From Endurance to Dressage
A Western Horse - Part 2
Yesterday, I wrote about Izzy being body sore - again. After his last visit with the chiropractor, I had decided we're back on an every other month schedule, but it seems that Izzy prefers every six weeks. After the lesson the day before with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I sent an even more urgent text to the chiropractor. CC does a lot more than equine body work. He's also a cattle rancher, trainer, and judge, so when I text and beg for help, he can't always drop everything and make the 45-minute drive to help me out. He usually makes it within a few days, but I wanted him THAT day.
Since I have the week off, I was willing to drop everything - which meant binging on Netflix, and haul Izzy out to his place, a ranch along Caliente Creek. Many years ago I hauled Speedy out to CC's place for some body work, so I knew where his place was. This past summer, I went out to CC's ranch again and wrote about watching a friend take a lesson. Since I am digressing here, I also looked back through my records to see just how long CC has been working on my horses. The first entry I can confirm is way back in August of 2012, ten years ago. I have records for chiropractic visits before that, but there are no names next to the entries, so those are probably from the last chiropractor I used.
Since CC's place is a working cattle ranch, there is no end to the distractions for a horse like Izzy. As I unloaded him, CC's dogs came out to greet us. The kenneled dogs - his wife's show dogs, started barking loudly, and other horses stood watching us. Equipment was everywhere, and the smell of cows was in the air. CC went off to bring over some horses to stand tied to keep Izzy company. While he did that, I let Izzy get an eyeful. He never really relaxed, but he was willing to stand and be worked on. Had we been at home, CC would have done the work in just minutes, but on a tense horse, adjustments don't happen so quickly.
My favorite thing about CC is how ho hum he is about everything with horses. He never reacts, and he never gets mad or frustrated. If he does, he never shows it. Despite Izzy being a little resistant to CC's ministrations, CC just kept working around Izzy's lack of attention. When a train went by - the tracks are really close, he let Izzy look. When the burrow caught Izzy's eye, he let him look. CC is all about the horses first. Everything he does is about producing happy, well-broke horses. He and Sean Cunningham are two sides of the same coin.
As he was finishing up, CC said something about watching Izzy under saddle. I am not exactly sure how it happened, but before I knew it, we were putting one of CC's western saddles on Izzy and finding a bit that was close to what he normally carries. While I went and peed in the trailer, CC led Izzy around and saw Izzy hump up his back when the back cinch touched his belly. I had questioned him about it actually. He took the cinch off and let the straps hang. I didn't see this happen, so when I eventually climbed aboard, I didn't realize the straps were hanging, probably slapping Izzy's sides as we worked. Since I didn't know about it, I didn't worry about it. And since I wasn't worried, neither was Izzy.
While I was in the trailer, I grabbed one of my show helmets and dug out an old pair of half chaps that I keep in the trailer for emergencies. I had breeches on and was wearing muck boots, so my footwear was mostly appropriate for riding. Even though I knew Izzy was going to be pretty worried about the trains and everything else, CC's complete and total confidence gave me confidence. CC shoved a small mounting block my way, and I laughed when I saw it, but then I remembered I had a saddle horn. I hauled myself up into the saddle and burst out laughing. Izzy felt enormous! The stirrups felt super short, but CC assured me they were just right for the saddle he had chosen.
CC saddled up one of his young horses, and Izzy I followed him down the steep hill to the arena. Izzy was overwhelmed by what he saw, which actually helped. He stayed right on the butt of CC's horse and followed without question. As we rode into the arena, a large oval, I kept Izzy at CC's mare's hip. As we walked, CC coached me. Before long, we had picked up a trot, something he calls long trotting. He lets the horses move out without asking much other than that they go where he points. He encouraged me to give Izzy his head and only touch his mouth when he got too strong. Doing as CC suggested, I gave an aid, and Izzy came back to me. I repeated that ask and release a few times, and eventually, Izzy settled into the trot work.
I don't know for how long we worked, but it was long enough that Izzy worked up a pretty good sweat. We long-trotted both directions, and worked on the canter. It didn't take long before Izzy was soft in my hands and forward thinking. There was one place in the arena that Izzy tried to avoid, so CC helped me work on using my outside rein more effectively. It was no different than what Sean would have told me to do - half halt and move the shoulder over with an opening outside rein. The only difference was that CC had me move both reins to move the shoulder.
Once Izzy's canter was soft and relaxed, I asked for a flying change. I got the right to left change with a big woohoo, but the left to right eluded me. CC asked how good Izzy's canter was from a standstill. I told him that we don't do that. We pick it up from the walk. Try it was his response. CC told me to gather Izzy up in the halt, cluck, and ask with my outside leg. My first response was to say we can't cluck, but then I realized we were schooling; of course I can cluck. You know what? Izzy did it! He popped right into a a nicely balanced right lead canter. CC suggested that I do that regularly in both directions for a while. By isolating the canter aid, Izzy will begin to recognize it when I ask for a flying change.
By the time we were finished, Izzy was standing quietly even when the trains roared by. CC and I chatted about what we had worked on. He discussed it in reining cow horse terms, and I turned it into dressage. I said a lot of that's exactly what my trainer says! Nothing CC said or showed me was different from what Sean teaches. CC just does it in a western saddle.
We walked back up to the tack room, and CC pulled off the saddle. I put Izzy's halter back on, and CC gave him one final adjustment. I thanked him over and over for the ride. CC responded by thoughtfully telling me that Izzy's a pretty cool horse, and I laughed. He also insisted we stick him again as there was no way he was "only" 16.3. CC swore he had to be at least 17 hands. I laughed and told him to have at it. Even CC measured him at 16.3. Told you was all I could say, as I laughed again.
It was a fantastic experience, and I really hope I can bring Izzy back during my Christmas break. While I love riding, lately, it has felt like a grind. I haven't been able to find the joy in horses. Being so driven can drive the fun right out of things. Riding with CC was fun! I grinned like an idiot the whole way home. While I had a great time, my little cherry on top was when CC casually threw out there that he would like to hop up on Izzy. OH MY GOD, YES! I told him he could ride him anytime. I swore that when I come back, he'll get on Izzy and I'll ride one of HIS horses!
It is on my calendar. It's going to happen. I found my joy!
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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%: