From Endurance to Dressage
I am just coming off a five-day series of professional development sessions, or PD as they are colloquially known. The purpose of those PD days are to load teachers with a bunch of new ideas before school begins; after nearly 30 years of teaching, not much is original. For our new teachers, these events are probably more helpful than they are for us veterans of the profession. Either way, one word that I heard a few times over the past two weeks was intentional. It turns out that riding with intention is a pretty good way to make progress.
On Saturday, I had my regularly scheduled lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. After my three-day boot camp at STC Dressage the previous weekend, I gave Izzy Monday off. I rode Tuesday, but then I attended three days of PD, one of which turned out to be on the hottest day of the summer. I didn't get to ride again until Saturday morning. When Sean asked how things were going, I had to say they were the same as when he had seen us last. Fortunately, we had left on a really good note, so Izzy and I were able to pick up right where we had left off.
The one thing that I did mention to Sean was that his fabulous 10-meter, repeating circle exercise had not gone to plan when I had ridden the Tuesday before. I just couldn't get the bend or suppleness that I had felt when we rode at his place. Sean reminded me that I am now wearing spurs and that I need to use them with purpose. Probably because I had just sat through several days of education for teachers, but all of a sudden, that idea of using the spur purposefully made a ton of sense. A huge light bulb went on.
Sean described it like this: if I use that spur consistently to convey my intention, Izzy will begin to attach meaning to the spur. In our case, it's Izzy's right ribcage. He likes to push against my right leg which means I can't get any bend. Sean explained that if I ask with my calf and get no response, I need to use that spur very deliberately to show Izzy that my calf on means yield the ribcage and bend. If he doesn't respond to the calf aid, I need to enforce the need for bend by using the spur. If I do that consistently with intention, Izzy will begin to remember that if he doesn't respond to the calf, the next aid will be the spur.
I don't know why that was such a difficult idea to comprehend, but my understanding of when and how to use the spur with Izzy became crystal clear. I quit using spurs quite some time ago because I had developed the very bad habit of over-using them. A month or so ago, I had to put them back on because Izzy's forward button had gone kaput. He had decided to quit listening to my seat and legs which meant I was kicking him harder and harder to get him to move his bloomin' arse. It's interesting that I was able to determine when and how much spur to apply to fix the forward problem but not the bend problem. But that's just me. I am not always the sharpest crayon in the box.
In just the few rides that I have begun to use the spur to reinforce my bend aid, Izzy has begun to respond more and more quickly to my calf. Hooray! The spurs haven't fixed all of our bend issues though. During the lesson, Sean gave me yet another tool to add to my toolbox. We have the same bending/suppleness problem in the canter, but the spur hasn't been as effective in getting Izzy to bend through his body; he just speeds up instead of yielding his ribcage. Sean offered this technique: instead of pushing my hands down in an effort to get Izzy to round over his topline, Sean encouraged me to counter flex by bringing the rein up and over towards my hip.
Holy mother of Moses! It was as though someone had taken my chalkboard and given me a computer. Suddenly, I had a new level of control. Instead of trying to get the bend by forcing Izzy to bend, I helped him get off the rein on which he was leaning so that he could balance between both reins. Holy hell, people, we have just made it to a new level of understanding. By counter flexing, I took away Izzy's ability to brace and lock his poll on one rein. By counter flexing, I was able to gently push him back and forth between both reins which allowed him to regain his balance and carry the bit without leaning on it.
By putting both of those concepts to use - using the spur with purpose and counter flexing in the canter to rebalance, I was able to ride with much more intention. Instead of just trotting around stiffly or cantering on a wooden bench, I have two new tools that will help me keep Izzy more supple.
I have these next three days off, and I will be riding every single day from now through Sunday. Monday, my contracted days begin so there won't be any more weekday rides unless the temperature is below 100 degrees. Let's hope nature cooperates because I really want to cement these two new ideas before I lose them.
Purposeful. Deliberate. Intentional. My dressage dictionary is expanding.
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%