From Endurance to Dressage
I alluded to some trouble on the Izzy front the other day, but writing about something for which I don't have a solution is not my style. I already worry enough without having my fears and anxieties permanently displayed on the world wide web, so I prefer to fight my anxiety here at home while I search for an answer.
When I first met Izzy, he was quite the mellow fellow. He lived on an enormous grass pasture by himself with neighbors in the pastures next door and across the street. He appeared to be happy. The main reason I bought him was because of his mellow attitude.
He's had a pretty rough few months though. In January he tore open his leg and has spent months visiting the vet and having to have his leg re-bandaged every other day. He spent a month with the trainer up north and then moved here. He's had a lot on his plate.
In the late winter, Izzy started to lose his grass belly, and his ribs started peeking through. Dr. Tolley gave him a 4.5 on the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System and agreed that he was definitely too thin. We worked out a feeding plan that would hopefully put some weight back on Izzy's frame.
I started out by supplementing his twenty pounds of alfalfa with three pounds of beet pulp and six pounds of rice bran. He was getting about thirty pounds of feed a day. Within two months, he was nice and round and had a badonkadonk that was quite sexy. The extra beet pulp and rice bran were expensive though, so I worked out a deal with my barn owner to increase his hay by ten pounds a day so that I could feed a lot less beet pulp and rice bran.
Over time though, Izzy started to get kind of naughty. He started digging holes in his paddock, banging on the fence, flipping the cross ties to make them clang, and on and on. For a while, I didn't notice any excess fidgeting under saddle. In fact, he was working really well until about a week and a half ago.
And then all of a sudden (it was probably gradual but felt like all of a sudden), my once mellow dude started acting like he'd had ten Red Bulls. We had three horrible rides in a row where he bolted, squealed, humped his back, and basically said he was done being ridden. I was crushed. There was no way I could go through all that again. And by that, I mean all those things that Sydney did.
JL wondered if the alfalfa was simply providing way too much energy for Izzy's needs. I called Chemaine and she agreed. I did some research and discovered that while alfalfa doesn't actually make horses hot in a "clinical" sense, it can provide a ton of energy that the horse needs to burn off.
Izzy was being fed twenty pounds of alfalfa a day plus an additional ten pounds of alfalfa/oat cubes. He was also getting a bit of beet pulp and rice bran. Apparently, that's a lot of energy. Speedy gets the same cubes, although in a smaller portion, and a hay net that always has alfalfa in it. All of my horses have always eaten alfalfa without any problems. It never occurred to me that it might not be the best diet for Izzy.
Alfalfa is readily available here in the west and is relatively cheap. Other hays, such as timothy, bermuda, and oat can be difficult to find and are sometimes twice the price of alfalfa (I just paid $32 a bale for timothy). Because alfalfa is so plentiful, that's what most horses here eat.
Changing Izzy's diet became a high priority. The same day that JL made the suggestion, I located some timothy hay and went and picked it up. I worked out a new feed plan with my barn owner. We switched Izzy to ten pounds of alfalfa/oat cubes twice daily with a flake of timothy hay (which he has yet to eat).
Within twenty four hours, I noticed an immediate difference. It's now been about a week since we reduced Izzy's alfalfa to about ten pounds a day (in the cubes). These are things I've noticed:
I also made some riding changes. I cancelled my lessons for this week (and maybe next). I spoke to Chemaine and got some good advice from her as well. I gave Izzy a day off, and when I rode him next (on Monday), all we did was walk (after a short lunge). Chemaine suggested I change his expectation. He was clearly getting really anxious about trotting forward into a connection, so I just didn't.
When I got on, I asked him to just stand. I patted his neck, and let him watch another horse being ridden. When I finally asked him to move forward, he hollowed his back, braced his jaw, and fussed. I waited, and asked again. Eventually he walked forward, but it was clear that he was worried. He gave a few little squeals, tried to duck and whirl, and tightened his back.
Following Chemaine's suggestion. I just sat there. I didn't react in any way other than to turn his head when he tried to bolt forward. I kept asking for a walk. Slowly, he started to think about it, and I felt his tension slip away. We finished the ride on a happy note.
The next day, I followed the same routine: a short lunge (he was so relaxed that I could barely get a trot out of him) followed by just walking. After some spooking and a small temper tantrum, he again thought about it, and I felt his whole body relax. We did some work over the poles which he seemed to enjoy. When we were finished, he was completely relaxed and walking on a loose rein.
I rode Speedy and then saddled Izzy for a second ride. I didn't bother to lunge him the second time. I got on, and he stood relaxed for a long while. When I asked him to walk forward, there was no resistance. We played around with the poles again, this time asking for 10-meter turns (at the walk). I made everything into a game and before long, he was holding the bend by himself.
He started looking for the poles. He was engaged, playful, and completely relaxed. he even offered to pick up a stride or two of trot. I encouraged it, but when he came back to the walk, I patted his neck and continued on. I again finished with a very happy and relaxed horse.
I pulled his saddle while still in the arena and hung out with him for a few minutes. He took a big drink and then ambled over for a roll and shake.
For now, I'm going to spend the next week or so getting my mellow horse back. We'll go back to walking for a bit and see if we can change his attitude to match his less-energized body.
I am feeling sooooo much better about the situation.
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%: