Thursday, February 27, 2020

the anti-grid grid

After a few days of gorgeous and DRY weather after what felt like weeks of rain, the morning of our most recent lesson dawned gray and soggy. Womp haha. At least the footing was pretty much perfect tho after the dry spell!

pics today are mostly unrelated. just random snaps from my phone! here, i can't tell if he's trying to optimize his head height for scritches, or if his head is just plain ol' too heavy haha
This was my first chance to fill in the gaps for resident upper level event rider K about what, specifically, Sally had said about Charlie's uphill balance during our clinic a couple weeks ago. And to start thinking about ways to continue developing the horse's canter in that direction.

And true to form, trainer K had a great exercise for us to try. We warmed up with a figure 8 pattern over two simple verticals first. Wherein we pretty effectively demonstrated the whole "little short here, little long there" pattern haha - especially off the R lead. Then it was on to the exercise!
the grid in its final form
from L to R: a set of low verticals 1 stride apart with placing pole between, left side of placing pole raised slightly. 4 strides to oxer, with plank placed along the left side of the line of travel to discourage drift. V-poles placed on oxer to improve straightness.
It was a grid, but also kinda not a grid at the same time, if that makes sense. Or, rather, still a gymnastic exercise - but spread out over slightly longer distances.

Often when I think of a grid or gymnastic, I'm imagining a combination of elements that flow fairly smoothly across short distances (bounces or 1 or 2 strides) from one to the next without requiring a lot of adjustments from the rider. Like, it's the rider's job to arrive at the first element at the appropriate speed / balance / straightness / etc, and to stay straight down the line. But generally that's kinda it - there isn't usually a whole lot of room for much else.

charlie looking at me like i just interrupted a moment here
This line was a little different bc the final element was spaced just shy of 60' from the start of the grid. That's..... plenty of room for stuff to happen LOL. Plenty of room to get in trouble ;)

charlie creepin on the new barn cat
The line started by two relatively low verticals with a placing pole between them. I didn't ask the exact measurements here, but knowing trainer K's focus on improving our balance on a 12' stride, I'm guessing the verticals were north of 20' apart. 

This one stride grid, combined with the bounce pole in between, was intended to get Charlie lifting and using his shoulders. As you all may be perfectly aware, he kinda likes to jump a little flat and across, without necessarily a whole lot of lifting up. Theoretically, these first few elements would help set the tone for Charlie.

tho no cat could ever compare to chatty cat from isabel's barn, who i saw over the weekend while building the standards!!
But then.... We had 4 strides (on a sliiiightly shorter than true distance, not quite 60') to actually try to hold that together. So, in other words, we had to actually kinda work for it lol, instead of letting the grid do the work for us. Does that sorta make sense? 

out wanderin the farm. they finally filled in the massively eroded canyon on this sweet uphill path!
It was actually pretty interesting, too. Like. I'm almost positive that I've ridden very similar jump configurations before. The part of the T show jumping course at the Aloha HT that we actually completed before I fell off had almost the same line, but backwards (so a long line into a one stride).

And I bet if I dug around long enough I'd find examples of something similar with trainer P, who adores grids and gymnastics of all stripes. Tho, she sets almost everything on a shorter compressed stride.

wanderin the fields with lesson kiddos. i wonder if these kids realize how lucky they are haha #kindajealous
That's all well and fine and dandy for practicing, but what I've learned with Charlie is that the balance he holds on a shorter stride doesn't necessarily translate when I go to ride him on a true 12' stride. And.... our competition courses are all set on 12' strides sooooooo, we probably need to fix that haha.

Thus explaining why we've been doing so much work on making Charlie adjustable and rideable in a more forward and 'true' canter. And why, even tho this exercise kinda looks familiar to me, it rode quite a bit harder.

another day, another rain storm.... charlie makin new friends in a temporary paddock while waiting for the farrier!
Charlie, for his part, wanted to drift a little left. No doubt some symptom of codependent compensation between our mutual crookedness haha. Also possibly a way for him to add back in that extra distance to make the oxer easier on himself haha. So trainer K added some features to the exercise to help with that.

Actually it was mildly hilarious bc I saw her put the plank on the ground, but did *not* see her raise one end of the bounce pole. So when we got into the exercise we were both like, "OH!" and then had to scramble a little to keep moving down the line (Charlie legit stepped on the plank too, whoops!).

and, naturally, charlie not even bothering to wait for me to leave before getting himself all up close and personal with that wire fencing.... ugh
It worked out tho. We just kept cycling through off each lead, usually beginning each turn with some rideability exercises via transitions between walk-trot-canter to get Charlie up immediately in front of my leg.

It was hard tho, way more work through a grid than I expected lol. We were both huffing and puffing by the end. There were some really good efforts in there, tho. Trainer K is trying to help us find a different "sweet spot" for our takeoff distance, since I tend to want to get Charlie a little close. And this really seemed to help with that - esp as it relates to helping *me* get more comfortable with that distance .

We'll see tho. It seems like every winter we get back into "Grid Bootcamp" -- especially when we're confined to the tiny indoor. But with this crazy mild winter, the outdoor has stayed usable and so we've continued on coursework and whatnot. So it's kinda nice to practice grids again. Actually, if all goes to plan, we'll be doing some more gymnastics this weekend -- with Martin again!! So stay tuned for that.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

How to build jump standards

Alternate titles for this DIY project:

"How to build jump standards with inexpensive material, limited tools, and basically zero experience!"
"Jump Standards for Dummies!"
"Can you believe I still possess all ten fingers after this?!?"

Ahem, haha. Moooooving on.

gosh, aren't they pretty tho??
So it's been a couple years since my last DIY jump equipment post. You might remember, back in early 2015 Isabel and I contested our second ever BN at Waredaca, and had a completely shocking and unexpected refusal at an unassuming little white lattice jump on xc.

After which, naturally, I made it my business to familiarize Princess with said lattice. Lol... And thus was born the simple DIY Lattice Gate.

sketched out plans on graph paper to help create materials list
That project was a lot of fun, and I've sorta toyed with all manner of jump / jump equipment DIY ideas since then. Finally tho, the time was right. I asked the management at Isabel's barn (my old stomping grounds!) if they would reimburse the cost of materials in exchange for me getting experience building them some standards.

Obviously they said yes haha. Who wouldn't, right?

if you were ever curious about whether i drone on irl the way i do in writing, here's yer answer lol

I sketched out some plans on graph paper - including trying to figure out the right scale for everything. A lot of folks in a lot of different tutorials and forums suggest all manner of various dimensions for these pieces, but my final materials list is as follows:

For one complete set of 4' standards:
-  one 12'x2"x8" board
-  one 8'x4"x4" post
-  sixteen 3" exterior decking screws

measuring tape was helpful haha
In terms of tools used for the project, there are many options. In very broad strokes, however, you need some variation of a:

- measuring implement
- cutting tool to break the lumber down to size
- drilling / driving tool for assembly and the jump cup pinholes
- 1/2" drilling bit for the jump cup pinholes
- bit to drive in your screws

honestly not sure i've ever used a circular saw before this. turned out to be pretty easy tho!
I used all cordless Ryobi tools bc that's the type of batteries I have, and it's easiest to stay with one manufacturer. For this project, I used my circular saw, drill, and hammer drill. The hammer drill was..... ha, overkill lol. Buuuuuut it certainly made quick work of the job!

the "feet" are taking shape!! only needed approximately 8 million cuts with the circular saw lol...
Anyway. My plans called for each standard to have a single 4' upright, supported by a base made up of four "feet."

I therefore used 8' 4x4"s to make the uprights, but if you wanted taller (or shorter) standards you could obvi adjust as needed. Pressure treated lumber can be heavy, so keep that in mind when considering what height you really need.

beveling the edges seemed like a nice touch. the 1/2" version (second from left) turned out better than the 1" versions tho (all the rest) esp in terms of making my imprecise cuts/measurements less obvious lol
The base pieces were cut from the 2"x8" board, and one 12' board breaks down perfectly into eight 18" segments.

I've seen plans that called for using 2x6" boards, and using lengths shorter than 18"... but this was what looked best and most proportional to my eye. Considering the materials for this type of project aren't exactly expensive (I made three complete sets for ~$60), it doesn't make a ton of sense to skimp on dimensions.

everything smoothed out really nicely tho with a block plane!
Too-small dimensions will just make the standards look janky, and possibly reduce their durability long-term. Considering there are already plenty of other ways for these things to come out looking.... definitely homemade haha, the dimensions don't need to also contribute to that effort.

drilling the pinholes was hands down the hardest task - luckily a woodworker friend made me this jig
Anyway. The construction couldn't be simpler. My local hardware store cut the 12' boards in half for me, then I did the rest of the cutting back at the barn. Reducing each 2x8" board into 18" segments.

I also traced an angle on to each base piece to cut off the top-facing 90* corner. This makes the standards look nicer, but also makes them safer. It's one less pointy bit to step (or fall) on when things go a little sideways....

originally tried to use a 1/2" auger bit, but it kept getting stuck in all the wet wood chips
As a totally optional design feature, I cut a bevel into the tops of each standard. My circular saw has a base that can be adjusted to any angle up to 45*, so this was actually pretty easy to do. Tho I wasn't particularly precise with my cuts or measurements, and.... You can tell haha.

1/2" spade bit + hammer drill = emma's winning formula
Still tho, I think it does make them look more finished, and most of the unevenness in appearances worked out with a block plane and sanding. For future projects, I'll start my bevel about half an inch from the top instead of the full inch I did this time.

hardware rated for exterior conditions is important, since these standards will live outdoors full time
Also optional: I pre-drilled the screw holes into all my base feet. I'm like 87.5% positive that you could definitely skip this step and have it not make any real difference.

But supposedly this step helps prevent splitting the boards when driving in a screw. And anyway, I wanted more experience operating the drill so I was fine with the extra effort. YMMV lol..

also found it helpful to get all the screws started in the base pieces before trying to assemble everything
The last big step before assembling the standards is to drill all the pinholes. I guess you could do it after attaching the base too.... but it seemed easier this way. And "easier" is key bc this was without a doubt the hardest step of the whole project.

Drilling 4" holes into wettish pressure treated lumber took a lot more effort than I expected. And my first attempt was a complete fail, even with an experienced woodworker supervising my progress. I used a 1/2" auger bit, and basically as you drill down you want to occasionally pull the drill back out to release the accumulation of sawdust. Otherwise that dust just keeps compacting into the bit and everything seizes up.

My timing and technique were.... not good haha, and so the bit kept jamming, sending my poor Ryobi drill into a smoking fit.

Swapping out to a spade bit (still 1/2" diameter) made a huge difference. Especially since there's more clearance around the shaft of this bit for all that sawdust accumulation, so it's a lot harder for it to get totally stuck. I also swapped to a hammer drill lol. A bit more power never hurts ;)

a better work bench or more clamps would have made attaching the feet less awkward, but honestly this was maybe the easiest step
Once I had the new set up, we were smooth sailing. My woodworker friend also made me a little pre-measured jig to line up and clamp down for all the pinholes. This was handy for feeling like I could get all those holes drilled pretty quickly. But after a few uses, the holes started getting blown out and less accurate.

So some of the standards have pinholes that are a bit visibly misaligned. Nbd tho, they all still fit with normal jump cups. If I were to repeat the process, tho, I'd just measure and mark each hole location myself and skip the jig.

and ta da!!!! the standards have come to life!
Once all the holes are drilled, there's nothing left to do but screw on the bases! This was kinda awkward for me considering my somewhat amateurish power tool skills, combined with not having an appropriate work bench or enough clamps or whatever lol.

But once I figured out I could start all the screws in their base pieces ahead of actually attaching to the upright, we were in business.

this treated lumber will take a few months or even a year to dry before it should be painted, but they're ready to go!!
And, ya know, that's basically it! The standards could use a little finish work like sanding etc. But realistically they have to dry for a few months to a year before they can be painted, and they'll probably have to get sanded at that point again anyway. So I just left them as they are for now.

Overall, the project was honestly harder than I expected. Especially in terms of the actual physical strength it takes to handle the lumber and operate everything effectively. For instance, I have tiny little hands and every tool is somehow jusssssst barely too big for my reach haha.

Even so, tho, it was a super rewarding project and was very beginner-friendly. I have all manner of more complex or "exciting" jump equipment projects. But these humble standards were a great first go. Plus naturally any lesson program is always eager to have new equipment haha.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

an uphill battle....

See what I did there??? Har har har, I crack myself up lol.

Ahem. Aaaaaanyway. Moving on.

If you read the recap from my recent riding lesson with respected 5* eventer Sally, you'll recall  the lesson ended with a somewhat abrupt warning that: I won't be able to do what I want to do with the horse if I continue letting him travel in his current way of going.

She clarified by saying Charlie has a very pleasant way of cantering on along, but that he's too horizontal in his longitudinal (nose-to-tail) balance -- bordering at times on being downhill.

Arriving at the jump a little nose-heavy really limits our options in terms of adjustability -- and results in either our patented goofy leaper, or a squishy chip. This isn't such a big deal for Charlie when the fences are small, but the risks increase with fence size. Little misses pack more of a punch at bigger fences, and we risk Charlie quitting... or worse. Our ill-fated move up attempt at the Aloha Horse Trials comes to mind....

we have so very very few nice dressage pictures (and ever fewer of which are even somewhat flattering haha). this one is from may 2018. pc Austen Gage
So anyway. After obsessing over meditating on this little nugget for the last couple days, I have a few thoughts.

First and foremost: This is not the first time I've paid for this lesson, LOL. And actually, allllll the way back in May 2015, in the height of the Dan Days, I quoted him as explaining that, "when he tells me 'forward' what he really wants is more lift through the shoulders and 'jump' in the canter."

So... haha... it's a familiar story.

But ya know. As with just about anything in life, knowing a thing is not the same as doing a thing. Conceptually, the idea of lifting my horse's shoulders makes sense. I understand, in a sort of academic way, what basic mechanics have to occur for the horse to undergo that shift in balance. To lighten his front end, step under with his hind end, activate his abs, lift his back. These are all perfectly reasonable words, yes?

Perfectly reasonable words that I've been instructed upon, and have dutifully recorded here in ye olde training log, for actual literal years at this point. Perfectly reasonable words that I continue to pay for the privilege of having repeated at me again and again and again.

august 2018
Because it turns out I still don't really have a good feel for it. Sigh.

But ya know. I DO still have a very VERY crisp memory of crashing into that fence at the Aloha HT haha.... And.... looking further back, of running right on past Isabel's tipping point, to where she started reliably quitting at fences.**

(**Granted I'm still fairly convinced there were underlying physical issues going on that I was not granted permission to pursue.... But it fits the pattern. If her hocks or something were bothering her, she'd have been increasingly less comfortable shifting her weight back -- and we had increasing difficulty in getting to jumpable takeoff spots.)

So... Eh. Maybe now is the time to really dissect, inside and out, what it means to ride a horse "uphill." To really figure out not just the mechanics of getting there -- but also learning the feel for it, and committing that to muscle memory.

Seems doable, right? Maybe??? lol...

september 2018
Anyway. Obviously. My first step was to consult The Google. Which proved fruitful when the first search result was this Horse & Rider expert advice column by Paul Friday called "Create an Uphill Horse."

While there were some annoying and all-too-common circular explanations in the article ("concentrate on achieving a more uphill canter!"), it actually had some good actionable nuggets.

For my own purposes with Charlie, they were:

1. Rhythm.  First requirement is a consistent tempo and energy in the paces. I've been riding with a metronome since December and can confirm it's helped our balance substantially. It highlights the wide range of "energy levels" Charlie can have within a steady tempo, and keeps me honest about disrupting tempo when making smaller circles or lateral movements, for instance.

february 2019. pc Austen Gage
2. Pace. Paul writes that riders may naturally want to slow the horse down in an effort to help carry more weight behind, but that this becomes counterproductive by disrupting the horse's balance. It's critical to keep the horse carrying himself forward with impulsion.

3. Tension. A horse who is tense or tight in his back or top line will not be able to effectively shift his weight. Riders should focus on keeping the horse feeling loose and relaxed. Charlie likes to get tight right at the base of his neck directly in front of the saddle -- obviously a pretty major impediment to actually lifting through that area haha.

4. Impulsion. Paul writes that you're not likely to be successful in getting the horse more uphill if he's behind your leg. Which.... yeeeahhhhh haha, this is a struggle. To which Paul prescribes riding lots of transitions. Lots and lots. And also testing the quality of the connection. Can you move the horse from a higher 'competition' frame to a lower schooling frame? If not, that's a pretty good sign that there's a disconnect somewhere.

april 2019. pc Austen Gage
From there, the article goes into some specific exercises:

- 10m circles play a big role, as the author notes it's easier to get a horse lighter up front on a bend than on the straight. (But only if the horse is in front of your leg!)

- Lateral work is a theme too. At trot, he recommends leg yielding from center line to rail, then moving into shoulder-in. It's a simple pattern but I actually like it a lot, esp intermixing it with the 10m circles.

- At canter, the article suggests transitioning between haunches-in and shoulders-fore, with a 10m circle thrown in there too. Personally I'm less likely to adopt this exercise yet as I worry about accidentally riding Charlie crooked in the canter.

- Transitions within trot, mixed with 10m circles. Notably, this is the same approach Teresa suggested too. For where Charlie and I are in our training, tho, it's too easy to let this exercise mask Charlie getting behind my leg, so I'm reluctant to spend a lot of unsupervised time on it. Rather, I'll take the same approach but with complete transitions.

 june 2019
So. Yea. There are some themes here: Small circles, simple lateral work, and literally all the friggin transitions haha. I can do that! Thanks, google! And thanks, Paul!

In a way, tho, it's oddly gratifying that the prescriptions for getting a horse more uphill are all rooted in 1st / 2nd level dressage work. Which, you may notice, happens to be exactly where Charlie is. To me, this is reassuring, because it means that maybe we're right on time in addressing this aspect of his training, vs somehow wildly behind the curve.

Anyway. That was overall a very useful consult with the internet. I'm also obviously going to consult with the professionals on our team whenever we get our next lessons etc.

In the meantime, tho, there are a couple other ideas too. Mainly, and in general terms, I want to get Charlie really really fit. Possibly more fit than is really necessary for the level. With the hope being that: maybe if he's crazy fit, he's more likely to keep going and cover for my mistakes lol. We'll see how that all goes!

 november 2019
And, I also want to get more serious about our canter work. Jess from Hilltop tried to get us doing canter-walk transitions this past summer, mainly with the help of the arena walls. I more or less immediately abandoned that exercise tho haha - partly bc it's hard, and partly bc our dressage court is lined by small railroad ties that Charlie will most certainly jump over.

A riding friend suggested that I could try the exercise using spirals in the canter instead. Making the canter circle smaller and smaller until the walk transition is right there. So we'll see. Either way, we're gonna get serious about making canter-walk a thing.

And counter canter. We already do a little bit almost every flat ride -- sometimes just a shallow serpentine, but more usually a single figure 8 on each lead. I'm thinking it's time for more, tho. Counter canter is a great strengthening exercise for horse's hind end (actually, counter bends in general can be really useful), and every little bit helps.

So that's the plan haha. For now, at least. Until the next big "thing" crops up in our training lol. Bc there's always something urgently needing fixing, amirite??

Monday, February 17, 2020

SJ clinic with Sally

It's actually almost exactly one year ago that Charlie and I had our first lesson with the renowned 5* event rider Sally Cousins, who just so happens to be based most of the year on the Route 1 corridor in Pennsylvania.

such a treat to ride in a large bright indoor with dry footing!
Sally is extremely well known throughout this region as a talented and insightful coach and clinician. As such, she maintains a regular teaching schedule at various venues in PA, MD, and even down in SC where she's based during the winters.

Charlie lives fairly close to the Route 1 corridor, so we've been able to get in on Sally's schedule quite a few times over the last year. Including a couple lessons up at Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra facility. And also, now for a second time, show jumping lessons at the small private Kealani Farm in West Grove.

very few straight lines in this course aside from this outside gymnastic 2-to-2
Kealani is drop dead gorgeous - a compact but extremely well thought-out property that maximizes every inch of available space. The overall feeling is one of luxurious proportions, especially in the middle of mud season haha.

I swear it took basically our entire warm up on the flat, and even our first few jumps, to get used to dry predictable footing again LOL!

measured at 32'-32', vertical oxer vertical. measured short, but didn't ride short considering we were in an indoor
Anyway, tho. Due to our mild winter, Charlie and I have stayed in fairly consistent work. Especially with drilling into the technical nitty gritties with resident upper level event rider K lately, I'm feeling better than ever about the quality of Charlie's overall way of going.

You might remember that last year in our first lesson with Sally, she really zeroed in on my inability to corral Charlie's outside shoulder in turns. Well. Ever since then we've been working on it haha!

And I'm pleased to report she didn't breathe a word about "outside aids" during this entire ride. Yessss lol.

Obviously, tho, that's not to say that she didn't find other deficiencies haha.... Hahahaha.

there were two lines that looked like diagonals set on the inside. actually rode in bending lines, scribing the outline of an hourglass
Overall, Charlie was an absolute rock star for this ride. I legit could not be more pleased with how he behaved. He was so squarely plugged into "work mode" that literally every time it was our turn, I could barely pick up my reins before he'd step immediately into canter, and always on the correct lead.

That's..... not a degree of push-button responsiveness I'm used to in this animal haha. And certainly not in any sort of sustainable fashion. And yet, he kept it up the whole ride. Never once soured or sucked back. Just always stepped up and went. Was extremely responsive, and did every single thing I asked, whether I knew I was asking or not haha.

the most cleverest horse through the bounce!
The course was fairly basic: an outside grid set for a 2-to-2 gymnastic. Two inside bending lines both measured for 4. One of which ended in a simple bounce. And a single oxer on the other outside. None of the jumps were particularly large either.

The other three members of my group were regular Sally students, and as such we sorta fell into a well-oiled rhythm. Each rider was quick to take her turn, and nobody had any real issues. So we moved quickly through all the warm up exercises of getting through each individual element, and then each set of lines, before finally finishing with the full course.

it's my impression that charlie dislikes jumps with eyes LOL
Sally's biggest points of feedback to me were:
- Moar canter (obvi)
- Sit up
- Bring him back into shape sooner after each jump

This last point was possibly her biggest issue. I have a habit of letting Charlie spool out into his little "victory gallops" at the conclusion of each go, but Sally said it was time to cut that out. She wanted me bringing him back immediately, asking me what I thought would happen if we jumped a big table but then had to turn immediately to a corner?

So. Ya know. Noted, haha. Charlie will certainly come back after a fence. If I ask him. And... I haven't really been asking at the conclusion of a course. Now I will. Good feedback, thanks lol.

took a few efforts to clean up this bending line but charlie was so good!
Her other overall takeaway was a little less easily actionable. She basically said, in a somewhat abruptly blunt fashion, that I'm not going to be able to do what I want to do with Charlie if I continue to let him travel in his current way of going.

In other words, she said he has a very pleasant way of cantering on along. But that he's very horizontal or level in his way of going (think: nose to tail), bordering at times on being almost downhill. And that this is why we often can find ourselves being a little off in our distances at fences.

We can be a little long here, a little short there, again and again and again. We can be cantering on along very pleasantly in what feels like a good rhythm and impulsion and ground cover and connection, and all the things. But then we get to the jump and it's like, "oooh, now what?" And it's because sometimes we get to the jump with Charlie being just a bit too nose-heavy. Which limits our options in terms of adjustability.

finished with a long straight shot at the oxer (with fox cutouts as filler!!)
This all makes perfect sense to me, conceptually, tho I admit to being a bit frustrated that the commentary came after the lesson was over and I'd explicitly asked for a summary "takeaway" from the day. Like. Ok. So our balance is all wrong. Great. What the ever loving fuck am I supposed to do about it????

It was especially frustrating bc I felt like we've been working so hard on Charlie's canter these last few months, and he feels better today in his adjustability and responsiveness and agility than he's literally ever felt... ever. So like, to hear that it's still not good enough was a bit gut wrenching.

Luckily tho, this was an early win for the year in feeling like my quest for "mentorship" was the right call. Because instead of spiraling into an existential crisis about this feedback, I simply relayed it back to trainer K. Who was like, "Oh ok, that's a good outside perspective. We haven't specifically focused on that element of balance in our canter work, but can begin to bake it in."

Whew! Lol...

So. Yea. It was a really great lesson for a few reasons: Charlie was a star and easily handled every single aspect of this lesson. Plus obvi riding in nice dry footing this time of year is an absolute luxury. It was also a clear demonstration to me that we are, in fact, in a different and improved place of our training from this time last year. Especially vis-a-vis straightness in turning. Hell yes!

The blunt after-the-fact feedback of, "oh by the way you won't meet your goals going the way you are now," sucked more than a little bit of oxygen out of the moment for me.... but again. After checking in with K and a few friends, it's now feeling like more of a well-timed temperature check so that we can start making adjustments now. Theoretically lol.... Hopefully?

In the meantime. You'll find me furiously googling all the forums on how to improve uphill balance in a horse's canter lol. C'mon, Charlie! It's time to tuck that butt and start pushing!

Friday, February 14, 2020

deceptively tricky lines

We're having an extremely mild winter so far, tho obviously even writing that out is tempting fate haha. Temperatures lately have hovered consistently around the 40s-50s during the day, and have stayed above freezing overnight.

That will probably change soon enough (February and March are our most typical "winter" months it seems), but combined with the near-constant rain lately it's meant that ground and riding conditions have been yucky muck.

charlie has the prettiest dad bod in all the land!!
But ya know. That's fine haha. A lot of people like to give their event horses time off over the winter anyway. From what I can tell, tho, most seem to be in a big rush to start the vacation around November or December -- when there's still perfectly good ground conditions for riding in my area. I personally prefer to wait, and let my horse's break coincide with the grossest dreariest darkest days haha.

To be honest, tho, I don't generally give Charlie a full and complete vacation unless medically required. He's a high mileage model who feels his best when kept in motion haha.

So for the last couple weeks since Oldfields, we've mostly been just hacking out, wandering the fields, trails and lanes around the farm. Occasionally trotting and cantering where the ground permitted, but mostly just strolling. It's been nice!

riding the bend to the rainbow standards, from which we'll land and bend back to the brick walls in the center of the picture
This week was time to pull it back together tho, starting with some more purposeful trot sets and reintroducing dressage schools into the mix. Then, finally, a jump lesson! And damn but this horse just felt great in his body.

I'm really loving these lessons with our farm's resident upper level event rider K, too. It feels like she has a plan for us, a vision. She comes to each lesson with a specific exercise for us that's specifically related to our particular strengths and weaknesses. And each lesson feels like it's building on the previous exercises.

There's been a progression, and I'm really diggin it haha. This summer we sorta started by working on getting that consistent 12' canter stride. Then that progressed to being able to balance within that canter to make short turns. So so so SO many turning exercises haha. But reeeeally focusing on that canter in the turn.

we've been practicing short turns to jumps. um. uh. can you tell??? lol.... long live the dinosaurs in tar pits!
And now, in this lesson, we're refining further. Not just keeping the 12' stride in a forward balance, and not just turning within that canter, but getting nittier grittier into changes of bend - multiple changes in a row. All in the same canter.

The kernel for this most recent lesson was planted a few weeks ago when we had two simple fences, separated by an indeterminate but lengthy distance, that were slightly offset. But rather than jumping either on an angle, we were to jump both of them straight on, and execute a modified "S" curve between them.

That exercise was actually really interesting to experience bc my immediate reaction was to shut the canter wayyyyyyyyy down. Which... Obviously was not the objective haha.

So this week the same concept showed up again, but at much shorter distances. Also thankfully at fairly small jump heights too, so we could just focus entirely on the task at hand without me getting excitable or risking knocking anyone's confidence if we made mistakes. Which... We did. Many, haha.

Again, the jumps were spaced at more or less indeterminate distances. And, believe it or not, this was maybe one of the first jumping exercises I've done in recent memory where I *wasn't* counting strides between jumps. Like, sure I was still counting my rhythm, but not the distances.

It wasn't until I watched the video later that I saw that they were basically all roughly ~5 stride lines (tho I'm fairly sure we did 6 a few times over the course of the lesson!).

All that to say - it's a flexible set up.

mostly straight at the point of the jump itself, but already preparing the next bend
Essentially, again, the point was to be more or less straight to each fence. To achieve the changes of bend promptly and smoothly. To be set up for your next fence prior to taking off at the current fence. To maintain a forward balance in the canter without letting the front end get heavy or strung out.

And it was fascinating. This very simple set up allowed us to make almost every single mistake. But it was always very apparent what the mistake was in each instance, and not at all in a punishing sort of way.

sorta kinda chipped this one, but the better balance in our canter made it nbd
At first I wanted too stagnant a canter. It made fitting in the bends easy, but the jumps were a bit too labored, too "up and down" instead of across.

Then I let the canter get too forward and escape out the front. The jumps had a nice forward energy with Charlie reaching nicely "across" them, but the bends sorta got away from us and we ended up jumping the fences at angles instead of more straight on.

lol i like this part of the video bc trainer K is immediately like, "YOU'RE FINE KEEP GOING!" and ya know. we were fine. this is exactly why sweet baby jesus blessed us with two feet - so one can be more disposable! (i kid, i kid!)
In order to help keep the forward balance without losing shape, I needed to be looking for a canter that felt like we could, at any given moment, at the drop of a hat, immediately circle left or right. While maintaining the same forward balance, of course.

Because it turns out, when Charlie's a bit flat and strung out, there's really only one direction his energy can go and it's directly straight ahead. Imagine the feeling of aiming a runaway horse at a wall and feeling like if he veered to either side you might fall off. That's an extreme example of all the energy running straight out the front.

this horse really has come so far in his own body awareness and balance
Instead, what we want is all that energy to be balanced underneath me, coming from the hind end. So that, no matter where we are in the exercise, I could feel like I could ask Charlie to circle in either direction and he'd be able to do it without requiring any major shifts in balance.

Or at least, haha, that's the goal, right? That's the holy grail. I'm not sure we ever quite got there, to be honest. And in fact, we never actually had a quite-clean run through the pattern. Like, for instance, this video was our last run through and I knocked a friggin standard down with my foot bc we drifted too far to the inside, whoops.

But.... the feelings were there. And I really liked how clearly this jump configuration laid bare those feelings. It was deceptively simple in construction, but definitely super instructive. I'd guess that even at ground poles or cavaletti height it'd still work. Tho with a horse like Charlie, everything is always a little easier when he has an actual jump to look at lol...

So yea. It felt like a nice test, and a nice exercise for getting back into gear. With any luck, spring will be here before we know it. Or, ya know, maybe old man winter will actually get around to showing his face first?? Who knows. Either way, we'll be ready!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

10 reasons my horse is a goon

So. Charlie. He's an interesting sort of horse, ya know? Many many many redeeming characteristics, sure. He's gentle, kind and generous. With a disposition that's sweet and steady, while also keenly observant and intelligent, calmly confident.

Charlie is a clever horse who is generally in command of how he navigates the world around him. And he does so by believing, inside and out, top to bottom, that *he* is the center of the universe. He seems to truly believe that the rest of us have all been placed here for the sole purpose of petting him, telling him he's pretty, and giving him treats. And occasionally to gallop him across the open countryside with reckless abandon.

Ya know. My kind of horse haha.

There are other aspects to him, tho. Things that maybe you don't notice at first. But that, the more time you spend with him, the more you realize that.... Charlie is a weird sort of horse haha. Equal parts goof, goon and geek lol.

So let's look at some examples, yes?

1. He's kinda creepy about kids / ponies / dogs / pigs / small things

Charlie is a heat-seeking missile when it comes to small children. And small ponies. And small dogs pigs and cats. Literally anything small. Charlie's into it.

It's cute because he's a big giant horse. Buuuuuut....... If he had a mustache and drove a van, you'd probably call the cops.

 it's extra weird if you hum the "jaws" theme song....

2. Charlie has extremely dweeby hair

Being totally honest with you, I bought Charlie bc he's down for face hugs and has good hair. His mane and tail are full, thick, and luscious, plus super fast growing. Except. EXCEPT. His forelock....

He has a very unfortunate cowlick. Plus, homeboy somehow managed in the last couple weeks to rip half of it out, thus doubling the dweeb factor in the process....

pretty much the standard state of things

but wait, something is different....? where'd the right side go?!?

excuse me sir, but HOW?!?
3. He has a penchant for choosing the "hard way."

Sure, Charlie is inside his own damn stall. He could just, ya know, move his body to the other side of the open door to eat from his hay net. But noooooo, must go *over* the door.

He routinely pulls this same style move when trying to snag hay grass and/or water over fences too. Or, ya know, his extra special patented move of stepping *into* the water trough when drinking, rather than simply standing at it.

this is why we can't have nice things, charlie
4. Actually, he's kinda a weird drinker over all.

I'm grateful that Charlie is a good drinker in that he will, in fact, drink when he needs to. But... still. He still finds a way to be weird about it.

Charlie LOVES drinking from puddles. Is absolutely insistent upon it at times. Nevermind that he was just in a stall with fresh clean bucketfuls of water. This muddy puddle has his name all over it. Or that scummy pond. Whatever.

Long term readers might even recall that for his first few years as an event horse, we'd routinely stop in the middle of our (un-timed) xc runs for him to sip from the water complexes.... Stunning virtually all the jump judges lol.

mmm pond schumm is delishus. also, he's a snotty sorta bro bc of his tie back surgery.... 
5. Like any prince worth his salt, Charlie makes me come to him.

Especially if it's extremely gross mud. Yes I lost both my little rubber boot covers in this escapade.... bleh.

legit was tempted to hop on Tommy to ride the rest of the way to Charlie LOL

6. He's.... kinda weird about touching things. ALL the things. 

Charlie is a tactile sort of horse. He likes to get all up close and personal with his surroundings. In this video it's a tractor. Really tho, it could just as easily be a water spigot*, door knob, your pocket, a kubota, the trash can... Really, anything.

*Remember that time he got his halter stuck on a water spigot while confined to small paddock turn-out? But then he got stuck and ripped the friggin spigot straight out of the ground and flung it across said paddock, and proceeded to flip the ever-loving fuck out as water gushed out like a geyser flooding the paddock? Yea. It's this aspect of him that led to that catastrophic turn of events...

7. Charlie has the most giantest mushiest smooshiest nose and absolutely nobody can resist the urge to smooch it. 

"resistance is futile"

8. He is extremely photoshop-able 

9. Charlie loves his own reflection

"what a stud!" - charlie, probably

10. And naturally, despite all the weirdness, he's still basically the best ever. 

photoshop-able AND photogenic <3

What about your horse -- anything weirdly endearing about your creature too??