From Endurance to Dressage
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.
After realizing that Izzy might be tired and or sore - something I wrote about on Monday, I called my chiropractor who was able to come out yesterday. I never tell him what's wrong. CC wants to look at the horse without any bias. I did however explain that Izzy's neck has been really short, and I can't get him to stretch it forward.
Both of my horses adore CC, especially Izzy. When CC is in the house, I am chopped liver. I think CC could do his work on Izzy without even putting a halter on him. So when Izzy flattened his ears, snapped his head around, and pinched his lips at CC after he had run his hands over Izzy's back and then deep into his neck, I knew something must really hurt.
Even though it bothered him, Izzy let CC bend his neck around. Rather than do the adjustment, CC showed Izzy he wasn't going to hurt him. He simply held the position, then let it go. Then he did it again. Once Izzy was willing to relax, CC pushed hard. I had stepped back well out of the way because that is a huge adjustment that usually rocks Izzy pretty hard. I didn't hear the adjustment, but CC did. He said that he could hear the pop, pop, pop as everything sorted itself out. The instant the adjustment was made, Izzy practically crawled into CC's lap, begging for more.
CC is a miracle worker. After that one adjustment, nothing else hurt. Izzy's withers were no longer painful, and there was no reaction along his back. CC was mildly surprised that Izzy's poll, one of the usual suspects, was right where it needed to be. In fact, there was nothing else to adjust. CC complimented me over the poll issue by saying that "you are doing things right."
CC guaranteed me that I will feel a difference as soon as I get on. He explained that when the C7 needs to be adjusted, horses just can't stretch forward, especially in the medium gaits. Look back at the picture I shared yesterday; that is a perfect example of what he means. Izzy has been out at the C7 before, but CC said it's hard to knock that one out. I told him about Izzy sitting back and breaking a halter a month or two back, and he was certain that's when it happened. It just took a while for the pain to finally show.
I am so lucky to have such great people on Team Izzy. Without my vet, farrier, trainer, chiropractor, and saddle fitter, we'd be an even hotter mess than we are. I am feeling pretty good about this upcoming show.
With rain in the forecast, it will be interesting for sure!
For a year or two, Izzy was getting bodywork every three months. Eventually, he quit with all of the jackassery, and suddenly, he didn't need such frequent adjustments. Imagine that. During Speedy's six-year old year, he also saw the chiropractor on a regular schedule. After about ten years of age, he only seemed to need an annual adjustment. This week he told me he was getting pretty sore.
I didn't look at my health record book until after the appointment with CC, my chiropractor/body worker, but it was actually one year ago (plus two days) that Speedy had his last adjustment. After the SLO-CDS show, I gave him a week off; we were going out of town anyway, so the timing was just good. I rode him on Saturday, and he felt the same as always. When I rode him on Monday, I knew we had a problem.
Speedy walked out just fine, but when I asked him to pick up the trot, he gave a tell-tale lurch and then proceeded to trot around with a faint hitch in his gait. My hunch was that it was a hind leg, so I asked the ranch owner, who was riding her own mare, to give us a watch. I trotted Speedy in both directions in a circle and on a straight line. The longer I rode the better he felt, but he wasn't 100% sound. I asked for a stretch, and that's all he wanted to do. He trotted around doing a deep stretchy trot for a solid five to ten minutes.
Both the ranch owner and I agreed it was a hind leg, and she felt it was the left hind more than the right. I jumped off him and ran my thumbs down his hamstrings looking for any tenderness. Sure enough, both hamstrings quivered under my fingers, the left more than the right. I untacked Speedy and called the chiropractor. As luck would have it, he was going to be in my area that same afternoon.
CC is not just a chiropractor/body worker. He's a true horseman and trainer. He really knows horses. He's never seen me ride, but he knows exactly how both of my horses work. As he points out, Arabs are built to cover ground, not collect and sit. Speedy is no exception. We've been doing a lot of collecting this past year, and his body was showing the effects. CC worked on Speedy from head to toe. Speedy's poll definitely needed some work, as did his ribs. Once CC got to his hind end, he felt pretty confident that Speedy's hocks needed some help.
I wasn't surprised; Speedy's sixteen years old. While he's had a long list of injuries and gets a daily pill for his PPID, he hasn't required any other age-related intervention. If getting his hocks injected prolongs his soundness, it's something I am happy to do. As soon as CC left, I called the vet and made an appointment.
Before CC left, I asked him to also take a look at Izzy. With Speedy resting more comfortably in the shade, I put a halter on the big brown horse. That horse LOVES attention, and CC is always willing to give it. When CC walked up to Izzy, I could almost hear that big brown horse squealing with glee. CC ran his hands over Izzy's poll, down his neck and across his back. I waited for a flinch or a head snap, but nothing, which was very surprising since his last adjustment was last July as well.
CC pointed out that as Izzy has matured and quit fighting so much, he's a lot easier on his body. I appreciate CC's attitude about bodywork. If the horse needs it monthly, fine, but if they can go a whole year, that's even better.
Since the ranch owner reapplied a fresh coating of the dust control product she uses, both horses got Tuesday off which fell in line with CC's recommendation for Speedy. On Wednesday, Speedy went to the vet. More about that tomorrow.
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