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I've been thinking nonstop about what I wrote about TC's gaits the other day. It's been weighing on me like crazy. What has helped is looking at riders I admire on horses way nicer than mine and seeing that their horses are also not at the gaits standard. I mean, obviously, horses don't get 10s on gaits. Nothing I'd be able to ride at least.

But it doesn't change the fact that I need to improve his gaits. Here are the exercises I've already started using to improve his gaits, and ones that I'm planning on using!

This is the pasture he was in when I met him


1) Shoulder-in for days

Christine Traurig said that she rides everything in shoulder-fore and shoulder-in until she owns it. And I noticed that shoulder-in was probably the best thing for TC's trot quality, so I'm totally game to do this. TC is pretty good at shoulder-in, so I'm excited to also be riding some of these exercises in the shoulder-in realm too:
- walk-trot transitions within shoulder-in
- trot-canter transitions within shoulder-in
- shoulder-in to 10m circle to shoulder-in
- medium trot transitions within shoulder-in
- half steps within shoulder-in
- shoulder-in to renvers to shoulder-in
- shoulder-in to half pass staircase

Creeping on the baby horse
2) Canter Forward
A big part of the issue in TC's canter is that he essentially gets behind my leg while making me think he isn't because the canter is so freaking enormous. This leads to him putting his inside hind leg down too soon and pushing back at me with his neck and ruining the oscillation. The key is to ride more forward.

I mentioned how small the arena is (5m longer than a short court) and this is where it'd be nice to be in an overlarge arena so I could really let him go down the long side. I've been trying my best to do that at home and it has been helpful!

Here's some other variations:
- medium canter to collected canter transitions
- medium canter on a circle
- shoulder-fore in collected canter in the corner, develop medium canter in the same positioning down the long side

It's honestly just a bunch of leg-on-equals-go stuff. Can I put my leg on and get a response? Praise, rinse, repeat.

He loves wandering around the ranch

3) Counter Canter
The counter canter helps TC's canter get more under me and more controlled. He also can't lengthen as easily in the counter canter, so I can add power and let the movement keep him from leaving the situation.

I've been just schooling it around and around, but I have some other exercises that I might touch on too.

- counter canter serpentine
- 20m counter canter circle at E/B and turn off to 10m circles at each centerline
- counter canter figure-8
- counter canter loops (from 1-3)

Blending in!
I'm excited to have a lesson tomorrow to continue the hand harping. All of these exercises are great, but I can't properly execute them if I don't have my own body under control.

After that, my lessons will cease for a couple of weeks, I'm going to Michigan! And TC gets a nice vacation is his enormous paddock.           
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I had a couple of decent rides after my lesson. Not great rides, but decent ones.

My main goal has been to, of course, address the issues that arose in my lesson. I am finding it tricky to maintain TC's connection with all the changes in my hand position. As much as my new position is more correct than my previous one, TC is used to the previous one.

Struggle bus for me at the trot

So with higher hands means he's not coming up and over through his topline and reaching for the contact as much as he's dropping his wither and reaching upward to meet me. So I think I need to break out the clicker for this. Also maybe a long lining day where I put the lines up a little higher, help him understand how to respond to the bit on a different part of his mouth.

I got a bit frustrated feeling like I was just pulling him off the bit, but we persevered and it's honestly not as bad as it feels.

The canter feels great though, it feels better at home than it does at ASH, while the trot feels better at ASH than at home. So that's interesting. While the canter is really hard for both of us, I do feel like we're making major progress in it. He's moving so much better!

Ugh dressage is hard
I bit the bullet and rode some counter canter and did a couple of changes yesterday. The counter canter felt spectacular tracking right and decent tracking left. I can really feel how crucial this movement is going to be for his development. I want to get my eyes on it to see whether it looks like it feels (aka am I losing the split in the hind legs or the jump? Can't stop won't stop being obsessed with gait quality).

The changes are a hot mess, but we do have one from right to left. He still wants to be VERY croup high though, so I think that we're on the path of schooling the counter canter into oblivion and risking the change being difficult, rather than getting a change on now and then schooling the counter canter. Sucks because I love changes and didn't want to risk not being able to put them on if he thinks that he should only do counter canter. I think that won't be a big deal because 1) he's had a good introduction to them in that he knows they're a thing, 2) I pretty much school counter canter from a simple change on the rail vs going across the diagonal so he knows that difference, and 3) he's a boingy POS anyway so as long as I don't destroy his moment of suspension, he should be fully enthused to start them later.

He lost a bunch of weight in like... a week and a half, it was
really frustrating, he's getting fed more now but his butt is
all pointy still. 
We also have been schooling shoulder-in for days. I can feel him want to surge in it quite a lot, and I think that's him wanting to unload his hind legs. I carried a whip yesterday (keep forgetting mine in my trailer so I haven't been riding with it recently) and touched him lightly on the butt during the shoulder-in, that seemed to help him not push out toooo much behind.

It does feel like it has too much angle right now... I figure I'm going to ignore that for a bit, wait until I get in front of the mirrors. For now, anything sideways is probably helpful.

Also video is SO tough in this arena
Speaking of mirrors, I'm super ready to move barns. It's hard to ride on a daily basis in a small arena (it's 20m x 45m, so slightly longer than a short court) on a large horse. Sometimes you just need to go in a straight line for longer than 45 meters to get something done. I love being at that barn so much and it's been so much better than the barn we came from for a multitude of reasons, but I want mirrors, an outdoor to use my soloshot in, and larger spaces to ride. Still, I feel bad being excited to leave, I think TC would like to stay forever.

I finally measured his current paddock, it's over 100 feet long and 50 feet wide. I am so sad for him to leave it because he loves it so much. Sorry bud, I could move to the central valley and have all the land in the world to play in, but I wouldn't be able to do my job out there. Unfortunately you're not the one paying the bills so it's up to me where you live. I am glad that he's staying in it while I'm in Michigan. I think I'll reach out to this barn in the future when I have to leave for any longer period of time too. He'll be fine in a smaller space and will eventually be given a large paddock.
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This last weekend I had a lesson with my trainer! It has been so nice to take so many lessons. It's kind of ridiculous that taking three lessons in a month and half feels like absolute luxury to me, but that's how it is. I hope to continue!

The theme of our lessons recently has been for me to get my shit together and address all the bad habits I've developed in the last six or so months of having a very difficult horse to ride. I'm here for the hard work because I know that it will set us up on such a good path.

TC has luckily been a dream at home up until yesterday (where he got too excited to work because work = cantering in front of the leg and that = fun and fun = leaping through the air), so I was able to practice like crazy.

Megan, could you get any more weirdly
obsessed with this sport?
The good news is that some things have improved! The image above is of a whiteboard I have in my trailer. I write down bullets of what I heard a lot in lessons. The stars are what I heard on Saturday and the check marks are things I've heard in the past that I didn't hear on Saturday! If I don't hear them next lesson, I'll erase them and hopefully turn some stars into checkmarks and not add too many stars.

It was a tough lesson on everyone though. I had a tough time getting my body to do what Tracey wanted it to. TC had a tough time not being distracted by things. Tracey had a tough time wanting to rip her hair out after telling me the same thing a hundred times in fifteen minutes. Sorry Tracey, sometimes it just takes that long.

Hey Tracey, can you help me fix my defensive habits?



Tracey reminding me that I showed Grand Prix while
also asking me to keep my hands up

Tracey at the end of the lesson
The entire lesson could be summed up like this:

- keep my hands up
- keep my hands together
- keep my elbows in
- push my hands forward
- keep my left hand pushed more forward than my right hand
- slow his tempo down

There were moments of "stop doing that" "doing what" "what you just did with your [body part]" "what"

There was also this: "I don't mean to be snide... I guess I mean to be a little snide"

I think it's partially that I am kind of unfit after being sick and then switching gyms (I didn't realize how much it affected me until I went back and damn I'm weak). Partially that I just haven't had regular lessons in a long long time, and certainly not with someone who was quite so obsessive about rider position. And of course, it's the defensiveness.

One thing I did really appreciate though, was that when we went to canter, Tracey literally said she was so proud of me for all the work I'd done to fix my hand snatching into canter. I was so happy to hear that. I got to put a check mark on that. It's still a work in progress, but him being so good has helped me trust him again and not fall into that habit.

By the end of the lesson, I think the two of them were done with me. I was happy though. These lessons are absolutely crucial and I find joy in kind of digging into the stuff that should be easy but isn't.
This absolutely killed me
I'm working hard on all this for this week but will hopefully have a lesson in a few more days. As much as that lesson was incredibly helpful, I'd like to think that these are super fixable things that won't take me long to get back. It's all stuff I'm familiar with (nothing is brand new information, it's more about pointing out what my body is doing that my brain isn't aware of -  automated movement patterns that are incorrect VS actually learning new stuff) so hopefully I'll bounce right back.

In the mean time, TC continues to be the best horse. I'm working on all that gaits stuff I posted about yesterday so that he can continue to improve. If you missed that post, go check it out, it's one of my absolute favorite things I've posted on this blog.
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An alternate title for this post is "At Least He's Cute"

Fair warning, this is a VERY long post. There are gifs though.

I'm warning you
I'm studying for the L program with the materials provided right now and figured I'd post a little bit about what I'm reading. I'll eventually make a master post about studying (sorry I can't post them because they're copyrighted) and link any posts I write that were inspired by it.


The quality of the gaits section is FASCINATING to me, so fascinating that I decided to write an entire post about it and evaluate TC's gaits.

I've primarily been told very basic things in my past about gait quality. When you see a good walk, trot, or canter, you just *know* it's high quality. Good quality gaits take your breath away and bad quality gaits look uncomfortable for horse and rider. But the L program materials really break it down into the biomechanics of the way the horse moves. I, of course, became immediately curious about TC's gaits. He wasn't bred for his gaits and I bought him because of his mind and trainability, and got lucky that his gaits weren't bad.

For this post, I grabbed gifs from TC's first year undersaddle, his highest scoring Training Level test, his highest scoring First Level test, and from his Second Level (! only a schooling show !) test last year. All tests scored in the 70s and all had him at 7s on gaits or above. The Second Level test... we honestly weren't ready for it, so it's kind of Second-Level-Lite. I've also posted some random pictures throughout his time with me.

Look at that hind leg separation, we'll get to that later
Walk

The walk is a four beat gait with no moment of suspension. Because it has no suspension, this means that you cannot talk about impulsion in the walk, it doesn't exist.

When evaluating the quality of the walk, all four beats should be evenly spaced (the horse should form a V under their body on the same side), there should be good freedom in the shoulders and articulation of the joints, the neck should oscillate forward and back, and the horse should cover ground with overtrack. The horse should slink along using their entire body to walk.


Early On 


He was so dark! Okay so here we have baby TC (he had just turned 4, about 6mo undersaddle) schooling in the field at home (he now lives in that paddock you see on the left hand side at the end of the gif lol)

I'm seeing good Vs and good overstep, but a faulty oscillation. Rather than his walk going through his entire body and out through his nose, his nose nods downward and inward rather than forward and back. So if you cut off his body, his legs look like he's walking very well, but there's not the slinky quality that the judges are looking for, there's not enough freedom to it.



Training Level


This is right after trotting and includes some of the free walk.

Here we see maybe lesser quality Vs and overstep, but less faulty oscillation (not eliminated though) and more slink. He's walking through his body more rather than just using his legs, but because his body is so involved, and that is a weakness, I think the quality of the step itself went downhill a bit. Super interesting.


First Level

Okay so this gif starts juuust as I get into walk from a trot transition and you can see that the walk improves as time goes on, downward transitions have always been an absolute disaster with this horse for a miriad of reasons. At the beginning, you can't see the Vs as easily and he's not oscillating as much, though better than he was before for sure. He still has good overstep though. As time goes on, you can see him start to use his body more (esp in the free walk where he gets that freedom of shoulder finally).


Second Level


This is right after the rein back and before the free walk.

Now we finally see the horse moving better through his body, he's got his back involved and his nose isn't nodding quite so badly. He's using his shoulder so much more in the medium walk now too, something I didn't see before. And yet, the Vs still could be more present. And that's what we've been working on these days.


Overall Walk

I like TC's walk. I think he has a pure gait but that his issues with using his back and stretching to contact (stand by lol this is a THEME) have made things tricky. I like where he's at using his body and stepping into contact now, it's completely changed him. But we still have a long way to go to get his Vs more clear and find more slink. We are working really hard to add more power to his walk right now, and I think I know why. In that last clip, he is still hesitant to really let the walk go through his entire body, so now we're pushing him to do that.

There's some inside hind leg under body action, but hey Megan,
whatcha doing with that right rein?
Trot

The trot is a two beat gait with a moment of suspension.

When evaluating the quality of the trot, a horse should be active and elastic without losing the moment of suspension. The horse should reach under themselves with their hind legs and not put their hind foot down with the cannon bone near vertical (not reaching under themselves enough aka sewing machine trot, a term I snagged from an old trainer). The tempo should not be hurried or too slow, causing a loss of balance.


Early On 


So, with TC, I like how springy he is (even if my abs don't), he's got a great moment of suspension and good rhythm in the trot naturally.

The thing I'm going to focus on, which as been TC's main issues are this: balance and hind end engagement. TC's MO has been to rely on his knee action for balance and push his hind legs out behind him, which we can see here. I'm pretty impressed that baby TC does get somewhat engaged, but you can see how freakishly far back his front foot comes under me and how much he leaves his hind end out behind him. There may be the appearance of good swing, but it's very clear that he is pulling himself along on the forehand. That appearance is only there because he's *not* using his hind legs, he's just letting them float along behind him. Of course it's easy to swing hind legs when they aren't carrying any weight.

In pausing and repausing the clip, his front foot often doesn't leave the ground until it's behind my seat. And his hind foot lands just behind my seat as well vs under it. The hind foot stays on the ground far too long as well. This is indicative of him being on the forehand. Even though he's got that big front end to make you think otherwise.


Training Level


Okay this test sucked for trot work so you get it from the side.

The biggest change I see right away is that TC is WAY more balanced. His tempo is under control, he's not flinging himself across the ground as he was. He may not look as fancy, but the previous trot was completely disorganized, while this one is nicely put together in comparison.

His hind legs are still not landing under me at all. If anything, the organization has made him not come as much from behind and that's a common thing I think. Maybe if I were Charlotte Dujardin, I could take the above trot and organize it without losing quality, but it's apparent that we've lost some of his freedom and power by asking him to not be completely out of control. Let's see if I get it back at First level.


First Level


This trot section is just after I finished a leg yield and before going into a lengthening.

Oh hey, some more freedom! I'm loving the change between Training and First for the trot. You can see his confidence within the organization of his gait (steady, slower tempo in comparison to the early years) is rising and with that, we get some more power and elasticity. His lower back is way more free here than it was at Training level.

The disappointing thing about this is that the hind legs have not improved all that much. He is reaching under a bit better, sure, but he's still losing his hind legs out behind him.


Second Level


This is in between the shoulder-ins at 2-1.

Even at Second level, we still see TC's tendency to leave his front foot on the ground too long. BUT it's majorly improved. His front foot doesn't get to the back of my seat anymore, it stops about half way through me. Phew! We also see a huge change in how he's using his hind legs. They still aren't nearly as engaged as they need to be, his hind foot is reaching just under my heel, but I have stopped losing them out the back as much. If you look at how much he's pushing backward in his hind legs during this video vs the very first one, that's a huge difference.

Don't let me get too excited, check this out. If you look at this clip below, which is right after the medium trot, you can see that this tendency is still very much apparent.



Overall Trot 

I've always loved TC's freedom and suspension in the trot, but we're facing some MAJOR issues in the collection as he climbs the levels. He is basically on the forehand, even at Second level where he should be showing a collected trot.

It's not all a disaster though. First, we are trending in the right direction. I have managed to wrangle the hind legs a bit in all the training we've done. Second, it seems like lateral work is really helpful for him! The difference between his hind end after the medium trot and his hind end after the shoulder-in is stark. So we will definitely be living in shoulder-in for days and also being sure to ride several steps of it after any mediums we do, especially in schooling. I already have a TON of exercises in mind to get him using his hind end better

Last fall, lateral work does a pony good, I gotta get back on it
Canter

The canter is a three beat gait with a moment of suspension.

The horse should oscillate between hind and forelegs and the neck should be allowed to nod forward and downward when the horse is on the forelegs. The front legs and hind legs should be well separated and the hind legs should strike the ground before the cannon bones are vertical and all legs should leave the ground right after the cannon bones reach vertical (ESPECIALLY FRONT LIMBS, they do not pass vertical ever).

The canter should show scope, reach, and elasticity. Problems can be a lack of suspension so the horse appears flat (Maryism = not on round wheels), a lack of reach with the outer limbs.


Early On 

Left lead

Right lead

Oh hot mess of a baby horse. First, we see absolutely no (correct) oscillation of the neck and no movement through his back. Again, I started with very much a leg mover, just like we saw in walk and in trot. He does not naturally want to get his back or neck involved.

His inside hind leg reaches well, better on the left lead, and it lands with somewhat decent separation from his outside hind leg. His outside front leg stays on the ground way too long and both hind legs also pass vertical before being picked up. That all indicates that he's on the forehand. Just watching him, it doesn't appear to me that he's all that much on the forehand, time to change the way my mind decides if horses are on the forehand!

Training Level

Left Lead
Right Lead
Things again have improved in that TC can now ride a 20 meter circle without being completely out of control, but with this wonderful organization we see that he's lost some of the power and reach he had as a baby. His inside hind leg doesn't reach as much, though it doesn't fall back behind vertical anymore either. His outside front leg does fall behind vertical, indicating that he's still on the forehand at Training level.

The oscillation/use of his body is better here, you can actually see some neck movement. But like the walk, it starts with more nodding than oscillating (and more to the right than left, guess whose hands are worse to the left), which you can see here. It's good he's doing SOMETHING with it vs being frozen, but you can see how long it has taken me to get him to use anything other than his legs (and even those aren't used well in the canter).


First Level
Left Lead

Right Lead

Trending similar to the trot, we've now gained some power back but still not gotten nearly as much quality back . His hind legs aren't all that separated, though you can see that the inside one is not losing itself behind anymore (except a bit at the beginning of the left lead, which was right after the canter lengthening, which tells me that he's using the front end to push back vs sitting with the hind legs at the end of the lengthening).

Finally we're seeing almost normal oscillation of the neck and he's starting to use his back a bit better too. I don't hate his canter for First, but you can see that he's not at all thinking about collection at this point, and this was just a month before we debuted at Second in the schooling show.


Second Level

Left Lead

Right Lead

Here we're seeing way better reach with the hind legs on occasion. You can see he really wants to put that inside hind leg down early and does a fair amount, but that he is starting to use it to balance himself FINALLY. He's also got moments where the outside front leg doesn't get behind vertical! On occasion, he loses the verticality of the outside hind leg, but I think that one will take the longest for him. 

The oscillation in the collected canter will be less, but we do see that he's using his body way more than he did as a training level (and before then) horse. 

Outside front leg definitely not leaving the ground at vertical

Overall Canter

I think TC's canter has improved quite a lot, especially given that it is a harder gait to improve than th trot. Like I've said in recent posts, it's a REALLY difficult canter for me and I think we can see why. He started out so unbelievably disorganized and on the forehand. Like, if this horse didn't have that big neck, I probably would have fallen right off the front. I remember absolutely dreading working on the canter work every day.

But, the Second level canter gives me some hope. He isn't nearly there yet, but there are steps where he stays engaged and picks up his legs at vertical.

You can just tell that the inside hind leg is not going to come
under his body nearly enough
General Thoughts About TC

This was super fun, but SO ENLIGHTENING.

My first thought in getting to the end of this is: We. Are. Fucked.

After waiting a few days, I think that's me being dramatic.

TC manages to look way fancier than he is, and when breaking down the gaits like this, you can really see what his tendencies are while ignoring the flash that is his enormous gaits. I need to be way more on top of how he uses his hind legs. Way more.

Just like I fundamentally changed the way he used his body (from not-at-all to starting-to-get-there), I must now fundamentally change how he uses his hind legs. Sounds like a good project for this summer, fall, winter, and next spring before we actually go out at Second level, and then hopefully we'll be ready to go Third shortly after that.

Lateral work seems to help him, while the bigger medium gaits destroy any good work I got out of him. This means I can use the lateral work to help him get stronger and that I need to train his medium to collected transition like crazy.

Insanely on the forehand, but Megan, his withers are still above
his haunches, I know... don't buy a friesian
General Thoughts About Judging Gaits

In reading about judging, gaits are IMPORTANT. I knew this, but it was in a way more negative light in my mind. It's apparent that..
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I'm deep in the materials I got from the L program and have been writing future blog posts way more than current ones. But I did have two fabulous rides on TC yesterday and today and wanted to chronicle them.

TC continues to be a wonderful horse at his breeder's barn, of course. The feeder told me that she's seen him "run laps" every day, so I think part of him being wonderful is also him being a bit tired. I don't like hearing that he's galloping around on anything but perfect footing, so I'm going to just ignore it and pretend it isn't happening. But I am glad he's getting lots of exercise I guess... don't make me call the vet, asshole.

All he wants to do is live in pasture lol
I have a lesson tomorrow, and it's crazy because this is the first lesson where I feel like I've been able to legit practice what we worked on!

His walk is way easier to get forward now and he seems better able to confidently step into the bridle, two things Tracey has been on me about.

My hands have gotten way better and I'm sitting way more in the middle of the tack. I've been on it, making myself feel so uncomfortable every day, forcing myself to hold mane, and keeping an eye on my jacket zipper to line it up with his mane. It feels completely awkward but it's made such a difference!

TC is finding it so much easier to turn left. We've had such problems in that direction for as long as I can remember and it's actually gotten to the point where turning right is now the problem. That's always fun.

To the left it's all about keeping my right hand back and away from his neck. I tend to shorten it and get it too close to his neck, trying to almost indirect rein him to get him to turn. Instead, it's about allowing him to lengthen his body on the outside and bring his shoulder forward and around, which he can't do if I have a choke hold on the outside rein. THEN it's about pushing my left hand forward so I'm not sending him right quite so hardcore by bringing that hand back. And it feels like a miracle.

To the right, I need to ride him straighter, which has been hard in the small arena, but we are making progress. I need to sit to the inside, which is tough because he falls inward with his withers that way, so sitting in the middle makes me feel like I'm falling off the right side of him. But it's helping a ton and he is feeling way easier to ride that direction.

More random pictures from our trail ride the other day
The canter is getting better too. I'm drilling the transitions, making sure that he picks the canter up promptly from a light aid. It's easy to let him lumber into them for sure.

The canter is tough because he does tend to push back against me with his neck. I've been riding him more over the ground and working on transitions off my leg to get that response to go away. I think it's why he bucks, he gets so pushed back that the only way to get rid of it is to go up into the air. 

Getting the left side better has helped a ton at the canter too, it's now our much stronger lead suddenly. The right feels okay too, though I find myself wanting to get my outside rein too short and get it too close to his neck, gah! So I'm correcting that.


Super looking forward to taking a lesson tomorrow! And I'm still writing furiously about all that I'm learning from the L program materials. More on that next week, I'm loving all the free (well I paid $15 for it) blog inspiration.
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As TC settles down, I'm starting to think that his 8 year old year is going to be the best yet! He's not Rico (yet lol) but he's getting there.

Yesterday I woke up feeling kind of iffy, so I slept in and worked from home to make sure that I wasn't having a relapse of mono (it's apparently a thing and I'm still in the three months where it's likely). The perk of working from home means that I have extra hours, so I opted to take TC on a trail ride at the barn.

The south bay
I say the word trail... but it's more of just walking around the (gated) neighborhood. TC wasn't so enthused to go at first, which I didn't blame him for. The trail starts out with a long climb up a hill away from all his friends and into the neighborhood where there aren't any horses for a while. Then we get most of the way up and see a deer, which freaked him out, then a gardener, who shouldn't be allowed, and finally a man moving a sign, which he should be fired for, according to TC that is.

After we turned toward home, TC calmed down and nothing really bothered him after that. I don't know what he thinks, that I'm just going to ride him forever away from home and he'll never see his paddock again? No dice.

It was a really nice ride though! I had this realization as he was spooking on the road that I'm really not afraid of him anymore. Not that I feel like I've been afraid of him any time recently, but I think I was remembering back to when he was young and unpredictable and everything. Being back at his breeder's has made me think a lot about our past.

This is my one horse power vehicle
Then today I hopped on him bareback to walk around the ranch. I've ridden him bareback sometimes, but was always pretty careful/willing to jump off at any moment. I didn't realize how comfortable I was on him bareback now until I got almost all the way out to the busy road and was still on a loose rein, playing with my phone. Then we walked back and a huge trailer passed us and we both stayed relaxed.

Maybe this is nothing new and I just haven't felt it in a while, but I do think he's turned a page in terms of his maturity. He's always been kind of immature for his age and his silliness is just big because he's big. But at least at this barn, he's got this quiet zen-like attitude. Summer camp kids have been racing around yelling, dogs have been loose and barking around him, there are goats and donkeys and minis all over. And he's just totally fine with everything, just curious. I love it! Hopefully he doesn't backslide too much when he's in the smaller paddock at our new barn in August...
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I wanted a lesson this weekend but it didn't end up working out. TC's shoe got put back on Sunday, and while he was sound and totally fine without the shoe, he had also grown foot like no other and was insanely long by the time he even lost the shoe last week. So I skipped the lesson and just enjoyed my horse (and taught a ton of lessons) this weekend.

TC continues to be an absolute dream at his breeder's barn and I'm so happy they were able to make room for him. Everyone is so excited to see him (it's been nearly four years since he was there!) and has been telling me stories. My favorite is that TC refused to be born in the foaling stalls. They apparently took his mom inside several times thinking she was going to foal and then put her back out. They found him one morning happy as a clam out in the pasture. No wonder he hates barns, he literally had a shelter for the first time when I bought him. 

We used to ride in that field!
Because he was going to get his shoes done on Sunday morning, I opted to do mostly walk work on Saturday. We went all over the property, even to the neighbor arena that we rode in so often when he was a baby. He was a little nervous over there but kept his head and was happy to explore a bit. Then I rode him Sunday evening and he was great! 

I've been *actually* getting to work on the stuff we've been doing with Tracey, as well as my biomechanics. The arena is small and the footing is a bit deep in a corner and a bit shallow in another, so it's the perfect arena for relatively easy work on circles instead of trying to ride movements/etc. I figure it's a great month to just work on easy stuff while we both get back into shape and then when we move, we'll be ready to do more! 

Mostly on the docket for me is getting my bear down a bit stronger/more consistent, getting my hands more organized, and sitting trot for days. For him, it's forward in the walk, higher tone in the trot and canter, and addressing the straightness (getting him more into the right rein essentially). 

Fifth of July beach clean up at work!
Monday's ride was wonderful too. We mostly worked on trot-canter transitions, trying to clean them up for Tracey so we can move on (she has no problem dropping me down to Training level until everything is perfect again lol). The transitions were quite good to the left as long as I kept thinking about sitting right and getting my right seat bone down and on him. The downwards are rough, as all downwards are right now after a winter of telling him to stop on a dime because he kept taking off with me. He's having to learn how to stay under himself again and this is especially bad in the canter to trot transition.

I've also been thinking a lot about how different he is in either direction and how that has changed in the last month or so. For the longest time, tracking left was impossible and I couldn't steer him. Now that's the way easier way for me and I feel like the steering to the right is trickier. He's way easier to compress going to the left, he gets real long and his gaits get big when tracking right. To the left, I can really ride him up and out while keeping him back on his hocks.

So we schooled some forward and back in all gaits and we got some really good work! I want to get his medium canter up to par, but the arena is a bit too small to school it. My goal here is to get the response down pat (since he will either take off with me or will push back at me and sproing off the ground.
Neighbor cows on July 4th
It's beyond fun to see him so confident and relaxed. And working on what I've been taught feels like a luxury. I'm hoping that we maintain this quietness when we move in August! 
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Beginning the L program this fall is something I'm super looking forward to, but frequently forget about! In fact, I was reminded recently that I was going to be in this program because I was being signed up for a conference in October so had to check my calendar and saw it on there. Oh yeah, that thing I'm doing.

Soon I will be the L grad behind that booth at a schooling show
having to watch a Gold Medalist get run away with in Training 2

One thing I'm doing right now to prepare is figuring out how much all this will cost me. I am committed to it, but if it's going to cost me a fortune, I'll back of lessons or shows or hustle up more teaching/overtime. I'm not the only horse person on a pretty strict budget, so I'm sure I don't have to explain more.

The program itself is $1,000. This is only for Part 1, I assume that Part 2 will cost me even more. But for now, this is just for getting through Part 1.

I've paid the $550 deposit and owe the other $450 by September 15th.

The other program related cost is the $15 I paid to gain access to the study materials (my next L-related post will be on them, I promise). After that, it's just getting me down there and keeping me alive while I'm there!

And I'll be the one writing "good for you" as I give that rider
an 8 on rider position hahaha

I am very lucky to have found an L program on the west coast. A lot of them happen on the east coast and I've only seen one within driving distance of me and that was when I was in grad school so couldn't swing it (so many regrets). This one is in Arizona, so it's too far to drive, BUT it is way cheaper to fly to than the east coast, takes way less time (I don't have to miss any work), and requires no time change. So I'm sold.

There are three separate sections, they are on a Saturday and Sunday in October, November, and January of next year. I've mapped out the prices for the October session and figure that the other two will be similar.

This was when he was nuts at a show too, but as he ages, he
has gotten way prettier when he is being nuts
Flights
Obviously these might vary considerably, but flying out on Friday and back on Sunday is always going to be a bit more expensive. When I was flying back and forth from PGH every freaking month, I would always try to get the cheapest flights no matter what, even if I had to get up insanely early or fly in on a Tuesday and out on a Saturday. This time, I'm kind of stuck, although I can fly down there any time on Friday because I can work on the plane.

As of right now, round trip flights are looking like they're going to be about $400 each. I honestly think I can get that lower when I do go to buy them because those are prime times on Southwest and I have found that shittier airlines with basic economy (so no checked bags, not necessary) at terrible times to fly are way cheaper than Southwest. But we'll use this to project.

For the three sessions, flights are going to run me $1200.


Hotel
I've looked into hotels and airbnbs in the area and am finding them to be kind of all over the map. I don't need anything fancy, but Friday and Saturday nights are definitely more expensive even at the least fancy places. I'm hoping to find cheaper hotels (or see if someone wants to split a hotel as we get closer), but I'm going to guess that I'm looking at $100 per night.

For the three sessions, that's $600 for hotel rooms.


Transportation
I'm running numbers to decide on how transportation is going to work. If I can swing staying at the same place as someone else is and carpooling (going to contact the organizer before I buy anything related to that), this cost will come way down. But renting a single car for myself is going to run about $80 and then gas in that car will be about $20 for the weekend. I still need to run Uber numbers but I'm fairly certain that renting a car is way easier.

For the three sessions, I'm looking at $300 for transportation.


Food/MSC
I'm guessing that my hotel will cover breakfast for Saturday and Sunday and that the program will provide lunch. So I just need dinner for Friday and Saturday, and probably Sunday at the airport. I also buy a magnet wherever I go, so I'll be getting one from the airport. I'm also guessing I'll forget something or what not, so I'm going to leave $100 per trip (even though I only need one magnet) for food and whatever I forget to bring.

I'll be tacking on another $300 for the program for food, a magnet. and being a forgetful traveler.


Offset the Cost
I've been saving travel points on my credit card for a LONG time. I mostly wanted to use those to go to Europe but *surprise* that's not an option for me. I just don't have the means to swing a Europe trip any time soon and I'm sick of those points being there just reminding me of every life choice I've made that has determined that this won't be a possibility for me (it's in a paddock at the barn and I'm not upset about it). I've decided to use them all up to offset the cost of this program. I think it's a really good use of the points that is more representative of how my life actually is. I'll make it to Europe when someone else wants to pay for me to go.

I have nearly $1500 in points saved up as of writing this post. I'll have more by January, but let's just call it $1500.
He can be not nuts at a show too
The Bottom Line

My projected expenses are as follows:

Program: $1,000
Materials: $15
Flights: $1200
Hotel: $600
Transportation: $300
Food/MSC: $300

Total Cost for Part 1: $3415

Offset: - $1500

Total Cost out of Pocket: $1915


We'll see if that's actually how much it costs! I'll post something like this after the program is done to see how different it is. I feel pretty good about those numbers. I'll have already paid the $1015 by the time I have to buy flights/hotel/etc, so that's only $300 per weekend. Not bad for an amazing education!
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Even though the lesson went so well, the next few days did not. I worked all weekend preparing for and then giving a pony club rating and that, for some reason, really exhausted me.

Happiest pony
 TC got both of the weekend days off, which is a bummer. I try to take advantage of the weekends when I have a more flexible schedule! But the rating ran later than I expected and by the time I got to the barn, I had zero energy to do anything but turn him out on Sunday night.

Monday came and I decided to sleep a little bit and go long line him instead of hauling him out. Unfortunately the round pen was super dry and super deep even right after watering. It was really a bummer, I ended up putting him away and vowing to come back with my trailer in the afternoon. My poor boss only got me for 6 hours (and then 2 hours that night to make up for it) before I zipped out to go ride TC. 

He has an enormous paddock (for now, poor guy will be in a
smaller space soon)

Upon getting there, I found that once again, TC was being fed the wrong thing. That made me feel that weird feeling you get when you're super angry but also acknowledge that you are absolutely helpless. I can't tell you how many times I've contacted the barn about this, I have never heard back from them about it. 

Right as I was about to mentally break right the hell down about the situation again, I reminded myself that this was temporary. I had texted the BO at my old barn and asked him if there was an opening (since it was July 1st), hopefully he would get back to me and say that there was. And what do you know, as I was teetering on the line between sanity and absolute shenanigans, a text saying that there was space at the end of July appeared. 

HALLE - fucking - LUJAH 

But, that's not until the end of July. And I still felt like I needed a change more immediately due to the barn's refusal to feed my horse what he needs to get fed. On Tuesday morning of this week, I stopped by TC's breeder's place to see if there was a spot I could have temporarily. And there was! So TC is, as of yesterday, hanging out at his breeder's barn until the end of July. Also can I just say, they responded immediately to my 30 days notice email.

Such a familiar view! I used to put him in this
paddock next to the arena to eat grain

TC is the happiest I've seen him since we moved back to the area! I don't know if horses can feel nostalgia, but he definitely seems to. He unloaded and sniffed the road like a dog for a while, then took a deep breath. I immediately put him in his temporary paddock, which backs up to a pasture where his childhood babysitter lives.

That horse came over and TC regressed further. He bit his face and butt a few times until BFF decided to walk away and stand with the other horses and just watch TC. TC was NOT OKAY WITH THIS. He started galloping away from them, trying to entice them to play, then trotting back all angry like. He did this until I decided to take him out to ride him before he exhausted himself. He lost a shoe in the process but his back feet don't actually need shoes unless we're trail riding tbh.

Mad his childhood bff won't play with him

I longed him and he was a bit distracted, but totally relaxed. Same thing undersaddle. He was so good though, no spooking, no bolting, no bucking, NOTHING. The worst thing he did was pop his head up  to look at something a couple times.

Same thing this morning! No noise muffling bonnet necessary. I had to grab a whip to borrow and I need to remember to bring my spurs tomorrow!

It's beyond amazing to immediately have my horse back. I'm stoked to be able to start rebuilding the last nine or so months and am REALLY EXCITED to start sleeping in past 5:30 when I want to ride. No more hauling over to the ranch unless we want to. 
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I had a lesson with Tracey last Friday and it was great! A lot of it was a bit of a repeat from last time, and I expected that. I like when there's clear overlap in my lessons, it's not that I like paying for the same lesson twice, but I do like knowing that there's a clear pathway and that Tracey is helping me walk down it. And that's what it felt like.

I got WAY less harping on about my hands, which made me happy. There wasn't NO hand harping, but it was way better. Phew, even with all the weirdness about how different TC is at her barn vs when I ride him at home or at the ranch, I did manage to get better at riding.

He's like "uh, could we maybe go on this trail
instead of doing the fancy prancing?"

Walk Work

We started off walking, using the whole arena. Tracey immediately got on me about pushing him a bit more forward, which is something we talked about last time. She actually told me that she was being nice to me last lesson and that she wasn't going to stand my lazy walking bullshit (my words, she wasn't that mean) this time. He's just NEVER behind my leg anywhere but this barn (at least not right now), so it requires an immediate adjustment.

As I got him more forward, in the back swing in walk, my hands were coming back over the pommel and I was instructed to not let them get back that far. I overdid this and then got told to bend my elbows. There is just no winning in dressage, right? No there is not.

TC also needs to step into the contact a bit more willingly at the walk, he has a very good walk but I won't get the 8s on it that we should be getting without him being a little more confidently marching into the contact.
I stopped by a tack store over the weekend and
met the most concerned little doggo
Trot Work

Into trot along the rail and we looked at my corners. I haven't ridden corners since... last fall. How ridiculous. So I was told he needed to yield his rib cage better in the corners. This was especially true to the left, which makes sense, as that hind leg has been difficult to get under him in the past.

We looked at the quality of the trot first. She mentioned last time that we needed to start really getting on his case about more collection. His gaits are just too big to not be collected all the time. I just kind of really like feeling his gaits when we're at her barn because he's so relaxed there... so I've been riding a gigantic trot around with a big stupid grin on my face while Tracey shakes her head at me. So I got my shit together and half halted to bring the trot more vertical and his hind legs more under him.

That made a huge difference in rideability and I had a lot better feel on the outside of his body. But then he lost a bit of tone in the collected work. This is apparently a friesian thing. The hind legs want to trail and the front end gets big. So I need to be able to make his trot smaller while maintaining tone. I think this is what Alexis was seeing in the videos I showed her, but the way Tracey described it just burrowed itself into my brain a little bit better.

To play with this, we did some spiraling in and out. I needed to get his outside shoulder to come around a bit better in this exercise and to keep him upright (vs motorcycling) while tracking right. I got a nice pat on the back when Tracey said that while TC wasn't totally upright (since all horses lean one way or the other), he was quite upright for a horse at his level. That was good to hear! He certainly felt good.

This is Kate's dog and also an accurate depiction
of how she feels about me
Canter Work

I'm pleased to say that the canter work was way way better than last lesson. I mean, it's still an absolute dumpster fire, but I'm hosing it down with water now rather than with oil.

The transitions are trash. At home they are rather explosive, where he will anticipate the transition, get sick of waiting, squeal loudly, and take off into them. To combat that, I've developed an obnoxious habit of snatching a rein when I feel him go to pick up the canter. It works at home because I can prevent him from really getting away from me. At Tracey's barn it just brings him off the bit.

I basically had to grab mane, like a tiny child (and also almost anyone who rides with me is instructed to do this lol), to keep my hand from coming back and retrain that pattern. It was stupid difficult.

In addition, and I find this even stupider, my aid was way too big for the canter. This has been an issue for me. I don't know if it was years riding lazy green horses or that I can't get my shit together generally, but I really go for it with swinging my leg back. This is especially apparent to the left. I did it with Rico and got harped on by Tracey at the time too. Oh well.

The canter itself felt like crap in comparison to Thursday's glorious canter. It's just that his engine there is lacking. I'll figure that out later though, the canter was better than last lesson and I'm hoping that we'll be able to start really focusing on it once I have all my shit together.

This is my dad swinging in a swing that my
parents got for their property and it fills me with
such joy lol 
We chatted a bit about the issue with his home barn. She is in favor of moving him too. I told her I wanted to move him to her barn for a few months but there was no room and she said she'd check with the owner as well.

Then we got on the topic of him in general. I told her I felt like I always struggle with his canter work. She said of course I do, his canter is enormous and disorganized, but that there are good moments where he really connects, he just needs some more time in it. According to Tracey, TC in general is a very difficult ride and she commended me for taking my time to help him work against his conformation/tendencies.

He is big, both in his body and his movement, and it's harder for him to package himself up, that plus he generally wants to keep his hind legs out behind him makes dressage really hard. I'll step in and say that it is way easier when he isn't in that quiet trance he seems to get into when he's at her barn, but he packages himself with tension at home so there's really no winning I guess.

It made my ego feel good that she thought he was a difficult ride, because I do feel like I've struggled with him more than on any other horse. Everything else I ride feels way easier than he is. I told her that I was happy to have him and to learn from him, even if I was planning on buying something a little less difficult next time around. He still gives me the best feeling I've ever gotten from a horse, and I also think he's fucking hilarious. Worth it.

She did say that she was happy with where he's at. Even though she was on me about various issues, she did say that he's going very well right now, that she's so pleased at how much he's calmed down (he used to be very spooky, poor Tracey has seen some shit with him), and that she likes his attitude with the harder work - nothing seems to piss him off or scare him, he just tries harder when I ask him for hard stuff.
Dressage court wandering before our lesson
I'm so happy to be back in lessons with her! Tracey is one of my favorite instructors in the world and I'm glad to have such excellent help. I can't wait until we're back to where we were last year so that Tracey can push us along toward the upper levels. It will take a very long time to gather up this giant horse and organize him, but it will be worth it.

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