Wednesday, June 26, 2019

all the things, shopping + a zebra

Summer is HERE, yo. Maryland very recently decided to get with the Heat+Humidity program, after what was honestly a pretty mild and enjoyable spring. We've had enough rain to keep the ground from being too too hard (and luckily not nearly as much rain as last year, dear god), but it's still pretty dry out there.

my pet cat + my pet turkey. guess which is which haha
Which, ya know. Is fine by me. It's been a quiet few days around here as Charlie worked through his brief mandated post-stifle-injections stall rest.

Every vet seems to be a little different in how much (if any) stall rest they want for the horses, and I think it depends on the exact formulation they used in the injections. This vet wanted roughly three days, but basically unlimited (controlled) hand walking and grazing during that period.

what do you do when you can't ride? obvi work on your gif editing #skillz lol
Which was perhaps a good thing. Charlie has historically been pretty good about stall rest. But he's also historically had stall rest for REASONS. Like, ya know, when he had surgery on that god forsaken splint. In retrospect, I'm guessing he understood that he didn't feel well or that he was hurting, and so the stall rest suited him at that time.

farewell trail ride for a longtime friend and young rider, off to pursue her dreams!
For this, tho, it's not like he was sick or injured or anything like that. Nothing felt bad. We just wanted to give the joint juice a chance to settle or something, I guess. So maybe from Charlie's perspective he couldn't understand his confinement. And homeboy was PISSED lol.

tho naturally it can't be a group trail ride through the overgrown jungle without at least a little fuckery haha
Thank god that's over haha, and we're getting back into business now. We even finally got the pads on up front earlier this week. Tho it was a bit early in the shoeing cycle so the trim is a bit short. My guess is Charlie might continue to be a little sore on those tootsies for perhaps a few more days, but that's ok.

They finally (FINALLY) got all our xc jumps moved back out into the fields this week too, after they'd been sitting in a pile out front since coming home from Shawan in May ugh. Charlie's happy to go wandering around on the relatively softer grassy fields while I scope everything out and fantasize about jumping all the things haha.

oooooooh is pretty Verhan!!! i'm all about those half blocks, yo
Meanwhile, I've done what every reasonable horse person does when their horse is laid up: SHOPPED!! Obviously, at first slightly ambitiously haha -- like when this gorgeous Verhan dressage saddle came home with me on trial from Maryland Saddlery.

The thing looks brand new, is 18", currently set at a medium tree but is apparently fully adjustable, plus has those half blocks that I love so much.

back before vet bills, when i was feeling good about making foolish choices haha
The actual trial ride tho was.... Meh, kinda disappointing. Probably not helped by the fact that it was one of our last rides before the vet appt and I was already feeling kinda blue about Charlie shuffling around in a massively uninspiring way.

But also, the twist on this saddle felt pretty wide. At first I thought that could be an advantage bc of how it helps me re-position my pelvis (sitting more back on my seat bones instead of perching forward). As the ride went on, tho, it became more clear that this saddle would be going back. Oh well, at least trying all the things is helping my butt get more educated!

ok these are more my price range now haha -- instead of plugging your stud holes you can use these screw-in caulks
Obviously tho, returning the saddle meant another trip to Maryland Saddlery. Where I continue to have an extremely plush store credit account after that whole "KonMari my tack trunk" thing wherein I consigned a fuck ton of old junk, basically all of which sold. Yasssss.

coulda sworn i picked up some small flat road studs a while ago, but either i didn't or i lost them, womp. got 'em now tho!
I'm always fascinated by little mechanical odds ends and gadgets, esp little pieces of hardware. So even tho I still feel like a complete newb when it comes to all things stud-related, I still love poring over the stuff.

The barn mate I went on that hunter trials with had those screw-in caulks plugging her mare's stud holes instead of the typical rubber or cotton plugs. Apparently they just go in and out with the included hex tool?

Anyway, I was intrigued, so when I saw them for like $2.50 at the consignment shop, obvi they came home with me. Ditto the set of simple small flat road studs. This kinda bugged me a bit bc I'm like 97.5% sure I bought a similar set last time I was there, but can't for the life of me find them. Oh well. They were also just like $2.50 so nbd. This style stud is good for riding on roads (per the name, obvi), but also in instances where the ground is rock hard.

the pink rubber nunn finer spur straps are fun, but for $6 a pair of simple brown leather straps were a no brainer
Next up was a standard pair of brown leather spur straps. When I first got my lovely new QHP Sophia brown tall boots, I thought maybe the above pink rubber Nunn Finer straps would be fun while also being kinda less visible on the light brown.

In reality, tho, they're kinda chunky and stood out more than I expected. So these brown straps will be better for shows and stuff, I think. I do like the rubber Nunn Finers tho - they are SUPER easy and require zero maintenance. So they'll stick around for fun, or if for whatever reason I ever decide to have a second pair of spurs aside from these nudgers.

would have preferred buckle ends, but it's not every day you find such a nice set of 60" rubber reins for $25
Last little bit of equipment was a new set of reins. I've been low key browsing new reins for a while now, but so far have resisted temptation. My giant rubber Stubbens on our competition jump bridle are slowly dying, but they're at that weird sticky rubbery phase that actually helps me hang on to them well right now haha. Plus they're CRAZY long.

My schooling bridle tho just has a pair of beat up laced reins that's missing a keeper on the hook end. Plus they're not quiiiiite long enough for Charlie's brontosaurus neck (neither are my dressage reins, for that matter). So anything I picked up would have to definitely be long enough. Hopefully these 60" brand new rubber reins will do the trick!

who is even shaped like this?? i tried them on for shits and giggles haha, but dear god, no pictures
Anyway. Moving right on along. I'm really not much of an apparel girl. Most of my tops I get from the active wear section of stores like Marshalls. You can get stuff that looks identical to the cute Noble Outfitters tops but at a fraction of the price. That's a no-brainer.

I do like browsing the sections tho, and am always on the look out for the perfect pair of whites. The above were, uh, NOT that haha. I think they're Kingslands or something euro like that? Lol..

assuming i ever go to a horse show again, i've got the clothes for it!
I've wanted a new sleeveless show shirt tho ever since I picked up the new RJ Essentials show coat with mesh sleeves. Again I hate spending a lot of money on stuff like this, esp white stuff that I'm probably going to ruin with stains and poor #laundryskills within the first four times of wearing it....

But this Kerrits ice fill shirt was reasonable enough (esp considering it was paid for by all that KonMari junk lol) plus I like the cute collar pattern. It's getting reserved exclusively for recognized shows tho. If, ahem, any ever happen. Sigh.

plus who could resist a brand new pair of full seats from consignment for $36!?!
Almost by mistake I spied these Devon Aire breeches in my size out of the corner of my eye. I like the pocket detailing, the full seats, plus the silicone knee grips. And the color - stony mossy mineral-y type colors are kinda my jam lol, esp if they're on the darker side of taupe.

These have a slightly lower rise than I quite prefer, but for the price, I'm fine with slapping a belt on them and calling it a day. Esp considering I'm still rebuilding my breeches collection after finally losing all the weight gained following breaking my leg.... Bleh.

anyway. i told you there would be a zebra, right? saw this on my evening barn commute haha
Anyway lol. There were a few other odds and ends I picked up. An actual Noble Outfitters top that is suuuuuuper cute, and brand new yet steeply discounted bc #consignment4lyfe. No pictures yet tho. Also a new pinny holder bc mine somehow vanished, womp. No pictures of that either. It's a pinny holder tho. Not super exciting lol.

grazing with the ponies <3
I'm excited to start putting some of this stuff to use tho. I'm thinking I'll put the stud caulks in Charlie's front shoes asap, since those shoes just got replaced and the threads are fresh. The farrier ran out of time for the hinds, but will do them in a couple days. Then I'll get the caulks in those too.

Has anyone else ever used them instead of more traditional plugs? Did you like them? Did they become a pain to get in and out if the hex holes get very clogged?

twu wuv!
The reins will hopefully go on my schooling bridle asap so I can start conditioning my poor fingers to fresh rubber nubs haha. For whatever reason I fell off the gloves bandwagon and prefer to ride bare handed now. Tho perhaps these will change my mind? We'll see.

The new schooling apparel will also obvi go into rotation immediately. The show stuff will have to wait tho, le sigh. I was so super stoked that they finally set up our home xc course ahead of the recognized HT a little later this summer. That event was sketched roughly into my plan for the year, but alas I just learned the course closes to competitors 6wks out from competition.

charlie may think this life ain't so bad.... but i think we're both missing the xc a little bit haha
That leaves me with the choice of either doing the home show OR being able to school to my heart's delight throughout the next month and a half. Considering the vet straight up told me I don't jump my horse often enough, more schooling is definitely a high priority. So.... Unfortunately I think the trade off isn't worth it to do the show. Bummer. We can do the starter trials later in the summer tho, maybe.

Of course this is all assuming my horse is ever sound again haha. One can dream, right?? Does anyone else like to go off the deep end with shopping whenever your horse is laid up? Do you like to try to keep things practical and reasonable, or would you have gone whole hog and bought the damn saddle too?? Lol...

Friday, June 21, 2019

dog days + bronto nights

Things have been nicely quiet around here the last few days. Charlie's foot soreness cropped up at basically the worst possible time in his shoeing cycle. We already know from experience that he does extremely well in leather pads during the summer months. But.... We just gotta wait for enough growth to justify a reset with pads. You know how it goes.

Meanwhile, everything sort of ground to a halt. We had planned to school xc with Sally again Tuesday a week ago. This time at Plantation, for their once-a-year schooling day that was marked on the calendar for months haha (#redemption!!!). It rained buckets the night before tho, and they pushed it back a day, which didn't work for either Sally or me.

Which honestly, was probably for the best. I had still planned to go despite the foot soreness, but wasn't committed to jumping anything. Mostly I had wanted to pick Sally's brain about all the various dos and don'ts of maintaining the Size Large event horse.

A barn mate loosely quoted Sally as saying that once you get to a certain level, the balance of focus shifts away from training and toward maintenance. Let's say, 75% maintenance and 25% training. Which makes sense to me, and I wanted to talk more to Sally about that idea.

driving into the barn i fully expected this incoming storm to drop the temps by ~10*. alas, the damn thing missed us completely and conditions remained oppressively hot humid and sticky :(
When the schooling date got moved tho, honestly I wasn't too sorry. There will be some other time to go show Plantation who's really boss haha. Plus, we were entered for the event at Seneca last weekend, so I had hoped to sorta baby Charlie through the week anyway.

Alas tho, despite having a relatively careful week, our last ride before Seneca showed Charlie to not be satisfactorily happy on those tootsies. Bleh. Drats. More entry dollars down the drain. C'est la vie, tho!

After that, I figured now might be a good time to actually make those dollars work for me. Instead of continuing to shovel out entry after entry despite my horse's knack for timing his moments of fragility, maybe it was time to bring out a pro and set new baselines.

So then it was basically a waiting game, taking things pretty easy until that eventual appointment. Which worked out nicely for me, bc a double dose of devastating personal tragedy in my other life meant that I just focused on my most fundamental needs with Charlie: breathing him in, finding solace in his quiet, peaceful company.

actual photographic representation of what we've been up to. it's maple, if you're curious
Finally, tho, our day came. I brought a vet out for a thorough evaluation of Charlie. Prepared to follow the rabbit hole as deep as she saw fit to go. Not necessarily chasing a lameness, per se, but more along the lines of looking for that low hanging fruit.

My ultimate question was, "What could we do to make Charlie more sound? To improve his margins of soundness so that we don't always feel like we're teetering on the edge -- one small ding away from forfeited entries?"

To this end, the vet started with an overall evaluation of Charlie's condition and some discussion about his complete backstory and history of injuries and/or lamenesses. She felt his general condition is quite good - the horse does in fact look great. But.... she also agreed with my "dad bod" joke haha. In other words, he's fine now, but don't let him get any heavier. And actually, for my purposes, we probably want better fitness on him.

His feet are fine, all the angles look good, the heels are good. But the feet are sliiiiiightly too small for Charlie's #SizeLarge body. The last missed shoeing appointment definitely fucked us. If you recall, I had the horse on the list to get done exactly at the 5wk mark, and the farrier bumped him another week without checking in.

I understand the farrier's perspective -- waiting longer could mean more wall growth between the compromising nail holes. Plus I'm sure many of his clients prefer to try to save a buck here or there by waiting a little bit longer.... But, honestly, Charlie just needs done. And we're paying for that extra week last cycle by probably needing to go two weeks early this cycle. Again, c'est la vie, I'll be more clear with the farrier moving forward.

charlie appreciates the ringside wildlife
The vet did find some signs of effusion in the coffin joints up front, but felt like it made the most sense to just get the horse in pads and reassess that point later only if needed.

After testing his hooves and palpating his legs, she had me jog him back and forth a couple times. To answer the million dollar question: Does Charlie present as sound??

Short answer? Yes.

Long answer? Also Yesss.

Fuck yea haha. But again, that wasn't really the point of the day tho, right? Like, the horse is generally sound. I firmly believe he is more sound today than he was when I bought him. But again, I want better margins. I want him to be moar sound, less vulnerable to disruption.

So from there we moved on to flexions. So many flexions tho. I should note - it was fucking hot and humid out. The kind of oppressive stickiness that only comes before a giant storm, except the storm front misses you so you just wilt into a puddle of denim-clad swamp ass with no relief in sight. Ahem. Cough Cough. Anyway tho.

i <3 bunnies tho
Anyway, we flexed the ever loving fuck out of Charlie haha. At least 12 individual flexions (3 per leg, I think?), each of which required me to sprint drag my lazy brontosaurus down a roughly 20m line. Back and forth, back and forth. In the sunshine on our dark dressage court footing. And then I lunged him both directions. Honestly I thought I might puke or pass out. Holy shit. Barf.

That's definitely hella more flexions than what I did in Charlie's PPE. Tho you might remember (or not, actually maybe I never told you?) that Charlie was very hoof sore plus due for his hocks when I bought him. So we kinda just rolled with it haha. In other words, yes I totally bought a lame horse. And yes, nearly three years later, I'm still working on his soundness. To be honest, tho? #noregrets #ymmv #itsnotforeveryone #charlieisthebesthorseintheworldthochangemymind #sanesound&talentedpick2 #worthit

Ahem. Anyway. The flexions. Everything up front was clean and clear. Behind was a bit more muddled, as expected. Obvi today's question is those sore front feet, but the question of tomorrow and next month and next year and of Charlie's overall future and longevity as my event horse sits squarely on his hind end.

And honestly? The vet didn't see a whole lot to worry her. Obvi it's impossible to fully isolate and flex a specific joint -- they are all so interconnected you're always stressing multiple elements of the entire apparatus. But generally, Charlie was mild on hocks but closer to moderate on stifles.

staring expansively at the distant camp kiddos and those darling ponies he's so jealous of. #ropehalter for #vetmanners lol. also, that droopy lip kills me haha
We did the hocks this past spring and did not see the results I'd hoped for. I know Charlie had his stifles done on the track, but I've never done anything for them besides general fitness work (hills, poles, etc -- building the muscle that supports the joint). So on this day, the stifles looked to be the best bang for my buck. So that's what we did.

I appreciated that after all the flexions, the vet was basically able to give me a "Top 3" list (#2 being possibly front coffins, and a distant #3 being SI) with relative weightings on when/why to pursue further options. Realistically, tho, the vet felt that Charlie was generally in good shape and nothing really stood out to her.

Likewise, she showed no signs of hesitation or concern when I told her my first foremost and forever objective was Charlie's longevity -- that I need this horse to last me, preferably forever.

And actually, she corrected me on some errors of logic that I've made when it comes to Charlie's condition. I've been extremely preoccupied with "saving" him, not "using him up," if that makes sense. So I told her all about how he seems to hold all his training fantastically despite time off, or gaps in practice. Thus I had begun to feel pretty good about only ever really jumping intermittently.

The vet was surprisingly quick to suggest this was actually not the greatest tactic. That part of conditioning means conditioning his body to impact. That if I want the horse to not be sore after an epic jump school, he needs to be jumping more often. Not necessarily max height / max impact / max speed every time. But often enough and with enough purpose to condition his joints, sinews, muscles, etc to the exertion and impact.

charlie is many things. pretty is one of them <3
Really, overall, she seemed to believe more correct conditioning would be the biggest difference maker for Charlie. And not just cardio conditioning. Not just walking and trotting hills with the occasional sprint. But the full package: asking routinely of his body the full amount of exertion I need from him, so that the bigger outings don't pack such a punch.

Writing this out almost makes me feel a little silly for not thinking it through in the same fashion of logic. But as L Williams reminded me a little while ago, this is also part of what it means for me to learn how to move a horse up. Not just accomplishing a certain size jump or certain speed, but learning how to maintain and sustain the horse throughout.

For now, I'm very heartened at this vet's relaxed casual reaction to my litany of what all I want Charlie to do for me. She thinks it's all completely reasonable -- she likes his build, likes his condition, and obvi LOVES his temperament lol (but who wouldn't?). It's just up to me to do my job to help Charlie be his physical best, including greasing the rails as needed.

Here's hoping he feels like a full one million dollars when he comes slowly back into work sometime next week. And until that point, all plans currently on hold. But after this past couple weeks of downtime, I'm allowing myself to start getting a little excited again ;)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

existential crisis: dressage edition

I never really understood why people would be so nervous before dressage tests. We had a friendly at-home schooling show this weekend, where I spent the morning stewarding the warm up and working the in gate. And was kinda amused (in a friendly way, I promise) by the riders who told me how worried, nervous or anxious they were for their tests.

After riding my own test (yes, singular) in the afternoon, tho, maybe I get it now.

ignore my resting bitch concentration face and just focus on how goddamn handsome this hunk of horse is!
Maybe the worry isn't so much related to fear that something physically bad will happen during the test. Like in cross country where you might legitimately worry that if you miss at the trakehner, you'll end up in the ditch....

No, no, I'm coming to realize that might not be exactly the same type of visceral fear that dressage riders experience before their tests.

charlie's friends have been using him as a scratching post. it's ridiculous, they rub up and down on his tail and he just takes it. but his poor tail tho, grrrrr!
Instead, it's maybe more existential than that. Like, the fear that the judge will strike you down from on high. Crucify you for even daring to present this mess of training and horsemanship to her. Or question the very bedrock foundation of everything you thought was true about your own precious unicorn, who in her opinion maybe more closely resembles some bedraggled cart nag you picked up from the Amish.

that mane is lookin good tho!! still a little short for these braids but i'm feeling good about my first effort!
Does that sound overly dramatic? Maybe. But did I spend the rest of the afternoon after my ride close to (or in) tears and texting my trainers in a panic that, "was I all wrong about Charlie?" and "who am I trying to kid here?" and "what was I even thinking?" .....Also maybe.

gosh i just love him tho <3
The worst part was that I didn't even think the test was that bad. Like, sure we trantered in one lengthening and broke in the next. And we jigged in the walk, biffed some geometry, and carried a fair amount of tension throughout... Definitely not a 60%+ score, but hopefully well-enough presented to provoke actionable, constructive feedback.

not perfect, but not bad either! #mymotto
Overall, I honestly thought it was a reasonable first effort. The horse did the things, accomplished the movements (more or less), and didn't feel over faced in doing so. And I promise - I did not tell Charlie what the judge thought of us. He has no idea, he thinks he was a Good Boy, and I have every intention of keeping it that way haha.

a wild astrid appears!
There's the rub, tho, right? Like, there's so much daylight between how I perceive the horse and how strangers see him. All I see is how far he's come, how hard he tries. I'm basically blind to so many of his limitations and weaknesses, bc all I see is the progress we've made on them.

I understand completely that judges will only evaluate what you show them in that particular test, in that moment. No reminders needed there, I assure you. There's just an alarmingly large gap between my expectations and the judge's reality.

charlie was 100% not expecting to see those huskies suddenly appear out of the doorway during our warm up lol.... pc Austen Gage
Tho ya know. In hindsight, it's easier to maybe pick up some of the pieces and put that particular puzzle back together. I expected Charlie to maybe be a bit dull, tired, and/or stiff from the pace clinic. Which, realistically, a careful dressage ride at home would generally be the perfect remedy for that anyway, even if it meant for lesser scores in the test, ya know?

welcome one and all to the grand series of cherry-picked video stills!!! here we see the elusive dressage brontosaurus preparing for the right handed 10m half circle
What I didn't quite see coming was the foot-soreness, tho, which maybe I should have since I've already been wondering when the time would come to put him in front pads... (Hint: that time is now, Emma! D'oh!)

We warmed up in the indoor which is considerably softer footing than the dressage court, so it wasn't maybe as apparent anyway. And of course the first movement in 1-1 is that damn 10m half circle, naturally to the left, our weaker direction at present. It's pretttttty hard to hide anything in a 10m half turn haha, especially when you ride a brontosaurus.

everything is better when we can move out tho. here we are earning a 4 after trantering for most of this lengthening
My guess is that the judge saw our few lurch-y steps in that early movement and was immediately on the look-out for any other signs of irregularity. Which.... ya know, with a horse like Charlie, if you're looking for it you WILL find it. In those situations, you can expect to have some points taken off from basically every movement -- your 6 becomes a 5 or 4, for instance -- and to have the judge recommend you scratch your second test. Which, naturally, I did.

i don't even care tho, i love him anyway <3
It's frustrating tho, ya know? Like, a little magic cushion and the horse was righter than rain the next day. It's not exactly normal practice to be galloping the day before dressage tests anyway, that's just how it worked out this weekend. And anyway, once he's in pads again the issue resolves completely.

But them's the breaks, I guess. Like I never expected to do well in the test, but I *was* hopeful to get useful constructive feedback on how to improve. Instead of getting comments that make me question why I even try with this horse in the first place.... Sigh.

sir, maybe you would be more impressive if you kicked up less dust. #justsayin
It's funny tho -- looking back on it, it was at this same show two years ago where I rode a much greener Charlie in the BN tests. And the judge was basically like, "You need to go back to basics. And maybe don't even jump this horse." So maybe I just have a particularly bad track record with this particular organization's shows?? Ha....

wheeeee canter lengthening!!
And maybe I also need to remember my philosophy back then too, bc it definitely still fits now:

"So I can objectively look at where Charlie and I are in our dressage training and kinda shrug like, 'ok so we kinda suck,' but it's not demoralizing. And it's not like.... A problem, ya know? It's just where we are, there's just more work to do."

lol we also cantererd in this lengthening, whoops
Bc yea. As much as it felt like a complete existential crisis having that judge look deep into my soul and make me question every choice I made with this horse.... Well. Let's be real. It's not the actual end of the world to have a bad day. Especially when the problems are known and fixable.

why does this sometimes feel like facing off with the enemy?!?
I felt better tho looking at the scores posted online after the fact too haha. It turns out they were awarding ribbons not by how you stacked up against the others in your class, but by where your test score fell within certain ranges. So a score above such and such percent would get 1st, then scores in the next range would get 2nd, etc.

in reality tho, it's just about me and this horse. he's my boy and that's all that matters.
My score earned us a 4th if that tells you anything (and No, I'm not sharing my sheet haha, I don't want to and you can't make me!), but actually we had the higher score in our class of 2 by the sliiiiiightest of margins lol. Throughout the whole day, there were zero 1sts, roughly a dozen 2nds, and all the rest were 3rds and 4ths. With a whole half a dozen scores worse than my own....

thanks frens for talking me off the ledge <3 <3 <3
So idk. Maybe that judge was kinda a B lol. And maybe I shouldn't let the fact that she's an "r" judge shakeup my mindset or undermine what I already know to be true about Charlie.

Charlie is a good boy. He CAN do the dressage, and he WILL keep getting better. I have good strategies in place already for maintaining him and managing his high mileage body, and working on our training will only continue to make him stronger and healthier.

And hey, if all else fails, he looks damn good in braids, amirite?? #atleastwegotnicepictures

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

gallop training!

This past weekend one of our resident pros, upper level event rider KB, hosted a low key pace clinic on farm. I did a pace clinic with Kelly Williams at Loch Moy last summer and it was the perfect ride to get my and Charlie's good juju flowing again after the Plantation catastrophe.

So obviously I was super gung ho to sign up for another one this year too!

picked up this cheapie timex watch off amazon months and months ago
I even brought my own little dinky sports watch haha. This one isn't as fancy as the $$$$ purpose-specific watches you see most pros and serious competitors wearing.... But it gets the job done.

To date, I've never even ridden a timed cross country course, let alone worn a watch haha. So shelling out for the top tier equipment seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse, ya know what I mean? For now, any watch with a timer and a screen big enough to see in motion will do.

being stunningly handsome isn't exactly a requirement for galloping, but it sure helps!
At last year's clinic, we worked on a roughly 1,000m oval course with logs and small jumps spaced at ~100m intervals. The clinician then instructed us on which speeds she wanted us to work on (everyone in the group was a little different -- it's very easy to dial in to each rider's needs with this format!) and then told us where our respective minute markers would be on the course.

there goes brontosaurus charlie getting out-walked by his spicy little nugget friend!
I was kinda hoping we'd do a similar format this time around, but actually KB took a very different approach to setting the track that proved really useful as it addressed different factors.

Specifically - there were no jumps this time, and the track was FAR from being a simple oval or out-n-back haha. Instead, KB mowed a fairly narrow path that included two big long straight uphill pulls, but also a couple downhills, more than a few turns and curves, PLUS two devilish off-camber rollbacks.

track is by design quite different from a basic oval and included some tricky off-camber turns!
orange dots reflect minute markers for Training speed
Those two red loops closest to the top of the picture frame above were extremely tight haha, especially on a horse like Charlie who has a near magnetic draw back toward the barn. The mowed path was relatively flat, but if you overshot the turn you were very quickly onto off-camber slopes, making the turn even harder.

The parts of the track closest to the bottom of the picture, following the fence line and road, were mostly smooth straight pulls on nicely rising ground. Tho you can see in the second half of the track, KB actually mowed the path around a little log so that we still had to adjust and steer.

galloping through the mid section of the track, away from the barn
Finally, KB placed white stakes in the ground at the first minute markers for BN, N and T speeds. I marked out roughly where the T stake was as an orange dot on the map (it's also just out of frame in front of Charlie in the pic abovev), and the N and BN stakes were just a bit earlier on that first loop.

The stake set at the finish line was positioned to be at exactly 2min for T speeds, and KB just told riders working on different speeds what their finish time should be.  

trying to keep my position up and forward even when i'm really pushing and driving charlie for more
We walked the full track as a group first, while KB explained each of the features and talked about the importance of position.

Specifically, she was very adamant that riders needed to be staying off the horse's back as much as possible as that alone is the most tiring for horses. Even for a strong horse, you really want to limit the amount of time spent on his back, but can adjust your shoulder and hand position to give you more options.

homeboy never really looks like he's in a hurry haha. the trick is to look at his tail for an indication of relative speed LOL
She also talked about the importance of not really messing too much with the horse's natural galloping style. Like, it's one thing if it's a very young green horse who doesn't really have an established way of going yet, or if it's a very incorrect horse.

But otherwise, by and large, you want to mostly let the horse travel in his own natural style. This allows the horse to be his most efficient. Compared to, say, if you try to change the horse's way of going (maybe by making him carry his head more up, or more down, or making him travel specifically on one lead or another) you're likelier to tire him out faster.

there we go big guy, now you're haulin ass!!
Tho of course, it's important to note here that she's distinguishing between competition and conditioning / fitness work. In your training you can address some of those details if you think it's important for improving your horse, but once out on course, the objective should be smooth, streamlined efficiency.

Anyway. After we walked the track, we did a brief warm up in the front field (visible on the map above haha) where KB assessed our positions etc. Despite being a race horse, Charlie can be a bit of a lug to get going, and I often find myself sitting down and behind him in an effort to drive him forward. This is counterproductive, however, so I really had to work to stay out of the tack even as I pushed for more.

sorry for the blur.... but you can at least get a sense of what T speed looks like with charlie
To get started with the gallop, we did just the first half of the course up to the first set of minute markers. Our plan here was to basically aim for our "normal" rhythm, and see where that got us by the minute markers. For me and Charlie, I did push him out a bit more than I normally do in competition, but not much. And we were well within the N speed range for this.

So that was kinda reassuring that the speed that feels normal / good to me right now is appropriate for our current level of competition (even if, ya know, I sometimes need to remind myself to ride more forward on course! lol...).

this is the final leg of the course after rounding the last turn, as we speed to the finish
Next up, we put the whole course together but this time aiming specifically for the T minute markers. I knew I was going to really push Charlie out for this, not letting off the gas at all especially through the first half. Tho this meant that I wayyyyyyy overshot both of those tight rollback turns. Despite studding up for this clinic, those turns were still just super tricky esp being off-camber.

I still made the time tho, which was good to know. In my mind I was thinking it was reassuring to know that we could still make the time just by speed even if we missed the turns and ended up covering more ground.

tired pony was happy to rest under the mulberry tree afterward
KB wanted better than that, tho. The whole reason she had put those turns on the course was for us to learn how to adjust speeds as we go, while maintaining an appropriate average speed.

Most cross country courses, especially at the upper levels, can't actually be safely jumped all at the same speeds. Or even at the listed speed for that level. Some combinations demand a more collected canter, so riders have to adjust their speeds appropriately, but then make up for that time by going over speed during the more open galloping sections.

For a masterclass example of how speed changes throughout a course, check out literally any of Ingrid Klimke's SAP-enabled helmet cam videos. There's a recent example from her ERM round a couple days ago, tho I also wrote about this topic with a linked video here too.

wherein he mayyyyy or may not have teased his barn mates with his freedom lol
So anyway. KB wanted me to go back and redo the second half of the track again, but this time adjust my canter appropriately in order to stay within the mowed track. But still make time.

And? Actually it worked out! I had to slow Charlie wayyyyyyy down for the turn, and had biffed the settings on my watch so I wasn't timing the run. Honestly I figured we'd be too slow, but actually KB said we were right on the dot.

does Elephant look jealous?
That, for me, is probably the biggest takeaway. Charlie never looks very fast in videos (I have video from this clinic but it's vertical and very far away, so I'm not sure how useful it is beyond the gif above). He's certainly nowhere near his top gear at T speeds. Honestly I often look at videos of us going and get frustrated with myself bc I feel like we're going fast, but there he is on video loping around like a hunter.

EXCEPT. Turns out. Charlie's "lope" is actually quite fast. He's got very long legs. He's covering a LOT of ground haha. Just bc it doesn't "look" fast doesn't mean that it's slow. It's not slow, turns out.

mmmmmm mulberries! his tongue was purple after that haha
Yes, I do need to work harder at riding this forward when there are jumps involved, bc my tendency is to want to shut it down a bit. But.... We're actually pretty close to being on pace for where we're at, in the grand scheme of things.

And most importantly, I learned that we can still be on-pace even when I have to really slow us down to take our time with trickier turns (or combinations on course like that weirdly measured half coffin at Loch Moy a few weeks ago).

charlie prefers the title "grazing machine" to "galloping machine" haha
Being able to stay on-pace on average even as we adjust for those turns and combinations is key, bc it's all about efficiency, right? Like, sure, we could make the time when we went way wide around the turns just by going fast all along. But we also made time by taking fewer steps and covering less distance when we were more adjustable in our speed.

Good to know haha. So all in all, this was a very useful exercise for us. It was useful for Charlie mostly in that he had to be obedient through multiple "start box" sessions, and with being driven forward away from the barn. Two things he's not always been great about, but lately has aced.

It was useful for me bc I feel like I'm getting a better grip not only on the average pace we need to carry, but also on how to better leverage Charlie's newfound adjustability. Plus, ya know, the watch practice was helpful haha. I'm toying with the idea of wearing it on my next course, but we'll see.