Tuesday, January 30, 2018

why we can't have nice stuff

Try as I might to poke and prod all the photographers who attended the cross derby at Loch Moy two weekends ago, no action shots of Charlie have emerged. Sadness. I had hoped that maybe someone would have caught a lucky shot during the warm up schooling break, but alas.

our only pro photo from the derby at loch moy, when charlie and i camped out next to the photogs while waiting for brita's run. charlie immediately ingratiated himself to the photographer,  who had cookies lol. photo credit Samantha Haynie
Tho one photographer very generously supplied the above picture - a super close up bc charlie was actively mugging her for cookies. At least he managed to pull on a majestic look-of-eagles expression for this one moment tho haha.

My inner media junkie is still sad tho. I guess it just means that next time we better be ready to do our timed round instead of just the schooling!

back at home, it's mud season. blech.
Things at home continue to just chug on along tho. The ground conditions have been absolutely bi-polar. Swinging wildly between very muddy, slick conditions, to freezing even when it doesn't actually feel that cold out. Plus a fair bit of rain, just to keep us on our toes.

charlie. buddy. i leave you without your sheet for one day, and THIS is how you repay me??
Blanketing Charlie through the season hadn't actually been that challenging, up until now. This barn is different than literally any barn I've ever worked at or boarded at before, in that blanketing is simply not a service offered. There's a very small add-on fee for checking blanket straps at turn in and turn out, but staff doesn't change blankets as a rule.

(Tho I've seen some staffers who will make the executive choice to pop on a sheet or blanket when the weather is doing extreme yo yo stuff, so it's not like they're totally heartless -- it's just simply not a service included in board.)

sigh...... sometimes i really miss our vacuum cleaner from the last barn.
This legitimately had me freaked out going into winter. Every other place I've been, staff members checked forecasts and changed blankets at breakfast and dinner as needed. At Isabel's barn, I *was* one of those staffers changing blankets constantly. Charlie, being the delicate hot house flower that he is, certainly appreciated his regular changes at the last h/j place.

He doesn't grow much of a coat, after all, and is kinda a pansy about nasty weather (particularly wet or very windy conditions). Plus the last thing I wanted was to see him drop any of that hard gained weight over the winter!

at least he still has a sock?
Luckily, one of the staffers in a different barn on property (there are three barns that operate under slightly different mgmt) set up her own little side business. For a small monthly fee, she will change and adjust blankets as needed on week day mornings.

I quite happily paid her up front for the whole season, tho I've also been happily surprised in not actually needing her help as often as I expected. (Obvi it's very reassuring to know she IS there to help when I need it!). Mostly I've been able to keep Charlie blanketed to my preferences when I'm there on week nights and weekends.

random aside, i had major rig envy the other day while strolling through my baltimore city neighborhood only to stumble across this police rig. which, obvi, naturally i went stalking around trying to find the horses themselves. only spotted them from a few blocks away, going the opposite direction. oh well!
Lately tho it's been a little more of a challenge. We're in that strange period of time when it's still dipping below freezing often, and days can be cold. But then we have the occasional rainy day where temperatures soar up to the 50s.

Since Charlie only has two blankets (a light and a medium, which I layer together in very cold temps to make a heavy), it's becoming challenging to play musical chairs with them, esp in the rain. Nothing dries very fast in this weather either. Idk. Tricky tricky. Probably Charlie just needs another set of clothes to help with the constant rotation of late. Maybe.

and bc it's been too long since i've fulfilled the internet-mandated cat quota, here are two of them. trying to act innocent. not being innocent.
I guess these are the little aspects of horse ownership, esp with boarding somewhat far from home, that are harder to anticipate. In my ideal world, I'd board at a farm with more services included in the board.

But.... I had that at my last place (and it was closer to home) and still ultimately came to the conclusion that this new farm was the place for us. Mostly bc of the wonderful facilities that naturally are less accessible during the winter months. Like the cross country course! So we stay put haha.

yea. not innocent at all. via GIPHY

It helps that Charlie legitimately seems happier at this farm. I might grumble about the challenges posed by having to change my own blankets (grumble grumble lol), but Charlie hardly seems to notice. Actually, his whole personality at the new place is more relaxed and friendly.

Remember when I wrote about him going after and biting a staffer at the last place? And I'm not sure I mentioned it, but when they blanketed him they had to do so on cross ties bc.... he could be a nasty sonuvabitch.

Naturally I warned all the staff at the new place to watch their backs. And literally all of them have, at some point, come back to tell me they can't understand why on earth I was worried. That he's so easy and friendly and laid back. Even the lady who helps with his blankets (who I encouraged to tie him up while doing so) told me he's a perfect gentleman. Go figure.

"don't look at me, it wasn't my idea to bring that one home!"
But I'm never gonna argue with a happy horse. And Charlie is currently a happy horse. So we stay put. And I'm meanwhile fantasizing about days when blanketing is less of a concern. And when the ground conditions improve beyond either constant mud or constant dastardly frozen peaks.

Because we want to go out and do stuffffff!!!

and bc not a lot else is going on this time of year, why not make overly ambitious plans for the future??
To help feed the beast of impatience, my riding buddies and I all sat down last week with a printed out version of my list of potential 2018 events to see what strikes our fancy. That list isn't even fully up to date yet - there are still a couple venues that haven't published their starter trial schedules yet.

But there is a LOT on the list that looks exciting to us! And actually, after discussing it, I'm not so sure after all that Charlie and I will play around with anything recognized this year. There are just so many fun and excellent unrecognized options (which, naturally, are at least half the cost) that it doesn't really make sense considering we're not working on qualifications for anything.

sticking to last year's planning framework, we just looked about six months ahead, with the expectation to regroup in july/august
All the same tho, we took a good long look at vacation schedules and what kind of intensity we think is sustainable for a competition schedule. Only really looking out for the next six months with the idea that there's usually a midsummer lull in July and August (lots of recognized stuff those months but not many starter trials).

I highlighted days on the calendar above that correspond to events that are denoted with a "*" on my events page. We identified potential volunteer opportunities too - knowing I want to volunteer in 7 of 12 months, per my goals. It's kinda an ambitious schedule looking at it like this. But naturally it's all very flexible and will depend entirely on how the horses are feeling.

It's exciting tho. Lots to look forward to. If the mud ever goes away, haha. And if we survive this interim period of not knowing from one moment to the next how to get my darn horse blanketed appropriately for the weather..... We'll see how it goes lol.

Monday, January 29, 2018

f*ck yea, more grids!

It's crazy to me how quickly we can get spoiled by a little nice weather. Especially if it comes hand in hand with good footing conditions in the outdoor arenas. After getting so many great outdoor rides last week, it was kinda depressing to face more frozen ground and the dusty indoor again.

peaceful ponies at the round bale. charlie isn't exactly alpha, but he's also big enough that most horses don't really mess with him
But. Ya know. That's winter, right? And anyway, I was determined to fit in at least one lesson with trainer P this month after all - since I had just enough time this weekend to squeeze into her early morning lesson.

now that's an eager trot haha
And - surprise, surprise! - the exercise du jour was more grids!!! Shocking!!!

But seriously tho, I honestly am pretty convinced that Charlie would be very well served by weekly grid practice from now until the end of eternity so.... Ya know. I'm cool with it haha.

would be a nicer pic if it were less dark and blurry. or if i sat down. lol. either way!
Especially bc it's a little hard to find motivation to do much after being spoiled by a week of nice weather only to suddenly lose it again. Like, I tried to school under the lights in the big outdoor jump ring the night prior and was pretty unreasonably demoralized by how frozen the ground was. Sadness.

charlie's so excited to demonstrate how well he's learned how to play this game!
The indoor is ridiculously dusty right now too - it hasn't been getting watered much with all the construction going on around it. And with something like five horses going, we were all just coated in dust haha. Even with opening some of the doors....

wheeeee good boy!!
It felt worth it tho. A simple ride, nothing much ground breaking that was covered. Our flat work was.... eh, kinda braced. Idk. And the grid work was not meaningfully different than other sessions from the past month or two.

excited coming the other direction too haha
Tho I will say, it's really cool to feel how excited Charlie gets about grids now. Like, he totally gets the game. And LOVES it. And just straight up attacks the poles and jumps - tho carefully and with an appropriate degree of foot awareness. Meaning maybe only one or two knocked rails for the whole time. I'll take it!

i appreciate how well he's attacking these fences while still getting the footwork right
Honestly I'm pretty convinced our heavy focus on grids over the last ~6 weeks is a major part of what has made Charlie so FUN and EASY to jump lately. Like, he's got this whole new education on how his body moves through time and space relative to fixed-distance gymnastics. And can apply that to reading his approach to individual jumps.

Likewise, the grids have helped me really work on staying with Charlie over the fences - especially as it relates to keeping my leg on and my hand following. None of it is perfect yet, but again. I credit the successes of rides like this and this with all the grid practice.

Because the reality is - I've never regularly ridden a horse this big with a stride this long. So a long distance on Charlie looks.... freakin impossible lol. Meanwhile, he much prefers that long spot to the chip stride that I'm always constantly trying to cram in there. Bc nobody likes that chip stride, Emma. C'mon now.

atta boy, charlie. atta boy.
But if nothing else, this grid practice is hopefully instilling in us a solid muscle memory to be applied once we get back out in the open again. Which, also hopefully, will not be very long from now. Ugh, winter.

Do you have a tried-n-true, go-to exercise for when your options are limited by weather? Some sort of simple practice, be it cavalleti or a certain grid or ground pole configuration, or a set of flat work exercises that you always return to when there isn't much else to do?

Friday, January 26, 2018

coming to an understanding

There's something I didn't really say out loud in recapping our recent cross country outing at Loch Moy (tho I mentioned it a little bit in the comments).

That write up was mostly a pretty detailed, cerebral summary of how the day unfolded, what we did and didn't do, what worked well, and what will need more attention going forward. In essence, it was my favorite type of ride recap: a full dissection of all the nitty gritties.

This style of writing helps me better understand what, exactly, happened. So that successes can be reproduced in future rides, and problems or mistakes can be more easily corrected or avoided. It's how my process-oriented brain works.

so freakin crazy about this sweet, kind gelding. thanks Austen for capturing these lovely photographs!
Often times, however, this thought process overlooks the core essence of a ride. Well, ok I don't entirely "overlook" the emotional aspect bc I do try to be very honest in recording my emotional state during a ride. Namely, did I feel confident? Or nervous? Or sick deep down in my squishy yellow belly? Was I bold in tackling new challenges or did I have to "make myself" do it?

But that's still kinda a superficial gloss over what's going on inside my head. Whether I admit it or not. And it wasn't until a day or two later that I realized something really important about this schooling ride.

This cross country schooling was fun. Obvi, right? But like, no really. FUN. Every single step of the ride. Every moment.

Not the kind of "fun" that you can't experience until you're already dismounting and taking a deep breath, having survived the experience and finally able to let your guard down. No no, fun in the moment, as it's happening. 

he may be spoiled, but he's just so pleasant to be around
And I realized, I'm not sure I've had Fun with a capital "F" in the act of schooling cross country since.... well, 2015, honestly.

Like, thinking back to that post I linked in my recap - where I talked about my pre-ride selfie back in early 2016 with Isabel. And how maybe my expression in that picture was an omen for the season to come (hint, it totally was). I was surprised to see how many folks clicked through that link - bc a ton of you did.

But when I went back to really re-read that 2016 post.... Well. All those sensations and memories came flooding back. Even then, I was already beginning to feel sadness at the loss of what had been Isabel's and my amazing journey into the world of eventing. Even tho we wouldn't officially call it quits until three months (and countless crashes and falls) later.

I still wish I better understood what happened. That whole "dissecting all the nitty gritties so mistakes and problems can be corrected or avoided in the future" thing.

Actually, this recent article by Sally Cousins was super thought provoking in that regard, as it describes the long term sustainability of different styles of jumping in a way I had never previously considered.

love his goofy faces too lol
Ultimately tho, I kinda just have to let it go. And it's been hard. My riding in a post-Isabel world was also replete with challenges, and I fell off no less than three other horses that summer. Each in painful and scary circumstances.

So when Charlie came onto the scene, he was almost automatically at a disadvantage. The only saving grace being his extreme greenness. We had all the time in the world to get to know each other in low pressure, low intensity settings while he learned to be a riding horse. With the idea being that, by the time he was ready to be introduced to the big bad world of cross country, for instance, I'd have already built up our trust bank a bit.

And this did prove to be true - I *knew* in my heart of hearts during Charlie's earliest schooling rides that he would be a good boy. I was still scared tho. More than scared - a nervous wreck. And I fully admit to pounding at least one (maybe two) alcoholic beverages before those first couple schoolings wherein Charlie tackled his first itsy bitsy logs and boxes and roll tops.

naturally Austen needed her quota of snuggles too!
Even as Charlie has advanced in his experience and schooling, it's been a struggle for me to keep up with him. Especially when he became more gung ho about this whole jumping thing before I felt quite up to snuff in the rider fitness department.

And as recently as this past December, I was writing about needing to address my mojo. Needing to push myself and challenge myself to get back to good in the saddle.

So it took a little while to sink in after the derby schooling at Loch Moy. But. Guys. What stands out the most to me in thinking back on the ride? There was nobody there holding my hand (I mean, Brita was there if I needed her, but we were both pretty fine to focus on our own rides and goals), no trainer giving me cover about which jumps to choose.

Just me, myself, and I. And Charlie. Being accountable for our own selves. Making choices. And making good choices. Picking out jumps bc they looked like fun, bc I had seen them in the past, maybe during a course walk while Charlie was laid up from surgery, and thought "I want to jump THAT." And then given the opportunity? I did, in fact, jump that. And it was good.

even Lyra got some snuffles too. or maybe she was just eating up his lunch crumbs haha
This might sound silly, or trivial. Or like I'm kinda voluntarily dragging myself along some sort of emotional roller coaster in assessing the nebulous, vague emotional implications of jumping my horse over BN jumps.

To me, tho? It feels a little bit like a dam breaking. Obviously confidence in riding is a fickle, changeable thing. It ebbs and flows, often for no logical or rational reason. And sometimes riding can be a slog. It's not easy, and bad things can happen even when you're trying your hardest.

But for right now, in this moment, I'm choosing to savor this feeling. And appreciate this special horse I've been lucky enough to ride, for being exactly what I need in an equine partner.

So here's to celebrating the small wins, and a future hopefully filled with many more FUN moments in the saddle with our horses!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

taking it back

A few weeks ago, I wrote that it seemed highly unlikely we'd be able to wear long sleeves and jump around in the outdoor arena this January. Happily, I appear to have been incorrect.

Tho, admittedly I'm also wearing a coat and scarf in the below photos.... but our recent break in the weather has meant a return to the big ring!! Yay!! Not something I mind being wrong about!

i'm just plain never going to get tired of his expression and ears <3
Anyway, Charlie's grand return to jumping around this arena coincided with our weekly lesson with upper level event rider K. To sweeten the deal, former barn mate Rachael was able to haul her mare Birdie in to join us too! Meaning fun with friends AND videos!! Double win!

even if he was a little lethargic and behind my leg -- look at that loopy curb rein!! who is this horse??
And an extra special added bonus, Charlie was channeling his inner hunter in a MAJOR way this ride. Like.... Seriously just loooooping along, popping over everything from happy little gappy distances. Taking leg to the base, and a mostly floating curb rein. Only thing missing from the hunteresque picture is his auto change.... That'll be back* in time tho, methinks.

(*considering he busted one out (!!!) in the middle of the line around 2:05 in the vid below).

the go button still works tho!
Honestly I suspect it might have been more of a function of being rusty, or perhaps the wet packed and recently thawed ground had him stepping a little more thoughtfully. In other words, I don't expect Charlie to always go like this. But it was certainly quite enjoyable to ride!

the swedish oxer featured heavily in our mini courses
It's so funny tho, I've spent so much time telling trainer K all about Charlie being strong and occasionally nappy. And... .sometimes I wonder if she just thinks I'm crazy, bc she hasn't really had a chance to see Charlie exhibit literally any of the behaviors I tell her we struggle with.

And this ride was basically more of the same (not complaining!), tho Charlie *did* give her a little peek at his inner brontosaurus. Our last couple courses started on the left lead, and at the end of the ride he finally expressed some annoyance about this - with a half-hearted kick-n-prop, before striking off into canter of his own volition.

charlie showing K an itsy bitsy baby bronto-stuck-in-tar-pit moment. she hadn't yet seen this side of him lol
Which, honestly, it was useful for K to see it with her own eyes (tho obvi I doubt it'll be the last time) so that my explanation of our run at Fair Hill last fall made more sense: When Charlie started napping out of the start box and didn't immediately snap out of it - resulting in our catastrophe of a jump at fence 3, the red table (of George Morris Critique fame lol).

the simple barrel oxer was also well-utilized, tho it turned into a swedish too later on
So I'm sure that little nugget is just gonna get logged away in her gray matter until such a day as we need to address it more directly. Bc for this ride.... again, Charlie was just easy.

We started by trotting over a placing pole to cross rail, alternating approaches. During which it grew to a vertical, then oxer. Then we cantered it. Charlie was foot perfect. Sorry if I sound like a broken record lol, but I have to make up for months off from his surgery where I missed out on getting to call my pony a majikal unikorn! So I'm making up for it today!

charlie was quiet but VERY good off my thigh/knee/leg aids
After that, we just loped on up and over the swedish oxer and barrel oxer, jumping in both directions. It's not on the video but one of these times we got VERY LONG OMG to the swedish haha and I actually maybe almost fell off. Twas fine tho. He's still perfect lol.

wheeeee more swedish!
Then just starting to put course work together, using the center line oxer we'd started on, turning to the line from barrel oxer to plain vertical in an easy 4 (~57' to start, tho she stretched it out later), then back around to the swedish. Then the same exact thing in reverse order.

all the jumps rode in both directions so the course was fully reversible
Then we added in a little complexity by creating two lines to the swedish oxer - one from a vertical on the outside that we sliced at a fairly extreme angle to make a straight line to the swedish in 6-7 strides. And a bending line from the central rainbow oxer to the swedish that rode in 6 with bend or 5 if you rode it in a straight line.

still a few, er, *fun* moments. i swear when my hands are back like that it's bc i've slipped the reins. pinky swear! if you don't believe me, check in around 1:20 in the video and watch my hands as we approach the swedish and i see that we're probably gonna add, but slip the reins in case he goes for the long spot instead.
Bless Charlie's heart (he's perfect, ya know), bc I've kinda gotten into the habit of slipping my reins whenever the distances feel a little long (tho at least I'm getting better about still going with him with my upper body....) but am rusty with the double reins and was totally disorganized as we hurtled down the line toward the swedish (above).

And he just went. Just goes to the fence, even with minimal steering or rein aids. Goooood boy, Charlie!

mostly tho, he was just spot on. being all adorably tidy up front to this swedish barrel even from a close spot
So ya know. It was good practice. I REALLY liked the feeling Charlie had this ride where I needed to keep my leg on to create more canter to the fences. Putting my leg on seems to be a critical ingredient in telling my upper body to commit to the fence too lol, go figure.

Esp bc I know Charlie's gonna go if I leg him up to a fence, it's easier to trust and go with him, instead of staying behind him in the back seat.

Definitely a good feeling. I also really liked a lot of what trainer K had to say this ride too. She wants to see the same kind of outcome as trainer P when it comes to balance in turns and straightness to the fences, but just has a different way of saying things.

You can hear it in the video, but she talks a lot about using my knees to give leg aids - which is really interesting to hear after this week's dressage lesson with C, who told me to start at the top of my leg and go down, vs starting at the bottom. So hearing my jump trainer also direct me to use thigh and knee in my leg aids is nice reinforcement of the concept.

yup he's a good boy <3
Honestly this lesson was just another positive step for us. Mostly pretty simple. Mostly easy fences. Just ticking off the experience; checking that the pieces are working reliably. Calibrating where we are after a heavy focus on grid work recently. And edging me back to where I want to be: slowly feeling stronger and more secure in my position, and more in sync with my horse.

And all along, feeling like these exercises are routine, bordering on mundane. Practicing known skills vs challenging ourselves with the unknown. Because boring is delightful to me right now. The unknown will come in time!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

butt bones + back bones

I have a fairly well documented set of biomechanical flaws when it comes to dressage. Over the years I've worked hard to address it.... but that work has also often taken a back seat to improving the horse's way of going.

Now technically speaking, these two things are directly related to each other but..... Well. When you're a decidedly novice rider on a green horse, with a limited attention span.... Yea. You pick your battles. It's mentally hard for me to work on things like getting a sharp, prompt reaction from the horse while being simultaneously completely absorbed with my own position.

flash back to charlie's first show. we r so gud at dersage, guys
For our latest lesson with dressage trainer C, she decided to take advantage of me getting used to the new Hulsebos dressage saddle to tackle the issue head on. It helped that Charlie was generally in a better mood than last time she saw him, and was fine to just trot along while I worked on me.

My general positional issues are summed up as: Perching on Crotch + Pinching with Knee.

So during this lesson, dressage trainer C helped me think a little bit more clearly about what changes I need to be making to hold everything together.

second show looking a little more like a cohesive unit
Seat Position

- To find the correct seat alignment, sit in saddle with both legs lifted up in front of flaps, up on horse's shoulder.
- Pay attention to what this does to your seat. Should feel seat bones and pubic bone in slightly different alignment.
- Hold that feeling while bringing legs back.
- To adjust legs, one at a time: pull leg off saddle, twist backward such that knee points down and thigh points in toward horse, then push forward into place on saddle. Pick up stirrup.
- Outer thigh seam of breeches should point straight down to ground.

first event, a CT at loch moy with a walk-trot test
- Once your seat and legs are in place, you should still be able to find that feeling of where your seat was when legs were in front of saddle.
- While riding, should feel like you can lift in front - ie, lifting the pubic bone - to go with the horse's movement, rather than lifting in back - ie bouncing the seat bones - which is what I do when I'm perching.
- Likewise, try to clean up post a little bit - remove any little bounce between my up and down, keep it crisp and even from both hips.

first three phase, also first time cantering in a test. i continue to be bitter that the trot circle pictured above earned us a 4, despite being, in fact, a circle that we trotted
Leg Position

- Make sure legs stay directly underneath seat.
- Keep toe pointed forward - which helps bring thigh on and calf off.
- I need to exaggerate the feeling of pushing my calf off the horse, since my tendency is to cling and nag. Feel the leg bouncing off with each step.
- Feel big toe in stirrup iron.
- When applying leg aids, start with Thigh and go down to Knee then Calf.
- If you start from bottom and go up, you actually pop your seat out of the saddle a bit.
- I want to pinch my knee, swing my lower leg back, and cling with my heel. This is WRONG. lol
- Don't worry so much about heel down for now, it's more important that my leg is under me.

fair hill spring three phase - and charlie laid down one of his best tests yet, tho it didn't score well
Torso Position

- When my seat bones are pushed out behind me and I'm perching on my crotch, a natural byproduct is too much arch in my back.
- Work on flattening my lower back.
- The "hinge" of my body should be up front, in the lift of my crotch, vs in my lower back bouncing my seat out of the saddle.
- Visualize bringing my belly button closer to my spine, while keeping my belt buckle lifted.
- When Charlie has moments of softness, my habit is to pitch forward. This is also WRONG.
- Continue to imagine the lift in the front of my abdomen to help him hold himself in balance without falling on his forehand.

our test at jenny camp was.... not our best ever lol
For the record, for this ride I was not thinking specifically about upper body, shoulders, or head and neck position. Those are undoubtedly also critical elements but.... I had enough on my plate with trying to keep my butt, legs, and belly all in the right places at the same time.

pets for a good moy back at loch moy
I also continue to have issues with sitting more to the right than the left, and Charlie continues to have issues with escaping through his left shoulder. For this ride, a big difference maker was keeping that outside left leg under me -- ie, not pinching with my knee but instead really sinking into that seat bone and thigh, straight down through the whole leg, while keeping my eyes in line with Charlie's outside (left) ear.

some comic relief from a dressage schooling show where the judge was basically aghast that i jump this creature, and recommended we go back to the basics (since i guess somehow a BN dressage test doesn't count as "basics"?)
When I've got that alignment, it's much much much easier to use my full position with minimal effort to guide Charlie's body into a more correct alignment. As opposed to when I've got my knee pinched and leg swung all the way back trying like crazy to push the horse around.

test at tranquility was very uneven, but with a few nice moments ripe for cherry picking
For the ride itself, we worked a lot on straightness - which often felt like a little bend left. Particularly, I had to let Charlie travel down a quarter line (no rail as a crutch!) and let him be straight without my holding him there. Correcting as needed.

the next outing at fair hill didn't reflect the softness he had in warm up, but it was a solid effort anyway
Also working a little bit on leg yielding toward and away from the rail. With a big focus on establishing straightness first, then ~3 steps of leg yield, then straight again. Not letting Charlie just take over with a sideways drift.

So we would turn, then wait until we've found nice moments of straightness and softness (ie, not hollow and bracing), then yield. Then straight again. If the yield was going well, I might also think about taking a slight outside bend after a few steps - but continuing to hold the horse's body otherwise the same in the yield. This is just an extra level of complexity and is only for when the other pieces are working. It was also mostly an opportunity for me to remember where all of my body parts are haha.

final test of the year tho.... finally, the pieces were coming together. i fully admit to bursting into tears after our final halt and salute. this horse makes me so proud, guys <3
Canter was where I saw the biggest difference in holding my position. When I can get my seat where it belongs, lifting in the crotch with each stride instead of bouncing with my butt, it's incredible how different it feels. And suddenly Charlie and I are in sync. Only issue is I can't hold it for very long lol. Core strength is a real thing apparently.

I'd honestly really like to see some improvements in all the above positional issues this year, considering I've kinda had the same flaws for years now and am a little tired of making excuses for them. Hopefully the fact that Charlie's a little more schooled now will help. And having a higher quality dressage saddle that makes it easier to put myself in the right place and hold it.... That might help too lol.

We'll see! Do you have any of the above issues too? Or some other persistent habit that's been difficult to correct? Or perhaps you've heard other ways of visualizing or explaining some of the above that really helped you or resonated?

Monday, January 22, 2018

just the jumps, ma'am: Charlie does arena eventing!

Yesterday I wrote about the magical dielectric grease that helped get us back on the road. Obviously we needed more than just that, considering last we heard my truck had blown a brake line..... But we got that fixed too: with a full replacement kit of stainless steel lines all the way around. So, theoretically, corroded lines should be a thing of the past! Yay!

Perhaps it was all for the best too, since almost every circumstance of this planned outing has also improved: particularly, the weather! It was in the 50s!! And SUNNY! Ah, paradise!

The long and short of the story is: Brita and I took our horses to Loch Moy's Cross Derby held on their all-weather arenas. They pull all their cross country jumps into three giant arenas to create fun and challenging courses. Each level has about an hour to school whatever they want before their rides begin.

sorry but there are exactly zero photographs of us actually jumping. but the shadows from my helmet cam video (below!!) are pretty fun to watch haha
I opted to school with the Novice riders so that Brita and I could ride together (I entered BN), tho we kinda biffed the timing anyway. By the time we were saddled and mounting up, we had about 30min left in the schooling break.

Next time we'll plan to be on and already warmed up on the flat (the warm up area they use for stadium at horse trials was available for the derby too) when the arenas open for schooling. This way we'll have enough time to do everything we want (like schooling a level above our competition height) without feeling rushed for time.

is this the face of an excited event horse?!?!?
As it was, I actually scratched my timed ride anyway to just focus on schooling as my and Charlie's main event, for reasons I'll describe more below. But had we continued, the derby format is: begin trotting or cantering around one arena with a start similar to a stadium round, they blow the whistle and the clock runs when you cross the start line.

The course winds through each arena (with some very creative and fun pathways between!) with a focus on optimum time. All penalties are converted into time, and circling on course is allowed. Stadium fences are intermixed in the course - particularly in challenging spots like after a more galloping style fence or combination, or after a downhill or uphill between arenas. The objective is to hit the optimum time dead on - any time over or under is converted to penalties.

Anyway tho, let's talk about the schooling since that's what Charlie and I did for the day!!

this is the face of an excited event rider tho!! lol.... and if you compare this pre-ride selfie to one from about two years ago, the differences are pretty stark. if that 2016 selfie was an omen of the season to come, let's hope my happier more relaxed expression here is likewise a harbinger for 2018!
This was Charlie's first real outing since Fair Hill in September. It's been almost as long since he's had a serious jump school outdoors. We had one jump lesson outside since Charlie's surgery, but it was very light and kinda messy anyway. I also lightly schooled him over fences myself once around Christmas. But we've been indoors ever since.

Needless to say, we're both a little rusty! So I went into the day fully prepared to focus on the schooling above all else. And the schooling was GREAT. I'm SO PROUD of Charlie, he is just such a great horse for me <3

naturally, we couldn't go on adventures without our buddies!!!
So let's dig into some details, starting with what went well:

1) None of these jumps were remotely scary to me. In fact my nerves were shockingly settled, despite panicking slightly when ride times were announced.... But I studied the course maps in advance, knew which jumps were where, and which elements of the course were likeliest to challenge us. So by the time Charlie and I walked into those arenas, I felt confident and prepared.

While we didn't do ditches, banks or water during the schooling, I feel confident in saying there's nothing at BN that isn't within our ability. We still have lessons to learn, pieces to smooth out. But we can do it. Charlie continues to feel bold and uncomplicated at this level.

just under one year ago, charlie overlooked this very scene mostly as a spectator. on this day? he was a full fledged participant. yessssss <3
2) On a related note, I've spent a LOT of time visualizing improvements in my position: hands more forward, shorter reins. This, I've come to believe, is the secret sauce in getting more comfortable and in sync with Charlie over fences. When my hands are farther forward (with shorter reins plz!), it's 1000% easier to see the more forward going long spot, and to actually go with Charlie from said distance.

Even without photographic evidence, I'm proclaiming this ride a win. Sure, there were still moments when I stayed in the back seat and slipped my reins at funky distances... But more often than not, I felt more in sync with Charlie and like I could ride his jump more smoothly and effectively.

it helps that he has great role models!!
3) Another thing that went well was introducing Charlie to new styles of fences, and larger variations of some styles he's seen before. Specifically, we jumped our first corner, skinny chevron, true table, and log oxer during this ride. He also jumped a bigger faux brush style fence than he's previously seen. None posed an issue.

And 4) Both horses were extremely cool customers about the atmosphere, despite neither having traveled much in months. They were excellent coming off the trailer and getting speed-tacked to hurry off to school. Excellent for the riding itself. And excellent chillin at the trailer afterward.

They're just good, reliable horses, and it's so reassuring to both me and Brita to feel like we can count on them.

fun things we jumped included this little stick horse in the pathway through the parking lot between arenas
On the flip side of the coin, let's also talk about what needs work after this ride. There are really two main biggies here, that are both kinda related to each other.

1) I need to get more comfortable riding Charlie up in front of my leg in a forward canter, and Charlie needs to get more reliable in the brakes department. He's not bad or naughty about braking... just... green, like he doesn't always understand what I want. Or also like he's not strong enough to take a half halt to shift his balance back while still staying up in front of my leg.

turns out that mini stadium corner we schooled a few weeks ago was perfect prep for an actual real BN mini corner!
Meanwhile, bc I'm uncertain about being able to stop him or slow him down, I end up riding him too under paced. Case in point: That related line from log oxer to log coop rode in a long 3 our first time through, then felt we needed to gallop to get the 3. But when I walked it later in the day? It walked in exactly 48'. Like, on the dot.

That is not a long distance for Charlie, unless I'm riding him too compressed. I need to ride him forward, need to keep my leg on, need to put him in front of my leg. Need need need.

BN tables likewise posed no issue for Sir
The main struggle here is trusting that the brakes work. I got better as the ride progressed about keeping my leg ON even if I felt like we were going too fast, and we subsequently got a lot of really nice jumps jumped from a forward stride (particularly the table rode very well for us, esp when I steered haha....).

However we typically did not land in the same balance we jumped from, and thus recovery on landing took too long.

this log oxer was deceptively chunky - one of the biggest we jumped for the day. and in a related line, too. twas nbd tho.
Which brings us to the other part of our ride that needs work: 2) Basically everything between the jumps haha. Because we aren't recovering very quickly from jumps taken on a forward stride, the turns on this course proved incredibly challenging for us. Elements like stadium jumps placed soon after xc jumps that wanted that bigger forward canter would also suffer from this issue.

Ultimately that's why I scratched my timed ride: the individual elements posed no issue. Rough around the edges, sure, but totally fine. Better than fine, honestly. Considering Charlie hasn't had a normal jump school in months, and we haven't jumped many BN sized things recently either.... Considering all that, I'm pretty fucking pleased with how easy this was for Charlie.

the water was too ice-filled for any real schooling, unfortunately. served as a good mid-ride drink break tho!
But we actually aren't at present able to string it all together in one go. At least, not in a manner that I felt was productive given Charlie's current level of schooling / fitness. We need a reliable half halt. We need to be strong and balanced enough in our more forward canter that we can land in balance too. I.e., shorter recovery times after fences, especially when we take a longer spot.

A lot of this falls to me, in being able to hold my position no matter what, or recover my seat and reins more quickly to really sit down on Charlie and half halt on landing. Some of it is just Charlie's strength and schooling tho. It's hard work to hold himself up in balance on a longer stride -- falling flat and on the forehand is so much easier! Just needs more practice, tho!

look at all that ice.... it's more ice than when we were here last year in below freezing weather. on this day tho? it was 50s and sunny. perfection!
Which, incidentally, the practice imho is just as fun as the actual competitions when done right! And this arena eventing stuff... wow it was actually SO FUN! It's a whole different feeling jumping these cross country fences on flat, well groomed surfaces. And the venue organizers took advantage of this by using their biggest, widest and most fun fences for each level.

skinny chevron roll top! this was also a pretty substantial jump, with a face just over 4' wide (i measured). technically seeing this jump on a BN course strikes me as 'course creep' ... but whatevskis, charlie didn't hesitate!
We started in the upper most arena that's typically used for stadium at the venue's horse trials. The jumps in there were mostly stadium fences tho (which I skipped) with only two BN xc fences. Both of which were kinda small and straight forward. Good for warming up, then we moved on.

There's a ditch built into the path from that first arena to the largest middle arena (typically where they put the dressage rings and the intro/elem stadium course). But that ditch was in a trakehner for the PM / T courses so it's saved for another day.

fun brush jump!! charlie's seen the starter version of this jump but finally got to tackle it at bn height!
The middle arena had the biggest and most fun jumps, as far as I was concerned, and we spent the most time here. The atmosphere was also the most challenging for Charlie since you can see basically the entire property from this arena, and it had the most horses in it. We experienced a few episodes of running sideways (which you can totally tell in the video lol), and Charlie had a harder time settling even during walk breaks.

He was really very very good, tho, and legitimately did every single thing I asked of him. And even when some of our fences were kinda awkward the first time, he was able to come back around and smooth it out on the second try. And we only almost ran into other horses a couple of times. Not too bad!

definitely a super fun video, esp if you're watching the shadows too lol

The third lower ring saw Charlie become his most settled. It's a quieter arena with its low lying position limiting visual distractions. Plus, most of the jumps in this space had right handed approaches. Charlie continues to be a little more reliable jumping from his right lead, and a little more explosive on the left haha. Nbd, tho.

post ride snax!!!
After schooling the BN jumps in this third ring, the schooling period was ending so I opted to try one last pass over the most challenging portion in the middle ring: long gallop to the corner, long gallop to the table, to a super sharp left handed turn to the related line (which would have then taken another sharp right turn to a stadium oxer, but I skipped all the stadium jumps).

Everything honestly went pretty smoothly, Charlie met all the jumps great, but we still weren't quite able to make that left turn from the table to the line. Ah well, in time!

austen snapped this shot of charlie looking like an absolute hunk at the trailer (with ubiquitous sugarloaf mountain in the background!). also looking like he was feeling like a macho studly hunk too, lol. 
That's also not really a turn I expect to see often on more traditional courses, so it doesn't worry me. Plus Charlie has an automatic lead change in there somewhere, even if he seems to have forgotten about it during his rehab. Once that's back in working order, left turns will become easier on this horse who almost always lands right.

And I'm fairly positive we could have pushed through and made it happen if we needed to.... But for my purposes I preferred just doing individual elements as well as possible, rather than pressing on in a rushed or sloppy fashion. Trying to develop correct habits here! Or something like that, lol!

best part of a great day of riding? chillin out at the trailers with friends afterward, with sandwiches and a beer
Honestly my only regret from not doing the full course in my timed ride was that I didn't get any pictures. Sigh. Makes my inner media junkie sad. That's ok, tho. We'll get pictures next time, bc as far as I'm concerned, Charlie got exactly what he needed from the schooling! And it's only whet my appetite for moar fun things!!!!

Plus he got to hang out a bit longer just chillin in the atmosphere while we watched Brita do her ride (which she slayed, btw). And then we all hung out at the trailer afterward, tail gating and soaking up the sun and warm weather. What's not to love, right?