From Endurance to Dressage
I've written this so many times, but Izzy is a very complicated horse. Over the years, I've been mostly able to figure out what he's thinking and feeling. I might not always know what to do, but I always try to figure it out. When I find myself asking, what's wrong with you? I know he needs some body work.
Over the past few weeks, he has been a dragon both under saddle and in hand. I chalked it up to the cold weather and my inability to ride on a regular schedule. It was pouring as I wrote this. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer st STC Dressage, and I have been working through the recent spooks and heightened anxiety with a new strategy, but I just wasn't making as much progress as I thought I should have, but I wasn't getting that What's wrong with you? feeling.
In late October, I had the equine chiropractor out to check Izzy before I went to the show over Halloween weekend. Izzy didn't need any work which was great news. After the show, I got sick, so Izzy didn't get ridden for nearly three weeks. Once I started riding him again in late November, he felt fantastic; I even shared video. At the beginning of December, the wheels fell off our bus. Sean and I discussed whether it was a body issue or not, but it seemed so unlikely as Izzy had been checked in October and really hadn't done much for the past month.
On Wednesday, I finally realized that Izzy was uncomfortable. When I find myself super exasperated, I know he's hurting. My chiropractor, CC, has given me a couple of other things to look for to help me identify body soreness. One of those is increased aggressiveness. Izzy had started to get pushier than usual. The other thing CC reminded me of is that the broker a horse gets, the more he'll work through pain since he knows it's his job. This can make it more difficult to see that Izzy is sore as he has learned to "suck it up."
CC is not just an equine chiropractor. He's also a trainer and cattle rancher which means he's pretty busy. After a disaster of a ride on Wednesday morning, I called CC while Izzy was still saddled. With the recent rain we've been having, CC has the same problems we all do - fresh horses and wet, muddy arenas which meant he wasn't as busy as normal. This worked out in my favor as he was free to come to town right then. He showed up 45 minutes later.
CC and I have been working together for a lot of years now. He used to work silently while I watched. At the end, I would tentatively ask a few questions. Now, we chat the entire time he's working while he shows me how to feel for certain things. As he moves over Izzy's body, I now ask questions and CC answers them. He explains how the sore places might have gotten that way and how what he's doing will relieve the discomfort.
Every now and again, usually in July on the hottest day of the year, Izzy will need an hour of work because he's out in so many areas. This was one of those times. Izzy's C7 was the main culprit, but he was also uncomfortable in his poll, scapula, ribs, and hips. Izzy's C7 has caused problems before, but it takes a lot of force to cause a problem there.
After thinking about it for a minute, I remembered that a few weeks back, two of the ranch mares had gotten out in the middle of the night; the gate must not have been latched. Izzy tore up the dirt in his paddock that night, so much so that the ranch owner texted me to explain the churned up footing. CC agreed that "fighting" over the fence all night could definitely have caused the C7 issue.
CC worked for at least an hour. First he tackled the C7, and then he moved on to the poll. Then back to the C7, and then on to the ribs, and back to the poll. On and on it went. CC would get the reaction he was searching for, but then Izzy would show us something else. CC patiently chased the blockages and resistances, working them out as much as Izzy could take. CC takes his time and lets the horses rest if the work becomes too much. You can't force the relaxation.
By the time CC had finished, Izzy was feeling better, but because it took so long, he wasn't nearly as chummy with CC as he usually is. Nobody took offense though, and we let Izzy wander off as we continued chatting. When I rode the next morning, I was very relieved to have my normal horse back under me. I kept the ride short as all I wanted to do was show him that he didn't hurt anymore. After a few minutes of walk, trot, and canter, I asked for a halt, and that was it.
My list of things to look for when I am not sure whether Izzy is sore or not is growing. It used to simply be what's wrong with you?, but now I can add unexplained spooking, aggressiveness, balking, and fearful behavior while being groomed and led. With a complicated horse like Izzy, all of those things can happen at any given time and mean nothing. Figuring out whether they're from I'm a complicated horse or from I am hurting will continue to be the challenge.
As always, I can only say, bring it!
After our last show of the summer, the one where Izzy showed up really body sore out of nowhere, I committed to having body work done in October no matter whether he was acting sore or not just to make sure he was comfortable before the show at the end of the month. Normally, I only call when I notice Izzy starting to get resistant or unhappy in his work. My chiropractor texted on Tuesday saying he could meet me on Wednesday. The timing was pretty good because after getting vaccinated, I always give my boys a few days off as they tend to feel a bit puny.
CC took one look at Izzy and mentioned a loss of beefiness - I admitted that we hadn't done much work in September due to my work schedule and the heat. He flexed Izzy's neck, moved his poll around, and asked about any red flags. There aren't any I answered. This was just a what can you fix? visit. Nothing to fix was the answer.
After flexing Izzy to the both the left and right, moving his poll around and feeling the rib heads, CC thought Izzy was in great shape. This has happened one other time. I wasn't too surprised as I haven't felt anything that would suggest a visit. Also, CC worked on Izzy a long time just two months ago, and since then, we haven't done anything particular challenging. In fact, from the middle of August until the end of September, I only rode him on the weekends.
I can't decide whether I am annoyed at having spent money for nothing, or happy that my horse is feeling so good that he didn't need any body work.
No excuses now, mister!
Of all of the horses that I've owned, Izzy is by far the most sensitive. When he is uncomfortable, you know it. In fact, when I bought him, his breeder/owner told me a story about a rider who was interested in buying him but didn't. She wanted to try him out with her own saddle, but once mounted, Izzy threw a bucking, galloping fit. Needless to say, the other buyer didn't want him after that. Izzy's owner explained that when he doesn't like something, he tells you.
Izzy has been part of my family for seven years, and I like to think I know him pretty well. It took me a long time to realize it, but when I find myself asking, What's wrong with you?, I know that means he is hurting somewhere. For the most part, he's ridiculously friendly and willing to do what I ask as long as it's not uncomfortable for him. That includes hard. If it's hard, he's not too eager to participate. This makes diagnosing pain somewhat of a challenge because pain and hard work aren't the same thing, but to Izzy, his response to both is always the same: grouchiness and resistance.
During the show we did the weekend before last, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, finally said that Izzy's expression seemed to be saying get me out of here. That attitude combined with his resistance to bend left, suggested a need for body work. My chiropractor came out last week.
I used CC long before I bought Izzy, so the two of them know each other quite well. It used to be that CC wanted to find Izzy's sore spots on his own without my input. Now, he asks what the training issue is as he looks for the sensitive areas. For this visit, CC knew before he even laid a hand on Izzy. Just by Izzy's facial expression and aggressive behavior, CC knew 90% of Izzy's discomfort was coming from his poll.
As CC worked, he explained that once horses get "broke," they learn to work through pain and discomfort because they know that it's their job to do what we ask. This can make finding pain a bit more challenging because "broke" horses are less likely to complain. This is probably why I didn't see Izzy's discomfort until we were in the show ring where the pressure to perform was much higher.
CC also talked about why Izzy was probably out in his poll; it has been a long time since that issue has cropped up. Like the last time CC saw Izzy, the issue with his poll is most likely because Sean has been having me work Izzy's body in new ways. In particular, we've been asking Izzy to stop pushing against the bit with his under neck muscle, which means he has to let go of it. Instead, we want him to lift his back, stretch over his topline, and reach for the bit. These are two very different ways to use his body. The latter will ultimately be more comfortable, but right now, it's a workout.
Besides working on Izzy's poll, CC also adjusted the C5 (in the neck) and Izzy's ribs. The ribs were the big trouble at Izzy's last adjustment; this time, not as much, which is progress. Knowing that we'll be continuing to work hard over the next two months, I asked CC to be available in mid-October, a couple of weeks before out last show of the year. He thought that would be a good strategy. Once CC was done, we put Izzy away and stood around chatting. Speedy came walking by; he was grazing on the lawn. Izzy spotted him and marched over to catch up with him along the fence line. CC was very pleased by Izzy's long and swinging stride.
I am lucky to have such a strong team of professionals working with me.
Of all of the horses I've owned, Izzy has been the one that needs the most body work. He is really hard on himself. He's big and strong, and he frequently uses his mass to work against himself and me. When 1,350 pounds of muscle slams on the brakes or dodges left, his joints experience a lot of torque.
At my most recent lesson in late May, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, commented on the progress that I've made with Izzy. He was impressed, and I was feeling encouraged. I had a few good rides after that lesson, but then the weather turned viciously hot, and Izzy had three or four days off. The next few rides after that were not pleasant, and I found myself asking What the h...? That's all it took. Once I hear myself utter those three words, I know Izzy needs some body work. Fortunately, CC was able to come out on Saturday.
Usually, CC just gets to work without my input, but this time, he surprised me by asking what I was feeling. I think that was a sort of promotion. I explained that Izzy couldn't bend, particularly to the right, and I suspected his ribs were sore again. They were sore, CC agreed with that, but as usual, I had missed the bigger picture. It was actually the C7 vertebrae in the neck that was preventing Izzy from bending. Normally, the C7 is hard to tweak and equally hard to readjust, but if there is a way, Izzy will find it.
The last time Izzy's C7 bothered him was when he broke a halter last summer by sitting back. It took a good month for the pain to show up. I am not sure what caused the "misalignment" this time, but Izzy was quite vocal about it. Because Izzy has seen CC for so many years and so regularly, it now only takes a few minutes to get him feeling good again. Saturday was no exception.
Once CC was able to manipulate Izzy's neck to his satisfaction, he went to work on the ribs. Izzy loves having body work done, but for this visit, he displayed some strange behaviors. While he always acts like he loves CC, for this visit he was over-the-top affectionate to the point of having quite a large erection. Izzy also demonstrated the flehmen response repeatedly as CC worked on him.
No matter how firmly CC pushed on his ribs, Izzy never tried to walk away. In fact, he leaned into the pressure and repeatedly asked CC for more by nudging him, nibbling at his neck and shirt, and generally just being a pest. Once CC was finished with the body work, Izzy persisted in following him around and snuggling up to him. CC finally laughed and had a D'oh moment. Laughing while he told me, he explained that earlier in the day, he had washed the tail of a mare in heat. That must have been the scent that Izzy was responding to.
No matter what CC smells like, Izzy adores him. CC just has a way with horses, and they respond to him. And since he always makes Izzy feel better after a visit, Izzy practically claps his hands like a little kid when he sees CC walking his way. While we use a halter for safety, Izzy doesn't actually need it. He'll stand for CC all day long. I hate that I have a horse who needs such frequent body work, but I love that I have someone so effective.
I wish CC would work on people. I've got this ache in my neck ...
A week or two or three ago, after haltering Izzy, he walked off really crookedly with a weird spasm over his mid-section. I gave him a thorough exam, but nothing seemed amiss. I chalked it up to a weird moment. He did it again a week or so later. Whenever Izzy isn't moving right, I know he needs some body work. Over the next few rides, he seemed to alternate between being stiff to the right to being stiff to the left. I texted CC, Izzy's chiropractor/body worker.
Fortunately, CC was able to come out on Saturday. As soon as he saw Izzy, he looked at me and asked what I'd been doing differently. He almost didn't recognize Izzy. I laughed and told him that it was HIS advice concerning ulcers that had helped me find the GastroElm Plus that has completely changed the way Izzy looks (and feels). CC thought Izzy looked really good. Not only does his coat look good, but CC liked the extra weight and muscle tone that Izzy is developing. It's nice to hear such positive feedback from someone who doesn't see Izzy every day.
CC and I have worked together for so long now that we both know the routine. I tell him where I think Izzy is hurting, CC listens but he knows Izzy so well that he can always figure out what's hurting without my feedback (which is usually wrong). This time, I was mostly right; it was the ribs. As CC ran his hands over Izzy's top line, his hind end buckled and he gave an audible OUCH!
I was both surprised and not surprised. I suspected his ribs, but with Izzy, it's normally his poll and neck that need the most work. There was a little bit of discomfort at his poll, but most of it was in the ribs. I expressed my surprise to CC, but he reminded me that horses tend to complain about their biggest hurts first. Izzy's tummy has probably been the biggest point of discomfort for quite a while. Now that that isn't bothering him, the lesser hurts are making themselves known.
No one wants their horse to be hurting, but I am happy I am starting to eliminate the things that make Izzy uncomfortable. There have been times when it has taken CC more than hour to help Izzy get some relief. For this visit, CC was able to get Izzy feeling better in less than fifteen minutes. It was money well spent. Hopefully we'll get to a point where Izzy rarely needs any work. We've gone from every three months to about every six to eight months.
Izzy loves CC, but we would rather that he didn't need him.
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
2022 Pending …
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 (***)
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
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