From Endurance to Dressage
Well, it seems as though Izzy is back on a more regular body work schedule. For a while, he was getting work done every three months. After a year of that, we were able to go five to six months between visits. Suddenly, he's needing work every three to four weeks. I am willing to get the work done, but it's definitely making a dent in my checking account. Oh well, it's only money.
This visit was not only unexpected, but it revealed something unexpected. Izzy had work done three and a half weeks ago when he bonked his head on his shelter's roof support. After that visit, he seemed a bit sore for a few days, but then he worked out of it. This past week, after feeling fantastic for two solid weeks, he suddenly let me know that bending right was becoming a no go. And when Izzy says NO GO, he means it. I have learned to read this horse, so it didn't take much for me to feel that itty bitty resistance start to build. So even though Izzy had had work just three and a half weeks ago, I called CC. He came out that same afternoon, Friday.
I have been working with CC for at lest a decade, and in that time, I have tried to be a good student. I've learned to really listen to my horse, and I've learned how to feel where and when things aren't quite right. This time, I was dead certain it was ribs, and more left than right. CC agreed with my evaluation. Izzy needed a bit of work on his C7, when doesn't he?, his thoracic vertebrae, and of course his ribs. What was surprising was that CC commented on the fact that I must be riding Izzy better because the soreness seemed to stem more from collection than fighting for softness.
Well, thank you very much, sir! That was great news because that is what we've been working towards. Izzy has indeed begun to allow me to move his front end around - hello, renvers, which means we are now searching for more energy from behind. CC is a very knowledgeable horsemen, so when he makes a comment about why my horse is sore, I listen. He has never steered me wrong.
Even three years ago, doing body work on Izzy meant we'd be standing there for at least an hour. He was always a pretzel, knotted up from poll to tail. These days, CC gets Izzy feeling great within fifteen minutes. We spend more time talking about my riding and how to be better than CC spends putting Izzy back together. I make sure to learn as much as I can during those conversations because they make me a better rider which ultimately helps my horse.
As CC walked towards his truck, I promised I'd call in three to four weeks. He told me to quit breaking my horse. I am working on it.
On Friday morning, Izzy tried to give himself a concussion. Or maybe just a black eye. I spent a hot minute Googling whether horses can be concussed and discovered that yes, they can experience concussion, but traumatic brain injury is quite uncommon. Interested in the topic? Check out this article by Equus. TBI or not, Izzy did take quite a blow to his noggin.
We all know that Izzy is an ask questions later kind of guy. He doesn't always think his decisions through very clearly, and on occasion, he has been known to make questionable life choices. Friday was one of those moments. As I've done on more than one occasion, I climbed into Izzy's feeder to clean out some weedy hay and other leftovers. He came over to assist, nibbling at my neck and grabbing onto my shirt tails. When he got tired of me, he walked over to the gate, ready to go play. When I climbed out of the feed bin, I smacked my hands together as I beat off the dust.
Whether it was the clapping noise my hands made or something else all together, Izzy whirled and bolted straight through his shelter. I am not sure how he missed me in his flight of terror, but thankfully, I walked away unscathed. He did not. As he charged between the two poles, he threw his head up and whacked himself right between the eyes on the bottom edge of the cross bar that supports the roof.
I heard a loud clang followed by stampeding hooves. To say I was a bit startled would be an understatement. After cringing, I blew out an exasperated breath. Now what? If isn't ten things, it's another 4,876. I watched as Izzy threw an out and out fit. He bucked. He stomped his feet. He threw himself to the ground rolling vigorously. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought conking his melon caused him to colic.
When he seemed a little more quiet - no sense in both of us having a near death experience, I walked up to him to try and check him out. Izzy loves to nuzzle and gently lip me, but his nips tried to become well-aimed bites. I gave his nose a quick smack out of self defense which sent him off on another bucking fit. I decided he needed a few minutes on his own for my safety if no one else's.
The ranch owner and I stood outside the fence next to the barn watching him. She didn't want me going anywhere near him as he seemed almost dangerous. I agreed. Within just a few minutes though, I could see that he was settling down. When I went and put his halter on, he hung his head rather sheepishly. I pulled off his fly mask and saw a very thin scratch right between his eyes. It wasn't even bleeding. I was worried that he would develop a huge goose egg, but he never did.
I walked him out onto the lawn where he enthusiastically began to chomp grass. I pulled out my cell phone and gave CC, Izzy's body worker, a quick call to explain what had happened. As I knew he would, CC explained that looking at him right after an incident wouldn't be wise. If there were to be any swelling or trauma, we would need to let it subside first before trying to do an adjustment. CC said he'd come down on Tuesday to look Izzy over.
In the meantime, he suggested I ride the next day to see what we had which I did. I had a lesson on Saturday and explained to Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, what had happened so that he would be prepared if my ride went south suddenly. Other than being mindful that Izzy might be a bit sore, we were able to do a regular lesson. I rode him again on both Sunday and Monday, and he was quiet and workmanlike.
As promised, CC came out on Tuesday. The visit took all of ten minutes, and most of it was spent telling CC what had happened. Izzy was actually in great shape, he needed just a bit of work at his C7 and one or two ribs, but those are his regular spots, so we weren't concerned. Considering he whacked his head squarely in the middle of his forehead while bolting, I am grateful that he's no worse for wear.
If you wanted to hear bells ringing, horse, you could have just asked.
If we're friends on Facebook, you'll have already seen photos of my recent field trip out to CC's ranch to watch my friend Lisa work her mare Ruby. Lisa and Ruby joined us for a trail ride last month. CC is Izzy's chiropractor, and as we found out on that trail ride, Lisa trains with CC. The horse world is very small.
CC's ranch is smack dab in the middle of the town of Caliente, a long forgotten town along the track of the Union Pacific Railroad. Caliente's history is pretty interesting as it sprang up with the arrival of the railroad in 1875. CC generously spent time explaining the loop pictured above. The Tehachapi Loop, considered an engineering feat when it was begun in 1874, is just a few miles to the east. People from all over the world come to visit these few miles of the Union Pacific Railroad because of its unique construction, and there it sits in CC's backyard. I couldn't quit watching the trains circle around. It was utterly mesmerizing.
CC and his family have been working cattle in the Caliente region for more than a generation. His daughter now has her own herd that she manages.
While CC still shows his own and client horses, he's really all about running the ranch and doing it on well bred horses. Later in the morning he rode a two year old that was more broke than any of my horses.
Watching everyone working gave me a sense of what life must have been like before cell phones, social media, and the internet. These people still have a deep connection with the land, something urban dwellers could use more of.
I thoroughly enjoyed my morning spent in Caliente. Of course, it's not hard to talk me into doing something if horses are involved. But truthfully, I think all of us need to step outside of our comfort zones to see how other people live and work. It is no surprise that much of what these riders do is very similar to what we do in dressage. They want supple, forward thinking horses. Horses that can rock back on their haunches with riders giving aids so subtle they aren't easy to see. Their clothes and tack are very different, but horses are horses. They all walk, trot, and canter no matter what their saddles look like.
I definitely want to go back, but next time, I am going to ask if I can give it a try!
On the same day that we moved Izzy, I realized that he was already sore in his C7, poll and ribs. I am getting much quicker at identifying when he's simply being a jerk and when he's being a jerk because he's sore. While I was hanging around waiting for all of the shenanigans to quiet down, I texted CC. To my surprise - thank you, Universe, for taking care of me, CC texted back immediately. He was in the neighborhood and would be there in 10 minutes. I swear I have a Fairy Godmother.
Before he even laid a hand on Izzy, he dropped his tailgate, hopped up, and settled in for a talk. Basically, he pointed out that something is happening while I am riding. No horse can make himself this sore by himself this often. I agreed. As Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, helps me get deeper into Izzy's brain, and as he helps me figure out how to best ride this horse, reasons for everything are becoming more and more clear. I told CC that I know exactly what Izzy is doing.
When Izzy doesn't want to do the work I am asking for, his ace up the sleeve is to carry his haunches to the left and then take a big fat swing with his neck so that he can jerk the rein from me. To my credit, he rarely gets it from me any more, but he hasn't stopped trying. And as CC so plainly put it, it just takes once to jack up his neck and poll.
From there, we started taking about strategies for gaining control of Izzy's wayward hips and blocked shoulders. After talking through some ideas, CC finally told me to just saddle up. "Right now?" I asked. I had already ridden once, and Izzy had been running around his new sandy paddock in a bit of a temper tantrum.
"Yep. Right now," was CC's response.
Now, I know I am a pretty decent rider, but CC is a very knowledgeable horseman. He knows horses and he knows riders, and I knew I was about to get a bit of an ass kicking. It's one thing to tell someone you're a struggling adult amateur, it's another thing to show him. Even so, I did what he asked.
To my complete shock, CC turned out to be a very encouraging teacher, quick to tell you when you've missed the mark, but even quicker to tell you when you've done it right. We worked at the walk, right there in the driveway. CC wanted to show me how my aids needed to be timed better and more accurate which was not anything I haven't heard before. He also had me drop my bit by a hole and loosen the caveson. He wanted to see Izzy play with the bit and maybe even pick it up himself.
In just 15 or 20 minutes, CC gave me some great exercises for moving Izzy's shoulders and hips around. They are simple things to do as I get on and start warming up. He also encouraged me to do less sponging with my hands in an effort to let Izzy find the release on his own. After I pulled my tack, CC spent just a minute or two adjusting Izzy's C7, poll, and rib heads. The "lesson" took more time than did the body work.
I am so grateful that I have so many fantastic people on Team Izzy. Between my vet, who happened to drop by to introduce us to Bakersfield Large Animal Hospital's newest doctor, Dr. OJ (seriously!), my farrier, CC, and my coach and trainer, there's plenty of support. It is clear that I am the weakest link on this team. Fortunately, all of these people are rooting for us, so I can't do anything but keep on keeping on.
Well, that and keep my hands a bit quieter.
What a Debbie Downer I've been this week. My life balances on three legs - my home life, work life, and barn life. If one of the legs of my life tripod is a bit wobbly, I can keep it together. If two of them aren't okay, I am a mess. If all three are broken, scrape me off the floor, please. This past few weeks, all three have been NQR - Not Quite Right for all you non-horsey peeps. None of them were wrong enough to send me on a tail spin, but it was enough to unbalance me.
The only leg of my life tripod relevant to this space of course is my horse life. As small a thing as it is, knowing that Izzy needed some body work really rocked my little world. I think it was because his behavior when he's sore - bracing more than normal and being mildly aggressive, could also be attributed to poor riding. I am getting quicker and quicker at recognizing his signs, but still, my inner voice snidely says, you suck.
The universe was looking out for me this week; CC was able to come on Sunday afternoon instead of Monday. Just as I had suspected, Izzy needed work in all the usual areas, particularly his poll, C7, and rib heads. CC remarked that the way Izzy's ribs were feeling, he should have been fussy about bending. To my credit, I had realized he was body sore before he gave me that indicator. Where I felt the bracing was in his inability to lift his back and soften through his poll.
CC is such an experienced and talented horseman that I consider his feedback very carefully. While Izzy was indeed sore, CC never lets me feel as though it is my fault or even Izzy's fault. He also makes jokes about me breaking my horse which lets me know that Izzy is not actually broken. Does that make sense? CC will come as often as I need hm to, but he's happiest when Izzy doesn't need work at all.
I haven't been on Izzy much this week - I worked a 12-hour day yesterday, but he felt much better on the days that I was able to ride. I am really hopeful that this weekend will also be filled with things I am not expecting. While last weekend didn't go as planned, it turned out just fine.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%