Monday, September 17, 2018

going on the gunpowder

I want to spend a little time talking about Charlie's flatwork lately, especially in terms of putting into action some of the tidbits from Ralph Hill's clinic last week. Mostly for my own gratification: writing everything out always helps me process and understand things better anyway.

we had a pretty big group heading out for a sunday hack! tho about half peeled off the stay on farm for a shorter ride while the rest of us ventured farther afoot toward the gunpowder
But bc I know reading about someone else's flat schools can be... sometimes not super compelling content haha, I'm also including all the pictures from our recent big group trail ride. We hiked out to a local section of the Gunpowder River, a huge river surrounded by parks that crisscross almost the entire state. Was a nice ride through very pretty areas, and one I hope to repeat again in the future!

i had never been out this way before, hadn't even realized we had options like this for hacking out!
Anyway. The Ralph Hill clinic gave me a ton of food for thought on topics to address with Charlie on the flat. It's been almost four months since my last dressage lesson with Charlie, but we've mostly been muddling through reasonably enough anyway.

Sure the horse would be better schooled and farther along in his training if I had more lessons.... But imo he's still progressing and I've felt pretty good about what we've been able to get done this summer. Plus, uh, as evidenced by the mere existence of the clinic entry, it's not as if I'm not trying to make lessons happen. That's just how things go sometimes tho, I guess.

a fair amount of time was spent walking down the paved street of a quiet residential neighborhood before getting to the park
Ralph spent a lot of time talking about feel tho, in very very specific mechanical ways. Mostly as it relates to aligning our riding aids with the natural mechanics of each gait, such that we're in sync and in time with the horse.

His directions were very explicit - read the post if you the full details - regarding when to apply leg and rein aids depending on where the horse was in each gait. Honestly tho, that level of specificity is a bit beyond me when I'm riding. It's a little too granular, a little TMI. Bc let's be real, I can't really walk and chew gum at the same time. And, uh, neither can Charlie.

it was worth it tho - once down by the river, the trails were lovely!
The idea of "feel" tho, that's something I can be more conscientious about. And timing. Just having those two words bumping around in my mind as I go through a ride helps me to be more thoughtful about my transitions.

Bc yea, that was the other biggie in Ralph's instruction during the clinic: it was all transitions, all the time. So so so many transitions. And even how he wanted riders practicing their half halts in each gait. "Act as if you're going to ask for the halt from walk, but then don't halt." "Act as if you're going to ask for the walk from trot, but then keep trotting."

just like the trails further up stream by isabel's old barn, there were a lot of fishers out and about, like this father-son duo!
It sounds so simple writing it out like that, but I realized that I don't actually really practice the half halt on its own. Which, uh, may explain why Charlie doesn't really have a good half halt lol.

Like, sure, I often practice full transitions with him: walk-halt-walk, trot-walk-trot, etc etc. But since auditing that clinic, I've been way more purposeful in practicing the half halt too, and it's been surprisingly helpful lol. Goooooo figure.

the gunpowder is such a pretty river!
Bc right now, for where Charlie is, I've been wanting to really focus on bringing his balance more back onto his hocks, and creating more engagement. To do so, I've sacrificed a lot of the "forward" that took me so long to get from Charlie, since it's so easy to slip over into running along flat and on the forehand.

unfortunately tho, bc the river is so giant, most of the surrounding trails are out-and-back hikes instead of loops. that's fine tho - it's nice to stay by the river even if it means recovering the same ground
So the half halt is really really helpful in slowing and lifting his front end even as I keep trying to push the hind legs up and under. Another visual that's helpful for me in getting that feeling is thinking about riding "both hind legs evenly into both reins."

Dan used to say that in lessons ages ago, and for whatever reason that just works for me. He'd especially have me thinking about it when riding the "walk at nearly halt" exercises: where you walk the horse very very slow and round, with each hoof fall very deliberate and purposeful, but with distinct impulsion that could transition at any moment.

we even took the horses into the river at a spot where the banks were nice and flat! and yes, i totally repurposed charlie's racehorse bridle parts onto his hackamore lol
Of course, the tricky thing with Charlie is that even as I try to bring him slower and rounder and more engaged, I have to not get tricked into letting him get behind my leg. Bc.... yea. There be dinosaurs back there lol.

such a pretty day for it too!
So that's where the other interesting bit of transition work from Ralph's clinic comes into play: walk canter transitions. Actually, back in the days of weekly lessons with Dan, he would also have me do a ton of walk canter transitions, specifically as I'd begin any jumping exercise.

I guess the idea being, the walk canter transition can only really happen if the horse is in front of your leg. So it's a pretty good test to make sure that even as I'm trying to keep Charlie's front end more contained and packaged, I'm not just shutting all the energy down.

lol we are so #meta with the pictures. eventually i'll get the reverse image of this shot, maybe haha
Luckily Charlie's actually pretty freakin good at his right lead depart from walk. It's like a little game to him: he understands it, knows how to do it, and doesn't need me to spell it out for him when he accomplishes it well. It's clear to him when he's a good boy.

eventually it was time to head back home again tho
The left lead depart is..... not there yet. Mostly bc the left lead has always been our stickier direction riddled with deep dark tar pits haha. Since the clinic tho, where literally every exercise was tracking left and it became abundantly clear to me that Charlie and I would have struggled quite a bit with that.... Well, since then I've made it my business to address it haha. It's time.

some of the horses got a little fizzy after turning around to go back home, but everyone was happy all the same
Charlie's figuring it out tho. I'm trying to create patterns in our schooling so he can anticipate the transition. Starting with the walk, getting that really round collected walk, practice the half halt, then trot (as Ralph would say: position to movement), then come back to walk again.

this path was super pretty too!!
Maybe repeat once more if needed, trying to develop a "fizzy" feeling in Charlie (a decidedly not fizzy kind of horse haha) before finally repeating the same pattern but asking for canter instead of trot. This almost always produces the right lead depart lol, but he's finally been able to strike into the left lead a couple times too without too much fuss. Small steps, y'all!

luckily for parts of the road we were able to get up onto the shoulder and skirt around a cornfield instead of staying on pavement
The downwards transitions are.... Well, uh, not there yet. It seems extremely unlikely that Charlie will have anything even close to approximating a canter-walk transition even in the next six months. Bc like, reasons and things lol. He's just a big horse to slow down haha.

charlie thought this was perfect for his snacking purposes lol
But that's ok. It's been really useful practicing all these transitions anyway. Charlie's not particularly strong or fit right now, which maybe explains why I haven't had too much trouble with him just running off with me lately. I guess that'll be the real test tho, of whether the half halt still works when he's a little less lazy lol.

eventually made it back to the farm tho, what a cool ride covering just a little under 10km!
For now, tho, I'm working with what I got. The flat work is never going to be Charlie's favorite, and it's certainly not particularly easy for him. But any time I can turn things into recognizable patterns helps big time.

Especially when Charlie can identify for himself if he was a "good boy" or not, vs being confused about why I want him on a slower shorter step here, but a lengthened step there lol. Like he knows how to do that stuff when jumping bc he doesn't need me to tell him if he jumped the jump or knocked it down - he can figure that out for himself and adjust as needed.

But when there's no obvious land mark or whatever, it's a lot harder for him to know if he "did it" or not. So the patterns in practicing transitions help a lot, and I've been really happy with how he's felt this past week.

Who knows tho lol, without eyes on the ground for so long my feel could be way off, so hopefully we'll get back into more of a routine sooner rather than later!


  1. Replies
    1. This whole region and park area is so cool, and I had zero clue that we could even get there from our farm!

  2. Those trails and that river are gorgeous. What a great way to spend a day out with friends.

    One of Trainers favorite things to do is ask "could you walk from this trot? - No, then get there. Good, now could you canter from this? no - then wake him/her up and get there" It gets me playing around in the gaits and doing the prep work for a transition up or down without breaking gait and doing the transition. Gem and I weren't very good at it since she had one speed and responded to anything she didn't understand or agree with by adding more speed, but I tried. Its a bit easier on Doofus.

    1. yup that's definitely an important feel and one i think about a lot too, esp bc charlie is not really naturally very quick on his feet lol...

  3. Those trails are absolutely gorgeous!!

  4. Ok. I'll admit it. I cannot RISE at the posting trot and properly add leg at the same time. I think it is a conformation thing (mine and May's together), but it is basically impossible. Is this easier on a slender horse? I might have to borrow a tbred...

    1. oh man haha, idk the answer to that.... it's been a long time since i've ridden a very wide horse, but i can see how that could be more challenging! sometimes when i feel like my legs aren't hanging well, i'll pull my leg back toward the horse's tail, then drag it forward with my knee and toe pointed in toward the horse, then find my stirrup this way. it helps rotate my leg from the hip so that i've got closer contact, but not sure if that would make much of a difference if the horse is already so wide from the very top haha

  5. Sounds like Ralph knows a thing or two about a thing or two, huh? 😉

  6. umm I want that red dun. Thanks. I didnt realize how much I want a red dun till I saw that one. I will pay postage for him or her. Thanks :)

    Glad you had a nice hack out and those trails look gorgeous (When I as not drooling over the dun) HA

    1. lol why am i not surprised that you like Poco so much ?!? ;)

    2. okay now i want a red dun in my third stall. thanks. Poco will do nicely :) HAHAHA I do have a type dont I?

    3. lol but it's such a good type ;) Poco is definitely a favorite around the farm and i bet would get along perfectly with Remus. but, uh, good luck prying him away from his owner! lol

  7. I'm very jealous of your trails! Definitely have lots of thoughts about transitions/half halts rolling around in my brain now :)

    1. i'm coming to the conclusion that all of riding is basically a series of half halts and transitions, with other stuff just kinda happening in between it all lol

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    3. Robert Dover, “Amateurs ride from movement to movement. Professionals ride from half halt to half halt.”

    4. yup that's such a great quote! such an important way to think about things, even if it's so hard to actually put into action lol

  8. Those trails look so beautiful! Looks like a perfect day for that! Sounds like the flatwork is really coming along. You have a great handle on it!

    1. oh man it was SUCH a perfect day for the hack!! i had only expected to bop around our normal circuit of the woods and trails on our farm's property and was tickled to have arrived at the same time as the rest of the group who wanted to adventure farther afield!

  9. I want to be with you on those trails!!
    And yes for the half-halt and the walk-canter departs. I hear you on the downward ones being harder then the upwards. But progress is progress no matter how glacial!

    1. oh man, the downwards transitions have always been just so so so challenging for charlie. like, i can have marginally "prompt" if i'm ok with kinda flopping/collapsing down the transition. or.... i can have sorta-kinda balanced if i'm cool with very, er, 'slow to develop' transitions. and naturally there are also those other wonderful times when i think i'm cuing for a downward and the horse speeds up.... haha. so yea. there's work to be done!

  10. Getting that kind of granularity in the aids goes beyond my pay grade that I would need a series of private lessons that probably spanned everyday of a year.

  11. When you noted Charlie being big and a canter-walk transition being unlikely in the very near future I immediately saw the brontosaurus photoshop image of you two in my head lol PERISCOPE UP! JOMP THE JOMPIES! SLOW IS 4 LOSERS!


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