From Endurance to Dressage
As hard as Izzy can be to ride, I feel pretty sorry for him. I am not a great rider, and he knows it. Obviously I can ride, but each month it becomes more and more clear that I don't do it well. I have a velcro butt which it makes it difficult to dump me (guess what is bound to happen the next time I get on...), but I don't ride with any kind of elegance or grace.
Over the weekend, I had a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. I've been riding with him long enough that we're beginning to let our company manners go. There has been plenty of teasing (the poor man is surrounded by women so he is vastly outnumbered) and enough honest conversation that we've been able to relax with each other.
I knew the honeymoon phase was over this weekend when he very plainly said you need to quit grabbing at the reins when you do the sitting trot. My response was: I don't feel like I am doing that. His reply was, you don't mean to do that, but you are.
Okay then, let's get to work!
While it seems as though Izzy and I keep going backwards - we're moving back to First Level in October, there's an expression we like to use in education that helps make sense of that paradox: go slow to go fast. The point is that if you really take your time in building a solid foundation, the work you do later will go very quickly. With that thought in mind, Sean has had me focusing on transitions: walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to walk.
We did a lot of transitions over the weekend, and Sean made me focus on the quality of every single one. If Izzy wanted to pop his head up, we didn't do the transition. This is really hard at the walk to canter transition because Izzy wants to get really hollow. With his back hollow, he gets a sort of shortened ewe neck which means there is not a connection which allows him to fling his head up in the transition. Sean's solution was to keep Izzy really deep so that he has to lift his shoulders instead of his head.
I keep telling Izzy that's it's me, not you. It's me being tight in my seat which makes his back hard which makes me bounce which makes us both lose control. Sean is really honing in on this loss of control. When we fall apart, Izzy loses his balance, flings his head up, and spooks at nothing. Sean's idea was to have me do a rising trot so that I could encourage Izzy to swing through his back. When I came back to sitting trot, he asked me to keep as loose through my body as possible. He explained that once I get out of Izzy's way, Izzy can do what I am asking.
And before anyone thinks Sean is being harsh or overly critical, he's not. He's helping me change what I need to fix, and he's doing it in a way I can understand. Like I said, I know I am not a elegant rider. I bounce, I lose my balance, I (unknowingly) grab at the reins. The longer we worked, the more swing I felt in Izzy's back. He really started to reach for the bit and lengthen his stride. The difference in Izzy made me feel guilty. Poor horse. If only he had someone else riding him.
While I couldn't see Sean's face, I could hear the eye roll. "How do you think he's doing what he's doing?" Sean asked. "It's BECAUSE of you that he has more swing in his back." Sean was right. Once I got out of Izzy's way, he was able to relax and swing through his back.
I rode Izzy again on Sunday. I was so surprised by how much change I was able to see in both of us after just one day of focusing on relaxing my hips and legs. Being able to have a weekly lesson is going to do a lot for my riding. Remembering that it's not you, it's me, is undoubtedly going to make Izzy feel a lot better.
If we get good enough, maybe we can back to Training Level instead of First!
Over the weekend, I tried to re-watch the Sandra Bullock movie, The Net, but it just didn't ring true enough for me to finish it. It's from 1995, so the techno-jargon was more than a little dated. If you haven't seen it, Bullock's character, Angela Bennett, stumbles onto a conspiracy. She's a hacker, so to prevent her from revealing what she has discovered, her identity is erased. Since she works from home and has no friends in real life, no one believes she is who she says she is. You can figure out what happens next.
Some of the movie is pretty prophetic though. There is a scene where she orders a pizza online - that was not even a possibility back in 1995 and probably not even available in 2005. Like Angela, I find that I am living more and more in a virtual world. As we did last year, my students are once again enrolled in my virtual classroom. While I have briefly met some of them, our relationship is being nurtured through the chat feature in Google Meet/Zoom, the Canvas Inbox (a type of email), and Parent Square (a Facebook-like interface).
I've mentioned before that I am the vice-chairperson for the Tehachapi Mountain Chapter of the California Dressage Society, my USDF Group Member Organization. We now run our monthly meetings in-person for those who choose to attend and virtually via Zoom for those members who either don't live nearby (me) or who don't want to meet in person.
Over the weekend, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, gave me another lesson virtually. While we've tried before, this time, it went perfectly. For our first attempt at using Pivo Meet, we did it at STC Dressage during an in-person lesson just so we could trouble shoot. For the second attempt, my iPhone over-heated before the lesson really even got going, so we tried again the next day. That worked for most of an hour, but again, my iPhone over-heated.
I bought a new phone, and we scheduled another lesson. The Friday night before, I got a notification that I was nearly out of data, so I had to cancel the lesson. It took a full week, but I was finally able to upgrade to a plan with unlimited data, so Sean and I agreed to meet virtually on Saturday morning. With a brand new iPhone 12 Pro, unlimited data, and an umbrella to keep my phone from over-heating, I was ready.
To my relief, everything worked perfectly! For those who may be considering doing virtual lessons, here's a run down on what you'll need.
Launching a Pivo Meet:
It helps to have some experience launching virtual meetings, but if you're brand new to Zoom-like calls, you'll be able to figure it out.
At the end of the lesson (more on that in a day or two), Sean and I discussed the technology. We both felt like the iPhone 12 Pro gave us a better experience than we had with the iPhone 7 Plus. The video and audio worked seamlessly. We didn't have the delay that we had seen and heard with my old phone. Our communication felt instant and we could both hear without any delay or lag time. From Sean's end, he reported that the Pivo tracked me perfectly without losing me once. I couldn't see the video of course, so I don't know how well he could actually see me, but he didn't have any complaints.
That evening, I checked my data usage. Since the new plan had only gone into effect on Friday evening, I was able to see approximately how much data the Pivo Meet took. My hour long Pivo Meet used 1GB of data. My old plan was for 5 GB of data, so it's clear that plan had to go. If you're planning on doing Pivo Meet lessons, check into how much data your plan allows.
Overall, Pivo Meet is going to save me a ton of money. Diesel is currently $4.00 a gallon, and at 13 miles per gallon, that comes to $80 in diesel for each lesson. The Pivo itself cost $170 (case, remote, and extender thing) and the Powerbeats were another $80. I also bought a tripod for $24. I did buy a new phone and a pricier data plan, but I would have done that anyway. I've had the Pivo Pod for nearly a year and used it long before I even thought of doing a virtual lesson. Even so, my expenses come to $275. I've taken two virtual lessons that didn't require any traveling or diesel, and after the next lesson or two, what I've invested in equipment will pay for itself.
If you're thinking of giving Pivo meet a try, my advice is to go for it!
Not even kidding. Speedy's penis sock is still on. The first one lasted four days; this one has been on for two and a half months! I shudder to think what his manhood is going to look like once it does fall off. I had already planned on writing this post today, so it was a weird coincidence that my vet left a voicemail yesterday afternoon asking how the "penile" issue was going. I'll call him back today to give him an update. In the meantime ...
Gross as it smells ... oh my gosh, it stinks! it has done the job of preventing the habronema fly from laying eggs in Speedy's urethra. No matter how many times I write about it, it continues to be just as gross. I can't decide whether I want the thing to fall off or not.
The sock. Not his "thing."
Last year, on September 1, SafeSport sent me a letter saying I was no longer eligible to compete in dressage events because I had let my SafeSport training lapse. I was seriously annoyed because it felt as though the banishment came out of the blue. I wrote about it of course, and then lots of riders told me they had received reminders that their SafeSport Certification was due to expire.
This year, I've been paying attention, and I have seen the reminder emails. The renewal date is even on my calendar. The problem is that I have just returned to teaching after our very short summer break. In early August I started my district's LONG list of required training. I participated in four, full days of in-person training, and I just finished NUMEROUS hours of video training that covered:
The 31st is very quickly approaching.
Last year at this time, Izzy's skin was a hot mess. Not only were his mane and tail rubbed out, but he had rubbed his shoulders, withers, and face raw. I tried more than a dozen products to ease the itchiness, but absolutely nothing worked. Eventually, I took him to the vet where he prescribed Prednisolone to quiet Izzy's inflammatory response.
This spring, I started Izzy on the Prednisolone in March in the hopes that I could get ahead of the itchiness. While the weather was still cool and springlike, the Prednisolone seemed to work. He wasn't particularly itchy, but I didn't knew if it was because it wasn't hot enough to make him itchy, or if the Prednisolone was doing it's job.
As soon as the weather warmed up, I began to notice that Izzy was rubbing his mane at the bottom. With my vet's consent, I started to play around with the Prednisolone dosage to see which dosage gave him the most relief. No matter what I did, the itchiness continued. Izzy started rubbing his mane at the bottom, but over the course of the summer, he moved up as the mane got rubbed out.
I eventually quit giving the Prednisolone as none of the dosages made a difference. Living at STC Dressage for two weeks in June proved to me that the itchiness was related to the heat more than anything else. STC Dressage is in Ventura County on the coast where the weather is far cooler than it is here in the Central Valley.
Since the Prednisolone wasn't doing much, I decided to try a new strategy. The itchiness seemed related to heat and possibly sweat, so I started shampooing Izzy's mane and tail several times a week. I used a variety of shampoos, some that were moisturizing and others that contained astringent type ingredients. I made sure to really dig my fingers into his mane in order to get all of the gunk and dirt off of his skin.
Cleansing his hair seemed to make more of a difference than the drugs ever did. It didn't stop the itching completely though, I finally had to cut off the very top of Izzy's mane as it was starting to look like a comb over. I gave him a mohawk which is actually pretty cute on him. Another thing that seemed to help was the GastroElm. With his tummy feeling so much better, I think he was better able to utilize the nutrients in his daily milled Flaxseed. His coat is looking much healthier this summer. It didn't fade nearly as much, and it doesn't have that bleached out, burned look. His dapples are also still pretty vibrant.
Since I've gone back to work, I haven't had nearly as much time to wash his mane and tail. This weekend, I noticed that he has started scrubbing his forehead raw, and his tail dock is looking worse. I gave his mane and a tail a good shampoo, I rubbed in lots of Knotty Horse conditioner, and I treated his face with Zephyr's Leave it Be Salve.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has suggested I get Izzy's skin scraped to check for mites. The vet has seen Izzy more than a few times since this itchiness really became a problem, and he has never suggested it might be anything but summertime gnats, but I am certainly going to ask about a skin scraping. It can't hurt. The itchiness seems to only affect Izzy's topline, so mites do sound like they could be responsible.
While we still have about six to eight weeks of hundred degree weather looming, we were blessed with a weekend with highs in the low 90s. I know that gave Izzy some relief. We've currently had 58 days of triple digit temperatures, and we could easily have another dozen or so; we're currently experiencing the tenth hottest summer since records have been recorded. I am hoping I can keep Izzy's skin together for just another month or so. After that, our evenings will begin to cool down which gives the horses a break.
I love our mild winters where I can ride in a long sleeve t-shirt, but our summers are pretty brutal.
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%: