From Endurance to Dressage
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway
I was going to say, I had a great lesson this weekend with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, but then I asked myself, are lessons ever bad? And then I remembered a clinic that I had done years ago that both left me in tears and feeling pretty angry. So yes, I suppose that sometimes a lesson is not such a great thing. I've worked with quite a few different trainers over the years, but there have been only five with whom I rode regularly, and I never had bad lessons with any of them.
Riding with Sean is certainly a different kind of training than I have ever had before. He admits that he does do things differently than a lot of other trainers, but I might see it that way simply because I only work with him once a week. Either way, his lessons feel far more student-centered than what most trainers offer. As a classroom teacher myself, my pedagogical style leans toward a student-centered approach where students and teachers work together in a collaborative process. While I have very specific curriculum that I am required to teach, I prefer to offer my students choices in what they learn, and I am very easily led off topic when kids ask questions. Just last week, in a discussion aimed at understanding where water vapor condenses, we went from condensation to a kilometer to mile conversion chart which led us to heights of mountains to figuring out the height of the world's tallest mountain, Everest. Eventually we circled back to condensation. Since I encourage students to be active participants in their own learning, digression is a regular part of our day.
Other pedagogical styles are more teacher-centered where the teacher gives lectures and shares content through direct instruction. This is not an inferior pedagogy, and many students actually prefer this style of instruction. I am not that type of learner, so I can't be that type of teacher. As a learner, I need to experience and explore the ideas for myself and to have a say in which direction my learning goes. In fact, I wouldn't want full training even if I could afford it. I need time to work it out for myself. So whether Sean realizes that, or it is just fortuitous that he's a student-centered teacher, his instructional style works perfectly for me.
Each week, I ride and Sean watches. I show him what I've worked on all week, and he offers constructive feedback that includes theoretical explanations, metaphors, and plain talk. I ask questions, and occasionally, he suggests a new exercise. That's exactly what happened on Saturday.
Izzy was motoring along pretty consistently, happy to do his job. There was the occasional silliness - remember when I used to refer to it as jackassery?, but it was nothing that forced me to abandon what I was working on. His little spooks and jumps just showed when I wasn't being proactive enough. Through it all, Sean praised Izzy's newfound work ethic all while expressing his desire to see Izzy a bit more round and through. I agreed and shared that it is starting to happen, just not consistently.
During the second half of the lesson, we really got to work. The flying change is my most pressing goal right now, but since I can't force it to happen, I am always schooling the foundation of the changes. Izzy needs to be able to shift over so I showed Sean our work in the simple changes. As we continue to work, Izzy is showing that he understands the flying change, but he also worries about it. He's afraid of making a mistake, so Sean stressed that it's important to ask for it without an excessive amount of build up. It's also important to ignore the missed changes by coming back to trot or walk and carrying on as though nothing happened.
Hard as it was, I had to admit that some of Izzy's anxiety was probably my fault. I am a little fearful to ask for the flying change unless Izzy feels perfectly balanced. His style of change is to push up instead of forward, so it feels as though I am riding a keg of dynamite. Speedy's exuberant changes involved a dramatic kick, but it was easy to ride as he never lost his balance. With Izzy, I know how much air he can get, so I am very hesitant to deliberately ask him to do any "flying." Sean assured me that Izzy's little "oomphs" as he tries to change are nothing compared to the things he has seen me stick over the past year and a half. I can only take his word for it, and I AM going to take his word for it which means asking for the flying change with the confidence that I can stick the rodeo, get the change, and land somewhere in the vicinity of where we took off.
I was feeling like we had asked all we needed to of Izzy even though we had only worked about a half an hour. Sean admitted to feeling a bit greedy and asked if we could try one more thing. He is rarely teacher-centered, so I readily agreed even though I knew I might need to dig deep for that confidence in my ability to ride it out. Sean asked for some canter travers down the long side with as small a circle as I could get with haunches in on the short side. I tried for 10-meters and got closer to 20.
I've been schooling the canter travers to improve the canter half pass, so it only took one long side for me to get the haunches in on the smaller circle. We never got to a 10-meter circle, but I did get a brand new feeling on a 15-meter circle. When Izzy carried his haunches in and gave me the inside bend, I could feel the new "line" I was riding towards. He was even between my aids, and I was riding toward both reins. It lasted only a few strides before I straightened him back out, but I felt how he could carry himself in a new way. Sean suggested I change directions with a flying change. We got it, but it was ugly. That was when I had to admit to being a little afraid to ask for them.
I can't remember if we did the exercise in both directions, but while I was walking Izzy to let him stretch, I asked Sean how this exercise connected to the flying change. He laughed and said it didn't. It was the beginning of the canter pirouette. All I could say was, oh!
Okay, so now we're really schooling above where we are showing. I can't wait until we can show Training Level Test 2!
Things Are a Changin'
The first change is in the weather, thank God. Our afternoons were in the mid-70s this week instead of the 90s, but that's not what I mean. Since we came back from the show at SCEC two weeks ago, Izzy has been different. Better. More relaxed. Almost - dare I say it? Confident.
Of course that didn't happen overnight, and maybe it has been there longer than I've recognized, but I am seeing it now. It's not like he's now bold and fearless because he's not, but I can honestly feel that he is looking to me for his cues about how to behave. He was really good this week. And it wasn't just that he wasn't spooking - that has sometimes been my criteria for good, he actually responded to my questions. The one in particular was the question, can you give me more? As in more energy, more stride, more bounce. And he answered with a yes.
It happened first in the leg yield. He was really doggin' it, so it I said come one, dude, move it. He saluted smartly and said yes ma'am. Then it happened in the shoulder-in. Then in crossing the diagonal. There was just that feeling of a little extra impulsion and bounce. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has been telling me for more than a year that it was going to happen if I kept asking. Besides just asking though, Sean has said it 12,000 times if he has said it once - trust him. Don't throw away the reins, but give just a little more when he's doing things right. Well, he did, I did, and he answered correctly.
This is a very good change.
My Five Things: Clothes
I like clothes. I am not a clothes horse per se, but I do like a cute outfit that fits well. More than street clothes though, I love riding clothes. Since my budget doesn't allow me to wear the most fashionable or trendy styles, I do a lot of bargain hunting. Here are my five favorite sources for riding wear...
#1 Riding Warehouse
I haven't found any great deals lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been looking. I did see these gorgeous Pikeur ½ zip sleeve riding tops, but at $200, they are completely out of my budget.
I love wearing long sleeves in the winter, but I can't spend more on a top than I do on a farrier visit. Last week, Dover sent me an email for a BOGO deal on riding shirts. I meant to write about it because it was too good to pass up, but I forgot. Sorry. I did buy the shirt, two in fact because one was free. I bought the Ladies Wilton long sleeve shirt, and it looks almost exactly like that luscious Pikuer top above, but it was only $39.95, AND I got two of them because ... BOGO! I am not sure if the code still works, but here it is CMTOPS.
I bought them in the Navy Peony (left), which is lighter than navy, but a nice blue anyway, and Chimera Gray (which is much lighter than pictured). These shirts are super soft, a little heavier than the typical running shirts I ride in, and well-sized. I bought them in large, and I still have room to breathe. They aren't compression shirts, so they actually hang without hugging your fluffy bits. They are perfect for what I wanted, so if Dover has them on sale again, I'll get the other two colors.
I both love and hate Amazon. Politics and world domination aside, it's a great place to find riding clothes that aren't necessarily "riding" clothes. My latest find is the Cloverly Polo Shirts. I bought one a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed. First, it was only $15.99 which makes it nearly disposable. if I spill something on it or get slobbered on, my heart will not be broken. Next, it comes in 27 different colors. I bought the navy aqua. It is super thin and light weight, so it is perfect for summer or for layering underneath a sweater. I am definitely going to be ordering more.
While a hunting and fishing, outdoorsman store might not seem like a good place to buy riding clothes, you would be surprised. I bought quite a few winter wear items from Cabela's last year and was not disappointed. I have already been poking through their website this fall checking on some of last year's purchases to see if anything has gone on clearance. I really like this shirt - I am wearing it in the photo below, and was hoping they'd have it in a different color. I also like this one - for obvious reasons, but it is way out of my budget. It will probably go on sale later this winter. If you need warm barn clothes, Cabela's might have just what you need, especially if you don't need an equestrian brand.
#5 Esprit Equestrian Wear
These are my new favorite breeches. I am definitely pining for the mahogany pair, and at $64.99, I won't have to wait long. I now have three pairs - white, hunter green , and black. Of the various models, I definitely prefer the Classics. The original PROs do not fit me well at all, but the new 2.0 PROs fit better. I have those in white. Once I get the mahogany pair, I'll order a second pair of whites, this time in the Classics (white with a grey seat!).
So there you have it - my five favorite sources for riding clothes. Drop me a line if you know of someplace else to get a great bargain.
Given how "expensive" a visit by the farrier is - I use quotes because my farrier is actually quite reasonably priced compared to what my friends on the coast are paying, it strikes me as odd that it is a check I enjoy writing. To every equestrian, a freshly trimmed or shod hoof is a satisfying sight. My farrier came out yesterday, so I was eager to see how shiny and new both boys' feet looked.
Like many of you do, my boys get done at six weeks on the dot, or maybe a day or two early. Never late. I don't want the angles to have the opportunity to change, so they get done like clockwork. Speedy gets a trim all the way around, and Izzy gets shoes in the front with only a trim in the back.
While I am sure my farrier is quite skilled, my two horses have such easy feet that he gets the job done quickly. Neither horse has any special needs; their feet are hard and sturdy, hold shoes well (in Izzy's case), and never need more than a little trim and some work with the rasp. With my boys, the farrier's hourly rate is higher than with most horses since my boys are so quick and easy to do. It's okay though; he's worth every penny. Finding a qualified and reliable farrier is like winning the lottery, maybe even better.
Maybe that's why when the farrier comes out I feel like I can throw Benjis around like they're dollar bills.
A while back I noticed something about my Sunday videos; they aren't filled with (funny) blooper moments anymore. It used to be that I could post some pretty shite riding videos filled with Izzy's spectacular shenanigans. It's been a hot minute since I've watched (or ridden) one of those near death experiences. Anymore, our rides consist of boring, yet solid work.
One thing I did notice about our work on Sunday is that Izzy is finally developing a teeny tiny bit of bounce in his stride. It's not nearly as springy as what Speedy offers even when ridden bareback, but it's there.
I also see a lot of ear flicks and lopsided ears. Ears tell you a lot, and for so long, Izzy's have been pricked solidly forward as he listened to everything but me. Not so these days.
We still have a long way to go, but after eight years, we are finally, finally working on "stuff" instead of me fighting for control. I don't know if we'll ever make it to Fourth Level - my goal, but at least we now look like a dressage team.
Blooper moments are funny, but I am grateful that I don't have any to share.
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%: