Thursday, June 13, 2019

existential crisis: dressage edition

I never really understood why people would be so nervous before dressage tests. We had a friendly at-home schooling show this weekend, where I spent the morning stewarding the warm up and working the in gate. And was kinda amused (in a friendly way, I promise) by the riders who told me how worried, nervous or anxious they were for their tests.

After riding my own test (yes, singular) in the afternoon, tho, maybe I get it now.

ignore my resting bitch concentration face and just focus on how goddamn handsome this hunk of horse is!
Maybe the worry isn't so much related to fear that something physically bad will happen during the test. Like in cross country where you might legitimately worry that if you miss at the trakehner, you'll end up in the ditch....

No, no, I'm coming to realize that might not be exactly the same type of visceral fear that dressage riders experience before their tests.

charlie's friends have been using him as a scratching post. it's ridiculous, they rub up and down on his tail and he just takes it. but his poor tail tho, grrrrr!
Instead, it's maybe more existential than that. Like, the fear that the judge will strike you down from on high. Crucify you for even daring to present this mess of training and horsemanship to her. Or question the very bedrock foundation of everything you thought was true about your own precious unicorn, who in her opinion maybe more closely resembles some bedraggled cart nag you picked up from the Amish.

that mane is lookin good tho!! still a little short for these braids but i'm feeling good about my first effort!
Does that sound overly dramatic? Maybe. But did I spend the rest of the afternoon after my ride close to (or in) tears and texting my trainers in a panic that, "was I all wrong about Charlie?" and "who am I trying to kid here?" and "what was I even thinking?" .....Also maybe.

gosh i just love him tho <3
The worst part was that I didn't even think the test was that bad. Like, sure we trantered in one lengthening and broke in the next. And we jigged in the walk, biffed some geometry, and carried a fair amount of tension throughout... Definitely not a 60%+ score, but hopefully well-enough presented to provoke actionable, constructive feedback.

not perfect, but not bad either! #mymotto
Overall, I honestly thought it was a reasonable first effort. The horse did the things, accomplished the movements (more or less), and didn't feel over faced in doing so. And I promise - I did not tell Charlie what the judge thought of us. He has no idea, he thinks he was a Good Boy, and I have every intention of keeping it that way haha.

a wild astrid appears!
There's the rub, tho, right? Like, there's so much daylight between how I perceive the horse and how strangers see him. All I see is how far he's come, how hard he tries. I'm basically blind to so many of his limitations and weaknesses, bc all I see is the progress we've made on them.

I understand completely that judges will only evaluate what you show them in that particular test, in that moment. No reminders needed there, I assure you. There's just an alarmingly large gap between my expectations and the judge's reality.

charlie was 100% not expecting to see those huskies suddenly appear out of the doorway during our warm up lol.... pc Austen Gage
Tho ya know. In hindsight, it's easier to maybe pick up some of the pieces and put that particular puzzle back together. I expected Charlie to maybe be a bit dull, tired, and/or stiff from the pace clinic. Which, realistically, a careful dressage ride at home would generally be the perfect remedy for that anyway, even if it meant for lesser scores in the test, ya know?

welcome one and all to the grand series of cherry-picked video stills!!! here we see the elusive dressage brontosaurus preparing for the right handed 10m half circle
What I didn't quite see coming was the foot-soreness, tho, which maybe I should have since I've already been wondering when the time would come to put him in front pads... (Hint: that time is now, Emma! D'oh!)

We warmed up in the indoor which is considerably softer footing than the dressage court, so it wasn't maybe as apparent anyway. And of course the first movement in 1-1 is that damn 10m half circle, naturally to the left, our weaker direction at present. It's pretttttty hard to hide anything in a 10m half turn haha, especially when you ride a brontosaurus.

everything is better when we can move out tho. here we are earning a 4 after trantering for most of this lengthening
My guess is that the judge saw our few lurch-y steps in that early movement and was immediately on the look-out for any other signs of irregularity. Which.... ya know, with a horse like Charlie, if you're looking for it you WILL find it. In those situations, you can expect to have some points taken off from basically every movement -- your 6 becomes a 5 or 4, for instance -- and to have the judge recommend you scratch your second test. Which, naturally, I did.

i don't even care tho, i love him anyway <3
It's frustrating tho, ya know? Like, a little magic cushion and the horse was righter than rain the next day. It's not exactly normal practice to be galloping the day before dressage tests anyway, that's just how it worked out this weekend. And anyway, once he's in pads again the issue resolves completely.

But them's the breaks, I guess. Like I never expected to do well in the test, but I *was* hopeful to get useful constructive feedback on how to improve. Instead of getting comments that make me question why I even try with this horse in the first place.... Sigh.

sir, maybe you would be more impressive if you kicked up less dust. #justsayin
It's funny tho -- looking back on it, it was at this same show two years ago where I rode a much greener Charlie in the BN tests. And the judge was basically like, "You need to go back to basics. And maybe don't even jump this horse." So maybe I just have a particularly bad track record with this particular organization's shows?? Ha....

wheeeee canter lengthening!!
And maybe I also need to remember my philosophy back then too, bc it definitely still fits now:

"So I can objectively look at where Charlie and I are in our dressage training and kinda shrug like, 'ok so we kinda suck,' but it's not demoralizing. And it's not like.... A problem, ya know? It's just where we are, there's just more work to do."

lol we also cantererd in this lengthening, whoops
Bc yea. As much as it felt like a complete existential crisis having that judge look deep into my soul and make me question every choice I made with this horse.... Well. Let's be real. It's not the actual end of the world to have a bad day. Especially when the problems are known and fixable.

why does this sometimes feel like facing off with the enemy?!?
I felt better tho looking at the scores posted online after the fact too haha. It turns out they were awarding ribbons not by how you stacked up against the others in your class, but by where your test score fell within certain ranges. So a score above such and such percent would get 1st, then scores in the next range would get 2nd, etc.

in reality tho, it's just about me and this horse. he's my boy and that's all that matters.
My score earned us a 4th if that tells you anything (and No, I'm not sharing my sheet haha, I don't want to and you can't make me!), but actually we had the higher score in our class of 2 by the sliiiiiightest of margins lol. Throughout the whole day, there were zero 1sts, roughly a dozen 2nds, and all the rest were 3rds and 4ths. With a whole half a dozen scores worse than my own....

thanks frens for talking me off the ledge <3 <3 <3
So idk. Maybe that judge was kinda a B lol. And maybe I shouldn't let the fact that she's an "r" judge shakeup my mindset or undermine what I already know to be true about Charlie.

Charlie is a good boy. He CAN do the dressage, and he WILL keep getting better. I have good strategies in place already for maintaining him and managing his high mileage body, and working on our training will only continue to make him stronger and healthier.

And hey, if all else fails, he looks damn good in braids, amirite?? #atleastwegotnicepictures

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

gallop training!

This past weekend one of our resident pros, upper level event rider KB, hosted a low key pace clinic on farm. I did a pace clinic with Kelly Williams at Loch Moy last summer and it was the perfect ride to get my and Charlie's good juju flowing again after the Plantation catastrophe.

So obviously I was super gung ho to sign up for another one this year too!

picked up this cheapie timex watch off amazon months and months ago
I even brought my own little dinky sports watch haha. This one isn't as fancy as the $$$$ purpose-specific watches you see most pros and serious competitors wearing.... But it gets the job done.

To date, I've never even ridden a timed cross country course, let alone worn a watch haha. So shelling out for the top tier equipment seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse, ya know what I mean? For now, any watch with a timer and a screen big enough to see in motion will do.

being stunningly handsome isn't exactly a requirement for galloping, but it sure helps!
At last year's clinic, we worked on a roughly 1,000m oval course with logs and small jumps spaced at ~100m intervals. The clinician then instructed us on which speeds she wanted us to work on (everyone in the group was a little different -- it's very easy to dial in to each rider's needs with this format!) and then told us where our respective minute markers would be on the course.

there goes brontosaurus charlie getting out-walked by his spicy little nugget friend!
I was kinda hoping we'd do a similar format this time around, but actually KB took a very different approach to setting the track that proved really useful as it addressed different factors.

Specifically - there were no jumps this time, and the track was FAR from being a simple oval or out-n-back haha. Instead, KB mowed a fairly narrow path that included two big long straight uphill pulls, but also a couple downhills, more than a few turns and curves, PLUS two devilish off-camber rollbacks.

track is by design quite different from a basic oval and included some tricky off-camber turns!
orange dots reflect minute markers for Training speed
Those two red loops closest to the top of the picture frame above were extremely tight haha, especially on a horse like Charlie who has a near magnetic draw back toward the barn. The mowed path was relatively flat, but if you overshot the turn you were very quickly onto off-camber slopes, making the turn even harder.

The parts of the track closest to the bottom of the picture, following the fence line and road, were mostly smooth straight pulls on nicely rising ground. Tho you can see in the second half of the track, KB actually mowed the path around a little log so that we still had to adjust and steer.

galloping through the mid section of the track, away from the barn
Finally, KB placed white stakes in the ground at the first minute markers for BN, N and T speeds. I marked out roughly where the T stake was as an orange dot on the map (it's also just out of frame in front of Charlie in the pic abovev), and the N and BN stakes were just a bit earlier on that first loop.

The stake set at the finish line was positioned to be at exactly 2min for T speeds, and KB just told riders working on different speeds what their finish time should be.  

trying to keep my position up and forward even when i'm really pushing and driving charlie for more
We walked the full track as a group first, while KB explained each of the features and talked about the importance of position.

Specifically, she was very adamant that riders needed to be staying off the horse's back as much as possible as that alone is the most tiring for horses. Even for a strong horse, you really want to limit the amount of time spent on his back, but can adjust your shoulder and hand position to give you more options.

homeboy never really looks like he's in a hurry haha. the trick is to look at his tail for an indication of relative speed LOL
She also talked about the importance of not really messing too much with the horse's natural galloping style. Like, it's one thing if it's a very young green horse who doesn't really have an established way of going yet, or if it's a very incorrect horse.

But otherwise, by and large, you want to mostly let the horse travel in his own natural style. This allows the horse to be his most efficient. Compared to, say, if you try to change the horse's way of going (maybe by making him carry his head more up, or more down, or making him travel specifically on one lead or another) you're likelier to tire him out faster.

there we go big guy, now you're haulin ass!!
Tho of course, it's important to note here that she's distinguishing between competition and conditioning / fitness work. In your training you can address some of those details if you think it's important for improving your horse, but once out on course, the objective should be smooth, streamlined efficiency.

Anyway. After we walked the track, we did a brief warm up in the front field (visible on the map above haha) where KB assessed our positions etc. Despite being a race horse, Charlie can be a bit of a lug to get going, and I often find myself sitting down and behind him in an effort to drive him forward. This is counterproductive, however, so I really had to work to stay out of the tack even as I pushed for more.

sorry for the blur.... but you can at least get a sense of what T speed looks like with charlie
To get started with the gallop, we did just the first half of the course up to the first set of minute markers. Our plan here was to basically aim for our "normal" rhythm, and see where that got us by the minute markers. For me and Charlie, I did push him out a bit more than I normally do in competition, but not much. And we were well within the N speed range for this.

So that was kinda reassuring that the speed that feels normal / good to me right now is appropriate for our current level of competition (even if, ya know, I sometimes need to remind myself to ride more forward on course! lol...).

this is the final leg of the course after rounding the last turn, as we speed to the finish
Next up, we put the whole course together but this time aiming specifically for the T minute markers. I knew I was going to really push Charlie out for this, not letting off the gas at all especially through the first half. Tho this meant that I wayyyyyyy overshot both of those tight rollback turns. Despite studding up for this clinic, those turns were still just super tricky esp being off-camber.

I still made the time tho, which was good to know. In my mind I was thinking it was reassuring to know that we could still make the time just by speed even if we missed the turns and ended up covering more ground.

tired pony was happy to rest under the mulberry tree afterward
KB wanted better than that, tho. The whole reason she had put those turns on the course was for us to learn how to adjust speeds as we go, while maintaining an appropriate average speed.

Most cross country courses, especially at the upper levels, can't actually be safely jumped all at the same speeds. Or even at the listed speed for that level. Some combinations demand a more collected canter, so riders have to adjust their speeds appropriately, but then make up for that time by going over speed during the more open galloping sections.

For a masterclass example of how speed changes throughout a course, check out literally any of Ingrid Klimke's SAP-enabled helmet cam videos. There's a recent example from her ERM round a couple days ago, tho I also wrote about this topic with a linked video here too.

wherein he mayyyyy or may not have teased his barn mates with his freedom lol
So anyway. KB wanted me to go back and redo the second half of the track again, but this time adjust my canter appropriately in order to stay within the mowed track. But still make time.

And? Actually it worked out! I had to slow Charlie wayyyyyyy down for the turn, and had biffed the settings on my watch so I wasn't timing the run. Honestly I figured we'd be too slow, but actually KB said we were right on the dot.

does Elephant look jealous?
That, for me, is probably the biggest takeaway. Charlie never looks very fast in videos (I have video from this clinic but it's vertical and very far away, so I'm not sure how useful it is beyond the gif above). He's certainly nowhere near his top gear at T speeds. Honestly I often look at videos of us going and get frustrated with myself bc I feel like we're going fast, but there he is on video loping around like a hunter.

EXCEPT. Turns out. Charlie's "lope" is actually quite fast. He's got very long legs. He's covering a LOT of ground haha. Just bc it doesn't "look" fast doesn't mean that it's slow. It's not slow, turns out.

mmmmmm mulberries! his tongue was purple after that haha
Yes, I do need to work harder at riding this forward when there are jumps involved, bc my tendency is to want to shut it down a bit. But.... We're actually pretty close to being on pace for where we're at, in the grand scheme of things.

And most importantly, I learned that we can still be on-pace even when I have to really slow us down to take our time with trickier turns (or combinations on course like that weirdly measured half coffin at Loch Moy a few weeks ago).

charlie prefers the title "grazing machine" to "galloping machine" haha
Being able to stay on-pace on average even as we adjust for those turns and combinations is key, bc it's all about efficiency, right? Like, sure, we could make the time when we went way wide around the turns just by going fast all along. But we also made time by taking fewer steps and covering less distance when we were more adjustable in our speed.

Good to know haha. So all in all, this was a very useful exercise for us. It was useful for Charlie mostly in that he had to be obedient through multiple "start box" sessions, and with being driven forward away from the barn. Two things he's not always been great about, but lately has aced.

It was useful for me bc I feel like I'm getting a better grip not only on the average pace we need to carry, but also on how to better leverage Charlie's newfound adjustability. Plus, ya know, the watch practice was helpful haha. I'm toying with the idea of wearing it on my next course, but we'll see.

Monday, June 10, 2019

XC Lesson @ Windurra FTW

We've had a busy few days over here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing. Lots (and lots!) to catch up on, so let's dive in, shall we? Late last week, the stars finally aligned, the gods finally smiled on me, the universe FINALLY gave in to my persistent pleas.....


surveying all that Windurra has to offer!
Not just any lesson, either. It was basically like Christmas and my birthday and Cinco de Mayo all wrapped up into one epic day haha. The lesson was a semi private with my good riding buddy Rachael, taught by 5* rider Sally Cousins, at Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra USA schooling facility.

It was early morning, before it got too warm. And we had the whole place entirely to ourselves, with Boyd & crew up at Bromont, and the rest of the thronging crowds not pulling in until we were already finished.

And? It was perfect. Boom. Fuck yes.

***Per my usual style, the helmet cam video is linked below. HOWEVER. My mom is my #1 YouTube fan, so I keep trying to make my videos more understandable for her haha. Meaning, I tried adding captions describing what's happening and why in the video itself. So if you don't feel like reading all the nitty gritty details, feel free to skip right on ahead LOL. Let me know if you like the captions too!***

well thank the lort, we brought a trainer along with us haha
On the off chance you don't remember every single graphic detail of my horse's training schedule over the last two years, I'll remind you of the background. Which is basically a pretty short story, bc damn I've had a nearly impossible time getting cross country lessons. At all.

Charlie and I have had exactly two cross country lessons since I moved the horse up to BN in 2017. That's woefully inadequate, imo. We got along more or less well enough through N bc it's still mostly just single jumps and the horse is very very (very) brave. But it's been very clear for a very long time that we're gonna need a bit more hand-holding to take the next steps.

slightly tame jump into water compared to what we've been schooling. charlie aced it <3
Honestly, in some ways it's been really good for me to gain back some independence and self-direction in my program with Charlie. I've kinda in some ways relished the challenge of sacking up and jumping the bigger jumps on my own. Our first proper schooling session over T cross country fences remains one of my absolute favorite rides with Charlie.

But.... I was also so so so relieved to shrug off that degree of responsibility in this lesson too haha. To walk in and basically lay myself at Sally's feet, to have her do with us what she saw fit. To just be able to nod and say "OK" instead of having to come up with my own plan or agenda. It's nice, ya know? Instead of having to look around me and figure out what and how to go about it, I could just await instruction.

this size and style of T fence now looks pretty much A-Ok to me
This did mean, as you might expect, that Sally started us off pretty small. She's only see us go once before - that February lesson at Kealani. But I had also told her that T is on my radar and that Charlie is fairly experienced at N, tho he's trained by an amateur and I know we have gaps, particularly as they relate to technique.

So I expected her to zero in quickly on appropriate exercises, and she did not disappoint. It's pretty clear with a horse like Charlie that size of fence isn't really necessarily a factor (tho the same can not always be said for his rider...). But details like terrain and, uh, ahem, cough cough, steering, are sometimes a little rough around the edges.

tables are getting better too, tho this is still not quite the largest the level has to offer
So Sally worked us in a very effective manner through a quick warm up. She identified immediately my apparent inability to corral Charlie's shoulders (esp that L shoulder), and my tendency to under-cook the canter. Honestly just having someone there shouting "More canter!" at me was so so so useful haha.

Our first few exercises included jumping up out of a basin, with a couple small jumps lined up on the rim. It's hard to assess the terrain in the footage from the fish-eye lens of my helmet cam, but trust me that it was steep. Charlie was very good for it tho, actually way better than I expected, esp since we had gotten there too late to have time to stud up.

who remembers when charlie had his (one and only) ditch meltdown here last year?!? ahhh memories...
Next we moved over to Windurra's new water feature. Looping in and out, integrating a small bank and BN brush table thingy, jumping in and out of the water. Again, Charlie didn't put a hoof wrong, and only wanted me to keep riding him more forward.

And this is really the greatest thing about a schooling venue like Windurra. It's basically like the bike park of eventing haha. Bc yea, that jump was technically BN in terms of dimensions. But it was 100% not BN in how it was placed against the edge of the water. Honestly, you're not even super likely to see many N fences that close to water (tho there are exceptions). So it's asking a big question of the horse, but in a very inviting manner.

The entire schooling facility is littered with the same type of examples. Advanced questions with prelim jumps. Training questions with BN or N jumps. Etc etc etc. Really, it just creates such a nice environment for getting comfortable with technicality.

oooookie dokie, fellas, i'm pretty sure this is getting much much closer to the biggest T has to offer haha. #nailedit
Anyway, after the water we moved on to more standard course work. Less technical, so the jumps got bigger. And I'm proud of myself and my mindset through this portion of the ride. Being 100% honest, even tho Charlie was being totally perfect and I knew things were going well, I still felt a bit sick. Bc.... That's just kinda how I roll, I guess.

Sally may have picked up on this bc she asked me to walk Charlie over to the white-roofed house and cut-out table that we were going to do next, to assess if I felt ok about the size. It should be noted, that cut-out table was the one and same I had looked at last year when I was so frustrated with myself. Knowing that I *should* be jumping it, but not able to make myself do it.

This time tho? As Sally encouraged me to go over and check them out, I could reasonably confidently say, "Nah, not necessary, those should be fine." And? They were totally fine.

steps up!!! we got a lot of practice here this time around, and much more convincingly 
Charlie jumped those pretty well (tho a bit disconnected, my own error, and something we addressed a little later) then we had a brief ditch practice. I was honest with Sally about our totally inexplicable ditch meltdown here last year. Charlie had never been ditchy a day in his life before then, and has never been ditchy since. But on that day? Hoooo boy, we had problems.

So Sally had us introduce them quietly and slowly. I walked parallel to the edges of the ditches, letting Charlie cross through the gravel tracks and puddles. Then trotted the small one. Non issue. Cantered the next one. Same story, no story. Good 'nuff!

From there we did a couple more passes over another white-roofed house. This time Sally really wanted me focusing on keeping Charlie connected even as I worked on that forward stride. I love the feeling of just adding leg, but am not supporting enough with a forward contact. You'll see in the video but it makes a big difference in the efforts. Something important for me to keep in mind.

foot perfect over the corner
Next up on the docket would be the bank complexes, but first Sally asked us if we wanted a shot at that little massive hanging table hammock-y type thing. Which like, duh haha. I'm about 93% sure it's still technically a T jump, but it's definitely the biggest thing I've ever jumped haha. And oh but Charlie soared!

We tackled the steps up last year, but like.... poorly haha. Which obvi I told Sally too. They're small banks set at a short one stride distance, and it took me a couple tries. Even after I got the banks on their own, when I put it into course work (table to corner line in 5, get it Charlie!!!) I still wasn't quite getting the right feel.

Needed more engagement, more connection. More "bounce per ounce" haha, not just a slower canter. This practice I think was very good for us tho. Bc even tho we biffed it a couple times, Charlie honestly felt very committed and relaxed about the banks, whereas last year he was looking for the run out.

so..... that is not a small drop, ladies and gentlemen. human being and 17h horse for scale... if you're super curious, check out 0:35 of this higher quality video to see Boyd riding the portion closest to the right edge of the frame above
Obviously tho, what comes up must come down. Sally asked how Charlie was about down banks... to which I somewhat sheepishly admitted that they scare me so I don't practice them very often.

Nbd, tho. She sent us down a small one first, trotting in. She says that trotting in is easier for the horse bc they can get right to where they need to be, and can have an easier time using their head and neck. She says if you can come in on a quiet and calm canter where you can still let go so that the horse can get his head down, that's fine. But if you're going to have to be pulling and whoa-ing to the bank, thus raising the horse's head, you're likelier to get a launch.

obvi this picture shows nothing haha. but we did it!!
Charlie was obvi fine over the small drop, so apparently that meant we got to do the, uh, not so small drop next. Dear god. I'm pretty sure I've done something this size with Isabel, but definitely NEVER with Charlie....

But guys -- he didn't even blink!! Didn't hesitate. Didn't do literally anything outside of approach the bank, take a look and assess, then just dropped right on down and locked on immediately to the next thing. Wat!? Good boy Charlie!!!

finishing with a little drop into water <3
After that, I was basically done haha. Like, c'mon, what more can you ask for, right? Like obviously this horse is made out of solid gold lol. Tho Sally did have us go down one more little drop into the other water. Which was another non-event since that's actually something Charlie's done a ton of at our home farm (our smallest bank is into the water so that's what I do the most).

Part of me wasn't sure it was quite time to throw in the towel, bc there were still other things we hadn't done. A jump inside the water..... The trakehner.... I wasn't sure if we should just try to keep the feeling going and capitalize.

But Sally agreed with my gut feeling. Said she prefers to do lots of little schoolings, vs "everything must get done today!" type rides. There's always time for more later.

She pointed out that Charlie had been so good, had kept trying the whole time even tho he was definitely getting tired. Answered every question. Was extremely obedient but also generous and bold. What more did we want from him?

Nothing. That's the answer, there's nothing more I could want. So we finished with that and Charlie strutted back to the trailer like a champion haha.

definitely keeping him, even if he has nerd hair
From my end, there are a few really important nuggets to take away:

First and foremost: More Canter but With Contact. Developing my feel for that forward contact will be key for helping Charlie rev up his engine without getting too long and strung out in his frame.

Second: Charlie can definitely be a cool customer about down banks. I need to get my own comfort level up to his speed haha!

Third: I definitely noticed the lack of studs and believe we both would have been more comfortable with them. It's my responsibility to make sure we've got that prep time for future rides.

does he look proud?
So. All in all, this lesson was a total win in my book. Very reaffirming. It doesn't necessarily change our current trajectory - I remain pretty zen about the prospect of capitalizing on my and Charlie's soaring confidence at N vs rushing to take the plunge.

But finally, tho, it feels like real movement forward. I continue to be so excited about this horse and our future partnership.

A huge component of that excitement, tho? The fact that I'm already super behind on telling you all about our bananas weekend, plus we already have a ton of stuff coming up this week too!! Yesssss more to come soon ;)

Friday, June 7, 2019

friday inspiration

TGIF everyone!! It's been a busy few days around here (check out my recent videos to see why haha, #spoilers yasssss), with an upcoming weekend that promises even more madness. Hopefully. Fingers crossed lol.

But.... That's not what I'm writing about today. Instead, do you all remember that awesome volunteer challenge Sara from Roaming Rider hosted last year? I LOVED that challenge and was super motivated and inspired to get out and volunteer like never before, ultimately logging more than 80hrs over the course of 2018.

This year won't be quite as prolific, but I'm still getting out there. I jump scribed at Loch Moy's YEH/NEH qualifier a few weeks ago, stewarded the show jumping warm up at MCTA, and just this past weekend stewarded the cross country warm up at Waredaca. All super fun times haha.

incredible portrait by Stephanie Newman

Anyway, I was reminded of all this when my year end prize from Sara arrived last week. This portrait is.... Honestly I don't even have words for it. It's perfect. It's everything. It's my boy, Charlie. Stephanie did such an amazing job capturing his soft sweet expression, his gentle but attentive nature. I'm obsessed.

I feel like it pairs perfectly with the other portrait I have of Charlie - more of a serious, fierce action shot in bold colors painted by Alyssa Kelley.

Stephanie's portrait was based off a picture from Charlie right after he stepped off our epic wild-n-wooly BN season opening cross country course last year (note the flared nostrils!) and Alyssa's portrait is from one of Charlie's racing win pics. Two such different sides, but both capture his personality entirely.

I'm so grateful to have these pictures, and am especially grateful to Sara for coming up with the idea for the above portrait as the year end prize. Thank you so much!

portrait by Alyssa Kelley
One of Sara's quarterly prize givings from the Volunteer Challenge was equally inspired too. This awesome calendar that is chock-full of so many of my all-time favorite pictures of Charlie. Literally every single one of these pictures is tied to a memory, and I love seeing it every day.

Turning the card on each new month is pretty exciting too -- both to see which pics will be used (I never peek ahead haha), but also to see the new month's quote.

Actually, it's kinda funny bc I just assumed the quotes were part of some template that Sara had selected. Altho it seemed almost eerie how perfect and spot-on they always are. It all made sense tho when Sara said she actually chose them all herself!!

freakin awesome calendar designed completely by Sara!! and source of today's quotes ;)
So since Sara spent the time to find these perfect quotes for this amazing calendar, I wanted to spend the time today sharing them all with you too. Seems like good Friday fodder, yes? A little inspiration going into the weekend haha. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!!

"A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot." -Joe Vitale

"If you never did, you should. These things are fun. And fun is good." -Dr. Suess

"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you are right." -Henry Ford

"Stars can't shine without darkness." -Unknown

"You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream." -CS Lewis

"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them." -Walt Disney

"A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever." -Mary Lou Retton

"Believe you can and you are halfway there." -Theodore Roosevelt

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." -Wayne Gretzky

"It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get back up." -Vince Lombardi

"Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations." -Zig Ziglar

"Do more of what makes you happy." -Unknown

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

revisiting that whole "process" thing

It's hard to believe how quickly the year is flying by. As seems to always be the way, a lot of what I expected to happen or expected to be doing hasn't quite gone to plan. Ya know. Uncontrollable variables, etc. Because #horses.

That's ok, tho. Charlie's been a master class for me in letting go of the stuff that's outside my control, and just focusing on the areas that matter most to me. The areas where I can actually make a difference.

this will always be part of the plan <3
If you recall from my 2019 goals post on "Process v Outcome," my intent was to focus on the component processes of my horse habit, vs the inflexible, rigid outcomes that are all too often foiled by the universe's random external forces.

With that in mind, I laid out the following high-level objectives for the year:

1) Continue preparing for a move up to T
2) Organize necessary paperwork + memberships
3) Plan a thoughtful calendar considering favorable venues
4) Budget appropriately and realistically (and early)
5) Maintain a comprehensive wellness plan for Charlie
6) Invest in developing my skill set and toolbox as a rider
7) Focus on positive experiences and additive mileage
8) Be flexible and accept setbacks with poise, bc #horses
9) Enjoy the ride!

remember that awesome Phillip Dutton clinic in the pouring rain?! technically this lesson was at the end of 2018, but it still felt like a great start to prepping for the 2019 season. pc Austen Gage

So how is all that going, now into the second half of 2019? Let's take a closer look.

1) Continue Working on the Move Up.

I'm honestly happy with the work we've done here, tho it hasn't involved as much actual supervised rides and lessons etc as I wanted. And in my opinion, that's really the biggest gap. There are certain elements of Training XC that I'd prefer to address under the watchful guidance of one my chosen pros. Which will happen when it happens, apparently.

In the meantime, I've done as much self-directed work as I'm comfortable with, including walking a bunch of T courses at both recognized and unrecognized events. That's been extremely helpful in familiarizing myself with real life examples of what the level asks, and identifying gaps.

then another clinic, this time with Dan Clasing, where i still regret not asking to do more T stuff...
I've also done a fair amount of schooling individual T jumps on my own. The height is beginning to look "right-sized," tho we have a too-small margin of error that makes combinations feel dicey.

Our lessons over stadium jumps have definitely ratcheted up in technicality, tho, and we've done a lot of work on various combinations in the ring. Including work with skinnies, and slicing and angling fences. So we've done basically everything that T asks combination-wise in the stadium ring, but need to translate those skills to solid jumps on terrain haha.

The dressage is also more or less moving in the right direction for the move up. It ain't pretty, but then again it might never be haha. It just needs to be proficient and reasonably accurate for me to be satisfied.

we made the best of indoor season!!
2) Paperwork & Memberships

The ink is dry and the checks are cleared for my and Charlie's required memberships and registrations for the year. So. Ya know. Next step is to do something with them, ha!

we've already seen more of dressage trainer C in the last six months than we did all last year
3) Plan the Calendar

I sat down at the beginning of the year and studied the 2019 US Eventing calendar of events for my area, and dutifully transcribed much of it to ye olde events page. From there, I selected a short list of events that seem likeliest to suit my purposes. They are highlighted with a yellow ^ on the page.

Whether we make it to any of them is TBD, but at least I know what's out there!

Again, things are a bit more in flux than I hoped for / wanted, but we have a LOT of options. And I'm learning to be more flexible anyway haha (see #8 below!).

ooooh we did that Sally Cousins clinic too!
4) Budget Appropriately

This is possibly the area where I'm most proud of my progress. And, not coincidentally, it's an area that goes well beyond this blog's narrow scope of just my life as it relates to ponies.

Last year, a major cost of living expense increased by nearly 45%, sending shock waves rippling across basically my whole life. Since then I've completely overhauled my personal finances and all the bad habits associated with financial woes (like eating out all the time). Which.... was not easy, and initially took a LOT of dedicated attention, discipline and diligence.

but then..... pictured: wrecker of plans and destroyer of wallets
But as with all things, enough repetition, consistency, and realistic practicality will eventually create new habits. My spending habits are much healthier now and I've enjoyed the return of balance, security and stability.

It was especially helpful sitting down at the beginning of the year to explicitly calculate out the costs of everything I wanted to do in terms of lessons, clinics, shows, wellness therapies, shopping, and any other fun adventures etc. Knowing those numbers up front helps me make better choices, so that I can make sure the dollars are there for doing all the things that are most important to me.

that's ok, chuck, you can get your time off. also - did you know charlie is obsessed with kids??? he freakin loves them haha
5) Maintain Charlie's Wellness Plan

This is ongoing forever and ever, amen. We're signed on to an annual plan for all the routine wellness / shots / etc through our vet. He got his teeth done in February and we'll take another look at them in ~August. We did hocks this past spring too.

We've also done a few magna wave sessions, tho I'd really also like to get his regular massage lady back out. We did a tack overhaul this past winter, including one new saddle, and all seems good there. Tho I may or may not be looking into further changes in our dressage gear. Sitting in that County Epiphany at Kentucky was possibly not my best life choice LOL!

I remain constantly vigilant / paranoid about Charlie's hooves and his diet. So far, tho, both have held relatively steady even through expected seasonal changes. We'll likely switch to leather pads at some point if the ground hardens too much, but no moves there yet.

Overall, Charlie is thriving.

pictured: thriving <3 <3 <3. from one of our solo schools, makin that T happen slowly but surely
6) Invest in my Education

This objective was the most exciting to me going into the year, and so far has not really materialized as hoped.

My "regular weekly lessons" have been anything but so far this year, for various reasons. And the plan for getting at least one monthly "extra curricular" got derailed first in March after Charlie stepped on that nail. Then we had a series of unfortunate last-minute cancellations by various coaches for highly anticipated xc lessons in May...

we're gettin out one way or another! pc Austen Gage
C'est la vie, tho. Again, I'm focusing on the parts I can control: hustling to get stuff on the calendar, and doing my best to make sure Charlie and I are both fired up and ready to go when the moment comes.

The lessons that *have* happened have been excellent, and Charlie and I are doing our homework. The rest will come, right?

100% loving this
7) Focus on the Positives

Lol a theme here with the "ongoing" goals. I've worked really hard to frame everything in a positive light, even when at times I've felt extremely discouraged or depressed about missed opportunities, Charlie's health, or unplanned time off.

The reality tho is that I'm loving every moment spent with my amazing horse, and am grateful for him every day. Could we do more? Could I be better? Maybe. But where we're at is honestly pretty exciting.

positives: this T sized triple is easy enough for charlie to be #lazy about it
On one hand, it *could* be disappointing and discouraging that we've not gotten farther along toward moving up to Training. On the other hand, tho? I LOVED feeling more confident and polished, and less nervous, than ever before at our last Novice outing, and am feeling very zen about capitalizing on that mindset.

And again, I'm just trying to stay focused on the pieces I can control. Being ready and open minded for whatever opportunities may come. Because....

moar solo schooling. bc dammit, this is what i want to be doing!
8) Be Flexible

Setbacks happen. Shockingly often with Charlie, it seems. Whether it's because he keeps stepping on those freakin nails (what the fuck, Sir), or because he's finally healthy so apparently nobody is available to coach us....

You know how it goes. It's no small task to get all the stars aligned at once! I am happy with where I am at this point of the year tho.

ooooh but i also like this too haha <3
In the spirit of being flexible, I actually recently revisited my calendar and reconfigured the whole "order of operations" I planned to execute through the year. A slight change of plans, change of parameters, but all still entirely in keeping with these component objectives laid out here. More to come on that very soon tho...

and this, forever please!
9) Enjoy the Ride

For the final objective for 2019, my aim is to enjoy it. In the moment, in real time. And, honestly? It's hard not to. Charlie is hands down the best horse in the whole world and I'm so excited to see what comes in the second half of 2019, and in the years to follow ;)

the best view in the world tho <3