Wednesday, June 14, 2017

but i'm already pulled over!!!

Ok. Let's kick this thing off with a little moment of honesty: Charlie and I are.... uh.... not very good at dressage. Like.... I can talk all day long about how he's showing improvements in his balance, or that he's beginning to learn about contact, or whatever.

But the fact remains: Charlie's early streak as the Undefeated Intro Champion of the World Dressage Horse was.... well, a joke. Obviously.

it was so goddam hot out that all the horses crammed into whatever shade was available. 
In all seriousness tho, I'm proud of the progress Charlie and I have made on the flat. But damn, it's still not a very nice picture. There's still a LOT of work to do.

charlie in particular was quite enamored of this tree
A large part of this is my own relative inexperience with dressage. I've jumped countless horses. Like, actually countless. Even if I just narrowed it down to the horses I've actively competed over fences? Yea. Still in the countless territory (tho I bet I could figure it out if I reeeeeally tried).

"mmmmm treeeeeee"
But dressage? Do you know how many horses I've seriously and purposefully ridden dressage on? One.

Isabel.

"ha, i got a branch!"
Sure, I had the occasional lesson last summer on one of dressage trainer C's horses. And naturally, since I've learned more about dressage, I try to take those core concepts of flat work into every horse I ride. But the fact remains the same: Isabel is the horse on which I learned how to ride dressage.

horse trots right! (and may or may not topple over in a stiff breeze...)
And the core essence of learning with Isabel revolved around getting her to reach out to the bit, to lengthen her neck from the base and move up into the bridle. While continuing to come forward from the hind end, obviously.

look it's the other half of that circle!
Charlie, on the other hand, is, um. Hm. How to put this delicately? Well, he's built entirely fucking differently from Isabel lol, and he goes completely differently. Charlie's defining physical attribute is his extreme length. His neck, his legs, his back. Compact, he is not. Nor, as a matter of fact, is he particularly supple - longitudinally or laterally.

He's the opposite of Isabel in so many major ways, that I'm basically starting from scratch again in learning how to form and shape him.

he canters left too!!
It's ok tho, ya know? Like, my dressage journey with Isabel was overwhelmingly positive. That horse taught me many, many, many things. So many things. Included in that is actually a fairly deep appreciation for flat work.

So I can objectively look at where Charlie and I are in our dressage training and kinda shrug like, 'ok so we kinda suck,' but it's not demoralizing. And it's not like.... A problem, ya know? It's just where we are, there's just more work to do.

he also.... does this. lol? this progressive move netted us two 4s - one for the centerline turn, and another for the halt itself bc as you might imagine.... it took a little bit to recover from.... this. lol. at least we didn't actually jump out of the arena?
But I need to keep that in mind when interpreting judge's comments and whatnot too. Like. I know Charlie is doing well. I know he's improving. But I also know that it's kinda a shitty picture that we present to the judge. And that I should be prepared for feedback that is maybe more pointed than I would wish.

Like the dressage judge this weekend at a schooling show at OF, who told me that I needed to "go back to the basics before [I] start jumping the horse."

this. forever. just me and my basics. we will never leave.
My knee jerk reaction is to be like, "Lady this horse is already jumping, and isn't a BN-A test pretty much as basic as it gets anyway? What do you think we're working on piaffe or whatever and maybe need to dial it back a little? No, all we do are straight lines and 20m circles at three gaits - how much more basic do you want me to be?"

it's easy to find a nice 'picture' of our free walks. bc.... he puts his head down. needs more energy and overstep tho, in a big way.
Which .... well. Ahem. That's not a very productive mindset. Esp when the judge is totally right. This judge, like most before her, was very unimpressed by our tests (BN A and B).

look, he still trots right! and hey, that RH decided to come play too!
She called me out for a lack of suppleness in the horse - in every dimension - and a lack of balance. And in our chat after my first test, told me that I need to be more rigorous in our fundamentals before I even consider moving him up in jumping.

he canters right too! sometimes!
I consoled myself by remembering that it was hot as fuck out (mid 90s with plenty of humidity to boot) and I had legitimately gotten on the horse 12 minutes before my test, with the express intention of using that test as part of our warm up.

that blue ribbon: for when you win and lose a class at the same time! 
So for test two (BN-B) I tried to be a little more disciplined. Tried to show the judge that, while we are very green, we are working on those fundamental areas. And good Sir Charles put in a pretty reasonable test that I was actually quite pleased with as a representation of our current level of training.

he looks cute in his satin tho!
The judge agreed - but only in part. We received exactly zero 4s on this second test (three fewer than the first!), but our collectives took a big hit for lack of impulsion (Charlie can kinda be fast or slow, neither of which really demonstrate 'impulsion') and submission (we, uh, almost missed a couple downwards), but also went down for the gaits and rider marks. Not sure why, but oh well.

BN A, note the very special set of 4s at the end haha, oops! no comment needed there, i guess. the picture above speaks for itself!
In some ways tho, this little schooling show was kind of a good reality check for me. I honestly didn't take it very seriously - it was hellishly hot outside and I was kinda regretting even entering.

BN B - final score was a 43% penalties
Brita and I had been trying to plan a cross country schooling day, and opted to make a big to-do when we saw this dressage show on the schedule. It would be our own fun pretend two-phase! But then with the heat wave's arrival, the jump plan got tossed and we just did the show.

also, have i ever mentioned a nasty side effect of my horse's tie back surgery?
But I hadn't really seriously prepared the horse for the show, and hadn't even ridden in dressage tack since our last lesson with dressage trainer C. Our recent rides were an easy trail hack, a couple quick arena schools focused on correcting our nascent gate sourness issue (plus a little jumping at home bc fun), and a jump lesson.

he, uh, blows giant gobs of half chewed grain out of his nose. like. often. it's gross. and i would say it's a total waste of grain, too, except.... uh....
Then, ya know, the aforementioned abbreviated warm up bc again, I can't stress this enough, it was HOT out. And warm up was in the indoor which basically felt like a dust-filled oven. Bleh.

yea he totally goes back and finds his boogers to EET THEM AGAIN WTF EW
And whadya know, our tests once we entered at A reflected our lack of preparation. They reflected our lack of practice, and of discipline. The exact things the judge said I needed to focus on before forging ever onward and upward.

dis his guilty side eye after i caught him eating his boogers
So. I just have to remember that Charlie is new to this job, too. He only knows what I tell him. He thinks he was a very good boy at this show, and for all intents and purposes, he was. I haven't told him any different, haven't shown him that actually I'm going to need a lot more from him.

destroying all the evidence. 
But if we want to do well in the dressage ring (and I do), I need to start showing Charlie that there is more. And showing him how to get there. Seriously and with purpose.

Because I do truly believe Charlie could be quite the striking horse in the dressage court. I think he's got it in him to earn some nice scores, to present a test that the judges enjoy watching. We just gotta keep working. But like, actually working. Not lip service, and not settling for mediocre when something better is within reach.

That's always the way tho with horses, isn't it? Always needs more. And better.

36 comments:

  1. So true! I don't even jump but dressage is hard work and takes a sh*t ton of dedication! I think Charlie will do quite lovely dressage tests once you get him a bit less long, he's such a cute horse and judges DO like a pretty horse 👍🏻

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    1. Omg he's so long tho haha, but yea that's what my trainers keep saying too - he's pretty and has a nice expression. Those things can maybe make up for some other sins lol ;P

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  2. the judges have to mark what they see and that's fair. I hate, though, when they use that 5 minutes of time that they have seen and make judgements about everything. Some times the goal of the show is to show and get miles, not impress the hell out of someone sitting in a tent.

    But I agree- Charlie has the potential to be better in dressage. And you are doing the work. It will take time and you will get there.

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    1. Idk I kinda like hearing the judges make these sweeping proclamations based on the brief test they've been presented. Most just for the purposes of trying to figure out what on earth it is that they're seeing (or think they're seeing) lol

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  3. EW, Charlie, you're such a BOY.

    And ugh, yes, dressage is hardddd worrrkkkk.

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    1. Omg he IS such a boy tho. Lolol

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  4. I love the fact that you only get 3-5 mins to bring your A game and show the judge the best you have to offer. Course it doesn't always work out. I don't think the judge should make over arching comments about not moving up in jumping. That's not really fair for them to say.

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    1. Yea learning how to ride a good test really is a whole thing unto itself. Like, from the first impressions of entering the ring to hiding (or not) any of your perceived flaws in the horse.... It's definitely actually pretty fun to figure out the right strategy for each horse. Tho of course like you say it doesn't always work. And yea re: moving up in the jumping, like I see where the judge is coming from. And most judges are pretty sure an animal couldn't possibly jump without some proven ability on the flat. Which like, I believe dressage improves jumping. But I also believe that many many horses jump extremely well without knowing shit about flat work, and also that jumping can teach a horse about its body awareness in ways that flatwork can't (as in Charlie's case). So it goes both ways!

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  5. We all have those tests. Then we go back and work or butts off to prove the judge wrong. It's a work in progress, always. One of the bests things I did overall was to take a season and focus hard on dressage. I know sounds painfully boring but worth it. Our dressage scores improved, yes, but out jumping was changed for ever. So though she came across as harsh, she is not wrong. I didn't give up jumping but just added jump stuff in occasionally.

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    1. So awesome that worked out for you!

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  6. I agree with TeresaA - it seems a bit harsh for the judge to use the 5 minutes they see you to make overarching assumptions... I guess we do pay for critiques when we show though.

    Your last line: "That's always the way tho with horses, isn't it? Always needs more. And better. " totally rings true with me. I have a broke to death (western) QH and we have started dressage lessons - I'm still just trying to get my horse to go forward, let alone put together a test! Our rides go something like this:

    Me: Trot please!
    Horse: jog?
    Me: No, trot! More trot!
    Horse: I do western jog.
    Me: Pony club kicks. No! Forward
    Horse: Oh, extended jog?
    Me: Ugh.

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    1. Ha OMG yea if you read about Charlie's earliest dressage lessons it was (and still is in some ways) all about forward. Even tho Charlie wasn't necessarily lazy or slow.... But like in order to *do* anything in dressage there has to be some kind of energy coming forward from behind. And... Wow sometimes that sounds a lot easier than it actually is!!

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  7. Always MOAR, BETTER! Ain't it the truth. Or going in circles... This week Dino has decided that behind the bit is once again the cool place to be, so I'm about to dig back into my lesson archives and your Isabel dressage posts to get that pony OUT to the bit again! But Charlie's lookin' good. Slow & steady wins the race.

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    1. Ugh yea getting Isabel going out and forward and in front of the leg was a constant battle. And I'm always reminded of when Dan rode her that one time near the end - he..... Well. He found that unacceptable. In the extreme. He did not tolerate it. It was very educational to watch.

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  8. There certainly are many roads to a well trained horse, but all of them are long AF. Every time I get opinions/advice from a dressage judge, first I take it like a baby who was just told she can't have any pudding. Then, whether I agree with it or not, I add that shit to my tool kit. Whether I agree with a comment or not, at least I have that different perspective or approach that may be useful to keep in mind down the road.

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    1. Yea I basically have the same attitude. It's not always love at first sight (or whatever lol) but unless the comment is like, way off base or reallllllly at odds with what my trainer has told me, I generally look for ways to fold it into our general approach and thought process. Just sometimes I complain more loudly than others haha

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  9. Ya know, 99.9% of the time I agree with the comments dressage judges put on tests, even if I don't like them. But that comment really annoys the shit out of me. OBVIOUSLY it's a green horse, at the lowest freakin possible level, trying to get some miles in. WTF does she want exactly? That's not helpful to anyone... it's possible to offer criticism while still being constructive. *eye roll*

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    1. Yea agreed. She had useful feedback - basically her entire issue was with the horse's suppleness longitudinally and laterally, which like, yes. That's a biggie for us. But she kinda phrased it such that if I wanted to be more sour grapes about it, I could easily throw the baby out with the bath water. "Well she said the horse shouldn't even be jumping but since I'm jumping it then I might as well discard everything she says!" Idk. It was not a comment one might expect at a schooling show where the highest anybody rode was 1st level lol.

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  10. Oh and Halo blows chunks of food out his nose like that too... it's part of why he's so prone to aspiration pneumonia, especially after long trailer rides. Mostly though it's just really gross. His stall is just coated!

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    1. That's just nasty. Ugh. Why are horses so gross sometimes? Like I practically need to warn ppl not to get too close after Charlie has eaten bc he WILL snot rocket them.

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  11. I was thinking about this exact thing yesterday. Murray and I have only just broken out of our streak of mainly disappointed dressage tests that don't really reflect our true skills. I'm sure "go back to basics" was the thought in more than one judges mind while watching us over the last few years.

    And it really sucks because there is this hard slog where you work and you work and you work at dressage, but the extrinsic rewards for getting slightly better at 20m wtc circles are non existent. It's very.... Unpleasant. Or it was for me. Because I was making all this progress and seeing absolutely no recognition of it. And, depending on the judge you get and who you're up against that day (and I know we've talked extensively about judging), sometimes you see horses that look the exact same as you be rewarded and then it's really like WTF.

    Not to put too much of my own struggles on you, though. Our beasts are very different! But I definitely know the feeling.

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    1. Yea I mean, at this level even when the training issues or horse brains are different the end result kinda looks the same, right? It just looks like .... Bad dressage lol. Bc.... Unfortunately it kinda IS bad dressage. But totally agreed tho on feeling like a LOT of progress can be made in the training before there is ever any reflection of that in the tests themselves. It can easily be disappointing but honestly I'm not too worried about that part for me personally yet. So far I'm still feeling pretty good about the gains we are seeing outside of the tests themselves. Ask me again in six months tho and I might be singing a different tune lol!

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  12. It's nice to see an eventer acknowledge that the dressage needs to be taken seriously, instead of just being like, "Meh, fuck it. Horse can jump, forget the flat work, let's see how high!"

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    1. Ha yea.... Isabel was a huge influence in that regard, esp since we were jumping and doing "dressage" (bunny ears intentional) for kinda a while before I met dressage trainer C, who helped me really unlock Izzy's true dressage potential (relatively speaking) and learn to really ride her. Then the change in our jumping spoke for itself. So.... Long story short, I'm a believer. But I'm maybe also a little less hard nosed about it than this particular judge lol

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  13. It's definitely good to take these comments with a grain of salt. Judge is only commenting on what they see that day whereas you and your trainers get to be in the trenches so to speak all the time. Keep up that improvement mind-frame!

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  14. HE EATS HIS OWN BOOGERS????
    GROSSS

    that's all i got from that. jk do you have actual vids of your test? I dunno the stills I don't think look that bad. I don't even know I can't get past him eating his boogers like a human child.

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    1. ugh yea he really truly does. he also paws his food out of his bucket(s)(plural bc we nest buckets into each other specifically to try to deter this behavior) and then forages throughout his stall for the bits that he flung around.

      also re: videos, yes i do actually have some snippets - no full complete test and i was too hot/tired to bother editing and uploading. the pictures are cherry picked for the best moments (except for that one, haha) but the tests themselves look pretty much about like how we go right now. i thought the judge was a little harsh, but we've also been scoring in the 40s pretty consistently so. ya know. i guess that's kinda where we are

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    2. Yeah, uh, I'm right there with you on the boogers. That is... ick.

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  15. I always cringe a bit when judges make overarching comments like that just because they really can only comment on what they see that day and one data point is not enough to conclude anything major...

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  16. Mean judge! We were jumping B before she even really had a canter, and it did wonders for her canter and her steering. Once she got the idea I was attempting to turn in order to get to a jump, the turns suddenly went from 'why should I bend like that?' to halfway decent lol Charlie is lovely, it's all baby horse stuff and will improve :)

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  17. Hahaha. I love that meme. Can I call it a meme if it's from a movie? Idk - but I love it. And I say boooo to that judge harshing on you and Charlie.

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  18. Dressage is Hard! But, even greenie baby steps are forward progress, and forward progress means you will get better :)

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  19. Yikes about that judge- I mean, you don't get more basic than w/t/c in a circle...and a judging a test is judging 4 minutes of that horse's life. P & I have great dressage rides at home and at my trainer's....then I go to a show and I'm so busy trying not to forget the test that I don't prepare properly for upcoming transitions (it's a problem). So don't make overreaching comments about the horse's training when there could be a myriad of reasons why maybe it's not the most lovely of pictures. Besides, you guys jump great and Charlie obviously has a blast.

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  20. I do agree with judges that say we need to have the dressage basics before we can jump. I honestly believe dressage basics not only make jumping easier, but way more fun too! That said, I think jumping a horse under 3' is totally fine without a lot of dressage work. They don't need to use their bodies as much and it isn't much effort for them. Plus, doing dressage day in and day out... well if we wanted to do that we wouldn't be eventers. It's a tough balance, but good on you for making an effort to improve all of it! Go Charlie go!

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  21. Id generally want to agree that he needs more flatwork before he can jump..but then you look at the size of the jumps and he can step over them (not in a bad way! just meaning you aren't going and jumping 3'6" or anything)

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