From Endurance to Dressage
After Saturday's very disappointing ride, I stoically saddled up on Sunday morning - in front of Hurricane Hillary's arrival. Knowing that Izzy needs to rebuild fitness and suppleness, I planned to work the left lead canter a bit and hoped to remind him that I was there to help.
The ride didn't start out too terribly, but he was behind my leg, confident that I wouldn't press him. He was wrong, and the ride quickly started to go south when I poked him with my spurs. Schooling Izzy takes a very delicate touch. Too little and he blows me off, too much and he's pissed. The problem is that his version of a "try" is often so negligible as to be invisible. As Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has often reminded me, enforcing my aids is different than forcing Izzy to do something too hard. So, I started enforcing.
Izzy is always looking for a fight, so I have to work really hard to not take his antics personally even when bolts, bucks, and tries to launch us to the moon. Instead of engaging in that conversation, I slowed everything way down and rode a ton of bending lines. Just about the time I was wondering how many months it was going to take to get the supple horse of spring back, the ranch owner walked by. I started chatting about something I had thought about in her trouble with making the turns on her mare Alli.
One of the things she was struggling with was trying to turn while her horse just kept going the opposite direction. I had suggested she use more outside rein, but it occurred to me that it might be more of an outside leg issue. So, as she joined me at B, I showed her on Izzy how the turn should actually be done with the outside aids. The inside bend is to show the direction you want to go, but we don't actually turn with the inside rein.
The funny thing was that the more I demonstrated those ideas to the ranch owner, the more relaxed and willing Izzy became. In no time at all, he softened his back and started stretching towards the bit. His tempo got steady and even, and he relaxed into the work. He was so relaxed that we cantered both to the left and right without the violent outburst from the day before.
That doesn't mean he was perfect because he wasn't. He threw in one crow hop that had a lot of air between his feet and the ground. I gave an internal oh, shit! as I sat up and back and slammed on the brakes. Fortunately he doesn't always remember how big and powerful he is. The day that it occurs to him, we're all in trouble.
By the time we were finished, I was thrilled with Izzy's work. While it was pretty simple stuff - canter transitions and spiral in and out on the circle, Izzy let me demonstrate all sorts of weird things as I showed the ranch owner how different parts of our bodies can influence our horses' way of going.
I know why he was so good despite my lowered expectations. While talking to the ranch owner, I kept breathing and kept my eyes up and ahead rather than having a laser focus on the back of Izzy's head. By laughing and talking to the ranch owner while I rode, my body stayed relaxed, and I was much less bothered by Izzy's missteps. I didn't take it personally. Instead, I treated him like one of my 5th grade students - rewarding the correct answers and redirecting when he wasn't "getting it."
I told the ranch owner I need her at the arena with me more often. There I was thinking I was teaching her something when in reality, she was quietly reminding me of what I needed to do to be a better rider for Izzy.
Peer coaching is an underrated strategy!
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%: