From Endurance to Dressage
"J," Speedy's current lady - everyone else has found better things to do, came down for a lesson on Saturday. I was running late, a week from hell will do that to your ability to get out of bed to do anything. Normally I am finished by the time she gets there, so J asked if she could watch me ride instead of getting Speedy ready. Since she wanted to see a few specific things, I agreed that we could make the time.
She has been struggling with keeping Speedy "out" on the circle. She explained that no matter how hard she pressed with her inside leg, he was still falling in. That led to a conversation about asking and then taking your leg off to allow the horse to do what you've asked. This is something I've struggled with too, especially with Speedy.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has really worked with me on getting Izzy in position and then getting out of his way to let him do the movement. When he stops leg yielding or comes off the rail in shoulder-in, then I ask again, but it's vital to ride the movement without planting your leg against their side. When we do that, the horse just leans on the leg and won't carry himself in the movement.
As I was riding, I rode a 20-meter circle at A so J could see how I was able to hit the rail without getting stuck on it or falling in. I showed her that when we ride, we need to see our "line" in the sand. To ride a figure - whether it's a 10-meter circle, 20-meter circle, leg yield, or half pass, the rider needs to look where she's going and visualize that line on the ground and then follow it with her body. I showed her, by over exaggerating, how my body has to stay on the line even if the horse deviates. By moving my seat to where I wanted to go, she could see Izzy trying to follow me. Of course he was a bit confused by my theatrics, but it helped J to see what I meant.
The other thing I explained was that we have to keep our horses round and supple while also adhering to the geometry of a movement. Once she was aboard Speedy, we spent a few minutes with me "barking out orders" as she tried to do both things at the same time: keep Speedy round while also keeping the circle round.
As we started the lesson, J explained that she just didn't feel "ready" for Sunday's show. I asked what she meant. She explained that she hasn't been able to ride as much as she would have liked over the past few weeks. That brought up a good question. When are we ready, and how ready do we need to be? This is an idea that everyone struggles with.
The way I look at it is this: if I were to wait until we were "ready," I'd never show. Speedy was never finished, and Izzy certainly isn't either. Even so, Speedy and I won or earned lots of neck ribbons, certificates, patches, and even a Bronze Medal. For me, showing is not really about "showing off my horse" even though that's why many other people show. I like to show to see where I am. Are we making progress? Are we better than the show before? While my trainers have all been wonderful, I want a licensed judge's feedback. That's what I told J.
During the lesson, we worked on the geometry of the circle - how to find the reference points when the cones were gone, how to cut the corner so the circle isn't a square, and how to make small corrections with the seat and legs. We also worked on the trot to canter transition. During the last lesson, I showed J how to prepare for the transition by doing a 3-2-1 countdown. Instead of just saying CANTER NOW, we worked on controlling the transition.
By the time we were finished, all of J's self-doubt was gone. She felt like she had some new tools for improving her accuracy in both geometry and the transitions. I could see that she felt empowered by the work we had done. I am pretty sure she's feeling like we should go to the show. Readiness is a funny thing. I am good with feeling only slightly ready, but then I am not preparing for the Olympics. Each rider has to choose for herself whether she and her partner are ready for the ring.
My fingers are crossed that we get to go to the show. I know J is ready.
On Friday afternoon, Verizon sent me a notification that my phone was dangerously low on data. That has NEVER happened. Up until I bought my new phone a week or so ago, I thought my data plan was pretty robust. I never used even half of my data. I bought the iPhone 12Pro, and suddenly I am leaking data all over the place.
I have the same account that I started back in the 1990s. It was a different company back then, but a year or two later it was acquired by Verizon. I've been a Verizon customer for more than twenty-five years, my husband, too. To say I am loyal is an understatement.
My most recent iPhone, although four years old, was working perfectly, but it was having trouble running a Pivo Meet. I gave in and decided to buy a new phone. I called my closest store, asked if they had it in stock, and was told yes. I showed up an hour later and was told they didn't have it in stock, and when they asked with whom I had spoken, I was told no one of that description worked there. And then someone said, "when we're busy, other locations take the calls. You must have spoken with someone at a different location."
Are you freaking kidding me? How was I supposed to know that? So then I asked where I might be able to pick up the phone. I was referred to several stores quite some distance away, so I walked out. The walk out made me feel good, but it did nothing to solve my problem. From my truck, I called a different number and ordered a new phone. I drove to the next closest store which turned out to be a "corporate" location, and not one I had been told about. They handed me my new phone, and then told me to go home and transfer all of the data from my old phone to the new phone.
That sounded a bit odd to me, but I headed home, ready to set up my new phone. The transfer took an hour or so, and everything looked great until I tried to make a call. Nope. I drove back to store one, and the Verizon employee very politely set up my phone for calling; he had to remove the SIM card and click a few things. Given that he was the employee I had walked out on earlier, he was very nice. #sorrydude
A few days later, my brand new iPhone lost service for the better part of the day. I was FUMING. I later found out that Verizon had experienced some sort of issue, but still. Clearly, patience is not one of my virtues, so the moment I received the low data alert, my head nearly exploded. On Friday evening, I spent several hours trying to upgrade my plan. After finally getting to speak with an agent in Asia, my plan was updated, but wouldn't take effect until later this week.
The next morning, I tried again, this time over the chat with a different agent, also in Asia. He and his supervisor tried to update my plan, but according to them, the box you check to do that was grayed out. I knew exactly what he meant. It's like trying to order a new LeMieux pad, but the option you want won't light up so that you can click it. Yeah, just had that happen a few weeks ago.
In the end, Verizon "gave" me 1GB of data to tide me over until later this week when my new plan (hopefully) takes effect. Why all of the theatrics? It's just a bit of data. Quit TikToking for a few days. I know, but I had a Pivo Meet lesson scheduled with STC Dressage for Saturday morning, but those Meets take a ton of data, and data was the one thing I didn't have. In the end, no lesson. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer, was really great about the early morning cancellation. He understands the frustrations of virtual lessons.
Verizon, you owe me a lesson, you jerks!
It's Thursday night as I write this. I just worked a thirteen hour day, I am tired, and I've been staring at multiple screens all day. I've wanted to write this post all week, but each day has been longer than the one before it. Even though I am feeling a bit punchy,I finally decided to write about the great lesson that "J" had on Speedy this past weekend. I know it was a great lesson because we both had some satisfying AHA moments. The only problem is that I can't remember what they were. Doh!
I know what my plan was for the day: fixing some of J's geometry. Her canter and trot circles at A have been anything but round, and the circles at E/B have been pretty fat. To help her "feel" a correct 20-meter circle, I set cones at the four points of a 20-meter circle and instructed J to hit them. It took her a few laps around the coned circle, but little by little she started to get the feeling of riding a many-sided circle. I like to think about riding a square, then a pentagon, then a hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon ... you get the idea. Eventually, you can ride a circle with so many "turns" that it begins to look smooth and invisible.
That part of the lesson I remember clearly. It's the rest that is a bit fuzzy. I know we worked on roundness though. You can see in the photos above that Speedy is looking for the path of least resistance. Since J will "let" him poke his nose out, he's happy enough to drop his back and coast around on his forehand. As an introductory level horse, being steady in the contact without being "round" is perfectly acceptable. The thing is that J wants to move into training level, so she needs to know how to begin to ask for more roundness.
Until you feel a horse get light in your hand while still pushing from behind, you just don't know when you've got it. That's what I remember playing around with. When Speedy pushed against her hand, she halted and asked him to get round. Then she sent him forward without losing the roundness. There were lots of moments were Speedy's hind end fishtailed around as he rested pushing forward with his hind end while maintaining straightness. There were many moments when I was so tempted to say, here let me get on and show you. I realized that the only way to learn is to finally feel it for yourself, so I resisted the urge to do it for her.
By the time we were finished, I could see that buzz of excitement on her face; the one that says I got it! I got it! Experiencing a new feel, even if only for a moment, is the reason why I keep doing this. It can truly feel like a drug; once you get a taste, you keep jonesing for your next "fix." I have a lesson myself this weekend - at least I hope I do, and I sure could use a little bit of that "buzz" myself.
More than usual, I am so glad it's Friday.
Late last week I gave Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, a call. He didn't pick up, which wasn't a surprise as he's really busy, but I knew he'd call back as soon as he had a free moment. I could have texted, but I wanted to give him some feedback about the bodywork Izzy had had the day before, and a text would have taken too long. A few minutes later, he returned my call.
Me: Thanks for calling me back, I know you're busy.
Sean: No problem. I can talk; I am at Dressage Extensions. A bunch of LeMieux products are back in stock. Wasn't there something you wanted?
I nearly dropped the phone. All the things, please, I responded. Needless to say, Izzy's sore poll ended up being the last thing we talked about. Sean knew I had been searching for a white LeMieux pad for showing, and as luck would have it, Dressage Extensions finally had several in stock. Good thing because he also wanted one. We both now own a brand new, white Lemieux pad.
Since he was there, I also asked about any fly bonnets in maroon. I had just ordered one from Dover, but it turned out to be way too red to match my AA Motionlite coat and helmet. They look purple in this photo, but they truly are maroon.
The folks at Dressage Extensions are really helpful, so Sean put me on speaker. Between the two of them, they picked out a few bonnets to show me.
Sean: I am texting you a photo.
Me: Got it. The one on the right is definitely too "red."
Dressage Extensions: We agree. The one on the left should work. It has more of a purple tone than red.
Sean: Can she return it if it doesn't match? (I love his thinking.)
Dressage Extensions: She has a year to return it if the color isn't right.
Me: I'll take it!
While Sean and I continued chatting, someone rang up Sean's order. With the white pad and maroon bonnet picked out, it was my turn at the register. With Sean holding his phone, and me on speaker, I read off my credit card number, expiration, and CVC code. I hope some lucky soul isn't about to buy a new saddle and a pair of Petries.
With my pad, bonnet, and receipt in his hands, Sean finally turned off the speaker on his phone so we could discuss Izzy's bodywork and schedule this weekend's lesson. I'll pick up my stuff when I head down there in October. Having a trainer who lives ten minutes from Dressage Extensions could be very hazardous to my credit card.
Trainer, enabler, or both?
Of all of the horses that I've owned, Izzy is by far the most sensitive. When he is uncomfortable, you know it. In fact, when I bought him, his breeder/owner told me a story about a rider who was interested in buying him but didn't. She wanted to try him out with her own saddle, but once mounted, Izzy threw a bucking, galloping fit. Needless to say, the other buyer didn't want him after that. Izzy's owner explained that when he doesn't like something, he tells you.
Izzy has been part of my family for seven years, and I like to think I know him pretty well. It took me a long time to realize it, but when I find myself asking, What's wrong with you?, I know that means he is hurting somewhere. For the most part, he's ridiculously friendly and willing to do what I ask as long as it's not uncomfortable for him. That includes hard. If it's hard, he's not too eager to participate. This makes diagnosing pain somewhat of a challenge because pain and hard work aren't the same thing, but to Izzy, his response to both is always the same: grouchiness and resistance.
During the show we did the weekend before last, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, finally said that Izzy's expression seemed to be saying get me out of here. That attitude combined with his resistance to bend left, suggested a need for body work. My chiropractor came out last week.
I used CC long before I bought Izzy, so the two of them know each other quite well. It used to be that CC wanted to find Izzy's sore spots on his own without my input. Now, he asks what the training issue is as he looks for the sensitive areas. For this visit, CC knew before he even laid a hand on Izzy. Just by Izzy's facial expression and aggressive behavior, CC knew 90% of Izzy's discomfort was coming from his poll.
As CC worked, he explained that once horses get "broke," they learn to work through pain and discomfort because they know that it's their job to do what we ask. This can make finding pain a bit more challenging because "broke" horses are less likely to complain. This is probably why I didn't see Izzy's discomfort until we were in the show ring where the pressure to perform was much higher.
CC also talked about why Izzy was probably out in his poll; it has been a long time since that issue has cropped up. Like the last time CC saw Izzy, the issue with his poll is most likely because Sean has been having me work Izzy's body in new ways. In particular, we've been asking Izzy to stop pushing against the bit with his under neck muscle, which means he has to let go of it. Instead, we want him to lift his back, stretch over his topline, and reach for the bit. These are two very different ways to use his body. The latter will ultimately be more comfortable, but right now, it's a workout.
Besides working on Izzy's poll, CC also adjusted the C5 (in the neck) and Izzy's ribs. The ribs were the big trouble at Izzy's last adjustment; this time, not as much, which is progress. Knowing that we'll be continuing to work hard over the next two months, I asked CC to be available in mid-October, a couple of weeks before out last show of the year. He thought that would be a good strategy. Once CC was done, we put Izzy away and stood around chatting. Speedy came walking by; he was grazing on the lawn. Izzy spotted him and marched over to catch up with him along the fence line. CC was very pleased by Izzy's long and swinging stride.
I am lucky to have such a strong team of professionals working with me.
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2022 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read