From Endurance to Dressage
I started riding and showing dressage in 2010. Since then, I've shown one hundred twenty-seven days. One hundred eleven of them have been on Speedy. I showed Sydney nine times and Izzy has been shown seven times. The only horse I've shown at a USDF show though is Speedy. Every one of the scores earned towards my Bronze Medal were achieved with him.
With Speedy, I always went to a show hoping for at least a 60%. At the beginning of each level, we almost always walked away with scores in the high 50s. Eventually we would start earning scores in the low 60s, and later, scores as high as low 70s. But each time we started a new level, we went through the cycle again.
I know many people disagree with that strategy. They think if you're not earning mid-60s, you're showing at the wrong level. That may be true, but for me, I have always used the judges' scores as feedback to guide me through the level. While I am able to take more lessons from Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, than I used to, there are still months where I might only get one lesson. Sometimes, the judge's score is my only feedback. If I waited until we scored in the mid-60s, I'd never show. I'd also never improve. Showing tells me when I am doing it correctly, and it also tells me when I am doing it wrong so that I can fix it.
Over the past two months, I've been schooling Izzy in preparation for our first USDF show. We're doing Second Level. We're struggling. We're probably going to score in the 50s. What I've just this week realized is that there are a lot of reasons to score a 5. With Speedy, a 5 meant we weren't doing the movement correctly. We didn't have enough bend, enough reach, enough length, enough something.
In the seven times I've shown Izzy - Intro and Training Level, we earned the exact same scores that I earned when starting Speedy at a new level, high 50s. That simply baffled me as the rides on Izzy felt like such a hot mess while the rides on Speedy felt at least okay. It seemed as the the scores on Izzy should have been much lower.
In some cases, they were. At Izzy's first two shows - Introductory Level, we earned scores as low as 49%. But in his case, it wasn't because he couldn't do the movements, it was because of tension. Introductory Level is about walking and trotting (and a small bit of canter) with a minimal amount of fuss. If the horse walks and trots in a straight line or on a relatively round circle, you're going to get a 60%. If the horse looks as though he is about to die, a 49% is in your future.
In Izzy's case, he can do the movements. They're not hard for him like they are for Speedy. That won't be why we earn 5s. It will be because of tension. His back will be tight, his neck will be short, and his stride will be three inches long. It's not like I just discovered that he's tense - we've all been watching that since the beginning. It's just that over time, I've been able to work a lot of the tension loose. It's still there, but he's beginning to listen and let go of some of it.
Will he be able to relax at SCEC in a few days? I don't know, but I feel pretty confident that I at least have some tools for working through the tension. Will it work? I don't know that either, but I am hoping that over the two days we show he'll get tired enough to take a deep breath and realize that, no, he is not about to die.
I won't be surprised by a score in the 50s, but I am also hopeful we get that 60%.
One of my favorite quotes is one that is attributed to John Wayne. I don't know that he actually said it, and I don't care because for me, truer words could not be spoken; especially when it comes to horses. The part of that sentiment that inspires me the most is the idea of saddling up anyway. With our smoke filled air, high heat, and daunting list of skills that Izzy needs to master before we can show at Second Level, I've been giving a lot of thought to saddling up anyway.
There have definitely been times when I have been scared to death - facing a hundred mile endurance race will turn most riders' knees to jello. Getting back on a horse who just used you as a lawn dart will also cause you to second guess your life choices. I can't stand fear though. Acknowledging that I am afraid of something presents me with a list of boxes that needs to be checked off, and an incomplete to do list brings out my OCD tendencies like nothing else. And so, I saddle up anyway.
Saddle up anyway means a lot more to me than just getting on when my horse is feeling particularly fresh or boisterous. Those words remind me that if I want to achieve my goals, I had better be willing to work hard even when it gets hard, especially when it gets hard. It's hot, it's cold, it's windy, he's going to be a handful, he can't, I can't ... SADDLE UP ANYWAY.
Being willing to saddle up anyway doesn't mean I am reckless or unrealistic. There are days when I know the conditions aren't safe. It might be too muddy, too hot, or I am simply too tired to be effective. I might be feeling too overwhelmed with work's stresses, or my body might be sore from something as simple as sleeping wrong or as complex as a sprained ankle. The thing is, it's important for me to be honest with myself about why I am not riding. It's okay to take that occasional day off, but for me, I know that the only way to achieve my particular set of goals is if I saddle up anyway.
It's not often, but there really are days that I just don't feel like it. I don't feel like having the same argument again. I don't feel like struggling with achieving the perfect connection. I don't feel like digging deep to get a crisp simple change. Those are the days when it's the most important to saddle up anyway. Because when I do, I get closer to achieving my goals, and then those tedious days, the ones that were so hard to work through, reveal themselves to be the foundation of success. Those are the days that got me to the finish line of that first hundred mile race, to a Bronze Medal, or just to that first USDF show.
Saddle up anyway; you'll be glad you did.
To all of you who normally work at home, how do you do it? To all the moms and dads out there, please know that I am working overtime to meet your kiddo's needs. Oh, and to you, COVID-19, you suck!
My school district gave us the choice to work from home or teach in an empty classroom. I am so glad I chose to work from home as my school site's internet has been a complete and total wreck this week. Even with a vastly reduced population - no kids and far fewer teachers, our district-provided internet has been crashing repeatedly. In the spirit of gratitude though, at least my internet works?
I am not sure what I expected when I asked to work from home, but I am pretty sure I am working more hours from home than I would have had I gone in to school. Although that might not be true. I might have still come home and worked. There is just more to do than there are hours in the day. Besides learning a new online learning system, my district purchased not one, but two new curricula, History-Social Studies and Science. To say I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed is an understatement.
And it's not like it's just me. My students are also being challenged in ways none of us ever predicted. They too are trying to navigate the new online learning system. And lest we forget, my kiddos are TEN YEARS OLD. While my internet has proven capable of handling the workload, for many of them, they're dealing with slow and glitchy connectivity. In virtually every home, there are multiple siblings and at least one parent, all vying for the same bandwidth. Their daily experience has to be so frustrating.
For my own personal health, I am trying to establish a realistic and sustainable work-from-home schedule. What I've been doing is going to kill me. Right now, I do my blogging and social media check in from 6:00 - 7:00 a.m. while I have breakfast. I take my dogs out for a quick potty, and then I work until lunch time. During lunch, I take the dogs for a quick walk, and then I sit back down until 3:15. So far, I've forced myself to get up and drive out to the ranch for a ride, but it's hard to leave with work unfinished. After my ride, I've been coming home and working for another hour or two. This Wednesday, I worked until 8:30 p.m. That's just too long of a day especially since I can't take a mental health or sick day.
Speaking of sick days, we've been told that if we need one, we're somehow supposed to pass our classes off to another teacher. None of us know how that would work though as each teacher has her own Google Meet and Zoom codes and passwords. And if meetings are unstable with thirty-five participants, how would it be better with seventy? And yes, I know that thousands can attend Zoom conference calls, but the presenter isn't expected to take attendance by hand or call on participants by name. If (when?) I do need a sick day, I think I will literally just phone it in. There will be a quick pre-recorded video greeting, another video for the mid-day check, and I'll end the day with a see you tomorrow video.
To add insult to injury, I had to order a new office chair. Teachers are well known for being the only professionals who steal stuff from home to use at work. We're also probably one of the few professional groups who spend their salaries so they can work. Sometimes, it feels like I am working for free.
I have never been more grateful that it's Friday.
Speedy and I have shared more adventures than most ever will. We've competed in endurance races, galloped on the beach, camped in the forest, and even trotted down centerline to halt at X. We left the endurance world to compete at Introductory Level dressage and eventually rose through the levels to Third where we successfully earned a USDF Bronze Medal.
We've had our struggles for sure - a separated coronary band, hoof bruises, PPID, a lost tooth, and more, but Speedy always rebounded, happy to do the next thing with me. I don't think I've ever had another horse that has given me so much. I asked, and he gave. He let my goals be his goals. When I talked to Dr. Tolley yesterday morning, I asked why Speedy hasn't been lame sooner. Dr. Tolley matter of factly replied that Speedy simply likes me and his job more than he hurts.
When Speedy and I made the jump to Second Level in 2018, I knew a Bronze Medal might be possible. I didn't tell Speedy that's what I wanted, but he had to have known. He had to sense the urgency in our lessons, the added difficulty to our rides. He took it all in stride, doing his best to please me. And none of the work was easy for him. He did it anyway, and it was easy to see when he was proud of himself. He particularly loves those medium gaits.
InJanuary of 2019, when Speedy was diagnosed with PPID, often called Equine Cushing's Disease, I realized that he was entering the second half of his life. I knew deep down that the day was coming when Speedy would need an easier job, one that asked less of his body. Age is the one thing that we simply can't fix. I started asking the Universe for favors. Just one more show, just one more score, just let us get that Bronze Medal. Some of you may think I was being selfish, asking too much of my horse. But most of you know that I wanted it for both of us. I needed everyone to see how amazing Speedy really is.
Dr. Tolley and I formulated a plan. As long as Speedy wants to work, we'll work. Yes, he may be sore, but as Dr. Tolley described it, as long as it doesn't hurt him mentally, we'll go on. Will we be able to school Fourth Level? I doubt it. Will we show again? I don't know. Dr. Tolley said that I won't break him by riding him and that regular movement will actually ease the discomfort of arthritis. Speedy will get a few weeks of rest. We're not sure why he's sore all of a sudden, so we're hoping this summer's shows were just a lot of work that caused the joint to get a bit angry. A rest period might quiet the joint back down.
Our secondary plan is to let the joint settle down before we do anything else. If it looks like Speedy can tolerate a near normal work load, we'll look at adding a daily Equioxx dose. Neither Dr. Tolley nor I felt that medicating him right now was imperative. Speedy doesn't seem to be in that kind of pain, even when he trots. Yes, he's got a hitch at the trot for sure, but his face always has a pleasant expression and his ears are pricked forward. He's happily trotting and cantering the fence line with Izzy and even throwing in some rearing for fun.
As Robert Frost wrote:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Speedy and I have taken many roads, some heavily traveled, and some less so. We may find ourselves facing a path shrouded in what seems like shadows and undergrowth, contemplating which way to go, but I am not worried about it. No matter upon which path we find ourselves, we'll do it as a team, and it will be a grand adventure.
And that has made all the difference.
I recently wrote about Your Dressage in a post titled, Hey, USDF, Looking Good! As it turns out, Speedy and I made an appearance this week on the site with an article about our journey from Endurance to Dressage. You can read it by clicking the Achievement tab or here.
We've received a fair amount of feedback on the article, all of it very positive. The one thing that has surprised me though is how inspiring readers felt it was. I never feel that I am "inspiring" anyone, especially since I feel like we represent riders of the struggle bus. Struggle Bus Riders Unite! If there was one thing that I could hope other riders might take away from our story, it would be this: with hard work and a bit of luck, any rider can be successful. Speedy and I are the poster children for average. I am an average rider, my horse is an average horse, and neither of us is particularly talented. And yet, we achieved an accomplishment that fewer than 10,000 riders have been able to do in nearly 50 years of the the medals being available.
So whatever your goal is, whether in dressage or some other discipline, don't let yourself be discourage or intimidated by the competition. You do you! Set big goals, but it's also important to set mini goals that will serve to motivate and inspire you to reach for greater things. Don't be afraid of failure. Failure shows you where you need to improve which ultimately leads to success. If I can do it, ANYONE can.
And if you do check out USDF's Your Dressage, take a look at their Weekly Poll; the answers are always interesting. I voted twice this week since I have two horses, and I am looking forward to reading the results.
Have a great weekend!
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.
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 …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
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