From Endurance to Dressage
"Ride him forward towards BOTH reins." That sounds pretty obvious, right? On Saturday, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage left me with that little nugget. Going straight between both reins, as in across the diagonal or down the long side, makes perfect sense. I don't think I ever thought to keep Izzy between both reins in the lateral movements though.
My weekly lessons with Sean continue to evolve. More and more I find myself riding as though he isn't there. During one moment of Saturday's ride though, I explained that I was feeling a bit of anxiety because I really wanted to do it my way. Not MY way, but HIS way done by myself. Sean had asked me to do the shallow canter loop from First Level, but I was having a difficult time getting Izzy to wrap around my leg sufficiently in the corner so that I could aim for B. I knew that I couldn't do the movement Sean was asking for, but I felt that a good student would do what the trainer said.
Sean's response was to "admonish" me by saying, YES, ride it how you need to! He reminded me of my earlier blog post wherein I explained that Sean wants his riders to feel empowered enough to think about what to do in order to solve a problem. In my pea-sized brain, I guess I was thinking that meant only while I was alone. When Sean encouraged me to ride Izzy based on what I was feeling, that was all the permission I needed. Instead of riding deeply into the corner, I just rode through the corner without doing the shallow loop.
As I rode Izzy in little, tiny moments of counter canter, Sean continued the conversation. Yes, he wanted me to ride my horse based on what I was feeling. He assured me he would jump in to let me know if my decisions weren't good ones. Hearing that removed another layer of anxiety, freeing me to apply what I've been learning without fear of being a difficult student.
As I rode, Sean continued the conversation. Instead of telling me what to do, he described what he saw. Sometimes it was a simple well done, other times it was more constructive - move his shoulder, too much haunches, or ride him forward into BOTH reins.
Over the past month, I've been really focused on the quality of the transitions, and not just from one gait to another, but the transition from one movement to another. We've been working on shoulder-in to renvers as a way to gain control of Izzy's body. In the beginning, I had to figure out the aids. Now that I can get a renvers fairly easily, Sean is helping me understand how to ride it well.
While we start the movement pretty well, my aids haven't been correct enough to maintain the quality of the movement. Sean encouraged me to think about riding forward into BOTH reins. When he said that, I'll admit that my eye twitched a bit and the gears in my brain started smoking. How in the world can you ride forward into BOTH reins in a lateral movement? I didn't ask the question aloud. Instead, I thought about it on the next long side, and suddenly, I realized that the quality of the movement is hugely improved when your horse is even on both reins.
I can't yet articulate the feeling of riding into both reins while in a lateral movement, but I know what it feels like. Like everything else Sean has taught me over the past year, I will need to keep that idea in the forefront of my mind until I develop some muscle memory. There are so many things that Sean has taught me that I now do with automaticity; this will become one more of them.
I never thought about it before, but it sure makes sense to use both reins evenly in the lateral movements.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%