Monday, December 10, 2018

Year in Review: Part 2

December isn't even half way over yet, but I'm forging ahead with the plan to finish recapping what proved to be a monumental year for me and Charlie.

The gist is I'm rounding up the links to the defining moments from each month. It's always interesting to see how my impressions and feelings on different events shift over time, with hindsight being 20-20 and all that.

You can find the first six months of 2018 summarized here in Part 1. By the end of June, Charlie and I (well, mostly just me, let's be honest) were still reeling after a shockingly bad performance at our second Novice at Plantation.

So let's dive right in, picking up where we left off:

the most elegant brontosaurus that ever was

- Checking in on my quarterly and year-long goals was depressing. Everything looked.... bleak given what I perceived to be the shambles of our current state.

- Charlie got time off, coming back into work with the distraction of an appt to refit and customize the dressage saddle I bought last winter. The saddle maker himself, Jan Huslebos, evaluated us and ultimately performed field surgery on the saddle right then and there, removing the bottom half of the thigh blocks. It was pretty cool, tbh.

- I continued the "distraction" theme with more volunteering. Scribing for judges Stephen Bradley and Helen Bretell at the jumping phase of a YEH qualifier at Loch Moy was great!

- But eventually we had to get back to work on our training. This lesson was a perfect case study for working through Charlie's and my issues. It was the kick in the pants I needed to remember that when *I* do *my* job consistently, Charlie is a happier horse and is easier to ride.

dressage saddle zadel surgery!!
- Looming in my personal background: continued preparations for moving house for the first time in a decade.... It was consuming, but it eventually happened!

- We finally schooled our home xc course for the first time since March. It was a GREAT ride, partly bc I adjusted my attitude to be more "present" and less preoccupied with any future plan that relied on everything in the ride going just so. It was also great bc the same issues from Plantation cropped up for us to work through in a more productive setting.

- That xc ride and those issues helped me decide to tap Charlie's shoes for studs. I wrote about that process here, and a little more here, and also some other general hoof updates here.

- Best day of the month: We capped things off with a pace clinic at Loch Moy. This was just the ticket for getting our mojo back: focusing purely on getting Charlie moving out, in front of my leg. Reminding him that he was born to run, and reminding me to keep pushing forward for that pace. This felt like a turning point, finally!

finally, finally clicking back into gear again

- Moar volunteering!! This time at the cross country vet box for the CIC1/2* at Loch Moy. Another cool experience, esp bc I did a lot of spectating too!

- We checked off a major bucket-list item by schooling xc at Boyd Martin's Windurra! The ride was positive mileage for us, but I felt disappointed that it wasn't more productive. Tho hey, at least I got to change a trailer tire for the first time! lol...

- Even so, things were looking up. Charlie had two KILLER jump lessons this month - tackling 3'3+ course work with a renewed vigor and gusto that felt incredibly refreshing. Not even bragging, he looked like one million dollars. Lesson recaps and media here and here.

there goes charlie, just casually blowing my mind....
- Best day of the Month: Redemption at MCTA's Jenny Camp Starter Trial! Charlie busted out three beautiful phases (dressage, stadium, cross country). I confronted head on his resistance to leaving the start gate for xc, and.... that was it, we moved on, were over it, and had an AWESOME run! Finishing in 2nd place, solidifying Charlie's status as a legit N event horse.

- I meanwhile mused/ranted about the increasingly ridiculous marketing gimmicks used by companies tying to sell a product by preying on our insecurities as owners....

- Ooh and we hit up one of Loch Moy's twilight events! The stadium was easily Charlie's best yet N effort. And while I wussed out from schooling all the T xc jumps (ahem, except for that *one* giant ass table at the end!) it was more positive mileage over N fences.

- Then the month ended on an all-too-familiar low note when Charlie, AGAINST ALL ODDS, managed to puncture his hoof on a piece of mulch. While walking. In the woods. Wtf, sir. Wtf.

pictured: the best feeling in the world

- I knew from experience that Charlie would likely brew an abscess from the mulch incident. But until then, we forged ahead with planning our DIY outfit for our annual hunter pace tradition! Miracle of miracles, Charlie was sound for the pace!! And it was AWESOME!!!

- Plus he was schooling pretty darn well, and I mused about his optimal work schedule.

- We celebrated two years as a team. This horse, guys <3 <3 <3

- He's fragile tho, haha, and the abscess from the mulch arrived just in time to trash our plans for a 2-day show jump and xc clinic with legendary eventer Ralph Hill. I had tortured myself about signing up and finally took the plunge by entering T. Oh well... I audited instead. Le sigh. It was a good one tho - lots of useful, actionable takeaways!

yup, i'm obsessed with this horse 100%
- Once Charlie recovered, he went back to work like he never missed a day. He was schooling great and really stepping up for our jump lessons! And we finally got our first xc lesson in a year!! It was a bit of a bust, tho - we worked over the same N fences we'd seen all summer instead of the hoped-for challenge of facing more T stuff. Oh well! Charlie was foot perfect anyway ;)

- Meanwhile, more fun volunteering by scribing for the conformation phase at the FEH East Coast Championships on a rainy, chilly Sunday.

- Best day of the month: An awesome, lengthy trail ride from our barn all the way down to the nearby Gunpowder River with a group of barn mates. Beautiful day, beautiful scenery, and great horses made for the perfect end of summer ride.

hacking thru the river!

- Technically this happened in September, but I wrote about it in October so I'm counting it in this month. Sue me. Anyway: Charlie and I competed in our final event of the season, and won it on our dressage score!! It wasn't our best performance ever - dressage was elegant and obedient, but our stadium was stilted and out of sync, just one of those lucky clears. Cross country was pretty baller, tho <3

- That event was preceded by a likewise stilted and out of sync jump lesson, with Charlie's first real refusal in a lesson. We needed a system reset, and got exactly that when we FINALLY had a lesson with erstwhile coach Dan!! It was great, just what I needed to ride better so Charlie could perform better. Damn I miss these lessons something fierce...

- We checked in on our quarterly and yearly goals -- with the whole picture looking decidedly different (for the better!) compared to last time.

- Also wrote all about my favorite volunteer roles at events, and what's involved in each of them.

killin it over those roll tops!
- Charlie then aggravated his old splint injury in an alarmingly, hauntingly familiar way. I instantly had flashbacks to the previous year's similar trajectory that culminated in surgery. But after spending ALL the money on diagnostics, the vets assured me the horse was FINE.

- His timing was yet again extremely frustrating, as the injury coincided with our second attempt at a cross country clinic, entered at Training level. This time with Stephen Bradley. It's really starting to get old paying full price for these lessons, but then ending up only getting to audit...

- While Charlie enjoyed time off, I hit up some local big events - including Fair Hill's CCI2/3* as a spectator, and Waredaca's Classic 3DE as a volunteer. Both were super fun! I also ruminated on Charlie's impressive transformation over the last two years.

Best day of the month: Definitely riding in the pairs and teams classes at the Elkridge Harford Hunter Trials earlier in the month! This was a fun, low-key day to get out and jump some jumps and gallop across some fields. In other words, it was perfect <3

definitely a favorite picture from this past year <3

- Charlie continued to rest after his splint blow up, tho we managed to sneak in a gorgeous and quintessentially "Fall in Maryland" trail ride! Otherwise, tho, the horse sat around working on his Dad Bod 2.0 before finally getting back to being ridden.

- I spent this time reflecting on Charlie's progress, especially in the dressage ring. And decided, maybe Charlie is actually ready for First Level after all! I also amused myself by compiling our annual Best Of & Bloopers Video haha.... Hahaha...

one of my favorite views!
- Despite my worst fears, Charlie legitimately, honest-to-god seemed pretty darn sound after the splint scare. He got back to work (again) really nicely, including an excellent jump lesson focusing on grids and gymnastics, and an even better and highly anticipated return to dressage lessons with trainer C.

- Upper level event rider Matt Brown meanwhile wrote an excellent series at Chronicle of the Horse, with Part 1 addressing the impact goals have on mental health. This was a great article and gave me a lot of food for thought about how I structure my goals, hopes, and dreams.

- Mostly tho, it was a quiet month spent settling into the season's changing rhythms and shorter days.

- Best day of the month: SCHOOLING TRAINING FINALLY!! Lol.... After months of frustrated plans, we finally had a proper school over T cross country fences at Loch Moy's arena derby course. And Charlie just.... flew. Acted like jumping these giant jumps was the easiest thing in the world, as if he'd been doing it his whole life. God I just freakin love this horse tho!

there goes charlie, making that giant T fence look tiny....

- Obviously we're not even half way through this month yet, so it seems a little silly to summarize it haha. But that's never stopped me before ;)

- This is reflection season, after all, so it's fitting that I'd be taking time to review what all has happened this year. Like wrapping up my volunteer experiences throughout 2018. And the qualitative analysis of Charlie's 2018 dressage scores. Or these very same "Year in Review" posts haha (Part 1 can be found here).

- I also submitted our season results to MCTA for year end awards. Winning an event, and coming in second at one of MCTA's own events (meaning: double points!) has me hopeful for a strong finish!

- Ooh, and wrote about all the various relationships I have with professionals in the equine services industry, and polled the audience on how you approach that topic too. Got LOTS of really interesting and varied responses!

this horse <3 
- All this retrospective navel-gazing was made possible in part bc Charlie lost a shoe in the mud, and then was so pitifully hoof sore (despite getting the shoe tacked back on after only a day without it....) that he got yet another week off work, ugh.

- The riding year isn't entirely over yet, tho, with a few more big plans in the works. Obviously with horses everything is written in pencil, especially with a horse like Charlie, but the top of our list of Plans is a show jumping clinic with Phillip Dutton scheduled for mid month. My heart is set on Charlie coming with me, but if history is any guide, I may end up just auditing. We'll see.

- And naturally I still have to wrap up our goals for the year to see how that all shook out. My gut feeling tho was that, even with all the setbacks, Charlie really stepped up to the plate this year. I feel happy.


So there ya have it: 2018 summed up in all its glory. Obviously with horses anything and everything can change in a moment, so it's important to take time to enjoy and appreciate the good feelings when they come! Here's to a happy 2019 ;)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Charlie's Dressage: By the Numbers

As has become habit, I reviewed this year's dressage tests to see if anything can be learned by looking at the season's numbers from a holistic perspective. Charlie and I rode 7 dressage tests this year - 2 at Beginner Novice, and then 5 at Novice, all Test A.

charlie really got the hang of this game throughout the season!
The 2 BN tests were very different from each other: One was our earliest outing of the year, and the dressage court footing was literally frozen. That test was all 6's and nothing worth writing home about. The second BN test was at Full Moon Farm, where we had to scratch from jumping bc of Charlie's splint, but decided to make the dressage test really count. And it did - we were rewarded with a much nicer score.

But a sample of N = 2 isn't really that interesting, ya know? Plus it's kinda hard to compare movements and scores from two different tests. So let's instead look exclusively at the 5 USEA Novice Test A score sheets from the 2018 season, shall we?

All scores are recorded for the sake of transparency (tho I omitted the -2 error from our most recent test, since getting lost is unrelated to the movement itself). For each score, I've included a spark line to visualize the trend, provided the overall average, and calculated a categorization based on the standard deviation of scores for each movement.

"Consistent" movements had the lowest standard deviation among scores, "Variable" movements had the highest, and "Hit or Miss" movements were somewhere in between.

Right away, I'm pleased to see an Average Final Score of 33.86%. That's not earth shattering by any means, but it's on the better side of "Satisfactory" (40.0%). And as we have seen this year, if Charlie can pair that kind of score with clear jumping, it often puts us within striking distance of the top placings.

I then went through each of the movements to group them by gait or type:

The Trot (4) and Transition (6) movements are the most prevalent in this test according to my classification. Transitions are self explanatory, covering any change of gait (but not including the change from free to medium walk). Trot covers the circles obviously, and also the changes of direction (two loop serpentine and diagonal).

Walk includes the free and medium walk scores, Canter includes its two circles, and the Exit includes the center line turn and final halt.

Right away, we can start seeing a more clear picture of how judges actually perceive our tests. Charlie often enters the ring well, offering a good first impression to the judge. That impression isn't always durable tho, something worth thinking about.

Our individual gaits scores are shockingly similar, with canter just barely edging out the other two. The biggest standout, tho? That average Transition score. Ouch. Considering there are 6 movements classified as such in this test, that's the biggest drag on the overall score. Makes it pretty clear what needs work, eh? Lol....

Next, let's look at our relative consistency:

These are the 7 movements that had the lowest standard deviation among scores -- meaning they were the most consistent (for the most part, a range of about half a point). The list is sorted by average, starting with the consistently good and ending with the consistently bad.

The good? There's that entrance again! Apparently that's a reasonably reliable 7. Obviously it pleases me to see the Rider score at the consistently good end of the spectrum too.

The A-C two loop serpentine is interesting too bc it basically scores a 6.5, but none of the judges this year particularly liked how we did it. Early in the year I didn't quite hit that moment of straightness between the two loops, and by the end of the year I wasn't quite circular enough at the beginning and end. So clearly I still have room to improve my geometry here, which makes me believe this score, tho consistent, could still climb with just a little more work.

Next on the list is our left lead canter circle - the first canter of the test. I'm happy this score is consistent, but Charlie has a better-than-6.5 canter. It usually takes me until the second circle to remember to ride it tho.

Last three are all transitions. And they're all..... consistently bad haha. Like, I'll take a consistent 6+.... But.... Yea. Needs work haha.

Next we see the grouping with a little bit of a wider range in how we scored (generally, about a 1 point range). Again, sorted from best to worst. What this tells me is that each of these could be better - we've demonstrably scored well on them as evidenced by that higher standard deviation score. But we can also screw them up pretty good too haha.

Honestly it always surprises me to see Charlie get such high Gaits scores. He's not an extravagant mover. He's not what you would think of as "fancy." But he's correct and developing into a very elegant picture.

Generally speaking, there's a lot of really well scoring movements in this grouping. All but the last two average 6.5+. Obviously tho, a 1pt swing in any or many of these scores can have a big impact on final score. So to me, I read this as a bit of a cautionary tale: 11 of 21 of this test's movements are hit or miss. They can be great but they can also be crappy if I'm too complacent.

In particular, all those trot scores stand out (and the Impulsion collective). In a lot of these tests I've sacrificed some oomph from Charlie's trot in order to get a little more suppleness and balance. We usually get dinged for that, tho, and I think Charlie's finally getting strong and consistent enough to carry a bit of a bigger, brighter trot into his tests. That could be the difference maker, maybe.

Also, halts haha. We're crooked always. That's just plain old lazy riding, Emma. It could be so much better!

Lastly, let's look at the movements with the highest variability in scores (with a range of about 2 points). I'm honestly not going to read too deeply into it tho. These are the movements for which the judge at Plantation gave us 8s - our only 8s (and 7.5s, for that matter) of the season.

Plantation remains our record best score on this test, in large part due to those 8s, but it simultaneously was not a test I felt great about (and obvi the rest of the day proved that the bad feeling was justified....).

Still, tho, there's something worth thinking about here. That right lead canter circle makes sense as a high scoring movement bc it's usually at this point in the test that I remember to sit up and show Charlie's canter off to the judge. I feel like a skipping record saying this, but Charlie really should score better on his canters. This just confirms that in my mind.

Finally, our center line turns have improved greatly - thanks in large part to spending a winter turning up the center line of our 20x40m indoor arena for grids lol. They're hard tho and sometimes we're unbalanced. That free walk tho? Like the canter, Charlie has a very good walk. Sometimes we get distracted tho, and sometimes I create some rigid bracing in his step.

always useful to get some input from the judge!
So there ya have it: a comprehensive quantitative analysis of Charlie's 2018 season of Novice dressage tests. Last year's summary is here, for anyone interested.

Biggest takeaway? Transitions transitions transitions haha. Thank goodness it's boot camp season, right?? Anyone else getting ready for dressage boot camp this winter? What will you be working on?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

playing the field: equine service industry

As most of you know, Charlie is my first horse.

I've been obsessed with horses from a very young age, finally coerced my parents into letting me take lessons once I was around 10ish, began helping out at my lesson barn unofficially soon after that, then officially drew a paycheck the moment I was eligible for a workers permit under Maryland state law.

Since then, I've never looked back. I've been a paid employee at three farms, and have had trade agreements with another 2-3 over the years (generally: working shifts in exchange for free saddle time or lessons at an agreed upon rate).

pictures today of random buildings. this is one of the ruins at Fair Hill, recently fenced in presumably bc of deteriorating stability
This has granted me a LOT of varied experiences in the horse world when it comes to the care and management of horses. It helps that I generally tend to be curious and process-oriented, so I've always asked a lot of questions about the hows whats and whys of horse care.

Still tho, there are aspects of horse care and management that just aren't very visible to non-owners. Lots of things I never really had to think about, considering someone else always made the decisions while I carried out orders.

Leasing Isabel was my first chance to peer behind the curtain. With her, I learned more about managing a horse's changeable nutritional needs. Had to stay on top of her farrier schedule. Learned more about making decisions on small things like blanketing and body work.

meanwhile, here's maybe a more familiar backdrop: the ancient hay barn outside charlie's stable
Even so, there was still a whole 'nother world waiting for me to finally, as a fully fledged adult in my 30s, step into the role of OWNER.

Charlie, for his part, has been very thorough in his supervision of my education lol. He has made it his business to ensure I attain at least some small degree of hands-on experience with as many aspects of horse care as possible.

Little things like wraps and bandages. Wound care. Routine vaccinations. Lameness evals and nerve blocks. All things hoof management - routine or otherwise. Antibiotics. Colic treatment. Joint injections. Actual surgery. Ya know. The works haha.

My transition into DECISION MAKER was gentle enough, luckily, as Charlie's first boarding barn was very organized and hands-on when it came to routine care. For instance, they coordinated all the regular shots and vaccinations and maintained the farrier schedule. I could ask for changes as needed, or confirm preferences and what have you, but they kept records and ensured everything that needed to happen actually, ya know, happened.

oh snap, the barn is gone!! kinda bittersweet to see it go.... 
Charlie's barn now is ..... decidedly less centralized haha. There's nobody there keeping a record of when my horse's last fecal was done. Reminding me to put my horse on the list for the farrier. Or prodding me to schedule fall shots.

Which is fine, right? Like. At the end of the day, he's my horse and I accept full responsibility for the administration of his care. But ya know. I still feel kinda new to this and don't have a full grasp on everything yet. Which explains why Charlie was one of the last horses in the barn to get his fall shots this year haha (in my defense, there was one other straggler who got in on our appt too, so we weren't the actual last!).

In any case, last spring there was a list hanging on the board in the barn for horses to sign up for spring shots, so I just added Charlie. Never mind that it was with a vet we had never used before (this area is absolutely rich in high quality vets, throw a rock in any direction and you'll hit half a dozen reputable practices!). So for the fall shots, I scheduled the same practice. Easy peasy!

It got me thinking tho.

the amish did a super fast job of laying a new concrete pad and framing up the replacement barn
I did the math, and Charlie's seen vets from no fewer than four practices since he moved to this new barn (not counting the vets used by the last barn).

There's the vet who did his PPE, whom I've continued to use for joint injections.

Then another vet who is extremely popular at my barn and thus happens to be on the premises at least weekly, if not more often. That makes it super easy to hop on to someone's existing appt to split the farm call fee, for instance. So she's handled a lot of Charlie's little dents and dings, and has been my go-to for restocking medications.

Then another another vet who is also extremely popular at my barn haha, whom I called for Charlie's latest round of "What the ever loving fuck is wrong with his splint tho??"

And finally, this vet (also extremely popular at my barn lol, what can I say but that it's a big barn with a lot of opinions!), who has been handling Charlie's routine shots etc.

ain't it purdy?!? 
I can honestly say, after all the above, that if someone were to ask "Who is your vet?" I.... wouldn't really have an answer.

I'm not sure that's super normal in the horse world, or if it's more just kinda my own personal modus operandi.

For instance, I've had a similar approach with trainers. For most of my riding life through college, I rode in structured lesson programs. Trainers called the shots, that's just how it went. I loved my trainer in college and was 100% cool with my riding life following her direction.

Fast forward to the Isabel days tho, and things started shifting. There weren't any trainers at Isabel's barn, but I was still taking lessons at another h/j barn at the same time. When I decided to try pursuing lessons with Isabel, my first idea was to bring that h/j coach out to Isabel's farm. A couple barn mates were down too, but negotiations stalled and eventually fizzled.

Realistically, it made sense. That trainer had a bustling program at her own barn, and it wasn't super worth her while to take the time to travel. Esp not at the prices we were looking to pay.

ta da!! fresh new barn! really jazzes up the place, dontcha think?
From there tho, the gears in my head really started turning and (thanks in no small part to the inspiration derived from this blogging community, wherein riders like JenJ nonchalantly hauled out to weekly lessons like nbd) I ultimately decided to invest in my truck and trailer.

Thus began my fairly independent foray into fitting trainers into *my* riding program, vs the other way around. Over the years I've ridden with many different trainers, and eventually settled on a grouping that seems to work well for me.

Throughout this, tho, I never really felt like I was "cheating" on a trainer. Or like I was going behind anybody's back, or anything like that.

Rather, I've worked with the trainers who seem to mesh well with me and my horse. And aside from the standing weekly lesson with Trainer P, I generally just schedule each trainer when the circumstances are right.

it looks even better when it's full of hay haha
This arrangement isn't super unusual, I don't think. Tho it does mean that many decisions that might often go to a trainer for a final say (like which shows to attend, or when to move up) are instead made mostly at my own discretion.

If we're being honest, probably the only professionals in the equine services industry that I haven't jumped around with are farriers. Mostly bc I tend to see their relationship with the horses as a little bit unique: a good farrier theoretically has a longer term plan or direction for the horse's hooves. If the plan is working, I would rather not mess with it haha!

Plus maybe it's just me but some farriers seem to have.... a little more of an ego than the typical vet. So I feel like they're maybe less likely to come out for an unscheduled appt to reset a lost shoe if you're not already paying them on the regular.

Generally, tho, aside from farriers, I've kinda spread the love with the practitioners who care for Charlie. Like, I try to be friendly and organized, and I pay my bills in full on time. So... I can't really see any reason why any of these pros would be bothered by the knowledge that they're "not the only one" or whatever.

Still, tho, I'm curious about how common this actually is haha. Like maybe it's so easy to use so many different pros at my convenience bc Maryland has such a dense population of world class professionals? So maybe in a different area there would be less choice and therefore less likelihood to use so many different vets or trainers or saddle fitters or body workers, etc etc etc?

cha cha cha changes, yo!
Do you have a "One & Only" when it comes to your horse's vet work? Or do you play the field, using different vets for different purposes? Or maybe you were forced to have to look around a bit after needing to fire a vet? Or maybe you board at a farm that has a standard vet practice that everybody uses?

Do you feel like there are advantages / disadvantages to using always the same professionals for your horse's care, vs switching around a bit?

And same line of questioning for training too - do you ride primarily with one coach? Or with many? Has this depended on your boarding situation?

Do you see variety in instruction as being very different from variety in other aspects of care like vet work? As in, you'd ride with multiple trainers but only ever trust your vet work to the one practice? Or vice versa?

Would you consider yourself as being more "part of a program" vs more independent? Why? And what advantages / disadvantages do you see in your situation when it comes to optimizing the management and administration of your horse's care?

This relatively new horse owner is curious to hear your perspective!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Year in Review: Part 1

This year was a biggie for me and Charlie. In the past 12 months, I learned more about myself as a rider, and about what kind of horse Charlie could be, than I ever expected. And am grateful to have so many experiences documented here on ye olde blog to look back on and reflect.

As part of that effort, I wanted to summarize everything that happened - all the highlights and in-between moments - into a bulleted round-up of links. Mostly bc there are a lot of great memories here, and now all the links are in one place in case you missed something or want to reread.

More than that, tho, it's inevitable that the year's end can put a slightly different focus or perspective on everything that happened. That whole "Hindsight is 20-20" thing. Knowing what I know now, about myself, about Charlie, about how the year went, it's interesting to see what sticks out to me as important moments. And even more interesting to see how my feelings about any given event have changed over time....

So with that in mind, here's a summary recap of Charlie's and my first six months of 2018!

starting off the year grateful for this amazing horse! also fun fact: the first half of the year saw me finally lose the 35lbs gained after breaking my leg.... good riddance!
- I reintroduced quarterly goals to the blog, sketching out a moderately ambitious plan that included competently schooling all of First Level dressage and most of Training Level eventing by the end of the year.

- My truck's brake lines blew, again, sparking a little conversation with myself that was equal parts hilarity and tragedy....

- I wrote more about how the rumors of dangerous "too cold to ride" weather were greatly exaggerated (here and here)

pictured: dangerous murderous frozen ground is gonna kill yo horse! 
- Mostly tho, we were stuck riding in the indoor, tho at least that meant mucho grid practice (yes, those are all different links lol)! Oooh, except for that one random day we got to jump outside in January!

- Oh AND!! I bought my first really nice piece of tack: my trainer's custom Hulsebos dressage saddle! And proceeded to have an excellent bio-mechanics focused dressage lesson in it!

- Best day of the month: Schooling the arena cross country courses at Loch Moy! Charlie's first real outing since his surgery, and he rocketed around the BN course like a boss.

this was a very special day <3

- I don't always blog about trail riding bc..... we do it a LOT haha. Sometimes tho, I like the photo dumps ;)

- Moar jumping outdoors!!!! Wherein Charlie got to play with his biggest jumps since surgery!

- Also moar jumping grids inside, and it was kinda getting old....

- Aaaaaand then Charlie stepped on a giant mother fucking roofing nail and my world legitimately stopped spinning for a second there. Amazingly tho, there was no serious damage or injury.

this picture still has the power to send chills down my spine....
- The rest of this month was all about that fallout, as Charlie eventually abscessed, then took off the shoe on his support limb, seemed to recover, but then subsequently abscessed in that other hoof too. It was.... an ordeal.

- Meanwhile, I got to go ride Isabel!! And bought more boring stuff like horse blankets! And hacked around in the snow!! And mused about this amazing blogging community and the unexpectedly deep impact it's had on my life.

- Best day of the month: Doing a little photo shoot with Charlie in his new Dark Jewel Designs V-Shaped browband. He was still lame at this point, but it was fun imagining a not-so-distant future where he would be sound and the weather would be nice and we could horse show again!

handsome Charlie <3

- Charlie was recovered and getting back into work. With yet another set of rides that reaffirmed yet again why I'm so freakin crazy about this horse. Including hitting up our home xc course to bop around the ditches / banks / water just for funsies <3

- I bought new country boots - my Saxon Lewes boots - which I continue to adore and wear constantly in all manner of weather and muck, and they still look great!

- Also spent some time reflecting on how much Charlie taught me in our first 18months together.

tried to find a higher quality image for this round up.... but i STILL remember the feeling i had during this ride, and it was just so so good <3 so the blurry pic makes the cut lol
- Went along as support crew for my friends at one of Loch Moy's arena eventing derbies, did more hacking, and got excited about scheduling all manner of fun volunteer opportunities for the coming year.

- Then when Charlie finally seemed to be back in fighting form, we hit up our home xc course for real, jumping most of the BN course in pretty good form and taking 8,000 Happy Pictures while we were at it!

- So, naturally, *drumroll* I held my breath and sent in our entry for our first event of the season!

- Best day of the month: Definitely that first BN of the year at Loch Moy haha. It wasn't a picture perfect outing, and a lot of people weren't particularly impressed with Charlie's decidedly wild form on cross country, but it felt for all the world to me like a validation that Charlie could and would be an absolute cross country power house!

who said brontosauruses can't be cute too ?!? that face tho... <3

- I checked in on the status of our quarterly and year-long goals.

- Also waxed poetic about how much Charlie inspires me to start dreaming big again.... all while sharing so many more awesome pictures from our season opener the week prior.

- Plus dug more into my philosophy on what it takes to keep progressing, to keep moving forward, to put in what you want to get out. And got fairly specific on what needed to happen next for Charlie in terms of training (hint: brakes for him haha, and ever more consistency from me!)

- Then Charlie popped another splint and we subsequently scratched from the jumping phases at Full Moon Farm's Spring Thing, womp. We did the dressage tho, and it was good!

pictured: a retired racehorse who takes the "retired" part a litttttle too seriously haha
- While Charlie recovered, I amused myself by spectating at Fair Hill's CIC 1*, and playing around with new apps to improve the xc course walking experience. Deconstructed course walks here (T @ Fair Hill) and here (N @ Plantation).

- Meanwhile, Charlie got some joint maintenance, and I wrote more about how he's dressing in the mercurial spring. Biggest finding? Damn but I LOVE that Snuggy Hoods Satin Shoulder Guard for preventing shoulder rubs! That thing is STILL going strong, too!

- Ooooooh and for no reason other than he's pretty, Charlie made the front page of US Eventing!!

- AND!!! I went to the Land Rover Kentucky 3DE CCI 4*!!!!

- Best day of the month: FINALLY trail riding with Michelle and Sarah at Fair Hill!!! What a great day, guys <3

trail riding at fair hill!!! 

- Actually wrote about Kentucky haha. Specifically: the shopping post is here. And here's the cross country media + video + a mild diatribe on social media's seemingly insatiable appetite for outrage and snatching negativity and drama from the jaws of an otherwise overwhelmingly positive event....

- I used my new course walking apps to get more serious about Charlie's conditioning work! Hacking + trot sets GALORE lol.

- Charlie got a little belly achy as the fresh grass came up, but managed to keep making steady progress in his flat work. Like learning the beginnings of lengthenings!

kentucky compilation video! icymi!!

- Finally got out for our second proper xc school of the season following MCTA's recognized event at Shawan Downs. Charlie tackled most of the N course like a seasoned veteran! That decided it: the move up was upon us!

- Meanwhile, we adjusted Charlie's hoof care and added leather pads as the ground hardened for the season. And I braced myself for moving house for the first time in a decade.... And more hacking. Always with the hacking.

- Charlie, for his part, kept up the good work in our flat work schooling (particularly that pesky half halt!) and single dressage lesson, and officially jumped his first 3'3 fence in a lesson!

- Best day of the month: Finally, all that preparation led up to the big event, the day I had been climbing toward since basically 2015: Charlie moved up to Novice at Loch Moy! Each phase got it's own post replete with gorgeous photos from Austen (dressage, show jumping, cross country), but to say I was walking on air would be the understatement of the century!

novice corner ain't no thang for charlie !!!

- Naturally, I kicked off this next month still riding the high of achieving a hard fought goal.

- No rest for the weary, tho, and we got right back to jump lessons with our second attempt at Novice coming up fast on the calendar.

- Turned out tho, those stratospheric highs from our first Novice at Loch Moy were immediately punctuated by the lowest lows: our second N at Plantation was an unmitigated disaster. Each phase was worse than the one before, with Charlie racking up his first real refusals on cross country before straight up quitting while half way over the most innocuous red coop....

rough day at plantation. you can't see the feelings, but they are there and they are many
- I was completely emotionally unprepared for the blow Plantation dealt us, and for wrestling all that fresh self doubt. This necessitated serious soul searching about how to move forward, including accepting responsibility for the holes in Charlie's training, and forging a new plan.

- The rest of the month was .... mostly spent quietly regrouping. Charlie acclimated to his new summer pasture and I toyed with the idea of blowing my budget on the whim that maybe a new saddle would fix our training issues (hint: not likely).

- Charlie, for his part, was a good boy. And was actually a super star in our next jumping lesson focused on all manner of gymnastics and grids!

- Frankly, the horse seemed no worse for the wear - clearly I was the one bogged down in baggage from Plantation. So it would be up to me to dig back out again....

- Best day of the month: Charlie's former owner from the track came to visit!!

charlie's clearly found his chill, the big q is whether i'd find mine....


Whew, those first six months were definitely a bit of a roller coaster! Stay tuned for Part 2 (and our eventual redemption) soon!

Monday, December 3, 2018

2018 Volunteering Wrap Up

This weekend I volunteered probably for the last time this calendar year, at Loch Moy's Donation Derby. The event took place over those three giant arenas Charlie and I schooled last week, and all the competitors were dressed to the nines in all manner of Christmas decorations. Bells, tinsel, reindeer antlers, elf shoes, horse body paint.... You name it, we saw it!.

Each arena was filled with mostly cross country jumps, but a few stadium jumps too. My role was super easy: I was positioned as a steward in the middle of the three rings, which just had two stadium jumps. My job was to reset dropped rails, adjust the heights for each level, and also to clear out the poles and itsy cross rails from the first ground pole division.

one of my volunteer prizes from Sara this year. hard to express just how much i love this calendar!
It was a super fun event, everyone seemed to have a blast. And it seemed like the perfect way to cap off my busiest year of event volunteering to date.

this does not include the 5 schooling shows i volunteered for at my own barn 
As you may remember, Sara from Roaming Rider hosted a Volunteer Challenge this year. Participants were encouraged on a monthly and quarterly basis to get out and give back at every opportunity that presented itself, in any capacity.

Turns out, it was just the nudge I needed to take this activity I've always enjoyed a little more seriously. I honestly really enjoy being at horse shows. I love the atmosphere, love the vibes. It's just a great feeling being out there to watch so many riders go and Do the Things with their horses lol.

dressage scribin, yo!
Originally I planned to volunteer in some capacity at least once each in 7 of the 12 month calendar year, and ended up getting closer to 10 of 12. It's hard to remember exactly bc the small schooling dressage shows and the starter trials at my own barn weren't organized through the USEA Volunteer Dashboard, so I can't actually remember those details lol.

Suffice it to say, tho, that it ended up being a lot of hours. All told, I spent the equivalent of two full time work weeks volunteering in 2018. This included spending time in a lot of new roles, learning about different classes. Like the FEH and YEH classes, and the cross country vet box at FEI events.

 the two purple boxes add up to my total hours for the year, plus the hours from the 5 shows not reflected thru the dashboard
The most prolific volunteers across the country accumulated many, many more hours than I did lol. The folks at the top of the leaderboards had at least 100+ hrs each, and included folks in roles like EMT, unpaid judge, or TD. The Top 10 nationally had a cumulative total of nearly 2,000 hrs, otherwise known as almost a full year's worth of work. 

But I was still pretty proud to end the year toward the top of some lists. There are different rankings categories, tho I'm not sure each category has any actual recognition associated with it.

jump judgin, yo!
Actually, from what I can tell from my research, there's very little recognition associated with any volunteering outside of like, the Top 10 nationally. Tho the top prize is a pretty substantial chunk of change, I believe.

If it were up to me, I'd probably argue that it'd be more valuable to spread the love a little farther - even if it's just with like, t-shirts or hats or something lol. But nobody asked me ;)

just this, again and again and again
I'm satisfied enough to look at that rankings board and feel like maybe I made a difference at events this year. In an ideal world, my hopes as a volunteer are twofold:

-One is to help organizers feel less stressed and more.... organized lol, so that they continue to want to offer so many awesome events.

- and Two is to help facilitate positive, fun experiences for riders and their horses. Whether this is helping calm their nerves and answer their questions in the warm up ring, or even just taking careful clear notes as a scribe or jump judge.

More than anything, tho, I really enjoyed getting out to so many events this past year and learning so much more about the machinations of how these events work. Hopefully next year will include a lot of volunteer opportunities too. Actually there are still a couple more areas within the realm of event planning and design that I'm interested in pursuing additional educational opportunities.

So we'll see what happens. For now, it's a wrap on the 2018 volunteer year!!