Monday, July 31, 2017

leaving hunterlandia, entering paradise

So. Big changes in Charlieland: He moved to a new farm! Specifically, Charlie moved to OF - site of our weekly jump lessons with trainer P.

room with an unusual view!
I've been hauling in to this farm for weekly jump lessons since early 2014. It was never really a big deal from Isabel's barn, which was just ten miles down a country road. Plus after Brita and Wick started coming to lessons with us, the horses were usually together on the trailer - making it pretty easy for them too.

charlie's not used to seeing the world from such a low vantage point haha
However, Charlie's erstwhile h/j barn was 30 miles away, across two major highways. One of which was the Baltimore Beltway - meaning there's constant local traffic in both directions as drivers whizzed on and off and all over the place. Definitely..... not pleasant for those of us with very precious cargo on board.

his stall also has a weird little alcove section
Add in the fact that Charlie was always alone for this trip, and it became more difficult for him. The worst days were show days - when we'd pick up Brita (whose lease mare Bella lives at OF) in the morning, then take her home at the end of the day. Charlie would get pretty upset when his friend got off the trailer, while he still had another 40 minutes of travel.

but damn it's a giant stall - it's designed for foaling
More than once, other drivers would try to flag me down for my horse looking "freaked out" on the trailer. Bc.... well. Charlie weaves. And he would weave on the trailer. Which I guess is a pretty startling sight for those unfamiliar with horses.

hopefully charlie likes the visual variety!
It was becoming clear tho that something had to give. The travel was becoming unsustainable for Charlie. Meanwhile, I was feeling a little stymied in getting the full level of my desired training while boarding at the h/j barn, since they wouldn't allow outside trainers on the property.

subterranean pony! and look at all those other windows!
I loved that h/j barn very much tho - and esp loved that it was a mere 15 minutes from home. The care was top notch and I never worried about Charlie getting what he needed (even tho they could be a little alarmist at times, and occasionally slow to make changes).

plus he's surrounded by cute neighbors, situated as he is in the corner
Plus, with the demanding and occasionally unpredictable nature of my job, I was a little uncomfortable with boarding Charlie very far from home. But. I reevaluated routes and have come to the conclusion that it's better having me on the road vs Charlie.

looking down the aisle straight away from his stall
Obviously that also includes the benefit of reducing wear and tear on my truck and trailer - letting my more efficient daily driver sedan do all those extra miles. But there are actually quite a few more time and cost savings to be found in the change too.

looking down the other end past the cute neighbors and toward my tack locker
Time is the biggest immediate win when it comes to lessons. Removing the shipping from our weekly jump lesson routine cuts my time down by actual hours. Dressage trainer C also comes on site weekly for lessons - meaning I can see her without shipping now too. So right off the bat, I'm able to see two of my favorite trainers without my horse ever stepping foot onto the trailer.

he seems to like this door shape too - i haven't seen him weaving once yet!
It doesn't end there tho - the next big obvious cost savings is OF's onsite cross country course. Gone are the days of hauling to and paying schooling fees to work over xc fences. The facility here includes full courses from starter through training, and they're building out the prelim options. They host an annual USEA recognized event and a schooling HT.

plus he got his own stall sign <3
As a boarder, I can go out there however often I want, whenever I want, and do whatever I want. Whether that's just dabbling a little in the water here and there, or making ditches and banks part of our weekly (or daily!) routine. This is obviously a huge advantage.

Check out this helmet cam video of me and Isabel rocketing across the BN course there for a nearly-full tour of the cross country course.

yep. still the cutest!
Regular readers should already be pretty familiar with the rest of the facilities at this farm - even if you didn't realize they're all at the same place. For instance, basically any jump lesson recap (like this one) takes place in the large upper jump ring here. Tho I've never seen them, reports are that this arena has lights too.

solo turnout to start - but in a field surrounded by ponies and mares
Plus all the dressage schooling shows Charlie has done (like MDA's schooling show back in June) are held in the lovely outdoor dressage court. This ring also has lights for evening rides.

saying hello to a neighboring mare
There's also a modest but workable indoor, which you saw if you read the (hilarious) post about Charlie learning (and kinda failing) to free jump. So ya know. There are plenty of places to ride - and that's not even counting just hacking through the fields, woods, trails, and pasture lines. Options. We's got them now.

and the tack locker, omg!!
left side: getting dusted and sponged down with some murphy's oil soap. right side: all moved in!
Then, of course, there are the actual day to day living arrangements. Charlie's living in a stall designed for a mare and foal. It's legit the biggest stall I've ever seen. Plus it's got windows to look out, and is right in the middle of all the horses and ppl and goings on in the barn - something Charlie seems to like.

The construction of being built so deeply into the ground means that temperatures are fairly well controlled all year round too.

guys. i can't even explain what a dream come true this locker is haha
And for me, there's a very generously sized tack locker. I can even fit almost all my junk in there (almost haha). It was dusty and cobweb-y to start, but a quick wipe down cleared that out. Plus I went through the thing with a hammer, getting rid of any unnecessary pointy odds and ends bc ain't nobody want tetanus around here lol.

just one matted grooming area among many
Some LED tap-on lights are in the mail, and I've christened the locker with a berry-scented air freshener. Guys. This is legit my 12yo dream coming true (after, obvi, getting the horse haha).

familiar dressage court
The barn also sports a wide range of matted grooming spots, a deep sink with hot water, an outdoor wash stall (a bit of a down grade for us, but I can live lol), and two different farriers who come onsite weekly. One of whom, actually, was specifically recommended by Charlie's past farrier - who tragically could not keep us on after the move.

So while I am still feeling some trepidation about the change in farriery for my special needs, boat-shoe-wearing snowflake, I think it'll be ok.

and nice wooded walks between the rings and the barn!
Maybe the best thing about this place tho is that I actually already know so many folks here - a distinct benefit of having been coming onto the farm weekly for over three years.

there's a tiny stream crossing on this walk too - perfect for Mr Green About water
So right off the bat, I've had riding buddies who have been eager to show us around and get us acclimated, and show Charlie the ways to and from all the rings.

al fresco wash stall
Actually it was pretty hilarious - since I moved him in about an hour before our typical jump lesson. Charlie found it very surprising to go from a strange and new place (the barn) and within a few hundred feet, suddenly be back into familiar territory lol.

it's less fancy than the h/j barn wash stall - but it works just fine
Hopefully he'll connect the dots soon that those familiar arenas are all now part of his 'home.' Actually he's been settling pretty well - he likes the big stall and I haven't noticed him weaving at all in it. I'm sure that habit will persist bc horses don't usually quit it completely... but perhaps it'll be reduced?

plus there's still grass!
And especially once he gets fully integrated into the turnout situation, I expect him to continue settling more and more. Homeboy loves having friends!

and, of course, he's already got his friend Bella on the premises <3
Which, of course, I do too - maybe the #1 best thing about this move is that Brita and I are now boarding at the same barn again! Yay riding friends!

So that's the big change I've been mulling over for the last couple weeks. It feels like a pretty momentous shift for us, and it's not without its trade offs. But I'm very hopeful that it'll be a big change for the better as Charlie continues his development as an event horse-in-training!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

strange birds of a feather

I spent the past week in sunny Southern California for work. It might actually sound pretty glamorous, until you realize it's still, well, work. And we were actually in Anaheim - a town I'd been to previously (for this same conference back in 2010, actually) and that I remembered to be actually slightly odd.

all disney signs cropped out haha
You don't realize the strangeness of this town all at once, tho. It kinda creeps up on you. The first natural instinct is to be dazzled by the teeming palms, pristine landscaping, and broad flat avenues.

ditto the above. also are these not the most manicured palms you've ever seen?
Everything is very, very orderly. And tidy. And exactly designed to please the eye. It's quite pretty!

birds of paradise are a common sight
But there's something sinister going on in the home of Disneyland, I'm sure of it. It's a place crawling with tourists and kids, and everything that goes along with that. Endless expanses of parking lots (all hidden from street view tho, natch). Plus tons of tourists and kids = tons of restaurants, cafes, trash and bits of dropped food.

actual birds tho?
Sure, everyone there seems programmed to hyper-level trash clean up mode and the streets are very tidy (tho, uh, why yes that is a homeless man dozing under those shrubberies...). But still. The most striking thing? There's virtually no birds. It's eerie, unnatural.

You don't even necessarily realize it until that one lone sparrow starts scratching around under the al fresco cafe tables. And it dawns on you: "omg where did you come from how have I not seen another single bird before now??"

rare enough to render them interesting photography subjects
Even this pigeon seemed alien hangin out around the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. Bc like... c'mon, where are the rest of you? How does this sunny, pleasant resort town manage to get away without even a single sea gull?? It's a conspiracy. I'm convinced. #soundcannons

charlie did fine without me - he quite likes being herded around by buddy Tip
Anyway, Charlie basically got to spend the weekend relaxing and doing nothing. He had worked something like 10 days straight over the preceding weeks, so some time off was maybe warranted. We hit the trails at his barn the day before my trip - but otherwise he mostly did nothing. And - for once - did not maim or otherwise wreck himself during my absence. Good boy.

We've been busy tho since I got home. That teaser about a "significant change in our day to day life" finally became reality yesterday, so I'll have more to write there soon.

For now tho, we're enjoying the rest of the weekend as I ease my way through the jet lag. And wonder of wonders - some storms blew through the area, dropping temps back to very reasonable and pleasant 70-80* weather. Ground is a little wet, but otherwise it's pretty perfect riding conditions!

Hope you all have a great rest of your weekend too!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

hell or high water

The heat wave has continued, bleh, and this past weekend was particularly hot. Like, really nasty. But surprisingly we actually had a pretty big group for our weekly jump lesson at OF. Definitely not something to be missed, apparently!

uncharacteristically, i forgot my half pad when packing the trailer, so opted to use this Success Equestrian pad with built in extra cushioning
Charlie has been working really well and really hard for the last couple of weeks - really figuring some stuff out about his new life. So I was eager to see where he'd be for this lesson.

i love the look but unfortunately it still needs a half pad, sits too far down on him
Verdict? He was pretty good, but not great - but did have some stuff to teach me about what he needs for warm up and riding consistency. Meaning, I had kept our warm up very short and sweet due to the heat, but then ended up needing to continue schooling our flat work a little bit in between jump turns bc he wasn't really where I wanted him to be.

trotting like a whole new horse on his way to his first liverpool 
He was STRONG for this lesson. Having moments of softness and give on the flat (like I said, he's really figuring it out), but also moments of basically blowing right through me. Then it started drizzling and the wetness + his sweat slick neck meant I had a lot of trouble hanging on to my reins. Not a great feeling on a strong horse haha!

game faces engaged!
The lines were all measured at not really great distances for us too - everything seemed to be set at fairly open distances, at 4 and 5 strides. Ideally I'd love to work on schooling the add stride, but that's pretty tough to do with lots of long straight approaches and 4 stride lines.

visually interesting "skinny" jump - note the single very high cross rail?
We tried tho. Managed to figure out how to get the add for 6 down the outside line that only involved my life flashing before my eyes once when Charlie almost got to the add but decided to go long after all. But like, LONG. As in, rider basically sitting on the horse's ass, slipping reins all the way to the buckle as the notoriously careless horse stretches out to superman over an oxer.

Luckily, Charlie seemed to agree that this style of jumping wasn't actually super fun and went for the add down that line after that lol.

he has such a great tail <3
The rest of the lines tho.... not so much. Particularly the two diagonal lines - you can see in the video that I'm finally starting to be able to form and influence his canter in the spaces between jumps. Charlie's developing a half halt (finally!), aided in no small part by me finally learning to sit down more haha.

just in case you thought i only ever got left behind over fences, here's a shot of me jumping ahead too lol
But it still takes too long to make it happen, and we don't land in the same canter we jump from. Which you can totally tell in the related distances. We get the in jump ok on a canter that almost looks like it could compress to the add stride - but then we land a little messy and the horse stretches out down the line to do the step, which ends up a little long bc of how we jumped in.

i think he likes the jumps up a little bit!
Eventually, obviously a horse this size can't and shouldn't necessarily always be doing the add stride - he's got a really lovely comfortable ground covering stride and doesn't need to be packaged down into nothing. But for right now, his tendency is to get strong and a little excited and rushy about the jumps - while kinda blowing through me as he goes.

i was quite pleased with how we reached some of the jumps
And as in all things with horse training, we spend the most time focusing on the things that are most challenging to the horse. This horse struggles in compressing his body and stride, in holding himself up while pushing from behind. So.... that's basically what we work on.

wheeee but not all of them lol
It's getting better all the time tho. Like, even tho Charlie was kinda strong in this lesson and kinda wanting to run through the bridle, there was still a LOT to be happy about. He made a lot of good choices, had a lot of really nice jumps, and felt pretty rideable through the ends of the arena (as opposed to careening off like a rocket ship).

jumping cute with a little extra gusto lol
Plus he was unfazed by the height of any of the jumps (some of which were about 2'9) or styles of jump - including his first liverpool, and a funny end jump with a barrel and a large cross rail coming across half of it to make it a skinny.

turbo tail!!
He was basically game to tackle anything, and I mostly felt pretty darn good about our communication and being 'in sync' with him (even tho I ended up ditching the gloves bc they seemed to be making things MORE slippery vs less).

this could have been such a much nicer photo if my leg was better behaved. sigh. 
All the same tho - I'm planning on adding a curb chain to the bit. That doesn't seem to be something commonly seen with this style elevator bit (tho apparently curb straps are less uncommon?) but it's been something I've been thinking about for a while. I actually bought a chain a while back but hadn't gotten around to adding it, esp after a couple jump rides of being pretty soft and consistent.

fun game: try to count the # of times charlie gets a little long to the fence then has to add in a little extra "gas power" to make it over lol. toot toot!

We'll try it now, tho, I think. If it ends up being too much or sitting funny or messing with the action of the bit, I'll try a plain leather strap (instead of a chain). But somehow I think it'll be just right.

He's a big strong horse who loves to run and seems kinda excited about this whole jumping thing. I'm getting better about staying with him and softening when called for - but it's also hard to be soft and giving in my arms and hands when I don't trust the brakes. Ideally I'd like to be able to get in there with my half halt, then give back and soften - rather than constantly feeling like I need to take a hold.

yay team!!
We'll see tho. In the meantime, Charlie's just been pretty exciting. I love the feeling of a horse starting to 'get' it - starting to feel schooled. It's addicting haha, and every time I get even the briefest moment of that feeling from Charlie, it just makes me hungrier for more.

unimpressed charlie is unimpressed
And in an effort to continue helping him develop, I'll be making some fairly significant changes next week in our standard day to day life. Like anything else, this means some sacrifices and trade offs - but I'm optimistic that it'll be a really good decision for the horse. Fingers crossed!

Monday, July 24, 2017

HKM Italia Soft Leather Tall Riding Boots

For the last few years I've worn brown Mondoni Kingston tall boots for basically everything except dressage tests. All schooling, all time spent hanging at the barn. Everything, always, all the time. I loved those boots and they served me well, but alas they reached the end of their useful life.

Meaning: I needed new schooling boots. Specifically: brown boots (bc duh) that cost < $200.

glamour shot
The biggest complicating factor here is that my calf size has changed in my left leg since breaking it almost two years ago. That leg in particular is .... bleh, just not really the same any more. Which meant that simply ordering the Mondonis again was off the table (the zipper on that leg wouldn't stay up any more, even on my well-broken-in boots).

yep that's a box!
In fact - I had begun to worry that the leg was maybe no longer off-the-rack sized any more and that I'd potentially be looking at needing to go the custom route - which would obviously blow my < $200 criterion. This is, from what I can tell, a common conundrum lol.

And honestly I actually looked at everything priced up to about $400. The only other promising boot was an Ariat, but sourcing them in brown proved problematic as well.

with boots in that box!
But lo! Stubborn persistent internet sleuthing uncovered what appear to be the single pair of brown tall boots that match my size specifications and were affordably priced. I found the HKM Italia boots on Tackville, with the size guide on yet another site haha.

not a lot of frills in this design - love that high top tho!
These are dress boots when I would have preferred field boots, and there was just one single photo on the website that didn't show the zipper situation on the boot. Honestly, the boots didn't even seem super attractive - and were maybe even kinda dubious in quality by appearances.

very simple detailing, a solid snaps
So obviously I clicked "order" haha.

I figured, these were legitimately the only boots that definitely matched my size specifications, were brown and were very reasonably priced. It felt worth the gamble on them maybe being kinda ugly. So long as they could potentially be functional, I wanted to take a shot.

plain shoe string pull tab for the zipper. and notably: not a lick of elastic anywhere
I remained some strange mix of cautiously optimistic and mildly dubious while waiting for the boots to arrive. Tackville shipping was ridiculously cheap ($7.79 for international shipping!), but also kinda ridiculously show. Trade offs, I guess.

detailing on the toe cap would make these boots look a little nicer, but i like the simple look
Finally tho, they arrived. Coming out of the box, I was underwhelmed by both the color of these boots (kinda chocolatey) and the feel. It is leather. But like. Maybe not what you think of when you think "Italian leather" lol. And getting them zipped up the first time was.... challenging.

old v. new
Actually I was surprised to see the boots don't have any elastic panels anywhere. Which, like... This is 2017, give me some damn elastic on my tall boots haha. But I put the left boot on first - the true test to see if they'd fit my weirdly sized calf. And - wonder of wonders, the boot went on! Put the right one on next and we were in business.

came with a pretty significant scuff out of the box. it cleaned off tho
The boots started off pretty tight around the middle of my calf, but fit really well at the top. They're also taller than the Mondonis (a definitely plus) and are generously enough sized at the top to keep the zipper up in place rather than trying to slide down.

they fit pretty well around the ankle. also why is it so hard to take pictures of yourself wearing boots?
The foot bed fits very well (I'm like, the most standard of standard size 7), tho there isn't a lot of cushioning. Might add some orthotic inserts bc #oldladyfeet haha.  All in all tho, with each subsequent ride, they've zipped up more and more easily (tho you better believe I'm gonna baby that zipper), and have broken in fairly quickly.

kinda shocked that they fit around the calf with no elastic lol
There have been no blisters or rubs - not in the ankle, nor behind the knee. Even when worn day after day, and for long periods of time.

first ride!
They also seemed to have a protective coating on them as water initially beaded off pretty easily. I've since cleaned and oiled them, which they've handled well with no discoloration or dye transfer.

no spur rests but that hasn't made a difference
After a week of regular use, my uncertain and skeptical feelings about these boots have melted away into feeling pretty freakin pleased with them. They fit well, are comfortable, and are brown boots that cost me less than $200. Check and check.

The quality is exactly what you would expect for those criteria: meaning, slightly rough around the edges. And I don't expect them to last me until the dawn of time.

boots in action!
But if they can hold up as long as the Mondonis did, I'll consider it a pretty solid success.

So for those of you out there looking for reasonably priced brown tall boots (or "long boots" as they apparently say in Europe haha) with harder-to-fit calf sizes, these HKMs are a solid option.