From Endurance to Dressage
Overall, the show went better than I expected, and it gave me a lot to think about. Speedy has been the only other horse I have ever taken to an over-night dressage show. Izzy has been to two-day clinics, but those were nothing like the hustle and bustle of a two-day USDF show. At this show, I got a glimpse into what it will take to manage his preferences.
He showed me that he's not thrilled with stabling that is close and crowded, but he'll deal with it. He showed me that his appetite stays strong, and he's happy to drink from a hanging bucket. Speedy doesn't like drinking from hanging buckets and prefers to drink from the ground. Izzy picked one neighbor that he really liked, and the rest he ignored. Was it just her, or did he just latch on to the closest thing?
Izzy also showed me that he isn't at all bothered by a million horses in the warm up ring, but all of that energy ramps him up. The warm up is something that he's going to need to get used to. The only way to do that is to go to more shows. He showed me that he needs to learn to ignore all of the activity which is going to be a challenge. I ride at home by myself. There is virtually no activity. A delivery truck or other car might drive by, or the neighbor's gate may swing open, but that's the extent of our hubbub.
We have another two-day show in a week, and it's turning out to be pretty big as well. There will be two rings which means another busy warm up. One issue is that I know he needs to be ridden at least 30 minutes to be effective in his work, but every minute we spend in a crowded warm up ring adds to his tension. So while I ride to achieve suppleness I fight the building tension at the same time. What do I do? Do I skip the warm up altogether? Do I ask for a quick walk, trot, canter and call it quits? I won't know until we have a few more shows under our belt.
I definitely think Izzy felt overwhelmed by the show environment, especially by Sunday. The longer we were there, the more tense he became. He already carries around a certain amount of tension in his every day life; he's the one whose head snaps up first over any little change at the ranch. He does relax though, and he loves to play. Lately, Reggie has been blowing all the leaves from the giant sycamore tree into Izzy's dry pasture, and he loves them. He crashes through the pile just because he likes the sound they make. He and Speedy gallop and play along the fence line, and each day I have to throw Izzy's toys back onto his side of the field. He loves to toss them over the fence.
And then there is the issue of Izzy's neck. It was very short and very tight. It's not like that's a brand new issue, but now I know I need to ride him at home with a neck that is as low as possible. If I can encourage him to carry it really long and deep, it might not shorten quite so much at the next show. To that end, I've been riding him this week with a no short neck policy. When he tries to suck it in, I bend him and push him sideways until he drop his neck from his withers.
I've spent most of this week reviewing the judge's comments and thinking about them as I ride. The angle of our shoulder-in varied; I've focused on keeping it more steady. Twice we lost the canter in the ten-meter circle to the right; we've been doing 10-meter circles at A, E, C, and B. Izzy jigged in the walk, so we've been walking and halting every time he take a hurried step.
For some riders, a show is about showing off what their horse can do. I would love to be able to do that, but I don't get enough regular lessons to get the kind of feedback needed to polish everything before the show. So for me, showing is about getting constructive feedback that I can use to guide my schooling rides. In teaching, we call that a formative assessment. The results of the assessment, in my case, the judge's scores, help "form" an impression of the demonstrated learning. Based on that impression, the teacher modifies future lessons to address the deficiencies. The assessment/test also serves as a summative assessment; a summary of what the student has learned.
Earning a 55% definitely forms an impression. I now know what I need to work on. As our scores rise, fingers crossed, I will know that I am correctly addressing our learning deficiencies. And if our scores don't improve, I'll need to approach the problem differently.
While it might not sound like it, I am truly enjoying this challenge. Izzy is a fun horse to ride. He's ridiculously affectionate, powerful under saddle, and naturally talented. Now that he's my primary focus, I already see lots of recent improvement in his work. We may crash and burn next weekend, but I am feeling confident that we'll do just that much better.
Here's to a weekend of good riding!
When I woke up on Sunday morning, my fingers were crossed that Izzy would be a bit tired and hopefully more relaxed. That did not happen. Not only was he not tired, he was wide awake and vibrating with nervous energy. Back in my endurance days, we used to say that the problem with a fit horse is that you have a fit horse. Izzy is a machine when it comes to working. He never gets tired.
I took him down to the warm up and was immediately discouraged. He was high as a kite and nearly unrideable. He wasn't trying to ditch me, but there was no dressage happening. His back was super tight, and his neck and poll were rigid. I did my absolute best to work him down, and there were moments when he would soften and let go through his back, but they didn't last long.
As I was heading towards the ring for my first test, Hilda Gurney joked that she wished there was a relaxation aid like there is for the canter, and then she told me to have a good ride; she had been watching my warmup. I laughed and agreed with her. Hilda is always friendly to me. She either remembers me from previous shows, or she's just chatty with everyone.
As we entered at A, Izzy was tense, but even so, I managed to push him through the test. There were no spooks or big errors. He did everything that he was supposed to except for losing the canter in the 10-meter circle and picking up the wrong lead at A. Both of those are more my fault than his.
My second test was 40 minutes later. Even though I was tempted to take him back to the warm up and try to work some of the tension out, I decided that Izzy probably needed a mental break more than he needed to be worked. As I sat on my quivering, ready-to-explode horse, Morgan, who had videoed the test, agreed with me. I took him back to his stall and pulled his bridle. He immediately got a drink and dove into his hay.
He didn't ever relax, but he did eat and drink the whole time. Back when I was still endurance racing, a horse's interest in food and water told us a lot about their physical and mental state. A tired or worried horse will frequently refuse to eat or drink, so when a horse does eat or drink, it's a good sign that they're doing better than appearances might suggest.
As my second ride time approached, I bridled Izzy and led him down to the ring. I let the warm up ring steward know that I wouldn't be warming up. Morgan held Izzy while I got on. I haven't needed help like that since Speedy was a youngster. Izzy was so high though that I didn't want to risk him exploding as I swung my leg over.
Instead of taking him to the warm up ring where I knew he would just get more and more nervous. I started walking him in the area in front of the rings. I felt myself succumbing to Izzy's anxiety. I doubted that I could ride him through the test, and I thought really hard about just scratching. Instead, I sent a silent prayer asking God to keep us both safe. Just taking that moment to ask for help relieved much of my worry. I dug a little deeper and decided that we simply had to get through this. If the test was nothing more than an expensive opportunity to school the big brown horse, then so be it. I headed toward the ring.
When the rider before us exited the ring, I walked in and approached the judge. I quickly explained that Izzy was extremely tense, and there was a strong likelihood that I wouldn't be able to manage him well enough to complete the test. I told her that if I felt as though a melt down were imminent, I would just raise my hand which would indicate I was excusing myself. She agreed that that would be wise.
As we trotted around the arena waiting for the whistle, a remarkable thing happened. Music suddenly began blaring in the ring beside us. My first reaction was to laugh at the poor timing. Are you kidding me? I thought. A freestyle, now??? I seriously considered waving at the judge and just walking out. But then something unexpected happened. My quivering bowl of jelly cocked an ear at the music and the tiniest bit of tension left his body. Instead of bouncing around nearly out of control, Izzy started listening to me.
With the help of someone else's freestyle, Izzy and I made it around the ring. We didn't do quite as well as the day before, but the test was much improved over our first test of the day. After we halted at X and were leaving the ring, another freestyle started, but this one had disco type music. Izzy immediately began to piaffe and jig his way out of the ring. I sent a silent thank you to God for sending us the right music at just the right time.
Stay tuned for one more post about the show...
After finishing my rides on Saturday - I was done before 11:00, I asked Jen, the show manager, if she needed any help. Jen is a good friend, so I always ask for a job when I am at one of her shows. For this show, which turned out to be much larger than usual, she was a bit short staffed, so she quickly put me to work.
Normally at this show, the warm up ring is right next to the dressage court, but because Jen needed two rings, the warm up was pushed out into an area behind some trees. That meant the warm up ring steward couldn't see when riders were finished with their tests, so she was sending the next riders up just by guessing. Jen asked me to serve as the ring steward for the two dressage courts.
Jen didn't realize it at the time, but she gave me the day's best job. I parked myself at the in gate which offered me a perfect view of both dressage courts. As each rider gave their final salute, I radioed the warm up ring steward letting her know she could send the next rider. As each rider came to the gate, I reviewed the schedule to confirm which ring the rider was in even though they already knew. I was able to see their name and which test they were riding. And since I was responsible for informing the warm up ring steward how the pace was running, I was "forced" to watch all of the rides.
It is amazing what you see and hear as a show volunteer. Since I wasn't visiting with friends or milling around, I had the opportunity to catch small things that I would have otherwise missed. I saw a rider get bucked off at C. I quickly ran up to catch her horse as the EMT swooped in to see if she needed medical assistance; thankfully, she was fine. I watched Hilda Gurney "read" a test for a student from memory; she didn't even have the test in her hand as back up. I watched Eddie Van Halen's sister-in-law handle a very fractious, but talented horse at Third Level where she earned a 67%. I also watched Hilda Gurney ride Londina at First Level where she scored 71.8%
After the last test was scored and recorded, Jen, Morgan - who also worked in the office, and I headed into town for dinner. Of course we laughed and gossiped about the day - all kinds of weird things happen at a show. We also talked about the next show. In less than two weeks, Izzy and I will be in Santa Barbara for another show, but this time, Jen won't be running it; she'll be showing. Morgan will also be there assisting her mom with their clients. We're all really looking forward to it.
Stay tuned for Sunday's rides ...
We are called Not-So-Speedy-Dressage for a reason. It took ten years for Speedy and I to earn a USDF Bronze Medal, so it shouldn't be surprising that it took 6 years to get Izzy ready enough for a USDF show. Speedy we are not. I am okay with that though since my journey is my own, and I can't do more than I know.
I am sure there are many critics out there who think Izzy isn't ready for Second Level. I wrote a bit about that last week. The thing with Izzy, and we all know this, is that the movements are fairly easy for him. For him, it's the relaxation part that is going to hurt our scores. Every comment the judge made this weekend had to do with his tight back and short neck. If I can break through that barrier, Izzy is going to hit it out of the park. The only way to show him that he can relax is with more experience which means showing.
While he wasn't sleepy and ambivalent about the whole thing, Izzy handled the whole show experience fantastically well. This was a big show crammed into a small space. The gigantic barn was packed, the portable stalls were packed, and the warm up ring was packed. Everywhere we went, we squeezed through this or excused our way past that. For such a big horse who has issues with confinement, he kept himself very much in control.
On Friday afternoon, Amelia Newcomb, with whom we had ridden two weeks previously, came out to give us a lesson; she lives in the area. I am so glad she did because the rings were packed, and Izzy was very tense. There had to be ten horses in either ring at any given time. Even Amelia commented on the craziness of it. Izzy started out as tense and spooky as could be, but within a half an hour, Amelia helped me work him down into a much more relaxed frame. By the end of the lesson, his back was swinging, his neck was long, and he was working with confidence.
The next morning, Izzy came out of his stall full of nervous energy. As soon as I got on, he shot forward. I worked him in exactly the same way Amelia had suggested the day before: lots of bending lines, inside leg to outside hand, and a lot of canter work. He wasn't quiet and submissive, but he was rideable, and willing to bend. We headed into the ring when the ring steward gave us the okay.
After the final halt and salute, I almost burst into tears. I was so proud of Izzy. When I think back on our incredibly long journey from a horse that was barely rideable to one that can actually perform at Second Level, I can't help but be amazed. We might have had to skip a few levels to get there, but we're there now.
Our score wasn't great - we earned a 58.919% which was just four points shy of a 60%. Even so, Izzy did better than I had expected, so I was thrilled. Our score sheet looks just like Speedy's always did at the beginning of a level with lots of 5.0s and 6.0s. We scored a 7.0 for one shoulder-in and a 7.5 for our final halt and salute. There were no 4.0s which means we did all of the movements and were at the very least sufficient.
There were only twenty minutes between my two rides, so I walked Izzy back down to the warm up for a stretch. He again handled the warm up well and seemed ready for test 2. At the last minute, I panicked, not feeling confident that I had the test memorized, so my friend Morgan, who had videoed the first ride, quickly shifted gears and jumped in to read the test. I was glad she did, but I was sorry to miss out on the video. We scored better on the second test earning a 60.610%!
While the second test didn't feel as good as the first one, the judge liked it a whole lot better. Test two is pretty tough with the three loop serpentine with simple changes each time you cross X. Unlike test 1, in test 2 there are multiple canter/walk transitions which are challenging. We earned three 6.0s for the simple changes at X and both counter canters earned 7.5. In all, we earned 7.0 or 7.5 on five different movements. Again, there were no 4.0s., and we had an even smattering of 5.0s and 6.0s
I could have loaded Izzy up that afternoon, gone home, and felt like the weekend was a success. Instead, I stuck around for Day 2, and I am glad I did.
Stay tuned for more ...
Izzy's new winter blanket arrived on Thursday afternoon, and even though it was 90 degrees, I tossed it on him to check the fit. He wasn't thrilled with adding another coat on top of his winter coat.
When I unpacked the blanket, I was more than satisfied. It was exactly what I was looking for: a heavy weight blanket that wasn't heavy. It's light and fluffy and feels sturdy. The inside is slick and smooth, and both the drop and tail flap are substantial enough to cover the big brown horse. All of the straps and buckles are in good working order, and the fit is overall nice and roomy. For under $60, the blanket was more than worth its cost.
Of course, it's still in the 90s here in Central California, although we are expected to see some morning temperatures drift down into the upper 40s this week. Our highs will still be in the upper 70s and low 80s though. We are giddy at the mere thought of rain, even though none is on the horizon. Our fingers are crossed we see some sort of precipitation by November, but that might be just wishful thinking.
California excels at mild winters and blazing hot summers.
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%: