From Endurance to Dressage
I wrote about that here.
At the show Izzy and I did at SCEC in October, I made a terrible goof. On Friday afternoons when I do a lesson or schooling ride, I always bring a schooling pad. I don't use my show pads. Usually, my horse has already had a bath, but even with a bath, show pads start to look dirty even after just one ride. To keep my pads looking nice for show day, I simply school with a non-show pad.
As I was saddling for our Friday lesson with Amelia Newcomb, I gave Izzy a good looking over and about died from embarrassment. The pad I had packed for my schooling ride was filthy. It was dingy and sweat stained. I don't know what I was thinking. I asked the rider across from me what she thought, and she agreed that it was pretty bad. I could have run back up to my trailer for a show pad, but my lesson was due to start within minutes.
As I stood pondering what to do, my neighbor offered me her schooling pad. My first instinct was to politely decline, but then I looked at how horrible Izzy looked in his dirty pad. I asked her if she were sure, and she honestly sounded as though the offer was genuine. I gratefully accepted. As I placed it on Izzy's back, a huge smile crossed my face; it was GORGEOUS! In fact, it's a pad I had been looking at buying.
The pad was a LeMieux dressage pad half lined with Merino wool. Everything about that pad is perfect. It has a very steep profile, perfect for high withered horses. The fabric at the billets is sturdy and positioned to actually protect the pad beneath the saddle's billets. The dee ring attachments, which I would normally cut off, are contoured and shaped nicely. The Merino Wool underside is luxurious without being bulky. The rest of the underside is a soft flannel that actually polished Izzy's coat.
As we took our lesson with Amelia, I felt like I was actually showing Izzy off. That pad looked spectacular on him, and I am sorry I didn't get any photos. As soon as I got home from the show, I looked up the pad to check on its price. It's pretty expensive at Dover - $185.95, but it's a lot cheaper at my favorite online store, Riding Warehouse. They have it listed for $149.95. Forty bucks cheaper!
The pad comes in black, gray, navy, and white. Unfortunately, all but the gray pad are currently backordered. I've signed up to be notified when it's back in stock, but I have a feeling that if it arrives in December, it will quickly sell out for Christmas. It's definitely on my wish list. It sounds funny to buy a schooling show pad, but I think we really need one. And besides, I could use it at clinics, too.
Dear Santa ...
Izzy won't be going to another show until February or March. I have until then to get a few things figured out. The first thing I am working on is getting a better connection from his booty to my hand. It's not like that's a brand new idea or anything, but I am just digging in a little deeper.
Seeing how he behaved at the two shows we did this fall has given me a lot of information. Things that were little at home turned out to be big at the show. It turns out that the movements themselves are not what I need to be schooling. Yes, he needs a clean simple change for Second Level, but that doesn't really matter if he's going to be a giraffe.
Fixing the giraffe moments at home is my new priority. Over the past few days, I've added baby spurs and upped my determination level to a slightly higher setting. I told Izzy, very politely, this is your space. This is the box in which you will work. You are not permitted to leave this box unless I give you express permission. The conversation has gone over just about as I thought it might, not exactly great.
Being in "the box" means that he has to step forward from the hind end, and his head is not allowed to be anywhere near mine. The spurs are to insist on sideways when he tries to be a giraffe. It's really hard to be a giraffe when you're leg yielding. On Sunday, I had him leg yield from quarter line to centerline back to quarter line about 4 billion times. It's amazing how non-giraffe-like one gets when one is moving sideways.
I am also preparing Izzy's Show Kit. Speedy's Show Kit included Quic Silver Whitening Shampoo and a cooler for keeping warm when he was wet. Those was the only "special" things he needed at shows. Keeping Izzy clean and bright is not really an issue. His brown coat hides all kinds of things, and if he gets dirty, he doesn't mind being wet as he's never cold.
Izzy's Show Kit will include a tube of UlcerGard. One tube holds four doses which will work perfectly. Until he shows me differently, he'll get a dose on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. In his kit, I'll also need a ton of Medical Report Forms. Omeprazole is not on USEF's prohibited substance list, but the Technical Delegate (TD) at the last show - a TD I respect, said that reporting it is the safest course of action as you never know when your horse might be selected for drug testing. There's always a chance that one of the ingredients in the tube might pop up on the drug report.
The next thing slated for Izzy's Show Kit will be two tubes of Grand Meadows Grand Calm; each tube contains one to two doses. None of the ingredients are on USEF's prohibited substance list, so I feel pretty safe with this one. According to the package, it's essentially a comprehensive blend of nutrients including Magnesium Oxide, Magnesium Carbonate, Magnesium Chelate, Theanine, Thiamine, and Organic Magnesium. For now, magnesium isn't performance enhancing although technically, it is used to affect the mood of the horse, something that USEF disallows.
USEF strives to eliminate any drugs and medications that enhance the performance of the horse or affect the mood of the horse. The difficulty is that there are MANY therapeutic uses for a lot of the drugs listed in USEF's guidelines. Magnesium is not banned, and since it is something that horses actually require for proper nerve and muscle function, I am not going to feel as though I am cheating by giving it to him. Izzy's daily vitamin supplement already contains a good amount of magnesium, but maybe a bit more will help him when he's stressed.
Currently, I am on the hunt for a small tackle box type of container to store Izzy's goodies in. I am also looking at maybe adding some essential oils like lavender. Speedy had his own preferences at shows - he liked a 5:30 a.m. jog. I just haven't had Izzy at enough shows to learn what he needs or wants at a show to be happy. Now that I know that he needs to be a bit pampered, I am on the hunt for anything that even smacks of pampering.
Whatever it takes ...
"T," the young woman who has been riding Speedy, came out for another lesson over the weekend. I am always so amazed at how Speedy behaves during these lessons. He never puts a hoof out of place, and if T asks in the right way, he gives her the right answer. Every time she rides him, my heart swells with pride.
Each time she comes out, we work on something new. The last time T came over for a lesson, we worked on serpentines at the trot. On Saturday, we revisited that idea, and after one or two wonky attempts, she and Speedy got it sorted out, changing the bend nicely over the centerline.
On our trail ride, T had difficulty rating Speedy's canter. She asked for canter, and Speedy picked a pace that was just a little faster than what we wanted. When I would ask T to slow it down, Speedy dropped back to trot. When T asked again for a canter, I yelled out, ask for whoa and go at the same time!
After T shared that galloping on Speedy during our trail ride was the first time she had ever galloped a horse, I suggested we work on lengthening and collecting Speedy's canter. She thought that sounded like fun.
Speedy is still a bit of a handful in the extended canter, and he doesn't transition perfectly to collected canter, but before he was semi-retired, we were both getting much better at preparing for and implementing that transition.
For T's attempt at a canter lengthening, we used just two-thirds of the arena. From F to K, I instructed her to work on collecting Speedy - the whoa and go at the same time, and from K to E she lengthened his stride. From E to B she rode another half circle, again collecting his stride. We did the exercise on both leads.
Since T doesn't yet understand a half halt, I explained it by saying that asking for whoa and go at the same time is partly what a half halt does. It tells the horse to keep going while stepping deeper with the hind legs. I explained that it creates a moment for the horse to rebalance and bear more weight on the hind legs in preparation for a big push forward, like when we ask for a lengthening of stride.
T started Speedy out on a circle, balancing and softening his trot before asking for the canter. Once the canter felt good to her, T sent Speedy forward with a squeeze of her legs. As she neared E or B, I instructed her to bend him to put him on the outside rein, and then to ask for whoa and go at the same time. By the time they reached the other long side, Speedy's canter was more collected, and he was ready to again lengthen his stride.
Eventually, T was able to focus on asking for the bigger or more collected stride by scooping bigger or smaller with her seat. As a student,T is very interested in using her aids correctly. Since she doesn't have a lifetime of bad habits to overcome, it's easy to show her the "correct" aid. While she's still struggling with her own balance - aren't we all?, she's very eager to do things right.
With our busy work schedules and my plans to see my parents this coming weekend, T probably won't make it out until the middle of next week. We both have Thanksgiving week off, so maybe she'll be able to come out several times over the break. Until then, Speedy is quite happy with his semi-retired lifestyle. I don't think he misses schooling Third or Fourth at all.
I think he's happy that Izzy has finally started doing his share of the work. About time.
It can be hard to see progress. Last weekend's show in Santa Barbara was proof of that. Saturday's rides were truly disastrous, but with a better strategy on Sunday, we at least got back into the 50s. At the show two weeks earlier, we scored in the high 50s and even managed to eke out a 60%, so I am not sure low 50s was any progress. Even so, I learned a few things and so did Izzy.
I gave Izzy (and myself) Monday and Tuesday off. I was exhausted, so I figured he probably was too. On Wednesday, my friend Wendy drove over from the desert to do another trail ride and picnic lunch. The weather was spectacular and the air was finally free of smoke and haze after the weekend storm that blew through California. Wendy rode her three and a half year old baby, Beanie. That little mare has sure grown up since I last saw her in the spring. Wendy does all sorts of things with her. They take dressage lessons, but they also do a bunch of gymkhana type events, including running barrels. Wendy even has her popping over small jumps. Beanie has done a lot of things for a girl her age.
Of course, "T" also came with us to ride Speedy. As usual, Speedy was his perfectly behaved self. If horses could smile, there would have been a huge one plastered on his face. He loves getting out on the trail, especially if he has a few buddies along with him. T hadn't ridden Speedy off the property yet, so I laid down the ground rules. Riders are responsible for expressing their needs. If the pace is too fast or too slow, speak up. If you need to stop for a minute, or if your horse needs something, say so. That doesn't mean we don't check in with one another, but each rider needs to assume responsibility for her own safety, and that includes monitoring your comfort level. Since we were on my home turf, I led most of the way, but before trotting or cantered, I always asked if everyone was up to it. There was never a no. These ladies were game for anything.
Towards the end of the ride, I asked if everyone wanted to do a gallop. Both girls were up for it, so I let Izzy out a bit and urged him forward. I glanced back and saw that Speedy was right on Izzy's shoulder, ears perked forward, stride long and loose. Beanie was just behind us, happily galloping. She's fast, so even with Izzy's long stride, she had no trouble keeping up. When we pulled up and came back down to a walk, T sheepishly informed me that that had been her first time to ever gallop a horse! She was pretty delighted about it.
We did the same loop that I always do. We started in Hart Park along the river and rode a figure eight that goes around the lake and comes back in front of the California Living Museum (CALM). The loop is just a bit under eight miles. To my utter amazement, Izzy started out in the lead with a huge, swinging stride. His neck swung back and forth, and I was on the buckle for nearly the entire ride. At one point, Speedy got in front of us which caused more than a bit of tension, but once the order was reestablished, Izzy was flat out perfect. His stride was so loose and long that I frequently had to stop and wait for the other horses to catch up. My smile was even bigger than Speedy's.
Over the years, Izzy has shown steady progress on the trail. In the beginning, he was containable, but not relaxed. Each time I take him out, he gains just a bit more confidence. This was the first time that he was completely relaxed at the walk with absolutely no jigging. It was only in the trot and canter that he showed some tension. At one point, when Speedy was too far ahead - Izzy's words, not mine, he actually cantered in place. If I can someday tame his tension, the FEI levels will be a piece of cake!
We finished the ride in a little over two hours. After getting the horses untacked and settled in at the trailers, we dragged out the coolers stuffed with food. While I love going to shows, this kind of ride is so much more relaxing and rejuvenating. We laughed, traded stories, and simply enjoyed our horses, the fine weather, and the good company.
I didn't know how much I needed a non-stressful horse day. I think Izzy needed it, too.
We Didn't Die
Like always, I woke just before dawn. I dressed quickly, and headed out to get Izzy. After talking to Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, I had a better plan for day two. Phase one included lunging the heck out of Izzy so that he could get rid of his nervous energy. Doing that under saddle in the warm up ring would have likely interfered with everyone else's warm up. There's no reason every one else should have to suffer.
The lunge line I take to shows is a super long cotton rope. It's a good twenty-five feet long - long enough to really let Izzy run, and it's easy to keep a solid grip on the line. I started the timer on my watch, and sent him forward. He giraffed his neck at a huge trot for five solid minutes. I stopped him, sent him the other way, and watched him do the same thing for another five minutes. I stopped him again and repeated the process at the canter for another five minutes each way. By then, he was pretty sweaty and huffing, but he wasn't ready to stop. For the last ten minutes, I had him trot, canter, trot, walk, changing directions several times.When my timer read thirty minutes, I took him down to the wash rack and hosed off as much of the sweat as I could; it was still pretty cold and windy. Then I left him to think about life.
Again, I had to ride Second Level Test 2 first. I did a short warm up - he was much less tense than the day before, but I knew we weren't going to get a 60%. My friend Jen had gone home, so I didn't have a groom to video the ride, and I have misplaced the score sheet, but before losing it, I saw that we earned 50%. Not what I was hoping for, but it was a 6% better than the day before. That's not worth getting excited about, but I was relatively "happier."
Phase two of the plan also involved spurs. It's really hard to use a spur on a horse that only wants to shoot forward, but the judge from day one had commented that I needed to make a connection from the hind end to the bit. I knew that, but again, I was riding a rocket. I put the spurs on anyway. During the fifteen minutes between tests, I took Izzy to the warm up ring and cantered. That's all we did - canter left lead, canter right lead. Counter canter, true canter. And I did all of it with the spur on. Every time he tried to suck back, evade, or lean away from something, I put the spur on and gave a huge half halt.
For Second Level Test 1, the final test of the show, we earned a 55% and change - that score sheet is lost as well. Now, that doesn't sound very good, and it's silly to think that I was excited about such a not-quite-mediocre score, but it was more than 10% better than the day before. Not only was the score higher, but I truly felt him begin to relax. I really wish I had video from that ride because there were many moments when I felt like we were actually "dressage-ing." His neck stretched forward from his withers, and I was able to lift my hands out of my lap and truly ride him forward.
This show was a hot mess. It was disappointing, expensive, and exhausting. Even so, I walked away with a lot of good information about how to better mange Izzy at shows. Until he learns to be less anxious at shows, there will be a lot of lunging - something I really hate, a lot of cantering in the warm up, and I'll use spurs.
I don't want to do it, but I am also searching for a quick-acting, legal, calming supplement. I used magnesium for over a year and didn't see any changes, but maybe now it might work. I am also going to include some ulcer medication for the weekend of the show. And lastly, I am looking for a bonnet with fabric over the ears that is thick enough to muffle some of the noise while still being legal (DR121.7). I think I've found one that will work; the ear covering is made from high-density drilled cotton.
Dressage is hard. Showing is hard. But it is only through adversity that we reveal our true character. I am not sure that Malcom X said it exactly this way, and I doubt he had dressage in mind when he said it, but this quote has been credited to him ...
"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time."
Isn't that truth?
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.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
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 …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
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