From Endurance to Dressage
As hard as Izzy can be to ride, I feel pretty sorry for him. I am not a great rider, and he knows it. Obviously I can ride, but each month it becomes more and more clear that I don't do it well. I have a velcro butt which it makes it difficult to dump me (guess what is bound to happen the next time I get on...), but I don't ride with any kind of elegance or grace.
Over the weekend, I had a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. I've been riding with him long enough that we're beginning to let our company manners go. There has been plenty of teasing (the poor man is surrounded by women so he is vastly outnumbered) and enough honest conversation that we've been able to relax with each other.
I knew the honeymoon phase was over this weekend when he very plainly said you need to quit grabbing at the reins when you do the sitting trot. My response was: I don't feel like I am doing that. His reply was, you don't mean to do that, but you are.
Okay then, let's get to work!
While it seems as though Izzy and I keep going backwards - we're moving back to First Level in October, there's an expression we like to use in education that helps make sense of that paradox: go slow to go fast. The point is that if you really take your time in building a solid foundation, the work you do later will go very quickly. With that thought in mind, Sean has had me focusing on transitions: walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to walk.
We did a lot of transitions over the weekend, and Sean made me focus on the quality of every single one. If Izzy wanted to pop his head up, we didn't do the transition. This is really hard at the walk to canter transition because Izzy wants to get really hollow. With his back hollow, he gets a sort of shortened ewe neck which means there is not a connection which allows him to fling his head up in the transition. Sean's solution was to keep Izzy really deep so that he has to lift his shoulders instead of his head.
I keep telling Izzy that's it's me, not you. It's me being tight in my seat which makes his back hard which makes me bounce which makes us both lose control. Sean is really honing in on this loss of control. When we fall apart, Izzy loses his balance, flings his head up, and spooks at nothing. Sean's idea was to have me do a rising trot so that I could encourage Izzy to swing through his back. When I came back to sitting trot, he asked me to keep as loose through my body as possible. He explained that once I get out of Izzy's way, Izzy can do what I am asking.
And before anyone thinks Sean is being harsh or overly critical, he's not. He's helping me change what I need to fix, and he's doing it in a way I can understand. Like I said, I know I am not a elegant rider. I bounce, I lose my balance, I (unknowingly) grab at the reins. The longer we worked, the more swing I felt in Izzy's back. He really started to reach for the bit and lengthen his stride. The difference in Izzy made me feel guilty. Poor horse. If only he had someone else riding him.
While I couldn't see Sean's face, I could hear the eye roll. "How do you think he's doing what he's doing?" Sean asked. "It's BECAUSE of you that he has more swing in his back." Sean was right. Once I got out of Izzy's way, he was able to relax and swing through his back.
I rode Izzy again on Sunday. I was so surprised by how much change I was able to see in both of us after just one day of focusing on relaxing my hips and legs. Being able to have a weekly lesson is going to do a lot for my riding. Remembering that it's not you, it's me, is undoubtedly going to make Izzy feel a lot better.
If we get good enough, maybe we can back to Training Level instead of First!
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%