From Endurance to Dressage
I am finally back to having weekly lessons with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. This week's lesson was very telling.
We started out at a very pokey walk; it was hot and Izzy is getting his winter coat. While Izzy pretended to stretch down - he was actually rooting the reins in an effort to not do anything, I gave Sean a quick run down of the things I had worked on since last week's lesson: suppleness at the canter, flying changes, leg yield with more power, shoulder in, and the half pass. Since I hadn't had major issues, we picked up where we had left off the week before.
As we worked, Sean made suggestions here and there. My right arm likes to do weird things no matter which direction we're going. I need remember to sit in the direction of the bend, usually the right. I need to check to see that I am not locked up somewhere causing Izzy to lock up somewhere. I love all of this critique of my position because when I ride correctly, Izzy responds.
It wasn't until the end of the lesson that I had a pretty solid AHA! moment. We had come back to the canter work. Izzy is anticipating the flying change, so we were working on not asking for it. Instead, Sean had me focus on the moments before the change. Since Izzy wants to anticipate the change, Sean told me to exaggerate the bend until Izzy relaxes. Then I can do whatever transition I want to do - a trot or even the walk. Once we make the transition, I can then change the bend.
That all sounded good, but It wasn't working. As soon as I made the corner to canter across the diagonal, Izzy started hopping in anticipation of a change even though I wasn't going to ask for one. I finally told Sean that I needed a minute to get some control back. I told him I was going to ride like he wasn't watching. I heard him lift his eyebrows, but he agreed to see what (horror) I was about to pull out of my pocket.
I put Izzy into a canter, and as soon as he threatened to hop and break gait, I flexed him to the inside, stuck my leg on, and pushed him forward into the canter. I started with a bit of counter canter by coming off the rail in a very shallow loop. As we worked, I made the loops steeper and steeper, riding 10-meter circles whenever he threatened to jerk the bend away.
After working him both directions, Sean and I had a chat. I laughed as I told him that his method of "over exaggerating the bend" wasn't working for me until I pulled on my big girl panties and over exaggerated the bend. I explained that when I ride with him, I do my best to ride well. When I ride alone, I find that there are times when I have to man up, pull out the big guns, and get sh%t done.
Again, I heard him roll his eyes as he exclaimed, "I want you ride like that ALL the time!" His exasperation came though clearly. When I am in a lesson, I tend to try to make things look pretty. I don't want him to see our "ugly moments," those times when I need to get in there, fix it, and get out. Sean explained that that is EXACTLY what he wants to see me do.
With Izzy, I have to tread so carefully. If I push too hard, he loses it, but when I don't push hard enough, he gets away with doing whatever he wants to, like avoiding the flying changes. Sean said something though that gave me a big boost of confidence. You know the difference, and you can tell when you need to change the conversation. He's right; I do know when I need to move on to something else or when I need to come at the problem from a different angle.
We finished up with me promising to bring my big guns daily. Izzy works better for me when I do. Sean left me with this thought: ask three times. If I don't get the response, that's when I know to pull out my big gun and get things done. I promised I'd try.
Now when I tack up I have to remember to grab my big girl panties AND a big gun!
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%: