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. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

comfort zone XC schooling

Fun fact: My last cross country lesson was in October 2019, a clinic with Martin Douzant at Loch Moy. My last cross country lesson with long-time Trainer P was in...September 2018. In other words, eons ago.

Thankfully, that all changed this weekend.
my intrepid ottb looking ready to go, no?
Trainer P texted our lesson group with options for what to do, and consensus was: let's get out into the fields! Somewhat surprisingly, while I knew I'd become increasingly nervous as lesson time drew near, I was actually excited too. 

dusting off ye olde stud kit!! honestly pretty happy with it
I debated about whether to stud or not... The ground is basically perfect right now -- tho a bit wet + marshy in places. On one hand it's useful to use early season outings to let horses remember where their legs are without any additional help.

On the other hand, tho, Charlie and I have been trotting and cantering around in the woods over roots and logs and through swampy puddles and ditches etc... So, eh, we've got that covered. 

used a wire bristle brush to clean last year's dirt out of the threads
Plus. I figured: What I really really need right now is positive + confidence building mileage. Studs give Charlie confidence. Confident Charlie gives *me* confidence. So... It was a no brainer: we'd go with studs. 

We first drilled and tapped Charlie for studs in 2018, after moving up to Novice (yes lol we've been riding at this level that long, maybe we're novice lifers??). This is earlier than many choose to start, but honestly the studs make such a huge difference for Chuck in helping him keep all 4 legs active + engaged directly under his body that... We go with it. 

these little pointy nubs are essentially my go-to choice
At the time I asked for a lot of advice on best practices and such, and it was super funny bc as with all horse things, everyone has a million opinions. 

I've kinda fallen into my own habits by now tho. I use basically the same exact set of studs in just about every condition... And I basically never clean them. And ya know. It works out haha. 

in case you were wondering how many different boot types i can slap onto the horse at any one time
I was extra protective of Charlie's legs tho, just in case he didn't realize he was armed legged. I kinda love these Tough 1 bell boots too. They're soft, don't rub, and don't spin. Probably wouldn't keep him from ripping off a shoe, but they provide great protection to all the soft sensitive bits in the event of an overreach. 

I also busted out our old Professionals Choice pastern wraps. Charlie's chronically weak hind end means he sometimes interferes on the inside of his pasterns, which were already calloused up when I got him. The habit disappears when he's fit, tho with delaying hock injections over the winter we saw a bit of regression. So I figured it wouldn't hurt to play it safe with the studs. 

this configuration gives us ALL the adjustment choices for +/- braking power as needed
also. yes it IS tragic that i let charlie rub his face while bridled and thus the scuff on the leather :(
Finally, the last hardware prep was getting Charlie's bridle dialed . We spent years wearing this Sprenger KK universal bit with a single rein on the curb ring, and all was well in the world. 

Last year, tho, I got run the fuck away with at a very inopportune time. So we added flash and curb straps. But... This past winter, Charlie's been sluggish and at times reactive to the bridle. So... for this ride I kept the flash and curb, but left both very loose. The buckled rein converter can adjust how pressure is distributed to snaffle or curb ring by tightening or loosening the buckles. 

It looks like a shit ton of hardware but... I'm hoping it'll give us what we need for all of Charlie's moods. Can basically be a straight snaffle bridle, straight curb, or somewhere in between. 

anyway! onto jumpies!! small but fun related distance
Whew, ok, that's a lot of lead up to the lesson. For me, tho, taking care of these little details is a big part of how I impose some semblance of order on the chaos inside my mind. 

Bc let's be real.... I'm still feeling fairly fragile and protective after the bad experiences of last year, a very quiet fall and winter, and now still recovering from another ankle injury. So honestly I'm pretty focused on doing whatever it takes to just.... feel ok

our OG favorite red N boat house, sadly now positioned much farther from the water
Thus we get to a cross country lesson that was essentially chicken soup for the 'Fraidy Cat soul. I told trainer P that I didn't really care what we jumped, didn't expect to do anything big or complicated. But I *did* want to spend some time cruising -- stringing a couple things together, not just starting and stopping constantly.

splish-splashing back the other way!
And we did exactly that. Started by cycling through the warm up logs with me more or less just sittin chilly holding mane while Charlie made his own life choices (long here, tight there, etc). Then cruised up the hill to the BN ramp that's usually jump 2 on our course. And Charlie was perfect, natch <3

From there, we scooted around to the tiny little log / lattice combo you see above. There wasn't a great approach for this so we kinda crawled through it in like 6 strides (over what is probably close to a 60' distance, whoops), but it felt fine honestly.

super fun set of bending lines from rails to ditches!! this is the N line to middle ditch
The water is kinda our happy place tho, so we went there next and played around with going back and forth over the red coop. I friggin love this jump bc it's a solid novice height, but so inviting in profile and width, and always jumps great. It used to be much closer to the water tho, which I liked better. Either way, I always get a lot of confidence jumping it back and forth, so that's what we did. 

Then moved over to a new set of combinations near the schooling ditches (that are virtually never on the recognized courses). For as long as I've been here, these ditches have always kinda just stood alone. But finally someone decided to put in related jumps -- so there are three progressively sweeping bending lines for BN, N and T. 

Charlie and I did the N line and it was lovely, with Charlie finally starting to pull more forward. 

options were limited bc of boggy sections in the field, but this bn house kept us on dry ground
Sadly, tho, the there were slightly.... less fantastic choices made with placing the rest of the jumps in the big top field. There are a lot of natural springs in that field and they managed to put most of the jumps in the boggiest areas -- which we'd be avoiding this ride. 

for a nice cruise up the hill to this simple N house thingy
Many others were kinda just placed.... not great, with a lot of downhill approaches (not at all my favorite right now). So we didn't do much up there, but put together a nice long line from a BN to N house, wherein Charlie got a reminder that "Yes, sir, we DO canter away from home and the group without sucking behind the leg, thankyouverymuch!"

finishing strong with our favorite log tables -- this is the N, giving us a nice straight shot back to the red boat house and water, just visible in upper right corner
After that, trainer P had us do one more line, starting one of my favorite jumps on the property -- this N log table that is hefty AF but always jumps incredibly (same is true for the T version, which was one of the first T fences Charlie ever jumped, go figure lol).

Charlie was obviously perfect over the table, then cruised on along easily back to the red coop into the water. In retrospect, I should have done the white T house right next to it instead -- since it's another of Charlie's favorite fences. But eh, next time!

And that was it! Not very intense, not a ton of jumping. And, aside from the two related lines, exactly zero of it was new. But it was good. I felt good. We had good jumps. Practiced with a good feeling. And Charlie jumped in that effortlessly casual way of his that makes me watch the video and wonder why we didn't go bigger. THAT is the feeling I needed from this ride. 

Bc for real. Watch that video and just try to tell me this doesn't look like the best horse for riding around like this??

congratulations, your prize for reading this far is one (1) digital image of Goose the Pig <3
In the spirit of full disclosure, tho, it's also important to note that these rides are still 100% "Type II Fun." Meaning, generally speaking, that I'm not really experiencing the 'fun' until it's over -- I'm still kinda an anxious tense mess during the act itself. 

Like, true story: I was apparently clenching my jaw for the entire 2hr lesson bc the rest of the night literally my entire face just ached. So... ya know... It's gonna be a process to work through all that LOL.

Luckily tho, the remedy is just getting out and doing more of it!

Friday, April 2, 2021

charlie's secret "GO" button??

Charlie and I have been going through the same sorta cycle ever since he came home back in 2016. Basically, the horse just kinda doesn't go. Unless he's going. In which case, he GOES.
tree blossom season!
It honestly sometimes feels really really bipolar. Like I'll spend the first half of a ride chasing the horse along, nag-nag-nagging. And then the second half of the ride trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. 

oooh and opportunistic cavaletti schooling! a friend set this up just as we were finishing and i figured, what the hell, let's take a few passes! charlie was perfect obvi <3 <3 <3
This is actually one big reason why I've converted to riding almost entirely in the hackamore for everything other than jump lessons. Charlie stiffens and leans into a snaffle in a way that he just.... doesn't with the hackamore. So I never really feel like I need to ride around with the e-brake half on, ya know?

getting back into incorporating long walks before or after every ride
But that still leaves me with the first half of the problem: just getting this friggin horse going. I swear I get so tired of kickin him on. And will find a million reasons to think, "OMG he's probably dying I should probably start digging the hole now!" Ahem, cough cough. 

forsythia is my favorite <3 <3 <3
Spending a winter "kinda giving up on dressage" really helped, tho, I think. I've spent the past months just sorta working on allowing forward, not interfering negatively with the horse's balance (tho possibly not necessarily influencing him positively either), and just working on some of my own position habits. 

Namely: detaching my clingy friggin heels and lower legs from my poor horse's rib cage. And everyone likes that better now haha.

blurry but kinda watercolor-esque?
It's springtime in earnest around these parts tho. And, to be perfectly honest, it's way past time to get serious about each other's fitness. Our baselines are ok -- but they're just that: baselines. It's time for more. 

Charlie's got fresh joint oil, his feet look good. He's been acupunctured and chiro'd and all the things. It's TIME.

death alley is much less spooky now that construction's about wrapped. that sky tho!
But. How to really get his ass 'in gear' for our rides without falling back into the same nagging habits?? I *think* I may have sorta accidentally discovered a neat trick this week. 

See.... Charlie has always been somewhat of an idiot savant when it comes to counter canter. Well -- let's be real, canter is his strongest gait anyway. And the counter canter just... honestly comes kinda easily to him. I've been told up and down and all around that it's also a fabulous strengthening exercise. 

finished rebuilt shed, plus older attached lean-to
So this week I reintroduced it to our rides. Basically, I ride giant sweeping figures of 8 around our roughly 30x70m dressage court. Just a few (maybe 3ish) on each lead, which works out to about 2min* per lead. 

(*Recall: I keep an interval timer app going on my phone that dings every 2min. I don't necessarily heed every ding, but it's a useful gauge for tracking time). 

just love those beautiful crazy post-storm spring skies!
Wouldn't ya know it. Something about counter canter just naturally improves Charlie in his overall lateral and longitudinal balance. It sorta gently realigns his whole posture so that his hind legs come up underneath --- almost like he remembers "OMG wow! I *do* have a hind end after all!" And suddenly it's like all his pipes open and he snorts a whole bunch and then... we're all clear!

After which, from that point on in the ride, Charlie switches effortlessly from slug-mode to... actually going forward haha. But without all the tension that is sometimes introduced with other "jazz-up" exercises like rapid-fire transitions. Funny how that works! 

The last couple times we've done it there have been little cavaletti set up in the dressage court that I've used as kinda a reward/proof of concept after the counter canter work. Obvi it's a small sample set but seems like Charlie really nailed it. 

So. Maybe this is the secret 'go' switch I've been looking for in my warm up all these years? Does anybody else spend a lot of time in counter canter? Does it have the same effect on your horse? Or are there other exercises you use to get the horse moving up and in front of your leg?