From Endurance to Dressage
I rarely click "share" when I see my Facebook memories. I enjoy that feature of Facebook, but most of the time I simply smile or elbow my husband as I say, "remember this?" But yesterday, I must have been feeling a bit nostalgic as I shared this memory.
I totally dug endurance riding; every race was an adventure. Endurance races weren't just about the miles though. It was setting up camp, the group conversation while vetting in, the Friday night rider meeting, the mass of horses at the start, and of course rehashing ever step of the trail during the awards dinner. We were immersed in the race from Friday morning all the way until we unloaded our horses at home on Sunday evening.
It wasn't all great though which is why I segued into something else, dressage as it so happens. I thought I would be a lifer, someone who never leaves the sport, but I wasn't. A great friend of mine has been competing for decades and has no plans on quitting. She's got my respect for sure.
While I have fond memories of trotting down the trail, I don't miss it. Dressage shows have filled the gap nicely. I still get to camp with my horse, and while it's not basecamp, the little niche we set up in front of our stalls - supplied with a cooler, chairs, and tables, creates an intimate space for visiting with friends. We still have great conversations, but instead of rehashing every mile of the trail, we dissect every movement and score earned.
I traded one detail-oriented sport for another. While dressage will leave you cleaner at the end of the day, it still takes a deep commitment, planning, and good old-fashioned grit. It was a good trade.
In my circle of friends, the dressage at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) was the big draw. I had several friends who managed to fly out to North Carolina for the event. While I love catching the occasional dressage tests on TV, I am not one for live streaming. I am just too busy doing other stuff to watch.
Instead of watching, I read about the USA's silver medal and that the Freestyle was rescheduled (and then cancelled). More than all of that though, I was pretty shocked at the endurance news. What a disaster that turned out to be.
There were a few things about that 160 km (99.4 miles) race that raised my eyebrows. The first eye-rolling blooper was that many riders were sent off course. Speaking from a lot of years of experience, going off course is a rider's worst nightmare, especially while doing a hundred mile event.
When a horse and rider team start their distance at the crack of dawn, the rider is doing her best to focus on the course that has been laid out. Management has gone over the course the night before, and every turn is usually marked to help riders and horses navigate the hundred miles that lay before them. Going off course means that your horse has to travel even farther than planned. Realizing that you've gone off course for even a mile can wrack a rider with guilt.
In all the years that I competed, I only went off course a few times, and only once did a volunteer misdirect the riders. It created a massive backlog on the trail as riders realized that the volunteer was in error, but since the trail was so narrow, no one could turn around as more and more riders were being sent behind us. Later in the day, management corrected the error by shortening a later loop. I would have expected better of the staff at the WEG.
Cancelling the race after riders had completed more than two-thirds of the course is also shocking. The FEI cited weather as the reason. Every endurance rider in the world, especially those competing at the FEI level at WEG, are more than familiar with races that happen during bad weather. Every endurance rider on the planet has competed under less than ideal weather conditions. The sport is called Endurance for a reason.
During my 16 years as an endurance rider, I competed in all sorts of less than ideal weather. There were rides where the wind blew so strongly in the horses' faces that you could feel them being lifted off their front feet. We rode in blinding sleet, scorching heat, and humidity that was so high that water dripped off our tack and helmets. We always knew the weather was going to be a factor. The competitors at this year's WEG knew it too.
FEI officials claimed that the race was stopped because too many horses needed treatment because of the weather. That may well be true, but there were many other horse and rider teams who were successfully passing each and every vet check - horse and rider teams that were either better prepared or better managing their race. Penalizing them for the ineptitude or bad luck of others goes against the whole idea of competition.
Do I feel sorry for the New Zealand horse who had to be euthanized for kidney damage? Of course, but that doesn't mean the entire race should have been cancelled while horses were still on course, still going strong.
I am more than a bit disappointed in the FEI, and I can guarantee that those riders who took excellent care of their horses are more than a little disappointed too.
Oh, how quickly they forget, and when I say "they" I mean me. Endurance riders learn early on that all tack and gear must serve a very real purpose. Nothing is worn simply because it looks good. The distances traveled - 50 to 100 miles in a single day, are just too long to have unnecessary tack or gear weighing you down.
Last weekend, I did an hour and a half trail ride with a group of friends. As I was packing my gear into the trailer, I grabbed everything that I normally use: saddle, pad, girth, bridle, helmet, gloves, and leg boots. And that's where I made my mistake.
When I untacked Speedy at the end of the ride, I groaned. His fleece boots were completely covered with embedded foxtails. That's when I remembered that endurance riders don't use fleece below the belly; no fleece on bell boots and no fleece on leg boots.
I spent a solid 30 minutes picking those little boogers out muttering under my breath the entire time.
And since I am so out of practice, I'll probably make the same rookie mistake next year!
I am a glass half full kind of person. I always look for the good in a situation, but that doesn't mean I don't feel the same kind of frustrations and disappointments that everyone else deals with. Lately, I've been feeling as though I am going to be stuck at Intro Level with Izzy forever.
This is actually quite humorous as I said those exact same words several years ago in regards to Speedy G. I said those same words again at Training Level, and I feel the same way at First Level as we're trying to move on to Second.
It's hard to feel progress when it's slow or when you're starting yet another horse. This idea of "spinning my wheels" and "getting nowhere" made me think about my years as an endurance rider...
If you don't know much about endurance racing, the first thing you should know is that it is probably the hardest thing you can do with a horse. Not only does the horse need to be super fit, but so does the rider. Once the horse is fit, keeping her sound and healthy is truly the hardest part.
You've probably heard people say, "My horse would have been great at endurance racing. He has so much energy; he never gets tired." Don't believe it. Being energetic is only a small part of an endurance horse's job. Endurance racing takes a very special kind of horse, and they're really hard to come by. Finding a great endurance horse is like trying to find your next Grand Prix horse. How do you know you have one until you put in years of hard work?
What generally happens in the sport of endurance is that you start out with whatever horse you have. I was lucky. I had an Arab already when I first started out in the mid-90s. But like most everyone else, after ten or so 50-milers, it turned out that the sport was a bit too tough for her, so I moved her on as a solid family horse.
Most riders share this experience. A lot of horses get started in the sport, but not many make it. Sometimes it's because of their brains - they can't cope with vet checks, horses passing them, leaving their buddies, or being on the trail for 24 hours. Just as often, it's because their bodies can't do it. Endurance racing/riding is hard on joints and soft tissue.
When Sassy couldn't make it, I started over with another horse. This time, I picked an Arabian that had been scouted out by a local endurance trainer as one with potential. I got really lucky. I ended up with a "Grand Prix" horse, but it took a lot of time to get her there. She had been started as a youngster and then put out to pasture until I bought her as a nine year old. Sounds a bit like Izzy's start, huh?
I first worked on helping her become a riding horse. Then she had to learn how to travel, stand tied over-night at the trailer, go through vet checks, and on and on. All the while, I also had to build her fitness level. Ultimately, she competed in hundred mile races and multi-days (50 miles a day for days in a row).
As my super-star began to age, I bought another horse as a back up. Once again, I started over. Mickey wasn't broke to ride at all. In fact, he was barely halter broke. I had to teach him everything. I competed on him for six years until he too started to have soundness issues. Montoya just kept going.
So I started over, again. I bought Speedy G, another Arab who had also been scouted out by an endurance trainer. Each time I started a new horse, I had to go through all of the same steps. They each had to become safe trail horses, learn to deal with the pressure of hauling and standing over-night at the trailer, and then they had to become fit enough for at least 50 miles in a single day. The process took years.
Why was I so incredibly patient as an endurance rider, yet as a dressage rider, I am expecting a Grand Prix horse in just a year? Pretty unrealistic when you think about it. I really need to cut Izzy some slack, Speedy too.
Starting a barely green broke horse in the sport of dressage is pretty similar to starting an endurance horse. It's going to take years to get Izzy where I want him, and that really should be okay. Like I said the other day, it's all about perspective, mine in particular.
I keep reminding myself that we are making progress. It's just slow and steady, just like it would be if I was building my next 100-mile horse. From endurance to dressage - it all takes time.
It's been a while since I shared one of these so I thought I'd toss another one out there. When I look at the date, 2002, I shake my head in astonishment. Where does the time go?
I actually like this photo. What I like is how "racey" we look. You can easily tell that Montoya is all business, and I am letting her do her job with as little interference as possible. I love how far she is reaching with the left front and how far back she has that left hind stretched. When it comes forward we're going to cover a lot of ground!
I've shared before that technical trail brought out the best in my partner. The Eastern High Sierra Classic 50-miler has some very technical and dicey trail. Montoya shone at this type of work. It kept her brain engaged and she thrived on the challenges the trail gave her.
We finished this race 34th out of 67 riders. Our ride time was 8 hours and 14 minutes.
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