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Phew it feels SO GOOD to be getting back into the swing of things. Mid summer is usually sorta a recess period for us, a time to regroup and zero in on bolstering the basics, ya know? And after taking a little time last month to reassess Charlie's overall health, soundness, wellness, etc, I'm really diggin our new routine.

nothing like a refreshing rinse after a ride, right?
Which, naturally, includes a healthy serving of our favorite fruits and vegetables: LESSONS!! This week's episode is all about our latest round with jump trainer P at our own home barn. In case you're keeping track at home, our last ride with her was June 1 where we worked over relatively smaller fences but more technical lines and angled fences.

it was a big group on a hot day!
Since then, we had our epic xc lesson with Sally Cousins at Windurra; the gallop and pace clinic with upper level event trainer K; the disastrous dressage schooling show; the resulting hail mary vet appointment; a quiet rehab period followed by a major overhaul of Charlie's conditioning program; some super duper fun solo xc schooling at home; and finally the excellent dressage lesson at Hilltop last week.

Feeling up to speed now? Good haha. We've been kinda busy, and I'm loving it. Or at least, loving it when the busyness feels like it's contributing to my and my horse's overall well-being and training.

this is not a picture of me. rather, this is an unedited, uncropped screenshot of the video i take for my friends
This jump lesson with trainer P was no exception, either. It was almost like one big giant reunion too haha - the group was HUGE. Way bigger than it's been in months. Usually there's like, 3 of us. Sometimes 4. But on this day we had 7, spread across roughly three levels.

God bless trainer P tho, bc she is apparently endlessly tolerant when it comes to resetting all the fences a million times. Tho, by the time it was the T group's turn to do the final course, I took pity and hopped off to at least help with a few of the jumps lol.

this is me. yes, back there, behind rachael. same phone taking the video. same jump in the arena. taken from more or less the same position. and yet.... wow. quite a bit of difference in the footage. le sigh. c'mon guys, zoom is your friend. and like, it really doesn't take a lot of effort to adjust your position by a few steps so you have a clear view of the jumps! don't be that videographer!! /rant
Anyway. This ride was maybe just a couple days after our Hilltop lesson, and for whatever reason Charlie was just feeling super. Totally professional, clicked into gear, in front of my leg, eager to go forth and do the things.

Part of it might be some of the changes Jess at Hilltop had me make to my ride that made Charlie's job of going forward a bit easier. Honestly tho? I think it's the new conditioning routine. We've been clocking some serious saddle time and mileage ever since coming back into work after doing Charlie's stifles.

which is a shame, really, bc don't we need more epic shots of the most majestic charlesaurus in our lives?!?
Every single ride has included some variable combination of long slow hacking miles (yes, miles) and either a session of proper schooling or more speed work. The result is a horse who... honest to god feels pretty good to go. And ready to go when I say the word. I like it!

The lesson started off in kinda a low gear tho, something that might not normally work well for Charlie. Since we had such a varied group, trainer P introduced us to all the lines with jumps relatively small. Not like, completely microscopic. But.... Ya know. Not generally of a size to be interesting to horses used to T.

very low resolution due to post production cropping + zooming, but i'll take it <3 charlie pinged through this triple like a total rockstar!
Charlie for his part was a total saint and aced everything. Well. Except for the very first jump, a simple vertical with a trot pole out in front. Homeboy was 100% distracted by some fly or another, didn't quite realize that, Yes Sir, I was aiming him for the little fence, STEPPED on the placing pole, nearly died, then jumped out. Ahem. Cough cough, not our finest moment.

After that, tho, there was no stopping him. Surprisingly tight 90* turn to an end jump? Ok! Diagonal line in 2? Sure! Little triple of 1-strides? And another triple of 2-strides? Done and done!

ditto the above. this oxer was fucking giant and you can't even tell lol
Tho there is one downside to warming up over everything at a pretty low height :: my canter honestly wasn't quiiiiiite good enough. A little too long and flat, not quite enough bounce per ounce, ya know? It's just hard to really press the horse up and into the bridle when the jumps don't back him off at all. That is totally a cop out and a solveable training problem, I know I know, but it's true.

So when the jumps went up to proper T height (we even had one 3'6 in there, woo hoo!!!) for the full course, it was in some ways a little tricky. At a competition, your warm up fences would get up to height too -- you wouldn't just get into your course without that, right? But this was just a lesson with limited time etc, so that's what we did.

that's ok tho, even crappy footage > no footage any day!
It honestly didn't really matter tho. Charlie didn't really seem to notice the difference in height (which, ahem, meant he did in fact knock the high vertical placed as jump 2 -- which, sadly, you can only barely see in the video) - he just cruised right on along.

Tho bc our canter wasn't quite right, I ended up getting to a kinda long spot into the triple of 1-strides. Trainer P likes to set these grids at pretty compressed distances, so getting in long is nottttttt quiiiiite how you wanna do, lol. But to be perfectly honest, I didn't really believe Charlie would jump if I tried for one more. So we went for it (2:00 in the video).

Charlie's Jumping Lesson 07132019 - YouTube
footage of sleepy ponies makes it all worth it, tho, right??

And? He totally did it! And actually really jumped the snot out of the whole line - making the adjustments and answering the question. Goooood boy!

Same story for the final little triple of 2-strides. That's typically a more difficult distance for Charlie bc he has to hold it together for longer (compared to the 1-stride lines lol). Plus these fences were set a little lower than the rest and were thus less impressive. Again tho, he just went ahead and did it.

It's been a while since we did full course work at this height so it's always really reassuring when the horse goes so well for it. This wasn't the most technical ride in the world, but who cares, right? It's such a nice feeling when the horse just goes and does the thing.

Here's hoping we can hang on to that feeling bc I mayyyyy or may not have made some impulsive choices regarding our upcoming calendar LOL. Meanwhile, hope everyone out there is coping well enough with this heat wave bleh. It's brutal!
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It's safe to say that I was pretty discouraged after the disaster of our little schooling dressage show last month. I felt a bit like a moth beating myself senseless against a screen door, trying and failing to reach that sweet sweet lamp light. Dressage is.... hard, yo.

this farm is not ugly
I'm really happy with the coaching and help I've had both in learning more about dressage myself, while also trying to bring along my graceless brontosaurus. Dressage trainer C has been an invaluable resource. I'm definitely not trying to replace her or completely shift tactics or anything like that. But scheduling can be such a hustle sometimes, tho, ya know?

Plus, there was something else about that dressage show that really had me shook. Basically, I know what Charlie is and what he isn't. I'm used to his awkward way of going, and my whole team and I continue to be so thrilled with how far he's progressed over the last few years.

the amount of wildlife that has taken up residence in my truck is mildly alarming at times. this spider was pretty tho!
That's all well and fine and whatnot, but my worry is that we've all become a little blinded to how the horse appears to strangers. The first impressions are... not always great haha. But in a dressage show, they're everything, right?

So after this judge at the schooling show basically tore me apart for presenting my horse to her in his condition at that moment, I realized that we might be in for a rude awakening in any actual recognized or rated shows haha. And thus: a new idea was born. I wanted to seek out a fresh set of eyes to help assess and evaluate where we are in our training and condition, and help inject some fresh mojo in breaking through those persistent issues.

it's definitely butterfly season in maryland - these tiger swallowtails are EVERYWHERE!
Which is a long way of saying, we decided to haul up to Hilltop Farm up the Route 1 corridor for a lesson with their gold medalist Grand Prix trainer Jess.

And guys. It was awesome haha.

i spy with my little eye, a Charlesaurus in the grooming bays!
I mean, first of all the farm is friggin gorgeous. It's everything you would expect an uber fancy dressage barn to be. Pristine grounds. Luxurious rubber pavers lining all the aisleways (even the gravel drive seemed shockingly cushy). Wash room bays fully kitted out and available for use by ship-in riders. The whole nine yards, ya know?

Which proved useful bc the heavens basically opened up in a torrential thunderstorm the moment I parked. So Charlie and I quickly hustled through the deluge to get inside the safety and dry of the barn. I usually do all my setting up and tacking and whatnot at the trailer, but this honestly wasn't a terrible substitution LOL.

these wash racks have it all - cross ties, rubber flooring, hooks to hang things.... we maybe looked a bit homeless since i brought in all the stuff i'd usually keep at the trailer due to the rain
For the lesson itself, I don't actually have a ton of explicit notes. At this particular point in my riding career, honestly I feel like there's a such a distinct limit on what I can achieve myself - compared to how badly I need/crave real time instruction and guidance. In other words, I really just want more frequent lessons.

I don't want to have to remember 18 different subtle insights on my body position, core, application and timing of aids, while also trying to ride the appropriate figures and movements etc. Instead I just want someone telling me what to do, when, and how haha, in real time.

i've only seen rings like this on youtube haha
To this end, Jess had me go about my warm up mostly on my own at first, before identifying some key areas to work on. These mostly revolved around known issues and weaknesses that I've worked on with dressage trainer C too -- something that's always reassuring when different trainers agree haha.

the other trainer was in there schooling his upper level horse too. i made charlie watch haha
Highlighted issues were:

- The connection isn't very good bc I don't hold a steady contact and allow little moments of slack into the reins
- Charlie's tempo is actually a bit too fast (he was very nicely forward for this ride, compared to the slug he often is at home...)
- I've previously worked on getting him to "squirt forward" when I put my leg on, but perhaps he's ready to graduate from that and I need to instead start focusing on steadiness in tempo.
- On a related note, our transitions are too hollow -- a symptom of the poor connection and inconsistent tempo. Canter transitions were particularly wretched.
- Our straightness is also kinda a biggie - we have too much bend in the neck and not enough in the body (naturally I told her this shows up in a big way in our jumping too...)
- For some movements, like leg yields, my leg positioning was backwards. I want to swing my inside leg back, but actually need to keep it up by his elbow.
- We're also nowhere near round enough at the canter.

my signal wasn't great so the gps tracking isn't very accurate, but you can get a good idea of the facilities
For me, the biggest takeaways were those first two items: the connection and the tempo.

Tempo is a tricky thing to address with Charlie bc he can be a very different horse in different environments and situations. In some ways he's a lot easier to ride away from home when he's less sure about what's happening and less distracted by wanting to go back to his stall.

For this lesson, he was absolutely on his best behavior. Forward and in front of my leg with minimal effort. Which, obviously, is extremely pleasant to ride haha. It's just not how we normally go. Normally I'm asking for more, more, more. But actually, even tho it felt a little alien, the feeling when we got the tempo right was very good.

the drive home was a bit dicey tho...
The whole idea is to arrive at a tempo and balance wherein Charlie doesn't feel like he's sorta snow-balling somersaulting over his front end. When he gets too fast, he sorta starts running downhill a bit and loses all his adjustability. When I can get him a bit slower in the tempo even as we keep the energy up, it's easier for him to shift more weight behind and carry a longer stride without getting heavy up front. If that makes sense haha.

the conowingo dam is always a joy in nasty weather lol
The other biggie, the connection, is something I'm really excited about. I've had bad hands and bad contact for as long as I've been riding dressage. It's really hard for me to hold a steady contact on any horse bc I'm so rigid and locked through my shoulders and back that I feel like I'm just hanging on the horse. So instead, I compensate by holding a longer rein with sorta floppy forearms that allow a lot of intermittent slack into the reins.

Dressage trainer C has been trying to help me with this for years, but it's just.... hard, ya know? This new coach Jess was actually able to help phrase things a little differently in such a way that I was maybe able to make some good changes.

Basically the issue is in my shoulders. She described the need for my forearms to be almost like "guardrails" or "chopsticks." In other words, fixed solid objects. My fingers can move, and my elbows should be soft and following. But everything in between should basically be still.

back on dry ground, doing our warm up hack with a little poneh. charlie is OBSESSED with these ponies. it's cute bc he's a horse. but.... if he had a mustache and drove a van someone would DEFINITELY call the cops lol
And instead I need to be thinking about giving through my shoulders. For me, I was kinda focusing on the spot between my two shoulder blades. Tho it was tricky haha bc when I'd be thinking about softening my shoulders I'd also inadvertently collapse my core.... So clearly I need to work on developing more independence between those body parts.

Regardless, I'm not sure I ever got it quite right, but even just that subtle shift made a huge difference in Charlie's steadiness. A difference that has stayed with us in all our rides since then too. For me, that's a huge key in determining the success of a ride. Can we reproduce, at least in part, some of the results we got in the lesson? In this case, the answer is definitely yes.

somebody, not naming any names, but somebody may or may not have learned a thing or two about connection
In all our rides since then, Charlie has actually been super. Going forward, in front of the leg, and pretty steady in the bridle. Actually, we finally had another jump lesson with trainer P too (details coming on that) and the #slug was literally nowhere to be found. Charlie was just straight up clicked into gear and a downright pleasure to ride.

I'm not sure all the credit goes to this one single dressage lesson haha. But still, it's always really nice when the horse feels so happy in his work, especially as we feel like we're having little breakthroughs.

So I'm pretty pleased with the lesson and eager to get the next on the schedule. It also helped that the price was ridiculously affordable despite the uber-fanciness and how accomplished and well credentialed the trainers are. It's actually one of the cheapest lessons of all the folks I ride with, go figure. So yea, we'll definitely be back lol.

And maybe one of these days we'll actually be a bit more convincing in the dressage ring in front of strangers lol. Maybe...
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I dunno about all y'all, but I'm hoping for a weekend of abundant horsing haha. Which, actually got a head start already when I had my first lesson with a new Grand Prix dressage trainer a couple days ago. I don't want to spoil things but it mayyy have been a game changer lol. Details to come later.

In the meantime, it's business as usual. Except hot hot. Considering Charlie-specific media has been a bit lacking lately, I thought I'd trawl the archives for something that might be at least entertaining over the weekend.

Who remembers when Austen and I drove down to Great Meadow in The Plains, VA to meet up with Megan K almost exactly 3 years ago to the day? We had a wonderful day of enjoying the special magic of making friends over the internet, all while spectating upper level cross country at an event that was also highlighted as a Nation's Cup team competition.

Notably -- this particular event was required for all US Olympic team and reserve riders. Not unlike last weekend's MDHT that required all the Pan American Games team and reserve riders (if you recall, the US has yet to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 games, so the Pan Ams are kinda our last shot....) (also notable, this event required no youths to ride young horses over very large fences at speed, before said youths really understand the idea of mortality or consent to risk...).

ANYWAY. Great Meadow is something special -- the original post can be found here if you're into that sort of thing. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the video chock full of all the international heavy hitters and usual suspects ;)

Great Meadow Nations Cup CIC 3* Cross Country July 2016 - YouTube

Hope you all have an excellent summery weekend with ponies too! Any big plans on the docket?
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Ok, confession time. Idk what it was about MDHT last weekend, but there was definitely some sorcery in the air.

Possibly induced by a day spent in the hot sun (but probably toooootally unrelated to all the day drinking, right?). Or the fact that a giant ass thunderstorm rolled through and we found ourselves cloistered up in the VTO tent, which happened to be running some killer sales....

fairly standard outfit. the shirt changes depending on my mood (and the heat, bleh), and obvi my boots have since been updated to something a little lighter in color (below), but typically we kinda ride the navy train
Regardless of the reason why, I ended up coming home with not one, but two Rodney Powell Beta3 certified body protector vests.

Which like, I already have a vest - my tried 'n true Harry Hall. And you might recall, the Harry Hall is also Beta3 certified. Beta3 being the extremely rigorous standard certification required for vests in the UK, and a higher degree of safety than we require here in the US.

Beta 3 Harry Hall
So it's a good vest. It's as comfortable and breathable as might reasonably be expected from body armor, and it's very safe.

My mom bought me the vest for my birthday the fall after I broke my leg. I was sad and depressed and not riding, and hungry for anything that made me feel like horse shows would again be in my future. And it's been a dutiful loyal soldier ever since. 

in action, also these are the color boots i wear now. oh and we've been doing the white saddle pad lately too, if that makes a difference
Plus, it matches my helmet cover perfectly, right? And Navy is kinda my jam. So it works out. I kinda wish the vest wasn't so bulky, but I don't know if such a thing exists with this level of safety certification haha!

But yea. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is now for some ungodly reason, I am the proud (?) owner of THREE vests. Each quite different from the others. I don't need three vests tho, I honestly don't even really need two... tho maybe it would be nice to have options?? Maybe? Idk.

So here's where I need your help. I probably should not keep at least one, but maybe two of these vests. Meaning the others will likely be offered for sale.

Beta 3 Rodney Powell in lavender
I'm terrible at making these types of decisions, to be honest. Mostly bc I tend to be a bit change resistant and am inclined to think my navy Harry Hall works quite nicely anyway, and that maybe the brand new Rodney Powells will be easier to sell anyway. But.... Sometimes I wonder if a zip closure up the front, like both the RPs, is more flattering than the buckle closure of the HH. 

And the idea of a paler color actually strikes me as a distinct advantage in hotter conditions, when I'll do literally anything to limit my risks of sunstroke. 

Also worth noting as you evaluate these images: in competitions (where we'll get the most photos, so obvi it matters haha) I wear a pinny that covers the majority of the front and back of the vest. See the pics above for examples. 

Beta 3 Rodney Powell - in black. sliiiightly different model than the lavender, too
I like the idea of the black bc perhaps of any color it's likeliest to be the most flattering and slimming fit, and this particular vest is also pretty streamlined. But that also means it's probably going to be the easiest to sell so.... Idk if I want to get that attached to it.

sorry the color isn't super balanced
It is a nice vest tho.... But do I really want to go any deeper into the Navy / Black depths than I've already gone??? (see the black half pad and girth in the pics above to see what I mean) It's hard to say, really.

So yea. I don't really know here. I can rationalize reasons to keep each of these vests, or, um, ALL of them haha. But that's not super practical haha. So I need to make a choice. What would you do? Or, conversely, if there's a vest here that you personally might be interested in, let me know that too (fraidycat.eventing at gmail). They're all more or less Women's Medium.
Any thoughts appreciated here haha!
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I learned to jump at a small private barn as a young rider and teen, and had chances to play around with small fences while volunteering at a trail barn in the summers. But it wasn't really until college that I started to learn the finer points of coursework at a hunter/jumper farm in Rochester.

It was here that I learned how to ride a proper hunter course, including counting strides and simple lead changes. Plus occasionally we spiced it up with more advanced lines like roll backs, loops and commas. Lesson horses at this farm generally topped out at 2'6 as a rule, tho the more advanced horses who didn't work as much were allowed the occasional 2'9 fence.

As you might imagine, hunter courses on schoolies could get boring fast for brave fearless infallible college students (ahem, cough cough). So my trainer kept things interesting by letting her more advanced students ride all the greenies that came through the lesson program.

This way, the greenies got the mileage they needed to be ready for a broader range of rider skill levels. And the riders were able to have fun and experience more variety, all with the jumps staying within the mandated size range.

show jumping might actually be this horse's best phase at present, much to my amazement lol
So. Long story short, throughout this period of my riding life, I learned a LOT about riding 2'6 hunter courses haha. And a lot about introducing green horses to that style of work. It was a useful education that was loads of fun while staying relatively safe.

This education has served me reasonably well in getting started with eventing too. Mostly I already knew how to string a course of fences together. Thanks to riding hunters for so long, I already had a grasp on the importance of prompt lead changes (simple or otherwise), staying balanced through the ends of the ring, and using my eye to line up my turns and approaches to related distances.

And about those related distances, in hunter land the most common course type is some mirrored variation of "inside, outside, inside, outside / side, diagonal, side, diagonal" plus maybe a few singles. So as a rider of these courses, I'd basically go into the ring thinking something along the lines of, "Ok the outside lines are 7 strides and the diagonals are 5. Keep a steady rhythm and get the same strides all around and you'll be golden!"

Boyd Martin WINNING Show Jumping // MDHT Open Preliminary with Bonito - YouTube
Prelim Eventing Show Jumping

Show jumping courses tend to be quite a bit different in construction. The fences are often airier with less fill, compared to solid-looking hunter fences with all their boxes and flowers and panels etc. SJ fences also often lack ground lines.

The courses don't follow the same rubric as hunters either. There's no standard track pattern, but rather standard elements present in courses for each level. This might include an in-and-out related line (1 or 2 strides), a triple combination, bending lines, or roll backs. There are also different styles of fences that can show up too - liverpools, triple-bars (oxers with three rails instead of two), fences with panels instead of rails, etc.

Obviously another major difference between show jumping vs hunters is how it's judged: time and faults, and nothing more. In eventing, the score is based on an optimum time: come in at or below this time and you accrue no additional penalties. Come in over time and you earn penalty points for each second over time.

Personally, I haven't ridden many timed show jumping courses so the clock isn't something I have a ton of experience managing. At most events tho, and esp at the lower levels, it doesn't really seem to be an influential difference maker in final placings.***

Caroline Martin & Cheranimo // MDHT CCI2*-S Show Jumping - YouTube
2* Eventing Show Jumping

Basically it's up to the rider to manage how to ride cleanly at the appropriate speed for whatever level they're doing. Assuming we're comfortable with that speed, and have schooled all the expected types of combinations and fence styles... Well, honestly, my approach to riding an eventing SJ round isn't all that different from my hunter days. 

In other words, I learn my course, learn the striding in the combinations. Focus on getting prompt lead changes in my corners, re-balancing as needed in the ends of the ring, and lining up my turns and approaches to each combination. Sure, the patterns are different, but that's kinda it, right? It's still just all about the good basics of rhythm, track and balance.

That impression hasn't really changed for me at all through these past few years of watching eventing show jumping. 

Even at the highest levels of eventing, the courses sorta seem like this. Almost like a mix-n-match assortment of the various combinations and fence types expected for the level, with some longer runs and turns and approaches in between each combo to set up for everything. 

Daniel Clasing & MW Gangster's Game // Morven Spring HT 2019 // Open Intermediate - YouTube
Intermediate Eventing Show Jumping

Those gaps between combos might not always happen in the "ends of the ring" like they would in a hunter round, but the effect is sorta the same. The course flows in pieces, with a combination of related distances and longer "prep" zones. Does that make sense?

Pure show jumping, on the other hand, is far less familiar to me. Sure, I've done some lower level local jumper shows over the years - but honestly never really treated them differently than my eventing show jumping courses. 

I've seen the Grand Prix show jumping on video, but never actually in person before watching the invitational Grand Prix held at Kentucky this year. And.... wow, it struck me as really different. Maybe somehow the camera movements or cuts make it harder to follow on video, but in person what really stood out to me was.... there really were NOT any of those "gaps" between combinations. 

Oliver Townend WINS LRK3DE 2019 with Cooley Master Class - YouTube
5* Advanced Eventing Show Jumping

Every single portion of the track seemed like an explicitly measured distance. Like, in the Karl Cook video below there is literally no distance between fences greater than 11 strides (at least, not on the lines he took). That might not exactly be a "related distance" -- it's reasonably easy to get more variation in that amount of space -- but it's definitely NOT a lot of breathing room.

My impression watching those rounds was that every rider knew exactly how many strides they planned to do between each and every fence on course.

Compare that to the MDHT or Morven videos where there are distinct gaps of longer runs between each of the combinations. Even in Oliver Townend's 5* Kentucky round there are some runs substantially longer than that. 

To me, this is fascinating. Like, we always hear about how it's so important to hold your balance and quality of canter, shape and form etc, consistently throughout an entire show jumping round in eventing. But the reality is that there is generally time and space built into the courses to recover if you get strung out or lose it a bit.

Karl Cook wins the KY CSI3* Invitational Speed Round with Callou 24 - YouTube
3* Grand Prix Ranking Class - Pure Show Jumping

Whereas at least in this one example of Grand Prix show jumping, any lapses in balance, pace or canter almost always caught up to the rider with a rail somewhere along the track. The only exceptions were those most freakish jumpers who could jump from seemingly anywhere haha. In that way, it seemed like a much more substantial test haha (not even considering how much bigger the fences are lol!).

Obviously we already know that eventing isn't really about show jumping, in the same way it isn't about dressage either. Advanced level eventing dressage tests are roughly equivalent to 3rd level pure dressage, after all. And this little comparison tells me, unsurprisingly, that it's the same situation in SJ too. The highest eventing show jumping tests are more or less equivalent to a mid-range pure show jumping course.

This isn't unexpected tho, right? Eventing is an entirely different kind of test for horse and rider.

It's interesting tho. I feel like I still have so much to learn about jumping haha, let alone courses above 3'. But upon watching the Kentucky Invitational class above, part of me suddenly had a very deep urge to try a lesson or clinic with a proper show jumper one of these days. I'm curious how their perspective might be different from the eventers I've ridden with.

We'll see, tho. What do you think? Do you see differences between the two types of disciplines in the videos above? Have you ridden in multiple jumping disciplines -- maybe you agree with some of my comparisons between them? Or disagree and think I've kinda oversimplified things? Do you generally think that good jumping is good jumping, no matter what the discipline? Or maybe there are important stylistic nuances distinguishing each sport that I'm missing?


***Yes I totally scraped all the 2018 FEI eventing results from Event Entries live scoring and ran some calculations. Roughly 18% of FEI eventing competitors had time faults in show jumping in 2018, tho only 5% did so without also accruing jumping faults. These riders tended to be either in the top half of their class (ie, they had breathing room) or had already had trouble enough elsewhere that they weren't racing the clock. So the clock alone doesn't appear to be the difference maker in final outcomes. Happy to dig further should you be curious tho haha!***
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Word on the street is that there's been a bit of a heat wave lately. It's been hot, yo. And plenty humid too, bc why not, right? July in Maryland is .... a swampy jungle-y experience.

are you tired yet of these pictures Austen took from our ill-fated dressage show?? TOO BAD 
We've more or less kept riding tho. To be honest, there really aren't many conditions that I wouldn't ride in if riding is I want to do. Like sure, it's always important to be mindful of the horse's general condition, including baselines for temperature, pulse, respiration etc.

The level of exertion we ask for as riders should stay within a horse's appropriate TPR ranges, for instance. And in very hot, sticky temperatures, you may be likely to hit some of those margins sooner than you would in nicer weather.

meanwhile, it's been the dog days of summer around the barn. and, uh, cat days too apparently. i kinda love the fact that this pup and the cat are basically the same size LOL
Plus obviously in different seasons it's important to consider what type of ground is available for riding. Here in Maryland, during the summer time we often end up with parched, rock hard ground -- with even the arenas becoming hard and dusty. So ya know, footing is often a consideration when trying to plan out my ride on any given day.

Generally, tho, my philosophy when it comes to schooling in sub-optimal conditions is: if I would show in it, I should school in it too. In other words, if I wouldn't want to forfeit an expensive entry for a show bc it was hot outside, then maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and condition myself and my horse to working in those same situations as needed.

i spy with my little eye: a brontosaurus invading his neighbor pony's hay manger. why yes, there is a wall there lol
Per the vet's orders, I shouldn't entirely avoid conditioning Charlie to the extremes anyway. Meaning - I shouldn't only ever ride him in perfect 70*F temps on only the fluffiest most well groomed surfaces. Or, at least, I shouldn't only ever do that if I ever expect him to be physically able to perform in literally any other condition too.

you're a goober charlie, but we love you anyway
Obviously your mileage may vary here -- I know literally tons and tons and TONS of riders who have narrower (or wider, for that matter) limitations for what they will ride in. Some of my barn mates never step foot outside of the arenas, while others never step foot *in* them haha.

There are horses at my farm who were born there and will probably live out the rest of their days without ever leaving. While others are out and about every weekend, or even traveling with the seasons. Diff'rent strokes and such.

aw womp, methinks this bonnet too sma :(
I honestly don't really think there are many wrong answers so long as the horse and rider are healthy happy and having fun, ya know?

So for my purposes, when I feel like riding? And my horse is physically up for it? Well, ya know, I go riding haha.

this one is a bit better. will be better still once we get that fringe off!
Lately I've been starting all my rides with brief hack-abouts in the fields, woods, or pasture lanes. Generally I'm shooting for roughly 15-20min of this, including at least a circuit or two of trot, before heading to a ring for a more proper school.

The benefits are that my horse is fully warmed up by the time we hit the ring. The warm up could be as meandering and low key as needed considering whatever conditions we had. Mostly just wandering along while still taking advantage of hills and slopes and changeable terrain to help Charlie get loose and swinging.

"yes hello i would like to share my boogers with you" - charlie, probably
Then, by the time we reach the actual arenas and I want to do a jump school or dressage ride? I feel like I can get straight to it. Immediately ask the horse to be forward and in front of my leg.

This distinction I think matters more for me than the horse. I'm admittedly notorious for maybe kinda not demanding enough during that warm up period, and then it becomes hard to convince the horse 10-15min into a ride that suddenly now my expectations have changed.

However, if those two phases of the ride (the lazy warm up then the purposeful work) happen in different places, mentally it's easier for me to shift gears. Does that make sense?

if only they made full-body bonnets tho :(
And that way, once we're in the ring and I want to get down to business, we can be more efficient about it bc I'm more clear in my expectations. In a way, I see this as a kindness in hot nasty weather. I don't want to circle around forever and ever and ever in a mediocre, behind-the-leg shuffle.

No no, once we're in the ring, we Go, Sir, Go! And get the job done. Get in, go immediately to work. Insist from the first step into the ring that "now we are doing the things!"

soft ground and a break in the heat wave meant a little speed work in our latest ride! yellow = trot, pink = canter
We're also lucky at my farm to have so many options for where to ride. I've actually taken it a little bit as a personal challenge to keep as much variety as possible in our hacks. Ideally, that warm up phase should be pleasant and relaxing and a nice way to unwind after work and traffic for me, and a day spent in the stall for Charlie.

we're so lucky to have so many options for riding out!
The variety can still be tricky tho, since most of these fields have horses turned out in them. So, ya know. Gates. Plus the one main route out with the fewest gates has a major section totally washed out and eroded away.

This is a real bummer bc it leads to those woods in the top left above, one of my favorite places for trot sets esp when the ground is suuuper hard. There are other ways to get out there tho, including a couple gates that I'm trying to get better about dealing with. Mostly tho we've been in the fields lately, despite the bugs.

so. many. bug bites. so. itchy.
At least with a couple of the main fields, there are jumps in the fence line that Charlie can do no problem. Some of them normally have hot wire up on them, but for whatever reason lately have been opened up. Not sure if that's on purpose or not haha, but obviously Charlie and I will take any short cut we can get!

And so far I feel like I can actually feel a real difference in how the horse is going, even just two weeks into this new approach to our conditioning.

fwiw this will probably be my last sight before being unceremoniously smooshed by horse ass
I feel like the quality of our work in the ring is better, sooner. We waste less time futzing around, and Charlie seems to understand that if he just gets along with it, we'll be done in the ring sooner. This is kinda a nice change of pace from always feeling like we need to spend 40min+ in the ring no matter what, in order to ensure Charlie and I are getting an appropriate level of exercise.

Likewise, the major increase in hacking out has also had major benefits for Charlie. For the first time in basically.... ever, Charlie feels like he can maintain his pace and balance when trotting and cantering down a hill, vs speeding up. Like, it's obviously still a work in progress bc he's always gonna be a big awkward horse, but it's a noticeable change.

He's also getting a lot better about handling slight variations in the terrain. Little dips here, slight pitches there. I've always credited riding him out with helping teach him better footwork... but even now we're STILL seeing improvements just by getting out more often. His increased feelings of confidence on his feet translate directly into my own confidence in allowing him to be more forward on changing ground. Always a bonus haha!

it's a very itchy bum tho!!
More than anything else, tho, we really are already starting to see a difference in his fitness. Charlie was already a fit horse this summer -- definitely plenty fit enough for novice. But in a way it feels like a more holistic level of condition now. Especially when it comes to things like his willingness to pick up and go again after a break. Or his recovery time once a ride ends.

So even despite the heat, I think we've both been really enjoying this new approach to our rides. It's been a little while since our last lesson (the epic xc school at Windurra with Sally Cousins), but I'm eager to get back out there and see if all our work makes a difference there too. We'll see, hopefully soon!

Is there anything you do differently when it's very hot out? Do you still ride? If so, are there any extra steps you take to help your horse either before or afterward? Have you also found that an increased focus on conditioning work improves your horse's ability to do well in the heat? Or do you kinda figure that maybe the worst of summer is sorta like the worst of winter: the perfect time for a little break??
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Phew, the Monday after a long weekend is always a bit of a doozy, right? This past week / weekend was so jam packed I almost can't remember everything I did.

Boyd Martin won the 3* with Pan Am Games-bound Tsetserleg
Sure, there was plenty of riding. Some July 4th fireworks, naturally. A few World Cup games... A graduation party, some nights out with friends. Spectating at a low key local jumper show, and then turning right around to spectate again for Loch Moy Farm's epic CCI3*-S division (plus all the rest of their FEI and HT divisions).

Ya know. Some stuff haha. Oooh and some shopping too, tho that'll have to wait til later.

and. ya know. he also won the Open Prelim with Bonito. like ya do.
Part of me was sad to sacrifice my regular weekly jump lesson to go check out the show. But.... Yea it was totally worth it haha. It feels like a worthwhile trade off anyway, esp since Chuck and I have been doing our best to follow doctor's orders, and have been incorporating more jumping into our weekly regimen. More on that later, too, tho.

Maryland Horse Trials CCI3*-S Cross Country Compilation - YouTube

My main priority for spectating at Loch Moy was to get enough footage for another badass FEI compilation video. Mission accomplished haha, see the above.

Honestly there are so many incredible moments from the video that it would have been nearly impossible to try to pick and choose just a few screen grabs to share with y'all. Possibly I  might go back and do that later, but for now you just get the video. Please consider sharing it too, since admittedly my own YouTube audience is basically like.... my mom, my cousin, and maybe a couple of their neighbors LOL.

Included in the video are some insane combinations like a sunken road, MDHT's notoriously giant leaf pit, and a crazy roller coaster line through the water. All ridden by top class riders and horses, since this event served as a formal run for the US's selected Pan Am team.

picture unrelated: probably neither a Pan Am mount or prelim horse haha, but still my best most handsomest boy <3
pc Austen Gage
Anyway tho, I hit up the show with Austen and her huskies (after having already watched Austen's little jumper show the night before, a story I'm sure she'll share eventually lol). For the 3* class I made it my business to hustle around the entire course, moving quickly from jump to jump, in order to snag all the footage.

After that, tho, it was time to park our swampy selves in some shade. Just relaxing with the cooler full of various beverages haha (beer-mosas, anyone?) and enjoying watching all the divisions and pretty horses go. Which felt like a fitting end to a very long holiday weekend, ya know?

any busy weekend is worth it when i get to see this face! pc Austen Gage
More to come later on the state of things with Charles (short story: shit's good, y'all), and my latest and greatest plans etc. Until then, tho, I'm getting caught up on my sleep schedule, and, uh, ahem, possibly in cleaning up the house and buying groceries too. Details details.

Did anyone else in the States take advantage of the long weekend? Was it equally jam-packed with random escapades, or perhaps you took advantage of having some extra opportunities for down time?
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Charlie has been back in work for about a week since our vet appointment. If you recall, the whole point of that appointment was to take a fresh look at Charlie's overall wellness, including comprehensive evaluations via ALL of the flexions haha.

The long and the short of it was that Charlie overall is a sound horse with no real issues precluding him from doing all the things I want to do. Which, ya know, is always SUPER NICE to hear from a vet lol. I will never ever EVER get tired of listening to a vet tell me my horse is sound. Ever. Ahem, cough cough.

pro tip: eeting entire giant branches of maple leaves (not the red ones tho) will apparently make for sounder happier horses lol.... who knew?!? /sarcasm
There were a few pieces of low hanging fruit tho -- a few steps we could take to help improve Charlie's margins. Obviously getting him back into leather pads up front was a huge priority to address his foot soreness. Luckily that happened early last week.

The other biggie was joint injections in Charlie's stifles. He got them while on the track as a racehorse, but I hadn't touched them since. Now was the time, tho. And actually the vet seemed to think this wouldn't likely become part of our regular maintenance anyway. My hope is that getting him more comfortable on the stifles now will allow us to put better and stronger muscle around the joint via conditioning. So that the joint stays comfortable and supported for longer. We'll see how that all works out haha.

this variation of cross country is probably not what the vet had in mind when she told us to "do more."
Because ultimately, the vet saw Charlie's case as predominantly revolving around better conditioning for his entire system. She wanted me to be more focused in integrating more frequent bursts of higher impact, higher intensity work into Charlie's work cycles.

Which like, c'mon, who on earth would be sad to hear a vet telling you to gallop and jump your horse more often?!?! That's basically the best medical prescription evar lol...

So I've spent the time since that appointment meditating on what that might actually look like for us. What changes need to happen in the routine I've cultivated over the last couple years?

Honestly I think we just need more.... more. Of everything. Remember our 2017 #adultcamp field trip to Windurra for a guided tour by Boyd Martin? During which I asked about his fitness and conditioning programs for his horses? To this day I STILL regret not recording his answer, bc he gave so much detail so quickly that my notes after the fact were seriously lacking. Sigh.

legit the only pic i currently have of charlie's fresh leather pads up front. if you're interested tho, there's footage in the helmet cam below!!
Anyway, the general gist was that his horses all get ridden a lot. My notes were:

"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. 

...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."

It's funny in retrospect looking back on those notes, bc you can see right away that I fixated on the sheer amount of low intensity work. While apparently ignoring the fact that it's balanced by frequent, tho shorter, high impact sessions.

i put a microphone muff on my helmet cam to reduce wind noise. jury's out on whether it worked or not.
Anyway, that type of schedule is obviously challenging when you don't have a veritable army of working students eager to toil away at hacking out your upper level champions haha. This is further complicated when considering that most of us adult amateurs live the 9-5 work life. There just isn't time in the day for that, ya know?

So I'd settled into a schedule where the conditioning happens on some days, and the higher intensity on other days. My theoretical weekly routine consisted of: two conditioning type rides - one a long walking hack, the other trot sets. Two to three focused dressage schools. And one jump lesson.

Tho obviously in reality the schedule changes constantly. Because #reallife, yo. But even still. In light of how the vet reacted when I described all the low intensity, low impact work I do with Charlie, I think that whole approach above needs an overhaul.

we've seen this bench a bunch before!
So my first edit is to stretch out the length of every ride. But not in the form of longer "schooling," if that makes sense. Charlie doesn't necessarily need to do focused dressage for 45 minutes. At least at this point in our combined training, we're generally better off aiming for closer to ~20min of really focused purposeful work. Not including the warm up or breaks. Anything longer than that and our quality degrades as the horse tires.

The warm up remains critical tho, especially now that the horses are stalled during the day. Meaning Charlie's been relatively stationary for hours by the time I get out to ride him. Maybe some horses can come out of the stall feeling loose and supple and ready to rock 'n roll, but Charlie is DEFINITELY not that horse haha. Homeboy gets stiff.

My plan is to basically do a little bit of hacking out / conditioning as our warm up for every ride, instead of as its own ride. This could be walking or trotting the fence lines, wandering the trails, or hitting up the cross country fields, whatever, right?, for at least 20min before making our way to the arena for a proper school.

oooh but this is new! this jump is SO COOL, GUYS OMG haha
The added bonus of this approach is that since we're already fully warmed up by the time we reach the arena, we can get straight to work. No moseying around on the buckle for ten minutes. No confusion about being lazy or behind my leg. The moment we step into the ring, we are on the clock, so to speak.

Long time readers may see how this can be an advantage for a horse who isn't always the most forward thinking haha. It's always been a challenge to stay disciplined about insisting on forward. But I'm thinking that this approach of reserving the ring for proper work will help Charlie get with the program faster.

Meanwhile, the lengthier warm ups out on terrain and up and down hills will serve the dual purpose of increasing our overall time spent conditioning. Ideally, we'd be able to do a second little hack-about after finishing schooling too. Tho in practice this thought has not translated as quickly to action.

The other big change to our program is just plain old JOMPING. Doing more of it, more frequently. Not necessarily more jumps per school, but more frequent schools. Right now in my mind this means more frequent sessions of anywhere from 10-20 jumps. Either in the stadium ring, or out on xc.

oooh we have TWO of these roll tops now, the one with the aqua top is in another field as a combination, yass!
To be honest, tho, I'm likelier to take those extra jumps out on the xc course. For one simple reason: No jump crew needed haha. Bc let's be real, Charlie is not exactly careful.

Plus. Cross country is fun. Obvi haha. Right??

So this week I really tried to put my money where my mouth was. And after a careful return to full work, and after we missed our normal weekly jump lesson again for reasons and stuff, I made it my business to get our butts out into the xc fields.

Per usual, I started second guessing myself and rationalizing why maybe we shouldn't or whatever as the time drew nearer. But dammit, this was vet-mandated, wasn't it?? I gotta be super honest in saying that's such a nice ace to have up my sleeve when my nerves start jangling haha. It doesn't have to be a very serious ride, doesn't have to be long or crazy or anything like that, but it *does* have to include some jompies. Vet's orders. Boom.

first time jumping this T table thingy! full disclosure: our turn to it was not my best work. needs moar straightness!
And how could I resist anyway? I had gotten out to the barn in the morning before the worst heat of the day. The cross country course was freshly set up and mowed. The fields were empty as most herds are stalled for the day. And I came complete with helmet cam and studs. A recipe for success, no?

So out we went haha. And, well. It wasn't exactly the most mind blowing schooling session in the world, I'll be totally honest. Charlie and I haven't jumped anything since our epic cross country lesson with Sally Cousins at Windurra almost 4 weeks ago. Plus I had foolishly put a plain loose ring snaffle on the horse, instead of our normal elevator. Whoops haha.

It was totally fine tho. Actually, it was kinda nice getting run away with again after working so hard for so long on being more forward lol. Silver linings??

look who's turning into such a gate professional!
Regardless, we kept it really simple. Our first field contained a bunch of jumps Charlie's seen a million times before. A couple BN efforts to warm up, then the N bending line from last year's Jenny Camp course.

And then a SUPER RAD skinny nestled between two trees in the fence line. I've wanted to jump this sucker FOREVER tho. And not just bc it saved us a gate haha. It just.... idk, it always looked really cool. It's not the tallest or widest jump in the world, but the way it's situated between trees it usually ends up on the T or M courses. Anyway, I was super pumped to try that, and Charlie jumped the SHIT out of it haha, good boy!

That whole little session was about half a dozen jumps plus going up / down the banks. So I figured we'd just go to the water for a little extra work before calling it a day. If we're actually going to do this every week, there's no need to cover everything in a single ride, right?

awww his goofy faces just kill me tho <3 <3 <3
Plus I had in mind all those videos Boyd Martin just posted wherein they schooled all the horses over more or less similar variations of course work depending on the horse's level. A quick warm up. A couple biggies. And some more technical efforts with more forgiving jumps. Then done. Seemed like a solid recipe to me, so that's what I tried to do too.

Once at the water, we kept it really simple: cantering through just the water alone first. Next going from the water to the N boat house, and then reversing that same line. Then moving to the T roll top to the water. Tho we kinda biffed it the first time, so had to repeat. Same story with the last single T table we did, another new jump for us.

We were a little short, then a little long, not quite getting the bigger jumps as cleanly out of stride as I would have liked. But I'm chalking that up to being rusty and not jumping often enough lately haha. And in a way it's kinda nice seeing that Charlie feels confident enough with the height / width of these jumps to make easy enough work from less than perfect distances.

Another FUN XC ride with Charlie // plus untacking + bath time 06302019 - YouTube
helmet cam video here! complete with footage from getting back to the barn to untack, take the studs out, and hose the horse off. in case any of y'all are into behind-the-scenes looks ;) let me know if you like that!

Obvi I'm not going to give up on carrying the drum beat of, "dear god but we need more xc lessons" just because the vet told me to jump more often. But it *is* somewhat liberating to have that thought in mind. It's nice to shift my mindset away from "saving" the horse or wanting to "limit" how many efforts he faces.

Instead of being consumed by "making every effort count," I can appreciate that just getting out there and doing a little bit at a time is still important and good for both of us. Because let's be real, I need more mileage in general too. Not even specific to trying to jump bigger or harder fences. But just practicing being in the moment and working on my eye, my position, our pace. All that good stuff.

So we'll see. I'm excited about taking this new approach to Charlie's and my conditioning. Especially as it makes me feel like I've got more options when scheduling lessons gets challenging.

And possibly more important than all the rest, I feel like I've got a mandate straight from the horse's vet's mouth to plain old have more FUN with my horse. Obviously an exciting prospect haha.

Have you likewise ever had to do a complete overhaul of your horse's schedule? Or ever been told something that completely flipped your mindset in how you approach conditioning your horse?
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Summer is HERE, yo. Maryland very recently decided to get with the Heat+Humidity program, after what was honestly a pretty mild and enjoyable spring. We've had enough rain to keep the ground from being too too hard (and luckily not nearly as much rain as last year, dear god), but it's still pretty dry out there.

my pet cat + my pet turkey. guess which is which haha
Which, ya know. Is fine by me. It's been a quiet few days around here as Charlie worked through his brief mandated post-stifle-injections stall rest.

Every vet seems to be a little different in how much (if any) stall rest they want for the horses, and I think it depends on the exact formulation they used in the injections. This vet wanted roughly three days, but basically unlimited (controlled) hand walking and grazing during that period.

what do you do when you can't ride? obvi work on your gif editing #skillz lol
Which was perhaps a good thing. Charlie has historically been pretty good about stall rest. But he's also historically had stall rest for REASONS. Like, ya know, when he had surgery on that god forsaken splint. In retrospect, I'm guessing he understood that he didn't feel well or that he was hurting, and so the stall rest suited him at that time.

farewell trail ride for a longtime friend and young rider, off to pursue her dreams!
For this, tho, it's not like he was sick or injured or anything like that. Nothing felt bad. We just wanted to give the joint juice a chance to settle or something, I guess. So maybe from Charlie's perspective he couldn't understand his confinement. And homeboy was PISSED lol.

tho naturally it can't be a group trail ride through the overgrown jungle without at least a little fuckery haha
Thank god that's over haha, and we're getting back into business now. We even finally got the pads on up front earlier this week. Tho it was a bit early in the shoeing cycle so the trim is a bit short. My guess is Charlie might continue to be a little sore on those tootsies for perhaps a few more days, but that's ok.

They finally (FINALLY) got all our xc jumps moved back out into the fields this week too, after they'd been sitting in a pile out front since coming home from Shawan in May ugh. Charlie's happy to go wandering around on the relatively softer grassy fields while I scope everything out and fantasize about jumping all the things haha.

oooooooh is pretty Verhan!!! i'm all about those half blocks, yo
Meanwhile, I've done what every reasonable horse person does when their horse is laid up: SHOPPED!! Obviously, at first slightly ambitiously haha -- like when this gorgeous Verhan dressage saddle came home with me on trial from Maryland Saddlery.

The thing looks brand new, is 18", currently set at a medium tree but is apparently fully adjustable, plus has those half blocks that I love so much.

back before vet bills, when i was feeling good about making foolish choices haha
The actual trial ride tho was.... Meh, kinda disappointing. Probably not helped by the fact that it was one of our last rides before the vet appt and I was already feeling kinda blue about Charlie shuffling around in a massively uninspiring way.

But also, the twist on this saddle felt pretty wide. At first I thought that could be an advantage bc of how it helps me re-position my pelvis (sitting more back on my seat bones instead of perching forward). As the ride went on, tho, it became more clear that this saddle would be going back. Oh well, at least trying all the things is helping my butt get more educated!

ok these are more my price range now haha -- instead of plugging your stud holes you can use these screw-in caulks
Obviously tho, returning the saddle meant another trip to Maryland Saddlery. Where I continue to have an extremely plush store credit account after that whole "KonMari my tack trunk" thing wherein I consigned a fuck ton of old junk, basically all of which sold. Yasssss.

coulda sworn i picked up some small flat road studs a while ago, but either i didn't or i lost them, womp. got 'em now tho!
I'm always fascinated by little mechanical odds ends and gadgets, esp little pieces of hardware. So even tho I still feel like a complete newb when it comes to all things stud-related, I still love poring over the stuff.

The barn mate I went on that hunter trials with had those screw-in caulks plugging her mare's stud holes instead of the typical rubber or cotton plugs. Apparently they just go in and out with the included hex tool?

Anyway, I was intrigued, so when I saw them for like $2.50 at the consignment shop, obvi they came home with me. Ditto the set of simple small flat road studs. This kinda bugged me a bit bc I'm like 97.5% sure I bought a similar set last time I was there, but can't for the life of me find them. Oh well. They were also just like $2.50 so nbd. This style stud is good for riding on roads (per the name, obvi), but also in instances where the ground is rock hard.

the pink rubber nunn finer spur straps are fun, but for $6 a pair of simple brown leather straps were a no brainer
Next up was a standard pair of brown leather spur straps. When I first got my lovely new QHP Sophia brown tall boots, I thought maybe the above pink rubber Nunn Finer straps would be fun while also being kinda less visible on the light brown.

In reality, tho, they're kinda chunky and stood out more than I expected. So these brown straps will be better for shows and stuff, I think. I do like the rubber Nunn Finers tho - they are SUPER easy and require zero maintenance. So they'll stick around for fun, or if for whatever reason I ever decide to have a second pair of spurs aside from these nudgers.

would have preferred buckle ends, but it's not every day you find such a nice set of 60" rubber reins for $25
Last little bit of equipment was a new set of reins. I've been low key browsing new reins for a while now, but so far have resisted temptation. My giant rubber Stubbens on our competition jump bridle are slowly dying, but they're at that weird sticky rubbery phase that actually helps me hang on to them well right now haha. Plus they're CRAZY long.

My schooling bridle tho just has a pair of beat up laced reins that's missing a keeper on the hook end. Plus they're not quiiiiite long enough for Charlie's brontosaurus neck (neither are my dressage reins, for that matter). So anything I picked up would have to definitely be long enough. Hopefully these 60" brand new rubber reins will do the trick!

who is even shaped like this?? i tried them on for shits and giggles haha, but dear god, no pictures
Anyway. Moving right on along. I'm really not much of an apparel girl. Most of my tops I get from the active wear section of stores like Marshalls. You can get stuff that looks identical to the cute Noble Outfitters tops but at a fraction of the price. That's a no-brainer.

I do like browsing the sections tho, and am always on the look out for the perfect pair of whites. The above were, uh, NOT that haha. I think they're Kingslands or something euro like that? Lol..

assuming i ever go to a horse show again, i've got the clothes for it!
I've wanted a new sleeveless show shirt tho ever since I picked up the new RJ Essentials show coat with mesh sleeves. Again I hate spending a lot of money on stuff like this, esp white stuff that I'm probably going to ruin with stains and poor #laundryskills within the first four times of wearing it....

But this Kerrits ice fill shirt was reasonable enough (esp considering it was paid for by all that KonMari junk lol) plus I like the cute collar pattern. It's getting reserved exclusively for recognized shows tho. If, ahem, any ever happen. Sigh.

plus who could resist a brand new pair of full seats from consignment for $36!?!
Almost by mistake I spied these Devon Aire breeches in my size out of the corner of my eye. I like the pocket detailing, the full seats, plus the silicone knee grips. And the color - stony mossy mineral-y type colors are kinda my jam lol, esp if they're on the darker side of taupe.

These have a slightly lower rise than I quite prefer, but for the price, I'm fine with slapping a belt on them and calling it a day. Esp considering I'm still rebuilding my breeches collection after finally losing all the weight gained following breaking my leg.... Bleh.

anyway. i told you there would be a zebra, right? saw this on my evening barn commute haha
Anyway lol. There were a few other odds and ends I picked up. An actual Noble Outfitters top that is suuuuuuper cute, and brand new yet steeply discounted bc #consignment4lyfe. No pictures yet tho. Also a new pinny holder bc mine somehow vanished, womp. No pictures of that either. It's a pinny holder tho. Not super exciting lol.

grazing with the ponies <3
I'm excited to start putting some of this stuff to use tho. I'm thinking I'll put the stud caulks in Charlie's front shoes asap, since those shoes just got replaced and the threads are fresh. The farrier ran out of time for the hinds, but will do them in a couple days. Then I'll get the caulks in those too.

Has anyone else ever used them instead of more traditional plugs? Did you like them? Did they become a pain to get in and out if the hex holes get very clogged?

twu wuv!
The reins will hopefully go on my schooling bridle asap so I can start conditioning my poor fingers to fresh rubber nubs haha. For whatever reason I fell off the gloves bandwagon and prefer to ride bare handed now. Tho perhaps these will change my mind? We'll see.

The new schooling apparel will also obvi go into rotation immediately. The show stuff will have to wait tho, le sigh. I was so super stoked that they finally set up our home xc course ahead of the recognized HT a little later this summer. That event was sketched roughly into my plan for the year, but alas I just learned the course closes to competitors 6wks out from competition.

charlie may think this life ain't so bad.... but i think we're both missing the xc a little bit haha
That leaves me with the choice of either doing the home show OR being able to school to my heart's delight throughout the next month and a half. Considering the vet straight up told me I don't jump my horse often enough, more schooling is definitely a high priority. So.... Unfortunately I think the trade off isn't worth it to do the show. Bummer. We can do the starter trials later in the summer tho, maybe.

Of course this is all assuming my horse is ever sound again haha. One can dream, right?? Does anyone else like to go off the deep end with shopping whenever your horse is laid up? Do you like to try to keep things practical and reasonable, or would you have gone whole hog and bought the damn saddle too?? Lol...
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Things have been nicely quiet around here the last few days. Charlie's foot soreness cropped up at basically the worst possible time in his shoeing cycle. We already know from experience that he does extremely well in leather pads during the summer months. But.... We just gotta wait for enough growth to justify a reset with pads. You know how it goes.

Meanwhile, everything sort of ground to a halt. We had planned to school xc with Sally again Tuesday a week ago. This time at Plantation, for their once-a-year schooling day that was marked on the calendar for months haha (#redemption!!!). It rained buckets the night before tho, and they pushed it back a day, which didn't work for either Sally or me.

Which honestly, was probably for the best. I had still planned to go despite the foot soreness, but wasn't committed to jumping anything. Mostly I had wanted to pick Sally's brain about all the various dos and don'ts of maintaining the Size Large event horse.

A barn mate loosely quoted Sally as saying that once you get to a certain level, the balance of focus shifts away from training and toward maintenance. Let's say, 75% maintenance and 25% training. Which makes sense to me, and I wanted to talk more to Sally about that idea.

driving into the barn i fully expected this incoming storm to drop the temps by ~10*. alas, the damn thing missed us completely and conditions remained oppressively hot humid and sticky :(
When the schooling date got moved tho, honestly I wasn't too sorry. There will be some other time to go show Plantation who's really boss haha. Plus, we were entered for the event at Seneca last weekend, so I had hoped to sorta baby Charlie through the week anyway.

Alas tho, despite having a relatively careful week, our last ride before Seneca showed Charlie to not be satisfactorily happy on those tootsies. Bleh. Drats. More entry dollars down the drain. C'est la vie, tho!

After that, I figured now might be a good time to actually make those dollars work for me. Instead of continuing to shovel out entry after entry despite my horse's knack for timing his moments of fragility, maybe it was time to bring out a pro and set new baselines.

So then it was basically a waiting game, taking things pretty easy until that eventual appointment. Which worked out nicely for me, bc a double dose of devastating personal tragedy in my other life meant that I just focused on my most fundamental needs with Charlie: breathing him in, finding solace in his quiet, peaceful company.

actual photographic representation of what we've been up to. it's maple, if you're curious
Finally, tho, our day came. I brought a vet out for a thorough evaluation of Charlie. Prepared to follow the rabbit hole as deep as she saw fit to go. Not necessarily chasing a lameness, per se, but more along the lines of looking for that low hanging fruit.

My ultimate question was, "What could we do to make Charlie more sound? To improve his margins of soundness so that we don't always feel like we're teetering on the edge -- one small ding away from forfeited entries?"

To this end, the vet started with an overall evaluation of Charlie's condition and some discussion about his complete backstory and history of injuries and/or lamenesses. She felt his general condition is quite good - the horse does in fact look great. But.... she also agreed with my "dad bod" joke haha. In other words, he's fine now, but don't let him get any heavier. And actually, for my purposes, we probably want better fitness on him.

His feet are fine, all the angles look good, the heels are good. But the feet are sliiiiiightly too small for Charlie's #SizeLarge body. The last missed shoeing appointment definitely fucked us. If you recall, I had the horse on the list to get done exactly at the 5wk mark, and the farrier bumped him another week without checking in.

I understand the farrier's perspective -- waiting longer could mean more wall growth between the compromising nail holes. Plus I'm sure many of his clients prefer to try to save a buck here or there by waiting a little bit longer.... But, honestly, Charlie just needs done. And we're paying for that extra week last cycle by probably needing to go two weeks early this cycle. Again, c'est la vie, I'll be more clear with the farrier moving forward.

charlie appreciates the ringside wildlife
The vet did find some signs of effusion in the coffin joints up front, but felt like it made the most sense to just get the horse in pads and reassess that point later only if needed.

After testing his hooves and palpating his legs, she had me jog him back and forth a couple times. To answer the million dollar question: Does Charlie present as sound??

Short answer? Yes.

Long answer? Also Yesss.

Fuck yea haha. But again, that wasn't really the point of the day tho, right? Like, the horse is generally sound. I firmly believe he is more sound today than he was when I bought him. But again, I want better margins. I want him to be moar sound, less vulnerable to disruption.

So from there we moved on to flexions. So many flexions tho. I should note - it was fucking hot and humid out. The kind of oppressive stickiness that only comes before a giant storm, except the storm front misses you so you just wilt into a puddle of denim-clad swamp ass with no relief in sight. Ahem. Cough Cough. Anyway tho.

i <3 bunnies tho
Anyway, we flexed the ever loving fuck out of Charlie haha. At least 12 individual flexions (3 per leg, I think?), each of which required me to sprint drag my lazy brontosaurus down a roughly 20m line. Back and forth, back and forth. In the sunshine on our dark dressage court footing. And then I lunged him both directions. Honestly I thought I might puke or pass out. Holy shit. Barf.

That's definitely hella more flexions than what I did in Charlie's PPE. Tho you might remember (or not, actually maybe I never told you?) that Charlie was very hoof sore plus due for his hocks when I bought him. So we kinda just rolled with it haha. In other words, yes I totally bought a lame horse. And yes, nearly three years later, I'm still working on his soundness. To be honest, tho? #noregrets #ymmv #itsnotforeveryone #charlieisthebesthorseintheworldthochangemymind #sanesound&talentedpick2 #worthit

Ahem. Anyway. The flexions. Everything up front was clean and clear. Behind was a bit more muddled, as expected. Obvi today's question is those sore front feet, but the question of tomorrow and next month and next year and of Charlie's overall future and longevity as my event horse sits squarely on his hind end.

And honestly? The vet didn't see a whole lot to worry her. Obvi it's impossible to fully isolate and flex a specific joint -- they are all so interconnected you're always stressing multiple elements of the entire apparatus. But generally, Charlie was mild on hocks but closer to moderate on stifles.

staring expansively at the distant camp kiddos and those darling ponies he's so jealous of. #ropehalter for #vetmanners lol. also, that droopy lip kills me haha
We did the hocks this past spring and did not see the results I'd hoped for. I know Charlie had his stifles done on the track, but I've never done anything for them besides general fitness work (hills, poles, etc -- building the muscle that supports the joint). So on this day, the stifles looked to be the best bang for my buck. So that's what we did.

I appreciated that after all the flexions, the vet was basically able to give me a "Top 3" list (#2 being possibly front coffins, and a distant #3 being SI) with relative weightings on when/why to pursue further options. Realistically, tho, the vet felt that Charlie was generally in good shape and nothing really stood out to her.

Likewise, she showed no signs of hesitation or concern when I told her my first foremost and forever objective was Charlie's longevity -- that I need this horse to last me, preferably forever.

And actually, she corrected me on some errors of logic that I've made when it comes to Charlie's condition. I've been extremely preoccupied with "saving" him, not "using him up," if that makes sense. So I told her all about how he seems to hold all his training fantastically despite time off, or gaps in practice. Thus I had begun to feel pretty good about only ever really jumping intermittently.

The vet was surprisingly quick to suggest this was actually not the greatest tactic. That part of conditioning means conditioning his body to impact. That if I want the horse to not be sore after an epic jump school, he needs to be jumping more often. Not necessarily max height / max impact / max speed every time. But often enough and with enough purpose to condition his joints, sinews, muscles, etc to the exertion and impact.

charlie is many things. pretty is one of them <3
Really, overall, she seemed to believe more correct conditioning would be the biggest difference maker for Charlie. And not just cardio conditioning. Not just walking and trotting hills with the occasional sprint. But the full package: asking routinely of his body the full amount of exertion I need from him, so that the bigger outings don't pack such a punch.

Writing this out almost makes me feel a little silly for not thinking it through in the same fashion of logic. But as L Williams reminded me a little while ago, this is also part of what it means for me to learn how to move a horse up. Not just accomplishing a certain size jump or certain speed, but learning how to maintain and sustain the horse throughout.

For now, I'm very heartened at this vet's relaxed casual reaction to my litany of what all I want Charlie to do for me. She thinks it's all completely reasonable -- she likes his build, likes his condition, and obvi LOVES his temperament lol (but who wouldn't?). It's just up to me to do my job to help Charlie be his physical best, including greasing the rails as needed.

Here's hoping he feels like a full one million dollars when he comes slowly back into work sometime next week. And until that point, all plans currently on hold. But after this past couple weeks of downtime, I'm allowing myself to start getting a little excited again ;)

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