Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Show Jumping Clinic with Phillip Dutton

First off, let's give a big round of applause to Charlie haha. After a summer of busted clinic plans with one random ding after another, finally Charlie was healthy and happy right on cue to attend a clinic with Phillip Dutton at the lovely Trevi Manor Farm. Way to go, big guy lol...

#sorrynotsorry for the photo spam today. Austen braved extreme elements to capture these (and so so so SO many more) lovely photos - it would be a crime not to honor her service and post a crap load of  them <3 pc Austen Gage
The clinic hosts and PD himself also deserve some recognition, as do all the other riders and esp the auditors - including Austen and former barn mate Rachael. Seriously, y'all are troopers! The weather was the closest it could literally be to an actual cold wet towel. The dampening effect was.... persistent and pervasive. Nobody was safe dry.

pictured: damp and getting damper. pc Austen Gage
Nationally, we're hearing all about the insane rainfall in Florida and other southern states. But it's been pretty darn wet here in Maryland too, and the ground is completely saturated. This Sunday was no exception: Chilly 40*F temps with a relentless drizzle that left everyone, including the horses, feeling raw and chilled to the bone.

So. Not ideal, right? But we're eventers and we're tough, I guess, so we carried on with the clinic anyway. It helped that at least the footing at Trevi Manor was very good and held up nicely against the onslaught.

three of us, trying to soak up PD's words along with all the rain haha. pc Austen Gage
Our Training group was the largest of the day, with 5 riders. In terms of experience and years in the field, Charlie was undoubtedly the greenest of the group on paper.

handsome charlie <3 sodden emma. pc Austen Gage
The group included one horse with extensive T mileage prior to being sidelined by injury for a year; one who went P before injury; another who has been going N for ~3 years and was finally pushing for T; and a fourth who moved up to T this past summer. Plus Charlie, who has done.... uh, 4 Ns, completing 3 of them (those numbers go up +1 if you include the Twilight tho!).

getting started!! i was honestly just happy to be here haha. pc Austen Gage
Realistically, tho, I'm pleased to say Charlie held his own in the group and didn't stick out as "green." The group seemed more or less matched, which was nice considering there were so many of us. Plus all the jumps stayed very small anyway (tbh, most were not adjusted after the BN group before us...) so it hardly seemed to matter.

The flat work was probably the only real distinction between the T group and others I watched (tho I fully admit I didn't watch the warm ups of any other groups, so I could be wrong here).

champion walker. pc Austen Gage
PD put us through a rigorous session. You can sorta see in the course diagram (not to scale but close enough) that the ring was not very big. The course had an open rectangle at one end of the ring, and PD had the 5 of us stick to that small rectangle for warm up, explicitly coaching us to make square turns in every corner. It was a lot of horses in a small space, but it was ok.

trit-trotting around. PD: "shorten your reins!" pc Austen Gage
PD said it was important to prepare the horses in our training, that it's not enough for them to be "brave" or to just sorta "survive" a level. But that, instead, it was our jobs to teach them everything they would need to know so nothing came as a surprise. He also emphasized that our schooling should not rely on our hands to make changes in the horse's shape.

cantering without stirrups, god save us all. pc Austen Gage
I can't remember the exact order of everything bc it was very rapid-fire, but once in trot we started immediately with those square turns in every corner. Then started integrating shoulder fore, then straight, then shoulders out in counter bend, then straight. Then turning down the center line and leg yielding out, all of us in a row. Then up the center line to change directions (wherein I got dinged for riding more rounded turns instead of square turns, tho in my defense I was just trying to get more space between me and the horse in front haha).

Then repeat the same shoulder in - straight - shoulder out - straight - leg yield process. Then some lengthening and collecting of the trot - bigger steps down the long side, collecting in the corners. This was obviously challenging in the crowded space but doable. Then sitting trot (atrocious haha!) and two point, without losing connection, and then canter from two point.

kinda exhausted before we even got started haha! charlie lookin good tho <3 pc Austen Gage
In canter, we also did the leg yield exercises, and the lengthening and collecting. And then dropped our stirrups, continued on in canter, then transitioned to trot and then two point in trot and more sitting trot (still without stirrups), before finally coming back to walk.

Honestly I am sure I'm messing up the order in there, and there were more changes of direction, and rapid transitions between different movements and rider positions. I do remember there were different times we cantered, including a few walk-canter transitions. It felt a little bit more of a test of rider and horse skill sets rather than an actual "this is how you should warm up your horse" type approach haha. Intense!

full set of exercises, all oxers are square and everything is ridden in both directions
Charlie was a good boy, tho, and stayed with me. It was a little more rapid-fire than I typically ride him, but he adjusted well enough and handled it fine. For his part, PD's running commentary aside from telling us where to go, was along the lines of "heels down," "shorter reins," "that was a bad turn," and "transition has to happen faster, he has to listen."

this little blue and white grid of offset fences started off innocently enough. pc Austen Gage
After that, it was time to jump! There were four main lines we worked over during the lesson: the grid line (three offset fences), the diagonal of oxers, the bending line with liverpool, and the outside in and out. Plus a corner as the end jump. There were two other jumps set in the ring, but we never did anything with them, so I left them out of my diagram. Also included were markers in every corner that PD insisted: stay outside the markers!

holy moly tho it did not *stay* innocent tho! Charlie's side eye says it all haha... pc Austen Gage
We started with the grid: first going directly in 3 strides over the first and last of the three, both directions. Then tracking right, catching the middle inside element to the final outside element in 1 stride. Then changing directions and putting all three together in 1-to-1.

First thing to realize in a PD lesson is that every exercise is done twice, once from each direction. Second thing to learn is: his instruction is focuses almost exclusively on outcomes. For example, "Ride this line in 4 even strides." He's not saying how to do it, rather he's saying what he wants you to do. And either you do that thing, or you repeat the exercise. With the way his lines were set (open), the answer to basically any problem was "forward."

not sure we ever quite executed this grid particularly well lol. also i hope you are enjoying how well all these hq photos capture my and charlie's WIDE array of expressions... pc Austen Gage
And so, you could expect to hear PD say (and will hear him saying in the video): "Forward," "Good," "Kick kick kick!!," and "Next horse." And occasionally, "Less hand."

Anyway. Back to the exercises: That grid was way more challenging than I expected it to be. Even with the jumps being very very small. It wasn't super clear to me if we should be aiming to jump the center of each fence (something that's been a focus in recent lessons with Trainer P) and thus create a bend in the grid line; or if we were supposed to find a straight line by jumping the ends of each fence.

small diagonal line was easy peasy after that grid! pc Austen Gage
With Charlie, I aimed for something sorta in between. And yea, it was a lot harder than I expected, possibly bc the jumps were set on an open stride. I've worked very hard on Charlie's flat work, but have done almost everything on a compressed stride.

Charlie felt like he was landing a little too strong too, which made me want to collect him even more, but in retrospect he was landing strong bc he had to make big moves to make up the distance when we jumped in too quiet.

jumping in for the add stride back down the line. pc Austen Gage
PD, for his part, didn't seem to care how this grid was accomplished so long as it was done in an even 1-to-1 strides. Most of the horses made very ugly shapes through the grid - esp the middle element, all the horses had at least one effort where they were very hollow and inverted. Considering I typically use grids to improve a horse's shape, this was interesting to me.

I suppose the intention was to demonstrate that the horse's salvation was forward, and that the riders needed to stay committed and go with the horse, and not rely on hand to do so. Easier said than done!

charlie don't care about no liverpool! please to note the strategically placed blocks all over the place. pc Austen Gage
After that, we worked on the diagonal line of oxers - first in 4 strides, then turning around and coming the other direction in 5. This I *did* expect to be challenging considering what I perceived to be Charlie landing a little strongly from the fences, but actually he was mostly pretty good. Swapped leads and was a little braced coming down in 5, but did the thing. Good boy.

Next was the bending line. The line had a block parked in the middle as a land mark. First trip (off left lead) we were to go outside the block, which rode in a nice 5. Then coming back on the right lead we were to go inside the block (so a straighter line) which worked nicely in 4.

aww lookie charlie being so fierce about those jumps that don't even reach his knees lol. pc Austen Gage
Next we came back down on the right lead from liverpool to oxer, but this time outside the block (so more of a bend), and Charlie and I chopped in a 6th stride. That was interesting to me, and mirrored the issue I had with the grid of three offset fences. When we're tracking right on the right lead, but have to bend left, Charlie and I struggle to maintain stride length.

Anyway, from that bending line we went to the corner. It was relatively small - set around <= N, but wide. Charlie didn't care tho, jumped it easily.

oooh there we go big guy!! pc Austen Gage
Then the next piece felt like we were building toward some course work. We came back down the grid on left lead, wherein Charlie and I almost died and I totally slipped the reins. PD was hollering to keep going and ride forward and "C'mon!!!!" to the corner, which Charlie thankfully did, and jumped it great, then turned immediately (but outside the corner blocks!!!) back to the bending line, taking the inside route in a forward 4.

#obsessed with this sweet horse tho. he's so game! pc Austen Gage
That was.... not a very pretty sequence for me and Charlie. Felt like we really kinda had to fight for it, and I sorta expected to repeat it. But I guess since we ended up getting the "forward" answer well enough, we left it at that.

atta boy, chuck! pc Austen Gage
Next was the final line of the lesson: an in and out that PD cautioned was set on a very open stride and that I'd need to get to the canter where I felt like "This is good," and then... add more haha.

This was the first jump that went up a little bit, and we rode it first from vertical to oxer. Then it went up again to actual proper T size, and we rode oxer to vertical. Charlie knocked it the first time, so we repeated and he really jumped the snot out of it. Good boy!

finally starting to look more forward- PD's intention all along. pc Austen Gage
I thought from there we might put everything together into a course, since that's often how trainer P operates. Jump each individual exercise, then put it all together. But nope, that was it, class was dismissed!

game face: engaged (lol....)!! pc Austen Gage
Slightly abrupt, but not a moment too soon if you asked the horses haha. Charlie was a very VERY good boy for the entire lesson. He got a little sulky at moments, but nothing actually perceptible to anyone else. Mostly just kinda felt like, "It's raining and it's miserable and I'm cold but I'm being a good boy so why do you keep torturing me so?!?" Poor suffering Charlie!

yesssss go Charlie!! this was probably one of the only T fences we jumped all day, but he made it count. pc Austen Gage
The organizer told us when we pulled in to park that PD was sacrificing a lot of the normal "chat" in order to keep things moving, considering the wet miserable weather. So while I did get some commentary from him, mostly I've had to reflect a bit on my impressions of the experience and the videos to better understand my takeaways.

landing locked and loaded. pc Austen Gage
First up: The Forward! issue. This is entirely of my own creation, an artifact of the years spent teaching Charlie to compress and collect and carry his own self. Charlie's defining characteristic is his extreme length. And his six years on the track left him plenty capable of flattening into an extremely ground-covering gallop. So we've taught him to shorten.

final vertical of the stone wall in-and-out line
The issue is: I need to make the next step in Charlie's training. We need to maintain the feeling we can achieve on the flat: round, uphill, in front of my leg, and soft to the bridle; but carry a more forward pace and increase the activity and reach of his hind end.

yup, he's a champ. a very patient, and very wet, champ. pc Austen Gage
My job here, however, will be to not throw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than changing our entire approach to training Charlie (which seems to be working pretty darn well for the horse, let's be real), this clinic serves as a reminder that we need balance. And that ultimately, as we look toward more technically challenging levels, I *need* to get a better feel for riding Charlie on a longer stride.

Second big takeaway: This lesson was basically all about turning. Partly due to the realities of a small-but-functional arena. And partly bc of the exercises themselves. And? Charlie did a helluva lot better than I would have thought.

thoroughly soaked haha. pc Austen Gage
But that left bend in particular caught us out a couple times unexpectedly. Luckily that's easy enough to practice! Considering each of these exercises routinely show up in lessons with Trainer P (albeit usually at shorter distances), we can start targeting that apparent asymmetry.

aw what a good boy tho <3 pc Austen Gage
So overall, two very useful and actionable takeaways. And all in all, a good experience for Charlie. Both as a test of his current skill set and an addition to his education in decidedly sub-optimal conditions. Hopefully we'll be able to translate this into perfect off-season fodder lol!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

christmas wishes from the west coast!

Tracy from the Printable Pony has hosted an equestrian blogger gift exchange for years and years now, and it's just straight up wonderful! Legitimately one of my first orders of business upon firing up my own little blogger machine was to sign up and participate in that year's exchange!

eeeeee i love christmas surprises!!!
Each year when I learn who my own giftee will be, I spend all sorts of time creepin and crawlin their blogs, trying to figure out what direction to go in for gifts. It's a lot of fun, tbh.

And of course, it's also been awesome to receive surprise gifts too!! Every year has been different, but always super creative and super inspired. And this year was no exception!!

this package apparently did not have an easy trip across the country...
Karley from All In drew my name this year, and sent an adorable package filled with all manner of fun stuff for me and Charlie to enjoy! The box.... Well. The USPS honestly abused the ever loving shit out of this package. Holy moly. It was banged up.

was still crammed full of goodies tho!!! full disclosure: those peppermint pretzel cookie things are GONE haha
Luckily tho, the package's contents all seemed no worse for the (extensive) wear!! It was actually kinda like opening up a clown car haha, more and more goodies kept falling out!

First up were some snacks that I'm almost (almost) ashamed to admit how quickly they were eaten up haha. Peppermint pretzels for me and candy canes for Chuck, yum!

kensington mesh bath tote with fun products and sponges!
Then a cute kensington mesh bath tote (in navy, natch!) with Show Sheen gel detangler and Ultra Shield bug repellent gel, a squishy rubber curry, a big body sponge (christened with some nice lotion by Karley's daughter haha) and a smaller bath sponge that's pre loaded with shampoo.

charlie approves <3
I like that the tote has so many pockets and straps to hold products in place, and like that it's mesh so it won't hold water and will dry quickly. Perfect for bath time!

judgey barn cat surreptitiously creepin from that random cat-sized hole in the wall also approves
The products too are pretty exciting! Like, even the big body sponge: the one that lives in my trailer has finally sorta bit the dust, so the timing for that is perfect haha. The bug repellent will have to wait for testing until next spring when all the biting flies come back to life, but the mane detangler was put immediately to good use!

bc god save you if you don't get that all-important cat stamp of approval!
With all the rain and mud lately, Charlie's honestly started to look a little homeless. Like, at least being blanketed means most of his body stays mostly ok.... But his mane and tail are straight up wild. And there's just.... so much of both of them! The way this horse grows hair is unreal ugh.

just ignore the dried mud haha and enjoy the neat and tidy mane!
In an ideal world, the mane would be pulled and a bit more tidy, and the tail freshly banged, in advance of the clinic this weekend. But.... Oh well haha. At least with the detangler the mane looks semi presentable! And we'll just have to hope for the best with everything else!

Thanks so much Karley for this thoughtful gift! And thanks Tracy for hosting every year and coordinating all the details!

And to my own secret gift recipient: Your gift is in the mail, so keep an eye out for a box from Baltimore ;)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Questioning the Clinic Format

If you've been following along for awhile, it should come as no surprise that I have a penchant for the occasional.... rant haha. Usually it stems from a place of striving for righteous justice, sorta. Or like, empowerment. Idk.

Mostly, I rant against what I perceive as external forces getting in the way of the normal, everyday amateur rider just trying to live their best horsey lives however they see fit.

pictured: me, living my horsey life
For example, who remembers my "Constructive Criticism v Public Shaming" rant?? Wherein a judge and "understudy" (apparently self-described, see below for details) trainer from within my local circle commented negatively on a friend's facebook post.

The post was simply a picture of my friend jumping what felt like an enormous square oxer, and she was enormously proud of it. Bc horses are exciting, right? And my friends and I firmly believe we should enjoy every HIGH moment we get, bc we all know there's always another low lurking around the corner.

Anyway, read that post for the full story, but essentially that judge/trainer/troll basically felt like my friend's position wasn't good enough, she wasn't helping her horse out, was basically sucking. And even after my friend took down her post out of sheer mortification, the trainer continued the conversation her diatribe on her own business page.

It.... made me really mad. Especially bc, even when you strip away my own personal connections to that specific instance, ultimately I felt like the trainer was straight up missing the point.

is getting runaway with also considered "not helping your horse"?!?
So when this same trainer/judge/person posted the below, all those same simmering feelings of indignation immediately boiled over again haha.

Now full disclosure: bc this person is part of my loose horsey circle, and a number of riders from this circle have been discussing entering and/or auditing an upcoming clinic with Phillip Dutton, I am making what seems like a not-illogical assumption that the below is in reaction to that haha. Of course it's entirely possible that it's also coincidental. Hardly matters, to be honest.

Anyway, she writes:

My thoughts? Well, there are many. Haha.

1. Finances. The writer claims to acknowledge that finances play a role in this, but seems to limit that influence to the clinic host, rather than the clinician themselves. Fact is, tho, lessons, instruction and, yes, clinics play a critical role in business development for professional riders.

They can be a relatively steady source of income in an otherwise turbulent volatile market of fragile horses, fierce competition, and fickle sponsors. They're also a great way to continue building a brand and suite of services. A positive clinic experience often leads to repeat customers and referrals.

2. Some clinicians might actually like teaching the basics. Look no further than Janet Foy. She's built an incredible clinic format called "Through the Levels" featuring a progressive two day curriculum that's just as educational for the auditor as it is for the rider. Riders must literally apply (I believe with VIDEO) to participate, the fees are high, and auditors pay too.

And? As the title suggest, ALL levels are filled for these clinics, including Training and First. Bc even tho Janet Foy is world class in every measurable aspect, she still recognizes that upper level dressage is rooted in correct basics developed and refined through the lower levels.

pictured: charlie don't need no damn basics! at least, not according to him lol
4. Since when are training issues + homework applicable only to UL riders?! You don't have to be jumping 3'6 to recognize that drifting over a fence is a problematic habit, for example. David O'Connor has developed a practically-canned clinic format that puts riders at all levels through the same "land in the circle" exercise. And guess what? Basically everyone struggles with it. (2017 recap here, and 2015 recap here)

Just bc that particular bad habit isn't likely to cause serious issues until riders start facing turning questions or skinny fences on course doesn't mean you can't start working on it earlier in the horse and rider's education.

And that's just one example. Sure, it's true that "understudy" trainers can similarly work through these training issues. But what's wrong with getting a fresh perspective from a clinician who might be able to better explain how these issues fit into the bigger picture.

Like when my lessons with dressage clinician Stephen Birchall basically served to give me glimpses of what the future could hold for me and Isabel. (incredible Isabel lessons here and here, less insightful lessons with Shen here and Charlie here)

training issues like not wanting to touchy the water can crop up at any time!
5. I fully agree that there ARE arguments against the clinic. Some of which maybe echo some of the above writer's thoughts. Clinics are expensive. And yes, you can often derive the same insights and outcomes at a lesser cost with a more "every day" style trainer.

For example, this is the exact reason I'm not likely to ever pay to ride with DOC or Boyd Martin after auditing them, when I could ride with Dan for a fraction of the cost. And yes, I totally recognize that I may feel the same way after observing Phillip Dutton teach.

Clinics also lack context. The format is characterized by clinicians teaching unknown horse and rider pairings, with very limited background. Some riders lie or exaggerate their experiences. Some horses have bad days. It can be risky.

Clinicians can minimize that risk by sticking to simplistic exercises (like Ralph Hill) or a pre-determined routine (like DOC), and others adopt more of a "sink or swim" attitude (Boyd Martin probably falls more into this category).

This can produce very real challenges and risks for a rider lacking in confidence, or a sensitive horse. It can also be problematic for the rider looking for a challenge, or the rider who entered the appropriate level who ends up feeling overlooked when the lesson is taken hostage by the struggling or unprepared rider...

Or. Ya know. Maybe you just really really REALLY don't mesh with the clinician and end up feeling like it was a waste of time. Or worse. This is always a possibility, as I learned all too well in that one fix-a-test experience...

None of this has ANYTHING to do with the idea that it's a "personal insult" to the clinician to bring a green or low level horse to a clinic, however.

who could ever be insulted by this cute mare anyway?!?
6. Because riding is a Base Heavy sport. It's a simple fact that there are many more riders and horses at the lower levels than there are at the upper levels. It's undeniably a bigger market.

Raise your hand if you currently or in the near future believe you and your horse can competently get around a BN course. I would bet money that virtually anyone reading this who jumps (even if you're new to it or dabbling!) might realistically feel this way. Now, same question, except the jumps are prelim height. Probably fewer of you are raising your hand, and fewer still are in the "my horse and I can do today" category.

Even without concrete statistics, it's not controversial to say that only a fraction of riders ever make it to the upper levels of any given horse sport. I'd go so far as to bet that roughly 3 in 5 (if not more) English discipline riders top out around 1st/2nd level dressage and ~3' jumping.

maybe this horse could have gone farther. we'll never know tho
The highest echelons of horse sports are made possible by the membership and participation of this base of low level riders. You can argue all you want that it's watering down the sanctity of the sports. That today's safe, quiet hunters in their 2'6 derbies are a far cry from the catty brave field hunters of days past. Or that re-configuring the FEI eventing levels to a 5* system, effectively introducing a lower (ie more accessible) FEI level, dilutes the value of achieving FEI status.

But. Eh. Personally, I don't feel that way. I feel that the sport is strengthened by inclusion and accessibility.

Besides, top level riders, educators, and decision makers in this sport recognize the critical importance of developing the pipeline of future riders. Considering US Eventing's latest round of soul searching following our repeated poor team performances and failure to qualify on the world stage, it's hard to argue otherwise.

this local circuit of unrated hunter shows was the highlight of my summers!
7. Anyway, tho, the most fundamental argument against the above writer's position is simpler than any of that. To me, it boils down to: What does means to identify as a rider at the low levels?

More specifically? What are the eligibility requirements to call yourself a "Rider" or a member of any particular sport? And who is enforcing that criteria? How good do you have to be before you're not considered a "waste of time" any more?

This thought process first entered my mind when Marilyn Little's repeated and ethically repugnant bloody mouth episodes exploded into the mainstream dialogue. Many immediately dismissed her as "not a real eventer anyway," which.... made me wonder what on earth that made *me* if even ML wasn't considered legit.

I'm not a USEA member, I've never ridden in a USEA recognized event. It's not clear if I ever will. I may never wear a watch while running a cross country course. I may never do a multi-day show, or travel farther than ~2hrs to a venue. Cantering around an unrecognized novice cross country course this past summer may as well have been Kentucky, as far as I'm concerned.

i just dare you to try telling this younger version of myself that i don't count as a "real" rider
8. And that's ok, right? In my mind, the typical single-horse adult amateur working a full time job should live their riding life as they see fit.

Which, realistically, means different things to different riders. In everything from taste in clothing or gear, choices about riding in weather or sub-optimal conditions, decisions on when and how often to lesson, and what degree of autonomy we maintain.

And yes: choices about whether we want to spend our hard earned dollars on a one-off lesson with some big name star in the equestrian world. A lesson that could mean a major breakthrough in training, or... ya know, not. I don't even care the motivation.

The writer above says that this should only happen for upper level riders looking for validation or to solve a specific problem. I feel differently tho. I think, if you want to, why not?

first: we conquer the pony ride! next? the world!!
The clinician is offering the lesson spaces presumably bc he wants them filled. If the lessons are marketed for "BN to Advanced," then... presumably BN riders are welcome.

I see no value in projecting any other eligibility requirements on that, or saying that my interest in riding with a world class professional is "insulting" to that professional if I'm not already riding at a high level. And, frankly, I reject that way of thinking and am immediately skeptical of anybody espousing that belief.

If you're thinking about entering a clinic? It's worth evaluating why. It's worth being practical about expectations and goals for a single lesson with a stranger, and about whether you can actually afford it or if the funds would be better used elsewhere.

If, after that thought process, you decide that, YES, you want to do it? Then have at it! That's what clinics are for - that is literally why they exist haha. So riders like us can pay a prescribed fee for this new experience and everything that comes with it: Like riding with different people! Experiencing a different style of teaching! Getting to check out a new venue! And hopefully walking away with more tools in your chest! And maybe pictures too!!

go riding! or the terrorists win!!
I mean, why else do we ride? What, exactly, is the existential purpose of riding in the year 2018? Like.... it's all kinda pointless anyway, right? We're here for the joy! The fulfillment! Bc ponies are awesome and it's a great way to enjoy a weekend! We certainly do not need some killjoy gatekeeper telling us we're not good enough or whatever, in the misguided hopes that maybe we'll decide to pay her for lessons instead lol....

And idk about you, but the idea of taking a lesson with Phillip Dutton or any other super star celebrity rider sounds hella more exciting than spending the equivalent on a new purse or whatever. Isn't "focusing on experiences" supposed to be the big new trend replacing consumerism anyway?

What about you - what do you think? Do you agree with my laissez-faire attitude towards riding in general, and clinics in particular? Or maybe you think there's a kernel of truth in the above writer's position? Has your opinion been colored by your own clinic experiences?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Year in Review: Part 2

December isn't even half way over yet, but I'm forging ahead with the plan to finish recapping what proved to be a monumental year for me and Charlie.

The gist is I'm rounding up the links to the defining moments from each month. It's always interesting to see how my impressions and feelings on different events shift over time, with hindsight being 20-20 and all that.

You can find the first six months of 2018 summarized here in Part 1. By the end of June, Charlie and I (well, mostly just me, let's be honest) were still reeling after a shockingly bad performance at our second Novice at Plantation.

So let's dive right in, picking up where we left off:

the most elegant brontosaurus that ever was

- Checking in on my quarterly and year-long goals was depressing. Everything looked.... bleak given what I perceived to be the shambles of our current state.

- Charlie got time off, coming back into work with the distraction of an appt to refit and customize the dressage saddle I bought last winter. The saddle maker himself, Jan Huslebos, evaluated us and ultimately performed field surgery on the saddle right then and there, removing the bottom half of the thigh blocks. It was pretty cool, tbh.

- I continued the "distraction" theme with more volunteering. Scribing for judges Stephen Bradley and Helen Bretell at the jumping phase of a YEH qualifier at Loch Moy was great!

- But eventually we had to get back to work on our training. This lesson was a perfect case study for working through Charlie's and my issues. It was the kick in the pants I needed to remember that when *I* do *my* job consistently, Charlie is a happier horse and is easier to ride.

dressage saddle zadel surgery!!
- Looming in my personal background: continued preparations for moving house for the first time in a decade.... It was consuming, but it eventually happened!

- We finally schooled our home xc course for the first time since March. It was a GREAT ride, partly bc I adjusted my attitude to be more "present" and less preoccupied with any future plan that relied on everything in the ride going just so. It was also great bc the same issues from Plantation cropped up for us to work through in a more productive setting.

- That xc ride and those issues helped me decide to tap Charlie's shoes for studs. I wrote about that process here, and a little more here, and also some other general hoof updates here.

- Best day of the month: We capped things off with a pace clinic at Loch Moy. This was just the ticket for getting our mojo back: focusing purely on getting Charlie moving out, in front of my leg. Reminding him that he was born to run, and reminding me to keep pushing forward for that pace. This felt like a turning point, finally!

finally, finally clicking back into gear again

- Moar volunteering!! This time at the cross country vet box for the CIC1/2* at Loch Moy. Another cool experience, esp bc I did a lot of spectating too!

- We checked off a major bucket-list item by schooling xc at Boyd Martin's Windurra! The ride was positive mileage for us, but I felt disappointed that it wasn't more productive. Tho hey, at least I got to change a trailer tire for the first time! lol...

- Even so, things were looking up. Charlie had two KILLER jump lessons this month - tackling 3'3+ course work with a renewed vigor and gusto that felt incredibly refreshing. Not even bragging, he looked like one million dollars. Lesson recaps and media here and here.

there goes charlie, just casually blowing my mind....
- Best day of the Month: Redemption at MCTA's Jenny Camp Starter Trial! Charlie busted out three beautiful phases (dressage, stadium, cross country). I confronted head on his resistance to leaving the start gate for xc, and.... that was it, we moved on, were over it, and had an AWESOME run! Finishing in 2nd place, solidifying Charlie's status as a legit N event horse.

- I meanwhile mused/ranted about the increasingly ridiculous marketing gimmicks used by companies tying to sell a product by preying on our insecurities as owners....

- Ooh and we hit up one of Loch Moy's twilight events! The stadium was easily Charlie's best yet N effort. And while I wussed out from schooling all the T xc jumps (ahem, except for that *one* giant ass table at the end!) it was more positive mileage over N fences.

- Then the month ended on an all-too-familiar low note when Charlie, AGAINST ALL ODDS, managed to puncture his hoof on a piece of mulch. While walking. In the woods. Wtf, sir. Wtf.

pictured: the best feeling in the world

- I knew from experience that Charlie would likely brew an abscess from the mulch incident. But until then, we forged ahead with planning our DIY outfit for our annual hunter pace tradition! Miracle of miracles, Charlie was sound for the pace!! And it was AWESOME!!!

- Plus he was schooling pretty darn well, and I mused about his optimal work schedule.

- We celebrated two years as a team. This horse, guys <3 <3 <3

- He's fragile tho, haha, and the abscess from the mulch arrived just in time to trash our plans for a 2-day show jump and xc clinic with legendary eventer Ralph Hill. I had tortured myself about signing up and finally took the plunge by entering T. Oh well... I audited instead. Le sigh. It was a good one tho - lots of useful, actionable takeaways!

yup, i'm obsessed with this horse 100%
- Once Charlie recovered, he went back to work like he never missed a day. He was schooling great and really stepping up for our jump lessons! And we finally got our first xc lesson in a year!! It was a bit of a bust, tho - we worked over the same N fences we'd seen all summer instead of the hoped-for challenge of facing more T stuff. Oh well! Charlie was foot perfect anyway ;)

- Meanwhile, more fun volunteering by scribing for the conformation phase at the FEH East Coast Championships on a rainy, chilly Sunday.

- Best day of the month: An awesome, lengthy trail ride from our barn all the way down to the nearby Gunpowder River with a group of barn mates. Beautiful day, beautiful scenery, and great horses made for the perfect end of summer ride.

hacking thru the river!

- Technically this happened in September, but I wrote about it in October so I'm counting it in this month. Sue me. Anyway: Charlie and I competed in our final event of the season, and won it on our dressage score!! It wasn't our best performance ever - dressage was elegant and obedient, but our stadium was stilted and out of sync, just one of those lucky clears. Cross country was pretty baller, tho <3

- That event was preceded by a likewise stilted and out of sync jump lesson, with Charlie's first real refusal in a lesson. We needed a system reset, and got exactly that when we FINALLY had a lesson with erstwhile coach Dan!! It was great, just what I needed to ride better so Charlie could perform better. Damn I miss these lessons something fierce...

- We checked in on our quarterly and yearly goals -- with the whole picture looking decidedly different (for the better!) compared to last time.

- Also wrote all about my favorite volunteer roles at events, and what's involved in each of them.

killin it over those roll tops!
- Charlie then aggravated his old splint injury in an alarmingly, hauntingly familiar way. I instantly had flashbacks to the previous year's similar trajectory that culminated in surgery. But after spending ALL the money on diagnostics, the vets assured me the horse was FINE.

- His timing was yet again extremely frustrating, as the injury coincided with our second attempt at a cross country clinic, entered at Training level. This time with Stephen Bradley. It's really starting to get old paying full price for these lessons, but then ending up only getting to audit...

- While Charlie enjoyed time off, I hit up some local big events - including Fair Hill's CCI2/3* as a spectator, and Waredaca's Classic 3DE as a volunteer. Both were super fun! I also ruminated on Charlie's impressive transformation over the last two years.

Best day of the month: Definitely riding in the pairs and teams classes at the Elkridge Harford Hunter Trials earlier in the month! This was a fun, low-key day to get out and jump some jumps and gallop across some fields. In other words, it was perfect <3

definitely a favorite picture from this past year <3

- Charlie continued to rest after his splint blow up, tho we managed to sneak in a gorgeous and quintessentially "Fall in Maryland" trail ride! Otherwise, tho, the horse sat around working on his Dad Bod 2.0 before finally getting back to being ridden.

- I spent this time reflecting on Charlie's progress, especially in the dressage ring. And decided, maybe Charlie is actually ready for First Level after all! I also amused myself by compiling our annual Best Of & Bloopers Video haha.... Hahaha...

one of my favorite views!
- Despite my worst fears, Charlie legitimately, honest-to-god seemed pretty darn sound after the splint scare. He got back to work (again) really nicely, including an excellent jump lesson focusing on grids and gymnastics, and an even better and highly anticipated return to dressage lessons with trainer C.

- Upper level event rider Matt Brown meanwhile wrote an excellent series at Chronicle of the Horse, with Part 1 addressing the impact goals have on mental health. This was a great article and gave me a lot of food for thought about how I structure my goals, hopes, and dreams.

- Mostly tho, it was a quiet month spent settling into the season's changing rhythms and shorter days.

- Best day of the month: SCHOOLING TRAINING FINALLY!! Lol.... After months of frustrated plans, we finally had a proper school over T cross country fences at Loch Moy's arena derby course. And Charlie just.... flew. Acted like jumping these giant jumps was the easiest thing in the world, as if he'd been doing it his whole life. God I just freakin love this horse tho!

there goes charlie, making that giant T fence look tiny....

- Obviously we're not even half way through this month yet, so it seems a little silly to summarize it haha. But that's never stopped me before ;)

- This is reflection season, after all, so it's fitting that I'd be taking time to review what all has happened this year. Like wrapping up my volunteer experiences throughout 2018. And the qualitative analysis of Charlie's 2018 dressage scores. Or these very same "Year in Review" posts haha (Part 1 can be found here).

- I also submitted our season results to MCTA for year end awards. Winning an event, and coming in second at one of MCTA's own events (meaning: double points!) has me hopeful for a strong finish!

- Ooh, and wrote about all the various relationships I have with professionals in the equine services industry, and polled the audience on how you approach that topic too. Got LOTS of really interesting and varied responses!

this horse <3 
- All this retrospective navel-gazing was made possible in part bc Charlie lost a shoe in the mud, and then was so pitifully hoof sore (despite getting the shoe tacked back on after only a day without it....) that he got yet another week off work, ugh.

- The riding year isn't entirely over yet, tho, with a few more big plans in the works. Obviously with horses everything is written in pencil, especially with a horse like Charlie, but the top of our list of Plans is a show jumping clinic with Phillip Dutton scheduled for mid month. My heart is set on Charlie coming with me, but if history is any guide, I may end up just auditing. We'll see.

- And naturally I still have to wrap up our goals for the year to see how that all shook out. My gut feeling tho was that, even with all the setbacks, Charlie really stepped up to the plate this year. I feel happy.


So there ya have it: 2018 summed up in all its glory. Obviously with horses anything and everything can change in a moment, so it's important to take time to enjoy and appreciate the good feelings when they come! Here's to a happy 2019 ;)