From Endurance to Dressage
Talking Me Down From the Ledge
Izzy has been a complete stinker the past few weeks. I am not completely dense, so I suspected it had something to do with my irregular visits earlier in the month, but I couldn't figure what the deal was.
Day after day, he has gotten worse instead of better. I've done all of the "right" things: after nearly two weeks of not riding, I started out with free play in the arena, lunged him in the sliding side reins, hacked around the neighborhood, galloped in the open field (which he loved), all before I asked for a short ride in the arena.
The short rides have turned out to be an hour because he was so awful that I couldn't find a single good moment in which to stop and say there, that was good. Every afternoon, I left the barn with a for sale ad written in my mind.
So what's he doing? Well, everything except what I want. Fortunately, his bag of tricks is pretty small, but he's pulling them out one by one. The other day he tried his I can't turn/bend to the right. Yesterday, it was all about locking his neck, flinging it into the air, and going mach 10. If it wasn't full speed forward, it was a balk with a humped up back.
I begged. I fumed. I might have even cried a little bit. Then I got the whip out, which I haven't needed in several months, and went to town on him. After 15 minutes with my new best friend, Izzy was willing to turn right and mostly accept the tempo that I asked for.
I put him away without a peppermint or a cookie (it's a petty victory, but it made me feel better), and then I called Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables. I was 100% ready to sell him. I explained my frustrations, and after a pause, she posited that it sounded like Izzy and I are in a power struggle. She continued by explaining that Izzy might be upset over my recent absence.
As soon as she said it, the puzzle pieces fell into place. I know Speedy was bothered by my lack of attention, but he shows it in a different way. He gets very clingy when he's irritated with me. He wants all of my attention, and when he doesn't get it, he nips at me, calls to me, and flips his head in frustration.
Izzy has been pretty insecure on the ground these past few weeks. He has started crowding me, so much so that I've been schooling him on the ground with the dressage whip. He acts like a monster is right behind him wherever I lead him. In the arena, he won't keep his attention on me and does the head swivel while chanting Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!
I think Chemaine is right. Izzy has lost at least some confidence in my leadership ability and has decided that he should be the one in charge. So, I need to remind him that he is the employee, and I am the boss. Since he refuses to check his email and has zero skills at texting, I'm going back to the two tools he does listen to - my whip and spurs.
It's going to be ugly for a little while, but I like having a plan. Chemaine is awesome, and I am glad she was able to talk me down from the ledge. What I need more than anything is to hear stories of the my horse was a jerk for 8 years before he was finally sane variety.
I'll go first ... I HATED Speedy for at least the first 3 years I had him and then tolerated him for the next 3. After 10 years together, I finally adore him.
Now you ...
10/30/2016 07:19:31 am
Good to know improvement is in our future!
10/28/2016 06:01:40 am
Oh can I relate. There WAS actually a 5 day period of time where App was in fact for sale. For $25. He had been an ass for weeks and it exploded at a show hosted by our own barn. I had to ask someone to hold him while I fricken mounted?!? He bolted in the walk/trot test and had zero desire to participate. I got off, had a good long cry and offered him for sale for $25 to anyone in the barn and refused to go out to the barn for that entire week. The barn manager had told everyone not to take me up on my offer, but if was still for sale by the weekend she would buy him herself. I didn't sell him.
10/30/2016 07:20:14 am
I love your story - frustrating, I know, but it was reassuring to hear. :0)
I hated Miles for a solid 6 months just this year, when he was being a huge jerk and NOT acting at all like the horse I thought I bought. Man, these horses sure do know how to push our buttons sometimes. But I will say, once you get passed it (even for a little while) the results are pretty freaking awesome.
10/30/2016 07:21:06 am
I know that, but it sure helps when others reinforce the idea. Knowing that other people make it out the other side is so helpful!
10/28/2016 06:56:42 am
Haha not to overly anthropomorphize here, but this spring I went out of town for a few days at a critical juncture in training with Courage. For several months after that, I could not catch him in the field. Period. He would walk right up to literally anyone else at the barn, including total strangers (like a vet who checked his teeth. yes loose in the field).
10/30/2016 07:22:57 am
I remember that incident. I guess you can never leave again. :0)
10/30/2016 07:23:30 am
And after yesterday's ride, I KNOW that's what it is. :0)
OH, I can totally relate.
10/30/2016 07:26:48 am
I remember when you got her "fixed." I think you're on to something about the order of tricks - Izzy is doing the same thing. I've even mentioned it to my trainer. He's getting to the end of his list which is a good thing!
10/28/2016 11:24:24 am
Various and I went through the same thing, twice! Once when I first got him, I did post him for sale, but he was such a phsyco that NO ONE wanted him. I figured I was "stuck" with him so I better figure it out... I started from the ground up like he was a wild mustang, I pretended he knew nothing and made sure I had zero expectations. We did a lot of round penning for respect and started our bonding process from scratch. It totally worked. Once we moved to WA, I had to do it again, but it didn't take as long for him to come around. Now that he has had the last 1.. years off due to my back surgery , I will have to do it again this spring I'm sure. At least I am prepared and know I will have my work cut out for me!
10/30/2016 07:28:47 am
I've done the same thing with other horses, Sandy. It does seem to help. I keep telling myself not to expect a finished horse. It's frustrating to know that this is going to last for years, but hearing other riders' tales of woe certainly helps. :0)
10/30/2016 07:29:42 am
Okay ... we'll both keep sharing stories of success. I've had other tough nuts and I've cracked them all, but it does get tiring!
10/28/2016 04:47:18 pm
It is a few years since I had a horse that was in training. He was an Arabian and we were aiming for hunt seat classes in the show ring. Every day he was ridden ( I do not remember having too many days away) He had various evasions and spooking on purpose was one of his favorites. I did not have a trainer I could not afford one. So the main thing that I realized was to be consistant. So for example I would ride for a specific time so that he knew when it would be over. It took me three years to get him to show ring level. One of many things he had to learn was to go from a walk into a canter. Being from England I had to learn about USA showing. He became a champion and I broke down into tears when he won his first blue ribbon. So for me it was a dance of I will meet you half way, and trying to not force but to have mutual respect.I never used whip or spurs, he was way too sensitive.
10/30/2016 07:31:29 am
I am so frustrated that we're not in "show form" yet. It's been an entire year and a half of "breaking" this horse. It was so encouraging to hear that even though it took three years to get there, you finally made it happen. Thanks so much for sharing!!!!
I think it really depends on the temperament of the horse. When I'm gone for a bit Irish sulks and then becomes clingy. Carmen becomes more challenging in the riding. Yesterday was a good example.
10/30/2016 07:33:09 am
I hope you're right. I always think that time off is good for their brains and bodies. I know it is for Speedy, but Izzy seems to do better with consistent, regular work. Maybe one day he'll be the type to enjoy his time off instead of plotting ways to kill me. LOL
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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
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Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
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