From Endurance to Dressage
The Warm Up
An alternate title might be "When Sucking Less Is a Big Improvement." Let's just get this out there - we did not do well. We did not get any qualifying scores. We did not wow anyone with our not-so-fabulous movement. And yet, by Sunday morning, I was teary-eyed with immense love and pride for my wonderful horse. (For as long as they're up, you can see photo proofs that tell a beautiful story.)
The truth is nothing went "well," but everything went better, and in some instances, a lot better. Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, remarked on the drastic improvement numerous times over the three days he coached us. For Friday's warm up ride, Izzy was a ball of tension, but with Sean's help, he became rideable. Not just I-survived-and-didn't-die rideable, but the kind of rideable where you can actually ask for something and get it.
The three biggest things that I learned during this show were these:
I loved Sean's phrasing about the baiting. He's right. Izzy wants me to let him do what he wants to do, but since he has so much fear, his choices are not good ones. Even so, he continues to try it, and each time that he successfully jerks the rein from me, he is able to do what he wants which leaves him feeling alone and worried. As I started to feel the jerk coming, I kept him bent around my leg and moved the bit in his mouth so that he couldn't jerk the rein from me. When he did manage to get it from me, I was able to recover much more quickly, so much so that by the end of the show, I had control over that issue.
One thing that I said to Sean after the show was this: there are a lot of ways to earn a 5.0. With Speedy, there was only one way - the movements were just not good enough. With Izzy, he can do all the movements with ease, but his tension affects his stride length, impulsion, bend, angle, and straightness. We earned a lot of 5.0s. We also earned a lot of 4.0s, mostly for his non-existent medium trot. With such a tight back, he simply can't get a longer stride. It will come though.
Second Level Test 1
While the scores tell the story one way, they don't tell the whole story; things like getting a 6.0 for the 10-meter canter on the right lead. This was the first time we've earned a 6.0. It was also the first time that he held the canter for the entire circle. If you watch the video from 2-1 (down below), you can probably catch the moment where he loses the canter rhythm for half a stride. I knew it was coming and was able to catch it before he lost the canter. On Sunday's 2-1 test, which was the worst feeling of the four, he couldn't hold the canter, but I'll take the improvement I saw on Saturday's test.
Second Level, Test 1's scores and video are below with more about Second Level, Test 2 further down. It's a lot to read, I know, but it feels right to share my thoughts about the whole day in one long post.
Second Level Test 2
After our initial warmup and first test, I was able to take Izzy back to the barn for a quick drink of water, and then we walked back to the warm up. He was better than before. in fact, each time we went back to wherever it was, he was better. Standing at the trailer all alone, being in the warm up all alone - he just developed a tiny bit of confidence each time. Sean is a mind reader; he knows what I am thinking, and he knows what Izzy is thinking. Being able to fix things before they get big is one of Sean's super powers.
No matter how many times I lamented our scores, Sean held fast to his commitment to the idea that even Rome wasn't built in a day. I really appreciate his vision. He can see our future even if I can't. Sean reminded me again and again that the scores don't matter. Getting Izzy to "let me in" so that I can make the decisions is all that we're focusing on. At one point during a warm up, I can't remember before which test or day, Sean told me to forget about the movements as Izzy already knows them. Instead, I need to focus on getting him soft and round enough so that he can do them. That one comment lifted so much pressure off my shoulders that I could actually work on what Sean wanted me to accomplish.
When both tests had been ridden and Izzy untacked and resting at the trailer, I went up to the show office to grab my tests. I knew they wouldn't be great, but I did expect a little more, and so did Sean. He looked them over and felt that the judge had been a wee bit tough on some of the movements, but that might have just been his papa bear don't mess with my cub reaction. For Second Level, Test 1, we scored 56.081% and for Test 2 we earned 52.927%.
If I keep in mind Sean's reasoning that 1% improvement will compound over time, I should be thrilled as the Test 1 score was five percent better than the last two Test 1 scores earned in April (51.486% and 51.892%). For Test 2, the progress is not so obvious. Our 52.927% fell right in the middle of the last two Test 2 scores of 50.854% and 53.537%. Of course I want higher scores, but I am going to trust Sean's process. He has been right about every suggestion so far, and when I implement them, good things happen.
The score sheets and video for Test 2 are below.
Part 2 coming up. Stay tuned for more.
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 7/24/22
(*) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: