Wednesday, December 29, 2021

flaunting it on the flat

I tried looking back to find where we first started talking about "giving up on dressage" and.... Yea, it's been a long time. Basically, the gist is that I felt like some key flaws in my style of riding Charlie on the flat were having very real negative consequences in our jumping. 

gettin back to my roots with video shot from a phone resting on jump standards... lol
charles flashback here and izzy flashback here
Charlie is a big long lazy horse who will happily "pose" while slugging around behind my leg. But.... "behind the leg" is exactly where I DON'T want to be when jumping bigger jumps, ya know? Who remembers that clinic with Sally Cousins where she sorta bluntly told me we wouldn't be able to do what I wanted to do if I didn't meaningfully change our style of going?

sorry guys, brace yourself for a study of literally four steps of trot in each direction LOL
and yes, obvi i know literally none of this is text book perfect. but that is 1,000% not the point <3
Just getting after Charlie and chasing him forward wasn't quite the answer either, tho -- as I managed to introduce a lot of tension and rigidity into our rides, while still not meaningfully shifting his balance. He'd just plow down into the bridle and drag me along. ALSO not a great feeling for jumping, ya know?

i liked the feeling of this trot a lot
So.... My solution was to basically just, uh, stop trying to get Charlie on the bit. Instead, I kinda spent all last winter just.... riding the horse. Mostly bitless, actually. Focusing almost exclusively on my own position and Charlie's rhythm and balance. 

so it's nice to review footage to see what a good feeling looks like
Lessons with Molly this year, tho few and far between, have made a BIG difference. Something in her style of teaching has introduced me to some very good new feelings, and finally helped me break through some very long-standing bad habits. 

elegant charlie <3
Like clinging with my lower legs, for example. It's not that no other trainer had ever coached me on that exact point -- it's not like I didn't know it was a problem. But... knowing a thing is not the same as doing a thing. And it turns out, the doing part is what actually makes horseback riding hard haha.  

unapologetic overkill lol
It's also possible that Molly came along at the right time in my education as well. It's been a long long journey trying to learn how to really work a horse on the flat, with many different key players over the years. With lots of back and forth between trying to connect both an understanding AND the feeling for what I want in the horse, why, and how *I* need to ride to get it.

(*Editor's Note: Jesus, how many different text effects do we really need for that emphasis, hm??)

oooh oooh we jumped the grid too haha
Just to clarify what we're talking about here, when I started riding Isabel, I'd basically never felt a horse lift his back. I can still remember the epiphany of first isolating my thigh as an independent aid. So like.... This ain't exactly Grand Prix stuff here -- I'm talking about fundamentals. How to feel -- not just what the horse is doing, but also what *I'm* doing.

look ma, we go left too! omg charles look at your fancy little knee action haha!!
And, of course, I had to relearn ALL of those feelings Isabel taught me when Charlie entered the picture. Bc, spoilers, Charlie is an entirely different animal from Ms Thing lol.

woot woot, four off the floor
Taking time over the last couple years of "giving up" has been good for us, I think. Charlie and I reset our parameters for expectations about how to simply... go around under saddle. In other words, I basically stopped fucking with his face, and he, in turn, got serious about maintaining rhythm and impulsion. 

lookin like a powerhouse as we circle back to the grid entrance, final element pictured above
Molly, for her part, has not really dwelled too much on my rein contact with Charlie. Rather, she's sorta deconstructed to begin reconstructing how I sit on the horse, and how I position myself to influence Charlie's balance. Recently --- this balance focus has been more lateral than longitudinal, too.  

wheeee trot cross rail to start! 
And the effects are mind blowing. I told you months ago that after practicing some exercises Molly gave us, I could "feel the sitting trot" in Charlie's gaits. And sure enough -- after I told Molly that in our next lesson, she got us there. More recently, we were practicing the exercises from another lesson, and suddenly.... I could feel where the shoulder-in was. 

15-16' to the small middle oxer
Maybe that sounds stupid bc.... Well, Charlie and I have had actual lessons on shoulder in before. But lateral work with this horse has always felt like... work. Like I had to do A LOT, and he needed a lot of holding together. But again --- changes in my position and Charlie's balance, and the lateral flexion work Molly's had us doing... It was crazy, I rode a circle, returned to the rail, and prepared for a diagonal.... And just got this intense feeling of, "wow if I didn't actually ride this diagonal we'd be doing shoulder in."

behold, my amazing framing of the final oxer element LOL, 18' from middle oxer back rail
Obvi I wasn't expecting it at that moment, so we kinda missed it, but I ruminated on that feeling for a while, and in a more recent ride tried to recreate it. And guys -- omg, there it was, a shoulder in. Without a ton of holding. Without a lot of pretzeling. Just clear positioning and flexion and balance. It wasn't perfect, but it also wasn't... messy, if that makes sense. 

Of course.... The whole reason I sorta "gave up" on dressage in the first place was because it felt like I was creating bad habits and tendencies that would haunt us over fences. And, ya know, at the end of the day, Charlie is my jomping horse. And he takes excellent care of me in that department. So I remain massively suspicious of any type of flat work that doesn't feel like something I can jump from (if that makes sense). 

simple fun + satisfying <3
In our last lesson, tho, it seemed like Molly kinda got the same vibe. She still hasn't really seen us properly jump, and I'm obviously skeptical of any comments she makes about how she thinks we might jump until she actually witnesses it --- bc y'all know Charlie is an entirely different creature when there's a 3' jump in front of him vs when.... there isn't lol.

But lately, she's had me working on the exact same types of exercises, the same types of flexion and movement patterns... but in different variations of 2pt and half seat and everything in between. Basically trying to instill the same balance and positional mechanics into me, no matter where I am on the horse --- essentially trying to undo my "driving" and "against" habits. 

And idk.... it's exciting. Charlie feels really good right now. He's had an incredibly sound year --- possibly his soundest year since I've owned him. Mentally he's in a good place too (tho of course we did some serious coddling+ulcergard after he lost Iggy). There's still so much work to do to get better, but right now the work is fun and rewarding and we both feel good about it. 

So. Bring it on, 2022 -- we're ready for more!!**

(**But just of this, please, not all that other bullshit kaithxbai)


  1. This makes me so happy. What you are describing with Molly is what I've been experiencing with Jane- somehow they can help us feel what we need to and the penny drops. I know exactly what you mean by feeling a movement 'right there' rather than throwing all the aids at it and hoping for the best. :D
    and that trot video.......

    1. “And the penny drops” —> YES that’s exactly the feeling haha, and my favorite part is that it really feels like Charlie understands too

  2. I love this post, definitely been the same boat as you. With my first trainer, it never really sunk in the exercises had not only a dressage application, but I could take it to any other discipline to help the horse. If I'm not too off base with how I understood your post. I'm so happy Charlie is feeling so good!

    1. Ha yea everyone always likes to extol the benefits of cross training and drone on about how jumping is really just dressage with obstacles… but none of that is really true if I’m riding BAD dressage lol

  3. Finding the right person on the ground makes ALL the difference! So glad you and Charlie are really figuring out the flatwork. It will just make the jumping part that much easier too.

    1. Oh man I don’t really know how we fell into such a training abyss but it’s so nice to finally get lessons that feel progressive again. Really would love to get that same attention over fences too …. Maybe next year????

  4. The amount of time, energy, and thought you put into this big guy is truly admirable. So excited to see how things progress for you two!


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