Tuesday, July 10, 2018

picking up the pieces

The last few weeks have been quiet for Charlie. After Plantation I wanted to get more serious about consistency and discipline in my own approach to riding, and felt like Charlie was in a good place to move forward with that.

But then he kinda went a little lame, felt like something high and maybe muscular in his often wonky hind end. But didn't feel like his "normal" wonky that improves with strength. Idk. It's Charlie, and he's often kinda a hot mess in the physical department. Sigh.

if all else fails, at least charlie has magnificent hair
I tried to keep a delicate balance of working him through it - days off interspersed with low key flat rides focused solely on getting him pushing through his hind end and stretching. Since the reality is that he's often at his best physically speaking when he stays in regular work.

maybe he needs an emotional support therapy pupper lol
After about a week of this, he was feeling much better so we settled back into our more normal routine. It was convenient that during this time trainer P was basically out of town with weddings and stuff to attend (I guess even trainers get a personal life lol) and I had opted to bow out of the week day lessons with trainer K to let Charlie keep healing.

tho of course there's always plenty of riley dog to go around!
All this meant, tho, was that we were rapidly approaching the Fair Hill starter trial I had hastily entered at the last minute after Plantation. I entered BN, and planned to go 100% alone. With the idea being that Charlie would have to contend with being alone and not having a friend waiting for him back at the trailer.

And he would be in a familiar place, one in which he's previously shown some of that resistance to being driven forward out of the start gate. But by doing BN, I'd be feeling pretty confident in my ability to kick him up and forward (zero tolerance!) without really needing to think much about the actual jumps.

bc yea riley's always there with the moral support lol
It was a good plan (aren't they always?) but it didn't work out. Charlie was back to being pretty sound, but I was unsure about following through with that "zero tolerance" approach if he had any sliver of an excuse for bad behavior, esp considering the limited prep.

So I opted to do a quick solo jump school the night before the show to serve as my litmus test for whether we should even bother. A couple jumps in, and.... Yea. A decision was made. We'll go to a show some other day. Bc we have some important work to do before then. Sigh.

bc it turns out, sometimes this brontosaurus has feeeeeeeelingsssss
After that, I felt pretty dejected so I ended up giving Charlie even more time off. Didn't climb back into the saddle until our Hulsebos appointment the following week.

Charlie obviously doesn't mind the time off, and actually for the first time ever didn't find some new and interesting way to injure or maim himself despite days in a row of neglect. Maybe he's growing up?? Lol....

lol... also, in case you were wondering what our jumps at plantation must have looked like, just imagine this, over and over and over again
Anyway tho, Trainer P was back in town so I was eager to finally get a lesson in. Charlie came back into regular work in the days leading up to the lesson, and then it was game time.

He was actually the most willingly forward and relaxed in his flatwork that he's been lately. The zero tolerance approach is paying off and he's kinda figuring out that it's easiest for everybody if he just gets to work instead of fussing around. Trainer P still wasn't super satisfied with it tho, and encouraged me to keep changing it up on him and demanding his attention.

look, here's another variation!!
The warm up jumping exercises suited us quite nicely too. We have a new boarder in our lesson, and while her horse is very willing and capable, he can be very lazy in his form over fences. So trainer P decided it would be a day of "all the placing poles all the time!"

She had ground poles on takeoff and landing, and in between jumps in a line. Poles errywhere!

pep talks with trainer P are always helpful tho. dis y i <3 lessons
This was useful for us bc the reality is that Charlie is kinda in a "I don't wanna and I don't care and nothing you can say will change that!!" mind frame lately.

He was grumpy about being asked for more forward, distracted by his grumpiness, then surprised by the placing pole and subsequently a disorganized mess over the jumps themselves. For my part, I worked really hard to not get baited into his grumpiness. When he's snarky like that as we approach a jump, my subconscious habit is to soften a little bit so that I don't distract him from the fence and cause the awkward jump.

let's never forget tho: gosh i freakin adore this horse tho
I learned my lesson about that at Plantation tho, haha, where it turned out that not fixing that problem only begat more problems. Go figure.

So what I'm doing now is basically shortening the progression of aids in asking for forward. Normally in training a horse, you would think of the progression of aids as starting with the softest, lightest possible ask and gradually increasing the intensity of that ask (think: the spectrum from asking to demanding) until the desired response is finally achieved.

Conceptually, if you're consistent enough, the heavier asks fall away because you attain the desired response earlier and earlier in the progression - eventually with the lightest possible ask.

and i'm pretty sure he *does* actually like the job i've offered him
Charlie understands this process. It works for him. He's a clever pony and learns well through patterns and repetitions. But with his latest phase of testing out "No!" as an answer, he just tunes out through the lighter progression of the aids, only begrudgingly acquiescing when I finally reach the "demand."

So..... that's cool big guy. I'm picking up what you're putting down. I can adapt to work with you there. I'll  still begin as always with that lightest possible ask - delivering an aid that I am confident that Charlie's prepared for and understands. And if he tunes out, gives me the finger, or otherwise just... doesn't? Well. There's no more progression. We skip immediately to the "That Was A Poor Choice, Charlie" aid delivery system.

Aaaaand he goes. Sometimes with attitude. Sometimes begrudgingly. But, increasingly, he's just going. And then he starts making better life choices the next time I ask softly.

sometimes it just takes a little extra convincing to get him clicked into gear
So back to the lesson, these placing poles set up everywhere were really effective as part of this process bc they basically recreated the same outcome - except it was just between Charlie and the jumps instead of being only between Charlie and me.

He'd be presented to the jump. Understand that there is a jump there. See the placing pole. All things he's schooled at and knows well. But he'd kinda just fart along, get distracted, not really feel like it, but then reach the placing pole and immediately realize the error of his ways when he'd kinda fumble and crash through awkwardly.

but once he's there??? 
And assuming I did my job of being clear in my aids of "Yes sir we are going forward to this jump" instead of sorta tacitly accepting his grumpiness and distraction, then the next time I put those same aids on, he'd have the fresh memory of the fucking awful jump to convince him that.... yea, probably he needs to listen.

It's honestly like a switch goes off with him too. Like once he gets his head in the game and starts going forward to the jumps, everything changes. He's happier, his ears are pricked, he's pulling forward in front of my leg, and we don't get that "dead" feeling at the base of the jump - that feeling of uncertainty about what the fuck is about to actually happen. Bc trust me, that feeling reeeeeally really sucks.

he's freakin THERE.
The placing pole exercises definitely helped in that regard too bc they really forced him to pay attention. We started by trotting into single jumps with the placing poles, then trotting into a 30' two stride line, an 18' one stride line, a fairly open three stride line, and a 36' two stride line.

And after a couple disastrous jumps (pictured earlier lol), Charlie got the point and started working more with me. It helped too that we finally raised the jumps up a bit, esp for our final course that was all set around a soft ~T height.

THIS is my horse. like sure, he's about to leave a stride out like his goofy gangsta self, but you gotta love that enthusiasm, right??
Trainer P was pretty clear that the reality is Charlie doesn't care about small jumps. He just doesn't. He doesn't look at them, doesn't think about them, doesn't give them any respect. Even with all the placing poles and whatnot we added to them.

Once the jumps go up, he gets more interested. Starts looking at the fence. Starts getting that feeling where he's drawn toward the fence - measuring it up, adjusting his stride all by himself, preparing himself for the effort. Which obviously is an awesome feeling, and coincidentally MUCH easier to ride haha, since he ends up doing the work himself.

i prefer this picture of him dragging me over a fence any day of the week, instead of those earlier shots of him kinda just barely climbing the jumps
Obviously tho we still struggled a bit haha. Like for some reason, we just could not with the 36' two stride. Idk why. We got the correct striding once or twice when there were placing poles set, but it was always kinda awkward and for some reason we kept trying to add. Which... wasn't cute.

but look! even after being all gung ho and taking a 30' distance in one stride, he still balanced up all clever and shit to do this 18' one stride too!
Then once we finally put all the pieces together for our final course (also in the video), Charlie managed to put three in the 36' and then did ONE in the 30'. Like.... uh.... ok? That's some serious #CharlieLogic for ya....

But I wasn't going to complain bc that feeling was freakin amazing! It's honestly been weeks and weeks and weeks since Charlie's dragged me to a jump like that, and even tho it was kinda awkward, it was like this refreshing feeling of "Phew, THIS is my horse! THIS is the feeling we've been missing!!"

that placing rail caused us a lot of grief earlier in the ride, ugh
The biggest deal of the lesson tho? In the course (and this is all on the video), we went from the 30' supposed-to-be-two-but-Charlie-had-other-ideas line, bent to an oxer at a related distance that Charlie jumped with equal gusto, but then had a very short tight turn immediately to an 18' one stride grid.

And? While the turn was hectic as shit with me basically manhandling Charlie around, the horse proved that, yes, in fact, he's learned something from this ride: he balanced, adjusted his stride, came back to me but stayed in front of my leg, jumped the very short one stride beautifully, then made another hairpin turn to come back up center line to jump the above oxer with placing pole.

And he did it perfectly. Kept his balance. Agreed with me about pace. But maintained that forward pulling feeling (but without being fast or flat!) in front of my leg.

he figured it out tho <3
And I couldn't have been happier. Like sure it's not beautiful, it's not smooth, etc etc etc.... But we finished the course with my horse being more or less his normal self: enthusiastic but learning to be schooled about adjustability and balance. He listened, carried me forward to the fences, and stayed in front of my leg even as we needed to compress the stride or make a tight turn.

video has some of the gymnastic warm up exercises, plus the final course

Trainer P and I talked at length about this whole process. She says Charlie reminds her a lot of one of her big horses, who was legitimately not fun to ride for the first year or two bc every day was that same battle, that same slog of insisting that the horse does, in fact, have a job.

And it can be a real drag to not ever let that guard down in schooling. I don't like feeling like a slave driver. I don't like feeling like I'm constantly picking fights with my horse instead of slipping effortlessly into some fantasy land sense of harmony. It's much easier to be tricked into complacency, to gradually and without realizing, be drawn into accepting less and less from the horse, and needing more and more effort from the rider.

But. Ya know. With horses, the proof is in the pudding. And Charlie showed me in this lesson that when I'm consistent enough in my own riding and expectations of him, all the distractions and grumpiness melt away into the horse I know Charlie can be: FUN and EASY. Not to mention he himself seems to enjoy this outcome much more, too. He looks like he's having fun by the end of the ride, despite the bumpy beginning.

So I guess that's just how it is. The horse can be fun to ride, and can have fun being ridden. But there aren't any shortcuts in getting there. Wherever "there" is....

Do you ever feel like you're having the same rides again and again with your horse? Dealing with the same issues ride after ride? How have you dealt with that? Or maybe you've had some similar sort of breakthrough moment where the horse finally "gets" it?

40 comments:

  1. First of all, thanks for the update. I was worried about Charlie!
    Second, yes- I have felt that I have had the same ride/issues over and over until I was ready to scream. Or drink. Some days both seemed appropriate.

    I too have adopted the zero tolerance attitude Andrew it’s working like a charm. Yesterday I had sand delivered for the ring. Carmen started to be all “what is that, I think I’m scared”. Instead of babying her I gave a kick and said ‘it’s sand, keep going’ and she did. Charlie looks good in the video. He’s starting to take responsibility for his own feet rather than let you do all the work. Maybe he’s growing up. 😀

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    1. screaming and drinking has definitely been my approach as well, lol. gotta do what you gotta do, right?? and yea i can only hope that eventually it'll take less convincing to keep charlie feeling responsibility for his own feet!! maybe one day!

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  2. Ahhh yes the first... several years of Dino were exactly like this! There was so much pony beating. So much. But a combination of making things more fun and interesting for him and Zero Tolerance about the go button helped transform him into a really, REALLY fun little guy. It's so encouraging to see that Charlie is getting there and that you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of dinosaur shenanigans!

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    1. omg the pony beatings.... i keep trying to tell charlie that the beatings will continue until morale improves, but he just hasn't gotten the message yet!! hopefully soon tho!

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  3. My gelding that I ended up rehoming was a lot like Charlie. Very talented, but just "didn't wanna". And I wasn't strong enough to make him. I'm so glad you've figured out a system that's working for Charlie.

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    1. yea it's hard for sure when they kinda just figure out that if they don't wanna, maybe they don't haveta. i'm still seriously kicking myself for getting so complacent leading up to plantation that charlie learned that quitting was an option. but. ya know. he IS a good boy, and he DOES like doing this stuff. so we just keep pushing...

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  4. Boy when Charlie's "on" he's so incredible looking! He just looks SO powerful and I don't doubt those are the moments you live for - and I hope with the right work put in you'll find them more and more often!

    When I'm presented with the same issue again and again, I have to constantly remind myself to keep calm and patient. For me, so much of the stall with "moving forward" is in my own head/reactions and when I can fix myself, things always go well. Once I can guarantee my reactions aren't shaping theirs, I break things down to the simplest of simple and build back up. For my horses at least, the momentary step back and building back up usually helps them get back on board with whatever I've asked.

    It reminds me of complicated math classes or organic chemistry when I'd get lost part way through an explanation of an equation or process - when a teacher would rewind and walk me through it again checking my understanding through each piece leading up to the part that gave me trouble, I was almost always able to understand and move forward.

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    1. oh man, i definitely live for those moments. when he's got that "pulling" feeling, taking me to a jump, he honestly feels like he could jump the moon. that's kinda why it was so shocking when that feeling suddenly fled the coop... like you say tho, patience in working through it is key. keep calm and kick on, right?

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  5. Oh man, I have 0 advice for ya in this department -- you know how my story with the horse who didn't want to go forward ended. I'm cheering for you and Charlie tho!

    And also, he def doesn't care about the small jumps. It's too bad he's so athletic that baby jumps don't interest him, LOL

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    1. lol yea there are certainly worse problems to have than a horse who prefers a larger jump! just so long as he keeps paying attention and actually, ya know, GOES to the fence, i'm fine with it!

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  6. I feel like I've been having the same conversation with Candy every day for the last year and a half, lol. It's exhausting!

    I always felt like I was having the same dressage ride on Moe for years, but I think that was because I used to be a pretty terrible dressage rider. I'm not amazing now or anything, but I'm better than I used to be and I think being knowledgeable enough to use my aids clearly and correctly is what made the difference. It seemed like one day, Moe just *got* it, and it was amazing!

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    1. aw i love Moe <3 and yea that's definitely a biggie here too, making sure that i'm doing my part to be as clear and correct as possible, and ensure that charlie is prepared for everything i ask of him. bc i don't want to like, trick him or catch him out or punish him for being confused. luckily at this point he's pretty reasonably schooled and not actually all that green any more. he knows his job, knows his expectations. just maybe isn't so sure WHY haha

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  7. Oh man, I'm so feeling this right now as I start doing serious dressage rides with Opie again. He would just rather NOT, thanks. Not move forward, Not stay forward, Not use himself, Not do sharp transitions. Like you said, I hate being the slave driver, but really, bro. It's your job and I really am not asking anything you don't know how to do. Sad, sad story for poor abused ponies.

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    1. oh how they suffer!! i keep trying to channel janet foy's witticisms from when i audited her ages ago: "the horse can be your little lame for 23hrs a day, but for one hour he must be your love slave!" lol

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  8. All the same feelings. P is so sensitive that I would practically ride on eggshells if he were in one of his moods. Which didn't do anything except teach him that he dictates the ride.

    I've started riding with zero tolerance as well, and our fights are much fewer and far between, and shorter when they do surface. It's a great feeling.

    Placing poles weird me out though. Give me a Training height jump, fine. Put a placing pole in front of it? Mental meltdown.

    C looks great! Glad you guys are getting your mojo back, we all go through it.

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    1. lol yea placing poles are definitely not my favorite either. like, theoretically i understand that they're supposed to help, and that i should basically just ignore them and let the horse do his thing.... but... ya know... sometimes they're just overwhelming lol. luckily charlie doesn't seem to care much (or, uh, maybe it would be better if he cared *more*!)

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  9. I had constant chill the f out rides for the first few years with Phantom. So frustrating!

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    1. ugh yea, that's kinda what it was like riding that little mare velvet last weekend. like, why can't you just be calm tho????

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  10. Not that you wrote this or me...but damn I needed to read a post like this today!! First, I'm glad Charlie is sound and things are moving forward with you getting your love back. You both look very happy by the end of the lesson. Zero Tolerance is a thing I am learning and it took me getting pissed off to put it into practice. I need to learn that I can still be fair to the horse while being firm and honestly its a lot like my kiddo...firm b boundaries and clear consequences may sound mean at first but make for a much happier household in the long run.

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    1. yup, that's so true. sometimes i wish it didn't take a big setback or problem to make me more focused.... but unfortunately sometimes i really do just need a serious kick in the pants... for me, the part that i always work really really hard to remember is that it ISN'T personal. like, it can feel personal bc i pour so much of myself into horses and riding. but charlie doesn't know that - he's not trying to be bad. he's just testing the limits, and it's up to me to give him those boundaries like you say, and help him operate successfully within them.

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  11. It looks like what you've been doing has been working well for you two tho. He certainly was much more like his old self towards the end! The zero tolerance is hard because you don't WANT to do that every time - just as you said - but in the end I definitely agree that it teaches the horse well and the relationship improves because of it. I think you're doing great tho, and Charlie is looking so fit and so fine <3

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    1. yea i mean the reality is that very few horses would choose on their own to "go to the gym," as it were, and put in all this work and practice. like, sure many enjoy the act of galloping around and jumping things but sometimes the schooling is.... less fun for them. i get it. but. ya know. it's kiiiiinda important. so we work through it!

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  12. Sometimes training is a real slog with that nitty shit but its sooooo important (as you know). "Riding the ugly" You guys sure are jumping nice and big! :D Glad you got that awesome feeling back!

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    1. ha thanks! it's crazy with charlie bc my worries about fence size or whatever have completely melted away. it's so easy for him, and he's literally so much easier (omg) to ride to a larger fence than a small fence now that he actually knows what he's doing... so that helps! but yea man. we really sure do spend a lot of time riding that ugly...

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  13. I'm with you 100%! Gavin isn't the most fun of horses to ride. He is almost always a grump before a ride, and almost always requires to be made to be forward for the first 15 minutes, after which he's just golden. To be fully honest, he's always been this way and I've had him for 8 years. I try not to take it personally - he pulls the same shit on everyone - but it's not the most fun thing to endure every ride. HOWEVER (and I think you experienced this side as well) - once they figure out that it's easier to work with you than against you, it is just a freaking joy. I'm glad to hear he's feeling good! You guys look great!

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    1. ugh yea i've definitely ridden those horses that you sorta have to get through that hump at the beginning of every ride. definitely annoying. that's just how some of them are tho. with charlie i'm trying to convince him that it has to happen tho. bc right now it's not really just a "beginning of the ride" thing - it's every time we start up after a break, or whenever he thinks he should be done. or like and plantation when he just straight up didn't wanna, and quit on me on the cross country course. so we've really got to get this figured out if he's gonna have any chance at being successful in his job lol!

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  14. Charlie looks GREAT! I am so happy to read this post and see the videos!! <3 I think all horses plateau in their training or just start to suddenly realize, oh wait, this is hard and nah thanks. It sounds like you are finding a good balance for him with the zero tolerance (that is where I am now with Ellie as she is much more grown up than she was a few months ago and she's like SRSLY MOM (eye roll) like a teenage girl lol) and with using the placing poles to make him think more about the smaller jumps instead of tuning them out. You've got this!!!

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    1. yea that's definitely it - charlie's sorta realized that while maybe it's kinda fun most of the time, he maybe doesn't always feel like it when i do too. and like, we've had so much inconsistency with past injuries and whatnot that maybe he got used to the occasional time off and was surprised when that hadn't happened recently? idk. but yea, it's definitely funny how once they grow up a bit and feel like the finally know all the answers, they might start thinking like "eh but maybe i know better than my rider!"

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  15. The first two or three years with Bridget were all about just reinforcing the rules and not accepting less, over and over, every time we upped the difficulty or she got bored. "Yes, you are here to work. Yes, it's easiest to just do the work" Feeling like you're playing bad cop most days isn't much fun, but it really does pay off. You are both looking fantastic!

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    1. thanks! and agreed, playing bad cop is DEFINITELY not my favorite. i just keep hoping that charlie figures it out asap. he's a clever horse and will quickly learn the rules if i'm consistent enough. the trouble is that the moment i give an inch, he knows that inch is always there for the taking....

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  16. Perhaps there's something about being a 9-year-old "Murray" right now, because mine has been getting the EXACT same lesson. This week I will have my first jump lesson since we started reprogramming the forward aid, and I'm excited to see how it works out!

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    1. lol these 9yos like to think they know everything, don't they?!? but like, c'mon, dammit! it shouldn't be such a challenge to get these OTTBs just going forward! hopefully your jump lesson shows the value of all your recent work!

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  17. He looks wonderful in the video, I think!

    My trainer has helped me with a very similar situation because B is also a fan of the "let's not move today" game, and I can be a bit too lenient with my expectations and it doesn't do either of us any favours.

    She describes it as the plus 1 scenario.

    If B and I are both constantly increasing our intensity by plus 1 (him into not moving and me into moving) we will stay there forever slowly fighting with each other.

    Ask for the plus 1 on my end and if he tries to plus one me I give him a plus seven haha.

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    1. lol i love the "plus 1" vs "plus 7" analogy - that's a great way to describe it, and basically exactly what i'm trying to do in my whole "skipping the progression" thing. bc yea we've just got this slow escalation of dullness and stubbornness lol. so my plan is to basically catch charlie by surprise and remind him that, actually, it's of critical importance that he clues in to me promptly, thanksverymuch!

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  18. Hero's brain would fall out with all those placing poles! Glad that you guys were back in the groove by the end of the lesson!

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    1. lol yea it was certainly a lot of ground poles! luckily charlie's got a fair amount of experience with grids and gymnastics, so that really helps!

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  19. Did everyone in the blogosphere lose forward in their horses? It seems like a lot of us are struggling with the GO FORTH GOOD PONY SIR/MADAM.
    Blah. I can say 100% I feel ya and I am marching to the beat of the same damn drum at the moment. I too neglected the horse for the better part of a week bc part of me just didn't wanna deal with it yet, haha. It's frustrating and hard, and it hits ya right in the gut bc forward is such a basic concept it feels silly we skirted over it (bc lord knows I did!).

    Remember this tho; the wheel never stops turning and we will always continue to go onwards and upwards!

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  20. While my horse had more gymnastic ways of evading work (i.e. spook/spin/leap/bolt), the answer to it is the same: ride more effectively. sigh. But damn Charlie looks amazing over those jumps and undeniably loving it!

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  21. So happy to read (and watch) this! I'm sure I'll be encountering the forward issue frequently as I get back into the swing of things haha. But man, once Charlie got locked on, he looked awesome!

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  22. RT ^^ everyone losing forward 'cause uh, we're on that train too.

    Mostly how did NOBODY comment on the fact that you did a 30' line in ONE STRIDE? WTF Charlie. Thank god I didn't ride that, I would have been eating dirt.

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