From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy won't be going to another show until February or March. I have until then to get a few things figured out. The first thing I am working on is getting a better connection from his booty to my hand. It's not like that's a brand new idea or anything, but I am just digging in a little deeper.
Seeing how he behaved at the two shows we did this fall has given me a lot of information. Things that were little at home turned out to be big at the show. It turns out that the movements themselves are not what I need to be schooling. Yes, he needs a clean simple change for Second Level, but that doesn't really matter if he's going to be a giraffe.
Fixing the giraffe moments at home is my new priority. Over the past few days, I've added baby spurs and upped my determination level to a slightly higher setting. I told Izzy, very politely, this is your space. This is the box in which you will work. You are not permitted to leave this box unless I give you express permission. The conversation has gone over just about as I thought it might, not exactly great.
Being in "the box" means that he has to step forward from the hind end, and his head is not allowed to be anywhere near mine. The spurs are to insist on sideways when he tries to be a giraffe. It's really hard to be a giraffe when you're leg yielding. On Sunday, I had him leg yield from quarter line to centerline back to quarter line about 4 billion times. It's amazing how non-giraffe-like one gets when one is moving sideways.
I am also preparing Izzy's Show Kit. Speedy's Show Kit included Quic Silver Whitening Shampoo and a cooler for keeping warm when he was wet. Those was the only "special" things he needed at shows. Keeping Izzy clean and bright is not really an issue. His brown coat hides all kinds of things, and if he gets dirty, he doesn't mind being wet as he's never cold.
Izzy's Show Kit will include a tube of UlcerGard. One tube holds four doses which will work perfectly. Until he shows me differently, he'll get a dose on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. In his kit, I'll also need a ton of Medical Report Forms. Omeprazole is not on USEF's prohibited substance list, but the Technical Delegate (TD) at the last show - a TD I respect, said that reporting it is the safest course of action as you never know when your horse might be selected for drug testing. There's always a chance that one of the ingredients in the tube might pop up on the drug report.
The next thing slated for Izzy's Show Kit will be two tubes of Grand Meadows Grand Calm; each tube contains one to two doses. None of the ingredients are on USEF's prohibited substance list, so I feel pretty safe with this one. According to the package, it's essentially a comprehensive blend of nutrients including Magnesium Oxide, Magnesium Carbonate, Magnesium Chelate, Theanine, Thiamine, and Organic Magnesium. For now, magnesium isn't performance enhancing although technically, it is used to affect the mood of the horse, something that USEF disallows.
USEF strives to eliminate any drugs and medications that enhance the performance of the horse or affect the mood of the horse. The difficulty is that there are MANY therapeutic uses for a lot of the drugs listed in USEF's guidelines. Magnesium is not banned, and since it is something that horses actually require for proper nerve and muscle function, I am not going to feel as though I am cheating by giving it to him. Izzy's daily vitamin supplement already contains a good amount of magnesium, but maybe a bit more will help him when he's stressed.
Currently, I am on the hunt for a small tackle box type of container to store Izzy's goodies in. I am also looking at maybe adding some essential oils like lavender. Speedy had his own preferences at shows - he liked a 5:30 a.m. jog. I just haven't had Izzy at enough shows to learn what he needs or wants at a show to be happy. Now that I know that he needs to be a bit pampered, I am on the hunt for anything that even smacks of pampering.
Whatever it takes ...
We Didn't Die
Like always, I woke just before dawn. I dressed quickly, and headed out to get Izzy. After talking to Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, I had a better plan for day two. Phase one included lunging the heck out of Izzy so that he could get rid of his nervous energy. Doing that under saddle in the warm up ring would have likely interfered with everyone else's warm up. There's no reason every one else should have to suffer.
The lunge line I take to shows is a super long cotton rope. It's a good twenty-five feet long - long enough to really let Izzy run, and it's easy to keep a solid grip on the line. I started the timer on my watch, and sent him forward. He giraffed his neck at a huge trot for five solid minutes. I stopped him, sent him the other way, and watched him do the same thing for another five minutes. I stopped him again and repeated the process at the canter for another five minutes each way. By then, he was pretty sweaty and huffing, but he wasn't ready to stop. For the last ten minutes, I had him trot, canter, trot, walk, changing directions several times.When my timer read thirty minutes, I took him down to the wash rack and hosed off as much of the sweat as I could; it was still pretty cold and windy. Then I left him to think about life.
Again, I had to ride Second Level Test 2 first. I did a short warm up - he was much less tense than the day before, but I knew we weren't going to get a 60%. My friend Jen had gone home, so I didn't have a groom to video the ride, and I have misplaced the score sheet, but before losing it, I saw that we earned 50%. Not what I was hoping for, but it was a 6% better than the day before. That's not worth getting excited about, but I was relatively "happier."
Phase two of the plan also involved spurs. It's really hard to use a spur on a horse that only wants to shoot forward, but the judge from day one had commented that I needed to make a connection from the hind end to the bit. I knew that, but again, I was riding a rocket. I put the spurs on anyway. During the fifteen minutes between tests, I took Izzy to the warm up ring and cantered. That's all we did - canter left lead, canter right lead. Counter canter, true canter. And I did all of it with the spur on. Every time he tried to suck back, evade, or lean away from something, I put the spur on and gave a huge half halt.
For Second Level Test 1, the final test of the show, we earned a 55% and change - that score sheet is lost as well. Now, that doesn't sound very good, and it's silly to think that I was excited about such a not-quite-mediocre score, but it was more than 10% better than the day before. Not only was the score higher, but I truly felt him begin to relax. I really wish I had video from that ride because there were many moments when I felt like we were actually "dressage-ing." His neck stretched forward from his withers, and I was able to lift my hands out of my lap and truly ride him forward.
This show was a hot mess. It was disappointing, expensive, and exhausting. Even so, I walked away with a lot of good information about how to better mange Izzy at shows. Until he learns to be less anxious at shows, there will be a lot of lunging - something I really hate, a lot of cantering in the warm up, and I'll use spurs.
I don't want to do it, but I am also searching for a quick-acting, legal, calming supplement. I used magnesium for over a year and didn't see any changes, but maybe now it might work. I am also going to include some ulcer medication for the weekend of the show. And lastly, I am looking for a bonnet with fabric over the ears that is thick enough to muffle some of the noise while still being legal (DR121.7). I think I've found one that will work; the ear covering is made from high-density drilled cotton.
Dressage is hard. Showing is hard. But it is only through adversity that we reveal our true character. I am not sure that Malcom X said it exactly this way, and I doubt he had dressage in mind when he said it, but this quote has been credited to him ...
"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time."
Isn't that truth?
After our very stressful journey to the Earl Warren Show Grounds in lovely Santa Barbara, things went downhill, fast and furiously. Stormy weather had been predicted for the weekend, so I was prepared for some tension because of that, but Izzy took it to a whole new level. After being thrown about in a trailer ride from Hell, he was not interested in dressage, especially in stormy, cold weather.
Even though the wind was howling and the sun was beginning to set, I saddled Izzy for a Friday afternoon warm up ride. The Earl Warren Show Grounds has several arenas, but all four of our tests were to be in "The Dome." It's a great arena, but it terrified Izzy. With the heavy winds on Friday afternoon, the ceiling tiles were rattling and crashing. They even made me nervous.
I also schooled him in the warm up arena, but nothing was working to get him to relax even the tiniest bit. He was as tense and nervous as he can be. I kept calm and carried on even though nothing I was doing was helping. After a very disappointing ride, I cleaned him up, put him in his stall, and fed him. There wasn't anything else to do.
Early the next morning, I went out to feed him, but he didn't look very well. Even though it was quite cold and windy, his flanks were sweaty, and he had virtually no gut sounds on his left side. He looked as though he was beginning to colic. I hastily called my friend Jen who was driving up to the show to serve as groom. She works at a vet hospital. I ran his symptoms by her and she thought he might just have an ulcer-y tummy. She agreed to bring some UlcerGard and Banamine. In the meantime, I started walking him.
As we walked near the barns, Izzy started to relax, but if I walked anywhere near the arenas, he got tense and stiff. In between short walks, he hungrily munched on the little bit of alfalfa that I had brought. It makes him high, but I was more interested in soothing his tummy. By the time Jen arrived, a little after 9:00 a.m., it was clear he wasn't colicky, but his tummy was upset. We gave him some UlcerGard, and then we headed up to the show office to complete a Medical Report Form.
Fortunately my first test wasn't until 11:36 a.m., so we had plenty of time to let the UlcerGard begin to do its thing. It also gave us time to evaluate Izzy to see if he was actually colicky. He was pooping normally, drinking, and munching on his hay. By 10:45, I decided to get dressed. My plan was to keep the warm up to a minimum since being in there really stressed him out. I think we could have skipped the warm up altogether as it did nothing to calm his anxiety.
I've only watched the test once, and it doesn't look nearly as bad as it felt. It was like sitting on a rocket. Izzy was as hard-backed and braced as a horse can be. There was absolutely no movement in his back, and his legs jackhammered us around the arena. We earned a 6.0 for our final halt, and eighteen 4.0s. Yes, you read that correctly - eighteen 4.0s. We also earned seven 5.0s which seemed like gifts. Our final score was a 44.146%.
For this show, all of the rides were run in reverse order which meant I rode Second Level Test 1 after riding Test 2. That may have helped, although I can't say for sure, as I was able to finish the day with an "easier" test. The score was still terrible, but at least it was slightly improved at 45.541%. We actually earned two 6.0s for Test 1, but there were still a whole bunch of 4.0s - twelve of them. There were slightly more 5.0s - ten of them.
That evening, I called Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, for some advice. We devised a plan of attack for the next day. I couldn't see how it could get any worse. Here's Test 1 in all its cringe-worthy glory.
Stay tuned for day 2 ...
I took Izzy to a two-day USDF show this past weekend, and I mean it literally when I say we didn't die. Most of the time we mean we made it though the show without anything too terrible happening. I cannot say that about this little adventure. And before I go on, it is OKAY to laugh. When I called my parents to tell them about it, we were laughing hysterically. My husband, not so much.
I should preface this by telling you that one of my greatest fears is being stuck on the side of a busy highway with a problem I can't solve.
The trip from Bakersfield to Santa Barbara while hauling a trailer is nearly three hours. It involves driving down the valley on Interstate 5, one of California's busiest freeways. From there I take the 126, much less busy, but still four lanes. The last highway is Interstate 101, another very busy freeway that runs from San Diego to the top of Washington state.
Shortly after leaving the valley and beginning the long pull up and over the Grapevine - the section of I5 that includes the pass, the front end of my truck began to vibrate and stutter fairly violently. So violently, that I immediately took my foot off the gas and began to look for a place to pull over. That particular stretch of I5 is pretty sketchy as the cars are on the left, and the two right hand lanes are usually a long train of semi trucks crawling up over the pass. There really isn't a place to pull over.
Each time I attempted to come back up to speed, the truck would vibrate and shake. Eventually I was able to creep over into the far right hand lane, and suddenly the vibration disappeared. I called my husband and asked for advice. He of course freaked out - he hates that I travel alone. His advice was to turn around and come home which I immediately ignored. The vibrating had stopped by then, so I kept my speed at 50 and decided to pull off at an upcoming rest area to check things out.
I parked in one of the trucking lanes and quickly jumped out looking for a flat tire. All of my tires were good, and Izzy was standing in the trailer looking at me as if to say what?. I got back in and adjusted my trailer brakes up and down thinking maybe they were sticking. I continued on without anything else happening other than an occasional small vibration, but nothing like the violent shaking from earlier.
I drove on for another hour and a half and was nearly to Santa Barbara when several vehicles passed me honking and waving for me to pull over. I looked in my mirrors and couldn't see anything wrong, but I trusted that something was making folks flag me down. Again, there wasn't much of a shoulder, but I spotted a small space between the freeway and the lane that was merging on. I pulled into that spot.
With my heart pounding in terror, remember, this is one of my greatest fears, I plastered myself to the side of the truck as I tried not to get hit by the cars whizzing by me just feet away. I didn't see a flat tire, but when I looked closer, I saw that my propane tank was underneath my trailer attached with only the rubber hose! The metal bracket that held it to the trailer had snapped. I reached under the trailer to drag it out, but it was wedged too firmly for me to shake it loose.
As I struggled with the tank worried about the cars flying by me just feet away, I heard something, and turned to see a masked man who pushed me out of the way of traffic. Really, he was like a masked Batman. He jerked the tank free and asked me for a wrench to disconnect it. In a daze - where had this masked crusader come from? I unlocked my trailer door and pulled out my tool kit. He grabbed a wrench, disconnected the tank from the trailer, and then asked for something to tie down the loose hose. I found some zip ties which he used to secure everything. He put the damaged tank in my truck bed, and before I could really thank him, he went jogging off down the side of the freeway to his parked car.
Inside the living quarters of my trailer, it looked as though a tornado had struck. The cabinet doors were all hanging open, and everything was strewn about the floor. The vibrations I had felt earlier must have been even stronger in the trailer. Izzy must have had a rough ride. I wasn't able to do anything about it sitting on the side of the highway, so I locked the door and ran back to my truck. The show grounds were less than 15 minutes away, so it seemed much safer to deal with things there.
I checked in, and drove to my assigned barn. I unloaded everything, tucked Izzy into his stall, and drove around to the trailer parking area. I didn't want to do it, but I knew my husband was worried. I wanted to tell him that I had discovered the cause of the vibration, but the problem was that I knew he'd be even more concerned because I now had a very full and very damaged propane tank sitting in the back of my truck next to a gas can and a generator.
I gave him a call. He was even more freaked out than before. I knew he wasn't mad at me, but his concern always involves a lot of yelling. He made me PROMISE that I would get rid of the tank IMMEDIATELY. I don't know about you, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with that tank.
After trying several non-emergency numbers, I finally gave up and dialed 911. The dispatcher thought that situation was an emergency and took down all of my location information. She advised me to turn on my hazards and wait for the fire department to arrive.
The SBFD deserves a huge shoutout. That truck showed up within five minutes, lights flashing, and burly firemen ready to assist. I explained, tearfully - by this point I was a bundle of nerves with tears leaking out, what had happened. Those three fire fighters were amazing. They listened carefully and then inspected everything while I stood back. They looked at the tank and decided that since they couldn't smell any gas leaking, there wasn't any immediate risk of all of us being blown up. They decided that letting the gas out was the safest option.
While the gas was being dispelled into the air, they examined the broken bracket and offered some suggestions for getting it fixed. They waited around with me for about 30 minutes as the tank slowly drained (It took several hours to drain completely.). I thanked them profusely and apologized repeatedly for being the lady with a cat stuck in the tree. They never laughed at me though and treated me with nothing but respect and kindness.
Truthfully, it really was a dangerous situation that could have ended very, very badly. My husband and I later joked that the metal on that tank must have been two inches thick. Had it been punctured and had it sparked, we really could have died. But, we didn't. The rest of the weekend didn't get any better, but we didn't die, so there's that.
Stay tuned for more tomorrow.
Overall, the show went better than I expected, and it gave me a lot to think about. Speedy has been the only other horse I have ever taken to an over-night dressage show. Izzy has been to two-day clinics, but those were nothing like the hustle and bustle of a two-day USDF show. At this show, I got a glimpse into what it will take to manage his preferences.
He showed me that he's not thrilled with stabling that is close and crowded, but he'll deal with it. He showed me that his appetite stays strong, and he's happy to drink from a hanging bucket. Speedy doesn't like drinking from hanging buckets and prefers to drink from the ground. Izzy picked one neighbor that he really liked, and the rest he ignored. Was it just her, or did he just latch on to the closest thing?
Izzy also showed me that he isn't at all bothered by a million horses in the warm up ring, but all of that energy ramps him up. The warm up is something that he's going to need to get used to. The only way to do that is to go to more shows. He showed me that he needs to learn to ignore all of the activity which is going to be a challenge. I ride at home by myself. There is virtually no activity. A delivery truck or other car might drive by, or the neighbor's gate may swing open, but that's the extent of our hubbub.
We have another two-day show in a week, and it's turning out to be pretty big as well. There will be two rings which means another busy warm up. One issue is that I know he needs to be ridden at least 30 minutes to be effective in his work, but every minute we spend in a crowded warm up ring adds to his tension. So while I ride to achieve suppleness I fight the building tension at the same time. What do I do? Do I skip the warm up altogether? Do I ask for a quick walk, trot, canter and call it quits? I won't know until we have a few more shows under our belt.
I definitely think Izzy felt overwhelmed by the show environment, especially by Sunday. The longer we were there, the more tense he became. He already carries around a certain amount of tension in his every day life; he's the one whose head snaps up first over any little change at the ranch. He does relax though, and he loves to play. Lately, Reggie has been blowing all the leaves from the giant sycamore tree into Izzy's dry pasture, and he loves them. He crashes through the pile just because he likes the sound they make. He and Speedy gallop and play along the fence line, and each day I have to throw Izzy's toys back onto his side of the field. He loves to toss them over the fence.
And then there is the issue of Izzy's neck. It was very short and very tight. It's not like that's a brand new issue, but now I know I need to ride him at home with a neck that is as low as possible. If I can encourage him to carry it really long and deep, it might not shorten quite so much at the next show. To that end, I've been riding him this week with a no short neck policy. When he tries to suck it in, I bend him and push him sideways until he drop his neck from his withers.
I've spent most of this week reviewing the judge's comments and thinking about them as I ride. The angle of our shoulder-in varied; I've focused on keeping it more steady. Twice we lost the canter in the ten-meter circle to the right; we've been doing 10-meter circles at A, E, C, and B. Izzy jigged in the walk, so we've been walking and halting every time he take a hurried step.
For some riders, a show is about showing off what their horse can do. I would love to be able to do that, but I don't get enough regular lessons to get the kind of feedback needed to polish everything before the show. So for me, showing is about getting constructive feedback that I can use to guide my schooling rides. In teaching, we call that a formative assessment. The results of the assessment, in my case, the judge's scores, help "form" an impression of the demonstrated learning. Based on that impression, the teacher modifies future lessons to address the deficiencies. The assessment/test also serves as a summative assessment; a summary of what the student has learned.
Earning a 55% definitely forms an impression. I now know what I need to work on. As our scores rise, fingers crossed, I will know that I am correctly addressing our learning deficiencies. And if our scores don't improve, I'll need to approach the problem differently.
While it might not sound like it, I am truly enjoying this challenge. Izzy is a fun horse to ride. He's ridiculously affectionate, powerful under saddle, and naturally talented. Now that he's my primary focus, I already see lots of recent improvement in his work. We may crash and burn next weekend, but I am feeling confident that we'll do just that much better.
Here's to a weekend of good riding!
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 …
3/6-7 El Sueño (***)
4/17-18 El Sueño (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
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