From Endurance to Dressage
Per our usual, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and I met up virtually for a Saturday lesson. And for once, everything worked right. Doing virtual lessons might have its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh the occasional glitches. Anyhoodle ...
I rarely waste time when a lesson starts. Sean and I spend a minute or two checking in: How is everyone at the barn? Here is what I worked on this week. What are your suggestions? And from there, I ride like it's any other day. Well, mostly. On any other day I don't usually ride for an hour. After work, I keep it to around 30 minutes mostly because I am tired, but it's also to keep from over drilling things.
For this lesson, I had a very clear itinerary - the canter. One issue I have been having is getting a prompt left lead canter when lifting my left seat bone. For the right lead, I can scoop and lift my right seat bone and Izzy knows to pick up the right lead. To the left, it takes more prompting. Of course, with Sean scrutinizing my every aid, Izzy picked up the left lead without the need for any bodily contortions on my part. So, I guess Sean fixed that issue.
That wasn't it for the canter though. I have been working really hard on building a better foundation for the flying change. I had had one nice one on my own since the previous lesson, but that was it. There have been two issues going on. First, I wasn't a hundred percent sure my aid for the flying change was correct. The other issue is that when Izzy does give me a change, and even when he doesn't, he leaps into the air and scares the crap out of me.
I explained all of this to Sean and asked if he had a suggestion. Of course he did because that's what trainers are for. For the left to right change, he had me canter the long side from A to about P. He had me ride a 10-meter half circle to form a tear drop back to the rail with the flying change just before F. Or, conversely, for a right to left change, we cantered from A to about V with the 10-meter half circle to form the tear drop back to the rail with the change just before K.
There are so many reasons to love this exercise. First, if you don't get a change - like me, it's no biggie because you either continue on in counter canter or do the change through trot (which is what I did), but then you're right back to V (or P) where you can give it another shot, which is what I did. Eventually, Izzy figured out that it was all just another canter stride. Canter left. Canter right. Canter left. Canter right. Here's a video of the exercise done the next day.
By doing this exercise, we removed the long diagonal which gives Izzy a lot of time to think about bracing and formulating an evasive strategy. With changes done like this, the horse has to really sit back on his hind end in the 10-meter half circle and then almost immediately straighten up for the change. This keeps the horse from getting strung out and resisting.
Another reason to love this exercise is that it encourages the horse to keep his back moving. Since there isn't much opportunity for the horse to canter straight ahead, it means he is bending his body back and forth which helps to keep him more supple.
It only took me three for four tries before I got the change. Since Izzy's change is so ... boisterous right now, I couldn't feel it. I had to take Sean's word for it. It feels like Izzy launches himself into the air and then bucks. I've been riding this horse a long time, and while I am not afraid, I am respectful of his size and the distance to the ground. After the first change, I asked Sean if it looked like what it felt like. He laughed and said it was actually quite funny. According to him, Izzy lifts his front end, which I can definitely feel, but then his hind legs barely come off the ground. Like this ...
That made me feel a lot better. Just knowing that it is not as dramatic as it feels like encourages me to ride through it instead of bracing for impact. I've been riding the attempted changes pretty defensively, but now I know I can sit up and keep a better feel of his mouth. I also know that my aids have been correct all along. He just hasn't been supple enough nor straight enough to do the change.
After schooling the changes a few times, we moved on to travers in the canter in preparation for the canter half passes. Izzy really did a great job during this lesson. Usually, we can try one "big" thing, but after that, we spend a lot of time getting the hamsters back on the wheel. On Saturday, he kept his mind on his job and focused on what I was asking for. I say this because none of the work we did was easy. It all required a lot of effort on both his part and mine, and yet he did it.
For the canter travers, Sean reminded me that it's just another canter stride. As I used the rail to help keep Izzy moving in a straight line, I kept that reminder running on a loop in my head. Instead of thinking yikes we're doing canter travers, I told Izzy that it was just another canter stride. It didn't take too many long sides before we both let the tension ease itself out as we simply cantered the long sides with haunches in. Once Izzy could canter with less bracing, we turned it into a canter half pass.
Once we had a decent canter half pass, I worked on riding the half pass all the way to the letter without losing the bend in the last few strides. And once we made it to the letter, I asked for the flying change. It wasn't pretty, but I got it! My big take-away for this lesson was all about the idea that it's just another canter stride. Whether it's a flying change or travers or half pass, it's really all about the quality of the canter first. The movements themselves don't need to be so mystical. Recognizing that it's all just walk, trot, canter brings the focus back to correct basics. If your canter is correct and balanced, whatever you do with it will be just another canter stride.
My homework for this week is to work on travers in the canter. This will help improve the canter half pass, and it will also help with the flying changes because the more I can move his body around in the canter, the less tension Izzy will feel as I ask for the change.
If you see me riding and hear me tell Izzy that it's just another canter stride, it's probably more for my benefit than his.
Please give me a moment as I wait for my head to stop exploding. Oh, USEF, What. The. Frick.
I do not know if you truly and sincerely understand how much I absolutely, unequivocally, categorically despise the behemoth known as US Equestrian. To this day, some twelve years of membership later, I am still trying to figure out in what way this organization has done me, as an adult rider, a single ounce of good.
Shut up. I hear you already mumbling something about USEF being an organization who makes it possible for the sport to exist blah blah blah. No they don't. Schooling shows do just fine on their own. My own Group Member Organization, the California Dressage Society (CDS), offers fabulous awards and educational opportunities that have given me tremendous motivation. The United States Dressage Federation (USDF), our sport's national governing body, does even more with even fewer of my membership dollars. Both USDF and CDS are in touch with their members and are genuinely here to serve.
USEF offers me nothing in return for my membership dues. I get a card that says I can compete as an amateur. I get a worthless magazine that has no appeal to me as a rider who has zero aspiration (or means) to compete on the international stage. So what good is this organization? In my opinion, USEF is a a group of bureaucrats whose sole purpose for existing is to bilk grassroots riders out of their money in an effort to line their own pockets and serve their own greedy interests. So what has me riled up this week? This pathetic message that was sent out on Tuesday.
Lexington, Ky. - In support of action taken at the Mid-Year Board meeting, the USEF Board of Directors approved an Extraordinary Rule change to GR 202.1 Membership Requirements amending the approved use of Show Passes effective 12/1/22.
The emphasis is mine. An extraordinarily sucky rule change is right. And yes, it "streamlined" something - your money heading straight into USEF's pocket. They thought they'd fool us into thinking they've done something good for us. They haven't. What they've done is made it even more expensive for those riders who only want to show once or twice a year. Riders who maybe don't have more than one or two shows that are within driving distance. Riders who can't afford to do more than one or two shows a year.
Now, those riders have to pay for a full membership, which by the way is more than I pay to be a member of CDS and a group member of USDF combined. And how about those horse show moms and dads? The ones who just want to give their kiddos an opportunity to play an individual sport. Those moms and dads who want to coach their own kiddos now need to fork over annual dues as well. Want to know what else all "senior members" in good standing have to do? They have to take USEF's worthless SafeSport training every year.
I am not generally a conspiracy theorist, but I'm three-quarters of the way through Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Google it if it's not on your radar. Holy cow. Shit's gettin' real. I am over this current notion that Americans need to be forced into doing someone else's version of what is "right" - à la SafeSport. I do not need some jackass in Washington (or Lexington) tinkering with my moral compass. I can take care of that on my own. I am not molesting kids, and if I were, we'll let the police take care of it. Oh, wait. Those same jackasses wanted to defund the police.
This idea that self-appointed individuals in our society should somehow have the right to decide what is in everyone else's best interest horrifies me. Has no one ever read a book? When we give up control of our lives, nothing good EVER comes of it.
Shame on you, USEF. Shame on you. And you know what? Shame on me for continuing to be a member of an organization that disgusts me.
Here in California, we don't mess around. If it can be screwed up or made worse, we're all in. Take the weather for example. It's officially fall, but not here. Oh no, you want summer? We'll give you summer; we'll give it to you for eight months. It's still in the mid 90s here in the afternoons. Today should be "only" 92℉. All of this means that while I am still riding daily - my too-hot-ride number is 99℉, it has been HOT.
Once the heat breaks, Izzy is going to be a gigantic handful, so I am riding some of the harder stuff right now while he's too hot to argue about it. That means we're doing a boatload of canter transitions. For the past week that has been my focus: trot-canter-trot transitions and the simple changes. And you know what? My strategy is working. The transitions have shown marked improvement in just a few short weeks. Izzy is far less braced, and he's actually beginning to bend through his body.
In the canter, I am also working on pushing my hands forward for several strides to demonstrate that Izzy is in self carriage. That movement comes in one of the tests from either Second or Third Level; I can't remember which. He's doing a great job with it; he doesn't pop his head up, run forward, or fuss when I bring my hands back. I am also pushing my hands forward to see if he'll follow the contact. He's showing improvement there as well.
Using my spur more intentionally has definitely unlocked a new level of communication for us. For most rides, I only need to really poke him once or twice to convince him that he must move his ribcage. Using a spur effectively does require some education on the rider's part though. Speedy is a small horse, so my leg hung below his belly. To use my spur, I had to really lift my heel up to make contact.
Izzy's barrel is so big, that if I am not careful, the spur pokes him every time I use my leg. This has forced me to isolate my leg aids. As a result, I am much more aware of my calf as an aid than I was before. And, Izzy is now more aware of my calf as well. He is earning that if he doesn't listen to my calf, the spur will soon follow.
Now if we could just get a bit more thrust to get a bit more hang time, that would be groovy!
If you came here today for horses, you're out of luck, although, I might throw in a photo just to keep it interesting. Today, I want to use my space to show my students how easy it is to publish a story. Last week, we wrote science fiction narratives, and this week we're publishing and sharing. I teach a writing process that uses a detailed outline. As we complete each section of the outline we collaborate by sharing ideas and making suggestions to other students (and teacher). Here is the story my students helped me write.
The Time Traveler
With the world running out of cheap, reliable energy, the president decided to try something both dangerous and risky. He called Jessica Bond, secret agent and adventure seeker.
Late one night, Jessica was sitting in her office when her cell phone lit up; the number was from the White House. She knew that the country was facing an energy crisis, so when the president asked if she would accept a secret mission to save the world, she said yes. The president gave her the location of the country's best kept secret: there was a time machine. Jessica grabbed her gear, caught a plane, and headed to Colorado.
Not long after, Jessica landed at a secret, U.S. military base and looked for her contact, a scientist named John Galt. Without wasting any time, he took her straight to the time machine which looked like an old telephone booth. He adjusted the settings while telling Jessica that she would arrive at a lab a hundred and fifty years in the future. Once there, she would locate a box marked TOP SECRET. She was to grab the package and get back to the time machine quickly as she only had five minutes to complete her mission. If not, the time machine would return without her. He asked if she was ready, and after seeing her nod, he sent her to the year 2172.
As usual, Jessica ran into trouble the second she climbed out of the time machine. As she looked around, she noticed packages everywhere, all with the words TOP SECRET stamped across the front. Figures! thought Jessica to herself. Faced with the task of finding the right box, she quickly scanned shelf after shelf, her eyes reading TOP SECRET, TOP SECRET, TOP SECRET, 2022, TOP SECRET. Wait! What was that? Jessica asked herself. She grabbed the box marked 2022 and tore off the lid. To her surprise, the very machine she needed was bubble wrapped inside. She snapped the lid in place and glanced at her watch. She realized she only had forty-nine seconds to make it to the time machine before it left her in the year 2172. She sprinted for the door of the time machine and threw herself and her precious cargo through the doorway just as the machine roared to life. Whew! She had made it.
After delivering the package and making sure her fee had made it into her account, Jessica headed back to her office. As she leaned back in her chair, relieved that the world was once again safe, her cell phone's screen lit up with a message: URGENT!
Back to horses tomorrow ...
Just as a reminder, I went to Championships, but not as a competitor. Didn't matter though, I still had a great time. You can read about my take-aways in yesterday's post. Today's post is about the shopping.
Most of the vendors were beyond my budget - we actually found a little white shirt with short sleeves and not much else going for it that was tagged at $250. Thanks, no thanks. We also found plenty of beautiful things that I just don't need - lots of pads, polos, and gloves. Even so, it was sure fun to look.
We popped into most every booth, although I did skip the saddle rep. I don't know anything about the N2 Saddles, but there was no need to waste their time. I am definitely not in the market for a new saddle (unless I win the lottery in the next few weeks, then maybe).
One of my pals spent a lot of time at Two Hearts Equine Boutique. Each time she went by she came out with something new. She kept dragging me in as well, but fortunately I was able to help her spend her own money and not mine. She ended up with a stylish new coat and show shirt along with a pad, gloves, and a ball cap as her "gateway drug."
The tent that drew me back again and again was Halter Ego. If you haven't heard of this company, you probably hate horses and fancy pants tack. These ladies have it going ON! On Saturday evening they had a wine and cheese reception with more than just wine and cheese. Plus, those ladies were friendly, and their hearing was sharp. If you even mentioned a color or style you liked, it suddenly appeared in front of you as though by magic.
My friend Jen, who I admire more than most, asked me to take a peek at a bridle she had been eyeballing. I think it was the Tuscany which has cognac colored leather padding and piping. It is stunning and now lives with Jen's lovely chestnut mare, Peaches. Anyway, as we were oohing and awing over the beauty we were holding in our hands, I said something about reins, and like magic, a pair of new soft leather reins landed in my hands.
I am pickier than most about reins. I love the Thinline Reins, but I've now worked my way through two pairs; they just didn't hold up well for me. I very recently bought a pair of Schockemohle rubber lined reins, but they just wouldn't drape right for me. Anyhoodle, I now own a pair of Halter Ego reins that are not yet available on the website. It's a product that they're trying out to see if customers will like them. I rode with them on Sunday morning and then again yesterday, and I am very happy with how they both drape and feel.
By the time the Freestyle program was finished, we were hot, sweaty, stuffed, and a bit poorer than when the morning started. If you don't have a horse ready to show, grab a friend and go anyway. Going horseless to a show is almost a cheaper way to spend a day.
Thanks, Ladies! I had a blast.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%