Monday, April 17, 2023

back in the show ring!

We had a slow fall, and even slower winter around here... But things are finally picking up with the springtime! Meaning -- Charlie and I made it to our first horse show in over six months omg. How has it actually been that long??? Who knows...

shoutout to Jennifer for sharing the link to this lovely "Freedom Bridle" from Millbrook Leathers (we love small businesses!), absolutely perfect for hackamore lovers (noseband above is Waldhausen with no-name adjustable chain chin strap, and Tory Leather x-long rubber reins)! the #CircusBridle has come so far!
All that matters, tho, is that we're back at it! Sure sure, the lead up preparation to this Combined Test at Thornridge wasn't exactly ideal... But, eh, I figured we would be fine. 

we will take our participation ribbon and we will LOVE IT <3
And we WERE fine! We even managed to sneak in a little preparatory eval-lesson with a new potential jump trainer too. Maybe more to come on that later. It was a useful lesson, with a surprising number of those pesky remedial reminders that are so critical in putting together two solid phases. Yesssss!

safety inspector michael inspecting our safety
The weather also deigned to play nice too. It's been getting a bit unseasonably warm around here, and very dry lately. But there was an overnight deluge that lowered temps (if not humidity), and softened up the ground. Plus made for that fun dramatic "no shadows" type lighting!

eeeee back out in the wild!!
Our preference is to arrive for these CTs with enough time to walk show jumping *before* dressage. Technically there is enough time between phases (1hr) but.... Guys. I'm getting old LOL, and the hill coming back up from jumping to the trailers is huuuuuuge. Much preferred to get that huff and puff out of the way first thing, then get to chill more between phases. 

so yea, definitely wish i remembered to roll my sleeves back down before going in the ring lol
Plus I stud up for jumping on grass, and prefer not to have to rush and hustle during that process. Tho, fortunately, did myself the favor of digging out the first stud holes of the season (squee!) the night before, getting them all plugged and lubed up and ready to go so the actual studding at the show was easy peasy!

walkin that walk, charles!
So. All that was left was to warm up and get out there for dressage! We had planned a fix-a-test at home a week in advance to help prepare, but it was sadly cancelled due to illness. I *should* have run thru this test during schooling on my own... But... Just like, didn't. Idk. You can kinda tell it's been a while LOL.

just cantering my field hunter in the jungles of maryland, nbd
It went well, tho. I don't think I'm deluding myself that Charlie is moving better in his body now, vs maybe last summer. Just from the perspective of like... freedom and fluidity and forwardness of his gaits. He's obvi still not really 'on the bit,' but eh... Y'all already know haha.  

finishing strong! thumbs up, tho, emma!
Now that we're back in lessons with a willing and forward horse, it'll be easier (maybe?) to address lol. Or we'll just go around the way we go around, forever! Nbd! 

nope, i am *still* not tired of this
One thing I *did* really work on during this ride was my position. Not so much fucking with Charlie, but being a little bit relentless with myself. And maybe I'm flattering myself, but I think it does show a little bit in the video? 

There are just so many moving parts lol... My legs, my hands, my arms, my head, and they all move in different ways at different speeds!! And are not at all independent from each other!! The struggle, guys lol... But again, that's ok too!

click to embiggen for those who'd rather read than watch!
The scores were nice enough for what the test was. Final score of 35.8% is a little worse than our moving average on this test... But felt fair. I'm cool with it -- esp given there was not a single comment about needing more forward, or being sluggish or (my personal favorite) labored, lol. Feels like we've got something we can work with again, and I do love the work! 

next up -- show jumping!
So! Amy and I rode our tests back to back, then had about 35min to chill at the trailer and reset before heading down to jump. I opted to strip Charlie's saddle while I put in the studs, since it was a tad muggy. But otherwise we just went about getting ready at a leisurely pace! 

sorry not sorry for the blurry zoomed image of my first-jump-itis-y horse #slaying at fence 1
I was quite happy with how Charlie warmed up, too. We didn't do anything special, just went about and did the things. Only big issue identified was a heavy left drift -- a longtime bugaboo for us, and one that has been amplified after the time off. 

"it's called 'riding to the base,' geez, look it up!" -- Emma
"uhhhh, if you say so?" -- Saint Charles
The cool thing is, tho, that when I ride the horse straight -- he goes straight. Goooo figure. The course itself both did and did not lend itself to our strengths. On one hand, it was an entirely right-lead course. Which like, yay no lead changes LOL. On the other hand, the two related distances were in configurations that tested us a little bit. 

pretty proud of how we coped with this slightly downhill* line
(*omg i hate jumping downhill tho)
The very first jump on course welcomed you into a 60' line going slightly up hill. I really wanted the four strides, and really thought we'd get there after acing the in jump. But, alas, just didn't quite cover the ground and chopped in a 5th at the last minute. Charlie, bless him, rubbed the rail but got us out clean enough. 

there's the beastly boy doin his thing! 
Long time readers will know I have a longstanding history of absolutely botching the 'end jumps' in this cute little natural arena... And this time was no different. We were jussssst a little off our stride through the early part of the course. I chalk it up to rustiness. 

woot woot --- CLEAR thru the last omg! 
From there, tho, we got into a better gear. We were more prepared to add down the slightly downhill outside line (should have been 5 but we made the 6 comfortably), then Charlie aced the 'comma' line before rolling back to a close but easy distance to the triple bar to finish. 

Obvi y'all already know that I'm a diehard #mediajunkie around here, so naturally there's helmet camera footage in addition to the normal cell phone footage... But honestly if you have the spare 90sec I'd definitely encourage you to watch both. They're two very different perspectives.
The helmet camera is fun bc it's maybe a little 'grittier' -- you can kinda tell the work that goes into getting to each jump. Obvi the side view is also telling, esp bc you can see the mistakes etc that are invisible in the helmet cam -- like botched distances or position errors --- and also where it flows easily. 

So. Anyway. Long story short -- we did it, yay! And it was FUN! And reaffirming that some of the choices and changes I've been making over the last few months are having the desired effect. 

First things first, tho, so next on the docket is more lessons. Forever and ever, amen haha. 

Friday, April 7, 2023

friday foto finish: itchies + owies

TGIF, y'all! It's honestly been a pretty nice week around these parts, and I'm still riding high on my recent attempt at positivity, no matter what the universe throws at us.**

(**Please, Universe, that is NOT a challenge, tho!)

Anyway. The weather has been mostly obliging. Spring is coming. And Charlie is slowly reclaiming his pride of place as the Dad Bod to Rule All Dad Bods. Just the way we like it! 

Ahem, picture unrelated. But captured here for eternal preservation on ye olde blogge bc what a fucking time to be alive. If you're into that sort of thing, I guess. Lol, for real, tho, the most fun part of getting back into work again..... 
Is the JOMPIES YAY! I was only just coming to understand Charlie's newfound zest over fences after starting on the Equioxx generic, before the ill-timed gravel-induced subsolar abscess. And, not going to lie, half expected that maybe my memory was wrong. But... No. Guys. Charlie, he's my favorite <3
Sure. He continues to try to find new and exciting ways to maim and lame himself, naturally. Most recently bc.... Well, I think his sleep cycle has been disrupted from losing the herd leader to stall rest. Charlie is a natural lieutenant. He's quite happy to be 'second in command.' But all that's left in his herd right now are a bunch of friggin OTTB fruit loop dodos. 
Sure, there's one sensible creature among them (count of 5 animals at present), but sadly none of the others care what he thinks. Instead, they want Charlie to be boss. And Charlie don't quite wanna be. So, it's a moment of flux, and I don't think he's getting much sleep in turn out. Thus his slight oopsie-moment after last week's dressage clinic when he was maximum tired and nodded off in the trailer going home. 

Yes it was sketchy AF. But also, yes, he is actually fine. Scared the ever loving shit out of us and we had to pull over on the side of some random county lane in a farmer's front yard (gentleman farmer, tho, he naturally came out to make sure we were ok!). 

Charlie didn't want to put that leg down, tho, so I called the emergency vet just in case. Turns out he was just a bit stung, but once (after many long moments) he dared touch toe to floor, he realized he was ok, and started bearing weight normally again. Our own beloved vet was on call, and after we got home and conferenced via text, she deemed the episode well within my own capabilities vs needing a visit. 
And ya know. The horse is fine. Got a little time off. Tons of cold hosing. A couple days of stable bandages overnight. Some SMZs to ward off cellulitis, since one or two spots are close to full-thickness lacerations. But honestly -- was not meaningfully sore. Crazy, right?  
Tho. Lol. Itchy. Always with the itchies. I swear, he almost wants me to scratch his actual wounds. It's weird. Like these photos are from last night (a week later), when my friend thought his posturing for scritches was hilarious. But he's demanding. And how do you say 'No' to a horse like that? That RH has been uber itchy especially since his tangle with tensile last year, too.... Poor guy seems determined to scar the fuck out of this one specific limb. 
Anyway, tho. We were talking about positivity, right? Bc... Ya know, narrowly-averted-catastrophe ain't enough to throw us at this point. We are HAPPY! Charlie feels GOOD! And I am bound and mother fucking determined to not let my own frenzied neuroses stop me from enjoying my beloved freshly-14 ottb's newfound joie de vivre
We are getting fit again! We are jomping again, omg! So far mostly tinkering with little things, but often. Inside and outside the ring. And in interesting and new ways.

Flashback up to the top of this post to that earlier image -- a fantastic low but long grid down the center line. That's been set up for a few weeks, now, and every time we see it, we take a couple passes. Bc FUN omg. And Charlie is not missing a single beat.
We jump whatever else looks good, too. I figure, anything under 2'3 doesn't really count as 'jumping' for gargantuan Charlie who knows how to be ruthlessly economical over bigger things. So stuff like this doesn't make me worry about his feet, for example. Rather, it's exciting to give him a chance to reawaken those muscles -- and often :D
We also restarted what might be considered a "Baby's First Trot Sets" approach to fitness out in the fields. So much hacking out. But also a little trotting here and there, naturally catching whatever little speed bump xc jumps that tempt us along the way. Charlie has been SO GAME, and feels so good. 
And ya know. As always, I'm obsessive in my planning. Don't tell Charlie, but we have stuff on the calendar. Lessons, yes. Also (omg squee) -- entries!!! Just the normal usual stuff, guys, don't go crazy haha. But it's the stuff that I love, the stuff that defines my horse habit. And I'm excited

Again, I'll probably talk more about the work I'm doing on the mentality side of the house later. But for now, it kinda boils down to this: In recent years, after what might be considered a kinda global deterioration of general resilience, I clung to a 'gut-check' sorta system. If I felt good, we did it. If I didn't feel good? We didn't do it. And that was FINE. For real. Nothing wrong with that. And I think I needed that space.

But.... Looking forward, I'm working to understand better the mechanisms behind that "feel good / don't feel good" situation --- and give myself more tools to not be quite so reactive and at the mercy of my moods. We'll see how that works, lol. For now, it's Friday. Happy weekend!

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

taking a page from Ann Querbach's book

Amy and I packed up our dear creatures Charlie and Punky this weekend to ship out for a cavaletti clinic at Thornridge! And, naturally, proceeded to have our best 'jumping' lesson in a long time at this traditionally dressage barn. Guys. It was incredible!

the scene of the crime
Apparently this is a newer thing they do with boarders, and we kinda just invited ourselves to come along too. Trainer C led the group sessions, and used a selection of ground pole exercises adapted from the book highlighted below.

exercise inspired by Pole Work for Dressage Riders, by Ann Katrin Querbach
notes: thick black lines indicate raised poles. everything is bi-directional. purple = trot; blue = canter.
AND! We are super lucky that one of the boarders who rode in an earlier group was able to snap some footage for us, yesssssss! Tho -- sadly, she missed the beginning of our ride so you are robbed of any visual representation of Charlie confronting the existential crisis of hyper-short raised trot poles. 

no footage of charlie thru the trot poles, so enjoy this gif of Punky #slaying
He was so good, tho. A little fresh and frisky, and a bit 'up' at finding this familiar arena transformed for the clinic.... But so good. 

We started with walking, then trotting around the full ring as a group (5 of us), spaced enough so that we could each trot thru the line of poles you see above with enough room that Trainer C could reset anything that got knocked along the way. 

This exercise was HARD. Charlie really really struggled with the raised red/white poles at trot -- often trying to skip sections or just sorta obliterating the thing (even tho he was trying so hard). Then something sorta clicked: tracking left (so, starting with the white poles), he got to the red and white poles and broke to walk then crept thru cleanly. Then the next time -- really sat and managed it at trot. 

charles himself, thinking very hard
We changed directions, which I expected to be harder (bc now I wouldn't have the mirror to stare into and keep myself straight), but Charlie actually finally really aced the exercise. Sad to not have that on video. 

He still knocked it a couple more times, of course, bc it's legit a very hard (and tiring) exercise for him. But it was exciting to feel him so collected and 'sitting' even briefly. 

"would be easier if you stopped pulling the inside rein tho, just sayin!" - charles, probably
Next up was the leg yield exercise, which we again did as a group going all at once. I actually really liked this configuration. It's a pattern we practice at home anyway (coming off the rail then yielding back again), but having the trot poles there as an actual physical landmark really helped Charlie understand. 

It's like he saw the poles, and understood what I was asking, but also understood the urgency of having to "get there," and thus made it happen. Our leg yields aren't like, super correct or whatever. But they don't have to be for where we are. As far as Charlie is concerned, he's a genius lol.

final boss: a modified circle of death
Last exercise of the day was a cancer circle, with four poles kinda strewn at random along the circle. Not sure they measured for anything in particular, but we ended up getting pretty consistent striding more or less along the way. One set was far enough apart to be 'basically unrelated' (6 or 7 strides, probably), then it was 4 to 4 to 2 (tracking left). 

interpretive dance step #1
This is obvi a very familiar type of exercise for Charlie, but one that bears repeating -- and often. Plus it was obviously so helpful to have Trainer C there, not just bc we needed frequent clean up from knocked poles LOL. 

interpretive dance step #2
She reminded me to think more about my outside aids, and probably wanted me to be a little more "dressage-y" vs "jumper-y" in my position (everybody other than me and Amy did the clinic in their dressage tack). But eh. I'm sticking with the "we are weak" excuse for now LOL.

that's better sir! also, emma, pls consider actually sitting
And guys, omg, Charlie was SO TIRED by this point. This was, without a doubt, the most intense and taxing ride we've had since.... Hm, probably the Molly days. Not even just because he was out of work for so long, but bc heavily tactical technical instruction is hard to find, apparently.

what a good boy tho
He persevered, tho. Which was a good reminder to me. Honestly, in our schooling at home, I'm pretty quick to reward a good effort and quit while we're ahead -- before he gets tired. And Charlie, for his part, is usually pretty good about stepping up when it counts -- like at shows when he goes into pure professional mode. 

not sure my position met any expectations, but this horse 100% blew me away with his effort!
But it IS good to test the limits of our capacity every now and again. Both to help us expand in our fitness and strength, and also to give us a little practice in digging deep when we might otherwise call it a day. 

finishing strong!
And so in this ride, as Charlie became more fatigued in the circle and thus increasingly likelier to break to trot if the distance was wonky, we really had to find our determination to get one fully clean circle to finish on each lead. 

It reminded me of the first lesson Charlie had with Dan, where Dan basically scolded me. We were working on trot-canter transitions, where we were only allowed to canter when the trot was where Dan wanted it. And Dan reminded me: "This is hard for him. The longer you take to get there, the harder it'll be to keep going. Get the trot now, don't just go around and around and around working on it." (paraphrased).

So. Anyway. After everybody had sessioned each individual exercise, they put it together into a complete little pattern. As much fun as that looked (and it did look FUN -- and challenging, omg), I opted to skip it. Charlie was SPENT omg. 

I also suspect that the horse's sleep patterns have been disturbed lately by changes in his herd... But that's a topic for another day. Suffice it to say -- Charlie had nothing to prove, and had been an excellent pony for a very demanding lesson. Good enough! 

so so so so SO TIRED by the end <3
We really loved this lesson, guys. Amy and Punky were super stars too -- tho we already knew Punky is basically a gymnastics savant haha. It's so good to see him back in action, sound, and looking good

Charlie is looking really good too. All the dressage queens in our group kinda put our fitness to shame LOL, but eh, again, I have excuses and I'm sticking to them. We'll get there eventually! 

Anybody else really love lessons or clinics like this? Planning to steal any of these exercises (or all of them??) for your own schooling???

Saturday, April 1, 2023

big news!!

Let's be honest, this year got off to a rocky start for us. A lot of setbacks. But... I've been holding back a little secret from y'all. While Charlie sorted out his gravel-induced abscess plus obvi the ill-timed choke, etc, I was busy planning.

So here's the deal: Y'all might remember, we started Charlie on Equioxx back in November, to excellent effect. He is responding *so well* to the drug that, well, I decided to get serious again about moving up this year. Really give it another try, see how far we can go, ya know?

I don't want to repeat the same mistakes from our past, however, so.... I decided on a more... traditional.... route. We enlisted a competent professional to help get Charlie back into work and ultimately pilot him around his first few bigger events. Enter: Boyd Martin! 

boyd and charlie!
So far, it's gone really well too! Turns out, I've been right all along: Charlie already has all the pieces for the level. He's a good and capable horse, who just needed a slightly more consistent and confident rider to get him really confirmed. It's just so exciting to see <3

Boyd has been a phenomenal mentor to me, too. He realized pretty quickly that.... *I* was the one in need of a little hand holding. In his opinion, I just need more mileage, more jumps, more galloping, more... everything. And more than any one horse (esp a high-mileage model like Charlie) needs to do. 

As such, he's offered up some of his own school masters to help me get rider-fit again plus gain experience at higher levels!!

omg it's me and Thomas!!!
And oh. my. gawwwd has it been fun!!! Like.... Sure, I still kinda suck haha. Tho, turns out, my defensive, back-seat, pearl-clutching stance*** as a rider made me perfectly suited for the drop into Head of the Lake. Check THAT off the old bucket list, lol!

(***Specifically the third photo in that post, in case it's not clear enough!) 

Oh, and guys ---- wowza, Tsetserleg is a serious little pocket rocket! This horse has HOPS! He's teaching me so much, honestly, I'm just so grateful. 

Now that it's April, I'll get less saddle time with him as he preps for Kentucky with Boyd (sadly, I couldn't get my own or Charlie's MERs done in time!) -- but what an experience! 

Here's hoping for much more to come!