Thursday, December 14, 2017

reasons my horse loves me

This poor horse, guys. Seriously.

People always tell me that he must be so much happier in his new life post-track. And that ammy horses really have it the best bc of all those fancy supplements and body work sessions and primping and pampering.

the face of joy? or.... suffering? lol don't answer that
I'm not fully convinced Charlie agrees with all that tho, lol.

yea.... that's a freshly bathed neck. in freezing weather. sorry buddy!
As evidenced by his shocked - shocked - reaction to me spot-bathing him with a wash rag last night. He kept trying to tell me, "Emma - it's actually literally freezing out right now, are you friggin crazy??"

dressed for success tho, right?? the but sticking out is all the rage, i'm told
Alas, Charlie.... some things just have to get done no matter the weather. And at least I used hot water!

and in case it's not totally obvious, that's my quarter sheet wrapped around his neck lol...
His herd had just changed fields the day prior and apparently there must have been some extreme running around bc Charlie was crusted in dried sweat from eyelid to asshole, I shit you not. Plus, ya know, it had been a while since he had a bath anyway so his coat was pretty cruddy despite my constant vigorous grooming efforts.

it actually worked quite well tho and he was dry in no time
On one hand, I honestly think the horse secretly adores all this hands-on attention (especially since it did not result in being tacked up (a story for another day) or ridden). And naturally there were many bites of carrots involved. Tho he maybe did not love the heavy focus on his belly and girth area.... it needed cleaned tho, buddy, I swear!

it helps that all the barn's winter windows have been installed, they make a HUGE difference!
And all for a good cause too. You see, I don't have my own clippers and am honestly pretty fine with just paying someone to do the job. Especially at our previous h/j barn, the barn mgr there was an expert groom and getting the horse clipped was an easy peasy add-on to board. Plus he looked fantastic.

so handsome <3
Which was fine by me, since last year was my first time with a horse who needed it anyway (Isabel never got clipped, hardy beastie that she was). Charlie's neck and girth area always get very sweaty very quickly even in light work, and that's a huge pain in the ass to dry off before blanketing. Clipping is the easiest way to address that, as far as I'm concerned.

tho maybe slightly world-weary lol
It's turned out to not be quite as easy as just "adding it to my board" at the new place tho, and actually was a little difficult finding someone to even do the job. Finally tho, we got it done. And hopefully Charlie's impromptu late-night spot-cleaning session kept my friend's clippers in relatively decent shape!

And. Now that the big guy is all clipped up like the little sport horse he's intended to be, maybe we can get back to doing more and more fun stuff! ;)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

he was always a bronto

Even when I'm not doing anything directly horse related, the ponies are never far from mind. Apparently. Like this past weekend. Charlie enjoyed a long weekend off while I trekked down to Durham (driving directly through that snowstorm, genius planning Emma) for a long-overdue visit with an old friend.

anthropomorphic friendly face!!
At one point, while strolling through a chilly wooded path out behind a local museum,* we happened to find ourselves face to face with the above looming giant. A life size scaled replica of a brontosaurus.

(Museum of Life and Sciences for anyone ever in that area - it's mostly a kids museum, but we adults had a grand ol' time even with some of the exhibits closed bc of ice. Highly recommend - and if you have another zoo or aquarium membership you may get discounted admission). 

but damn that conformation looks SERIOUSLY familiar lol, right??
And the resemblance was striking. Uncanny, even. Anyone else see what I saw??? lol...

ahhh yes, that's right. my off track brontosaurus, charlie. this pic is from last year, but those angles are spot on lol
Lol poor Charlie.... I've always jokingly referring to him as my beloved dinosaur who occasionally gets mired down in one tar pit or another in our never ending quest for better flat work. Turns out tho, I might not be far from the truth with that visual imagery.

can you imagine coming around a stand of trees on your hike and facing down one of these??
All joking aside tho, I'm hoping the time off was useful as a bit of a "reset" for me. It kinda bugged me to miss our weekly jump lesson - except a snowstorm blew in so it was probably held in the tiny indoor anyway. Not super sorry to miss that, and an extra week of not jumping certainly won't hurt that freshly recovered surgical limb!

really tho, who am i kidding, if i even ran into the baby sized version above i'd probably lose my shit
Plus, as you know, we've been dealing with a serious balancing act of bringing Charlie back into work while addressing the physical creakiness that settled in during his stall rest, and his own disinclination to work through it. He's been.... Grouchy. Cranky. Grumpy.

this is Lightning the farmyard donkey! who, coincidentally, happened to be dressed more warmly than my own equid who was left to fend for himself in the snowier northier maryland during my absence. sorry charlie! :(
That, combined with the lion's share of our rides happening in cold darkness, with only dimly lit or small, crowded spaces to work.... Plus Charlie's apparently amplified gate sourness in the dark.... Eh. It's been the perfect storm of small, nagging inconveniences that I can't help but let sap my motivation away.

he shouldn't be too jealous of Lightning tho, poor guy was lame AF with a duct tape covered hoof. apparently abscesses can strike even the most humble of petting zoo critters!
So. A weekend away to recharge was maybe welcome. I also spent the time thinking a little more deeply about how to tackle this set of circumstances so I feel less blah and more energized.

the alpacas were borderline disdainful of our offerings
Luckily - there are actually a few ideas bumping around in my head. Very realistic, reasonable ideas about small tweaks to my schedules and routines that could actually maybe make a BIG difference in Charlieland. Fingers crossed.

the butterfly garden was spectacular. difficult to photograph tho, except for the, uh, slightly more.... stationary of those creatures who enjoy only brief existences, apparently. never fear tho - the ants were ready and waiting to do their part in this little ecosystem
Nothing settled on that front tho, but hopefully in the next week or so I'll have more details (and can actually trial some of my ideas to see if they work as intended).

ok so i did get more than just dead butterflies tho haha. these pale beauties flitted around like little ghosts
In the meantime tho, it's a return to business as usual. The reality is that Charlie really needs to be kept in regular work right now. Motion is lotion and all that. Plus the consistent routine helps avoid any big fuss when we have to suddenly get back to work after a prolonged rest period.

there were birds in there too! these two had a very pretty song, and i guess don't eat butterflies. maybe they eat ants tho?
So upon returning home from Durham, I was able to get on the schedule with dressage trainer C, who came out to our farm last night. I even got to have the lesson during daylight since I had already taken the day off work for the drive home. Bonus!

Going in tho, I knew it was maybe a bit of a gamble asking Charlie to buck up for a lesson after four days off wherein a major cold front also blew in. And.... the gamble did not pay off. Charlie was reeeeally not having it. I got him up to the arena about 10-15min early to work through what I knew would be some deep, dark tar pits and he was... ugh. He was actually really fucking bad.

look how colorful!
Luckily by the time trainer C got there, he was more or less resigned to his fate. But it was still kinda a fragile feeling lesson, and we really didn't do much beyond working on square turns on a small circle at one end of the ring. Plus a little bit of work on canter departs.

Charlie lodged many protests throughout the evening and I think only had one clean canter depart that didn't involve some variation of stamping his feet like a petulant child, or just letting fly with a hind leg. Ugh. But. Ya know. That's just kinda where we are right now, and kinda what I'm gonna get after letting the horse sit for a couple days in a row.

mine is more 'bronto' than 't-rex' but yup, this about sums it up!
So hopefully some minor adjustments to my schedule will help with that. And help reduce the ennui that comes along with facing an hour drive through rush hour to ride 20m circles on a cranky horse in the dark.

And in the meantime I'm still working on all those other little details that always merit a second look whenever things aren't going great with the horse. At least one big positive was that trainer C thought Charlie looked stronger behind than the last time she saw him. Reassuring, lol. The whole plan of "A Fitter Charlie is a Sounder Charlie" is working.

So. Ya know. One of these days we'll get this brontosaurus back on track haha. Eventually. Needs more jumping, methinks ;)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Favorite posts of 2017: Part II

Last week I shared some of my favorite posts of the past year (plus a few snuck in from 2016 during the early Charlie days, natch), organized by category. These aren't necessarily the posts with the most views or comments -- rather they're my own personal favorites.

The reality is, this year has been my least prolific as a blogger. Which... may surprise you if maybe you wish sometimes I'd drone on even less than I already do lol. But. Ya know. Sometimes it's hard to come up with compelling content that's enjoyable to write and read without rehashing the same ideas or happenings again and again and again.

Plus.... add in all that time off in the past few months and inspiration has been harder to come by. It's cool tho - I honestly derive a lot of pleasure from cataloging my horsey experiences here on ye olde blog. And am grateful to have so much detail of even the most mundane goings on documented here, bc yea I definitely go back and reread the old material often.

Like, while bringing Charlie back into work after rehab and he was creaky, kinda lame, and super sour about the work. That kinda freaks me out, ya know? But then I go back and reread where we were this time last year and.... Yea. We've been here before lol. And we can work through it. Just takes time. So thanks, blog, for reminding me of that!

So anyway tho, back to the point. Even tho this hasn't been a year of many posts (relatively speaking), there are still quite a few in there that I had a TON of fun writing, and a few that promoted a LOT of interesting discussion and commentary. Here are some more categories of my favorites for the year:

Just Plain Funny

Undefeated Champion of the World - Ok it's only really the first couple paragraphs that are giggle-inducing (and, uh, probably a lot of the pictures too bc let's be real). It's actually a show recap of Charlie's second ever outing - a schooling dressage show where he "owned" Intro B again.

Just Call Him Supaman - I dare you not to laugh at like.... every photo in this jump lesson recap. It's ok, I'm laughing too lol.

This Definitely Won't End Badly - This post would've been funnier if the embedded poll had worked (still sad about that, tbh). A tongue-in-cheek introduction to my newest innovation in safely mounting horses. That wayyy too many of you took wayyy too seriously, with many a comment warning me against my dangerous ways. Sheesh, folks, lighten up!

Shh, Nobody Tell Him! - Charlie thinks he's very fierce. Please nobody tell him any differently!

Watery Thoughts - This was the largest audience to witness an inauguration a blog post in history. Period. Believe me. Make water great again!

Need a Giggle? Have Some Fails - Title is self explanatory lol.

#CreepStar3000 - Me. In a golf cart. Chasing Liz and Griffin across their first ever cross country course. #thatswhatfriendsareforright? ((also, keen observers may have recognized this post as Crab Chip's Bast's first photo introduction to bloglandia)).

What Would George Morris Say? - Technically a blog hop (a category to be included in another round up) but this one..... too funny to leave off this list haha. Oh George. Oh Emma.... Oh poor long suffering Charlie!

Charlie's Best Bloopers - Also self explanatory.

Trailer Training

Trailer Loading Starts.... In The Arena - Charlie's first lesson with me, two weeks into ownership. This was intended to be a trailer loading session but instead became a more fundamental focus on introducing the horse to a new pattern of pressure and communication. The basis for all the work we've since accomplished.

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum - Charlie lets me know about his trailer preferences.

Get on the Bus, Charlie! - First off property adventure!!

It's My Birthday so I'll Buy if I Want To - I bought myself a new trailer for my birthday! Gosh I love this thing tho!

Update on the State of Trailer Training - Charlie's getting reliable but.... I'm kinda cheating.

Ground Work + Trust Building

Ground Work + Trotting Update - Where things stand with Charlie on all his general skills after three months and going into the new year.

Shaping - Another lesson with our favorite pro. And an in-depth review of the specific exercises we continue to practice with some regularity.

Sweet Air Adventures - Brita and I hauled out to a local state park for a real trail outing. This proved to be a sea change for Charlie, and he was a different horse returning to the trailer than he had been first setting out.

Amps + Damps - Making incremental changes to our typical gear and routine to help Charlie be the best he can be.

Takin' for Granite - He's still a green horse tho.

Exposure: Creeks + Gates - Charlie's got a lot to learn about the wider world beyond the track. Including what it means to be asked to tackle unexpected new challenges.

Shake it Off - Focusing on Charlie's emotional recovery even as we rehab him physically from his splint surgery.

General Training Updates, Progressions and Planning

Six Months of Charlie - A review of where he's been, what he's done, and what comes next.

Immediate Future - Planning out Charlie's introduction to eventing. It was an intense, ambitious plan that could have easily backfired. Hindsight is 20-20 tho, and Charlie flourished under this plan - rising to the occasion and some.

The Lines that Blur - Another discussion of how I wanted to balance Charlie's competitive outings between emotional and physical challenges, and how this meant kinda bouncing around between levels for a while.

Progress is Not Inevitable - Basically a progression post, with inspirational quotes for the text.

On Gratitude - Video summary of Charlie's and my best moments together.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

keeping the peace

It was super refreshing and reassuring to finally play with Charlie over jumps again. As you might imagine, I had all sorts of worries that maybe he forgot how, or I forgot. And that we'd have to start all over again. Or, worse, that he wouldn't be sound.

happy ponies on a foggy balmy weekend morning in their giant pasture
Luckily on all fronts, those worries seem totally unfounded. The horse was happy to jump again. And while we kept the ride conservative, it gave me every sense that we'd be skipping back along to picking up where we left off last September. Phew!

perhaps you noticed from those jumping pictures that charlie was wearing new boots - these pretty Kentucky Solimbra D30 cross country boots that i picked up for my birthday. these boots come as one-size-fits-all. 
The way my own sense of confidence and ability operates, it's really important that I keep some semblance of routine in order to stay (relatively) sharp. So all these disruptions in my riding habit - like taking months off for my horse to have surgery, blargh, or his kick before that, or the abscess before that - always freak me out a little bit that I'll somehow lose whatever ground I had managed to gain in the previous months.

i saw them on a number of pro's horses while jump judging at loch moy way back in october and was drawn to the slightly unconventional look, and obvi the fact that they're brown lol
Not sure if that's rational or not, or a totally normal response. Who knows. Only time will tell if we can settle right back into the same groove from last summer. Which, if you'll remember, Charlie was seriously beginning to jump like a seasoned professional. And while I was already growing skeptical that we would actually reach my goal of Novice by November, we still felt sosoclose.

the front boots are significantly shorter than the hinds, but go on quite easily and have some serious reinforcement overtop the D30 shock absorbing putty. also disregard charlie's slightly askew stance, he's got one toe off the mat - i swear his feet aren't that asymmetrical lol!
So now that we've dipped our toes into the waters of flying-at-rapid-speeds-over-small-fences, and it turned out pretty alright, I feel more relaxed again. It's easier for me to trust the gradual return to work. Trust that the horse is what I know him to be, and that I'm still the same rider I know I can be.

the canvas type exterior is unusual compared to current boot trends, tho the boot interior looks a little more standard with a breathable, perforated lining (shoulda taken a pic, sorry!).
Naturally I've still got all sorts of fun ideas and plans that we hope to squeeze while we can. Including repeating a couple of Charlie's earliest outings from last fall and winter -- except this time with a horse and rider more prepared to actually do stuff during said outings lol.

i haven't tested them through water yet - but they already passed one big test: no rubbing or turning! bingo!
But I'm also not really feeling any sort of rush or pressure to make those things happen. Now that Charlie can jump again it's easier to keep enough variety in his regular workload such that we can keep schooling the important stuff without him begging too pitifully for a merciful end lol.

another nice weekend, another nice hack out
But even so, he's still kinda an emotionally sensitive horse and prone to sourness. So even tho a bright sunny pleasant Sunday afternoon could theoretically be the perfect day for taking advantage of the full dressage court (as opposed to the dimly lit 30m center with dark corners).... Even tho that's mighty tempting, hacking out with barn mates was still the obvious choice.

It was great too bc Charlie and Punky are field mates and lesson mates - so they know each other pretty well and seem to get along. Both seemed quite happy with the other's company, even as Charlie can be a little annoying about personal space on the trail. He seems to see every trail mate as a potential lead pony from the track, and wants to be right up along side them lol.

different lesson mate showed me around some different trails. not that you'd notice with the current fall leaf-covered conditions lol
Plus we covered some new ground, always a bonus. It all basically looks the same these days, but I'm slowly slowly putting together a mental map of the wooded property around our farm. And there are, of course, plenty more opportunities to keep getting out there to really commit those trails to memory lol.

In the meantime tho, we are still left with dark evenings confining us to the lit areas. Both outdoor rings (jump and dressage) have dim lights, and the small indoor is the best lit. The dressage ring is ok enough for our purposes, tho for some reason Charlie's gate sour issues are amplified in the dark. We've been dealing with that a lot lately. It's not so bad in the indoor, but the indoor is smaller and can be more crowded so.... ya know.... trade off.

we found a fountain tho!
So far this week, the horse has been impressing me tho. Relatively speaking. We have some rough starts, including any time we restart after a break. But then it's like a flip switches and he just gets right on along with it.

And while I've been focused more on forward and straightness instead of roundness, all that work we did in the early phases of rehab does seem to be paying off, and Charlie is kinda more naturally putting himself in a nice shape and carriage once we actually wade our way through all those tar pits.

and a soybean field lol
Transition work seems to be the key to unlocking his forward. I can't be too fussy with them tho - not too picky on what they look like. Just trot to walk, one step walk, then right back to trot again. Usually doing transitions in the same places, taking advantage of Charlie's anticipation so he figures out the game more quickly. Everything is easier when Charlie knows exactly what I want. Anyway I can make it more clear to him, more obvious, will help.

then it's back to dark night time riding. in the rain too bc i'm dumb and didn't think about needing to dry him off after.... but also didn't feel like pulling out my ladder to grab my full size cooler from storage lol.... 
He even graduated to doing more canter transitions and changes of bend - and esp those where he needs to load that right hind leg more. Typically that's when the sass monster comes out bc he doesn't want to use that leg. But... ya know. Repetition has helped.

As has really only focusing on the transition. Once he picks up the left lead, I praise excessively and bring him back to trot about 5 strides later. So he's learned to trust that I'm not gonna ride that leg down into the ground - I just need him to try, a little bit. So he tries. And hopefully all will continue to be better and better. Theoretically lol.

But. Ya know. For now, I'm just really relieved to know that.... yea things ARE getting better and we ARE getting back to normal. Everything else will fall into place in time.

Monday, December 4, 2017

another milestone in the recovery

SO. YOU GUYS! Much excitement is happening!

If you were paying attention over the weekend, you'd have noticed that, OMG, Charlie jomped again!!!

charlie is nothing if not an expressive kind of horse. what thinks you about this expression here? lol
All parties rejoice!

A quick catch up, bc I know my posting has been a bit sparse lately: Charlie's been rehabbing this past month. Starting first with tons of hacking around the property, followed by purposeful flat work wherein we had this idea of "restarting" Charlie in his dressage. Every step counts!

proud of his trot pole prowess
But then Charlie grew very suddenly very sour, and we had to step back away from all that pressure. And, obvi, take a closer look at his physical and emotional conditions to make sure he was prepared in every aspect to take what I throw at him.

from certain angles he really looks giant. look at that wee saddle up there!
And in the meantime, he achieved the veterinary- recommended healing landmark of being allowed to sorta kinda jump things again.

Since Charlie has always been happy to jump, compared to his occasional sourness toward, uh, kinda everything else, this was a big opportunity to help move him past his current state of "blah."

embarrassed about his black bridle with a brown saddle
Specifically: I have already shared with y'all that Charlie's got a general fitness issue. He's the most sound when he's the most fit. But getting to that level of fitness means working through some serious resistance. Tricky balance.

bc, silly me, i thought we would just take it easy and the loose ring would be fine. that was a mistake. whoops!
But we dug into some good work with ground poles this past week (big heavy square poles bc..... lazy horse lol) and Charlie did surprisingly wonderfully with them. And seemed happy to be pointed at like, things again haha.

tho he did in fact have some moments of pseudo softness, i guess. sorta. lol
So I actually arrived at our typical lesson slot this weekend not just to hang around while my friends rode, but to participate ourselves. Telling Trainer P that we aren't ready for much, but that she should have her way with us. Which, naturally she was more than happy to oblige.

we jumped this coming toward the camera. an open 3 to an open 4. one long big straight line lol
I warmed us up trotting and cantering around (mostly focusing on forward as all that wonderful beefy roundness has lately been sacrificed to the gods of sour horses who acquiesce to going forward) including going through some trot and canter ground poles, and even cantering over some cavaletti sized jumps.

probably we'll need to trot into fences for a little while to remember patience is a virtue
Hilariously, Charlie nearly killed us through the 33' two-stride while set at teensy crossrail to eensy vertical. He has.... forgotten how to jump again. But most definitely does not care.

So trainer P set us up a small pile of poles (she called it a pyramid) and told us to canter it on a circle for a while on both leads. Not helping Charlie find the pile - just letting him sort himself while I took care of the circle. It was a good reminder for me and we did some nice work on the right lead, tho shit was messy on the left lead.

a distinctly not open two stride line, vertical to oxer
After that, we caught a couple low singles, then part of the triple line to warm up over actual fences. Charlie was a bit hit or miss -- plenty gung ho, just.... not very foot-aware lol. Then we worked down the triple outside a few times.

It was set as an open three (trotting or cantering in) to an open four, finishing over the barrels. This..... wow. This felt like a LONG straight line on a horse who seemed to believe that he should be reaching the jumps as quickly as humanly possible.

the name is Murray. Charlie Murray. Charlie Fierce Murray.
For all our time off, I've been going back and watching old videos. Of both Charlie, and Isabel. Trying to relive the glory, ya know? And I've kinda been giving myself a hard time. Like, why is my position such shit with Charlie compared to Izzy? Why do I stay so behind him, whereas I could sometimes sorta go with Izzy?

emma. girlfriend. shorten them reins, c'mon!
Well. Let me tell you. This ride reminded me about all that haha. Charlie is a big strong horse who hurtles himself across space and time and shows no real curiosity about where his feet happen to fall. He goes to the fence. Yes. This makes him special and wonderful. But.... He also doesn't seem to give a flying fuck about the fence. Which.... makes things a touch awkward lol.

bored over the out jump. good boy!
So.... For now, short distances and bending lines will be our friends. It took us a couple tries to get that whole outside line done in one piece - mostly revolving around me being able to land and HALF HALT FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY basically immediately from all the fences.

Then we practiced over that same 2 stride that Charlie nearly killed us through while it was set to microscopic heights. Luckily, once set to the height you saw in the pic above, and when trotting through, Charlie actually handled it quite beautifully a couple times in a row. good boy!

gif not representative of charlie's gusto thru the rest of the ride lol.
also, no that is not slo-mo. omg it totally looks like slo mo tho.
Then, to finish, bc Trainer P is sadistic and bc I was determined to get some sort of media from the ride, we did one final bending line. Which, naturally, Charlie loped through like a lazy and disinterested hunter, chipping in over the out oxer bc snooooze.

So. Uh. I, uh, totally swear the horse you see in that gif above was like, totally strong and gung ho and galloping around and whatnot like crazy. I swear. You just have to believe me here.

hacking back to the barn again <3
But who cares, right, bc WE'RE BACK BABY!!!    ;)