Monday, December 18, 2017

we'll be there with bells on!

Hello, my name is Emma. And I ride a capable, if slightly careless, thoroughbred named Charlie. My friends also ride very capable thoroughbreds. And together, we occasionally make somewhat ambitious plans.

behold: christmas spirit incarnate!
also, this pic is from post-ride, note how loose the hackamore noseband got through the ride.... womp
Such as how we've been planning for weeks to go cross country schooling this past weekend. Either at some sort of typical venue -- or somewhere in Western Maryland that has all-weather cross country arenas.

friends with ribbons tooo!
Alas, holiday scheduling got in the way of that, so we had to make due with a humble trail ride.

Birdie was highly skeptical of the bells lol
But. Ya know. "Humble" is a relative term.

three amigos!!! and damn but charlie looks giant.... he and Birdie are supposedly the same height but.... yea he's massive
And I woke up that morning feeling like.... Ya know. Sometimes, when all else fails, why not manufacture some real holiday cheer??

"hello, yes, Bella - i luv you" -- Charlie
So I stopped by the neighborhood pharmacy and picked up some bells and ribbons. And told Brita and Rachael to "Brace Yo'Selves" bc Christmas was about to go down lol.

jingle jingle jingle!
Luckily all parties were on board and happily pulled out some last minute color coordination. Subtle, ya know?

bc bells, obvi
And of course the horses were happy for the diversion no matter what. Naturally none of them have done much in the way of "outings" recently, and trail rides aren't exactly new for any of them.... but the bells and snow definitely added a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole thing.

horses were happy setting off in the snow
So off we went! Three Two saucy sassy thoroughbreds and Charlie!

and omg, that Riley puppy, wow, she was HAPPY
And, obviously, one Riley dog. Bc damn that dog is like an essential ingredient in all of our trail riding.

just look at that dog tho lol
No joke - if you've never hacked out with an energetic exuberant golden puppy, you're seriously missing out. And nothing - and I mean nothing - breaks a horse to dogs better than a golden (or huskies, for that matter {nothing beats a good sonka dog <3}). Highly recommend!

oooooooh but crossing the ice-covered stream was EXCITING too!! you'll have to watch the video for the full effect haha
Rachael's mare Birdie was seriously lit up (she hauled in for the day and had never seen any of these trails) and was happiest leading the way for most of the ride -- except for the above stream crossing.

What a funny moment! Poor brave Bella drew the short straw for blazing this particular trail, and set one hoof on the ice then LEAPT across when the ice broke. Charlie was second bc he's also seen this crossing multiple times, and Bella in all her leaping hadn't sufficiently broken up the ice.

some areas tho were fully cleared of snow
Luckily Charlie did not murder me, and actually stepped through nicely enough to chop it all up. And Birdie more or less happily followed the other two horses. Made me wish I had my helmet camera on tho, bc I certainly wasn't brave enough to hold my phone up to record it!

the woods were more mixed
The horses also had another tricky section of trail to contend with later on: a fairly broad natural ditch, more like a gully. Birdie led the way there and stepped through like a civilized being. Tho Bella and Charlie both had to jump it. Sliiiightly nerve wracking but damn these are good horses!

charlie's bow <3
For the most part, we just wended and wound our way through the woods - trying to make it last. The ringing of our bells was maybe the sweetest most cheerful sound I've heard in a long time, and it made me so happy to try to capture moments of that - including when we trotted/cantered across a field border.

For that reason alone, I hope you watch the video. If for nothing other than to hear the bells!

lol tail queens (and king)!
Obviously it would have been nice to actually go cross country schooling too... But. Ya know. This was a pretty solid alternative.

gotta love it, right?
And anyway I think Charlie was a little tired and sore from his lesson on gymnastics the day before (post coming soon!), so a low key trail ride was the perfect antidote for him.

the horses in the next field over were highly suspicious of our bells lol
We finished the ride with two wonderful sections of moving the horses out - once along a soy bean field where we mostly just trotted (in the video). But also again once we got into the cross country fields, we just let 'em go!

thanks Brita & Bella for handling all the gates!
Charlie, ever the gentleman, just ambled along in a polite canter. Spooked a little bit at the dog running up on the same side as those blasted bells banging into his shoulder.... lol.... But mostly just cantered right on along!

heading back to the barn quite satisfied, still jingling obvi lol
Which is good for me, bc this DIY hackamore noseband turns out to not be quite sufficient for the pressure I exert on it with Charlie, compared to Izzy. It's a suspender clip from the local crafts store - and after every 2-3 rides I'm finding it reeeeeally loosened up. It might be time to put a buckle on that after all.

and it was all repurposed as stall decorations!
That's for a later date tho. For now? I'm just enjoying having spent a wonderful, cheerful, and musical morning with buddies dashing through the snow around our farm :)

Do you ever like to take holiday spins with your horses? Or dress them up? Have you ever used bells like this? Did you love it just as much? Or was your horse like Birdie - no bells allowed?

Friday, December 15, 2017

that freshly clipped zest!

It's been hard to feel inspired taking pictures lately bc.... well.. Everything is so... brown. The horse. The walls around the horse. The floor below the horse. The mud on the blanket on the horse. Everything. Brown.

skeptical brown face is skeptical
But I swear - for all my moaning and groaning about hoping to one day maybe get to do fun stuff with my horse again, we are in fact actually currently doing stuff too. It's just not super duper amazing exciting stuff, and is barely even made colorful by all these accompanying brown photos.

by jove, that's an open air arena! what on earth happened to the wall?!?
Mostly tho, we've just been schooling the most fundamental of stuff. Like, not even "dressage" fundamentals. Just.... riding horse fundamentals. Walk, trot, canter, steer. And. Uh. Yea I've started riding with the neck strap again bc sometimes the ride gets a tad bumpy.

if you just went by the mirror tho, it wouldn't look any different. just.... brown. 
Charlie's a very communicative horse tho. Which is a double edged sword. Sometimes I just wish he was a little tougher.... but then again it's honestly maybe possibly a little bit preferable sometimes to have a horse who tells you (clearly, so clearly) when something is buggin him.

behind that majestic horse tho, and behind that mirror... yup. that wall done got torn down!
Something is currently clearly buggin Charlie. And it's not just knockin the rust off or the residual creakiness that came from being on stall rest so long. It's not because he's lame. So next on the docket is equipment failures. You may recall this time last year I made the discovery that my oh-so-fancy anatomic leather girth was apparently the thorn (literally) in Charlie's side. And when I switched to a fuzzy girth, many many of our dinosaur-in-tar-pit moments went extinct.

this skeptical brown pony who would like to know wtf i'm doing taking pictures when clearly the wall is gone
My current hope is that we'll alight on some similar discovery this time too. Everything is on the chopping block. I've grown suspicious of the dressage saddle in particular, so that's on an unpaid leave of absence until the fitter can look at it and either deem it fixable for Charlie or a total loss. At this point, I'm actually planning on replacing it either way - unless the fitter reeeeally likes it.

horses outside The Wall proved to be very upsetting. unclear why.... i blame that fresh clip for letting the sillies in
The fitter will also take a looksie at the jump saddle too - which may be more easily adjusted for the horse given it has wool flocking. If she declares that a total loss tho, Charlie will be for sale.
Lolz just kidding haha. Maybe. Haha. I really like this saddle tho..... But I digress. My point is that everything in Charlie's universe is currently under inspection. Since we already know he's the type of Prince to feel a Pea under 20 Mattresses, nothing is too insignificant during this review!

intermission from the all-brown-all-the-time pictures for a little colorful course diagram. keep in mind this arena is 20x40m, and yes those poles are just as close to the wall as they appear. turns are tight, lemme tell ya.
And in the meantime I just try to keep him working with me as best he can. As in the past, ground poles prove excellent in this regard. He still kinda hates me and thinks I'm terribly unfair to ask for canter like, ever, but can reconcile himself enough to the idea when there are ground poles involved.

This particular arrangement (left behind by lesson kiddos) was particularly useful in it's simplicity. I just did figures of 8 over the diagonal poles again and again and again - which, as you might imagine, necessitated many simple changes of lead. Currently Charlie's bugaboo - but again, once he was in the zone of the exercise, he could maybe concede to just pick up the new lead with minimal drama.

how many shades of brown do you think there are in the world?
The bending line exercise was particularly challenging for us bc it wanted a small enough canter to make the turn to the diagonal rail, and a small enough canter to make that 10m half circle turn at the end. Plus since I continued going in the same direction as I started, that bend in the middle actually hinted slightly at counter canter.

We needed the bend too tho bc the distances (measured undoubtedly for ponies) were tough. The four was probably spot on - but way too big a step for lumbering bronto Charlie to make that 10m half circle immediately after. The five was actually right there for us on the right lead, but nowhere to be found on the left lead. Further evidence that we've lost adjustability on that lead.

charlie doesn't care, so long as i hurry the F up with his treat delivery, plz!
So actually a pretty good exercise for where we are right now in regaining fitness. Just technical enough to call us out when our pace was wrong or we were strung out, but also simple enough that the horse could easily understand when he executed it well.

Little rides like this are honestly mostly what we need at this point. Opportunities for me to sorta sit back and guide the horse, with the walls and ground poles serving as "natural aids" in a way. So the exercise itself is clear enough to the horse that he can just get on with being a good boy without questioning what I'm asking every single step (ugh).

Considering the current icy state of the ground.... I guess this type of ride will have to suffice no matter what lol, so we might as well make the best of it! Tho I did learn on this particular evening that the lonnng driveway between the arena and barn is miiiighty sketchy when it's icy.

Charlie slips exactly as much as you would expect a careless oaf like him to slip. Plus for whatever godforsaken reason, leaving the arena (with me on foot - no death wish here!) he got a major bee up his bonnet upon spying other horses through the torn down wall omg and spent the whole walk spooking and snorting and slipping down the icy driveway.

Oh Charlie. I blame that fresh clip...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

reasons my horse loves me

This poor horse, guys. Seriously.

People always tell me that he must be so much happier in his new life post-track. And that ammy horses really have it the best bc of all those fancy supplements and body work sessions and primping and pampering.

the face of joy? or.... suffering? lol don't answer that
I'm not fully convinced Charlie agrees with all that tho, lol.

yea.... that's a freshly bathed neck. in freezing weather. sorry buddy!
As evidenced by his shocked - shocked - reaction to me spot-bathing him with a wash rag last night. He kept trying to tell me, "Emma - it's actually literally freezing out right now, are you friggin crazy??"

dressed for success tho, right?? the butt sticking out is all the rage, i'm told
Alas, Charlie.... some things just have to get done no matter the weather. And at least I used hot water!

and in case it's not totally obvious, that's my quarter sheet wrapped around his neck lol...
His herd had just changed fields the day prior and apparently there must have been some extreme running around bc Charlie was crusted in dried sweat from eyelid to asshole, I shit you not. Plus, ya know, it had been a while since he had a bath anyway so his coat was pretty cruddy despite my constant vigorous grooming efforts.

it actually worked quite well tho and he was dry in no time
On one hand, I honestly think the horse secretly adores all this hands-on attention (especially since it did not result in being tacked up (a story for another day) or ridden). And naturally there were many bites of carrots involved. Tho he maybe did not love the heavy focus on his belly and girth area.... it needed cleaned tho, buddy, I swear!

it helps that all the barn's winter windows have been installed, they make a HUGE difference!
And all for a good cause too. You see, I don't have my own clippers and am honestly pretty fine with just paying someone to do the job. Especially at our previous h/j barn, the barn mgr there was an expert groom and getting the horse clipped was an easy peasy add-on to board. Plus he looked fantastic.

so handsome <3
Which was fine by me, since last year was my first time with a horse who needed it anyway (Isabel never got clipped, hardy beastie that she was). Charlie's neck and girth area always get very sweaty very quickly even in light work, and that's a huge pain in the ass to dry off before blanketing. Clipping is the easiest way to address that, as far as I'm concerned.

tho maybe slightly world-weary lol
It's turned out to not be quite as easy as just "adding it to my board" at the new place tho, and actually was a little difficult finding someone to even do the job. Finally tho, we got it done. And hopefully Charlie's impromptu late-night spot-cleaning session kept my friend's clippers in relatively decent shape!

And. Now that the big guy is all clipped up like the little sport horse he's intended to be, maybe we can get back to doing more and more fun stuff! ;)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

he was always a bronto

Even when I'm not doing anything directly horse related, the ponies are never far from mind. Apparently. Like this past weekend. Charlie enjoyed a long weekend off while I trekked down to Durham (driving directly through that snowstorm, genius planning Emma) for a long-overdue visit with an old friend.

anthropomorphic friendly face!!
At one point, while strolling through a chilly wooded path out behind a local museum,* we happened to find ourselves face to face with the above looming giant. A life size scaled replica of a brontosaurus.

(Museum of Life and Sciences for anyone ever in that area - it's mostly a kids museum, but we adults had a grand ol' time even with some of the exhibits closed bc of ice. Highly recommend - and if you have another zoo or aquarium membership you may get discounted admission). 

but damn that conformation looks SERIOUSLY familiar lol, right??
And the resemblance was striking. Uncanny, even. Anyone else see what I saw??? lol...

ahhh yes, that's right. my off track brontosaurus, charlie. this pic is from last year, but those angles are spot on lol
Lol poor Charlie.... I've always jokingly referring to him as my beloved dinosaur who occasionally gets mired down in one tar pit or another in our never ending quest for better flat work. Turns out tho, I might not be far from the truth with that visual imagery.

can you imagine coming around a stand of trees on your hike and facing down one of these??
All joking aside tho, I'm hoping the time off was useful as a bit of a "reset" for me. It kinda bugged me to miss our weekly jump lesson - except a snowstorm blew in so it was probably held in the tiny indoor anyway. Not super sorry to miss that, and an extra week of not jumping certainly won't hurt that freshly recovered surgical limb!

really tho, who am i kidding, if i even ran into the baby sized version above i'd probably lose my shit
Plus, as you know, we've been dealing with a serious balancing act of bringing Charlie back into work while addressing the physical creakiness that settled in during his stall rest, and his own disinclination to work through it. He's been.... Grouchy. Cranky. Grumpy.

this is Lightning the farmyard donkey! who, coincidentally, happened to be dressed more warmly than my own equid who was left to fend for himself in the snowier northier maryland during my absence. sorry charlie! :(
That, combined with the lion's share of our rides happening in cold darkness, with only dimly lit or small, crowded spaces to work.... Plus Charlie's apparently amplified gate sourness in the dark.... Eh. It's been the perfect storm of small, nagging inconveniences that I can't help but let sap my motivation away.

he shouldn't be too jealous of Lightning tho, poor guy was lame AF with a duct tape covered hoof. apparently abscesses can strike even the most humble of petting zoo critters!
So. A weekend away to recharge was maybe welcome. I also spent the time thinking a little more deeply about how to tackle this set of circumstances so I feel less blah and more energized.

the alpacas were borderline disdainful of our offerings
Luckily - there are actually a few ideas bumping around in my head. Very realistic, reasonable ideas about small tweaks to my schedules and routines that could actually maybe make a BIG difference in Charlieland. Fingers crossed.

the butterfly garden was spectacular. difficult to photograph tho, except for the, uh, slightly more.... stationary of those creatures who enjoy only brief existences, apparently. never fear tho - the ants were ready and waiting to do their part in this little ecosystem
Nothing settled on that front tho, but hopefully in the next week or so I'll have more details (and can actually trial some of my ideas to see if they work as intended).

ok so i did get more than just dead butterflies tho haha. these pale beauties flitted around like little ghosts
In the meantime tho, it's a return to business as usual. The reality is that Charlie really needs to be kept in regular work right now. Motion is lotion and all that. Plus the consistent routine helps avoid any big fuss when we have to suddenly get back to work after a prolonged rest period.

there were birds in there too! these two had a very pretty song, and i guess don't eat butterflies. maybe they eat ants tho?
So upon returning home from Durham, I was able to get on the schedule with dressage trainer C, who came out to our farm last night. I even got to have the lesson during daylight since I had already taken the day off work for the drive home. Bonus!

Going in tho, I knew it was maybe a bit of a gamble asking Charlie to buck up for a lesson after four days off wherein a major cold front also blew in. And.... the gamble did not pay off. Charlie was reeeeally not having it. I got him up to the arena about 10-15min early to work through what I knew would be some deep, dark tar pits and he was... ugh. He was actually really fucking bad.

look how colorful!
Luckily by the time trainer C got there, he was more or less resigned to his fate. But it was still kinda a fragile feeling lesson, and we really didn't do much beyond working on square turns on a small circle at one end of the ring. Plus a little bit of work on canter departs.

Charlie lodged many protests throughout the evening and I think only had one clean canter depart that didn't involve some variation of stamping his feet like a petulant child, or just letting fly with a hind leg. Ugh. But. Ya know. That's just kinda where we are right now, and kinda what I'm gonna get after letting the horse sit for a couple days in a row.

mine is more 'bronto' than 't-rex' but yup, this about sums it up!
So hopefully some minor adjustments to my schedule will help with that. And help reduce the ennui that comes along with facing an hour drive through rush hour to ride 20m circles on a cranky horse in the dark.

And in the meantime I'm still working on all those other little details that always merit a second look whenever things aren't going great with the horse. At least one big positive was that trainer C thought Charlie looked stronger behind than the last time she saw him. Reassuring, lol. The whole plan of "A Fitter Charlie is a Sounder Charlie" is working.

So. Ya know. One of these days we'll get this brontosaurus back on track haha. Eventually. Needs more jumping, methinks ;)