From Endurance to Dressage
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.
Since this post is about cookies, I have to continue with, the cookie crumbles. I won't know for sure until lunch though.
Izzy's lunch bucket is filled with entirely too much stuff. He gets:
Then I did a little more reading, just to remind myself of why I thought the flaxseed was worth it in the first place. While I don't necessarily see the benefits, I worried about what might happen if I stopped feeding it. Izzy looks so good right now that I decided it wasn't worth the risk. Is the milled flaxseed one of the reasons his coat is so shiny, or is it just because he's no longer rubbing himself raw thanks to the prednisolone? Either way, I reordered, and a new bag arrived last Thursday.
When the box was delivered, my husband asked if I had ordered a bag of bricks; the box was really heavy, especially for it's size. Nope, I told him. It's just a twenty-five pound bag of milled flaxseed. The few times I had previously ordered, I bought the 25 pound bucket. As the buckets started to pile up in the feed room, I realized I could order the product in a bag instead and just pour it into one of the buckets I already had. Doing so saves a few dollars as well.
With each bucket order, the company has always included a thank you note and a bag of chocolate chip cookies. When I poured out the bag of flaxseed, I didn't even both to look for cookies since the bag was fit as snugly into the box as a pillow in a pillow case. To my surprise, as the last of the bag slid out of the box, so did a mini bag of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Along with the cookies was the thank you note. When I picked up the cookies, I laughed. The bag was as thin as a pancake. I do not know how the could have survived the journey. At some point, the cookies had to have been underneath the bag of flaxseed. I am not sure I'd want to eat a cookie that could survive that.
They're in my lunch bag today. I'll soon find out if I have cookies or just cookie crumbs.
When I get an idea that I like, I am a dog with a bone. I keep reworking the idea until it turns out the way I've envisioned. My Equestrian Lounge was like that. I had wanted a comfortable place to hang out in the summer, so when the ranch owner thought it was a good idea, I ran with it. We now have a beautiful spot to sit and cool off in the summer. We've even had several lunches there, one with a pretty large group of ladies.
The "pampering station" is a new idea I had thanks to Cassandra Rabini, owner and trainer at First Gem Dressage. Cassandra recently shared some tips with me on how to get Izzy looking super polished. I wrote about that here. A week or so ago I gathered some things that I thought I would need in Izzy's pampering station. Things like hoof conditioner, shampoo, and so on. I tried two different storage containers - first, a not-so-safe wire basket, and then a flat-back bucket that wouldn't drain.
Before spending any money, I wanted to be sure that a pampering station was something I would actually use. To my surprise, now that it's set up, I am using it every day. We don't have a wash rack, but there are two grassy places I use to give my boys their showers. The one I use for show baths is in the sun close to the horses, but for every day showers, I use the one that is a bit more shaded. That is where I hung my pampering station materials. Each day this past week, I've either scrubbed and conditioned Izzy's hooves, given his tail and dock a shampoo, or washed out his mane. No matter which horse I hose off, I usually let them graze on the lawn after a shower, so the whole thing has become quite convenient.
Once I realized that a pampering station was something I've needed all along, I set out to find a more suitable container for hanging the stuff I wanted to leave out there. The first basket I hung didn't work (you can read why here), and I didn't like the idea of using a bucket because wet stuff wouldn't be able to drain and dry out. I took some time to browse through Amazon and a variety of online tack shops. I landed on a pretty inexpensive basket. It's slightly smaller than I was hoping for, but it's safe, and small things won't fall through. You can see it in the photo above.
I also ordered a few things that I want to keep stored outside - a small bottle of Mane 'n Tail Detangler, witch hazel, and a sweat scraper. My favorite sweat scraper had a gel handle which just last week finally burst. I have another one somewhere, but I can't find it, so I ordered two - one for the pampering station, and a second for my shampoo show bucket. They should be here in the next few days. I also tossed in all of my mini sample shampoo bottles. If I am going to shampoo Izzy's tail more regularly, I might as well use them up.
As I continue using the pampering station, I'll figure out what I truly need to use every day. The witch hazel, while a good thing to have on hand, might not get enough daily use to warrant the real estate it's currently occupying; it might get replaced with something that gets more frequent use, like fly spray. I so want to keep some fly spray out there, but when those bottles get hot, they tend to leak. I am thinking of buying a small squirt bottle and pouring some fly spray in it. That way, I can keep it half full so it might not leak as much. I've also since thrown in a hairbrush.
Once the jumbo bottle of Mane 'n Tail shampoo is empty, I'll replace it with a smaller bottle of Dove Moisturizing shampoo. As the mini bottles of shampoo get used up, I'll have a bit more room to add new or seasonal things. And of course, if I find that I need a lot more stuff out there, I can always buy a second basket. I am not sure how pampered Izzy feels, but I am loving the convenience of the pampering station.
Now I just need a sign to match the one we have hanging in our Equestrian Lounge. Wouldn't that be cute?
Speedy loves to wear a fly mask. Left to his own devices, he'd wear it indefinitely. Izzy, on the other hand, thinks fly masks are stupid, and no one should ever be allowed to have one on their head. That means his own head as well as Speedy's. If Speedy's fly mask lasts 15 minutes after I am gone, I'd be shocked. For the past year or two - ever since Speedy moved next door to Izzy, I've bought a new fly mask for Speedy only to find it torn to pieces within a few days. This year, I gave up.
Bakersfield is notorious for having three days of spring before summer slams into us broadside. We started last week wearing sweaters, but by week's end, we were well into the 90s. Sudden heat like that is a boon to the flies who came out with both barrels. When I got to the barn on Tuesday, Speedy had yucky goop dripping from each swollen eye. He looked downright miserable. Of course he fought me over the soothing saline solution, so instead of that, he got his eyes rinsed with the hose. Sorry, not sorry.
After the one day with the hose, I have't needed to rinse so dramatically. By Wednesday the worst of the swelling and goop had disappeared so I slathered on Swat instead. What's interesting is that I rarely need to put any fly spray on Speedy. The flies just don't pester him. I do have to watch his belly though as the fiies will eat him bloody down there. A morning swipe of Swat on his belly usually keeps that under control.
Izzy needs to be doused with fly spray multiple times a day. When I show up at the barn, Izzy will have hundreds of flies buzzing around his face while Speedy will stand serenely, free of flies. Hopefully this week's reaction was a one-off and not his new normal. Just to be on the safe side, I'll do another spray with the hose - no matter how much he hates it, and apply more Swat.
Shoo fly, don't bother Speedy!
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