Wednesday, February 19, 2020

an uphill battle....

See what I did there??? Har har har, I crack myself up lol.

Ahem. Aaaaaanyway. Moving on.

If you read the recap from my recent riding lesson with respected 5* eventer Sally, you'll recall  the lesson ended with a somewhat abrupt warning that: I won't be able to do what I want to do with the horse if I continue letting him travel in his current way of going.

She clarified by saying Charlie has a very pleasant way of cantering on along, but that he's too horizontal in his longitudinal (nose-to-tail) balance -- bordering at times on being downhill.

Arriving at the jump a little nose-heavy really limits our options in terms of adjustability -- and results in either our patented goofy leaper, or a squishy chip. This isn't such a big deal for Charlie when the fences are small, but the risks increase with fence size. Little misses pack more of a punch at bigger fences, and we risk Charlie quitting... or worse. Our ill-fated move up attempt at the Aloha Horse Trials comes to mind....

we have so very very few nice dressage pictures (and ever fewer of which are even somewhat flattering haha). this one is from may 2018. pc Austen Gage
So anyway. After obsessing over meditating on this little nugget for the last couple days, I have a few thoughts.

First and foremost: This is not the first time I've paid for this lesson, LOL. And actually, allllll the way back in May 2015, in the height of the Dan Days, I quoted him as explaining that, "when he tells me 'forward' what he really wants is more lift through the shoulders and 'jump' in the canter."

So... haha... it's a familiar story.

But ya know. As with just about anything in life, knowing a thing is not the same as doing a thing. Conceptually, the idea of lifting my horse's shoulders makes sense. I understand, in a sort of academic way, what basic mechanics have to occur for the horse to undergo that shift in balance. To lighten his front end, step under with his hind end, activate his abs, lift his back. These are all perfectly reasonable words, yes?

Perfectly reasonable words that I've been instructed upon, and have dutifully recorded here in ye olde training log, for actual literal years at this point. Perfectly reasonable words that I continue to pay for the privilege of having repeated at me again and again and again.

august 2018
Because it turns out I still don't really have a good feel for it. Sigh.

But ya know. I DO still have a very VERY crisp memory of crashing into that fence at the Aloha HT haha.... And.... looking further back, of running right on past Isabel's tipping point, to where she started reliably quitting at fences.**

(**Granted I'm still fairly convinced there were underlying physical issues going on that I was not granted permission to pursue.... But it fits the pattern. If her hocks or something were bothering her, she'd have been increasingly less comfortable shifting her weight back -- and we had increasing difficulty in getting to jumpable takeoff spots.)

So... Eh. Maybe now is the time to really dissect, inside and out, what it means to ride a horse "uphill." To really figure out not just the mechanics of getting there -- but also learning the feel for it, and committing that to muscle memory.

Seems doable, right? Maybe??? lol...

september 2018
Anyway. Obviously. My first step was to consult The Google. Which proved fruitful when the first search result was this Horse & Rider expert advice column by Paul Friday called "Create an Uphill Horse."

While there were some annoying and all-too-common circular explanations in the article ("concentrate on achieving a more uphill canter!"), it actually had some good actionable nuggets.

For my own purposes with Charlie, they were:

1. Rhythm.  First requirement is a consistent tempo and energy in the paces. I've been riding with a metronome since December and can confirm it's helped our balance substantially. It highlights the wide range of "energy levels" Charlie can have within a steady tempo, and keeps me honest about disrupting tempo when making smaller circles or lateral movements, for instance.

february 2019. pc Austen Gage
2. Pace. Paul writes that riders may naturally want to slow the horse down in an effort to help carry more weight behind, but that this becomes counterproductive by disrupting the horse's balance. It's critical to keep the horse carrying himself forward with impulsion.

3. Tension. A horse who is tense or tight in his back or top line will not be able to effectively shift his weight. Riders should focus on keeping the horse feeling loose and relaxed. Charlie likes to get tight right at the base of his neck directly in front of the saddle -- obviously a pretty major impediment to actually lifting through that area haha.

4. Impulsion. Paul writes that you're not likely to be successful in getting the horse more uphill if he's behind your leg. Which.... yeeeahhhhh haha, this is a struggle. To which Paul prescribes riding lots of transitions. Lots and lots. And also testing the quality of the connection. Can you move the horse from a higher 'competition' frame to a lower schooling frame? If not, that's a pretty good sign that there's a disconnect somewhere.

april 2019. pc Austen Gage
From there, the article goes into some specific exercises:

- 10m circles play a big role, as the author notes it's easier to get a horse lighter up front on a bend than on the straight. (But only if the horse is in front of your leg!)

- Lateral work is a theme too. At trot, he recommends leg yielding from center line to rail, then moving into shoulder-in. It's a simple pattern but I actually like it a lot, esp intermixing it with the 10m circles.

- At canter, the article suggests transitioning between haunches-in and shoulders-fore, with a 10m circle thrown in there too. Personally I'm less likely to adopt this exercise yet as I worry about accidentally riding Charlie crooked in the canter.

- Transitions within trot, mixed with 10m circles. Notably, this is the same approach Teresa suggested too. For where Charlie and I are in our training, tho, it's too easy to let this exercise mask Charlie getting behind my leg, so I'm reluctant to spend a lot of unsupervised time on it. Rather, I'll take the same approach but with complete transitions.

 june 2019
So. Yea. There are some themes here: Small circles, simple lateral work, and literally all the friggin transitions haha. I can do that! Thanks, google! And thanks, Paul!

In a way, tho, it's oddly gratifying that the prescriptions for getting a horse more uphill are all rooted in 1st / 2nd level dressage work. Which, you may notice, happens to be exactly where Charlie is. To me, this is reassuring, because it means that maybe we're right on time in addressing this aspect of his training, vs somehow wildly behind the curve.

Anyway. That was overall a very useful consult with the internet. I'm also obviously going to consult with the professionals on our team whenever we get our next lessons etc.

In the meantime, tho, there are a couple other ideas too. Mainly, and in general terms, I want to get Charlie really really fit. Possibly more fit than is really necessary for the level. With the hope being that: maybe if he's crazy fit, he's more likely to keep going and cover for my mistakes lol. We'll see how that all goes!

 november 2019
And, I also want to get more serious about our canter work. Jess from Hilltop tried to get us doing canter-walk transitions this past summer, mainly with the help of the arena walls. I more or less immediately abandoned that exercise tho haha - partly bc it's hard, and partly bc our dressage court is lined by small railroad ties that Charlie will most certainly jump over.

A riding friend suggested that I could try the exercise using spirals in the canter instead. Making the canter circle smaller and smaller until the walk transition is right there. So we'll see. Either way, we're gonna get serious about making canter-walk a thing.

And counter canter. We already do a little bit almost every flat ride -- sometimes just a shallow serpentine, but more usually a single figure 8 on each lead. I'm thinking it's time for more, tho. Counter canter is a great strengthening exercise for horse's hind end (actually, counter bends in general can be really useful), and every little bit helps.

So that's the plan haha. For now, at least. Until the next big "thing" crops up in our training lol. Bc there's always something urgently needing fixing, amirite??

Monday, February 17, 2020

SJ clinic with Sally

It's actually almost exactly one year ago that Charlie and I had our first lesson with the renowned 5* event rider Sally Cousins, who just so happens to be based most of the year on the Route 1 corridor in Pennsylvania.

such a treat to ride in a large bright indoor with dry footing!
Sally is extremely well known throughout this region as a talented and insightful coach and clinician. As such, she maintains a regular teaching schedule at various venues in PA, MD, and even down in SC where she's based during the winters.

Charlie lives fairly close to the Route 1 corridor, so we've been able to get in on Sally's schedule quite a few times over the last year. Including a couple lessons up at Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra facility. And also, now for a second time, show jumping lessons at the small private Kealani Farm in West Grove.

very few straight lines in this course aside from this outside gymnastic 2-to-2
Kealani is drop dead gorgeous - a compact but extremely well thought-out property that maximizes every inch of available space. The overall feeling is one of luxurious proportions, especially in the middle of mud season haha.

I swear it took basically our entire warm up on the flat, and even our first few jumps, to get used to dry predictable footing again LOL!

measured at 32'-32', vertical oxer vertical. measured short, but didn't ride short considering we were in an indoor
Anyway, tho. Due to our mild winter, Charlie and I have stayed in fairly consistent work. Especially with drilling into the technical nitty gritties with resident upper level event rider K lately, I'm feeling better than ever about the quality of Charlie's overall way of going.

You might remember that last year in our first lesson with Sally, she really zeroed in on my inability to corral Charlie's outside shoulder in turns. Well. Ever since then we've been working on it haha!

And I'm pleased to report she didn't breathe a word about "outside aids" during this entire ride. Yessss lol.

Obviously, tho, that's not to say that she didn't find other deficiencies haha.... Hahahaha.

there were two lines that looked like diagonals set on the inside. actually rode in bending lines, scribing the outline of an hourglass
Overall, Charlie was an absolute rock star for this ride. I legit could not be more pleased with how he behaved. He was so squarely plugged into "work mode" that literally every time it was our turn, I could barely pick up my reins before he'd step immediately into canter, and always on the correct lead.

That's..... not a degree of push-button responsiveness I'm used to in this animal haha. And certainly not in any sort of sustainable fashion. And yet, he kept it up the whole ride. Never once soured or sucked back. Just always stepped up and went. Was extremely responsive, and did every single thing I asked, whether I knew I was asking or not haha.

the most cleverest horse through the bounce!
The course was fairly basic: an outside grid set for a 2-to-2 gymnastic. Two inside bending lines both measured for 4. One of which ended in a simple bounce. And a single oxer on the other outside. None of the jumps were particularly large either.

The other three members of my group were regular Sally students, and as such we sorta fell into a well-oiled rhythm. Each rider was quick to take her turn, and nobody had any real issues. So we moved quickly through all the warm up exercises of getting through each individual element, and then each set of lines, before finally finishing with the full course.

it's my impression that charlie dislikes jumps with eyes LOL
Sally's biggest points of feedback to me were:
- Moar canter (obvi)
- Sit up
- Bring him back into shape sooner after each jump

This last point was possibly her biggest issue. I have a habit of letting Charlie spool out into his little "victory gallops" at the conclusion of each go, but Sally said it was time to cut that out. She wanted me bringing him back immediately, asking me what I thought would happen if we jumped a big table but then had to turn immediately to a corner?

So. Ya know. Noted, haha. Charlie will certainly come back after a fence. If I ask him. And... I haven't really been asking at the conclusion of a course. Now I will. Good feedback, thanks lol.

took a few efforts to clean up this bending line but charlie was so good!
Her other overall takeaway was a little less easily actionable. She basically said, in a somewhat abruptly blunt fashion, that I'm not going to be able to do what I want to do with Charlie if I continue to let him travel in his current way of going.

In other words, she said he has a very pleasant way of cantering on along. But that he's very horizontal or level in his way of going (think: nose to tail), bordering at times on being almost downhill. And that this is why we often can find ourselves being a little off in our distances at fences.

We can be a little long here, a little short there, again and again and again. We can be cantering on along very pleasantly in what feels like a good rhythm and impulsion and ground cover and connection, and all the things. But then we get to the jump and it's like, "oooh, now what?" And it's because sometimes we get to the jump with Charlie being just a bit too nose-heavy. Which limits our options in terms of adjustability.

finished with a long straight shot at the oxer (with fox cutouts as filler!!)
This all makes perfect sense to me, conceptually, tho I admit to being a bit frustrated that the commentary came after the lesson was over and I'd explicitly asked for a summary "takeaway" from the day. Like. Ok. So our balance is all wrong. Great. What the ever loving fuck am I supposed to do about it????

It was especially frustrating bc I felt like we've been working so hard on Charlie's canter these last few months, and he feels better today in his adjustability and responsiveness and agility than he's literally ever felt... ever. So like, to hear that it's still not good enough was a bit gut wrenching.

Luckily tho, this was an early win for the year in feeling like my quest for "mentorship" was the right call. Because instead of spiraling into an existential crisis about this feedback, I simply relayed it back to trainer K. Who was like, "Oh ok, that's a good outside perspective. We haven't specifically focused on that element of balance in our canter work, but can begin to bake it in."

Whew! Lol...

So. Yea. It was a really great lesson for a few reasons: Charlie was a star and easily handled every single aspect of this lesson. Plus obvi riding in nice dry footing this time of year is an absolute luxury. It was also a clear demonstration to me that we are, in fact, in a different and improved place of our training from this time last year. Especially vis-a-vis straightness in turning. Hell yes!

The blunt after-the-fact feedback of, "oh by the way you won't meet your goals going the way you are now," sucked more than a little bit of oxygen out of the moment for me.... but again. After checking in with K and a few friends, it's now feeling like more of a well-timed temperature check so that we can start making adjustments now. Theoretically lol.... Hopefully?

In the meantime. You'll find me furiously googling all the forums on how to improve uphill balance in a horse's canter lol. C'mon, Charlie! It's time to tuck that butt and start pushing!

Friday, February 14, 2020

deceptively tricky lines

We're having an extremely mild winter so far, tho obviously even writing that out is tempting fate haha. Temperatures lately have hovered consistently around the 40s-50s during the day, and have stayed above freezing overnight.

That will probably change soon enough (February and March are our most typical "winter" months it seems), but combined with the near-constant rain lately it's meant that ground and riding conditions have been yucky muck.

charlie has the prettiest dad bod in all the land!!
But ya know. That's fine haha. A lot of people like to give their event horses time off over the winter anyway. From what I can tell, tho, most seem to be in a big rush to start the vacation around November or December -- when there's still perfectly good ground conditions for riding in my area. I personally prefer to wait, and let my horse's break coincide with the grossest dreariest darkest days haha.

To be honest, tho, I don't generally give Charlie a full and complete vacation unless medically required. He's a high mileage model who feels his best when kept in motion haha.

So for the last couple weeks since Oldfields, we've mostly been just hacking out, wandering the fields, trails and lanes around the farm. Occasionally trotting and cantering where the ground permitted, but mostly just strolling. It's been nice!

riding the bend to the rainbow standards, from which we'll land and bend back to the brick walls in the center of the picture
This week was time to pull it back together tho, starting with some more purposeful trot sets and reintroducing dressage schools into the mix. Then, finally, a jump lesson! And damn but this horse just felt great in his body.

I'm really loving these lessons with our farm's resident upper level event rider K, too. It feels like she has a plan for us, a vision. She comes to each lesson with a specific exercise for us that's specifically related to our particular strengths and weaknesses. And each lesson feels like it's building on the previous exercises.

There's been a progression, and I'm really diggin it haha. This summer we sorta started by working on getting that consistent 12' canter stride. Then that progressed to being able to balance within that canter to make short turns. So so so SO many turning exercises haha. But reeeeally focusing on that canter in the turn.

we've been practicing short turns to jumps. um. uh. can you tell??? lol.... long live the dinosaurs in tar pits!
And now, in this lesson, we're refining further. Not just keeping the 12' stride in a forward balance, and not just turning within that canter, but getting nittier grittier into changes of bend - multiple changes in a row. All in the same canter.

The kernel for this most recent lesson was planted a few weeks ago when we had two simple fences, separated by an indeterminate but lengthy distance, that were slightly offset. But rather than jumping either on an angle, we were to jump both of them straight on, and execute a modified "S" curve between them.

That exercise was actually really interesting to experience bc my immediate reaction was to shut the canter wayyyyyyyyy down. Which... Obviously was not the objective haha.

So this week the same concept showed up again, but at much shorter distances. Also thankfully at fairly small jump heights too, so we could just focus entirely on the task at hand without me getting excitable or risking knocking anyone's confidence if we made mistakes. Which... We did. Many, haha.

Again, the jumps were spaced at more or less indeterminate distances. And, believe it or not, this was maybe one of the first jumping exercises I've done in recent memory where I *wasn't* counting strides between jumps. Like, sure I was still counting my rhythm, but not the distances.

It wasn't until I watched the video later that I saw that they were basically all roughly ~5 stride lines (tho I'm fairly sure we did 6 a few times over the course of the lesson!).

All that to say - it's a flexible set up.

mostly straight at the point of the jump itself, but already preparing the next bend
Essentially, again, the point was to be more or less straight to each fence. To achieve the changes of bend promptly and smoothly. To be set up for your next fence prior to taking off at the current fence. To maintain a forward balance in the canter without letting the front end get heavy or strung out.

And it was fascinating. This very simple set up allowed us to make almost every single mistake. But it was always very apparent what the mistake was in each instance, and not at all in a punishing sort of way.

sorta kinda chipped this one, but the better balance in our canter made it nbd
At first I wanted too stagnant a canter. It made fitting in the bends easy, but the jumps were a bit too labored, too "up and down" instead of across.

Then I let the canter get too forward and escape out the front. The jumps had a nice forward energy with Charlie reaching nicely "across" them, but the bends sorta got away from us and we ended up jumping the fences at angles instead of more straight on.

lol i like this part of the video bc trainer K is immediately like, "YOU'RE FINE KEEP GOING!" and ya know. we were fine. this is exactly why sweet baby jesus blessed us with two feet - so one can be more disposable! (i kid, i kid!)
In order to help keep the forward balance without losing shape, I needed to be looking for a canter that felt like we could, at any given moment, at the drop of a hat, immediately circle left or right. While maintaining the same forward balance, of course.

Because it turns out, when Charlie's a bit flat and strung out, there's really only one direction his energy can go and it's directly straight ahead. Imagine the feeling of aiming a runaway horse at a wall and feeling like if he veered to either side you might fall off. That's an extreme example of all the energy running straight out the front.

this horse really has come so far in his own body awareness and balance
Instead, what we want is all that energy to be balanced underneath me, coming from the hind end. So that, no matter where we are in the exercise, I could feel like I could ask Charlie to circle in either direction and he'd be able to do it without requiring any major shifts in balance.

Or at least, haha, that's the goal, right? That's the holy grail. I'm not sure we ever quite got there, to be honest. And in fact, we never actually had a quite-clean run through the pattern. Like, for instance, this video was our last run through and I knocked a friggin standard down with my foot bc we drifted too far to the inside, whoops.

But.... the feelings were there. And I really liked how clearly this jump configuration laid bare those feelings. It was deceptively simple in construction, but definitely super instructive. I'd guess that even at ground poles or cavaletti height it'd still work. Tho with a horse like Charlie, everything is always a little easier when he has an actual jump to look at lol...

So yea. It felt like a nice test, and a nice exercise for getting back into gear. With any luck, spring will be here before we know it. Or, ya know, maybe old man winter will actually get around to showing his face first?? Who knows. Either way, we'll be ready!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

10 reasons my horse is a goon

So. Charlie. He's an interesting sort of horse, ya know? Many many many redeeming characteristics, sure. He's gentle, kind and generous. With a disposition that's sweet and steady, while also keenly observant and intelligent, calmly confident.

Charlie is a clever horse who is generally in command of how he navigates the world around him. And he does so by believing, inside and out, top to bottom, that *he* is the center of the universe. He seems to truly believe that the rest of us have all been placed here for the sole purpose of petting him, telling him he's pretty, and giving him treats. And occasionally to gallop him across the open countryside with reckless abandon.

Ya know. My kind of horse haha.

There are other aspects to him, tho. Things that maybe you don't notice at first. But that, the more time you spend with him, the more you realize that.... Charlie is a weird sort of horse haha. Equal parts goof, goon and geek lol.

So let's look at some examples, yes?

1. He's kinda creepy about kids / ponies / dogs / pigs / small things

Charlie is a heat-seeking missile when it comes to small children. And small ponies. And small dogs pigs and cats. Literally anything small. Charlie's into it.

It's cute because he's a big giant horse. Buuuuuut....... If he had a mustache and drove a van, you'd probably call the cops.

 it's extra weird if you hum the "jaws" theme song....

2. Charlie has extremely dweeby hair

Being totally honest with you, I bought Charlie bc he's down for face hugs and has good hair. His mane and tail are full, thick, and luscious, plus super fast growing. Except. EXCEPT. His forelock....

He has a very unfortunate cowlick. Plus, homeboy somehow managed in the last couple weeks to rip half of it out, thus doubling the dweeb factor in the process....

pretty much the standard state of things

but wait, something is different....? where'd the right side go?!?

excuse me sir, but HOW?!?
3. He has a penchant for choosing the "hard way."

Sure, Charlie is inside his own damn stall. He could just, ya know, move his body to the other side of the open door to eat from his hay net. But noooooo, must go *over* the door.

He routinely pulls this same style move when trying to snag hay grass and/or water over fences too. Or, ya know, his extra special patented move of stepping *into* the water trough when drinking, rather than simply standing at it.

this is why we can't have nice things, charlie
4. Actually, he's kinda a weird drinker over all.

I'm grateful that Charlie is a good drinker in that he will, in fact, drink when he needs to. But... still. He still finds a way to be weird about it.

Charlie LOVES drinking from puddles. Is absolutely insistent upon it at times. Nevermind that he was just in a stall with fresh clean bucketfuls of water. This muddy puddle has his name all over it. Or that scummy pond. Whatever.

Long term readers might even recall that for his first few years as an event horse, we'd routinely stop in the middle of our (un-timed) xc runs for him to sip from the water complexes.... Stunning virtually all the jump judges lol.

mmm pond schumm is delishus. also, he's a snotty sorta bro bc of his tie back surgery.... 
5. Like any prince worth his salt, Charlie makes me come to him.

Especially if it's extremely gross mud. Yes I lost both my little rubber boot covers in this escapade.... bleh.

legit was tempted to hop on Tommy to ride the rest of the way to Charlie LOL

6. He's.... kinda weird about touching things. ALL the things. 

Charlie is a tactile sort of horse. He likes to get all up close and personal with his surroundings. In this video it's a tractor. Really tho, it could just as easily be a water spigot*, door knob, your pocket, a kubota, the trash can... Really, anything.

*Remember that time he got his halter stuck on a water spigot while confined to small paddock turn-out? But then he got stuck and ripped the friggin spigot straight out of the ground and flung it across said paddock, and proceeded to flip the ever-loving fuck out as water gushed out like a geyser flooding the paddock? Yea. It's this aspect of him that led to that catastrophic turn of events...

7. Charlie has the most giantest mushiest smooshiest nose and absolutely nobody can resist the urge to smooch it. 

"resistance is futile"

8. He is extremely photoshop-able 

9. Charlie loves his own reflection

"what a stud!" - charlie, probably

10. And naturally, despite all the weirdness, he's still basically the best ever. 

photoshop-able AND photogenic <3

What about your horse -- anything weirdly endearing about your creature too??

Monday, January 27, 2020

blue ribbon rounds @ Oldfields

This past weekend Charlie and I went on a little adventure to Oldfields for a low key schooling show. It was billed as a "blue ribbon rounds" style of jumper class, which essentially means that every clear round earns a blue.

Courses would be simple (read: minimal combinations) and inviting, and you could do as many rounds as you wanted for $15 a pop.

charlie stood like this, frozen solid and completely motionless, for roughly 5 minutes. i basically had no choice but to start snapping pictures haha
Considering the mucky mess of outdoor winter footing we have available at home, I welcomed the prospect of nice dry and spacious indoor! Plus it seemed like a great opportunity to get more "formal" mileage over bigger heights.

Like, sure, the course didn't really reflect what we'd see at a proper event (recognized or otherwise) - there weren't any in-and-outs or anything, and basically no fill. And most of the fences were closer to 3' than 3'3. But.... ya know.... For me, personally, one of the hardest parts of moving up is actually doing it. Signing up. Stepping into the ring when the pressure is "on."

looks like just the ticket -- sign us up!! also, yes, i'm still cramming poor brontosaurus charlie into a size small cooler handed down from izzy haha...
So really, any chance I can get to at least work through that mental part of the process is helpful, right? Like, this show mimicked that feeling very nicely, while the course still felt very much within our wheelhouse.

I haven't written much about my weekly jump lessons lately mostly bc there's no media lol. Lame excuse, I know, but them's the breaks. But we *have* been lessoning!! Weekly privates with our barn's resident upper level event rider K, who drills into the nittiest grittiest technical details of our ride in a way I haven't regularly had since the Dan Days. And I am loving it.

yep ok you caught me. i was 100% playing charlie's personal paparazzi for the day LOL. but c'mon, is he not the cutest??
And so another bonus to this particular show day was that K would be there coaching. So not only would I be able to see how well I'm retaining our lessons in a show atmosphere (about 85% according to K, haha), but she would also be able to see what changes and what stays the same with Charlie off property.

We all already know he's the best boy, but he is a slightly different horse at home vs away. Just like most horses, right?

we showed up at the end of the day, with most of the biggest trailers already gone by then.
So ya know. Lots of logical reasonable rational arguments for why this day could be a good experience for us. There's more to it than that, tho. Something simpler: I just love horse shows. I love attending shows, volunteering at them, and riding in them as a competitor.

I read Aimee's post last week about the decline of horse shows and... Idk, I had a hard time relating. Maybe I didn't read it closely enough or missed the point, but there was very little in that discussion that touched on what makes horse showing special to me.

But of course - that's the amazing thing about horses and horse sports, right? There are literally infinite ways to enjoy horses, to fit them into our lives in a rewarding and fulfilling way. So so so many "right" ways to live a horsey lifestyle, and honestly very few wrong ways.

jump 1!! heading directly into the crowd haha
For instance, I have friends who only ever come out on the weekends (and only in good weather) for jaunts through the woods with their horses, and friends who ride every day no matter what. I know riders who avoid arenas, and riders who never stray beyond four walls. Riders who live to compete, and others who only want to enjoy the ride.

Some riders rarely go faster than a walk or lazy trot, let alone jump. And others are legit speed demons. Different riders gravitate toward the journey with a green horse, or toward the education that only a schoolmaster can offer. Some ride out the rough patches, and some hand the reins to a professional for that precision touch.

At different points in my riding life I've been all the above. Plus naturally there are countless "types" of horses to suit all these different riders. Some horses at my farm will pass their entire lives without ever leaving the property. And some travel every weekend and winter.

jump 2 - maryland oxer. i was pleased that we nailed this one, since it was one of the warm up fences too and i would have been annoyed to have had practice over it but then blow it in our round haha. ooh but you'll have to watch the video to see me actually get jumped the fuck out of the tack on the back side LOL
And it's all good, right? And just because a rider fits into one category right now doesn't mean things might not be different later. Things change - jobs, family, resources, health, etc - in ways that impact what role horses can play in our lives.

I know personally my riding habit, goals, and needs have evolved dramatically over the years. A lot of different horses have meant a lot of different things to me. But the one constant has been that I love them and am happiest when horses are a part of my daily life.

It can be really challenging, tho, when we put something we love under the microscope. Under the intense pressure and scrutiny that comes with sport and competition. I've already written a little bit about struggling under that pressure this past summer, and beginning to question why or whether I should even be doing this.

At the end of the day, tho, after all that introspection and self evaluation, I determined that, YES. I do want to do this.

jump 3 was the only other warm up fence allowed. we knocked it a bunch in warm up but charlie was aces during our round!!
And ya know. It really is that simple.

Being perfectly honest, too, most burnout cases I've seen in my horsey circles were related to some sort of misalignment with what a rider really wants to be doing, and/or misalignment with a horse. Riding is hard enough as it is, but will 100% be an unbearable grind if you don't enjoy the day-to-day aspects - be they repetitive schooling rides or long barn commutes - required for whatever goals you set for yourself.

I'm very lucky to be right now at a point in my life where I have the flexibility in time and resources to pursue my goals with Charlie. And, obviously it should go without saying that I'm extremely lucky to have Charlie at all.

Ten years down the line, it's hard to tell what I'll be doing with horses. But for right now, I've got a clear sense of what I want, and the right horse to do it. And horse showing plays a big role in that dream, for a couple reasons.

this fence showed up twice on course and was one of only a few set to a full 3'3 height. the rest were 3'
There's so much more to horse showing than just the outcome, or the minutes in the ring or out on course. It's the feeling of butterflies when you mark a date on the calendar or send in an entry. The days, weeks or months of careful practice leading up to the event.

The night before, packing and preparing. The morning of - actually driving in to the venue. Nothing feels like that moment when you turn into the driveway at the show.

But then there's the blur of last minute dressing and tacking before you're finally ONthen warming up, until all at once --- it's time. The big crescendo: Actually doing the thing - riding your test or pattern, jumping the course. Executing the plan. And, with any luck, completing it.

Each of these moments inspires an almost visceral reaction in me. A strange mix of nervous excitement that ultimately gives way to (hopefully) a happy wash of endorphins when it's all over.

Our round at Oldfields this weekend was not perfect. I'm still not riding forward enough in the show ring (tho we're getting better in lessons!). And even tho we've been practicing short turns to a big oxers constantly in lessons, I still kinda biffed that same style turn to jump 5. Honestly I'm lucky Charlie jumped it haha!

And ya know, there are countless other little odds and ends I see in the video that need fixing.

There are things I'm proud of too, tho: For the most part, I was thinking and choosing and riding with purpose the whole time, even if I didn't always choose perfectly. The two jumps we were allowed to do in warm up (green crooked vertical and red oxer) went very smoothly on course. Our overall canter has improved, even tho I shut it down too much at times. And my hand position and activity are better.

Plus, the jumps themselves were no big deal. The bending line to the big upright 3'3 vertical rode in a tight 6 for Charlie, but even tho he got close to it he still jumped it pretty easily. And I almost ran him into a friggin standard at a 3' oxer but he handled that with aplomb too. Gooood boy!

every clear round wins a blue!! heck yes, satin ho 4 lyfe!! 
Perhaps the most important part of it all tho was the feeling I had afterward. I felt good. My horse was so good, and felt really confident and capable. And so did I.

The course maybe wasn't even as hard as some stuff we do in lessons, but the feeling walking away was different. Like we passed a small but important test haha. So so so so so many riders suffer from some degree of imposter syndrome, and I'm no exception. But rides like this help give me that extra little boost in confidence that when the time does eventually come for the "real deal," we'll be ready.

he might not be little, be he sure is sporty as hell!
But also. Ya know. It's just plain fun to get out and do fun things with my amazing and sweet pony. My inner 12yo is pretty sure that this is the life. Moving up or winning or prize money be damned.

This fun happy fulfilled feeling is its own reward to me and I can't think of literally anything else I'd rather be doing with my time or resources. But if ever a time comes when I feel differently? Well.... then I just won't do it haha. It really is that simple.