Monday, January 22, 2018

just the jumps, ma'am: Charlie does arena eventing!

Yesterday I wrote about the magical dielectric grease that helped get us back on the road. Obviously we needed more than just that, considering last we heard my truck had blown a brake line..... But we got that fixed too: with a full replacement kit of stainless steel lines all the way around. So, theoretically, corroded lines should be a thing of the past! Yay!

Perhaps it was all for the best too, since almost every circumstance of this planned outing has also improved: particularly, the weather! It was in the 50s!! And SUNNY! Ah, paradise!

The long and short of the story is: Brita and I took our horses to Loch Moy's Cross Derby held on their all-weather arenas. They pull all their cross country jumps into three giant arenas to create fun and challenging courses. Each level has about an hour to school whatever they want before their rides begin.

sorry but there are exactly zero photographs of us actually jumping. but the shadows from my helmet cam video (below!!) are pretty fun to watch haha
I opted to school with the Novice riders so that Brita and I could ride together (I entered BN), tho we kinda biffed the timing anyway. By the time we were saddled and mounting up, we had about 30min left in the schooling break.

Next time we'll plan to be on and already warmed up on the flat (the warm up area they use for stadium at horse trials was available for the derby too) when the arenas open for schooling. This way we'll have enough time to do everything we want (like schooling a level above our competition height) without feeling rushed for time.

is this the face of an excited event horse?!?!?
As it was, I actually scratched my timed ride anyway to just focus on schooling as my and Charlie's main event, for reasons I'll describe more below. But had we continued, the derby format is: begin trotting or cantering around one arena with a start similar to a stadium round, they blow the whistle and the clock runs when you cross the start line.

The course winds through each arena (with some very creative and fun pathways between!) with a focus on optimum time. All penalties are converted into time, and circling on course is allowed. Stadium fences are intermixed in the course - particularly in challenging spots like after a more galloping style fence or combination, or after a downhill or uphill between arenas. The objective is to hit the optimum time dead on - any time over or under is converted to penalties.

Anyway tho, let's talk about the schooling since that's what Charlie and I did for the day!!

this is the face of an excited event rider tho!! lol.... and if you compare this pre-ride selfie to one from about two years ago, the differences are pretty stark. if that 2016 selfie was an omen of the season to come, let's hope my happier more relaxed expression here is likewise a harbinger for 2018!
This was Charlie's first real outing since Fair Hill in September. It's been almost as long since he's had a serious jump school outdoors. We had one jump lesson outside since Charlie's surgery, but it was very light and kinda messy anyway. I also lightly schooled him over fences myself once around Christmas. But we've been indoors ever since.

Needless to say, we're both a little rusty! So I went into the day fully prepared to focus on the schooling above all else. And the schooling was GREAT. I'm SO PROUD of Charlie, he is just such a great horse for me <3

naturally, we couldn't go on adventures without our buddies!!!
So let's dig into some details, starting with what went well:

1) None of these jumps were remotely scary to me. In fact my nerves were shockingly settled, despite panicking slightly when ride times were announced.... But I studied the course maps in advance, knew which jumps were where, and which elements of the course were likeliest to challenge us. So by the time Charlie and I walked into those arenas, I felt confident and prepared.

While we didn't do ditches, banks or water during the schooling, I feel confident in saying there's nothing at BN that isn't within our ability. We still have lessons to learn, pieces to smooth out. But we can do it. Charlie continues to feel bold and uncomplicated at this level.

just under one year ago, charlie overlooked this very scene mostly as a spectator. on this day? he was a full fledged participant. yessssss <3
2) On a related note, I've spent a LOT of time visualizing improvements in my position: hands more forward, shorter reins. This, I've come to believe, is the secret sauce in getting more comfortable and in sync with Charlie over fences. When my hands are farther forward (with shorter reins plz!), it's 1000% easier to see the more forward going long spot, and to actually go with Charlie from said distance.

Even without photographic evidence, I'm proclaiming this ride a win. Sure, there were still moments when I stayed in the back seat and slipped my reins at funky distances... But more often than not, I felt more in sync with Charlie and like I could ride his jump more smoothly and effectively.

it helps that he has great role models!!
3) Another thing that went well was introducing Charlie to new styles of fences, and larger variations of some styles he's seen before. Specifically, we jumped our first corner, skinny chevron, true table, and log oxer during this ride. He also jumped a bigger faux brush style fence than he's previously seen. None posed an issue.

And 4) Both horses were extremely cool customers about the atmosphere, despite neither having traveled much in months. They were excellent coming off the trailer and getting speed-tacked to hurry off to school. Excellent for the riding itself. And excellent chillin at the trailer afterward.

They're just good, reliable horses, and it's so reassuring to both me and Brita to feel like we can count on them.

fun things we jumped included this little stick horse in the pathway through the parking lot between arenas
On the flip side of the coin, let's also talk about what needs work after this ride. There are really two main biggies here, that are both kinda related to each other.

1) I need to get more comfortable riding Charlie up in front of my leg in a forward canter, and Charlie needs to get more reliable in the brakes department. He's not bad or naughty about braking... just... green, like he doesn't always understand what I want. Or also like he's not strong enough to take a half halt to shift his balance back while still staying up in front of my leg.

turns out that mini stadium corner we schooled a few weeks ago was perfect prep for an actual real BN mini corner!
Meanwhile, bc I'm uncertain about being able to stop him or slow him down, I end up riding him too under paced. Case in point: That related line from log oxer to log coop rode in a long 3 our first time through, then felt we needed to gallop to get the 3. But when I walked it later in the day? It walked in exactly 48'. Like, on the dot.

That is not a long distance for Charlie, unless I'm riding him too compressed. I need to ride him forward, need to keep my leg on, need to put him in front of my leg. Need need need.

BN tables likewise posed no issue for Sir
The main struggle here is trusting that the brakes work. I got better as the ride progressed about keeping my leg ON even if I felt like we were going too fast, and we subsequently got a lot of really nice jumps jumped from a forward stride (particularly the table rode very well for us, esp when I steered haha....).

However we typically did not land in the same balance we jumped from, and thus recovery on landing took too long.

this log oxer was deceptively chunky - one of the biggest we jumped for the day. and in a related line, too. twas nbd tho.
Which brings us to the other part of our ride that needs work: 2) Basically everything between the jumps haha. Because we aren't recovering very quickly from jumps taken on a forward stride, the turns on this course proved incredibly challenging for us. Elements like stadium jumps placed soon after xc jumps that wanted that bigger forward canter would also suffer from this issue.

Ultimately that's why I scratched my timed ride: the individual elements posed no issue. Rough around the edges, sure, but totally fine. Better than fine, honestly. Considering Charlie hasn't had a normal jump school in months, and we haven't jumped many BN sized things recently either.... Considering all that, I'm pretty fucking pleased with how easy this was for Charlie.

the water was too ice-filled for any real schooling, unfortunately. served as a good mid-ride drink break tho!
But we actually aren't at present able to string it all together in one go. At least, not in a manner that I felt was productive given Charlie's current level of schooling / fitness. We need a reliable half halt. We need to be strong and balanced enough in our more forward canter that we can land in balance too. I.e., shorter recovery times after fences, especially when we take a longer spot.

A lot of this falls to me, in being able to hold my position no matter what, or recover my seat and reins more quickly to really sit down on Charlie and half halt on landing. Some of it is just Charlie's strength and schooling tho. It's hard work to hold himself up in balance on a longer stride -- falling flat and on the forehand is so much easier! Just needs more practice, tho!

look at all that ice.... it's more ice than when we were here last year in below freezing weather. on this day tho? it was 50s and sunny. perfection!
Which, incidentally, the practice imho is just as fun as the actual competitions when done right! And this arena eventing stuff... wow it was actually SO FUN! It's a whole different feeling jumping these cross country fences on flat, well groomed surfaces. And the venue organizers took advantage of this by using their biggest, widest and most fun fences for each level.

skinny chevron roll top! this was also a pretty substantial jump, with a face just over 4' wide (i measured). technically seeing this jump on a BN course strikes me as 'course creep' ... but whatevskis, charlie didn't hesitate!
We started in the upper most arena that's typically used for stadium at the venue's horse trials. The jumps in there were mostly stadium fences tho (which I skipped) with only two BN xc fences. Both of which were kinda small and straight forward. Good for warming up, then we moved on.

There's a ditch built into the path from that first arena to the largest middle arena (typically where they put the dressage rings and the intro/elem stadium course). But that ditch was in a trakehner for the PM / T courses so it's saved for another day.

fun brush jump!! charlie's seen the starter version of this jump but finally got to tackle it at bn height!
The middle arena had the biggest and most fun jumps, as far as I was concerned, and we spent the most time here. The atmosphere was also the most challenging for Charlie since you can see basically the entire property from this arena, and it had the most horses in it. We experienced a few episodes of running sideways (which you can totally tell in the video lol), and Charlie had a harder time settling even during walk breaks.

He was really very very good, tho, and legitimately did every single thing I asked of him. And even when some of our fences were kinda awkward the first time, he was able to come back around and smooth it out on the second try. And we only almost ran into other horses a couple of times. Not too bad!

definitely a super fun video, esp if you're watching the shadows too lol

The third lower ring saw Charlie become his most settled. It's a quieter arena with its low lying position limiting visual distractions. Plus, most of the jumps in this space had right handed approaches. Charlie continues to be a little more reliable jumping from his right lead, and a little more explosive on the left haha. Nbd, tho.

post ride snax!!!
After schooling the BN jumps in this third ring, the schooling period was ending so I opted to try one last pass over the most challenging portion in the middle ring: long gallop to the corner, long gallop to the table, to a super sharp left handed turn to the related line (which would have then taken another sharp right turn to a stadium oxer, but I skipped all the stadium jumps).

Everything honestly went pretty smoothly, Charlie met all the jumps great, but we still weren't quite able to make that left turn from the table to the line. Ah well, in time!

austen snapped this shot of charlie looking like an absolute hunk at the trailer (with ubiquitous sugarloaf mountain in the background!). also looking like he was feeling like a macho studly hunk too, lol. 
That's also not really a turn I expect to see often on more traditional courses, so it doesn't worry me. Plus Charlie has an automatic lead change in there somewhere, even if he seems to have forgotten about it during his rehab. Once that's back in working order, left turns will become easier on this horse who almost always lands right.

And I'm fairly positive we could have pushed through and made it happen if we needed to.... But for my purposes I preferred just doing individual elements as well as possible, rather than pressing on in a rushed or sloppy fashion. Trying to develop correct habits here! Or something like that, lol!

best part of a great day of riding? chillin out at the trailers with friends afterward, with sandwiches and a beer
Honestly my only regret from not doing the full course in my timed ride was that I didn't get any pictures. Sigh. Makes my inner media junkie sad. That's ok, tho. We'll get pictures next time, bc as far as I'm concerned, Charlie got exactly what he needed from the schooling! And it's only whet my appetite for moar fun things!!!!

Plus he got to hang out a bit longer just chillin in the atmosphere while we watched Brita do her ride (which she slayed, btw). And then we all hung out at the trailer afterward, tail gating and soaking up the sun and warm weather. What's not to love, right?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

loose connections

Happy Sunday, everyone! I teased a few days ago during my conversation with myself about all things exasperating relating to the truck and trailer, that there was this sort of magical contact grease that seemed to help resolve my electrical issues.

now this is an intriguing picture.... what on earth could be going on? where could we be??
The long and short of that story was that I used a friend's trailer to trouble shoot whether the connection issue stemmed from my truck or my trailer. Her trailer lights worked while connected to my truck - including the pesky driver's side blinker that I'd given up on in my trailer. Hm.

She also had this grease - a dielectric grease - on her trailer's plug that then transferred slightly to my truck's socket. Which, when I reconnected my truck to my trailer, miracle of miracles!, the lights worked.

getting connected, the old fashioned modern way. hard to tell bc it's a still picture, but that's actually my driver's side trailer blinker blinking. what a novel concept!!!
So I ordered a tube on amazon (there are literally zillions of options, apparently) to test for myself. I was a little unsure, bc there seems to be a lot of contradictory information on ye olde google about this stuff. Some claim it improves electrical connections, some say it'll make a bad connection worse.

I decided to go off my experience with my friend's trailer plug and gamble that it'll improve my issues. Which, spoiler alert, it totally did. My trailer's plug has always been a little loose in my truck's socket - which I've tried to remedy by wrapping the plug in duct tape or foam or whatever to make a tighter fit. But when I added a little smidge of this grease to the pins in the trailer's plug? Boom. Everything worked!

ok but yes, things did actually happen this weekend. keen observers will recognize that charlie's wearing his big boy jump bridle for this first time since his surgery. fucking boom.
I don't say any of this claiming to be some sort of mechanical magician -- rather, I've just decided that a tube of this stuff is really handy to have in the truck and trailer kit. Considering it runs about $10 on amazon, it's a no brainer. So for any of you out there wondering if there's some sort of extra little thing to help keep your trailer bone connected to your truck bone, this type of grease might help.

per usual, Brita and Bella set a pretty baller example
Because. Ya know. Truck and trailer connectivity is a pretty critical element of hauling out. And hauling out is often step 1 in fun amazing fantastical adventures with friends :D

It's kinda crazy bc, looking back on things, it's been something like four months since Charlie's had any sort of real fun outing, not including his surgery (obviously) or normal lesson-related travel. That's actually the longest 'dry spell' since I brought him home.

charlie held his own tho, even if he ended up uber jealous of Bella's lunch (conveniently forgetting his own lunch completed about 5 minutes earlier.... lol)
Luckily for all involved, we finally got all our ducks in a row to get out this weekend and make fun things happen! It was definitely easy to tell in our ride that.... it had been a while lol. Charlie's surgery didn't set him back any in his training, but it also didn't really magically teach him about things like half halts or whatever. Go figure.

via GIPHY

That's cool tho. We had a gorgeous weekend here to enjoy whatever activities we may. With hope and optimism of more fine weather to come to keep on chipping away, getting back to where we were and closer to where we want to be.

Stay tuned for more details on this particular outing soon! And in the meantime, let me know if you have any experience with this dielectric grease. Or, if you have any other tips or tricks for useful products or tools to have around the truck or trailer when things go awry!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

cavalleti time!

For a variety of reasons, this month has been really tough for our standard Saturday lessons with trainer P. She had to cancel two weeks ago, I had to cancel last week. She'll have to cancel this weekend, and I'm not going to be there the week after. That's just how it goes sometimes, I guess. Maybe by the time we get back on track, the outdoor will be thawed??

Anyway, it's been useful to keep up our weekly lessons with K in the meantime too. This week marked our fourth lesson - with another variation on grids.

turns out we *can* actually balance a more forward canter in the indoor. who knew!
This time, she set three elements on a bending line around one short end of the arena. You can see the full exercise pretty easily in the gif and video below, but it was essentially: two adjustable jumps (ie: standards and pole) as the outside elements, and a cavalleti in the middle. All spread about 21' apart on a bending line (basically an arc of a 20m circle).

i find this acceptable lol
We started by cantering through with the two outside elements as just ground poles, with the cavaletti between. In retrospect..... I probably should have trotted through my first time. Or, uh, maybe even walked. Because adding the bend to the grid was kinda a mind fuck for Charlie lol.

tho.... we had some funny moments too.....
It turns out steering is hard, yo! Charlie met the first ground pole ok, but then kinda had a major "WTF" moment at the cavelleti (below, and in the gif haha) then almost nailed a standard on our way out. Uh, whoops?

"oh no :( " - charlie
After that unexpected moment of fuckery, things smoothed out a little bit. This is one of those exercises that seems REALLY simple in construction, but actually is kinda mind melting to ride. Not least because it actually wants a bit more of a forward and open canter than I typically ride in the indoor.

via GIPHY

But when I actually did allow Charlie to canter forward? Suddenly the distances started working for us (they definitely did not want to work from trot either). And actually it got easier as the two outside elements grew too.

looking a little more confident here!
First the final element became just one rail of a cross rail, then a full cross rail. Then the first element also became a cross rail. Then they all became verticals. All the while taking turns to run through on both leads (although for some reason most of my pictures are on the right lead, oops).

it doesn't look like much, but this is a thinking, balanced horse. also, kinda a chunky horse. i likey.
For my part, I needed to keep thinking about riding Charlie forward - and holding my hands a little wider so my inside hand could be more open. And more leg. Always more leg. It was supposed to be one smooth bend instead of "jump - turn - jump - turn - jump!" so my eyes had to be looking through the entire exercise from the very beginning.

"yea i'm kinda a big deal" - charlie
I think the coolest feeling was when it *clicked* for Charlie. He was kinda backed off and confused at first, and then started rushing a little bit (esp when it was just ground poles). But after one or two smooth trips through it was like.... he just got it.


In fact, toward the end I kinda botched a few of my turns (like I do) and Charlie still just carried on easily. It was kinda like I could just close my leg as if to say "Uh, sorry bro, figure it out!" and he would respond "Yep, totes got this! Hang on!"

trying to make sure trainer K also recognizes that he is, in fact, kinda a big deal.
I definitely like getting that feeling from Charlie haha. So it was a good exercise for that. Actually REALLY reminiscent of the cavalleti warm up exercise Boyd Martin used in the clinic I audited two winters ago. The major difference here being: this was the full ride, whereas Boyd just used it as a warm up.

My guess is that's more a function of dealing with the limited options in the indoor, but it would have been nice to finish the ride with maybe a real jump or two. All the same tho, I'm excited to work over these exercises that really encourage Charlie to think more deeply about the path ahead of him, and learn how to get through it even when I mess up.

he's not spoiled, you're spoiled
I esp appreciate the cavalleti exercises bc you can really dial up the intensity pretty significantly, while still keeping the exercise relatively low impact and safe for the horse. Charlie learned a lot this lesson - even when we had some really messy moments. But the forgiving nature of cavelleti exercises allowed him to keep learning without getting worried or backed off. Definitely something to try again!

And hopefully we'll have some fun opportunities to jump some bigger stuff - maybe this weekend?!?! All crossables crossed on that front haha.

Do you like to do highly technical ground pole or cavalleti exercises? Have you tried this one? Or other similar variations or configurations? Adjustability is big on my mind lately so I'm always looking for easy-to-set-up ideas!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

making time

I identify as an eventer. In a way that I never really did as a hunter, despite riding in the hunter equitation classes through college.

Maybe bc I ended up in the h/j world a little bit by default? It was my college's IHSA team sport, and that's how I found my Rochester barn, so riding hunters was a natural choice. But then with the introduction of Isabel, suddenly anything became possible and so I actively chose eventing.

being an eventer is not the same thing as being a professional eventer haha. i lay no claims to that. but damn the pros (and their incredible horses) are amazing to watch!
Thus, I'm an eventer. And have been since 2014. I love all three phases of the sport and work hard to keep learning and improving my skills in each. I've competed in exactly 20 three phase horse trials (withdrawing from one before xc and being eliminated in two others, but who's counting! lol...), with multiple completions in each level from starter to novice.

I have a skull cap and wear full seat breeches. Clashing or bright colors aren't uncommon, and my horse occasionally sports unconventional tack. Not to mention my obscenely massive collection of tack. Ya know. Standard features of the sport lol.

Not to say that there are "eligibility requirements" for identifying as an eventer. As far as I'm concerned, any student of any horse sport can identify as they see fit. No gatekeepers here!

isabel and i casually made the rounds at the local venues. ya know. here and there. <3
But there are a couple things I've never done as an event rider that sometimes make me curious. Make me wonder if there's something integral that I'm missing from the sport.

One thing I've never done is competed at a recognized event. Depending on where you are geographically, this can make a pretty big difference in your experience.

For me, personally? I don't have that concern. I've ridden my fair share of too-soft courses, and often an unrecognized event is less technical than its sanctioned counterpart, even at the same venues. But.... We also have plenty of venues that recycle most, if not all, of their recognized courses and jumps in the starter trials too.

There's a side effect of that fact, tho, that sometimes I *do* wonder about. Specifically: because I've only ridden in unrecognized events, and none of the starter trials in my area seem to time riders, I've subsequently never done a timed ride. Stadium jumping or cross country.

charlie's got no lack of enthusiasm, for sure!
And actually I'm somewhat notorious for taking advantage of not being timed. By taking longer approaches to challenging fences, or winding around difficult terrain instead of tackling it head on. Schooling through the water before approaching my flags, or circling in related lines when they're not flagged A-B. All without ever having to worry about making that time up later.

On the flip side, I've also never really had to worry about going too fast. Or think very deeply about managing my horse's pace for any reason other than my own general preference.

And it makes me wonder, ya know? At the highest echelons of the sport, making time is often a huge factor in determining the final leader board. And that same thing happens in the lower levels too - it's not uncommon to see enough time racked up on cross country to be equivalent to a 20pt jumping penalty (or more).

Essentially: In timed events, time matters. Speed management becomes a critical skill.

i think, with the right efforts tho, he'll polish right up to something special!
Personally, I've felt like there's somewhat of a hierarchy to priorities when it comes to my learning to event. Like, I had to start with just understanding and being comfortable with the most basic elements and rules of each phase. And that keeping time was what you did when you were ready to refine and polish, when everything else was already smoothing out. Then with each move up, you sorta start over again - not worrying about time until the other bases are covered.

This season I'm starting in a different place from each of the last three years. My horse feels like he's had a reasonably thorough introduction to the sport. Like he's got the basic elements covered. And we've got some ambitions for this year, including moving up and possibly dipping our toes in the recognized eventing waters.

So I'm thinking this will also be the year I start to take time a little more seriously. And I'm kinda excited by the idea, ya know? Like it's a whole other dimension to rides that I kinda purposefully have avoided bc I can go a little crazy about stuff like that. But it's time, I think. (lol puns).

so totally legit right here tho
I've got a couple ideas for how to start teaching myself the basics of making time. Mostly by just.... ya know... timing some standard rides. Probably starting with trot sets. We don't currently really time those, so much as we just ride specific routes through the fields on repeat. So an easy next step is collecting averages on how long each pass takes, thus getting a rough estimate of actual distance.

Then I can try working over that same distance at different canter speeds, seeing where our natural speed gets us, then trying to (in a controlled fashion) increase and decrease speeds. Which, haha, actually being able to influence Charlie's speed might be half the battle ;)

I'm curious tho, do you time your rides with an eye toward speed? Or do you practice different speeds during activities like canter sets? For those of you with a lot of experience riding timed courses, did you kinda just figure it out as you go? Or were there aspects more challenging than you expected? Either with regard to going too slow or too fast?

I'm all ears!

Monday, January 15, 2018

off season check-ins: bits + other miscellany

Happy Monday, y'all! I've spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks trying to be empowering about riding in the winter, and not letting any excuses get between me and my dreams etc. Which like, is great. This attitude has helped me stay on a fairly regular schedule.

But it's still winter. It's still cold. And we're still basically just traipsing around the dusty, small indoor - trying to get back to where we were before Charlie's untimely splint surgery. Which is fine, ya know? That's kinda what off season is all about anyway, right?

Another advantage to the off season? It's the perfect opportunity to introduce new tack or gear changes, or experiment a little bit. Especially if this involves a little low key fun shopping, amiright?

experimenting with bits again! this one has a new mouth piece, but the same loose ring cheek piece that seems to work for Charlie on the flat
So let's talk about some of the small changes and new introductions I've made in Charlieland over the past couple months!

In no particular order:

1) Over the past year and change, I've experimented more with Charlie's bits than I ever really did with Isabel. Once I found the Sprenger KK Ultras for Izzy, that's just what we went with - both over fences and on the flat.

Charlie's needed a little more thought. He's a sensitive horse, but not the softest mouth. Esp in the early days he would lean very heavily, and even to this day our brakes can be dull. He's a green horse tho - still learning about contact - so I'm not very inclined to put anything in his mouth that doesn't feel like a pleasant place to go.

big fat heavy silver d-ring: not particularly magical for charlie
Things I've tried:

- Big fat heavy silver single jointed d-ring snaffle, at the recommendation of a dressage clinician. Verdict? Not much difference shown, tho the d-ring cheek piece allowed more leaning than I wanted.

- Myler correction bit: I wrote a whole post on this bit, here. Short story is: This is a LOT of bit. It was hugely influential in how Charlie went - to the point where it was almost overwhelming for him. Very easy for him to suddenly feel claustrophobic in this bit, and I had to be very careful not to box him in. BUT it also allowed me to access more of him, and influence his balance in ways not fully possible for me without the bit. And - the biggie - those breakthroughs carried over when we switched back to our normal snaffle. I think I rode in this bit maybe three times over the course of 2-3 months, and it was a useful tool used sparingly.

myler correction bit: a useful tool used sparingly
- Sprenger KK Ultra loose ring double jointed snaffles. These are carry-overs from Isabel. Just as with her, the fatter aurigan bit went on Charlie's jump bridle and the narrower silver bit went on his dressage bridle. The plain snaffle eventually proved to be insufficient for Charlie's gusto over fences, so I switched to another KK Ultra - same mouth piece but now with a three ring elevator cheek piece.

After making that change, I switched the fatter aurigan bit to Charlie's dressage bridle, which he actually seemed to like a little better. That's been our go-to situation through the end of last year's competition season.

my two Sprenger KKs: the one hanging straight down is a standard loose ring made in the aurigan alloy, and the one i'm holding up is in a plain silver (i think) and is technically a bradoon snaffle, therefore with smaller rings. the aurigan bit is slightly thicker than the bradoon bit -- only barely, but possibly enough to make a difference.
My dressage trainer has at times wondered if something different might prove more palatable (lol puns) to Charlie, tho. Not that the KK isn't working well for us, but just a general curiosity of whether there's a better option out there. 

So I've kinda vaguely been keeping an eye out for another Myler - but this time their lowest level, simplest comfort snaffle. This is another double jointed loose ring bit -- but the joint functions differently than a typical snaffle by not being fully able to bend or collapse. The middle ring holds the bit's shape as a general "U" even as the pieces are allowed to rotate and move independently.

the new bit: Myler loose ring comfort snaffle, picked up from eBay
One finally popped up on eBay at a good price, so I nabbed it and Charlie's been wearing it for a couple weeks now. Honestly? I haven't really noticed a true difference. There are times where I really like it, and times where I've felt like it's not sufficient in the brakes department. However both of those feelings could also have been caused by environmental factors so I'm not ready to attribute them to the bit itself.

Basically, needs more experimentation, I think. But I don't *dislike* it so far. We'll see. It's staying on the bridle for now. Have any of you used Myler bits? Had any similar experiences to me with the two I've tried so far? Or does your horse seem kinda like Charlie, where he kinda goes more or less the same in most bits, with just very subtle differences?

photo of my favorite pair of spurs: simple little nubs. 
Anyway. Bits aren't the only difference lately in Charlieland. Leading us to item #2 on my list of updates: Spurs!!!

You may remember last February where I wrote about ditching carrying a whip or crop with Charlie and picking up a pair of spurs instead. The idea there was that Charlie was no stranger to either whips or crops, and it's likely based on what I know from his track history that he and former trainers had some throwdowns that included possibly excessive use of said whip/crop.

Long story short, Charlie knows what those tools are. Has a history of fighting against them. And would basically give me this attitude of "Bring it on!" when I'd try to apply them as aids, especially during his 'dinosaur in tar pit' moments. This was.... not productive or fun or even very safe haha. Spurs, however, were new to him and would allow me to get in and get out when needed, without a lot of fuss.

pictured: charlie reacting to the crop almost exactly one year ago. it's a tough life, buddy!
Over time tho, Charlie has grown more accustomed to the spurs. And when we went through a recent sour patch caused by a pinching saddle, he would take out his irritation by reacting very badly to any spur. Much like he used to do with a whip or crop. So I decided to ditch the spurs (allowing me to really boot him when he needed a boot), and picked up a crop again.

We've spent a lot of time building trust over aids, expectations, and corrections appropriately sized to the indiscretions over the past year. So, so far, Charlie has accepted the reintroduction of the crop to our rides, especially if I'm really consistent in its application.

But as I learned in one of Charlie's earliest jumping lessons, when we were first starting to really struggle with his dinosaur in tar pit routine, there must be a clear, firm line on acceptable horsey behaviors while riding. And I need to be prepared to apply every tool in my tool box to help Charlie understand that. So far, so good!

i picked up the Smartpak blanket insulator on sale after hearing good things about it from Kristen at Stampy & The Brain
Obviously we also updated Charlie's saddle situation in light of said sour patch and subsequent nasty behavior haha... But I already told you about that gorgeous luxurious custom Hulsebos dressage saddle <3

So that about sums up all the changes in riding gear thus far into the off season. I tend to be a real creature of habit and routine, and somewhat change averse, but these small adjustments have been fun to play with.

Other recent additions are more along the management side of things - like #3, the above insulating water bucket cover. I only picked it up at the very tail end of our recent extreme cold snap so we haven't had a real true test of how effective it is yet.

Kristen gave it solid review tho, and so far the commentary from barn staff is: it isn't a cure-all, but it does help. And when ice does form in extremely cold temperatures, it doesn't form as thickly and is therefore easier to break up. So the general feeling from those who would care the most is that it's a positive addition.

hey it's a picture of my horse's shoulder in mid January, after being clipped for about a month now and blanketed almost full time. so far, no rubs! 
A more glowing review has to come in for new item #4: the new style of shoulder guard that I tried this year. A loose silky bib made by Snuggy Hoods that I picked up a few months ago from Amazon for something like $15.

This thing is fantastic - it fits loosely under any style of blanket and has a tab that loops over blanket straps to keep the bib in place. Tho the woman who helps me with blanket changes during the week never remembers to use the tab and the bib stays in place anyway.

flashback to when i first introduce our new shoulder guard, the silky loose bib by Snuggy Hoods. so far i'm a big fan!
I use this bib under any and all blankets, including Charlie's Back on Track mesh sheet. And so far he doesn't have any shoulder rubs at all, whereas this time last year he was already becoming bald in spots.

The bib itself is still in great shape despite all the constant wear. I should have taken a new picture of it, but all seams are still holding, it's not gotten super nasty or anything like that, and basically looks the same now as it did when I got it, aside from the standard dust and whatnot.

So my general verdict? This thing was definitely worth the cost, is super easy to fit, and easier to get on and off than the previous stretchy elastic thingy I used. My friends who tried to get one after me this year couldn't find one in the right sizes, but it's worth keeping an eye out for next season, imo.

shine bright like a diamond, charlie! and yes one of the strands is out of juice right now, but there's a usb charger so i think i can just recharge it on my usb adapter in my car one of these days!
Last but not least: #5 on my list of fun new changes in recent times, the reflective LED road safety breast plate from my blogger secret santa, Susan of Saddle Seeks Horse.

This thing is amazing - rechargeable LED light strips on each segment of the breast plate that can either hold a steady glow or strobe or pulse (or stay off). The top two straps have standard clips to attach to the saddle's D rings, and the bottom strap has a loop to fit over the girth. All three straps are fully adjustable and fit Charlie easily.

On weeknights Charlie and I spend a lot of time on the long, twisty driveway between his barn and the arenas. Drivers know to be careful and watch for horses..... but it's also REALLY hard to see - esp dark horses and around the bends. Naturally, this can be pretty nerve wracking both for riders AND drivers.

it's gotten a lot of compliments from passing drivers!
So far every time Charlie's worn this breast plate, we have encountered passing cars. And almost all the drivers have stopped to roll down their windows and say how easy it was to see us. Or, they have mentioned it to me later.

The breastplate can seem kinda silly, and it's definitely SUPER flashy and can be a little spooky or cast an eerie green glow on our path.... But it makes me feel WAY safer on the road. So I'm calling it a win.

Anything that makes the dark, cold winter nights more festive, right? So yea. That's all my latest and greatest stuff recently. Normal practical stuff like anti-rub guards for blankets, and water bucket insulators. And not getting thrown off my horse when he bucks at the spur. Ya know. Normal stuff. But also fun stuff like bit experimentation and sparkling like a disco ball on our way up to the arenas. Lol....

Have you used the off season to reconfigure any of your gear or tack? Or found any useful upgrades for dealing with all the incidentals that come along with winter? Or maybe you're still holding out for some big exciting upcoming purchases or additions???

Friday, January 12, 2018

wherein Charlie discovers the launch codes

So. Charlie is my jumping horse, yes? Kinda, sorta? I mean, over the past year and five months (time flies!) since Charlie retired from his racing career, he has in fact learned to overcome obstacles in his path.

But.... anybody who's followed along with the many, many pictures and videos of this process might already recognize that Charlie isn't really jumping, per se, so much as he kinda.... just canters over stuff. Or occasionally he'll lift and fling his shoulders and front end across a jump, with the hind end sorta just trailing behind.

This is partly bc the heights we've tackled are honestly pretty easy for him. He's 17h+ after all, and not exactly a slouch in the athleticism department (even if he's not super inclined toward exertion). It's also bc he hasn't quite actually figured out how to use himself very well yet.

behind charlie, an entire wall of the indoor is deconstructed, and peppered with ladders and Amish carpenters working away with hammers, screw drivers, and all sorts of other fun irregularly noisy odds and ends. excitement!
There are a couple ways to address training a horse to use their bodies better. One way is to keep introducing more height to sorta force the issue, make the horse really focus and pay attention. This can work really well for horses unimpressed with little things, and for riders who are comfortable and confident with more height.

For riders who are a little less sure of their own ability to bail the horse out in dicey situations with big fences -- or who may be wishing to develop a horse who can bail the rider out in said dicey situations -- another option is grid and gymnastic work. Forever and ever amen.

You probably don't have to guess which of those two options appeals more to me haha.

certainly made for a more.... dramatic sense of adventure in the otherwise monotonous indoor lol
So anyway. This week we had our third lesson with upper level event rider K. Which brought along more grid work. It would be easy for me to feel like, "Wow in three lessons with this new trainer we've only tackled variations of the same exact exercise over and over again... When is she gonna switch it up?"

Except... Uh. I'm not taking these lessons only for excitement and variety and fun (tho naturally those are important). I'm taking them bc I'm pretty deeply interested in improving my own knowledge and technique, especially as it relates to training Charlie to be the horse I want him to be: A horse who can take me places I've never been before.

So I'm cool with the repetition over these exercises, esp after seeing the results K has been able to produce. But, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

fully admitting i spent wayyyyy too much time getting those cavalleti and the arena above scaled to size. approx 52 pixels per 12' stride. arena is 20x40m, so one long side is approximately 11 strides. the gray thing at the end is actually a big tarp covered barn door lying at one end of the under-construction arena, therefore shortening our usable arena length significantly, by up to 2-3 stride lengths. and yes, to answer your question, we DID almost run it over once or twice while tracking left through this exercise.
K is honestly at a bit of a disadvantage with me as a student. I used to have a training program that comprised: weekly jump lessons with Trainer P, wherein we get reps over course work, height, and grids; weekly jump lessons with 4* eventer Dan, wherein we got drilled on technique on the flat and over fences, with exercises that could be incredibly challenging; and regular dressage lessons with Trainer C, who revolutionized our flat work.

This system just.... Worked for me - all the pieces clicked seamlessly together. I'm very fortunate to still be a student of Trainers P & C, but logistics became an insurmountable challenge for regular lessons with Dan. Thus, enter upper level eventer K. Who is not Dan. For instance, she has yet to touch our flat work. And part of me wants to resent that she's not Dan bc I wish I could be taking lessons with him still.

But she isn't, and that's actually not a bad thing either. She's got her own style developed from her own experiences and from working for another local BNR 4* rider, Sally Cousins. And actually almost without me noticing, she's already started touching on some technical details where I *know* I need a lot of help.

the grid: trot pole (not pictured) to small X, one stride to oxer with V-poles. i didn't ask, but believe these were in the same position from last week - set at about 20ish' (possibly 21-22') apart. V-poles are introduced slowly from the edges of the jump and moved inward incrementally.
Specifically, she set up two cavaletti on the long side, having me include them in my warm up of trot and canter. First just sorta cruisin through, letting Charlie find his own way. Which, incidentally, was to trot in for 5 strides, or canter in for 4. (K says she didn't set them at any particular distances - this is very much a "work with what ya got" type exercise).

Then canter through, adding for 5. Then 4 again. Then get the 6. And she says she would've had us try for 3 too if it weren't for the tarp-covered door in one of the arena - making the turn on landing pretttttty challenging on a very open stride (we definitely almost nailed the door after coming through in 4 once anyway haha).

This exercise is SO PERFECT for Charlie, and yet I haven't actually set it up on my own. Who knows why. But having a trainer work me through it? So helpful. The exercise went about as I expected: The adds were easier on the right lead, and the going stride was easier on the left. But just because I already knew that didn't mean it isn't important to keep practicing.

K also echoed what she told me last week about working through the turns: I need to still have a little more forward in my turns to the exercise. I wanted to package Charlie up too early before the first jump, instead of allowing him to move up and then half halting between the two elements.

My excuse for this is that Charlie doesn't really.... half halt yet haha. But. Isn't that what the purpose of this exercise is all about? So yea. Great practice. And I really need to be better about setting stuff like this up for myself, it's so easy to do. Adjustability is one of Charlie's key weaknesses right now.

charlie surveying his kingdom. or. maybe keeping an eye out for the industrious amish. either one, really. also bc i'm a zealot about keeping track of jump heights, i did some very high tech scientifical guestimating on this oxer's height, based on the 2' riser against the standard. verdict? right around 2'9, esp considering the V-poles (4x4 beams). then again tho, everything always looks bigger in the indoor, with shorter standards and narrowed poles.
Anyway, after working over the cavalleti on both leads, we moved back to the one stride exercises from last week. Since the giant barn door taking up one end of the arena, K pulled the first element so it was just two jumps: a cross rail to an oxer.

We started with both set up, tho the oxer started as a very large cross rail. Then slowly built that second element into the oxer, before beginning to introduce the V-poles while increasing height.

Same as last time, K wanted me to think of bumping up with my hands and lifting through the grid. She said that it wasn't just my hands that made the difference, but that there must be something else I do with my body and position when I'm thinking about "lifting" that communicates to Charlie what I'm asking.

And. Guys. Charlie responded.

flahsback to the first time i felt some of the power charlie can have when he actually uses himself. i was incredibly unprepared for his effort over this seemingly boring oxer
Like. This flat-jumping, canters-over-everything, jump-clobberer, can't-be-bothered gelding FINALLY really showed us what he's got over that oxer. Especially as the V-poles moved in.

It was incredible. What a feeling. He actually really cracked his back, really wrapped himself around the jump - while still moving forward and across. His withers actually came up to meet me, wherein I actually finally got to feel my position finally settling into something more resembling what it felt like to jump Isabel (who cracked her back over the merest cross rails).

I wish I had video but have a habit of not asking trainers to record bc I know they're busy actually.... ya know... instructing me haha. Tho K actually said she's happy to do so since she understands the value of studying the video.

Anyway tho, I do have some video from the first time I ever really felt Charlie power off the ground, as shown in the gif below. This is kinda a perfect example bc, esp with the juxtaposition of the second jump where he's flatter and doesn't use himself nearly as well.

via GIPHY

For me as a rider, the biggest difference in riding this is how it affects my position - which you can also sorta see above. His flatter, more strung out jump is kinda harder to figure out for me, since he's kinda just pulling us across the jump without any real push. Whereas in that first jump there's a distinct push up where his withers rise to me and help me sink more into my heels and seat. If that makes sense.

Actually the whole video from that early June lesson is fun to revisit, since it was one of the first rides where things started clicking for us over fences. It's sloppy and messy around the edges. Charlie never really jumps very well and I'm kinda just clinging on for the ride. But it was also the beginning of a new phase in our combined understanding of jumping together.

It's a nice counterpoint to this current ride, where Charlie seemed to have a breakthrough on using his body to jump. The idea, as trainer K told me (also, incidentally, what L Williams wrote in the comments of my last lesson recap) was that these grid exercises will help Charlie develop the 'muscle memory' so that this becomes his normal style of jumping.

badass gentlemen of sport don't need to pose for the camera, obvi
So it was definitely exciting to feel. Especially knowing Charlie's a pretty clever horse and seems to pick up quickly on things that make his job easier and more fun. It'll be interesting to see how all this work translates when we get back outside again and Charlie has more space to get strung out and build in pace. Only time will tell!

I'm looking forward to it one way or another tho! Have you ever felt your horse have a "breakthrough" in any of your riding? Where a concept finally became clear to them? Or they finally figured out how to connect all the pieces of their body together to create that surge of power? Either on the flat or over fences?