Thursday, November 15, 2018

is Charlie a First Level horse?

My history and relationship with dressage is.... maybe a bit complicated. Tho probably not especially uncommon.

Through all my years of riding, I could *recognize* the most superficial, obvious attributes of the riding style ("round, on the bit"), but actually *achieving* those results always felt like an enigma to me. Mysterious and inaccessible. So very, very very different from how I could ride.

maybe he could be a good dressage horse after all??
It wasn't until I decided to event with Isabel that we began to tackle this head-on. Initially I had exactly zero concept of how naturally gifted and talented Isabel was for the dressage... But eventually with the right coaching we grew to be a pretty good team, imho.

Isabel thus taught me a fairly deep appreciation for dressage. By the end of our time together, we were pretty solid at all things first level (and riding the eventing level equivalents of first level at shows), and schooling most of second level.

And to be perfectly honest, if I didn't have a deeply rooted desire to jump, I would have shifted our focus purely to dressage and kept at it with Isabel.

collage of the best moments from charlie's earliest efforts in the dressage court
As it is, tho, things change and now my landscape looks entirely different. Now I have a Charlie haha. And he is no Isabel in the dressage ring. He's built like a brontosaurus with lumbering labored gaits to match lol.

But he's a good boy. And while his gaits aren't flashy, they are correct(ish). His walk and canter in particular are very strong - arguably fundamentally better than Isabel's, tho she was maybe freer in her movement.

tho of course, here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing we celebrate those.... other moments too haha
Charlie's capacity for handling pressure is.... well, not even close to Isabel's -- she was extremely special in that regard. But he's learning. I tend to view a horse's capacity for pressure as analogous to a muscle strength. With care, practice, and thoughtful repetition, it can be built and developed. And so Charlie has learned to accept more and more pressure.

Over the course of this past year, I've become really comfortable and confident in Charlie's progress as a solidly Training Level dressage horse. But if you recall, one of my goals was to be schooling all of First by the end of the year. Which.... Each time I checked in with the goals, I felt a little queasy about that. It felt very far away.

showing off how far he's come to wrapping up the 2017 season 
That is.... until I actually went back and revisited those tests haha. Upon reading through 1-1 again, it occurred to me that.... maybe Charlie is closer than I thought.

This might sound stupid, but that was kinda a revolutionary thought for me haha. Somehow, without realizing it, all my previous feelings about the mysterious inaccessibility of dressage had started creeping back into my mind and clouding my judgement as I restarted this very green OTTB.

and kicking off the 2018 season in.... some sort of frozen style lol
Going back to revisit Charlie's progress through this refreshed perspective, what I see more than anything else this past year is how far Charlie has come in his longitudinal balance. That is, his balance from nose to tail, his ability to shift more and more weight to his hindquarters.

Which, incidentally, the purpose of First Level specifically says that one of the distinguishing factors between First and Training is the horse's development of more thrust to achieve improved balance and throughness.

This proficiency is demonstrated in the tests through smaller circles (10m at trot and 15m at canter), the ability to lengthen stride in trot and canter, and the balance and suppleness necessary for leg yields and counter canter loops.

elegant charlie <3
Turns out.... Charlie routinely schools all of those things. Actually, almost every ride. So when I reread those tests.... it was kinda almost like a sack of bricks fell on my head lol. Like, "OMG wait, maybe we actually could do this!" Which sounds silly writing it out like that, but there ya have it.

Obviously tho, there's a big difference in schooling individual movements vs putting them all together, one on top of the other, in a test pattern. In my schooling rides, I generally don't ride a movement without feeling like we're prepared for it. Like if I want to leg yield down the quarter line, but we lose balance in the turn? We just circle out, fix our balance, and try again. Nbd.

by mid summer he really seems to have things figured out
So while we have experience with all of these pieces, I don't actually have a concept yet of how they'd all come together for us in a test environment. Tho since figuring out we're closer to being ready for this level than I previously thought, I've started at least stringing a few movements together in practice. Testing the waters, so to speak.

Realistically, tho, I'm pretty relaxed when it comes to the idea of "moving up." Obviously dressage is different from jumping --- there's substantially less inherent risk in the attitude of, "What the hell, let's give it a shot!" Even so, tho, I tend to be the biggest factor in holding myself back. Impostor syndrome is REAL, y'all.

And certainly there will always be people who believe you shouldn't move up a level until you're consistently scoring 7s across the board at your current level. Or that you should be so confirmed to the new level that even on your worst day, you can get through a test. But eh, I don't really subscribe to those opinions.

closing out the season with an accurate, obedient and competitive test
As far as I can tell, esp after a year spent volunteering and observing riders at all eventing and dressage levels, the biggest difference in riders at higher levels is that.... well, they're out there doing it. Mistakes still happen. Things can always fall apart or be messy when horses are involved. In any particular class at any given level, there are always stronger and weaker entries.

But there's something very real to be said for the riders who take the plunge and go for it. So I'm putting it out there now: I've come to the conclusion that Charlie is ready to try on a First Level test for size. And am hopeful we'll get some opportunities this winter to hit up some schooling shows. Ya know. To see what happens haha.

always more to work on. always. but feels like the next step is within reach!
Have you ever had similar "epiphanies" about your horse's training? Like waking up one morning to realize that, suddenly your green bean isn't so green anymore? Or that something that used to be a huge challenge now comes easily?

Likewise, do you feel similarly about moving up a level? Are you more likely to just kinda go for it, or more likely to be more reserved to really ensure that you're 110% ready before entering at A? Does it depend on the situation? Or the horse?

35 comments:

  1. You got this for sure! Side by side progress pics definitely help make everything more obvious. I for one do get caught in the day by day and miss that drastic change.

    But yep I realized my horse is ready to jump more than 2 or 2'6" after all the dressage work I've been doing.

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    1. oh man, the progress pictures are always huge eye openers haha! i kinda love the feeling of realizing our horses are maybe not only just ready, but actually *eager* for more, too. so cool that you're getting that feeling with your mare over fences!

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  2. I think it is an awesome idea to give a First level test a try! You have all the pieces and it will be fun to get the feedback. :-)

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    1. yes - exactly! i'm really really really eager for some feedback too. it's been way too long since my last proper dressage lesson (something else i'm working to fix haha) and i'm stupidly hungry for that feedback lol

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  3. I have totally been going through these feelings with May. Like... She's pretty dang broke for almost anyone through starter level and Dressage up to 1st level. It's a weird, but exciting place to be.

    I think you should totally talk to your Dressage trainer about their thoughts for giving 1st level a shot!

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    1. such an exciting feeling too - like i remember when a young rider took over the lease on isabel, it was so so so gratifying to see them kinda seamlessly slip into their own new and special partnership.

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  4. I feel like I hit that epiphany when I started going to the A shows on my lunch and watching the Amateur riders and seeing them make all the same mistakes as me - pulling all the way to the oxer, chipping, long spots, missing distances, etc, etc, etc. They are at the A shows not because they are better but because they choose to afford/do it.

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    1. being 1,000% honest, some of my own eye-opening happened bc i remember you writing about that sensation, and then began observing more closely in my own travels to see if i could see or feel the same. and guess what, i could. it's an empowering feeling!

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  5. Amazing when you look back and see how far you have come. I also do that with tests, start riding some parts now to see how far off we are. Its also helpful to start doing the test early so you have time to perfect it!

    Best of luck, Im sure you will rock it!

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    1. thanks!!! definitely agreed about putting the parts together. i tend to not generally ride entire tests in my schooling rides bc i like to go back and fix things that need it right away. tho my trainer is really really great at coaching me through a test in our lessons. haven't seen my dressage trainer since last spring tho, ugh, will hopefully fix soon!

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  6. Also, I need to know where you got your sheepskin breastplate cover because I have mad envy lol

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    1. it's Eponia!!!! i picked it up at Kentucky this year after searching for a while. Nunn Finer also has a model that i really liked, tho the Eponia had all the pieces included, whereas Nunn Finer some of the pieces (like the neck strap) were sold separately. i loved it so much and felt like charlie looked so incredibly handsome in it haha (#fakeittilyamakeit!) but after we got my saddle refitted by the actual saddle maker this past summer, he recommended i discontinue use of the breast plate, so i sold it. would definitely recommend tho, even just as an accessory haha!

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    2. omg that is tragic and saddle fitters do not care enough about accessories

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    3. ain't that the truth tho.... at least the breast plate went to a very happy home ;)

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  7. He's such a grown up now!! What a handsome dude.

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  8. I don't subscribe to those opinions either. Those that say you should't move up until you are getting upper 60s or 70s. Pssshhht. The thing is, in order to get where you want to go you have to go there. I am a big fan of the "kamikaze" dressage test. hahaha. This is when I say "to hell with it, let's see what happens" even though we may not be totally solid at that level. Then you realize it wasn't as scary as you thought, and get a really good idea of where the holes are. Also, it takes fucking guts to go do a level you aren't 100% confident at. I say go for it girl!!

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    1. "kamikaze" --> i LOVE this haha! and yea that's definitely how i feel about it too. like with jumping one of the big concerns of moving up prematurely is ending up in a situation where the horse risks feeling punished and overfaced if things go awry. but like, if i overshoot my 10m half circle like..... it will really truly be ok haha!

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  9. I had a similar moment with Niko this fall. We took a bit of a break and when we came back I was shocked to realize I wasn't riding the same horse that I had in the spring. It should have been obvious (and probably was to others) -- we spent all summer taking lessons and showing and riding and working hard! But it wasn't until that moment when BAM I realized it!

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    1. oh man, and what a validating feeling that is too!! my friends and i often talk about how we sometimes move our horses along a little too slowly, esp after seeing how easy it was once we finally take the plunge. but ya know, nobody ever regrets going slow too, esp when the result is that awesome feeling when suddenly your horse is all grown up!

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  10. YES to Charlie doing First level! The only way you're going to know is if you try! And I agree, what's the harm? Plus, practicing those movements will continue to make him stronger and more prepared which ultimately will help his jumping.
    I get annoyed by people who "hate dressage" or find it boring. EVERY SINGLE THING we are asked for when moving up a level in jumping (for eventing) directly correlates to what we are being asked to do in dressage. So, you shouldn't be moving up in jumping if you're dressage isn't there. So, I'm all for working my ass off on the dressage to help the jumping. IMO I think dressage is so good for the horse and I'm with you on pushing things a bit, as long as the horse is fit and strong enough!

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    1. lol i'm with you 1,000%. it gets real real REAL old to read about people hating on the dressage. like i don't think ppl need to love it, or need to care deeply about it. but literally any serious arena-based discipline (hunters, jumpers, reining, pleasure, saddleseat, really any of it) has a foundation based in flatwork principles. if you don't want to do any of that, then maybe stick to fox hunting or endurance or racing or any other non-arena discipline haha.

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  11. On moving up a level (in dressage land) - I am more of a 'just go for it' kind of person.

    Now I wouldn't do it at a rated show, but a schooling show? Yeah why not. Specially from training to first. The biggest jump in levels is from first to second and I know when we are ready to do that I will be pooping my pants for sure. Why do we have to show in whites? LOL.

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    1. omgggggg yea tho, why the white pants?!? don't they know that some of us stress sweat?!? or maybe that's why they use tails as an incentive for getting to the higher levels haha ;)

      agreed tho, esp from training to first, it's really just about going for it. in some ways i feel similar from BN to N - once you feel like you can actually hold that better balance or accomplish the difference in height, there really aren't many other differences between the levels!

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  12. Just do it.

    I have spent too much time in my riding career chasing perfection and putting off things because I wasn't "ready".

    I regret all of them.

    I have never regretted showing up and just giving it a go.

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    1. ditto!! as far as i'm concerned, that's WAY MORE than half the battle haha.

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  13. Yasssss! Get it Charles! Bring home that 1st level satin!

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    1. lol i mean, realistically depending on which show we go to, and the number of entries, we could conceivably win first AND last at the SAME TIME haha #ambitious

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  14. Go for it!! You were instrumental in me getting out there and going to the CT with Gem last summer and we didn't die. LOL! Seriously though, I've learned that going and failing is still better than not going at all.

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    1. yessssss!!!! agreed completely!!! i'm esp motivated bc this is the first year in recent memory that we didn't get to at least *one* dressage only show (totally not counting full moon where we withdrew from the jumping bc that just does not count haha). so we're due!

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  15. Charlie looks fancy these days, I think having a go would be fun!

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    1. thanks!!! i'm not accustomed to thinking of him as fancy, but he can certainly look quite elegant when he wants to!!! :D

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  16. As you may recall, Carmen and I showed First this year although, arguably, we were NOT ready. But Miss C dies better when her brain is occupied so I regret nothing. I’m aiming to try Second at some pt next year. I think Charlie will do well with more to keep him thinking. Also, I like schooling like you do to fix things. Practicing wrong helps nothing.

    While you can’t do that n a show, you can use those cues to correct. Not sure if it makes sense but, for example, if we loose bend on a leg yield I start the ask for a 10m circle but don’t do actually ride it.

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  17. It's such a nice feeling when you look at the next test and it suddenly feels DOABLE instead of intimidating!!

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  18. I love the look back on all things Charlie + Dressage. Sounds like he's absolutely got a great shot at some satin in First Level.

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