Thursday, April 27, 2017

perfect practice makes .... ?

Phew we've had some pretty massive posts lately, eh? Recapping Charlie's three phase debut obviously meant a lot to me - but we can't dwell forever. And with a horse as green as this guy, he's changing so quickly that my updates on his training progress are sometimes outdated before I can even get them up lol.

Still tho, I promise to stay a little lighter on the words today bc.... sheesh, sometimes we just need pictures. Anyway. You may have noticed from all those myriad Loch Moy photos that it was basically a GORGEOUS day out. The weather was perfect - mid 60s with clear blue skies and a strong sun.

dark and blurry, but one of the nicest moments of trot yet caught on video. it's actually just a moment of trot during an extended simple change of lead, but idk. i like it. visible right around the 1min mark of the below video.
That..... that had not been the forecast AT ALL. All last week we had lots of steady, soaking, drizzling rain and it was expected to carry through Sunday and into this week. Which.... it totally has. With one exception.

Saturday (the source of these pictures and video) was wet wet wet. And Monday was wet wet wet. But Sunday? Show Day? Perfection. Idk how we got so lucky. But I'm grateful!

i always have a soft spot for this jump since it was charlie's first real oxer anyway
So Saturday afternoon, we dutifully hauled over to OF in the rain for our weekly jump lesson with trainer P. It was kinda funny too bc Charlie's home barn was having an h/j show and a bunch of kids were really struggling in their rides.

such a good boy
One sweet kiddo told me about how her pony had 9 refusals. I asked her when was the last time she practiced jumping her pony in the rain, and she replied "never."

So. Ya know. That's kinda the story, right? Jumping in the rain is different. The footing is different. Maybe the horse is distracted or carrying their head differently to avoid water drops in their ears. Idk. It's just different. Much like a very windy day can be different.

wheeeee jumping!
As tempting as it is to pack it in on those days, sometimes it feels worth it to suck it up and ride anyway. My thoughts being: if I would show in it, I better school in it too. And since Brita and I fully expected to be competing in cold, rainy 50* weather the following day, Saturday felt like as good a time as any to get in that practice. Luckily tho, the footing at OF holds up to basically every element except actual hard freezes.

just breezin my race horse, nbd
As far as jump lessons go, it was fairly standard aside from the rain. We warmed up quickly and economically bc of the weather, and immediately started jumping around, all the horses going all the places all the time haha.

i love his face so much. i'm never gonna let it go!
(also i challenge you to find this moment in the video to see if or how differently you would ride it)
I wanted so badly to just focus on raising my hands, bending my elbows, shortening my reins, with my hands pushed farther forward up Charlie's neck... And just focus on letting go a little more. But trainer P actually took me to task when Charlie started running at the fences a bit, running past his distances in the process.

too casual lol (note the kicked ground line)
(and hint, the previous pic is related to this one)
She admonished me for not carrying my flat work into the jumping which .... like .... gosh I feel like I've paid for that lesson before haha. Oops.

As Charlie became stronger and more anticipatory, it finally occurred to me why I disliked the feeling so much: He loses all ability to be soft or bend (limited tho that ability may be anyway). So in between jumping I often brought him back to trot on a circle as if we were back just working on the flat.

hard to tell who likes jumping the left side more, him or me....
I'm not sure he loved that haha, but it made a difference. And is maybe why when I trotted him during a simple change of lead in our course, he actually produced what felt like quite a nice trot (relatively speaking) rather than immediately anticipating the step back into canter.

i think he's havin fun tho!
Anyway the course work itself felt really really good. Felt WAY better than it looks in the video, but I've resigned myself to that fact for now. We might kinda just look like.... idk, whatever we look like. But the feel of this course was maybe the most schooled Charlie's felt yet over fences.

figuring it out, one jump at a time
He waited. He balanced. He also moved up to fences (even tho I'm still not consistently going with him haha). But mostly, the thing he needs to learn most is not to stretch out to the gap, rather he needs to learn to compress his stride. Bc let's be real - especially at starter trials, the courses will not be set for a stride like Charlie's.

It ain't perfect, but it felt like the best jumping we've done to date. Small steps y'all haha. And I feel a little better about my own riding in this video (flawed tho it ever will be) than I did about, say, any of the xc schooling videos haha.

Gotta just keep reminding myself that, even tho technically Charlie started 'jump lessons' in November, he didn't truly get the hang of it until the end of January (video here for comparison). And he's been developing and changing and evolving ever since. So it's maybe reasonable that I'm kinda playing catch-up a little with him. And that's ok. We'll figure it out.

<3 him
I know a lot of you out there - especially other bloggers, but really everyone - can often have mixed feelings about sharing pictures or video of your rides. Especially bc we're often our own worst critics - our perceived shortcomings stand out to us in glaring, neon flashing signs. And naturally, most of us are amateurs anyway. We don't ride like pros bc.... well, we aren't.

Plus, of course, anything published on the internet is subject to judgement or even ridicule, despite how kind and supportive our own little equestrian blogging community may be (which, btw, I'm always eternally grateful for!).

All the same tho, I personally find a LOT of value in posting honest and representative photos of my riding. Like, sure, most of the pictures are cherry picked from videos. And I don't post the worst of them haha. But taking the good with the bad helps me better understand where I currently am in my training, and where I need to focus. It's a slow process too, so having pictures over time really helps me.

Do you feel similarly about sharing pictures of your riding? Maybe you curate your published pictures a little more carefully? Or do you avoid it altogether? Are you your own worst critic, or are you basically like Popeye, "I am what I am"??

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MDHT #2: Cross Country!!

I'd like to take a moment to recognize that this is 'Fraidy Cat Eventing's first cross country recap since Fair Hill last May, when Isabel and I were eliminated in stadium on a technicality but went on to run xc anyway.

It's been almost a full year. And it's hard to really explain what that means for me. But suffice it to say.... it's meaningful.

Running this elementary cross country course, small and inviting as it is, on a horse I restarted myself over the past 7 months... Well. From a big picture perspective, it feels like coming full circle. The cycle continues, the process has begun anew. And Charlie shows every indication of being everything I could have hoped for in a new standard bearer.

this picture: one year in the making
Of course, you probably want the details too, right? I mean, the mushy sentimental stuff is nice and all.... but we want MEDIA!! So. Here it is haha. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the AWESOME of Charlie's first true run across country!

start box with jump 1 right there
Brita had finished her rides in time to see mine and rode up the hill with me to the separate intro/elem xc field. On the way, I realized I had skipped the xc warm up area (which had a single microscopic telephone pole for the intro/elem group, then only BN+ jumps). We talked it over tho and decided to continue on anyway. The first jump was a log and Charlie would probably be fine.

This ended up being the absolute right decision too, bc all the chaos of the stadium warm up had migrated to the xc warm up - all those juniors with their screeching coaches and darting ponies.... Meaning the xc course itself was a ghost town, totally empty except for the photographer, jump judges, and steward.

The steward told me to begin at will, so we basically just walked up the hill, through the start gate, picked up a trot, and thus begun Charlie's first xc course!

yup that's a log!
If Charlie was a little confused by this new development, he hid it well. Just jiggity jogged right on up and over this little raised telephone pole thingy.

go charlie go!
The course was kinda warped from it's normal "loop" shape to involve a left turn in addition to the rest of the right turns... which was nice, but kinda made for a very sharp (and kinda stupid, imo) turn from jump one to jump two.

dis charlie's surprised face
So as soon as we got over the first, I aimed charlie deep in the corner and brought him back down to trot so we could kinda turn back again to the left over the next jump, a raised rail road tie.

not very different from the first
We approached this from a trot, and Charlie was a little surprisingly backed off. Nothing crazy, not like he wasn't going to jump - but he took leg and then jumped it kinda big.

dis emma's happy face
The wiggles continued on the way to fence 3, which was fairly hot on 2's heels (since the whole course was 10 jumps spread across roughly 600m, everything was pretty close together).

log roll!! isabel has jumped the BN and N versions of this jump
Charlie apparently did not care for the appearance of this jump and was a little hesitant. Again - not like he wasn't going to jump it, but also not dragging me to it.

originally a vertical picture, but cropped to conform to my "style guide" for photos haha.... kinda ridiculous but it is what it is. so enjoy this close up of charlie's face and knees, and me trying like hell to slip my reins
He jumped it tho. Kinda a giant effort relative to the fence's size haha (yes you can actually see his knees in the helmet cam) and left me a bit in the dust. Luckily I was able to at least partially slip my reins a bit.... which you can also see me trying to get them reorganized on the way to jump 4 - which I expected to be the spookiest on course.

garden gate! i've also jumped the BN and N of this too... as is the case with almost everything on course, actually...
The approach to this jump got better as you got closer.... but from a distance it appeared to be on the crest of the hill (you can only just see the flags in the background of the fence 3 picture), with all those trees and far distance visible between the gate's pickets.

It was looky. And I expected Charlie to look. Which he totally did - breaking down to trot on approach. Mostly actually it felt like he wanted to slow down and better look at it and understand it. Bc it never felt like he wasn't going to jump. And he jumped it just fine.

tootsie roll!!
We then had a nice little canter after the gate to skirt around the edge of the hill to the tree line. Tho this moment to cruise was slightly marred by Charlie cross cantering. You can hear me tell him in the video to "fix it" - but maybe I should have helped him out with it.

As it was, he opted to come back down to trot for this little jump too. Jumped it fine tho!

roll top / feeder type thing was surprisingly beefy!
He repeated the same pattern of slowing back down to trot on approach to the above fence 6. This was easily the widest jump on course, but not very tall. I didn't expect it to look like much to Charlie, but he actually looked quite a bit.

no touchy!
And he gave it LOTS of space haha. It's kinda funny to see the progression pics (since there are multiple shots of each fence) - where he starts to jump, and then really lifts his shoulders WAY UP and blasts off with the hind end. Honestly I don't mind the technique but it's a bit hard to sit!

stick horse - too cute!
After that, we had a nice little jaunt through a trail cut in the woods. I opted to bring Charlie back to trot on my own - since he had broken to trot in front of the last three fences anyway. It felt like he needed a little extra processing time, and by letting him trot he was able to slow his thoughts down a bit too.

Plus, since the path took us through the woods and over more changeable footing, I wanted to make sure he felt like he could look around and really see where we were going. It worked well too - he understood perfectly that we would be jumping this stick horse thing and trotted right on up to it very nicely.

coop! we jumped that little one on the right during our first ever loch moy adventure
He landed in a lovely canter from the stick horse that we carried right on forward to the coop, which he saw early on and seemed to get a good read on. Charlie felt settled and easy and like he was starting to actually understand what was happening.

<3 him
And his effort over the coop showed how nicely he had settled. It was maybe the biggest jump on course and he loped right over it. Nbd. Yessss perfect!

cutest. brush fence. evar.
Then penultimate fence was basically a straight shot ahead of us too - the most adorable little brush log ever. And actually fairly small too - I usually think of brush fences as being on the larger side, but not this one!

Charlie didn't care tho - he had clearly decided this cross country thing was easy and cantered right on up to the base to pop over. Good boy!

log + sugar loaf mountain!! 
Then a quick turn back up the hill from whence we came - and over this awesome dugout log with potted flowers. Charlie was definitely cruising by this point haha - he had it figured out!

dis my new event horse. i think i'll keep him
He jumped right on over from a good clip, and then through the flags and easily back down to walk to reunite with Brita and Bella. Yay Charlie!!!!!

And just like that - our first baby cross country run is in the books! I REALLY liked the progression of this course too - which is pretty apparent in the video. Charlie started off a little unsure, a little uncertain. But his hesitation made him slow down, look more closely, think a little more deeply - yet he never once felt like he wasn't going. It just felt so honest.

Considering the latest trend in our jump lessons has been for him to speed up toward the fence, running past his distance in the process, it felt really reassuring that his default mode when uncertain was to slow down and think.

Of course I also don't think it'll take him very long to decide this is all easy and boring too haha. But that's fine - that's the whole reason we're running the 18" at Fair Hill next month instead of the 2'3. Obviously the height is no issue for the horse (just don't ask the rider lol), but the big guy still just plain old needs schooling. Needs mileage.

so proud of himself at the trailer lol
Gaining that experience and putting on those miles is what it's all about to me tho - that's the best part about this whole experience. I'm in no rush to "get there" with Charlie, there's no fixed finish line or goal to meet. Honestly all I had dared hope for was a horse that could be ready for all three phases by spring time. And here we are! This event's final score is almost meaningless in the face of that big picture.

The whole season is ahead of us and I'm so freakin excited to get back into the rhythm of showing with friends. I'm also really excited to continue tackling all things associated with restarting an OTTB as an event horse.

We've got a LOT of work ahead - continuing to develop and refine our flat work, and translating that flat work into better jumping. I've also got quite a bit to fix in my ride, and in adjusting myself to Charlie's way of going. I want to be able to do this great big plain-with-a-good-brain horse justice in all three phases, and eventually be able to show off to the judges exactly why I think he's so special.

In time tho - it's all ahead of us! And in the meantime we're just gonna keep chippin away at it the only way I know how :)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MDHT #2: Dressage + Stadium

Ok guys. Let's get right down to business. This is a marathon post, mostly due to pictures, but also bc I've naturally got quite a bit to say about Charlie's first full 3-phase event at Loch Moy.

Brita's and my times were basically right on top of each other, and as soon as Brita finished dressage, I hustled off to walk my course and then get ready for my own dressage.

It didn't leave a lot of time, and I ended up with too little warm up - about 20 minutes. On a good day, that's plenty sufficient time for Charlie. But on this day? Homeboy was tense. We were in the upper ring (the GIANT one with the most horses and right next to a stadium arena and the xc start box) and the difference in the horse's focus and attention was palpable.

i especially appreciate this picture bc of the Brita & Bella cameo. they've got our back!
He was mostly good, and mostly staying with me. Fussy about the left lead, and we had basically no brakes... Asking him for more lateral suppleness was a major issue.

And despite the horse being quite schooled to arena traffic, the combination of seeing so many horses running and jumping in the distance, and being constantly nearly bumped into by ppl who had staked out their own private 20m circles in the middle of the giant arena took a toll on him. Understandably so, big guy. I feel ya.

After realizing we were kinda in a bad place, I tried to do a few trot-walk-halt transitions but.... eh. There's not a lot of "training" you can do in the last 5 minutes before your test, ya know? So in we went.

Emma: "Hello Judge. This is my horse. He is a very impressive horse."
Charlie: *face plants*
Judge: Looks like a 7 to me!
The ring had been sitting empty bc it was running early, so when I went to the judge's stand and gave my number, she immediately rang the bell. Probably I should have asked for a second lap around the court before entering at A.... but oh well. In we went and Charlie immediately stumbled then totally biffed his halt. Great.

please to note we are two full strides past X
This pretty much set the tone for our test. And also, incidentally, for my interpretation of this judge's scoring. That score is the first thing I looked at when I got my test. And... it was a 7?? REALLY?

Anyway. Charlie was sticky and tense, and danced a little in the halt. I tried to be very tactful in asking him to trot out, and he kinda jigged a bit in the corner (got a 4 for that....), but then found his legs and trotted on for our little circle.

trot right. "6 - lacking bend." fair 'nuff
Then it was time for his first canter in a test! I was marginally concerned with Charlie executing an unplanned exit at A.... but he was a good boy and picked up his canter with no sass.

first time cantering in a dressage test!! good boy!!
Our steering was questionable but whatever. He did the canter thing, and then also did the trot thing when I asked! GOOD BOY.

 <3 him
He trotted across the diagonal well enough, tho it was maybe a little hairy. He maybe wondered if we would immediately canter again (since we practice simple changes across the diagonal often). Plus for whatever reason, heading toward C brought out his strongest, most unpredictable trot and I was more than a little afraid we'd accidentally jump out of the arena.....

trot left. "4 - tight neck & poll, lacking bend, circle not round."
ummmm... i feel like that 4 ("Insufficient") is a little harsh, judge.  #justsayin
He didn't jump out tho. And actually seemed to get a little better as we went. His trot started getting a little slower and more shuffling, but I was also able to let go more and push the reins forward more. To me, this felt like a better option than asking him for more trot. Bc I wanted him to relax more, settle in more. And he mostly did.

Tho we got a 4 on that next trot circle which like... I don't understand. In pure dressage, a "4" means "insufficient." The directives for this movement were: E: Circle 20m. And directive ideas are: Roundness and size of circle, clear trot rhythm and bend. The judge dinged us on size of circle and bend, which like, sure are critical pieces of this puzzle. But were we insufficient? Esp after nearly falling down and missing the mark on X big time netted us a 7???? Idk.

cantering left in a dressage test!! good boy got both leads and 6s on all of his canter transitions!
Anyway, next up was the left lead depart, maybe the part of this test I was most worried about - Charlie has been sticky about that lead since day 1, and misfired quite a few times in warm up. In the test tho? Nailed it. Good boy.

free walk also got a 4 (the third of four 4s on this test, if you're counting), which was fair. he was tense, choppy and rooting.
The transition to trot at A, then medium walk between B and F, and then free walking across the short diagonal from B to H all felt like it came up pretty fast. But Charlie did it. Got us another 4 on the free walk, of which I'm more understanding. Tense horses don't really walk super freely, it turns out.

wand a 6 to finish off the test. good boy charlie.
Then a final little trotting tour of the arena from C to A, which garnered us our fourth 4 for "no bend," tho the directives for this movement were "willing and balanced transition, clear trot rhythm." Idk. Then up the center line in an ugly-but-accurate turn, and a final solid halt effort by Charlie, who kindly waited to dance until after I had saluted. Good boy, you did the thing!

I'm a little sour about the fact that everything in this test was either a 4 or a 6 except for that damn earthbound-as-fuck-literally-bc-we-actually-almost-fell-down first halt, which got a 7.

Oh, tho Charlie scored a 7 on his gaits too, which was nice. But like, my best guess is that the judge was looking for a very specific picture for this test, specifically with regard to acceptance of the bit and bend. And we just simply didn't fit the picture. Oh well. Final score of 44.5%.

Tension is tough. And this test was a good reminder for me that, altho Charlie is a very good horse, and has been very "easy" to work with - he's still very green. And "easy" is a relative term. Because.. well.. it's one thing to be easy to ride when the horse is at his best. When he's not at his best tho? He's actually not easy to ride.

he jumps tho <3
I kept that thought at the forefront of my mind as we got back to the trailer to prepare for the jumping phases. We had very little time (so little that I actually opted not to bother changing my boots and breeches, tho these whites aren't my fave for jumping...), tho Charlie got to chill without tack for a little bit while I got everything organized.

We then got over to warm up with about 30min until go time. With being so fresh out of dressage, Charlie didn't necessarily need that much time to physically warm up. Rather, he needed that time for exposure and calm in the face of chaos. So we headed up to the arena to watch a couple rounds go first, and for me to get an idea of how the jumps rode. Only one related distance, which everyone was getting in 5.

i love his face
That established, we headed back down to start riding, wherein I tried to keep instilling the idea of flat work - quiet, relaxed, asking for softness and bend. I figured out in a recent jump lesson (post coming eventually) that the reason Charlie feels so not-great when he gets strong is bc all our flat work flies out the window. So. Ya know. He has to learn to be soft through his body even when we're going fast and jumping all the things lol.

Warm up was honestly kinda stressful bc it was in a small-ish corner of an otherwise-large arena, and we warmed up at the same time as the junior divisions. Which meant there were loud coaches swarming everywhere. LOTS of yelling going on. Lots of ponies everywhere.

a little blah over the first two, but blah is not a dirty word
We mostly dodged them and kept our own jumping simple. Trot the cross rail (x2). Trot the vertical. Tranter the vertical, then wait for them to put it back up after we clobbered it, to canter again. Canter the oxer.

Charlie was a little sticky but was listening. Good 'nuff. Not much more to do there, so we headed back up to wait our turn - along with Brita, who had just finished her rides and made it over in time to watch ours.

looking for our turn to jump 3
Once in the ring, Charlie was a star. We trotted a long loop around the full ring, tripping in front of the photographer (natch, thus the shit-eating smirk on my face in those pics haha), then trotted in over fence 1. Cantered on along to fence 2 mostly ok. Then cantered on along to fence 3 and TOTALLY ATE IT OMG. Brita says Charlie trotted the thing with his hind legs, one on either side, and I completely believe her.

Somehow, tho, he didn't touch the jump at all. I applied excessive verbal praise for his agility there lol, and then we organized a bit better for the end jump at 4. Then off to the only line on course - the one that had been going in 5.

jumping into the line. my expression says, "yup we're gonna leave a stride out, aren't we."
Haha. Hahahaha. Five strides. That's a good joke, Emma.

pictured: leaving a stride out as if we could have left out two....
I knew basically the moment we reached the in jump that we weren't gonna fit 5 in there. Charlie LAUNCHED through the line in 4, and you can actually hear me cackling a bit in the turn after the line as I desperately tried to wheel the horse into some semblance of order for jump 7....

charlie's face says: 'OH IT IS ON NOW'
Which, naturally, we also FLEW over. It's like I kinda just gave up on the idea of order and balance by this point. Like, we've already established that the horse is kinda green, and kinda super inconsistent....

Might as well just roll with it. I'll train him later. For now? We gotta jump these jumps the only way we know how haha.

Which, incidentally, included much leaping. Charlie did NOT want to touch these jumps, and his experience over fence 3 apparently inspired him to reach higher heights than ever before lol.

pictured: how a 17h horse gets air time over a 2'3 jump lol
What a good boy haha. Such a star. Admittedly I was a little embarrassed by the round, like I kinda just let it go to disorganized shit. But whatever. The horse did his thing, and as far as he knows, there isn't necessarily a better way to go about it yet. So I'm not gonna sit here and split hairs with him!

video here. moments of note include: totally biffing fence 3, FLYING down the line, laughing about it, then basically just surviving over the final two....

The reality is tho.... I shouldn't consider this an "embarrassing" round for him. Like, yea he's green and I basically stay in the back seat for everything. And parts of the course were a little wild and woolly. But damn if that wasn't an honest, forward horse who basically understands what he's about out there.

Charlie's nowhere near "schooled" yet. And he goes absolutely NOTHING like the horse I jumped for the past four years. But we're figuring it out. And I feel pretty good riding him, and feel even better at our prospects for further gelling as a team.

That feeling was only reinforced after cross country, where Charlie was surprisingly much more reliant on me than he had been in stadium. Stay tuned for details next!