From Endurance to Dressage
On My Own
My regular Saturday morning lesson was cancelled this week. It was actually a good thing as 8:30 was getting earlier and earlier. I am at work by 6:10 a.m. every morning, so six early mornings a week has really been getting to me. Of course, in the summer, 8:30 might as well be noon around here. It's not uncommon for it to be well north of 80 degrees by that time of day. In November though, the sun doesn't come up over the small mountain to our east until about 8:00 a.m. With an 8:30 lesson, I am usually at the barn well before the sun rises. I took Saturday's cancelled lesson as an opportunity to sleep in.
I still rode and recorded my ride though. And even though Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, wasn't actually in my ear coaching me, he was definitely in my head. I went through the same work I would have done had we actually had a lesson. The leg yields, shoulder-in, renver, and travers are getting so "good" that there isn't much I can do to improve on them unless Sean is there as my eyes on the ground.
The one thing that I saw while watching the video that is markedly improved is our turn on the haunches. For so long they were pretty sticky. In the turn on the haunches, the hind legs must maintain a steady walk rhythm. Pivoting on a hind leg is not correct and will lower the score considerably. Sean has helped me to first of all feel the hind legs and secondly, keep them moving by doing larger turns. Over time, I have been slowly making them smaller and smaller. This bit in the video below isn't perfect, but they are much better than even two months ago.
I've been schooling the turns on the haunches before and after the canter work as a way to refocus Izzy's attention. Since I am working hard to get the flying changes, he can get a bit anxious before and after the canter. The turns on the haunches encourage him to sit while taking the focus completely off the canter and the changes. Sean's advice to canter anywhere and everywhere in the arena, switching leads through trot or the simple change, has also really helped reduce Izzy's tension in the canter. Over the last week, I have been able to consistently get a right to left change without a leap in the air, grunt, or squeal. It's not on my first aid, but it is definitely there.
In the video below, you can see where I asked for it, but didn't get it. I kept asking though and finally got it in the corner. It looks clean to me, but more importantly, Izzy wasn't at all stressed out by it.
The left to right change is another story. I am not getting that one at all yet, but I am also not getting the leaps, grunts, or squeals either, so that tells me I am on the right track. Although not planned, I asked for it right in front of the camera, so you get a great view of Izzy thinking about it and even trying, but it just never happened. Instead, I brought him back to trot and did a quick change of lead and simply cantered on.
Since I started riding with Sean in the spring of 2021, his advice has proven to be correct again and again. While I am not getting a consistent change yet, it is coming, and that is thanks to Sean's approach. By ignoring the missed changes and treating them like they're no big deal, Izzy is slowly losing his anxiety about making a mistake. I feel pretty confident that we'll have the right to left change fairly soon. The left to right will follow even if it takes longer to get.
In just one week, I have been able to push the fear aside which has probably helped Izzy more than it has helped me. Now that I know Izzy isn't going to explode, I am not riding defensively. I sit up, I help him rebalance, and then I ask. If we get it, great, and when we don't, I again rebalance him and carry on. While I missed having a lesson, I really enjoyed the opportunity to work through it on my own. This next Saturday, I am definitely going to be asking what I need to do to get that left to right change.
We all know that I must be doing something wrong!
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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%: