Thursday, September 16, 2021

winter folklore: woolly bear edition

If you know, you know

Weather.gov is honest to god a pretty incredible website.** But -- hands down -- my favorite noteworthy little subpage, tucked gently into the archives for just the special few who google this arcane bit of trivia.... is the page dedicated to: 
Woolly Bear Caterpillar - Winter Predictor Or Not? 

pictured: ALL the wildlife
The story goes, if you want to know what to expect in the coming winter, check in with your resident caterpillars. Specifically, the Woolly Bear caterpillar, who is typically black at head and tail, and orange in the middle.
According to folklore, the amount of black on the woolly bear in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found.  The longer the woolly bear's black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be.  Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter.  The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest.  If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe.  If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold. In addition, the woolly bear caterpillar has 13 segments to its body, which traditional forecasters say correspond to the 13 weeks of winter.

took this pic of an 'all orange' Bear in July 2017
if memory serves me right, this did not foretell a mild winter... lol
as evidenced by my not just one, but two rants on the subject...
Here in Maryland, we grew up understanding this to be nothing less than Accepted Canon -- the sacred principle by which we (and obvi, by "we" I mean me and my sister as small children, obvi) braced ourselves for the coming winter. 

9/12/2021 maryland
So, obviously, it's always something of an Exciting Moment for me when I spot my first Woolly Bear of the season. Which I did so last weekend just outside the feed room shed. 

AND!! It was this full-orange dude, undeniably signaling a mild winter to come! Yessss!!!

(Let's just ignore recent precedent described above, yes?)

9/14/2021 maryland
Except, hrm. Just days later, strolling out to the jump ring astride my favorite OTTB Charles... Well, I happened to spot this absolutely gargantuan be-furred beastie on the fence post.....

ok yea we definitely needed a closer look at this incontrovertible behemoth
Oy. Ok. That's a big Woolly Bear, guys. 

And not a single twinge or tint of rusty orange to be found. Foretelling a longer, snowier, colder, more severe winter ahead. 

9/16/2021 maryla.... wait, jk that's just resident woolly bear shetland stallion TT doin his daily constitutional...
sorry charlie, idk what it means either!
But what does it mean???

I gotta be honest, my heart is 100% set on a mild fall and gentle onset of winter.... Because it's my favorite season and who could deny me my own selfish whims?! But... It's also been a couple years since we had any sort of epically apocalyptical snow storms or deep freezes. 

Apparently we're all just going to have to wait and see, tho, since even our resident denizens the Woolly Bears can't come to a consensus on what to expect, womp. At least they're cute..ish?? 


(**Seriously tho, have you ever scrolled all the way to the bottom and perused all those many, many links?!)


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Trying on First 3 for Size @ MDA

The Maryland Dressage Association hosted another lowkey schooling show at Charlie's home barn this past weekend, and obviously Charlie and I decided to enter! 

We don't have the greatest track record at these events (which I expounded upon at great length while recapping our June show)... but they're super cost effective chances to get in front of a judge in the hopes of constructive feedback. 

lol barely entered and already kickin' up a {dust} storm!
Plus, I've been musing whether Charlie's a "First Level Horse" since the fall of 2018, but only actually rode him in his first (and only) proper first level test in summer 2019. During which, the judge not-altogether-gently ripped my fucking heart out

So. Ahem. That gave me some serious cold feet about it all, lol... ugh... 

maybe blurry + out of focus is a good look for us?? don't worry, there are some nice HQ pro pics too ;) 
But ya know. We press on. My philosophy on doing things with horses is that.... Literally nobody will ever care more than I do about what I do with my horse. And that goes both ways -- nobody is sitting there disappointed or whatever if I don't reach out and take a shot at my dreams. And... Nobody will ever care more than I will** if we do poorly, make mistakes, or 'fail.' 

How I feel about what we do is legitimately ALL that matters. Therefore, if there's a thing that I want to do? We do it! And if I don't really want to do any given thing? We don't. And ya know. It really is that simple haha. 

(**Quick reminder to anybody who needs to hear it: judgement or snarky comments are NOT the same as actually caring. Turns out, we are actually the only ones who obsess over our mistakes. So.... Don't, lol. Or at least, don't let past mistakes become obstacles to future fun.)

not a bad effort at stretchy trot, buddy!! also omg, look at my right leg behaving itself sorta!!
So this summer, knowing that it's been somewhat of a 'season of discontent' vis-a-vis actual riding lessons, I've been using our roughly monthly competition outings as yardsticks to check in on progress. 

And, particularly, these MDA shows have been the perfect 'proof of concept' for me to finally try on all of First Level for size. We rode tests 1 and 2 back in June, to reasonably ok effect, and then took a stab at test 3 this past weekend. 

not typically a moment in trot that i grab for pictures, but idk, i kinda like this one! dust makes it feel ethereal lol
pc Amy Flemming Waters
This past weekend was also an important landmark in my mind bc.... Well, uh, not to put too fine a point on it, but I've *completely* changed how I ride the horse since our last lesson with Molly K. And, ahem, that left *two* practice sessions between that lesson and this show to actually adjust and adapt to the new style with Charlie. 

But, haha.... This probably won't surprise any of you who have likewise experienced one of those major positional 'Aha!' moments in riding, but.... Turns out, Charlie adapted right fucking quick to the new style, and is quite the happy little camper now! Gooooo figure, lol.

just canter the horse and ride a circle, amirite? judge's comment for this circle: "reins long."
pc Amy Flemming Waters
Basically, the big takeaway from Molly was finally feeling how to get my leg OFF the horse. Trainers have told me for YEARS to do this thing, but.... Ya know. For some reason, I couldn't actually do it with how my legs hang (plus, obvi our bodies lie to us constantly, and my right leg has always had a mind of its own). 

But now I have an actual physical feeling to work with: like I'm riding with my toes pointed directly into Charlie's armpits. Like I'm riding as extremely pigeon toed as possible. It feels that way, tho in reality my toes are only just barely sticking straight ahead vs winging outward. 

Especially when I'm trying to focus on 18 things at once, like my shitty upper body and hand/arm positions. Or, uh, not making my horse rein-lame in the 10m circles. Details details, ya know? 

love that charlie wore his ears up in canter!! that's actually... not super common!
pc Amy Flemming Waters
The feeling is great tho, esp for turning. When I turn Charlie, the outside leg rotates toe more toward horse's armpit, bringing my outside thigh into contact to catch that shoulder. Meanwhile my inside leg is this supportive pillar holding the horse upright in his turn. It feels good, and Charlie seems to like it. 

Keeping my legs off also makes Charlie happy bc he finally has freedom to actually go forward. And when I *do* use a leg, whether it's asking for more activity, or a leg yield, he is more responsive than I'm used to, like, "Ooh, incoming message received!

The leg yields in particular are just... There now. Well. Ok, that's a lie. The leg yield left is "there" now, bc that's our stronger direction (since, ya know, the left side of my body is a myth and I've trained the horse using almost exclusively my right side), so the leg yield right is plain harder for us both. But -- bc my legs are off, when I put them on, Charlie just... tunes in and tries. Yessss!

might actually be having an ok time in front of the judge, for once!
Another feeling from the Molly lesson has "worn off" more quickly -- the feeling from that rubber tube looped from my fingers going behind my back. When I can remember it, tho, and access that feeling, combined with the new leg position, Charlie can finally pull me down into the saddle, deeper into my position -- vs pulling my upper body forward and seat out of the saddle. 

I can also feel these moments of position where like, "Ooh, yes, this is how I will actually sit the trot." Since.... sitting the trot is not really currently a thing I can do, let's be honest. 

d'aww buddy <3 he has such a lovely canter, one day we'll get scores to match! 
So this test was all about putting these pieces together. Trying it out and finding the limits, so to speak. I honestly was worried that it would be way above our paygrade, and contemplated dropping to test 1 or 2... But, our two solo practice sessions between lesson and show went really well, so we carried on. 

And once in the ring, I really focused on helping Charlie relax. He was tense AF during the June shows, bc he honestly doesn't really like dressage very much. We've spent so much time booting and chasing him forward, and then asking him to bring that big body of his into more precise smaller movements. It stresses him out, ya know? Esp considering, whoops, I've been steering him wrong all along. 

sweet pony <3
pc Amy Flemming Waters
So idk if this test 3 just flows well for him (which, I think it does) or if this new style of riding helps him feel more comfortable and trusting of the pattern, but he actually felt really good the whole way around! 

The test opens with a trot lengthening (which I did conservatively to preserve relaxation), then goes into a neat leg yield pattern. Leg yield rail to center line, then 10m circle, change direction and repeat. It's a simple pattern that Charlie picked up quickly. Only sadness is it starts with the right leg yield and left 10m circle -- Charlie's two weakest movements. 

True story, that left 10m circle (or it's half circle cousin we've seen in other tests) is the #1 place you'll see Charlie take uneven steps, since it's a difficult configuration for his own physical limitations. And it's always one of the first things in these tests, and therefore part of a judge's first impression of the horse. So... If the first thing a judge sees are irregular steps, they'll be on the lookout the rest of the ride. Which is what happened in that 2019 disaster. 

On this day, tho?? Charlie got a SIX (6!!!!) on that movement, with a comment saying "stiff in bend"! Way to go, buddy -- we'll take it! 

goofy candid shots will always be my favorite lol
pc Amy Flemming Waters
We then got our only 7 (aside from Charlie's gait scores omg) in the leg yield left, then the test carries on with the stretchy trot then walk and free walk. 

After that, you move into canter. I really like the canter patterns in this test, tho we didn't score particularly well since I biffed the one loop serpentine geometry (whoops) and don't ride Charlie very round in canter. 

Basically, tho, you pick up canter, go immediately into one loop of counter canter, then a 15m circle in the end of the arena, followed by a lengthening down the other long side. Change rein across the diagonal with simple change thru trot L to R (obvi Charlie aced this, tho the judge didn't like his frame), and repeat the whole thing in the other direction. 

The test finishes with a trot lengthening on the diagonal, then immediately turn up CL to halt, salute. This was *my* weakest movement, since we got strung out after the canter and I didn't fully prep for the turn and let myself get pulled out of the new position rather than holding strong. That will take time and practice tho, I'm just happy to know we can fix it. 


The scores are predictably low overall, with a whole slew of 5.5s sprinkled throughout. Esp the 5.5's on coefficient movements really hurt the score. But realistically, we were only 0.5pts away from 60%, and the comments are all very detailed and on-point. (And we should have gotten a -2.0pt error since I free-walked to the wrong letter, so, eh, we'll take it!) (And also, IMHO our canter-trot transition was quite nice and could have done better than 6.0 too....)

Especially watching the video with the comments captioned right there while it's happening is helpful to connect what I felt in that moment to what the judge sees. 

A lot of it tbh won't be something I immediately address. Esp re: getting Charlie more round + on the bit. Rather, my focus will continue to be my position and how I ride the horse, with the expectation that Charlie's connection to the bridle will naturally improve as a result.  

but here's the test itself for all y'all non video watchers
my inner mathematician would like to observe that 59.86% is baaaasically 60% haha, literally 0.5pts off....
Bc.... The reality is.... Charlie is my jumping horse, and he takes damn good care of me in that regard, even when I make pretty epic mistakes. Without careful oversight by a coach invested in our progress and goals, I'm wholly resistant to risking making him backward in the bridle, or making my bad hands too influential in the wrong ways. 

I'm not willing to risk sacrificing how Charlie takes care of me over fences for what would likely be only marginal gains in the dressage ring. And we already know from experience that it's not too hard to imagine Charlie getting backed off and behind the leg and bridle while jumping. So.... Yea. Thanks, but no thanks LOL. 

ribbons based on Danish method. <60% = 3rd place.
Obvi everyone prioritizes different things, so ymmv. For me, I'm finally feeling good about the path Charlie and I are on with our flatwork. It's not perfect or classically beautiful (lol), but it feels like progress that even Charlie himself can recognize. 

At the end of the day, I want the horse to know when he's a good boy. I want the work to be self-evident to him. Jumping is already like that -- I don't have to explain to the horse whether he had a good jump or not, he can figure that out for himself lol. But dressage... has always been trickier. I've always kinda felt like I'm picking on him. 

Here's hoping this new style and approach will really help in that regard, and give Charlie more space and freedom to actually enjoy playing with movements! This test, at least, felt like a good effort in that direction! 







Friday, September 10, 2021

just the basics, ma'am

One of my enterprising barn mates brought an exciting clinic onsite this past week! Specifically, she coordinated a full day of lessons with Molly K, local upper level eventer and coach who offers clinics with the Equiformance resistance bands. 

You might remember I took a handful of lessons with Molly last summer and fall at a nearby farmette, so I was quick to jump on the bandwagon again this time.

always important to set expectations with a new trainer haha... esp when you're a hot mess, whoops
It's interesting, tho. I thought long and hard about what I wanted from the lesson -- and what I didn't. Specifically, I wanted to set expectations about objectives, including being honest with myself about "off-limits" topics.

Which... Might sound crazy..., but hear me out. Charlie and I have been out of a regular lesson program for months at this point. Closer to years if we're talking specifically about dressage. It's not ideal, but it is what it is. 

In the meantime, Charlie and I have come to something approximating an "agreement" about how we do our work. We have an understanding, let's say. And a pretty freakin major part of that agreement relates to how we do "forward," and how much I fuck with his face. 

bonus 2-in-1 pic: 1) bizarre little rubber ball under my knee; and 2) excellent example of what the kids call a "gansta lean"
You might read that and interpret it as me enabling Charlie, or letting him call the shots on "who trains whom." And ya know... That's not an altogether incorrect interpretation lol. 

But the reality, as I understand it, is that we can make it work on the flat --- in a way that (most importantly!!) does NOT sour the horse to work in general, or make him sullen or behind the leg when it really counts -- like jumping. And until we're back in a regular coaching routine, I'm not really inclined to shake that up, ya know? YMMV, obvi haha. 

LOLZ the more things change, the more they stay the same.... 
So anyway. My unspoken (but top-of-mind) prohibited activities included chasing Charlie forward beyond what I would do in a normal ride. Obviously tho I didn't say that to Molly bc obviously it sounds insane. Like, well, why the fuck are you trying to ride dressage if you don't want your horse forward into the bit?? 

Lol... But ya know. My horse, my rules. What I DID say, tho, was that I wanted to work on "riding circles." All sizes, all gaits. And focus on my position and biomechanics while riding circles. To fix *me* -- make *me* better. 

next time i'm bringing my tools, charlie >:(
And? To her credit, Molly was game! I told her I was indifferent to whether we did the full body bands or not, and we ended up not. Tho she did pull out a couple other fun play things. First up:: These bizarre little rubber balls that she stuck under my knees. 

The idea with these were to literally force me to realign how my leg hangs ("drapes") off the horse -- and hopefully interrupt some of my hard-wired habits like clinging with the lower legs. 

there's a good boy tho!
Molly also described imagining my entire head-to-toe posture as if I were on skis. On skis, shoulders, hips, and *legs* all travel in unison in the desired line of travel. Whereas I, in my perpetual state of crookedness, prefer to rotate my outside toe outward, rather than inward

And THIS is the biggest contributor to my lower legs clinging. 

Well. Let me put a qualifier on that: I've gotten worlds better at the clinging, with both legs. But the habit is substantially reduced in my left leg compared to the persistently pasty right leg.** 

**Which... is probably related to my left ankle being basically useless after many repeated injuries. TBH, once the weather turns in maybe December-ish, I'll pursue more diagnostics bc it feels likely at this point that some shit is straight up detached in there, and might need surgical repair, argh....

lookie he can go the other way too!
Anyway, the "skis" imagery was helpful for me, tho I'm not sure the balls made an enormous difference. Tho it's all in the video so you can decide for yourself. I kept the balls there through the canters, at which point they wiggled out of position and I opted to drop 'em. 

Notably, tho, Charlie was a tad sulky in the lesson anyway (much to my chagrin, since I'd brought neither spurs nor whip....) and our canter departs were epically sticky. As evidenced by that "dinosaur stuck in tarpit" image above... Ugh. Charles. Gotta keep up your side of the deal, buddy!!

In his defense, I'm pretty sure the balls kept me from being where he expected me to be in the transitions. That's *not* an exoneration, to be clear, but that's what it felt like. 

charlie's smiley face! and the pretty late summer light!!
After dropping the balls, we switched to a stretchy rubber tube behind my back that looped over my fingers. This was probably more useful for me, tho I did tend to get a little "fixed" rather than "following" in my hand position. 

And separate from the bio-mechanical gadgetry, we basically just worked endlessly through very very basic figures. And it was wonderful. Seemed like each time Molly put me through one pattern, she realized yet another weakness or asymmetry in our way of going. 

gettin the feel for the next gadget: an elastic band behind my back (that little black strap)
Probably we could have spent an entire lesson working on each of those various "aha" moments individually.... And if we have future opportunities I'm sure we will. But for this ride, we kinda opened up allllllll the holes, and Molly outlined the first steps in addressing each of them. 

Honestly, it felt like Molly "unpeeled our onion" in this ride, identifying first the 'symptoms,' then the root causes, let's say lol. Such that the exercises we ended on were more basic, but perhaps more important, than the exercises we started with, if that makes sense lol.

just cheesin around, creating epic dust storms on my leggy little beastie
So, the exercises:

For Charlie, change flexion / bend often to get him more even from side to side:
- Ride the quarter line and first flex out, then flex in
- Canter "rectangles" -- flex out on long sides, flex in on short ends
- Ride diagonal to half circle (See: exercises for Emma lol)
- Tracking L + quick R turns are notably harder for *me*
- Therefore, practice with purpose and awareness 

For Emma, be posturally correct, and prepare the horse sooner than I think:
- Keep my chin centered over wither and between ears
- Ride eyes up as if I'm riding out, even when inside the ring
- Be more mobile through arms/elbows/hands -- think throw pinkies toward mane
Rotate, don't lean
- For real, tho, Emma. Stop leaning.
- And plz for the love of all things holy, get your right heel off the horse. nowwww.. ahem. 
- Leave room for all steps of a movement or figure**
- Think about sinking/bending elbows in my half halts
- Also think about actually literally halting in halt halts haha. No, really tho. 

hands too low with this gadget, but we're werkin it out
**This "leave room" piece is my biggest take away not related to position. It was fascinating bc Molly maybe realized why I ride Charlie a little bit the way I do vis-a-vis forward lol, as evidenced by switching hard core to instructions like "Slow Down! Balance!" in this part of the ride, even tho we're not going meaningfully more forward lol. 

Basically, in my OCD desire to be "accurate," I'm always trying to do a movement or ride a figure at specific points in space. But.... then I get to that point, and we're straight up not actually fully prepared for the entire movement -- all the steps that must happen can't be done "on the spot" -- and we end up careening. 

This showed up most clearly in our left turns across the diagonal, right turn to half circle change of direction. I wanted to do be seamless from left diagonal to right half circle -- but actually there are more like three distinct steps: 1) half halt; 2) change bend while straight; 3) turn.

init amazing how i'm a different rider depending on which side of my body you see?!
So. Lots of good food for thought coming out of the ride. And I'm glad we did it, ya know? Well, I'm not sure Charlie particularly enjoyed it. But, eh, I'll digest all the pieces and adapt them into our normal schooling routine so that Sir doesn't feel quite so picked on lol, god forbid. 


It's funny tho. I watched a couple other lessons from the clinic, and wondered whether I might have been the most persnickety prickly protective student of the day. But.... I also feel like I got tangible takeaways that I can implement independently and still be reasonably productive. 

On one hand... I'm the first to admit that "I don't know what I don't know" and therefore who am I to pick and choose instruction, ya know? OTOH, tho.... Eh, Charlie's my boy, ya know? This week marks exactly 5 years since I first met him, and it doesn't take more than a quick perusal of our Events Page to see that he's a pretty special horse for me. 

Do I sometimes wish the flatwork were easier? That he were fancier? That I was more skilled? Sure. Obviously. But... Ya know... This horse has already given me so much, and still for all the world feels like he has so much more left. So. Yes, lol, I'm protective of him. But we also keep working on it. One little bit at a time! 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

taking flight @ tranquility!

Our little barn group headed out bright and early Sunday morning for what's become an annual tradition: Tranquility's Labor Day Hunter Pace!! Get ready for the photo spam haha!

repurposing kid's costumes FTW!! also, it's hard to tell, but Royal's boots are literally dripping in blue glitter omg
Our team consisted of two OTTBs and two pony mares. All first-timers except Charlie, tho one rider did past outings with her late mare, Cos. So Charlie was technically the most experienced of the group, but it was honestly a downright great set of horses for this kind of ride. 

i love how Tink looks like a dragon here, ready for her wings lol.... 
(in reality, she's just cat-stretching haha, see the extended hind leg?)
Obvi we all dressed for the occasion too -- horses included lol. It really doesn't take much to throw together a reasonably cohesive and fun look, ya know? One set of glittery mesh costume wings in all different colors, and each horse + rider color-coordinated shirts, saddle pads, and accents like gloves, boots, bonnets etc. Ta da!

Stella was absolutely mint condition in her little wings too <3
also, omg, the izzy vibes are so strong haha
Extra details finished the look: Katie's epic dragon wings (with retractable pull cords to open + close, omg); and Charlie's repurposed-kid-costume butterfly saddle pad lol. Another set of mesh wings adorned Stella's saddle pad, and Royal dazzled in his array of glittery body paint designs! 

Royal's glittery butt paint!! this pic was actually post-ride, too. pretty sure she used Tresemme glitter gel for it
It was a little tricky layering all the wings and pinnies etc, but once we were all dressed -- it was GO TIME!! 

lol my wild beastie was a bit of a pre-ride pest....
You don't really need to warm up for these rides, and honestly we don't bother for the longer 6-8mi paces. But this weekend was only ~2.5mi, and we knew we wanted to spend some time jumping around. So -- off to the warm up ring we went! 

obvi he's still a total pro, tho <3
Which.... Proved to be a good call haha. The dragon wings were.... uh... just a tad too spooky at speed. They snapped and flapped like noisy flags at anything faster than a walk, which sent poor Tink scooting up Chuck's butt, thus sending poor Chuck scooting forward too haha. 

assemble!!
So, eh, the executive decision was made to ditch that set and replace with the last remaining set of mesh kid's wings. At least we'd already gotten our pictures LOL (bc let's be real, isn't that the important part here?? lol). 

ahhhh-mazing, right?? the wings had little draw strings so they opened and closed omg
Meanwhile, the other riders who had never really done a ride quite like this with their horses (meaning: crowds everywhere, trotting and cantering in different directions as far as the eye can see) got a feel for how to manage their horses in the conditions. 

Again -- these are all very good riders on reasonably experienced horses. But group riding will always feel a little different, and it's important to make sure you're really supporting your horse, who might be more distracted and on edge than you're used to feeling. 

wheeeeee lift off!!! gettin run away with in warm up lol!! 
So everyone walked, trotted, cantered, and jumped around a little in the warm up to sorta 'calibrate the parameters' lol, and then before we knew it, we were out on course!!

don't be fooled by those pretty Thornridge pics -- this how we trot like 95% of the time lol
The track dumped us almost immediately into Tranquility's first main xc field alongside the driveway, where naturally we all popped over a couple things here and there. Starting with a little log to get the feel for it, then some more exciting stuff. 

omg wings errywhere!! sadly, had to replace the too-spooky dragon wings for the notably-tamer pink pair... ah well, was worth the try!
We had a couple good trots and canters out, then found ourselves descending the hill toward the water hole, where we had another fun little school (and Royal got to settle some years-old history with those blasted blue twisty tables LOL). 

flying lol
Then we zoomed up another hill, jumping all the fun jumps along the way -- like the awesome rampy chevron thing, and arrived in another little schooling zone with the ditch etc. Obvi everyone got to play a bit there too haha. 

Tho, omg, Charlie actually kinda peeked at the tiny little ditch! Probably baggage from me catapulting off of him back at Fair Hill, whoops... He jumped it, tho, and that's what matters <3

ok we did not win any awards for team posing haha
Actually --- Charlie jumped everything pretty freakin great. He had been quite emotional at the trailers, in his own internalizing sort of way. The track went around a path right behind our trailers on the other side of a wall... So Charlie was very worried by all these groups of horses zipping past out of sight.... 

wheee go team!!!
Then in warm up he felt a little fragile, esp after getting a bit spooked by the Dragon Wings lol.... Then kinda wanted to be very strong and running away with me when we started jumping. 

the sadness of my selfie game: people faces OR pony faces, but NOT both, lol.... siiiiigh
But once we got out onto the course? He felt great!! Like, still very strong -- esp in the early part of the ride. He wanted to race up all the hills, and spring forth into canter the moment any other horse picked up speed... But he really jumped everything very very nicely.  

silly? 100% yes. the most fun? absolutely
I made it my business to be careful with my hands and not take him for granted. If we wanna jump, we gonna jump like we've been taught lol, not just running headlong at random stuff. So I held the neck strap like a good little {flying} monkey, and kept my leg on and eye up. 

And Charlie happily cantered on up to everything in a nice forward but still uphill balance -- and found everything right out of stride. Good boy!! 

another attempt at posing near the end of the ride, as we passed the trailers
I was also happy with my bridle choice. Charlie has so many different bridles... I can torture myself about what to wear lol.... 

The hackamore is an old favorite, but sometimes Charlie jumps better with more contact than it should do. Our KK loose ring snaffle tried at past paces isn't enough when Charlie gets really strong -- I end up just hangin on him. And this past spring, Charlie officially declared our go-to KK elevator bit as too pinch-y. So... we switched to a loose ring waterford, which Charlie's worn for most of our big rides and outings this year. 


I was always convinced Charlie did better with leverage vs different mouth pieces... But after seeing interviews with multiple grand prix show jumpers who said they liked this bit for horses who lean, we decided to try it. And? Charlie seems to like it! No head tossing, no fussing, and, uh, it works -- but without backing him off, he can still push into it. 

Works for me! And this ride felt like a great proof of concept -- and was maybe the first hunter pace where I felt like Charlie wore the exact right bridle for the occasion. 

finish line!!!
The course kinda meandered around through some fields, tho notably not around all the pasture lines we've used as gallop stretches in the past. And oddly enough, even tho the track was basically the reverse of last year -- and I complained last year about it being 'mostly down hill' -- it still felt 'mostly down hill' this year too. 

clocked a finish time of 39min, optimum time (kept top secret until after) was 26min. imo, it was extra time well spent!
So we probably skipped something like half the jumps, bc eh no thanks to jumping down hill LOL. Sure, a reasonable person might note this was the perfect opportunity to practice in safe low-key settings.... But, eh, nahhh, haha! 

Finally, tho, after one little tromp through the woods, we emerged in the last xc field for a quick circuit back to the finish line over a row of bright red hunt coops (gif above)! 

the boys back at the trailer. omg it is definitely time to trim that tail, eh?
I was super proud of Charlie at the finish for jumping the 3' coop foot-perfect (thankfully, since it was hella crowded LOL), AND pulling up right at the line quite easily -- rather than mowing down any innocent bystanders like he might have in years past haha... hahaha. 

until next time!! 
And with that, our ride was finished!! Elapsed time of 39 minutes over the 2.5mi track. Pretty slow, all things considered, but time well spent schooling around all the fun little areas on course.

All that was left was to enjoy a quick cold white claw at the trailers while we cooled off and untacked the horses, and rehashed our favorite parts of the ride. Each horse got to jump a lot of new and interesting things and gain in confidence and experience. And they were all fantastic about group riding!! No bolting, bucking, kicking -- nada!!  

Everyone had a good time, and... ya know.... that's kinda the whole point -- of all of it, haha. Obvi the costumes are a little silly, but it just makes the whole experience so much more memorable. We're already looking forward to next time!!