From Endurance to Dressage
I think I've been getting off pretty easy the past month or so. Knock on wood here, but I haven't needed to call my vet or the chiropractor. And since I've only done schooling shows lately, my showing expenses were also really small. The Christian Schacht clinic was a bit pricy, but nothing like a two-day USDF show. My "tack and gear" spending was a little over the top this month, but all in all, the ponies aren't breaking the bank.
The truth is, I haven't shown Speedy or done as many clinics because we had been planning an African safari for next summer. Safaris are far more expensive than our usual international vacations, so we were watching our "extra" pennies pretty closely. We had our itinerary set and guides all arranged but were waiting on flights to Kenya to become available.
Out of nowhere, something bigger and better popped up so we won't be going to Africa, at least not next summer. I have to say I am disappointed by that, but what we have planned is ultimately better. Since things aren't finalized yet, I can't really spill the beans.
Once the dust settles, my showing and clinic schedule should be back in full swing, but in the meantime, I'm glad to know I am can live on a leaner equestrian budget and still be happy.
No matter how much money we have, we still manage to spend all of it somewhere, don't we?!
The ranch owner where I keep my boys is awesome. It's a quiet place with no other boarders. She doesn't advertise her place and since it's her home, she prefers it pretty quiet without a bunch of activity. Over the years, she has allowed occasional outside horses in, especially if she already has a relationship with the owner. That's how I got in.
All of that means that the arena doesn't get used very often. The ranch owner is primarily a trail rider and only uses the arena for tuning a horse up. It's a lovely arena though with footing that she had hauled in. It's decomposed granite spread deeply over a well-packed base. It doesn't get deep, and the footing is surprisingly bouncy when compared to the sand found in most arenas my area.
When I moved in, the ranch owner realized that I ride daily. While the DG doesn't generate nearly as much dust as does sand, it's still there. She quickly placed an order for a product that eliminates dust. You can see it in the plastic bins above.
I don't exactly know what the stuff is, but it gets sprayed onto the surface where it adheres to the footing particles, encapsulating them. Once it cures, the finer particles become too heavy to become air born. As a bonus, the material provides a shock absorbing element to the footing, giving it more bounce.
The product is fairly "easy" to apply. Reggie, the ranch's handyman, simply hooked a pump to the containers, and with the help of his son, sprayed it out onto the arena with long garden hoses. The ranch owner purchased enough of it that it saturated the footing down several inches.
It should last a solid 18 months, even with dragging and smoothing the arena. To prolong the efficacy of the product, the manufacturer recommends reapplying one container every year or so. Eventually, the product does wear away with use and exposure to the sun and weather, but it should remain dust free for nearly two years.
I haven't been able to ride on it yet, but I am hoping it's ready this afternoon. How lucky am I?
Izzy has lost one too many shoes. We are now going barefoot. I am not an extremist either way: I like the sturdiness of shoes, but the convenience of going barefoot is hard to beat. Izzy just can't/won't keep that right front shoe in place.
I kept Speedy shod all the way around for many years. For the last couple of years though, he kept coming up lame without any apparent reason. I took him to Alamo Pintado, a premier equestrian medical center on the Central Coast where he was diagnosed with a possible suspensory ligament issue in the hoof. He had months off, and came back sound. When repeated the lameness a year or so later, my vet felt that we needed to change his shoeing. When he came up lame again, my current farrier posited that he was simply whacking himself with his own feet. He suggested we go barefoot. Speedy's been sound ever since.
While Izzy is sound, he keeps yanking that front right shoe off. He's pulled it twice now in the past week. My farrier isn't complaining about it, but I am tired of replacing chewed-up bell boots that aren't working anyway.
When I saw the shoeless foot on Saturday morning, I said screw it and saddled him up anyway. Dude was sound as a dollar. I called my farrier and asked if we could just pull the shoes and try going barefoot. Farrier said that it's a cheap and easy thing to do and certainly worth trying.
If Izzy gets sore being barefoot, we'll just stick the shoes back on. Given how sound he's been for the past few rides, I am hopeful that we can go barefoot permanently. He's already shoeless in the back and has been for more than a year, so I think this might be the cheapest fix in history!
My Arabians have always been thin-skinned. They're picky about what touches their skin, and since a lot of materials will rub a hole right through their flesh, I respect their choosiness.
Endurance riders use a lot of synthetic materials out of necessity. Endurance horses sweat copious amounts, hour after hour. Tack gets wet when riders sponge their hot horses. Tack gets rained on when riders cover mile after mile of trail, heedless of the weather. Leather tack just can't stand up to that kind of abuse.
Even so, there were two pieces of tack that I used that had to be from natural fibers: my saddle pad and girth. For years, I found that mohair or fleece girths were the only things that wouldn't rub my horses raw, and natural wool pads kept my horses' backs cooler and pain free.
When I made the switch to dressage, I kept Speedy in a synthetic fleece girth which he still uses. I liked it so well that I purchased one for Sydney as well. It was in such good condition when Sydney left that I was able to use it on Izzy. While it fits him perfectly, I am having the same problem that endurance riders have: Izzy sweats an unbelievable amount which makes the girth really gross after only two or three rides.
I finally decided to see if my big brown horse is as sensitive as Speedy. I gave the Riding Warehouse a quick search and found the Ovation Airform Synthetic Chafless Dressage Girth. For $34.79 (I had a discount code but had to pay shipping), it was worth a gamble.
There isn't anything that I don't like about the girth, and more importantly, Izzy is going just fine in it. Ovation must use a basic pattern because the Airform has very similar billet keepers and roller buckles as the fleece girth - both of which I love. Both buckle ends have elastic, also a must-have for girthy horses.
The one thing about the girth that surprised me was how lightweight it is. I expected something a bit more substantial. Even so, it doesn't feel cheap or flimsy, and I like how it maintains its position. It doesn't slip or slide around, and when I unbuckle it, it seems to release a gentle grip.
Although it could have been a terrible idea, I actually used it for the first time at the Christian Schacht Clinic. If the girth was going to cause any trouble, it would have been under those conditions. But nope. Six rides later and Izzy is as comfortable in the Airform as he was in the fleece.
The best thing about the girth, and the primary reason that I selected it, is that it can be hosed off with no drying time. While I haven't needed to hose it off after every ride, it's been doused at least twice already and looks as good as new.
While Izzy might not care that his girth is no longer hard and crunchy, I like that it's clean and pliable. I swear; is there anything that I haven't replaced for this horse? Wait. Don't answer that; I don't need any ideas!
I knew it was of course. Whenever there's a glitch in our forward progress, I know it's most likely my fault. I wrote about the last glitch a few weeks ago and have since been working to resolve it. Christian Schacht, the clinician with whom I rode last weekend, gave me a few more tools to help me work on the problem, and they turned out to be magical.
For most of last week, I was either tired from the clinic, or working on something (it's a biggie) that took priority over riding. I didn't ride Izzy (or Speedy, for that matter) again until Friday afternoon. I wasn't worried that he was going to be a monster or anything, but I wondered if I could get the same quality of throughness that Christian had helped me achieve at the clinic.
Spoiler alert: I did. We did. It was awesome.
As soon as I got on, I started listing the 50 states in alphabetical order. I kept my eyes off of my horse and didn't think bout riding. Izzy tried to lurch into a trot, but I refused to follow him with my seat. He walked. And then he walked a lot more. When he a took a deep breath and exhaled, I knew I was on the right track.
The rides we've had since the clinic have been amazing. Some of the mental exercises that Christian gave me didn't work while riding by myself, so I changed them up or found some that worked better for me. Right now, the one that is working the best is counting.
I discovered that Izzy's tension had to be coming from me. While I ride, I focus on every single thing that he is doing wrong, and I try to correct all of it at once. I don't pay nearly as much attention to what I am doing wrong. By counting, I am not working on Izzy. I am only establishing a very consistent tempo. It also forces me to ride better.
When I am counting, I have to think about myself. Is my rhythm steady? Am I pugging my butt into the saddle on the sit moment of the rising trot? Am I holding the rhythm when he tries to speed up?
If I feel my attention start to wander, I change my counting pattern. Instead of counting to 20, I'll count to 16 and try to get back to 1 without missing a beat. Then I'll start over and count to 12, 18, and back to 20.
I count silently, and I don't work on anything else except maintaining a steady tempo. If Izzy throws his head up, I just keep my hands steady without asking for anything. As long as my riding rhythm is steady, he settles back down immediately.
I also hear Christian telling me to let my arms be soft. I can now feel when I am bracing. By maintaining the rhythm with my seat, I don't need to hold him back with my arms. It's much easier to be soft in your shoulders and arms when your seat and core are engaged.
I also keep my eyes in the middle of the circle. I don't look at what he's looking at, and I don't look for what might spook him. He's been a lot less looky when I am not looking around.
Christian also gave me some help with out canter work. I have difficulty getting Izzy ready for the canter. He knows this and so anticipates the departure. Quite often the cycle spirals out of control until I have to just stop and reboot. Christian's method for picking up the canter is a simple one: just canter.
I found that Izzy once again tried to anticipate the departure and quickened his tempo in response. Rather than allow it, I simply resisted his movement and held the tempo I wanted. When he was once again trotting nicely, I simply gave a little scoop with my seat and we were cantering. And it was fabulous!
The first time we cantered, I could feel that it was about to get a bit wild, but Christian once again saved me: Sit back, point your belly into the circle. As soon as I sat back and pointed my belly, Izzy rocked back and got softer. Once my position was better, I could milk the reins and help him keep his balance.
That clinic with Christian has definitely helped my riding. It wasn't so much about not thinking about riding, but more about not thinking about EVERYTHING while riding. I feel like Christian has helped me to soften my laser like intensity. Didn't Sally Swift advocate riding with "soft eyes?" I feel like I am now riding softer throughout my whole body, not just my mind's eye.
I can't wait to see where this all goes!
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%