From Endurance to Dressage
When I have a lesson, I always feel my money is well spent if I get even one big AHA or take-away. During my Saturday lesson with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, I walked away with three big fixes. I say "fixes" because Izzy can pretty much do everything already; he's that capable. The problem is mostly with me; until I can ask him correctly, he doesn't know what I want.
Fix #1 - Leg Yield Left
Now that I know how to correctly ride a leg yield, Izzy's leg yield right just rides itself. I come through the corner, put him in position, and he glides right like he's on wheels. It's fun, and it is even beginning to look fancy. The leg yield left has been another matter. I've been struggling with getting Izzy to quit bracing as I come through the corner. Sean had some ideas for over-coming that during my last lesson. He offered two fixes: first, while schooling, he suggested a bit of counter flexion in the corner to get Izzy in position. Alternately, Sean suggested staying on the long side a stride or two extra to get Izzy straight and bent to the right before beginning the leg yield.
That advice was really helpful, but I still couldn't get Izzy straight. Sean pointed out that Izzy's haunches often lead in the leg yield left which is not correct. He encouraged me to get Izzy straighter in the neck and ride with a slight feeling of letting the haunches trail. Suddenly, the leg yield rode with a much better tempo, and while not energetic, Izzy was a lot less crooked. Here is one effort from the next day.
Fix #2 Canter Haunches In
Sean has been encouraging me to add haunches in on a circle in the canter. He's prepping us for canter pirouettes which, while a long way off in the future, are a strength building exercise which Izzy needs. I've been riding haunches in and releasing after a few strides, but Izzy has been struggling with holding the canter lead, especially to the right. As always, Sean was able to diagnose the problem right away. Izzy has been giving me his haunches, but since I haven't felt the shift in his weight, I've kept that left leg on and back essentially asking him to jackknife his body. I've basically been sending his haunches so far around that he can no longer push off with his outside, left leg which causes him to lose the canter.
Sean had me ask for a single stride of haunches in while in the canter. And of course, that fixed the issue. When I asked for the haunches in and then took my leg off, Izzy could actually hold the haunches in for a stride or two before he straightened back up. Keeping my leg in position but not ON, kept him from being pushed off balance.
Fix #3 Turn on the Haunches
Izzy's turn on the haunches is okay, but the one problem I've been struggling with is loss of rhythm. Instead of maintaining the walk in the turn, he stalls out and pivots instead of walking in a circle.
Sean's fix was to shorten the stride but not slow down the tempo. When the tempo gets too slow, the horse will stall out. Instead, he had me count 1-2-3-4 in a quick staccato. If I kept my seat and heels active, Izzy kept marching right around the circle. All of a sudden, the turn felt much faster as he lifted his shoulders up and over. We still have a lot of improvement to make, but Sean helped me feel something new, and once I get a new feel, I know what I am looking for the next time.
Forgetting about being successful and instead just riding has brought me more success than the other way around. Each week I watch the video, surprised at how workmanlike Izzy looks. We're going to Europe in early June so I haven't even planned on any shows until late June at the earliest. On the one hand, I don't want to spoil all of my good feels by going to a show and seeing the same old tension and lack of focus. On the other hand, maybe we really have made enough progress to earn qualifying scores.
Right now, I don't care. I am just happy that we're actually doing dressage instead of just not dying. Big difference.
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%: