Tuesday, July 16, 2024

big small differences

We've been laying low in the heat, keepin everybody as cool as reasonably possible... But mostly just taking it easy. Which is kinda nice, not gonna lie!

brace yourself for unrelated gratuitous charlie photos <3 <3 <3
I don't really have any "big plans" for Doozy at the moment, let alone anything requiring any significant preparation or 'stepping stones' along the way. 

Which is probably a good thing, bc we've slowed down considerably since moving to the new farm. I remain extremely pleased with how well the mare coped with the move... But she's still Doozy lol... She still challenges me basically every time I swing a leg over.

charles, in his indoor wash stall with warm and cold water!
She's grown up so much in subtle, easy-to-miss ways. Like standing at the mounting block, for example. Or traveling alone on the trailer. Or basic riding stuff like accepting leg aids, and even just like, trotting. I say "easy to miss," tho, bc realistically it's natural to obsess on the weak spots, the problems, the "holes."

charles, looking cute in his new outdoor ring <3
My tendency is to get frustrated when the horse frantically rushes, yet again, through a ground pole exercise, rather than recognizing and praising her clever footwork as she organizes her legs into a right lead canter transition, her notoriously more tricky lead.

happy to be riding with friends!
This mare absolutely thrives off praise, tho. So... Right now, basically everything we work on is designed to be "easy" and "boring," routine recognizable exercises from which I can tell Doozy just how amazing she is. From which she can learn the feeling of being "petted and praised" down to walk after a job well done.

the humble plastic curry, my #1 must-have grooming tool. naturally had to buy a second so each horse has one!
Doozy was a super star at Jenny Camp last month, growing in confidence, experience and strength through each phase of the event -- ultimately finishing cross country in beautiful form. She walked away strutting like a newly minted champion, convinced that she is Queen Of Jompies, Knower Of Everything.

we desperately need more rain, but there's still a little grass out there!
Except, lol, she obviously does not know everything...   

In particular, she doesn't have an answer yet for tricky distances --- doesn't quite know how to use or adjust herself. And while she has a very good eye naturally, and good footwork, her default is to speed up and rush the fence -- launching and lurching flatly at it, vs stepping up and under for a strong push off from behind.

doozy, lookin uncertain in the cross ties at TM for a recent dressage lesson
So that's been our focus area ever since getting back to work post-quarantine at the new place. I promise we are still working on getting regular lessons. Coaching relationships take time and I've been spoiled by having some really really excellent past trainers. I'm also learning that not every approach will work for Doozy.

back at doozy's new farm, indoor wash stall also has hot and cold hydrants omg!
Specifically, relaxation must remain sacrosanct, IMO. Twice now, I've worked with trainers who could coach us into very good work in the moment --- but at the expense of increasing tension in the horse. Which, in my experience with this mare, makes that good work increasingly difficult to reproduce in future rides -- and takes us backward in the quality of my solo schooling rides.

ground poles until death or boredom, whichever comes first!
plus, peep all this cute jump fill we get to play with!
So we carry on in our independent #privateer style. Which lately involves revisiting the basics with ground poles and footwork. Utilizing poles spaced at 9' -- like in the picture above. I like this distance for Doozy bc it works for both trot and canter, and is generally forgiving. 

We work on the same or similar exercises in every ride, with slight variations in method and no ride lasting more than about 20min in this heat. One entire ride was spent trotting up to the poles, walking just before them, then trotting away after them, until we could actually trot the line in rhythm with soft contact. Until it was boring.

simple footwork exercises like pole to X to pole, 18' distances
Each ride has built on that exercise, until we were trotting into the ground poles -- and now picking up the canter at the first. Carrying that canter around on the circle, then back to trot into the poles, pick up canter, rinse repeat. 

Aiming for hyper soft contact. Letting Doozy make mistakes like lurching awkwardly or stepping on the poles. And showing her the mistakes aren't a big deal, aren't reason for panic.

sensitive red mare started going a little bald
Also aiming for "boring." For both of us. If she got too amped, then back to trotting up to the poles, then walking instead of cantering. Trying to make it feel easy, quiet. Nbd. 

Next we progressed to holding canter the whole way around the circle and through the poles. Working on holding the correct lead, finding a balance, waiting. And again, interspersing walk and trot as needed to regulate the excitement lol.

new fuzzy gifth from consignment! replacing the old ovation gel form, that was actually a hand-me-down from isabel if you can believe it!
Next we started re-introducing small jumps. Little X's, like the one pictured earlier, and also that flowery lattice gate from an earlier picture and other flower box filled small jumps, always with placing poles at takeoff and sometimes on landing too. 

it's a simple style girth but i quite like them!
The more fill, the better, IMO. While "building up" the jump might make Doozy more excitable, the ground poles and flower boxes also help encourage her to get more "up and over" vs "through." My takeoff poles are generally at the 9' distance, to replicate the same exact question as our ground pole exercise, and we experimented with landing poles at both 9' and 18'.
lady got new shoes with a new farrier too!
Doozy definitely gets more excited at the actual jumps, and wants to rush at them. It's really really hard for me to keep my hands soft when she does that, but catching her in the mouth just makes her even more inverted and awkward, reinforcing exactly the wrong feeling. So I hold the neck strap and let her make her mistakes.

he recommended putting her in bell boots to protect some of his shaping plans
But this is where all that praise comes in to play: Doozy knows when it doesn't feel good. She knows when she clobbers a rail and steps on the landing pole. I don't need to explain that to her, ya know? But I can use the ground pole exercise to show her the difference, and praise every single moment of softness or patience.

also at doozy's farm, another cat! this one might be a house cat, tho - i've only seen him once
We had a really great moment in our last session, with the flowery lattice gate jump, with takeoff pole at 9' and landing pole at 18', to be ridden on a circle. Her first time through was heinously frantic - including scrambling all over the landing pole (considering her natural step is def 12'+!).

he has beautiful eyes but wouldn't show the camera lol
But we just went right back to the ground poles like nbd, which she did very nicely, then held the circle right back to the actual jump. And wouldn't ya know it, right from the takeoff pole, it was apparent that she "got it." Like, absolutely aced the trot up to the pole, stepped up perfectly to actually jump the gate (instead of essentially hurdling it), and balanced through the 18' distance to the landing pole. 

Perfect! Good girl! I'm an absolute junkie for that feeling haha, not gonna lie. When it "clicks" for the horse, like she really understood the exercise <3 <3 <3 

doozy, with field friends
In a weird way, this season's intense heat has maybe been beneficial in forcing me to stay efficient and economical in these rides. Like, we need the consistent repetition --- but in short sweet and boring doses. I'm reminded of a lesson years ago with former trainer Dan C, and a very green Charlie, with instruction along the lines of:
"Don't take forever to get there. This work is exhausting - don't lollygag around waiting for him to soften up before we can do the exercise. Do something, change something. Make a difference. Slow him down. Soften him."
her grass is similarly parched, but still there!
That's been a useful mantra to keep in mind while we work on our ground poles and footwork exercises. No endless circling -- Only good productive repetition, aiming for clear positive stopping points, knowing that we can keep slowly building in the next session.

So we're making the most of the nasty weather, one simple boring ride at a time, with the hope that maybe once things cool off we'll be ready for anything!  

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

first hill hack!

A byproduct of moving both my horses to new farms last month is that it gave me the opportunity to think more seriously about what I really want in a boarding facility. 

doozy + lacey continue to do quite nicely as new pasture buddies!
It's all fun and games to hypothetically consider "must haves" vs "would be nice," but things get real when it comes to actually evaluating available options.

kitties are good too, clearly eager to be frens with whoever will feed them LOL
Every farm is unique, with its own way of doing things, own community ethos, and combination of resources (land, water, shelter, riding facilities, etc). 

for today's post: our first solo hack about adventure! there are trails in the woods too, but i'll get a guide for that
Personally, I've always preferred spacious barns with lots of room to roam and plenty of options for riders, on top of good turnout. It's nice to have a little variety, ya know?

explored a few little pasture lanes, tho!
When I first toured Doozy's farm (over a year ago, bc good lord, this change has been a long time coming!), access to open fields, hills, and trails was a major point of interest.  

there are nice little dog leg trails so you don't have to hack the gravel utv roads
Doozy and I have honestly done very little hacking. There were a few field jaunts during her cellulitis recovery last year, sure, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times we properly hacked out or did trails since she's been in regular work. And even then, it was always with a friend or group. 

eventually we reached the back field --- only direction is UP!
also, peep those fun little jompies!
Tho obviously Doozy has come a long way over the months. She's traveled to all sorts of new places for lessons and schooling trips and competitions. Not even mentioning all the little wanders around the last farm getting to and from the riding arenas. It might not have been "proper hacking," but maybe it had the same effect on the horse. 

poor dooz was NOT expecting the huge climb, 30m vertical gain! felt like we were on top of the world, looking back over the low spots toward the big blue indoor in the distance
So when I determined that we'd worked hard enough in the rings lately, and it was time for a little low-key wandering, Doozy was game!! 

previous pic taken from the first peak high point, blue indoor sits on the second, slightly lower peak. there's a stream crossing the property (apparently the trails cross it!) that accounts for the lowest point
Eventually the timing will work out to ride along with some of our new boarder friends, many of whom seem to love trail riding and hacking. Until then, tho, I felt brave enough to go exploring along the various laneways and back fields.
more little jompies!! kinda narrow and small, more like hunter pace jumps than proper schooling fences, but still fun!
There are little gravel lanes all over the property for UTVs and tractors and what have you... Tho I was pleased to find that most were also crisscrossed by grassy and wooded paths for horses and riders who maybe preferred the scenic (and less steep) routes around the farm. 

the hillside ahead of us is where i opted to turn back toward home. it is SO STEEP i'm not even sure we could safely walk down it in such dry hard ground conditions! 
And the back fields are wide open for hacking. Tho, I'll say, the hills around here are no joke. It's going to take a little time figuring out the best ways for traversing the ground without constantly going straight up and down the fall lines!

turning back toward home base
Doozy was hilarious about the first big march up the hill --- I just got up off her back and gave her her head, and for the briefest second she thought about bursting into trot up the hill. Which, like, fine haha -- if that's what you want! But she thought better of it and pushed onward at a walk. And was quite happy to pause at the top for a deep breath lol!

there are little laneways everywhere!
We really don't have a lot of experience riding together on hills yet, and conditions right now aren't super forgiving --- hard slick dry ground isn't great for traction, ya know?

doozy was so so SO good for this solo hack -- honestly really her first ever solo hack into the unknown
I'll eventually map out all the laneways on my elevation app to try to figure out where the best conditioning spots might be for longer, less steep climbs and descents. Ideally there will be some sort of loop we can put together for trotting over the more gradual inclines. 

really really smitten with this critter <3 <3
And I'm really interested in seeing what the woods are like too -- supposedly there's a nice big creek crossing in there somewhere! Not sure how Doozy will cope with that, to be honest, but we'll find out eventually!

just generally a big fan of all the critters too haha --- behold my future frens!
One thing's for sure, tho --- we're both definitely going to get a lot of passive conditioning just from constantly navigating the hills haha. All that terrain makes for a nice counterpoint to the typical schooling on flat surfaces we do in the ring. 

just another day in paradise <3
Plus it's just nice to get a break from the ring sometimes. Thankfully so far Doozy seems pretty game about it all!

Monday, July 1, 2024

je ne sais quoi

One of the biggest advantages of our new digs is new coaching opportunities!! Particularly on-site coaching, omg! 

AND! Imagine my delight when I learned this farm is frequented by a local upper level eventing pro who's been on my coaching short list for a few years at this point! Let's call her KO, and we had our first lesson last week. Much excitement, guys!

no new riding pictures, so instead let's revisit trotting pics from doozy's first couple months with me -- august 2023 to january 2024
It's going to sound like déjà vu, and maybe basic, but we all know riding is more than just knowing the words "inside leg to outside hand." For me, it's all about the real time coaching and corrections. The puppet mastery etc. 

d'aww, who remembers that scrawny neck tho <3
KO started the session by explaining her interpretation and understanding of the French philosophy of horse training and riding, then dove into tweaking and adjusting my way of sitting on the horse. 

First instruction? Inside leg to KO really means inside seat. She wanted my weight sinking down from my inside seat bone, down a long leg, and through the heel. We started here, bc duh, but also this is maybe my most original sin faux pas.

august 2023 -- doozy's second post-track ride!!
She suggested Doozy is putting me on the outside, but we all know the truth lol.... I've always loved sitting on the outside of the horse lol, and am notorious for wanting to sit more to the right than the left. 

KO was adamant, tho. Her whole point was that by sitting deeply on my inside seat bone, Doozy should respond by lifting up her inside shoulder and ribcage -- effectively pushing against my push, and straightening her posture in the process. From KO's perspective, this must become my new and most fundamental raison d'être.

september, still recovering from the cellulitis
Bc, obvi, next came the hands.... my hands, my terrible horrible bad hands. My fait accompli, my seemingly irreversible habits... 

Lately I've been riding with my hands more or less pinned to the front of my saddle. Mostly just to keep them anchored and reliable, rather than wandering off hither and yon. I know it's not necessarily the most "correct" hand position, but it's kinda worked well enough for us in at least giving Doozy a reliable and consistent contact, from which she's learned to balance and bend and even trot omg!

october schooling at home -- starting to get consistent!
Tho, KO might rightly observe that what I've actually trained into Dooz to date is more trompe-l'œil than anything else. Meaning that my too-low hands aren't doing anything to actually help the horse adjust her longitudinal balance up off her forehand... 

This matters bc all horses, but especially racehorses, need help learning to raise their carriage up through the wither, in order to give space for the hind legs to step under themselves. 

november, in doozy's first jump lesson!
KO's method is to basically position the rider's aids somewhat passively but very correctly. She wanted to see me raise my hands to level, particularly my left hand. Shorten my reins (surprise surprise) and keep a stable outside elbow. "Tidy."

From this position, just passively, gently, almost incidentally.... ride the horse straight. She encouraged me to spend more time tracking left to establish the straightness, then track right to use that straightness to strengthen Doozy and help bring her right hind up and under.

also november in one of our first dressage lessons
All normal stuff, obviously, but these are the kind of postural adjustments I've historically had trouble getting consistent without routine coaching. 

It was honestly incredible to feel Doozy respond, tho. Guys, she stayed with me the WHOLE ride, really showed a natural savoir-faire, if ya know what I mean! 

december schooling at home
We mostly stayed on a 20m circle the whole time, and worked on holding the same passive but steady position through transitions. KO observed my tendency to kinda get a little rushed and garbled in asking for a transition, and instead coached me into a more laissez-faire style -- asking for the transition almost as if I didn't care whether I got it or not. Especially the canter. 

I really wish there were videos tbh. There were some really incredible moments, at least from what I could feel, and it's exciting to see Doozy learn and develop. This was a hard and intense lesson, but Doozy kept trying the whole time. Didn't get frazzled or tense at all. Progress, y'all! 

january at kealani
It felt like a really solid first lesson, and I'm already looking forward to the next one. Hopefully we'll also start integrating jumping into the mix too, and I may also try out some of the other available on-farm coaching options just to get a sense of the new local flavors haha. 

Now that the mare is settled in, feels like we can just dive right back in to things! It's an exciting feeling ;) Happy Monday, y'all!

Sunday, June 30, 2024

look whose ears!

Happy Sunday, folks! Hope everyone is staying cool... It's been a bit warm around these parts!

honestly only a couple days have been properly miserable, tho the folks at Charlie's barn do a nice job of keeping the horses in a little later when it's really nasty, so they can stay chilled under their fans vs baking under the sun.
Charlie's doing well, too! he's coping with having bare soles better than expected, and the thrush seems to be drying up more or less apace. we're still treating regularly, tho.
but i dunno, guys, i kinda got a wild hair the other day... 

i just.... ya know.... was really hankering for a good old fashioned sit on my good friend Charles <3 so we saddled up and did exactly that!!!
just went for a nice little plod around this farm's cute outdoor arena.

guys. this place might be small and modest, but these folks take pride in their management. check out the fresh drag lines! and those freshly placed fence posts at the end, to eventually enclose the ring completely. it's kinda weird, my horses have each been moved for less than a month, and yet BOTH of their farms have dragged their rings more often in that time period than this entire year at the last place LOL
enough about that tho, bc this is about Charlie <3 <3 he's obviously ya know. not very sound. tho not as unsound as i expected. like we actually did a little bit of trotting -- a circle or two in each direction. 

it's hard to know if he's only stiff and creaky, sore from the thrush, or just generally janky. or maybe all the above? but it would be nice to maybe do a little more 'active sitting' on him to feel him out, see if maybe some trails might be in our future. 
and i swear, i only really rode him around for about 10min total. just enough to push a couple buttons and see how he is. homeboy still sweated up a storm tho -- look at that foam thru the billet strap!
we had fun tho <3 i swear this horse loves being the center of attention. so long as like, it doesn't require work lol, and also involves plenty of treats!

he's already cultivated an entirely new crop of worshippers among boarders and friends of the farm, and loves holding court in the center of the aisle, demanding smooches and pets from anybody who tries to get past lol. what a horse <3
i honestly really enjoy the time i spend with him at his barn, so maybe it's one of those blessing in disguise situations to have the two horses at different locations?
regardless, it was good to sit on him again. i still don't know exactly what his future holds, but that's ok too. this is good enough, and Charlie obvi owes me nothing!