Tuesday, May 16, 2017

one for the books

As is customary, any summary of a baller lesson with dressage trainer C must start with the standard "it's been ages since we've seen her and we've missed her!" qualifier.

Idk why but we're really only managing to get out to see her maybe about once a month. And last month's lesson was unfortunately not much to write home about as I was uncharacteristically neither physically nor mentally in the game for it. 

pictured: GAME FACE. and also. legs for goddamn days.
So for this month, I fully intended to make the most of our time with C. Starting by sending her the video of our Fair Hill dressage test ahead of time. That test is useful bc it's a fairly accurate representation of our current way of going, plus it highlights two major but distinct perspectives: 

1) From a training perspective, it was Charlie's best test yet. And trainer C fully agreed - she was thrilled to see his steadiness, his easy canter departs (despite the misfired lead), a reasonable halt, and that he wasn't leaning heavily on my hands at all (relative, of course, to where we started).

2) From the judge's perspective, there were issues and it was our worst yet scored test. Trainer C felt like the scoring didn't quite match her observations watching the video - but also had great insights into identifying what the judge saw and how to improve the picture (while keeping the horse's training as our #1 priority).

god but i love this arena
At this point in Charlie's training, it's more beneficial to simply let C have her way with us. To allow her observations of us dictate the direction of our ride, rather than setting out to work specifically on xyz. And this lesson absolutely did not disappoint in that regard.

Actually - often I feel a little silly paying the steep ship-in lesson prices for this farm to careen around the fancy footing on my untrained racehorse. The barn is full of very nice warmbloods and serious dressage riders... and, well, you all know where Charlie started haha. IMO, tho, C's instruction is worth it.

And for the first time, we had a dressage lesson that actually felt like dressage. Basic, training level dressage, sure. But the real stuff, the good stuff. I wasn't embarrassed or self-conscious at all when ppl would stop by to chat with C or watch a little bit of the ride. And C herself was even excited to watch Charlie easily execute each move she asked of us.

So it's official: Charlie is firmly transitioned into the realm of being a "riding horse." The basics are installed. The fundamental aids are confirmed. Boom. Phase 1 of restarting the ottb is complete!!

we love looking out the windows here too haha
Anyway, moving on from the high level overview to the nitty gritties of the ride, since I know some of you out there like hearing what C has the green bean work on:

During warm up:
  • Per usual, she has us stay just off the wall for basically the whole ride. The purpose being to gain control of Charlie's shoulders and establish the outside aids.
  • We started off by practicing a few trot-walk-trot transitions on the long side. Aim for a letter and do it in the vicinity, then trot off again. We later practiced the same, but across the diagonal, walking around X, then trotting off again.
  • Lots of leg yields right to left - at first going very slow and long at a shallow angle, then also practicing quicker, steeper leg yields. Charlie fucking nailed these, good boy.
  • She had us doing leg yields from quarter line to wall, but also wall to quarter line (or beyond) to really establish that yielding feeling. This was less about "correctness" and more about gaining control of the horse's body and straightness. 

charlie always pretty much loves this arena
Building into 'movements':
  • At trot, we practiced single loops to X and back, then practiced 3 loop serpentines.
  • C's insight re: the Fair Hill judge's perception of my rigid and bracing arms: be careful that my hands don't come so far away from the horse's neck (esp that R hand). This is part of what gives the appearance that I'm wrestling the horse through the turns with my hands. Keep hands closer to wither. 
  • We actually stepped into canter pretty early on too - in our first warm up sequence. 
  • C had us do a simple trip around the arena, turning early at the short ends to really push Charlie out into the corners, then practiced canter across diagonal, trot at X.

and i totally get why. this is without a doubt my absolute favorite indoor arena of all time. austen's indoor is pretty baller too (and bigger), but it's often been quite crowded by assholes drama queens divas nasty bitches other riders during many of my rides there
Overarching Findings:
  • It was very important that Charlie didn't over-bend to the left while moving his shoulders right. This habit presents in both directions, too. Mostly: don't let the horse create false bend to the inside while his shoulders actually move outward. Block the shoulder while continuing to move his ribcage out.
  • Our biggest breakthrough: Trainer C identified that the judge may have seen me as braced and rigid against the horse bc of my tipped-forward pelvis. Ding ding ding!
  • So a big part of the lesson became adjusting this critical juncture in my position. Basically I need to lift the front of my pelvis (imagine the entire pelvis apparatus creates the shape of a bowl filled with water - mine spills water out the front). 
  • Another way of thinking about it : lifting my belt buckle. 
  • The biggest thing tho: all of the tightness I'm carrying in the small of my back needs to disappear and instead be replaced by engagement of my core muscles. So: whatever I'm holding in my back, I should hold in my belly instead. With the idea of "flattening" my back.

happy horse grazing after getting back home again
Putting the position to work (and feeling the burn):
  • We worked on my pelvis position a lot at trot and it was pretty incredible the difference I could feel when I "got" it -- that thing ppl say about lengthening your thigh and pushing your knee down? Yea that's a natural side effect of being able to lift the front of my pelvis. 
  • Also a natural side effect? Opening the hip angle. It's all part of the same mechanic - but for me, the key is right in the middle of my belly. 
  • This made the biggest difference at canter. Trainer C had me spiral a 20m circle in at trot - slowly slowly, then back out again, and then canter. And REALLY go for this feeling of lifting the front of my pelvis and sitting on the back of my seat bones. She says I need to sit like this to help Charlie get his shoulders up (which, ahem, if you've been following along, is *exactly* what trainer P has been saying to me for weeks now about jumping lol). 
  • It's hard to really describe in words why this particular lesson was different - obvi we've all heard a lot of this before and I've kinda known about this method for sitting correctly for a long time. I've just, ya know, never actually been able to do it before. Knowing vs doing. such a tricky bitch! 
  • But! We did it. And it made a huge difference. Trainer C had us practice the spiral at trot then canter thing again on both leads before calling it a day. She even stood at the open end of our 20m circle to keep us honest about bend and steering. Brave soul lol.
  • It worked tho. It was honestly some of the best work this horse has ever done. And he never quit! Never pinned his ears, never got sassy, never once said no. Just.... kept working. Yesssssssss. <3 Charlie. 

using our little mound of doom as a chair lol
It may sound stupid guys but lessons like this make me so fucking excited for Charlie. I mean, like, we actually did stuff that was sorta kinda actual dressage. He was 100% behaving like a riding horse, not a race horse.

Sure, he's green and inconsistent or whatever. But. I'm SO PROUD of him. And so pleased with his emotional development in addition to his schooling. So long as I can be consistent in showing him where I want him to be - where he has to go to be a 'good boy,' it really feels like he'll just keep on doing it. Can't ask for better than that!

For those of you who have brought along green horses - or maybe even just started a new partnership with an unfamiliar horse - what key landmarks have you looked for to identify the shift from one phase of their training to the next? How do you define the shift from 'green broke' horse or 'started' horse to something that's more established in its training? 

36 comments:

  1. What a great lesson. Your dressage trainer sounds amazing. I love her approach. It's a good question as to when you go from 'green' to 'training' horse. For me it's when you can start to finesse what you're working on and ask the horse to stretch her/his training to try something new and have them go 'okay'. When I'm not worried IF my horse will canter but about making sure that the quality is there.

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    1. trainer C is basically the best haha- i just love when we can find trainers who consistently "click" for us, lesson after lesson. also i like your way of saying that, with the trained horse, you don't wonder "if" but "how well."

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    2. " When I'm not worried IF my horse will canter but about making sure that the quality is there"

      DING DING DING.

      Right now, we are still working on the whole canter thing. :P

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  2. Wow, that place is gorgeous.

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    1. it's super nice - and oddly all the horses seem to adore that arena too. i've personally taken a few there now, and have seen my friends ride all their horses there too - and every horse just seems to go at their absolute best in that ring. it's magic, i swear lol

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  3. Love this and I'm one of those people who really like your nitty gritty lesson write ups. It teaches me a lot!

    I 100% agree with Teresa. The moment I stopped worrying if Gem would go down to the trail and started focusing on what pace I wanted, the distance etc...she became training in my head and not green. Now we are starting over again and we are back to green.

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    1. yay glad you like the recaps! i haven't had one to write in a while so it was nice to get back to it lol. and yea i definitely know how you feel about finally feeling established in one discipline, only to start over anew when switching to something else. at least for me, it seems to happen a little faster every time tho

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  4. The horse's change of going from subtle changes in pelvis position will never cease to amaze me! I work daily on stretches for my hip flexors (tight from sitting all day...though I do sit on a yoga ball now!) so I can better manipulate myself in the saddle. My posture overall out of the saddle needs work in the pelvic region, too (less anterior tilt, pls), so I'm trying to pay attention and correct myself so I can be a better rider.

    re: transition -- For Grif (my only real experience), it was when I could rely on him to not pitch an opinionated fit when he encountered a "wrong" answer. He used to get so upset that he couldn't find the right answer and would crow hop, squeak/squeal, and evade all aids. When he buckled down and focused and didn't have outbursts, we made leaps and bounds (literally and figuratively) in our training in short order.

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    1. Grif and Charlie sound super similar in that regard - one of the reasons i'm so thrilled with him from this lesson is that he showed how much he has matured in dealing with pressure. he can also be one to get upset when he thinks he's 'wrong' - but this can also extend to getting upset when he thinks he's doing the thing but i keep asking for more. in this lesson? i kept asking for more, and he just kept giving. what a feeling!

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    2. some might even say... it's addicting haha. ;)

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  5. I carry too much tension in my lower back as well -- which shows up mostly when I attempt to sit the trot. On Miles. Le sigh.

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    1. ugh yea i feel ya. i don't think hunt seat equitation purposefully teaches a tight back (in fact i'm pretty sure it does *not* advocate for such a thing), but it seems like a pretty common issue with hunt seat riders - maybe bc it is an easy way to hold two point or half seat? idk...

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  6. <3 Aw, great lesson! I love that point where a green horse/rider relationship moves from two entities with their own minds to a real conversation (i.e. horse thinks they are just gonna horse 'cause that is all they ever knew while rider says umm, okay but now I'm going to show you a whole different way to horse). That is such a fun time when you finally feel like you are learning each other's language and possibilities start to open up!. Ah, I love training horses!

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    1. oh man, absolutely 100%! where even tho we were both working on things that were new and hard for ourselves, our communication never skipped a beat and things just kept clicking along. gotta love it!

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  7. Lessons like that are just the best. :-)

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  8. YAY! This is where it starts to get FUN, right? Loving following all the progress you and Charlie are making!

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    1. omg yes! that's exactly it - now that the body parts can more or less usually go in the direction i want them to go without me needing to think overly deeply about it - suddenly we can start thinking about all the NEXT stuff :D

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  9. Yay Charlie! I love the visual of lifting the belt buckle. As someone who *ahem* struggles with a very tight and bracing lower back/hips I look forward to keeping this in mind during my next rides!

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    1. the belt buckle visual realy helps me too, and i've also heard "squeeze your belly button" lol, strange but effective. whatever works right?

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  10. Ahhh these lessons are MAGICAL! Love it! For me with Dino, it was when it felt like he started working WITH me instead of responding to every request with "Make Me." Getting into all the nitty gritty details instead of "Oh dear God just GO, HORSE. And can you steer while you're at it!?" is just the best. The best!!

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    1. lol seriously!!! in all honesty tho, we kinda still can't steer super well.... but some of that is just the horse haha. for all the rest, it definitely feels like charlie's very much 'in the game' with me. i like it!

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  11. I like that you are able to get so much from your lessons (and then share with us of course :P)

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    1. ha thanks - i try to do what i can to eke out as much value from these lessons as possible! esp bc i find that if i don't write it down i don't retain the info nearly as well.

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  12. The forward pelvis tilt is the greatest curse of the posting trot, I think. Riders need it at least somewhat to be able to balance when posting (I'm pretty sure anyway, according to all my biomechanics reading), but it means one is so much more prone to being pulled forward. I find that activating my core is easier in sitting trot, but half the time I'm thinking so much about other things that I can't even sit the damn trot. It's hard.

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    1. ugh yea, the posting trot doesn't help, but i'm not sure it's entirely to blame either - as under C's guidance i was able to adjust my position quite a bit even while posting. for me, it feels like it comes from my history of riding in more of a perched half seat for so long, but who knows really. except that YES. it's hard. haha

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  13. Eeeeee so excited for Charlie's big promotion!! It only goes up from here right?

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    1. ha that's what they say! i'm starting to think it's going to get harder in new and unforeseen dimensions but we'll cross that bridge when we get there lol

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  14. Yay Charlie! It's funny, we were talking about the whole green vs trained thing last night. My coach said she doesn't consider them green anymore once you can put their feet and bodies where you ask...they don't need to be strong enough to actually do much with that, but they know you're asking them to move or bend and will try.

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    1. i like that way of thinking about it! i don't necessarily require proficiency at this point, they don't have to be good at it - but they have to know what i'm talking about and be reasonably reliable

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  15. Awesome!!!! I feel the same way at dressage Trainer J's. Everyone is on their fancy warmbloods and such, and there's me and my OTTB (usually sporting some OTTB apparel as well). I like the imagery of lifting your belt buckle. Tucking that one away!

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  16. I'm so pleased for you! It's an amazing feeling when you 'get' it! Goooooo Charlie!!

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  17. sometimes I wonder if I will EVER get it (Riding actually) I was thinking about this the other day....Like seriously i am 50 year old and been riding since i was 10 mostly.. so 40 years in the bank and I still can't sit right, meet a fence line right and have difficulty figuring out simple things. So I love that you are doing all that on a essentially green horse and doing great :) I guess we are all gluttons for punishment cause we keep doing it :) Great job and great lesson recap. Charlie for the win!! :)

    PS i swear it must be koolaid or something cause don't good trainers make you feel invincible? I am due a lesson with Emily on Monday and need to refill my koolaid I think:)

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  18. Official progress - yay! I have a hard time identifying progress, especially since I seem to be mired in the trees. I rode with a friend last night who I hadn't seen in a few months and she mentioned all the lovely things that she was seeing in our ride. I hadn't even noticed those things since I've been working on it, day in and day out. Now you're reminding me that I need to get a lesson on the books STAT

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  19. Your trainer has you working on the same things my trainer and Aria and I working on. I love that. It just solidifies to me that my lessons are well worth the cost because I also notice other people riding big fancy schooled horses and wonder about my little backyard bred pony. lol

    I'm very intrigued by your explanation of how your pelvis is tipped forward causing you to brace with your back. I wonder if this is also an issue for me and if I'm not actually engaging with my core like I believe I am. Plus, I only recently found a decent canter seat and I know it's because I was gripping with my knees. I will definitely try being more mindful of my pelvis position when I canter. My trainer keeps telling me to sit on my pockets but what you described makes more sense! It might even help my inclination to lean forward. :)

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