From Endurance to Dressage
I haven't written about my Pivo Pod in a few weeks, so I thought I would give you an update. To start with, the Pivo Pod is the best $150 I have ever spent. For those who have never heard of Pivo, it's a small device that allows you to mount your phone on top so that, once you download the app, it tracks your movement. Even better, with the Pivo Cast app, you can do video calls for virtual lessons.
I bought the Pivo Pod Silver which is now being marketed as Pivo Pod Active, but there are a lot of other choices. I also bought the Pivo Travel Case Mini which keeps my Pod safe as I throw it in my barn bag each week. I also bought the Smart Mount which I've never used. I did not purchase the tripod because I already had a bendable, short tripod which I wrap about the top fence rail to mount my Pivo when in use. I prefer this method as it is much more secure than a traditional tripod; it can't get knocked over by the wind or a rogue horse ... cough, cough, Izzy.
My old iPhone 7Plus was getting old when I bought the Pivo Pod. I found that recording 30 - 40 minutes of video drained my battery, so even though I have a new phone, the iPhone 12 Pro, I use a solar charger to keep my phone charged while I record. Since I also use the Pivo Pod for virtual lessons, I also bought a pair of Powerbeats Wireless earbuds which were worth every penny spent. Using these earbuds during lessons allows Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and me to hear each other perfectly.
Overall, my experience with the Pivo Pod has been nearly perfect. The issues I have had have been due to technology not associated with Pivo. My old iPhone couldn't handle the workload of the video call, so I replaced it. My trainer's connection gets slow towards the end of the month due to his lack of unlimited hotspot data, so we've had to do some lessons on his phone rather than his laptop. Otherwise, Pivo has been incredibly reliable for me.
Since my Pivo system has so many components, I carry everything in a drawstring backpack that I got long ago from the Riding Warehouse. I am pretty sure it was show swag; my friend Jen is awesome about getting sponsors for her shows. The backpack has been perfect because I can shove everything in it, slip it on, and still have both hands free to deal with Izzy as I carry everything from the barn to the arena and back again. Unfortunately, my trusty bag began to wear thin and needed to be replaced.
I remembered that I have an old sling backpack in my closet, so I dug it out certain that it would be the perfect replacement for the drawstring bag. It has a front pocket that was sized exactly right for my solar charger and two small pockets inside, either of which would have been perfect for my earbuds. With those two items safely stowed, however, it quickly became apparent that I could carry the tripod or the Pivo Pod, but not both. Serious disappointment ensued.
Not wanting to buy an expensive bag just to hold all of my Pivo Pod gear, I dug around on Amazon until I found an inexpensive drawstring backpack that was large enough to hold everything without breaking the bank. For $17.99, I was all in. While I have a huge pile of tote bags, backpacks, and other purses, my needs were pretty specific, and despite having every shape and size of bag, I didn't have the right bag.
This bag is precisely what I needed. There is nothing that I don't like! The drawstrings are much thicker than the ones on my RW bag; they almost feel spongy. There are also two handles on the top of the bag for carrying it in hand instead of as a backpack. Not only does everything fit with loads of room to spare, there are two water bottle pockets, a front pocket, and a small pocket on the inside, perfect for storing the little bag that holds my earbuds. After several weeks of use, I discovered the bag was something I should have bought a yer ago.
With horses, nothing is ever simple, but sometimes, you find an easy solution.
Izzy loves to work midmorning under a bright blue sky. Sunday was that kind of day. After some big shifts in my thinking from the lesson the day before with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I was ready for a fantastic ride, and overall, that's what Izzy gave me.
Keeping everything in mind that Sean and I had discussed the day before, I thought about control as a conversation between Izzy and me. Rather than flipping the control switch, I just asked him questions, something Sean has been saying for six months. Finally though, I understood what he meant. The way Izzy answers those questions will let me know how much control he is willing to let me have. Understanding those words and feeling those words are two totally different things. I finally felt what Sean meant.
The true test came at about twenty-six minutes into the ride. We had just finished some great canter work to the right, and I was hoping to wrap things up with a bit of canter to the left. At the C end of my arena is a tall stand of trees, and on the other side of the trees lies the neighborhood. There is always some movement in that direction, and Izzy long ago decided that the C end of the arena is often times a no fly zone. Using the corner at C-H can be very tricky.
As soon as I started putting him back together for a left lead canter, Izzy decided that there was something behind those trees, and he wanted to look. I knew a fight was brewing. I didn't even need to see one of Izzy's tells to know, I could feel it. I realized I was being given the perfect opportunity to show Izzy that I wasn't going to fight with him nor was I going to force him to give me control. I was going to be patient. In the video below, you can see him flip me off at about 20 seconds.
The whole conversation lasted six long minutes; I only showed you thirty-two seconds. Since I was using my Pivo to record, I was able to watch the entire thing later that day. For six minutes, I sat there quietly and kept asking him to bring his attention back to me. At about five minutes, he took a deep breath, and much of the tension left his body. Thirty seconds later, he took another deep breath, and we got back to work.
As we were finishing with the left lead canter, I reached down to pat him and praise him. I am not sure if he spooked or just lost his balance, but Pivo caught a great video of both of us nearly hitting the ground.
As I watched the video of the ride, I found myself smiling despite the blooper moments. Nothing about the ride was prefect, but I was able to see glimpses of the proactive rider that Sean is teaching me to be. By being a thinking rider, I am definitively cracking through Izzy's shell of resistance and anxiety. Throughout most of the ride we were checking in with each other. How's that? Are you good with this? Depending on the response he gave me, I took more control or took a step back as he worked things out.
It was as though the rough moments were passing in slow motion allowing me to adjust the amount of control I was taking to suit that moment in time. I never lost control; I just never forced it on him. By giving him time to cope with his urge to check things out, the tension de-escalated without much effort on my part other than sitting their patiently; that's really hard for me to do. Sean insists that little by little Izzy will begin to understand that I am not going to force him which will teach him to trust me.
For the first time, I think I really can do this.
After my surprising New Year's Day ride on Saturday, I took a virtual lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage on Sunday. As usual, the lesson was about as boring to teach as helping a teenager add to ten. I mean, you have ten fingers, how hard can it be? Sean insists that the lessons aren't boring, but I am a teacher, so I know remediation is not usually the highlight of your teaching day. He'll disagree.
Why was it boring? Have you ever watched a rider do 20-meter circles for 45 minutes? Yes? Then you know what I mean. It's really only interesting for the rider. Not only is the trainer hoping something jumps out of the bushes to liven things up, but so, too, is the horse. I am kidding. Sort of.
When I whine about being back at Introductory Level, Sean tells me to get over it because the best riders spend most of their time working on firming up the basics. I always laugh and say, you're right, but I know it still must be pretty boring to teach us as round and round we go.
For this lesson, I wanted to continue on with the idea of making my aids as light and quiet as possible. Even though Izzy is much more businesslike now that his neck isn't hurting, and he can handle a more solid contact, I liked what we had done over the past few weeks when we asked him to carry his own weight rather than having me to lean on. Sean helped me figure out two new feelings as we worked with all of that in mind.
Izzy does pretty well as long as we're circling. One of the things we've been working on is his tendency to push against me as we cross the diagonal, use the long side, or come down centerline. By being straight, he feels the needs to brace which suggests he's worried about losing his balance. When he leans, I do a small circle. Since I can't throw in a 10-meter circle every time he leans on me during a test, we need to show him that he can carry himself into straightness.
As we come through a corner and approach the long side, Izzy gets really heavy and braced. My inclination is to user a firmer outside rein to keep his shoulder from falling out. When that doesn't work, I over-use the inside rein in an effort to get the bend. Sean suggested I get Izzy between my aids by asking for flexion before I get through the corner. I may need counter flexion or a true bend, but if I can get him better between my reins, he'll be better balanced as we come through the corner. Without him pushing against me, we can either continue straight or cross the diagonal in a much more harmonious fashion.
For the walk to trot transitions, another straight moment where Izzy likes to push against me, Sean suggested I not only ask Izzy to be rounder, but to flex either to the inside or outside - a little like approaching a corner. This worked amazingly well. When only asking for rounder, Izzy can still lock his poll and jaw. By asking for both lateral flexion and roundness at the same time, there's not anything to push against. Of course this isn't a long term solution, but as Izzy discovers that he doesn't need to push against me to make the transition, I won't need to ask for lateral flexion.
Both of these ideas are works in progress, but we ended the lesson with me having yet even more tools to add to my list. Riding Izzy is hard, and it takes a lot of different strategies to keep him happy and with me. What works one day might not work the next. Being able to pull out different techniques for helping him stay balanced helps alleviate much of his anxiety.
Some days, I am amazed at the progress we're making. Other days, I am pretty discouraged that we're still working on being on the aids in a 20-meter circle. It's important to trust the trainer's program though, and since Sean has been right every step of the past year, I can only continue trusting his plan for us. I don't know when we'll show next, and I have no idea at what level we might come back out at, but for now, I'd rather ride well than show terribly.
I have high (medium?) hopes for 2022.
During my lesson on Saturday with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, we came up with a new theory about Izzy's recent anxiety. Sean is always very diplomatic when talking about a rider's or horse's weaknesses. He never calls Izzy names. He never says Izzy was a bad purchase or that I should cut my losses. Instead, Sean explains that Izzy is complicated and a tough nut to crack. He constantly reminds me that with the right tools, we will get to the root of Izzy's anxiety and tension. It's just going to take time.
Through all of the yeas that I've owned Izzy, we've been through this up and down thing dozens of times, probably more. We make great progress, and then the wheels fall off the bus. We spend months working on the tension, and then comes another period of wonderfulness. Each time we find ourselves back at the tire repair shop dealing with those missing wheels, I write imaginary (and sometimes real) for sale ads. Last Friday, I replaced the For Sale sign with one that read Free to Good Home.
When Sean joined me on Pivo Cast on Saturday, the first thing I did was let him know how frustrated and discouraged I have been feeling. There are so many things I appreciate about Sean's training style, and one of them is how even-keeled he remains no matter how close I am to throwing in the towel. Rather than agreeing with me, Sean just listens and watches. Then he reminds me that this is a process, and it's one in which we're making progress. Since I know his methods work, it doesn't take much to bring me back to center.
Just as an aside, if you can't find a trainer in your area, invest in a Pivo Pod and find a trainer willing to work remotely. I can give you the name of two, Sean Cunningham and Cassandra Rabini. I can guarantee that there are a lot of other trainers who would happily give you a lesson from their computers.
As soon as I put Izzy to work, the spooking started. He spooked so hard during the first few minutes that I was 100% sure I was about to hit the ground. I am knocking on wood as I write this, but so far, Izzy has yet to dump me despite some massive efforts to do so. That spook was so hard that I lost both stirrups and the reins. I don't know if gravity just took a coffee break or if my guardian angel had a hand in it, but either way, I stuck the spook. What made it so frustrating is that those really hard spooks come when I give the reins forward or when I give Izzy a walk break as a reward.
I explained to Sean that it feels as though Izzy is waiting for those moments when I've let down my guard. It's as though he sees his opportunity to escape and takes advantage of those moments when I am rewarding him or giving him a break. Sean thought about what I said, and suddenly a new thought occurred to him. We both know how trapped Izzy can feel which is why I am constantly looking for ways to give him as much rein as I can.
Thinking out loud, Sean wondered if Izzy is feeling more trapped than we know. It might be that he uses those breaks to escape because he is feeling confined and truly does see a moment to get away. On the spot, Sean proposed a new strategy. He asked me to make my corrections as small as I could while still being safe. Instead of asking for three inches of give, he suggested I ask for a single inch and then release the rein immediately. Sean hoped that this strategy would keep Izzy from feeling so "trapped."
I work very hard to ride with elastic elbows and soft hands, but Sean wanted me to be even more subtle with my aids. The thinking was this: if my corrections were very small, they became much more of an ask which would make the decision to join me, Izzy's idea.
It wasn't easy to ride a spooking horse with only the most minimal of aids and contact, but it did seem to work. We started at the walk with me just barely asking for anything and then immediately giving the rein. Izzy tried to avoid working by evading the E side of the arena. Rather than muscle him over with my inside leg and a firm half halting rein, I let him avoid the rail, but I asked lightly for him to yield just that little bit.
The longer we worked with me making only tiny corrections, the more relaxed he became. Instead of violent sideways spooks, he started squirting forward instead. Both Sean and I recognized that the change in the degree of his spooks showed that we had the right idea. We moved on to some trot work with me doing the same thing. Keeping my corrections super small was very challenging on a horse who wants to bolt forwards or sideways. Each time he tried, I kept control without really correcting him.
It wasn't pretty to look at of course, but like Sean said, we're not really working on the dressage movements right now. Instead, we're working on getting Izzy to accept the work without feeling trapped. The more we talked about it, the more it started to seem that the past seven years have been about finding the root of Izzy's tension and then dealing with it.
I think that for so long, I've ridden without knowing where the problem was coming from. When I started riding with Sean, he started cracking through Izzy's tough outer shell and has been able to find the first hint of the origin of the tension. Rather than getting better, things have been getting a bit worse as we dig deeper into Izzy's issues. It's an abscess of sorts. Once you find the sore spot with your hoof testers, you dig down following the track of the infection. Once you get deep enough, the abscess is revealed and drains.
It sounds gross to compare Izzy's anxiety to an abscess, but I truly think Sean is finding the root of the problem. It is Sean's belief that we are getting closer and closer, and once we get there, Izzy's talent will take over, and I'll have a horse to ride. That's hard to believe of course, but I am an optimist, so I am willing to keep working on it. Sean reminded me that this horse is making me a much better rider, and that's really why I do this. It's all about learning and improving.
I guess I can take down that For Sale add - today anyway.
Since I've been riding weekly with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I've only used my Pivo Pod for Pivo Cast (Pivo's version of a Zoom call) and not for recording video. I am sure the day will come when Pivo Cast will be able to both record and manage a video call, but for now, it's one or the other.
On Sunday, I decided to set up the Pivo Pod and record a ride. Izzy has made so much progress in the past six months that I wanted to see it for myself. I keep all of my Pivo equipment in a mini backpack. I've got the Pivo Pod, charging cable, and remote in its case. I have my Powerbeats ear buds and their charging cable in a mini carry bag. I also have my solar charger and its two cables. I also keep a reusable jumbo twist tie for attaching the solar cable to a fence if needed, and I keep my bendable tripod in the backpack as well. Keeping all of that stuff charged up and ready to go is a bit of a pain, but having it all in one convenient bag makes it manageable.
I got to the barn, and pulled up to the arena to set everything up before I even saddled Izzy. As I put my truck in park, I reached into my purse for my phone, and rolled my eyes in complete exasperation. I had the Pivo and it's many accessories, but I had forgotten my phone at home. Whomp, whomp.
Of course, I had a great ride. In the middle of the ride though, Izzy tripped and almost had us both rolling in the dirt. In the canter, he stumbled, throwing me over his right shoulder. He leaped up from the dirt, further unseating me, and bolted to the side. I scrambled hard to get my butt back in the saddle and my feet back down where they should be.
Once I finally got him back under control, the poor guy was super worried about the near fall, so we walked for a few minutes until he felt more sure of himself. I really wish I had caught that save on video. Then again, it's probably better not to see how near death we all come when we ride. Ignorance is bliss!
Technology is great, but only if you remember to bring it with you.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2022 Shows Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Completed …
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: