From Endurance to Dressage
I almost hate to write about this new issue after having shared so much wonderfulness last week. Izzy had three weeks off while I was sick and then came back to work like a total rockstar. I gave him last Monday and Tuesday off after having ridden him seven days in a row, and suddenly, I am riding a dragon.
It's either one or two things. Technically it could be a lot of other things, but I am going with the two most likely. First, it could be that Izzy needs an adjustment although I doubt it as my chiropractor saw him in late October, and Izzy didn't need an adjustment then. I rode him for a week, gave him three weeks off, and then rode him two more weeks. Unless he slept wrong, he really hasn't had any hard riding. Even so, I am leaving the possibility on the table.
The other thing it might be, and I am feeling like this is more than probably, is that Izzy doesn't like working so late in the afternoon. Before I got sick, Izzy had been working in the afternoons just fine, but the time hadn't changed yet. Then he got three weeks off. Then I rode him for a week in the mornings. Last week, I had to ride after work which meant I rode in the very late afternoon. We've lost a lot of daylight since late October, and Izzy doesn't seem to be a fan of approaching darkness.
On Wednesday when I rode, all he could keep it together enough for was a walk, and we did it for fifty minutes. It wasn't fun, but I knew we had to work through it. I didn't lose my temper, and I refused to be baited into a fight. We spent the time walking, halting, getting soft, and walking some more all while Izzy ricocheted between my aids. On Thursday, my plan was to walk, trot, canter ... and then get off. My idea was to show him that working in the afternoon didn't have to be a "thing." It took closer to twenty-five minutes for him to "believe" me. By Friday, he was starting to catch on. That ride lasted twenty minutes.
During the week, I also realized that the C end of the arena was a no fly zone. The dragon inside of Izzy was ferocious, breathing fire, and ready for battle. The A end wasn't much better. His dragon was less ferocious, but rather than breathing fire, he was balking and threatening to rear. The circle at E/B wasn't a magical place, but his dragon was pint-sized and easier to control.
I can hear you asking, What the heck, horse? There is at least a method to his madness. The C end of the arena is closest to the road and the neighbor's traffic - who knows what might come around the corner? The A end is where the gate is located. I don't think that requires much explanation. The E/B circle is a compromise between the monsters outside of the court and the EXIT.
After such a rough week of riding, I was hopeful that Izzy would be back to normal for Saturday's morning lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. No, no he wasn't. Yet again, Sean was forced to watch (and try to teach) the world's most boring lesson. Seriously, there isn't much to say when the horse and rider team you're coaching randomly shoot sideways in a bolt from nowhere. Again and again.
I think Sean and I know each other well enough by now that neither one of us feel the need to impress the other with scintillating conversation. I rode as well as I could, and Sean offered feedback when he felt it was needed. Other than that, not a lot happened during the lesson. I managed to do a few leg yields, but the bulk of the lesson was spent trying to unlock Izzy's neck without getting dumped - and oh, man did he try. I told Sean it was like riding a wooden saw horse. Sean's suggestions covered things like spiraling in and out, riding an octagon with lots of turns on the forehand, and essentially, anything that asked that hind leg to step forward and across.
While this sounds like bad news, Sean's philosophy says otherwise. We would all love our graphs to be up and to the right - something Sean says a lot. The reality is that's not likely to happen for most of us. If you have an $80,000 import, sure, your graph might look a lot better than mine. For those of us doing this on the horse they can afford, this is probably our reality. Sean insists that after every dip in the line, if we've done our work correctly, Izzy's line will trend up again, and with any luck, it will be a steep line.
The proof is in how Izzy's bad days would have been great days a year ago. While he still spooked hard during the lesson - he nearly got me off a few times, he never got more than a few feet, and he always came right back to me. Sean calls it "letting me in." Even though Izzy was super tense, his ears were fairly soft and he was clearly listening to me. Or trying to anyway. It's hard when you're hearing voices in your head, and you're not sure which one is real. I am joking of course, but the improvement Sean has been able to create in this horse is nothing short of amazing.
Even on Izzy's worst days, I now have tools to help defuse his anxiety. I ride so much better than I did a year ago. I am getting my hands higher and closer together. I find that my leg is getting longer with weight in my feet without pinching my knees. As a result, I sit deeper in the saddle, and I am able to move with Izzy when things go sideways, literally. The strange thing is that Sean hasn't really focused on my position; instead, he's worked on my reactions. By adjusting how I respond, my body seems to be relaxing all on its own.
I look forward to each and every Saturday with Sean. Even though we aren't doing anything other than the basics - I haven't ridden a half pass in months, we are definitely chipping away at Izzy's fear and tension and worry. I don't know if we'll ever break through it completely, but with Sean's help, I know I'll get as close as possible.
Even with all of Izzy's quirks and complications, I still love my big, brown horse.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2022 Shows Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Completed …
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: