Tuesday, October 2, 2018

OF HT: Dressage + Stadium

So I had been looking forward to this starter horse trial for ages.... right up until I *wasn't* looking forward to it. Funny how that happens. I kinda got it into my mind that it would be cancelled, or that the weather would make everything awful.

And when it didn't look like it'd be cancelled after all, I still somehow felt kinda noncommittal about it all. Idk. It was a weird set of feelings. And when Charlie and I were not even close to being on the same page in a jump lesson the day prior, I started panicking a little bit. Asking my family (with whom I had planned a big tailgate as their one show of the year!) if maybe they didn't want to come after all.

But they were adamant about coming despite the mud and whatnot. So.... Even tho I kinda didn't want to, I showed up ready to ride the next morning.

elegant charlie
I took my time getting Charlie fed, cleaned up, and dressed - complete with some quality time spent marinating in his BoT mesh sheet while noshing on hay.

The warm up ring was on grass and was guaranteed to be icky. Plus with how we've been schooling lately, I felt like a shorter warm up would be optimal. Lots and lots (and LOTS) of walking, a little trotting (with some halt transitions), and a few canter transitions.

I ended up hopping on down at the barn about 25 min from go time, and then was ready to enter at A early when the rider before me didn't arrive. Perfect!

he's learning to be less long nose to tail, but still needs more energy from behind to make it really work
Charlie had been a little distracted and lug-headed in warm up. Not bad, but not particularly sharp or focused or soft - especially laterally. Some of this obviously was attributable to warming up in cut up muddy grass... But some of it was just Charlie letting his mind wander to the commotion surrounding us.

tfw..... you completely forget your test #novicefreestylin
Once he got into the ring, tho? Even tho it's the same ring we ride in all the time? He just.... clicked into pro mode. Put his head down, sucked on the bit, and got to it. He moved his shoulders where I wanted them, went whatever speed I asked for, and basically just stayed wherever I put him until I asked him for something different.

back on track again.... next time i'll remember: when memory fails, try a trot circle haha
So naturally, since he was being so good, I immediately went off course haha. Bc why capitalize, right?

Lol.... Seriously tho, it wasn't a big deal. As soon as I finished my serpentine to change directions I just... completely blanked on what was next. Serves me right for failing to at least mentally run through the test ahead of time! I knew I had to do something tho to trigger the judge's bell, so I just went into the canter movement...

A quick chat with the judge got me back on track tho (d'oh, how could I forget the trot circle tho? It's ALWAYS a trot circle, Emma!) and Charlie seemed not to notice that anything was amiss.

guess i was just eager to canter. i mean, who wouldn't be?
And so on we went. It's been a long time since I've had a dressage lesson with trainer C (working on it, I promise) and the thing that struck me the most (in a bad way) from the pictures of our last dressage test was how low and wide I carried my hands. Ever since then I've been working really hard to bend my elbows and carry my own hands up.

Still more work to do here, and I obvi still need eyes on the ground, but I'm happier with my arm position in this test compared to last time. And this has helped Charlie be a little lighter in his contact and a little more honest about reaching out from the base of his neck, since I'm not constantly trying to drag his head down (bad bad habits, emma!).

trot diagonals were always my favorite with isabel. charlie's aren't bad either!
Charlie has also come absolute miles in his push from behind. It's still not enough -- he's a VERY long horse who has to work maybe a little harder than the average horse to bring his hind legs underneath himself. Plus he's got some nagging hind end issues from years of racing.

But it's happening. I felt like he was better engaged this test vs our test at Jenny Camp in August, although our impulsion score was down slightly this time around.

love his canter tho
Overall, my biggest takeaways are:

1) We might be ready to start adding more forward again. If you remember, back when Charlie first got under saddle, we were focused on "all forward, all the time" just as a means to get that hind end even remotely involved in the action.

Over time, we've been able to change the paradigm to slowing his front end more, while still pushing the hind end up and under. But when running started to become a little bit of a problem overall, we kinda had to slow the entire apparatus down.

such a good boy tho <3
But I'm thinking that Charlie's learned enough about rhythm, tempo and (dare I say?) cadence (haha, lol) that we can start getting a little more oopmh back into the equation, hopefully without falling apart.

For an example of what this might look like, check out the H-X-F change of rein across the diagonal in between our two canters in the video below. I asked Charlie to go a little bit more (with Izzy I always used to "hint" at lengthenings across the trot diagonal. Obvi we don't get close to this with Charlie, but the seed is planted) and the judge rewarded it with a 7 after a string of 6.5s.

video here, complete with scores & commentary

And the other big takeaway? 2) Downward transitions continue to be..... a thing. Charlie has never been what you would call "graceful" in his descent haha. He stops a bit like you'd expect a cruise liner to stop. Slowwwwwwly. We kinda deflate into our canter-trot transitions, and halts are extremely slow to develop.

Part of the issue is that, in the grand scheme of things, Charlie's struggled with both sides of this coin. Going forward, AND stopping. Ultimately I put all my eggs in the "going forward" basket, bc imo that was the more important piece of Charlie's puzzle. And I didn't want to futz too much with the brakes if I wasn't gonna be able to get this old cranky pull-cord lawnmower of a horse started back up again. Know what I mean?

I think it's time tho. I mean, for every upward transition score, there has to be a reciprocating downward, right? So maybe that'll be something we tackle for realsies this winter.... maybe haha.

next up it's time to jump!!
Anyway, Charlie never even broke a sweat through the warm up and test, and was happy to get stripped and returned to his stall for a couple hours. I wandered off to grab food and watch barn mates (plus buddies Rachael and Brita! who tag-teamed the farm training division with a 1-2 punch!) do some of their rides, before returning to the barn about an hour before go time.

I still kinda get anxiety about how long it's going to take to put studs in and whatnot, but so far that hasn't caused any issues. We were ready to head up to the ring for warm up right on time.

jump 1 was, um, ahem, *not* a promising start....
Warm up was on grass in the field above the ring and Charlie continued to be a little distracted. It was.... not great. I ended up jumping more jumps than I usually do bc we just really weren't on the same page. Finally we clobbered the oxer (which was still set at T height) something good and I decided that would be the feeling Charlie could carry into the ring for our course.

we love left, apparently
Hard to tell exactly how that worked out - we definitely still hit some stuff, but nothing important fell. So I guess it was ok?? Haha....

Anyway it was not our best round. We were long. We were short. We were left, we were right even farther left. And all that, coupled with some sound effects that had the kiddos in stitches.

struggled with this line in schooling but somehow it went better than anything else for us in competition...
First jump on course we literally jumped directly into the left hand standard, causing the bottom rail of the jump to fall. Which apparently doesn't count?! There was much grunting from Charlie about this.

Next jump we reached at what felt like a good distance, but Charlie was kinda .... slow off the ground. Idk. We were a little stilted. Tho he did engage his patented brontosaurus gas-powered rocket boosters that set my niece and nephew into a little fit of giggles (audible in the video lol).

ain't that always the way tho lol
Same story down the next line -- we hit the in jump a little gappy so I kicked to get the striding and were again a little long getting out of the line. A perfect recipe for Charlie's turbo gas power, and thus even more raucous laughter from the peanut gallery.

By this point in the ride I was feeling kinda.... not fantastic. Idk why but we just weren't finding our jumps well, and the next line (a bending six) was one that had caught us out multiple times the day prior. Somehow tho it went swimmingly this time. Go figure haha.

just trying to hold it together lol
Then another turn down the other diagonal - with a hard knock at the in jump and a big kick to make it down the 72' in five - before turning up to the final two stride combination. We were snug into the first fence here, but Charlie jumped out of his skin on the way out and, PHEW, we were finished!!

And amazingly, clear of penalty points!! Miracles do happen, y'all haha.

phew, final fence!! jumping GIANT out of the in-and-out lol
So yea. Again. Not our best round. And ya know, I don't have to tell you guys that I take this stuff kinda seriously. That I can be a bit too cerebral in picking my rides apart, trying to understand every single little piece, trying to figure out how to avoid similar mistakes in the future, or how to reproduce a feeling when things go well.

mildly amazed we survived haha
Often times I'll watch a video on repeat endlessly, trying to memorize it - commit it entirely to gray matter. In a way tho, I freakin love this video. Like, yea you can totally tell that Charlie and I have had better days than this one.... But.... Well.... The sound effects. The giggling. Omg.

I can't even help myself haha. Like, here's a group of kids who have absolutely zero concept of a "missed distance" just watching their Auntie Em ride around on a horse who keeps FARTING over every jump. And they are laughing their faces off like it's the best thing they've ever seen haha. Like, how on earth can anyone take themselves so seriously when these kids are here to remind us that, "actually that's pretty funny lol!"

video here. recommended with sound haha

So ya know. I wasn't really thrilled with how the course had gone, but was keenly aware that I had just gotten pretty lucky to escape any rails any top rails falling. And now, having come out on the other side with a solid result and getting to listen to those adorable little giggles again and again, I really don't feel so badly about it.

We'll do better next time. And meanwhile it was time to toot-toot right on over to the cross country course, which promised to be a reasonably straight forward (if muddy) romp across the fields!


  1. Charlie is looking so good in his test - well done. And the giggles are priceless. Charlie has booster jets. 😁

    1. Thanks I’m so freakin proud of him, and eager to hopefully get more lessons this winter to keep chippin away! And aren’t those giggles the absolute cutest?!? <3

  2. His happy ears over all the jumps!! <3 <3 He really makes it look easy out there!

    And your niece and nephew giggling is the most wonderful thing. I'm glad Charlie farted so much because their laughing made me smile so big.

    1. Aw it made me smile so much too! I had dinner with them last night and all they wanted to do was listen to the video again and again haha

  3. Kids have a way of putting things into perspective. Charlie looks like he is having fun regardless of anything else and I spy a lot of smile son your face too. Thats a win right there!

    1. Lol ain’t that the truth! And yea I mean it wasn’t a great round but Charlie was being very very good. Sometimes we are just out of sync I guess but it’s nice to still be able to get in there and get it done anyway!!

  4. Wow he looks so different, really maturing and blossoming into a gorgeous creature Emma. You've done well with the all the drama he's thrown at you. Well worth it tho.

    1. aw thanks, it's been so so so worth it <3 it really is like he's figured some stuff out lately, it feels great!!

  5. I love your dressage test! Charlie is coming along, piece by piece to a very lovely overall picture. Kinda excited to see how he continues to progress in this area as you keep on chugging along with his training!

    1. thank you! it kinda blows my mind how much he's changed over the years. like, sure we still get the same "strung out" and "on the forehand" comments, but he really is an entirely different horse and i love it!

  6. Making it around without penalty points is something to be proud of!

    1. definitely agreed!!! charlie's not the most careful horse in the world, but i'm very proud of him for going clear in both of our last two competitions!

  7. Oh gosh Charlie hahahaha It's almost like he ENJOYED the laughter from his first "audio embellishment" and decided to keep trying to top it!

    Either way, there is a lot of improvement to be enjoyed here too! Sometimes things get a bit messy as the pieces fall into place.

    1. lol yea he's definitely not shy about turning on the turbo haha! he's a good boy tho, even when it's a little messy!

  8. You can't beat super cute giggles, and honestly he looks so happy doing his job that I didn't really notice the out of sync parts! I know it's different when you are in the tack, but you guys really do look great. We all have great days and just "survive" days!

    1. ha thanks, "survival" days are definitely part of the process! and i think he DOES enjoy it, even when it's not perfect. the giggles always help tho ;)

  9. Replies
    1. omg so huge haha!! and definitely a lot closer to "fancy" than he was when we started ;)

  10. He's looking so grown up and professional lately!

    1. he's just such a good boy, i love how he just sorta figures things out. definitely understands what the dressage court is all about!

  11. ha ha ha. Love this. Mainly because of kids giggling and farting horses.
    Also, there will always be good and bad days! And at least you know when you're less than perfect. Because you could have come off thinking "clear round, we're amazing."
    But perhaps better to leave that to the next time, lol. You and Charlie have come so far, from an outsider's perspective, you're always amazing!

    1. ha thanks!! and yea we fully admit to our faults around these parts ;) but like, that's part of learning how to improve, right? all the same, tho, i'm ridiculously proud of this horse. he keeps just getting better and better!

  12. You're both looking very polished (aside from the farts, lol). Your progress with him is super inspiring!

    1. lol if anybody could manage the refined, gentlemanly flatulence, it would be Charlie!! ;)

  13. LOL!! I was giggling right alongside the kids...and you just *know* they were waiting for the next one. :)

    Thank you for your honesty....it would be so easy to only ever show/talk about the fabulous and flawless but that's not at all the reality of life with horses. Besides, you guys look pretty damn good to me.

    1. thanks! and definitely not the reality of horses, at all. sometimes it can be hard to talk about mistakes or bad rides or whatever, esp on such a public forum. but.... imo that's what i love most about reading other blogs: that relatability. it's boring to just see the best one or two pictures and read "everything is perfect!" bc... yea that doesn't mirror my own experiences lol. and coming to terms with my own imperfections or shortcomings as a rider is part of the process of getting better!


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