Friday, August 31, 2018

summer's last hurrah

Gosh this lesson was forever ago.... Like.... I haven't had a ton of Charlie media this month, but what I *have* had has been all jompies all the time. Which like, I'm not complaining! Charlie and I have had a freakin awesome time jumping this month.

his middle name is "keen"
In early August we schooled cross country at Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra (tho, sadly, not too many pictures from that beyond helmet cam snippets). Then had one of our best jumping lessons ever, with trainer P.

Then Charlie's triumphant return to novice level eventing came hot on the heels of that lesson with his 2nd place finish at Jenny Camp. Then we had another lesson (focus of today's pictures haha), and then another fun Twilight schooling event to round out the month.

sometimes charlie wears such a serious face lol
In past years, July and August have typically been quieter months for us. A period I've referred to as our "summer recess" between the spring and fall seasons. But after our spring season basically stalled out entirely, and our early summer erupted with some serious training holes... Finally, our calendar heated wayyyy up this month.

I'm certainly not complaining! It's been a ton of fun, even if Charlie's closing the month with another ridiculous ding.... The jam packed schedule has made it tricky to stay up to date tho with some of those less eventful in between moments, like our normal weekly jump lessons with trainer P. So these pictures have sadly languished until now haha.

weeeeeeee in-and-out!!
And ya know. There really wasn't a whole lot to write about the lesson. Charlie was riding high off his perceived champion Grade-A stakes winning performance at Jenny Camp (just ask him!) and felt a bit like the King of the World haha.

Instead of his soft adjustability from the week prior, he was a bit more... cocky haha. And I had kitted him up in my dressage bridle instead of the elevator I compete him in. This was .... possibly a mistake. Ah well, it all worked out.

he's gotten so clever with short tight 18' one stride grids
When Charlie's a bit stronger like this, it's a lot harder for me to hold my own position bc I'm spending more energy fussing with him and trying to pull him together. We also end up in situations where we kinda flatten and get more on the forehand, resulting in more knocked rails.

Tho in Charlie's defense, he's really learned so so so much about getting himself to the fence. Even when he's pulling, he's still adjustable in that he's looking at the fences and knows even from a couple strides out that he might have to balance up a moment, or move more forward. Which is helpful haha - it's a lot easier for me to let go more on a horse who feels like he's reading the jumps.

aw but there's his happy face! the sharp left turn after this jump was vurrry challenging for me too haha - definitely had to bail once or twice before we could make it happen
It also helps that the jumps are a bit up haha - Charlie is really getting pretty consistent and comfortable now doing full courses at T. Which, obvi, incidentally is super exciting for me. Isabel and I jumped the occasional 3'3 fence (and very very rarely, an odd 3'6 fence). But course work at this height is new to me - it's only really this summer that we've been schooling it so regularly.

Charlie makes it feel easy tho. Which. Ya know. It certainly helps that he's a Size Large horse, bred for raw athleticism, lol. Plus it honestly feels like he's finally discovered his scope. Like, not just flinging himself headlong at fences, but really truly flying.

i'm flying, jack!
Jumping bigger at home has also helped make our jumps at shows look pretty darn small. Like, sure, some show jumps at Twilight last week were closer to 2'9 than 2'11, but you can't deny they looked friggin puny for Chuck. Whereas, conversely, the legit-ass T table we finished that cross country round with was a total cake-walk for the big guy, even tho I rode to an iffy spot...

ooooh gotta suck it in for that skinny, tho!
And in a lesson like this one, where I'm kinda fussin with the horse and having trouble getting him into that nice round bouncy uphill canter.... and where he's kinda just running through me a bit and getting flat.... it's still seriously reassuring that.... the course work feels pretty consistent.

The biggest pieces we're working on now have more to do with refinement than anything else. Like... uh, balancing in corners. Preparing better for turns (you gotta watch the video to see me toooootally biff a planned turn and then pull out of it at the last minute....). Continuing to try and install a reliable half halt... Helping Charlie feel more coiled up and able to rock back onto his hind end on approach to the fence. Ya know. The devil in the details? Nbd haha.

no problem even after beefin the jump up a bit <3
Meanwhile, Charlie feels like a cool calm customer, totally game for whatever I aim him at (like this beefed up shark's tooth skinny jump with barrel as fill!). It's not perfect, but it doesn't have to be. That's what it means to be learning.

Which is nice, right? That validation and reaffirmation is always helpful. Does the horse know his job? Are we able to execute with reasonable consistency? When mistakes or issues crop up, are we able to adjust and adapt? Am I operating on a razor-thin margin of error with the horse, or is our trust bank well-funded?

yup. i'm keepin' him. even if he does have a freakish ability to discover sharp pointy objects with dem toes....
Depending on who you ask, I've made countless poor choices for Charlie. Whether in our schooling and training, or in his care related to all his many dings and dents, bumps and bruises. To this end, I've gotten a lot of unsolicited advice (constructive or otherwise) about how I'm going outside the lines or in direct opposition to how "it should be."

But. Ya know. I say, fuck 'em. Charlie's the one I take my hints from, and Charlie's doing just fine. Not every ride is perfect. We make mistakes and we uncover training holes. That's riding tho. That's what makes it interesting haha.

We're going into a long holiday weekend here in the States and I've got all sorts of fun plans for the next few weeks, starting hopefully with our annual tradition team hunter pace this weekend. Charlie still seems 100% fine and no worse for the wear following his run in with the nefarious villainous, uh, chunk of mulch.... So here's hoping he stays that way. Fingers crossed!!

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend too - anyone else getting out for any big group rides for the weekend? Or maybe any other sort of parties or get-togethers? One last hurrah for summer? Or maybe you're looking forward to something a little quieter?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

it's like déjà vu all over again

Alternate titles:

Oops, he did it again!
That takes talent!
I guess lightning does strike twice.....
Why, tho? Why??
Maybe I should have just left him out in the woods....
That's it. Time to break out the titanium hoof pads!

my phone refused to focus on this gruesome bloodied chunk of wood. apparently even my technology is in denial
Ahem. Cough cough. So.

Charlie punctured his right hind hoof AGAIN. On a piece of WOOD. While WALKING. On the TRAILS.

it takes real talent to weaponize this thing
One second we were ambling along amid the monarchs and dragonflies, and the next we were reeeeeeally fucking crippled. A quick look down behind me confirmed that Charlie was suddenly not weight bearing on that leg, so I hopped off to investigate.

sad charles is sad
After convincing him to maybe not kick my face in, he allowed me to grab the hoof -- at which point I observed what looked like a chunk of mulch stuck in his shoe. Nbd, it was probably uncomfortable and maybe even a little poke-y on his delicate little tootsie-wootsies, so I just yanked it out.

yup... life sucks, buddy
Except uh..... While basically the entirety of this chunk-o-wood looked innocent, somehow there was one curved dagger-like splinter jutting out of it that Charlie had stepped on just perfectly (we're talking one-in-a-million odds here folks, wtf) such that it embedded about an inch into his frog. Complete with insta-blood spurt.

two hooves, one bucket?
Is it weird to admit I kinda felt nothing? Like, not the sudden rush of ice cold fear from last winter when the same fucking thing happened with a roofing nail. And not even really anger, either. Just like.... this slow-spreading numb feeling of, "Ok this is happening now."

evidence of shenanigans afoot
We happened to be at a convenient point following the pasture fence lines around the property - there was a nearby gate wherein I could lead Charlie in hand on a direct route back to the barn, so that was nice at least.

Also nice was that he seemed relatively ok. Whereas last winter it had taken us forever (and a couple hand tools) to get the nail out of his hoof during which time Charlie started looking stressed and I worried about shock.... This time around I got the thing out quickly and he returned to weight bearing immediately.

honestly i'm not sure exactly where it went... somewhere in here.
It looked like it maybe stung tho. Like Charlie would stop every few feet to shake and stamp the leg a bit. And seemed maybe a little extra reactive and sensitive to all the biting flies, tho I guess that could have just been my imagination.

epsom salts and betadine to pack in there
Otherwise tho he was walking pretty normally and we made it back to the barn without incident (despite having to cut through the mares field, filled naturally with extreme drama queens lol).

Based on my experiences last time this happened, I knew there wouldn't really be much a vet could do at that exact moment. So I opted to move forward with treating myself, with the plan to take a "wait and see" approach over the next few days. This plan of attack was aided by knowing Charlie was on the schedule to see the farrier the next day, so I figured the farrier could triage the situation as well as anyone else.

wrapped up nice and snug with pretty blue vet wrap
I let my barn manager know what was up, and set about caring for the hoof. Soaked for about ~10-15 minutes with hot hot hot water treated with epsom salts and betadine solution. Then went to pack with the same type of concoction.

Last winter, my vet had recommended I pack the hoof with poultice. The idea being that it was wet and muddy out and poultice would at least protect the hoof from anything nastier getting up into the puncture. Tho, depending on who you ask, I was a fool for listening to the vet and obviously am bad at horse care for following those directions. Idk. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

charlie is insisting that i get more practice in learning how to wrap a hoof
Charlie *did* end up abscessing last time tho. Actually.... He went full drama queen bc after getting so sore on that hoof, he over compensated on his other hoof -- but then somehow took that hoof's shoe off in turnout, then got uber sore on that one, and abscessed again. It was... an ordeal.

I'd love to avoid an abscess this time around (feels futile tho, tbh) plus the ground is pretty dry right now, so I figured there's less of a risk of other junk getting up into the hoof. So I packed it with drawing agents like epsom salts and betadine, then wrapped it all up carefully as could be.

Seriously, I keep trying to get better and better at this whole hoof wrapping thing. Certainly I'm getting lots of practice! This latest effort tho was a total flop and Charlie walked out of it before he even reached the pasture. Sigh. I guess I needed to go higher over his heel, but there's other ouchies and skin funk there that I had been trying to avoid irritating.... Idk. Oh well. I threw him out anyway. He'll live, probably. Maybe.

apparently i still need more work tho.... womp.
So we'll see what happens, I guess. Last time he seemed perfectly normal for about ~4 days before brewing the abscess. Then we spent about 2 wks dealing with the fallout from that. Ultimately tho, there was no lasting damage from the nail. I can only hope we'll be so lucky this time around. I'd be shocked if that splintery thing managed to get close to the joint, tho I guess it could have gone into the bursa too. It's hard to tell.

It's a real bummer tho, even if we get "lucky" and all that comes of it is an abscess or whatever. Charlie and I were supposed to go on our annual group hunter pace next weekend, complete with very exciting team costumes. And naturally I had just sent in the nonrefundable payment for our first ever 2 day clinic the weekend after.

Who knows tho, maybe we'll get even luckier than last time and he'll be totally fine and won't abscess?? Maybe?? Pretty pretty pretty please?!? Sigh...

Monday, August 27, 2018

the problem with gimmicks

Sometimes I get a little frustrated, a little hot under the collar, by what I perceive as the questionable strategies used to market products to horse people. Or some of what I consider disinformation masquerading as "scientific fact" spread about the "right" versus "wrong" ways to go about horse care, management, and ownership.

Why do I care? On one hand I think science already has enough of a credibility problem these days and it bugs me when it gets twisted into dubious conclusions used to manipulate consumers or make horse owners feel guilty unless they buy a certain type of product.

trying to find the path to being a good horse owner like.....
On a completely different level, tho, I want to share a story about an old horse I used to know years ago at a trail barn.

He was owned by a guy who loved horses, spent a lot of time at the barn, and handled all sorts of farm chores with his adult kids, one of whom also rode. The guy didn't do a ton of riding - mostly just weekend trail rides spent chatting and socializing with his riding buddies. Meanwhile, the horse .... wasn't particularly sound. It seemed like something in the shoulder: the horse looked like he had a flat tire when he walked, and it worsened over the course of a ride.

The vet thought it was maybe muscular and that more purposeful conditioning on the flat surface of the arena would help. But the owner really wasn't into arena riding. Found it boring and monotonous, didn't really like it so he didn't do it. Instead he brought out a chiro and massage therapist, and learned how to do some of the massages and stretches himself to try to help the horse. But mostly he'd still just do his thing: once or twice a week taking the horse -- still lame -- out on the trails for a ride with his friends.

One day, I finally unloaded about it to a friend. About how unfair it was for this poor lame horse. About how the guy really ought to do more to help the horse, but seemed too clueless (for instance: he brushed the horse's mane with a metal scrub brush and you could hear all the hairs breaking off! I cringed every time!). And that people like this really shouldn't even own horses if they weren't going to do what the horse needed to be sound.

hacking out ain't for everyone, but it's an important part of my horse's routine
My friend, who was a vet tech and had seen all sorts of slices of the horse world well beyond the lesson barns and show barns I've mostly known, waited for me to finish venting all that hot air, before offering a completely different perspective.

As far as she was concerned, this horse had it made. He was living the life. The horse had a safe home, was well fed, and received regular care. Plus his owner loved him, petted him, talked to him, brushed him (metal comb and all), and massaged and stretched him and gave him treats. And in exchange, all the horse had to do was hobble around the woods for an hour or two each week, and really only if the weather was good.

My friend asked: ultimately isn't that what really matters? And couldn't I think of any other horses out in the world who would trade places in a heartbeat??

This might sound stupid, but that perspective kind of blew my mind. I had literally never thought of it that way before.But as soon as she said it, I knew it was true. And it occurred to me, if this guy shouldn't be allowed to have a horse like good ol' Blue, then what happens to Blue? Who takes this old lame trail horse? What are his future prospects if he loses this safe home?

And meanwhile, what happens to this guy who loves horses and is offering this safe home, even if he's kinda clueless? Is it just, "too bad, so sad, no horse for you buddy until you get more educated on the 'correct' way to own a horse?" Or. Ya know. Do we look around us at the untold hundreds of horses across the country just desperate for a home, and figure, "Eh maybe Good Guy Greg here is a fine enough owner for his nice quiet, albeit kinda crippled, trail horse."

i'm pretty sure sometimes charlie wishes he could just be one of the shetlands and do nothing all day except for the occasional pony ride haha
My point with sharing this story is: We're basically all doing the best we can with our horses. Even if we all kinda do it a little differently. Can it really be considered "wrong" care if a horse's basic needs are met?

Sure, whether in real life or in blog land, we can probably all think of countless examples of a horse who.... maybe isn't really 100% sound. Or who is receiving care (whether that be diet or hoof or stabling or whatever) that doesn't align with our own standards. Or seems like a bad match for the owner. And how many times have you seen someone make a choice with a horse that you would not have made, then it went poorly and you're just sitting there like, "See I knew it! You should have listened to me all along!" It happens, right?

Horses are fragile. And riding is a contact sport. Yes it is possible to cause injury to them by using poorly fitting or inappropriate equipment. Yes, a bad judgement on hoof care can cause injury. Yes. Poor riding can cause injury. Yes, the wrong decision by a vet can cause injury to the horse.

Also, tho: Yes, horses are 100% capable of being injured even when you do everything "right." Just like there are costly mistakes that could be avoided by different choices, there are also just... senseless tragedies with horses. Riding accidents. Pasture accidents. Even stall accidents. Random missteps or cardiac episodes. A twisted gut or a virus that crossed the blood brain barrier. Or, ya know. Age. Arthritis, fading eyesight, a system that slows and eventually stops.

oops, might need to revoke our horse owning license here, riding across a frozen stream is too risky!!
I live in fear of losing Charlie. I get a sinking, heavy pit in my stomach even just thinking about something happening to him. Words aren't enough to describe what he means to me. There isn't any metaphor strong enough to convey what it would mean to lose a horse. Just ask any of your friends (or members of this wonderful blogging community) who have had to live through it.

I would do literally anything to keep him safe. And try to make decisions every day that not only seek to keep him healthy and happy -- but that also aim to help him thrive in his day to day life.

And I have exactly zero doubts that every other rider I know feels similarly. We all want the best for our horses. We all take steps in this direction. And we all want our horses to be happy in their jobs, set up for success, capable of performing optimally, regardless of what our actual performance goals are.

And it fucking drives me nuts when companies try to sell a product by manipulating this most basic principle of horse ownership. The "scare tactic" or "pain point" approach to sales. The marketing campaigns that don't just say, "Buy our product bc it'll magically fix all your horse's problems and probably solve world hunger too!" But take it a step further by saying, "Buy our product or else Bad Things will happen to your horse and you probably don't love him enough anyway!"

this guy. i <3 him. just want to make good choices for him.
It doesn't even have to be extreme to fall into this category, IMO.

Past examples that have set me off include the Lighthoof article in Horse Nation last winter that described the dangers posed to your horse by frozen ground. Saying that frozen pastures filled with sharp muddy peaks could damage your horse's hoof in less than an hour (omg!). And to avoid that danger you shouldn't turn your horse out on frozen rutted ground. But if you don't turn your horse out, you'll have to hand walk him for hours and hours every day or else he'll colic and die (oh no!). Altho all that could be avoided if you just installed their surface solutions product in your field to stabilize and reduce areas of choppy mud.

Yes. That was actually what the article said. That was the logical progression used to sell a product. Not that the product is super cool and makes life easier around the farm -- but that without the product you're risking injury, illness, or even death to your horse.

Or like. Another marketing gimmick we hear all the time now: It's not just about how new technology in protective leg wear for horses is more breathable, lighter weight, and less likely to carry water or debris, while still offering superior protection against blunt trauma. No - it's not just this. Rather, it goes a step further to say that boots without this new technology or materials are dangerous to the horse bc heat trapped on the surface of the leg during exercise has been Scientifically Proven* to weaken the internal structures of the leg by causing cellular death. You can tell it must be true bc if you wrap your arm in neoprene, your arm gets hot too! Boom, cellular death.

oops, there we go again riding through frozen water, and with neoprene boots too. sheesh, when will we ever learn?!? but then again, maybe if we combine the neoprene with cold weather we'll cancel out the dangerous negative effects from both?!?
Never mind that the research here.... doesn't actually support the full conclusion made by boot companies. The testing they did of cells in petri dishes exposed to high temperatures doesn't fully account for the body's ability to transfer and regulate temperatures and heat internally, independent from surface temperatures on the body. The boot companies will tell you that heat generated internally in the structures during exercise gets trapped when the leg surface is covered by a non-breathable material like neoprene. And that since the heat apparently can't dissipate in any other way (like via the circulatory system! imagine that!) it builds up to dangerous levels in the tendons and can lead to a soft tissue injury.

Therefore, if you want to be a good owner and love your horse, you shouldn't put neoprene on your horse. Only the best for ponykins, right?? And hey, even if you only ever do light dressage schools or are weekend warrior trail riders like Good Guy Greg from earlier, those tendons are probably still generating enough heat to make neoprene dangerous, right?? Not worth the risk!!

Or like.... even the mildest examples of this type of marketing are still kinda head scratchers. Raise your hand if you've heard that silicone hair products like detanglers or shine sprays are actually bad for hair bc they are drying and cause breakage? Like.... even if that's true, does it really matter?

Brushing through a knotted tail with no product can also cause breakage. The horse rubbing an itchy bum, or rubbing out braids, can cause breakage. Shampooing too often can cause itchy dry skin and breakage. Grabbing mane when you get left behind at a jump can also cause breakage. It happens. But if you love that silky smooth slick feeling that only seems to come from a product containing silicone.... eh, go for it. Why not.

I mean, Good Guy Greg is probably still out there brushing his lame trail horse's mane with that metal scrub brush, right?

somehow still not dead yet
I guess my point is.... it's probably not the frizzy thin tail that's gonna do your horse in. Or the clipped whiskers or the single jointed snaffle (omg the nutcracker effect tho!) or the non-anatomic girth. Or even the neoprene on your horse's legs (you monster!).

Spending extra money on a product bc you think it might help in even the smallest possible way in keeping your horse healthy and happy is totally fine. Buying that expensive feed through supplement even tho it's not regulated and there's limited research on the actual benefits is fine. Keeping your horse on a normal body work routine even if you're not convinced it makes a difference is fine. Calling your vet out for every single bump and bruise is fine.

There is legitimately nothing wrong with spending money to feel like you're doing your best for your horse. I have zero judgement on that. And obviously if you feel like something isn't right with your horse and you believe the problem can be fixed by shopping? Have. At. It.

Bc shopping can be awesome, right? There's something fun and satisfying about getting that fancy new shiny thing anyway haha. You want that latest technology in boots? Or the pasture surface system that's going to clear out all the deep mud from high traffic areas like gates and run-in sheds? Sounds good to me!

ok tho, i admit, sometimes i *do* buy stuff just for the trend factor lol. helllo berry jacket and matching bonnet!! 
If you have personal opinions that dictate how you make choices for your horse, that's great too. Seriously.

But FFS, don't tell me it's because not buying that thing or making a choice that diverges from your opinion is somehow bad for my horse, or just generally "wrong." That somehow this season's hottest trend was actually a major discovery in horse care that completely changes everything we thought we knew previously.

Don't get me wrong - I love that companies are leveraging new research and smarter technologies to develop better products. It's great that there's so much awesome information out there for the discerning consumer to review. And it's easier today than ever before for those consumers to share their thoughts and opinions and experiences with how a product worked for their horse.

But just say no to marketing gimmicks that prey on the insecurities of your every day regular horse loving amateurs who just want to do good by their horse.

the key to having fun with horses? uh, just having fun with them. like tailgating with the ponies at an event! also. thermal wraps on horse legs are definitely bad. except when they're good.... like these therapeutic back on track wraps lol....
We all want to do right by our horses. We all want to make good choices for them. Sometimes we have to balance those choices bc of limited resources or competing priorities elsewhere in life. And obviously we all have different lines in the sand when it comes to what we consider optimal in terms of nutrition, training, hoof care, turnout, maintenance, etc.

And like... if you're having problems or your horse isn't doing well or something is wrong, then by all means, go forth and explore options to make changes etc. But if everything is pretty peachy and you are happy with how your horse is doing? Cool, man. Cool.

Horses are hard enough as it is without having to also deal with all the hype from the companies just trying to make a buck...

So I just don't buy into it. Do what works for you and your horse and your own personal set of circumstances. And if that includes using cheapie neoprene boots from Amazon or cutting your horse's mane with scissors or galloping wildly through the snow on a crisp winter day or enjoying trail rides on your horse who couldn't pass an FEI jog up?? Have at it ;)

Am I the only one who gets riled up by this stuff? Have you seen anything lately that really annoyed you or made you scratch your head and wonder whether that marketing team has literally ever actually seen a real horse before?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

twilight eventing!

Charlie and I finally made it to one of Loch Moy's Twilight Events -- incidentally their final Twilight of the season. These events are held on Wednesday nights through the summer months between Loch Moy's Spring and Fall Starter Series events. They're basically glorified schooling outings, and are extremely inviting.

dis my wild 'n crazy event ottb. i think i'll keep him <3
I've wanted to go to one of these forever, and had signed up for one in July but it got rained out. So this was my rain date -- and luckily Brita was able to join with Bella!

It was a good experience for us for a few reasons. First off, it told me a little bit more about where I am mentally right now. As in.... I practically had a panic attack as I logged off from work just after noon and headed out to the barn to pick up the horses.

it wasn't charlie's best test, but it was pleasantly reasonable
The anxiety was probably mostly due to not eating sufficiently before hand (apparently the whole "evening horse show" thing threw me off my routine haha). But even so, it was a stark reminder that.... Ya know. Horse showing can be hard, and it doesn't take much to make me incredibly nervous and anxious. And possibly I'm still experiencing some fallout from the shell shock that was Plantation.

It was easy to kinda pretend our last horse show wasn't even real, wasn't actually happening, since it was at our home barn and I didn't have to do any real prep or trailering or anything. And denial is a strong drug lol when it comes to anxiety. This time tho, there was no denying that we were embarking on another outing, low key and inviting tho it was.

judge wanted to see more forward, but for my purposes i was happy that we weren't running
The timing was also really tight. We got there with notttt quiiiite sufficient time to quickly walk the course before both having to tack and hit the warm up for dressage. Unfortunately Brita got the worst of this, since her ride time was about 15 minutes before mine. 

They run a tight ship at these events: encouraging riders to basically treat dressage as the warm up for jumping, and go immediately from the dressage area to stadium. As such, riders are encouraged to use their full jump tack in dressage. Including boots and whatever bit or bridle configuration (including martingales) you want. 

This is obviously very helpful, tho we both still needed to get back to the trailer in between to grab our vests and pinnies, stud up the horses (hadn't had time before dressage), switch whip for crop, and grab my helmet cam. 

i'm finally getting used to the fact that charlie is a goddamn professional in the show jumping ring
Charlie's dressage test was also fine for what it was. He felt mostly pretty obedient, but was a little grumpy about his left lead. A few nights ago we had one of our worst dressage schools in recent memory too. He wasn't bad, but was extremely tense over his top line. Like it felt like I was trying to hold his head down, and if I let go his head would ping! straight up into the air. Plus we were basically just running off our feet. It was... not pleasant.

So I was happy enough that he was softer over his top line and more amenable to holding a steadier rhythm in our test, although the judge felt it was a little under powered. One day we'll find a happy medium, but right now I'm 100% ok with just not running lol. And regardless, it was basically just warm up anyway, right?

he nailed the triple 4-to-2 stride combination
I had hoped to catch some of Brita's jumping while taking care of those quick in-between chores like studding etc, but only caught the very end of her stadium and beginning of xc. They killed it tho -- took all the Modified options plus even added in lots of extra schooling while they were at it. Wooooo Brita!

And in no time at all, Charlie and I were up for our stadium round. He had warmed up pretty reasonably but was kinda in this emotional space where he was doing the thing, felt like he knew how to do the thing, but was maybe not very flexible about any changes to the plan.

Like once we were cantering in warm up, all he wanted to do was canter. Instead of, say, coming back to a balanced round trot again. He worked it out tho and I was pretty satisfied with our warm up jumps.

he let me ride him a bit more assertively here as we prepared for a short left hand turn to an end jump
Once in the ring he was just.... basically kinda in cruise control. Our first two jumps were kinda sluggish - you can see his tail swishing all around when I try to spur him up to a bit of a gap lol. But he did the thing, so that's fine. I thought maybe we would add in our first line tho, but half way through he clicked into gear and easily stepped up to the fence. Excellent!

he jumped pretty well all things considered!
Charlie was very responsive to my efforts to rebalance and handled the triple combination beautifully. I got him a little snug to a couple of the last fences going on a long bending line to an end jump, but he didn't care. Jumped down the last line perfectly for our first clear novice jump round, yay Charlie!

I took my time getting over to cross country warm up to avoid rushing the horse, and started mentally preparing for the final phase. And I had a whole bunch of kinda conflicting feelings lol.

was a very short course just looping through the main fields
See, these events are glorified schooling, right? For cross country, there aren't really any flagged combinations. And all jumps for each level are lined up in a row with flags just at the end. So you can jump whichever height you want. In fact, riders are encouraged to jump multiples if they want, and to school anything that needs it. Plus, they put all sorts of other fun jumps all over the course that you can add in as you see fit.

Jump judges keep track of refusals and whatnot, but there aren't really eliminations and since no final ribbons are given out, there's no pressure on riders to worry about penalties.

This is what makes it a really great schooling opportunity, and especially great for riders looking to move up. As such, going into the event I had been thinking along the lines of "This is my chance to finally get out there and jump a bunch of T stuff!!!" as per my stated goals for the year.

finally - FINALLY - figuring out the start gate situation!
Except... Idk. Walking the course, I wasn't so sure. Like, definitely the first few jumps I knew I wanted to stay at N. One of our biggest schooling issues is leaving the start gate and establishing rhythm on course. Charlie must learn to be consistent here. And if he's gonna be a legit N horse, he's gotta be able to get right on up and out to an N jump.

But.... even tho the first few jumps tend to be inviting and he'd certainly be capable of the T jumps in a vacuum, I wanted to make sure that if we *did* have any trouble with riding forward to the fences, he wouldn't be unduly punished by a confidence-sapping bigger-than-normal fence.

So. For sure we were starting with N. And for more technical jumps like the trakehner or banks or whatever, we're still so green there that positive mileage is more important than jumping "big."

these events are designed for schooling: jumps from all levels are lined up in a row with just one set of flags at the ends. jump whatever you want!
And actually, as we proceeded through the course walk.... I just kinda continued along in that thought process. Charlie is legitimately green to this level. And, uh, ahem, so am I. The N jumps all look easy. They look like the right size. They look like jumps that Charlie could fly over feeling like the champion I know he is.

The training jumps? Many of them honestly look pretty reasonable too. But. But. I had to ask myself what the point would be? What was the value proposition? We see it all the time when a rider moves up a level, has a good experience, and immediately starts talking about the next level up. But... Idk. In my experience, moving up is hard. It's been a bumpy ride every time, with Isabel and Charlie.

warning warning warning: houston we have pilot error! try to figure out what, exactly, i've lined charlie up to jump haha. in my defense, homeboy was galloping down hill omg and not really fully aware that maybe there were jumps immediately ahead of us until it was kinda too late.....
So as we proceeded through the walk and I sized up each N vs T fence, I kinda just felt like what we really needed was more confidence-building mileage at N.

I knew the N jumps would ride well even if we made little mistakes. And I felt like an easy romp around a course might possibly be more valuable to us in the long run vs what could be some more awkward or stilted efforts over bigger fences.

A lot of this mentality stems from my somewhat conservative risk-averse approach to training. I would rather go too slow than too fast, and can be reluctant to challenge myself until I'm really really really sure it'll be ok. But... So far this approach seems to be working for Charlie. I so desperately Charlie to be my packer. To cart my ass around courses feeling like a conquering hero. And he WILL be that horse. I just know it. But for me, on this night, I felt like our particular road to Rome includes more N mileage even when the T options were so tempting.

and. uh, why yes. we were lined up for the gap, and he did in fact jump the gap... uh, oops? my bad, chuck.... fwiw we circled back and trotted the BN version like civilized beings
So off we went on course, and right away Charlie demonstrated again why this approach of careful repetition works so well for him: he KILLED IT leaving the start gate. Galloped away immediately, popped over jump 1, and landed galloping again. Yessssss!!! Goooood boy, Charlie!!! No more starting like a pull-cord lawn mower for you!!

Tho uh, yea, as we like to do here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing, Charlie kinda swung a bit too far in the opposite direction and we were RUNNING OMG haha. Which was a little unfortunate bc we turned immediately down a steep hill where the N trakehner was waiting for us at the bottom.

I've jumped this trakehner with Isabel before, coming the opposite direction, and it's a pretty friendly jump. But my approach with Charlie was riddled with extreme pilot error haha. He was running through me blissfully unaware that we were aiming for the jumps. Considering how crookedly I was riding him lol.... So when I kinda just aimed from the hip and shot him at the fence he.... also jumped very crookedly lol.

It didn't technically count as a refusal bc we did in fact jump and cross through the flags. But..... I opted to circle back and trot the BN version all the same. Probably I could / should have reapproached the N trakehner but... Eh I felt like the bad jump was my fault and didn't want to make a big deal out of it. So onward we went.

friendly log oxer
Charlie thought he discovered a fun new trick by jumping between fences so I had my work cut out for me trying to keep his left drift at bay haha. But mostly he was fine. Locking on to the jumps. Dragging me along.

Steering wasn't fantastic and our pace was a little more wild 'n woolly than I would have loved, but he felt committed to the efforts and definitely felt like they were easy.

charlie do the big ditch!
Again, a couple of the T jumps looks so so so tempting - like even as I approached the line of tootsie roll jumps I just knew I should be doing the T. Same story for the cord wood. But... Yea. Reasons and stuff. Whatever. The N was fine.

Tho there was a little bit of terrain on course - like for the hanging logs at 9 - where even tho the T fence was also pretty reasonably sized, the steep descent on landing was much closer to the fence and maybe not quite where I thought Charlie would want to be. That could be more of a "me" thing than a Charlie thing tho lol bc he handled his own slightly farther away N descent perfectly.

this hanging log felt like good practice after our botched trakehner lol
I did do the bigger of the ditches tho bc.... Well, why not, right? Charlie's never been ditchy (except for that one time lol) and it's nice to get that schooling lol. And the next jumps - actually even before I had decided to stick mainly to N I had been unsure about which of these to choose. Sure, the T jump is kinda skinny... but it's basically just a coop. Whereas the N jump looked like it asked a little more of the horse, maybe.

Brita had said during our walk that the N hanging log would be good practice for us if the earlier trakehner hadn't gone so hot. So... obviously since that did end up being the case, I was pretty happy to choose this option. Which Charlie tackled no problem. Good boy!

weeeeeee big double brush table!!!
Next up were the big double brush tables. These are some considerably chunky monkey fences - I've jumped the BN version with Isabel and it's easily the biggest thing you're ever likely to see on BN. Same story for the N - so I had already figured out that it would take an act of god to make me want to aim Charlie at the T lol.

It was fine tho. Charlie soared over just like I knew he would. He was having fun!!!

look who cantered into the water AGAIN!!! 95% less cannon balling this time lol, but he did it pretty well!
We also chose to canter into the water again! This is kinda a big deal for me, for maybe weird reasons. I don't think I ever, ever cantered into the water with Isabel. She was just... unreliable haha. Tho she got pretty good at trotting in.

Charlie has proved to be better, but for some reason going into water at speed just makes me really worried. Like what if the horse zigs but I zag?!? I need to get over that tho. And since Charlie did so well at his home turf water complex at Jenny Camp, I think we're officially graduating to cantering in as a default from now on.

Charlie was good too! I slowed him way down (and he listened!) so he could fully see the water as we approached it. He jumped way right tho, way off our line, as we entered the water. Which is probably something I need to be a little more firm about... But whatever. He came back on line for the boats and didn't really lose impulsion or fall behind my leg. Locked on and jumped, good boy!

and for shits and giggles, finishing the course with a robust black lettered table. off a long spot bc obvi lol. go charles! <3
Then it was basically another quick run over ditch #2 (which was very very small haha, esp compared to the first one) before making the turn to the final line of jumps. And.... ya know. I just knew, knew that I would seriously regret it if I didn't jump at least one T jump.

So even tho there had been plenty smaller T versions on course behind us that would have also been just fine, I decided we would finish our ride on this roll top table thingy. It is.... not small haha. But hey, at least if we had a problem there wasn't anything else left on course so we wouldn't have to worry haha.

We didn't have a problem tho <3 Well, I mean, realistically I rode us to a half stride and tried to get Charlie to chop in one more... and he was like, "Emma are you crazy?!" and effortlessly picked up to jump that sucker from the long spot. Ha. Charlie. That's my boy ;)

Then naturally it took another like.... 20 seconds to get him pulled up bc our conquering hero felt like he needed a victory lap lol. I'm cool with it tho!

So it was a good ride. While on one hand I know I could have pushed us for more and it probably would have been fine, it also feels really valuable to have laid down another reasonable round at this level. Confidence building, not confidence proving, right? Plus any time Charlie walks away feeling like a winner seems like a win to me too haha.

What about you - have you ever done an event like this? Do you ever waffle about when is the right time to push for more in schooling? Are you like me in that you tend to be relatively conservative? Or are you more likely to take your chances when things are feeling good and going well? Or maybe you think I'm just way overthinking this and should shut up and enjoy the ride?!? lol...

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

will emma ever learn to sit a horse? you decide!!

Right around the New Year, Charlie and I were dealing with a lot of sour horse issues. He started back into post-surgery tack walking in October, and rehab really got under way in November. Things were well and fine and all, right up until they were.... not fine.

Charlie's always been the kind of horse to get sticky stuck and threaten to go up when something is buggin him. And at this point, something was definitely omg very much buggin him. And by December, we had one of our worst rides in terms of his behavior - tantrums, rearing, all of it. Something had to give.

Jan Hulsebos conducting field surgery on my beloved dressage saddle. Yes that is a razor blade in his hands haha. and Yes it was awesome.
I was able to isolate my Bates dressage saddle (a hand-me-down from Isabel) as the Source of All Charlie's Woes. And thus it was banished.... to Austen haha, bc even tho that saddle kinda sucks it's proven to be a reasonable fit for a wide variety of horses. #gofigure

And meanwhile, I made my first ever true high quality tack purchase: my trainer's custom Hulsebos dressage saddle made for her large thoroughbred. The horse passed some years ago, leaving my trainer with a saddle built for a large thoroughbred, but without an actual large thoroughbred. Meanwhile, *I* had a large thoroughbred, but no saddle. It was an obvious choice.

We tried the saddle on Charlie and it looked practically custom made for him. So after much arm twisting, trainer P agreed to sell it to me.

best picture i have of the saddle's thigh blocks pre-customization. you can see the block extends the full length of the flap, reaching to the billet straps. also, incidentally, this Eponia breast plate is no longer needed post-customization. it may be offered for sale. interested?
Peace was returned to the kingdom, and we returned to our endless pursuit of more and better in dressageland in our new chunk of leather and wood. All was right again!

And of course when the saddle maker himself, Jan Hulsebos, made his annual pilgrimage to our part of the world to service any saddles needing it, I added mine to the list so that we could get that expert finishing touch to make everything just right for Sir.

the blocks after Jan was finished with them. effectively retrofitted to half blocks.
I wrote a whole lengthy post on that experience - a saddle fitting with Jan is basically tantamount to a bio mechanics clinic, apparently. It was honestly kinda intense bc I was just trotting endlessly around and around in the oppressive July heat while Jan silently observed.

Finally, tho, he reached a verdict.

a nice example of me and charlie both trying really hard
In Jan's opinion, a few things had to happen with the saddle. First of all: we would reflock (as expected) but with the specific intent of lifting the front of the saddle, and slightly lowering the back. This made perfect sense to me, since even tho Charlie is not technically built downhill he can often have a downhill way of going.

possibly just a better camera angle, but definitely a better pelvis angle
Additionally, I had noticed that during the course of a ride, the saddle would slide back a little bit, dropping even more up front. Thus the idea of adding a breast plate* to the mix: it was my hope that the breast plate would keep the saddle from dropping backwards. This seemed to work, but Jan's flocking solution is obviously a bit more effective haha.

(*Incidentally -- after making his adjustments to the saddle he recommended I discontinue using the breast plate. I've held onto it tho bc.... wow it's really pretty. But am wondering if maybe I could use the money more and am debating offering it for sale. If you're interested let me know! fraidycat.eventing at gmail.)

leg position leaves plenty to be desired, but we try, we try
It was Jan's other observations that maybe made a bigger difference tho. Essentially, after watching me trot around for ages, he accurately identified my most prominent (and, frankly, well-known) positional flaws: I tend to tip forward in my pelvis and perch on my crotch, while pivoting and pinching with my knees causing the lower leg to curl up.

pretty standard emma perch with trademark pulled up leg
I've been working on fixing this for.... literal years. It's.... hard. And I do it in literally every single saddle I ride in, tho obviously some help or hinder more than others.

But Jan felt that he could improve the saddle's construction to help here. See, he thought the big giant visible-from-the-moon thigh blocks on the saddle were giving me something to brace my knees against, pushing my seat up against the back of the saddle. If he cut off the bottom half of the blocks, my knee would have more room and nothing to push against, so my seat could stay more neutral while my leg hung down more naturally.

gosh i wish we could have Austen taking pictures at every show tho.... instead you get cell phone screen grabs. half block is visible tho!
Seemed like a good plan, yes? And the cost was surprisingly affordable. Even better was that Jan could make all the alterations right then and there, with no shipping the saddle away or wait times.

leg still curled. always curled. bc reasons. seat potentially showing improvement tho?
Since then, I've felt pretty good about the saddle. Lifting it up front definitely helps with Chuck (even tho, call me biased if you want, he seems to be less and less downhill in his way of going every day) and I feel like it's maybe (?) been easier to keep my seat where I want it. Maybe.

the idea is that my knee can't jam into the block any more to push my seat backwards
I haven't had a dressage lesson in forever tho (sadness + woe) and opportunities for getting pictures of us in dressage tack are likewise sadly rare. Except at shows!!! So all these recent pictures from Jenny Camp are getting repurposed to help me better understand what changes the saddle has helped bring along, and what still needs work.

so even as i want to pull my heel up and cling with my lower leg, my seat is able to retain a somewhat neutral position
Obviously I'm ignoring things like my too-long reins and too-wide hands. Tho, uh, if someone could invent a saddle that reminds you to shorten your fucking reins that would be greeeeattt haha.

Rather, mostly I'm looking at two distinct tho closely correlated elements in these pictures. First: the general orientation of my pelvis. If I imagine the human pelvis is shaped like a bowl and filled with water, what would be happening to my water? Is it spilling out the front? Or safely contained in a level bowl?

so the refitted saddle isn't a miracle worker, but is a step in the right direction
For my own purposes, I've come to believe that my seat position is the highest priority among my special set of issues. Like, sure, there are issues in my torso, arms, head and neck and like... wow all of it, but I think a more correct seat position will make it easier to create effective change elsewhere.

The second priority, and the other element I'm looking at in these pictures, is how my leg hangs from my pelvis. Does it drape down? Am I able to utilize the length of my muscles independently? With the ability, for instance, to apply thigh pressure separately from calf? Or... ya know... am I just clinging with my heel?? lol...

And most importantly, do I see a difference in the set of pictures from Loch Moy with the full blocks, vs the set of pictures from Jenny Camp with the half blocks?

when you ride a bronto tho, you work with what you got lol
It's a tough comparison bc the quality difference between photos is so..... extreme lol. And also obvi these pictures were mostly the cream of the crop vs the uglier moments.... Tho I believe they're relatively honest representations of how I ride.

So... Overall? My impression is that I think the half blocks do make a big difference in how I sit. Taking away the ability to brace my knee against the block has in fact helped keep my seat more neutral. I still pinch with the knee tho, and still want to drop the front of my pelvis. A lot of that is muscle memory tho. Hard to fix. But worth the effort.

Ultimately I think the improvements in the saddle have helped a lot. Made a big difference. It's easier for me to be more correct, and I'm not fighting against the saddle as much. It's not a silver bullet tho. Alas haha. But is there even such a thing with horses? I think not.