From Endurance to Dressage
The last couple of days have definitely been of the saddle up anyway variety. My work days have been long and hard, and it has been hot. I always go to the barn in riding clothes, but that doesn't mean I am always going to ride. Sometimes I talk myself into cleaning tack instead, or the horses let me know they'd rather not either.
As I dragged myself out to the horses' paddocks, I kept chanting, saddle up anyway. It was so hot though, and poor Izzy was already damp and sticky from the heat. Both horses have started growing winter coats already even though our summer isn't over yet. The problem is that October can still be quite warm with days in the 100s, so working with your winter coat on can be pretty uncomfortable. You can see his new black hair coming in which is very different from the yellow hair he had just a week ago.
I struck a compromise; we would do a trail ride instead of schooling in the arena. Izzy still needs to work off the property to build confidence, so that's what we did. I also threw on his correction bit just to remind him that he doesn't need to be heavy in my hand. As it turned out, I should have used spurs or the whip as there was way more go! than whoa.
We followed the same route as on the day before when I rode Speedy, but I didn't do it bareback with a halter, primarily because Izzy's back and withers are way too sharp. Speedy has great withers, but he also has a very flat and wide back. His ribcage is so well sprung that it's a little bit like riding on a sofa. And this time I remembered to grab a quick photo of the metal sculptures. These guys have been there a while, but sometimes there's a giant chicken and other things.
We stopped by the same apple tree, but unlike Speedy, Izzy doesn't care so much about getting a treat. Being out in the world is stressful for him, so the apples weren't a huge appeal. I did manage to get him to eat half an apple before we moved on though. Baby steps.
Somehow we managed to go a tenth of a mile farther than I did with Speedy, but it took us twenty minutes longer. As we were heading out, the property owner from where I used to board my boys was out doing some fence work, so I stopped and chatted with her for a solid 20 minutes. It was good for Izzy to just stand around for a while. The break played havoc with out "workout time" though as our average mile pace dropped to 28 minutes compared to Speedy's 18.
After teaching online today, I have to drive across town to school to pick up some supplies, and then I have a late afternoon dentist appointment. I know I won't be riding today which is why I made sure to saddle up anyway yesterday. With the weekend just ahead and cool morning temperatures waiting for us, I'll be able to make up for a missed riding day.
And really, neither horse will be heartbroken to sit out another warm day.
Like I mentioned yesterday, Speedy's work load has been greatly reduced, but that doesn't mean he's completely retired. While "T" has been riding once a week or so, I've only been on him once since August. I know he probably has needed the break, and Izzy is certainly benefitting, but yesterday was one of those days where a walk around the block was just what we both needed.
I had a late meeting, and the temperature had crept back up to near a hundred. I drove out to the ranch without a clear plan for the day, but once I got there, hopping up on Speedy bareback for a long walk seemed like the perfect way to spend an hour. I curried his coat - both of my boys are already getting their winter hair, fed him some cookies, and tossed on my riding halter. I swung a leg over, and we headed out around the neighborhood.
There's always a lot to see on this walk. Most of the neighbors have horses or other animals. One property has huge metal sculptures of dinosaurs, and they're never in the same place. The Haners, who are at the top of the map, have a farm with geese, turkeys pigs, and more. After the Haner farm, there is an easement we cut through that has an apple tree. I don't know if they're ripe enough for eating, but they were good enough for Speedy.
Speedy has lived in this neighborhood for nine years. This is the first time he willingly let me maneuver him alongside that tree so I could grab some apples for him. For eight and a half years he has been certain that scooching up to that tree meant certain death. For this first visit, I was able to easily snap an apple from its limb without Speedy scooting out in terror as the tree vibrated and shook. And once I had the apple in my hand, he whipped his head around and snatched it from me. It took him nine years, but he finally figured out what I was doing up there.
I didn't ride the full loop, which would have taken us south to ride along the river, because Speedy was feeling a bit too frisky by the time we made it to the old golf course. To get to the river we have to bushwhack it, and I wasn't in the mood to work that hard to stay aboard. And really, a half an hour was plenty of time for him to stretch his legs which was all I wanted to achieve. When we got back to the ranch, I unclipped his reins and watched him canter down to see Izzy. Once he had shown everyone he was back, Speedy dropped his head to graze.
While Saddle up anyway is my personal motto, it doesn't mean you actually have to have a saddle. Bareback with a halter works just fine.
We have followed the social distancing rules to the letter. We wear a mask when we go out which has been limited to the grocery store, bank, pharmacy, and gas station. Same thing for going to work, the feed store, and the post office. We keep six feet apart. I haven't touched another human being besides my husband since mid-March. I may not agree with every decision that's being made, but we're doing our part to limit our social interactions.
So this past weekend, when Wendy and I found that our schedules had finally lined up, we decided to get together for a trail ride. We knew it would be easy to maintain social distance while still interacting safely. I also invited my friend Edyta to come and ride Speedy. It was the most fun I have had in a really long time.
My friend Wendy lives on the other side of the Tehachapi Mountains in Rosamond, a small town on the very western edge of the Mojave Desert. She brought her mare, Beanie, who was an absolute rockstar of a three-year old.
Edyta is an old friend who has ridden all of her life but who now finds herself horseless as she raises her two girls. When I asked her if she wanted to join us, she was hesitant about riding Speedy. She's known him since his endurance days and has heard plenty about his shenanigans. I laughed and told her that he's only difficult for me. She agreed that it would be fun and met us at the park.
Because it's a trail I like and know well, we repeated the same loop I had done a few days before. Beanie is only three and Edyta hadn't ridden in nearly two years, so I wanted the trail to be fun and easy for everyone, and that included Izzy. This time I remembered to start my activity app as we headed out, but then I forgot to turn it off until we were well into lunch - sheesh. The mileage, at nearly eight miles, was actually a wee bit farther than I had thought.
We averaged four miles an hour more or less - mostly because we stopped a lot, but the last nine tenths of a mile really lowered our average as I had forgotten to end the workout. The whole loop took us a little less than two and a half hours. I think we spent that long eating lunch in the shade.
Our mile split times times weren't helped by the numerous places we stopped to take pictures. It was such a perfect day though that all of us wanted to take photos, especially once we got to my favorite lookout point over Lake Ming. I have a million shots of that view from between Izzy's ears, but this time, Edyta got a shot of his whole body!
Throughout the ride, we laughed, told stories, and just generally took a few hours to relax and let go of all of the stress and anxiety that is plaguing all of us. When we got back to the trailers, we hosed the horses off, made sure they had hay and water, and then we dragged out some chairs and the cooler.
We feasted on pasta salads, guacamole and chips, salami and cheese, flavored mineral water, and some delicious custom made desserts that Edyta thoughtfully brought with her. (We sat at a distance from one another, used Clorox wipes, plastic silverware, paper plates, and avoided touching anything that someone else might touch.)
For many people, including myself, the social distancing is causing its own set of mental and health issues. Connecting with friends face-to-face really helped me feel more balanced and centered. I missed the goodbye hugs that we would have given each other under other circumstances, but we made sure to give air hugs.
Of all the societal norms that may be abandoned when this passes, I sure hope that hugs amongst friends isn't one of them.
Over the weekend, I wondered why I hadn't taken Izzy back out to Hart Park. It's not like my work schedule is jam packed or anything, and the weather is suddenly gorgeous. We've been working hard to prepare for this show season, but with that on hold, I realized I still needed to get him out and about. Hart Park was the perfect destination.
The drive from the ranch to Hart Park with a trailer is 15 minutes if you drive conservatively, less if you step on it. There isn't even a stop sign. I always park at Horseman's Barn which has hitching posts, a wash rack, and pipe corrals. There are also picnic tables, shade trees, and very nice views.
I didn't even warn Izzy that we were going. I showed up, hooked up my trailer, and threw my tack in the back. I gave him a spritz of fly spray and told him to load up. He didn't bat an eye; he self-loaded, and once I was parked, he backed out quietly, albeit with a bit of a confused look. There were plenty of people at the park, so there were a lot of bodiless voices. Izzy craned his neck for a few minutes trying to figure out where everyone was, but there were no theatrics. I saddled up and was on the trail within 15 minutes.
I thought Izzy was good the last time we did this loop. Just two months later, he was even better. At the walk, he was immediately on the buckle. He wasn't bored, but he was happy to listen and let me make the decisions. I did the loop the same way as we had done it in February.
At 15 minutes into the ride, I remembered that I had my phone and that I had recently downloaded an activity app. I turned it on where the map is marked with a green dot. The red dot is where we finished which was an extra mile.
Any time the trail was free of gravel, we trotted. Back when I was endurance training, I would have trotted and cantered nearly the entire thing and then added another 10 miles by heading out into the foothills. Izzy's not an endurance horse though, and his fear-meter has a much higher setting than that of my endurance horses. Sometimes, it was just prudent to walk.
We passed by one freakishly weird object that deserved a much bigger spook than Izzy offered. Right next to the trail there was a pipe about 18 inches in diameter that rose around 8 feet into the air. I have no idea what it was for, but it sounded as if it were breathing. Moaning even. It might have even been a death rattle. In fact, I am sure of it. Izzy gave it a very, very long stare and contorted his body in such a way as to put as much distance between it and himself.
I couldn't blame him. Even I didn't know what it was, and of course, it was on the section of the trail that we had to repeat. It sounded no more friendly on the way back. I have to give Izzy lots of credit; he walked by it even though he was certain it was a harbinger of the apocalypse.
Since the park and trail system are still open to the public, there were quite a few other visitors. We saw a smattering of cyclists - one who was the most polite cyclist I've ever come across, and I've seen plenty. He cheerfully warned us, "I am on your right on a bicycle." I'll share the trail with that dude any day. There were also plenty of fishermen, hikers, and families out for a stroll. Everyone was courteous and practicing social distancing.
Izzy was really happy to walk, but for the trotting I had to work to keep him soft and forward. The first time I asked for a canter, he just couldn't. His back was simply too tight. After three or four miles, we came to a slight downhill that was wide open. He agreed to canter. A few minutes later, we came to a narrower stretch of trail, so I asked for the other lead. I got in two-point and rode him with LEG ON, so he managed to keep it together through some trail that had bushes over our heads.
I wasn't just pleased with Izzy because we didn't die. He was as solid as most "arena" horses could be. He hasn't had nearly the experience that Speedy has, but even so, I felt perfectly safe on him. Even when he was nervous, he slowed down or simply stopped. He never actually spooked. Now that the park loop is back on my radar, I'm going to have to try getting out there a little more frequently. It's nice to have a dressage horse who can also do trails.
Now I have two of them.
In February, I set a new goal to get Izzy off the property at least twice each month. I started riding out on the old golf course and around the neighborhood pretty regularly. I did the same thing in March. About that time, I was battling Izzy's excessive energy which I now know was due to too much alfalfa in his diet. The work out on the trail helped dissipate some of the energy.
By April, the restrictions around COVID-19 were firmly in place, and frankly, I kind of forgot about going anywhere. We also realized what the alfalfa was doing, so leaving the property didn't seem quite so important.
Instead of leaving the ranch, I started doing short trail rides around the property after every arena ride. We've been able to get a lot of miles out of those eleven acres. I know every spooky spot, so that's where we head. We circle trees and bushes and old piles of junk until Izzy softens and walks forward freely. We do it from the left eye and then from the right eye. We have lots of little roads that crisscross the ranch, so it's easy to keep it varied.
The trail rides out on the property are definitely helping to improve the work we do in the arena. When Izzy gets tense or braced, I treat him like I would if he were tense about a spooky bush out on the property. We circle, and I ask him to step up into my hand. As soon he softens, we move on. Every time I "win," he seems to breathe a sigh of relief. Izzy's a somewhat dominant horse, but he's also fearful which makes him a pretty poor leader.
Me being the leader is something relatively new. It's not an argument we have on the ground, it's a given that I am in charge there. Convincing him that I am also in charge when he's under saddle has taken a long, long, LONG time. When we work now, his ears are on a swivel as he listens to me. For so long, they were nearly always pricked forward as he tried to work and monitor his surroundings.
Yesterday, instead of working in the arena, I saddled up to ride around the ranch. Izzy's been so good lately that I decided to risk shooting video of part of our ride. Normally, I need both hands on the reins. He was still a bit look-y, but just my voice was enough to keep him feeling safe.
Speedy would be bored out of his mind if I asked him to ride these same trails over and over, but Izzy needs it. He doesn't seem to remember that we've circled that stump twenty times or passed by that pile of roofing shingles thirty-two times; he always sees something new. So until he gets bored, we'll keep doing it. Besides the fact that he needs the work, I think we both enjoy the walk without the need to perform.
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 schooling and showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2020 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2020 Pending …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2020 Completed …
10/26-27/19 SCEC (***)
6/20-21/20 SCEC (***)
6/29 Ulf Wadeborn (c)
7/11-12 SLO-CDS (***)
7/27 Breen-Gurley (c)
8/30 Breen-Gurley (c)
9/20 Caveletti Clinic (c)
10/11 A. Newcomb (c)
2020 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
2 Scores/1 Judge:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
3 Scores/2 Judges:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
Score 3: 61.750% Johnson
Stuff I Read