From Endurance to Dressage
The more I learn from Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, the more I recognize that Izzy will never do this on his own willingly. I don't know if it is because of his body type or his personality, but moving well is hard for him. Speedy on the other hand uses his body so much better. While Speedy was turned out in the yard the other day, I had to shoo him out of Izzy's paddock. As I waved my fingers at him, I saw him lift his back and stretch his neck from tail to poll as he picked up an elastic trot that rolled nicely into a sassy canter. It was effortless; Izzy just can't do that.
I don't mean to pick on Izzy by comparing him to Speedy. Speedy has his own faults, and Izzy has an entirely different type of athleticism that Speedy never had. I point it out only because I have ridden Izzy much the way that I always rode Speedy, but I am learning that I can't do that. They are two very different horses with very different needs from their rider.
As I watched my weekly Sunday video, I noticed a few things that I need to figure out. The first is that Izzy is still very braced in his neck, particularly at the canter. The second is that I am not always able to fix those off balance moments, and I need to be addressing them. As much as I hate those weekly videos, they do help me see where I am being effective and where I am not.
When I started my ride on Monday, my plan was to do a bunch of short canter transitions. But as it was said, the best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry. As it turned out, we didn't do a moment of canter. Instead, I spent the 40 minute ride working on getting Izzy to let go through his neck at the trot. There was no point in working on the canter when he was already so braced. Sean has shown me many different ways to get inside Izzy's brain. I used every single one of those tools. I don't think I ever got Izzy moving as loosely as Speedy did on a bad day, but in the end, I felt like I made some good riding decisions.
I wish I knew why Izzy feels the need to brace so religiously before and after each transition. It's not comfortable to ride so it can't be a comfortable way of moving. To encourage him to stop pushing back against me, I did millions of little halt halts, and I over exaggerated the flexion to the inside on a 10-meter circle. When he let his under neck muscle relax, I let him go forward while pushing my hands forward. As soon as he braced, I over flexed him again to the inside and did another 10-meter circle.
Besides doing a lot of bending lines, I also slowed the trot down to baby steps. When Izzy would let go, I allowed him to go forward, but as soon he pushed against me, I again over exaggerated the inside flexion as I wrapped him around my inside leg in a 10-meter circle. Sometimes all it took was a half circle. Little by little, I did feel an improvement. Besides feeling him let out big deep breaths, the other clues that let me know that I was being effective was that there was no spooking and Izzy's ears were flipped back towards me listening.
As we worked, he became more and more focused. He quit looking for things to jump at and instead he kept asking me questions in the form of little challenges. It was as though he were trying to find the holes in my plan. Would I be consistent, or was there somewhere that I would let him brace and lean? As challenging as it was for me to ride with such careful deliberation, I stuck to my newly adapted plan and just kept asking for him to relax his neck.
I am definitely ready for another lesson. I need to talk to Sean about some of these ideas and find out from him what he thinks the best strategy is to get that suppleness from Izzy that I know is missing. For such a big, athletic horse, he moves a lot more like a tank than a danseur.
Maybe he needs a ballet barre and some tights. A few pliés before we begin might also get him more supple.
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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
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