Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Great Meadow 2020

Great Meadow's CCI4* was held this past weekend -- one of the very very few 4*s around this year. Meaning it was an absolutely packed division chock-full of world-class riders and horses. The event promised to be very exciting with a lot of action in what has otherwise been a fairly bleak FEI competition landscape.

And obviously I was excited to get down there to see it all unfold -- dutifully signing up for a volunteer role for the privilege.

so excited to watch horses jump through the blue numbers again!!
Because... We all know the USEF Action Plan, right?

In essence: 
- Everyone wear a mask, no exceptions
- No spectators
- Only participants directly involved in the care of the horse / competitor, or sponsors providing direct services to the competition organization are allowed

So..... I was surprised to see tailgates (and LOTS of them, wow) set up all over the GMI grounds. Standard tailgates -- just like I've done in years past at Fair Hill and Kentucky -- long lines of tents right next to each other, each filled with party groups.

And people out there with the whole kit 'n kaboodle: champagne and picnics and sunhats (must protect from the sun!! tho, notably, very few masks haha. very very few).... Ya know. The usual. It's a great way to spend a summer day outside, enjoying the company of your friends, and spectating as incredible horses and riders conquer unimaginable obstacles....

one area of tailgates -- you'll see they're fairly prevalent throughout the video across all main features and combinations on course
Except, wait a second -- isn't spectate the actionable word there? Isn't that.... exactly what the USEF prohibited above?

Turns out, nope. I guess those tailgate fees (ranging from $125 to $5K+ at this particular event...) are all that's needed to be considered the "sponsors providing direct services."

GMI's website explains in more detail below: 

colorful emphasis mine. orange = GMI rationalizing why tailgates packed in like sardines are ok, while green = GMI very sadly saying that the poor humble general public can't be allowed.

And ya know... I guess this makes sense on paper. I totally 100% understand that every single aspect of the horse sports community is under extreme pressure and duress because of Covid.

These are massively expensive events to pull off, and general admission and/or parking fees don't come even close to footing the bill. A $5K VIP sponsorship tent tho? Yea, that helps. So... Ya know... Financially, I get it.

But it bugs me. It doesn't feel in keeping with the whole global pandemic environment. Because again, and I can't stress this enough, the tents were all lined up in a row, each filled with unmasked party-goers. But maybe the sponsorship fee also inoculates against the virus?

I was kinda further bugged at how, presumably in further efforts to subsidize the event, access to all the content and live stream coming out of it (for all you rubes who couldn't cough up the tailgate fee) were likewise kept behind a paywall.

gosh but i love watching them go, live and in socially-distant-person! this particular combination is always crazy to watch -- esp bc the horses always seem to handle it so well
Sure, the $9.99 for a one-month subscription to Horse&Country probably isn't much in the grand scheme of things... Esp for hardcore eventing fans starved for action.

But idk. It kinda leaves a bad taste in my mouth, combined with the high cost of entry to the event itself. Which, in case you weren't aware, also offered national divisions -- not just FEI classes.

My impression is that.... It feels like the little guys in equestrian sport are getting the squeeze, while the big fish get to carry on as usual.

Small local horse trials must operate under the same USEF rules, tho they don't have the draw of ritzy tailgaters to help subsidize costs. And, obvi, nor do they get the live stream coverage for the various family, friends and supporting cast members who weren't allowed in under the 'no spectators' policy.

i match the jump!!
And, to be perfectly honest, it's been my experience at HTs since competitions started running that compliance with the USEF rules is much much more strictly enforced at HTs than it was at this major FEI event.

Idk, I'm not trying to make any grand statements on the rules themselves here. Because basically I'm just a rules follower -- I'll do what the folks around me are doing, ya know? I comply with the rules that are necessary to keep these events running, because I love horse shows -- going to them, riding in them, volunteering at them...

What bugs me tho is that the rules are unevenly applied. Especially when the implication is that the rules bend completely with the application of a little cold hard cash. Because.... I really don't think pandemics work that way haha.

So idk. I'm glad I went to Great Meadow bc the show itself was amazing -- the grounds are so beautiful and there were so many incredible horses and riders to watch. And, perhaps more importantly, I'm pleased to be able to offer you a highlight video that won't cost $9.99 to watch with purchase of a H&C subscription haha.

So ya know, enjoy that lol. And maybe share it with your friends too. Bc fuck it, we should all be able to enjoy this sport we buy into with our own memberships and entry fees, right?

And in the meantime, I'm honestly a little skeptical about implications this might have for future access to upper level events and related coverage in the future. Once venues get a taste for raising the cost of access, will they really want to let that go? Or maybe you think I'm overreacting to organizations doing what they gotta do to exist in these "unprecedented times"?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

resistance bands for riding?

A couple days ago a friend reached out about a clinic she was hosting featuring Molly Kinnamon and the Equiformance Posture Sling system. Apparently she'd had some last minute cancellations, and did I want to come?

I did a quick gut check (and a little googling haha), and decided, why yes! I would like to come!

strapped in and handcuffed haha
The clinic venue was super close to where Charlie lives, the gadget seemed interesting, and Molly is a pretty legit rider who I wouldn't mind emulating haha. So, off we went!!

I figured there was maybe a small chance it'd be like a pyramid scheme type thing where the whole purpose of the clinic was to sell riders this gadget.... But I trust the friend who invited me and knew a lot of the other folks who were doing lessons too. And luckily that was not at all the case anyway haha.

preparing the torture devices
So. The clinic was billed as being a lesson predominantly for the rider -- but actually Charlie ended up getting a bit of a run for his money too. In a good way, tho, I think.

Molly started by watching us do an unguided warm up for a few minutes, where we trotted and cantered around for her to get a sense of how we go. Which.... Well, you all already know how we go haha.

Charlie was a little sluggish and I did all manner of contortions and interpretive dance moves to get him going.

charlie was an absolute pro chillin at the trailer while i watched the earlier lesson
Then, out came the bands! Basically, the idea is that the gadget - the Equiformance Posture Sling system (essentially giant rubber bands) - operate by squaring and stabilizing the rider's position in the saddle, from shoulders through hips to heels.

this flashy young thang was a hard act to follow lol
It kinda holds you in a position where your hip angle is more open with shoulders open and upright stacked on top of your torso, if that makes sense. It also felt like it really sat me in the saddle, vs the sorta tipping forward half seat thing I like to do.
but we tried! 
Molly wanted to see me loosen my entire leg from hip to heel, and push down on the bands. She said I've essentially trained Charlie to lean on my leg, to push into it, when in reality I need to take it all the way off.

She said the tight closed leg is actually what's blocking Charlie from stepping up and under, and that I need to "open the channel," and bump him up when he needs to go, rather than nag.

This is... obviously not new information haha. In fact, it's reflective of basically every lesson with dressage trainer C ever. The difference tho, is that the band helped me feel what my legs were doing. It gave me something different to push against instead of Charlie's side, and also gave a different feeling when I let the leg get curled up again.

Obvi the bands aren't a silver bullet, they didn't just majikally eradicate this lifelong habit... But possibly they helped my muscles get started on learning a new way?

lol emma... these things that you do, don't
Moving up from the legs, we get to the torso. Which... well, it's all related. I want to grip with my legs, which pops my seat out of the saddle and tips my torso forward. Esp in canter transitions, I reeeeeeally feel like I have to make big moves in the saddle to get Charlie to go.

When... In reality, those big moves are specifically blocking his forward. Again, this is not new information (haha, who remembers my last lesson with Isabel and Stephen Birchall where we worked on nearly this exact same thing??).

And again, the bands didn't fix it or entirely prevent my dance moves. But I could feel what was happening in a new way -- and maybe develop more awareness?

d'aww charles, good boy
Then naturally, from the torso we get to the shoulders and arms. Molly observed how I try to do all the work of the connection with my hands and fingers, including all manner of wiggling around and breaking my wrists and various other shenanigans.

She wanted me to really surrender to the bands and let my shoulders be pulled down and back, with my elbows hanging down and back too. She said to imagine I was holding a ball between my wrists. Then actually put another resistance band around my wrists, such that I was holding my hands maybe close to 12" apart, against the band, but with the side effect of bringing my elbows back closer to my body.

still trying to break my wrist even with the handcuffs
My forearm and hands were essentially supposed to be neutral conduits to the elbows, which hung down from the shoulders (rather than carried floating forward like I want), and here was where my connection to the bridle should live.

Again, say it with me here: not new information. Basically a pretty solid flashback to my first dressage lesson at Hilltop, actually. Just a new way to help me actually achieve the correct feeling, so that hopefully I can reproduce it again on my own.

Because we allllll know that *knowing* a thing is not the same as *doing* a thing. And doing the things is hard, it turns out, haha.

it's not a silver bullet by any means, but it helped me "feel" 
The most interesting feeling came in the canter. Molly described how you would jump on a trampoline -- you wouldn't hunch forward with feet together to jump up and down. No, you'd have legs set apart with body upright to jump up and down on the trampoline. You can see her demonstrating these positions in the first few moments of the video, actually.

Thinking about that while wearing the bands in canter really helped me get a different feeling in how I sit the canter -- something that's been a struggle for... hm, oh, ya know... forever lol. So it was really cool to maybe finally feel what it's like when I'm closer to where I should be.

"are we there yet?" - charlie, probably
So essentially, the rider takeaways match exactly with what every other trainer ever has told me lol. I have bad hands and clingy legs, whoops! But maybe now I also have a feeling for improving.

Thinking about "holding a ball between my wrists" while keeping my elbows back and down is really helpful. Rather than trying to wiggle my hands all around and take the contact to Charlie, I need to just set myself and let him come to me there. Likewise, creating the channel for his body with a loose leg pushing down is another sensation we hopefully made progress on.

For Charlie, the lesson was actually a lot more work than I expected. Molly agreed with every dressage judge ever in saying he needed more activity behind. And thus proceeded to "be the activity" for Chuck, much to his immense dismay lol.

She spent a fair portion of the lesson tickling and teasing him with the dressage whip to create more energy while I worked on my position and not nagging. Charlie.... eh... he did not love this lol. In a way it was actually super reminiscent of his first ever ground work lesson after I got him, where we worked on applying pressure to get a forward response.

Then, once we were really going, we moved into a canter exercise that seemed specifically designed to bring Charlie's inner dinosaur-stuck-in-tar-pit back from extinction. We'd canter halfway down the long side, then halt, then half turn to the outside to reverse direction, and as he was just finishing the turn (with inside leg stepping under), cue immediately for canter again. Rinse, repeat, again and again (all in video).

Guys, this was a challenging exercise for Charlie (and me too obvi lol). It's got all the elements to really push his buttons, especially with someone hassling him from the ground with a whip haha.

would rather be trail riding <3
Bless him, tho, not only did he hold it together, but he really really tried. Even when I was blocking him or making mistakes, he just kept going and trusted that even tho this puzzle kinda sucked, there would probably be an answer in it somewhere. Which is 100% not a thing he could have done even just a couple years ago. So, good boy Charlie!!

I liked that exercise a lot too, but need to think a little bit about how to replicate it on my own sans band (or someone on the ground keeping me honest about my position).

All in all, actually, I'm really looking forward to my next ride to see how much of these feelings I can reproduce, or whether I feel a difference at all.

The resistance bands were a really interesting experience, possibly one I'll repeat again. Mostly tho, what I appreciated most about this lesson was how immediately it zeroed in on my core positional issues and how they relate to Charlie's ability to go forward. If the bands can help me make progress there, I'll call it a win lol!

Monday, August 17, 2020

derbies #4lyfe

Charlie and I finally managed to hit up one of Fair Hill's fun Derby Cross events this week, after having eyed them on the calendar for ages. And guys, these events are hands down my absolute favorite.

my unsuspecting victim 
These are meant to be fun, low key, and inexpensive schooling outings for low level riders, with levels offered from Intro to Novice. The course is set up in Fair Hill's Sawmill field -- the same location where they hold the Young Event Horse Championships and run the national horse show divisions.

return of the leather curb strap
One big difference from the normal horse trials, tho, is that they let competitors park in the adjoining field typically used for the 3*, 4*, and 5* stabling. Which.... is kiiiiinda a big deal haha. Because anyone who's ever competed at Fair Hill before knows that there's a massively long walk between horse trial parking and this field. Seriously brutal haha.

So getting to park right next to where we'd be riding felt like a luxury, tbh.

the squad had other fish to fry this weekend -- don't they look great??
Plus, believe it or not, Charlie actually hasn't been back to Fair Hill since 2017. Considering it's so close to home, it felt like the perfect opportunity! Esp since I'd be going solo. Charlie's barn had another home show this weekend that I was 100% not doing, lol, but all our typical riding buddies were entered (and did ahmazingly!).

fair hill's sawmill field. pink circle around the show jumps, green lines for the xc portion
In a way, tho, I actually appreciated the opportunity to just get out by myself. Charlie and I had a little bit of a score to settle after that disastrous horse show a couple weeks ago lol, so this was our time to shine.

show jumping! water combination is right behind those trees
So anyway. About the derby cross itself. If you watched that YEH video linked above, then you already know the format. It's basically all the best parts of eventing, and none of the fluff (ahem, cough cough, looking at you, dressage!).

actually had little combinations too
The course begins with a small show jumping course - in this case it was 8 fences with three related lines. Throughout which Charlie actually knocked my socks off with how reasonably (and cleanly!!) he approached it all -- zero rails!!

I watched a lot of horses do the add strides and expected we'd probably do the same, but Charlie was actually able to go right on ahead and do the step without getting wild or flat or running. Which.... is exactly what we've been working on in lessons, but was not at all apparent in the show a couple weeks ago. Oh well, whatever, Charlie was perfect for this portion so that's good enough for me!

line of coffins on a surprisingly downhill approach
After the little show jumping course, you proceed directly on to the xc portion. From what I gathered discussing the course with other competitors, basically nobody walked the courses in advance haha -- myself included. Because it's really that low key and informal haha.
hunting down the flagged jumps, tho in retrospect you probably could jump anything out there
It just meant tho that everything you came upon on course was cold to horse and rider. Honestly tho that was totally fine. Everything was very straight forward and the jumps were very kind. Tho if the idea of riding xc without walking it first makes you squeamish, obvi it's fine to walk it too.

choo choo!!
For my purposes, not walking didn't really create any issues. I kept my eyes out for the flagged jumps, and then assessed each line we approached to decide which element I wanted to jump. Usually I went with the biggest of the available selected fences.

But sometimes not -- like when I jumped the BN version of the very first set of xc jumps. Mostly bc the N jump looked like too fussy a line, and the jumps were all small enough that the difference in size was negligible for Charlie anyway. I also did the BN ditch line bc it was a super downhill approach and I continue to be terrible at riding downhill to fences LOL.

this N trakehner has been on my "to do" list since the Isabel days. finally knocked it out tho!
In retrospect, there were a couple lines that had T jumps right next to the flagged jumps that I'm sure literally nobody would have cared if I had jumped those instead. It was just hard to make those snap judgement calls in the last moments of approaching a fence. Oh well. At least there was one T fence included in the flags -- the blue train engine!! So that was fun (esp bc we got a FLYER to it haha).

AND, Charlie got more trakehner experience by skipping right on over Fair Hill's N version. These have always struck me as pretty nice and inviting trakehners even tho they're kinda big. Maybe bc the ditch part isn't so dug out and boxy as some others? Idk. I've just always wanted a shot, and was pleased to finally get it.

awwww who remembers charlie's "watery thoughts" from the old days about this water? 
The course finished with a little splash through the water, with all the jumps still set from the recognized HT last week. Charlie hasn't seen a new water since last fall, but still just jumped the jump then cantered right on through to the jump on the other side. What a good boy ;)

"did i win??" - charlie, probably
And that was basically it!! Not a particularly long course, which is a little on purpose since riders are encouraged to take multiple trips if they want. I did not want, tho. That ride was absolutely perfect for what we set out to do: get out and jump some jumps, and have fun while we're at it.

Boom. Mission accomplished haha.

So these events are super straight forward. There were volunteers out there to "jump judge" but honestly I think they were there mostly just to ensure safety. Because as far as I can tell, nobody was scoring or keeping track of rails or time or whatever, or noting what level jumps you rode. There's no leaderboard, no ribbons, none of that haha.

obligatory #covidstyle mask pic
It's essentially just glorified schooling, with a predetermined course set up and ready to go. Which, wow, I really loved that haha. And I think Charlie did, too. He was super for all the jumps even when we didn't get perfect striding. Wasn't rude at all in the bridle, and definitely not running away from me. Like, he got strong in places -- but in his normal Charlie way. And was polite about adjusting.

good boy winding down with some grazing before going home
So that's all super reassuring haha. I mean, I'd hedged my bets a little by adding flash and curb straps onto the bridle -- both of which he'd previously gone in regularly. Ooh, and obviously I changed my fucking reins out lol.... And I think it made a difference, definitely had working brakes, huzzah.

def wanna go back with friends!
It honestly felt like a criminally short "show" day haha. We arrived about an hour ahead of our ride time, spent something like 25min actually in the saddle, and only just hung out to graze for a little bit before heading back home again. All to the tune of a $40 entry fee, plus perfectly cool and slightly sprinkling weather.

100% will be back for more of this action lol, bc that was perfect. Next time, tho, I definitely want to bring friends. Bc this is definitely the perfect option for riders at basically all levels and interests. Hopefully there are more chances coming soon! Anyone else want to meet up at a Fair Hill derby too???

Friday, August 14, 2020

Charlie Murray in Charge: flashback friday!

Happy Friday, guys! It's been..... hm, it's been a week, yes? Is it even still August? Still 2020? Honestly I'm kinda losing track.... Lol.... Hope you're all looking forward to a good weekend at least.

the fiercest <3
I thought today we might take a little walk down memory lane and look back on Charlie's career as a racehorse -- specifically with media from his final win at Parx in February 2015.

keep your eye on the big star farthest left
Charlie had a fairly lengthy career -- he raced until he was 7, running 33 total races through August 9, 2016 -- almost exactly 4 years ago, can you believe it? He then came home to me one month later in September.

First race was as a 2yo at Keeneland in Kentucky, where he was born, then shipped up to Chicago for one run, and down to Louisiana for another 2 races in early 2012.

"charlie murray in charge!"
These early performances were... less than stellar. Not at all what his first trainers expected after spending $100K at auction on Charlie as a yearling. In fact, his last race in Louisiana featured a pretty abysmal fade out of contention to finish dead last.

But he was claimed anyway on the strength of his pedigree and racing form, plus the new trainer thought she knew what was wrong: the horse couldn't breathe.
actually fought for it down to the wire
So Charlie moved north in early 2012 to be with his new connections, where they got him scoped and performed a tie back surgery.

He also bowed a suspensory somewhere around here, which in a weird way worked out bc it gave the new trainer time to rehabilitate Charlie completely - physically and mentally - from his earlier painful training episodes.

oh my goodness his goofy sweet ears <3 <3 
This new trainer must have really worked well for Charlie bc altho she described him to me as a horse with not a lot of heart in the sport, he did run well for her. During his time in her stables, Charlie won 4 races and finished in the money more often than not -- running in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.

that big star is recognizable anywhere
I try to keep in touch with all his connections, sending them updates at least once a year. And one former owner actually came down to visit Charlie a couple summers ago. Apparently his teenage daughters used to always refer to Charlie as their "baby brother" since their father loved him so much. Is that not actually the sweetest thing tho?

During his visit, he gave me the framed win pictures from this particular race, Charlie's final win. It's not the best shot of Charlie lol, since Charlie's basically running over his handler (something I can personally attest to as a habit!), but I cherish it <3

lol charlie.... running people right the fuck over since 2009 lol
Charlie ran another 12 races after this last win, placing less and less frequently. The way his trainer described it, and the way it looks in the racing videos haha, is that Charlie would get out to the front but then sorta just want to cruise along with his friends. As opposed to the races he won, where he'd get out in front immediately, and stay there.

Finally his trainer convinced the owners to let Charlie retire while he was still sound and healthy -- and avoid risking him getting claimed -- so that he could have the best chance for adoption.

not the most flattering picture, but pretty representative lol
After officially retiring, Charlie spent a couple weeks at the trainer's farm chillin in a field before transferring to the adoption facility, just in time for me to meet him.

Charlie wasn't even on the website yet - wasn't even on my list of horses to look at during the visit. But obviously the facility director knew enough to show off this tall dark handsome gelding with such a sweet quiet disposition haha. And I'm so glad she did, bc right away I knew there was something about him <3

It's fun looking back on these videos, all these years later. I'd never actually watched any of them, tho I'd read all the racing reports. But eh, it was like $8 for a couple days access (and I may or may not have surreptitiously recorded a few of them -- shhh, don't tell!) so finally got to see what Charlie looked like as a racehorse. And, ya know, he looks like my Charlie haha - the same Charlie we all know and love.

Any other OTTB owners out there who obsess and pore over your horse's history? The pedigree, the charts, any videos?? I try not to let my horse's history define him... but still, I love knowing all about it! Only wish I had baby pictures too lol....

Thursday, August 13, 2020

under my umbrella

As promised, I'm still working through mountains of media from the last couple weeks.... including actual lesson video from before our ill-fated show!!!

Resident trainer K often tries to snag a few clips, but it's tricky since she generally has her hands full haha. Obviously Charlie and I like to knock a lot of rails, which keeps her busy when doing coursework where the same jump gets repeated... Ooh, and also, ya know, the baby and baby accessories lol. Which, for this lesson, included an umbrella since it was raining.

basically a bombproofing clinic, amirite?
She managed to get a fair number of efforts this time around tho, and I'm super grateful. There's lots to learn watching the footage too - from both the good moments and the misses honestly. It helps me connect a feeling I have in the saddle with what it actually looks like from the ground.

Plus, watching a video on repeat helps me identify trends or patterns, or precursors to a mistake. Like, usually the "mistake" that leads to a bad fence happens somewhat earlier in the preceding moments -- the quality of the canter, balance in a turn, picking in the "preparation zone,"a moment where I hold instead of adding leg. You know how it goes haha.

the V poles kinda mess with my eye, but they're so good for charlie!! definitely need more of this
We mostly stuck with some basics for the lesson -- starting with a figure 8 ridden over a vertical with "V" poles. The exercise is progressive in that you start with just the plain vertical, then introduce the arms of the "V."

For a spooky, very careful, or green horse, you might even start with these poles as "guide rails" on the ground. Charlie's not any of those things tho, lol, so we started with them resting one end on the jump, spread out with a wide-ish gap instead of a point at the end of the "V."

After repetitions off each lead, the jump is progressively raised with the gap between the poles closed to form the point you see in the picture above. The whole point here (lol, puns) is to help the horse improve his form and technique over the fences -- specifically with encouraging a tidier and tighter front end.

my goodness but i love him
We've also seen the "V" poles used a lot in grids, where the spacing and formation of the gymnastic exercise helps the horse keep his whole body and striding in a better shape and balance, with the "V" poles keeping the horse straight and careful.

This is great for a horse like Charlie, who can be a little blasé about the fences haha. He's a massively capable horse, but his boldness cuts both ways. On one hand, he's very forgiving of my mistakes (and thus, an excellent horse to learn with). But... on the other hand, he finds these fences sliiiiiightly unimpressive lol -- and thus not always worth much effort or care.

believe it or not, this is a different effort than the shot above. points for consistency?
Case in point about Charlie being somewhat unruffled and carefree about the whole thing: at one point as we were circling back to the "V" pole, I noticed trainer K take off running toward her baby and was like, "Hm, that's odd?" as we proceeded through the exercise.

It wasn't until after we'd finished the cycle (quite nicely -- it's in the video!! as is K's oopsie moment, which you should listen to with volume on lol) that she said the umbrella went flying off the stroller right as we approached the jump. Like... presumably Charlie saw the umbrella haha, but he apparently didn't care at all. I didn't even see it -- like I noticed K running, but nothing else. So, uh, thanks Chuck haha, we appreciate your bravery!

Anyway, tho, the "V" pole exercise was pretty useful, as was the figure 8 pattern. Lately in lessons, Charlie's really figured out how to turn well without losing the canter. Like.... It actually kinda blows my mind haha.

This lesson wasn't even the best example of that compared to other recent lessons, but you can sorta tell in how we approached the fence and also particularly in the short turn after the fence (a la Doug Payne) how catty (sorta) Charlie's becoming!! Not that we were able to demonstrate that in an actual competition environment, womp, but it really is happening!

The video is helpful here too tho bc you can definitely see how I lost my eye a little when the vertical and "V" poles went up past T height. There's a couple spots where you can pretty clearly see that I needed to add leg rather than wait. At least the canter itself was good enough that while the waiting stride wasn't the prettiest, Charlie could still jump cleanly and in a good shape.

video here. tbh, whiffed it a few times to the V pole, but a couple bright spots in the line

After finishing that cycle with the figure 8 "V" pole, we just did two passes down a simple 60' line, vertical to square oxer somewhere north of 3'3. This specific distance is a really great exercise for me and Charlie bc 60' is generally hard to mess up too badly, but still a pretty good gauge for where you're at with your canter.

Which..... Our first time down the line we had a gorgeous shot in, then were jusssssssst a little bit tight getting out of it, whoops. And, haha, in retrospect, that proved to be a fairly accurate preview of what was to come in our stadium jumping round at the show.

We went back right away, tho, and fixed it pretty darn well imho, with Charlie showing off just how nicely he can skip over the fence from a balanced 12' stride.

Exhibit A: bright spot. god i freakin live for this feeling <3 <3 
It's funny tho, thinking back on this lesson with the memory from the show still fresh. After this lesson, I'd have said the biggest takeaway was from those moments in the turn to the "V" pole where I waited instead of adding leg -- and how I needed to trust the forward canter in the turn and keep riding the hind legs to the fence.

Because horse shows generally amplify and expose any soft squishy weak spots in your training, right? But, lol, turns out it isn't always exactly in the ways we expect... In this case, it was actually the example of jumping into a line with too much canter that proved to be our issue at the show, rather than not enough canter.

So... Ya know.... the signs were there, lol, I just missed them. It's taken me so so so long to let Charlie be more forward that I'm still kinda fixated on all the issues we had from not being forward enough. I guess it's sorta like a pendulum tho? Or like L Williams would say, today's solutions become tomorrow's problems. We have achieved foward lol. Now time to figure out how to temper it...

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

the clown show

This has obviously been a crazy year for goal setting and horse showing and basically all levels of expectations and reality. You don't need me to tell you that, lol. And like so many of you, I basically swept everything I thought 2020 would be right out the window months ago.

At this point, my only real focus with riding is to continue doing the things that are exciting to me - that sound like fun, positive opportunities. One such idea popped into my head a couple weeks ago: maybe Charlie and I could enter our annual home show?

cherry picked pretty hard to find even this mediocre shot lol
After talking through the pros and cons etc with various friends and trusted professionals etc, we decided to go for it! There seemed to be a lot of advantages for showing at home too, ya know? 

Like Charlie could chill in his stall all day... And obvi we're super familiar with all the grounds and jumps etc, had plenty of opportunities to walk the courses multiple times, and obvi skipped all the packing and driving. Plus I even managed to pick up a discounted entry from another local rider who couldn't use it!

idk we did the things so that's good 'nuff!
I was also super SUPER grateful to have a few friends on hand to help out with all the things (mostly relating to moral support lol bc y'all already know I can be a hot mess). Shout out to Austen, Rachael and Jay for that lol!

Things started off well enough in dressage too. Our ride was late enough that there was plenty of time for stuff like braids and studs (since riding in grass ring), and Charlie had done me the favor of staying clean overnight lol.

glad it's over
He was pretty darn good for the test too, at least, when measured against my own personal yard stick. He was responsive, not pulling on me, going when I said go, and whoa-ing when I said whoa. And ya know.... that's basically it haha. 

Which is another way of saying.... Well, it ain't much lol. I kinda sorta gave up on dressage a few months ago and.... it definitely shows. We need to be rounder in general, and needed a little bit more of everything in this particular test too. 

I never picked up the test so idk what it actually scored, but probably some combinations of 6s and 6.5s, for a final score of 38%. Which.... was about what I expected after finishing the ride lol. 

our combined expressions here lol... we both know some shit's about to go down
Honestly, for my purposes, the day was always going to be about the jumping. Which meant I was more than a little surprised when my trainer mentioned a few days prior that she wouldn't be available for coaching. I had kinda just assumed by our conversations that coaching was a given, but you know what they say about assumptions. 

And esp in this covid-era, volunteers are increasingly hard to get so running the show was basically an 'all hands on deck' situation. It just hadn't occurred to me that she'd be busy.... esp considering how coaching was kiiiiiiinda a critical part of my game plan lol. 

So, uh, lesson learned: maybe next time I should use my words instead of just making assumptions?

annoyed that charlie punched this one out with a front
Because it was pretty much immediately apparent when we arrived at warm up that.... things were not getting off to a great start haha. Charlie was AMPED omg. 

I'm not sure exactly what set him off -- he's competed successfully in this exact same field set up multiple times (including that one time we won at N....). But whatever the case, Charlie was lit. And very barn sour. Just getting through our warm up was.... challenging. 

The warm up jumps were well arranged (sometimes they get placed in a more sloping part of the hill that I distinctly do not like haha) but we had issues with going toward/away from the barn, and with rating speed and balance. 

OOOH, and. Haha, And. Tack issues.... Turns out my fancy new soft grip Nunn Finer reins are slippery as fuck and I straight up could not hold on to them. 

charlie 'n emma: terrifying innocent bystanders since 2016
Actually, to be perfectly honest, I had the wrong bridle on altogether. Should have had a flash strap on, 100%, and possibly a different bit. As it was, Charlie was basically yanking the reins right out of my hands, singing "La la la la, I can't hear you!!!" as he merrily dragged my ass around warm up. It was embarrassing. 

The jumps were ok, tho. Actually, the warm up jumps were fine. Just.... Everything in between was no good. So idk. I guess I hoped for the best and went in for our round determined to stay active as a rider. 

emma: "charlie i swear this is a 6, buddy -- plz wait for it!!!"
Which... Eh. I feel like I was semi-successful in that endeavor, at least to start. Like, cantering around to the first jump I actually had this moment of being like, "Emma. Sit the fuck down in that saddle and ride this horse in a balance to the first fence."

And actually, jump 1 kinda went ok. Altho Charlie just punched it the fuck out of the cups bc obviously. Jump 2 had a slightly fussy turn but Charlie got himself organized and jumped the crap out of it. Sadly my video is from the wrong angle to see it, but the pro got a nice shot. Maybe I'll suck it up and buy that but... Eh, maybe not lol.

The next jumps were set on a 6 stride line (pictured above and below) with a little downhill dip in the middle, and I knew from watching other riders that it would ride short for us. 

Somehow tho we made it through that alive, and then over the next end jump too. Tho you can see in the video that we were definitely losing it. 

Next up came the triple, measured at 24' to 72' on the dot. Which we naturally did in 1.5 (taking the middle element) to 4. All with me practically standing up and back in my stirrups trying desperately to get those slippery reins back. 

pictured: what it looks like after doing 4 in 72'
And like. Side note. This is what's so annoying about Charlie on video. He makes the 4 strides look almost reasonable. Practically like I'm just holding him back from getting the right distance. His 14' stride looks natural and proportionate for his big body and long legs. 

But ya know. The combinations are set for a 12' stride. And at this point we really don't have any excuse for getting that strung out in show jumping. 

wheels firmly off the bus
So ok. We made it through the triple after leaving a stride out, with 2 rails already on the card. We took the next rail after whiffing it to the two stride too, then landed in a heap and circled. During which circle I literally wrapped the reins around my fist in a desperate attempt to find grip. 

20 penalties later tho and we did indeed finish the damn thing
Made it over that jump then circled again. I had already decided in the first circle that we'd be withdrawing, but was determined to finish the round. So looking at the video makes me think I maybe kinda gave up a little bit tho with the second circle. 

But eh.... At that point I preferred to take the penalty in exchange for a better final jump since none of it really mattered anyway. And we did indeed get a pretty good shot at the final fence, go figure.

oh sir. you are so extra.
So. Lol. Finally through the finish flags. I eventually was able to pull the horse up, too lol. I let the judge know on my way out that we'd be withdrawing, to which she replied "Good." haha... Sigh.

Talk about a mortifying spectacle. And I fully admit to being more than a little disappointed. Mostly in myself (and also those slippery fucking reins which are now #forsale). But also a little with Charlie. 

I just straight up don't get to ride this side of him very often -- and virtually never in lessons (where we go in a simple loose ring snaffle and can adjust and half halt and all the things...). So it catches me totally off guard when he's wild like this. And considering we've been schooling 3'3 for two years at this point, I can't rely on the jumps to back him off any more either.

So. Yea. 'Twas a clown show haha. I have exactly zero regrets about withdrawing before cross country, tho. There's just no way in hell it could have gone well.

Even if Charlie had somehow by the grace of god settled into a rhythm, it's almost guaranteed that I would have still ridden too defensively and not trusted the forward when we needed it.

On one hand I'm sorta proud of myself for giving it a shot at all, but eh. I don't feel particularly inclined to repeat that experience any time soon either LOL. Ugh. Horses, man.