Friday, April 21, 2017

"moving up"

I almost feel like writing anything at this point will be a jinx..... but. Well. Y'all already know that I process my thoughts by writing them out here on ye olde blog. So. Jinx, or no, here they be.

settling in at bn!
Charlie and I go to our second ever horse trial this weekend. And we're actually entered for all three phases! Tho, Jinx #1, the forecast is mercurial and changeable and organizers have already let us know they will run it as a CT if the rain gets too heavy. Which is fine and all. We'll get to 3-phases when we get there, even if it's not this weekend.

Of course, Jinx #2 is Charlie's fat leg. I didn't necessarily love the look of it on Day 2, but he's sound on it and it was actually much reduced in size after a ride. Methinks standing wraps will be our friend the night before the show!

practicing over challenging grids
We're going back to Loch Moy too, which obviously fills my heart with happy thoughts. I just really love that venue, what can I say? Look no further than the gratuitous nostalgic pics littering this post below from Izzy's and my favorite highlights there.

learning to slice airy verticals
The thing with Loch Moy tho, is that their intro and elementary divisions are both REALLY soft. Sure, the elem might have one or two actual 2'3 fences on it, but it's mostly logs. And is typically (tho not always) run on the same separate circular track as the intro. Meaning: point, shoot, jump. Point, shoot, jump. No questions.

first time EVER in the 3' ring!
Which, incidentally, is perfect for Charlie right now. He's not particularly schooled to the niceties of cross country yet. The low-level height is not an issue for him at all, from teensy to slightly less teensy. But we have extremely limited experience in putting anything technical together. So point-n-shoot works quite nicely for us.

she made it easy tho
Which means that I entered the 2'3 this weekend. It kinda makes me feel a little sick honestly haha, even tho I've been jumping the horse at that height for a little while now and he's never even bothered to notice.

So ya know. It's a *me* problem. And Charlie's a good boy. So it'll be fine. I just have to do my job in the saddle, which may or may not be my motivation for posting all these pictures of me working towards a different move up all that time ago. Actually I *can* do the job. I just need to remember that!

schoolin ever upwards
So technically speaking, Charlie and I are "moving up" at this show, up to the 2'3 from our debut at the 18"-2' height. It's not going to last tho, not really a true "move up." I mean, it could be, but I'm holding off for now. Playing my favorite overly conservative game haha.

school high so shows feel easy, right?
Because our next event will be at Fair Hill in a couple more weeks (entries are already in). And I also LOVE Fair Hill. Their 2'3 Intro might be one of the best around. The jumps are all unique and gorgeous (not just a series of log after log), and the level asks almost everything that BN asks - just with slightly smaller fences and more generous distances.

game mare
All that to say - Fair Hill's intro is really really fantastic if you're basically feeling ready for BN but just want one last big confidence building run to test that everything works. Actually, I feel a little bit the same about the intro at MCTA's Shawan Downs starter HT (also coming up in a few weeks, gah!).

If you're curious, you can see a lot of the intro track from when Isabel and I ran the BN course at Fair Hill last spring (sadness, our last competitive xc run together.... but what a great run it was!). A number of the jumps were either shared with BN or right next to the BN jump, plus we added in that extra Intro house right after the water just so Izzy could get that practice. It's a good watch!

included bc this picture will always be a favorite <3
So..... My conundrum is that Charlie is probably FINE with the complexity of Fair Hill's intro.... But the reality is that he's not at all actually schooled yet. So we'll do the 18" there (they don't even bother calling it 18"-2'). I feel slightly sheepish about that haha, but not enough to change my mind.

ok you caught me.... i've gotten a little sidetracked down memory lane
Charlie and I are not in any rush at all to "get there." Right now I'm still very much focused on "going through the motions" of eventing, while feeling reasonably sure that Charlie will continue growing quite confident and eager to tackle more interesting and complicated courses. But for now, we'll keep it simple.

ahhh but it's a pretty memory!
 Anyway. Long story short. Charlie and I are technically moving up a division this weekend. And I've got all the associated nerves haha. Except that it's actually kinda liberating knowing this is just one more stepping stone - and that our next outing after will probably be even easier still.

Actually maybe the real challenge is that this will be our first time cantering in a dressage test haha. We'll..... see how that goes. Let's just say Intro C is not my favorite test. At least at Fair Hill they offer an "Open Elementary" division for folks who want microscopic jumps but still want to canter in the dressage test. And they'll even let us do a BN test! Much preferable to the Intro C test, imo.

So we'll see how it goes. Maybe the weather will spoil everything, who knows. But I'm looking forward to a full and hopefully fun weekend! I'm curious tho - especially at the lower levels, what do you look for in preparing for a move up? Or does it hardly even matter when the jumps are so small? Have you been mostly slowed down by cantering v not cantering in a test? Or by courses that offer BN technicality at Intro heights?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

what does "well groomed" mean to you?

Yesterday was a long day for me in a lot of ways -- mostly spent driving back and forth across the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding environs.

This is certainly the best time of year to take in the Eastern Shore scenery too - all the small flowering trees (dogwoods, cherry blossoms, magnolias - pinks everywhere!) are in full bloom, and the wooded areas are all varying shades of velvety green. Plus all things agriculture are swinging in full force. Lots of pretty things to enjoy!

is he trying to hide behind his hay? or passed the F out after schooling? or both? you decide!
But.... it was still pretty exhausting. And mildly to moderately stressful (esp the rush hour traffic coming home). I wanted nothing more than to just go to the barn, see my pony, and have a nice relaxing ride.

Alas, the delicate princess whacked another leg. Le sigh. He'll probably survive this unthinkable catastrophe (or, alternatively, has already dropped dead simply bc I dared type those words), but it won him at least one evening off work.

say what you want about his body condition. he be shiny tho!
Since I was already out there anyway tho, I stuck around for a while to groom him, feed him his standard "extra" meal (only now packed with bute and SMZs!), plus the whole cold hose - betadine scrub - cold hose - silver spray song and dance that we all know and love so much.

included bc i think he's the cutest. 
For me, a long and satisfying grooming session is composed almost entirely of currying. Especially right now, Charlie is still blowing his winter coat (and looks a bit like an orphan in the process, ugh), so I'm spending a ton of time using the round rubber curry on basically his whole body. But also the hard plastic curry, esp on his legs (thus my discovery of his wound, blargh).

I often use my beloved Horze body brush in tandem with the curries, just to keep flicking off the dust and dander as the curry lifts it. But the lion's share of the work undoubtedly goes to plain old currying. And I routinely spend 40min on it.

apple green hoof pick > apple green jolly horse candy toy thingy
I usually at least give the mane and forelock a couple swipes with the curry comb, and obvi pick out feet every time too bc he's shod all around and gets so much turnout (ie: ample time to pick up rocks and whatnot). Tho I only rarely fully brush out his tail.

And actually, honestly, I'm pretty negligent about all things trimming and clipping. I LOVE the look of freshly tidied up faces, manes, tails, and legs.... but almost never get around to doing it myself. Charlie's mane is kinda an uneven, unkempt disaster. And for a TB, he's got some surprisingly baller feathery fur around his fetlocks lol.... I always mean to clip or trim him up... but never manage to remember.

unruly mane
I also don't really bathe him all that often either. Now that it's warmer out we'll occasionally sponge or hose off after a ride, and I try to work in a little more currying in the process... But the full on shampoo-n-condition baths are mostly limited to show prep.

Charlie seems no worse the wear for it tho. His coat is supremely soft and silky, and he remains ever-huggable (even if he still kinda looks.... like an orphan haha. damn winter coat, when will you be GONE?).

the slow march continues ever on. body condition improving with spring grass.
It made me curious tho. I'm so engrossed in my own grooming routine, but I also know that everyone else has their own little routines too. Or that there are plenty more out there who either don't personally love grooming all that much, or have horses who are particularly disinclined to stand and take it.

Still tho - I'm curious. In your experience, or opinion, what constitutes a "well groomed" horse? And what's your preferred method for getting there? And preferred tools?

Are you like me, spending tons of time currying? Or perhaps bathing plays a bigger role in your routine? Does a sloppy mane or tail immediately detract from the rest of the horse's appearance in your opinion? Or do you believe that the key to that deep glossy or dappled look is pure and simple genetics, and any extraordinary efforts toward grooming or supplementation thereof are wasted?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

what's the big difference? xc edition

Charlie and I went xc schooling again this weekend, quite unexpectedly actually. And it was good. I'll write more below.

Isabel!!!!! from last year's epic blogger cross country meet up with Allison and Niamh
But there continues to be fairly major problems with my ride. And I think I've finally pinpointed the exact sources. Or, well, I think there's one central issue from which all other problems radiate.

wheeeeee Charlie!
Neither of the above pictures are really perfect, and I'm not claiming my position in the pic with Isabel is ideal - but I think this is the clearest example of what I'm trying to say. Spot the difference between the above two?

hands half way (ish) up the neck
From past cross country lessons with Dan, I've written the following about his instructions re: position:
Dan talked about the importance of having distinct riding styles between each phase - and that for xc he wanted my galloping position to include hands farther forward. As in, half way up Isabel's neck, with knuckles actually pressing into her neck. He used Andrew Nicholson as an example of a rider who really doesn't move his hands at all, and rather makes all his adjustments through his body and legs and core, etc.

And at our season opener at Loch Moy last year, I wrote TWICE about how on cross country, when I remembered to get my hands farther forward up the horse's neck, it was suddenly much easier to commit to the forward ride on the horse.

pictured: hands not where they belong.
Right now with Charlie, I'm really struggling to commit to the forward ride, to let him go. Mostly bc the faster he goes, the more obvious it is how green he is (naturally), and that's not necessarily a fantastic feeling.

pictured: such a good boy
BUT. He is a good boy. And he's doing well. He's trying hard and getting a lot of the answers right, despite his greenness. My thinking is that if I can just correct this one issue with my position, all the other pieces will feel a lot better. A stronger, more correct position will make me more effective in the saddle, which will make the actual riding easier anyway.

lol my hands are definitely in the category of "once you've seen it, you can't unsee it" .... blargh
also - spot the "fun" uphill roller coaster log line in the background!
So. That's basically the biggest takeaway from this weekend's schooling. The other big takeaway? Charlie got out there and knew exactly what was up. He was READY for it haha.

I was... less ready and taken a bit by surprise by the unexpected schooling (as evidenced by not having my helmet cam on hand!), but felt game enough. And I did in fact feel better throughout the whole ride than I had the schooling before. Small steps, y'all.

warm up logs! 
And I was ready to pick up where we left off the lesson before: with cantering in to all the fences and trying to trust the horse more. We warmed up over some little logs we finished with last week, including putting a bending 90* left turning line together.

roll top again! 
Charlie wasn't finding the greatest of spots, but we can attribute that to my aforementioned rider issues, and his greenness. The spots weren't all great, but he sure as shit didn't care. Good boy.

out with a bigger group this time, and doin good
It was pretty immediately clear tho that Trainer P was taking zero prisoners in this lesson. EVERYONE was held more accountable, and she pushed everyone to challenge themselves and ride more. Including three riders who schooled a lot of N stuff (and the occasional T element), and a fourth rider whose green bean was more of a level with Charlie (tho slightly more advanced).

same uphill log as last time
And trainer P didn't want to hear any of my nonsense. Tho she did let me start over a smaller log than she wanted, after I acknowledged it was for my own benefit and not Charlie's haha. But after that, it was full speed ahead. Skipping over the littlest stuff we had done last time, and adding in more "big" stuff (like a fun looking rail fence very early on).

in jump of the uphill log LINE!
And she made me do the uphill line of log jumps - which I jumped with Jasper on my first ever xc schooling three years ago, and then jumped a number of times with Isabel - most recently during our final BN in mid 2015 before moving up to N.

out jump. with horse's head and neck restricted by rider's hands. le sigh. 
Like. So I know this line of jumps. I know Isabel and I schooled it in 5, but aced it in 4 during competition. I also knew that Charlie was getting there in a long 5 and wasn't jumping well bc I was pulling on him. But even with two trips through, I wasn't really fixing it.

for context, a grainy clip of izzy doing 4 over the same line. compare to charlie in the below video
Because sometimes guys, it just takes me a long time to translate something I know intellectually into something I can actually physically do. (Which also explains why I repeat myself again and again - trying to commit this stuff to memory first, and hopefully muscle memory shortly thereafter!).

And the reality is that I'm simply not that same rider from 2015 any more. Which sucks but... well. Shit happens. If I play my cards right tho, Charlie will get me whipped back into shape!!

up banks = easy
Anyway, by this time in the schooling, Charlie was definitely getting really into it. I spent a lot of time cantering around before each jump and after each jump, so it was less "stop and start" and more "getting to know each other cantering over ground." But even so, Charlie would lope right on along until something resembling a jump crossed his sight line. Then it was ON.

down banks = slightly more challenging, at least for rider haha
Trainer P told me if I was too nervous, I could consider putting a pelham on him for our first full three phase HT this coming weekend.... But I think I'm going to hold off for now. If I can't stop myself from pulling on him in the snaffle.... it's probably not the right time to bit up.

Plus, again, I'm expecting that the correction in my upper body and arm positioning can fix these issues better than a bigger bit anyway. We'll see.

damn that is a long long horse tho haha
Trainer P said one thing tho that really helped me tho - she said sometimes the best thing to do with green beans is to actually be a little sloppy, a little loosey-goosey with the reins, and let them figure it out.

wheeeee flying through the water!
For whatever reason, "sloppy reins" resonated with me, and I was able to (mostly) force myself to just keep pushing my hands forward to the next little jump (not pictured, but a saw mill log in a fence line). And whadya know, Charlie held himself steady all on his own, without my constant pulling. Funny how that works lol.

fun (and shorter) video here! (sorry there's not more, I didn't bring my helmet cam and my lesson mates were often otherwise occupied jumping their own jumps lol)

Really tho, like I said last week, we just need more mileage. The horse is proving to be bold and brave, tho he definitely feels very green. So I need to continue allowing him to do his thing and gain the experience, but also fill in the gaps and be a more correct rider for when he does have a green moment or two.

so many pets. <3 him.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel pretty nervous going into this coming weekend. We're doing all three phases at Loch Moy in their elementary (2'3) division. I'm fully expecting the stadium jumps to be a little soft, and I've seen most of their elem xc jumps before and they're definitely on the smaller side.

The horse should be fine no matter what, I think, I just need to do my job. And remember to put my goddamn hands forward lol. The plan is to have one more jump lesson (probably in the ring) between now and the show, and depending on weather etc, I may be able to get in a jump school at home too.

me + my pony
We'll see. Mostly I'm pretty excited. And let's be real, this wouldn't be 'Fraidy Cat Eventing if I wasn't at least a little freaked out haha. But it's cool. Time keeps on chuggin' no matter what and I've just gotta keep doin what we're doin.

This xc school felt like good preparation tho. And we had another dressage lesson too that'll get it's own post probably (tho there honestly isn't a ton to say). So ya know. We're dotting all the "i"s and crossing all the "t"s. Like ya do. Maybe I'll get around to cleaning some tack too haha, or doing laundry? Eh. Devil in the details, and such.

Monday, April 17, 2017

playing with pretty things

Happy Monday, y'all! Hope everyone had a great weekend! The weather here was fantastic, if a little warm, and Charlie and I made it out for some fun and unexpected outings. Good times had by all, and I'll have plenty more to write about that all later.

step 1: begin visualizing the final product by laying everything together - preferably with the added inspiration of pretty spring flowers!
For today, we're talking arts & crafts again. Specifically - it's time for more customized, up-cycled, whatever-you-want-to-call-it DIY-improved off the rack fly bonnets.

i like that this cord gives the blue bonnet a 'sporty' feel
Brita was expressing frustration at finding cute bonnets at a reasonable price in her colors that fit the horse. And remembering what fun I had in creating the bridal-themed bonnet for Rachael last year, I obviously was eager to step in and help Brita in this endeavor.

the black bonnet will have a fancier feel to it with the beads
Brita went ahead and ordered the cheapest bonnets she could find on Amazon in her colors (I believe these are by Intrepid International and cost about $8 each), and handed them over for me to do my thing.

My thing, incidentally, being to follow along pretty closely with the guide as laid out by this earlier post. So if you're looking for step-by-step instructions and a list of materials on how to do something similar, check out that post.

but of course, before anything else can happen, those godforsaken tassels have gotta go
Brita wants two bonnets: a royal blue bonnet with hot pink accents for the jumping phases, and a black bonnet with blue / pink accents for dressage. She expressed an interest in using cord for accents, but basically set me free to proceed as I saw fit.

these are cheapo kinda crappy off the shelf bonnets.... but even just taking the fringe off makes such a big difference!
Obviously sometimes you're kinda limited by available materials, but I was lucky to find a lot of nice, sturdy cord in great colors for the blue bonnet. And actually came upon some beads that, while not hot hot pink, seemed like a potentially great fit for the black bonnet.

the above shows how simple upcycling one of these bonnets can be. you can literally just staple some string to it and get a better looking, fully custom (but still economically efficient) bonnet!
I'm not entirely sure yet about how the black bonnet will work out, since it remains as yet unfinished. But I went ahead and restrung the beads on wire (hot pink, natch) to hopefully reinforce and safeguard against breakage or accidents.

This also helps lend structure to bonnets that would otherwise be.... kinda gelatinous, amorphous blobs of bad crochet lol.

still not sure how the beads will work. they are pretty tho!
I couldn't find good cord in the right shade of blue to go along with the dressage bonnet, but am thinking the throatlatch from the blue bonnet (which I cut off bc ugh, just say no, kids) might do the trick. It's a little plain-jane in comparison to the sparkles and beads, but we'll see.

#needsmoarsparkles
I'm going to have to experiment a little bit to see what I end up liking the most visually for that bonnet. And naturally will probably post again once it's done, showing the steps and how I got there.

the nice thing about all these materials is that they're VERY forgiving
For the purposes of today's post, we've got the start-to-finish process for the blue bonnet. And a collection of representative photos showing the various components coming together.

The cord was surprisingly easy to work with - very easy to stitch through, and nice and sturdy. I burned the cut ends to prevent fraying, then just started stitching all three colors of cord down to the crystal grid material as a base.

the crystal grid material makes straight lines a breeze
This part got a little finicky towards the "peak" of the bonnet. Much like in the bridal bonnet, I used three separate pieces of the crystal grid material to create the right shape, and just sewed the cord down on top.

it took a little care making the bend happen tho
I had sewed the first long straight edge together before the crystal grid material was cut to size, but then sewed together the second long edge after pre-measuring and cutting to size a matching section of the grid material. If I were doing it again - I would have waited to trim that second piece too bc keeping the grid material whole meant that things stayed a little straighter while sewing.

as always, it's recommended that you have canine (or feline) supervision on hand at all times. ya know. just in case!
So the two long edges of the trim ended up looking slightly asymmetrical. Oh well tho - it's hardly noticeable and will likely disappear visually entirely once it's actually on the horse in motion.

esp if there happens to be a gray face handy to test that the colors are on point
Once the cord was fully attached to the three pieces of crystal grid material, the whole thing got sewed into place on the bonnet itself. This was maybe actually the easiest part - again bc that crystal grid material is so great to work with.

Just a few quick swoops of the needle and thread (knotting often to protect from the whole thing falling apart) and BAM, bonnet was complete!

real question tho: who wore it better?!?
Personally I prefer the look of leaving some of the original crochet as "trim" outside of the decorative accents I just created, as opposed to putting my decorations right on the edge of the bonnets.

and ta da! final product submitted for reline review!
I like this look bc I often feel like these bonnets can look a bit big, or over-sized on the horse. By bringing the design in off the immediate edge, it helps give the otherwise blobby-bonnet more structure, and actually reduces the impression of the bonnet's size. Bc nobody likes the "blanket on a face" look haha.

the sparkles underneath are subtle but perfectly catch the light so that the whole thing pops from a distance. perfect!
Plus obviously I just like adding sparkles to everything - really helps catch the light, right??

Honestly I'm pretty pleased with how this bonnet turned out and can't wait to get it over to Brita and Bella! We've got another show this weekend so I'll be sure to get lots of pictures of the bonnet in action!

And fingers crossed the black bonnet comes together as nicely and easily. I suspect the beads may be a little bit fussier than the cord, but maybe not. We'll see!

Are you into the fly bonnet look? Think you'll give the DIY-decorating a try yourself? Or do you prefer to simply buy nicer bonnets off the rack? Or maybe you've actually gone the full custom route from a professional?

Do you like to keep the aesthetics simple, or are you into all of the colors and all of the sparkles all of the time?