From Endurance to Dressage
Stuck on the Word "NO!"
Some weeks, like last week, Izzy is unbelievably fantastic. Other times, his level of resistance ranges from lil' turd to full on jackass. During my Saturday lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, Izzy was pretty stuck on the word no. The thing that makes Izzy so challenging to work with is that his reason for the "no" is never the same.
A few weeks back, we started into the new grass hay which looked nearly identical to the old grass hay. Izzy's poop got pretty loose, so we carefully mixed the old with the new. For that week's lesson, Izzy complained the whole time which I attributed to a gassy tummy. This weekend, we had a morning freeze, so his water was frozen. I got the water running, but he refused a drink. Once the lesson was over, I again offered him water, but he turned his nose up at it. Instead, he stepped to the side and took a long pee that was a lovely light yellow. So while I thought his no can do attitude might be because he was thirsty, it turned out that he simply needed to pee.
What I have learned over the many, many years that I have owned this horse is that if he feels like it, he is fantastic to ride. If he doesn't feel like it, you're S.O.L., screwed, or up a creek without a paddle. This makes consistent progress a hard thing to achieve. During the lesson - which was made particularly difficult because I could only hear about one word out of ten, long story, I just kept going back to Sean's strategy of refusing to take Izzy's bait.
That one idea, not rising to Izzy's challenge, has proven to be the solution to many of Izzy's issues. For most horses, adding leg is the key, but not for Izzy. Sometimes, yes, adding a bit of leg does work if he's already on board. If he's brewing for a fight, adding leg just adds more fuel to his fire. Like us, horses have a fight or flight response to situations they don't want to be in. Izzy's hard spooks are his flight response kicking in, but when he can't get away, he is just as happy to fight about it.
During Saturday's lesson, Izzy just wasn't feeling up to it. Rather than spook, he just kept saying no by blowing off my aids or refusing to go forward. I jumped off and grabbed the lunge whip and rode with that for a minute. After dropping it and then coming up against the same problem a few minutes later, I snapped off a thin branch which also got Izzy's engine working. Since it was too thin to actually hit him with, I eventually dropped it as it had done its job of motivating Izzy to move his butt.
When Izzy refused my aid, Sean suggested I circle him. Sean jokingly said that he wanted Izzy to be the King of Circles by the time we were finished. Every time Izzy ignored my inside leg, particularly in the shoulder-in, Sean had me do a 10-meter circle. Eventually, after dragging along the lunge whip, waving a twiggy branch, and circling, Izzy let out a big, deep breath and started working for me.
The next day, I rode with spurs to reinforce the idea that my leg is an aid that he must listen to. That reminder of course was a conversation that Izzy did not want to have, so there were a few oh, crap! moments. I didn't fight with him. I simply told him that listening to the leg was a better idea than ignoring the leg. Izzy lets me know when the spur is too much of an aid, so I dropped my heel and rode from the calf. Izzy finally got to work.
Izzy makes me feel that I am stuck in a failure cycle - I try something new, then I fail. I try again, and that too fails. What I am slowly beginning to understand is that I am not failing, I am learning. Izzy has made me a much better rider than I was before. I always knew that earning a USDF Bronze Medal did not mean I was a good rider. I am incredibly proud of that accomplishment, but I have become a much better rider through my struggle to ride Izzy well.
They don't give medals for that, but I think the struggle is worth it.
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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
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2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
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