From Endurance to Dressage
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.
Not mine - although with all of the wacky things happening to me lately, a sore back would fit right in. Actually, I would have preferred that the aches and pains had been mine. Instead, they belonged to Izzy.
Izzy last saw CC, his personal body worker, at the end of December. For that session, CC worked on Izzy for at least an hour, and even after all that time, CC just didn't feel like he had gotten all of the kinks worked out. There is only so much a horse can take though. When I called CC out last October, he didn't need to do anything, but the two visits before that one, June and April of 2021, Izzy did need work done. The visit before that, way back in July of 2020, no adjustment was needed.
It's really tough to figure out a reliable schedule for Izzy as he can be fine for six months but then need work done every six weeks. CC felt really good about this adjustment though, so I hope Izzy stays put together for a while.
Every time CC comes out, he teaches me something new. Since Izzy's C7 has been the problem lately, CC showed me how to feel when that's an issue. Basically, you can press your fingers into the jugular groove just above the chest. If the horse isn't sore, nothing will happen. If he's sore at the C7, like Izzy was, the muscles will either spasm, or he won't let you press there. That's what Izzy did on Friday afternoon which is why I put out a mayday call to CC.
When CC pulled in on Saturday, Izzy was happy to see him, but in a rough way. He loves CC, but he was not too happy about being touched. Within minutes though, Izzy found immediate relief and happily did whatever CC asked, including the big stretch above. Besides being out at the C7 which is a relatively new thing, Izzy was also sore in his regular spots: the poll and rib heads. New though was some soreness in his lower back. CC did that thing where he drags a blunt tool along the top of the croup which makes Izzy hunch his back and tuck his pelvis. It always works though. Whatever had been spasming along his loins cleared right up.
Izzy is pretty hard on himself. He plays roughly, and when he spooks, it's like getting hit by a truck. As hard as it is on me, it has to be harder on Izzy. I don't know what we would do if we didn't have CC so close by. Of all of the equine chiropractors and body workers that have seen my horses over the years, CC is by far the best. It helps that he's also a horseman himself.
Sometimes he'll say that a particular issue is bothering Izzy due to play, but he also pinpoints training issues that might be causing the discomfort, or he explains how the discomfort has been affecting the work. He is always right. As much as we both love him, I am hoping we don't need him for a while.
Let's try for an injury free March - both for me and Izzy.
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.
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
(Q) Must Qualify
2022 Shows Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Completed …
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: