From Endurance to Dressage
On Sunday, the day after that really great lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I showed up at the ranch ready to get to it. Bust it out. Kick bootie. Or, in my case, get my bootie kicked.
I went through much of the same ride that we had done the day before, but I sped things up a little bit. The truth was that I really wanted to tackle the canter work as the flying change is our big hurdle right now. The day before, Izzy showed us that he knows exactly what we're asking for. As soon as I had asked for a leg yield in the canter, Izzy knew that I was going to ask for a flying change, so he started bouncing before I had a chance to ask. It was funny at the time.
To address the anticipation, my plan for Sunday was to canter, get him straight, but then NOT ask for the change. Even that turned out to be too much pressure for Izzy. He lost his shiitakes as soon as I straightened him in the left lead canter. He has almost lost me many, many times, but this time I knew I was a goner.
And yet, somehow, despite peering dangerously close to the ground over my left leg...
I managed to keep myself upright. Once we had mostly landed, I gave him a pretty good, "HEY!" jerk on the reins, and then we got back to work. He immediately did it again ...
While none of this behavior is condonable, it did give me a lot of information. Izzy is obviously very worried about the flying change. Even though he was clearly giving me a very hard NO, I realized that Sean has given me the tools to work through these problems. Rather than feel frustrated, I dug around in my mental toolbox until I came up with a way to help Izzy through his reluctance.
I put him back on a left lead with an exaggerated inside bend and then ever so slightly straightened him for a single stride. I went back and forth between an exaggerated inside bend to near straightness until I could eventually get some counter flexion on the left lead. By picking at the issue very slowly and deliberately, I was able to deescalate Izzy's anxiety. I also gave him lots of breaks between each effort, and then we did it the other direction.
I never felt frustrated. I was actually excited to finally get close to what feels like the root of this issue. Izzy doesn't think he can do a flying change, but it is really helpful for me to know where the anxiety is coming from. Now I know that it starts as soon as I straighten him. Up until a week ago, I didn't know that it was a lack of straightness that was jamming us up. It is a lot easier to tackle an issue when you know what's causing it.
It would seem that Izzy probably hasn't ever been truly straight in the left lead canter. And if there is one thing I know about this horse, it is this: moving his body in a new way is very uncomfortable for him. Whether that discomfort is physical or mental, it doesn't really matter as the solution is to keep working at it slowly.
To see those spooks in real time, check out the video below. How I stayed on is a real testament to Sean's quality of teaching. Holy cow!
All I can do is keep on keeping on ... and staying on!
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%: