From Endurance to Dressage
For the past month or so, the ranch owner and I have fallen into a weekend trail riding routine. She's rebuilding some confidence, and I am finding it good motivation to take Speedy out for some fun. For the past two weeks, he had been an absolute stinker, and it seemed like it was a behavior pattern that was getting worse, not better. I decided that a third week of sassy bucking, kicking out, and flat out running through the bridle was not going to be acceptable. I pulled out his old Mikmar bit and dusted off my endurance headstall.
Speedy loved this bit the very first time I rode in it. It looks like a torture device, I know, but it has many great features. The mouthpiece is double jointed so it lays across the tongue without poking his palate. The mouthpiece is also shaped to allow his lips to rest comfortably on the bit. The roller keeps a busy horse busy, and with the three rein attachment options, you can use leverage, direct pull, or nose pressure. Despite not having worn the bit in at least 10 years, Speedy packed it around quite happily.
Before heading out on the trail, I decided to make him work a little in the arena first to remind him of the aids for steering and brakes. I didn't pussy foot around either. When he ignored my leg, I borrowed the ranch owner's whip and and tapped him a few times until he was smartly stepping away from my leg in both the walk and trot. My aid for a downward transition is a deep exhale. When Speedy trotted on like he hadn't heard me, I gave a quick jerk and release of the rein and sat him on his butt. It only took 2 or 3 reminders before I got quiet and prompt downward transitions. As a schoolmaster, Speedy's job is to take care of both beginners and riders looking to refine their aids. He doesn't get to ignore his rider.
After our quick lesson in manners, we headed out to the old golf course and cherry orchard. Speedy was much better behaved. We ended up circling around several different times making a sort of figure eight. As we were nearing the end of the ride. Speedy got a little sassy. Before he could do more than dance a little jig, I told the ranch owner that I needed a moment. She and Alli were perfectly happy to stand and watch Speedy get worked. Despite my annoyance that I needed to remind him again, it was actually pretty fun.
We were out on the old golf course which is mowed regularly and kept pretty green. While there are occasional holes, they're pretty easy to spot, so I like to use the little hills and woop-de-doos for cantering. Since Speedy was feeling so sassy, I did a half dozen or so flying changes which was great fun. I think it was the first time I had ever asked for changes outside of an arena setting. With so much room, I could circle and straighten anywhere without running out of space. After the changes, we did some simple changes through walk, and then I asked for another set of flying changes. By the time we were done, Speedy was breathing a bit and his neck was damp with sweat.
He walked home mostly well behaved. We might need to that again real soon!
The best thing about Hurricane Hillary was the great shower she gave us. If you live somewhere where it actually rains during the summer, dust probably isn't much of a problem for you. Here, late summer and early fall are usually hot as hades and dry as a bone. Dry and hot equals dust, and lots of it.
Not this year. Everything that can be green is bright and vibrant. Over the weekend, the ranch owner and I took Alli and Speedy for a walk through the old golf course and around the cherry orchard. When we got to the copse of trees on the edge of the golf course,I just had to stop and take a quick photo. It felt like we were swimming in a sea of green. It was stunning!
It was so beautiful that we stopped for several minutes just to breathe in the calm and serenity the place offered. So often I live my life rushing from one thing to the next. These rides the past few weeks with the ranch owner have forced me to take a breath, let it out, and just be.
Who knew that a lack of dust could bring so much peace?
Over the weekend, Speedy got to do what Speedy likes to do best, trail ride! That boy thinks he's King of the Road especially when he gets to go with one of the mares. For this ride, we went with the ranch owner and her mare All In, Alli for short.
While we can ride through the neighborhood, we prefer the route though the old golf course and cherry orchard. For the first loop we rode along the golf course, but then we made the circle again, this time cutting through the orchard. Once we got back to the ranch, we also circled down along the river where we let the horses graze for a bit.
I used the Equilab app because it's fun to see the route, but I also love all of the other features. The app tracks all kinds of things about your ride. For this ride, we walked for 30 minutes with 1 minute of trotting. And despite feeling like we rode a fair amount, the loop was only 1.9 miles.
One of my favorite features of the app is that tracks turns which is really helpful in the arena. I like to make sure I am working both directions equally. Out on the trail, there weren't many turns, but it looks like we turned left slightly more often which would be accurate as we rode the loop counter clockwise.
Speedy doesn't need to be ridden very often, especially if it's in the arena, but trail rides are actually great for him, and in his opinion, the more the better.
I hear you, dude! Trail rides are fun.
In the eight or nine years that I've owned Izzy, I've yet to come off him while he was still vertical. That doesn't mean we haven't had a spill because we have, twice, and one of them happened on Monday. Seven or eight years ago, we were cantering. He lost his balance and did a mini somersault spilling us both to the ground. I was unhurt, but he came up sore.
It was close to 100 degrees on Monday, and I was not up to doing any real work, so I opted for a short trail ride. I chose a route that Speedy enjoys even though I knew it might challenge Izzy a bit. You can see from the map that there is nothing inherently tricky about the loop. I follow an unpaved road until I cross the old golf course, then circle counter clockwise through a cherry orchard, and then meander along the river until I cut through a hedge to get back to the barn.
Izzy was being his regular tense and high headed self. He simply can't just mosey along. No matter how many trail rides we've done, his default is still to be high headed and on alert. He is certain dragons are going to swoop out of the sky and cart him off for dinner. I manage him though and we always get home safely. In the photo above, you can see where the Kern River normally is. That's not where it is right now. The river is creeping up closer and closer to the row of houses that dot the landscape above the river.
As we headed toward home, the lower half of the blue-green line, I rode across the neighbor's lawn, almost at his back door because his lawn was saturated with water. Without being able to follow my regular route which tracks closer to the river, I had to find a way around the next house that didn't have me traipsing across his lawn. I saw a small ditch filled with dead foxtails. I paused on the berm as I looked both left and right for the best path to get back on the dirt road.
I turned Izzy to the left and asked him to step forward. Without hesitating, he stepped down into the ditch and quickly sank to his belly in quicksand. He heaved and lunged as he tried to pull himself out, but with my weight on his back, he wasn't going anywhere safely. I quickly stepped out of the saddle and backed up onto the hard packed road. I tugged on the reins to turn Izzy's head my way and encouraged him to push out. He gave a massive grunt and leaped beside me.
He was pretty rattled but otherwise fine. I gave him a quick going over making sure that he was uninjured and that his shoes were still attached. I dusted both of us off - we were both covered in sand, and led him over to a tractor that I used as a mounting block. After patting his neck for a bit, he sidled up next to the tractor and let me get back on. We headed back home where he was quite relieved to get a cool shower and a chance to graze on the lawn.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I kept my wits about me. Surprisingly, this was not my first encounter with quicksand. It wasn't even my second (or third). Living on a river that rises and falls depending on rain or snow melt means that there are frequently boggy or deep sandy spots like the one I stumbled into. The quicksand we found was very dry on top, but I think that deep down the water table has risen so high that it is seeping up towards the surface.
After I untacked Izzy, I gave myself a quick check and discovered sand deep in my boots, down in my sports bra, and even in my ears. I don't think I actually hit the ground as I was mounted the whole time, but I think when Izzy dropped so suddenly through the surface of the sand, we both scooped up a lot of dirt. It was definitely not the ride I was expecting, but I was really pleased with how trusting Izzy was. That is one thing I love about this horse. When he's in trouble, he always waits for a human to help him out.
I am glad he trusts me, but he might really hate trail rides now.
It has been a hot minute since I've ridden Speedy in a saddle. I don't ride him very much anymore, but it had been a month since anyone had come for a lesson, and Speedy was beginning to feel rather put out. On Saturday, I saddled up and hit the trail.
Before tacking up though, I took some time to give Speedy a thorough grooming, which he enjoyed immensely. I scrubbed at the gelding crud that has built up on his hind legs, and I Tiger Tongued his face as he groaned in pleasure. If you've never used one of those Tiger Tongues, get one; your horse will thank you! I also used my Grooming Gloves which pulled off tons of dirt and hair. I also banged his tail and gave it a good conditioning. By the time I was finished, Speedy was looking quite fancy and nowhere near 19 years old.
I decided to head out to the river and check out how deep it is downstream a ways. I was shocked when I came out of the cherry orchard and actually saw the river. Normally, I have to ride almost up to it before I can see it lazily trickling by. It is so far up and out of its bank that it is covering that neighbor's lawn, paved road, and walkways. In fact, at one place behind me in the photo above, I had to ride much closer to the house than I ever have before because the river has saturated the ground so throughly that it is rising up through the lawn.
As I was forced to ride further and further from my usual track along the river's edge, I brought Speedy to a complete halt when I saw that my path down the whoop-de-do was completely filled in with water. I didn't have to tell Speedy twice, he happily turned away from the bog. We followed the channel back towards the barn. There is an old bridge that I used to cross many years ago, but it eventually became unsafe. For the first time, there is now water under that bridge. I bet there hasn't been water there in 40 years.
The ranch owner has already moved this year's hay to the top of the property. The neighbor that I stopped and chatted with was in the process of seeing what machinery he could relocate. I was riding on his property, so I stopped to let him know what was going on at the ranch where my boys live. Many of the neighbors who live along the river are getting pretty worried. As the massive snowpack begins to melt in the Sierras, the river is definitely going to get deeper and much wider. For now, all we can do is wait.
Let's hope for a cooler than normal summer.
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
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: