Thursday, February 14, 2019

Circles + Cavaletti + Cocoa: Part II

The second part of our clinic ride was in some ways kinda the polar opposite of the first. Instead of focusing intently on the nittiest of grittiest bio-mechanical details in my position (and, uh, still kinda failing at them lol), we switched gears to more application-based exercises: cavaletti.

elegant charlie <3 pc Austen Gage
The beauty of cavaletti is that they are generally self-evident to the horse. A well set gymnastic exercise shouldn't require step-by-step input from the rider. Rather, you kinda set the horse up, prepare the horse, and then let them at it.

The exercise itself is sufficiently instructive to the horse, if that makes sense. They understand the reality of whacking a pole with their hooves haha, and will often therefore adjust their carriage to accommodate.

i love that he thinks this is easy now haha. pc Austen Gage
It was a nice change of pace bc basically I kinda felt like dressage trainer C took me apart then put me back together again in a new alignment. Then sent me on my way across to the other side of the arena to see if I could hang on to that new feeling in action.

Which, like. Ha. We've already established that I can't really walk and chew gum at the same time. So obviously this was fairly challenging.

charlie's face says "Oh Yea, Let's Go!" while i silently contemplate whether we'll make the turn or accidentally mow down Austen instead... pc Austen Gage, who did in fact survive the imminent close encounter!
It was a nice format tho, bc cavalatti are by design generally physical exercises vs mental or cerebral. Still tho, I actually ended up feeling a little disappointed with myself in how I prepared Charlie for this portion of the ride and the change of pace it entailed.

Obviously I signed up for the clinic, right? Like, the format was interesting to me and I knew all along that we'd go from a Trainer C lesson to cavaletti work. I, personally, knew what to expect and was mentally prepared.

moar trot poles!!!!! pc Austen Gage
Charlie, on the other hand, was kinda like, "Wow, shit, really tho??"

In other words, he was actually a little more tired - both physically and emotionally - than I quite realized at the time. Whereas I was kinda like, "Ok bro, snap snap, let's go!"

i promise we did in fact go in both directions. but these are the pictures i like, so there. pc Austen Gage
But. He continues to be a very good boy. So he did in fact Go. In retrospect I wish I had ridden slightly differently at some points during the ride, like when he was sluggish into canter and not as sharp as I wanted/expected.

see?? going both ways haha. and doesn't charlie look bored tho... pc Austen Gage
But when I kept pushing for that sharpness, Charlie did in fact answer affirmatively. So, even tho probably I could've taken it a little easier toward the end of the ride, it was in some ways really reassuring knowing that he would answer to that pressure even when he was tired.

Considering training for pressure was basically all we did after the fiasco that was Plantation, it's good to see some fruits from that labor!!

trying to transition to canter and turn at the same time is above my pay grade, apparently. i believe this is what Nicole refers to as a "gangsta lean" lol.... pc Austen Gage
ANYWAY tho haha. The lesson itself.

The exercise would be very easy to set up for anyone interested in doing so: 4 trot poles down the quarter line, and then 2 poles aligned with the center line, set so that looping over them achieves a slightly-less-than-20m circle.

obviously my favorite picture of the whole bunch <3 just look at that fanceh arab!!! hahaha.... pc Austen Gage
When the whole exercise is done at trot (such as in the video clip), it's easy enough to bake in serpentine-esque changes of direction to just keep infinitely looping through the whole thing.

At canter you have to be a little more purposeful in specific locations for your trot-canter and canter-trot to hit the trot poles and change directions. Mostly tho it all ran pretty smoothly, and allowed the rider to repeat until the desired results are achieved.

loving how uphill he is! not loving the wrong lead we picked up after breaking gait. tho i guess points for counter canter?? pc Austen Gage
Charlie for his part made very easy work of the exercise. Probably bc.... uh, it was WAY EASIER than what he faced in our cavaletti lesson the week prior haha. Homeboy was like, "Oh, this again? Yea I totes got this!!" And he totes did, good boy.

he's a good egg tho. and looking nicely stout in this pic too! pc Austen Gage
Actually, come to think of it, I don't think he knocked any of the trot poles hard enough to displace them. Not even once. That's some serious progress for this brontosaurus!!

The canter poles?? Eh... not quite so lucky. But again, see above comment re: sluggishness.

"wow, this again tho??" - charlie, probably. pc Austen Gage
And again, I was honestly a little distracted from some of my riderly duties bc of trying so hard to focus on my position. Considering Charlie's used to me doing a little more work to carry him, this definitely contributed to his frequent breaks from canter when we hit the poles a little funny.


Which naturally caused me to end up regressing a bit, reverting back to my "safe place" position of pitching forward and gripping with my legs. It's just going to take time, as always haha.

"are we done yet?" - charlie, definitely. pc Austen Gage
So honestly there weren't any really big "Aha!" moments from this portion of the lesson, other than reaffirming that changing my position is going to be hard. Oh and that sometimes turning Charlie sharply (esp if I'm trying to turn him away from the in gate) is still a bit iffy haha. Look no further than the look of panic in my eye in the video below where I briefly wonder if we're actually going to make the turn, or end up mowing down Austen instead....

forever stuffing this good boy full of treats. bc he is the best. pc Austen Gage
All in all, tho, a very fun ride and useful set of exercises. This is definitely something that's easy enough to set up on my own too, even without a ground person. So possibly it's something we'll repeat on some other dark wintry night in the indoor lol.

In the meantime tho, we both definitely needed a few days off after all that haha! Whew! It was worth it tho, esp as a way to break up the otherwise monotonous winter. C'mon, spring, we're ready for ya!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Circles + Cavaletti + Cocoa: Part I

The funny thing about horses and horseback riding is... it really is an endless pursuit, isn't it?

It won't come as any surprise to you that I spend a lot of time thinking about riding. Some might even call it obsessive haha. I study the sport, try hard to keep learning, and I show up almost every day ready to get to work.

preparing ourselves for some serious learning. pc Austen Gage
And yet.... Well haha. In the grand scheme of things I continue to ride at what's generally considered a fairly low level. Especially, uh, in dressage...

Which is fine, right? Bc the levels aren't about me, the levels don't define me. As I've written again and again (and again), it's really all about the journey, right?

charlie wishes he could just go around like this forever tho... pc Austen Gage
Plus if you believe Malcolm Gladwell's rule that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery.... Well. Those of us who are single-horse adult amateurs with full time jobs are likely facing decades of continuing education haha. So I may as well settle in and enjoy the ride, right?

So in that spirit, let's talk about the dressage clinic I went to this past weekend!

As mentioned already, it was an inspired clinic format split into two sessions - one conducted by my long time dressage trainer C, and the other by upper level event rider K. (You may remember K from my early weekday lessons last winter prior to Charlie's hoof puncture...).

handsome pony <3 pc Austen Gage
I'm breaking the recap into two parts because, to be perfectly honest, I have so many pictures lol. Austen came to hang out, take pictures, and finally see what all my fuss about C is really about. As always, I'm extremely grateful for her company and her gorgeous photographs - I hope you enjoy them too! Oooh and she nabbed video ;) So, uh, big shout out to Austen!

I didn't really have any major objectives or "To Dos" for my 30min with Trainer C. I let her know that we continue to work on 1st Level elements like smaller circles and lengthenings, but essentially allowed her to carry us in whichever direction she wanted.

oooh and handsome pony trots too! look how grown up he is! pc Austen Gage
Which, it turns out, meant a lesson that (finally) really dug into the nitty gritties of my own personal mechanics.

Once in trot we wasted no time with beginning to work on a spiraling type exercise. Except instead of just saying to spiral in or out, C specifically instructed that I do: First a 20m, then 15m, then 12m, then 10m circle. Conveniently in this arena, the lights are on the quarter lines exactly, and there's a beam down the roof over center line, so if you're looking up it's pretty easy to find visual markers for the geometry.

trainer C would love to see my lower legs drape more loosely. pc Austen Gage
As always, the focus for these circles was turning off the outside aids. Much to my delight, Charlie did quite nicely in these exercises off both reins. Probably bc.... ya know.... we've been locked inside a 20x40m box all winter.

Anyway, right off the bat Trainer C decided she wanted me to work on my sitting trot. It's something I've been sorta practicing a little bit in every ride recently. But. Ya know. It's still pretty atrocious tbh. Lucky for you, I have some on video now ;)

doin the little circles too! pc Austen Gage
Basically C wants me to really work on flattening my back and lifting my crotch instead of my seat bones in the moment of "bounce." Effectively: the front of the triangle of my seat vs the back. For me, it actually helped me to think more about pushing my gut forward vs trying to think about lift. Possibly a slightly different mechanic, but C liked the results.

One of my biggest positional issues, esp on the flat, is in gripping with my lower legs. Trainer C repeated again and again and again to loosen my lower legs, and point my toes forward. I need to take my leg *off* the horse, and just have a looser feel overall.

She also didn't really love how much my hands move, and that I allow so much slack in the reins. I should work harder to keep the reins filled, esp on the outside. Moments of softening and givie here and there are good and totally fine, but shouldn't be a complete release of the rein.

charlie tries so hard to do what i ask. pc Austen Gage
Anyway tho, I had a few fleeting moments in sitting trot where it really felt like the pieces clicked for a step or two. C advised that I only sit for as long as I can hold that feeling, then start posting again. Then sit, then post. Again and again and again.

The interesting thing about this approach was that it began to make clear to me the adjustments I had to make in my position when I'd be preparing to sit, vs when I was posting "normally." Mayhaps my "normal" post position is part of the problem, and so now I'm going to be thinking about always holding my position such that I could sit at any moment. Or at least, that's my current idea lol.

a lot of effort pictured here as i try to sort my sitting trot out.... 
Charlie, for his part, was a very very good boy. He goes hollow when I work on sitting trot bc I basically just stop literally everything else to do it. Like, sitting the trot literally saps all my resources away, absorbs every ounce of brain power I have. Practice, practice, I guess.

You can also totally tell when I'm focusing so hard (so hard tho) on my position and seat, bc my arms kinda go rigid and straight and I let go of the reins lol.... Seriously. This rider right here apparently can not walk and chew gum at the same time. It's.... a challenge haha.

bit by bit, i'm getting a feel for it.
Anyway. It's honestly the same mechanical issues at canter too. The same issues in my position that make sitting effectively so challenging are what prevents me from riding Charlie's canter as effectively as I want.

Like, being real here, Charlie and I have a fairly codependent shared vocabulary for how we achieve certain shapes or movements or exercises or whatever. But.... it isn't exactly "correct" methodology, if you know what I mean. Like, we have a way that "works," but it's imperfect, not ideal, and probably a whole helluva lot harder than it needs to be. And also likely to create issues down the road when we want to build new skills on top of this foundation.

now to recreate in every show ring ever 
So I guess we should probably keep trying to fix that haha. So right now our canter still kinda sucks. But maybe if I can keep working on fixing my own mechanics the canter will magically fix itself? Lol...

Anyway, the video clip I'm including here is only about 3min, but it's a great representation of the lesson as a whole. We go from sitting trot practice to canter work to trot lengthenings, all of which made up the meat of the lesson.

Per usual, Charlie's trot immediately after the canter was at its absolute best. Seriously. There's like 3-4 steps of downright dreamy trot right around 1:40 in the video. What a good boy <3

i won't be able to truly get what i want from charlie's canter until i fix my own self... pc Austen Gage
To finish out the ride, Trainer C had us touch on the trot lengthenings a little bit. After asking for a little lengthening down one short diagonal to change directions, C observed that Charlie might actually benefit from avoiding long diagonals for lengthening practice for now.

Actually, she wanted us doing them on a circle for the most part. It's funny bc you mostly can't even tell we're doing it in the video lol. We just go from a kinda blah trot to what should probably be our proper working trot, then fade back to blah again.

The fade, for the record, was specific. That was her word - to let him just "fade" back to normal working trot. Which was interesting to me bc in my practice I've been focusing moreso on the transitions between different trots, trying to show a crisp difference. Perhaps that's a little premature for now tho? Anyway, food for thought.

the chat breaks are charlie's favorite tho. pc Austen Gage
We're still really just starting with the lengthenings anyway. And even tho we don't really have an actual medium yet, Charlie definitely has the idea down that I'm asking for *more* trot, not a canter transition. So that's kinda reassuring. Charlie and I so far have a very rudimentary feel for what needs to happen, it'll simply take time.

So all in all, a very productive 30min with trainer C. We touched on all the important schooling aspects right now, with a heavy (and much needed) focus on my own mechanics. While it could be easy to look at some of these photos and be frustrated by just how far off I am from that classic beautiful dressage seat.... Honestly, I'm not too worried about it.

There were moments in the ride where I really felt like things were clicking, albeit briefly. And watching the video makes me think those feelings were accurate. We're on the right track.

And through it all, possibly the thing I love most about this ride? Charlie was such a good boy. He doesn't exactly have the easiest job -- he's a green horse who has to be subjected to the wild gyrations of his bumbling rider trying to sit the trot. But like, that's his job, ya know? And he's totally cool with it.

aw but he knows he's a good boy. pc Austen Gage
He's totally cool with being the horse that I can learn on. I'm going to fuck up, do weird stuff, be imbalanced and crooked and generally confusing. And yet, he #persists. He just does the thing. Tries to understand, and tries to be a good boy. Is basically the ultimate adult ammy horse.

And for that, I'm so so so grateful. Plus, omg, look how far he's come!! This off track brontosaurus is really truly starting to look the part these days <3

"Yes I am. I am the Best Boy." - Charlie, probably
Honestly if that 30min session was all we did for the day, I would have still been feeling really good about where things are with Charlie. And you better believe I'm already anxiously plotting my next full lesson with C haha.

But!! That wasn't all for the day - we still had our cavaletti session up next with trainer K. Where we got to see if I could hang on to the feelings of all these mechanical adjustments while actually trying to like, do other things too. Lol stay tuned for more on that soon ;)

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

about all that leather....

Confession time: I am not Pony Club rated when it comes to caring for my tack. Not even close.

In theory I love the idea of carefully cleaning and caressing all that leather. And I *do* enjoy cleaning the tack once I buckle down to actually do it. It's just.... Well. To be perfectly honest? It just doesn't happen all that often.

I'm trying to get better tho.

Especially considering how much I've invested in tack upgrades over the past year. Ahem.

pictured: my beloved Hulsebos dressage saddle that fits like it was custom made for Charlie, and a PS of Sweden bridle that's a liitttttle too small haha. and also a sneak preview of the photos from our fun clinic!! pc Austen Gage
You might remember that I ooh-ed and aah-ed over the PS of Sweden bridle I bought from Aimee a couple years ago as the nicest piece of tack I owned. It's still a very nice piece of tack, and has since been joined by an equally nice jump bridle.

But it's only since last winter that my saddle game stepped up to the plate too. Last winter I upgraded my dressage saddle to a Hulsebos custom built for my trainer's late giant OTTB. And that saddle.... it's pretty fanceh, yah? With like, buffalo leather and the whole nine yards.

i busted out those bright white polos we won from the year end awards, bc when the hell else will they ever get used other than at a dressage clinic?!? pc Austen Gage
Last summer the saddle maker himself, Jan Huslebos, actually came out and custom fitted it to me and Charlie. Including chopping off the bottom half of the thigh blocks to better accommodate my own geometry. At that time, I was admittedly slightly mortified to have him working on his own creation while it was in kinda dusty musty condition, ya know?

So I bought a jar of the Hulsebos leather conditioner at the same time, and have since been better about applying it semi-regularly to my tack.

post saddle surgery: those blocks used to reach all the way to the bottom of the sweat flap!
More recently I went through that whole KonMari-my-tack-trunk episode (lol puns) and had to clean all that stuff too. I just used what I had on hand at home: some random saddle soap from a prize pack a few years ago, and my trusty Effax conditioner.

One thing has stood out to me amid this whole tack cleaning and organizing frenzy: there really is a big difference in how well the higher quality stuff cleans up vs lower grades of leather. Even after years of neglect, the nice stuff just kinda bounced back to life, whereas the cheaper buys definitely bore the scars of their abuse.

the new kid in town. the leather is so dreamy, so soft..... now to just keep it like that!
Anyway, all this is to say: now that I'm the proud owner of a new-to-me french leather saddle (plus those lovely new tall boots that I continue to be super impressed by!), I'm suddenly feeling quite a bit more motivated to keep my stuff in nice condition.

The Hulsebos conditioner has worked well, as has the saddle soap I've been using. And I do like that Effax. Plus I'm honestly also a pretty big fan of regular old glycerin soap, and have heard great things about neatsfoot oil. At my first barn growing up we used Lexol on basically everything, too.

this bridle wishes it was showered with as much affection as Charlie is on the daily haha. pc Austen Gage
I'm curious tho about other brands or products. All those butters and creams and oils and conditioners and wipes and polishes.... Are they all just variations of the same thing? Or do some really work better than others? Particularly, are there some whose effects last longer? Or that are easier to use?

Is the key really all about wiping down after every single ride? Or are sporadic cleanings enough?

i might be stingy with the leather conditioner, but dammit if i'm not extremely liberal in the application of treetz directly to charlie's face haha. pc Austen Gage
Do you have any tried and true favorites? Or any horror stories or products you only use with extreme caution, or avoid altogether? Or maybe you're more like me, kinda just using whatever's on hand and hoping for the best?

Are you like a mad scientist when it comes to the proper method of tack cleaning and conditioning? Must soap always come first? Or do you just slap some conditioner on top of possibly-grimy leather and call it good?

My poor abused tack is dying (lol more puns) to know!

Monday, February 11, 2019

weekend news: in chapters

Part the First: I bought the damn saddle haha.

I love dragging out a story for as long as humanly possible as much as the next girl, but this saga has officially concluded.

but omg guys we rode outside!!! at faster than a walk!! and jomped too!!
Basically you already know most of the relevant details:

- The saddle appears to fit Charlie in all the important dimensions.
- I freakin love it for myself.
- Charlie has gone well in it.

i feel good about this
The only issue I had with the saddle after last week's jumping lesson was that there was a bit more movement at the point of takeoff than I felt quite comfortable with for a newly purchased saddle.

my prolite half pad has three pockets per side, and two sizes of shims that can be used separately or together
It's totally normal for there to be some movement, and some degree of "float" under the panels at the most extreme point of the horse's bascule (I found this article helpful and informative on the subject), just by nature of putting a rigid structure on the horse's dynamic and articulated back.

current configuration: large shim up front, small shim in back, no shim in middle pocket
As with everything in horses tho, it's all about balance and moderation. For me, I wasn't completely satisfied with the degree we were seeing with the L'Apogee. Thus the trial extension and half pad experimentation.

we interrupt this broadcast with a doozy of a slip on the wet clay tho, ugh. charlie was fine luckily!
It's so crazy to me that everything with horses is such a game of millimeters. My first test ride with the different shims (just a simple flat ride), I had a big shim in the front pocket and a small in the middle, and felt like I was posting up Mt Everest with every step of trot. It was insane, I kept losing balance and getting left behind.

still a star tho!
All I kept thinking was, "If this is what the saddle needs to fit better on Charlie, there's no way it's gonna work for ME!"

Half way through the ride I couldn't stand it any more and hopped off to move those small shims from the middle pocket to the rear pocket (they were the wrong shape but for a quick ride it was fine) and was immediately relieved to have balance restored to our universe haha.


So that's the configuration I used (tho obviously with the appropriately shaped rear shims swapped in instead) for a lightning fast jump school before full dark. We jumped like.... four things, and nothing particularly large. I literally just wanted some more video footage (above).

The video is obviously a bit limited bc of the circumstances, but it was enough for me. I felt good, the horse still felt good, and the shims appeared to reduce the noise I had seen in our earlier jump video.

do you ever feel like.... you're being watched?
Another important detail to consider? I've been riding Charlie a TON since the saddle arrived for trial. Every day, generally for an hour (tho obviously with a lot of walking and stopping involved). For everything from low key conditioning type rides or hacks, to focused dressage rides, to jump schools.

for one brief moment it looked like the cat was legit considering jumping down onto charlie...
And actually I've been tracking all this in the EquiLab riding app that I'll probably review my thoughts on sometime in the near future.... It's been useful tho for ensuring I'm logging adequate mileage to test the saddle.

those barn cats are such sneaky little beasties...
Especially considering before and after every ride I've been palpating the crap out of Charlie's back, looking for the slightest hints of back soreness. I thank my lucky stars every day that Charlie doesn't suffer with the same chronic sorenesses in his back that always plagued Isabel (unless he has rainrot, in which case he is DYING OMG).

And fortunately, that has remained the case throughout the saddle trial. So. That's that. I finally pulled the trigger this weekend and am the proud owner of a new-to-me L'Apogee monoflap cross country saddle! Woo hoo!!

omg we rode outside again!! 
Which is mighty convenient bc we're really starting to get hints of impending spring around here! Obvi there's still a few weeks of winter left, historically our worst actually. But still. The days are getting longer! We could actually ride outside after work twice this week!

and during daylight!! on a workday!!
This magical sunset hack through the cross country fields was exactly what I needed too. It was so pretty out there, and so nice to be riding out in the open outside of the dusty tiny indoor again. And all those xc jumps.... oh man it was SO tempting to aim Charlie at a couple of them!! Alas, I don't want to be that asshole who tears up the ground tho, so we wait.

charlie thinks he deserves treats for the fact that the sun is still up. lol...
We're not just sitting idly by tho. I mean, obviously hacking out is always fun and relaxing and is an important and refreshing part of my approach to riding and working with Charlie. It's a critical aspect to the whole "enjoying each other's company" piece of the puzzle, part of those "in between" moments that color the whole horse experience.

But ya know. I really love the training aspects too haha.

one day in the not so distant future this ground will dry and we can actually jump some of these things!
Luckily, regarding that, two months into the new year and so far my plan of investing in educational training opportunities monthly is still on track. This weekend we went to a super cool dressage + cavaletti clinic taught by the dynamic duo of my long-time dressage trainer C plus upper level event rider K!

dis charlie's "Tired but Proud" face
The clinic was a really neat format with the ring split into halves (roughly 20x30m each). Riders spent the first part of their lesson with Trainer C in one half working on their dressage fundamentals, then moved over to the other side of the arena to put those fundamentals to work over cavaletti exercises with Trainer K.

i can't wait to share the full post. charlie has come so far, guys <3 <3 <3
It seemed like a pretty inspired clinic idea, rolling all sorts of attractive qualities into one big fun day! I've been dying to get back to a lesson with Trainer C for a while now (again, per my stated goals for the year) and this arena is legit one of my all-time favorites haha. The footing is so magical and the horses all seem to love it there.

this photo of charlie and his spicy little nugget of a trailer mate makes me LOL
Charlie was a super star for the lesson, tho actually we ended up working more on me than anything else. I have lots of notes (and media! thanks Austen for all of these pictures!) to share from the day, so stay tuned for more soon.

more lol'ing happened when said nugget needed a cooler after the ride but all i had was charlie's QUARTER SHEET. and, it totally almost sorta fit hahaha
For now tho I'm just excited to see all our preparations and plans and hopes and dreams for the upcoming year to start materializing. Starting, naturally, with the year's earliest outings and adventures haha.

Is anyone else feeling hints of spring too? Or maybe you're still buried under snow and ice?