From Endurance to Dressage
After my recent trip to STC Dressage, I came home ready to tackle my homework. It turns out that I still need some tutoring. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer, has the patience of a mountain. Every time we meet, I grumble about my lack of ability. Each and every time he reminds me that this all takes time. We're teaching Izzy a new way to work, and letting go of the old way is hard for him.
Now that we're eliminating a lot of Izzy's tension, we can now deal with his reluctance to give up control. Izzy has it in his mind that he making the decisions is in his best interest. He's wrong, of course, but convincing him is taking some doing. While I rode last week, I had a pretty big AHA moment. Sean has encouraged me to take control when Izzy is behaving. He has stressed how important this is because there is a moment when Izzy looks to me for direction. If I don't give him something to do right then, if I wait too long, he's going to yank control back, and we know what that looks like.
Even with all of this running through my head, I had a couple of rides that didn't go so well. I felt the moment that Izzy offered me an opening, and I took it. And then I kept it. I started to insist, and I stopped checking to see if he were still on board with me. When he started chomping on the bit, I realized that I had put too much pressure on him. His anxiety returned, and nothing good was happening.
I understood that getting what I wanted was not the point. Building a trusting relationship was more important than getting a soft left lead canter. I stopped asking for anything and returned to the walk. I worked to deescalate the situation which meant a lot of walking and bending. Eventually, Izzy gave me a nice round halt with a smooth, even rein back.
After thinking about it, I realized that control is a two-sided coin. On one side, I can take control, and if I do it gently, I can probably keep it. On the other side of the coin is Izzy giving control. If he doesn't keep giving me that moment, taking the control isn't going to achieve what I want. Right now, we're having a conversation about who should have control. To start out, we just walk and talk about things. Then I start asking whether he is willing to flex left or right. I ask if he can trot. I ask if he can move away from my leg. Depending on how he answers, I either ask for more - that's taking control, or I keep asking until he (hopefully) gives up control.
It's definitely not the kind of riding that most people want to do. Izzy is complicated, but I am ever so slowly figuring out how to work with him. He's not broken or damaged, he just has a personality that takes more rider tact than most other horses need.
Control seen as a two-sided coin makes a lot of sense. Now I just need to figure out whether to call heads or tails.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%