From Endurance to Dressage
In honor of my first official day back to work, I'd like to share my summer reading list. Each May, I encourage (beg) my students to read at least a few minutes each day of their summer vacation. Some read like crazy; they'll be on my Battle of the Books team, but most don't.
As an educator, I find that it's important to keep on learning myself. I wrote a digital textbook last year that addressed the newly adopted Next Generation Science Standards. That took months of research. I also read all year long and share what I am reading with my students. They're always surprised that I read for fun. This summer, I read 16 books in 10 weeks.
I've been hooked on early to mid-twentieth century fare, which is not my typical area of interest. I am an eclectic reader for sure, but this recent change in taste is ... interesting. I tried to read a lighter piece in between the heavier ones because some were just meatyier and harder to digest.
With that, here's my summer reading list, in no particular order.
I keep at least 5 - 10 books ready to go in my Kindle. Between a few random titles I have waiting and the Dr. Thorndyke collection (22 novels and 32 short stories), I should have plenty to read during the school year. Of course, now that school has started, I'll be reading pages a day instead of chapters.
Have you read anything good lately?
Izzy woke up on the wrong side of the bed on Saturday morning. He stood politely for grooming and tacking up, but the instant I sat on him, he turned into a ball of tension and worry. For just a fraction of a moment, I thought about sighing in frustration, but then I grabbed his tension by the hand and said let's work it out together, brother.
I am pretty sure the tension was caused by our Friday afternoon happy hour. Instead of riding on Friday, I decided to take both boys up to the arena to just graze and hang out. Speedy appreciates those breaks in his routine. It would seem that Izzy does not. I followed Speedy around as he grazed while I turned Izzy out in the arena to follow us or play if he preferred.
Once Izzy made it to the far end where the evil corner lurks, his body grew rock hard with tension. I let him stand there looking in hopes that he would take a breath on his own and walk away, but then Speedy joined him in the staring which only validated Izzy's fear that a monster was somewhere at that end of the property.
For the record, there's nothing there. Behind the trees are a couple of horses in a large field. Apparently, horses in a field are terrifying to well, horses in a field.
In any case, on Saturday, Izzy completely forgot how totally awesome he has been for the past two months. To his credit though, even though he was quite worried, he kept it together with only one felonious moment. Instead of walking for 10 minutes and then picking up a trot, we walked for nearly 20. The trot work wasn't great and neither was the canter, but he listened without any bolting or serious jackassery.
That evening, US Equestrian emailed me a useful video by Laura Graves about riding spooky horses. Laura Graves is my current idol and role model. Whenever I get frustrated, I bring that team to mind and am always encouraged. She and Verdades just took second place at the 2017 FEI World Cup in Omaha this past weekend with an 85.307% in the Grand Prix Freestyle. Her finish, the piaffe into a passage into an extended trot gave me goosebumps.
Anyway, here's a link to the spooking video if you're interested in checking it out. Essentially, Graves explains that spooky horses need confidence. The one thing in particular that resonated with me is how she really rewards bravery. When we reward their bravery, we help them build confidence.
I also pulled out my copy of Is Your Horse a Rockstar? and reread Izzy's personality type, the Wild Card. Graves's advice tied in perfectly with what Dessa Hockley says about the Wild Card, "Once they feel safe in their world, they will love to show off and be on center stage ..." Hockley also talks about how difficult the DEAF (dominant/energetic/afraid/friendly) horse can be to ride when you are dealing with a dominant side that is also afraid.
By rewarding and praising Izzy's bravery, I am acknowledging his dominance while honoring his friendly, all things Hockley says are key to being successful with the Wild Card. On Sunday, Izzy was much more relaxed in general, but I decided to make the corner of death our lesson for the day. We've done this lesson a few times over the past few months.
We started out by just walking past the corner. Each time he passed by, I praised him for being brave which is very different from being "good." We then moved on to trotting and ultimately cantering. He was quite willing to work for with me which was a major improvement over three months ago.
In less than 20 minutes, he was cantering past the scary corner without throwing his body around in an effort to escape. I really think he knew he was being rewarded for his effort rather than the quality of his dressage work. He looked so proud of himself!
My toolbox is getting fuller week by week thanks to Chemaine Hurtado, and now, I can add yet another tool courtesy of Laura Graves, rewarding bravery. If Graves can get her Wild Card to the top of the dressage world, I am pretty sure I can get Izzy to at least First Level, maybe even Second!
In December, I did a review of the Mylers' book, A Whole Bit Better. Mine is an updated and revised fourth edition, copyrighted 2004. It's a great book but has since been revised again. In 2010, the book was republished under a new name, The Level Best for Your Horse. I just got my hands on a second edition, published in 2016.
It's no secret that I am a Myler bit fan. It's not that they're necessarily the best bit brand around, but they are nicely designed and constructed. I also appreciate the many options that the Mylers build into their bits. You can get the same mouth piece with different cheek pieces for example.
I wasn't sure that this re-written version would offer much more than was in the copy I already had, but some of their newer mouth pieces weren't in my book, and I wanted to read about them. With a purchase price of $13.95, less if you use a Riding Warehouse coupon, it was worth the risk.
I am glad I bought it. One of the things I most respect about the Myler brothers is their ongoing effort to learn more about horses and how they work. Since writing their first book, the Myler philosophy about tongue relief has evolved. They've always been huge proponents of tongue relief for horses, but now they've gone on to say that, interfering with a horse's ability to swallow impedes his overall balance and motion. Tongue relief remains the underlying principle of the Myler Bitting System. It's about understanding your horse's personality so you can give him as much tongue relief as he can handle.
They go on to explain that when they first assigned levels to their bits, they focused on a horse's training and his abilities. Could he do this or could he do that? Now, they've expanded their philosophy to focus less on the horse's ability and more on the horse's disposition. In the preface, the Mylers say A horse's disposition is perhaps the most important consideration in bit selection. I love this way of thinking.
The book has a number of chapters meant to be read: "Bitting for Communication," "The Anatomy of Bitting," and "Basic Bit Knowledge" for example. The true value of the book though lies in its encyclopedic structure. Interspersed amongst the more "wordy" chapters are those that have detailed descriptions paired with illustrations explaining how each mouth piece and cheek piece work: does it apply tongue pressure, how much? Does it rotate onto the tongue or not? Does it collapse on the bars and tongue, and if so, to what degree?
Reading through the book prompted me to stop and reconsider what I am using on Speedy and why (a boucher with a French link mouth piece). I have some more thinking to do for sure.
As I continue to search for the best bitting situation for Izzy, I read what the Mylers now have to say about this particular correction bit: If the horse is relaxed, the tongue can pass comfortably under the wider opening. The pronounced corners of the port apply two points of pressure on the tongue for increased control. The result is a mouthpiece that offers maximum tongue relief for the horse, but very good control for the rider.
That is exactly what I need for Izzy. But.
The correction bit isn't legal for dressage, mainly because of the curb action created by the Kimberwick cheek pieces. So even though Izzy is going super well in this bit, and even though the Mylers have designed this bit for long term use (unlike their other correctional bits), Izzy needs to eventually transition to the show legal bit.
So back to the book I went. There are four basic levels in the Myler Bitting System that recognize stages of learning balanced with a horse's disposition: Levels 1, 2, 2-3, and 3. Izzy, for example, should probably go in a Level 1 bit (most of the snaffles), but with his disposition, he needs a Level 3 bit that gives him the greatest amount of tongue relief.
The Mylers are now recognizing this need and are finding ways to guide riders in selecting a bit and cheek pieces that take into account a horse's disposition. I bought another bit - a Kimberwick MB 33, to help him transition to the legal Level 3 bit even though he might not be the trustworthy, finished horse that typically goes in that level of bit.
This bit, also a Level 3, should be the perfect transitional bit for Izzy. The mouth piece is nearly identical to the legal bit. The port is only slightly higher at 1½" and only slightly narrower which still gives him ample tongue relief. But unlike the loose rings of the show legal version, this bit has Kimberwick cheeks which will give me some mild leverage as Izzy's still learning to behave himself. Right now, I still need that control.
I think most riders would benefit from having this book on their shelf. It's a great resource to turn to as your horse becomes more finished and his bitting needs change. I also think more of us should have a better understanding of what our bits are doing in our horses' mouths. I know that I rode with a much different frame of mind over the weekend after having read this book. Knowing how to use my bit to give Izzy the tongue relief he needs will certainly make me a better rider.
I can use all the help I can get. Let me know what you think.
I've written about Dessa Hockley's book, Is Your Horse a Rock Star?, so many times now that the book should have its own category on my Topic bar. Seriously. But honeslty, the book is that good. The paperback sells on Amazon for $14.99, and no, I don't get a cut (although I should!).
When I last talked about the book, it was in reference to my big brown horse, Izzy. I still feel the same way. He is definitely the Wild Card - Dominate, Energetic, Afraid, and Friendly. Unfortunately for me, it's a bit of a lethal combination, but a continued desire to understand what motivates him is what brought me back to the book again.
It's not that I am trying something new every other day with him, but I am always searching for ways to better understand him. He's been a tough nut to crack. Most of my other horses have been less dominate than he is which makes it easier to get them on my side.
My favorite horse of all time, Montoya DSA, was The Macho Man (Dominate, Energetic, Curious, and Aloof). I absolutely adored her because her confidence was so freaking high. If you could hang on, she would get you through a race. She could read the trail ribbons better than most riders, and if she saw a hill, all she could think was bring it on! She ate up the endurance trail like it was candy. Figuring out what motivated her was easy: she just wanted to be pointed at a trail, any trail, and then be left to do her job.
Speedy is The Goddess (Submissive, Energetic, Curious, Friendly). If he was a bit more dominate, he would be a Rock Star, and frankly, there are days when he does fall into that category. For The Goddess, the relationship is everything. Right now, Speedy's a bit pissed at me because he's not getting the saddle time he thinks he deserves. The ear pinning and tail swishing are dead give-aways that he's feeling slighted.
Speedy's mission in life is to be adored by me, and anyone else in his vicinity is welcome to jump on that band wagon as well. It doesn't matter what we do; he's happy to please as long as accolades and adoration are his reward. Cookies and candies are also expected. As The Goddess, he is, after all, a divinity.
There have been many other horses too, just check out My Horses in the menu above, but none have been quite so hard to figure out as Izzy. All of my previous horses (except for Sydney) have been pretty confident. While Mickey was pretty fearful of people, the second my butt hit his back, he gave all power to me and trusted me with his life. He was an amazing horse under saddle and used my confidence as his own.
I re-read parts of Hockley's book over the weekend for a bit more insight into Izzy's personality. One thing that she stresses repeatedly if you have a Wild Card is that you remain the boss, especially on the ground. This is a constant battle with Izzy.
He has always been a bit of a playful nipper, but lately, his nips have become more aggressive. He's not being mean, just VERY playful and intent on trying to one-up me. The other day, he got me in the shoulder hard enough to leave a temporary mark. Because I was standing on a fence rail, I wasn't able to smack him as soundly as I wanted to, but I made my point. He cantered off with his feelings hurt.
Over the past week, I've been vigilant to the extreme in letting him know that he is not permitted to put his mouth on me. Dang, but the booger is persistent. I'm more stubborn than he is though, and he is starting to develop a conscience.
Hockley's book has once again given me food for thought. My horse isn't broken or damaged in any way. He just has a personality type that isn't as easy as say The Goddess or The People Pleaser. The Wild Card is motivated by a need to be bossy (she calls it his big D), but with the fear gene running through him, he lacks the confidence to back up his bravado. That's okay. I have enough confidence for the both of us, and I am not afraid to use it.
Izzy might be a bit of a Wild Card, but as they say, if you learn to play your cards right ...
If you like bits, you should probably pick up a copy of the Myler brothers' book about bits. The book has been updated since I bought mine; it's now called The Level Best for Your Horse. It's on sale for $11.16.
My version of the book is quite small, pocket-sized really, but the pages are packed with great information about how bits work, how to know if a bit is not working, and what all of the different mouth and cheek pieces are designed to do. It's written in simple terms without being too technical. Even if you're not a Myler bit enthusiast, the book is a great resource about bits in general.
The last 100 pages of the book make up the appendix. Each page shows a mouthpiece with an explanation as to the function of that bit and then how it might be used.
Included in the appendix is a section on cheek pieces and their function. In English disciplines, it's common to simply use the cheekpiece most generally seen in your sport. Many of my bits have Kimberwick cheek pieces because that's what endurance riders used when I was competing. I don't have any Dee rings because they're typically seen in the hunter ring.
The book explains the purpose of various cheek pieces including the loose ring, the eggbutt, the dee ring, the full cheek, and all of the western shanks.
After researching the various mouth and cheek pieces, I decided (with the help of my trainer, Chemaine Hurtado) on the loose ring low wide ported barrel bit. The loose rings will allow me to be super subtle when Izzy is willing. The low and wide port is dressage legal while also offering Izzy the maximum amount of tongue relief.
The Myler philsophy centers around keeping horses comfortable and relaxed. "When the horse is resisting the current bit, it is too much bit for him and he can't relax." When izzy decides to be naughty, the ported barrel won't allow me any control which is why I am going to stick with the correction bit for a while. When he's behaving, we'll switch to the ported barrel. Hopefully he'll develop some confidence and decide that it's easier working with me rather than against me.
Check out the book. For the price, it's a super handy resource that offers easy to undestand explanations about a piece of tack that we riders don't always think about.
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