From Endurance to Dressage
After Saturday's very disappointing ride, I stoically saddled up on Sunday morning - in front of Hurricane Hillary's arrival. Knowing that Izzy needs to rebuild fitness and suppleness, I planned to work the left lead canter a bit and hoped to remind him that I was there to help.
The ride didn't start out too terribly, but he was behind my leg, confident that I wouldn't press him. He was wrong, and the ride quickly started to go south when I poked him with my spurs. Schooling Izzy takes a very delicate touch. Too little and he blows me off, too much and he's pissed. The problem is that his version of a "try" is often so negligible as to be invisible. As Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has often reminded me, enforcing my aids is different than forcing Izzy to do something too hard. So, I started enforcing.
Izzy is always looking for a fight, so I have to work really hard to not take his antics personally even when bolts, bucks, and tries to launch us to the moon. Instead of engaging in that conversation, I slowed everything way down and rode a ton of bending lines. Just about the time I was wondering how many months it was going to take to get the supple horse of spring back, the ranch owner walked by. I started chatting about something I had thought about in her trouble with making the turns on her mare Alli.
One of the things she was struggling with was trying to turn while her horse just kept going the opposite direction. I had suggested she use more outside rein, but it occurred to me that it might be more of an outside leg issue. So, as she joined me at B, I showed her on Izzy how the turn should actually be done with the outside aids. The inside bend is to show the direction you want to go, but we don't actually turn with the inside rein.
The funny thing was that the more I demonstrated those ideas to the ranch owner, the more relaxed and willing Izzy became. In no time at all, he softened his back and started stretching towards the bit. His tempo got steady and even, and he relaxed into the work. He was so relaxed that we cantered both to the left and right without the violent outburst from the day before.
That doesn't mean he was perfect because he wasn't. He threw in one crow hop that had a lot of air between his feet and the ground. I gave an internal oh, shit! as I sat up and back and slammed on the brakes. Fortunately he doesn't always remember how big and powerful he is. The day that it occurs to him, we're all in trouble.
By the time we were finished, I was thrilled with Izzy's work. While it was pretty simple stuff - canter transitions and spiral in and out on the circle, Izzy let me demonstrate all sorts of weird things as I showed the ranch owner how different parts of our bodies can influence our horses' way of going.
I know why he was so good despite my lowered expectations. While talking to the ranch owner, I kept breathing and kept my eyes up and ahead rather than having a laser focus on the back of Izzy's head. By laughing and talking to the ranch owner while I rode, my body stayed relaxed, and I was much less bothered by Izzy's missteps. I didn't take it personally. Instead, I treated him like one of my 5th grade students - rewarding the correct answers and redirecting when he wasn't "getting it."
I told the ranch owner I need her at the arena with me more often. There I was thinking I was teaching her something when in reality, she was quietly reminding me of what I needed to do to be a better rider for Izzy.
Peer coaching is an underrated strategy!
On Saturday, I finally did a full ride on Izzy. It was terrible. After more than two months without regular work, Izzy has last all of his suppleness. At the beginning of June, we spent 17 days in Europe. When we came back, he stepped on a rock and bruised his foot. While he compensated for being sore, he threw out his ribs, C4, and poll requiring two visits to the chiropractor for body work. Just as he was feeling sound enough for riding, he sliced open his pastern and heel. That wound hasn't healed completely, and I am still wrapping each day, but it is healed enough that I feel comfortable riding him.
Like I do for every ride, I started with some long and low walking. I've been doing 10 - 15 minute walking rides for several weeks, so he feels good at the walk. He's even pretty loose at a slow trot. His leg yield it still good, but it lacks any power. Where he fell apart completely was at the canter. To the right, he just couldn't wrap around my leg, and the very balanced and rideable canter we had in May has disappeared.
To the left was worse; he refused to canter at all. When I asked, he crow hopped, balked, and generally just flipped me the bird. While I was disappointed, I knew what to do thanks to all of the work I've done with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. Instead of engaging in the fight, I went back to the right lead canter. I did a few transitions, and then I asked for canter left. Before he knew what he was doing, Izzy was cantering on the left lead.
It was ugly - his head was straight up in the air and there was no canter rhythm, but at least he was moving. I urged him forward and let him "ugly canter" while slowly helping him to balance. I realized that his resistance was fear-based; he didn't feel safe. Rather than forcing him into a frame, I let him try to find his own balance and as we cantered around and around. The longer he cantered, the more willing he was to let me help him.
This week our temperatures will finally be below a hundred, so I am hopeful I'll be able to ride after work. I have a lesson with Sean scheduled for this week - the first in more than two months, and he's confident we'll get Izzy back on track.
I shouldn't be surprised. With Izzy, it's a dance. Two steps forward and one step back.
California just can't be like anyone else. If we'e going to do something, it's always a hold my beer kind of effort. Not only did we have a hurricane, but nature threw in a medium earthquake for good measure.
Of course, by the time Hillary got to us, it was just a tropical storm. But in all in fashion, that storm broke more records than anyone can count. First, there has never before been a drop of rain in Bakersfield on August 20th. By the time Hillary petered out and drifted away, we had 2 5/8" of rain on the east side of town. Our annual rainfall, if we're lucky, is only about 6".
Before Hillary arrived on Sunday, we had some pretty strong winds on Saturday afternoon. I sat outside for quite awhile admiring nature's power.
Given how windy it was on Saturday afternoon, we were lucky to not have more damage. Our house is surrounded by queen palms which handle windy weather quite well, so we had no fallen limbs or trees. Despite being covered by a forest of sycamores and cottonwoods, there were only two or three limbs that came down at the ranch. One was in Izzy's paddock, but it didn't damage anything, and by yesterday afternoon, Reggie had it cut up and moved to the compost heap.
The rain started around noon on Sunday and continued falling heavily for the next twelve hours. Many of you live in wet places, so two or three inches of rain is nothing. If you live in the desert, or in a place where there is very little rainfall - cough, cough, Bakersfield, twelve solid hours of rain is shocking.
Despite record shattering rainfall, nearly all of the puddles were gone by Monday afternoon. The air was heavy with moisture, and the August sun was beating down. It was HOT. I got to the ranch after work confident that it would be dry enough to ride, hot as it was, and I was right. There was standing water in one corner of the arena, and the ground was a little squishy, but it was plenty dry enough for a ride.
I have a lesson this afternoon - my first since early June. That's why it rained of course. The universe has been messing with me all summer. Want to ride? No soup for you! (That's a Seinfeld reference by the way.) If I have to carry Izzy, we're doing that lesson, hurricane or no.
Get it together, California, I have some riding to do!
We had a scorcher of a week last week. Each day was well over a hundred degrees. While it wasn't the official reading, there was one day when my truck read 111℉. I'll ride when it's hot, but my limit is 100℉, and the temperature had better be falling. If it's 100℉ and still rising, I'm out.
For the entire week there was nothing I could do with my horses besides wrap Izzy's foot while standing in the shade, feed both boys a super wet beet pulp mash, and freshen up their water each day. So on Saturday morning, I was out there early, determined to ride both horses.
Once again, I rode with the ranch owner. Since her mare, All In, was feeling a bit fresh from the slightly cooler morning, we stopped by the arena so she could work out some of her wiggles. I followed on Speedy who plodded along as though he'd already been ridden. We ambled around the arena while the ranch owner put Allie to work trotting and cantering. When she felt Alli's mind was on her rider, we headed out to the old golf course.
As we were finishing, Speedy got sassy like he always does on the way home. It was our turn to school in the arena while the ranch owner sat watching. Whenever Speedy is a bit of a stinker, my "go to" is to ask for flying changes. It took one or two asks before he gave them to me, but by the last ask, the change was so smooth that I didn't even feel it.
As we worked, the ranch owner asked some questions about both simple and flying changes; she's been working on the simple change. Speedy was more than happy to demonstrate how to set up a horse for either of those transitions. We showed the ranch owner that schooling for any change can be practiced riding two connecting circles. In the place where the two circles meet - I and L in the diagram below, you only need to straighten your horse completely, half halt, and then change the bend as you strike off in the new direction.
Speedy enjoys working especially if he gets to go out with a friend. He's not too keen on being schooled in the arena by me, but as long as he knows it's going to be a short work out, he'll do the thing. And if he thinks his ride is about showing off to one of his gal pals, he's all in.
That's what makes him a rock star.
My life this past two weeks has revolved around three things: 4:45 a.m. wake up calls, 106℉ afternoons, and duct tape. Lots of duct tape.
I wake up before dawn, grab a quick breakfast, and race across town to work. I put in my non-stop day, and then I race to the barn with the AC cranked on high. Izzy is always happy to see me even if the feeling is not mutual. Every afternoon his bandage is hanging askew with bits spread across his quarter acre lot.
The wound is healing though, and it's down to about a third of its original size. I forgot to take a new picture when I bandaged it yesterday afternoon. No matter how well I wrap it though, he picks off the duct tape bit by pit. Most of the time there is always at least part of the bandage covering his heel, but if he would only leave it be, things would heal much more quickly. Today is day 25.
He chewed off the bottom of the first bell boot, so I found a style which has a super thick bottom half. So far it has been too stiff for him to flip up and chew. I am also spraying the boot daily with Rap Last, but it hasn't seemed to deter the chewing. After touching the bottle the other day,I accidentally touched my face near my eye. It felt like someone had pepper sprayed me, so I know the stuff works. It just doesn't seem to work on big brown horses.
After a solid week of weather well over a hundred degrees, the temperature is supposed to drop down into the low 90s for all of next week. Maybe then I can finally get a ride in after work. And even better would be if this wound could close up enough so that bandaging and sweating aren't all I do.
Come on fall, hurry up!
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%: