Friday, December 30, 2016

go go gadget arms!

Continuing with the theme of summarizing where Charlie is 3 months into his transition from race horse to riding horse, here's a mishmash of recent rides and what I learned from them.

In a nut shell? Charlie is beginning to find and hold a better balance under saddle. It's VERY moment-to-moment, but the moments happen more frequently and last longer.

They're also more predictable. This is kinda a biggie (at least to me), bc it speaks to whether I can ride to specific outcomes, as opposed to throwing all the noodles (literally) at the wall to see what sticks. The rhyme to Charlie's reason, the method to his madness, is crystallizing such that I'm better understanding how to reproduce results. (Note I didn't say I'm better at doing it haha - that's still a work in progress!)

Anyway. We had another lesson with dressage trainer C. I just love riding with her, and suspect Charlie likes going there too bc he's just always immediately the best ever. Maybe he loves the footing. Or the arena. Or C's stream-of-consciousness style teaching. Whatever the case, we leave these lessons feeling empowered, reassured and like we're making progress.

other progress: charlie has graduated to being able to tie immediately after getting off the trailer!!
C has a great strategy for starting a ride with Charlie. Once we're finished walking forever (my go-to with this guy):

  • Pick the reins up and start trotting. Not asking for anything with the contact, just taking it. 
  • Ride on the inside track, just off the rail, to establish that I'm responsible for straightness and turning. And remind me that, in fact, I *do* have outside aids. 
  • We usually start off WAY drunk, as Charlie tries to pull back to the rail, or fall into the center. Nbd. Just stay the course. 
  • Trot large around the arena. One or two laps then change across the long diagonal. One or two laps, long diagonal again. 
  • After he's more warmed up, do short diagonals too. And maybe some leg yields from the quarter line. 
  • Occasional 20m circle at ends and through middle, but mostly just stay large. 
  • And stay on inside track. 

This "inside track" idea didn't click for me at first - I mean, I did it throughout the lesson but kinda forgot about it while schooling at home. Bc it didn't seem like an important detail. But then I remembered and started doing it again. And. Guys, I think this is a key factor in helping Charlie settle onto my aids and stay even between them. (well, relatively speaking haha).

our first few outings i tacked him while hand walking, but now he's cool to stand quietly at his hay basically right away
C also encouraged me to occasionally change to the wrong diagonal for a circle or lap here and there. Or change directions but don't change my post. Bc Charlie's balance and hind end are so weak right now, he definitely feels this difference. And I just need to let him sort it out.

In a related vein, I MUST be definite with my post. No shuffling around in the saddle, my up/down rhythm must be crystal clear.

This was very apparent in my next ride with Charlie (source of the ride pictures and arena wall video in this post). Charlie was FRESH haha. Even for him. Rarin' to go, and basically running at and breaking into canter over the ground poles I had set up. Except. Except when I remembered to really control my post and be very distinct with it.

good pony at trainer C's barn
The thing with Charlie is that his 'go' button is appropriately sensitive - but sometimes gets sticky (the whole 'tude about not liking being driven forward...). Therefore I want to avoid over-correcting when he volunteers a higher gear than I ask... but sometimes we're not ready to canter yet, bro. (Check out the video for some awesome speed trotting and trantering to see what I mean haha). So holding my post steady is key for holding him in trot when maybe he'd rather canter.

So when Charlie's fresh like that, the trot kinda suffers but the canter is kinda awesome. Bc it's easy to get, even if the leads are sometimes wonky.

new years resolution: obtain go go gadget arms!!
or, ya know. strengthen my core and learn to slip the reins, maybe.  
More often, tho, Charlie's more 'chill' than 'fresh.' Our next two rides definitely fell into this category. And the trot work was AWESOME. Plus, ever since riding him more forward became a priority, it's kinda just his default gear now.

Like I still need to think about keeping my inside leg loose to bump bump against him, asking to bring his own inside hind up and under. But the rhythm is feeling way more settled even as it's more consistently forward and ground-covering.

The biggest issues in our trot when he's carrying on quietly like this are my own: I need to be softer and more stable with my arms. Quicker to give when he gives or let the reins slide when he lowers his head (rather than locking up and letting my entire upper body be pulled down, as in the above picture haha).

omg legs for days, charlie! turning right is kinda hard tho haha - that's just a LOT of horse under me
This obviously calls for a stronger core, and more secure leg position. I'm getting better (sorta almost) about keeping my legs longer and underneath me, instead of curled up tightly gripping his sides... But C reminded me in the lesson that I also need to resist the temptation to push them out in front of me when Charlie feels downhill. Just keep them under me. And when he feels too heavy, bump him up with outside rein.

Meanwhile, tho, when Charlie's in a quieter mood, or maybe after a long walk break when he thinks (incorrectly) that he's done for the day, such as in our recent lesson with C, the canter can be a bit tricksier to get haha.

video of schooling ride clips here. it's a super short video, but i kinda love it bc it shows charlie in all his current forms haha, good bad and ugly! 

Basically tho, I just need to focus on riding the transition. Charlie's front feet are in the way of his hind feet - partly bc his hooves are still very much in the "before" phase (another work in progress), and for that he'll be going in bell boots. But also partly bc, damn, homeboy has giant shoulders and struggles to pick them up. So I need more inside aids, particularly leg, in the canter departs to encourage that inside shoulder to lift.

The biggest, number 1 thing I've learned lately tho? I need to be patient. I need to wait Charlie out. Just ride through the beginning portion of the ride with zero expectations other than following the bullet points above. Depending on how the horse feels, maybe canter early. Especially if he's really sticky. Just have it out. Canter that big bad boy even if he don't wanna.

i tried to film some cross rail jumps. tried and failed HARD (video was out of focus AND in slo-mo for good measure, oops!). not that i would ever deprive you of attempted media tho, as evidence by this extremely grainy video still haha. oh well. charlie was too tired to care anyway, the pic isn't so blurry that you can't tell he's giving that cross rail the absolute minimum necessary effort
Bc the real good stuff comes after we canter. Sure, he might spend the next lap or two speed trotting and trying to break into canter again... But just be patient. Revisit those bullet points.

My knee-jerk reaction when we first transition down from canter and he's speed trotting, falling in and trying to break back into canter, is to pull down to a walk immediately and just shut that noise down. But if I'm patient - if I wait it out and just keep riding, suddenly Charlie kinda clicks and almost falls into my hands (but in a good way).

at least i apparently have zillions of pics of him chowin' down at the trailer!
C says she always makes herself ride 2 laps of trot after a canter on a green horse. Bc it often turns into more. Bc suddenly the horse tends to discover their back, and their balance. And that's when we really uncover Charlie's best moments (you can kinda sorta see it a little bit at the end of the video). 

So. The name of my game with Charlie right now is "Waiting It Out." If I keep riding, and focusing on my own position and those bullet points... well. Charlie has a way of sorting himself out. For now haha. I'm sure the tactics will evolve again soon enough! 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

ground work + trotting update

It feels fitting to wrap up 2016 with a few of these 'update' posts showing Charlie's progress in his first three months as a riding horse. Seems like a good way to summarize where things stand now, looking forward to a brand new year together.

For whatever reason, I've suddenly found myself super motivated to do more ground work with the horse. We've done weekly sessions since our lesson with the horsemanship pro a couple weeks after Charlie came home, but lately we're doing 3-4 sessions a week. Often before I ride, or sometimes instead of a ride.

charlie recently discovered that, in fact, his back is flexible and he can lift it. good pony!
We work on a couple different skills during these sessions - with an aim to balance the physical and emotional work.

Emotional skills include: 

-     Accepting the whip rubbing over both sides his entire body, even in ticklish spots. And I'm purposefully a little sloppy with the whip. Recall this was a big weak spot in our first session, and he's basically a pro at it now.

-     Giving to pressure on the rope halter. I'll stand on one side of him and gently bring his head around by pulling on the halter. Softening when he gives, but not if his feet are moving. He's figured this one out pretty quickly, but we're careful with it anyway bc he's honestly not super flexible yet.

-     Turns on the forehand, aka disengaging the haunches. Neither of us are very good at this one haha, and we only just recently started practicing it. It's also a little confusing to Charlie bc this asks him to move his feet (in a specific way) whereas other exercises ask for him to be immobile.

-     Carrot stretches. Fairly self explanatory lol. Also, Charlie's FAVORITE.

trying to find his balance with a rider, and fairly earthbound in the process

Physical skills include:

-     Lunging. Another self explanatory one haha. The primary focus of our ground work has been to install a 'go forward' cue by tapping with the dressage whip. As Charlie's response becomes more confirmed, lunging is a natural byproduct. He's gotten quite good at it, tho he's weaker tracking right. He's simply less comfortable with me on his right side and doesn't want to let me over there. So the 'go forward' cue is stickier, but it still works. And he lunges in both directions reliably (just with more sass to the right haha).

-     Ground pole work. I really like lunging him over ground poles bc he treats them differently without a rider. He doesn't rush, and is better about experimenting with his body and balance. And, as you can see in the video below, he's starting to lift his back through the poles all on his own. This is great practice for him physically, and a good way to develop strength.... Now to get that same feeling with a rider!

-     Changing directions on the lunge. Charlie is SUPER at changing from tracking right to tracking left haha. I just back up to invite him in toward me, then change the direction of my hands and whip to send him off in the opposite direction. He initially got offended at the moving whip - but figured out to just move off away from it. He's..... terrible at changing directions from left to right tho. Bc he doesn't want to let me on his right side lol. Practice practice.

-     Backing. Charlie is surprisingly bad at backing. Fairly resistant to it. We practice tho bc A) he needs to respect my space and back out of it when I ask, and B) backing is a good low-impact way to build strength in his hind end. We often back (slowly) down half the long side of the arena (going along the wall to help with straightness).

This ground work is great for seeing the changes in how he uses himself without a rider, tho the biggest improvements have more to do with how comfortable he is in his body. Charlie's gone through some phases of foot and body soreness since coming off the track - both of which give him a tighter, more stuck way of going. If left to his own devices, he either kinda shuffled along or speed raced around high-headed and hollow-backed.

figuring out how to set his shoulders free!
But he's slowly figuring out how to loosen up and experiment more with balance. Especially since starting lessons with dressage trainer C, we've definitely seen some big breakthroughs in how he goes under saddle. Riding him more forward has made all the difference and he's actually beginning to figure out how to get his massive shoulders up and out of the way of his hind end (sometimes haha).

charlie 1 month post-track: kinda stuck lol, but airborne all the same
Obviously there's a lot of work to do in 2017 haha. Charlie has to build more strength to hold himself and a rider in a better balance. Especially since that rider is me lol, as I have my own work cut out for holding my own self in a better position to help Charlie.  

I like where he's going tho, how he's developing. It feels like he's figuring it out and trying hard. And I feel fairly confident that the picture in another three months will be different still, and I can't wait to see where we are in six months. 

Do you do a lot of ground work with your horse? Or lunging? Are there exercises you use for building strength? Or for building a stronger mental capacity for pressure? Does your horse need lunging or ground work in order to start focusing? Or to burn off extra energy? 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

a christmas miracle??

I had big plans for my day off after Christmas: Charlie and I were going to haul over to OF. Not that unusual in itself. BUT. Instead of taking a lesson, we were just going to hit up the trails with Brita for a long and relaxing ride.

Maybe through the open fields. Maybe around some of the xc obstacles (like perhaps the water and banks complex?). Mostly just to get out with Charlie for a ride that was purely about fun and company, not work. Changing the scenery, ya know?

i spy with my little eye...... a serious problem. le sigh
Alas, it was not to be. Upon backing my truck up to the trailer hitch, it felt..... a little funny. I pondered the meaning of this 'funny' feeling while lowering the trailer hitch onto the receiver.... then suddenly decided to stop and take a closer look. If there were problems with the truck's brakes, I wanted to find out before it was attached to the trailer.

And sure enough, upon testing the brakes again, there was almost no tension in the pedal - it went all the way to the floor. A quick google check (bc let's be real, I'm no mechanic haha) said the likeliest cause was leaking brake lines. Which was confirmed by the GIANT puddle of fluid rapidly draining from the bowels of my truck. Womp womp wommppppp.

we'll be back out here eventually!! 
Obviously this little discovery put the kibbosh on our trail riding plans. Super disappointing, ugh, I had been seriously looking forward to the ride....

Oh well. The silver lining is that the brakes failed in the safety of our flat parking lot, rather than, say, with Charlie loaded up in the trailer while cruising through the winding hilly country roads surrounding our barn... I shudder to think about what could have happened...

get well soon!!!! :'(
It's funny bc I had just been complaining about how, at the new barn, I have to hook and unhook the truck and trailer every time I haul out. At Isabel's barn, I always left them hitched together unless I needed the truck for something. But at Charlie's barn, the parking lot is configured differently so the two vehicles park side by side instead. This had felt like an annoyance to me... an inconvenience. But had this not been the case, I would have had to contend with handling the weight of the trailer in a truck with no brakes...

Breakdowns are definitely the worst, but perhaps in the grand scheme of things, this one is relatively minor. I know plenty of others have dealt with way scarier trailering moments, like blowouts or losing control in bad road conditions. Have you ever broken down while hauling horses? Or narrowly avoided certain disaster?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

confo + health update

I used to take regular conformation shots of Isabel for a few reasons. While it was often difficult to see changes from one month to the next, the monthly photos definitely told a story over time. It was also useful to have that photographic record in case something cropped up regarding Isabel's physical health - I could always look back to the pictures for clues.

So I'm going to try to snag at least semi-regular shots of Charlie. Especially since this guy is definitely going through some transformations. He's a little tricky to stand up by myself (unless I happen to catch him at exactly that right moment of regal pose lol) so this pic is less than desirable in lighting and pose qualities... but whatever. It's good 'nuff.

december 26, 2016
I've had Charlie for just over three months now, and it's been about four and a half since his last race (Aug 9). He's.... uh.... undergone some changes during this time lol. Some of them kinda ugly lol.

To my (somewhat uneducated) eye, I see two main changes in Charlie's physical condition: 1 - He's filled out a bit in his belly region, looking less tucked up and trim; and 2 - He's lost some muscling, especially through his hind end. He also looks a touch ribby in that photo... but honestly that's basically a week-to-week thing with him at present.

september 9, 2016
So it's going about as I expected. Charlie never truly "crashed" after transitioning off the high-volume, high-octane feed of the track, tho he's definitely had skinny TB moments. Mostly tho, he hasn't been hard to put weight on, it just seems like how ribby/filled out he looks depends on whether he's in a muscle growth phase.

He gets soaked alfalfa pellets with every grain meal, plus his regular hay intake. So far I'm pretty pleased with how he's holding his condition on this, tho I anticipate adjusting as needed.

homeboy looks great in tack tho!
I've continued to make small changes to his holistic lifestyle and maintenance since he came home, tho we try to just make one change at a time and introduce things slowly. The last thing I want is to put him on some insanely expensive supplement, see him improve, and credit the supplement for making the difference - when maybe Charlie would have made that improvement all on his own in time.

Some exceptions to this approach tho include his hoof care plan. That's something I want to stay in front of, as Charlie will become foot sore and lame if his feetsies get too long. Esp one hoof likes to grow out instead of down. We're aiming to keep him on a fairly tight 4 week cycle, and I treat regularly with Keratex.

switched out to our 'healing crystals' browband to match the new saddle pad from Stephanie! 
I'm also staying proactive regarding Charlie's gastric health. As a very recently retired race horse, he is probably accustomed to a fairly high degree of gastric maintenance. And since his new lifestyle with me involves frequent trailer travel.... It's just to be expected that he'll need support.

Isabel typically got a course of Ulcergard or some generic version thereof once or twice a year, as par for the course, and Charlie will likely get the same (unless there's any indication he needs more help). Once he finishes up his current course, he'll get a daily supplement. I'm trying a new one at the recommendation of dressage trainer C: Jeremiah's Ulcer Repulser. Terrible name but she swears by it, so we'll give it a whirl!

So ya know. Charlie seems to be doing well. He's actually doing better in some dimensions than you might expect with a horse so fresh off the track. And I have to constantly remind myself that it's only been three months. He's settled in so well, and taken so well to the work and lessons and rhythms of our training routine that it's easy to forget just how new it all really is.

It's an interesting process tho haha. I've worked with a couple horses nearly as green as Charlie, but this is the first time that I'm totally responsible, the primary decision maker. Kinda daunting!! Have you had to transition a horse into an entirely new lifestyle? Like a horse off the track, or maybe a young horse moving into training for the first time? How have you managed these transitions? What do you typically look out for? And how do you decide if a nutrition/maintenance plan is or is not working for the horse?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 blogger secret santa!!

It's that wonderful time of year again, when Tracy from Fly On Over hosts the annual Equestrian Blogger Gift Exchange. This is her fourth year hosting, and my third year participating. It's such a fun and special tradition, thanks for pulling it all together,Tracy!!

My secret santa this year turned out to be Stephanie from Hand Gallop!!! Who you may recall I had the pleasure of meeting just a couple short months ago at Dressage at Devon!! 

And Stephanie picked out the most awesome stuff for both me and Charlie. It helps that she's got a great eye and easy access to all sorts of amazing goodies at the tack shop she works at, The Horse of Course (whose travelling shop we had a blast exploring at Devon).  

Charlie's basically going to lose his shit over those homemade peppermint treats and I can't wait!!

And. Naturally, Stephanie understands that the depths of my soul aren't actually black like I like to pretend. Nope. Not black. Rather, my soul is made complete by SPACE CATS OMG. This C4 belt is just..... wow. It's everything

I'm loving this cute Irideon xc t-shirt too!! I haven't ridden a full cross country course since May 8 at Fair Hill (when Isabel and I got eliminated in stadium...) and I miss it desperately. Hopefully Charlie and I will get out on course at some point next season... but in the meantime this shirt will maybe help me at least look like an eventer even if I'm not riding like one lol.

The cat approves too!

And this saddle pad.... Wow it just hits all the right notes: Navy with classy silver piping, and FOX FACES OMG. Haha I'm clearly riding high on the "squealing like a child" bus right now lol.

But it's no secret that I've been extremely jealous of Stephanie and Alli and others who get out and about fox hunting all the time (you might even say I've been very weirdly preoccupied by it haha). So this saddle pad is another perfect way of dressing the part until the eventual day when we can actually act the part too!!

And also - in case you hadn't noticed the cute little decoration on the wrapped presents in the earlier pics, this festive little bit is actually a key chain too!!

It's just... wow, so many great presents for the green horse and rider of said green horse. Charlie and I might not be doing anything super exciting or impressive yet - but we're certainly starting to at least look the part!!!

Thank you so much, Stephanie!! Your gifts really brightened my day!! And Charlie's too!! Thanks also to Tracy for hosting this wonderful gift exchange every year!

Happy Holidays, everyone!!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

FCE Review: Eskadron Halter

Alternate title for this post: "A collection of pictures you've already seen before, featuring Charlie's handsome head."


oldie but goodie
Anyway. When I went to pick Charlie up from the adoption facility, I was thrilled to find that he fit into the same lovely leather halter that Isabel wore (which I bought from Hawk ages ago). I adore this leather halter and couldn't believe my luck that it fit both horses!!

(you might point out here that, in fact, it *did not* fit Izzy... but that's just like, your opinion, man.)

beloved leather halter!! also from Day 1 with Chuckles, thus ye olde stud chain
Alas, the SOP at this barn is that halters hang on hooks at the pasture gate while horses are in turnout. Rain or shine. That lovely leather halter aged more in two weeks than it had in two years with Isabel. So finding a replacement for turnout became a new priority, one I satisfied in between bottles of wine with Stephanie and Austen at Dressage at Devon lol.

featuring two blue things from DAD! i'll review those pants eventually probably
All these Eskadron halters were tossed willy nilly in a big giant bin. TONS of cute colors, most with fun contrasting striping. But... wow pretty much all of them had GIANT logos right across the noseband. Uh. Thanks, but no thanks, Eskadron.

sad pony looks good in blue
Actually I'm pretty sure this was the only non-hideously-branded halter in the whole barrel, and it just so happened to be in exactly the color I wanted: Navy. With cute reflective stripes across the noseband, and extra padding on the noseband and crownpiece. And just one small logo tag along the cheek. Sorry it's blurry in the pic, but it says "Eskadron."

apparently we like blues haha
I paid $25 for this in regular horse size. It fits Charlie perfectly, looks cute on him, and hasn't shown any serious signs of wear on the material despite being out in the elements often (and occasionally getting completely covered in ice....). It has a slide fastener at the crown and a clip at the throatlatch.

so handsome tho
I would have preferred that the crown piece be leather for breakaway purposes... but actually the one time Charlie got upset in the cross ties (probably the one time in his life ever), he just backed right out of the halter without breaking anything.... and then stood waiting to be put back in again haha. Tho the hardware dinged his face up a little bit, poor guy :(

(while charlie conducts his daily inspection of his favorite tractor lol)

The little metal slide fastener on the crown piece is dotted with spots of rust already. But the rest of the hardware is fine, and so far it's fairly superficial on that one tab.... Worth noting anyway.

he's beautiful and he knows it
All in all tho, while I paid a little more than I expected to for a basic nylon halter, I actually really like this one. It's a cute color and design, but not overwhelming. As the fashion mavens might say, Charlie wears it, it doesn't wear Charlie. (that's totally what they say, right?)

And it stands out enough even without a name tag that it never gets confused among the rest of the turnout halters. I expect it to stick around for a while too! So. The halter gets a thumbs up. Would buy again.

Do you like fancy halters for your horses? Or will any old thing do? Do you have a separate halter for shows vs everyday use?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

a lesson for charlie

This weekend's ice storm nearly derailed our highly anticipated first dressage clinic. The storm was more intense and lasted longer than anybody expected. And try as I might, rationalizing hauling out on Saturday morning or afternoon was just too foolhardy.

Luckily my lesson could be shifted to Sunday. So off we went! Let's discuss the details, shall we?

Clinic Takeaways:
1.      Change Charlie's bit to a big fat eggbutt snaffle.
2.      Keep my elbows bent and my hands held higher. Except for those other times.
3.      Charlie is uneducated about contact.
4.      Charlie is still too green for clinics.

Lest you think that's a rather slim collection of takeaways, let's unpack it a little bit (in descending order):

4. Charlie is still too green for clinics.

Big bay boy was a saint. The clinician legitimately asked if I had given the horse something. Bc. Guys. Charlie is quiet. It's an asset.

He came off the trailer sweaty in his one special spot (so weird lol) but set to grazing immediately. Whinnied at the horses in turnout.... but still stood nicely tied at the trailer while I saddled him up in the rain.

Charlie walked around the new-to-him indoor like the most solid of citizens for 25-30 minutes while we waited to start (I was early and the clinic was behind). He didn't care at all about the traffic or horses going every which way (including one who cantered up Charlie's butt repeatedly).

And upon beginning the lesson, Charlie was basically the same as he always is. Steering was a little worse, sure. But emotionally, big guy was accepting of the fate that had befallen him.

So. To the point: When I say he's too green, I do NOT mean that he couldn't handle the format or the travel or the pressure or the atmosphere or whatever you might associate with clinics. On that note, he was a star and I'm quite pleased with him.

Rather. He's too green in that he's just plain not broke enough, not trained enough. There are so many things that need work, and he's so inconsistent (even from moment to moment) that a clinician might reasonably struggle with directing our ride. Everything needs work, and it feels like you can't focus on one thing without breaking or undoing something else.

dis how we trot
Looking back at my cardinal rules for defining the successful clinic experience, chief among them is that the lesson must mesh well with my existing regular training program.

I already know that Stephen's philosophies match dressage trainer C's, and that his lessons complement hers nicely. But perhaps it's inevitable that when handed such an unshaped, raw lump of clay as Charlie, the two might diverge in approaches for first forming it.

And so. This lesson prioritized things differently than our lessons with C. We didn't go in a bad direction, or a wrong direction. It was just different. Bc let's be real. It all needs work haha.

earth to charlie!
But... we need consistency at this point in our training (both of us)... So until the horse is a little less green, and a little more educated about how to be a riding horse, we should probably stay the course with our regular program. #nowiknow

3 - 2 - 1. Charlie is uneducated about contact.

The other three takeaways can all kinda be lumped into this one duh statement. Charlie is uneducated about contact. Go figure, he last raced just over four months ago and has only had amateur me riding him ever since.

use your words, charlie
This would be our focus for the lesson. Stephen had us trotting on a circle to start out, with the occasional walk transition thrown in (predictably shitty bc Charlie's downward transitions are... uh... slow to develop haha).

Upon identifying Charlie's lack of understanding or acceptance of the bit as anything other than a chunk of metal in his mouth, Stephen began on what would be our full lesson: educating Charlie on what contact means.

This started with us standing while Stephen held the reins, asking Charlie to give. Progressed to us on a circle trying to find that same give to the contact. Regressed to us walking on a circle with Stephen walking along beside us holding the reins. Continued to us trotting on a circle while Stephen jogged along while holding the reins.

lead line lesson ftw
Intermittently he would let go and Charlie's head would ping! straight up again, despite his directions to keep carrying the contact forward. Idk. It was hard. The physics seemed all wrong: with Stephen below us holding the reins, his contact was at an angle I can't realistically achieve from the saddle. When he would let go for me to carry forward, suddenly my reins would be much too long after accounting for the slack he took.... And my 'feel' wasn't very in tune either bc I wasn't the one doing the work.

In some ways it was very cool bc I could really feel the changes in how Charlie carried himself and there were some really nice moments of trot in there.

pony is trying hard tho
(notice angle of inside rein)
In other ways tho... idk. It was kinda awkward as fuck to be trotted around on a circle with the clinician jogging alongside doing half the riding from the ground. Part of me wondered why he hadn't just asked to ride the horse himself.

Also, idk if it was the focus on the contact or the fact that there was a human at Charlie's shoulder dictating the pace... but we basically lost all forward. I was kicking the horse, and he just... kinda wouldn't go. And with Stephen's back to me, I didn't get much input on improving my ride.

Time ran out while we were still in this phase of being jogged on a circle with Stephen letting go intermittently.

So. Idk. Hopefully Charlie learned something haha.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

who spiked my coffee with acid?!?

So we had a bit of an ice storm here on the East Cost.... Well. We had hoped it would be fairly minor.... but really tho, any ice storm kinda sucks.

But damn does it make for some beautiful scenery!! 

Ever since breaking my leg I've been really uncomfortable walking on slippery surfaces. And obvi driving on ice is.... well. Idk. I feel like you can learn how to drive well on snow, but ice defies true expertise and skill. Shit is treacherous, yo! 

Slippery but oh-so-pretty! 

The storm necessitated a reshuffling of the weekend itinerary - but all was not lost! Stay tuned for more details later.

In the meantime, tho, hope you enjoy the pics and somewhat trippy gifs haha (ice melting on my truck's windows, if you were curious). Also. Stay warm and dry and safe and all that good stuff!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

update on the state of trailer training

Yup I'm talking about trailer loading. Again. Sorry (but kinda not sorry) haha. Posting on Saturday tho so those of you bored senseless by my endless droning on this subject (specific posts on Charlie + trailer training here and here. for the full monty click here) can skip right on by.

Not sure if that leaves anyone who actually is interested... but whatever. My blog, my rules, and trailer loading is a subject of interest to me.

Why? Well. Let me tell you: In case it hasn't been clear, neither my current nor former horse lives at the same farms as our longtime trainers (jump trainer P at OF, and dressage trainer C at TM). And as a lesson junkie, I aim for at least 1 but sometimes 2 lessons each week.

Which means: I am typically hauling my horse 1-2x per week (thanks Captain Obvious!). This number has been known to climb to 3x per week during certain periods, tho I try not to make that a regular thing for the horse to endure.

poor charlie already endures so much
So it's pretty damn important to me that all aspects of the trailer feel routine, safe, and well established. I mean. Let's think about it. Whenever we hear of a person or horse injured in a loading/unloading accident, we kinda just know it's gonna be bad, right?

Just the pure mechanics of horses in confined spaces going up and down ramps and steps and what not, with us moving around them / behind them / at a lower level relative to their hooves.... there's just a heightened degree of risk and I often think folks are a little too blasé about it. 

That may seem a little soapbox-rant-y, and it is. Sorry lol. And obviously thousands of horses across the country get in and out of trailers every day without issue. I'm just saying that when there is an issue.... well. It can be bad. And I'd rather not go there, thanks. 

chillin at the trailer with his hay and water. already a champ at this!
None of this to say that I'm a total zealot and safety freak about the trailer either, tho. Because... I'm definitely not, as further pictures in this post demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt lol.

All I'm saying is... it's about risk mitigation. And my preferred method for mitigating risk around the trailer is to make the on/off loading process as smooth, calm, and relaxed as possible. While also doing my best to make it reliable and confirmed in the horse, rather than a question mark.

Obviously tho it's horses and shit happens. We all already know that!

"she's goin back in the tuna can again.... but idk. i might just chill out here for a while!" - noncommittal charlie
ANYWAY. Now that I've gone through so much effort to be all scary about the horrors of trailer accidents.... and lecture on the importance of doing your homework and blah blah blah so that trailering is easy, seamless, and your horse should be a perfectly trained mystical majikal self loading red arabian unicorn (*ahem*)......

Anyway. Now that I've done all that.... Let's talk about where things are currently at with Charlie's trailer loading training. Behold:

.....not pony club approved
(and yea there's a fuck load of junk in my trailer right now bc my life coach Brita has not had a chance to work her organizational magic on the truck/trailer storage situation since i moved barns and had to downsize)
So...... Yea. Charlie isn't at a place in his training where I would call him "confirmed" haha. In case that picture isn't clear enough, that's a feed bucket rigged up inside the trailer. And Charlie is going to fucking town on it lol.

Charlie is shockingly similar to Isabel in one very important dimension: He has never met a bucket he doesn't like. Any bucket could potentially hold food, no matter how unlikely the size, shape or location. Lol remember that story from when I first met him and he got a bucket stuck over his nose and was totally cool with it?

Yea. The bucket love is strong with this guy. It's endearingly adorable. And it's our current go-to method for getting Charlie to "Self Load" (bunny ears very intentional there haha).

"give me my bucket, woman. i was promised a bucket"
He'll get on the trailer without the bucket too... but I have to lead him in and he doesn't stay on long enough for me to move behind him and close the butt bar. So without the bucket, it continues to be a 2 person job. With the bucket? He basically "self loads" (again with the bunny ears).

This doesn't feel like a long term solution to me. He doesn't load onto the trailer bc I ask him, he loads bc food. Therefore the conditioned response to my "ask" is not reliable, not confirmed. And should the bucket fail to entice (or, god forbid, should I forget or run out of goodies to put in said bucket), we're gonna be up shit's creek without the proverbial paddle if I'm alone.

So..... long story short, there's still work to do here haha. We're at a point where I'm not particularly concerned by the prospect of going anywhere with Charlie by myself. But I also just kinda know that if I leave it at this, one day it'll bite me in the ass.

Hopefully another session with my local horsemanship and trailer loading guru will help, especially as a check in on Charlie's general ground work skills, like giving to pressure (as covered in that first session). Unfortunately Jim had a mishap not long after that first session and was off his feet for a bit. But he's getting back at it now so perhaps we'll schedule something this winter?

In the meantime, tho. Cross your fingers that the bucket keeps working its magic on Charlie lol. Have you ever had to resort to .... creative tactics to get the job done? Or let your impatience lead you to skipping training steps like this haha? Are you an expert bucket rigger like me? Or is this all just kinda par for the course for you?