Wednesday, December 30, 2020

last hurrah: arena XC

Guys! OMG! A couple weeks ago I was cleaning out my car (trying to get a head start on those new year's resolutions, amirite?) and found TWO volunteer schooling passes to Loch Moy Farm!!!

setting off on our adventure! also possibly my beloved truck's last :'(
And unlike virtually every other schooling pass I've earned over the years, these hadn't actually expired yet --- in fact, I had until 12/31 to cash in. Yessss!!

two intrepid TBs ready to go!
As with all things 2020, I'm essentially basing every single decision on a gut check. And in this case, my gut said, "Hell Yes, let's use those passes!" My barn mate Amy's gut likewise agreed, so we checked the forecast, picked a date and headed out!!

my lord this google satellite map is years out of date. lower ring is double this width now, and features a water complex (circled in blue), two sets of banks going uphill to the middle arena, plus a brand new irish bank near the water, pictured below. there's also some ditches near the water, plus a ditch in the driveway path from SJ to the middle arena, marked in yellow
For those uninitiated with the amazing Loch Moy Farm facility -- this place is eventing mecca. It hosts an FEI event, multiple nationally recognized horse trials (including the area's only BN3DE), multiple more unrecognized events (through M), PLUS recognized and unrecognized dressage, hunter and jumper shows, AND a wintertime series of cross derbies.

This is all supported by some absurd amount of acreage surfaced with all-weather footing - as pictured above, and extensive cross country grounds. 

warm up ground logs!!
After the final horse trial of the year (usually November), the venue pulls all the portable fences into the interconnected network of {massive} arenas and stays open for schooling all winter long.

little roll next to the ivy wall in the SJ arena!
Historically we've managed to get out at least once (but often twice) per winter, and it's just so so worth it. Jumping XC fences on flat groomed surfaces is somehow an entirely different ballgame haha.

moar little rolls! fun fact: we almost died over this one <3
Usually, we use it as an opportunity to kinda stretch and challenge ourselves a little bit -- working on navigating larger fences without the complicating factor of terrain etc. And in fact, Charlie jumped some of his first T fences in this setting. 

slightly bigger little roll -- still in the SJ ring (warm up ring is that white fence uphill to the right)
This time around, tho, our goals were a little different. Obvi Charlie's had time off jumping -- and hasn't even schooled anything even approximating xc since our last hunter pace on Labor Day Weekend. And more recently, the horses have been in much lighter work following the ice / snow storm. 

familiar ark, and a Punky in the distance!
Plus, let's be real here -- 2020 has been plenty challenging enough already, thankyouverymuch. It's been a stressful, trying year and I know I'm not alone in feeling seriously worn down by the constant low grade anxiety grind. 

driveway ditch!
So we headed out with low expectations and an agenda revolving 100% around having FUN. Both of these horses have been to this venue multiple times, including for the arena eventing. And both have seen virtually all the fences. Charlie's jumped literally everything from N down, and most of the T jumps too for that matter. 

entering the big middle arena from the driveway!!
So it honestly felt pretty perfect. We started in the upper arena that's usually set up for show jumping, and warmed up over a little circuit of logs that were essentially ground poles. Charlie was aces on the left lead, but was kinda off our rhythm on the right. Kinda getting a little too gung ho and then running a little past his distance. 

down in the lowest ring -- new 3-sided bank! and water to the right
Which naturally led to him simply leaving it out over a small little roll top, and we almost died, lol whoops! 

I had obsessed in the days leading up about what bridle to bring.... The loose ring snaffle we wear in lessons? The hackamore we use for hunter paces and trail riding? Or the elevator we usually use for xc? 

still nearly collided with Punky repeatedly despite the enormous amount of space lol
I opted for the snaffle.... and.... this was probably a mistake haha. After nearly dying leaving a stride out over the little roll, we got back on the same page about rhythm and balance on approaching the fences. 

In fact -- other than that blip, Charlie was incredible to the fences. He felt like he was in that perfect sweet spot up in front of my leg and steady in the bridle contact where we always get to a perfect distance. But..... As has been our way for a very long time, we just weren't landing in the same canter haha. 

tootsie roll!! can sorta see one of the banks uphill in the background directly above that left side red jump
Actually, it was super reminiscent of our catastrophe of a horse show last August, whoops, and I may or may not have gotten run away with once or twice -- with Charlie charging clear across the entire arena before I could get him pulled up. 

I'd say it's embarrassing... except, lol, it totally wasn't. Charlie was having fun, I was having fun, and nothing else matters even a little bit right now. So... whatevskis lol!

boat by the water! and gorgeous sugarloaf mountain
We mostly just looped around -- jumping mainly the N and BN options. Plus occasionally shifting down to trot some of the itsy bitsies out there too, to remind Charlie that he *can* actually be a sensible civilized creature lol. 

slightly bigger boat near the water!
And for my part, I wanted to focus on two main rider aspects: 1) keeping my hands forward come hell or high water, and grabbing mane as needed (per the xc clinic with Martin Douzant last year); and 2) working on my upper body position per the resistance band lessons we've done lately.

Punky won today's blue ribbon
And that was basically it, lol. The whole "keep my hands forward" thing is such a game changer -- it makes seeing distances to the fences and holding a good balance so so SO much easier. But my pearl-clutching habit is so deeply ingrained, it honestly takes constant brain power (and handfuls of mane) to keep me honest about it. 

narrow house ain't so narrow when it's blocked in like this lol
But I was really proud that we didn't have a single pearl clutching fence the entire ride -- even when we went crazy long to the tiny warm up fence lol. So ya know, that counts as progress haha. 

itsy bitsy bending line! whoa, charlie!
I also felt reasonably stable and secure in my jumping position too despite not jumping much at all this fall. Obvi it's easier when the horse is getting to all the fences as nicely as Charlie was, but it was still reassuring to not feel all that rusty after all.

and finishing over this little roll table again <3
To be perfectly honest, it felt really nice to get out there with zero expectations. I'm trying to be less hard on myself, and trying to be better at enjoying this incredible horse who is so extremely capable and reliable. 

And the proof is in the pudding, right? Often times, in a ride where I'm constantly pushing myself, I'll end up wanting to finish sooner. Almost like I'm worried that if I try to jump too many challenging fences or combinations, I'll somehow find a way to mess everything up. So there are all these past schooling rides where I'll look back in retrospect and wonder why I didn't jump more. 

This ride, tho, was nothing like that. I felt like we got to jump a lot of stuff -- getting our money's worth but without over doing anything. Definitely a good feeling haha -- and makes for a more fun (and slightly lengthier) helmet cam video IMO. 

I'm really hoping we'll get back to this venue again at least once more this winter (maybe for a derby?). It's really not all that far distance-wise (about 1.5hrs drive), but it involves going alllllll the way across the Baltimore beltway. Which.... is a fucking nightmare with a trailer (especially the inner loop, ugh). 

My truck was also acting up the entire way there and back this trip -- to the point where I had a friend on standby in case we needed rescuing. I'm hoping it's a simple fix but with an older high mileage truck, the end always feels right around the corner haha. 

So we'll see what happens, I guess. For now I'm just grateful to have gotten in this one last big happy bright spot to finish out the clusterfuck that was 2020 ;)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

footwork season

One advantage to being back on the weekly lesson train is that it provides more of a natural contour to my regular riding plans and scheduling. There's more of a predetermined rhythm for lighter vs harder work days, etc, ya know what I mean?
it was sunny and green here, right up until it wasn't
Not that it really matters, tho, bc let's be real.... Covid Winter isn't exactly an inspiring landscape and ambition has been on the backburner for months now LOL. 

charlie just loves his window <3 it's covered now tho for the winter
But we *do* eventually wanna do fun stuff again. And in the meantime, obvi I still love riding and playing with my pony. So we carry on. 

royal makes a cameo in the video below --- ooh and punky too, haha... hahaha
All this makes for the perfect recipe for lower-key lessons focused on basics like good footwork. Which.... is 100% fine by me, considering how much Charlie enjoys and is benefited by grids. 

the dusk lighting is pretty even tho it means blurry still shots haha
Two weeks ago we had the last outdoor lesson of the year, and focused mainly on that line of bounces you saw from the week before that. We warmed up over the same longer lines again too -- but that really wasn't the focus. 

Which.... was maybe a good thing haha, since I still was kinda clinging to the add stride like a security blanket LOL! 

good boy, chuck
Charlie was super good tho. We worked through a little one stride grid next (none caught on camera, sadly), and while we did actually make one heinous mistake at one point (resulting in a 2-1 effort instead of a 1-1 LOL), Charlie mostly gave the little jumps quite nice efforts -- jumping very straight with lovely bascule!

i admit to finding the height of these bounces slightly intimidating this week haha
Again, tho, the real focus of the day was the bounce line. We built it up very progressively -- starting with a single jump and placing pole. Then our group sorta Follow-the-Leader'ed through again and again as trainer P built up the elements with each pass. Until finally it was back to four individual jumps set at bounce distances.

charlie didn't care tho <3
And actually, she raised the jumps a bit more than I expected. Nothing particularly aggressive (bounces really do not need height to be effective) but still an ask. 

Charlie kept on chuggin like a good boy, but I could tell he was getting tired. Normally he will jump straight if I can be bothered to ask for it, but by the end he was definitely leaning harder and harder left. It meant I had more contact on the right rein than is desirable in the grid (ideally the horse should be more free to use his head and neck etc), but eh. It was fine. 

it's so funny to me how each of the three horses are so different. if i were pinning that train as a class, Royal definitely gets the blue. Punky gets an E for Exuberance tho!

The bounces are just so so so good for Charlie. It's one of those exercises that's completely self evident to the horses. He doesn't need me to tell him if he did good or bad through the line -- and frankly these exercises are best left almost entirely to the horse to execute (vs having the rider try to micromanage). 

And all the while, they really help the horse use his core, hold his balance, and adjust his posture to be more uphill. Sure -- some talented riders can accomplish all that just through their own aids. But.... There's something to be said for the education that comes from tackling these sorts of exercises. 
surprise!! it snowed haha. we're traversing the field here to avoid the ice-slicked driveway
Which, again, is useful bc.... Just a couple days later Maryland was hit with the edges of that massive snowstorm that swept up north through NY. Coupled with the frigid temps that followed, we were basically covered in a thick treacherous sheet of ice for days afterward. 

well hello there, indoor arena -- it's been a while!
This made it pretty difficult to do just about everything on the farm -- especially if it involved moving horses around. The driveway was straight up impassable in places. But... Y'all have seen the maps so you know there's also plenty of non-paved surfaces too. 

So luckily we were able to crisscross around a couple different pastures to make our way up to the indoor (leading the horses in hand, obvi) reasonably safely for last week's lesson.

narrow raised poles on the diagonal
To be perfectly honest.... I generally avoid the indoor at all costs. They replaced the footing last year with a very nice, very high quality textured sand. But.... It's just too deep imo. The arena is only 20x40m anyway, which already makes it hard to get a big horse moving forward. Add in the footing and... yea, it's just about not worth it. 

Luckily tho, they've been planning an overhaul and finally received the shipment of new fiber material. I guess they're going to remove some of the sand and level the whole thing to a shallower depth. Then add the fiber -- which I guess creates more stability and firmness to the base? Whatever the case, the way they described it sounds pretty great so I'm excited!

long line of trot poles with alternating sides raised
That's still for the future, tho, and for now we still deal with the suboptimal conditions. Combined with a week of horses being basically trapped by ice, we opted for a very very elementary lesson structure: just walking and trotting cavaletti exercises -- staying large around the arena, or following gently sweeping turns across the diagonal. 

frens <3
This was another good lesson for playing "Follow the Leader" and we basically nose-to-tailed it around and around, through and through again - using figures of eight to change directions and work both sides equally. By the time it was all built up, we had something like 9 trot poles in a row, with alternating sides raised. 

At first, Charlie kinda tried to zoom through bc let's be real, homeboy was HYPER after nearly a week of barely moving at all. He even tried to canter through a couple times bc #overacheiver lol.... But once he figured out the trot he actually really lifted his back and pushed through -- adjusting and engaging as he went. 

i spy with my little eye -- bales of new footing!! apparently i'm not alone in finding the current depth a little.... off-putting. looks like they're gonna upgrade the whole thing!
THAT'S the feeling I want in this horse! So often he kinda just Charles Smash!'s his way through difficult obstacles haha, but it's nice to feel like he can actually think through and try instead. 

So I definitely foresee more of this type of stuff throughout the winter. It's not quite as sexy as jumping big upright barrels or giant square oxers or whatever lol.... But it's honestly pretty fun, and perfect for where we're at condition-wise too. 

Anyone seen any good cavaletti patterns I should send over to trainer P haha? We're definitely on the hunt for ideas and inspiration around here.... 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

DIY half pad shims + winter update

It's officially winter around these parts ---- happy (belated) solstice!! Everybody's favorite appropriated pagan holiday, amirite?? 

"where am i?!" -- charlie, probably
Anyway, as is typical in my part of the world -- we went from t-shirt weather two weekends ago (lesson recap probably coming eventually, but there's a video on the sidebar for those curious) to a snow storm this past week. 

"release me from this temporary paddock prison!" -- charlie, definitely
Maryland is right in that perfect dividing zone between north and south where snow storms are fairly common, but are often paired with what we call "refreeze events." Meaning, daytime temps are usually high enough to mostly melt away whatever snow accumulated.... But, only "mostly."

ermagerd, snerw
Nighttime temps, on the other hand, get plenty cold enough for whatever's left to harden into a thick impenetrably treacherous icy shell. So..... Kinda the worst of both worlds, ya know? 

exactly what winter means in the mid atlantic: ice + mud and nothing in between
This obviously makes movement around the farm kiiiiiiinda dangerous haha. In fact -- Charlie's winter turnout was inaccessible for a couple days bc it was straight up not safe to lead horses down the ice-slicked steep driveway hill. So his herd has been split into two paddocks -- much to their immense dismay. 

These horses are.... used to having room to roam. The small paddocks + unpleasantly icy ground means they're not moving much and have wayyy too much pent up energy lol. It's... exciting

prolite shim + dover sheepskin half pad
I figured tho that this little temporary period of being 'grounded' would be perfect for tackling a new DIY project. You see, I love my monoflap L'Apogee saddle with the fire of a thousand burning suns -- and Charlie has never given reason to believe he feels otherwise. 

behold, possibly my jankiest DIY to date
But trainer P has always had just one qualm with the saddle: her biggest 'thing' with saddle fit is channel clearance -- the room between the saddle's gullet and the horse's spine. Ideally you should be able to easily fit a few fingers into that gap even while seated in the saddle. 

couldn't find the third rear prolite shims, but figured this would be a good experimental proof of concept
The L'Apogee is on the wide side for Charlie, but padding it up with this big thick fluffy sheepskin from Dover has been more than sufficient to keep him comfortable and moving freely. One major advantage to sheepskin (similar to wool and other natural fibers) is that it doesn't compress to nothing (unlike some cheaper foams) -- so there's always cushioning. 

custom cut pieces from a yoga mat to fill out the rear
However, I also have on hand these really excellent shims from my Prolite half pad that are made from a super high quality foam that also doesn't compress (as demonstrated by the fact that some of these shims were used fulltime during the Isabel years and you can't even tell). 

So I wondered.... Was it possible to add pockets to my existing sheepskin pad for the shims?

fewer pieces turned out to be easier tho. using yoga mat for the rear shim
Sure sure, these types of pads are available on the market -- anywhere from ~$300 for the high end Mattes pads, to similar variations on the much more economical end of the spectrum.... But -- I already had all the materials on hand, so why not? 

pocket material is felt, hot glue gunned to the half pad
Sadly I couldn't find the rear prolite shims at first, so I sewed on a pocket (made of t-shirt material) with just the front and middle shims. This was enough of a 'proof of concept' to demonstrate that the shims definitely gave us the clearance we wanted without otherwise disrupting the fit. 

Except -- downside: as expected, only using the front and middle shims meant that more of my weight was concentrated on a smaller surface area on Charlie's back, vs utilizing the full length of the saddle panels. 

reasonably even sweat mark!
Once I knew the idea worked tho (after a couple test rides etc), I went back to the drawing board to figure out how to fill in the rear area for even contact. Some folks have suggested cutting up yoga mats as shims, so ultimately that's what I did here.

The new pocket uses felt hot-glued onto the half pad to accommodate the new shims. I left the prolite shim up front since that tends to be the most sensitive part of the horse's back (what one bio-mechanics trainer called the "junction box" of muscles from the shoulder, wither, neck and back) and then custom cut the yoga mat to ensure even contact all the way down the panels. 

needs a few tweaks to be finalized (note the safety pin) but pretty happy with performance!
Time will tell how long my moderately-janky DIY will hold up to the rigors of daily use. But.... Ya know, if Charlie stays happy with this configuration that's even more justification to invest in something nicer should this setup fall apart lol.

bc lord knows charlie abuses his clothing haha
Because... Well, let's be real. I can spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over Charlie's comfort and well-being -- like whether he's staying dry and cozy in the storm. When, meanwhile, Charlie was apparently straight up WALLOWING IN A MUD PUDDLE WTF OMG YOU PIG. 

Ahem, cough cough. So... it's entirely possible that Charlie and I have different ideas on "optimal comfort" lol.

hyper pony is hyper
Which brings us to today's other update topic: Charlie's winter wardrobe. This weather has really complicated my efforts to keep Charlie dressed appropriately with only once-a-day (if that) blanket changes. 

some predictable wear and tear already on the shoulder guard
And I've definitely gotten it wrong a few times -- including having to beg barn mates to pinch hit some changes for me... whoops. It's cool tho --- they all know I'm always happy to help with their horses too, so it all works out in the end. 

note i added a loop of baling twine to the front tab to more easily attach to blankets
One bright spot in the crazy weather and blanketing shenanigans tho is this new Harrison Howard shoulder bib. Charlie wears this rub guard any time he's blanketed, and it's gotten about a month of steady use so far. 

overall tho, really happy with this guard!! fit + material are pretty much perfect
Obvi it shows signs of that use -- it's dirty and the branding is peeling off. But.... Honestly? I'm pretty impressed with it! 

I originally had some misgivings about the material but it's really wearing in very nicely. The seams are staying strong - no signs of wear there. Plus the fleecy patches at the wither and base of Charlie's neck are still soft and sturdy. The cut / fit is great for Charlie, and - obvi most importantly - no rubs whatsoever on Charlie's clipped shoulders. 

where there's a will, there's a way
I did end up adding a baling twine loop to the front tab to make it easier for attaching the blankets (to avoid the bib spinning around Charlie's neck). Other than that, tho, I'm pretty pleased with it and would 100% replace it with the same should something happen to it. 

Obvi if you're thinking about getting the same, be sure to check out the size chart. Charlie is 17'hh+ with a reasonably large build for a TB, and is wearing the full/large size. There's room for a horse with larger neck and shoulders, tho, so if your horse has a more petite build you might get away with the cob/medium

mountain goat charlie needs all the freedom he can get from his clothes
So ya know. That's kinda where things stand as we face winter and the impending new year head on. Here's hoping at least the weather improves a little bit, as I'll be taking my annual 'staycation' between christmas and new years and am hoping to fit in some fun adventures. 

Anyone else dealing with sudden onset winter? Or planning any time off?? Either way -- hope you say safe warm and have a very happy holiday!!