Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fair Hill 2017: Dressage + Stadium

We arrived on the grounds of Fair Hill around 9am despite not riding until mid afternoon. Riding buddies Brita and Rachael both began their days early tho, so. Team Spirit!

And it was fine - Charlie took a nice young rider for a walk when we arrived (vs her taking him for a walk bc.... no that's definitely not how it went haha), then watched Brita and Rachael ride their dressage tests, then played musical trailers as we kept the horses not currently being ridden together on the same trailers for the sake of company.

And meanwhile I trekked back and forth up to the jumping area to walk the stadium and xc courses and watch everyone else jump (tho fortunately we had enough vehicles-not-attached-to-trailers so that I never actually had to go on foot).

Not unexpectedly, I hit my 15k step goal well before ever tackling my own rides haha. Oh, and in case the gray skies in many of these photos don't make it clear, it was raining and gusting intermittently throughout the day. Typical Fair Hill lol....

cantering around for dressage warm up in a busy and uneven hill? sure!
Anyway. The last time Brita's and my times were so spread out was my last novice on Isabel, and I was determined to not make the same mistakes with Charlie that I had with Isabel before. Meaning: recognizing that he was likely to be tired, cold-backed and maybe slightly out of humor.

Somehow tho I still didn't plan enough time. He really needs ~40 minutes right now (predominantly walking), and I had about 25. The steward called us on deck before I had even cantered. That said, Charlie actually warmed up quite well, even if it felt incomplete. Tho he was kinda amped - especially on the uneven ground.

So maybe more time would have only led to him getting stronger, as our second canter was decidedly less quiet than the first. Oh well. We went in for our test and actually got enough time to lap the court and make a few circles to refocus Charlie before the judge blew her whistle.

trot circle left
I'm honestly REALLY happy with this test. As I recently wrote, Charlie just had a breakthrough about contact last week (in what actually proved to be our final school before the show bc he then threw a shoe, oops). And I was very happy to find that I could access that same feeling during warm up and even in the test itself.

Sure, it's only happening in fleeting moments and the entire picture isn't exactly correct yet - but it's pretty clear that Charlie is beginning to figure out that there's more to the contact than just something to lean against.

canter circle left!!
He was pretty strong in the test tho and while I was quite happy with how he rode, I knew we had left some very real points on the table in missing a number of our downward transitions, and also misfiring into our right lead (oops, tho that's a fairly recent development in our schooling. le sigh). So. Ya know. It probably wasn't going to be a high-scoring test.

But I was pretty pleased with it for what it was, and maybe hoped it might even potentially be competitive despite the flubbed accuracy and rider mistakes. Alas, tho, it was not.

changing the balance and outline one step at a time. tho it's funny how one thing seems to improve and another kinda regresses -- note Charlie's lack of engagement and impulsion here.
The judge seemed unimpressed with my riding - she disliked my rigid arms and restricting hands and attributed Charlie's bracing against the bit to my stiffness (and while I might argue he learned that at the track, the judge obviously does not know either of our histories).

Therefore each movement where Charlie exhibited any bracing or lack of suppleness was dinged accordingly. So..... basically every movement haha.

flash back to some of the "best" moments of trot from each of our previous competitive dressage outings, for the purposes of reflecting on the horse's progress
I'm kinda sad that some parts of the test that felt like real moments of softening by the horse weren't really reflected in the scores (15 of 18 movements scored between 5.0-6.0). But it's also true that moves that scored well in Intro w-t tests aren't necessarily gonna fly in training-equivalent BN tests.

And of course the judge only sees what's presented to her on any given day. She can't possibly know what we know about the horse - that he's a very green horse ridden exclusively by an amateur. And that he's still managing to improve despite said amateur's apparent flaws.

this halt garnered the lone high score of 6.5
And maybe it's actually a cool thing that the judge didn't immediately peg Charlie as "omg so green" and instead took me to task for riding in such a way as to create or exacerbate his issues.

So. More work as always is ahead of us on the flat. But I'm gonna go ahead and take comfort knowing that this test's 46.6% placed us only 6th of 9 (stingy judge is stingy lol. and nvm that we were way closer in percentage to 9th place than 1st haha).

As far as Charlie knows, he was a good boy and did the thing, and I'm actually quite pleased with his development even if our brakes were majorly faulty in this test!


Anyway. Let's move on to the fun stuff: JUMPING!!!!

For those of you unfamiliar with Fair Hill, there is a LONG hack between the trailer area and dressage courts, and the stadium and xc courses. It's probably about a mile and takes ~20ish minutes to traverse. Tho it also serves as a nice low-impact warm up too haha.

The trail begins downhill (in both directions) until it bottoms out at a very shallow stream crossing, then climbs back up again. There are usually lots of horses going in both directions, but Charlie and I ended up making the walk almost entirely alone. And Charlie was MARCHING OMG.


I was slightly unsure of how he would handle the water crossing (considering our spotty history with streams...) but luckily as we approached, there were other horses on the other side coming our way. And actually Charlie was pretty good. Hesitated but then went right on through. And continued climbing up the hill with ever more gusto.

And then the poor guy kinda flipped right on out when we suddenly emerged in a wide open field full of galloping horses. Sorry buddy! After bringing him back from his mini-bolt, we kinda just stood there and observed the open field for a while. Then he trudged soslowomg over to stadium, where we stood around for a while longer as all the riders before us warmed up.

zomg she kinda bent her elbows!!!! #progress
I kept our own warm up short and to the point. Trot the X, Trot the vertical. Canter the vertical. Canter one oxer, and then the second. Using both leads as appropriate. Charlie was..... foot perfect for the jumps. Not great for everything else.

He had a VERY strong draw in the direction of that trail through the woods and even exhibited a few moments of running sideways. Turning right was a struggle again. But I honestly didn't make a big deal out of it and just focused on the task at hand.

#groundpoles4lyfe
It was a great course - lots of changes of direction, two related distances and a bending line, and only one long stretch between fences. The lines walked very short - about 5.5 and 4.5, respectively. Some horses were getting it done nicely in the step, but the best rides were done on the add stride.

And given the size of our fences (read: microscopic), it was my opinion that Charlie should have absolutely zero business gunning through these lines at full tilt.

it's nearly impossible to tell in the video but we reeeeeeeeally almost didn't make it over this jump. turning right is HARD yo
My plan for this course was really to school it. I didn't want a feeling like we had at Loch Moy where I kinda gave up and we slowly devolved through the course to full-on launching at the fences. I didn't want to end the ride feeling slightly sheepish again.

Rather, given that I had purposefully chosen a level that should be "easy" for us, I wanted to ride as accurately as possible to confirm that, yea we can actually do this.

biggest fence on course yo. and he actually rubbed it pretty damn hard haha
And? Charlie really did quite nicely! I could not have asked for better for most of the jumping efforts. The first related distance came up a bit tight as might be reasonably expected, but that's not a big deal and he jumped out well.

Rather, it was the space in between the jumps that were a bit hairier haha - like the right hand turn after that first line, going back in the direction of that trail through the woods that Charlie had clearly not forgotten. We.... yea we almost didn't make it to the fence haha. It makes me a little sad actually that you can't hardly tell in the video but you'll just have to take my word for it.

of course it wouldn't be a Charlie 'n Emma jump course without at least one flyer ;)
After getting over that fence, Charlie cruised right on up the bending line, making a nice enough effort over the oxer but still giving it a pretty good knock. Big guy has no respect for these fences and I'm lucky that rail didn't fall.

Then we looped around another jump to approach our final related distance, for which I actually collected Charlie's stride back a hair too much (#notcomplaining) and we somewhat unbelievably had to work to get out of the line on the add stride.


I'm honestly pleased with this course - he found all of the jumps pretty darn well aside from the one where we almost didn't turn. And he did in fact gather his stride ahead of the fences when I asked, so that I could mostly kinda coast through the last 2-4 strides before a fence (kinda).

At times the horse was very strong on the landing side of fences (I know it doesn't look like it in the video... but. 17h with a giant stride is more than enough to give a very different impression to the observer than the reality for the rider lol. so... maybe just take my word for it haha), and this held true in xc too.... But he was also able to hold adjustments in his stride length when I could get through to him.

The best part was that I didn't feel like I had to explain away our greenness or mistakes after this course, always a plus! Tho... I'm gonna add a flash to our jump bridle haha. Charlie raced in a flash (which seems kinda unusual at the track?) and I'm starting to see why lol.

So. Charlie jumped the jumps at a level that's definitely *way* too easy for him. And probably didn't learn anything about the jumping side of things from that course. But methinks he learned a couple other things about atmosphere and activity and focusing despite the distraction. Mission  accomplished. Next step: Cross Country!

37 comments:

  1. I liked your dressage test. I wouldn't worry too much about the scores- each judge has their own idea. Charlie is on his forehand and has to use his neck for balance but I see positive changes in that direction and it will come. It is coming. And you guys look great in the show outfit.

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    1. Thanks I liked it too and am pleased in his slow but steady way of adjusting. He's got a big body tha has only gone in one way for years, it will take time. And that's fine.

      Tho for the record - I really like horse showing and a big part of that is bc I *do* care about the test scores. "Worry" is perhaps the wrong word, but I do study them and analyze the results to see how my impression aligns with an impartial judge's. In the ideal situation, the scoring allows me to better understand strengths and weaknesses (which you'll note: Charlie's heaviness up front has long been one of his major weaknesses but this judge does not say a single word about it in her commentary. Thus I am left to assume it had no bearing on her scores) That's a bit tricky to do tho when the judge uses a very narrow range of scores.

      But IMO even if I disagree or dislike how a judge has scored us, I would still be a fool to dismiss their findings out of hand. Bc again: an important feature of presenting a horse in a dressage test is that I are presenting the horse as he is in that moment to a judge who doesn't know (and may not care) about whatever Disney style history he has. So it's important for me to recognize the moments as a horse trainer where I should be quite happy with my horse's development (as I was with basically this entire test) while also being realistic about learning my horse's score baselines for these tests that we will likely be riding for a long time to come.

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    2. I agree that worry is probably the wrong word- it was more of a phrase then a belief that you were spending time fretting over it. :)

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    3. He thanks and I appreciate that - I think my point is that I DO spend time thinking on it lol. A lot of time. Maybe too much time, who's to tell but that this blog is basically a shrine to my overthinking nature. Maybe if I spin the same rough rocky idea around my mind enough times something smooth and shiny will pop out tho? (Or maybe just another worthless pebble, idk haha)

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  2. Heck yeah, Charlie! Really figuring out his job. Y'all look great.

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    1. Thanks! I was really pretty pleased with how he handled the whole thing and still retained all of his lessons despite the distraction!

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  3. Just so proud of you guys for all the steady progress you are making! Each time out is lightyears ahead of the last, despite the scores!

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    1. thanks girl! i honestly think it's kinda funny that our scores keep getting worse even as the horse improves - but that's probably a function of reverting to the mean as we slowly but surely move toward the appropriate level (for instance, this was his first true BN test, which is more or less equivalent to a usdf training level test - a step up from all his past intro-level tests, and therefore scored accordingly)

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  4. Yes so much wonderful media!! You and Charlie have come so far, it's so enjoyable to follow along 😁

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    1. thanks! he's doing really well, i'm looking forward to being able to really 'settle in' at our next few events!

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  5. scores schmores. He looked great and i saw moments of AHA and brilliance all over that test!! (AND Guys if you have not met Charlie in person he is HUMONGOUS so it is amazing that all that body can get around that tiny tiny Dressage arena). Alas I did not make it up to see him jump but Emma did you think that 4 to 5 jump was really really odd? (BIG angle...) Everyone i saw had issues with getting the horses straight. All that long loops on that course and that was just odd...and right near the gate too....(I was very angry when they made you go early for dressage, my friend who is a steward says they should not have done that) GRHHH Anyway I love Charlie and LOVE LOVE LOVE HIS CANTER so much. Great job!!

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    1. lol thanks ;) the steward actually didn't make me go early - i was allowed to wait until my actual ride time, but opted to go in after a quick canter in each direction anyway. agreed tho that charlie is way to big for this size arena haha. too bad they don't use a full court til prelim!

      that jump 4 in stadium was definitely a test too. not impossible, but definitely a challenging turn. i honestly really liked the flow of the course tho - like there was plenty of room in the turns if you planned ahead (or had a steerable horse, ahem, charlie, cough cough).

      anyway it was so great to meet you and so glad you got to say hi to charles too - he's such a good boy and i look forward to seeing him continue to have more and more "aha" moments!

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  6. Aw Charles looks great! :-) I'm always in favor of using equipment for it's intended purpose--curious what the result will be.

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    1. if you mean the flash - he actually wears one already in dressage to a very positive effect. i don't put it on particularly tight (actually it's probably borderline too loose lol) but it helps reduce the effect of his tendency to flip his nose and gape his mouth to pull through me. something he undoubtedly did at the track too lol

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  7. Very interesting dressage judge comments. I think it speaks well that Charlie did not come off as green at this stage. I think I struggle with dressage judge opinions--really it is one of the few horse disciplines where you get written opinions shoved in your face at the end of competing (and sometimes they suck)! Coming from someone who has seen your history, great job!

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    1. thanks - and i kinda agree that it's probably a positive thing that the judge is seeing something beyond "omg green horse." considering at our first show, the judge was like ".....so i'm guessing this is your first show" lol.

      i honestly really like dressage test feedback (even the comments i hate, oddly enough lol) and try to figure out how to incorporate it in a manner consistent with my own training program and methods. it's just frustrating when there isn't ever any indication of "this is what you did well, give me more of this plz" and it's all like "nope this, nope that, and nope not the other either". oh well.

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  8. Look at him figuring out his job! I love it. Lessons learned about atmosphere are probably more important than ones learned about doing things correctly!

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    1. aw thanks - he really seems to be figuring it out!!! and agreed that learning about atmosphere is a critically important lesson unto itself. hopefully he can figure that part out soon!

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  9. Ah yes, you had a tightass dressage judge too! I definitely see the improvement though, he's getting a lot steadier.

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    1. yea apparently judges do come in flavor: tightass. who knew!

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  10. Oh, you know, just cantering around a course at one of the craziest venues ever like it's no big deal. You're a star, Charlie Murray!

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    1. lol basically ;P he maybe thought it was a littttttle bit of a deal (esp in warm up...) but went on ahead and did the thing like a very good boy anyway!

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  11. Good job getting him out and about. I'm surprised how tough the judge was at that level. He was tense but obedient. Can't ask for much more at this stage. SJ you guys looked great! I saw the rush after the fences but maybe because I'm so used to the 17 hh rush upon landing. .lol. he was a very good boy tough. I can promise you with this guy jumping and height will never be the issue. It always going to be the in between stuff. So you're doing well by staying small until he figures out is all NBD and gets quite bored with it. Shoot I still mostly school little jumps. Their height and athleticism we already know they can jump the moon.

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    1. yea that's basically exactly it. the biggest thing that changes with fence height is how *i* ride it - the horse honestly kinda goes the same no matter what. but bigger fences have the power to make me nervous and therefore make poor riding decisions (even tho there's no reason in the whole wide world that i need to gun this horse at 2'3... yet i still do it lol). but in a course like this, when i have exactly zero concern about the fences themselves (again, even tho it's all the same for charlie), i can be better about doing my job and establishing better or more correct riding habits in myself. theoretically haha.

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  12. You two are having such a great start to your season. Relaxed and happy at the end of it all. Sorry your scores did not reflect what you felt. It sounds like the judge was holding everyone to a tight standard.

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    1. thanks! and yea honestly the scoring was probably spot on as far as the order goes - around the bottom-middle of the pack is probably the best i should even hope for at this point (even if i'm biased and think charlie should win everything haha). it's just frustrating that there's not a ton to be gleaned from her feedback other than "try not to be so shitty with your hands" and "everything kinda sucks" lol

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  13. LOL flash could help. i hate dressage scoring but ADORE your berry outfit. the gif of him at the stream is so cute. he like looks over like "couldnt we... take the bridge..."

    oh man. the green horses are the cutest.

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    1. ha yea he was pretty darn cute at the water crossing. like he was trying so hard to be like "I GOT THIS HACK FIGURED OUT" but then 'WAIT WHO PUT THAT WATER HERE WTF"... poor charles.

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  14. I really admire how positive you stay about competing. Using your score as a motivator and a learning tool is smarter than feeling down about it. I definitely will try to emulate you when I start competing.
    And as I suspected, you look great in the sandbox with that berry outfit!

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    1. aw thanks! i mean, we do this for fun, right? i don't necessarily pay the big bucks to be a "very serious competitor" or whatever... but i still want to take it seriously for my own purposes and be the best i can be for myself and my horse. it also helps me to feel good about a poor score knowing that it's just adding to the education vs feeling like a failure haha

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  15. What a fun show. Love the berry outfit. He looks like he's having fun jumping. The judge seems a bit harsh, but I guess as long as she was harsh equally across the board.

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    1. it was a bit harsh and there was actually a pretty wide deviation in scores for this division under this judge (about 20 percentage points between 1st and 9th). tho it was an open division (with the BN dressage test for those of us who wanted to canter but still jump tiny jumps) so the 1st place scorer was actually a pro.

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  16. You know what, I like how he took the gap on the last line. Bold and not out of control and you guys kept a pretty even tempo the entire time. Nicely done!

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    1. haha yea he's got no qualms with a gappy distance for sure! tho for jumps this height the add stride is definitely more appropriate in half stride distances like the above. and in that case, there wasn't another step in there - 5 was my plan all along (see accompanying commentary of the ride). i would have preferred to have made it five even strides instead of having a longer 5th but that's what schooling is all about!

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  17. Such progress!! You make a very smart pair - I'm not usually into burgandy jackets but it works for you.

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    1. Thanks!! It ends up being almost oddly subtle on him. Almost. Lol

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