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!
Memorial Day weekend was a busy one for me. I both took a lesson and gave a lesson and a half. "J" came out on Saturday along with "K," who really just wanted to watch and see what this whole dressage thing might be about. K is a trailer rider; we rode the Clydesdales with her a few years ago. I had told her at the last show that she was welcome to come out any weekend. Surprisingly, she called and asked to watch J's lesson this past Saturday. All right then!
J hadn't been out to ride in more than a few weeks, so she needed a bit of a refresher in getting her balance. Building (correct) muscle memory takes so long (ask me how I know), but it's even harder to achieve when you can only ride a few days a month.
Since I am not in any hurry, I never worry about Speedy's ladies needing a "refresher" lesson. Now that J has been riding for a few months, it usually only takes a few reminders to help her find her balance. Like a lot of us - myself included, J's position isn't perfect. Having ridden hunters, she's still struggling to sit up and back on her seat bones. Letting her legs hang instead of pushing her heels down is also something she's working on.
At the lesson I took on Saturday with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, he reminded me stride after stride to be elastic in my elbows. I joked with him how every rider has to be told in the beginning to bend at the elbows. Once a rider fixes that, she then hears be elastic with her elbows. There is simply no end to the "faults" our trainers can find with us.
I didn't think of any wildly entertaining exercises for J to work on. Right now, she just needs more miles in the saddle to firm up her position and find her balance. A horse has a lot of moving parts and learning to manage all of them plus your own takes time, lots of time (OH MY GOSH ASK ME HOW I KNOW!).
Once J felt a bit more relaxed in the saddle, we went to work on a change of direction. Riding a 20-meter circle can feel safe and let you feel confident, but I think that it's too easy to get stuck there, so I try to ask whoever I am "teaching" to leave that circle even if it's just to do a change of direction to do another circle on the other rein, which is what J did.
Crossing the diagonal to change rein is probably a bit easier, but I prefer doing the change of bend from one 20-meter circle to another 20-meter circle with a straight stride in the middle like you would do in the three-loop serpentine. Except of course, you come back onto the same circle instead of going on to the third loop.
J's struggle was in not letting the two circles connect as in a figure of eight. I wanted her to ride two round circles with just a moment of straightness at the point where the circles touch on the side. It's not an easy exercise because the rider has to initiate the change of bend through the horse's ribcage first, and then tip the nose in the new direction of travel. The rider must also change her weight aids from one seat bone to the other. All of this happens in two to three strides.
Once J was finished, I coaxed K up into the saddle. K's riding experience has been almost all on the trail and on well-behaved horses. I explained that being a passenger on a trail horse is far different from riding a dressage horse in an arena. First of all, Speedy doesn't know where to go unless you tell him, so that's where we began - with steering. Having only ever ridden trail horses, K didn't know how to steer with her legs and not the reins.
I could see that she was really shifting some mental blocks around to make sense of the idea that to go left, you use the left rein and the right leg. That just didn't make sense to her until suddenly it did. I saw the moment that she made the connection. It was like opening a treasure chest of gold; her face lit up. The way that she described the feeling was one of empowerment. Once she understood how she could influence Speedy's direction of travel she couldn't get enough. I am hopeful she'll come back out. Dressage can be very addictive.
Move over, Charlie, Speedy's Angels have got this summer covered.
Working with Speedy's ladies has given me a whole new way to practice dressage. Doctors practice medicine, attorneys practice law - it only makes sense that we practice our discipline as well. While I will never master the sport as a rider and competitor, I have learned enough that I feel competent to participate in the sport in a whole new way - as a coach and trainer.
I have done other things for the sport. I am the Vice Chair of our California Dressage Society chapter, Tehachapi Mountain Chapter. In that capacity I created and run our website as well as our Facebook page. I put together the show premiums for our summer dressage show series, the first of which "T" just showed in, and I share ride times and publish show results as I get them. I've also been giving lessons since early fall (I am not paid for any of these jobs). But now, thanks to one of Speedy's ladies, I've been able to view our sport through the eyes of a trainer and coach.
As a competitor, I used to feel so much pressure to make my own coach and trainer look good. I always worried that my ineptitude would reflect poorly on her. At one of my very first shows, maybe even the first, a "trainer" - I won't say her name, actually told me not to tell anyone that I had ridden with her. She didn't want anyone to think that my failure in the court was her fault. That left a huge impression on me, and it wasn't a good one.
Since I began showing Izzy in earnest, and since we're clearly not making Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, look good, and since he has yet to fire me, I have finally been relieved of the ridiculous notion that it's my responsibility to make the trainer look good. Now, I feel like it's my trainer's job to make ME look good, not the other way around. I wish I had learned that lesson long ago. Shame on that "trainer" for introducing someone to the sport in that way.
As I coached "T" throughout the day, it never once occurred to me that she might make me look bad. Instead, I endeavored to make sure that she and Speedy shined like the stars they are. Speedy's braids were lovely, his coat gleamed, and T's turnout was impeccable. I was so proud of them as they completed each of their tests. Now I know how Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has felt watching me show all of these years.
Helping T prepare for the show reminded me why I like dressage; it's fun. It's also stressful, nerve-racking, and anxiety-inducing. I watched all of those emotions play across T's face on Sunday, but I also saw pride, joy, and happiness there, too. Showing gives us the opportunity to show off not only what we've learned, but also how fabulous our horses are.
After T's tests were finished and Speedy had been untacked, we walked up to the show office to gather her tests and ribbons. Both tests sported scores above 60% which made me even prouder. Speedy was a complete rock star for the entire show. He never fidgeted, said no, or did anything even remotely unsafe. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be owned by such a generous and kind horse.
T's husband joined her for the day as did several other of her friends. I slso invited "J," one of Speedy's ladies, as well as "K," a friend who has done some trail riding with me in the past to join us for the day. I may or may not have had an ulterior motive.
T and her husband are starting the next phase in their life together - home ownership and his medical residency, all of which will not be happening in Bakersfield. This means T will be leaving us in just a few weeks. Hopefully J and S (who isn't pictured) will continue taking lessons on Speedy, but with T leaving, I may have room for one more.
Now that I've been bitten by the trainer/coach bug, I am hooked!
I've written these word before, but here I go again: I might love this horse more now that I am not riding him. I thought I couldn't love him any more than when he earned us a USDF Bronze Medal; I was wrong. My heart simply melted this weekend as I watched him happily carrying "T" through her first ever dressage show. Speedy was simply perfect.
A few weeks ago, T rode through several different tests so that we could determine which tests she should choose to show. While we've done all of the movements from Training Level, we haven't really worked on the leg yields or stretchy trot circle enough to show them, so we decided that she should do Introductory Level Test C and Training Level Test 1.
The week before the show, we schooled both tests a few different times. We also spent quite a lot of time talking about how to show. If you've never been to a dressage show, it can look like everything is done in secret. We practiced everything she would need to do before she even started the test. Things like:
Once we'd done all that, T came out for a final warm up ride on Saturday. She did her twenty minute warm up (with me keeping track of the time), and then we ran through each test one last time. Afterwards, she gave Speedy a good bath, and we loaded the trailer. Then we sat down to map out her day.
It's a little less than an hour and a half drive to the Bear Valley Equestrian Center, but things around me have a tendency to go haywire, especially lately, so we built plenty of extra time into the schedule. I ended up arriving a few minutes early, but nothing ever goes perfectly. T's gate pass didn't go through, so it took some extra time for me to make some phone calls to get the gate pass for her.
Bear Valley is a private, gated town, and all non-residents need a pass to enter. Most of the time the system works, but I always expect issues, and Sunday morning was one of those days where things didn't work out smoothly. Since I had built in extra time in our schedule. T arrived just after 8:30, but I already had Speedy unloaded with hay and water so there was no need to feel rushed.
To be continued ...
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