From Endurance to Dressage
Back when I was getting a lesson once a month or maybe even every few months, an AHA happened every time. When you struggle on your own week after week or even month after month, it doesn't take much for a trainer to rock your world. Now that I have been riding every week with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, the AHA moments are generally smaller, but they happen weekly.
Over the past year, the big take aways have included:
I had less-than-fun rides on Thursday and Friday. Both rides were about control; Izzy refused to let it go, and I needed to have at least some of it. I did the best I could to use my toolbox of AHAs, but I was discouraged. When Sean joined me virtually on Saturday morning, I delivered my rehearsed litany of failures.
His feedback is always the same: This is a process. Unfortunately it takes time, but you're making excellent progress. Thanks? I don't know what I want him to say, but that's not usually it. This week, he very gently told me that there is no magic formula, so there is going to be a lot of trial and error. That was in response to my I took too much control complaint. His response actually did make me feel better because I hadn't actually screwed up. I just found out that I had taken too much which tells me to take less next time.
Of course, Izzy behaved beautifully during the lesson. He was focused, attentive, and very willing to let me call the shots. Thanks for making a liar out of me, dude. Sean kept repeating how pleased he was with the big brown horse. And it was true, I rode well, and Izzy let me be in control. When we moved on to some canter work, I told Sean that the day before I had really struggled with getting Izzy to let go of the right rein in the left lead canter. My solution was to "bounce" him off of it, but all that accomplished was me pushing Izzy off the rein only to have him slam back onto it, and he's heavy!
Here's where the One Big Take Away came in. Sean explained that Izzy is learning how to carry himself in the canter. Instead of insisting that he let go of the rein he's using for balance, I need to have him fill up the other rein. Gobsmacked! Poor Izzy. Think about a kid who needs help on the balance beam. He keeps falling to the right, but rather than actually helping him, you just keep shoving him to left a little bit assuming that he can center himself. Spoiler alert: he can't.
Sean suggested I counter flex in the canter and ride Izzy straighter so that he is able to balance equally on both reins. Once I did that, he magically stood up (instead of falling on his outside shoulder), found his balance, and let go of the right rein. I rolled my eyes and quipped, now why couldn't I think of that?
One big take away is worth the price of ten lessons.
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%