From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy woke up on the wrong side of the bed on Saturday morning. He stood politely for grooming and tacking up, but the instant I sat on him, he turned into a ball of tension and worry. For just a fraction of a moment, I thought about sighing in frustration, but then I grabbed his tension by the hand and said let's work it out together, brother.
I am pretty sure the tension was caused by our Friday afternoon happy hour. Instead of riding on Friday, I decided to take both boys up to the arena to just graze and hang out. Speedy appreciates those breaks in his routine. It would seem that Izzy does not. I followed Speedy around as he grazed while I turned Izzy out in the arena to follow us or play if he preferred.
Once Izzy made it to the far end where the evil corner lurks, his body grew rock hard with tension. I let him stand there looking in hopes that he would take a breath on his own and walk away, but then Speedy joined him in the staring which only validated Izzy's fear that a monster was somewhere at that end of the property.
For the record, there's nothing there. Behind the trees are a couple of horses in a large field. Apparently, horses in a field are terrifying to well, horses in a field.
In any case, on Saturday, Izzy completely forgot how totally awesome he has been for the past two months. To his credit though, even though he was quite worried, he kept it together with only one felonious moment. Instead of walking for 10 minutes and then picking up a trot, we walked for nearly 20. The trot work wasn't great and neither was the canter, but he listened without any bolting or serious jackassery.
That evening, US Equestrian emailed me a useful video by Laura Graves about riding spooky horses. Laura Graves is my current idol and role model. Whenever I get frustrated, I bring that team to mind and am always encouraged. She and Verdades just took second place at the 2017 FEI World Cup in Omaha this past weekend with an 85.307% in the Grand Prix Freestyle. Her finish, the piaffe into a passage into an extended trot gave me goosebumps.
Anyway, here's a link to the spooking video if you're interested in checking it out. Essentially, Graves explains that spooky horses need confidence. The one thing in particular that resonated with me is how she really rewards bravery. When we reward their bravery, we help them build confidence.
I also pulled out my copy of Is Your Horse a Rockstar? and reread Izzy's personality type, the Wild Card. Graves's advice tied in perfectly with what Dessa Hockley says about the Wild Card, "Once they feel safe in their world, they will love to show off and be on center stage ..." Hockley also talks about how difficult the DEAF (dominant/energetic/afraid/friendly) horse can be to ride when you are dealing with a dominant side that is also afraid.
By rewarding and praising Izzy's bravery, I am acknowledging his dominance while honoring his friendly, all things Hockley says are key to being successful with the Wild Card. On Sunday, Izzy was much more relaxed in general, but I decided to make the corner of death our lesson for the day. We've done this lesson a few times over the past few months.
We started out by just walking past the corner. Each time he passed by, I praised him for being brave which is very different from being "good." We then moved on to trotting and ultimately cantering. He was quite willing to work for with me which was a major improvement over three months ago.
In less than 20 minutes, he was cantering past the scary corner without throwing his body around in an effort to escape. I really think he knew he was being rewarded for his effort rather than the quality of his dressage work. He looked so proud of himself!
My toolbox is getting fuller week by week thanks to Chemaine Hurtado, and now, I can add yet another tool courtesy of Laura Graves, rewarding bravery. If Graves can get her Wild Card to the top of the dressage world, I am pretty sure I can get Izzy to at least First Level, maybe even Second!
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%: