From Endurance to Dressage
After signing in last week at M.A.R.E., Trainer 1 (T1) met me right away with a sheepish grin. "I've got a project for you," she said, "but you're not going to like it." Not the first thing you usually want to hear when you're a volunteer, but I told her I was game for anything. I asked if it had to do with vomit or poop, and when she said no, I told her I was in. Even had it been vomit or poop, I would have still done it. I told her that Dirty Jobs are in my lane, and Mike Rowe preaches to the choir at my house.
T1 actually had two jobs for me. The first was to help with a lesson; my very first one. I assumed I would be her side-walker as I've yet to see a riding lesson. If you're just joining in on this series of posts, MA.R.E. is a local therapeutic riding center which means that most of the students are there for therapy of one kind or another. They're not there to improve their flying changes. T1 quickly explained that I was the horse handler. Now, that shouldn't have made me lift an eyebrow, but it did. With these kiddos, there is a huge responsibility to provide a very safe and helpful environment. The side-walker does her best to make sure the kiddos stay on, but the horse handler tacks up the horse and then keeps control.
I brought George in from the pasture and found his tack cart loaded with the appropriate tack. George needed a halter/bridle combo head stall, a lead rope, reins that get twisted and tied up in the throat latch, and a vaulting surcingle over a thick western pad. The first mistake (there were at least three or four) was putting the surcingle on backwards; there is actually a front and a back. There are dee rings on the surcingle which, when put on correctly, will be to the front. I am certain you could use it either way, but in real life, I think the handles are angled slightly forward when the surcingle is placed correctly.
The second mistake I made was placing the western pad like you would do when saddling. Once George was in the ring, the trainer undid the girth and pulled it well forward of the surcingle onto George's withers. I didn't quite understand the placement, but I think it had something to do with ensuring it didn't slip out from underneath the rider. Other than those two mistakes, I was able to get George into the ring for his warm up laps.
Before the riders get on, the horses are "warmed up" for approximately 10 minutes. It was explained that this gets them in the mindset of walking quietly as they do their job. Once George's rider arrived, T1 had me pull him up to the mounting block. Until the wheelchair ramp/platform is back in place, the students are using a traditional mounting block. George's rider, a young girl, refused to get on by climbing up the steps of the mounting block. In her eyes they were too steep, so she and George went back to the barn with Trainer 2 while I took over with Cricket the Haflinger.
The lesson was a very interesting one. The trainer had placed Beanie Babies on the rail at various places around the arena. She had laminated cards, each with a picture that matched one of the Beanie Babies: zebra, giraffe, hippopotamus, monkey, iguana, and so. As I led Cricket, the rider was to tell Cricket to whoa when she saw the animal on her card. Each time she found the right animal Beanie Baby, we walked back to the mounting block so she could toss the Beanie Baby into a plastic bin and retrieve a new card. This is where I made two more mistakes.
When the rider dropped the card at my feet, I instinctively reached down to pick it up and hand it to the trainer. Very politely, T1 pointed out that, in the future, I should leave it, and she would pick it up. Without needing to explain it to me, I realized that I was jeopardizing the safety of Cricket's rider by taking my attention away from the horse. I did not make that mistake again. The fourth mistake of the day, if you're keeping count, was that I halted Cricket before the rider asked for the whoa. T1 laughed and asked the rider if Karen (me) was going to do all of the work. After that very gentle reminder, I waited for the rider to tell Cricket when to go and when to whoa. Since the rider wasn't holding the reins, I had to be her reins and leg aids.
At the end of the lesson, the rider was helped off, and I led Cricket back to the barn where I untacked her and made yet another mistake, actually two! First, I put the bridle away without rinsing the bit which is unlike me as I rinse my horses' bits religiously. Then, when I went to rinse the bit, I left Cricket standing in the cross ties which is not done at this facility. Nothing like feeling incompetent. Hopefully I'll have a better feel for the flow this afternoon.
Once my part in the less was done, T1 let me get started on the remaining, not-so-pleasant job. In all honesty, I actually enjoyed myself. All of the stalls have outdoor runs attached with shared fences. Until last week, there was rod mesh hung on each fence to keep the horses from bickering or kicking one another. Unfortunately, one of the horses did something, and a weld broke. The mare ended up with a nasty wound to her hoof. As a result, T1 got someone out to cut out all of the rod mesh. During that process, tiny bits of metal rained down like so much glitter.
My job, the one she thought I'd dislike, was to dig out trenches a shovel's width wide on each side of the fence to remove any tiny slivers of metal. Fortunately, the ground was really soft because of the rain, but that also meant each shovelful was heavy. I cleared out a trench from three fence lines that were each about twelve feet long. I dumped each shovelful into a muck bucket cart and hauled it through the barn, into the pasture, and onto the mulch pile which is gated. Each trip meant opening and closing two different gates, twice. I made at least ten or more runs lugging that heavy cart to the mulch pile and then tipping it over. All the while, I smiled knowing how well I was going to sleep.
By the time I had cleared out the dirt from under each fence line, it was time to bring the horses in and feed. I was sweaty, dirty, and smelling pretty bad - that mud had more than water in it, but I was also smiling. As I left, I told T1 to keep the jobs coming. The dirtier, the better.
Maybe I need to give Mike Rowe a call. He loves a dirty job!
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%: