Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Circles + Cavaletti + Cocoa: Part I

The funny thing about horses and horseback riding is... it really is an endless pursuit, isn't it?

It won't come as any surprise to you that I spend a lot of time thinking about riding. Some might even call it obsessive haha. I study the sport, try hard to keep learning, and I show up almost every day ready to get to work.

preparing ourselves for some serious learning. pc Austen Gage
And yet.... Well haha. In the grand scheme of things I continue to ride at what's generally considered a fairly low level. Especially, uh, in dressage...

Which is fine, right? Bc the levels aren't about me, the levels don't define me. As I've written again and again (and again), it's really all about the journey, right?

charlie wishes he could just go around like this forever tho... pc Austen Gage
Plus if you believe Malcolm Gladwell's rule that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery.... Well. Those of us who are single-horse adult amateurs with full time jobs are likely facing decades of continuing education haha. So I may as well settle in and enjoy the ride, right?

So in that spirit, let's talk about the dressage clinic I went to this past weekend!

As mentioned already, it was an inspired clinic format split into two sessions - one conducted by my long time dressage trainer C, and the other by upper level event rider K. (You may remember K from my early weekday lessons last winter prior to Charlie's hoof puncture...).

handsome pony <3 pc Austen Gage
I'm breaking the recap into two parts because, to be perfectly honest, I have so many pictures lol. Austen came to hang out, take pictures, and finally see what all my fuss about C is really about. As always, I'm extremely grateful for her company and her gorgeous photographs - I hope you enjoy them too! Oooh and she nabbed video ;) So, uh, big shout out to Austen!

I didn't really have any major objectives or "To Dos" for my 30min with Trainer C. I let her know that we continue to work on 1st Level elements like smaller circles and lengthenings, but essentially allowed her to carry us in whichever direction she wanted.

oooh and handsome pony trots too! look how grown up he is! pc Austen Gage
Which, it turns out, meant a lesson that (finally) really dug into the nitty gritties of my own personal mechanics.

Once in trot we wasted no time with beginning to work on a spiraling type exercise. Except instead of just saying to spiral in or out, C specifically instructed that I do: First a 20m, then 15m, then 12m, then 10m circle. Conveniently in this arena, the lights are on the quarter lines exactly, and there's a beam down the roof over center line, so if you're looking up it's pretty easy to find visual markers for the geometry.

trainer C would love to see my lower legs drape more loosely. pc Austen Gage
As always, the focus for these circles was turning off the outside aids. Much to my delight, Charlie did quite nicely in these exercises off both reins. Probably bc.... ya know.... we've been locked inside a 20x40m box all winter.

Anyway, right off the bat Trainer C decided she wanted me to work on my sitting trot. It's something I've been sorta practicing a little bit in every ride recently. But. Ya know. It's still pretty atrocious tbh. Lucky for you, I have some on video now ;)

doin the little circles too! pc Austen Gage
Basically C wants me to really work on flattening my back and lifting my crotch instead of my seat bones in the moment of "bounce." Effectively: the front of the triangle of my seat vs the back. For me, it actually helped me to think more about pushing my gut forward vs trying to think about lift. Possibly a slightly different mechanic, but C liked the results.

One of my biggest positional issues, esp on the flat, is in gripping with my lower legs. Trainer C repeated again and again and again to loosen my lower legs, and point my toes forward. I need to take my leg *off* the horse, and just have a looser feel overall.

She also didn't really love how much my hands move, and that I allow so much slack in the reins. I should work harder to keep the reins filled, esp on the outside. Moments of softening and givie here and there are good and totally fine, but shouldn't be a complete release of the rein.

charlie tries so hard to do what i ask. pc Austen Gage
Anyway tho, I had a few fleeting moments in sitting trot where it really felt like the pieces clicked for a step or two. C advised that I only sit for as long as I can hold that feeling, then start posting again. Then sit, then post. Again and again and again.

The interesting thing about this approach was that it began to make clear to me the adjustments I had to make in my position when I'd be preparing to sit, vs when I was posting "normally." Mayhaps my "normal" post position is part of the problem, and so now I'm going to be thinking about always holding my position such that I could sit at any moment. Or at least, that's my current idea lol.

a lot of effort pictured here as i try to sort my sitting trot out.... 
Charlie, for his part, was a very very good boy. He goes hollow when I work on sitting trot bc I basically just stop literally everything else to do it. Like, sitting the trot literally saps all my resources away, absorbs every ounce of brain power I have. Practice, practice, I guess.

You can also totally tell when I'm focusing so hard (so hard tho) on my position and seat, bc my arms kinda go rigid and straight and I let go of the reins lol.... Seriously. This rider right here apparently can not walk and chew gum at the same time. It's.... a challenge haha.

bit by bit, i'm getting a feel for it.
Anyway. It's honestly the same mechanical issues at canter too. The same issues in my position that make sitting effectively so challenging are what prevents me from riding Charlie's canter as effectively as I want.

Like, being real here, Charlie and I have a fairly codependent shared vocabulary for how we achieve certain shapes or movements or exercises or whatever. But.... it isn't exactly "correct" methodology, if you know what I mean. Like, we have a way that "works," but it's imperfect, not ideal, and probably a whole helluva lot harder than it needs to be. And also likely to create issues down the road when we want to build new skills on top of this foundation.

now to recreate in every show ring ever 
So I guess we should probably keep trying to fix that haha. So right now our canter still kinda sucks. But maybe if I can keep working on fixing my own mechanics the canter will magically fix itself? Lol...

Anyway, the video clip I'm including here is only about 3min, but it's a great representation of the lesson as a whole. We go from sitting trot practice to canter work to trot lengthenings, all of which made up the meat of the lesson.

Per usual, Charlie's trot immediately after the canter was at its absolute best. Seriously. There's like 3-4 steps of downright dreamy trot right around 1:40 in the video. What a good boy <3

i won't be able to truly get what i want from charlie's canter until i fix my own self... pc Austen Gage
To finish out the ride, Trainer C had us touch on the trot lengthenings a little bit. After asking for a little lengthening down one short diagonal to change directions, C observed that Charlie might actually benefit from avoiding long diagonals for lengthening practice for now.

Actually, she wanted us doing them on a circle for the most part. It's funny bc you mostly can't even tell we're doing it in the video lol. We just go from a kinda blah trot to what should probably be our proper working trot, then fade back to blah again.

The fade, for the record, was specific. That was her word - to let him just "fade" back to normal working trot. Which was interesting to me bc in my practice I've been focusing moreso on the transitions between different trots, trying to show a crisp difference. Perhaps that's a little premature for now tho? Anyway, food for thought.

the chat breaks are charlie's favorite tho. pc Austen Gage
We're still really just starting with the lengthenings anyway. And even tho we don't really have an actual medium yet, Charlie definitely has the idea down that I'm asking for *more* trot, not a canter transition. So that's kinda reassuring. Charlie and I so far have a very rudimentary feel for what needs to happen, it'll simply take time.

So all in all, a very productive 30min with trainer C. We touched on all the important schooling aspects right now, with a heavy (and much needed) focus on my own mechanics. While it could be easy to look at some of these photos and be frustrated by just how far off I am from that classic beautiful dressage seat.... Honestly, I'm not too worried about it.

There were moments in the ride where I really felt like things were clicking, albeit briefly. And watching the video makes me think those feelings were accurate. We're on the right track.

And through it all, possibly the thing I love most about this ride? Charlie was such a good boy. He doesn't exactly have the easiest job -- he's a green horse who has to be subjected to the wild gyrations of his bumbling rider trying to sit the trot. But like, that's his job, ya know? And he's totally cool with it.

aw but he knows he's a good boy. pc Austen Gage
He's totally cool with being the horse that I can learn on. I'm going to fuck up, do weird stuff, be imbalanced and crooked and generally confusing. And yet, he #persists. He just does the thing. Tries to understand, and tries to be a good boy. Is basically the ultimate adult ammy horse.

And for that, I'm so so so grateful. Plus, omg, look how far he's come!! This off track brontosaurus is really truly starting to look the part these days <3

"Yes I am. I am the Best Boy." - Charlie, probably
Honestly if that 30min session was all we did for the day, I would have still been feeling really good about where things are with Charlie. And you better believe I'm already anxiously plotting my next full lesson with C haha.

But!! That wasn't all for the day - we still had our cavaletti session up next with trainer K. Where we got to see if I could hang on to the feelings of all these mechanical adjustments while actually trying to like, do other things too. Lol stay tuned for more on that soon ;)

27 comments:

  1. He is looking so damn good. So shiny. So muscular and round in all the right places. And I seriously love your outfit for the clinic! Y'all look sharp and that sitting trot definitely has some really beautiful moments. The pieces really seem to be stacking perfectly into place. <3

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    1. Aw thanks Liz! I’m really for the most part pretty pleased with his current condition. The hope is he will go full gloss + plump when the spring grass comes up too haha. And yea the ride was just what I needed, I’m already excited about the next one haha!

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  2. The clinic format is really cool. Just enough to dig deep on important pieces but not long enough to drill or overwhelm. The idea of having your own vocabulary that maybe isn’t correct but gets the job done is an interesting one. I think a lot of pairs are like that and I know Gem and I had our own way of communicating.

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    1. yea the "shared vocabulary" analogy works really well for me and i use it a lot haha. it helps remind me that really the basis of everything i do with charlie relies on the fact that he understands what i want from him, and in turn requires that i'm listening to him and communicating clearly.

      so i spend a lot of time in our schooling working on that communication, looking for consistency even if it's not actually perfect. the idea being, once we kinda understand each other and can consistently have this one specific aid that achieves this other specific outcome, then we can work on refining that aid. theoretically at least haha.

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  3. I love this clinic format! Also, I cannot wait to see your dressage scores this year. You guys look really good- even your sitting trot is not as bad as you think. You two looked very professional out there too.

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    1. aw thanks Teresa ;) in the interest of full disclosure, that clip was toward the end of the lesson so i'd already been coached through the sitting trot for a bit haha. seriously tho, thanks. i'm excited for the year ahead and eager to see how well we can translate this work into the show ring!

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  4. I think you guys look awesome!!! I’m in a pretty similar spot as far as sitting trot and my lower legs gripping during it and canter. Let me know if you find some magic cure to this issue! ;) btw - loooove your new boots!

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    1. oh man haha i'm glad i'm not alone! it's SO HARD tho, why????? i've spent a lot of time this past year just trying to become more aware of my seat position, even if i haven't really made much progress in actually improving it. the "toes pointing forward" thing likewise has been a known flaw for a very long time, but i'm thinking that's where i'm going to start next. like maybe it needs to be this volley between focusing on my seat, then focusing on my leg drape, then back to thinking about the seat, then back to the legs, and maybe eventually my upper body too haha.... bc lort knows i can't think about any of these things actually at the same time lol!

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  5. OMG I can relate to so much of this. My past lesson was all about me not messing around with my hands and working on the canter. And yes, it IS an endless pursuit. But luckily it's a super fun one!
    Charlie looks fantastic as do you!

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    1. endlessly FUN, haha yes! and yea the hands thing is a real challenge. obvi as an admitted #mediajunkie i've watched these videos on repeat dozens of times now, and each time i see more and more cringe worthy moments with my hands haha. isn't that always the way?

      but like, one interesting thing is that my whip hand is better behaved bc i'm reasonably conditioned to keeping the whip resting against my thigh. but i actually don't usually ride with a whip in my schooling rides (for reasons), let alone ride with two to keep both hands in place.... so i've been thinking about ideas for adapting that idea using some other handheld type device? idk. we'll see haha.

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  6. you guys look great!! so glad you are getting so many lessons/clinics this winter! And Charlie still wrapped in bubble wrap? :) HA

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    1. thanks! so far the calendar has worked out pretty well for us!! tho it's still felt like we've missed some stuff, but that's the way of winter i guess. i'm actually plotting to finally (finally) ride with sally one of these days, but we'll see if the weather agrees. wish us luck!

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  7. Sitting trot is hard!!! You and Charlie look great though:) that is a really neat format for a clinic. I am interested to hear about the other 1/2!

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    1. omg it's so hard tho haha. i was just starting to get more serious about working on it with my last mare Isabel toward the end of my training time with her.... somehow i thought maybe charlie would be easier bc his back isn't quite as hard as hers was. but. nope. it's still just tricky tricky! lol...

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  8. Sounds like a fantastic lesson! You two are looking so great! Can't wait to read the rest!

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    1. thanks!! i'm still working on figuring out what to say for the rest too haha. honestly if it weren't for so many gorgeous photos from Austen i probably would have kept it to a single post bc i'm less sure what to say about the rest lol. but it was GOOD, so i'm gonna keep teasing it out to see how it translates into takeaways for a post lol....

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  9. I watched the video the other day! You two really are looking just fantastic. Charlie is such a good boy, and you look good too! Btw, have I been spotting new breeches in the past few posts?! They look very sharp and snappy on Sir Charles ;) I feel you on the long reins! That's my hardest habit to drop after riding western for so long lol.

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    1. omg the long reins thing KILLS me. like, during this ride i felt like i was working so so so so hard to keep them shorter. but then i watched the video and was like, 'ahahahaha nope, guess not!' oh well... maybe one day? and re: the breeches, they're not actually technically new - i bought them a few years back but they didn't fit and i never returned them. finally got around to listing them for sale a couple weeks ago, but in looking at the sizing for the sales post, i was like, 'man these really *should* fit tho' so i tried them back on and they did! lol....

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  10. Look at you guys go! Can't wait to read part II!

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    1. ha thanks! part 2 is gonna be lighter on the nitty gritties probably, but maybe more easily adaptable for other riders? i just have to, ya know, uh, *write* it haha

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  11. he looks SO grown up, holy cow. You really should do a comparison post because holy heck he is such a young gentleman now!!! I am believing it more and more that TBs don't fully mature physically until much later than your average horse. I'm seeing it with Annie, and she'll be 7 this year.

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    1. ha yea i really do need to do a transformation post.... one of my most-watched youtube videos is from charlie's second ever dressage test just a couple months post-track. and like, ugh it's an awful test i have no idea why the video keeps getting views haha. but it really is like night and day compared to where he is now, so maybe i'll have to re-post it....

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  12. I loved Charlie's shape in this clinic. I know it's been awhile since I've seen him dressage, but I swear to God. Big man looks FAAANCEH!

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    1. aw thank you <3 he really honest to god feels like he understands what's up these days, and i think he LIKES it when he feels fancy!! such a good boy!

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  13. Yay Austen get the girl a coffee for getting you all the media!

    Charlie has come a long way and is starting to peek out from behind that "green" label you keep throwing hehe! Sounds like a super productive clinic and it can be hard not to lock up when you are concentrating so hard - I'm totally in that boat/club with you.

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    1. Omgosh so hard not to lock up tho! And thanks I’m super proud of Charlie and agree that the word “green” doesn’t quite fit any more, or at least not in the same way as before. Like sure he’s “green to first level dressage” or “green to jumping 3’3” but generally he feels so consistent and confirmed in his basics, makes me happy!

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  14. It sounds like a really interesting lesson, and you guys are looking great. i know what you mean about struggles thou, i have so many of the same problems!

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