From Endurance to Dressage
"Boot Camp" is probably too strong of a word, but over the weekend, Izzy and I did spend three days with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. Not only did I have a blast hanging out with some amazing friends, I learned a lot and got a big confidence boost in the process. So, sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and settle in. This is going to take a week ...
I had big plans for the weekend besides just taking lessons, so I had Izzy loaded by 5:55 a.m. on Friday morning. We pulled into STC Dressage right around 8:30 a.m. which gave me plenty of time to watch Sean at work. At my barn, the only people who ride besides myself are the ranch owner on her gaited horse and another woman who rides dressage, but at the lowest levels. I don't get the opportunity to watch riders who are better than me or watch a trainer ride or give lessons to riders of different levels. Watching riders who are better than me gives me a visual that I can try to emulate while I am riding.
Once Izzy was tucked in his stall with a late breakfast, I grabbed a water and settled in for the morning. Sean's business has grown so much over the past year that he now has assistants and staff that clean stalls, tack up horses, wam up horses, and cool down horses. As I sat at C watching Sean ride both client and sale horses, I studied his position, his aids, and his strategy for working through resistance. When he would give the horses a walk break, I asked questions and gobbled up every answer. For me, I learn a lot while riding, but watching good riding or good teaching is equally as valuable.
Part of my boot camp plan included watching Sean ride Izzy. I really wanted to see him ride the big brown horse for two reasons. First, he hadn't been on Izzy for at least a year, and I wanted him to feel what I feel. Second, I wanted to see if I am the problem. Fortunately, Izzy challenged Sean too, so I didn't watch a trainer take my complicated horse and do fabulous things with him. Right away my confidence level started to come up. That ended up being a theme for the weekend. Rather than feeling like I am the world's worst rider, each day had me feeling more confident and optimistic about my riding.
Sean is a very quiet rider, so it is difficult to see his aids and corrections, but since I know Izzy from front to back, I could see when Sean was strategically more insistent. Those are the moments that I was looking for. It doesn't do me any good to focus on the lovely moments; I need to see how to get those moments. In the leg yield above, I watched Sean insist that Izzy get his haunches over and off Sean's leg. Izzy's tail swishing is a good indicator that he was telling Sean no. My biggest take away from watching Sean ride was that I need to get in there a bit deeper and keep my aid working until Izzy gives.
A trainer's job is to help both horse and rider, so Sean had a little conversation with Izzy. They talked about softening the back to allow more swing, being looser through the neck and poll, and moving away from the inside leg. The one thing that excited both Sean and I the most was that over the course of three solid days of riding, Izzy stayed in the conversation. He never once checked out or lost his marbles. Even when Sean used a stronger aid, Izzy tried to resist, but he never exited stage right. And that wasn't because Sean is a better rider than me. It's because I've worked really hard over the past year to gain Izzy's trust. So rather than giving us the hoof, Izzy decided to trust Sean even when he felt like the work was too hard. Giving myself credit for that is hard to do, but I am owning it.
Izzy's response to the pressure that Sean put on him was another thing that boosted my confidence over the weekend. My plan for the three days was simple: get some solid, eyes-on coaching that would help me ride my horse better. I got so much more. Walking away a more confident rider turned out to be the result of that coaching.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I am up in the tack.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: