Monday, February 27, 2017

into the tempest

We've been getting some downright gorgeous spring weather lately. In February. Crazy. I'm certainly not complaining, even if it makes me a little nervous about what might be in store for us come summer....

so much green in this picture!
Naturally tho, the forecast for Saturday afternoon was fairly apocalyptic in terms of spring thunderstorms. Scheduled to coincide perfectly with our weekly jump lesson at OF. Curses! We're eventers tho and we don't melt in the rain. Supposedly haha. Plus OF has an indoor so if worse came to worst we'd just pack it inside for the lesson, right?

rather tame rain drops
Tho of course when it first started drizzling, Brita and I headed right on into the indoor... and were promptly labeled 'wimps' and teased into getting our butts outside by trainer P lol. Gotta love it! The weather cleared for the most part tho, we got pretty lucky.

Things didn't truly get ugly riiiiiiiight up until we were finished and hustling back to the barn anyway (at which point it got so ugly that both Brita and I were executing emergency dismounts from our still-jogging horses so we could get inside post haste....)

the storm made for some pretty rainbows tho!
Anyway tho, we had kind of hemmed and hawed about whether to go to the lesson. I had been especially concerned with hauling the trailer across the highway in potentially violent weather. But I am SO GLAD we carried on anyway. Not only did we get a full ride outside, but it was easily Charlie's BEST jump lesson yet!

i'm quite happy with this picture!
I mean, sure, I say that basically every week. And it's honest to god true just about every week too bc we're at that point in Charlie's education where it can really only get better from here haha. It's a low bar, sure, but Charlie's been clearing it with gusto lately!

the impending storm of doom made for very interesting light
I'm crediting the free jumping with Charlie's major improvements lately too. He's got a better sense now about 'Why should I bother picking my feet up anyway?' Funny how face planting can help drive that point home lol....

so fierce tho haha
Anyway we rode through a series of trainer P's tried and true exercises. Starting with catching single jumps from the outside line on a figure eight, then putting the whole line together. Cross rails first, then oxers. Everything in a nice easy five (measured at 60').

go Charlie GO!!
Trainer P again reminded me that if I'm going to canter him into fences, I should establish his canter earlier on than the last few strides. Mostly tho we kinda just cruised around and I let Charlie pick his pace.

And in the meantime I'm trying to make a more concerted effort to get my god forsaken hands forward and following. Definitely still a work in progress haha, but there were a couple jumps in this lesson where I felt like I was finally 'going with' the horse a bit better.

dark and raining and locked on to the grid anyway
Tho that proved a little trickier through the other two exercises: two different long and low grids. Charlie hasn't seen many grids yet and he can be wiggly and weird about striding so.... ya know... I got a little busier trying to micromanage haha. Oh well.

tho admittedly the rain wasn't his favorite haha... sorry buddy! but ya gotta learn sometime bc if i would show in it i better practice in it too!
The grids were great tho. The first was a two stride to a two stride (30'-30') and Charlie somewhat hilariously actually got kinda mad his first time through when he fumbled the striding. We never quite nailed that one tho, as trainer P adjusted it to Brita and Bella's height and moved us over to another grid, a one stride - two stride - one stride (18'-30'-18') that we got to try out a few times.

we mean business through the grid!!! 
And this was AWESOME. Our first few tries were a little awkward bc Charlie was kinda just figuring it out (he hasn't really done grids with me yet), and also bc we started with cross rails when the distances were measured for oxers.

so many pets for a good boy
Trainer P set up the oxers tho and we made it through one last time pretty much nailing the striding. Yay!!!! I was pretty pleased with the effort bc it really felt like the horse understood and trusted himself to push forward to make the striding work. And I actually mostly stayed with him, especially on our last time through.

2min video here - complete with thunder, lightning and rain....

It's just so fun. Charlie has been so great to work with, and especially since we've resolved some of his dinosaur-stuck-in-tar-pit tendencies these lessons have been pretty smooth sailing. I need to keep working on staying with the horse and pushing my hands forward (especially when I don't see a spot, just let the horse figure that out Emma! pulling helps nothing!), and keep allowing the horse to do his thing unimpeded.

Getting a bit left behind on this horse is admittedly safer than getting ahead of him, just bc he still trips a fair amount... But a stronger rider position will only help the situation.

"Scuse me but this isn't my stall!!" - soaking wet Charlie squatting in a borrowed stall and halter to wait out the storm haha
It's reassuring too to see his work ethic improve as he begins to understand the rhythm and ways of these lessons. Starting back up after waiting for our turn no longer poses an issue, but he still hasn't shown an inclination to get strong or rush at the fences. So far it's stayed a nice happy medium. I like it!

"this isn't the mash i ordered either. service here sucks!"
And of course, seeing him actually jump around little jumps like a reasonable horse is a huge relief. I wasn't exactly looking for an upper level prospect when I went shopping, and in fact I knew exactly zip zero about Charlie's jumping ability when I bought him. So... it was a bit of a gamble haha. Obviously most horses can get around 3' and Charlie has the advantage of size... But still. It's nice to see that he doesn't actually totally suck at the sport lol!

it's a bucket of fun in the chuckles mobile!
Anyway. Enough gushing. It was a good lesson. Brita also killed it with Bella, and while former barn mate R hadn't brought her mare out of weather concerns (but still came along to hang out and take video, thanks girl!), she reported having a solid ride earlier in the day too.

We're definitely getting really excited about the season ahead! And obvi had to christen the new trailer by hangin around in it for a post-lesson beer while chatting about all things ponies and the events to come. Bc yea. We basically all want to do all the things this year! And ain't no thunderstorms slowing us down haha!!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

heart strings

Strange busy weekend so far. In a good way, I think. But strange. It actually took a bit of a surprise twist. With regard to a certain red headed mare we all know and love.

specifically, this one
I'll probably write more about it later... but this weekend unexpectedly saw me putting a schooling ride on said mare for the first time since.... gosh, June? Since which point she's basically been living the retired pasture puff lifestyle.

Sure, I had the lease on her through October... but we had ceased all purposeful training by July, just sticking to trails and paper chases, and had our last ride after four years together in September.

Until this weekend, that is.

she's still lovable
Turns out I'm just still emotionally invested in the mare's life and future. And while my own path with the horse has sadly ended, the hope is that she might have a promising new opportunity. We'll see what happens!

Friday, February 24, 2017

takin' for granite

Spring is officially coming, the days are getting longer, and we've been extremely lucky with excellent ground conditions.

throwback to last fall when the days were getting shorter.
Which, naturally, means that I'm taking every single chance I can to get Charlie outdoors for our rides, even during the week now.

indoor at Charlie's home barn ST
We've gotten out to the outdoor ring at Charlie's home barn ST a couple times over the last two months or so, but with no regularity.

outdoor at Charlie's home barn ST
The footing is actually pretty fibrous and needed a little TLC before it got better again. And the whole giant ring is cleared of jumps, making it just look big and open.

trails at OF
Which, maybe I took it a bit for granted that "It's our home arena and Charlie's been out there plenty and we go everywhere and ride in all the different rings and why would Charlie care?"

warm up field at OF
So our resulting kinda crappy ride at the beginning of this week honestly took me by surprise. Charlie was more gate sour than he's been in a while and never really settled into the rhythm of a standard 'working ride' like I know he can.

OF's dressage court
It was frustrating. Especially bc I didn't see it coming.

indoor at dressage barn TM
In retrospect, tho, maybe I should have. Charlie's still just really green. He's not really 'confirmed' in any of his work yet. And the ride itself wouldn't have been 'bad' if I had approached it with a different attitude, and a different set of expectations.

OF outdoor jump arena
If I had thought "Ok, reintroduce the outdoor arena. Acknowledge that the barn itself is visibly right there, and that it's feeding time. And that Charlie has had a strong draw to the gate since Day 1. Plan ahead to help keep him focused on the task at hand."

indoor at Austen's barn
Instead I kinda just expected him to snap right to it, and then was suddenly caught off guard when that didn't happen and he wasn't convinced this whole 'work' thing was worth his time.

actually jumping in OF's outdoor jump ring!
Ultimately the ride worked out ok. And subsequent rides have gotten right back to normal out there.

But it was an interesting experience for me bc I found myself pretty unhappy with Monday's ride, yet the unhappiness was totally my own construction.  I could have rearranged my  thoughts and expectations going into the ride, had the same exact ride, and walked away feeling happy instead of frustrated.

cross country course at OF!
And it was maybe a useful wake up call for me as I start thinking about and planning potential competition outings. The reality is that I've taken Charlie to a LOT of different riding locations so far. Purposefully. And he's been really good!

trails at sweet air!
But I need to not take that for granted. I need to not forget that he IS being good about that. Even if it's just awareness that Charlie's surroundings still play a role in his behavior.

revisiting the dressage court at OF!
And, oddly enough, for Charlie - he actually seems to often go a little better off property vs at home.

I'm not sure whether that's a function of me riding differently off property (as in, riding in such a way that I recognize it could be harder and therefore offer more support?) or if Charlie simply has different associations with the grounds at home and feels more confident in trying to take the upper hand (as in, "Excuse me but my field is that way.").

indoor at OF - smallest indoor yet, and always with lots going on inside
Either way. I just gotta keep remembering: He's a green horse. Don't take anything for granted yet! Especially not environmental influences on a green horse!

Is your horse easily influenced by the world around him? Riding in different rings or in different groups of horses? Is he better with or without company?  Or does he know when it's feeding or turnout time and would really rather not work at that point? I'm curious to know how all the different horses react! Isabel could be foot perfect in basically any environment.... but then again at home she always had a stronger draw to the gate and barn too...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

the slowest of slow marches

Charlie lives at a barn notable for being located actually within the grounds of a small private high school. This makes for a slightly unusual barn atmosphere - but in a surprisingly good way. It's basically just overrun by a bunch of friendly high school girls who love horses. And Charlie loves it when they fawn all over him haha.

hope you're not tired of this view yet
Anyway, naturally the high school also has an IEA team (Interscholastic Equestrian Association, the HS version of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) and I volunteered at their Regionals show this past weekend, held at another local school McDonogh's on-campus facility.

i was strangely enamored of these lovely (if a bit beat up) wooden saddle racks and bridle hooks. they look like they'd take up way too much space to be practical... but i still like 'em!
My assignment was to hold down the fort in the barn area - ensuring that all the horses got out in time for their respective classes. Not particularly consuming, since each horse had its own handlers for tacking and such anyway. I literally just needed to make sure nobody was in the barn who should have been in the ring.

so pretty!!! but see the spikes lining the tops of the barn walls? no birdies allowed to perch here!
It meant, tho, that I was stuck inside the barn, putzing around for hours. But what a pretty barn! And of course the regular rhythms and lessons and comings and goings of the barn's residents wasn't infringed upon at all by the IEA show, so I also got to watch a seemingly unending stream of big fat gorgeous hunter jumper horses parade through the barn on their way hither and thither.

so many chubby ponies!!! also i was surprised to find myself looking at this cross rail division and feeling like Charlie's probably just about ready for something like this!! exciting!
Sure, very few (if any) looked much like TBs - it seemed like mostly warmbloods or ponies - but I was struck by just how.... fleshy and full bodied and ... healthy they all looked. And not in a 'fat' or 'obese' kinda way either (tho certainly some of them pushed that boundary a bit).

srsly tho. the grounds were so lovely, with all sorts of pretty little areas inside and out
It made me realize that I've become so accustomed to Charlie's thinness, his long skinny neck, his ribs, and his angular hind end, that I've kinda forgotten that it's not necessarily a good thing.

temporary stalls set up in what appeared to be a small schooling ring
Of course it's not necessarily a bad thing either... Charlie's 6 months out from his last race. And I've written before that he never really "crashed" post-track. Which is true. But he also hasn't really rebounded yet either. For a while he was very week-to-week with his weight. Losing and adding muscle in spurts. Lately tho we seemed to have plateaued. He's not really thriving.

in my mind, this is the quintessentially Maryland country view
And again it's not a bad thing (gotta keep writing that lest the internet world things I'm panicking about a skinny ottb lol). It's just a long slow process. And I've found that, much like how I have slowly become somewhat inured to Charlie's lanky, bony appearance, so have the folks responsible for managing the overall barn care.

more spikes!! and stalls of various ages, as apparently renovations are underwritten by private philanthropy
So when I got back from the show, feeling like Charlie would have stuck out like a sore thumb among all those glossy plump well-upholstered hunters, and asked that we add a lunch to Charlie's diet.... I was met with some push back. Frustrating.

Luckily a vet happened to be around for annual check-ups and vax appointments and gave Charlie a quick physical and nutritional assessment. Her thoughts? "Yea I can see why you think he's skinny." lol...

ahh, there's our familiar hero!
He's a big guy tho, and after discussing his current volume of grain, hay, and supplemental forage (alfalfa and beat pulp pellets), we decided to first switch to a different base feed that has more bang for the proverbial buck. This leaves the option of adding more volume later as needed.

Naturally, since I'm a bit like a wildly swinging pendulum and once I see that something is a problem I want to DO ALL THE THINGS to address that problem.... Naturally I also want to start adding all other kinds of supplements to his diet like oils or other fats or weight or muscle builders and what have you (not adding ulcer treatments here bc we already did that).

current state. leaves a bit to be desired.
For now, tho, I am resisting that temptation. Simply for the purpose of continuing to make small, incremental changes. We'll see how he does with the transition in base feeds. Then maybe we'll add a third meal. Then perhaps I'll look into some of those various top dressings that ppl swear by.... And in the meantime, hopefully the spring grass will be coming up too and maybe suddenly my shaggy bony little caterpillar will metamorphose into a glossy sleek and stout butterfly.

Ah horses. They're never really great at satisfying that need for instant gratification, huh. lol.... Oh well. At least we're moving in the right direction.

This whole 'advocating for my horse' thing is kinda new for me since I've never owned before. It surprises me too. As someone who has been staff in many barns for many years, I always just... ya know... did the thing the owner asked me to do. So now I'm in this new position of authority, and have to remind myself that it's ok to say, 'Actually yea, I'm asking you to do this thing bc I want it done, not bc I want your opinion on it.'

Have you had to have similar conversations with the folks responsible for your horse's day to day care? How has that worked out for you?

Monday, February 20, 2017

like riding a bicycle

Guys. It's happening. Charlie is actually honest to god figuring it out and is remembering his lessons from one week to the next! I probably sound like a broken record but each time I jump this horse, the idea of eventually eventing him feels more and more real, more tangible!

best canter evar ;)
Today's post is kinda a two-parter, as we started the day at OF with another round of free jumping, since Charlie could frankly use all the help he can get in that department. We then did a more traditional (albeit shortened) riding lesson immediately after.

I could probably split each component into separate posts.... but for the purposes of documenting the training process, the two are inextricably linked. Free jumping this horse is having exactly the impact on his development we had hoped, and it's already showing!

he hung out alllll by his self at the trailer for maybe ~5-10min for the first time too. didn't notice. good boy.
Right away, too, Charlie showed improvement from last week. He clearly remembered the exercise and was prepared to exert a little more effort and be a little more forward.

cherry-picked moment #1
Obviously that's not to say it was totally without blooper moments bc... well. It's Charlie and he's big and awkward and apparently kinda lazy. But in a smart-lazy kinda way where you can see him exploring every possible alternative method to jumping haha.

cherry-picked moment #2. if it happened twice it can't be just a fluke, right??
Really tho I was quite pleased with him. We got him built up pretty quickly to where we left off last week: ground pole to cavaletti to small oxer. He made nice work of that a few times (and less nice work a couple times too haha), then we reconfigured to three low cavaletti in a row.

exhausted from the exertion. 
With plenty of encouragement from the ground crew (free jumping this horse is apparently a team effort lol) he made it through respectably a couple times and we opted to finish on that. Good boy!

my favorite part of this video is when trainer P yells "Leg!" as Charlie goes through the grid.... obviously the teacher's reflex is strong haha

Obviously again there's nothing ground breaking here. He's still often awkward and stilted haha. But the moments when he does just canter on through feel promising.

And I was quite pleased to see a few instances where things weren't quite perfect but Charlie could recognize and adjust accordingly, instead of just crashing into the pole (except for that one time, oops). Baby steps y'all!

a tale of two personalities haha. charlie is snoozing and bella reeeeeeeally wants to know what i'm up to
Then I popped his bridle on, hopped aboard, and we moved outside for the piggy-backed component of ridden jumps. Obviously the horses were already 'warmed up' but we still went through the routine of a little flat work anyway. Practice practice and such.

Plus it was trainer P's first time seeing Charlie go since the seismic shift following switching to the new girth and spurs.

Bella continues to shine too!
It really is an impressive difference in the horse. There was absolutely no dinosaur getting stuck in tar pits. Even when I had to remind Charlie a couple times for more trot. And Charlie has been striking off simply and drama-free onto both leads - and will now execute a totally pleasant jumper-worthy simple change.

friends!!! and a dog that i totally promise isn't actually dead!!
Now I'm not saying the dinosaur is totally extinct -- but as trainer P said, now we know how Charlie is gonna react when something is buggin him. It might not always be the girth. But that's his 'tell.' For now tho we appear to have smooth sailing, yay! 

d'aww good pony!! still so awkward even when he 'nails' it haha
Anyway after a brief workout in trot and canter, we quickly moved on to hopping over little fences!! Alas not a ton of videos bc Brita and I were often working over our own fences simultaneously (it was just the two of us riding). But the two jumps she did catch were fairly representative of the whole ride.

i'm somewhat hilariously left behind Charlie's huge effort at a gappy distance.... but am absolutely loving every second
Charlie had moments of absolute brilliance (or as brilliant as you can be over 2' haha) where he easily and comfortably found the jumps. He jumped from and landed on both leads about equally and even executed a couple changes over the fences.

He also had a couple "Oh Shit" or "WTF" moments too - and we both played a role in some misses (like when I was completely left behind at the above jump lol).

But he didn't touch a single pole and he jumped everything. He rode forward and carried me to each fence (we jumped a number of different verticals and oxers plus the one in the video). And cantering the jumps is a thing we can reliably do now.

Meanwhile I just kinda sat there and let him do his thing, while keeping my left hand hooked on to the neck strap like it was my job (just don't ask what my right hand was doing bc I promise I don't know haha). And that's basically exactly what it looks like: essentially, not much. He's still awkward and I'm still just clinging to his back like a passenger while he works it out.

turned out with no blankets - it's a miracle!
But it's pretty freaking exciting to me, especially knowing that the above ride was Charlie's 5 month anniversary of becoming an event-horse-in-training. Catching up on the timeline: Charlie's final race: Aug 9; First ride Sept 18; First jump lesson Nov 5.

He's had 7 total jump lessons, 2 free jump schools, and 5 dressage lessons. Not a ton in the grand scheme of things, but we've made the most of them and have worked hard on our homework while schooling in between lessons.

The timing of everything just feels really good. Spring is coming. Charlie is getting more and more sound through his body and feet. And he is slowly but surely learning his job. So maybe, just maybe, we may actually put together some semblance of a show season. After the disaster that was 2016's season, I'm pretty excited by the prospect!