Wednesday, May 15, 2019

transitioning the sensitive horse to grass

I fondly refer to Charlie as the "King of the Dings." He is thoroughbred, through and through. Charlie is sensitive, thin-skinned, and vulnerable to any injury or illness (real or imaginary....). Like, the horse might literally swell up a little bit if you so much as shoot him a mean look lol. Nothing goes unnoticed by this big gentle brontosaurus!

Charlie living the #muzzlelyfe with his best buds Iggy & Elephant
You might remember the first week I owned him, he had a brief but forceful bout with colic. Luckily it was remedied quickly with some oral banamine, a hose-down, some handwalking, and the distraction of all those godforsaken biting flies (gosh but Charlie hates those flies tho).

At the time, I chalked the colic up to just the sheer volume of change the horse had experienced in a short period. Bc. Ya know. Just five weeks prior, he was literally running a race. Then he was suddenly an "Off Track" thoroughbred, after a years-long career, and found himself bummin around the OTTB adoption facility for a week or so. And then he came home with me to a busy bustling h/j barn located on the campus of a girls' private boarding school.

Lots and LOTS of change haha.

Iggy is low-key obsessed with Charlie haha, tho of course the feeling is mutual
In retrospect, I still believe that all to be true -- but now believe the pasture change at that time possibly played the headlining role in that whole episode. Because ever since then, I've found Charlie to be extremely sensitive to changes in pasture and grass. Especially spring grass.

This point was driven home last year at this exact same time, when Charlie kept coming in from the new fresh grass feeling crummy, lethargic, bloated and anywhere on the spectrum from "third trimester grass baby" to full blown colic.

Which makes sense, right? Like, most farms in my area aren't large enough to have horses out in the big pastures year round. So most utilize sacrifice paddocks with round bales in the winter time while the summer pastures rest.

This tends to work out pretty well for pasture management purposes, but it just means that there has to be this distinct period of transition from the hay to the grass.

lol he's almost like an overgrown foal
Most barns where I've worked (including where Isabel lived) have tried to make the transition as gentle and progressive as possible. Possibly even beyond what's necessary. Think: introducing horses to the grass first for just one hour. Then the next day, add another hour. And another day, another hour. And on and on until the horses have built up their tolerances to all that luscious spring sugar. The process generally takes about a week.

The downside to that approach tho is that it's a shit ton of work. Even for farms where the manager or primary staff live on site. Moving herds of horses in and out of fields can be a real chore. Especially when the horses are, uh, not very inclined to acquiesce. Which, most horses this time of year are definitely NOT haha.

True story: the time of year immediately before the horses are released to the grass is literally my absolute least favorite. The air is perfumed with all that fresh green growth. The horses are straight up over the hay, and just want #datgrass. So they're all irritable with each other, and meanwhile literally trying to climb the fence to get to the grass. It's prime season for some really nasty wounds and injuries, ya know? And, not coincidentally, also a difficult time to move the herd around in an orderly fashion.

meanwhile, the party doesn't stop just bc charlie came in from the pasture!
Considering Charlie's current barn has a bit of a, er, different staffing situation, that degree of extra work is just kinda untenable. Especially over a longer period like a week or so. Which means they end up transitioning the horses to grass in a slightly more *blunt* fashion. Usually, maybe a day or two with the horses getting a half day out. And then? Boom, straight to full days.

This honestly is not my preference. Were it up to me, I'd do it differently. But it's not up to me, and meanwhile Charlie is overall obscenely happy with life at this farm, so I roll with it.

he's got his room-side buffet haha
This year tho, I at least tried to hedge my bets a bit by putting Charlie in a muzzle for the first 5-7 days. And to be perfectly honest, I wasn't really sure how it would go. This horse straight up refuses to wear fly masks at all, even tho he HATES BUGS OMG. But he just takes the masks off. Masks with ears, without ears. Structured masks, soft stretchy masks. All of 'em.

So.... I just don't bother haha. Considering once summer arrives he'll be on nighttime turnout anyway, it's not really a big deal. It meant tho that I really wasn't sure how he'd feel about the muzzle. Luckily tho he actually wore it like a champ!

the best view is forward, always and forever
I just picked up one of those standard black nylon dealios for $15 from consignment and added some sheepskin around the ears (must protect poor Precious's delicate skin!!), and by all accounts he was a total gentleman about having it put on. And didn't lose it once over the course of his transition period! Good boy!

The couple days that I was there to grab him from the field myself, he was generally just out there grazing peacefully (like the pictures above), so clearly it wasn't too much of an impediment to his daily life. And the best part? The muzzle really helped limit and reduce his feelings of icky gassy bloated lethargy. Which, obvi, was the whole point.

At first I thought I'd leave it on for up to maybe 2 weeks just to be really safe.... But there was at least one day that by dinner time he was all alone up at the gate crying pitifully for someone to rescue him from his doomed plight. And... Ya know. He is a thoroughbred, and despite the dad bod he doesn't take much to get ribby.

and sometimes there are serious advantages to riding through a little rain <3
So I got us through the week where I had some post-grass plans (like schooling at Shawan!) where I wanted him to be on his A-Game, and then pulled the muzzle to allow him to finish the transition.

And? It all worked out! Aside from that first day they went on grass without my knowledge, so I hadn't left a note about the muzzle, he wasn't sickly at all through the transition to grass. And he was a good boy about the muzzle. Possibly if he had to wear it for any longer than a week or so, he'd learn how to take it off lol. But the one week period seemed to be just enough to get him over the hump without making him too too frustrated by his mouth cage lol.

My plan is to definitely repeat this process each spring, bc it really did seem to work for him. That whole "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of grass baby" thing, right? Prophylactics 4 lyfe, yo.

Has anyone else had to deal with helping their sensitive little drama queens deal with rapid seasonal changes? I know spring is a biggie for a lot of horses, but maybe preparing for fall or winter is more important for your horse? Or, if you get any say in how your horses' pastures or turnout is managed, how do you like to do it?

Monday, May 13, 2019

jersey fresh international 2019

Last year my mom's cousins came down for one of my home shows to tailgate and hang out etc, and much fun was had by all. It happened to be our final show of the year, one I felt pretty nervous about but that we ended up winning, go figure haha.

Emily Beshear & Olney Uncle Sam
Anyway, they brought down with them my teenage cousin who started riding in the last year or so and is totally and 100% hooked. Just like most of us at that age, she spends every possible moment at her barn, helping out and soaking up knowledge like a sponge.

Doug Payne & Quantum Leap
And she was super helpful with taking care of Charlie after our cross country run -- coming back to the barn with me and getting him untacked and bathed etc.

Phillip Dutton & Fernhill Singapore
So a few months ago, I hatched up this big great plan to repeat the whole experience, except this time at a bigger show instead of one of my own. Since that part of the family lives up in NJ, I figured Jersey Fresh would be perfect! Unfortunately, at the last moment all the moms pulled out of the plans (I guess they have lives too?) so it ended up being just me and my cousin.

Arden Sildasin & Il Vici
Which, perhaps in retrospect, was for the best haha, since my cousin was totally down to haul ass all over the place and see as much as possible. Which, you may recognize, is my preferred way to experience upper level cross country lol.

Will Coleman & Don Dante
This was actually my first time going to the New Jersey Horse Park, let alone for Jersey Fresh, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. First off, the drive was brutal ugh. Not necessarily terribly long, but that entire stretch of 95 between DC and NYC is just.... Tough, ya know? Lots and Lots and LOTS of traffic. Often aggressive traffic.

Anna Loschiavo & Spartacus Q
And tolls. Dear god, as of this writing, I'm still not brave enough to check my EZ-Pass account to see how much tolls cost for the day. And that's just with a normal 2-axle car. I honestly wouldn't really want to tow a trailer on that stretch of highway anyway, but with how freakin expensive those extra axles are with the tolls** it's basically a hard pass for me at present haha.

(**for the uninitiated: each additional axle costs increasingly more, you don't just double the price by adding two more axles on the trailer...)

Allison Springer & Business Ben
Obvi that all says nothing about the event itself. Which was lovely. The grounds were quite a bit smaller than I expected, especially having been used to sprawling Fair Hill and the Kentucky Horse Park. This meant that the courses were really winding and looping over themselves again and again. So it was kinda hard to figure out where everything was, and which way the horses were going.

Alexandra Knowles & Sound Prospect
Also interesting to me was how the spectators were distributed around the venue. By which I mean: They weren't. Virtually every single spectator was parked at the main water complex, punnily called the "Jersey Shore." There were tons of tailgaters and the place was thronging. Which, ya know, is awesome lol. And there was one other little section of tailgaters in what seemed like kinda a random place on a hillside.

Will Coleman & Off the Record
Otherwise, tho? The course was basically a ghost town. No fucking joke, as soon as you got away from that main water complex there was virtually nobody else to be seen. Except jump judges, photographers, and the occasional handful of other likewise minded wanderers.

Colleen Rutledge & Covert Rights
This to me was really strange. First off, again bc I'm used to courses sorta like Fair Hill or Kentucky, but also even Plantation or Great Meadow, where they sorta run in a loop and spectators can kinda mosey around within that loop, esp in sections where combinations on "opposite" sides of the loop are in close proximity.

So it was bizarre to see everyone concentrated in this one small area, esp considering there were pretty epic combinations to be seen elsewhere.

Daniel Clasing & MW Gangster's Game
Tho I do allow that the water was prettttty cool. The 4* courses actually ran through the water twice, once from each direction. And both sets of combinations had their share of action. Like when literally one of the first things we saw upon arriving at the venue was Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Singapore slamming into the water after leaving a leg at the B element. Poor PDutty, it really wasn't his day with both of his big horses falling...

Erin Risso & Kinard Battina
Anyway, tho, regarding that action of the day? It was intense and awesome. There was something like 133 horses running, compared to the ~40 we saw at Kentucky. Cross country ran literally nonstop from 8am to 4pm, on 4* and 3* courses with both short and long divisions for each. Esp that CCI4*-L division means that Jersey Fresh is one of the biggest shows in the country, esp for qualifications purposes.

Cornelia Dorr & Sir Patico
Considering this is a major year for qualifications for a lot of riders, we saw some pretty big name horses going around. And, naturally, per my habits, I tried to compile as many clips as possible into the video below. Which was no small task since I shot over 50 clips haha.... Definitely way more than even the slew that are represented in this post's pictures.

Alexandra Tett & Hawk's Cay
I tried to get a little tighter with the editing tho so that the video still has that feeling of fast-paced exhilaration, without too much extra haha. Plus, even tho it's kinda a giant pain in the ass to go back and cross check the entries against pinny numbers etc, I did end up adding in everyone's names etc to the video. Mostly bc I tend to think it improves the viewing experience. Ymmv lol.

Lauren Kieffer & DA Duras
Anyway we couldn't have asked for better weather too. Nice sun with temps in the high 60s. Tho toward the end of our time there we were both pretty ready to just find some shade and chill for a bit before heading home. Which, naturally the best place to do that was at the "Jersey Shore" water complex.

Alexandra Knowles & Princess B
Which for the last division of the day, the 3* short (the long had run in the morning before we arrived), was positioned near a different combination that seemed to be highly influential. Mark Phillips designed this course and seemed to be wanting the riders to be bold brave and forward, but still very accurate.

This showed up on the 4* course at an EPIC table downhill to either a corner (for the Long) or an arrow (for the Short). We spent a ton of time watching that particular combination haha (again, with virtually no one else...). And on the 3* course it was another table downhill to this big beefy blunt corner pictured below with Lauren Kieffer. We didn't see a single issue on the 4* line, but the 3* variation claimed a few victims haha.

Michael Pendelton & Steady Eddie
Another interesting thing I noticed was that there wasn't a proper coffin complex. Or at least, not one that we saw. Tho I should say: we definitely didn't see the full course bc again it was kinda hard to find our way around. And unless you could sorta see a horse go in the distance, there were no normal indications of where the big combinations might be bc there were no crowds. Plus a lot of stuff was kinda hidden by random trees or whatever.

Alexandra Baugh & Ballingowan Pizzaz
So maybe there was a coffin and we just missed it? Idk tho bc there wasn't a true coffin at Kentucky either. Course design seems to be kinda trends-driven, from what I can tell. And right now, terrain questions (like mounds -- mounds er'rywhere, yo!) seem super popular whereas some of the more traditional gymnastic-y type combinations are becoming less common.

Lauren Kieffer & Landmarks Monte Carlo
Anyway tho, the stuff we did see was awesome, and I love getting to watch all these amazing riders and their unstoppable horses. My cousin was thrilled with it all too haha. With each passing horse she would be like, "oooh that one is nice!" and then, "ooh that one is nice too!" Until eventually she was kinda like, "wow ok so they're all really nice!" Yup, they sure are lol.

She also liked getting to stop by the vet box and see what the care looks like when the horses come off course, esp compared to how she helped me last year. So she's definitely eager to go to another show like that, tho I think she'd be just as interested in coming to one of my more "normal" humble shows haha. We'll see what happens with the calendars etc.

The only bummer I think was that she was sorta hoping there might be someone doing autographs in the trade fair. But... Actually, the shopping at Jersey Fresh was pretty much limited to a short lane of tents, and definitely no big star sightings. Tho we ran into Dan early on before his ride so she got to meet him and shake his hand. And I gave her the signed photo of Andrea Baxter and Indy 500 that I got from Kentucky, so hopefully that's good enough for now!

Overall, tho, we had a really great day. The venue was super easy to find, parking was a jiff, admissions was only $10 for the day (and could be purchased in advance), and everyone was super friendly. The shopping and food selection didn't look fantastic, tho we had planned ahead and had a backpack full of snacks and water.

It actually looks like a great place to tailgate, tho idk how much a spot at the water would cost (it was packed) and the other place was kinda random and secluded. I would definitely do it with a group tho, or even just go again with a group. But possibly would spend more time studying the course map ahead of time so we knew were stuff was.

Bc.... As you have all figured out by now, spectating at these big events is kiiiiinda my jam lol. It's extremely unlikely that I'll ever ride anywhere close to that level, but damn do I love watching it! Esp on a beautiful day with friends! After this weekend, Jersey Fresh definitely makes my list of events worth visiting ;)

Friday, May 10, 2019

just how sound is he?

Lol.... Sound enough to just cruise right on by and escort his own self back to the barn for dinner, apparently!

his face tho omg
There's nothing Charlie likes more than exercising his independent streak. Like how he always lets me know which route he'd prefer to take back to the barn after our rides.

"Ahem, let's take the lane by the goats and sheep and Shetlands plz" is his standard, unmistakable request.

watch out, yo, we got a dad bod on the move!
Or like how he'll always reliably find his own way back to the barn if need be. Bc let's be real, going back to the barn is literally Charlie's favorite thing in the whole world, hands down. This horse has a built-in GPS that operates in even the most remote, signal-less areas lol.

Which I gotta admit is handy on the trails.... Considering since winter time they've all been less traveled, and now with the lack of use plus lush spring greenery I can't tell my way around for shit and keep getting lost....

he thinks he's the actual sassiest 
Tho I also do admit to a degree of chagrin when I happened to arrive at the same time as the PM feeders, and told them to just send Charlie up out of the field. That I'd grab him on his way up. Haha. Hahaha.

Homeboy took one look at me and was like, "Nope, I got this, lady. See your own way back!"

Touche, Sir. Touche. It's hard to argue when he looks so freakin pleased with himself haha. Plus, ya know. He's easy to find ;)

In the meantime, TGIF everyone, hope you all have a great weekend! Perhaps filled with horses equally as independent and single-minded LOL....

Thursday, May 9, 2019

lookin for that fresh feel

It still seriously feels like I'm digging out from all the travel I did at the end of April and beginning of May -- obviously with our epic trip to Kentucky for the first official CCI-L 5*. Which, ya know, was awesome haha.

But then just a few days later I was off again, this time to Minnesota for my firm's biannual team meetings. It was a short trip, but busy. And combined with the time away in KY, it was enough to really sorta throw us off our rhythm around here lol.

gosh i just love this handsome goofy face haha, esp with that dapper shiny new patent noseband!
Luckily, the last couple years I've wised up about planning Charlie's schedules around the trip. The Fair Hill starter is always hot on the heels of Kentucky, but esp with the MSP trip there was just no way that was happening.

And in a very real way, it was nice to not feel like I had any actual pressure about getting back in the groove ASAP after the trips. Charlie enjoyed his time off, and we've been making up for the lost time in a fairly low-key manner. Lots of light dressage rides and hacks etc.

oh but the many faces of charlie!!
I've been using the EquiLab riding app for the last few months to track my rides and it's been pretty useful, in a limited sort of way. Primarily - I use it the most during the actual ride itself, specifically for measuring time spent in each gait. I keep saying I'll do a more complete, thorough review of exactly how I use the app.... but that hasn't happened yet haha. We'll see lol.

In the meantime, I've found it most useful for my dressage schools. I always like to walk Charlie for at least ~10min as part of our warm up, generally on a loose rein. That's easy enough to do with a normal wrist watch tho, obvi. But as the ride goes on, it's interesting and useful to see how much time I spend in each "session" of our work, if that makes sense.

the flash is an improvement tho, gives a little more balance to that ridiculously long snoot
Like for our trot warm up, I've learned that I usually spend roughly 7-10min in our first warm up trot cycle too. Then maybe 2-3min in our first canter, tho that will grow to 4-6min if Charlie's feeling really warmed up and I want to do a big canter session all at once. Which, if that's the case, I'll usually have done another cycle or two of trot first.

Overall, I end up spending somewhere between 10-14min in trot and 3-7min in canter in any given ride. Then probably 15-25min in walk. I would give you screenshots from the app to reflect this information, except the graphics are basically useless so.... uh, Sorry?? haha.

It's interesting to me, tho, bc the time spent in actual "trot / canter" work is usually only half (or less) of my total ride time. Information is power, tho, so now that I've got a reasonably good gauge on average time cycles, I've been able to plan our cycles in the rides more effectively.

tho the snackamore might be both our all-time favorite bridle HA
Especially considering Charlie's been kinda a tricky horse for me to figure out in some ways. His warm up is often unmotivated and blah, and his best trot frequently comes after the canter. BUT. He lacks work ethic, so once he gets tired it's almost like he deflates. His wither drops, he flattens and disengages, then just kinda starts running.

So maybe I spent the first part of the ride chasing after him to get him going, but then the end of the ride I'm hauling on him to slow the F down. It's.... not a great balance lol. But it's also something I *must* figure out, esp in a competition setting. I need to optimize the warm up such that Charlie's entering the ring right at that perfect point where he's loose and swinging in his back, tracking up and moving forward, but not flattening into a freight train.

The app is helping a lot with that, esp in terms of helping me improve his condition so he doesn't get tired so easily. Thank god for #thoroughbred tho bc that's one of the easiest problems to fix haha! Even just getting him out for easy going 2.5-3mi walking hacks helps in a huge way there.

bc sometimes nothing beats a leisurely stroll through the woods!
Another thing that helps tho? My own personal discipline lol. While our schooling at Shawan this week was overall pretty freakin awesome, there were a couple moments to the fences that felt like shades of Plantation from last year.

And actually, I realized it was basically exactly a year ago where Charlie felt sorta similarly lethargic and slug-like, and I ended up backing off of him wayyyy too much. Resulting in catastrophe when we didn't have enough oomph and forward in competition.

So... Idk. Maybe it's just the effects of the spring grass and warming weather? Regardless, after Charlie was kinda doggin me at Shawan, (as evidenced by all his ridiculously lazy canter transitions that I edited out of the video...), I got a bit more serious about the flat work in our normal rides.

i took pictures of most of the MCTA training course combinations, but am only posting what i jumped. like this big ol' rolltop just like the one we have at home, that's finally starting to look "right sized" to me. don't ask about that B element tho ugh
Is it really true that Charlie's best trot can only happen after some canter? Or is he strong enough now to start out right off the bat moving forward? Like, who's training whom here? Possibly I've just become conditioned to letting him slug around for the first little bit.

Turns out, actually, that when I insist on getting the proper amount of forward right off the bat, the horse will actually do it. And, on top of that, he'll do all the other things even better the first time I ask. So that I don't need to keep drilling, keep having that fight and drawing out the whole ride to the point where he tires and I lose him. Lol.

Now if only that lesson would stay learned, Emma.

walking up from a distance i thought this was just our normal red N coop repainted brown. NOPE. it's quite a bit larger - full T height. but.... ya know. still just a coop, it turns out! again tho, don't ask about that B element ramp outta water HAHA(sob)
This becomes increasingly important as we dial up the technicality in our dressage tests, like those 10m half circles that show up in First-1 and USEA Training-A. Which, incidentally, I signed up to ride both those tests at an upcoming schooling show. We miiiiiiight embarrass ourselves haha, but it's time to at least try! (oh god what have i done.....)

It's also useful to approach some of the problems in our jumping from the dressage ring too. Basically my entire impression of our current work is that Charlie needs to sharpen up, and I need to raise my expectations a bit. And we probably need like 8,000 more dressage lessons in addition to all the xc lessons I'm jonesing for. Ya know, details.

But really tho.... The jumping is where the rubber meets the proverbial road, right? It doesn't really matter if I can compel Charlie into a big beautiful forward canter in the dressage ring if I'm still gonna freeze up when faced with a big jump lol. Or if I can execute the most flowing 10m half turns but then end up pulling around a scary bending line instead of kicking through it.

In the video above, our jump into the training water (1:12) was fine enough with it as a single jump. But it's not exactly convincing enough to say whether I'd have been able to make out over that full size T ramp on the other side.

Whereas in the Novice water combination (1:39) where the out jump was just a small log, I was much more accurate and committed in my riding. So that's pretty clearly a *me* thing too, right?

(**tho in my defense, the T water was wayyyyy deeper lol)

ooooh it's the season's hottest trend! just for the transition to grass, to help charlie feel a little fresher and less lethargic as he gets used to the spring grass. don't worry tho -- this was just temporary, the skinny TB will get his grass/dad bod 
The nice thing about all these findings from my latest rides, whether from our dressage schools or our jumping sessions, is that solving the issues via lessons is probably one of my favorite parts of riding, right?

It's also kinda nice that it really does seem to be just one unifying thread showing up in all my rides, whether on the flat or over fences. Just needs moar forward. Which, in its simplest form, is a function of me just needing someone to sit there and yell at me until I finally put my leg on the horse haha.

That's always the answer anyway, lol. Needs more leg!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

shawan downs xc - positive mileage

Shawan Downs is a gorgeous historical property in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Throughout the calendar year it hosts all sorts of different horsey activities, from pony club races to steeplechases and timber races, plus an annual USEA recognized event, the MCTA Horse Trials.

When I first started eventing in 2014, MCTA went through Advanced, tho now the full three phases only run through Intermediate and Advanced runs as a CT. Also back when I started eventing, Shawan Downs hosted MCTA's Jenny Camp starter trials in addition to the one sanctioned event. I did my second ever horse trial there (where I fell off at some mud, whoops!) and Charlie had his first full "proper" three phase there.

It's a great venue and I really really love it, but alas they no longer host the starter trials. Maybe one year I'll do their recognized, but for now I stuck to my norm of just volunteering. Fortunately MCTA started offering two days of open schooling on the recognized course after competition in lieu of the starter trial, and conveniently gives free passes to volunteers. Obviously this has to be a staple on the calendar, right?

novice bank combination, same as last year
You might remember last year I walked the full Novice course after volunteering and felt pretty iffy about it, but then went to the schooling and Charlie cruised through handily. And now obviously he's a solidly confirmed N horse. This year I walked the Training course and.... Yea. Still iffy.

Maybe by this time next year I'll be able to look back and say "yup, we're totally cool with all of that." Maybe lol. One thing's for certain tho -- we did not just cruise through and school it all. Actually, we barely schooled any of the T. Which was a bit of a disappointment.

Except. Well, leading up to the ride I had two components of this year's goals at top of mind. First up was my goal to invest in developing my skill set as a rider. Realistically, I looked back through the archives and Charlie and I have had exactly TWO cross country lessons since he moved up to BN in 2017. That's..... woefully inadequate. And it's also not for lack of trying.

training table that normally lives at our own farm anyway
Especially now where we're both in fairly uncharted territory. I had a LOT of really excellent xc lessons with Isabel as I prepared to move us up to Novice in 2015, and that has tied me over well enough to get Charlie to the same level without as much help. But Training? Especially the combinations? Yea, I've never done it. Charlie's never done it. And while I feel like we're ready to work on them, I also feel pretty strongly that I'd like some eyes on the ground for it.

So that was the plan for this schooling session. Unfortunately not enough people signed up for lesson spots and the coach had to cancel at the last minute. Which also meant that, at the last minute, none of my other various tried 'n true coaches were available at the same time.

Dammit lol. There was so much stuff I wanted to try! The trakehner looked like a solid maybe, as did the full coffin! But.... Ugh. I just don't want to get me and Charlie into a bad spot and then not feel committed enough to work through it if we run into trouble.
novice corner from last year too
So knowing that a lesson was off the table.... I had to shift gears a little bit. I'd already promised a barn mate that I'd drive her too, so I still had to go (tho I may or may not have offered Charlie's trailer berth to a few other folks haha). Plus. Ya know, this is our one time of year to play with these jumps, many of which live full time at our own farm, at a different venue.

I decided to just go anyway. Have fun with it. No pressure, see where Charlie's at and see what happens. And remembered another major component of my goals for the year: focus on positive experience and additive mileage.

Right now all the Novice stuff feels easy. Plus we've got tons of it at home, I don't necessarily feel like I need to spend my hard earned volunteer bucks just to go jump some Novice stuff. But, if that's what we'd be doing, then I'd focus on trying to do it well. Polish it up a little bit.

chunky training coop into deep water
I had a good reminder of this after we warmed up and I started working on the bank combinations. I did the BN line first, then the N. And both times they rode a little long. On my giant ass thoroughbred. If a BN line is riding long for us, there can only be one answer: Emma for fucks sake ride that damn horse more forward! Ahem, lol....

So that was useful lol. I came back and did the N line a second time and really stayed committed to the 2 strides, vs kinda just hanging in the back seat waiting to see what would happen. And it was totally fine. Actually, in retrospect, I regret not going back and turning both of those combinations around - jump to down bank. Rats. Yet another reason it would have been useful to have a coach on hand to identify those opportunities haha.

splish splash mother fuckers!
After that, I strung a few things together including popping over the Training log table thingy that we jumped at our own farm for the first time a couple weeks ago. Charlie jumped it great, jumped everything pretty well actually.

Tho I felt like I was having to work a little bit too hard to get him going. I had thought about putting on my spurs and grabbing a stick while we were tacking up at the trailer, but then decided not to bother. That was.... probably a mistake haha.

Charlie's a good boy, but he's also kinda a cerebral thinking horse. If we keep getting to jumps a little long or short bc he's a little behind my leg, he's more likely to be like, "meh, nah" instead of moving up on his own. Unless I can be a little more persuasive. Next time I'll remember to bring my tools lol.

training table - almost identical to the one we have at home (ours was positioned at the water for the modified course)
Anyway, I went from there back to the higher level water to do the A element of the T line. It was just a coop, much like that red N coop that I love so much. Just. Ya know. Bigger lol. And closer to the water. Charlie did great tho, although the water was deep as shit and splashed literally everywhere.

I was fucking soaked haha, as was my helmet camera lens, whoops. A couple later clips ended up getting a bit messed up (including some footage that was lost completely, womp) and I wonder if it's bc the camera got a little damp.

Nbd tho, from there we went to another set of training jumps. The roll top above that's nearly identical to that green-ish blue roll top we jumped at home a couple weeks ago. And another little log table thingy, tho that second table (smaller than the first) didn't get caught on video. Oh well! All you missed out on was much growling and shouting as I literally pony-club kicked Charlie Sir Slug up and over....
novice water, had our own red coop in then a little log out
That "behind the leg" feeling was another big reason I was not very sure about trying any of the T combinations. Charlie's usually either taking me in no uncertain terms to the fences, or I have to work for it a bit. And we learned at Plantation that homeboy will quit if it feels like it's getting too hard. Which like, it does get hard if we're not moving forward enough. So.... Yea.

A lot of that is a "me" problem, which I totally recognize. It's just hard to fix in real time on my own. Bc riding is hard, yo. Who knew lol. Plus, if something scares me a bit, it's just that much harder to really attack it, ya know?

So while there was a ton of T stuff sitting out there begging for a shot... .I decided to just finish the ride focusing on doing all the N combinations nicely and cleanly. Going next to the N water. It was virtually identical to last year, with that red coop set at a generous distance away, then a bending line through the water to a little log.

novice steeplechase 
You might remember last year Charlie had a little trouble holding his line, especially since the banks in and out of this small water are pretty steep. And, uh, like we saw at Loch Moy a few weeks ago, sometimes Charlie enters the water via interpretive dance. But again, the objective on this day was polish.

So I just aimed him at the thing without a lot of prep, and wouldn't you know it, before he even went into the water he was locked fully onto the log. Paid no attention to the steepish banks, just cantered into the water like a 100% normal horse haha, and then easy out over the log. Boom, that's my boy Charlie!

Same story to the Novice steeplechase fence up in the front field. These suckers always look kinda big to me, but we have enough mileage already over N variations that this one ought not to have posed any issues. Charlie still took up a crap ton of leg tho, ugh, #needsmoarstick+spurs....

novice half coffin, same as last year
From there, we went over to the coffin complex to finish up. Again it was really hard to not aim at the T full coffin, since it all looks pretty freakin reasonable. I really do believe we're so close... But again, if something had happened or if I got a little rattled or whatever, I didn't necessarily trust that I'd be able to work us through any hiccups without help. So.... It waits until some future date. C'est la vie!

We did do the N half coffin tho. And unlike last year, where I schooled the ditch first by itself before putting it all together, this time I just aimed Charlie at the full line expecting him to demonstrate his experience. Which he totally did. Good boy <3

So even tho the ride didn't include some of the stuff I really wanted to do, I'm still proud of a few things. First up, when Charlie was feeling sluggish and behind my leg, I doubled down on my efforts to get him more forward. And instead of backing off or quitting early, I decided to keep pushing on and insisting that Charlie buck up and get the job done.

Charlie doesn't exactly have the best work ethic in the world, so it's up to me to not let him dog me. I can't take the bait of "oh he's tired," or "eh we're not feelin it today." Because that's how we end up in Plantation type situations, right? Instead I need to be firm and say, "Too bad, son. This is literally your job, and it can be as hard or as easy as you make it!" Again, lessons will only help with this, but I was proud of my mentality through the ride.

Another thing I'm proud of is how smoothly we were able to execute the Novice combinations. Obvi the banks took a second try to get it right, but after that I really focused on doing better than just surviving. And being present enough to push Charlie up and forward to make it happen.

"did i do a good job??" - charlie, the happy goober
And I'm also proud of the few T efforts we did try. The log table thing pictured above doesn't look too terribly big to me any more, altho the green roll top still does. But we jumped them both fine. The coop into water also felt a little intimidating to me, and obviously we didn't put the full T line together (there was a bending line to a ramp out of the water). But it was fine.

Again tho, the rest is all for the future. Right now, just making some of these more individual stand-alone type T fences feel "normal" is useful and important. Especially considering it'll make the combinations feel less daunting haha.

yes charlie, you is a good boy
Still tho. Lessons are so so so high on my list right now haha. I have one future date on the books with Dan, and the coach who had to cancel for this particular evening has offered me a free make up lesson. Totally unnecessarily generous IMO, but she also felt bad about a previous miscommunication for a different schooling date at Fair Hill. So. Ya know, I'll take it haha, obviously Yes Please.

So perhaps at some point in the not so distant future, we'll finally be tackling all these things that I'm half hungry for, half terrified of. Hopefully lol. In the meantime, another solid schooling in the books ahead of our next schooling show at the end of the month ;)

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

we choose this: from success to significance

I was't born into horses, I didn't grow up with them. Horses weren't simply a natural part of life during my childhood. Instead I grew up in Baltimore City in a decidedly non horsey family.

But I *was* born with a distinct, urgent need. A fierce resolve that manifested, like so many other little girls, as an obsession with all things horses. My appetite for anything and everything horses was insatiable: the big book of breeds, glossy stickers, Saddle Club books, model horses (I was a Grand Champions girl haha), and, of course, literally any chance to see a real horse in the flesh.

Eventually, my parents agreed to let me start taking riding lessons. And this whole.... thing grew uncontrollably from there.

Throughout each phase of my life, I've had to reaffirm this choice, this dedication to horses, again and again. In high school, that meant opting to spend every possible moment at the barn -- helping out with even the most boring, dirty, labor intensive chores.

pc Austen Gage
Once in college, again the choice was mine to pursue opportunities in a new and unfamiliar town. To join the equestrian team and take on a job managing the lesson barn at my new farm.

Same story after graduating college. Finding my place in the horse world as a horseless but passionate adult amateur was much more difficult than I expected, and took a few false starts to gain traction. But I was persistent. Then Isabel more or less fell into my lap, a paradigm shift that opened the door to brand new choices and opportunities.

Most of you already know how that turned out. I grabbed hold with both hands, leaping at the chance to close in on all those distant dreams. I went all in, and in turn Isabel gave me more than I ever could have hoped for during our lease period. All those experiences were what finally led me to my first ever personally owned horse: Charlie.

My horsey habit today is the product of all those choices over the years, the product of my own uniquely personal journey and experience with horses. I imagine this is true for everyone, and that everyone's journey, experiences, and choices will look a little different.

pc Austen Gage
If you had asked that little girl who loved her stickers and begged to pet the noses of any ponies in fields along the side of the road.... If you had asked her "Why?"... Honestly she probably wouldn't have been able to tell you. But it definitely didn't have anything to do with our adult preconceptions about "success." It wasn't about winning or blue ribbons, or even the more nebulous ideas of glory or victory or redemption.

It had to be something more innate than that. Some deeper driving force. Something more closely related to the personal significance of even those earliest small, simple horsey experiences.

pc Austen Gage
As an adult, that significance and meaning feels increasingly conflated with more external pressures. It feels like now there are competing priorities -- the perceived needs to justify the expense, to rationalize this crazy habit, or to somehow prove ourselves.

And these pressures start redefining how we think about "success" with horses, such that the definition creeps further away from what drove us to these animals in the first place.

  pc #needsmoarstickyspray
That sense of personal significance is so vague, so hard to describe, right? Even today I couldn't really verbalize in a satisfying way WHY horses, ya know? It's much easier to frame the idea of success or goals in more broadly accepted terms. Like conforming to the norm of measuring progress by the "level" of our riding, for instance.

But.... There's real problems with this, right? When our focus shifts away from personal fulfillment and significance, and toward those external measuring sticks, we open ourselves up to burnout, discouragement, or worse. Any sense of external validation is fleeting anyway. There's always some next hoop, some other more distant goal post, and nobody is ever going to care as much as we do about our own outcomes.

pc Austen Gage
So.... That's not really good enough, ya know? My horsey lifestyle has nothing to do with some predefined rubric that says whether we've "made it" or not. That's not what drove me to horses as a little girl, and it's not what sustains me now. Does that make sense?

Honestly, from where I stand, I've come to believe that there are very few wrong ways to enjoy horses. Assuming you're healthy, safe, and having fun.... Well, there's really no need to explain why. Just have at it, right? It hardly matters what you do with horses or how you do it if those simple boxes are checked off the list, IMO. We don't have to agree on tactics or methods or whatever when we all share this same intent.

pc Amy Flemming Waters
Realistically, what are horses even doing in 2019? It's easy to become so consumed by our own little performance / sport horse universe that we forget about the rest of the horses out there... But they're still there haha. And not just in other areas of sport, either.

Consider every other avenue in which horses work for a living: the countless lesson ponies and schoolies around the world; the therapeutic riding horses; all those anonymous strings of trail horses on beaches, at the Grand Canyon, and everywhere in between; the NYC carriage horses; Baltimore's arabbers; Amish plow horses; working ranch horses; etc etc etc.

pc Amy Flemming Waters
Most of those horses lead lives far, far different from the average adult amateur-owned horse. Although even within the world of privately owned horses, there's still extreme diversity. The pasture pets, half-lame trail horses still getting ridden, kids' ponies, horses in rigorous professional training programs, and horses owned by the imperfect, averagely skilled rider.

There are also extreme variances in horse lifestyles around the world completely independent of the horse's job title. Just consider the vast differences between East and West Coast horse keeping.

pc Amy Flemming Waters
Again tho, from where I stand, I don't really see very many "wrong" ways to enjoy horses in our lives provided everyone is healthy, safe, and having fun.

Per force of our own unique journeys to horses, the variances in backgrounds, resources, interests, locations, goals, skills, etc etc etc, everyone's horsey life will look a little different. We've all gotten to wherever we are because of our sets of choices and circumstances. We all have little confirmation or selection biases, rooted in our own histories and experiences.

     pc #fuckyea4eva
But the great thing about these animals is that one size does not fit all. There's room for everyone.

At this particular point of my riding life, I identify as an eventer. I have ambitions and goals that align with the various levels of the sport, the various hoops that must be jumped through from one to the next. There are specific things I would like to achieve, and a major component of the joy I derive from riding revolves around working progressively toward those goals.

      pc #theactualhandsomest
But none of that is the "why" of my horse habit. How my relative success as an eventer holds up against any other measuring stick can't be the only way I gauge impact, right?

Realistically, it's not clear whether I'll still be eventing in 10 years or 25 years. Who knows, right? Things change. What I DO know tho, is that no matter what I'm doing at that future time, there will probably be a horse involved. Because that's what I really want, separate from everything else. That's a choice I expect to keep reaffirming again and again.

pc Austen Gage
And somehow, the simple act of reminding myself that this whole thing is a choice, this is what I've chosen, helps keep me focused on why. Not just in terms of what success means to me today as an eventer, but what significance it would have to that little girl with her stickers and model horses too.

pc Austen Gage
They say that "visioning" is a self-awareness exercise, a chance to sit down and really think about what we are, and why. So we can be deliberate in our choices today in keeping with our vision for tomorrow. A lot of this is in some ways a continuation of the process I used to set goals for this year, and in other ways a reminder to stay true to that process.

Or, haha, ya know.... Maybe it's all just pointless navel-gazing. Who's to say, really? For me, tho, it's useful and empowering to think through. Have you ever likewise sat down to think about how you measure success in horses? Whether that success is based on internal or external factors? Or how that definition may have changed and evolved over the years, or what it might look like in the near or distant future?