From Endurance to Dressage
Work has been overwhelming and our weather, horrendous. This summer, we've had at least 67 days where the temperatures were 100 degrees or higher. We've also broken the record for the number of days where our lows were 80 degrees or above, 18 at last count. And now, our sky is once again brown and yellow from smoke drifting down from Tulare County's fires. It has now been seven weeks since I have been able to ride in the afternoons after work.
Despite the long work hours, the heat, and toxic air, Izzy and I continue to show steady and very real progress. No matter how tired I am, each Saturday morning I gather all of my technology and take a virtual lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. No matter how long his own week has been - cleaning stalls, taking care of sick or injured horses, riding client horses, giving lessons, Sean continues to make time for me week after week.
As I rode on Saturday, the one idea that kept coming back to me was this: Izzy's tension is slowly turning from a "thing" to nothing. That doesn't mean he has stopped spooking and gawking. In fact, he spooked so violently at one point that even Sean gasped. We were cantering into a corner, and I was focused on getting into the corner deeply to give us room to straighten and leg yield away from the rail, when suddenly, there was no neck in front of me. Izzy simply vanished. It was a time traveling moment for sure. One second I was in the corner, the next, I was hovering in the air, and in the third moment, I was suddenly in the middle of the arena laughing. I was still in the saddle though.
Sean estimated that Izzy leaped at least six feet sideways. We were both pretty impressed that I was still in the saddle. Sean credited "the save" to being loose through my seat and hips. Had I been tense or tight, I would never have been able to ride it out, but by being loose through my body, I was able to stay with Izzy as he dodged left.
So yes, the spooks are still there. The difference, thanks to Sean, is that I am (usually) no longer overreacting to the theatrics. In fact, a lot of the time I don't even react at all. I simply continue on as though nothing happened. Sean explained it thusly: since I am no longer getting tense and reactive, Izzy doesn't get anxious and worried. Each time that I continue on as though it is a non-event, Izzy takes his cue from me and gets back to work. Instead of the situation escalating, nothing happens, and the more nothing happens, well, the more nothing happens.
It isn't that I have been ridding with fear, the tendency to grab at the reins and stiffen up is just an instinctual reaction. By Sean making me aware of what my body was doing, I've been able to change my response. Body awareness is a great thing. Most of the time we don't realize we're doing something until someone points it out. The same is true of my inside left leg. For so long, I've been squeezing at the knee which has left my lower leg to swing. Now that Sean has made me aware of it, I am consciously putting weight in my foot so that my leg nestles into the girth instead of swinging.
I've never blamed Izzy's lack of progress on Izzy. Okay, sometimes he is just a jerk, but I've always said that if one of my horses is having trouble, it's in all likelihood because of something I'm doing or not doing. With a new awareness of what my body is doing, I am able to better control the things that I have been doing unconsciously. Maybe having less time to ride has made me really focus on what I am doing when I do have time to be in the saddle. Don't they say it's perfect practice that makes perfect? Doing nothing when Izzy gets tense has done more for our progress than doing a whole lot of something poorly.
"Doing nothing" doesn't seem like a sound strategy, but it's working for Izzy.
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%