From Endurance to Dressage
All joking aside, Izzy and I are trying some new and different things. If you missed yesterday's post, Izzy did his very best to show that while I have a very serious game face, it's still pretty easy to make me look anything but knowledgeable. If you work with Izzy and me, be prepared for some fun and games; no one has ever thought to call me a Dressage Queen.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, is a very accomplished rider. He hasn't yet earned his USDF Gold Medal - he's missing the two Grand Prix scores, but he's young, and he has a fabulous pony, Clooney, that's almost there. The pony, owned by my friend Valerie, is a firecracker with talent to spare. I suspect that Sean will have that Gold Medal sooner than I'll have my Silver.
A quick glance at Sean's scores shows a rider with obvious talent. His median scores are solidly in the mid-60s with his max scores in the 70s and 80s. He has shown nearly fifty horses, and many of them he has ridden ten, twenty, and even eighty times! Sean has ridden many breeds, including Morgans, an American Paint Horse, and even a Westfalen. Taking on Izzy, a warmblood with a LOT of Thoroughbred, is right up his alley.
While I knew Monday's lesson with Sean wasn't going to completely change how I do things, I was eager to see what advice Sean had to offer. For the past few weeks, I've known that I would be training with Sean, so I've been riding Izzy with Sean's voice in my ear. I remembered what we had worked on two years ago, and while I've implemented what I learned in that one lesson, it hasn't been my focus. For the past few weeks, his advice has been my sole focus.
Without any fanfare, Sean grabbed a seat up on his viewing platform, and I tucked the earbuds in. As it was two years ago, the wind was gusting, so the earbuds really helped me be able to hear Sean without constantly yelling, "What???" As I sit here watching the video - I can't hear anything over the wind, I am shocked by how quiet and steady Izzy was right from the beginning. At the time, he felt very braced and tense, but looking at him, it isn't nearly as terrible as it felt.
The lesson was very simple as Sean mostly needed to get a general impression. We did a fair amount of trotting on the 20-meter circle, some leg yields, some canter work, and a bit of trot half pass. Through it all, Sean made suggestions. My inside right hand likes to get too close to Izzy's withers. My elbows aren't following enough in the canter. My inside leg isn't holding steadily enough in the half pass.
We all agreed that Izzy needs to get his neck down and out, but achieving that is why I am making the commitment to drive six hours round trip for a 45 minute lesson. When I asked Sean what I should focus on this week, his reply was "small questions. Ask for little things and see if there is a reaction." Sean wants me to work on lateral work while still thinking about going forward. He wants to me to ask for flexion in the canter work - something I've already been doing. Can Izzy flex left and right? Can he move off my leg? Can he lengthen a bit and then come back?
The answer isn't just ONE thing. There is no magic bullet, no "cure." It's just going to take work on my part to keep Izzy moving back and forth bit by bit until he learns to stay relaxed. Overall, things felt far worse than they appear in the nearly hour long video that Pivo captured for me. The "giraffing" of his neck looks nothing like it feels, and the bracing though his poll is nearly invisible on the video.
For so long I've felt like we've been a hot mess, not making any progress. It's clear that isn't true. The one thing Sean did say was how fabulous Izzy looks. He said that Izzy is a completely different horse from the one he saw two years ago. Thank goodness because THAT horse was for sale. Sean remarked that two years ago, Izzy wouldn't let me in. He had no desire to work with me. Now, Sean feels that Izzy and I are having a conversation where he listens and tries to work with me.
While I love having the earbuds in, and Sean loves not having to yell all day long, I miss being able to watch the video with his commentary. When we go down again this weekend, I may try to set the Pivo up right in front of Sean so that it can catch his feedback. The video might not be as great, but hearing his suggestions is the most important part.
Overall, I am really encouraged by what I saw in the video. We have another lesson this weekend, and then we'll head down for a show the weekend after. Sean will give us a lesson the night before the show and then coach us through Saturday's tests. Unfortunately, he had long ago made plans for Sunday, so he won't be able to be there for day two. We'll manage.
In the future, Valerie and I will plan shows together with Sean. Valerie is a good friend and also one of Sean's clients. I am speaking for everyone when I say all three of us are excited about this show season, but I know I am right.
Izzy and I will (probably) never be perfect, but we're headed in the right direction!
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%: