Thursday, March 28, 2019

organizing the little things

Whenever Charlie's laid up with the latest ding to spark chaos in my universe, it becomes very difficult to focus on anything else. Or to take for granted that we will actually ever make it to a horse show....

But, as is always the case, the horse does inevitably heal, and I can again start doing my favorite little inventories of all the various accouterments that go along with horse adventures.

charlie's favorite part of lessons is bein weird with his friends haha
Usually at some point each spring I like to do a full post inventorying our current complete gear set up for all three phases. Probably I will do that this year too, but it'll have to wait until we've finalized all the details. And, uh, ya know, until I've gotten updated pictures haha!

even those spicy little friends who aren't so sure they're interested haha
In the meantime, tho, I spent last weekend just as a spectator cheering on friends at Loch Moy's season opener. Like getting to finally meet KC from Mania in the Middle! Who had traveled all this way up north to basically catch ride a completely unknown horse in the BN class. And actually snagged some satin after moving up on their killer clean and clear jumping rounds!

Like a boss, amirite?

we r so gud at posing for pictures haha
One of my ulterior motives of hangin around at the show all day, tho, was to keep my eyes peeled for any fresh ideas when it comes to all the gear everyone is using on show day. With the idea being, maybe by immersing myself again in that atmosphere, I'd be able to visualize any gaps that currently exist in my kit.

a simple collapsible cooler for ice is on the list
One biggie on my list is a set of ice boots. In the past, I've always just gone straight to compression wraps on Charlie after running XC. But I'd like to integrate a period of icing into the process first. The obstacle tho (aside from not having any ice boots yet) is actually having the ice on hand haha. So a good cooler that can keep the ice frozen overnight before a show will be key.

added some stabby jabbies to the stud kit too!
I also ordered two new sets of studs for my kit. To be perfectly honest, I still feel like a complete and total newb about studding for cross country. I know my horse likes studs -- he feels super confident in them and is wayyyy more nimble on his feet, esp when it comes to dance moves like his auto changes.

But I still kinda feel a little mystified about the whole thing, and like I'm growing my kit through trial and error. Esp during the warmer summer months last year, I ended up feeling like all the studs in my box were too broad and blunt to be useful on the harder ground. So I'm hoping these two new additions will fill that gap. One is a longer more standard grass stud, and the other is a shorter but still pointy type.

aw look at the pony socks my mom gave me <3
Other than that, tho, honestly I kinda feel like I have everything I need. Sorta. My first pair of white breeches fit again, which is nice. They're kinda stained and dingy at this point, tho, so they'll probably get used for starter trials, and the newer white pants will maybe be reserved for recognized shows if I ever even make it to any.

And I might need new show coats, bc mine do not fit at all any more. It seems like some simple alterations could do the trick tho, I hope. So I'm going to try to talk it over with the seamstress at my local alterations place first. Fingers crossed lol.

and this weird zoom lens attachment kit for cell phone cameras from my grandfather
I also want to experiment with this crazy little cell phone camera zoom lens kit my grandfather gave us all as stocking stuffers last Christmas. It isn't the highest quality stuff in the world, but maybe could be useful for spectator filming on cross country?

the lens screws onto a clip that then fastens over the phone's lens
I'm a little skeptical overall bc the way the clip works means I have have to remove my cell phone's protective case first. Which like... I'm clumsy, yo. My phone already leads a hard enough life, is it really worth the risk?!

Plus the most extreme zoom is pretty shaky and difficult to focus. So idk. I'm kicking myself for leaving it at home last weekend bc the show would have been the perfect testing grounds for this kit. If it works tho, wouldn't that be awesome?? Like, how many of you have been kinda bummed by looking at a video of your awesome xc round where you're basically just a speck in distance??

i'm honestly a little skeptical about functionality but will hopefully test soon
So stay tuned for more on that, I suppose. Or, conversely, if any of you have used a similar type cell phone accessory, did it work at all? Or was it mostly just a waste?

at least i'm feeling pretty damn good about our gear going into the year! this saddle tho <3
Otherwise, tho, honestly I feel pretty good about where things stand gear-wise going into Charlie's 3rd season. Especially the new L'Apogee saddle still makes me so so so happy. I'm so freakin comfortable in it -- it gives me such a secure base and lower leg, and feels very balanced. Charlie likewise feels extremely comfortable in it.

I already mentioned that I switched out to a sheepskin half pad, which I also adore and feel does a nicer job of giving Charlie any necessary cushion vs the corrective shimming half pad. So far, so good on that front. Tho obviously it's nice to be in a position now where I have options.

and this fucking girth, wow but i love it!
The last bit for kitting out the new monoflap saddle was getting a girth to fit. Sure, I probably could have just used my dressage girth.... But eh, new stuff is fun, right? And I actually wanted something with a little more coverage around the buckles.

This fuzzy fleecy elastic girth doesn't have any branding on it, but I picked it up from consignment for literally $7. And it's so so perfect. So perfect. Charlie is happy in it, all the keepers are the perfect length for the saddle's billet straps, and the extra coverage means zero risk of Charlie getting pinched by the buckles. Boom. It's a 30" and we probably could have gone for a 28" instead, but it works perfectly.

So yea. Other than a few odds and ends lingering in my virtual shopping cart, like ice boots and an ice cooler, mostly everything is falling into place. Hopefully haha. There's always something else tho, right? Is anyone else going through their spring inventory too?

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

move up reconnaissance: T XC @ MDHT Spring #1

You all don't need me to tell you that I LOVE walking cross country courses. Love it. Whether it's the 4* 5* at Kentucky, or the intro at my local starter trial, I just really enjoy the activity and love visually assessing all the fences as pieces of a whole, rather than as individual entities.

hopefully it won't be too too long before Charlie and i get our own first shot at the start box this year!
Plus, in my experience, walking courses a level up from what I'm currently riding is a great way to help in preparations for any eventual move ups. It's useful bc I can see what scares the dickens out of me, and also which types of combinations look beyond the pale when compared to what Charlie and I have actually practiced in real life.

It can be a little deceiving, however, something I need to keep in mind. Like, realistically, every course always looks 1,000% more doable when you're not actually imminently expecting to have to go ride it yourself lol.

not a particularly long course, with lots of uphill climbing
Obvi, just bc something doesn't *look* like anything to me, doesn't mean Charlie will agree. Case in point: look no further than the N XC course I wrote about at Plantation early last season, compared to a month or two later when we actually set out to do our second N there. That first course I walked (and even the one we actually contested) looked freakin fantastic to me. And yet we crashed and burned horribly. So. Ya know. Shit happens.

But knowledge is power, right? And I am 100% hoping that at some point this season, Charlie and I will take a shot at riding a T course at MDHT. So I was curious to walk their Spring Starter #1 course while there to cheer friends on this past weekend.

jump 1 was just the N log roll. jump 2 is this chunky monkey T table thingy
Overall? This was an extremely inviting course haha. Which like, it's March, ya know? Ground conditions can be questionable, and for most pairs it would be the first outing of the season.

So the course was pretty soft - with only a single combination, at N technicality. Charlie and I have actually already jumped almost everything on this course, and have experience schooling the one question asked. I think, were we to be fit enough, we could actually tackle this exact course at our current level of schooling. Too bad we won't get the chance, since they typically increase technicality throughout the Spring series. Maybe in the fall tho!

Anyway, let's dig in. I didn't get a picture of jump 1, but it was the N log roll top that Charlie's jumped before at T, N and BN heights. I appreciated that the course started with an N jump tho, since leaving the start box still looms as a question mark for me. And the idea of getting to a T fence right out of the gates is.... daunting haha.

Jump 2 was in fact full size T tho. And a jump that I still personally find imposing. Charlie's jumped it a couple times since last summer tho, and never batted an eye. Should be fine, right?

this style of fence will repeat throughout the entire course
Jump 3 comes just after the turn away from the trailers etc -- a notoriously sticky place for me and Chuck. Loch Moy is nice in that they often aim their starting gate and Jump 1 in the direction of warm up, but eventually you have to turn away. And for this course, that happens between jumps 2 and 3. At least the jump itself is friendly, and I'm about 95% sure that Charlie has jumped it before.

we've jumped this coop before
Jump 4 is far enough off at this point that I'd expect Charlie and I would have worked through our stickiness. Presumably lol. Tho ya know. At Plantation we never actually worked through it so who knows. In any case, this jump comes after a moderate uphill cruise, so we should be firmly leg on at this point.

It's a skinny-ish fence, but nestled in the middle of a row of fences, that hardly matters. Plus. Ya know. Charlie has jumped this coop already too. Nbd.

large but inviting palisade ramp
Then a little breather down a slight slope to this gallopy palisade. I personally find it imposing, but suspect that Charlie wouldn't even blink if I rode him to it on a forward uphill stride.

Interestingly, the N palisade visible top left corner actually looked trickier, with some raucously rolling terrain leading up to it. You can see that they ultimately took it off course, however. Probably bc of the inch or so of rain we got a couple nights before, the ground was probably too soft right there.

this ditch has been on BN courses haha, the N option table at left almost seems like a better choice tbh
Anyway, moving on. Next up was a question that I think was actually more interesting for N than it was for T. T had to jump this itsy bitsy ditch (the same as was on Charlie's debut N course last year), but N got the option of the table or the ditch.

Personally, having already jumped that specific ditch, plus the bigger one next to it, plus many others way harder, I think schooling the table would be a better use of my time. Only exception would be if the ditch had a related A or B element, probably. But T jumped the ditch, then moved right on along.

we've jumped this before too, as well as all its smaller counterparts 
Turning back toward the main field and on slightly rising ground sat this table thingy from Charlie's killer school last November. It scared the shit out of me then, and honestly still kinda scares me today. But. Charlie don't care, so this size obstacle is finally starting to look "right sized" to me.

this is technically the N corner
Next up was a series of jumps that was wayyyyyy damped down for all levels. The M jump was actually the easiest of them all, considering I'm like 95% positive that the garden gate on the M course was actually N. Training got an N jump too, tho at least it was this corner. Which, again, Charlie has jumped this fence a few times now.

Actually, just thinking about it, he's seen a number of BN and N corners, and generally does just fine with them. Tho of course the jumpable face of these smaller corners and max width allowed at the lower levels doesn't really make them any different than a table or whatever.

charlie's jumped the N and BN versions of this jump, and the T is similar to the roll top we jumped at home last week
Continuing along, another jump on rising ground. I like that so much of this course is uphill bc again, it forces me to let go and put my leg on. The best recipe for riding my horse haha. This particular ark thingy does indeed scare me. But so does the roll top Charlie jumped at home last week, and Charlie jumped it like the easiest thing in the world.

So. Ya know. I'm hoping that later on in the season I'll feel less squeamish.

another simple log stand fence, leading into the first (and only) combo on course
And, finally, we get to the most interesting part of the course!! Loch Moy as a venue is in a perpetual state of construction. Since my first ever event here, depending on where you look on the property, you can always find signs of new developments. This year, it's expansions to the main stadium ring. Last year? It was installing this baller sunken road complex.

Once the season kicks into gear, T will be aimed to the proper sunken road - dropping down the bank just left of the flagged slope above, then one stride to the up bank. And N will likely come through the opposite direction of this pic above: dropping down the bank. For now, tho, at this early point in the season, T just had a jump leading to the slope, then up the bank and away.

down a slope into the sunken road, then up a bank. M goes to the log out, and many T riders opted to do that too
At least the M got a full A-B-C out of the deal. And actually, at least half (if not more) of the T riders I watched go through this combination opted to hop out over the C as well. Bc why not, right? Might as well get that schooling where ya can!

For my own purposes, Charlie has executed a number of up bank combinations, so I'd also be inclined to try the full A-B-C too. This one has the added technicality of being a turning line, but still. It's worth a shot, right? Personally, it's the down banks that are still a huge weakness for us/me. Something that honestly could still cause issues for us at N, let's be real haha.

boat was set pretty farm back from the water
Anyway, carrying on, T has a nice little lope across the field to the upper water complex. For riders who wanted to get their horse's feet wet before actually facing the flags, there were ample options to actually pass through an earlier water, or get through the above too before approaching this boat.

The boat was pretty far back from the water tho, much farther than the roll top - water combo Charlie just did last week. Considering he's also jumped this boat before, I'd expect this to be a realistic exercise for him.

i've actually seen this fence catch out some riders and horses before, not sure why. maybe the color?
After the water, the track followed a strange squirrely path of wavy terrain to get to this unassuming blue house. I call it "unassuming" but I've seen a TON of horses (esp at BN) have serious objections to this style fence.

Charlie has somehow escaped jumping any variation in size of this house, so I honestly don't know if he would care about it. Probably not, but I'd plan to ride it carefully all the same.

Also of note: these jumps here were nestled right in between all the trakehners on course - with the N down in a hollow to the right, and the T and above to the left. That T trakehner looks straight up terrifying to me, and we honestly had kinda a bad shot at the N when I tried it last summer. So... considering trakehners should realistically be expected at N/T and above, this is a big gap in our schooling.

another raised log in the woods
Anyway, at this point the course takes a turn toward the woods - climbing steeply up a hill before beginning to turn back toward home. This jump doesn't look like anything, but I also remember Charlie being surprisingly uncommitted to a similarly located jump toward the end of our N course last year. So again, it would be something to be ridden with care.

and another raised log haha, this time skinny tho!! and nestled against a much larger brush fence
Assuming it went well tho, the next few jumps all kinda look the same haha. This little skinny thing above would probably make me nervous, to be honest. But at this point Charlie's actually got a fair amount of skinny practice. So assuming nothing else was going terribly wrong, we'd be feeling well on our way to the home stretch after jumping this.

chunky table that should ride well after everything that came before
Again, per my own personal feelings, this T table thingy is intimidating. Eventually, tho, I'm hoping it'll start feeling more "right sized" as we get more experience with schooling T. For the purposes of how it's placed on this particular course, it'd be one you'd expect to ride easily and well off a forward stride.

there's that T corner! tho note, it's actually an option on this course
Ditto the T corner. Esp the way it was placed on the ground, it looks extremely inviting. Plus for this course it's actually an option. Again, a testament to how inviting everything was meant to be haha.

aaaaaand another raised log haha
Penultimate fence was another raised log thingy. Charlie's jumped a couple of these before - and I *think* he jumped this one in particular back in November. The little flower tree thingys could be a little spooky, but probably not at this point on course. If history is any guide, Charlie would be like a heat seeking missile to the trailers dead ahead anyway.

finishing over the swoopy brush that charlie's jumped at basically all levels
 Actual final fence is the swoopy brush table that Charlie's jumped at T, N, BN, and Intro haha. Another friendly effort to close out the course.

Obviously this course is missing some of the big hallmarks of Training level cross country, the questions and facets that distinguishes it in technicality from lower levels. Like a trakehner, down banks, jumps in water (or at least in closer proximity), ditch combinations, and actually most other combinations - including anything bending or offset. Plus a couple of Loch Moy's biggest T fences (like the proper T table) weren't on course.

So just bc I think Charlie and I may have been able to survive the above doesn't mean I think we're actually ready for the full level. Haha. No. Oh hell no. But it's really nice to at least feel like the individual jumps themselves are starting to look better-ish. Compared to, say, this recognized T course at Fair Hill from last year that still feels very, very, very far away.

Of course. It's all conjecture anyway. Charlie and I haven't left the start box in over five months, and haven't run a full course somewhere other than at home since August of last year. So really, I honestly have no idea which horse I'll have once we finally do get out for our planned season opener next month.

I'm excited tho. And that's what really matters, right?

Monday, March 25, 2019

exercise du jour: grids + angles

Happy Monday, y'all! It feels so so good to be writing a normal lesson recap again, instead of yet another sad sack post about whatever latest woe has befallen my hot house flower of a horse. I'm sure those future posts will always come. Bc Charlie, obvi.

But for now? It's back to business as usual, and it's such a relief!

so freakin happy to be jomping things again!!!
It was especially nice to walk up to the arena for our normal weekly jump lesson with Trainer P, and feel reasonably confident that my horse would be sound. Bc, you see, I had brought him up the previous two weeks just to hang out, or just to see. No dice tho, he'd been too sore. Not this time tho! Yay for healing haha!

happy feet haha
Another bonus was that, while we *do* have stuff on the calendar, there's no real agenda for anything that has to get done immediately in terms of prep. Right now Charlie is extremely unfit, but otherwise he honestly feels pretty good. Which, like, he should feel good bc he just got his hocks done, got that magna wave treatment, plus had four weeks of R&R.

cantering bigly over the low bounces
Now that we're getting back into it, tho, the name of the game is fitness. And basics. Always and forever.

Which worked out perfectly, bc Trainer P had been doing grids already with her earlier lessons that day. Apparently there's a CT here next weekend so all the jumps had been moved around to paint standards, and she didn't feel like making a new course. Fine by me, grids are my favorite!

so serious into the narrow grid of one strides!
We had three lines of gymnastics set up: a line of bounces, a one stride line, and a two stride line. All pretty low heights. Tho, interestingly, as you can sorta see above and below, the grid of fences set at one stride were all built with the narrow-ish brick boxes as fill. Which, I believe those boxes are right around 4' wide.

So not the skinniest of skinny jumps, but esp all set up in a line like that, definitely asking for straightness. Good practice!

not too too terribly narrow, but enough to get the point across over a line of four jumps
Charlie didn't care one bit tho. Actually he was pretty quiet and casual about the whole thing. Not dull tho, and not sour. Just very workmanlike. Very much like he knows the drill, knows how to solve these puzzles, and was quite content with just getting on with the job.

center line was a grid of three fences each set two strides apart
Meanwhile I could try to focus on my own self a bit too, always useful lol. Eventing Nation just ran blogger's recap of a Buck Davidson clinic, and one nugget that stuck out to me was about rein length. Buck apparently said you should be able to touch your elbows together in front of you while maintaining a connection.

For me, this was a useful, tactical description, and also helped me remember to sit up and open my chest. Gotta love those meaty little morsels!

the center vertical was perfect for coming in on an angle to slice as a single
Anyway, tho, the bounces were kinda hard to get any real effort out of Charlie. Like, honestly he was just treating them like canter poles with an exaggerated stride vs actually jumping them. The other lines went well tho, and were good practice with a few repeats.

I had kinda figured that would be it, actually, since it was a little warm and my horse is so unfit. But after we schooled all the individual lines, then put them together into a little mini course (in the video below), trainer P then had us shift gears slightly: to angling the fences.

we, uh, we better in one direction vs the other LOL
I've worked on jumping fences on an angle with Charlie maybe.... like, twice in the last two years. It's something I always think that I should be schooling, but somehow never quite get around to it. Who knows why, ya know? But as soon as she had us start on it, I was actually pretty excited!

pictured: just narrowly missing a runout here haha
Tho Charlie sorta lulled me into a false sense of security with our first effort, coming in on an angle off the right lead. Bc you see.... Charlie's always been pretty uneven in his shoulders -- his left shoulder is unbelievably earthbound, heavy, and constantly falling out... it's unreal. And it's always really pronounced after time off, with right now being no exception.

me too, charlie. me too.
So when we nailed it off the right lead, then figure-8'ed around to catch the same jump back the other way off the left lead, we actually almost died lol. Charlie just.... didn't pick up, and instead of supporting him with my leg, I got wayyyy ahead of him haha. Whoops! Turned out, this was a great exercise for us, tho, since I was forced to address that left shoulder drift issue.

there we go tho! it's hard doing this angle thing when your left shoulder apparently weighs 2,000lbs!
Our next time, we still chopped in an extra stride and kinda sorta almost nailed the standard, whoops. After that, tho, we got back onto the same page. Phew! And again, I kinda figured we'd be done for the day with that, but nope. Trainer P had just a few more ideas for us.

putting a line of angled fences together - starting with the narrow bricks!
She hadn't planned the lines out in advance to work this way, but actually the distances weren't too bad. So she had us catching one of the narrow brick boxes from the line of one strides on an angle, then continuing to an oxer from the line of two strides.

First effort was again off our trickier left lead, and you can see in the video how we just weren't quite as confident leaving the ground off this lead. Plus I honestly was a little nervous and had no idea how this line was gonna ride haha.

wheeee kinda super-manning out over the oxer!
It rode fine tho. Well, it rode a little long after our conservative in jump. But there was never any doubt that Charlie was going. He really seemed to have no problem understanding the whole "slicing the fences" concept. Which is awesome haha. I mean, we weren't exactly on the most severe angles or whatever, but you gotta start somewhere, right?

angled line going the other way
We finished up by looping around to repeat the figure 8 coming the other direction on the right lead - much easier for us. Which was nice bc this line was a little shorter and wanted a bit more of a forward ride. And it worked out! Good boy Charlie!

pictured: not murdering the doggo, whoops haha
Tho, uh, right as I made the turn I realized the dog pictured above was kinda sorta sitting right around where I wanted to takeoff haha. Whoops. Oh well, no dogs were harmed in the making of this video!!

It was definitely really fun tho. Idk what it is about changing it up a little bit - skinny fences or jumping on an angle or whatever. But that more technical stuff kinda makes me have to think a little more, and makes the horse pay more attention. Plus esp the angled fences were much clearer barometers of our straightness than anything else we've done lately.

Tho. Ya know. It could have also just been so refreshing bc it was our first lesson outside since 2018 haha. Yessssss, spring is coming!! Is anyone else dusting off any fun or favorite exercises now that the weather is finally improving?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

bit + equipment changes

I like nice bits and I cannot lie. But I'm also a somewhat aggressive spendthrift and moderate first-world-guilt-laden environmentalist. Meaning: I like to repurpose equipment I already have, and buy used where possible.

In the world of expensive horse gear, this usually ends up working out pretty darn well tho. For my available dollars for any given piece of equipment, be it a saddle or bit or whatever, buying new usually relegates me to the bottom tier "economy" level of quality.

When buying used, however, those very same dollars, in the very same quantities, can suddenly transform into high quality, albeit second hand, goods.

i'd like to introduce you to my latest frankenbridle, brown with just a snaffle for more everyday type schooling. fun fact: it's a figure-8 noseband + bradoon hanger + BoT crown pad + DJD snap-on brow band, and... that's kinda it haha. no proper crown piece or throat latch. seems to work out just fine for schooling tho!
Case in point: Bits. I'm not a connoissuer, let's be real. But there are certain accouterments of riding life that give me a disproportionate amount of glee. Like fancy stirrups! And bits!! So maybe I have a weird hardware or fittings fetish?? Lol... Let's not go there. Ahem.

Seriously tho. Bits are cool. The technology that's being integrated into improving their construction and feel for the horse is cool. The materials science going into the new alloys is cool. And like. Ya know. Actually feeling like I can communicate effectively with my horse -- or at least, feeling like there's one less noise-generating interruption between me and the horse -- is cool.

i also admit to being a self-described stirrup iron junkie. not that i know much about them, exactly. but i liiiiikey them haha. these lovely Stubben Maxi Grips came home with me from Kentucky last year, after striking a bargain basement deal ($100 off list price!!) with the reps for the mildly dinged demo pair. gosh i love these irons too!
So over the years I've allowed myself to indulge a little bit in bits (puns). Except, by buying used I've been able to have my cake and eat it too.

When you buy a used bit on ebay, esp if you did your homework in comparing prices etc, it's a relatively safe bet that you'll be able to sell the bit for the same amount (in some rare cases, sometimes at a profit) if it doesn't work out. But if it does work out for your horse? Score, right? Win win haha.

To be perfectly honest, it's kinda unreal how many Sprenger KK Ultras I've bought and sold over the years. Why so many tho? I own 3(ish), and have sold countless more. Why do I keep buying them? It's all a mystery lol. At least in one case I bought one for $40 and sold it for $70 so... ya know. Maybe that's why haha.

my current stable of loose ring KKs. the small ring one is technically a bradoon snaffle, and is all silver... the aurigan version with the bigger ring is now on our new schooling frankenbridle
At heart, tho, I'm actually not much of an experimenter. I have some friends who are constantly trying out new bits. Some bc their horses need it, others out of sheer curiosity. Me, tho? Generally, if what I'm using is working, I don't really mess with it. So once I find something that feels good, that's what I use.

As of last winter, Charlie's gone in a loose ring Myler Comfort Snaffle for dressage. I actually really like this bit for him; the different shape and action was enough to help us with a few breakthroughs at first. This bit runs about $85 new, tho I found mine on ebay for $50.

We've actually done most of our standard jump lessons in this bit too. With the idea being: I want to spend our training sessions working on the minutiae, the refinements in making Charlie a more sensitive and adjustable horse. Compared to, say, that moment at the back half of a cross country course when we make the turn toward home and Charlie basically morphs into an unstoppable force of nature lol.

our myler bit. not much for braking haha, but charlie seems nicely quiet in the contact with it!
Since Charlie's main jump bridle has the big guns bit on it, we have mostly jumped in Charlie's dressage bridle for lessons. Which was fine, right? Nbd to jump in the Myler. But after my KonMari tack clean up episode, where I found that pretty figure-8 and my bradoon hanger, I made the separate brown schooling bridle pictured at the top of this post. So now at least match tack in our lessons lol.

Long story short, for the last few weeks I've gotten to re-experience riding Charlie in a normal Sprenger KK on the flat, after so many months of the Myler. And? It's different. Just ever so slightly unfamiliar in feel.

And I maybe figured something out from this new different feel: it's jusssst different enough from normal that suddenly I can feel some of our ingrained issues more clearly. Like little oddities or blips in the connection, or a different feel when I hang and deaden on the reins. Funny how that works, right?

what we've been competing and schooling xc in for the past year. sprenger kk with universal cheek pieces, plus curb. looks like a lot of hardware on the outside. just a kk on the inside tho
What stood out the most in getting this different feel in the bridle? It really drove home the point that.... Well. I'm just not comfortable with the feeling I get from Charlie when we're galloping or jumping at speed. He pulls hard. And since I don't trust that the brakes will be there when I need them, I basically ride with one hand on the e-brake at all times. Just hanging kinda dead on the reins, riding backward. Which isn't great, right?

For the past year, we've been competing and schooling in the Sprenger KK Ultra with the Universal (ie: 3 ring gag) cheeks and double reins. I initially added a leather curb strap to the top ring, but eventually swapped that for a curb chain.

This variation on the KK ultra aurigan bit retails for just over $200, but again I found mine used on ebay for $98, shipping from the UK. That's a lot of dollars for a bit, but I also felt relatively confident that I'd be able to sell it for more than I paid if it didn't work out.

throwback to the first farm where i learned to ride, where went in a hackamore, until riders were advanced enough to be "approved" to ride with a bit
And it's kinda been "good enough," for the most part. I like having a very very simple mouth piece for Charlie, for two reasons: 1) For my own riding abilities on the flat, I have the easiest time getting an effective warm up using a plain snaffle. And 2) Charlie has, on the not-so-rare occasion, been difficult to get going at the beginning of a course.

He can be sticky leaving the start box, and will sometimes suck behind my leg for the first few jumps on course. For this reason, I'm extremely reluctant to "bit up" when it comes to mouth pieces. HOWEVER. The sticky horse who doesn't want to leave his friends in warm up is NOT the same horse underneath me when we make that turn toward home down the backstretch lol.

Once Charlie is cruisin?? He is GOING SIR, YES SIR. And that's where I kinda start to get into trouble with the backwards riding. Plus. Ya know. The whole "getting run away with" thing.

throwback to exactly one year ago, wherein charlie demonstrated blatant disregard for my half halts, the bit, and probably our combined personal health and well-being lol
Realistically, it makes sense tho, right? Like. Charlie is 10. He raced from 2011 to 2016, winning 4 races, placing in another 6, and retiring as a 7yo. This horse had an entire successful career before he met me. He understood it and was good at it: Get Home As Fast As Possible.

And hooooo boy, but Charlie has taken that message to heart lol.

Combine that with his big rangy 17+hh, 1,400lb brontosaurus build..... And, well. He's a force to be reckoned with lol. Realistically speaking, Charlie's honestly too big for me. He's probably a little too much horse. EXCEPT. He's such a good boy, he wants to be good. He wants to do the thing. He wants to jump. And I trust him implicitly and completely, inside and out.

These alone are the only reasons I'm able to be even marginally successful with this horse.

then back to my first barn again: even when i got far enough along to be allowed to do solo dressage tests in our annual show, instead of the group drill rides, i still rode in a hackamore
But if I want to do bigger and badder things with this horse who is so extremely capable... Well. We need a bitting solution. Bc from what I can tell right now, in the hypothetical scenario where we are out on course facing a turning or accuracy type combination question at jump 16... Honestly I think I'd be screwed if Charlie didn't hunt the fences himself. Bc by that point on course, if our history can be any guide, it's unclear how much control I'd actually have.

One thing has been very consistent with Charlie tho since I've owned him: He's a dream to ride in the hackamore. I've been riding in mechanical hackamores basically my entire riding life, since all the lesson ponies wore them at the place where I learned to ride. I also like having a bitless option for carefree hacks, while having the brakes there if needed.

So Charlie inherited Isabel's hackamore early on, and we do all our conditioning rides and gallops in it.

fwiw, i LOVE jumping charlie in the hack too! it's a whole different feel for him!
For shits and giggles, last year I experimented with jumping Charlie in the hackamore. And? Omfg I LOVE jumping this horse in a hackmore! Love it! The feeling is so completely different - he doesn't lean into it and totally respects it. So I can get in and get out with my half halts.

And bc you can't really hold a contact on a hack the same way you can with a bit, it forces me to let go a little bit. A side effect of constantly wanting to hang on the reins is that I take my legs off. Which you may recognize as being completely the opposite of what I need to do. But in the hackamore, since I'm not preoccupied with hanging on for dear life, I can remember to keep supporting with my leg. And suddenly everything is magical.

loose ring KK + plain mechanical hackamore, combined with bit converters repurposed as cheek pieces haha. we've had exactly **one** test ride but early results are promising
There are two distinct disadvantages to the hackamore, however. 1) Again, per my earlier comment, I have a hard time getting a nice fluid supple dressage-y warm up in anything other than a plain snaffle. Ymmv. And 2) It's..... not the greatest for steering haha.

So my latest harebrained idea is to combine the two into a double bridle of sorts. Except the curb is bitless -- just the hackamore. Tho I had to pick up a different style of cheek pieces to avoid interference with the snaffle. The nifty bit converter used to hang the two pieces is actually intended to be a rein converter, but I thought it might work for this purpose too.

We've only played with it once, but damn did Charlie feel good! We didn't fall into any sort of weird tug-of-war trap with the hackamore, but I still felt like I could ride him round off the snaffle when necessary. And, ya know, steer lol.

we're learning together, slowly but surely!! and, hopefully, safely lol
It's not clear if this is our solution yet or not. Personally, I'm fairly pragmatic about stuff like this. I need to ride Charlie forward. If we want to move up, we have to get comfortable at higher speeds. But we also need to be quicker about adjusting between speeds for more technical combinations etc. Even then, tho, I must ride the horse forward, not backward.

The feeling I got in this bridle on this one test ride was exactly what I'd hoped. But obviously we'll do a little more testing to see if it's the real deal. And probably a few adjustments. Like adding sheepskin to the noseband, or possibly replacing it altogether, bc it's oddly heavy and I suspect Charlie would respond just as well to a softer material.

We'll see, tho. As a pragmatist I also recognize that.... The optics of this bridle are not great. Folks straight up hate the sight of thin metal shanks, no matter what they attach to, and no matter that they have the same effect as the broader more "friendly" shanks of my other hackamore. It *looks* like extreme hardware, I get that. You better believe I pulled on my flame suit before even thinking about posting pictures on the internet haha.

Ultimately tho, none of those external perceptions will matter when we're actually out on course in the heat of the moment. What I'm searching for is that magic "click" that gives me confidence, that perfect feeling between what Charlie can be and what I can do.

So again, we'll see what happens. At least one main advantage of missing our season opener is that we have a little more time to adjust our setup before things really kick off for the year!