Monday, January 24, 2022

2021: Greatest Hits Edition

One of my favorite things about maintaining this little corner of the internet is how it serves as a thorough and comprehensive documented history of my horsey life since 2014. 

Sometimes it's hard to keep up, and there are definitely many many details that fall through the cracks, ultimately forgotten or lost in the passage of time haha. But, for better or worse, I usually get the big stuff captured (events, notable clinics, adventurous outings, etc) and indexed via my Events page

True story: you can scroll to the bottom of that page and work your way up to get a complete rundown of literally every major (and many minor!) horse event I've done with Charlie and Isabel since 2014. Fun memories, yo! 

So.... Rather than reinvent that particular wheel for 2021 with a down 'n dirty rehash of the year, here's the indexed greatest hits version, complete with links to the full posts!

January 10 - Gymnastics Clinic @ Good to Go Farm

epic gymnastics clinic at Good To Go Farm. So. Many. Bounces. OMG.

March 7 - Arena XC Schooling @ Loch Moy Farm

that time i completely 'noped out' after driving all the way out to Loch Moy for a derby... ugh. got on and still jumped like 5 things so it kinda still counts tho?

1st Place: Novice Level
Dressage: USEA Novice A - 33.8% 
Stadium (max 2'11): clear

getting my shit together at Thornridge! would be a theme for the year ;)

May 5 - XC Clinic with Sally Cousins @ Shawan Downs

legit the only xc lesson we took all year, and it was a banger with Sally at Shawan Downs!

W: Novice Level
Dressage: USEA Novice A - 33.3%
Stadium (max 2'11): clear
Cross Country (max 2'11): W

still 'noped out' at the actual Shawn Downs HT bc mental health is hard sometimes.... tho show jumping was lovely, hands down one of our best rounds of the year. if you click through to watch one video, this might be your best bet

June 6 - MDA Schooling Dressage Show
2019 USEF First Level Test 1 - 62.9%
2019 USEF First Level Test 2 - 62.3%

struttin around 1-1 and 1-2 at the MDA show!! yep, turns out he was a first level horse all along!

July 17 - CT @ Thornridge Manor
1st Place: Novice Level
Dressage: USEA Novice A - 36.7%
Stadium (max 2'11): clear

gettin into the groove with Thornridge CTs, these events were so good for my mental game

there goes charlie just casually blowing my mind at the Fair Hill derby <3 <3 yea yea i fell off at the ditch, but eh who cares when your horse is just gonna go jump around like that!

August 21 - CT @ Thornridge Manor
4th Place: Novice Level
Dressage: USEA Novice A - 31.7%
Stadium (max 2'11): 16 penalty pts

bein a good boy again back at Thornridge CT, even tho we kinda went bowling whoops... 

dressing up in wings for the tranquillity hunter pace bc obviously

September 12 - MDA Schooling Dressage Show @ OF
2019 USEF First Level Test 3 - 59.86%

ooooh we did 1-3 at the next MDA show too! fancy pony <3

September 18 - CT @ Thornridge Manor
3rd Place: Novice Level
Dressage: USEA Novice A - 32.6%
Stadium (max 2'11): 8 penalty pts

truly, it was the Summer of Thornridge lol

October 10 - MDHT Starter Trial @ Loch Moy
6th: Novice Level
Dressage: USEA Novice A - 35.5%
Stadium (max 2'11): clear
Cross Country (max 2'11): clear

did manage to squeak in one full 3 phase horse trial tho, at Loch Moy <3 i'm really glad we made this happen even tho i fully expect to still deal with some anxiety paralysis about bigger shows womp

October 30 - CT @ Thornridge Manor
1st Place: Novice Level
Dressage: USEA Novice A - 30.7%
Stadium (max 2'11): 4 penalty pts

halloween CTs are best CTs. ok let's be real, any CT is apparently my jam!

November 8 - Fall Hunter Trials @ Tranquillity Manor Farm

or any derby sorta thing -- like the hunter trials pairs class at Tranquillity!!

December 23 - XC Schooling @ Tranquillity Manor Farm

tho obvi we never get tired of fun low key xc schooling, finishing the year off at Tranquillity


2021 was an important year for us, I think. Charlie was the healthiest and happiest he's been in the 5 years I've had the privilege of calling him mine. And I am proud of the work we did in solidifying our basics, while also staying true to the reasons why we do all this in the first place: to plain old have fun and enjoy this horsey life to the fullest! 

Friday, January 21, 2022

sitting the trot?

So. Ok. This blog is home to a long and tortured history on the various ways in which I kinda suck at riding. Specifically -- that whole bit about how to actually sit on the horse. Rider position and all that. 

This last year FINALLY felt like we opened a new chapter in that regard, tho -- aided almost entirely by the roughly half dozen(ish) lessons I've taken with Molly since September. 

photo of my attempt at sitting trot, circa 2019 dressage clinic at Thornridge. this pic basically serves as a comparison for all the others included below -- note the rotation of my legs from hip to toe. pc Austen Gage
(also, if you're reading this post on your desktop computer using a feed reader and the images aren't appearing... ugh, i'm sorry, i don't know why it's happening but it seems widespread across the platform... the mobile app doesn't seem affected tho, and of course all images appear directly on the site itself!)
Long story short, in that September lesson, Molly basically completely changed my leg position. Or, at least, she guided me toward the "feeling" I needed to recreate in order to commit this new position to muscle memory. 

The "feeling," for me, is like having my toes point toward Charlie's armpits, and when I want to turn, positioning both legs as if I'm on skis. So, if I'm turning left, both toes (and accompanying attached limbs) rotate left, bringing my inside left leg onto the horse at the girth, and my outside right calf off, with right thigh on

video evidence of said attempts here: link to youtube

It was not news to me (or to any of you, or to any of my many past trainers) that my clinging, nagging legs were counterproductive and poor form. But ya know. Knowing a thing is not the same as doing a thing. 

throwback picture to this summer, during the lesson where Molly first started addressing the rotation of my legs, working to get my calf and heel off the horse 
So finally being able to develop the right feeling and positional awareness was apparently what made all the difference. And we've been practicing that feeling ever since. 

The craziest part, tho, has been the almost immediate and undeniable positive validation from Charlie. I literally trained this horse with my legs glued to his side full time. Everything -- and I mean everything -- he has learned from me, was learned via a shit ton of leg

putting the new positional mechanics to work in 1-3 a couple days later
So imagine my absolute shock when I took my leg off..... And suddenly Charlie just, idk, breathed deeply (thanks to a newly liberated rib cage, I'm sure), and proceeded to instantly transform into a soft and supple and delightfully capable dressage horse. 

I'm not even exaggerating -- we rode First 3 in a show something like two rides after that transformative Molly lesson, and it was hands down the happiest and most attentive Charlie's EVER been in a dressage show environment -- despite being his most advanced test yet, natch. 

ok i know i know it's a different saddle from the very first picture, but i see real differences in how my leg hangs from the hip
I always thought part of what makes dressage so hard is that it's not "self evident" for horses. Like, you don't have to explain a jump to a horse. They don't need help understanding when a distance feels uncomfortable, ya know? Or when they knock a rail -- that's their own appendage hitting a pole. They experience it directly. 

Dressage tho... How do you explain a perfect 20m circle to a horse? Or a "late" transition? How does the horse know what is "good"?? 

Turns out.... It really is all about that feeling. Charlie knows when something feels good. Like stretchy trot. Sure, he can still lose balance and run onto his forehand... But he can feel that too. And the more Molly adjusts my position on the horse, the more easily I can stay out of Charlie's way so that he can just sorta innately achieve that softness and balance and suppleness -- longitudinally AND laterally. 

stirrups are at least 3 holes too short here haha but i like this pic bc you can really see how the change in leg rotation gives me a whole new foundation from seat through torso
This is playing out in our rides in two main ways:: 

Laterally.... Charlie just.... goes now. I used to think that lateral work with this horse required massive amounts of energy and manhandling and literally molding all 1,400 pounds of Charles into shape using my own 5'3 frame as rebar. But.... Now that I'm not death-gripping his rib cage with my calves, it's like I can sorta just adjust hip position, thigh contact, and rein flexion and Charlie just merrily floats right on along. Crazy. 

The second main way these changes are playing out is that... All of a sudden, I can actually sorta sit the trot. Like, don't get me wrong, it still kinda sucks. But I can DO it. Compared to that first video at the top from 2019, where I could only go a couple steps at a time then had to post again -- all the while being almost completely useless with the rest of my aids while attempting to sit.... Yea, it's completely different now haha. 

thank you charlie for being such a good dog while i try to learn this stuff!!! pc Amy Flemming Waters
And it's not like I can even specifically say what I'm doing differently either -- there isn't like a bulleted list of "My Top 5 Tricks for Finally Sitting the Trot!"  And naturally I currently have exactly zero videographic evidence that I'm even telling you the truth haha. 

But. It *is* happening. And to me, it's crazy. Honestly kinda exciting, too. Especially right now with the nasty weather and limited riding options, it's nice to have some new tricks to play with during our otherwise monotonous evening rides under the lights. Nice to have some "winter bootcamp" goals that are all about me, knowing that Charlie is basically already primed and ready to go once I get my shit together. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

awkward is as awkward does

It's been a quiet start to the year around these parts. Conditions were mild and reasonable.... right up until they weren't anymore. And the last few hoped for outings of the season (like a derby at Loch Moy!) were sadly swept away with the snow storms. 

pictured: boys literally taking down the fence bc of course the grass is always greener, right? (hint -- look for that white line trailing along the ground...)
But. Eh, nbd. It's been a pleasant sort of quiet. And Charlie's actually been doing really really well in our admittedly kinda monotonous routine. He feels physically incredible, after what was undoubtedly his soundest year on the books with me. 

and, naturally, by the time they finally got let out onto that grass, mother nature unleashed some murder on it, whoops. where there's a will, there's a way tho!
And we're still clinging on to semi-regular Molly lessons, emphasis more on "semi" now that it's winter. Charlie has learned so much from these lessons, it's incredible. 

Mostly our work in between sessions focuses almost entirely on me just... practicing the mechanics. It's almost as if the work is somehow innate to Charlie. Like, by the time I figure out how to achieve a certain position, he already knows the rest. It's cool. I like it. 

ooooooh that's nasty tho
But ya know. Charlie will be Charlie, lol. Sound or otherwise, he still can't really go all that long without some sort of interesting ding. And this time, it's a doozy of a looker on the point of his hock. Not hot, not sore. Kinda maybe a little itchy.... But just... funny? And big. 

the actual dimensions of a tennis ball tho, why omg
And I tried to be so so SO reasonable lol. I texted the vet, pointing out that he had a fresh tick bite all the way up the inside of the leg, and the whole thing up and down had a little bit of weird fill. Occam's razor, and such, we figured the simplest solution would probably be correct -- and the swelling was likely related to the tick bite. 

houston: we've found a source
Probably, tho, I should have kept investigating. Bc while our hypothesis was "tick bite," my treatment plan included movement and light exercise to work out the swelling. On Day 2, tho, I found a somewhat fresh wound that better explained the localized nature of his swelling.

legit had an identical wound on my elbow after falling backwards on a flagstone pathway a couple years ago
It's not a particularly significant wound, in and of itself, tho I did opt to rest Charlie rather than exercise him at this point just to help ensure it would heal quickly. 

yep, turns out, charlie bashed his own self on his own stall wall
Some additional sleuthing around his stall uncovered a small fresh looking blood smear on the stone outer wall -- right at hock height. Bleh. So, it kinda seems like it was self inflicted, but probably still a solid blow. 

Charlie's stall neighbor, adorable pony god of mischief Loki, is a notorious wall kicker at feeding times. And honestly this was one of my chief concerns when Charlie moved into this stall a couple weeks ago. But... to be perfectly honest, I've never seen Charlie even acknowledge Loki's antics, let alone participate or return fire. 

So... While the injury could have come from him kicking the wall, I'm more inclined to think he was just plain old awkward. Which.... Hopefully is a mistake he'll only make once? 

gross. but.... harmless?
Anyway. Again, the horse is VERY sound. And the wound healed in like two days... So he's returned to work without even the slightest hitch to his giddy up. My vet had wanted to take a quick peek early on, tho unfortunately a miscommunication meant the horse was turned out in the far pastures instead of kept in. So she just dropped off some scripts I ordered and assured me the horse would be fine. 

In our last Molly lesson, tho, she compared it to the "capped hocks" chronic condition that some horses have (where apparently they occasionally need to get fluid drained from the bursa?? idk), and encouraged me to work harder to get the swelling out lest the condition become permanent. 

ugh sir, you're still beautiful tho <3
My vet doesn't think that's particularly likely in this case, and rather believes the swelling will resolve on its own -- tho it may take a while because of the location. Just to be safe, tho, she's helped me source some expired Surpass. Bc just like everything else in the world right now, supply chain issues make getting things shockingly difficult haha. 

So. Here's to starting off the new year with an appropriately ridiculous, but ultimately (hopefully?) harmless, notch on the belt for Charlie, King of the Dings. Anybody else ever see something like this? Any tips or tricks for getting swelling out of a hock bursa???

Friday, December 31, 2021

cheers to a new year

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy close to 2021, with many good things to come in 2022 !!

Normally I like to do some sort of summary recap or goals/intentions type post. But, eh, not today. It's Friday, it's been a long year, a long time... Let's just dwell on some happy fluff, yes?? Yes. 

guys this horse freakin LOVES children omg
My family is not particularly horsey, not particularly animal-y to be perfectly honest, aside from your typical house cats and some dogs here and there. They never really "understood" the horse thing, altho of course they're supportive. 

even Mikey wanted to come along for walkies <3
As such, we haven't really made time for as many visits as you might expect over the years. Finally, tho, it worked out with the weather and timing and everything that my niece and nephew could pop by for a real true proper Charles Experience!!!

this sweet beautiful horse of mine <3
And it was perfect <3 They're both old enough now to be reasonably comfortable around such a big creature, while still really good about following directions. Sure, both were a little impressed by Charlie's size, but lol once they were up there we straight up couldn't get 'em back off* again! 

(*Ahem, also bc these are big kids to be lifting up and down from that height haha, we legit used the hood of my truck as the mounting block for the kiddos to trade places at the halfway point of our walkabout LOL)

And of course, Charlie LIVES for this type of attention omg. He just freakin adores kids -- is like a heat seeking missile to even the tiniest tots. He wants to snuffle and investigate and smoosh his nose into everybody, and it's just so perfect omg. 

So I made a ridiculously over-the-top cutesie video (unlisted) for my mama, bc she's into that sorta thing. And I figured I'd share it here too in case anybody else out there wanted some silly simple cuteness on this final Friday of 2021. 

Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

flaunting it on the flat

I tried looking back to find where we first started talking about "giving up on dressage" and.... Yea, it's been a long time. Basically, the gist is that I felt like some key flaws in my style of riding Charlie on the flat were having very real negative consequences in our jumping. 

gettin back to my roots with video shot from a phone resting on jump standards... lol
charles flashback here and izzy flashback here
Charlie is a big long lazy horse who will happily "pose" while slugging around behind my leg. But.... "behind the leg" is exactly where I DON'T want to be when jumping bigger jumps, ya know? Who remembers that clinic with Sally Cousins where she sorta bluntly told me we wouldn't be able to do what I wanted to do if I didn't meaningfully change our style of going?

sorry guys, brace yourself for a study of literally four steps of trot in each direction LOL
and yes, obvi i know literally none of this is text book perfect. but that is 1,000% not the point <3
Just getting after Charlie and chasing him forward wasn't quite the answer either, tho -- as I managed to introduce a lot of tension and rigidity into our rides, while still not meaningfully shifting his balance. He'd just plow down into the bridle and drag me along. ALSO not a great feeling for jumping, ya know?

i liked the feeling of this trot a lot
So.... My solution was to basically just, uh, stop trying to get Charlie on the bit. Instead, I kinda spent all last winter just.... riding the horse. Mostly bitless, actually. Focusing almost exclusively on my own position and Charlie's rhythm and balance. 

so it's nice to review footage to see what a good feeling looks like
Lessons with Molly this year, tho few and far between, have made a BIG difference. Something in her style of teaching has introduced me to some very good new feelings, and finally helped me break through some very long-standing bad habits. 

elegant charlie <3
Like clinging with my lower legs, for example. It's not that no other trainer had ever coached me on that exact point -- it's not like I didn't know it was a problem. But... knowing a thing is not the same as doing a thing. And it turns out, the doing part is what actually makes horseback riding hard haha.  

unapologetic overkill lol
It's also possible that Molly came along at the right time in my education as well. It's been a long long journey trying to learn how to really work a horse on the flat, with many different key players over the years. With lots of back and forth between trying to connect both an understanding AND the feeling for what I want in the horse, why, and how *I* need to ride to get it.

(*Editor's Note: Jesus, how many different text effects do we really need for that emphasis, hm??)

oooh oooh we jumped the grid too haha
Just to clarify what we're talking about here, when I started riding Isabel, I'd basically never felt a horse lift his back. I can still remember the epiphany of first isolating my thigh as an independent aid. So like.... This ain't exactly Grand Prix stuff here -- I'm talking about fundamentals. How to feel -- not just what the horse is doing, but also what *I'm* doing.

look ma, we go left too! omg charles look at your fancy little knee action haha!!
And, of course, I had to relearn ALL of those feelings Isabel taught me when Charlie entered the picture. Bc, spoilers, Charlie is an entirely different animal from Ms Thing lol.

woot woot, four off the floor
Taking time over the last couple years of "giving up" has been good for us, I think. Charlie and I reset our parameters for expectations about how to simply... go around under saddle. In other words, I basically stopped fucking with his face, and he, in turn, got serious about maintaining rhythm and impulsion. 

lookin like a powerhouse as we circle back to the grid entrance, final element pictured above
Molly, for her part, has not really dwelled too much on my rein contact with Charlie. Rather, she's sorta deconstructed to begin reconstructing how I sit on the horse, and how I position myself to influence Charlie's balance. Recently --- this balance focus has been more lateral than longitudinal, too.  

wheeee trot cross rail to start! 
And the effects are mind blowing. I told you months ago that after practicing some exercises Molly gave us, I could "feel the sitting trot" in Charlie's gaits. And sure enough -- after I told Molly that in our next lesson, she got us there. More recently, we were practicing the exercises from another lesson, and suddenly.... I could feel where the shoulder-in was. 

15-16' to the small middle oxer
Maybe that sounds stupid bc.... Well, Charlie and I have had actual lessons on shoulder in before. But lateral work with this horse has always felt like... work. Like I had to do A LOT, and he needed a lot of holding together. But again --- changes in my position and Charlie's balance, and the lateral flexion work Molly's had us doing... It was crazy, I rode a circle, returned to the rail, and prepared for a diagonal.... And just got this intense feeling of, "wow if I didn't actually ride this diagonal we'd be doing shoulder in."

behold, my amazing framing of the final oxer element LOL, 18' from middle oxer back rail
Obvi I wasn't expecting it at that moment, so we kinda missed it, but I ruminated on that feeling for a while, and in a more recent ride tried to recreate it. And guys -- omg, there it was, a shoulder in. Without a ton of holding. Without a lot of pretzeling. Just clear positioning and flexion and balance. It wasn't perfect, but it also wasn't... messy, if that makes sense. 

Of course.... The whole reason I sorta "gave up" on dressage in the first place was because it felt like I was creating bad habits and tendencies that would haunt us over fences. And, ya know, at the end of the day, Charlie is my jomping horse. And he takes excellent care of me in that department. So I remain massively suspicious of any type of flat work that doesn't feel like something I can jump from (if that makes sense). 

simple fun + satisfying <3
In our last lesson, tho, it seemed like Molly kinda got the same vibe. She still hasn't really seen us properly jump, and I'm obviously skeptical of any comments she makes about how she thinks we might jump until she actually witnesses it --- bc y'all know Charlie is an entirely different creature when there's a 3' jump in front of him vs when.... there isn't lol.

But lately, she's had me working on the exact same types of exercises, the same types of flexion and movement patterns... but in different variations of 2pt and half seat and everything in between. Basically trying to instill the same balance and positional mechanics into me, no matter where I am on the horse --- essentially trying to undo my "driving" and "against" habits. 

And idk.... it's exciting. Charlie feels really good right now. He's had an incredibly sound year --- possibly his soundest year since I've owned him. Mentally he's in a good place too (tho of course we did some serious coddling+ulcergard after he lost Iggy). There's still so much work to do to get better, but right now the work is fun and rewarding and we both feel good about it. 

So. Bring it on, 2022 -- we're ready for more!!**

(**But just of this, please, not all that other bullshit kaithxbai)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Festive Almost-New-Year to everyone! I'm not really sure what to say about the Year 2021 that hasn't already been said.... "Be Better Than 2020" was a low bar for expectations.... And yet, it felt like we only barely squeaked by haha. 

finishing the year strong and happy and still galloping around on grass!!
But. We did squeak by. And, objectively speaking, 2021 was indeed a good year for Charlie in just about every important measure. It didn't always feel like that in the moment, but it feels like that now - and that's what matters. 

my most handsomest beast!
Maybe I'll write more about the year as a whole later. For today, tho, omg I've got media!! From what's become a little bit of a 'year end tradition' around these parts: a Last Hurrah XC School!! Last year, Charlie and Punky set off for Loch Moy to school their arena cross country courses. 

charlie has good footsteps to follow <3
This year, a teenage barn mate wanted to introduce her lovely 3'6 hunter to cross country fences -- but didn't want to do it at home in case he was a bit of a nut about the barn (as Charlie also frequently can be lol). So! A perfect weather window appeared, and we immediately set out for a fun field trip to Tranquillity!

the fiercest brontosaurus that ever was
And guys -- we LOVE Tranquillity! I don't come here for purposeful xc schools very often, since we've kinda jumped all the jumps a million times by now on all our various paper chases and hunter paces over the years. And, in my head, I always think of the jumps as kinda small since they only have complete courses through N. 

wheeeee pheasant feeder! left is and always will be best, apparently
But... Actually, it honestly really is a great schooling location. We chose it since there's lots of small stuff, making it a perfect venue for introducing a horse to xc. Plus it's close to home and is a bargain at $35 for schooling.  
legs for days lol
More than that, tho, it's just set up really well with TONS of stuff packed in relatively close together, making it easy to just kinda bop around jumping whatever you want -- and progressing in terms of height or technicality in inviting ways. 

logs 'n stuff
I honestly didn't really plan to do much -- y'all already know I love a short 'n sweet xc school. But since we made the drive and all, might as well make it worth it, right? We gave a lead for Merlin over some small logs and stuff just to get started. Turns out, tho, Merlin was an absolute rock star, not spooky at all, no hesitation etc, so they pretty quickly cut the cord and were jumping all the N things almost immediately. 

apparently i'm still a little ditch-shy after fair hill omg lol
So, obviously, Charlie and I set out to do the same. After warming up in the first field and giving a lead over some of the intro stuff, we moved on to the BN feeder pictured earlier, and the N Angry Bird ramp (in the helmet cam footage below). Plus a little romp up a table-to-bank combination. 

blue house is best house
After jumping everything we wanted there, we moseyed over to the ditch area, where Charlie jumped some logs, the 3-stride ditch to house combination (after which he gleefully dragged me off into the distance lol), and the N ramped table.

lol emma.... gotta go with that gung ho pony!!
And guys -- this horse just felt so good. Really pulling me to the fences, leaving me in the dust basically haha. Bold and happy, just the way I like him to be! 

Of course, I can always nitpick myself to death (can't we all?) -- tho I'm happy to report that in Molly lessons (ugh 4 since my last recap that hopefully I'll write about eventually....) she's kinda zeroed in on some positional elements that might get me more consistently where I wanna be over fences, vs the sorta stand-off-ish defensive posture I've not been able to quit. 

Basically, I've been pretty focused on my hand location (including holding the mane or neck strap when I feel uncertain, per Martin's instruction). As is Molly's way, tho, she's helping me identify the underlying mechanics that will get my whole body in a better position -- and, no surprise at all, it has to do with bringing my elbows and chest closer to Charlie's neck, while closing all the angles in my legs. It's a process tho -- something that's going to take time to commit to muscle memory. And, lol, jumping lessons couldn't hurt!!

living dreams <3
In the meantime, it feels good to get out and do this stuff. Charlie feels good. I feel pretty much good too. Hopefully we can keep it up for as long as the weather lasts!