly 40 years. How have I not come across this particular tool before? It is truly amazing. And cheap. And my horses loved it.
I didn't even bother to use a halter. I just scrubbed Speedy's coat for a few minutes with the Tiger's Tongue - nothing else, and then stepped back to have a look. He coat was gleaming and looked as though I had just spent an hour scrubbing him. It was equally as effective on the big "buckskin" horse.
Izzy's barrel is so yellow that it's hard to see how shiny he was after using the Tiger's Tongue. After scrubbing the dried salt from his rump, I worked at the encrusted dirt along his back and sides. By the time I was finished, he was soft and smooth, too.
Since the groomer is basically a really porous sponge, it worked really well on both legs and faces. In fact, Izzy really leaned into it when I rubbed his eyes and forehead, Even Speedy appreciated his face being scratched with it.
I don't know how well the Tiger's Tongue will work on heavy winter coats, but for summertime use, I am hooked. I found mine at Amazon, but I am betting they are available wherever grooming products are sold. I am obviously in a buying mood, so if anyone else has the scoop on some other brilliant grooming product, let me know!
So while the first test was barely mediocre, I was still incredibly excited for our second test of the day, Training Level Test 3. You would think that with a paltry 56% I'd be dreading the harder test of the level. I wasn't; that was the test for which I had actually prepared. Working in my favor was the fact that we did Test 1 at 10:33 a.m. while Test 3 wasn't until 12:29 p.m., nearly 2 hours later. A lengthy wait on a fairly warm day was exactly what Izzy needed.
I knew that I wouldn't need a very long warm up, and I was right. 20 minutes seemed to be all Izzy needed. He never put a foot wrong. he warmed up like a seasoned pro. I headed up to the ring confident that he would be able to do his job. He didn't disappoint.
Don't get me wrong. The test was just barely satisfactory earning a ... wait for it ... and NO, it wasn't a 59% ( I am getting a lot of those lately). We actually earned a 60.862%! For our very first attempt at Training Level. It took Speedy and I a while to crack the 60% barrier at that level. Yes, I am a more educated rider now, but Izzy is a much more difficult horse to pilot. Am I happy with the score? You betcha!
I truly enjoyed every minute of the ride. I felt no pressure to impress anyone. I rode him as though no one was watching. There was tension, there was giraffing, but there was also a lot of try on his part. Does he need a better connection? Absolutely. We're working on it. Even so, I am really proud of this horse. A lot of you have followed our journey from the beginning, so you know what it's taken to get him even this far (such as it is).
Not that it really matters to me what others think of my big brown horse, but it was heartwarming to hear so many oohs and ahhs. Seriously. Izzy earned himself some fans. There were more than a couple of people who had really nice things to say about him, and I don't think they were digging deep for something nice to say. I think they really meant it. Hard to believe, but it's true.
Even though other people liked Izzy, the judge wan't enamored with him. Not overly critical, just not in love. Most of the comments included words like could show more relaxation and tension. Yeah, I know. The judge did award us 7.0s for gaits on both tests though. Imagine what we could earn without any tension! Speedy has to work hard to get a 7.0 for his gaits. The judge also gave me 7.0s for my position and seat, not a score I always see. I get plenty of 6.0s for that.
I am really glad I let Speedy sit this one out. I knew Izzy was getting close to being ready to go out into the big wide world. Now I have something to build on. Speedy has some fall shows lined up; I haven't forgotten about the Bronze Medal, but I am also thinking about what I can do with Izzy next season. I now have to decide who to show and when. What a great problem to have!
So that's it. Not a wildly entertaining return to the show ring, but that makes me glad. We've had more than our share of fireworks. A plain old boring show day was just what I was hoping for. Here's the video if you can stomach five and a half minutes of really boring. The score sheet follows.
And now, onward to 2020!
Before I get to the show recap, I have to first say something. I've been showing Speedy up the levels since 2010. Every season we struggle with harder movements and worrying about earning the "right" scores for whatever awards program I have my sights set on for that year. With Izzy, I had NONE of that angst or pressure. It was Training Level. How hard could it be? No offense meant. I spent several years at Training Level on Speedy. Repeating a level on a different horse when you have no expectations other than keeping his marbles in his head is a whole lot more fun than when you're doing it "for real."
Before you get too excited, let me just say that we did not blow the judge's mind - or at least not in a good way. We earned a pretty ho-hum 56.923% for Training Level Test 1. But. BUT. Holy cow was I excited! Izzy exceeded all of my expectations.
I showed up at the ranch at 5:30 a.m. to bathe and braid. Was he upset by the radical change in his routine? Nope. He shrugged his shoulders and said whatever ... oh hey! There's hay! He loaded like a champ, traveled like a champ, and unloaded like it was something he did every day.
When he stepped off the trailer, he was a bit looky, but I am fine with looking. Since things were just getting started, I hand walked him up to the show ring and the show office. I walked him around, and before two minutes had passed, he was happily snuffling through the weeds looking for a snack. He started with a coat slightly damp from a nervous sweat, but by the time we made it back to the trailer, he was cool and dry.
I changed my clothes, keeping my eye on him. I then walked him to the warm up ring and back to the dressage court where we watched a test or two, standing right behind the spectators so he could hear the applause. He never even blinked.
I walked him back to the trailer and tacked up. I wanted to give him as much show ground experience as possible, so we walked back up to the dressage court. He got more and more relaxed as the morning wore on. The lead rope was loose as he plodded along behind me. He wasn't as worry-free as Speedy would have been, but his level of trust in me was huge compared to what it was when I tried to show him at Introductory Level back in 2016.
My original plan was to take a full hour for our warm up. On our worst days at home, we go that and longer. After seeing how calm he was, I decided that 45 minutes would be plenty. After 20 minutes of the easiest ride he's ever given me, I realized that I had 25 minutes left to kill. I walked back toward the gate not knowing whether to get off or just stand around. The universe decided for me.
Right in front of us, a woman turned her gray Arabian loose in the round pen. Izzy's head snapped up, and I swear a speech bubble popped up right over his head. THAT'S SPEEDY OH MY GOD SPEEDY IS HERE LOOK AT HIM LOOK AT HIM!!!!!!!
Except we all know it wasn't Speedy, but I could not convince Izzy otherwise. He immediately started hollering and his body exploded with tension. My heart sank. But rather than get too worried, I just put him back to work. It took about five minutes and a lot of cantering, but he slowly let go of the worst of his tension. Not all of it, but his brain reengaged.
We entered at A, I cracked a huge smile. He wasn't exactly relaxed, but he was rideable. We entered with a 5 for our halt, but then we earned a solid string of 6.0s until my lack of preparation reared its ugly head. I had worked on test 3 A LOT but had neglected to learn test 1 until an hour before the ride. During our walk work, I made a course error - oops, bye-bye 2 points.
Our scores got back on track where we earned a string of 6.0s for our trot circle and right lead canter. I was feeling really confident about the test when Izzy slammed on the brakes just before B. He went from a happy little canter to a stuttering halt. I could tell something was bothering him, but for the life of me I couldn't figure it out.
Someone later told me that a breeze picked up at that moment and the odor of cows came wafting up to the arena. There are cattle just down below. Not caring what the issue was, I kicked him no less than a half dozen times before he agreed to trot to which the judge remarked, "rider aids to be less obvious." HILARIOUS. He was rooted to the spot. If I hadn't kicked him so obviously, we'd still be standing there.
We were supposed to do a canter to trot transition just before he skidded to a halt, but I realized there was no way to pick up the canter only to come back down to trot, so I just continued on. We earned a 5.0 for the canter from C-M-B and then a 4.0 for the downward transition which was generous. There was no transition; it was caaaanter, HALT .... kickkickkickkick ... trot. We finished with a 5.0 for our final halt which was no surprise as he was still reeling from his near death experience with cows that he couldn't even see.
The judge was kind with his collectives - Izzy earned a 7.0 for gaits and I got a matching 7.0 for Rider's Position and Seat. So while a 56% isn't anything to write home about, we lost 2 points for stupidity and that unauthorized halt during the canter work didn't do us any favors either. Aside from that, it was a pretty decent little test considering it was his first time showing at Training Level AND his first showing experience since 2016 which we all know was a disastrous year anyway.
Here's the video followed by his score sheet.
Tomorrow, test 3 and redemption?
Last week, I had a lesson on Speedy with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. Like I always do, I explained to Chemaine what was going well, and what wasn't - our half passes were much improved, but they lacked impulsion. Chemaine had several several exercises for me to try.
The first exercise she had me do was one from the past, but we used it differently. During the trot half pass, whenever I felt like Speedy was ignoring my outside leg, she had me turn the half pass into a leg yield by changing the bend. As soon as Speedy started moving off my now inside leg, I was to change the bend again all while ensuring that he still moved sideways off my leg. The exercise worked well, but I am going to need it for a while, especially to the right.
The next exercise that we did addressed the lack of impulsion. We did half pass to medium trot to half pass to medium trot. Because the half pass requires so much strength and collection, Speedy was thrilled to be allowed to really go for it in the extended trot. This in turn helped build in some natural impulsion for the half pass. It was a win-win.
Before we finished the lesson, Chemaine said that she had one more exercise she wanted me to try. We've worked really hard to get the impulsion and uphill carriage that Speedy needs for the medium and extended gaits. That's still a work in progress, for sure, but Chemaine wanted to add yet another dimension.
Down each long side, Chemaine wanted me to do big half halts with a lot of leg. As predicted, Speedy shot forward assuming that the half halt with leg meant medium trot. As soon as he went heavy in my hand, she had me half halt and again tap him with my whip. We repeated the exercise until Speedy connected the dots: I didn't want more forward, I wanted more up. You can see it in the photo above. He can't carry it for long, but as we schooled it, both of us got the idea a bit better.
When we moved to the canter work, both Speedy and I had an AHA moment. I realized that I could ask for the same thing in the canter. And sure enough, his canter got a lot more jump in it when I half halted with my outside rein and added leg. Canter half pass and flying changes both are much easier with canter that's got some jump to it.
Here's some video of getting the suspension in the trot.
I have learned more during this past year than in the last ten years combined. While it could get overwhelming to contemplate all that's still to be learned, I don't worry about it since what I am learning is turning out to be so much fun. Not to mention rewarding.
Like I've said before: Second Level sucked really rotten tomatoes. Third Level is the cat's meow!
A few weeks ago, I asked for some feedback on the Thinline reins. My laced reins, which I've really liked for Speedy, suddenly started causing a gnarly callous on my left hand. It hasn't gotten any smaller since then and might have actually grown.
Once I realized that the callous was being caused by my reins, I switched to a pair of cotton web reins. I have quite a few sets from which to choose. They're cheap and usually come free with a bridle purchase. They've served their purpose, but frankly, they suck. No offense to anyone who actually likes them.
After perusing what felt like every U.S. web site, I discovered that The Dressage Pony Store, owned by my friend and fellow rider Valerie Gabriel, carries the Thinline Reins cheaper than anyone else - $95.00. I placed my order. Valerie had the reins in the mail the next day. The day after that, they were attached to my bridle. How come the big online tack shops can't package and ship that efficiently? Riding Warehouse excluded, of course.
As soon as I unpackaged them, I knew I was going to be ordering a second pair for Izzy's bridle. Don't even touch a pair unless you've got a hundred bucks burning a hole in your pocket; they're that nice.
The reins have a wonderful cushiony grip, almost like the gel handle on my whip. They're not tacky or sticky or grippy in the same way rubber reins can be. Which I actually like, so I am not at all surprised that I like these.
I have not one single negative thing to say about the Thinline Reins, but depending on your particular preferences, these might be considered too thick. I love them, but I can see how someone with smaller or finer hands might find them bulky.
Thinline sells these reins with a variety of options, most of which Valerie carries at the Dressage Pony Store. I went with hook and stud ends as they look cleaner in the show ring. I also wanted the hand stops. The reins aren't slick, but I am used to the stops, so I made sure to choose that option. Oh, and even though the Dressage Pony Store is for well, ponies, Valerie carries the reins in pony sizes and a standard 60 inch length which is what I bought.
Both the bit and buckle ends of the of the reins are leather. And while it's probably not the most luxurious leather ever made, I liked the quality. I bent the leather part of the reins back and forth and was pleased that it didn't get that crackled appearance you see in cheaper leather.
I am not sure that a piece of tack can improve ones riding, but I think these have. I felt like I was able to take a more solid hold of the rein without the feeling of holding Speedy by a thread. It may be that as his ability to sit and collect is improving, he may be feeling heavier in my hand right now - hence the callous. I don't think so though. I think I am developing as a rider and communicating differently through the rein than in the past.
Overall, these reins are well priced and unbelievably comfortable in the hand. As soon as I have a couple of extra bucks, I am for sure ordering that second pair for Izzy's bridle.
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%