From Endurance to Dressage
If only she believed she's a bad dog. Naughty little thing just flips us the paw if we even suggest that she's not the queen of this castle.
My Wintec Webbers finally gave out this week, forcing me to order a new pair. There's actually an I kick ass story involved that I may as well share. I was riding Speedy when my stirrup fell off. Actually off; it hit the ground. I looked down and thought What the hell? I hopped off, put it back on, and two minutes later it fell off again.
The little holes that the Webbers' "t" slides into had torn open. Rather than traipse all the way back down to the tack room to swap out my leathers for an old pair, I stripped off both stirrups and hopped on without them. And then I continued with my ride, eventually doing flying lead changes with no stirrups. If that's not a kick ass moment, your standards are just way too high for this girl.
When I walked into the house yesterday afternoon and didn't see a box on the counter, I knew it was probably in pieces. No matter how many times I tell the GSO guy to leave all packages on the side of the house, he won't. At one point, I even had a note near the front gate that read, LEAVE PACKAGES ON THE SIDE OF THE HOUSE. THE YELLOW DOG CHEWS. And as though to make my point, the yellow dog chewed up the note.
I headed out to the front yard to find my husband busily hunting for torn box pieces. He cautiously handed me the crumbs of what used to be a box while saying that he had no idea what these things were but they didn't appear to be damaged.
Miraculously, all of the carnage was centered on the box itself and on the cardboard that held the Webbers together. Yellow dog even left the shipping label intact. Not that I could have returned them.
Although, now that I think about it, wouldn't it be a hilarious surprise to the fine folks over at Riding Warehouse to open up a return box to find this mess inside?
Could I claim that the item had been damaged during shipping?
Yellow dog, please finish growing up! I really might need to return the next thing.
Group trail rides at dude ranches are not my thing. There are a few exceptions of course. My husband and I booked a trail ride in Belize that took us to some Mayan ruins; that was fun. I also took a private trail ride in Scotland; again, fun times. There was also that weeklong, point to point ride I did in Ireland. That was more than fun. But generally, the nose to tail thing just doesn't float my boat.
Being six feet above the ground connected to tree trunk legs kind of changes your outlook on trail rides. Suddenly, nose to (bobbed) tail rides look like a lot of fun.
Over the weekend, my husband and I joined three other couples for a trail ride at the Covell Clydesdale Ranch in Cambria. We booked the trip more than a month ago, not really sure what it entailed. None of us were disappointed.
The Covell ranch covers approximately 2,000 acres of rolling hills above the tiny coastal village of Cambria. The ranch has approximately 50 head of cattle and nearly 70 Clydesdales. The horses range in age from yearlings to old timers living out their retirement years. The working string is currently made up of 10 Clydesdales, mares and geldings, but a few others are being trained to join the team.
After getting all of us checked in, Tara, the ranch owner's daughter, gave everyone a quick tutorial in how to ride the horses. Each Clydesdale is taught to drive, that is their original purpose after all, and they are ridden like driving horses. Tara showed everyone the technique of slide, grab, and pull. We were directed to slide one hand down the rein, grab it, and pull it straight back to ask the horse to turn. To stop, you have to slide both reins through one hand, and then pull straight back with a rein in each hand.
The horses do not work off of the rider's seat or legs which meant no leg yielding or steering with your seat. Turning was also a challenge as an open rein did nothing. It took some concentration to turn left and right, not to mention a lot of room, but once I got the feel for it, I was quite delighted with how responsive my girl was.
After a few minutes of practice, Eileen turned out to be very soft in the bridle and wiling to listen to the quietest of aids; not all dude horses are that sensitive. With only the slightest wiggle of my calves, she broke into an easy trot. To come back down to a walk, I simply picked up both reins. What a lovely mare she was!
In the nearly 30 years that we've been together, my husband has ridden maybe a half a dozen times. Considering that his actual saddle time is pretty limited, he's listened to me long enough that he's picked up a decent skill set. At well over 6 feet tall, it was fun to see him look small on a horse.
The horses were trained to stay more or less in line, but Tara said that we were welcome to ride side by side. Most of the horses were happiest following one after the other. We did do a few trot sets and were even given the go ahead to trot up the final climb to the top of the hill. I was pleasantly surprised with how smooth Eileen was. We were all in western saddles of course, but even so, I was able to do a tiny rising trot and never felt as though Eileen's gait was too big to stay with.
If you live anywhere within a hundred miles of California's central coast, you should look up the Covell Ranch. Tara has done a great job with her Clydesdales. They were all well trained, their feet looked great, and each horse looked healthy and happy in their work. You can find the Covell Clydesdales on Facebook and Instagram.
I am not sure I can call myself a Third Level rider quite yet, but we are schooling the movements. Nor do I know everything, or even most things, or anything, really. But holy cow, schooling the movements in the level above where you've been working brings a whole new level of insight.
I hopped up on Izzy on Friday afternoon with a bit of a mission. It's been three months since I made the switch to the dressage legal bit, and it's time for the big brown horse to start toeing the line every ride every time. My chiropractor puts it this way: he's too old to have opinions. I always add, and if he has them, he can keep them to himself.
My plan was to get on, get it done, and get off. You know horses though; nothing is ever that simple. Right off the bat he started thinking his own thoughts and then decided to tell me about them. Really loudly. How many times can you jerk the right rein as you yell, let (jerk) go (jerk) of (jerk) the (jerk) freaking (except I said it the other way) rein (jerk, jerk jerk, jerk!). The answer to that question is about 972, or until you're panting and out of breath. It took a minute for all that jerking to settle in, but he finally realized his butt was in a boatload of trouble at which time he thought it prudent to keep his opinions to himself.
And then we got some great work done!
Somewhere doing the ride I decided to work on canter transitions which slowly morphed into canter transitions with changes of direction. And suddenly I found myself riding the serpentine from Second Level Test 1 where you do a simple change over the center line and canter on the new lead. Instead of a simple change through walk, we did a change of lead through trot.
They started out a bit abrupt, but suddenly, I heard, first, change the bend to get him on your new outside rein which sets him up for the change of lead. All those months and years of riding Training Level and First Level I could NEVER remember to do that before the change from canter to trot to canter at X. Now I know why those movements are where they are. And more importantly, I now understand what to do to get a better transition. Thank you, Second Level.
Once I was fixing the bend - oh, and by the way, I've determined that Second Level's goal is to teach slow witted riders like myself how to bend their horses; he immediately figured out what I was going to ask for and started offering a baby walk to canter.
This whole dressage thing would be so much easier if we all got to ride a Grand Prix horse at the GP level. Then we'd go down from there. By the time we got to Training Level, we'd KNOW why we we're doing what we're doing.
It's really all so very simple (said no one ever). I can't wait until Fourth Level because then I'll totally understand what I was supposed to be doing at Third!
In my circle of friends, the dressage at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) was the big draw. I had several friends who managed to fly out to North Carolina for the event. While I love catching the occasional dressage tests on TV, I am not one for live streaming. I am just too busy doing other stuff to watch.
Instead of watching, I read about the USA's silver medal and that the Freestyle was rescheduled (and then cancelled). More than all of that though, I was pretty shocked at the endurance news. What a disaster that turned out to be.
There were a few things about that 160 km (99.4 miles) race that raised my eyebrows. The first eye-rolling blooper was that many riders were sent off course. Speaking from a lot of years of experience, going off course is a rider's worst nightmare, especially while doing a hundred mile event.
When a horse and rider team start their distance at the crack of dawn, the rider is doing her best to focus on the course that has been laid out. Management has gone over the course the night before, and every turn is usually marked to help riders and horses navigate the hundred miles that lay before them. Going off course means that your horse has to travel even farther than planned. Realizing that you've gone off course for even a mile can wrack a rider with guilt.
In all the years that I competed, I only went off course a few times, and only once did a volunteer misdirect the riders. It created a massive backlog on the trail as riders realized that the volunteer was in error, but since the trail was so narrow, no one could turn around as more and more riders were being sent behind us. Later in the day, management corrected the error by shortening a later loop. I would have expected better of the staff at the WEG.
Cancelling the race after riders had completed more than two-thirds of the course is also shocking. The FEI cited weather as the reason. Every endurance rider in the world, especially those competing at the FEI level at WEG, are more than familiar with races that happen during bad weather. Every endurance rider on the planet has competed under less than ideal weather conditions. The sport is called Endurance for a reason.
During my 16 years as an endurance rider, I competed in all sorts of less than ideal weather. There were rides where the wind blew so strongly in the horses' faces that you could feel them being lifted off their front feet. We rode in blinding sleet, scorching heat, and humidity that was so high that water dripped off our tack and helmets. We always knew the weather was going to be a factor. The competitors at this year's WEG knew it too.
FEI officials claimed that the race was stopped because too many horses needed treatment because of the weather. That may well be true, but there were many other horse and rider teams who were successfully passing each and every vet check - horse and rider teams that were either better prepared or better managing their race. Penalizing them for the ineptitude or bad luck of others goes against the whole idea of competition.
Do I feel sorry for the New Zealand horse who had to be euthanized for kidney damage? Of course, but that doesn't mean the entire race should have been cancelled while horses were still on course, still going strong.
I am more than a bit disappointed in the FEI, and I can guarantee that those riders who took excellent care of their horses are more than a little disappointed too.
Even though Speedy and I have been schooling the flying lead change, we hadn't had an actual trainer lesson on how to do them until last week. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, had talked me through the aids over the phone, but getting a lesson in real life is always better.
Chemaine teaches the horse (and rider) the flying lead change like this:
Sometimes we got it, most of the time we didn't. And over the weekend, when I worked on it by myself a few days after the lesson, things went south pretty fast. On Saturday afternoon, I texted Chemaine with an urgent cry for help; I am pretty sure I've broken Speedy's right lead canter.
When Chemaine rode Speedy a few weeks ago, he wouldn't let go of the right rein. For this lesson, he wouldn't let go of the left. To encourage him to want to change, she finally had me do several things. The first was to keep the new bend while pushing his haunches to the rail on a counter canter. When he finally let go of the left rein (the inside rein), I could then ask for the change.
The other thing she had me try was to pick up the counter canter on a circle and do the same thing: new inside bend while keeping the haunches pushing out. It was hard, really hard. It's not magically getting easier either. Exhibit A - Like I said, I think I broke his right lead canter.
I have the feeling that I am going to be writing a lot about the flying lead change and how much we suck at doing them. Bear with me.
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