From Endurance to Dressage
I am off to Tehachapi. We're still doing USDF Introductory B & C, but we're getting a lot better. After all of my recent rah rah posts, I certainly hope we put in good rides today.
The problem with being so honest about my learning journey is that I have to be honest about shows as well. I feel like our contact is improving, but we'll see if what I feel can actually be seen by the judge.
Yeah, yeah, yeah I know it's supposed to be about my own personal journey, but I WANT higher scores. How can I move on if we keep getting the same comments from the judges and earning scores in the lower 60s and high 50s? And before you tell me that scores aren't perfect indicators of progress, I do know that, but they are a good gauge for me. The judges for whom I've ridden have offered very fair comments that have been right on the money. It is those comments, combined with the scores, that will tell me when we're ready to move up to Training Level.
So, scout's honor, I'll share my scores, and hopefully videos, of the two rides. Taz's mom has offered to come along and do the video for me. Wish us well!
If you've been following this blog for any time at all, you know by now how much I love lessons. Lessons are like chocolate sundaes, sourdough pizza, or warm chocolate chip cookies after a long day. There are just some things in life that really float your boat. Lessons float my boat.
I have a show on Sunday, so Speedy G got to go to JL's on Wednesday for my weekly lesson. Again, if you've been following with any regularity, you know that Speedy G and I have been working hard to achieve steady contact. He's had so many of the pieces there, ready to go, but we just haven't been able to put it all together. He's ultra bendy - he can touch his nose to his hips with zero effort. He reaches with his hind end in a big way. His neck is long and flexible. He's got it goin' on, but ...
What JL finally helped me see was that I've taught Speedy G how to be too light in the bridle and overly soft with too much arch in his neck. So how do we fix that?
We moved into the trot. I squeezed him forward, but JL had me keep my hands very still. No pulses on the rein. He is so soft already, that if I touch his mouth, he drops his head and arches his neck. Too far. Way too far. Everything I did had to come instead from my seat and legs. Instead of slowing down his front end, we asked his hind end to catch up with the front. More energy, allow him to reach. Those were the judge's comments at the last show. So that's what I did. When he tried to come behind the bit, I just squeezed him forward, but I didn't ask anything of him with my hands. I just kept my elbows bent, and my hands very quiet. Everything was seat and legs.
What I realized was that every time I squeezed him forward, I had been pulsing my reins, effectively teaching Speedy G to get softer and softer in the mouth until he was over bending his neck. With JL's help, I stopped squeezing or pulsing, and simply held my hands softly and quietly still.
When Speedy G realized that he had to stay up at the bit, he tried a few other evasive maneuvers like running through the bridle. AHA! Outside half halting rein. I recognize you - now I really understand your job. Welcome to the party! Then Speedy G tried to fall out of the circle at the gate corner. Nope, Speedy G, meet bending inside leg and half halting outside rein. Eventually, Speedy G started to put it together and we finally had steady contact. Hallelujah. Can you hear the angels singing?
I have to say, riding a too soft horse can be a lot less complicated than riding a heavy horse. Once I realized where my hands needed to stay, I quit even thinking about them. They were literally just there to hold a position and the rest of the riding duties were provided by my seat, legs, and core. It was quite liberating.
After all the trot work, we worked on our canter transition. JL had a great new strategy to avoid the bucking and kicking that frequently come with the canter. Instead of letting him have a loose rein, we kept the same short rein length and I squeezed Speedy G into the canter. And just like at the trot work, we made his hind end catch up to the front. The canter transition was much smoother and he wasn't able to drop his head for the buck. And with a few scoops of my seat, I was able to "push" him forward into a nicely balanced canter. From there, the downward transitions were just as smooth.
Speedy G has now made the acquaintance of Steady Contact. I see a very good friendship about to blossom!
First of all, thank goodness it's Friday! That means Saturday and Sunday are fast approaching.
It's not often that my work and equine worlds collide in a good way. It's usually a collision wherein my horse world comes out beaten and bruised. Although last summer when my head and face met up with the arena pole, it was my work life that was the one sporting the black eye, literally!
But I am getting off topic. The point of this post was to share a good collision. On Thursday morning, one of my students shyly handed me a drawing she and her dad had done the night before. I oohed and ahhed appropriately and promised to hang her work at the barn. And I did. That very day. Here are the pictures of her artwork.
Have a great day!
This is part of an ongoing series of posts about trailering. If you're an old hand at hauling horses, please chime in!
Here is a safety feature that you might not have thought of to include when hauling your own horse.
I carry an emergency roadside kit. I am not saying I know how to use everything in it, but at least if I get help from a stranger, I might have the necessary item for that person to use to fix my problem. I also have a large tool kit inside the trailer that has most every tool invented, including a hammer!
My roadside kit includes jumper cables, and surprisingly, I've had to use them. My truck battery was fine, but a friend's battery died while at an endurance ride in a pretty remote part of the Mojave Desert. I am not ashamed to admit that I didn't know how to use them, but a friendly competitor did. We got my friend's truck started, and she made it home safely. The kit also has a mini air compressor (not sure it's strong enough to inflate a big tire), road flares, and other odds and ends.
It makes my husband feel slightly better that I have the kits, but the AAA card in my wallet makes him feel a whole lot better! And surprisingly, I've had to use that one, too!
Safety Tip #2: Carry tools and an emergency roadside kit.
Camping at Montana de Oro, summer 2009
.... also known as "Sweetie-Petie-Pie" around the barn and "Fast and Faster" on the trail.
For several months I've tried to write this post. I just haven't been able to find words that are eloquent enough to describe her. And after writing several drafts, I still can't. Montoya was a very special horse and everything that I write, or attempt to write, comes out sounding trivial. I really wanted her story to convey how special she truly was. Even though my words won't leave the impression I want them to, I hope you'll try to see past them and recognize what a spectacular horse she was.
Montoya was hell on wheels, a bitch when she needed to be, and a monster trail eater. If you needed to get somewhere, anywhere, all you had to do was think, go, and you'd be there. And if you were already hustling down the trail, she could find another gear. I never used up all that was in the tank. It made her difficult to ride because I never knew if she was on the verge of being over-ridden. In fact, she always acted as though I was holding her back. She always had more to give. Even in the last moments of her life, she offered more.
My time with Montoya started on a very late December night in 1998. Jim Bumgardner was supposed to have arrived late in the afternoon with a trailer full of horses for me to look at. He was late, very late. The temperature was in the 30s and it was after 9:00 p.m. before he pulled into the barn area. Even though it was late, he wanted to continue on to Ridgecrest, several hours to the east. So without any more delay, my group of friends helped unload five or six mares from the trailer. Several were given an immediate no; one looked sick with a snotty nose, one was too small, and one was priced out of my budget. Two or three were left standing in front of us.
I don't remember much about the others, but Montoya caught everyone's eye immediately. She had the most amazing mass of tangled mane that any of us had ever seen. Even in the dark it stood out. It hung down past the tip of her shoulder and nearly touched her knee when she lowered her head. Her forelock covered her entire face and was the same flaxen color as her mane. Her tail, also lush and thick, was red. When I got close enough to stroke her face, I found that her mane and forelock were matted with tar weed.
A friend trotted out the remaining horses for me to evaluate. Montoya had the nicest movement of the group, and she looked sound. We all agreed that she seemed to be the best endurance prospect of the bunch. Jim Bumgardner had to return our way in a week or so and offered to trade her out for one of the others when he returned if I found that I didn't like her. I gave him a check, and he gave me her Arabian Horse Association registration papers. We later discovered that she was quite well bred with a mostly Russian ancestry. She was nine years old.
Jim Bumgardner didn't have to come back for her. I kept her. Over the next few days I cleaned her up and began a decade's long effort to control her unruly mane. The tar weed wouldn't clean out of her forelock, and I was forced to cut most of it off. It grew back in record time and hung to the top of her nose for the rest of her life.
I bought Montoya in the middle of a December night based solely on a trot out. At 27 years old, it never occurred to me that she wasn't broke or that she would be too hot for me to ride. I could ride anything. Literally. I did discover that while she was broke, and I use the word very liberally, it had been many years since she'd been under saddle. And she was hot. Fiery hot. Fortunately she wasn't a bucker, and as long as we were going forward, she was happy.
Lakeside Classic 25-miler - April 1999
I took Montoya to her first endurance ride that April, just four months after buying her. Trailering, camping, and standing tied were taken in stride. All she cared about was working. She tolerated everything else. We rode the limited distance 25 miler at Lakeside in just over three hours. We flew over the course as though she had wings. I remember cresting a hill at the halfway point and saw the vet check just over the top. Montoya had never been to an endurance ride and didn't know what to think of the mass of people and horses in the middle of the trail. Her head snapped up, and she slowed her methodical charge. She was completely baffled, but like she would do for the rest of her life, she made a mental note of the strangeness of humans, and continued working.
The first year that Montoya and I competed together we completed seven endurance races; a 25-miler, five 50s, and a 75-miler. We traveled to Oakland (San Francisco Bay area), to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to the Pacific Coast, and to Los Angeles and beyond. We even drove to the east side of San Diego for a race where we could almost see across the desert to Mexico. It was a rewarding, and exciting, first year together.
The next year we rode several 50 mile races and completed three one-day hundred milers. We earned 6th place in the lightweight division for the AERC Pacific Southwest Region. It was quite a year. Montoya and I continued to have many exciting race seasons. In 2002 we earned the Fire Mountain Award of Excellence for completing a series of races with the same horse/rider team: the 4-day 200 mile Death Valley Encounter, the 20 Mule Team 100, and the Eastern High Sierra Classic 50.
Over the years, we entered many more endurance races including two more hundred milers and a handful of multi-day races. We also enjoyed week long camping trips and trail rides with friends. Taz's mom rode Montoya in four endurance races while Taz was in training and later injured. I even bred her to one of Sheila Varian's stallions in 2004, but she lost the fetus at two months. It was one of the saddest times she and I shared, but it wasn't meant to be. Montoya was never ill, and suffered only one minor injury. It took a year of long slow work, but she recovered fully and continued her endurance career.
Speedy G and Montoya DSA - April 2009
Montoya was also a leader and buddy to three of my other horses. She kept Sassy company until she finally moved on to live with a new family. She was a rock of stability to Mickey Dee, a project horse who became much more. And of course she helped Speedy G adjust to life as an endurance horse.
In January of 2010, Montoya colicked and was euthanized. The necropsy revealed a blood clot that had broken loose and found it's way to a capillary that provided blood to her intestines. When the blood flow stopped, a length of intestine died. Surgery would not have saved her.
Montoya's death was such a sudden and terrible loss that I found it very difficult to read the thoughtful condolences that were sent to me. I appreciated them, but I couldn't read them. I tucked each one away to be read someday in the future. Taz's mom wrote a lovely tribute that I have never shared with anyone. I think it's time. Here it is.
Miss you Sweetie-Petie-Pie!
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read