From Endurance to Dressage
Yet Another "Operation Boot Camp"
When I last left you, Izzy was a hot mess. He was such a disaster that even his skin was flinching. Friday afternoon started my weeklong Thanksgiving vacation, so I put our school's two-hour early out to good use. I hoofed it out to the barn two hours earlier than normal with a plan at the ready.
I hate to try multiple solutions at once because you never truly know whether it was the first thing that worked, the second thing, both things together, or worse, just coincidence. With that said, I tried two things at once.
After discussing it with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, I decided to try a four-day course of Ulcer Gard (blog post about that coming soon) followed by a course of once-a-week Ulcer Gard for a month.
The second part of Operation Boot Camp involved a boat load of lunging and free lunging. Chemaine's advice was to get him moving until he finally agreed to give me access to his back. That's really the crux of Izzy's issues, he holds all of his tension in his back which prevents him from achieving any sense of relaxation. And without relaxation, none of the good stuff can follow.
I had two extra hours of daylight on Friday, so I started with the lunging. I sent him off at a walk, gradually asking for a trot before switching directions. When I felt he was sufficiently warmed up, I asked for a canter and later did a change of direction. After that, I unclipped the lunge line and insisted on a free canter that did not involve standing at the gate, pacing by the gate, or throwing in a flying change at the gate. When he finally agreed to all of that, I popped him back on the lunge line.
The whole thing took about thirty minutes, and he was huffing and puffing when we were "done." He wasn't relaxed, but he had shown me a moment or two of stretch over his top line. I walked him back to his paddock and turned him loose. I spent a few minutes grooming Speedy, and then haltered Izzy back up. The look on his face was priceless. I then rode him for about 45 minutes. While there wasn't any jackassery, which was a huge improvement, he wasn't exactly relaxed either.
By Saturday afternoon, I had a completely different horse. He was affectionate, cuddly, and oh-so-happy to see me. I cleaned him up, took him up for his lunging session, and was met with a very relaxed horse. I lunged and free lunged for a total of twenty minutes and later rode for a half an hour. We were finally able to work on dressage.
While schooling the counter canter, I could feel him getting stuck, but I propped up his "inside" shoulder and reassured him that I'd help him keep his balance. He gave an audible sigh and floated through the counter canter. I had my horse back!
By Sunday morning, he was over it. There was not a spooky, resistant bone left in his body; he was complete putty in my hands. I dragged him to the arena for eleven minutes of lunging, during which I had to continually cluck to keep him moving, both on and off the lunge line.
As before, I tossed him back in his paddock to continue working on breakfast, and then I brought Speedy out for a ride. More on that tomorrow. And then Izzy got to come out again. While maybe a bit unenthusiastic, he followed me willingly enough and seemed resigned to yet more work.
We had one of the best rides we've ever had. I worked him through all of the trot work at Second Level and even schooled the turn on the haunches and rein back. Those are a wee bit scary for him, but he's picking up on it quickly. And then, for the first time ever, I rode the 20-meter counter canter half circle into the single loop serpentine, and he did it brilliantly!
Operation Boot Camp taught me two things: the first time I hear myself ask What the freaking hell is wrong with you? I know the answer is that he needs to see the chiropractor. If after seeing said chiropractor I still find myself asking what is wrong with him, I know the answer is to lunge him until he's tired. Only then will I be able to access his brain (and later his body).
I am actually looking forward to today's ride. I fully anticipate an enthusiastic, Yes, ma'am!
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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%: