Tuesday, October 31, 2023

charlie's fall ritual (again)

It's the most wonderful time of year again, when it's 80* in Maryland despite being nearly November lol. Our poor fuzzy critters are.... fuzzy.

this fluffy beasty will turn 15 next year <3
I swear, Charlie's pelt gets thicker with each passing year. Homeboy is hairy

he was condemned to a paddock so he didn't go full blown swamp monster after his bath lol
And sweaty, ick. Poor guy. He's always been somewhat heavy in the sweating department. And considering that he's just generally heavy these days too... Eh, it's just a lot.

lol red mare face
So he gets clipped ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I like the way he looks clipped, he likes the way he feels clipped, everybody's happy.

she got a bath too
Plus, obvi with temps in the 80s, it was perfect anyway. And I got a TON of Mane 'n Tail sample products from the Maryland 5*, so both critters got groomed within an inch of their lives. 

ever feel like you're being watched?
Extra good timing for Charlie, considering he hasn't been bathed as frequently given how long he's been out of work (as in, we never had to hose off any post-ride sweat this summer, obvi...). He was pretty spectacularly grungy. 

Doozy got in on the fun too --- she is in work (hallelujah!), and did need post-ride hosing. But there aren't any plans to clip her for now. We can reassess later if need be.

it's not a big clip pattern, but still a lot of real estate!
She doesn't have nearly as much hair as Charlie, plus doesn't seem to sweat as heavily. And let's be real, she needs to continue becoming more consistent etc in general riding life before I give her any excuses for feral behavior LOL.

the face of a horse who QUITE LIKES the level of attention
So Charlie got scrubbed and scoured and shampooed, plus spritzed head to toe in detangler and shine spray. 

By the time I was done with him, he was silky soft and smooth like a svelte panther <3

Well, ok. Maybe not "svelte" lol, but you know what I mean. 

we went pretty conservative on the neck this year since who knows when/if he'll actually get back into work
Tho poor guy, all our horses have a bit of scurf right now. It was so so so dry for most of the end of summer, then suddenly we got some good drenchings that reactivated all the mud and bacteria and everybody got hives. 

i love how this pattern de-emphasizes the serious dad bod situation 
So Charlie has a couple patches of scurf on his back and down his flanks, but luckily it didn't interfere too much with the clip pattern. And we'll just keep working on it with grooming. 

insta-sporty, just add racing stripe!
The clip job itself doesn't take too long, and my friend Katie did it again this year. She marks out the pattern with chalk, and does one full side before marking out the second side to keep everything as relatively even as possible.

lolz bai charlie, make good choices!
Charlie required a little bribery for her to finish the job up by his ears, but was otherwise a champ. He LOVES all the heavy petting and attention haha --- in another life I could totally see him as a camp pony getting hand painted by a bunch of kiddos, ya know? 

so much fuzz <3
So, another impending winter, another clip job for Charlie. I have zero expectations on what his future holds, but I'm hopeful. He is a little footsore after his most recent shoeing appointment (last Friday), so we'll see. 

At least he LOOKS the part, that's half the battle anyway amirite LOL..... Anybody else clipping this year? Or maybe you're hoping to hold out for a bit later into the season? 

Monday, October 30, 2023

whose job is it, anyway?

The nice thing about not having anything pressing on the agenda is that.... Eh, we can focus on emphasizing balance and enjoyment in 'getting going.'

Right now, all our 'real' riding happens inside the indoor arena. Which is small and dusty and not the most inspirational place. But it's where Doozy (/me, let's be real) feels secure enough to go about the basics of walk-trot-canter.

look who didn't get anybody killed in the outdoor dressage ring!!
I'm hoping that pairing this routine with regular (ideally weekly, but we'll see after the time changes) extended walks out into the fields or along the driveway or bridle paths, or even other outdoor arenas will help Doozy understand that expectations don't really change even when the venue is different.

pretty girl <3
We made some nice progress last week, too, when Doozy accompanied a friend up to the dressage ring and didn't totally melt down! Actually, she was pretty solid except for a few little outbursts like when friend's horse had a noisy stumble while trotting behind us, or when a rattle trap car cruised by in the driveway. 

She wasn't perfect, and I didn't try to trot or anything like that... But she was good. And, when I dismounted in the center of the ring in a moment of soft relaxation, she seemed like, 'wow, that was all?' and was happy to stand relaxed for getting the girth loosened and a few pictures (above). Considering last time she was in this arena, she couldn't even hand walk successfully... We'll take it. 

Small steps, y'all!

lolz none of charlie's boots fit her
It does mean, tho, that for the rides when we ARE working, we need to keep developing the tools I'll need to help keep her focused and with me during those outside moments. Like, getting serious about introducing bend etc so that Doozy can't keep using her neck against me.

this weekend's homework: Turning!!! diagonals have "honesty blocks" in the corners (foreground of picture), and that semi-circular bending line of 3 can go in both directions. spacing is generous on everything (including the corner blocks)
So for our next two schooling sessions, I rearranged all the various exercises we've worked on to focus more on turning and corners. Everything was intended to be smooth sweeping turns, and gentle corners --- basically relatively easy to accomplish even if we weren't super supple, but at least introducing the concepts. 

photos + videos are from our second day riding these exercises, when we (obvi) had company in the ring
And it was a SUPER useful ride for me. Bc Doozy is still kinda just a tense horse, ya know? We were alone for our first ride (Saturday), and she wanted to be rushing and tight in the trot. Tho, notably, she could always come back to a relaxed walk. 

I had to keep reminding myself that our whole intent right now is: rhythm + relaxation. That I had to guide Doozy through the exercises and into the pace I want, that she's not just gonna figure it out herself if I don't tell her. And I also tried to channel lessons from a million years ago with Dan C: when he told me that, 'if what you're doing isn't working, slow it down.'

had some seriously good feelings in this ride's canters, even if i don't necessarily look it lol
So if we would come across the diagonal into the corners with the blocks, and felt like we were kinda motorcycling in trot... Just bring it back down to walk and get the bend I'm looking for, then try to recreate at trot. 

I also tried to be more disciplined in my own positioning, steering, and balance through the bending line of 3 poles. As in, ride them as if I was in a lesson and would be told to repeat it again if I didn't ride as well as I could. Like, it's ok for Doozy to make mistakes -- but this is my chance to set her up as well as I can for each exercise. 

mare is werkin it!
Her canter was pretty solid, tho a bit more porpoising than I'd totally expect at this point. Which we tried to address with a different half pad in Sunday's ride. Regardless, we cantered a few more circles than normal -- AND, Doozy even cantered her first ground poles!! One off each lead :D

The pole was in the short end so we had a nice bending approach, and they came nicely out of stride without much consideration on her part. That could change on a long straight approach, but I was obvi pretty pleased with her. And obvi we repeated again in our second ride of the weekend so there's video yas!

pretty happy with this picture, not gonna lie
(even tho obvi we can always find things to improve!)
Our second day of riding all these exercises was even better. We had another horse in the ring, which is now officially A Good Thing for Doozy. It's hard to tell if the difference in our execution is bc we were doing it all for the second time in a row, or if it was just bc we weren't alone. Honestly, not sure I really care at this point haha! 

Doozy seemed to understand in this ride that I wanted a slower trot, and actually a couple times went a bit too far in that direction -- getting a little stuck in place. Like, not stuck stuck, but enough where I had to put on a lot of leg. 

yasss mare, go get it!!! (and hold mane, emma!!!)
All the same, she went about and did all the exercises easy as pie. Which, good lol. It should be easy, and should be nbd. That's a big reason why I'm so ground pole-centric in these early rides with her: to make them feel easy and normal, and also bc.... ground poles don't lie

Like, you either traveled over the center, or you didn't. They're like built in fact checkers haha -- did that feel nice? Balanced? Easy? Cool! Or did you miss your turn, scramble across, have to yank around the corner halfway through? Ok, nbd, but see what you can change next time to make it better.

finishing the ride like a princess
Probably the biggest stand out for this ride was the canter --- Doozy had some really nice moments in canter where I felt like I was actually riding her in a balance. Like, sure sure my position still kinda sucks and I'm still way too defensive with my hands, plus obvi we do still motorcycle around a little bit... 

But the good moments are happening, and more frequently. And natch, Doozy repeated her new skill of cantering ground poles <3 <3 Good girl!

So, overall, a very productive collection of recent rides. Biggest takeaways are:

1. It really is my job to ride Doozy where I want her, and not just endlessly lap around waiting for her to somehow just magically figure it out. Key mantra: "Make a difference."

2. Lessons will help with this! And esp will help with continuing to untangle some of my terrible position habits that are made worse by nerves/defensiveness.

sweaty girl after some real 'work,' considering it was 80*F on saturday (oof)
3. We need to continue experimenting on riding with and without company to better understand Doozy's nervous tension. I think she was happier this ride bc we weren't alone. But I also used a different half pad -- was that part of the difference too? Lots to play with!

4. It's pretty remarkable how consistent Doozy is with her walk. Even when the trot is really tense, or after cantering, or when she's worked up, the walk is basically always free, fluid, and four beats. This is definitely something worth preserving!

post-bath grazing
I'm obviously super grateful for the video my friend snagged yesterday, esp after our more tense ride on Saturday. While I naturally kinda want to zero in on all the things that need work, there's a lot in the video that, to me, feels validating. 

Hope you all had a nice weekend full of ponies too!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Doozy's first Test

Y'all might remember that I began organizing fun educational activities last fall for riders at our home farm, utilizing the breadth and depth of experience and knowledge of our newest boarder - an FEI steward and frequent dressage judge.

went on an 'easy' hack ride earlier in the week
Now that the competition season is coming to a close, her availability is increasing again -- so we're getting activities back on the schedule!! Specifically -- her specialty, Fix-a-Test Dressage Clinics!

my camera doesn't do justice to the vibrancy of our fall colors right now!
I sorta vaguely mentioned her first session a couple weeks ago, but hadn't felt like Doozy was quite ready to actually do a complete test pattern on command. So for that ride, we kinda just went through our paces and got some feedback. 

Fast forward to present time, and I thought, "eh, actually, let's go for it!" So Doozy got to do her first complete and judged dressage tests!! 

instructor KW suggested bracing my rogue L wrist, so i gave that a try.
jury's out on whether it makes much of a difference
Tho I really really want to stress: The intention of this ride was NOT to squish Doozy thru a pattern by hook or by crook. If at any point, she seemed overfaced or like she needed to go 'off course' for whatever reason, fine, right? 

But realistically, Intro Test B happens to look a whole heckuva lot like our normal style of ride. It's a very short test, very inviting patterns, and a nice walk breather right in the middle. I figured it'd be fine. And it was!

mondeuse got up close and personal with the judge's box!
Actually, the hardest part of the test was the center line turns and the halts lol... It occurred to me that I haven't actually trotted a CL turn with Doozy before, nor had we practiced anything that looked like "trot-walk-halt-walk-trot." 

helmet cam screen grabs are hard, yo, just watch the video - it's only 2:40
just wanted to point out: legs = on, go emma LOL
But she really impressed me, and figured out the pattern super quickly. To the point where, in the video below (our second run thru of the test), you can see that she actually anticipates the halt. 

She definitely learns quickly thru repetition. For example, take our trot transitions. Doozy's original reaction to an upward transition was to spurt off in a frenzy. But she quickly figured out that I just want a nice easy trot, so now she offers a gentle quiet move up to a subdued trot.... and only really starts picking up steam and quickening after the first 5 or so steps.

link to video of test, complete with directives, scores and comments

Tho, after those first few steps, all bets are off LOL! I accidentally printed the 2019 test, so that's what we rode, but all the trot circles are in the middle of the ring vs the ends. And Doozy was pretty speedy for all her circles. But I kept trying to channel our lesson with KW, thinking about holding my body and post as steady as possible, and utilizing a wider hand set. 

super blurry zoomed-in snaps from our warm up (not the test) to capture current state of canter
Our judge reinforced the same ideas --- especially about slower posting. She also really emphasized that it's time to start introducing bend. Like, baby bend haha. 

mostly bc i just like watching her canter lol
She suggested using corners at the walk to help achieve more lateral flexibility, and I'm thinking I'll probably add in some ground poles too so Doozy can connect the feeling with actual physical landmarks (wall, pole) rather than me just fussing with her. 

making frens <3
And honestly, this is the reason why I really like test riding, even when it's clearly a little premature in our training. The whole point of how these tests are designed is to help clarify and identify training strengths and weaknesses.  

other riders had fun productive sessions too!
To date, Doozy has learned how to reliably steer and transition between gaits. Which, fundamentally, is what's required to successfully navigate a walk-trot test with nothing more complicated than a 20m circle. But we didn't quite have the steady rhythm or relaxation called for, plus we spent a fair amount of time counter bent. 

starting to look like a proper animal now that her coat is all grown in and she's gained some weight!
Rhythm and relaxation may be a long time in the making, but learning about bend will only give us more tools in that pursuit. 

And I see this as related to instructor KW's suggestion to use figures as a way to introduce more leg and (rider) body control to the equation. Learning to bend and learning to move off each of my legs independently are all kinda inter-related skills for Doozy, right? 

meet Richard, denizen of the upper barn
So. It was a fun session, and Doozy did really really well. She's hot and reactive, and prone to little outbursts (lol -- see the first 5 seconds of the video above for an example)... But -- BUT -- she can also go right back to using her whole body in a big slinky active walk, even immediately after a canter (planned or otherwise) or little outburst. 

She's a super trier, and super 'obedient' -- tho that's not my favorite word, let's say she 'colors inside the lines.' And seems like she likes attention and connection. Plus, imho she's a cute mover <3

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Mondeuse goes to school!

Big nooz in Dooz land! We had our first lesson, finally ha. It was actually a very long time coming working with this particular instructor at our farm. I tried to get her to give me and Charlie jump lessons way back ago, but she always seemed a bit reluctant, maybe bc we've primarily been peers and riding buddies, plus she typically teaches small kiddos. 

lol apparently Doozy made it to the 5* after all!
But, from my perspective, she's extremely accomplished, is pretty familiar with me as a rider (meaning, my goals, opinions, styles, shortcomings, etc), and I trust her judgement. I really just need reliable eyes on the ground, someone who can be practical and realistic in giving well-timed corrections / observations, and help prioritize training plans. 

So, finally, after months (and months) of persistence, not to mention a whole new horse, she (let's call her KW, bc wow, so many Trainer Ks in the history of this blog....) finally agreed to fit us in for a 30min private lesson this weekend. 

guys our tailgate spot did not suck
And it was perfect

This was actually the first time KW has seen me ride Doozy, tho she's been around for some of the mare's more.... chaotic moments hand walking around the dressage ring. So it was good to get her fresh take.

Piggy March & Brookfield Cavalier Cruise at the Sunken Road
It was also useful bc... It was one of Doozy's more reactive days. Do y'all remember Doozy's first and second rides, how she was sorta in two very different emotional places for those two rides? One was a bit stressy, and the other was pretty relaxed. 

What I'm finding is that the horse has a broad spectrum of "moods," and that she's pretty consistent within that mood on any given day. Meaning, if she's stressed in the barn, she's going to be stressed in the ride. Ditto if she starts relaxed, she generally stays there. 

beautiful Fair Hill
Importantly, however, even when the horse is tense, hot and reactive, she still colors inside the lines. Which, naturally, she did very nicely for this lesson, even tho she was way less relaxed than she had been for the ride I wrote about yesterday.

these birds are 100% my favorite
So I basically put Doozy through her paces, walk trot canter in both directions. And KW asked questions, made observations, provided real-time feedback, and then summarized key takeaways and focal points for moving forward. 

Mia Farley & Phelps
There are three main items on our Homework To-Do List:

- Hands. I already knew this, and was thrilled when KW lasered in on the dumb / weird things I'm doing with my hands (specifically the left one). She encouraged me to utilize a wider hand set to help get more control over the weirdness, and help Doozy stay centered in my contact. 

- Legs ON. We've all heard a million times before: legs OFF a dull horse, ON a hot horse. I've spent actual YEARS learning to get my legs off Charlie lol. So, obvi, now I'm going to have to learn to customize my style for each horse haha. 

- Body Control. Doozy was a bit erratic in her trot, and KW hit a steady drum beat of reminding me to slow my post in trot, and use more of my position and body to start communicating rhythm to the horse.

William Fox Pitt & Graffenacht
So let's talk specific details, yes? YES. 

When it comes to the structure of a ride, KW was on board with my approach of high frequency / low intensity trot sessions. As in, don't just push up to trot and then stay there forever. Do little bits at a time, small repeats. Always looking for moments of softness and relaxation / steadiness in tempo to take a walk break. 

In this way, we get more transitions, help Doozy learn in the 'releases' from pressure how we want her to be, and start building what will eventually become our 'half halt.' Similarly, I still need to keep looking for moments to release the contact in both trot and walk. Doozy is a bit exploitive right now (lol), but that's ok, we'll keep giving her chances and she'll learn. 

Erin Kanara & Campground
Particularly in the walk, I should think about spending more time on longer reins while introducing more of the rest of my body as cues: legs, thighs, etc. I want to be able to introduce thighs particularly as a way to regulate forward pace. As a part of this, I should practice picking up and releasing the contact more often than we do transitions up to trot, so she doesn't associate shortening the reins with spurting forward. 

For canter, KW advised not getting bogged down with 'getting the correct lead.' Doozy was actually spot on perfect for both leads in this lesson, mostly bc she was so tense that I didn't really have to do anything beyond "allow" for her to break into canter. Which kinda further proves that the lead issues are more "me" than the "horse." 

Red & Reddier for dinner
KW's point is that, until the horse understands how to move off each of my legs independently, the leads are gonna be more or less 'luck' anyway. She said it's more important that we canter, generally, and that the leads will come. 

So this gets us back to being more intentional with riding with my leg ON. Instead of trying to use the tiniest most subtle aids right off the bat, I actually wanna start with ensuring Doozy accepts the legs on --- so that she doesn't end up too reactive later. KW suggested using circles and figures as opportunities to increase leg pressure and start helping the horse move off each leg, including adding thigh pressure and control from my abs / seat. 

omg Doozy is growing in a micro - snip on her muzzle with her winter fuzz!
Generally, in terms of the 'training pyramid,' we are going to be in 'rhythm and relaxation' for.... a while lol. And that while we're working on these fundamentals, it's up to me to really improve my body control and position. 

KW's impression is that Doozy is basically an athletic and capable horse who, even when tense and reactive, still just goes about and does what I ask. She 'colors inside the lines,' so it's my job to keep clarifying and redrawing those lines to continue refining our work. 

Which, I'm not gonna lie, was a bit like music to my ears. It's been a long time since I've really felt like I'm developing as a rider. Part of my hopes and goals with this new green horse is to just keep pushing my own boundaries, keep learning and challenging myself to grow my skills. 

So. First lesson is in the books with Mondeuse. I don't know what the schedule / cadence will be going forward, or when we'll make our first off-property lesson adventure. We'll just figure it out as we go, there's no immediate agenda other than --- get going! Feels exciting, y'all!

Monday, October 23, 2023

state of the Dooz

Happy Monday, y'all!! I may or may not have a massive horse show hangover from spending the better part of a week commuting back and forth to the Maryland 5*.... But time keeps chugging along, and Mondeuse waits for no man. 

riding up to the ring with a friend!
I gotta get these updates off my phone and recorded here in Ye Olde Blogge before they start stacking up and I forget things, ya know? So, as promised, here's a pictorial recap of our ride last week wherein a friend was able to nab footage. 

"i am the goodest girl" -- doozy, probably
It was the last day of the Beval saddle's extended trial period, and I was already pretty sure I'd buy it --- but just wanted to see more footage, especially in the canter. Plus, obvi, wanted footage of Doozy's current state as well. 

"trit trot, trit trot, look at me go!"
As such, it was a fairly abbreviated ride. My buddy wanted to get out for some fitness work in the fields with her mare before it got dark out, but was willing to stick around long enough for me to put Mondeuse thru her paces.

i need to aim for a trot balance that makes this distance not feel long for her
Which naturally included basically repeating the same exact riding format we've been working on these past two weeks --- walking, trotting and cantering basic figures in the indoor ring, plus plenty of passes up and down the ground pole exercise I set up. 

"am also snek" -- doozy, definitely
I like to change things slowly and incrementally in Doozy's riding life. So in this ride, everything we did under saddle was basically identical to past rides --- but the big different "new" thing was having another horse in the ring with us. 

"Snek says Sssssss!!"
I guess it's not technically "new," we did it once before in ride #10, but Mondeuse was still too fresh into recovery from her abscess for us to do much, and it also preceded her really starting to understand the routine process of being a riding horse. 

ok, back to being a good girl again <3
She's learned so much in the last 2-3 weeks, but I was starting to feel like we might be hitting a bit of a plateau at least in terms of her relaxation. Namely: It felt like she was starting to not love being alone in the indoor all the time. So now that she's got the basic drill down, it's time to shift focus back to introducing other horses and such into the ring. 

feels good to be able to push for more in the trot, vs feeling like we might explode at any moment
This ride really validated that feeling, bc Doozy was able to carry on and do all the things we've been working on --- but on a quicker time frame since we were sorta on borrowed time before my friend had to move on. And it was all good, she was the most relaxed she's been.

this is me, focusing so hard on keeping my hands down and not clutching my pearls
We also spent more time working in the full ring, since the gravitational center of the arena shifted from the entry/exit doors to the other horse. Funny how that works, LOL!

short neck, don't care, i think she's cute
Anyway, the status of our training as of this ride is basically exactly where I left off last week: the next big breakthroughs are probably going to come more as a result of me riding better vs Doozy making any big changes. I need to focus more on my position and balance, need to be better about allowing more forward. 

i don't think she has a problem with the left lead, i think she has a problem with her rider's left lead cues LOL
I also need to be better about not being quite so delicate about sitting down on the horse, too. Like in my canter transitions, I'm kinda all over the map. We get there eventually, but it almost feels a little bit like luck haha, if you know what I mean. 

trots nicely even after canters
So hopefully by the time you are reading this, we will have actually logged our first riding lesson with an actual instructor. Hopefully, LOL. 

no rushing here!
And maybe if we can establish some sort of lesson routine, we can use that structure to continue expanding Doozy's 'comfort zone' re: riding locations. For example, I'd like to start introducing her to the jump ring, at least on weekends. It's just so dusty in the indoor, plus there isn't a lot of equipment in there to set up much beyond what I've already done. We'll see, tho. 

"maybe staring directly at her neck with make it lengthen?" -- emma, probably
I want to be able to add more little jumps and stuff to start working on more 'mini courses,' letting Dooz travel more freely from one little obstacle to the next (sorta like we did in some of Charlie's earliest jump lessons), so that she can get the hang of landing in canter, and maybe even start thinking about jumping from canter too. 

d'awww <3 <3 <3
All in good time, tho, I suppose. There are obvi so many little things that need work, beyond what we actually do under saddle. And it's all important. So we'll just have to take each day as it comes.

For now, tho, it feels really good to at least have a somewhat consistent 'baseline ride' established. And I'm excited at feeling like we can not be so worried about having to avoid arena traffic (tho, obvi, we'll still have to be careful bc I don't want to scare the crap out of some poor kiddo on a lesson pony, or wreck somebody else's ride bc my mare forgot to take her #copium!). 

hand walking back to the barn alone feeling happy and relaxed!
But who knows, maybe I need to give Mondeuse more credit lol. She's really figuring it out! Stay tuned for more soon, hopefully to include a lesson recap, and a little more Maryland 5* spam ;)