From Endurance to Dressage
I'm a Doofus!
I alluded to this particular SNAFU the other day. Here's the long and short of it.
I needed to unload a ton, literally, of wood pellets from the back of my truck. I backed Blue Truck up to the barn, checked my distance to the off-load pallet, and turned the truck off. I knew it was going to take a few minutes to unload so I left the radio on. I never do that; I have this fear of draining my battery all for the luxury of a little music while I work. Since the battery is less than six months old, I threw caution to the wind and cranked up the volume.
I spent the next half hour unloading a ton of wood pellets. When the job was done, I slammed my tailgate shut and hopped up into the cab to park the truck in front of my trailer. When I turned the key, all the lights on the dashboard lit up, but the engine didn't turn over. Repeat, same answer. Hmm ... my first thought was that my battery was dead, but really? The radio was only on for 30 minutes. My neighbor across the street has been known to blast his bass-assisted stereo for far longer than that. What the hell?
I tried to pull the key out of the ignition thinking that maybe a "do over" would clear the problem. The key was stuck. How does the key get stuck? I turned the key again, but the engine remained quiet. I tried pulling the key out again, but nothing. I moved past WTH? into the land of WTfingH?
I can solve a lot of problems, but vehicle glitches are not my thing. I immediately zipped over to the neighbor's house to ask for her husband's help. He wasn't there, but her farrier was. I just wanted a confirmation on jumper cable hook up. Farrier gave me the run down which, as it turns out, is the same process I use for hooking up my horse trailer's batteries, so I zipped back to my own barn brimming with confidence.
I actually own a roadside assistance kit that I know how to operate. I've seen car batteries jump started before, and I've actually participated in resuscitating a dead battery, but I've never actually been THE ONE IN CHARGE. No matter. I shimmied my car up to the truck's open hood, popped the car's hood (no small feat actually), and gave both batteries the one-eyed ogle. Yep. They both had one.
I hooked the clamps to each "hot" terminal and then moved on to the negative terminals. So far so good. No sparks flew, and the connections were solid. I started up the live battery first, and then hopped into Blue Truck and gave the key a turn.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
This is dressage related, barely, but the connection exists. I blogged about wanting a new truck a few months ago. I haul my horses alone 100% of the time, and a breakdown is always on my mind. I am not a mechanic so I do have a AAA card, but really, what help is that when you've got your precious boy stuck in the back of a trailer on Interstate 5, California's busiest highway? So as I watched my dashboard light up but my engine remain quiet, I was ever so grateful that this first "breakdown" was happening in the barnyard.
Not knowing what else to try, I gave Hubby a ring, but got no answer. A very dear friend, and her Fix All Things Mechanical Husband live just a few minutes away so I gave them a ring. Fortunately, he answered and volunteered his services. All my worries disappeared. If TG can't fix something, it can't be fixed!
His first suggestion was to crank on my steering wheel to unlock the steering column. That has actually happened before so I cranked away on the steering wheel hoping to shift the front tires a sufficient amount to allow the key to turn. I turned the key fully expecting the engine to roar to life, but instead, I was met again with a big, fat nothing.
TG took the driver's seat and tried a bit of this and that. Are your headlights on? Yes, came my reply. I could hear his various grunts and hmms. I love to see a man work. At last, after more than ten minutes of checking under the hood and fiddling with my dashboard, his ruling was made known: call a mobile locksmith, one of the tumblers in the ignition must be broken.
I was okay with that decision. It's certainly better to have a break down in your own yard than out on the highway, but TG wasn't finished. It just didn't sit well with him that he couldn't fix my problem. All of a sudden he gave a disgusted snort and drew my key out of the ignition. HOLY HELL!
I wish I could write this in a teeny tiny font, but my website's template won't allow for it. I had shut my engine off before putting Blue Truck in park. D'oh!
TG grinned at me sheepishly. Even he felt embarrassed at taking so long to diagnose my problem. He and his wife and I had a huge laugh at my foolishness (oh, hahaha ... real funny - except, it really was!). Actually I didn't care. As soon as he slipped my truck's transmission into park, Blue Truck fired up with its customary perkiness. I couldn't have been happier.
Moral of the story? Take good care of your vehicles and have really great friends!
Testing ... Testing
Our weather has been unseasonably pleasant for the better part of a month. We normally battle the heat all the way through Halloween, but not this year. It's been warm still, but only into the mid-80s. Both my boys got baths this weekend.
My regular lessons are on Monday afternoons, but most of you know that already. Guess which ONE day of the week was supposed to have an early rain. Yep. Monday.
Even though the rain was not likely, it never rains much this early in the year, high winds were a definite possibility. As storms move through California's Central Valley, they are always preceded by strong winds that lead the storms in. Sure enough, by the time I got to the barn, the wind was howling and the sky was filling up with ominous, black clouds. Not exactly like this, but since I was saddling Sydney, it's what my mind saw ...
The whole time I was saddling, I kept trying to talk myself out of the lesson. The wind was really gusting, leaves were skittering across the ground, metal was banging, and I knew it might pour at any second. But then I took a deep, resigned breath. Isn't this what I've been preparing for? Situations where my horse is anxious? What better place to school him through it than in my own back yard.
As we walked down to JL's arena, I could feel the tension coursing through my arms and legs. Sydney, on the other hand, looked like he could care less. The gusts of winds never fazed him. I started to relax and felt my core loosen up a bit. By the time we got to JL's I was feeling pretty good about riding him through the nasty weather.
The lesson started out with a discussion of my most recent video: what I liked, and what I saw needed improving. The thing I most wanted to work on was the landing moment of my rising trot. I could see in the video, as well as feel, that I land too firmly and get a bit left behind, which causes me to struggle a bit in the rising phase of my posting.
JL's solution was so simple that I felt an immediate improvement. (She's a really good trainer.) Just like we had discussed in the canter, I needed to concentrate on not over-opening my hip angle in the rising moment of the post. By over-opening my hip angle, my shoulders fall behind my pelvis, and I lose balance. As soon as I focused on keeping my hip angle a bit more closed, my balance improved immediately, and my seat got so much softer.
Which was all great news because Sydney chose that moment to duck hard to the inside. He did one of those duck and turn maneuvers that leave you hanging over empty air with the certainty that you are about to eat dirt in a serious way.
I do not want to jinx myself here, but I am about to. In all of the many, many times that he has reared, bucked, bolted, launched, cavorted, ducked, or spun, he has not dumped me. I do not say this to boast about my stickability, but rather to speak to his kind soul. I do not think that he ever intends to actually lose me. He always stops whatever it was he was doing in order to give me time to reposition myself.
With that said, it's not all thanks to his kindness that I haven't eaten dirt. I do have a pretty good seat when it comes to shenanigans. All I am saying is that if he really wanted to shake me loose, all he would need to do is take just one more step forward, backward, or to the side to finish the job. But he hasn't.
So after he left me hanging in mid-air, he was UP. Excellent timing, Sydney. Once he spooked that first time, he started looking for other scary monsters. With the gusting wind and the scattering leaves and banging metal, he didn't have to try very hard to get a bit wild. He spooked himself into a right lead canter, BUT ... he got the correct lead. JL later attributed that little success to my careful and correct riding.
The rest of the lesson, short as it was, was about keeping my hip angle more closed in order to keep a quieter and softer seat. We worked on getting that inside bend to the right, as well as keeping him balanced without letting him fall into the circle; the reason we had so much trouble at the last clinic.
JL doesn't give a lot of compliments. She's just not the kind of trainer who needs to placate her students or stroke their egos. She doesn't criticize or pick on you either. She gives you feedback and lets you do with it what you want. During this particular lesson though, her compliments were numerous. I didn't really need them though, to know that I was riding much better than I was just a week ago. Her suggestion to resist opening my hip angle so wide filled in a big gap in my riding. It seemed to just tie a bunch of things together.
Even though Sydney was high and bouncing around, I felt perfectly balanced and in control. By the time I asked for a downward transition, I was grinning from ear to ear. And to make the lesson feel even more successful, Sydney offered a lovely downward transition that was soft and relaxed. We quit the lesson right there.
My takeaway from the lesson? Focus on my hip angle at both the trot and canter in order to keep my seat softer and quieter. This will improve my balance. Also, continue with the up, up, down exercise as that is really helping my leg position and helping me land more softly.
Lessons with a great trainer simply can't be beat!
Step 1: buy a pallet of wood fuel pellets from your nearby home improvement store. One word of caution; these aren't 100% pine pellets, but the blend of soft and hardwood hasn't bothered either of my horses, and I've been using these pellets for more than a year. Depending on the part of the country you're from, any non-pine wood might irritate your horse's skin or cause respiratory issues.
Step 2: remove the top layer of 200 pounds.
Step 3: place that layer on the tailgate.
Step 4: remove 200 pounds of pellets from the tailgate and replace on the new pallet in the same formation as they were on the stack. I've found that this creates a much more stable and secure pile, especially since these pellets last approximately six months. I don't need them to sag and fall over!
Step 5: repeat the process ten times.
Ultimately, I ended up moving each bag twice, once onto the tail gate, and then onto the stack. I moved 4,000 pounds of dead weight in less than a half an hour!
There actually was a final step: I had some truck trouble (blog post coming) and had to call a friend for help. Her horse is confined to a dirt paddock. When she saw the pellets, she thought they might really help her guy deal with the dust and flies. As a thank you for her help, I re-loaded four bags back into my truck and delivered them to her house. I unloaded the bags and spread one in her horse's paddock. So actually, I moved another 400 pounds of pellets.
No problem as I am still counting calories, I've lost more than 13 pounds, and am moving closer to Club Skinny!
Speedy Has Video, Too!
Speedy was a wee bit naughty for his Saturday ride. Here's a minute from our warm up. If I have time, I'll put together a few clips of his trot/canter work. I recorded more than 27 minutes of video, and I saw a few things that we need to work on, like how heavy he is on the left rein!
You might not be able to tell, but I was REALLY nailing him with my left spur. His answer? F-you, lady! I hopped off, grabbed the whip, and saw an immediate attitude adjustment. All of a sudden he was all, yes, ma'am! I tapped his hip in the barn aisle with it when he balked at turning away from some spilled hay, but I never had to use it in the arena. Right after we did one or two turns on the forehand, I dropped it in the dirt and rode without it.
Sydney might be a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, but Speedy G is just plain old stubborn. You get nothing for free with that dude!
Hey - There's Video!
A long video. Seriously, it's 9 minutes and some change long, but it's probably worth watching (once). I made it through one viewing, and I HATE to watch my own videos! If you watch it on YouTube, you'll have a bigger view.
The original length was 21 minutes and that included powering on the camera to powering it off. I only cut out the repeated 20-meter circles and changes of direction. I realize this only cut out some of the boring parts, but I wanted you to know that I didn't splice together the "best" moments. This was our ride, honestly presented. Grab a bowl of popcorn and a beer.
Here's my take on what I see:
We have a long road in front of us, and I know that, but I am feeling a lot better about things today. Even I can see that we're making progress. Yeah, it's slow, and we all know that I'd like it to be a lot faster, but at least we're not just spinning our wheels, mired in the mud. It may be that Sydney will never be a show horse. That's okay. I like riding him at home, and he's helping me learn to be a better rider.
And despite what I usually write, he looks like a nice horse to ride, doesn't he?!
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%: