From Endurance to Dressage
Begin out of the saddle for any length of time always knocks me a bit off kilter. Whether it's because we've been on vacation or a horse is recovering from an injury or I've been sick, it always takes me a few days to remember where I left off. This most recent break has been a little tougher than usual to come back from because my last ride was at a show. That means my last few rides were not aboard a happy, relaxed partner.
The first day I rode after being sick, my goal was not to fall off. I mean that literally. I knew I was pretty weak, and as we all know, Izzy isn't the most reliable of horses. After a three-week break, I worried that he might feel a bit ... fresh. I got on did some walk/trot, and got off, mission accomplished.
The second day, I decided to add in a bit of canter. There were no dramatic moments, but Izzy was tight, hollow, and extremely braced through his poll, neck, and back. Knowing that I didn't have the strength to survive any major spooks, I still tried to insist that he let go through his neck. He never did, but I never lost control either.
By the third ride, I started to remember where we left off. From the moment I sank into the saddle, I started to ask Izzy to let go of the bit and relax his neck. At the mounting block, I asked for flexion and softness, and I didn't quit asking until he finally gave it to me. For the next 30 minutes, that's all I focused on.
At the show we did at the end of October, Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, really pushed me to have confidence in the effectiveness of the tools that he has been giving me. Since they're new to me though, I don't have perfect muscle memory yet. I don't just go to those tools with automaticity. I still have to ask myself, what would Sean say to do here? As I let Izzy trot around, I started a dialogue with myself. Why are you letting him hang on that inside rein? What should you do to get him off of it? Why are you letting him rush onto his forehand? Above all else, keep control!
Rather than let myself feel discouraged, I started to honestly assess my riding. The first thing I did was better control the tempo with my seat. Letting Izzy pick up speed does nothing for his balance. Instead of letting him fall on his forehand, I sat up and imagined picking up his shoulders with my thighs. When he tried to brace against my rein, I over flexed him to the inside and then let it go. With nothing to lean on, he got softer in his neck.
As I started to get him sorted out, my confidence in the choices I was making began to grow. Riding a particular figure stopped being important. Who cares if I make it all the way to M in the leg yield if he's braced through his neck? Instead, I started focusing solely on the quality of his movement, and I made immediate adjustments to get the results I wanted.
It wasn't as though I "fixed" anything, but he did get softer and best of all, nothing escalated. He didn't get anxious or worried, and I finished up with a happy horse. That's when I remembered where we had left off. For now, every ride is about developing his confidence and proving to him that he can trust me to ask only what he is capable of doing. I've been so worried about finding my motivation and getting back on track. Who knew it would be so easy to step right back into the habit?
As Laura Goodenkauf quoted in a recent post, "The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. It's remarkable what you can build if you just don't stop."
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%: