From Endurance to Dressage
In my quest to find my joy, I have turned my focus outward by looking for ways to connect with other people. For this past two months or so, that has meant giving gifts to strangers, volunteering, and doing things outside of my safe, but unrewarding comfort zone. To end my two weeks off for winter break, I went trail riding with my friend Marci, the endurance rider.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, she and I rode together every weekend for more than a decade. Almost two decades, actually. While I left the sport of endurance riding for dressage, she kept right on without missing a beat. She has a two-day endurance ride this weekend - two 50-milers back to back, so she was delighted to have a riding partner who could mostly keep up.
When I reached out to Marci to see if I could tag along for one of her conditioning rides, I told her we could safely do 12 - 15 miles. My goal was to get Izzy sufficiently tired so that he would relax enough to trot forward with a longer stride. Marci was on board. She has a pretty regular route that she follows on Fridays, but it can easily be shortened or lengthen depending on her current race schedule.
I trailered over to her place, a short ten minute drive, and tacked up. We headed out from her house to the trail head which is just a short walk through her gated neighborhood. I told her that I was following her pace. I knew Izzy would have trouble matching Gem's endurance trot because when we had ridden together this past summer, I had had to ask Marci to slow down a bit as Izzy just couldn't match Gem's stride. My plan was to get in two point, grab some of Izzy's mohawk of a mane, and let him sort out his own feet. I was expecting a pretty rough ride.
We spent some time walking to let the horses stretch and warm up, but once we reached the bluffs, we picked up a trot. The Panorama Bluffs are pretty vertical, but over the decades, people, dogs, and horses have carved out a series of crisscrossing trails. Some of the trails are nearly two track, but others are very narrow or steep. Back in my endurance days, I trotted all of the trails and never once felt nervous. Back in those days I was on horses with a lot of trail experience. I was also a lot younger and more confident.
When we got to that one spot, the spot that's a bit dicier than the others, I eyeballed it, looked at who I was riding, and said nope. Marci looked at me in surprise. In the 25 years she has known me, I've never said no. It wasn't a hard no; it was an I'm getting off to lead him no. It was just too steep, too narrow, too rocky, and too loose for me to feel comfortable. As it was, he took a few scrambling steps off the edge and knocked me over in his haste to get back on the trail. On the way back - yes, we had to do it again, I rode down the first part, but hopped off and lead him back up to the top. This time, I slipped and fell and he squashed my foot. It was a good thing I was wearing really sturdy boots. Once that was over with, I climbed back on and everything else was a lot less scary.
The rest of the ride was about getting as many trotting miles done as possible. I was using my Under Armour "Map My Run" app, and Marci was using her GPS watch, so we paused here and there along the trail to check the pace and overall miles ridden. For the most part, we kept to a 4.3 mile an hour pace over the 14 miles we rode. That meant while walking, we were doing a 3 mile an hour pace, but while trotting, we were moving right along at 7 miles per hour or more.
For the first 7 or 8 miles, Izzy was a bit of a jerk. He just wouldn't stay off of Gem's butt or shoulder. Poor Gem swished his tail, gave us a a glare, and pinned his ears to tell Izzy to get the hell off his ass. At one point, I had to jerk the crap out of Izzy which caused Gem to have a bit of melt down. I couldn't blame Gem for the theatrics though, he had had enough of Izzy's riding rough shod over him. After that, Marci hung back in the rear in an effort to get out of the big brown horse's path of destruction. I was horribly embarrassed and ready to really beat the crap out of him.
I actually did give half a dozen jerks on his mouth and told him very loudly to KNOCK IT OFF! Surprisingly, that did the trick. From that point on he started to focus more on where his feet were going rather than running Gem off the road. While we've ridden these trails many times before, Marci took us through quite a few twists and turns, doubling back and circling around so that we always faced something new. We stepped over logs, plodded through soggy plants, crossed the river, did a rocky climb, deep sand, and long stretches of trotting.
About half way through the ride, I started to feel disappointed. I had wanted to move out pretty fast, but not once did I have to ask Marci to slow down. When I told her that I thought we would be moving faster, she laughed. She said that we were doing her regular pace. She hadn't slowed down for me. If anything, Izzy kept going faster than we needed to be going. I realized that in the past six months, our work with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has accomplished much more than I had realized.
Without me realizing it, Izzy has developed more power and a longer stride. He easily kept up with Gem's ground covering stride, and there was even a whole other gear available when I asked. In fact, he had quite a few gears ranging from a very collected trot to a let's be careful here trot, to an endurance trot, all the way to a let's really boogie trot. After months of feeling so dejected about our lack of progress, my heart swelled with happiness when I realized we have been improving even though I hadn't seen it.
Once we hit the 10 mile mark, Izzy really started to relax. In fact, he started asking to walk. I burst out laughing. Too bad, so sad, don't be mad is what I told him. This is what happens when our life choices are questionable. When one burns up all of his energy by being a jerk, one becomes tired sooner. A small, 20% of me felt bad, but the other 80% knew that tired horses learn pretty quickly. For the next 4 miles, Izzy began stretching forward and down. All endurance horses go through that. They also learn to conserve their energy because they know they're going to be out there for a while. Wet saddle blankets fix a lot of bad behavior.
While Izzy was getting tired, he still trotted out strong. I wasn't at all worried about him. A good test for whether or not your horse is good to continue is whether he is EDPP, eating, drinking, peeing, pooping. A horse that is sound and doing those four things isn't going to die. When we got back home, he trotted over to his sandy spot, rolled vigorously, slurped up his soaked beet pulp, and then took a very long nap in the corner.
While the ride with Marci was mostly about finding my joy, it also served to teach Izzy that he can indeed relax. I've spent the last 6 weeks working to refill my very empty cup. I am still reevaluating how much I want to show this year, if at all, but one thing is certain, I am finally having some fun riding my horse. I really needed to get out of the arena, do something other than shoulder-in and lead changes.
Sometimes joy can be found by picking up the pace and riding a few extra miles.
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%: