Wednesday, August 25, 2021

more pics + a comparison

I got a few more pics from our CT at Thornridge Manor last weekend -- courtesy of Bethany P Photography -- and honestly am kinda in love with them. 

Obvi these are the absolute *most* cherry-picked of the whole bunch. Like... If you're going to spend nearly the cost of the entry on 2 photos, gotta pick the best, right? But they feel representative of how Charlie went in this test, for which he earned a 31.7% (would have been a 30.7% had I not gone off course...).

he's easy on the eyes <3
Since I got such a nice candid shot from last month's outing, this time I wanted two good action shots -- including one at canter. And for each, I chose the pic where Charlie showed the most lift through his shoulder and wither. 

"Lift" is not really something we got a lot of with this horse, let's be honest. Nor is there much in the way of "suspension" lol. The moments can be fleeting, few and far between. But, again as I wrote in the actual show recap, we managed to get the warm up just right so that Charlie was primed to perform his best in the test -- and these photos feel like a testament to that. 

Charlie was more forward, and therefore had an easier time propelling himself up and off the ground. 

i love his thick, wild mane and glossy coat
It's interesting to compare to older pictures too, like the below from Loch Moy in 2019. All things considered, Charlie and I are still at the same level of competition as we were then -- novice eventing  / first level dressage. But a lot has changed in how we go. 

Learning how to ride Charlie on the flat has been a constant evolution. Isabel was the first horse I ever actually seriously tried to get 'on the bit' -- and the primary focus with her always revolved around lengthening her neck and not curling. The switch from her to Charlie was..... enormous lol. Charlie's defining characteristic is his extreme physical length lol. 

So the difficulty with him has always been in getting him to sorta shorten his body from nose to tail -- to be less rangy, less strung out -- but without sacrificing stride length or shortening his top line. How to preserve a long topline on a horse whose body you want to shorten? 

flashback to april 2019, first show of the year at novice. we earned a 36.9% in this test
pc Austen Gage
I've written a lot already about how we 'kinda gave up' on dressage last winter, but the gist was that I basically stopped fussing with the bridle altogether -- opting instead to ride exclusively in our hackamore. And in the meantime, just focused on keeping the horse moving forward in a steady rhythm while working on my own position (har har). 

And while that approach didn't necessarily fix everything, it felt like an effective "reset" for us, and helped break a couple really bad habits:: like riding the horse too much front to back, too backward and behind the leg, in order to get him "round" (bunny ears intentional there).

It feels like we're both a little happier in the work -- not fighting as much or picking at the details. Which.... ya know.... is kinda the whole point. I want to walk away from our rides -- at shows, at home, anywhere -- with Charlie strutting like a champion rather than wilted and relieved it's over. 

Bc it's supposed to be fun, right? And, as far as I'm concerned, Charlie has all the pieces for first level to be well and truly FUN for us. Tho, lol, let's not talk about second level -- even just a brief scan over those tests convinced me that Charlie would 100% feel personally victimized by that level - so... thanks, but no thanks!

Obvi a couple photos cherry picked from a 4min test will never really tell the full story. But these photos above from last weekend feel validating that we're on the right track, in terms of my own personal objectives. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

can't win 'em all -- thornridge edition

This past weekend was the third combined test at Thornridge Manor of their summer series -- one being cancelled outright due to rain. Go figure, this one almost ended up cancelled too after 3" in the last day or so... but luckily the weeks of prior drought meant the ground could take it....

gotta admit, i don't love getting up before the sun...
This summer series has been wonderful for me and Charlie, as far as I'm concerned. The first of the season was basically all about just surviving a competition completion. And the second saw us swing kinda wildly in the opposite direction, with flagrant disregard for the outcome (as evidenced by my lack of preparation and disheveled hungover state lol). 

Tho, go figure, Charlie ended up winning his classes at both of those events, good boy <3

but the dawn does occasionally make for some lovely scenes
As seems fitting, this third time around I had an even newer set of objectives and goals. Basically, it was going to be a slightly bigger class than what we'd seen before, and I figured --- ehh, let's give the dressage a real try for once, maybe?

it's always critical to have your barn manager sign off before shipping out!
Maybe this is just me, but I often end up wanting to "save" my horse for the jumping at these one day events, and don't really push for much in the dressage test. 

The result is usually a reasonably nice test -- obedient and steady, but lacking any sort of forward sparkle. For this week, I figured -- eh, what the hell, let's try to actually light the horse up for the judge! 

first to arrive on the show grounds!
And actually -- it sorta kinda worked! You might remember, back in April I wrote about discovering how counter canter was enormously helpful for getting Charlie forward, engaged, and up in front of my leg. I actually fondly refer to the horse as a "counter canter savant," and therefore opted to employ the exercise fairly liberally in our warm up. 

sad to not have video... also, LOL @ the "rider" comment in the collectives.... siiiigh
Basically, my aim was to ride much more forward in our test than we typically do. It's such a delicate balance with him, bc Charlie can go around pleasantly enough -- softly doing the things etc -- but in a shuffle-y sorta way that judges don't love. But -- rev his engine too much and he's likely to stiffen his topline and plow through the bridle, losing power steering in the process. 
marching down to our destiny in the jump ring
Somehow tho we managed to strike the right balance for the test. Charlie's got like 4 really good minutes in him, and for once we actually got those good minutes when it counted. I'm sad not to have video from the test, but Bethany P Photography was there again so hopefully we'll get some good still shots. 

so pretty it's almost easy to imagine this rail *not* falling
Overall, the score ended up being our second-best at this level! Kiiinda exciting, considering we've been riding the test literally since it was published in 2018 (and yet I still manage to routinely go off course, whoops)... So it was a cool proof-of-concept that Charlie's got the capacity for better scores when we push for them. 

lolz my darling counter-canter-savant thought our new trick should be doing an entire round on the wrong lead
Tho.... Uh.... There's a "but" to that, lol. After about an hour break, where we tinkered around at the trailer and I got the studs in, Charlie kinda deflated into dozing off. Even when we got down to warm up for the jumping, while Charlie's body felt good and like he had plenty in the tank -- emotionally, he was maybe a bit used up. 

sweet thing <3
Combined with the absurd humidity.... Yea. It felt like I didn't have a whole lotta horse to work with. Charlie was good, and moving up to the fences, and pulling me along just the way I like.... But he wasn't exactly bursting off the ground like he's capable of doing. 

if the front end looks reasonable enough, we can ignore the hind, yes? 
Also... Somewhat hilariously, my clever little pattern- and puzzle-oriented pony has maybe learned the 'counter canter trick' a little too well. I swear to god, it felt like we did the entire friggin course on the wrong lead. Maybe I should have ridden it more like a schooling round -- and insisted on the simple changes etc. But... Eh, sometimes for actual shows I like to just get out there and ride what the horse gives. 

And to be honest, the counter canter wasn't really the issue. Rather, Charlie was jumping a bit flat. Like we had good distances to both of the first two jumps -- but had those rails anyway. Ah well. The turn to fence 3 was sketchy esp with the soft ground, so after dropping the first two rails I opted to circle for a nicer approach (and therefore nicer effort) rather than careen around. And it worked out fine. 

Per usual, Charlie super-charged his way up the outside lines heading back toward the gate, covering the uphill distance like it was the easiest thing in the world -- good boy! Tho we did drop one more rail on our final little tour around, womp. So all told -- 3 rails and 1 circle definitely undermined what was otherwise a competitive dressage score, whoops lol.

heck yes for our second-best ever score on this test! 
Honestly tho... I hardly cared. At last month's CT we had three heavy rubs but no rails despite the lightweight PVC poles. Luck can be fickle, ya know? 

As it was, I felt like it was a useful overall experience. It was nice seeing that we *can* push for the better dressage scores when we want, but that it *will* use up more of my horse in the process. Charlie's always had a somewhat limited emotional capacity -- and I've always tried to get him over-fit physically to compensate for his emotional willingness to throw in the towel lol. 

one day we'll learn how to selfie lol
But we've stepped down fitness and conditioning work in a big way so far this summer, partly bc I haven't really felt interested in doing a full 3-phase, and partly bc I've been working hard on the margins of Charlie's overall soundness. It's always going to be a balancing act with this horse, I guess. 

Anyway, it was tempting to try a second round to clean it up, but I opted not to. Charlie was tired and sweaty, and honestly did quite nicely considering we aren't taking lessons or even doing any proper schooling lately. We'll get back to all that eventually, but things just are what they are right now lol, so I'm happy to just get out and enjoy the horse as he is. 

Tho. Lol.... We miiiiight start practicing more simple changes again, since Sir apparently forgot about those haha. Eh, details details!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

WW: Thornridge Dressage

As promised, here are some pro photos from our dressage test at the Thornridge CT a few weeks back!! 

I'm so spoiled by our main local show photographer GRC, who will sell every single digital image for $99 ($79 if you already have one of their reusable thumb drives), that the price of individual photos always gives me sticker shock.... 

Bethany P Photography did such a lovely job, tho, I had to grab at least a couple! Obvi one of Charlie proving himself to be a very good boy in the dressage ring, flaws 'n all. And then another of us just being happy to be out doing the thing <3

just a charlie horse, strutting his stuff

the actual sweetest <3