Monday, March 27, 2023

more + better, forever

Sometimes it's hard find to fresh words describing the nitty gritty minutiae of riding low level dressage, considering I've been writing about (and riding!) the subject for, ya know..... damn near a decade LOL.

striking majestic poses in this doorway since '17
But. Eh. My blog, my rules. I like to write about the things I care about, the things that excite me. And right now? I'm excited, guys omg! Still in kinda a small, cautious, protective-bordering-on-superstitious way.... But. Excited none the less. Bc Charlie feels good.

looking quite handsome, sir!
He feels fresh, healthy and sound. And also.... possibly most importantly --- emotionally, Charlie seems really level right now, if that makes sense. Like, sure, we've had some 'fragile' rides since coming back into work, and it's still maybe a little too easy to trigger his defensiveness.

I also suspect, tho, that it's just part of the process. He's kinda got to learn that the pressure isn't actually uncomfortable, ya know? 

indoor lighting is so challenging for photography but we make do bc #learning
We are starting so so small, too. Riding with dressage trainer C is like a soothing balm. She's got this 'stream of consciousness' style of instruction that helps me just... Shut my brain off lol. 

There isn't enough processing power upstairs to listen to her, ride the horse, and think for myself lol. So I just surrender to the lesson. And, go figure, this makes a big difference in promoting relaxation and submission in Charlie, too. Funny how that works!

we are both concentrating so hard haha. and i'm still crooked!
She starts us with a lot of walking, including figures and lateral work. Then right on into trot, where we mostly ride large sweeping figures while she guides me to more effective positioning. 

Her sense is that Charlie likes to be kept active and engaged in the ride --- thus the frequent circles, diagonals, changes of direction, serpentines etc --- and that it helps him stay more 'on the aids' without me getting baited into picking on him.

d'aww look at that big 'ol boy <3
We worked a fair amount on leg yields at the trot -- especially on improving my feel of straightness on the outside aids. That was actually a recurring theme in a lot of the figure-work --- to be more aware and proactive in my connection to Charlie's outside shoulder, especially as we are moving from one direction to another. 

It occurred to me that I have intentionally (but mistakenly) been riding the wrong side of the horse in the early stages of a change in direction. Funny how non-intuitive riding can be sometimes lol.

cherry picked flattering angle, but lookie who can actually go a little uphill omg!
Lots of feedback along the way about staying level and even on both sides of the horse, continuing to improve my leg positioning, keeping my head centered (between the ears, Emma!), all the things. So much to think about lol. 

Lots of work on asking Charlie for 'little bursts' of forward intermittently (but predictably) through all the figures. We determined that Charlie responds better to a more 'sweeping' leg aid (like literally brushing my leg against the hairs on his belly) vs a bumping, tapping or nudging aid.

god he's such a good boy --- just compare this post-work posture to his trot above omg
this pic looks like somebody let all the air out of his balloon, but what's really exciting to me is that he let himself get so inflated in the first place, without tension resistance or struggle (or spurs or whip)!!
Only did a brief little bit of work in canter (all in the video below), but it felt good. Given the current state of both of our weaknesses, I'm experimenting a little bit with my seat in canter -- particularly as it relates to leg positioning. Trying to really feel my legs get long and down, and not clamped on the horse -- but also still more bend in the knee than maybe I think. 

Not sure yet how I feel about what it *looks* like lol.... But I think there was a little bit of progress on how it *felt*. Good 'nuff for now. So many parts of my posture need work (helloooooo elbows!) it'll just take time. And lessons, ahem lol.

lol proof he's spoiled rotten: he has actual peppermint crumbs in his hair lol
Once in canter, we tinkered a little bit with shallow counter canter loops. Which Charlie obvi did as perfectly as he's been taught by yours truly, considering we practice counter canter half circles almost every ride lol. I don't call him a 'counter canter savant' for nothing!

Last little exercise (also in the video, which includes our whole final little session of trotting leg yields, canter, counter canter, and then this) was going for some lengthened trot across the diagonals. And again, even tho he was tired, Charlie gave a really great effort!
And it's that sort of effort that I'm referring to when I drone on about Charlie feeling 'good.' Long time readers will remember that Charlie has always had some difficulties and defensiveness about being driven forward. He can be sulky and nappy and behind the leg. 

It can be a problem, ya know? Especially since that's Charlie's go-to behavior if something is bugging him or if he doesn't feel 100% comfortable. Which obvi then creates a vicious cycle effect, with me worrying about pushing Charlie, and Charlie worrying about being pushed... Kinda hard to make any sort of progress in that gray area, ya know? 

my goofy smooshy pony!! 
So in these lessons right now, when I ask for that little spurt of forward? That little 'boost' in his carriage? And he just.... goes on and does it?? Idk guys, it feels good. Feels promising. 

Or, at least, feels like the start of returning to routine. Which is basically my happy place anyway LOL. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, happy Monday, y'all!

Friday, March 24, 2023

friday foto finish

TGIF everybody!! It's chilly wet and gray around these parts right now, so let's liven things up by reliving some fun events from the last week or so, yes?

And sure... I probably could have broken this up into like three separate posts. Buuuuut.... I didn't, so, eh, enjoy lol.

Let's start with Carolina International!! I drove down to Durham last week to meet a friend, then we hustled over to Raeford to catch the Saturday and Sunday happenings at the Horse Park!

Guys..... I've been to a LOT of horse shows, and in particular a LOT of FEI events. But the Carolina Horse Park kinda stole my heart, not gonna lie.

It's super beautiful and easy to navigate, and all the jumps were wonderfully presented and decorated. Obviously, there's a ton of video if you're into that sort of thing!

Also, there was live streaming --- and naturally we kinda stalked all the videos afterwards trying to spot ourselves in the background. Like normal people do.

Anyway, one of my favorite things about the horse park was that everything felt... Close. It was nbd to get back and forth to the car for snacks and refreshments throughout the day. So it was easy to stick around longer than we might have otherwise without spending a ton of cash.

All told, we saw the 3* and 4* cross country and Training show jumping on Saturday, then watched the Advanced show jumping and a bit of Modified xc on Sunday. Then headed back to Durham, where we checked out an absolutely charming new winery and did normal people things like take pictures of each other taking pictures of our wine #meta

"cool story, bro"

Anyways, tho, after all that it was a return to Charlie Mikey Land.

Wherein I yet again impulsively went at my poor beautiful horse's luscious mane with scissors, after seeing all those impeccably groomed horses at Carolina. Obvi, I missed a few spots.

"Fight me." - Charlie, probably

Oooooh I also got to try out some bargain bin QHP tendon boots I picked up at the show too!! Aren't they cute?? Definitely cheaply produced, but I like how soft and flexible they are, and the proportions are perfect for Charlie's tree trunks.

Speaking of Charlie --- it's been great to be back on a normal riding schedule. Tho, uh, the horse is fresh. As evidenced by the decidedly whacky hack I attempted the other night. Spooky shenanigans ensued -- thus the blur.

We lived to tell the tale, tho. Plus omg spring is coming!!

And obvi it's necessary to post pictures like this as proof that, yes indeed, we do go walking on hills. Often haha.

"Good angles only, please!"

But omg we also started reintroducing jumping again, too!! The last time we jumped was that fun arena xc schooling day at Loch Moy back in December, so it's been a while. Charlie feels great tho. Obvi super unfit (again, plz see actual literal photo of walking on hills as proof that we are working on it!), but pretty sound and rarin' to go.

We just dabbled with trotting this little exercise (poles set at 9' on takeoff and landing, ridden in both directions), first as a cross rail and then as a little vertical. It's simple, but good footwork stuff. Charlie was perfect, obvi. Then we cantered another little vertical off both leads a couple times and called it a day <3

So I'm feeling pretty excited and optimistic about where Charlie is right now. We've got a lot of rebuilding work ahead of us, but honestly that's part of the fun for me anyway.

We've got a few more lessons on the books with dressage trainer C in the near future (like, tomorrow omg! don't tell Charlie!), and I'm still working out what sort of jumping solutions might be available to us. We'll see. In the meantime, hope you all have a great weekend too!

Friday, March 17, 2023

dressage lesson: take 2

Whew, so after a bit of a false start last week, Charlie and I made it to our first dressage lesson in.... forever. Like, I know I always say "it's been forever" but... Guys, wow, it really has

doesn't he look excited??
We had a few (ahhmazing) flat lessons with Molly K throughout 2021, both at our home farm and shipping out to other local farms... But then she got an exciting new gig and relocated to Phyllis Dawson's Windchase Farm down in Virginia. Happy for her, sad for us, and so it goes. 

stampede!! it's only 6 of 'em, but feels like a LOT of OTTB lol
Long-time readers might remember when I "kinda gave up on dressage" with Charlie. For a lot of rational reasons, really, and not worth rehashing or getting back into at this point. The difference now, however, comes with the introduction of Equioxx, which you may recall Charlie started in November on the advice of his vet. 

just kidding, they calm right down when the fresh round bale goes out!
My sense is that Charlie has responded incredibly well to this systemic NSAID. Obvi we've had a limited runway for 'testing' since Charlie wrecked himself on a piece of gravel shortly thereafter... But honestly... Guys, the horse feels great. He feels like a horse I can take to lessons again and not worry so much about 'protecting' him, if that makes sense. 

looking as spiffed and polished as he ever gets <3
There's a second reason why I'm so excited to get into lessons at this exact moment (and why we were so quick to reschedule after Charlie's choke). And it has to do with the saga of lamenesses over the last 6 months. 

Between Charlie getting tangled in the high-tensile wire fence last summer, to the general malaise preceding the Equioxx prescription, to this recent abscess, Charlie and I have literally been out of work for 4 of the last 6 months, in total. 

still LOVING this little workhorse of an air compressor!
In other words, we are WEAK. Both of us. Or, to say it another way, we're in a prime position to rebuild better. We lost our 'bad' habit strengths right alongside the 'good.' My hope is that by getting immediately into lessons (ie supervision lol), *before* we're particularly fit, we can focus on rebuilding strength in a healthy, balanced and sustainable fashion. 

such a professional at the trailer
And who better for this mission than Trainer C, the puppet master extraordinaire herself!!!!  

Long-long-time readers will remember that Trainer C is one of the original three pillars of my eventing education, as written here on ye olde blogge. She's responsible for starting my dressage journey, and shining a bright light on the latent raw dressage talent within Isabel. She also was a key resource in starting Charlie.

gosh, it feels like forever since we saw this view
So. We are back at it. And I'm really excited. This particular lesson wasn't like, ground breaking or earth shattering or anything like that --- and it wasn't supposed to be, obvi. But it was good, and exactly what we need. 

I asked C to be relentless in her guidance of my position and style of riding, while basically treating Charlie like a good boy who knows how to do the things, even if he's a little weak right now. No picking on him (that's not her style anyway), but no holds barred on me. 

and this view!! lol tho... not sure i could take a less flattering pic of my elegant brontosaurus if i tried
It obvi won't surprise you at all to hear that this provided ample fodder for her instruction throughout the ride lol. 

We started with a TON of walking, including leg yielding off both reins down the long side. She encouraged me to really study myself in the mirror and focus on being straight an even on both sides of the horse.  

just happy to be here <3
One big takeaway is that I'm (*still*) sitting more on the left side, and probably need to literally feel like I'm 'sitting more on my right seat' for a while in order to actually be centered. This is especially true in trot.

Once, in trot, Trainer C coached me to 'use my stirrups' more, as a way to continue progress on getting my leg off the horse. I made significant headway on this issue back in 2021 with Molly K, but as always, there's more to do. 

lol congrats for making it this far in the post. your reward is my very bored cat
She also generally wants to see more softness and following in my elbows, particularly in walk and canter. Interestingly, I haven't been able to really 'sit' the canter at all since coming back into work after the abscess... But, as if by magic, it was no problem in this lesson. Amazing what good instruction on position can do! 

Related to this, I probably need to bring my legs (particularly inside) a bit farther back in canter, more bend in the knee, than I think. Not clinging to the horse, but not braced out in front either. 

'no no, go on, this post is fascinating, i swear' - OG, maybe
So lots of good little 'micro-feelings' to hold onto and aim for in our solo schooling at home. Feels good

Charlie, for his part, was an absolute saint for the whole day. I'll probably write more about this later, but I'm still working on the 'next evolution,' if you will, of my mental game when it comes to anxiety etc. Bc let's be real, I've said it before and I'll say it again: this blog is called 'Fraidy Cat Eventing' and not 'Totally Got My Shit Together Eventing' for *reasons.* 

But I'm working on some new approaches, and this day -- complete with how Charlie responded to my approach -- was a solid proof of concept. So. Here's to it not being 'forever' until the next time, lol...

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

WFP Clinic @ Sprieser

My pal Katie and I made a somewhat impulsive trek down to Marshall, VA at the end of last week to capitalize on the rare opportunity for auditing William Fox Pitt. The clinic was organized by Zaragoza Acres, and held over two days -- cross country at Zaragoza on Thursday, and show jumping at Sprieser Sporthorse on Friday. 

Originally these two days were intended to be held in reverse order -- but organizers swapped things around when Friday's forecast called for lots of cold and windy rain. We went down on Friday, and were perfectly satisfied to be seated indoors!

this chestnut gelding Laddie was such a ham, totally photobombed WFP and has #noregrets lol
We saw most groups (except for the earliest), plus sat next to an auditor who attended the previous day and could give insights on each horse and rider pair.

And guys, wow. These were some very impressive riders and horses. It was an interesting mix of professionals and amateurs, and horses ranging from fancy homebreds working their way up, to made schoolmasters - plus a few OTTBs!

behold, my notes -- warm up exercises
I obviously love watching all manner of horses and riders get out there and Do The Things (evidenced by spending so much time volunteering!). But at clinics, my main objective is to glean useful little nuggets that might be adapted specifically for my work with Charlie. 

So, here are notes I took throughout the full day of groups, and some synthesis on what it might mean for us in our own approach to jumping.

course work diagrams, also repeated below
Warm Up Exercises
  • Everyone started by trotting a random assortment of small jumps
  • First formal exercise was to canter in a normal stride down the outside line, then repeat the same line but adding 2 strides (for most horses, they did the 'normal' in 9 and the 'add' in 11)
  • Notably, the prelim and intermediate groups skipped this exercise
  • Next - canter into the same line; gentle halt in the middle; proceed out in canter
  • Continue in a half circle around to the other side of the arena, approaching a single oxer -- but again, halt before the oxer, then proceed

lunch break tacos were ahhhhhmazing
My Thoughts:
- The adding / removing strides in a line of jumps (or even just ground poles!) is an oldie but goodie that Charlie and I play with often
- Halting in the middle of a line... Ehhh I don't see us doing this. Mostly bc... Charlie has a lovely habit of slipping behind my leg, and I feel like going into a jump thinking about halting on the backside might be a perfect recipe for maybe practicing the wrong thing in that regard
- Halting ahead of a single fence, then proceeding at trot or canter, tho? Absolutely want to do this. We actually practiced a variation of this in a recent clinic; and it's something I want to continue experimenting with in our schooling.

Serpentine of Four Jumps
  • Four single jumps placed more or less in line on a plane were to be jumped in a serpentine pattern
  • First go round, riders made wide turns outside little cones placed on the ground
  • Second time, inside turns made inside the cones
Additional Notes:
- This reminded me of a lesson with Isabel wayyyy back in early 2016, actually, and is definitely something I need to spend more time on with Charlie
- We tend to get a little bogged down in turns, but the whole point here is to keep going, keep moving forward
- Relating to lead changes in this exercise, WFP said to just get on with it. Change legs or don't, but carry on and let the horse figure out how not to be
- Similarly, WFP observed that you might have to twist over a jump in the show ring, but should not practice that at home -- keep the horse straight over the jumps in this exercise, no twisting

deeper dive into course work and notes
WFP Quotables on Warming Up:
  • Create a horse and situation where you have achieved enough to go into the show ring and face whatever's there
  • Stay with him -- don't just go "Lah!" while walking and trotting jumps
  • You don't need to be "so much" at the trot, take a level off it, for the sake of softness. Quality over expression.
  • Sometimes you put the hind leg out, sometimes you put the hind leg in!
  • In canter, more swagger, softer outline, "Angry Canter"
  • Interchange sitting, interchange half seat, interchange elongating and collecting
  • Push him around and make him more malleable, less brittle -- not so precious and tight
  • C'mon, change leg! Don't dawdle, kick and ride!
  • You're not allowed to hope for the long one, take your time -- whether it's 6 or 7, it's always the same stride 
  • Allow. Not fast but flow

it goes on
Regarding the course work, this often ends up being a bit more granularly specific to each individual horse and rider, IMHO, so there are fewer takeaways to adapt for myself. 

It was an interesting set of exercises, tho, and definitely a few turns in the mix that likely would have proven distinctly challenging for me and Charlie -- like short turns to big oxers, for example. Most riders did about 2 complete courses, then went back to repeat whichever line or segment needed smoothing.

damn, Gina!
Not all of that was super relatable, tho it was interesting to see how WFP adapted and adjusted the construction of the exercises as needed. A few upper level horses were kinda surprisingly... not great at compressing their strides, and tended to get a bit close to the jump. Similarly, a few tended to be too "up and down" vs "across" in their style of jump. 

For these groups of horses, WFP advocated significant use of more generous ground lines to really help the horse change his takeoff point. He also deployed descending oxers (which you can see in the video), something that kinda caught us off guard at first when we first noticed it. 

He used that construction a few times, explaining to Chris (who organized the clinic, and rode literally half a dozen horses throughout the day for personalized WFP instruction on his drool-worthy string...):  the Descending Oxer, especially built with a plank as the front rail, can help "go-y" horses realize, "Oh there's more!" and remember to use themselves over the full jump.

made new friends too <3
Overall, WFP essentially preached a message of patient, forward flow. He encouraged riders to make a difference when warranted (see the note on "Just pull the reins!"), then get on with it, and otherwise stay committed to a forward, straight and adjustable stride. 

My takeaways are mostly around just being damn freakin eager to get back into some degree of instruction myself haha. A girl can dream! And nobody tell Charlie about me plotting, m'kay? He doesn't need to explore any new and exciting creative solutions to getting out of work lol....

Anyway, anybody see anything here that you want to try at home? 

Monday, March 13, 2023

first lesson back, baby!

Haha, just kidding. Actually, Charlie choked on his pre-travel meal and had to get tubed instead...

ladies and gentlemen, presenting the undisputed King of the Dings
I'm not even going to tell you what the "pre-travel meal" was, bc it honestly doesn't matter. Was normal food, and the same recipe he's been getting as a 'third meal' ever since that photo that made me cry a few weeks back during stall rest. 

you can kinda see him retching here, when the whole neck goes wrinkly. almost looked like a turtle trying to retract his neck back into his shell
It was just a fluke. Bad luck. Who knows. Maybe Charlie took one look at the trailer all ready to go for the lesson, and was like, "Eh, I'd rather not, thanks!"

And if you've never seen choke before... Well... It's one of those instinctively recognizable things: you know it when you see it. Tho, importantly, choke in horses is considerably less terrifying than with people -- bc generally, the horse can still breathe.  

the snot rocket situation was decidedly out of control
It's also one of those things that is **usually** not serious. Tho -- it can 100% kill a horse. It can also create a whole host of secondary issues like lung infections if they aspirate a bunch of junk.

"slime for me, and slime for thee!" -- charles, probably
In most cases, tho, the choke resolves on its own. Which it did for Charlie. His meal was processed feed -- a substance that eventually softens and breaks down into tiny little bits. Versus grass -- which does *not* dissolve and can be a whole 'nother ballgame. 

poor guy was basically birthing booger babies from his nose every few minutes for nearly two hours :(
Sadly for Charlie, however, he exceeded my vet's 'allowable time limit' for preferring to get involved with more intervention. Her recommendation was that if he cleared inside of one hour, nbd -- but if he went longer than that, she'd want to come out and see him. 

we relocated from his stall to this doorway so he could enjoy some sun and scenery while being on ultra-loose cross ties (it's actually one each from two two different sets intended for two horses to be face to face -- but works perfectly for this sort of purpose). also made clean-up easier -- just a little goop sweeping!
Based on my photo time stamps (another great reason to be an obsessive documentarian!) Charlie was choking for just under two hours. I could tell he cleared it bc.... omg, homeboy instantly passed TF out in the cross ties. Like, nose on the floor, wobbling on four legs, snoring. Poor thing was exhausted!

"i hate this tho" -- charles, definitely
The vet was already on the way at that point, and said she still wanted to see him when I called with the update.

acted like a starvation case once it cleared, searching for the tiniest scraps of hay in his stall while waiting for the vet
Her reasoning was that he'd basically "played the game long enough" that 1) we needed to be sure; and 2) tubing him would help flush out any lingering nasties that could cause problems.

time for tubing!
Charlie's also a special case because he had tie-back surgery as a racehorse. Meaning, his airway is open and he's prone to aspirating the wrong stuff. And, natch, a little trickier to tube. 

oh charles, you poor thing
Vet got it done, tho, and got him all nice and flushed out. She also hit him with some IM Excede anitbiotics (which I'll dose again later this week); plus some injectable banamine for pain relief. 

antibiotics protocol given the duration of the choke, and charlie's compromised respiratory system (bc tie back) making him vulnerable to aspiration and pneumonia 
A horse who spent a long time choking will likely have residual inflammation and soreness in their esophagus -- perversely making them susceptible to a second choke in the immediate aftermath. 

security guard michael
For this reason, we'll be a little extra careful with Charlie's feed for the next week -- extra soupy (compared to his normal wet); and fed in a pan on the floor. He makes a hell of a mess, but eh... it's safer so we'll do it. 

ugh, charles, the dressage lesson would have 100% been easier than all this drama
I'm relieved he's ok. But... Not gonna lie, I'm also pretty disappointed about missing the lesson. It feels like one of those universal "Fuck You" type things... Except, ya know, it's just a little set back, a little delay. This horse will teach me patience, if it's the last thing he does.