Monday, November 20, 2017

charlie's best bloopers

Happy Monday, everybody!

For those in the States, we're counting down the days until the Thanksgiving smorgasbord. And thank god for that haha.

Tho, naturally, it might also be the time we're feeling thankful for a little bit more than just mountains of gravy-soaked poultry. In which case, I'd like to take this opportunity to expand on the feelings of gratitude I expressed last week for my birthday.

This time around, I'd like to remember with happiness all those... other moments. Not necessarily our *best* moments, but the funnier, oopsie moments that naturally come along with the territory of pushing ever onward for better and more.

That's right: it's time for the blooper reel, folks. And it's a pretty good one! Charlie and I are that sorta partnership where there's seemingly endless source material for outtakes and goofs. In fact, we've got some examples for pretty much every month of our year-long+ partnership.

Naturally it's all annotated and captioned for your viewing pleasure. Recommended viewing with sound ON. ;)

While many of these clips have been featured previously on the blog, there are a few never-been-published moments in there too. Including an even better view of Charlie's infamous "free jumping" extravaganza (at approx. 0:30). You're welcome.

Should you also be inclined, here are also the blooper reels from the Isabel days, with videos from 2015 and 2014. Because funny moments of fail never get old!

Hope you all had a great weekend and are looking forward to all the approaching holidays with feelings of happiness, gratitude, and maybe a little mischief too!

Friday, November 17, 2017

more on those photos

I'm glad y'all liked Mr. Morris's take on my.... style in riding Charlie haha. It's unique, that's for sure!

Tranquility BN Stadium, June 2017
Honestly I'd been itching to do Jan's blog hop on the subject for actual weeks but had a hard time choosing exactly the right image for the purpose.

Tranquility BN Stadium, June 2017
Luckily (?), my favorite local show photographer GRC Photo had their annual Veterans Day sale so I snagged the 15 image digital package for 25% off, with proceeds donated to veterans wellness organizations.

Tranquility BN Stadium, June 2017
Knowing this sale would eventually roll around, over the course of the season I'd been squirreling a couple images from each show they photographed away in their "favorites" file on the site.

Tranquility BN Cross Country, June 2017
The company usually brings their trailer to Loch Moy shows, where they'll do an on-site special of every single image they took throughout the day on a thumbdrive for $99. My favorite deal ever and why I always have so many photographs from Loch Moy shows lol.

Fair Hill Intro Stadium, July 2017
For the shows without the trailer on-site, they can only offer more standard pricing packages. And as much of a media junkie that I admit to being... Well. Let's be real. Charlie and I aren't exactly the most photogenic pair.

Fair Hill Intro Stadium, July 2017
Especially over smaller fences where the horse just kinda looks ridiculous hurling his body over them.

Fair Hill Intro Stadium, July 2017
But also over relatively larger fences too where I'm certain to have made some pilot error or another en route to the jump haha. Plus typically I ride a little tighter than normal during competition just by nature of nerves and atmosphere.

Fair Hill Intro Cross Country, July 2017
So none of these photos really had me dying to click "buy" at full price. But I knew, just knew, that once the sale rolled around, I'd be happy to at least have a couple nicer shots of us out there doin our thang.

Fair Hill Intro Cross Country, July 2017
And honestly tho? Like, sure we're always our own worst critics when it comes to evaluating pictures of our own riding. I can look at every single one of these pictures and find a reason to cringe. Or, less harshly, objectively identify small adjustments I can make to eventually improve the entire picture.

Fair Hill BN Stadium, September 2017
Because I *do* study images of my riding. And I do learn from them.

But... I also just prefer having a picture that makes me wish I was a little better vs having no pictures at all. And of course Charlie is always easy on my eyes so that helps haha. So in my world, I choose to enjoy the photographs, imperfections and all.

Fair Hill BN Cross Country, September 2017
And as imperfect as many of these images are, mostly what I see is a happy and enthusiastic horse hiccuping along whatever path his rider sets for him. And even when I don't make it as easy on the horse as I could.... he seems more or less pretty cool with it.

Fair Hill BN Cross Country, July 2017
I've said it before and I'll say it again: The later half of this season was pretty tough for me and Charlie to find a consistent groove. Especially leading up to what proved to be our final outing of the season, Fair Hill in September, we had a decidedly less than ideal preparation in terms of schooling and fitness. And. Ya know. It showed haha.

But that doesn't (or shouldn't, at least) cloud my judgement beyond recognizing what an incredible season it really was for me from start to finish. Bc let's remember, last winter and early spring I had a hard time even imagining riding Charlie in all three phases, he was that green.

Fair Hill BN Cross Country, July 2017
But. We did it! And this horse is one hell of a ride :)

We've got a long few months of winter to survive (including the slow but steady rehab, and you'll never guess who did a few strides of CANTER this week omg!). But part of what keeps me going, keeps me focused and motivated, is looking back on all these pictures of what was without a doubt a FUN season of eventing.

So. Happy Friday, everyone! Hope those of you staring down the barrel of a long winter are also able to find ways to stoke that fire, or at least keep the bed of embers smoldering, even as we settle in for a period of relative quiet!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What would George Morris say? Dream Big Blog Hop

Jan from Dream Big had a fun and clever blog hop idea to imagine a critique a la Practical Horseman's column Jumping Clinic with George Morrisusing one of our own pictures.

George Morris is one of the most legendary and well-known trainers in the English-riding world. He's been a popular columnist for Practical Horseman magazine for decades, offering his critiques of riders and their horses from jumping photos they've submitted.

So, I went ahead and submitted the following professional photograph from our final event of the season at Fair Hill in September. Let's see what good ol' George had to say about it, shall we??

behold: our majesty. i swear, the longer you look at it, the funnier it gets. we r so gud at eventing
Fair Hill BN Cross Country, September 2017
George Morris critiques an eventer:

In riding, at first everything is hard, then it becomes easier, then habitual, and only now does it have a chance to become beautiful. With this pair we see an example of riding during the "hard" phase. It's easy to tell they are eventers, and not just by turn out. This is not a compliment.

The horse is turned out well enough. His coat is glossy and he appears in good health and muscling for his level, tho perhaps a little ribby. As is not uncommon in thoroughbred event horses. As for his eye and expression, it is that of a martyr. More on that later.

His legs are protected and he's wearing a contoured saddle pad in keeping with current trends. The fuzzy girth lacks style, and the black half pad on a navy saddle pad would normally be distracting or even jarring. Normally. These are not normal circumstances, however.

Likewise, I'm not fond of all these "blingy" browbands and find them too distracting, tho I understand the motive in this case.

The horse's tack appears to fit. The leverage bit is appropriately fitted with a curb strap and separate reins for curb and snaffle. Among the various other straps are flash and neck straps. At some point the rider must stop layering straps onto the horse and consider actually schooling him. There are bigger fish to fry tho, and clearly this horse is made of solid gold.

close up detail: rider and horse expressions
I can't assess the horse's jumping style and technique from a photo of him landing, as it's impossible to judge his back or bascule, or how careful he is with his front end and knees. We can infer from his outstretched forelimbs, tightly tucked hind end, and squeezed-shut eyes that he has flung himself across this fence (which I'm told is a BN table with ramped face) with nothing but the grace of sweet baby Jesus to help him get to the other side in one piece. And he was decent enough to bring his wayward rider along with him.

Hold on, horse! She's right behind you!

The rider, for her purposes, also had the decency to execute an emergency "sweet baby Jesus take the wheel!" release method so as not to interfere any more than she already has with this horse's Herculean efforts. Someone should remind the rider to not skip her breakfast next time. You're not supposed to eat the fence.

My advice to riders everywhere: Go with the horse, not against him. It's not rocket science. The most important thing to me is that you're not hindering your horse's back.

Points in the rider's favor include that she appears to be in balance. She's not relying on the reins (having already sacrificed them to the laws of physics), and upon closer inspection isn't relying on the stirrups either.

the rider submitted this helmet cam video encouraging me to tune in at 0:45 to relive the moment. it's impossible to tell from the wide angle lens.... but while the pair did not wait for the distance, that distance most certainly would have waited for me.

The definition of a seat is to be able to stick to the horse no matter what the horse does. While I wouldn't call this rider's seat "good," it at least exists and they appear poised to land well enough to continue riding forward (hopefully utilizing a higher degree of .... literally anything approximating skill upon reaching the next fence).

Likewise, I can presume from the rider's expression (which can only be called a "shit eating grin") that perhaps they've been in this situation before. That maybe they're used to it - or worse - it's become habit.

We must hope that this is instead simply the result of a green mistake either by horse or rider, or both. And that we should not see much more of this in the future. Go with the horse, not against. Accuracy is better than speed. Leg to hand. The rider should practice more trot fences.

Rider's turnout is relatively conservative as far as eventing goes. I'd prefer to see her wearing gloves and carrying a stick (she might feel more brave if she did). Many eventers wear a white or tan breech, tho she has opted for a darker color. Probably to hide the dirt.

Ultimately, should this rider's coach not be at the finish line upon her completion of the course, she ought not go looking for him.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

on gratitude

We're approaching the season when many of us begin feeling more reflective of what all happened over the past year. Both in recapping and summarizing a calendar year's worth of events, and also in taking time to appreciate all the positives - big and small - that accompany our horse habits.

a charlie and a goose!
Last year was honestly tough for me in that regard. Like, obviously superficially it was easy to be grateful that I finally found what would hopefully be my future eventing partner in Charlie. And. Ya know. I also subsequently treated myself to the not-insignificant birthday present of a new Charlie-sized trailer, my dearly beloved Cotner.

But on a deeper level, I really wasn't eager to take any closer examination of 2016 as a whole. Any time I tried writing a reflection on the year, I got mired down in the spring and early summer when things fell apart with Isabel. Which reignited all those feelings of self doubt and insecurity and "what if?" Since I prefer to dwell on positives here, I just.... let that sleeping dog lie.

the pig makes it seem like charlie is looking at it instead of just weaving lol
The year before was something different, tho. Sure, it ended in disappointment with a clumsy misstep out of my trailer. But 2015 was otherwise an awesome year. So it was easy to indulge myself by reliving all those memories. Perhaps my favorite from that period full of recaps was the "feeling thankful" Thanksgiving video compilation of Isabel's and my best moments of 2015.

And now that I've had Charlie a full year, and now that he's got a full season of eventing under his belt, it felt like the perfect time to compile his own celebratory "Best Of" video!!

So... I went on ahead and did that haha. And maybe had a littttle too much fun while I was at it ;)

Originally I planned to post this around Thanksgiving, per the whole "gratitude" theme. But... Today is also my birthday and I realized that this is maybe the most satisfied and at peace I've felt on my birthday in recent history. I am grateful. So. You get the video today haha.

The video isn't meant to be a full progression of Charlie from start to finish -- rather it's just some favorite or memorable moments with him. And, honestly, not even all of them, at that. Because there are so many haha and I'm a media junkie/hoarder.

So... Mostly what made the cut are the clips encapsulating those almost out-of-body moments of, "Wow, we're really doing it. It's really happening. This is really it!" Starting with when Charlie really began figuring out his jumping, and when he proved he could be a solid show horse, and lots of examples of him making jumping feel like the best thing in the world ;)

I hope you enjoy it! And just in case any of you out there are likewise inclined, here's that 2015 compilation of Isabel's best moments too.

ok so i did actually get myself one real birthday present ;)
What do you think? Did I leave out any memorable Charlie moments that you think should have made the cut? (Tho I should point out: the blooper reel / outtakes video is coming next so maybe your favorite moments will be on that video instead?? lol....)

And how do you like to remember your favorite times with your horses? Will you be doing a recap post this year? Or maybe a compilation video too?

Monday, November 13, 2017

rehab rides: cruise ship style

Things continue to chug right on along with Charlie's return to work. We're still only doing very little bits of trot - short bursts, if you will. And no canter yet. But that's ok, there's no rush, right?

big horse is concentrating so hard haha
I'm basically trying to approach this rehab as if we're restarting Charlie on the flat. Except -- mentally and emotionally he's already got some stuff figured out. It's just physically starting over again, since he lost so much muscle.

In a way it's kinda ideal tho. We've got this opportunity to start over from scratch on certain weak spots, like lateral imbalances. And since we're limited to taking things slowly there's no incentive to cut corners or rush through the work.

sooooo many moving parts to balance. the horse has never felt so long as he does now lol
This means: seeking to make every transition count. Getting the walk where I want it (light and soft to the bridle, and a distinct tempo that's slower than Charlie's natural, rangy walk but with active stepping hind legs) first *before* stepping into trot.

Then only trotting for as long as Charlie feels like he can hold himself up. Turns continue to be a little bit of a weak spot, and the horse honestly feels a bit creaky and rusty after so much time off. And. Ya know. Lateral suppleness still doesn't come very easily to him. Or, uh, downward transitions (he's pretty much convinced that he cannot possibly step under himself and stay round in the transition. in time, buddy. in time!)

but gosh i just love how hard he tries sometimes!
But we're working on it. I've got as much work to do myself as the horse, after such a long break. Even when I'm constantly reminding myself to sit up, keep shoulders back, and stretch my legs long and down.... Well. I'm still just not there yet. At least we're back to practicing haha!

I was very grateful that Brita was able to nab some video for me during a ride this past weekend. It was very helpful to see how things are looking relative to how they are feeling. The video definitely confirmed that the horse looks a bit tight and weak. And, poor thing, as he's trying his little heart out trotting up the long side, along comes my barn mate's nice and very well schooled Irish thing, Boomer, totally outshining our plain bay hero lol. Oh well, Charlie!

Boomer and Charlie are just about the same height too, so it really shows just how little ground Charlie is actually covering right now. He's not really going forward enough and is pretty earthbound. All of this will be improved as he gains strength tho, so for now I'm fine with it.

lots of drooling and spittle, ew lol. he was very happy to share this with whoever wandered close enough
I also decided to switch out dressage bits again too. He's now wearing the bit he used to jump in -- still a Sprenger KK Ultra, but this one is aurigan instead of the silver bradoon snaffle he had been wearing on his dressage bridle previously.

I'm not sure the metal makes much of a difference, but this aurigan one is slightly thicker than my silver one - which I think *does* make a difference for Charlie. He's been going well in it so far, and has been working the bit and drooling and slobbering all over the place too. 

sweet face in his hackamore too!
So. Ya know. We're rollin with it. Whatever helps keep him comfortable and happy in the work. It's amazing to me that he's actually more barn- and gate-sour these days than he had been even while in full work. Like, Charlie, you've been stuck in that stall for so long now, why on earth are you so eager to get back to it????

always gotta pop in for a visit with friends!
But that's just kinda how this horse is, I think. He's definitely a creature of routine lol. We try to keep it interesting for him tho -- taking advantage of daylight during the weekends to escape the arenas and just wander around the property on the buckle.

these two are so friggin adorable all the time
I feel a little limited since we haven't really made any progress on gates -- He's still difficult to maneuver without getting upset at all the little small steps and adjustments needed to open and close gates. Plus, I actually just plain can't reach a lot of them from his back.

So unless we're hacking with more gate-capable friends, we just wander the drive way and skirt around pastures and whatnot instead of getting out into the xc fields or woods.

shiny fluffy pony!!
Still totally worth it tho! But maybe it'd be nice to haul out to some other trails one of these days.... Maybe going back to Sweet Air again? Idk. We'll see how the ground holds up since mud season is definitely arriving. 

so happy to be able to roll all the time now lol. mud everywhere! the smartpak double stitch halter is holding up  nicely tho
Which honestly makes me a little sad bc I hoped ground conditions would hold long enough for Charlie to make it through his rehab and get back into full work again. That's not really looking likely at this point tho. So I dunno about fitting in any more xc schools this year, but we'll try!

video here. could have been a gif but i love the sound of him cantering <3

At least for now, Charlie has crossed yet another milestone in recovery: he returned this past weekend to his normal herd and turnout schedule. And looked so freakin happy when I went to catch him from the field for our little ride. Just chillin among his buddies grazing. Such a relief!

Plus getting back out into the big pasture means a lot more general activity for him, which will only help our efforts to get him stronger and more fit again. Theoretically. It also means he's got the space to do basically whatever he wants - trotting, cantering, whatever. Which he happily demonstrated to me when I turned him back out again after our ride lol.

 plz make good choices, sir!!
Makes me so happy to see him off and running again! And actually seeing him canter up that hill made me realize we might not be all that far off from cantering under saddle too. Exciting!

Finally feeling like I can start looking forward to stuff now, and may or may not have actually gone ahead and scheduled a dressage lesson toward the end of this month. Nothing very intense, more like "dressage as physical therapy." But y'all know how much I love my lessons ;)

So. Ya know. It was a good weekend for reaffirming that Charlie's more or less on track. Things are getting better! Hope you all had a great weekend too!

Friday, November 10, 2017

what is "fancy" + why does everybody care so much?

True Story: Whenever I describe competitive riding and horse showing to a non-horsey person -- esp if they're genuinely curious or interested -- I always mention the horse world's unique system of measurement. 

Telling them, in a conspiratorial or playful whisper, that, honest to god, "Fancy" is a real unit of measure. That when describing a set of horses, we will in all seriousness judge: "This one is the fanciest. That one is less fancy." Likely with crossed arms and a stern, deliberate voice.

Have you likewise told the uninitiated about this .... seemingly esoteric metric?

If not, you definitely should. It always garners at least a few incredulous giggles, and replies of, "Really? What the hell does 'fancy' even mean tho??"

Also a true story: I, personally as an equestrian, had never really heard (or, more likely, noticed) that turn of phrase until discovering this blogging community and beginning to read along. 

At first I thought it was just an interesting choice of adjectives -- but then I realized that actually the term was generally accepted to be endowed with its own well-defined meaning. That there was somehow this objective spectrum from "Not Fancy" to "Very Fancy" that was easily discernible to anybody who cared to notice.

Even during my college years at the h/j barn, amid what were certainly some very nice horses. I was just kinda blissfully unaware of what it meant to be "fancy." Had no concept. Never really paid attention enough to even realize that I could be developing my eye. I was just kinda riding whatever was available for me to ride (usually horses that needed miles before they could integrate into the lesson program) without thinking any more deeply about it.

I've only recently understood the opportunity in educating myself more on what it means to be a "nice moving" horse. What it means to be "fancy." Generally speaking, I'd like to recognize quality, talent, ability, style and technique in how a horse goes. Still got a ways to there tho haha

Honestly, tho? For my purposes as a low level eventer, I'm pretty sure that's a-ok.

I honestly believe amateurs often place too much emphasis on "fancy." Taking it a step further: I believe amateurs might value the quality of movement above other qualities at their own peril.

There seems to be this extreme preoccupation with fancy moving horses, coupled with what I see as a demonstrably false idea that fanciness alone can win horse shows or make progress somehow easier or faster.

Granted, I identify as an eventer who dabbles in dressage. The judging metrics for these disciplines are entirely different from, say, hunters -- where style matters in a somewhat different sense. So. Ya know. I'm only speaking from my own observations and experiences here. Tho I'm very curious about how you think and feel on the subject.

Basically tho, when I say it's demonstrably false to claim "fanciness" is what wins horse shows, what I mean is that it's not enough in and of itself.

Rather, in the world of adult amateurs (read: limited time and resources) riding at the lower levels, I'd argue that the #1 most important factor in likelihood for success with a horse is: Rideability.

Meaning? As an adult amateur rider, can I fully ride the horse? Is it a horse I can work with, train, learn and make mistakes? A horse I get along with? That, in riding this horse, can we achieve a reasonable degree of correctness and consistency in our work together?

I'll use Charlie as an example here. I specifically sought out a mind and personality in the horse that felt like a type I could work with, that I understood. Charlie is not a fancy horse. I jokingly refer to him as my Future Elegant Horse -- and I do believe that -- but he's basically very plain. There are tons out there exactly like him in style and way of going. He is average.

Yet I'm 100% convinced he can win in the dressage, "nice" or not. Why? Because he's rideable. He's got all these qualities like kindness, patience, sensibility. He's more or less game. He's forgiving. Call it anthropomorphization if you like, but you know what I mean.

Charlie lets me ride him fully, and as such he is steadily developing into a what I hope will be a very correct horse. He's not fancy. He might never be what anybody calls 'nice.' But he can enter at A in a show environment and consistently lay down a test that fully demonstrates his current level of training. Likewise with the jumping phases too. (tho he likes that part better so often performs beyond his training just by nature of enjoying the game haha).

Since I can rely on him to be so consistent, really the ball is in my court to train and practice and be as disciplined as possible. Because the horse will absolutely reflect those efforts for better or worse. And in my experience, at the lower levels the judges will and do reward steadiness and consistency and correctness.

Flashy will always help, obviously (hai, Isabel!), but it is not enough in and of itself. And "upper level potential" means nothing if the horse can't get through a lower level test without a meltdown.

Another example: Isabel is an objectively fancy mare. She could and did win in the dressage. But she could also lose, often from one week to the next. It depended entirely on how rideable she was on that particular day.

Which.... ya know. She's a very very good girl, a very special kind of horse with a seemingly limitless capacity for pressure. It was never her talent that dictated our success (she's always lovely to watch and is a natural performer), it was her mood. Some days she was just. not. rideable.

So while I learned so much from her and appreciated what it felt like to ride that fancy, eye catching horse... I also learned that the kernel of our success was not just her fanciness, but rather that special ability of hers to take pressure. To be game. The qualities that I had recognized in her before I even knew what "fancy" was. And so I set out on my search for a new eventing partner with those qualities chief in my mind.

I'm curious tho, because I know this is a much bigger topic than what my own limited experience encompasses.

There are a few questions here: What, really, does it mean to be "fancy"? And why does it matter? Or, Does it matter?

Do you agree with me that 'fanciness' is overrated for the purposes of most adult amateurs at the lower levels? That folks would be better served by focusing on mind over matter in their equestrian partners? Or maybe you think I'm missing some critical piece of the puzzle, overlooking something obvious? Perhaps the horse's talent and capability is more important to you and your goals than I've given credit to above?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

returning from whence we came

Or, in other words, returning to a sense of normalcy. 'Tis the season for shifts in routine anyway: the clocks, the weather, and now the barn's turnout schedule. Horses are now out during the day and in over night.

So in a way it's a new routine for us, tho it's nbd considering Charlie hasn't really had anything like a 'routine' beyond "just still sitting in his stall" for quite a few weeks now. And actually, it's maybe kinda nice. Am I the only one who somewhat resignedly appreciates the clock change bc now I can finally just accept the darkness instead of rushing to try to beat it? lol....

excuse the grid lines -- i was trying (and still failing) to true the horizon without actually chopping off his cutey pie ears or toes. so. you get a screen shot of my efforts with the grid lines lol
Anyway, I thought this period of adjustment might serve as a check in on where Charlie is in his life and wellness. He is emerging from his cocoon of stall rest and hopefully easing back into the life of a sport-horse-in-training, with all of winter ahead of us to regroup.

During his first taste of freedom, he struck the above pose -- not exactly a classic conformation shot, but maybe close. Close enough for me, anyway. So naturally I took a screen shot and tried to make it more level-ish, sorta, for the purposes of evaluating.

eye spy with my little eye.... somebody (who shall remain nameless) walkin the fence during turnout
Safe to say: this a FAR CRY from the race horse I met last September who had just run a race four weeks prior. Charlie's now rocking what I fondly refer to as his "Dad Bod."

And? I actually really like it haha!

see that star face staring out from between the boards????
While he lacks any real muscle, most notably along the full length of his topline and that hay beer belly, this is maybe the best he's looked weight-wise since I've owned him.

The angles of that hind end are still just flat planes instead of rounded features, sure. But there's so much more fullness now. No more jutting points, esp in the hips.

clearly he needs more action haha - as he expressively nods his head here as if to say, "Yes plz! I would also like to run and jump like Bella again!"
And hopefully with the reintroduction of "real" work, we'll be able to lift his back up again, tighten up the belly, and generally add muscling in all those hollow places along his topline.

The last few days have been tricky for making the "work" happen, but I've been trying. Charlie got to hack out with Brita and Bella and some other barn mates a couple times this past week - one ride during which I legitimately thought he might really finally kill me (it's just that same sassy move he pulls all the time, but it's a lot of horse to be that sassy!).

bc yea, brita and bella are killin it
And another ride where he was actually pretty freakin good, tho I could feel the sass coursing beneath the surface as Brita and our other companion flitted hither and thither schooling some of the xc fences.

I legitimately cannot wait to get back out there with Charlie - to just be allowed to let him go and RUN! Hopefully the ground is still good by the time he's cleared for takeoff!!!

charlie gets to .... play in his own way tho. back in le dressage tack
For now, tho, we walk. And finally (finally): a little bit of trotting too. Basically reintroducing trotting as if we were rehabbing a soft tissue injury. We won't stay on that same timeline for very long, but the name of this game is "gradual."

So we walk and walk and walk and walk.

And we either do so hacking out all over the property in Charlie's hackamore and jump saddle, in which I care not how he goes so long as he's being generally respectful of any direction I might give. Or we dress all up in dressage tack (complete with snaffle instead of hackamore) and I ask that Charlie goes to work at the walk.

making eyes at himself in the mirror, natch haha
What does "work at the walk" mean, you might ask?

In an ideal world, this would mean working on things like: Schooling three distinct walks - free, collected, and working - and transitions between. Practicing lateral work at the walk, including leg yields, shoulder fore, and maybe even turns on haunches or forehand. Perfecting general figures such as circles of various sizes, spirals, and serpentines. Ya know. Fanceh stuff.

new concept for a shoulder guard for us, instead of his "muscle shirt" from last year that i always worried was maybe also problematic in its own way
The reality is playing out a lot simpler than that tho. Like, sure, those are the ideas that bump around in my head. But. Ya know. Charlie's still green, and now has been off for weeks and has no strength. Plus. Also. Haha, I'm still the same rider I've always been.

So the rides play out a little bit more like: Emma thinks really deeply about her own position and focuses first and foremost on getting Charlie supple and giving to the bit. We don't have three distinct walks at all - we have "Dis How Charlie Go" and "Ok We Can Slow Tempo A Little. But Only Bc You Won't Shut Up About It."

this is just a silky loose bib by Snuggy Hoods
And I still only really have one rein, my right rein. Idk why. It was a major problem with Isabel too, tho both Bali and Velvet were opposite sided so I dunno. Chicken or the egg, it hardly matters at this point. All that matters is: we do not track left the same as we track right.

Since we're limited to the walk tho, we've got the perfect opportunity to really dissect that further, to explore and experiment. It's not like I've got anything else to work on, right?

little loop to keep it fixed in place
Actually, just in general, I'm trying to be really disciplined with myself to take time to focus on all those little nagging imbalances and issues in our combined way of going that I always kinda just rushed past previously.

Practicing counter canter is so much sexier than exploring why we're so uneven from side to side.... But that lateral imbalance won't go away just bc I ignore it. So. No time like the present!

like so
This discipline extends to being super explicit to Charlie about what I want in the walk too. Historically the walk was our "take a break" gait. Typically I would take time to pick him up a few strides before a transition, and ask him to hold himself a few strides in walk after transitioning down... But beyond that, the walk was kinda a.... go-between, an intermediary. It's never a focus in and of itself.

Rehabbing tho? I'm pretty sure Charlie has spent more time walking on the bit in the last week than he has in the entire year I've owned him lol.

also charlie needed a whole new sheet after i wrecked his last one, oops
The amazing thing is how quickly he got on board with this. Like, at first it was really hard. But if I was quick enough with my praise he just.... kept doing it. And now he just knows that I want him on the bit, that pressure on the reins means something and he's developing this whole new softness even at the walk that he never had before.

this is a bigger size than the last one, fits him better too, phew!
The most obvious, yet somehow still unexpected, outcome of all this is that when we do trot? He.... just stays on the bit. Right now we're only really trotting a single lap of the ring at a time. And only a very few laps total for a full ride. And in the interest of full disclosure: Charlie isn't really very correct in his carriage while trotting -- he's much too deep and overbent right now.

Mostly tho I see that as a sign of A) weakness (duh); and B) Charlie knows I want him to put his head down. He doesn't really have the game figured out fully beyond that -- except that he also knows I don't want him leaning on me.

so the charlie monster is free to move about the cabin!
I already know from pre-surgery that this is Charlie's interim step before I can put my leg on and push him out across his back (if we can ever get those shoulders out of the way). We're just.... not there yet. And that's ok. Obviously haha.

But I'm hoping that by taking the time to be super disciplined in my walk work while he rehabs, that we might find ourselves either exactly where we left off training-wise. Or, maybe if we're lucky, Charlie will actually have himself a fuller education on expectations and carriage and lateral balance from all this rehab at the walk and we'll end up not having missed a beat.

while hopefully that shoulder bib will keep things nice and frictionless!
A girl can dream, right? And anyway you might be reading this feeling like, "uh but yea walking forever is still boring as fuck" lol, and.... you're not exactly wrong.

But I can still honestly say that getting back to even some semblance of work is just so refreshing and exciting to me! And those first few trot steps (well, ok, after those first few where he was like "omg but i have so many body parts tho and they're all moving!") were just the freakin BEST.

anything for that goon <3
So yea, winter is coming and it's dark and chilly now when I get there after work. And that's kinda a bummer.  BUT. That's completely outweighed by relief and excitement at Charlie's continued return to regular programming.

This time last year I was getting all excited about even just the possibilities of how Charlie might handle his introduction to the sport. We had only just had our very first jump lesson on Nov. 5th, after all. Now I have the advantage of already knowing that he's basically everything I could hope for as my event horse. Just gotta keep on keepin' on.

What about you? Do you feel winter closing in? Are you already turning your sights inward toward bootcamp for all those little details that get overlooked when there's other fun stuff to do instead? Do you have any big objectives or plans for your down time this winter? Or do you just basically treat it as vacation for the horse during the worst of the weather? Or maybe you're still hoping to squeeze a bit more out of this year before calling it?