From Endurance to Dressage
After finishing my rides on Saturday - I was done before 11:00, I asked Jen, the show manager, if she needed any help. Jen is a good friend, so I always ask for a job when I am at one of her shows. For this show, which turned out to be much larger than usual, she was a bit short staffed, so she quickly put me to work.
Normally at this show, the warm up ring is right next to the dressage court, but because Jen needed two rings, the warm up was pushed out into an area behind some trees. That meant the warm up ring steward couldn't see when riders were finished with their tests, so she was sending the next riders up just by guessing. Jen asked me to serve as the ring steward for the two dressage courts.
Jen didn't realize it at the time, but she gave me the day's best job. I parked myself at the in gate which offered me a perfect view of both dressage courts. As each rider gave their final salute, I radioed the warm up ring steward letting her know she could send the next rider. As each rider came to the gate, I reviewed the schedule to confirm which ring the rider was in even though they already knew. I was able to see their name and which test they were riding. And since I was responsible for informing the warm up ring steward how the pace was running, I was "forced" to watch all of the rides.
It is amazing what you see and hear as a show volunteer. Since I wasn't visiting with friends or milling around, I had the opportunity to catch small things that I would have otherwise missed. I saw a rider get bucked off at C. I quickly ran up to catch her horse as the EMT swooped in to see if she needed medical assistance; thankfully, she was fine. I watched Hilda Gurney "read" a test for a student from memory; she didn't even have the test in her hand as back up. I watched Eddie Van Halen's sister-in-law handle a very fractious, but talented horse at Third Level where she earned a 67%. I also watched Hilda Gurney ride Londina at First Level where she scored 71.8%
After the last test was scored and recorded, Jen, Morgan - who also worked in the office, and I headed into town for dinner. Of course we laughed and gossiped about the day - all kinds of weird things happen at a show. We also talked about the next show. In less than two weeks, Izzy and I will be in Santa Barbara for another show, but this time, Jen won't be running it; she'll be showing. Morgan will also be there assisting her mom with their clients. We're all really looking forward to it.
Stay tuned for Sunday's rides ...
We are called Not-So-Speedy-Dressage for a reason. It took ten years for Speedy and I to earn a USDF Bronze Medal, so it shouldn't be surprising that it took 6 years to get Izzy ready enough for a USDF show. Speedy we are not. I am okay with that though since my journey is my own, and I can't do more than I know.
I am sure there are many critics out there who think Izzy isn't ready for Second Level. I wrote a bit about that last week. The thing with Izzy, and we all know this, is that the movements are fairly easy for him. For him, it's the relaxation part that is going to hurt our scores. Every comment the judge made this weekend had to do with his tight back and short neck. If I can break through that barrier, Izzy is going to hit it out of the park. The only way to show him that he can relax is with more experience which means showing.
While he wasn't sleepy and ambivalent about the whole thing, Izzy handled the whole show experience fantastically well. This was a big show crammed into a small space. The gigantic barn was packed, the portable stalls were packed, and the warm up ring was packed. Everywhere we went, we squeezed through this or excused our way past that. For such a big horse who has issues with confinement, he kept himself very much in control.
On Friday afternoon, Amelia Newcomb, with whom we had ridden two weeks previously, came out to give us a lesson; she lives in the area. I am so glad she did because the rings were packed, and Izzy was very tense. There had to be ten horses in either ring at any given time. Even Amelia commented on the craziness of it. Izzy started out as tense and spooky as could be, but within a half an hour, Amelia helped me work him down into a much more relaxed frame. By the end of the lesson, his back was swinging, his neck was long, and he was working with confidence.
The next morning, Izzy came out of his stall full of nervous energy. As soon as I got on, he shot forward. I worked him in exactly the same way Amelia had suggested the day before: lots of bending lines, inside leg to outside hand, and a lot of canter work. He wasn't quiet and submissive, but he was rideable, and willing to bend. We headed into the ring when the ring steward gave us the okay.
After the final halt and salute, I almost burst into tears. I was so proud of Izzy. When I think back on our incredibly long journey from a horse that was barely rideable to one that can actually perform at Second Level, I can't help but be amazed. We might have had to skip a few levels to get there, but we're there now.
Our score wasn't great - we earned a 58.919% which was just four points shy of a 60%. Even so, Izzy did better than I had expected, so I was thrilled. Our score sheet looks just like Speedy's always did at the beginning of a level with lots of 5.0s and 6.0s. We scored a 7.0 for one shoulder-in and a 7.5 for our final halt and salute. There were no 4.0s which means we did all of the movements and were at the very least sufficient.
There were only twenty minutes between my two rides, so I walked Izzy back down to the warm up for a stretch. He again handled the warm up well and seemed ready for test 2. At the last minute, I panicked, not feeling confident that I had the test memorized, so my friend Morgan, who had videoed the first ride, quickly shifted gears and jumped in to read the test. I was glad she did, but I was sorry to miss out on the video. We scored better on the second test earning a 60.610%!
While the second test didn't feel as good as the first one, the judge liked it a whole lot better. Test two is pretty tough with the three loop serpentine with simple changes each time you cross X. Unlike test 1, in test 2 there are multiple canter/walk transitions which are challenging. We earned three 6.0s for the simple changes at X and both counter canters earned 7.5. In all, we earned 7.0 or 7.5 on five different movements. Again, there were no 4.0s., and we had an even smattering of 5.0s and 6.0s
I could have loaded Izzy up that afternoon, gone home, and felt like the weekend was a success. Instead, I stuck around for Day 2, and I am glad I did.
Stay tuned for more ...
Izzy's new winter blanket arrived on Thursday afternoon, and even though it was 90 degrees, I tossed it on him to check the fit. He wasn't thrilled with adding another coat on top of his winter coat.
When I unpacked the blanket, I was more than satisfied. It was exactly what I was looking for: a heavy weight blanket that wasn't heavy. It's light and fluffy and feels sturdy. The inside is slick and smooth, and both the drop and tail flap are substantial enough to cover the big brown horse. All of the straps and buckles are in good working order, and the fit is overall nice and roomy. For under $60, the blanket was more than worth its cost.
Of course, it's still in the 90s here in Central California, although we are expected to see some morning temperatures drift down into the upper 40s this week. Our highs will still be in the upper 70s and low 80s though. We are giddy at the mere thought of rain, even though none is on the horizon. Our fingers are crossed we see some sort of precipitation by November, but that might be just wishful thinking.
California excels at mild winters and blazing hot summers.
My tack is clean. Feed is packed. The trailer is loaded if not yet hooked up.
We have ride times.
I have a lesson scheduled for this afternoon.
I had a great ride on Izzy on Wednesday afternoon. I felt myself lift my chest, and all of a sudden his canter was up, up, up! It was a real confidence booster to get such a wonderful new feeling from him especially with a show this weekend.
Second Level, here we come!
I started riding and showing dressage in 2010. Since then, I've shown one hundred twenty-seven days. One hundred eleven of them have been on Speedy. I showed Sydney nine times and Izzy has been shown seven times. The only horse I've shown at a USDF show though is Speedy. Every one of the scores earned towards my Bronze Medal were achieved with him.
With Speedy, I always went to a show hoping for at least a 60%. At the beginning of each level, we almost always walked away with scores in the high 50s. Eventually we would start earning scores in the low 60s, and later, scores as high as low 70s. But each time we started a new level, we went through the cycle again.
I know many people disagree with that strategy. They think if you're not earning mid-60s, you're showing at the wrong level. That may be true, but for me, I have always used the judges' scores as feedback to guide me through the level. While I am able to take more lessons from Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, than I used to, there are still months where I might only get one lesson. Sometimes, the judge's score is my only feedback. If I waited until we scored in the mid-60s, I'd never show. I'd also never improve. Showing tells me when I am doing it correctly, and it also tells me when I am doing it wrong so that I can fix it.
Over the past two months, I've been schooling Izzy in preparation for our first USDF show. We're doing Second Level. We're struggling. We're probably going to score in the 50s. What I've just this week realized is that there are a lot of reasons to score a 5. With Speedy, a 5 meant we weren't doing the movement correctly. We didn't have enough bend, enough reach, enough length, enough something.
In the seven times I've shown Izzy - Intro and Training Level, we earned the exact same scores that I earned when starting Speedy at a new level, high 50s. That simply baffled me as the rides on Izzy felt like such a hot mess while the rides on Speedy felt at least okay. It seemed as the the scores on Izzy should have been much lower.
In some cases, they were. At Izzy's first two shows - Introductory Level, we earned scores as low as 49%. But in his case, it wasn't because he couldn't do the movements, it was because of tension. Introductory Level is about walking and trotting (and a small bit of canter) with a minimal amount of fuss. If the horse walks and trots in a straight line or on a relatively round circle, you're going to get a 60%. If the horse looks as though he is about to die, a 49% is in your future.
In Izzy's case, he can do the movements. They're not hard for him like they are for Speedy. That won't be why we earn 5s. It will be because of tension. His back will be tight, his neck will be short, and his stride will be three inches long. It's not like I just discovered that he's tense - we've all been watching that since the beginning. It's just that over time, I've been able to work a lot of the tension loose. It's still there, but he's beginning to listen and let go of some of it.
Will he be able to relax at SCEC in a few days? I don't know, but I feel pretty confident that I at least have some tools for working through the tension. Will it work? I don't know that either, but I am hoping that over the two days we show he'll get tired enough to take a deep breath and realize that, no, he is not about to die.
I won't be surprised by a score in the 50s, but I am also hopeful we get that 60%.
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.
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 …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 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