From Endurance to Dressage
Watching for a New Tell
After missing my regular lesson the Saturday before (Life), I got back on track with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, on Saturday. Over the past year, Sean and I have managed to get together for a lesson nearly every week. During the summer, I drove down to his barn about every five to ten days, but since school started back up, I've ridden every weekend with him. That consistency has enabled me to make huge growth in my riding.
All of these photos are screenshots from video I shot the next day.
As I warmed up on Saturday, Sean and I chatted about the horse world and our plans for the summer. I have grown to really appreciate the opportunity to just ride without feeling like I need to be directed. Sean encourages me to make decisions and think on my feet. This really helps when I am on my own. There isn't a difference between a lesson and a schooling ride; I do both the same way which helps me incorporate what I am learning during lessons into my every day riding.
That's not to say that Sean isn't actively engaged and teaching, because he is. For much of the lesson though, Sean just observed while occasionally commenting that he was really liking what he saw. At this point in our relationship, I don't need him telling me what to do every moment. Instead, I need constructive feedback when he sees that I need it, and that's what he did.
I recently realized that Sean rarely needs to remind me about being soft and elastic in my arms and body. He's reminding me about my swinging left leg less and less. He no longer needs to tell me to move Izzy around in his neck and poll so that he doesn't get stuck in one position. I've been able to slowly incorporate all of these things so that they're becoming part of my muscle memory.
Don't misunderstand; I know that I have a lot of improvement left to make, but I think it's important to stop and appreciate the growth that has been made. If I never stop and acknowledge that I am improving as a rider, my confidence in my riding decisions will never grow, and that is one area in particular that Sean needs me to show progress in - confidence in the tools that he's teaching me to use.
A month or so ago, Sean helped me understand that izzy has "tells." I am still learning them, but even being aware that he has them has helped me identify when he's about to spook or bolt or exit stage right. During this lesson, I asked Sean about how to keep Izzy more consistently in the contact. Izzy will truck along steadily, but then his head snaps up, and I have to start over. Sean pointed out that Izzy has a tell for that as well. Really? That never even occurred to me.
While Sean might not have noticed, I took that comment to heart and really focused on identifying that particular tell during the rest of the lesson. Of course, I didn't figure it out that day, but it has been added to my mental riding checklist. Sometimes that list gets too long to manage, but I am finding that many of the things on that list I now do unconsciously, so it doesn't give me such a headache.
One movement that we've been schooling over the past few weeks is shoulder-in to renvers. It's certainly tricky, and I don't think many riders school it regularly, but Izzy and I are busting it out. Sean feels like this is a particularly valuable exercise for tense and stiff horses like Izzy because it's a fantastic supplying exercise. And anybody who knows us, knows that we need tons of suppling.
Our first tentative show date is in late April. I still haven't talked to Sean about where we should start off for this season: Training Level, First Level, Second Level? My feeling is that we should continue at First Level even as we school movements from Second and Third. Izzy's confidence in me is really starting to grow, so I don't want to over face him with anything tricky. We'll know more after the first show.
And if it turns out to be a hot mess, all we can do is continue doing what we're doing and trust that Izzy's confidence will continue to grow.
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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%: