Tuesday, January 17, 2017

what I say v. what I do

How about a little moment of funny (maybe), self-deprecating truth telling haha. It's obviously no secret that I spend a LOT of time philosophizing about the finer points of horse training - all the little nuances and incremental steps and whatnot. The nitty gritties.

Like yesterday's post. And all those lengthy, lengthy, LENGTHY discourses on trailer loading. Ya know. All that stuff.

Sometimes I suspect that those posts come off as... hm, what's the word? .... Pedantic? A little bit like a boring lecture from that stupid pre-req class you had to take before getting to the good stuff? (it's ok, my feelings won't be hurt if you're sitting there silently nodding like, 'YUP' lol)

hard to tell but the saddle and girth are all muddy. bc yours truly walked away without securing the girth... only to have horse spook and spin, then spook again when the saddle fell under his feet.... ugh emma c'mon
The thing is. I'm not writing all this stuff bc I think I'm an expert at it (tho perhaps it sounds that way?), or bc I think I've somehow uncovered the secrets of the equestrian universe and am benevolently condescending to bestow my wisdom upon you (I'm pretty sure it definitely sounds this way sometimes haha).

Rather, I write it bc the writing helps me learn. Helps me organize my thoughts, commit new information to memory, and occasionally glean new insights just by taking time to write it all out. And I know there's at least one or two of you out there who appreciate the extra detail.

"halp i need an adult! my person is trying to killlll meeeeee!" - charlie, probably
But the reality is... well... my actions are sometimes far less lofty than what I often write lol. Because sometimes I do some REALLY dumb shit.

It's honestly almost like I'm trying to traumatize my horse, guys.

So it's time to set the record straight: For every long-winded, overwrought treatise posted on ye olde blog, there's likely some occasion where I've done something spectacularly shitty / borderline dangerous with my most saintly OTTB around the horse trailer.

No joke. Poor poor Charlie. Oh how he suffers. Much woe!

Our brief history together is already littered with experiences that can best be described by, "Wow that could have been so much worse!"

surprisingly not this season's hottest fashion trend
Like that time the surcingle on his sheet got caught in the butt bar of the trailer as I was unloading him, and he got awkwardly stuck half on / half off the ramp.

Or that time I backed him off the trailer but couldn't figure out why he was doing it so.... weird. With his head and neck allllll stretched out and a slightly panicky look in his eye. Oh. Bc I never unhooked the goddamn bungee trailer tie and he was actually still fucking attached.

note the mangled bungee casually chillin in the background.... 
Or more recently, when some good samaritan was honking at me like a crazy person 25min into my 30min drive across a busy, rainy highway under construction. Bc my fucking passenger side trailer door was OPEN OMG WTF EMMA REALLY????? ARE YOU TRYING TO GET THE HORSE KILLED WAT R U DOIN??????

Ugh. For fuck's sake. I need to get my shit together... Thank fucking god Charlie's got such a good brain bc he's gonna need every ounce of that good sense to survive life with me!

So. Let that be a lesson to y'all out there: Sometimes I'm kinda an idiot. Ugh. And my gentle giant horse is worth his weight in gold. Have you ever done something that makes you question whether your horse ownership license should be revoked?

Monday, January 16, 2017

playing the long game

Generally speaking, horses do not have an infinite capacity for pressure. Some can take more than others, (that's part of what made Isabel so special), but they all have limits.

I've understood this to mean that it's my responsibility to apply pressure thoughtfully and economically. So that, instead of depleting the horse's capacity to handle pressure, I build on it. I imagine that this 'ability to handle pressure' is a bit like a muscle. It has to be challenged and worked in order to grow, but push too far and you'll get a strain or tear.

To me, this means breaking things down into smaller and smaller pieces. It means being clear about my desired outcomes and objectives at any given moment. And setting the horse up for success such that the horse can also actually recognize when he has been successful.

This also means separating out individually important but mutually exclusive aspects of horse training.

Because it's been my impression that most of what I do with horses can be categorized into supporting one of two main purposes. But these purposes aren't necessarily related, and actually sometimes one can detract from the other. At least at the beginning, with a very green horse.

hackin around on gorgeous january days!
My ultimate goal is performance. So what is necessary for high performance?

- Skills development
- Practice and schooling
- Aptitude and talent
- Jumping all the things
- Dressagin' like a boss

There's another (GIANT) piece of the training puzzle tho, that is not necessarily directly related to performance. (recognizing that pros and more skilled horse men and women can get by at fairly high levels without this other piece)

So what is this piece? The goal of having a horse who is easy to handle and pleasant to be around. Ya know. The stuff we might generally think of as the horse's security blanket, the skills that'll help him land softly if performance isn't his jam and he needs to find a new home. This includes:

- Can lead / tie / be tacked up
- General ground manners
- Travels well
- Probably not going to kick that 8yo kid who just walked directly up behind him

casually observing the horse next door lose his marbles. also notable: you can't tell from the pic but this horse is spotless after hours spent grooming the day prior
The thing is. These really truly are two separate and distinct goals. As seems to always be the case with horses, zeroing into one skill can sometimes mean sacrificing in another area.

Very often, a strict focus on performance can mean glossing over other details. And, coming from the other direction, a focus on calm quiet behavior can often mean we'll settle for lesser performance in order to avoid rocking the boat.

With a very experienced horse, this matters less. It's easy to feel like a schooled horse should 'know better' about staying inside the parameters of both of these focus areas. Isabel, for instance, was expected to mind her goddamn manners at the trailer AND perform to the best of her ability in the show ring. Every time. (Usually lol... )

But that's kinda what I mean by the 'long game.'

Ultimately I want Charlie to be proficient in both of these areas. I want him to be easy to handle for anyone, be pleasant to be around in any circumstances. But I also want him to be my show horse. And it sure would be nice if he becomes a pretty great eventer.

But I already know that his tolerance for pressure is.... well, it's not terrible. But he's no Isabel in that department.

So when it comes for 'exercising that muscle' as the case may be, I see these two focus areas (performance vs literally everything else) as being distinct, and having potentially additive (but also kinda potentially subtractive) attributes.

so happy to be outside in sunshine with no blankets! obvi i had to let him hang outside for a little while longer before i brought him in
Meaning I try to avoid working on both at the same time - specifically avoiding working on everything all at once. Or. Maybe we will work on both, but expectations for one side (let's say ground manners) will be lowered as expectations for the other (performance in a lesson) are raised.

This means that at Charlie's first show, his first time in that atmosphere, I expected and allowed a regression in his ground manners. He didn't need to tie at the trailer. He didn't need to stand to be tacked. There was no fighting about any of that - all that pressure was off. Because I needed to be able to apply that pressure elsewhere - in the warm up and show rings.

Given Charlie's limits, I need to be economic with how, when and why I push him. Fussing about any one small detail is likely to backfire. Having it out with him (or any horse) about standing still or tying or not being a total nuisance to tack up might mean that he's already a frazzled and mind blown by the time I get him into the warm up ring.

For me, in the earliest stages of anything at all relating to the horse's future as a performance horse, it must be as easy as possible for that horse to be successful in doing the thing I want it to do. If that means getting help at the mounting block, or with trailer loading, so be it.

so clean and shiny and happy in the winter sun! he even got his luxurious tail shampooed the day before!!
Because, again, my ultimate goal is performance. Everything else is secondary. Let's be real: if that wasn't true, I'd still be doing dressage with Isabel instead of working with Charlie. Let that sink in for a moment.

The flip side, tho, is that the vast majority of my time spent with horses is not at events. In fact, it might not even be in schooling and lessoning. I'd actually wager that everything else - the grooming, tacking, low key hacking, and general time spent with ponykins adds up to more time than the serious riding.

So...  ya know. It's kinda critical that the time be well spent too, that it also be enjoyable lol. Right?? As an amateur, I'm not really cool with the idea of a horse that's a monster to deal with or that needs three people and a stud chain just to get it out of the field, even if that horse could win me every single ribbon in all the land. Bc that's just not worth it to me.

Which explains why you've seen me drone on so often about the ground work I do with Charlie, about our work on trailer loading, etc etc. Bc all that is definitely a priority. Definitely a goal, second only to the horse's development as a show horse.

but ermagherd wtf this muddy goon!!! he just hadddd to roll ugh, in like the five minutes between when i took the above photos and then went back out to get him. 
So I guess my observation here, tho, in this long and drawn out ramble, is that they really are different goals. Not necessarily opposing (for instance, obedience is a key characteristic of both), but not always in alignment.

My approach to dealing with Charlie and pressure is to choose my battles. To be clear on what I want at any given moment, on what I'm asking - and letting everything else go as it may. With the idea that eventually many of these pieces will come together. First Charlie will learn how to be successful at this one specific thing I am asking him to do (so he learns how to, ya know, actually do that thing) and in time we'll be able to add in more pieces and refine technique.

But..... this is also the first horse I'm totally 100% responsible for restarting fresh from the track. So I dunno how it's all going to shake out haha. Except it's probably a safe bet that I make more than a few mistakes, and maybe leave a few holes behind lol.

winter barn door vistas!! hard to tell by the trees are coated in sparkling melting ice
Because on the other side of the coin, there seem to be lots of folks out there who have more of a 'zero tolerance' approach for certain behaviors. That it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, the horse is always expected to do xyz, no exceptions. Which can make sense at times, I suppose, as horses often benefit from having very clear black and white expectations.

Personally, tho, I save those lines for behaviors directly relating to safety, and everything else is allowed a greater degree of ambiguity or variance. Tho. Well. I've also been accused of being a bit of a softy lol, an enabler. That maybe I am cool with things that wouldn't fly elsewhere.

So I'm curious here - what are your thoughts on how to build a horse's capacity for pressure? And where do you see yourself in the training scale? Are there certain tasks or behaviors that you expect the horse to adhere to once it's been learned? Or do you tend to allow backsliding or regression in one area when you switch focus to another?

Does it depend on the horse? Maybe you've had some horses who would take advantage of any wiggle room? Or others who desperately needed space and time to process each infinitely small step?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Charlie the Race Horse: A Portrait

For a while now, I've wanted to do something to honor and pay homage to Charlie's racing career. Racing was a major part of his life to date, and he had many connections who really believed in him as a race horse.

When I read that Alyssa was accepting commissions to offset Bacon's emergency veterinary bills....well. It was a no brainer. Alyssa's artwork is lovely - she has an uncanny ability to capture each individual horse's expression. (I mean, c'mon, did you see her portrait of Bobby?!?)

Plus. Alyssa knows race horses. Who better to immortalize that part of Charlie's history?

I sent Alyssa this link to Charlie's win pictures from Parx Racing, where he often ran and sometimes won, and let her choose how to best proceed.

And. Well. I'm just floored. It's so perfect!! Thank you so much, Alyssa!! I love it!!

Obviously I love it so much that it's become Charlie's debut as this blog's star attraction! And of course I couldn't wait until the painting actually arrived to share it with y'all haha - this is a screenshot of a picture of the original piece lol... But the quality of her work, and the truth of his expression are still so apparent.

Eeeeeee I'm so excited and can't wait to hang this beauty up on my wall!! I've never had a portrait of a horse before (or, at least, a horse I know) - just lots of pictures. This somehow feels more special tho. Have you ever gotten portraits of your horses before? As a painting or maybe some other medium?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Plantation Field Horse Trials 2016: Redux

So wayyyy back when last fall, I went to the best event ever, the Plantation Field Horse Trials CIC**/*** event, meeting up with Allison and Megan along the away. Good times were had by many. But I delayed posting all my intense and extensive media bc I was so enraptured by brand-new Charlie to be distracted by such other things.

As it was, tho. Plantation is a fantastic event. For anyone in the area, I highly recommend going to anything they offer. The above pic is such a quintessentially 'Plantation' pic too, with the giant hill (a defining attribute of this venue) covered in spectators, with six-time Olympian P Dutty doing his thang in the foreground. (his thang, incidentally, being, to win).

Anyway tho. I promise not to regale you of alll the riders and horses. Except to point out instances where, like, DAMN. What would it be like to ride that gallop?

Personally, I can't imagine.... tho Lauren Kieffer didn't seem to mind with her 2* mount. 

It's a funny thing about this bank-one stride-vertical combo out of water on the 2* course tho.... We'll return to this particular obstacle repeatedly, tho sadly not in as many pictures as I'd like.

We saw a lot of it early on, like here with Dom Schramm's not-super-steerable 2* horse.... and it didn't look terrible. Tho later on we witnessed (kinda sorta) two back to back eliminations here from Philip and Boyd. Crazy. 

Actually it was kinda a wild day for falls. Here we see Buck killin it with his 2* horse. And we'll see him killin it later with his 3* horse..... but then we also see him come off (rather scarily) that same 3* mount. 

Obvi this event is months into the past by now tho, so we all know that all's well that ends well. And no pros were seriously injured on this day, tho some of the greats didn't get their completions. 

For instance. Here we see Philip riding into a three jump combination with his 2* horse (sorry I can't remember which horse). He rode through this thing so goddamn easy, we didn't even bother watching as he went farther down the hill to the water.

Then BAM, we heard the air vest. And saw his working students come BOUNDING down the hill haha. Horse and rider were fine, thank goodness. But we were surprised! 

Next comes Boyd Martin tho, and we half jokingly holler out to be a little more careful. But he too made the three jump combo look like a simple gymnastic, and paid no attention as he wended down the hill.

Then. BAM. Air vest. Again. Wtf guys, really?

Again, horse and rider were both fine..... but damn, apparently that 2* bank out of the water insisted on respect! 

Anyway tho... the 2* finished on those final two falls... oddly enough haha bc those had been the leaders... and we moved onto puissance (see below) then onto the 3* xc. Which naturally made full use of the landmark Plantation ruins. 

Boyd clearly wasn't slowed by his fall, and made easy work of the tricksy turns with Megan's secret lover Welcome Shadow. 

Also through the 3* water, which suddenly looked much easier than the 2*: being big log jump drop into water, arrow brush in the water, then out over arrow brush just beyond the water line. Bigger fences, sure.... but perhaps easier? Idk haha

I say 'Idk' obvi bc you're sure as shit not going to see me jump anything even like that vertical any time soon!!! 

When meanwhile, my hero Philip makes this giant trakehner look like pie. I REALLY wish I had a full pic of this jump. It was.... insane. I have a pic of Allison, Megan and me (plus Max) standing under the 2* jump... and even that's nuts. This 3* version is just so intense. But still apparently not too bad for this pair!

The coffin, however, proved slightly more influential. It's funny - for as big of a deal as a coffin complex is for those looking to move up the levels, it always seems to ride like a straight forward gymnastic exercise for these top level riders. Until Plantation, I had NEVER seen a penalty (first hand) at these jumps. 

Even this pair - who came barreling downhill to the giant table to make a bit of a mess out of it still pulled their shit together to make respectable work of the coffin. 

See?? Perfectly respectable through the in - and while it's not pictured here, you'll see it in the video: perfectly respectable through all the rest, too. 

Obviously this guy couldn't care less about the ditch either. Sure, he's giving it room. But look at his face - he's totally fixated on what's coming next!

Which, obviously, he nails too. 

Alas, this pair had no such luck at the coffin. Poor horse was convinced the ditch ate ponies (in his defense, it was pitch black and fairly spooky). Honestly I was super impressed with the jump judges and TDs on hand. EVERYBODY wanted this pair to get through the flags.

The horse was having none of it tho, and after some tries schooling each element individually (tho moving out of the way as other competitors came through), the horse made his decision clear and the rider retired. Such a shame too - they looked like a great pair and had apparently made the trip from California. Ahh, horses....

But drama can come in all shapes and sizes. Drama doesn't always mean refusing fences - sometimes drama just comes in the form of this goddamn intense crazy gallop!! Look at that thing go!!!!!

Ha and drama sometimes comes in the form of Buck too lol. He and his horse made it nicely through the coffin (which was conveniently located just opposite this three-jump water combo) but then came into the water WAY under powered over this jump. Like, crawling,

It's Buck, tho. And he's a pro. And damn if he didn't goose that good pony up and over the out brush jump like nbd. Good pony!! (and YES, visible on the video. But NO, not visible when the pair parted ways just two jumps later.... le sigh. But damn, we watched as that horse trotted around loose until captured, and holy shit was that trot fancy. wow)

Anyway, tho. It's obvi not my favorite thing to watch all the greats take a spill, tho clearly it happens. So we enjoyed watching Phillip close up the 3* round, I believe for the top placing. 

But because, who can resist?, let's look at some of the bareback puissance pictures from the show jumping break between the 2* and 3* cross country rounds!!

The wall never got giant, per se, but it was still right around the 5' mark when all was said and done. And, in fact, well above what some of these participant riders had ever done before. 

It was awesome to watch their rides up to it, and see Dom Schramm and Phillip Dutton encouraging the riders that must certainly have been their working students (actually it kinda looked like Phillip was 'jumping' the jumps with his riders too haha - so fun!). 

It was even more awesome to see riders who were clearly nervous, but overcame that to clear the big wall and get that giant rush of adrenaline and satisfaction! 

Definitely an awesome event to spectate - will undoubtedly do everything I can to go again next year!!! Hopefully I can convince Megan and Alli to go again too, bc I had such a good time hanging with them!! Plus perhaps others can be enticed to go too?

Also, fun fact, this outing turned out to be exactly the motivation I needed to go home and ride Charlie for the first time ever - also his first ride post-track. Funny how upper level cross country can be inspirational like that ;)

Monday, January 9, 2017

more prezzies!

Charlie is not a particularly dirty horse so far. He really didn't seem to roll much anyway at first, so I wasn't too worried about the new farm's lack of a vacuum cleaner. Tho perhaps Charlie wasn't rolling much in the early days bc he was still settling in, as it seems (based on how his blankets look) that he actually rolls a fair bit.

i <3 you, vacuum
Obvi, bc of said blankets (and his clip), Charlie's not exactly getting massively filthy all that often. And I happen to really enjoy grooming anyway. But all the same, tho, I am thrilled to announce that Santa saw fit to bring one of these bad boys to the new barn. Yay!!

trying to figure out how to get to the alfalfa behind the machine lol
I've personally never met a horse who won't tolerate being vacuumed. Sure, some need a slower, more thoughtful introduction to it than others... But imo it's totally worth getting the horse used to it. Especially for those very muddy days, or deep into the middle of shedding season when there's seemingly no end in sight to all that hair haha.

And as I wrote years ago, getting Isabel to accept the vacuum actually felt like an instrumental step in our trust-building process.

charlie you are WAY TOO BIG to hide behind that little rope lol
Naturally, as you might expect, it was a total non event for Charlie. Sure, I still go through the same process the first few times I use it on him: let him sniff the nozzle, shake the hose a little, touch him with the nozzle, shake the hose... Then turn the motors on and repeat the whole sniffing-shaking-touching-shaking process all over again. (in my experience, the sounds and movement of the hose are likeliest to spook the horse)

And I usually start touching the horse with the nozzle on their shoulder or mid-back, only moving up the neck after ensuring they're not freaked out. A couple quick passes (bc again, he's not exactly dirty under those blankets) and voila! Horse is broke to vacuum.

still with plenty of side eye tho lol. skeptical horse is skeptical
The other fun new thing in Charlie's life is something I've coveted for years, but never wanted to pull the trigger for Isabel bc I was fairly certain my next horse wouldn't be 14.3h and I didn't want to lay out the expense.

But. Did you know that amazon sells Back on Track products?? I got a couple of gift cards this holiday season and figured it might be worth a little search. And sure enough, amazon carried exactly the mesh sheet I wanted! Basically the same price as you see everywhere else... tho with the gift cards I only had to pay about half.

ta da!
Reviews (from friends and online) say that the sheet tends to run a little small. Charlie is wearing an 81 and I'm actually quite happy with how it fits him! Hopefully barn staff will be willing to toss this on him as a stable sheet while he's in his stall (temperature and Cujo tendencies permitting).

I'm also considering using it as a base layer for his other sheets and blankets during turnout - has anyone else tried that before?

Anyway tho. I'm pretty happy to have this for Charlie. People seem to swear by BoT products, and Charlie basically needs all the help he can get in improving circulation in his muscles. This will also be a nice thing to have for trailering, esp on chilly mornings, to help warm his back up for whatever type of riding might come.

Have you used a BoT sheet for your horse? Or a vacuum for that matter? Do either feel indespensible to you? Or maybe there's some other tool around the barn that you couldn't live without?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Riley's best day ever

Riley, of course, being Brita's golden retriever puppy. And it was her best day ever bc this puppy just loooooves water and mud. Both of which were plentiful when Brita and I (and Bella and Charlie) bundled up in a few extra layers to hit the trails (finally) at OF.

this angle makes it almost look like that quarter sheet fits him haha
And what follows is totally and completely unapologetic photo spam. Alas we can't claim to have captured any of the grandeur of fall foliage (like when I had Bali out through these fields last year, right before breaking my leg lol). But the dreary drizzling gray weather is sorta kinda charming in its own kinda way, right?

no joke, this puppy LOVES puddles. that coat was 100% powerless against her intense need to slither across the ground like an otter
Poor Charlie. Guys. This horse desperately needs to hack out more often. He's such a natural at it!! I had actually initially felt a little guilty stuffing him onto the trailer for this outing, bc it's been our impression that homeboy doesn't really love being exposed to the wetter elements....

brita and bella!
But my overwhelming need to get out of the arena for a longer ride beat out my sympathies for Charlie's perceived delicate constitution. So I borrowed a fleecy quarter sheet and told him that his vocab word du jour was forbearance.

how i love these fields <3
My concern for Charlie's potential discomfort was entirely misplaced tho. He was immediately right at home out in the fields. Easily out-walked Bella with his long long legs, despite sticking to a relaxed amble. Happily turned us through gates here, and trail heads there.

At one point I actually only half-jokingly asked Charlie if he had been here before in another life haha. He seemed to know his way around!

blurry selfies > no selfies
I mean. Obvi the rain was kinda a nuisance and it was slightly cold... But it was exactly what I needed. And maybe Charlie too.

it was obviously EXACTLY what riley needed haha
I've read and heard a lot about what long slow hack miles can do for a horse still letting down from the track and rebuilding their muscles in a new way. Plus Charlie has a lot to learn about terrain in general. Ground that slopes up and down and all around is still relatively new to him - especially while under saddle.

bella handled all the gates for us like a total pro, tho charlie was quite happy to wait patiently for her
And it turns out, unlike Riley, Charlie's not fantastically fond of mud or puddles. I already knew this from past lessons when he avoided walking through puddles in the arena.... But this'll need to be addressed if he has any hope of being an event horse. Hacks across nasty ground are the perfect setting to let him figure that out for himself tho, without me needing to force the issue.

cross country jumps!!!!!!!!!!!
Plus I obviously had to take every opportunity to point out all the fences that I had jumped with other horses. From some of the novice stuff with Isabel, even to the BN/intro stuff I did with that little pony Krimpet last summer haha (my last time schooling xc, sob).

The idea of jumping Charlie over anything of any size right now is borderline unfathomable bc of his awkward "OMG LEGS EVERYWHERE" style haha... But if Krimpet can do it, he sure as shit can too.

water water! i spy water!
We took advantage the water complex too. Alas Charlie proved a bit reluctant so I settled on walking him in and out a couple times (usually with the aid of bold Bella leading the way) instead of actually trying any of the up or down banks like I had wanted. Oh well, there will be plenty of time for that later.

i kinda love the austere landscape of woods in winter
There were more opportunities for low-key, almost-incidental schooling elsewhere too tho. Brita is still learning the woods so we kinda just sniffed around different trails, trying to make the ride last. One fairly narrow path had a steep dip down to a tiny rivulet, then steep climb back up. Total change in height of no more than 4-5 feet. Steep but short.

We ended up doing that twice in a row too, as our trail dead-ended soon after and we turned back around. Charlie led both times, and was a little hesitant about the water both times - but did the thing, and did it more quickly and easily the second time. Good boy. Repetition is definitely his friend!

this farm is so freakin pretty!
And hopefully repetition is in our future. Personally I love trail riding for so many different reasons. Mental breaks for the horse (and rider). Low key strength-building miles. Opportunities to experience wide varieties of terrain and visual landscapes. Oh. Plus Charlie is totally broke to puppies running around every which way now too haha. Bonus!

Rumor has it that there ARE actually trails at Charlie's barn. Modest in length, but enough to get out for 40min if you wanted. Which sounds perfectly sufficient to me! The trick will be finding someone to ride out there with us, as I'm not quite ready to go all solo-expeditioner with the big guy yet, even tho he's been to be totally chill. Hopefully someone will want to go soon tho!