From Endurance to Dressage
I know it's hot where you live, but it can't be hotter than it is here. We're on our 60th or so day of hundred degree temperatures. Our last heat wave, defined as three or more consecutive days of 99 or above, lasted 28 days. And I don't think any of those days were as cool as 99.
This weather isn't a surprise; back-to-school always means blistering hot afternoons. After being able to ride in the mornings all summer long, returning to the classroom means that I almost can't ride after school. Since I've been working 12 hour days, it all comes together imperfectly anyway. It's too hot to ride, and I am too tired to ride. The best I've been able to do these last three weeks is check on the horses every other day and ride on the weekends.
Yesterday, it was too hot to even change my clothes. Since I go to the barn straight from work, I change clothes at the barn. My choices are to change in the tack room or change in the back seat of my truck. Usually, it's cooler in my truck than the tack room. Just the thought of struggling into breeches while I was only slightly sweaty exhausted me, so I simply didn't. I slipped out of my gold sandals and shoved my bare feet into a pair of muck boots.
I scrubbed both boys' water troughs, gave them their daily buckets, and promised to be back in a day or two. It was awkward tipping over Izzy's swimming pool of a trough in a skirt, but I got the job done without getting too dirty. The next five days are predicted to be in the low to mid-90s, so I am crossing my fingers that I can leave work on time and get a ride or two in before the three-day weekend.
My barn clothes are packed and ready in my back seat. Hopefully I get to use them!
Last year at this time, Izzy's skin was a hot mess. Not only were his mane and tail rubbed out, but he had rubbed his shoulders, withers, and face raw. I tried more than a dozen products to ease the itchiness, but absolutely nothing worked. Eventually, I took him to the vet where he prescribed Prednisolone to quiet Izzy's inflammatory response.
This spring, I started Izzy on the Prednisolone in March in the hopes that I could get ahead of the itchiness. While the weather was still cool and springlike, the Prednisolone seemed to work. He wasn't particularly itchy, but I didn't knew if it was because it wasn't hot enough to make him itchy, or if the Prednisolone was doing it's job.
As soon as the weather warmed up, I began to notice that Izzy was rubbing his mane at the bottom. With my vet's consent, I started to play around with the Prednisolone dosage to see which dosage gave him the most relief. No matter what I did, the itchiness continued. Izzy started rubbing his mane at the bottom, but over the course of the summer, he moved up as the mane got rubbed out.
I eventually quit giving the Prednisolone as none of the dosages made a difference. Living at STC Dressage for two weeks in June proved to me that the itchiness was related to the heat more than anything else. STC Dressage is in Ventura County on the coast where the weather is far cooler than it is here in the Central Valley.
Since the Prednisolone wasn't doing much, I decided to try a new strategy. The itchiness seemed related to heat and possibly sweat, so I started shampooing Izzy's mane and tail several times a week. I used a variety of shampoos, some that were moisturizing and others that contained astringent type ingredients. I made sure to really dig my fingers into his mane in order to get all of the gunk and dirt off of his skin.
Cleansing his hair seemed to make more of a difference than the drugs ever did. It didn't stop the itching completely though, I finally had to cut off the very top of Izzy's mane as it was starting to look like a comb over. I gave him a mohawk which is actually pretty cute on him. Another thing that seemed to help was the GastroElm. With his tummy feeling so much better, I think he was better able to utilize the nutrients in his daily milled Flaxseed. His coat is looking much healthier this summer. It didn't fade nearly as much, and it doesn't have that bleached out, burned look. His dapples are also still pretty vibrant.
Since I've gone back to work, I haven't had nearly as much time to wash his mane and tail. This weekend, I noticed that he has started scrubbing his forehead raw, and his tail dock is looking worse. I gave his mane and a tail a good shampoo, I rubbed in lots of Knotty Horse conditioner, and I treated his face with Zephyr's Leave it Be Salve.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has suggested I get Izzy's skin scraped to check for mites. The vet has seen Izzy more than a few times since this itchiness really became a problem, and he has never suggested it might be anything but summertime gnats, but I am certainly going to ask about a skin scraping. It can't hurt. The itchiness seems to only affect Izzy's topline, so mites do sound like they could be responsible.
While we still have about six to eight weeks of hundred degree weather looming, we were blessed with a weekend with highs in the low 90s. I know that gave Izzy some relief. We've currently had 58 days of triple digit temperatures, and we could easily have another dozen or so; we're currently experiencing the tenth hottest summer since records have been recorded. I am hoping I can keep Izzy's skin together for just another month or so. After that, our evenings will begin to cool down which gives the horses a break.
I love our mild winters where I can ride in a long sleeve t-shirt, but our summers are pretty brutal.
This horse. Izzy hasn't quite figured out whether or not he wants to actually come through the doorway like Speedy, but he's getting close. Just like Speedy, Izzy likes to hang out with me while I am puttering around. The way the ranch is configured, the road is quite some distance from where the horses live, and if they did make a run for it, the first road they would come to is just a single lane that travels through the neighborhood. Making it to the "main" road, which is only a two-lane affair anyway, would mean passing by lots of other horses and green grass. I feel safe letting my boys wander.
Yesterday while I was putting my tack away and mixing feed buckets, Izzy poked his nose in looking for a treat. Once my buckets were ready, he followed me back to his turnout. When I turned around to take off his halter, I realized that he had double backed to the feed room. I had left the door open, so I quickly looked back to see if he had worked up the courage to actually step foot inside. He hadn't, but he was busy doing something else.
Instead of helping himself to a feed bag, the big brown horse decided to do some dumpster diving. He tipped over the trash can and then rooted around inside it, tossing the trash to the side. When that proved boring, he decided to give the lid a look-see.
I picked up all the trash, replaced the trash can, but before I could get the lid back on, Izzy insisted that he wasn't done checking things out.
Of course, when the whole thing turned out be nothing, Izzy tried to flee the scene.
All this from a horse who thinks new places are terrifying. Maybe it's a sign that his confidence is growing.
Dude, bring that curiosity with you to shows!
I've written about this before, but since it's something I have to do about twice a year, I always figure someone new is reading who might benefit from the idea. I keep my horses at a private ranch, meaning it's not an actual boarding facility so there is no schedule for ring maintenance. That means if I want something done, I either ask if the handyman can do it, or I do it myself. Keeping up the arena falls to me.
We have firm footing in our arena which I like. It's loose enough that there is no pounding, but firm enough that we don't get deep spots. Reggie, the handyman, would be happy to drag it weekly for me, but I would have to dismantle my dressage court each week. Tearing it down isn't that hard, but setting it back up is a challenge, especially if I have to do it alone. This means the arena gets dragged about four times a year.
The court is comprised of PVC pipe, gardening poles, and various other wooden rails. I don't have the budget to buy a "real" dressage court, so I make my own letters. Since my court sits in the middle of the arena, I can't use letters that hang from the fence. Cones don't work either as it gets pretty windy here in the winter, and I've actually found my small cones hundreds of feet away - once they were actually down the block. I've always liked the letters that push into the ground with metal stakes, but I am afraid one of the horses will get a hoof stuck through the metal during a wild moment.
I don't own or rent the property either which means I need the ranch owner's approval before I build or leave something laying around that everyone is going to use. None of us liked the idea of using cinderblock for letters (see above), and no one wanted to build wooden boxes. Eventually, it was suggested that I use some kind of a jug filled with sand. That's how I ended up building a dressage court with water bottles. They don't blow over in the wind, they are cheap to buy and replace, and they're also very horse-friendly. No matter how many times they've been kicked, no horse has ever been injured.
At this point, with what water bottles cost and how frequently I need to replace them, I might have been able to purchase "real" letters had I done that from the beginning. The first time I made the letters, I spent about $15 on the bottles. Since then, I've had to redo them about every six months, but I use more than just a dozen $0.99 bottles. I also use a good amount of printer ink ($13.49 per cartridge) and a bunch of heavy duty packing tape ($8.04 a roll). I don't use the whole cartridge or roll of tape though, so maybe I am still ahead.
By now, I have the process down pat. I buy twelve, square, water bottles. I like this shape because it gives me four flat sides which I can position so they can be seen while coming down the long side or across the diagonal. I keep the packaging tape on hand for general use, and the letters themselves are saved as a PDF which I print as needed. After printing the letters, I cut them down to size so they fit on the water bottles.
I lay the bottles flat on their sides and then place the printed letters on top. I pull out a strip of tape and secure the center of the letter first, and then I continue adhering the tape to the bottles from the bottom to the top. We don't get much rain, so the worst of the damage is from the sun; the heat eventually dries out the tape which fails, and then the letters fall off.
The whole process takes me less than 30 minutes. Once I have all twelve finished and ready to go, I load them up and take them out to the arena. Every other time I've replaced the letters, I've carried them one or two at a time to their location. It was really hot when I did it last week, so I got smart and loaded the letters into a cart.
I even decided to work smarter by loading the letters in the order they would be placed so I wouldn't have to dig around to find the correct one. As I unloaded the new letter, I exchanged it for the old one, all of which were still full from the last time I changed them out. Usually, they've been kicked enough times that they've all sprung leaks so there isn't as much water in them. These were all full which made them heavy. In hindsight, I was glad I took the extra five minutes to get the cart to help me out.
These should last me until mid-winter. We're in yet another "exceptional" drought period, so they may last even longer. Maybe by then I'll spring for a fancier dressage court.
Anyone out there have an easier-to-maintain but just as cheap dressage court?
First of all, THANK YOU! Many people responded to my recent post about Izzy's issue with the gnats. Along with the virtual hugs and sympathy, came some good tips. Unfortunately, I am already doing most of the things that were suggested, or have at least tried them, but there was at least one thing I had not yet thought about.
Last summer, I tried a bucket of products, some of which you can see in the photo above. I've used a variety of fly sprays, including Swat, Equiderma and EcoVet, but none of them worked. Pyranha keeps the flies off long enough to ride, but in our summer heat, even that doesn't last long. Besides that, it's not the flies that cause the extreme itchiness; it's the gnats. I've used Coat Defense Powder and Mud and a variety of salves meant to heal once the skin is rubbed raw, but those only helped soothe what was already there. Nothing has prevented the itchiness.
One thing that would help would be a fly mask and sheet, but Izzy refuses to wear them. Any body covering - whether it's on his feet, head, or torso, is systematically shredded bit by bit. If it took months for him to destroy something, I would be fine with replacing things, but he is a fast worker, and usually has the job done within hours.
Near the end of last summer, my vet finally recommended we attack the issue with pharmaceutical help, in other words, steroids. I am mostly fine with that, but I would rather find a solution that doesn't involve quite so much chemistry. I have also tried attacking the problem with feed. Izzy had been on flaxseed oil for over a year, but it was a bit messy, so I switched to milled flaxseed. A year later, he still gets a heaping cup each day. Along with his hay and beet pulp, he also gets three pounds of rice bran daily - a fat supplement that should, in theory, help keep his skin and coat healthy and shiny. Along with all of that, but not related to repelling the gnats, he also gets a daily vitamin/mineral supplement as well as GastroElm to keep his tummy feeling good.
Thanks to the recommendation of a Facebook friend, I have ordered Buggzo!, a product made by HorseTech. I buy my milled flaxseed from the same company, so I am hopeful that it will be just as good of a product. Buggzo! comes highly reviewed, so it's worth a try. I am sure Izzy will eat it, but I hope Speedy will find it palatable as well. My boys live in large, side-by-side paddocks in the middle of the ranch. While there are horses in front of and behind them, they don't share a fence line, so I am hoping that the Buggzo! might create a small bubble around them with fewer gnats if both horses eat it. That's if it works at all.
This poor horse. I am throwing everything that I can at the itchiness: milled flaxseed, rice bran, fly spray, topical steroid (Triamcinolone), ingestible corticosteroid (prednisolone), and now a feed through product (Buggzo!).
Let's hope this works before the gnats really come to life.
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