Friday, March 9, 2018

what charlie's taught me

Today marks 18 months since I first met Charlie Murray, my first ever horse after two decades of lesson ponies, project horses, catch rides, and eventually a leased horse.

I already had a pretty solid horsey existence built up around me that Charlie was able to step into fairly seamlessly. Everything from grooming tools to tack to my training program, and even the truck and trailer, was already tuned up and ready to go for the new horse.

new horse, new trails!
I felt like my knowledge, background, and varied experiences prepared me well for horse ownership -- something that was a distant dream right up until it became reality. And I knew exactly what type of horse I wanted for myself - a standard Charlie exceeds every day.

Naturally, tho, haha.... Naturally, I've learned a whole awful lot more about horses since then. Possibly even more than I bargained for lol.

Charlie has taught me a lot. So much. And given me so much knowledge through my experiences with him, even when maybe some of that knowledge I would have preferred to learn academically vs actually living through it...

we've also had to learn a lot about opening gates....
For instance,

Bandages and wraps. Sure, Isabel wore the occasional standing wrap. And once she had an interference wound that I wrapped underneath boots to protect it.... But by and large, I am no bandaging or wrapping ace and have had very limited experience there.

And it feels like Charlie's made it his personal mission to improve my skills. With him, I've gotten field practice with:

- So many standing wraps tho, omg
- Cold pack wraps
- Surgical bandages post abscess lancing
- Surgical bandages post split surgery
- Hoof wraps
- Plus all manner of soaking and/or icing all the things

exploring new environments together
And first aid in general. Along with never owning a horse myself, I've never been fully responsible for a horse's veterinary and medical care. Again, with Isabel, I was basically her first line of defense and often coordinated her care between owner, barn manager, and vets. And she taught me about fun things like caring for fevers and contagious outbreaks like the equine flu. Otherwise, tho, she was a pretty healthy critter.

Charlie, on the other hand, has needed a more hands-on approach to his care. In addition to building out my war chest with all the bandaging material mentioned above, I've also gotten experience in the application and stocking of:

- SMZs, so so so so so so so many SMZs
- Plus all the other antibiotics we went through during the splintpocalypse and cellulitis...
- Bute, which Charlie will eat directly from my hand
- All manner of wound flushes, scrubs and dressings
- Hoof packing and poultice
- Hoof dressings like Keratex
- Gosh we use a lot of epsom salts
- MTG #4lyfe
- Plus all those other ointments tinctures and tonics that are so helpful with horses....

charlie's excelled at learning to be #spoiled
Since I've owned him, Charlie's colicked, had a respiratory infection, broke a goddamn splint bone, had cellulitis, had surgery, and a couple extremely dramatic abscesses, plus a set of hooves that have required diligent care and coddling.

And none of that even touches on what I learned along the way of developing and refining his nutrition plan to help him thrive after crashing post-track.

Suffice it to say, it's been a lot haha. So much of which has been learned out of the saddle.

On the horse training side of things, tho, it's been a little bit of a different story. Charlie's not the first horse I've brought along to wtc and 2'6 coursework from limited to no training.

also learned to be an expert at posing for pics
I'm not an expert, and I'm not even necessarily good at horse training. Plus Isabel's the only horse I've taken past the standard wtc and 2'6 jumping. But I've got experience and was pretty confident that if I chose my horse well regarding disposition, it would be pretty smooth sailing.

And it has been. Charlie's been a very easy horse to bring along for me. Partly because he suits my own particular style and preferences very well. And partly because he's just a very good boy.

I fully expect Charlie to eventually be a horse with which I can begin learning *new* things again. Getting new experiences, riding movements or jumps or combinations I've never ridden before. Challenging myself and growing again as a rider. So far, tho, all of Charlie's training has taken place within the microcosm of my existing knowledge base.

ha ok, just kidding, sometimes we're pretty goofy
What's surprising to me, tho, is how much he's been able to teach me about horse training despite that. Since beginning work with Charlie fresh off the track and boarding at a farm far away from my standard retinue of trainers and advisers, I have spent a lot of time thinking more deeply about horse training from a philosophical perspective.

What does horse training mean to me? What are the fundamentals and how do I achieve them? What skills formulate the basis of positioning the horse for success? And, recognizing my own strengths and weaknesses as a rider, what are the gaps I need my horse to fill for me?

More than anything else, Charlie's taught me about the value of patience, and the importance of trust.

I discovered very early on that even tho Charlie's a good boy with a great disposition, he cracks a bit under pressure. Specifically, he could grow very defensive when he was confused or didn't understand what I was asking. And he could be very resistant to being driven forward.

goofy faces #4lyfe
Much of these behaviors stemmed from Charlie's earliest days on the track, where he had some very difficult times. So it fell to me to figure out how to work us through this, build trust in Charlie that I wasn't going to push him forward into darkness and pain, and that even his smallest good efforts would be rewarded.

Basically all of our work in the first few months revolved around learning how to communicate with each other. Charlie had to learn to accept pressure from me, and I had to learn his tipping points: how to push far enough to challenge his comfort zone but not undermine his confidence. And again, how to reward effort.

We had to learn a whole new language together. Where any one aid or cue from me will always and forever reliably mean exactly the same thing no matter what. And the correct response from Charlie will always and forever reliably be recognized and praised.

he's a lot of fun to learn with tho
This is as true in our general interactions on the ground -- such as leading in and out of the field, being in his stall with him, grooming, tacking up, and even dedicated ground work -- as it is under saddle in our ridden work.

Charlie's been such a rewarding teacher in this area. From him, I feel like I know so much more now about the fundamental skills of building trust in a horse. And of timing in the pressure-release method of training.

And 18 months later, Charlie feels like my horse, 100% through and through. I feel like I know everything about him and can read him like a book. Likewise, he's become extremely consistent in how he responds to me. And for all the world seems like he trusts me too. Like he might even at this point follow me through fire.

the road doesn't have to be linear to be a pleasant journey!
And it feels good. For me, for who I am as a rider, this is what I really needed and wanted in my horse.

There's so much left to do in our training. Any and all holes and weaknesses and issues there right now are a complete reflection of me as a rider. But I know that as I improve my own skills and technique, Charlie will respond in kind.

For now, tho, I'm hanging on to these lessons he's taught me: the importance of being patient. And trusting the horse, trusting the process. And looking forward to another 18 months that I can only hope will be just as transformative for both of us!


  1. I feel like the stuff that you learn outside of the saddle with your horse (while often as a result of injury/illness) plays a monumental role in developing your relationship. I think there's all this quiet bonding that happens in those little moments and reflecting the way you have above really highlights all of that between you and Charlie. I'm excited for you guys!

  2. Wow, has it been 18 months already?! I've loved being able to follow along with you since you've gotten him. You 2 are such a good match! And I also know that you'll be the first person I call for advice on SMZs, wrapping, abscesses, and general lamenesses!

    Likewise, P is the first horse I've taken this far from the beginning. I used to work with new off-the-trackers, but never anything past basic WTC and little jumps before they would be sold. Honestly I felt quite lost for a couple years there when P was ready to move on but I wasn't. But it's also taught me a TON. Like the saying goes, "Experience is something you get until just after you need it." So true for horses!

  3. I like all your updates, even the not so great ones, because it's so obvious how happy you are with Charlie. I'm so excited for you, that you're going to have so many new and interesting adventures and learning experiences with a horse you've got such a good bond with.

  4. I love that caption on the last photo <3 truth. Patience is so key! I'm glad Charlie was (and is, and will continue to be) exactly what you needed :)

  5. Awww happy 18 months to you and Charlie! Time flies when you have an awesome horse!!!

  6. Happy horseversary! I always used to say I wanted to become a good rider, but the more I own horses the more I realize it’s more than that — I want to be a good horsewoman. And each and every horse has helped me toward that goa in different ways.

  7. Charlie really stuffed all the health problems most people get in a lifetime of owning horses into your first 18 months. So uh, that's enough forever and ever, Charlie!

  8. I didn't realize Charlie was your first own horse. You've come a long way in 18 months, especially given all the setbacks!
    Cupid knows as much as I do know, so I have to lean on my coach a little more so we can both keep progressing.

  9. Love this so much.
    Maybe he just had to get all his injuries done with in the first 18 months? And it'll all be smooth sailing here on out? Maybe????

  10. I love it! This is great! I agree with you - I never thought of training and thinking philosophically about it until I got Amber. I wouldn't have it any other way tho, and I know you wouldn't either! I'm so happy Charlie has become that horse you really needed, and you two are thriving together <3

  11. Maybe Charlie is just making sure all your first aid skills are up to snuff right off the bat :-P the amazing thing to me is how much more confident with himself he seems on the ground and with people. Can’t wait to see what you all accomplish once Charlie gets this all out of his system!

  12. Charlie sure has packed a lot of teaching moments into a short 18 months!

  13. Training begins on the ground, and accident prone TBs are definitely good for reinforcing that!

  14. For some reason I never really appreciated just how damn tall he is until I saw the pro-pic of you guys at XC. HOLY SHEEP. He is a leggy thing.
    So glad you two found eachother :)

  15. Wow, how has it been 18 months already?! I've seriously loved being able to follow the journey you're having with him!

  16. I'm finally getting to the point of realizing how long it takes with all new horses to start to feel comfortable and happy and how much patience is actually required to train together. Here's to many more healthy and happy months together :)

  17. Thoroughbreds are endlessly instructive :)

  18. I hadn't thought about all the "new knowledge" I have acquired since horses regularly came back into my life. Cool post/ great idea! Enjoyed this read, for sure. This is absolutely a reflection I hope to do soon with your spin on it "What has Jean-Luc" taught me? ... rather than the usual, "What have we accomplished."

    Rock on, girl.

  19. You two <3 I love this post so much.