From Endurance to Dressage
Forcing vs. Enforcing
As always, my Saturday morning lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, was as enlightening as ever. As I was walking Izzy, allowing him to warm up, I was telling Sean how over the past week I had been paying close attention to my timing. It's not miraculously on time, but I am at least getting a better sense of when Izzy is about to spook or pop his head up. Just as those words left my mouth, Izzy gave one of his fantastically dramatic leaps sideways that very nearly caused me to become a lawn dart.
The spook was so fast and deep that I saw the ground rushing up to meet me. Every grain of sand was suddenly the size of a boulder. Thanks in large part to Sean's teaching, my body stayed supple which allowed me to remain in the saddle. Once all of Izzy's feet were back on the ground, and I was more or less vertical, I burst out laughing, What was I saying about my timing? Touché Izzy, touché.
Most of the next 45 minutes were about me. Izzy can be complicated and difficult, but we're never going to change who he is. Instead, it's up to me to develop the skills needed in order to keep him together and headed in the right direction. Sean is teaching me how to recognize and better respond to Izzy's lapses in judgement. By listening and focusing on what is happening beneath me, Izzy's tells are slowly becoming more obvious to me. I simply can't be a passenger for even one moment with this horse. He needs me to pilot him step by step.
Last week, Izzy gave me a terrible ride. It was so sucky that I took three or four seconds to have a little pity party for one. As I was about to jerk Izzy's face off, I suddenly heard Sean in my ear, That isn't going to fix anything. Be patient. Use your tools. Do what you need to do to improve the situation. Don't engage in the fight. As much as I wanted to feel sorry for myself and throw in the damn towel, I sucked it up buttercup and put on my big girl panties.
I told Izzy that I was done playing around, and I meant it. We all know that Izzy makes terrible life choices, so I took control and told him that I was in charge. When Sean and I discussed it on Saturday, he framed the situation in a whole new way for me. He explained that there is a difference between forcing a horse to do something and enforcing your training.
Force is defined as achieving by strength in struggle or violence. When you force a horse to do something, he no longer has a choice. Enforcing has many definitions, but the one that helps clarify the distinction between forcing and enforcing is this: enforce can mean to compel obedience to. When we enforce the training, we allow the horse the opportunity to make a choice. There is an out. If he makes the right choice, the pressure is off and his choice becomes the reward.
By taking control and being patient, I was able to turn that ride around. It wasn't easy, but I kept at it. I put my inside leg on and used my outside rein to control the spooks. I began enforcing my aids. I also tightened my grip on the outside left rein and vowed that Izzy would not jerk it from me again. He tried, but after hitting the end of it when I didn't release it, he got a very big oh, shit look on his face. He made a choice and decided that he didn't like the outcome. I didn't force him; I simply enforced the rules. No angels started singing, but by the end of the ride, Izzy's attitude had been seriously adjusted; he chose obedience. The next day, I had a fantastic ride with no arguments. Enforcing rather than forcing.
On Saturday, Izzy tried a few different things to get out of working, but I kept control while giving him an out. It took a few minutes, but eventually, he settled down and we got to work. He was so good that we were able to work on him instead of just me. Sean even remarked that he could really see that Izzy was getting better and better balanced. Not so long ago, when Izzy spooked, his legs went every which way which destroyed any rhythm we might have had. Now, Izzy can spook or jump and keep cantering. I hadn't paid attention to that, but Sean is right. Izzy's balance is improving.
To help Izzy begin to carry more weight on the inside hind, Sean had me do a new exercise. It goes like this.
Last year, if you had told me I'd be riding Izzy with this much confidence and control, I'd have thought you were crazy. This makes me hope that next year I'll be riding with even more confidence and control. It's not easy riding such a complicated horse, but it is helping me to become a much better rider.
While I love awards, helping Izzy to become a happy and healthy citizen is even more rewarding. Good thing since we're not exactly earning any recognition.
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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%: