From Endurance to Dressage
I have learned to appreciate and savor whatever good rides the big brown horse gives me as they don't happen every day. Except lately, they do.
Since my last lesson with Chemaine Hurtado in September, my rides on Izzy have just gotten better and better. One of the things she wanted me to work on was bigger half halts with a quicker release. While I am not suddenly an expert rider, I'd like to think that I have implemented her suggestions.
I know my riding is improving because I can now feel when I start to restrict Izzy. He'll get tense and tighten up his topline and suddenly, I am riding him defensively without giving him the opportunity to stretch down. By recognizing that, I can now give him a firm half halt that says slow the heck down and rebalance yourself followed immediately by a gigantic release that says I trust you not to run off.
The weird thing is that it actually works. Sometimes I have to do it ten times in a row, but by the eleventh time, he's starting to rebalance himself. And if I am methodical about it, I can begin to use just my seat without my hands, and he still gets the message.
Another element that I've managed to add to my riding acumen is this sense of pushing and lifting Izzy up into my hand. I am not sure when this feeling started, but I found myself doing it a month or so ago. Rather than pulling back to get him to soften or let go of the rein, I've developed this need to push him up into my hand. The picture I have in my head is pushing my seat closer to my hands.
I know that my work on my sitting trot is where most of the changes are coming from. I find that I have much more influence over his movement when I sit. And when I remember to lift and tuck my pelvis while also sitting up and lengthening my spine, I get some pretty fancy movement from the big brown horse.
The new saddle is definitely playing a part in this recent spate of good rides, too. Not only does it put me in a better position, but I am finding that I am actually using the knee rolls. I don't think I even felt them in my Custom. In the canter the other day, I felt myself resting against them as I thought about lifting Izzy's withers up with my seat.
And the legal bit? I am still using it once a week. Over the weekend, I had a great ride on Izzy WITH the bit. I even forgot we were using it. He's definitely easier to control with the ported bit with the chain for leverage, but he's definitely figuring out the legal bit.
Our rides now consist of riding movements rather than just trying to get him broke. I am focusing on most of the First Level movements, excluding the trot and canter lengthenings. The connection just isn't true enough for those yet. Other than that, he can hold the counter canter without difficulty, and the leg yields are better than Speedy's.
I am actually having fun and looking forward to the next day's ride. That was not a challenge, Universe!
While it felt like a routine show season, Speedy and I ended up with some very gratifying successes. Early on, we won the Adult Amateur High Score at two different CDS shows. In August, we took home First Level Reserve Champion at the CDS Central Regional Adult Amateur Competition. This weekend, my CDS chapter, Tehachapi Mountain Chapter, awarded us First Level Adult Amateur Reserve for the season.
Each October, Tehachapi Mountain Chapter holds an awards and appreciation banquet at Oak Tree Country Club, about an hour's drive from Bakersfield. The list of attendees is usually quite large given that Bear Valley Springs is a community of fewer than 23,000 people. It is astonishing that such a small town can generate so much interest in dressage!
I mentioned a few times over the summer that winning the adult amateur show average was a goal of mine. While we didn't win first place, I was quite honored and proud to accept First Level Reserve.
In my opinion, just entering at A at all is a huge accomplishment. Doing it with a decent score is like winning at the Olympics. Just think how many riders can't even get their horses show ready. I know because I am one of them, too. I've been working with Izzy for more than two years, and he's still not ready to enter a real show. So knowing how hard it is to make it to show after show all season, winning reserve feels like a grand achievement to me.
One of TMC's regular volunteers custom made the reserve awards; first place received trophies. Tracy designed the awards specifically to suit each rider. I am delighted with my helmet bag!
Tracy even selected a special print to line the inside of the bag. She told me that mine was selected to complement Speedy's black leather RAAC halter.
During dinner, my husband and I sat next to the junior First Level Champion. While I competed with him all summer, it was the first time we had a chance to chat. He's quite a talented rider, and as I found out, a well rounded young man. We've already decided that next year at Second Level there's going to be some butt kicking. No doubt it will once again be him doing the kicking. I am glad he's still a junior!
Not long ago, I wrote about my prematurely aging Custom Revolution. Frankly, I am a bit disappointed that such an expensive saddle could wear out so quickly. I bought the saddle used about 6 years ago, but it was in like new condition. I've kept it covered, cleaned, and well conditioned. Even so, it has started to fall apart. The seat has a split, the pommel's leather is cracking, and the stitching on both knee rolls is nearly gone.
The local Trilogy rep suggested I get a seat saver, which I did. She also said that the saddle had plenty of miles left in it and that I should keep using it. I agreed, but I also started looking around to get a feel for what I might like as a replacement.
As luck would have it, I was able to hop up on the ranch owner's horse who was sporting a newer Custom Revolution. Even though the seat size was a bit small at 17 inches, I was instantly impressed with the deep seat. It was certainly deeper than mine anyway.
That planted a seed that started growing, and before I knew it, I started getting messages from people selling saddles. The most intriguing email came on behalf of Leslie Webb, a well known trainer, competitor, and author.
Leslie lives in Bakersfield. Last spring, she decided to retire from showing and riding although she is still available for coaching, clinics, and lessons. This fall, she decided to clear out her barn and tack room which included nine County saddles.
I didn't know much about County saddles, but some quick research revealed that they're a workhorse of a saddle known for their ability to fit a wide variety of horses. I gave Leslie a call and within a week I had one of her saddles to try out over the weekend.
Given that my Custom still has plenty of wear left in it, I decided I would give the County a try but only for comparison's sake. It wasn't in my budget to buy a new saddle, but then I tossed it up on Izzy. The dang thing fit like it was made for him. It definitely fit better than my Custom which has always been a wee bit too wide for him.
Just in case it didn't fit as well as I thought, I decided to lunge Izzy before getting on. It was probably just coincidence, but his stride was suddenly longer than it usually is when I lunge. I climbed on and immediately grinned. I had no idea that I actually preferred a deeper seat.
I worked Izzy at all three gaits. Sitting the trot became nearly effortless, and the canter felt amazing. Interestingly, I was unable to do a rising trot. I simply couldn't get my legs underneath me. I was disappointed but secretly relieved that the saddle wasn't going to work.
I called Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, who suggested two things. The first was that I needed to stretch my hip flexors. The County was putting my pelvis in a better position, but I was probably drawing my leg up. Additionally, she suggested I get video of me riding and send it to her so she could see what was happening.
When I next rode in the saddle, I had best friend video, but before I got in the saddle, I did some whole body stretching. Amazingly, my leg draped better and I was able to post the trot. All of a sudden, I really wanted the saddle, but I forced myself to ride in it a third time before making a decision.
Of course I bought the saddle, a County Connection with a 17.5 inch seat and a medium tree. I've been riding Izzy in it all week, and I can't believe how much better I am riding. I am struggling less with my position because I feel more balanced in the saddled.
Last night, I was able to school Izzy through some naughty moments much more effectively. In fact, we tried changes of lead through the trot for the first time and nailed them.
It could just be coincidence of course, but I am going to believe that the saddle is magic.
I am pretty ready for October to be over as it has been a whopper of a month. We now have a sick yellow dog.
If you have dogs, you are familiar with the middle of the night leap from bed as you hear THAT SOUND. Unfortunately, Brienne of Tarth's tummy troubles are from the back end.
It all started Sunday evening when she had to take an evening poo, which is not part of her regular routine. Even more uncharacteristic was that it was pretty ploppy. Her appetite was good however, and she was drinking as usual.
When Monday rolled around, she was still eating and drinking, but the diarrhea was worsening. Tuesday morning, I woke up to a gazillion little piles of stinky poo all over the floor. By Tuesday afternoon, she was lethargic and refusing to drink, eat, or even get up.
My husband called me at the barn letting me know I had better come home. As soon as I saw her, I told my husband she needed to be seen. Her temperature was slightly elevated, her hind end was shaking, and she refused to stand or walk. Of course, it was about 5:45 pm when I got home which meant it was too late to get her into our regular vet.
We zipped her over to the emergency vet (on Easton for you local folks) and were quite pleased with how efficient and kind the staff there were. It probably didn't hurt that I was prepared with her vitals, health history, current medications/supplements, name of my regular vet, and a credit card.
Our initial suspicion was poisoning from gnawing on palm fronds (not segos). After a quick exam, the doctor ordered a round of blood tests that included a complete blood panel, a CBC with differential, an electrolyte profile, a check of her pancreatic function, a cortisol test, and a urinalysis. The doctor suspected Addison's Disease (failure of the adrenal gland to produce hormones).
We spent several tense hours in the waiting room while I googled Addison's Disease. I wanted to be prepared. Fortunately, Brienne's blood work came back completely normal, especially her electrolytes. The doctor shrugged her shoulders and agreed with our initial (hopeful) diagnosis of palm frond overload with hind end muscles sore from so much pooing.
We elected to give her subcutaneous fluids and a cocktail of pain drugs to help her sleep. The doctor prescribed a course of antibiotics in case it's something bacterial in her gut. She also recommended a bland diet of rice and chicken which I had already started that morning. She slept really well on Tuesday night and looked somewhat perkier last night.
The diarrhea seems to have stopped, but her appetite is still depressed and she's not really drinking as well as she should. It's a good thing she loves ice cubes. She's doing a lot of sleeping which is probably what she needs more than anything. She seems over the worse of it, but we're keeping a close eye on her.
Dogs and horses - they're both so fragile!
After recommissioning the crap bridle, I realized that my tack was looking pretty grungy. Speedy's easy on his stuff, but as I've written at least 4 bazillion times, Izzy is not. He's gross.
Last weekend, I dismantled Izzy's day to day bridle and dropped the bit into a bucket of water to soak. I scrubbed the crud off each piece of his bridle, and then wiped it dry. I set it aside and then gave Speedy's bridle an equally thorough cleaning.
Once both bridles were clean and dry, I gave each one a quick massage with some Higher Standards Leather Balm and then reattached my bits and reins. I hung both bridles neatly and took a moment to admire the look and feel of a clean bridle. Then I saddled up the big brown sweat machine and got the bridle dirty again.
And the funky, once-a-week bridle? After a day or two of looking at it, I couldn't stand it. It too got a thorough cleaning and conditioning.
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 …
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
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