From Endurance to Dressage
Have I ever told you how much I adore Speedy G? If not, man that horse is amazing. For those that may be new here, I bought Speedy G as a three-year old to be my back up endurance horse; he's now 17. When #1 endurance horse had to be euthanized in 2010, Speedy was suddenly my only endurance horse. That summer, I decided to leave the sport after nearly two decades. I looked around for something else to do, and dressage caught my eye. Ten years later, after having started out at Introductory Level A, Speedy and I earned a USDF Bronze Medal. That was last summer.
Shortly after earning that award, Speedy came up lame. After chiropractic work, hock injections, and radiographs, Speedy was diagnosed with advanced arthritis in his left hock. Both vets, my regular vet and the referral vet, felt that Speedy would never be able to continue working at the level I wanted to, so he was semi-retired.
Fortunately, Speedy makes his own luck. Almost immediately, a young woman reached out to me wanting to learn a bit about dressage. After a short rest period, Speedy was again sound (and has remained so), so "T" started coming out once a week or so for a lesson. Speedy loved giving lessons and proved to be a wonderful schoolmaster. This June, just before relocating so that her husband could do his hospital residency, T showed him at Introductory C and Training Level 1. I was so proud of them both.
Throughout the past year, other ladies have come to ride Speedy as well. "J" has really stuck with it though, riding as often as our schedules allow. We both work, and with show season upon us, J has often had to watch rather than ride as Izzy and I do our thing. She has even made the drive to Ventura County just to watch Izzy and I show. According to her, it was worth the trip just to be immersed in dressage. On Sunday, J got the opportunity to show off everything she has learned this past year.
They made me even more proud. I am surprised my head still fits through the doorway. When we went to pick up J's scoresheets, I gasped in delight! She and Speedy earned a 68.75% on her first ever show! The score would have been a 70% had she earned a 6.0 instead of that 4.0 (see the score sheet below). She couldn't get a trot because Speedy decided to take a very long poop all the way from H to M. The judge even went back to note the reason for the low score. On movement (no pun intended) 7, she added in blue ink, "Due to pooping!"
One of the things that made me particularly proud was J's centerline scores. Over the past few weeks, we worked really hard on that 10-meter half circle as well as getting a balanced halt. In the beginning, J's centerlines were really wide or too tight. And once she finally halted, nowhere near X, she would let Speedy root the reins out of her hands so he could stretch or relax. When I saw that 8.0 for her final centerline, I might have let out a celebratory woot woot! It was so very gratifying to see her hard work pay off.
After a bit of a break at the trailer and a very short second warm up, we returned to the ring for the second test, Introductory C. We reviewed a few quick things, and then J took Speedy into the ring. When the judge rang her bell, J got right to work. The second test was nearly as strong as the first, but they had one issue. J just couldn't get Speedy to pick up the first canter, "3" and "0," and then he didn't want to hold the second one, "5" and 4". To J's credit, she shook it off and didn't let it affect the rest of the test where she scored an 8.0 and a string of 7.0s.
We celebrated the scores from the great movements and talked about what we can do to fix the canter. We have several weeks to work on it before the next show. She can get it easily at home, we just need a bit more work to help her get it at the show.
Seeing Speedy work so happily for yet another rider made my heart swell with pride. Every 7.0 and 8.0 J earned felt like a feather in MY cap. Her scores proved that Speedy has had a correct dressage foundation and that my amateur training/coaching has been accurate, thanks to Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. The judge noted that J needs to show more "bend" which is what I've been asking her to do as well. Hearing that come from the judge confirmed that I am on the right track as a trainer/coach. Just as a reminder, none of Speedy's ladies pay me for any of the training or coaching since I am an adult amateur.
I would encourage any adult amateur that has a steady horse to offer lessons to kids or beginner riders. Giving lessons and coaching these ladies through their first dressage shows has taught me far more than I could have ever taught them. We have one more local show to do, and I know J will work hard to get that canter transition down pat. And no matter how she and Speedy do at the next show, I'll be just as proud of them as I am today.
Rock star horse for sale, $10 million dollars; but lessons are free!
Speedy is getting ready for his next show. I think he's starting to question my idea of retirement though. The way I look at retirement is this: when the day comes for me to retire, I'll still be busy and active, I just won't be going to work every day. Speedy is staying busy and active, and while he is "working," it's nowhere near as hard as when we were moving up the levels. I guess he's really semi-retired as he does have a part time job.
Since he'll be doing a show at the end of the month, and since he hadn't been ridden in the past few weeks - a short, bareback hack around STC Dressage doesn't really count, I decided to actually do a schooling ride on him before "J" came down on Friday. The first thing I thought was, Houston, we have a problem. Oh, my ...
I hadn't been on Speedy in a dressage saddle in months. I've hopped on him bareback now and then for a quick hack around the neighborhood. I've also done a flying change or two while bareback and riding in a halter. What I hadn't done was ridden him to check his suppleness and willingness to sit and carry a bit more weight behind. Let's just say his desire to sit and push was pretty nonexistent.
Since he doesn't want to sit, his balance is tipped forward making him pretty heavy on his forehand. I desperately wanted to "fix" that, but I resisted knowing that his reluctance to carry more weight behind is likely because it hurts. He hasn't taken a lame step since last August, but I know that left hock, the one that is fusing, is probably making some noise when Speedy has to use it to support both his weight and mine.
It was in the left lead canter that I could feel the most resistance which makes sense because it's the left hind that takes the brunt of his weight, and that's the hock that has arthritis. Fortunately, the work that he's doing right now doesn't call for much canter work. In fact, he only has to canter three-fourths of the 20-meter circle at A. I think he can handle it.
When J came out for a lesson on Friday, Speedy was his normal, cheerful self. It's only when I get on that he pins his ears a bit. It's really hard for me to ride him in a Training Level frame. I know what he can do, so letting him tip his weight onto his forehand just feels so wrong. That's why I don't ride him much. His ladies don't yet know how to ask for Third Level collection so he's very happy to perform for them at their level.
J has been riding Speedy for several months so she knows all of the movements required for Introductory level. She just hadn't put them together until now. We ran through Intro Test B several times identifying the places where we need to focus our attention over the next two weeks. We did the same thing for Test B, but by the time we did that test - which is very similar, J had already made the needed corrections, so that test looked better than the first.
I truly love seeing another rider enjoying my horse. Speedy has turned out to be a fabulous schoolmaster which is helping ensure he'll live a long life. For a horse like Speedy who thrives on attention, living turned out in a field free to wander and roam wouldn't be enough for him. He needs to feel useful and special, and thanks to his ladies, he's getting all of that and more.
Keep up the good work, Speedy G!
My second test of the day was just three rides after the first so I opted to hang out by the ring rather than walk back to the warm up. Izzy was tense and worried, but within minutes, he was walking nicely with a swinging back. And really, that's all I am looking for right now - relaxation at a show.
Due to my own inability to DELETE stuff, Best Friend was not able to capture the ride in its entirety. At just after a minute, my ipad ran out of space. Here's what she did capture. Pay close attention to the break to canter up center line. He can definitely sit deeply.
Overall, I liked this test better than any I've ridden so far. The score was low at 54.688%, but outside of the blooper moments, Izzy was far more in tune with me than he has been. It was like he suddenly realized I was up there. His show nerves were still raging, but I felt like I was actually riding him, not just piloting a rocket on a string.
His trot up centerline was clearly fussy, but he was much straighter and not trying to outrun his front end.
But this time, I just couldn't keep him in the walk. The jigging was back, but it was far less than in previous tests. Instead of jigging the entire way across the diagonal, it was only a step here or there, but there were enough of them to garner a 4.5.
While the judge wasn't in love with our 20-meter trot circles at E/B, I know they were much better than we've done in the past. Those circles are hard because they are in the middle of the ring rather than on the rail at A/C. Izzy likes to blow through his shoulder, so this is where he'll lose his balance and throw in a rear or a spook. I'll take the 6 for the first circle and a 5.5 for the second isn't too bad.
The one surprise that Izzy threw me was his refusal to halt at X at the end of the test. The halt has been something that he's been doing pretty well. While we don't have it on video, you can tell from the judge's comment that it took quite a while to get it. He simply wouldn't rest all four feet on the ground at the same time.
With Chemaine's words ringing in my ear, I decided to school him no matter how long it took. He backed up, I added leg. He stepped sideways, I pushed him back over. The halt took so long that I had time to have a conversation in my head about what to do. I figured that if he never halted, we were getting a zero. If he finally halted, no matter how long it took, I knew that the judge would have to give us at least a 1 for very bad.
I've never earned a zero, and I wasn't about to then either. I finally got all of his hooves to stay still long enough to give my salute. We earned a 4 which is only insufficient, but it's better than not executed.
While I started the day feeling pretty discouraged, I drove home feeling inspired to keep on trying. Best Friend once again stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. She's almost more of a Pollyanna than I am. She gives me that kick in the pants or the smack to the face whenever she thinks I am being too hard on Izzy.
She only sees him every couple of weeks so she's always totally amazed at how different he is every time she sees him. She's quick to point out every little thing he does that's better than the last time. Look at how much hay he's eating, look at how quietly he's standing there, look at how he didn't spook when that Friesian passed by too closely ...
My scores weren't great, we finished in last place both times, but I drove home with a huge smile, grateful for an awesome friend and an amazing horse. I hope you're as blessed as I am.
I was too busy to watch this test until yesterday afternoon, and you know, it's not half bad. I've been doing a lot of thinking about Izzy's scores over the past 5 shows (four schooling and this one, a CDS-rated show). He's definitely struggling, but Speedy and I had very similar scores at Intro Level. And while we also had GREAT scores at times, Speedy had/has his share of difficulties too.
What has thrown me for a loop was that Speedy's resistances were very subtle and quiet, but they created the same net effect - scores in the 58% range. We bounced around from 53% to 65% a lot. I would get one issue fixed, and then Speedy would come up with something else. We had a run of shows where he gave a gigantic spook during every test.
Before I wax any more poetic, watch the test ...
This was a California Dressage Society rated show with an R judge, licensed to judge through Fourth Level. That typically means the judging is a little more strict than at a schooling show, but not as strict as you would see at a USDF-rated show. We scored a 58.750%, just two points shy of a 60%.
As I watched the video, I was surprised at how non-awful it looked. Izzy's tension is obviously visible, but I need to focus on the fact that it's not as bad as it feels to me while I am on him. I probably need to find a way to embrace the tension and make it a more positive tension. I am desperately in need of a lesson.
It's hard to be frustrated with a 6. For so long, my goal with Speedy was to simply not have any 5s. Izzy only had two of them on the front of the test and no 4s!
If you've been following along, you know my goal at the schooling show we did two weeks ago was to not get 4s on the walk. We were only partly successful. For this test, we got a 5 and two 6s for the walk work. That's progress.
The trot work also had some good moments. There were no spooks like we've had in at least two of the shows we've done. We earned a 6 and a 6.5 for our 20-meter trot circles.
The judge's Further Remarks were absolutely spot on: Nice horse but a lot of tension today. Concentrate on suppleness and relaxation. Working on it, sir, working on it.
Tomorrow ... Test B.
If you would have asked me on Saturday night how I thought Sunday's show was going to go, I would have said that I didn't even want to go. Why waste gas money when you know it's going to be a disaster?
Our ride on Saturday was terrible. Like knock down, drag down terrible. I spent 45 minutes trying every single thing I knew to get Izzy to let go of the bit. His jaw and poll were so locked that I had no steering and rode through bolt after bolt. All he could do was charge forward.
Eventually, after kicking his ass every way I knew how, I finally got off and threw him in the round pen and just sent him forward. I really wanted to just send him down the road, but a round pen by definition is ... round, so he kept coming back. To my dismay I should add.
After 5 minutes, I know because I timed it, he was heaving and sweating rivers. I got back on him and walked him for ten minutes hoping that he was at least thinking about relaxing.
After cleaning him up, I gave him a healthy dose of electrolytes with his Platinum Performance. When I turned him out into his paddock, I asked him to please just consider letting go of some of his tension.
This photo is not from Saturday, but I wanted to report back on the new fleece half pad. It's working great, and I really like it, but if I order another one, I think I'll go with the medium. My last one was a bit narrow so my saddle sat on the fleece trim instead of inside it. This one is a large, but it ran bigger than I expected.
I was a bit peeved when I untacked Izzy because my new half pad was dirty and sweaty. My girth was also soaked through, and I seriously considered scratching from the show. He was going to be a jerk anyway and my tack was already dirty ... somebody please call the wambulance!
I gave myself a stern, quit your whining! and proceeded to give my saddle and bridle a (half-assed) cleaning, but at least they looked presentable. I sent Best Friend a text letting her know to meet me at 5:30 a.m., and then I went home to try and start some positive thinking.
Since I am a bit of a Pollyanna, I was able to give myself an attitude adjustment. I was still peeved at Izzy the next morning, especially since he was a jerk as I was trying to groom and brush out his tail. As soon as Best Friend showed up, she got to hear all about how rotten he was being.
And then he walked quietly onto the trailer. In the dark. With a grouchy owner. My heart softened immediately, and all I could see was my fabulous boy who just needed my help and encouragement.
When we arrived at the equestrian center it was chilly and we were alone. Izzy craned his neck looking at the horses in the corrals, but with Best Friend's help, he stood pretty still to be braided. We checked in, got his number, and headed for the warm up.
His nerves were all a twitter, but he never felt like he was going to lose it. He just couldn't keep his focus on his job. One of my Tehachapi friends said that if she hadn't known how old he really is, she would have thought he was just a four year old. That's good for me to hear because I think he should be acting like the eight year old that he is.
During the morning, several fans of Bakersfield Dressage made it a point to come and say hi and ooh and ah over my big brown (gold) horse. It was so nice to see them and even nicer to have their support. Having friends who root for our success is such a huge motivator for me.
Spoiler alert: Izzy did not show brilliantly, but many people encouraged me to stick it out with him; they were that impressed with his potential. I have trouble seeing it, but apparently Izzy oozes charm and has that certain sparkle.
Tomorrow: Introductory Test A.
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 …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
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