Friday, January 12, 2018

wherein Charlie discovers the launch codes

So. Charlie is my jumping horse, yes? Kinda, sorta? I mean, over the past year and five months (time flies!) since Charlie retired from his racing career, he has in fact learned to overcome obstacles in his path.

But.... anybody who's followed along with the many, many pictures and videos of this process might already recognize that Charlie isn't really jumping, per se, so much as he kinda.... just canters over stuff. Or occasionally he'll lift and fling his shoulders and front end across a jump, with the hind end sorta just trailing behind.

This is partly bc the heights we've tackled are honestly pretty easy for him. He's 17h+ after all, and not exactly a slouch in the athleticism department (even if he's not super inclined toward exertion). It's also bc he hasn't quite actually figured out how to use himself very well yet.

behind charlie, an entire wall of the indoor is deconstructed, and peppered with ladders and Amish carpenters working away with hammers, screw drivers, and all sorts of other fun irregularly noisy odds and ends. excitement!
There are a couple ways to address training a horse to use their bodies better. One way is to keep introducing more height to sorta force the issue, make the horse really focus and pay attention. This can work really well for horses unimpressed with little things, and for riders who are comfortable and confident with more height.

For riders who are a little less sure of their own ability to bail the horse out in dicey situations with big fences -- or who may be wishing to develop a horse who can bail the rider out in said dicey situations -- another option is grid and gymnastic work. Forever and ever amen.

You probably don't have to guess which of those two options appeals more to me haha.

certainly made for a more.... dramatic sense of adventure in the otherwise monotonous indoor lol
So anyway. This week we had our third lesson with upper level event rider K. Which brought along more grid work. It would be easy for me to feel like, "Wow in three lessons with this new trainer we've only tackled variations of the same exact exercise over and over again... When is she gonna switch it up?"

Except... Uh. I'm not taking these lessons only for excitement and variety and fun (tho naturally those are important). I'm taking them bc I'm pretty deeply interested in improving my own knowledge and technique, especially as it relates to training Charlie to be the horse I want him to be: A horse who can take me places I've never been before.

So I'm cool with the repetition over these exercises, esp after seeing the results K has been able to produce. But, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

fully admitting i spent wayyyyy too much time getting those cavalleti and the arena above scaled to size. approx 52 pixels per 12' stride. arena is 20x40m, so one long side is approximately 11 strides. the gray thing at the end is actually a big tarp covered barn door lying at one end of the under-construction arena, therefore shortening our usable arena length significantly, by up to 2-3 stride lengths. and yes, to answer your question, we DID almost run it over once or twice while tracking left through this exercise.
K is honestly at a bit of a disadvantage with me as a student. I used to have a training program that comprised: weekly jump lessons with Trainer P, wherein we get reps over course work, height, and grids; weekly jump lessons with 4* eventer Dan, wherein we got drilled on technique on the flat and over fences, with exercises that could be incredibly challenging; and regular dressage lessons with Trainer C, who revolutionized our flat work.

This system just.... Worked for me - all the pieces clicked seamlessly together. I'm very fortunate to still be a student of Trainers P & C, but logistics became an insurmountable challenge for regular lessons with Dan. Thus, enter upper level eventer K. Who is not Dan. For instance, she has yet to touch our flat work. And part of me wants to resent that she's not Dan bc I wish I could be taking lessons with him still.

But she isn't, and that's actually not a bad thing either. She's got her own style developed from her own experiences and from working for another local BNR 4* rider, Sally Cousins. And actually almost without me noticing, she's already started touching on some technical details where I *know* I need a lot of help.

the grid: trot pole (not pictured) to small X, one stride to oxer with V-poles. i didn't ask, but believe these were in the same position from last week - set at about 20ish' (possibly 21-22') apart. V-poles are introduced slowly from the edges of the jump and moved inward incrementally.
Specifically, she set up two cavaletti on the long side, having me include them in my warm up of trot and canter. First just sorta cruisin through, letting Charlie find his own way. Which, incidentally, was to trot in for 5 strides, or canter in for 4. (K says she didn't set them at any particular distances - this is very much a "work with what ya got" type exercise).

Then canter through, adding for 5. Then 4 again. Then get the 6. And she says she would've had us try for 3 too if it weren't for the tarp-covered door in one of the arena - making the turn on landing pretttttty challenging on a very open stride (we definitely almost nailed the door after coming through in 4 once anyway haha).

This exercise is SO PERFECT for Charlie, and yet I haven't actually set it up on my own. Who knows why. But having a trainer work me through it? So helpful. The exercise went about as I expected: The adds were easier on the right lead, and the going stride was easier on the left. But just because I already knew that didn't mean it isn't important to keep practicing.

K also echoed what she told me last week about working through the turns: I need to still have a little more forward in my turns to the exercise. I wanted to package Charlie up too early before the first jump, instead of allowing him to move up and then half halting between the two elements.

My excuse for this is that Charlie doesn't really.... half halt yet haha. But. Isn't that what the purpose of this exercise is all about? So yea. Great practice. And I really need to be better about setting stuff like this up for myself, it's so easy to do. Adjustability is one of Charlie's key weaknesses right now.

charlie surveying his kingdom. or. maybe keeping an eye out for the industrious amish. either one, really. also bc i'm a zealot about keeping track of jump heights, i did some very high tech scientifical guestimating on this oxer's height, based on the 2' riser against the standard. verdict? right around 2'9, esp considering the V-poles (4x4 beams). then again tho, everything always looks bigger in the indoor, with shorter standards and narrowed poles.
Anyway, after working over the cavalleti on both leads, we moved back to the one stride exercises from last week. Since the giant barn door taking up one end of the arena, K pulled the first element so it was just two jumps: a cross rail to an oxer.

We started with both set up, tho the oxer started as a very large cross rail. Then slowly built that second element into the oxer, before beginning to introduce the V-poles while increasing height.

Same as last time, K wanted me to think of bumping up with my hands and lifting through the grid. She said that it wasn't just my hands that made the difference, but that there must be something else I do with my body and position when I'm thinking about "lifting" that communicates to Charlie what I'm asking.

And. Guys. Charlie responded.

flahsback to the first time i felt some of the power charlie can have when he actually uses himself. i was incredibly unprepared for his effort over this seemingly boring oxer
Like. This flat-jumping, canters-over-everything, jump-clobberer, can't-be-bothered gelding FINALLY really showed us what he's got over that oxer. Especially as the V-poles moved in.

It was incredible. What a feeling. He actually really cracked his back, really wrapped himself around the jump - while still moving forward and across. His withers actually came up to meet me, wherein I actually finally got to feel my position finally settling into something more resembling what it felt like to jump Isabel (who cracked her back over the merest cross rails).

I wish I had video but have a habit of not asking trainers to record bc I know they're busy actually.... ya know... instructing me haha. Tho K actually said she's happy to do so since she understands the value of studying the video.

Anyway tho, I do have some video from the first time I ever really felt Charlie power off the ground, as shown in the gif below. This is kinda a perfect example bc, esp with the juxtaposition of the second jump where he's flatter and doesn't use himself nearly as well.

via GIPHY

For me as a rider, the biggest difference in riding this is how it affects my position - which you can also sorta see above. His flatter, more strung out jump is kinda harder to figure out for me, since he's kinda just pulling us across the jump without any real push. Whereas in that first jump there's a distinct push up where his withers rise to me and help me sink more into my heels and seat. If that makes sense.

Actually the whole video from that early June lesson is fun to revisit, since it was one of the first rides where things started clicking for us over fences. It's sloppy and messy around the edges. Charlie never really jumps very well and I'm kinda just clinging on for the ride. But it was also the beginning of a new phase in our combined understanding of jumping together.

It's a nice counterpoint to this current ride, where Charlie seemed to have a breakthrough on using his body to jump. The idea, as trainer K told me (also, incidentally, what L Williams wrote in the comments of my last lesson recap) was that these grid exercises will help Charlie develop the 'muscle memory' so that this becomes his normal style of jumping.

badass gentlemen of sport don't need to pose for the camera, obvi
So it was definitely exciting to feel. Especially knowing Charlie's a pretty clever horse and seems to pick up quickly on things that make his job easier and more fun. It'll be interesting to see how all this work translates when we get back outside again and Charlie has more space to get strung out and build in pace. Only time will tell!

I'm looking forward to it one way or another tho! Have you ever felt your horse have a "breakthrough" in any of your riding? Where a concept finally became clear to them? Or they finally figured out how to connect all the pieces of their body together to create that surge of power? Either on the flat or over fences?

27 comments:

  1. Hmm yes, I think that its wrong to say a horse who jumps higher to learn to jump off their butt won't get a rider out of bad situations. Ramone was an absolute packer by the time I sold him and I'm sure he's pulled his kid through some questionable distances because he was able to experience so many types of fences and so many types of questions in the time I owned him.

    Grids are a great way to teach horses and riders about stride and form and pace. Not to mention letting rider's focus more on their own stuff (equitation) while the horse is cruising through. Glad that the exercises, and I'm glad the ULR you are working with has help Charlie GPS his butt muscles!

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    1. in fairness, i never said that a horse who learns to jump better through the use of height wouldn't be able to bail a rider out -- rather i said that in the act of learning, a rider who doesn't feel comfortable at those heights may not be as successful in using that technique to teach the horse in the first place. a subtle difference, but a very important one for me.

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  2. we've been considering putting a V up on the jumps like that but we waited because.. honestly i dont know what will happen lol. getting him to pat the ground nice and even behind is soooo hard and annoying though omggggggg >:P

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    1. yea i honestly was not sure how charlie would react to the V poles since we've never used them with him before. he didn't blink tho. esp when they start as basically little wings out from the edges. who knows tho, Indy might go flying!

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    2. i remember very distinctly the lesson where indy went from trantering like a slug over things to figuring out i wanted him to JUMP

      like, with his ASS.

      it was amazing and terrifying all at once!!

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    3. ha in a way i'm kinda glad it's taken charlie this long to figure out the whole "use my body" aspect of things, since we had so many launch-episodes with him just flinging himself wherever the wind would take him early on anyway. so now he kinda "gets" jumping, and now gets to improve his technique without hopefully any added fireworks from anything else shiny and new! maybe, we'll see!! lol

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  3. First off....WHO IS K!?!?!

    Second: I'm here to tell you that sometimes I wouldn't mind a more conservative, less impressed jump like Charlie displays. P jumps a full 6"-12" higher than required every single time and it's not always fun. I'll have days where I solely want to work on my position, so I'll set up a low (18"-2') vertical so that we can just go over and over and over it...but P will jump 2'6"+ over it every time, which is so not the point.

    That being said, I'm using gymnastics as well for the opposite reason. I want P to figure out that he doesn't need to overjump so much and be comfortable knowing he can clear the fence without putting so much power into each jump.

    It's always hard to switch instructors so I hope you come to like K as much as Dan!

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    1. K is an upper level event rider who teaches week day lessons at my barn. i started riding with her three weeks ago bc i know from the past that my happy place is two jump lessons a week.

      and yea i feel ya on the over-jump. tho that's actually not quite what we are looking for either. i talked more about it in my last lesson recap from this trainer (post is called "riding in the dust..." from a couple days ago) but essentially we're looking for a more correct form - not just up, and not just across, but both. such that Charlie is jumping up over the jump using his entire body, but also still jumping across the jump such that he's not futzing up his stride length for distances of jumps to come.

      from your description, it sounds like P needs more "across" where as Charlie needs more "up" in his jump. hopefully you find the gymnastics helpful!

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  4. Love this!! I had a very similar lesson over the pole/small fence to oxer question in varying numbers of strides and it was SO helpful. I’m glad you got a lot out of it!

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    1. i honestly kinda LOVE those adjustability exercises, which is why it makes no sense why i never set up any small ones myself lol.... i used to with isabel but need to be better about it with charlie!

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  5. I love those break throughs. They are what keep us going.

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    1. it's funny how we can forget certain feelings, and then when it suddenly comes back again, it's like "OH YEA this is why we're doin it!!"

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    2. I saw this across my FB feed and I was 'THIS IS EMMA AND CHARLIE!': https://scontent-ort2-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/26805161_1997006010313541_7868952484480798477_n.jpg?oh=ce3e1bf16b214a3874034f59530f4a7a&oe=5AB2924A
      (hope the link works. It's on Emily Cole Illustration's FB page)

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    3. omg hahahaha i love it! esp the floaties and him holding his nose! tho... i will be QUITE HAPPY if he never chooses to go cannon-balling into the water at any of our events LOL!

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  6. Yay Charlie! I love those breakthrough moments. Sometimes when you're getting ready to throw in the towel and then suddenly it's like "OMG that right there!" and you're on fire again lol. I'm so glad Charlie is responding really well to it!

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    1. breakthroughs are the best! i feel very lucky that charlie's honestly mostly stayed on a pretty steady path of progress, no throwing in the towel here!

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  7. Breakthroughs are the best! I am eagerly anticipating them with June! Glad you're getting to experience it with your unicorn

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    1. so far, so good! can't wait to follow along with June too!

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  8. AH this reminds me of my last lesson!! (which was at the beginning of December… tears)

    My instructor has this super cool Standardbred/Paint/Morgan/Arab pony (sounds like a hot mess, I know) that I'd only ridden once before, in a clinic back in August or September. We were jumping, but basically it was a point-shoot-skim-try to point and prepare again before zooming the next jump lol.

    Back to this lesson… instructor tells me Nora pony now not only has brakes and calm, but a lot more adjustability over fences (rather than just ZOOM) and if I get the timing of my aides right I should be able to notice it. Now that it’s been over a month, I can’t remember if it was half-halt, leg or some other magical formula... The first couple rounds of jumps (which were being raised a bit each time) she was definitely moving off my leg a lot better and not rushing so much, but it felt pretty similar to the first time I jumped her. Instructor says my timing is off, repeats magic formula before I start my next round.

    AND THEN IT HAPPENED. And I almost ate dirt because I was so *not* prepared for how snappy and round she got. So we re-collected, did the whole thing and whenever it was needed, it was seriously the coolest feeling - like a ton of power, but it also made her feel lighter in my hands and like any turn would be no problem. At least, it sounds like the same thing haha!

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    1. ah that's such a good feeling! esp on an unfamiliar horse, it's so awesome to be able to finally figure it out, put all the pieces together! and yea, any time i get that feeling like i'm fully plugged into all the power the horse has to offer, and that we could do any thing at any moment, yea, that's such a rush!

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  9. Break through moments like that are addiciting! Itanso cool that you have access to a variety of great trainers that can each bring a different perspective.

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    1. yea i really do enjoy the insights i can get from riding with different trainers - esp a collection of trainers who all want the same outcome but can describe it a little differently.

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  10. Working on grids on your own is crappy. Getting off and on your horse to make those incremental changes not only is annoying, but I have found my horse kept thinking we were done and then it just disrupts that flow you would feel in a lesson with someone else making the adjustments. When I have done grids at home I just made them simple one strides with 3 jumps at a low height so I can pretty much dive in and get some benefit of the grid style without the hassle. On the flat work idea, could you ask her for one flat lesson just to see what ideas she has that would be beneficial to future jumping lessons you could then work on between lessons?

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    1. ugh yea, doing grids by myself is not happening, like, ever lol. such a pain in the ass! when i'm just working on my own, i'll use simpler ground pole or cavaletti exercises. and i really want to set up the cavaletti exercise described above!!

      re: trainer K teaching me a flat lesson.... eh, no. i have a dressage trainer that i love. i ride with K bc i do best with two jump lessons a week. she's there to fill in the gap with jumping. i hope she starts offering more thoughts on my warm up in lessons as we get to know each other, but as it is i'm quite happy what K is doing for us over fences.

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  11. Oh hell yes! This is so awesome. I love that Charlie has had this breakthrough! I can only imagine how amazing it feels to ride that kind of jump with more consistency. Yay Charles!

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    1. it definitely feels great - this horse has a ton of power, if only we could get him tapping into it more regularly!

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  12. It's funny that you bring this up now because Mae is still in the process of working it all out. If you trot her up to a jump, she gets it. But she's more inclined to spring into the air like a bunny rabbit, all four feet at once. And SUPER high as well. I have faith she'll get there eventually. Patience, right?

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