From Endurance to Dressage
I am the first one to admit that I am not the world's best rider, not even close. On a scale of 1 - 10, I doubt I even get to 3. I am mostly kidding, of course, but there's always a bit of truth to every joke.
Now that my summer break is over, I am back to work - have I mentioned that I am working no less than 50 hours a week, and it's usually closer to 60? Anyways, the long hours mean that there is no way I can make the two or three trips a month down to ride with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. Fortunately, Sean is totally comfortable with doing virtual Pivo Meets which means that I have been getting weekly lessons. It has been many years since I've been able to ride every week under the watchful eye of a coach and trainer, and it is FANTASTIC.
While Pivo Meet - recently upgraded to Pivo Cast, is awesome, it still creates opportunities for chaos. Before Sean could connect, I had to get on and off Izzy no less than half a dozen times on Saturday to check the connection and make adjustments. It wasn't until a few hours later that I discovered I had emailed the first link to my husband instead of Sean. Later in the day I had a weird message from my husband asking why I needed his camera and microphone. Oops!
Another time, still before Sean joined in, I had to get off Izzy because my Powerbeats earbuds decided that rather than listening to dead air space, I would be much happier rocking out to some tunes. The problem is that I can't turn off the music while I am riding, so I had to get off, change screens on my phone, close my music app, all without hanging up on Sean who hadn't been able to join the Meet yet - hard to do when the link has been emailed to someone else.
By the time Sean and I had things worked out, Izzy was over it and feeling pretty irritated. When Izzy is annoyed, everyone and their dog can see it. He whirled, he bolted, he jumped sideways. It turned into one of those lessons where all the trainer can really do is continue saying, keep working at getting his neck to let go. At one point, in total exasperation, I apologized to Sean for the exceedingly boring nature of the lesson. As a teacher myself, I know how frustrating it is to keep going backwards in your teaching. When the kids have already learned how to borrow - they call it regrouping now, but then I see them writing 204 - 9 is 205, I want to gouge out my eyeballs.
Riding Izzy while Sean kept repeating just keep working at it, was a lot like watching a kid subtract without borrowing. To Sean's credit, he never seems to lose his patience, and he takes the backwards steps in stride. While it is painful to do 20-meter circle after 20-meter circle, Sean finally helped me talk Izzy off Lose It Ledge.
While it feels as though we're moving in reverse - we're schooling some of the First Level movements, I can tell that we're going backwards to actually move forwards. Sounds confusing, I know, but it's working. Sean has had us doing really steep leg yield at the trot to get Izzy looser through his ribcage and able to work more effectively over his topline. But Sean isn't happy with a so-so leg yield - he wants Izzy straight with no cheating. He wants to see energetic crossing over of that hind leg while still encouraging that stretchier topline.
After the trot leg yields, Sean has had us doing canter leg yields for much the same reason. For this lesson we did a canter leg yield followed by a large circle followed by the single loop that shows up in First Level. Last week, I really struggled with that because Izzy just couldn't do the loop at X without making it so sharp. I've been able to work on it by thinking about the loop as a small hill tipped on it's side. Instead of a "peak" at X, I ride it like a rolling hill.
Izzy showed us that on the right lead canter, he is beginning to try to adjust his balance, but he doesn't recognize how to carry himself if he's not pushing back against me. As we came through the corner, I asked him to stretch down, but instead of cantering straight ahead, I rode the loop. Each time we came out of the corner, Izzy dropped back to a trot. I told Sean that it truly felt like Izzy just couldn't keep his balance while carrying himself through that corner. To make it easier for him, I rode the loop as shallowly as I could make it while still being able to call it a loop.
While the lesson had to be beyond boring for Sean, it was just what I needed. Sean tends to just give feedback on what I am doing rather than telling me what to do. Now that I understand his style of training better, I've realized that he wants to me to ride my own ride while he serves as my eyes on the ground. Lately, he has figured out that my inside left leg swings in the canter. This is not good; I am working on it. He has caught me using too much inside rein while in the leg yield; I am working on that too. Each time he finds something to tweak or adjust in my riding, Izzy benefits.
It's not fast progress, but the progress has been incredibly steady. As Sean likes to say, my graph line is moving to the right and up. It might not be a steeply rising line, but it's taking a lot fewer dips than it used to. Since I am riding with him weekly, it's even harder to see progress because I feel like I am just chipping away at last week's problems. Sean is quick to point out though that each week Izzy looks better than the week before.
If this is what boring gets me, I'll take boring over exciting any day.
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%: