Friday, January 22, 2021

Flashback Friday: Day 1 Chuck

Happy Friday, everyone! What a week... Well. What few months lately... and, uh, what a year, and I'm not even mentioning the past four years. Sheesh. 

So. How's about something light hearted today, yes?

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a hoarder. Naturally, this obsessive tendency toward accumulation extends to my digital content lol --- like pictures on my cell phone

I was trying to clear out space on my clogged and cluttered 64Gb iphone, tho, and came across the day I met Charlie at After the Races back in September 2016. And... What the hell, let's remember that day <3 Some of these pictures have been published before, but not all of them. 

I'd been communicating with Bonnie at ATR for months leading up to this fateful visit --- including very serious communications about horses that were snatched up before I could make the trip. So. When the day finally came, I had a list of horses. Charlie, however, was not on the list. He wasn't even on the website yet. 

But Bonnie knew what she had with him, and showed him to me first. The above is the very first picture I ever took of him --- when he, oh-so-typically, struck a majestic pose on the way into the round pen. 

Inside the round pen, Charlie showed himself to be a fairly average creature. He's almost exactly 4 weeks off from his final race in these pictures, and you can tell. He was also notably hoof- and body- sore.

Charlie had only been at ATR for about a week. Combined with his soreness, this meant nobody on staff had ridden the horse yet, so I would also not be allowed to ride. 

That was fine by me, tho. Mostly I was just watching how Charlie absorbed this world around him.

And ya know. It was intriguing. Charlie was observant and sensitive to the world around him -- he noticed everything. But he also wasn't overly reactive and seemed to sort of think through every moment. 

Really, tho, in terms of movement and expression, there wasn't anything at all particularly remarkable about Charlie's round pen session. 

Instead, things got interesting when I got to observe the volunteers bathing him afterward. 

I'm sure these volunteers have a lot of experience in this regard -- but I'm also pretty sure this was their first time handling Charlie, and his first time inside this wash stall. 

And guys, it should not be forgotten this is a very large thoroughbred still fairly race fit.  

And he was very very busy in the wash stall haha. Scrolling up and down through this photo series shows pretty clearly that.... he was sorta constantly moving the volunteers around in there. 

He never tried to leave tho --- didn't try to get away from them or resist the bath. 

He accepted them as quickly as he accepted the wash stall itself. But, more so than just that --- he was immediately very interactive with his environment. 

Charlie looked at everything. Nudged everything. Poked and prodded in the same gentle way at his handlers, shampoo bottles, the window, random buckets... Anything and everything around him haha. 

Again -- none of this to discount the volunteer's ability to control a horse haha. They were very good about staying on top of his behavior while also not cornering him into a claustrophobic moment (something that can be very common in ottbs).

All the same, tho, Charlie is incorrigible. He gets into everything haha. At one point he got that bucket STUCK on his FACE. And it took a moment for anybody to actually notice, lol, bc he was just straight chillin, like, "Oooh yas - I gotta bucket!!"

And... Ya know.... You just can't train that haha. 

Obviously there were a lot of unknowns with Charlie -- his soundness, his ability, his interest... Not even mentioning that he's objectively too big for me. But... Eh, I'd been through the ottb restarting process a few times already and felt strongly that his disposition suited my ability. 

And the rest, they say, is history haha.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

state of the arts

We're kinda in an interesting place with jumping lessons right now. On one hand I feel a little like the prodigal son daughter returning to our Saturday afternoon group.... But, honestly, I'm really enjoying it. 

dusk lighting means blurry pics. think of it as 'artistic' lol
It's tricky to write about, tho, bc.... each week is sorta the same thing. Like, "Ok so we jumped around some interesting exercises set at relatively low heights, and Charlie was super!"

There's only so many ways to twist and contort that sentiment into new and interesting combinations of words lol. 

trying to make the jump look impressive lol
It's where we are, right now, tho. And, more importantly, my lesson mate's mom has been coming to hang out, help reset fences (for which she is an actual literal saint), AND -- she's become shockingly adept at capturing video of literally everybody in the group!! 

So. Obviously. When one has excesses of media fodder, one must certainly blog, lol.

it's easy to strike a pose when you're crawling along on the add stride haha
Really, tho, there's some backstory. These lessons are a huge part of how I've developed as a rider, and obvi how Charlie developed into the jumping horse he is today --- since trainer P guided us from the very beginning. 

I got to a point last year tho where I felt like we needed something a little more dialed in and calibrated to my particular (and very needy) needs if we were going to be able to successfully move up to training. So I shifted into a more individualized private lesson program. 

massively sloppy footing conditions explain the conservative pace
That program had slightly different views on how Charlie should go --- specifically as it relates to length of stride in canter. So it didn't feel like the sort of thing where I could keep riding with both trainers -- I sorta had to choose in order to avoid confusing Charlie. 

But ya know. For a lot of different reasons (many of which are very specific to me as an individual and rider), we still really weren't successful in moving up. And I still really didn't feel like I was getting the level of mentorship I seriously crave. 

this line stretched out a little this week, to i think around 21'
Plus I began to wonder if the big focus on stride length was really as important for our own particular training success as it was made out to be. Considering Charlie managed to cover a 72' distance in four fucking strides in our disaster of a show jumping attempt last summer*.... Haha... Yea I just am not convinced that's where our issues lie. 

(*For reference -- every line in the video below in which we get FIVE strides is 60'.)

much more room for bronto chuck
But ya know, the thing with coaching and training and mentorship is that, in my mind, if I'm in for a penny, I'm in for a pound. The whole reason I invest in the advice and guidance of professionals is because I don't know the answers myself -- and I don't feel particularly inclined to have to reinvent every single wheel haha, if that makes sense. 

So I basically follow directions. Usually it works out. But it doesn't always. And obviously there's so much more to training relationships than just expertise. 

lookin good, sir!
So.... Given the times, circumstances, and mental health considerations in a goddamn global pandemic... It made sense to get back into a tried and true formula. Riding with my buddies on Saturday afternoons, with a trainer who always has fun stuff set up and is heavily focused on developing positive experiences and well rounded horses. 

lololololol and then he just goes and steps over the next one
*neither this rail nor any other rails were knocked in this lesson
I don't really feel like I'm learning very much in these lessons right now. But.... Maybe I'm coming to understand that's not always the point. Rather, routine repetition and practice are valuable ends in and of themselves. Being able to jump around a variety of different styles of exercises is critical for staying sharp and relaxed in the work, ya know? 

It also serves as something of a proving ground, right? Like, if on one hand I'm sitting here saying "that exercise is not challenging for us," then... on the other hand, I better do it abso-fucking-lutely perfectly, right? Put up or shut up, ya know? And.... haha, it turns out, we don't always do it perfectly. So there's that lol.

second time was better tho!
But with that sort of mentality bumping around in my head, I've been trying hard to refine all the same stuff we've been chipping away at forever. Particularly with hand position over the fences, and committing to a forward feeling body position no matter what the horse is doing. 

I've also been working on straightness -- trying to jump the center of fences rather than always drifting left. And, obviously, keeping my legs longer and heel down -- rather than letting the leg get curled up in my patented death grip haha. 

pictured: a very add-stride canter
And Charlie, for his part, is responding beautifully. This is a horse who enjoys jumping -- no matter what. He's fun to jump and it's gratifying to feel how educated he's become. Sure, we both still make mistakes, but generally speaking we can kinda just lope around and step over everything. 

I probably still need to work a little harder at getting my canter better. Like if we're working on exercises set at shortened distances I still need to make sure he's up and in front of my leg, not just making the distance work by slugging around. 

makin it work tho!
This was a particular challenge this past week mostly bc of the disgusting footing... Which actually makes the helmet camera shots pretty interesting bc you can definitely see when he's being snarky and sucking back behind my leg in the helmet camera view wayyyyyy more easily than from the standard iphone view (hint: look for the raised head and pinned ears). 

(sorry mobile users, the blogger upgrade broke embedding functionality on mobile views, ugh)

Mostly, tho, to be perfectly honest... We're just having fun. I feel like this is sorta like the "boy scouts approach" to training. We may not be going crazy with anything right now --- but we're prepared for whenever that moment might strike lol. 

These lessons are keeping us sharp and honestly we're lucky to have such mild conditions to do even this much. So I'll take it, haha! 

Monday, January 18, 2021

ponies and stuff

Happy Monday, folks! For those of you in the US, hopefully you're enjoying today's federal holiday celebrating and honoring MLK Jr's birthday. 

This is actually the first year my firm is recognizing the holiday --- just another example of the many many small and nearly imperceptible shifts that have been made this past year. 

it was nice while it lasted, but that luscious grass in charlie's winter turnout finally died back for the season
It's been a pretty quiet week around these parts, to be honest. Charlie got a couple days off after the gymnastics clinic -- which I believe was very welcome haha. He came out feeling reasonably well for our first ride back tho, mid week. 

round bale season is now upon us. look at those sweet starry faces tho <3
And I gotta be honest about something. I've been talking about having sorta "given up" on dressage this past year... Which is sort of true and untrue. 

Basically, I've kinda come to the conclusion that some parts of my approach to riding Charlie on the flat (and particularly with how I tried to manage the contact) were directly contributing to him using himself worse instead of better. Which... Wow is absolutely opposite of my intentions haha. 

the mud isn't too deep yet, at least!
Plus.... We'd kinda fallen into this predictable pattern in our weeknight evening rides in the wintry darkness. Rides would start out well enough but... Well, Charlie's gate sourness is definitely amplified in the darkness. And as the rides progressed, he'd get more and more rushy and tense. 

actually, it's been pretty mild. meaning lots of folks out and about hacking around
As often as not, we'd end the ride feeling frazzled and frustrated, with Charlie straight up relieved to be released from the this special brand of hell.  

oooh our barnyard has new residents too!!
This obviously did not do much for me, either. Like, I love this horse. Spending time with him is often the highlight of my day. He is lovely to ride and has proven over the years to be a fantastic equestrian partner. 

these bebe shetlands are officially weanlings now!
So.... This obviously begs the question: Why on earth are we spending so much time on these rides that neither of us enjoy????

omg i love them
And, of course, there's an equally obvious answer: There is no good reason for that, and therefore we should cease and desist on that flavor of activity immediately. Which, we have haha. 

is there anything in life better than bebe pony noses???
So. I kinda went back to the drawing board. Why is dressage important? For riding in general, and jumping in particular? 

There are naturally a few reasons: the fundamentals of dressage are all about rhythm, balance, impulsion, and adjustability, right? 

so friendly too!
There's more to it, than that, sure. Especially if you're trying to earn some nice scores in front of a judge. But.... we're not doing that right now so.... the keep-it-simple-stupid approach is totally sufficient for us haha. 

definitely enjoying seeing these guys first thing after the long drive
Most of the flaws in my riding style have to do with trying to ride the horse front to back. Which... Eh, doesn't really work on any horse but especially not a horse like Chuck. 

Too much hand and he will get mired down behind your leg. So then you need to kick and flap and nag and nudge and all that to get him moving up... Which just makes him tense and stiff over his topline. In the right circumstances, this is actually the perfect recipe for showing the judge a rein-lame horse. Ahem, cough cough. 

and they're right next to the big daddies too!! two of the farm's three shetland stallions live right next door!
So my solution has been to ditch our typical snaffle bridle entirely. Virtually all of our flat rides are in the hackamore now. The benefits here are twofold: 1) obviously the hackamore removes my ability to micromanage the contact; and 2) the hackamore provides excellent no-muss, no-fuss brakes in the event of Charlie getting rushy about the gate.

TT is my favorite bc he makes the absolute best little whuffling noises <3
The secondary benefit to this will, I know, shock you. But... It turns out when you stop constantly shutting down the front end, you don't need to keep kicking up the hind end too. Suddenly, this habit of nagging with my heels that's plagued me for literally years has.... all but disappeared. 

Rip is obviously pretty special too, considering he's basically the Black Stallion reincarnated
Charlie is given all the literal free rein he needs to carry his own self forward -- and meanwhile I'm able to sorta sit back and ride him a bit like a school horse, working on my own position instead of his. Specifically, working on some of those bio-mechanical fundamentals identified in the equiformance lessons we did with Molly. Hand position, leg position, etc. 

just look at all that hair omg
Basically, these have turned into low key fitness rides. I keep an interval timer app running in my pocket that dings every 2 minutes. At which point maybe we will change direction, or gait, or exercise, or whatever. I practice jump position, double posting, holding my arms up or out to the side.... Seriously all the standard school kid stuff haha. 

We practice basic figures or leg yields* (*ish) or transitions or spirals or whatever, just using that 2min interval timer to kinda keep us moving symmetrically through the gears. 

And ya know, there's been a fascinating outcome haha. Charlie will ALWAYS be a barn- and gate-sour horse. It's a very deeply rooted pressure response. But.... the behavior is far less evident lately. And he no longer feels like he's breathing a sigh of relief when we leave the ring. Instead, we finish our rides feeling relaxed in the warm flush of a good workout. 

Obviously at some point we'll have to fix my issues with trying to ride this horse on the bit in dressage tests haha. But that's a future-Emma problem. For now I'm just enjoying the ride. And I honestly believe Charlie is too -- considering how beautifully he's been jumping lately. 

Anyone else had to kinda go back to the drawing board in your riding lately? Or change things up to get a better outcome? 

Monday, January 11, 2021

gymnastics clinic

A couple weeks ago my friend Amy and I signed up for a gymnastics clinic at that cute little farm you might remember from lockdown (hint: remember that tiny little pony I got to take a lesson on??). I've been eager to get back to this farm all year, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

Especially bc this indoor arena is lovely omg. And I figured it'd be a nice winter excursion for when all our arenas at home are either succumbing to the wintry elements or under construction. 

tortured pony is still sweet <3
And it was pretttty cool. First tho, I really have to brag a little on our horses. These sweet geldings are just so good. We arrived at the facility with about 15ish minutes to unload and tack, went into the arena and immediately set to warm up. And then started jumping pretty quickly -- since these exercises are pretty fatiguing so you don't want to overdo the warm up. 

That's honestly kinda a lot to ask for a horse to go from trailer to jumping in just about 25min. But our horses were All Business for it, and set immediately to the task. Good ponies!! 

pictured: a whoooooole lotta bounces omg.... 
grids ridden L to R in this image, diagonal ridden R to L. basically one big figur-8
Tho, lol, Charlie's first time down the bounce line (top of diagram) found him to be just a tad surprised at how quickly things escalated lol. Sure, all the fences were half-cross-rails that first trip.... But still lol.

Our typical lessons with Trainer P involve quite a bit of progression in the exercises -- particularly in building them up. This lesson, tho, there was progression in height but virtually all the elements were in place even for our first trip. Which ---- count 'em, that's NINE bounces lol. I thought Charlie was gonna croak!

verticals on the diagonal featured all sorts of fun distracting stuff on the ground
After that, tho, Charlie was Ready.To.Go. He was very much not inclined to make the same mistake and agreed that forward was better! Which, it's so funny to feel that switch flip in him. Bc when Charlie's "on" everything is just so much easier. 

Walk to canter? Absolutely. Push-button auto-changes? Don't mind if he do! Plus he was super into all the corners and staying relatively straight down the lines. 

omg charlie almost croaked the first time he saw this epically long line
Tho.... I did end up letting the clinician know that we aren't exactly at peak fitness right now and would want to be a little economical with our trips. Meaning: not a million trips, and making sure we get to the elements that will be most beneficial for Charlie. 

In my mind, this meant not needing to do the whole line of bounces a ton, and not necessarily at full height. IMO bounces really don't need to be that aggressive to be effective -- esp for a horse like Charlie. 

this line (the bottom grid in the diagram above) was much more his speed tho
also, how gorgeous is this ring?? check out the viewing lounge right outside those windows -- perfect for covid times!
So after a few full trips around the figure-8 of both lines, we switched our attention to focusing predominantly on the other grid (pictured above). This was three bounces, one stride to an oxer, then one stride back to three bounces. 

Idk if it was me or Charlie but either way we both seemed a little more comfortable with this line. And we liked it even more when it reached its final form: three bounce jumps to three one-stride jumps. 

final configuration saw one of the last bounces come out to make it 3 bounces to 3 one-strides
In terms of feedback, there wasn't a whole ton to be had. Her most common suggestion was to make sure I was keeping my upper body back, and holding my hands UP vs pushing down. 

This was a little tricky bc as y'all know I've been working really hard on just putting my hands forward and leaving them there. But I guess when the exercise involves so much literal heavy lifting from Chuck, it's up to me to do as much as possible to be helpful (or at least not hindering) with my own position. So. Hands up, got it! 

"are we done yet??" - charlie, probably
Meanwhile, Charlie's buddy Punky had the time of his freakin life haha. Where Charlie felt like these exercises were uncommonly hard work, Punky was straight up in his element! The grids were challenging enough to keep him from just blasting through (like in our bounce practice video a couple weeks ago) but super engaging for him, and he really did a great job. 

I included a lot of footage of Punky in the video too, just to help you all get a better sense of the scale / height / set up etc since helmet cam is a little challenging in that regard. 
Tho you know me, such a 'ho for that media lol, and I thought this would maybe be an interesting lesson for helmet camera so eh! It's easier than trying to beg and cajole random standers by to take video, at least. 

Anyway, tho, it was really a fun outing. A nice way to get out and do things in the winter time without it really being a big deal. Plus the clinic fee was extremely reasonable ($45). We had gone back and forth about which group to enter -- Amy originally said BN, and I was thinking more toward 3'. But we wanted to be in the same group and settled for 2'9. 

And I'm honestly pretty glad we did lol since as far as I'm concerned the jumps were plenty big enough for such technical and complex exercises omg. Tho I left in footage of the other horse in our group (an absolutely gorgeous 1.10 warmblood and 100% the horse Charlie *thinks* he is) doing the final full lines so you can see that too haha. 

So. Another adventure in the books! Hope y'all had a fun horsey weekend too ;)

Thursday, January 7, 2021

facing reality

The entrance to Charlie's farm is decorated with a "Ridin' with Biden" flag. It's been there for months now, and is actually visible at times from the dressage court.

face your fears, chuck
Charlie... Thinks the flag is kinda scary. As evidenced by his spooky* reaction while we strolled the driveway last week. 

And ya know. I get it, Charlie. Political flags can be scary. Tho.... I promise, some real life movements underlying certain symbolism can apparently be much, much worse

(*Yea this is as extreme as Charlie's oh-so-gentle spooks get haha, he just gets tall + sad!)

congratulations, you've now vicariously ridden a charlie spook
Some folks saw their lives change during yesterday's entirely predictable blitz on the US Capitol. And... at least one (a friggin veteran ugh) straight up paid the ultimate price. And for what? Performance Art?? It defies explanation, logic, rationality.... It's just shameful. 

My thoughts are with anyone affected, including so many of my friends and colleagues who live in the district and surrounding areas.

2021 basically has one job to do -- be better than 2020. But maybe this will be a sea change, maybe this truly will be a bifurcation point. Maybe some folks will finally read the room and realize that.... For fucks sake it is TIME TO MOVE ON. And just... Be better than that. 

Bc I don't know about you guys, but I'm so tired of being outraged. So tired of thinking, "Ok this definitely has to be the ONE, the final breaking point!!" C'mon, man. 

I'm ready for some calm. Maybe even some boring haha. Here's hoping.... Stay safe y'all!

Ooh. And. Fuck you, Donald. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

in like a lion, out like a.... deer?

One of the most under-appreciated aspects of 2020, as far as I can tell, is how basically every single person - regardless of background, interests, circumstances, whatever - had to kinda come to grips with accepting how full of fuckery life can be... And how absolutely not special most of our individual complaints actually are....

"i had a meltdown in 2020"
me too, mr snowman. me too haha
Which weirdly, to me at least, was kinda liberating. Like, "Oh your life sucks too?? Cuz I feel so bohemian like you....

a very covid christmas, and a picture that would have made exactly zero sense 10 yrs ago...
"We're all in this together, alone" haha. And the holidays kinda drove that home, I think. 

christmas eve and STILL ON GRASS WAT?!?
Baltimore City is under a fresh set of restrictions, but.... It's not that scary this time around. We know what's up, we know what we have to do, AND we know how this story ends now. So we carry on. 

just look at all that gras--- wait, what the fuck
Which, obvi is much easier this time around since it's just the City under new orders. My barn out in the county continues to operate under the same policies as this summer (masks in the barn; closed during feeding shifts). 

"excuse me, waiter, this is not what i ordered"
Which means Charlie and I still got in some excellent relaxing rides (between fun jumping adventures) to close out the year. 

what bird's feather? eagle or owl?? or something else???
And I gotta say -- Charlie is living his best life right now. He looks like a glossy plump Thanksgiving Day Turkey under all the various layers and liners I keep dressing him up in. Aided no doubt by the fact that his herd is still on grass

lol and another one, this time a doe...
I guess they did some construction in this field over the past year that meant no horses have been turned out at all on it, so the grass was basically pristine and lush and still growing through our mild fall weather. 

clearly not concerned
With recent rain and ice, tho, the grass is just about totally dead by this point, so they'll probably switch to a round bale soon enough rather than risk destroying the field for next year. Tho obvi the round bale has it's own problems ..... more churned up mud with horses packed more densely together (ie more bites etc). So it's all a balancing act I guess. 

who would be with all that GRASS THO OMG
Still tho, Charlie's never been out on pasture this late in the year at this farm, so I was moderately taken aback when I discovered two deer carcasses out there lol. They appear to have been cleaned and dumped, presumably by one of the family members who lives on the property??? 

I'd spotted a bald eagle a few times out in the field -- something that's kinda unusual since we have a pair of nesting hawks that have lived on the farm forever. I guess the eagle was just there for the deer tho?? Idk haha.... 

It's kinda gross tbh but the horses don't seem to mind. And they're not turned out overnight plus we don't exactly have many natural 4-legged predators in the mainly residential area. So it's probably just the birds (and maybe local dogs ew) scavenging off the bones....

DIY shims doing great!
Anyway, tho, it was so so so nice to get out for so many daytime rides during my little stay-cation between x-mas and nye. Deer carcasses be damned, haha. 

footing removed from the indoor!!!
We obvi didn't go into the woods, much, tho -- considering this city slicker is absolutely ignorant about when hunting season begins and ends, but is very very averse to the idea of getting sprayed with buckshot haha. 

not goin anywhere in particular but enjoying the ride anyway <3
I'm still very much in the "Given Up" phase of our dressage work tho (sorta, kinda.... am sorta kinda doing some pseudo dressage as part of our conditioning work that I'll probably talk about later) so our rides have basically been all about finding some balance. 

hi sheep!
Meaning: get enough movement and mileage in to feel physically good -- loose fit and fierce! -- for our schooling adventures. Some light trot and canter sets. Cavaletti and ground poles. And.... Strollin. Lots and LOTS of strollin the farm haha. 

hi pony!
Seems like a pretty fitting way to close out an unexpectedly quiet year, and ring in something that'll be undoubtedly new and different -- even if in ways we can't really predict yet. 

hello fishies!
I'm not at all sure what I want from 2021 yet. Like.... Not even close haha. 

Except... One thing is clear: I don't want to get all bent out of shape about the small stuff. Or... make any crazy impulsive changes under the false impression that "this'll fix everything!" haha, if that makes sense. 

So.... We stroll. And stay ready haha. And we'll see what happens!