Wednesday, September 19, 2018

canter homework in action

Over the last two years, I feel like I've learned a lot about what Charlie needs in his regular routine to make him feel good and perform well. And like any horse, a varied approach seems to work best for him.

We do lots and lots of relaxed hacking and exploring over mixed terrain. It's refreshing for both the mind and body, after all, and a critical aspect of Charlie's overall physical conditioning program. But I learned the hard way after Plantation that all that hacking out and conditioning can't be done at the expense of targeted focused schooling rides.

Even the best horses can have off days, and without the practice of disciplined schooling we risk having everything fall apart when the pressure is on.

random shot of Charlie's neighbor Maggie lookin pretty
My ideal end goal for every single schooling session with Charlie is that he finishes the ride strutting like a champion, secure and confident that he's a good boy and did the thing. I LOVE IT when Charlie has that feeling about him.

But.... Again, like I learned at Plantation, this isn't necessarily realistic every ride. And there are plenty of rides out there when Charlie just kinda.... doesn't wanna, doesn't feel like it, would rather not. And this is where I've had to be careful about my own discipline. At a certain point, I must be objectively clear with Charlie that, "This is your job and you are expected to do it even if you'd rather be at the barn."

nifty versatile exercise at any height. the straight line from center of one pole to the next is 30'
Luckily, over the course of this summer I've spent a lot of time trying to better understand what approaches will produce both the feeling I want in Charlie and the performance. This past week in particular served as the perfect little case study for how all the pieces work together.

Charlie came back into work about a week and a half after his mulch-related abscess. We had a couple quiet and relaxing flat schools asking for nothing more than stretching at the walk and trot, and a little canter. Then a quiet hack, and another flat school - but this time actually asking him to work on the bit. Then a jump school (source of today's pictures) and finally another long 10km hack down to the Gunpowder River.

less random shot of charlie lookin like one million dollars
It felt like the perfect balance of rides over a six day period, and the proof was in the pudding with how Charlie came out for his first jump school since the Labor Day weekend hunter pace.

just boppin around on my giant jump jump pony
I waffled a bit while tacking him up about which bridle to use. Kinda wanted to put the hackamore on, but it's not great for purposeful flat work and I wanted to warm Charlie up as if it were a normal dressage ride. Thought about the elevator since the last time he jumped was while galloping around Tranquility.... but damn I kinda hate dealing with all those straps sometimes haha.

Finally I just put on his normal dressage bridle with Myler comfort snaffle bit and figured it would probably be fine. And it was. More and more often it seems like I'm schooling Charlie over fences with this bit, tho I fully expect to continue using the elevator for competitions.

easy over the liverpool
True to form for the preceding week, Charlie warmed up very well for the ride. Complete with executing his first ever (!!!!) left lead canter depart from the walk. This is such a big deal to me bc the left lead departs in particular have always been trickier for us.

So so so so so SO MANY of our past temper tantrums and "dinosaur-stuck-in-tar-pit" moments were triggered by trying to get the left lead. So the fact that Charlie's beginning to successfully school walk-canter left lead departs is just like... kinda ridiculously exciting to me lol. He's come a long way!

bored over the swedish
Anyway, tho, we started jumping by trotting over a couple plain verticals, then moved on to the first exercise of the day: a looping line of roll backs down the zig zag line, focusing on changing leads over the jump.

The track is marked in blue in the earlier diagram, and we rode this from left to right in that diagram. You jump the first then turn left immediately to roll back to the second. Turn right, roll back to the third. Turn left and jump the final.

exuberant tail flick over the skinny shark's tooth haha
Maybe it's weird to admit, but I've only very very rarely tried to get Charlie to land on any one particular lead or another when we jump. Lead changes aren't really a strength of mine. I tend to be a little uncoordinated, plus I can only really think about so many things at once before other things start to slip. Like if I'm thinking too much about my lead change on approach to a fence, I'm maybe more likely to miss my distance haha.

third jump of the zig-zag line, offset verticals spaced 2 strides starting with that low purple/brown in the background. note blue pvc rings marking the center of each pole
So instead I just school the bejesus out of simple changes (true story: Charlie started practicing simple changes of lead through trot basically as soon as he started cantering under saddle with me), and set the horse up for whatever auto changes they want to volunteer.

Luckily, Charlie has pretty baller auto changes in both directions. So often times esp when he's really cruisin along, he'll just change on his own. Otherwise? We do a simple change and move on with our lives.

fourth and final jump of the zig zag line, a simple oxer
Charlie surprised me tho by executing the lead changes over fences perfectly in this exercise. Good boy! It helped that the jumps themselves were very simple so I could focus almost entirely on positioning for the change (tho, uh, yea this meant that I totally biffed the distance to one of them anyway haha). It didn't translate to our course work tho, mostly bc I stopped thinking about it when we moved on.

i needed a lot LOT moar outside leg through this turn to the outside line, took me a few times to get it right
It's good food for thought, tho, since Charlie's really great at learning things through patterns and repetitions. He likes "games" and "puzzles" (especially when he already knows the answer lol) and the canter is legitimately his strongest, most balanced gait. So maybe it would be worth taking more time to practice landing the lead etc, since he might figure it out pretty quickly.

charlie was perfect, obvi, haha, even if he kinda wished i would have fixed my mistake sooner with fewer repetitions haha
We'll see. Once we moved on to course work, with all the jumps on the smaller side between 2'9-3', Charlie just cruised right on around making quick work of things.

Like I wrote previously, I'm starting to really focus on doing walk-canter transitions to start off each jumping exercise, with the idea being this helps keep the horse in front of my leg. We did so for this ride, and I think it worked really well.

Tho it's interesting watching the video bc the horse isn't exactly under paced, and he did stay in front of my leg.... But there were a couple jumps that would have been improved by taking a more forward stride to them.

he sure seems to like this job tho <3
It's always a tricky balance bc the feeling I'm really aiming for in Charlie's canter right now is all about increased engagement: riding his hind legs further up and under him, with lift and lightness through the front end.

We're getting more consistent with this, and it comes hand in hand with increased adjustability - like how easily Charlie cruised back down the same zig zag exercise, but this time in the direct line with 2 strides between each. But as always, there's more work to do.

Luckily, working on Charlie's canter is legitimately the most fun thing ever. And Charlie's starting to figure out the "game" of counter canter, walk-canter transitions, canter leg yields, and all that good stuff that works directly to produce better and better jumps. Any time the work can feel like a "game" to him, we're that much more likely to finish a ride with him strutting around like a champion. Win win for everyone, right?

Do you similarly have exercises you know are good for puffing up your horse's confidence? Or maybe you have to also be careful about slipping in the "hard" stuff between easier work to keep your horse happy and motivated? Do you have favorite canter exercises too, or maybe your horse was more like Isabel for me, where the canter was likelier to be a source of frustration?


  1. You two look fantastic! My immediate thought when I saw that first pic of you two jumping was "that should be in the George Morris column because it's awesome" hahaha! But like seriously tho - GORGEOUS. I'm glad you've figured out a system that works for Sir Charles! It looks like you two are cruising right along doing great <3

    1. aw haha thanks! i can always find all sorts of little pieces to nitpick in any picture, but damn if charlie isn't easy on the eyes ;)

  2. Getting the correct leads is super exciting! As is walk-canter transitions! He's getting so much stronger and more capable, it's so fun to watch!

    1. thanks - it's super fun to watch (and ride lol), even more so because as charlie grows stronger and more capable in his body, he's actually becoming easier and easier to ride. which, obvi, i love haha. like maybe at some point i'll be able to just sit there and pose while he just packs me around?!? lol....

  3. I try to mix up my rides and not drill the same things over and over, but I've honestly found that my boy just appreciates days off more than anything. Like he always seems to come back happier and stronger after having a few days off (sometimes even up to a week). While this may not be an ideal situation once we start moving up the levels and fitness is more important, I like that I can give him lots of time off and he always comes back better. Makes me feel less guilty if I can't always make it out to the barn on a regular basis.

    1. oh yea -- there's something to be said for sure about the value of rest time for horses. i'm grateful that charlie is the same as your guy, and always comes back well from time off. it's a big reason why i don't stress out and panic (as much) whenever we get forced downtime bc of injury or whatever. really, aside from conditioning and whatnot, the only real reason for keeping charlie in fairly consistent work programs is bc it helps keep him more sound. he's a relatively high mileage kind of guy, and keeping his major muscle groups toned and strong helps keep the joints working well too. too much time off and he gets creaky.... but yea. agreed that it's always nice to know that we don't need to feel guilty about time off too!!

  4. You two are rocking it. His face is so happy in those pics. He really is loving his job and his life.

    1. Aw thanks he definitely feels like he’s having fun and enjoying the work!

  5. That exercise looks really interesting. Yay for lead changes, the right lead is a struggle for us and it feels so good when we get it right!

    1. it's a great exercise - even just with ground poles but any height will do!

  6. What a happy, happy pair you two are! <3

    Love, love, love walk to canter transitions! Grif does, too, so they're great for his confidence. He gets pretty cocky about them if I do too many though and begins offering EVERY transition as walk to canter. Trot? What is trot? We don't trot!

    1. ha yea charlie gets so puffed up with them, and will start volunteering too. which like, i definitely DON'T mind whenever this bronto of a horse starts offering up big forward transitions lol!

  7. I'm in the middle of canter homework with P's-twin-who-is-not-P and it's so NOT the most fun thing ever. You and C look great! Glad someone is having fun at the canter ;)

    1. oh man, i feel ya. the canter was..... NOT isabel's best gait. like, at all. and working on it with her could just be so so so frustrating. honestly she had a way WAY fancier trot than charlie and sometimes i miss that.... but ultimately i think if i had to choose again, i'd still go with the better canter with less fancy trot. just makes some things so much easier!

  8. You guys look great and I love how he's using his hind end and not getting strung out. I bet once he's stronger the 'forward' to the fence will be awesome (although it looked fine to my dressage eyes).

    Canter was a struggle for Carmen but now she's all 'yay, Canter!' after the first transition. There's been a bit improvement in her going into the bridle too.

    1. thanks yea overall i'm pretty happy with getting him more engaged vs so strung out. and agreed that with additional strength, it'll be easier to still let him cover more ground while holding himself together. right now my tendency is to package a little too much. it's an issue bc if every jump has to be a big round effort off a shorter stride, he might start thinking he's having to work a little too hard -- vs letting him cover more ground and jump a little more easily out of stride. just needs more practice!!

  9. I love ending rides wiht something the horse does super well so they feel puffed up. Working on the canter I think is the most fun (way better than working on the walk - the tedium!) Maybe it's just because its a zippier pace! Charlie is really jumping so well now and clearly loves his job.

  10. Hi Everyone

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    It went down to a thrilling jump-off, and USA just piped Sweden at the post to take Gold.

    Here are the top 10 results.
    This link also includes the top 20 individual riders after 3 days of showjumping

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    Remember you can get TV times for the USA and UK as well as find out how you can stream all the live action at the link below

    Please let me know if these comments are getting too much :) Would like to join the web community but not get on their nerves.



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