Monday, June 18, 2018

training for pressure

This past week was spent mostly picking up the pieces after our disappointing attempt at Plantation's starter trial.

Like I wrote last week, obviously the first step in this process is a comprehensive wellness check for Charlie, with everything on the table. I've already made some changes here and Charlie's had a few appointments with the professional practitioners who know him best. Probably more to come on that later, too.

he's honestly been seeming like a happy camper lately!
This all doesn't happen in a vacuum tho. And the reality is that we are dealing with some training issues, regardless of whatever comes up in checking out Charlie's general health. Those training issues need to be addressed from the saddle, and there's no time like the present!

I gave myself a day off on Monday first, tho. Mostly to take a little time to sort out my thoughts and feelings. Give myself some pep talks. I wanted to really understand what happened and why, and also wanted to be crystal clear in my own mind about how to move forward. What were my objectives, my expectations? And was I prepared to get into the saddle for this first diagnostic ride confident that I wouldn't take it personally or get upset if it didn't go well?

Everyone knows that famous quote saying the only emotions that belong in the saddle are patience and a sense of humor. That might make perfect logical sense printed on a poster hanging on the office wall, but it isn't objectively true for me. It isn't really my reality.

loves his adorably illustrated sugar cube packets that my grandparents brought back from france actual years ago lol....
Riding brings out a LOT of different emotional responses from me. Most of them pretty freakin positive. But you can't really get those extreme highs without a couple lows thrown in there too. I'm human. I get frustrated, demoralized, angry. None of these feelings are super effective in horse training tho, it's true. But they happen. So it's up to me to make sure I'm emotionally prepared before I get into the saddle to keep myself centered.

I tend to hang on to things, to dwell. The memory of Plantation still stings, and will likely continue to do so until I can replace it with a newer, fresher, happier memory. For Charlie tho? Plantation might as well have not ever even happened. He's over it lol. Wayyyy past it.

If I went into our first ride back feeling angry or upset about how things went down at Plantation, Charlie's would just get confused and upset too, and it would be entirely counterproductive.

So these are the little pep talks I have with myself.

he got to see his favorite massage therapist this week too! she's been treating him for over a year now and knows his body better than just about anyone else. it's so funny bc he was so surly and defensive when he first met her, but now he just freakin adores her and loves his sessions
I also pulled out some different training aids: switched my normal crop for a dressage whip, and had a pair of spurs looped through my belt in case I felt like they were needed.

My thought here being: it's likely that spurs will become a regular part of our gear again. Even if I don't wear them for every schooling ride, it's not likely that I'm gonna leave the start gate without them again for the foreseeable future.

HOWEVER. Given the little pep talks I had to have with myself, and given that I really had no idea how Charlie would be for our first ride back (would he be sound? sore? sour? would I be able to keep my composure?), it seemed prudent to give myself a little bit of a buffer zone in case Charlie felt like a sulky sour mess and I got upset.

her general findings were that he's doing pretty well, but might be due for some chiro too
Turned out tho, he felt good. Better than good - actually, he felt freakin fantastic.

I still put a LOT of pressure on him during that ride tho. Because I really wanted to see. Wanted to push - give him an opening to say "No!" for whatever reason. Wanted to find out if there was a limit he was setting for what he would or would not take.

Esp in the moments following breaks, when he would maybe wonder if we would be done and then be reluctant to start going again. I put a lot of pressure on those moments to see how he would react.

And wouldn't ya know it, Charlie just up and took it. Carried on. Was a good boy.

That alone was enough to reassure me that physically, the horse is overall probably fine. Again - none of this precludes continuing our "comprehensive wellness check" but it's still giving me a lot of information about whether Charlie actually physically feels like he can't go forward.

So we'll see. I'm making some tack adjustments, evaluating other aspects of Charlie's day to day care, scheduling appointments.

got to sniff his favorite puppy too
Nothing is ruled out (is that ever even possible with horses anyway?) but again our day at Plantation looks increasingly more like the confluence of many small issues that snowballed into one giant catastrophe of a performance. And the vast majority of those issues have more to do with me and my approach to riding Charlie than anything else.

As far as I can tell, it basically boils down to pressure. Charlie has always been a somewhat pressure-averse horse. Since the very beginning of his time with me.

We hit a low point during our first winter together when I basically slammed into the wall of Charlie's sticky stuck resistance in a schooling ride, and was not able to work through it. The ride ended without resolution, and I felt at a complete loss for what to do and worried I was in WAY over my head.

I hauled Charlie to OF the next day (this was before we boarded here) for a much-needed lesson with trainer P. And she reinforced the lesson that I'm now facing with Charlie again: Yes, it is of critical importance that I'm fair to him and that he's physically able to do what I ask of him.

Simultaneously, however, I have to give him black and white guidelines on what's considered acceptable behavior and what is not. And as of that day, with trainer P holding my own toes to the fire, Charlie's refusal to move forward officially was deemed unacceptable. In no uncertain terms.

riley however was skeptical of all the pony attention
And I had to be vigilant about this. Every ride. Every step. If I failed to correct even the slightest indiscretion - Charlie sucking back when I put my leg on, or even just kinda ignoring me - Charlie would escalate to full on refusing to move.

At first, when I started correcting the small stuff we'd end up having our throw-down dinosaur-stuck-in-tar-pit tantrums right away, instead of slowly building up to the eruption over the course of a ride. The fights came faster and sooner. and more often. But they also became shorter and less intense. Instead of Charlie completely refusing to move and threatening to go up - he'd maybe just break gait for a couple steps before begrudgingly going forward again.

And eventually those moments of attitude faded to nothing more than a brief moment of pinned ears with a sky-high brontosaurus neck and head before carrying on as normal.

So here's where I made my mistake. Over time, as things continued to go so well, and as Charlie proved himself again and again to be SUCH A GOOD BOY OMG HOW DID I GET SO LUCKY, I kinda forgot about that vigilance. Kinda forgot that I had to stay on guard for those small little indiscretions lest I risk Charlie escalating again.

and there was a lot of pony attention haha
This was compounded by Charlie's seemingly never ending string of dings. When you're constantly in the cycle of "bringing the horse back into work," it never really feels like the right time to have it out, to end up in a big fight, or risk pushing him if maybe it really was a physical thing bugging him.

Plus I wanted so badly for him to stay happy, to stay eager, to keep being a good boy. I didn't want him to be sour or dull, and was maybe afraid to push anywhere near the direction of those earliest tar pit days.

What I forgot was: things didn't become consistently good with him until we were past that. Charlie didn't really relax and settle into his work until he was pretty clear that there weren't other alternatives - or at least not any alternatives that were easier for him.

Charlie became a happier, easier riding horse when I was the most diligent about clear rules, with consistent black and white treatment of what was acceptable and what was not. And in slipping up in that regard, in becoming more lackadaisical, it became easier for Charlie to explore other options. To feel like, maybe if he didn't really wanna, then he didn't really havta.

these ponies all live in different fields but have all become such good friends after being lesson mates for the past couple years lol
Instead of being able to have a quick clear discussion about "Yes we go forward now plz" in warm up at Plantation, the issue sorta simmered and steamed throughout show jumping and well into our cross country course. Where we started fizzling out over jumps, with Charlie dealing with the subsequently very uncomfortable jumping efforts.

So that's basically my big grand hypothesis of our current training issues. With the answer being that it's mostly up to me to be more disciplined in the saddle. To be more clear, and more consistent. And to not shy away from the sticky moments but meet them head on.

Getting back to those first few rides last week after the show, I wanted to go back to the basics of Charlie's willingness to accept pressure.

naturally they're all obsessed with trainer P too haha - probably thanking her for trying to make us better riders
I see the ability to take pressure as being something like a muscular strength. The only way to improve it is by exercise -- but too much too fast will result in a strain or tear. Just like anything else in horse training, you can't just go from 0 to 60.

Which, "60" in this example being: cantering out the start box away from friends and perceived safety in an environment that looked a little spooky (ie: Plantation's unique wide open hillside layout).

That makes "0" something simpler, like a spurt forward from my leg. Even just at the walk. But that's gotta be the bare minimum, right? Like there can't be anything less than that.

So this is where our pressure training really starts: Charlie must move forward off my leg. Every time. No exceptions. In the arena, during the walk up the driveway. On the trails. Wandering around the field. Always.

What I'm remembering is that when I'm super consistent about this most fundamental building block in Charlie's training, everything else becomes much, much easier. Funny how that works....

So we'll see. Charlie honestly has felt pretty good this week. Hopefully I can keep it up!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

all the in betweens

We've been keeping up a fairly busy schedule for the past few weeks around here. And what with all the horse shows and big lessons and whatnot there's been so many thoughts and feelings (and pictures and videos) I've wanted to share that a lot of the smaller details, the "in between" moments have kinda gotten lost in the shuffle.

Like signing up as a last-minute warm up ring steward for the Dressage Festival at Loch Moy last weekend. It hadn't been a part of my original plan, but they desperately needed help and I'm a huge Loch Moy fan so.... I went. And guys, it was POURING OMG.

A ton of riders scratched, but actually not as many as you might expect and we were there all the way up until 5pm. Honestly I was pretty impressed with how tough some of these folks were, riding their tests despite the horrendous conditions!

It was an especially cool moment when both my trainer P and another OF barn mate were in side by side rings at the same time haha. They both did the farm proud!!

Really tho, I gotta say I really enjoy stewarding warm up rings. I like talking to the competitors, and I esp like being the one small spot of organization in the personal chaos that can be any one individual's show day experience. When I'm competing, it always makes me a little worried when the stewards don't seem to know whether things are on time, early, or late. Or if they don't have answers to questions about which ring riders are in, or other general logistical stuff. So as a steward, that's the stuff I always try to have handy and it's really gratifying to be able to help keep riders relaxed by being able to answer all their questions!

Another secondary benefit to volunteering at the show was getting to hang out with Austen too, haha. Tho she was more generous than I, and signed up for volunteering both days.

And what's better after a long day spent at a show in the rain than getting to head out to her new farm, where both boys are now living together?? Add a couple tall boys to the mix and it sounded pretty perfect lol.

It had actually been a while since I'd gotten to see Pig (I saw Bast earlier this winter but Pig had already moved by that point). The big guy is lookin good these days!! 

Plus Austen's new barn is located near some cool trails. I'm always surprised by how few fitbit steps I get doing an activity like stewarding. I guess even tho I'm on my feet all day, I'm not really logging enough "walking" activity to register as foot steps??? Idk, either way I needed to get moving haha.

It was a pretty day for a hike too - with the river reeeeeally high with all the rain, and the woods looking particularly dark and charming lol.

Mostly tho, it was nice to just hang out. Just us, the horses, and our tall boys lol ;)

Speaking of tall boys out in the Maryland jungle, Charlie's herd recently relocated back to their big summer pastures. This field is neat bc it has a muddy sacrifice area at the front of it that opens on a stream for 24/7 fresh water, then leads out to giant grassy pastures up the hillside. 

I had always worried that Charlie would be funny about drinking from the stream since he was so averse to water in the early days. But.... according to this video, I was definitely wrong lol.

Which ya know, I could have guessed anyway considering he's become such a pro out in the woods too. As mentioned yesterday, Charlie and I have been spending the lion's share of our time out there. For long quiet hacks and for more purposeful trot sets. And actually some barn mates have been wanting to join up with us lately too! 

I basically just go the same few paths for trot sets since the hills are kinda, ya know, fixed in place. Tho with the help of barn mates I'm constantly figuring out slight improvements - like turning one hill into a loop instead of just an out-and-back track. Charlie and I might have a few problems on our plate right now, but dammit, fitness isn't one of them!! lol...

Anyway, I already wrote about scribing at another twilight event too. I still haven't ridden in one of these myself considering the logistics involved with a weekday evening event are.... challenging for me. But in light of Charlie's and my recent "problems," trainer P thinks we need to get back out again, STAT.

So I might be looking into this more seriously soon.... We'll see. These are such cool events - they're super low key. Riders are encouraged to do their dressage tests in jump tack and go immediately to the jump rings. Stadium is straight forward, and then for cross country all the jumps are lined up row by row, and you just jump whatever height you feel like, no matter which level you entered. Perfect for schooling up or down depending on how your horse is feeling. And no ribbons or anything, nothing formal scored at the end of the day -- so no pressure no matter your intentions.

And honestly maybe I kinda see trainer P's point in looking back at all my pictures from rides leading up to the disastrous Plantation outing lol. Bc yea... they all look like this haha. Not that I don't love hacking! And Charlie loves it too!

But he only knows what I tell him, and if 80% of the time I'm telling him that his job is to mosey lazily about the country side.... well it's not unreasonable that he might be surprised that other 20% of the time when I'm like, "But buddy, you gotta GO like RIGHT NOW!"

Don't worry tho, we won't abandon hacking entirely. It's too fun getting out there with friends (and Riley dog!!) and a very important part of keeping Charlie physically and emotionally balanced. I just maybe need to be a little more thoughtful in formulating a routine that works better for us.

Bc there's something really important to say about long slow miles across varying terrain. Charlie's grown enormously in his ability to read the ground and handle tricky terrain and natural obstacles. But. Maybe we also need more gallop sets haha. Ya know. Some fast miles mixed with the slow. Honestly doesn't sound like the worst homework ever ;)

Actually Charlie might even kinda like it haha! He's definitely got a love for all things outdoorsy. Like trying to sneak in on his neighbor pony's window even tho he has his own even bigger window (with grass right within reach!). True story, he also reaches over the stall wall to steal this pony's hay. Perks of being tall, I guess!

You know what's not a perk to being tall tho?? All that extra coat real estate. Like when you see that flattened spot in the mud and just know that it's your own giant brontosaurus who laid down and wallowed in all the slop. 

Ha yup. The very one and same brontosaurus. You nasty, Charlie. But at least you're brown!! It all ended up getting rained off of him in our no-good, very-bad pre-show lesson when we got stuck in a downpour and Charlie very adamantly felt like that was some bullshit. But hey, at least the rain rinsed off some of the mud so I didn't have to scrub as much during his bath afterward!

And anyway I guess that lesson wasn't all bad. I mean, it was pretty awful, I'm not going to lie, but we were able to find a solid place to quit, with Charlie being successful (and responsive) over a simple exercise. You're still a good dog, Charlie, even if you don't always feel like bothering!

So. Ya know. We enjoy each other's company. It isn't all glamorous riding, or fancy horse shows. And sometimes it involves having a tail wrapped up in an ace bandage to try to avoid it turning into a poopy mess in the trailer lol....

But for the most part, it's all the quiet little in between moments with horses - all the time spent with friends or going slow or just doing normal random every day stuff that helps keep me happy and motivated to work through the less-fun parts. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

a lesson to learn, a day to forget

Today's show recap is going to be a departure from what you might normally expect over here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing.

That was virtually guaranteed going into this event anyway, since I wasn't with my normal group (ie my friends who are the best at all things video/picture taking haha). Plus my trailer mate's dressage times were right on top of my jumping, so she wouldn't be around for pics anyway. Nbd tho, right? I can't have literally 8,000 metric tons of media for every single show, right?? Lol...

he's still pretty tho
Tho. Haha. It turns out I'm maybe grateful for the lack of pictures. Our day at Plantation Field was.... well, bad. It was a bad day. Not one for dwelling on or dragging out over the course of individual posts for each day, that's for damn sure.

lookin like a 100% goon ahead of dressage. already off to a good start! lol
It's a shame too, bc the horse has been feeling so so so good lately. Really really good. But then we had a shockingly bad ride the day before our show. In what was supposed to just be a straight forward flat school with maybe a trip or two through a grid for final prep.

It didn't work out that way tho. First we got caught up in a downpour that Charlie 100% noped out of. Then once finally out of the rain in the indoor, it was like I was riding a shell of a horse. Nothing garnered any type of response from him. The go button? Nope. The whoa? Double nope. Like nothing I did had any influence on him, but he was still kinda emotional about it.

i'm pleased with that free walk score
I tried to shrug it off, tell myself that one bad ride shouldn't be a deal breaker. That he's a good boy and he's been slaying lately. Plus I had already seen the course and pictures of all the jumps. Before that lesson, I was freakin pumped. This course looked like everything I could hope for.

After the lesson tho? Possibly some cracks started emerging in my mental game. Perhaps I may have let those sinking feelings of dread come sneaking in the back door. I.... had doubts.

finally got an 8 on his canter! that whole "nice attitude" part made me lol tho...
Dressage was not particularly inspiring, don't let those scores fool you. I was not at all very happy with the feeling I was getting from Charlie -- it was more of the same "shell" type feeling in the horse, like he wasn't really there. No try, no effort, no presence.

But I didn't really mess with it, didn't really rock the boat. I wasn't here for the dressage test on this day. So I guess we looked relaxed and steady enough to an outside perspective to squeak through with Charlie's new personal record in the dressage ring: a 30%.

Which is kinda ironic, imo. The judges were definitely a bit generous, and this score left us sitting in 5th place going into the jumping.

charlie was basically obsessed with his spicy little nugget of a trailer mate
We had a long wait before then, and even so I still ended up arriving in warm up a little early. Charlie was.... Not very emotionally at peace with the warm up area.

Plantation is a fairly unique venue: it's one giant hill, upon which all the main arenas are placed. Trailers and the dressage rings are down beneath one side of the hill, with cross country on the other. So the arenas right up on top have what almost amounts to a view of the whole world.

This was a tad overwhelming for Charlie and he felt pretty strongly that he belonged back down below, on the side of the hill with the trailers.

course meta data. the elevation profile is so bumpy bc almost all the jumps were situated on terrain
Warm up was sticky, but with a couple good enough efforts. The jump course itself was kinda more of the same.

It started off fine, tho we had a cheap rail at the first. But trying to get Charlie past the gate to jump 2 was a real challenge and we kinda biffed it and ended up adding both in the bending line and subsequent related distance.

Another jump in a roll back was apparently very spooky and we had a hard time getting over that.... Cruised down a line back towards the in gate just fine, but again got real sticky to finish on a 2 stride going away. In which.... bleh, Charlie added, taking that rail in the process.

Honestly it's kinda amazing we only had the two down.

this..... this is not a promising start, charlie...
I didn't love the selection of warm up jumps available for xc, but luckily with the help of trainer P (who had come out for my trailer mate but managed to scoot up the hill asap after her dressage test was done) we had a bit of a CTJ about going forward, and produced two really nice jumps from Chuck.

And he actually left the start box ok too. The course ahead of us looked really fantastic - the jumps were basically all smaller than we saw at Loch Moy last time, but the technicality was ratcheted up. Lots and lots of terrain. Three AB combinations (up bank, ditch, and bending line on a mound) plus a jump out of the water.

My biggest qualm with the course honestly was that the biggest jump was positioned at fence 2. Considering Charlie's kinda notorious for being sticky out of the gates, this felt like it could be a problem. But there was a fairly lengthy cruise to it, all going downhill, so I hoped I'd be able to get him past his grouchiness in time to push him up to the fence.

Alas, that was not to be. You'll see it in the helmet cam, but he was very very very sticky. Just cantering down the hill away from everything else. Not even aimed at a jump. Just straight up didn't wanna go in that general direction.

it wasn't all bad tho!
This did not improve on presenting to the fence and he just barely climbed over it. Kinda biffed the next jump too for good measure, tho it was on the small side at least. Then sucked back big time to the next jump. In his defense it wasn't tiny... but... it also wasn't large. And.... despite my full body efforts (the helmet cam is shaky, to say the least), bam. Refusal.

Represented and jumped it fine. Then same fucking thing at the next jump, except this time he ran out instead. And again jumped it just fine on second attempt. I was a bit flabbergasted, but was really hoping the next couple fences would help us get into more of a rhythm.

Next up was the up bank combination which wasn't really ideal, but somehow we made it through that ok enough. We added a third stride, but I kinda thought we might after walking it anyway.

i was so excited for this too.... oh well. some other day!
We had another craptastic distance to the brush table - bc, ya know, it's kinda hard finding distances when the horse is sucked back against your leg, and then got high centered on the most innocuous looking coop in the world.

Tho, I guess in Charlie's defense, the terrain was not totally innocuous -- the ground fell away rapidly down a steep hill immediately after the coop and I think Charlie took one look at that (half way over the coop) and noped right the fuck on out of that. I managed to not fall off in his mad scramble backwards over the coop, and.... Yea. That was definitely that.

I might be stubborn, but even I could see that our day was over. And that if I didn't walk away with an "R" we'd surely be ending up with an "E," or worse, a hurt horse. 

So.... Yea. Not a very inspiring day. Honestly I debated even uploading these videos but... well, the urge to document is strong with me haha. And there's usually something to be learned from the really really shitty rides, even if it's not really the lesson I thought I signed up for.

There are a couple initial thoughts here. On one hand, this was a pretty uncharacteristic day with Charlie. He's green and he's changeable and I never really know what I'm going to get leaving the start gate with him... but this didn't feel like my horse. Something I find deeply concerning.

charlie's favorite part is hangin at the trailers
On the other hand tho... This side of him has been present since day 1. He's been gate sour since the very beginning. Is always barn sour. We've had epic throwdowns about that. He's notorious for not accepting the pressure of being driven forward. I learned that about him in my second week of ownership.

A couple months into ownership, I wrote about how this side of him could easily turn into an issue of getting eliminated in dressage for disobedience, or of not being able to get him out the start gate on cross country. In short: it's a familiar demon.

sorry bud. we didn't come here for the tailgate. back up to the rings you go to exist etc while trailermate did her thang
While obviously step 1 in the fallout of a really shitty ride is always a comprehensive wellness check, I'm also trying to take stock of my approach to training Charlie.

My biggest focus has been keeping him happy in his work, keeping him fit and fresh with a lot of variety. Especially lately since he's been doing so well, I really haven't been pushing too hard into anything. Very brief, focused schooling sessions intermixed with lengthy hacks or woodsy trot sets. Honestly I've wanted to avoid anything that might make the horse more sour.

charlie by this point thought existence was some bull shit tho. he was what you might call a glass case of emotions. or a dumpster fire. honestly, homeboy was a hot mess.
I wonder if this has worked against me in some ways tho. That, by avoiding work that could lead to that sort of argument, I've actually been tacitly allowing Charlie to become a little more dull, a little more recalcitrant.

Maybe I thought that since he's generally such a good boy, and so reliable, I could just kinda avoid rocking the boat and cruise on through on the strength of his ability and eagerness. Except... Ha, turns out if the horse doesn't supply that eagerness himself and if I haven't actually instilled a certain degree of discipline in the training... Turns out shit falls apart real fast.

Here I was thinking if I just l left the horse alone and didn't pick any fights, he'd be able to cruise through this new level all on his own. Which... actually, uh, yea no. That's apparently not how horse training goes. Uh, my bad?

So ya know. That kinda sucked. Wasn't really the weekend I had hoped for. But maybe some important lessons were learned. Hopefully haha. The way I see it, just about every horse hits a pretty rough patch (or five) when learning to jump. Maybe I should actually be amazed it's taken this long for Charlie to figure out how to say "No!" in the first place? Idk. We'll figure it out tho.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

pardon the interruption...

Thanks to Sara's Volunteer Challenge this year, a lot of us have been getting out and about more than ever to pitch in at local shows. I've always loved volunteering at shows bc let's be real, I plain old just love horse shows and enjoy being in that atmosphere even if I'm not riding.

And actually I baked volunteerism into my overall goals this year, planning to volunteer at a show in any capacity in at least 7 of the year's 12 months. And so far I'm on track!

i first noticed this potted cactus outside a neighborhood building on a side street two winters ago. i assumed it was dying - just a few fleshy segments that looked shriveled and mushy. much to my surprise, it revived in the spring and grew like a weed!!
It's been kinda tricky keeping track of the small local stuff, like my own barn's schooling shows this past spring. I should probably create a tag here on the blog so I could at least track it that way... And maybe I still will. Bc there have been a few instances like that.

Just by memory tho, I've scribed at two dressage shows (under two different judges, so two unique perspectives that were each pretty interesting and insightful). Stewarded the warm up at another dressage show. And ran the in gate at our schooling CT. Lots of fun stuff - esp bc I know most of the riders and horses at these home events.

it pulled through this past winter similarly, and has been growing ever since - but then SHOCKED me when it sprouted all of these bud-like appendages. could it be? would it bloom??
Tracking my hours at USEA events is obviously much easier, bc of the Volunteer Dashboard. And actually, it doesn't even have to be a USEA event to be listed there. Loch Moy, for instance, uses that platform for organizing volunteers for all their events, including USDF shows and unrecognized starter trials.

and this first blossom was just so beautiful
Personally I like the iphone app for the volunteer dashboard better than the online portal bc it's easier to see past signups and hours. And so far this year, I did bit check at Plantation's USEA HT, SJ in gate at MCTA's Shawan Downs, plus jump crew at an MDHT Twilight Event and warm up steward at Loch Moy's USDF Dressage Festival. Plus will be scribing again tonight at another Twilight Event!

and now the whole thing is erupting! 
There are a few serious advantages to volunteering, as far as I can tell. First of all, just the networking alone feels really valuable. The horse world has always been a small, interconnected place. Becoming more familiar with the local trainers, organizers, judges, and pro riders is useful for a lot of reasons, and volunteering is a great way to do that.

Plus in my experience, the horse community often recognizes and rewards hard work. Obvi that's not always true - I'm sure we can all think of examples haha - but for the most part, opportunities tend to open up for those who are already poised to act on them. Meaning: those who are already out there on the scene demonstrating a willingness to be helpful and useful.

they're so cheerful looking, right?
Also, for more personal reasons, I get a lot of value from volunteering at horse shows bc it grants me the opportunity to see riders at all levels prove themselves and their horses to be just normal mortal beings who work hard but sometimes make mistakes. I've gotten to see a lot - A LOT - of really amazing and impressive and inspiring riding lately. But.... also some less smooth rides. And also some reeeally questionable rides.

Seeing really good riders make mistakes humanizes the sport a little bit for me. Seeing kinda average riders getting around higher levels gives me hope haha - makes it seem accessible. And obvi seeing some of the more questionable rides at higher levels makes me more resolute that.... yea, I want to keep doing my homework so I don't end up being that rider too (tho, ya know, it could happen haha!).

so pretty!
So long story short, I've really enjoyed getting out and about more this season. And am seriously grateful for Sara creating the motivation to do so by her awesome challenge. Remember - there are monthly random prize drawings of anyone who logged any horse show volunteer time. And at the end of each quarter, the volunteer with the most logged hours gets a prize. So be sure to get your hours in to Sara! And you don't have to be a blogger either!!

Have you been volunteering this year? Or do you have any plans to do so? Do you have similar feelings about why volunteering is fun and useful? Or maybe you've had different experiences? Like I know some of you have kinda been sucked into the vortex of becoming a beast of burden for your local organization... which like, isn't always super desirable either haha.

How have you gone about finding volunteer opportunities? Do you use the USEA volunteer dashboard if eventing is your thing? Or are there similar platforms for other disciplines? Or maybe there are facebook groups or forums that have been useful? Let me know, I'm all ears!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

keepin 'em guessing

Since my first full season eventing, spring has always been one of the busiest times of the year. We're all always so eager to get out after spending all winter in boot camp that it's easy to just sign up for literally all the things omg!!

we had a little trouble with this line, but when we got it right? charlie nailed it
True story: the calendar of events my friends and I sketched out for the first half of this year included seven (7!!) events on my wish list for April-May-June. Which like, is a LOT guys haha.

It hasn't worked out that way tho. I mean, does it ever? Charlie got off to a cracking good start at Loch Moy's season opener in March, but then popped* a splint in early April. Meaning I withdrew from the jumping phases at Full Moon Farm and then scratched from Loch Moy entirely a couple weeks later, choosing to rest the horse instead.

(*Colloquial term for general pain, heat or swelling in the area of the splint bone. Often an effect of blunt trauma, shoeing issues, concussion, some other interference, or even metabolic issues. Swelling can be in the surrounding tissue or even the outer layer of the bone itself. Some horses go lame but many do not. Charlie did not. Splints typically resolve on their own, and can be aided by anti-inflammatory medication, bandaging, and cold therapy. If you need additional help in brushing up on Basic Horse Injuries 101 and have trouble distinguishing this injury from a "broken" splint bone, I encourage you to pursue further reading here.)

hard to tell but this is a slightly skinny fence - maybe around 8'
In early May, Brita and I decided to skip Fair Hill's starter for a couple reasons. Brita was feeling a bit over extended (their season has been very busy so far!) and I felt like spending a long weekend ahead of time in Kentucky cut too much into my prep time.

But then the weather gods conspired against us, causing the postponement of a starter trial at our own farm. Incidentally, the trial both Brita and I had planned as our move up event. It seemed perfect, right? Our own home turf and all jumps we've jumped before! It was not to be tho...

sliiiiiiightly strung out going into the one stride lol
Instead we just pushed on with finally getting back out again for Loch Moy's final spring starter. Which like, we go to Loch Moy a lot. This farm is basically a home away from home. So it worked out haha.

Hopefully tho the rest of the spring will keep chuggin right on along without further interruptions. We've got one (mayyyyyybe two) events left on the docket before summer. Charlie and I are hoping to head out to another event next weekend - going along with a young lesson mate this time too. Should be fun!!!

made it out in good form tho!
So in the meantime, I'm still trying to find the right balance of schooling to keep Charlie sharp and feeling great, without making him too dull or tired. It means we do a lot of conditioning haha. In fact, Charlie's basically just been hacking and doing trot sets since Loch Moy last week, with the exception of one jumping lesson.

The lesson tho was a pretty great opportunity to check in on a few things. I opted to ride in my dressage bridle (with myler comfort snaffle, instead of the elevator bit on my jump bridle) for kinda unclear reasons. I think I was halfway feeling lazy about all the straps on that jump bridle, and halfway feeling curious to see how Charlie would be.

also a tad too gung ho going into the triple bending combination
Verdict? It is *not* my imagination that he's becoming more rideable and adjustable. I *can* bring him back into balance with my body and position without relying on a lot of leverage in my hands. So. Ya know. That's always reassuring haha!

On the flip side tho, the ride also kinda proved why an elevator bit is a good choice for Charlie right now. The mouthpiece of our typical jump bit is just a regular old aurigan KK. So when ridden off the snaffle rein, it's no different from a simple double jointed loose ring snaffle. It's extra power comes from the cheek pieces - the leverage they provide with poll pressure and curb chain when the curb rein is activated.

kinda skidding out a little over the jump haha - big horse wasn't steering super great this ride
This is a useful combination for Charlie since his tendency is to get heavy and low up front, plowing forward on his forehand. It's not out of naughtiness - really truly. It's kinda just how he's built, combined with years of going like a race horse.

He is developing in his training in this regard - as I was able to help him rebalance without the elevator bit. But the reality is that training is only half the issue - and the other half is strength. It's just going to take time for him to build the strength to hold himself more up in his balance.

We're working on it! It's basically the same issue in our dressage work right now too haha - the only difference is Charlie doesn't approach dressage with quite the same relish and gusto as jumping lol...

he's still so pretty tho <3
And this lesson was a phenomenal exercise in exactly that. The ring was filled with allllll sorts of interesting things, including some bending lines or unexpected turns that would help keep Charlie with me by making him guess a little bit about where the next fence would be lol.

Tho I'll note: the first thing to go when he's getting heavy and strung out up front is the steering lol. So it was good practice but also reeeeeally challenging for me! Luckily Charlie's a good honest boy and once he figured out which jump we were going to, he just up and jumped it.

i don't even know what this style of jump is called - basically a giant cross oxer with a liverpool beneath
The outside line of oxers was fairly unassuming, except it was set on a true 60' four stride distance. Charlie obviously has no problem hitting a 12' canter stride, but maybe *I* kinda do lol. I'm used to trying to collect or compress him, but then kinda go too far in the opposite direction when I think we need an open stride.

Charlie just needs the barest of a whisper from me to open up. Instead tho I kinda get a little too excited and am like OMG GO GO FLY HORSE GO! Which like, is not productive haha. I mean, Charlie happily obliges! But it's not generally super balanced and often results in awkward jumps and flying rails. Ahem. Oops.

ha. haha. see above comment about how we had a little trouble with this outside line....
So of all the exercises, the straightforward line took the most effort for me haha. Once we got through that, tho, there was a very cool line from a skinny vertical, then bending immediately at a somewhat acute angle to an 18' in-and-out.

Charlie's first pass at the skinny found him surprisingly not super committed. But the second time (during our course in the video below) he toooootally just blew right through me, then almost didn't make the turn to the one stride haha. Fortunately tho, he's got enough experience with one strides that the exercise was kinda able to correct him instead of me. Like he blew through the skinny and got strung out, but then adjusted and navigated the one stride carefully and correctly. I'll take it!

practice makes better tho
Then we went around to a bending triple combination of 3-to-3 strides. This is not really something I ever anticipate seeing in a stadium course at an event, but *is* the type of line that could show up on more upper level cross country courses.

Charlie was again a little too gung ho going into it - I had let him continue to be a bit strung out and was kinda relying on the turns to get him back together again. It worked just fine for these jumps - he's an honest boy and goes to the fences. But the distances were kinda tight and had these been skinnier fences requiring a tighter line (or, say, had there not been wings on the jumps) it might not have worked out so well.

charlie looks like such an eager beaver while i try to pep talk myself into not gunning it down the line lol
Last little exercise was a short turn vertical then loop alllllllll the way around to this bizarre liverpool oxer type thing. I opted to make my turn well inside from the rail to continue with the theme of keeping Charlie guessing about what came next. And in response he actually really came back to me in his canter and balanced quite nicely to meet the jump easily.

i love that he flags his tail tho when he locks on lol
Trainer P sent us back to clean up the outside four stride line once more just to really reinforce the idea in my own ride of looking for a pleasant, balanced 12' stride vs just running the horse at the jump.

Other than that, tho, it felt like a super productive school. I really really really like how Charlie feels right now about jumping, and honestly believe he's happier and more engaged with bigger fences. Plus it was oddly reassuring to feel like A) I *can* jump him in a plain snaffle, but B) the elevator still feels like the right choice for where he is in training.

So ya know. The horse feels good. We'll see how this week unfolds in terms of schooling rides too. Honestly we need a ton of work on the flat, obvi, but with limited time and a high priority on keeping the horse happy vs dull/sour, we'll see how  much I actually do in that regard.

Mostly I expect to be hacking and doing more trot sets in the woods. We both seem to enjoy that, and it's doing wonders for Charlie's physical condition and soundness. I might also try to make it out to the cross country fields at least once just to go up and down some banks, and maybe over a ditch or two.

It's harder now that all the gates are closed again and horses are turned out back there again.... But it'll be worth it to make time, I think. Even for my own peace of mind.

Mostly tho I'm kinda hoping to stay in cruise control. And may or may not be eyeing the upcoming forecasts with suspicion and skepticism lol. Wouldn't it be nice to have one single show so far this season that wasn't some variation of extreme weather????

We'll see what happens, I guess haha. Is anybody else spending much time assessing the upcoming calendar? Maybe your season is only just getting started? Or you've also had to deal with weather issues or injuries or anything like that?