From Endurance to Dressage
For the past few months, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage has been trying to help me understand how to ask Izzy for a longer stride without causing Izzy to feel anxious about it. I've been making some progress, but I've really struggled with understanding what Sean meant when he said to ask for the longer stride and then allow Izzy to come back on his own.
A week or so ago, I had a big AHA moment when I realized that the "ask" can only come when Izzy is soft in his neck and not pushing back against me. On top of that, the "ask" can't result in his head popping up either. As I rode this week, I started working really hard to put those two things together: asking for the longer stride while keeping Izzy's head and neck steady.
From out of nowhere came this idea of sitting on a porch swing. Have you ever been in a hammock or a porch swing? Usually, you put a foot on the ground or up on the railing and you give yourself one gentle push to get the swing to rock. Then you just ride that swinging motion until it's about to stop. Just before it does, your give yourself another push and you ride that motion.
It suddenly occurred to me that that was what Sean meant. In the canter, I made sure that Izzy was soft in his neck, and then I just pushed. Sure enough, he increased his energy, but rather than push again and again, I just rode the motion and allowed his energy to dissipate on its own. As soon as he felt relaxed and soft in his neck, I pushed again. We traveled around the arena with me pushing every so often to keep the swing going.
Before beginning my lesson with Sean on Saturday morning, I ran the swing metaphor by him and asked if that was what he meant. He wholeheartedly agreed and said that for now, that was exactly the feeling he was hoping I'd get. As we teach Izzy that a more powerful and energetic stride can feel safe and comfortable, I can start to add more and more "pushes" until Izzy can hold that energy on his own.
After Izzy was warmed up, I asked for the canter and applied the idea of giving him pushes as his "swing" slowed down. Sean probably wasn't surprised by the result, but I sure was. Suddenly, Izzy's canter was much energetic, but relaxed. He was steady in the bridle, soft in his neck, and very rideable. As a teacher, I am always so pleased when my kiddos finally grasp an idea and can apply it, so I am certain Sean was fist pumping and high fiving himself. As for me, I was thrilled that I was finally able to be so effective in my riding
Sean asked how that idea was working in the trot lengthening. Not so well. The idea is much easier to apply in the canter as that gait has a much longer moment of suspension. The canter actually feels like being in a rocking chair. To help me understand how to apply the idea to the trot, Sean explained that I should follow the same protocol: ask when Izzy is soft in his under neck, but since he doesn't balance himself nearly so well in the trot, I can only push and let Izzy go for one stride. After that, I need to rebalance him with my posting so that he never gets a chance to take that hurried, unbalanced step.
I don't know why I continue to be amazed when Sean's teaching actually works, but I do. It took us a few minutes to get the conversation going, but Izzy started to listen to my posting rhythm. I gave a gentle push, he responded, and I immediately slowed my posting tempo. I gave another push, he responded, and I again slowed my posting. Suddenly, he was feeling the half halt, and he came back to a walk without a loss of balance or any anxiety.
With that, we ended the work while Sean and I talked about my recent crisis of faith. It seems strange to see so much progress and still feel so ineffective, but there it is. Sean and I had a long talk about goals, but I'll save that for tomorrow.
In the meantime, we're just a swingin' ...
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%: