From Endurance to Dressage
Feeling Like a Beginner
... And probably looking like one, too.
On Saturday, Izzy and I made another trip to Ventura County to ride with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. It was our second lesson in less than a week. We have a third lesson on Friday afternoon. While we were letting Izzy relax after the long drive - it's nearly three hours, I asked Sean if he had ever had to fire a student. I wanted to gauge what my chances for success might be. Based on his answer, it sounds like he hasn't had to fire very many students, so it looks like I am good for the time being.
I had no idea how simply riding with a different trainer could make me feel like a beginner all over again. I am guessing it has to be a lot like getting divorced and dating someone new. We get so comfortable with our spouses, often times ignoring the bad which leads you to feel pretty confident. It's only when you're with someone new that you realize you're not perfect. I've never been divorced, but I can imagine it. I have tons of imperfections that my husband has either grown to love or simply ignores. Would a new guy be so forgiving?
Sean is looking at my riding through very fresh eyes. He hasn't had years to grow accustomed to my riding weaknesses and bad habits and as such, he feels an obligation to fix them. Thank goodness. Of all of the many aha moments I had during Saturday's lesson, this was my favorite: There is a lot to fix in my riding which means that as I fix things, Izzy is only going to get better and better. I saw it happen immediately during the lesson. Every time I fixed a little bit of stiffness in my body, I could feel Izzy respond.
My Pivo wasn't very well behaved for this lesson so I didn't get the greatest video. I tried placing it closer to Sean so I could record his end of the conversation, but it didn't work that well. I do pay attention when I ride though, so I tried to remember what he had said as I watched the video on Sunday. Here are some things that really resonated with me.
1) Rather than using so much inside rein, I need to use the inside leg to teach Izzy to bend. If I am consistent enough, he will learn that the inside leg means that he should bend through his body. Even going straight, I can apply the inside leg to ask him to bend and soften.
2) In the leg yield in particular, ask once for the sideways movement, and then QUIT asking and ALLOW him to go sideways. Instead of using steady pressure which is what I do, bump him, and then STOP asking. If he doesn't move sideways, give him another bump with my leg to tell him sideways again. Boy, did this ever work great! Allowing Izzy to do his job took away a lot of his resistance and bracing.
3) Be elastic in your arms. Sean described it as though my arms were made of those resistance bands. Some are stretchier than others, but ALL of them stretch. I feel like I am giving through my elbows, but Sean wants more. Even when Izzy is resisting, he wants me to still have at least some elasticity in my arms. I felt this particularly in the canter.
4) In the travers, haunches in, the horse's head should be straight. I am pulling the inside rein to try to achieve the bend in his body. According to Sean, this is not correct. The horse should travel straight down the long side with his head and neck, and with his hind legs he should step in. I have always ridden it with a slight inside bend, almost like a half pass that goes forward. Once I let go of the inside rein, Izzy was able to carry his haunches in with less resistance.
5) In the turn on the haunches, especially for Izzy who loses the rhythm of the walk, ride him forward. It's okay at Second Level for the circle to be a little big. More than one trainer has told me this, but I haven't been able to get Izzy to make the circle bigger. Letting him step forward achieves this. What felt like a huge circle wasn't nearly as big as it felt. As soon as I let Izzy move forward in the turn on the haunches, he kept a nice walk rhythm.
After skimming through the hour long video of the lesson, I was again surprised at how relaxed Izzy looked. He may not feel relaxed, but he doesn't appear as tense as it feels. As we finished this second lesson, I realized that I have so much to work on, but even with that mountain looming, I was still really encouraged. We won't be fantastic at the SCEC show this weekend, but I don't think it's going to feel as out of control as it felt at November's hot mess of a show. If Sean can affect a little more change in my riding, I know the results will be immediately felt by Izzy.
I haven't been this encouraged in a long time!
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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%: