From Endurance to Dressage
One sign that always lets me know that I am back to normal is when the need to tidy up takes over. Cleaning my physical world also sorts out my mental junk. It's a great system as I get a two-for-one for my effort: my physical world looks better, and I get a clear head.
Over the weekend, I had two very good rides on Izzy, so when my schedule fell apart on Monday afternoon, I didn't feel bad about not riding. I could have squeezed in a ride, but I didn't feel the need. Instead, I looked around at my side of the tack room and realized I couldn't do one more thing until it was sorted out.
For several months I've been looking at the jumble of tipped over, cracked, or near empty bottles occupying space in my life. I've also been ignoring the old broken reins, unused halters, left over show numbers, and bit and pieces of actual trash. Once I started throwing things out, I couldn't stop.
For every old and dried out thing I tossed, I felt my shoulders lift and my mental load lighten. Within just a few minutes of purging, I was motived and inspired. I cleaned both everyday bridles and gave my old saddle a good wipe down and a coat of conditioner. Speedy's ladies probably won't notice, but it made me feel better. When I finally stopped to take a breath, I realized the sun was going down, and I still needed to give both boys their buckets. With my physical space cleaned and organized, my heart was joyful.
A life without joy is pretty dreary. Find your joy!
Finding your joy can mean keeping busy. When I first realized I was a bit like Peter Pan without a shadow, I gave myself permission to both stop riding every single day and not feel guilty about it. As my husband asked, what would I do instead? At first, I gave myself the opportunity to catch my breath and do a bit of vegging. That didn't last long though. By nature I'm not one who can sit around and relax for long, so I started to fill my days with a lot of other projects and activities.
Tomorrow morning I am headed down to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center (LAEC) for the new test symposium being put on at the California Dressage Society's Annual Meeting. I'll be meeting my good friend Jen. Neither of us care much about the symposium itself - it's not like my test scores are going to go up by attending, but it's a great reason to spend a day with a friend.
Since I'll be gone all day Saturday, I had to do my monthly feed store run yesterday. I might have been able to wait until Monday, but I had a tele-visit appointment yesterday which meant I didn't have time to ride anyway, the feed store is closed on Sundays, Monday is a holiday, and neither of my horses are too happy with me if I run out, so yesterday was the day.
Since our daylight hours are short, before unloading all of the feed bags, I had to assess Speedy's poulticed foot. He's feeling much better, but he's still a little off. I couldn't get a reaction with the hoof testers, but I replaced the Numotizine poultice anyway. At this point, the abscess will slowly leech out which is a pain, but it should resolve over the next few days.
Knowing that Speedy hasn't been moving around much - he detests the mud, I turned him loose in the yard while I unloaded the feedbags. I rolled my eyes in exasperation when I heard him go flying by - at a gallop. Repeatedly. Sheesh. He's sore, but he's not that sore. Check out that extended trot!
All of Speedy's gallivanting around riled Izzy up who also hasn't done a lot with the heavy rain we've had. As Speedy flew by, I glance through the feed room window and caught Izzy doing some pretty spectacular airs above the ground. Thank you, sir, no chiropractic visit needed for you. He was doing some pretty impressive back cracking bucks, something I rarely see him do.
Once both boys were tucked back into their paddocks with their buckets of feed, I closed up the feed room and walked over to my truck. Before I climbed in though, I glanced over at Izzy's pen to be sure he was eating and caught a view of the sky on fire.
I realized I no longer felt empty; my heart was filled with happiness and a sense of deep satisfaction.
In my quest to find my joy, I have turned my focus outward by looking for ways to connect with other people. For this past two months or so, that has meant giving gifts to strangers, volunteering, and doing things outside of my safe, but unrewarding comfort zone. To end my two weeks off for winter break, I went trail riding with my friend Marci, the endurance rider.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, she and I rode together every weekend for more than a decade. Almost two decades, actually. While I left the sport of endurance riding for dressage, she kept right on without missing a beat. She has a two-day endurance ride this weekend - two 50-milers back to back, so she was delighted to have a riding partner who could mostly keep up.
When I reached out to Marci to see if I could tag along for one of her conditioning rides, I told her we could safely do 12 - 15 miles. My goal was to get Izzy sufficiently tired so that he would relax enough to trot forward with a longer stride. Marci was on board. She has a pretty regular route that she follows on Fridays, but it can easily be shortened or lengthen depending on her current race schedule.
I trailered over to her place, a short ten minute drive, and tacked up. We headed out from her house to the trail head which is just a short walk through her gated neighborhood. I told her that I was following her pace. I knew Izzy would have trouble matching Gem's endurance trot because when we had ridden together this past summer, I had had to ask Marci to slow down a bit as Izzy just couldn't match Gem's stride. My plan was to get in two point, grab some of Izzy's mohawk of a mane, and let him sort out his own feet. I was expecting a pretty rough ride.
We spent some time walking to let the horses stretch and warm up, but once we reached the bluffs, we picked up a trot. The Panorama Bluffs are pretty vertical, but over the decades, people, dogs, and horses have carved out a series of crisscrossing trails. Some of the trails are nearly two track, but others are very narrow or steep. Back in my endurance days, I trotted all of the trails and never once felt nervous. Back in those days I was on horses with a lot of trail experience. I was also a lot younger and more confident.
When we got to that one spot, the spot that's a bit dicier than the others, I eyeballed it, looked at who I was riding, and said nope. Marci looked at me in surprise. In the 25 years she has known me, I've never said no. It wasn't a hard no; it was an I'm getting off to lead him no. It was just too steep, too narrow, too rocky, and too loose for me to feel comfortable. As it was, he took a few scrambling steps off the edge and knocked me over in his haste to get back on the trail. On the way back - yes, we had to do it again, I rode down the first part, but hopped off and lead him back up to the top. This time, I slipped and fell and he squashed my foot. It was a good thing I was wearing really sturdy boots. Once that was over with, I climbed back on and everything else was a lot less scary.
The rest of the ride was about getting as many trotting miles done as possible. I was using my Under Armour "Map My Run" app, and Marci was using her GPS watch, so we paused here and there along the trail to check the pace and overall miles ridden. For the most part, we kept to a 4.3 mile an hour pace over the 14 miles we rode. That meant while walking, we were doing a 3 mile an hour pace, but while trotting, we were moving right along at 7 miles per hour or more.
For the first 7 or 8 miles, Izzy was a bit of a jerk. He just wouldn't stay off of Gem's butt or shoulder. Poor Gem swished his tail, gave us a a glare, and pinned his ears to tell Izzy to get the hell off his ass. At one point, I had to jerk the crap out of Izzy which caused Gem to have a bit of melt down. I couldn't blame Gem for the theatrics though, he had had enough of Izzy's riding rough shod over him. After that, Marci hung back in the rear in an effort to get out of the big brown horse's path of destruction. I was horribly embarrassed and ready to really beat the crap out of him.
I actually did give half a dozen jerks on his mouth and told him very loudly to KNOCK IT OFF! Surprisingly, that did the trick. From that point on he started to focus more on where his feet were going rather than running Gem off the road. While we've ridden these trails many times before, Marci took us through quite a few twists and turns, doubling back and circling around so that we always faced something new. We stepped over logs, plodded through soggy plants, crossed the river, did a rocky climb, deep sand, and long stretches of trotting.
About half way through the ride, I started to feel disappointed. I had wanted to move out pretty fast, but not once did I have to ask Marci to slow down. When I told her that I thought we would be moving faster, she laughed. She said that we were doing her regular pace. She hadn't slowed down for me. If anything, Izzy kept going faster than we needed to be going. I realized that in the past six months, our work with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has accomplished much more than I had realized.
Without me realizing it, Izzy has developed more power and a longer stride. He easily kept up with Gem's ground covering stride, and there was even a whole other gear available when I asked. In fact, he had quite a few gears ranging from a very collected trot to a let's be careful here trot, to an endurance trot, all the way to a let's really boogie trot. After months of feeling so dejected about our lack of progress, my heart swelled with happiness when I realized we have been improving even though I hadn't seen it.
Once we hit the 10 mile mark, Izzy really started to relax. In fact, he started asking to walk. I burst out laughing. Too bad, so sad, don't be mad is what I told him. This is what happens when our life choices are questionable. When one burns up all of his energy by being a jerk, one becomes tired sooner. A small, 20% of me felt bad, but the other 80% knew that tired horses learn pretty quickly. For the next 4 miles, Izzy began stretching forward and down. All endurance horses go through that. They also learn to conserve their energy because they know they're going to be out there for a while. Wet saddle blankets fix a lot of bad behavior.
While Izzy was getting tired, he still trotted out strong. I wasn't at all worried about him. A good test for whether or not your horse is good to continue is whether he is EDPP, eating, drinking, peeing, pooping. A horse that is sound and doing those four things isn't going to die. When we got back home, he trotted over to his sandy spot, rolled vigorously, slurped up his soaked beet pulp, and then took a very long nap in the corner.
While the ride with Marci was mostly about finding my joy, it also served to teach Izzy that he can indeed relax. I've spent the last 6 weeks working to refill my very empty cup. I am still reevaluating how much I want to show this year, if at all, but one thing is certain, I am finally having some fun riding my horse. I really needed to get out of the arena, do something other than shoulder-in and lead changes.
Sometimes joy can be found by picking up the pace and riding a few extra miles.
I am really excited about this next find your joy project!
Here in Bakersfield, we are lucky to have some unique and specialized programs. M.A.R.E., Mastering Abilities Riding Equines is just one of them. "M.A.R.E. is a 501(c)3 that provides equine-assisted therapies and activities for children, adults & veterans living with special needs and disabilities. [...] M.A.R.E. is currently a member center in good standing with PATH Int’l (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). M.A.R.E. adheres to PATH Int’l therapeutic riding center accreditation safety standards and proudly employs PATH Int’l certified therapeutic riding instructors."* M.A.R.E. was founded in 1990 and continues to grow and expand.
I am not sure when I first learned about M.A.R.E., but it was probably in the late 1990s. Even back then I was excited about the program and wanted to find a way to volunteer. Unfortunately, I was always too busy with work and riding my own horses. In Late November, I was at a neighborhood pop-up event, one of those events that feature local artisans selling their wares from small pop-up tents. As I was browsing one such tent, the vendor remarked on my travel mug. It features the evolution of a Neanderthal to a dressage rider and bears the logo, "born to ride." I asked if she were a rider herself, and she replied that she is the executive director of M.A.R.E.
You know horse people. Before too long we were finding friends in common. Eventually, I admitted that I have wanted to be a volunteer for a very long time. Once she heard that I am not only experienced with horses but an elementary school teacher as well, she urged me to volunteer assuring me that they had need of my particular scombination of skills. I thought about it for a week or two and decided that it was time for me to think less about me and more about helping others. There is no doubt in my mind that I was led by a higher power to visit that pop-up event. The Divine was certainly giving me a shove toward a path intended to help me find my joy.
After several emails back and forth, I was able to give M.A.R.E.'s Volunteer Coordinator a schedule that I thought would work for me. This past Saturday, I met her and another potential volunteer at the M.A.R.E. facility for a training session. In some ways it was what I expected - here is how we care for our horses, here is how we keep everyone safe, and here is what we expect from our volunteers. Most of that part was easy to follow. The safety of humans and horses is a high priority for me already, so the trainer didn't show me anything that I didn't already know about horse handling.
What was new were the specifics of the jobs I was being trained for. Like most equine therapy programs, there is a horse handler and side walkers, people stationed on the ground next to the rider serving as safety restraints and the instructors hands when needed. For our training session, George was tacked up with a western pad and a surcingle with handles, much like what vaulters use. The other volunteer and I took turns as both horse handler and side walker.
The horse handler's job is to control the horse while also ensuring that the two side walkers have enough room against the arena fence and around barrels and other obstacles. I obviously know how to lead a horse, but making sure there is clearance for the horse and the off side side walker took me a minute to adjust to.
The side walker's job is to maintain a grip on the saddle or surcingle while putting sufficient pressure against the rider's thigh to provide support and stability. This was hard. We didn't have a rider, but even so, keeping steady pressure against the saddle paddle while walking alongside a horse who isn't moving on a steady track meant coordinating my own feet and arms so that I didn't let loose of my "rider," get stepped on, or trip over my own feet.
Each volunteer is given a name tag with a set of icons below the volunteer's name. When we returned our name tags at the end of the training, we were told that the icons would be colored in indicating our level of clearance - which jobs we were eligible to perform. Before arriving for the training, I was highly confident that I could easily do any job that the center had. I am an experienced horse owner and a teacher of children; how much more qualified could I be? I didn't fully comprehend that the training was also a type of job interview. the coordinator was judging our fitness for each job.
As I drove away, I worried that all of my questions might have left a bad impression. I made it clear that I am happy to do any job including sweeping, cleaning stalls, or disinfecting tack, but the truth is that I really want to work with the kids. Both horse handler and side walker require experience with horses, so I am pretty sure that's the job I will be given.
Today will be my first day as a volunteer. I will be volunteering every Wednesday from 3:30 - 6:00. A massive covered arena has just been installed at the facility, but there is still work to be done. A perimeter fence has to be built, and the footing needs to be leveled and worked. For the first few weeks, I will be assisting with barn lessons. This is to be an opportunity for the volunteers to get to know the kids as they are working on grooming and other activities around the barn.
I am both excited and nervous. I am looking forward to this opportunity to serve, but I am also worried that I won't be good enough to truly be of use. I keep reminding myself that God wouldn't have put this opportunity in front of me if He didn't think it was something I needed.
I will be sure to let you know how it goes.
I had the last two weeks off, and I was busy! Normally, I ride every day of my winter break. Not so this year. First, it rained more than normal. Second, I've been working on finding my joy which meant allowing myself to do things other than riding - I saw Avatar, flew north to visit family, and amongst other things, hung out with my husband. I'm feeling very full of joy these past few days and can't wait to share why!
First, of course, would be that I only rode on the days that I wanted to rather than feeling like I had to. The rainy weather helped with that. As soon as I let go of the feeling that I had to ride, my chest opened up, and I could finally take a deep breath. Along with being able to breathe, Izzy's attitude changed from What the hell, dude? to Whatever, dude. This horse is so, so temperamental that he feels my emotional attitude no matter how hard I try to hide it.
With half the arena under water, I was hesitant to ride my fresh and somewhat belligerent Big Brown Horse anywhere close to mud. Despite the puddles, our footing is quite firm, so I wasn't really worried about him slipping and falling. Instead, I was more worried about coming off and landing in the mud. After I gave Brooke a lesson though, Speedy left an easy-to-follow track in the sand. I put Izzy on the circle and stayed on the circle. In no time at all, he adopted a pony ride attitude and pretty much steered himself around the track.
I am not sure why that worked to smooth off his rough edges, but it gave me the opportunity to work on softening his neck and back. I did a ton of walk-trot transitions, and when I realized he was willing to follow the path that Speedy had laid out, I stepped it up a notch and did trot-canter transitions. While our footing is firm, it is still mud, and I think Izzy knew it. He hasn't put a foot out of place for the two weeks I have had to limit our work to that one circle.
"J," Speedy's other rider, shared a really well written post on Facebook that resonated deeply with me. The post included this line, "Rome wasn't built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour...You don't have to build everything you want today - just lay a brick." The author went on to explain that if we lay a brick every day for a year, we will build an incredible foundation. And if we continue to lay down bricks day by day, that foundation becomes even more solid and begins to form walls.
As I rode over these past two weeks, I kept the idea of just lay a brick in my mind. While I've only ever laid bricks for a retaining wall, I do remember that it was pretty slow and boring work. It was only after hours of effort when we stood back to admire the wall we were building that we became excited about the project. I've been pretty frustrated with the seemingly slow progress Izzy and I have been making. When I think about my rides as laying bricks though, it makes those boring and tedious rides feel so much more valuable. Without a solid foundation, we'll never be successful. The only thing to do is trust the plan and continue to lay those bricks.
Besides riding only when I felt like it, I did some other things to find my joy. I'll share those over the rest of the week. To be continued ...
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%: