From Endurance to Dressage
Heading Down a New Path
All joking aside, Izzy and I are trying some new and different things. If you missed yesterday's post, Izzy did his very best to show that while I have a very serious game face, it's still pretty easy to make me look anything but knowledgeable. If you work with Izzy and me, be prepared for some fun and games; no one has ever thought to call me a Dressage Queen.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, is a very accomplished rider. He hasn't yet earned his USDF Gold Medal - he's missing the two Grand Prix scores, but he's young, and he has a fabulous pony, Clooney, that's almost there. The pony, owned by my friend Valerie, is a firecracker with talent to spare. I suspect that Sean will have that Gold Medal sooner than I'll have my Silver.
A quick glance at Sean's scores shows a rider with obvious talent. His median scores are solidly in the mid-60s with his max scores in the 70s and 80s. He has shown nearly fifty horses, and many of them he has ridden ten, twenty, and even eighty times! Sean has ridden many breeds, including Morgans, an American Paint Horse, and even a Westfalen. Taking on Izzy, a warmblood with a LOT of Thoroughbred, is right up his alley.
While I knew Monday's lesson with Sean wasn't going to completely change how I do things, I was eager to see what advice Sean had to offer. For the past few weeks, I've known that I would be training with Sean, so I've been riding Izzy with Sean's voice in my ear. I remembered what we had worked on two years ago, and while I've implemented what I learned in that one lesson, it hasn't been my focus. For the past few weeks, his advice has been my sole focus.
Without any fanfare, Sean grabbed a seat up on his viewing platform, and I tucked the earbuds in. As it was two years ago, the wind was gusting, so the earbuds really helped me be able to hear Sean without constantly yelling, "What???" As I sit here watching the video - I can't hear anything over the wind, I am shocked by how quiet and steady Izzy was right from the beginning. At the time, he felt very braced and tense, but looking at him, it isn't nearly as terrible as it felt.
The lesson was very simple as Sean mostly needed to get a general impression. We did a fair amount of trotting on the 20-meter circle, some leg yields, some canter work, and a bit of trot half pass. Through it all, Sean made suggestions. My inside right hand likes to get too close to Izzy's withers. My elbows aren't following enough in the canter. My inside leg isn't holding steadily enough in the half pass.
We all agreed that Izzy needs to get his neck down and out, but achieving that is why I am making the commitment to drive six hours round trip for a 45 minute lesson. When I asked Sean what I should focus on this week, his reply was "small questions. Ask for little things and see if there is a reaction." Sean wants me to work on lateral work while still thinking about going forward. He wants to me to ask for flexion in the canter work - something I've already been doing. Can Izzy flex left and right? Can he move off my leg? Can he lengthen a bit and then come back?
The answer isn't just ONE thing. There is no magic bullet, no "cure." It's just going to take work on my part to keep Izzy moving back and forth bit by bit until he learns to stay relaxed. Overall, things felt far worse than they appear in the nearly hour long video that Pivo captured for me. The "giraffing" of his neck looks nothing like it feels, and the bracing though his poll is nearly invisible on the video.
For so long I've felt like we've been a hot mess, not making any progress. It's clear that isn't true. The one thing Sean did say was how fabulous Izzy looks. He said that Izzy is a completely different horse from the one he saw two years ago. Thank goodness because THAT horse was for sale. Sean remarked that two years ago, Izzy wouldn't let me in. He had no desire to work with me. Now, Sean feels that Izzy and I are having a conversation where he listens and tries to work with me.
While I love having the earbuds in, and Sean loves not having to yell all day long, I miss being able to watch the video with his commentary. When we go down again this weekend, I may try to set the Pivo up right in front of Sean so that it can catch his feedback. The video might not be as great, but hearing his suggestions is the most important part.
Overall, I am really encouraged by what I saw in the video. We have another lesson this weekend, and then we'll head down for a show the weekend after. Sean will give us a lesson the night before the show and then coach us through Saturday's tests. Unfortunately, he had long ago made plans for Sunday, so he won't be able to be there for day two. We'll manage.
In the future, Valerie and I will plan shows together with Sean. Valerie is a good friend and also one of Sean's clients. I am speaking for everyone when I say all three of us are excited about this show season, but I know I am right.
Izzy and I will (probably) never be perfect, but we're headed in the right direction!
How To Remove A Bridle
Yesterday, I took a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. I was a little nervous about it. While I appreciate constructive criticism, I work best when I am coached by positive feedback. Yes, I need to know what I am doing wrong, but I really need to know what I am doing right. I was putting myself in Sean's hands with fingers crossed.
Riding with a new trainer is a lot like a job interview except that you both know you have the job already. Agreeing to take on a new rider carries risks. What if she turns out to be a pain in the butt? Can you fire her for being annoying?
Deciding to ride with a new trainer is equally risky. What if he's mean? What if he makes you cry? What if he thinks you're an incompetent idiot? I wanted to make a good impression. I cleaned all of my tack the day before, and Izzy was clean and shiny. We were prepared to dazzle and look like a team someone would want to coach.
In Izzy's mind, we were somewhere different, and the impression he made was the last thing he cared about. And that's how Izzy ruined any chance of us making a good impression. A good story though, we've got that covered.
Yep. At the end of the lesson, as we chatted about some final thoughts, Izzy gave two great shakes of his head, and his bridle flew off. And then he looked directly at Pivo as if to gauge my future expression. He never moved a muscle. I hopped off to retrieve my shiny, clean bridle from the dirt, and stared at him in disbelief. He looked so proud of himself!
I checked my bridle, sure that something must have broken, but no. It was in perfect shape. Valerie and Sean both laughed, and we were all grateful that Izzy hadn't spooked and bolted with his bridle dangling between his legs.
I am certain we made an impression, I am just not sure which one it was.
Today marks the first day of my annual Spring Break, and I have never needed it more than I do this year. I know I say that every year, but this time I really mean it which freaks me out just a little bit because that must mean that each year gets worse. What will schools look like in five years? Don't tell me, I can't handle it.
It's only one week, but I've got plans. Not big plans, but I don't think I could handle big plans anyway. Today, Izzy and I are headed to Moorpark for a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. I've ridden with Sean twice before and really liked both his teaching style and philosophy. Sean believes that "ANY horse can successfully advance and compete up the levels with correct training." Good thing because that's us.
I've committed to at least two lessons a month with Sean along with an additional lesson and coaching at a monthly show. We have a lesson today, another one next Monday, and a third lesson on Friday afternoon before the April show at SCEC. I'm a little nervous about showing someone "new" all of my bad habits, short comings, and inadequacies, but if I am not honest with him, I won't get any better. You wouldn't lie to the doctor, so why lie to the trainer? I am hoping Sean can get us actually performing at shows. I am a little tired of just surviving.
In between my lessons with Sean, Speedy will finally get back to work with his ladies. He's still a tiny bit sore from the abscess though. He jogged out beautifully on Saturday with a wrap, but on Sunday there was still something there. I jogged him out barefoot on the hard packed driveway though, so I am not surprised that he was still favoring it slightly. I wrapped his hoof with more Betadine soaked gauze, so hopefully that helps the sole to harden back up. As long as he's willing and not overly sore, he'll do lessons on Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Thursday, we're having a Girls Day at the ranch with lunch in our equestrian lounge. The horses at the ranch are getting their vaccinations (my two boys have already had theirs). While he's in the neighborhood, the vet will do several neighbors' horses too. Before the vet arrives, the ranch owner and DG will have a morning lesson, so we decided to fit lunch in between that and the vet visit. Once everyone has gone, I'll take Izzy out for an afternoon ride.
Even though I am watching my pennies closely, or maybe as a result of watching said pennies, I was able to spring for a new half pad this weekend. My first choice was the Kavallerie 3D Air-Mesh Half Pad, but as luck would have it, it just sold out in black. When I messaged Kavallerie to see how soon it would be back in stock, I was told the wait time would be about three months. Well, that wasn't going to work, so I ordered the LeMieux version from Dover. With my USEF membership discount, I was able to get it for the same price as the Kavallerie pad, so that made me feel better.
I have never purchased a LeMieux product that I haven't liked, so I feel pretty confident that I'll be happy with it. And if not, shipping is free both ways. If I hate it, I'll return it and wait for the Kavallerie pad to be restocked. I figure it will work out the way that it is intended to work out. Dover doesn't have the fastest shipping, so it probably won't arrive for at least a week.
I have a few other things I want to get done this week like hosing out my trailer and playing around with Pivo Meet. My husband's birthday is also in a week, so we're looking for a way to celebrate. The problem with having a week jam-packed with non-work related fun is that it makes the days fly by. Since I don't have to be back to work until April 6, I am not giving school another thought.
Here's to a week filled with horses and friends.
Pivo Meet "Research"
I am diving into the world of virtual lessons. I love my Pivo Pod and have it dialed in so that it works effortlessly every time. It has taken a few tweaks, but it now works perfectly. If you're considering a Pivo Pod, here are my quick recommendations:
Now, I want to start using Pivo Meet for remote lessons so that I don't have to spend nearly six hours driving for a lesson. Not only is my whole Saturday spent just so I can get a 45 minute lesson, but the price of diesel keeps going up. Driving to a lesson now costs around $70 which is nearly the price of a lesson!
While I would have loved for someone to just tell me what to do to make Pivo Meet work, I know from experience that doing the research myself usually gives me a better understanding of the process. I started off with this article from Pivo. The process is pretty simple:
The last thing I need to do - besides practicing some more, is acquire a set of wireless ear buds. Holy moly is that a rabbit hole. Apparently, there are wireless earbuds and true wireless earbuds. The first are wireless, meaning they connect via Bluetooth but they are connected to each other by a wire. True wireless earbuds aren't connected to each other. Both styles vary wildly in price, but I think I have found a pair that will suit my budget and needs both: PowerPro Sport 5.0 Bluetooth Headphones. What I like about these besides the functionality is that they claim to work up to a range of 100 feet.
Before spending the money on the earbuds though, I want to do a bit more practicing. I need to make sure I can get Pivo Meet to work smoothly every time. Right now, I am having a few problems, but I feel quite confident they are due to user error. While reading posts on the Pivo Facebook page, I also discovered that connecting the earbuds and getting them to work during the Meet can be problematic, so now I need to get that part working as well. Thank you, Janet and Ruth, for the tip.
If you have any other Pivo Meet tips, feel free to share!
While I rarely write about them, I do have friends, and to no one's surprise, they all have horses. I am not sure if I even have any non-horsey friends. If they don't have horses right this minute, they used to or they want to.
Three of my friends are particularly special because they're badasses. There is nothing that I admire more than powerful women. It's an idea that I regularly try to instill in the young ladies in my classroom. Powerful girls and women aren't victims, they know how to say NO, they know how to say YES, and they aren't intimidated by men, adversity, or challenges.
Too many women behave as though it's unladylike to have an iron core. I think the opposite is true. Wonder Woman is the sexiest thing out there, and frankly, I think our gender could use a few more badass women.
My first badass friend is CK-P. We met at a clinic a number of years ago. I can't remember the details, but I think she recognized my name because of my blog. A friend of hers, more on that in a minute, was a blogger and possibly shared something I had written. However it worked out, CK-P and I hit it off and have been friends ever since.
As you can see, CK-P is in law enforcement. If you ever meet her in person, packing a pistol and a badge would be the last thing you would expect of her. She loves pink, lipstick, and high fashion. She's gorgeous, glamorous, and has a smile that dazzles. I am not sure if it's part of her job description, but she also helps rescue stray dogs that she finds on her route.
Her husband is in the military and is frequently deployed. Their dog, Nitro, is a retired bomb sniffing soldier. And as if all that isn't enough to make her a badass, she's also a kick-ass eventer and USDF Bronze Medalist. Word to the wise, she's located in Southern California, so watch your step. I adore her and am glad to call her friend.
My second badass friend is WM. She exudes badassery from every pore. This lady has no fear, whether it's in the saddle or not. She works on a military base although I don't think I am at liberty to say which one. She speaks to Generals on a daily basis, and thinks nothing of it. Besides being an amazing horsewoman, she literally dragged herself into a top level job on the base by sheer grit and determination. She digs deep, gets the job done, and has the commas in her bank account to prove it.
WM has two horses, both of them yellow. She's not just into barrels and gymkhanas though, she also takes dressage lessons and has a show history. We've done some great trail rides together and have something planned in late April. This lady is just so much fun to be around, and I am grateful to call her friend.
I've actually known SBB longer than W or C, but we've yet to meet in person. She and I met over the blogosphere like so many other horse friends have done. I started following her blog posts back when she still lived in California. She ultimately moved to another state, but not before sending one of her horses to live with CK-P. I don't know anything about their friendship or how the horse thing happened, but I met CK-P because of her friendship with SBB. It is a really small world!
What makes SBB such a badass is her decision to get fit. I am sure she felt like so many of us - I am carrying too much weight, I need to start taking better care of myself, I need more exercise. The difference is, she actually did it. She gets on her treadmill every day and cranks out mile after mile. I don't know if she was a runner at an earlier stage in her life, but she is now. Just a few weeks ago she decided to run a half marathon. Um, I don't know about you, but running an occasional 5K and a one-time Morro Bay 6-miler from the rock to the pier were my claim to running fame. A half marathon is a long freaking way.
SBB's goal is to run two marathons this year. Two. Not just one, but TWO. When I start feeling lazy or bad about the way I look, SBB motivates me to get up, hop on my own treadmill for a few minutes, or at least jog from one chore to the next while I am at the ranch. And in case you're wondering, she also works full time, takes care of horse property, and runs her own Etsy shop, ORHomesteadCrafts. I am in awe of this lady and can't wait to someday meet her in person.
I have other amazing friends - Jen, who took her horse Paolo from birth to the FEI level where she earned her USDF Silver Medal. Chemaine Hurtado, who is one of very few riders in the country who hold all three USDF medals as well as all three Freestyle Bars. Valerie, who owns a pony that she couldn't find tack to fit, so she launched her own online shop, The Dressage Pony Store. There are more, many more.
I don't think I have a single wishy-washy, girlie-girl friend. I admire women who, excuse the expression, get shit done. As a result, those are the kind of people that fill my phone's contact list.
Thank you, ladies, for being such an inspiration to the rest of us!
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%: