From Endurance to Dressage
Despite having that ugly wound on his heel/pastern, I took Izzy out this weekend for several walking rides. He's getting bored, and a bored Izzy is not a good thing. Even though that wound is still ugly (but definitely improving), he's not lame on it, and it doesn't seem particularly sore. He lets me scrub it pretty vigorously, and even when bandaging it he acts ho-hum about the whole thing. He's usually trying to grab my phone out of my back pocket or lick my head.
Besides wanting to keep him from hurting himself again out of boredom, I'm still working on getting him happy about our new hitching rail. I am also trying to tweak the system, but Izzy's getting much more comfortable in the new space. Once he was tacked up, I used the mounting block down at the barn and rode up to the arena. The one thing I did notice was that his walk was very fluid and relaxed. His stride was longer, and I am hoping that it's a result of the work we did a week or so ago on my saddle fit.
We didn't work long, just 10 -15 minutes each time, but I was happy with how good he felt. He wasn't lame at all, and he seemed really happy to stretch down. All we did was walk, but I knew that was plenty. He was feeling me in my newly adjusted saddle for the first time, so I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with the changes that were made. I don't want to aggravate the wound on his foot, but it might be healed enough for some light work this weekend.
For now, even walking is riding.
Endurance horses are very, very good at a "trot out." In eventing, I think they refer to it as a "trot up." An endurance trot out happens at the pre- and post-vet checks as well as at all vet checks during a race. The purpose of course is to ascertain whether the horse is sound or not. Since endurance horses are asked to do so many trot outs during a single endurance race, they get pretty good at it. Speedy does perfect trot outs.
Even if your horse is never going to be an endurance horse or an eventer, it's still highly likely that at some time in his life he'll need to do a trot out for the vet. I taught Izzy to do a decent trot out years ago, but ... I haven't practiced at all. With his recent lameness (still working under the assumption that it's a stone bruise), I have found it necessary to check his soundness by doing a trot out. Let's just say that the first one did not go well.
The first day I did the trot out, no one could tell whether he was lame or not. He would not trot in a straight line, and he yanked me all over the place as he boisterously flung his head in every direction but forward. I realized this was not the kind of behavior I expect from my horses, so I set out to fix things over the weekend.
With my vet's approval, I gave Izzy the better part of a week off with Equioxx to reduce any inflammation. Since he wasn't overtly lame or uncomfortable, and since he whinnied at me incessantly to come play with him, I've used the past week to school the trot out. After just one day, he got much better at it. It took a couple of sharp corrections, but he eventually remembered that my job is to set the pace, and his job is to trot out along side me without trying to dodge left or right or run me over. Especially that last part.
Each day that we practice, he gets more confident and relaxed. He still wants to get sassy as we come back towards the barn, but I am working on it. Over the weekend, my husband brought the dogs to the ranch for a run and a swim in the river. I try not to pester him to do videos when he comes out as he finds it incredibly boring, but I really needed a trot out video to check Izzy's current soundness. So, despite our two dogs trying to trip everyone up, my husband shot a good video of Izzy's work-in-progress trot out.
Izzy did really well trotting to the top of the driveway especially considering that our dogs were running every which way and the ranch dogs were barking at them. The trot out back toward the barn was terrible. We're working on it.
There is no end to the things you can teach a horse, and some of them are even helpful.
It never fails. When I don't make it out to the barn, one of my horses comes up with some kind of a problem. For this instance, it's Izzy. Before we left for Croatia, Izzy was doing great. He was supple, happy, and working really well. I was looking forward to trying some shows over the summer, and even Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, was happy with how Izzy had been working for me. And then I was gone for more than two weeks ...
Now, Izzy is Not Quite Right, NQR. I am slowly ruling things out, but I can't yet put my finger on it. At first, I thought he was just resentful because I hadn't been out for two and half weeks, so I did some hand grazing, grooming and ground work. Then I saw him step on a rock. I gave him a little rest while still keeping him busy so that any bruising might heal. Next, I suspected he was a bit body sore so I had the chiropractor out for a visit and gave Izzy a day off. I also put him back on the Gastro Elm and even started syringing one dose and mixing a second dose in his feed. On Monday, my farrier was out. I asked if he had noticed anything - I got there as he was leaving, and he said Izzy stood quietly without any indication that he might be foot sore.
Each day when I arrive, Izzy follows me along the fence, nickering for a treat. Even after he's had his treat, he keeps nickering for more attention. He meets me at the gate every single time, and seems genuinely pleased to see me. While I am grooming, he happily munches on his hay.
Izzy's NQRness begins when I start to saddle, and this is not the first time I've seen this behavior. This was something I worked on for a long time, but it had gone away only to reappear once I was back from vacation. The instant I bring the saddle pad out, he turns away from me and becomes tense. I've been saddling him a bit more slowly, and I always buckle the girth loosely to allow him time to take and release a breath.
Once the girth touches him though, he humps up his back and gets a spasm that lasts for several seconds and sometimes longer. The last few days, I've walked him around slowly until the spasms have quieted, and then I bridle him. He offers no resistance to bridling, and politely lowers his head and slurps up his bit. I walk him slowly to the arena. I've even taken to hand walking him a lap or two before I get on.
Before we do any trotting, I always let him walk until he tries to root the reins from me so that he can walk on the buckle. I do some gentle flexions to the right and left and will ask for a stride or two of leg yield on and off the rail. Once his ears begin to flick my way, I ask for a trot where he stretches long and low and then does his clear the lungs cough. He is still doing all of these things, but there is no bounce or lightness in his step.
I make every ride a little different, and especially so these past couple of weeks. In a nutshell, he just won't reach for the bit, and he's fighting me for control. He's braced and reluctant to move out. I have refused to take the bait, and have instead asked myself what it is that I want to accomplish. If suppleness is the answer, I choose a different gait rather than insisting it be done in the canter. I am truly working hard to eliminate the possibility of physical discomfort, but I am still not quite sure what is going on.
Yesterday after doing shoulder-in, renvers, and travers, I asked for a half pass. He felt absolutely horrible and almost lame. It felt like his shoulders were stuck. Since the chiropractor just adjusted his C7, I feel like this shouldn't be a physical issue, but I am just not sure. I really need a trainer's eyes to give me some feedback. With Izzy, it is hard to know how much to push. If I push too hard, he gets very resistant. If I don't take control, he gets resistant in a whole different way.
My farrier did offer some helpful feedback. He thought there might be some arthritis happening that only popped up after Izzy was out of work for so long. If it is that, he pointed out the remedy is more riding to loosen him up to get his joints moving and lubricated.
There has been no heat, no swelling, no wounds, and nothing to suggest an injury. I'm going to give it another week or so and see if I can get Izzy back on my team. I think he's holding onto a grudge and hasn't gotten over being "abandoned." If the behavior continues, I'll take him to the vet for a lameness exam. I consider myself fairly fluent in Horse, but I wish Izzy's English were a bit better. This would be a much easier problem to solve with both of us fluently speaking the same language.
Maybe I should try Spanish ... ¿Qué te pasa, caballo?
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.
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%: