From Endurance to Dressage
After trying and failing during my two-week Christmas break, I finally made it to STC Dressage for a two-day, mini bootcamp this past weekend. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer, was super flexible as we rescheduled weekend after weekend. The rain finally let up enough for his arena to dry out, so Izzy and I drove down to Moorpark on Saturday morning. Izzy hadn't been anywhere since Halloween weekend, so I really wanted to get him off the property and working somewhere other than my arena.
While taking lessons virtually with the Pivo Cast app is working fabulously, an in-person lesson was a nice change. Sean was able to watch Izzy's attitude in the barn, in the cross ties, and walking to and from the arena. At one point during the weekend, Sean commented on Izzy's softer eyes and quieter mouth. Those aren't things that are as easy to see (or hear) on a computer screen.
Over the course of the weekend, Sean gave me two new "tools." On Saturday, we worked on Izzy's tension and spookiness. The longer Sean and I work together, the more I learn to ride with less rein. To help Izzy both relax through his back and stop spooking, Sean had me focus on my inside leg. Like most riders, I either use too much leg (you can't push ALL the time), not enough leg, or a leg aid applied too late. Sean talked me through putting my leg on to say bend around my leg and then removing it once Izzy was pushing through with his inside hind. What started to happen was that Izzy began to bend with my leg on before I needed to bend him with the rein. Every time? No, but often enough that I realized I was doing something right.
As I fast forwarded through the hour of video that Pivo recorded, all I saw was a million changes of direction. For the entire lesson, I rode serpentines, ten-meter circles, and leg yields. Izzy wanted to hold his breath and tighten his back every moment we worked. By using my inside leg to say bend your body, Izzy couldn't do anything but breathe and bend. While the softness might have only lasted for a moment, we had an awful lot of those moments.
Life with Izzy isn't always easy though. There were a few spooks to deal with as well, but when used correctly, my inside leg became a way to diffuse the spooks. I probably don't have to tell you that applying a well-timed aid during a spook takes a well balanced rider. Even though I tried to apply the inside leg before the spook gained too much momentum, Sean had to remind me time after time to keep my inside leg on.
With my inside leg on, Izzy can fall out which keeps him from feeling trapped; it's a way out. He can also choose to go forward. Sean explained that as Izzy learns to soften and bend from just the leg, the spooks will happen less and less often as Izzy learns to trust my inside leg. I could feel that start to happen as I focused on using my inside leg more effectively. Many of the spooks just fizzled out, but not all of them. In the spook below, I simply regained control and asked him to stop so I could let him reset his brain. Once he was quiet, we went on as though nothing had happened.
We worked for a full hour with Sean coaching me through the use of my inside leg to ask for bend before going to my rein. By the end of the lesson we had begun to work on some "meat and potatoes," as Sean called it - real leg yields and shoulder in. Izzy wasn't complete putty in my hands, but much of the tension has dissipated, and he genuinely tried to do what I was asking.
Day one's big take away was to use the inside leg to ask for bend and to maintain control during a spook.
To be continued ...
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%: