Tuesday, December 10, 2019

metronomes + a yellow submarine

I mentioned last week that we've been doing a lot (LOT) of riding lately. But with media hard to come by, my words well has sorta run dry too.

I'm trying to change that, tho, especially bc I'm expecting (hopefully, fingers crossed!!!) both a change in the media landscape AND an influx of stuff that'll want sharing haha. So I gotta clear the proverbial ledger now while I still have a chance.

Meaning. Brace yo'selves for some riding updates, lol.

this bite-sized shetland stallion quite possibly wanted a bite outta charlie.... 
Because yea. Again and again, I find that writing out the occasional nitty gritty or golden nugget of wisdom really helps reinforce that idea in my gray matter. Plus I routinely reference my own archives to help remind myself of key concepts or past experiences. So. Ya know. Documenting this stuff is worth it to me.

If, additionally, anything I share here happens to spark some sort of aha! moment or whatever for anyone of you? All the better, right?

So. Anyway. Recent riding.

oh hey. btw. we went to Fair Hill's 3* / 4* back in october. twas fun!! might post eventually!
1. My first big nugget relates to how I've been working (still) to internalize some of the feedback from our Martin Douzant clinic a while back. Mainly relating to my hand and arm position.

Basically, my hands are completely out of control, and when left to their own devices will stray wildly hither and yon. Ideally, I'd like to fix this via muscle memory. If I can "lock" my hands into place and keep them there, maybe the rest of my body will get used to that positioning such that even when my hands are "untethered" they still stay more or less where they belong.

latest hack for trying to be a less shitty rider: fabric ribbon tucks under neck strap and has knotted loops at each end to hold with the reins. this helps keep my hands "in the box"
To this end, I've taken a fairly long strand of sturdy fabric ribbon and tied a generously sized loop at either end. If I ride with a neck strap or breastplate (like my Illumiseen LED breastplate that we use for nighttime riding), this ribbon just tucks underneath and I hold each looped end in a hand with my rein.

It isn't the most elegant or perfect solution, but it forces my hands to stay within a certain zone in front of the saddle, and without straying too far away from either side of the neck. The biggest impact is on my rein length -- the ribbon forces me to keep my reins short enough for my contact to stay effective. Pretty sure baling twine would also work.

This is all for the good. Tho... sometimes the ribbon is distracting and I end up pocketing it. But sometimes I regret forgetting it all back in the barn. All in all, it's a 'solution' I'll likely continue to play with for the foreseeable future.

notes from a recent clinic. the biomechanics implications here are fascinating to me and have informed my schooling.
for real tho, in that black ink diagram (mine, vs the blue ink of the instructor) i really truly swear-to-god was going for "horse tail" and not "fountain of shit." fine artist i am not.
2. A few weeks back I participated in a clinic billed as "Solutions for Soundness." I'm not really going to write super in depth about that experience front to back, nose to tail, bc.... Eh. It didn't live up to my expectations.

BUT!! There were a few really important takeaways. Well, ok. There was ONE really interesting takeaway!

The clinic was led in part by an equine sports massage expert, whose purported role in the clinic was to provide feedback on way of going and riding exercises to promote long term soundness. Again I'm going to skip most of the details bc the bark was better than the bite, but she did have one key observation that I'm clinging to as being at least sorta kinda worth what it cost me lol.

fairly basic ground pole exercises in the (very expensive) clinic, but good stuff all the same
Specifically: upon first presenting Charlie, she observed that his hind end musculature is unevenly developed. His "hamstrings" (not the technical term, but basically the long vertical muscles that run up the back side of each leg on either side of the tail) are over-developed, and his glutes (the massive muscles spanning the space across the top of the hind quarter from tail to SI) are under-developed.

This is basically the muscular representation of "running hollow." Or, the representation of why I might spend the whole beginning of my ride legging Charlie on to go go go, but then the rest of the ride trying to whoa whoa whoa as he runs off flatly away.

She called it a "speed evasion," aka a failure at the most fundamental building block of the training pyramid: rhythm. Addressing our Rhythm woes will help build the glutes by getting Charlie to engage his "push" while simultaneously (hopefully) evening out his topline.

So yea. It's a good takeaway. Am I grumpy that it's all I feel I got for the cost? Mebbe. But whatever. Water under the bridge. Let's bleed this rhythm stone for all it's worth, yes?

all in favor of rhythm, say metronome. this app has been living in my pocket lately
Thus, 3. I downloaded a new app in my endless quest toward "better riding through technology."

This time, it's a metronome app. Specifically, Soundbrenner. I chose it bc it was the first search result for "metronome" that didn't say "in app purchases!" And actually it's pretty decent. Very intuitive, lots of sound options, variations that would easily work for walk / trot / canter / etc, whatever you want.

Mostly tho I just set it to "trot" and leave it there for the duration of my ride. Canter might be something I play with down the line (that 3 beat note subdivision in the bottom right of the image above), but for now trot is where it's at for us.

And... It's "where it's at" bc holy fuck, it's HARD. Like... First of all just deciding on a beats/min (bpm) range was challenging bc you don't realize how a-rhythmic you are until you put a beat to it.... The google told me a good working trot is about 75bpm, but I'm finding Charlie's sweet spot might be closer to 77-78. Maybe. Ish?

Anyway tho, leaving this thing running in my pocket is fascinating. Bc holy shite we cannot keep a rhythm. At all omg. But I actually really like having the beat going in my pocket. It gives me a baseline to focus on, rather than getting distracted by a popped shoulder or hard mouth.

Bc, go figure, that "training pyramid" thing might have a least a kernel of wisdom to it (even if you disagree with the overall structure). Rhythm it turns out is a fundamental building block to straightness and connection. And when I have a literal metronome in my pocket to help keep me honest, everything else magically gets better. Goooooooo figure lol.

recent lesson exercises
Whew, ok, that was a lot more than I meant to write about that. Lol... Moving on.

4. Our lessons have been excellent. Back in September I wrote a lesson post about working on short turns to big oxers that included two crashing refusals. At the time I attributed the issues to the extremely hard ground and Charlie's probably-sore feet. And now? I feel completely 100% confident in that initial assessment.

Charlie's been a beast. Y'all saw it in the video from our last lesson recap, and there have been so many more that didn't have any media but are still worthy of mentions.

Specifically, the left side of the diagram above shows our warm up from a lesson quite a few weeks ago. Most of the details are gone from my head now, but this warm up exercise has stuck with me. It actually took a minute for me to understand what Trainer K was asking here, I started out by making giiiiiiiant sweeping turns in between jumps.

But actually she wanted a pretty tight figure 8, with the fences (I think both verticals, at a low warm up height) taken at quite acute severe angles. It's a very effective exercise for turning and straightness, and would probably work at all heights including cavaletti and ground poles.

photograph of final wide oxer from diagram above. doesn't look like much in the pic, but compare the distance between the standard feet in this pic to the pic below
5. Our most recent lesson with Trainer K (last week) occurred after the biomechanics escapade mentioned as part of item #2 (I call it #2 bc in my head it's shitty.... but now in writing it out I'm extracting more value, so... le sigh.... maybe it wasn't so bad after all...).

Trainer K was a participating instructor in that clinic, and therefore apparently came away with additional exercise ideas revolving around the idea of improving Charlie's hind end development.

On this day, her prescription was: a low wide oxer taken off a short turn, complete with a placing pole (9' I think) and guard rails to keep us centered.

photograph for reference. this oxer is 3'3 in height, but not particularly wide. see how close the feet of these standards are in comparison to the standards above.
Charlie did really really well with this, tho coming off the left lead was substantially easier than the right. And, actually, he needed one step more of support from me than I was giving. As the lesson progressed, I got a better and better feel for managing our pace and rhythm through each portion of the approach - the long side, the turn through the end, then the turn to the jump, then to the jump itself.

But that last stride, when we met the placing pole before the oxer, Charlie needed a little more from me. The guard rails kept us very straight and the low wide nature of the oxer wanted a lot of push from Charlie - activating exactly that section of muscles where he's less developed. It was actually really really interesting to feel.

This horse is so extremely capable. He never doubted himself over the exercise (thank the lort, compared to how he felt at the end of this summer on hard ground....) But I could really feel the moments where I needed to be more there for him.

spoiler alert: all this edumacation at home has meant that we're ready for balls-to-the-walls fun at winter schooling events!!
So, that takes us to 6. Trainer K gave me yet another little golden nugget, almost accidentally - it was such an off-handed remark haha. As we were talking about rhythm and working on that approach, she said that she doesn't usually "count" for her young horses bc that's too structured for them. Rather, she "sings."

And.... What does she sing??? Yellow Submarine.


So. Obviously our very next go at the exercise, Trainer K immediately says, "Yes that canter right there!" and, go figure, I was singing that song in my head.

It's not perfect for me yet, bc any time I change one thing, something else breaks. Thinking about that song requires way more brain power for me than just counting, bc I've been counting for years and years and years -- it's second nature. But the song somehow fits right in, and I fully expect it to carve its own neural pathways too, probably sooner rather than later lol.

So. Yea. Lots of good nuggets lately haha, hopefully with more to come! (Spoilers if you haven't been following my youtube lol....). Anyone else had any great takeaways lately? Or even something kinda small that's made a big difference?


  1. Thanks for putting this all together! I always get lots to think about your posts... even though I'm not riding atm, still lots to consider. I like the metronome app idea - pretty cool.

    No big takeaways for me lately...except that I miss riding!

    1. The metronome has been awesome! I’ve thought about it on and off for ages but finally doing it has been better than expected haha.

      And yea I hear you. Winter riding is challenging enough esp without dedicated surfaces to ride on... hopefully you get a chance soon tho!!

  2. I have downloaded that app and will be using it with Carmen and I. We too struggle with rhythm - her's comes from tension.
    I had a clinician once start singing 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts' in time to Irish's canter. It worked really well.

    1. ooooh awesome, let me know what you think of using the metronome! it's so interesting to me bc it really (REALLY) highlights the moments where charlie feels more weak or fatigued, which obvi is useful in understanding where he is in his conditioning. it's also interesting bc the trot at that tempo during our warm up feels so different from the trot at that tempo after a canter. like, even tho the tempo is the same there's all sorts of different trots in there.

  3. Ke$ha's TikTok worked really well for Carlos and his tiny stride to make me get that sweet, sweet, impulsion for the distances to come up easily!

    Haha I am definitely going to download that metronome app and try it, maybe later this week when I'm not riding an exploding rocket

    1. lol i mean, it could be fun to pair the metronome with the exploding rocket. like a whole new take on "ticking time bomb!" lol....

  4. I will now have that song stuck in my head. Especially since I'm not the biggest fan of the Beatles. But duuuude I can totally see how that song would work for that tho! lol The metronome is a really really good idea. I'll definitely look at it - it'd help for sure when Amber gets tired!

    1. oh man, yea the song is definitely stuck in my head now too.... but i guess that's part of what makes it so effective?? maybe?? lol...

  5. Rhythm is SO hard to achieve and it doesn't take much for it to go SPLAT.

    I have heard about singing the Yellow Submarine before, but its just one of those tidbits that gets forgotten about. I'll have to remember it for when we start to regularly ride again!

    1. lol for real tho, riding is so full of all these useful tidbits that are learned then promptly forgotten.... i'm hoping this one will have a little more staying power!!

  6. That clinic sounds really interesting, I'm sorry you didn't get as much out of it as you hoped. As a former pianist I am very familiar with the metronome, lol it was the bane of my existence, but I've never tried one while riding.

    1. i've thought about it off and on over the years but never had tried it before either. but now i really like it! i think it's also nice that charlie can hear it too

  7. We talk a lot about a good 'tempo' quite a bit in my lessons. In fact, sometimes that's what I'm supposed to aim for before adding in asking for contact. And it's HARD because the tempo my trainer wants is the one that balances delicately and half halting too soon in the right tempo or too strongly causes a downward transition because maintaining it is HARD for Gwyn.

    I might use that metronome idea, good tip!

    1. yea for sure, according to the "training pyramid" rhythm has to come before connection anyway. and actually, relaxation is in there before connection too... for me the hardest part is looking at stuff like the pyramid or reading all those fancy jargony words and figuring out how to actually ACT on them in the moment. so far, the metronome has been helpful in this regard!

  8. Holy crap I am trying this. I need to know how a-rhythmic we are and calculate our average BPM for walk/trot/canter.

    Then I can use JogFM to get BPM playlists happening to ride to. I am unusually excited

  9. Ooohhh the idea of this app in my pocket tik tokking away is fascinating!

  10. And now that's in my head... Will have to try Yellow Submarine next time I jump!
    My newest breakthrough is so sad to admit.... But when you put your leg on through the turn, and proceed to keep it there, the jumps just show right up out of stride. Who knew?


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