Monday, June 29, 2020

did somebody call a doctor? hunter pace edition

Happy Monday, everyone! Teresa is this week's official virtual cookie winner -- since she correctly guessed our weekend plans based off just a single picture of arts and crafts.

But really, is anybody actually surprised? Y'all should know by now that whenever the hot glue gun, felt patches, and fabric paint busts out, it's hiiiiighly likely we'll be setting off on another themed hunter pace haha.

big bay club!!
Tho I admit, everything about this ride was sliiiightly thrown together at the last minute. But with all the pessimism swirling about a potential "2nd Wave" of the pandemic this coming fall, when we heard Tranquility had rescheduled the Memorial Day hunter pace it was a no brainer.

bc obvi what's a hunter pace without some crafts?
As was our theme for the day, naturally: surgical scrubs, EMT labels, and obviously more than a few bio-hazard warning signs LOL.

here's Austin modeling the pretend "surgical cap" bouffant thingys i ordered...
We had a great group for the day too -- our perennial buddies from Isabel's old farm, plus a couple lesson mates from Charlie's farm. Six horses in three trailers, with everyone staying more or less contained within normal social bubbles.

pictured: one very skeptical TB lol
All of the horses had a reasonably fair amount of experience too. It's not unusual for our group to have a mix of very green and more seasoned horses, but actually for this ride everyone was pretty much down for everything -- including some CRAZY FUN gallops haha. Yesssss!

ok so it wasn't our costume A-Game, but we tried!
Charlie, for his part, was WILD, omg. Omg omg hahaha. He was snorting and prancing and cantering in place, and just generally being oh-so-very impressive haha. But also just so so so good <3 <3

It's fairly natural that any horse might not like to be last when all the other horses are galloping away, but oh well, Chuck! Sometimes you have to let the greener horses be in front!

feeling READY!
Anyway, tho, we actually normally don't make it to the spring pace bc in normal years it's held Memorial Day Weekend, which we usually spend competing at Loch Moy. Instead, we typically do the fall Labor Day pace -- which is a shorter track of roughly 1.5-2 miles. This spring track is quite a bit longer, typically 6-8 miles, tho this year was 5.5

lol who needs a theme anyway when you have so many fun friends??
Given that distance, we don't typically warm up before leaving the starting line. The ride starts off in the woods anyway, then spits you out into some lanes surrounding the pastures. So there's plenty of room to get moving around and jumping little logs before you reach the xc fields.

charlie's favorite spicy little nugget friend Austin and his rider C!
Basically, the way the ride works is you enter a class as a team, then try to get as close to the pre-determined optimum time as possible. Only catch is.... the optimum time is a secret haha. So it's up to the riders to decide how fast to go. Some areas are better suited for walking, some for galloping lol -- and you essentially just do whatever feels right.

Bentley came along for the ride too -- with plenty of warning signs LOL
The organizers know what's up, tho, and always pad out the times with the expectation that riders will pause along the way to have fun schooling all the various xc jumps strewn all over the place. And this farm has A TON of jumps, oh man. 

wheee jumping things!!! see the snoopy paining??
Esp jumps in the 2' - 2'6 range -- there are so many options all over the place, it's a really really really great farm for taking a young horse out for mileage and experience.

They don't have many jumps above N, but that's ok too, ya know? Like, I definitely wanted to jump stuff with Charlie, but it didn't exactly need to be a super serious schooling either haha.

i kinda love these twisty table things
And Charlie was obviously wonderful. We got to do a few lines of nicely sized fences, but mostly just galloped around and jumped whatever the horse in front of us jumped LOL.

we jumped this corner too, while Rachael and Cherry showed that ramp who was boss
We also got SUPER LUCKY with the weather too, thank the lort. Originally we were expecting highs in the 90s with sun and humidity. But... somehow, the cloud cover stuck around with a persistent cool breeze. Especially in the woods it was downright pleasant.

yay for fun horsey adventures!
Plus recent thunderstorms meant the ground was in fairly fantastic shape too, tho I iced Charlie's legs afterward anyway. All the horses seemed really comfortable running and jumping on the ground and I don't recall seeing anybody slip or anything either.

heck yes for professional hunter pace riders lolol
So ya know. All in all, basically a perfect adventure for getting out with the horses after being cooped up in quarantine for so long.

As much as I love horse showing, and lessons, and training, and all the "serious riding" things... sometimes you just have to get out and have fun and enjoy just living in the moments with these amazing animals.

Also I hope you enjoy the video haha.... there was something like THIRTY freakin minutes of footage on my helmet cam, and whittling it down to just the most action-packed moments was a fun challenge lol. Mostly bc.... Yea this is definitely the kind of ride I love to relive again and again haha.

Some fun key moments include:
- Most of Charlie's xc schooling starting around 1:46
- That time we almost accidentally murdered a fawn around 2:23
- More xc schooling at 3:48
- Punky trying to lose his shit at 5:07
- Trying not to die going down a steep slippery slope at 5:37
- Galloping flat out around 7:12
- Laughing uncontrollably while Charlie flips out and bolts at a tiny jump around 9:24

Plus ya know.... So many other fun moments and oh my god so much running around hahaha.

obviously all recorded on ye olde helmet satellite camera for your viewing pleasure ;)
So ya know. It was a weekend well spent lol - and I'm already looking forward to next time!

Do you like this sort of group ride too? Is your horse good in a group, or kind of a spaz? Or have you not had a chance to try it before? Anybody else trying to get in on adventures while the gettin's still good? And assuming the world hasn't completely ended by Labor Day.... anyone wanna come out for the fall pace with us too?!??

Saturday, June 27, 2020

ponies, ponies + more ponies

Happy weekend, everyone! It's gonna be a sweltering hot day here in Maryland... BUT!! If everything goes to plan, we'll be heading out for our first post-quarantine horsey adventure!! Yay!!

Things in Maryland are slowly opening back up again. Like the Waredaca Brewery, that held an outdoors-only Charity Night in support of City Ranch last Thursday!!

Personally, tho, I admit to feeling faaaaairly pessimistic about whether we'll be able to keep it up. All the numbers in Maryland look pretty good right now after we were completely shut down for two full months. We've also been required to wear masks in places of business for just as long. 

And ya know, it's worked for us here. We've slowed the spread and new cases are down. 

Other states have taken different approaches and are experiencing very different (and alarming) trends, tho. And being totally honest here, I feel very little confidence that uncontrolled outbreaks won't spread again.

Which.... the prospect of potentially losing access to my horse AGAIN is.... really disheartening. We'll see what happens tho, I guess. 

In the meantime... I'm just focusing on making good choices and enjoying each moment with my horse at the farm. 

Which... Thankfully has been helped in large part by having NEW BEBE SHETLANDS at the farm OMG!!!!!

These ponies are so frickin cute and friendly and playful, omg, and Charlie and I just love walking past their pen before and after all our rides <3 <3 <3 

So obviously I had to catch a couple cute videos of them - including this second video where the little brown Hop A Long came over to try to touch noses with Charlie omg! 

Despite all the craziness and uncertainty happening elsewhere in the world, being able to come visit all these sweet animals is really the absolute best. Like the two little Shetland stallions (like new daddy TT, the black stallion!) who live in a pen right next to where I park. 

Getting out of my car after the ~40min drive to be immediately greeted by those noses is basically amazing haha. 

As is, obviously, new barn cat Mikey. This cat has settled in to barn life so freakin well. He's friendly, sociable, actually hunts mice, and basically immediately decided that the barn was indeed his home. And boy, does he own the place lol. Literally every time I see him, he's lounging around in some other new little nook or cranny lol. 

There are more than just domestic animals at the farm, too. It's entirely possible that I'm imagining things, but it really seems like there's been a distinct uptick in wild animal activity since quarantine. 

We've seen everything from birds, groundhogs, deer, and foxes omg allllll over the place. And gosh I just love them -- esp this little fox above who I guess has an evening commute that cuts through the jump ring, since I've encountered her a couple times during my rides lately lol. And she is bold omg

So ya know. Things around the farm are good haha. Charlie is good. We're having a good time right now. And who knows, maybe I'll be proved wrong in my pessimism about the fall lol.

But that pessimism has to be good for something, right?? So. As a little hint, here's a look at some recent crafting efforts that may or may not be related to today's planned outing. Yesssssssss.

Any guesses what we might be up to?? Virtual cookies to anyone / everyone who figures it out lol.

So yea. Here's hoping for a fun socially distant summery weekend of horsing. Are you getting into anything in particular? Any fun plans? Or maybe it's gonna be a quiet weekend for enjoying some down time?

Am I the only one feeling increasingly anxious about the prospects for another shutdown? Or maybe you're not even thinking that far ahead haha?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

charlie's bitting journey

Believe it or not, we're rapidly approaching the 4 year anniversary of owning Charlie Murray! Wayyyyy back in September 2016, I met Charlie at After the Races - where he'd been for about a week following his final race the month before.

I didn't get to ride him during that first meeting but felt confident enough in his disposition that we'd be ok. And, spoiler alert, we've been ok haha.

pc Austen Gage
It's been a crazy ride ever since -- with both of us having to do a LOT of learning lol. Charlie obviously had to learn to be a riding horse instead of a race horse. And we all know about all my own many imperfections and shortcomings as an adult amateur trying to figure this whole eventing thing out.

So I figured it might be fun to spend today reviewing where this journey has taken us through the specific lens of bitting.

Herm Sprenger loose ring KK Ultras, one in Aurigan alloy, the other is maybe just silver?
Charlie's first set of gear and equipment were virtually all handed down from Isabel -- including his loose ring Herm Sprenger KK Ultra bits. I discovered these bits with Izzy, and have more or less stuck with them ever since.

They're simple and straight forward and in my mind are a "neutral" sort of bit, from which you can figure out if anything else is needed. For Charlie, they were an excellent starting point.

heavy silver eggbutt snaffle
At an early clinic, Stephen Birchall suggested something different: a big fat single jointed snaffle, which I found on eBay for like $20 using the keyword "heavy." The idea was to make the bit a nice friendly place for Charlie to go by using something fatter and more stable.

But ya know... a clinician only makes recommendations based on what they see that day -- vs a regular trainer who sees a bigger picture. My normal dressage trainer C disagreed with this bit choice since it enabled Charlie's leaning habit. Thus, we returned to the KK Ultra.

Myler Correction bit
Time went on and Charlie plateaued in his flat work. Which, ya know. He raced until he was 7. He carried his body and used himself in the same way for a long time, plus he's just a big old lumbering giant. So that spring, Brita suggested the bit that helped her OTTB Wick have a breakthrough.

The Myler correction bit is a LOT of bit, and inspired a fascinating reaction in Charlie. I doubt he'd ever worn anything like it before, tbh. This clearly wouldn't be for "every day" use, but we probably rode in it every few weeks, 4-5 times total. Just like with Wick, it helped Charlie have an "aha" moment about how to shift his longitudinal balance - after which I could get the same feeling with the loose ring KK.

Herm Sprenger KK with Universal cheeks + leather curb strap. pc Megan Kiessling 
Meanwhile, Charlie's tendency to lean and pull was becoming increasingly apparent as we dove into the 2017 competition season. Getting run away with at Jenny Camp - Charlie's first proper Intro xc course (that basically amounted to a sliiiightly watered down BN) proved that.... the loose ring snaffle was probably NOT our xc solution LOL.

Herm Sprenger KK with Universal cheeks + curb chain
So I found the exact same Sprenger KK mouthpiece bit, but with some oomph via the Universal elevator cheek pieces. I put two reins on this bit to start, and later added a leather curb strap.

Still got absolutely run the fuck away with in this set up at Fair Hill (we ran the intro here even tho Charlie'd already done his first BN bc.... I was worried the BN at Fair Hill would be too much -- esp with Charlie's WATER ISSUES), so we replaced the leather curb with a chain.

This would continue to be our jumping setup for a long while.

Myler Comfort snaffle
And in the meantime, we always ended up coming back to the Sprenger KK Ultras for dressage after every other experiment. That is, until the winter of 2018 when I decided to try Charlie in a Myler Comfort Snaffle for the flat.

I can't remember exactly why we tried this... but probably bc we again felt a little stagnant in the work. Honestly, tho, the stagnation had more to do with my skills in training the horse than in him having the wrong bit. But we stuck with the Myler for more than a year anyway.

Myler Comfort in action
Notably, over time I found myself using the dressage bridle with Myler bit more and more often in our jumping lessons and at-home schooling, reserving the KK Universal elevator bit for xc outings or competitions.

Eventually, I made a second jumping bridle with the plain KK loose ring on it. When Charlie ended up going very nicely in it, I decided to ditch the Myler altogether for dressage too.

mechanical hackamore
Then in late 2018, after struggling with Charlie's sulking and getting behind my leg at Plantation, I experimented with jumping in the mechanical hackamore.

Typically that bridle was reserved for trail rides or conditioning work (trot sets, etc), but actually I really loved the feeling Charlie had in it. He had complete respect for the brakes, didn't lean on it, and always gave me the feeling of wanting to add more leg -- generally a successful recipe. Only downsides were that it wasn't great for flatrwork or steering.

mechanical hackamore + Sprenger KK Ultra. ooooooh boy did this setup inspire some hate mail!
So I continued the experiment in the spring of 2019. I wanted to try using the hackamore in competition, but felt like I still needed a snaffle particularly for the warm up and turning questions.

To do so, I picked up a different style of mechanical hackamore with thinner shanks that wouldn't interfere with the snaffle cheeks, and used rein converters to hang both the snaffle and hackamore from a single crown piece.

hack-a-snaff in action
And oh my word, some of you fucking HATED this bridle haha. Hahahahaha.

The snaffle on it's own? Fine. Hackamore on it's own? Fine. Put them together, tho? Honestly you'd have thought I was literally trying to kill poor long suffering Charles, and probably some puppies too, based on the judgmental and hateful comments lol...

getting runaway with in the hack-a-snaff. pc GRC
But ya know. Fuck that haha. Bc it turns out -- while this get up wasn't our permanent solution, I credit it (much like the Myler Correction bit from above) as a game changer for Charlie.

We rode in that bridle a grand total of three times: twice at home, and once in competition -- where, yes, I still got runaway with and had to do an emergency circle after nearly dying at the water LOL.

back to the Sprenger loose ring KK
And you know what? That was the moment Charlie finally realized that, despite his years as a race horse, the game was no longer about getting home as quickly as possible. Suddenly, from there out, I had a ratable, adjustable horse on course - in any bridle.

Which, naturally, opened up a whole new world for us haha. Suddenly, we were getting better results even in the loose ring KK for jumping -- like at the above jumper show.

Sprenger Universal KK, single rein + no curb strap. pc Amy Flemming Waters
And at this point, I decided to simplify things with the elevator bit. We ditched the double reins and the curb chain, and honestly never really looked back.

Sprenger Universal KK, single rein + no curb strap. PC Austen Gage
With Charlie's growing education, it became easier to ride him faster while trusting that the brakes would still work. Whereas before, I'd always wanted to ride him a little too under the pace since it was never really clear if I'd be able to stop him once he got rolling.

basically just recently realized i never shared these pics <3 <3. pc Austen Gage
For me, the biggest proof of concept was when we finally started completing full xc courses without needing to circle to regain control or balance at any point.

And esp in the derby we did last winter (source of these previously unpublished pics by Austen!!), we were finally able to ride more forward without ever really flattening out or anything.

the bestest horse ever, and his little antlers too!! pc Austen Gage
So far this year, we haven't actually ridden in the KK Universal elevator at all yet. The couple times I've gotten out for xc have been in the loose ring snaffle or hackamore, and we did all the jumper shows (Oldfields here and AOPF here) in the snaffle too.

I'm curious to try a rein converter on it now to dampen the curb more while still using a single rein. Hopefully will have an opportunity soon to experiment. We shall see, I guess!

It's interesting looking back at what effected change in Charlie, and what didn't. He isn't a horse with many opinions about mouth pieces (for instance, single joint, double joint, etc) but cheek pieces make a difference. Likewise, he is a quick learner but simultaneously kiiinda dull, lol. It's taken some fairly "loud" adjustments to clue him in.

But once he "hears" me, he figures it out and listens better the next time. This aspect of Charlie's trainability gives me hope that I'll be able to continue shifting focus away from the brakes and toward more and better forward riding on my part. 

Or at least.... That's the idea LOL.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Keratex hoof hardener: results?

Charlie's most recent shoeing appointment was May 19, after which I took pictures of each hoof for documentation and reference. You might remember from that post that each year I end up completely caught off guard by how quickly his feet fall apart with the fresh grass.

His hoof walls practically start crumbling all around the clips and nail holes on his shoes, and if I'm not careful, Charlie will literally walk right out of his shoes.

pictured: big ol' brontosaurus on kinda not-that-big feet. plus, obvi, the dweebiest forelock in all the land
I've asked just about every professional on Charlie's team, including farrier and vet, what else I could be doing to promote a stronger and healthier hoof. The consensus was... I'm basically already doing the right things (nutrition + topical applications), but probably need to do more of them.

Specifically: Charlie's farrier suggested I apply keratex hoof hardener as near to daily as possible, whereas previously I'd tried to do it 2-3x a week. His reasoning was that apparently there are polymers in the formula that build up and bond together on the surface of the hoof wall -- helping to create more durable elasticity. The more often you apply the keratex, the stronger this bond.

closer look at dem feet
I'm no chemist so I won't pretend to understand, or promise that I'm relating the details accurately. But ya know. I pay the farrier for his expert opinion, and this was his proposed solution to our problem. So I followed his advice for the entire cycle.

Charlie's on the schedule for a reset tomorrow --- and will go into leather pads up front too. So I figured now would be a good time to take updated pictures to see how the hooves held up after roughly 4.5 weeks of near-daily keratex applications.

Focusing today on the fronts since they're the biggest problem children.

right front - outside. this hoof occupies most of my attention...
And I gotta say, these pictures are really hard to take haha. It's near impossible to get the same dimensional level of detail as what you'd see with the naked eye.

For instance, the above section of hoof is kinda the worst of them all. The whole shoe seems a little shifted, tho it's still on nice and tight. And so much wall has chipped off from underneath the nail clinches that they're sticking out a bit.

But.... For as raggedy and ugly as it looks, it's really not all that much different from 4.5 weeks ago (aside from the shifted shoe).

right front inside - some cracking happening
Ditto the inside of the same hoof. Actually, this view doesn't look particularly terrible at all -- tho you can see how trouble might be starting to brew.

left front inside - more or less the same as 4 weeks ago
I always get the most nervous about the inside walls, since protruding nail clinchers are basically lacerations waiting to happen. So far, so good, tho with the left front inside.

left front outside - big chipped out section that's been fairly stable
And actually, even tho this chipping is pretty massively hideous, it's managed to stay fairly superficial over the last few weeks, despite very dry hard ground. You might remember, the hoof already mostly looked like this at the last shoeing appt.

I'm particularly pleased the section below the old nail holes at the front of the hoof still hasn't chipped off -- since it's generally the older nail holes that are prone to weakness and chipping.

not too bad from a distance!
So, all in all? My verdict is that the daily keratex isn't necessarily a silver bullet, but does appear to have helped improve the hoof wall's stability. It definitely slowed down the rate of cracking and chipping and wall loss, vs a less frequent application schedule.

Which... matters, bc once those cracks and chips start appearing, it's really really hard to stop them. Very dry and granular conditions, like hard sandy arena footing, still created more chipping and wall loss, for instance. But it still feels like we're finishing the cycle with more hoof than I initially dared hope for.

lots of t-cells blowing through lately -- hopefully will mean softer ground!
The hope is that most of those rough areas will get trimmed or rasped off tomorrow, so that we'll start the next cycle in a better position than last time. Hopefully haha. And in the meantime I'm just gonna keep the keratex train chugging along lol.

We've started getting summer thunderstorms around the city too, which could help keep the ground a little softer. The storms are hit or miss, tho, since they're just small hot cells. A couple have hit the farm tho, so we'll see.

poor charlie and all his little dings
Lord knows Charlie needs all the help he can get! This horse, I swear. Every day it's something new with him. You all remember that nasty bite on his girth groove from a couple weeks ago (jusssst barely visible in the pic above), but check out his other latest adornments!

yep, looks like teeth marks to me!
I thought I was so clever with that girth bite mark about just going ahead and riding the horse bareback, and joked that Charlie sullenly grumbled about getting his friend to aim for the back next time.

Well.... Turns out, joke's on me, I guess. Bc yea, the horse totally came in the very next day with a giant swollen lumpy back haha. Guess that's what I get for tempting fate??? Luckily it was just superficial and healed quickly.

this tick had a white dot on its body, which the google tells me means it was a lone star tick. this variety does not transmit lyme, but can carry anaplosmosis. which... apparently has a nearly 14 day incubation period, wtf
Charlie really does love to blow up at the drop of a hat -- such a delicate hot house flower!

Like, check out this tiny little tick that appeared to have just recently latched on to his shoulder, of all places. Not exactly the most inconspicuous location lol, esp with Charlie's enormous reaction.

Sigh. First tick of the season is always kinda a bummer.

new salt block has been getting attention!
And ya know. It really is getting to be summer around here. It's hot, humid and buggy, bleh. But ya know, also pretty nice haha. I guess being cooped up for so long this spring during #quarantine makes ya appreciate the little things -- like the first sunburn of the year.

Charlie's doing just fine too, even with the hard ground. He's got his stall fan up and running, and has taken a liking to his new salt block!! Plus I'll probably start him back on e-lytes soon too.

Originally my plan was to sorta cruise through the summer and look toward getting back into action for a fall season. But.... Lately experts are talking about a "second wave" starting on the {oddly specific} 15th of September so..... Ya know. Who really fucking knows, right?

So now my idea is to just keep Charlie feeling good and happy, get his feet stabilized in good order, then LEAP at every fun opportunity that presents itself to us during these coming weeks. Literally and figuratively, LOL. Bc... idk, any long-term planning just seems way too unreliable right now, ya know? Anyone else feeling the same?