From Endurance to Dressage
Of all of the things I am hard on - boots, breeches, riding tops ... my helmet is not one of them. I take good care of my helmets - all four of them, and they last a long time. (Yes, I know helmets have an expiration date, but none of them are there yet.) Three of them live in my trailer in helmet bags and are reserved for shows, clinics, and away from home lessons. I never set those helmets on the ground or even place them in a situation where they might hit the dirt. Also, Izzy is NOT allowed to nuzzle my head while wearing any of those three helmets.
The fourth helmet is strictly for schooling. While I take good care of it, it looks like a school helmet. It's been bashed by tree branches - I do some occasional trail riding, sweat in profusely, crunched on by Izzy - he calls it nuzzling, and baked in the Bakersfield sun. Even with all of that, I do wipe it off when it gets too grungy, and I hand wash the liner. I also lay it on a shelf when not in use so that the harness doesn't get stretched out. Recently, I've noticed that the little pad that covers the chin strap has begun to fall apart. Scratch that; it FELL apart.
Helmets are expensive, so there was no way I was buying a new helmet just because the little comfort pad had worn thin. After living with it for several weeks dangling and being rather uncomfortable, I finally took the time to dig out an old helmet with the intention of cannibalizing the chin strap covering. To my surprise, my fifth helmet, one that lives in storage - who knows how many I actually own?, actually had a chin strap covering in better shape than the one I was currently using. I stripped it off the old helmet and applied it to my schooling helmet.
While the new chin strap pad works just fine, it is rather funky. Who knows how old it is. I sat down over the weekend and did a five minute Google search for a replacement. Had I looked a bit longer, I might have found one designed specifically for equestrian helmets, but as it was, I found something on Amazon that was super cheap that should arrive tomorrow - fair warning, you get what you pay for.
I am ended up finding a four-pack of chin padding for bicycle helmets for $5.99. I took a screen shot of the pads in red so that you can see them, but I ordered mine in black so that you won't see it when it's on. Will they work? I don't know, but for six bucks I was willing to give them a try.
Since I was buying something so ridiculously cheap, I threw in a set of Dr. Scholls inserts for my new boots (which I still haven't worn - my old ones JUST WILL NOT DIE) and a set of 60 CC catheter syringes. Izzy needs some oral doses of GastroElm, but all of my syringes are broken.
Is it sad that it's the little things that float my boat? I can't help it if resourcefulness runs in my family. My parents are the same way; they won't throw out anything useful either. You just never know when something might come in handy.
Hey! Is that the UPS truck I hear? Excuse me while I check for a package.
Not only am I becoming a much better rider since I started working with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, but I've found myself part of a new team. I am sure it helped that I was already friends with one of Sean's other clients, Valerie, who owns The Dressage Pony Store, but I didn't expect to be included with the entire team so quickly.
In my opinion, the barn's atmosphere is determined by the trainer. A barn full of toxic, catty people are there because the trainer allows it. A barn full of friendly, supportive riders are there because the trainer encourages it. Sean is incredibly professional, and while he is friendly and kind, there is always a sense of boundaries. I like that. While Sean and I are friends on some level, I appreciate that he is always a trainer first.
Being on Sean's team of riders includes some surprising perks. I had never before been to a show where the trainer and other riders tacked up my horse, made sure I drank, and had polished boots. The ladies on Sean's team truly care about horses and their riders, and they want success for everyone on the team.
After unloading Izzy on Saturday Sean presented me with my first STC Dressage branded item and assured me that more is on the way.
Equally as cool is the other side.
I squealed. It was perfect timing as I had forgotten my other one at home which meant drinking out of a coffee mug. It's much cleaner to walk around the barn with a sealed cup for your tea rather than a mug which allows floating barn dust to settle in your cup. Gross.
Since I am now officially on the team, I had better bring it.
There is a lot I love about riding at STC Dressage. First, it's a beautiful place to school your horse. Second, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer, keeps the barn immaculate with deeply bedded stalls that are cleaned twice daily. Besides the amenities, the company is exceptional. On Saturday afternoon, one of Sean's other clients came out and we laughed and visited while she rode her adorable pony, Laddie. I so wish I had taken a photo; he is FANCY. Later that evening, Sean and I set up a table and chairs in the barn aisle and ate dinner and sipped his very fine whiskey all while taking in the view.
With real life beckoning, I forced myself out of bed early on Sunday morning and had Izzy saddled and ready for a second lesson at 8:45. With the previous day's ideas rattling around in my head, I put Izzy right to work focusing on getting the bend with my inside leg. That's when Sean dropped big idea number two on me: now that he's not filled with anxiety, take control and put him to work.
That seems like such a basic idea, but it has only been fairly recently that Sean has helped me begin to reduce Izzy's tension. That has revealed a secondary issue: Izzy's reluctance to give up control. At times, I am so relieved that Izzy isn't tense and spooking that I am afraid to ask for anything out fear of upsetting his apple cart. Sean caught that right away. Sean explained that when Izzy relaxes, it doesn't him take him long to figure out that I am not in control, and if I am not calling the shots, Izzy is going to. Izzy isn't known for making good decisions.
My job as Izzy's rider is being made more and more clear. My first task is to reduce the tension by not over-reacting. Moving Izzy's body around with changes of direction and flexing his neck from true bend to counter bend will also encourage relaxation. And of course, I am now learning how to better utilize my inside leg to encourage the inside hind to step through. This has the added bonus of keeping control when Izzy spooks. My second task is to recognize when Izzy is willing to let me be in control and then take it. I need to ask him questions before he thinks about taking control himself.
There is a lot to be said for mini-boot camps. Riding three to five times a week in a trainer-led program must be amazing. Just being able to take a weekly lesson over the past year has helped me so much. Riding two days in a row with Sean's coaching was a much needed treat. Traveling to STC Dressage is doable, but it's expensive and takes a full day. When you work full time, that's hard to do. Since Monday was a school holiday, I took advantage of the extra day.
Sean has put together a proposed show schedule for 2022 and asked me which shows I might be interested in doing. Just a week or two ago I had given up on doing any shows this season. What's the point? Now, I am seeing more progress than ever before. It wouldn't hurt to give it another go, would it?
Maybe 2022 is our year.
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 ...
I've shared my weight rollercoaster here for years. I lose weight and then gain it back. I have stacks of breeches ranging from size 28 - 32. Guess which ones I am wearing now? Breeches are cheap(ish) to buy, tall boots are not. At times, my show boots get too tight, and I am forced to show in my schooling boots. I haven't had my show boots on since Halloween, but those still seem to fit. My schooling boots, not so much.
It's not that I can't get them on, but they're pretty tight. These are the same boots that had a zipper blowout in the summer which I had replaced. Did the cobbler need to take them in slightly to replace the zipper? I don't know but they are HARD to zip up around my calf. I've been struggling with them for months knowing that Christmas and my birthday were coming. I generally get some cash and gift cards so my plan was to wait to replace my boots until after the start of the new year.
I've been buying the same boots for the past five or six years, maybe more. For schooling, I ride in the TuffRider Ladies Belmont Dress Boots. I don't know how many pairs I've owned. This is either the fourth or fifth pair. I love them because they are comfortable and wearable right out of the box. There is no break-in period. The leather is buttery soft, and the footbed feels like a pair of tennis shoes although I do add a Dr. Scholl's gel insert to get a perfect fit.
I am really hard on my schooling boots. I brush the dirt off after each ride, and I occasionally rub some leather conditioning stuff over them, but they take a beating. I wear them seven days a week, and while I try not to use them while using the hose, they occasionally get wet. We don't have any pavement at the ranch, so these boots see a lot of dirt surfaces. I generally get at least 18 months out of them, maybe as many as two years. I bought the last pair in July of 2020.
Without any sales or discounts, the boots run $251.42 from the Riding Warehouse, but I can always find a 15% off discount code. (Hit me up if you need one.) Last week I ordered a new pair and they cost $231.34 with a 15% discount. At that price, I can afford to replace them as needed. While I am dying to ditch the old pair, I am going to keep squeezing into them as long as I can. I'd really like a fatal injury to happen before I toss them. Another zipper blowout, a lost heel, or even a hole in the leather would make me feel better about abandoning them.
We'll see how long I can leave them in the box. Any bets?
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%: