Wednesday, November 11, 2020

going charlie's speed

I'm not gonna lie, it was kinda nice taking a little time off. The key, I think, is to fully and completely relinquish all feelings of guilt - really be unencumbered by the feelings of "I really ought to do this..." or, "I should do that..." or, "Charlie really needs me to do that other thing."

Bc it's all kinda... bs, right? Charlie's fine, he lives at a full care boarding facility. He gets a ton of turn out with his friends every day, he gets food and water every day, and so far hasn't managed to actually drop dead if I go two days in a row without seeing him.

be sure to look both ways before spooking at nothing!
And meanwhile, while we both sorta recovered slowly from our own minor maladies, I just focused on spending my barn time enjoying Charlie's company -- maybe for nice grooming sessions, or little hack-abouts. Or ya know. If I didn't feel like making the drive? Eh, then I just didn't do it. Nbd, really.

The big benefit to this approach and attitude is that now that we're getting back to it, we both feel reasonably refreshed even tho the physical fitness is seriously lacking.

mikey cat!
It's still not entirely clear to me what was going on with Charlie to make him feel nqr, or whether it was really anything specific at all in the first place. But we took a couple steps to hopefully remedy that. In addition to the time off, he had another chiro / acupuncture appointment a few weeks ago. 

Plus we did another box of adequan. Somehow we sorta ended up on a fall schedule for joint injections but.... Eh, that's really not ideal imo. So considering our workload is so light right now, with no immediate plans to change that, Charlie's vet and I discussed seeing if we couldn't push his routine maintenance out to next spring. 

Ideally, the adequan course will be enough to tide us over. Tho if he ends up getting hock-y before then, nbd, we'll just take it as it comes. 

oh hey look, it's stabby jabby season again
For now, tho, we're basically getting back into the swing of things with my own imagined interpretation of the "couch to 5k" program, but for horses. 

Our rides are meticulously simple: a walk warm up, 2min of trot in each direction (broken up by another walk break), a lap of canter in each direction, then ta-da!, we're finished.

spooky season around the farm is the absolute best <3 <3
The devil is always in the details, tho, right? And by that, I mean, we might be doing very very limited work right now, but I want it to be good work, and reasonably correct. Channeling the "Stringent Criteria" a la Doug Payne.

As always, everything starts with rhythm -- and you better believe I'm still riding with our trusty metronome tick-tocking away in my pocket (at 77bpm, natch). This device continues to be one of the most illuminating independent training aids I've ever used. 

For example: tracking right, I can easily hold my post to the metronome - no problem whatsoever. Tracking left, tho, we're much likelier to lose the rhythm. 

just normal barn stuff
Also notable about the metronome: it's my distinct impression that it forces both me and Charlie to be stronger in our relative positions. 

For instance, when either of us loses our balance, the easiest result (path of least resistance) is to disrupt the tempo - either by scooting forward a bit or shuffling or whatever. But with painstaking attention paid to that unwavering Tick-Tock! in my pocket, we end up actually working harder and, not coincidentally, better. Or at least, that's how it seems to me.

mikey being helpful with tack cleaning
I've also lately kinda stepped back to reevaluate entirely how I'm approaching riding Charlie on the flat. You might recall that I've jokingly said over the last few months that we kinda "gave up" on dressage, which is sorta true, but sorta not. 

The reality is.... I'm just so freakin tired of constantly chasing this horse forward. And he's tired of it too, I assure you. We get into these rides where it feels like I'm just constantly getting after him and running him off his legs, and he's coping by just getting more and more tense, and hollow across his topline. This whole cycle was basically epitomized in the test we did at our last show.

wishing mikey would be more helpful with mouse exterminating.... UGH
So.... We're going back to basics. I went way wayy back in the archives to the first real turning point in Charlie's education on the flat -- which happened to also be his first riding lesson with erstwhile coach Dan

Every single trainer who has ever seen Charlie go (and most judges too) have wanted him to go more forward, more energy, more faster, more run, Charlie, RUN!! Except Dan. He's the only one who has told us to slow it down, but way down. Still focusing on activity and crispness, but slow and with purpose. 

And.... Honestly, I think Charlie likes that approach and does better with it. He doesn't get as stressed out by me constantly chasing him along, and it feels like he can take stronger more 'pushing' steps. We can also stay much rounder using this approach, which makes me feel like Charlie's using his whole body, and especially his back, more effectively.

it's ok buddy, you're still cute. also, fwiw, having this spray bottle of lexol saddle soap in my locker has finally helped me get into a better habit of routine leather care. it's not my favorite soap in the world, but it works nicely and the convenience of quick wipe downs without having to deal with water can't be beat!
So, I figure, if it's working for us, why not just run with it? Right now my only goal is to just slowly and carefully put on more condition and fitness (for the both of us), while keeping the work short enough that Charlie can give it his all without feeling punished or souring. 

Because that's kinda what winter boot camp is all about anyway, right? Who knows... maybe there'll be hope for us yet in the dressage ring LOL! 

Anyone else going back to basics now that the season is winding down? Or taking some time off? Or maybe you've got your own tips or tricks for favorite exercises for building strength and fitness in your horse? 


  1. This post really speaks to me, I've given up on the guilty feeling of not being able to go to the barn for [insert ammy reason here] and I feel so lucky to have a horse who doesn't give a hoot how many days he gets off between rides!

    Really interesting about stopping chasing Charlie forward and just focusing on quality of work. Goose is possibly the slowest creature alive and I had one clinician tell me to stop chasing him forward and start pushing his hind end under him no matter how slow he goes. I'm going to revisit this concept too - like you we're doing short rides right now cuz dark and fall. Interested in your metronome; is it an app you use?

    1. yep!! it's a fairly basic app, pretty sure there are zillions of them, i just picked the first free one. it's called "soundbrenner". i basically set it to a trot tempo at the beginning of my ride (which, after trial and error, for us is about 77bpm) and leave it going the whole time rather than trying to change and adjust it for different gaits (like canter). i've been using it since january, actually, and unlike other riding apps i really feel it's helpful enough to keep using

      wrote a little more about it (with screen shots) here:

  2. I've backed off a little bit too, but in a different way. I had grand plans for Nay this fall. I wanted to introduce him to all these things, but then I messed up his stomach by taking him off a supplement (or 2) and his belly was bothering him. So instead, I'm just taking off the pressure a bit and we'll explore new stuff this spring.

    For now? We can pick up the right lead (FINALLY) and just want to stay consistent. Nay is super happy (well, no, he's not, but riding wise he is). If I ride 5 days a week, he's dead quiet and happy. If I ride less? He's less happy when I ride. He likes less work, but he's happier being ridden more? So I'm just focusing on trying to ride more so I can do less riding? And just getting consistent over the next few months. We'll see what happens.

    1. lol yea.... charlie's the same way -- he's the absolute perfect physical model of newton's first law of motion: an object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion, barring some external force acting upon him. and... the external force needed to change him from "rest" phases to "work" phases can be... lol, excessive. much better to just try and stay consistent!

  3. Sometimes we just have to go to square 1 to figure out the fix (that will hopefully not become the new problem lol) fingers crossed this 'reset' works out the best for both of you!

  4. Shiny gets the same too fast and too tense feeling when I ask her for more. What I rally want is relaxed, big, and slow. But it's hard to explain to them isn't it? Lol. Sounds like you have a good plan to leg back up!

    1. i wish i could just like.... show charlie a video or something, lol. like, 'charlie, watch and learn, my friend, this is what i want!' apparently, tho, that's not how riding works... womp!

  5. I have found a lot of good of this forced slow down. A lot. And it's interesting what you wrote about charlie and his lack of forward. Johanna (the coach from spain who works primarily with Andalusians) is a big fan of this approach. This is what she has me do with Carmen and I use it a lot. Carmen is a hot horse and will quite happily plow around on her forehand with her hind legs trailing behind. slowing her down and focusing on the 'push' works really well for her (the mare may have different thoughts on this but whatevs). When I get her under and then open the throttle it's whooo.

    I think that for some breeds who are naturally built for the impulsion will do better with the chasing forward. I think a race horse like charlie will just dump more and more on his front end.

    1. ugh yea, charlie just LOVES running and dumping -- ugh, cough cough, ahem, i mean *jumping*.... lol...

  6. I've taken time off, too, and it's seriously been good for the soul. Leo's been steadily training/competing since January so after our last show mid-October, we've scaled things waaaay back.

    Hopefully C can stave off the injections until spring and you can figure out what flatwork approach works best for you two!

    1. here's hoping! i'm sure he'll be fine one way or another lol...


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