Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Jenny Camp '18: Cross Country!

We walked our courses after our lesson on Saturday. And I had a couple impressions from it. First of all: it would not be a slouch of a course.

Highlights from the map included: three A-B combinations, one we had struggled with in schooling, one with a ditch, and one with a bending line. Lots of big fences, some we had jumped before and some we hadn't. A galloping downhill line to the water. And a track that looked like it could possibly test Charlie's commitment to the task vs his near-magnetic draw back to the barn.

wish i had more hq pro photos to share with you today, but the few i have make me happy :D
I knew in my heart that there was nothing on this course that Charlie couldn't do. It looked fun. In reviewing my pictures from the walk, I could very clearly visualize us accomplishing each and every single obstacle.

But..... I could also see that we'd need to be fully in the zone in order to make it happen. If Charlie came out as the same horse I had at Plantation, we weren't gonna make it. And I figured I'd know pretty quickly whether that was the case.

nice long course. charlie's barn is in the cluster of trees and buildings in the bottom right hand corner, and i wasn't sure how he would feel about turning back away from that section
Step one was getting out of the gate haha. There were two back to back issues at the ditch combination necessitating a partial jump rebuild, so we were a little stacked up at the start gate. Once the course hold was lifted tho, I did a little "start box practice" with Charlie as the horse before us left the box. Then it was our turn!

simple hanging log to get started
Charlie left the box the best he ever has, including his reasonable departure from Plantation. Just up and into that gear we practiced at the pace clinic (remembering that the first 30sec were our most important!) and right over the log out of stride.

he always seems to have feelings going up the hill after the log
Just like at Plantation tho, immediately after jump 1 Charlie started sucking back. He had FEELINGS. It was a DISCUSSION, and a very loud one at that. Oooh but I growled and yelled at him. Half the farm definitely heard me. It's in the video.

The discussion was prolonged as Charlie swung his brontosaurus neck all over the place, propping up slightly in the canter and threatening to break to trot. Facing the tantrum head on definitely intensified it, as I knew it would (which is why I've kinda tacitly tried to avoid it in the past). But I was resolute: Sir, We Are Going.

I thought about circling, wondered if we'd have a refusal, tried to calculate how close I could get to the next fence before it would be considered "presenting" to it.... But eventually was basically like, "Fuck it. We are schooling and this is issue #1. I am driving this horse to the fence (visible in the background of the pic above) and there will be no ifs ands or buts about it."

we've jumped this ramp before
And? Well. About three strides from the ramp, Charlie suddenly seemed to notice it was there. Pricked his ears, locked on, jumped it right out of stride, and carried on as if nothing had ever happened. The dinosaur was apparently left behind us. Fucking BOOM.

new-to-us fence. option for all levels, and i really wasn't sure which section to choose.... all were about equally wide at the base (providing a safe ground line for the otherwise quite upright stile fences
The ground immediately after the ramp drops in a downhill arc to the corner where two pastures share a fence line (that we would be jumping through). I was worried about this section bc Charlie has historically always landed very unbalanced on this downhill turning section, usually thinking about returning back to the barn by exiting stage right. Plus we've never jumped these brush fences before.

The height options had given me some pause on our walk, bc I wasn't sure if they would be spooky or if the upright nature of the fences would be dicey if Charlie was very unbalanced. But color me shocked, Charlie actually landed very well and was firmly in front of my leg. Tho I opted to go for the far left side anyway, just in case the dinosaur reappeared there would be fewer options to run out since that section was set back into the fence line.

It was nbd tho, Charlie hopped over. And it dawned on me: maybe this would be ok after all?

this is me doing my best andrew nicholson impression lol.....
After our heated discussion between jumps 1 and 2, Charlie was GOING, YES MA'AM, and I opted to just cruise right along with him. Just stood up in the tack and let him fly up the hillside to our next jump, a galloping table we've seen before.

this log table is not small. we've jumped it before tho.
Much to my surprise, Charlie relatively easily steadied for me as we made the turn to the fence and I sat up a bit more upright in the saddle. Good boy! We took a little bit of an angled approach to the table to fit in our last stride to it, and Charlie popped over no problem.

the approach to these roll tops was extremely challenging imo
The next set of jumps on course were definitely going to be our most challenging (second to getting out of the start box, obvi, haha). You may remember that Charlie and I had some refusals here in schooling a couple weeks ago, which prompted getting him drilled and tapped for studs.

The picture above does a nice job of demonstrating the downhill 90* turn approach to these jumps, which were most definitely set on a forward two stride distance (tho we repeatedly fit in 3 during schooling....).

we struggled schooling them a couple weeks ago, and even once we got through, kept chopping in an extra stride
I really really really wanted to get through this line on the first try. But then again, if we were gonna have problems on course, this was probably where they would be.

So I just tried to do the best I could. We hugged the fence line for as long as possible, and I tried to really hold Charlie to the left on approach, hoping to close the door to a right side fly by like we had in schooling.

bless his heart tho, charlie picked up and made. it. happen. good boy!
Charlie was a star tho. The studs I think really made a difference for the horse, and he was much more comfortable keeping his pace up even as he went down the hill. He still felt somewhat noncommittal on approach to the fence and I honestly wasn't sure what he was going to do when we got to a bit of a gappy distance.

But he picked up. Jumped in there, powered through in two, hit another slightly gappy distance to the B element, but picked up again and carried us right on through. GOOD BOY CHARLIE!!!

this jump seems unassuming, but it's actually 100% not my favorite
I can't even explain the relief I felt haha. Like. It was around here that I started feeling like things would be ok.

austen correctly observed that you can basically see right through charlie's nostrils directly into his brain in this pic lol. and his brain says "WE R RUN DIS R FUN RUN RUN OMG!" lol. but believe it or not, this half halt DID actually go through and he practically show jumped the log vertical. GOOD BOY!
That feeling was amplified further when, even tho we were galloping straight back toward the barn (Charlie's favorite place to run!), our next jump was a deceptively tricksy upright vertical with a downhill landing. It's a jump that would like a little respect, thankyouvermuch, rather than a headlong galloping approach.

yup, atta boy, chuck!
Charlie flung his head around a little bit when I tried to get him more organized, but.... then, ya know, he actually DID steady. Literally came right back to me, got on a more balanced stride, and basically just show jumped the vertical like the easiest thing in the world.

That adjustability is NOT something I'm used to from this horse on cross country lol, but it's finally starting to happen!

water was numbered separately from the red boat house coop thingy. but this was our chance to really slay the direct route, finally
But then naturally we flew down the hill, aimed at the water, CANNONBALLED into the water, skated across in probably the biggest four strides I've ever ridden in my LIFE, then super-manned out over the coop haha.

aaaand.... charlie LEAPT into the water haha
Seriously. It was insane. But like, that addictive thrilling kind of insane.

seriously tho, check out our wake omg
Like. There was no question here. No hesitation. I honestly was barely even steering. I think my brain might have even still been trailing somewhere back up on the hill behind us.....

he was a heat seeking missile to the coop!
But Charlie knew where he was going. Knew what he was doing. He was JOMPING OMG YAS WE R JOMPING!!!

this jump is also not small. at all. and we had never jumped it before.
Haha I barely even got my ass in gear well enough to steer him through the break in the fence line, lest Charlie run us head long into some chicken wire....

Once through the gate tho he was still ALL SYSTEMS GO and charged the above relatively giant fucking log oxer thingy. So gung ho tho, omg. We got a fairly snug distance here bc ya know, we were perhaps just a titch strung out lol, but Charlie didn't care. He was eating it up.

Brita happened to catch almost all of this mid section of the course on video and it's definitely worth a quick watch lol. Bc it was basically classic Charlie, except homeboy is growing up these days <3

we've jumped this house.... but it was definitely positioned to be spooky
Anyway, after the oxer we navigated a rutted stream crossing into the next field (which Charlie jumped, natch) then galloped up the hill to this house. The house itself is nbd - it's too big for a BN course, but is definitely on the friendly side of N.

But the positioning was tough. Like jumping into a dark wooded jungle tunnel. Not just like, a little wooded, but dark. This was another area on the course where I felt we might have trouble. And Charlie did stand off it a little bit - but nothing crazy. I was ready for it and he never actually got behind my leg. Just seemed to measure it up a little bit, but jumped fine and then cruised through the tunnel.

emerging through the tunnel took us to combo #2
Actually, he flew through the tunnel - definitely looking for his next target haha.

big ditch to rails!
Which happened to be the ditch combination that had apparently caused some grief on course. Charlie schooled this line a couple times last year, tho we haven't touched it since.

rails too sma tho, compared to everything else on course
But aside from the blip at Windurra, Charlie's never been a ditchy horse. I assumed he would lock on to the B element jump and never look back.

pictured: "what ditch tho?"
Which Charlie happily set out to do. If anything, I wish the B element had been a little bigger bc Charlie kinda just ran it over lol.

then a nice ramp through the fence line. not tall, but wider than it appears. very friendly.
Anyway. The course continued to its furthest point before the turnaround - the field right next to Charlie's barn. He tackled this simple ramp through the fence line with gusto. Proving yet again why he would be such an awesome horse to fox hunt...

charlie was basically in cruise control <3
Then we had a long swooping turnaround on mowed grass. Charlie actually slipped behind pretty badly on this turn, which made me a litttttle bit nervous. Except he hardly seemed to notice. If anything, it reminded him to keep his hind end coming up underneath himself.

biggest fence on course. probably biggest xc fence charlie has jumped. and oh but he flew <3
Which was perfect bc we had our biggest galloping fence yet to tackle next: a big old table shared with Training. I'm honestly not even convinced this thing is technically within N dimensions. Like, maybe on a perfectly flat surface haha, maybe. It's big tho. In every dimension.

And Charlie locked on, measured it up, and powered right over. Yesssss!

then a long downhill cruise to a helpful turn back up to this very small steeplechase (there was brush in it when we saw it on course)
Obvi I was over the moon (ha, literally), knowing we just had a few more jumps. Next on the list wasn't much to look at in and of itself, but it was another test of whether Charlie really has learned something about adjustability.

already locking on to the bench on a bending line
After the table we galloped straight down hill before a short turn back up to a small steeplechase. And guys. Charlie did it! Came back to me, balanced, and again basically show jumped the thing.

apparently they ran out of A-B flags haha, bc this bench (which is beefier than the picture does justice) was supposed to be the B element in a bending line. we jumped it anyway ;)
Which was perfect bc even tho the bending line had been taken off course, I still wanted a shot at it. Which Charlie acquiesced to, with a very measured steady bending five to the bench.

the bench is not a small fence, but charlie didn't care
It was almost like Charlie had read the course map ahead of time too.

charlie's first trakehner! 
Then off we cantered to the last couple fences on course: a trakehner that's always made me a little nervous even tho it's kinda innocuous.

it's a real ditch, and not insubstantially wide... but the grassy appearance makes it quite inviting
Charlie didn't care tho - jumped it from a great forward stride.

"yea, i still don't see what the big deal is about ditches tho"
I know I sound like a broken record, but it felt good.

previously the largest fence charlie had seen - from when we schooled at Shawan
We had another little stream crossing (which Charlie also jumped, obvi) then a quick approach to this brush table we had schooled at Shawan. Again, this is not a small fence. But again, Charlie didn't care. Soared over.

final fence, another nice beefy bench
Then kept right on cruising to the big green bench right out of stride for our final effort. Then zooooomed through the finish line and all the way back up to stadium before I could get him stopped haha.

smiling the whole way through <3 <3 <3
So. Uh. I think it's safe to say the horse had fun. Lol. And I am thrilled with him.

It's not easy, we made mistakes, and there are still so many holes in our training. But damn, when the pieces click together this horse is one hell of a machine.

This post has already been ridiculously long, so virtual cookies if you've read this far - I appreciate it! But I hope you'll watch the helmet cam footage too bc it's a good one.

I'm trying to remember but this might actually be the first real cross country course where I didn't come back down to trot or walk for any of it. No little schooling diversions. Just all the direct routes, all at cruising speed haha. The course was great too - it felt like a lot of action, lots of jumps in close proximity, even as we had some real room to gallop.

yup i've been waiting for this picture for a long time <3
It's exciting to me, ya know? Like I don't think I'll ever be more than a low level event rider. It's not clear if I'll ever even do anything recognized. But Charlie feels like exactly the kind of horse that I can have a LOT of fun with - like a horse who will take me wherever I feel brave enough to go.

I'm glad that he challenges me too tho. As much as I hate to admit it, I think we needed that rough ride at Plantation to help keep things in perspective for me. Help me be disciplined to push him through the tar pits, and then appreciate him that much more when he rockets me around a big course like this like an angel-dust-fueled dynamo.

Bc this is the high we live for, right? ;)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Jenny Camp '18: Dressage + Stadium

Anybody who has been reading for any length of time already knows that I'm a bit of a hopelessly sentimental sap. It's true, there's no denying that. This year's MCTA Jenny Camp hosted by OF was special in how it proved to be the convergence of two different threads in the fabric of my journey into eventing.

dis charlie's "i'm a good boy doin' mah job!" face, lookin handsome as always in his v-shaped Dark Jewel Designs browband
First up is what it meant to me to compete at OF again. I've been riding at this farm since the spring of 2014. It was my destination of choice when I first decided to dive into eventing with Isabel and bought my truck and trailer to haul in for weekly lessons with trainer P.

That fall, Isabel and I did our first ever starter trial. We finished the BBN division on our dressage score and checked a major item off my bucket list in the process. OF typically hosts two events a year - a USEA recognized event and a fall starter trial. So obviously the next year Isabel and I were eager to get back out there, this time for our last BN run before moving up to N. That remains one of my most favorite cross country runs with Isabel.

And then..... Well. That was it. I haven't competed at OF's starter trials since. In 2016 I was horseless (that was basically the exact timeframe Charlie entered the picture), and in 2017 Charlie and I had to scratch bc Mt Vesuvius his splint injury was looking more and more likely to be a surgical case.

we don't always bend left. but when we do bend left, we over-bend left lol
Meanwhile, I've already written somewhat extensively on my checkered history with MCTA's Jenny Camp starter trial. This event is typically held at Shawan Downs, and Charlie's intro run there last spring was 100% the redemption I needed. Not to mention, the run where he really proved to me that he could be an eventing powerhouse.

This year tho, MCTA moved the event to OF, and I had planned it as Charlie's move up to Novice this past May. Except.... It was postponed due to rain, and we moved up at Loch Moy instead.

But with our disastrous and disheartening second N attempt at Plantation, Jenny Camp was poised yet again to be our shot at redemption.

or just over bend in general lol. he was kiiiiiiiinda fakin it, and the judge could totally tell haha
Thus bringing us full circle, and back to present day: Competing at my home turf for the first time since the highs of the Isabel era, and looking for another proverbial win at an event that has not always been kind to us haha.

So let's get on with it, shall we?

he was trying tho, being very obedient
I kept Charlie's warm up brief and to the point - just a little bit of stretching into trot and a couple careful canter transitions on each lead. His last few tests it has seemed like I blew through his best work in warm up, then kinda had a freight train in the test itself.

So I wanted to avoid that this time, while also avoiding the trap of not being warmed up enough vis-a-vis canter leads like in our first test of the year at Loch Moy.

some very happy moments in the test too. but gosh, emma. shorten. your. reins. for. fucks. sake.
It worked out too. We were able to get into the ring a little early, and the judge very promptly rang the bell for us (even as Charlie was kinda periscope-up, eyeballin all the buzzing activity of trailers parked in the field across the lane from the dressage court...) and off we went!

felt like we had our best canters yet in this test
This was easily Charlie's most obedient test to date. He was prompt, responsive, and was basically all aboard the "head down and bend plz" train. Plus he was maintaining a pretty lovely rhythm without the running that sometimes plagues us.

I figured out at Plantation where we got a personal record score despite me not being happy with the test that maybe I needed to back off the gas pedal a little bit while in the ring. And based on this test, I think that's the right strategy for Charlie right now.

not every moment was perfect, but when i remembered to ride charlie responded in kind
We even made a semi respectable turn off center line too - finally! Usually we enter fairly straight for a 7, but then immediately blow that good first impression to smithereens by nearly eating shit and dying in that first 10m half circle turn off the line lol. Not this time tho! Our first four movements all scored 7s. Good dog, Charlie!

trot diagonals are still my favorite tho <3
And basically the whole test rode like that. Mostly very good, every button I pressed seemed to work promptly. Not perfectly tho: we lacked engagement from behind, and Charlie's trailing hind end meant he had a few unfortunate stumbles.

Plus he was kinda faking it with his head set - as evidenced by the lack of true engagement. Meaning, he wasn't really lifting through his back or lifting through the base of his neck to reach out to the bit. This meant that at times he got a little deep and over bent. Which obviously the judge totally knew.

and we canter! with bonus gorgeous tail
I wasn't gonna argue with the horse tho. He felt for all the world like he thought he was being the best boy, and I like it when he feels like that. Like when he feels like he knows the job at hand and is eager and willing to do it -- even if it wasn't quiiiiite technically correct.

And like, let's be real, I could have done a better job as a rider and maybe he would have come more over his back anyway without much added effort. Like, if, say, I stretched my legs down long or shortened my freakin reins (seriously tho, omg, omg, emma, plz stahp with the wide hands... he's not that green anymore!!).

Case in point: during our second canter circle I kinda had this epiphany moment of "Oh yea, Emma, don't you want to try riding this canter and showing it off to the judge?" at which point I .... pulled myself a little more together. And boom, got a 7 with comment "better on second half" bc yea. Riding helps, it turns out lol.

lookin pretty freakin balanced and happy here. good boy, charlie <3
It was a good test in all tho. The judge rewarded our consistency even as she made some pointed comments about our lack of engagement and iffy connection. I goofed and forgot to add the collectives to the video below, but they are:

Gaits: 6.5 - Nice pair, careful over bending neck left
Impulsion: 7.0 - Haunches trail due to lack of push left hind
Submission: 7.0
Rider: 7.0 - Continue to encourage correct connection

For a final score of 33.6%. I knew it wouldn't be our best scoring test bc the tests I like the most tend not to be the best scoring lol, go figure. But I'm still counting it as Charlie's best, most complete, and most obedient effort. And it put us 5th of 9, squarely in the middle of the pack. Which, let's be real, for me and Charlie that's basically the same as winning haha.

Charlie had barely broken a sweat with the economical warm up and quick test, and then got to go chill in his stall for an hour while I hustled around the cross country course watching Brita and Rachael gallop across their Training track. Much fun was had by all!

Then even more hustling bc I had just under one hour after that to retrieve Charlie from his stall, get the studs in, tack him up, and get up to the warm up ring for jumping.

then jompies time! charlie jumped the snot out of jump 1 haha
This period included a not insignificant chunk of precious minutes spent staring slack jawed at my bridle and bit collection. I've been riding a lot in my hackamore lately, but knew I would maybe need a little more help steering - esp at the roll tops at 5AB on our xc course.

Meanwhile, my jump bridle just had a simple Sprenger KK loose ring on it; I hadn't actually ridden in our Sprenger KK elevator with double reins and curb chain since Plantation. So I contemplated literally all my options. Just go with the hackamore? Or just the KK loose ring? Or use my bradoon hanger to combine the two? Or get the elevator back on the bridle??

Eventually I decided on the elevator, and set to readjusting all the cheek pieces and moving reins etc. Ultimately I believe this was absolutely the right choice haha, but it wasted precious minutes.

I also spent time pondering my stud collection. We have had a lot of rain lately, including a pretty drenching storm the night before, but parts of the course were still pretty dry and hard. I wondered if I should go for the more pointy grass studs labeled for "firm" ground, at least behind. But ultimately decided to just go with the same square flat-ish road studs I've used the past few times. These worked out ok, tho we did slip twice on course and maybe could have used the next step up.

i <3 this Old Bay jump. yummmmy ;)
Anyway tho, finally I had the horse (who was napping, btw) ready to go, and we hustled as quickly as we could to warm up. I was running late lol. We cut through the dressage warm up and trailer parking areas, trotting all the way. Charlie maybe.... would have preferred to walk instead, and get to look more closely at all these trailers invading the erstwhile quite field. But oh well.

He warmed up feeling very distracted, and very strong. The elevator was the right choice for sure. And he knocked the warm up oxer pretty hard, despite jumping from a pretty good spot. Perfect, I love getting that reminder in warm up.

killed it through the two stride in and out
He felt as ready as he'd ever be, so in we went to stadium a little early. Again he felt a little distracted through the beginning. He found a really nice rhythm and was finding the jumps nicely out of stride, but seemed like his mind was maybe elsewhere and we had a couple hard taps that could have easily been rails.

and i think he cleared the stars and stripes lol... #overacheiver
Charlie felt good tho - listened really well and handled the terrain beautifully. Especially to the two stride coming around an undulating turn and going up hill. He nailed it, but then I didn't do a very good job setting him up for the bending line to the next fence and he ran past his distance for the rail. Simple mistake, nbd.

finishing up the last line starting with the sail boats
He cleaned it up well after that and jumped the snot out of the stars and stripes haha, then came around to the last line quite nicely. It walked in a 7/8, but I had a feeling Charlie would eat the ground up a little quick haha. Which he did, but he fit the 7th in mostly ok so it was nbd.

barely fit the last stride in, but jumped it cleanly. i'll take it!
All in all, it felt pretty easy. Charlie kept that same feeling from dressage where he seemed to really understand what we were doing, and what was expected of him. He was forward and very firmly in front of my leg, while not being rude about dragging me around. The adjustments were there when I needed them but for the most part we were able to take every fence from a forward feeling stride.

It was a far cry from our sticky sloppy round at Plantation. And for that, I'm grateful. Stadium has historically been a strong phase for Charlie, even tho we fairly consistently have a rail (at all heights haha). It's NOT *my* best phase for damn sure lol, so I'm extremely grateful to have a horse who is relatively uncomplicated here haha.

I had some serious trepidation about heading out on cross country tho. Mostly revolving around leaving the start gate, and any issues we might have with barn sourness, considering how close we'd get to Charlie's barn in the back fields. Would he want to check out and go home? Or would he click into gear and stay focused on course?

I honestly didn't know what to expect. But I hoped that if he maintained the same attitude he had through dressage and stadium, that we'd be in for a good round. Stay tuned for full details tomorrow!