From Endurance to Dressage
I recently realized that other than writing about his feet or coat, I've hardly mentioned Izzy at all. A few months ago I wrote a post about taking him out on the trail, but other than that, I've probably left you with the impression that he's not been getting worked. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If anything, I ride him more often than I ride Speedy. The real reason I haven't written much about him is that I didn't have much to say; no news is good news. Plus, I hadn't had a lesson on him in a year.
The last lesson I took on him was in April of 2019 with Sean Cunningham. Sean helped me look at Izzy with a different eye. He gave me some great tips that I was able to use throughout the summer and fall. It wasn't that I didn't want more lessons on Izzy, I just felt like he and I were really developing a solid relationship, and I didn't want to rock the boat. I wasn't stuck anywhere. Every time I got on him, he was (mostly) better than the time before.
As Izzy and I continued to work through the fall and winter, I started worrying that taking a lesson might actually disrupt the balance we had achieved. I was discovering how to ride him while keeping the peace. When he feels pressured, he gets really anxious, so I kept the pressure to a minimum. When I ask for something new, he immediately feels like he won't be able do it, so I tried to present things in a way that made him feel successful. His work ethic is phenomenal, and as long as he feels successful, he'll work all day. As long as I was patient, he was willing to keep trying.
Since things were going so well between us, I just stopped including Izzy in the lesson rotation. That wasn't a problem since Speedy and I were deep into Third Level showing and schooling the half passes and flying changes. I needed every lesson I could get. What I was learning on Speedy was easy to bring to my rides on Izzy. While I didn't take lessons on Izzy, he still benefitted from my work with Speedy.
In February, Izzy went to the vet for some routine care. The scale showed that he had lost a few pounds, which I must have conveyed to the ranch owner. By mid-March, I was desperately wondering where my relaxed horse had gone. Out of nowhere, Izzy was once again spooking and flinching at every little sound; most of them imagined. It was as if his skin were on fire.
In desperation, I renewed my Dream Horse account and started writing For Sale ads. Real ones, not just the kind you write when you're frustrated. I had given up. I also mentioned his behavior to the ranch owner. After chatting with her, I suddenly realized that there was an actual reason for the renewed jackassery. Since he had lost weight, the ranch owner had increased his alfalfa so that he was getting full flakes during the day, not just a token handful.
As soon as I realized what had happened, I asked for no more alfalfa, not even a little bit. We switched him back to straight grass, and I increased his beet pulp and rice bran. If I had not seen the difference with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it, but THE VERY NEXT DAY, his energy level was cut in half. And the day after that, he was even quieter. I have never before had a horse so sensitive to alfalfa. As soon as we cut the alfalfa, Izzy relaxed and was once again focused and listening.
Eventually, Izzy "caught up" to Speedy, or nearly so anyway. Once I realized that Izzy's trot and canter half passes were better than Speedy's, I started to run out of material. The only work from Third Level that we can't quite get is a medium trot and a flying change. After schooling both things by myself for a bit, I decided I finally needed help, so I called Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables.
In all honesty, I never really talked to Chemaine about why I had stopped taking lessons on Izzy. It wasn't something that I planned, it just happened. I needed to work out some things with him on my own. In any case, Chemaine seemed perfectly happy about coming for both horses instead of just one.
The lesson consisted of one basic element repeated: we worked him hard in a collected gait so that a stretch and a lengthening would feel really good. We did it in the walk pirouettes, haunches in to shoulder in at the trot, counter canter to true canter, and finally in the canter half passes. In every movement, I looked for the "ask." Did he ask to stretch and lengthen his stride. If so, I let him move out bigger.
Izzy will never be an easy horse to ride, but he is finally broke. It sounds funny to say that about a horse who will be 12 next month, but it's finally true. If I want to show him for real, and I don't mean at Training Level, it's now my job to learn to be a better rider for him.
Chemaine helped me fix a few things about my own riding. Well, they might not be fixed, but at least they're now on my radar so that I can start fixing them. She pointed out that my inside leg likes to drift back which is not such a big a deal on Speedy, but on Izzy, a horse whose haunches already squirt out every which way, it's a lethal mistake. I also need to soften my elbows to give him somewhere to go. That's a challenge with a horse as powerful as Izzy. It means using my seat a lot more effectively.
Now that Izzy and I finally feel like partners (again), we're ready for more lessons. And once the show season finally gets underway, we'll give First Level a shot. I can finally say that we're schooling a level (or two!) above what we're showing.
The video below shows an exercise where Chemaine had me work Izzy "hard" followed by a moment to relax. My arena is only 50-meters long, so this particular exercise is even more challenging. We did a 20-meter counter canter circle (or just half) at EB with a 15-meter true canter at A and C. We followed that up with a canter half pass.
For those of you that have been with Izzy and me since the beginning of our journey, you know that we've come a long way. I love where we are, but I am also looking forward to where we're going.
I am ready for another lesson!
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.
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 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