From Endurance to Dressage
I recently wrote about Your Dressage in a post titled, Hey, USDF, Looking Good! As it turns out, Speedy and I made an appearance this week on the site with an article about our journey from Endurance to Dressage. You can read it by clicking the Achievement tab or here.
We've received a fair amount of feedback on the article, all of it very positive. The one thing that has surprised me though is how inspiring readers felt it was. I never feel that I am "inspiring" anyone, especially since I feel like we represent riders of the struggle bus. Struggle Bus Riders Unite! If there was one thing that I could hope other riders might take away from our story, it would be this: with hard work and a bit of luck, any rider can be successful. Speedy and I are the poster children for average. I am an average rider, my horse is an average horse, and neither of us is particularly talented. And yet, we achieved an accomplishment that fewer than 10,000 riders have been able to do in nearly 50 years of the the medals being available.
So whatever your goal is, whether in dressage or some other discipline, don't let yourself be discourage or intimidated by the competition. You do you! Set big goals, but it's also important to set mini goals that will serve to motivate and inspire you to reach for greater things. Don't be afraid of failure. Failure shows you where you need to improve which ultimately leads to success. If I can do it, ANYONE can.
And if you do check out USDF's Your Dressage, take a look at their Weekly Poll; the answers are always interesting. I voted twice this week since I have two horses, and I am looking forward to reading the results.
Have a great weekend!
You might have noticed that things look a little bit different. A month or so ago, it was suggested that my website needed a more mobile-friendly look because the font was too difficult to read. I tried to make an adjustment, but the theme that I had been using had not been optimized for mobile devices, or as Weebly calls it, responsive. Over the weekend, I looked at changing my theme, but while doing so, Weebly suffered a major fart and refused to let me go back to my old theme. So viola, I have a new, responsive theme.
I can't say that it looks any better on mobile devices, and I am not sold on the font color, so you might notice some changes over the next week or two. To those who hate change - I am FREAKING out right now, I'll try to get it done quickly. I despise constant changes. Pick something, dammit, and stick with it. But that's just me.
In the midst of that nightmare ... er, surprise, I got an even better one in the mail. After the forty-sixth F-bomb - redoing a website is a pain in the butt, I took a walk and checked the mail. So glad I did as both my USDF Rider Award Certificate and my lapel pin were waiting in the mailbox. I am now (even more) officially a USDF Bronze Medalist.
I think there might be such as thing as too much celebration, but honestly, this achievement is only now starting to sink in, and I am going to appreciate every new bit of it. While at the show this past weekend - I swear I'll get to that over the next few days, Speedy got a ton of compliments, which always surprises me. I mean, I know he's cute, but he's definitely not the big, powerful warmblood that draws all of the oohs and aws. Whenever the person complimenting Speedy seemed interested in hearing more about him, I couldn't resist telling his story quickly ...
I bought Speedy as a 3-year old to serve as my next endurance horse. He's now 16. Eventually, after 16 years of competing in 100 and 50-miler races, including several seasons on him, I decided to give dressage a try. Speedy and I started at Introductory Level together, and while it took ten years, we just earned our Bronze Medal.
Of course, my little story always earned what seemed like genuine and heartfelt congratulations! I like to tell his story because so many riders think you can only be successful on a purpose-bred warmblood. Yes, the sport is probably easier on those horses, but with a little extra hard work (in our case, a LOT of extra hard work), any horse and rider can be successful in the sport.
Go out and ride what you've got, and you might just surprise yourself. I certainly did!
Waiting for my latest scores to become official on USDF Scores was a brutal wait. The website was super glitchy all last week, so who knows? My scores might have been official sooner, but I couldn't see them. As I was eating lunch on Friday afternoon, I decided to hit refresh one more time knowing that it probably wasn't going to be the last time. We've all heard a trainer say that, "okay, one more time." Yeah, sort of like that. To my surprise, it really was just that one time.
As soon as those scores popped up, I bolted for my laptop and got to work applying for a USDF Bronze Medal. First, I had to verify that I had earned the right scores. I keep meticulous track, but you never know when there's going to be a problem. I clicked the Rider Award Eligibility link, and to my relief, my pink score was lit green. All systems were go for the medal!
Once everything is verified, USDF gives you the option to apply right from the Rider Award Eligibility screen, which of course I did. When you click on the link, you are taken to a payment page. Once I had completed the personal information and provided my credit card number, my application for a USDF Bronze Medal was received.
Once that was done, I zipped on over to the USDF Store and tried to order a Bronze Medal lapel pin. Whomp, whomp. First of all, the Bronze and Silver pins are on backorder - it's not like they give out that many; how are they on backorder? Secondly, it looks as though you have to have been awarded the medal before you can order a pin.
I sent an email to USDF asking for clarification. Yesterday, Sarah Kissman replied, "Thank you for contacting USDF. I can confirm that USDF has processed and awarded your USDF Bronze Medal. You may order the corresponding bronze lapel pin online through the USDF store." Of course I ordered it right away.
I had decided to attend the USDF Convention and Gala Awards Dinner, so that I could receive the medal in person, but USDF just announced the convention will be virtual. Well crap. So, I'll get the medal in the mail but probably not until January.
Once that last score became official, Speedy became eligible for his California Dressage Society (CDS) Third Level Horse Performance Award. The Performance Awards are fairly new. The first year they were available, Speedy and I were competing at Second Level. We earned the award in 2018. Like the USDF Medals, the Horse Performance Awards are handed out at the CDS Annual Convention and Awards Gala.
This year's event, if it happens, should be in Southern California in January. I went in 2018. Now that we have an extra reason to go, it will definitely be on my calendar. Oh, and much like the USDF Medals, you have to apply and pay for this award as well. I also completed that application and sent in my credit card number.
I am not complaining, well not complaining much anyway, but awards season is pretty expensive!
As I sit here hitting refresh on my Rider Award Eligibility page at USDFScores.com, I decided to do a little research. But first, what's up with the USDF website? It has been ridiculously glitchy for more than a week. Sometimes, a click will take me to a blank page and other times I can get where I want to go. Also, lost from the menu, is the link to look up how many medals have been awarded and to whom. I eventually found it by doing a Google search, but I can't find the link on the current USDF website. Meanwhile, I refresh the page.
The reason I keep hitting refresh on my eligibility page is because you aren't automatically awarded a medal or performance award. You have apply for it, and you can't apply for it until your scores are officially recorded by USDF. And so I hit refresh. One of these times, my pink section will light up in green.
While I wait, I've been busy looking up some interesting numbers. First, USDF was established in 1973 after it was decided that there ought to be a national governing body for the sport of dressage. There were already dressage associations spread around the country, but there were no uniform standards. The California Dressage Society (CDS), my own GMO, was formed in 1967, six years before the birth of USDF.
I am sure many articles have been written on the history of the various USDF awards programs, but after a brief search, I only found this one. Admittedly, I was only casually curious and didn't want to spend too much time looking. According to the article, the first Gold and Silver Medals were awarded in 1974. After searching through the USDF website, I found that a Bronze Medal was issued in 1977. Were there other medals awarded before that? Probably, but there are currently 9,626 Bronze Medal recipients, and I didn't want to look through them all.
If you can get to the page, USDF has a way to look up every medal recipient by the current year and by all years. You can find the link here (maybe). I was really curious to know how widespread the Bronze Medal actually is. Frankly, I feel like the last person on Earth to get hers. Many of my friends have had their medal for years. I also have friends who have earned the needed scores but haven't bothered to actually apply for the medal.
As of late June, 179 riders have applied for a Bronze Medal in 2020. The total number of Bronze Medals that have been awarded since the late 1970s is 9,626 - soon to be 9,627. Of course, fewer Silver Medals have been awarded; 111 in 2020, and 5,487 in total. It's not surprising that the number of Gold Medals is even less. There have only ever been 1,625 Gold Members awarded and only 43 in 2020. The Freestyle Bars have even fewer recipients: 287 Bronze Freestyle Bars, 328 Silver Freestyle Bars, and 160 Gold Freestyle Bars. My trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has ALL SIX. I would really like to know how many other riders have all the medals.*
As I was researching the number of riders who have received the three different medals, I ran across this article, "Building Blocks to Bronze." While it doesn't tell you how many Bronze Medals have been awarded, it does talk about how difficult it can be to achieve. If you're working towards you own medal, it's a worthwhile read.
In the meantime, I am going to continue with my strategy of hitting refresh. Eventually my scores will become official, and I'll be able to apply for my Bronze Medal. Of course, the medals aren't awarded until the end of the year so more waiting will be necessary. I will be able to buy my lapel pin though. You can bet that will happen the instant my pink section becomes green!
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh ...
* According to this USDF article, as of 2011, only 10 USDF members had earned all six medals. Chemaine Hurtado is certainly a member of a very elite group of dressage riders.
If we're friends on facebook, you've already heard that Speedy and I finally earned the last score we needed to qualify for a USDF Bronze Medal.
For those of you who only casually follow dressage, a Bronze Medal is awarded once a rider has met certain score requirements. There are six scores required.
There were the deep hoof bruises caused by wearing shoes; we went barefoot. He developed tendonitis after an exuberant turnout. He sliced open his coronary band; on what we never found. He knocked out a tooth. He sliced open both front legs requiring sutures. Then he developed PPID which came with repeated abscesses. Speedy always recovered well, but the time outs took their toll on our training.
Our slow journey wasn't all Speedy's fault though. Most of our snail's pace was because we were never intended to be a dressage team in the first place. I bought him as a three-year-old to be my backup endurance horse. When my super star mare died in 2010, Speedy got called up to the big leagues completing several endurance seasons before we became dressage partners. Because I had never taken riding lessons, we started at Introductory Level and then moved ever so slowly through Training Level before we even thought about earning the necessary scores from First Level. And the truth is, it never even occurred to me that we might make it to First Level, and certainly not Second and then Third!
Obviously, we did. Along the way we struggled - we have lots of scores in the high 50s, but we also made consistent and steady progress. We've either won or been reserve at every California Dressage Society (CDS) Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC) level from Introductory through Second Level. Last August, Speedy developed an abscess just days before RAAC where we slated to show at Third Level. We were forced to withdraw.
In 2019, Speedy was diagnosed with PPID, otherwise known as Cushing's Disease. Even with medication - we have a Therapeutic Use Exemption from US Equestrian, it has taken some time to get his symptoms under control. Knowing that horses with PPID frequently become insulin resistant and are more likely to suffer laminitic episodes, I recognized that our time competing together wasn't guaranteed, and each day's ride might be the last. I didn't want to earn a Bronze Medal on a different horse. Speedy and I started this journey together, so I wanted him to have the honor of getting us all the way there. Knowing that time might be short added another layer of pressure to get those Third Level scores.
Over the years, we've had plenty of help from our trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. While Chemaine is now based closer to me than before - she's still an hour away, getting weekly lessons has been impossible. For many years, I was lucky to ride with her at most once a month. Even without being able to ride in a steady program, Chemaine has been a tremendous support, frequently coaching me through a problem over the phone or by text. With her guidance, she has taken an endurance pair from Introductory Level to the Bronze Medal. We would never have been able to earn the needed scores without her instruction and vision.
After I finished my first ride on Saturday, I felt pretty confident that we had eked out at least a 60%. Hearing that we had indeed earned a qualifying score left me feeling more relieved than happy. After working so diligently for the past several years, I expected to feel elated. Instead, I just felt utter relief. Earning a USDF Bronze Medal was a lot like earning my first 1,000-mile Medallion from the American Endurance Ride Conference or finishing my first 100-mile endurance race. Those two milestones left me feeling like I could truly call myself an endurance rider. The Bronze Medal has given me a similar feeling. Now I feel a bit more confident in identifying myself as a Dressage rider.
As I lay in bed on Saturday night, I felt both happy and unburdened. By Sunday, I felt pressure. As a USDF Bronze Medalist, I now feel like I had better start performing like one. It feels as though the bar is now higher, that more should be expected. We're not done with Third Level. That left to right flying change still gets stuck and our half passes need more bend and a lot more forward.
Now that I am not putting so much pressure on myself to earn that Bronze Medal - you do not know how frustrating it is to be one score away, I think I'll be able to really focus on improving the movements where we're weak and building on our strengths. And besides, I can't move on to Fourth until we've had our opportunity to compete at the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition at Third Level.
But knowing Chemaine like I do, I know she's already sneaking in some Fourth Level stuff. I don't mind; endurance riders are always looking down the trail to see what's around the next bend. I may not know what's next, but gratefully, Chemaine does, and I have every confidence in her ability to get us there.
Stay tuned for videos and a show recap.
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. We're currently showing Third Level for the 2020 show season. 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 schooling and showing at the lower levels. 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%
2020 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2020 Pending …
10/11 A. Newcomb (c)
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2020 Completed …
10/26-27/19 SCEC (***)
6/20-21/20 SCEC (***)
6/29 Ulf Wadeborn (c)
7/11-12 SLO-CDS (***)
7/27 Breen-Gurley (c)
8/30 Breen-Gurley (c)
9/20 Caveletti Clinic (c)
2020 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
2 Scores/1 Judge:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
3 Scores/2 Judges:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
Score 3: 61.750% Johnson
Stuff I Read