From Endurance to Dressage
If It Were Easy ...
As we do most every Saturday, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and I met for an early morning lesson. First, we did our regular chit chat about what's happening at STC Dressage. Sean and two of his other clients were at the CDI dressage show at DIHP two weeks ago where a number of EHV cases popped up. They left the show early when they realized the cases weren't contained, and then Sean strictly enforced a two week quarantine for the two horses who had gone. He is even further safeguarding the rest of the horses' health with tests to be given to the two horses after the quarantine period. So far, neither of them have had any symptoms.
Once I was all caught up, I did my weekly pour out my heart spiel. Basically, Sean gets us going on Saturday, I have a "great" ride on Sunday, and then throughout the week I manage to f%ck it all up by Friday evening. I suppose that's the difference between professionals and amateurs, and the reason he's making the big bucks.
In any case, we got to work. I had two take aways from Saturday's lesson. The first was this: Sean doesn't want Izzy to be so low in his frame anymore. I shouldn't have been surprised by that idea because when a trainer tells me to work on something, I do it until he tells me to stop. Sean explained that we needed Izzy deep and round to help him stretch his topline and lengthen his neck. Now it's time to let him come up a little in the bridle.
That sounds easy of course, and for a lot of riders it would be, but remember, it's me we're talking about. If there's a way to be shite, I'll find it. Doesn't matter though, that's a new piece of homework for me, and i'll do it he tells me to stop.
The second take away, or rather the next piece of shiteness that I need to work on, is the left lead canter. For sooooooo long, the right lead was our white whale. Izzy and I put in the time though, and now it is our better canter lead. So now we're working on the left. The problem is that Izzy anticipates the transition with so much anxiety that he either hurtles himself into it or dives against my hand, often both. It's not pleasant to watch or ride. And once in the canter, he locks his neck and poll which makes steering nearly impossible.
Sean's advice? Patience. Keep moving his neck inch by inch. Inside leg. Spiral in. Spiral out. Just keep asking. It works, but it's hard. As Izzy slammed into my hands over and over again, I asked Sean what he would be doing if he were riding at that moment. I was hoping he would tell me ____________, but instead, he said he would be doing the same things I was doing.
When I asked why it wouldn't look like what was happening while I did it, he explained that his timing is just much better than mine. While that might sound arrogant, it was actually quite encouraging. I know my timing improves each day, so that's just one more way to tackle the problem. As I become better aware of Izzy's "tells," I can fix problems before they look like I am aboard a runaway rhino. Eventually anyway.
In some ways, I wish Sean would fill me with platitudes ... super, yes, looks great, fabulous ... Deep down though, I know that would serve no purpose. Instead, Sean reminds me every week that this is a process, and unfortunately, Izzy is more complicated than most which means the process is going to take a lot longer. I long ago gave up on the idea that we will ever get there. While I ride Izzy so much better than I did three or four years ago, he will never ever be easy. He will always have tension and anxiety. It is my job to learn how to manage that edginess and become the best pilot possible.
If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
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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%: