From Endurance to Dressage
After tracking every single penny I spent on my horses last year, I've learned that I can wait on things that I want. Just because I want it, it doesn't mean I need it. Or that I should buy it.
This time of year is tough, though. Catalogs have been pouring in, including those with handsome equine faces on the covers. Resisting the American Shop 'til You Drop lifestyle can be difficult when it comes to all things equine.
I found myself flipping through the glossy pages this weekend. You see, Louisiana has a saddle, but no girth. I have several dressage girths and a long girth for my endurance saddle, but no girth for a hunter saddle. We borrowed one for the fox hunt, but I just don't feel right borrowing someone else's girth every time Louisiana rides.
So I started shopping. The ridiculous part is that Louisiana might never come back to ride; I doubt it as she has kept in contact, but still … what if? My fear of having a girth I'll never use outweighed my sense of propriety. I HATE borrowing something more than once. So, I bought a girth for a saddle that's not mine for a rider who I may never see again.
That's not to say I went all out and bought a nice girth; I didn't. I started by browsing the Dover catalog and found an Ovation that is in the same style as Speedy's dressage girth: fleece with elastic at both ends. I was all set to order it when I thought I should check out Ebay for some kind of going out of business, buy the last one now kind of sale. And surprisingly, I found the same girth a few bucks cheaper from Mary's Tack and Feed.
I put that girth in my shopping cart, but then thought I ought to go ahead and give SmartPak a quick peek as their barn shipping and return shipping are free. Plus, I get a 5% USEF membership discount off most items.
SmartPak did indeed have a better deal. It's their own brand of girth, but it comes with 217 positive reviews (with no bad ones) and an unbeatable price, $33.20 for USEF members.
Louisiana is off in Oregon visiting family, but I feel confident that once she returns after the Thanksgiving holiday, she'll be giving me a call wanting to go for a ride. Hopefully the girth will be here and we can hit the trail.
As a little post script, I also ordered Sydney a new dressage girth a few days ago. I currently use a lovely Professional's Choice fleece girth, but after the fox hunt last week, the fleece had a big tear. Not quite sure what happened. I couldn't find that particular girth, so I went ahead and ordered the same one that I use for Speedy G, but in a slightly large size!
This won't be very interesting as it's another one of those here's what I am going through/learning posts. For my own sake, I am going to keep it short as it's not very interesting to write either.
I really need to go fox hunting again. That ride helped me learn a lot about how Sydney works. It also gave me the opportunity to work on ratability, which is a determiner of success in the endurance world. In many ways, ratability is akin to rhythm; I tell you how fast to go, and you do it.
I also learned that I want to try out a firmer bit for a while. If he's not going to show (in the near future), I don't have to stick with a show legal bit. I want to try something that he can't blast through when he's anxious about the work we're doing. Frankly, I need some whoa! on that horse when I use the brake pedal. When he's relaxed, a deep exhale on my part is sufficient to get a downward transition. When he has checked out mentally, my bit might as well be a piece of dental floss in his mouth.
So all of this was going through my head during our ride yesterday. With the arena being well soaked from last week's rain, I was able to ride more freely at both ends without fighting the dust and uneven footing. The C end of the arena, which is farthest from the barn, has historically been where we have trouble. And as luck would have it, the neighbor was doing some work down there behind his RV and under the scary tree. I actually appreciated the opportunity to work through the noise.
Almost immediately, Sydney pulled his (now predictable) duck to the inside, whirl, and bolt. Even though I was hauling on those reins, I still had to ram him into the fence to get a stop. Once I pulled him off the fence, I dug my inside heel into his side and made him step, step, step, step away with his inside hind. And then I put him back to work.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't beating up on him, but I sure as heck wasn't going to put up with him ignoring my aids (any longer). I demanded an inside bend at a rhythm that I chose. I am finally seeing that at least some of his "anxiety" stems from an I-don't-wanna attitude. I don't want to ride him with an adversarial approach, but I think he needs me to be a much stricter rider.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, I got several right lead canters and then some. I was able to ride the left lead canter in a square while really asking him to rock back and lighten his front end. To the right, I was able to canter 15-meter circles while really pushing his inside hind deep. The canter work is improving tremendously. We just need to get the right lead departure under control.
I'll see what I get today!
I know I've written about the weather before, but since it's so relevant to all equestrians, it's worth mentioning again. And besides, each season for riders is newsworthy!
Yep. It finally rained a measurable amount here in Bakersfield. I know most of you are thinking, BFD, it rains everywhere. Not here. At least not very often and not very much. Our (normal) annual rainfall is just over five inches. FIVE INCHES! Some of you get that much in a single day. In the last two days, it's rained nearly 20% of our annual total, just over 0.9 inches. It was impressive.
While I enjoy listening to the rain pound my rooftop, and I love how clean it makes our air, I love the rain for a reason entirely different from the fact that it replenishes our aquifers and reservoirs. And here it is: when it rains, I don't have to haul the sprinklers around our arena!
Boarding Heaven lies nestled in a river bottom so our soil is primarily sandy. Sand is great because it never really gets muddy. I think I've only seen standing water in our arena one time, and that was as it was pouring down rain last year. Rather than floating on top, the water simply percolates through the sand and joins the underground aquifer that stores Bakersfield's water.
While that part of a sandy arena is great, the downside is that dry sand is dusty and gets really loose. Loose sand is deep. I don't like deep footing. I would rather ride on hard packed clay than deep sand. So, I battle the loose sand by dragging a hundred feet of hose around with a giant Rainbird sprinkler attached.
The thing works great; it sprays a diameter of at least 75 feet, more when the pressure is super duper. The problem is that a hundred or more feet of hose is heavy, dirty, and wet. And worse, it takes a good 30 minutes everyday to properly soak the sand and keep the dust down. This time of year, I don't have 30 minutes; I have about 10.
Enter God's version of the Rainbird - two days of pouring rain!
But it gets better. Last weekend, my barn owner dragged the arena to smooth out the ruts I had carved out at A, V, and P. So when the rain started on Wednesday night, I gave a happy dance knowing that my freshly groomed arena was getting nicely firmed back up for this weekend, and beyond!
I was right. When I rode on Thursday and Friday evening, the footing was beautiful, although still a bit too wet to canter. When the sand is still freshly wet with the water laying just below the surface, it's easy to dig holes so I kept it to a trot. It should be absolutely perfect for today and tomorrow.
It looks just like a wet beach, doesn't it? Now if only I could hear the waves from here ...
The best thing I took away from last Sunday's fox hunt was a renewed sense of confidence. Knowing that I do indeed posses the skills to handle a large, OTTB at a gallop out in the open countryside gave me a fresh sense of power and control. I remembered my endurance seat, and it felt really good.
I took that new feeling with me to Monday's lesson although I wasn't sure either horse would be rested enough for another heavy work day. Speedy looked willing, but he also looked a little tired. Sydney on the other hand didn't look as though he'd done a thing. I grabbed his halter and tacked up.
I was thrilled at his condition, at both of their conditions actually. Neither horse had any filling in his legs, and both had toplines that were free of any tender spots. Speedy needs to lose a few pounds, but he looked as plump as he had on Sunday morning. Sydney had definitely lost a little weight at his flanks, but with having most of this week off, I am sure he'll be back to normal by the weekend.
Both horses were quite dirty, especially Sydney; he had been too wet when we finished on Sunday to even try to scrape off the trail dust. It took a while to pick the matted dirt out of his coat, but by the time I walked over to JL's, he was his regular shiny self.
Jl and I discussed the hunt and how everything had gone. We also talked about bits. She suggested something with a slow twist for the next time I head out. Like this ...
We didn't do anything new or exciting during the lesson, but she helped me focus on making faster and clearer corrections. I could feel the need for the correction before she had time to even say it.
Tracking left, the most he needs is a half halt to maintain the rhythm. To the right, he needs regular corrections to maintain the bend. As I get quicker and quicker at catching him as he even thinks about taking away the inside bend, the less he tries it.
We worked on maintaining an inside bend while tracking right at the trot, but then it was on to the canter work. He fussed a little here and there, but I am able to shut him so down so much quicker now (at least in the arena) that he doesn't get too far. JL had me canter a pretty small circle which is the same exercise we do at the trot. The point to the smaller circle is to almost over exaggerate the inside bend while really pushing his haunches out in sideways motion.
A few rounds of that kind of intense work was about the max that Sydney could do. It turns out that Sydney was more tired than he had first thought. Any sassy thoughts were long gone once I put him in that 15-meter canter circle.
I haven't decided where I'll go from here with him. We're certainly not giving up the dressage instruction; he really needs that, but I also can't just go fox hunting every weekend either. For now, we're still going to the Christian Schacht Clinic in a few weeks. I am just going to wait and see what the new year brings.
The group all agreed that it was definitely time to walk; Sydney didn't hear them. For the next 15 minutes, I fought him to just walk. His desire to RUN was so great that his steps just got lighter and bouncier until I was literally spinning him in circles to keep from losing him. A few times, I had to almost crash into Annabelle to stop his forward momentum. She was very helpful and stuck right by us in an effort to help Sydney settle.
It was finally decided that the best thing for Sydney would be to just take the lead. I wasn't too sure that would work and worried that without an equine butt in his face, Sydney would start looking for the front stretch. But since nothing else was working, I let him get out in front.
It wasn't a complete fix, but it did seem to help him. I still had to saw away on his mouth and circle back quite a few times, but at least his feet were on the ground. The next 30 minutes were the least fun of the whole day. My arms were beginning to ache from keeping my freight train from being a runaway. After what seemed like forever, Sydney's frenetic hurry (defined as fast and energetic in a wild and uncontrolled way) started to ebb away and was replaced by a less feverish pace.
The truth is, I was beginning to worry about his metabolic parameters. For the non endurance riders out there, you've probably never, or rarely, pushed your horse to the edge of that danger zone. If you have ridden your horse in that zone a few times, you probably know how close you are (or aren't) to the edge. I had never ridden Sydney for that long, nor at that speed. He's pretty fit, but still, I had no idea where his edge was.
He was dripping wet, he has a full winter coat, and had been doing so for more than two hours. His respiration was good though, and he was interested in grazing whenever we stopped to open a gate or catch our breath at the top of a climb. I was watchful, but not worried enough to demand a full-on stop. Fortunately, we came to a deep water trough that was full and clean. With no hesitation, Sydney dove in and drank deeply.
One "funny" aside here: I've done a lot of endurance rides over every distance possible over a lot of years. Not only have I done a lot of rides, but I've done them over and over on the same horse(s). Almost any decent rider can finish a 25 or 50 miler. What's difficult is to do it on the same horse(s), year after year. I know what I am doing.
As Sydney went in for that deep drink of water, one of the riders cautioned me about not letting him have too much. I thanked him politely (at least I hope it was) and said that I was from a different school of thought. Unless the water is ice cold, or the horse is blowing really hard (like he might already be in distress), I let my horses drink their fill. The rider seemed a bit miffed at my response, but we both let the issue drop.
When Louisiana turned to follow the departing riders, I asked her to remain a few moments longer as both my horses were still interested in the water. The rest of the group had barely paused at the trough. I was somewhat disappointed to see that as my experience tells me that if given a little more time, many horses will continue to wet their mouths or at least slurp a bit longer. When asking your horse to work this hard, every ounce of water can be precious.
The deep drink did relieve some of my concerns, but I still hoped we'd get back soon without any further drama. While Sydney didn't get soft and light, he did get more relaxed. And then finally, he took another deep breath and dropped this head. By this time we were more than 100 yards in front of the group, and he simply power charged down the road in an impressive walk. He was being so good that I felt confident enough to hop off and open the next gate for the group.
Everyone filed through and then waited while I closed and re-latched the gate. I re-mounted, which is a bit of a trick when your horse is 16 solid hands high and you're only 5 foot 3. I managed to find a small rock to give me a bit more height; Sydney stood rock solid while I swung into the saddle. Good boy!
We did trot more back to the trailers, but the worst of the anxiousness had gone. When we arrived back to the trailer, I filled the water buckets and mixed a beet pulp and rice bran lunch. My earlier worries returned however as I pulled tack.
Neither horse was thirsty, but they had drunk just 25 minutes before so I wasn't too worried about that. They both started to eat ravenously, but then Sydney seemed to lose interest in his lunch. He started stomping one hind foot after the other. This is something you'll see with a horse who is thinking about colicking or cramping in his hind end. I listened to his gut, which was producing appropriate gut sounds, and then took his pulse. He started out at about 60, but when I re-took it a minute later, it had dropped to a much more sensible 48.
I took Sydney by the lead rope and asked him to walk around within easy sight of Speedy G. As soon as he was away from the trailer, he relaxed. Even though it was bright and sunny, there was a slight breeze so I tossed a fleece cooler over his rump; he was still pretty damp from the ride. I tied him back at the trailer, but noticed his flanks pulsing in what appeared to be a classic thumps rhythm.
Here's a brief explanation of thumps:
Thumps – known technically amongst the veterinary fraternity as “synchronous diaphramatic flutter” - is the veterinary term given to a horse that is having irregular spasms of the diaphragm. In layman’s terms, as the horse’s heart beats it simultaneously appears as though the heart has moved and is beating at the flanks of the horse - and they thus look to beat in unison. The animal may also shake all over, as heavy, laboured breathing takes over the horse’s respiratory system. The phrenic nerve, which passes over the heart on its way to the diaphragm, becomes fired up through being sensitised and that is the reason that the diaphragm goes into spasm.
Never imagining that we would have ridden this fast, it didn't occurr to me to electrolyte the horses before the ride; I'll not make that mistake again. Without any electrolytes, the best thing for a tired horse is rest. I walked him away from the trailer a few more times, and thankfully, he began to quiet down and the "flutter" seemed to subside. Only when I was confident that both horses looked healthy did Louisiana and I leave for lunch.
Tejon Hounds had provided a lovely lunch with plenty to drink. We enjoyed the hospitality of the group and left with full stomaches and very happy hearts.
Louisiana and I loaded up our wet tack and repacked the buckets and hay bags. Both horses loaded into the trailer happily and rode quietly the hour back to the barn. When we unloaded the horses, I was relieved to see them looking so healthy. We took each one into the arena for a long drink and a roll in the sand. Both horses were happy to be back home and immediately whinnied for fresh beet pulp and rice bran, which I loaded with electrolytes. When we left the barn, both horses were munching away contentedly.
The next day, I took Sydney to his regular Monday night lesson. More on that tomorrow. For now, I am eagerly scanning my calendar for a free Saturday to do another hunt!
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