From Endurance to Dressage
As usual, I had a lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, on Saturday. Since our three-day boot camp a few weeks ago, I've been feeling really good about my riding and Izzy's progress. Before my weekly lesson, I always look for that "one thing" that I am sure I am must be doing incorrectly, and usually, there is more than one thing. For this lesson, I really wanted to review the counter flexion idea we had worked on the week before. I also had some things I thought were going quite well, and I wanted Sean to see them.
One of the things I've begun to be a bit smug about is our leg yield, especially that nifty little zig-zag leg yield from the long side to X and back to the same long side. Knowing it was looking pretty good, I threw it in to our warm up expecting a "Wow! That was fantastic." type of reply. Instead, I heard, "that's a lovely leg yield for First Level." All I could do was laugh. As they say, pride goeth before a smack down by your trainer. Sean was right. We all know the movements are easy for Izzy. Doing baby stuff at this point just makes me feel good, but it does nothing to push Izzy.
Right now, Izzy is learning how to let go through his neck and poll and push more from behind. To help him loosen up through his back, we need to be doing a lot of bending lines and lateral work. Sean gave me a new leg yield that turned out to be just the challenge Izzy needs. Instead of leg yielding to the center line and back to the rail, Sean instructed me to leg yield to the three-quarter line and back to the long side. That doesn't sound as hard in a full court, but my dressage court is only 50-meters which means the leg yield has to be very steep to make it there and back again.
One of the things that is difficult about always riding by yourself is that it can be difficult to know how hard to push. Sean's been encouraging me to steepen the leg yields, but I still tend toward the conservative side. After playing around with the steeper leg yield that Sean recommended, I felt that I'd been given "permission" to really go for it. When I rode on Sunday, I had a blast playing around with steep leg yields, and Izzy gobbled it right up!
Sean and I also talked more about the counter flexion that we've been doing in the canter. Since Izzy had been a bit sore, I wasn't sure I was asking for it correctly which is why I wanted to revisit it after the chiropractor had been out. For Izzy, the counter flexion serves to reposition his shoulders, which he wants to push to the outside. By counter flexing, especially in the canter, I can pick up that shoulder and put it back in front of his haunches. It also helps to balance him evenly on both reins. Instead of trying to force his head down, a little counter flexion here and there actually helps to balance him.
Riding once a week means that I don't usually experience massive AHAs, but lately, a lot of little aha moments have begun falling into place. My "feel," that mysterious component all riders strive to improve, is definitely advancing. Now that Izzy has begun to enjoy the work, we have a conversation instead of one of us trying to exit stage right while the other tries not to die. Guess who is who.
I won't get to ride quite as frequently for the next six weeks, partly because school has started and partly because it's still well over hundred degrees in the afternoon. We have a show coming in the next two weeks though, so I'll need to make my weekends really count.
You can bet I'll be schooling those steeper leg yields!
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%: