From Endurance to Dressage
I've said this before, a lot of times, but Izzy is not the easiest horse to ride. And truthfully, he never will be, at least not for me. A better rider would be able to do better; I am not that rider. While I am not thrilled with this situation, it is what it is, so I continue to get the best work from him that I can.
Winter is always hard for him. I've always ascribed his winter behavior to the cold. He's a big horse, so he doesn't cool down easily. In the summer, it takes a lot to get his engine revved. When it's nice and crisp and the air crackles, so does he.
Since I know this about him, it no longer upsets me. I just roll with it. When I rode yesterday, he was his regular winter self - on fire. When we first got to work, I felt myself thinking, just trot like a normal horse, please. Then I realized I was only asking for him to trot on the rail, all the while hoping and wishing to the Blue Fairy for something magical to happen. Suddenly, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, was in my ear telling me to start asking Izzy questions. He reminded me that if I don't take charge, Izzy will.
Just so we're clear, I wasn't in a lesson, but after doing close to 100 lessons with Sean, all of them with ear buds, I am used to him speaking directly to my brain. Recalling his voice while I ride is simply muscle memory. I immediately moved Izzy off the rail into a leg yield, and then another and another.
It shouldn't be a surprise because Sean has been helping me to get there, but those leg yields felt pretty fantastic. Rather than leaving my outside rein empty as has been the issue lately, I very clearly felt that I was riding Izzy into both reins evenly. Once I felt that I had his attention, I started to switch up the leg yields. As we reached the diagonal, I asked for a half halt, and later, a full halt. Then we picked up the trot and leg yielded in the other direction. Eventually, we were zig zagging across the dressage court.
I realized that Izzy had shifted from braced and distracted, to focused with power. He wasn't as supple as I would have liked, but for him, it was a big step forward. In the canter work, I remembered to ask him questions as well. We did some leg yields, counter canter, and haunches in on a circle. Since it is in the canter work that he can really push back against me, I focused on getting him to bend through his body by asking his haunches to move around.
The more I asked him to move away from my leg into my outside rein, the more willing he was to start reaching instead of pushing. One of the things that Sean and I have talked about is using these cold months to focus on a good foundation of training so that when the weather warms back up, Izzy will be that much farther along in his training. When the basics are better established, it should allow us to do better at shows.
For now, shows are many months away, so I am riding the horse I have today.
In the past nineteen days, I think I've ridden eight or nine times. I usually count the days I haven't ridden. I am finally feeling fine with being an "underachiever." It has certainly taken a few weeks for me to let go of the guilt of needing time off, but I think I am there.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, I saw that the valley was socked in with Tule fog. For those of you who have in lived in California's Central Valley, you'll know that our fog is not like any most have ever seen. It can be so dense and wide spread at times that visibility will be less than 50 feet for miles. It's also really cold. It was in the 30s on Saturday morning with humidity near 100%. I waited until after ten o'clock to head out to the ranch, and even then it was still just a few degrees above freezing.
While it was miserably cold and wet, I was feeling pretty cheerful about a ride, something that I haven't felt in at least a month. I considered just hacking around the ranch, but I figured Izzy and I might both warm up if we actually worked. I was right. By the time I had two hooves picked out, I was removing a layer. Weather has never been a riding detractor for me. Cold or hot, I'm game. So while I have been checking out for the past few weeks, it has had nothing to do with the weather.
It was cold enough though that I opted to ride in my tall muck boots. Nothing hurts more than dismounting onto frozen feet. With a flannel jacket, gloves, and my feet snug and warm in my muck boots, I actually headed up to the arena feeling pretty lighthearted, which was a welcome change from the gloomy me I've had to live with the last month.
I didn't have any kind of riding plan. Izzy hadn't been worked in at least five days, so I knew he'd let me know how he was feeling. Pretty dang spicy was the answer. There was lots of sassy head shaking, ear flicks to see if I was paying attention, and a few little woohoo moments. I love riding in my tall muck boots because they're a bit thicker than my leather tall boots. They give me the feeling of a shorter stirrup along with a wide foot bed. I have a velcro butt anyway, but with those bad boys on, I feel invincible.
Knowing Izzy was too hot for precision, I spent most of the ride cantering around. Eventually, I started asking for some shallow loops and fifteen-meter circles. Izzy has figured out that anything done off the track while cantering probably means a flying change is coming, so I tried to reduce his anticipation by not asking for the change. Until I did. It was fugly as all heck, but for the first time in at least two months, I finally got a left to right flying change. So yeah, I am pretty much the bomb.
Maybe if I take another two weeks off, we'll have confirmed changes.
What with all this searching for my joy business, you might think that I've given up riding all together. Not so, my friend, not so. I am just not entertaining the I HAVE TO RIDE AND MAKE PROGRESS parts. Things are a lot more fun if you allow your self to suck eggs and laugh about it.
I hopped up on Izzy on Saturday, but it wasn't at the butt crack of dawn like I usually do. I did some things around the house - laundry, making breakfast, paying bills, you know - important stuff. I ended up moseying my way out to the ranch a little before noon. It wasn't warm, but at least the sun was actually up.
It wasn't a horrible ride, but it wasn't great either. Fall and winter are not Izzy's favorite seasons. The cold weather does very bad things to his attention span. It's almost like he's been chugging Mountain Dew and stuffing his pie hole with, well, pie - super sugary pie. This is not a new thing. And fortunately, with our especially long summer, he took longer than usual to get so distracted.
When he's like this, I just go back to working on foundational stuff. When he pushes against my hand, I slow things way down for him so that he can relax. Once he relaxes, I ask for more forward. The relaxation doesn't last long, so we spend a lot of time rubber-banding. We stretch forward and snap back, stretch forward, and snap back. Rarely does the rubber band break anymore, which is progress.
Sometimes I shake my head at how greedy I've become. Two years ago I would have been ecstatic to ride the horse I am riding today. These days, he's pretty steady in the bridle - too steady, actually (he needs to let me move him around more). He never bolts - now that I have convinced him to let me be in control, and even his spooks are little. He actually looks embarrassed when he does have a brain fart. That's the problem with greed though, there's never enough. The better he gets, the more I want.
I like looking back at these old pictures. He's always been prettier than I recognized.
The first change is in the weather, thank God. Our afternoons were in the mid-70s this week instead of the 90s, but that's not what I mean. Since we came back from the show at SCEC two weeks ago, Izzy has been different. Better. More relaxed. Almost - dare I say it? Confident.
Of course that didn't happen overnight, and maybe it has been there longer than I've recognized, but I am seeing it now. It's not like he's now bold and fearless because he's not, but I can honestly feel that he is looking to me for his cues about how to behave. He was really good this week. And it wasn't just that he wasn't spooking - that has sometimes been my criteria for good, he actually responded to my questions. The one in particular was the question, can you give me more? As in more energy, more stride, more bounce. And he answered with a yes.
It happened first in the leg yield. He was really doggin' it, so it I said come one, dude, move it. He saluted smartly and said yes ma'am. Then it happened in the shoulder-in. Then in crossing the diagonal. There was just that feeling of a little extra impulsion and bounce. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has been telling me for more than a year that it was going to happen if I kept asking. Besides just asking though, Sean has said it 12,000 times if he has said it once - trust him. Don't throw away the reins, but give just a little more when he's doing things right. Well, he did, I did, and he answered correctly.
This is a very good change.
After last week's not-so-great work and a bit of a temper tantrum during Saturday's lesson, Izzy came out feeling pretty good on Sunday morning. In fact, as soon as I pulled up he started hollering at me. Because I don't speak horse perfectly, I couldn't be sure whether he was saying, come ride me or come feed me. Since his breakfast was sitting in his feeder, I am inclined to think it was the former.
He was genuinely a different horse from the day before. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, likes to remind me that if the day after a less-than-perfect ride, Izzy is a willing partner, I am doing something right. Since I didn't fight with him on Saturday, he didn't expect to fight on Sunday. For the most part, our rides over the past six months are pretty ho-hum. Occasionally, we get some great moments, but most of the time we're just putting one foot in front of the other as we constantly strive to make the basics our strength.
As I watched video from Sunday's ride, I was really happy with how steady he is becoming in the movements. Here are a few clips that show his workmanlike attitude, especially in the lateral work.
As I continue to school the basics - transitions and lateral work, our performance at shows will only improve. We're still not showing anything above Training Level, but as soon as we get the show anxiety taken care of, we should be in a position to earn some really solid scores. That's the plan anyway.
Speaking of which, we're doing a Training Level test at a USDF show on Sunday.
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%: