Thursday, November 25, 2021

happy thanksGIFing !

Happy Thanksgiving!! To my US readers in particular, but honestly -- to everybody, wishing you a wonderful late November week full of thankfulness (and good food!) <3

These last few years of holiday seasons have been.... tumultuous, to say the least. 

And actually, this summer -- especially with the emergence of vaccinations etc -- it feels like society is very deliberately trying to put covid and the whole pandemic situation firmly behind us. 

And, honestly? I'm HERE for that. Like, obvi the pandemic *is not* over, even as it shifts closer and closer to the (apparently more desirable?) 'endemic' classification. And, at least here in Baltimore, we're still on somewhat strict protocols. 

But ya know.... My family and I are vaxxed and mostly boosted -- even the kiddos now too omg!! And we are ready to be together <3 

So this holiday, at least for me and my family ---- which you may recall is enormous with many different branches, all of whom I want to see and spend time with ---- actually marks the first proper return to something like "normalcy" for us. 

And ooooooh buddy, we are READY!

Obviously every individual community and family may or may not be in a different place right now --- but I hope you're looking forward to a good meal too, at the very least. 

Resuming normal traditions for me means that I get *two omg* Thanksgiving meals in *one* day (omg). 

And I do mean two haha --- there will be NO saving myself from one to the next. We go hard here, mkay? 

So. If you need me, I'll probably be either seated at some ridiculously opulent spread --- or trying to rest up between meals haha. Wishing you all a similarly indulgent return to this wonderful holiday intended to bring everybody together in a spirit of gratitude! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Charlie's Great Hoof Year

I went into 2021 determined to reframe my overall goals and ambitions relating to horses and riding. The objectives didn't necessarily change -- I want to enjoy my horsey experiences to the absolute fullest, while striving to be the best rider and horse person I can be. The methods, tho. My attitude and approach -- that's shifted. 

pictured: possibly the single most important puzzle piece in charlie's stellar 2021
Put simply: my intention going into this year was to be ready for tomorrow, whatever may come, but not ruled by it. 

In practice, this means avoiding situations where it seems like any given thing has to happen RIGHT NOW in order for LATER to be possible — even (and especially) if NOW is not ideal.

march 2021 -- last cycle before going into leather pads for the season
A specific example is feeling like we *need* an important schooling or lesson to be ready for a show, even if that meant working hard on bad ground. Instead, this year, I aimed to capitalize on good ground whenever possible, while avoiding heavy pounding during the driest hottest months.
flashback picture (you can tell bc there aren't stud holes drilled) -- but representative of the leather pads 
Obviously it helped sticking to all things Novice -- where we're experienced, comfortable and don't need a lot of "prep." Bc ya know.... if we really *needed* that last practice to be ready, despite bad conditions.... well, eh, maybe that meant we just weren't ready, right? 

flashback to Nov 2019 when we pulled a shoe while xc schooling with Martin Douzant -- but a good view of the leather pad side profile, and the considerable cushion it adds
Anyway, possibly as a result of this new approach - combined with other maintenance aspects I’ll get into - Charlie had his absolute BEST hoof year with me yet. 

We didn't lose a single shoe!! And Charlie was very sound all year long! Sure, we did our routine maintenance, including joint injections and a box of Adequan. But... That was it. Considering the hoof struggles we've had before (including necessitating coffin injections in 2019), this was kiiiiinda a big deal haha.

flashback to May 2019: charlie's front hoof condition by late spring with no pads. pretty hard to bounce back after this sort of chipping -- esp so early in the year
Because the hoof care reality is... The toothpaste just won't go back into the tube. Literally — inflammation and effusion are expansive forces that can compound soreness significantly when trapped within a rigid hoof capsule. 

It’s MUCH better to prevent it altogether rather than deal with resolving it once it’s begun.

compare to May 2021: charlie's front hooves at 5 weeks with pads, shoo fly boots, and near-daily keratex
Charlie has fairly normal thoroughbred feet -- they're proportionally a little small for his big body, and they tend toward being shelly and crumbly. His soles can also be thinner than is ideal.

flashback to June 2020 : still no pads, looking really shelly and crumbly, with older nail holes chipping out completely
His hooves spurt into growth nearly instantaneously at the earliest signs of spring. But they grow out soft and crumbly -- and as seen in the 'flashback' photos in this post, they usually chip and crack excessively around the shoe clips and nail holes by May or June. 

In past years, we've transitioned Charlie into full leather pads up front around June-ish. But.... ya know.... The thing with hooves, at least for me, is that by the time I'd recognize a problem, it was usually too late.  

compare to August 2021 : charlie's front hooves looking solid at 5 wks in August, despite drought 
Once the hoof wall gets so compromised, the only solution is to grow it out. Except those existing cracks and holes obviously aren't particularly stable, tending to spread and create new vulnerabilities even as the hoof grows. 

So we'd walk this fine line between 1) long enough shoeing cycles to grow more new wall between new and old nail holes; or 2) risk Charlie losing a shoe, possibly along with big chunks of hoof -- thus setting us even further back. 

Sept 2021: charlie's hind hooves at 5 wks. he doesn't wear pads behind, so you can see more advanced crumbling here -- tho near-daily keratex helped keep the walls intact
This year we got Charlie into full leather pads up front starting in March 2021 -- months earlier than normal. Which... I'm now convinced had two main advantages: the pads substantially reduced all that early spring chipping and cracking; plus we got the pads on *before* Charlie had a chance to get sore on hard ground. Yessssss!

Oct 2021: a good looking hoof growing out an old defect. leather pad is clearly visible here
My farrier also suggested applying Keratex as close to daily as possible. He said polymers in the compound accumulate with repeated applications, giving the hoof wall the strength and flexibility necessary to resist cracking or chipping.

Nov 2021: transitioned to leather rim pads in time for wet pre-freeze ground conditions. he'll wear the rim pads for a cycle or two, before ditching pads altogether for winter.
I also added fly boots to the mix -- tho he mostly just wore them up front. Ideally, fly boots reduce stomping on hard summer ground. Charlie's Shoo Fly boots work great -- they're easy to get on and off, loose enough to not cause restriction or harbor leg funk, and brightly colored so they're easy to find if one falls off in the field. 

flashback to June 2017, when charlie went into rim pads for the first time
It's impossible to know what made the biggest difference for Charlie this year. If I had to pick *just one* practice to carry forward, it'd be the leather pads. But the keratex and fly boots seem effective enough to justify the cost. For those curious -- we went through 5 keratex bottles this year, costing about $200 total.

Also notable -- Charlie discontinued ALL feed through supplements last year. Bc, eh, he already has a great diet, and IMO the supplements were the least effective and most expensive part of Charlie's hoof care. 

whatever it takes, buddy!
So. Long story short: We made some big changes this year. I was more selective about footing and ground conditions for our training, and Charlie got into hoof pads ~3 months earlier than past years. Plus we continued basic mitigation efforts like keratex and fly boots. 

And gosh.... It's made ALL the difference for Charlie. Not one lost shoe. A very sound horse. And *ZERO* comments from dressage judges about irregular or uneven steps. Yessssss

Obviously I'm tempting fate writing it all out like this. And lord knows Charlie could go step on a nail (or a bit of mulch, ahem) tomorrow lol (plz don't tho, buddy!). But, eh, as a first-time horse owner, it feels like we finally got it right this year with Charlie's hoof care. 

Here's hoping I can keep it up, haha, and not have to learn any more lessons the hard way -- at least on this one subject LOL. Bc damn... hooves really are the epitome of the "long game" with horses, it seems. Please tell me I'm not the only one who has taken a couple tries to figure out the secret sauce for their horse? 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Iggy + Charlie Best Friends Forever

Longtime readers might remember that Charlie had a .... surly streak when I first got him. Maybe inherited from the infamous stallions in his pedigree, or maybe just deeply rooted defense mechanisms after a lengthy and sometimes difficult career on the track.

Either way, Charlie's early days with me were punctuated by occasionally aggressive behaviors, legitimately necessitating a warning sign posted on his stall at our first boarding barn.  

Iggy + Charlie, best friends forever, in this life and the next <3
That first barn was a lovely place with excellent horse people, tho we eventually moved on anyway to be closer to our trainers at the barn where Charlie lives now. And, obviously, I made sure *everybody* involved in day to day care at the new place understood to watch their backs when in Charlie's stall, and do whatever was necessary to stay safe if they felt threatened. 

twinsies twinning
Honest-to-god, they all thought I was a straight up lunatic. They could not understand what I was going on about. Because Charlie.... just... it's hard to describe, but he just completely let his guard down at this new barn. He was settled. Relaxed. Gentle. Trusting

buddy system #activated
Again, I really don't think anything was wrong with the previous boarding barn. But something was definitely RIGHT about Charlie's new home. And.... I figured out that secret sauce pretty freakin quickly: Charlie's new best friend, Iggy. 

literally attached at the hip
Iggy and Charlie have been inseparable since day 1. Well, not "inseparable" in any sort of obnoxious herd bound sort of way.... But just.... Always together. Always close. Always on the exact same wavelength together.

"you swat my flies and i'll swat yours!" -- charlie, 100%
It's funny bc it's a big herd, in a big field. And they all get along together. But.... Charlie and Iggy always and without fail stuck together --- no matter what the rest of the herd was doing haha....

featuring killjoys Iggy + Charlie *not participating, kthxbai*

and on the opposite end of the spectrum: 

And of course, the whole bromance was made all the more adorable by Iggy + Charlie being complete twins in basically every dimension except height. 

"i've got your back, igs!" -- charlie
Just a couple of basic bay boy TBs, with a left hind sock, star and snip <3

both so expressive about the flies
I've always really loved this aspect of Charlie's life -- that he has such happy and fulfilling society haha. Call it anthropomorphizing if you want. But it's just oddly reassuring, ya know?

even wore their hair the same <3
Iggy became suddenly very very sick two weeks ago, tho. It's not entirely clear what happened -- except that it had likely been brewing undetected for possibly a long time. 

rollin with his homies
Somehow, some way, Iggy had managed to brew an enormous infection somewhere in the cavities inside his head -- with various abscess pockets branching out from the source.  

snacking together too
The current hypothesis, tho of course we'll never really know, is that one of these pockets was aggravated and possibly started draining internally after a routine teeth float. 

chatting with the neighbors at the watercooler 
And the illness progressed so so quickly. Ugh, poor Iggy. There was just so much swelling around his head, he began to have difficulty breathing, and pretty soon the pockets of infection were draining through his sinuses. Obviously, he was referred to hospital. 

snoozin together too, obviously
Once admitted, he underwent a few emergency procedures -- first to open his airway and facilitate breathing. Then various exploratory incisions to locate and drain the primary infection source. 

oh Iggy, Charlie's overgrown foal <3 <3 
Amazingly, although it seemed touch-and-go for a couple days, the hospital staff were able to finally get to the source, and Iggy began responding positively to the antibiotics. 
your friends already miss you, buddy
But.... the swelling had caused significant nerve damage. Once they tried reintroducing water and food, it became clear that Iggy could not swallow. His owner made the only possible choice, and let him go. 

It's all just so heartbreaking -- it happened so fast, but then he was getting better! But... No. Iggy, you were gone too soon, and your friends miss you terribly <3 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Fall Hunter Trials!!

A million years ago, Isabel and I went to a fun local hunter trials at Tranquillity, and it left a lasting impression on me. These are natural type tracks over varied terrain and styles of fence commonly seen in hunting: coops, split rail fences, brush, stone walls, etc. 

Not dissimilar from eventing-style cross country, but a slightly different flavor -- especially considering the rounds are judged. Each fence gets a score from 1-10, plus an overall round score, based on way of going, style, safety, pleasantness, etc. Basically evaluating the horse + rider as field hunters. 

charlie + spirit were fast friends
Personally I don't really care about the judging haha. The captivating bit way back in 2014 was the pairs & teams classes, omg. I swore right then and there I'd be back, and made good on that promise first in 2018 at the Elkridge Harford Hunter Trials, and again in 2019 at the 100 Acre Field Hunter Trials.

shaggy ponies but a gleaming trailer!!
And this year? We made it back to Tranquillity again for the same. Yesssss!! We were a much smaller group this time around (a party of 2) for a variety of reasons mostly having to do with various lamenesses among our horsey set, womp :( 

class list -- left and right side classes refer to two separate tracks as indicated
But we would not be deterred!! The weather was gorgeous and the footing perfection. Seriously, it's hard to believe after all the rain last week.... But, eh, it was a dry summer and the ground soaked it right up. 

the track for Pairs + Teams differed from the rest to accommodate the "abreast" requirement for the final jump
To be honest, the field trials course at Tranquillity isn't my most favorite -- and doesn't change much from year to year. The track winds through mostly permanent fixtures alongside the jump rings -- vs the horse trials tracks that change yearly, feature predominantly portables, and extend through the various fields. 

possibly not the best pair in terms of height differential lol, but who cares, right?
My biggest complaint is that it's almost entirely up and down a particularly hilly bit of ground, with multiple downhill questions (ie: either entire approaches or landings). Plus a lot of the jumps are vertical and sorta "delicate" looking. Think: split rail fences etc., whereas I prefer solid stuff like cabins or rolltops for my somewhat brutish gelding lol. 

spirit did his best to keep up! and charles did his best to keep a lid on it <3
But. Again. That's all just personal preference (read: omg I *hate* jumping downhill). And these are judged rounds. It's not like eventing where we just gotta get through the flags -- they want the course ridden, and ridden smoothly and pleasantly

100% here for the gratuitous media <3 <3 <3
PLUS. My teammate Spirit is quite a bit smaller than Charlie. He and his teenage rider have slayed since becoming eventing partners just a few short months ago -- but they also often trot some of their courses. So.... I had plenty motivation to just take it easy with Charlie, go slow, be steady, no rushing. And no real glory in the high options either, ya know?

my favorite parts were the jumps in and out of the arenas
As far as Charlie is concerned, if he were allowed to write the rules, EVERY jumping class ever would be a teams + pairs class haha. Charlie loves jumping in groups. Tho, I think his favorite is when he can follow (as he did at EHHC). But ya know, he doesn't mind leading either, good boy ;) 

like so!!
Mostly, my biggest focus was just making sure Charlie knew what he was doing and was relaxed. Which.... is slightly challenging in this environment bc warm up is generally *always* a zoo haha, and the list of riders ahead of you is always long, with lots of horses in various stages of excitement milling around waiting for their turns.

and also so!!
We were nearly done warming up when a positively fire-breathing chestnut dragon entered the ring, trumpeting his arrival with tail flagged straight up haha. Literally every horse stopped and stared, eyes wide agog, wondering what fresh hell that horse had seen, haha. Charlie and Spirit were no exception. 

actually basically anything on level ground was A+
this is fence 5, the trot jump
So we had to pause and chill for a little bit, then get back to actually jump a couple things, then get the hell outta that warm up ring asap -- lest the dragon proclaim some fresh new terror to all the other horses haha. Tho, naturally, at this point the starting list was quite long.... meaning we had to wait something like 15-20min before actually going. 

omg tho the ground was generally not level lol
Obviously tho these are a good set of horses, and once we actually trotted out to begin -- they were aces. We trotted a sorta generous path to the first log just to let them look around a little, and trotted the first fence for good measure. 

particularly this jump landed very downhill -- omg i hate downhill haha
My favorite section of the course was the little loop through the arenas that came as 2-3-4, mostly bc it was flat ground LOL. The course called for trotting jump 5, a good sized brick wall, which Charlie did surprisingly well, then a quick off-camber turn to a shrub fence.

From there, we cruised down to a zig-zag lincoln logs type fence -- with Charlie somewhat incredulously spookin at the mini donk in the next door paddock. Then back around toward the arenas again, catching a big coop along the way. Last jump in this first half was the split rail fence pictured above -- my least favorite on course haha, tho Charlie was quite pleasant to it. 

pretend brush fence -- i think just pallets tbh
We zoomed down that hill, kinda skipped over the little box at the very bottom of the hill, then climbed back up to a series of stone walls and stone coops making up the back half of the course. Last couple jumps were first a faux-brush vertical made from pallets, then an actual brush jump made from living shrubs. 

omg a real brush fence tho!! proper shrubbery lol, also landing TF downhill omg
I actually really liked both of these jumps. The pallets bc it was on nicely flat ground, and the shrubs bc it was sizeable enough that Charlie probably wouldn't plow into it lol. Tho you can sorta see that we aimed straight back downhill after the shrubs omg. 

wheeeeeee off camber downhill turns haha
And omg, I was 100% grateful for the studs as we landed going straight downhill toward home (basically where the camera is positioned in the above shot), but had to immediately roll back off camber away from home back up the hill toward our final jump. 

whew, we made the turn -- headed to the last abreast! 
We made the turn tho! And actually, my barn mate REALLY nailed the whole ride. We knew going in that Charlie would cover ground a lot faster than Spirit, so she cut every turn where I went wide and we were right next to each other to the last -- which, again, should be jumped abreast. 

Also, just a little glowup on that rider too, she went back out for a second solo ride a little bit later, and won second place in a big juniors class! 

Ooooh, and we were 4th in our pairs class too -- which was unexpected after Spirit had a bit of confusion about the trot jump (and, ahem, yours truly also has unimpressive equitation on the best of days -- let alone when half the jumps are downhill....). So ya know -- definitely an awesome day for the ponies haha. 

good boy charlie <3
That's kinda it, too, haha. Rides like this certainly don't matter for anything. There's exactly zero regulation on the design and scope of the "test," and not a clue who the judges were.... It's literally just a field full of jumps --- go jump them! 

And. I am HERE for it! This is the stuff, as far as I'm concerned. The good stuff

Y'all don't need to be told of my constant pursuit of better horsemanship. But... At my most basic instinct, the purpose of all that "betterment" is... enjoyment. And days like this are the payoff. The raison d'ĂȘtre. So this feels like a fitting end (?) to 2021's season of good ground <3