From Endurance to Dressage
Thank goodness this is nearly the last post in this series. I say nearly last because I want to do a final one that sums up my expenditures for the whole year.
Sneak peek? I spent $4,000 less for the year than I had expected to spend. I am pretty sure that keeping such close track is what helped me save those 4,000 bucks.
Here is the accounting for December. I think I spent the least amount of money in December than I did in any other month. There was only board, feed, the farrier, my trailer payment, lessons, and my CDS renewal which includes a USDF group membership. The tack and gear items were paid by my $100 winnings from my CDS chapter.
This tells me that the absolute rock bottom I can pay to keep my horses is around $1,200 a month, which doesn't include any vet care. For the year, that works out to about $14,400. A year-end report is in the works; watch for it.
Click here (or scroll down) if you missed yesterday's post ...
Once we finished up tracking left, JL had me track right at the walk. The first thing she did was to explain what the sensation of "rolling in" was all about. It wasn't so much about needing to push him sideways, which he can do, it was more about "lifting" his right side up. I had suspected that was the solution, but I didn't know how to make it happen.
As we tracked right, JL had me shorten my reins as we had when tracking left. Then, she had me lift the inside rein, which I already knew how to do, but this was a bit different. On purpose, she had me ride with my outside hand in the normal position but with a strong feel and my inside hand lifted. The purpose was to "roll" Sydney back to the outside. I also added more weight to my outside stirrup which also seemed to encourage Sydney to lift his inside shoulder.
Sydney has a hard time tracking right. He really wants to look to the outside which drops the inside shoulder. Lifting that inside rein forces his nose in, which causes him to resist by bracing. When he fussed, I made the circle very small. JL called it letting the geometry do the explaining. If he was soft and upright, I could lower my hand, but the instant he fussed or braced, I raised my hand and made the circle small. Sometimes I only needed three or four strides before he understood and "unlocked" his neck. Sometimes we had to do more than one circle before he softened.
This exercise was exactly what we needed. I knew I needed to get him up and over, but I just couldn't coordinate all of my aids to make it happen. JL's simple explanation and eyes on the ground made it all so simple. We'll need to practice, of course, but I am finally so happy to be actually riding my horse instead of just being a passenger on a ball of anxiety.
Still more to come ...
It's been a while since I've had a lesson on Sydney. It seems that I do better with him if I just work with him steadily by myself. Speedy gives me plenty to work on, and he and I get it, whatever the skill of the week is, so quickly that we're always ready for more the very next week. It doesn't work like that with Sydney. He and I need time to work on it, whatever it is.
Sydney and I had arrived at a place where I felt good with everything JL has asked me to learn. There's no more bolting or rearing. I have (nearly) total control of the right shoulder. We can spiral in and out (to the left) which requires Sydney to move off my inside leg to my outside hand and then to come in off my outside leg while giving to the inside rein. All in all, I've been particularly happy this last month with where we are. Except ...
If there wasn't an except there would have been no need for a lesson. The first problem is with the contact as we start out. Sydney bounces his head. I am certain the fault is mine, but figuring it out has been beyond my knowledge base so I called JL and asked for a lesson.
The lesson was scheduled for Thursday, but she saw me warming Sydney up on Wednesday and drove over and asked if I wanted to do the lesson right then. This is the first time I've had a lesson in my own arena!
We talked about the two issues I was having: the bouncing in the contact and Sydney's habit of "rolling in" while tracking right. Think of sitting on a barrel that is being speared by a pole. Everything is straight, but you can't stay upright. I have been trying everything I know to keep him upright, but he continues to roll in, especially at the canter.
JL addressed the "bouncing" first. Now that I have more control and never pull back when Sydney is nervous, she had me shorten my reins. Isn't that the answer to most of my issues? Since I am very light with my hands, I tend to err on the side of caution and give too much. Since JL knows that I never hang on my horses, she thought Sydney could handle the shorter rein length finally. The next thing she suggested was that I work hard on quieting my arms. This requires some explanation.
Long ago, I rode with my wrists "broken" and my arms stiff. In order to help me, JL encouraged me to bend my elbows and move my arms, especially when Sydney wanted to hang on me, which is quite often. In the beginning, he would hang, and I would brace my arms which fueled a nasty cycle that ultimately led to the rearing and bolting. By swinging my arms, Sydney couldn't hang on me or grab the bit and bolt. It was a good solution, but it seems that I am ready to refine the contact.
Now that my arm and hand position, and especially feel, have improved so much, I don't need to move so much. With my rein a little long and my arms moving to try and maintain the contact, the "volume" has been a bit too loud for Sydney. To turn down the volume, I shortened my reins and focused on using my core more and my arms less. JL asked me to focus on smaller and smaller movements to quiet the conversation between Sydney and me, kind of like leaning in to hear someone speak. Instead of swinging through my shoulders, she asked me to think of just a finger squeeze so that my end of the conversation couldn't be heard/seen by anyone else.
Doing this requires more patience on my part. I might need three or four strides before I get the response that I want, but it will encourage Sydney to listen more closely since I am asking more quietly. I was really pleased with how well it improved Sydney's way of going. He got much steadier in the bridle with the shorter rein length and didn't hang on me like he has done in the past. When I felt him hang, I just squeezed my fingers quietly instead of rocking so "loudly" with my elbow.
When we picked up the left lead canter, JL was quite pleased and could find nothing to work on except to remind me to also quiet my arm while at the canter. Her over-all impression was that Sydney enjoyed the canter and was very happy with my contact. Sweet, sweet, success!
More tomorrow ...
And no, that was not said sarcastically. Believe it or not, Speedy is developing quite a lovely, quiet canter. Who'd have thought it?
We had a very interesting lesson on Monday. The weather was funky: cold, wet, and pretty dreary, but we persevered and made the trek up to JL's place. I know that the only way to improve the canter is to well ... canter, but the thought of cantering the arena perimeter again was not very inspiring. But if nothing else, I am a workhorse.
Since the weather was so cold and damp, I started Speedy on the lunge line just to warm him up. Once he was a bit more awake, I hopped up and worked on some suppling exercises. Once we looked ready, JL joined us and watched more of my warm up.
I've cantered Speedy A LOT over the last two weeks which is great, but we are starting to have a little problem. The first couple of requests for a left lead canter have started to result in a serious slam-on-the-brakes maneuver. Hmmm ... where is that coming from? So before we did any more canter work, I ran the problem by JL so that she could see it in action and watch for whatever it was that I was certainly doing wrong.
It's like taking your clunking car to a mechanic - it purrs like a kitten once it arrives at the shop. Same thing with Speedy's left lead canter; he hopped right into it without any fussing. He halted politely as JL and I discussed what might have been happening.
Here is what she thinks: now that Speedy is engaging his hind end better and responding to my leg, he's thrusting forward with more power, relatively speaking. When his motor was barely chugging along, I could use a fair amount of hand to maintain the contact. With his newfound hind end strength, my hands are now telling him to whoa while my seat and legs are saying GO, hence the slam-on-the-brakes.
Once I understood the new dynamic, we were able to work on a whole new skill: walk to canter transitions. Oh, my, was that ever fun!
Since the problem was presenting itself to the left, that's where we started. At the walk, JL had us work on maintaining a very uphill walk with a very steady pace, no running into the trot or canter. It took a bit of practice, but I eventually understood the concept. Once he was maintaining his pace, JL instructed me to have Speedy canter by thinking REAR! The first attempt was excellent on his part, but not so great on mine. I squeezed and thought, UP, but at the last minute I threw my weight forward in the fear that he really might just go up and not forward. Speedy handled it quite well.
After a few practice attempts, I could think, REAR, while keeping my own body upright and still. It was amazing how quickly Speedy grasped the concept. It was as though he's been waiting all along for me to get it. JL explained that this was actually easier for him than trying to canter from a downhill trot.
We also returned to keeping my hands high; something we did for quite a while at the trot to keep Speedy from dropping behind the vertical. I had completely forgotten about it over the last month as little by little he has learned to carry his own head right where it should be. At the canter however, particularly to the left, he wants to over arch his neck and tuck under. SInce I already learned what to feel at the trot, it only took a few minutes to get it at the canter.
In one fairly short lesson we put together a lot of different pieces. I walked back to my own barn feeling a bit like Neo in The Matrix when he learns Jiu Jitsu in just a few minutes.
Now it's up to me to practice that feeling of launching upward into the canter. I've seen the illustration of a canter departure looking like a jet taking off, but until you actually feel the take off, it's hard to understand. I think I might have just earned my pilot's license!
First of all, it's an incomplete story. I am just going to tell part of it as a) Taz is not my horse, and b) it's like a ten-year long tale. None of us has time for that.
So who does Taz belong to? Taz is the long-time equine buddy of my long-time endurance buddy. I always call her Taz's Mom. I guess that won't work here. While I personally have no shame and thus happily post all of my equine foibles across the world wide web, I don't imagine that my friends want their lives broadcast as flippantly as my own. Therefore, I try to protect their identities since I want to keep them as friends. So with that, Taz's Mom will be referred to as TM.
Taz's story started about 13 years ago. TM was looking for a new endurance prospect, and I had just heard about a nice young gelding from a well-known endurance breeder and trainer. Taz was cheap and had some training. Perfect! TM made a few calls and in no time, Taz was dropped off at her place for a trial.
We all came by to have a look at him and offer our opinion. Hmm ... not much to say. He was big, knocked kneed, and a full year younger than what we had thought. Send him back was the consensus. And so the call was made; Taz was going back.
Except he wouldn't get on the trailer. At all. For nobody. Taz's price got VERY cheap, and he ended up staying with TM. He was three at the time; he's now 16 and still with her. It took professional help and a lot of patience on the part of TM, but Taz eventually learned to load and travel quietly. He also turned out to be a very nice horse. I am so glad we were wrong!
A few years later, it was August I know because it was just before the Eastern High Sierra Classic 50-miler, Taz developed a shoe boil. TM was very disappointed as the wound required lancing. Taz wasn't going to the EHSC.
TM bought numerous shoe boil boots over the years and kept them on when a flare-up seemed imminent, but they didn't always work. Every couple of years, always right before the EHSC, Taz's shoe boil would erupt again. At the start of each August, TM would start preparing for what seemed like the inevitable.
In the summer of 2011, Taz's shoe boil erupted yet again. This time, Dr. B sliced it all the way open in hopes that it would close back up slowly and completely. It didn't. For more than a year, TM has been doctoring it almost daily. If she missed a day, it would get infected, swell, and smell bad. She took him back to BVH after six months and had it re-poked, but it just wouldn't heal. It's now December; she finally had enough and took Taz in to have the whole wound re-evaluated.
Dr. Tolley (my other favorite vet), decided to go with a more aggressive treatment. Instead of opening it down the middle, he cut around and behind the mass and removed it. I often go with TM to these kinds of appointments as we both love to learn. I didn't get to go this time so I am writing what she told me. She said that the hole Dr. Tolley had to cut was big enough to put your fist in. She would know as she held the flashlight over Dr. Tolley's shoulder so that he could see what he was doing.
As a side note, our BVH vets are AWESOME. They love their clients and encourage us to participate in every aspect of our horses' care. That means that we are welcome to assist as long as we're truly helping and not hindering. I've even served as Dr. B's vet tech for more than a couple of euthanasias. Unpleasant for sure, but also a learning experience.
I drove over to TM's place on Saturday to look at the post-surgical site when they got home. It's ugly. The photos of the mass that Dr. Tolley removed are quite gross, so don't scroll down too far if you're squeamish. For now, there is a large, pressure bandage stitched to the wound. Taz goes back in two weeks for an exam. The prognosis isn't great. Either it will close up, or it won't. At least there's not an infected, oozy mass in Taz's armpit anymore.
I am really hoping that Taz's body starts to heal and that he can once again carry his mom down the trail like he's done for more than a decade. Here's a photo of Taz and his mom at Morro Rock in 2009.
The photos of Taz's surgery site are down below ... (I don't want anyone to accidentally see them, so scroll down past the arrows.
Click images to enlarge ...
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 …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
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 (***)
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