Tuesday, April 19, 2022

another lesson

It's been a couple years now since I've considered my horse pretty much "trained." By which I mean: he's reliable, consistent, and capable of "doing the thing" in a predictable and reasonably correct manner. 

Charlie can go long, or go short. He can jump basically any style of jump. Execute just about any imaginable variation of course or grid. He's been there, done that, and has been pretty darn fun along the way. I like it! 

cantering my little pony around
Tho. There are two kinda big caveats to that whole point of view: 

Numero uno: Yes, he's trained. But... "trained" to the maximum of my own abilities. Which you can take to mean whatever you like, but I understand this to mean that I've taught the horse basically everything I know. And we've crossed into the territory where he's kinda figured out everything I *don't* know too haha. 

legit the first oxer we've jumped for this new trainer
In some ways, this means he's gotten better than me. Like his eye is better than mine, he probably reads a distance better than I do. In other ways.... Well, my ability (or lack there of) is more of a limiting factor for him. 

Which is kinda the whole basis of my second caveat: Charlie doesn't have his own discipline. Well, let's be real, NO horse does, right? Horses aren't out there sketching up a calendar for the year, marking down a training plan. Capitalizing on good ground conditions for high intensity cardio, or fitting in the stretching and weight lifting of dressage bc it's important and we have to even if it kinda sucks. 

same warm up fence, just higher and vertical. also a nice example of why oxers are useful for charlie lol
I've made a big deal of "kinda giving up on dressage" for a couple years now, too. Mostly bc.... I kinda suck at it. I have a habit of getting drawn into riding the front of the horse at the expense of... well, everything else. Which, as you might imagine, creates a behind-the-leg horse that isn't super fun to jump. And since Charlie is my jumping horse.... Eh, I've prioritized, right? 

oooh guys, charlie learned a new trick and is pretty into it!
But the pendulum always swings back again. Everything old is new again, and some lessons just don't stay learnt. For right now, that means I'm figuring out that "trained" isn't the same thing as "fit." Charlie KNOWS how to do literally everything I want him to do. Inside and out, front to back. Eyes closed and a hand hoof tied behind his back. 

But physically? Ehhhhhhhhh let's just say his topline needs work, yes? And sadly, it turns out you can't just pay the vet for another injection to build that muscle LOL.

jump 1 on course --- another oxer yay!
I wrote a little bit about my thoughts on that in my last post. And... Ya know. It turns out, hill work and walking probably aren't a silver bullet for a horse that is.... turned out on hills for 12hrs a day. Maybe for a horse that doesn't get as much turn out in as giant of a pasture with as many other horses as Charlie gets, it could be a game changer. Actually -- it WOULD be a game changer for Charlie if this wasn't his lifestyle bc I'm 99.9% positive he would not be a sound horse without it. 

We need something more tho. The next step. Which, for right now, for us, for me and my skill level and with the available patience and tolerance of my sweet-but-kinda-sick-of-my-shit OTTB... Means... Ugh. Flatwork

fun with fillers
Rather than thinking of our flatwork days as "dressage" rides where we endlessly cycle through 20m circles and test patterns or movements..... I'm trying to be better about shifting more quickly between exercises -- and therefore muscle groups. So, not just trotting straight for 5, 10 or 20min, like one might also do in a "fitness" ride, I want to be better about switching gears. 

And it's all the same usual stuff, too, right? Transitions. Transitions within gait. Transitions between two gaits -- or three gaits! More halts, more rein backs. More lateral work. And all while *round* and *in front of the leg.* Theoretically LOL.

jumping in all sorts of quiet, about to chop in a 3rd without breaking a sweat in this 36' distance....
Again, obviously none of this is new. But it takes some discipline to think it out. Not only to remember and stick to the plan... But to have fun with it and make it fun for Charlie too. 

Like... In the past, when I've thought about rapid fire transitions and shifts between exercises... I maybe focused too heavily on the "rapid fire" part -- at the expense of frazzling and frustrating Charlie when I wanted him to be snappy despite possibly muddled aids from me. So now I'm trying to keep everything smooth and clear. Making sure that -- at all times -- Charlie understands what I'm asking, and understands that he is being good even as I continue asking for more and different things. 

then back around the turn for another 3, but this time over 48' lolz... who said charlie wasn't adjustable?
So far, so good tho. At least, I hope haha. And we got a nice proof of concept in our most recent lesson with trainer-on-trial new trainer Kelly. We shipped out to Tranquillity, and she ran the lesson a bit like a show simulation: everyone warmed up by riding a figure-8 over the same jump over and over again while she built it up in height and width etc. Then we went out and rode the actual course cold. 

On one hand, I feel like Charlie and I have extensive experience with this style of ride, considering we probably competed more than we lessoned last year.... But eh, it was fun. Not perfect, obviously -- Charlie was bored and sassy about all the repetitions over the same one warm-up jump (see the above pic of his "new trick" for reference lol...). Plus we chopped in the add in the 2 stride in and out after I botched a turn on the actual course.... 

Actually, tho, overall it felt pretty good. The jumps were all somewhere between 2'9 and 3', and were all pretty ho hum. Charlie was in a nice rhythm. Felt close enough to 'in front of my leg' to be good 'nuff. The jumps came up nicely for the most part, and any adjustments otherwise weren't too too dramatic. Ya know. Basically just a solid course. For us, lol. 

And it's cool, ya know? It's kinda crazy to think about, but... where Charlie and I are right now is... Actually somewhat new territory for me. For my entire riding history, I've either been learning to ride on something experienced, been the experienced rider on a horse learning its job, or been trying to move up with a horse I made myself. I've never actually cruised at altitude tho, if that makes sense. 

But that's our goal now. Was actually last year's plan too -- tho first I had to sorta learn how to have fun and be relaxed again after two years working on a failed move up. And it's actually kinda exciting! Kinda nice to just work on the details, just enjoying it and getting better at it.