From Endurance to Dressage
Stepping Up My Game
While I ABSOLUTELY did not want to go to the CDS show we did a week or so back, I am glad I did. Over the weekend, I had a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, and we were able to talk about what information it gave us. When Sean asked me to talk about how I felt about the show that wasn't, I came up with the following feedback.
The day before the show, Sean realized that Izzy has begun to associate centerline with test riding. Based on that realization, we only did a warm up and scratched the two tests. Over the past week or so, I have begun using the centerline for changes of direction instead of crossing the diagonal or doing 10-meter half circles. I can already see marked improvement in his ability to go down centerline without a meltdown.
During Saturday's lesson, I used the diagonal a few times, but most of the time I turned down centerline, walked near X, and proceeded at a trot alternating tracking right or left. It didn't matter what we were schooling - shoulder in, travers, or even leg yields. All of them come after a halt and salute in a test. I have also been giving Izzy walk breaks on the centerline, even halting at X so that he can catch his breath and rest a moment. My thinking is twofold: first, I want centerline to no longer be a thing, and two, I want him to like centerline because it means he's either finished or doing something easy.
The second thing Sean and I talked about was my need to now ride with more intention. I described it to Sean thusly: for the past year, it feels as though we have worked on deconstructing Izzy's and my relationship. We stripped things down to basics. I became more patient. I only asked when he was ready. I listened to him and made accommodations for his fear or anxiety. We are now ready to get back to intentional work.
What does that mean? It means cantering on my aids. Doing transitions at K instead of circling around and around waiting for it to be "right." And of course, riding that way means that Izzy has to give me control. Over the past few months, we've seen that he is willing to give it, but that means I have to actually take it. All of which brings me to the third idea.
#3 Effective Use of My Aids
Riding a complicated horse is well, complicated. It means my aids must have more clarity, be more precise, and come much more quickly. I am not a bad rider. Many would even say I am a good rider. In my opinion, the difference between pros and amateurs is in how we apply our aids. I frequently ask Sean what he would have done in a similar situation or why my aid didn't work. His answer is always about timing. Professional trainers, by definition, are simply better riders, with better timing.
Izzy is not exactly an amateur-friendly horse which means my timing needs to get better if I want to show him with any hope of getting decent scores. To that end, my aids need to get quicker, but I also need to develop nuanced aids, or as we call it in education, differentiated aids. I've been working on the adjustability of my aids, particularly in the corrective aids. I need to be able to apply subtle aids and not-so-subtle aids equally quickly with an immediate return to a happy place when I get the required response.
Sean thinks Izzy is finally at a place emotionally where he can now accept a firmer correction. We saw it on Saturday. One of Izzy's favorite resistances is to fling his head up and push back against my hands. It's a tug of war that I cannot win. Izzy tried to blow through my aids a few different times, but I was right there with a quick jerk of the reins to say, No, you will not ignore me. Sean has stressed over and over this past year that if I am not emotional about my riding, Izzy will find these corrections fair and justified. And then hopefully, he'll agree to let me take care of the decisions.
I finished Saturday's ride feeling more encouraged than I have in months. Sean didn't give me permission to beat up on my horse, not that I would, but he does think Izzy is ready for me to take more control. Doing that means that I need to enforce my aids without emotion and with better timing.
Do you hear that, Izzy? Just call me the Enforcer.
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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%: