Thursday, August 18, 2016

One Step At A Time

So here's a thing that's messed up:

I realized that I'm more comfortable sharing fail pictures than successes on my own blog.

That's not ok with me.
this was.... not planned
Courage and I fail frequently and flamboyantly and I am happy to share those moments. They're hilarious. They're encouraging. They're humanizing. Whatever. That's great.

It's easy to fail. It's easy to point out what's wrong with this picture.

It's easy to sit here and say "oh yeah we ALL know what's wrong with that". Everyone can unite seeing me doing something wrong.

You know what's hard?

Making a horse from the ground up. Doubly so if you're dealing with a lot of baggage (like you know, six years of track life). Day in and day out, doing the unglamorous, repetitious things that take a horse from tense and flighty to rideable and interesting. It's hard work. (And also, if you blog about doing this work, you will find out that literally everyone on the internet is apparently better at it than you are, at least in their own minds. Fascinating, amiright.)

And see, horses don't learn in giant leaps and bounds by magic, not really. They learn like we do--one tiny baby step at a time.

So when I look at a picture of Courage like this, I think: "Wow look at my little ex-racer. He's pushing from behind and almost tracking up. His nose is on the vertical, his mouth is closed, and the muscle definition is in all the right places. Even the arch in his tail is telling me that he's using his topline."

Then I think, "hm this horse struggles with holding tension in the base of his neck and even at this relatively nice moment, he's just a little hollow there. That tells me I'm asking him to come a little more "up" in his front end than he's ready for at this precise moment and I need to ride him a little deeper and keep building the strength behind to allow him to really sit and lift without getting stuck or hollow."

And then, hey, I look at stuff like this:

Moments from the same ride as the previous shot, and I say "here he's definitely using the base of his neck well and giving me softness in his topline. These shots confirm that he needs to stay deeper and that I need to incorporate canter work as he's mentally up to it to really develop the horse I want to be riding in six months or a year."

Furthermore, because he's my horse and I see him every day, I can add in shots like this:

And then I look at him and say "all I really care about in these is the base of Courage's neck. In the first shot, you can obviously see how the trot/canter/trot transitions are helping him as long as I keep them slow and thoughtful. The second shot, I'd like him to be more forward and less on the forehand ideally, but I'll take it because he's thinking and figuring out how to use his body in a new way that's hard for him. I know that pushing him too forward right now will just set us back, so I'm willing to take the time he needs to learn to do this correctly."

I mean, sure, it's easy to look at the progress/training pictures and pick them apart. "Hollow. Lacking impulsion. Whatever.", but doing that overlooks the step-by-step process it took to get where we are. Looking at these pictures with no knowledge of my horse, it's easy to say "damn girl why do you ever ride in a gait other than canter because it's obviously his best?"
not. helpful.

But no. That's all backwards. I was thrilled to celebrate with fellow blogger the Eventing Saddlebred recently when she and her guy did their first somewhat-planned canter because I KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE. Canter is a hot-button issue for a horse like Courage. All he knows is how to invert and run and get hollow and make his stride two inches long. Every time we've gotten near the canter in the last two years, we've basically dropped back to walk and started over because he couldn't take it.

So where one person sees his canter as his best gait, I know it took this long to get the canter where it is and he's still not ready to offer it every day. We only canter when I know that we can do it well, because there is no point to cantering him badly. Even when we do canter, I keep it to just a circle or two and focus on quality transitions and covering the ground and building strength, which is a long, slow, gradual process.
sass tail means hard work
So yeah. When I post pictures of Courage looking a little hollow or not quite forward or WHATEVER, it's not because I'm a blooming idiot who can't see our obvious flaws. It's because I know my little guy and I'm so damn proud of how far he's come and how hard he tries and the partnership that we're building together.

The other day, he did his first steps of haunches in at the walk, and no, they weren't show quality. But you know what? Because of the partnership we've built together, he tried something new and hard and different that he theoretically has all the building blocks to do. He didn't get it the first time or the second time, or even the third time, and when he did "get" it, we just did a step or two, then I immediately praised him and moved on.

Last year, new information meant turning himself inside out and NOPING into the next county. This year? He's trying for me.

You guys.




  1. I love everything about this post. I absolutely don't get the overwhelming need to be judgements/critical that some people have. You know Courage, and you know what he needs in the moment. And while some of those moments might be "fails", you're methodically working towards a goal and even if it's just baby steps, you are still making incredible progress. The photos you've been posting lately are drool worthy, and knowing Courage's background makes them even more impressive! Keep up the great work, you guys are quite a team!!

  2. Fails are easy because you're the first one laughing. Successes can be vulnerable because frankly people can be assholes. Blogger land is pretty cool and supportive, but it is still hard to show success and accomplishment when you're used to the struggle.

    I love your attitude, keep it up. Praise the smallest accomplishment in your boy. That's what sticks with them.

    1. Thanks to some stellar photography (mostly by Alyssa), I have an amazing collection of fails and they are most definitely hilarious. They're a staple of the blog and they're not going away. ;-)

  3. This is very inspiring to me. (and I'm glad that you are back). I think we all become armchair experts and love to pick stuff apart because it's not 'perfect'.

    But horse training is all about the 'not perfect'. I was thrilled the first time I put my leg on Carmen for a leg yield and she actually went sideways. Up to then it was all 'no. nope. I hate you, get off'. The leg yield was not of any quality. But it was sidways. If I asked for more then I got I would have undone all the work I had done to get her to do it.

    I really like Warwick Schiller's philosophy of striving for 1% improvement every day. Because those one percents add up pretty quickly.

    I love those photos of you and Courage working together as a team. You're already way ahead of those not riding. :)

    1. I always think the "x% every day" method of improvement is pretty unrealistic. Most the time, I'm bargaining with "how about only a 40% regression today? 42%? Ok. I can live with that." ;-)

  4. That working with you instead of just noping out is so huge!!!! I adore you guys and totally want to steal that Cookie Monster bonnet!

    1. It's an amazing bonnet. I like to pull it out on hard days because it always makes me smile.

  5. Love that last picture of you two! And the sassy tail swish is the best :)

  6. Well wouldn't it be great if our horses were all "yes ma'am" robots and we were Grand Prix rider prodigies?! You've done great building yourself and him up over the years. You've taught him an entirely new discipline and he's pretty darn awesome at it! Good for you having the perseverance, patience and belief in him and you!

  7. holding up that moment of pride for public scrutiny is basically the worst ever. perhaps you'll recall when i ranted about my friend posting a jumping pic she was super proud of on FB, only to be torn to shreds by a local trainer for her subpar position. that made me mad. really really mad.

    yes we sorta have to tacitly accept that putting things on the internet means opening ourselves to criticism... but like. c'mon. we are all horse people here. we all know the struggle. and we all are in pursuit of better and more. but taking time to celebrate the little things is so critical and we should never be made to feel like those little moments or little baby steps aren't good enough.

    1. Hey, I totally 100% get that anything I put out on the internet is public and going to be dissected/judged on some level. I'm certainly not the be-all and end-all of anything riding and I don't pretend to be.

      So if I'm not ok with getting picked apart, I generally don't post something. But sometimes as Shannon says "who pissed in your wheaties?" because it can get absurd.

  8. I love both the success and failure pictures! I groomed for a grand Prix dressage rider. She had many fails. Butt she never gave up. You do not give up either. I'm finally starting a journey with my one horse and in so excited but it looks so tough right now! She's got potential, but it will just take time.

  9. Since Dressage is still mostly foreign to me, I love seeing your pictures, both good and bad. I've seen Courage's journey, so I feel like he's also educating me in many ways. :)

    And for the record, he's looking fabulous and I'm so glad you two have each other!

  10. I love all of your photographs because they are a visual diary of your journey with Courage. I get super nervous to share photos of my riding (haha that's a joke you have to have a ridable horse to ride) or even working with my horse. I think oh no his halter is a bit skewed and too loose in this photo... people are going to think I don't know how to put on a halter. That is the problem with photos-- without context they can never tell the whole story. I am really impressed with your leg and center of balance in that first picture. If I had photo shop skills I would add some jousting gear. I would call that one a win for sure ;)

    1. To me, it is so important to have pictures documenting the journey so when I feel stuck, I can look back and see how far we've come. Lots of people do that with video and it's probably a better idea, but I'm a picture girl. What can I say?

      I will say that I'm obsessive about details and I definitely try to keep tack adjusted correctly, but I don't get too concerned if it's a little off. ;-) Most people don't notice.

  11. I really really love and appreciate this post since I too have a difficult horse, one that's also come so far. I agree that it's easy for me to be critical but it's so important and wonderful to see the positives and growth in each picture too :)

  12. Courage has certainly come a long way and you have too in getting him there. Sure we all want them to learn, be and do with perfect execution, but we all have bad days too and days we feel like screwing off just because. We just have to work with the horse we have Today. They aren't planning to be high energy Fail today and perfect angels tomorrow or the rest of the week...

    Some horses learn in leaps and bounds, other horses we ask ourself if they will e.v.e.r. get it??? They are just like us and everyone learns at a different rate. Its also easy to have both fail and brilliance in the same ride. Which part we choose to focus on is up to us.

  13. :0)
    Don't forget to give yourself some credit, too. He has come a long way, but that is due to YOU and the time YOU put into him.

  14. I hate when other people tear others down. Knock it off. Nobody likes it. We all like encouragement, and we all like advice (when we ask for it). So celebrate the wins with the person celebrating! Damnit.

  15. The fail pictures make for fun viewing!! I think a lot of people under estimate the amount of time it takes to really click with a horse and get them working for you and you working for them. Sydney and I had a really rough first year and a half, and then we switched to western dressage and it felt like everything just fell into place.

  16. I find it so weird people are so critical
    Of your journey. At the end of the day your horse is happy and healthy and you're making progress all the time. Definitely mde some huge stride

  17. I love fails. We all fail, it's part of the journey, it makes us human and brings this sometimes ridiculous sport back to reality. Keep failing! I'll be right there with you.

    And don't get too broken up about it. I've spent the last couple weeks listening to Intro riders criticize Olympic performances.

  18. Going from constant "NOPE" to a real honest-to-goodness TRY is the best feeling in the entire world!! And people can be ridiculous. I find it much easier to jut be nice. ;)


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