Thursday, July 20, 2017

things Charlie can do now

I'm not sure I ever wrote about our last dressage lesson, but it was about six weeks ago. So. Ya know. The trend continues with not getting enough face time with dressage trainer C. Hopefully that'll change in the near future tho!

However we've been working working working away at home, trying to really help Charlie understand what I'm asking him re: carrying himself in a new way.

i seriously love this arena tho!
And remember when I wrote about our lesson with Dan, lamenting that it would be difficult to replicate that work without Dan's constant instruction? Ha! Joke's on me, bc Charlie apparently internalized that lesson beautifully and has been super game to keep chipping away at it.

So when we finally got back to see dressage trainer C this past weekend, I basically had a whole new horse to show her. Well, being realistic, she sees a whole new horse almost every time bc six weeks in Charlie time can be fairly transformative lol. 

charlie is saving those carrot flecks as a snack for later, obvi
But I was able to show her our latest "new normal" this weekend: A horse who is learning to be softer and light in the bridle, who is starting to have a half halt (until he gets tired haha), and is showing the beginning of what will be a very nice rhythm to his trot. We're finally able to slow the tempo down without losing the push from his hind end. And she liked it!!

he still stands funny, but imo he looks pretty good right now!
And decided to really test it out, play with it, see if Charlie will do tricks haha. Essentially: to begin pushing the boundaries on the horse's nascent lateral and longitudinal suppleness.

Things we played with in this lesson:

- Leg yield from wall to quarter line
- Leg yield from quarter line to wall
- 15m trot circles
- Pushing the trot out across the long diagonal
- Trotting across the diagonal, walking after X
- Canter leg yield from quarter line to wall
- Canter across the diagonal, trotting after X
- Canter across diagonal, counter canter half circle to the long side, then trot before corner

he fairly hilariously got very excited about this random mound of untouched grass in the parking lot
Which like.... that's actually a lot of stuff for Sir Charles! The leg yields and 15m circles aren't exactly new, we've been playing with them for a while now. But going both toward and away from the wall was new - tho occasionally we'd throw in just a straight track down the quarter line to keep him from anticipating.

All the work across the diagonals was new tho - both pushing him out and bringing him in for a down transition. He actually had one big trot across the diagonal where he stayed round, but also stayed really balanced as he opened his stride. It's not a medium yet by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a distinct transition both into and out of it. Baby steps, y'all, I'll take it!

"mmmm but it's so good tho!"
The counter canter work was the really exciting part too - bc Charlie just kinda.... did it haha. I was especially pleased with getting to practice it, as I had been struck by just how much counter canter everyone seemed to be doing at Windurra during our tour. Apparently it's an important exercise?

i'm pretty sure it's from some old pile of dirt or whatever that should have been moved ages ago, so charlie is just doing his part to keep the grounds tidy!
Anyway, tho, the biggest takeaways for me to remember from this lesson were that I need to be really purposeful with all my transitions now. Wait for softness, roundness, before asking for the transition. Always. And forever. That I need to continue riding my horse as he feels in that moment even as trainer C is calling out movements.

Charlie needs me to be very present for him right now, especially as he's beginning to understand the game - he needs reaffirmation, reward for good effort, and consistency in what I'm asking.

"dis my special grass!"
Really tho? He was so good! Trainer C was very impressed by how he just kept going, just kept doing whatever. And actually looked pretty pleasant in his expression while doing it. At one point she kinda joked that he looked like he was concentrating so hard haha. Good boy :)

I really need to get some new dressage media bc I'm dying to see what he really looks like. He goes so differently from Isabel that I'm still very much learning my feel for putting all the pieces together. But things are feeling really good.

It feels like Charlie kinda sees what I'm trying to get at now. He's such a thinking horse that once he understands the point, understands what I want, he just kinda does it. Which is obviously helpful haha. I'm actually really eager to see how it all might play out in our next competition too. We're still not quite consistent enough to expect a seismic shift in scores.... but I'm curious.

Anyway. Transformations, yo. They are cool. And it's really cool to feel when something starts to "click" for a horse. It's downright addicting haha, now I just want more and more! I'm feeling greedy haha. Do you ever feel that way? When something finally really starts working and you just want to keep going and going with it?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Adult Camp Adventures: MDHT & Pony Club!

Last Friday I wanted to keep the magic of Adult Camp rolling after a great day spent at Windurra. So I got up early to get that big bad bay boy ridden before the heat of the day, then set off in the afternoon to Loch Moy to catch the 1* and 2* show jumping!

Molly Kinnamon and The Diesel Boy were the final to go for Intermediate.
It started off super promising too - when just as I walked across the parking lot I passed Buck Davidson on his way to dressage, and Phillip Dutton coming back from show jumping.

Naturally, I smiled and said hi to both (remembering the friendliness of everyone at Windurra!) - and they were each kinda puzzled, trying to figure out if they should know me or not lol. #creepstar3000 strikes again!!

video of their lovely round here, with just the last one down

Anyway, I made it over to show jumping just in time to catch the very last rounds of the Intermediate - including watching Molly Kinnamon put in a nice effort with her handsome black horse, The Diesel Boy.

It looked like a pretty tricky but also pretty fun course - a far cry from the stuff that's usually set up in that ring when we show haha!

can we say #riggoals?
Since there would be a break in the jumping while they reset the course, I booked it back to dressage to watch Buck finish warming up and ride his test. Tho to my surprise, he was already in the court by the time I got there. Guess the horse didn't need much warm up!

the epic battle between the primal urge to run away from the storm, and the need to be fancy as fuck while doin it lol
Except, just as I arrived ringside, the skies opened and it poured, complete with lightning and thunder. Sigh. Buck kinda looked at the judge in the middle of his test and then.... just left haha. Trotted out of the court, out of the warm up, and around through the parking lot back to the barns.

"and i'm siiiiiiinging in the rain!"
Naturally, he was closely followed by the other horses in the dressage area. While obviously I was disappointed by the weather, it was honestly almost comical watching these very nice horses come zooming out of the arena at high-speed fancy prancing on their way to safety lol.

The storm was intense - but brief. LOTS of rain, then over quickly. Alas with apparently a long line of storms on the radar, show organizers called it for the evening to resume the next morning, rather than risk being shut down by another incoming storm cell.

Which, like, kinda blew since I drove all that way out there and only really saw one full competitor's test - Molly's show jumping above. Oh well.

check out that sky tho! also. this is the same jump (now repainted) that had been immortalized as this blog's header when Izzy sailed over it to finish our last novice back in 2015
I made it worth my while tho by walking the Novice cross country course. This event didn't offer BN, but I want to start adjusting my eye up anyway. Reconnaissance and all that good stuff. Plus I was curious to see just how different the recognized course was from the unrecognized.

Verdict? Honestly not that different. Biggest notable differences were in length (it felt longer, but that could just be me) and in the number of A-B combinations: 3, where I'd only seen 1 on the unrecognized novice courses I've walked there.

pony clubber? or impostor? you decide!
The combinations were all pretty standard tho - a plain old four stride line between two inviting jumps; the entry to the water flagged as A then a coop three strides out of the water as B; and the ditch three strides to another coop type thing. So. Ya know. Pretty reasonable.

And naturally most of the jumps on course were things I'd done before with Izzy. There were maybe three or four elements that looked reeeeeally squicky to me (mostly the stuff with uphill approaches, and a giant brush table ((but emma, horses love brush jumps!))) but mostly? It looked pretty good. The future, yo. Ahhh the future.

dis austen's wine face
Obviously tho there wasn't much use in hanging around show grounds any longer - so I did what any normal person would do: met up at Austen's barn with her and her wine bottle to watch some pony clubbers (and her barn mates) have a jump night.

definitely pony club approved, right Stephanie???
I mean, tail gating is tail gating, right? And pony clubbers are basically the next best thing to 1* show jumpers, right? Right?? 

see, we even had stemware!
So. Ya know. That was fun. Lol.... At least we kinda sorta made good use of ourselves. Two of Austen's barn mates planned on schooling their horses through the jumper rounds too, and Austen got to act as photographer.

does this little pocket rocket remind you of anyone?
I took a couple videos for the riders too, but mostly just watched (and drank lol). In particular, my eye was drawn to this little red dynamo, for maybe obvious reasons lol. Remind you of anyone?

can't forget Pig tho!
All in all, not a terrible way to pass an evening (esp with pizza at the end!). Tho I was sorry to miss out on some upper level spectating. Ah well. Next time!

just a cute barn. nothin to see here, move right on along
As it is tho, adult camp has officially come to a close. Work resumes, pony boot camp continues, and we've still got another full month ahead of us before returning to the competition scene ourselves.

definitely nothing to see here either, damn those boots have seen better days!
And I'm trying to use this time wisely. Not only in schooling the horse - which, actually, is going really well - but also in doing my own due diligence in making sure we're set up for success.

Some of this relates to taking care of equipment and gear maintenance or replacements. And some of it relates to my longer term plans for the horse and his needs.

just the handsome big bad bay boy, sporting his super classy footwear (and shoes, plz for the love of god charlie keep on those shoes!)
Plus, ya know, anything that involves identifying a need for shopping is always pretty fun haha. Latest acquisitions include schooling and show breeches, and new tall boots. And maybe some other stuff too. Ya know. The usual.

Anyway. It's back to reality for now tho - with just the hope and promise of more fun spectating events and whatnot in the future!

What about you - what are your favorite horsey things to do when time is a non-issue, when you've got all the free time in the world? Is it attending big events? Touring facilities like Windurra or the big TB breeding farms in Kentucky? Shopping? Smaller get-togethers at friends' barns? Hardcore riding lessons or clinics for yourself? Or lots of quiet time with your horse? All of the above? Or something else entirely?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

getting the game!

The lesson schedule at OF last weekend got a little futzed bc apparently jump trainer P has a personal life too, go figure. So we ended up taking another big group lesson with some of the regular lesson kiddos too (as opposed to the boarder / ship in lesson we normally do).

<3 his gung ho expression!
Plus trainer P is still confined to her crutches (and will be for the foreseeable future, so frustrating for her!) - but at least this time she had a volunteer jump crew to help set fences. It still meant for simple exercises tho and not a lot of adjustment between rounds.

and his calm demeanor while waiting in the shade between turns
Actually we've been very very spoiled by trainer P during our years riding with her. She has zero problems having horses at like three different levels all in the same group, and will set fences accordingly all day long. Up and down and up and down, and moving things around as needed.

It's honestly a lot more than I've seen.... any other trainer do haha so I shouldn't be too pouty that she's currently not up to that level of activity.

big horse jumpin!
Plus - there's certainly no harm in cruisin for a little while at this height, which I should point out has only very recently become "nbd" again to me. I appreciate the feeling of looking at the jumps and kinda shrugging like, 'well I wish they were up another hole, but this is fine!'

i also appreciate the moments where he is starting to really balance his canter
If I'm being totally honest here too, I've got plans for Charlie. Ideas for how I would like to see things unfold in the short term and long term. And a lot of it has more to do with my own feelings of "unfinished business" and my own ambitions than anything else.

moar jompies!
Which. Ya know. Is totally fine, right? Like ultimately, at the end of the day, most of us are pursuing horse sports for reasons that could be considered kinda self-serving, right? Like we do this for our enjoyment. The underlying assumption, tho, is that we're not doing it at the expense of our or our horse's well-being.

breeeeezin thru a corner lol
This being the key balancing point for me as an amateur rider. Especially knowing that my own skills and abilities have relatively narrower margins of error at higher levels, I have to be sure that my ambitions for the horse don't override my need to prepare the horse for how it's going to be. Because, spoiler alert, I'm not suddenly going to become a better rider just bc the jumps go up.

dis how you get air on a giant horse over small fences
Charlie spent a looooooong time jumping around 2' - 2'3 learning how to make every single mistake in the book. AND learning how to cope when *I* make every mistake in the book.

And? He's basically got it figured out. We're clicking, things are gelling. It feels pretty easy. Rough around the edges. In need of refinement, polishing, schooling. Ya know. The usual. But it's going well. We both feel a little ready for more.

i also appreciate that he's really filling out more. and DAT TAIL THO <3
In the meantime, tho - there's no harm in spending time at this 'new to us' height too, going through that same process of learning how to make mistakes, how to cope with imperfection, and how to keep going after something goes a little wrong (liiiike, for instance, jump 5 in the video below lol). And hopefully, we'll continue refining our technique along the way.

The thing I like the most about jumping Charlie is just how easy and confident he feels. Because it makes me feel easy and confident. Something I haven't felt about jumping since breaking my leg. He's FUN. And he's just so so so good. Above all else, these are the qualities in him that I want to continue fostering.

We still have a lot to learn - the biggest struggle right now is landing in the same canter we jump from, being able to rebalance and compress him to a shorter stride quickly upon landing before we reach the corner. He's not necessarily resistant - he actually IS trying. He's just, ya know, never been asked to slow down after going fast. He's figuring it out tho.

go baby, go!
But it's definitely in lessons like this, where things are a little easier, a little lighter on challenges, when I find myself getting really excited about what the future could hold.

And in the meantime, some changes are coming in the next couple weeks that will hopefully make it that much easier to continue Charlie's transition into the event horse I want him to be!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Adult Camp Adventures: Windurra!

You may remember I wrote about taking some time off work last week - fondly referred to as my "adult camp" lol.

Originally, my 'big' planned outing for the week was a clinic with Jimmy Wofford, alas cancelled due to lack of entries. Former barn mate Rachael had planned to bring her camp kids along to the clinic as a day trip activity and found herself scrambling when the clinic was cancelled.

In a moment of impulsive boldness, she emailed international event rider Boyd Martin asking to bring the campers out to Windurra. Amazingly - he not only replied extremely promptly, but also encouraged her to bring out the whole troupe to spend as much time on property as they wished.

He graciously offered to give a tour at a prescribed time, but said that they'd be schooling horses before and after, so to come whenever and stay for however long the group wanted to. Naturally, more than just camp kids were interested in going along for the trip haha! 

Boyd was out teaching a cross country lesson when we arrived - including schooling a horse while he was at it. First thing to learn about how Windurra operates: Boyd is always doing about 5 things at once, but in such a way as you might not actually notice.

After helping a student get a horse through a sticky combination, he rode over to the group to introduce himself, tell us about what they were doing, and encourage us to get up close and personal while they finished the lesson. 

Obviously, this was not a problem for us lol.

One of Windurra's most famous assets is it's lovely cross country course - with everything from starter level logs on the ground to advanced level fences and combinations. Tho interestingly, many of the combinations were set up at much higher levels of technicality but with relatively inviting fences. This looks like a GREAT place to school - perhaps we'll make it out one day!

Also worth noting - literally every single sentient being on Boyd and Silva's property was notably friendly. Like, walking down the path past a rider, that rider would unfailingly smile, say hello, and ask how we were doing. Like. Really friendly. It's pretty clearly a cultural thing at Windurra - and definitely a part of their business model. Friendly eventers. Yup. 

Naturally, while we watched Boyd finish his cross country schooling lesson, he pointed out a very special horse hacking with a working student. The camp kids were downright amazed to see this horse, having all watched the Purina Stories of Greatness video earlier that morning. Gotta say, it was pretty cool hearing the high-pitched whispers from the kiddos, "It's Neville!!"

Boyd also took this opportunity to point out facets of the property surrounding us. Namely, the all-weather footing track built into the cross country course for hacking and conditioning horses. It isn't necessarily a gallop track (there are plans to build one), but it's perfect for getting in conditioning rides when the ground is very hard, legging horses up, or simply helping horses get out of arena. 

It was kinda funny bc during the course of Boyd's group tour, he schooled three horses, taught two lessons, sold a syndicate share in one of his up-and-coming horses, and only god knows what else. But in such a way, again, as you'd hardly notice while on tour, lol.

After finishing his xc ride, he directed us over to the stadium ring, where he met us on his dirt bike to tell us more about the facility. Mentioning everything from the details of the footing, why he chose this type of fencing (for youngsters), and the various trainers who come in - including mentioning George Morris on multiple occasions as a visiting trainer (at a about a yearly frequency). 

Windurra is laid out in a fairly linear fashion - with the cross country course closest to the road. Then the jumping arena, then the plot of land planned for a new indoor arena, then the dressage court, then the shed row barns.

The dressage arena was its very own special brand of lovely - with a full wall of mirrors and surrounded entirely by roses. This was absolutely a spot we'd revisit again soon.

But first, a tour of the barns! Complete with meeting almost all of Boyd's current upper level mounts!! Unfortunately I can't remember exactly every detail he shared with us - but believe this particular horse is Master Frisky. Who wasn't particularly frisky on this day, oh well.

Then we met Steady Eddie, who was in the middle of all sorts of fun body work treatments (note the spectra vet blankets and magna wave tubing outside the stall). This horse is currently preparing to go to Burghley - pretty freakin cool!

For those of you unfamiliar with the story behind Boyd's shedrow barn, I recommend watching Purina's Stories of Greatness video - it's a good one.

The gist is: When Boyd and Silva Martin first got started in the US working out of Phillip Dutton's barn, there was a fire. They lost almost everything, including some horses (the notable exception there being Neville - again, another reason to watch the video).

After the devastation wrought by the fire, all sorts of local (and not so local) supporters came out of the woodwork to help rebuild. Including donating these turnout sheds - each from various good samaritans - that are pieced together to create Boyd's international event horse facility.

After many years operating out of this beloved shedrow, there are now plans to build a more 'traditional' barn. But it was pretty cool to see this facility in action. Especially after having maybe been a little spoiled by the cushiness of my current hunterlandia-ensconced barn lol.

Anyway. The tour continued - next with meeting Crackerjack. This horse is particularly special, having been around some of the biggest 4* tracks in the world despite having respiratory (or "wind") issues rendering him closer to 50-60% capacity of what he ought to be for his level. As Boyd said, this horse should not be able to do what he does - and yet he does it. He's an incredible athlete!

Also notable - you can see we've got a fairly large tour group in a busy bustling barn full of upper level, valuable horses. All in various stages of work, with riders and working students buzzing about. The most exceptional thing? Nobody ever once had to tell a kiddo to be careful or not get too close to a horse. Because every single horse was quiet and friendly and safe.

Maybe they stick the surlier ones somewhere else.... but again, I tend to think it's a cultural thing. At Windurra, the horses are just kinda expected to be ok with whatever happens. Like that horse barely visible behind Boyd just chillin on his Theraplate.

Another thing that struck me was that almost every single horse we saw under saddle (and there were a few) went in a loose ring snaffle. Sure, there are other bits hanging on the wall above (and the most.... non loose ring snaffle-y ones are obviously the furthest from the door....), but it's just an awful lot of simple bits. Even all the horses we saw on the cross country fence.

Oh and there was also this goat haha. Another very friendly resident!

Continuing with the introductions to Boyd's upper level horses - here we see Shamwari 4, who is featured in the video below. This horse ran around Rolex last year, unfortunately sustaining an injury and just now getting back into work. Such a lovely face tho!

Then another horse whose name is only just now getting to be more broadly known: This is Ray Price, one of Boyd's homebreds. And, according to Boyd, this is a very special horse. We'll see a little more of this horse later, as he was currently being prepped for Silva as we toured the barn.

Unfortunately a couple big name horses weren't in the barn during our tour (sorry but I apparently completely missed Welcome Shadow, sorry Megan!). Tho we did get to see Blackfoot Mystery, maintaining his mystery by staying shrouded in fly gear in his field lol.

Finally tho it was time to see Boyd and Silva back in action again - Silva on Ray Price and Boyd on Tura Lura, whom he showed this past weekend at the Maryland Horse Trials.

While he rode, he told us a bit about what he looks for in a 'type' of horse. Specifically, it has to move and jump like a warmblood, but look like a thoroughbred. Many of his horses are very high percentage TB - up to 80%. But with that WB style of moving. And this horse in particular - Ray Price - is one to watch for the future, as Boyd suggested he's aiming him for Tokyo 2020. 

It was also pretty clear tho, just why everyone at Windurra is so freakin friendly. This is a bustling place of business - and even as we were there, so were owners and buyers and various investors. Including one owner who was checking in on a new acquisition - but who also may or may not have jumped in on the Ray Price syndicate in the meantime too. 

Anyway - the tour followed as Boyd moved to schooling his third horse, Shamwari 4. He told us a little about his conditioning plan for horses too. And by "a little" I mean omg I should have just recorded him bc he spoke too much information too quickly for even yours truly to capture it all. 

Long story short, it's very heavily focused on conditioning. Basically every horse works twice a day. Once for some type of conditioning, usually done by working students. Whether a long slow walk or trot, or more purposeful canter or gallop sets. Then another ride done on the flat or jumping, usually done by Silva or Boyd.

Honestly I wish I had better notes from that bc it really struck me just how much these horses get ridden - but especially how low-impact much of the riding actually is. It's not just short bursts of intense activity, but long slow building up.

Anyway, Shamwari was delivered to Boyd at the jump arena by a working student who had just done something like 40min of walk/trot conditioning on him. And Boyd warmed him up for a little bit on the flat before doing very purposeful work over a single oxer, back and forth, with placing poles two strides out on either side (this is all in the video).

Shamwari was a little frisky but looked pretty good! Then Boyd went on to just cruise through a fairly long course of jumps - stringing various combinations together. And then... Done. That's it. Nice and sweet. So the focus for the horse had been on that 40min of conditioning. Then just some very purposeful, to the point type jumping. Then done. Gives me food for thought!

It was honestly pretty incredible to have been able to see so much, and hang out for so long. The entire team at Windurra was amazingly friendly and welcoming, horses and goats included.

It was also very enlightening to learn more about the inner workings of an international eventing barn, chock full of 4* talent and incredibly valuable horses - both the confirmed talents and the up-and-comers. On the one hand, there are a lot of dedicated folks working very hard to keep this operation working like a well-oiled machine. But on the other hand? They're still just horses who need fly spray and a quick hose off in an open air wash stall.

In any case, it was honestly pretty inspirational to see how they operate at Windurra - tho Charlie maybe wishes I hadn't learned that all those horses work twice a day lol. But who knows, maybe Charlie will have the opportunity to visit the property himself at some point in the future!