Friday, June 30, 2017

watch out, we got a wild one!

This week has been a bit of a quiet one. Temperatures have been back in the realm of 'bearable' after a long-ish heat wave, so that's nice. It's still hot tho, still in the 90s. Or maybe we're just getting used to it? Idk haha.

very prettily manicured little road!
Anyway, with back to back show weekends for our little 'mini mid summer season,' we've just been focused on creating a balance throughout the week. To recover from Tranquility, address some of the weaknesses shown during that event, and prepare for Fair Hill this coming weekend.

ooooooh a new field!
Recovery is maybe the easiest part there haha - tho naturally, Charlie made damn sure he got it by throwing one of those precious leather-lined shoes of his on Monday. Sigh. That was just under three weeks, if you're keeping track.

So he got new kicks put on up front on Tuesday, and we took advantage of a willing and able barn friend to go out for an easy, low key, but long-ish hack.

then back up the pretty little road again with bff / herd boss, Tip
"Long-ish" being relative here, haha. But barn mate showed me some previously unknown riding spots. Apparently we can completely circumnavigate almost all (but not quite all) of the big pastures to get around to a private road out back, that then leads to this other quite lovely field.

'oooooh there's a.... thing!' - charlie, probably
We just rode around the perimeter of the field before turning back, as opposed to staying there to work around (tho that's definitely something for the future!) - but it was still a nice distance for hacking around. Maybe 30ish minutes total. I wish we had more, but this is at least something.

"uh, wat r dat?"
Plus Charlie got to hack around some garden and chicken stuff on campus, and then in between a couple more active athletic fields where soccer games were being played. The chickens got a little bit of a leery look from Charlie, but the athletic fields were old news, considering they line Charlie's pasture fence anyway.

I'm still really craving long, satisfying trail rides tho..... hopefully there will be more opportunity for that later this summer. Maybe we'll go back to Sweet Air? Or to Austen's again? Or maybe a big group ride at Fair Hill? Hopefully something!!

"it clucked at me. and now i am perplexed :( "
As much as we love hacking freely about the countryside tho, that's not really the greatest way to prepare for a show. So we've been schooling too. Primarily on the flat, since that's where we both need the most work.

clearly exhausted from the exertion
I put Charlie back in that giant ridiculous Myler for another ride this week too. This being the third time he's worn it (we've been playing with it about once a month or every 6 weeks).

I continue to feel like the Myler is a useful, possibly effective, training tool used sparingly with Charlie. He's continued the trend of being less stressed out by the bit, and I'm able now to really put my leg on and push him up into the bit (whereas that would have resulted in extreme claustrophobia and probably a massive meltdown the first time he wore it).

"hello yes, i was promised cookies and nose smooches?"
And it gives me a lot more influence on how he carries his front end. Not perfectly - obvi I can't exactly use a bit to get the horse to lift his back or wither or 'sit,' bc... uh... that's not how it works haha. And he has a tendency to want to break at the 3rd vertebra and duck behind this bit (and a little behind my leg too).

But it does allow me greater control over the speed of his front end. And it reduces his leaning to zero. Those two factors, I think, are really useful right now in Charlie's development, especially now that he's comfortable enough in the bit for me to put my leg ON.

watch out for that wild horse in the cross ties!
also pictured: why i clip the ties to the cheek rings instead of the nose rings
Because he needs to really keep coming forward from the hind end, really push push push from behind. But his front end needs to slow down, to wait instead of getting heavy and just running more and more onto his forehand.

My hope is that this exercise of really getting him to wait up front (but not by letting him lean on my hands), while continuing to drive him forward from behind, will help to build that strength he needs to carry his shoulders more 'up.' And hopefully also helping him develop more longitudinal suppleness (provided I can keep him relatively straight.... bc that lateral suppleness ain't exactly well-developed yet either haha).
"who are you calling goofy?!? i am clearly impressive wild stallion! this isn't a fly mask, it's my fierce warrior armor"
We'll see tho. The value of the Myler (in my grand plan, at least) is that we can use the bit for the occasional ride to help establish that feeling in the horse, and then switch back to the snaffle while still being able to access the feeling.

We followed a similar pattern in the days leading up to our last Fair Hill starter trial, and Charlie put in what felt like a really good test for him. It didn't score well but it might also just be a long time before we're putting together enough "good moments" in a test to get the scores up.

sure, charlie. keep tellin' yourself that!
So for now I'm trying to just stay focused on getting the right 'feeling' from the horse - vigorously asking for it, searching for it in our rides - and rewarding as quickly and thoroughly as I'm able.

Bc flat work really isn't Charlie's favorite right now. It's hard for him, and not as fun as jumping. He's not super trusting of carrying himself in a new balance. It worries him a bit, especially as it makes him a little uncomfortable by being so difficult. And then he trips and is like, "WTF I knew this was a bad idea!" Poor guy.

But he can do it. I know he can. And the better I can do as a rider in holding my position, in solidifying my timing of when to ask and when to release, the better he'll do. Easy, right?

Anyway. It's Friday. Finally. And it's hopefully going to be a great weekend! Do you have any big plans? Are you in a ramping-up phase for anything? Or maybe you're unwinding? Or something in between - an easy holding pattern or the dog days of summer?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

MCTA : the running + jomping part

Ok who's ready for some glorious cross country??!!??!?! I know I am! Tho, kinda a funny story. While much of the course was visible for spectators standing up on a hill, the distances were such that made video almost pointless.

And at times during the ride, I actually found myself grateful for that. Like, "thank god nobody is taking pictures right now bc I really don't need to know what we look like!"

Tho, joke's on me bc apparently GRC Photo was on site and will be posting their pics today so... Ya know. Maybe there is documentation haha.

god this horse has great hair
Charlie was very very good for the ride, but also very green. And honestly a little bit impressed by some of the fences, just as he was in stadium. Not necessarily over-faced, per se. And never feeling like he lacked the confidence to do what I asked of him or accomplish these fences. But he showed his inexperience at the level (f*ing duh, Emma, it's his first BN, after all!).

jump 1! i was actually thisclose to planning on cantering to jump 1. we're allllmost there. but i still just like giving charlie that little bit of extra time to get on board with the plan
The course looked great tho - looping between three main fields with varying terrain and some stylish fences. Options galore, and actually quite a few good questions.

the course actually had a lot of brushy type stuff on it - esp on some of the bigger jumps. therefore seeing something of a similar 'look' but on a smaller fence felt like a great intro to the track
Fence 1 took us right out of the start box with a reasonably inviting brush covered split rail type fence, shared with intro. I always kinda look at brush-y type fences a little sideways since Charlie had that silly little stop at his first ever xc schooling at that hay covered box. But I need to just get over that. The horse is clearly fine.

My plan was to trot this jump, tho I would allow canter if he volunteered it. Ever since our first run at Loch Moy, I've gotten the impression that while Charlie is more physically comfortable jumping from canter, he's more emotionally comfortable approaching from a trot when he needs extra processing time. And in this instance, he held his trot right up to the base. Good boy, that's fine!

surprisingly beefy log! i think this was actually shared with N too, but there doesn't appear to be a number on it
Then a quick jaunt up to this somewhat large log that Charlie reached a little awkwardly before cutting through the treeline. Immediately to the left of the treeline is the trailer parking areas, and the novice track had a fence just through that clearing that went straight toward the trailers. Tricky! Luckily BN went through the clearing and turned the other direction for our next fence.

nothing complicated here - tho a fun little approach from within the treeline 
Which was just another log. Totes cool, have at it Charlie! Felt like a reasonable way to get him jumping - with a couple height and width questions coming soon.

first option! that green bench was the final jump at jenny camp, so obvi we did that again
I really appreciated the variation in fence types on this course. And the number of options. For most options, I simply went with the bigger fence. Tho in at least one instance, my decision was colored by style of fence - since this course allowed us to try out a lot of different looking fences as we saw fit.

This bench was a no brainer tho - bigger, but also something we've jumped before. Charlie popped over nbd.

second option - either the left hand cabin or the two middle mulch piles
The next option was kinda strange. On approach just by judging the face, I was leaning towards jumping the brown house type thing - it appeared to be about the same height as the higher mulch pile, but visually looked a little more 'normal xc style' maybe? Idk. But when I got a view of the fences from the side, it was clear that the mulch pile was significantly wider. So. Mulch pile it would be!

Charlie kinda looked a little bit at it tho, and then got right up to the base before popping over. The low sloping profile of the jump made that nbd tho, and he had no problem jumping across it despite getting in so tight.

another option! big ol' rail fence on a slight downhill approach
Here's kinda where we started to see some of Charlie's inexperience begin to shine through tho. And the point in the video where my commentary switches from lots of reassuring and encouraging "Good Boys!" to "Whoas" lol. See, Charlie looked a little bit at the mulch, got a bit underneath it, popped over, and landed very strong and forward.

He repeated that same pattern but to an even greater extent at this next fence - one of the tallest options on course, and also hay-covered, natch. With the downhill approach, I found myself riding a little backward to the fence, but he jumped it pretty well all things considered anyway.

moar optionz! spoooooky pipes. excellent ground lines tho!
Then we rolled back around up the hill to some tiny black pipes. I told Charlie to be brave and put my leg on to ride him up to a pretty good distance, even as he wanted to stand a little bit off from the jump.

another one that needed a side view to determine which was bigger. right side was taller but left side was wider. went left.
He landed strong again and didn't necessarily want to settle ahead of this next fence... But we were still able to reach it from a fairly forward distance instead of backward.

faux ditch - schmo ditch
Then I tried to really sit him down well ahead of the faux ditch, which I didn't anticipate would do anything to slow him down lol. Which it totally didn't - he zoomed over barely even acknowledging it haha and barreled on down to the roll top.

roll top option! actually the roll top looks a little nicer than those barrels anyway lol
I actually really like this style of jump for Charlie (which is funny bc I used to hate them back in the day lol). It's solid and substantial enough to force the horse to read it (and maybe even respect it), but of an inviting and safe enough construction that it's forgiving if the horse makes a little mistake. Which Charlie did, by getting a little bit underneath it again. But nbd, he just had to pick those knees up even higher.

traaaaaain!! left hand side is definitely very beefy, esp in width
Then I actually really did sit him back down and whoa for real. Like, the horse has to learn that this isn't a race, ya know? That we're not just building up to maximum speed as the course wears on - that he can find his show jumping canter even out in the middle of an xc course.

Plus, there was an optional question coming up on course that would specifically require me to adjust Charlie pretty rapidly on landing from a fence, and I needed to know if we could do that.

So going down to this train I really wanted to our canter back. And was honestly uncertain whether the high option was the right choice here or if it would contribute to Charlie's running. But he did in fact settle his canter on approach, so we went for the caboose anyway. It's a pretty good sized jump actually - I jumped it before with Izzy and it's surprisingly wide! Charlie tackled it nbd.

these are almost the same dimensions. we jumped that feeder at jenny camp tho, so i opted for the bench this time. 
Then we cruised around the N corner (that actually looked totally doable) to turn to the next option. Both on the small side relative to some earlier stuff, so it didn't much signify which side we jumped. I chose the bench since I've never jumped that one before.

this fence was purely an option, could be skipped or added at will for BN, with down banks hot on its heels
Next up was what I felt was actually a REALLY cool combo option on this course - a triple bar to down bank. The triple bar was optional but the down bank was not. Charlie jumped this triple bar at Jenny Camp so I wasn't worried about the jump - but I *was* a little bit worried about getting him back in time for the down bank.

down bank had varying heights, all with very steep downhill landings
There's a couple options for riding this: 1) Go straight through - triple to bank - and pray; 2) Jump the triple bar then immediately circle left (thus giving time to regroup) before approaching the bank; 3) Jump the triple bar then aim for the itsiest bitsiest right hand portion of the down bank, but then pull left again to hit the next tier of banks visible on the left hand side of the above picture so we could actually school a proper bank; 4) Skip the triple bar.

from "basically non existent" to "ok i guess that's a bank"
It kinda killed me to do this, but I opted for #4 - skipping the triple bar. In my mind, it was more important that Charlie school the down bank vs tackle a new type of combination. Furthermore, it was important that he be set up to understand and execute the bank safely without issue. Building confidence, not proving confidence.

And I simply did not trust my ability to regroup on the landing from the triple bar quickly enough to give Charlie time to be safe and clear on the bank in front of him. Maybe that's an overly conservative position, but it worked out well enough. He just trotted right on down the bank, and actually landed practically walking lol. I'll take it!

ahhh the water mud puddle. i knew during our walk that we would have trouble here. sigh. 
Anyway, we mostly walked/trotted down the rest of that super steep hill to approach the water, where I was fairly sure we'd have issues. And issues we had. My grand plan was to get up close and personal to the right side red flag. There was more dry ground there, plus Charlie would directly face the warm up area filled with other horses - hopefully enticing him forward.

It was a no go, tho. He incurred at least 1 penalty, up to 2-3 according to the jump judge. So I pulled him around the back side of the flags where the goon walked right into the water, then back around to the front where he again had at least another refusal, or maybe 2-3 per the judge.

"ohhhh noooo not the watttterrrrr" - charlie, probably
You can see the judge coming toward us and speaking to me in the video - a fairly sure sign we were eliminated. She said words of advice or something  (which, uh, no thanks lady! not interested in unsolicited advice, kthxbai!) while I took Charlie back behind the flags into the water again, then back around and this time through the flags. Then right on through to the finish.

Kinda a crappy way to finish a course imo (I much prefer galloping through the finish flags myself lol, and have never actually finished a course with anything other than an actual jump - it just feels weird lol) but c'est la vie!

gets real boring real fast at the water. sigh. 

The jump judge said she assessed 3 penalties on the ride (tho she told the TD it was more like 4-5), saying any halt of forward progress constitutes a refusal. I disagreed with that, understanding that rule to relate to jumps with height, while jumps without height allow a stop and sideways steps, but not backward steps.

It's admittedly a gray area tho, and Charlie absolutely had refusals (plural). But I wasn't sure there were 3. I can see in the video how she got to her counts... but I can also see how a more generous jump judge may have reached a different outcome.

She also said a recognized show wouldn't allow me to go behind the flags into the water. I disagreed there too, having seen Elisa Wallace do exactly that at training level (skip to 3:20 in the video) without penalty (scores here). So... I felt this judge was kinda wrong on the letter of the law, and kinda probably maybe missing the spirit of the law for starter trials too.

I talked to the TD tho, who stood by the judge's experience and said that, "riders are often so caught up in the moment that they don't actually know what their horses are doing" ... which... idk. Feels kinda insulting to say to a rider. But whatever. I tried!

my handsome new event pony. he'll learn water eventually <3
All's well that ends well tho. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Charlie doesn't know what penalties are. Nor does he know what "E" means. As far as he knows, he put in three solid tests and was a very good boy. Which is really what I want to highlight from this event - rather than the underwhelming finish or my sour grapes haha.

It felt like a really solid introduction to a new level - while also reaffirming that my 'blurred lines' approach to the levels is probably the right fit for Charlie. Height continues to be a non-issue for the horse. Rather, it's the "questions" of xc that he still isn't confirmed in answering yet.

So I'm happy to go back to 2'3 next week at Fair Hill, where we can expect to see more ditches banks and water, each likely to have jumps with related distances. It feels.... very likely that we'll reach a similar fate at the water there too lol (curses!) but them's the breaks. It's all basically schooling anyway, right?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MCTA Dersage + Show Jompies

Apologies in advance bc we have lots and lots of photos but not only are they all exclusively cell phone video stills, but they're all a bit zoomed too. But ya know. Photos are photos, right? Esp since I know a lot of you don't watch the videos (which, like, you're totally missin out!).

it's getting easier to find pleasant moments for cherry picking in our videos
Anyway.  In past years, dressage has usually started early enough that riders could warm up in the stadium warm up area too, since jumping started later. I think that was also the case this year, but for whatever reason everyone was warming up in the grass around the two dressage courts.

mostly we still kinda shuffle around, but better more improved moments are happening more often, even if we can't string them together for a full movement yet 
That was fine enough for us, so over we went. Tho Charlie kept tripping in the same downhill section. Which like, bro. C'mon. Pick your feet up!

And somewhat hilariously, when we started circling before our test, I opted to do a full loop around the court to present my bridle tag to the judge. This meant stepping over the rail road tie lining the arena and walking over a slight incline in the terrain. Which Charlie proceeded to trip over in a slow motion stumble that lasted about 5 strides. All throughout which, I assured the amused onlookers that "this is, in fact, a jumping horse, I swear." Ahem.

lol. but don't worry, we still have those other moments too
"dis how dersage, rite?" - charlie, probably
Anyway. It didn't necessarily get much better for our test. In Charlie's constantly evolving level of training and experience, he discovered this very day that maybe, since I want him to put his head down, he could but his head down. Think: diving and curling and generally bobbing and weaving in the contact. Which.... naturally only exacerbates his tendency to get heavy up front, a little downhill, and trip-happy.

the canter is his best gait but it's hard to do justice in a small court. we're figuring it out tho!
We rode BN-B, our second time doing this test (the first being in the schooling dressage show a couple weeks ago) and actually I really like this test for Charlie. It's a lot of unjudged trotting around as we change directions hither and thither, but the test has a very unhurried rhythm to it (at least, right up until the very end).

pretending to be fancy lol
With Charlie right now, we are struggling to find the balance of 'impulsion and moving forward from his hind end' and 'running.' Because basically I need Charlie to keep coming forward from his hind end, be a little quicker from behind, but slow down his front end while still giving him enough forward freedom to get his big ass shoulders up out of the way of his hind legs. It's.... a challenge lol.

mostly i'm just looking for any moment where his hind end appears to not only be attached to the front end, but that it's actually actively participating in the ride too lol
I'm actually pretty happy with how he did in this test tho. He was obedient. Did all the things where he was supposed to do them. Our circles looked like circles - even sorta at canter!! Canter transitions happened well enough and he got both his leads. And he was able to turn right at the A-end of the dressage court without feeling like we might jump the chain.

charlie started nodding at the judge in our halt and for some reason i started mimicking him. it's in the video. it's ridiculous. but.... that's how we roll i guess!
The rest of our downwards continue to be a problem tho. And actually the final little "tour" of this test - canter to trot to walk at C, free walk across the short diagonal, then trot at K before turning up the center line - is maybe the hardest part for us. Our transition at C was atrocious, as was the walk that followed. Tho the free walk was ok-ish bc I could push him out a smidge more.

I was late to trot at K tho (whereas like, a better strategy would have been to be early) and... center lines continue to be hard for the big guy.

and there are some real gems in there - try to count how often the judge says "labored" lol

I'm happy with the test tho. It's not where I want to be, since we're still very much at an 'in between' phase of Charlie's training. And he very badly needs to develop more strength behind. He's already light years ahead of where he was when I first got him in that regard (and is therefore WAY more sound because of it).

But we still need more. That's always the hardest part about going through a big transformative journey with a horse, right? We've come so far, and the difference is so vast, that it can be hard to see that there's still just so much more that needs doing lol. C'est la vie, tho.

For now, I'll take our 40%s in dressage and be happy with them for what they are.

finally givin the big boy something to jump
Let's move on tho. Let's get to the show jumping phase, easily our strongest test of the day. And the one I had been most nervous about going into the event.

and he was actually a little impressed by the jumps too! we're getting awfully close to 'clearing the standards' territory here!
The jump course was set for N when I walked it in the morning - and it was actually really reassuring to see that it was set such that most of the jumps were the same height Charlie and I had schooled the day prior in our jump lesson with trainer P at OF.

it was also a lot of fill and shapes and decorations that he hasn't seen before
My general rule of thumb for walking courses - specifically xc, but also stadium - is to not get too close to any of the fences on my course, especially if they look big to me. Bc I really strongly feel like I, personally, do not need to know if they're actually pretty big. So I give them a wide berth lol. Obvi the exception there is if there's a related distance that I need to walk.

and naturally we always have to have at least one goofy flyer
Conversely, however, I will absolutely get very up close and personal with the next-level-up jumps. Really trying to objectively measure and familiarize myself with their dimensions. Bc if they look doable - then my own jumps should definitely be doable! And if they look big? Nbd, mine will be smaller! Brain hacks ftw, y'all.

this oxer was maybe one of the biggest on course. charlie apparently wanted to make it bigger
So walking the course set for N, and realizing that it was set pretty softly at a height that Charlie had just snoozed over the day before, well. That was reassuring. And it was a pretty good course too. Lots of turns, tho they all had enough space for us to do what we needed doing. Lots of changes of direction and jumps on bending approaches. And very visually interesting jumps.

My only sadness was that N had a very doable looking two stride, but they took it out for BN. Oh well, next time!

Anyway - onto actually riding it. Charlie clobbered the vertical once in our warm up - which I was appreciative of bc he then cleared the oxer with gusto haha. Nothing like a good knock to remind the ponies what's up right before going into the ring!

still have a bit of a left drift issue tho.... oh well, all in good time!
Charlie continued to really clear these fences too - he was actually a little impressed by them. It made him nicely rideable tho. I was pleased with how quickly I could get him back after each fence (something we had specifically worked on the day prior in our lesson), while also being able to soften and ride forward to the jumps without running past our distances.

la-la-la-leeeead change!
PLUS. Homeboy nailed all his auto changes. Not a single simple change on course. Yessss! We haven't specifically practiced that - I honestly tend to leave changes alone bc I'm not super coordinated and don't want to introduce anxiety into that equation. 

Plus both my favorite jump trainers tend to be of a mind that it's best to either try to land the lead, or allow the horse to volunteer what it will. I definitely like that Charlie is volunteering tho!

So all told, I was quite happy with the course. It felt very grown up, very easy for the horse. There are still some bobbles in there - he got major air over 3, and we kinda launched 5 then nearly missed the turn to 6. Plus, after 7 Charlie almost ran straight out the gate instead of turning lol...

Really tho, it was a good round for us and I left the arena feeling pretty satisfied with it. It's basically a brand new height for Charlie - considering how slowly we've been introducing height. But the slow and steady approach has definitely paid off and the horse feels pretty confident in getting over the fences, even when he's a little impressed.

I didn't know it at the time, but after stadium we were sitting 8th of 9. You already know how we finished after cross country, but it wasn't for lack of trying! And actually it was a pretty darn good run, even if it basically only ends up amounting to schooling. Stay tuned for details soon!

Monday, June 26, 2017

MCTA : revisionist history

So Charlie did his first BN this past weekend! This event was kinda looming on my mind for a few reasons... Not least of which bc the last time I jumped around 2'6 in their show ring was the awful no good jumper show with Isabel where I fell off a whole bunch of times.

go charlie, go!!
But much like how Charlie boldly overcame my own personal demons at Fair Hill and Jenny Camp - where I previously had disastrous stadium experiences -  he went into the show jumping ring at Tranquility for his biggest class yet. And nailed it. Good boy!

locked on to that caboose!
And actually - he was pretty damn baller out on cross country too! The course actually felt not-quite-as-soft as the last time I rode in this event (back in 2015) and there were quite a few substantial options for BN.

such a freakin cute train tho! choo choooo!
Which, naturally, Charlie happily took. We continued the theme of "High options, plz, Emma!" bc I really would like to get closer to feeling we're ready for prime time at BN at other venues too.

he jumped some other big stuff too
Suffice it to say - and obviously I'll write up more later - the height itself is not an issue for the big guy. And while some of the jumps impressed him a little bit (shocking, I know) and he's still super uneducated on xc, I feel fairly confident he could get around most of what we would see at BN just about anywhere right now. Most. But not all.

but at heart, he's still a bit of a goon. as evidenced by this baller fly-mask-induced hair style we rocked all day long lol
Because we still have some pretty glaring holes in his cross country training. Mostly since we honestly haven't really been schooling - we've just been getting experience via competitions. But it's time to go schooling asap, I think, bc Charlie really showed his greenness at the water again this weekend (if you're keeping track, this is the second time he's seen water on course).

It ultimately resulted in our elimination (something I didn't know until I had already finished), tho it's possible a different jump judge would have assessed penalties differently (ie, giving us a couple refusals but letting us finish 'with a number'). But whatever. Our dressage still needs enough work that we're not exactly competitive anyway so it's almost moot.

it was a good day for the whole group, actually!
Mostly I'm just so pleased with the horse and feel like we both learned a lot this weekend. There's always more work to be done, but it feels good knowing that certain pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit nicely into place. Especially since one particular piece - stadium - has given me so much grief in the past.

Anyway. Details coming soon. Hope you all had a great weekend too and are wayyyy less sun burnt than me lol (farmer's tans are cool tho, right?)