From Endurance to Dressage
Last week, I had two fantastic rides early in the week on Izzy. Then he had some body work done on Tuesday, had Wednesday off, and was a complete jackass on Thursday and Friday. I knew that it was one of three things:
When he threatened to both buck and rear in the canter, I brought the work back down to walk and showed him what I expected of him. I then asked for a teeny tiny baby trot, got the bend, and decided that was a win and quit for the day. Knowing that I had a lesson the next day meant I didn't need to worry about it.
When I got to the ranch on Saturday morning, Izzy was already having a temper tantrum. He bucked and reared and squealed for about ten minutes while I stood watching at the fence. He worked himself into such a hot mess that he was foaming between his butt cheeks. I groomed and tacked up anyway and took my time walking up to the arena. He started and stopped, twitching the whole way up there, so I acted like we had all the time in the world.
You all know I am a pretty confident rider. I've ridden this horse through some pretty spectacular airs above the ground, but I am not stupid, and I very clearly understand the risks of riding a horse who possesses such an explosive repertoire of moves. Knowing that his hamsters were not yet in their wheel, I hand walked him around the arena kicking dirt off the rails and repositioning things. Little by little I felt the tension melting out of his body until he finally reached over and nudged me in the back. That's his way of connecting with me. He loves to be cuddled and kissed, so I gave him some reassuring hugs and climbed on.
When Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, joined me for our weekly virtual lesson, I waffled between telling him what had happened or just letting him see what he could see for himself. Since he could indeed see Izzy's tension, I decided to tell him where we were. Sean agreed that body soreness was not the cause since Izzy was bracing and spooking in the same spot in the arena over and over. And even if he were a bit sore, that doesn't give him a free pass. He still needs to respect my aids. Given that the morning was pleasant, if not actually cool, Sean agreed that we were probably seeing Izzy's October issues.
For all of the years that I have owned this horse, the month of October has been our kryptonite. A switch gets thrown, and everything we've worked on all summer gets forgotten. Sean and I have talked about this approaching phenomenon for the past month or so; he saw Izzy last summer, so he knew what I was waiting for. Sean is of the opinion that all of our hard work over the past year will serve to temper Izzy's weirdness during the weeks leading up to winter. So far, he has been right.
While Izzy started out a bit tense, he was soon working with me pretty well. Eventually, most of the tension left his body and he began stretching forward toward the contact. We worked on leg yields to soften his body and then jumped into shoulder-in, travers, and renvers back to shoulder-in. When I asked if we should move on to the trot half passes, Sean explained that the half pass was more likely to jam him back up while more leg yields would serve to loosen him up. That was a little AHA that I tucked away for later use.
It was when we finally got to the canter work that Izzy flipped me the bird. Sean's advice has been to put the spur in until Izzy yields. So, that's what I did at B. Like I knew he would, Izzy leaped into the air, landed hard, and bolted. I got him under control very quickly, but I knew better than to poke him with my spur to say Hey, now! Sean agreed that that would not have been the best way to handle that sort of explosion.
Instead, I put him back to work at the trot. As I worked, Sean explained that he wanted me to use the quietest aid possible, my calf, but that Izzy needed to know that I would follow up with the spur if he didn't give me a yes, ma'am. The important thing, according to Sean, was that it didn't matter in which gait we worked. The point wasn't to get Izzy to bend at B in the canter. The point was that he respect my inside leg and quit the BS. Just because Izzy doesn't like the month of October, he doesn't get to ignore me. He can have feelings, but he still has to work.
We didn't get to work on anything fancy, but Sean made sure that I understood that "winning" this battle would get me so much farther in the long run. By not engaging in a fight, I was reinforcing my aids rather than forcing Izzy to do something that he did. Not. Want. To. Do. If I were to meet Izzy head-on with a fight, he would rise to that occasion and be prepared for an even bigger one the next day. By simply reframing the conversation by leaving the canter and moving to a walk or trot, I was still able to keep Izzy in the conversation which allowed me to reinforce my aids.
Aside from the one explosive moment, Izzy never checked out. He wasn't gung ho about the work, but he accepted my aids, albeit a wee bit begrudgingly, and that really is my goal. We can't progress if he won't accept my aids. I don't know how the rest of October will go, but you can bet that my inside leg will be staying right where it is. Hopefully, I'll only need to use my calf, but I will be reinforcing that aid with a poke of the spur if necessary.
Good thing November is just around the corner!
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%: