From Endurance to Dressage
Over the past nine months, my Saturday mornings have included a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. As much as I'd like to sleep in, at least for a little while, I enjoy the early morning lessons more than I need an extra hour in bed. This Saturday, Sean and several other clients were at a show in Temecula, so I didn't get a lesson. Did I sleep in? No, and not only did I not sleep in, I somehow made it to the barn a bit earlier than normal.
While I missed having Sean in my ear coaching me around the dressage court, he was with me in spirit. I rode just the same as I would have had he been there virtually. As I sit and read that last sentence, I am chuckling. What strange times we live in. My coach, who's never even with me in person, couldn't even make it virtually. Is that weird or what?
I tend to keep my weekday rides a little shorter so that on Saturday, Izzy still has plenty of gas left in his tank. On Sunday, I usually only ride long enough to review what I learned the day before. Since I was on a horse with a full tank, I rode for nearly an hour doing what I know we would have done had Sean been "with" me. That might seem about as interesting as watching grass grow, but it has only been in the past few months that Izzy's I AM DONE meter has allowed us to work past 30 minutes. For so long the second half of the lesson has been all about figuring out how to re-engage him without getting sucked into the fight he so desperately wants to start. That I was able to get 50 minutes of solid work done without needing to refocus him, speaks volumes about our progress.
After my last lesson, Sean was able to help me identify yet another part of my body that needed some tweaking. My right shoulder and upper arm do not move with the same level of elasticity as does my left. Throughout the week, I focused on swinging my right arm more freely while walking, and I even did some "swimming arms" while walking back and forth from my classroom to the school's office. I am quite sure I looked a bit like a crazy old lady, but I didn't care. I also realized that I spend a lot of my day holding on to a computer mouse with my right hand which definitely creates a different amount of tension in my arm that my left never sees.
While riding on Saturday morning, I spent a good deal of mental energy focused on my right arm. Was it moving? Was it moving as much as the left? Why was it stuck against my ribs? Move, damn you, move! The issue is not not fixed, but being aware of the fact that my right arms does not move like my left arm is information that has been filed away in the good to know category.
After doing some honest self-critiquing, I can say that I have definitely made some progress in addressing my unevenness. My arms move pretty well in the walk, and in the trot the horse's head is fairly stable so the "give" by the rider is different. It's in the canter where the rider really needs to follow with her arms. And by rider, I mean me. I find it very telling that it is often the right rein that is the stickiest in the canter. The right rein is the one that Izzy wants to lean on the most. Could that be because I've given him a place to lean on?
Now that I am aware that Izzy's lack of balance between both reins is partly my fault, I am working very consciously to make sure that I don't brace my right arm against my side. The result is that I find myself relying much more on my seat and legs to control the canter rather than using the right rein. I saw the effect in Izzy almost immediately. There has been more movement in his back, which means the canter is beginning to feel more like a rolling wave than a pogo stick.
While I was able to be very effective on my own on Saturday, I'll be glad to be back on schedule with Sean. I am sure that "fixing" my right shoulder will only reveal the next crooked link in my riding.
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%