Monday, May 3, 2021

Thornridge CT: Ready When it Counts

Who's ready for the first 'Fraidy Cat Show Recap of 2021?!? Because... Obviously we're not counting the scrubbed derby outing in March lol... 

So, this little schooling CT officially constitutes Charlie's and my first proper judged outing since... Hm... last summer? It's been a while. And, as anyone who read that March recap knows, I've kinda been stuck in a little bit of an anxiety trap about it all. 

my handsome show pony <3
A nice little feedback loop where I'm anxious because it's been so long, so then I don't feel good about getting out again, and more time passes and we're still not getting out, and on and on and on forever with the anxiety. 

"look ma, here's a trot!"
But. Dammit. I know how to fix this problem. And step 1 is: jesus christ, Emma, go forth and literally do the thing. Then do it again. And it will be ok. And it will get better. And you might actually even like it

Which. Ahem, it turns out -- I really really do like it haha. Especially that feeling when it's all over, that happy little wash of endorphins that can only come from going out and trying your best with your favorite pony, and maybe even doing not half bad. 

honestly feeling fine about this picture <3
So. Let's get to the details, yes? The CT was at an absolutely lovely small local dressage barn that we've been going to for years. Every single horse I've ever ridden in the indoor just LOVES it - the footing, the windows, the rarified air. For some reason, it's just an absolute paradise that brings out the best side of every horse. 

lookie we can do it the other direction too!!
I was rider #1 of the day, so it was kinda an early morning with getting to the barn, shipping out, arriving on site, walking our jump course first, then getting into warm up. And I ended up with a little less than 15min... Which, isn't ideal. But Charlie, bless him, honestly felt pretty good and ready for action. 

good boy, charlie <3 and lol @ the tracks he left from his shuffle steps
Obviously we didn't break any new ground in this very basic walk-trot-canter dressage test. Charlie kinda hovered somewhere just above the bit for most of it, and we never really had any "Wow!" moments or anything. Obviously haha. 

the test for all y'all non video watchers
But all the things happened where they were supposed to (uh, except the final halt where I sighted onto the big ring flower boxes instead of the small ring cones for my landmarks, whoops). I mostly just focused on trying to sit a little prettier in the saddle -- esp as it relates to my hand and arm position, and otherwise didn't really fuss with the horse. 

Which worked out for us! The scoring is all pretty generous, obviously, bc schooling show. But virtually all of my runs through this test have been at schooling shows, and we were bang on our average score of 33.8% haha. Consistency, yo. We gots it. 

onto the fun part -- jompies!!! you can't tell me this isn't the cutest little grass ring
Really, the important part of the day is the jumping. Mostly bc.... While Thornridge has absolutely beautiful fun colorful jumps... They're made of PVC. In other words, they're very light weight, very easy to tap out of the cups, and horses often have very little respect for them. Charlie, a notoriously casual horse, is no exception. 

sorry the early morning light was bad for pictures. but d'aww look at this pony trying!!
I was actually pretty proud of myself for staying on top of the details for this show in a way that wasn't completely like... obsessive compulsive. Like, I did all the things I needed to do (lengthen stirrups before dressage; shorten stirrups before jumping; remember neck strap for jumping; get studs in early; etc) but managed to avoid feeling hectic about any of it. 

the twisty turny course suited him very nicely, actually
Possibly this was aided by having a pretty pleasant trailer parking situation. Charlie had his best bud and partner in crime Punky (who did his first N CT at this event and was phenomenal!) as a trailer mate, plus we were parked next to a long time horsey friend who was also riding in our division with her adorable buckskin.  

he honestly could have smashed through this fence if he wanted, but picked up and jumped it great instead!
While dressage times are more spread out just by nature of how long it takes to complete a test, we all figured we'd be best off getting down to jump warm up together as a group. Which obviously the horses all appreciated. 

sad the pictures aren't great quality -- but it's much easier to see in the video i swear!
There was only an hour between dressage and jumping too -- so I hadn't even unsaddled Charlie in between (it was also fairly chilly out, so he probably appreciated keeping the saddle on his warm back LOL). That also meant we were basically already warmed up physically -- just needed get ourselves acquainted with the shift from arena footing to grassy terrain. And jump a few jumps. Then -- go time!

lol the infamous Friesian jump. pro tip: if you ever go to a CT at Thornridge, definitely let your horse look at these standards before your round. a SHOCKING number of horses are weirded out by them haha, which is probably why they made this such a small jump LOL
I honestly really didn't know what to expect. And was characteristically pretty freakin anxious. Lessons were cancelled unexpectedly last week, and my attempt at a solo jump school the same day Charlie got his feet trimmed proved to be.... not at all confidence building - with Charlie feeling more protective of his feet than of the fences.... So I didn't know what I'd get on show day. 

But -- Guys. Charlie is a good horse. He's basically a professional novice packer by now, let's be real. It was clear from our very first warm up fences that all systems were GO in Charlieland <3

finishing strong over the pretty pink oxer, good boy!!
He got to the show, knew what we were doing, and made it his business to get it done. Charlie jumped one of the best courses of his life around this little ring. Not necessarily bc it was our most perfect or whatever. But bc... wow he really really tried. Every jump, he picked all four of his toes up. Didn't touch a thing

Even at jump 3 -- complete with the ferns hanging on the standards and frothing in the breeze -- when I lost his shoulder through the turn in approach. Charlie could have selected any myriad options for what to do in that moment, and he chose to jump the fuck out of it. Good boy
It honestly might not look like much in the video, but I was beyond thrilled with him. I think the course suited him too. Suuuper twisty. Like, a generously bending line to start, then a standard 5 stride diagonal (which Charlie nailed the 5 even after our questionable in jump), and then... Wow the course basically turned into a giant sweeping figure 8 with jumps at every point. 

omg!! it's amazing what clean jumping can do for your final placing haha!
While the only proper related distance was the diagonal, it honestly felt like EVERY jump from 5 to 9 was basically more or less related. Charlie tried to get clever with his auto-changes, but it was honestly hard for him to keep up haha -- lots of changes of direction! Tho ya know, it was fine since he's a #countercantersavant. 

so ridiculously proud of this goofy horse <3
For real, tho, I couldn't believe we jumped clear!! Like, obvi was kinda amazed (and seriously relieved) that he jumped so well after our crappy schooling earlier in the week. But I *never* expected to jump clear -- for no reason other than the jumps are PVC. But, out of nowhere, Charlie made it happen. 

"did i win?!?" - charlie, probably
And ya know. Clear rounds are rare enough with PVC that it was enough for us to snag the win, omg! To say I was walking on air would be an understatement lol. 

Bc this is the feeling we live for, right? Like, obviously not really the part about winning a small class at a schooling show... But -- showing up, doing our best even when we're nervous, and walking away feeling like it was a great day. That's what I'm here for haha. Here's hoping I don't let the anxiety monster take over so much that I forget about this feeling again. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

evening schooling

I'm trying so hard to get back into a groove around here, get back to doing the things we love to do -- and have FUN while we're at it. 

my pony has the smooshiest nose <3
Recent riding lessons have been kinda instructive in this sense, in a few ways. Namely, our first few jumping lessons back (or lessons when it's been a while since we last jumped) have found me pretty anxious and unsettled. 

love him <3
But last week? After I'd made it my business to school around a little on my own earlier in the week? I had a much easier time being calm and productive in the lesson -- even after the jumps went up. 

yay me graduating back to the N ramp LOL
The reason honestly seems pretty obvious to me: especially considering I've been writing about it all spring. Basically, my nervousness, anxiety, and general feelings of confidence (or lack thereof) are best controlled when jumping feels routine, common, even mundane

tho almost died when we about ran over some geese (top left)
So in keeping with my general conditioning plans too, we're just.... Doing more of it. Getting out more often. Making sure all four feet leave earth a couple times per session, about twice a week. 

familiar water
It helps too that basically the entire #squad is feeling exactly the same right now. Everyone wants more, but everyone also feels... Kinda rusty and uncertain, ya know? Typical springtime, amirite? 

ugh i HATE down banks tho
We decided to head out for a low key, relaxing, inviting, and FUN xc school with just our little group of 4 last night -- no trainers, no agenda, no nothing. Just a good set of OTTBs, nice weather, and good ground. And? Guys, our horses were fantastic!

Everyone in our group got some really excellent + comfortable reps, and also got to stretch themselves a little bit too in very positive ways. Perfect!

surprisingly technical little telephone pole at water's edge
It was a really great proof of concept for me, personally, too. If y'all remember, I wrote about our first proper XC school in forever about 2 weeks ago... And the whole name of that game was just surviving through it -- going through the motions over mostly pretty small fences without croaking. 

woot woot, jumped *one* T thing!!!
I know that sounds dramatic but... That's honest-to-god what it feels like when I'm that tense. Again tho... "Routine" and "Consistent" are two of my absolute favorite words, so I knew we had to get back out asap and re-cover that same ground. And this time my comfort level was... honestly? Pretty fucking normal, gooooooo figure haha. 

N bending line rails to ditch
Sure, in my head leading up to the ride I had sorta visualized jumping a lot more of the Training jumps... But I maybe also kinda knew that probably wouldn't happen - not quite yet, not that fast. Instead, tho, I bumped up to Novice pretty quickly -- and mostly stayed there. 

le ditch
We mostly covered the same ground from our last schooling -- with just a little more nuance and improvement, including stepping up to N earlier. We also did more stuff with the banks. Not necessarily like.... well or anything... Bc let's be real, down banks continue to scare the ever loving crap out of me - so anything is better than nothing LOL. 

But ya know. In time, in time. We dropped down a little bank into water twice slowly, and that's fine for now. 

le key hole-esque fence-line jump!
I was also proud of myself for jumping one true Training fence: the same white house into water that I'd regretted not jumping last time. There are a couple more familiar T fences I'm hoping to revisit too in the next couple weeks but ya know. One step at a time, right? 

he's the best <3
One big issue in the ride was that... Charlie is really kinda starting to put his foot down about this bit. It's an entirely fine bit for him -- except when the loose ring cheek pieces pinch him. And I guess now that I ride him bitless the vast majority of the time, his lips are extra sensitive? 

He's reacting pretty aggressively to the bit (when it pinches him) far far too often for me to feel comfortable continuing to ride in it. Like, when he's going he's going. But when he's fussing?? It's ... not at all great lol. So. Will be replacing that asap, le sigh...

yea ok so i just had literally one single cell phone clip from the ride and milked it for as many screenshots as possible. #SueMe
For that reason I kinda cut the schooling a little short. Or maybe that's just my excuse?? lol...

Y'all already know I love frequent-but-short xc schools, where we get in, do what we need to do, and get right back out again. 

On this ride, we schooled mostly Novice fences. Did a related line. Practiced all of the holy trinity of ditches, banks and water. Plus fit in one "big" fence -- the white T house into water; and one "technical" fence -- the narrow logs between trees in the fence line. What more can a girl ask for at this point? 

every great ride ends with a Boh!
Charlie was super for the jumps. Sure, pretty fussy in the bridle.... But SUPER for the jumps. I'll take it. We'll want to practice getting a more forward canter out in the xc fields like we had in our last lesson -- but again that's probably better done when he's more comfortable in his bridle. 

So ya know. I'm pretty friggin pleased to be getting out and doing these things again -- and even more so to be feeling... ok about it all! Everyone else in our group felt pretty much identically, so hopefully we can make this a fairly regular thing -- at least until all our good xc fences migrate away to Shawan Downs for the upcoming recognized event. Fingers crossed!

In the meantime... Anyone else feeling pumped about knocking the rust off and finally starting to feel GOOD about the upcoming season??

Monday, April 19, 2021

stepping stones

Finally finally after what feels like forever, we had a jump lesson in the arena in nice weather -- and in which we actually jumped full courses of appropriately sized fences. Hallelujah! 

woot woot we got media again!! look at this chuckopotamus go!!
Like I wrote last week, we've been kinda tinkering around over the fences in our solo schooling, stringing things together and trying to remember how to ride etc. But... Let's be real, it's always very welcome to get the actual lesson. Esp as it relates to jump crew, ahem, cough cough... 

the fiercest tho
Lol. Anyway. It was kinda a bizarre set up, to be honest. Our group was slightly large, with horses at about 3 different levels. Plus there were a couple other people schooling around the ring on young and/or green horses. 

i swear, we haven't coursed at this height (N) since last year, but charlie still makes the jumps look about 2' lol....
I kept our warm up super basic, just doing exactly what we've been doing lately: Lots of freely flowing trot around and around and around, trying to just let Charlie loosen up and find his way up in front of my leg.  

the funnest 
Charlie wanted to be a little sulky in canter, but actually it was really very very half-hearted. If anything, we're maybe starting to reap the fruits of our conditioning labors. Charlie tried to suck back, I put my foot down about "forward," and.... that was it. Off Charlie went -- including throwing in some absolutely marvelous trotting to finish the warm up! 

jumping around the crowd
Same story into the jumps too, much to my absolute delight. Which.... was a relief because initially I had some misgivings about the lesson.....

wheeeee go chuck GO!
Because we had such a mixed group of horses, all the warm up fences started SMALL. I'm talking: cross rails and itsy bitsy verticals. Like, smaller than what I've been schooling on my own. Not exactly the type of mileage I feel compelled to pay for the privilege of supervision, ya know? 

moderately terrified jumping this big guy into a 30' in-and-out....
But, trainer P indulged me by incorporating more "mini courses" into the warm up. Stringing 2-3 fences together at a time, rather than jumping each individual jump or line, starting and stopping constantly. 

we survived it tho!! 
It's honestly those moments between fences -- esp as we get deeper into a course -- where Charlie and I are the rustiest. So this feeling was very welcome. And actually --- the whole warm up is in the helmet camera portion of the video (starts after the cell phone clips of our final trips) if you're curious to see how we progressed and what size fences we started with in the lesson. 

aaaaaaand, repeating the whole course again. ping!
Charlie felt pretty great - nicely forward and really taking me to the fences. Definitely exactly the feeling I want for when the jumps eventually go up again. 

Which... prodded me to mention to trainer P that, just oh-so-coincidentally, a couple of us in the group were thinking of going to a CT in a couple weeks, and would all be doing novice.... so maybe, pretty please, could we consider bumping up from cross rails?? 

i just love his serious face omg
I kinda assumed she'd raise the course piecemeal for each of the horses in the group, and maybe I'd do a course at BN first before they went up to N. But, lol, nah. Trainer P went directly from like 2' to N, and off we went! 

had to repeat this line a bunch since we kept knocking it 
It was kinda hilarious bc.... Well, for the three of us in the group at this level, our horses have plenty of experience at that height, but it's just been a couple months since we've seen it. So it was a slight shock bumping up so fast haha. But it was fine, all the horses were super. 

emma: "whoa sir!"     charlie: "you're not my real mother!" 
Tho, somewhat annoyingly, while the fences looked enormous to my eye, Charlie always makes them look so small in pictures, womp haha. 

d'aww but he was perfect over the out <3 <3 
Anyway, it was honestly great to get out there and do courses at this height again. Charlie was IN GEAR in no uncertain terms -- doing the step, auto-changing, finding all his spots. Just... Exactly that forward feeling I've been trying to cultivate lately. Yessss!

just imagine this is an in-focus close up shot of charlie being magnificent, whilst jumping small ponies
On the flip side, however, I'm kinda rusty at a very fundamental level. I need to recalibrate ALL my aids. Like, the aid to ask Charlie to move up really doesn't have to be a big push -- I don't need to gun him at the fences. 

Simultaneously tho -- I do need to actually make my half halts stick haha. Can't just sit there sorta hanging dead on the reins hoping Charlie will slow his own self down -- nope nope. Instead, I needed some reminders that actually it's up to me to make choices about our canter. 

Like... Maybe don't careen around the end of the arena assuming the absurdly short 30' in-and-out will work itself out for your horse who barely fit the normal strides in the rest of the lines.... 

and back into the terrifying two stride of death lol
Trainer P even reminded me that I could circle if I needed, and discussed adding more bit or swapping my leather curb strap for a chain. But... I honestly felt like the mistakes were more mine in that I didn't ask for as much as I could have -- mostly bc my feel is so rusty. 

We ended up doing the full course twice, then one of the lines one more time, just to clean up all those spaces in between the jumps. I was pretty proud of myself for doing that too. Especially since the second round did improve on the first, woot woot. 

you're a good boy chuck <3 
So often I kinda just want to survive once and call it a day... But again, what we really need right now is more practice, and more mileage -- just repeating our ABCs again and again to remember how to do everything etc. 

It was also a great reminder just how good Charlie can be at at this stuff. He's really not a complicated horse to ride -- jumping is easy for him and he LIKES it, especially when he's not slugging around behind my leg. Now we just gotta remember how to tune it all up again LOL...

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Keen Charles

This has probably been the strangest springtime for me as a rider since I started documenting our various escapades here on ye olde blog. 
literally the saddest most tortuous photograph known to horse-kind
Typically, in years past, we've been bitten by the "Gung Ho!" bug sometime around January-February-ish. By which I mean, we get serious about fitness and preparing for the season ahead: clinics, schooling, and even our first few outings are frequently logged well before April.

desperate for the merest pitiful green shoots amid the dirt
This year has been completely different, tho, for fairly mundane reasons. Our lesson routine fizzled out completely by the end of last summer / fall, and has been sporadic at best ever since.... I injured my ankle in October.... Charlie came due for his hocks but we decided to hold off til spring.... Then I injured my ankle again in February*....

(*Fun fact: you can actually see the lone singular pole on the ground in a photo posted at that link, hidden behind Charlie's ear. The ONLY pole on the floor, and *that's* where I decided to dismount. Stupid stupid stupid lol....)

don't worry, sir, your time with the grass will come!
So it's been a slower start. Tho.... that's honestly been not altogether a bad thing. Like basically everyone else in the world right now, it's kinda been a process unpacking all the emotional turmoil that's apparently a natural byproduct of a global friggin pandemic

Simultaneously, feeling unfit after months of injury could be seen as a disadvantage or possible contributing factor to any confidence issues... But, eh, I'm choosing to see it differently. Instead: Mentally, I don't really feel prepared to push or challenge myself. But!, physically, we're not exactly ready for it anyway -- so it's a built-in excuse for taking our time!

legit thought Mikey was comin with us
And we're taking that time by having lots of fun, and logging lots of miles. Poor Charlie, LOL! I watched some random video Boyd Martin posted about one of his horses, in which he mentioned the horse is 'galloping every four days' in preparation for Kentucky. 

Obvi Charlie isn't going to Kentucky. And, let's be real, 'gallop sets' aren't a necessary component of Charlie's fitness routine either. But I've always loved easily digestible metrics like "Every 4 Days!" and have since adapted that idea into our combined fitness schedule. 

I also revisited older posts on wellness plans for Charlie, like this one informed by a vet who reminded me that Charlie needs to be conditioned to high impact in the same exact way he needs to be conditioned to long slow miles. It's not just one or the other -- it's both, judiciously. 

trying to enjoy the last few weeks of 'open gate season' before the horses switch to summer pasture
Now that the weather and ground has been consistently improved by spring growth, it's easier than ever to get out and about in all the woods and fields. Which is great bc... Damn, 4min of trotting on rolling uneven terrain is apparently a LOT different than 4min of trotting circles on groomed arena surfaces haha....

ooooh playing with lesson kiddos at the schoolin show!
Lessons have been cancelled more often than not in the last couple weeks, but I'm also trying to be better at fitting in undirected jump schools. Bc realistically.... The only way to improve my fitness AND confidence is to just.... do more

We need to jump more -- like, MORE more. And right now I'm aiming at ~2x weekly. Nothing crazy, nothing big scary or complicated. Not even really caring about height or whatever. Just... going through the motions, especially when it comes to stringing multiple things together. 

artsy? LOL
Luckily the course is still set up from the little schooling show a couple weeks ago, and actually there was another little in-house lesson show this past weekend too. Charlie and I weren't participants in the lesson classes, but we did ride around with a couple groups during their hack classes, with the ring surrounded by parents and siblings and camp chairs etc. 

Which... Was fascinating bc Charlie actually clicked into that spooky reactive *amped* gear of his that is so elusive in our normal schooling but often crops up at horse shows. Basically, the side of him I have to compete but never get to practice on. So.... This was PERFECT lol. 

aaaaand tick season, boo :( at least this one seemed more normal...
Homeboy was LIT, but we got to just work through it and go through the motions. And then repeat again when one lesson group finished and the next started haha. Muahaha. Poor Charles. 

Finally after flatting around with the show groups for the better part of 2hrs, the classes finished up (with jumps set around 2'3) and Charlie and I got our own turn at the fences. Sure the jumps were small, but again, that didn't really matter, right?

always gotta say hi to the little bebes! 
What *did* matter was the feeling. Which... Again, Charlie was clicked into that same gear that normally crops up only at shows, so it was great practice. But we still kinda started off a little sluggish with me wanting to add extra strides to every fence. But the longer we went, the more strung out we got. Hence... the need for practice. 

Actually, hilariously, there was a 36' two-stride line set up that I was pretty uncertain about, bc we almost always school shorter distances at home and it's been FOREVER since we've done a proper 36' in-and-out. Somewhat absurdly, I worried we wouldn't get down the line in 2. Haha. Hahaha...

Yea... Charles did one. Ahem. Whoops?

charlie loves the magnolias (even if he hates that friggin rock)
Basically that whole little process repeated itself again later in the week, when I was back up in the same ring with the same jumps (mostly, some had been taken down, including the in-and-out) with another friend. And this time the jumps were a little bigger - around 2'6.

Same exact process: Lengthy lengthy warm up (turns out, maybe Charlie really does need to trot 15min straight before I even consider trying anything else?), then cruising around and around and around, catching all the jumps. 

Naturally starting by being a little chippy and wanting to add strides everywhere... Then somehow letting the pendulum swing entirely the other way by getting strung out gappy and sliiiightly frantic. But then, finishing by smoothing things out, more or less.

seriously the actual prettiest <3
THIS is the practice we need. Lots of repetition while the stakes are laughably low. Lots of opportunities for us to both get our strength and feel back. And, along the way, get a better idea for the preparation Charlie needs to click into gear faster and more reliably.

Which.... Is all useful bc I'm kinda starting to feel our late start to the 'season' now, as so many fun and exciting outings are rapidly approaching on a jam-packed events calendar. It's good to get that feeling again of "wanting" to get out and do things. But first we need to do our homework and put in the prep so I don't arrive at an event and "nope out" like we did at Loch Moy LOL.

Hopefully tho, we're getting closer haha.