Thursday, February 18, 2021

still trying to learn from the past

A few weeks ago I wrote about returning to weekly jump lessons at OF with Trainer P, after spending the past year in more of a private individualized program with upper level rider K.  

It's honestly a fairly complicated subject for mainly uninteresting personal reasons, but... The gist is: I want / need more mentorship and individualized attention to take the next step in my riding ability.

2015 lesson with isabel coached by dan. i miss the mental and physical intensity of these rides lol
I often think of the halcyon days of 2014-15 as the absolute epitome of my riding education, when I took two jumping lessons a week. One with current trainer P at OF, and a second with 5* eventer Dan C. These two distinct coaches combined into what felt like perfect complements in the whole of my learning process. 

This 2015 post summarizes exactly why it felt that way -- and honestly that reasoning still holds today. Tho... by the time Charlie entered the picture and was ready for that degree of training, Dan had relocated farther north and weekly lessons were no longer logistically feasible. And actually, they've since moved the business down to VA. 
another 2015 lesson
We've managed the occasional "clinic" style lesson with Dan over the years... But it's really not the same. And I've been wracking my brain to try to fill that gap ever since. It seemed for a while that maybe trainer K was the solution. But, alas. No. 

I've also continued doing clinics and occasional lessons with other upper level riders, including Sally Cousins, Martin Douzant, Phillip Dutton, etc.... But again, that's always going to be a very different dynamic from a trainer you see weekly, ya know? 

One of my 2020 "themes" was prioritizing mentorship, and... Well. It remains an unresolved issue. Sigh. I'm still grappling with how to recreate that old magic, haha....

last lesson with Dan in Jan 2019, an XC clinic at Loch Moy
In the meantime, tho, I've been trying to learn "remotely" lol. There's so much great content online by all these amazing professional riders -- Piggy March's youtube channel is a new favorite. Obvi you've seen me post about Doug Payne and Martin Douzant's channels before, too. And Boyd Martin's been posting a TON of his own riding lessons lately as well. Which.... lol, listening to Peter Wylde give Boyd the same instructions I myself hear in lessons is.... idk, humanizing?? 

Dan, too, often posts training updates on his 4* horse Frank for the ownership group. And man.... Listening to the way Dan describes Frank reeeeeally makes me wish I could get Charlie in front of him for lessons too lol. They are obviously very different horses but.... There are also some key similarities, summed up fairly nicely in the particular video below. 

Specifically, one key theme really hit home: That tricky balance between riding a horse forward, and riding a horse in an uphill balance

Dan and Frank in the intermediate at Morven in spring 2019
Who remembers my last lesson with Sally before the covid shutdown? When, after what was a reasonably pleasant and productive session, she kinda bluntly and abruptly warned that I'm "not going to be able to do what I want to do" with this horse if I don't get him more uphill. 

And, who also remembers (not that you could forget bc I say it all the fricken time) me talking about "kinda giving up on dressage"?

These are related issues. And Dan describes it in this video in a way that maybe helps me understand not only how this dynamic is playing out for Charlie, but how to do better in our training. 

Basically, Dan notes that for some horses, like Frank (and also Charlie), if you focus too much on getting him uphill, he gets behind the leg. Simultaneously, focusing too much on forward puts the horse on his forehand. 

It becomes this 'back and forth' dynamic between trying to get the horse's shoulder up higher, and riding the horse more forward. How much time are you going to spend getting the horse back on his hocks? Versus how much time will you spend getting him to go forward? 

Going forward tends to push the horse onto his forehand, but Frank is not a super forward horse so you have to work on it. Charlie, you will all recall, while occasionally an absolute madman at competitions -- is likewise not particularly forward in lessons or on the flat. 

So. We also spend a lot of time working on going forward. Which, similar to Frank, can result in more of a horizontal (vs uphill) balance, with Charlie's shoulder dropped. But then when I try to put Charlie back on his hocks, it's really really easy to get into a backward, behind the leg canter. Which... is also not at all productive for jumping. 

and then there was Charlie!! Dan's only coached this horse over fences twice, first this lesson pictured here in fall 2018 (and video below), and the xc clinic in winter 2018-19
In the video, Dan talks about how he has to spend time in both places for Frank -- and that he also sets up his exercises to address the same issues. Like lots of bending "S" turns that naturally help a horse pick his shoulders up. Or, long straight lines to angled fences or skinnies that require more lateral accuracy on a committed line (vs wandering side to side when the horse adjusts his longitudinal balance). 

I hadn't really thought of turning vs straight line exercises through this same exact lens.... but seems relatively easy enough to try out on my own with cavaletti and ground poles. 

He also talks about the value of conditioning the not-so-forward horse in company vs alone. This is.... less applicable for Charlie bc we don't really need extensive speed work in our conditioning for the low levels haha, let's be real. Plus, Charlie *does* get plenty forward in his gallops lol. 

But still, it's interesting food for thought to use riding in pairs to get the horse more in gear -- possibly as a way to counteract the endless plodding arena trot loops? Idk. 

13sec video coulda been a gif - but then you wouldn't hear charlie's turbo blasters lol 

So..... Watching a video of my former coach describe how he addresses with his horse something I perceive to be a major issue with my own horse is baaaasically the same thing as a lesson, right?? Lol..

At this point, I'll take what I can get haha. At least it gives me some ideas for exercises to set up. Most of my lessons with Dan were privates, which had the sad effect of very limited media. Tho it meant I spent more time diagramming what we worked on (all captured under the tags "danc" and "course diagrams"). 
grid is much harder than it appears
So I actually have both media AND a diagram from the one lesson where we specifically worked on (and kinda failed at) a short "S" bend exercise. Methinks Charlie might like to try something like this out haha. 

It's also super helpful to hear straight from a pro that these two major issues ("uphill balance" and "forward horse in front of the leg") CAN actually be conflicting functions for some horses. So rather than trying to always address both at the same time, it might be more effective to focus on each individual component separately. Kinda the Keep-It-Simple-Stupid method lol.

It's always motivating to get new ideas on how to keep chippin away at this stuff.... But what I'd really love is to find some sort of new regular coaching routine that gets me back to that educational balance I felt back in 2015. We'll see what happens, I guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


  1. If there is truly a trainer you click with, it may be worth trucking a day to work with them over a weekend every 4-8 weeks.

    Give yourself a mini clinic - (try to make a 3 day weekend) maybe a lesson on a fri night, two on a sat and a sun am and head home. It isn’t perfect, but when you find a trainer that works for you- make the distance work. Charlie trucks!!!

    Remote lessons are also becoming more doable.

    1. Yea it really does seem straight forward when distilled into a couple sentences like “make it work!” Reality is unfortunately rarely that simple tho haha

    2. I wish reality was that simple!

    3. honestly me too haha. tho --- what i REALLY wish was that i could quit my job and all the other pesky responsibilities of life beyond horses -- just dedicate myself full time to this pursuit of passion, price tag be damned!! a girl can dream lol...

  2. Bummer he's so far away now. I was going to suggest going to stay with him a week this summer for a little bootcamp maybe. Does he do virtual lessons?

    1. so dan hasn't been a regular coach of mine for nearly 5 years, primarily for logistical reasons. i'm not so much hoping to change that function with him specifically, but rather find a solution that works like what i had in 2015. it's highly unlikely that dan can be a part of that solution, again for a variety of reasons, mostly logistical

  3. I find you forget so fast how important weekly lessons are until you don't have them for awhile! Good luck on your search for something similar to this!!

    1. ain't that the truth. one big struggle with charlie that constantly catches me off guard is all the "in between" stuff, the behind-the-scenes maintenance and conditioning and progression required to ride at a new to me level --- not just what happens inside the arena. that's the sort of thing making me wish for more guidance, but that really only comes up when you've got that dedicated coaching relationship

  4. You know I understand this struggle, but I have hope you'll find something through trial and error, I mean that's all any of us can do right?

    1. haha for real. trial and error... and error and error and error LOL! seriously tho, idk why it's so hard to create these really productive coaching relationships. a lot of what i've been able to access in the past couple years has ended up feeling a bit more transactional and mercenary. still valuable, but not really the depth i'd like...

  5. I'm feeling the same way - I really miss my coach and a regular program. I'm also wondering whether it's partly just a natural result of having a new, sometimes greener horse. It takes time to get back to a level where you really feel like you're advancing and learning as a rider and not just working on green horse things. Fingers crossed you and Charlie find a great fit moving forward.

    1. yea i think you're right that it's pretty closely related to where we are in the training cycle with our horses... there are definitely times when i've enjoyed being more independent, and times when i feel needier lol. like right now, i feel like i already taught charlie everything i know, so now he's figuring out what i DON'T know LOL, and.... that's not ideal haha... hahaha

  6. I battle this EVERY SINGLE DAY in dressage. It is such a delicate balance. I doubt I'll ever master it.

    1. Ugh on one hand I’m kinda glad I’m not the only one LOL! For real tho, turns out this riding thing is pretty hard....

  7. Ah, that sucks that Dan is so far away now. That's so cool tho that the trainer you've clicked with is working with a horse that's similar to Charlie! Those exercises sound great; I hope you can find something similar and get that same feeling back!

    1. Thanks! And I haven’t taken lessons with Dan in about five years so this isn’t new, just trying to understand what has worked for me before so I can recreate the same situation

  8. Def a tough conundrum for you guys - it's hard when your favorite instructors move :(


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