Friday, July 20, 2018

charlie schools xc again, finally!

I've been itching to get Charlie back out on cross country since our disastrous attempt at Plantation last month. It's been tricky tho, and naturally I have excuses.

Most of our jumps at home were sitting piled in the front field waiting for the course designer to reposition them. Work has been busy. The ground has been harder than hard. Etc etc etc. Reasons. Ya know how it goes.

yup, still crazy about him <3
Finally tho, the course designer got to work ahead of our farm's USEA HT next month. The course is set and the fields are mowed. So my friends and I made plans. AND. Mother nature for once appeared to smile on us - with blissfully soaking rain and thunderstorms literally the day before our planned outing.

Normally we wouldn't school the day after rain, but the ground has been so dry and so hard that the rain just made it normal vs muddy. It even partially refilled the water complex that had dried out! Perfect!

sunlit bn feeder for warm up
The only bummer was that we hadn't really considered the rules about competitors schooling the course in advance. So Rachael, who is entered in the upcoming recognized event, ended up not being allowed to actually jump anything. Bummer. She still came out anyway tho to hack and gallop around and take pictures and help move flags and stuff as needed, so it was fun getting to ride with her anyway!

familiar N coop going into the water mud
For my purposes, I wanted to be really clear in my objectives for the day. As an admitted over-planner, I tend to like creating these long term, step-by-step, progressive plans that unfold from one ride to the next in small iterative steps. Each ride building on the foundation laid in the ride before.

This isn't a bad thing, superficially speaking. And possibly this approach to Charlie's training is part of why he's been able to settle into the job reasonably well.

turned around and came the other way - water mud to coop
The issue, however, arises in maybe kinda subtle ways. Unintended consequences and such. Bc when you think about it, that's an awful lot of pressure on each ride. Take last summer as an example. I had this big beautiful plan, casually referred to as "Novice by November." It was a good plan, lots of small realistic and attainable steps.

But every time one of those "steps" didn't go perfectly, or even quite as well as I wanted, it disproportionately stressed me out bc all I could see was my long line of carefully planned steps all falling like dominoes. Like when we ran BN at Fair Hill in September, and Charlie was a good boy but had a number of green mistakes on course.

Honestly I should have been happier with that event than I was bc I was too busy worrying that it wasn't a positive enough prep run to keep us on track for November. Which is kinda crap, right? Like I managed to rob my own self of the happiness of fully enjoying that day, esp since it turned out that Charlie's splint eruption negated the rest of our season anyway.

this N hanging log with downhill landing has always been intimidating to me
So after our Shitty Plantation Day kinda put everything into better perspective for me, I'm trying harder to just take each ride as it comes. Not worry so much about tomorrow or next month or whatever.

And thus, for this ride, nothing depended on the outcome. We weren't building toward anything. Didn't have any targets that just had to be hit, or else. It was gonna be fun. I was gonna stick to my guns about discipline etc, bc that's important right now, but mostly just enjoy the ride and do what felt good in the moment.

meanwhile charlie basically just snoozed over it. check out that majestic AF tail action tho!
As such, I decided to experiment a little bit with tack. Charlie and I had a very pleasant school with ground poles and a couple small jumps the night before in the hackamore, wherein all I did was apply leg and aim the horse. He was 100% responsible for organizing his legs and figuring out what to do over all the ground poles. No micromanagement. No packaging the horse up and trying to make all the decisions myself. Nope. Charlie had to figure out his legs, and I just legged him on and aimed, with basically a loose rein.

This worked out really well and he felt great, so I decided to keep the hackamore train chugging through to the xc school too. With the idea being: I don't really get the same "contact" with the hackamore. There's no "feel" to pull against like there is with a bit. So really the only feeling I can get is by adding more leg. Just leg. More leg. Always with the leg.

simple N house going uphill (and slightly sideways apparently, ahem charlie)
And it worked out pretty much ok! I probably should have also had spurs on, since Charlie was taking up a LOT of leg haha, but did opt to carry a dressage whip. All in all, tho, this feeling of experimentation with equipment kinda added to the relaxed nature of the ride.

whoooops, there's even more sideways action!
For Charlie's part, he was a very very good boy. We started out by hacking all around the fields letting the horses stretch their legs while we checked out the jumps. Then started trotting and cantering around, and catching a couple small jumps and cruising through the water.

aaaaand then a very unfortunate slip down the hill to represent, and he stopped again, womp
I really liked that we all seemed to be on the same page too - the pace of our schooling was very slow. No real sense of urgency. Lots of walking and chatting between jumps. Taking turns, even tho we were doing different stuff. It was nice! And definitely helped me stay relaxed and focused on just doing one thing at a time.

third time's the charm tho!
We warmed up over a couple BN jumps that Charlie's seen before - a small feeder and triple bar. Then worked over a simple N red coop in both directions - into and out of the water. Charlie was taking a LOT of leg, but was a good boy.

the line was kinda messy tho - we actually trotted in it haha
Then we did the N hanging log going down hill - a jump that's always intimidated me lol. It doesn't look like much in the pictures bc... Well let's be real. Nothing looks like much in pictures compared to Charlie. But it's not an insignificant jump - esp considering it's upright-ness and slight resemblance of a collapsible stadium jump.

Charlie didn't care. Kinda just loped up to it and popped over without much thought. Or, uh, effort. Haha. Ok big guy, nice to know you don't care about these things!

one last time for good measure tho, atta boy charlie!
I looped around to a chunky N house after that and he kinda tried to squeeze out the right side but jumped it anyway. It helped that the approach was slightly uphill so I was mainly focused on just adding leg.

But perhaps I should have been a little more in tune with having two kinda not quite great efforts in a row, bc when I aimed him next at the N line of rolltops, we had a run out. In reviewing the footage you can kinda see it coming from the two jumps before, and from an iffy approach to the line. Oh well tho, in a way it was nice to have this issue crop up again so I could work through it in a schooling setting vs dealing with it mid competition like we did at Plantation.

still didn't quite get the striding but was much better
Part of the issue was the approach to this line. It was set for a very going two strides (that Brita and Bella deftly demonstrated for us), but had a downhill and short bending approach. I was having enough trouble getting Charlie to open up his canter (we're still riding the "forward" struggle bus...) as it was. Then there was a definite change in his rhythm as soon as we hit the downhill section.

So I guess Charlie's still just not super comfortable or confident about going down hill at speed. Idk. I mean maybe that's an excuse, but I'm looking at it instead as just information to store away for later (for future planning, natch haha #canthelpmyself). Anyway, we had a run out to the right. Nbd.

lots of pets for a good boy who could work through our problems
I reapproached with a bit more conviction, and I swear Charlie likewise felt more committed. Unfortunately his hind end slipped out underneath him right as we were reaching the jump. Maybe on a different day he would have still jumped, but right now his confidence cup isn't exactly runnething over haha, so we stopped again.

then a nice little confidence boosting spin through the BN line 
Honestly I wasn't too bugged by that. It felt like an honest mistake, just an unfortunate misstep. Not exactly a punishable offence. So we reapproached again, this time with some added shout counting for verbal encouragement lol, and while it wasn't pretty, we got through it.

Then once more just for good measure, and Charlie was much much better. Still added through the line, but I think that's kinda just where we are right now so I was fine to leave it as is.

which he clearly did just fine
Tho I opted to move on next to the BN line, one element of which (the above lattice) is closer to starter size. Charlie's jumped these jumps a zillion times and was happy to canter on through the line without hesitation. Confidence building, not confidence proving, amirite?

and the BN table too, just to really help him (and me) feel good about himself
Same story to the line of giant log table thingys. Charlie's jumped both the BN and N before just fine, but I opted to start with the BN again anyway. Just focusing on getting the revs up in the canter and adding leg leg leg leg leg.

Charlie was definitely getting the picture - sorta. As soon as I picked up my reins he'd brighten up and break right away into trot or canter. Both leads, both going toward and away from the farm. All good things. But the canter was still sluggish and I spent a lot of time pushing him for more.

and then he was a superstar over the N table <3
He was fine for the BN table, and then even better for the N table. Again, I know these jumps don't necessarily look like much compared to brontosaurus Charlie over there (or, uh, the modified version it's sitting next to...), but that sucker is big. Which I think helps Charlie bc he takes the jumps (and my requests for moar 4wrd plz!) a little more seriously.

we take this job v seriously, guys ;)
Anyway, after that I felt pretty satisfied with the outing and Charlie's general performance. There's a lot of other jumps out there that we didn't get to, mostly bc all the gates are closed with horses turned out in all the fields and that's kinda a hassle. We'll get to the rest soon enough tho, I'm sure. Hopefully in a lesson with trainer P!

oooooh we also tackled the terrifying deep dark T ditch!
For the purposes of this ride tho, I felt mostly pretty done, only wanting to just do a couple more things just to reaffirm to Charlie that we keep going when I ask. Gotta always be thinking about that discipline with Mr Barn Sour lol.

It worked out tho bc Brita wanted to take a couple spins over the big giant scary deep dark T ditch (remember when we painted it last year??) and I impulsively decided to fall in line behind them too after it was clear Bella was jumping without hesitation.

charlie didn't care tho - actually tried to jump that big skinny on the other side lol
Realistically, Charlie is not ditchy. But maybe I kinda was with this particular beast, so I was happy to just let him follow a lead for a few passes, which he did with minimal hesitation at the ditch. Actually, wouldn't ya know it, but both times we jumped it, Charlie was clearly drawn toward that giant skinny dead ahead. Maybe some other day, bro!

his favorite part - hangin out with other horses and pups just chillin
After that, I just did one last pass over the red coop into the water. Again mostly just to confirm that when I say "canter forward" we ... ya know ... canter forward, even if we've been out for a while and Charlie thinks maybe it's closing time.

He was foot perfect tho and just went on up and jumped the thing just fine. Despite, uh, a random pony galloping hell bent for leather across the fields right past us, and Charlie swapping to a cross canter as we passed the gate toward home lol. Lots of distractions but when I put my leg on, he still went anyway. Good boy.

and my favorite part, hangin out afterward with a cold beer lol
So ya know. It was a pretty solid ride. And also pretty solid proof why attitude matters so much for me in my perception of a ride's relative success. If I were in serious planning mode with something important on the calendar, it might have bugged me that we had a little trouble with the rolltops. Or that I felt like we had to use some BN jumps to puff more air into Charlie's sails. Or that we still weren't quite where we needed to be in our canter gears.

But.... Nope, nothing on the agenda. No big important next steps. Just one ride at a time. And so with that in mind, it was easy to just enjoy the ride for what it was. Which meant less stress and tension, always a bonus.

(also keep your eyes peeled around the 2:34 mark for a random flash of loose white pony galloping past us haha)

And I'm excited to get out for more soon! We definitely need more galloping in our lives. And I think Charlie would be perfectly happy to putz around with BN and N jumps for the foreseeable future. Until he gets that feeling back of really pulling me forward to the jumps, I don't see much point in worrying about anything else lol.

Next on the docket is a Pace Clinic, which should be fun. I don't really care much about timing my rides, per se, but anything that can help us better establish forward and help me get more in tune with correct pace for novice will certainly help, I think. The clinic is supposed to involve some steeplechase type work, so I'm looking forward to it! Plus I think my friends and I might be trying to get out to Windurra soon. Hopefully. Fingers crossed lol.

For now tho, I'm just enjoying the ride. Have you similarly had to reset your mindset or attitude in how you approach your schooling rides? Surely I'm not the only one who has proven to be my own worst enemy when it comes to the mental game necessary for this sport??


  1. this post was great. i feel like that's all ive been saying lately around your post is like, baby horse snaps. 'add more leg' is always a good goal. that and sit up. I think i might just get a recordering of 'add more leg' and 'sit up' and play it when i ride.

    novice by november is a good goal, and just because there are little hiccups along the way doesn't mean you WON'T accomplish it. And you already did a novice! and it wasn't even july! so youre ahead of the game :P

    1. More leg is always the answer - always haha! And novice by November was last year’s goal, I was saying how my preoccupation with the steps leading to the goal got in the way of enjoying the intermediary moments like last September at fair hill. That’s not my goal this year - we already moved up in May.

    2. plz to be ignoring my idiocy - we did actually talk about training so i dunno what i was on about

    3. Lol honestly tho sometimes I think my life’s goal in eventing is to be perpetually trying to move up to novice, it’s always so close!! ;)

  2. Love that last photo over the N Table.

    1. Thanks! He can be so handsome when he wants!

  3. Love the photos, love the no expectations schooling. I think it's great to be motivated but it sounds like you had fun, which is the most important!

    1. Thanks! I’m definitely still very motivated but I’m working hard to make sure things stay in perspective. It definitely helped make it feel like a more fun ride for sure!

  4. It sounds like a fabulous schooling, especially considering how he did at Plantation. When he is on it, he is ON IT, I can't wait for him to figure this all out and have his confidence. He may have all the feelings right now, but once he figures it out? He is going to nail this stuff.

    1. Right?!? Like he is SUCH a good boy and the work is SO EASY for him, but he’s just got to make some choices about life lol. Mostly along the lines of “go forth, son!” Like life is so much harder when we don’t have forward - just consider the difference in my position over the rolltops where I had to work my ass off, vs over the table where he just soared over easy as can be....

  5. Congrats on a successful schooling! You guys look fantastic.

  6. I am super goal oriented and a major planner. I'm also really bad about staying motivated when I don't have something that I am working toward/prepping for. So I feel the pain there. I also have this sense of urgency with my current lease horse to DOALLTHETHINGS before my baby grows up and I start doing baby things instead of being able to work on me. So I really feel your pain on trying to find that balance between having expectations and small goals for your individual rides, without being too focused on the big picture goal that you are trying to reach. Horses, man. Will they every humble you and throw all your plans out the window lol

    1. i love being goal oriented too - it really helps me understand how each small intermediary schooling ride adds up to something bigger. my problem is when i get too consumed with the big picture that i can't enjoy the little parts. it's hard. balance is hard. horses are hard lol. but we love it anyway, right?

  7. Looking good! The pace clinic sounds fun, I did one many many years ago (w/o jumps just on a track).

    1. i'm really excited about it!! it's all about galloping jumps out of stride, and that's exactly where charlie and i need some help with our mojo, so hopefully it'll be good!

  8. Confidence-building - that is SO the key. Looks like you guys are having a ton of fun!!!

    1. thanks - it really was a lot of fun!! esp going into it with a better attitude haha. funny how that works!

  9. That was so fun to watch. He sure can make it look easy when he is in the game!

    1. right????? now i just need to figure out how to keep us in the game like that.... lol

  10. Fun outing and successful to boot, you can’t beat that :)

  11. Sounds like a fun/confidence-building outing for you both :) I'm naturally a planner too (which is amazing because I almost never really do anything) and I'm trying to be more present in all areas of my life instead of planning the next big steps all the time. I like your new approach with Charlie and it sounds like it's already paying off for you both :)

    1. Thanks! It’s so hard to not want to plan out literally every single little thing, esp bc so much of the big stuff can’t realistically happen without a fair amount of planning. The trick I guess is to not get totally consumed by it...

  12. sounds like a fun day and just what you and Charlie needed.

  13. So badass! I really love the first picture <3

    1. Aw thanks - he’s definitely super lovable ;)

  14. I realised this year that there's always so much more to perfect and make better. Which is stupid to realise so late in the game but... whatchagonnado. So when I get in a funk because it seems like I'm not making much "tangible progress" or moving up or whatever, I remember the other little goals I have. Every calm, positive outing helps me gain stimulus control over my wild-eyed beast. Every quiet, not-height-challenging jump school is practice for me riding on an open stride and not chipping my horse into the fences. My list of "to dos" is pretty long!

  15. Sounds like a very productive and fun session. It can be so hard to scale back on the goals and planning thing and just go with it! Good on you

  16. Overall seems like an good school!

  17. I always relate so hard to your posts talking about mental expectations and overall attitude. I struggle with the same thing. I have clear "goals" and I get hung up on levels and such. I have been wanting to take a step back lately, to ENJOY things more. I don't know that I am going to show again as soon as I had originally anticipated, because I don't want that pressure, and I'm not LOVING things lately. Anyway- I love your introspection and think you're right on point!!

    <3 Kelly @ HunkyHano


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