From Endurance to Dressage
I'll admit that I am a little bit superstitious. Back when I was endurance racing, there was one, and only one, t-shirt that could serve as my pajama top. I am also careful about what I wish for. Jinxing yourself is a thing. I sort of feel like tempting fate, or the Universe, is pretty stupid, but black cats, broken mirrors, and Friday the 13th have never spooked me.
With horses though, it's best to honor all of the weirdo gods, the real one, too, and offering sacrifices whenever possible can't hurt either. You know, like not stepping on cracks, always take time to pet a dog whose tail is wagging, and don't hesitate to go back to double check that gate one more time.
I must have missed a sacrificial moment or forgotten to give homage to one of the gods of something - probably the weather god; he's always annoyed with me, because the stars did not align for me this weekend.
Early in the week, my friend Jen, who organizes tons of shows and clinics, texted and asked if I wanted to come and do an Erika Jansson Cavaletti Clinic on Saturday. I tried to do one earlier in the year but something came up. I hesitated for a few minutes - was I comfortable jumping into something again without a plan?, and then I threw caution to the wind. "Sure," I told her. "Sign me up." Izzy needs all the show miles he can get.
While we were at the schooling show the weekend before, I noticed that one of my trailer's tires looked a bit low. I made a mental note to ask my husband to bring out the air compressor and fill it up. Of course I forgot to do that, so on Friday afternoon, as I was loading my tack, I noticed the tire again and realized that it was more than low. I popped on my tire gauge. Instead of 40 pounds of pressure, like the rest of the tires had, the gauge read 10.
Reggie, the ranch's fixer of all the things, brought out his air compressor and filled the tire back up. Even though we couldn't hear or see a leak, I just couldn't drive 6 hours round trip with a questionable tire. I gave my favorite tire place a call, Les Schwab over on Buck Owens Boulevard, and asked if they could work on a tire that was still on the trailer.
Not only could they, but they have a large, covered bay for just that purpose. I was told which entrance to use and easily found the enormous covered parking for servicing large rucks. The manager, Justin, came out to greet me with a jack in tow. In less than 15 minutes, he pulled the tire, found the nail, patched it, and had it back on my trailer.
When he said I was good to go, I reminded him that I still needed to pay for the repair. He quickly shook his head and explained that they never charge to fix a flat tire even if I hadn't bought the tire there. Wow. That's amazing customer service. On a personal note, fixing a horse-related problem at no charge earns you my business for the rest of my life. Got a tire or brake problem? Check out Les Schwab on Buck Owens Boulevard; they'll treat you right. I headed back to the ranch feeling much better about Saturday's long drive.
But it was Friday the 13th, and like I said, I must have forgotten to sacrifice something because when I rolled into the barn at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning ready to roll, Izzy was missing a shoe and his leg was hot and swollen. Turd. He's fine, but I didn't get to do the cavaletti clinic after all.
Horses. What are you going to do?
Actually, the exercise does a lot more than collect the horse. It also teaches him to want to move forward and to like it. But first ...
Earlier this week I had a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. I imagine that if it were feasible for me to be in full training, which it's not, Chemaine would probably have a more structured system for my lessons. As it is, she sort of leaves it up to me to let her know how this or that exercise went, what we're suddenly doing well, and where we're stuck. And when I say we, I mean Speedy because he's the other half of this team.
Before we started THE EXERCISE, we did have to sharpen Speedy up to my leg and get him supple. There was a lot of half halt and a SURPRISE! tap with the whip. It didn't take him long to realize that a half halt was going to be followed with a suggestion that he engage his badonkadonk. You can see the result in the medium trot above.
Since Speedy will always take the path of least resistance, we had to do the same sharpening up on the shoulder in. When he got lazy, I surprised him with a sudden tap with the whip to remind him that he is now required to have energy all. the. time.
A favorite suppling exercise of Chemaine's is the shoulder in to haunches in. She loves this for warming the horse up for the half pass. Speedy is not the biggest fan of the work because it's work, but it definitely gets him more supple. It goes like this: through the corner get a deep bend. Ride out of the corner in shoulder in. When you like the quality of the shoulder in - ours always needs more work, but whatever; reverse it to a haunches in. Again, when you like the quality of that, move back into the shoulder in. Ideally you should be able to get several of each down a single long side.
By this point in the lesson, we needed something else to keep Speedy thinking forward and being supple. He can give me one or the other, but he hates doing both at the same time. Chemaine called the exercise passad. I googled the heck out of the term, but I couldn't find any reference to it. If I'm spelling it incorrectly, let me know.
Here's how the exercise goes: pick up a collected canter. On the short side get the horse's stride as short as you can. As you come through the corner get maximum bend, and half halt with an open and back outside rein to really get the haunches under your horse. Then almost pivot through the corner. The point is to get the horse thinking about deep collection like in a canter pirouette. Come out of the corner with the horse deeply bent around your leg and looking at H.
Now you can begin the half pass to centerline. Since the horse has been collected as short as he can, now is the opportunity to open up that canter for a more forward stride in the half pass, something Speedy hates to do. After a few of those super collected canter corners, he started to think that canter half pass was looking a lot easier.
After you half pass to center line, stay on the same lead shortening the stride on a 10-meter half circle back into the opposite corner. Repeat. Here's video of Chemaine explaining the exercise and then coaching me through it several times.
After going through it both directions, we repeated the exercise at the trot. Speedy's trot half passes suddenly developed a bit more impulsion. Funny how something you thought was hard isn't so hard when you replace it with something that is definitely hard!
And then, just to shake off all that "hard," we finished up with some medium trot. Looking pretty good, Speedy G!
Our next show, USDF-rated, is in late October. We were so close to getting that 60% in mid-summer. I think we're definitely better than we were even a month ago. I think we really can do it this next time around.
But if not, there's always a next show!
I will never again complain about the lost hour and a half that the original SafeSport training took me. Just before school started, my district office notified its teaching staff that we would be required to complete 3 hours of online "interactive" training courses on our own time. Oh, and I didn't get a certificate either.
The first one-hour course had three modules, one of which included our annual Employee Training. This is the SafeSport type of stuff: recognizing the signs of child abuse, child neglect, bullying, sexual molestation, etc. It also included all that business about teachers being mandated reporters (MR). Being a MR means I can get in big, BIG trouble if I knowingly turn a blind eye to anything that even smacks of child abuse. I've actually filed more than one Child Protective Services (CPS) report during my tenure as an educator. Forget about SafeSport's sanctions; not reporting could get me arrested. And jailed. And fired.
We were also notified of various laws that are new to California along with what to do if we have a shooter on campus. It was all pretty basic stuff except there was no way to pause or rewind the videos, so if you missed something, you were kind of screwed. Or in my case, the custodian came in to clean, and I had to ask him not to vacuum because I couldn't hear the video!
The second training, a mere 45 minutes, involved some really basic material. If you've been a teacher for more than ten minutes, you should already know this stuff. Heck, even my husband, who is not a huge fan of pint-sized munchkins, could have passed the test without seeing the video. In case you're worried, I scored 100%.
It was the third training that really made my eyeballs roll. I listened to a solid hour of how terrible adults can be to one another. Jeez, people, how inappropriate can you get?
I had to watch video after video about how it is not appropriate to comment on someone else's sexuality. I was also told that no still means no which means I am not allowed to keep asking the next door teacher out on a date after he has previously told me no 10,000 times. Really? Who does that? I am married of course, so it isn't me.
At one point in the video I was "welcomed" to my annual training. My ears perked up at that phrase. Annual? You mean I have to watch this same video again next year? While teachers get these trainings every year, this version, the online interactive thing, was new. I was horrified that I might have to spend three hours again next August listening to the same training. And on the heels of my SafeSport training which renews on September 1, 2020.
Rest assured all you moms and dads out there. I am the BEST TRAINED dressage rider you'll ever meet!
And guess what? Neither of us died. In fact, we both had a really good time. Considering it was a three hour drive both directions, I was especially proud of how easily he handled it all.
Before anybody gets too excited, I was super lame when it came to taking photos or asking anyone to video my rides. My husband came out to the ranch the before though and took a few photos, so those will have to do.
So here is how this particular show came about. It was Labor Day Monday, and I was looking at the upcoming show schedule for the fall and early winter. By this point in the season, I am usually done showing. I've either had enough, I am broke, or I am some combination of done and broke. Not this year though, so I was trying to see if there was anything I could still do with Izzy.
I realized that the Ventura County Chapter of CDS was putting on a schooling show the following weekend. I am a planner though, so going to a show three hours away without a PLAN was just not in the cards. And then I thought about it some more. Why couldn't we go? My friend Jen was managing the show, so I texted her to see if I could still get in. "Of course!" came the answer. For the first time ever, I went to a show without carefully planning it first.
Like the show from a few weeks back, the level we show at isn't important right now. While we're schooling half passes and simple changes, I am more concerned with Izzy feeling confident and successful which means we're going to hammer away at Training Level until he gets off the trailer overly relaxed and bored out of his mind.
Since our drive was so long, we didn't pull into White Birch until a bit after 10:00 a.m., long after everyone else had already grabbed their piece of the limited parking. While a lovely facility, White Birch is notorious for having tight parking. After circling the property twice looking for some kind of opening in which to shoehorn my anything-but-short rig, I finally ended up just pulling off to the edge of the gravel drive. This meant that Izzy was standing in the road the whole time. Every time someone needed to drive by, I pushed his hip over so they could squeeze past. He never even batted an eye.
With about an hour and a half until my first ride, my first priority was doing a walk about. At the show we did a few weeks back, that really seemed to help Izzy settle. The longer we walked, the more confident he grew. We circled past all of the trailers, walked by the warm up ring, and then headed down to the covered arena and show office. Jen and I took a few minutes to catch up, but then I continued walking Izzy around the ring and back and forth. He had been to White Birch once before for a clinic back in 2016, but it's still a scary ring.
We walked back up to the trailer where I tacked him up before retracing our steps for yet another walking tour. He wasn't bugged-eyed about anything, but he wasn't dragging his nose on the ground either. I didn't care. I kept the lead rope long and loose, only correcting him when he balked or got his head above mine.
Since we were parked adjacent to the warm up, we didn't have far to go. My plan was to walk until he felt relaxed. I've been following the exact same warm up routine at home, so within a minute or so, Izzy was listening and trying hard. We did some trot serpentines, a bit of canter, and then returned to the trot work. He spooked a few times here and there, but there were no theatrics other than trying to be above the bit so that he didn't have to get round. And with that, we headed to the ring for Training Level Test 3.
As we entered at X, I couldn't believe how relaxed I felt while riding the test. There was no anxiety or pressure to "perform." I was just there to ride my horse, and that's what I did. There were no spectacular moments - well, maybe that 7.0 for our left lead canter, but there weren't any disastrous moments either. The judge's comments were spot on, "Capable pair - keep working to create stretch to bit w/more energy from behind and suppling exer[cises]. Horse will gain confidence with more experience. Good effort today!"
As we halted at X, I was stunned by the boisterous round of applause that we received. You'd have thought we had scored an 80%. Afterwards, a number of friends and strangers alike congratulated me on a well ridden test. It couldn't have been that spectacular as we only eked out a 60.172%, but it warmed my heart to hear so many good things about my big brown horse. I've been told by many, many people that they would have sent him down the road long ago. While I certainly considered it more than a few times, I am very glad that I did not.
For our second test, we were doing Training Level Test 1. I kept our warm up pretty short as I knew he was as relaxed as he was going to get. Physically, he felt great, but I could sense that he was reaching his mental quota for the day. While he behaved himself for the test, I knew he was thinking about telling me NO about every other stride. Interestingly, the judge saw something else, and I suspect it was a bit of his you can't make me attitude. What felt like sassiness to me, came across as confident to her. For this test, she remarked, "More confident horse this ride. Keep dev[eloping] suppleness in conn[ection] and forward, swing[ing] back. Good effort today!"
While I tend towards a glass half full mentality, I am truthful when we fail. Other than secretly wishing we could have earned a 70%, there was not one part of this show experience that left me feeling disappointed. I was on Cloud 9 the entire three hours home. After SO. MANY. YEARS. Izzy and I are finally able to go to a show without fear of scattering other riders or tearing apart the ring. The judge was absolutely right; with more experience, Izzy will gain confidence.
I think there's another schooling show in November. Sign us up!
I've had a couple of kicked my butt weeks. The switch from having the summer off to going back to work full time is always a bitter pill to swallow. It's not that I don't like working, I do. Teaching is very rewarding - usually. It's the fact that August and September afternoons are still flipping hot, 100 degrees hot, and I just can't do that to myself or my boys. After not having ridden mid-week for two straight weeks though, Friday's heat was finally tolerable enough to ride.
Somewhere along the way, Izzy has grown up. I think it happened last March. Of course, once fall and winter hit, I expect some of his jackassery to return, but until then, I am having the most rewarding rides.
As I continue up the levels with Speedy, I occasionally think of the adage show a level below what you school. I've always found that idea to be arrogant. If I knew how to do the movements above where we are, I'd be schooling them. But since I am learning right along with Speedy, we show right where we are schooling.
It's different with Izzy. Now I know what a leg yield should feel like. The same for a shoulder in. I know how much bend I should look for in the half pass, and I know that a change of lead through trot is setting him up for flying changes. As I was schooling him on Friday afternoon, I laughed when I realized that the only "movement" from training level that we were schooling was the stretchy trot. I now finish my rides on both boys with long and deep stretches.
Since it was 100 degrees, I kept the ride pretty short. We did a quick walking warm up, focusing on being really round and deep with lateral flexion. From there, we did a few 20-meter trot circles with changes of bend across the diagonal. I also asked him to lengthen his stride. We did a few leg yields followed by some trot half pass to get a change of direction. That took care of the trot work.
I followed the trot work up with a few trot to canter transitions and then did some changes of lead through trot. Next was the canter half pass to check on his suppleness. And since we don't have a flying change yet, I rode the counter canter along the short side and then did a few more changes of lead through trot.
So now, I can actually show several levels below what we school. Our 21-minute ride had movements from First, Second, and Third Levels. It's a lot easier when you already "know" what you're doing.
Here are a few clips of what we worked on over the weekend.
Oh, I forgot to mention that we went to another show on Sunday! More on that tomorrow.
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%: