From Endurance to Dressage
I've recently suffered a crisis in faith. Faith in myself that is. The clinic that I attended a few weekends back really rocked my little world, and not in a good way. I left the clinic feeling like the world's worst rider. Worse than that, how could it get worse?, I felt like I had no business even being on a horse.
I muddled around on both ponies for a few days, but nothing I was doing was effective. Speedy felt picked on and Izzy lost all of the confidence that I had helped him develop. I had more than one good cry and finally called my trainer.
She tried to convince me that I am a good rider with a lot of accomplishments under my belt. She shared stories of trainers telling her the same things I had heard: quit now, you're not good enough, you're ruining your horse, and so on. I wanted so much to believe her, but negative comments are so much easier to believe than are positive ones.
The one thing that she has repeatedly told me that I believe without hesitation is that I am a thinking rider. Not an over-thinker, but a rider who works out the puzzle. Since I ride alone all the time and can only get a lesson about once a month, I am forced to either commit the same mistake over and over, or I have to figure out the solution for myself.
Our chat by phone has certainly helped, but I am still struggling to regain my enthusiasm and confidence. I've had a string of bad rides on Izzy, but last night, I finally took matters into my own hands and worked through the puzzle. To my astonishment, I was able to get some positive work from him again.
I left the barn feeling more upbeat than I have in weeks. I may not be a great rider, or even a good one for that matter, but I am an excellent problem solver which is a strength in itself. Izzy appreciated my leadership which in turn helped to restore some of his confidence.
I guess the point of all of this is that we all bring different strengths to what we do, and it's important to recognize them. I let someone convince me that I don't have any, and that's simply not true.
I had a much needed epiphany this weekend. It's taken four months, but I've finally realized that Izzy is not Sydney. Of course I don't mean that literally. That wouldn't be much of an epiphany. What I mean is that Izzy isn't going to treat me like Sydney did. Izzy's not going to live in fear, and he's not going to run off and leave me.
I think that's a country song ...
Since buying Izzy this past November, I've worried that at any moment he was going to start blowing up and having the kind of meltdowns for which Sydney was so famous. I've caught myself walking on egg shells this whole winter.
Every time I see a truck coming down the road, I brace for the inevitable duck and whirl to the right. Every stroller that comes by gives me flashbacks of Sydney galloping sideways in terror. I find myself flinching at every bang and clang from the neighbor's barn because I know that should illicit a panic attack. But Izzy, he doesn't hear any of it.
Don't get me wrong; Izzy isn't dull. He hears everything, but I've finally realized that he reacts totally differently than did Sydney. Izzy cranes his head around to get a look at everything, anything, and nothing. He's a wide-eyed baby in love with the world, but none of it bothers him. He doesn't feel threatened, and instead, he's always dying to know more.
So what helped me see this all so clearly? Well, my barn owner is doing some stall remodeling on the other side of the barn. I had finished lunging at the far end of the arena and was getting ready to hop on Izzy bareback. Suddenly, his head shot up, he pricked his ears intently, and then he dragged me as close to the arena gate as he could get.
I stopped what I was doing and listened. Suddenly I heard what he heard - a grinding screeching sound of metal dragging on metal. I immediately went into "Sydney can't handle this" mode and considered calling it a day. But then I paused a moment and studied Izzy and realized that he wasn't scared at all. He was fascinated by what was going on.
The welder who will be doing the work was in the barn aisle so I hollered out to him and asked what was going on. He explained that they were removing a shade netting and a panel from each stall. As soon as I knew what was causing the sound, my tension evaporated, and I matter-of-factly explained it all to Izzy.
I brought him over to the mounting block as usual and hopped on. For the first minute or two, he was still distracted by the loud noises emitting from the back side of the barn, but shortly after he refocused on me and happily went to work. Of course, his attention span is quite small so within no time he was gawking at the neighbor's property, a flying bird, ants crawling, and and other invisible distractions.
It was at that moment that I realized Izzy is not the same horse as Sydney. I loved Sydney, I truly did, but he was simply too unpredictable and explosive in his behavior to be any fun. I feel safer on Izzy with a halter for a bridle and a half pad and surcingle as a saddle than I ever did on Sydney.
While we still have a long way to go before we're actually doing any dressage, I am already having so much fun with this horse. He's a funny boy with a super laid back personality. He gets goofy and "big" on occasion, but it usually takes too much energy to maintain for long. If I just give him a moment to pause and reflect, he realizes that mellow is a lot more fun and usually leads to treats.
I ❤️ you, Izzy Zweibrücker!
I just lucked into the best situation!
Our barn neighbor, L, recently acquired the loveliest Oldenburg gelding. He's a bit of a senior (late teens), but he is trained to a T, and a lot of fun to ride.
L had been looking for a horse for a while; her old man is more than 30 years old. She recently found Austin, a jumper who needed a much easier job. L isn't interested in jumping big things so it was a perfect fit.
Austin is BIG, like 17 hands big, but he's so well trained that he doesn't use his powers for evil. And even though he is a bit of senior citizen, he still has a ton of spunk and personality. He's cranky in the cross ties - grooming, no thanks. That girth, it's too tight. He's also opinionated in the arena - There's a shadow over there, and since I feel good today, I will do a little buck.
L has been really busy right now and doesn't see an end to her crazy schedule anytime soon. She co-owns a very popular restaurant which means the holiday season is a busy time for her. We were chatting about it the other day, and I volunteered to help her out with the horses if she needed it. Since I am only riding one right now, I have some free time.
Before I knew it, we had hatched out a plan where I was to ride Austin for the next few weeks when I had free time. He doesn't need any schooling, he just needs to move to keep his joints lubricated and his soft tissue pliable and elastic. Those older guys get stiff pretty quickly, especially in the cold.
L ran me through his grooming and saddling preferences while I watched her tack him up. He hadn't been ridden in a week or so, but L assured me no lunging was necessary. I pulled the mounting block over and peered up at Mt. Everest. There would be no way I could mount this guy from the ground!
The first time I rode him, I felt so bad that I couldn't give him a good ride. I used a ton of leg, but I just couldn't get him to soften or move out. And when we tried to get a canter, he lurched into the gait with me pony club kicking him the whole way. L wasn't deterred by my poor riding. She told me to ride him as often as I had time for.
The next day, I saddled him and walked him back over to my arena. We did the same warm up as the day before, but for this ride, he was much perkier and almost immediately started offering a trot. I realized that the day before he had just been really stiff; it wasn't my riding that was problem.
I insisted that he walk however; there was no way he was going to tweak something on my watch! I wanted him to be thoroughly warmed up before we did too much trotting.
Once we did trot, I realized I was on a totally different horse. I didn't have to use any leg; he was already nicely forward. As we neared the shadowy corner, he sucked back and got a little light up in front. For a moment, I felt that sickening feeling in my stomach that I was about to be a passenger on a very large runaway freight train.
I did the only thing I knew, I rode him forward and protected the left side (he wanted to shoot left). All of a sudden, he shook his neck a little as if to say, yeah, I still got it, baby! and then he totted forward. Each time we came around to that spot, he tried to get a little uppity and bossy, but I kept my leg on and rode him forward. We circled through that spot a few times until he got bored with the show.
After the first oh crap! moment, I just laughed at his silliness. Riding this horse, even if only a few times, has already done a lot to boost my confidence. Every big horse is not set on my death or destruction. Riding him is certainly different from riding Speedy, who is fairly close to the ground. And even Sydney's 16 hand height doesn't compare to this dude's stature. Izzy is a solid 16' 3 (I used a measuring stick on him), so building some confidence on this sky scraper is just what I need!
Sydney and I were on a roller coaster this past two weeks - good rides, bad rides, good rides. Fortunately, we seemed to have more good than bad and even the bad were quickly resolved.
I really wanted to finish the week on a good note, especially after Thursday's dirty spooks. I've learned that with Sydney especially, I have to let go of the bad moments and expect the next one to be fabulous. So that's what I did. On Friday, I saddled up and never gave another thought to the shenanigans of the day before. The result? We had a very pleasant ride with very nice canter work to the right.
We didn't work on anything new. I simply practiced putting together my aids to hold Sydney in the right lead canter as we head down the long sides. I am excited about today's lesson because I think JL will be happy with our progress. I can see that this is going to take a long time to develop. After just a few minutes at the right lead canter, Sydney starts to fatigue. I think he is using his body in a way that is very new for him.
I find this exciting though. It means I am on the right track!
And … this is happening.
I've launched a second blog! Keeping this one going seven days a week is already work enough, so why I think I need a second one remains a mystery. For this second blog, I am planning to post once or twice a week.
My second entry into the blog-o-sphere is food related; it's called The Baker Foodie. I may have mentioned that I like to cook. You can find find it at www.thebakerfoodie.com.
Was Sydney ever naughty on Thursday! Whenever Sydney spooks or does something odd-ball during a lesson, JL's first question is always, was that dirty?
Speedy is never dirty; his spooks are legitimate. He might buck, but it's always out of exuberance. He expresses his opinion by pinning his ears, sucking back a little, or his favorite, curling up WAY behind the bit.
Sydney on the other hand does dirty very well. When he's in a mood, he looks for ways to be a jerk. Since I've yet to come off him, (Oh, Lord, hear my prayer and know that I am not boasting. It has been through your protection that my butt has remained in the saddle. Do not take this as a prideful statement. Amen.) I don't know if his intent is to lose me, or just be an ass.
His version of dirty is to launch up and forward and then drop a shoulder and spin. It is a brutal maneuver and always gets me loose. If he would take one more step, he'd completely unseat me, but since I can usually yank him to a stop, I have time to regroup (so far).
On Thursday, I started out on the buckle and then picked a super quiet canter around the arena's edge like I had done the day before. I brought him back to a walk, took a moment, and then picked up the canter from the walk. I was working in my dressage "court" and was cantering down the long side when he "heard" something. He sucked back, and when I squeezed him forward, he let me have it.
Through much trial and error, my trainer and I have learned that when he pulls a dirty spook, it is best to rip into him. I planted his nose on my knee and sent him whipping around with my outside spur while I whaled on his neck with the flat of my hand. I stopped him. I asked for forward and continued about my business like nothing had happened.
My reaction to his "spooks" (especially the rear), is mostly to just be loud and in your face. I smack his neck with an open palm and pop him in the side with my heel or spur enough to get him moving forward. The whole thing lasts for 10 seconds or so, and then I act as though nothing has happened. The point is to let him know that rearing or threatening to do so will get you in BIG trouble.
We picked up a trot, and he did it again. The second time, I added some very stern WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING? kind of comments as I used my outside leg to send him in a brisk circle and whaled on his neck. Now don't get me wrong. I am not beating my horses, and I am not spurring them to create any wounds. I don't think we accomplish much when we "punish" our horses, but in THIS case, with TWO dirty spooks, Sydney needed to understand that his reaction was not acceptable. It's dangerous and can easily get both of us hurt.
I sent him forward again at a walk on a very loose rein. He didn't spin, bolt, buck, or rear after that. We didn't have a very nice ride, BUT his brain clicked back on and he tried very hard to listen.
We spent the better of part of 20 minutes tracking left at the trot working on relaxation and submission. Once I felt him sort of relax, I changed direction. I was prepared for a ginormous fight since the right is his more unbalanced side, especially when he's anxious or tense.
Surprisingly, he relaxed very quickly to the right. All I did was ask for a very straight neck. I moved his hindquarters around and insisted that he be straight. While we didn't have much stride length, he was at least willing to listen and try. I decided not to work on the canter as I had accomplished what I wanted, which was to let him know that when he's feeling wild and crazy, he doesn't get to act on it.
After I untacked him, I turned him out hoping that he would gallop and buck it out. I don't know if it was a good thing or not, but after he rolled, he simply moseyed around and waited for me to come back and get him. I think that I was able to ride him through the wild and wooly feelings he was having and that by the time he was turned out, the tension had been resolved. I think that's a good thing.
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%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%