From Endurance to Dressage
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 ...
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%: