From Endurance to Dressage
Per our usual, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and I met up virtually for a Saturday lesson. And for once, everything worked right. Doing virtual lessons might have its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh the occasional glitches. Anyhoodle ...
I rarely waste time when a lesson starts. Sean and I spend a minute or two checking in: How is everyone at the barn? Here is what I worked on this week. What are your suggestions? And from there, I ride like it's any other day. Well, mostly. On any other day I don't usually ride for an hour. After work, I keep it to around 30 minutes mostly because I am tired, but it's also to keep from over drilling things.
For this lesson, I had a very clear itinerary - the canter. One issue I have been having is getting a prompt left lead canter when lifting my left seat bone. For the right lead, I can scoop and lift my right seat bone and Izzy knows to pick up the right lead. To the left, it takes more prompting. Of course, with Sean scrutinizing my every aid, Izzy picked up the left lead without the need for any bodily contortions on my part. So, I guess Sean fixed that issue.
That wasn't it for the canter though. I have been working really hard on building a better foundation for the flying change. I had had one nice one on my own since the previous lesson, but that was it. There have been two issues going on. First, I wasn't a hundred percent sure my aid for the flying change was correct. The other issue is that when Izzy does give me a change, and even when he doesn't, he leaps into the air and scares the crap out of me.
I explained all of this to Sean and asked if he had a suggestion. Of course he did because that's what trainers are for. For the left to right change, he had me canter the long side from A to about P. He had me ride a 10-meter half circle to form a tear drop back to the rail with the flying change just before F. Or, conversely, for a right to left change, we cantered from A to about V with the 10-meter half circle to form the tear drop back to the rail with the change just before K.
There are so many reasons to love this exercise. First, if you don't get a change - like me, it's no biggie because you either continue on in counter canter or do the change through trot (which is what I did), but then you're right back to V (or P) where you can give it another shot, which is what I did. Eventually, Izzy figured out that it was all just another canter stride. Canter left. Canter right. Canter left. Canter right. Here's a video of the exercise done the next day.
By doing this exercise, we removed the long diagonal which gives Izzy a lot of time to think about bracing and formulating an evasive strategy. With changes done like this, the horse has to really sit back on his hind end in the 10-meter half circle and then almost immediately straighten up for the change. This keeps the horse from getting strung out and resisting.
Another reason to love this exercise is that it encourages the horse to keep his back moving. Since there isn't much opportunity for the horse to canter straight ahead, it means he is bending his body back and forth which helps to keep him more supple.
It only took me three for four tries before I got the change. Since Izzy's change is so ... boisterous right now, I couldn't feel it. I had to take Sean's word for it. It feels like Izzy launches himself into the air and then bucks. I've been riding this horse a long time, and while I am not afraid, I am respectful of his size and the distance to the ground. After the first change, I asked Sean if it looked like what it felt like. He laughed and said it was actually quite funny. According to him, Izzy lifts his front end, which I can definitely feel, but then his hind legs barely come off the ground. Like this ...
That made me feel a lot better. Just knowing that it is not as dramatic as it feels like encourages me to ride through it instead of bracing for impact. I've been riding the attempted changes pretty defensively, but now I know I can sit up and keep a better feel of his mouth. I also know that my aids have been correct all along. He just hasn't been supple enough nor straight enough to do the change.
After schooling the changes a few times, we moved on to travers in the canter in preparation for the canter half passes. Izzy really did a great job during this lesson. Usually, we can try one "big" thing, but after that, we spend a lot of time getting the hamsters back on the wheel. On Saturday, he kept his mind on his job and focused on what I was asking for. I say this because none of the work we did was easy. It all required a lot of effort on both his part and mine, and yet he did it.
For the canter travers, Sean reminded me that it's just another canter stride. As I used the rail to help keep Izzy moving in a straight line, I kept that reminder running on a loop in my head. Instead of thinking yikes we're doing canter travers, I told Izzy that it was just another canter stride. It didn't take too many long sides before we both let the tension ease itself out as we simply cantered the long sides with haunches in. Once Izzy could canter with less bracing, we turned it into a canter half pass.
Once we had a decent canter half pass, I worked on riding the half pass all the way to the letter without losing the bend in the last few strides. And once we made it to the letter, I asked for the flying change. It wasn't pretty, but I got it! My big take-away for this lesson was all about the idea that it's just another canter stride. Whether it's a flying change or travers or half pass, it's really all about the quality of the canter first. The movements themselves don't need to be so mystical. Recognizing that it's all just walk, trot, canter brings the focus back to correct basics. If your canter is correct and balanced, whatever you do with it will be just another canter stride.
My homework for this week is to work on travers in the canter. This will help improve the canter half pass, and it will also help with the flying changes because the more I can move his body around in the canter, the less tension Izzy will feel as I ask for the change.
If you see me riding and hear me tell Izzy that it's just another canter stride, it's probably more for my benefit than his.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%