From Endurance to Dressage
It is no secret that I am a voracious reader. I get through around 60 books a year. Sometimes I'll read three books in a week; other times I'll labor three weeks on the same book. I gravitate towards "literary fiction," especially stuff written in the early to mid-twentieth century. I also love dystopian novels - I just finished Robert Silverberg's Hawksbill Station which is both dystopian and science fiction and written in the mid-twentieth century. Be still my heart.
While I tend to favor certain genres over others, I do step outside of my comfort zone when something piques my interest. All the Murmuring Bones comes to mind. That's another one I read this summer; it's a gothic fairytale featuring mermaids, magic, and beasts best left undisturbed. And of course, I also read books featuring horses.
While we were in Nashville, I finished The Ride of Her Life. The cover is horrible, and it almost caused me to scroll right past. It was the author that stopped my finger from hitting next. Elizabeth Letts. As soon as I saw her name, I knew I was buying the book no matter what its subject matter.
If you read any books featuring horses, you'll no doubt have seen Letts's other two books, The Eighty-Dollar Champion - the story of a horse bought off a meat truck who ends up being the greatest show jumper of his time, and The Perfect Horse - the story of the horses rescued from Hitler during World War II. I loved both of those books so much that I knew without a doubt that Ride ... would be equally fascinating. I wasn't disappointed.
You can easily read the book's summary here, but in short, the story is about an elderly woman in the mid-1950s who saddles up and heads west from Maine, intent on reaching the Pacific Ocean and California. It is a delightful book that weaves together mid-century Americana with one woman's relationship with her horses and dog. I could not read it fast enough.
If you're looking for a feel good, fascinating, horse-filled book, read The Ride of Her Life. I know you won't be disappointed. If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you thought. And now, excuse me as I continue something else out of my comfort zone, Beartown, a book about hockey in a small, forest town written by Fredrik Backman.
Not mid-twentieth century, dystopian, nor science fiction, but it's sucking me in.
Isn't it interesting that many horse people are also readers? I don't know how we find the time, but we do. You know I am a reader; I've shared many posts about great books I've read. While I am on track to read 50 or more books in 2022, I haven't found one that was worth sharing here, until this past week. If you are looking for something sweet and entertaining, find Perestroika in Paris.
The story is about a young Thoroughbred filly named Perestroika, Paras for short, who walks away from her racing barn to see what she can see. She meets several other animals in her first day of freedom who band with her as she learns to live away from the track without someone to care for her. She eventually meets a young boy whose life she changes as he changes hers. The book is not intended for a YA audience, but it's so sweet in the telling that it will appeal to readers of all ages. I simply could not read it fast enough.
I usually roll my eyes as I read "horse" books because the authors rarely understand horses, but this one was different. Jane Smiley, the author, has bred horses and currently has three at her home in Carmel Valley, California. The things Paras thinks and does, and the way the humans behave towards her, are spot on. Smiley knows horses.
In Chapter 5, the small boy who Paras meets thinks,"If every new thing were to come as a surprise, he knew he would be surprised every hour of his life." The whole book is like that, one surprise after another. Smiley's writing is precise without a wasted word. I highlighted passage after passage. It was like reading a fortune cookie's message; there were words of wisdom on each page.
In the next chapter, Smiley writes, "Paras suspected that she was thinking sad thoughts - she had come to understand that many of Frida's thoughts were sad, that there had been that human who had mysteriously disappeared, that without a human a dog was a little ill-at-ease in a way that a horse was not. Dogs, evidently, saw humans as friends whereas horses saw them as co-workers." I about died. Paras is arrogant, but in such a matter of fact and simple way that you can't help but love her. She's a horse that we've all had.
In an article from the Wall Street Journal, Emily Bobrow summarizes the book thusly, "Ostensibly set in the 21st century, this meringue of a novel is wholesomely timeless, full of good intentions and happy endings that feel far removed from the problems of the moment."
She said it better than I could. Read this book; you won't be disappointed.
I have written about Dessa Hockley's book, Is Your Horse a Rock Star? more times than I can count. No matter how many times I've read it, I come back to it time and time again. In fact, if you Google the book title and then search for images, a picture of Speedy shows up. Speedy truly is a Rock Star.
According to Hockley, there are sixteen personality types, all of which are determined by figuring out which four of the eight personality traits your horse possesses. The eight personality traits are:
I didn't get so lucky with Izzy; or, maybe I did. Izzy is DEAF - dominant, energetic, afraid, and friendly. Dessa calls this personality combination The Wild Card. Getting a wild card in a game is usually a good thing, but at times, the wild card costs you big points.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and I have been working hard over the past year to figure Izzy out. After having made a great deal of progress, I remembered Hockley's book and took it out this weekend to see if it might offer any new insights. I didn't discover anything I hadn't already read, but things that Sean has said were echoed in the book.
The Wild Card is dominant and strong-minded with lots of energy. They want to be the boss, but since they have the fear gene running through, they aren't brave enough to be a leader which means they are prone to "checking out." The DEAF horse needs the rider to take control, but his dominant side does not appreciate that and will happily fight with you if you push too hard. And since he's also energetic, he has the energy and attitude to fight long and hard.
The Wild Card horse is also very friendly. Hockley describes them as generous with a desire to please. In her final words describing the DEAF horse, she says, "Once the DEAF horse is working for you, he has ample energy and expression that he will freely give to any situation or sport. You will truly feel that you are blessed to have a Wild Card in your hand."
As Sean and I work to figure Izzy out, we are seeing moments where he truly relaxes and allows me to lead. Sean commented the other day that the fear is receding, but Izzy doesn't want to give up control. That's where we are now. The spooking doesn't appear to be fear based anymore. Instead, it seems calculated to avoid giving up control. Hockley's book really supports this idea. Izzy has both fear and dominant personality traits. We're calming the fear, and now we need Izzy to give up control.
I believe that we're on the right track though. Sean is teaching me to quietly and calmly tell Izzy that this IS the way we are doing it without letting Izzy bait me into a fight. Hockley stresses that you "Do not fight with them - they have a lot of energy and attitude if you want to go there." Sean has said the same thing.
Wild Card or Goddess, Rock Star or Macho Man, Worker Bee or Accountant, by understanding our horses' personalities, maybe we can see their quirks as part of their personalities rather than something that needs to be fixed.
Buy the book; you won't be disappointed.
Izzy is once again on Prednisolone for his reaction to gnats and other biting insects. We finished last year on a positive note; all of the corticosteroids helped control his reaction to the bites. Wanting to get a head start on the season, I started with the Prednisolone two weeks ago (with my vet's approval).
Last year, we only did two shows while Izzy was on the drug, so I didn't do a lot of research. Based on USEF's Drugs and Medications guidelines, the detectable time is seven days, so I followed that protocol for both shows. Since we're doing more than two shows this year, I decided to find out exactly what the rule is for administering Predisolone. I emailed US Equestrian over the weekend, and by Monday morning I had a response.
If you've ever needed to consult the USEF Guidelines for Drugs and Medications pamphlet, you'll know that it's pretty comprehensive, but not necessarily easy to find what you're looking for. Just because a drug is prohibited doesn't mean you can't use it. The biggest issue is when you can use it. For that, you need to determine how long the drug is detectable. For some drugs, that might mean merely hours, but for others, it may mean days, weeks, or even months.
There are other drugs like Pergolide/Prascend, that are prohibited, but riders can apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption which permits the rider to administer the drug as prescribed. Speedy was the beneficiary of a TUE. Equally confusing are the Medication Report Forms. For some drugs and medications, riders can still give certain banned substances up to 24 hours before a show as long as they fill out an MRF.
To my surprise - we all know I don't think too much of US Equestrian, I received a reply to my email from an actual person. Not only was there a reply, but it was actually useful. Sarah, who I assume is a member of the Equine Drugs and Medication Program, clarified the rule for me by quoting the actual language from page 16 under the Guidelines for the Therapeutic Use of Dexamethasone and Other Corticosteroids. Alternative Number 3 spells it out pretty clearly, and the good news is that I can continue giving the Prednisolone up to 24 hours prior to competing as long as I complete an MRP. Izzy's skin will appreciate that.
What makes US Equestrian's Drugs and Medications rules so confusing is that there are prohibited substances that can still be given as long as:
To further gunk up the works, there is an entirely separate page dedicated to FEI prohibited substances. Things like, wait for it ... Pergolide. That's right, Pergolide is fine for Fourth Level horses but not for Prix St. Georges. I don't tend to give drugs or medications with any frequency, at least not until this past year or so, so navigating the minutiae of the guidelines has been time consuming.
Speedy's Prascend was the first drug I've ever needed to give daily. Now with Izzy's ulcery tummy and sensitive skin, it looks like the USEF Guidelines for Drugs and Medications pamphlet will be moved to the front of my pile of show materials.
It's just one more thing ...
I just finished the book American Dirt. It was fabulous. At the end, I wondered why I had bought it as it wasn't the type of book I typically read, so I did a quick search on Google to see what the reviews said. I never buy a book without a solid 4.5 rating, and it has to have an 80% or higher combination of four and five star reviews. If I am going to spend hours and hours on a book, it needs to be worth my time. I have so many books queued up in my Kindle that it might be months or longer before I get to one, so by the time I get to it, I usually can't remember what it's even about. Since I know that I only buy books that are highly reviewed, it doesn't mater; I read it anyway.
I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction though. I tend towards "classics" and things written in the mid-twentieth century. Don't ask me why because half that stuff was written by druggies, fruit loops, and authors exploring either transcendentalism or intellectualism. Not really, I made that stuff up, but it's kind of true. Albert Camus's, The Stranger, was a book I read very recently, and apparently the first three words (translated from the French), Mother died today, have created a controversy that has lasted almost a hundred years. See what I mean?
So what did I find when I looked up American Dirt? This article. Holy cow has this book created a shit storm of controversy - pardon the language, but it expresses my sentiments better than any other phrase. Before even contemplating the article, you should first know what the book is about, so here goes:
A Mexican woman's husband is a journalist who writes about the drug cartels in Mexico. The woman owns a book shop where a new customer becomes a dear friend. Her husband ultimately reveals that said friend is the new cartel's leader. Husband publishes an article, and in retribution, the drug lord murders her entire family, but she and her young son manage to escape. For the rest of the book, she and her son become migrants fleeing the drug lord. Knowing that he is powerful, she flees with their life savings, avoiding all transportation requiring identification and possible roadblocks. Along the way, she and her son are robbed and kidnapped. They also meet and travel with other migrants whose experiences are often times worse than their own. Eventually, she arranges with a coyote for passage across the border where she and the others in her group experience an arduous and terrifying trek through the desert in an effort to get to the USA.
What could be so controversial about that? Read the above article if you're interested, but it boils down to this: the author took incredible criticism for daring to write from the perspective of a culture that is not her own. This article delves deeper into that idea. Essentially, writing about a viewpoint that is not your own is being called appropriation. If you're white, you don't have permission to write a non-white woman's story. If you're straight, you don't have permission to write about a gay person's story. If you're a man, you can't write about a woman.
I can't even tell you how angry that idea makes me. Just this week, my class started writing a narrative based on a fictional story we had read about the Berlin Wall. In preparation, we also learned about the Great Wall of China and Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain. I instructed my students to write a story where one of those walls provided the setting. The kids were supposed to choose characters from that time who were either escaping the wall (East Berlin), building the wall (China), or guarding the wall (Roman Empire). Of course they could choose a different scenario, but it needed to work in that setting and time.
Are my students "appropriating" cold war culture or Chinese culture or Roman culture because they're not from East Berlin or China or Scotland? Isn't that what makes fiction, fiction? Are we no longer permitted to imagine what it's like to be someone else? Are we no longer allowed to walk in someone else's shoes even if only metaphorically? How are we to develop empathy if we don't try to see the world through someone else's eyes? When my class discussed this yesterday, one of my students remarked, "it's like saying we can't write about furniture because we're NOT furniture."
From the mouths of babes comes truth or wisdom.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%