From Endurance to Dressage
I always learn at least a little during my Saturday lessons, but THIS Saturday was a biggie. Over the past month, Izzy and I have had to tread water so to speak as we waited for that last brutal heat wave to end. I was hopeful that he'd come out on the other side still trusting me. Saturday's ride showed me that my slow and steady approach paid off.
Except for Wednesday, I was able to ride each day during the past week. The weekend before had been terribly hot, so my ride's rides were really short, but we did do a little. By Monday, the temperature dropped more than 30 degrees. Each day, I asked Izzy for a little more, adding new questions each day. By Thursday we were finally schooling movements, and by Friday, the "sas" was really starting to show. I wasn't sure what I'd get for Saturday's lesson, but I knew he was ready to return to work.
With Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, in my ear, Izzy warmed up easily without any tension. I even mentioned to Sean that warming up is now a pleasant experience. Izzy gets right to work. Even after his warm up coughs, he no longer loses his balance and bolts. He has learned how to cough and keep right on going. I know that sounds like a duh moment, but it's sort of huge for the King of Making Me Yell - and yes that's a real place, "Oh, shit!" as I try not to die. Which, by the way, I haven't had to yell in at least a year, probably longer.
Anyway, as we trotted around, I talked about how braced Izzy still is in the right lead canter. He's a bit stiff to the left as well, but until we can get him to let go reliably while tracking right, the flying change will never happen. Sean asked if I am doing simple changes down the long side alternating which lead we pick up. As though we've done it all our lives, I asked Sean, like this? as we be-bopped from one lead to the other, counter cantering the short sides.
I am laughing aloud as I write this because I am not sure who was more surprised by the ease at which Izzy was able to pick up the counter counter and hold it, Sean or me. Or maybe even Izzy for that matter. Either way, it was as though I've schooled them hundreds of times. I had worked on it over the week, but the dude really hit it out of the park. I shouldn't be surprised though as Sean has said from the beginning that if we spend most of our time on the basics, the hard stuff becomes easy.
So there we were picking up the counter canter through simple changes and changes of lead through trot. That's when Sean basically told me to cool my jets, and yes, I am paraphrasing. What he actually said was that he wasn't at all upset by what he was watching. He felt that the small mistakes, like the loss of balance and bracing, would fix themselves with time. He said that I need to be patient and recognize that I am doing everything right. That's when I told him about being the kind of person who looks first at what she might be doing wrong while asking if there is more that she should be doing. I wrote about that yesterday.
He couldn't see anything that I was doing wrong, but he did have a great suggestion. Each month, Izzy comes to a new place in his understanding of his job. As he develops more and more confidence in both himself and me, and by extension, Sean, he allows me to ask more complicated questions and tolerates firmer corrections.
In the right bend, Sean felt it was time to use my spur a bit more strongly. When I said that I was poking Izzy with the spur, Sean said that he wanted me to poke Izzy in the "liver." It should be a clear enough poke that Izzy should feel uncomfortable, thereby causing him to think twice about ignoring my inside leg in the future. I know it sounds harsh to "poke him in the liver," but I understood what Sean meant. I put Izzy on a circle, and lifted my heel up and into his side. It took me a few times to gauge how much poke to give him - not enough the first few times to get a response, but when I figured it out, Izzy wrapped his body around my inside leg and quit bracing.
Sean's purpose was to teach me how to teach Izzy that the bend should come from my inside leg and not my inside rein. The rein should be to guide him, not correct him. If I have to tug his head around, we'll never get a flying change or even a decent shoulder-in or half pass. It only took a couple of "pokes to the liver" before Izzy started bending through his body. To test his new awareness of my inside leg, we did some shoulder-in and travers where I did have to poke him a time or two, but eventually he started anticipating the shift in my weight aid and recognized that a poke would be next if he didn't start bending.
When we moved the "poke him in the liver" idea to the canter, I laughed out loud. For maybe the first time ever, my job as the rider got so much easier. Instead of trying to muscle his neck into bending, I just gave a poked with my spur, and suddenly we had a balanced, adjustable canter. As soon as I felt it, I knew I should ask for a flying change. Sean had the same idea. Before I could ask though, Izzy lost his balance a bit and fell back into a trot. Sean suggested I find that balanced canter again, straighten Izzy by moving his ribcage over, and then quietly ask for a flying change.
I did what Sean suggested. I put my right spur in to say bend around my leg. I kept repeating, it's just another canter stride, it's just another canter stride. When we were ready, I straightened him by pushing his ribcage over with my new inside leg and gave a scoop with my seat. It was a bit wild and wooly with a lot of flying before the change, but he did the change on my aids. It scared the heck out of him, and he shot forward in a bit of discombobulated gallop, but he did it. Once I more or less had him under control, I patted his neck and brought him back to a less chaotic trot.
So yeah. Flying changes are no longer part of our distant future. They're here!
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%: