From Endurance to Dressage
Getting Izzy off the property more frequently has been one of my summer goals. Getting him to a show has been another. I am not doing so great with goal #2 - getting my Third Level scores with Speedy took precedence, but I have been kicking butt when it comes to taking Izzy places. On Friday, I texted my friend Amy - more about her tomorrow, and asked if I could bring Izzy over for a ride.
Izzy has been to her place for lessons a time or two, but it's been a long while. Amy is super cool and wouldn't mind if I brought him over on a weekly basis, but the problem is that it's a 45-minute drive each way. Bakersfield's summers are typically hotter than the sun, but it's been ridiculously mild here lately, so hauling Izzy across town has not been as likely to cause him (or me) to have heat stroke. So, I threw him in the trailer and off we went.
With the fantastic work that Izzy's been giving me at home and on the trail with my friend Marci, I had hoped that working in Amy's arena was going to be easy and tension free. Nope.
I watched a great video by Amelia Newcomb the other day. It was about avoiding negative self-talk. Lots of what she said resonated with me, but there was one idea in particular that I took with me to Amy's place. Amelia states that it's important NOT to worry about the things that are out of my control - traffic noise, airplanes flying overhead, the spooky corner, and so on. Amelia explains in her video that since those things are out of my control, I need to just ignore them.
I bring this up because Amy has built a large wall at the C end of her arena that blocks out the sudden movements of the goats and dogs that live on her neighbor's property. Both Speedy and Izzy HATE that wall. It is rather intimidating, but come on. It's just a wall, no different than the side of a barn. Izzy was having none. of. it.
I started off walking him at the A end of the arena and then slowly spiraled down to the wall walking towards it at an angle. I stopped, let him look at it, passed by it again and so on. After what seemed like more than enough time to get reacquainted with the wall, Izzy gave an emphatic thanks, but no thanks. I am outta here!
And so began 30 minutes of here is my leg, here is your bend, shake hands. I was sympathetic, but firm. Rearing, balking, bolting, flailing, or otherwise trying to flee the scene weren't to be tolerated. And all of this was at the walk. As I worked on directing his haunches and shoulders where I wanted them to go, I kept reminding myself that the wall simply did not matter. It was one of those things that is out of my control, so I ignored it, and rode my horse as though it wasn't there.
Eventually, Izzy realized that I was up there talking to him. He never gave a huge sigh of relief, but he allowed himself to be ridden. I kept the work to the A half of the arena, and he finally trotted and cantered without plowing through my aids. Mostly. I was actually quite pleased with the canter work. We kept it on a 20-meter circle, but I did lots of canter to trot to canter transitions that were fluid and soft.
When I felt that he was listening, I moved him back down to the wall and did some more work at the walk. He wasn't relaxed, but he agreed to walk down centerline tracking both left and right from G. And when I hopped off, we had to do a bit of in hand work when he decided to race me back to the barn, preferably way before me.
And then, because I wanted him to get the feeling of being in a stall/paddock that was not his own, I pulled his tack and popped him in an empty stall with an attached paddock and went to check out Amy's pottery studio. She's a very talented artist with a newly launched Etsy store that I want to share, but that will have to to wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, check out her store here.
Oh, and then Izzy went somewhere else the next day! Like I said, we're out and about!
It's feast or famine around here. For a while there, the universe conspired to keep me from getting a lesson at all. And then suddenly, I am getting so many lessons that I can't stay caught up on watching the videos and writing about them. It's a good problem to have. The Sunday before Superbowl weekend, I had a lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables.
The weekend before that, I had attended the CDS Annual Meeting. Being surrounded by so many accomplished riders gave me the push to have higher expectations, both for myself and the big brown horse. I realized that I need to be a more exacting rider, or one who has higher expectations for my horse. That horse, of course, being Izzy.
All of that was just the long way of saying that I asked Chemaine to help me step up my game. I need to push Izzy for harder stuff, and I need to quit making excuses. He can do anything I ask of him; I just need to start asking and expecting it to be there.
We did several exercises during that lesson, both of which got his brain focused on me. The first was an exercise based on the number 4. It went something like this: 4 strides of shoulder in, 4 strides of straightness, 4 strides of haunches in, 4 strides of straightness. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
The exercise can be changed any number of ways. It doesn't have to be shoulder in and haunches in; fill in the blanks with any movements you'd like. We also did it with 4 strides of compression/collection followed by 4 strides of relaxation. The end result was that Izzy relaxed into a much steadier tempo. Knowing that he was going to get a release dissipated a lot of his tension.
The second exercise was one we did to help Izzy stay focused instead of being spooky. He was really having a fit about working down both long sides, the left one in particular. Chemaine had me pick up the canter and come down centerline so that I could leg yield back to the rail. At the far end, I repeated the movement, coming down center line and leg yielding back to the rail. Then we switched it up by doing half pass to the rail followed by counter canter.
In the video, I went a bit rogue here and there by throwing in my own stuff. Sometimes Chemaine would be thinking leg yield, but I had already prepared for half pass. So occasionally it looks as though I am directionally challenged. Which is true, but it's hard to ride a strong horse, listen, and follow directions all at the same time. Walking and chewing gum sort of stuff ... am I right?!
My goal for the next few months is to push this horse for more. He can do it, I just need to ask and expect it to be there. Once I start getting a better quality of work, I need to string it all together into something that will earn at least a 60% percent.
If only they'd let me write my own tests.
When I last left you, Izzy was a hot mess. He was such a disaster that even his skin was flinching. Friday afternoon started my weeklong Thanksgiving vacation, so I put our school's two-hour early out to good use. I hoofed it out to the barn two hours earlier than normal with a plan at the ready.
I hate to try multiple solutions at once because you never truly know whether it was the first thing that worked, the second thing, both things together, or worse, just coincidence. With that said, I tried two things at once.
After discussing it with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, I decided to try a four-day course of Ulcer Gard (blog post about that coming soon) followed by a course of once-a-week Ulcer Gard for a month.
The second part of Operation Boot Camp involved a boat load of lunging and free lunging. Chemaine's advice was to get him moving until he finally agreed to give me access to his back. That's really the crux of Izzy's issues, he holds all of his tension in his back which prevents him from achieving any sense of relaxation. And without relaxation, none of the good stuff can follow.
I had two extra hours of daylight on Friday, so I started with the lunging. I sent him off at a walk, gradually asking for a trot before switching directions. When I felt he was sufficiently warmed up, I asked for a canter and later did a change of direction. After that, I unclipped the lunge line and insisted on a free canter that did not involve standing at the gate, pacing by the gate, or throwing in a flying change at the gate. When he finally agreed to all of that, I popped him back on the lunge line.
The whole thing took about thirty minutes, and he was huffing and puffing when we were "done." He wasn't relaxed, but he had shown me a moment or two of stretch over his top line. I walked him back to his paddock and turned him loose. I spent a few minutes grooming Speedy, and then haltered Izzy back up. The look on his face was priceless. I then rode him for about 45 minutes. While there wasn't any jackassery, which was a huge improvement, he wasn't exactly relaxed either.
By Saturday afternoon, I had a completely different horse. He was affectionate, cuddly, and oh-so-happy to see me. I cleaned him up, took him up for his lunging session, and was met with a very relaxed horse. I lunged and free lunged for a total of twenty minutes and later rode for a half an hour. We were finally able to work on dressage.
While schooling the counter canter, I could feel him getting stuck, but I propped up his "inside" shoulder and reassured him that I'd help him keep his balance. He gave an audible sigh and floated through the counter canter. I had my horse back!
By Sunday morning, he was over it. There was not a spooky, resistant bone left in his body; he was complete putty in my hands. I dragged him to the arena for eleven minutes of lunging, during which I had to continually cluck to keep him moving, both on and off the lunge line.
As before, I tossed him back in his paddock to continue working on breakfast, and then I brought Speedy out for a ride. More on that tomorrow. And then Izzy got to come out again. While maybe a bit unenthusiastic, he followed me willingly enough and seemed resigned to yet more work.
We had one of the best rides we've ever had. I worked him through all of the trot work at Second Level and even schooled the turn on the haunches and rein back. Those are a wee bit scary for him, but he's picking up on it quickly. And then, for the first time ever, I rode the 20-meter counter canter half circle into the single loop serpentine, and he did it brilliantly!
Operation Boot Camp taught me two things: the first time I hear myself ask What the freaking hell is wrong with you? I know the answer is that he needs to see the chiropractor. If after seeing said chiropractor I still find myself asking what is wrong with him, I know the answer is to lunge him until he's tired. Only then will I be able to access his brain (and later his body).
I am actually looking forward to today's ride. I fully anticipate an enthusiastic, Yes, ma'am!
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, and I were recently talking about why I made it through Second Level so quickly. While I am not saying that we owned Second Level, we did get through the level pretty successfully. During our discussion, we came to the conclusion that the reason we made it through Second more quickly than Training and First was because we spent a lot - and I mean a boatload, of time making sure our foundation was rock solid.
Chemaine is really good at not cheating. She knows that in order to be successful down the road, there can't be any holes in the training. Those holes will eventually reveal themselves, and you'll be stuck. Speedy has been relatively easy to train. He's a willing partner, but he's not naturally talented which means he has to work for it. Some of it is hard for him, especially the lateral stuff. Either way, he figures it's his job, so he puts in the best work day he can.
On the other hand, there's Izzy, a horse that is naturally talented who finds collection easy, and he has haunches that will go anywhere you put them. He has been anything but easy. His training wasn't linear because asking for the harder movements kept his brain engaged so that he didn't kill me. That means that we're always going backwards to address the basics from Training and First Level.
As I rode over the weekend, I started thinking about which show I might try with him. There are some schooling shows this winter that might work for us. The problem is that Izzy is schooling movements from Second and Third Level, but there are things from First Level that he can't yet do. And frankly, some of the long free walks found in Training might still be a challenge for him.
So what level can he do? He can't really do a Second Level test even though his collected canter is really nice. He can't do a First Level test because he can't quite show a lengthened stride in trot. If I try to do an Introductory Level test, he'll kill me out of boredom. Which means I am left with Training Level. I think.
Maybe I ought to get him off the property again before I start thinking about blue ribbons. Am I right?!
While Izzy hasn't been around much on the blog, he's still getting worked daily. As of right now, he seems to have moved on from an I am a jackass, watch my dick moves attitude. He's still special, and by special I don't mean he's worth $80,000 special. He's short bus special, which means he requires a great deal of tact and patience that's not for every rider. Good thing he has me. I have loads of tact and patience; I teach kids after all.
Since I switched to the legal bit for every ride, every time, we've gone through some ... moments. There was a week or three of him bolting through my aids, another week or two of him balking and rearing, and then a week or so of him combining all of that into one grand gesture.
Every ride I remind him that the rules are no different with this bit. In fact, the rules are quite simple: no looking around, no hanging on my hands, no stopping when you're mad, and no bolting when you don't get your way. Easy, right?
For the past several weeks, our rides have been about steadying the connection. I am totally happy to work on that. We start at the walk with me asking him to stretch forward and down - he loves that part. We then turn that into a medium walk where he has to lift his withers a bit and carry his own head.
When the walk is more or less established, we pick up the trot where we do the same thing. I say only three things as we work - Nope, nope, nope ... Yes. Nope, nope, nope, Yes! And every once in a while, I get to throw in a good boy! which is all too often cut short by another string of nopes.
I am honestly really happy with how he's working right now. He's genuinely trying to figure it out, and he looks so proud of himself when he finally gets it. Just the other day we were doing pretty decent trot half passes. His stretchy trot needs a ton of work but the lateral work is nothing for the big brown horse.
If we ever get to show again, we're coming out at Second Level where no stretchy trot is required. Bring on the half pass and flying changes - you know, the easy stuff!
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
2022 Pending …
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 (***)
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
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