Friday, July 23, 2021

the quick and the..... very much alive!

Believe it or not, we haven't schooled cross country, even at home, since our epic lesson with Sally Cousins at Shawan Downs back in May. Because.... as I mentioned then, most of our farm's good portables actually go to Shawan for their recognized and starter horse trials. 

spoiler alert: every picture in this post is a rerun, since i took not a single shot, nor wore my helmet cam. but they're all more or less representative of location and/or actual jumps
The jumps return to our farm soon after -- but generally remain sitting hodge podge in the front field for an extended period until mgmt starts setting courses for our home recognized event (in August). 

Finally, those preparations are underway now and the portables have migrated back out to new and interesting positions across the farm's expansive grounds. AND, since I'm not foolish enough to repeat last year's mistakes and enter our own event as a competitor... I'm therefore allowed to school the jumps freely.

my blog, my rules. and omg this horse <3
Which, I finally did last night!!! It's cooled down substantially in the last week -- plus all the mowing and general grooming going on out in the fields means there are slightly fewer biting bugs out and about. 

And guys -- this was legit my favorite style of cross country schooling. Just me and Charlie. No studs, no spurs or crop. No big bridle or anything. Just us and the fences. And a neck strap, obvi. 

in this pic i'm jumping split rail to ditch (hard to see), but now these two jumps are set up in a bending line for BN -- actually not too too dissimilar from this shot
Bc: All I really wanted was to ride the horse forward and keep my god forsaken hands going with him no matter what. My most constant and enduring battle haha. 

And we kept it like.... surgically efficient. All told, I was on the horse for 26 min, including what it took to hack out to the fields, and strut back --- as only a conquering Charlie can do. And we jumped 8 fences total. 

despite this open oxer living at our home barn, i jumped it for the first time in actual competition vs schooling. that was years ago, tho. now it's an old friend
Trotted around a couple laps -- mostly to outrun the bugs, if I'm being honest. Ooh, and scope out where all the jumps were, since I haven't been out to the fields AT ALL recently (again, bc of said bugs). So we trotted a bit just to see what was what, and took advantage of whatever gates happened to be open.

I spotted a lovely Intro jump positioned beautifully on rising ground with expansive approaches from either direction -- perfect! It's actually a very nice jump -- a twisty log placed on top of this neat base that you can see about halfway through this old Krimpet post (the top log has since been replaced but it's the same base).

in our ride yesterday, it was similarly placed, but book-ended on either side by other level jumps -- and we jumped the opposite direction
We trotted the baby ditch on our way over, then cantered the log off each lead. Boom, Charles was strong and forward, but polite. Yesss! So we moved right on along to the generously lengthy BN bending line of split rail fences heading toward home. 

I don't usually jump Charlie toward home if I can avoid it, but figured this would be a good time early in the ride. Like maybe I kinda wanted to see if we'd be a mess, or if we could keep our shit together through a long line of small fences. Wouldn't ya know it, Charlie was all business!

look at this majestic brontosaurus thru the water!!! 
Longtime readers know I'm a huge fan of very short schools --- like, 6 jumps total type schools haha. So after accomplishing a warm up and the BN related distance combo cleanly, we moved on to something with a little height + width. 

The N open oxer was positioned coming back toward the water (in a similar spot to where our favorite log table was during our first xc lesson of the year). It was nestled between other jumps and tbh I heavily considered doing the beefy BN picnic table instead... But, eh, Charlie felt on point on so I looped a finger through the neck strap and had at it.

believe it or not, this bench still has not been painted....
Honestly, Charlie likes the jumps a little bigger anyway. He also knows this game -- another reason I like to keep things short. Charlie likes to be perfect the first time, but then gets cranky and grouchy if you keep asking him the same questions after he's already given you the right answer. So... again, we're economical lol. 

We landed from the oxer, took a little lap through the water just to say we did, then continued back toward the fields going home. Tho --- notably, not pointed in the direction of home bc, ahem, not the right bridle for that, thanks. Our familiar N bench was positioned nicely along that path after a little stream crossing and quick turn, and natch Charlie took that right out of stride. 

in schooling rides, i actually like finishing at what's typically the start
From there, we could cut back through an open gate the way we had come -- back into the front-most field where our xc courses typically start. 

Charlie has a lot of strong associations with this field so I generally don't linger there, but the typical positioning of jumps 1 and 2 is legit lovely -- with a nice log landing to gently rising ground, before a sudden steeper rise and boom, jump 2 is right there ready for ya!

this T cabin was placed on the top of the rise visible in the shot below, and was our final fence of the day
For the last couple years, jump 2 has been our farm's selection of ramps for all levels. This year tho, much of the course actually looks quite a bit different -- and now, we have houses! 

Charlie loves houses, obvi, so for our final fence of the day I aimed him for the T option (the same T house we jumped in our last school, pictured above), which naturally he stepped over easily. Good boy!

i like to imagine we looked like this lol <3 
My goals for the day were super simple: 
1) Keep my hands more forward and softer than they were at Thornridge; and
2) Get a quick refresher on jumping xc fences so we're ready for some exciting upcoming plans.

Because.... Well. It's hard to explain. I lost my mojo for full three phase events right now (hopefully a temporary feeling...). But I still like jumping cross country. And, ya know, my horse is a jumping machine. So we're looking for happy mediums. Maybe something.... derby-ish?? Stay tuned haha, we'll see. 

flashback cafe, bc it's my blog and my rules and my ridiculous jumping machine ottb <3
In the meantime, it felt really good to get out there for the quickest of rides -- 2 intro jumps, 2 BN, 3 N, and 1 T, plus a ditch and the water. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am! And obviously Charlie strutted all the way home like the Champion he is. And then proceeded to be an absolute pest in the barn bc obviously champs rule the roost, duh lol..... Cocky Charlie is the most ridiculous, not gonna lie <3

And to be totally honest, this whole process of stepping back from a lot of the pressure I put on myself.... Focusing just on the stuff that I *wanna* do... It's all been so refreshing. And it legit seems like the horse is benefiting from my improved mindset. So we'll keep plugging along and see what happens! 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Eventing Volunteers Donated $700K Since 2017

For the love of the sport. 

The driving force behind the sport of eventing is the many amazing volunteers. In December 2016, the USEA launched the Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) to increase the ease of participation, provide incentives, and recognize the tireless efforts of volunteers.

Eventing as a sport is unique among other equestrian disciplines in the manpower needed to successfully (and safely!) run a horse trial. There are often multiple dressage rings running concurrently with show jumping, plus the cross country tracks can expand beyond what is visible from a single vantage point. 

Each phase is managed by judges and event officials - overseen by the ground jury and technical delegate, and supported by various volunteer roles. Likewise, volunteers facilitate the smooth flow of competitors through each phase by stewarding warm up areas.

The most common volunteer positions by phase are:

- Scribe
- Score runner
- Bit check
- Warm up / ring steward

Show Jumping:
- Scribe
- Timer
- Jump crew
- In / Out gate
- Warm up steward

Cross Country:
- Starter
- Start and finish timers
- Score runner
- Jump judges (usually 15+)
- Warm up steward

Additionally, volunteers often assist with parking and/or traffic management, drive shuttles, and support much of the preparations leading up to the event, like painting and decorating fences, setting the dressage courts and show jumping courses, etc. Perhaps most importantly, volunteers (especially xc jump judges) are often the 'first responders' -- playing the critical safety role of eyes on the ground, armed with radios, in the event of an accident. 

Since its creation, the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program has invested in building out definitions, video guides, and training materials for all volunteer positions. You can find more information here

Overall, the program launch has been enormously successful, with strong year over year growth in volunteer participation in the first 3 years as platform adoption rapidly expanded. 

Nearly 2,500 individual volunteers have used the VIP Portal to sign up for positions this year alone as of July, and 7,225 have registered since the portal's inception. Furthermore, this online portal succeeds in creating easy participation by simplifying logistics for event organizers and coordinators, and connecting the new pipeline of potential volunteers with venues they might not otherwise know.

Total number of yearly volunteers, scraped from, July 2021
The 2021 season is not complete as of this analysis.
Notably, 2020 proved to be an outlier, with reduced participation due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Events were cancelled entirely during the early stages of the pandemic, and many scaled down even after the season resumed. 

Volunteer participation rates dropped in conjunction with the shortened events calendar, and were further suppressed by would-be volunteers opting out for personal reasons. This resulted in an extreme volunteer shortage felt at many events, proving the quip "Eventing runs on volunteers!" to be a little too true. 

Competition venues stood on the frontline of this contraction, with the greatest financial exposure to cancelled events. Budgets already diminished by the pandemic also had to contend with reduced volunteer availability. This forced many venues to offer increasingly valuable incentives to volunteers - especially in areas where higher densities of events on the calendar meant more competition between venues for a limited volunteer pool. 

Incentives paid for by hosting venues often include:
- T-shirts, hats, or other logo attire
- Schooling passes or entry fee credits
- Meals, drinks and snacks*

(*Case Study: An Area II volunteer coordinator estimated that the food costs for all volunteers and officials over a 2-day show with 300+ entries ran about $3,000.)

Overall, the 2020 impact on volunteer participation demonstrated that eventing's necessary infrastructure may be unsustainable without access to large unpaid labor forces, and showed that individual venues often face the greatest financial risks in the face of systemic disruption. Additionally, many officiating event TDs may be reluctant to force cancellation of an event when too few volunteers arrive. This reality creates heightened risks regarding the safe observation of all cross country fences; and potentially leads to inconsistent competitor experiences across different venues.

The USEA Volunteer Incentive Program has therefore continued to build out its national recognition and awards programs in support of this critical component of events infrastructure: 


On an annual basis, the top ten volunteers are awarded for their contribution to the sport with a certificate and ribbon. This represents less than 0.5% of overall participating volunteers. 

Of those Top 10 volunteers awarded each year: 

- Two thirds (66%) have been recognized in the Top 10 in four of the last five years (noting that 2021 data is as of July and may change by year end)
- Just four Top 10 awardees since 2017 have only been in the Top 10 once. 

These numbers suggest that the same (deserving) volunteers are recognized each year for their contribution and service to the sport, while the remaining 99.5% of participating individuals do not receive national recognition from the USEA. The ten geographic membership-based Areas are encouraged to fill this gap, despite many volunteers not being themselves members.

The USEA Volunteer Incentive Program, however, also recently launched the Volunteer Medal Program as a means to report and appreciate lifetime contributions to the sport:


It is important to interpret these recognition thresholds within the context of standardized units of time. The Bronze Medal 500 hours is equal to roughly 12.5 standard 40-hour work weeks. The Silver Medal recognizes those who spent 25 standard 40-hour work weeks volunteering; and the Gold Medal recognizes those who gave 50 weeks of their time. 

Notably, this unit of time necessary to receive a Gold Medal by the USEA Volunteer Incentive Program is roughly equivalent to one year spent in a typical full time job. The US Census Bureau lists the annual real median personal income at $35,977 (as of 2019). 

We can therefore roughly estimate that this is the value of the typical American's working year, and that an individual paid to accomplish these jobs at USEA horse trials would earn a roughly equivalent income. Although, the federal minimum wage is lower, at $7.25 per hour. An individual paid the minimum wage would earn $14,500 for the 2,000 hours needed to receive a Gold Medal, which awards an embroidered jacket, pin and certificate. 

Currently, there are no recognized Gold Medalists among the 7,225 registered volunteer participants since 2017. 

If we continue using the US Census Bureau's 2019 annual real median personal income value, we can estimate that the Top 100 USEA volunteers each year since 2017 would have earned the following sums if they acted as paid employees. 

Estimated Value Calculation: Total Hours / 40 is standardized # working weeks; x($35,977* / 52) 
*The US Census Bureau lists the annual real median personal income at $35,977 in 2019.
The 2021 season is not complete as of this analysis.

Instead, this time (and its inherent value) has been donated to the USEA, its Areas, competition venues, and, ultimately, to the athletes themselves. For the love of the sport. 

It is important to note: This annual estimated value only reflects the hours recorded by the top 100 volunteers each year, however we see in the earlier chart that the volunteer base is expanding rapidly -- tipping upwards of 3,000 individual participants in 2019. Of these, more than 99.5% go unrecognized by the USEA each year for their contribution to the sport -- with the onus for more valuable awards and incentives placed on individual Areas and venues. 

Naturally, in the instances where individual venues address shortfalls in volunteer coverage by hiring staff, those salaries or wages would be paid directly by the venue rather than the USEA overall. This truth might suggest that it is outside the USEA's direct purview or mission to invest further in volunteer pipeline development.
The national organization is in a unique position, however, to put positive pressure on the volunteer pipeline as a means to further standardize eventing competitions and facilitate consistent competitor experiences. The asymmetry in value and investment uncovered by this analysis suggests that the USEA (Form 990s here and here) should continue to broaden its investment in the volunteer community by expanding recognition levels to better reflect the true value of volunteer service and scope of participation. 

Driving this program at the national level likewise reduces the burden on individual venues to budget for costly incentive programs, especially in dense geographic regions where many venues share the same volunteer pool. This is important to ensure all events in an area have equal access to sufficient volunteers to safely run events..

There are many ways to accomplish this expansion, including the following suggestions:

- Broaden annual recognition programs to reach a greater percentage of overall participants. Suggested reach of 10% of yearly participants. On average, the top 10% of volunteers each year log between 27 and 30 hours.

- Reduce the lifetime recognition thresholds, or add new categories. Suggested entry level to start at 100 hours, a level currently met by approximately 3% of all volunteer program participants.

- Offer randomized participation prize drawings, and consider special attention for volunteers who give time to multiple venues. 

- Consider creating a volunteer requirement for current competing members. 

A survey conducted on existing volunteers, organizers, officials, members, and/or competitors may offer more clarity and creative thinking in addressing the overall disparities uncovered above. 

Ultimately, the sport of eventing has managed to keep costs of access and entry relatively low compared to other equestrian disciplines -- due in large part to networks of dedicated volunteers. It is incumbent on the national governing agencies to recognize volunteers for their efforts and ensure the continued sustainability of our wonderful sport and community. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Thornridge CT -- he does it again!

I gotta say, I am LOVING Thornridge's combined test series this year. These events are basically exactly my speed right now. 

Really, what's not to love? It's a 2-phase show (dressage and show jumping) complete with ride times. They're inexpensive, typically very small (tho packed with familiar faces) and mostly cater to the lower jumping levels. Meaning, Charlie and I are often in the first division of the day -- so we're usually done and dusted before 10am. 

who doesn't love taking pics in sweltering weather with a horse who is actually literally asleep lol
Ooooh, and. It's a top class gorgeous facility less than 30min drive from Charlie's barn. The dressage court and indoor warm up arenas have the best good juju -- horses love them. And the little grass jumping arena is literally the actual cutest. It's bounded on 3 sides by shrubbery and woods, giving it a nicely enclosed feel. And the terrain is perfectly "barely-there" -- enough to make you pay attention, but not disruptive.

So. Yea. Loving it haha. And, ya know, it helps that Charlie keeps winning his classes there. Blue ribbons are always a nice bonus, let's be real lol. 

Mostly tho, I'm just really enjoying... not overly stressing about it all. Does that make sense? After trying (and kinda sorta failing) to move up for so long, endlessly obsessing and torturing myself over it... Well, eh, this year my attitude is a little different. 

they always have the prettiest ribbons!!
Like... Let's be real, ain't nobody from the Tokyo 2021 selection committee looking my way. My competition record, my successes and accomplishments will never be beyond "average" haha, but they are mine. So it's up to me to devote my efforts to the activities that will be most fulfilling. 

Right now, that fulfillment is coming in the form of easy novice show jumping rounds at local unrecognized shows. Which, as far as Charlie's concerned, might as well be the actual Olympics haha. Homeboy is a professional through and through, he is ALL business on show days. 

Which is so useful bc.... this particular day didn't get off to a great start. We were going solo for once, which meant I mayyyy have made slightly irresponsible choices the night before -- given that nobody else was relying on me. So. Ahem. I woke up hungover and disoriented at the time I was actually supposed to be walking out the front door. Whoops?

i spy with my little eye, sleeping ponies!!
Nbd tho, I knew we'd be fine. So long as the truck started. And Charlie wasn't alllll the way out in the furthest reaches of his pasture. Which, it did and he was not. So. Perfect. Got the horse in and fed while I hooked up the rig and packed (bc obvi was too lazy to do this the day before like normal..), then threw him on without even brushing. 

We arrived uneventfully, parked in a perfect shady spot right next to two friends, and I quickly got about swiping off the mud (yes, mud, omg wtf you filthy animal) readying ourselves for dressage.

the actual literal condition of my horse upon arriving on the show grounds lol #bathsareforsuckers
All told, my butt hit the saddle about 7 minutes before our ride time. Luckily, our perennial division mate (one of the friends parked near us, who was therefore aware of my tardiness) offered to ride ahead of me, giving me an extra 5min in warm up. 

Super generous -- obvi took her up on that offer haha. Tho ya know, it probably would have been fine either way. Charlie is Charlie. He knows the drill. He knows when we're at a show, and he has done that Novice A test literally zillions of times haha. 

pictured: a professional show pony, at your service
So we were ready to go ringside once our turn arrived. And ya know. It was a test, and scored slightly worse than our typical average for Nov A, mostly bc the judge wanted Charlie to be rounder. Which, eh, cool, but nah. I kinda gave up trying to ride the horse on the bit after determining that I kinda suck at it, by riding the horse backwards behind my leg and kinda rein lame in tests lol. 

Charlie felt like he had good energy (for him) tho, and was very responsive. We actually stepped into canter too early in the first circle bc homeboy knew what was coming lol. Kinda wish there was video, but will probably buy some pics when the photog gets them uploaded -- stay tuned!!

no pics from dressage (yet!!) but here's the test sheet itself
Anyway, after dressage I unbridled Charlie but left the saddle on, since we only had an hour to jump and I still had to walk the course. Normally we arrive early and walk before dressage but... Shit happens lol. Gotta say, tho, getting down the hill for the walk, and then back up again (omg it's a big hill, guys) just about killed me in the heat. And probably wasn't even necessary since there wasn't a single related distance on course.... But. Eh. I like knowing what to expect. 

So I huffed and puffed through it, then huffed and puffed some more (dear fucking lord) trying to dig out the disintegrated rotten cotton stud plugs in Charlie's shoes.... Yet another task I probably should have done the day before. By the time studs were in, it was definitely Go Time, haha. 

lol and here's charlie absolutely struttin on his way out of the ring after our round haha, still kinda sorta running away with me LOL...
So my division mate and I hopped on at the trailers and headed down to warm up, and then do our rounds! The third person in our class was already down there and had the warm up fences adjusted to height -- helpful when one doesn't have their own ground person lol. 

I think Charlie and I did 5 jumps total in warm up. Trotted and cantered the X, then cantered the vertical -- which we knocked down the first time whoops. Got that fixed, then cantered it again off each lead. 

Meanwhile, Charlie informed me in no uncertain terms that, "Excuse me, Emma, it's balls hot and there are a shit ton of biting flies in this field -- I know how to jump, so let's get on with it, yes??"

pictured: a horse who knows how to jump lol
also, yes, they use very generous ground lines. this ain't the olympics, guys, and that's a-ok!
And obviously, who am I to disagree?? So we cantered off to the ring and headed in to get our round done. Charlie flew around haha -- that excellent feeling of really pulling me to the fences, but still letting me have some say over speed and balance. 

Our technique has gotten kinda messy in the past year of spotty lesson schedules... But, eh, whatever. We got it done, and it was fun! The course was full of slightly tricky tight turns with short approaches to jumps, which actually nicely suits Charlie bc it helps keep him more on his toes vs dragging me straight across the space time continuum lol. 
Tho... You'll see in the video that we did get just a tad strung out coming back toward the in-gate over jumps 5 to 8. It worked out tho with just a couple taps but no rails. And, lol, also visible in the video is us clobbering jump 1, with the rail popping fully up out of the cups -- and my actual astonishment looking back at it when it didn't actually fall lol...

So yea haha. It was a clean and clear round, but could have just as easily been a 3-rail round with the PVC poles. Luck is a fickle thing, tho, so I'll take what I get and be grateful LOL. 

you can sorta tell that this fence had a slightly extreme angle to it relative to the direction of approach. charlie loves slicing fences tho!
All told, in our little division we lost the dressage but put down the only clear jumping round. Again, when the poles are PVC, this is often enough to snag the top spot. Woot woot, way to go Chuck for pickin' up them giant clodhoppers!! 

And, amazingly, we stepped off the trailer back at Charlie's barn before 11:30am -- a tantalizingly early end to a show day lol. Again, what's not to love? A great venue, inexpensive classes, *ride times omg*, plus friendly people and very inviting and doable courses. Literally what else do we need from this kind of event?? I'm already looking forward to the next one haha...

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

heat sinks

One of these days I'll need to do a deeper dive into my current sense of goals / hopes / wishes / dreams etc when it comes to riding. Especially after not really feelin like doing the full cross country round at Shawan last month. 

vignette of horse and bucket
In the meantime, tho, there's been one sort of immediate and unexpected shift in our typical riding plans since realizing I'm not currently particularly motivated to embark on a 2,000m gallop across country over obstacles. Namely: our approach to fitness has changed. Uh, kinda bigly. 

charlie loves buckets and sniffing poo; and especially loves sniffing poo inside buckets
Like, obviously I still care about fitness because Charlie's lengthy career on the track means he's at his soundest when kept at a certain base level of condition. Motion is lotion and all that -- his muscles play an important role in keeping his skeleton happy haha. So ya know, we want to keep the muscles in reasonably good shape.

sometimes the driveway at this place feels endless
Given that Charlie's also a bit of a slug, he benefits from fitness by helping keep the work feeling "easy." That little bit extra in cardio fitness helps ensure that he doesn't run out of gas or feel like the work is too hard or punishing, and quit on me. Does that make sense? 

random old springhouse building
But ya know. He IS a thoroughbred. Keeping a base level of fitness on him is, uh, not challenging. And it most certainly does not require me pounding him into the ground. 

Learning how to get a horse fit enough for training level eventing was always kinda a weakness for me. The two summers where I was really seriously trying to move the horse up, we repeatedly ran into issues with sore feet and muscles. Plus, endless trot sets actually had a bit of a dulling effect on the horse too, or at least I thought so. 

hustling across the sun cooked field toward the cooler woods
It turns out -- proper conditioning really is kinda complicated. There's a real art and science to it. Sure, there are a million books on the subject and everyone has a certain method that they like for building horses up etc. 

But... it's also kinda a known thing that a lot of acute (and chronic) injuries occur during the conditioning work itself, rather than actually at a show or in a lesson. Which makes sense, when we think about it. It turns out.... poorly executed conditioning plans are maybe doing more harm than good. Altho like all things with horses, we all have to learn the lessons one way or another, even if sometimes it's by learning the hard way. 

pictured: refreshing relief from the heat!
Now that I'm stepping back from any immediate plans of running an XC phase (again, ~2,000m at speeds between 350-500mpm), it's like a whole low grade stressor has been lifted from my shoulders. Honestly I didn't even really realize how much that piece of the puzzle was constantly in the back of my mind. 

Are we fit enough? Is Charlie going to be mentally and physically sharp enough to cover my ass if I make a mistake at the end of a long course? What are the pros / cons to getting in these trot sets even tho we're in the middle of a drought and the ground is harder than concrete?? Am I going to permanently lame my horse or shorten his useful life bc I'm so freakin bad at this??? Real questions, y'all. I have them. 

we call it the snackamore for reasons haha
So I'm trying to adapt how I think about "fitness" in our riding habit. Namely, my focus lately has been more on variety. Variety in exercises we tackle, in how I expect Charlie to carry his body, in the terrain we work over, and the speeds we go. 

One big example: I'm doing more "proper schooling" rides out on grass. Whether that's in the cross country fields, or the small orchard paddocks the farm uses for warm up and a second court at events. Benefits include that the grass often feels cooler and is less dusty than the ring. And the relative terrain makes things just tricky enough that when we get back into the ring -- suddenly the movement feels way easier. 

Only real downside is the bugs haha. Ooooh, and Charlie's propensity to trip and nearly eat shit when he's being lazy about going forward. Ahem, lol.

back home again after a quick circuit <3
I've also tried to inject more "zest" into our trail rides too. It's so buggy out right now that Charlie honestly doesn't really want to walk anyway -- much better to outrun the biting monsters. But.... I don't have to get bogged down in precise details about exactly how we do it, ya know?

Like, there's this one little loop out in the woods that we've done basically a million times. Takes about 5min if you trot the whole loop. Maybe more like 15min if you only trot some of it (like the sections with fun fallen logs that Charlie LOVES jumping!). 

It's not much -- but it's plenty to get his blood up, get him moving across varying terrain, and feeling like he's having FUN vs working. Plus, by the time you factor in getting out into the woods, and getting back home again, it ends up being a very respectable 35min ride. 

chillin out, literally, under the fan post-hosing
Very respectable -- and hella satisfying. Which is nice, bc when I was constantly worrying about "fitness and conditioning omg" it always felt like it wasn't enough, ya know? But... actually, lol. It IS enough. Probably always has been, let's be real. 

And it's definitely nice to not always be worrying about it. Bc lord knows I can obsess over controlling even the most ridiculous little details haha. And fitness plans lend themselves all too perfectly to exactly the sort of micromanaging neurosis I'd like to experience less of in my day to day life LOL. 

Has anybody else kinda had similar experiences with trying to figure out the right conditioning plans for your horses? 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

summer vibes

I had this really excellent (imho) plan going into the late spring competition season. Basically: Do all the things!! Haha.... 

That plan got kinda modified when I realized that, hrm, actually, I don't really want to do "all" the things. But some of them? Yes, absolutely. 

feel like i finally nailed the stall fan positioning this year -- the angle is just right so that charlie gets great coverage in all his favorite hangout spots in this enormous stall
So as usual, we adapted. We'd had a few lackluster jumping lessons over the springtime, plus some even less inspiring schooling sessions on our own. Basically, Charlie is kinda bored and a bit of a slug sometimes when it comes to "practice." 

But then we'd get to a show -- like our CT at Thornridge, and even the show jumping phase at Shawan a couple weeks ago -- and homeboy was on fire. In the best way possible. Professional Charlie attacked those rounds like the seasoned competitor he is, and felt like a much different creature than the lazy disinterested slug I occasionally find myself riding at home.  

he still likes coming out into the crossties tho <3
Thus: the new plan!! If Charlie wanted to be so bored about jumping at home or in lessons, but was such a good boy at shows.... Then, ya know, Fine! I can live with that haha -- let's just go to little schooling shows every weekend to get our jumps in!!

Sadly tho, just a few short weeks in and that newly revised plan is kinda in shambles now too haha. Y'all remember how the jump rounds somewhat infuriatingly failed to materialize at that one hunter show we went to. And since then, another Thornridge CT was rained out, and two other planned jumper shows got the kibosh when the weather looked nasty AF. 

actually asleep lol -- look at that lip!
And meanwhile, during all this time, our normal weekly lessons were on a slight hiatus first due to scheduling shenanigans all through May -- and then bc my coach had some unanticipated downtime due to injury. 

She's fine, fortunately, tho! And, even better -- is recovering and back to teaching. Yay!

"i said i was sleeping :( " -- charlie, probably
Like, I still feel like Charlie's kinda a harder horse to ride at home and in lessons bc he's just not the same as he is at a show. Especially when the jumps in our lessons aren't particularly big enough to be of much interest to him. 

But, eh. Whatever. I still prefer to jump at least once a week -- mostly bc dammit it's fun and I wanna haha. So we'll take what we can get. 

forever strollin
Lately that has meant just cruising around on my own jumping whatever happens to be set up in the ring. Typically, lots of random singles and lines set at unpredictable distances with fences ranging from little X's to every now and then a couple 2'6 options. 

hey look -- it's a pic of me on my horse!
This week, tho, we did finally have our big return to an actual lesson!! And it was just me and one of trainer P's barn rats who was riding a new-ish green red mare school horse. So they were definitely down to have a little fun. 

spying on the pony club kids learning how to gallop
None of the jumps have moved very much in the arena in recent weeks (again, see previous note about P's injury), and I already knew that most of the lines were set at extremely short lesson pony distances. Which ya know. 

Again, isn't exactly my favorite bc while practicing on short distances can be a very useful exercise -- Charlie already knows that game inside and out. He's long since realized it's easier for him to just slug along behind my leg, vs getting into that bouncy impulsive collected type canter. 

oooooh jumpin innneresting exercises -- this 90* set up is actually a bounce
But. Eh, whatever. While our plans have adapted and evolved over the spring and into early summer, and my interests in various outings have waxed and waned... One detail has remained consistent. Charlie *must* move forward off my leg. Always and forever. No excuses, no fussing. No sucking back allowed. 

more fun exercises -- two of my all time favorites: a simple 60' line for practicing adjusting your canter stride; and another line of 9'-18'-9' for practicing footwork
So we kept that mantra going into this ride: The lines would be easy, the jumps would probably be small. And I wasn't going to drill down crazy into the details or make him repeat anything a zillion times. But. But. He *must* stay in front of the leg haha. 

"somebody call peta i'd like to report a horse murder" -- charlie, definitely
After a few first lazy efforts, tho, Charlie was actually 100% on board!! Yay good boy!! 

So we got to practice all sorts of fun related distances: 2- 3- 4- and 5-stride lines. A nice triple combination with one segment bending away. A surprising number of technically challenging short turns out of the corners. And, a fun little bounce combo made from verticals set at right angles. 

he is the sweatiest foamiest horse i swear to god
Honestly, I swear -- Charlie lives for fun interesting puzzle type exercises. He's a grid-savant, and has really come so so so SO far in his footwork. 

Like, obviously we introduced the horses to the bounce gradually so that they understood it. But even in our last course where I definitely had him a little too close to the narrow side, making it a VERY short bounce, Charlie still figured it out. Good boy!

It was kinda a nice reminder too that the horse really does like it when the jumps are just a little bit higher. So much time spent jumping on my own means that I'm lazy and go with whatever's set up. But trainer P did put a couple up slightly higher in this lesson (and by "slightly higher" I mean mayyyybe N height. maybe). 

And obvi Charlie just ate them right up lol.

brave horse navigating death alley on the way to his turnout...
Somehow this year, I've become a complete baby about the weather (on top of my existing obsession over ground conditions for Poor Mr Delicate Toes), so it's anybody's guess how much we'll get into now that things are getting properly hot around here. 

I swear, I used to be so much tougher haha.... Used to go on epic 2pm cross country clinic rides at Windurra in 95*F; used to compete in the middle of summer as if salty B's like me were immune to the heat haha.  But now it'll crack past 88* and I'm like, "ooooh, better not, it's gross out" haha.... 

until next time, buddy!
Oh well, tho haha. Maybe this is what it means to get old? Or turn into my mother?? LOL ok don't actually answer that.... 

For real tho. I've got a couple ideas for how to keep getting out even when it's gross. CTs in particular seem really attractive right now bc: 1) ride times (sorry h/j land, this matters) and 2) committing to a 90sec jump course feels a lot more realistic right now than a 5min xc run haha. For, uh, many reasons, ahem. 

So hopefully something will work out. In the meantime, it feels good to keep getting in some low key and enjoyable practice sessions!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

saying goodbye is never easy

Gosh, it feels like only yesterday when we first welcomed the 17-year Brood X cicadas into our lives... These screaming bumbling thumb-sized missiles came storming onto the scene around mid-May, and have endeared (??) themselves in no uncertain terms.

charles + his "foals," wishing it wasn't so freakin buggy out tho omg
Well. Ok, "endeared" is the wrong word for sure LOL. Just ask my teen barn mates who shriek like firecrackers every time they get dive-bombed by one of the things. Which, uh, is often lol. And, true story: one barn mate even started donning a bee bonnet as an extra layer of safety haha.

houston, we have a hitchhiker! 
But ya know, we've gotten used to the bugs. They're literally everywhere, on every surface, in every tree and shrub. Plus -- since they're such heavy poor flyers, they're always looking for a surface to land on. Preferably: right into the side of your neck when you least expect it. 

cruisin through the jungle
Honestly I was surprised by how chill the horses are with them. In my mind, the cicadas look and sound like horseflies on steroids. Considering how twitchy and panicky horses get in the presence of those big biting flies, I legit expected they'd lose their shit completely upon getting pelted by yet another wayward cicada. 

pictured: ALL of the cicadas. all of them.
But... Somewhat amazingly, that hasn't been the case. The bugs stupidly fly directly into the horses -- into their flanks, their faces, their ears, whatever... And the horses don't seem to mind or even notice lol.

every little tree branch - and i do mean every - is covered
It's been loud tho. Like, the kind of constant humming background noise that you almost (almost) forget about, right until it switches off and you realize just how deafening it had been. Like that moment when the timer switches off on a barn full of fans and suddenly everything falls silent....

which square on apocalypse bingo do these count toward?
I wonder if the noise has been having an effect on the horses tho -- sorta like how the noise from wind can make them more spooky since they can't hear approaching tigers or whatever (lol, beware the tigers of the Maryland wilds!). Maybe the horses are a touch more on edge bc of the constant screaming?

"omg" - charles, probably wondering why he suddenly can't hear anymore given the deafening cicada screams
It's hard to say, really. In any case, tho, after weeks of incessant buzzing and dive-bombings.... It's suddenly, quiet again. 

"the end times are definitely here" - charles
Almost like even the birds are a little subdued -- their weeks of gorging on the plentiful protein are maybe catching up to them with hushed little food comas lol. 

i spy with my little eye, another buggie along for the ride
It was blissfully rainy and cool yesterday -- with the steady drizzle rinsing most of the remaining little crunchy cicada exoskeletons off all the tree trunks and branches. But even in today's warm sun, there's just.... quiet.

let's definitely pretend like it's the cicada that scuffed up my nice french leather, and not my neglectful care lol
They're still here, of course. Lots and lots and lots of the cicadas. Bc dear lord, I really cannot impress upon you just how many there really are.

"just takin my pet cicada for a pony ride!!" - charlie, the bestest boy
But... It's apparent that their days are numbered. The plague is ending haha. The cacophony is coming to a close, for another 17 years lol.

for real tho, get offa me!
And I gotta say. I'm gonna miss the little buggers haha. 

cruisin death alley with another, screamin murderous warnings into his ear, no doubt
They're so weird and bizarre, and also, of course, completely harmless. Well. Ok, mostly harmless lol -- luckily this year while I know a few folks who had unfortunate surprise visits through open car windows while driving, I haven't heard of any actual accidents haha. 

did i mention, when you touch them, they scream at you?? lol
And it's kinda been a fun game to observe random strangers suddenly busting out aggressive dance moves, and guess "Hm, surprise cicada attack, or actual crazy person?"  

looking forward to a more peaceful - and quieter - day once they're all gone!
But ya know. All good things come to an end eventually haha. So long, Brood X, and god speed. See ya again in 17 years, if we should all be so lucky!!