Monday, January 27, 2020

blue ribbon rounds @ Oldfields

This past weekend Charlie and I went on a little adventure to Oldfields for a low key schooling show. It was billed as a "blue ribbon rounds" style of jumper class, which essentially means that every clear round earns a blue.

Courses would be simple (read: minimal combinations) and inviting, and you could do as many rounds as you wanted for $15 a pop.

charlie stood like this, frozen solid and completely motionless, for roughly 5 minutes. i basically had no choice but to start snapping pictures haha
Considering the mucky mess of outdoor winter footing we have available at home, I welcomed the prospect of nice dry and spacious indoor! Plus it seemed like a great opportunity to get more "formal" mileage over bigger heights.

Like, sure, the course didn't really reflect what we'd see at a proper event (recognized or otherwise) - there weren't any in-and-outs or anything, and basically no fill. And most of the fences were closer to 3' than 3'3. But.... ya know.... For me, personally, one of the hardest parts of moving up is actually doing it. Signing up. Stepping into the ring when the pressure is "on."

looks like just the ticket -- sign us up!! also, yes, i'm still cramming poor brontosaurus charlie into a size small cooler handed down from izzy haha...
So really, any chance I can get to at least work through that mental part of the process is helpful, right? Like, this show mimicked that feeling very nicely, while the course still felt very much within our wheelhouse.

I haven't written much about my weekly jump lessons lately mostly bc there's no media lol. Lame excuse, I know, but them's the breaks. But we *have* been lessoning!! Weekly privates with our barn's resident upper level event rider K, who drills into the nittiest grittiest technical details of our ride in a way I haven't regularly had since the Dan Days. And I am loving it.

yep ok you caught me. i was 100% playing charlie's personal paparazzi for the day LOL. but c'mon, is he not the cutest??
And so another bonus to this particular show day was that K would be there coaching. So not only would I be able to see how well I'm retaining our lessons in a show atmosphere (about 85% according to K, haha), but she would also be able to see what changes and what stays the same with Charlie off property.

We all already know he's the best boy, but he is a slightly different horse at home vs away. Just like most horses, right?

we showed up at the end of the day, with most of the biggest trailers already gone by then.
So ya know. Lots of logical reasonable rational arguments for why this day could be a good experience for us. There's more to it than that, tho. Something simpler: I just love horse shows. I love attending shows, volunteering at them, and riding in them as a competitor.

I read Aimee's post last week about the decline of horse shows and... Idk, I had a hard time relating. Maybe I didn't read it closely enough or missed the point, but there was very little in that discussion that touched on what makes horse showing special to me.

But of course - that's the amazing thing about horses and horse sports, right? There are literally infinite ways to enjoy horses, to fit them into our lives in a rewarding and fulfilling way. So so so many "right" ways to live a horsey lifestyle, and honestly very few wrong ways.

jump 1!! heading directly into the crowd haha
For instance, I have friends who only ever come out on the weekends (and only in good weather) for jaunts through the woods with their horses, and friends who ride every day no matter what. I know riders who avoid arenas, and riders who never stray beyond four walls. Riders who live to compete, and others who only want to enjoy the ride.

Some riders rarely go faster than a walk or lazy trot, let alone jump. And others are legit speed demons. Different riders gravitate toward the journey with a green horse, or toward the education that only a schoolmaster can offer. Some ride out the rough patches, and some hand the reins to a professional for that precision touch.

At different points in my riding life I've been all the above. Plus naturally there are countless "types" of horses to suit all these different riders. Some horses at my farm will pass their entire lives without ever leaving the property. And some travel every weekend and winter.

jump 2 - maryland oxer. i was pleased that we nailed this one, since it was one of the warm up fences too and i would have been annoyed to have had practice over it but then blow it in our round haha. ooh but you'll have to watch the video to see me actually get jumped the fuck out of the tack on the back side LOL
And it's all good, right? And just because a rider fits into one category right now doesn't mean things might not be different later. Things change - jobs, family, resources, health, etc - in ways that impact what role horses can play in our lives.

I know personally my riding habit, goals, and needs have evolved dramatically over the years. A lot of different horses have meant a lot of different things to me. But the one constant has been that I love them and am happiest when horses are a part of my daily life.

It can be really challenging, tho, when we put something we love under the microscope. Under the intense pressure and scrutiny that comes with sport and competition. I've already written a little bit about struggling under that pressure this past summer, and beginning to question why or whether I should even be doing this.

At the end of the day, tho, after all that introspection and self evaluation, I determined that, YES. I do want to do this.

jump 3 was the only other warm up fence allowed. we knocked it a bunch in warm up but charlie was aces during our round!!
And ya know. It really is that simple.

Being perfectly honest, too, most burnout cases I've seen in my horsey circles were related to some sort of misalignment with what a rider really wants to be doing, and/or misalignment with a horse. Riding is hard enough as it is, but will 100% be an unbearable grind if you don't enjoy the day-to-day aspects - be they repetitive schooling rides or long barn commutes - required for whatever goals you set for yourself.

I'm very lucky to be right now at a point in my life where I have the flexibility in time and resources to pursue my goals with Charlie. And, obviously it should go without saying that I'm extremely lucky to have Charlie at all.

Ten years down the line, it's hard to tell what I'll be doing with horses. But for right now, I've got a clear sense of what I want, and the right horse to do it. And horse showing plays a big role in that dream, for a couple reasons.

this fence showed up twice on course and was one of only a few set to a full 3'3 height. the rest were 3'
There's so much more to horse showing than just the outcome, or the minutes in the ring or out on course. It's the feeling of butterflies when you mark a date on the calendar or send in an entry. The days, weeks or months of careful practice leading up to the event.

The night before, packing and preparing. The morning of - actually driving in to the venue. Nothing feels like that moment when you turn into the driveway at the show.

But then there's the blur of last minute dressing and tacking before you're finally ONthen warming up, until all at once --- it's time. The big crescendo: Actually doing the thing - riding your test or pattern, jumping the course. Executing the plan. And, with any luck, completing it.

Each of these moments inspires an almost visceral reaction in me. A strange mix of nervous excitement that ultimately gives way to (hopefully) a happy wash of endorphins when it's all over.

Our round at Oldfields this weekend was not perfect. I'm still not riding forward enough in the show ring (tho we're getting better in lessons!). And even tho we've been practicing short turns to a big oxers constantly in lessons, I still kinda biffed that same style turn to jump 5. Honestly I'm lucky Charlie jumped it haha!

And ya know, there are countless other little odds and ends I see in the video that need fixing.

There are things I'm proud of too, tho: For the most part, I was thinking and choosing and riding with purpose the whole time, even if I didn't always choose perfectly. The two jumps we were allowed to do in warm up (green crooked vertical and red oxer) went very smoothly on course. Our overall canter has improved, even tho I shut it down too much at times. And my hand position and activity are better.

Plus, the jumps themselves were no big deal. The bending line to the big upright 3'3 vertical rode in a tight 6 for Charlie, but even tho he got close to it he still jumped it pretty easily. And I almost ran him into a friggin standard at a 3' oxer but he handled that with aplomb too. Gooood boy!

every clear round wins a blue!! heck yes, satin ho 4 lyfe!! 
Perhaps the most important part of it all tho was the feeling I had afterward. I felt good. My horse was so good, and felt really confident and capable. And so did I.

The course maybe wasn't even as hard as some stuff we do in lessons, but the feeling walking away was different. Like we passed a small but important test haha. So so so so so many riders suffer from some degree of imposter syndrome, and I'm no exception. But rides like this help give me that extra little boost in confidence that when the time does eventually come for the "real deal," we'll be ready.

he might not be little, be he sure is sporty as hell!
But also. Ya know. It's just plain fun to get out and do fun things with my amazing and sweet pony. My inner 12yo is pretty sure that this is the life. Moving up or winning or prize money be damned.

This fun happy fulfilled feeling is its own reward to me and I can't think of literally anything else I'd rather be doing with my time or resources. But if ever a time comes when I feel differently? Well.... then I just won't do it haha. It really is that simple.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

riding better with technology?

It will surprise exactly nobody to learn that... I'm a bit of a data geek. I'm kiiiiinda into numbers. Problem solving, data exploration.... Technology, research, analysis.... It's my jam, ya know? And, not entirely coincidentally, also my day job haha.

New technologies in cell phone apps, smart watches, and other digital devices have ushered in this new era of tech-enabled living. We are bombarded with interesting (or otherwise) notifications and nuggets of information every day, every minute almost, of our lives. And naturally, some of this has trickled into my horse habit too. Obvi.

charlie fully supports my mission of trying anything - literally anything - to improve myself lol
If I've learned anything as a purveyor of data products, however, it is this: Information alone is not enough to change behavior.

Thus begging the question: What data or information *is* actionable for riding? Can technology actually influence our riding behavior or choices, in real-time or otherwise?

Over the years I've tried out a number of different apps to use while riding. With.... Various degrees of success haha. Some were discarded immediately for being too buggy or glitchy. Others were interesting enough to stick around for a while, but eventually faded. And a few have had more staying power.

dedicated equine app folder.... most of which aren't actually designed for use with horses, go figure
Personally, I'm interested in figuring out which is which, and why. So here are a few examples of what I've tried, and how I feel about them. Notably, only one is actually specific to riding....

1. Altitude Profile

What is it? A basic hiking app I downloaded to help with conditioning.

This app tracks your activity via gps location and compiles a package of meta data:

- Satellite map of your activity's path
- Total distance covered (kilometers or miles)
- Activity duration and average speed
- Total change in elevation
- Elevation chart

gosh but i love meta data
How do I use it? Honestly? Kinda sparingly, in specific circumstances.

Zillions of apps can track metrics like speed, distance, and duration, but what makes this app special is the elevation chart, IMO. I've used this app to map out all the hills at Charlie's farm, and like to use it during my cross country course walks at events (especially at new venues).

How is it actionable?

This data isn't necessarily useful in real-time (unless you're lost hiking and trying to find your way home lol), and I don't use it often. For instance, you only really need to map out your home base hills and trails etc once, ya know?

That said, I now know the relative size of the various hills available to me. AND, by using this app to map out local cross country courses, I also know how my hills at home compare to what we might see in competition.

For instance, Fair Hill has a monster hill that their courses typically run down, and then back up again. Thanks to this app, I know we've got a hill almost the exact same size right in Charlie's back yard that's prime real estate for conditioning work.

Verdict? Overall, it's useful for making plans. The data showed me how to optimize our favorite trail circuits for maximum hill climbs. And it helps me assess how the topography of a new or unfamiliar venue compares. I don't use it often, but I do use it.

2. CVS Simulator (Chromatic Vision Simulator)

What is it? An camera filter app that simulates different types of color blindness.

How do I use it? This app has four filters to see and/or take pictures using the most common vision types.

C = Common
P = Protanope
D = Deuteranope (how horses see)
T = Tritanope

left side is common vision, right side is how horses see. basically red/green color blindness
Theoretically you use this app to understand how horses perceive their surroundings, especially how they distinguish colors (and thus, contrast) differently from us.

For instance, I've used this app to view cross country jumps to see what might look spooky. Turns out those giant imposing red fences prevalent on literally every single course everywhere just look greenish brown to the horses, not the big-bold-aggressive red they seem to us (or is that just me??).

How is it actionable? Eh... Unless you're worried about letting your horse pick out his own clothes, there aren't any real "next steps" to this one....

apples maybe aren't so spooky after all!
Verdict? Ultimately this app fell into the "interesting but useless" category. It was kinda cool at first, but didn't really tell me anything new.

3. EquiLab

What is it? This is the free version of the app that works with the Equisense (a "digital riding companion" sensor device that costs about $250). It tracks ride meta data in real time, and produces after-the-fact reporting on each individual ride, plus weekly and monthly totals.

(Notably, you can only look back so far into your history without upgrading to the premium version...)

can view data from individual rides plus weekly and monthly reporting
Data points include:
- Ride category (dressage, jumping, cardio, hacking, etc)
- Duration spent and distance covered in each gait
- Average speed and beats per minute (bpm) per gait
- Satellite map of ride
- A suite of charts on speed, tempo, stride, and elevation on the ride
- Distribution of time spent in each direction (hopelessly glitchy and useless, IMO)
- Notes section and option to add weather detail

the turn distribution data never really makes any sense. methinks it's entirely bogus. like, that dressage ride was in a ring only slightly bigger than a large dressage court and is mapped below, but we spent less than 4min turning?
How do I use it? This app functions like a riding journal. I've used it to compile how long I spend riding in each gait. Some meta data isn't available until after the ride is complete, but time distribution by gait is done in real-time.

maps can be fun tho. at least, when you have good enough cell reception!
The satellite maps are nicer than those from Altitude Profile, bc they're color-coded by speed. The suite of charts is absolute junk tho haha -- noisy nonsense that's hard to read. Even if I could read it tho, it's not clear what to do with the info. Sorta like a seismograph. It'll measure the force and duration of our earthquakes, but not how to prevent the next one.

Theoretically you could maybe try to scrape the underlying raw data to assess trends over time.... But even then, it's not clear how to act on that data.

but what does it mean??
The reports are nice to scroll through, seeing what our typical riding routine looks like in actual hard and fast numbers... Overall, tho, it's more journal than planner.

How is it actionable?  The real-time duration-by-gait function of this app is its best feature. I've used it often during schooling rides to ensure I'm logging the requisite time and intensity for our conditioning plans. I have also used this more frequently than any others for producing visual blog content.

The "journal" aspect tho, the weekly and monthly totals, were never accurate bc I always try to hand my phone off for video during lessons.

the maps are useful for helping me remember details from a specific ride tho
Verdict? I eventually stopped using the app, and haven't missed it. I prefer a stop watch for proper trot sets (or, ya know, old fashioned landmarks haha), and prefer riding off feel rather than a clock for our dressage schools. Ymmv.

4. Soundbrenner

What is it? A metronome.

It's designed for musicians and has tons of settings for time signature, subdivisions, sound effect, and, most importantly, beats per minute (bpm).

How do I use it? I set it to a "trot" tempo (tick tock tick tock tick tock) at the beginning of a ride and leave it running in my pocket until the ride is over.

I keep it at trot bc:
- That's where Charlie and I have the most work to do
- Changing tempos on the app right before or after a transition sounds disruptive
- It's great for quickly modulating our tempo after a canter-trot or walk-trot transition

there are probably a zillion apps out there with this functionality. i just set it and forget it!
It took a couple rides to figure out Charlie's natural/optimal bpm, mostly bc we're a hot goddamn mess and couldn't hold a rhythm for shit. (maybe why our Equilab charts were so noisy?? lol...)

The google says a good working trot is around 75bpm and we experimented with 70 through 80bpm. Charlie's sweet spot is around 77.

How is it actionable?  It influences how I ride my horse in real time, like a coach would.

Except, instead of a human hollering, "Shorten your reins for the love of sweet baby jesus!," the tick tock tick tock tick tock mercilessly, ruthlessly, relentlessly reminds me RHYTHM is the fundamental block in the training pyramid. Connection and Impulsion can only come after.

It helps me calibrate my ride in real-time, and the effects are noticeable. After a month of sustained use, Charlie automatically holds this 77bpm tempo. Always. First trot of the day, last trot of the day. 77bpm. And he feels much stronger and more balanced in doing so.
basically trying to use the metronome to help get charlie exactly this muscle bound haha. is it working?? mebbe!!
Interestingly -- those might all be very very different trots from the perspective of energy and impulsion and stride length. But they are all equal in tempo. This alone feels like we're figuring out our balance, strength and elasticity within trot.

Verdict? This is the newest app in the arsenal, so it's still shiny and exciting. But... Yea, I use this for every schooling ride and feel like it's made a tangible, measurable difference in the quality of our work.


So. Ahem. Cough cough. This ended up not sounding so cutting edge or modern after all lol, considering topography, time keeping, and riding to music ended up being my biggest "technological" winners lol. Goooo figure.

That said, tho, I'm curious about your experiences too. Have you used any of these (or similar) apps? Or something else entirely?

What sort of features do you look for in terms of helping you figure out what's working, what isn't, and what to change in your riding?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

looking back to look forward

This past year I took a fresh approach to goal setting, inspired by an article upper level event rider Matt Brown wrote for the Chronicle of the Horse. The gist was that we're more likely to find happiness and fulfillment by focusing on process goals rather than outcome goals.

Essentially, the "outcome" is often what most of us zero in on as the big important holy grail - the perfect sound byte encapsulating our hopes and dreams. The front page news, the banner in the sky. Moving up! Qualifying! Winning!! Doing this specific thing!!!

All too often, tho, horses and horse sports can be agonizingly riddled with obstacles well beyond our control. Even the smallest missteps can instantly derail all our carefully laid plans. And if we've put all our eggs in that specific "Outcomes" basket.... Well, it's really hard to not end up demoralized or discouraged.

Thus, Matt suggested instead that riders should focus on process. Meaning that, Yes, we need to understand where we want to go, what that ideal outcome might be. But our goals and our metrics for relative success should be based on the component processes that fall exclusively under our own personal jurisdictions, insulated (hopefully) from external forces.

This way, even if you don't end up arriving at that shiny coveted outcome, maybe you've still put together a happy year of horsing all the same.

behold! our stuff!!
i missed the year end awards banquet, but a barn mate grabbed our swag for us!!
And so, for 2019 I first identified what I hoped that outcome would be. Namely, I wanted to move up and earn some competition qualifications toward a longer term goal. To do so, I parsed out the following component processes that would be my Official 2019 Goals:

1) Continue preparing for a move up to T
2) Organize necessary paperwork + memberships
3) Plan a thoughtful calendar considering favorable venues
4) Budget appropriately and realistically (and early)
5) Maintain a comprehensive wellness plan for Charlie
6) Invest in developing my skill set and toolbox as a rider
7) Focus on positive experiences and additive mileage
8) Be flexible and accept setbacks with poise, bc #horses
9) Enjoy the ride!

Maybe I was prescient in adhering to this thought exercise haha, bc yea. We totally did not reach the overall "Outcome." Charlie and I did not successfully move up to T in 2019. We took one little baby step in that direction in July that resulted in a very literal crash 'n burn.... And I basically retreated into a quiet low-key tailspin for the next few months, womp.


By couching my official goals in terms of the processes above, I can actually look back on the year and feel really good about how it all went down.

we won 6th and 8th place in the novice divisions (one for rider, one for horse), and 3rd place in the Thoroughbred Incentive Program novice division!! which means: ermagherd NECK RIBBON!!
It turned out to be a building year for us. And maybe, arguably, we needed it. Maybe our future prospects will be the better for it.

I learned so much this past year. So so so much. Maybe it's easy to forget, but I've never really done this before. Charlie is my first horse, right? And he's certainly the first horse I've really ridden at this level. Isabel and I made it to Novice, sure, but only got through two events before I was sidelined with a broken leg. And we never got back. So I never really felt "established" at the level.

Meanwhile, Isabel was the sturdiest of Arabs and will undoubtedly outlive us all. Charlie is.... Made of different stuff haha.

So much of what I've learned with Charlie is more than just the training and skills required to ride the level. It's everything else - all the in-betweens and behind-the-scenes stuff. 2019 for me was a relentless crash course in learning what it means to maintain and condition the horse for this new-to-me level of riding. And unfortunately I've had to learn a lot of it the hard way.

excuse our janky outfits but we had just been out hacking haha. obviously tho we had to drop everything and take pictures with all that schweet schweet satin!! plus bonus TIP hat lol (kinda wish it was any color other than red but oh well....)
In looking back on 2019 through the view of those component processes, tho, I'm happiest about three specific things:

1. All the budget and financial health work that I undertook paid major dividends. My costs of living and spending habits have stabilized and no longer require obsessive oversight. I know exactly what my horse habit costs (might even post on that later lol), and can project with a high degree of accuracy what sort of savings plan is necessary to do all the things I want to do.

2. Which is useful, bc possibly the biggest win of this past year was the investment I made in my and Charlie's education. Again, might post in more thorough detail later on the overall breakdown of lessons / clinics / shows / etc.

Suffice it to say, tho, that 2019 was a major year of learnings for us. And it was AWESOME. Sure, we didn't ultimately successfully move up, but we're in a totally different and better position today, and have a TON of amazing memories and experiences to look back on.

3. Especially bc one process in particular, "Focusing on positive experiences and additive mileage" really helped me keep perspective when things got rough. Arguably, this goal was the kick in the pants I needed to put together our little mini Fall season this past November.

It's entirely possible that getting back onto the competition scene for those two amazing back to back schooling shows at Novice (Loch Moy and Waredaca), and then again at the derby in December, is the main reason I'm finishing the year feeling so positive, rather than defeated.

All this to say, these goals really helped me overall in getting closer to where I want to be. So I'm carrying them forward into 2020 too, with some minor reductions for the sake of simplicity:

1) Continue preparing for a move up to T
2) Budget appropriately and realistically (and early)
3) Maintain a comprehensive wellness plan for Charlie
4) Invest in developing my skill set and toolbox as a rider
5) Focus on positive experiences and additive mileage
6) Be flexible and accept setbacks with poise, bc #horses
7) Enjoy the ride!

god i love this goofy horse <3 <3 <3
Laying this out also helped me understand what was maybe missing from this past year. I invested heavily in our education, yes, and worked hard to check off the important boxes and gain the necessary experiences.

Sure, I rode with a LOT of world class riders and coaches, and solidified the team of professionals and practitioners who will help me keep Charlie happy, healthy and thriving. I got a lot of really really good advice this year from a lot of people who know their shit.

Something was missing tho: Cohesion.

This past year lacked any sort of unifying thread through all those experiences and learnings and clinics and wellness sessions. Instead it was at times a bit scattered and almost transactional.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned this year is that I don't really know what I don't know at this level. I can try to build out all the check lists, and collect all the knowns and unknowns etc. But maybe life would be easier if I stopped trying to reinvent the wheel, stopped having to learn some of this stuff the hard way.

Thus, my other big objective going forward is prioritizing Mentorship. I crave a gps, a guide, a beacon of wisdom, who will help me pull all these various component threads together into a more complete and comprehensive plan.

This isn't getting spelled out in any sort of explicit terms as a goal, bc I still don't know exactly what it will look like. But maybe let's consider "mentorship" as something of a theme for the year, a lens through which I hope to apply all those processes above haha. Or something. Idk.

All I know is: We had a great 2019 overall. And now it's 2020. A new year full of new opportunities. And I'm already pretty freakin pumped to see how it'll all turn out ;)

Monday, January 13, 2020

back with January's Fix-a-Test

It's been a long time since I did anything formal with dressage, for a couple reasons... Mainly revolving around the fact that I've spent a lot of time, money, and energy on improving our #skills in this phase, without really seeing much in the way of payoff in competition.

Like, Sure. We can more or less get through anything First level, but it ain't necessarily cute haha. Luckily, that's perfectly sufficient for our purposes, so I've mostly turned my attention to the jumping stuff in recent months, figuring our solo schooling dressage rides every week would be enough to keep us going.

we picked a great day to get out for adventures - it was in the 60s!
Things have been going pretty well in recent weeks tho. We had exceptionally lovely weather during my annual winter "staycation" -- the week between holidays that I take off and spend doing whatever the hell I see fit to do (incidentally, this year included unplugging from EVERYTHING and it was AHMAZING lol) -- And so Charlie's been in pretty regular work.

He's fit, strong, sound and happy right now (knocking on wood), and it's been fun musing about what the coming year might hold for us.

So when I started gathering dates for shows, clinics, schoolings, etc, and saw our favorite dressage barn was hosting a Fix-a-Test clinic this past weekend? Obvi I impulsively signed us up haha. The clinician is actually the barn owner and manager, and my normal dressage trainer C is the assistant trainer. And turned out to be the scribe at this clinic too, which was convenient haha.

obvi tho, it's mud season. i tried -- really tried -- to protect my poor boots with these rubber slip-on boot condom thingys. alas, the mud won this round... note charlie's equally disgusting hoof too haha
It was honestly really nice being back here again, since it had been forever. And we were early enough for a long slow warm up during the ride before me, where I got to watch a local pro working on 3rd level with an absolutely lovely 26yo mare. And funny enough, this was the same pro who judged my first ever dressage tests on Isabel...

Actually, Isabel's history nearly entwined with the clinician too. Had Isabel been 100% registered Arab (her dam was a cross) it's extremely likely that upon ending my lease back in 2016, this farm would have initiated a breeding lease with Izzy's owner. She really was that fancy haha...

Alas tho, what they really needed was the registrations so their babies could be registered as arab crosses. Isabel didn't have that, so it didn't work for their purposes and thus the mare retired back to her pasture pet lifestyle. Which honestly worked out just fine, let's be real!

still the actual cutest tho
Anyway, warm up was basically lots and lots of walking, tho I did ask Charlie to come round and walk with purpose after a bit. Plus we practiced some of the half turns at walk.

When it looked like our turn was more imminent, I did a little trot each way, and an eensy amount of canter on both leads.

Then we began! I reintroduced ourselves to the clinician (who peripherally knows us as trainer C's students, but has never really seen us go) and talked about our objectives for the day. Namely: while I understand test riding is all about accentuating the good and masking the bad, we kinda fall more squarely into one of those camps than the other LOL.

And moreso than trying to "fix" a test, we were kinda here to learn how to, erm, ahem, for lack of a better term, "fake" it. Hey, honesty is the best policy, right?

going into 2020 grateful for this rig
And so right off the bat we went out and rode the Training A test. Incidentally, this was my first time actually riding through the entire thing. We had intended to ride it back in June at the MDA schooling show, but rode 1-1 first where upon the judge not-so-subtly suggested we scratch our second test haha...

To be perfectly honest? The test rode a lot better than I expected. Charlie was his absolute perfect self, buoyed by both the magical footing and by being currently at the high end of the Charlie Soundness Spectrum ©.

If we rode that test exactly in that manner at a show? I'd be fully satisfied haha. But of course, that's not reality, right? In the real world, we run the gamut of footing situations at shows, not to mention the distraction of atmosphere and horses everywhere, plus what can sometimes be a disruptive change in footing or situation from warm up to show ring.

So.... If I want to get that feeling of "good enough" in the show ring when it matters, I'll need to get a feeling of "wow great!" in practice. Right?

if we could actually do this at a show and walk away with a 34.2%.... i'd be satisfied lol
Thus, we moved on to the "Fix-Fake-a-Test" portion of the lesson LOL.

Like every dressage trainer and judge who has ever laid eyes on Charlie, she wanted more forward. Not necessarily a different tempo -- I actually went back and ran my metronome app while watching the video and the tempo is still right on -- but a more forward feel in that trot.

It's hard for me to commit to this feeling when I know we have difficult turns or transitions coming up, but her point was the forward balance will actually help with those movements. Case in point: Perhaps Charlie's best ever canter-trot transition during this ride (end of video, around 10:37).

Overall, for such a large horse, Charlie is not a big mover. Isabel was by far a bigger mover than Charlie, but his size really highlights the contrast of his anti-extravagant gaits. I shouldn't necessarily be trying to ride him "bigger" in his movement, per se, but if he's not forward enough we will get dinged for it every.time.

my sweet big bronto with his little trot on those long legs...
For my position, the Clinician P echoed basically all of what normal dressage trainer C has said to me over the years. She wanted me to be less clingy with my calves, and better with my arms.

She called my arms "short" haha, which prompted some funny chat in the video you can barely hear unfortunately, but basically I have T-rex arms on a bronto horse. It's..... a tricky combo lol. But I need to work harder at keeping my upper arms closer to my body, while bending my elbows and not pulling down with my hands, especially the inside.

Incidentally, pulling down with my hands also happens to be the trigger for when I collapse my frontline and tip forward in my seat. This will obviously be a work in progress for a long time, and you'll see in this particular ride I wanted to let my hands get really wide apart as I worked on lifting them. Eh, one thing at a time, yes?

canter's nice tho ;)
Once we had the working trot put together, and my positional balance a bit better, we started working on those 10m half turns that show up at the very beginning of Training-A.

The exercise was (and this is all in the video): ride a 10m circle at trot. Do a full circle, then repeat with just a half circle. So, in essence, you ride one and a half 10m circles. Except, the last half circle you stretch out a bit, making it more oval. Obvi it still has to be 10m in one dimension, otherwise you miss X, but the other dimension you can stretch out a bit so that when you arrive at X you're kinda already straight on the center line.

From here, continue out the center line to change directions, then repeat on the other rein - one and a half 10m circles with the last half being more oval in shape. Change directions again, then put it all together, creating the E-B "S" shape serpentine of 10m half circles.

The idea is that it's harder for the judges to see when you go a bit too far in the A-C dimension of the arena, vs if you overshoot your distance on the E-B axis. So if you give yourself a bit more room there, you're likelier to have a more balanced change of bend over X.

Through this movement I definitely needed to be conscious of not pulling down with my inside rein.

includes: work on 10m half and full circles at trot, and lengthenings at both trot and canter

Next we worked on canter. Mostly staying on a 20m circle, with putting together spurts of lengthening.

The clinician actually said I have a naturally good seat (in the video omg) which like.... Uh, nobody has ever accused me of that haha. Normal dressage trainer C (who was taking the video) has spent literal years trying to help me improve my seat, esp at canter. YEARS. But ya know. There's only so much you can do while fighting your saddle.

I've been riding exclusively in my monoflap L'Apogee jump saddle for a few months now tho, and having a clinician call my seat "naturally good" is definitely reaffirmation that this is the right choice haha.

going into 2020 also grateful for this saddle haha. kinda diggin the minimalism of doing everything in one saddle anyway, tbh
Having a saddle that puts my seat in the right place means instructors can move on from trying to get me sitting, to actually improving my seat aids. Ya know, the whole point, yes? In this lesson, we worked a lot on connecting my outside seat bone and outside rein to help send Charlie into his canter lengthenings.

This worked marvelously, and really helped correct my tendency to pull down on the inside and tip/lean in. Instead, it helped me stay sitting upright and balanced on my seat. Like.... You can actually see the change in the video haha. Yessssss.

When tracking left, I really need to focus on almost a slight counter bend to get my horse straight. None of this is in the video unfortunately (showed up most when tracking left in canter), but it's fascinating to me bc it's not at all what I feel from the saddle. I can feel something isn't right and that we're crooked, but my instinct is to want to pull Charlie's head further in, which is the opposite of what every trainer says to me. My body is a liar lol....

obvi tho, charlie is da real MVP
Anyway, the final tidbit relates to riding the working vs lengthen canter. In my head, I want to "show a difference", but the clinician said this was leading me to go too far in the wrong direction for working canter. She said it's super common among eventers to make this mistake, esp at Prelim. Where they want to show a big difference between canters, so they end up riding the working canter too much like a collected canter.

She said it had to be more subtle than that. Like, imagine riding a canter between two ground poles set at an indeterminate distance. At Charlie's present state of schooling, he can pretty easily do three different canters between those poles. He can do a "natural" canter -- whatever striding comes up naturally when left to his own devices. He can also add a stride (+1), and take out a stride (-1).

In my head, I've been thinking about the difference between working and lengthened canter as the difference between the "+1" and "-1" canters. But actually it needs to be the difference between the "natural" and "-1".

this shot is a callback to January 2017 when i took a very very similar picture after one of charlie's earliest dressage lessons. so much has changed since then. but this horse, he's still Charlie <3 <3
So..... if you're sensing a theme here, it's basically that we just need more forward. But in balance. Not running, not bracing, but definitely not slugging along either.

Which, ya know, that's been our dressage nirvana, our holy grail, for a couple years now lol. And probably will continue to be for many years to come. But I'm actually pretty happy with where Charlie is now in his strength and balance and overall quality. It's especially gratifying to see how much our rhythm alone has improved since riding with the metronome (something I continue to do in basically every single schooling ride).

It's been a long time since I stopped believing Charlie might actually be competitive in the dressage ring. But I'm not going for the win, ya know? Our goals and priorities lie elsewhere. I just want a good feeling, a happy sound strong horse, and a qualifying score lol. Right now that feels within reach, so I'm happy haha.

This Fix-a-Test format also worked out really really well for us. I've done the format once before and had the exact opposite result, namely bc it was not a good match between me and the clinician. But under my current circumstances, going into a ride with the absolute goal of improving my strategies for a specific test was very effective. And, also, turns out, about $25 cheaper than a "normal" lesson at this farm haha.

So yea, sign me up lol! Will hopefully get to repeat again through the winter season!