Friday, December 31, 2021

cheers to a new year

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy close to 2021, with many good things to come in 2022 !!

Normally I like to do some sort of summary recap or goals/intentions type post. But, eh, not today. It's Friday, it's been a long year, a long time... Let's just dwell on some happy fluff, yes?? Yes. 

guys this horse freakin LOVES children omg
My family is not particularly horsey, not particularly animal-y to be perfectly honest, aside from your typical house cats and some dogs here and there. They never really "understood" the horse thing, altho of course they're supportive. 

even Mikey wanted to come along for walkies <3
As such, we haven't really made time for as many visits as you might expect over the years. Finally, tho, it worked out with the weather and timing and everything that my niece and nephew could pop by for a real true proper Charles Experience!!!

this sweet beautiful horse of mine <3
And it was perfect <3 They're both old enough now to be reasonably comfortable around such a big creature, while still really good about following directions. Sure, both were a little impressed by Charlie's size, but lol once they were up there we straight up couldn't get 'em back off* again! 

(*Ahem, also bc these are big kids to be lifting up and down from that height haha, we legit used the hood of my truck as the mounting block for the kiddos to trade places at the halfway point of our walkabout LOL)

And of course, Charlie LIVES for this type of attention omg. He just freakin adores kids -- is like a heat seeking missile to even the tiniest tots. He wants to snuffle and investigate and smoosh his nose into everybody, and it's just so perfect omg. 

So I made a ridiculously over-the-top cutesie video (unlisted) for my mama, bc she's into that sorta thing. And I figured I'd share it here too in case anybody else out there wanted some silly simple cuteness on this final Friday of 2021. 

Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

flaunting it on the flat

I tried looking back to find where we first started talking about "giving up on dressage" and.... Yea, it's been a long time. Basically, the gist is that I felt like some key flaws in my style of riding Charlie on the flat were having very real negative consequences in our jumping. 

gettin back to my roots with video shot from a phone resting on jump standards... lol
charles flashback here and izzy flashback here
Charlie is a big long lazy horse who will happily "pose" while slugging around behind my leg. But.... "behind the leg" is exactly where I DON'T want to be when jumping bigger jumps, ya know? Who remembers that clinic with Sally Cousins where she sorta bluntly told me we wouldn't be able to do what I wanted to do if I didn't meaningfully change our style of going?

sorry guys, brace yourself for a study of literally four steps of trot in each direction LOL
and yes, obvi i know literally none of this is text book perfect. but that is 1,000% not the point <3
Just getting after Charlie and chasing him forward wasn't quite the answer either, tho -- as I managed to introduce a lot of tension and rigidity into our rides, while still not meaningfully shifting his balance. He'd just plow down into the bridle and drag me along. ALSO not a great feeling for jumping, ya know?

i liked the feeling of this trot a lot
So.... My solution was to basically just, uh, stop trying to get Charlie on the bit. Instead, I kinda spent all last winter just.... riding the horse. Mostly bitless, actually. Focusing almost exclusively on my own position and Charlie's rhythm and balance. 

so it's nice to review footage to see what a good feeling looks like
Lessons with Molly this year, tho few and far between, have made a BIG difference. Something in her style of teaching has introduced me to some very good new feelings, and finally helped me break through some very long-standing bad habits. 

elegant charlie <3
Like clinging with my lower legs, for example. It's not that no other trainer had ever coached me on that exact point -- it's not like I didn't know it was a problem. But... knowing a thing is not the same as doing a thing. And it turns out, the doing part is what actually makes horseback riding hard haha.  

unapologetic overkill lol
It's also possible that Molly came along at the right time in my education as well. It's been a long long journey trying to learn how to really work a horse on the flat, with many different key players over the years. With lots of back and forth between trying to connect both an understanding AND the feeling for what I want in the horse, why, and how *I* need to ride to get it.

(*Editor's Note: Jesus, how many different text effects do we really need for that emphasis, hm??)

oooh oooh we jumped the grid too haha
Just to clarify what we're talking about here, when I started riding Isabel, I'd basically never felt a horse lift his back. I can still remember the epiphany of first isolating my thigh as an independent aid. So like.... This ain't exactly Grand Prix stuff here -- I'm talking about fundamentals. How to feel -- not just what the horse is doing, but also what *I'm* doing.

look ma, we go left too! omg charles look at your fancy little knee action haha!!
And, of course, I had to relearn ALL of those feelings Isabel taught me when Charlie entered the picture. Bc, spoilers, Charlie is an entirely different animal from Ms Thing lol.

woot woot, four off the floor
Taking time over the last couple years of "giving up" has been good for us, I think. Charlie and I reset our parameters for expectations about how to simply... go around under saddle. In other words, I basically stopped fucking with his face, and he, in turn, got serious about maintaining rhythm and impulsion. 

lookin like a powerhouse as we circle back to the grid entrance, final element pictured above
Molly, for her part, has not really dwelled too much on my rein contact with Charlie. Rather, she's sorta deconstructed to begin reconstructing how I sit on the horse, and how I position myself to influence Charlie's balance. Recently --- this balance focus has been more lateral than longitudinal, too.  

wheeee trot cross rail to start! 
And the effects are mind blowing. I told you months ago that after practicing some exercises Molly gave us, I could "feel the sitting trot" in Charlie's gaits. And sure enough -- after I told Molly that in our next lesson, she got us there. More recently, we were practicing the exercises from another lesson, and suddenly.... I could feel where the shoulder-in was. 

15-16' to the small middle oxer
Maybe that sounds stupid bc.... Well, Charlie and I have had actual lessons on shoulder in before. But lateral work with this horse has always felt like... work. Like I had to do A LOT, and he needed a lot of holding together. But again --- changes in my position and Charlie's balance, and the lateral flexion work Molly's had us doing... It was crazy, I rode a circle, returned to the rail, and prepared for a diagonal.... And just got this intense feeling of, "wow if I didn't actually ride this diagonal we'd be doing shoulder in."

behold, my amazing framing of the final oxer element LOL, 18' from middle oxer back rail
Obvi I wasn't expecting it at that moment, so we kinda missed it, but I ruminated on that feeling for a while, and in a more recent ride tried to recreate it. And guys -- omg, there it was, a shoulder in. Without a ton of holding. Without a lot of pretzeling. Just clear positioning and flexion and balance. It wasn't perfect, but it also wasn't... messy, if that makes sense. 

Of course.... The whole reason I sorta "gave up" on dressage in the first place was because it felt like I was creating bad habits and tendencies that would haunt us over fences. And, ya know, at the end of the day, Charlie is my jomping horse. And he takes excellent care of me in that department. So I remain massively suspicious of any type of flat work that doesn't feel like something I can jump from (if that makes sense). 

simple fun + satisfying <3
In our last lesson, tho, it seemed like Molly kinda got the same vibe. She still hasn't really seen us properly jump, and I'm obviously skeptical of any comments she makes about how she thinks we might jump until she actually witnesses it --- bc y'all know Charlie is an entirely different creature when there's a 3' jump in front of him vs when.... there isn't lol.

But lately, she's had me working on the exact same types of exercises, the same types of flexion and movement patterns... but in different variations of 2pt and half seat and everything in between. Basically trying to instill the same balance and positional mechanics into me, no matter where I am on the horse --- essentially trying to undo my "driving" and "against" habits. 

And idk.... it's exciting. Charlie feels really good right now. He's had an incredibly sound year --- possibly his soundest year since I've owned him. Mentally he's in a good place too (tho of course we did some serious coddling+ulcergard after he lost Iggy). There's still so much work to do to get better, but right now the work is fun and rewarding and we both feel good about it. 

So. Bring it on, 2022 -- we're ready for more!!**

(**But just of this, please, not all that other bullshit kaithxbai)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Festive Almost-New-Year to everyone! I'm not really sure what to say about the Year 2021 that hasn't already been said.... "Be Better Than 2020" was a low bar for expectations.... And yet, it felt like we only barely squeaked by haha. 

finishing the year strong and happy and still galloping around on grass!!
But. We did squeak by. And, objectively speaking, 2021 was indeed a good year for Charlie in just about every important measure. It didn't always feel like that in the moment, but it feels like that now - and that's what matters. 

my most handsomest beast!
Maybe I'll write more about the year as a whole later. For today, tho, omg I've got media!! From what's become a little bit of a 'year end tradition' around these parts: a Last Hurrah XC School!! Last year, Charlie and Punky set off for Loch Moy to school their arena cross country courses. 

charlie has good footsteps to follow <3
This year, a teenage barn mate wanted to introduce her lovely 3'6 hunter to cross country fences -- but didn't want to do it at home in case he was a bit of a nut about the barn (as Charlie also frequently can be lol). So! A perfect weather window appeared, and we immediately set out for a fun field trip to Tranquillity!

the fiercest brontosaurus that ever was
And guys -- we LOVE Tranquillity! I don't come here for purposeful xc schools very often, since we've kinda jumped all the jumps a million times by now on all our various paper chases and hunter paces over the years. And, in my head, I always think of the jumps as kinda small since they only have complete courses through N. 

wheeeee pheasant feeder! left is and always will be best, apparently
But... Actually, it honestly really is a great schooling location. We chose it since there's lots of small stuff, making it a perfect venue for introducing a horse to xc. Plus it's close to home and is a bargain at $35 for schooling.  
legs for days lol
More than that, tho, it's just set up really well with TONS of stuff packed in relatively close together, making it easy to just kinda bop around jumping whatever you want -- and progressing in terms of height or technicality in inviting ways. 

logs 'n stuff
I honestly didn't really plan to do much -- y'all already know I love a short 'n sweet xc school. But since we made the drive and all, might as well make it worth it, right? We gave a lead for Merlin over some small logs and stuff just to get started. Turns out, tho, Merlin was an absolute rock star, not spooky at all, no hesitation etc, so they pretty quickly cut the cord and were jumping all the N things almost immediately. 

apparently i'm still a little ditch-shy after fair hill omg lol
So, obviously, Charlie and I set out to do the same. After warming up in the first field and giving a lead over some of the intro stuff, we moved on to the BN feeder pictured earlier, and the N Angry Bird ramp (in the helmet cam footage below). Plus a little romp up a table-to-bank combination. 

blue house is best house
After jumping everything we wanted there, we moseyed over to the ditch area, where Charlie jumped some logs, the 3-stride ditch to house combination (after which he gleefully dragged me off into the distance lol), and the N ramped table.

lol emma.... gotta go with that gung ho pony!!
And guys -- this horse just felt so good. Really pulling me to the fences, leaving me in the dust basically haha. Bold and happy, just the way I like him to be! 

Of course, I can always nitpick myself to death (can't we all?) -- tho I'm happy to report that in Molly lessons (ugh 4 since my last recap that hopefully I'll write about eventually....) she's kinda zeroed in on some positional elements that might get me more consistently where I wanna be over fences, vs the sorta stand-off-ish defensive posture I've not been able to quit. 

Basically, I've been pretty focused on my hand location (including holding the mane or neck strap when I feel uncertain, per Martin's instruction). As is Molly's way, tho, she's helping me identify the underlying mechanics that will get my whole body in a better position -- and, no surprise at all, it has to do with bringing my elbows and chest closer to Charlie's neck, while closing all the angles in my legs. It's a process tho -- something that's going to take time to commit to muscle memory. And, lol, jumping lessons couldn't hurt!!

living dreams <3
In the meantime, it feels good to get out and do this stuff. Charlie feels good. I feel pretty much good too. Hopefully we can keep it up for as long as the weather lasts! 

Monday, December 6, 2021

quick hits: xc + a clip

It's been a bit quiet-ish since our 2021 season(ish) officially ended, but actually -- Charlie and I have kinda just been steadily humming right on along. 

charlie and the pony god of mischief. those ears, i die.
Just enough activity to keep it fun and fresh and interesting (for as long as the weather lasts), but not anything so big and important to feel like.... a thing worth sharing. 

tried to share my bday treat with charlie again this year (flashback to last year) but turns out, he's not a fan of rice krispie treats, sorry bro!
Especially bc.... let's be real, my documentation process revolves around media -- specifically photos and videos from our rides. Mostly bc media makes it easier to remember the moments and thread together a narrative -- vs trying to conjure up a list of bullets. 

pictured: mikey doing mikey things
Which is probably why I've had like 3 Molly lessons that need written about, bc omg we've been on a nearly weekly cadence! But, no media. So -- no write ups. Yet. One day, I promise (probably), I'll sit down and put proverbial pen to paper to hash them out. Just... Not today :) 

pictured: the kind of shot you get when the uninitiated try to snap action photos free hand
For now, here's a quick hit list of stuff we've been up to lately, other than those lessons. First up! Charlie and I jumped around some cross country jumps omg!! Like LOGS and STUFF! 

pro tip: even the, uh, pros often use burst mode for a reason, yo --- timing in action is hard!
My aunt was in town for Thanksgiving and wanted to see Charlie. In an effort to not bore her to actual tears trotting circles for 20min, I enlisted a teenage barn mate and her adorable pony god of mischief (Charlie's new neighbor and star of THIS unforgettable video!) to go play xc!

and thus, pictured screen-shotted: why screen grabs from video will almost always be better for the purposes of social media lol -- gotta snap that knees to nose! moment!!!
To be perfectly honest, it hardly even constituted a proper "schooling" session. It was kinda cold out, and while my aunt loves a good hike, I was dubious of her patience and west coast tolerance for the weather lol.

it's cool, tho, even the uninitiated (said with love <3) can capture some cute moments!
Plus my barn mate hadn't jumped in a while either, so eh, we figured we'd just bomb around a short loop thru the fields, put on a little show, and have a good ol' time. 

plus, obvi, what's not to love about this big ol' dad bod on the move?!
And Charlie, bless his good natured heart, was on fire lol. Well, ok, he was lazy and almost got us killed plodding around stumbling over clumps of grass in our warm up. But a quick smack 'n cluck woke him TF up, and he was All Systems GO, Ma'am, after that. 

there's definitelya joke in here about "the pics i take of other people vs the pics they take of me" .....
And it was exactly my favorite kind of ride. We got out there.... hit a couple logs, a couple N houses etc. Watched while my barn mate went off and jumped some stuff. Cruised through the water (at Full Charlie Throttle, natch). And finished over our favorite N log table (above). 

landing looks about on point tho -- lol run, charlie, RUN! 
And ya know. Aside from getting somewhat gleefully run TF away with by my darling racehorse, it was just good clean fun. Perfect! And my aunt loved watching too -- definitely felt seeing Charlie's actual power and speed in-person gave a whole new dimension to what she normally thinks of our videos. 

d'aww but those ears <3 
The ground is still really good out there too -- actually a bit drier than we'd normally expect this late in the year. Which means it might hold up for jumping a while longer still (fingers crossed!). So who knows, maybe there will be more repeats? 

changing gears -- slighly more miffed ears here, after katie pulled out the BIG clippers aw haha
Bc.... It's actually been pretty freakin mild out. I'd hoped to hold off on Charlie's second clip until it was well and truly blanketing weather, but.... Eh he's just been too warm in our schooling rides, and especially in our Molly lessons. 

it's for a worthy cause, tho, charlie!!
So I picked a warm day on the calendar for a bath, and Charlie got properly clipped. Unlike his first clip of the season, I'm expecting this one (done by a different person) to actually last us through to spring, hopefully. And omg I just LOVE how sporty and crisp he looks!!

don't believe his sad face, i *swear* he's relieved to not be sweating bullets constantly anymore 
Charlie sweats fairly heavily on his neck and shoulders, then just moderately under his saddle and girth, and across his flanks -- even in only mildly strenuous work. Honestly, I like that Charlie sweats so freely. But he gets to looking like a shaggy crusty mess really quickly in winter. Not to mention the discomfort of being damp in the cold, or having dried sweat matted into his coat. 

plus obvi the fresh clip makes him feel all big and important -- like he's gotta show off to all the other horses
So.... We just go right on ahead and take ALL that hair off. All the neck, all the shoulder, then just a gradual descent to his stifle from the wither. More or less. Bc guys.... This Irish clip pattern is legit pretty hard to fuck up, ya know? 

You can be as aggressive or conservative with the neck or shoulders as you want -- while still preserving plenty of hair for the inevitable wintry conditions we'll start seeing soon. 

ooh. and a baltimore city fox. the end. 
Hopefully not that soon, tho haha. We'll see I guess. For now, at least we're poised to enjoy the conditions while they last!