From Endurance to Dressage
After having watched Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, work Izzy the day before, my confidence took a big step forward. Confidence is a weird thing. I am an incredibly self-assured person. I don't take crap from anyone, I am not easily intimidated, and I feel secure in what I do know. Where I start to question myself is when I don't see results. We all know Izzy is a complicated ride. He's not at all tolerant of the mistakes I make, my lapses in balance, or any indecisiveness on my part. Because of all of that, I worry that a bad choice is going to make things worse.
Over the year and a half that I've been riding with Sean, my box of tools has filled up. Now, if I don't get results, I grab a new tool. In the past, without a tool to grab, I would simply freeze, afraid to do something even worse than what I was already trying. As I watched Sean ride, I paid close attention to the tools he was using. I realized that they were the same tools he has given me, but I don't always use them as thoroughly as I could. Seeing that I do have the right tools, I found myself eager to get back in the saddle myself.
We had planned for me to ride at 7:30 a.m. As I always do, I started helping with barn chores as soon as I got up. While Sean worked on turning horses out and feeding breakfast, I started cleaning stalls. I glanced at my watch now and then convinced I had time for one more stall. Eventually, I realized it was 7:10 and I hadn't started tacking up. I was dripping wet, my horse was un-groomed (but clean), and I began to feel that "show" anxiety building in my chest.
I hollered out to Sean to ask if it would be better if I rode after his 8:30 virtual lesson. His answer felt a bit ambiguous. While he had said fine, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was going to cause a disruption in his day despite his repeated assurances that it was fine. As he continued working, I waffled between going or waiting. Finally, my fear of disrupting his day beat out my fear of feeling rushed, so I gave one last yell, Let's do it!
Since my show/performance anxiety is obviously a problem, I recognized that forcing myself to go would be an excellent opportunity to see if I could work through the anxiety that I was feeling by being rushed. I ran a brush over Izzy's coat, picked out his feet, and saddled up. I was in the tack by 7:31 a.m.
Fortunately, Sean was still doing turnouts and feeding so I had ten or fifteen minutes to myself which gave me enough time to shake off the self-induced anxiety. As I slowly shifted my focus to the task at hand, I thought back to how I had seen Sean ride. I reminded myself that it was okay to keep my spur in until Izzy stepped away from it. It was okay to flex him until he quit pushing back. Little by little, it became clear that I was truly in control.
While we didn't tackle anything new, Sean had me think about the energy. Because Izzy's preference is to do a sewing machine trot, I tend to keep the energy low. Sean has been slowly teaching me to pay attention to those moments when Izzy is soft and balanced and use those opportunities to push my hands forward and allow just a bit more energy - not a lot, just a bit. If I can incorporate more of those ask and receive moments into my every day riding, I'll see more and more of them. That's how I'll get a more rideable form of energy.
One thing we did tackle that we haven't worked on much of late is the turn on the haunches. Sean had me focus on maintaining the rhythm of the walk no matter what. To the right, that is easier to do. Things tend to get a bit sticky to the left. Sean asked if I could feel the 1-2-3-4 rhythm of the walk. I said that most of the time I can, but occasionally the walk gets too quiet. Bam! There it was: when the walk gets quiet in the back, it's because Izzy has lost the walk rhythm. As soon as Sean connected those dots for me, I was able to catch the stickiness before it happened. As soon as I think the walk is getting too quiet, it's because Izzy's no longer walking. This will really help me work on the turn on the haunches when I am alone.
While it doesn't sound like we worked on much, it was a fantastic ride. Izzy never spooked, and he stayed focused on me for the entire lesson. Several times during that hour I reminded Sean what riding Izzy had been like last summer. Our rides a year ago were about catching the spook before it happened or recovering from a spook when one did happen. Last year, we spent most of the time getting Izzy rebalanced over and over as he fell apart. Now, his balance is so improved that even when he does lose it, I can quickly get him back together, often without even a change of gait.
I finished the ride brimming with confidence, certain in the knowledge that together we are making great progress. Stay tuned for Day 3.
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%: