From Endurance to Dressage
In case you missed it and feel compelled to read it, Part 1 can be found here.
While day two's scores showed marked improvement over the previous day's scores, they were still atrocious. Since scoring well wasn't my focus though, it didn't matter. What mattered was whether or not I used the tools that Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has given me. More than that, I wanted to feel confident in using those tools. And you know what? I did!
Izzy and I have not had the best luck at shows. More than once we've had to show during a freestyle. This show presented some unique distractions. At the same time that my warm up was to begin, the Halloween costume parade was planned to happen. I ended up following a trio of wildly costumed horses - more on that tomorrow, down to the warm up ring. Fortunately, they turned right and Izzy and I turned left. I deliberately made sure to leave the trailer early so that we followed the costumes instead of walking towards them. Having scary objects moving away is less terrifying than walking towards them.
We made it to the warm up, and Izzy was his regular tense self. This time, rather than feeling helpless, I just got to work. I never doubted myself. I just rode him like I would have at home. Eventually, Sean found us in the warm up and started offering feedback. Since I was doing everything right, there wasn't much more he could say other than to confirm my riding choices. After one particularly hard bolt and spook, I brought Izzy to a halt and just patted his neck. I could feel the tension ebb away, and Sean could see it even from half way across the arena. Keep doing that was Sean's advice.
The other scary thing that gave me pause was that yet again, a freestyle was just about to go off in the ring right next to us. Fortunately, the ring steward was looking out for me. After a brief consultation with show management, my trainer, and the judge, I was ushered up to the ring early so that I could try to finish my test before the music started. My ride was the first after lunch, but since the judge was ready, she suggested we start.
Sure enough, just as I did my final halt and salute, some very high energy music came blaring through the speakers. I think a free style is in Izzy's future because he (yet again) piaffed his way out of the ring in time to the music. Of course, neither test rode well, but the scores were better than they were the first day, and we rode in the same ring with the same judge. For First Level Test 1 our scores went from 49.483% to 53.621%. For Test 3, we went from 46.806% to 49.583%. They're terrible scores, but they did get better.
So why would I not feel like quitting after such a disaster? Well, the truth is that I am finally convinced that I am not the world's worst rider. Izzy's tension isn't coming from me, and in fact, I am actually helping him cope with the situation. It has taken months of very hard work, but I am finally understanding what Sean has been trying to help me learn. Izzy will feel my confidence and respond; I am now certain of it.
It didn't happen at this show, and I am pretty sure that's because I only started to feel that confidence myself and trust it. I think Izzy started to get a sense of my change in attitude though, but it wasn't enough to affect real change. It doesn't matter though because I felt it. A lot of things changed in my riding at this show. I didn't over-react when he bolted or spooked. I didn't let him bait me into a tug of war. I didn't get impatient. I didn't grab at the reins. During the test, I gave up worrying what the judge thought and rode my horse how he needed to be ridden even though I consciously gave up points - circling when he spooked, for example.
The thing that finally convinced me that I really don't suck rotten eggs was the feedback from several complete strangers. As I finished the last test, a rider who had stopped to watch (our train wreck), walked over and very enthusiastically congratulated me on my riding ability. Not just once, but repeatedly. She felt compelled to convince me that I looked very much in control while still being relaxed. She said that not many riders can ride a hot horse so calmly. Of course I burst into tears at her generosity, but I didn't try to convince her that I am really a hack. Instead, I thanked her as sincerely as I could.
A few moments later, a working student of Hilda Gurney's came up and said pretty much the same thing. She was parked next to me so we had chatted throughout the weekend. Her comment also included this: I know why you keep trying with this horse. He's got something special. I like him! Who doesn't want to hear that?
So there you go. It looks as though I've finally found some confidence, and the instant I did, other people noticed. I always try to offer positive feedback to my fellow riders because I know how harmful self-doubt can be. It's hard for me to be on the receiving end of that feedback though. This weekend, I kicked self-doubt to the curb and allowed myself to be receptive of some much needed positive energy.
Here are the two tests, wild and wooly and unedited. Enjoy the rodeo!
On Friday, I was in a pretty low place, a place that is not good to be in for too long. The kind of place where you don't always come back from. I didn't want to go to the show, but like I mentioned on Friday, I dug deep and gave myself a huge kick in the butt. It wasn't worry about the show that had me so down, but rather life in general. I am happy to report that I came home on Sunday with joy in my heart and the feeling that it was all okay. I didn't realize how much I had needed a day off.
On Friday afternoon, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, gave us a schooling lesson at SCEC. Izzy wasn't perfect, but he relaxed quickly and seemed to find some confidence. On Saturday morning, the warm up ring was full of absolute craziness, and it wasn't Izzy who started it. The day before had been quite warm, but Saturday was downright chilly. The horses all went a little nuts which sent Izzy careening over the edge.
You'll see the videos of both our Saturday rides below. There is nothing good to see in them, but you know, I don't care. I felt like I won the day. Sean helped me change my goals, and that made all the difference. I have more to share on that in tomorrow's post, but suffice it say that I was really proud of myself. After you see my scores, you'll wonder what I've been drinking, because they are NOT scores to be happy about.
Rather than tell you what went wrong, you'll see that for yourself, I'd like to share what went right:
For First Level Test 1, we scored a 49.483% which was worse than we had done at our last show while showing at Second Level. It doesn't matter what level we drop down to. Until Izzy lets me make the decisions, our scores will be terrible no matter the level. Even so, he was easier to manage at First Level, and I think the drop down in level took some of the pressure away.
The second test of the day was even worse at 46.806%. I know at least some of you are asking why in the world I keep trying as Izzy obviously doesn't love this whole showing thing. I am sure some of you even think his failure to succeed is my fault. Surely I must be doing something wrong, probably many somethings. you may be right, but I don't think so and neither does my trainer.
As bad as the test went, I didn't feel disappointed or discouraged. I actually felt empowered and motivated. I am finally starting to believe my trainer when he says that I simply need to have confidence in the tools that I have. Rather than focus on the scores, I put all of my attention on applying what I've learned. It's difficult to feel like a failure when you ride well, and I think I handled Izzy's tension quite well.
Sunday's tests tomorrow ...
Izzy's been a tough nut to crack; we all know this. One minute he can be offering flying changes, a lovely uphill canter, or even a trot half pass.
In the very next minute, he can't make a left hand turn without ripping off my arms and nearly bashing me in the face.
With Speedy being so intent on injuring every part of his body, I decided that Izzy has got to start earning his keep. When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, pulled into the ranch for Sunday's lesson, I let her know that Izzy needs to step up his game.
We discussed what he can do: half pass - sort of, flying changes when I ask - sometimes, walk to canter to walk - also sometimes, stretchy trot circle - actually better than Speedy ever did, a decent trot to canter transition, counter canter, and he's sometimes straight. Give all of that a good shake, and then roll the dice to see what turns up. We decided to call him a First Level horse - in training. It's been more than a year since I've ridden a First Level test, so Chemaine had to remind me what we'll need to work on.
Now that I can get Izzy in front of my leg - most of the time, it's time to start playing around with adjusting his stride. That's where we started. Chemaine had me do a bunch of transitions within the gait. Nothing wild or crazily new in that concept, unless you're a big brown horse who hasn't been able to lengthen his stride at all. I think Chemaine was a bit surprised at how easily he offered a longer stride.
And then since I can, one more of that baby lengthening of stride.
We also played around with the leg yield. Since Izzy moves laterally so easily, unlike the Speedy pony, it's more about keeping all of his parts in line without letting the shoulders lead too much while leaving the haunches behind.
The biggest First Level movement we'll have trouble with is the canter to trot transition at X, and later, the canter to trot to canter transition at X. Damn X anyway. Once Izzy starts cantering, he just can't stop. Especially if we cross the diagonal. All he sees is more real estate to cover. And in his opinion, the faster the better.
According to Izzy, trotting in the middle of a good long run seems like a dumb idea. He would much rather keep on cantering and turn it into a counter canter; that he understands. In fact, once this horse canters, it's really hard to get him to stop.
As much as I'd love to just write my own test - A enter cantering, X continue to canter, C track left still cantering, E canter left 20 meters, K-A-F canter, F-X-H change rein, C counter canter ... USEF won't let me. So for now, Izzy has to learn to do that transition without me needing to haul back on the reins to half halt his freight train of a canter.
Always one to think on her feet, Chemaine offered two different tools to keep Izzy on my aids. The first was to think shoulder fore as we canter through the corner, heading for X. This will keep him on my outside rein as I ask for the transition to trot.
When that doesn't work, and you knew it wouldn't be that easy, Chemaine said, "If he falls off your outside rein right away, canter a 10-meter circle." And the beauty of that exercise is that there are a lot of 10-meter circles as you cross the diagonal.
Eventually, we got a few good canter to trot transitions across the diagonal. I love having a plan, so focusing on the movements at First Level with an eye to finally, finally getting this horse into a show ring only increases my motivation.
Here's a short video of that exercise.
One of the things that I love most about Chemaine is that she is never out of ideas. She works the horse and rider that show up for that day's lesson. It's a good thing because next week, Izzy might show up acting more like an Intro Level horse!
If we fizzled on Test 2, I am not even sure a match was struck for Test3. I haven't had a score this low in quite some time (61.029%). But like I said yesterday, this ride didn't feel any different from the tests I've ridden all summer. The judge simply marked it how he saw it.
The real bummer is that I had a videographer all lined up, but when I found out that she takes lovely still shots, I ditched my iphone and let her use her lovely camera. I just assumed that the ride would look pretty similar to every other test I've ridden this year, so why record it?
As I looked through some of her pictures, I could definitely see that my position was wonky (The Lean), but Speedy looked pretty nice. Now I wish that I would have had her take video so that I could check the video against the scores.
These scores are not what I've seen in a while. Six scores in the 5 range? I didn't feel it, but that doesn't mean it wasn't so.
Not that it explains everything, but it was hot. I've already said that keeping Speedy in front of my leg on hot days is a new goal. Good thing we have like a million more hot days coming because I have lots of time to work on it!
I guess the one thing that we did do right was our halts. We earned a 7.5, 7.0, 7.0 (scored with a right and left turn between the two 10-meter trot circles), 6.0, and a whopper of an 8.0! I don't know which one is pictured up above, but we had some problems earlier this year with fidgety halts, so I am happy that we at least improved in that area.
In the end, I met at least some of my goals for the year. We placed well at RAAC (Reserve Champion), we earned 13 scores of 60% or higher for my CDS Plaque (no scores below 60%), we earned AA high score at two shows, and we were quite competitive within my CDS chapter. I don't know who won AA high point for the season, but I know I was close.
Overall, I had fun this season, and I am looking forward to slogging it out at Second Level!
Sometimes I win, but usually I don't. I am okay with that. Yes, I like to win, but it's more important to me that I do well and have a good time. (Says every loser - just kidding!) The reality is that there is always going to be someone with a better horse or someone who is simply a better rider. Usually the latter. It's hard to beat Speedy's awesomeness.
My plan was to finish First Level with some sparkle and a little woot woot. Instead, we finished First Level with a bit of a dud. Rather than the mid-60 score I was shooting for, like I earned at RAAC, we earned an unremarkable 62.969% on Test 2. Not worth crying over, but it's certainly not a score to bring down the house either.
When I looked up this judge's average First Level scores on Dressage Detective, I saw that they were at 63.468%. The average that he gave at this show, combining all tests at the level, was 63.820%. Based on my score alone, I rode within half of a percent of what he typically gives a First Level Test. I'll leave the interpretation to you.
I felt like the test started a bit wonky (he gave me a 7.5?????), but after that, I actually liked the test and felt that I rode it as a thinking rider as opposed to reacting after the fact. While the judge didn't mention curling, I am sure there was some, he nailed me on my recent tendency to hunch my shoulders. "Sit tall, avoid tipping." I don't know where that is coming from, but it needs to stop. Right now.
Although in all honesty, I think I do know where it's coming from. All season it has been blistering hot for every show. Speedy has had NO ENERGY, so I found myself squeezing and kicking the heck out of him which is what is causing The Lean. This is something I need to address in our next lesson.
As I looked over my score sheet, I just felt like the judging was ... different from what I've seen all season. My scores have been pretty consistent all year. Where I've had 6s, I've been able to improve to 6.5s and even 7.0s. All of the judges that I've ridden for have called me on the same issues and scored me pretty consistently. This judge didn't. His comments were of a whole different variety.
I am not saying that's a bad thing, but I am keeping the scores in perspective. They are simply this judge's impression on a single day.
I haven't seen 5.0s like that in a while, but I am sure I'll be seeing plenty more of them as we move on to Second Level.
While there are a few disappointing numbers in there, the judge also rewarded what he liked. That smattering of 7.0s is much appreciated.
His final comment, "Horse should be more engaged and balanced in his work" strikes me as more of a Second Level comment, but since that's where I am headed, it's probably accurate.
One last thought before I go. Do you remember that one of my goals was to (maybe) win my CDS Chapter's AA season high point? I am pretty sure I missed the mark, but not by much! According to my (sketchy) calculations, I finished in a very close third place. I think the top scores will end up being 66.93%, 66.40%, 65.26% (that's me), and 64.59%. But who knows, I could be way, way off in my calculations. I am just happy to be somewhere in the ball park.
More "First Level Fizzle" tomorrow!
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%: