From Endurance to Dressage
... Level that is. Izzy and I will be at a show this weekend. In an effort to build his confidence and reduce his anxiety - doing BOTH would solve ALL of the world's problems, we'll be showing at First Level. We tried Second last year, and it was an epic failure. He can do the movements, he just can't do them while being relaxed which means our scores really stink. So, First Level it is.
I'll be honest though; life has been pretty hard on me these last few months. I don't even want to go to this show. Frankly I don't want to do anything but get back into bed for three months. I haven't even read through the First Level tests. I finally printed them this morning. I'll read through them tonight, but that's not usually the way I roll. I am a planner, organizer, dot all my "i"s, and cross all my "t"s kind of girl. Being so unprepared is not like me.
Like I always do - until the time that I can't, I'll pick myself up, slap a smile on my face, and power through. Back in my endurance riding days, when the miles in front of you just seemed like too many to travel, we would suck it up and say, You can rest when you die. Life isn't easy. Sometimes, you just have to show some grit and get it done.
Fortunately, I have a great team who I know will pick me up even though they won't know they're doing so. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer st STC Dressage, and his team of riders are all going to the show. Sean is showing Clooney after a long hiatus, and he is showing a lovely mare that he has had in training for a few months. He'll be there to coach me, and we'll all be there to support him. We're also having a Friday night barn party which has quickly become part of our show weekend routine.
Once I am surrounded by friends and ponies, my outlook will be much brighter; I am sure of it.
Yesterday, the first and fifth grade teams at my school site met for a two and a half hour professional training session. Other professions call it Continuing Ed. Since educators invented the idea of acronyms, we can't call it CE anymore because someone else uses that term. We NOW call it PD, professional development.
All of that is neither here nor there. The point is that one part of what we did really resonated with me. Using a Jamboard (it's a live document that works like an idea board where everyone can post at the same time), we divided our students into one of four groups:
As I saddled up yesterday afternoon, I kept reminding myself to Saddle Up Anyway. The truth is that I am feeling pretty run down. Not only have I over-committed myself in some areas of life, but I am also over-worked at work, discouraged and frustrated by what's going on in the world politically, and disappointed in Izzy's lack of obvious improvement. He and I have the same discussions every single day, and I am getting pretty tired of it all.
As my shoulders sagged, I gave myself a quick shake and said try something different. While reflecting on the day's discussion, I realized that Izzy falls into the category of high skill, low will. He's very capable, but he can't or won't do I what I need him to do. Kids like him are the hardest for me to work with. Everyone loves the high skill, high will kids; they can run your classroom. I also find great satisfaction in working with the low skill, high will kids. They're the ones that keep me going back year and year.
The others? Those who can but won't, they're the reason I want to quit teaching. I have more than a couple of those kiddos in my class right now. While the high skill, low will kiddos are tough, it is the the low skill, low will students who cause teachers to drink.
Speedy was always a high will/low skill kind of horse. Being successful isn't always about your ability. You can make up for any deficiencies in talent by simply working hard. Izzy falls pretty solidly in the opposite corner. His skills are high, but his will is low. Using the chart above, it's easy to see why Speedy was a solid performer and why Izzy is an under performer.
So what did I end up doing that was different? I lowered my expectations and worked on giving Izzy something to do where he could earn lots of quick, positive feedback. We walked, and that's all we did for nearly 40 minutes. I wanted him to feel successful early on in the ride, and often. In our PD work yesterday, we listed some of the strategies necessary for this type of learner to succeed. They need incentives, lots of positive feedback, and a clear cut reason for what they're doing.
Understanding why these learners have low will is also important. Some are simply unmotivated. They don't really care. Others are fearful of failing; they just won't try because the idea of failing is untenable. Izzy suffers from a lot of anxiety. He simply doesn't feel confident in the world around him which must include me. So, we walked. When he pushed against me, we halted and I waited for him to let his under neck muscle go, and then we walked some more. Eventually, he was carrying himself, and when he did want to pop his head up, I simply touched the rein and he relaxed.
I am pretty positive one day of walking hasn't fixed his low will mentality, but it certainly helped me be a better leader. This is definitely something I am going to be considering in the future. We work hard to teach out students that it is only with a growth mindset that they can be successful. I need to remember that with Izzy; he doesn't have a rising will yet.
And if nothing else, I am grateful that he doesn't fall into the low will/low skill group. I'd be a drunk quitter!
On Sunday, Speedy was once again the star of the show. Have I ever said how much I adore that horse? I have? Well, let me say it again; Speedy is a rockstar. The Tehachapi Mountain Chapter of CDS has been doing shows and clinics all summer long. This event was a two-day clinic instead of a show/clinic combo. I felt that one day was plenty for Speedy, so on Sunday morning, we made the drive to Tehachapi.
The clinic was with Cassandra Rabini, co-owner and trainer at First Gem Dressage. Cassandra helped me with a few blog posts earlier in the year when I wrote about grooming and braiding. I know her to be a very friendly trainer, but I hadn't yet seen her at a clinic or a show. Given her extensive experience, I knew she'd be a great clinician. I didn't ride however, "J" did. It was her first clinic experience, and she and Speedy did great together.
Since J lives in the Tehachapi area, she met me at the equestrian center where we tacked Speedy up and then walked up to the arena to meet Cassandra. While J walked over to the mounting block, I re-introduced myself to Cassandra; we've really only communicated through emails and Facebook. I gave her a quick recap of what J and I have been working on as well as Speedy's general limitations - no real collected work. I knew that Cassandra would see immediately where J was in her riding after a quick observation, but I knew some feedback wouldn't hurt.
Cassandra immediately put J to work. The first thing they tackled was getting Speedy round and on the bit. It was great to see a professional working with J because Cassandra was watching with fresh eyes. I am always careful to not pick on everything because you can't overwhelm a student with too much or they're likely to quit. Cassandra was able to hone in on new things, so I watched with my own "trainer's eye" to see how I can better help J the next time she rides.
Most often with Speedy, the thing we work on first is getting him in front of the leg. Cassandra tackled softness first. She had J flex Speedy to one side or the other until he released through his jaw. When he was a little sticky, Cassandra had J flex and then leg yield Speedy out onto the outside rein. She also had J do some counter flexing and then they repeated the exercise in the opposite direction. Ultimately they moved to the trot and then finished up with a bit of canter.
As I watched the lesson progress, I kept thinking how I would love to take a lesson from Cassandra. For every attempt, she gave J a lot of verbal praise, but it was always constructive, Yes! That was 50% better. Now, let's add a little more. Next time, try to ... Besides being very supportive in her verbal feedback, Cassandra also focused on J's position. As a rider, I always love it when a clinician addresses my position; it isn't only about my horse. So much of how our horses go is caused by how we ride, so fixing the rider will invariably fix the horse. Cassandra obviously knows that.
Besides some takeaways for how to better teach J, I noted a few things that Cassandra said that I could use in my own riding. My favorite was this: sponge the half halting rein in time to the tempo that you want your horse to travel. Speedy likes to quicken his pace, so Cassandra had J think about sponging in time to an internal metronome. Besides regulating the tempo with her seat, she could time her half halts to slow the tempo as well. While using a half halt to regulate the tempo isn't a new idea for me, the way in which Cassandra said it caught my ear.
I took video clips of most of the lesson, but I haven't yet had time to process them or share them with J. You can be sure that I'll be watching them myself to see what other nuggets I can clean from Cassandra's teaching. If you're in the San Diego area and are looking for a clinician or trainer, give Cassandra a call. She is a really supportive and encouraging trainer. I know J wants to ride with her again.
J said to me in our "debrief" afterwards, she said everything you say and more! Gotta love that!
Well hallelujah! Izzy gave me something brand new during my Saturday lesson with Sean cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. It didn't last long, but it was a sneak peek into our future.
Sean joined me in a Pivo Cast just as I started my ride. Most weekends, I try to have Izzy a lot farther into the ride before Sean joins in, but it actually helps me when Sean sees our warm up. There were no real issues, so we got to work pretty quickly. After some trot leg yields which really help Izzy get his back moving, we moved right into the canter work.
Suddenly, I was on a horse I'd never ridden before. Izzy was bounding around the arena with a ground-eating canter and a back that was swinging and loose. Best of all, he let me actually make the decisions without any arguing from him. It was glorious! I am pretty sure I heard Sean pumping his fist with a Tiger Woods expression on his face.
With such a great start to our ride, Sean made sure that we didn't over face Izzy. We came back to a walk. Sean's plan for the rest of the lesson was to work a little and then let Izzy walk and catch his breath. it was a good plan, but Izzy's canter work was all the focus he could muster. It was as though his energetic and very forward thinking canter scared him. You could practically see him thinking, oh, wow, what was that? am I in trouble? where did that come from? did anyone see? was that right or wrong?
We spent the rest of the lesson telling him it was okay and that we're not going to ask for more than he can do. He didn't quite believe us, but it gave me an excellent opportunity to practice for this weekend's show. How will I respond when Izzy's mental hamsters fall out of his brain? When he loses confidence, what will I do? The rest of Saturday's lesson showed me that I do have the tools to support Izzy and actually help him, but will it be enough to bring out the horse that Izzy gave us a sneak peek of at the beginning of the lesson? I doubt it, but it's very encouraging to see that horse waiting in the wings.
While most of the lesson was about trying to put Izzy back together again, riding those few minutes of wonder horse gave me a ton of encouragement. I know Sean felt vindicated. His I TOLD you that energy would be fun to ride once you found it proved yet again that he knows what he's doing.
I am really looking forward to a winter of lessons. We might actually make some noticeable progress.
That is the politest way to say how I am feeling which is closer to holy shite, Batman! If you've been reading somewhat regularly, you'll probably remember that in the spring, Speedy developed a summer sore in his urethra. Here are all of the previous posts detailing our battle against that malady.
Part 1 - Oh, Boy
Part 2 - Oh, Boy Was That Ever Gross
Part 3 - Still Gross
Part 4 - Speedy's Junk
I have probably mentioned Speedy's summer sore here and there in passing since that last post, but that was the final one specifically devoted to his man parts, until today that is.
On Thursday afternoon, the temperature was still in the high 80s, so rather than ride Izzy, I decided to remove Speedy's penis sock. Our fly season is nearly over but so are my opportunities for giving baths. We have a big storm rolling through today, but we might have one or two more warm afternoons in November. Since the horses' winter coats are coming in, I don't like to get them all the way wet unless I know they have all afternoon to dry off, especially Speedy. I realized that Thursday's warm weather was probably my best and last chance to soak Speedy without having him shiver.
To the rest of the world, what I am about to describe would be gross enough to make anyone gag and turn tail and run. Those of you who love your boys as much as I love mine know that sometimes, the only way to get a job done is to simply hitch up your britches, roll up your sleeves, and put your hair in a pony tail (no pun intended).
First of all, that sock was so stiff with dried urine and caked-on dirt that it was unbendable. It was as stiff as cardboard. I figured with a bit of water and a handful of Excalibur Sheath Cleaner, I could get it to slide off like an old bandaid. I was wrong, very wrong. I can't imagine how uncomfortable that has been for Speedy. Next summer, I have a different plan for protecting his nether region from the flies. Neither vet at Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital had any idea that sock would last more than a week or so. That it endured for four months was beyond their comprehension.
I started by squirting water up into Speedy's sheath to soak the the sock. When that did nothing but cover me in urine tinted water, I poured Excalibur into my hand and reached as deep into his sheath as I could, spreading the gelatinous goo all over the sock and the top of his penis. I alternated rubbing the Excalibur all over the sock with flushes of water from the hose. At the end of fifteen minutes, my only accomplishment was annoying the heck out of Speedy. The sock was still firmly attached.
I decided to tackle the probable a different way. Instead of Excalibur, I tried softening the adhesive holding the sock with baby shampoo. I sudded up, reached my soapy hand into his sheath, and began massaging and rubbing the stiff edges of the sock in hopes of getting a bit of movement from the bandaging material. No luck. Speedy was getting crankier by the moment, and truthfully, I couldn't blame him. As gentle as I was, I knew it must have been painful to have a sticky bandage being pulled repeatedly from his penis, especially so since it wouldn't come off.
Every few minutes, I acknowledged his I am trying really hard not kick you, lady threats and gave him a break. He never actually kicked, but his hind leg was cocked and ready to fire. He also kept swinging his head around to glare very pointedly at me.
After thirty minutes of getting nowhere, I finally called the vet and asked for some advice. According to Dr. Gonzalez, I was doing everything right, but he did suggest a calming agent. I am not sure why I didn't think of that, but I thanked him profusely and grabbed a tube of Dormsosedan Gel. Dr. G recommended that I give Speedy 1.5mL and allow it to work for at least 20 minutes. I keep the Dormosedan on hand for the 4th of July as Speedy gets really anxious when the neighborhood fireworks get too bad. I gave him a dose under his tongue and sat down to wait.
Speedy's penis never dropped all the way, but he did drop just enough that I was finally able to work one end of the Elastikon free. While keeping a tight grip on his penis, I was able to unwrap the bandage bit by bit. I know it was uncomfortable for Speedy, but once I had it going, I did lots of super quick pulls in an effort to unwind the bandage. To both our utter relief, the sock finally slid off. I gave Speedy a big pat and let him rest. After that, I had to reach in a few more times to pull off the crust that was adhered to his penis. With a bit more Excalibur, I gave his sheath and penis a final scrub, and then I rinsed everything gently and very thoroughly.
As soon as I was sure everything was clean, I unclipped his lead rope so Speedy could graze on the lawn. Instead, he gave his head a shake and gaily trotted away from me as fast as he could. That was a great sign. Almost immediately, he found his pee spot and let his penis drop. I hurried over to where he was squatting and gave his penis a good visual inspection as he peed. Everything looked bright pink and healthy. Over the next few days, I felt for any swelling and looked closely at his urethra and was relieved to see everything looked good.
While the penis sock did its job, I am not sure the difficulty of removing it was worth it. Poor Speedy!
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%: