From Endurance to Dressage
I really like my new truck, Newt, even though Newt's not so new anymore; I've had her for nearly a year and a half. Considering I owned Blue Truck for almost twenty years, a year and a half means we're still in the honeymoon phase. Newt hasn't had the greatest track record though. Last fall, she developed a terrifying "death wobble" - Google it, but my Ford dealer fixed her right up, and everything was great. And then it wasn't.
In early April, Newt developed a new vibration. Not as frightening as the "death wobble," but it was still pretty awful. It was enough that I couldn't go faster than 40 miles per hour. The thing is, it only happened while towing the trailer and only on one particular piece of road. That would suggest the road was at fault, but to the naked eye, there was nothing on the road that would cause my truck to feel like it was driving over raised caveletti poles.
Last Monday, I took it back to my Ford service department and explained how this vibration, while not quite as severe as the "death wobble," was still pretty scary. They looked it over on Tuesday, but couldn't find anything. They looked at it again on Wednesday, but still couldn't find anything. By Thursday, I was more than a little bit grouchy. I didn't spend many tens of thousands of dollars to own a tow vehicle that couldn't safely tow my horse trailer.
On Thursday afternoon, I dropped by the service department for a little chat with the service department supervisor. I laid it out pretty plainly. They had had my truck for three days, and so far they had considered, and then ruled out pretty much everything. I even paid them to have my shocks taken apart to see if they were bad. They weren't. After three days, and after calling Ford's engineering hot line, they were no closer to figuring out what was wrong.
I told them they either needed to figure it out, or I was getting rid of it and heading over to GMC or Dodge. Suddenly, everyone had some new ideas. While I thought it was nuts, they decided it might be my tires, so they swapped out my still fairly new tires for an even newer set. We decided that the only way to see if it indeed was the tires was to hook up my trailer, load my horse, and drive it to the suspected stretch of road.
I took Friday off and drove to Ford, I exchanged the rental car for Newt, and drove out to the ranch where I hooked up the trailer and loaded Izzy. Sal, the service department foreman, met me at the ranch. Together we headed south to the Grapevine, one of California's busiest stretches of highway. From the base of the Grapevine, four lanes twist and turn up a steep grade that tops out at just over 4,000 feet in elevation. It reaches that elevation in less than ten miles. It's a pretty serious haul with a horse trailer, and in fact, a lot of drivers of passenger cars dislike that particular stretch of highway.
It's a good forty-five minute drive from the ranch to the base of the Grapevine, so Sal and I had plenty of time to chat and get to know one another. We shared all sorts of interesting stories, like the one where he taught his adult wife to swim so that they could go snorkeling in the Caribbean. He was a swimmer on his high school team. When they finally took their trip, his wife had a great time while he ended up needing a life preserver as snorkeling turned out to be harder than he thought. He was pretty embarrassed.
Before we headed out on our road test, Sal had hooked up a computer to Newt so that he could scan all of her systems as we made the climb. As we approached the beginning of the climb, we both tightened our seatbelts, looked at one another, and felt like Thelma and Louise as they drove off the edge of the cliff. With Sal watching the data play across his screen, I hung on as my truck vibrated and jarred the living heck out of us both. When the vibration got too strong, I lifted my foot off the gas and slowed down. When things were calmer, I pressed my foot down and we rode another wave of vibrations with our teeth rattling and the engine roaring.
Once we reached the top of the grade, I exited the freeway, got back on heading north, and slowly descended. At the bottom, Sal instructed me to make the climb again. At the Grapevine exit, I pulled off the freeway, circled around, and got back on heading south, or back up the grade. For the second attempt, Sal asked me to put my cruise control on. This is a really tricky section of highway for cruise control because the traffic speed is anything but constant. We were in luck though as the traffic was lighter than usual, so I was able to keep the cruise control on long enough for him to see some results.
To my complete surprise, the instant I started cruise control, the heavy vibration stopped. We tested it over and over as we climbed the grade: cruise control on - no vibration; cruise control off, and our teeth rattled in our head. At the top, we got off the highway again, but this time I pulled over to check on Izzy. He was standing there like nothing had happened. Knowing my horse hadn't been knocked to his knees by all of Newt's shaking and quaking, I felt better for having brought him along. We got back on the freeway and headed back down the hill.
Sal had both good news and bad news. The bad news was that the vibration might go away, but it would depend on me. The good news was that he knew what the problem was. On that particular stretch of Interstate 5, the road is really rough. Since my truck and trailer are both so long, the wheels don't sync as they cross the seems in the asphalt. This causes my truck and trailer to bounce at odds with each other which then bounces me around. Even though it feels as though my foot is steady on the accelerator, it's not.
Vehicles today now have an electronic throttle control (ETC) which means there is a sensor in the throttle that tells the vehicle to add or reduce fuel. As I've been getting bounced around by the rough road, my foot's pressure is coming on and off the throttle. This is telling the ETC to give and take fuel which causes the truck to lurch forward and back. Sal explained that since I am now aware of the issue, I should be able to control it a little bit.
Now that I at least have an explanation, I am no longer worried about my truck falling apart as I head to a show. In fact, I'll be driving over that section of road on Saturday as I head to STC Dressage for a lesson. Instead of feeling stressed out about it, which is how I've felt all month, I am now curious to see how well I can manage my foot control.
Thank you, Ford. Without your help, Newt would have been a goner.
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%: