Monday, June 7, 2021

in which we are judged accordingly

So.... Charlie and I have a pretty spotty history with schooling dressage shows. And by "spotty," I mean... abysmal lol....

Who could forget that time I took a very green Charles to a small local show back in 2017, when the dressage judge scolded me for attempting such advanced tests as ... BN-A with a horse who obviously needed to go "back to the basics." Like. Ma'am. This is the basics. The basics *is* this. What the ever loving fuck do you think we're doing here??? 

Ahem. Cough cough. 

let's just pretend charlie always trots like this, m'kay?
More recently, in 2019, we came back to the same show the day after participating in a gallop clinic. And the judge was *horrified* by the state of Charlie's soundness. Literally appalled that I, an on-farm rider who literally paid $20 for some mileage in the ring, would dare to present my horse to her in such a condition. Refused to provide any feedback whatsoever, and requested I scratch my second test. 

Which, obviously, I did. I also went ahead and complied with her second (unspoken) request by having a full on meltdown existential crisis over failing this horse that I love more than just about anything else in life.  

LOLZ in case you thought our days of seeing "labored" in the judges comments were over
Now, sure. It's not the judge's responsibility to consider any sort of environmental or external factors when evaluating the horse put before them. 

There is zero expectation that a judge be understanding in the case of a rider who is just learning how to integrate gallop training into a fitness program, and therefore might not realize how it impacts her horse's delicate feet.

But... Call me crazy, but I think there is an expectation that judges do what is asked of them upon being presented with a dressage test: provide feedback. 

aw honey, what a good boy. ahem, emma, fix yer wrists wtf
And by "feedback" -- I don't mean tell me whether you think my horse or I have a future in dressage. Or whether you like my horse or not. I don't really care how Charlie compares to a purpose bred warmblood, or whether I ride in the style of Charlotte or not. Bc, spoilers: that's not why we're here. 

I go to dressage shows bc.... Honestly? It's something to do with my horse. It can be a fun way to spend a day with friends. 

To get show experience that is often lower-key (and lower-risk) than jumping classes. To mark a day on the calendar. Get dressed up, and gussy the horse up too. And go out and do the thing, possibly walking away with some nice pictures, maybe even a ribbon, and -- importantly -- feedback on where things are with our training. 

pictured: what our trot normally looks like in those 10m half turns....
And when it comes to deciding what tests to ride at a show.... Honestly, as a jumping rider who must consider our likely safety in jumping certain heights and combinations, well... Let's be real. The idea of blowing a leg yield in a dressage court sounds pretty low consequence lol. So I often see schooling dressage shows as an opportunity to "level up," so to say.

On this particular day, actually -- it was even simpler than all that, tho. I had "Free Ride" credits with the local dressage association from being secretary for them last year. And the show was at home haha. 

AND. Most importantly: I've had the pleasure of scribing for a few judges who struck me as.... let's say, 'good stewards for the future development of the sport.' By which I *do not* mean they were adept at identifying the next CDI campaigner or whatever. But rather, they took each rider and horse as they were, and judged their tests with an eye toward helping riders continue on their path. Whatever that path may be. 

big horse did a great job in his canters, at least as far as he knows
Because -- I know this might shock you, but.... Sometimes, riders who show up to do low level dressage tests at a schooling show are... exactly that. There to ride a low level test, and should be judged according to the level's standard - and nothing more. Intro level riders aren't 2nd level riders. And 2nd level riders aren't PSG riders. It really is that simple.

As far as I can tell, the VAST majority of english riders will never ride above 1st level or jump above 3'. Most don't even do that, let's be real. Tho ya know, feel free to chime in if you disagree with my anecdotal observation lol.

Anyway, one of these "good steward" judges has been on my list to ride with for basically years now, but it just never quite worked out. When I saw she was judging this weekend tho, I was allllll over it. Not bc I thought she'd give us inflated scores or whatever (tho probably she did). 

charlie can look quite compact from the right angles lol
But.... Bc I figured, at the very least, she probably wouldn't fill my soul with doubt, or make me question every single choice I've ever made with this horse. Rather, I expected she'd likely give us useful feedback. 

Which, naturally, she did. Sure, none of it is groundbreaking --- she wants the same from Charlie as every other judge and dressage trainer wants from him. More engagement, more power from the hind quarters. More push for bigger more quality gaits. 

And, in scoring the test, she did exactly the thing I generally expect (rightly or wrongly) from dressage judges: provide feedback on a score-by-score basis.

his face tho <3 charles murray, just doin his job, ma'am!
There were some movements I thought went better than others. Did the scores reflect that distinction? Yes! -- but, only in places. There were some movements I thought I really went for it (like our canter lengthenings), but... the comments indicated there's still more needed there. 

Some movements that felt better than others -- like the leg yield left vs the leg yield right -- did in fact score better, but she also identified some issues that need fixing even in the better side. 

Overall, the detailed commentary - combined with my memory of the tests, and the video footage (snagged by a very saintly ring steward -- thanks!) - allows me to take a thorough clear look back and say, 
"Yes, this felt good and scored relatively well compared to the rest. That felt like it needed work - and the judge identified xyz as the problem. This other thing felt atrocious but actually the judge liked where it was going."
Which.... is a long-winded way to say, it felt like an effective temperature-check of Charlie's flatwork, and that the judge's comments added definition to my understanding of how it went. 
 
(also omg the screaming deafening cicadas omg)

It's not groundbreaking stuff -- nothing earth shattering. As we've known for a while, the tune we hit in our "lengthenings" is actually probably right about where our "working" gaits need to be. For reference: the stretchy trot circle at the end of our test when I felt like I was getting run TF away with, that's where the judge said she wanted our frame and energy ALL the time*.

(*I'd note here tho, for my own record: In that moment, he doesn't look super downhill, tho obviously he's not very uphill. He FEELS hella downhill, tho, and the way he feels in that moment is 100% a feeling I never ever EVER want at the takeoff point to a jump... so... my instinct has been to err on the side of "but can we jump from this balance?" even when it means sacrificing some of what a dressage judge wants. Excellent riders can make it all happen in one neat tidy package. For me, tho, I've got to pick my battles lol....)

Charlie's also obviously not super round in any of the movements -- which makes sense when you consider I haven't ridden the horse on the bit in our practice for damn near a year at this point LOL. Tho, notably, the comments don't dwell on the connection. 

gosh it's so easy to pick ourselves apart in pictures like this (like wtf am i doing with my shoulders tho?!) but i love what a tank this horse has become <3 <3
So. Overall. I feel like I finally got the experience out of a dressage show that has been so elusive for so many years: We got in there, rode a test that's probably a little beyond our pay grade, and got feedback on where we're doing ok and which parts need more attention. 

Incredible that this feels like such a win haha. But ya know. Maybe your mileage has varied?


Friday, June 4, 2021

state of the charles

Happy Friday!! For a short week, this one really dragged on lol..... Anyway, Spring is officially wrapping up around these parts, with a full blast of 90* summer headed our way shortly. So it feels like a nice time to recap what all Charlie got up to wellness-wise this season.

"we ride at dawn"
#1: The State of Charlie's Feet. 

Guys, omg. I don't know exactly what the difference is this year, but we're in a completely different place right now with Charlie's hoof care compared to this time last year. Obviously the covid lockdown last spring really took a toll, but I think there's more to it. 

charlie's front feet at 5wks on the last day of May
Finally this year -- finally -- I feel like I got a head start on things. Obviously that could all change at any moment (and yes, writing this post is certainly jinxing me in one way or another) -- but I think a couple things made an early difference.

knocking on all things wood, bc i'm honestly so happy with how they look
First :: Charlie switched into his leather pads up front in March this year. Normally I've waited until May or even June to do that, and have always felt like I waited too long. Like the horse was already a little sore by then. 

This year, it felt like we got him into the pads well before hard ground became an issue. And I also suspect the pads help reduce chipping. 

pictured: self serve buffet grass
Second :: I've been zealous with Keratex applications since basically February. My farrier recommends applying as close to daily as possible, since apparently the polymers build up and bond together on the hoof's surface, improving elasticity and strength? Or something like that haha. 

Idk, but applying more often than the 2-3x a week I'd done before seems to make a difference. 

pretty !!
Third :: Fly boots. Charlie's been living in these Shoo Fly boots up front all spring. Yes, he has little spots of rubbed off hair on his heel bulbs. But... that's it. There's never any irritation or constriction around his coronet band, pastern, or fetlock. Even in wet or muddy conditions. 

But the boots 100% keep the flies and biting insects off his lower legs, drastically reducing stomping. It's probably even odds whether it's the shoe pads, keratex, or fly boots making the biggest difference. I don't really care tho -- I'm continuing all three. 

noshin on the go!
#2: The State of Charlie's Guts. 

Charlie started a course of Ulcergard at the beginning of May. I picked up 2 boxes (12 tubes) of the liquid gold from Big D's (which often has the best price for the brand name stuff) and dosed Charlie with a full tube daily for 9 days, then tapered through the remaining tubes. 

I figured... If I noticed any difference in Charlie's general demeanor through the first 9 days, I'd get another box or two and carry on for a full month. There was no difference shown tho, so we stuck with the 2 box plan.

iggy's trying to understand how charlie ended up on the wrong side of the fence lol
Honestly, Charlie is not at all an ulcery type of horse, and doesn't show any of the characteristic hallmarks. But.... he travels on the trailer frequently. So I always like to do a sorta test treatment about annually -- and it had been a while since we'd used the "good" stuff. 

It felt like a good box to check off the list, so no regrets... but it wasn't really anything ground breaking either.

pc Amy Flemming Waters
#3: The State of Charlie's Skin. 

Oof, Charlie is an itchy SOB throughout spring and summer. Most of it is probably just fly bites. But..... I'm not convinced he doesn't also have mild allergies. Especially after he stuck a leg through a fence (to gruesome effect) itching himself, I've kept OTC allergy pills on hand to help him out. 

i spy with my little eye, an itchy pony
Various folks recommended Cetrizine (active ingredient in Zyrtec), so I keep a bottle on hand for Charlie's itchier days. He'll sometimes eat the pills right out of my hand, but usually I drop them into some grain. 

gotta admit, i reeeeally thought we'd see another case of anaplasmosis from this guy
Also of note in the skin category -- it's still early days and I've already pulled a shit ton of ticks off Charlie. All sorts of varieties too -- the typical deer ticks, a dog tick, and even the above which I suspect to be a lone star tick (the type that often carries anaplasmosis). 

lol behold, charlie's .... stuff
They've really been getting all up in Charlie's junk too, the poor guy. Luckily, tho, no big reactions like swellings or fevers or anything else that might suggest tick borne illness.... But I'm definitely checking often just in case!! 

Also of note: all that bloody scabby nastiness on Charlie's sheath. Like, kinda sorry-not-sorry for the pic, but also... Damn these gnats are vicious. I've got some pink Swat headed my way (recommended over the clear stuff) to help -- but now that Charlie's back on overnight turnout I'm hoping he'll get more relief anyway. Poor dude.... :(
 
mikey supervises the chiro / acupuncture appointments, per usual
#4: The State of Charlie's Body. 

Charlie had another visit with his favorite chiropractor / acupuncturist a couple weeks ago (sorry no pictures), and she declared him to be doing quite nicely. Was also very happy with the state of his feet (thought they were freshly done when in fact they were at about ~3wks), and felt the back soreness we'd seen last time was majorly reduced. 
 
another friend snapped these lovely shots of charlie!! <3
Over the years I've had a hard time keeping Charlie on a body wellness schedule when there isn't anything like.... acutely concerning to me. But I'm really gonna try to keep this particular program up. Bc honestly, at the end of the day, Charlie loves it and I always feel like this practitioner can give me a really good read on where Charlie is in that moment. 

***WILD CHARLES ALERT***
So. There ya have it. Everything in Charlieland is kinda hummin right along at the moment, the horse seems to be doing quite well.

I've also tinkered a little with his feed -- reduced the volume of alfalfa pellets and replaced with his Nutrena Pro Force Fuel feed, since he was occasionally not cleaning up. And actually recently pulled the DIY shims back out of my sheepskin half pad, after feeling like maybe we were better off without after all. So far, so good on both accounts.

fun decals spotted on a trailer at loch moy last week LOL -- i love it!
For now, at least, we're in a place of stasis. Things can always change haha -- but honestly it feels good to finally feel like I've got the cadence figured out for our normal seasonal adjustments. 

It's the sort of thing you don't really think about until you own your own horse -- or at least, I never really thought about it. But with Charlie, it felt like Spring constantly caught us off guard in what should have been predictable ways. Here's hoping -- maybe we got it right this year? 

Does anyone else have any major seasonal issues that you have to stay in front of with your horse -- feet, feed, medicines, other wellness issues? How do you keep track of it all?

 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Shawanderful CT

Hope you all enjoyed the weekend -- esp US readers who got to enjoy an extra day in honor of Memorial Day Weekend!

charles doin his charlie thing
We've often rung in the holiday weekend with a trip out to Loch Moy for their final event of the Spring season.... But this year, our local combined training association the MCTA reinstated their starter event at local Shawan Downs. Obviously we had to capitalize on this chance to compete at such an iconic venue!

my early morning attempt at cinematically capturing the rain....
It was funny, tho, in that.... not-actually-very-funny karmic sort of way... but all last weekend while I volunteered at the recognized HT in 90* temps, I couldn't help but feel smug that we'd have a much better forecast for our own starter this past weekend. PLUS -- the forecast even called for a little rain to soften up the ground!

charles wishes i didn't take him out in public dressed like this....
Smug is as smug does, tho, and I was singing a very different tune after 1inch+ of rain overnight, and the promise of much more to come throughout the day..... Ooh, and. Predicted gusts of 20mph, rendering it completely unwise to try setting up my nice 12'x12' canopy. Womp. 

i usually hate covering charlie's big beautiful star with a bonnet but... eh, it kept the rain out of his ears
Honestly, at this particular moment in my emotional development, I need basically everything to be 110% perfect for me to feel even mildly comfortable in the lead up to a show. So the whole "pouring cats and dogs" thing sorta predictably threw me through a loop.

guys he's become such a trier!!!!
But... Eh. The weather sorta lightened up a little bit as my dressage time rolled around. So ya know. I got on the horse and off we went. I didn't even stud Charlie up, although dressage was on wet muddy grass.... such was the extent of my non-commitment haha. But actually, bless him, Charlie was fine.  

judges always want more from him, but i honestly quite like this <3
Better than fine -- he's a pro. Obviously

good boy, sir
If you asked Charlie how he did in his test, he'd tell you: 

"I put my head down! I go-ed when she said go! I whoa-ed when she said whoa!! And I did all the turns nice and steady with my nose pointed in the correct direction -- and only slipped twice!!!! Basically, I won!"


Yes Sir. Obviously, yes, you won <3

scored test sheet for all y'all non video watchers
Obviously actual dressage judges are always coming into these things with all these expectations about roundness and suppleness and impulsion and uphill balance and energy and and and and... blah blah blah, lol. They're so needy haha.

he was surprisingly snug and satisfied hangin outside the trailer in just his rain sheet!
As far as I'm concerned, tho, I'm perfectly pleased with the test. First most bc I actually did it, go me. Secondly, bc Charlie obviously thinks he's basically the best at this (nobody ever tell him any differently, kthxbai). And third of all -- I kinda love the progression of scores haha. From straight 6's, to... ok, here's some 6.5s, to... huh, ok, straight 7s to finish. 

I don't think the judge loved how Charlie goes, but maybe couldn't deny that, actually, he goes just fine, thanks -- especially after a little canter! (Or, ya know, maybe I'm just *finally* figuring out how to ride his canter in a show ring lol....)

eternally grateful that the rain was much much lighter than anticipated
So anyway. The test was done. I'd walked my course the day before (thus avoiding the deluge), and Amy didn't do her dressage until the same time I jumped. So there really wasn't much else to do during the 2hr break before stadium but sit around inside the trailer, vacillating wildly about whether to jump at all or not. 

On one hand, ugh no let's scratch immediately. On the other, tho.... Emma. Emma. For cryin out loud, get on your horse and jump him around. Jesus christ. Pop in the studs, toss on the saddle. And do it.  

i'll spare you snapshots of every jump on course. but omg is this not THE ACTUAL CUTEST THO OMG?!
Old Bay, y'all. if you know -- you know
So I made a little deal with myself. A little compromise, let's say. I decided we'd just do the show jumping, but not the cross country. Not because anything was specifically wrong, per se, other than something being apparently broken deep inside my head at the moment. There's just this really strong feeling of "I don't wanna," and ya know. Who am I to deny my own self in that moment, lol?
 
That probably sounds crazy, but I'm kinda past trying to rationalize it or explain it at this point. All that mattered to me was, I settled on a deal with my own self, tacked up the horse, and set out to execute on that plan. 

We got to warm up right on time to warm up with the earliest birds in our class -- local legends Sally Cousins and Colleen Rutledge. Plus some very lovely ladies I've had the pleasure of riding with in lessons. AND a barn mate was there working as a groom, and thus setting fences. 


This all felt very promising -- we could get in our warm up, benefiting from the progression in fence heights my friend was setting for her rider (not that Charlie needed it, but obvi this isn't really about Charlie any more, is it...). Then I got to watch the pros put together some lovely courses -- plus a couple of friends, before it was our turn. 

The course wasn't much different from when I was timer on the Intermediate through training courses the week prior -- but a couple jumps were taken out, plus some lines shifted to better ground in such a way as to open up the trickier turns. Overall -- it looked great. 

punky had a great day too!
And once on course? It really rode great too. I was very much all aboard the waiting train -- taking a balanced-but-with-impulsion canter to the base of every fence, given the ground conditions. But Charlie was in that perfect zone -- bang on the aids, ready to adjust and adapt at the drop of a hat. Including down the line from 3 to 4 when I wanted the seven strides but got there long and chucked the reins at him lol.... Nbd, he covered for me!

Everything else rode fine -- he landed great from all the jumps, made all the turns perfectly (even that quick turn on landing after jump 7) and nailed the two-stride to finish. Plus was so on point with his auto-changes that I legit do not remember a single moment on course where I even thought about it (tho you can see in the video where he does the changes).

added another white 4th place ribbon to the collection for our dressage placing 
It was a short course of just 9 jumps, but honestly I think Charlie would have done just as well had it been longer. He's just such a pro. 

And obviously I had no reason to suspect he'd be any different out on cross country. But we all know it's not really about that at this point. 

the bestest boy
So we finished show jumping, moseyed over to the TD to let them know we'd be withdrawing prior to xc, and I headed back to the trailer finally feeling relieved and happy haha. 

Honestly couldn't be more thrilled with Charlie's performance, too. Much to my surprise, we were tied for 4th -- right in the middle of the pack -- after dressage. Then moved into 3rd with our clear show jumping. It's pointless to speculate on what would have happened on cross country, but it's nice to think that even with all my ridiculousness, we can still get nice results that do justice to the horse haha. 

So. Another CT in the books haha. And when you consider the epic and wonderful xc lesson we had at the same venue last week, it's *almost* as if we'd done the full three phases lol. Almost. Good 'nuff, as far as I'm concerned!