Wednesday, May 31, 2017

MDHT #3: cross country!

Let's close out the month of May with a photo-heavy jaunt across 9 fences spread over 500m of terrain, shall we?

patiently waiting for that cue to go. thanks Austen for so many pics! and GRC Photo too!
As I wrote yesterday, the real tests of this event were the dressage and stadium phases. Cross country was short. Really really short haha. And, with one exception, we jumped all the same fences last month.

through the start gates!
Mostly I just wanted to see Charlie go out there and put in an honest and consistent run. Canter the fences. Keep a steady pace. Be a good boy. And he did not disappoint!

nice inviting stick horse
Tho honestly he was sliiiightly wiggly to this first fence. Nothing naughty, but also just kinda taking stock and shifting gears.

easy peasy
He jumped it fine tho and cantered on easily to the tree line and around the turn for jump 2.

world's most adorable brush
I'm a little grateful that we did have that slight turn between fences, as most of the rest of the jumps are one right after the other. And it felt like that little canter towards nothing in particular helped Charlie settle a little bit.

good pony!
He was still a little wiggly to jump 2 tho, but felt pretty easy.

we've jumped this garden gate before!
Mostly my only real goal was to have a more confident feeling horse than last time we were here. If you recall, last time Charlie broke down to trot ahead of most of the fences - especially in the middle portion of the course. He didn't necessarily feel backed off, per se, just that he needed more time to process the jumps on approach.

way less backed off than last time
So this time I was hoping that he'd be able to keep coming to the fences like he had at Jenny Camp, and do his thinking and processing while maintaining a little more pace. And he definitely did! Still took a little leg and wasn't dragging me to the fences like he had by the end of Jenny Camp, but he honestly felt pretty good.

friendly roll top - but note the red arrow pointing to that suspicious dark fold in the terrain ahead (also note the construction mound to the right)
The course obviously wasn't particularly challenging but they still found a way to weave in some interesting terrain. On approach to this roll top, the dug up earth and construction to the right caught my eye and had me thinking I'd ride a little to the left to avoid anything spooky.

But... surprise, surprise, that red arrow is actually pointing to a fairly massive feature in the landscape. Plus, right on top of the point of the arrow is our next fence, so clearly the straight line wasn't actually the right ride.

pictures almost never do terrain justice, but this was a fairly substantial and steep drop in the ground immediately after the roll top
On the landing side of the fence was this steep slope that is clearly used to create more challenge for higher level tracks haha (like the training brush on top of the hill that you see in the above picture).

It turned out our best course of action was hugging the construction zone on our right - which Charlie happily did, tho not without a minor "oh shit" moment when we got long to the roll top and I kinda had to play catch up a little bit to avoid taking my heavy-on-the-forehand-and-prone-to-tripping ottb down that damn slope haha.

then back around to this wide-but-low roll top again
Anyway, tho. Once that was accomplished we could make a sweeping turn toward the familiar roll top that we kinda biffed from a trot last month and begin making our way back up hill to the finish line.

we kinda futzed it but all's well that ends well
Charlie got right on up to the base of this jump but made it over just fine. In a way it kinda reminded me of jump 4 from our stadium round, and I'm beginning to wonder if we're starting to see which lead Charlie is stronger in jumping from (hint: probably not the left lead lol).

then rising ground to the rail road tie
Then we sorta cruised up hill to the next few jumps - which was nice bc it served as a reminder for me to try to push my hands forward and let the hill influence Charlie's balance and pace vs me trying to do it all myself.

horse is unimpressed lol
And this was where Charlie finally felt like he was settling a little bit. With such a short course and the jumps all right on top of each other, the horse had maybe been a little slow to get into the zone.

same coop again!
But he cruised right on up to the coop too, continuing his easy lope up hill.

pictured: cruisin!
A giant part of me wished we could have cruised like that for another hundred meters or so bc it felt perfect :)

i actually kinda love this fence lol
But then all to soon we were onto our penultimate fence - the only "new" one on course for us. This really unique and visually interesting brush fence.

and charlie jumped it well!
It was a good size and felt like a good fence to catch Charlie's attention and make him think about it - but situated as it was toward the end of course when he was finally getting more into a groove, I didn't expect it to pose issues. And spoiler: it totally didn't.

same final jump as last time
Then a quick turn to our final fence, the same raised log we saw last month. Only this time without any pretty planted flowers in it.

and naturally we had to get in one goofy flyer lol. atta boy, charlie!
We got a little long to the fence (it had to happen at some point, right? lol.... some things will never change) but he cruised right on over nbd.

seriously. it's 1:37 haha. 

It took me a minute to pull Charlie up and he was maybe a little surprised that the course was already over. Bc again, I can't emphasize enough just how short this rode in comparison to last week's Jenny Camp, or even the elementary at Fair Hill.

treats at the trailer make everything better
But it was good. Charlie did everything that was asked of him - and honestly I don't think it's a very bad thing for a horse to walk away from an outing thinking, "Hm that was a lot easier than I expected!"

such a good boy <3
Still tho - a longer course would have allowed him to settle more and stretch his legs out and shift into cruise control. So I'm thinking we will probably stick to longer course formats from here on.

mini xc course machines right here lol
As it was, Charlie definitely knew he was a good boy. Definitely was happy and relaxed when I hopped off and got all his gear loosened and tucked up. It was just icing on the cake when I saw how well our dressage score had placed us too!

charlie wanted to tell bella all about how awesome he is at this game
The rail was a shame since it dropped us a few places to finish 6th - but imho that green looks mighty fine on Charles haha.

really tho, it was a good day had by all. brita and bella continue to kill it out there - snagging another 2nd place finish
So now we get a little break - probably about a month or so until our next event. Lots of time to just settle in to work on refining our training, and schooling more of that stuff on xc that we're going to be seeing more and more of. And maybe take a few dressage lessons too haha.

naturally we were happy to have Lyra watching over us all day too :D
Do you ever feel like the actual "training" work kinda has to get put on a back burner while you work on preparing for shows or events? Or like you can finally settle back down to focus on the 'normal' stuff once the showing is over?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

MDHT #3: dressage + stadium

This is the final show recap of May 2017. Officially my busiest month of competitions since June 2015. Phew! If you've managed to stick it out and keep track this whole month - virtual cookies to you. You deserve it lol.

We can keep it fairly high level today too - since, as you might imagine, there haven't exactly been seismic shifts in how Charlie goes in the last four weeks.

legitimately the only screen cap i'm using from dressage. bc they all look the same but this moment is particularly sweet <3
Tho that's actually not 100% true. There has been a pretty big change in my riding in the past week. Mostly having to do with the insights gleaned from auditing David O'Connor last week. Particularly that bit about the four main rider responsibilities, with direction coming in at #1, and speed second.

Generally speaking, I've spent an awful lot of time fussing with Charlie about speed and connection, and have also been battling issues with gate sourness and bulging. Not to mention the fact that we've been dinged for too-small circles and issues with accuracy and geometry in literally every single test we've ever ridden.

such a sweet face <3. all non-nasty photos here courtesy of Austen or GRC Photo
Since auditing that clinic tho, I've been focusing in on direction above all else - down to the actual precision of each foot fall. And naturally this is a bit of a process, I've got a lot to think about in modifying my ride to be consistent. But the change in the horse is undeniable.

It turns out, when I'm focused purely on directing each and every step, I must ride from my whole body and not just my hands. I must actually ride the horse from back to front. Craaazy. It means that suddenly I'm not pulling (as much). Suddenly the horse is not bulging, nor is he even rushing or anticipating.

such a good pone
The change has actually allowed Charlie to come forward into the bridle more - to seek out his own connection and experiment with his own balance. To me, it feels like an entirely new frontier. And I like it!

It might not be super obvious in watching the test, but it was rewarded by the judge for sure. Charlie earned a whole string of 7s, plus quite a few 6.5s. And not a single comment on issues with too-small circles. But he did get a comment of "nicely on aids" for his canter transitions. Yesss.

Even with an error for going off course (what can I say, Intro C is not a super familiar test for me!), Charlie earned a nice score of 36.8% to be positioned in 4th after dressage (compared to our 37.6% last week that put us in 10th).

we match the jump!
The same change in my riding that made such a big difference in dressage also holds for stadium too. And I had gotten some practice using the whole "ride ever footstep" idea during our jump lesson the day prior to the show (post coming soon!).

i kinda love his dopey ears
The biggest change with Charlie is that when I start focusing on 'direction' and riding my line above all else, little details like his pace suddenly start taking care of themselves. I don't have to wrestle with him rushing or anticipating bc he's just staying focused listening to me about where he's going.

tho i love his super pricked excited ears too!
It's honestly kinda nice! That's not to say that we don't still have mistakes or whatever - not all of our distances were perfect. In warm up we got a little close here or there (but surprisingly didn't knock anything down). And then in our actual course we had a fairly large 'oh shit' moment at jump 4 when I expected Charlie to go for the gap, and he was like, "But wait, I thought we go to the base now?"

and i love that he can look cute over small fences sometimes too haha
Mostly tho it was a very smooth, professional course. Steady even strides to every fence. No rushing, no change in rhythm. One simple change (immediately before our oopsie at jump 4), then auto changes from there out. And a nice steady four strides down the only related distance on course.

in case it's not obvious, all the jumps at loch moy are painted to match the maryland flag
This was legitimately maybe our best jumping effort to date. And I'm so proud of the horse. Botched jump 4 and all - bc I'm honestly totally ok with a simple mistake, especially seeing how well we both recovered and just carried on.

pony was easy through the only line on course <3
Obviously, as always, there are issues to correct in my ride. But right now things feel pretty good. Again, thinking back to the DOC clinic - the biggest outcome he wanted to see what a reproducible ride. And it feels like Charlie and I are almost there. Like we've got things mostly figured out such that I can get in there and somewhat reliably (almost) do my job, and the horse will respond in kind.

We still have mistakes, and probably always will - bc let's face it, I'm an amateur and he's a green horse trained exclusively by my amateur self lol. But. So far, so good. And at this level, the mistakes aren't really enough to upset either of us.

Per usual, I'll have disproportionately more pictures for the cross country recap tomorrow - but rest assured, the real test of this event was the dressage and stadium course. Both of which felt like they showed a really solid representation of where Charlie is in his training.

yay happy friends after the rides are done!
It also very much felt like this busy busy month of competing has had the desired effect on the horse: He's got the system figured out. He knows what we're doing at a show. He understands the phases and different warm ups. He gets the small sand box and he understands when it's time to jump. And he's all about unwinding at the trailer after it's all said and done.

Charlie's basically officially an intro-level eventing professional. And I like it!! Intro / training level dressage and jump courses set at 2'3 pose very few issues for the horse beyond just needing to refine refine refine. Ya know, that constant thing with horses where it always boils down to "more" and "better" lol.

Anyway. More to come tomorrow about cross country - mostly just fun pictures and videos lol. Bc after walking away from that stadium round, it felt like we'd already gotten through the hard parts haha. Do you ever feel that way at an event? Where one or another phase stands out as the biggest challenge of the day?

Monday, May 29, 2017

memorial day weekend events!

Happy Memorial Day to folks here in the States! And happy resulting three day weekend!

picture chosen for flag cameo
Charlie and I took full advantage of the lovely (tho humid omfg) weather on Sunday to wrap up our crazy May of doing all things eventing.

do we look happy ??
We had our whole group of friends showing with us - including Brita, former barn mate Rachael, and new show partner in crime, J (whose first event ever was with us at last month's MDHT Spring Starter #2). Plus Austen was able to make it in time for all of our rides - always so great to see her!

i'm just so freakin crazy about this horse
Austen also brought along her camera and shared love of all things candid-shots. Which obvi I adore. All of these pictures are courtesy of her. Thanks girl!

seriously tho. i <3 him
Per usual I'll have plenty to write about the event itself - complete with lots and lots of very nice quality photographs. Yesss! And video too, naturally.

high 5s for poultice hands!
The quick 'n dirty version is that I've completely modified my mental thought processes while riding since auditing DOC's clinic last week. And the shift in Charlie is nothing short of incredible. There will be plenty more to write on that later too.

wandering around through the controlled chaos that is Loch Moy
But it means that we were able to lay down our nicest dressage and stadium rounds yet. And our dressage was actually competitive, placing us 4th in a class of 11th!! I'm super proud of our stadium round too - tho we had a rail that unfortunately knocked us down a few places to finish. That's cool tho bc right now, rails aren't what matter.

good boy knows he's good
Cross country was also good in showing a nice honest horse who's getting the hang of this whole thing. The course was much too short tho - 9 fences over 500m (compared to 13 over 1,800m last week at Jenny Camp), and we never quite settled into a rhythm.

Charlie went easy and clear tho, so nothing to complain about there!

go team!!
The slightly bigger moral of the story tho? This horse is a Good Horse. I'm so happy with Charlie, and so so happy with how well he's developing into my eventing partner. He's basically everything I've ever wanted in a horse and I can't believe how lucky I got with him.

Charlie makes it so easy to believe in him, and so easy to believe in what the future might hold. To quote Michael Jung, he gives me a "very good feeling." And for that? I'm grateful.

Happy Monday y'all - hope you have all had a great weekend too and stay tuned for more to come soon!

Friday, May 26, 2017


Happy Friday everyone! And happy long weekend for everyone in the states too!

For a little fun, let's do a quick review of Charlie's winning 2017 Eventing BINGO! card, shall we? And I know I still owe all you contest participants your digital ribbons - have no fear, that'll definitely happen eventually.

such glory!

Clear Cross Country:

Charlie did this twice, first at Loch Moy then again at Fair Hill. Alas we accrued our first jumping penalties (in both jumping phases, no less!) at Jenny Camp.

Trotted the Biggest Fence on Course:

Well... Charlie trotted the entire middle section of his first xc run at Loch Moy. Which, incidentally, included a surprisingly beefy roll top. Not the tallest thing in the world, but undoubtedly the widest obstacle Charlie had yet faced.

i never claimed to be anything more than the monkey on his back haha

Straight 6s Across the Board:

Haha. We're nothing if not consistent at this point. Consistently.... mediocre lol. Under a different judge, some of these scores would be 5s (as at Fair Hill), but our Jenny Camp judge was generous. That's fine tho, we'll take it!

yup.... sounds about right.

Holy Long Spot:

Lol.... There are actually a couple options for this and probably our effort at Jenny Camp's triple bar later on course would have been a better candidate. But I don't have a great photograph of that, whereas I *do* have a representative shot of us conquering the pheasant feeder.

my barn mate's comment upon seeing this? "Well at least the horse looks cute!"


So. There ya have it folks! This year's Eventing BINGO! contest officially has its first winning card!

That doesn't mean it's over yet tho - I sincerely hope that those of you who got cards are keeping track and crossing off your tiles as you go. Any updates on that front? Any moments of glory that you've carefully been documenting?

Or are there folks out there who didn't initially sign up for BINGO! cards but now wish you had? I'll happily assign you cards from the selection here if you're interested!

Bc the best part about this game is that it can take moments of otherwise moderate-to-extreme fail and turn them into something..... a little funnier? lol.... Gotta celebrate the small stuff, right? Or something?

Seems like this upcoming long weekend might be the perfect opportunity to go check off some boxes haha - enjoy!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

David O'Connor Clinic @ Waredaca

Two summers ago, Austen, Allison and I met up as a group for the first time to audit David O'Connor's Expert Jumping Day Clinic at Waredaca Farm

Not only was that day meaningful as the blossoming of a great friendship with those two lovely ladies, but I also learned a hella lot from the clinic. Like, so much good stuff. Seriously. So I didn't hesitate to jump at the opportunity to audit DOC at Waredaca again earlier this week. 

we got there early enough to watch (and jump crew for) a private with DOC and a local 2* rider. this was COOL. the biggest difference between this very experienced and advanced pair and the later groups (all training level or below) was the degree to which she could adjust the canter - particularly in compression. with this fence in particular, she faced it from a halt on a straight line - then cantered forward in an uber-compressed and collected bouncy canter to spring over.
DOC has clearly taught these lessons many, MANY times. His formulaic approach, lectures and exercises are very well practiced. Meaning - this clinic was almost identical to what I watched two years ago. And yet, my insights and takeaways have only increased with repetition. 

Plus, I heard it all anew this time now that I see things from Charlie's perspective vs Isabel's. 

My myriad notes from the day are documented below for posterity and future reference. However, I didn't note the stuff that was covered in the last DOC recap unless there was more detail to add this time around. So if you haven't read that previous post, I strongly recommend you do so now for context

For me, a major takeaway was DOC's assertion that: The more disciplined you are the more your horse will like you, the calmer your horse will be.

In essence: there are rules to the game. But you have to tell the horse the rules. Otherwise things get really hard really quick. DOC hates when riders don't tell the horse what to do, then horse does something "wrong" and the rider gets mad. You have to tell the horse what to do. Always.

Like, "I'm going to trot over foot prints. I'm not just going to trot. I'm going to trot over those foot prints." That level of specificity, exactness. 

Even hacking on the buckle through fields. The rider must make the decision themselves to tell the horse where to go. The more the rider makes that decision, the calmer the horse will be bc he knows what to expect.

With OTTBs especially, from the beginning of their lives they are taught to give 110%. But we don't really want that. We maybe want 80%. We have to show them that. Give them boundaries. Give them rules. And then they think "Oh that was easy!" and will grow calmer over time.

i made a friend!
Anyway, basically everything boils down to DOC's four main rider responsibilities: Direction; Speed; Rhythm & Balance (quality of canter); and Timing. But predominantly, it was those first two that he drove home the most in this clinic. 

See the above about the exactness he calls for in even telling the horse where to put his feet. He said to be in a place where you feel like you're on a set of railroad tracks - including over the fence. That's direction. As Janet Foy would say, "Line of Travel is Sacred."

For speed, DOC keeps it real simple. Forward, average, slower: three different canters to play with. Not even talking "collection," just different canters. When you have these canters you've got something to work with.

He says that some people will say balance is most important thing. But if you're not pointed at the fence (direction), then what? And if you go 700m/s (speed) to a bounce I don't care how balanced you are, there's going to be a problem.

note our water bottles co-opted to stand in for "cone" duty lol
DOC's preferred exercise for establishing Direction & Speed is the same as last time: trotting and cantering around a circle as a group with two poles spaced about four strides apart, tho they're not exactly measured. 

Riders must RIDE exactly tho, creating a well-defined track around the entire circle, not just in between the two poles. And with the horse's head and neck straight in front. No bending. (As with last time, DOC was adamant that too many riders over-bend their horses to the inside when really they should be using more outside aids, almost to the hint of counter bend).

In describing the point of this exercises, DOC said that the problem riders have with courses is that everything happens so fast. We can do individual exercises and it all works. But then we put it all together and things fall apart. Why? People end up losing the things they know how to do. Bc things are happening too fast in their head.

i basically loved that bay on the left. so floaty. much ground cover.
But at this level we must make it simple, make it basic. If you can get that part correct then you can make it more complicated. What line am I on? How fast do I want to jump that fence? How quickly can you react to changes? If the horse is moving left or right how quickly are you reacting or fixing? If you can't do that you can't move on.

We should want reproduceable efforts, boring efforts. Do a line in 6. In 5. In 7. But boring. Every time. It takes a process of thinking this way - it's not just that "it works or it doesn't work." We must be able to reproduce the same ride again and again.

So DOC says to take discipline from the above poles on a circle exercise and extend it to everything you do. Straight line to the fence. Straight line after the fence. How wide should this line be? The width of a horse. Only one track where ever you go. Land in same canter you jump from.

How can you jump 8 fences on a line and in rhythm if you can't jump one? If you think about it you can fix it. But you've got to fix it. Otherwise courses become tougher. Pay attention to these details until they become instant.

red circle added for illustrative purposes
He moved the riders to a single vertical jumped on a straight line, and drew a circle drawn in the footing on the landing side of the fence (see pic above). Land in the circle.

He asked riders to count out loud in ascending order as they approached the fence. In a nice monotone, not getting high pitched. Voice should be more boring even as you get closer. Even if you're falling off (lol). This was especially true for the horses who were rushing fences.

If you're counting to the fence - notice what number you're on when the horse started rushing. Next time see if the horse starts rushing a little later. If he's not rushing til closer and closer to the fence you're helping to fix it. Keep practicing, telling the horse, "Hey. You don't need to run." But we also don't need to slow down if they're not running.

land in the circle!
If the horse is going 7,000 mph you need to be 1mph. Be in the zone. Gotta make sure that you stay the same stay the same stay the same bc you gotta teach him that it's ok. Every now and then you're going to have a really bad fence but that's ok bc you just come back and do it again. The rider must be responsible for telling the horse what speed to go.

Don't go slow and allow to speed up. Speed up and then slow down on the way to the fence. Then the horse realizes that it doesn't need to run, and then you can stay the same. Riders should not be looking to expand off the fence, you want to compress. Especially as you go up the levels (see the caption on the first photo of the 2* rider).

seriously tho, this dog was super cool haha
Another major tenet DOC wanted riders thinking about was the "WHAT" of their ride. If there was a problem, what was the problem? What are you trying to accomplish? Once you've identified the "what" (maybe it's that the horse is drifting, or was going to fast or slow -- see again, direction & speed), riders could then get into the HOW of correcting it. 

He says that everyone gets so lost in the "Hows" - all the "more leg" and "half halt outside" and "sit up" ideas etc etc, that they forget to fully identify the "Whats" first. But again, while you're at low fences, it really must be this simple.

also DOC was pretty much obsessed with this mare, and after commenting on her a couple times, finally encouraged the rider to breed her to some nice warmblood stallion. 
And it doesn't have to be dressagey mumbo jumbo. Go faster and go slower. Be straight. Help the horse to understand the jump not just run at fences. It's not going to all go away in one day. But it's a thought process for the rider, practicing this exactness so that it becomes ingrained habit. 

Tell the horse what to do, and tell the horse when they are doing well. 

Sounds so simple, right?