From Endurance to Dressage
After my surprising New Year's Day ride on Saturday, I took a virtual lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage on Sunday. As usual, the lesson was about as boring to teach as helping a teenager add to ten. I mean, you have ten fingers, how hard can it be? Sean insists that the lessons aren't boring, but I am a teacher, so I know remediation is not usually the highlight of your teaching day. He'll disagree.
Why was it boring? Have you ever watched a rider do 20-meter circles for 45 minutes? Yes? Then you know what I mean. It's really only interesting for the rider. Not only is the trainer hoping something jumps out of the bushes to liven things up, but so, too, is the horse. I am kidding. Sort of.
When I whine about being back at Introductory Level, Sean tells me to get over it because the best riders spend most of their time working on firming up the basics. I always laugh and say, you're right, but I know it still must be pretty boring to teach us as round and round we go.
For this lesson, I wanted to continue on with the idea of making my aids as light and quiet as possible. Even though Izzy is much more businesslike now that his neck isn't hurting, and he can handle a more solid contact, I liked what we had done over the past few weeks when we asked him to carry his own weight rather than having me to lean on. Sean helped me figure out two new feelings as we worked with all of that in mind.
Izzy does pretty well as long as we're circling. One of the things we've been working on is his tendency to push against me as we cross the diagonal, use the long side, or come down centerline. By being straight, he feels the needs to brace which suggests he's worried about losing his balance. When he leans, I do a small circle. Since I can't throw in a 10-meter circle every time he leans on me during a test, we need to show him that he can carry himself into straightness.
As we come through a corner and approach the long side, Izzy gets really heavy and braced. My inclination is to user a firmer outside rein to keep his shoulder from falling out. When that doesn't work, I over-use the inside rein in an effort to get the bend. Sean suggested I get Izzy between my aids by asking for flexion before I get through the corner. I may need counter flexion or a true bend, but if I can get him better between my reins, he'll be better balanced as we come through the corner. Without him pushing against me, we can either continue straight or cross the diagonal in a much more harmonious fashion.
For the walk to trot transitions, another straight moment where Izzy likes to push against me, Sean suggested I not only ask Izzy to be rounder, but to flex either to the inside or outside - a little like approaching a corner. This worked amazingly well. When only asking for rounder, Izzy can still lock his poll and jaw. By asking for both lateral flexion and roundness at the same time, there's not anything to push against. Of course this isn't a long term solution, but as Izzy discovers that he doesn't need to push against me to make the transition, I won't need to ask for lateral flexion.
Both of these ideas are works in progress, but we ended the lesson with me having yet even more tools to add to my list. Riding Izzy is hard, and it takes a lot of different strategies to keep him happy and with me. What works one day might not work the next. Being able to pull out different techniques for helping him stay balanced helps alleviate much of his anxiety.
Some days, I am amazed at the progress we're making. Other days, I am pretty discouraged that we're still working on being on the aids in a 20-meter circle. It's important to trust the trainer's program though, and since Sean has been right every step of the past year, I can only continue trusting his plan for us. I don't know when we'll show next, and I have no idea at what level we might come back out at, but for now, I'd rather ride well than show terribly.
I have high (medium?) hopes for 2022.
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%: