Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Jenny Camp 2017: Dressage & Stadium

I really hope you guys aren't worn out and tired of all the show recaps lately. It's been a busy spring in Charlieland, I totally get that. And it's not even quite over yet - there's still one more run at Loch Moy before we close out the month of May.

BUT. This show, to me, felt like an important milestone. Jenny Camp had been slated on my idealistic events calendar as Charlie's "move up event" since my earliest ruminations on the horse's debut event season.

A: Enter Fabulous
And maybe you're tired of me finding endless variations of announcing "Charlie's first {whatever}!!!" But I'm gonna go ahead and put Jenny Camp onto a little pedestal of its own anyway, by calling it Charlie's first "full" run through all three phases.

Let me explain: Charlie rode the Beginner Novice Test A for dressage, a full w-t-c test that we will likely be riding for some time to come. He jumped a full stadium course at 2'3 - the full height at which we ought to be competing at present (rather than anything lower). And the real pièce de résistance, cross country, was a full 1,800m track of appropriately sized jumps with all three xc hallmarks (ditch / bank / water) in what honestly amounted to a watered down BN track.

hey look, it's a trot!
And he did it all like a horse who more or less understands his job. It was all more or less pretty easy for him, actually. Obviously that's not to say that we're competitive haha, bc we're definitely not - we finished in last place with a mediocre dressage test and penalties in both jumping phases. But I'm honestly pretty cool with it.

wow, it's a canter too!
Dressage has been a bit tough for us lately. Charlie had a big breakthrough about contact in the week before Fair Hill, was schooling well, then had a baller dressage lesson. But the last week before Jenny Camp showed a bit of a regression, on top of a horse who is maybe understandably a bit body sore from working in a new way.

It's frustrating, but again - I'm ok with it. I knew basically what I was gonna have going into show day and focused on just riding that horse. Our test lacked any of the glimmers and beginnings of give or softness or suppleness that we saw at Fair Hill, and our circles are still too small and misshapen (gah, Emma, c'mon!). But all the transitions happened more or less correctly and in the right places. Small victories, y'all.

I unfortunately misplaced my test so couldn't add the scores and comments to the video - but this test won me my "straight 6's across the board" Bingo! square haha. Every single movement, including the collectives, was either a 6 or 6.5. Comments and feedback were right in line with what we're already working on. So. Ya know. Just gotta keep working.

matching expressions ftw
Our final score of 37.6% was nearly ten points improved from Fair Hill, but the real story is that this tied for 10th of 13, whereas Fair Hill was 6th of 9. In other words, we were still the same distance from last place, but in a more crowded division. So... yea it's really not about the "number" in these events. For me, it's more important to see how we do relative to the pack.

And for right now, we're showing our greenness in the dressage ring in a big way. It's cool tho - Isabel taught me a pretty deep appreciation for dressage (even the low level 'boring' stuff) and Charlie's had enough good moments of finding a 'nice' feel that I think we'll eventually get him to a better place. It might just... take a while lol.

off to a smashing start (puns lol)
 As far as he knows tho, he's the undefeated champion of the world Intro level dressage horse. And I sure as hell ain't gonna try to tell him differently! He thinks he's doing a mighty fine job (just ask him!) and I like that he's quickly figuring out the rhythms of a typical event: arrive at the venue, tack up, warm up, ride the test, then chill at the trailer. Charlie's got that down pat.

And then? When we go to put the tack back on? He knows that means JUMP TIME too :D

we like the left side, ok?
Fortunately he's still a pretty darn quiet guy, even as he figures all this stuff out. Bc the warm up for stadium turned into a zoo basically the moment we arrived. Riders from both the senior and junior splits were warming up simultaneously, and as much as I love seeing kiddos and their ponies out having a blast... some of them just aren't great at steering, ya know? lol...

Charlie didn't care tho. We found ways to keep mostly to ourselves on the flat - then kept the jump warm up super simple: trot the X, trot the vertical. Canter the vertical, canter the oxer. Use both leads as appropriate. Then be done. Good 'nuff.

wish my head wasn't cut off, but i'm still pleased with the fact that i'm carrying my hands more forward
I already mentioned my distaste for this particular stadium course, but here's a little more detail: It was fairly narrow, on a small and decidedly not flat section of ground, with almost every single jump coming up quickly. No related distances - but all bending lines and roll backs. Plus the ground fell away into the corners, making getting too deep into the corners somewhat inadvisable.

The first three were on an S-bend downhill, then a roll back uphill to 4 before another S-bend downhill from 5-6-7-8, then finishing up with the only "long run" back uphill to 9.

Given that Charlie can be quite strong on the landing side of fences, I expected this course to be a REAL challenge for us. At least the hardest turns (IMO) were to the left, Charlie's easier direction.

big horse over tiny fences!!!
Honestly tho? Despite my worry, the big guy came out and surprised me. He was half asleep at fence one and clobbered it good (lol) - then remembered to pick his legs up over the rest of the course. Ambled along, never got strong, came back when I asked, found most of his jumps pretty much fine.

I didn't really bother much with leads bc there was such little space and I didn't want to disturb his rhythm, but he either held the counter canter or made a full change himself when needed. Fine by me!

what can i say but that he's a good boy??
It wasn't necessarily "pretty," but actually it felt more or less "easy." The horse just jumped the jumps. I like it!

In some ways, this might have actually felt like our "easiest" stadium course to date at an event. Maybe the trickier ground worked in my favor? Whatever the case, I was quite pleased with him. The rail was silly and careless, but also totally forgivable at this point IMO. It's actually maybe a bit of a miracle that we hadn't yet had any rails in previous outings, honestly.

So. Two phases down in a competition where each phase was testing Charlie to the fullest measure of his current level of training. And next up? His biggest baddest xc course yet.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Jenny Camp 2017: Last place never felt so good

Happy Monday Everyone! I gotta be the first to admit: today is 100% a day for playing hooky. Sorry not sorry. Hopefully if all goes to plan it'll be another good horsey day with more to write about later, but for now let's talk about the weekend.

It was another long weekend here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing - with a Saturday jump lesson at OF with trainer P that ended up being a private (yay!) that lasted about ~2 hours (omg so good tho). Then obvi Sunday was show day at MCTA's Jenny Camp!!

yay team! also brita joined the colorful jacket club too. it's a fun club :D (the club also uses bridle tag numbers bc coats like these can't be covered up by pinnies!)
If I'm being 100% honest here, I was apprehensive at best about this show. Like, I was excited about it. And objectively speaking, I knew it would be a fun day - bc how can you not have fun with good horses and good friends at an awesome venue (complete with tailgating, obvi)??

But I wasn't super optimistic about our riding. Charlie has been.... very green this past week. Just kinda in general, ya know? Plus he's also been a bit sore, as I already mentioned his message therapist uncovering some concerns in his poll and elsewhere.

So I didn't necessarily expect the best from our rides. But that's fine - he just needs mileage anyway, ya know? Tho then I walked the jump courses Saturday before the show and felt.... even more apprehensive about the jumping.

covering. ground.
Stadium was roped off in a tear-drop shaped section of fairly tumultuous terrain - complete with lots of down hill jumping and tight turns. And naturally the narrowest section of the arena was on the downhill side.

Then there was cross country. This course was unlike either of the two Intros I've ridden at Jenny Camp in the past. It was.... Bigger: Ten of my 13 jumping efforts were either shared with BN or were flagged such that the BN fence was an option for Intro. And Longer: 1,800m.

At least, tho, the ditch bank and water were exactly as I had hoped they would be: perfect for Charlie's current level of schooling. (Tho, naturally as might be expected with a green horse, we still had some issues here).

happy group at the end of a long day
All told, tho, once it came time to ride - it honestly worked out pretty darn ok.

Our dressage went about as I expected - garnering a score ten points lower than last time, but actually less competitive relative to the rest of our division (funny how that works haha). Stadium was surprisingly better than expected - still had a rail tho.

And cross country was.... rip roaring lol. You're gonna need a seat belt for that helmet cam footage haha. And we did all the high options!

Charlie was just so so good. So honest. Not very educated, while simultaneously not particularly sensitive to rider influence lol.... But good. We picked up a 20 at the water but I'm honestly pretty cool with it. Charlie doesn't exactly know what penalty points are at this point, but he did eventually figure out the right answer. Good 'nuff for now.

We were tied for 10th after dressage and the penalties from stadium and xc dropped us back to 13th. But you're not gonna hear a word of complaint from me. As far as I'm concerned, and as far as Charlie knows, we won. You WILL, however, see a ton of photos and videos lol.


Anyway. More to come later, as always. For now, I hope everyone else had a great weekend too!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

this definitely won't end badly

Haha. Hahahaha. HAHAHA. Ahem. *coughs*

one step at a time
Charlie's a tall horse, right? And I'm not the most flexible person in the world. I have one of those two-step plastic mounting blocks that lives in the truck and was always perfectly sufficient for Isabel. But.... it's admittedly a little, ahem, short for Charlie.

It hasn't really been a major issue yet - all of our lesson barns have mounting blocks. That time we went trail riding at Sweet Air, I was able to use a park bench. Many show venues have blocks too.

But - not all. Fair Hill didn't, and Jenny Camp won't. Former barnmate Rachael has a big old 3-step block that we used at Fair Hill (very convenient as we were parked next to each other anyway) but I prefer to have my own alternative handy for times when I'm alone.

the view from above. those cats definitely aren't plotting, right?
So I've been looking for step ladders. Something that didn't break the bank, doesn't take up a ton of space, and won't kill me to lift in and out of my truck bed.

Enter: eBay, the internet market place definitely not known for shady sellers. This particular step ladder was in fact advertised as "likely to make a very nice plant stand!" But the seller called it 'sturdy' and, in answer to a question I asked, claimed that it could take the weight of a 200lb adult standing on it.

the rustic barnwood look is trendy, right? right?!? oh god i'm gonna die....
Obviously we can believe everything we read on the internet, so I bought it. The price was right and shipping was fast 'n free.

And now it's here. And... Well. Let's just say some of my friends have some reservations about it. I'm stubbornly carrying forward with the plan tho.

But I'm curious: What do you think of this mounting block, would you use it?

Friday, May 19, 2017

jumpin' shark

Happy Friday everyone! I dunno about you, but it feels like we're getting to that time of year where things really start heating up - metaphorically speaking, but also kinda literally too haha.

except when it's raining blargh
Charlie has been keeping "busy" - but it honestly hasn't been quite the right schedule for him for about 3-4 weeks now. For little reasons. A puffy fat leg here. A thrown shoe there. Or maybe the horse is fine, but my work has me away, lately to DC and Chicago. Ya know. Just stuff.

finally actually got relegated to the indoor at OF tho
We're trying to make our rides count tho, and the horse is working well. I think he would do better with a more frequent riding schedule with mostly less intense rides, vs fewer but longer rides. But it is what it is for now.

fun course diagram! effective for practicing tight turns (ridden in a 20x40m arena haha)
Our jump lesson at OF last week was one of those rides following a couple unplanned days off for puffy legs (Charlie is King of the Dings, lemme tell ya). But he actually came out and warmed up quite nicely - despite being stuck in OF's tiny indoor with other horses.

photos from yet another jump lesson, this one two weeks ago
He jumped around well too - just simple single verticals with lots of roll backs, and then a tricksier turn up the centerline to a hog's back oxer. Half the jumps were PVC and Charlie was a little careless with them. But.... the other half were wooden 4x4s so.... that got his attention lol.

so so much to work on..... but i <3 him all the same
It was maybe useful jumping him in the indoor actually bc the closeness of the walls and the tightness of the turns helped with keeping the horse rocked back, so I felt like I could let go more.

Considering the last lesson we had before that (source of these pictures) was kinda a shit show with a too-strong horse followed by an overly busy and micromanaging rider. Any practice I can get with letting go can only help!

so..... have i mentioned he's kinda goofy? one of these days i'm gonna have to make a compilation of all the videos of him just doing..... goofy shit haha. for instance, he had a real moment with this mounting block. lol
Mostly tho, aside from lessons we've kinda just been hangin out at home. On the days when Charlie is deemed unrideable from either fat legs or lost shoes or whatever, I've tried to do some ground work instead. Just to do something, ya know?

finally discovered his candy licky thing. and.... ATE it.
Plus we've sorta been neglecting the ground work now that the horse is more reliable under saddle. But I'm not sure that's actually right. Charlie can be both a little bit of a bully about personal space (wide load!) and can also get a little dull and tuned out. So idk. Maybe we need more practice.

double buckets bc otherwise that hoof goes INTO the bucket and flings food everywhere. also, virtual cookies if you noticed that particular hoof happens to be missing a shoe... blargh
I've also been trying to get us out of the arena a bit too. Especially on days when it feels like we need to get saddle time when we can, but maybe it shouldn't be a very intense day either (like the day after Fair Hill, or last Monday after two back to back lesson days).

sitting on charlie while next to a car is kinda surreal. this is a big horse guys haha
Our trails at Charlie's barn really aren't particularly satisfying.... But there's one easy flat out-n-back path (mostly asphalt, blech) that works well enough to move the horse around for ~15 minutes. It's all gradual incline on the way home too. So maybe it's nice, useful, low impact work for the horse while still at least getting a little mental refreshment?

winning at selfies, amiright? also i sent that far right one to my aunt. she asked if "they were real" lol
Tho I finally got out into the woods with another rider too, and discovered a better loop than what I took last time. If you remember, last time we encountered pretty extreme up- and down-hill sections, plus scarily narrow ledges of trail. There's apparently a milder loop going around the hill side but that stays more on top of the hill, inside that other loop, so it doesn't get quite as intense. It's shorter but much closer to the type of mental break I'd like Charlie to get via trail riding.

i don't have a pic of charlie getting his massage, so enjoy this shot of his massage therapist running barrels on her own charlie. she's kinda a badass (and yess that's pink hair)
And speaking of giving the horse breaks - I'm also trying to stay on top of managing his physical condition and well-being. He's had his favorite equine massage therapist come out a few times over the past month or two for treatments. I haven't been able to be there every time, but she always gives pretty thorough reports.

left side - january 2017. right side - may 2017. slightly different angle but maybe interesting? those shoulders are just so so so uneven. but maybe the muscling has changed a little bit?
This latest time she was a little worried about his general soreness levels - esp through his poll. Poor guy. He's been working really well lately and discovering all these new and unfamiliar ways of carrying himself and flexing his body. That's undoubtedly going to create soreness in the muscles... Just gotta help manage it! Might be time for more chiro tho too.

bird!! this heron likes to stalk the gold fish that get stocked in this campus pond lol
He's also been a little sensitive to the grass lately, I think too. We've had a TON of rain in the past month and the grass has just gotten so so so lush. A couple times Charlie has looked like he might have a little bit of a tummy ache. Ah grass. Such a double edged sword - it's helping to fill in his ribs, but the radical change of so much fresh new growth is a bit of a shock for princess's system!

So it's kinda like we're in this strange place of having lots of little stuff going on, but also maybe not quite striking the right balance. I'm starting to believe that this just tends to be how spring goes around here tho.

Especially given that our season this year started WAY earlier relative to past years. And we knew going into May that it was going to be a bit more jam-packed than normal. So it makes sense that we might still be figuring out the right mechanics of piecing together shows and lessons and purposeful schooling with... ya know... trail rides and quieter days. And accommodating for lost shoes and fat legs, ahem.

It's cool tho. I'm excited to have a good ol' time with all my riding buddies at Jenny Camp this weekend, and am hopeful that I've got Charlie reasonably well-prepared. And next week we'll be back at Loch Moy to run the same track he did last month. Should be good - I just gotta keep working on finding the right balance for the days in between!

Do you ever feel like it takes you a little while to adjust your routine to changes in the season? Do you have a normal 'work plan' for a typical riding week or month? Does it vary throughout the year or depend on whether you're competing or not?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

one for the books

As is customary, any summary of a baller lesson with dressage trainer C must start with the standard "it's been ages since we've seen her and we've missed her!" qualifier.

Idk why but we're really only managing to get out to see her maybe about once a month. And last month's lesson was unfortunately not much to write home about as I was uncharacteristically neither physically nor mentally in the game for it. 

pictured: GAME FACE. and also. legs for goddamn days.
So for this month, I fully intended to make the most of our time with C. Starting by sending her the video of our Fair Hill dressage test ahead of time. That test is useful bc it's a fairly accurate representation of our current way of going, plus it highlights two major but distinct perspectives: 

1) From a training perspective, it was Charlie's best test yet. And trainer C fully agreed - she was thrilled to see his steadiness, his easy canter departs (despite the misfired lead), a reasonable halt, and that he wasn't leaning heavily on my hands at all (relative, of course, to where we started).

2) From the judge's perspective, there were issues and it was our worst yet scored test. Trainer C felt like the scoring didn't quite match her observations watching the video - but also had great insights into identifying what the judge saw and how to improve the picture (while keeping the horse's training as our #1 priority).

god but i love this arena
At this point in Charlie's training, it's more beneficial to simply let C have her way with us. To allow her observations of us dictate the direction of our ride, rather than setting out to work specifically on xyz. And this lesson absolutely did not disappoint in that regard.

Actually - often I feel a little silly paying the steep ship-in lesson prices for this farm to careen around the fancy footing on my untrained racehorse. The barn is full of very nice warmbloods and serious dressage riders... and, well, you all know where Charlie started haha. IMO, tho, C's instruction is worth it.

And for the first time, we had a dressage lesson that actually felt like dressage. Basic, training level dressage, sure. But the real stuff, the good stuff. I wasn't embarrassed or self-conscious at all when ppl would stop by to chat with C or watch a little bit of the ride. And C herself was even excited to watch Charlie easily execute each move she asked of us.

So it's official: Charlie is firmly transitioned into the realm of being a "riding horse." The basics are installed. The fundamental aids are confirmed. Boom. Phase 1 of restarting the ottb is complete!!

we love looking out the windows here too haha
Anyway, moving on from the high level overview to the nitty gritties of the ride, since I know some of you out there like hearing what C has the green bean work on:

During warm up:
  • Per usual, she has us stay just off the wall for basically the whole ride. The purpose being to gain control of Charlie's shoulders and establish the outside aids.
  • We started off by practicing a few trot-walk-trot transitions on the long side. Aim for a letter and do it in the vicinity, then trot off again. We later practiced the same, but across the diagonal, walking around X, then trotting off again.
  • Lots of leg yields right to left - at first going very slow and long at a shallow angle, then also practicing quicker, steeper leg yields. Charlie fucking nailed these, good boy.
  • She had us doing leg yields from quarter line to wall, but also wall to quarter line (or beyond) to really establish that yielding feeling. This was less about "correctness" and more about gaining control of the horse's body and straightness. 

charlie always pretty much loves this arena
Building into 'movements':
  • At trot, we practiced single loops to X and back, then practiced 3 loop serpentines.
  • C's insight re: the Fair Hill judge's perception of my rigid and bracing arms: be careful that my hands don't come so far away from the horse's neck (esp that R hand). This is part of what gives the appearance that I'm wrestling the horse through the turns with my hands. Keep hands closer to wither. 
  • We actually stepped into canter pretty early on too - in our first warm up sequence. 
  • C had us do a simple trip around the arena, turning early at the short ends to really push Charlie out into the corners, then practiced canter across diagonal, trot at X.

and i totally get why. this is without a doubt my absolute favorite indoor arena of all time. austen's indoor is pretty baller too (and bigger), but it's often been quite crowded by assholes drama queens divas nasty bitches other riders during many of my rides there
Overarching Findings:
  • It was very important that Charlie didn't over-bend to the left while moving his shoulders right. This habit presents in both directions, too. Mostly: don't let the horse create false bend to the inside while his shoulders actually move outward. Block the shoulder while continuing to move his ribcage out.
  • Our biggest breakthrough: Trainer C identified that the judge may have seen me as braced and rigid against the horse bc of my tipped-forward pelvis. Ding ding ding!
  • So a big part of the lesson became adjusting this critical juncture in my position. Basically I need to lift the front of my pelvis (imagine the entire pelvis apparatus creates the shape of a bowl filled with water - mine spills water out the front). 
  • Another way of thinking about it : lifting my belt buckle. 
  • The biggest thing tho: all of the tightness I'm carrying in the small of my back needs to disappear and instead be replaced by engagement of my core muscles. So: whatever I'm holding in my back, I should hold in my belly instead. With the idea of "flattening" my back.

happy horse grazing after getting back home again
Putting the position to work (and feeling the burn):
  • We worked on my pelvis position a lot at trot and it was pretty incredible the difference I could feel when I "got" it -- that thing ppl say about lengthening your thigh and pushing your knee down? Yea that's a natural side effect of being able to lift the front of my pelvis. 
  • Also a natural side effect? Opening the hip angle. It's all part of the same mechanic - but for me, the key is right in the middle of my belly. 
  • This made the biggest difference at canter. Trainer C had me spiral a 20m circle in at trot - slowly slowly, then back out again, and then canter. And REALLY go for this feeling of lifting the front of my pelvis and sitting on the back of my seat bones. She says I need to sit like this to help Charlie get his shoulders up (which, ahem, if you've been following along, is *exactly* what trainer P has been saying to me for weeks now about jumping lol). 
  • It's hard to really describe in words why this particular lesson was different - obvi we've all heard a lot of this before and I've kinda known about this method for sitting correctly for a long time. I've just, ya know, never actually been able to do it before. Knowing vs doing. such a tricky bitch! 
  • But! We did it. And it made a huge difference. Trainer C had us practice the spiral at trot then canter thing again on both leads before calling it a day. She even stood at the open end of our 20m circle to keep us honest about bend and steering. Brave soul lol.
  • It worked tho. It was honestly some of the best work this horse has ever done. And he never quit! Never pinned his ears, never got sassy, never once said no. Just.... kept working. Yesssssssss. <3 Charlie. 

using our little mound of doom as a chair lol
It may sound stupid guys but lessons like this make me so fucking excited for Charlie. I mean, like, we actually did stuff that was sorta kinda actual dressage. He was 100% behaving like a riding horse, not a race horse.

Sure, he's green and inconsistent or whatever. But. I'm SO PROUD of him. And so pleased with his emotional development in addition to his schooling. So long as I can be consistent in showing him where I want him to be - where he has to go to be a 'good boy,' it really feels like he'll just keep on doing it. Can't ask for better than that!

For those of you who have brought along green horses - or maybe even just started a new partnership with an unfamiliar horse - what key landmarks have you looked for to identify the shift from one phase of their training to the next? How do you define the shift from 'green broke' horse or 'started' horse to something that's more established in its training? 

Monday, May 15, 2017

2017: the new 2015?

If the internet is to be believed, 2016 was a pretty disproportionately shitty year for many, many folks. Probably for lots of difference reasons... and maybe at different intensity levels.... But all the same I count myself among those who were very happy to close the book on 2016.

Last year my horsey world unraveled slowly and subtly at first, and then kinda all at once. And despite my feelings of persistence and determination, spring ticked into summer with every day taking me a little further away from my goals and hopes. Almost uncontrollably so. It was.... disheartening, to say the least.

maybe the only good thing to come of summer '16
The year ended on a very high note tho: with our star ottb Charlie Murray coming home. And ever since, I've been slowly trying to wipe away the bad memories and anxieties associated with last year's experiences.

Our recent outing at Fair Hill was Charlie's first sort of official "revisionist history" opportunity. When Isabel and I went to Fair Hill last year, I still very much had my eyes on all things novice and believed that we'd be able to squash our stadium demons to get back to that level reasonably quickly. Of course.... the technical elimination at that event (in stadium, no less) dampened those hopes a bit.

Charlie, bless his soul, cruised through his own stadium at Fair Hill like a breeze (albeit one that doesn't turn right haha) despite me musing aloud about having been eliminated on the same course a year prior. Score 1, Charlie. History: 0.

1st xc course? nbd,  according to charlie
Next up on the docket will be Charlie's biggest test yet: MCTA's Jenny Camp. This event and I have a .... checkered history haha, having only completed all three phases once of my three attempts.

In 2014, it was my second ever event - and first ever at a brand new venue where I had never seen any of the jumps before. Isabel blew me away at that event with how good she was - but also dumped me at a mud puddle two jumps from the finish line on xc. That.. sucked haha, but at the end of the day it felt like a win knowing that actually, Isabel and I maybe could make good work of this eventing thing after all.

Then the following spring we came back out with our eyes firmly fixed on redemption: cruising to an easy 3rd place finish at Jenny Camp as our last outing at Intro before moving up to BN.

But last year? Alas, last year Jenny Camp proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back. We had the most spectacularly shitty stadium round. Like. Stupidly depressingly shitty. I withdrew from cross country and retreated to the trailer to cry into a beer can for the rest of the afternoon. And.... that was basically the end of my 2016 season right there.

isabel only sneered into her beer can
So.... with Jenny Camp now looming as our imminently approaching next event, I'm feeling a bit apprehensive.

It will be Charlie's most technically challenging outing to date. The dressage courts on grass will probably be fine. And he jumped stadium on grass at Fair Hill (albeit, at a lower height) so hopefully that will be fine too. Cross country will be his longest track with the most jumping efforts to date, complete with ditches banks and water.

Again, I'm hoping that all will be fine. Actually I'm starting to get kinda excited about it. It's weird - this is maybe one of my favorite events bc of how firmly interwoven it is with the landmarks in my horsey history.

no pressure bro, but... i'm kinda relying on you
So while it may be a smidgen unfair to ask Charlie to whitewash away all my bad memories from the past... perhaps it's not unreasonable to expect that he might be ready and eager to break out of Isabel's shadow and start working on his own chapter in earnest.

We shall see! Do you ever feel like you have history with an event or venue? Or like some of what you work on with your horse today has something (or everything?) to do with a horse of your past? Or maybe you have an easier time wiping the slate clean each day and taking the horses or events as they come?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fair Hill 2017: XC

Ready to recap some cross country riding??? To set the stage and summarize the earlier phases: Charlie had laid down what felt like a really nice test for his current level of training, tho I knew we had mistakes. So it was a bit of a gamble on what the score might be (hint: it was awful lol).

Stadium was clear with very reasonable jumping efforts but some messiness in between the fences - mostly surrounding an overly strong horse haha.

i <3 those pricked ears tho
Leading up to this event, I dabbled with the idea of purposefully eliminating myself (or withdrawing, I guess) by intentionally going off course to school some of the Intro jumps instead of my own Elementary course.

This plan depended in part on how the earlier phases had gone. Part of me felt like I should take advantage of the schooling opportunity while I had it, but I also felt like we would benefit from a smooth easy complete run - and maybe a ribbon too if things went well enough.

Ultimately I chose the latter. Walking both courses reaffirmed my impression that the Intro was slightly beyond Charlie's confirmed level of schooling right now. It's possible (or even likely) that he would have been fine. But I wanted a safer bet than that for his second ever event.

The bank was actually a moderately spooky log drop shared with BN. The water was very inviting but with a full size house a few strides out. And the ditch was actually maybe the most adorable ditch I'd ever seen - possibly the only of those three questions I actually kinda wanted a shot at lol. Oh well. All are saved for another day, bc on this day we stayed our course with Elementary.

if you can believe, i actually forgot to take pictures of the first few fences on our walk. so here's a still from the helmet cam video instead. jump 1 was a simple log
Which I honestly felt pretty good about - the same attitude that carried me through stadium held true for cross country too. I chose this "easy" level specifically to make good work out of it, to not end up in any kind of 'survival' mode or make poor choices bc of nerves.

So we jumped the Elem and Intro warm up fences (both fine) then headed off to the start box. Walked out of the start box, picked up an easy ambling trot for the first log jump, then never looked back.

cute little house for 2. and actually i kinda like these "between the ear" shots for the jumps!
At Loch Moy a couple weeks ago, Charlie was a little backed off from the first couple jumps and actually started dropping down to trot in front of fences for the entire mid-section of the course. It obviously wasn't bad or naughty - he just needed processing time.

tho it's fun having side shots too <3 yay for friends on course to snag pictures!
On this day at Fair Hill, tho?? There was NONE of that lol. Charlie landed in a canter from Fence 1 and proceeded to carry us on through the rest of the course in everything from a lovely hunter canter to a marginally nerve wracking strung out hand gallop haha.

little ramp coop thing for 3
Tho it was the same story as with stadium - he didn't really build in pace so much as he just kinda shifted gears occasionally. And if I could get my half halts (ha, such a gentle word for them) through to him - he would shift right back down again and hold steady.

just in case you got spoiled by all the HQ pics from loch moy, here's a stark reminder of 'Fraidy Cat Eventing's low low low standard for photo quality
The only real issue was..... it was kinda tricky getting through to him on occasion. Lol. Mostly tho he honestly found a pretty ok rhythm and jumped the first few fences either from right out of stride or from a tidy tho slightly deeper spot. If y'all know anything about me, it should be that I prefer that tidy little deep spot haha. So I was quite cool with it.

hay wagon!
Tho Charlie asked his first legitimate "Are You Sure?" question at fence 4, naturally from a short right handed approach (as turning right apparently became an Issue again haha). And this jump is honestly maybe visually reminiscent of that hay pile jump he stopped at during his first school.

cruisin pony <3
On this day tho, we were not having any stops. Another nice side effect of jumping jumps that even I, le 'Fraidy Cat, am not afraid of, is that so long as I'm not unseated or somehow thrown out of position, I'm gonna ride that damn horse to the fence and he can figure out the rest. Which he did. Good boy.

baby produce stand! the BN version of this scared the shit out of me back in 2015 with Izzy. fence 6 is downhill in the distance.
Then we had a nice little cruise to the tiny blue steps. Honestly? I kinda hated this course. I really wished there was something between this and the Intro bc these jumps felt a little bit like a waste of time, but I still felt like I made the right choice about not entering the Intro division. Oh well.

and even babier bench!
Charlie might not have learned much from these jumps themselves, but I'm hoping he learned a bit about the rest of all things cross country. Like, for instance, he kinda barreled down the hill towards the above "bench" and I really had no qualms sitting him back on his behind even tho it futzed our distance to this jump a bit.

lopin' through the woods
He figured it out tho. Nbd. Made that jump work just fine, and then landed in the loveliest of little lopes through the treeline and into the next field.

another box type thing!
I kind of appreciate that Fair Hill tried to make all their Elementary jumps unique and beautiful rather than all being just plain logs on the ground. The different colors and silhouettes are all quite nice. At the end of the day tho.... they all kinda look like the boxes that fill hunter fences.

wheee boxes!
Which I guess is cool. Charlie loves him some boxes and just continued to pop right on up and over them! I'm not sure I'd say he was "hunting" fences - but he definitely understood that we were out to Jump Things, and pretty easily locked on to whatever I lined us up for (while totally ignoring literally everything else on course, good boy!).

spooky black monster eyes? or..... just another box?
Jump 8 posed us some issues too tho, as it was another right hand turn approach (I guess they were all right hand turns since it was just a plain loop lol).

emma: "dear god, turn, horse, TURN!!"
charlie: "huh?"
And like. This is where it gets really frustrating when ppl say that the horse doesn't "look" strong, or "look" fast, or "look" like whatever I'm describing him as. Bc dammit. He's a lot of horse and handles like a freight train. And he's also quite adept at just flipping his nose and gaping his mouth instead of giving to pressure. As our esteemed dressage judge noted, he "runs through the aids."

phew, made it! and moves like that are why i wanted tiny jumps lol
Obviously tho he's still a very good boy. And skipped over the jump no problem from a fairly awkward and disheveled approach haha. But again, this is why I chose elementary. Bc the easiest choice for him even in a sloppy situation is to just do the right thing.

look seymour, it's another box!
From that, we kept cruisin right on around to our penultimate fence - this time orange and headed for home.

charlie: "nbd"
He jumped from a polite but tight distance (totes fine, bro!) and cantered right on along to the finish.

the fair hill train!!
Actually the best feeling about all of this was how quickly Charlie understood what we were about out there. Right hand turns notwithstanding, he picked up on the game and had very little difficulty in executing it.

charlie: "Choo CHOO mother fuckers!!"
Like, even his one honest spooky moment at Fence 4 felt like a great learning moment too - bc hopefully the learned response was : we jump the jumps, sir. And jump he did!!

surprisingly the video is only a little longer than loch moy's even tho the fair hill track was a much greater distance. methinks it's bc we basically ran through the whole thing this time lol

The reality is that my trainer is not wrong in saying Charlie's not learning anything from smaller jumps. That he needs and wants something to look at, to make him think. But it's also not wrong to say that there's more to learn about this sport than just the jumping. And Charlie at times during this event showed that he hasn't internalized all those other aspects yet (fucking duh bc it's only his second full 3-phase haha).

So my hope is that by "going through the motions" per se in this division, and allowing the horse to lay down some honestly pretty nice jumping efforts for his current level of training, that he'll understand the process better at our next events where we'll be back at the 2'3 level and can expect to start seeing ditches / banks / water on course.

fair hill fox jump!!
But anyway. Long story short, I'm happy we ran this full division and that I rode for the completion rather than any other alternative. I'm also quite pleased with the horse's performance in general and feel like I have a clearer idea of what needs work and how we'll need to continue developing.

Mostly, my sense is that Charlie is a genuine and honest horse. He's a good thinker and easily focuses on tasks or activities that interest him. Luckily for me, this whole jumping thing definitely piques his interest - even at speed bump height haha. Thank god for amateur friendly horses!

It just generally felt really good to get through this event in a fairly straight forward fashion. Charlie got through each phase with confidence, and fully demonstrated that he knows how to get the right answers even in unfamiliar and potentially stressful situations. That's exactly the kind of horse I want to be riding, especially as we start thinking about the situations that are likeliest to make *me* nervous too lol.

So. Event #2 is in the books. And Charlie's clear jumping moved him up from 6th to finish 4th for his efforts. Good boy :)