From Endurance to Dressage
When I received the email letting me know that there would be a photographer at the show on Saturday, I laughed and gave him my money. I double dog dared him to get at least one somewhat decent shot. He didn't get one, he got more than twenty. Of the forty-one proofs that Steve Michael Photography sent me, I bought five. I would have liked to buy more, but funds aren't unlimited.
I was so excited when I opened Steve's email informing me that my proofs were ready. That I had choices made me ecstatic. You've all seen the videos, so you know he didn't have a lot to work with. That there was even one that showed how beautiful Izzy is made my heart just melt with gratitude. Izzy and I have worked for so long to finally be able to show, and while our scores are pretty sucky right now, at least he looks happy and well cared for.
That maroon jack and helmet were a ginormous departure from my typical conservative look, but seeing it in living color makes me glad that I took the chance on it. Now that I am looking at our turnout, I think I need a white pad with maroon trim. Wouldn't that really set it all off?
The Gastro Elm has made such a huge difference for Izzy. Now that his tummy is feeling better, he's starting to develop a bloom that I haven't seen for several years. His coat is once again brilliant, and he's put on enough weight to cover up his angles. While he looks lovely right now, I think a few more pounds would do him some good.
The first five photos are from the the first day of the show. They were purchased from Steve Michael Photography and used with permission. Steve is based in Pasadena.
I didn't know there was a photographer on Sunday, so when I received another email with proofs after the show, I thought there was no way that I would be lucky enough to get a second set of beautiful photos. Was I wrong! Tess Michelle's photos were stunning.
The photos from Tess Michelle Photography were quite expensive, so I was only able to order just one digital print, and is it ever a stunner! The prints were much cheaper, so I did order a handful of those, but due to copyright issues, I can't share them. This last photo, purchased from Tess Michelle Photography, was also used with permission. Have a look at it.
Thank goodness for show photographers. I know it is a challenging business made up of long hot days without the guarantee of any sales and people ripping off your photos and publishing them without permission. I am sure I wasn't the only one to purchase these photographers' photos as they're just so beautiful. Hopefully, both photographers made enough to make the day profitable.
I am thrilled with the photos I was able to buy, so thank you to both Steve Michael Photography and Tess Michelle Photography!
After Saturday's show was over, I spent the rest of the day hanging out with my friend Jen who manages the show. We first popped in to Dressage Extensions - the ladies who work there must give back their paychecks. How could you work there and not buy something every day? While I fingered everything, I only bought two small items. I'll share that in another post. We then went to Jen's new barn to visit her lovely horses, Paola and Peaches. After dinner, we went back to STC Dressage and hung out working on an unexpected project for Jen.
Hanging out with another dressage rider really helps put things in perspective. This is all supposed to be fun, and most of us - the cash poor adult amateurs of the world, have had both low scores and challenging horses. Jen and I laughed about my tests and about everything else under the sun.
I woke up early on Sunday morning to give Izzy a quick lunge in the predawn darkness. Afterwards, I put him in the crossties to braid his mane and found myself feeling ridiculously excited by how bored by it he was. The day before it had taken him about ten minutes to even start to relax. By Sunday, he was chewing on the crossties, trying to grab his leadrope, and looking for other ways to alleviate his boredom.
This might seem like a silly reason to be happy, but my goal for the weekend was to give Izzy a good experience because each time he finds an experience that he is comfortable with, we can check it off the list and build from there. As I was finishing up, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, stopped by for some last minute advice: work on getting a steady tempo no matter how slow it is. The tricks will come later. Get his focus on you and be elastic in your arms. Roger that!
I made the short drive to SCEC and was so happy to see my friend Sarah heading our way. I never have a groom, so letting someone help me is a new experience. I love to serve as groom for other riders, so I am not sure why I felt guilty letting Sarah do the heavy lifting; she's more than capable. She hauled Izzy's water bucket, brushed out his tail, helped bridle and saddle and then talked me out of an impending meltdown.
As we were heading to the ring, I felt a draft on my calf, and then my boots felt like they were untied which can't happen since there are no laces. I looked down in horror to discover that my zipper had had a blowout. Eek! As I began working myself up into a bit of a tizzy, Sarah kept repeating, it's no big deal, deal with it later. And then she marched us forward. She was right. Once I was in the saddle, I completely forgot about it. By the time we came back to the trailer, I was already thinking about the fun of getting brand new boots.
My plan for Sunday was to ride the test as slowly as possible. I know that doesn't seem "forward thinking," but Sean agreed with my strategy. The goal was to ride at a steady tempo. Instead of pushing for bigger movement, I wanted steady. Keeping Izzy firmly in hand wouldn't allow him to get away from me. Keeping him more firmly in control would also allow me to "catch" him when he lost his balance or spooked.
Based on the score for 2-1, 51.892%, the judge didn't think I rode the test any better than I had the day before. I didn't really care though as Izzy felt much more relaxed and rideable. We did earn an additional 1.5 points, so there was at least some progress. The judge couldn't see what I felt, so I wasn't too disappointed as I knew progress had been made, slight as it was.
There was just one rider between my two tests, so I didn't really school anything in the few minutes between tests. Instead, I spent that time walking Izzy, asking him to stretch. He seemed a tired which I felt was a good thing. When Izzy is tired, he spends more time listening to me and less time looking around for monsters. When the judge blew her whistle, I entered at A with more confidence.
It wasn't a great test; it wasn't even a good test, but I was thrilled. Again, Izzy felt far more rideable than he has in the past. Like Sean said - just 1% better will compound quickly. While we only scored a 53.537%, it was a full 11 points (nearly 3%) better than the day before. Yes, there were a lot of 4s and 5s, but there were eight 6s and two 7s (for the turns on the haunches).
We're still a long ways from a 60%, 26.5 points to be exact. But if we improve by 11 points on the next test, and another 11 on the one after that, within just a few more shows we'll be earning qualifying scores. I am sure some (many?) of you are wondering what the heck I am even doing out there with such low scores. You're probably thinking Izzy's not ready to show. The thing I've learned though is that if you always wait until you're "ready," you'll never do anything.
Izzy loads and hauls well. He stands quietly tied at the trailer. He's patient in a stall. He's getting more comfortable in the warm up ring. How can he overcome his stage fright if he never gets into the ring? He knows the difference between schooling and showing which means we just have to keep getting in there until he realizes that it's just another part of his day.
Here are the score sheets and video of the test.
We're not "there" yet, but we're getting closer each time we go out. Our next show will be at El Sueño in mid-May. We'll have one or two more lessons with Sean before then, so hopefully we can improve by another 10 or so points.
And with that, I am off to work but looking forward to this afternoon's ride. Enjoy your weekend.
On Saturday morning, I woke up refreshed and ready for the day. I was also anxious, but encouraged. Knowing that Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, was going to be there coaching me, I felt a lot less responsibility. On Speedy, I liked having a reader for a new test once or twice, but after that, I was able to memorized my tests. I rode them better that way.
With Izzy, there is so much to manage while riding him that I gave up memorizing the test and asked Sean to read them for me. Besides having Sean there to support me, other friends jumped in as well. The show manager is a great friend of mine so she did video. Her assistant Morgan, also a friend, read for me on Sunday when Sean couldn't be there (he had long before booked the date, so I knew he wouldn't be there to coach me). Another friend, Sarah, did me a huge favor by showing up on Sunday to be my groom. She schlepped water buckets, helped me tack and untack, took Izzy's braids out, and did video. Having those ladies be there to support me took away all of the anxiety of showing such a high maintenance horse like Izzy.
Our warm up ride ran just like it had the day before. Sean kept reminding me to be elastic in my arms and to ask Izzy lots of of questions. He said our goal was just to ride the test with a steady rhythm; the "tricks" could come later. That was the first time I had heard advice like that. While I've taken Izzy to nine shows (most of them schooling or CDS-rated only), my goal has always been to survive AND try to do well.
Sean's goal for us was much simpler and therefore much easier to achieve. Again, it was that idea of just getting 1% better each time. Sean didn't care if we had the medium gaits or crisp simple changes. He wanted me to ride with a clear tempo and rhythm and to keep control, and he wanted Izzy to realize that I was up there talking to him. That was the goal, not to achieve a certain score, only getting Izzy to work with me just that little bit.
We rode Second Level Test 1, and it was a disaster. On the other hand, it was better than we had done at Santa Barbara, but much worse than the show in October at SCEC. When I came out of the ring, I asked Sean what I could have done better, and his response was, nothing. Izzy just couldn't get over his stage fright. And that's what we've kind of discovered. Izzy can relax in the warm up ring, but entering at A feels different for him. Is it my tension? Maybe, but I think it's more his own tension.
My friend Jen had some difficulty with the first video - she shot the first part in time lapse which shows everything in fast forward which is AWESOME when you score a 51.486%. Nobody needs to see that. Even so, the rest of the test is below with the score sheets. They show a lot of wildly low scores, but there are also some scores in the 6s - ten of them in fact, so we're definitely capable.
The second test - Second Level Test 2, didn't score any better (50.854%), but I felt like it rode much better. I came out of the ring feeling like we had made progress. The judge disagreed. I did hear that she was a tough judge, but even a more generous judge couldn't give me the scores I wanted. Even so, we earned another ten 6s, but when you see 3s and 4s, you just can't get a 60%. The score sheets and video are below.
As disappointing as it was to earn scores in the very low 50s, I was actually really encouraged. Sean has laid out a clear path for us, and it feels as though he really can get us earning qualifying scores. Last night both professional photographers sent me their proofs. Based on those photos, spread over two days, Izzy looks spectacular, so I am really pleased with that. If only I could present to the judge those moments, we'd score in the 70s for sure!
There's more ... to be continued.
So much happened at this weekend's show that you'll have to forgive me if I ramble. To begin with, our scores were terrible - not in the 40s, though, so we definitely improved over the show in Santa Barbara in November. Even with really low scores, I came home elated.
The weekend started off with a warm up ride on Friday evening with trainer Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. He met me at SCEC so that he could work with both Izzy and me in the warm up ring and the dressage court. Izzy was his regular oh-my-gosh-I-am-about-to-die self, but Sean was expecting that, and he was completely unfazed by it. How many times have you heard the trainer say, don't worry about, it's no big deal, doesn't matter ... ? If you've heard it 10 times, Sean said it 1,000 times. Like, literally every other stride.
In no time at all, I was taking his advice. When I mentioned to Sean that I was feeling like the worst rider out there, he shot right back at me, "Don't worry about it because no one is looking at you. Instead, they are all worrying about being the worst rider themselves." Somehow, Sean was able to take the burden of doing well off my shoulders. He wasn't going to quit when we sucked. He wasn't going to quit when I made a mistake. He wasn't going to quit when Izzy made a mistake. He is prepared for the long haul. Instead of one and done, he was looking at this show (and however many after) as a stepping stone to help Izzy build confidence in me. He firmly believes in the idea that improving just 1% at a time will reap huge rewards in the end.
Over the past two weeks, I had already taken two lessons with Sean, but the third time was the charm. During Friday's warmup ride, nothing about his advice surprised me, and I started to understand what he meant. His favorite thing to say, to me anyway, is ask him lots of questions, but they need to be questions that Izzy can answer correctly. Right now, those questions are very, very easy. Can you flex left, can you flex right? Can you move away from my leg? Can you lengthen your stride just a teeny bit? Can you collect just a teeny bit? And so on.
Sean assured me that Izzy will start to answer those questions more and more reliably, and once he does, the questions can start to be a little more challenging. It will probably be a slow process, but as Izzy begins to trust that I will ask questions that he can answer, he will begin to feel more and more comfortable at shows. He will know the routine. I can already see results after only a few weeks of working with Sean.
The other thing that Sean said to me (again and again) was to be more elastic in my arms. While he has mentioned this each time before, I started to feel what he meant, especially in the canter. As hard as it is, Sean had me really think about moving with Izzy even when I am fighting to gain control. I can't pin my elbows to my sides; they have to continue moving, as does my seat.
That Friday evening warm up ride wasn't spectacular, it wasn't even good, but both Izzy and I learned a lot. After the lesson, as planned, I trailered back to Sean's barn where Izzy would stay the night. Sean and I both thought it might help Izzy relax to be at a quieter barn. It was the right decision. Izzy ate and drank well, and looked rested each morning. Sean's barn is super quiet which was just what Izzy needed. Each morning, I braided him in the cross ties without the distraction of horses being moved here and there and whinnying at each other. It was just Izzy and me in the near dark, together, alone.
After giving him a few minutes to relax in his stall after braiding, I loaded him back into the trailer for the 20 minute drive to SCEC. I didn't get a day stall. Instead, I tied him to the trailer, hung a hay bag and a bucket of water (which he drained each day), and went about my day. He was a complete and total rock star.
For the first time in longer than I can remember, I actually slept through the Friday night before a show without waking up even once. Normally, I wake up several times certain that I've overslept or just listening for anything going amiss in the barn. Camping out at Sean's place was good for both Izzy and me. In fact, I loved it so much at STC Dressage that I've asked if we can do it that way for the near future. Sean graciously agreed.
Whew. All of that, and we still haven't even made it to day one of the show. Stay tuned. This might take a while.
To be continued ...
... and I am terrified. I always felt some level of anxiety when I showed Speedy, but that always came from a desire to do well. I didn't want to let my trainer down, and I was hunting for scores, the higher the better. I never worried about being such a failure that the judge might actually dismiss us. That's a real concern this weekend.
On one hand, Izzy has been doing really well lately. I am finding better ways to manage his tension, and I'll have Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, coaching us. On the other hand, we scored in the 40s at our last show. Was that because Izzy just can't handle the stress at a show, or was it because the wind was blowing 60 miles an hour, we were in a coliseum, and the tin roofing panels were banging and clanging the whole time? Whatever the reason, that show gave my confidence two black eyes.
We're showing at SCEC, the place were we scored "okay" the month before that hot mess of a November show. At SCEC last October, we scored a 55%, two 58%s, and a 60%. Not anything to be proud of, but those scores proved I was on the right track. It was Izzy's first USDF show, first time showing at Second Level, and first two-day show. Even though he was very tense, and I was on the verge of scratch that last test, we survived.
For this go round at SCEC, I've made a new plan. Instead of stabling at SCEC, we're going to stable st STC Dressage which is just minutes away from the show grounds. The barn is very quiet and peaceful. My plan is to school at SCEC with Sean on Friday evening, and then take Izzy to STC Dressage where he can hopefully relax in the quieter atmosphere. We'll trailer over to SCEC each morning, ride out tests, and then go back to Sean's place. After Sunday's tests, I'll just head home.
Another surprise benefit is how small this show has turned out to be. Last fall, there were two rings that ran all day. The warm up was jam packed, and the barns were completely full. This time, there is only one ring, and the show will be over by about noon each day. Since the show is so small, the second ring, which is right next to the show ring, will serve as the warm up. This is great because Izzy can watch what's happening, and when we're up, he won't have to leave the area he just got comfortable being in.
I've never hoped for scores in the 50s before, but after scoring a 44%, 59% is looking really good. Of course, my goal is always 60% and above. Will we get it? I have no idea. My plan is to manage Izzy's stress level by being a confident and relaxed leader (hopefully Sean helps me with that), taking care of Izzy's tummy with the GastroElm, and stabling him somewhere familiar. My fingers are crossed that he has a much more positive experience.
Wish us luck!
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
2021 Pending …
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 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