Friday, July 10, 2020

signal v. noise

One of my biggest struggles with Charlie is keeping up with him as he adapts and evolves. Sure, he's a very consistent, predictable and reliable horse -- but he's also sensitive and learns quickly.

I sometimes get so caught up with "planning" and "expectations" that I end up riding yesterday's horse instead of Charlie's today. Does that make any sense? 

check out this beautiful shot from charlie's super groom!
Anyway. Wayyy back in February 2017, just a few months after Charlie came home to me, I wrote an entire litany on all the small adjustments and modifications, the incremental changes we were making in Charlie's training. Including everything from tack and equipment adjustments to what external tools I use as a rider.

Obviously a lot has changed since then, but most relevant to this post is the point about when and why I choose to carry a crop or whip, or wear spurs.

my elegant beastie <3 <3 <3
For a while with Charlie, I carried a dressage whip and wore spurs for every single ride. But.... Over time, began to believe we had become over-reliant on those tools and that Charlie was actually deadening to them.

So I nixed them, or would do one or the other. Riiiiight up until our disastrous second attempt at Novice, where Charlie had a completely uncharacteristic performance at Plantation. He was stuck behind my leg and stopping at fences, and I reeeeeeally could have used more backup.

three months without lessons left some bloat in the budget. hellloooooo fancy new ecogold saddle pad!!
Basically since then, I've taken the approach of always always carrying all my tools with me in competition. And usually in lessons too. I figure, in a lesson the trainer will let me know if I'm using the whip or spur like a crutch. Plus, we're typically pushing ourselves hardest in lessons so I want to be sure to have all my power when called for - esp if it means avoiding a sticky or unpleasant moment.

Then, in just every day schooling, I typically ride "unarmed" so to speak. No whip, crop or spurs. And ya know, this has been pretty much fine for a long while now.

ah horses. so humbling.
went from congratulating myself for beating the rain to literally eating dirt in the snap of a finger... was still finding sand in my ears for days wtf....
Lately tho.... Charlie's reminding me that... Ya know.... All my philosophizing and conceptualization and rationalization of how I approach riding doesn't really mean jack shit to Charlie if he's not on the same page haha.

Like a couple weeks ago when we were soooo sluggish omg in our dressage school... I kept pleading with him to please maybe consider picking himself up, but he just could. not. And as we were cantering and stumbling along, I finally growled out 'ugh Charlie, buddy, c'mon!'

Which... well.... He certainly did, by basically stumbling into an unstoppable avalanche at the canter, in what must have looked like his best "wheelbarrow" impression haha. The hind end was still cantering, but the front end was just... Idk, it was basically a simultaneous horse + rider face plant, let's be real. Massively unpleasant, so much sand everywhere omg. Charlie had sand up his nose and a skinned knee, and well... you can see from the above what I looked like. Ugh. So so so unnecessary, tho!

charlie 100% prefers spectating vs actually having to derpsage himself
I hate that sometimes it takes such a big mistake like that for me to remember that it's really not ok to just plod around, ya know? And with any horse but especially Charlie, the more clear I can be in expectations, the better. Spending an entire ride nudging and nagging, begging and pleading for more zip is.... not particularly effective haha.

So our next ride or two included either carrying a whip, wearing spurs, or both. And guess what? The horse has actually been fantastic. Goooooo figure haha.

And actually, that's kinda the other big revelation in adjusting and modifying my approach to riding and training Charlie. Since coming back from quarantine, this horse has been.... straight up phenomenal. Like, obvi set aside the face plant and his unfortunate bout of anaplasmosis, bc ignoring all that it's hard to think of a comparable period of just straight up goodness.

oooooh charlie got to meet trainer K's new bebe!! he's such a weirdo about small beings and creatures haha, but it's cute. every time she made any noises he'd stare intently, probably wishing he could shove his big squishy nose right into the stroller to snuffle all over her lol....
Our first few jumping sessions back from quarantine have all been pretty wonderful -- and obviously we had a grand old time at the hunter pace a couple weeks ago. Compared to this time last year, Charlie feels like an entirely different horse. Sound, happy, relaxed and willingly forward (again just ignore the face plant incident LOL).

And this impression was only strengthened after finally having our first jump lesson since March!!! Heck yes!!!

triple across the diagonal was a 1 to 1 grid
recommended to begin the exercise off L lead for the sake of symmetry
While I've been pretty pleased with our efforts muddling along outside of lessons.... The timing just felt right. Not least because we have a little low key schooling CT this weekend (wish us luck lol...). I figured it might be nice to run through a couple grids to tune everything up, ya know?

Which, obviously trainer K was happy to oblige. And Charlie, bless him, is such a pro at grids. After only a very few repeats with building the grid up, I honestly felt pretty satisfied about things. Actually tho, trainer K surprised me by suggesting we add in a little bit of course work as a finishing touch.

To do so, she set the above fences all up to 3'3 (except the first two grid elements), and sent us on our way. And like, I haven't jumped a course at T height since.... uh, March lol. But Charlie.... he's just on fire right now, absolutely slaying.

pictured: flashback to our doctor-themed hunter pace a couple weeks ago
It's honestly amazing to me what this horse feels like when he feels good. He wants to jump the fences. He likes it when they're big. And it's easy for him.

Charlie has an excellent eye and is educated enough now to know how to adjust himself to the fence. It's such a great feeling. Like I watched trainer K set the fences and kinda gulped a little like ugh, really tho?? Except, the horse just goes, ya know?

Like even when we jumped into that bending 3 stride line from a faaaairly open distance haha and Charlie had NO CLUE that there was a second element lol omg, once he saw the second fence he just half halted himself, jumped it cleanly, then landed perfectly organized for the rollback turn to the triple.

this is my preferred method for conditioning!
It probably helps that I'm continuing to practice some of the softening in my hands to the fence that Martin preached to us about. And, as a slight point of pride, we didn't have a single jump in the lesson (even through the hairy bending line!) where I got left behind or did my weird pearl-clutching over the fences.

But really.... Honestly I think it just boils down to Charlie straight up feeling good in his body. Esp compared to last year. Which... is interesting to me. Bc it's not like he's had any recent work done either -- his last injections were eight months ago (after which we did a course of adequan).

So what's the big difference? Honestly? I think it's the time off from the quarantine period, plus his current conditioning program. Or, uh, ahem, the lack thereof. Because you see.... with his feet in such rough shape, I've been avoiding any unnecessary pounding. No trot or canter sets, and no lengthy rides just for the sake of length.

strolling the farm is nice too ;)
We've been doing all our purposeful schooling (either on the flat or over fences) in short intense bursts a la Doug Payne's "stringent criteria," and otherwise just hacking out and having fun. And the horse feels amazing for it. Which has me rethinking my entire approach to conditioning him.

Previously, knowing that Charlie has a history of quitting (like at Plantation), my idea had been to over condition him. Make Charlie so fit that even if things get rough, he'd have enough in reserve to carry us through.

Maybe that was a fine idea, maybe it wasn't. All I know is.... the ground was hard as shit for basically all of last summer and frankly I now suspect that he was dealing with persistent low grade soreness and inflammation because of it.

Meanwhile, the horse has been back in full work for 8 weeks now -- equivalent to the amount of time off during quarantine. With the only major difference in his work load revolving around babying his feet. And he feels fantastic. So....... Ya know. There's some important food for thought in there lol.

In an ideal world, I want Charlie to be happy and comfortable and set up for success in his work. Bc dammit, in this year 2020, all that really matters is that we can have fun and enjoy ourselves in the moment, right? So. For now, I'm taking my cues from Chuck lol. We'll see what happens!


  1. Glad Charles is feeling great and good luck in the CT! And so true, we need to enjoy what we can while we have it.

    1. thanks! i'm so relieved he's doing so well too

  2. That sounds like such a great lesson! I'm glad Sir Charles is feeling better than ever :)

  3. Those are good thoughts to have. And I think Sir Charles isn't the only one who's feeling good after the enforced downtime. Amanda noticed Henry feeling the same way.

    Good luck in the CT! We have a low key Derby coming up that I'm super excited for.

    1. have fun at the derby!! i'm hoping to do one too - they're soooo fun!!!

  4. Ooh he looks like a dang stud in that pad!

    1. i am in love with that pad haha, but am wondering if i need it in white too...... lol

  5. Sounds like an excellent lesson, I am please Charles is feeling so good! i hope you had a successful weekend.

  6. So glad he's feeling so spry these days. And I hear you on the carrying of whip/wearing of spurs to get a better reaction instead of nag-nag-nagging. Been doing the same with Grif lately and uh. Yeah. Fancy that. Nice to ride something that responds promptly lol

    1. lol right? like.... everything is so much better when we can just say what we mean, and mean what we say, and have the horses just respond in kind LOL

  7. Oh man, glad you're both okay after that face plant! When Shiny and I fell this winter I was pretty beat up! Surprising given how close to the ground she already is... lol
    Sounds like a really great lesson, hope the CT went just as well!

    1. dude that face plant suuuuuucked omg. but.... also by the time i finally came off, i was basically within arm's reach of the ground anyway so it was honestly just a gentle dirty roll. so, uh, thanks charlie? for real tho all my falls from ponies have been wayyyyyyy worse than anything charlie's done to me..


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