From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy's been a tough nut to crack; we all know this. One minute he can be offering flying changes, a lovely uphill canter, or even a trot half pass.
In the very next minute, he can't make a left hand turn without ripping off my arms and nearly bashing me in the face.
With Speedy being so intent on injuring every part of his body, I decided that Izzy has got to start earning his keep. When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, pulled into the ranch for Sunday's lesson, I let her know that Izzy needs to step up his game.
We discussed what he can do: half pass - sort of, flying changes when I ask - sometimes, walk to canter to walk - also sometimes, stretchy trot circle - actually better than Speedy ever did, a decent trot to canter transition, counter canter, and he's sometimes straight. Give all of that a good shake, and then roll the dice to see what turns up. We decided to call him a First Level horse - in training. It's been more than a year since I've ridden a First Level test, so Chemaine had to remind me what we'll need to work on.
Now that I can get Izzy in front of my leg - most of the time, it's time to start playing around with adjusting his stride. That's where we started. Chemaine had me do a bunch of transitions within the gait. Nothing wild or crazily new in that concept, unless you're a big brown horse who hasn't been able to lengthen his stride at all. I think Chemaine was a bit surprised at how easily he offered a longer stride.
And then since I can, one more of that baby lengthening of stride.
We also played around with the leg yield. Since Izzy moves laterally so easily, unlike the Speedy pony, it's more about keeping all of his parts in line without letting the shoulders lead too much while leaving the haunches behind.
The biggest First Level movement we'll have trouble with is the canter to trot transition at X, and later, the canter to trot to canter transition at X. Damn X anyway. Once Izzy starts cantering, he just can't stop. Especially if we cross the diagonal. All he sees is more real estate to cover. And in his opinion, the faster the better.
According to Izzy, trotting in the middle of a good long run seems like a dumb idea. He would much rather keep on cantering and turn it into a counter canter; that he understands. In fact, once this horse canters, it's really hard to get him to stop.
As much as I'd love to just write my own test - A enter cantering, X continue to canter, C track left still cantering, E canter left 20 meters, K-A-F canter, F-X-H change rein, C counter canter ... USEF won't let me. So for now, Izzy has to learn to do that transition without me needing to haul back on the reins to half halt his freight train of a canter.
Always one to think on her feet, Chemaine offered two different tools to keep Izzy on my aids. The first was to think shoulder fore as we canter through the corner, heading for X. This will keep him on my outside rein as I ask for the transition to trot.
When that doesn't work, and you knew it wouldn't be that easy, Chemaine said, "If he falls off your outside rein right away, canter a 10-meter circle." And the beauty of that exercise is that there are a lot of 10-meter circles as you cross the diagonal.
Eventually, we got a few good canter to trot transitions across the diagonal. I love having a plan, so focusing on the movements at First Level with an eye to finally, finally getting this horse into a show ring only increases my motivation.
Here's a short video of that exercise.
One of the things that I love most about Chemaine is that she is never out of ideas. She works the horse and rider that show up for that day's lesson. It's a good thing because next week, Izzy might show up acting more like an Intro Level horse!
If we fizzled on Test 2, I am not even sure a match was struck for Test3. I haven't had a score this low in quite some time (61.029%). But like I said yesterday, this ride didn't feel any different from the tests I've ridden all summer. The judge simply marked it how he saw it.
The real bummer is that I had a videographer all lined up, but when I found out that she takes lovely still shots, I ditched my iphone and let her use her lovely camera. I just assumed that the ride would look pretty similar to every other test I've ridden this year, so why record it?
As I looked through some of her pictures, I could definitely see that my position was wonky (The Lean), but Speedy looked pretty nice. Now I wish that I would have had her take video so that I could check the video against the scores.
These scores are not what I've seen in a while. Six scores in the 5 range? I didn't feel it, but that doesn't mean it wasn't so.
Not that it explains everything, but it was hot. I've already said that keeping Speedy in front of my leg on hot days is a new goal. Good thing we have like a million more hot days coming because I have lots of time to work on it!
I guess the one thing that we did do right was our halts. We earned a 7.5, 7.0, 7.0 (scored with a right and left turn between the two 10-meter trot circles), 6.0, and a whopper of an 8.0! I don't know which one is pictured up above, but we had some problems earlier this year with fidgety halts, so I am happy that we at least improved in that area.
In the end, I met at least some of my goals for the year. We placed well at RAAC (Reserve Champion), we earned 13 scores of 60% or higher for my CDS Plaque (no scores below 60%), we earned AA high score at two shows, and we were quite competitive within my CDS chapter. I don't know who won AA high point for the season, but I know I was close.
Overall, I had fun this season, and I am looking forward to slogging it out at Second Level!
Sometimes I win, but usually I don't. I am okay with that. Yes, I like to win, but it's more important to me that I do well and have a good time. (Says every loser - just kidding!) The reality is that there is always going to be someone with a better horse or someone who is simply a better rider. Usually the latter. It's hard to beat Speedy's awesomeness.
My plan was to finish First Level with some sparkle and a little woot woot. Instead, we finished First Level with a bit of a dud. Rather than the mid-60 score I was shooting for, like I earned at RAAC, we earned an unremarkable 62.969% on Test 2. Not worth crying over, but it's certainly not a score to bring down the house either.
When I looked up this judge's average First Level scores on Dressage Detective, I saw that they were at 63.468%. The average that he gave at this show, combining all tests at the level, was 63.820%. Based on my score alone, I rode within half of a percent of what he typically gives a First Level Test. I'll leave the interpretation to you.
I felt like the test started a bit wonky (he gave me a 7.5?????), but after that, I actually liked the test and felt that I rode it as a thinking rider as opposed to reacting after the fact. While the judge didn't mention curling, I am sure there was some, he nailed me on my recent tendency to hunch my shoulders. "Sit tall, avoid tipping." I don't know where that is coming from, but it needs to stop. Right now.
Although in all honesty, I think I do know where it's coming from. All season it has been blistering hot for every show. Speedy has had NO ENERGY, so I found myself squeezing and kicking the heck out of him which is what is causing The Lean. This is something I need to address in our next lesson.
As I looked over my score sheet, I just felt like the judging was ... different from what I've seen all season. My scores have been pretty consistent all year. Where I've had 6s, I've been able to improve to 6.5s and even 7.0s. All of the judges that I've ridden for have called me on the same issues and scored me pretty consistently. This judge didn't. His comments were of a whole different variety.
I am not saying that's a bad thing, but I am keeping the scores in perspective. They are simply this judge's impression on a single day.
I haven't seen 5.0s like that in a while, but I am sure I'll be seeing plenty more of them as we move on to Second Level.
While there are a few disappointing numbers in there, the judge also rewarded what he liked. That smattering of 7.0s is much appreciated.
His final comment, "Horse should be more engaged and balanced in his work" strikes me as more of a Second Level comment, but since that's where I am headed, it's probably accurate.
One last thought before I go. Do you remember that one of my goals was to (maybe) win my CDS Chapter's AA season high point? I am pretty sure I missed the mark, but not by much! According to my (sketchy) calculations, I finished in a very close third place. I think the top scores will end up being 66.93%, 66.40%, 65.26% (that's me), and 64.59%. But who knows, I could be way, way off in my calculations. I am just happy to be somewhere in the ball park.
More "First Level Fizzle" tomorrow!
Now that the RAAC is over, I have one more show for the 2017 season, the final Tehachapi show. It's this weekend. We're doing First Level one more time in hopes of maybe eking out the highest overall average score for the adult amateur division. There's a $100 prize and certificate at stake, so it's worth aiming for. The competition is stiff however, and I think I am only in third place at the moment. Win or lose, I hope it's the last First Level test I ride.
The problem with moving up a level is that Speedy and I have been poised on that brink before only to step back down. When we wanted to move from Intro to Training Level, USEF radially changed the tests so that the Training Level stuff got moved down into Intro. That meant that we stayed at Intro for another year.
When we finally moved to Training Level, we did well enough the first season, but our scores were in the bottom 60s, and I knew we weren't ready for First Level. The second year we did Training Level, we finished with scores in the high 60s and low 70s. We moved to First Level.
Our first season at First Level went okay. We started with scores in the high 50s and low 60s, and ended with some solid mid-60 scores. I was hopeful that we could move on to Second Level in the spring, but over the winter, Speedy kept coming up lame. It was so intermittent that I couldn't keep him in regular work. Then, in the spring, he suffered some tendonitis brought on during turnout, and I gave up any plans of showing him for the rest of the year.
This winter, Speedy's lamenesses resolved themselves. The tendonitis had long ago healed with no issues, and the night time turn out took care of the whirling and pacing that was causing him to be sore on the right front. We started at First Level again.
And now, here we are staring down Second Level. I think we're ready. Our scores are solidly in the mid-60s, and it feels as though we're pretty confirmed at the level. I just don't think there is anything more to be learned by hanging out at First again.
I am pretty sure US Equestrian isn't going to surprise us with new tests, the current ones are good through November of 2018, so it's simply up to Speedy to stay sound and healthy.
As I was looking over the shows that start the 2018 season, which begins in October, I saw two different shows that looked great for first timers. The first is in Fresno. It's a two-day show with Saturday's event being a schooling show (cheap!), and Sunday's classes are USDF-rated. I think this is a clever show set up. If we make it, Speedy and I will have one day to dip our toes into Second Level before we let it all hang out at the rated show on Sunday.
The second option is at Hansen Dam in November. It's also a two-day event, but on Saturday, riders get to do a Ride-a-Test twice, and then on Sunday, there's a schooling show. This option would be cheaper with a lot less stress.
I don't know yet which one I'll do. Heck, I might even do them both!
As per my plan, I took it easy on Sunday. I fed early like I always do and took Speedy out for his mandatory lunge/walk. He simply won't eat breakfast unless I do. But after he was tucked back into his stall, I climbed back into bed and read until 7:00 (I was RV camping, so I had that luxury). I eventually coaxed myself out of bed and made a leisurely breakfast.
Unlike the previous two days, I also kept my sunglasses on, wore a wide brimmed hat, and stayed in the shade. Since my ride time wasn't until 2:26, I had the whole day to wait through. In fact, I was the last rider of the day.
I am not sure if you noticed Speedy's braids, but I kicked some butt on those babies. They were so neatly done that they held through the night and were still good enough to use on Sunday afternoon. I was pretty proud of them. After the last time I did this particular braid, I knew I finally had it down pat.
My strategy for Sunday's ride was pretty clear: stay out of the heat during the day, do a short 15 minute warm up, and don't give up before I'd even started. I slept in, hung out in the shade all day, and forced myself to wait to saddle until even friends thought I was pushing it.
I felt kind of bad about the last part of my strategy, but I was seriously intimidated by my competition, no matter how friendly they were. The one thing I forced myself to do was to NOT watch any of their rides. I was just as worried about them making a critical error as I was about seeing them put in a brilliant ride. I didn't want to place well due to someone else's mistakes, but I also didn't want to lose my confidence by watching a winning ride.
By the time the ring steward gave me the go ahead, the heat had returned, but I felt better equipped to deal with it. I marched Speedy into the ring and gave it our all. He was still behind my leg and he still curled, but we put in a pretty solid effort.
When I finally had time to sit down and study my test, I was relieved to see that we had nothing lower than a 6.0, and there were only four of them. We also earned eleven 7.0s, which was what I had been working towards all summer! Our final score for the test was a solid 66.029%.
If you read my post from the other day, you know my finishes at RAAC have been either first or eighth. While we didn't win, I was very relieved to not be in eighth place. I was more than happy to receive that red neck ribbon!
First place always receives a lovely cooler (I already have two of them), but second gets a leather halter. I know it's silly, but I am so in love with the thing!
Here's the video of the ride followed by the score sheets.
We have one more show in a few weeks to finish out the 2017 season. So far, I am more than satisfied with where I am towards accomplishing this year's goals. Win or lose at Tehachapi, I'm calling the season a success!
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read