From Endurance to Dressage
Over the past two years, and especially over the past few months, I have seen some profound changes in my riding. For so, so long, I struggled to simply not suck. Forget about being good. Being "good" is of course relative. To my utter embarrassment, my mom constantly tells people - quite often complete strangers, what a fantastic rider I am. In my mom's opinion, I am Olympic material. Compared to non-riders, I am a fantastic rider, but compared to the Charlotte Dujardins of the world, I am just trying not to embarrass myself. Even with understanding that being good is relative, I have begun feeling pretty positive about my effectiveness as a rider.
Over the weekend, Izzy gave me some less than pleasant rides. And even though he was a bit of an ass, I still felt great about what we did. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has given me some especially powerful tools. And even better is that I know when and how to use them. During Sunday's lesson, Izzy decided to spook at the ranch owner's horse as they walked by. I am okay with spooking at unusual stuff, but a horse calmly walking by is not one of them. I didn't get frustrated or angry; I simply slowed everything down so that Izzy's mental hamsters could get back on their wheel.
I was rewarded with a horse who got right back to work. Now that I have control, Sean is able to help me work on real stuff. Lately, that has meant tweaking my aids and my position which has allowed me to feel some brand new things. The more relaxed and loose I am through my body, the more I have been able to positively affect Izzy's body. I am starting to feel subtle things that simply weren't there even a month ago.
I've always known what was meant by holding the horse with your seat, but I was never strong enough or balanced enough to do it. Now, my seat plugs into the saddle, and I am relying less and less on my reins to slow down or even halt. My control over Izzy's shoulders is also vastly improved. Sean had me really think about how I could move Izzy's shoulders around by riding renvers. To my surprise, I felt exactly what he was talking about.
I've also been working on my chicken wing elbows - I find that my right elbow wants to stick out. After watching me for a few moments on Sunday, Sean pointed out that my right elbow sticks out when I pull on the inside rein. I do that because I can't get the inside bend. Sean commented that it wasn't a bend issue. Instead, he explained that it happens when I let the left shoulder fall out. By straightening the shoulders and getting them in front of Izzy's haunches, I was able to put Izzy on the outside rein which allowed me to carry my right hind in front of myself instead of back and out.
The work I've been doing with Sean has been so subtle and very specific. The more balanced that I get as a rider, the more effective I become with just small tweaks here and there. By staying loose through my ankles, knees, hips and shoulders, Izzy stays softer which gives me even more control. When I watch videos of my rides, I still don't recognize the changes in my riding, but I definitely see how much fancier Izzy is beginning to look. He doesn't have the sewing machine trot from just a year or so ago, and he's beginning to get some bounce in his stride. This tells me I am riding better and better.
When I quit trying to succeed and ride my horse instead, my riding gets a whole lot better.
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%: