From Endurance to Dressage
Some girls cry, some girls don't. When I was younger, tears happened more frequently than they do now, but they are still known to happen. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I did lose my cool for a minute during Saturday's virtual lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage.
First of all, crying during a lesson is embarrassing. It is even more so since my trainer is a man. How horribly uncomfortable must that have been for him? My own husband gets panicked when I cry, and he's known me for more than thirty years. Even worse is that I did it during a Pivo Meet which is essentially like crying over the phone. Sean couldn't see my face, but he could hear my sniffly nose and the waver in my voice.
This past three weeks have been overwhelming for me. I am a teacher - yes, I know our medical professionals are amazing, but I am not sure how hard people realize this whole business with COVID has been on educators. Frankly, things suck. I volunteered for my district's virtual academy, and it has been a veritable shit show, excuse the expression. I've been working twelve hour days, missing most meals, and falling into bed exhausted. I am only riding on the weekends, and I don't think I am doing Izzy any favors when I do ride.
That I even took the lesson speaks to my commitment to improving my riding no matter how exhausted I am. When I first heard Sean's cheerful Good morning! through my ear buds, I was determined to suck it up buttercup even though I wanted nothing more than to go back to bed. My motto though is Saddle Up Anyway, so I did.
After Izzy had warmed up and Sean began putting us through some simple exercises, this feeling of utter failure swept over me. I couldn't get balanced. I was slow to make corrections. Even though we were doing freaking leg yields, an exercise that I should have been able to perform in my sleep, I just couldn't. I took a deep shuddery breath, brought Izzy to a walk, and asked Sean if I could have a moment as I was having a little meltdown.
Sean immediately sensed my frustration and removed any and all pressure. His voice was filled with so much compassion that that made me feel both worse and better all at the same time. I quickly assured him that it wasn't anything he had said. I was just overwhelmed with work related stress. Being spread so thin has left me feeling like a failure at everything. I haven't been keeping up on cooking meals, doing laundry, or even making it to the barn. I felt like a bit fat loser who sucked at life.
Sean laughed sympathetically and welcomed me to the club. Being a trainer with unmet goals of his own gives him plenty of reasons to feel dejected and discouraged. He wasn't making light of my feelings or saying that his dark moments were worse than mine. Instead, he was letting me know that we all feel that way about our riding, and it's okay.
While it is always so hard for me to believe, Sean insisted that I have made incredible progress with Izzy over the past few months, and he is anything but disappointed. It might have been hard to believe, but I appreciated the positive feedback. The meltdown lasted for only a couple of minutes, and I quickly shook it off and got back to work. For the rest of the lesson, I was able to push the mental baggage aside.
Sean helped me think about my aids and work Izzy's body in ways that would strengthen him and make him more supple. I don't think it was the physicality of the lesson that did me the most good. Rather, I think it was tackling the mental self doubt by quieting that inner voice that says you don't belong. You don't deserve success. You don't have what it takes to do this well. I rarely let that voice gain much of a foothold, but when I am already feeling low, exhausted, and stretched thin, it's much easier for those negative feelings to make themselves heard.
I have a strong support system in place. The dressage family that Speedy and Izzy have helped me create is one that I turn to regularly. If I need to cry, I know I have a lot of people who will happily lend me a shoulder and a box of tissue. If I need to celebrate, they'll happily pour me a drink and toast my success. It's a lot to ask of your trainer, but I've been blessed to work with some really compassionate people. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, is still a quick text away, and Sean has proven that he is on my team for the long haul, whether that means toasting my success or handing me that box of tissues.
I hope your own barn family offers you that support, but if not, give me a call. I've had some practice both crying over the phone and offering virtual high fives.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%