Friday, November 16, 2018

The Good, The Bad & The Funny: 2018 on Video

Happy Friday, everyone!! It's gratitude season around here, and not only because of the rapidly approaching Thanksgiving Holiday!

But also because now is the time of year where it just feels right to look back and reflect on what's come to pass these last few months.

grateful for this amazing horse <3
I am grateful for so much. So so so much. Both in my horsey life as it's reflected here on ye olde blog, but also in life in general. This year in particular saw a few things come to pass that... ya know, are kinda a big deal for me.

Personally I'm not a big believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason... But things sure do have a way of happening. And like it or not, we all have to find a way to keep moving forward. This year, for me, was a year of forward momentum.

My plan is to pull together at least some variation of a recap summary of all the highs (and lows) in an upcoming post or series of posts before the year closes. Hopefully haha, bc let's be real -- those posts can be a real bear to write!! They're often worth it tho. Personally, I love reading them on other blogs, and love reliving my own too.

epic compilation video here!!! play with sound ON!!

For now, tho, I'm starting with my 5th 4th annual Compilation video haha. In years past, I separated the highlights from the blooper reels. This year, tho, the highs and lows were so intrinsically intertwined that it felt impossible for one to stand alone without the other.

So I changed up my formatting a little bit: combining everything together and segmenting by themes instead of adhering to a strict chronological order. First up, obviously, being the most immediate (gas-powered) comic relief haha, then recounting the best and the worst by phase.

And for shits and giggles, since it's a Friday anyway, here are the compilation videos from years past too. I love these videos so so so much. And it's so important for me to look back and remember what felt like a solid WIN back in 2014, for instance. The bloopers tho... ahaha, obvi they never get old either ;)


2017 bloopers

2017 highlights


2015 bloopers

2015 highlights


2014 bloopers

2014 highlights

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

is Charlie a First Level horse?

My history and relationship with dressage is.... maybe a bit complicated. Tho probably not especially uncommon.

Through all my years of riding, I could *recognize* the most superficial, obvious attributes of the riding style ("round, on the bit"), but actually *achieving* those results always felt like an enigma to me. Mysterious and inaccessible. So very, very very different from how I could ride.

maybe he could be a good dressage horse after all??
It wasn't until I decided to event with Isabel that we began to tackle this head-on. Initially I had exactly zero concept of how naturally gifted and talented Isabel was for the dressage... But eventually with the right coaching we grew to be a pretty good team, imho.

Isabel thus taught me a fairly deep appreciation for dressage. By the end of our time together, we were pretty solid at all things first level (and riding the eventing level equivalents of first level at shows), and schooling most of second level.

And to be perfectly honest, if I didn't have a deeply rooted desire to jump, I would have shifted our focus purely to dressage and kept at it with Isabel.

collage of the best moments from charlie's earliest efforts in the dressage court
As it is, tho, things change and now my landscape looks entirely different. Now I have a Charlie haha. And he is no Isabel in the dressage ring. He's built like a brontosaurus with lumbering labored gaits to match lol.

But he's a good boy. And while his gaits aren't flashy, they are correct(ish). His walk and canter in particular are very strong - arguably fundamentally better than Isabel's, tho she was maybe freer in her movement.

tho of course, here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing we celebrate those.... other moments too haha
Charlie's capacity for handling pressure is.... well, not even close to Isabel's -- she was extremely special in that regard. But he's learning. I tend to view a horse's capacity for pressure as analogous to a muscle strength. With care, practice, and thoughtful repetition, it can be built and developed. And so Charlie has learned to accept more and more pressure.

Over the course of this past year, I've become really comfortable and confident in Charlie's progress as a solidly Training Level dressage horse. But if you recall, one of my goals was to be schooling all of First by the end of the year. Which.... Each time I checked in with the goals, I felt a little queasy about that. It felt very far away.

showing off how far he's come to wrapping up the 2017 season 
That is.... until I actually went back and revisited those tests haha. Upon reading through 1-1 again, it occurred to me that.... maybe Charlie is closer than I thought.

This might sound stupid, but that was kinda a revolutionary thought for me haha. Somehow, without realizing it, all my previous feelings about the mysterious inaccessibility of dressage had started creeping back into my mind and clouding my judgement as I restarted this very green OTTB.

and kicking off the 2018 season in.... some sort of frozen style lol
Going back to revisit Charlie's progress through this refreshed perspective, what I see more than anything else this past year is how far Charlie has come in his longitudinal balance. That is, his balance from nose to tail, his ability to shift more and more weight to his hindquarters.

Which, incidentally, the purpose of First Level specifically says that one of the distinguishing factors between First and Training is the horse's development of more thrust to achieve improved balance and throughness.

This proficiency is demonstrated in the tests through smaller circles (10m at trot and 15m at canter), the ability to lengthen stride in trot and canter, and the balance and suppleness necessary for leg yields and counter canter loops.

elegant charlie <3
Turns out.... Charlie routinely schools all of those things. Actually, almost every ride. So when I reread those tests.... it was kinda almost like a sack of bricks fell on my head lol. Like, "OMG wait, maybe we actually could do this!" Which sounds silly writing it out like that, but there ya have it.

Obviously tho, there's a big difference in schooling individual movements vs putting them all together, one on top of the other, in a test pattern. In my schooling rides, I generally don't ride a movement without feeling like we're prepared for it. Like if I want to leg yield down the quarter line, but we lose balance in the turn? We just circle out, fix our balance, and try again. Nbd.

by mid summer he really seems to have things figured out
So while we have experience with all of these pieces, I don't actually have a concept yet of how they'd all come together for us in a test environment. Tho since figuring out we're closer to being ready for this level than I previously thought, I've started at least stringing a few movements together in practice. Testing the waters, so to speak.

Realistically, tho, I'm pretty relaxed when it comes to the idea of "moving up." Obviously dressage is different from jumping --- there's substantially less inherent risk in the attitude of, "What the hell, let's give it a shot!" Even so, tho, I tend to be the biggest factor in holding myself back. Impostor syndrome is REAL, y'all.

And certainly there will always be people who believe you shouldn't move up a level until you're consistently scoring 7s across the board at your current level. Or that you should be so confirmed to the new level that even on your worst day, you can get through a test. But eh, I don't really subscribe to those opinions.

closing out the season with an accurate, obedient and competitive test
As far as I can tell, esp after a year spent volunteering and observing riders at all eventing and dressage levels, the biggest difference in riders at higher levels is that.... well, they're out there doing it. Mistakes still happen. Things can always fall apart or be messy when horses are involved. In any particular class at any given level, there are always stronger and weaker entries.

But there's something very real to be said for the riders who take the plunge and go for it. So I'm putting it out there now: I've come to the conclusion that Charlie is ready to try on a First Level test for size. And am hopeful we'll get some opportunities this winter to hit up some schooling shows. Ya know. To see what happens haha.

always more to work on. always. but feels like the next step is within reach!
Have you ever had similar "epiphanies" about your horse's training? Like waking up one morning to realize that, suddenly your green bean isn't so green anymore? Or that something that used to be a huge challenge now comes easily?

Likewise, do you feel similarly about moving up a level? Are you more likely to just kinda go for it, or more likely to be more reserved to really ensure that you're 110% ready before entering at A? Does it depend on the situation? Or the horse?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

flashback to an old favorite

For no particular reason, here's a flashback to a favorite video of Isabel.

It's not a video of impressive accomplishments. No no, the jumps are small and we're riding inside the tiny dusty indoor in the depths of winter/spring.

pretty mare bc pretty
Honestly it's hard to tell why I like this video so much haha. Except that it's such a clear example of what kind of mare Isabel is. Esp when I get lost mid-exercise.

I love watching Isabel's face as I bring her to a halt and hash it out with my trainer. Then, as if it were nothing, she just picks up her canter and proceeds like a rockstar. Like if it weren't for my erroneous piloting skills she'd just be winning literally everything haha.

Charlie will be like that one day -- tho admittedly he'll never be as nimble and cat-like as that fancy schmancy pocket rocket arab mare!

Do you ever have favorite moments that? Maybe not the earth shattering major accomplishments or whatever, maybe instead they are the small inconsequential moments in between.... but they say so much more about the partnership or the horse?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Charlie's dad bod 2.0

Charlie ended up getting almost another week of rest since our glorious trail ride. If you recall: a couple weeks ago he appeared to have aggravated an old splint injury from last spring.

Per Charlie's natural gift for excellent timing, it happened to be on a day we were supposed to do a much-anticipated clinic with local BNR Stephen Bradley. Famous for, among other things, being the last US rider to win the title at Burghley.

somewhere buried inside my fluffy stout OTTB is a chiseled jumping machine haha
But no. We were instead sidelined with another big fat leg, evoking haunting memories from last fall when Charlie was on a similar trajectory of progressively worse aggravations to a previously-healed splint. Eventually culminating in the bone abscessing and requiring surgical removal.

for now, tho, we fluffy! and dressed up for the long dark walk up the drive to the arena
There is literally no reason, according to anyone who matters, to believe we should have a similar outcome this time around.

I even wasted hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars on a full set of rads and an MRI just to confirm this. Just to be told what I already knew: wrap and bute and get the swelling out, plus some SMZs, then back to normal.

current state: dusty
I gave Charlie a little extra time off tho, just to be sure. Then opted to bring him back extremely slowly: mostly walking walking walking. But the day after his third ride back (that glorious trail ride I wrote about last week), the leg looked a little big to me again.

Like, realistically it was just a bit stocked up. Not even necessarily noticeable to anyone less crazy than me. The horse is stalled overnight through the winter and had only been turned out for about an hour when I went to get him. So it's not unreasonable that Charlie's relatively high-mileage legs might be a little filled. Except it was only that one leg.

look at that big ol' belly tho! 
Which like, ugh. Whatever. I just left him out in the field and went home. After, ya know, calling the vet to be like "OMG IT'S BIG AGAIN THO!!!!!" ... "Well, ok, just a little big." ... "But it shouldn't be big at all, wahh!!" and having her basically say to call back if it was still big the next day.

Bc. Yea. Big legs happen in the world of Charlie horses. Sure enough, the next night the leg was as cold and tight as it ever gets. But all the same, I opted to give him more time off. Just to be sure. I guess. Who knows.

i esp appreciate how much fuller he's gotten through his hind end. he'll always be an angular bronto with a peaked back, but at least we don't have any actual bones jutting out anymore!
Anyway, tho, the silver lining is that Charlie stayed entirely sound this whole time. Actually, idk if that's a "silver lining" or "infuriating detail" when I'm sitting around not riding my favorite horse. But whatever. In the grand scheme, it's a good thing.

And so finally, after what was effectively a few weeks off, I'm getting Charlie going again. Honestly the time off has been good for him, I think. It was the plan all along to give him a couple weeks off this fall anyway, I had just hoped to squeeze in that clinic and one last horse trial first. Oh well, nbd.

speaking of fluffy tho
Now that the clocks have changed we're limited to the rings on weeknights. Luckily the outdoor rings are lighted, even tho the lights esp in the dressage ring are kinda crappy.... More often than not, tho, that's where I end up. And that's where I ended up for Charlies "first ride back 2.0" haha.

And he.... wow he actually felt pretttttty incredible. Like, big-giant-powerful-OTTB-fresh-off-a-few-weeks-rest incredible. Sure, our steering was faulty, our downward transitions could best be described as "free falls," and my repeated requests for a slower pace were politely (but resolutely) declined.....

yea 100% obsessed with this little fella
But damn. Charlie felt good. Really loose and soft through his entire topline from poll to tail. Really pushing with each step, big and round and uphill. Honestly he just felt like a LOT of horse. But in the best way possible. It's.... wow, a really addictive feeling haha.

I hadn't cantered the horse at all since his big leg, but have opted to do so these first few rides. Mostly just to see. I want to know if riding him is going to produce another big leg. Bc, ya know, that's kinda an important question to answer when you're trying to train a horse for sport haha.

fall sunsets, soon to be winter. but not yet!
Luckily, tho, so far so good. Charlie's leg has remained cold and tight. And he just feels like a million dollars under saddle.

Obviously my intent is still to take it easy. Going into the off season, really my main focus is working on the basics, working on his own physical strength and well being.

And as such, I'm pretty cool with the fact that he's become a little.... stout lately haha. He's just a rolly polly little ball of putty lol, and I've got the whole fall and winter to reshape him into his next level of badassery. Hopefully with all four legs still firmly attached and healthy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

this looks 'shopped

I can tell from some of the pixels and from seeing quite a few 'shops in my time!

Tho admittedly it would be pretty cool if Joe Flacco rode my horse haha. To Glory!!! Or something!!

Or if there were some sort of device to alleviate Charlie's tendency to injure his forelimbs haha. Why not just get rid of 'em entirely?!

Of course, Charlie isn't my only subject -- who remembers rocket powered Isabel?!? Complete with tied-on unicorn horn??

So much personality in such a little package, it was fun to try and capture that in pixels lol.

Paper cutouts are another favorite of mine. You're already all familiar with the handsome blue thoroughbred who graces my banner, but does anyone recognize that sporty little maroon pony??

And speaking of elegant and refined thoroughbreds, how about this dapper fellow?

Tho perhaps many of you are more familiar with the fire breathing varietals haha. Spicy mares are spicy!

I'm personally biased toward my own beloved brontosaurus tho.

Esp when he's responsible and conducts his civic duty with pride!!

What about you - ever been inspired to, ahem, embellish or otherwise illustrate your horse's distinguishing characteristics?! What would your horse look like??

Sunday, November 4, 2018

fall is definitely my favorite

Happy Sunday everyone! Maryland right now is experiencing what I consider basically the most perfect autumn, and I can't help but share.

piebald deer!!! see video below for more!!
Fall is my favorite season for riding. And yet the last couple years have been more than a little disappointing. Remember in 2015 I broke my leg, then in 2016 Charlie was fresh off the track and we really didn't have much rapport built up yet. And last fall, 2017, Charlie was recuperating from his own surgery.

love how there's still so much green!
This year hasn't been exactly ideal either -- Charlie's latest splint injury meant we scratched from our last event of the season. But. BUT! The horse seems hale, hearty, healthy and happy. The leg looks fine. And so, we ride.

pictured: my happy place
As previously mentioned, Charlie is technically back "under saddle" again.... But.... we're taking it pretty easy.

windy day = v alert charlie
Per force of not getting to the barn until near-dusk during the work week, we've only been riding in the dressage ring (or the indoor two nights ago bc of the rain). Mostly at the walk, with a few trot transitions thrown in for shits and giggles.

pops of vibrant color
All I've really wanted to do tho, being totally honest, is hit the trails.

blue skies reflected in the clear stream
Finally: this weekend we got our chance!

so much red in the treeline!
I was supposed to volunteer all day at the event I scratched from, but with the overnight rain storm their parking field became too much of a mud pit. And thus they had to cancel the whole thing.

sayin hi to those hell raising bebehs
It was a shame for entrants but... Eh, I wasn't too sad to get that unexpected free day!

snack attack! also these reins are the best - the perfect length for this brontosaurus! 
And what a day, too: Temps in the mid 60s, strong sunshine, and gusting wind haha.

more colorful bushes! not pictured: all the bluebirds flying around the hedgerow
The wind was definitely up Charlie's butt too haha. You could almost tell he is a thoroughbred who has been off work for two weeks. Which like, let's be real, that's saying something for this big quiet dude haha.

woods are still so green tho!
There was much scooting at first - and a few genuine heart-pounding spooks when a horse or person or ... something ... would appear unexpectedly in the corner of Charlie's vision. And he may or may not have been fairly convinced the wolves were definitely gonna get him.

vernal pools errywhere!
But he held it together pretty well, and was much happier once we got into the relative close quiet of the woods. And the longer we went, the more he relaxed and eased into his big ambling lumbering mosey. Letting him pause for the occasional snack also helped him settle <3

wide open fields!!
While I know Charlie tends to prefer company on the trail (esp if he can just kinda mindlessly fall in line behind another horse), it makes me so so so happy that he's such a rock solid pleasant mount out on the trails by himself too.

just try to tell me those trees aren't freakin glorious
Bc sometimes I really really really like being alone out there. Just me and the horse and the birds and the leaves and whatever. Not having to make small talk. Not having to think about anything. Just enjoying each step along the way.

the rainy season has meant there's still a TON of grass left!
Which, obvi, this time of year, meant reveling in the colorful spectacle that is autumn in Maryland. Everything is so vibrant right now. Sometimes if we have a lot of drought over the summer the leaves will just all go brown and fall off. Or if it's a violently rainy fall, the trees get stripped too early. This season tho has seemed jussssst right. The color is fantastic, even as the grass is still lush and the temperatures are still balmy.

i'll probably never get tired of this view
It was especially cool too bc I ended up somehow losing my trail at one point -- which is a little ridiculous considering I follow the same exact path almost every single time we're out there (what can I say, I'm a creature of habit!). So Charlie and I ended up kinda bushwhacking a little bit.

happy horse heading back out to his friends
I knew which direction we needed to go in, and could see the open field through the trees. We were just taking.... the road less traveled to get there haha. This meant a few extra stream crossings, plus stepping over a few logs.

Which reminded me of Charlie's first ever "real" trail ride at Sweet Air a couple winters ago, and how at first he was totally mind blown at the prospect of stepping over a log or pushing through any shrubberies or undergrowth.

This time, tho, he didn't care at all. Even tho he definitely knows his way around those woods probably better than I do, and definitely knew we were "off course." He just went with it anyway. And when I got totally sidetracked stalking the piebald deer that lives out there too? Yup, just totally went along for it.

such a perfect autumn <3
So ya know. Obvi I'm always eager and excited to do the technically challenging stuff like jumping or schooling dressage.... But right now? During this season?? The trails beckon. And I hope to spend as much time as possible out there!

Friday, November 2, 2018

friday foto finish (part v)

Work (+ play) trips took over my life a little bit last week, general sadness about my horse's latest ding reigned supreme the week prior, and the week before that.... Idk, who can remember that far back??

how now, brown uphill cow
Suffice it to say, tho, that over the past few weeks I've had all manner of random pictures collecting on my phone. Shots I'd like to share, little tidbits if you will, but that don't necessarily merit an entire dedicated post. Like. Uh. How my vet shot the above photo for Charlie's coggins and somehow managed to make him look more uphill than he's ever looked in his entire life. 

I'm sure it's some sort of optical illusion or black magic haha (or run of the mill sloping ground...), but I'll take it!!
our second-to-last evening hack of the season!!
Likewise, before Charlie decided to take his little splint-induced hiatus, we'd been doing a fair amount of hacking. I'm the kind of rider who drives into the barn giving myself little pep talks like, "C'mon Emma, sunset is at 6:30. Just knock the dust off that horse in like 5min, throw the tack on, and hit the trails while there's still light!"

Except.... 30min later I'm still mindlessly methodically meticulously swiping away at Charlie's fuzzy winter coat, scratching all his itchy spots, rubbing his ears, etc. So.... evening hacks are basically done for the season, esp now with the upcoming clock change. Sadness :(

ooooh it's an Austen! and a Bast!
The competition season is also rapidly coming to a close. Tho happily I was able to make it out for Austen's most recent schooling dressage show with Bast! This would have been the day before Charlie's last event of the season, so.... ya know.... a while back haha.

austen is trying to massage some sense into that noggin. it might have worked too!
It made for a busy day on my end since I had to hustle back to my own barn to walk my xc courses and then get Charlie ridden in preparation for our own event. It was totally worth it tho! I've only gotten to meet Bast in person a handful of times since Austen brought him home, but he's growing and maturing and settling so much, he's almost a different horse every time!

lyra: not impressed
What's not different, tho? The dogs haha. Esp Lyra. She is such an old world weary pro at these horse shows lol <3

meanwhile. charlie takes his lunch to go plz!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Charlie's leg does actually resemble a reasonably normal appendage again. This picture is old (but adorable so I'm posting it haha), but the leg basically looks the way it did pre-aggravation. The calcified bump from April is still there, but that's it.

evening hacks are out now, but weekends are fair game!
I'm hugely relieved, obviously, but still skeptical. Charlie's legs are so high mileage, so ..... not clean haha, that sometimes I can convince myself of anything when I assess them. And spending a week away from him only makes me want to second guess myself even more....

"Has that blood vessel always protruded so much?"   "Is this spot normally so squishy??"   "Did his fetlocks get even bigger or is that just my imagination?!?"

random rainbow bc why not, who doesn't need a rainbow every now and then
So idk. He felt surprisingly keen (in his own special quiet lethargic lumbering kind of way) for our 20min ride spent walking around the dressage ring on the buckle. Doing what I consider 'supervised wandering:' Testing the whoa and go and steering, pushing laterally to see what happens, encouraging a lighter front end with the occasional square turn.

it's hard to tell exactly what's happening here tho.... except there are dogs
But all the same, our season is over. There is nothing important on the calendar. And honestly I'm broker than a joke right now so even lessons are a stretch. All of which means: We'll ease back into it. I might have to get a little creative to keep us interested now that we're back to nighttime riding.... but it'll be fine.

oh yea, that's right. jump judgin. so so so much jump judging in my life lately.
also let it be known: Asterid and i are BFFs #4lyfe <3
As will surprise exactly nobody at this point, I've been otherwise filling my time by volunteering. Really I swear there was such careful planning that went into this too... For instance, the Stephen Bradley clinic that I entered (ya know, it was scheduled on the day when I discovered Charlie's fun new splint injury...) was to take place on Loch Moy's competition course.

drama of another flavor on my morning walks!
This meant that the standard cross country schooling passes I've been earning all season as a volunteer weren't valid for this -- a limitation I was not aware of previously. But volunteers at their last big recognized event of the year (which included their first annual BN3DE!!!!) would be granted the special passes that would cover the $75 schooling fee normally charged on top of the clinic lesson fee.

birds are cool, yo
Obvi, bc of aforementioned "broker than a joke" status, it seemed highly prudent to volunteer haha. I signed up to be xc warm up steward (my fave!) but ended up getting shuffled out on course as a jump judge bc they were short handed. A bit of a bummer, but at least Austen et al. kept me company after she finished her scribe shift!!

Obvi even more of a bummer was not even being able to ride in the clinic after all that anyway.... Ugh. I might just have to stop signing up for clinics with Charlie bc this whole "non refundable" business has really screwed me this year. Sigh.

coloring books are more fun when auntie em gives you a new design to color in
Life goes on tho, as always! The horse appears healthy and happy and fuzzy, so what more could I ask? Meanwhile, my niece and nephew apparently have not forgotten watching Charlie's and my last competition. Especially the, erm, gas powered stadium round haha. Suffice it to say: my nephew is officially a huge fan haha!

iz a work of art
I got to go trick or treating with them this week, and made sure to promise my nephew a suuuuuper fun video soon, full of all his favorite sound effects. Bc oh yea, the down time has also given me the perfect opportunity to get a head start on my annual "best of" and "blooper reel" compilation videos. It's gonna be a good one, toot toot!

You'll just have to wait for that, tho (unless I get impatient and upload early haha). In the meantime, Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you all have a great weekend too ;)