From Endurance to Dressage
The Training Begins
While this leg thing is a terrible, terrible thing, it has at least opened a door that I didn't see before.
I almost feel like the butt-end of a gigantic cosmic joke. Clearly the cosmos intends for me to do Izzy's training rather than send him out. I tried a dressage trainer, but that didn't work out so well. And when I had a nearby trainer who was willing to put some miles on Izzy lined up, the universe conspired to keep Izzy in my own barn for me to deal with. Thank you, oh, great and powerful Oz!
After the vet left on Saturday afternoon, I hung around the barn sitting in front of Izzy's stall hoping to see him relax and work on his dinner. He didn't. He paced and paced, stopping occasionally to grab a bite to eat. He did roll about a hundred times in the super soft bedding that I use, but then he resumed his pacing.
That night, a massive rainstorm rolled in dumping more than half an inch of water on Bakersfield's still dry and thirsty landscape. Of course, I woke up several times throughout the night praying that the bandage held and that I wouldn't get a panicked text the next morning.
When no text appeared, I waited out the worst of the early morning rain, but as soon as it slowed to a drizzle, I zipped out to the barn to assess the damage. To my utter relief, Speedy was napping with Izzy standing companionably close by. Both horses were very relaxed and quiet and acted as thought they had been neighbors for years.
I gave Speedy his expected pat on the neck followed by a handful of carrots. When I felt confident that he felt that his place in the hierarchy had been noted, I moved on to visit with Izzy. He sniffed my pockets, hair, and face while I stroked his neck. He seemed genuinely happy to see me.
I had decided that the best way to approach a horse with zero confidence was to simply let him know each and every day that there is nothing to worry about. Since his English isn't very good yet, the way to convince him that life is good is to show him.
We had a small conversation that involved lots of friendly pats, carrot treats, and soft words of praise. And then, just in case his English is better than I think, I told him that he should watch as Speedy showed him the ropes.
I put Speedy's halter on and brought him to the cross ties. When I had done that the day before, Izzy got quite vocal and expressed his concern about where his new friend was going. On Sunday, Izzy took Speedy leaving his stall in stride.
I should stop and explain that Izzy seems to become attached to a new friend too quickly and too deeply. The trainer up north felt that this was an extreme issue and one that might not be able to be resolved. I see it as an opportunity to help a horse build confidence in himself, me, and my way of doing things.
I groomed Speedy and went through my regular routine. I walked him to the end of the barn aisle while Izzy started to call. I turned Spedy back and came walking slowly back to the cross ties. Izzy relaxed immediately, At the same time, my husband pulled up with the dog and offered to take Speedy for a short walk so that I could evaluate how anxious Izzy got at the separation.
As soon as they started walking away, Izzy got really upset. He whinnied loudly and his whole body quivered with tension. My husband turned to head back, but I waved him on. He walked Speedy to the end of the property to graze, out of sight of the barn. They were gone nearly ten minutes.
Izzy got very anxious. He continued to scream and began to pace and whirl. After a couple of minutes though, he started walking and stopped to check if they had returned. He also stopped crying so urgently. He didn't quit worrying, but he was very careful about what he did. This is how he had injured his leg. While at the trainer's, the neighbor horse was removed and Izzy had a melt down. I don't know how he injured his leg so severely, but it was while whirling and pacing.
I watched him quite carefully the entire time my husband was gone with Speedy. Izzy was upset for sure, but he was very cognizant of his surroundings. And while he didn't abandon his anxiety completely, he did slow down his frantic pace. Lesson 1 was a success.
When my husband came back, I put Speedy back in his stall and let Izzy think about what had happened. When he was once again relaxed, I haltered him and brought him into the barn aisle so that he could get to know our other two horses. I let him stand by each horse as they sniffed and growled at one another. I found it very interesting that he was intimated by the other two boys but loved Speedy upon first sight.
I eventually put him in the cross ties where Speedy kept a close eye on him. Lesson 2 was about to begin.
I spent a solid half hour with Izzy in the cross ties. I groomed every part of his body and doctored all of his little scrapes and booboos. I also worked on his feet. After I cleaned them, I hammered each one like the farrier will. I also had him stretch his front feet out like my farrier will ask him to do, but I kept insisting that he hold up his own weight. That took some work as he wanted to lean his front end onto me.
Since he is quite a bit taller than Speedy, I brought the mounting block next to him to stand on while I brushed his neck, back, and rump. As I brushed him, I lay across his back and patted his rump and made lots of pleasant noises above his head. Not one thing that I did bothered him or made him nervous. He was certainly curious, but he wasn't tense or anxious about any of it.
After all of the fussing, I walked him around the immediate barn area so that he could get a look at the place and stretch his legs a bit. With the bandages, he's not allowed turn out, but I have free rein to hand walk him to my heart's content. He visited with the two geldings on the other end of the barn and nibbled on the lawn in between wide-eyed looks.
He has been a perfect gentleman since he arrived at my barn on Saturday. Yes, he's young and inexperienced, but he has not done one single naughty thing since he arrived. I don't know what caused him to be so "unmanageable" at the trainer's barn. Maybe it was just too much stimulus for a baby. Our barn is peaceful, routine, and very relaxed.
This Izzy is the one that I saw when I bought him in late November. I am so excited to get to know him and build a relationship. Things are definitely moving in the right direction!
1/16/2015 11:05:44 pm
So far, so good. I rode last night, and Izzy hardly noticed. He's more worried when he leaves the barn than he is when Speedy leaves. That tells me the barn is becoming a "happy place."
I think too that it's a time & patience question. You waited with Izzy, worked your way around him slowly and thoughtfully, and observed carefully. All smart things when working with a nervous or unconfident horse. I think sometimes training barns push, push, push. He may have reacted to that kind of pressure much more explosively.
1/16/2015 11:08:21 pm
Thanks, Amanda. I really am patient with my horses as none of what we ask them to do is their choice. I find that it is a lot easier if they do it to please you. I always keep in mind that I have to be the top dog, but I always try to make sure they're happy to do what I am asking. :0)
1/16/2015 11:08:45 pm
And more quickly than I thought!
1/16/2015 11:09:11 pm
I agree completely! :0)
1/15/2015 12:34:01 am
you are doing the right things. I have a TB that got fixed on his buddy too deeply. I regret that I didn't take each one out away from the other every day as soon as he arrived. it took quite a bit of work to give them both confidence to go it alone. they are both able to enjoy hacking away from home now with no problem. the left behind one still calls for the other, but nothing crazy.
1/16/2015 11:11:32 pm
That's my plan. I simply can't have two horses that can't be separated. Even when I was still endurance riding, I could leave one of my horses in camp while I was out on the trail. I only did it when my vet check was back in camp, not usually for single loop 50s, but they all can learn that their buddy is coming back.
1/16/2015 11:13:39 pm
I'll try not to post too many leg healing photos as those are kind of gross. And, I prefer to focus on the good things that are happening. Not being a Pollyanna or anything, but if I let my mind start down the path of Woe is Me, I get pretty unhappy. :0)
1/15/2015 02:20:19 am
Sounds like he's settled right in and with some time and care and love, he will be able to bloom. What a wonderful boy!
1/15/2015 09:37:17 am
as usual your blog was most interesting and I pray Izzy's leg heals well
My trainer gets 4 yr old warmbloods in that haven't done anything in life except live in a field and eat. The first few weeks of their training at her farm consist of learning the routine. Eat, go outside, go inside, eat, stay in. Repeat. The horse's only job is to allow himself to be caught to be lead in, be a gentleman on the lead rope, learn to stand in the cross ties and be brushed. It blows their minds. They make baby mistakes, but they learn to relax and get over it. Only when they can do that stuff without it blowing their minds will she start the process of breaking them. Her reasoning, if he can't cope with what's going on around him, he's not going to cope with being ridden.
1/16/2015 11:14:41 pm
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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%: