From Endurance to Dressage
A Western Horse - Part 1
A little business first: Since I am on vacation this week, my posts will be coming a little late each morning because I get to sleep in instead of bolting from the house at 5:45 each morning. One of the perks of being a teacher ...
This whole story actually begins two weeks ago with my regular Saturday morning lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. It was one of those big AHA lessons with fantastic takeaways. Izzy was supple enough that we were able to work on some new and different things. I rode him that Sunday making sure to ride with these new ideas in mind. He had Monday off. I rode lightly on Tuesday, and then gave him Wednesday off. On Thursday we hacked around the property for half an hour. It was an easy week.
On Friday, he was LIT up. Every flutter of a leaf, every scurrying ant, and every car that crept by were sure signs of the apocalypse. He saw death and carnage everywhere he looked. For f*ck's sake was all I could think. I tried every single one of the tools that Sean has given me, but Izzy just would not soften. I rode him for a solid half an hour. I never got mad, and he never got away from me. There was no bolting or spooking, things that he definitely would have done not so long ago. He just wouldn't get on board with doing anything that resembled "dressage."
Very early on Saturday morning, it occurred to me that Izzy probably needed some body work, so I sent an early morning text to the chiropractor asking him to put me on his schedule. Since I have the whole week off, I really hated to waste even a single riding day because Izzy is "sore." He has basically no pain tolerance, so even a bit of tightness in his ribs will cause him to call in for a "sick day." Hoping that Friday's disaster was a one off, I set up my Pivo on Saturday as usual for a lesson with Sean.
To give Izzy some credit, his I am not happy about this would have been an awesome ride a year ago. He went where I pointed him, he stayed underneath me, and he never did anything particular naughty, but after 30 minutes, I called it a day. It was horrible to ride a horse so tight in his back and stiff in his neck. It felt like I was trying to steer a piece of lumber as he jolted me out of the saddle stride after stride. Instead of coaching me through movements, Sean and I talked about the benefits of riding a horse who thinks he is about to die.
Instead of trying to get a perfect shoulder-in or a flying change, Sean suggested that I ride with the idea of helping Izzy's body to let go of the tension by simply getting him moving to warm the muscles up. It wasn't about riding figures or exercises but showing Izzy that I can help him even when he's sore. Sean suggested shallow leg yields, gentle changes of bend, and transitions. As Izzy warmed up and got his circulation going, he would start to feel better. I appreciated coaching during a ride where I knew Izzy was sore. Most of us won't ride a horse who is in "pain," but Sean explained that in the case of body soreness, it can actually help. Which is very interesting, because the chiropractor said very much the same thing the next day.
Sean also pointed out that every time we make a breakthrough with Izzy, he comes up sore. Sean explained that it seems as though every time Izzy learns how to use his muscles differently, it causes some soreness. It's a frustrating cycle in some ways, but in other ways, it shows we're making great progress.
Even though my lesson time wasn't even close to being up, I told Sean that Izzy had had enough. Pushing him too much more would lead to an explosion which would not accomplish what we were aiming for. Sean agreed that it was up to the rider to recognize where that point is. He can only see so much in a video, and without being on Izzy himself, he trusted my judgement.
Part 2 tomorrow ...
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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%: