Wednesday, October 31, 2018

happy fall!!

Happy Halloween, everyone! And happy fall, happy cold crisp brisk weather!! This is legit my favorite time of the year, and so far the weather in Maryland has not disappointed (so long as you just kinda ignore some of the rain we've gotten haha....).

oooooh spooooooky
I had originally planned to clip Charlie this week too, seeing as he's a major neck sweater and ain't nobody want to spend ages and ages trying to dry off all that fluff before tucking him in for the night. Luckily an Irish clip suits him pretty much perfectly.

Except, not quite so luckily, Charlie's still on his little breaky-break.

best mare was clearly much concerned haha
Timing isn't too terrible, really. I just decided to postpone the clip job, since the weather is jusssssst chilly enough that we'd probably need to be fussing around with blankets if we took any of his fuzz off. With his current coat tho? He's just fine. Since he's not getting ridden anyway, there's really no need to go there.

charlie realized very early on that... he was gonna have to put up with some shit
And meanwhile I've mostly been an absentee owner anyway. Lately I've had a bit of travel all over the place, some for work, some for fun. I honestly haven't even been able to lay eyes on the beast in about a week.

Naturally this gives me..... some nervous anxious feelings. The cold-prickle-ies, if you will. Charlie doesn't historically do well with abject neglect and I'm not always convinced that anybody else will notice the various bumps, bruises, dings, dents, etc that I would on the horse.

handi-horse wishes you luck with the fall friskies!
But he's probably fine. Probably. At least they'd probably call me if he were like, dead haha. Probably? Right?! Sigh....

I'll get to see him soon tho. Esp bc dammit, I need some updated horse mask pictures haha - these are all years and years old at this point! I guess we forgot last year since Charlie was still laid up on stall rest...

In any case tho, assuming the leg looks reasonable (and there's no reason to believe it won't), I'll maybe hop back on this week. Off-season ennui has already settled into my bones lol so even tho he was only out for a couple weeks, I still plan to just ease into it. Light flat rides, lots of hacking when there's light for it. Just back to the process of slowly building. I'm already looking forward to it <3

warning - it's a bit graphic haha

And in the meantime, a few other bloggers have taken this holiday as the perfect opportunity to flashback to the more.... appropriately gruesome memories haha.

So, in keeping with that spirit, here's one of my all time most-shared videos lol, of when we had to lance Charlie's abscessed splint last fall. Brace yourself, it's nasty haha. But so oddly sickly mesmerizing, in that nasty can't-take-your-eyes-off-it kind of way. I just know some of y'all are into this kinda thing too ;)

Enjoy --- and maybe also cross your fingers for me that when I *do* finally get back to see my horse, his leg will look happy, clean, and tight, and not at all like Mt Vesuvius!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Waredaca Classic 3DE

Maryland had a bit of a Nor'easter come through last weekend, and it wreaked a bit of havoc on the scheduled classic 3DE at the beautiful Waredaca Farms.

steeeeeeeeeeple chase!!!! the horses all looked so so so so so freakin happy during this phase haha
Luckily everyone proved to be exceptionally resourceful and the organizers were able to juggle the schedule well enough to make everything work.

only 3 prelim riders and i believe all had clear jumping xc!
Riders arrived on site on Wednesday night, did their jog ups Thursday morning, then immediately on to dressage (which had originally been scheduled for Friday). It meant that the course walks and steeplechase lessons happened on the same day as dressage, but it seemed to work out well enough anyway.

tell me this is not the most picturesque scene tho!
For those unfamiliar with the classic long format events, they're typically run almost a bit like an extended clinic or eventing camp. Riders have to qualify to ride in the event, but once you're there they basically want to see everyone complete.

giant brush fence jumped quite well for the training division
Professionals are on hand to walk all the riders through each phase, including the roads and tracks and steeplechase courses. This includes a specific steeplechase lesson, considering most competitions don't include this any more so many riders never have the opportunity to practice.

there were some hairier moments through this bending 4 stride line of corner to corner, but for the most part everyone handled it well!
It makes for a really cool atmosphere and experience for the riders, and I was super happy for my friend who busted her butt the whole season to qualify. And I knew I wanted to be part of the experience somehow or another.

So I signed up to volunteer for the Friday dressage warm up, with the idea that I'd be on hand Saturday morning for my friend's jumping and endurance phases.

i had a great view of lots of the course from my assigned jumps!
With the schedule change, my volunteer role ended up shifting to jump judging cross country on Friday instead. Which worked out well enough for my purposes anyway. I was lucky to get a great assignment on course with views all across the course.

novice corner jumped pretty much perfectly for everyone!
As a relatively newer eventer, I've spent tons and tons of time going to all the "big" events we have locally. Watching all the professional riders cruise around those massive upper level courses. It's intense and incredible and majorly inspiring.

But it's also.... how to say, almost a completely different world from my own experience as an eventer lol.

woooooo Maryland!!!!
The likelihood that I'll ever ride around an advanced course is... slim. For many reasons but primarily bc I don't personally have a burning desire to get there haha. I love to watch it, but it isn't really *my* reality, if that makes sense.

fun video compilation here!!

On the other hand, tho, there's something so much more relatable and exciting in watching a whole bunch of amateurs at the lower levels cruising around, having the time of their lives. Especially at an event like this, where each and every rider has had to spend months planning, qualifying, conditioning.

So much collective effort goes into competing at an event like this. I imagine for many of the riders, it must have felt a little bit like their own personal Kentucky haha.

Which, for me? That is in some ways so much more inspiring and meaningful to watch than the upper levels. It has all the same adrenaline and thrill of the upper levels, but in a way that is maybe more personal bc it seems more accessible for a mere mortal like myself haha.

also. we may or may not have done some shopping, finding these free jump stirrups out in a big tub, looking sad and forlorn. conveniently in my friend's colors... the packaging looks like it's been sitting for a while, so boom, perfect recipe for some haggling haha. and my friend walked away with some seriously nice stirrups at a seriously discounted price :D
I've written before about not personally being very motivated to do recognized events. In our area, the unrecognized events are just as big, with just as much atmosphere, and are often over almost the same courses (and definitely the same jumps).

From my perspective, the only superficial difference between recognized and unrecognized events is the price tag. Some folks argue there's also a difference in the quality of the competition too but I'm not personally convinced that's the case. So like, unless I'm trying to develop a record for my horse or myself, or qualify for something, I personally don't see much ROI for the price difference.

Tho it turns out there *is* something I want to qualify for eventually. It's not a year over year thing and is rather based on lifetime record. And it's more a part of my 5-10 year plan than anything immediate. But my friend had so much fun at this 3DE this year that she's already planning for next year. So who knows, maybe I'll toy with the idea too ;)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

flashback f-saturday

Sara started a blog hop a few days ago that.... really resonated with me. And a lot of bloggers too haha. It was a great question: "What have I learned?"

And my answer? Well. My totally unsatisfactory answer: EVERYTHING.

This community is inextricably tied in to my experience as a rider. Especially as an eventer. I could pick 5 for sure, but I could also pick 10 or 50. So I won't pick any - and will instead refer everyone to my blog list.

this is what dreams are made of.
Instead I thought I'd take this opportunity to do a flashback on Charlie. My process in bringing Charlie along has been in many ways informed by this community. So many ideas, so much experience.

first ever trotting pic. oh yea.
Like.... Who remembers Charlie's earliest jumping videos?? When we'd just kinda trot around, sorta kinda awkwardly hopping whatever crossed our paths?

an early jump video

It's honestly ludicrous to compare that early horse to today's Charlie, but I'm doing it anyway.

more recent jump video

This blogging community has taught me many, many things. Chief among them? Never stop trying. Transformations don't materialize out of thin air. They are the product of weeks, months, years of dedicated hard work. So.... We do that work. And it's so worth it.

Thursday, October 25, 2018


In my mind, there's some sort of clever way to combine the words "Chuck" and "up date" for a blog post title. But nothing ever quite sounds so cute when I actually write it out. Chuckdate? UpChuckDate? Idk. I try tho, I try.

dis my horse. there are many others like him. others with fewer dings and dents. but this one is mine. 
Anyway. Last we heard of our bay hero, we were fantasizing about bionic footwear. Bc homeboy busted another splint.

nobody's favorite sight in the field
It was so disappointing too. Like. I had all these Loch Moy schooling passes that were imminently expiring, so my friends and I were hustling like mad to find a day that worked for us to all get out there.

Meanwhile, one friend saw that Stephen Bradley (the last US rider to win Burghley, who also incidentally judged the recent YEH classes when I scribed) would be teaching lessons on the competition course as part of Loch Moy's "Week with the Pros."

well golly gee whiz, chuck. that sure is.... a.... leg
It was so perfect - obviously we would all go!! But one by one, my friends had issues crop up that meant they had to back out.

Not to be daunted tho, I was so resolutely stubborn about riding in this clinic. Esp after our Ralph Hill mulch-induced abscess fiasco. I even secured another rider to fill the empty spot in my trailer.

in our quiet time together recently, i discovered that, WOW, charlie has some serious eyebrows haha
And even tho the scheduling was tight, with literally not one single moment to spare to make it from north east of Baltimore City all the way over to almost Frederick for a 5pm lesson time across beltway rush hour.... Dammit, we would do it.

look at that freakin thing! it's like bangs but for his eye!!
Alas, as you already have surmised, it was not to be. I hustled out to Charlie's field only to be greeted by an enormously fat leg. Like one does when one owns a Charlie, I'm habituated to immediately doing a visual leg-check each time I see my horse.

So.... Ya know. It was pretty abundantly obvious from basically the first moment that Charlie would not be going on this cross country clinic. Ugh. Sigh.

(Tho of course I still went, having been so resourceful in scrounging up a trailer mate, it was too late to renege on driving now..... at least they had a great ride!)

returned to his friend with at least some of the dirt knocked off
My mind was already racing tho. Every single little alarm bell was chiming its warning. Bc.... Yea. I knew. This was the splint. You know. The one from April? That he did the morning before Full Moon. That we then rested, that healed. That has been sound and happy and completely clear and tight ever since.

But is now.... angry. To me, this was a pattern. This was July of last year when I thought my horse was fighting bell-boot-induced cellulitis but actually it was just an aggravation of his splint from the February before.

he always wants to say hi tho <3
Every single sane and trusted and reasonable adviser last year told me not to worry about the splints. That it was fine. Every vet looked at me a little side-eyed when my voice even so much as verged on hinting at panic.

It's a splint. It's simple. It doesn't move. It's not weight bearing. Get the swelling out. Ice, cold hose. Bute. SMZs to be safe. Wrap it. Poultice. What the fuck ever. Make it happy and all will be well. Conventional Wisdom.

"they told me i could be anything. so i became a donkey." - charlie, probably
Literally the only faction that said anything different was the useless internet troll contingent ("oMg FiRe YoUr VeT tHiS iNsTaNt") but ya know.... everything you read on the internet is true.

legs are so much nicer with definition tho!
It's still honestly not clear to me why Charlie's splint last year went so downhill. Why he kept aggravating it. Each aggravation was increasingly worse. Until the body eventually rejected the fractured bone fragment (nearly 8 months post fracture...), it abscessed, and Charlie was admitted for surgery at New Bolton.

this horse takes the "retired" part of retired race horse wayyyyyy too seriously tho
It makes my skin crawl to think we could be back on that same trajectory now. I just.... Ugh. The thought of laying Charlie out on a table for his third lifetime surgery (and second with me) is just so extremely unreasonably grotesquely excessive. But in my mind, we're already there. It's a forgone conclusion.

Again tho, every reasonable person thinks I'm actually legitimately fucking nuts. And yes, internet armchair quarterbacks, I *did* hire a new vet this time. And we did ALL the things. All of the expensive diagnostic imagery. All of the money. And each time she thought she had looked enough, I asked for more. And yes. She did in fact think I was wayyyyyy overboard.

ha. he is majesty. he is grace. he is..... like none other....
Bc.... It's just a fucking splint. It doesn't move. It doesn't bear weight. There's an old injury in there that she can see, from April, but it has healed. And does not appear at risk. There is nothing "discrete" as she called it. No signs of cellulitis. No signs of any sort of pocket of infection or abscess. Nothing but edema and hematoma.

Prescription? Ice. Cold hose. Wrap. Poultice. Bute. SMZs (and lots tho). Limited turnout. Until the swelling is under control. And then? Boom. Per vet's orders, we're entirely free to move about the proverbial cabin.

She cannot see literally anything in there to suggest anything - anything - else.

unrelated. sma snapper i found on a lake walk during a work trip. so cute tho!
I just..... ugh. Have feelings. Luckily tho, Charlie doesn't really seem too worried about it haha. It's like he knew I had him scheduled for a 2wk break at some point this fall and figured he'd pencil it in on his calendar as he saw fit.

For now, his day to day situation depends on the swelling. It lingered a little longer than I expected, but that's ok. He's been lucky that his own injury coincided with a pasture mate's abscess, so they've been keeping each other company in small paddock turnout.

As of last night tho, the leg looked alllllllmost as tight as might reasonably be expected. So hopefully it'll stay that way. The horse is definitely eager to return to his field.

And for my part? Eh, I'm not exactly what you would call "happy" -- but for once I'm not stressed about the saddle time we're missing. Not at all, not even a little bit. Charlie's a good boy. And an incredible riding partner. I want him to stay that way for a lonnnng time to come. So for now, we take it easy. Just workin on his Dad Bod 2.0 haha.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fair Hill CCI2/3* Cross Country!!

I have so so so so much media I want to share with you all from watching the cross country at this weekend's Fair Hill International.

Olney Uncle Sam did us proud in the 2*!!!! <3
It honestly kind of blows my mind that we have such a major competition every year right in my back yard. More than that - right on the very same grounds that I've competed and even just trail ridden. It's pretty cool!

here's the 3* video
And every year that I get to spectate -- this was my 4th year in a row!!! -- it just makes it that much more surreal. And special. I feel like I know the place now, know the terrain. Know the fixtures.

trainer Dan killed it through the 3* coffin!!
We really are ridiculously spoiled in this area to be surrounded by such a high density of solid, proven professionals. And also a whole 'nother crop of up-and-coming riders who are still forging their way, making their name.

this corner would look unreal, if not for Buck just gettin it done
While I'd like to say that each year I learn more about each of the local pros and their programs, and more of the local horses moving their ways up the levels.... Well.... Realistically, I can't really claim too much there.

here's the 2* video
Honestly, more than anything else, going to this event every year just reaffirms for me how much I love this sport. At every level.

biiiiiig jump into the 2* coffin!
I love competing and riding in this sport, even at my own modest unrecognized low levels. And I really enjoy participating in this sport as a volunteer, helping facilitate positive experiences and outings for all other manner of competitors. And obviously it goes without saying that I love being there for my friends as their groom and cheerleader too.

the fair hill ducks are super famous
More than anything else, tho, I just love the atmosphere, the environment. Watching horses go galloping past in every direction. Knowing that around every corner is another amazing feat of equestrian athleticism just waiting to unfold.

It's not particularly likely that I'll ever be riding at this level, but damn is it fun to watch!! I have a LOT more media to share from the weekend, tho who knows when I'll have it all edited. For now I hope you enjoy this sampling!!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

six million dollar Charlie

We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

Pros: Lovely springy cadenced trot and quality gaits in the dressage!

Cons: Wow we really didn't think through this design for the show jumping tho...

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

my favorite horse show volunteer jobs

Thanks in large part to Sara's 2018 Volunteer Challenge, I've been motivated to get out and about at local events as a volunteer more than ever before. This included everything from small low key stuff at Charlie's farm, to bigger recognized and championship USEA and USDF events.

jump judging the MCTA Jenny Camp training division back in 2015. this is Sally Cousins and Stravinsky
I've always enjoyed volunteering anyway, for a few main reasons:

1 - It's a plain old great way to pass a day outside watching horses and riders do cool things.

2 - Seeing horses and riders successfully tackle big obstacles has the definite advantage of making it look not quite so intimidating. BN will feel 1,000% more accessible after spending an hour jump judging the Prelim course!

3 - With horses, the best education comes from experience imo. You can read the books, watch the videos, have long chats with your trainers and friends, etc etc etc. But at the end of the day nothing beats that in-person experience. Spending the day at a horse show in any capacity will tell me LOADS more about how this sport operates than if I just read the rule book online.

4 - Plus it's an effective networking experience. Volunteering provides ample opportunities to meet and observe all the local pros, trainers, riders, barn owners, organizers, etc etc. Useful for finding clinicians you'd want to ride with, for instance. And it's never a bad thing to become a familiar face, recognized as someone who's happy to help out!

tools of the jump judging trade: clip board with score sheets + order of go, plus radio. plus a comfy shady seat ;)
So when Sara announced her challenge at the beginning of this year, I knew right away that it was something right up my alley.

To get started, I created a free account on the USEA's volunteer dashboard - and, no you don't have to be a USEA member to do this. Once logged in to my volunteer portal, I can browse all the upcoming events, or search for events by area (Maryland is in Area II, for instance).

This is still a newer tool available to events organizers, so not every event uses it. But many do, and to great effect. And it's not limited to recognized events either, or even USEA events. Loch Moy for example uses the volunteer portal for their schooling events and USDF shows too.

Generally speaking, the USEA calendar is finalized (with few exceptions) by spring time, and venues will start populating their events and volunteer positions in the portal shortly thereafter. Once you've opened an account, you'll receive email newsletters for upcoming volunteer opportunities in your area.

I found it useful to scroll through the entire year of events last spring, blocking off weekends on my calendar well in advance. The dual advantage is that, by signing up for positions so early, I was likelier to nab positions that looked really exciting or interesting.

So with that in mind, let's talk a little more about volunteer positions I've done this past year:

preferred xc jump judging set up: complete with friends and a cooler of beer haha
Cross Country Jump Judge

This is the quintessential introduction to volunteerism at events. Most lower level cross country courses have between 15-20 jumps spread across 1-1.5 miles, and each fence needs at least one but ideally two sets of eyes on it. Therefore each event needs a LOT of jump judges.

The role is relatively simple, tho. The technical delegate (TD) holds a meeting before the event starts to review all the rules and regulations with jump judges, and get everyone squared away with clip boards and radios, etc.

Jump judges are often paired up - so this is a fun thing to do with a friend, SO, or kiddo. And basically the role is to be the eyes on your particular assigned jump or jumps. You have a score sheet to mark down whether each rider was clear or had penalties at your fence, and a radio to call in the same.

While technically you're also there to be a first responder and communication point in the event of an accident, it's generally a quiet job spent mostly sitting. I tend to only sign up for this at our home events, when I know I'll be paired up with buddies Brita and Rachael. Otherwise, I find it a little boring. But I still end up doing it relatively often anyway, just bc sometimes events are short handed and will need more warm bodies out on course, even if I signed up for something else.

weather can't always be good at these things tho... i was impressed with how tough all these dressage riders were duringn the deluge at this USDF show. in the ring are my coach (far side) and barn mate (near), while i was stewarding the warm up. fun fact - austen is just out of frame to the right, handling bit check!
Bit Check

I've done Bit Check at both USDF and USEA events, and it's fascinating to me how different the two governing agencies run things. More on that below too haha.

At USEA events, every horse must get their bit checked, bonnets pulled, and spurs and whips measured. At USDF, there's more of a "random draw" to this process, with something like every 4th horse getting pulled for a check.

In this role, you obviously have to be comfortable and confident handling a strange horse's face and sticking your fingers in and around their mouths. You have to be comfortably assertive with riders too, especially as many riders in the heat of competition have 8,000 other things on their mind (including stress and anxiety) and are not always super compliant haha.

But generally, you're checking that the bit is legal for the level (you'll be provided pictures of all the various examples, but something like 90% of what you'll see are snaffles) by sliding it far enough out of the mouth to see it, opening the horses mouth to visually assess, or running a thumb over it to check for sharp edges.

At USEA events, riders can opt to have their checks done before or after their test, depending on their horse. Most are happy to get this out of the way, but some with nervous horses, for instance, or with bonnets, will wait to do the check after. It's up to you to keep track of who you've checked, tho it's up to the competitor to ensure they get checked.

It's a job spent mostly on your feet with a lot of interaction with competitors. These are aspects I personally like in a volunteer role, tho I tend to prefer warm up steward over this particular role.

dressage scribing is always fun!
Warm Up Steward

At almost any show in any discipline, my favorite role is warm up steward. Whether at the small fun shows at my home barn, or at big recognized events. I've done it for dressage, show jumping, and cross country. It's also often (esp at smaller shows) combined with running the "in gate."

As warm up steward, your job is essentially to impose order on the chaos haha. And for those of you who have competed before in wild and unruly warm up rings, you know what I mean. From my perspective, an effective steward can improve the experience for everyone.

As a competitor, I rely on the stewards to answer questions: Are things running on time, early, or behind? How many horses are ahead of me? What ring do I ride in? What's the optimum time? So as a steward, it's my business to have the answers.

Especially in jumping warm ups, this can keep things orderly in what is often a small space with limited jumps shared among all the riders. If a rider knows they have 15 minutes before their ride, they're more likely to stay out of the way of the rider who's on deck. Usually haha.

Most events ideally want to stay true to the order of go where possible, but usually it's more important to keep things moving, and keep getting riders out on course. It's up to the steward to have a sense of order and communicate that to the riders. As with any volunteer role, tho, the TD is only ever a radio call away if you have a question on rules or need help with a competitor.

It's also up to the steward to make sure everyone is safely sharing space in the warm up. Again, the difference in rules between USEA and USDF shows is fascinating to me. For instance: at USDF shows, nobody is allowed inside the warm up rings on foot. Out of concern for safety. Meanwhile, at USEA events - even in the xc warm up where horses are literally galloping and jumping - trainers and crew can be right next to the fences.

This position is also one spent mostly on your feet, tho I suppose it wouldn't be hard to do it seated as well. And you have a lot of interactions with the riders.

Personally I like this role a lot - esp in the jumping phases - bc the atmosphere and energy is always really cool. Obviously some riders are the businesslike pros on their client's rank novice horse or whatever. But for the most part it's a bunch of amateur riders just like you and me, experiencing all the jangling nerves and feelings of excitement/dread leading to those last few moments before GO TIME. Idk. It's a cool place to be at a show imo.

jump crew is a great way to get up close and personal with the action, without really having to pay a whole lot of attention other than grabbing rails when they fall. also great for seeing the local pros make the rounds, like Boyd here with one of his prelim horses
Jump Crew

Jump crew is a little bit of a different type of role, in my experience. It's another one best done with a buddy, and can offer a lot of down time between falling rails for just chatting and observing, so it's good to sign up with someone you like talking to haha.

It's also a bit more active than the roles I've already written about. The job is pretty simple: pick up dropped rails, and quick. And don't get run over while you're at it haha. Then be on hand to reset all the fences (also quickly!) in between divisions. The judge will ensure all the heights and spreads etc are within the limits, but the crew will at least getting everything roughly in place.

In this role, you won't spend a lot of time interacting with riders. But depending on where you position yourself around the ring, you might get to listen in on the judge's commentary haha. Overall, it's a kinda mindless job. You don't need to keep track of time, points, riders, or anything like that. It's active without requiring much attention - kinda the opposite of jump judging on xc.

Depending on your preferences, this is a pretty solid role. Definitely one I would do again (probably prefer it to jump judging, tbh, plus you see more action). It's also useful to get familiar with setting fences for different levels -- another way to show yourself that, "hm maybe that's not so big after all!"

moar scribing tho! this time for a Young Event Horse event during the jumping phases. would 100% do this again!

Scribing is another good introductory type role, especially at the lower levels. This is predominantly a role needed for dressage or the dressage phases at events, but I've also scribed in the jumping phase of Young Event Horse qualifiers and in the conformation phase of the Future Event Horse East Coast Championships.

As a scribe, your role is to write down the judge's scores and commentary on the appropriate test sheets. How intense or relaxed it is depends a bit on what level is being judged. From my experience, you really don't need any prior experience to scribe for dressage tests through first level, or eventing dressage tests through novice. As the levels go up, tho, the scores come faster and it's useful to have practice with common shorthand terms so you can keep up.

I've signed up to scribe a lot, thinking it's a great way to observe interesting classes. Like the YEH and FEH classes, for instance. Realistically, tho, the whole reason a scribe exists is so that the judge can observe haha. Meanwhile the scribe usually has their eyes on what they're writing.

Still tho, this can be a really educational role. Especially depending on your judge. Many judges like to provide additional commentary, or explain what they're seeing, or what they'd want to see. In this way, it can almost feel a little bit like a private mini-clinic with the judge haha. But then again some judges are kinda cranky crusty old fussbuckets so..... Yea haha.

But if you're comfortable writing extensively for long periods of time and appreciate volunteer roles that can be done seated and out of the elements, this is usually a pretty good bet. Legible handwriting preferred but not required lol.

it was cool helping out in the vet box - esp getting to meet some equine legends like Lauren Kieffer's Veronica!
Vet Box

The final volunteer role I want to mention is the vet box. This is a position that's only generally needed at FEI events -- it's required for CCI divisions and optional for CIC -- or at long format 3-day events, where competitors complete the roads and tracks and steeplechase endurance phases in addition to standard cross country.

I've only done this at an FEI event - MDHT's CIC 1/2* earlier this summer. The gist is that a whole bunch of volunteers are on hand in the "box" immediately after the cross country finish line to help facilitate the care and recovery of each horse. Particularly, horses get their temperature-pulse-respiration (TPR) checked at intervals until they're cleared to return to stabling.

Meanwhile, grooms and riders are stripping tack, sponging and scraping, taking out studs, and generally debriefing with their teams on how the ride went.

The event's main vet, who would have checked in all the horses when they arrived into stabling a few days prior, leads this team. Volunteers break into groups with a stethoscope, thermometer, and scribe to handle the barrage of incoming horses. While there are no prerequisites for this role, you should probably be comfortable with at least the idea of taking a horse's temp.

It's a nice active role, with a consistent rhythm to the day as horses come off course in a steady stream. It's also a really neat atmosphere - the exact opposite of the warm up ring haha. It felt like a "behind the scenes" look at how teams care for these FEI horses, and I loved being a fly on the wall listening to everyone recount their rides.

Personally, it wasn't actually my favorite role. Maybe I would feel different among the lower level amateur divisions at a long format event vs the FEI classes, but it felt like an environment ripe for "big fish"syndrome and lots of name dropping haha. I'm probably not likely to sign up for this role again at another FEI event, although I'm glad I experienced it at least once.


all the interaction with judges can be really interesting too, even if it's not always easy to watch all the action while scribing
There are also tons more volunteer opportunities beyond what I've mentioned above. Like running scores - either on the golf cart out on xc, or back and forth between the dressage judges and the office for instance. Or actually working in the office, tabulating scores or handling the paper work side of things.

Plus naturally there's a whole 'nother world of work that goes into getting these events off the ground well ahead of when any riders even set foot on the grounds, like painting jumps or setting up the rings or decorations etc etc. And some of that CAN be found on the USEA volunteer portal too, if you're interested in them.

Bc basically.... yea it takes a village to run an event haha. And most places are seriously grateful for volunteers, complete with providing meals and snacks, swag like t-shirts, or even "bucks" toward schooling or entries.

volunteering is a great way to sneak in some excellent spectating too!

Have you ever signed up for any of the positions written about above, or think you're likely to do so in the future? Do you prefer any one job over another? Why? Or are there any jobs you definitely don't like doing? Like personally I have exactly zero interest in managing the start or finish clocks haha, don't ask me why.

Do you think you'll spend more time volunteering next year? Or less? Or is it one of those things that's hard to make time for, or that you'd rather be riding yourself? Or maybe you only volunteer bc it's compulsory to be eligible for year end awards?? Lol no judgement here!

Friday, October 12, 2018

showdown at the kennett corral

Way back in 2014 when I first got serious about eventing in general and my training with Isabel in particular, I started catching the occasional lesson with local 4* pro Dan. A couple of my barn mates at the time had worked for him, so he was coming out semi regularly to teach them.

The lessons suited me well (fun fact: one of my earliest ever blog posts recapped my second lesson with him haha) and so I got into a weekly habit with them once Dan returned from Aiken in the spring of 2015.

yet another wet rainy morning in the maryland jungle....
Over time, I began to see these lessons as critical to my and Isabel's education as eventers. I had a lot to learn, and each ride offered plenty of red meat. At that time, it felt like I had the perfect combination of trainers to meet each of my and Isabel's varied needs - as explained in greater detail in this post.

We kept it up through 2016, until it became clear that Isabel would not continue on as my partner in competitions. So the lessons ended, except for the occasional trip up to Dan's farm in Kennett Square to ride one of his horses.

grooming this wet horse proved futile so we mostly just hung out eatin hay waiting for our chariot to arrive
My hope had been to get back into the program once Charlie really got going.... but logistically that hasn't proved to be the case. Neither my previous or current barn allows outside trainers except in special clinic situations. And those are extremely challenging to schedule, it turns out.

That leaves us with traveling up to Dan's farm for lessons. Which we managed to do exactly once last summer haha. And wow was it worth it. We didn't even end up jumping in that lesson, just dug into the flat work a la Dan Style. But it proved to be a breakthrough ride for Charlie, and I've been working on exactly those same teachings ever since.

tfw you try to look at least semi respectable for your big lesson, but your horse drenches you splashing through the paddock mud puddles....
And, naturally, I've been itching to get back there ever since too. Finally, the stars aligned and former barn mate Rachael and I made the pilgrimage to Hermitage Farm!

As might be expected, Dan's requirements for the flat work really haven't changed much over the years. He continues to want to see riders start with a very round slow purposeful walk. "Walking at almost Halt," he calls it. The idea is to feel like you're placing each foot purposefully, so slow it almost feels a little disjointed. All with the horse continuing to push into the contact.

Dan says that beginning with this very slow but purposeful rhythm is necessary before you can add more forward pace -- otherwise the horse will just lose his balance in the forward. THIS, he says, is how you build the strength to carry that balance.

"who, me? i would never be careless about these giant clodhoppers tho! must have been some other bronto ;)"
From this, we moved into a similarly purposeful trot. My feeling for that slow pushing trot was a little off - Dan wanted it slower still - but we were pretty close. We stayed mostly on a 20-30m circle, and finished the trot work with a little leg yielding.

Dan's instruction for Charlie was to be really clear that neither our rhythm nor my contact should change in the leg yield. Apparently I throw the contact away a little bit, and let Charlie start running.

diagram of the grid in its final form: all cavaletti except for the two wide oxers with fill
For canter, I got maybe the biggest insights for our flatwork homework (aside from, ya know, maybe go slower than I am thinking haha): Dan wanted me to really get a feel of leg yielding out on our canter circles. Almost exaggerated. Turning and bending in, while moving out. With the whole idea being to really sit on that inside hind leg.

This worked shockingly well for Charlie, and added a ton more balance to our canter. Like, obviously leg yielding at the canter isn't a new concept, but I really have not been applying it in this manner. Actually, honestly, I think my habit lately has been to overuse my outside leg on circles - esp at canter. And this exercise really helped put me back in the right place on the horse.

this farm is also super pretty - classic Pennsylvania horse country views in all directions!
Anyway. The flat work progressed pretty smoothly for us. It was validating to me to go through the exercises knowing that they're all so familiar to Charlie already. Even tho I haven't been coached by Dan regularly in two years, I've still really tried to practice what he's taught me. And this lesson was really reassuring that we're on the right track in that regard.

From the canter, we moved onto starting over cavalleti. First up was two cavalleti spaced at what might be considered a competition 3 distance, but that Dan wanted us to do in 4 even strides. First time through obvi Charlie and I were a little long, but after that Charlie was able to compress really well. Tho Dan wanted me to keep Charlie more "jazzed up" even in his shorter stride.

square turn between the cavaletti. intended to be ridden in 4-5, tho we almost always did 4
Next we came down over a raised cavalleti, 3 easy strides to a low wide square oxer, 2 strides to another low wide square oxer. With the striding being on the easy side, the key was being patient to the cavalleti - treating it like just another canter stride - and making each stride to the fence even.

Charlie and I were a little tight fitting in the first 3 once or twice, but again Charlie was just being super.

middle grid element. note the spike strips in the middle - who remembers when i almost died falling into them two summers ago?? (fun fact, that was also the same day i met charlie!!! ah memories...)
Then we added in a second cavaletti to create a square turn to the line. Actually - it was two square turns: one off the rail to the first cavaletti, then another square turn to the second cavalleti.

For this, Dan really wanted to see me pick Charlie's inside shoulder UP. Shorten the stride length, but increase the height of each stride, if that makes sense.

final grid element. charlie made it look easy!
The square turns were kinda easy to mess up - easy to sort of round off an edge or pull around the turn - but then the rest of the grid didn't ride quite as well. With Charlie, it was very clear the difference between when we had the right canter coming in, bc he would stay very steady and almost buoyant down the line, vs getting a little rushy.

We repeated this a few times off both leads, then put the jumps up and repeated again off both leads. The right lead had felt pretty easy when we did it the first time, but then after going left a few times, finishing on the right lead felt a little harder haha. Go figure.

cruisin the perimeter, trying to blend in haha
So. Ya know. Superficially it all sounds like really basic, straight forward stuff. But. ya know. This IS the stuff tho, right? Like the reason I like Dan's lessons so much is bc they're essentially just flat lessons with jumps thrown in the way. When the flat work is good, the jumps take care of themselves.

We hear that all the time, but putting it into action can be a whole 'nother story. But for whatever reason Dan's style works really well for helping me be more effective in getting the right feeling. Plus it was really cool hearing the same old instruction about quality of the canter but actually be able to act on it better with Charlie, whose canter is much stronger than Isabel's.

you're a good boy, chuck!
I was super proud of Charlie too bc he was definitely getting tired by the end. Verging on being a little grumpy with the repetitions and heightened expectations for being on the aids for every single moment. But.... He never lodged a formal complaint. Sure, some pinned ears -- but then he answered every question every time, and handled each exercises easily and well.

Hopefully it won't be another year before I can get another of these lessons.... But at least it's nice to know that we *are* building in the right direction even without them. Now if only I could remember to ride like this during my normal weekly jump lessons haha!