Tuesday, March 21, 2017

future elegant horse?

Ok. So. Dressage. We've actually been doing a lot of it lately! Which is a good thing bc.... Well. Let's be real. I didn't buy Charlie for his 10+ gaits. Homeboy is.... not a fancy mover. Or. At least. Not yet.

only half fancy bc we had to ditch the hind boots bc of rubs. le sigh.
Jump trainer P from OF commented upon first meeting him that Charlie has the build and expression to make for a very "elegant" picture when he's more trained up.

And.... I've been clinging to that shred of hope ever since lol - through every near-face plant, and every downward transition replete with forging, and every cancerous circle where my opinions re: control of the shoulders are wildly disregarded.

the walk ain't bad tho!
Basically, Charlie has a solid walk and canter. Arguably more important, as those gaits are less easily influenced and developed than, say, the trot. Charlie's trot is.... not exactly shitty, but certainly trending in that direction.

"Earthbound" is one word for it. "Heavy on the forehand" is an understatement. And, in fact, for a horse whose withers are objectively higher than his croup, he can have an extremely downhill way of going. #racehorseproblems

all of today's pictures are screen shots from a tripod video - meaning the video had no zoom or focus and we only briefly flitted in and out of frame at random. so... all the pics are super blurry and i had a really hard time isolating actual nice moments bc the videos were all like 8min long... kinda sorry, honestly. but i have so few pictures of our flatwork that i'm going to take 'em where i can get 'em! the above is chosen bc... well. that's about as "light" on the forehand as charlie gets right now.
So all my lessons with dressage trainer C are focused on making him more rideable off his hind end, and helping him build more strength to carry his balance more horizontally. Tactic #1 in this regard has been to ride that damn horse more forward. Get him moving quicker off my legs, quicker off the ground. Get that hind end more active.

Just... everything quicker and more active.

pretty good shot of charlie working on getting more forward, while the hind legs are decidedly slow
Trainer C wants me to be thinking about asking for more inside bend with my inside leg - pushing him out into the outside rein. Turn and push him out (much like trainer P's "Bend & Send"). Even on the short end of the arena, turn a little early and push him out.

Always be displacing his barrel a little to the outside - to encourage increased activity with his inside hind and try to get him a little quicker off the ground. Charlie is too slow on the ground, especially with his hind end, which is constantly playing catch-up to his front half.

trainer C specifically does not want me letting his head go any lower or farther out - he's maybe learning to use his longitudinal balance a bit like a teeter-totter. gotta get that hind end stepping under consistently before we worry about what his head is doing
And for me, I need to really get better about "kick then be done." Being quicker with my own aids (leg, rein, everything) then take them off. Be quickquickquick with the leg to send him on, and then be done, letting him quietly fade before quickquickquick, spurt forward again.

Every time I turn (building in half circles and frequent changes of direction across the diagonals), think about 'hitting the gas pedal' - turning him and pushing the gas. Really the whole warm up should be focused on getting the horse to be a little quicker. Getting him to respond. Doesn't matter what kind of response, just need something.

pictured: why i needed longer reins
We practiced getting a couple of these 'spurts' or 'surges' forward in a row - looking for the horse to promptly shoot forward when I ask (vs being lowkey disdainful of my constant nagging) - and then changed direction as a reward.

so annoyed that the hind boots rubbed bc flashy white hind boots would definitely help mask the fact that his hind end is so dramatically playing catch up lol
In the same vein, we practiced walk to trot transitions, where as soon as Charlie gave a forward trot, he could walk again. And I was to keep the contact in walk and keep him on the aids, then trot again. And as soon as he was 'forward' and prompt off the aids, walk again. Often after the first or second go, Charlie was shooting off immediately into his forward trot, and we could very quickly ask for walk again.

These upward transitions are the important practice for Charlie. Whereas the downwards are important practice for me. Trainer C wants me to post in a steady rhythm through the downward transition, using inside thigh to outside rein without fixing or locking anything for Charlie to lean against. Post slower and slower until he walks so that he doesn't lock up his hind end, or splat down into the floor. And it doesn't matter if it takes us 10 laps to do so.

dis our right lead canter transition. SASS!!
but. BUT! it's prompt and basically reliable. as are both leads lately!
This is the same tactic more or less that we use to work on compressing the trot, something I've tried to be a little more serious about since our last dressage show. Just keep thinking 'thigh to outside rein' and asking him to waitwaitwait in the trot (without locking against him) and when he's almost walking, trot forward again.

Go figure, this is all getting easier the more we practice.

<3 his canter even if i couldn't get a good picture
The canter has continued to improve too. We reliably have departs on both leads, tho the right depart is a little sassy right now. Doesn't matter tho. Trainer C wanted me to be careful not to get busy or "lift" Charlie into the canter. Mostly tho she's pretty happy with how he's going.

In our most recent lesson, we actually added in shallow counter canter loops, which Charlie was totally foot perfect for. That surprised C haha... but I chalk it up to Charlie's skillz at dodging lesson kiddos in a crowded indoor lol.

the trot after a canter is usually better. not always - esp not if we just get flat and race-y, but usually.
All of the above directives were put into play in practicing a little bit of test work too: center line turns and halts. For a while now I've been trying to corral Charlie's wayward shoulders by 'catching' or blocking with my outside rein... but it turns out pushing him out with my inside leg when it feels like his shoulders are falling out has actually been more effective.

Probably bc the falling shoulder is actually a symptom of a disengaged hind end, and bending him around my inside leg increases engagement, which then brings his shoulders back into line? Maybe? Idk, whatever the case, our center line turns greatly improved. Phew! And obviously all the practice on transitions into and out of and within trot made for better halts at X.

We haven't bothered actually running through our test ahead of next week's show bc... well. Idk, I feel like we're better served by letting trainer C mold and sculpt us in real time, and all this focus on Charlie's rideability and hind end engagement will play a role in making for a stronger test on show day anyway.

both saddles appear to be fitting better with the re-configured half pad shims. and i may be deluding myself, but his topline in the dip behind his shoulders is looking less pinched lately too.
Really tho, the biggest takeaways for Charlie's dressage training right now are to focus on all things 'activity behind.'

Especially bc the horse has learned how to use his longitudinal balance a bit like a teeter totter against me haha. So I need to be careful not to let him get his poll too low, or his neck too far away from me. A too-low head just means that he's pulling his weight off the hind end - instead I should be thinking about keeping him at least horizontal, and riding the hind legs more 'under' him.

The horse isn't pulling me out of the saddle even close to how he used to... but we're definitely still very much working on that inclination. Progress is happening, tho, slowly. And I'm still clinging to my dreams of a "Future Elegant Horse" haha....

39 comments:

  1. Oh that long slow development work. It's so... fun. Haha. I think you guys really hit on Charlie's weak spots (not problems, let's try "improvement points" haha). Overall he's looking good, and that walk definitely points to potential! In my experience, this is pretty common for a) long, large horses b) thoroughbreds with race training, who don't see the point of wasting the energy to lift the front end. Hell, I'm still struggling with that downhill tendency when it comes to Pig. Hind leg! Move faster, yo! Rib cage! Yield to mah leg!

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    1. yea i mean he's basically never had to engage his hind end in this manner before, and is not particularly inclined to do so without great motivation lol. plus he gets tired quickly.

      he's a good boy tho, and learns quickly through repetition. so especially these exercises that are quick bursts repeated often (the 'spurts' forward, for instance, and transitions) really help

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  2. I learn so much from your lesson posts. Charlie is looking really good. Have you found the magic formula for his weight?

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    1. thanks! alas, no we have not found the magic formula for his weight. these pics might be a little deceptive - his barrel has looked more or less fine for a while, but his hips and topline are atrocious. like.... actually were a little pointier than usual this particular week. it's a constant struggle :(

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  3. You're putting in all the hard work and building a solid foundation to make him fancy down the road (not that I don't love him now but you know what I mean!) 😍

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    1. thanks!! and yep i know exactly what you mean! i honestly have pretty high hopes for turning that trot into something actually pleasant to behold. methinks as we can move into more advanced movements (more lateral, more bend, more ... everything haha) that will also help him learn to create and hold engagement better than just boring endless circles. we'll see tho!

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  4. My trainer used the term "earthbound" the other day when I was letting Marcus get strung out/no impulsion at the canter. Never herd it before.

    Fancy takes time. Thats what I keep telling myself with Frankie but it looks like you are laying out the groundwork for a really nice little horse :)

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    1. lol yea.... i had been familiar with that term but hadn't ever applied it to my own horse before Charlie, who absolutely epitomizes the word haha. but yup, agreed 100% that fancy takes time. and i just happen to have LOTS of time ;)

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  5. Charlie has Big Horse Syndrome. There's so much up front that picking them up is quite the task. Precisely why I ride small horses :P

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  6. i like your posts. we're working on a lot of similar stuff, I'm just a little farther along because I've had runkle longer.

    hate to say it but you'll still be workin on this garbage after a year too :P

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    1. yea i mean.... i foresee this being a VERY longterm thing haha... (*sob*). lol but seriously tho, what is dressage if not just a constant string of "more" and "better"???

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  7. You both are making such good, solid forward progress! Good stuff :)

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    1. thanks - we're certainly trying!

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  8. I can really invision that big beautiful guy doing all the fancy--love all the stuff your trainer is telling you.

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    1. gosh i sure hope so!! and yea trainer C is basically the best. so much of this instruction is just kinda slowly guiding *me* in the right direction to keep me feeling empowered and confident and like i know what i'm doing too lol....

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  9. Sounds like a great list of things to work on. I'm seriously impressed with how far you've come with Charlie in a relatively short period of time. I hope the show is a good experience for you both!

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    1. thanks, i hope so too! so far charlie has honestly been a pretty good guy to work with!

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  10. Courage is built differently than Charlie so I've had different variations of this problem, but yeah same basic thing. ;-)

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    1. yea i mean, so much of dressage can be boiled down to the progressive redistribution of the horse's weight off the front end to being carried more on the hind quarters. it just so happens that Charlie's starting from.... a not necessarily level playing field lol

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  11. Charlie is going to be super fancy! Seriously, I am at an eventing barn which is suddenly trending towards dressage and there are some fancy dressage tests happening! The TB event horses are holding their own against the warmbloods at the shows:)

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    1. definitely! i have absolutely nothing to say against TBs in the dressage ring (esp given that.... i like dressage and i bought a TB lol). breed-wise, charlie's in good company. as an individual? he's facing an uphill (puns lol) battle haha

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  12. Mmmmm I love all of the detail in this post. Yay dressage and nit picking at the little things to see big improvements down the line. I do see the improvements already though! Love love love this.

    We'll get some good canter photos next weekend ;-)

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    1. thanks! the biggest improvements right now lie especially in my ability to actually influence the horse's way of going in subtle ways. being able to actually displace his barrel, or create more bend with my inside leg. we can't actually hold a new balance longitudinally yet (or even necessarily laterally), but the ingredients necessary to do so are becoming more confirmed!

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  13. looking good!! I am exhausted reading all that that is a LOT of thinking you do up there! HA...is your event this weekend (Time flies)! Keep on posting (slow) :)

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  14. I was told that it's better to have a good walk/canter than a good trot. Because the walk/canter is really hard to influence.
    Charlie is starting to look a little fancy! But I like his general Charlieness best. :)

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    1. yep that seems to be the general rule of thumb!

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  15. I really admire how you work so hard at and analyze even at these beginning stages. You'll have such a great record of your progress in the end. I have a hard time not just pushing past them to the next step, but really I should focus on what we're doing now and not just waiting to get to the next step.

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    1. thanks - honestly i just want to do the best i can for the horse, and a lot of this stuff is legitimately pretty new for me too. isabel was the first horse that i really actually legitimately rode dressage on, and charlie is an entirely different type of ride. so i'm having to relearn a lot of the basics even as i try to teach him. so that's definitely a big help in staying focused on the 'right now' vs 'what's next.' the other thing that helps is trying to really arrange my thoughts such that the next step builds directly off of what we're doing now, which only whets my motivation to do this foundational type stuff as well as possible.

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  16. I really like these posts and it's awesome following along with you and Charlie, especially dressage lesson recaps because I get dressage instruction about three times a year. *sigh* Greater Rednecklandia has its moments, but convenient, accessible dressage instruction is not one of them.

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    1. ugh i hear ya. despite this area being somewhat rife with horse professionals, i actually really struggled for about a year finding regular dressage instruction. it actually felt like i was at a somewhat disadvantage looking for trainers who would accept me and my horse as a ship in, or who would come to us. like maybe i would have had better luck if i was looking to ride schoolies? idk. whatever the case it was a slog haha, and i have never looked back since finding trainer C!

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  17. Mine is so heavy on the forehand as well. I'm hoping that'll improve as her topline continues to develop - right now it's reminders not to pull down so hard

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  18. These posts are very helpful to me! Candy definitely gets very heavy on her forehand and I sometimes I have trouble differentiating between "Candy wants to stretch" (good!) and "Candy is evading" (bad!). I'm jealous that your horse will one day be elegant; Candy will never be elegant- she is a heinous mover lolz.

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  19. Charlie looks especially elegant in that first picture! Who needs work when you can stand around and look pretty? He's making so much progress though!

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  20. Everyday a little stronger, a little easier

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