Friday, October 22, 2021

more activity pls!

It's hard to tell whether this will be a regular thing or not (esp with winter and dark nights coming in fast...), but for now I'm enjoying these sporadic lessons with upper level event rider Molly.

She's getting a better grip on what Charlie and I do and don't know, and what we do and don't want from our rides. In particular, she was momentarily surprised when I told her we'd ridden 1-3 after our last lesson with her, and that it had gone well. I say "momentarily," tho, bc it seemed like she absorbed that information and immediately set about dialing up her focus on our basics. 

Today's "basic"? Activity. Every judge ever in the whole wide world who has seen Charlie go, has made at least one remark or comment about "Needs more activity." Plenty of trainers have said as much to me too. But.... How? 

For this lesson, Molly actually got us there through a series of efficient and practical exercises, paired with well-timed coaching. And it was great!! Really really a super lesson, with some really incredible feeling work from Charlie. Mostly what I need to remember are the feelings from this ride, so here are the exercises and steps we used to get there: 

looking confused at that weird thing on the floor outside the feed shed...
- 10 / 10 Exercise: 10 steps walk, 10 steps trot, rinse repeat. Forever. Admittedly I was not suuuuuuper precise about exactly "10" for each, and would sacrifice a couple extra steps to get a nicer feeling. Importantly, Molly coached me to use this exercise to slowly shorten the reins and bring the frame in with each transition. 

- 20m Square. Done in conjunction with the 10/10. Basically. Square turns, and again, and again. Forever. More or less on 20m-ish. But like, again, not super exact. Our purpose was the turns, specifically: preparing for them. And once we moved on to full trot (vs constant transitions), the idea was to feel like we were going to walk going into the turn. For Charlie, this meant actually walking some of the times. But that's fine -- that's good, that's the process. 

lol, wait a second...
- Slow. Slowwwerrrrr. Think, Dan C level slowness. Bc guys --- this was probably the closest I've ever come to taking a lesson with Dan... from someone not named Dan. Molly was on that exact same wavelength, which was cool bc I've always suspected this type of approach suits Charlie better than constantly chasing him forward. The slowness really helps Charlie develop his full power in the gaits, without losing balance out the front.

- Level 2 Bands: Oooh, and I was back in the resistance bands this time. She called these bands (they were purple) the "Level 2" bands, and they were a bit stiffer than what I've worn before. Molly first articulated each leg's various joints (esp around the ankle and hip) to ensure I was more or less loose, then belted me in. And yea, I was seriously belted in, from which I could sit virtually ALL the trot in this lesson, which itself was mostly in trot. Something I've NEVER done before. The bands plus how we got Charlie going tho.... It felt like butter

it's just mikey!! doin normal mikey things haha
Anyway. Forever and ever with the square turns, and the slow. And the idea to "think about walking into the turn, but don't walk." We got to a point where I could add inside leg (but not clinging!) and really feel that bouncy cadence from Charlie. Who, it should be noted, worked his tail off for this ride -- what a trooper! 

And what an incredible feeling! It was hard keeping track of all my various body parts -- where are my arms (Molly wanted me to bring my inside hand closer to Charlie's neck)? Was I sitting up tall and straight -- but soft? Was my lower back and seat relaxed and following, or braced? Were my legs drifting backward or staying at the girth?

So much to think about, but Charlie and I were able to find those moments of good feelings more and more often, and stay there a little longer each time. 

dusk comes earlier every night
Canter was a bit tougher. Our pattern was: while still on our 20m square, do a 10m circle in trot at X. Slowwww. Jiggity jog. But bouncy. Then proceed around the square back to A, and repeat. Coming off that second 10m circle, canter. Not a big motion, not a big aid, not a big swing or anything. Just.... canter. Maintaining more or less the same speed we were already trotting. 

This was... Yea, hard. We already know I wanna make big moves into canter. Plus I always kinda wanna chase Charlie in his first few shaky steps -- like, yes keep going Sir! So we ended up breaking a couple times, at which point Molly insisted we stay calm and immediately slowwwww down again. Nbd, it's ok to lose balance, but always ALWAYS reestablish that slowness again. (Again, the Dan vibe in this lesson was so strong, I loved it). 

It was also interesting how I definitely telegraphed to Charlie what we were about to do, bc our second 10m circle always lost rhythm and slowness as I anticipated asking for canter....

we've been treated to some gorgeously dramatic skies tho <3
Another interesting takeaway was that... Charlie hit our "struggle point" in this ride -- the inflection point where a ride shifts from kinda leggin' him on (warm up), to self carriage (the happy place), to suddenly plowing down into the bridle dragging me forward (tired). 

I kinda try to avoid that feeling, bc it feels like the point of no return -- where we probably aren't getting any more quality and risk devolving into a pulling match. I actually pointed it out to Molly when I felt the change in Charlie, saying "This is the feeling where we really struggle, when he just bears down into the bridle and flattens."

But then, suddenly, it passed. It was over. Charlie pulled up his big boy britches, and kept trying even through his tiredness. THIS, folks, is the difference (for me, at least) with being coached through the moment. And also, the reason why I'm not likely to repeat a ride like this on my own, and why I haven't pushed certain limits this past year during our solo adventures. 

ya know, it ain't bad haha
Charlie is a good boy and will do the things when I work for them. It's enough to know that -- I don't feel like we need to have this exact ride every single day. The lessons are there, the training is there. The horse is prepared to respond correctly to correct aids. 

And we can achieve those feelings together, albeit to slightly lesser degrees, in our solo work. It's just up to me to not muddy the waters too much, and especially to avoid the risk of souring the horse or getting him really backward in the bridle again by practicing some of this stuff poorly, ya know? 

All the same, what a good feeling. AND, even better? Charlie came out for our next couple rides feeling really fresh and happy in an energetic forward balance. I'm not sure when the next lesson might happen, but we've got at least one or two more judged dressage tests to ride this season (hopefully!) so I'm excited to keep chipping away. 


  1. Oooh I wish I could see some video of this and watch it develop! The idea of slowness with quickness is a fun contradiction they I explored a little with Murray but have never gotten to with another horse.

    1. Omg I wish there was video too (sorta bc I also sorta secretly believe it probably wouldn’t have looked as impressive as it felt - ain’t that always the way with big rangy horses and squat riders LOL!). Sadly it was basically already full dark so I didn’t bother to ask for what would have definitely been murky-at-best footage…. Maybe next time I will tho?

  2. Oof canter transitions. JT always gets after me about "just change your leg position to change his leg position" and not chasing him into it. I feel ya. Made me feel better when she told me one of her prelim riders had to go through the same struggle. Sounds like a lovely and productive lesson, having the eyes on the ground to drive the timing is awesome.

    1. So productive!! As frustrated as I sometimes feel to not have like… a reliable program rn, it’s nice to know that Charlie can step up when the opportunity arrives!

      Also. Omg. Canter transitions lol. I blame hunter flat classes for making me feel like we need to break into song and dance RIGHTNOWOMG haha

  3. These sound like really wonderful exercises! I may borrow some of that in an effort to find Shiny's go button... (I'm honestly not sure she has one.) Thanks for sharing!
    I'm glad you found someone so wonderful to help you guys, even if how often is up in the air. Anything is helpful, right?

    1. Oooh definitely do try out for shiny, I’ll be curious how it works out. Rapid fire transitions definitely get Charlie’s blood up, but they can also make him a little tense and touchy, so idk how a pony will feel lol. Counter canter also really works for getting him going, for whatever reason haha

  4. That's the key to Opie, too. Slower is better until all his parts are working correctly and then you can turn him loose and get the fancy. But if you just start off trying for big and forward right away, forget it lol

    1. Dude yes exactly. For some reason everyone always immediately has this knee jerk reaction of just wanting to hustle Charlie forward. But then as soon as they try to get us to do actual things, it’s like — ooh yea maybe slow that down a little and regroup LOL

  5. I love this lesson. Weirdly enough it’s similar to my lessons with Jane. Carmen has those same stages of a lesson. It’s hard to get it all on my own so I try to focus on 1 or 2 things. It helps. Mostly it’s mental for me.

    I love this work you’re doing with Charlie.

  6. This sounds like a great lesson and confirmation that you are on the right track. I love when a trainer can coach you and your horse in a way that works, not just applying a formula that is “supposed to” work. I hope you get to ride with Molly again soon!

  7. I definitely do some variation of 10/10 (I change the number frequently so the horse doesn't learn to count/anticipate) and the 20m square exercise is one I have in the back of my mind for my more coordinated day lol (still hasn't happened yet). I hope you keep being able to work with Molly through the short days/long nights of winter. She sounds pretty awesome.

  8. I love Molly! She's so good at honing in on things and making the effort/input from the rider so much more productive! Love all these takeaways for you!


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