From Endurance to Dressage
I finally got to see Izzy being worked! When I went up to see him on Monday, he had just whacked himself and was lame. Fortunately, he was sound by Wednesday and got worked pretty hard. When I arrived on Friday, his leg was clean and tight, and he looked sound as ever.
Although I am really happy with this trainer arrangement, I do wish Izzy was at least an hour closer. I like that he is being worked by a professional while I get a chance to know him better. I've never bought a horse and done it this way before, but it would just be easier if it wasn't such a long drive.
And being totally honest with myself, I don't have a good enough skill set to start this horse by myself, at least not correctly. I have started other horses, including several Arabs, but our end goal was very different. They needed excellent ground manners (I can do that with Izzy with no problem) and to be able to stop and go. The trail teaches them to bend, watch their feet, and rate themselves. It doesn't take too many wet saddle blankets before they realize that listening and stopping are good things.
Izzy needs more than just a stop and go button, and I don't have the luxury of letting the trail teach him about bending and being balanced. I just don't know enough myself to help him through these first few weeks and months. Once he knows his job a little better, I won't confuse him so much as I fumble around on his back. For now, having a trainer work with him (and me) will make things much clearer to Izzy, but there are things that I can do in the meantime.
On Friday when I went to see him, I had a chance to do more on the ground stuff with him. I pulled his blanket; he's still a bit shy as it crosses his bum. He is learning to lower his head so haltering him is getting quite easy. I washed his tail, brushed it, and gave it a quick bang. He behaved very well. I also groomed and saddled him. The only sticky part right now is getting him to lower his head for the bridle and reins.
Debbie and her assistant are working on it, but he still has some learning to do. He's not nearly as bad as Speedy was, so I am not really concerned about it. But since I am paying for his training, I might as well get as many holes filled in as possible.
When Speedy was a youngster, he refused to take the bit, fought lowering his head, and hated the reins tossed over his ears. But when he fussed, it involved a lot of rearing, jerking away, and wild head swinging. Izzy will happily take the bridle and allows the reins to go over his head, but only with his head high.
If I use a mounting block to bridle him, he stands quietly and has no problem being bridled. That's not acceptable though. He's simply too tall to work that way. And leaving that little habit untouched would no doubt lead to other issues: difficulties with worming, trouble making tack adjustments, tricky to exam his mouth, and so on.
He's learning to lower his head nicely though, so I imagine that in a few more weeks it'll be mostly a non-issue. And even if he isn't totally "broke" to lowering his head by the end of January, I can continue the work as that's something I have lots of experience doing.
Here is the video of the trainer working with him. An explanation and my own time on him coming tomorrow.
Christmas vacation finally arrived which meant I had time to drive up on Monday and see Izzy for myself. You gotta give me some serious credit. It's a 260 mile round trip to visit my horse, and I plan to do it three more times in the next week and a half. That's more than 1,000 miles in two weeks!
The original plan was to watch the trainer ride and then take a lesson on Izzy. As we all know, best laid plans don't always work. On Thursday, Izzy came up lame. There was no heat or swelling, so it was assumed that he was footsore. He's been barefoot all his life (something I was going to change when he came home), and living in an irrigated pasture. After three weeks of work, it was decided that he needed shoes sooner than later.
Debbie Davis, the trainer, made special arrangements with her farrier for an emergency shoe job. Since this was Izzy's first shoeing, he of course put up quite a fuss. Fortunately, the vet was on site and was able to serve Izzy a delightful cocktail and serve as handler.
He had a few days off with some bute to help with the inflammation, but on Sunday night, he whacked himself or wrenched something. When we went out to get him, he was noticeably lame on the left front. There was some minor heat and swelling on the inside of the leg, partway between the fetlock and knee. I couldn't find a scratch or puncture wound, but he was definitely sore.
My plans for riding were scratched, but I had a great time playing with him anyway. I spent my time hosing off the mud on his legs and checking out the inflammation. This was a great opportunity for me to see how he handled the wash rack and the poking and prodding that comes with a lameness exam. I later poulticed the leg and wrapped it, all of which he handled with zero complaint. In fact, he let me poke at his leg while standing in the yard with no one to hold him.
I know a lot of people would freak out a little at their brand new horse coming up lame, but this kind of stuff doesn't phase me. Being a Looney Tunes worries me, but a whack on the leg is no big deal. So while it might slow his under saddle training for a week or so, Debbie has agreed to work on plenty of other things: lowering his head for bridling, more clipper desensitization, ponying, hammering his feet, and so on.
After I scrubbed his legs clean, I spent more time grooming his whole body, paying special attention to his head, face, and ears. He is already much better about lowering his head than he was three weeks ago. I also hammered his feet and worked on his mane and tail. He wasn't totally relaxed, but he clearly enjoys being groomed and handles the cross ties like a pro. I even left him in the barn aisle by himself while I went back to my car for supplies.
Even though I wasn't going to ride, I still saddled and bridled him. I mostly just wanted to check the fit of my tack. Fortunately, my girth and Micklem bridle (both were Sydney's) fit perfectly. My saddle also seems to fit, but as with Sydney, I really think I'll need to use a riser pad instead of the fleece half pad. How Speedy is the widest horse I've ever owned, I'll never understand!
I donned my helmet and gloves and took him for a walk. Frankly, I could have walked around all day. I was smiling like an idiot the whole way. He was so, so good! My favorite thing about this horse (so far), is that when he's worried, his go-to reaction is to just stop and stare. I'll take that any day over a whirl and a bolt.
My diamond in the rough definitely needs more polishing (and time), but I am so happy with how well he is settling into a routine and how sweet he is. So far, he hasn't fussed at anything that I've asked him to do. Under saddle might be a completely different thing, but I'll cross that bridge if we get to it. My plan is to go back up on Friday morning. I hope he's sound enough to ride, but if not, we'll just continue bridling, saddling, and hand walking.
For the first few weeks of December, I thought that maybe no, Izzy wasn't so fabulous. You do not know how hard it was to hold on to the positive memories I had from looking at him in November. I so wanted to pour my heart out and have a blogger's pity party.
But, I hate to over-react, especially publicly, so I only expressed my concerns to my husband and JL. My husband, bless his heart, simply told me to relax, give Izzy time, and then reminded me that he has never picked out a bad horse. So glad I married that man!
JL was equally calm. She reminded me that Izzy is very young and green and that a "settling in" period was to be expected. She encouraged me to work on a plan for evaluating his progress and make decisions when I had more information.
So what was I worrying about? Well … over a two week period, I asked Debbie Davis, the trainer, for updates. I should have just let them do their job without needing to hear the nuts and bolts. The problem was that secretly, I had hoped that I had bought the most naturally talented horse on the planet. My new horse was going to be piaffing and passaging out of sheer joy. Uh-huh. Idiot.
The first report included phrases like … "a handful, anxious, difficult, TB tendencies," etc. Later, the update included ... "showing improvement, but still needs to be worked in the round pen, lots of pent-up energy, some bad habits. If his focus can be channeled, he has the potential to be a nice gelding."
As George Takei would say, Oh my. None of that sounded like a horse who was piaffing and passaging out of sheer joy. On the plus side, there were at least photos proving that he could be ridden.
So, for three weeks I fretted and worried. Izzy Zweibrücker wasn't pooping rainbows which meant I was going to have to do this the old-fashioned way: lots and lots of time and patience. I shook off the worry, took a deep breath, and soldiered on.
Chemaine, my dressage trainer on the coast, said something that reminded me of my original plan which was to buy a diamond in the rough. Since I couldn't afford a finished warmblood, I had bought the next best thing: a green bean warmblood who had excellent breeding, the right conformation, and no baggage. I've worked with a lot of green horses. I can do this.
Stay tuned … part 2 tomorrow!
I wrote a check to hold Imperioso with the promise that I would be back within two days with cash and the trailer.
As soon as we started the drive home, I got on the phone with Debbie Davis of Sport Equine, the trainer to whom I had sent Sydney. While she was pretty busy for the month of December, she agreed to take Imperioso for a month of training with the understanding that her daughter would be doing much of the work. That was fine with me. I really just wanted someone to ride him five days a week for a month. Nothing gets horses broke faster than consistent, daily work.
For the rest of the afternoon, I made phone calls back and forth between Debbie and Noemi trying to arrange all of the details. We finally worked out a plan, but unfortunately, it meant I was going to do a lot of driving the next day, alone. Hubby was going hunting with the dog and BFF had already promised her hubby that she would paint the inside of the chicken coop - priorities, you know!
I hit the road by 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, headed north to Exeter, a small town just east of Visalia. While it's an easy, flat drive, it still took an hour and a half. I pulled the trailer around to the front of Imperioso's pasture and met with Noemi. We spent some time chatting, signing a bill of sale, and exchanging paperwork and cash. Then we took some pictures.
Imperioso didn't exactly beg to get in the trailer, but with a little encouragement from behind, we had him loaded up within a few minutes. As we were saying our goodbyes, he started to fidget a little, and I got a bit worried. Hauling an upset horse can be a bit disconcerting, but the second I touched the gas, he stood rock solid. Even at the lights, he never moved a muscle.
My next stop was even farther north - Clovis, another hour and a half on the highway. Imperioso rode like a veteran, for which I was very grateful. Each time I came to a stop light, I rolled my window down and listened intently for any signs of trouble. I've been hauling horses for a long time and can actually feel, and hear, any bouncing around. But there was no need to worry.
I pulled into Sport Equine with a relaxed passenger. Not having any idea how he was going to unload, I did ask Debbie's staff for some assistance. My biggest fear was that he would come barreling out as soon as I opened the door. I had someone hold the door closed while I went in and unlooped his rope from the Blocker Tie Ring. When I gave the all-clear, someone opened the door.
Imperioso just stood there. Yah for thinking horses. I gently tapped him on the chest like I do for all of my horses and said simply, baaaaaack. As he neared the step, he cranked his head around to look. He took some little steps as he sought the edge, but he continued to back up quietly as I gently tapped him and repeated my command.
My trailer sits high with no ramp. It's at least an eighteen inch step down, so I was really proud that he trusted me enough to reach for the ground. As soon as his hind foot hit the dirt, he calmly finished stepping out. Once he realized that he was definitely not in Kansas, his eyes got very wide, and he took a quivery breath.
And then he spooked hard at something covered with a blue tarp. And even though he took a huge leap, he stopped quickly and never even put tension on the lead rope. I just stood there and let him get his wits about him. I followed one of Debbie's boarders out to the large pasture that is to be Imperioso's home for the next few weeks. He blew and quivered as we passed by a lot of different things, but the worst thing he did was to simply stop in his tracks or press into me.
Each time he stopped, I just stood there letting him think about things, and then I gave a gentle tug on his lead rope. He followed me willing, if a bit too closely. That's okay; we can work on that.
The pasture he is to live in is huge, just like the pasture he came from. Even so I was a bit worried about taking off his halter. I wasn't sure if he would bolt for home or kick out. As I should have known, when I slid the halter off, he simply stood there looking around. As soon as he saw his neighbor, he trotted over to get acquainted.
After half an hour of watching this kind of excitement … I decided to head on home, a two and a half hour drive. By the time I got home, more than eight hours had passed. It was a long day of highway miles in the slow lane.
I threw Imperioso a flake of hay and a scoop of feed that Noemi had sent with him. I sat on a bucket a few feet away to eat my lunch and hang out with him while he checked things out.
Imperioso will be at Sport Equine for the month of December. A great part of Debbie's training program is that owners are encouraged to visit to either watch the trainer work, take a lesson, or do a combination of trainer rides/owner rides. The lessons are included in the price of the training. I am hoping to visit three or four times during the last half of the month to ride him and see what I've got.
So that's it for now. Well there is one last thing. While Imperioso is a strong and regal name, it doesn't roll off the tongue easily. So, he definitely needed a barn name that didn't stray too far from his Zweibrücker name. His name starts with an I, his sire's name starts with an I, his grandsire's name starts with an I, and so do the rest of the stallions in that line. His barn name had to start with an I too.
With that, may I introduce you to ...
That was more my husband's idea. I was okay with it as I needed to save a bit more money for my new horse, but I was already feeling at loose ends without a second horse. I decided to fill that empty time with shopping.
If you know me at all, you know I don't like to window shop. It's boring and serves no purpose. Browsing online ads was exactly the same. Why couldn't I just see 20 ads of horses that met my criteria? If you're shopping for running shoes, you go to that section of the store and you look at only running shoes.
But no, that's not quite how Dream Horse, Equine Now, and Horse Trader work. You can certainly narrow down your search criteria, but I was still overwhelmed by the number of horses that were completely wrong for me. At first, I looked at anything that was in my price range that wasn't a Quarter Horse. I can't believe how many Quarter Horses there are for sale here in California. No offense meant to the Quarter Horse folks out there.
Eventually, I was able to narrow down my search to horses with an English background or that were at least earmarked as prospects for an English discipline (dressage, eventing, h/j, etc.). Even so, nothing popped up that was worth driving several hours to see.
But I persisted. At lunch, I waded through hundreds of ads, dismissing nearly all of them. Occasionally something would pop up that seemed like a possibility, but when I tried to contact the seller, there was no response. Eventually however, either the ads got newer, or maybe I just got better at choosing candidates, but I started hearing back from owners and was able to find out more about their horses.
In total, I only rode three horses, but I spoke to a lot more owners than that. The first was over in Moorpark. He was a lovely RPSI gelding offered for sale at White Birch Farm. I was there for a schooling show and took the time to try him out. He was a little too complicated for me (he had a piaffe button that was easy to turn on, but harder to turn off). He's a nice horse and will make a great partner for a rider with more dressage experience.
I also tried an American Warmblood (TB x Morgan cross) who was only an hour from my house. According to his owner, he had been trained to Second Level, but for the past three to five years had been living in pretty rough conditions. He was on the older side of my want list at twelve, but I kept him as a possibility.
The photo attached was a simple one of him standing next to his owner, but it didn't really reveal much about his conformation and certainly didn't show him moving. Even so, I had a good feeling about him, so did my trainer.
2008 Brown Zweibruecker/Oldenburg Gelding for sale. He has lots of potential with excellent bloodlines for your next project show horse. His grand-sire is Ideal, which was the Breyer horse of 2005. He is very athletic with great elevated movement and has a good work ethic. He is sound and has no problem feet. He is very lovable and fine-tuned to ones body language.
Then I saw the ad for a 6 year old Zweibrücker gelding who was in my price range. The description that followed seemed too good to be true.
I called the owner and we chatted about the horse for a while. Several other people were either looking at him or were scheduled to come see him. Nothing gets you moving like thinking your horse is about to be sold to someone else! As much as I wanted to see him the next day, I had to go to work.
Several other might be the ones had already passed, so I knew that I just had to wait it out and see if this one truly was the one for me. I got a message the next day saying that a prospective buyer had cancelled, and I was next on the list to see him.
Fortunately, I had Friday off thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday. Hubby and I hopped in the truck at 7:00 a.m. for the hour and a half drive north. We pulled into Whitney's Wild Oak Ranch and were delighted by the facility. This horse was definitely being well cared for.
Imperioso was in a huge pasture that was knee deep in grass. He had a large tree in the center and a covered shelter. He looked quite relaxed and happy. Hubby later told me that he walked off with the dog because as soon as he saw the horse, he knew it was a done deal.
Noemi, Imperioso's owner, told me all about his training, what his life has been like, and what I might expect to see while he was worked in the round pen. She encouraged me to saddle and bridle him. He was polite, except for the typical 6 year old stuff (snuffling for treats in my hair, tugging at my sleeve, rapping the gate with his hooves when we weren't talking to him - all stuff that just makes them cute.)
She has given him the very best life experiences possible. He had 60 days training with a dressage trainer, and then Noemi rode him for four months. He spent the next year and a half in the pasture. And while that didn't get him any more trained, it definitely gave him time to finish growing up.
We walked down to the round pen where Noemi had him trot and canter both directions. He was definitely tense and stiff, but that's to be expected from a young horse who hasn't worked in more than a year. He did give a few baby bucks, but for the most part, his tension was just a sky high head with no bend to his body. He listened the whole time though and never ran around like a crazy man.
After ten or fifteen minutes of free lunging, we both thought he looked warmed up enough for me to get on him. He wasn't great about moving sideways off my leg, but he didn't bolt at the feel of it either. I just kept him at a walk, asking him to move his hindquarters sideways. He definitely needs a refresher course, but there was no bucking, spooking, or other naughtiness.
As we walked back to the pasture, I knew he was just what I was looking for. It took us about ten seconds to work out a deal. I think Noemi felt the same way I did. I thought he was a good fit, and she wanted him to have a good home.
Yesterday I shared his breeding information, tomorrow … getting him to his temporary home!
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%: