From Endurance to Dressage
Yep, my man, Speedy G. I hadn't ridden him since early August. After body work and hock injections didn't ease his lameness, under my vet's recommendation, I took him over to Alamo Pintado for a thorough lameness exam. As it turned out, Speedy's left hock was well on its way to fusing. He should have been lame long ago, but the guy hung on long enough to earn us a USDF Bronze Medal. You have to love horses with heart. His must be huge!
My plan had been to give him the fall and winter off, but when a young woman reached out to me about local riding and training opportunities, I introduced her to Speedy. T has now ridden Speedy a few times, and it seems like a good match. She's just learning which means the work is pretty easy, and easy work is what Speedy seems to need. T is getting married soon, so she's been busy with wedding preparations which means she hasn't been able to ride for the past week or so.
Since Speedy has been 100% sound, I decided to hop on him on Saturday to see how he felt. I don't know who had more fun, him or me. I only rode him for 15 minutes, but he was ready for whatever I asked. We started with some easy trot work with a few trot to canter to trot transitions; I was mostly checking to see what has happened since T has been riding him. I also wanted to give him a little bit of a tune up to make sure his status as school master was still deserved.
After reminding him that yes, he can still go in a soft and round frame, I decided to see if he was willing to give me some flying changes. Boy, did he! We did one each way, and both were crisp and clean. And then, just to see if we could, I asked for three changes across the diagonal, a movement from Fourth Level, test 1. Easy peasy. Speedy G gave them to me as if we've been schooling them every day.
I'm going to stick with my plan of low level rides through the fall and winter, but I am definitely going to hop on board every now and then to check in on him. Both vets thought it likely that he'd need to retire from upper level work, but they didn't rule it out completely. If Speedy's game for more work this spring, I am in!
I teach kids in elementary school, but I also enjoy teaching in general. It's just who I am as a person. If I can help someone understand something, my day is made. The one exception has been at the barn. Being at the barn is my sanctuary. It's my way of getting away from the job. Even though I love to teach, I do need a break.
I've done a lot of different boarding situations, but most of them have involved boarding at a private home where there are few, if any, other boarders. I prefer it that way. I've only had to board at a "facility" a few times, and even then I searched out the smallest mom and pop places I could find. Being with other boarders invariably led to can you help me? type situations. Someone always needed me to look at a wound, give injections, haul their horse to the vet, or offer tack fitting solutions. I rarely said no, but it made it hard to decompress after a difficult work day.
So imagine my surprise at discovering that giving a riding lesson is actually a rewarding experience. I think I might be learning more than my student! Again, she's not compensating me in any way, so my adult amateur status is not at risk. T came out for another lesson over the weekend, and while I am pretty sure she enjoyed herself, I know I did.
I don't know that I would feel as invested if she were riding her own horse, but since she's riding Speedy, she has my full attention. The first time T rode, we worked on getting Speedy soft and round and controlling the tempo of the trot and canter. T has enough of a foundation that she knows her posting diagonals and the general cues. For T's second lesson, we schooled the transitions, particularly walk to trot to walk. We also did some trot to canter to trot.
T is an excellent student and clearly wants to know everything there is to know. During the week, she had a chance to ride at the western barn where she does chores in exchange for rides and even attempted to get some softness from a less-than-cooperative trail horse. I showed her how to do carrot stretches from the saddle, explaining that vertical flexion is hard to get if there is no lateral flexion. I am pretty sure she'll asking that trail horse for a lot of nose to knee stretches.
As for me, I started out by parroting my own trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. I've ridden with her for so many years that I hear her running commentary as I ride. I just started repeating it to T. As the lesson progressed though, I realized that I wasn't just repeating what I'd heard. I could actually see that my teaching was having an effect, and my teaching was coming from what I actually know. When T was able to implement what I asked for, I could see it translated through Speedy's movement. It was a very revelatory moment.
All these years when Chemaine has shouted out, There! Did you feel it? Sometimes I can say that I do, but more often then not, it takes me a day or two, a month, or even a year to finally feel what she sees. I found myself doing the same thing with T. Yes! Did you feel that? Most of the time T said yes, but I told her to be honest because I know from my own experience that feeling it can be truly difficult as you're trying to coordinate your aids and put it all together. Sometimes the feel is just so subtle that it can be easy to miss amongst all of the other stuff your body is trying to do.
Even though I've ridden with Chemaine for so many years, there has always been the worry that her Good riding; yes!; now that's what I'm talking about! enthusiasms were just to keep me from feeling dejected. After giving two lessons and using that same feedback (and some of my own), I now know that those validations are genuine. Even with my own fifth grade students I look for even the tiniest reason to give positive feedback, and it's never fake. Being the "trainer" has given me a peek behind that curtain.
For my own dressage education, I sure hope T keeps coming back.
I get quite a few emails from people who just want to connect - I sincerely enjoy hearing from you, so please feel free to reach out and share your story or advice. I also get emails from local people who are either new to the area or new to horses. Sometimes those riders come out and meet my boys and other times I just direct them to what they need.
Recently, a young woman reached out to me asking about trainers, lesson barns, and places to board. I'll call her "T." T doesn't have her own horse, but she's got the bug. She's had some riding experience; her grandparents have horses in Montana and for a while, she rode on her college equestrian team. Lately, she's been riding at a western barn in exchange for doing barn chores.
While T has lots of dreams - she wants to someday event, do some dressage, work with a young horse, and maybe even find a mustang, she also seems like a realist. When you're young and just starting out, those things sometime cost more money than you have, and in T's case, they require more experience than she currently has under her belt. As luck would have it though, I currently own quite a solid little schoolmaster for someone wanting to try some low level dressage.
Immediately after the last show we did in mid-July, Speedy came up lame. When the chiropractor felt like it was a hock issue, my vet did hock injections. When Speedy was still lame, my vet referred us to a facility over on the coast where we had access to world class diagnostic equipment and doctors. Several very interesting x-rays later revealed a shocking discovery. Speedy's left hock was well on its way to fusing; he was diagnosed with arthritis. In all likelihood, his career as an aspiring upper-level competitor is over, but that doesn't mean he can't still work.
After meeting with T a week ago, I invited her out for a lesson this Saturday. No worries about my amateur status as I was very clear that the lessons had to be free. I've never felt qualified to offer lessons before, but I'll tell you, I really enjoyed myself, and I am pretty sure T did as well. I know Speedy thought the whole things was fabulous. He looked 100% sound and was a perfect gentleman. It was really fun to see him show off all the things I've taught him.
For now, we have a "standing" date for T to come out for a lesson once a week. I don't know how long this will last, sometimes people lose interest or get a better offer from somewhere else. For now, it's a great arrangement for Speedy because a weekly ride will keep him moving and working. And if T decides that she really likes Speedy, there's a chance she could come more than once a week.
Speedy is such a wonderful horse, and I am delighted to share him. He's not ready for complete retirement, so a ride or two a week allows him to still do his job without me asking quite so much of him. For Speedy's sake, I really hope this turns into a long lasting relationship.
And if not, Speedy's open for business!
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.
Not necessarily the one that I wanted, but at least it's definitive. I have a lot I need to say, but for today, here are the basics.
Speedy and I went to a show in June where we earned the last score we needed to earn a Bronze Medal. We went to a show in July where we showed great improvement in our scores. My husband and I went out of town for a few days, and it was really hot, so Speedy got a week off.
When I rode him the Saturday after the show, he felt great, but by Monday, he presented as lame on what felt like both hind legs. I quickly realized his hamstrings were quite sore so I had the chiropractor do some work. My chiropractor suggested I take Speedy in for hock injections as that was from where the pain was originating. My vet and I discussed it, and we decided to pass on x-rays since we were going to do Speedy's hocks either way.
I followed my chiropractor's and Dr. Tolley's instructions to the letter. I took Speedy for a slow walk around the neighborhood on Saturday, and on Sunday we did an easy stretchy ride where I focused on asking Speedy to be light and soft. On Thursday, a week after the body work and hock injections, Speedy was lame again. We decided to give him Previcox (for dogs, the equine version is Equioxx, but it's what we had) for a few days to see if that helped. In the meantime, I called my chiropractor to ask for his advice who thought it must be soft tissue. My vet agreed and referred me to Alamo Pintado, a premier equine medical center on the coast, for a more thorough diagnosis. I scheduled an appointment for yesterday.
I've taken horses to Alamo Pintado several times and have to say, this is a top-notch facility. But equally important is the professionalism and friendliness of the staff. I don't think it matters if you're a first time client or one that's been around for 20 years; you are treated with respect and compassion. Dr. Mark Rick was wonderful; he was thorough in his explanations as he described each procedure, he was patient, and he acted as though he had all day to spend with Speedy and me.
Dr. Rick immediately agreed that it was the left hind, so he started out by "blocking" the left ankle. For those who might not be familiar with this procedure, the vet injects an anesthesia into a low point of the leg with the purpose of numbing the area. After a five to ten minute wait, the horse is jogged off. If he comes up sound, the vet knows from where the pain is originating. If the horse trots off lame, which Speedy did, the vet knows the injured or diseased spot is higher up on the horse, so he repeats the injection at the next spot. In Speedy's case, the vet suspected a high suspensory injury, so he gave Speedy a pretty heavy dose expecting him to trot off sound.
Combined with anesthetizing the parts of the limb, Dr. Rick did lots of different flexion tests all in an effort to diagnose Speedy's lameness. After several "nerve blocks" Dr. Rick ruled out a soft tissue injury. Speedy never did trot off sound or even less lame. For each jog, he moved out with the exact degree of lameness, never worse, never better. Dr. Rick was a a little puzzled by what he was seeing, especially given the sudden onset of Speedy's lameness. He decided that x-rays were in order.
Dr. Rick took six pictures, three of each hock. He wanted x-rays of the right hock so that he had something to which to compare. When he was finished, he invited me in to view the images. He had a definitive diagnosis. Speedy's right hock was in great shape. The left on the other hand, was in trouble.
As in my last post about the hocks, the spaces between the joints are as they should be in the right hock. Those spaces are filled with cartilage that cushion the joint during movement. Speedy's left hock doesn't look anything like his right.
The photo above doesn't capture quite the same view as from the photo of the right hock, but you can clearly see the two joints look very different from one another. Dr. Rick's verdict is that Speedy's hock is well on its way to being "fused" meaning bone is filling in the space where cartilage should be. I think Dr. Rick was more surprised by the images than I was. Speedy should have been lame long before now. A "fusing" joint is painful, and Speedy hasn't been lame on a hind foot ever.
Dr. Rick was quick to point out that injecting Speedy's hocks with a steroid was not a bad decision. Had Dr. Tolley done x-rays, we probably would have still injected the hocks in the hope of helping him feel better. In Speedy's case however, the steroid might have actually done more harm than good. According to Dr. Rick, the steroid might have reduced the inflammation as intended, but then it may well have destroyed the last bit of cartilage left. In many ways he felt this was a good thing.
There are several treatments available to "hasten" the degeneration of the cartilage so that new bone can fill in the gap, but we opted to just let time and nature run its course. Dr. Rick estimated that it will take three to nine months for the bones to completely fuse, if they ever do. Not all hocks fuse completely. When I asked if Speedy will ever compete at the same level again, he said it was unlikely, but not impossible.
So. For now, Speedy will spend the rest of the summer and the fall hanging out. After that, we will see if he becomes sound or not. I have more to say, but I'll leave all that for tomorrow.
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. We're currently showing Third Level for the 2020 show season. 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 schooling and showing at the lower levels. 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%
2020 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2020 Pending …
9/20 Caveletti Clinic (c)
10/11 TMC (*)
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
2020 Completed …
10/26-27/19 SCEC (***)
6/20-21/20 SCEC (***)
6/29 Ulf Wadeborn (c)
7/11-12 SLO-CDS (***)
7/27 Breen-Gurley (c)
8/30 Breen-Gurley (c)
2020 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
2 Scores/1 Judge:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
3rd Level Qualifying Modified for 2020
3 Scores/2 Judges:
Score 1: 60.405% Atkins
Score 2: 62.432% Atkins
Score 3: 61.750% Johnson
Stuff I Read