Tuesday, January 31, 2017

sweet air adventures

Finally. FINALLY. We had a glorious weekend weather-wise (as further evidenced from the fantastic conditions during our jump lesson) and managed to drag Brita and Bella out on their first off-property adventure together!!!!!

perfect trail conditions!
(I say "drag" but what I really mean is that Brita handled all the planning and logistics and sandwiches and whatnot and Charlie and I simply rolled up with the chariot, ready to go!)

introducing the newest power couple #bay&gray
You may remember from early December when Brita and I first practiced trailer loading with Bella and Charlie together in anticipation for our first big outing. Alas, the originally planned outing (the Stephen Birchall clinic) got scrambled bc of the big ice storm... and while Charlie and I could reschedule, Brita could not.

charlie thinks bella's hay > his hay. also i kinda love how both horses are making moon eyes at brita lol
So we had to delay our eventual 'first play date' for a bit longer than intended. No matter tho! It's no secret that Brita and I are both pretty big fans of getting a lot of experience traveling with our horses before we attempt potentially higher-stress (or expensive) outings like competitions.

the cotner only has one hook on either side for tying a horse. these guys didn't seem to mind the separation tho - they could see each other through the doors of the main cabin. convenient!
Being familiar with the trailer and how each individual horse handles the travel is our way of reducing anxiety of the 'unknown' - and over the years we've developed a pretty solid routine. It was nice to see that this hasn't changed despite each boarding at different barns now, with two new equestrian partners and a new trailer on top of it all. The pattern still holds!

bella is so freakin cute tho
It helps that Brita's new lease mare Bella already has a bit of worldly experience despite her youth. We pretty much expected she would travel just fine, and we were not disappointed. Both horses came off the trailer calm relaxed and quiet. Yesss!

there's something so scenic about wintry woods
Anyway - our destination du jour was new to both of us, sorta: the Sweet Air Area of Maryland's gigantic Gunpowder State Park. Fun fact: this park stretches across enormous swaths of the state, and has "areas" of various sizes dotting the landscape from east to west, and north to south. In fact, Isabel's farm was also located on an 'area' of this park - thus our access to tons of wonderful trails.

"i'm on a horse!!" - emma
We had incidentally ridden on parts of this area's trails back in 2015 at our first paper chase at Tranquility (which backs up to the park). At that time we had ridden past the parking area and through some fantastic trails (including a perfect galloping path adjacent to a corn field), so we figured it would be a great place to revisit.

between the ears pics all look the same.... but i <3 them anyway ;)
And it was actually pretty damn perfect. We had googled the location and parking info ahead of time, and I found a couple comments along the way saying things like "well marked" and "well maintained" trails. Plus I've heard lots of positive things about the area previously from other friends. This was sufficient enough information to make up our minds (especially given the area's proximity to OF - what a SUPER easy drive!) so off we went.

We hopped aboard and checked out the area map - identifying that we'd like to stick to the two yellow loops: the pine loop (twas piney!) and the pond loop (was mysteriously lacking in ponds!).

more friends!!
Pine loop came first. The trails were broad, smooth, not at all rocky, and often allowed for the horses to travel side-by-side. The horses, incidentally, seemed quite happy with each other's company, and neither cared much about being in front or behind.

of note: many pines
This first loop would prove to be a barometer for the ride - as we ended up coming through this same section later to get home. Towards the end of the loop there were a couple of downed branches - including one innocuous woodpecker-riddled log that Charlie was not able to lead the way over, but managed to awkwardly hop following Bella's lead.

Then there was some bushwhacking needed when we had to redirect around larger fallen logs. Just plain viney brambly things - but the shrub was thick and chest-high on Charlie, and he was not very confident about just pushing through it. He did after some convincing tho, good boy!

opening onto the corn fields!
We then cut across to the pond loop - which took us around the same corn fields from the 2015 paper chase. There are two types of ground that I LOVE: lanes surrounding pasture fences, and lanes surrounding agricultural fields. And I love them for the same reason. The ground may undulate up and down, and may sometimes be boggy or wet in areas. But, generally, as a rule, these lanes are always smooth, of consistent width, and perfect for some speed.

charlie definitely wanted to treat bella like a pony on the track haha
So naturally Brita and I opted to trot around the corn field. That might sound.... tame haha, and I guess it was. But I'm kinda a chicken about doing new fast things with horses, and Charlie hadn't been the most reliable horse on terrain haha. The trot was perfect tho - these lanes are nice and smooth (compared to the occasional lumpiness of your typical pasture) and Charlie happily jogged on up (and DOWN!!!!!!) the hills while I basically just bridge the reins, took video, and giggled lol.

Upon reaching the other side of the field, we realized we were nearly back to the parking area... So, naturally we did what anyone would do in similar circumstances: turned around to go back the way we had come. Including back up this same lane, but this time cantering instead of trotting :)

<3 these horses tho
No video from the cantering bc I actually did hold my reins haha. But it was spectacular. Just.... ahhh, so good! Charlie was basically just loping along. Didn't trip or misstep once - good boy! He asked twice about whether he needed to be racing when Bella got ahead of him (we mostly were cantering abreast) but was nonchalant when I said 'nope we're just cruisin buddy!'

it's a bridge!!
What a good feeling! I'm so glad we did that too - I had kinda regretted not trying for a canter on our last trail outing but sometimes it just takes me a little while to warm up to things lol. But I'm very happy to report that Charlie successfully trotted AND cantered both up AND down hills. That "down" being of particular significance. Homeboy is definitely figuring out his balance and his feet!

And he felt equal to whatever he faced after the canter. Including a wooden bridge on a yellow trail spur we took to get back to the pine loop. Honestly I don't think Charlie even registered the bridge - he just stepped right on up. And then immediately jolted ever so slightly through his body upon hearing the odd sound of his footfall on the bridge lol... but then just kept going. 

this is what i looked like after cantering this boy across the field: joyous ;)
Once back on the pine loop we were faced with the same brambles and fallen logs that had slowed us down earlier while Charlie processed it all. This second time through? Exactly zero hesitation. Including getting around an even larger treefall with even more serious bushwhacking - Charlie took the lead of charging through the brush with a zeal that had definitely not been present at the start of our ride.

it's a proven fact: charlie's nose is supremely smoochable
That just felt like a win - it was clear that both horses had grown (remarkably) in confidence throughout the ride. Both were tackling whatever fell in their path with gusto! I was particularly pleased with Charlie bc he really seemed to come into his own body throughout the ride. Very little tripping, very few feelings of awkwardness on the terrain. Mission accomplished!

going home. until next time!!
Brita and I both loved the park too - and definitely plan to return, hopefully often. Sorry if it sounds like I'm gushing haha. Really, tho, what's not to love? I mean, obviously we both have goals for riding, we both are investing in our training and are eager to get to competitions and progress and all that. But rides like this are maybe just as, if not more, important to our ultimate horsey goals.

Especially leaving the park with horses and riders who were demonstrably more confident than they had been before the ride.... ahh it just felt good!

You know what I'm talking about? Have you had a ride like that? Or do you have preferred ways for testing the waters for your horses, for laying the foundation for an upcoming competition season? Do you measure the success of your conditioning as just physical, emotional, or both?

Monday, January 30, 2017

jumping bean

Happy Monday, everyone! And fair warning: this is a very photo heavy post haha. Not too many words tho. Just lots and LOTS of pictures video stills from this past weekend's jumping lesson at OF, since Brita made it her mission to document literally every effort. Thanks girl!!!!

target acquired!
I continue to just be so proud of this big guy. He's really figuring out this whole jumping thing! And it's really been pretty easy to mostly just sit back and be passenger while Charlie makes his moves.

so many pets for good ponies!
He never really speeds up, never gets wild. Doesn't run at the fences. I mostly just kinda have to steer him (and occasionally remind him that forward is nonnegotiable when I put my leg on), and he handles the rest.

not earth-shatteringly fancy, but very workmanlike. i'll take it! 
And I'm working hard to stick to my guns and be disciplined about the "one aid, one answer" thing. When I put my leg on, Charlie is expected to go. He's figuring that out too!

<3 his canter tho
We actually warmed up quite nicely - I called Charlie's bluff when he wanted to balk and resist, and.... well, he just got on with life and did the thing. Good boy!

Funny enough, tho, in this ride he kinda experimented with when he would sneak in those balky moments. He did it a couple times on our way to the first fence (ugh annoying), but would go ahead and canter off after the fence when I asked.

knee action??
It feels oddly reassuring to see him try this behavior in slightly different scenarios. He's figuring out where it *isn't* allowed, and is testing other options. Which further suggests the behavior really does stem from him plain old testing me, rather than from some actual physical impediment.

this is still a work in progress haha
We already mostly knew that, but it's always reassuring to get more confirmation! And since I've been more resolute in tackling the behavior head on, it's been easy to get over it fairly quickly. Vigilance is the name of that game. And consistency!

<3 <3 <3 his canter!!! and lookie - he's got both leads lol
Trainer P also had us change up how we approached the jump exercise too. She set up a couple random low fences and had me essentially weaving in and out and all around, catching jumps every which way, here and there and basically at random.

he's not pulling me out of the saddle as much these days... still happens tho lol, at least now with less face-planting!
And she didn't want me taking forever to get from one fence to another - keep turning quickly and changing directions and whatnot, keep Charlie guessing. Keep him focused on where we are going and what we're doing, rather than on being snotty about me asking him to go.

figuring out that fancy footwork!!!! i was super proud of him through this little exercise - he nailed it!!
That approach was super effective too in shifting the conversation. Charlie got completely immersed in the jumping, and we were able to, for the first time ever, really start to see glimpses of what he'll be like on a jump course. We had a couple nice moments of finding a really lovely rhythm, and even carried it forward to canter a couple fences too!

so gung ho lol
Mostly we trotted all the fences tho - just bc that's still easier for Charlie. Lots of cantering in between tho! And I was really pleased with him - he seemed to have a much better sense of where his feet were for this ride. Very few clobbered or demolished fences - and those that did come down were mostly just honest mistakes.

he's basically just cantering very largely over these fences
He just felt really game! We did this whole approach twice - meaning two separate instances where we were set free into the arena to go and jump at will! Tho the second time, trainer P set up more fences for us so we had a few more options.

oooh but there's a little tidier!
This was useful for both horse and rider, I think. My inclination would have been to call it a day after his first successful romp about, since he had been so good. Then, as we waited for it to be our turn again, I could feel that cold and uncomfortable welling of nervousness rising in me.

oooh and even more!! we'll clean up those knees yet!
I mean, there absolutely nothing scary about jumping Charlie. And the jumps were all very very small. But the nerves are there anyway. It's just been so long since I've jumped regularly, and the last two times I jumped 3'+ I fell off badly ugh.... So I guess it's just natural that these feelings would return.

It was good tho bc the feeling disappears immediately as soon as we get going. Charlie is just a BLAST to bop around on, and he's also still just pretty damn easy at this point.

....eventually lol. charlie, you get an E for effort buddy 
Having to go back for another round after a long-ish break was good for Charlie too. He definitely grew tired by the end, but kept going and didn't quit. I'm often really guilty of being a little too easy on my horses, never really pushing them past a certain point. Maybe I'm afraid of rocking the boat, idk.

But the reality is, horses have to learn that they gotta keep going even when they're tired. And the only way for them to figure that out is.... to do it haha. Charlie was great about it tho, and we were able to end on a really solid note.

Ahh just so much fun. Despite my slightly-chicken-shit nature, I really love jumping! And it's so fun to feel like we're getting there. Charlie was the best he's ever been about his footwork in this ride, and really seemed to understand what the game was all about.

such a good boy
It's still pretty rough around the edges, but who cares. We've got time lol. That holds for me too haha - it's pretty apparent in my form and whatnot that.... maybe I haven't been jumping regularly for a while. It's cool tho. The better I can be about my own position and balance, the better Charlie will be too. So we'll just keep chippin away at it.

And in the meantime I'm gonna watch that video on repeat and bask in the glory of my giant ottb starting to get a clue about what his feet are actually doing at any given moment lol. Surely I can't be the only one out here who gets ridiculously proud of my horse's relatively minor accomplishments, right?? haha...

Friday, January 27, 2017

sympathy for the devil

It's really easy to get wrapped up in all the wonderful things my new pony is doing, and how happy he makes me, to the point where everything can easily sound like kittens and rainbows and glittery unicorn poop.

My intention isn't to mislead... rather, I just prefer to dwell on the fun happy exciting stuff rather than the "Dear god what have I done?!" stuff. You know how it goes.

it was so freakin nice out i hustled up on some work to get to the barn early - to ride outside in DAYLIGHT
Charlie has been a very easy horse in many many ways. For that, I am grateful. Really, there's only one main aspect to him that seriously challenges my plans for the big guy. And it's that same quality we identified in our first weeks together:

Charlie is defensive and resistant to being driven forward.

we hacked around a couple new lanes too. charlie lives in the field to the right so it's not like, unknown territory. still nice to ride on tho! except for some weird trench right down the center of the lane filled with holes. lame.
I'm very fortunate in how Charlie became mine - his former trainer and partnership of owners from the track had him for many years, understand his history, and love him dearly. And they've been very communicative with me. As such, I'm privy to a surprisingly complete version of Charlie's history. Including the full story on how this resistance likely developed. And hint: it isn't saddle fit and it isn't ulcers.

A brief background: Charlie was born in April 2009 in Kentucky. His dam, Shahalo (by Halo) had produced top of the line kind of race horses, including some graded stakes winners, and Charlie sold at auction as a yearling for $100K.

the end of the lane has fun little cross rail fence stiles too! we just walked back and forth over this low part lol
He traveled extensively with his first trainers - racing once at Keeneland then shipping up to Chicago for the wintertime. Then back down to Louisiana Fair Grounds as a 3yo. His second, later trainer (let's call her CR. she has been incredibly candid in conversations!!) believes all this travel, these long hauls in shipping vans, tied up for hours, contributed to the paralysis of one of the cartilage flaps in Charlie's airway that would go undiscovered for some time.

While at Fair Grounds as a 3yo with his first trainers, Charlie raced twice - once for a $50K claiming price in a race where he was the favorite. He was in the lead coming to the home stretch, but suddenly backed off to lose by 30 lengths.

lotsa wanderin around the property!
In watching the tape, CR immediately recognized the problem: Charlie couldn't breathe.

This hypothesis was further supported after CR and a partnership of owners (who have also been wonderful to speak with!) claimed Charlie from Fair Grounds sight unseen, on the strength of his racing form and pedigree. The first time they got him up to the track to train, Charlie simply refused to go. Stuck his head straight up in the air and said "NO!"

interrupting my photo recap of our hack-about with breaking news: we've definitely seen that "NO!" face before!!
So they took him back to the barn, got him scoped, and ultimately performed a tie back surgery on him (during which time they also removed part of his larynx and did a trachea wash, as apparently he'd gotten a ton of junk down into his lungs from fighting to breathe for so long).

CR believes Charlie likely experienced collapsed lungs and/or bleeds while training and racing. To him, this would have felt like he was suffocating. And it had maybe been going on for a while. His first trainers weren't necessarily negligent - they had very expensive veterinary workups done at Purdue University and again in Kentucky, but with no findings. CR thinks they must not have scoped him.

After recovering from surgery, Charlie's new team took their time bringing him back slowly and helping him build confidence in his breathing again. And he went on to race successfully with them for four years.

the into the outdoor arena for the first time in AGES.... where charlie was decidedly less than thrilled to find himself. c'mon bro, surely this must be better than the narrow indoor??
So.... That's a long and slightly melodramatic peek into Charlie's early days as a race horse. Homeboy has... not always had it very easy. He is resistant for very real reasons.

His successful career with CR and crew suggests this resistance isn't insurmountable tho. Plus CR's philosophy of patience and slow, methodical confidence building aligns well with my own approach.

But it's a fairly entrenched behavior. Just plain getting after Charlie and beating on him isn't the answer, either. He's been there, done that, and is willing to go there again if he has to.

sad boy in his muscle shirt!!
The flip side, tho, is that Charlie is a very smart horse. He learns quickly through repetition. And he can learn the wrong things as easily as he learns the right things. Every time we hit that wall and I can't get us through it, he learns something. Maybe he's learning my number. Idk.

Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill tho. It feels like the kind of behavior that could easily turn into "can't get the horse into the start box" or "eliminated for disobedience in the dressage ring." But it could also just be growing pains. Only time will tell!

one result from my chat with trainer P last weekend. she's always full of cost-saving tips, esp surrounding supplements. but she swears by this particularl supplement - platinum performance. some call it 'expensive flax' but idk. i'm gonna give it a shot on the strength of P's recommendation. will likely have more to say later!
Mostly, I just need to be more disciplined in my riding. As Janet Foy says: one aid, one answer. When I put my leg on, Charlie may not suck back. Not even a little bit. No settling or letting him get even a little behind the bridle or stuck shuffling. If I allow him that space, he will escalate to full on refusing to move.

If he learns that sometimes leg matters and sometimes it doesn't.... I'm just setting myself up for a bigger fight down the road.

So. My pep talk to myself: Discipline, Emma. Consistency. Say what you mean, mean what you say... all that stuff. Do not shy away from correcting the small stuff. A well-timed, appropriately-volumed correction for a smaller indiscretion will likely be enough to prevent a full blown fight. But, no matter what, be prepared to see the conversation through to resolution: GO FORWARD.

i'm also introducing a third meal to charlie's diet - a post ride mash of beet pulp pellets. so far he's a fan!! now if he would just get fat plz!!
And, of course, in the meantime, I'm continuing to work through my "List Of Things I Want To Do For Charlie" to ensure he's physically set up for success too. We'll see how it goes!

Have you ever let a horse get your number and then had to deal with the repercussions? Or do you have little pep talks with yourself when you know something is going to be a fight but you have to deal with it anyway?

Or have you ever learned something about your horse's past that suddenly explains a perplexing behavior or persistent habit? I'm kinda hoping I'm not the only one haha!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

For Sale: PS of Sweden Softy Reins

Update: reins are sold!

PS of Sweden softy reins, cob-sized (52"), black with silver hardware. Selling for $50 shipped (in the US, international shipping may be more).

"action shot" (note: bridle not for sale)
Reins are English leather with stops and have PS of Sweden's unique elastic cradles at the bit attachments.

higher res image here
These "elastic cradles" are an extra loop inside the ends that you can use to buffer the contact between hand and mouth. Please see in the image below that the elastic shows signs of wear.

higher res image here
Or, if you and your horse decide the elastic cradle is not working for you, it's easy to snip off without affecting the reins.

higher res image here
The reins are thin, flexible, and super soft and grippy. Personally I've LOVED these reins but must finally accept that they're just not the right size for Neck Monster Charlie.

higher res image here
These reins are sold in used condition and as such are slightly warped and twisted when loose. See the above image - reins do not lay flat. This does not affect their use, tho it sometimes means it takes a moment longer to ensure I don't have any actual twists in the reins.

Please take care to look at the higher resolution images linked above. If you are interested, email me at fraidycat.eventing at gmail. I will respond to emails in the order in which they are received, and will try to be prompt!