From Endurance to Dressage
At this point, I think I could load Izzy up and do a trail ride by myself. He was super good for Monday's trail ride. Eventually. We had to school through a naughty moment or two, but KG and Taz hung out behind while we worked through the issue, and that was it!
For this trip, we decided to park at the barn in Hart Park. I've parked here many times and shared pictures before. There are a few corrals, a wash rack, hitching posts, and picnic tables. There's not a lot of room for multiple trailers, but for a small group of three or four rigs, it's perfect. We generally head east and go around Lake Ming and come back in front of the California Living Museum (CALM), a small zoo for indigenous animals.
Unlike the other two trails that we've ridden this month, this trail has lots of potential to be scary and a bit technical for a green bean. To access the trails, you have to walk down the gravel road to cross Hart Park's main road, two lanes that carry a fair amount of traffic.
The way Izzy halted so quickly at the lines painted on the blacktop suggested that he probably hasn't crossed a lot of actual roads in his life. We ended up crossing the road a few different times, so that by the time we returned to the barn, he only eye-balled the bright yellow lines, but he crossed them willingly.
Because this is a multi-use park, there are a lot of people-friendly structures like a soccer field complex, a campground with TENTS, frisbee baskets, bridges, stand alone restrooms, playground equipment, boat docks, water pumps, parking areas, and so on. Every inch of the trail offers something new and unusual to look at. Most of the time Izzy was pretty solid, but there were a few booger moments.
When we crossed the road and made it onto the trail, we had to follow the bike path for a bit. For some reason walking along the pavement got Izzy more and more excited. While he didn't try to bolt or rear, he jigged pretty consistently for 20 solid minutes. I was able to get him round though so while he was jigging, he wasn't pulling; it was just a super short-strided movement that was a bit rough on my back.
When we got to the back side of CALM, there is a small stream that flows through a culvert beneath the dirt road. The stream is surrounded by trees, so if you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right past it. Izzy heard it though and hit the brakes HARD.
And then he backed up ... fast! And suddenly, he realized he had learned a new trick. Instead of just stopping and staring at whatever was scary, he decided that it was much more effective to go from marching forward to a mach ten reverse. KG kindly stood back while Izzy and I had a little discussion.
Now, before I hear all of the when they want to back up make them back up even further comments (sorry, but I know they're coming), that is simply not a safe option on most trails. It's even less safe in a line of horses. The trails we ride can be steep, have drop offs, or be lined with wire fences, among numerous other obstacles. In my neck of the woods, going forward (or simply stopping) is the only correct answer.
In the arena, we can back up all day, but that's another situation.
So what did our discussion look like? Well, it looked a lot like me kicking the crap out of Izzy's sides while smacking him across his withers with the reins and growling very loudly. Taz just stood to the side while providing zero support for his buddy. He's not stupid.
It took about three of these discussions before Izzy returned to the land of stop and wait when I'm nervous. Good boy!
Once I saw that this backing up thing was looking to be his go-to answer, I started to play around with fixing it. When I spotted something ahead that looked funky, I asked him to stop. I patted his neck and gave him lots of good boys and then asked him to walk on. If he even rocked back slightly, I goosed him and smacked him on the shoulder. KG agreed that my timing was impeccable.
You should have seen the wheels turning. After about the third time he got smacked, he started re-thinking his new answer and quickly decided that his old answer was better. I agreed. Stopping and standing still when you're scared is perfectly fine. Eventually, he would simply slow down but with a gentle squeeze, he would again start moving forward. I think our Trust Bank got a pretty hefty deposit.
Other than the issue with the backing up at full throttle, Izzy was amazing. And we really challenged him. We did several long trots through the bushes, which he seemed to enjoy. We walked along the edge of the camp ground which can even make me nervous. Sometimes people pop out of those tents right under your nose and start stampeding toward the horses. I sometimes think our version of naturalists have never seen a horse up close!
We also did some serious bushwhacking that would have frightened a lot of horses. The trail simply disappeared at one point until I was forced to hang over Izzy's neck while he dragged his nose along the ground. Rather than get scraped off, I opted to lead him on foot. There was a wire fence to our right and deep brush to the left and over us. Had he begun to feel claustrophobic, we could have had big trouble on our hands.
We also rode past the golf course, which makes both KG and I jumpy. When the balls are hit, they make a whistling sound that is a bit unnerving, especially when you're not sure where the ball is headed.
There was one steep descent that proved too technical for Izzy. Even though we sent Taz down first, Izzy spun up the incline. I made the executive decision to dismount quickly. I'd rather he feel safe than over-faced and off balance. As soon as I hopped off, he followed me willing all the way to the bottom. There was a steep slope off to the side, and the trail is only about two feet wide. We'll try again on another day.
I go back to work next week and KG has some vacation plans lined up, so we may have time for only one more trail ride before I am limited to the occasional weekend ride. I am so grateful for the rides I've been able to put on this horse over the past month though. At this point, I feel as safe on him as I do on Speedy. He's proven to be level-headed, brave, and happy to be working in new places.
I would feel quite comfortable marketing him as a safe and sane trail horse. Not that he's for sale, but knowing that I could throw him in the trailer and join a group for a trail ride makes him worth a lot more to me than if he was only safe in the arena.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%