Monday, March 27, 2023

more + better, forever

Sometimes it's hard find to fresh words describing the nitty gritty minutiae of riding low level dressage, considering I've been writing about (and riding!) the subject for, ya know..... damn near a decade LOL.

striking majestic poses in this doorway since '17
But. Eh. My blog, my rules. I like to write about the things I care about, the things that excite me. And right now? I'm excited, guys omg! Still in kinda a small, cautious, protective-bordering-on-superstitious way.... But. Excited none the less. Bc Charlie feels good.

looking quite handsome, sir!
He feels fresh, healthy and sound. And also.... possibly most importantly --- emotionally, Charlie seems really level right now, if that makes sense. Like, sure, we've had some 'fragile' rides since coming back into work, and it's still maybe a little too easy to trigger his defensiveness.

I also suspect, tho, that it's just part of the process. He's kinda got to learn that the pressure isn't actually uncomfortable, ya know? 

indoor lighting is so challenging for photography but we make do bc #learning
We are starting so so small, too. Riding with dressage trainer C is like a soothing balm. She's got this 'stream of consciousness' style of instruction that helps me just... Shut my brain off lol. 

There isn't enough processing power upstairs to listen to her, ride the horse, and think for myself lol. So I just surrender to the lesson. And, go figure, this makes a big difference in promoting relaxation and submission in Charlie, too. Funny how that works!

we are both concentrating so hard haha. and i'm still crooked!
She starts us with a lot of walking, including figures and lateral work. Then right on into trot, where we mostly ride large sweeping figures while she guides me to more effective positioning. 

Her sense is that Charlie likes to be kept active and engaged in the ride --- thus the frequent circles, diagonals, changes of direction, serpentines etc --- and that it helps him stay more 'on the aids' without me getting baited into picking on him.

d'aww look at that big 'ol boy <3
We worked a fair amount on leg yields at the trot -- especially on improving my feel of straightness on the outside aids. That was actually a recurring theme in a lot of the figure-work --- to be more aware and proactive in my connection to Charlie's outside shoulder, especially as we are moving from one direction to another. 

It occurred to me that I have intentionally (but mistakenly) been riding the wrong side of the horse in the early stages of a change in direction. Funny how non-intuitive riding can be sometimes lol.

cherry picked flattering angle, but lookie who can actually go a little uphill omg!
Lots of feedback along the way about staying level and even on both sides of the horse, continuing to improve my leg positioning, keeping my head centered (between the ears, Emma!), all the things. So much to think about lol. 

Lots of work on asking Charlie for 'little bursts' of forward intermittently (but predictably) through all the figures. We determined that Charlie responds better to a more 'sweeping' leg aid (like literally brushing my leg against the hairs on his belly) vs a bumping, tapping or nudging aid.

god he's such a good boy --- just compare this post-work posture to his trot above omg
this pic looks like somebody let all the air out of his balloon, but what's really exciting to me is that he let himself get so inflated in the first place, without tension resistance or struggle (or spurs or whip)!!
Only did a brief little bit of work in canter (all in the video below), but it felt good. Given the current state of both of our weaknesses, I'm experimenting a little bit with my seat in canter -- particularly as it relates to leg positioning. Trying to really feel my legs get long and down, and not clamped on the horse -- but also still more bend in the knee than maybe I think. 

Not sure yet how I feel about what it *looks* like lol.... But I think there was a little bit of progress on how it *felt*. Good 'nuff for now. So many parts of my posture need work (helloooooo elbows!) it'll just take time. And lessons, ahem lol.

lol proof he's spoiled rotten: he has actual peppermint crumbs in his hair lol
Once in canter, we tinkered a little bit with shallow counter canter loops. Which Charlie obvi did as perfectly as he's been taught by yours truly, considering we practice counter canter half circles almost every ride lol. I don't call him a 'counter canter savant' for nothing!

Last little exercise (also in the video, which includes our whole final little session of trotting leg yields, canter, counter canter, and then this) was going for some lengthened trot across the diagonals. And again, even tho he was tired, Charlie gave a really great effort!
And it's that sort of effort that I'm referring to when I drone on about Charlie feeling 'good.' Long time readers will remember that Charlie has always had some difficulties and defensiveness about being driven forward. He can be sulky and nappy and behind the leg. 

It can be a problem, ya know? Especially since that's Charlie's go-to behavior if something is bugging him or if he doesn't feel 100% comfortable. Which obvi then creates a vicious cycle effect, with me worrying about pushing Charlie, and Charlie worrying about being pushed... Kinda hard to make any sort of progress in that gray area, ya know? 

my goofy smooshy pony!! 
So in these lessons right now, when I ask for that little spurt of forward? That little 'boost' in his carriage? And he just.... goes on and does it?? Idk guys, it feels good. Feels promising. 

Or, at least, feels like the start of returning to routine. Which is basically my happy place anyway LOL. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, happy Monday, y'all!


  1. I for one appreciate you posting about the nitty gritty minutiae of lower level dressage! Y'all are looking great.

    1. ha thanks! as far as i'm concerned, this is the good stuff, it's why we keep at it -- those little steps of incremental progress, those little 'aha' moments of goodness!

  2. I really enjoy the lower level dressage minutiae, possibly because I'm a perpetual student of it too :)

  3. Okay, this is gonna sound weird, coming from me, a hunter princess... But I love that you're excited about dressage again! Having reliable flatwork just makes all the other stuff so much easier, and I'm excited that you're here for it now!
    Also, I love that Charlie is here for it too. I think he and Eros are very similar with their delicate emotions. E actually loves to do hard things on the flat. But he only wants to do them once, MAYBE twice and any more repetitions that that get him all worked up. I like that your trainer had you doing all kinds of different things to keep Charlie engaged emotionally.

    1. ha in fairness, i've never stopped doing flatwork with charlie. actually i'm pretty proud of his level of schooling on the flat, generally speaking. more specifically, however, i ride him almost exclusively in a bitless bridle (which is illegal in usdf dressage), and have been really really *really* careful about how baited i get into focusing too much on riding him 'on the bit' and/or 'in a frame' at the expense of letting him get behind my leg. that's mostly what i mean when i talk about 'dressage' vs normal flatwork. it's just a constant balance with this horse.... but other flatwork stuff like lateral work or figures or transitions and canter / counter canter etc, charlie's a downright pro!

  4. I thoroughly enjoy these kinds of posts too. Amazing how the engagement of changes of direction, circles, etc etc works for all types, it helps minimize Ben's spooking too. I'm also curious to try the sweeping type leg aid, honestly have never thought about that variation.

    1. charlie definitely likes to be kept busy vs getting into a rut. variety, it's a useful thing! and re: the sweeping leg aid, idk how i discovered that for charlie, but it's really crazy what a reaction the very lightest sweep (literally just grazing the hairs on his coat) can get, vs any sort of kick bump tap nudge etc. only difficulty is that it requires a bit more body control on my side hahasigh....

  5. Go Charlie! Fun to see you two having fun again.


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