From Endurance to Dressage
That Hard to Find Piece
I like puzzles. I rarely do them because once I dump the pieces out of the box, I can't focus on anything else. My strategy is to locate all of the edge pieces first so that I can build the frame of the puzzle. Once that's done, I begin working on the different pictures of the puzzle, usually by color. Every once in a while, I'll get to a point where I'll really need a certain piece to connect several sections. I'll know what it should look like: red on the bottom with a bit of a blue stripe, three "outs" and one "in." When I find that one elusive piece, a section of the puzzle is revealed.
Over the weekend, I took a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. My ride from the day before had been a complete disaster. It was so bad that after just 26 minutes in the saddle, I burst into tears, jumped down, and put Izzy away. I sent a very sad faced emoji-filled text to Sean and started writing Izzy's for sale ad. Sean called me later that evening to help me figure out what had happened, and we came up with a game plan for the next day's ride.
The next morning, with Sean in my ear coaching, Izzy started out really focused and happy. Sean explained (once again) that I had made a good decision the day before. Quitting when things are going nowhere is a good training choice if the rider - that would be me, can't control her emotions. Izzy's willingness to work with me on Saturday proved that what had happened the day before hadn't caused any resentment on his part. While I was happy about his willingness to once again be my partner, I still needed to know just what the hell had happened. It didn't take us long to figure it out.
With a CDS-rated show the next day, the plan was to run through the tests a few times to see what might be fixable in 30 minutes. As soon as I turned up centerline and tried to track left, Izzy spooked hard. I tried it again, and again, and again. It became apparent very quickly that centerline was going to be a very big problem. Suddenly, there was the missing puzzle piece.
We've known from the very beginning that Izzy gets show nerves. We've been able to do really good work in the warm up, but as soon as we get in the dressage court, Izzy gets so tense that he becomes very difficult to "ride." During the year that I've been working with Sean, he's been able to slowly uncover the many causes of Izzy's tension. In the beginning, I had so little control while riding him that it was hard to know what the problem was. The list has been pretty long, but we have steadily addressed them one by one, checking them off as we go.
At the top of Izzy's Tension Causing Issues list is now centerline. Fortunately, Sean has seen this one before and had a plan ready. Sean was able to recognize that Izzy knows the difference between simply schooling and test riding, not even showing, just test riding. Izzy has associated centerline, rightly so, with a test. He clearly has test anxiety even if it is just at home with no judge.
To overcome this anxiety, Sean's strategy is to ride the centerline - sometimes halting, sometimes not, into one movement. He does that until the horse no longer worries about the centerline and the first movement. From there, he builds on a second movement and a third, all very slowly doing only as much as the horse feels comfortable doing.
I now have homework, a lot of homework. Every ride will now include work down the centerline. Speedy loved showing so much that going down centerline was always so much fun. He earned his best scores on both the centerline and crossing the diagonal, and he especially loved the last centerline because he knew he was done with the test. It was a part of test riding that I rarely worked on. Don't fix it if it isn't broken. Izzy's centerline is definitely broken.
Having a problem isn't discouraging to me if I have a plan to work on it. A problem with no plan makes me want to throw in the towel and quit. I am really encouraged by this new puzzle piece, and I can't wait to get started on this next section of our puzzle.
Now, where's that blue piece with with the straight edges?
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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%: