From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy has always been a difficult horse to ride, but it's more accurate to say that both of my horses have been difficult. Speedy and I managed to earn quite a few awards and wins, but it wasn't easy. He's a great horse, but he never just "did" it. I had to ask, beg, insist, and only after months of struggle would we finally get it. Speedy's sticky moments were just a lot less visible than are Izzy's. I think the moral of the story is that dressage is hard no matter who your horse is.
Now that I am getting better at riding Izzy, he's offering me a place to sit. When his back is tight and he refuses to bend, it's like riding a log, but when I can get his back to swing, even just a little bit, he really starts to look and feel like the dressage horse he was bred to be.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came to Bakersfield on Sunday to give a string of lessons across town. Izzy and I were her first stop. Even though the temperature was in the high 20s, Izzy was relaxed and happy to work. Since we've had a lesson each of the past several weekends, there wasn't anything specific that I wanted to work on. I asked Chemaine if I could just ride while she offered feedback when she saw that I needed it.
That's what we spent the next 45 minutes doing - I rode, and Chemaine simply coached me. Don't let him push you off that inside seat bone. Think about leg yielding him out on the circle. Ask for some counter flexion. Bring his haunches in when he wants to brace against your inside rein. I love lessons where I get a huge epiphany, but those lessons wherein I get to hear Chemaine's voice riding my horse through me are the ones that really help me when I am riding on my own.
When Chemaine is explaining something new, something big she thinks I am ready for, I get pretty wrapped up in trying to figure out what I am supposed to feel. Later, I write it down so that I can think about it and process the idea she wants me to learn. It usually takes me a while to put into action the new learning. When we work on just fine tuning things, like we did on Sunday, I attach her voice to the feeling Izzy gives me, and then I can hear her voice coaching me when I ride alone. Eventually the voice I hear becomes my own. That's when I know I truly understand something.
For a while now I've been working on suppling Izzy's back so that he can lengthen his stride. One way we've been tackling that is by moving his shoulders around and then moving his haunches. It's as though the middle of his back is rusted so solidly that he can't move his front and back independently. We're slowly oiling that "joint," and it's finally beginning to break free.
As we trotted around on a 20-meter circle, Chemaine had me think about an exercise I learned from Barbi Breen-Gurley this past summer. It goes like this: flex in, flex out, down if he'll take it. As a suppling exercise, it has worked wonders with Izzy. As I flexed Izzy in, Chemaine suggested I leg yield him slightly out on the circle, and when I flexed him out, I should push him into the circle. As I pushed him back and forth, in and out on the circle, his body began to really relax and his neck and stride both got longer. When this horse lifts his back and pushes, I feel about ten feet taller.
Most horses have a side they prefer, a side that bends more easily than the other. Izzy struggles to bend to the right, and since he likes to lean on his right shoulder, it is sometimes impossible for him to bend to the right. His shoulder is in the way. When tracking right, it occasionally feels like I am riding a motorcycle that is leaning hard to the right, moments away from sliding out from underneath me.
When he's especially tight, pulsing or sponging the inside right rein feels like I am trying to lead an elephant with a piece of thread. No insult to the elephant, but if he can't "hear" you, he can't do what you want. Chemaine reminded me that flexing the horse to the inside isn't the only way to get the bend. Bend can also be achieved by sending the haunches in, but it's a lot more work on the horse's part.
This is especially effective at the canter. When Izzy got stiff to the right at the canter, Chemaine had me think about bringing his haunches in to achieve some inside bend. As long as Izzy braced against the bend, I kept my outside hand out and back. The instant he relaxed his neck, I allowed his haunches back on the circle, and I brought the shoulders in instead. Think about a carousel horse rotating around a pole where you as the rider are the pole. The horse can rotate his front end or his back end into and out of the circle.
At one point during the lesson, Chemaine apologized for not doing much teaching that day. I laughed and said that she was helping tremendously. Sometimes, students don't need to learn something new. Instead we need a chance to practice and get feedback.
And if anyone needs more practice, it's definitely me! I felt that my money was well spent that day.
Holy cow, people! Some big changes have occurred in the US Equestrian Rulebook, particularly in the Dressage Division. While I merely skimmed most of the rule changes, one in particular caught my eye - DR 121.8, the rule about fly hoods.
At a quick glance, it would seem that DR 121 Saddlery and Equipment has been rewritten in its entirety. This isn't true obviously, but the whole thing is written in red which suggests a lot of edits, some probably larger than others. The one that most affects me right now is the rule pertaining to fly hoods/ear covers. Ear covers that are noise cancelling are now permitted!
You may or may not have noticed that Izzy has been sporting a fly bonnet of late. After the show in October where the wind howled and the roof of the Earl Warren Dome creaked and groaned and threatened to fall in on us, I've been experimenting with a couple of different fly bonnets to see if they might block some of the noises that cause him to be tense and spooky.
Until just this month, noise cancelling ear bonnets have been strictly prohibited by US Equestrian, and I know because I checked before ordering one. In fact, I've been messaging someone back and forth in an effort to have a custom bonnet created that was of a thick enough fabric to be at least somewhat effective while still being legal.
Now that they're legal, I don't have to have one custom made. Over the weekend, I ordered an actual noise cancelling bonnet, and not just one with thicker fabric. Since my new addiction is all things Lemieux, I chose their Acoustic Noise Reduction Ear Bonnet in navy. While I like the overall look, its sound cancelling features are what really appealed to me. Instead of just being lined with neoprene which can be hot, Lemieux's fly hood has a sound-proof micro-foam that is sandwiched between a layer of soft bamboo and a lycra covering.
Since I would have had to pay shipping otherwise, I also tossed in another LeMieux saddle pad. I recently bought the LeMieux Merino+ Dressage Square Half Lined Saddle Pad, but I am "saving" it for shows and clinics. I also have the LeMieux X-Grip Silicone Square Dressage Saddle Pad on my Christmas/Birthday wish lists, but you never know if Santa's actually listening. <cough, cough> So, on its way to me now is the LeMieux ProSport Cotton Square Dressage Saddle Pad, in navy to match the fly bonnet.
If I like the ear bonnet well enough, I'll also have to get one in black for the days when coats are waived and I wear my burgundy show shirt. I also need to order a black helmet as I haven't really liked wearing the burgundy shirt with my navy helmet. One rule change, and suddenly my whole show attire needs a redo. Izzy's too!
I don't know who this girl is ... fly hoods and matching pads? Speedy is probably shaking his head in disgust.
#1 Black Friday
I took advantage of not one single Black Friday sale. Not one. I received the emails, I clicked on the emails, but I didn't buy anything. There are a few things that I'd like to have - like the LeMieux X-Grip Silicone Square Dressage Saddle Pad, but since I don't actually need something right now, I just thought I'd wait until after Christmas. My birthday is in a few weeks, so a gift card might be in my future.
#2 Twelve Days of Christmas
Not only did I let Black Friday and Cyber Monday pass by unnoticed, I was also left cold by the Twelve Days of Christmas sales. Normally, those things get me all excited, and this year's sales were even better than normal because most online retailers left each day's special "live" for the duration of the promotion. Still, I didn't order a thing.
#3 Christmas Decorations
I am not being a Scrooge this year though. We decorated our house on Thanksgiving day. We hung lights, pulled out all the Christmas decorations, and decorated our tree. Putting up the tree is always a special part of the holidays because I have a large collection of ornaments, all of them special in some way. Many are from students which I smile about each year as I hang them. The rest have been accumulated over several decades.
For each ornament that I hang, I reflect on where it came from. I also pause to consider whether it still brings me joy. If it doesn't, I put it in the donations box that I keep in the garage. Once the box is full, it goes to the Good Will. As one ornament goes, one usually arrives. I haven't bought any new ornaments this year, but I did buy some new household decorations that put a smile on my face. One is a large "JOY" that lights up with a timer. Each day, it lights up on its own reminding me to think about what brings me joy.
#4 Christmas Gifts
It's been an odd gift giving year though. Normally, I would have given and received gifts from my colleagues and students. Since I am not at work and most of my colleagues aren't either, few gifts are being given. I did drive to work yesterday afternoon though as a very sweet student in my class sent me an email informing me that she had left a Christmas gift in the office for me. While there, I also discovered a very thoughtful gift left by our school's librarian. While the treat was deliciously edible - it didn't survive the trip home, it was the note she left that was the best part.
Today, instead of math and writing, science and history, I've planned a special day for my students. Instead of the little trinket I might give them during a regular school year, I've planned a series of activities that I hope they'll enjoy. We're doing a scavenger hunt, a trivia game, art, and a few other activities. One of which includes me doing The Floss.
#5 Done with 2020
While we're all over this year, today marks my last workday of the calendar year. My students are excited, but I fear they're going to be bored by Tuesday or Wednesday. I've told them that I'll check my messages throughout the next two weeks in case they want to chat with me, and I will no doubt work off and on during the Christmas break, but it won't be with the same intensity as a regular school day.
Let Christmas break begin!
Now that Speedy is "retired," his life looks very different from what it used to. He gets ridden once or twice a week, and the rest of the time he relaxes in his field, harassing or being harassed by Izzy. He looks quite happy.
I miss him a little bit though. Of course I see him most every day, and he happily gobbles up the cookies I use to greet him, but I miss having a plan, goals, things that we're trying to accomplish together.
It's been nice that 2020's award season has stretched on for so long. We're still awaiting our USDF Bronze Medal, but there was yet another award that I had forgotten about - the California Dressage Society (CDS) Horse Performance Award.
I write about this all the time, but my USDF Group Member Organization - CDS, is really large compared to the rest of the GMOs across the country. As of today, there are 623 members listed. The roster is a bit light at the moment as many members are still renewing for 2021. Even though I renewed a few weeks ago, my name still isn't on the list.
With such a large GMO, it's quite common for the award's recipient list to be pretty hefty when CDS holds its annual meeting in January. This year, the list of winners is really small.
The year Speedy and I won our Ruby GEM Award (two scores of 60% or above at Training, First, & Second Levels), the stage was packed with riders who had earned their own Ruby, Sapphire, or Diamond awards. That same year Speedy also earned a Horse Performance Award. The list of riders who took the stage for that award was also long.
This year, the list of riders earning CDS awards is much shorter than normal, so I feel particularly grateful to be on that list. Shutdowns due to COVID-19 impacted California's horse show season pretty severely. The regulations and protocols that our governor has mandated have been largely viewed as capricious, inconsistent, and frequently downright draconian. With the state in perpetual lockdown, most counties were forced to deny show managers permission to hold shows. That meant that some areas of the state couldn't hold shows while others could. It's no surprise that so few could earn an award.
Speedy and I only made it to three shows this season, and the first was in October of 2019, the month our new new show season begins. Those shows gave us just enough of an opportunity to finish earning the scores we needed for Speedy's Third Level Horse Performance Award.
A week or so ago, I was sent an email from CDS congratulating me on our accomplishment. The Annual Meeting and Awards Gala will of course be virtual this year, but the event's organizers have requested a photo to display as our names are read. I've sent my favorite photo, one from Speedy's last show.
While I wish we could all meet in person to celebrate the accomplishments of our friends and fellow riders, it's not to be. Instead, I'll be waiting anxiously for my award to arrive in the mail.
Let's hope 2021 brings better news and an end to this madness.
And almost done. I teach my students today, tomorrow, and Friday. Three days, and then I am done teaching for 2020. This time of year is always a struggle. Kids are usually rambunctious in the days leading up to Christmas, although I am not seeing any of that behavior right now. I've actually read some things in the chats that have saddened me, things like my mom's not buying me anything for Christmas.
So while the kiddos aren't bouncing off my classroom walls, there's still a lot to deal with. The reduced daylight hours also get me down. I am certain I suffer from some degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and working from home means I go outside a lot less often than when I am at my school site. Saddle Up Anyway, the words are live by, are the only thing getting me up and out to the ranch each day.
Even though I desperately wanted to curl up in front of the fire with a good book yesterday - I am currently reading F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I pulled on my breeches, determined to ride. The Big Brown Horse always fools me. He's really just an over-sized sloth. He lumbers around his dry field in no particular hurry. He happily nibbled my hair and clothes while I groom, hiding the devil that only comes out when it's time to work.
I put him through a series of warm up exercises which he was happy to do. Once the work began though, his devilish self popped out of hiding, and the fight was on. He spooked and bolted and dodged all in an attempt to convince me that he COULD NOT BE RELAXED. And then he let go through his body in a resistance free shoulder-in.
Good man, I told him as I patted his neck. Good man. And then we moved on to the canter where we started it all over again. As I had done in the trot work, I kept both legs on and pushed him forward. And when forward was too much, we circled. 10-meter circles can do a lot to convince a horse that 20-meter circles are a lot easier. Eventually, he let that tension go as well as he cantered politely where I pointed him.
Today is another day and another chance to saddle up anyway. I am always glad I do, but some days, it takes more cajoling than others.
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