Monday, October 31, 2022

happy halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!! So much to write about around here (like that fix-a-test we did at the beginning of the month, whoops) and dear lord I am so behind on my reading --- will be catching up soon hopefully!

But in the meantime -- omg it's Halloween Season!! We had so many plans lol -- such high hopes. And I may or may not have bought our costume like.... months in advance lol. 

very haunted, much hellish
Alas, Charlie has been a bit lame (hoof sore mostly, but some compensatory soreness in his back too) for the last few weeks so we've just rested + buted. So... with great sadness, we missed the last Thornridge CT of the year :'(

ignore the lack of costume --- and look who's riding with no lead line! 
Well, let me clarify. Charlie missed it haha. But I still went (in full costume) to help out and cheer on my various barn mates who went (including a few other skeletons, natch, bc obvi it was gonna be a group thing...). 

spooky fun for the whole family
And Charlie had to satisfy himself with just doing the at-home Trick-or-Trunk party with the lesson kiddos. All the parents parked in a big circle in our front field, while the costumed kids and ponies did laps collecting candy. 

everyone gets a ride!
Charlie.... Did not particularly enjoy that part haha. Had serious vibes from our Christmas-Caroling-Gone-Wrong of a few years ago... 

But the kids enjoyed it and Charlie calmed down enough once we got back down to the barn for my sister, niece and nephew to all have a little spin <3

why yes i wore this suit out in public, why are you asking?? lol
After which we naturally stuffed the horse full to the gills with all manner of candy and treats haha, and sorta kinda attempted to wash the paint off.... Then threw him high as a kite back out into the wilderness while we did a little more exploring around the farm. 

All in all, maybe not quite the Halloween Horse Show I'd hoped for.... But still a pretty damn good time lol. Fingers crossed the paint cleans off my tack eventually....! Anybody else do any halloween-themed equestrian activities??? Or equestrian-themed halloween activities??? 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Post Card from the YEH Champs

Happy weekend everybody! It's our favorite time of year in Maryland, and I've been haunting the iconic grounds at Fair Hill since Thursday lol.....

It's shaping up to be a beautiful weekend ---- so to give you a little taste, here's a complete round from the 5yo USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championship jumping test, courtesy of Kaitlin Clasing and Whiskey Chaser.

I love this video bc you can see so much of the venue and grounds, plus the gorgeous fall foliage (naturally). Also it's pretty sweet to see a TB hold his own in a big class, not gonna lie lol. 

And I was only just a little bit partial toward this horse after spending the day last week scribing for his prior owner at Morven, and hearing all about him... I always love a good story!

Anyway. For the class, the 4 year olds jumped in the downpour... But the 5yo course seemed really challenging, especially the water. A lot of related distances that seemed to ride on trickier striding than you would expect for this type of class. Horses really had to dig deep for a clear!

Regardless, it was beautiful and we got to see a lot of really exciting horses over the last couple of days. Here's hoping 5 years down the line I'll be writing this same post again, but featuring YEH grads from Saturday's 5* Cross Country!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

MCTA Pro Pics

Just pro pics from the show.... 

just the best boy. even when he jumps dead center, i'm still like, "mm maybe left tho?"

the more fill, the better

trying so hard, cantering so largely

biggest bestest boy hoppin around

lookin pretty much like a lot of fun while he's at it tho

hippity hop!


ooooh hey-o, even lazy charles can get 4 off the floor!!!!

you're a good boy, sir. i think i'll keep you <3

Monday, October 10, 2022

MCTA Tranquillity CT

Last week was super busy for me, with a couple exciting developments and activities -- including bringing home a very special (and familiar) pony, organizing and riding in another fix-a-test clinic, spending all day at Morven scribing my first FEI dressage tests, AND -- the focus of todays post: riding in another fun CT!

charlie enjoys watching the warm up ring -- esp since so many of his friends were in there!
There's a lot to catch up on, so I'm going to try to keep this brief haha. (Emphasis on "Try")

Anyways. Charlie wasn't even supposed to go to MCTA's annual starter event at Tranquillity. Since this event is low cost, close to home, and double points for year end awards, I usually use it as an opportunity to shuttle over barn mates who can't otherwise go to many off-farm shows. 

speaking of friends --- omg charlie had his favorite spicy little nugget as a trailer mate again!! he and his lease kiddo are legit adorable
Unfortunately, one of the ponies had a coaching conflict and cancelled at the last minute. Nobody else was immediately available to fill the trailer berth and I had enough volunteer bucks for a free entry so.... Ok, Chuck -- on you go! 

We entered the Novice CT bc.... Well. I like CTs and I like Novice and it really is just that simple. None of this really counts for anything anyway, so it hardly made a difference that I wouldn't accrue year end points or be eligible for a ribbon or anything like that. I just wanted to ride a judged test, and execute a show jumping class, and enjoy myself! 
charlie lookin proper heading into the ring. perhaps i should consider sitting up tho? just a thought!
Let's start with the dressage. I rode Novice Test A, which we had just practiced during last week's Fix-a-Test clinic (post for another day). So I felt fairly confident in knowing how to ride it, and what I needed from Charlie. 

just be grateful there are any pictures at all guys, sorry!
The tricky thing with Tranquillity tho is always the warm up area for dressage: It's on a small-ish and decidedly not flat grassy area (part of their hunter trials course). Plus the ground camber means you're kinda always going downhill in one direction, and uphill in another. It's not ideal for horses like Charlie where we're always trying to get that soft longitudinal balance. 

trying to canter as if there were a 1.0m oxer in front of us. not quite succeeding lol
A couple other external factors: Charlie's herd swapped turn out schedules the day before -- meaning they spent the night out (per usual) Friday night, came in for breakfast Saturday morning, but then went right back out again for Saturday daytime - to then spent the night inside, which they'll do all winter. I expected Charlie to be a little tired and maybe stiff from the change, so got on with plenty of time for walking.

d'aww sir, i'm pretty satisfied with his energy in this test
He was honestly very good, tho. The footing went from frosty mush out in warm up, to frosty hard clumps of sand in the dressage court... which he didn't love. But he more or less just went about his test. I'm really trying to stay true to riding in a more forward rhythm in our tests (raise your hand if you've heard THAT before lol...) and am pretty happy with the result in this test. 

canter right is always stronger
That left canter transition is still iffy tho (even tho, yes, I DID canter immediately before entering at A), and Charlie still anticipated canter in our second trot loop.... At least he wasn't negatively anticipating it -- like he wasn't fussy or angry -- he just ... went. Which, ok thank you Sir for volunteering forward. But... Ya gotta wait for me! Still better than a few alternatives tho haha. 

Other areas of opportunity include the free walk.... the first half of which I thought was ok enough, but the second half after the 90* turn at E was a wash. Stretchy trot ain't great either but that's a symptom of just not being super through over his back throughout the test. 

click to embiggen for scores / comments
Last little unfortunate mark was the 10m half circle back onto center line. It's a right turn, and one we've schooled to death. But I think Charlie might just be a little tired and maybe a touch back sore right now, so he's just not stepping through the turn as well as he could. Less a training issue and more just the constant drumbeat of helping Charlie feel his physical best, ya know?

jump time!! in case you weren't aware, we marylanders are obsessed with our flag lol
Anyway. We had a super short break before jumping. They scheduled me at the end of both dressage and SJ phases since I was the only CT entrant, which meant I didn't even bother unsaddling Charlie between rides. It also meant my SJ warm up was very economical. Tho we arrived early enough to walk around and watch the course go.  

gosh check out how confident i am about cantering right past jump 3!!
This course.... Did not play to our strengths lol. With two exceptions, it was just a LOT of back and forth across the arena -- single jump out, single jump back, single jump out, single jump back, again and again and again. Only jumps 2 to 3 rode on a long bending line, then there was one combo at 5AB. Everything else was unrelated.

finished strongly enough on a course that didn't quite suit us
The course was also all almost entirely off the left lead. Naturally, with the shortest sharpest turns going L (compared to the wider sweeping R turns). And that 5AB combo? It walked long to a wide oxer -- whereas in eventing we often see our 2-stride combinations structured as oxer-vertical. 

Charlie was good tho. Our warm up was excellent, but I probably spent too much time standing around waiting before going in. So he was a tad sluggish to the jumps. Nothing chippy, per se, just not really carrying me forward. 

Which also meant every single lead change was simple. Considering we always land right, and this course was almost entirely left.... it meant we would jump, land, trot our lead change, rinse repeat, the whole way around lol. 

link to full helmet cam here -- suggest low or muted volume LOL

There was also much clucking and verbal encouragement, since it became very apparent that we were jumping just a little too quietly for that long ass 2-stride with a big oxer out haha. Charlie made it happen tho, good boy. 

He just chugged right on around this kinda-crappy course like a good boy, not even knocking a rail! Tho. Uh. Hilariously.... It wasn't until I got home and watched the helmet camera that I realized, OMG WE MISSED 3! Wtf -- did nobody else notice? Or like... Did they just figure that since I wasn't technically really competing, it didn't really matter anyway??? LOL.....

Go figure, the one nice line on the course, and I flew right past it haha.... I think I was too preoccupied with trying to get Charlie going? Who knows... 

the long and the short of it
So... Uh... In the real world, it would have been a Technical Elimination. But. In Charlieland, it was another job well done <3 

charlie loves his pony tho
Not our best performance in either phase, but solidly workmanlike. A day well spent at our local riding association's last show of the year, at one of our favorite venues, surrounded by a Who's Who of all our local friends and competitors. Srsly, the parking area at this show is like a block party where almost everyone knows each other and everyone is there for a good time.

So I'm glad we ended up riding in it and having a good time. Hopefully there may be some pro pics forthcoming too! Tho... even tho it's my favorite show photographer, I'm not super optimistic about how we'll look in the pics LOL! 

In any case, Charlie will get some downtime this week while I'm doing all things Maryland 5* (omg hit me up if you're going!), then some TLC with a few of his favorite practitioners. Then it's full steam ahead going into our favorite fall riding season! 

Hope you all had a good weekend too :) 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

by the numbers

We really haven't ridden many dressage tests this year, just 8 spread across two CTs, two Fix-a-Test clinics, and one schooling dressage show -- with the ridden tests split evenly between Novice Test A and Test B. 

Charlie and I have been riding Novice tests for.... whew, a few years lol... But these are the new 2022 tests, so it's interesting to take a pause and see how it's playing out so far compared to what I expected back in 2021. 

It's especially useful timing right now since we randomly have an even split between Test A and Test B, lol. Which, notably, will not be true after tonight when I do another Fix-a-Test clinic, and this weekend where we'll do another CT. So. Now is the time! Let's compare and contrast!  
Note: Test A has greater range in scores, while Test B has greater density in the 6.5+ zone. Most and least frequently recorded marks for each test are labeled.
Charlie and I have ridden each test 4 times. Both tests have 16 movements, plus the single Collectives score ("Harmony of Athlete and Horse"). So I have 68 total marks from each test, all of which are reflected in the above histogram showing the frequency of each mark by test.

Now.... I want to be clear that this is.... not a perfect comparison. Y'all might remember that Charlie was... hm, a bad dog at our Thornridge Fix-a-Test clinic last March. He was ready for his hocks to get done, and didn't care who knew lol. And in both rides (Test A) we got absolutely stuck in a tantrum around movements 9 and 10. But.... It was a friendly judge so the scores were, ahem, generous, and we still ended up with personal records. Just keep that in mind! 
Note: Y-axis is movement score, while X-axis is movement number. So, the line shows our average score by movement from "Enter at A" (far left) to "Halt, salute" and Collective Score (far right).
There is valid skepticism about whether some scores from Test A would withstand objective scrutiny...
Even so, it's still very interesting to compare how we progress through the test based on average movement score. Most judges say they want to score the entry well unless there is a specific reason not to, so it's no surprise to see scores in both tests dive shortly after entering.

Test A, however, goes into left lead canter very early -- which is a transition that, for us, requires preparation (and, uh, hock injections) or else. Meanwhile, in Test B, we actually get a whole 'nother circuit of the ring, plus a trot-walk-trot transition before cantering left, even tho it's only one 'movement' later on the sheet. 

We already discussed that crater in Test A where Charlie has his little tantrum going into the two-loop serpentine (bc he very strongly believes, and cannot be convinced otherwise, that I will ask again for left lead canter, oof). But perhaps more interesting is how both tests kinda end.... in a low spot (aside from the Test A halts which Phoebe generously scored 9s last March...). 

Notes: Average scores grouped (loosely) by movement type. The red color saturation reflects the high/low scale for reach test. Ex: Test A High = 8.3 / Low = 5.6; Test B High = 6.9 / Low = 6.0.
Test A ends with a stretchy trot, and Test B ends with that terrible little walk, turn on center line, trot, halt, dealio.... But, I also wonder if it isn't just us sorta losing organization and 'togetherness' as the test progresses. Not unlike how we often kinda start losing it a bit toward the end of a jump round?

Just food for thought, really, but something to remember mid-ride: Emma! Shorten your reins, reestablish your position, pilot not passenger! Finish Strong! Or something!

Also. Generally speaking, our walk work kinda sucks lol. Siiiigh. The horse is in fact capable of a good walk where he uses 'every part of the buffalo' but... either we don't have the 'motivation' or we have to be tactful about tension (or risk breaking gait). Basically just #NeedsWork.

Link to the Long Johns Schooling Show
Link to the Thornridge Fix-a-Test
Link to Thornridge CT

Link to the Long Johns Schooling Show
Link to the Twilight Dressage Fix-a-Test
Link to OF CT
Overall, no matter how you slice it, we score better in Test A on average. But, we are more consistent in Test B. Given that I'm skeptical of whether those Test A scores would withstand objective scrutiny... I'm actually inclined to believe Test B suits us better overall. 

Mostly, tho, I need to figure out how to improve Test A for us in two main ways: 

1) We need better preparation for that early left lead canter depart. This means being immediately more forward with more energy -- and also probably doing counter canter in warm up, and then cantering again immediately prior to entering the ring. 

2) I need to stop the cycle of Charlie anticipating a mythical left lead depart in movement 10. We are intended to walk off the diagonal, trot at C, then do a 2 loop serpentine in trot. Charlie really thinks we're going to canter, tho, and ends up fussing enough to blow multiple scores. Not sure what the solution is, but will work on it. 

Bc... Yea, given the choice I think I'd prefer to ride Test B, even tho the little exit tour kinda sucks (wtf, walking the center line???). But realistically, Test A is more commonly used at shows. 

So we shall see. There's another little Twilight Fix-a-Test tonight that I wasn't originally riding in, but one rider had to scratch and offered to scribe so I could take her spot. We'll ride Test A, and see how it goes! 

Monday, October 3, 2022

taking a page out of Caroline's book

I was expecting to have about six weeks between our last CT and the next show.... But some scheduling got shifted around and a new opportunity presented itself... Plus with volunteer credits it looks like I'll actually have another totally free entry to one of our favorite local venues. Who can say no to that?

kinda looks like we're making progress, but mostly bc a single exercise might turn up in multiple categories
It means, tho, that I'm grateful for having already been on this cavalletti / ground pole kick lately. Up until literally this weekend, it's been abysmally dry and hard out, and I've been reluctant to do a ton of jumping. So Margaret Rizzo McKelvy's Grid Pro Quo book is filling a pretttty important gap for us right now. 

ah yes, the circle of death 
(and yessss it rained!!!!)
Plus ya know. There's honestly something relieving about having specific things to *do* in any given ride. Sure, deciding on and setting up an exercise might seem a bit arduous, but then once you're actually in the ride, it's nice to be just kinda mindless in determining what to do when. 

ok so i didn't actually set the exercise up myself so the measurements aren't an exact match. nbd tho!
This week I was actually even luckier bc somebody else had already set up the Circle of Death, it wasn't even particularly intentional on my part. Which is probably for the best bc I honestly don't love this exercise and likely wouldn't have chosen it myself. But if it's there, we'll do it! 

for those interested, here's maybe the Version 2.0 of the same exercise -- but with the bonus of now having the longer outside lines where you can open the canter up and force the adjustability test
The hardest thing about this ride was really insisting on forward first, then attempting the exercise. One thing I'm learning with Charlie is that... Well at this point he has a pretty easy time slugging along under paced. He can successfully execute shorter distances and compressed strides not necessarily bc he's increased his engagement and collection, but bc he's just... sluggin, ya know? 

switching gears slightly to a very professional course diagram that i had the pleasure of building while volunteering at Loch Moy last week
And that's No Bueno for me bc it kinda gives me a false sense of security, but then we canter up to an actual bigger jump with no impulsion and.... yea, turns out that's not a great feeling. 

So for this ride, I insisted on establishing forward immediately, then progressively put the pieces of the circle together. 

here's a link to youtube if you wanna see the course ridden!
just fyi: the video is oriented opposite of the diagram -- the camera would have been placed basically right under the words "horse trials" in the diagram, facing the in/out gates

We started by trotting single poles during our warm up, and ditto cantering single poles. We cantered early in this ride anyway just as part of the whole "Go Forth, Son!" idea... Plus it started raining on us and I was eager to be efficient lol...

unrelated loch moy observances: anybody familiar with this brand? i'd never heard of them before impulsively placing a possibly-questionable order last week. then this week saw these bridle tags for sale at a show... maybe it's a newer company?
Once the horse felt good and snappy, tho, we worked on trotting multiple poles in a row. First 2 at a time, then using individual poles as part of a figure-8 or serpentine, then eventually getting half the circle, then the whole circle. 

more loch moy observances: is it weird that i have such serious jump number storage envy???? just look how tidy! much organized!!
From there we moved to transitions -- another feature in many of our rides lately. Trotting the whole circle, then exiting on a tangent to pick up canter around the whole ring, then picking up pieces of the circle in canter. First just one pole, then two together, then half a circle, etc etc. 

anyway. in case you were curious, here is said professional jump course designer, author of the above diagram. this is his decidedly feline reaction when i asked him to show the camera his beautiful eyes <3
We could consistently get 3 strides in canter between most of the poles, tho one segment we almost always chopped in a 4th. Idk if that was bc of imprecise steering on my part, or just bc the spacing was a little off. In any case, that 4th stride fit and I didn't let it bother me. 

It was more important that I felt Charlie really try to find each pole in canter. When the distance is awkward and he's not super engaged or impulsive, he's likelier to break to trot to make it work out. Which is fine in its own right, it's still an effective footwork solution... But it's also good for him to try to work it out within canter. 

ooooh but you can sorta see them peepers here! what a sweetie! 
It's hard for him sometimes, esp on the left lead -- I'm finding that while he's generally strong in canter on both leads, we still tend to have fewer options with the left lead, if that makes sense. But our last pass through it felt like he really really tried the whole way thru, for which he naturally earned a carrot bite, some scritches, and an end to the ride lol. Good boy, sir, let's get out of the rain now!

So. Another exercise attempted lol. Undoubtedly more to come, too. But... Hopefully the next you'll hear from us will involve actually full size jumps haha, now that we got a little rain!