Thursday, May 31, 2018

Charlie's 1st Novice: Cross Country!

Okie dokey. When last we saw our hero, he had just finished his stadium jumping survivalist-style and gotten hosed down again before heading into cross country warm up. The heat was intense, but luckily I was still feeling pretty ok.

charlie was cruisin this time out <3 pc GRC Photo
Tho, uh... somewhat hilariously I had not packed clothing appropriate for the weather, having planned on wearing long sleeves (again - I was expecting downpour conditions...).

Luckily the Loch Moy shop had a techy material white t-shirt for sale, and I kept my white pants on too instead of changing like normal bc... yea the idea of peeling off one sweaty layer just to pull on another was unthinkable. Plus the all-white outfit seemed most likely to reflect as much heat as possible. I'll just think about all that laundry some other time lol.....

feelin laid back in the warm up ring too! thanks Meredith for the pictures!!
Anyway, all that was left for us to do was squeak through a minimalist warm up then head to the start box.

Charlie trotted the BN hanging log thing kinda heinously, then came around and cantered the N coop fine enough. Not like, fantastic amazing or whatever. But. Good enough.

I kept an eye on the start box since at our last event we ended up circling it for a few minutes and Charlie became increasingly antsy. So this time I tried to measure it better such that we were cleared to start basically upon arriving at the box.

course meta data from my walk
The course ahead of us looked pretty reasonable imo. It had all hallmarks of novice cross country: ditches, banks, water and a combination. Plus plenty of full sized fences.

I think the jumps this course were bigger than when I last did the level with Isabel. But perhaps the technicality this time around was a little softer? I think the organizers set the course expecting rain too, honestly.

I used my altitude profile app during the course walk to measure the elevation profile and was pleased to see that it was basically entirely uphill. And the hill was about the same size as what we've been practicing in our conditioning rides lately. So I expected Charlie to be fit enough for it, but also expected it to help take the edge off if needed.

jump 1 was a simple log roll top
Charlie was the best he's ever been leaving the start box at this event. Just up and cantered away - no stickiness, no sourness. No pinned ears at being driven forward. Just.... picked up his canter and went! I mean, it helped that we were headed directly for the trailers, but I was pleased!

this is my "oh man, here we go again!" face. pc GRC
We still met jump 1 a little funny tho, and I immediately had this sinking feeling of dread like, I really did not want a repeat of our last cross country run....

hanging log for 2, so far 2 for 2 on jumps i did with isabel
I wanted the horse I had at Shawan Downs: taking leg and a purposefully forward ride to the fences, rather than any running flat and behind the leg. Bc again, with the heat there was no way either of us were gonna survive that kind of pulling match across ~1.6km uphill haha.

much better over jump 2!! pc GRC
Luckily tho, I put my leg on and saw my stride to fence 2, and Charlie met it nicely.

ditto the ark at 3
I knew fence three could be problematic tho bc the track made a little loop on itself here - turning away from the trailers and back the way we came. I expected Charlie to get fussy and behind my leg, and he happily obliged lol.

it wouldn't be an emma + charlie xc round without at least one #awkward jump right?? pc GRC
You can actually see the point in the helmet cam where he swung his brontosaurus neck up, with ears pinned, and looked back at me in the saddle like, "bring it on, lady!" Luckily tho the attitude was gone in a flash, and he kept on cantering to the jump.

He was still behind my leg tho so we still jumped it pretty badly, kinda crawling over it with Charlie getting a solid whack to his hind legs on the fence....

simple roll top going downhill away from the trailers
We had a little more of the same feeling to jump 4, a small fence that Charlie had no respect for and kinda just crawled over. After which I got a little more serious about "Forward Plz!" with a little backup with the crop behind my leg.

unassuming ditch that i believe was originally intended to have a combination, but the second jumps were unflagged
Apparently that was all the encouragement Charlie needed, bc as we turned the corner into a new field toward the small ditch, Charlie settled into a really fucking lovely gear. Hopped over the ditch directly out of stride without a glance and was easily maneuverable between some other fences on our track.

just cantering around like the handsomest horse in town <3. pc Austen Gage
Actually - you'll see them in the helmet cam, but I'm pretty sure those other jumps were originally intended to be B elements for the ditches. One of them definitely had to be N, too. Not sure why they didn't end up flagged on course, but maybe bc the organizers were worried conditions would get too nasty in the expected rain? In retrospect I wish I had paid more attention during my walk to see if I should have jumped one of them anyway, but oh well. Next time!

steep rise to the steeplechase jumps
In any case, Charlie felt great. We turned up to a small steep rise in the ground to a line of steeplechase jumps, and I reminded myself to just stay committed to the forward feel.

looked fine tho. which is funny bc at my second ever BN a near-identical jump scared the bejesus out of me...
Specifically, I reminded myself of the definition of steeplechase. Meaning: this is a fence that's designed to be jumped at speed. Inviting profile, forgiving brush. Just. Ya know. Have at it!

So.... We did haha. And Charlie jumped it beautifully!

maxed out N table was new to both of us
Same story to the table. Obviously this jump has a slightly more vertical face, but it's still asking for more ground cover vs more collection. I told myself to ride forward to it, to catch it out of a forward stride. And Charlie, bless his heart, had his head in the game and jumped it like the easiest thing in the world.

skinny-ish log table thingy
After that we had to weave through a few trees to meet this next jump - small in size, and also somewhat skinny. Didn't even realize it was on the narrower side during my walk haha.

"nbd tho" - charlie. pc Austen Gage
Just went cantering up to it like, "Hm, I guess it is skinny. Well, Emma, you better find the center!" Charlie didn't care tho, good boy!

slightly larger-than-expected up bank, certainly larger than the up bank izzy and i did here during our N...
Our intended track turned right immediately on landing to go up this bank, but I had other plans. Charlie's pretty honest to up banks, tho the non-committal feeling he gave me at Shawan Downs was still fresh enough that I opted to be conservative.

just in case, schooling the smaller bank izzy and i did in 2015. pc Austen Gage
On the left side of the above complex is a smaller bank, so we just looped around to jump that first so I could gauge Charlie's reaction and school if needed. He didn't even blink tho, so we circled around (somewhat awkwardly lol, Charlie's not used to circling so much on course!) and approached our flagged bank, which he also jumped easily out of stride.

he was also a star for the bigger bank, good boy! pc Austen Gage
This was the section where the jump judges had given us 20pts out of confusion. I should have hollered out "Schooling!" or something like that, but my overheated brain was operating on a single track at this point haha. Luckily tho I caught that error in enough time to lodge a formal inquiry and the penalty was lifted!

Bc yea, so long as you cross each of your flags in the correct direction and correct order, you can basically do whatever you want in between them - including other level-appropriate obstacles.

option for brush fence or corner. both seemed quite reasonable, tho the corner is slightly more technical maybe? idk, we did the corner
Anyway tho, like I said. Charlie felt great. So we just kept on going to the option fences dead ahead. I kinda wasn't really even sure which one to choose, honestly. The horse has jumped the BN version of both of them. And they're both pretttty similar in size.

charlie jumped it handily. pc Austen Gage
The corner was slightly more technical, except the way it was positioned maybe actually made it easier: stuck as it was directly between some tree trunks and another fence, the doors for a runout seemed firmly shut.

Regardless, tho, Charlie wasn't running out haha. He jumped it fan-fucking-tastically!

then it was redemption time at the boat lol
We came down to trot to dip our toes in the water on the way to our next jump, and actually I let Charlie walk in case he wanted a drink. He didn't tho, so we picked our canter back up and headed toward redemption at the boat.

The BN version of this jump was almost our undoing back in March, and I was determined to be better this time. Mission accomplished ;)

nice sized table going into the water, with a B element on the far side
We had another long cruise toward the second water, which I also intended to school. The idea being: Sure, Charlie could probably go immediately to the direct route and be fine. But. Eh. It's his first Novice and he's a thinking, learning horse. Every chance I can get to reinforce the game to him is worth taking.

a touch sticky over the table, but good. pc GRC
So we trotted across the water first before presenting to the A element of the fence (this schooling option I had actually already chatted with a jump judge about, so there was no confusion here). Charlie was still a little slow off the ground at the table, but gave it a clean effort.

a little sticky in the water too, but hey - look at me pushing the horse forward! pc GRC
I didn't really love how he felt through the water tho despite my clucking and urging, so I backed it up with another shoulder tap. Charlie got the message and maintained his momentum.

this looks a lot like what we schooled at Shawan Downs a couple weeks ago
The out jump was just another little log anyway, basically identical to the same question Charlie schooled at Shawan Downs. Only difference here was the banks were less steep and the line was longer - so there was less chance of us getting thrown off our line by a weird leap into the water.

easy log out, phew! pc GRC
Charlie was fine tho, obvi. If he can climb over that giant ark at jump 3, it would have taken an act of god to prevent him from getting over this small log lol! So he hopped over nbd. Lots of praise for being a good obedient boy through his first real grown up combination in competition!!

log table in the woods
We had an easy little cruise up a hill that looks exactly like the woods we do trot sets in, and then approached this jump, which Charlie's also seen the BN version. And wouldn't you know it, Charlie actually felt the least committed to this jump of anything on course - literally running sideways to the left actually trying to run out!

he had been too good already for me to let a stupid pilot error derail us! pc Austen Gage
He's not very subtle yet about that, tho, so I was able to try shutting that door early enough that even tho we met the jump very crookedly and at a weird angle, he still left the ground where he needed to and jumped it cleanly. Ok buddy, I'll take it.

and a log oxer in the woods
I was a little more assertive to the next jump - which meant a little less of that forward freedom I had been aiming for. So we got a deeper distance but nothing ugly. And the horse jumped it from the center. Yup, I'll take that too!

penultimate table thingy
Really all I needed to do was get the horse through the remaining two sets of flags and any serious pilot errors or penalties at this point felt downright unacceptable to me. No way, no how. We were finishing this thing, sir!

produce stand at the finish! izzy ate this fence for breakfast back in 2015, so charlie had big shoes to fill! 
So we loped over the penultimate fence, and then I saw a big stride to the final produce stand and gunned it haha. And Charlie soared, guys. Just flew over it! What a good boy!!

I pulled him up pretty quickly after crossing the lines and hopped off immediately. Trying to really instill in the horse that there's a distinct "end" to this type of activity and that it's replete with praise and rewards and an immediate shift of focus to his comfort.

you did it buddy!!!! <3 pc Austen Gage
He seemed just fine with that haha - standing like a statue while I fumbled with his flash strap and girth and stirrups in my woozy heat-addled state. Plus, from this vantage point we got to see Rachael coming in hot on my heels to cross the line too - having almost caught up to me while I was busy doing so much schooling on course lol.

so stupidly proud of him tho. pc Austen Gage
All in all, I was legitimately thrilled with Charlie's performance on course. This is the horse I know he can and will be: A good, honest, thinking horse who will let me ride him but can also be athletic enough to get us out of any tight or sticky spots.

I need to not get complacent with him tho and not take him for granted, bc the last thing I want him to learn is how to quit or say "no." He's still green and still 100% capable of making a mistake or exploring alternative options to jumping (like when he flirted with running out at 13). But if I'm present and proactive as a rider, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to keep him on the straight and narrow.

it all feels so much more exciting and fulfilling to share it with friends too <3 pc Austen Gage
This course was also night and day from our March run. Sure I was exhausted from the heat - but not really at all from the ride itself. Charlie wasn't at all strong or pulling (you can actually see my flopping curb rein at various points in the video!). He was game and balanced. I honestly think the bigger jumps might actually be easier for him. He pays more attention to them and uses his own eye and adjustability, rather than just flinging himself around.

bottles and cans, just clap yo hands ;)
So it feels good. Feels really good. This level will have plenty of challenges for us. But I think it's the right place for us, and I'm really really really excited to be working on it again, finally!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Charlie's 1st Novice: Show Jumping

Continuing with the theme of it being brutally hot out, basically every choice I made about our stadium round had more to do with horse/rider heat mgmt than anything else.

I had left Charlie hangin out with fellow big bay Birdie on Rachael's trailer while we all hit the courses to watch Brita's jumping rounds. Which were, again, can't stress this enough, incredible. I'm just so freakin proud of her and what she's been able to do with Bella.

looking ready as we'll ever be for show jumping. pc Austen Gage
Like, for those of you who have been around for a while, you might remember how wonderfully Brita's last lease horse Wick blossomed with her in the irons. It was crushing and demoralizing when she lost the lease on him, and she had to make a lot of hard choices about how to move forward with riding and eventing amid the fallout.

Then new lease horse Bella entered the picture - a small, young, sensitive and opinionated spitfire mare who couldn't possibly be any more different from Wick's classy, easy going, war horse OTTB nature.

they've got such a great rhythm on course! via GIPHY

And like, self doubt is real, ya know? I think any rider can relate to the feeling of wondering whether we just "got lucky" with any past successes, and worrying that maybe we wouldn't actually be able to reproduce them again under different circumstances.

But Brita is nothing if not a hard worker. She's brave and bold, and shows up to work every day ready to do what needs done. The amount of care and thoughtfulness she's poured into literally every aspect of Bella's life - from their never ending searches for the perfect bits, to optimizing Bella's supplements and nutrition, to building the trust necessary for Bella to develop into one of the best jumping horses on the farm.... It's just been incredible to watch. And so so so inspiring.

making this giant log into water (shared with M) look easy. hint: it ain't easy! via GIPHY

So even despite the blazing heat (true story - I actually carried an umbrella to protect me from the sun ahead of my 1pm ride times....) it meant the world for me to dart around the xc course catching snippets of Brita's T course. So so so worth it!

These past few months of riding alongside Brita as she's been preparing for T have had another unexpected benefit: It's made my own N move up look extremely doable in comparison. It helps that I've ridden at this level in the past too. And that Charlie's so casual about height.

as i got positioned here for video, i watched a rider slam into the trakehner and fall into the ditch, where she landed immediately crying out for help. it was scary and a stark reminder that.... these jumps take respect. luckily that rider was ok enough to climb out of the ditch and get into a gator for additional care. but it's safe to say my heart was in my throat as brita galloped down to it! they were fine tho <3 via GIPHY

Mostly tho, seeing a peer handily navigate a level that had always looked so daunting to me was reassuring. I knew Charlie and I would be fine for our rides.

And spoiler: we totally were.

warming up with rachael and birdie was nice! pc Austen Gage
So after Brita's rides (wherein we made a team effort to get Bella's tack pulled so she could be hosed and scraped immediately - she was very very very hot), Rachael and I got our horses pulled off the trailer and began preparing for our rides.

warm up oxer before heading down to the ring. pc Austen Gage
Heat management was going to be a big part of this. The horses got sponged and scraped right away, then Austen helped me out by holding Charlie under the shade of some trees to dry off while I got my stuff ready to tack up.

charlie knew what was up immediately! i like it! pc Austen Gage
Then we made a pit stop at one of the multiple hoses available onsite (thanks Loch Moy!) after I mounted to spray Charlie and Birdie down again.

some deeper distances but he was clever and clean after my mistake at jump 2. pc Austen Gage
Then off to warm up! The steward said she was taking riders as they were ready, so I wasted no time in getting down to business. With the heat I was basically 100% of the mindset that the quicker we could get through things, the better.

knowing we had to get out of this line in 5 helped me get charlie pushed up. pc GRC
So I immediately jogged Charlie a lap in each direction on a floppy rein, cantered half a lap, then trotted him at the cross rail. Cantered around to one vertical, changed directions and cantered the other larger (I suspect above N height) vertical. Charlie knocked that one pretty hard - which would usually be my preferred feeling for him to have going into the ring. But it seemed prudent to take a pass over the warm up oxer first. So we did that, then trotted over to the steward who ushered us down to the ring.

gosh i think he's the cutest tho! pc Austen Gage
The warm up was fine enough for a horse like Charlie who knows his job and is pretty reliable. But the focus on being quick about the warm up vs being very effective meant that I didn't really spend any time trying to put the horse together and get him very connected in the bridle.

a little tight out of the bending line but nbd. pc Austen Gage
Which meant that we kinda met the first few fences on a little bit of a half stride - clobbering jump 2 after a totally whiffed lead change (lol whoops). The line from jumps 3-4 went a little better bc I knew it had to be 5 strides and actually pushed the horse up to it. Again we found somewhat deep distances to the bending line, but it was nbd.

made easy work of the outside line in 6. pc GRC
The next outside line rode pretty well for us in an easy 6, and then Charlie cruised right on around to finish through the 2 stride in and out like the easiest thing in the world. Then poof! we were done!!

felt great going into the in and out. pc Austen Gage
It wasn't our prettiest round to date, tho at least it was relatively smooth. The height was a non factor, Charlie felt comfortable and like he knew what he was doing. And it honestly just felt like if I had worked a little harder as a rider - spent more time putting him together and getting him connected, the jumps would have been better.

what can i say but that the horse loves grids?? pc Austen Gage
Like, missing that lead change between 1 and 2.... Even as I tried for the flying change I *knew* that we should be doing a simple change instead. But.... whatevskis, right? The only thing in my head was "Onward!" and so onward we went, even tho it cost us a rail.

esp bc grids help him carry his own balance. pc Austen Gage
It was an avoidable error that cost us in the final placings, but also one I'd probably make again under similar circumstances lol. #noregrets! And at least Charlie learned something from it haha, considering he nailed his autochange coming out of the next line lol...

anybody remember the first ever pic i have of him in this stance?? #memories. pc Austen Gage
So we left the arena and stuck around to watch Rachael and Birdie come right after us in their own clean and clear round before Austen took advantage of another onsite hose to spray down both horses again before heading out to cross country warm up. That was much appreciated by the ponies whose initial confusion about being hosed while under saddle was quickly replaced by relief lol.

so proud that this horse can basically just go on and do the thing even when i'm not 100% there <3 pc GRC
Seriously tho - Austen was a life saving groom (thank you!!) in that respect and I felt much better about heading out to an almost all-uphill course knowing that Charlie would hopefully be a little more comfortable for the hosing.

And hint: he was totally fine and felt phenomenal through the course. Details tomorrow!!