Wednesday, April 25, 2018

deconstructing the course walk: N @ Plantation

I can't really tell if these course walk posts are interesting to readers when there isn't an accompanying story about actually riding the course. I mean, it's basically just a collection of jumps that are impossible to judge in size and style from photographs.

gps tracking by Altitude Profile app. all fence locations added manually by me in MS Paint and are therefore approximate haha. all the little zigs and zags on the otherwise smooth line are instances where i scooted out of the way of horses on course. the gps is that precise!
With no context or association to real events, it's all just conjecture anyway, right? And I mean, if you've seen one coop you've seen them all.

course meta data, and the app does actually do meters instead of miles!
But.... Well. My blog, my rules haha. And I'm interested in course walking for a few reasons. Mostly, I just enjoy it, plain and simple.

elevation profile
More concretely, tho, I feel like I learn something more about cross country just by walking new courses. And I've also really come to appreciate having a photo archive on this blog of jumps from different local venues. It's quite handy!

comparing plantation's N (left) to fair hill's T (right). plantation actually has a bigger overall change in elevation, but fewer very steep climbs - you can see in the map that the track kinda has built in switchbacks instead of going straight up and down like fair hill did
So anyway. This past weekend I signed up to volunteer at Plantation's USEA recognized horse trial (more on that later). And I had a bit of a hidden agenda with choosing this particular venue at this particular time.

simple start
At some point later this season, I'd like to bring Charlie to a starter trial here. But.... The last time I walked a course here was June two years ago, walking the BN course with Brita.

sizable fence after a long run with an inviting profile
At that particular point, I had taken Isabel novice the previous fall, then broken my leg, dropped to BN, and then run into all that trouble ultimately leading to the end of Izzy's and my competitive partnership.

maybe the biggest fence on course. definitely maximum in all dimensions - esp width
And during that June course walk with Brita, the BN looked freakishly challenging to me, and N basically impossible.

sma, esp when taken from right side
So I wanted to revisit this course. Wanted to get a better grip on my expectations. Was the course really that stiff? Or was my perception a product of extremely low morale at that point?

it's .... just a slope. later in the season that little log to the right will be on course, jumping down the slope instead
After walking the N course this weekend, I'm still not totally sure.

also small. but a bending line a-b combination (albeit very long line) i guess making it N
This early season course was set soft. I'm pretty sure some of the BN jumps were actually intro, and some of the N jumps were actually BN. As far as I can tell, they probably ramp up the technicality with each successive event, culminating in their hardest courses in the fall. This was the first event of the season for many riders, so it makes sense to start easier.

also also small
However I remember some of these jumps from last time (notably, the steeplechase style brush at 11) as being part of what worried me. And now? That jump doesn't look bad.

nice log oxer. we have almost an identical fence at home
Although I also remember N having a jump reeeeally close to the water last time that freaked me out given my history with Izzy. This time there was no jump. Next time tho, who's to say?

straight forward feeder
Basically, by my estimates just about half of the jumps or flagged obstacles on this course would not look out of place on a BN course. Some of them are positioned such that they have N technicality, sure. It's a soft course tho.

down bank looks bigger than it is
Some notables from the course: no jumps near water, and no ditch. Two AB combinations, one bending and one with serious terrain. A couple big jumps early on course, lots of terrain, and a down bank, with a fair amount of room early on to get galloping. Horses looked tired at the finish.

it's the left side. not big.
My general impression tho? It looked totally doable. As in, actually I'm pretty sure Charlie has the tools to get through a course like this right now.

nice roll top
Obviously tho it would still be challenging haha. Jumping on extreme terrain isn't something we've done a lot of, tho schooling drop landings has been a non issue and Charlie did a neat little roller coaster just fine on one of his earliest xc outings. Down banks also need work. Oh, and brakes. Ya know. Small things haha.

this fence scared the bejesus out of me two years ago. looks great now.
But walking this course went a long way toward reassuring me about my impressions of the venue from two years ago. So hopefully if my beloved Ding King agrees to it, we'll be back here at some point in the next few months.

roller coaster - drop landing from the A element
Walking this course was also helpful to me from a quantitative perspective too. Specifically: using the Altitude Profile app to collect data on the course topography and distances.

then steep incline to a small B element
I've sorta known academically from reading past course maps that most of what I've ridden over the past few years in terms of cross country at starter trials has averaged between 1.5-2km. But I have very little sense of what that really means in practice, or what it means to add an extra 500m to a run.

reasonable red table. looks funny through the CVSimulator app!
Charlie's only just now getting back to work after resting from his latest splint injury, so I haven't had a chance to use the app for our conditioning work yet. But I'm really eager to. I'd really like to learn more about the distances we cover, and the relative speed in which we do so.

another good sized feeder, should ride fine
As mentioned previously, I'd like to learn more about riding for speed (as in, can I ride for a 300 vs 350 vs 400 mpm canter?). That's not totally necessary for starter trials tho, since we're not timed, but I'm still interested.

entrance to the water couldn't be simpler
But I'm thinking this app might help be an intermediary in that process. As in, I'd like to use it to measure the actual true distances and changes in elevation of the loops and hills I commonly use during conditioning. Then begin tracking how much time I'm really spending on the work.

small bench
Because again, as is always true for me, the more familiar I can be with a task or activity, the less overwhelming or intimidating it can seem to me. If I can be really good about tracking conditioning and whatnot at home, then when I walk a course like this and collect that meta data on it, I'll be able to easily tell right away if it's got bigger hills than we've done, or if it's longer than usual for us. Theoretically, at least, haha.

small house
Or ya know. Who knows what will happen. Maybe this was all just an academic excuse for taking a scenic walk across a beautiful hillside in Pennsylvania dotted with horses and xc fences. But maybe, just maybe, one day there will be more of a story to go along with this walk ;)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Product Updates: Winter Wardrobe Findings

This winter I tried out a few new winter clothing items for Charlie. This included:

1 - Smartpak Ultimate Turnout Sheet (appears on sale as of this writing!)
2 - Horseware Ireland 100g Blanket Liner
3 - Mio Turnout Sheet
4 - Snuggy Hood Silky Bib (currently unavailable from that link, but appears to be available here from the UK)
5 - Weatherbeeta Satin Shoulder Guard

a healthy coat, a clip that lasted through the season, and zero rubs. just what i want for my prince!
Each of these pieces made it out the other side of our winter gauntlet. Spring is finally here. Even if the sheets are still in regular rotation....

So let's take a moment to see how I feel about the pieces moving forward!

smartpak ultimate turnout sheet: roomy enough for dance moves while he's wearing it
1 - Smartpak Ultimate Turnout Sheet (appears on sale as of this writing!)

This sheet is in great shape after regular use since September. There are no holes, pulled threads, or tears. Just in case, however, this sheet is covered by a 10 Year Indestructible Guarantee.

I know from past experience with this style sheet that the gussets will rub Charlie, so he never wears it without a shoulder guard (more on those later). With the shoulder guard, however, all issues with rubs are resolved.

My only issue with this sheet is that it's not as waterproof as I would like. And sometimes feels a little heavy for those in-between days where it's maybe warmish, but with strong winds and/or rain showers. So I ordered the Mio to fill that gap. See below for more on that.

Final thoughts? I'm happy this sheet is in Charlie's wardrobe and feel it was worth the value.

horseware ireland 100g liner: the perfect weight and basically doubled my blanketing options
2 - Horseware Ireland 100g Blanket Liner

I adore this liner. So much. It's simple and gives me so much more flexibility in dressing my horse. Especially throughout the rainy spring season, I haven't had to worry about blankets not drying quickly enough bc I can mix and match with everything and always have something warm enough to put on the horse.

My final thoughts on this blanket are that I would 100% buy again. In fact, I've already purchased this blanket again after an unfortunate miscommunication with the person who helps me with Charlie's blankets left my first liner shredded.

The liner has no belly straps or surcingles, but instead has little clips on the rear that clip to whatever blanket you've layered on top of the liner. The person helping me didn't know about those clips, and so the liner slid under Charlie's belly and he shredded it. Nbd, I just ordered it again bc it's definitely worth it.

the mio turnout sheet certainly looks comfortable
3 - Mio Turnout Sheet

I really wanted to like this blanket. Really really really. It's SUPER waterproof, while also being the thinnest possible shell. I love it as a windbreaker, or as a waterproof layer on top of one of Charlie's other blankets for days with heavy rain. Or just on top of the 100g liner for something kinda in between a light and a medium.

it's not sturdy tho. some of these are small, but they're everywhere. those tears on the upper right tho are inches long
Unfortunately, tho, it's just not a sturdy blanket. The properties that make it so perfect are also its downfall: it's completely riddled with little holes and tears and pulled threads. Completely. And it's only been in rotation since January. So many spots need patching that I'm pretty sure the cost to repair this blanket would exceed what I paid for it.

Considering how quickly it has fallen into disrepair, I'm not sure it's worth the cost of replacing either. I may hang on to it as-is (possibly doing another waterproofing treatment on it myself) just to have as a top layer in downpour conditions. But... I just can't recommend paying full price. On sale? Yea, maybe. I did like it, it just didn't last.

snuggy hood bib 4 lyfe
4 - Snuggy Hood Silky Bib (I purchased it from Amazon but it's been unavailable. Manufacturer's website here, and appears available on eBay here from the UK)

This thing is the light and the truth. This bib has been a game changer for Charlie. It's wayyyyyy less fussy to deal with than one of those elastic slinky type shoulder guards with the belly strap. And has seemed very comfortable to Charlie. It's easy to wash myself, and all seams are in great condition after daily use for the entire season.

I use this bib under every single sheet or blanket that goes on Charlie, including his Back on Track mesh sheet. And Charlie had zero rubs at the end of the season. Judging by reviews, sizing does matter. If you get too big a bib, it might slide down the horse's withers and rub there. I did not have that issue with Charlie, tho.

End of story? I cannot recommend this product strongly enough. I love it. Am bordering on evangelical in describing it. Will spout off about it to anybody who makes the mistake of feigning even slight interest. Only bummer is that it hasn't seemed available Stateside since I bought it last year.... tho presumably you can order from the UK on eBay or directly from the manufacturer (links above).

the weatherbeeta bib is fine too tho. a little saggier, with more static, and the seams didn't last. but it works.
5 - Weatherbeeta Satin Shoulder Guard

I ordered this second shoulder guard after Charlie's liner-shredding incident, since he had been wearing his Snuggy Hood bib during the episode and I was devastated to think he'd destroyed both. Turns out tho, the Snuggy Hood is indestructible and survived that carnage without a single tear. Yay!

But I didn't know that when I ordered the Weatherbeeta, and then figured having two was fine since I could always have one on hand while laundering the other. And this Weatherbeeta is fine. It's a little looser around Charlie's neck than the Snuggy Hood, but it has likewise protected him entirely from rubs.

The construction isn't as good as the Snuggy Hood, it is sometimes more static-y, and the seams around the loop (for attaching the bib to the blanket's chest straps) blew out almost immediately. The tears haven't gotten any worse tho, and it remains serviceable.

For my money, I'd go with the Snuggy Hood. The Weatherbeeta is a reasonable alternative tho. Mostly just bc I love this particular design of shoulder guard and will probably never not use one ever again.


What about you? How did your horse's winter wardrobe survive the season? Did you add anything new to the collection this year that blew you out the water and changed everything? Or did you have high hopes for a product that left you underwhelmed?

Are you going to be shopping the sales to fill any gaps in your horse's clothing, or is there anything in particular you've got your eye on?

Monday, April 23, 2018

finally, fair hill - with friends!

It's not an exaggeration to say that I've been musing about a blogger meet up / Fair Hill trail ride extravaganza for actual years now. There are so many bloggers up around this area, and the trails are so beautiful and accessible, it seemed like destiny.

i foisted charlie off on michele almost immediately lol
For whatever reason tho, it was also seemingly impossible to get on the calendar. Everybody agreed that we absolutely needed to make it happen... But it also turns out that everybody has a life too. And carving out time in increasingly busy weekends was just... challenging.

wasn't long before Sarah pulled in too!
But then Michele announced that she'd be leaving us for Tennessee and suddenly, shit got real. There was no way on earth I was letting this opportunity slip past unfulfilled!

punky proved to be an excellent buddy to have along on the trail!
So finally we settled on a date that worked for everyone, including Sarah too. Tho being realistic, Sarah really had no choice haha. She was gonna get dragged out kicking and screaming if needed. Fortunately no cajoling or convincing or arm twisting was necessary - everyone was on board and ready to go!

charlie was having a lot of feelings tho
And we were absolutely blessed with gorgeous weather. Strong sunshine with temps in the low 60s, but also a steady pleasant breeze. Perfection!

it's the batt horse!!
All my normal riding buddies were unfortunately booked for the weekend, but it seemed like such a waste to haul out to such a fun ride with an empty spot in my trailer. So I asked around the barn and one of my lesson mates turned out to be really eager for her OTTB Punky's first off property outing since getting him about a year and a half ago.

pretty sure remus won the award for cutest tho
Punky certainly lives up to his name sometimes, but he's a good boy. And I figured that since he and Charlie are pasture mates, they'd enjoy having each other for company on the ride up. Turns out tho, any reservations I had about bringing a young green OTTB along for the ride were entirely misplaced. Punky was a freakin superstar haha!

batty and remus were ready to go in short order!
And really, everything worked out so well. Michele and I pulled in to the lot around the same time, with Sarah just a few minutes later. Parking was easy, and all the horses were pretty chill hanging out at the trailer. Plus Michele was super helpful in keeping the OTTBs wrangled since Remus was happy to stay on the trailer until go time.

the wild mane, swirling ears, and periscope-up head fully describes charlie's first 15-20min on trail haha
But then it was go time and we were all off! Sarah had a pretty good idea of where we were situated in the park in terms of the best trails and directions and what not (it's a GIANT park haha) and quickly got us cruising down the orange trail.

punky happily strode out to the front to blaze our way across the orange trail
Charlie felt exactly the way you would expect an OTTB who hadn't been ridden in two weeks to feel: sliiiightly emotional haha. He was being good, but also maybe wasn't really sure what exactly was about to happen to him. And was maybe expecting to emerge on a cross country course at any moment. Like he expected he'd be asked to run.

blurry sarah and michele!
The trail began as a pleasant, twisty, hilly wooded section tho, and after about 15-20min, Charlie sorta settled in and relaxed a bit, and began looking around and enjoying himself. Punky meanwhile maintained a strong lead over whatever the trail brought - whether small stream or wooden bridge or, god forbid, passing by dastardly culverts or guard rails.

so many pretty sights to see. there was a goose ahead here and ... charlie had more feelings lol
And Sarah and Michele kept up a pretty reasonable pace too - so that the horses never really got much farther than conversational distance. Convenient, obviously, bc there was much chatting to be had!

MANY FEELINGS about the covered bridge. no hesitation tho!
Especially when we crossed out of the wooded section, through the covered bridge and onto the broad lanes that crisscross the entire park. Perfect for a leisurely stroll among friends! As was evidenced by the many other folks out in the park too haha, esp bike riders. Again tho, all the horses proved pretty solid.

what a good group of horses tho <3 oh and the company wasn't half bad either ;)
I'm just so glad we finally found time for this. As fun as it is to see other bloggers at horse shows and whatnot, it's possibly more fun to be able to really enjoy each other's company during more low key outings. Like when we all got to hang out at Fair Hill's 3* last fall. Except this time was made even better by having all the horses there too!!

these broad bluestone lanes were quite pleasant, even if those guard rails were spooooky lol
It's always so fun to meet blogger horses in person too. Like I've met Remus a few times now, and this little buckskin is a BIG character haha, omg. Batty too - such a good boy, but also omg so many opinions about all of the things lol. I loved it!

batty looked like he was having a blast!
I'm pretty sure we could have kept going for hours, but as it was I estimate we logged somewhere around 7-8 miles in about an hour and a half, maybe two hours.
charlie really relaxed into the hack too, swinging and marching
After cruisin along the lanes for a while, we backtracked through the covered bridge again (where Charlie was again pretty freakin hilarious in tap dancing through on his tippy-toes. the sound reverberations inside the covered bridge are admittedly kinda funny to the horses haha, but he was very good) then followed the road back to the end of the orange trail.

cute donkey we passed!
This park is just so freakin pretty tho - and we barely even scratched the surface of what the trails have to offer. Actually, now that I think about it, I regret not running my new hiking app to trace our path and collect meta data on the ride, like distance and elevation. Oh well, guess we'll just have to go back!

everyone got a chance to lead too, like when remus was eager to show us the way back to the trailer lol
Except I'm still so sad Michele is leaving us. It's been so cool to get to meet so many amazing people through this blogging community - especially so many people so local to me! And I love that it's been the motivation to get out and do new and fun things with our horses together too!

such majestic creatures tho haha
Hopefully Michele will come back to visit every now and then (maybe FHI next year??). And hopefully Sarah and I (and any other local bloggers) will find more opportunities for a repeat of this adventure in the future.

there we go, that's better. so glad we found time for this!
Because Fair Hill is awesome, but Fair Hill with friends is infinitely better. Thanks guys for making time to ride with me! So glad I finally had a sound horse to drag out there too lol - and even more glad that all the horses seemed to enjoy themselves just as thoroughly as we did. :)