Thursday, September 7, 2017

dinosaur dressage...

I alluded yesterday to the fact that Charlie had a recent dressage lesson! His first (yet again) in a long while -- and the first since we moved to the new farm and got to enjoy the convenience of having dressage trainer C come to us!

Gosh it's just amazing being able to take lessons with many of my favorite trainers without having to load the horse up and hit the road!

no pictures from the lesson, so instead enjoy this shot of charlie chillin at the trailer post-paper chase. his first trailer trip since we moved barns at the end of july!!!!
Anyway, like I said, it has been awhile. And as I've also been saying, Charlie's been doing pretty well lately. Possibly so well that it's easy for a trainer who doesn't see him very often to not realize how tenuous and fleeting the good moments can actually be.

It ended up being a bit of a rough lesson for us, tho it started off more or less ok with Charlie going through his (very slow, but steady) progression into showing off his new contact skills. He was a touch crabby and cranky - likely due to being tired and stiff from the paper chase the day before (me too, buddy, me too) and having been out of regular work for so long.

he loves eating scraps up off the trailer floor <3
Trainer C wanted to really dig into two main rider issues: 1) my own lateral unevenness (tendency to weight my left side more and twist through my pelvis and torso); and 2) my habit of putting my legs too far back. Plus, one big horse issue: difficulty in going into the outside rein for turns rather than using the inside rein as a crutch and popping out his outside shoulder. This is also relates to my rider issue of keeping my outside leg too far back.

C wanted me to feel like I was sitting on Charlie's hind legs, turning his shoulders around his hind end - rather than kinda dragging his shoulders around through the turn. This necessitated all outside rein and leg for the turns, with very very little inside rein - I shouldn't help him out with so much inside rein. Also needed to make my circles smaller too....

sir also got his routine massage maintenance last week. during which time we were visited by a corgi who captured charlie's heart!
This particular exercise of circling on just the outside aids (simple as it is) is extra challenging for Charlie bc it highlights his gate sourness issue with bulging. He's always had a strong draw toward the gate (any gate) - and when we turn away from the gate he's most likely to pop that outside shoulder and go all squirrely.

So we circled. And circled. Smaller circles, more outside aids, less inside rein, more rider leg farther forward. And... this is kinda where we got into trouble with Charlie...

He's a good boy, but he's pressure averse and gets defensive and upset when he thinks he's wrong or in trouble. When we kept pushing this one thing (going into the outside rein while endlessly circling) he kinda maybe got frustrated or didn't understand why we were still pushing and driving him around with no release even when he thought he was doing the thing.

just some sheep around the property. look at the face on that one on the left!! lol
Because he doesn't really understand dressage at all yet, actually, only just figuring out that "well I think she wants me to put my head down, but I don't really know why." So when he kept trotting, and kept circling, and kept his head down -- but yet I still didn't let up the pressure and still kept asking for something more, well. He got frustrated and quit on us.

And.... the rest of the lesson kinda turned into mitigating his patented 'dinosaur stuck in tar pit' tantrums. Which.... is a shame.

It's a hard balancing act with Charlie bc he does need to learn that there's more to dressage than trotting one circle with his head down and then moving on. And sometimes he's gonna have to dig a little deeper to try to figure out what I'm asking of him. He's going to have to leave his comfort zone in order to learn and improve.

Simultaneously tho, this isn't really a horse that can be drilled. He benefits from repetition bc he's a thinking horse, sure, but he's got to be set up to get the answer correct. Bc I can not stress this enough: the horse is a quitter.

unrelated screen shot from burghley: charlie isn't the only horse with a dweeby center part in his forelock!! check out Zara Tindall's High Kingdom!
And if it's something that's very hard for him or that's going to take a while for him to figure out - just drilling endlessly will never be the right approach. Rather, we've got to find ways to weave high pressure moments in to other movements. Instead of endlessly circling where he just gets more and more frustrated by never getting a release, I need a half turn here, quarter turn there, and maybe the occasional circle to try to keep working on getting that feel.

It's possibly a slower method (especially when the rider needs to learn for herself too), but maybe it'll be easier on the horse in the long run. Because the last thing I want to do is sour the horse, esp now that he's really starting to figure stuff out.

So the rest of the ride was basically spent getting him to come back to me and keep trying. And.... it took awhile. He was pretty pissed off. Sigh.

in other recent news, my car died at the barn over the weekend. and.... rather than dealing with it i just left it there and drove my truck around for a couple days lol. bc damn, i did not need another thing 
It was maybe useful for trainer C to see tho. I've known for a while that Charlie is not a horse who works bc of his heart. Uh, no. He's a very cerebral horse. He does things bc he understands them or bc they're fun. Not bc I asked him. Which is perhaps why it's been so critical that I work so hard to build trust with him. And I suspect after witnessing his prolonged meltdown, trainer C has a much clearer understanding of how he learns and handles pressure.

He did eventually settle tho. Took a big deep breath, relaxed his neck and back, and just dropped right on back into the bridle to put together a very nice little trot-canter-trot pattern before we called it a day.

Then the following day he only came out with one nasty t-rex moment that was easily defused before getting right on along with what turned out to be a great flat school. So I don't think he's holding a grudge or anything. It was just maybe not my ideal timing for needing to relearn that particular lesson about my horse's tolerance for pressure.

luckily there are many mechanically inclined folks around the new place, one of whom was happy to clean off the battery, goop it up for protection, and test the charge for me to ensure it wasn't totally kaput. hint: it's.... basically kaput.
Anyway. Other important takeaways from the ride:
  • I need to practice leg yields away from the rail just as much as I practice leg yields toward the rail. Charlie thinks he's very clever and has figured out the routine of going toward the rail, but he maybe is doing it more by rote rather than bc I'm aiding for it. Whereas leaving the rail shows more clearly that he's actually not super schooled to the aids yet.
  • I also need to avoid spending too much time on the rail at all. Not necessarily meaning always turning or riding figures or whatever - but that even when I'm going up the long side I should be a couple feet off the rail. Otherwise it's the rail that's keeping us straight, or the rail that makes us turn our corner - instead of me and the horse actually doing it in balance. Take us off the rail and we suddenly end up looking a little drunk.
he even had a standalone electrical charger thingy so i didn't need to leave it running to charge up and waste fuel unnecessarily. this charge lasted me about a day and the nasty fucker needed another jump just to get to the shop to replace the battery lol. womp womp.
Ultimately it was a frustrating lesson mostly bc I felt like I let my horse down a little bit.

There are times to push, times to show the horse that "sorry, bucko, but you're gonna have to do this hard thing and idc how much you don't want to. figure it out." But.... I also feel kinda strongly that... this was not the right time for that. A horse coming back into regular work, the day after a somewhat strenuous exertion, and with just days counting down to our next event. None of this sounds like it's the right time to pick a fight and I maybe could have better advocated for the horse.

and bc why not, here's the current set up for charlie's feed storage. alfalfa pellets get poured directly into their tupperware container, ordered one 50lb bag at a time. there are actually two bags of nutrena fuel sitting inside the metal trash can, rather than poured in. this makes it easier to not risk having old feed go rancid at the bottom of the container. then all those supplement baggies i wrote about here are stored in the plastic bucket. it's a lot.... but so far, so good!
In any case, we've got a couple more rides left to keep smoothing things out before Fair Hill, for which we'll be doing BN-B (much preferred for his particular way of going right now to BN-A). And Charlie really is coming along in a way that makes me really excited.

His whole balance has improved, his ability to soften and compress and react more quickly to the aids (esp through transitions! and omg maybe we might kinda actually have the beginnings of a half halt!!!) just gets better and better. So much so that it's maybe easy to forget how green he is to all the more nuanced stuff. It's cool tho. There's just more work to be done, as always.

Hopefully he'll be able to get back in the zone this week bc I would love to show off some of his progress at Fair Hill this weekend. But I probably won't push it if he isn't feeling it - and will save the higher intensity rides for when we're a bit more consistent in our riding schedule. It's all still ahead of us!!

29 comments:

  1. It's hard- Carmen does not like drilling either. I think for the same as Charlie- she doesn't like to be wrong. But some don't seem to mind it.

    Carmen bulges her shoulder going to the right- one exercise Shanea had me do was to practice counter flexion on the circle for a few strides and then straighten. and lots of praise. Missy loves her positive reinforcement. :D

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    1. Haha yup Charlie likes the praise train to keep rollin too ! When I'm schooling myself I basically talk nonstop to him, but then in lessons I'm trying so hard to concentrate on what the trainer is telling me that I almost somehow kinda forget to keep up that communication with le pony. Who apparently does not appreciate the silent treatment! Who knew...

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  2. Charlie knows what Charlie wants...lol :) Gem doesn't like to be drilled either but I don't think it is so much an aversion to being wrong. She gets bored and then tells me to shove my endless circles. Advocating for our horses when with someone more knowledgeable than we are is really hard to do. I know for me I'm always thinking "well trainer says we can do the this and should and she knows way more than I do so yup we need to do it" but sometimes that isn't the right answer. I'm glad things are smoothing back out and hope you have a great ride at Fair Hill.

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    1. ugh yea that's exactly it - it's so hard to take a step back and reevaluate the situation when i'm in that "lesson zone" of focusing so intently on whatever the trainer is saying. dressage trainer C in particular has a very 'stream of consciousness' style of teaching too, and i basically just turn my entire attention to her while riding. that worked fine for isabel, always the quintessential professional. i'm figuring out with charlie tho that i've always got to keep an ear and eye on him too - and keep remembering to ride him and make decisions for him in the moment even if it's not exactly what my trainer is saying. multitasking is so hard tho!!! lol....

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  3. ugh tar pit. its kind of amazing how similar indy and charlie get. actually had this exact argument last night. i was asking him to go into the outside rein and he just put his head down and was likE I DONT UNDERSTAND WHY YOU ARE STILL PUSHING ME.

    i had to do some stretchy trot to get him un-stuck. i need a lesson. like, 40 billion lessons.

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    1. blargh yea... it's interesting for sure how a lot of horses kinda have the same sticking points. tho charlie expresses himself with his head UP not down haha. like ALL UP IN YO FACE.... literally. tho in a weird sense, going through that process of getting them 'un-stuck' can be beneficial in its own right i guess, since it's an opportunity to show them that it isn't the end of the world and that we really are on their side even tho we're asking for hard or confusing stuff... maybe. lol. ah horses!

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  4. Figuring each other out is such a process. :-)

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  5. Good for you for being aware of what your horse is doing and why he's doing it. I've had soooo many battles with Bobby where he was like, "chill the fuck out, I need a break" and I'd just be like, "No! More, more, more!" That gets no one anywhere.

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    1. ha yea.... i just wish this was a lesson that would *stay learned* bc apparently i can still forget that.... oh yea, maybe cool it for a second here and there!

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  6. Oh my goodness I was "AMEN-ing" throughout this whole post! I 1000% know that ride on a horse that performs out of understanding vs heart, and will only do the thing if he wants to do the thing. And the tantrums. And getting un-stuck from tantrums. It can be really hard to learn where the line is for them between getting them over/through a spot of resistance or pushing them into the tar pit. Because sometimes... ya gotta just do what I'm asking, bud. But other times getting into that argument can be so detrimental! I'm sure Charles will feel ready & refreshed for Fair Hill this weekend; can't wait to see you both!!

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    1. ooooh yea i'm pretty sure you're an expert at recognizing and working through this stuff haha - i've just been so spoiled by years of isabel that i forget that... some horses simply do not have that kind of capacity for work.

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  7. Oh man, I have so been there. I wish there were lessons with past horses that 'stay learned' but I am human, and have had to learn some of them a few times. Don't be too hard on yourself. Eventually they do sink in and your horse will forgive you for being human and move on. Kudos to you for thinking it through, and re-learning. I'm sure Sir Charles has already put it behind him. On to Fair Hill!

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    1. yea luckily charlie is actually a very forgiving horse, all things considered. once he's 'over' his moments, he's well and truly over them. thank god for that! bc yea.... i'm gonna keep making mistakes haha #ammy4lyfe

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  8. I am sorry you guys didn't have the lesson you wanted to have, but I think that it's all good in the grand scheme of things. It sounds like it was a minor set-back and I am sure Sir Charles will forgive you so long as you give him cookies :D

    If anything, you gained a lot of valuable information from that session - outside rein info included.

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    1. oh yea, definitely not a setback. the horse finished on a good note and came back out the next day able to lay down a great school. it's just frustrating, esp when i've been trying to be so careful with planning out my rides this week. c'est la vie tho!

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  9. Same here, the good news is that with my pony (who was absolutely a quitter) she has gotten to the point where we can up the pressure and even "drill" things and now she seems to enjoy it! I still find opportunities to give her pats or scratches and she does well with verbal praise to bridge the bigger moments of praise but we did the same thing about 15-20 times at my last lesson so that I could start to figure it out and she never once quit even though it was ugly. I'm sure Charly will get there too with your partnership :)

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    1. ha charly works too!! and yea i think you're definitely right on a horse being able to learn over time to take more and more pressure. that's already proven true with charlie - he used to not even understand why i might ask him to canter a second time *gasp* after he'd already gone and done it once. was i crazy? had i already forgotten that he'd already done the thing??? lol.... bc yea he's kinda a drama queen. slowly but surely we'll figure it out tho and hopefully he'll keep figuring out how to keep working even when he thinks it's kinda stupid or hard lol

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  10. I recently had Kate ride Levi and she discovered that he has no work ethic. Which is funny, because he's so easy going and good natured people think he's a trier. But he's not. He tried to throw some temper tantrums with her too. It's not quite the same as Charlie's issue as Levi isn't a thinker, but your story reminded me a lot of that. Half the game with horses is figuring out HOW to reach them. I haven't figured that out yet for Levi, but it seems like you're on the track with Charlie.

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    1. ha yea i know that feeling too - charlie is a quiet, laid back kinda dude so it's surprisingly easy to not realize when he's about to quit or throw down. like you say, figuring out how to reach him - how to stay on the same page as him is so so important, and is maybe a little extra trickier since these guys are otherwise so good natured lol

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  11. Love this. I wonder if Charlie's greenness plays a part in his lack of heart, too. That whole thing about understanding the game and having to deal with the ego of the warhorse who had a job he knew and believes he knows best. Haha. Not that I've dealt with that at all ever... wish I'd picked that fight less than I did, though. ;)

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    1. there's no question that it's about greenness - 'green' is just another way of saying that the horse doesn't know the answer or doesn't understand. that's why it's so critical that when i'm working on introducing new things that i work really hard to show him how to get the answer correct, or at least not feel like he's 'wrong' or 'in trouble.' the other part that isn't just about greenness is that the horse basically equates being 'wrong' with being 'in trouble' -- an unfortunate function of some of his past race training. so he also kinda has to learn that it's ok to be wrong, that he doesn't need to freak out when he doesn't understand bc it's not the end of the world or whatever.

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  12. I'm pretty hat Brantley and Charlie were separated at birth at this point (down to the feed set up). It'll get easier as time goes on to feel how far you can push him especially in a lesson. I'm just starting to brave enough to tell a trainer, "Hey, we need to do something different for a minute." Then you can give him that break even if it's just coming out of the circle to trot down the rail long and low for a minute. It's a release but he's still working. B gets so fried if I don't change it up or change direction.

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    1. lol true they are both bay with a star! idk tho honestly i feel pretty assured in my feel for when to push and when to back off with this horse. even in just the one year he's been a riding horse he's already accomplished quite a bit with me as evidence of that! the difficulty in my balancing act comes not so much from me feel for him (which, again, i'm quite confident in) as it does from balancing external circumstances like events and unexpected time off and weather and blah blah blah, to make sure that we can still do what i need us to be doing within the realm of what's reasonable to expect from the horse.

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  13. Nooooo about the car. That sucks :( Yeah I hear you with the ride. Amber does things more because of heart for sure - I know she doesn't like to slide, but damn if I get in that western saddle and ask for a stop from a canter, she is trying to slide. Sweet girl. But she is intellectual in that she wants to understand things. I know you and Charlie can get past it though :). No, it probably wasn't the best time to have to do that, but I agree with you: the way he came back the next day and laid down a great school, I think that's just as important as the tough days for a learning horse :). Especially too that he came back at the end and tried again. A huge and great thing for him :).

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    1. yea the horses that work from the heart are so wonderful sometimes, tho definitely needing an entirely different type of rider management! so funny how that works. and yea, charlie is fine. he was fine that evening, fine the next day and the day after that, and will continue being fine. there's nothing to be got past. he's fine. it's just unfortunate from a planning perspective to waste a preparation ride on an unnecessary fight. c'est la vie tho!

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  14. I think pushing a little more each ride is a good way to get there. Penny doesn't work for me either and is gate sour at times too so I feel ya there.

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    1. ugh yea it's a real struggle haha!

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