From Endurance to Dressage
I am not sure if it would have been better (doubtful), but due to high winds, the trail ride was moved to the Tejon Equestrian Center rather than being staged at one of the ranch's other fixtures (fox hunting lingo?). I was actually glad; it was a much shorter drive, and the eq center's amenities were very welcome.
I had been to the Tejon Ranch for endurance rides and a trail trial, but I had never actually been to the Equestrian Center. I was impressed; it's lovely and has ample parking. Since I haul a pretty big trailer (3-horse with living quarters), good parking is always welcome. Our hostess, Lori, even brought up the idea of organizing a spring dressage show in 2016. I told her to go for it!
I pulled past the indoor ring and parked out back. Several other rigs pulled in after me, and I was delighted to see some familiar faces. We tacked up our horses and then walked over to the covered ring to check in with our hostesses and enjoy some mimosas and home-made blueberry muffins.
While Speedy proved to be a bit of a nut out on the trail, his barn manners were impeccable. He and Harry hit it off immediately ... bromance for sure!
The ride started out great. There were fifteen of us which included the ranch's Master of Hounds (they fox hunt regularly), and the ranch's horse manager. Everyone moseyed out onto the trail perfectly sanely, but it didn't take too long though before the differences in training levels started to show.
Speedy didn't start the shenanigans, but he certainly participated. Eight of the horses belonged to the ranch and were rented by the out-of-town riders. They were all quite well behaved. The rest of us were on our own ponies. One pair of riders was on a youngster and a trail greenie. There was some rearing, leg scrambling, huffing and puffing, but both riders did a great job of staying in the saddle. And by the end of the day, both horses had gained a ton of experience.
Early on in the ride, we rode up several steep hills. Speedy was so excited about being in a large group that he wanted to bolt up the hill. When I said no, he grabbed the bit and made a break for it. I kept him mostly in check, but he bucked, lunged, and reared himself to the top of the hill. I was pretty certain I was going to hit the ground so I gave a warning yell and held on tightly. We made it to the top together, but I was quite embarrassed!
My favorite thing about Speedy is his confidence. He never buddied up with anyone, but he never growled or threatened anyone either. He spent the entire ride grazing his way down the trail oblivious to who went ahead of him or who lagged behind. When he would come up for air, he did try and jog his way back to the front, but he never cared who was near him. I love that about him.
Our trail guides arranged for a cooler of ice cold water to be left on the trail. It was a nice break for us and the horses. We actually came back to the water stop twice. Speedy enjoyed the break as he hasn't seen grass like this in a very long time.
After the first water stop, Speedy was a perfect gentleman. He motored where I pointed him and did so with a smile. From the second he stepped off the trailer, he was in heaven - I could see it all over his face. He genuinely enjoyed being out on the trail with a group of horses. Initially, I think he thought we were at an endurance ride which is why he was so eager to GET MOVING. He had a serious adrenaline rush and just needed to move out faster than a walk.
I don't know if it is still said on the endurance trail, but when I was riding, we had a saying: his brain is trying to write a check that his body can't cash. That's a tweaked version of the familiar phrase, but what it means is that the horse THINKS he's superman and can maintain that pace all day, but in reality, he can't.
While he felt like Superman, I wanted him to finish the day just as healthy as he started it. While Speedy gets worked daily, we don't do hills anymore, but that's what we spent several hours doing. So even though he wanted to blast down the trail, I insisted that he walk. And to my complete happiness, when I turned him out in the arena at home for his post-trailer-ride roll, he leaped up bucking and galloping. So much for a tired horse!
When the ride was finished, we regrouped in the indoor ring for a fabulous lunch. Again, my pictures do not do the table setting, nor the food, justice.
I know it's hard to see, but the front table held a tower of amazing cupcakes: red velvet, chocolate, and champagne. There were also beautiful party prizes. Lori had taped a "winner" coupon under several of the chairs.
Each gourmet lunch was artfully arranged in a beautiful "to go" box. We had fancy napkins, pretzels, fruit, cheese, a sandwich (that was way above a typical sandwich), pasta salad, and carrot and jicama sticks.
Lori is so creative. The carrot sticks and jicama were actually stacked in little mason jars with dip resting in the bottom. The pasta salad and lemonade were also packaged in a small mason jar. The jars kept everything fresh and clean, and frankly, it was just fun to open your own little serving and eat it out of a jar.
I drove home with a big smile on my face, a very full belly, and a happy, healthy horse riding shotgun (sort of). Many thanks to Lori, Edyta, and the Tejon Ranch for a truly lovely day!
The best thing I took away from last Sunday's fox hunt was a renewed sense of confidence. Knowing that I do indeed posses the skills to handle a large, OTTB at a gallop out in the open countryside gave me a fresh sense of power and control. I remembered my endurance seat, and it felt really good.
I took that new feeling with me to Monday's lesson although I wasn't sure either horse would be rested enough for another heavy work day. Speedy looked willing, but he also looked a little tired. Sydney on the other hand didn't look as though he'd done a thing. I grabbed his halter and tacked up.
I was thrilled at his condition, at both of their conditions actually. Neither horse had any filling in his legs, and both had toplines that were free of any tender spots. Speedy needs to lose a few pounds, but he looked as plump as he had on Sunday morning. Sydney had definitely lost a little weight at his flanks, but with having most of this week off, I am sure he'll be back to normal by the weekend.
Both horses were quite dirty, especially Sydney; he had been too wet when we finished on Sunday to even try to scrape off the trail dust. It took a while to pick the matted dirt out of his coat, but by the time I walked over to JL's, he was his regular shiny self.
Jl and I discussed the hunt and how everything had gone. We also talked about bits. She suggested something with a slow twist for the next time I head out. Like this ...
We didn't do anything new or exciting during the lesson, but she helped me focus on making faster and clearer corrections. I could feel the need for the correction before she had time to even say it.
Tracking left, the most he needs is a half halt to maintain the rhythm. To the right, he needs regular corrections to maintain the bend. As I get quicker and quicker at catching him as he even thinks about taking away the inside bend, the less he tries it.
We worked on maintaining an inside bend while tracking right at the trot, but then it was on to the canter work. He fussed a little here and there, but I am able to shut him so down so much quicker now (at least in the arena) that he doesn't get too far. JL had me canter a pretty small circle which is the same exercise we do at the trot. The point to the smaller circle is to almost over exaggerate the inside bend while really pushing his haunches out in sideways motion.
A few rounds of that kind of intense work was about the max that Sydney could do. It turns out that Sydney was more tired than he had first thought. Any sassy thoughts were long gone once I put him in that 15-meter canter circle.
I haven't decided where I'll go from here with him. We're certainly not giving up the dressage instruction; he really needs that, but I also can't just go fox hunting every weekend either. For now, we're still going to the Christian Schacht Clinic in a few weeks. I am just going to wait and see what the new year brings.
The group all agreed that it was definitely time to walk; Sydney didn't hear them. For the next 15 minutes, I fought him to just walk. His desire to RUN was so great that his steps just got lighter and bouncier until I was literally spinning him in circles to keep from losing him. A few times, I had to almost crash into Annabelle to stop his forward momentum. She was very helpful and stuck right by us in an effort to help Sydney settle.
It was finally decided that the best thing for Sydney would be to just take the lead. I wasn't too sure that would work and worried that without an equine butt in his face, Sydney would start looking for the front stretch. But since nothing else was working, I let him get out in front.
It wasn't a complete fix, but it did seem to help him. I still had to saw away on his mouth and circle back quite a few times, but at least his feet were on the ground. The next 30 minutes were the least fun of the whole day. My arms were beginning to ache from keeping my freight train from being a runaway. After what seemed like forever, Sydney's frenetic hurry (defined as fast and energetic in a wild and uncontrolled way) started to ebb away and was replaced by a less feverish pace.
The truth is, I was beginning to worry about his metabolic parameters. For the non endurance riders out there, you've probably never, or rarely, pushed your horse to the edge of that danger zone. If you have ridden your horse in that zone a few times, you probably know how close you are (or aren't) to the edge. I had never ridden Sydney for that long, nor at that speed. He's pretty fit, but still, I had no idea where his edge was.
He was dripping wet, he has a full winter coat, and had been doing so for more than two hours. His respiration was good though, and he was interested in grazing whenever we stopped to open a gate or catch our breath at the top of a climb. I was watchful, but not worried enough to demand a full-on stop. Fortunately, we came to a deep water trough that was full and clean. With no hesitation, Sydney dove in and drank deeply.
One "funny" aside here: I've done a lot of endurance rides over every distance possible over a lot of years. Not only have I done a lot of rides, but I've done them over and over on the same horse(s). Almost any decent rider can finish a 25 or 50 miler. What's difficult is to do it on the same horse(s), year after year. I know what I am doing.
As Sydney went in for that deep drink of water, one of the riders cautioned me about not letting him have too much. I thanked him politely (at least I hope it was) and said that I was from a different school of thought. Unless the water is ice cold, or the horse is blowing really hard (like he might already be in distress), I let my horses drink their fill. The rider seemed a bit miffed at my response, but we both let the issue drop.
When Louisiana turned to follow the departing riders, I asked her to remain a few moments longer as both my horses were still interested in the water. The rest of the group had barely paused at the trough. I was somewhat disappointed to see that as my experience tells me that if given a little more time, many horses will continue to wet their mouths or at least slurp a bit longer. When asking your horse to work this hard, every ounce of water can be precious.
The deep drink did relieve some of my concerns, but I still hoped we'd get back soon without any further drama. While Sydney didn't get soft and light, he did get more relaxed. And then finally, he took another deep breath and dropped this head. By this time we were more than 100 yards in front of the group, and he simply power charged down the road in an impressive walk. He was being so good that I felt confident enough to hop off and open the next gate for the group.
Everyone filed through and then waited while I closed and re-latched the gate. I re-mounted, which is a bit of a trick when your horse is 16 solid hands high and you're only 5 foot 3. I managed to find a small rock to give me a bit more height; Sydney stood rock solid while I swung into the saddle. Good boy!
We did trot more back to the trailers, but the worst of the anxiousness had gone. When we arrived back to the trailer, I filled the water buckets and mixed a beet pulp and rice bran lunch. My earlier worries returned however as I pulled tack.
Neither horse was thirsty, but they had drunk just 25 minutes before so I wasn't too worried about that. They both started to eat ravenously, but then Sydney seemed to lose interest in his lunch. He started stomping one hind foot after the other. This is something you'll see with a horse who is thinking about colicking or cramping in his hind end. I listened to his gut, which was producing appropriate gut sounds, and then took his pulse. He started out at about 60, but when I re-took it a minute later, it had dropped to a much more sensible 48.
I took Sydney by the lead rope and asked him to walk around within easy sight of Speedy G. As soon as he was away from the trailer, he relaxed. Even though it was bright and sunny, there was a slight breeze so I tossed a fleece cooler over his rump; he was still pretty damp from the ride. I tied him back at the trailer, but noticed his flanks pulsing in what appeared to be a classic thumps rhythm.
Here's a brief explanation of thumps:
Thumps – known technically amongst the veterinary fraternity as “synchronous diaphramatic flutter” - is the veterinary term given to a horse that is having irregular spasms of the diaphragm. In layman’s terms, as the horse’s heart beats it simultaneously appears as though the heart has moved and is beating at the flanks of the horse - and they thus look to beat in unison. The animal may also shake all over, as heavy, laboured breathing takes over the horse’s respiratory system. The phrenic nerve, which passes over the heart on its way to the diaphragm, becomes fired up through being sensitised and that is the reason that the diaphragm goes into spasm.
Never imagining that we would have ridden this fast, it didn't occurr to me to electrolyte the horses before the ride; I'll not make that mistake again. Without any electrolytes, the best thing for a tired horse is rest. I walked him away from the trailer a few more times, and thankfully, he began to quiet down and the "flutter" seemed to subside. Only when I was confident that both horses looked healthy did Louisiana and I leave for lunch.
Tejon Hounds had provided a lovely lunch with plenty to drink. We enjoyed the hospitality of the group and left with full stomaches and very happy hearts.
Louisiana and I loaded up our wet tack and repacked the buckets and hay bags. Both horses loaded into the trailer happily and rode quietly the hour back to the barn. When we unloaded the horses, I was relieved to see them looking so healthy. We took each one into the arena for a long drink and a roll in the sand. Both horses were happy to be back home and immediately whinnied for fresh beet pulp and rice bran, which I loaded with electrolytes. When we left the barn, both horses were munching away contentedly.
The next day, I took Sydney to his regular Monday night lesson. More on that tomorrow. For now, I am eagerly scanning my calendar for a free Saturday to do another hunt!
Yesterday, I kind of gave you a limited overview of fox hunting and a peek at how our day went, but here's the rest of the story.
I can't say whether Tejon Hounds is just a particularly mellow group, or if fox hunters in general are that relaxed and kind. I hope the people we rode with are typical of the sport's participants. Before we started, everyone gathered around to listen to introductions and to find their field master. Louisiana and I took our place behind Annabelle, our leader for the day. We were joined by Annabelle's son, Noah, and another couple. The husband was riding a green bean with only 30 days under saddle.
The hounds were released and the first and second fields were out of sight within minutes. I tucked Sydney right behind Annabelle's mare and kept his nose planted there for the better part of an hour (with her permission, of course). He was quite high, but with a lot of rocking of the reins, I was able to keep him between a jig and a walk. To my knowledge, he's never done anything like this before! If you'll remember, I've only felt comfortable riding him in the open just this past month or so. Do you remember the first time I tried to ride around our neighborhood? It took an hour of circling to go less than half a mile.
We came to several gates that Annabelle opened and closed while we passed through calmly. After we had walked for the better part of the hour, the group decided that everyone was safe enough to handle trotting. We were in wide open, flat fields that were covered with squirrel holes and random rocks. We trot where we felt safe and came back to the walk when the footing was questionable. Sydney never once bobbled.
As we continued to search for the main field, we chatted and enjoyed the completely beautiful day. The sky was brilliantly blue without a cloud in the sky. Little by little we increased the speed of the trot until we were moving along at a pretty good clip. While Sydney wasn't soft, he was keeping it together. With strong pulley halts, I was able to keep behind Annabelle's horse or tucked behind Louisiana and Speedy.
At some point near the end of the first hour, Sydney took that one deep breath I was looking for, and dropped his head. We took the lead. His walk was enormous, covering a huge amount of distance at each stride. Although the field master generally takes the lead, in this case, with both fresh and green horses, the group was fine with arranging the horses in the least stressful way.
As we approached our first hill, we came to a muddy stretch where water had seeped from underground pipes which feed random water troughs for the grazing cattle. It was only about two feet wide, but the group paused, not sure how deep it was or how boggy it might be underfoot. Sydney paused a fraction of a second before he boldly marched through and landed safely on the other side. The rest of the horses followed. I was quite proud of him!
The hill in front of us was quite steep and maybe 150 yards to the top. The group decide to spread out along the bottom and canter or gallop to the top. Given its steepness, I knew that as long as I just hung on, I would be able to stop Sydney as we crested the top. We all started at a slow trot and let the horses build into a gallop. With the first canter stride, I was laughing in delight. Sydney powered up the hill with obvious enjoyment. And with no difficulty, I was I able to pull up into a walk at the top where we stopped for a breather and a couple of photos.
Sydney was now having fun. We dropped down the back of the hill, which was steep and rocky, but Sydney just picked his way down without a single mis-step. We continued climbing hills, galloping each time, in search of the hounds. By this time, we were trotting quite briskly and even galloping some of the flatter sections of trail.
We finally came to a fence with no gate, so we opted to start making our way back. We wound around on the flat top of a small gorge only later realizing it was headed away from our destination. Without a thought, the group dropped down into the gorge and popped up on the other side. I was a bit more cautious and found a more gradual descent, but Sydney handled the steepness with ease. In front of us was one more steep hill, but it wasn't very long. This is probably where I made my only real mistake of the day.
Having enjoyed the gallops so much, I really let him go up this one. Noah's pony came rocketing alongside us, and the "race" was on. Both Noah and I pulled our horses up at the top safely, but Sydney's brain had had its fill. He was higher than ever. What I hadn't realized was that the climb was headed directly toward "home."
Continued tomorrow …
I may have found Sydney's true calling in life. It is possible that he wants to be a fox hunter, and I might be on board with the career switch. I had that much fun. I don't even know where to begin. Do I share how I laughed out loud with total glee as we galloped balls out up hills and along fence lines? How about I share how Sydney spent most of the morning rocking the lead? Or maybe I should first share how he motored over every type of terrain possible with total confidence?
Okay, Sweaney, slooow down and take a deep breath! Some of you are probably like me and have no idea what fox hunting even is. You can Google it of course, or check out Wikipedia, but the short version is that hounds are released to track game and riders dressed in show clothes gallop after.
Tejon Hounds is a brand new hunt club that is recruiting members. In order to showcase their hunting grounds, they invited members from other clubs and even opened up the hunt to complete newbies like myself (and Louisiana). Normally, a $125 "capping" fee is paid by non-club members, but since this was an "open house" type of event, the fee was waived. An annual membership, which comes with lots of other amenities, is $1,500.
The hunts happen every Wednesday and Saturday through the season which generally runs from September to March, depending on the weather. Apparently, heat and humidity affect the ability of the hounds to catch the scent. Here's a snippet from the Tejon Hounds Facebook page on October 23.
Hey Everyone! Just your weekly update on hunting. The hounds moved off from the trailer at 7:30 this morning. The humidity was slightly higher than it has been in recent weeks which made a world of difference for the hounds. We were drawing along the base of some foothills getting ready to go up a small canyon when Scott viewed a coyote. Quietly, we trotted forward to cast the hounds gently on the line. Hounds hit it off! There was some zig and zag along the line as the wind drifted it slightly here and there. There was some exceptional hound work to been seen. A big thanks to Grand Canyon Hounds for being so generous in helping us start a wonderful pack. Now for some cold weather and snow, our thirty minute snippets might turn into two hour dust eaters. Happy Hunting!
The game of choice at the Tejon Ranch is coyote. I think they are quite numerous on the ranch and serve as a substitute for foxes which are not native to California. The hounds catch the scent of the coyote and track it. Sometimes the coyote simply gives the hounds the slip, and other times the hounds will run it to ground (to a den). Since no one was carrying an obvious weapon, I am nearly certain the coyote is not killed.
During this particular hunt, the riders milled around until the designated start time. Before we left, there was a blessing on the hounds that was accompanied by a shot of port or sherry or some kind of heavy wine. I happily took mine as a substitute for valium.
Riders (we were about 15) were divided into "fields" depending on their comfort level. The first field, or main field, stays right with the hounds, galloping as necessary. The second field hangs back and follows the first field a bit more slowly. Louisiana and I were in the third field which watched the main field gallop off. We spent the next three hours galloping to hill tops trying to catch sight of the hunt. Riders in the third or fourth fields are known as Hill Toppers.
The hunts can last anywhere from two to five hours depending on the hounds and the wishes of the group. The third field rode for three hours in search of the hunt. The main field returned about 45 minutes after we did. After watering horses and untacking, lunch was served for those who were able to stay a while. For most Tejon Hunts, I was told that a potluck is typical.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%