Monday, September 24, 2018

FEH East Coast Championships: Conformation

This past weekend I tried out another new volunteer role: scribing at the Future Event Horse East Coast Championships at Loch Moy. Specifically, I was there for the conformation portion (unfortunately was not able to make my schedule work with the free jumping phases! next time!!).

shenanigans ensued!! and the usea photog was nice enough to let me snap a shot of this excellent moment that i was too slow to capture myself lol
I signed up mostly bc it seemed interesting and volunteerism is a big part of my goals this year. Plus Loch Moy is one of my favorite venues for volunteering, so I'm always eager to help out at any of their many events.

 baby horses in the rain!! via GIPHY

It seemed like a fantastic opportunity to learn a little more about what judges and breeders are looking for in the next generation of upper level event horses.

was surprised to not see as much overlap between this entry list and the YEH entries in terms of riders/handlers, tho there are some who are hallmarks of both classes (lookin at you, Martin!)
I've never claimed to be much of a conformation aficionado. In fact, quite the opposite: I'll be the first to admit that my eye for this sort of thing is not particularly well developed. In my humble opinion, many adult amateurs are often too fixated on the ideas of quality, talent and potential, at the expense of other attributes that are maybe more essential to amateur success at the lower levels. Like brain, disposition, temperament, etc.

some of these 2yos were damn impressive
It's not a super popular opinion, as evidenced by the somewhat controversial post I wrote on the subject and some of the subsequent commentary.... But I stand by that opinion.

this one had an extremely fancy trot!
Regardless, I'm still very interested in continuing my education in this area. To this end, scribing for this event was in fact quite useful. I learned a lot about what factors the judges are looking for in each horse when it comes to type, build, and movement.

a lot of them had feelings about the rain and puddles, but were all extremely well handled
Tho let's be real: just bc I heard the judges using certain terminology and describing certain aspects of each horse doesn't mean I could similarly identify those same aspects myself haha.

Some horses had this sort of obvious "impressiveness" about them that made them stand out from the rest, but even so, most of the distinctions the judges made were well beyond what my own naked eye can immediately see.

i believe this lovely chestnut Jaguar My won the 2yo colts class
I'll do my best to recount the details for you anyway, tho. There were four classes: 2 year olds and yearlings, one class each for colts and fillies. Judges used the same test sheet for both age groups, tho obviously there's a pretty big difference in build from a yearling to a two year old.

Many of the 2yos were already quite well built, whereas the yearlings were presented in all variations of growth spurts. Comes with the territory tho! And it's worth noting: while many of the yearlings were in awkward growth stages, changeable attributes like being croup high did not appear to impact overall scoring at all. Rather, it was the fixed elements of conformation (angles and such) that judges focused on.

he definitely had that certain something, that eye catching quality
Each handler began their presentation by bringing the horses to the "triangle" (visible in the background above) and standing the horses up for a preliminary inspection by the two judges.

Once the judges felt like they'd seen enough, the handlers walked the horses out to that yellow flower box visible in the mid left edge of the above picture, then walked across that middle ground line of poles, finally walking straight back to the judges. They then repeated the same circuit - except at trot and going all the way to the far back edge of the triangle above instead of cutting across the middle.

example of the score sheet and commentary for a well scoring horse
Then the handlers stood the horses up one last time for the judges to finalize their impressions before returning to the tent to confer. The two judges discussed each horse at length, and talked through any disagreements to ensure their scores weren't wildly off base from each other.

the judges were very forgiving of baby horses being.... baby horses
But ultimately each arrived at his own individual commentary and scores. Thus each judge had his own scribe and each horse received two test sheets at the end of the day.

pictures with the judges and competitors after the class was pinned!
The first part of the score sheet was all about Type. Specifically, the presence of "refining blood." I took this to understand the desire to continue introducing more thoroughbred blood into the bloodlines.

Judges wanted to see horses with a lighter build, more refined (vs coarse) connection points through the body. As opposed to the thicker, heavier warmblood build that is often less quick over the ground or able to hold up to the rigors of upper level eventing.
walkin in sync!! via GIPHY

Next block on the test sheet was Conformation: Frame, wherein the judges wanted to see fluid toplines, smooth connecting points in the body, a nice head and neck, and a general overall proportionate build. In this section they'd review areas like how the neck ties in to the body, or the shoulder angle, for instance.

obvi there's a big difference between yearlings and 2yos but.... still. wow.
It's notable that while some horses received comments along the lines of "under developed" neck or topline, the judges were actually pretty ok with this especially among the yearlings. With the idea being that a yearling with a big thick well developed neck is probably going to continue to thicken and grow heavier as it ages. Thus sorta negating that desire for the more refined overall build.

i was impressed with how quickly the judges could isolate the strengths and weaknesses with each horse!
Next portion on the test sheet was Conformation: Legs and Feet. This would be the area where I know the absolute least haha. Full disclosure. But this was actually often the sticking point for many of the horses. Particularly, I often heard the judges say quietly to each other (absolutely not to the competitors, obvi), "lovely horse but you couldn't buy that forelimb."

walking across the mid section of the triangle via GIPHY

The most common defect observed by the judges was not enough bone below the knees. I guess this issue comes hand in hand with breeding for a lighter and lighter, more refined horse. The lighter build often comes at the expense of lighter limbs. But the judges still wanted to see strong bone through the cannons (not too long!), correct pasterns and angles, and good quality feet.

this lovely yearling colt Royal Casino i believe won his class
The judges were also quick to identify any conformation flaws like being over or behind at the knee, or just a bit "flat" kneed (many examples were had through the classes). They also identified feet they found too boxy and would include on the commentary advice for handlers to keep an eye out for any one limb that looked suspect.

sure isn't much there not to like, eh?
It was interesting tho, bc even some of the most nicely built horses with the nicest movement lost out big time (sometimes with leg/feet scores close to 2 points lower than the rest!) bc of flaws in the lower forelimbs. And the judges kept coming back to "But you wouldn't buy that leg."

Bc again, this is all about developing talent and models for the upper level of the sport. And at the upper levels.... conformation flaws can often mean breakdowns.

another example of commentary describing a horse the judges liked
Anyway, next on the sheet comes Movement, with individual scores (and different coefficients) for the Walk and Trot. Walk has a higher coefficient bc it's also the gait that tells you more about how the horse might canter or gallop. This is always so important for me personally to remember bc I fully admit to being suckered in by a pretty trot.

But.... The trot alone ain't enough for a winning event horse. As evidenced by the fanciest trotting horse we saw all day actually ending up scoring the worst over all in his class, oops!

this horse looked like he kinda wanted to play with us under the tent lol
For the walk, they wanted to see a very fluid, natural "throughness" in the horse that presented as good overstep and relaxed oscillation in the neck. They wanted "march" in the steps too, placing each hoof with purpose rather than kinda just plodding along.

this little filly was fancy and she totally knew it haha via GIPHY

In the trot they wanted to see engagement and hind end activity, combined with good reach through the shoulder. Tho it was my impression that the hind end activity was the priority here. Funnily enough, tho, in some ways the puddles worked to the handlers' advantage since a lot of the baby horses were especially active through the muck haha.

For both gaits, tho, a correct rhythm was a must. And while obviously it's tough to ask baby horses to not have tension in this sort of setting, they really wanted to see those moments when the horse would really be loose and soft over their backs. 

hijinks abound!
I thought it was cool tho how forgiving the judges were of all the baby horse shenanigans. There was zero commentary, actually, on presentation in terms of grooming or tack. And while one handler went a bit off course in her presentation on the triangle, quite a few got dragged wayyyyyy off their lines, and almost all experienced breaking gaits at some point or another, the judges really didn't seem to mind at all.

They just went wherever they had to go to get a good look at the horses. And if they felt like they needed to see more walk or trot, they just asked the handler to do another circuit. Nbd, and no impact on scoring.

unrelated: loch moy always has a collection of shoes found on the xc course, many of which still have the studs attached. i'm always fascinated by the different shapes, sizes, types, and materials!
Tho they did often observe on the quality of handling we saw at this event: saying that all the horses seemed very well presented. Which makes sense since a lot of the pros in these classes have specifically carved out their niches in the horse world by focusing on developing young talent. So... ya know.... this is basically what they do haha.

Anyway, last score on the test sheet was General Impression, which also had a high coefficient. The judges would often provide commentary on the "whole package" of the horse, like the above comment "Athletic prospect with conformation to match." And this is basically the score that kinda separates the "would buy" horses from the... rest haha.

Personally I probably would have taken literally any of these horses home lol. A few in particular just had such sweet eyes and expressions! But. Ya know. Maybe in another lifetime! All the same it was really cool to get to see such amazing young horses and listen to the judges converse about the ideal "model" horse for the future of eventing.

From a volunteer perspective, it was a pretty easy gig. If you like scribing and don't mind being on your feet while doing so, it's totally worth your time! Think you'd ever sign up for something like this? Or maybe attend some sort of clinic or educational program focused on this topic?

Is conformation something you're really passionate about? Or are you more like me, kinda fuzzy on the finer details but think it's interesting from an academic perspective? Or maybe you have a young horse and see these types of classes in your future? Or have already participated and have a different perspective to offer?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

canter homework in action

Over the last two years, I feel like I've learned a lot about what Charlie needs in his regular routine to make him feel good and perform well. And like any horse, a varied approach seems to work best for him.

We do lots and lots of relaxed hacking and exploring over mixed terrain. It's refreshing for both the mind and body, after all, and a critical aspect of Charlie's overall physical conditioning program. But I learned the hard way after Plantation that all that hacking out and conditioning can't be done at the expense of targeted focused schooling rides.

Even the best horses can have off days, and without the practice of disciplined schooling we risk having everything fall apart when the pressure is on.

random shot of Charlie's neighbor Maggie lookin pretty
My ideal end goal for every single schooling session with Charlie is that he finishes the ride strutting like a champion, secure and confident that he's a good boy and did the thing. I LOVE IT when Charlie has that feeling about him.

But.... Again, like I learned at Plantation, this isn't necessarily realistic every ride. And there are plenty of rides out there when Charlie just kinda.... doesn't wanna, doesn't feel like it, would rather not. And this is where I've had to be careful about my own discipline. At a certain point, I must be objectively clear with Charlie that, "This is your job and you are expected to do it even if you'd rather be at the barn."

nifty versatile exercise at any height. the straight line from center of one pole to the next is 30'
Luckily, over the course of this summer I've spent a lot of time trying to better understand what approaches will produce both the feeling I want in Charlie and the performance. This past week in particular served as the perfect little case study for how all the pieces work together.

Charlie came back into work about a week and a half after his mulch-related abscess. We had a couple quiet and relaxing flat schools asking for nothing more than stretching at the walk and trot, and a little canter. Then a quiet hack, and another flat school - but this time actually asking him to work on the bit. Then a jump school (source of today's pictures) and finally another long 10km hack down to the Gunpowder River.

less random shot of charlie lookin like one million dollars
It felt like the perfect balance of rides over a six day period, and the proof was in the pudding with how Charlie came out for his first jump school since the Labor Day weekend hunter pace.

just boppin around on my giant jump jump pony
I waffled a bit while tacking him up about which bridle to use. Kinda wanted to put the hackamore on, but it's not great for purposeful flat work and I wanted to warm Charlie up as if it were a normal dressage ride. Thought about the elevator since the last time he jumped was while galloping around Tranquility.... but damn I kinda hate dealing with all those straps sometimes haha.

Finally I just put on his normal dressage bridle with Myler comfort snaffle bit and figured it would probably be fine. And it was. More and more often it seems like I'm schooling Charlie over fences with this bit, tho I fully expect to continue using the elevator for competitions.

easy over the liverpool
True to form for the preceding week, Charlie warmed up very well for the ride. Complete with executing his first ever (!!!!) left lead canter depart from the walk. This is such a big deal to me bc the left lead departs in particular have always been trickier for us.

So so so so so SO MANY of our past temper tantrums and "dinosaur-stuck-in-tar-pit" moments were triggered by trying to get the left lead. So the fact that Charlie's beginning to successfully school walk-canter left lead departs is just like... kinda ridiculously exciting to me lol. He's come a long way!

bored over the swedish
Anyway, tho, we started jumping by trotting over a couple plain verticals, then moved on to the first exercise of the day: a looping line of roll backs down the zig zag line, focusing on changing leads over the jump.

The track is marked in blue in the earlier diagram, and we rode this from left to right in that diagram. You jump the first then turn left immediately to roll back to the second. Turn right, roll back to the third. Turn left and jump the final.

exuberant tail flick over the skinny shark's tooth haha
Maybe it's weird to admit, but I've only very very rarely tried to get Charlie to land on any one particular lead or another when we jump. Lead changes aren't really a strength of mine. I tend to be a little uncoordinated, plus I can only really think about so many things at once before other things start to slip. Like if I'm thinking too much about my lead change on approach to a fence, I'm maybe more likely to miss my distance haha.

third jump of the zig-zag line, offset verticals spaced 2 strides starting with that low purple/brown in the background. note blue pvc rings marking the center of each pole
So instead I just school the bejesus out of simple changes (true story: Charlie started practicing simple changes of lead through trot basically as soon as he started cantering under saddle with me), and set the horse up for whatever auto changes they want to volunteer.

Luckily, Charlie has pretty baller auto changes in both directions. So often times esp when he's really cruisin along, he'll just change on his own. Otherwise? We do a simple change and move on with our lives.

fourth and final jump of the zig zag line, a simple oxer
Charlie surprised me tho by executing the lead changes over fences perfectly in this exercise. Good boy! It helped that the jumps themselves were very simple so I could focus almost entirely on positioning for the change (tho, uh, yea this meant that I totally biffed the distance to one of them anyway haha). It didn't translate to our course work tho, mostly bc I stopped thinking about it when we moved on.

i needed a lot LOT moar outside leg through this turn to the outside line, took me a few times to get it right
It's good food for thought, tho, since Charlie's really great at learning things through patterns and repetitions. He likes "games" and "puzzles" (especially when he already knows the answer lol) and the canter is legitimately his strongest, most balanced gait. So maybe it would be worth taking more time to practice landing the lead etc, since he might figure it out pretty quickly.

charlie was perfect, obvi, haha, even if he kinda wished i would have fixed my mistake sooner with fewer repetitions haha
We'll see. Once we moved on to course work, with all the jumps on the smaller side between 2'9-3', Charlie just cruised right on around making quick work of things.


Like I wrote previously, I'm starting to really focus on doing walk-canter transitions to start off each jumping exercise, with the idea being this helps keep the horse in front of my leg. We did so for this ride, and I think it worked really well.

Tho it's interesting watching the video bc the horse isn't exactly under paced, and he did stay in front of my leg.... But there were a couple jumps that would have been improved by taking a more forward stride to them.

he sure seems to like this job tho <3
It's always a tricky balance bc the feeling I'm really aiming for in Charlie's canter right now is all about increased engagement: riding his hind legs further up and under him, with lift and lightness through the front end.

We're getting more consistent with this, and it comes hand in hand with increased adjustability - like how easily Charlie cruised back down the same zig zag exercise, but this time in the direct line with 2 strides between each. But as always, there's more work to do.

Luckily, working on Charlie's canter is legitimately the most fun thing ever. And Charlie's starting to figure out the "game" of counter canter, walk-canter transitions, canter leg yields, and all that good stuff that works directly to produce better and better jumps. Any time the work can feel like a "game" to him, we're that much more likely to finish a ride with him strutting around like a champion. Win win for everyone, right?

Do you similarly have exercises you know are good for puffing up your horse's confidence? Or maybe you have to also be careful about slipping in the "hard" stuff between easier work to keep your horse happy and motivated? Do you have favorite canter exercises too, or maybe your horse was more like Isabel for me, where the canter was likelier to be a source of frustration?

Monday, September 17, 2018

going on the gunpowder

I want to spend a little time talking about Charlie's flatwork lately, especially in terms of putting into action some of the tidbits from Ralph Hill's clinic last week. Mostly for my own gratification: writing everything out always helps me process and understand things better anyway.

we had a pretty big group heading out for a sunday hack! tho about half peeled off the stay on farm for a shorter ride while the rest of us ventured farther afoot toward the gunpowder
But bc I know reading about someone else's flat schools can be... sometimes not super compelling content haha, I'm also including all the pictures from our recent big group trail ride. We hiked out to a local section of the Gunpowder River, a huge river surrounded by parks that crisscross almost the entire state. Was a nice ride through very pretty areas, and one I hope to repeat again in the future!

i had never been out this way before, hadn't even realized we had options like this for hacking out!
Anyway. The Ralph Hill clinic gave me a ton of food for thought on topics to address with Charlie on the flat. It's been almost four months since my last dressage lesson with Charlie, but we've mostly been muddling through reasonably enough anyway.

Sure the horse would be better schooled and farther along in his training if I had more lessons.... But imo he's still progressing and I've felt pretty good about what we've been able to get done this summer. Plus, uh, as evidenced by the mere existence of the clinic entry, it's not as if I'm not trying to make lessons happen. That's just how things go sometimes tho, I guess.

a fair amount of time was spent walking down the paved street of a quiet residential neighborhood before getting to the park
Ralph spent a lot of time talking about feel tho, in very very specific mechanical ways. Mostly as it relates to aligning our riding aids with the natural mechanics of each gait, such that we're in sync and in time with the horse.

His directions were very explicit - read the post if you the full details - regarding when to apply leg and rein aids depending on where the horse was in each gait. Honestly tho, that level of specificity is a bit beyond me when I'm riding. It's a little too granular, a little TMI. Bc let's be real, I can't really walk and chew gum at the same time. And, uh, neither can Charlie.

it was worth it tho - once down by the river, the trails were lovely!
The idea of "feel" tho, that's something I can be more conscientious about. And timing. Just having those two words bumping around in my mind as I go through a ride helps me to be more thoughtful about my transitions.

Bc yea, that was the other biggie in Ralph's instruction during the clinic: it was all transitions, all the time. So so so many transitions. And even how he wanted riders practicing their half halts in each gait. "Act as if you're going to ask for the halt from walk, but then don't halt." "Act as if you're going to ask for the walk from trot, but then keep trotting."

just like the trails further up stream by isabel's old barn, there were a lot of fishers out and about, like this father-son duo!
It sounds so simple writing it out like that, but I realized that I don't actually really practice the half halt on its own. Which, uh, may explain why Charlie doesn't really have a good half halt lol.

Like, sure, I often practice full transitions with him: walk-halt-walk, trot-walk-trot, etc etc. But since auditing that clinic, I've been way more purposeful in practicing the half halt too, and it's been surprisingly helpful lol. Goooooo figure.

the gunpowder is such a pretty river!
Bc right now, for where Charlie is, I've been wanting to really focus on bringing his balance more back onto his hocks, and creating more engagement. To do so, I've sacrificed a lot of the "forward" that took me so long to get from Charlie, since it's so easy to slip over into running along flat and on the forehand.

unfortunately tho, bc the river is so giant, most of the surrounding trails are out-and-back hikes instead of loops. that's fine tho - it's nice to stay by the river even if it means recovering the same ground
So the half halt is really really helpful in slowing and lifting his front end even as I keep trying to push the hind legs up and under. Another visual that's helpful for me in getting that feeling is thinking about riding "both hind legs evenly into both reins."

Dan used to say that in lessons ages ago, and for whatever reason that just works for me. He'd especially have me thinking about it when riding the "walk at nearly halt" exercises: where you walk the horse very very slow and round, with each hoof fall very deliberate and purposeful, but with distinct impulsion that could transition at any moment.

we even took the horses into the river at a spot where the banks were nice and flat! and yes, i totally repurposed charlie's racehorse bridle parts onto his hackamore lol
Of course, the tricky thing with Charlie is that even as I try to bring him slower and rounder and more engaged, I have to not get tricked into letting him get behind my leg. Bc.... yea. There be dinosaurs back there lol.

such a pretty day for it too!
So that's where the other interesting bit of transition work from Ralph's clinic comes into play: walk canter transitions. Actually, back in the days of weekly lessons with Dan, he would also have me do a ton of walk canter transitions, specifically as I'd begin any jumping exercise.

I guess the idea being, the walk canter transition can only really happen if the horse is in front of your leg. So it's a pretty good test to make sure that even as I'm trying to keep Charlie's front end more contained and packaged, I'm not just shutting all the energy down.

lol we are so #meta with the pictures. eventually i'll get the reverse image of this shot, maybe haha
Luckily Charlie's actually pretty freakin good at his right lead depart from walk. It's like a little game to him: he understands it, knows how to do it, and doesn't need me to spell it out for him when he accomplishes it well. It's clear to him when he's a good boy.

eventually it was time to head back home again tho
The left lead depart is..... not there yet. Mostly bc the left lead has always been our stickier direction riddled with deep dark tar pits haha. Since the clinic tho, where literally every exercise was tracking left and it became abundantly clear to me that Charlie and I would have struggled quite a bit with that.... Well, since then I've made it my business to address it haha. It's time.

some of the horses got a little fizzy after turning around to go back home, but everyone was happy all the same
Charlie's figuring it out tho. I'm trying to create patterns in our schooling so he can anticipate the transition. Starting with the walk, getting that really round collected walk, practice the half halt, then trot (as Ralph would say: position to movement), then come back to walk again.

this path was super pretty too!!
Maybe repeat once more if needed, trying to develop a "fizzy" feeling in Charlie (a decidedly not fizzy kind of horse haha) before finally repeating the same pattern but asking for canter instead of trot. This almost always produces the right lead depart lol, but he's finally been able to strike into the left lead a couple times too without too much fuss. Small steps, y'all!

luckily for parts of the road we were able to get up onto the shoulder and skirt around a cornfield instead of staying on pavement
The downwards transitions are.... Well, uh, not there yet. It seems extremely unlikely that Charlie will have anything even close to approximating a canter-walk transition even in the next six months. Bc like, reasons and things lol. He's just a big horse to slow down haha.

charlie thought this was perfect for his snacking purposes lol
But that's ok. It's been really useful practicing all these transitions anyway. Charlie's not particularly strong or fit right now, which maybe explains why I haven't had too much trouble with him just running off with me lately. I guess that'll be the real test tho, of whether the half halt still works when he's a little less lazy lol.

eventually made it back to the farm tho, what a cool ride covering just a little under 10km!
For now, tho, I'm working with what I got. The flat work is never going to be Charlie's favorite, and it's certainly not particularly easy for him. But any time I can turn things into recognizable patterns helps big time.

Especially when Charlie can identify for himself if he was a "good boy" or not, vs being confused about why I want him on a slower shorter step here, but a lengthened step there lol. Like he knows how to do that stuff when jumping bc he doesn't need me to tell him if he jumped the jump or knocked it down - he can figure that out for himself and adjust as needed.

But when there's no obvious land mark or whatever, it's a lot harder for him to know if he "did it" or not. So the patterns in practicing transitions help a lot, and I've been really happy with how he's felt this past week.

Who knows tho lol, without eyes on the ground for so long my feel could be way off, so hopefully we'll get back into more of a routine sooner rather than later!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

all quiet on the western front

Charlie never ceases to amaze me. Really truly, he is a one of a kind horse. Just incredible. Lol.

You all remember: last winter my beloved brontosaurus found a 4" roofing nail with his seemingly magnetic hooves. While he very fortunately avoided serious injury to any of the many delicate structures inside the hoof, he still ended up abscessing quite pitifully 5 days later.

erry day
So when he punctured that very same hoof yet again a couple weeks ago (this time on a piece of godforsaken mulch... ugh... #neverforget), I kinda had something like a "5 day countdown" going on in my mind. Like, if he was still fine after 5 days, we were probably in the clear, right?

Haha. Hahahahaha. Wrong.

when yo horse so lame you don't even need a video or gif....
Bc apparently, while on the seventh day Charlie rested.... On the eighth day that sucker FINALLY abscessed. Ugh.

Like it was undogly hot out and Charlie had just had the day prior off after our baller hunter pace.... so all I wanted to do was groom him and tell him he was pretty and go wander around the woods a little bit... But he seemed a little funny stepping out of the cross ties toward the mounting block (which is literally three steps away). And then was definitely funny stepping away from the mounting block. Sigh....

this was..... a fail.
I guess the idea that Charlie would pass up such a ripe opportunity to abscess really was too good to be true. Oh well. As it turned out, the weather was brutally hot all week anyway so I mostly just spent my time with him trying to cool him off and get him comfortable. 

This included some soaking and some treatment of the hoof.... tho my grand idea for using soaking bags instead of a bucket was a MAJOR fail. These things might be great for like, white lightning or whatever when what you're really working with is gas. But for trying to fully submerge a hoof, esp when the area of interest is in the heel? Yea, nope. Did not work. Will not try again lol.

"wow shit sucks tho!" - charlie, probably
Anyway the abscess meant that we missed our much anticipated clinic with Ralph Hill, but you already knew that. And honestly I had already started reconciling myself to that fate from the moment I pulled the mulch dagger out of Charlie's frog. It felt like a foregone conclusion from the very start.

Oh well, that's just kinda how it goes with this horse sometimes. And meanwhile, Charlie got to spend some quality time in a barn yard paddock when he was too sore to make the trek out to the big pasture. Poor guy. Tho to be honest, while sometimes I wish he would toughen up, it's nice to know he will 100% tell me when he doesn't feel well or doesn't want to go into the big field. Considering he loves his turnout, it means something when he's like, "Yea, no thanks!"

somebody call peta, this horse is clearly neglected!
Luckily tho, he's been steadily improving. Last time we had this whole snafu, Charlie managed to take off the shoe of his other supporting hind limb. Which only exacerbated his overall discomfort from compensating for the punctured hoof, and he ended up abscessing in that other hind too. 

This time around, Charlie got his feet done actually the very next day after the Mulch Incident. So all his shoes have been on nice and tight, and his support limbs have been able to stand up to the task of compensation. Phew! So a week later, instead of dealing with a worsening situation as other hooves succumbed... instead, now Charlie seems pretty much back to normal.

in fairness, i *did* buy him for his fabio-worthy locks.... careful what you wish for!
Like I'll never not be paranoid tho. Obvi. The weather has been wreaking havoc on all the horses. We went from brutally oppressive heat to inches upon inches upon inches of rain literally overnight. And all the horses have their winter coats beginning to fluff up. The combined effect of all this being: Skin. Funk. Every. Where. Ugh.

So the skin funk, combined with Charlie being sore and not moving, combined with heat during the day time hours he spends stalled.... All this means that when I see him in the evenings, I do not love the look of his legs. I mean realistically I know it's pretty hard to blow all four suspensories all at once when it's 99* out and the horses aren't doing shit else except stamping flies. But like, you know what I'm talking about haha.

"Fascinating." - charlie, probably
Luckily tho, the horse has been pretty consistently sound the last couple of days so I finally climbed back aboard for our first few rides. Mostly just walking on the buckle. Wandering around the dressage arena, picking our track one stride at a time, aiming for a leaf here, a hoof print there. Not sticking to any predetermined patterns while also being very precise in exactly where I want Charlie to put his feet.

he's a dapper dude
It's a nice simple exercise bc it keeps the horse and rider engaged with each other. And also keeps the horse shockingly well in front of my leg, since I'm telling him literally every single step where to go, he gets really keyed in.

But it's also simultaneously really relaxing. And Charlie likes to stretch down like a friggin bloodhound as we go. I did a little bit of trot in the same manner our first ride back and he honestly felt like a million bucks. Charlie is not a horse that will stretch like that if he doesn't feel good, so that's always a really positive sign.

but hey, at least it's football season, amirite??
And the next ride we even did a little bit of canter, plus just a little smidge of work actually on the bit instead of on the buckle. And Charlie felt good. So ya know. Hopefully the Mulchpocolypse saga of 2018 is finally behind us.

Just in time for another week of extreme rain. Tho I'm not complaining about in the slightest - our neighbors to the south will have so much more to contend with, so all I'm hoping for is that everyone stays safe through the impending storm. And in the meantime, Charlie and I will probably just be lyin a little bit low.