Friday, April 6, 2018

putting in what i want to get out

We all know that a truism in horses, as with life in general, is that you get what you give. In other words, you get out what you put in. Garbage in, garbage out. Guts in, glory out. Etc etc etc.

This doesn't always prove true, of course. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes we work our butts off and do everything the "right" way, and things still go badly. Which like... really sucks. And is so disheartening. And depressingly common in horses. They are fragile animals and this is a hard sport.

panoramas from moving horseback are hard, so instead i knit two separate pictures together. charlie loves being the filling in this mare sandwich haha
Generally tho, the reverse almost never happens: wherein we get something for nothing. There is no "lottery" in horses, where you can buy that elusive winning ticket and be set for life. Unless like, I guess if you actually *do* win the lottery and can afford to buy the nicest horses and keep them in full training with the best professionals money can buy.

But ya know. The odds being what they are, it's a safer bet to accept that we are the drivers of our own horsey destinies, whatever may come.

sunset hacking is fun too
And as such, as the driver of my own horsey destiny, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on what that means. What matters the most to me? Where do I want to go? How do I define my happiness in horses? What does that mean on a day-to-day basis, and from a more long term perspective?

Everyone's answers to these questions are obviously extremely different. Which, naturally, is one of the most amazing things about horses: there are so many ways to enjoy them.

esp when joined by friends! one of my favorite things about this barn is that there's almost always riders around who are game for a hack through the fields!
For me, personally, I've identified my journey and progression as a rider to be one of the most meaningful and rewarding aspects of my horse habit. I don't necessarily want to be the "best" rider, but rather be the best I can be. If that makes sense haha.

The underlying assumption is that horses just in and of themselves are an important part of my life. My day to day life is better for having horses in it. Even just the time I spend in the company of horses - just those quiet in-between moments - has the power to be a refreshing boost to my mood. Something tells me that many, many of you feel similarly haha.

esp when there are new baby ottbs to introduce to the water! Cherry was such a star!
So in short - I'm a horse junkie whose driving force is improving my skills in the saddle. I also happen to really really enjoy horse showing. Like, horse showing is literally one of my favorite things and is simultaneously an excellent measure of where I am as a rider.

I love the entire emotional cycle. The vague intangible build up of anticipation that begins with penciling in a date, sending in an entry. That gradually expands in the weeks of preparation: the schooling rides and tack cleaning etc. Finally reaching that visceral crescendo of arriving on the show grounds, swinging into the saddle, and riding. And, of course, what is hopefully a sweet release of riding your best and giving it your all. Then settling down to relax (and possibly get a little drunk) with your friends back at the trailer / tailgate.

That, to me, is an aspect of horse sports that I adore. Just adore. It's so fun. Naturally tho, an important part of that cycle is the whole bit about "riding your best, giving it your all." That's the release, right? That's the part where all those endorphins come rushing in.

often our hacks follow dressage schools, of which there have been a few lately. this simple cavaletti exercise that brita set up has been surprisingly versatile! in addition to the three circles that can involve just one or both cavaletti, there's also the option of serpentining through with changes of bend happening over each cavaletti
Because it's kinda hard to get that euphoric sense of accomplishment and fulfillment after a ride that made me feel like shit, right? Ask me how I know....

Not that I care very much about winning, personally (and I don't). Rather, for me, I want my rides in competition to feel like reasonably accurate demonstrations of my and my horse's current level of training.

I'm a pretty mediocre rider, and Charlie's a green horse. So that's usually a reasonably attainable bar for us. Like our recent performance at Loch Moy was riddled with mistakes, miscalculations, and misjudgments. Mostly on the part of the rider.

I'm cool with it tho, bc that's basically where I'm at as a rider. I make a lot of mistakes, and my green horse will reflect those mistakes. Luckily, it's pretty easy to pick apart how everything went to identify areas where I can try to do a little better next time. So I got to enjoy all the highs of that experience, while also figuring out how to improve down the road. Win win, right?

ooooh we did a few jompies too! this horse is such a prince
Now, the onus falls on me to make good on that. If I go out to the next show and make all the same exact mistakes and errors again.... well, then that starts getting really frustrating right? So that's where my main goal of improving my skills as a rider comes in. That's where we get to the day-to-day aspect of all my horsey hopes and dreams.

For Charlie's and my purposes at this specific juncture, there are two main areas I've been addressing in our schooling rides.

1) Experimenting with bitting (or lack there of) over fences to clarify my aids to Charlie when he may be otherwise distracted by OMG GO FAST GO JOMP YASSSSS. ahem. lol.
- and -
2) Being more consistent and accountable in my dressage rides so that Charlie doesn't constantly have changing expectations and moving goal posts.

gosh he's fun <3 this jump was off a nearly C-shaped six stride bending line. homeboy nailed it
The jumping part has been fine, really. We're kinda at a place where I don't want to jump a ton, but want the schools we do to really count. Charlie knows his job, and I'm finally feeling pretty comfortable again, so we just need to refine.

We've jumped a couple times in the hackamore and I really like it. Except, one big issue: It's not sufficient for warming up. Sure, plenty other riders out there might say that good dressage and good flatwork shouldn't rely on a bit to get the job done. But, for me? For my skill set and abilities? Yea, I need a snaffle to get the horse really working haha.

Warming Charlie up for jumping is all about softening and flexing his topline, getting him more supple. He's not a naturally soft horse, and often needs some convincing to lift his back or push more from behind, vs just shuffling around. And it's best for everyone involved if this "convincing" happens before we actually try to jump things lol.

So there's still more experimenting to be done here. I've got lots of ideas tho!

pictured: half halting with the help of a hackamore lol. i actually really like the feel of this bridle for jumping!
And in the meantime, I've been really digging in to our flat work. Trying to be really consistent in what I ask for, how I ask for it, and what I accept as an answer.

If on one day, I'm cool with Charlie jogging around disengaged with his nose poked out, but the next day want him really pushing and round? Well. He's going to be a little bit unclear about whether he really has to work that much harder.

Considering he isn't exactly the most naturally gifted dressage horse to start, it's easier for everyone if I can just say, "Charlie when I apply my aids like this, the answer I'm looking for from you is that. Every time, always." So I can just focus on my use of aids (like fixing my whack position, nagging legs, too-backward while simultaneously too-unstable contact.... the list goes on forever!) and Charlie never has to guess about his job.

esp when the half halts go through and we get clean jumps!
I've been using a lot of cavalleti lately in this effort. They're so helpful for me because they create physical and visual landmarks in terms of keeping me honest about how much bend I need, while also giving Charlie a place to go that isn't just me constantly kicking him on to .... somewhere.

The exercise a few pictures up was particularly helpful, plus easy to set up. The turns are hard for us tho. It's a challenge for me to get Charlie more engaged and pushing off his hind end, so he ends up feeling like his shoulders are super stuck and nearly impossible to push around the turns. Which, incidentally, is possibly why we often get the comment "Labored" on our dressage tests lol...

and careful balance through the shortened 30' two stride!
The cavaletti are also useful bc I'm trying to be more disciplined in expecting Charlie to move off my leg. No more slug trot for a couple laps while we warm up! I want more responsiveness. Charlie has been resistant to being driven forward since basically day 1, but we work on it. Aiming him at something helps a lot tho haha.

We started playing with the faintest ideas of lengthenings too! The kernel being: create a bigger trot across the diagonals, then transition clearly back to a working trot. It's tough bc Charlie doesn't understand it yet, or have much flexibility in his trot (we also have basically zero compression in trot). He either wants to canter, or get strung out and trail/trip with his hind end.

There were a couple really good moments in a recent ride tho where he stayed round and gave the briefest most fleeting feeling of that "thrust" off the ground that was so easy for Isabel. So it's fun to play, especially if it reinforces the idea in Charlie of developing different gears within his gaits. We'll see!

also unrelated: i added a snap between buttons on my show coat. i'm a very amateur seamstress so this involved making stitches on the outside of the coat, but they're not visible from very far away. and the snap completely resolves my pet peeve of extreme gapping between buttons!
So, ya know. We're chipping away at it. I have goals, hopes and dreams. Things I want to do with horses. Fun I want to have. There's no rush, tho, in anything. Rome wasn't built in a day, and enjoying my day to day work with horses is just as important, if not more, as reaching those big ultimate goals.

I enjoy this process of learning tho. It's rewarding when something "clicks" - either for me or the horse. Like realizing Charlie's finally at a point where he's pretty freakin well-schooled to 2'9 course work. Or like trying to teach Charlie lengthenings, as a rider who has only ever done them on a horse who was freakishly gifted at them. We're figuring it out and it feels pretty cool!

Plus all that stuff about loving horse shows: getting out to do the things, having that culminating moment where the work pays off. I won't get that feeling without any of the actual work, right? So we put in the work, put in the time. And hopefully I'll eventually be a better rider for it.

Do you ever go through similar thought exercises of really thinking deeply about your ultimate horse goals, and how they play out in your day-to-day rides?

I know everyone has wildly different goals, and defines their happiness with horses differently, but perhaps you feel similarly to some of the above? Or perhaps it's less about the goals of tomorrow for you? That enjoying your horse here in the moment is what really counts? Or just seeking a balance with all of life's other priorities and callings? I'm all ears!


  1. I love your philosophical and thoughtful posts. They often resonate with me. I love the idea of keeping expectations consistent. It’s something that I’ve been working on too- mostly about bend and attention (ahem, looking at you Carmen).

    I have been introducing Carmen to lengthens on the circle-just compressing and letting out the stride (just a small change) Then taking that idea out of the corner down the long side and then the diagonal. That helps prevent her getting strung out when I ask.

    1. i'm kinda trying to reflect back on what i learned from auditing Janet Foy a couple years ago - her whole "one aid, one answer" thing wherein any one aid always has a specific, well-defined answer, every time. no guesswork. it's a great concept but really hard to put into practice!

      re: compressing and riding forward on the circle, that is SUCH a great exercise for working on the trot! we did that in my last ever clinic with izzy (notes and video in the link below) and it was super effective. i'm a little reluctant to try that quite yet with charlie, mostly bc i'm prioritizing keeping him in front of my leg over compression for now. both are.... a challenge, to say the least haha. and both need a lot of work. we'll get there tho!

  2. goals/ What are they? LOL :)

    I am glad you and Charlie are doing so well and love that you have so many friends to ride with!

    My expectations are pretty low now but look forward to getting back on a schedule.

    OH and let's get some dates talking for Fair Hill (I won't be there this weekend and next (tho i could be here for Sunday the 15th) LETS RIDE (if this weather calms down)! :)

    1. we're so so so lucky to be at such a big farm with so many riders who are on a similar work schedule as me. it's a lot different from the last barn we boarded at, where i only really had one riding buddy but was otherwise dodging middle school lesson kiddos.

      and yes lets pick a date! the 15th we're hoping to be at loch moy, but maybe the 21st?? i'll email you ;)

  3. This post really hit home for me as I am in a very thoughtful, looking inward and thinking about the future type of place. You two look great in those pictures and how great you have friends to ride with so often! I'm jealous of that!!

    1. thanks ;) and yea it's hard sometimes to take that time to reflect and be introspective.... but usually it really helps me feel better and more secure in how i'm spreading my resources and what i hope to get from it.

  4. Consistency is so important, and so difficult!

    I can only hope that I love showing as much as you, but I'm afraid I'll just be a hot mess of nerves with barf all over my jacket ;). How do you relax into it and enjoy?

    1. don't barf on your jacket!!!!!! 0 stars, do not recommend!! lol... seriously tho, yea the nerves are real. and as a generally nervous and anxious kind of person, it's definitely something i have to deal with. but i kinda try to use the nerves as "positive anticipation" -- like the nerves are part of the build up to the ultimate release, and that you can't feel so relaxed and happy afterward without having been a little uncomfortable beforehand.

      also tho, being real? staying in control of those nerves is part of why i like to show often. if something feels routine or mundane, it feels easier and more familiar. much like how we trailer out so often, so that it never feels like a big deal. you guys will be great tho!!

  5. Ya, I am pretty much useless without precise goals. Knowing my horse will have to be able to do a certain thing by a certain date really lights a fire. The idea that I am training myself and my horse for 'something' whatever it may be, is my happy place! :)

    1. ha yea, nothing is really quite so REAL as an event on the calendar! and having that real, tangible timeline really helps me find a structure that makes sense and feels attainable too.

  6. Like you, I just want to have horses in my life and improve my skills as a rider. But I have zero desire to show these days. I think part of it is because it got so expensive and I'd rather spend that money on learning to ride rather than showing someone I know how to ride. I got showing out of my blood when I was younger - and when the parents paid for it:).

    1. ha yea, seriously. that's a fair (and very important!) part of figuring out our own horsey priorities. this habit is EXPENSIVE omg, literally every part of horses. so yea, we all gotta figure out what the relative values are of all the various activities and ways of enjoying horses. like, for instance, i love horse showing, but not really to the tune of hundreds of dollars. which is why we basically only ever do the local schooling stuff (where entries are more around $100). it still adds up tho.

  7. A lot of what you blog about resonates with me. We don't show or have any plans to do so however I do have progress goals in mind for my greenie. The most rewarding thing I get out of riding is the progress that the horse makes as they start to apply things that they learn - they're always much smarter than I give them credit for. That CLICK moment is the best, isn't it?

    1. oh man, i live for that feeling when everything clicks! esp when i get to figure something out, and then see immediate results in the horse because of it. or when the horse figures out an exercise and starts being able to do it without a lot of support or rider input. such a good feeling!

  8. I love the little community you and Charlie have to enjoy all of your adventures with - and I bet he loves that his two main riding partners are mares! ;-)

    Y'all are looking freaking BOMBER over those jumps. I did a double-take to confirm on one of the photos. What a huge incredible amazing transformation in you both during your time together. Such a strong partnership.

    1. omgosh i honestly couldn't really believe some of the shots when i saw them either. it was kinda just a meh lesson with the horse not really warmed up very well and a bit behind my leg. so some of the jumps were honestly kinda funky - but then he made HUGE efforts over them! he's figuring it out slowly but surely!

    2. Had left your blog page up after commenting and just scrolled back to the top thru the photos in this post again and realized a happy belated birthday was in order for Charlie for yesterday! Hope the big guy had a great day!

    3. ha good eye!! i didn't get to see him yesterday for his bday, but i DID get to celebrate by paying off the final installment from his splint surgery!!! hoooooray!!!! lol...

  9. Love the thoughtful posts of yours! I very much resonate with them.
    I've always had trainers and teachers really ride me for the fact that I would never fully commit to or outline my long-term goals. It would really put me off actually because (like for my training class w/ amber or the 2yr olds I started) obviously I have an end goal of where I want them to be. But I've always taken that with the knowledge that I may or may not be able to accomplish it because it's horses haha. They're all different. Things happen. Most of the time I would be able to set new small goals to teach the horses because they'd pick something up faster than expected. But others took time. A lot of time, and they'd be "behind" for a while. Then the light bulb would go off and they'd accelerate in their training, while one that learned "faster" hit a snag. After being pushed to push horses, I enjoy giving them a day off and taking it day by day and fully feeling peace when I get to work with them.

    Naturally, this doesn't mean I don't have long-term goals, but I tend to make them very flexible, often giving myself more time than I need. Because I love that day to day chipping away at things. I love developing a relationship so that when we do go to shows, we can be confident in each other. :)

    I'm glad you and Charlie are doing so well together! He looks damn good at 2'9" too :D

    1. yea i hear ya. nothing bugs me more when someone is pushing me when i don't feel like either i or the horse are ready. from my own experiences, there's usually no real long term value in rushing - there will always be some hole or another that crops up and it's easier to address that early vs later when the stakes are higher (tho i guess pros generally feel like they can handle that when it happens). bc yea like you say, having that confident relationship really makes such a difference!

  10. Sounds like you and I both have tickets on the compression/lengthening train lol

    1. forever and ever and ever, amen. apparently. let's hope it's not too bumpy a ride!

  11. Love this. And I'm with you - I absolutely love showing. I get anxious in the hours leading up to my ride, but once I'm on the horse, I start to relax and go. I'm also a very goal-oriented person - I like making goals for just about everything in my life :) Probably because I love lists and checking things off said lists...

    For Crumble, my goal is to train and show him at Grand Prix. I want to be able to show people that ordinary Haflingers can do fancy things. For me - I want to be the best rider I can be, like you also mentioned. I know I won't be going to the Olympics, but I want to be darn good at what I do. Personally, that means being able to ride Grand Prix/upper levels in dressage on more than just my own horse. And, I want to keep learning as much as I possibly can!

  12. I pretty much have the same internal conversation daily, thinking about what we need to improve and how we are going to do it. And then stringing things together and understanding how it all works. My coach calls it being a thinking rider.

    For me it's hard not to compare my progress to others and I have to constantly tell myself it's my journey and no one elses, it can't be compared!

    I love that picture of Charlie Jumping the upright, you guys look awesome. I think it's great how much you're enjoying your time with Charles, he seems to be such a great beast to enjoy it with too!


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