From Endurance to Dressage
I have made it my goal to record my ride the day after a lesson. So far, I am doing pretty well. Before I started using my Pivo Pod for virtual lessons, I would drag my set up out to the barn every six weeks or so. A friend told me that she records every single ride and watches every single video. There is no way I am up for that kind of torture, but I figured that I could, at the very least, skim through 45 minutes of video once a week. Sunday was that day.
This post is really about the video clips that I created from that ride, but I just need to say this: Holy cow, Izzy looks like a real dressage horse! When did that happen?!?!?!
This first little clip made me laugh. First of all, I never stop talking to Izzy. I must say good boy at least a thousand times during each ride. During this particular clip, I publicly acknowledged the error was mine even though there was no one watching. I am pretty sure I was apologizing to Izzy. Sound up.
There is nothing humorous, interesting, or even cringeworthy in this next clip. I chose it because it represents what most of our rides look like now. We have our share of bobbles here and there, but our rides are slowly coming together.
One of the many things that I have learned from Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, is to have more patience. Sean has helped me see that asking for anything - whether it's a transition or a leg yield or a shoulder-in, before the relaxation is there, serves no purpose. Getting a prompt canter doesn't matter if the next step is a bolt or stumble. Instead, I now know to just sit and wait until Izzy is ready. I ask, and if Izzy doesn't answer correctly, I wait and ask again. My reward is transitions that are getting quieter and quieter. This is the first canter transition of the day.
I've shown these clips in order of how they happened during the ride. After cantering to the right, Izzy started to anticipate the left lead canter. When I wouldn't let him hurtle himself into the gait, he got a bit sassy and then didn't know what to do with his attitude. That generally means a bolt and scoot is coming. While he did bolt into my hands, I LOVED that he very quickly let go of the tension and came right back to me mentally.
After the spook, it took a few minutes for me to get Izzy back on my team. I didn't worry about it. We walked for a minute or two, and I changed the subject. We halted, did a rein back or two, and then carried on. Our left lead canter is still braced as he is learning to canter without leaning on my hands. Even though there are a few rough bits, over all, he looks pretty darn good.
I usually dread watching my videos, but now, I am starting to recognize that my riding is improving quickly, and as a result, Izzy is becoming so much fun to ride. While he still gets very distracted, more and more of the time he's listening to me and trying so hard to do what I am asking. I can't believe what a difference a year can make. Making the switch to STC Dressage was really hard to do, but I am so glad I took that risk.
Think about where we'll be in another year!
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.
The one thing that I dislike about doing virtual lessons with my Pivo Pod is that the Pivo app can't do a meeting and record at the same time. Given its very reasonable price though, it can't be expected to do everything. Two weeks ago I recorded video the day before my lesson, and for this last lesson, I recorded my ride the day after the lesson.
While there is nothing fancy about the videos, there isn't anything horrible either. I recoded twenty-five minutes of pretty basic work. No one wants to watch twenty-five minutes of anything, so I found some stretches of trotting and a bit of canter and uploaded them. This is us without any filters. It's just raw footage captured without any effort at looking well schooled.
I am not as happy with the canter work that I grabbed. I can see how tight I am in my upper body, particularly through my elbows. At fifteen seconds you can see me push my hands forward so that Izzy can carry himself for a moment, and that sort of reset my position as well. The other thing I am trying to fix is my swinging left leg. I keep my right leg much quieter.
While I haven't done much recording over the past year, I think it would be worth my while to try and record once a week. I've discovered that even watching it in fast forward gives me an overall impression of my position. As I make changes in how I ride, I see those changes reflected in how Izzy moves. I have the tools to quickly and easily record; I need to make use of them.
There's nothing like a bunch of honesty to make you feel naked.
After Izzy had some body work, his whole attitude changed immediately. I wish I could say he turned into a rock star, but he didn't. Instead, the dragon was gone and my Big Brown Horse was back with all of his quirkiness. On New Year's Day, I set up my Pivo Pod to record some video.
As much as I hate to watch video of myself riding, I forced myself to watch it as soon as I got home from the barn. With the ride still fresh in my mind, I wanted to see how bad it really was. As I watched though, I kept rewinding while asking myself, Is that where he ... ? Where's that spot where he ...? At each pause/rewind moment of the ride, I realized that while I could feel the tension and resistance, it was barely visible on camera.
I didn't cherry pick "good moments" of video. Instead, I found a spot where we were trotting, snipped it and uploaded. When I went back to watch it, you can see Izzy being distracted and then coughing and losing his balance. What I love about the video is that I didn't react at all. It looks as though I completely ignored all of it, and then he regrouped and we trotted off.
I did the same thing for a video of some canter work. I fast forwarded until I saw him cantering. I went back a few seconds to catch the transition, and I uploaded another 30 or 40 seconds of video. I didn't try to find anything that looked better than any other moment, so what you see is a few typical moments of what we're doing these days.
Truthfully, it's all pretty boring stuff. Each day, my plan is to work on my balance and elasticity. The better I ride, the happier Izzy is. My goals for him are that he reaches for the bit and that he finds his own balance. I'm learning that I've been doing more than my fair share; I've been holding him up rather than asking him to hold himself up. He's finding it to be quite a challenge now that I am not giving him something to push against.
While I found some really great moments that I was able to capture on screenshots, one of my favorite moments of the video was the one where I used the puddle at the A end to reset his brain. When he needed a mental break, I walked down to the wet end and let him splash through the puddles. Big Brown Horse is afraid of his own shadow, but he loves puddles.
Since I started riding with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I've seen my riding improve a lot. I am far less reactive. Sean says that I am much more pro-active, but I don't feel that way yet. Instead, I spend most of the time just trying to figure out how to keep Izzy working with me so that I don't have to react. When things go south, I might get exasperated, but I don't take it personally anymore - at least not as much as I used to. I just work on the problem, reminding myself that the goal is to keep Izzy from checking out.
Being less reactive means my body is more relaxed overall, although Sean still needs to remind me occasionally about bracing or stiffening my body. As I gain more confidence in my decisions, I relax even more, which Izzy can feel. Hopefully, his confidence in me will grow as a result.
And when we're working together, we get moments like the one above.
I am not going to say that getting COVID was a good thing because we all know that isn't true. There was something good that came out of it though. I tend to push myself pretty hard, and I find it challenging to slow down and take time off. Usually, I take a break only because I am forced to, like most recently.
While I was feeling worried about my fitness level and motivation, what I discovered was that a three-week break gave my brain a chance to process all of the stuff that I've been learning over the past six months. It took a few days for my brain and body to make a connection, but once it happened, I was thrilled with how I was riding. Don't get me wrong, I still look like a plump, middle aged, adult ammie up there, but my thinking is much clearer lately, without any sense of over-reacting. I understand Izzy better, and the choices I am making while riding are more effective than ever.
After the show we did at the end of October, I asked Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, if he thought Izzy needed a break. I was heading out of town the following weekend, so if nothing else, we agreed Izzy would get a week off. Of course, I didn't get to go. Instead of a week-long break, Izzy also ended up with three weeks off. I know the break did me a ton of good, and I am pretty sure Izzy needed it as well.
Last Friday, the day before my most recent lesson, I set up my Pivo to record a ride. The day before, Izzy and I worked through some stuff that's been brewing for a while. His regular thing is to be very good for about the first twenty-five minutes of a ride, and then he starts to get grumpy. Most of the time, I try to wrap things up so I can end on a good note. On Friday, I made a very conscious decision to ride well past that twenty-five minute mark. As expected, Izzy got mad.
I halted him, and asked him to get soft. We walked on. I asked for a trot, and when he braced, I halted, and asked for him to get soft. No matter what he did - and he did a lot including threatening to rear, I halted, asked him to get round, and then put him back to work. We did a bazillion circles, most of them 10 and 15-meters, but I just kept reminding him that he doesn't have to push against me. In fact, I wasn't going to allow him to push against me. He could go straight as long as he did it softly. If not, we circled.
By the end of the ride - 52 minutes, he was willing to do a stretchy trot. It was done at a slow jog, but he was soft and not pushing against me. The next morning, I crossed my fingers hoping that he was willing to do just a short, quiet ride. I had a lesson scheduled for the next day. The four videos below are the entire ride with the walking bits left out. I was over the moon happy with how relaxed and trusting he was. Izzy's willingness to work proved that the decisions I had made the day before were spot on. All of the videos are boring, but I am really happy with what they show.
Nobody looks fabulous here, but we're not a train wreck either!
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%: