From Endurance to Dressage
Shoulder-in to Something Else
It's no secret that I struggled with finding my joy through the late fall and early winter as 2022 came to a close. I was just so discouraged by what seemed like zero progress with the big brown horse. I talked to Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and asked if he would mind if I took a few weeks off from our weekly lessons. I wasn't having fun, and I was very quickly losing any desire to ride at all. I spent the month of December riding only when I felt like it, which turned out to be at least three days a week. I did a small bit of traveling, hung out with friends, and tried some different things with my horses.
Having come out on the other side of that month of misery, I can honestly say that taking a month off was the right decision. I am happier and excited about what this year holds. During that month or so I also started volunteering and connected with old friends. If you're feeling blue, it's okay to take time off or try something new. I feel so much better for that break, and I am positive Izzy feels better for it, too.
Besides feeling refreshed, stepping away from weekly lessons for a month or so also gave me some better perspective. As I contemplated starting up with my weekly lessons again, I realized that I was a bit apprehensive. I worried that I'd immediately feel discouraged again and lose all of my new found joy and happiness. I took some time to think about life in general and realized that progress has been made. A lot of progress.
Last year at this time, most of the lessons focused on keeping Izzy in my dressage court, and I am not exaggerating. My dressage court is made up of labeled water jugs, PVC pipe, and round fence poles. Outside of the court is a pipe perimeter fence. Keeping enough control to stay within the court was frequently my goal for the lesson. Not only was I focused on staying in the court, staying on was equally important to me.
When I remembered how wild and wooly our rides were even just last year, I realized that we have made tons and tons of progress. Izzy almost never bolts any more, and if he does, it's a small scoot. We never crash through the rails either. In fact he's mostly pretty workmanlike these days. When Sean logged on for our Pivo lesson on Saturday, I explained some of this too him - all of which he agreed with, and then said that my next goal was to get consistency in the contact. Rather than bolting or spooking now, he snaps his head up or cranes his neck around to listen to whatever has caught his attention. It's frustrating, but nothing like bolting sideways at Mach 10.
To fix the off balance/distracted moments, Sean agreed that now is the time to start adding leg to compress Izzy to regain that balance. That will only work though if he hasn't fallen too far onto the forehand like he was for so long. Even just a year or two ago, people would tell me just add leg. Let him move out. Stop restricting him. Now, he's in a place where adding leg does engage his hind end. Before, it simply drove him further and further downhill as he spiraled out of control. Being able to feel the difference between knowing when adding leg will engage the hind end, lift his belly, and lower his head or send him crashing out of control is a huge step in the right direction.
When I can just squeeze to get the hind legs to engage, I do. When I feel that he is pushing too hard against me for me to add leg, I wrap him around my inside leg by doing the smallest circle I can. Sometimes that's a 15-meter circle, and other times it's a 10-meter circle. And when that won't work, I can also halt hard and fast. Halt. Right. Now. I add leg, and if he still wants to plow through my aids, I repeat the halt. It only takes a handful of times before he starts to carry himself again. Having three strategies that will affect his way of going is more progress than I realized.
For our first lesson since November, I wanted to keep things simple. We did some trot work to warm up and then did a few leg yields across the diagonal. My arena has been so wet that I had only just been able to leg yield the day before. We followed that up with some canter and a couple of attempts at the flying changes. They're nowhere near confirmed, but Sean felt like we are on a good path. I lost a little time over the past month, but up until the weather turned so wet and muddy, I was getting the changes more often than not.
Sean did show me a new exercise though that I've already been able to add to my rides. Izzy still doesn't have a medium trot. Sean showed me how to use the shoulder in to work on building the medium trot while still maintaining control. In the shoulder in, he encouraged me to push Izzy more forward, but since I already have him slightly bent, he can't hollow as easily in the bend. This is working really well. Sean also gave me a few variations. While doing shoulder in, he also suggested I leave the rail at a diagonal for a few strides but then go right back to shoulder-in on the quarterline or centerline. This will give me a way to get a stride or two of medium trot while still maintaining control.
It's nice to look forward to riding my horse again.
Comments are closed.
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%: