Thursday, January 16, 2020

riding better with technology?

It will surprise exactly nobody to learn that... I'm a bit of a data geek. I'm kiiiiinda into numbers. Problem solving, data exploration.... Technology, research, analysis.... It's my jam, ya know? And, not entirely coincidentally, also my day job haha.

New technologies in cell phone apps, smart watches, and other digital devices have ushered in this new era of tech-enabled living. We are bombarded with interesting (or otherwise) notifications and nuggets of information every day, every minute almost, of our lives. And naturally, some of this has trickled into my horse habit too. Obvi.

charlie fully supports my mission of trying anything - literally anything - to improve myself lol
If I've learned anything as a purveyor of data products, however, it is this: Information alone is not enough to change behavior.

Thus begging the question: What data or information *is* actionable for riding? Can technology actually influence our riding behavior or choices, in real-time or otherwise?

Over the years I've tried out a number of different apps to use while riding. With.... Various degrees of success haha. Some were discarded immediately for being too buggy or glitchy. Others were interesting enough to stick around for a while, but eventually faded. And a few have had more staying power.

dedicated equine app folder.... most of which aren't actually designed for use with horses, go figure
Personally, I'm interested in figuring out which is which, and why. So here are a few examples of what I've tried, and how I feel about them. Notably, only one is actually specific to riding....

1. Altitude Profile

What is it? A basic hiking app I downloaded to help with conditioning.

This app tracks your activity via gps location and compiles a package of meta data:

- Satellite map of your activity's path
- Total distance covered (kilometers or miles)
- Activity duration and average speed
- Total change in elevation
- Elevation chart

gosh but i love meta data
How do I use it? Honestly? Kinda sparingly, in specific circumstances.

Zillions of apps can track metrics like speed, distance, and duration, but what makes this app special is the elevation chart, IMO. I've used this app to map out all the hills at Charlie's farm, and like to use it during my cross country course walks at events (especially at new venues).

How is it actionable?

This data isn't necessarily useful in real-time (unless you're lost hiking and trying to find your way home lol), and I don't use it often. For instance, you only really need to map out your home base hills and trails etc once, ya know?

That said, I now know the relative size of the various hills available to me. AND, by using this app to map out local cross country courses, I also know how my hills at home compare to what we might see in competition.

For instance, Fair Hill has a monster hill that their courses typically run down, and then back up again. Thanks to this app, I know we've got a hill almost the exact same size right in Charlie's back yard that's prime real estate for conditioning work.

Verdict? Overall, it's useful for making plans. The data showed me how to optimize our favorite trail circuits for maximum hill climbs. And it helps me assess how the topography of a new or unfamiliar venue compares. I don't use it often, but I do use it.

2. CVS Simulator (Chromatic Vision Simulator)

What is it? An camera filter app that simulates different types of color blindness.

How do I use it? This app has four filters to see and/or take pictures using the most common vision types.

C = Common
P = Protanope
D = Deuteranope (how horses see)
T = Tritanope

left side is common vision, right side is how horses see. basically red/green color blindness
Theoretically you use this app to understand how horses perceive their surroundings, especially how they distinguish colors (and thus, contrast) differently from us.

For instance, I've used this app to view cross country jumps to see what might look spooky. Turns out those giant imposing red fences prevalent on literally every single course everywhere just look greenish brown to the horses, not the big-bold-aggressive red they seem to us (or is that just me??).

How is it actionable? Eh... Unless you're worried about letting your horse pick out his own clothes, there aren't any real "next steps" to this one....

apples maybe aren't so spooky after all!
Verdict? Ultimately this app fell into the "interesting but useless" category. It was kinda cool at first, but didn't really tell me anything new.

3. EquiLab

What is it? This is the free version of the app that works with the Equisense (a "digital riding companion" sensor device that costs about $250). It tracks ride meta data in real time, and produces after-the-fact reporting on each individual ride, plus weekly and monthly totals.

(Notably, you can only look back so far into your history without upgrading to the premium version...)

can view data from individual rides plus weekly and monthly reporting
Data points include:
- Ride category (dressage, jumping, cardio, hacking, etc)
- Duration spent and distance covered in each gait
- Average speed and beats per minute (bpm) per gait
- Satellite map of ride
- A suite of charts on speed, tempo, stride, and elevation on the ride
- Distribution of time spent in each direction (hopelessly glitchy and useless, IMO)
- Notes section and option to add weather detail

the turn distribution data never really makes any sense. methinks it's entirely bogus. like, that dressage ride was in a ring only slightly bigger than a large dressage court and is mapped below, but we spent less than 4min turning?
How do I use it? This app functions like a riding journal. I've used it to compile how long I spend riding in each gait. Some meta data isn't available until after the ride is complete, but time distribution by gait is done in real-time.

maps can be fun tho. at least, when you have good enough cell reception!
The satellite maps are nicer than those from Altitude Profile, bc they're color-coded by speed. The suite of charts is absolute junk tho haha -- noisy nonsense that's hard to read. Even if I could read it tho, it's not clear what to do with the info. Sorta like a seismograph. It'll measure the force and duration of our earthquakes, but not how to prevent the next one.

Theoretically you could maybe try to scrape the underlying raw data to assess trends over time.... But even then, it's not clear how to act on that data.

but what does it mean??
The reports are nice to scroll through, seeing what our typical riding routine looks like in actual hard and fast numbers... Overall, tho, it's more journal than planner.

How is it actionable?  The real-time duration-by-gait function of this app is its best feature. I've used it often during schooling rides to ensure I'm logging the requisite time and intensity for our conditioning plans. I have also used this more frequently than any others for producing visual blog content.

The "journal" aspect tho, the weekly and monthly totals, were never accurate bc I always try to hand my phone off for video during lessons.

the maps are useful for helping me remember details from a specific ride tho
Verdict? I eventually stopped using the app, and haven't missed it. I prefer a stop watch for proper trot sets (or, ya know, old fashioned landmarks haha), and prefer riding off feel rather than a clock for our dressage schools. Ymmv.

4. Soundbrenner

What is it? A metronome.

It's designed for musicians and has tons of settings for time signature, subdivisions, sound effect, and, most importantly, beats per minute (bpm).

How do I use it? I set it to a "trot" tempo (tick tock tick tock tick tock) at the beginning of a ride and leave it running in my pocket until the ride is over.

I keep it at trot bc:
- That's where Charlie and I have the most work to do
- Changing tempos on the app right before or after a transition sounds disruptive
- It's great for quickly modulating our tempo after a canter-trot or walk-trot transition

there are probably a zillion apps out there with this functionality. i just set it and forget it!
It took a couple rides to figure out Charlie's natural/optimal bpm, mostly bc we're a hot goddamn mess and couldn't hold a rhythm for shit. (maybe why our Equilab charts were so noisy?? lol...)

The google says a good working trot is around 75bpm and we experimented with 70 through 80bpm. Charlie's sweet spot is around 77.

How is it actionable?  It influences how I ride my horse in real time, like a coach would.

Except, instead of a human hollering, "Shorten your reins for the love of sweet baby jesus!," the tick tock tick tock tick tock mercilessly, ruthlessly, relentlessly reminds me RHYTHM is the fundamental block in the training pyramid. Connection and Impulsion can only come after.

It helps me calibrate my ride in real-time, and the effects are noticeable. After a month of sustained use, Charlie automatically holds this 77bpm tempo. Always. First trot of the day, last trot of the day. 77bpm. And he feels much stronger and more balanced in doing so.
basically trying to use the metronome to help get charlie exactly this muscle bound haha. is it working?? mebbe!!
Interestingly -- those might all be very very different trots from the perspective of energy and impulsion and stride length. But they are all equal in tempo. This alone feels like we're figuring out our balance, strength and elasticity within trot.

Verdict? This is the newest app in the arsenal, so it's still shiny and exciting. But... Yea, I use this for every schooling ride and feel like it's made a tangible, measurable difference in the quality of our work.


So. Ahem. Cough cough. This ended up not sounding so cutting edge or modern after all lol, considering topography, time keeping, and riding to music ended up being my biggest "technological" winners lol. Goooo figure.

That said, tho, I'm curious about your experiences too. Have you used any of these (or similar) apps? Or something else entirely?

What sort of features do you look for in terms of helping you figure out what's working, what isn't, and what to change in your riding?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

looking back to look forward

This past year I took a fresh approach to goal setting, inspired by an article upper level event rider Matt Brown wrote for the Chronicle of the Horse. The gist was that we're more likely to find happiness and fulfillment by focusing on process goals rather than outcome goals.

Essentially, the "outcome" is often what most of us zero in on as the big important holy grail - the perfect sound byte encapsulating our hopes and dreams. The front page news, the banner in the sky. Moving up! Qualifying! Winning!! Doing this specific thing!!!

All too often, tho, horses and horse sports can be agonizingly riddled with obstacles well beyond our control. Even the smallest missteps can instantly derail all our carefully laid plans. And if we've put all our eggs in that specific "Outcomes" basket.... Well, it's really hard to not end up demoralized or discouraged.

Thus, Matt suggested instead that riders should focus on process. Meaning that, Yes, we need to understand where we want to go, what that ideal outcome might be. But our goals and our metrics for relative success should be based on the component processes that fall exclusively under our own personal jurisdictions, insulated (hopefully) from external forces.

This way, even if you don't end up arriving at that shiny coveted outcome, maybe you've still put together a happy year of horsing all the same.

behold! our stuff!!
i missed the year end awards banquet, but a barn mate grabbed our swag for us!!
And so, for 2019 I first identified what I hoped that outcome would be. Namely, I wanted to move up and earn some competition qualifications toward a longer term goal. To do so, I parsed out the following component processes that would be my Official 2019 Goals:

1) Continue preparing for a move up to T
2) Organize necessary paperwork + memberships
3) Plan a thoughtful calendar considering favorable venues
4) Budget appropriately and realistically (and early)
5) Maintain a comprehensive wellness plan for Charlie
6) Invest in developing my skill set and toolbox as a rider
7) Focus on positive experiences and additive mileage
8) Be flexible and accept setbacks with poise, bc #horses
9) Enjoy the ride!

Maybe I was prescient in adhering to this thought exercise haha, bc yea. We totally did not reach the overall "Outcome." Charlie and I did not successfully move up to T in 2019. We took one little baby step in that direction in July that resulted in a very literal crash 'n burn.... And I basically retreated into a quiet low-key tailspin for the next few months, womp.


By couching my official goals in terms of the processes above, I can actually look back on the year and feel really good about how it all went down.

we won 6th and 8th place in the novice divisions (one for rider, one for horse), and 3rd place in the Thoroughbred Incentive Program novice division!! which means: ermagherd NECK RIBBON!!
It turned out to be a building year for us. And maybe, arguably, we needed it. Maybe our future prospects will be the better for it.

I learned so much this past year. So so so much. Maybe it's easy to forget, but I've never really done this before. Charlie is my first horse, right? And he's certainly the first horse I've really ridden at this level. Isabel and I made it to Novice, sure, but only got through two events before I was sidelined with a broken leg. And we never got back. So I never really felt "established" at the level.

Meanwhile, Isabel was the sturdiest of Arabs and will undoubtedly outlive us all. Charlie is.... Made of different stuff haha.

So much of what I've learned with Charlie is more than just the training and skills required to ride the level. It's everything else - all the in-betweens and behind-the-scenes stuff. 2019 for me was a relentless crash course in learning what it means to maintain and condition the horse for this new-to-me level of riding. And unfortunately I've had to learn a lot of it the hard way.

excuse our janky outfits but we had just been out hacking haha. obviously tho we had to drop everything and take pictures with all that schweet schweet satin!! plus bonus TIP hat lol (kinda wish it was any color other than red but oh well....)
In looking back on 2019 through the view of those component processes, tho, I'm happiest about three specific things:

1. All the budget and financial health work that I undertook paid major dividends. My costs of living and spending habits have stabilized and no longer require obsessive oversight. I know exactly what my horse habit costs (might even post on that later lol), and can project with a high degree of accuracy what sort of savings plan is necessary to do all the things I want to do.

2. Which is useful, bc possibly the biggest win of this past year was the investment I made in my and Charlie's education. Again, might post in more thorough detail later on the overall breakdown of lessons / clinics / shows / etc.

Suffice it to say, tho, that 2019 was a major year of learnings for us. And it was AWESOME. Sure, we didn't ultimately successfully move up, but we're in a totally different and better position today, and have a TON of amazing memories and experiences to look back on.

3. Especially bc one process in particular, "Focusing on positive experiences and additive mileage" really helped me keep perspective when things got rough. Arguably, this goal was the kick in the pants I needed to put together our little mini Fall season this past November.

It's entirely possible that getting back onto the competition scene for those two amazing back to back schooling shows at Novice (Loch Moy and Waredaca), and then again at the derby in December, is the main reason I'm finishing the year feeling so positive, rather than defeated.

All this to say, these goals really helped me overall in getting closer to where I want to be. So I'm carrying them forward into 2020 too, with some minor reductions for the sake of simplicity:

1) Continue preparing for a move up to T
2) Budget appropriately and realistically (and early)
3) Maintain a comprehensive wellness plan for Charlie
4) Invest in developing my skill set and toolbox as a rider
5) Focus on positive experiences and additive mileage
6) Be flexible and accept setbacks with poise, bc #horses
7) Enjoy the ride!

god i love this goofy horse <3 <3 <3
Laying this out also helped me understand what was maybe missing from this past year. I invested heavily in our education, yes, and worked hard to check off the important boxes and gain the necessary experiences.

Sure, I rode with a LOT of world class riders and coaches, and solidified the team of professionals and practitioners who will help me keep Charlie happy, healthy and thriving. I got a lot of really really good advice this year from a lot of people who know their shit.

Something was missing tho: Cohesion.

This past year lacked any sort of unifying thread through all those experiences and learnings and clinics and wellness sessions. Instead it was at times a bit scattered and almost transactional.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned this year is that I don't really know what I don't know at this level. I can try to build out all the check lists, and collect all the knowns and unknowns etc. But maybe life would be easier if I stopped trying to reinvent the wheel, stopped having to learn some of this stuff the hard way.

Thus, my other big objective going forward is prioritizing Mentorship. I crave a gps, a guide, a beacon of wisdom, who will help me pull all these various component threads together into a more complete and comprehensive plan.

This isn't getting spelled out in any sort of explicit terms as a goal, bc I still don't know exactly what it will look like. But maybe let's consider "mentorship" as something of a theme for the year, a lens through which I hope to apply all those processes above haha. Or something. Idk.

All I know is: We had a great 2019 overall. And now it's 2020. A new year full of new opportunities. And I'm already pretty freakin pumped to see how it'll all turn out ;)

Monday, January 13, 2020

back with January's Fix-a-Test

It's been a long time since I did anything formal with dressage, for a couple reasons... Mainly revolving around the fact that I've spent a lot of time, money, and energy on improving our #skills in this phase, without really seeing much in the way of payoff in competition.

Like, Sure. We can more or less get through anything First level, but it ain't necessarily cute haha. Luckily, that's perfectly sufficient for our purposes, so I've mostly turned my attention to the jumping stuff in recent months, figuring our solo schooling dressage rides every week would be enough to keep us going.

we picked a great day to get out for adventures - it was in the 60s!
Things have been going pretty well in recent weeks tho. We had exceptionally lovely weather during my annual winter "staycation" -- the week between holidays that I take off and spend doing whatever the hell I see fit to do (incidentally, this year included unplugging from EVERYTHING and it was AHMAZING lol) -- And so Charlie's been in pretty regular work.

He's fit, strong, sound and happy right now (knocking on wood), and it's been fun musing about what the coming year might hold for us.

So when I started gathering dates for shows, clinics, schoolings, etc, and saw our favorite dressage barn was hosting a Fix-a-Test clinic this past weekend? Obvi I impulsively signed us up haha. The clinician is actually the barn owner and manager, and my normal dressage trainer C is the assistant trainer. And turned out to be the scribe at this clinic too, which was convenient haha.

obvi tho, it's mud season. i tried -- really tried -- to protect my poor boots with these rubber slip-on boot condom thingys. alas, the mud won this round... note charlie's equally disgusting hoof too haha
It was honestly really nice being back here again, since it had been forever. And we were early enough for a long slow warm up during the ride before me, where I got to watch a local pro working on 3rd level with an absolutely lovely 26yo mare. And funny enough, this was the same pro who judged my first ever dressage tests on Isabel...

Actually, Isabel's history nearly entwined with the clinician too. Had Isabel been 100% registered Arab (her dam was a cross) it's extremely likely that upon ending my lease back in 2016, this farm would have initiated a breeding lease with Izzy's owner. She really was that fancy haha...

Alas tho, what they really needed was the registrations so their babies could be registered as arab crosses. Isabel didn't have that, so it didn't work for their purposes and thus the mare retired back to her pasture pet lifestyle. Which honestly worked out just fine, let's be real!

still the actual cutest tho
Anyway, warm up was basically lots and lots of walking, tho I did ask Charlie to come round and walk with purpose after a bit. Plus we practiced some of the half turns at walk.

When it looked like our turn was more imminent, I did a little trot each way, and an eensy amount of canter on both leads.

Then we began! I reintroduced ourselves to the clinician (who peripherally knows us as trainer C's students, but has never really seen us go) and talked about our objectives for the day. Namely: while I understand test riding is all about accentuating the good and masking the bad, we kinda fall more squarely into one of those camps than the other LOL.

And moreso than trying to "fix" a test, we were kinda here to learn how to, erm, ahem, for lack of a better term, "fake" it. Hey, honesty is the best policy, right?

going into 2020 grateful for this rig
And so right off the bat we went out and rode the Training A test. Incidentally, this was my first time actually riding through the entire thing. We had intended to ride it back in June at the MDA schooling show, but rode 1-1 first where upon the judge not-so-subtly suggested we scratch our second test haha...

To be perfectly honest? The test rode a lot better than I expected. Charlie was his absolute perfect self, buoyed by both the magical footing and by being currently at the high end of the Charlie Soundness Spectrum ©.

If we rode that test exactly in that manner at a show? I'd be fully satisfied haha. But of course, that's not reality, right? In the real world, we run the gamut of footing situations at shows, not to mention the distraction of atmosphere and horses everywhere, plus what can sometimes be a disruptive change in footing or situation from warm up to show ring.

So.... If I want to get that feeling of "good enough" in the show ring when it matters, I'll need to get a feeling of "wow great!" in practice. Right?

if we could actually do this at a show and walk away with a 34.2%.... i'd be satisfied lol
Thus, we moved on to the "Fix-Fake-a-Test" portion of the lesson LOL.

Like every dressage trainer and judge who has ever laid eyes on Charlie, she wanted more forward. Not necessarily a different tempo -- I actually went back and ran my metronome app while watching the video and the tempo is still right on -- but a more forward feel in that trot.

It's hard for me to commit to this feeling when I know we have difficult turns or transitions coming up, but her point was the forward balance will actually help with those movements. Case in point: Perhaps Charlie's best ever canter-trot transition during this ride (end of video, around 10:37).

Overall, for such a large horse, Charlie is not a big mover. Isabel was by far a bigger mover than Charlie, but his size really highlights the contrast of his anti-extravagant gaits. I shouldn't necessarily be trying to ride him "bigger" in his movement, per se, but if he's not forward enough we will get dinged for it every.time.

my sweet big bronto with his little trot on those long legs...
For my position, the Clinician P echoed basically all of what normal dressage trainer C has said to me over the years. She wanted me to be less clingy with my calves, and better with my arms.

She called my arms "short" haha, which prompted some funny chat in the video you can barely hear unfortunately, but basically I have T-rex arms on a bronto horse. It's..... a tricky combo lol. But I need to work harder at keeping my upper arms closer to my body, while bending my elbows and not pulling down with my hands, especially the inside.

Incidentally, pulling down with my hands also happens to be the trigger for when I collapse my frontline and tip forward in my seat. This will obviously be a work in progress for a long time, and you'll see in this particular ride I wanted to let my hands get really wide apart as I worked on lifting them. Eh, one thing at a time, yes?

canter's nice tho ;)
Once we had the working trot put together, and my positional balance a bit better, we started working on those 10m half turns that show up at the very beginning of Training-A.

The exercise was (and this is all in the video): ride a 10m circle at trot. Do a full circle, then repeat with just a half circle. So, in essence, you ride one and a half 10m circles. Except, the last half circle you stretch out a bit, making it more oval. Obvi it still has to be 10m in one dimension, otherwise you miss X, but the other dimension you can stretch out a bit so that when you arrive at X you're kinda already straight on the center line.

From here, continue out the center line to change directions, then repeat on the other rein - one and a half 10m circles with the last half being more oval in shape. Change directions again, then put it all together, creating the E-B "S" shape serpentine of 10m half circles.

The idea is that it's harder for the judges to see when you go a bit too far in the A-C dimension of the arena, vs if you overshoot your distance on the E-B axis. So if you give yourself a bit more room there, you're likelier to have a more balanced change of bend over X.

Through this movement I definitely needed to be conscious of not pulling down with my inside rein.

includes: work on 10m half and full circles at trot, and lengthenings at both trot and canter

Next we worked on canter. Mostly staying on a 20m circle, with putting together spurts of lengthening.

The clinician actually said I have a naturally good seat (in the video omg) which like.... Uh, nobody has ever accused me of that haha. Normal dressage trainer C (who was taking the video) has spent literal years trying to help me improve my seat, esp at canter. YEARS. But ya know. There's only so much you can do while fighting your saddle.

I've been riding exclusively in my monoflap L'Apogee jump saddle for a few months now tho, and having a clinician call my seat "naturally good" is definitely reaffirmation that this is the right choice haha.

going into 2020 also grateful for this saddle haha. kinda diggin the minimalism of doing everything in one saddle anyway, tbh
Having a saddle that puts my seat in the right place means instructors can move on from trying to get me sitting, to actually improving my seat aids. Ya know, the whole point, yes? In this lesson, we worked a lot on connecting my outside seat bone and outside rein to help send Charlie into his canter lengthenings.

This worked marvelously, and really helped correct my tendency to pull down on the inside and tip/lean in. Instead, it helped me stay sitting upright and balanced on my seat. Like.... You can actually see the change in the video haha. Yessssss.

When tracking left, I really need to focus on almost a slight counter bend to get my horse straight. None of this is in the video unfortunately (showed up most when tracking left in canter), but it's fascinating to me bc it's not at all what I feel from the saddle. I can feel something isn't right and that we're crooked, but my instinct is to want to pull Charlie's head further in, which is the opposite of what every trainer says to me. My body is a liar lol....

obvi tho, charlie is da real MVP
Anyway, the final tidbit relates to riding the working vs lengthen canter. In my head, I want to "show a difference", but the clinician said this was leading me to go too far in the wrong direction for working canter. She said it's super common among eventers to make this mistake, esp at Prelim. Where they want to show a big difference between canters, so they end up riding the working canter too much like a collected canter.

She said it had to be more subtle than that. Like, imagine riding a canter between two ground poles set at an indeterminate distance. At Charlie's present state of schooling, he can pretty easily do three different canters between those poles. He can do a "natural" canter -- whatever striding comes up naturally when left to his own devices. He can also add a stride (+1), and take out a stride (-1).

In my head, I've been thinking about the difference between working and lengthened canter as the difference between the "+1" and "-1" canters. But actually it needs to be the difference between the "natural" and "-1".

this shot is a callback to January 2017 when i took a very very similar picture after one of charlie's earliest dressage lessons. so much has changed since then. but this horse, he's still Charlie <3 <3
So..... if you're sensing a theme here, it's basically that we just need more forward. But in balance. Not running, not bracing, but definitely not slugging along either.

Which, ya know, that's been our dressage nirvana, our holy grail, for a couple years now lol. And probably will continue to be for many years to come. But I'm actually pretty happy with where Charlie is now in his strength and balance and overall quality. It's especially gratifying to see how much our rhythm alone has improved since riding with the metronome (something I continue to do in basically every single schooling ride).

It's been a long time since I stopped believing Charlie might actually be competitive in the dressage ring. But I'm not going for the win, ya know? Our goals and priorities lie elsewhere. I just want a good feeling, a happy sound strong horse, and a qualifying score lol. Right now that feels within reach, so I'm happy haha.

This Fix-a-Test format also worked out really really well for us. I've done the format once before and had the exact opposite result, namely bc it was not a good match between me and the clinician. But under my current circumstances, going into a ride with the absolute goal of improving my strategies for a specific test was very effective. And, also, turns out, about $25 cheaper than a "normal" lesson at this farm haha.

So yea, sign me up lol! Will hopefully get to repeat again through the winter season!

Monday, December 23, 2019

merry almost christmas!

Well the holidays are officially upon us around these parts, and idk about you but I'm 100% looking forward to a little time off!

time off to include: riding in the day time!! 
And as you may or may not have noticed, we're already full blown into the holiday spirit haha. Bolstered in large part by Hillary from Equestrian at Hart's secret santa gift! I'm a little late in posting this, but we've been fully enjoying the gifts (esp those treats, Charlie is pretty sure they're made of pure crack cocaine LOL).

thank you Hillary for your lovely gift!
Thanks so much, and thank you Tracy from Printable Pony for hosting and coordinating every year!!

my parents bake charlie special horse muffins for every special occasion now <3 
Charlie's actually been getting a few gifts already this season, including some homemade muffins from my parents.

these muffins are beyond belief, so sweet and made with love!
Before his (second) retirement, my stepfather spent his (second) career as a muffin maker extraordinaire and is an extremely talented baker. These days he's been plying his craft by developing a horse-specific muffin recipe. And honestly it's pretty amazing haha <3

charlie obvi approves
I'm sure Charlie would be equally pleased with something a bit simpler, but damn he does love these things! Such a nice treat, right?

our ground is alternating between mucky wet or frozen solid.... but hey, daylight helps!
Anyway, tho, we're finally getting into winter proper too. Winter officially began this past Saturday, with the days starting to lengthen again. Talk about a double-edged sword, tho, haha.

I'm already so sick of all the nighttime riding, but we're only just now starting to brace for actual winter temperatures. Combined with fully frozen ground, le sigh.

it really is a pretty time of year to be out there tho
Up to this point, we've been able to ride basically wherever there's light, which includes both outdoor arenas. Now tho, the rings are starting to freeze, esp the jump ring that's just plain pale sand. At least the dressage ring has darker footing and as such stays a bit warmer longer.

if this is all we get for now, it's good enough !
Even that has been freezing a lot lately. Meanwhile, the indoor footing just got redone and is a bit too deep for my tastes at present, so we've been avoiding it completely other than the occasional walk-only ride.

Meaning, our nighttime rides have been pretty boring with no good place to do any real work. And early weekday morning lessons are on hiatus bc.... there's no ground to do anything with, sigh.

these migratory birds that pass through our farm are amazing

At least in the daytime we can hack out -- which obvi we've been doing a lot of lately! Even that is just walking too, for the most part, with the ground either too sloppy or too hard for anything more.

But it's still so much nicer than endless circles inside four walls haha.

lots and lots and LOTS of wanderings for now haha
I'm taking the week between Christmas and New Years off from work tho, AND the weather is actually looking pretty good!! So maybe we'll be able to ride outside in the daylight AND maybe at speeds faster than a walk haha. Fingers crossed ;)

merry christmas, inside and out!
Which is obviously really exciting haha. I don't have too many family events left for the season, either, and they're all local anyway. So most of that time off can be used for literally whatever I want, yessss!

For now tho, I'm just looking forward to tying up loose ends at work and then settling into a nice long staycation !! :D  Anybody else taking time off for the holidays? Do you have to travel or can you stay home and relax a bit? Hoping you all get to have a wonderful season with friends, family, and ponies <3

Monday, December 16, 2019

Saddest TB Ever Goes Xmas Caroling

So..... We finally found something Charlie's, uh, not very good at, haha. It's a shame, too, bc I had such high hopes. Sigh.

sad but cute <3
Basically every year our farm puts together a big group of horses and kids to go ride out into the neighborhood singing christmas carols.

It's been a tradition for many years at this point, and all the neighborhood folks come out to listen -- and bring with them big bags of carrots and other horsey snacks.

getting charlie to stand for pictures is.... challenging haha
It's unbelievably cute, and obviously super fun. We didn't go last year bc something else was scheduled for the same day (can't even remember at this point, maybe we went schooling?? or to a lesson??). And the year before is even murkier in my memory, but Charlie was probably still recovering from Surgery so that was also a miss.

hard to tell but Royal over there is wearing a crown and a tie!
This year was finally our time to shine tho!! Literally, haha. Charlie was decked out from head to tail in shiny silver tinsel. And looked extremely dashing, if you asked me.

i had visions of handing out candy canes to neighborhood kids like some sort of benevolent elf
I also outfitted a breastplate with a bunch of bells so that with every step we made the most satisfying little jingles <3 <3 <3

things started off very calmly with everyone gathering in the dressage ring
And while I thought we looked pretty cute, we were massively under dressed compared to some of my barn mates haha. Everyone really went all out, and the horses looked ahmazing omg haha.

so cute tho, right??
We were also super lucky that while it's been raining and icky for basically the entire past week, on this day we had strong sun and temps hovering around the low 50s. Perfect!

charlie was all aboard the "trail ride with bells" idea!!
And honestly everything started out pretty well. Some horses were a bit skeeved out from the very beginning, but Charlie was fine. And I expected him to be fine - he's got a lot of experience riding in groups and being in the middle of swarming chaos at horse shows and hunter paces and paper chases etc.

pictured: happy and relaxed and able to take my hands off the reins...
I think the trigger that flipped his switch tho was having it all happen at home. Especially in this one front cross country field that we spend a lot of time in galloping around and jumping things.

Charlie was totally fine hacking out sorta kinda around the front of the group (homeboy has long legs and every now and again puts them to good use in striding out), but when we turned around to face back toward the barn and line up for pictures.... Well, reality really sunk in for this horse.

right about the moment that charlie starting feeling... very unsure about this whole thing. see the running shetlands??
He saw all these people and horses coming up behind us, making all that noise, looking oh so very unusual, and ..... basically became overwhelmed with despair. This must certainly be the end!

lining up for pictures! we were smack in the middle of a big long line
Lol.... Poor Charlie. His suffering knows no end, guys. He's a good boy tho and other than standing up VERY TALL and pricking his ears VERY HARD, he held it together for all the pictures and everything.

really tho, the longer you look the cuter it gets <3
Somehow, tho, he never really settled after that, which really kind of surprised me. Had I known that he'd continue to vibrate with nervous energy for the entire ride, I probably would have just skipped out after pictures were finished.

As it was, tho, I totally expected him to settle into the ride. And he totally did not.

it's hard to tell with a "between the ears" shot, but charlie is VERY TALL in this moment haha, basically standing on his tippy toes
Still tho, it was such a good group and so much fun!

Obviously I would have preferred if Charlie were a bit more relaxed about the whole thing, but he basically just danced and jigged and snorted and flung his head, but otherwise went where I put him and stayed out of the way and didn't trample anybody.

omg tho. it's kinda weird but i'm so intensely jealous of the childhoods some of these kids get!!
The format was: waiting for our stewards (on foot and in a kubota) to help us all cross the roads safely, then wandering down the neighborhood roads until we reached any families who came out to meet us.

Then we'd hang around that house long enough to sing through a couple christmas carols, and let the kids pet ponies and hand out carrots and stuff. Charlie, for his part, appreciated the carrots, altho I mostly kept him off to the edges of the activities.

charlie's ears could not be pricked any harder omg
At one point I felt so badly for the horse that I just opted to hop off and walk him for a while. This did help keep him a little more flat footed (vs jigging) and he stopped sweating. Tho he still kinda wanted to dance around me and wasn't being super respectful of my space.

Eventually tho he chilled enough where I figured I'd hop back on for the ride back. Good boy did in fact let me use a kubota to get back on (even tho all the other horses were walking away, oh no!), but went right back to jigging once I was in the irons. Sigh.

finally hacking back home, trying to avoid anyone bolting to the gate... sadly, some chaos did ensue, but luckily everyone involved was fine
I swear, I haven't jigged that much since the Isabel days lol. Honestly I'm kinda shocked that Charlie didn't wear himself out! He was still tho very good.

Despite being on his tippy toes and shod on all four in steel shoes walking up and down asphalt roads, spooking internally at every mail box and storm drain cover, he never took one bad or scary step. Never slipped or tripped or did anything that made me worry for our actual safety. He was just.... totally overcooked between his ears lol.

ok charlie, so you're not a great parade horse. that's fine, you're allowed to not be perfect at everything <3
Oh well, it was a nice idea for a fun day. I felt kinda bad that Charlie couldn't relax at all during the ride, but I was very proud of how he held it together anyway. I'm glad we did it tho!! We just... probably won't do it again haha.

Or at least, maybe not at home. I bet Charlie would have been different if we had started off in a totally unfamiliar location. Like, then he would have just accepted everything as it was instead of recognizing how "unusual" his normal haunts suddenly looked.

Still tho. It was mostly fun anyway. Esp for all the kids and their ponies!! And most of the horses seemed totally fine too. And hey, at least we got pictures, right?

Anyone else gonna give caroling or a parade riding with your horse a chance this season? Or maybe just a more low key trail ride with friends? Think your horse would like it or be totally sketched out like Charlie was??