Monday, November 30, 2015


sick enough to think this was a good pic. can't explain.
Holla everyone. I'd say happy Monday, but I'm only halfway through my coffee and I blew through my Black Friday wad already, so less celebrating and more crossing-fingers-cyber-monday-kinda-sucks.

Anyways. I'm still sick (wtf body), the temperatures are single digit lows with teens/low 20s highs, and my world is covered in snow and ice. Actually, maybe my body is on to something. Let's hibernate!


More importantly, the ridiculous and stupid weather has meant one thing: INDOOOOOOORS. No kidding y'all. This is why I put up with crazy people and board at a busy barn. Almost no one else comes out to ride with a RealFeel of 9f, so Courage and I are putting in the time.

Due to the whole sick-cold-medication thing, I have been lunging Courage some to make sure I don't die. 

I'm feeling the black and teal. And Martingale. <3 martingale.
Don't let me fool you either: I don't think I've cantered in a week or ten days at this point. Instead, we're working on working through tension, creating swing, and coming back to me after he spooks out of his skin at that divot in the sand (yes, again. it's scary EVERY TIME. i need to remember to kick dirt over it today.)

It's not glamorous, but these are the building blocks I need to put in place to make first level a reality next year.

my new obsession
So. Gold star if you survived the first round of holidays, the deep freeze, or this post. I'm excited to be back in the routine, so we can do stuff like learn how to wrap these:

And other fun things.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Holiday Haiku

For Nicole's blog hop contest:
Horses are the best
Friends. And people make life
All that much sweeter. 

Training by myself
With my thousand pound best friend
Gives me focus now
The luckiest one
Is me. Health, freedom, country.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

25 Questions, Now With My Answers

Cathryn at That Red Mare started a fun blog hop to let us get to know our favorite bloggers a little better. I've loved reading everyone else's answers, so I'm having a whirl.

1. Mares or Geldings? Why?
100% geldings. I did mares. Never. Again.
she was a pretty thing
I agree that a good mare can be a good horse, but do you know what is so much easier to get than a good mare? A GOOD GELDING.

2. Green-broke or Fully Broke?
Oh, fully broke ALL.THE.WAY. I'm poor and will start with greenies for the rest of my life, but I am oh so happy when they start acting broke.

3. Would you own a "hotter" breed (ie. Arabian, Trakhener, etc).
I have a rule against Arabians. I can't afford Trakheners. My favorite Arabian quote came from an old school vet. An Arabian owner asked if a procedure could cause brain damage to his horse. Vet responded "Could you even tell?"

Ahem. I do have friends who have Arabs and they seem to love them. That is great. For them.

4. What was your "dream horse" growing up?
Oh, totally an Arabian.
this arabian
5. What kind of bit(s) do you use and why?
It depends on the day. I collect bits constantly and love rotating them and playing with them. Right now, Courage goes in a sprenger kk ultra eggbutt, a knock off of that bit, and an ancient old single jointed d that's thicker than my thumb. Fun fact: he likes the last one best.

6. Helmets or no helmets?
Helmet. Every time, every ride.
except on very rare, very special, very supervised occasions
7. Favorite horse color?
Oh my. I love a good chestnut. The right shade of bay. I'm very pro buckskin. A dark, dappled palomino. A dapple grey as long as someone else keeps it clean. Anything with chrome.

8. Least favorite horse color?
I don't like blue eyes or cremello/dilutes. I don't like my horses to have chrome on their bodies, but heads is ok.

9. Dressage or Jumping?
Depends on the ears you're looking through. If in doubt, dressage.
no doubt
10. How many years have you been riding?
I rode in lessons from 9-17, then break for college. Now riding again and well past college, but not doing that math for you.

11. Spurs/whip or no spurs/whip?
I like spurs OR a whip, personal preference for spurs. Imo, if the critter needs both, I don't want to be riding it. Or doing that sport. Especially with that horse.

12. Your first fall?
I honestly don't even remember. I started riding on a 25+ year old morgan gelding who jumped 5' in a previous life and then gave lessons. He had a wicked dirty stop and it caught me off guard lots of times.
also came off this creature a lot, but i loved her

13. When was the last time you rode and what did you do?
Yesterday. We toodled. It's a very important part of our training plan. TOODLING. Look it up.

14. Most expensive piece of tack you own?
ummmmm. Dressage saddle, if you count the upgrades? It still clocks in at barely over 1k. I day dream about French saddles, but they aren't happening for a long, long time.
mmmm sparkles
15. How old were you when you started riding?
The ripe old age of 9.

16. Leather or Nylon halters?
Leather for me, the happy absent boarder. Nylon for day to day/barn help use.

17. Leather or Synthetic saddles?
My first saddle was a wintec that I saved up for and bought when I was a kid. I loved it very much. I finally sold it because I loved leather more than sentiment and I haven't looked back.

18. What "grip" of reins do you like?
I'm really not a rein snob. I have average size hands and can let my open fingers slip any material or thickness. My preference at the moment is for rubber-lined leather reins and I really want to get some with stops, but I also don't want to shell out for new reins. I also love nunn finer soft grip reins, all my PS reins, and the occasional laced rein.

19. English or Western?
English to work, western to toodle. Mostly because I have zero affinity for western saddles and don't really understand how to get in them, stay in them, or get out of them.
plus fun to have a different look
20. How many horses do you currently own/lease?
Own 1. That is the best number for me. My obsessive energy gets confused when it goes in more than one direction.

21. Do you board your horse? Self-care/full board? Home board?
Board with mostly-full-care. Sometimes work off some of board. I've done self care (not a fan). I used to think I wanted my own place, but I really love all the amenities of boarding without having to take care of them, so who knows. I think my best boarding experience was working off board at a private farm with no crazy people. That was amazing.

22. Have you ever had to put down a horse that you loved?

23. How many saddlepads do you have?

24. Slant-load trailer or straight haul?
I don't have a trailer. Courage loads well in most slants. Haven't tried him in a straight load because none of my hauling friends have one.

25. Why do you ride?
Riding gives me direction, channels my passion, teaches me life lessons, and gives me something to connect to. When everything else is out of control, riding centers me. 

Gotta do something with all that crazy to keep normal people from seeing it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Teach Me Tuesday: Expensive Pants

all of a sudden, this pic is so risque
As I got ready for my first ride in the clinic a week ago, I realized that my thigh felt cold and kind of wet when I put my breeches on. Weird, right? Then I checked why.

No, I hadn't wet myself. (JUDGY PANTS=OFF)

Actually, I could literally see through the full seat material in my Piper breeches. Nuts.

back when they were newer
I received these breeches on 4/13/15 and by 11/14/15, they were on their last usage. Now, in fairness, I only own two pairs of full seats, so they were in the rotation a lot more than the kneepatch breeches (which have not worn through), but it also means that one pair of pants lasted 7 months.

That is not a lot of months.


Talk to me about expensive pants. How long do your breeches last? What do you pay for them? How often do you ride?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Project Video

Y'all know that video makes me cringe, but I am forcing myself to take it, watch it, and learn from it. So. Here's a few snap shots of where Courage and I are lately on the road to first level.

Here's day one of the clinic we did two weekends ago:

First we worked on creating suppleness and quality in the trot

Then canter in both directions

The next day (you can tell from my fabulous outfit!), we added in leg yields.

And we worked on more correct canter transitions and position.

But I can't ride in clinics all the time. This past week (wearing good luck gameday colors that did NOT pan out), I threw all of that out the window and rode poorly on my own.


In fairness, while it wasn't a great piece of riding by me (and I asked for video solely so I could get a good gameday screenshot to instagram), there are moments in the trot and canter that have some good quality. Even with whatever-it-is I'm not doing in the saddle.

It's not fantastic, but I keep reminding myself that not only does this help me progress now, but also I'm building a library for comparison for the future. Then when I feel bad about how I'm riding, I can be like "but LOOK what I used to be like in 2015". ;-)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Socially Awkward Equestrians United

non horsey people don't understand
Because I've met some of you, I know that I am not the only socially awkward equestrian out there. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the reason most of us manage to blend in to non-horsey society at all is because we have online pony friends and blogs that let us scratch the itch so we can have occasional non-horsey conversations with co-workers and relatives and neighbors. 

But that still leaves us as a little socially awkward. 

For example: you possibly remember when I signed up for a dressage clinic at the fanciest barn in the area with a VERY BNT this spring. 

And then Courage wouldn't get on the trailer and I had to make this super-humiliating phone call (yes, AFTER introducing myself to the clinician while auditing) to say we weren't coming. 


So I ran into the host trainer a few weeks back. She'd just hosted another clinic with said VERY BNT trainer that I was kindly invited to but was still too humiliated to show my face at. 

She says hello and is her usual super-polite self AND DIDN'T EVEN MENTION THE CLINIC and I'm all like "oh you just had another clinic. so sad it didn't fit into my work schedule so I couldn't come audit".

Which like.

Was a bald-faced lie. 
we do dressage better now
It didn't really fit into my work schedule, but that was 100% not the reason I wasn't there. I wasn't there because just thinking about it makes me want to sink through the floor and I hope that very kind gentleman who teaches the clinics forgets I ever existed. 


I don't know. Just awkward. 

cute Courage pic to cut the awkward a little
That's possibly almost as bad as the time I audited a Jimmy Wofford clinic. It was literally the week after he got turned down the the position of US Eventing coach, which was a basket he'd kind of put all his eggs in. Someone asked him about it and yeah, REALLY SORE SUBJECT. He did.not.want. to talk about it, which is fair. 

So all the riders go get ready. The friend I'm auditing with goes to get Jimmy coffee. It's just me and Jimmy Freaking Wofford, standing under the eaves of a house in the pouring rain. Side by side. 

And for the next 5 minutes, all I can think is "don't talk about the eventing coach position" and "don't say anything stupid that he might remember". 

So we stood there. You could cut the awkward with a Mack Truck. No knife required. To this day, I don't know what I could have said to him, because just thinking about the experience makes me so uncomfortable that I want to die. Oh, and yes, a trainer I rode with knew him and called him one time to ask about attending that clinic in another year. And he was like "please come. the people there are so weird".

same facility. no j wo.
And yeah, I know EXACTLY who he was talking about.

...which is why I'll probably never audit another  J Wo clinic. I bet he remembers. That was super weird. 


So yes. Socially awkward. Any one else have a story to share? Please tell me I'm not alone.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Biggest Bridle Dilemma

only the best problem ever
Well that escalated quickly. I bought my first dressage saddle (in years) like 9 months ago. I rode in a jump bridle for a while, then got a beautiful PS of Sweden dressage bridle.

And then I had one bridle for MONTHS.

That's pretty good for me.

Then I sort of accidentally started shopping for no good reason. I wanted one bridle, bought a different one, then bought the one I wanted and sold the first one I bought, which left me with two net dressage bridles.

But that's ok, right? One to school, one to show. Or one with a flash and one without. Or one with sparkles and one plain. One with a spendy bit and one with a cheap one. There are so many justifications for two bridles.


But then I found a TOTAL STEAL on a VERY FRENCH dressage bridle. I tried to be strong but Redheadlins was like "omg buy now" (even though she always says no) and Alyssa (who also always says no) apparently doesn't get up at 6am on Sundays to go online tack shopping with me. Lives?! Who has those. So what I'm saying is you should blame my friends for the fact that I now posses three black leather bridles.

And admittedly, that's enough to do dressage in for like ten years and still have enough left to make a dominatrix outfit, sooooooooooo that coupled with the fact that my bank account and I are currently not on speaking terms means I need to thin the herd.

Except I can't.

So that's where you come in. Please help me decide which beautiful piece of sexy strappy leather gets the heave-ho.

PS of Sweden
bridle profile
Bachelor #1: The PS of Sweden Dressage bridle.

This bridle sports the big, wide, flat, non-fancy noseband look that I love. I really love huge padded stuff, but Courage's tiny face just can't take it.

This bridle runs the balance of huge and looks good on my horse. It has the comfort padded monocrown.

Fun fact: this is a lower end PS bridle, so the leather quality is my least favorite of the three.

browband snaps and topline charm
The browband clips on and off, which is super fun for changing up our look and the throatlatch is completely removable, which is brilliant when it's cold and I want one less buckle to play with. This is a crank-style noseband and there is a completely removable flash. I actually don't care for the attachment (and my horse doesn't go in a flash), but it's another option.

I love it.

Red Barn Capriole
Bachelor #2: The Red Barn Capriole bridle

Style-wise, this model is actually fairly similar to the PS bridle. Again, it's a wide padded noseband, but it's fairly flush with the face, so it doesn't completely overwhelm my little OTTB.

It has a comfort-padded monocrown, crank, flash. The flash strap is removable, but the little attachment loop stays put. You will note the shocking lack of sparkles, but this can be remedied.

This is a pretty basic bridle in a lot of ways--it doesn't have any really unique features outside of the padded, modern look. It does offer nice quality leather that's promising to break in quite well and it feels very durable. It's very correct for the modern show ring.

I love it.

Antares Dressage Bridle
Bachelor #3: The Very French Contestant. 

I call him Antares.

I bought him as a resale project (obstensibly), but the more I touch him, the more I want him. This is a whole different look for me.

We still have the padded monocrown and the built in flash (strap removable). We've added fancy stitching on the browband and noseband--very subtle, but visible up close.

We've added French leather. We've added a throatlatch that buckles on both sides, which I guess makes it easy to replace? Dunno, but seems like a feature worth mentioning.

Antares (it's his name) has very refined cheek pieces and elegant hardware. He doesn't have a crank, which means slapping a standing martingale on for occasional shenanigans is within the realm of possibilities. (Conversely, I have a jump bridle for this reason, so I don't need this feature.)

And did I mention French leather?

Yup. He even smells beautiful. And his name is on the side of the browband. <3

He even came perfectly adjusted to fit Courage. A sign? Yes.

I love him.

I don't know where that leaves us. I would really like to get down to two dressage bridles, but I cannot choose which one doesn't get a rose.

I probably ought to sell Antares, because he has the best resale and isn't my usual look, but I also named him and maybe it's time to change things up around here. I have a little horse with a little face. Maybe he can wear less leather.

Conversely, the PS and the Red Barn are very similar looks, so maybe it makes more sense to only keep one of those? In case you're keeping score, they all have padded monocrowns, flash attachments, are competition legal, and fit fine. Two out of three have padded cranks, but I don't crank down my cranks. Courage goes in a loose cavesson.

Ideas? Thoughts? What looks best? Want to buy one and end my suffering?


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Major Dressage Clinic Takeaways

First off: this post is pretty much for Austen, JenJ, Jodi, Alli, Jan, Karen, Shannon, and maybe Megan will read it to giggle at how slowly people learn dressage. Oh, and I can almost always count on Lauren for a pity comment (thanks Lauren!!).

To those of you bored by dressage minutiae: I sincerely apologize. I know this isn't great content.

To those of you who read this and therefore deserve  to have your name linked at the top: leave me a comment and I will add you to the abject nerd Rolodex.

All that said, here are my most important takeaways from the dressage clinic:
so much bend. more than this.
1) MOVE. 

Courage likes to be very tight in his back. I like to blame 6 years of racing for that, but the truth is, I also never move my back and I had that problem well before I had Courage. We can chicken/egg this all damn day, but both of us need to get our backs in motion. Also this is a problem I need to fix in the first five minutes of EVERY SINGLE RIDE.

Suppleness is a critical component of moving up the levels. We have to be legit good at this to do second level and a lot better at it than we are now for first.

Right now, Courage will either bend or go forward. He hangs on the bit and gets stiff in the neck, but this isn't a bit problem. Instead, I need to WAY overbend him AND kick him forward. Think of a perfectly straight horse as 1. A horse with his nose on his tail is 10. We need to be comfortable in about a 2-3 bend. In order to get comfortable there, I need to be able to take him to 5 so that 2-3 feels easy and comfortable.

Bend first (for this horse), then kick forward and hold the bend. Hold doesn't mean brace--it's active. Move. Think almost shake Courage's head no--ask for bend (with body AND rein), then release and see if he holds it. I can feel his release--his back moves. I need to get this release both directions at the walk before we move on because we can do nothing until his back moves.
imma put this pic on everything

This is a bit sketch in terms of a title, but once Courage starts releasing and moving his back, it's time to move on and WORK. It's not enough to get a release on a 5m circle at the walk. Once his back is mobile, start carrying that mobility through everything. Walk/trot/walk transitions. Leg yields. Canter transitions. For this to work, I have to be VERY PROACTIVE. If we're halfway through a leg yield and Courage gets stiff, do a 5 or 10 m circle to break him loose again. It is more important to do quality movements at this point.

We need to be working towards doing at least 2 GOOD transitions on a single 20m circle.
and then bounce your legs up and down laterally AND TRY NOT TO DIE
3) My position. 

I'm in this weird netherland of post-jumper-rider-not-quite-dressage position. I need to really work my position--head up, shoulders back. Upper leg straight down. Toes behind knees. Thighs lifted a little away from my horse (because I like to pinch with them). Then sit in the front of the saddle on my seatbones with an OPEN SEAT. Relax the seat muscles. God gave you pillows to sit on. Use them.

This position does not feel natural to me, but it does feel good when I get there. A good position allows me to ride well, which helps my horse to go well. I need to stretch my legs behind me (out of the stirrups) with my knees straight to really stretch out my hips before I even start riding. In and out of the saddle, I need to start stretching my hips to allow them to open up and work properly.
demon right hand will find you. YOU CANT RUN YOU CANT HIDE

4) Hands matter.

Up until now, I've been riding Courage with pretty wide hands to encourage him to stay soft and seek contact. He's doing brilliantly at that, so it's time to start making some changes.

Going to the left (or generally in left bend), I need to keep my right rein short and against his neck. I need to be aware of my left rein--Courage really likes to lock his left poll, even when he has sufficient body bend. To break this up, use an indirect inside rein in front of his withers (and release). This is the only time someone has ever told me to use this rein aid, but it makes a huge difference for Courage. It's not pretty at first, but it really helps unlock him.

To the right, I also need a more active inside rein while staying steady outside.

Both ways, I need to lift my hands and bring them more together. It's about time to start riding Courage like a trained horse.
notice right lead omg. do not notice wtf position.
5) The canter.

(Aside: I am SO PROUD of us cantering this weekend. It may not have been "good", but it was some of our best work yet).

This is the biggest area where the ex-jumper thing is holding me back. I ride defensively (FOR REASONS, I might point out), but that means I put my feet a little ahead and my seat a little behind. This puts me behind the motion, which pops my seat out of the saddle and keeps me from sitting on my horse and supporting him. Hot. Mess.

This is hard to fix at the canter, so I need to practice my dressage position a lot at W/T. Particularly at walk, I need to sit and think the canter rhythm and really memorize that feel. Getting my position right is critical to being able to move on here. Courage is pretty accepting of me sitting on him in the left lead, but he tends to flatten and break to the right, which is historically a problem area for us.

Once I get my position dialed in, I can help him improve.
hello sexy dressage ottb
6) The contact. 

I've kind of covered this already, but I'm really excited about it. The whole time I've had Courage, he's been super funky about contact. In the past few weeks (and with his silly $10 bit), he's finally willing to really take a contact and go forward, which is fantastic. I do need to be aware though, because he's experimenting with laying on the contact a little bit.

I don't really notice it that much (especially because Courage laying on the contact is about 85 less pounds in my hand than Cuna taking normal contact), but it's something I don't want to encourage. Again, this isn't really a hands problem. It's a body balance problem, so lots of transitions and stay active.
fabulous tail flick!

I've been settling for baby leg yields. No more! We need more VA VA VOOM stepping over. Right now, it really helps to break Courage's hind quarters loose with a 10m circle, then once he's loose go from center line over to the center letter (E or B) in the small arena. This creates actual crossover and gives leg yields a true gymnastic effect to Courage's body. It's still a new thing for us, but it feels really cool when he does it right.

This applies across everything Courage did. The clinician kept saying "YOU need to work harder", meaning that while I'm doing the right things, I need to be more proactive and more assertive, so that I get the correct things sooner. Not only is this better riding, but it also creates a better trained horse, because he's more clear about what I want.
but how great is my horse guys?
8) The hard stuff.

Breaking Courage loose as described in step 1 gives us lateral suppleness. Once we have that, it's time to start working longitudinal suppleness. This is the first step towards collection. Hence, lateral suppleness in small circles and leg yields. Longitudinal suppleness means holding that through transitions with my hands up and position good and contact.

Wave of the future.

I'm going to be a little bit real here and say that this clinic marks the first time I've ridden through two whole clinic days and felt like I was on a dressage horse. Not a greenie. Not a precarious ottb who might kill me. Courage really showed up both days, kept his brain in his head, and gave me some fantastic work. He never quit trying, checked out, or told me no. To me, that is the real reward of all this--we're building a partnership together with a foundation of mutual trust.

We have miles to go in terms of training, but this weekend was a huge step in the right direction. At the end of our second ride, the clinician told me we were knocking on the door of first level, which is exciting. Also exciting was really feeling the quality of movement I could get from Courage when I rode correctly--sitting trot and second level don't seem so insurmountable when you're like "oh this is the best trot ever". (Noted: we are in no way ready for second. Just a reflection to ponder.)

And if you made it this far, gold star!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teach Me Tuesday: Blanketing

wild horses!
It was 19f here this morning (nicely below zero for you Celsius peeps), which means it is officially blanketing season. I used to be a a fancy, full-training type barn with 2-3x daily blanket changes and full body-clipped horses, so it wasn't much of a thing.

But our current barn is less hands-on (and hella cheaper. not complaining).

prisoner says 19f is poo
If I were less serious about riding, I could probably let Courage run around blanket free. But. He hates being groomed, LOVES getting dirty, and is in pretty hard work, which means clipping is critical to keep him comfortable. I'm trying to work a compromise with a partial clip for the present, so his blanketing is flexible, then will hopefully full clip in January.

But there are so many ways to handle this situation. How are you blanketing this year (or at all)?

Monday, November 16, 2015

4 Guidelines to Survive Any Clinic

2nd legit cross over pic!!
In lieu of a detailed write up of dressage minutiae that would bore most of you to tears (BUT MAKES ME REALLY EXCITED), let's talk about my four biggest takeaways from the clinic we did this weekend. You can read this even if you are bored to tears by watching, doing, or thinking about dressage.

I'm 2% too classy to show a picture of this.
1) Keep repeating "this will prepare us to show". Even if you have to do it through clenched teeth. Over and over and over. 

And over.

Because yes. Sometimes the person who rides after you will start warming up in the same tiny indoor as you and make really questionable choices. Like. You know. Cantering around on their semi-broke horse, not holding the reins, waving their arms over their head, and trying to crash into you while your horse is going "WHAT THE ACTUAL F***" and trying not to die.

And I wish I was kidding.

I was THISCLOSE to my first real dressage queen meltdown.

about as comfortable as it looks
2) There are parts of your body you do not know about.

You do not, in fact, have muscles there.

This will hurt.

Try to think of the pain as a good thing.

redheadlins tries to keep me from dying

3) You will regret flipping off the clinician. 


Actually, I really can't give you accurate information on this one, because when I really wanted to flip her off, my body was in contorted agony and I couldn't rub enough brain cells together to also lift my middle finger while riding like a frog on a fish making cake with dry clay. Also frosting. It made sense in context, ok?

pretty much like this

This was the best. The clinician was trying to explain leg yields and literally broadway danced for us on foot in the middle of the arena. I about fell off laughing, but HOT DAMN we got that crossover step.

And maybe jazz hands too! (Kidding! No jazz hands were harmed in the making of this clinic wrap up.)

possible new profile pic
I have more homework than I can wrap my brain around right now, which is exactly what I want as we slide into winter and indoors and darkness and ALL THE PRACTICE TIME.

You guys. I can't even pretend I'm sad about winter. Courage is turning into a real dressage horse and it is so much fun!

Friday, November 13, 2015

HAWKWARD: mystery of the missing conformation shots

You may (hopefully not) have noticed how I really don't share conformation shots of Courage anymore. It's not that I don't take them--I obsessively photograph pretty much everything this horse does.

It's just that he's only now starting to come out of a months-long ugly phase. You doubt?

July 2013
 Courage was a sexy beast on the track. I mean yeah, he's racing fit and all wrong for a sport horse, but I loved looking at him. So balanced.
October 2014
 We're going to skip the whole first year off the track because this post is about this year. And also--he wasn't very attractive. Part of the rebuilding process. This is a great shot by a fab photographer, annnnnnd yeah. Courage looks kind of tight and strange. His body is letting go and rebuilding, but it's not pretty.
November 2014
 Totally cheated on his neck here, but we had moments of looking kind of pretty. There's a good body balance going on.
January 2015
 Then we had winter break/start dressage annnnnnd. It's not pretty. This isn't a true conformation shot, but you can see that Courage is just sort of ick and muscles in weird places and slack in worse places and not very attractive at any point here. Yay star?
April 2015
 The positive here is that Courage's body is changing and I do like this photo better than the last one. The downside is that he's all long and lean with a big underneck muscle and no topline. He looks kind of tight all over.
May 2015
 Again, not a true conformation shot because I'm pretty sure I deleted everything from this time period. You really don't have to see the whole horse to get the picture though. Look how tight his walk stride is and how he holds himself. Even with the "optimal" pose, he just doesn't look... good? I mean. He's a 16.1 hand horse. His walk stride should be more than 2" long. It's not.

July 2015
 Another conformation shot by a really solid photographer and even white wraps and sparkle bell boots can't class it up. You can start to see Courage's body developing, but it's sort of gappy. He's building a butt and shoulders, but doesn't really have abs and his neck is sad--both short and upside down. He'd look a little better if he was fat, but this is an awkward stage, no two ways about it.
August 2015
 This picture starts to give me hope. You can see Courage is putting some weight on and his neck is less severely upside down. His whole topline looks looser and he looks pretty comfortable in his own skin.
October 2015

I took this picture to show off Courage's cute clip, and that's about what it does. You can see his whole body is looser and his neck isn't quite as skinny. He's definitely putting on some weight, which he needed. Again he looks comfortable, but not really attractive. It's a good thing his face is so cute, right?
November 2015

And then the other day, Courage was like "what if I tried looking like a dressage horse?" and decided to start eating every scrap of hay that was ever put in his stall. I think it's funny how fast his body can change, because it's obviously taken quite a long time to get to this point. I don't usually post pictures of a dirty horse standing in his stall, but all of a sudden we have muscle definition and abs and neck muscles and a real ass and he's just so sexy and curvy everywhere. I mean yeah. Lots of things need to keep improving, but he looks like a horse someone might want to own finally.

November 2015
 In case my walk picture didn't make sense earlier, here it is now. Notice the sexy curves and the way Courage is moving. His feet can actually leave the ground. His stride is longer. His coat is gleaming and his body can actually move. His neck is starting to have some nice dressage muscle and I really like looking at this picture.

excessive satin ftw

 This is the closest I have to a conformation shot right now, but just look at the difference. His neck still isn't 100% correct, but it's filling in. Because he doesn't have (as much) of the overly-pronounced under neck muscle, it's starting to relax down and look longer. His whole body is filling in and he can stand in balance without looking tight or uncomfortable.

We haven't "arrived" yet, but I'm sanguine that we're pulling out of the year-long (plus) ugly phase. I have to keep reminding myself that we're completely rebuilding a body that spent 6 years doing the opposite of what I'm asking for now. Courage has made HUGE strides forward in his training this fall, and I'm really excited to share what he looks like in the spring. :-) (Hopefully.)
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