From Endurance to Dressage
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.
This past weekend was definitely a difficult one. Sorry to be so melancholy about the whole thing. It's not like anybody died. Yet. The Cushing's Disease combined with the abscesses and Speedy's insistence on getting old too fast have really forced me to contemplate his eventual passing. It wasn't a conversation I was ready to have.
I never stay angry for long. Or sad. Or bitter. I move on. After riding Izzy three days in a row out in the neighborhood and out on the old golf course, I decided to do something even more productive. After three months of owning Newt, my new truck, I still hadn't hauled either horse anywhere. Instead of hauling Speedy to a show, I decided to take Izzy to Hart Park on Monday. Alone. It would be the first time to take him somewhere where there wouldn't be any horses to greet him.
Izzy has been to the barn at Hart Park more than several times. My friend Kathy and I like going there. The parking is good, there are water faucets, the shade in the summer is much appreciated, but best of all, there is excellent access to trails. I've taken Speedy there by himself many times, but I'd never felt that Izzy was reliable enough to handle the trip alone. You never know until you try though.
My plan was to ride for two hours, heading east to Lake Ming and then circling back. You can easily ride this loop as a figure eight, which is what I did. The small circle on the left side of the photo is the barn where I parked. The dotted arrow lines show the route and direction we took.
We ended up finishing in less than two hours, but that was because I decided to trot everything that wasn't rocky or covered in asphalt. After the initial surprise of being out there all alone, Izzy settled right in. He trot when asked and came back to a walk when asked, happy to march along without any jigging.
Izzy's done a fair amount of trail work already. I've spent every summer since I first bought him doing boot camp trail rides. This was the first time I felt confident enough to head out alone though. Did he disappoint? Nope! Instead, he handled everything like a seasoned pro.
There was no jigging, no flinching, no flying backwards. Instead, he approached each obstacle with a thinking brain. He stood politely to the side as joggers bounded by with their dogs trotting alongside. He stood calmly as ladies with strollers rolled on by. Even their toddler on a bicycle didn't phase him. I got off to drink from a drinking fountain and then pushed him alongside a park bench to remount. No big deal.
While he wasn't perfect, I enjoyed every minute of the ride. He stayed focused the entire time and never lost his marbles. He spooked once or twice, but they were of the gone weak in the knees sort. He was so well behaved that I rode with a pretty loose rein during all of the long trots.
About a quarter mile from the trailer, he started to plod. In the five and a half years that I've owned him, I've never really seen him tired. Relaxed yes, but not actually tired. I was glad to see him tired; that's when endurance horses really start to learn. While he's not an endurance horse, he has that same go-go-go mentality that keeps him from listening.
Having ridden a lot of tired endurance horses, I wasn't worried about how exhausted he thought he was. I knew he was going to be just fine, but I let him plod anyway. I did find it funny that he never has been all that good with directions though.
I don't know if it's just an Arabian thing or maybe a sixth sense that endurance horses develop, but all of my Arabs have had incredibly accurate homing beacons. They all knew exactly where the trailer was at all times no matter how far out in BFE we found ourselves. We were AT the trailer, and Izzy still didn't realize he was done for the day.
After a quick shower, Izzy walked right onto the trailer as though he does it every day. He unloaded just as calmly. After nipping at Speedy, taking a long pee, and grinding out a good roll in the sand, he settled in to finish his breakfast without ever wondering why I had made him work so hard.
Sometimes, I kind of like that he's more brawn than brain.
Before I write today's post, I would like to thank the many riders who reached out to me privately yesterday. It meant a lot that so many of you took the time to commiserate or just offer a virtual hug. I wish I could say I am over it and moving on, but I am not there yet. If anything, I feel even more pressure to get that bronze medal for Speedy. I know it's sounds selfish, but I really need the world to see how amazing my little Arabian really is. Big sigh ...
Seeing that Speedy was lame with my own eyes literally knocked the wind out of me. After confirming that it was yet another abscess, I wanted to just get back in my truck and go home. I wanted to grab the remote control and stare blindly at the TV for the rest of the day. But I didn't.
Instead, I started unloading my truck. I did it sluggishly, without the enthusiasm of the afternoon before. I figured that once everything was back in its place, I could then go home and find the remote. But again, I didn't. I moved on to the trailer, unloading my tack and the rest of Speedy's weekend wear. I kept thinking about the TV remote as I fought back angry tears.
When everything was hanging in its place or back on its shelf, I paused in the warm sunshine and contemplated what I should do for the rest of the day. It seemed such a waste to park myself in front of the TV, but I knew I wasn't in a healthy frame of mind to give Izzy a good schooling ride. More than any horse I've ever owned, Izzy reads my emotions and responds in kind. It makes him very anxious if I am not present and mentally centered.
Then I remembered my monthly goal of getting Izzy off the property at least twice a month. We were half-way through the month, and I hadn't even thought about going anywhere. Feeling angry was actually just the right attitude I needed to leave the property. Normally, I don't have the energy to deal with his away from home anxiety. With anger and resentment running through my veins, I needed to fight something. Izzy's anxiety was the perfect opponent. I saddled up.
Since I hadn't planned on riding, I was wearing jeans and tennis shoes. I didn't care, I kicked off my tennies and slipped into my muck boots. I grabbed Izzy's correction bit and sent him walking down the driveway.
That ride was just what we both needed. Over the past few weeks, Izzy had gotten so far behind my leg that every ride had become a battle between crazy and lazy. I just couldn't get him stepping up to the bridle, and when i did, it was balls to the wall with no softness or give. Heading out of the arena gave him a reason to go forward without me needing to kick, kick, kick.
For three days I repeated the same ride. I varied the loop just a bit, but each ride took us past the ducks and turkeys of the Haner farm and then out onto the old golf course. The third day we walked by, Izzy was very stoic about Tom turkey's gobbles. He gave him the stink eye, but he marched past without all of the theatrics of the days before.
The "golf course," now a field that is just kept mowed, is the perfect place for a big gallop. Usually I ask Izzy to keep his marbles in his head and just canter politely. That first day out on the course, I got in two point and let him just blast around. For 15 minutes. I rode it like it was a cross country course. We didn't jump anything, but we galloped all of it - the little hills, through the trees, and even over the old greens.
The second day, Izzy knew what was up so I checked in with him a lot more frequently asking for bigger half halts. We still galloped, but I added a lot more changes of direction and pushed him through the narrow openings between the trees.
Its hard to see the undulating nature of the old course, but it made for some fun obstacles. Sometimes we galloped the rim of the hills, and other times, we blasted straight down them. I used the shape of the land to school simple changes of lead. Galloping from the grass straight onto the turf of the greens showed real courage on Izzy's part. I know I had fun, and I am pretty sure Izzy enjoyed the change of pace.
While I am still bitterly disappointed about the weekend, I managed to be productive and give Izzy some much needed time out of the arena. I can't change what is, but I can try and cope with a bit more grace. I am not going to apologize or feel remorseful for my initial outburst of rage, but I am going to try and get back on a more even keel.
Both Speedy and Izzy need that from 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. We're currently showing Third Level for the 2020 show season. 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 …
9/20 TMC (c)
10/11 TMC (*)
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
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)
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