From Endurance to Dressage
I think this past weekend was about truly believing Sean Cunningham, owner and Trainer at STC Dressage, when he tells me, "You have the tools." What he means is that no matter how tense or spooky Izzy gets, I have the knowledge to work him through it. Izzy may never get untense at a show or lesson, but it doesn't matter because I am now learning how to successfully ride him through it.
I don't know why it didn't occur to me sooner in the season, but like at the show in June, I arrived at STC Dressage two days early so that I could get an extra lesson. Instead of arriving on Friday and taking a warm up lesson at the show grounds, I came on Thursday so that I could get both a lesson and a schooling ride before the show. Besides getting to ride, showing up a day early allows me to study Sean as he rides and teaches throughout the day. Let's just say that Izzy isn't the only tense horse out there. Studying Sean's aids when dealing with resistance gives me a better visual which helps me when I am dealing with similar issues.
Like at every other show this year, I rode Second Level Tests 1 and 2. Like every other show this year, Izzy was tense, but less than at the show before. In fact the overall improvement was huge. To start with, he unloaded at STC Dressage, followed me over to his regular pee spot, and pee'd on command. He then led me straight to "his" stall and marched right in. He nickered at his barn mates, Clooney and Cinco, and then walked over to the automatic waterer and helped himself. In no time he was munching on hay and feeling right at home.
Our lesson that afternoon was one of the most productive we've had in terms of working on actual movements. Throughout the lesson, Izzy's ears hung at half mast as he happily got to work. Sean was quite pleased with his progress which meant he was pleased with how I am applying what I am learning from one lesson to the next. The next day, Friday, we trailered over to El Sueño for our warm up ride.
As an aside, I am having so much fun with the team at STC Dressage. Every month that I come show, the team has welcomed me and made me feel right at home. Everyone comes out to help and watch and then we do a great dinner on Friday night. This time, we did a barn party which was especially entertaining because some of the horses joined in.
The warm up ride on Friday looked like it was going to go great until it didn't. Just as Izzy would start to settle in, a horse outside of the ring would explode. I didn't get to see most of it as I was trying not to die, but both Sean and Valerie kept up a running commentary. Horses outside of the ring were rearing, bucking, bolting, and basically running amok. Poor Izzy didn't stand a chance. His brain just couldn't cope with so many horses in "distress." Even with all of that chaos happing behind us, there were still moments when I felt the horse that Izzy is going to be. His shoulders came up, his croup dropped, and he was swinging freely through his back.
For the first ten minutes of that ride though, I wasn't very happy. I wanted to burst into tears and toss Sean the reins. Izzy spooked really hard again and again so much so that my back took a beating. Sean's attitude does nothing but exude calmness and confidence though. No matter how poorly I was riding, no matter how anxiety ridden Izzy was, Sean never let up. He truly didn't care what others thought of the hot mess that was blasting around the ring. He simply continued his coaching as though we were the only two people out there. "Do exactly what you're doing. Keep chipping away it bit by bit. It doesn't matter."
Once I got control of my emotions and let Sean's words get through that barrier of frustration and embarrassment, because really, who wants to be that rider?, I took a deep breath and started using the tools that he's been giving me. I flexed Izzy to the inside without pulling back. I worked to stay elastic in both my arms and hips. I asked Izzy to focus on me by bending his body and allowing him to go forward. My reward was little moments here and there of a very nice ride. Did it look nice? Not really. He was a mess, but I felt those fabulous moments and held tightly to the feeling they gave me because I know I can get them again.
And then we went to the show. To be continued ...
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%