From Endurance to Dressage
I had a hot mess of a ride on Thursday - something spooked Izzy down to his bones; I don't know what happened. We were walking along on the buckle in the first minute of the ride when I suddenly found myself hanging off the left side of the saddle. The next instant, I was tossed to the other side. I sat up hard, yanked back on the reins, and found the middle of my saddle.
Izzy spun back the way he had just bolted from and stared fixedly at nothing. All I managed to do for the next half of an hour was walk, and half of it was from the ground. Despite being an actual keg of dynamite, he eventually let out a deep sign, but it took 30 minutes to happen. I have no idea what spooked him, and neither did he. It was just one of those days.
On Saturday morning, he was back to his regular camelephant self. He had one or two naughty moments, but his mental hamsters stayed on their wheel. We didn't do anything fancy, but the ride felt very solid. As Sean Cunningham , owner and trainer at STC Dressage, had suggested the week before, I worked on getting Izzy to lower his neck from the withers as we cantered with a more open frame. To the left, nothing dramatic happened, but to the right, I felt Izzy shift into another gear. He reached forward to the bit and enjoyed a bounding canter. It felt just on the verge of running through my aids, but not quite. We both enjoyed the feeling.
Schooling the minutia can feel slow and tedious, but now that we're not showing, I am never in a hurry. In fact, I now love working on the most basic movements, something I felt was a step backward even a year ago. Today, I understand that continually working on the foundation is like making a bank deposit. It adds up to something really big if you do it often enough.
Since I am still working to reduce Izzy's anxiety about the flying changes, I decided to try a step or two of canter half pass. A step or two is one of Sean's favorite things. He would rather see me ride a step or two of "really great" than an entire long side of meh. I am slowly understanding the value of a step or two. The thing is, a step or two becomes three or four which becomes five or six, and suddenly, you've got a lovely canter half pass across the entire diagonal. That wasn't the point though.
Sean's idea about the flying changes is to teach Izzy that he can move his body in the canter. So instead of asking for flying changes, I am doing a lot of canter work that requires Izzy to move his body without doing a flying change. Crossing the diagonal is what makes him the most anxious, so I decided to ride through the corner in a step or two of canter half pass before over exaggerating the inside bend and then doing a 10- or 15- meter circle. To the left, it worked brilliantly. I was rewarded with a few steps of a nice canter half pass before I circled and did a moment of leg yield or another circle.
The right was a different story; as soon as I left the corner, Izzy began hopping in anticipation of the change. I over-exaggerated the inside bend and rode a small circle. Then I found a place that rode like a corner and got one step of canter half pass before over-exagerating the bend again. After a few attempts, Izzy began to understand that I wasn't setting him up for a change. He began offering a step or two of canter half pass and was noticeably relieved when I turned it into a circle.
With this horse, he needs to be convinced that he can do what I am asking. He doesn't like to try new things because he's convinced that he can't do it. It's a good thing that Sean knows he can do it because Sean is helping me believe that Izzy can do it. It's my job to convince Izzy that he can do it by riding just a step or two at a time.
Two becomes three and three becomes four and four becomes ... the entire diagonal. We'll get there!
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%: