From Endurance to Dressage
Begin out of the saddle for any length of time always knocks me a bit off kilter. Whether it's because we've been on vacation or a horse is recovering from an injury or I've been sick, it always takes me a few days to remember where I left off. This most recent break has been a little tougher than usual to come back from because my last ride was at a show. That means my last few rides were not aboard a happy, relaxed partner.
The first day I rode after being sick, my goal was not to fall off. I mean that literally. I knew I was pretty weak, and as we all know, Izzy isn't the most reliable of horses. After a three-week break, I worried that he might feel a bit ... fresh. I got on did some walk/trot, and got off, mission accomplished.
The second day, I decided to add in a bit of canter. There were no dramatic moments, but Izzy was tight, hollow, and extremely braced through his poll, neck, and back. Knowing that I didn't have the strength to survive any major spooks, I still tried to insist that he let go through his neck. He never did, but I never lost control either.
By the third ride, I started to remember where we left off. From the moment I sank into the saddle, I started to ask Izzy to let go of the bit and relax his neck. At the mounting block, I asked for flexion and softness, and I didn't quit asking until he finally gave it to me. For the next 30 minutes, that's all I focused on.
At the show we did at the end of October, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, really pushed me to have confidence in the effectiveness of the tools that he has been giving me. Since they're new to me though, I don't have perfect muscle memory yet. I don't just go to those tools with automaticity. I still have to ask myself, what would Sean say to do here? As I let Izzy trot around, I started a dialogue with myself. Why are you letting him hang on that inside rein? What should you do to get him off of it? Why are you letting him rush onto his forehand? Above all else, keep control!
Rather than let myself feel discouraged, I started to honestly assess my riding. The first thing I did was better control the tempo with my seat. Letting Izzy pick up speed does nothing for his balance. Instead of letting him fall on his forehand, I sat up and imagined picking up his shoulders with my thighs. When he tried to brace against my rein, I over flexed him to the inside and then let it go. With nothing to lean on, he got softer in his neck.
As I started to get him sorted out, my confidence in the choices I was making began to grow. Riding a particular figure stopped being important. Who cares if I make it all the way to M in the leg yield if he's braced through his neck? Instead, I started focusing solely on the quality of his movement, and I made immediate adjustments to get the results I wanted.
It wasn't as though I "fixed" anything, but he did get softer and best of all, nothing escalated. He didn't get anxious or worried, and I finished up with a happy horse. That's when I remembered where we had left off. For now, every ride is about developing his confidence and proving to him that he can trust me to ask only what he is capable of doing. I've been so worried about finding my motivation and getting back on track. Who knew it would be so easy to step right back into the habit?
As Laura Goodenkauf quoted in a recent post, "The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. It's remarkable what you can build if you just don't stop."
I hope today finds you exactly where you long to be. Spending time with family and friends will fill most of my afternoon, but no day of thanks would be complete without sharing a few moments with my boys, so I'll head out to the ranch this morning for a ride full of thankfulness. Happy Thanksgiving!
Being sick for several weeks was hard, and not just because I felt crummy. I am a goal-oriented, check off the boxes kind of girl. Not being able to check things off a list or reach even tiny goals was really starting to sap my motivation. I teach my students about inertia when we study the solar system. Inertia can be defined as a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged. Both Galileo and Newton knew that once moving, a body doesn't stop moving unless acted upon by a force such as friction. COVID was my friction.
I love routine, order, and movement. I rarely lay around doing nothing. The busier I keep myself, the happier I tend to be. In my early 20s, I struggled with feeling overwhelmed by all of the adult chores that I faced each day. In an effort to make life manageable, I determined that before I could sit down for the day, I had to accomplish three tasks at home. At first, those tasks were simple: check the mail, take out the trash, clean up the morning newspaper. Before I knew it, those three tasks became habits, and I began doing three more tasks. Eventually, inertia took over, and my body in motion stayed in motion.
Having spent two weeks laying around trying to recover from COVID, I started to worry that I would never get back my motivation to ride. Even the thought of driving out to the ranch left me feeling exhausted. The first day I did go, all I had the energy to do was put Speedy's new pills in their place. I didn't even go over and look at my boys. I was just too overwhelmed with guilt and fatigue. Instead, I sat on the rail for a few minutes and watched as the ranch owner and neighbor had a lesson. I wouldn't have even done that except that the sun was out, and I felt like a wilted sunflower looking for strength.
That was Thursday. By Saturday, I reminded myself that a body at rest will continue at rest unless something gets it moving again. I gave myself a huge push and determined to do at least one thing out at the ranch. My husband threatened me with all sorts of bodily harm if I overdid it, so I promised to keep things short. All I did was mix buckets and give each each horse a quick groom. I didn't even take them out of their paddocks. I groomed where they stood. And before I knew it a body in motion ...
The next day, I saddled up. I was definitely feeling a bit like I had wet noodles for legs, but I reasoned that the only way to build back my strength was to start working my body. I rode for 16 minutes and only at the walk and trot. The day after that, I rode for 36 minutes with a fair amount of cantering. Since then, I've been picking up my routine; cleaning and filling water troughs, mixing feed, sweeping, grooming, and riding.
Yesterday, I shared some advice from Laura Goodenkauf, head trainer/owner at Laura Goodenkauf Dressage. What she said about habits really resonated with me. Pondering how to restore my equestrian habits while worrying that I will lose my motivation as I recover from being sick has been giving me a certain amount of anxiety. In her article, Laura quoted James Clear, "The bad days are more important than the good days. If you write or exercise or meditate or cook when you don't feel like it, then you maintain the habit. And if you maintain the habit, then all you need is time."
I certainly haven't felt like it, but I am doing it which means all I need is time. I can make that work.
Like all of you, I follow a lot of big name trainers on social media. While they often write a lot of really great stuff, it can often feel a bit out of my league. They have horses that move in ways I'll never experience, access to money that provides the absolute best in nutrition and stabling, and teams of professionals to care for every facet of their horses' lives. That's why I also follow a lot of local trainers on social media. These are people who I know in real life and can watch without them knowing I am watching. I get to peak behind the curtain so to speak to see if they truly live what they share on social media. And if they do, does it work?
Sometimes, they don't. I've seen more than one local big name trainer cheat or treat her students rudely. Seeing those behaviors lets me know that in all likelihood those big name, international competitors probably make bad choices too. So who do I look to for encouragement and advice? Reading articles online about great dressage is good, but watching local trainers who are successful helps me more than any YouTube video or Facebook article.
A local trainer who I have had the opportunity to meet and follow is Laura Goodenkauf, Head Trainer/Owner at Laura Goodenkauf Dressage. I've never had a lesson with her since I now ride with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, but I have seen her ride at shows, and we've met more than a few times. Sean coaches her a few times a month. While hanging out at shows, Laura has been free with her advice, especially the kind about rider confidence. She recently shared some thoughts on Facebook and her website that really resonated with me, so I asked her if I could share them here.
This is what she wrote:
How being an Entrepreneur Has Made Me a Better Horseman
By Laura Goodenkauf
Happy Women's Entrepreneurship Day! Cheers to all you amazing women out there running your own business and absolutely killing it! I admire you all!
(Also, a shout out to our fellow Team LGD woman entrepreneur, Lauryn, and her equestrian-inspired company Elcee Equestrian. Check out their new products just in time for the holidays!)
Being a horse trainer/entrepreneur is one of the most challenging things I've ever done. It's also, by far, one of the most rewarding. And it's helped me grow as a horseman... er... horsewoman!
Three truths I've learned from being an entrepreneur that have immensely improved my relationships with my horses:
1) Accept Failure as Part of the Journey
One commonality between successful entrepreneurs and top riders - they have failed many, many times! For every successful business venture, there have been just as many products or investments that didn't pan out. But as Mark Cuban says, "You only have to be right once!"
Listen to top equestrians talk about their journey and their horses and you'll hear similar stories. For every big win, there was time that a horse was out of commission with an injury or a horse had an unfortunate meltdown in the show ring.
The important thing we must remember is that failure is part of the journey. And a failure is not the end. It is an opportunity to learn, grow, and improve!
2) Surround Yourself with a Team That Inspires You
The people you surround yourself with will have a huge impact on the way you think, act, and feel. As the saying goes, "You are the sum of who you surround yourself with."
So many barns are full of drama. And, hey, who doesn't love a little drama? But I prefer to keep my drama to reality TV. Drama should stay on The Real Housewives and out of the barn. The barn is a place to develop my relationship with my horse, both in and out of the saddle, and enjoy time with beautiful, like-minded souls who support me and my goals.
Make sure the people in your barn family are contributing to and supporting your growth - both in and out of the saddle.
3) Patience and Consistency are Key
A few quotes from Atomic Habits written by James Clear (a fantastic book, by the way!):
"The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. It's remarkable what you can build if you just don't stop."
This sounds great and it's easy when things are going well. But what do we do when we're going through a really rough training patch with our horse? Or when we've had a horrible day at work and we just don't have the energy to saddle up today?
"The bad days are more important than the good days. If you write or exercise or meditate or cook when you don't feel like it, then you maintain the habit. And if you maintain the habit, then all you need is time."
Be consistent with your riding and your routine with your horse. And then be patient and trust in your work. You will get to where you want to go. And the journey will be worth it!
"Small habits don't add up. They compound."
Cheers to all my fellow bad ass women equestrians! Keep celebrating you, your wonderful horses, and the amazing journey we're on!
The line that most speaks to me is this one: Small habits don't add up. They compound. My own motto is Saddle Up Anyway because I know that you can't get there if you only ride on the good days, the days where you feel powerful and competent. I don't have very many of those days. Most of the time, I am tired or discouraged or lacking direction. Knowing that those "do it every day habits" do a lot more than just check off a box puts the idea of doing the little things in a whole new light.
I think my new motto is now this: Saddle up anyway because small habits don't add up. They compound.
I am still here. Thank you to those who reached out to me to make sure I was still around. I wasn't able to respond, but I very much appreciated your thoughtfulness.
While it might appear that I am pretty public with what goes on in my life, there are parts that I don't feel are relevant to this space. That doesn't mean I am hiding the TRUTH or presenting a rosier-than-what-it-really-is life. I think you all know by now I am pretty honest about the frustrations of being an underachieving over-achiever in the world of dressage.
Typically, this is a space for me to share what life is like for a middle-aged, adult amateur equestrian. Sometimes, my work life affects my equestrian life, so I write about teaching. Sometimes my personal life affects my equestrian life, so I write about my finances, car trouble, or even politics. For this MIA episode, it was a health issue. I tested positive for COVID-19 on November 4th.
Like everyone else on the planet, I've caught different bugs that have kept me from the barn. Four years ago, I had a very serious case of bronchitis that kept me home for nearly a month. I've also dislocated my knee, been kicked in the face, had amnesia, and been dumped into more than one fence. COVID has just been one more thing to add to my list of things that interfere with riding.
I chose not to get vaccinated, and even while miserable in bed, I did not regret that decision. I am a healthy, active woman with a strong immune system. I am not anti-vaccine, and I believe this vaccine is certainly helping many people remain healthy. It just wasn't something that I felt was right for me. The vaccine can have serious side effects, and it's not a guarantee that you won't get COVID. Besides that, I do not believe the government has the right to dictate my medical decisions.
Fortunately, my husband took great care of me, and I did not need to be hospitalized. The whole thing felt like a really crappy flu. I ran a fever for more than a week, lost my appetite, spent a night hovering over the toilet, had a small cough, developed pneumonia, and then spent another week on the couch recovering.
My regular doctor doesn't treat COVID patients, so I went to Accelerated Urgent Care, a local chain of clinics that seems to specialize in the treatment of COVID-19. I was first given the antibiotic Azithromycin (to treat secondary infection) and prescribed Zinc, C and D. I was also put on the schedule for a REGEN-COV treatment, a synthetic antibody administered subcutaneously (in my case). When an x-ray revealed pneumonia, I took another course of antibiotics. I returned to the clinic for two follow up visits just so the doctor could observe the REGEN-COV's effectiveness. I was treated with the utmost compassion by the nurses and doctors at Accelerated Urgent Care. They took the whole thing in stride without ever making me feel as though I were overwhelming the health care system.
I developed symptoms on a Tuesday (slight congestion and fatigue), tested positive that Thursday, and then was sick for eight or nine days. I spent another week alternating between resting on the couch and puttering around the house. On Thursday, two weeks after testing positive, I made a quick trip to the barn to pay my board and sit in the sun. On Saturday, I finally put on a pair of breeches and laid hands on both of my boys. That seemed to really kickstart my body back to wellness. I think spending time with horses should be on the list of therapies for any illness.
Now, I just need to rebuild some fitness. I've finished the antibiotics, and other than some loss of stamina, I am symptom free. My fingers are crossed that I am strong enough to begin my Saturday lessons this weekend. In the meantime, I'm going to be spending as much time in the sun as possible, and that was prescribed by the doctor. COVID was definitely inconvenient, but no more so than any other thing that has sidelined me in the past.
It might take me a few days to get back into the swing of things, but I am definitely ready. It's good to be back!
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
2022 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 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