From Endurance to Dressage
Mid-Summer Dressage Show
We went to a CDS-Rated show on Sunday, and we actually made it into the ring this time. I know Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage is going to hate me saying this, but without some self-reflection, I can't grow. So here it is: while Izzy was FANTASTIC, I walked away disappointed in myself but with a much clearer picture of what I need to do for the next one.
Because she is one of the greatest human beings on Earth, my dearest friend in all the world came with me to the show to not only hold the Pivo so that Sean could coach me virtually, but she also recorded my test so that Sean and I could watch it later. We pulled into the Equestrian Center with plenty of time to let Izzy stand and rest. He wasn't naughty, but he was a bit anxious and high headed. After we checked in, got my number, and saddled up, we headed over to the warm up arena so we could start the Pivo Meet.
The instant I sat in the saddle, Izzy's back melted like butter. He was completely relaxed and workmanlike. He acted as though he's been to a hundred shows and this one was no different. Sean joined me virtually, but before I could even pick up a trot, the connection was broken. My phone had overheated when the sun beat down on the screen. I quickly walked over to where Kathy was holding my Pivo. I jumped down, threw her the reins, grabbed the Pivo, and sprinted to my trailer. I grabbed two cold packs from the ice chest and sandwiched the phone between them. Within just a minute, the temperature of my phone dropped and I was able to text Sean. I restarted the Pivo Meet and handed everything back to Kathy along with a cold pack. We repositioned her in a less strategic location, but there was more shade. I was certain that was the end of Izzy's relaxed attitude.
I got back in the saddle and found the same relaxed and willing horse underneath me. I on the other hand, couldn't breath. My chest was tight, my legs would not hang, and my shoulders were up around my ears. Sean worked very hard to help me focus on my riding, but I was fighting a near debilitating anxiety. I couldn't even explain it to myself. I have been showing successfully for more than a decade, but the years of riding such a tense horse have made me defensive. Sean urged me to forget about the judge, the score, the act of showing itself and simply focus on riding my horse. I tried, I really did.
At the show we did in May, our plan was simple: we would only show if the warm up was fantastic. The warm up went well, and by the time we were done, Izzy was quiet and relaxed, but we opted not to show because we wanted to end on a very positive feeling. For this show, the entire warm up was brilliant. Izzy never once put a foot out of place or acted anxious. I was the one who was being a Looney Tune. Sean reminded me that Izzy was taking his cue from me, so I needed to focus on my riding. My mouth said yes, but my body just couldn't let go of the stiffness.
Before I knew it, it was time. I don't know when we made the decision to actually show, but suddenly we were at the in-gate with Sean reminding me to ride my horse. I pulled out my ear buds, ended the Meet, and headed through the gate. I greeted the judge, took a deep breath, and walked Izzy toward A. When I heard the bell ring, I asked Izzy to pick up a trot, but as we neared the end of the arena, he got a look at the cow pens below the arena and told me no for the first time all day. I truly did not care about the time or whether we made it in or not. I just asked again until he was willing to walk past. We picked up the trot just as we entered at A.
I made one pretty big error - for the free walk, which should have been from E-F, I rode it from H-F. I tried to hide the mistake by drifting a bit towards the E-F line, but the judge caught it and docked us the 2 points. Fortunately, she didn't ring the bell but let me carry on. She also hated his free walk all together. She couldn't know that it was the first free walk he has ever done in a test without jigging. It earned a 10 in my mind, but she gave it a 4 plus the 2 point deduction for the course error. That one movement killed our overall score. I don't care though, really I don't. We earned a nice string of 6.0s, but we also had three 5.0s, all of which had coefficients of 2. We also had a 6.5 and two 7.0s for a total of 56.538%. We missed a 60% by 9 points, most of which were lost in the free walk.
While I am incredibly proud of Izzy, I am disappointed in myself. If I had actually ridden every stride instead of sitting there hoping he kept it together, I could have fixed much of what the judge noted in her remarks. There were moments were I was actively riding, but not enough of them. During the warm up, Sean asked me what my goal was for the day. I told him that I thought we might make it into the ring. Nope. That was wrong. Since I didn't know what my goal was, I told him he had better tell me what it should be. Your goal is to RIDE your horse! was the answer.
I get it now. I tried to ride my horse; I really did. I rode him some of the time, but next month, my goal will be to ride him the ENTIRE time. So yes, I am disappointed in myself, but I do acknowledge that I did a lot right. Sean reminds me again and again that when Izzy is listening and working with me, it is because of my hard work. He was relaxed in the warm up because I had done everything right. He did what I asked for (as puny as my requests might have been) in the show ring because of my hard work. Now that Izzy has let me take control, I have to honor that gift by demonstrating that I can actually be in control and make good decisions for the two of us.
I didn't admit it to Sean or Kathy, but one of the reasons that I was so disappointed in myself was that I was very aware that Izzy was carrying me that day. I used to ask that of Speedy all the time. When the pressure of trying to do well would make me freeze, I always knew that Speedy had my back. He was famous for saying, "hold on; I got you." As I rode, I thanked Izzy for shouldering the load for the both of us even though I knew it should have been me supporting him. He did more than his part on Sunday, and I felt like I let him down just a little bit.
As I rode the test, I was distinctly aware of the complete silence from the bleachers. It was as though everyone held their breath along with me. When we finally halted at X and I saluted the judge, there was a very enthusiastic round of applause. Everyone there knows my story, but rather than judging my mistakes, I could feel their desire for us to do well. They wanted Izzy to succeed as much as I did. That silent support was very much appreciated.
Do I wish I had ridden better? Yes. Am I discouraged? No. In fact, I am especially encouraged as I know what needs to be done. That's what Sean was hoping for. We needed to see where we are. Now that we've slowly peeled back the layers of our showing issues, it seems that the next layer is all about me. I can handle that. I have a three-day boot camp at STC Dressage planned beginning this Friday. I have a feeling that Sean might be working on my need to ride every single stride.
I say bring it because I want our next show to be one where I can tell Izzy, I got you!
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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%: