From Endurance to Dressage
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.
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%