From Endurance to Dressage
Some of you might remember that a few years ago, my migraines got so bad that getting out of bed became difficult. As bad as it hurt, I just couldn't quit though. In the spring of that year, Speedy and I made our Second Level debut. I was hurting, and I felt completely out of my depth. On the way to the show, one of my favorite songs came on the radio, and it hit me in all the right places. You can read about that experience here. That song became our song. Whenever I doubted myself, that song reminded me that Speedy had my back.
On Sunday, Izzy and I went to a small, USDF show put on by my local CDS Chapter. Over the past few months, It has become clear that while he is not easy to ride, I've been part of the problem, too. Last month's show painted a very clear picture; I haven't been "riding" my horse. I've been sitting there, frozen solid, worried that I'll upset Izzy and cause a blow up. My take-away from that show was that I had better get my ducks in a row and find a way around that inability to relax while showing.
For me, awareness of an issue will nearly always fix whatever's wrong. I needed to work on it of course, but I can now say that I rode my horse on Sunday. It didn't come without some hard work though. Along with a bit of money spent and a fortuitous radio moment, I think I am once again riding while showing.
Working weekly with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, had a lot to do with it. He's been after me for the past year to quit worrying about scores and instead focus on my riding. He finally got through to me. To help, I also bought a new pair of Esprit Equestrian breeches; they look like breeches, but they're actually tights. My hope was that by riding in something less restrictive than breeches, I might feel more relaxed. I was right; I did.
As for the radio moment, I had just left the barn with Izzy loaded up and an hour drive ahead of me. I refused to feel stressed out for the entire drive, so I turned up the radio and waited for something inspiring to play. Almost immediately another favorite song came at just the right moment. It was a Dan + Shay number, a duo that always speaks to my heart. Part of the lyrics go like this:
I got you for the rest of my days
In the sun on Sunday morning or the pouring rain
'Cause I got you for the rest of my life
And if all else goes wrong, baby, I'll be alright
'Cause I got you
Speedy always had my back, and I knew that he would always bring his A game. Izzy can't do that, but hearing that song inspired me to tell Izzy that I got you! For the entire warm up and again during the test, I kept telling him "it was going to be okay, because I got you." And equally important for me was that if it went all wrong, I'll be alright.
Part 2 tomorrow ...
Saturday morning, I headed out to the ranch for my weekly virtual lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. This time, my phone was firmly placed in my pocket. If you'll remember, I forgot it last Saturday and had to drive all the way back home to get it. This weekend, I was P-r-e-p-a-r-e-d. I also had a new cooling device to combat the over-heating that's been going on during the meet. The night before, I unwrapped it, read the directions, and plugged it in. It seems to work really well.
When I got to the ranch and hooked everything up, I discovered one itty-bitty problem. With the cooling device attached to the back of my phone - it's magnetic and only sticks in that one particular spot, there is not enough phone sticking out to slide into the bracket of the Pivo. For the lesson, I jammed my phone into the gap which dislodged the cooling fan a bit but it was mostly working.
I started the meet, but almost immediately Sean asked about the jerking motion he was seeing. I hopped off and saw that one of the cables was caught which was not allowing Pivo to spin smoothly. I fixed that and got back on. Within a few minutes, Sean complained of a serious lag in audio followed by a lag in video. These are complaints I am quite familiar with as I am still teaching virtually. I told him it was his internet connection, so he hung up and switched hotspots.
That seemed to work for a moment, but then he experienced the same lag in audio and video as he had before. I next suggested that he join the meet with just his phone. That too yielded good results, for about two minutes. Eventually, the quality of the audio and video were so poor that he couldn't hear or see me. Ultimately, we had to call the whole thing off as there wasn't any way to communicate.
I finished the ride on my own, which by that point was heading south as Izzy isn't a fan of me getting on and off over and over. Every time I get off to check Pivo, he's certain he's done, so by the third time, he usually runs out of patience. He did what was asked though, and since it was hot, we finished earlier than usual.
Once Izzy was cooled off and grazing on the lawn, I texted Sean a few technology suggestions. One being that he head to Starbucks the next morning to use their WiFi while he coached me at a show. He sheepishly texted back - or at least it sounded sheepish, that he had probably blown through so much of his data while he was watching sales videos of European horses. I hope it's not a secret, but he's off to Europe in a few weeks to have a look.
If my lesson is going to be cut short, sales videos of European horses is a very acceptable reason.
Years ago, I needed more intentional feedback from my coach or trainer. Am I really making progress? Be specific, please. These days, I know for a fact that progress is being made, even if it's not slow. I'm greedy, I can't help it.
Anyhoodle, the reason I bring this up is because "J" has been back on schedule riding Speedy, and I hear that same need in her voice. Are you sure I am getting better? People say I am, but am I really? I know what she's looking for. I've been on the path she's traveling, and in fact, I am still there. I may be a bit further ahead, but struggle is struggle no matter your riding level. She wants to make sure she's not wasting her time or mine. No one wants to struggle week after week if there isn't any progress.
The last time she rode, two weeks ago, she had a pretty big breakthrough. It's the same one I once had with Speedy. He's such a diva that he cons everyone into going gently with him. None of his riders ever want to take hold and insist. Halfway through J's last ride, I had her get off and I got on. I showed her how much insisting Speedy could take. When she got back on him, I saw a new level of determination on her face. And you know what, he snapped to and started working for real.
When she came out this weekend, we were able to work on some lateral movements because she finally took hold and asked. She asked so well that Speedy started to anticipate her aids which meant we had to remind him that J could also whisper. I had J think about a completely mental aid, one that is simply the thought ... canter. If Speedy couldn't hear a whisper, then the ask aid - lifting a seat bone. And finally, if he really wasn't listening, the I mean it! aid which might come with a sharper kick.
Wouldn't you know it, Speedy started to look fancy. And I mean hot stuff fancy. The dude is well into his eighteenth year, but you wouldn't know it. So when J asked if she was getting better or not, I told her that the way to know is to pay attention to the kind of lesson you're having. Is it the same thing you've been working on month after month, or are you learning something new? If you're learning something new, you're making excellent progress.
With that kind of thinking, I am making progress too, even though it doesn't always feel like it.
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to be in a full service barn, the kind where you show up and your horse looks well fed, clean, and eager to see you. I guess two out of three isn't so bad. I am definitely not at a full service barn which means I spend more time doing "stuff" than I do actually riding. Here's what a typical day looks like.
After all of that is done, I rinse the lunch buckets, put them away, hang up halters, record the day's notes on my calendar, and give the feed room one last look. Invariably, I'll find some other little chore that needs to be done like sweeping or putting something away that I've left out. If I spend two hours at the barn, fifteen minutes will be spent riding. If I ride for an hour, I'll spend three more doing chores.
It's a good thing I like barn chores because I spend an awful lot of time doing them!
It's a reoccurring theme here, but it is HOT! Yesterday, I wore black tights and a technical t-shirt to work so that I wouldn't have to change clothes in the back of my truck once I got to the ranch. Instead, I kicked off my Chuck's, pulled on a pair of socks, and slipped into my barn boots. I hoped that by making the transition from work wear to barn wear quicker, I might not get so hot. HAHAHA.
I gave Izzy a cold shower and saddled him up. We spent 27 minutes hacking around the property. We have lots of trees, so it wouldn't have been too bad if Izzy hadn't acted like he'd never been out of his paddock before. He literally spooked, half bolted, and braced for 27 minutes certain that death was behind every tree. We were both red-faced and sweaty by the time I quit.
Once we finished, I gave Izzy another cold shower and left him out on the lawn which was completely shaded. I putzed around doing all of my barn chores, and then grabbed my thermometer to take Izzy's temperature. We're doing a USDF show this Sunday that is requiring several days of temperature readings.
I store my thermometer in the feed room. When I pulled it out of its drawer, I knew it was already too hot to use for taking someone's temperature. It read 104 degrees. Proof is in the photo above. I quickly poured some of the cold water from Yeti thermos into a cup and set the thermometer inside for a few minutes while I fed Speedy his lunch.
I was able to bring down the temperature of the thermometer itself, but when I took Izzy's temperature it was definitely on the high side of normal. In case you're trying to take your horse's temperature in the summer, or even in the winter for that matter, a horse's normal body temperature should run somewhere between 99 and 101. Izzy's was just a bit over at 101.8. Based on all of his other parameters, heart rate, capillary refill, respiration, attitude, and so on, I know he isn't sick. He was just hot.
When I take Izzy's temperature today, I'll make sure it's before we do anything. Exercise alone can raise the body's temperature a bit, or a lot depending on what you do. Combining work with a hot day is a guarantee to produce an elevated body temperature. When I checked my phone while I was taking Izzy's temperature, it showed 105, so it had only gotten hotter after our quick ride. Without an ice bath, a fan, and deep shade, there would be no way to get a "normal" body temperature after even a hack.
Today is predicted to be about the same as yesterday. I didn't feel very good by the time I headed home. Working for an hour doing chores and riding was just too much in that heat. While I worked and sweated, Izzy got two cold showers and a shade break. Imagine what his temperature might have been without the showers and shade.
No repeat of that today. Maybe we'll just do the cold shower and shade part.
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%: