From Endurance to Dressage
Unfortunately, this will likely be a series of posts about recovery (and not training).
This is a long story which will end up in two parts. I hate cliffhangers, so I will share the ending: Izzy has a serious wound on his hind leg that will require several months to heal. The vet feels confident that it will heal and there that there will be no soundness issues. Shall I start at the beginning?
[Before I begin, I would like to state that I make it my policy to write only positive things about people. If I need to share negative things, I avoid using names and do my best to protect the identity of the people involved. In this case, I have already publicly used names, so local people will no doubt recognize the place and people to whom I am referring. If you comment, please avoid using anyone's names.]
You already know that I purchased Izzy in late November. I knew he was a green bean who was going to need time and training before he could start his life as a competition dressage horse. I was fine with purchasing a "project" as I enjoy the challenge of training horses. In fact, I've never purchased a finished horse before.
When I went to look at him, his pleasant personality won me over. He was gentle, inquisitive, and very willing. He stood quietly for saddling and bridling although he avoided the bridle by raising his head, but it wasn't done in a fearful way. His owner and I worked with him for a few minutes in the round pen, and then I got on him. He stood quietly. he never bucked, spooked, or acted fearful.
I asked him to walk around and quickly realized that he had no understanding of the basic aids. He had no steering and didn't know how to move off my leg, but he wasn't fearful and didn't panic. I got off him after only a few minutes in the saddle of walking and turning.
His owner shared his life history with me which included hundreds of photos of his life since birth. He had been started by a professional dressage trainer and then ridden by his owner briefly. She became pregnant so back to the pasture he went. He was well cared for, just not worked. Izzy is now six years old.
Since it was late fall and daylight was fast fading, I thought the best thing I could do for Izzy was to send him to a dressage trainer for a 30-day refresher course. It was going to be hard for me to work with him consistently with short daylight hours, especially since Speedy G needed to be ridden as well. I made some calls and decided to send him to a facility I knew to be clean, organized, and well-run.
When I spoke to the trainer, I was very clear about my expectations. I simply wanted Izzy to have a refresher course. I did not expect a finished horse after one month of training. I just wanted a competent rider on his back to re-install a go and stop button and to teach him some steering. I also asked that they work on teaching him to lower his head.
I wanted to be involved in the training process, so I made a plan to visit several times a week for the last two weeks of his stay. I asked for periodic updates with photos or video so that I would know how the process was going. More than anything I wanted to know how easy or difficult he was being about the work.
After a week or so, I received an update that made my heart sink. According to the trainer's daughter, who was doing the riding, Izzy was being terrible about everything and was very difficult to handle. There was even a subtle suggestion that Izzy might have been drugged when I went to see him. She didn't state this directly of course, but she "wondered at the circumstances at how he was so calm when I went to see him."
I responded to the update with a very lengthy report on Izzy's life prior to his arrival. I also shared my own riding experiences and level. It was clear to me through the trainer's emails that she doubted my ability to handle this horse and even wondered at Izzy's suitability as a riding horse for me. This worried me as I know from teaching that the instructor must believe the student can achieve or she never will. This trainer had no faith in me or the horse.
And then different things started to go wrong. He came up lame which was attributed to being barefoot. He missed many days of riding as they got him shod and waited for him to be sound again. When I went to see him on my first planned visit, he was lame due to a whack on the leg that required several more days of rest.
I returned a few days later and he was sound. The trainer worked him on the lunge line in the round pen, but due to a recent surgery, was reluctant to ride him. I got on him, but due to my tension and his green bean status, he started to get a bit light in front so I suggested the trainer ride him to show me what she'd been doing with him. She worked him for a while and then I got on again. With some coaching from her, I was able to get a nice relaxed walk from Izzy in both directions.
The next few rides seemed to go well according to the updates. He was definitely getting better about lowering his head and and they had been doing other de-sensitizing things (using the clippers, hammering on his feet) while he was lame.
And then the trainer said that she and her family, including her assistant/daughter would be going on vacation for a week. This meant Izzy would be doing nothing unless I wanted to come up and work with him. To make up for the lost week, she would keep him one additional week at no cost to me and ride him.
My best friend made the journey with me. We didn't choose a very good day as it was bitterly cold (for here, anyway), windy, and drizzly. These were certainly not ideal conditions for working with a green horse. We persevered though as I wanted to see him and see where he was in his training.
We haltered him with no issue and then walked up to the round pen. The gardener was using the weed-wacker very near to the round pen which had Izzy a bit concerned. The facility's volunteers asked the gardener to move to a different location so that Izzy could be worked. We spent a few minutes in the round pen working on turns and focusing his attention on me. Given the weather and his freshness, I was actually pleased with how he worked.
We walked down to the barn where I rinsed off some mud that was covering some wounds on his lower legs (probably from whacking himself during work), groomed him, hammered on his feet, and saddled him. While he was distracted, he certainly wasn't terrible to handle, and in fact, he acted like most 3 or 4 year olds who are just getting started.
We moved on to the bigger round pen where I used the side reins as the trainer had instructed. I am not a fan of side reins myself, but I went with the trainer's recommendation. Izzy never got soft and round, but he behaved himself and even showed a few moments of excellent critical thinking. Even though the trainer had said I shouldn't, I got on him anyway. My friend was standing close by, and she's a knowledgeable rider.
Izzy started to go forward, but then he got that look that said a temper tantrum was on its way. We had already been working with him for a while, and I knew I didn't have time to work through a fight. Since he was dancing already and looking as if he might explode, I kicked my feet out of the stirrups and did a quick dismount. It scared him a bit that I hit the ground so suddenly, but he quickly came back to me.
We finished the session with me standing on the mounting block rubbing his body all over. I laid over his neck, patted the saddle, all things that you do when desensitizing a colt to being ridden for the first time. He got more and more relaxed as I worked.
Since he was so sweaty from the work, my friend and I hand walked him for a half an hour, untacked with a cooler. We went to the far end of the property away from any other horses and people and just walked and talked. Izzy was a perfect gentleman.
I asked my friend for her honest assessment. Did Izzy seem like a horse that was difficult to handle? She liked that he thought things over and was careful about where he put his body. She also liked that he never ran me over and was actually respectful with just a halter and lead rope. She admitted that he was definitely green, but that in her opinion, he just needed more time and work. Through our conversation, we decided that he needed more of a cowboy-type trainer who would work on desensitizing rather than trying to put him in a frame and make him go "correctly."
Coming to that conclusion lifted all of my worry. According to the current trainer, Izzy had so many issues that no one was going to be able to work with him. And yet, each time I handled him, he simply acted like an immature horse who didn't yet know how to be a good citizen. In many respects, he had shown himself to be quite well behaved. I just couldn't understand how the horse she described was the horse I had seen and handled myself.
And don't get me wrong, I am not so infatuated that I can't see reality. But seriously. Every time I've handled him (less than 10), he's done what I asked of him with little or no fussing. I've been able to catch him in a large turn out, he loaded into the trailer with no issue (he has very little trailering experience), he stands in the wash rack for bathing, he can be saddled without a rodeo, and he takes the bridle. The thing this horse seems to need is time and someone who can get on him and show him that he can be ridden without the need for tension.
When we got home, I made some phone calls and found a cowboy trainer just three minutes from my own barn who had excellent references. He has done work for a close friend, and several other people spoke well of him. I drove out to meet him and explained what I wanted. He agreed to take Izzy, but he and his assistant thought it only right to leave Izzy with the current trainer so that she could finish out the week she owed me. They felt this was the respectful thing to do.
I sent the current trainer an email thanking her for all of her work, but I explained that the drive was just too much. We had discussed the possibility of leaving Izzy with her for another month, but after seeing so little progress combined with a complete lack of faith in my abilities, I knew I wanted him to come home. I didn't tell her that I wasn't happy with the lack of progress. There was no point burning any bridges.
Three days later I got a phone call that Izzy had been injured and that the vet had been called.
Continued tomorrow ...
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%: