Tuesday, December 20, 2016

a lesson for charlie

This weekend's ice storm nearly derailed our highly anticipated first dressage clinic. The storm was more intense and lasted longer than anybody expected. And try as I might, rationalizing hauling out on Saturday morning or afternoon was just too foolhardy.

Luckily my lesson could be shifted to Sunday. So off we went! Let's discuss the details, shall we?

Clinic Takeaways:
1.      Change Charlie's bit to a big fat eggbutt snaffle.
2.      Keep my elbows bent and my hands held higher. Except for those other times.
3.      Charlie is uneducated about contact.
4.      Charlie is still too green for clinics.

  
Lest you think that's a rather slim collection of takeaways, let's unpack it a little bit (in descending order):

4. Charlie is still too green for clinics.

Big bay boy was a saint. The clinician legitimately asked if I had given the horse something. Bc. Guys. Charlie is quiet. It's an asset.

He came off the trailer sweaty in his one special spot (so weird lol) but set to grazing immediately. Whinnied at the horses in turnout.... but still stood nicely tied at the trailer while I saddled him up in the rain.

  
Charlie walked around the new-to-him indoor like the most solid of citizens for 25-30 minutes while we waited to start (I was early and the clinic was behind). He didn't care at all about the traffic or horses going every which way (including one who cantered up Charlie's butt repeatedly).

And upon beginning the lesson, Charlie was basically the same as he always is. Steering was a little worse, sure. But emotionally, big guy was accepting of the fate that had befallen him.

  
So. To the point: When I say he's too green, I do NOT mean that he couldn't handle the format or the travel or the pressure or the atmosphere or whatever you might associate with clinics. On that note, he was a star and I'm quite pleased with him.

Rather. He's too green in that he's just plain not broke enough, not trained enough. There are so many things that need work, and he's so inconsistent (even from moment to moment) that a clinician might reasonably struggle with directing our ride. Everything needs work, and it feels like you can't focus on one thing without breaking or undoing something else.

dis how we trot
Looking back at my cardinal rules for defining the successful clinic experience, chief among them is that the lesson must mesh well with my existing regular training program.

I already know that Stephen's philosophies match dressage trainer C's, and that his lessons complement hers nicely. But perhaps it's inevitable that when handed such an unshaped, raw lump of clay as Charlie, the two might diverge in approaches for first forming it.

And so. This lesson prioritized things differently than our lessons with C. We didn't go in a bad direction, or a wrong direction. It was just different. Bc let's be real. It all needs work haha.

earth to charlie!
But... we need consistency at this point in our training (both of us)... So until the horse is a little less green, and a little more educated about how to be a riding horse, we should probably stay the course with our regular program. #nowiknow


3 - 2 - 1. Charlie is uneducated about contact.

The other three takeaways can all kinda be lumped into this one duh statement. Charlie is uneducated about contact. Go figure, he last raced just over four months ago and has only had amateur me riding him ever since.

use your words, charlie
This would be our focus for the lesson. Stephen had us trotting on a circle to start out, with the occasional walk transition thrown in (predictably shitty bc Charlie's downward transitions are... uh... slow to develop haha).

Upon identifying Charlie's lack of understanding or acceptance of the bit as anything other than a chunk of metal in his mouth, Stephen began on what would be our full lesson: educating Charlie on what contact means.

This started with us standing while Stephen held the reins, asking Charlie to give. Progressed to us on a circle trying to find that same give to the contact. Regressed to us walking on a circle with Stephen walking along beside us holding the reins. Continued to us trotting on a circle while Stephen jogged along while holding the reins.

lead line lesson ftw
Intermittently he would let go and Charlie's head would ping! straight up again, despite his directions to keep carrying the contact forward. Idk. It was hard. The physics seemed all wrong: with Stephen below us holding the reins, his contact was at an angle I can't realistically achieve from the saddle. When he would let go for me to carry forward, suddenly my reins would be much too long after accounting for the slack he took.... And my 'feel' wasn't very in tune either bc I wasn't the one doing the work.

In some ways it was very cool bc I could really feel the changes in how Charlie carried himself and there were some really nice moments of trot in there.

pony is trying hard tho
(notice angle of inside rein)
In other ways tho... idk. It was kinda awkward as fuck to be trotted around on a circle with the clinician jogging alongside doing half the riding from the ground. Part of me wondered why he hadn't just asked to ride the horse himself.

Also, idk if it was the focus on the contact or the fact that there was a human at Charlie's shoulder dictating the pace... but we basically lost all forward. I was kicking the horse, and he just... kinda wouldn't go. And with Stephen's back to me, I didn't get much input on improving my ride.

  
Time ran out while we were still in this phase of being jogged on a circle with Stephen letting go intermittently.

So. Idk. Hopefully Charlie learned something haha.

61 comments:

  1. But you also learned that you can take Charlie places and out of his comfort zone when riding and he'll be a saint. I would love to have that! (feel free to wrap him and send him to me- I'll email you my address).
    I would find it weird that he wouldn't get on either because his method seemed odd. But you know he needs to figure out contact and you will get this. All of the trainers I've worked with over the past two years are all about having the horse go forward and find the contact- maybe it was harder because he was being so slow?

    Question- why the bit change? He seems happy in his current one.

    Too many questions, most probably irrelevant. But I do agree with sticking with your program. By spring you guys will be miles ahead.

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    1. I'm also curious as to why he suggested the bit change. It looks like Charlie's in a loose ring snaffle (normal size) right now. A chunky eggbutt would be more stable, almost... duller, in his mouth. The sides of the eggbutt tend to stabilize the mouthpiece itself (where a loose ring lets the mouthpiece shift more) while also giving it more 'push' on the sides of the face. I'm thinking that the eggbutt would have a dampening effect on any extra motion of the bit in Charlie's mouth. Plus also making it bigger/chunkier means it rests on more tongue/bar surface and is... comfortabler to lean on and take up, maybe?
      Did Stephen offer any why reasoning for the bit change? Inquiring minds.... (always trying to learn something)

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    2. Well I didn't list Charlie's quiet tude as a takeaway from the ride bc I already knew it. He has been very consistent on the multiple field trips he's already had to various farms, so I was fairly confident he'd be fine. amd he was.

      The clinician probably didn't want to ride him is my best guess. It's a big very green horse very recently off the track. Yea he is quiet... But I can understand why someone who earns his income by riding would be hesitant to sit on something with a risky/uncertain CV. All the same I was fine with it, I would have just preferred that we work on the issue differently - like you say, riding forward into the contact like we have been doing.

      As for the eggbutt - basically Which Chick has it right. The idea is to make the bit a comfortable happy place to go, and something fatter and more stable will do that better than my current bit. It will theoretically help Charlie learn faster by making the bit more pleasant to take.

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    3. I agree, Emma. Seemed like Stephen's idea was to make the bit somewhere Charlie wanted to go. Since he has a tendency to clamp down on it when he doesn't get it (at first, obviously), I thought I heard him say he was hoping to make the bit less unpleasant. Since a smaller diameter bit can feel harsher. Basically start as light as possible and make changes from that?

      Stability of the eggbutt can make a huge difference when educating a horse to what your hands are trying to say. IMO that was a hugely important thing for Pig and a few other horse's I've known. Then once they know you can figure out what works best for their individual style.

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    4. Mikey went in a mullen mouth eggbutt for a while- he needed complete stability in his mouth to further understand his second level work.

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    5. interesting - i've heard that mullens are great for greenies but didn't think about how they could help a horse who is progressing up the levels. regardless i'm definitely eager to give the new bit a try (it's in the mail)

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    6. I think he just hit a fussy phase and it took away all of motion in his mouth and helped him move on from it.

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    7. I love this bit discussion! I'm so uneducated when it comes to English bits and always want to know the whys behind biting choices.

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  2. Sigh. I think the #nowiknow hashtag sums things up well. Fingers crossed that Charlie picked up something (maybe some new mouth muscles) from the whole ordeal.

    I didn't realize how incredibly CHILL Charlie was though. That is AWESOME and I bet it will serve you well in the future when he's a beefcake with a lot of potential energy. It'll be nice to have a calmer beast when the atmosphere is buzzin' with nerves and excitement.

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    1. Yea I basically bought Charlie without riding him bc I was so excited about his brain.

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  3. Well worth it to know how well he handled the atmosphere and the pressure. Although I get the slightly disappointed feel that there wasn't more to work on with Charlie. At least he was a good boy! And I'm so glad that you were able to move to Sunday and avoid the ice. We heard about the accidents and the traffic issues all the way up by me!

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    1. I'm glad we avoided the ice too. Tho I'm not sure I agree that it was worth it to know Charlie was good. I already knew Charlie would be good - after taking him to lessons both closer to home and less expensive. For this ride I was really for help in the riding department.

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  4. Charlie is such a chill guy. I can't wait to see how that translates for the two of you in your future goals. My one and only clinic was a complete shit show. At least he worked at the level you guys were at even if it was really odd and awkward.

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    1. Yea definitely agreed that the clinician worked at our level rather than trying to push us ahead.

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  5. Sorry it didn't go... more. But, hey, having a horse be sane and not-bad in a new and exciting clinic situation with strange horses running up his butt -- there are lots of folks who don't have that much! So yay! Contact is also my current (miserable and not-very-productive) training struggle, but apparently the only way past is through. le sigh. Charlie is brand new to this and I'm sure you'll get it sorted, especially with regular instruction. There are months before spring arrives and you're working hard at it.

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    1. Charlie lives at a lesson barn so he's no stranger to indoors filled with riders with questionable steering. This instance was interesting bc it was an actual trainer who kept doing it. I actually had to let her (the professional) know that she was getting too close to my horse who she had never seen before. Idc who you are. Don't ride into kicking distance. It's stupid.

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  6. I hate that you didn't get what you wanted out of it. But Charlie is such a cool guy. I love that he is so just whatever about everything.

    I'm also curious about the why behind the fat eggbutt.

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    1. To make the bit a more comfortable pleasant place to go

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  7. As you mentioned, maybe a clinic/lesson like this would be more beneficial when Charlie is a little less green and can understand more of the basic concepts of contact and being a riding horse.

    I'm glad Charlie was a totally chill guy though :)

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    1. As I mentioned, as you mentioned I mentioned, maybe a clinic like this would be more beneficial when Charlie is less green.

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  8. An "a-ha" moment is "a-ha" all the same and I'm glad you figured that out!

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    1. Yea I mean.... I love learning.... But some "aha" moments can be had for much less expense!

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  9. We had to do a similar bit change for Sully earlier this year - he wasn't connecting to the loose ring at all, and once we swapped it for a fat rubber D, he was much easier to convince to hold the contact! So, I mean, at least you got that much out of it?! Bummer it wasn't the eye-opening experience you were hoping for, but I'm sure there will be opportunities for productive clinics in the future :)

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    1. Yea the bit advice works for me. One is on the way as we speak. And I'm still a pretty firm believer in Stephens ideas and philosophies etc.... But agreed that the "productive" side of things with one-off clinicians probably won't be realistic for a while... Le sigh.

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  10. The first 6 months to a year are the hardest. It's always a struggle to figure out how much they can handle, and how quickly, and when they're ready to progress to a new concept. Sounds like his brain is doing perfectly, though.

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    1. Pretty much, and the reality is that he is just past the three month mark. I'm totally cool with taking time for him to sort whatever out, I'm in no rush. The part I forgot, or maybe didn't realize, was how true the "multiple ways to skin a cat" thing is at these earliest most basic levels. Neither Stephen or my trainer C are unhappy with the horse's progress, the clinician just chose to work on things quite differently than C does. For the sake of Charlie's good brain.... I'm thinking I need to be more careful about avoiding confusion like that on his fundamentals.

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  11. I think this is an awesome clinic - teaching Charlie to give to the bit will be imparative to all things coming and moving to a softer bit will be great for him while he figures this all out. Most people asume dull mouth=need harsher bit when really the horse just needs more education with timing, release and a soft hand. There are tons of great exercises you can do with bending his head to the side from a standstill and releasing when the horse releases into the bend that progress into walking and trotting exercises. I love the pic where he is holding the rein at a trot - the quality of trot is different with a higher back and better step all round.

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    1. yea i mean, it's a valuable and necessary part of the horse's education, no arguments there. and charlie was thinking hard and trying to figure it out.

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  12. Was an interesting clinic to watch, for sure. Brought back a lot of memories of teaching other OTTBs wtf contact means. It's such a different concept to what they know on the track.

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  13. Hi Emma, you don't know me - I'm a lurker! I love your blog, and I'm really enjoying your Travels with Charlie. I'm wondering about the little ankle boots Charlie wears on his hinds. I've never seen those before, and I'm always eager to learn.

    I ride in a big fat eggbut too. I rode my wonderful boy in it "back in the day". When I bought a young horse many years later, fashions had changed, and I went through a stack of loose ring bits trying to find the perfect bit. One day I was missing my good old boy extra hard, and pulled out my old bit to feel close to him. And bam, it was the magic bit for my young (now late middle age) horse!

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    1. thanks for reading and commenting!! re: those ankle boots, they are called pastern wraps, this brand made by Professional's Choice bought from state line tack online. they're just velcro-on neoprene wraps, one size fits all.

      i had never seen them before either - but charlie interferes in a weird way, and occasionally whacks himself right there on the pastern. so these wraps protect from that.

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  14. He worked my BO's daughter's mare in a similar way when we were last invited to come ride with him (just a hair bitter over here over that side story). The mare's jaw was locked and she didn't want to meet the bit. He worked with her from the ground- walking an jogging beside her. The only difference is her mare knows more and they were able to carry on on their own. Charlie's just green and needs time! You can still apply the same working the bit from on him, the help from the ground to start helps get the idea across. Also, Re: losing forward; you're always going to lose something when learning something new. I'd classify that as normal to lose the forward, especially when he's confused about contact anyway, and doesn't how to move forward into it.

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    1. yea i understand that you're always going to lose something when learning something new. my concern is that my regular program is specifically focused on installing the forward right now, and helping charlie find the contact that way. so taking a different approach of sacrificing forward to find contact may be confusing to the horse. multiple ways to skin a cat and such. i don't think it's wrong, and i actually already do some of this practice work with charlie from the ground (actually, we do it at an even more basic level: just asking him to yield his head to the pressure of a rope halter and bring his head around when i ask. bc he really is at that basic of a level). but generally, lacking my own specific expertise, i'm trying to adhere to a regular program to help charlie learn. and while many approaches will achieve similar results, it's probably not helpful to try all of the methods all at the same time.

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    2. I completely agree with you, Emma.

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  15. Sounds like an interesting clinic! Some good takeaways for sure. I'm happy to hear Charlie was such a good quiet boy for you. I kind of want a leadline clinic haha, I get so nervous in clinic-type situations. (EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT ME OMG)

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  16. I don't want to say the exact same thing everyone else has said, but Charlie's brain makes him a unicorn. What a majikal wonderful baby horse. I also find it weird with the whole clinician reins thing - I get that he might not want to get on, but I feel like it would have been more productive for both of you if he had worked on educating your hands and you on how to train for the contact, rather than using his educated hands and then being like *drop* "See how that feels?". Contact is such a personal and weird thing to train, and so far (in my experience) every horse is different.

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    1. i definitely <3 charlie's brain!!!

      and also yea... i think it would have been possibly more productive to have the clinician in the saddle. i get what he was trying to do and feel like if i could see this clinician regularly or was part of his program, this would fit in more with how i work to develop the feel on my own too. as a standalone, one-off lesson tho... idk. we'll see tho. maybe charlie will have a big contact breakthrough bc of this and then i'll eat my words lol

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  17. Clinics with baby horses are so hard. I think with the quieter ones, Bridget and Charlie included, sometimes the good brain gets mistaken for more real world experience than they have and expectations are made of horse and rider that are maybe a bit unrealistic. (Remembering the clinician 2 winters ago that wanted me to canter from a counterbent 10m circle...when we didn't actually have a reliable transition or canter, or even steering to be honest)

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    1. ha oh man, yea that clinic with Bridget definitely sounded like a rough time... i definitely don't appreciate being overfaced by trainers either!!! the funny thing with Charlie is that, yea, he's super quiet.... but actually nobody quite believes it. they hear he's fresh off the track and just kinda expect him to be a nutter. Stephen actually asked if i had drugged the horse.... and maybe opted not to ride himself bc he figured the 'calm veneer' might vanish at any moment... and like, our slightly out-of-control looking trot doesn't do much to ease any concerns in that direction. but i swear, he's a good pony!! and we actually probably could have done more in this ride lol, had the focus been different. ah well.

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  18. Yes! I learned a long time ago that rein angle and my ability to feel a give was super important. I had a trainer that used to tell me when to give rather than let me feel it so I spent a lot of time riding around with heavy hands because I couldn't feel when to give. This is why my current trainer is constantly telling me to shorten my reins and that I'm not riding with enough contact. I'm so scared of deadening a horse's mouth.

    Sounds like Charlie was a very good baby though! I'm jealous. Can him and Aria have play dates? Maybe he can teach her to chill. Haha.

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    1. ha he's definitely a good boy. tho not sure he deserves being called a good 'baby' tho as he's nearly 8. yay for emotional maturity!!

      yea tho. i'm on that same struggle of not feeling when to give either. that was definitely an issue during this ride. oh well. it's just going to take time. and time. and more time. lol

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    2. Haha. I call anything under 10 a baby.

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  19. What a good, sweet boy your horse is.
    At first point #4 surprised me, but your explanation made sense. Too green to mix up tactics.

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    1. yea basically. he'll have it all figured out eventually, but for now i want to keep the rule book reeeeeeeal simple haha

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  20. It does seem odd that the clinician would run alongside rather than mounting and demonstrating from the saddle. But that's just me. I know nothing lol. At least Charlie was a saint! Calm horses are da bomb!

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    1. i've definitely had this type of demonstration done for me from the ground before... it's just in this particular clinic it lasted longer haha, probably bc of just how uneducated charlie is.

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  21. Tough lesson, but at least you know where you stand. I know that most people don't like "gadgets", but Violet didn't understand contact until she was about 7 and was consistently lunged in side-reins. Same thing can be accomplished with long-lines, but I don't know how to use those. The side-reins were great in that it was a consistent pressure that allowed her only to fight with herself, not me, who had no idea what pressure really meant either. Just a thought.
    Other than that, so happy your boy is so well adjusted that he would go an do the best that he knows how in a strange place! What a good boy!
    Merry Christmas!

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    1. ya know. i totally forgot about long lining, even tho i did that often with isabel with good results. innnneresting. i think charlie will eventually be introduced to various training aids, but i just want to be thoughtful about the hows and whys and whens, ya know?

      for instance, right now he is not super confirmed at his response to being driven forward. we work on it often from the ground, but it's still sticky. i'm therefore hesitant to put him in anything that might back him off from 'forward' and require more driving from me, as it could be potentially quite counterproductive. before i can drive him forward into contact, i kinda have to be able to just drive him forward.... ahh he's just so green lol.

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  22. Sounds like an interesting clinic. Not too much to add that wasn't already said, but I have to say, I'm completely jealous of Charlie's brain! I'd have been launched through the air and on the ground (multiple times) if someone had cantered up Subi's butt... In fact, I have... at home, at a horse show... needless to say, he never liked horses cantering up his butt...

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    1. well, i'll let you in on a little secret about charlie's nonchalance in traffic: yes, homeboy has an excellent brain and that's a major part of why he's so unflappable. the real secret sauce tho? he lives at a hustling bustling lesson barn. actually his stall is *inside* the indoor arena. he sees horses being ridden around all day long. plus, some huge proportion of my rides on him have been while sharing the ring with lessons - sometimes with students whose steering skills are questionable at best, and sometimes with very advanced riders who flit about the arena changing directions and cantering and jumping.

      so yea, he has a good brain. but he also has a TON of experience even in his three short months as a riding horse of being ridden in unpredictable traffic.

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    2. The stall in the ring might be part of it, though Subi grew up in a busy, bustling lesson barn (field board) but never liked the running up his butt stuff. The ex racehorse in him...

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  23. Now you know. You wouldn't have known he was not ready for a clinic if you hadn't taken him. And it doesn't sound like a bad experience for either of you, just not as enlightening as the previous ones. So still a win :)

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    1. ugh why can't i just be bitter and grinchy and sour grape-y?!? lol..... but yea you're right. it's not a total loss, it just didn't match my expectations. which. ya know. maybe that's a "me" problem, idk. still tho, like you say, 'now i know' and i have a clearer sense of where we need to be before riding with a clinician

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  24. Honestly, seems like a good experience! I hope Smitty will be just as well behaved for his first clinic!

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  25. Sorry it didn't go so well, but at least now you know.

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  26. I think it's awesome the clinician jogged around with you trotting. What a great way to really show a concept. I give you a lot of credit for going and Charlie a lot of credit for taking it all in. You're game and he's a good sport. You're going to rock 2017 together!

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  27. When one of my horses was young and I didn't know much, I had my trainer regularly walk/jog beside the horse helping me with the contact. Sure they did most of the work on the contact, but I understood what it's meant to feel like which I think is super important! Good boy Charlie for being so chill, I can't wait to see what he's going to look like in a year! :)

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  28. Sounds like good stuff even if you were working on the basic basics.

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  29. I often felt the same with Murray in the beginning (and sometimes even now!) -- there was so much low hanging fruit of stuff to fix (and that we honestly couldn't progress past unless we fixed) that asking a clinician to help me fix it wasn't always necessary. (Obviously not trying to imply I did everything right!) But to know how well Charlie will take things and what kinds of improvements you can feel when things go right is awesome!

    His funny sweat spot reminds me of skin mosaicism. Maybe he has a little autosomal mitotic recombination in the sweat glands on that patch of his skin? Although probably lots of things could cause such a funny patch.

    (More on mosacism here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic_(genetics))

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