From Endurance to Dressage
Well, not like Tevis technical, but it was the most challenging trail that Izzy has seen. On Saturday, Izzy and I met up yet again with my longtime endurance partner Marci and her Arabian gelding Gem. And this time, I was able to get some photos!
Since last riding with Marci, she has started developing Gem's trot. An endurance trot and a dressage trot are two very different things. To be able to trot for 10 or more hours, an endurance horse learns to carry himself in a much longer frame with free use of his head and neck. It takes a different kind of balance to be steady on your feet while carrying a quarter of your body weight over uneven and ever-changing terrain.
It also takes a long time to build up the kind of muscle that can handle that workload. Endurance horses need bone and soft tissue that are like iron. Their legs and feet need to be conditioned enough to withstand the constant torque put on their joints and tendons. It's not just about cardio fitness. The longer you spend slowly building up your horse's systems - cardio, bone, and soft tissue, the better prepared he'll be to withstand injury and fatigue.
Gem is in the early stages of his training. Endurance riders call it long, slow distance. It starts with a lot of walking over varied terrain for longer and longer rides. Little by little the rider starts asking for more speed by introducing trotting and later cantering. Marci plans to spend 6 months legging Gem up for his first endurance ride which will be later this fall. By then, his cardio fitness will be well developed as well.
Luckily for me, Izzy is well conditioned and able to keep pace with Gem during the early phase of his endurance training. Eventually, Gem will need to do far more trotting than Izzy will need. But for now, they're a good match. Both horses are learning where to put their feet when the trail is more technical and how to deal with scary obstacles.
I couldn't have been more pleased with Izzy over the two and a quarter hours we were on the trail. He started the ride a little above the bit, but within 15 minutes he was walking with a low slung neck and droopy ears. The last few times he's been out, he has insisted on leading. For this ride, he was quite happy to look at Gem's butt. It was almost as though he's realized that the lead horse has to do all the work.
With Gem finally sporting steel shoes, we were able to tackle some new parts of the trail. As before, we rode up the bluff trail, but instead of doubling back, we continued along the top of the bluffs and dropped back down to the river bottom via a narrow gorge with fetlock-twisting rocks and ruts carved by this winter's heavy rains. Izzy tried to just rest on Gem's "laurels," but when I asked for a small half halt, he realized I needed his attention to be on his feet and where he was putting them. From then on, he kept a respectful distance and never took a misstep.
With Izzy being so relaxed on the trail and Gem needing to start toughening his own legs, we took the opportunity to do some trotting where the footing was flat and level. Izzy picked up the most lovely trot, carrying his own head and neck without balancing on my hands. Every once in a while I asked for a bit of lateral flexion to remind him to rebalance himself, but for the most part, he did the work all on his own.
We plodded through spots with deeper sand, stepped over fallen logs, squeezed though overgrown brush, and again crossed the bicycle bridges. Izzy took some urging when he was in the lead, but for a later crossing of a different bridge, he followed Gem without missing a beat.
Late in the ride, we crossed over the weir, one of the many low dams built across the Kern River to regulate and redirect its flow into irrigation canals. We crossed it only for the experience. When we reached the other side, we rode up to the dirt road and then turned around to recross it. The noise of the rushing water is what is so scary for most horses. You'll notice that Izzy hardly bat an eye. Here's a quick video.
I've never doubted that trail riding is good for our horses, but the first summer I tackled it with Izzy, it was just too stressful for him. Even with trail riding twice a week one summer, he found no relaxation or joy in being out of the arena. This summer, he is showing a much greater sense of relaxation and enjoyment. And it's finally paying off in our dressage work. Izzy is much more willing to carry himself without leaning on my hands, and he is much less reactive to the "make-believe" stuff.
I only hope Gem doesn't develop his endurance legs too quickly. I need him to be a bit of a slow poke for the rest of the summer. Happy trails!
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%: