From Endurance to Dressage
Both of my horses live turned out in large sandy paddocks. They have enough room to play and gallop but not enough room to get up any real speed. Because of this, I never have to turn them out. I do let both of them out in the yard - one at a time, to graze and to give them a change of scenery.
On Wednesday, Izzy got a wild hair and galloped through the trees leaping and bucking like his butt was on fire. I could feel the ground shake beneath my feet. It was the first time in all the years I've owned him that his size scared me a little. If he let that energy out while I were riding, I think I'd poop my pants. After one particularly furious buck, I put him back in his paddock. I didn't need him hurting himself by crashing into the lounge furniture or a parked car.
Then I let Speedy out. It must have been one of those days because my old man put on a show of his own. After a gallop under the trees, he pranced past me in the loveliest passage. Of course I couldn't get my phone out fast enough, but I did catch the tail end of his woohoo moment. Dude looks pretty sound to me. Adrenaline and joy will do that.
Happy New Year!
Is it just me, or does it seem like it's getting more and more expensive to show? Here in California, December is membership renewal time. Earlier this week, I renewed both my California Dressage Society (CDS) and US Equestrian (USEF) memberships. While the cost hasn't risen per se, it seems as though I'm getting less for my money.
I've mentioned no less than a thousand times how much US Equestrian annoys the heck out of me. I get absolutely nothing from that organization other than the "privilege" of showing as an Adult Amateur. Oh, and I also "get" to take an annual course on recognizing sexual predators. Never mind that the FBI recently covered up reports of child molestation by at least one coach in gymnastics - one of the Olympic sports that made SafeSport necessary in the first place.
I've written about this a number of times, and each time I get blasted for being insensitive by those who insist that all athletes, even dressage riders who are mostly middle-aged women, should undergo training designed to teach them about child molesters. Never mind that I am a mandated reporter (as are so many others) and undergo extensive training each year as part of my job. As we all know, SafeSport has yet to be proven effective, especially if Larry Nassar was SafeSport certified. Maybe he skipped the training?
Darn it, I didn't mean to get so far off topic. What was I complaining about? Oh, yeah, how expensive riding my horse at a show is even before I've sent in an entry. US Equestrian's cheapest option, the one that lets me compete without any extra fees but doesn't make me or my horse eligible for any awards, runs $80 a year.
Membership in CDS has always felt like a bargain. It gives me Group Membership in the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) which does make me eligible for all rider performance awards (over half of which I have earned). Membership in CDS also makes me eligible for all of its awards as well, many of which I have earned.
Each year though, the awards that I earn from CDS seem to cost more to actually receive. For the twelve years that I have been a member, year-end plates have been free. Plates are earned when a rider scores 60% or higher. The plate is a small metal plate that sticks to a plaque. The plaques must be purchased; when I bought mine, I think I paid $35. It now costs $50, and in all honesty, it's not like it's all that fancy. I am pretty sure a nicer one could be ordered from your local trophy shop for less money. It might not have the CDS logo on it, but I don't think that would have discouraged me if I were to need one today.
This year, I discovered that the plates are no longer free as they have been since I joined. I know many trainers who are eligible for multiple plates - you get one for each eligible horse. In 2019, I received two plates. This year, the plates now cost $12. Yikes! That's pretty steep if you have two or three or five horses that you competed. Izzy earned one qualifying score for the 2021 season, so I feel compelled to order the plate. If I want him to be eligible for horse performance awards next year (different from the plates), I need to pay another $10 for that eligibility. In the unlikely event that we do earn enough scores, I'd be super annoyed if I hadn't coughed up the $10.
Maybe riders have indicated they'd rather be charged a la carte, not me. Just charge me whatever you think will cover the cost of the awards, and we'll call it even. If I win something, great, and if not, I've just subsidized someone else's trophy. And if we all win something, CDS can boast about the banner year its membership enjoyed.
As of right now, I'm looking at over $200 in membership and eligibility fees. That's seems like a lot, especially since Izzy and I aren't enjoying any success in the show ring.
Speedy and I have been partners for many years now. He and I met when he was just three years old - a baby really. At seventeen, soon to be eighteen, we're still partners, but the truth is that Speedy is free to make his own decisions as long as those decisions don't get him into too much trouble.
We're having an unusually wet December which is great for someplace that exists in perpetual drought. The downside is that it has been really muddy the last few weeks. Both boys have large, sandy paddocks, but they choose to spend their days in the same areas which means lots of mud. While I ride Izzy, I often open Speedy's gate so that he can get out of the mud and graze on the winter grass that is springing up around the ranch.
Free range Speedy is mostly well behaved, but I do have to keep my eye on him or at least make sure the feed room door is latched tightly. Over the years, he has learned that he is allowed to cross the threshold with his front feet only. Left unsupervised, I worry that he'll come all the way into the room and not be able to back himself up without knocking over everything as he exits. And knowing him like I do, said exit would probably cause a panic.
While I miss our daily rides, I enjoy Speedy just as much as a retired old man. He seems to know that living a life of ease is all that's expected of him. Watching him as he visits all of his neighbors always makes me smile, and knowing that he's happy helps me feel like I am paying him back for all of the years he spent doing what I wanted.
Now, he gets to do what he wants. Isn't that what retirement is all about?
I like clothes. I don't like to pay for them though which means I sometimes get creative. I shop for bargains, and I look for brands that are as good as. Not only do I like street clothes, but I LOVE riding/barn clothes. A large area of my walk in closet is dedicated to my riding wardrobe.
I am sure that most of you do the same things - buy on sale, buy last season's color choice, and buy from stores that don't actually sell riding apparel. Over the holidays I received a hefty gift card from Cabela's, and while I did buy a few non-barn items, most of the card was spent buying stuff to wear out at the ranch.
I love this flannel shirt. It is fleece lined with buttons and a zipper closure. It even has a light hood. Worn over a base layer, it gives me the warmth I need without being heavy - $39.99.
During the winter, I ride exclusively in technical shirts - the kind used by runners. They dry quickly and layer perfectly under a vest or sweater. This one has thumb holes, and it is just slightly thicker than my usual picks, but it's perfect for the cold, damp weather we're having right now - $34.99
This makes vest number four in my closet, but they each serve a different purpose. I chose this one because it's a soft shell which is great when it's windy. It is never cold enough here for me to ride in a jacket. The most I ever ride in is a sweater or vest over one of my technical shirts. This one is a bit long, and since it's not an equestrian vest, it doesn't have the flare at the bottom to clear the saddle. I've already ridden in it though, and that didn't actually bother me. It was a bit pricey, but since it was a gift card, I splurged - $70.00.
Items #4 & 5
I've written many times about belts since I love those just as much as I love breeches and tops. I have more C4 belts than I count (most of which won't quite fit me now - QUIT EATING SO MANY SWEETS!), and I have only two leather belts (one of which doesn't fit either). I needed some new belts so I bought one in brown and one in black, and they are super cute (and they fit!) - $34.99 each.
Since it usually isn't warm enough to wear a jacket at the barn, I like to dress in a variety of layers. First, of course, is a technical, long sleeve shirt. On top of that, I often wear a pullover which I then exchange for a vest once I am in the saddle (see above). My collection of pullover sweaters was down to about one, and it is starting to get a bit raggedy. I love it though, so until it literally falls apart, it will stay in the rotation. To prolong its life, I bought this Under Armour fleece-lined hoodie which was more expensive than I'd normally like, but again, gift card - $41.25.
None of my purchases were great bargains, especially if you're just buying them to be cosy on a walk, but had I bought similar items from Dover or Dressage Extensions, they would likely have been a lot more. Normally, if I want to buy four or five items that coordinate in color, they won't be found in Dover's bargain bin. Not in Riding Warehouse's either. Since I was shopping at a non-riding store though, I found everything in my size in the colors that I wanted without digging through pages and pages of bargains.
What's your favorite non-riding store for buying riding clothes?
Ever since Izzy joined my family, I've perpetually asked, "but why does he do that? I reasoned that if I understood why he was so braced in his neck or why he spooked for no apparent reason, I could fix things. The trainers, coaches, and clinicians with whom I've ridden have never really had an answer for me. Most of the time, I was told that it didn't really matter why. That's the way he is, so all I can do is ride better. That's an oversimplification of course and not really fair to a clinician who has just met Izzy, but still, my why question never really got an answer - until now.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, seems equally interested in the why as I am. In his experience, there are many, many horses like Izzy - horses that are complicated for one reason or another. In his experience, he has learned that if you really get to know the horse and work diligently to figure him out, you can get inside his head and find a way to work with the horse instead of just insisting he comply. I like the way Sean thinks.
Sean and I have been working together now for ten months, and while we haven't solved all of my problems, we're getting a better understanding of what makes Izzy tick. The latest strategy has been about using the smallest, most subtle aids possible. It doesn't make anything look good, but it seems to be helping Izzy to feel less trapped. It's challenging to ride an unpredictable horse with such a light contact, but so far, he has yet to dump me.
Here's where the "I am just thinking aloud" comes in. Ever since Sean made the suggestion that I make my rein aids even more subtle and my contact even softer, I've come to realize that I've been holding Izzy up. He hasn't been carrying himself at all. For so long he has pushed back against me instead of reaching for the bit. By pushing back, he has been able to use me for balance. I can really feel this in the canter. The first few times I asked for the canter while letting Izzy have his head, he simply couldn't hold the gait.
It dawned on me that he was looking for something to push against, and when he couldn't find it, he would fall out of the canter. That was a huge AHA moment for me. Now that I know he is having trouble balancing himself without me as his crutch, I've realized how important it is that I NOT allow him to push against me. Insisting that he carry himself is accomplishing several things. For one, he can't feel trapped if I am not closing the door in his face. If he doesn't feel trapped, he's less likely to bolt or spook. Second, he can't push against me if that door is standing wide open. This means that I have to learn a new way to help him be balanced, and he has to learn how to carry his own head and neck without falling on his face. This all means that we have a lot to work on over the winter.
Over the weekend, we had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ride. The neighbor was using his riding mower to grind gravel and sticks while occasionally cutting some grass. Izzy used the noise as an excuse to check out. He was perfectly fine for the first twelve minutes, and then the tantrum started. I tried doing everything I could to diffuse the tantrum, but nothing helped. I eventually pulled his tack and put him in the round pen while I went and had a chat with the neighbor. When I came back fifteen minutes later, Izzy was wringing wet. He had run himself into a lather.
I gave him the next day off, but on Sunday, I knew I had to try again. Without the mower growling at us, Izzy was less annoyed, but he still wasn't fully on board. I didn't care because I knew exactly what I had to do. As I asked for the trot, Izzy tried to fling himself forward instead of lifting his back and pushing from behind. Without being able to push against me, he had a lot of trouble figuring out how to transition to the trot by lifting his back and pushing off. I was patient though, and after a number of attempts, he finally started to figure it out.
After several walk breaks, we moved on to the canter work. The transitions there were even worse. Izzy looked like a dolphin as he flung first his front end up and then his hind end. As ugly as the transitions and canter work were, I was actually thrilled because I could feel him trying to find his balance. While I was still trying to ride with as soft a contact as possible, I found that he accepted a strong half halt with my rein, especially if I let it go immediately after.
Other than for the half halts, I avoided using my reins for control. Instead I focused on using my seat to hold the tempo of the canter. Surprisingly, Izzy will allow me to use a fair amount of leg to both push him over and to lift his shoulders, so I used those aids instead of my reins. As we worked on the canter, I let Izzy have as much rein as I felt safe giving while asking for bend with my inside leg and steering with my seat and body.
In the end, Izzy finally found some balance and as a result, he settled into a working canter where he was reaching for the bit instead of pushing against it. We have a long way to go, but getting such obvious results without the reins only confirmed for me that Sean is on the right path.
I've never blamed Izzy for our lack of success. Yes, he's complicated to ride, but that just means I have to keep learning how to be a better rider. I want to help him trust me and feel confident that I'll get us from A to C safely. Right now, I am enjoying this little peek that he is giving me into how he feels. Understanding that he has been pushing against me in an effort to balance himself gives me a lot of information.
It is information that I plan on using wisely.
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%: