Thursday, November 23, 2017

happy thanksgiving!

Wishing everyone in the States a Happy Thanksgiving today full of good food, friends and family!


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

thoughts on the new eventing dressage tests

The announcement of new 2018 eventing dressage tests left me excited but also a little nervous. Excited bc the eventing tests are kinda boring haha. Nervous tho bc.... well.... The old BN-B test treated me very well over the years and I didn't want to lose it to something less friendly!

After the announcement I quickly glanced through the BN, N and T tests with the general impression that some technical elements from each level now show up a test earlier than before. For example, moves from the last Training A test can now be found in Novice B.

coming soon to a ring near you!!
Riders will face more than just 20m circles and diagonal lines earlier in the levels, something I like. And movements equivalent to USDF first level start showing up in Training A now, instead of Training B. Additionally there are a few halts at G instead of X, which doesn't really change much but will test the rider's memory lol.

Overall I appreciate the new challenges in these tests, that it's not only USDF training level equivalent moves until Training B / Prelim A. While it might further the perception that lower level eventing is essentially a dressage competition, I'm not sure that's true. Testing riders on more advanced moves might have the opposite effect of rewarding those who put in the schooling vs just those who have a pleasant enough horse for straight lines and 20m circles.

Anyway, soap box aside, this post is not just about my general feelings on the new tests. This weekend is the Bob's No Halters schooling dressage show at OF -- which you may remember as Charlie's first ever horse show last year. And the organizers agreed to let us ride the 2018 tests even tho it's still 2017 (schooling shows rock, y'all!).

So I'm hoping to get a head start on familiarizing myself with the new moves. Especially now that Charlie is cantering, I opted to sign up for BN-B and N-A (BN-A is mostly unchanged except for one big difference we'll discuss below).

So. Let's go ahead and dig into these two tests, shall we?
pdf of test sheet here
I'm a little miffed that the BN-A test is virtually unchanged as it's historically a difficult test for me. BN-B on the other hand was always my absolute favorite. And yet it's undergone a complete facelift and is barely recognizable now. Sigh. It could be ok, tho. Maybe.

Anyway, the entry in both BN tests is brand new. Test writers chopped the 10m half circle turn off the center line at C and replaced it with a diagonal turn to the corner veering off from X. This is exceptionally kind, and an opportunity for riders to demonstrate straightness on the aids by staying straight on the center line with a crisp turn onto the diagonal from X. For those of us who struggled with balance in that turn off the center line at C, this is a gift.

From there, tho, the test goes a little bit downhill for me. The old version had riders execute all the trotting in both directions, with a lovely relaxed diagonal change of rein in between, before beginning to canter. Then all the canter is done back to back (again with a breather for trotting across the diagonal) before the free walk and finish.

This test is a little more like BN-A where you do your trot and canter in one direction, then change rein for the trot and canter the other way. The only difference here is they don't plunk the free walk right smack in the middle of all that and instead leave it for the end. Thank god.

Regarding those trots and canters, they've adopted quite a bit from the old N tests here. Trots are now done at the ends of the ring, and canters in the middle. Plus there's that half circle of trot to develop your canter. The idea I think is that it's more difficult to stay accurate in the middle of the ring vs at the ends, so this is technically more advanced.

So long as riders don't get lost amid all those half circles it should ride fine, tho. As in the old N tests, both canter circles are done at the same letter, so remembering that all the canter circles are at E will help riders stay on course.

Another notable adaption here is that the medium walk is scored separately from the free walk (this is true in the new BN-A test too). This pleases me, since you may remember from my data analysis of Charlie's and my tests this past year that the medium walk scored separately in USDF tests was a stand out mark. Riders will have the opportunity here to show a distinct transition from free walk to medium walk and get horses fully back on the aids before the trot transition.

Finally, I'm very happy to see separate scores for the final transition back into trot, turn up the center line, and halt (again, also the case in BN-A). I can't tell you how many times I've had a nice center line score ruined bc of a hollow trot transition, or a wonky halt. So now riders can maybe still get some nice scores here even if they biff part of that little tour. Or. Ya know. You could biff all of it and sink your entire test lol. Who knows!

While it's not clear where the coefficients are for these tests, in all I think there are some very interesting changes here. I'm very sad to lose that second trotting diagonal change of rein and to canter so early in the test. But there are also a lot of really friendly changes in the scoring to hopefully make up for that.

pdf of test sheet here
Phew, ok. You staying with me folks? Let's keep right on going and take a look at the Novice A test next.

The entry returns to using 10m half circles off the center line at C. Sad but not unexpected. These turns on and off the center line are legitimately the hardest turns you see in dressage below first level, and riders who treat them with respect will be rewarded with nice scores.

The test proceeds to a trot circle then change of rein. But lo! The change of rein is done via a two-loop serpentine instead of a diagonal! I LOVE this. It's one of the nicest chances in low level eventing for riders to demonstrate a series of changes of bend. Balance and accuracy will be key here, and riders could treat it kinda like stacked 20m half circles slightly flattening at X.

Then the next trot circle, followed by a full walking tour. And again, the medium walk is scored separately from the free walk. The test is even explicit on where the rider should develop the medium. I remember from auditing Janet Foy a couple years ago that she instructed transitions in gaits be completed before the horse's shoulders reach the letter. As indicated in this test.

Then we're off trotting again to prepare for all the canter. I like this test's progression from trot to walk to canter - seems like it might have really pleasant pacing. We have the same half circles to develop canter as N riders should already know, and in this test all canter circles are at B. Plus there's another trotting diagonal change of rein between canters - which you know I love.

Then it's down to trot, and up the center line before the final halt. Not unlike the old (and new) BN-A. That part's a little harder for a big strong horse like Charlie who struggles a little bit in the downward transitions from canter. Getting him balanced in trot so quickly from B to F, and then turning immediately up center line at C will require.... some riding haha.

Really tho, this test excites me. I love the serpentine -- it's a friendly lead up to those E to B turns that are still in the new Novice B tests (that test's main change, as far as I can tell, being the inclusion of a stretchy trot circle. tricky tricky! but at least there appears to be a good set up for it).

so eager to do this again!
Obviously I won't really know how any of it goes until I've ridden the tests haha. All is well and good on paper until you actually string it all together, right? From what I can tell, tho, these are inviting tests that set the rider up well enough to demonstrate a reasonable degree of training for the level.

What do you think? Have you looked at any of the tests yet? Any plans to ride the two above, or others that I haven't discussed? Do you think the new versions are improvements on the old? Or are they worse? Or something in between?

Do you think these tests will make low level eventing even more of a dressage show than it's already perceived to be? Or do you think they'll help level the playing field a bit more?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

charlie attends "take your dad bod to work" day + impresses all the ladies!

Meaning, Charlie went to his first true lesson since having surgery to remove a broken fragment of his splint bone six and a half weeks ago. We went to dressage trainer C's farm TM for a lesson focused on "dressage as physical therapy."

the big guy is back to work! he actually broke a sweat for the first time since before surgery lol
Trainer C was thrilled to see Charlie's current physical condition too. As I've mentioned previously, Charlie put on quite a bit of weight during his confinement to stall rest. We purposefully never cut his feed despite the drastic cut in exercise, and Charlie acquiesced in packing on some bulk.

also his first trailer ride since coming home from the hospital. he had been a hot goddamn mess on the way back from new bolton - weaving like crazy in the trailer the entire time and was covered in a thick white full body foam. so.... i was a little nervous about how he would be in the trailer for this lesson. verdict? homeboy was FINE. phew!
Mostly in the form of a hay belly haha, but also just general fullness throughout his hind quarters and neck. Naturally he lost a lot of muscle at the same time but that's ok. We can rebuild that. And frankly he looks the best he's looked since I brought him home.

practicing our longitudinal suppleness via halts and downward transitions
The hope, therefore, is to work to keep this weight on him even as he returns to normal turnout and working conditions as winter sets in. So far, so good on that note. Even just in the last few weeks of getting back to using himself in a more "dressage" kind of way, Charlie's slowly transitioning from his "dad bod" to having "dat bod," lol. Again, I'm happy haha.

trying like hell to get that weakest-link right hind to play along
Anyway. Body condition tangent aside, let's get back to talking about the lesson. There's no media from the lesson itself, but Brita was kind enough to capture some moments from our ride the day prior. So you can enjoy those fairly representative shots of how we go right now while I talk about trainer C's thoughts on moving forward.

the stall rest set us back in bringing that leg up to spec, but he's trying! getting him stronger will only help.
It was essentially a very basic lesson, wherein we focused exclusively on the most fundamental aspects of walk and trot. But we worked our tails off for sure!

aw but i love how good he's been lately
It can be boiled down to three main topics:

-   Charlie has effectively baited me into overriding the right side. #shocking
-   There's more to 'leg yielding' than I've taken advantage of
-   Square turns are our friends, particularly when tracking right

more downward transitions, in preparation for another immediate upward transition
Let's start with the leg yields, shall we? I told trainer C about my idea of essentially "restarting" Charlie on the flat during this rehab period and she was 100% on board. She asked if I had been doing much lateral stuff in the process.

and CANTER OMG!!!!! yay charlie!!!!
Which.... honestly I've wanted to but haven't had much luck, mostly bc we've been doing a lot of our riding in a crowded indoor with jumps and wayward lesson ponies scattered everywhere. We've done the occasional leg yield from quarter line to rail in most of our rides when possible, but not much more than that.

he actually really likes playing with walk-to-canter transitions and feels so pleased with himself after doing one
C wanted to up the ante a little bit. Especially since we're limited in intensity and fitness, drilling into more complicated walk movements was a good focus. Her idea was that I should leg yield Charlie along the walls. Instead of going quarter line to rail or vice versa, with Charlie's body more or less parallel to the wall but his direction of travel on a diagonal, she wanted Charlie's line of travel parallel to the wall and his body on a diagonal.

actually all he really wants to do right now is canter lol. which is great bc it means he feels good and is eager to go go go. physically we're still keeping it light tho, but soon!
Meaning, at the walk:

- Either his haunches in toward the middle, with his chest facing the wall at about a 45* angle, while I needed to also be very clear in facing the wall and staying straight in my body, and keeping my outside leg on and hands carried up and slightly to the outside.

- Or his shoulder in toward the middle, with his haunches traveling down the wall at about a 45* angle. Same concepts of rider straightness applied.

i'm not sure how clear this diagram is, but it essentially shows how we rode this exercise while staying more or less on a circle. just aiming for a couple clear steps along each long side before turning to come back around again.
This exercise should not be confused with "shoulder in" or "haunches in" -- rather we're definitely looking for straightness in Charlie's body and four distinct tracks. Which, honestly we can only really get a step or two at a time right now. Which is fine. It's also much easier to achieve when the haunches are in and his chest is facing the wall.

omg so excited about ground poles tho lol. look at this chunky monkey sit down and attack the pole!
In both cases tho, I need to remember to think about cutting my corner early and putting Charlie squarely on a diagonal line (either toward or away from the rail), but then holding that straightness while pushing him down the rail instead of traveling across the diagonal. The idea here is to start parsing Charlie's various body parts out so that he can learn to move each quarter a little more independently.

and compare to a similar stance from last march - where not only was he much skinnier, but also wasn't really sitting or pushing himself in the same way he does now. i like the progression!
Naturally this was pretty tricky work, but I suspect that once Charlie understands it as more of a "game" it'll be easier to reproduce. I'm excited to practice more of it tho! Once we solidify the concepts at walk, we'll introduce it again at trot.

eeeeeeeee he's gotten soooo much beeeefier now tho!!!
The other big concept: Square turns at trot. This isn't anything new to most of you, but is basically all about moving Charlie's shoulders fully around each corner using just my outside aids, and without him drifting out to the rail. (we aimed to work on the inside track for all of this - always staying 3-5 feet off the rail to ensure I was responsible for our straightness on the outside aids instead of the rail).

Ideally each turn (as in, the 90* turn from short end up to the long side) should be accomplished in about four trot steps. My inclination was to kinda quit a stride early before Charlie's shoulders were fully on our new straight line (these 'square turns' being essentially the juncture of putting two straight lines together) and let him sorta drift the rest of the way.

happy man back at the trailer post-lesson
This is where my habit of over riding the right side was most glaringly obvious -- especially tracking right when I had a REALLY hard time pushing his shoulders around the square turns with my outside (left) aids. I want to pull my inside/right hand way out and to the inside, and bring the outside/left hand pushing up against his neck and over his wither. When in reality, I should be a bit opposite in my hand carriage.

also happy to come in from the field for treats, snuggles and rides
I also need to keep my outside leg more down under me, instead of letting it get stuck curled up behind me. Really tho, the big theme is straightness on the outside aids. I'm ok on the right side, sorta. But when my left side is on the outside it's one big struggle bus. Tho, ironically, trainer C likes his trot to the right better than his trot to the left right now haha. Go figure.

tucked in for the night in his surprisingly cozy stall
Hopefully all this work will help in my overarching goal of creating a more supple, limber Charlie who is capable of carrying each of his body parts independently. It should also help in ultimately getting him more and more engaged through his hind end. Which is much needed at this point bc he lost a lot of strength particularly in his right hind, always our problem child.

Charlie's got all kinds of hind end baggage and wonkery from getting sandwiched between two horses during one of his races, according to his race trainer. Plus that whole "being long as a bus" thing naturally makes it that much trickier to bring the hind end up and under. But we already know from pre-surgery times that Charlie grows sounder and stronger with more work.

We've got another 2-3 weeks before Charlie will be cleared for lift off over fences, so until then we'll continue to re-introduce the canter and hopefully dial in more on some of this lateral work. And maybe some more ground pole work too just for funsies ;)

If one thing is certain tho, it's that Charlie really appears to be enjoying his work right now. Seems really happy to go out and do stuff. So hopefully we can keep him engaged and enthusiastic about the work as he gets more and more fit!

Monday, November 20, 2017

charlie's best bloopers

Happy Monday, everybody!

For those in the States, we're counting down the days until the Thanksgiving smorgasbord. And thank god for that haha.

Tho, naturally, it might also be the time we're feeling thankful for a little bit more than just mountains of gravy-soaked poultry. In which case, I'd like to take this opportunity to expand on the feelings of gratitude I expressed last week for my birthday.

This time around, I'd like to remember with happiness all those... other moments. Not necessarily our *best* moments, but the funnier, oopsie moments that naturally come along with the territory of pushing ever onward for better and more.

That's right: it's time for the blooper reel, folks. And it's a pretty good one! Charlie and I are that sorta partnership where there's seemingly endless source material for outtakes and goofs. In fact, we've got some examples for pretty much every month of our year-long+ partnership.

Naturally it's all annotated and captioned for your viewing pleasure. Recommended viewing with sound ON. ;)

While many of these clips have been featured previously on the blog, there are a few never-been-published moments in there too. Including an even better view of Charlie's infamous "free jumping" extravaganza (at approx. 0:30). You're welcome.

Should you also be inclined, here are also the blooper reels from the Isabel days, with videos from 2015 and 2014. Because funny moments of fail never get old!

Hope you all had a great weekend and are looking forward to all the approaching holidays with feelings of happiness, gratitude, and maybe a little mischief too!

Friday, November 17, 2017

more on those photos

I'm glad y'all liked Mr. Morris's take on my.... style in riding Charlie haha. It's unique, that's for sure!

Tranquility BN Stadium, June 2017
Honestly I'd been itching to do Jan's blog hop on the subject for actual weeks but had a hard time choosing exactly the right image for the purpose.

Tranquility BN Stadium, June 2017
Luckily (?), my favorite local show photographer GRC Photo had their annual Veterans Day sale so I snagged the 15 image digital package for 25% off, with proceeds donated to veterans wellness organizations.

Tranquility BN Stadium, June 2017
Knowing this sale would eventually roll around, over the course of the season I'd been squirreling a couple images from each show they photographed away in their "favorites" file on the site.

Tranquility BN Cross Country, June 2017
The company usually brings their trailer to Loch Moy shows, where they'll do an on-site special of every single image they took throughout the day on a thumbdrive for $99. My favorite deal ever and why I always have so many photographs from Loch Moy shows lol.

Fair Hill Intro Stadium, July 2017
For the shows without the trailer on-site, they can only offer more standard pricing packages. And as much of a media junkie that I admit to being... Well. Let's be real. Charlie and I aren't exactly the most photogenic pair.

Fair Hill Intro Stadium, July 2017
Especially over smaller fences where the horse just kinda looks ridiculous hurling his body over them.

Fair Hill Intro Stadium, July 2017
But also over relatively larger fences too where I'm certain to have made some pilot error or another en route to the jump haha. Plus typically I ride a little tighter than normal during competition just by nature of nerves and atmosphere.

Fair Hill Intro Cross Country, July 2017
So none of these photos really had me dying to click "buy" at full price. But I knew, just knew, that once the sale rolled around, I'd be happy to at least have a couple nicer shots of us out there doin our thang.

Fair Hill Intro Cross Country, July 2017
And honestly tho? Like, sure we're always our own worst critics when it comes to evaluating pictures of our own riding. I can look at every single one of these pictures and find a reason to cringe. Or, less harshly, objectively identify small adjustments I can make to eventually improve the entire picture.

Fair Hill BN Stadium, September 2017
Because I *do* study images of my riding. And I do learn from them.

But... I also just prefer having a picture that makes me wish I was a little better vs having no pictures at all. And of course Charlie is always easy on my eyes so that helps haha. So in my world, I choose to enjoy the photographs, imperfections and all.

Fair Hill BN Cross Country, September 2017
And as imperfect as many of these images are, mostly what I see is a happy and enthusiastic horse hiccuping along whatever path his rider sets for him. And even when I don't make it as easy on the horse as I could.... he seems more or less pretty cool with it.

Fair Hill BN Cross Country, July 2017
I've said it before and I'll say it again: The later half of this season was pretty tough for me and Charlie to find a consistent groove. Especially leading up to what proved to be our final outing of the season, Fair Hill in September, we had a decidedly less than ideal preparation in terms of schooling and fitness. And. Ya know. It showed haha.

But that doesn't (or shouldn't, at least) cloud my judgement beyond recognizing what an incredible season it really was for me from start to finish. Bc let's remember, last winter and early spring I had a hard time even imagining riding Charlie in all three phases, he was that green.

Fair Hill BN Cross Country, July 2017
But. We did it! And this horse is one hell of a ride :)

We've got a long few months of winter to survive (including the slow but steady rehab, and you'll never guess who did a few strides of CANTER this week omg!). But part of what keeps me going, keeps me focused and motivated, is looking back on all these pictures of what was without a doubt a FUN season of eventing.

So. Happy Friday, everyone! Hope those of you staring down the barrel of a long winter are also able to find ways to stoke that fire, or at least keep the bed of embers smoldering, even as we settle in for a period of relative quiet!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What would George Morris say? Dream Big Blog Hop

Jan from Dream Big had a fun and clever blog hop idea to imagine a critique a la Practical Horseman's column Jumping Clinic with George Morrisusing one of our own pictures.

George Morris is one of the most legendary and well-known trainers in the English-riding world. He's been a popular columnist for Practical Horseman magazine for decades, offering his critiques of riders and their horses from jumping photos they've submitted.

So, I went ahead and submitted the following professional photograph from our final event of the season at Fair Hill in September. Let's see what good ol' George had to say about it, shall we??

behold: our majesty. i swear, the longer you look at it, the funnier it gets. we r so gud at eventing
Fair Hill BN Cross Country, September 2017
George Morris critiques an eventer:

In riding, at first everything is hard, then it becomes easier, then habitual, and only now does it have a chance to become beautiful. With this pair we see an example of riding during the "hard" phase. It's easy to tell they are eventers, and not just by turn out. This is not a compliment.

The horse is turned out well enough. His coat is glossy and he appears in good health and muscling for his level, tho perhaps a little ribby. As is not uncommon in thoroughbred event horses. As for his eye and expression, it is that of a martyr. More on that later.

His legs are protected and he's wearing a contoured saddle pad in keeping with current trends. The fuzzy girth lacks style, and the black half pad on a navy saddle pad would normally be distracting or even jarring. Normally. These are not normal circumstances, however.

Likewise, I'm not fond of all these "blingy" browbands and find them too distracting, tho I understand the motive in this case.

The horse's tack appears to fit. The leverage bit is appropriately fitted with a curb strap and separate reins for curb and snaffle. Among the various other straps are flash and neck straps. At some point the rider must stop layering straps onto the horse and consider actually schooling him. There are bigger fish to fry tho, and clearly this horse is made of solid gold.

close up detail: rider and horse expressions
I can't assess the horse's jumping style and technique from a photo of him landing, as it's impossible to judge his back or bascule, or how careful he is with his front end and knees. We can infer from his outstretched forelimbs, tightly tucked hind end, and squeezed-shut eyes that he has flung himself across this fence (which I'm told is a BN table with ramped face) with nothing but the grace of sweet baby Jesus to help him get to the other side in one piece. And he was decent enough to bring his wayward rider along with him.

Hold on, horse! She's right behind you!

The rider, for her purposes, also had the decency to execute an emergency "sweet baby Jesus take the wheel!" release method so as not to interfere any more than she already has with this horse's Herculean efforts. Someone should remind the rider to not skip her breakfast next time. You're not supposed to eat the fence.

My advice to riders everywhere: Go with the horse, not against him. It's not rocket science. The most important thing to me is that you're not hindering your horse's back.

Points in the rider's favor include that she appears to be in balance. She's not relying on the reins (having already sacrificed them to the laws of physics), and upon closer inspection isn't relying on the stirrups either.

the rider submitted this helmet cam video encouraging me to tune in at 0:45 to relive the moment. it's impossible to tell from the wide angle lens.... but while the pair did not wait for the distance, that distance most certainly would have waited for me.

The definition of a seat is to be able to stick to the horse no matter what the horse does. While I wouldn't call this rider's seat "good," it at least exists and they appear poised to land well enough to continue riding forward (hopefully utilizing a higher degree of .... literally anything approximating skill upon reaching the next fence).

Likewise, I can presume from the rider's expression (which can only be called a "shit eating grin") that perhaps they've been in this situation before. That maybe they're used to it - or worse - it's become habit.

We must hope that this is instead simply the result of a green mistake either by horse or rider, or both. And that we should not see much more of this in the future. Go with the horse, not against. Accuracy is better than speed. Leg to hand. The rider should practice more trot fences.

Rider's turnout is relatively conservative as far as eventing goes. I'd prefer to see her wearing gloves and carrying a stick (she might feel more brave if she did). Many eventers wear a white or tan breech, tho she has opted for a darker color. Probably to hide the dirt.

Ultimately, should this rider's coach not be at the finish line upon her completion of the course, she ought not go looking for him.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

on gratitude

We're approaching the season when many of us begin feeling more reflective of what all happened over the past year. Both in recapping and summarizing a calendar year's worth of events, and also in taking time to appreciate all the positives - big and small - that accompany our horse habits.

a charlie and a goose!
Last year was honestly tough for me in that regard. Like, obviously superficially it was easy to be grateful that I finally found what would hopefully be my future eventing partner in Charlie. And. Ya know. I also subsequently treated myself to the not-insignificant birthday present of a new Charlie-sized trailer, my dearly beloved Cotner.

But on a deeper level, I really wasn't eager to take any closer examination of 2016 as a whole. Any time I tried writing a reflection on the year, I got mired down in the spring and early summer when things fell apart with Isabel. Which reignited all those feelings of self doubt and insecurity and "what if?" Since I prefer to dwell on positives here, I just.... let that sleeping dog lie.

the pig makes it seem like charlie is looking at it instead of just weaving lol
The year before was something different, tho. Sure, it ended in disappointment with a clumsy misstep out of my trailer. But 2015 was otherwise an awesome year. So it was easy to indulge myself by reliving all those memories. Perhaps my favorite from that period full of recaps was the "feeling thankful" Thanksgiving video compilation of Isabel's and my best moments of 2015.

And now that I've had Charlie a full year, and now that he's got a full season of eventing under his belt, it felt like the perfect time to compile his own celebratory "Best Of" video!!

So... I went on ahead and did that haha. And maybe had a littttle too much fun while I was at it ;)

Originally I planned to post this around Thanksgiving, per the whole "gratitude" theme. But... Today is also my birthday and I realized that this is maybe the most satisfied and at peace I've felt on my birthday in recent history. I am grateful. So. You get the video today haha.

The video isn't meant to be a full progression of Charlie from start to finish -- rather it's just some favorite or memorable moments with him. And, honestly, not even all of them, at that. Because there are so many haha and I'm a media junkie/hoarder.

So... Mostly what made the cut are the clips encapsulating those almost out-of-body moments of, "Wow, we're really doing it. It's really happening. This is really it!" Starting with when Charlie really began figuring out his jumping, and when he proved he could be a solid show horse, and lots of examples of him making jumping feel like the best thing in the world ;)

I hope you enjoy it! And just in case any of you out there are likewise inclined, here's that 2015 compilation of Isabel's best moments too.

ok so i did actually get myself one real birthday present ;)
What do you think? Did I leave out any memorable Charlie moments that you think should have made the cut? (Tho I should point out: the blooper reel / outtakes video is coming next so maybe your favorite moments will be on that video instead?? lol....)

And how do you like to remember your favorite times with your horses? Will you be doing a recap post this year? Or maybe a compilation video too?

Monday, November 13, 2017

rehab rides: cruise ship style

Things continue to chug right on along with Charlie's return to work. We're still only doing very little bits of trot - short bursts, if you will. And no canter yet. But that's ok, there's no rush, right?

big horse is concentrating so hard haha
I'm basically trying to approach this rehab as if we're restarting Charlie on the flat. Except -- mentally and emotionally he's already got some stuff figured out. It's just physically starting over again, since he lost so much muscle.

In a way it's kinda ideal tho. We've got this opportunity to start over from scratch on certain weak spots, like lateral imbalances. And since we're limited to taking things slowly there's no incentive to cut corners or rush through the work.

sooooo many moving parts to balance. the horse has never felt so long as he does now lol
This means: seeking to make every transition count. Getting the walk where I want it (light and soft to the bridle, and a distinct tempo that's slower than Charlie's natural, rangy walk but with active stepping hind legs) first *before* stepping into trot.

Then only trotting for as long as Charlie feels like he can hold himself up. Turns continue to be a little bit of a weak spot, and the horse honestly feels a bit creaky and rusty after so much time off. And. Ya know. Lateral suppleness still doesn't come very easily to him. Or, uh, downward transitions (he's pretty much convinced that he cannot possibly step under himself and stay round in the transition. in time, buddy. in time!)

but gosh i just love how hard he tries sometimes!
But we're working on it. I've got as much work to do myself as the horse, after such a long break. Even when I'm constantly reminding myself to sit up, keep shoulders back, and stretch my legs long and down.... Well. I'm still just not there yet. At least we're back to practicing haha!

I was very grateful that Brita was able to nab some video for me during a ride this past weekend. It was very helpful to see how things are looking relative to how they are feeling. The video definitely confirmed that the horse looks a bit tight and weak. And, poor thing, as he's trying his little heart out trotting up the long side, along comes my barn mate's nice and very well schooled Irish thing, Boomer, totally outshining our plain bay hero lol. Oh well, Charlie!

Boomer and Charlie are just about the same height too, so it really shows just how little ground Charlie is actually covering right now. He's not really going forward enough and is pretty earthbound. All of this will be improved as he gains strength tho, so for now I'm fine with it.

lots of drooling and spittle, ew lol. he was very happy to share this with whoever wandered close enough
I also decided to switch out dressage bits again too. He's now wearing the bit he used to jump in -- still a Sprenger KK Ultra, but this one is aurigan instead of the silver bradoon snaffle he had been wearing on his dressage bridle previously.

I'm not sure the metal makes much of a difference, but this aurigan one is slightly thicker than my silver one - which I think *does* make a difference for Charlie. He's been going well in it so far, and has been working the bit and drooling and slobbering all over the place too. 

sweet face in his hackamore too!
So. Ya know. We're rollin with it. Whatever helps keep him comfortable and happy in the work. It's amazing to me that he's actually more barn- and gate-sour these days than he had been even while in full work. Like, Charlie, you've been stuck in that stall for so long now, why on earth are you so eager to get back to it????

always gotta pop in for a visit with friends!
But that's just kinda how this horse is, I think. He's definitely a creature of routine lol. We try to keep it interesting for him tho -- taking advantage of daylight during the weekends to escape the arenas and just wander around the property on the buckle.

these two are so friggin adorable all the time
I feel a little limited since we haven't really made any progress on gates -- He's still difficult to maneuver without getting upset at all the little small steps and adjustments needed to open and close gates. Plus, I actually just plain can't reach a lot of them from his back.

So unless we're hacking with more gate-capable friends, we just wander the drive way and skirt around pastures and whatnot instead of getting out into the xc fields or woods.

shiny fluffy pony!!
Still totally worth it tho! But maybe it'd be nice to haul out to some other trails one of these days.... Maybe going back to Sweet Air again? Idk. We'll see how the ground holds up since mud season is definitely arriving. 

so happy to be able to roll all the time now lol. mud everywhere! the smartpak double stitch halter is holding up  nicely tho
Which honestly makes me a little sad bc I hoped ground conditions would hold long enough for Charlie to make it through his rehab and get back into full work again. That's not really looking likely at this point tho. So I dunno about fitting in any more xc schools this year, but we'll try!

video here. could have been a gif but i love the sound of him cantering <3

At least for now, Charlie has crossed yet another milestone in recovery: he returned this past weekend to his normal herd and turnout schedule. And looked so freakin happy when I went to catch him from the field for our little ride. Just chillin among his buddies grazing. Such a relief!

Plus getting back out into the big pasture means a lot more general activity for him, which will only help our efforts to get him stronger and more fit again. Theoretically. It also means he's got the space to do basically whatever he wants - trotting, cantering, whatever. Which he happily demonstrated to me when I turned him back out again after our ride lol.

 plz make good choices, sir!!
Makes me so happy to see him off and running again! And actually seeing him canter up that hill made me realize we might not be all that far off from cantering under saddle too. Exciting!

Finally feeling like I can start looking forward to stuff now, and may or may not have actually gone ahead and scheduled a dressage lesson toward the end of this month. Nothing very intense, more like "dressage as physical therapy." But y'all know how much I love my lessons ;)

So. Ya know. It was a good weekend for reaffirming that Charlie's more or less on track. Things are getting better! Hope you all had a great weekend too!