Tuesday, May 22, 2018

shifting grains of sand

For some reason I've been only really getting 1-3 lessons per month so far this spring, despite technically having standing appointments twice weekly, plus having a third satellite trainer always available for pinch hitting.

I guess it's been nice for my wallet to get a break. Esp with moving imminently, every little dollar helps.... But ya know. I also need a lot of help in the saddle lol. So there's that.

gosh i love coming to this barn tho!
Luckily all the stars aligned this week and I had lessons with all three of my current trainers. You already read about both jump lessons - the grid work + half halt school with trainer K and the bumped up course work (with Charlie's first 3'3!) with trainer P. Much fun was had by all!!

Actually since originally Sunday was supposed to be a show day, I had planned to skip the trainer P jump lesson and do a dressage ride with Trainer C instead.... But with the show postponed we were able to fit in both lessons. Silver linings!

dirty mirror selfies for always and for ever lol
Plus Brita wanted to come too - so we packed both ponies up and headed over to trainer C's farm TM. Home to one of my absolute favorite ever indoor riding arenas. Idk what it is about this place, but it's been magical for every horse I've ever brought here (and there have been a few now).

I expected Charlie to be pretty good for the ride too. Mostly bc he's just been plain old good anyway lately, but also bc he always does a little better off property where his gate sourness issues aren't quite as pronounced.

hey look, it's a trot!
Trainer C hadn't seen him in ages too. Last time was at the end of January. And the time before that was during our deep dark sour patch from mid winter, which I now recognize as being related to saddle fit.

So I was eager to show her what we've been working on and get a little help in honing in on a few issues. Namely, some of my own well-documented positional flaws. And Charlie's general suppleness - particularly in preparation for riding upcoming tests.

yep, still trottin
Trainer C zeroed in pretty quickly on some pieces of the positional puzzle. I've been working really really hard to change how I sit in the saddle since our last lesson, but there's still more that needs to be done.

Like, if you imagine that your pelvis is a bowl filled with water, my tendency is to pitch forward spill water out the front. I'm learning to keep the "bowl" more level, but the hardest moments for me to hold that position are in downward transitions. So that's a biggie that I need to start keeping at top of mind.

i like how happy he looks in these pics
Additionally, my legs - particularly that troublesome right leg - still swing back too far and get stuck gripping on Charlie's sides instead of bumping on and off at the girth.

On top of that, Charlie often wants to fall to the outside so I've gotten baited into riding more strongly off my outside leg (swinging back, natch) than my inside leg. Which isn't exactly correct. Like, Yes. I need the horse to feel straight between my aids: feeling each hind leg coming forward equally into each rein. But... I've gotten into the habit of overriding the outside leg aids. So more attention needed there.

and there's a canter too!
Particularly I need to really remember to keep those legs draped down and around Charlie's belly, imagining clicking my heels together underneath him, with toes pointed forward. Naturally this position comes much more easily when my pelvis is more correctly oriented in the saddle.

Funny how that works, no? Lol...

and even more canter! one day i'll learn to keep my leg underneath myself. one day!
For once, my arms and hands weren't a huge part of the problems this go 'round. Mostly I just need to shorten my reins more (needs less bagging in the outside rein esp!) while also maintaining an elastic bend in my elbow. Esp on a strong horse like Charlie, I don't want to give any appearances of a tug-of-war to the judge during a test, and locked-straight arms are a dead giveaway.

Charlie's also schooled enough at this point that I really can keep my hands closer together - vs the wide set I had adopted when he was so much more green. Trainer C also advised me to be reeeally careful to avoid pulling his head down. Obvi that's kind of a no-brainer, but it always amazes me what kinds of habits sneak in subconsciously when I go too long without a lesson lol.

aww, and still more trotting
Mostly tho, trainer C was pretty happy with how Charlie's developing. While he continued to show some bracing over his topline in this lesson (something we've been dealing with a lot lately), trainer C's opinion was that she preferred him being a little more up in his front end vs the low diving downhill heaviness that was so prevalent in his earliest days.

he's a handsome boy <3
And as always, it's a fine balance between getting him pushing up and forward from his hind end without devolving into running down on the forehand. Esp after the first canter or two, it becomes a lot more difficult to keep Charlie more balanced on his hind end. Just needs more work!

final halt, salute to trainer C lol
Trainer C didn't pick us apart too much in this lesson since we wanted to run through a test in preparation for upcoming events. But the feedback she gave will hopefully provide me with a lot of food for thought in our schooling rides these next few weeks. And. Ya know. Hopefully it won't be five months until my next lesson with her lol.

Our next test won't be about the dressage anyway tho. We'll basically just want to get through the test smoothly enough to do justice to the horse's training, but otherwise won't really be pushing for the top. Honestly the only thing I'll probably care about is actually riding his canter with purpose, bc there's no reason Charlie shouldn't be pulling better scores in his canter work if I would literally just devote one iota of focus to it haha, instead of just cruisin along in passenger mode. #goals lol

Mostly tho it was really reassuring to hear C say that the horse is on the right track. That he's developing correctly and that I basically just need to keep doing what I'm doing, only more. And better. As always lol.

Certainly a better rider would get Charlie there faster than I am. Or would maybe avoid some of the bad habits I know I'm creating within my own ride and in Charlie's way of going. But. Eh. We're getting along well enough these days as far as I can tell. Plus if all else fails, at least he looks good in his new fun faux croc skin brushing boots ;)

Monday, May 21, 2018

going along for the ride

It was true with Isabel, and remains true with Charlie: the pace of my "progress" in riding depends almost entirely on my confidence in the saddle. So. Ya know. It usually goes pretty slow haha.

you're probably tired of hearing about our crazy weather lately, but it's not without its perks. like this berry pink evening sky
Charlie, for his purposes, began outpacing me in what he was ready to face in terms of skills development almost immediately. Like, from the moment he figured out the actual mechanics of how to jump a fence (which, in fairness to myself, took a little while haha) he's basically been cleared for take off ever since.

But we lingered at lower heights for some time anyway. Mainly because it was really important to me that Charlie learn how to make all the mistakes, learn how to recover from all the oopsies, in situations that still felt pretty safe and manageable.

And because I needed to live through all those oopsie moments with him (many of which were of my own creation, let's be real) to help convince myself that it would be ok. That he would be fine. And I would be fine.

With the idea being that eventually I would be aiming Charlie at bigger and badder things, and would need to know that he could be there for me when I inevitably fall short.

this horse.... has had some many oopsie moments. 
This might not be the right approach for every horse or every rider, but it has worked out really well for me and Charlie. He just feels so..... good right now over fences.

I wish I had pictures or video to share with you from our most recent lesson, but the threat of downpour conditions meant that everybody left their phones in the safety of the dry barn. C'est la vie. So you'll just have to take my word for it.

those oopsie moments, and his general soft sensitive nature, being a major contributing factor to the growth of my medicine chest in recent years. this particular array being all the many tinctures and tonics charlie got after his fair hill trail ride - treating everything from his minor splint, that fleshy puncture, and general hoof health....
Charlie actually hasn't been feeling spectacular on the flat lately - we've got a lot a lot a lot of bracing happening particularly in the base of his neck, and are struggling to really engage his hind end.

It's funny bc we've been doing a lot of conditioning work lately and that's really been paying off in his cardiovascular health and stamina.

But I guess that hind end strength won't come from anything other than purposeful "weight lifting" style schooling. Always must needs balance in any training program, I guess.

no new pics so here are some recent oldies of charlie looking like he knows what's up
So his lack of softness in warming up made me feel a little skeptical about what I would get in our first jump lesson with trainer P since... uhhh, early April??? My concern was entirely misplaced tho. Charlie was a superstar.

Seriously tho. Idk if I sound like a broken record but I just don't know how I got so lucky with this horse.

The exercises set up were really really cool, in my humble opinion. A long bending line. A short one stride. A triple combination of 2-to-2 strides, all oxers. And a three stride line. And Charlie just nailed all of his warm ups.

course diagram for any interested. most lines were compressed, except for that three stride across the diagonal.
Or, if we got to one a little funny, it was pretty easy to diagnose the issue as a function of my own riding. And thus, was easy to correct by just... ya know... fixing my own self. Like, half halting in the turn, putting horse in front of my leg. Looking for a forward feel to the fence, with lift through his shoulder. The usual.

So when trainer P put it all together in a course for us, she was happy to set everything around 3', instead of the mostly 2'9 we've been working on for months now. Small differences, but they matter to me.

from a two stride earlier this spring
And apparently they matter to Charlie, too. I swear this horse likes a bigger jump. He pays more attention. Eyes the jumps up himself, adjusts his stride himself. Lopes over like the easiest thing in the world. Literally all I do is keep my leg on and hold him straight.

The triple combination of 3' square oxers set at short two stride distances (30') was such an incredible feeling for me. Not only bc it's been literal YEARS since I've ridden anything like it.

But bc with Charlie, I had enough confidence in aiming him at those jumps that I could focus on the other little details of the ride. Like being present enough to catch and correct my left drift tendencies. Or to notice my right side position collapsing a bit, with right leg curling up (thanks new stirrup irons for bringing that sensation to my attention!).

Like, not just surviving the ride but actually feeling like I was a participant in it. Even if my role is minor with only a few lines lol....

also from earlier this year, charlie looking casual over a swedish oxer
Anyway tho the whole course rode like that. Triple combination to one stride to three stride, looping around to the final bending line when I see trainer P hustling over to the last vertical, adjusting its height at the last moment. Putting it up higher.

I can tell immediately that it's a height I haven't seen since 2015. And that Charlie's certainly never seen before. But.... Charlie nails the oxer going into the bending line, we hold straight for three strides and then turn to the vertical out, lope another three and just... sail over.

basically my favorite bronto ever <3
This horse, guys. What a feeling. And he just knew he was such a good boy <3

It might seem small in the grand scheme of things, to be so over the moon about *one* fence just 3" higher than the rest. But. Ya know. The way I see things? All that really matters is how excited and happy I can feel walking away from a ride.

And just like how I asked trainer P to pull out the measuring stick to proudly immortalize Charlie's first 2' jump, I still just get so excited with every new milestone for this horse.

Are you the same way? I know a lot of "firsts" (even the small ones) are a big deal for a lot of people. Mostly bc, at least for me, those "firsts" always kinda loom large in my mind. And it's such a rush to finally tackle them - especially if the horse makes it seem like the easiest thing in the world lol.

Friday, May 18, 2018

peaceful critters

Happy Friday, everybody! Idk about you, but I'm looking forward to this weekend. Unfortunately the constant rainy conditions of late meant postponing this weekend's planned starter trial.... Which is disappointing but also, ya know, kinda ok.

I'm feeling very zen about a cancellation that has nothing to do with my own horse's health and well being lol. Like, 'Oh the weather's bad? Sure, fine, no biggie! So long as my horse is ok!!'

these are the tiniest freakin mice i've ever seen - like the size of the tip of my thumb. still destructive little f*ers tho!
So we're kinda cruisin. Which is nice. I mean, that's basically the normal plan with Charlie anyway, but it's always nice to have it validated by an unexpectedly clear schedule.

Honestly tho the show's postponement did create a bit of a struggle summoning motivation to drive 45min to an hour to the barn in rush hour traffic for a ride in the rain. I've been really pushing myself lately to do it tho. To make it happen.

To make the time for this activity that is so important to me.

back to boat shoes for Sir. and, naturally, he immediately sprung a few nails bc #whynot
Not because I'm trying to hold my nose to the grindstone, my feet to the fire, or anything like that. No no.

Rather, it's other elements of my life that have me feeling like I really need to keep the horsey routine going as a matter of self care. Like my job that has suddenly picked up in workload (a positive thing, for the record). Or the realization that I'll probably be moving house for the first time in a decade sometime this summer.

These are all good things - but they each consume insane volumes of my train of thought at any given moment. Without necessarily being, uh, relaxing or rewarding in the short term.

The moving thing in particular is interesting, bc it has me questioning a lot about how I view and value my day to day life. Things like neighborhood. I've been looking all over the city (you saw a few of my "view" options earlier this week) and have been reflecting on what each would be like on a day to day basis.

Getting out to the barn a lot has been clarifying in that matter. I typically use the barn to feel happy about things. To get that feeling of calm that can sometimes be missing from other environments.

And lately it's come into clear focus why the barn helps there. Like how in the course of a single ride I can see foxes, deer, and ground hogs. Three different species of songbirds in a single square meter of fence line (for those curious: red winged blackbird, blue bird, and this gorgeous little black capped thing I think was a chickadee). The resident hawks having it out noisily with their neighboring crows. Plus all those trilling frogs in the pond that spook poor Charlie.

damn tho, maryland is looking tropical lately haha. also the horse ain't bad either ;)
It's just....  ya know, a pretty wonderful way to pass an hour. Or 20min. Or whatever length of time I can give to it.

So I make the time. And it's worth it. And I always feel better for having sat on the horse.

There's always more work to be done, more tasks to prioritize and check off the list. More preparations to be made for future events. Sometimes tho it's just reeeally nice to sit back and listen to some frog song while hacking through a rainy jungle. Bc why not, right?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

forward + back

As someone who has tried somewhat unreasonably hard to lead the lesson-junkie lifestyle, it sure seems like I haven't had many lessons to write about lately! I blame Charlie lol.

all the cross country jumps strewn about our field were vivid in the eerie light preceding a mega storm....
As I've written, tho, Charlie seems fine on this lighter schooling schedule. He really seemed to figure a lot out this past winter, when we first began twice weekly jump lessons - one with trainer P and one with trainer K - and spent basically his entire rehab and reintroduction to jumping post-surgery doing grids.

Meanwhile, I had the pleasure of learning that my own confidence wasn't as deflated as I feared after the time off. And, more so, Charlie's complete nonchalance about everything has really rubbed off on me. Historically I've liked jumping twice a week to keep my confidence up. But... with Charlie it's pretty easy to just shrug, like, "eh he's fine, we'll be fine!"

srsly tho, all these jumps just got plopped into the field after coming home from shawan downs.... no rhyme or reason to it
But. Ya know. I still love lessons. And obviously still have a metric fuck ton to learn about riding in general and eventing in particular. (does it ever end?? i think not...).

So I was happy to finally fit in another ride this week with upper level event rider K for Charlie's and my first time schooling over stadium jumps since our last lesson before Kentucky.

never mind that, uh, our farm is hosting a starter trial this weekend and all these jumps need to, ya know, be on course...
Unfortunately it's been raining and storming nonstop here for the past few days so trainer K felt like the outdoor jump ring would be too sloppy. Nbd, I'm fine with the indoor. And I correctly predicted that this would mean another grid school - which, again, was fine by me.

also nvm that our weather has been all rain all the time, with no end in sight. case in point that giant storm cloud chasing us back to the barn.... i guess i won't have to worry about hard ground!
What I didn't predict tho was how K would dig into our flat work between reps to the fences. She's not usually one for a heavy focus on the flat work in warm up - which is a bit of a departure from trainers I've worked with in the past (like Dan, for instance, who was all flat work all the time). Tho her exercises typically invoke core concepts like adjustability and rideability. So it works out.

that is, if the jumps ever get moved ?? haha maybe we'll just be weaving a maze through one field for our track....
This time tho, it was really all about that half halt. Something that, uh, haha, I've really struggled in installing in Charlie. Well. Let's be real, it's arguable whether I even ever got one on Isabel even tho she and I got much farther along in our work than Charlie has so far.

She had us go about this in a way that was on one hand immediately familiar: a well known exercises of riding the horse forward and back within the gaits to develop that elasticity and sharpness to the aids. On the other hand, tho, she tweaked the exact mechanics of the exercise in a way that made it a little easier for me and more clear for Charlie.

charlie would probably be fine with that, honestly. so long as the buggies can't get to him!
Specifically: I always practice a lot of transitions in any of our schools. Trot walk trot. Trot halt trot. Trot walk canter. Etc etc etc. With the idea being to get a light feeling in the downward, then a spurt forward with horse in front of my leg in the upward.

She had us doing the same thing, but faster. Instead of doing a full trot-walk or trot-halt transition, she wanted me to just get almost there, then immediately ride forward again. Small distinction, but it made a big difference in how I was applying my aids.

So the idea was: as we would trot around the arena in between grid trips, I would find a spot to do this "3/4 halt" then ride forward again. Rinse repeat once or twice, then approach the grid (which was on the center line per usual - necessitating a half 10m circle to approach).

After a few trips like that, she had me also incorporate canter into this back and forth exercise. Circling the ring once or twice between grid trips and finding spots to do a near-walk transition, or canter transition, and everything in between.

Ultimately looking for Charlie to hold the same shape no matter which transition we were doing. And also incorporating a near "leg yield" feeling during each transition - really taking advantage of corners in particular.

he'll probably live tho, probably ;)
Possibly the most helpful part of this exercise was the fact that there was a grid in there too. Charlie isn't a huge fan of compressing or extending his gaits right now, and often can be fussy when I push him forward (ie, when I ask for that "spurt" forward in front of my leg). But having the grid there really helped out.

He likes jumping, he's always understood to move forward to a ground pole, cavaletti, or jump. Even since his earliest days with me, those types of exercises have always helped change the conversation from 'me driving him forward' to 'him having somewhere to go.' And it was the same for this ride.

Plus - the grid is instructive in its own right. Charlie doesn't need me to tell him if he did well or if he made a mistake through a grid, he can figure that out all for himself. So if my last little half halt before the turn didn't go through, or if he didn't respond to my forward aid after the turn, we wouldn't get the grid quite right and he'd be like, "Oh ok I see now" then get it right the next time.

So it definitely felt really productive. Mostly tho I just appreciate having a trainer there to just keep me on task, keep me focused on those little details in our ride that are hard and therefore easy to ignore.... but so so so worth the practice. That's what lessons are all about, right? lol...

Monday, May 14, 2018

ground swell

Things have been pretty quiet in Charlieland these past few days. Our brief little heat wave broke tho, which was nice. Tho the rock hard ground persisted a while longer.

potential changes of view are coming my way. this one is refreshingly green
We knew the ground was hard, and heard all about it from competitors and other volunteers at Shawan Downs the weekend before. So naturally we planned accordingly when taking our own horses schooling last week.
historic and charming(ish) old neighborhood
After Charlie's great schooling ride, he got his legs all wrapped up and hooves packed to stave off any soreness from the hard ground. Alas, it wasn't quite enough and Charlie was a bit tender-footed last week. Probably in the future I'll just plan to ice his hooves after work on hard ground.

uh.... that's the block down there. nice balcony tho?
Not the most inspiring result, if I'm being honest. His lack of toughness is..... well documented. But. Ya know. We work with what we got. And I'm more than willing to do whatever it takes to keep Charlie comfortable and happy considering what an actual saint he is as a jumping horse.

different balcony in the same building, with improved view of the harbor
So we've kept the magic cushion train rolling, plus stepped up our keratex treatments. I had been mostly focusing my treatments around Charlie's hoof walls - especially the nail holes. But perhaps I'd been neglecting his soles, so now they're getting extra attention too.

honestly tho these sun-seekers won't care so long as there's sufficient space and bright spots
And I also started conversations with Charlie's farrier about assessing whether going back to leather rim pads (or full pads, tho I'm not very fond of them....) might be a good idea. We'll see what he has to say about all that later this week, hopefully.

speaking of sun seekers... how on earth am i supposed to figure out which one is mine??
In the meantime, tho, I'm diversifying my portfolio beyond its current holdings of SMZs to also include Magic Cushion. Bc yea that stuff is actually seriously magic. I've been packing it in each night once Charlie is settled in his stall, so I can just squish the stuff in there and then set the hoof back down on sawdust without wrapping it.

normally i'd guess mine is the goofy one but... 
I'm not sure how long the magic cushion actually stays in the hoof without a wrap, but probably at least a little while. A couple times I've picked his feet out 12-24hrs later and still had bits of tacky gunk stuck in there. So I think it's pretty reasonable to believe it's at least sticking around for most of the time he spends in his stall overnight.

nope, there we go - i spy my fly boots! phew! otherwise how could i have known??
And I think it makes a big difference too - and helped relieve Charlie of any bruising or tenderness in just a couple days instead of his typical long, drawn out week and a half of "OW MY FEET HURT! MY LIFE IS FULL OF WOE!!!"

this is a very pretty time of year in the wooded areas
But. Ya know. It's all good either way tho, right? I feel like a broken record, but these past few months Charlie has really really settled into his job. Obviously I would like to stay on a fixed schedule of schooling rides - for my own benefit as much as for the horse.

charlie's got it all figured out where all the watering holes are lol
But.... Charlie never really seems any worse for the wear rest. Which is nice. Makes it pretty easy to keep focusing on maximizing his down time, physical well being, and comfort while trusting that the training will be there when we need it.

i did actually wrap the magic cushion in there after charlie went back to work, just to get as much bang for that buck as possible.... plus fly boots to reduce stomping.... #highmaintenance
And actually, in revisiting my goals for this quarter, I was reminded that my intention was for the lion's share of our ridden work to focus on fitness and conditioning. Which, considering that's most of what we've done - seems like it's working out pretty well haha.

woods are pretty in the rain too, plus the softer ground is very welcome!
So once Charlie's feet stopped feeling tender on the driveway, we hit the trails again. First in just an easy going hack (after which I still packed and wrapped his feet like a neurotic freak lol....), and then for actual trot sets in the woods after getting soaking and very welcome rain.

two pics stitched together to try to portray the ground undulations
And I gotta say (again) that taking our trot sets into the woods has been revolutionary. Idk why. But we both seem to really really enjoy it a lot! Like I love cruisin around the open fields too, and we're fortunate to have a few options in that regard.

honestly pics never do it justice tho
But there's something special about just letting the horse move out over the kind of varying terrain that presents itself in the woods - like eroded ruts, jutting roots, branches and brambles every which way - and allowing the horse to sort it all out himself. Ducking and dodging the branches as you go.... Laying down onto the horse's neck, trusting that he'll stay true in his aim.

but these small fields are great for some quick up-and-downs
Plus it was kinda cool to do it all after a recent rain fall. The dampness of the leaves as they whipped past added a refreshing element. And the ground was jusssst slick enough to hold Charlie's attention without actually being slippery. I can't stress just how great it feels to have this horse FINALLY learning how to read the ground himself.

easy going hack on the left; trot sets on the right
I'm also loving having the Altitude Profile app for these rides too. Partly bc the meta data surrounding overall distance and average speed is helpful. Mostly tho I really like having the data on relative changes in elevation.

And as you can see from the above charts, it's helping me figure out how to string hills together so that we always have another hill to climb in our rides. For the trot sets in particular, I now know a great route where we can basically trot all the ups, and catch our breath on the downs (or trot those too if we really want).

from stopping by the arena to chat with trainer P on left; then cruising around the fields trying to maximize hills on right
And it's kinda cool getting to zoom in on the gps satellite views of the farm to get that bird's eye view of what we're really doing, and how all the various pieces of the farm actually knit together. This farm is freakin giant and I still really don't know most of its odd little corners. But we're figuring it out!

also, last pic from kentucky ;)
Plus. Ya know. Hacking out is just plain old pleasant to do <3

Hopefully we'll have a couple more purposeful schooling rides this week too. It's supposed to be rainy and thunderstorm-y all week, but that's ok. I've tentatively got two lessons on the books so we'll see. One should be a much anticipated return to dressage lessons with trainer C!! Cross your fingers for us lol!

But as is always the case with Charlie, mostly we're just gonna take it as it comes. I've got plans, like I always do bc I love plans. And those plans include our second event of the season this coming weekend. We'll see what happens tho!

For now, we're mostly just in cruise control. Which ain't really that bad, let's be real haha. Have any of you likewise been looking forward to the new season ushering in lots of fun stuff to do?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

schooling @ Shawan Downs

As a general rule, whenever life has me feeling a little off kilter, or I'm a little bit on the stressed or overwhelmed side of things, my knee-jerk reaction to any question becomes "No."

So when Brita pointed out that Shawan Downs would be open for schooling over their recent MCTA recognized courses this week and that we could head over after work one day... I right away was like, "Sorry, can't!"

Luckily tho, she is a patient friend and allowed me a couple minutes to actually consider the idea a little more fully - at which point I realized that, uh, yea. This was a great opportunity. Jenny Camp won't be at Shawan Downs this year, so this was our only chance to ride there. Plus it's local and cheap, and Charlie hasn't done a proper off-site xc school (aside from the arena schooling in January) since like.... last summer's paper chase at Tranquility.

there are only two actual pictures of us haha. here is one.
So. We went! I had walked the N course over the weekend after volunteering (you already saw pictures of the three main combinations - banks water and ditch - yesterday), so was able to formulate a pretty solid plan of attack.

dis charlie's excited face haha
Tho I hadn't walked the T course, and interestingly all the courses deviated from each other somewhat significantly in track. Like, BN and N mostly followed the same path - except for one little N foray up a hill and down into a hollow for the half coffin. M and P went way far afield in the road-facing field toward the far end of the steeplechase track. And T went off up the hill on the opposite side of the rail past the announcer's tower.

They had taken all the numbers down so we had a little trouble distinguishing some of the M jumps from the T jumps too, but opted to do our warm up by trotting through the entire steeplechase field checking out all the things so Brita could come up with her own ride plan.

also i got my volunteer prize from Sara just as i was walking out the door - felt like a good luck charm!
This also had the nice secondary benefit of getting the horses acclimated to the venue. There were a couple other groups on site - some including up to 5-6 horses - and lots to look at. Luckily tho both horses actually settled really nicely, and Charlie didn't seem inclined to show any of his "HEY LET'S GO BACK TO THE TRAILER, YES??" tendencies haha.

easy warm up through the water
We walked through the main water (which was way way way too deep - they had left the water running for some unknown reason) and up and down the lower edges of some banks just to get the horses tuned in. Then began warming up in earnest!

I trotted Charlie through the water then up and over a small log from the BN course (it was the B element of their up bank combo), then over to a couple houses. The left side house was on the BN course (tho you may remember it from our Jenny Camp intro course last year) and the white N house is from our own home farm, tho I haven't jumped it since the Isabel days.

more warm up: small house then less-small house!
I wanted to get my eye on N early tho, bc.... Ya know. The struggle is real. But I knew as soon as I started pointing Charlie at N things, my worry about the size would dissipate. Bc Charlie sure as shit doesn't share my concerns haha. In fact, he was happy to be aimed at this fence and was in that really nice place where he was taking leg to the jump. Yesss.

we saw this combo in yesterday's post
In my mind we would have tackled some other jumps first before the banks.... but they were right there, so why not. I pointed Charlie at the BN combo first, and he felt slightly noncommittal to the bank, but trotted it anyway then giddied on up to the log. Second time was smoother tho.

And then Brita was there for me when I waffled about doing the N side. Thank god for friends who can be there for the well-timed gentle nudge!

hey look, i jumped it even tho it scared me! didn't scare sir tho ;)
So I cantered right on around, held for an add stride up the bank (rightly or wrongly) that made the 2 feel a little long, even tho I had walked it in 1.5. But Charlie was an honest genuine boy and I just slipped my reins, put my leg on, and he carried us over what is not actually a very small fence at the B element. Good boy!

we jumped the BN version of this table back in march. also apparently i still love left.
One of the great things about having our respective fences of interest on different tracks was that Charlie was able to get a little lesson in "Go Forth and Jump! Now Stand Around and be Chill!" while Brita did her T coffin.

This is the element that has been missing in his training: we've done far far far more competitions than we've done schoolings, and he's just not really aware that sometimes we stop in between jumps haha. He caught on quickly tho, and it really helped keep him rideable after each fence!

N corner was very inviting
Anyway, we kept moving after that to the middle section of the N course - with a couple large single fences: a log table from our home barn that we've jumped the BN version of; a nice corner; and Charlie's first steeplechase style jump.

I was really happy with how he felt too bc he continued to have that feeling where I needed to be adding leg to the fence. I expected this to the log table since it was going away from the trailers, but was pleased to still get the same feeling after looping back toward home for the corner.

Tho, uh, I chose a really shit line to the corner the first go 'round so we came back and cleaned that one up a little bit haha. Charlie didn't care tho!

officially charlie's first brush fence! #nailedit
For some reason, I've kinda had it in my mind these past few months about how "Charlie hasn't really jumped a brush fence yet." Idk why. I mean, he's seen a very little bit of brush on some of our courses, but nothing really big before. But this N steeplechase fence felt perfect.

I esp like how he stayed centered over the fence bc of it's "U" shape despite my tendency to allow a left drift. And again, even tho this jump was heading home, he still took leg forward (instead of me feeling like I needed a backward feel) and easily came back to walk after. The "start/stop" of schooling reeeeeally feels good for him right now!

this bench also scared me, and i need to remember to ride forward even when i'm nervous. charlie don't care tho!
Then we went up a steep rise to a smallish table thingy (on the video but I didn't bother with a snapshot) then down into the hollow to this bench. Idk why but benches often look big to me, even tho I understand that their profile is very inviting to the horse.

And my current issue right now is that even tho Charlie was taking my leg, I wasn't being very good about actually putting it on and pushing him up to the jumps that made me nervous. So our first effort here was.... not great. He jumped it, but it was a little bit of a wake up call for me. So we came around and I actually created a more forward feel and it was perfect. Good boy!

straight forward N half coffin in an easy 3
My first time over the ditch, I just trotted diagonally across it not aiming for the B element, which actually confused Charlie a little bit bc he had kinda had his eye on the log. Nbd tho, he handled the ditch just fine so we came right on around and cantered through easily.

The three was a smidge tight for us but no harm no foul. I appreciate that Charlie is not ditchy haha! And I also appreciate that he's actually looking for fences and able to be drawn through a combination from one element to the next.

f*ing giant N brush table. brita had to convince me to do it, and i didn't ride forward the first time....
After the half coffin we crossed the road again, down a steep little descent that Brita promised me I wouldn't even feel (spoiler: she was totally right) (oh also this happens to be right around where I fell off during my second ever HT when Isabel spooked at some mud...) up to what was probably the biggest fence on the N course: a giant brush table.

I had let Brita know that this jump concerned me a bit, and I wasn't sure we should try it. But she maintained that Charlie would be fine, that the bigger jumps really don't ride much differently from the smaller ones, and that I wouldn't notice the descent leading to the fence. So I gave it a whirl!

second time tho charlie jumped the SNOT out of it omg, look at his shadow! this is easily the biggest obstacle he's ever jumped and he ate it up
Again, much like my first time at the bench, I didn't really ride it with enough forward commitment the first time and we kinda got there on an awkward half stride. Charlie is a saint, guys. An actual saint.

But we came around again and I rode for my distance and Charlie SOARED over it, omg. I think we both learned something from my first mistake. And, uh, I like the way Charlie thinks haha. That was easily the biggest jump we've ever had - both in scale of the obstacle itself and his effort over it. Wow.

inviting N coop going into the small water to a log
Obviously I was thrilled with him! A little disappointed in myself to keep making the same mistake of not giving him a very good ride on our first tries tho, since I don't really want my quarter to run out with this horse, ya know?

So for our last effort of the day - three individually numbered elements of coop to water to small log - I was bound and determined to add enough leg to actually lengthen the canter a bit, but with Charlie's shoulders UP and in front of me. It helped that this coop was pretty friendly bc let's be real, it's all a mental game for me.

we, uh, missed our line the first time after LEAPING into the water haha
And Charlie nailed it over the coop. Jumped it great. Even tho before this day we've jumped very few N fences (just a couple here and there since last summer), he's clearly very comfortable with the height.

We still have more work to do with water tho. Charlie wants to jump into it, which was only exacerbated by the steepness of this water's banks, and he doesn't really jump straight so I totally lost my line to the log.

got it after that tho <3
I was cool with it tho, bc I don't think Charlie realized the log was on our agenda - plus the elements were technically numbered separately on course so had this been a real competition we would have been allowed to circle.

Tho I opted to come back through the water flags again to reapproach (which would have not been allowed in competition but that's the beauty of schooling!). And he was fine, obvi.

So that concluded our schooling for the day. We didn't do the entire N course. The first three fences were a small log, brush roll top that was smaller than the steeplechase we had already done, and a log oxer that I forgot about, but it wasn't particularly big. And the last two were a simple barrel jump like we've seen at Fair Hill, and another house that also lives at our home farm.

oh and btw brita and bella are KILLIN IT lately!
But I was completely cool with that. I learned a couple important things during this ride anyway. First of all? My eye can and will adjust up once I get to work. The easiest way to make something look less imposing is to remind myself I can do it... by, ya know, actually doing it.

Charlie, for his part, couldn't care less about the difference in height from BN to N. In fact, I'd say he likes it! He was very very rideable during this schooling. I'm not convinced that's actually related to any work we've been doing, or to the addition of a curb chain to our bridle. Whatever the case tho, I liked it a lot.

turns out this big giant TB butt can jump some fences. good boy!
We need to practice more banks, and practice going in and out of water more - esp darker or deeper water. I've been practicing mostly on our more inviting and shallower pool at home but the new pool right next to it is calling our name, methinks! Ditches continue to be a non issue so I may start thinking about upping the ante there soon. We'll see.

In any case tho, it was a hugely confidence boosting ride, and I'm seriously grateful that this horse is such a saint for those moments when I get more defensive instead of committing to the forward. Hopefully I'll learn my lesson about that before he decides it's too much work to keep covering for me! Luckily tho, he does genuinely seem to enjoy this game <3

Plus it was also nice for me and Brita to go out there without our normal coaches (we tried, they were just unavailable) and still be able to show good judgement in producing good schools in each of our horses. Ideally we'll have more professional guidance on hand as we each seek to challenge ourselves, but for now this was fine. Phew!

So I'm feeling a lot of things. Excitement. Relief. Reassurance. And also hope. It's been two and a half years since I rode a novice course, and it's really nice to learn that it means more to me than it does to the horse haha.