From Endurance to Dressage
I don't remember my first ride. I don't remember the first time I ever saw a horse. They've just always been a part of who I am; there was never a beginning. I didn't get my own horse until I was around 13, but that first decade wasn't wasted. I rode my grandma's horses and the neighbor's. They had four grandkids, and I fell right in the middle age-wise. I don't remember how many horses they had, but I think it was always around 4.
After Sunshine, my first horse, there were a few others until I finally left home at seventeen for a yearlong study abroad. After that year, I went off to college where I earned my degree and teaching credential. I started teaching in the fall of 1994, and the following spring, I bought Sassy, my first Arabian and first endurance horse.
Before joining the endurance world, it never occurred to me to study a horse's excrement. Horses ate and drank which meant they peed and pooped. For all of my horse owning life up to that point, none of those systems had ever malfunctioned. I never had a horse colic although I had seen others colic, and none of mine ever experienced tying-up. Dark urine or even red urine can be an indicator of that particular issue.
Once I started conditioning my first endurance horse, I became aware of a lot of really scary things that can happen to horses, especially endurance horses. Horses being worked at speed for twenty-five, fifty, or even a hundred miles in a single day are absolute machines, but like any hard working machine, they require very specialized care.
As in any sport or hobby there are always those who won't do right by their animals or equipment, but they don't tend to be very successful either. I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to the sport by people who cared a great deal for their horses. Finishing a race was also secondary to the horse's health and well-being. That always came first.
My endurance mentors knew a lot about how to keep a horse fit and healthy for not just a race or two, but for years and years. MC, my riding partner of nearly two decades, has tens of thousands of miles on just a handful of horses. The American Endurance Ride Conference's motto is To Finish is to Win. While many riders compete for points - the faster you ride, the more points you earn, many others compete for lifetime achievement awards.
The friends I rode with were far more interested in accumulating lifetime awards which come after accumulating certain mileages. Montoya DSA, my best horse, earned two, 1,000 mile medallions. Over the sixteen years that I competed, I earned chevrons for completing 250, 500, 750, 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 miles at distances of fifty miles or more including five, one-day hundred milers. I was small potatoes. I am not sure if she's still alive or not, but Trilby Pederson, the reining distance champion when I was still competing, had earned over 60,000 miles before retiring from the sport in 2004. MC has more than 21,000 miles as of last season.
But this is about poop, not endurance horses. Besides great adventures in amazing places, endurance riding gave me an education that would be really hard to buy. That sport helped me develop a very critical eye when it comes to horse health. I learned to evaluate my horse's over-all condition with just a quick visual scan. I never miss anything. Within seconds I can see when something is amiss. When I approach either of my horses, I do a thorough visual exam that includes attitude, eyes, respiration, legs, movement, and the surface of their bodies. I also scan their environment looking for things that are out of place or somehow wrong. If a single thing interrupts my visual scan, I dive in for a closer look.
When Speedy abscessed nearly two weeks ago - he's still not quite sound, I spotted it when he took a single step my way. The latest thing I've been checking for each day is the number of ploppy poop piles that Izzy has on any given day. Finally, after two and a half months on GastroElm, his poop piles are gloriously round and solid. Not just some of the piles, but ALL of them.
I think horse folks are the only people on the planet who get so excited about poop. In my circle of friends, especially when I am with my endurance pals, all conversation stops the instant one of our horses looks like he might pee or poop. When the stream starts or the apples hit the dirt, a collective sigh is released when we see pale yellow or well-formed moist balls of green or brown. It's weird, but it's what happens when you know too much. Anything but pale yellow urine or shiny manure means potential trouble.
So you can understand my anxiety these past five months. Beginning in late October, Izzy's ulcer(s) started to create poop piles that ranged in formation from complete cow pies to ropey, stringy glops of that can't be good. On Thanksgiving Day he even looked on the verge of colic. In late December, I started him on UlcerGard which didn't do much. In early January, I gave GastoElm a try, and within two days his poop started to get round again, and the sensitivity to grooming began to fade away.
While the GastroElm helped, he still had days where some of his poop piles weren't very well formed, but those days started to occur less and less often. This weekend, I realized that every single pile of poop looked the same. None of the piles were ploppy puddles. Even the poops during and after our ride required a big grunt to pass, and when they hit the ground, they gave a satisfying thunk instead of the more worrisome splat.
During our most recent vet visit, I presented a package of GastroElm to Dr. Tolley for inspection. He read the ingredients and showed me the same ingredients in his prescription strength powder that he uses for horses that need immediate relief. He gave me the full go ahead to continue using the product as long as I was seeing positive results. I don't tend to love supplements, but I am sold on the efficacy of this one.
Izzy seems to agree. He has gained at least eighty pounds in the past two months, and I have had to drop his girth one hole on each side. He's finishing his hay consistently, and he looks so much more relaxed. At less than $0.45 a day, it's cheap enough to give year round. A few weeks ago, I bought a six month supply, and I don't have any plans to stop using it. Once we start trailering out for shows next month, he'll even get double doses on show and travel days.
Who knew poop could make someone so happy?
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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%: