From Endurance to Dressage
After Saturday's lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I set up my Pivo on Sunday to see what I could see. The thing that still surprises me is how lovely of a horse Izzy has become. For the most part, he looks willing and happy. I am still not able to really rev his engine and get the power that I know he has, but he looks lovely nonetheless.
Over the past year he has really blossomed. He's healthy, sound, super friendly, and a lot less opposed to my ideas than he used to be. It's almost as though he has finally matured. At nearly 15 years old, "it's about damn time!"
Of course, he still likes to keep me on my toes, but anymore, even his tantrums, big or small, don't get much of a reaction from me. I know there will come a day when he gets me off, but let's hope that doesn't happen for a very long time.
What a silly horse!
After a two-week break for Easter, I was back at MARE last Wednesday. Over the three or four months that I've been a MARE volunteer, I've seen volunteers come and go, just as they'll see me come and go. Last Wednesday, I let the trainers know that May 24th or 31st will be my last day, whichever is the end of the session. I had thought I would continue through the summer and on into the fall, but I have applied for an additional job in my district as a mentor to first year teachers. I'm 99% sure I'll be selected, but if not, I might consider going back to MARE.
As mentor, I would be assigned one or two new teachers who either don't yet have a credential and are working to earn it or a teacher who has his or her credential but must now complete the Induction Program in order to clear it. I would still keep my position as a classroom teacher, but outside of our contract hours, I would meet with my mentees to help them through the year. The mentor position receives a stipend, so it's not exactly a "volunteer" position, but I feel it would check off my self-imposed need to give back obligation.
Last Wednesday, I was to be George's handler, but his young rider was unable to come. In some ways, I was glad. Over the few months that I've been at MARE, I've realized a few things. First, I do not like centerstage. I don't like to be in the spotlight. Instead, I prefer working behind the scenes. Being the horse handler or side walker are really visible jobs, but they're too much like both my real job and hobby - teacher and rider. The jobs I have most enjoyed at MARE have been the ones that involved physical labor. I've dug ditches, cleaned stalls, hauled in equipment, filled feed buckets, cleaned tack, measured saddles, sorted pads, and my favorite - used the blower to clear the barn aisle and walk ways.
During the brief what's next? conversation that followed once a second horse wasn't needed after all, I heard that some of the hay buckets still needed to be weighed and filled. I quickly volunteered once I knew that I wasn't needed as a side walker. Weighing out the hay for the horses is a job I enjoy. It's necessary and satisfying. Having only done it once before though, it took me a few tries to get the scale turned on, switched to pounds, and then zeroed out for each horses' bucket weight. Eventually, after filling and weighing Sadie's bucket three times, I finally got all of the steps done in the right order. With the last of the hay buckets filled, I loaded the Gator so that it was ready for feeding time.
Once the hay was was done, I went inside and cleaned Sadie's bridle. The Program Director had asked if I had been the one who had cleaned all of the stored bridles. She was thrilled with how nicely conditioned they were and asked if I could start working on the everyday, in-use bridles. I happily agreed and now plan to get at least one done each Wednesday until I leave.
There was also a new volunteer. One thing I've noticed is that there is not a lot of camaraderie amongst the volunteers which could simply be because Wednesday's volunteer crew seems to have a lot of turnover. Either way, I made sure to include the volunteer while I was bringing in Haven and feeding. Event though she probably had a similar training to the one I had, I showed her how to bring horses in, which bucket of hay was for dinner, and how to turn both Reina and Knightly out. By the time the last horse was fed and tools stored, I looked around and realized I was yet again the last volunteer of the day. After chatting with both trainers for a few minutes, I said my goodbyes, turned in my name tag, and signed out.
I think I'll miss the place once I leave. The good thing is that I can always go back.
I got a nice little surprise from my mom last week. It was actually a belated birthday present - long story that has to do with a move across the country and a remodel. The story gets even longer though as there was a bit of an issue with the gift card, but things are getting sorted out. In the mean time, my shopping cart is filling up fast!
#1 Gallon of Fly Spray
This is the least sexy thing I could possibly spend this much money on, but my horse peeps know how expensive fly spray is. Pyranha is my go-to for fly protection; it works better than anything else on my particular brand of flies and gnats, so in the cart it goes.
#2 Fly Mask
It's not like this is a pricy item, but I was getting ready to order Speedy's new fly mask anyway, so I threw one in the cart. He likes this fly mask. It's soft, doesn't catch junk on the edges, and it stands up off of his eyes. Big brown horse, the destroyer of all things good and wonderful, doesn't get one of these. He's too rough. Instead he gets the Noble Outfitters Guardsman, the Panzer of fly masks. Since there was a two-for-one at the end of last summer, I saved the second one for this summer, so Izzy already has his.
#3 Mane and Tail Product
I truly love Knotty Horse Mane & Tail Treatment and Detangler, and I still use it, but for every day spray on stuff, I LOVE Carr & Day & Martin's Canter Mane & Tail Conditioner Spray. I love how it smells, I love how it feels, and I particularly love how silky smooth it leaves manes and tails. The big bottle generally lasts me about a year. Getting it for "free" makes it even better!
#4 A new Ovation Glitz Riding Helmet
I honestly don't know how many of these I have purchased. It has to be at least five. I currently have two in the trailer - one in navy and one in in black. I school in a black one, and I am pretty sure I've gone through one or two others. I love the Ovation helmets. I also have an Ovation Jump Air Helmet in Maroon, and I have had several other styles including the Sync and the Synch with Carbon Fiber Print, both in black. My current schooling helmet is officially gross. I am done trying to clean it. Besides, I can't remember how long ago that I bought it, and they do need to be replaced every now and again. My plan is to put the new one in the trailer, and I'll use the one in my trailer as my everyday helmet. The one in the trailer has only been used for clinics, lessons off property, and shows, so it is clean and "new."
#5 Patience, Grasshopper
Believe it or not, that does not use up the entire gift card, and while there are at least two more things I would love to throw in the cart, I am going to wait a bit in case there is something else that I just can't do without. And no, it WILL NOT be another pair of breeches. Please stop me if I even suggest that I need another pair.
A new pair of Roeckl gloves along with a couple of pairs of C4 socks would be nice though ...
When I have a lesson, I always feel my money is well spent if I get even one big AHA or take-away. During my Saturday lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I walked away with three big fixes. I say "fixes" because Izzy can pretty much do everything already; he's that capable. The problem is mostly with me; until I can ask him correctly, he doesn't know what I want.
Fix #1 - Leg Yield Left
Now that I know how to correctly ride a leg yield, Izzy's leg yield right just rides itself. I come through the corner, put him in position, and he glides right like he's on wheels. It's fun, and it is even beginning to look fancy. The leg yield left has been another matter. I've been struggling with getting Izzy to quit bracing as I come through the corner. Sean had some ideas for over-coming that during my last lesson. He offered two fixes: first, while schooling, he suggested a bit of counter flexion in the corner to get Izzy in position. Alternately, Sean suggested staying on the long side a stride or two extra to get Izzy straight and bent to the right before beginning the leg yield.
That advice was really helpful, but I still couldn't get Izzy straight. Sean pointed out that Izzy's haunches often lead in the leg yield left which is not correct. He encouraged me to get Izzy straighter in the neck and ride with a slight feeling of letting the haunches trail. Suddenly, the leg yield rode with a much better tempo, and while not energetic, Izzy was a lot less crooked. Here is one effort from the next day.
Fix #2 Canter Haunches In
Sean has been encouraging me to add haunches in on a circle in the canter. He's prepping us for canter pirouettes which, while a long way off in the future, are a strength building exercise which Izzy needs. I've been riding haunches in and releasing after a few strides, but Izzy has been struggling with holding the canter lead, especially to the right. As always, Sean was able to diagnose the problem right away. Izzy has been giving me his haunches, but since I haven't felt the shift in his weight, I've kept that left leg on and back essentially asking him to jackknife his body. I've basically been sending his haunches so far around that he can no longer push off with his outside, left leg which causes him to lose the canter.
Sean had me ask for a single stride of haunches in while in the canter. And of course, that fixed the issue. When I asked for the haunches in and then took my leg off, Izzy could actually hold the haunches in for a stride or two before he straightened back up. Keeping my leg in position but not ON, kept him from being pushed off balance.
Fix #3 Turn on the Haunches
Izzy's turn on the haunches is okay, but the one problem I've been struggling with is loss of rhythm. Instead of maintaining the walk in the turn, he stalls out and pivots instead of walking in a circle.
Sean's fix was to shorten the stride but not slow down the tempo. When the tempo gets too slow, the horse will stall out. Instead, he had me count 1-2-3-4 in a quick staccato. If I kept my seat and heels active, Izzy kept marching right around the circle. All of a sudden, the turn felt much faster as he lifted his shoulders up and over. We still have a lot of improvement to make, but Sean helped me feel something new, and once I get a new feel, I know what I am looking for the next time.
Forgetting about being successful and instead just riding has brought me more success than the other way around. Each week I watch the video, surprised at how workmanlike Izzy looks. We're going to Europe in early June so I haven't even planned on any shows until late June at the earliest. On the one hand, I don't want to spoil all of my good feels by going to a show and seeing the same old tension and lack of focus. On the other hand, maybe we really have made enough progress to earn qualifying scores.
Right now, I don't care. I am just happy that we're actually doing dressage instead of just not dying. Big difference.
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%: