Thursday, June 22, 2017

whose journey is it anyway?

Over the past few months I've been thinking about writing a post along the lines of "Why Charlie: The case for the war horse OTTB" or some such thing. About why I wanted certain specifications in a horse, and how I prioritized my criteria.

For whatever reason, tho, that post has languished on the back burner. And a recent conversation with a friend helped me to figure out why.

why? bc he's the best, that's why <3
I doubt any of you who have been reading for a while need to be reminded about just how shitty last year was for me as a rider. It's just now been about a year since I threw in the training towel with Isabel - since I realized our journey as a competitive partnership was closing for at least the foreseeable future, but probably for good.

It was.... an educational time for me tho.

I had to tackle a lot of feelings of guilt and self doubt - was I quitting on Isabel? Was I blaming the horse when actually I had reached the limits of my own skills or ability? Was I moving on to an OTTB as a way to hide my own inadequacies behind the shield of "green"?

Which like, obviously those are pretty unpleasant feelings. And probably unfair too.

green horses are their own special brand of fun anyway, right?
This is a hobby, after all. Like, I love riding. I take it fairly seriously, I study it. I invest infinitely more than just time, money and energy into it. At the end of the day tho, it is a hobby. It is intended to bring me joy.

So I had to do a little bit of soul searching about what that 'joy' looks like to me.

And ultimately? I had to realize that for me, it's about more than just the partnership I had with Isabel. My joy in riding comes in large part from my own personal journey as a rider. And it's fairly specifically tied to what I do as a rider.

this picture is so ridiculous in so many ways. but.... it kinda encapsulates the growing partnership lol
In the case of Isabel, we were no longer successful as a jumping pair. But I learned that, actually, jumping is pretty important to me as a rider. I want to jump. More specifically, I want to event. This might not always be true for me - but it is true for me right now.

And therefore, to continue getting fulfillment from my riding habit, I needed a horse who would be happy in doing the things I wanted to do. Right now, that's an event horse.

Thus we get to the "Why Charlie" part, right? Except - not even quite yet. Because there's still more to it, I think.

Superficially, I chose Charlie bc he met fairly broad criteria: OTTB, aged 6-9, good build and sound(ish), and that brain. I specifically wanted something a little bit older bc I wanted something with some life experience. Something that was emotionally mature. That could handle the "do all the things" lifestyle - trailering out twice a week for lessons, shows, trail rides, or whatever.

do all the things? check and check.
And let's be real: your typical sound, well built horse can jump around 3' without issue. That same typical, average horse can probably physically handle 2nd-3rd level dressage too. Sure, some are easier than others - but you don't really need above average talent or athleticism for that, ya know?

But this gets us back to the whole "journey" thing. Because I realized with Isabel that my journey as a rider superseded our 'partnership.' Obviously things were easier in that I didn't own the horse, so I didn't have to make certain difficult choices (tho it's also arguable that, had I owned the horse, she would have gotten different care that may have affected her willingness to jump... but that's an entirely different rabbit hole that is totally moot now).

It meant tho that I had to take better stock of what I actually wanted my journey as a rider to look like - what are my actual ambitions? And what type of horse do I need to get there?

i can promise you each person in this picture has a slightly different answer to that question
For me, right now, the answer to those questions feels a little vague, a little blurry, but also maybe pretty realistic for my purposes. I have ambitions. I want to be the best rider I can be, to be good at what I do and enjoy it. But I suspect that my ambitions have a bit of a ceiling to them - that I may reach a certain level and feel like, "Yup this is good. We can cruise here."

In other words, I don't really feel like I'm "shooting for the top." I don't want to "go all the way." Does that make sense? It's not really clear to me yet where my 'cruising altitude' is, exactly. But it doesn't seem likely to be anything at the upper levels lol. And that's totally fine by me.

So here we are now, finally, at the "Why Charlie" bit. I want to do things, and get... somewhere. But I probably don't need an out-of-this-world athletic or talented horse to get there. Rather, I just need something I can work with. Something that I can enjoy working with. Enter: Charlie, with his emotional maturity and good brain.

charlie needs all the emotional maturity and good brain he can get, bc i apparently have none of my own lol
And back to my earlier comment about figuring a lot of this out during a conversation with a friend. We were discussing this very topic of ambition. Specifically: our conceptions of how we define ourselves as horse people. And what it means to us to be riders. Is it about our journey with an individual horse? Or is it about the attainment of a major competitive goal or milestone?

This whole thought process leads me to believe that I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I need to be doing a certain type of riding that includes jumping and lessons and shows (otherwise I'd still be riding Isabel, right?).

But.... within that framework, I do truly love the day in, day out partnership forged with my horse. Because it's those quiet 'in between' moments that can really color our entire perception of our horse experience, after all.

quiet in between moments are nice too tho
At one extreme of the spectrum: you have the professionals who have to sell their big horses in order to continue building their businesses, in order to afford their next big horse. The top riders whose careers are fortified specifically by their ability to succeed independent of the horse.

And the other end of the spectrum - which feels much more commonplace especially among adult amateurs: the riders who often adapt their own goals or ambitions to align with their horse's ability. That the partnership forged with this horse, the journey with this horse, is more important than any other attribute of what the horse can 'do.'

My guess, tho, is that most of us fall somewhere in between. And furthermore, I'd guess that this is one of those things that may change and evolve over time, based on other life circumstances. That how I feel about it today might be quite different from how I feel about it in 5 years. Or 10.

for now tho, there's nowhere else i'd rather be
I'm curious tho - and actually so was my friend, who specifically encouraged me to write this post and solicit opinions from blogland on your own perspectives.

Do you define yourself as a rider by your goals or ambitions? Are they inextricably linked to your specific horse? Or maybe instead, your preferred means of deriving enjoyment are defined by the horse you have currently? Have you had to make decisions about buying or selling a horse based on its suitability for your goals or purposes?

Do you feel like there's something bigger out there, something more overarching in your own journey as a rider, independent of the horses that may come in and out of your life? Or maybe you feel the opposite - that it's less about striving forever for something, and more about enjoying each good moment as it comes?

Have your opinions or thoughts on this matter had to change over time due to different circumstances? Or maybe you've never actually thought particularly deeply about it at all?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

poke a dope

A couple weeks ago, Charlie got his second appointment with my favorite equine chiropractic / acupuncture practitioner.

She used to treat Isabel for me, and actually in her former life as a DVM she did the vet work for the breeding program that produced Isabel. Meaning - it's actually pretty darn likely that she had delivered Isabel herself.

dopey ears 4 lyfe
Anyway, you may remember she came out to treat Charlie back in January. That was a useful appointment in getting a deeper understanding of Charlie's current physical condition. And especially in how all his 'little things' kinda combined together to make for a horse who.... Well. Carried the years of track-life around in his body.

see the needle? 
When Charlie first came home from the adoption facility, we wanted to focus on his muscles during the process of letting him down from the track and rebuilding him in a new form. My vet felt like he was predominantly a muscular case, and that while chiro may help him, I'd see the most benefits from massage.

there's another one!
I went ahead and did a chiro appointment anyway bc I was having trouble finding a massage therapist, but already knew this chiro practitioner and was eager to get her professional opinion. Since then, tho, Charlie's gotten into a routine with a new equine massage therapist (whom he LOVES).

and a couple down the back of his hooves
She's been pretty fantastic for him and is generally a cool person all around - even coming out to hang and watch Charlie go at Jenny Camp last month! During her last session with him, tho, she was a little concerned about some of his sore spots and felt like it might be time to bring the chiro back in.

and down his hind legs
Which seemed about right to me - it had been about six months anyway and Charlie has physically undergone pretty significant changes during that time. So we got something scheduled and the chiro was able to give the horse a fresh assessment on how he's doing.

plus the standard slew of 'em around his SI
Long story short? The big guy continues to do well. She was very happy with how much better he looks now compared to January. Which like, me too. Meeee too. lol....

my understanding is that this is a pretty common application for sport horses. also note charlie isn't standing square here - but you can see the definition of his spine in the dust rubbed up by the chiro
And like last time, she didn't really find any major spots of concerns. Charlie's got some stuff, ya know? Some wear and tear, some weak spots. His hind end has a lot of work to do developmentally, and he's got some other issues that you might expect in a horse his size with his history. Nothing serious, nothing that changes our course of action with him.

Just... ya know. Continuing to help him develop in a manner most likely to keep him sound, strong, and happy.

She was also able to rule out concerns about any other nagging worries. Didn't find any evidence at all that the horse is ulcery (always a nice thing to hear), or that there are saddle fit issues. And seemed to think the current hoof game plan (leather rim pads) was solid.

more in the legs!
She was also likewise not particularly concerned about Charlie's status as King of the Dings, as evidenced by his frequently lumpy bumpy legs. Charlie sometimes whacks a leg while weaving - creating big old bumps that take a long time to go down.

Those bumps often freak barn mgmt out (to them, everything looks like a catastrophic soft tissue injury) but the chiro kinda echoed what I and my trainers have thought: if the bumps aren't interfering with his soundness or ability to do what he does, then it's probably nbd.

marinating in his needle soup while watching is buddy Tip get adjusted
So all in all, it was a good check in. The chiro was able to work a bit on the areas that concerned the massage therapist (mostly Charlie's poll). And she was able to provide a solid check-in perspective on how Charlie's doing 10 months post track, and 9 months of being in my care. The verdict? He's doing well!

It's always a long road with these OTTBs, esp for one who was on the track for so many years, but so far, so good.

My game plan is to keep Charlie on a fairly regular massage schedule (ideally that's every month, but sometimes it's more like every 6-7 weeks) with chiro/acupuncture treatments more like every 6 months to a year barring any immediate treatment needs. Personally I just kinda like the idea of managed maintenance through body work, and the horse certainly seems to enjoy it.

Izzy always got more chiro vs massage, but I also didn't really know a massage therapist anyway. Maybe she would have done well with both? Idk. Does your horse need any one form of care over another? Or do you do all the things? Or none of the things?

Only when a need crops up - like a lameness or injury? Or are you more on the maintenance schedule like me? Do you like checking in with the professional practitioners on your horse's condition and care? Or maybe you prefer to forge your own road, or rely on your BM or trainer's opinions?

Monday, June 19, 2017

OTTBs for SCIENCE!!

A cool thing about the equestrian blogging community is that we are all fairly unified in our love for ponies, right? (duh, emma...)

But also within the community there are various sub-interest groups. Some bloggers are into art, or writing, or graphic design. Or history or technology or science. Etc etc, you get the point. Which means that as we get to know each other within the realm of a shared love of horses, we can also find new folks with even more overlapping interests.

this post unapologetically includes fairly monochromatic photographs. bc.... well, mostly bc of the subject matter haha. to go along with the theme and maybe make it feel more 'pretty' than it actually is, here's a "artsy" (snort) shot of charlie biting his beloved fan after a ride on a particularly hot day
Personally, I kinda dig science. And often enjoy talking about ponies from a more scientifically methodological view point with other like-minded individuals.... like, say, Nicole from Zen and the Art of Baby Horse Management.

Most recently, Nicole brought a cool new cutting edge research project to my attention. Paul Szauter, the Chief Scientific Officer at EquiSeq, had uncovered Nicole's velociraptor's OTTB's pedigree through the Bloodline Brag on the Retired Racehorse Project's site and contacted her about collecting samples from Murray for a new study.

a special package!
The team is apparently looking for TBs with some combination of Northern Dancer and Raise a Native, tho I'm not sure about the exact criteria.*

Nicole obviously thought it was pretty darn cool to have her horse specifically sought out by a research team, and furthermore encouraged me to contact the researchers to see if Charlie would also qualify for inclusion in the study.

*Charlie has Northern Dancer x3, but no Raise a Native, and was accepted in the study. Meanwhile, Nicole had a friend whose horse has both but was not accepted in the study.

the letter from package #1
She encouraged me to reach out to Paul directly (pszauter at gmail) with my OTTB's Jockey Club name and year foaled to see if Charlie was eligible for inclusion in the study.

Naturally, tho, before I did so, I googled the ever loving crap out of this Paul fellow haha. Bc. Ya know. I'm kinda a CreepStar3000. Or like, if you didn't know that... well. Now you know. Ahem.

the letter in package #2, actually an envelope. plus included sample baggie
And I actually found a lot of really cool stuff in googling the guy - he personally has been involved in the field of genomics for quite a long time, and has conducted a number of studies specifically relating to horses - the last big one focused on PSSM.

I was even able to uncover some details on what this particular project was all about - and it looked pretty cool. The gist is that they're working on developing genetic tests to identify performance-related genetic diseases (like a predisposition for tying up) in such a way that may positively influence breeding practices and management of affected horses.

instructions to the vet or person responsible for drawing blood
So I emailed him (pszauter at gmail) and was pleasantly surprised to receive a very prompt reply. Charlie was accepted into the study!

Paul let me know that I would receive a few things in the mail:

- a blood sample kit with a vial, shipping container, and instructions
- an informed consent form and health questionnaire
- a hair sample kit with prepaid return envelope

hair sample! apologies for the blur...
The health questionnaire is pretty straight forward - asking some basic questions about the horse's lineage (for OTTBs this is all easily found via pedigreequery.com), siblings, and progeny. And about the individual horse's known history of tying up, a tie back surgery, any heritable conditions, and any other medical issues or special dietary needs.

It takes a couple minutes to complete the forms in a thorough manner - but it also probably won't require any real digging into information that isn't well-known to you.

and.... here's a vignette of my trunk and various pieces of tack. just 'cuz.
So. Charlie's well on his way to benefiting the equestrian scientific community - with the help of a few plucked hairs and some spare blood. Not too shabby!

Personally I'm pretty curious about what may come of this - but even if Charlie's only real contribution is giving them a better base N, that's cool with me too. I'm happy to participate, knowing that there are folks out there dedicated to using science to create better diagnostic tools and methods for improving the quality of life for horses today and the potential horses of tomorrow.

And in the meantime - if you have an OTTB, maybe consider shooting Paul an email too, including your horse's Jockey Club name and year foaled. Even if you're not super into science it's cool to participate!

Friday, June 16, 2017

the lines that blur

In case you haven't been following along super closely - I've kinda been following a somewhat non-linear path with Charlie's introduction to competitive eventing. Maybe this is pretty normal, but for whatever reason it's kinda felt a little unusual. Idk, maybe it's not that uncommon tho?

Anyway, the gist is that - at least for the levels we're working on (ie: the lowest of the low) - I'm not holding hard and fast to any 'current competition level' for Charlie. We've been way more flexible about the whole "moving up" thing than seems to be the norm.

more pictures of isabel bc i wanna
Charlie's first competitive jumping experience (a 2-phase CT at Loch Moy) was done at the 18"-2' level. Then he did his first 3-phase HT at 2'3 at Loch Moy. Then back to 18" for his next HT at Fair Hill, then 2'3-2'7 at Jenny Camp, and 2'3 again at Loch Moy.

The variation in our record so far has very little to do with the "jump height" and everything to do with the individual venues and my experiences with them. Especially having to do with cross country at each venue.

novice ditch combo
And so I've kinda been planning all along to continue blurring the lines between levels as we see fit. Focusing less on "height" or "level" and more on what each venue has to offer (from my own experience) and how that relates to Charlie's current level of experience and schooling.

Naturally this thought process was recently somewhat challenged by the dressage judge who seemed to think that Charlie shouldn't even be jumping at all yet.... Uh... Sorry, not sorry?

benches, yo!
Lol... I mean. Yea. I believe in dressage in jumping. In fact, I've written about it extensively. Not even gonna bother linking to specific posts bc.... it's legitimately too frequently a theme in my writing to even try. But I also don't need to link to the individual posts that have demonstrated how much Charlie has learned about his own body and balance and way of carrying himself just by learning to jump. So. Ya know. It's a two-way street.

Anyway tho, back to the point. We are blurring some lines here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing!

Charlie had a busy May for horse trials but has since had a couple weeks off to focus on steady, consistent schooling. We're about to gear back up for a brief "mid summer" season tho, coming soon. We have an upcoming MCTA event at Tranquility, then we'll return to Fair Hill in July.

jumpies in the woods!
You might remember that some of the jumps on xc at Jenny Camp looked pretty familiar. The vast majority of them were from either OF or Tranquility. Many, actually, from the BN Tranquility course. And Charlie jumped 'em all no problem.

Therefore, I went ahead and entered us for BN at that event. It's a familiar venue, with familiar jumps. Usually the water isn't on course (it's a bit small to handle a high volume of riders in one day), and the ditches and banks tend to be a non-issue as well. Plus, at last year's MCTA event at Tranquility, most of the jumps were flagged as high-low options for all levels anyway. So we'll see. It should be a good opportunity for Charlie.

she was a pretty great event mare
A couple weeks later tho, we'll be back to 2'3 Intro for Fair Hill. We did the 18" Elem last time at Fair Hill bc their Intro course is maybe the biggest baddest best Intro course in the area. It's got all the same stuff you're gonna see at BN (jumps set at related distances to ditch, bank AND water) - just more forgiving distances and smaller fences.

Charlie wasn't quite ready for all that last time, tho, and I think some of that might still challenge him today too. So I'm happy to stay at a height that keeps us feeling positive and moving forward even if he's seeing 'questions' that he's less sure about.

I expect both of these courses to be challenging in some regards, but also REALLY fun. At least, that's my hope haha!

charlie's ready to pick up that slack tho! we got this :D

For my purposes, I'm not worried about whether we fit solidly within the parameters of any one division or another. It doesn't much signify right now. Once fall season rolls around and the MDHT Fall starter series opens up, I'll want Charlie to be closer to confirmed for BN - since those 600m xc courses really are too short for Charlie. But there's time to sort that out.

For now, I'm just thinking about the next couple weeks. Pushing Charlie up a little bit in height for one event. But then dialing him back down in height - while adding complexity in ditches/banks/water at the next event. It's always a balancing act, right?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

but i'm already pulled over!!!

Ok. Let's kick this thing off with a little moment of honesty: Charlie and I are.... uh.... not very good at dressage. Like.... I can talk all day long about how he's showing improvements in his balance, or that he's beginning to learn about contact, or whatever.

But the fact remains: Charlie's early streak as the Undefeated Intro Champion of the World Dressage Horse was.... well, a joke. Obviously.

it was so goddam hot out that all the horses crammed into whatever shade was available. 
In all seriousness tho, I'm proud of the progress Charlie and I have made on the flat. But damn, it's still not a very nice picture. There's still a LOT of work to do.

charlie in particular was quite enamored of this tree
A large part of this is my own relative inexperience with dressage. I've jumped countless horses. Like, actually countless. Even if I just narrowed it down to the horses I've actively competed over fences? Yea. Still in the countless territory (tho I bet I could figure it out if I reeeeeally tried).

"mmmmm treeeeeee"
But dressage? Do you know how many horses I've seriously and purposefully ridden dressage on? One.

Isabel.

"ha, i got a branch!"
Sure, I had the occasional lesson last summer on one of dressage trainer C's horses. And naturally, since I've learned more about dressage, I try to take those core concepts of flat work into every horse I ride. But the fact remains the same: Isabel is the horse on which I learned how to ride dressage.

horse trots right! (and may or may not topple over in a stiff breeze...)
And the core essence of learning with Isabel revolved around getting her to reach out to the bit, to lengthen her neck from the base and move up into the bridle. While continuing to come forward from the hind end, obviously.

look it's the other half of that circle!
Charlie, on the other hand, is, um. Hm. How to put this delicately? Well, he's built entirely fucking differently from Isabel lol, and he goes completely differently. Charlie's defining physical attribute is his extreme length. His neck, his legs, his back. Compact, he is not. Nor, as a matter of fact, is he particularly supple - longitudinally or laterally.

He's the opposite of Isabel in so many major ways, that I'm basically starting from scratch again in learning how to form and shape him.

he canters left too!!
It's ok tho, ya know? Like, my dressage journey with Isabel was overwhelmingly positive. That horse taught me many, many, many things. So many things. Included in that is actually a fairly deep appreciation for flat work.

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

he also.... does this. lol? this progressive move netted us two 4s - one for the centerline turn, and another for the halt itself bc as you might imagine.... it took a little bit to recover from.... this. lol. at least we didn't actually jump out of the arena?
But I need to keep that in mind when interpreting judge's comments and whatnot too. Like. I know Charlie is doing well. I know he's improving. But I also know that it's kinda a shitty picture that we present to the judge. And that I should be prepared for feedback that is maybe more pointed than I would wish.

Like the dressage judge this weekend at a schooling show at OF, who told me that I needed to "go back to the basics before [I] start jumping the horse."

this. forever. just me and my basics. we will never leave.
My knee jerk reaction is to be like, "Lady this horse is already jumping, and isn't a BN-A test pretty much as basic as it gets anyway? What do you think we're working on piaffe or whatever and maybe need to dial it back a little? No, all we do are straight lines and 20m circles at three gaits - how much more basic do you want me to be?"

it's easy to find a nice 'picture' of our free walks. bc.... he puts his head down. needs more energy and overstep tho, in a big way.
Which .... well. Ahem. That's not a very productive mindset. Esp when the judge is totally right. This judge, like most before her, was very unimpressed by our tests (BN A and B).

look, he still trots right! and hey, that RH decided to come play too!
She called me out for a lack of suppleness in the horse - in every dimension - and a lack of balance. And in our chat after my first test, told me that I need to be more rigorous in our fundamentals before I even consider moving him up in jumping.

he canters right too! sometimes!
I consoled myself by remembering that it was hot as fuck out (mid 90s with plenty of humidity to boot) and I had legitimately gotten on the horse 12 minutes before my test, with the express intention of using that test as part of our warm up.

that blue ribbon: for when you win and lose a class at the same time! 
So for test two (BN-B) I tried to be a little more disciplined. Tried to show the judge that, while we are very green, we are working on those fundamental areas. And good Sir Charles put in a pretty reasonable test that I was actually quite pleased with as a representation of our current level of training.

he looks cute in his satin tho!
The judge agreed - but only in part. We received exactly zero 4s on this second test (three fewer than the first!), but our collectives took a big hit for lack of impulsion (Charlie can kinda be fast or slow, neither of which really demonstrate 'impulsion') and submission (we, uh, almost missed a couple downwards), but also went down for the gaits and rider marks. Not sure why, but oh well.

BN A, note the very special set of 4s at the end haha, oops! no comment needed there, i guess. the picture above speaks for itself!
In some ways tho, this little schooling show was kind of a good reality check for me. I honestly didn't take it very seriously - it was hellishly hot outside and I was kinda regretting even entering.

BN B - final score was a 43% penalties
Brita and I had been trying to plan a cross country schooling day, and opted to make a big to-do when we saw this dressage show on the schedule. It would be our own fun pretend two-phase! But then with the heat wave's arrival, the jump plan got tossed and we just did the show.

also, have i ever mentioned a nasty side effect of my horse's tie back surgery?
But I hadn't really seriously prepared the horse for the show, and hadn't even ridden in dressage tack since our last lesson with dressage trainer C. Our recent rides were an easy trail hack, a couple quick arena schools focused on correcting our nascent gate sourness issue (plus a little jumping at home bc fun), and a jump lesson.

he, uh, blows giant gobs of half chewed grain out of his nose. like. often. it's gross. and i would say it's a total waste of grain, too, except.... uh....
Then, ya know, the aforementioned abbreviated warm up bc again, I can't stress this enough, it was HOT out. And warm up was in the indoor which basically felt like a dust-filled oven. Bleh.

yea he totally goes back and finds his boogers to EET THEM AGAIN WTF EW
And whadya know, our tests once we entered at A reflected our lack of preparation. They reflected our lack of practice, and of discipline. The exact things the judge said I needed to focus on before forging ever onward and upward.

dis his guilty side eye after i caught him eating his boogers
So. I just have to remember that Charlie is new to this job, too. He only knows what I tell him. He thinks he was a very good boy at this show, and for all intents and purposes, he was. I haven't told him any different, haven't shown him that actually I'm going to need a lot more from him.

destroying all the evidence. 
But if we want to do well in the dressage ring (and I do), I need to start showing Charlie that there is more. And showing him how to get there. Seriously and with purpose.

Because I do truly believe Charlie could be quite the striking horse in the dressage court. I think he's got it in him to earn some nice scores, to present a test that the judges enjoy watching. We just gotta keep working. But like, actually working. Not lip service, and not settling for mediocre when something better is within reach.

That's always the way tho with horses, isn't it? Always needs more. And better.