Monday, August 14, 2017

keepin' him

An unfortunately timed rain storm blew in Friday night, meaning our highly anticipated cross country schooling lesson was postponed for some other weekend. Disappointing, but not the end of the world. Probably. lol...

finding more and more pleasant and soft moments these days
We had spent most of the week prior trying to be a little more disciplined in schooling our flat work. Specifically in the black tack and accompanying loose ring snaffle. Charlie's been going very well lately - but I need to be careful to not end up complacent about the feeling I can get from him with double reins on the elevator bit, complete with curb strap.

I don't have quite the same stopping power in the regular loose ring - meaning, at this point in Charlie's training, I don't have quite the same 'half halt' either. Not a big deal, I just need to stay aware and keep practicing in both bits!

and moments of excitement!
He then got some days off while I was in DC for mucho worko stuff. The timing was nerve-wracking bc it coincided with Charlie's introduction to the full gelding herd. I turned him out Wednesday night and watched his first interactions (he's bold but unassuming with new horses, maybe a good combination) knowing I wouldn't lay eyes or hands on him again until Saturday.

liverpool aint no thang
Luckily Brita was able to check in on him for a quick count of his legs (4), shoes (4, phew!), eyes (2) and any new wounds (0, hell yes!). So that reassured me a little bit haha.

i love how he's learning to shift his balance around through the grids!
And then when I finally arrived back at the barn for our lesson, Charlie looked actually pretty damn good. I think he may have lost a little weight from the move (sensitive soul that he is) so we'll just keep throwing hay and food and grass at him. But mentally and emotionally, he seems fully settled, very relaxed, and legitimately quite happy at the new farm. I like it!

wheeee more grids!
And I actually thought he might be a bit of a lollygag for our lesson. Our first lap of trotting was so indifferent and blah that I just immediately put him up into canter to stretch out a bit before trying again at trot. That woke him up and loosened him up nicely, but with the humidity I still maybe kinda expected him to be a little meh for the lesson.

and more trotting. it ain't perfect but it's surprisingly nice to still find these gears even after we start jumping
Turns out tho, Charlie can still surprise me. In a good way. From our very first warm up cross rails, he was eagerly arriving very nicely at the jumps and popping over like this is his favorite thing in the world. Which, honestly, maybe it is!

horse loves to jump
We started working over the same grids from last week, slowly building up in a slightly different fashion this time. We started with the 1st and 4th of the line of one strides - fitting an easy 5 between them. Then repeating until all four were built again. Charlie very clearly remembered this lesson and was legitimately foot perfect. Actually perfect. God I just love him <3

fan jump is old news these days too
Next we schooled a bending line from the fan jump to a vertical, looping around to the liverpool. Then the same triple combination of 2-to-2 (set at very compressed 30' distances) from last week. And finally put it all together for a little course, as seen in the video below.

It's kinda funny bc many of the jumps had been raised for this course (particularly through the grids) and Charlie kinda didn't notice at first, so he dropped some of them. But I honestly don't care. He'll figure it out eventually.

The thing I loved so much about this ride is just how.... easy Charlie felt about it all. The final two jumps in the grid of one strides are 2'9 oxers. Sure he tapped one out of the cups with a lazy hind leg.... but like. It's clearly not much of an exertion or effort for him.

Even the bigger single jumps just feel so easy for him too. He's not even trying. I like it! I especially like that all this practice over grids, and esp trotting into so many lines, has gotten him feeling very soft and ratable to the fences, instead of blasting off and running. His eye is getting better every ride, as is his ability to find the jumps out of stride and rebalance again on landing.

it's apparently a little too easy for him haha
Good boy, Charlie. I'm definitely itching to get out schooling cross country soon. But even so, we're feeling pretty good about gearing back up for the second half of our competition season. As evidenced by the two entries I just sent in for events in September :D

I'm sure I'll feel more nervous and anxious as the events draw closer (isn't that always the way??). But right now, it's really exciting daydreaming what Charlie's future could look like. Even just three months from now, considering this past week marked exactly one year since Charlie's final race. You've come a long way, baby!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

seeing sky

I'm not normally one to snap a zillion pictures from plane windows bc.... well.... honestly at a certain point all those pictures kinda look the same, right?

morning skies after a rain storm
But the skies this morning just seemed, idk. Too pretty to pass up. And seeing as I don't have one of those new-fangled instagram machines or whatever, the pics are getting posted here. #dealwithit lol

there be rolling mountains down there
More pony content will be coming shortly - this is, after all, a dedicated horse blog. And I did manage to make it to a pretty fun lesson yesterday (details pics and video coming tomorrow). Mostly tho, Charlie's laying low for most of the upcoming week while I'm away.

looking above from below, and below from above
Hopefully, tho, I'll find my way to fit seeing some fun ponies (and pony people!!) in to this work trip. There are plans afoot!!! Gotta get my fix however I can, right??

Anyway, hope you are having a great weekend too. Anyone else enjoying a recent break in the weather? Or got any big plans on the docket? Or maybe even small plans of the relaxing variety? Literally anything I could live vicariously through while I'm stuck on this trip?!? lol....

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

oh hai, fren!!

Charlie finally has a turnout friend at his new barn! Much excitement!

contented grazing
They have a reasonably conservative introduction period of solo turnout that we extended a little bit bc of Charlie's aggravated splint, but he's finally graduated to step two: getting a buddy added to his small paddock.

fireworks!! or uh, ya know, polite greetings
The OTTB adoption facility had told me that Charlie was a pretty easy going dude in the field, and he was able to easily mix in with a couple different groups while at the h/j place for the past eleven-ish months.

Plus he's always been super friendly and interested in meeting new horses while in the cross ties or under saddle or in the barn or whatever.

Loki samples Charlie's butt for taste haha
So I expected Charlie to be pretty good for his first turnout with a friend at OF.

The reality, tho, is that I actually haven't been able to spend much time observing Charlie in the field with a herd. Mostly bc that's a sad side effect of not working at the barn - I don't get to see as much of the dynamics bc I'm not there all the time.

call me biased but i think they're stinkin adorable
Therefore getting to watch this latest introduction was pretty cool for me. The buddy horse apparently is OF's go-to for introducing new geldings, and had actually just played babysitter for another new horse last week. Poor guy is probably missing his own normal turnout, but he was the perfect choice for Charlie.

He's actually kinda a cheeky little pony lol - taking lots of little nibbles and chews on Charlie. Playful stuff, ya know? But Charlie maybe doesn't actually know how to play haha. At one point the pony grabbed Charlie's hock and Charlie tried to squeal.... but, ya know, wind surgery, so.... it came out more like this pathetic heave-y wheeze haha. Poor Charlie.

nose sniffies!!!
They've been getting along pretty well so far, sharing hay piles and spending lots of time chatting with each other. But also not like... obsessively attached or anything either.

Next steps will be for Loki to be Charlie's chaperone/wingman/body guard for his introduction to the full herd in the big turnout. Something that will probably happen in the next couple of days.

It's definitely exciting for me that Charlie's getting friends now - he's a pretty social horse in that he seems happier with company, even if he doesn't interact much with the other horses. When he's out by himself he stays near the fence lines closest to other horses. But when he has a horse sharing the field with him? He's content to just go do his own thing (even if he ends up farther away from that horse than he would stray from neighboring horses when he was "alone").

It's always nerve wracking too tho lol. I don't want anybody to pick on him or bully him, but definitely don't want him dishing out any rudeness either! So far so good tho!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

grid your loins!

It's no secret that trainer P from OF loves some grid work. Especially one stride lines set at 18' distances. She's pretty great at finding ways to incorporate them into most courses and exercises, and over the years has often even used them as a warm up for jumping.

puppy in a pony shadow!
The idea with these grids, as best I can understand it, is to kinda set the horse up to figure out his own footwork and own body. The rider is responsible for coming into the grid with the right pace (whether trotting or cantering in) and for keeping the horse straight.

calm down charlie!
Then the horse just kinda does whatever he's going to do, with the jumps themselves providing the education. With such a short compressed distance for one stride (18'), the horse must really compress his body and figure out how to rock back on his hind end and use himself more properly over the out jump. The distance makes it a lot harder to just blast through flatly.

starting work over the one strides
Charlie's had very limited exposure to grids before now - with just two lessons dedicated to the task. Like this one back in February when he was still learning what this whole jumping thing was all about (and actually that grid work helped Charlie have a few breakthroughs). And this one from June when he had a more thorough introduction to one stride grids.

built up to the full four fences
And actually - in most of the first introductions to grid work with Charlie, we've had a run out or attempted run outs. Which I totally get - it can be kinda overwhelming to look down a line and see nothing but a sea of poles and standards. Plus. Ya know. Squirrely green horses are squirrely.

dem knees tho!
Then, in more recent weeks, it's just been plain old too hot to really ask the horses to do that much gymnastic work. Combined with trainer P's limited mobility with a bum knee, the idea got put on the back burner.

i love his expression! 
But we definitely wanted to address it sooner rather than later. Charlie's really figuring out this jumping thing. He's gotten quite comfortable with it. Maybe even too comfortable - he doesn't even bother looking at jumps below 2'6 and can be too casual about it, but is not yet quite educated enough to bail himself out if he (or I, let's be real) ends up making a mistake.

and he actually did shockingly well in the 18' distances
Plus his tendency is to kinda leap at the fences, using his size and speed to get over, instead of really using his body to its full ability. This is naturally not quite ideal, and certainly not something I want cemented as habit.

too easy over the final haha
So to set up the exercise, we started by building up to three verticals in a row, set at 30' distances (so again, a compressed two stride). Trainer P left a pile of poles where the first jump would be, but only set up the second and third jumps of the line.

Charlie had to trot in, figuring out his footwork over that little pole pile before trotting the next two jumps. Then the pole pile turned into a jump and he did all three in a row, with two strides between. My biggest aim here was for straightness, given our history with run outs. This sometimes meant I wasn't as giving with my hands as I needed to be, a constant struggle. But we stayed quite straight!

and bc i like media overkill, here's his final effort
We didn't spend a lot of time with the two stride grid tho, moving quickly over to the one stride line. Which again started with only the 3rd and 4th jumps set up, and the first staying as a pole pile. Charlie had to trot in, figure out his footwork over that confounding pole pile, then continue moving forward to the single one stride.

Then we built up the second jump in the line. Rinse repeat. And then the first jump in the line - so four jumps in a row, 18' distances between them.

one day i'll be more trusting with my position, which will only make charlie's life easier. he seems to be making pretty good work of things despite me tho!
A few more repetitions and all four were set as oxers. Then continue with the rinse repeat nature of the exercise, with me working to enter the grid with the appropriate pace, maintain our straightness, but otherwise stay out of the goddamn way and let the grid do its job.

Obviously that last part (staying out of the way) is a real struggle for me haha, esp when we'd get into the grid a little dodgy... But actually I was quite pleased both with Charlie's willingness to stay straight. And especially with how soft he stayed through the whole exercise.

Unlike the last time we practiced grids in June, he did not start getting strong and racey on reapproaching the line again and again. He stayed soft to the bridle, trotted quite nicely, and seemed to be very very focused on the job. I liked it!

also, here's Goose the pig. bc why not
By the end too, he was actually almost slow through the grid - like breaking each movement into its own unit of time and space. Sit lift jump. Land step wait. Sit lift jump. Land step wait.

I remember from auditing Boyd Martin a while back that he was very insistent on getting the horses to jump "slower." Not necessarily meaning pace, per se, but actually in the act of jumping itself. He didn't want to see horses racing off the ground or riders rushing or moving too quickly with their upper bodies. Saying instead that horses jump the best when they leave the ground and move through the air slower.

I'm not totally certain that Charlie's work through that last grid was exactly what Boyd meant or wanted. But it felt worlds different from racing at and leaping over the fences.

It was also a really cool feeling to see Charlie be so focused in on the job - thinking so deeply about each step, while also seeming to really enjoy the puzzle. The sense I get from this horse is that he will tackle just about any problem so long as he thinks he can get the answer right. And the more stuff he sees, the more confident he feels in figuring out what's expected of him.

Monday, August 7, 2017

the hive mind: collective intelligence

There are a lot of things I like about this equestrian blogging community. A lot.

I could go through the whole litany of what makes this corner of the internet special: easily networking with like-minded individuals, making new friends, and enjoying the community feel without so much of the drama and flaming that's all too prevalent in other social forums.

all photos are from 2016's Fair Hill International 3* cross country bc somehow I never posted them. sorry! hopefully you enjoy the eye candy to go with unrelated content! the above is Will Faudree and Pfun over the giant trakhener 

For today, tho, I'm delving into something a little more specific. Namely, the benefit of "shared" experiences.

Phillip Dutton and I'm Sew Ready
You might remember last summer when I conducted a survey on rider safety as it related to gear and equipment. That survey netted some really cool results (posts here and here) but one thing was glaringly clear through the information gathered.

easy in over the A of the first water complex
As I wrote then, we are programmed to learn through experiences. We know what we have lived. And as our individual experience with horses grows, we naturally tend to give more weight to our own experiences, while discounting the likelihood of things that haven't already happened to us.

The more we have seen, the more we think we've seen it all.

then tidily through B and C
The main problem with that (very natural) mindset, as any veteran horse person would say, is that there's more to learn and experience from horses than can fit into any one single lifetime.

Lauren Kieffer up next with Landmark's Monte Carlo
A counter agent to that fact is this existing network of collective intelligence. It's mind boggling how much I've learned about the wider world of horses just from following along with so many bloggers.

For instance, eventing always seemed pretty cool to me - but also an entirely different world from anything I knew. As if it existed in another universe and I just saw the glossy magazine shots.

as expected, they made nice work of this too
But now? Even tho I don't do recognized eventing, I feel reasonably well versed in most aspects of the sport as a whole - and feel pretty confident and competent in my endeavors as a low level eventer. Following eventing blogs made the sport feel accessible, and my knowledge grew from reading all about everyone else's experiences.

Will Coleman & Soupcon du Brunet over the c element
Dressage in general and endurance in its entirety were also sports I knew existed, but nothing more. And now, after following bloggers in those sports for so many years - it feels like I can hold an informed conversation with riders from those worlds, or describe the sport to someone unfamiliar. And hell, maybe I even dabble a little bit myself.

And those are just two examples among many! Being totally honest here, I've actually learned more about the hunter jumper world since beginning to read blogs than when I was actually doing IHSA and all the local h/j circuits in college.

and galloping off with purpose
Likewise, I've learned all about the care of various wounds, illnesses, hoof care issues, or general maladies that tend to befall our beloved 4-leggers, but that I haven't personally had to experience.

Included in this is a surprisingly broad education on the many ointments, powders, tinctures and tonics that keep our horses happy and healthy. Despite having never personally used many of them myself.

Marilyn Little and RF Scandalous, pre bloody mouth
And I've learned more about the typical sport horse life cycle too, as it relates to breeding, registries, trends, and types. Including how to research my own horse's pedigree.

Erin Sylvester and Campground into the coffin complex
Of course, we can't forget the gear either. If there's something this community is really truly excellent at, it's expanding the communal knowledge on the various attributes of rider apparel or horse equipment. Where to find a good deal, where to look for unbeatable quality.

over the ditch!
Perhaps most importantly, tho - from this wonderful community of horse lovers and riders, I've learned how to think more deeply about my own horse habit. My own needs and goals. And how to expand that knowledge into making informed choices about my riding - who I train with, how I advocate for my horse, and how to set us up for success.

and easy out over the brush at C
That's really where the rubber meets the road, right? How have I taken this communal knowledge, this equestrian blogger hive mind, and turned it into something real and valuable in my day to day life?

Madeline Backus and PS Ariana dropping into the main arena
Well. I found a team of trainers for my chosen sport. And another team of horse care professionals who are dedicated to keeping my horse in top form. The whole group has evolved over the past few years as circumstances changed - but all in all it's a surprisingly stable system. Even with changes in horses, and changes in farm residences.

They know me. Who I am, why I ride, what I want, and also what I need. And I trust them.

and making easy (if far away) work of those giant farmhouse corners
And that's the A Team, right? The group of actual paid professionals whose explicit purpose in my world is to guide and advise me in my pursuit of horse happiness.

Colleen Rutledge and Escot 6 on an easy gallop
Basically any critical question that I might have, any major decision I might weigh -- those are the folks I go to first. Ancillary to them are the many close horsey friends I've made over the years. The folks I know and trust, who know and trust me. Who understand my own little microcosm of horses. They are often a favorite sounding board as I weigh my options.

then up over some surprisingly tall and surprisingly upright offset vertical brushes
Which brings us back to this wonderful blogging community, and our collective intelligence. There are some things for which this community is invaluable at providing input and insight.

For most big things, tho, by the time I'm writing it out here as my own addition to the shared experience catalog - I've already decided on my course of action. I've already made my choices, determined what I plan to do for whatever outcome I hope to achieve.

more p dutty <3, I think here with Mr Candyman
It's actually fairly rare, then, that you'll find me looking for advice in that regard. Rather, the thing that keeps me coming back for more, the thing I want and enjoy the most from this community, is discussion of those shared experiences, of the various opinions weighing relative merits of different potential courses of action.

Marilyn Little again, this time with RF Demeter
Because we all know that old adage, "Ask two horse people and get three answers," right?

sporting their notorious black fleece bit guard
I kinda relish the knowledge that many of us will make different choices when posed with the same problem or conundrum. Sometimes the difference has to do with the type of horse we have: hot or quiet, sensitive or hardy, seasoned or very green. Or it has to do with our purposes, varied as they are. Or, ya know, our own personal non-horse lives (unthinkable, right? lol).

and the wonderfully named Clip Clop, ridden by Joe Meyer
Whatever the case tho - we all approach our choices with horses on the foundation of our own personal experiences, colored by whatever knowledge we've picked up elsewhere.

And even as I make my own choices based on the input from the professionals in my life, and my own opinions and experiences in my life with horses, I love hearing about how others have handled similar experiences themselves.

For this reason, I often like to end posts with questions for you readers and fellow horse people. Mostly I get really curious about your opinions, your discussion points: Have you had similar thoughts before? Have there been things you've picked up from the collective intelligence of this blogging community? Times when some seemingly random insight completely changed your perspective or gave you a huge 'aha' moment?

Or maybe there were times you felt differently - that to share too much information, or get too much input, actually made it more difficult to decide the course of action best suited to your purposes? Do you actively seek input or advice from the wider world of equestrians? Or do you tend to be more reserved in soliciting feedback from external or unknown sources? Does it depend on the situation?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

helping out around the farm (with puppies)

My new barn is hosting their annual USEA horse trial this weekend and obviously Brita and I were happy to pitch in for all the preparations.

Riley makes sure we didn't miss any spots on this shadowy ditch
I've volunteered at this show a couple times in the past just as a matter of course. But obviously this year it's been neat to actually be around on the grounds such that I can be available to help out with various tasks.

pup's gotta case the perimeter to make sure we're clear to paint!
Like setting up the dressage courts. Obvi not a particularly complicated task. But somewhat fussy and time consuming. Unless there are lots of ppl. An extra set of hands there is always pretty welcome!

and now it's a tired hot pup in the truck's shadow lol
Then I got to enjoy the time previously spent packing the trailer and hauling Charlie over to OF by instead cruisin around the xc course in my truck with Brita and her puppy Riley.

no pup in this pic, but a good mirror shot of the level of buzzing activity
Just goin through, touching up some jumps - particularly sight and reference lines for the horses - and adding whole new coats of paint to others.

added some highlights to ye olde table
Couldn't have asked for a better day either. Mid 70s (waaaat?), strong breeze, low humidity and high sun. freakin perfect!

pup in water + pre-paint job fence
Turns out xc fences are pretty freakin easy to paint too - it's not like fine art or anything. You just slap the paint on and give it some good coverage.

fence after - much better!
I had already hacked around all the courses the evening prior with Charlie and am really excited by how they look. We'll be jump judging for the event itself today, and then fingers crossed everything goes as it ought in Charlieland over this coming week.

too bad Riley hasn't quite figured out the "retriever" part yet lol
Because the plan is to get out and school it all ourselves next week! Eeeee!! It's been so long since I've schooled xc with the horse, and actually something like a month and a half since he's even been to an event.

It's time haha. Who knows, maybe I'll even traipse out there to try out a few things sometime this week too. Ya know. Bc now I can!

Anyway I can also just feel my general excitement growing about being at the new place. Sure, it's farther from home. And sure my horse got us right out the gate with my biggest worry: a fussy injury (that has basically fully recovered already bc Charlie).

But it's SO COOL to finally actually be at a real event barn. To roll down the drive way and see folks doing real dressage in the ring. Or to see other riders wearing colorful gear and unconventional tack. Or no tack! I hadn't realized how out of place I had felt at the h/j place lol.

And now I'm happy to settle in at the new barn, helping out wherever I can, and hopefully making this barn really truly feel like home for me and Charlie. It's a good feeling!

Hope you all are having a good weekend too - any big horsey plans? Anything going on around the barn? Or is it more of a quiet weekend, folks on vacations and whatnot?