Friday, December 30, 2016

go go gadget arms!

Continuing with the theme of summarizing where Charlie is 3 months into his transition from race horse to riding horse, here's a mishmash of recent rides and what I learned from them.

In a nut shell? Charlie is beginning to find and hold a better balance under saddle. It's VERY moment-to-moment, but the moments happen more frequently and last longer.

They're also more predictable. This is kinda a biggie (at least to me), bc it speaks to whether I can ride to specific outcomes, as opposed to throwing all the noodles (literally) at the wall to see what sticks. The rhyme to Charlie's reason, the method to his madness, is crystallizing such that I'm better understanding how to reproduce results. (Note I didn't say I'm better at doing it haha - that's still a work in progress!)

Anyway. We had another lesson with dressage trainer C. I just love riding with her, and suspect Charlie likes going there too bc he's just always immediately the best ever. Maybe he loves the footing. Or the arena. Or C's stream-of-consciousness style teaching. Whatever the case, we leave these lessons feeling empowered, reassured and like we're making progress.

other progress: charlie has graduated to being able to tie immediately after getting off the trailer!!
C has a great strategy for starting a ride with Charlie. Once we're finished walking forever (my go-to with this guy):

  • Pick the reins up and start trotting. Not asking for anything with the contact, just taking it. 
  • Ride on the inside track, just off the rail, to establish that I'm responsible for straightness and turning. And remind me that, in fact, I *do* have outside aids. 
  • We usually start off WAY drunk, as Charlie tries to pull back to the rail, or fall into the center. Nbd. Just stay the course. 
  • Trot large around the arena. One or two laps then change across the long diagonal. One or two laps, long diagonal again. 
  • After he's more warmed up, do short diagonals too. And maybe some leg yields from the quarter line. 
  • Occasional 20m circle at ends and through middle, but mostly just stay large. 
  • And stay on inside track. 

This "inside track" idea didn't click for me at first - I mean, I did it throughout the lesson but kinda forgot about it while schooling at home. Bc it didn't seem like an important detail. But then I remembered and started doing it again. And. Guys, I think this is a key factor in helping Charlie settle onto my aids and stay even between them. (well, relatively speaking haha).

our first few outings i tacked him while hand walking, but now he's cool to stand quietly at his hay basically right away
C also encouraged me to occasionally change to the wrong diagonal for a circle or lap here and there. Or change directions but don't change my post. Bc Charlie's balance and hind end are so weak right now, he definitely feels this difference. And I just need to let him sort it out.

In a related vein, I MUST be definite with my post. No shuffling around in the saddle, my up/down rhythm must be crystal clear.

This was very apparent in my next ride with Charlie (source of the ride pictures and arena wall video in this post). Charlie was FRESH haha. Even for him. Rarin' to go, and basically running at and breaking into canter over the ground poles I had set up. Except. Except when I remembered to really control my post and be very distinct with it.

good pony at trainer C's barn
The thing with Charlie is that his 'go' button is appropriately sensitive - but sometimes gets sticky (the whole 'tude about not liking being driven forward...). Therefore I want to avoid over-correcting when he volunteers a higher gear than I ask... but sometimes we're not ready to canter yet, bro. (Check out the video for some awesome speed trotting and trantering to see what I mean haha). So holding my post steady is key for holding him in trot when maybe he'd rather canter.

So when Charlie's fresh like that, the trot kinda suffers but the canter is kinda awesome. Bc it's easy to get, even if the leads are sometimes wonky.

new years resolution: obtain go go gadget arms!!
or, ya know. strengthen my core and learn to slip the reins, maybe.  
More often, tho, Charlie's more 'chill' than 'fresh.' Our next two rides definitely fell into this category. And the trot work was AWESOME. Plus, ever since riding him more forward became a priority, it's kinda just his default gear now.

Like I still need to think about keeping my inside leg loose to bump bump against him, asking to bring his own inside hind up and under. But the rhythm is feeling way more settled even as it's more consistently forward and ground-covering.

The biggest issues in our trot when he's carrying on quietly like this are my own: I need to be softer and more stable with my arms. Quicker to give when he gives or let the reins slide when he lowers his head (rather than locking up and letting my entire upper body be pulled down, as in the above picture haha).

omg legs for days, charlie! turning right is kinda hard tho haha - that's just a LOT of horse under me
This obviously calls for a stronger core, and more secure leg position. I'm getting better (sorta almost) about keeping my legs longer and underneath me, instead of curled up tightly gripping his sides... But C reminded me in the lesson that I also need to resist the temptation to push them out in front of me when Charlie feels downhill. Just keep them under me. And when he feels too heavy, bump him up with outside rein.

Meanwhile, tho, when Charlie's in a quieter mood, or maybe after a long walk break when he thinks (incorrectly) that he's done for the day, such as in our recent lesson with C, the canter can be a bit tricksier to get haha.

video of schooling ride clips here. it's a super short video, but i kinda love it bc it shows charlie in all his current forms haha, good bad and ugly! 

Basically tho, I just need to focus on riding the transition. Charlie's front feet are in the way of his hind feet - partly bc his hooves are still very much in the "before" phase (another work in progress), and for that he'll be going in bell boots. But also partly bc, damn, homeboy has giant shoulders and struggles to pick them up. So I need more inside aids, particularly leg, in the canter departs to encourage that inside shoulder to lift.

The biggest, number 1 thing I've learned lately tho? I need to be patient. I need to wait Charlie out. Just ride through the beginning portion of the ride with zero expectations other than following the bullet points above. Depending on how the horse feels, maybe canter early. Especially if he's really sticky. Just have it out. Canter that big bad boy even if he don't wanna.

i tried to film some cross rail jumps. tried and failed HARD (video was out of focus AND in slo-mo for good measure, oops!). not that i would ever deprive you of attempted media tho, as evidence by this extremely grainy video still haha. oh well. charlie was too tired to care anyway, the pic isn't so blurry that you can't tell he's giving that cross rail the absolute minimum necessary effort
Bc the real good stuff comes after we canter. Sure, he might spend the next lap or two speed trotting and trying to break into canter again... But just be patient. Revisit those bullet points.

My knee-jerk reaction when we first transition down from canter and he's speed trotting, falling in and trying to break back into canter, is to pull down to a walk immediately and just shut that noise down. But if I'm patient - if I wait it out and just keep riding, suddenly Charlie kinda clicks and almost falls into my hands (but in a good way).

at least i apparently have zillions of pics of him chowin' down at the trailer!
C says she always makes herself ride 2 laps of trot after a canter on a green horse. Bc it often turns into more. Bc suddenly the horse tends to discover their back, and their balance. And that's when we really uncover Charlie's best moments (you can kinda sorta see it a little bit at the end of the video). 

So. The name of my game with Charlie right now is "Waiting It Out." If I keep riding, and focusing on my own position and those bullet points... well. Charlie has a way of sorting himself out. For now haha. I'm sure the tactics will evolve again soon enough! 


  1. I love reading your ride recaps because they are reinforcing what I am doing with my horse. Mine is a 4yo mare, she's really sweet and willing but she needs work on her balance and can really get speed trotting especially after cantering. I definitely relate to having no expectations at the beginning of the ride, I've found that if I just keep my position (and my posting)consistent she eventually quits speeding around and falls into a nice rhythm with good contact. But its soooo hard to do nothing while she careens around the arena for the first 10 minutes! Thankfully its taking less and less time to get the good work from her.

    1. Ha that's reassuring to hear things are going so similarly with your mare! It's definitely hard for me to sit back and just wait it out... Tho one thing that really helped me was my trainer insisting I ride the horse more forward. It started out just feeling like we were constantly running, but it helped in two ways: made me more comfortable at that speed (rather than thinking "dear god we have to slow down!"), and it took that speed away as a true evasion for Charlie. So he still speed trots, but it's really just him sorting himself out.

  2. Go, Charlie, Go! My very favorite h/j trainer of all time was big on using the canter to improve the trot in the same way. And, again, I just adore how chill he is all the time!

    1. Yea the canter makes SUCH a big difference for him! It's kinda wild lol! I like it tho haha

  3. I love reading your recaps- you are Charlie are doing so well and he's looking great.

    1. ha thanks! so far he's been pretty easy to work with - i just need to focus equally on educating myself lol!

  4. Lots of really helpful nuggets in this-thanks! Charlie is looking good :)

    1. thanks! and glad it was useful to you! i feel like i always remember and learn a little more from the lessons in writing them out haha

  5. I love how you warm him up. It is so interesting how people warm up different horses.

    1. agreed completely - the warm up is fascinating to me. charlie's warm up is obvi still very much a work in progress, mostly bc there isn't really a distinction between what we do in warm up vs what we do in the full ride, so it's typically really truly just about limbering him up and getting the muscles moving.

      my idea is that the meat of our entire rides right now will evolve into what just our warm ups look like in 3-6 months, if that makes any sense

  6. Charlie is so handsome! How much fun to bring him along. And I love that he's mostly chill. Good boy.

    1. He's super chill!! Not without his own personality quirks, sure, but I love the chill attitude too!

  7. I have a trainer that encourages you going back to trot after cantering a green horse as well, with the same principles in mind!

    1. I've definitely heard that before - but never seen such an obvious case like Charlie! It makes such a big difference haha

  8. So if your rides start off drunk, solo and i must be pickled hahaha. You guys look fab. Love the stretch! Happy new year!

    1. Ha happy new year to you and pickles, er, I mean Solo too ;)

  9. I see huge strides being made in your work with Charlie after this short time. It's very reminiscent for me of what I did with Griffin ages ago, except you're motoring through at lightspeed in comparison. And it's so cool to follow and see the similarities and differences in the work. It takes ages to work with totally green newbies, but boy is it fun and teaches you more about yourself as a rider/trainer in the process. I love the way you're writing all of this up as you move forward through it! Charlie's having some huge lightbulb moments lately and I have a feeling there are a lot more of those in your very near future based on the path you're traveling. I wish more people would get their horses out as much as you do! It builds such a nice brain on an already beautiful animal.

  10. I love love reading this. I've got a whopping TWO rides on the new mare and hearing you talk about things like the inside track and trotting is helpful!


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