From Endurance to Dressage
Besides having what I considered a really successful show day, I was also lucky enough to find a County Saddle Fitter at the show. A few years ago I retired my Custom Revolution saddle and replaced it with a new-to-me County Connection. I have been pretty happy with this saddle as it has met both Izzy's needs as well as my own. I've had the flocking adjusted a few times, but my previous saddle fitter never loved the fit for Izzy, so I was eager to hear what Tamara Solange thought of the saddle's fit.
First of all, let me just say that Tamara is one of those rarer saddle fitters who will work on any brand of saddle. She explained that wool is wool, so if she can help a client get a better fit in a saddle that she hasn't sold you, she is happy to do so. I really appreciated that about her. My previous saddle fitter felt the same way. Tamara's process was nearly identical to my last saddle fitter's, and she was equally willing to answer questions and explain her process.
Before I rode, I met her at her tent and inquired about a fitting. She volunteered to watch my test to get a feel for how my saddle was working and how it fit me. That was also something I really appreciated. It's clear that Tamara cares about horses and her clients. Once my test was over, she and her assistant brought their materials down to my trailer where Izzy would be most comfortable.
Tamara started off with a hands on diagnostic. She explained that she was feeling for knots or places where the wool flocking had compacted or shifted. Of course my saddle's wool needed to be adjusted. The first thing she found was that immediately beneath my seat bones, the wool was compacted. This is quite normal. She was able to show me how the saddle's panels get flattened on the edge which creates a sort of pleat instead of it being filled out and round. To fix this, she simply pushed the wool back into place so that it rounded the edge of the panel. She then added more flocking to fill in the low spot on the outer side of the panel, being careful to keep it level down the length of the panel.
Each time she made an adjustment, she placed the saddle on Izzy's bare back to see how level it was sitting. She worked on both panels alternately until she felt comfortable with how it sat. She also looked at my pads to see how thick they were. She explained that horses like Izzy, those with steep withers can be harder to fit because the pommel needs to be so high to clear the withers. This in turn requires a rear gusset that broadens and flattens the weight bearing area in the rear panel area.
While my saddle is wide and worked great for my well sprung Arab, it is a tad too wide for Izzy. According to Tamara, this is better for Izzy because if I went to a narrower saddle, I would run into front to back balance issues given Izzy's steep withers. She felt that using my pads to get a level balance ultimately created a better fit for him, and I wouldn't incur the expense of getting a weird shaped saddle that would be difficult to resale later on.
When Tamara was sure she liked her adjustments, she had me girth up Izzy and ride him both directions in a small circle. She wanted to make sure that the points of the tree weren't digging in. When Izzy dropped his head to munch on grass, she cheered. Being willing to stretch down on a small circle with me in the tack proved to her that he was comfortable with her adjustments, and that the saddle fit correctly.
I am excited to find a saddle fitter close to me. She comes to Bakersfield at least twice a year, and if needed, I can always make the hour or so drive to her. If you're anywhere here in Kern County, I can recommend Tamara as an excellent saddle fitter whether you ride in a County Saddle or not. Her fee, $185, seemed quite reasonable considering how high everything related to horses has become.
So, that concludes my weekend of I got you, Izzy, and I'll be alright!
All of that feel good stuff from yesterday was real. It didn't come easy at first though because I was stressed out about the uncooperative virtual session with my trainer, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. When it became obvious that technology was not going to be my friend that day, my husband - who never comes to shows, finally told me to ditch the Pivo and focus on my horse. It was the best piece of advice of the week.
I've had Sean in my ear for every warm up ride for the past year. Not having him there was stressful, but my husband's confidence in my ability to ride without the help, gave me the push I needed. I shut everything out and started to really ride Izzy. As though I had been doing it my whole life, I started asking Izzy those little questions that Sean has taught me to ask. Can you give me some flexion? How about a bit of leg yield? Can you walk? Can you do a balanced canter transition? and on and on. Through it all, I kept reassuring him; I got you Izzy, and I will be alright. Every time he lost his balance and threatened to make his own decision, I gave a tiny half halt, and reminded him that I got you. The more times I said it, the more I believed it. As a result, Izzy believed me too.
As we headed up to the show arena, Izzy kept asking are you sure? He gave the bathrooms a stare, the man on the bench looked scary, and the announcer's booming voice over the loud speaker caused him to leap forward. There's always a friend when you need one though. Izzy leaped on top of "J" when the announcer's voice startled him, but instead of running her down, he gave her hair a deep sniff and took a deep breath. My friend Laurel saw the insecure look in his eyes and happily stood next to him while we waited to head into the ring. By the time we were waved in, Izzy was looking to me for direction.
I halted Izzy in front of the judge's booth and gave our number, then I asked for a trot and rode every step of that test. During the test, I recognized every unbalanced step and worked over and over to keep him steady. I knew we were in a bit of trouble when he kept asking to walk, but I put my spur in and told him to keep going. And then I knew why he wanted to walk. Izzy had to poop.
Lord have mercy. Rather than fight with him, I made a decision. I let him poop knowing that it would lower our score, but since the day was not about scores but about me actually riding and making decisions, I knew listening to him was the right decision. I was right. We earned a 4 for that 20-meter circle. For the canter circle at C, He felt terribly off balance, so instead of just trying to make it around the circle, I asked for a half halt and got a downward transition to trot. I didn't care. He was listening, and I wanted him better balanced. We earned a 4 for that movement as well, but we followed it up with a 7 for our working canter, and for the next canter circle, we earned a 7.0 with the comment "smooth depart."
After our final halt, I broke into a huge smile. There were lots of unbalanced moments, but I couldn't have cared less. My goal was to ride my horse rather than sit there frozen, and I knew I had done it. I was pretty sure we had earned yet another mid-50 score, but I didn't care. I had done what I had set out to do.
To my surprise, we earned a solid 62% and change. Not only that, but it was only the two little mistakes that brought the score down. The test was filled will a solid string of 6.0s, 6.5s, 7.0s and even a 7.5 for our first halt. Had we not had the poop incident or the off balance canter, we would have had a 65% or higher. On the other hand, if I had picked a fight over the pooping or not fixed the canter, we might have had yet another 54%. I am more than happy with the score.
Before I wrap this up, there is one more part to this tale of I got you and I'll be alright. Stay tuned ...
Some of you might remember that a few years ago, my migraines got so bad that getting out of bed became difficult. As bad as it hurt, I just couldn't quit though. In the spring of that year, Speedy and I made our Second Level debut. I was hurting, and I felt completely out of my depth. On the way to the show, one of my favorite songs came on the radio, and it hit me in all the right places. You can read about that experience here. That song became our song. Whenever I doubted myself, that song reminded me that Speedy had my back.
On Sunday, Izzy and I went to a small, USDF show put on by my local CDS Chapter. Over the past few months, It has become clear that while he is not easy to ride, I've been part of the problem, too. Last month's show painted a very clear picture; I haven't been "riding" my horse. I've been sitting there, frozen solid, worried that I'll upset Izzy and cause a blow up. My take-away from that show was that I had better get my ducks in a row and find a way around that inability to relax while showing.
For me, awareness of an issue will nearly always fix whatever's wrong. I needed to work on it of course, but I can now say that I rode my horse on Sunday. It didn't come without some hard work though. Along with a bit of money spent and a fortuitous radio moment, I think I am once again riding while showing.
Working weekly with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, had a lot to do with it. He's been after me for the past year to quit worrying about scores and instead focus on my riding. He finally got through to me. To help, I also bought a new pair of Esprit Equestrian breeches; they look like breeches, but they're actually tights. My hope was that by riding in something less restrictive than breeches, I might feel more relaxed. I was right; I did.
As for the radio moment, I had just left the barn with Izzy loaded up and an hour drive ahead of me. I refused to feel stressed out for the entire drive, so I turned up the radio and waited for something inspiring to play. Almost immediately another favorite song came at just the right moment. It was a Dan + Shay number, a duo that always speaks to my heart. Part of the lyrics go like this:
I got you for the rest of my days
In the sun on Sunday morning or the pouring rain
'Cause I got you for the rest of my life
And if all else goes wrong, baby, I'll be alright
'Cause I got you
Speedy always had my back, and I knew that he would always bring his A game. Izzy can't do that, but hearing that song inspired me to tell Izzy that I got you! For the entire warm up and again during the test, I kept telling him "it was going to be okay, because I got you." And equally important for me was that if it went all wrong, I'll be alright.
Part 2 tomorrow ...
We went to a CDS-Rated show on Sunday, and we actually made it into the ring this time. I know Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage is going to hate me saying this, but without some self-reflection, I can't grow. So here it is: while Izzy was FANTASTIC, I walked away disappointed in myself but with a much clearer picture of what I need to do for the next one.
Because she is one of the greatest human beings on Earth, my dearest friend in all the world came with me to the show to not only hold the Pivo so that Sean could coach me virtually, but she also recorded my test so that Sean and I could watch it later. We pulled into the Equestrian Center with plenty of time to let Izzy stand and rest. He wasn't naughty, but he was a bit anxious and high headed. After we checked in, got my number, and saddled up, we headed over to the warm up arena so we could start the Pivo Meet.
The instant I sat in the saddle, Izzy's back melted like butter. He was completely relaxed and workmanlike. He acted as though he's been to a hundred shows and this one was no different. Sean joined me virtually, but before I could even pick up a trot, the connection was broken. My phone had overheated when the sun beat down on the screen. I quickly walked over to where Kathy was holding my Pivo. I jumped down, threw her the reins, grabbed the Pivo, and sprinted to my trailer. I grabbed two cold packs from the ice chest and sandwiched the phone between them. Within just a minute, the temperature of my phone dropped and I was able to text Sean. I restarted the Pivo Meet and handed everything back to Kathy along with a cold pack. We repositioned her in a less strategic location, but there was more shade. I was certain that was the end of Izzy's relaxed attitude.
I got back in the saddle and found the same relaxed and willing horse underneath me. I on the other hand, couldn't breath. My chest was tight, my legs would not hang, and my shoulders were up around my ears. Sean worked very hard to help me focus on my riding, but I was fighting a near debilitating anxiety. I couldn't even explain it to myself. I have been showing successfully for more than a decade, but the years of riding such a tense horse have made me defensive. Sean urged me to forget about the judge, the score, the act of showing itself and simply focus on riding my horse. I tried, I really did.
At the show we did in May, our plan was simple: we would only show if the warm up was fantastic. The warm up went well, and by the time we were done, Izzy was quiet and relaxed, but we opted not to show because we wanted to end on a very positive feeling. For this show, the entire warm up was brilliant. Izzy never once put a foot out of place or acted anxious. I was the one who was being a Looney Tune. Sean reminded me that Izzy was taking his cue from me, so I needed to focus on my riding. My mouth said yes, but my body just couldn't let go of the stiffness.
Before I knew it, it was time. I don't know when we made the decision to actually show, but suddenly we were at the in-gate with Sean reminding me to ride my horse. I pulled out my ear buds, ended the Meet, and headed through the gate. I greeted the judge, took a deep breath, and walked Izzy toward A. When I heard the bell ring, I asked Izzy to pick up a trot, but as we neared the end of the arena, he got a look at the cow pens below the arena and told me no for the first time all day. I truly did not care about the time or whether we made it in or not. I just asked again until he was willing to walk past. We picked up the trot just as we entered at A.
I made one pretty big error - for the free walk, which should have been from E-F, I rode it from H-F. I tried to hide the mistake by drifting a bit towards the E-F line, but the judge caught it and docked us the 2 points. Fortunately, she didn't ring the bell but let me carry on. She also hated his free walk all together. She couldn't know that it was the first free walk he has ever done in a test without jigging. It earned a 10 in my mind, but she gave it a 4 plus the 2 point deduction for the course error. That one movement killed our overall score. I don't care though, really I don't. We earned a nice string of 6.0s, but we also had three 5.0s, all of which had coefficients of 2. We also had a 6.5 and two 7.0s for a total of 56.538%. We missed a 60% by 9 points, most of which were lost in the free walk.
While I am incredibly proud of Izzy, I am disappointed in myself. If I had actually ridden every stride instead of sitting there hoping he kept it together, I could have fixed much of what the judge noted in her remarks. There were moments were I was actively riding, but not enough of them. During the warm up, Sean asked me what my goal was for the day. I told him that I thought we might make it into the ring. Nope. That was wrong. Since I didn't know what my goal was, I told him he had better tell me what it should be. Your goal is to RIDE your horse! was the answer.
I get it now. I tried to ride my horse; I really did. I rode him some of the time, but next month, my goal will be to ride him the ENTIRE time. So yes, I am disappointed in myself, but I do acknowledge that I did a lot right. Sean reminds me again and again that when Izzy is listening and working with me, it is because of my hard work. He was relaxed in the warm up because I had done everything right. He did what I asked for (as puny as my requests might have been) in the show ring because of my hard work. Now that Izzy has let me take control, I have to honor that gift by demonstrating that I can actually be in control and make good decisions for the two of us.
I didn't admit it to Sean or Kathy, but one of the reasons that I was so disappointed in myself was that I was very aware that Izzy was carrying me that day. I used to ask that of Speedy all the time. When the pressure of trying to do well would make me freeze, I always knew that Speedy had my back. He was famous for saying, "hold on; I got you." As I rode, I thanked Izzy for shouldering the load for the both of us even though I knew it should have been me supporting him. He did more than his part on Sunday, and I felt like I let him down just a little bit.
As I rode the test, I was distinctly aware of the complete silence from the bleachers. It was as though everyone held their breath along with me. When we finally halted at X and I saluted the judge, there was a very enthusiastic round of applause. Everyone there knows my story, but rather than judging my mistakes, I could feel their desire for us to do well. They wanted Izzy to succeed as much as I did. That silent support was very much appreciated.
Do I wish I had ridden better? Yes. Am I discouraged? No. In fact, I am especially encouraged as I know what needs to be done. That's what Sean was hoping for. We needed to see where we are. Now that we've slowly peeled back the layers of our showing issues, it seems that the next layer is all about me. I can handle that. I have a three-day boot camp at STC Dressage planned beginning this Friday. I have a feeling that Sean might be working on my need to ride every single stride.
I say bring it because I want our next show to be one where I can tell Izzy, I got you!
We did go to a show, but we didn't actually "show." It was the first time I've ever scratched. I've almost done it plenty of times before, but my philosophy has always been if I paid for it, I am riding it. That idea served me well with Speedy but not so much with Izzy.
During an earlier lesson, I told Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, that I didn't want to to go to the show. That too was a first. I love showing. I don't love failing, and I certainly don't enjoy almost dying, both of which were all I did last show season. Sean didn't press me too hard, but he thought I needed to go. What could I possible accomplish by going? Sean's answer was quite simple - nothing. The trip wouldn't be about scores. It was simply a way to find out where we are.
When I still expressed my doubts, and they were big ones, Sean made the following suggestion: I should go to the show and just do a warm up ride. If the warm up was fun and easy, we could then consider doing a test. If that was fantastic, we could consider doing a second test. I was still doubtful, but Sean felt that it would be worthwhile. He also insisted that I braid and dress. Whether we made it into the show ring or not, he wanted Izzy to understand that it was a show.
With an actual, articulated plan, I agreed. I did the predawn wake up and was at Starbuck's by 5:30 a.m.;Izzy was braided by 6:30. My dearest friend in the world agreed to make the trip to Tehachapi with me. By 6:50 we were on the road. We pulled into the Bear Valley Equestrian Center and parked. After unloading Izzy, we hung his hay net and a bucket of water. I checked in, got my number, and quickly changed into my show clothes.
I'll write about the specifics in another blog post, but since Sean couldn't come all the way to Tehachapi, we decided to try and use the Pivo so that he could coach me through the warm up. While I was waiting for him to join me in the Pivo Meet, I decided to go ahead and starting warming up. Izzy immediately lost his marbles. He slammed on the brakes, threatened to rear and emphatically said nope, no way, no how. Thankfully, my friend Kathy was there, and even though she knew I didn't want to show, I could not walk out of the warm up after having just driven an hour and a half. I sucked it the heck up.
To my relief, Sean was suddenly in my ear. He was able to quickly assess the situation and suggested I stay closer to the gate. The warm up ring is a ginormous arena, but there are cows at the far end, and Izzy's I can handle only so much threshold started this side of halfway across the arena. It wasn't easy, but with Sean's support, Izzy eventually let me take control and put him to work. We schooled for nearly an hour, but by the time we were through, horses had come and gone, we had calmly cantered, done shoulder-in, a bit of half pass, and even some imaginary centerlines.
Even had I not already scratched, we schooled past my ride times. Neither Sean nor I cared. I was actually relieved to not have to show - so was Izzy! Sean was very pleased with Izzy and felt that the day was a complete success. We were able to school through some rough moments, but we finished with a happy horse. We left the warm up and went straight back to the trailer. Izzy looked a little surprised, but finishing with a quiet horse who wasn't stressed out was our goal for the day.
Once I was back at home, I called Sean and we discussed next plans. It seems that moving down from Second to First wasn't enough to help ease Izzy's show anxiety. Moving down to just the warm up seems to be what he needs. Our next thought is to head to a schooling show in June and just do the warm up again. We'll keep that same plan through the summer. If that's what it takes to help Izzy conquer his show anxiety, I'm all in!
If nothing else, doing the warm up is cheaper than paying for classes, and we still get to put on our party clothes.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%