From Endurance to Dressage
A Lesson in Feeling
For the past six weeks, I've been taking Saturday morning lessons with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. Immediately after, I give "J" a lesson on Speedy. Working with Sean every week has definitely helped me not only as a rider - and oh, how it has helped me, but also as a "trainer."
Last week, my fifth grade students were working in small groups in Zoom Breakout Rooms; I am still teaching virtually. While I monitored the entire Zoom call and all of the Breakout rooms on my main computer, I joined one Breakout room by logging on with a different computer. This allowed me to both supervise and participate. I have one student that I needed to watch more closely, so this setup allowed me to monitor unobtrusively.
The whole point to telling you all of that was that it also gave me the opportunity to observe the other two kiddos in the group. What I observed was that one of those students is a kick ass teacher. She was modeling my own teaching style, and it tickled me pink to see her manage that group so effectively. As a classroom teacher, I know that a very effective way for kids to learn is to teach other kids. Peer tutoring allows kids the opportunity to teach what they know to a kid who may be shy about asking an adult for help. Kids helping kids creates a lot less pressure for everyone.
While I didn't realize it until this weekend, working with Sean right before working with J gives me the chance to show someone else what I've just learned. I obviously don't teach the same thing that Sean and I just worked on - Speedy's a different horse than Izzy, but I do take the ideas that Sean teaches me and apply them to what I am teaching J.
For the past two weeks, J has been trying to develop the feel for the leg yield. Rather than go over the same material a third week in a row, I decided to try to help her feel the hind legs in a different way. For the entire lesson, we did transitions, but we did very focused transitions. For each walk to trot to walk transition, I encouraged J to keep Speedy's top line round and steady; only his legs should change the rhythm. I wanted her to transition between gaits with no change to the tempo.
If you ride, you know how hard this is. Every time a horse loses his balance even just a bit, he'll likely speed up in en effort to catch up with his front end. I had J resist the urge to allow the transition if Speedy's head popped up or if he rushed. Once she could do the walk to trot to walk transitions without any change in the tempo, we moved on to the canter to trot to canter transition.
Speedy is well educated and has done many, many transitions over his lifetime, but he still needs a rider to help him balance. It took J a few tries before she finally "felt" the hurried steps from trot to canter, but eventually, she did feel them. As I continued to repeat, whoa, whoa, whoa, she began to feel when Speedy was getting quicker in the trot in the last few strides before the canter.
It is very, very gratifying to see how far she has progressed since starting with me earlier this year. I remember when getting a canter at all was a challenge. And now, just a few months later, we're fine turning her aids and focusing on more and more precision. Helping J is not as altruistic as you might think. The opportunity for peer coaching may be helping me more than it is helping her. Teaching several ladies the basics of dressage has taught me so very much.
I never think of trainers in terms of being peer coaches - they tend to know so much more than us, but maybe they, too, learn by teaching. Besides teaching J, I often find myself in a position to teach my colleagues, and they do the same for me, so it seems likely that trainers do learn as they teach.
Any trainers out there who want to share how they learn?
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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%: