Tuesday, July 23, 2019

moving up is hard to do

It's safe to say that things didn't go quite to plan at Full Moon this weekend. But I'll be nice and spare you the suspense: We ate it big time in show jumping. Sigh.

It's ok, tho, I promise.The horse was a good boy. He tried hard. I tried hard too, and I'm proud of myself for trying. We're both fine. It just wasn't our day.

Moving up is hard enough even in the best of circumstances, right? This wasn't even a full move up, exactly -- we were signed up for Training dressage + show jumping, then Novice cross country. All of which we have a fair amount of experience with over the last 12 months (not to mention the past 7 days).

my car clock is 15min fast, it was actually not quite 5am and already 85*F in the city.....
But still, the show environment tends to expose the soft squishy spots that maybe aren't so readily apparent in normal schooling. Lord knows I've got enough soft and squishy to last a lifetime as it is haha.

And anyway, this weekend was far from ideal. I did everything in my power to prepare Charlie for the conditions, but there was one aspect I hadn't considered: How much of a toll his emotional state would take.

first sponge down of MANY throughout the day
Charlie is a very good horse. He's generally quiet and reliable. He's a thinking horse and understands his job and the rhythms of a horse show. But he's also quietly emotional. Atmosphere has an effect on him, like it does with any other horse.

This is actually part of what makes him such a great show horse at times, too. When Charlie gets to a show, he understands that stuff is gonna go down. This tends to make him more forward, sharper off the aids, and more dialed up in the wattage department.

i finally picked up another canopy too. these things are game changers - but beware the wind!
What I didn't expect was for that undercurrent of tension to draw so heavily on his energy reserves in what were undeniably brutal weather conditions. If anything, I kinda hoped it would have the opposite effect and work in my favor by allowing him to dig down to some deeper vein of adrenaline.

also a game changer - power inverter for my truck's cigarette lighter
I also tried to stack the deck in our favor by kitting out my trailer set up after a last minute trip to Home Depot. We got a new canopy that's big enough for Charlie to stand under (not pony club approved, exactly, but #safetythird), and a power inverter so I could run a box fan out of my truck to keep on Charlie at all times.

Plus, obvi, plenty of water for frequent sponge downs. And ice and rubbing alcohol and electrolytes and all the things.

yes it did end up draining my truck's already compromised battery. #noregrets tho, that's why sweet baby jesus invented jumper cables
He seemed fine going into dressage, and I basically skipped my warm up entirely aside from a few circles and transitions at all gaits. Charlie was tense tho. And kinda running. Which... obviously was not ideal at all. Possibly I could have gotten a better test out of him if I had ridden him down a bit more in warm up, but I preferred to save some horse for later.

So the test was pretty bad. Still a full 10pts better than our attempt at 1-1 a few weeks ago, but nothing worth writing home about. And a sad first mark on our permanent record... .Judge's biggest comment was a reminder to ride more smoothly from movement to movement, rather than just kinda chopping the pattern together.

not a pony club approved set up. but can we take a moment to appreciate the epic job rachael's mom did with brushing charlie's tail?!
Since I'd walked my courses the day before, we had the full break between dressage and show jumping to just hang out in the shade focusing on staying cool. Likewise, since I'd entered the Training / Novice division, there would be a long-ish break between my jumping phases too.

My show jumping was scheduled at the very end of the T division, and then we were intended to be some of the first horses on course for the N xc, after all the jump judges had relocated etc. However, organizers were clear that they'd take horses as they came for both jumping phases. So my plan was to arrive for SJ a little early, and XC a little late -- giving us at least 30min but possibly longer between phases.

literally the only pic on my phone of either of us dressed up and ready for action. don't worry tho, the pro pics cometh eventually
Step 1 of that plan worked out great. SJ warm up was empty when I arrived and the steward said they'd take me when I was ready.

Alas tho, our warm up was... not promising. Charlie continued with the tension and running. Like he almost felt like he was in xc mode (since, ya know, we had just schooled xc a few days prior). Except he just wasn't locking onto or reading the fences. Normally a bigger fence makes him pay more attention and adjust himself. Like in literally every recent video I've posted where he's been a rockstar.

braids are #respectable enough, but now my superstition is kicked into high gear after our only times braiding coincided with bad outings.... conspiracy theories abound!
He just wasn't in that gear tho, so it was up to me to do the adjusting. I'll always be the first one to raise my hand and admit that I'm an unreliable pilot haha. My horse's eye is WAY BETTER than mine. So.... Yea, that worked out about how you'd expect. We were a little long here, a little close there. Knocked the oxer once for good measure. Ended up doing a few more fences in warm up than I'd normally do.

So when we went into the ring for our round, I wasn't really sure what to expect. But basically ended up with more of the same. It doesn't look terrible in the helmet cam's wide angle lens, or at least it doesn't look how it felt. It was the same as warm up, tho. A little long, a little short. Basically all misses.

We were getting the strides, and Charlie mostly moved up when I asked for it. But, he was a bit flat and I had trouble getting that "bouncy" feel in the canter. Essentially, he wasn't really using himself as well as he can.

And any horse will start questioning things after enough misses. Any horse. Even saintly Charlie. So when we got to the second combination at 5A a little long, Charlie started to pick up and go for it, but changed his mind at the last minute, skidded into the fence, then hit the deck.

Homeboy went down like a friggin camel letting me know the ride was over.

there was one single shot from the pro photogs where death didn't look imminent, and it was taken over this oxer. is it a sign for the season ahead? good or bad?? who knows!
God bless the photographers tho. It doesn't look like they were shooting that particular fence, so they don't have pics from the very beginning of the refusal, but they started shooting the moment they saw shit start going sideways, and didn't stop until the entire drama had unfolded completely.

Yes, I bought a couple pictures (thanks KC, Amelia, Nadia, Austen for helping me choose!), but you're just gonna have to wait for those.

aw guys, he's a good boy tho
also i ditched the flash strap to avoid any undue airway restrictions. might be time to consider flair strips tho!
And thus I had my first fall off Charlie. He was kind even in this tho - and let me down gently and slowly (tho you better believe I tried my guts out to hang on - I clung to that horse's neck like a cheap suit...). And so concluded our day at the Aloha Horse Trials. Le sigh.

I'm grateful that it wasn't worse. Grateful that my horse was no worse for the wear, nor was I. Also grateful that.... it felt like the perfect storm of less-than-ideal circumstances that led to the fall, vs some gaping maw of a training issue. Like, obviously there are training issues. There are ALWAYS training issues.

But ya know. This was mostly just a tough day for doing what we wanted to be doing. A tough day to make it happen and dig deep. We tried tho. Really really really hard. And again, I'm proud of trying.

he tried. i tried. we all tried. we'll get 'em next time
It's always easy to look back in hindsight and say, "Well obviously you should have done x,y,z differently" or whatever. And let's be real, I'm already predisposed to think like that haha.

But unlike our meltdown at Plantation last year, I'm trying to see this experience as a case of "just one of those days" vs an indication of a major systemic failure. Horses are hard, yo. But I'd rather keeping trying and failing, than be too scared or always wondering what could have been.

So ya know. We live for another day. And, good news - the heat wave broke today! Small miracles, right?

Sunday, July 21, 2019


I swear I never used to be superstitious. I never felt like I was gonna "jinx" myself, or anything like that. Back in the Isabel days I'd talk for weeks in advance about whatever plans we had coming up. And, to some degree, I've wanted to do the same with Charlie.

Except.... Well. Things have a funny way of coming between me and my plans with Charlie haha, and over time I've grown more pessimistic. A little less likely to lay it all out there exactly what I plan to do, esp in terms of concrete competition schedules. Bc ya know, it kinda sucks always having to turn around and say, "whoops never mind!"

But then it ends up being a bit of a surprise when I randomly post on a Sunday that, "Oh hey by the way, Charlie and I are making our recognized debut today!"

so festive, yes?
Still, tho. It's exciting. I'm excited. A little nervous and anxious. Not least because I failed to check the forecast until after I clicked "submit" on that extra pricey non-refundable po$t entry. And ahem, again, as has been a theme around these parts for the past week or so, it's worth mentioning that it's HOT out right now. Very very hot.

Definitely sub optimal conditions. But dammit, I don't really want to add "un-fair weather" to the list of disasters that have derailed our plans and forced the forfeiture of all those fees. So. As of this writing (again with the superstition!) we are gonna do it.

i love the decorations <3 tho considering our history, i won't believe we'll actually make it to this start box until it's actually literally happening haha. sigh.
Actually, it's entirely possible that by the time you read this, I'll have already completed my rides. HOPEFULLY with a number. Please sweet baby cheebus may we just get some numbers. I don't particularly care what they are, to be honest. I would just like to conclude the festivities in the company of my horse, without making any dumb mistakes to otherwise get us eliminated.

We'll see how it goes. I already walked the course and collected all my obsessive meta data haha. It does not look like a cakewalk. But it *does* look like a test we've studied for. And not like, "late night cramming and probably still needs a crib sheet" kind of study either...

No no, it looks pretty good. Hopefully. Due to the extreme weather conditions, organizers slowed the times wayyyyyyy down. So even if I cared about riding for time (which, I don't at this point), I'd still have no excuse for making a stupid mistake bc of rushing. We will have the time to tackle what needs tackling.

So we'll see. Should you share some of my own same stalkerish tendencies, I believe Event Entries will be running live scores for the show ;)

this sweet new power adapter is coming with us to hopefully allow a box fan to run off my truck's cigarette lighter 
Anyway tho, as with any show there's all manner of other uncontrollable environmental factors that can have a big impact even tho they're not necessarily related to the five minutes spent in the show ring or on course or whatever. 

This weekend's biggest unknown is the weather. It's fucking nasty out. We're riding early, which is nice, except the humidity will be higher. Bc of the way my division is run, there's a longer than normal gap between show jumping and xc. Something that typically is not good for my mentality bc I want to keep moving and not give myself too much time to think.

But.... On this day it's actually a welcome break. It means that I won't have to wear my vest for SJ, and can take some time to sponge Charlie off and offer him fresh water before xc.

I also popped by Home Depot to add some new accessories to the trailer set up. Namely, another canopy tent thingy for shade, a new cooler for ice (FINALLY), and a box fan + power adapter so it can run off my truck's cigarette lighter. I've been assured that this probably WON'T kill my truck battery haha, but just in case my jumper cables are coming along too LOL.

and bc horse shows are exciting / scary, here's some sparkly stuff! this browband is FOR SALE, y'all!!
So. We're as ready as we're gonna get, yes? Which means that there's nothing left to do (as of this writing) but sit around twiddling my thumbs, looking for bright shiny objects with which I might distract myself from brewing an ulcer haha.

And thank god for Amelia at Dark Jewel Designs, bc she had just the ticket!!

virtually all of Amelia's work is custom made to order, but every now and then she can offer some ready made pieces
Amelia makes made to order browbands featuring custom designed bead work. On many of her browbands, the bead strands are actually interchangeable, so you can have a show ring strand and a fun strand, for instance. Or, if you're like me and have both brown AND black DJD browbands, you can still easily move your favorite bead strands from one bridle to the other.

Possibly my favorite feature of these browbands tho (aside from the frequent compliments they receive!) is the snap-on functionality. It's gotten to the point now where I legitimately resent my other browbands that still require the crown piece to be threaded through before attaching the cheeks... Like, c'mon it's not 1936 anymore, folks! Snaps are the future!!

look at how colorful the crystals are tho!
Lol for real tho, esp for those of us who have different bridles for different occasions, it's super easy to just swap a single browband around for all your black bridles or all your brown bridles. I have two complete jumping bridles - one with just a loose ring snaffle and one with my KK Ultra elevator bit - and I use the same browband for each. It's a cinch, I like it haha.

so pretty
But anyway, again most of Amelia's work is custom made to order. RARELY does she have something ready made. But... Evvvvery now and then she'll want to test out a new a idea or new style of bead. And so she'll whip up yet another one of these gorgeous browbands, and then offer it for sale.

the swoopy shape allows the slightly longer browband to still fit like a normal full size
So, lucky us, this happens to be exactly one of those moments! The above browband is black with white piping complete with the snap loops. It's sized Extra Full 17", although Amelia tells me that the drop style allows for a more flexible fit and that this will still fit on a normal Full size horse.

The gems are Swarovski Rivoli Crystals in Crystal AB, Crystal, and special color Tears of Isis. Set in chain setting, with the crystal strand securely sewn into browband (this is not an interchangeable strand).

Amelia is offering this lovely browband for $90 free shipping in the US. You can find her on Facebook or Etsy, or email her at Amelia.Pitts at yahoo for inquiry or if you have any questions.

Hopefully somebody will snap up this lovely piece!!

And in the meantime, hope you all are staying cool and having a nice weekend. And doubly hoping that I'll have good news to share come Monday!! ;)

Friday, July 19, 2019

windurra xc: charlie's on fire and it ain't just the weather

Legendary (and local!) 5* event rider Sally Cousins travels quite a bit for lessons, and is pretty good about posting her schedule / locations well in advance. So, weeks ago we signed up for another cross country lesson at Windurra!

Of course, plot twist, it got scheduled for 2pm right smack in the middle of what happens to be a bit of a heat wave. Perhaps you've heard the news ---- it's HOT, yo. And mid-afternoon is.... well. That's basically when temps reach their daily highs. In other words: not ideal.

this was our final fence of the day, but it's just so cool it seems like a quintessential windurra thumbnail haha
pictured from 5:14 in the video
This was.... not music to my ears. But, ya know, I didn't even consider cancelling. Bc let's be real, if you never ride your horse above 85*F then yea, a cross country lesson in 95* temps is probably inappropriate. But.... If you condition your horse to the weather and take proper care of details like hydration and electrolytes and whatnot, then ya know. The horse is probably fine.**

My horse doesn't ever live in air conditioning, ya know? He's exposed to ambient outdoor temperatures full time. But he gets shade and a fan. Lots of water. Soaked feed. Daily electrolytes. And, ya know, daily rides. Not just "Well it's kinda hot so we'll just walk today" rides either. We ride. Every day. And he's fine.

**Obvious exceptions to this include horses with illnesses, ailments, compromised respiratory systems, metabolic issues, etc. You will always be your horse's best advocate so if you feel your horse struggles in the heat despite your best efforts, there's nothing wrong in taking it easy in bad conditions! Or like, if YOU don't do well in the heat, that's fine too! 

this little area of ground is kinda like a bowl / crater
pictured from beginning of video
I... personally require a little more attention since I do spend a large part of my day in air conditioning and am thus a little likelier to wilt if I'm not careful. But I am careful. Hydration, sunscreen, breathable clothing, enough nutrition to help my system (bananas yo!) but not enough to make me barf lol. Oooh and electrolytes for me too.

I've actually been stealing my horse's electrolytes, to be honest. I just sprinkle some into my water bottles and have been feeling great. Tho on this particular day I learned that there IS such a thing as TOO MUCH electrolytes lol. I probably could have put a quarter-to-half scoop spread out across all 3liters of my water bottles, instead of putting about a quarter scoop in each.

I felt fucking fantastic even after the ride, and the rest of that evening. Not woozy or fatigued or anything. But.... I also felt like maybe I had somehow accidentally ended up on one of those formerly-fad-ish cleanse diets LOL. TMI? Sorry not sorry, learn from my mistakes, yo.

our warm up put us immediately into coursework - you can see the next log oxer directly ahead too
pictured from the beginning of the video
Anyway. The lesson!! I brought a junior rider and her spicy little nugget of a pony from my farm with me - all the better to have company, amirite? And it ended up being just the two of us in the lesson. This is the third time I've ridden at Windurra, and also the third time that we've basically had the ENTIRE schooling course to ourselves.

Not sure if that's a function of luck or like, being the only ones crazy enough to get out there lol, but it sure is nice! Bc by all reports this place is usually BUMPIN. And like, if you have the misfortune of falling in your ride, like Rachael did with that ill-fated savage stud situation, you might have a little salt rubbed in your wounds when your loose horse bolts smack into the middle of Dom Schramm's lesson with Phillip Dutton. Whoops haha.

Ahem, cough cough. Anyway. For this lesson, again, we had the run of the place.

this is the newer water complex - lots to do here!
I kept my flat work reeeeeally basic. Like, didn't even put Charlie on the bit, to be honest. Probably not the best course of action, but whatever. He was fine. Actually felt really lazy, and I hoped I wouldn't have to keep pushing for forward the whole ride. Turned out, tho, I realized after the ride that I had forgotten my spurs. Tooootally thought the whole ride that I was wearing them. So maybe that's actually a good sign?? LOL

Bc once we started jumping he was just right there, clicked into gear again. Sally started us off with actually a seriously awesome warm up: it was almost a full mini course - tiny log, tight right turn to bigger roll top to log oxer to small house, tight left turn into the water and up out a bank.

Boom boom boom, talk about economical haha!

wasted no time getting to the ditch. also pay attention to that trakehner ;)
1:00 in the video
I liked that in our very first set of jumps for the day, we hit 2 of the holy trinity elements of cross country riding: water and banks. Our very next circuit hit that 3rd element too: ditches.

We swung around to catch the ditch then turned toward this neat section of terrain at Windurra. The facility itself is more or less pretty flat tho set on a very gentle slope front to back. But Boyd's gotten around this by creating all manner of earthworks all over the property - banks and berms and mounds galore.

jumping up out of the bowl / crater!
1:00 in the video
This one little bowl / crater has all manner of jumps lining its rim, most of which can be jumped both directions. So far, Charlie and I have only tackled jumping up and out over the berm, as opposed to turning it around to jump downhill.

Tho after two lessons I'm starting to see some method to Sally's lesson design madness. As, later in the ride, we did in fact tackle a jump that was much more mound like - with a steep incline to the jump, then an immediate descent afterward.

Anyway tho I kinda LOVE riding Charlie over jumps like this bc the uphill approach forces me to keep my leg on, which then obviously helps Charlie find the jump for himself out of stride. And he tends to get some serious airtime over them haha!

oooh hey-o, charlie's first trakehner!!
1:40 in the video
It was kinda nice being a lesson of just two of us, bc we got lots of breaks in between runs, but also didn't really hang around dawdling unnecessarily in the heat.

So we moved quickly to the next exercise: Charlie's first trakehner!!! OMG!!! Sally had me walk up to it first for a look, then come around and jump it. Obviously Charlie cared not and jumped it like the log it is. Then just carried right on along to the bright white coop. Gooooood boy!!

Tho in the interest of honesty I was having a fairly difficult time getting us properly straight through the shoulders. Eh, one thing at a time, I guess!

also quintessential windurra: a fairly technical exercise with extremely inviting individual elements. we did this out of and into the water
2:33 in the video
From there we went back to the water to continue building on technical skills. That was a theme for the lesson: we didn't do a ton of giant fences (or really, like, any) but we DID do a ton more work with combinations. Something I've wanted for a long time.

Charlie's already demonstrated that he can jump a big single T fence. It's the technical stuff that I've been reluctant to try on my own. But moving up isn't just about big fences, it's also about combinations and adjustability and all that good stuff.

So our next little circuit was great - we first came through the water up a small bank, one stride to a small pipe. Then turned right around to repeat the exercise in reverse: small pipe then one stride to the drop into water.

This is my favorite thing about Windurra. That combination of elements is highly technical. You won't see a configuration set at those distances at BN or even N. Actually a combination like that wouldn't be out of place on a Prelim course. But each individual element here is so very inviting. Putting it all together felt like the easiest thing in the world for Charlie, even tho he's literally never done anything quite like it before.

definitely the most challenging half coffin charlie's seen to date
3:30 in the video
I actually thought we could have been done with that, to be honest. But I'm notorious for quitting too early lol. Plus Sally felt like my lesson mate definitely had more to do, so more we did! Charlie, for his purposes, felt happy to keep going. Those ears were pricked from start to finish <3

Next we moved to another section of ditches. I gave our lesson mate a lead over the small one first -  just to ensure it went well, tho she ended up beasting it all on her own anyway haha. Then Charlie and I moved over to the biggest ditch set as a half coffin.

The approach here was a little tricky (#excuses) bc there was a third element set up for the line coming the opposite way, and Charlie and I had to sorta angle around that other jump. You'll see it in the video, but Charlie was a little bit squirrely going past that other jump -- he actually kept popping a lead change and bulging a bit.

Plus the rolltop doesn't appear from behind the bushes until you're nearly at the ditch. So it was hard to get him locked on early. The first time we allllllllmost ran out. Honestly, a more supple beast would have definitely run out lol. But 2x4 bronto Charlie ain't that flexible so we managed to hold the line well enough to get over the rolltop.

Second time was much much better - we did it in a clean 2 strides instead of a garbled mishmash - and convincing enough to be done with it. But still kinda a dicey challenging exercise lol.

lots of turning featured in this lesson's exercises
4:03 in the video
Anyway, after that we went back to a familiar element from our last Sally lesson: the steps up. Tho we added a jump before hand that necessitated another bit of sharp turning. That was another theme for this ride - not just combinations, but turning exercises.

It's so easy when we school alone to get into the habit of doing just long straight runs to everything. But... in real life, you have to be able to jump, gallop, and turn haha.

we finally nailed the steps up!
4:03 in the video
Sally instructed that we do this entire exercise on a collected canter - esp since the one stride up the bank necessitated it. And you might remember that last time it took us (multiple) tries to get those steps right.

This time tho we totally nailed it. Charlie jumped the rolltop thingy nicely out of a more collected stride, turned easily, and came right back to me to get a nice clean line up the stairs. Yessss, good boy!! It definitely felt like he remembered this exercise.

got a couple more reps over this monster drop down, this time powering up the hill to a skinny brush thing
4:25 in the video
Same story to the down banks. We did this same massive drop last time -- and it remains the largest bank I've ever dropped down with Charlie. It's kinda daunting bc it's really hard to see the edge until you're right up on top of it.

I ended up trotting in bc that's what Sally had us do last time. This time around she said I could canter if I wanted but... Eh. Trotting was fine. We would land in the bowl then shoot up that hill dead ahead to the skinny brush thing that you basically can't see above bc it blends in with the tall pine tree just up above and to the right of Charlie's right ear.

uphill to said skinny brush thing
4:25 in the video
The first time I didn't have quite enough leg up to it, and we kinda added a stride and cork-screwed a bit over the skinny. So we repeated the same exercise, but this time with my eye up earlier and leg on sooner up the hill, and Charlie nailed it.

This was also pretty satisfying, bc again - a skinny fence is not something you see at lower levels. Fences just aren't allowed to be that narrow. But the height of this fence couldn't have been more than BN, making it much more inviting and a great introduction to skinny xc fences.

Plus -- this fence had a not-insubstantial drop on the back side. Lots of interesting questions all packed into one element, but again in such a way as to be forgiving for the learning horse.

another easy fence in a technical position. yesssssss!
4:55 in the video
From there we were basically finished, bc honestly what more could I ask? We just did a little more with the water - a small BN house perched right on the edge of the water line. And a super cool keyhole-esque brush fence between two trees (top picture).

Both of which Charlie obviously aced. Because he is the best horse in the world 100%.

i tried to talk a little more in real-time to help make it more clear what we were doing etc. 

After that, we were done and dusted. Tho actually, not totally pooped. I'd been lucky to park the trailer in the shade, and we were quick to get the horses settled: watered untacked and sponged off immediately. Plus obviously plugged full of carrots haha. Both horses were fine tho, breathing easily and munching on hay.

Charlie got his legs iced while I worked on getting the studs out, then my lesson mate and I sat and chilled for a few. At which point I chugged no less than 2 liters of elyte-laced water haha. We were very sweaty and smelly, but not much worse for the wear. By the time we loaded up to leave, both horses were completely dry and looking quite satisfied with themselves lol.

All in all, aside from the heat, it was basically everything I could have hoped for in a lesson. It feels really exciting to start working on these types of combinations with Charlie. He's the kind of horse who really likes a puzzle -- but only when he already knows the answer. Introducing this stuff at small inviting heights really helped him recognize the questions as essentially glorified grid work, but with different elements and more terrain.

Hopefully we'll be able to keep up the trend of more frequent lessons going forward!! In the meantime, TGIF everyone - and stay safe during this weekend's continued heat wave!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

sometimes we jump bigger too

Phew it feels SO GOOD to be getting back into the swing of things. Mid summer is usually sorta a recess period for us, a time to regroup and zero in on bolstering the basics, ya know? And after taking a little time last month to reassess Charlie's overall health, soundness, wellness, etc, I'm really diggin our new routine.

nothing like a refreshing rinse after a ride, right?
Which, naturally, includes a healthy serving of our favorite fruits and vegetables: LESSONS!! This week's episode is all about our latest round with jump trainer P at our own home barn. In case you're keeping track at home, our last ride with her was June 1 where we worked over relatively smaller fences but more technical lines and angled fences.

it was a big group on a hot day!
Since then, we had our epic xc lesson with Sally Cousins at Windurra; the gallop and pace clinic with upper level event trainer K; the disastrous dressage schooling show; the resulting hail mary vet appointment; a quiet rehab period followed by a major overhaul of Charlie's conditioning program; some super duper fun solo xc schooling at home; and finally the excellent dressage lesson at Hilltop last week.

Feeling up to speed now? Good haha. We've been kinda busy, and I'm loving it. Or at least, loving it when the busyness feels like it's contributing to my and my horse's overall well-being and training.

this is not a picture of me. rather, this is an unedited, uncropped screenshot of the video i take for my friends
This jump lesson with trainer P was no exception, either. It was almost like one big giant reunion too haha - the group was HUGE. Way bigger than it's been in months. Usually there's like, 3 of us. Sometimes 4. But on this day we had 7, spread across roughly three levels.

God bless trainer P tho, bc she is apparently endlessly tolerant when it comes to resetting all the fences a million times. Tho, by the time it was the T group's turn to do the final course, I took pity and hopped off to at least help with a few of the jumps lol.

this is me. yes, back there, behind rachael. same phone taking the video. same jump in the arena. taken from more or less the same position. and yet.... wow. quite a bit of difference in the footage. le sigh. c'mon guys, zoom is your friend. and like, it really doesn't take a lot of effort to adjust your position by a few steps so you have a clear view of the jumps! don't be that videographer!! /rant
Anyway. This ride was maybe just a couple days after our Hilltop lesson, and for whatever reason Charlie was just feeling super. Totally professional, clicked into gear, in front of my leg, eager to go forth and do the things.

Part of it might be some of the changes Jess at Hilltop had me make to my ride that made Charlie's job of going forward a bit easier. Honestly tho? I think it's the new conditioning routine. We've been clocking some serious saddle time and mileage ever since coming back into work after doing Charlie's stifles.

which is a shame, really, bc don't we need more epic shots of the most majestic charlesaurus in our lives?!?
Every single ride has included some variable combination of long slow hacking miles (yes, miles) and either a session of proper schooling or more speed work. The result is a horse who... honest to god feels pretty good to go. And ready to go when I say the word. I like it!

The lesson started off in kinda a low gear tho, something that might not normally work well for Charlie. Since we had such a varied group, trainer P introduced us to all the lines with jumps relatively small. Not like, completely microscopic. But.... Ya know. Not generally of a size to be interesting to horses used to T.

very low resolution due to post production cropping + zooming, but i'll take it <3 charlie pinged through this triple like a total rockstar!
Charlie for his part was a total saint and aced everything. Well. Except for the very first jump, a simple vertical with a trot pole out in front. Homeboy was 100% distracted by some fly or another, didn't quite realize that, Yes Sir, I was aiming him for the little fence, STEPPED on the placing pole, nearly died, then jumped out. Ahem. Cough cough, not our finest moment.

After that, tho, there was no stopping him. Surprisingly tight 90* turn to an end jump? Ok! Diagonal line in 2? Sure! Little triple of 1-strides? And another triple of 2-strides? Done and done!

ditto the above. this oxer was fucking giant and you can't even tell lol
Tho there is one downside to warming up over everything at a pretty low height :: my canter honestly wasn't quiiiiiite good enough. A little too long and flat, not quite enough bounce per ounce, ya know? It's just hard to really press the horse up and into the bridle when the jumps don't back him off at all. That is totally a cop out and a solveable training problem, I know I know, but it's true.

So when the jumps went up to proper T height (we even had one 3'6 in there, woo hoo!!!) for the full course, it was in some ways a little tricky. At a competition, your warm up fences would get up to height too -- you wouldn't just get into your course without that, right? But this was just a lesson with limited time etc, so that's what we did.

that's ok tho, even crappy footage > no footage any day!
It honestly didn't really matter tho. Charlie didn't really seem to notice the difference in height (which, ahem, meant he did in fact knock the high vertical placed as jump 2 -- which, sadly, you can only barely see in the video) - he just cruised right on along.

Tho bc our canter wasn't quite right, I ended up getting to a kinda long spot into the triple of 1-strides. Trainer P likes to set these grids at pretty compressed distances, so getting in long is nottttttt quiiiiite how you wanna do, lol. But to be perfectly honest, I didn't really believe Charlie would jump if I tried for one more. So we went for it (2:00 in the video).

footage of sleepy ponies makes it all worth it, tho, right??

And? He totally did it! And actually really jumped the snot out of the whole line - making the adjustments and answering the question. Goooood boy!

Same story for the final little triple of 2-strides. That's typically a more difficult distance for Charlie bc he has to hold it together for longer (compared to the 1-stride lines lol). Plus these fences were set a little lower than the rest and were thus less impressive. Again tho, he just went ahead and did it.

It's been a while since we did full course work at this height so it's always really reassuring when the horse goes so well for it. This wasn't the most technical ride in the world, but who cares, right? It's such a nice feeling when the horse just goes and does the thing.

Here's hoping we can hang on to that feeling bc I mayyyyy or may not have made some impulsive choices regarding our upcoming calendar LOL. Meanwhile, hope everyone out there is coping well enough with this heat wave bleh. It's brutal!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Hilltop Dressage

It's safe to say that I was pretty discouraged after the disaster of our little schooling dressage show last month. I felt a bit like a moth beating myself senseless against a screen door, trying and failing to reach that sweet sweet lamp light. Dressage is.... hard, yo.

this farm is not ugly
I'm really happy with the coaching and help I've had both in learning more about dressage myself, while also trying to bring along my graceless brontosaurus. Dressage trainer C has been an invaluable resource. I'm definitely not trying to replace her or completely shift tactics or anything like that. But scheduling can be such a hustle sometimes, tho, ya know?

Plus, there was something else about that dressage show that really had me shook. Basically, I know what Charlie is and what he isn't. I'm used to his awkward way of going, and my whole team and I continue to be so thrilled with how far he's progressed over the last few years.

the amount of wildlife that has taken up residence in my truck is mildly alarming at times. this spider was pretty tho!
That's all well and fine and whatnot, but my worry is that we've all become a little blinded to how the horse appears to strangers. The first impressions are... not always great haha. But in a dressage show, they're everything, right?

So after this judge at the schooling show basically tore me apart for presenting my horse to her in his condition at that moment, I realized that we might be in for a rude awakening in any actual recognized or rated shows haha. And thus: a new idea was born. I wanted to seek out a fresh set of eyes to help assess and evaluate where we are in our training and condition, and help inject some fresh mojo in breaking through those persistent issues.

it's definitely butterfly season in maryland - these tiger swallowtails are EVERYWHERE!
Which is a long way of saying, we decided to haul up to Hilltop Farm up the Route 1 corridor for a lesson with their gold medalist Grand Prix trainer Jess.

And guys. It was awesome haha.

i spy with my little eye, a Charlesaurus in the grooming bays!
I mean, first of all the farm is friggin gorgeous. It's everything you would expect an uber fancy dressage barn to be. Pristine grounds. Luxurious rubber pavers lining all the aisleways (even the gravel drive seemed shockingly cushy). Wash room bays fully kitted out and available for use by ship-in riders. The whole nine yards, ya know?

Which proved useful bc the heavens basically opened up in a torrential thunderstorm the moment I parked. So Charlie and I quickly hustled through the deluge to get inside the safety and dry of the barn. I usually do all my setting up and tacking and whatnot at the trailer, but this honestly wasn't a terrible substitution LOL.

these wash racks have it all - cross ties, rubber flooring, hooks to hang things.... we maybe looked a bit homeless since i brought in all the stuff i'd usually keep at the trailer due to the rain
For the lesson itself, I don't actually have a ton of explicit notes. At this particular point in my riding career, honestly I feel like there's a such a distinct limit on what I can achieve myself - compared to how badly I need/crave real time instruction and guidance. In other words, I really just want more frequent lessons.

I don't want to have to remember 18 different subtle insights on my body position, core, application and timing of aids, while also trying to ride the appropriate figures and movements etc. Instead I just want someone telling me what to do, when, and how haha, in real time.

i've only seen rings like this on youtube haha
To this end, Jess had me go about my warm up mostly on my own at first, before identifying some key areas to work on. These mostly revolved around known issues and weaknesses that I've worked on with dressage trainer C too -- something that's always reassuring when different trainers agree haha.

the other trainer was in there schooling his upper level horse too. i made charlie watch haha
Highlighted issues were:

- The connection isn't very good bc I don't hold a steady contact and allow little moments of slack into the reins
- Charlie's tempo is actually a bit too fast (he was very nicely forward for this ride, compared to the slug he often is at home...)
- I've previously worked on getting him to "squirt forward" when I put my leg on, but perhaps he's ready to graduate from that and I need to instead start focusing on steadiness in tempo.
- On a related note, our transitions are too hollow -- a symptom of the poor connection and inconsistent tempo. Canter transitions were particularly wretched.
- Our straightness is also kinda a biggie - we have too much bend in the neck and not enough in the body (naturally I told her this shows up in a big way in our jumping too...)
- For some movements, like leg yields, my leg positioning was backwards. I want to swing my inside leg back, but actually need to keep it up by his elbow.
- We're also nowhere near round enough at the canter.

my signal wasn't great so the gps tracking isn't very accurate, but you can get a good idea of the facilities
For me, the biggest takeaways were those first two items: the connection and the tempo.

Tempo is a tricky thing to address with Charlie bc he can be a very different horse in different environments and situations. In some ways he's a lot easier to ride away from home when he's less sure about what's happening and less distracted by wanting to go back to his stall.

For this lesson, he was absolutely on his best behavior. Forward and in front of my leg with minimal effort. Which, obviously, is extremely pleasant to ride haha. It's just not how we normally go. Normally I'm asking for more, more, more. But actually, even tho it felt a little alien, the feeling when we got the tempo right was very good.

the drive home was a bit dicey tho...
The whole idea is to arrive at a tempo and balance wherein Charlie doesn't feel like he's sorta snow-balling somersaulting over his front end. When he gets too fast, he sorta starts running downhill a bit and loses all his adjustability. When I can get him a bit slower in the tempo even as we keep the energy up, it's easier for him to shift more weight behind and carry a longer stride without getting heavy up front. If that makes sense haha.

the conowingo dam is always a joy in nasty weather lol
The other biggie, the connection, is something I'm really excited about. I've had bad hands and bad contact for as long as I've been riding dressage. It's really hard for me to hold a steady contact on any horse bc I'm so rigid and locked through my shoulders and back that I feel like I'm just hanging on the horse. So instead, I compensate by holding a longer rein with sorta floppy forearms that allow a lot of intermittent slack into the reins.

Dressage trainer C has been trying to help me with this for years, but it's just.... hard, ya know? This new coach Jess was actually able to help phrase things a little differently in such a way that I was maybe able to make some good changes.

Basically the issue is in my shoulders. She described the need for my forearms to be almost like "guardrails" or "chopsticks." In other words, fixed solid objects. My fingers can move, and my elbows should be soft and following. But everything in between should basically be still.

back on dry ground, doing our warm up hack with a little poneh. charlie is OBSESSED with these ponies. it's cute bc he's a horse. but.... if he had a mustache and drove a van someone would DEFINITELY call the cops lol
And instead I need to be thinking about giving through my shoulders. For me, I was kinda focusing on the spot between my two shoulder blades. Tho it was tricky haha bc when I'd be thinking about softening my shoulders I'd also inadvertently collapse my core.... So clearly I need to work on developing more independence between those body parts.

Regardless, I'm not sure I ever got it quite right, but even just that subtle shift made a huge difference in Charlie's steadiness. A difference that has stayed with us in all our rides since then too. For me, that's a huge key in determining the success of a ride. Can we reproduce, at least in part, some of the results we got in the lesson? In this case, the answer is definitely yes.

somebody, not naming any names, but somebody may or may not have learned a thing or two about connection
In all our rides since then, Charlie has actually been super. Going forward, in front of the leg, and pretty steady in the bridle. Actually, we finally had another jump lesson with trainer P too (details coming on that) and the #slug was literally nowhere to be found. Charlie was just straight up clicked into gear and a downright pleasure to ride.

I'm not sure all the credit goes to this one single dressage lesson haha. But still, it's always really nice when the horse feels so happy in his work, especially as we feel like we're having little breakthroughs.

So I'm pretty pleased with the lesson and eager to get the next on the schedule. It also helped that the price was ridiculously affordable despite the uber-fanciness and how accomplished and well credentialed the trainers are. It's actually one of the cheapest lessons of all the folks I ride with, go figure. So yea, we'll definitely be back lol.

And maybe one of these days we'll actually be a bit more convincing in the dressage ring in front of strangers lol. Maybe...