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Tracy from the Printable Pony has hosted an equestrian blogger gift exchange for years and years now, and it's just straight up wonderful! Legitimately one of my first orders of business upon firing up my own little blogger machine was to sign up and participate in that year's exchange!

eeeeee i love christmas surprises!!!
Each year when I learn who my own giftee will be, I spend all sorts of time creepin and crawlin their blogs, trying to figure out what direction to go in for gifts. It's a lot of fun, tbh.

And of course, it's also been awesome to receive surprise gifts too!! Every year has been different, but always super creative and super inspired. And this year was no exception!!

this package apparently did not have an easy trip across the country...
Karley from All In drew my name this year, and sent an adorable package filled with all manner of fun stuff for me and Charlie to enjoy! The box.... Well. The USPS honestly abused the ever loving shit out of this package. Holy moly. It was banged up.

was still crammed full of goodies tho!!! full disclosure: those peppermint pretzel cookie things are GONE haha
Luckily tho, the package's contents all seemed no worse for the (extensive) wear!! It was actually kinda like opening up a clown car haha, more and more goodies kept falling out!

First up were some snacks that I'm almost (almost) ashamed to admit how quickly they were eaten up haha. Peppermint pretzels for me and candy canes for Chuck, yum!

kensington mesh bath tote with fun products and sponges!
Then a cute kensington mesh bath tote (in navy, natch!) with Show Sheen gel detangler and Ultra Shield bug repellent gel, a squishy rubber curry, a big body sponge (christened with some nice lotion by Karley's daughter haha) and a smaller bath sponge that's pre loaded with shampoo.

charlie approves <3
I like that the tote has so many pockets and straps to hold products in place, and like that it's mesh so it won't hold water and will dry quickly. Perfect for bath time!

judgey barn cat surreptitiously creepin from that random cat-sized hole in the wall also approves
The products too are pretty exciting! Like, even the big body sponge: the one that lives in my trailer has finally sorta bit the dust, so the timing for that is perfect haha. The bug repellent will have to wait for testing until next spring when all the biting flies come back to life, but the mane detangler was put immediately to good use!

bc god save you if you don't get that all-important cat stamp of approval!
With all the rain and mud lately, Charlie's honestly started to look a little homeless. Like, at least being blanketed means most of his body stays mostly ok.... But his mane and tail are straight up wild. And there's just.... so much of both of them! The way this horse grows hair is unreal ugh.

just ignore the dried mud haha and enjoy the neat and tidy mane!
In an ideal world, the mane would be pulled and a bit more tidy, and the tail freshly banged, in advance of the clinic this weekend. But.... Oh well haha. At least with the detangler the mane looks semi presentable! And we'll just have to hope for the best with everything else!

Thanks so much Karley for this thoughtful gift! And thanks Tracy for hosting every year and coordinating all the details!

And to my own secret gift recipient: Your gift is in the mail, so keep an eye out for a box from Baltimore ;)
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If you've been following along for awhile, it should come as no surprise that I have a penchant for the occasional.... rant haha. Usually it stems from a place of striving for righteous justice, sorta. Or like, empowerment. Idk.

Mostly, I rant against what I perceive as external forces getting in the way of the normal, everyday amateur rider just trying to live their best horsey lives however they see fit.

pictured: me, living my horsey life
For example, who remembers my "Constructive Criticism v Public Shaming" rant?? Wherein a judge and "understudy" (apparently self-described, see below for details) trainer from within my local circle commented negatively on a friend's facebook post.

The post was simply a picture of my friend jumping what felt like an enormous square oxer, and she was enormously proud of it. Bc horses are exciting, right? And my friends and I firmly believe we should enjoy every HIGH moment we get, bc we all know there's always another low lurking around the corner.

Anyway, read that post for the full story, but essentially that judge/trainer/troll basically felt like my friend's position wasn't good enough, she wasn't helping her horse out, was basically sucking. And even after my friend took down her post out of sheer mortification, the trainer continued the conversation her diatribe on her own business page.

It.... made me really mad. Especially bc, even when you strip away my own personal connections to that specific instance, ultimately I felt like the trainer was straight up missing the point.

is getting runaway with also considered "not helping your horse"?!?
So when this same trainer/judge/person posted the below, all those same simmering feelings of indignation immediately boiled over again haha.

Now full disclosure: bc this person is part of my loose horsey circle, and a number of riders from this circle have been discussing entering and/or auditing an upcoming clinic with Phillip Dutton, I am making what seems like a not-illogical assumption that the below is in reaction to that haha. Of course it's entirely possible that it's also coincidental. Hardly matters, to be honest.

Anyway, she writes:

My thoughts? Well, there are many. Haha.

1. Finances. The writer claims to acknowledge that finances play a role in this, but seems to limit that influence to the clinic host, rather than the clinician themselves. Fact is, tho, lessons, instruction and, yes, clinics play a critical role in business development for professional riders.

They can be a relatively steady source of income in an otherwise turbulent volatile market of fragile horses, fierce competition, and fickle sponsors. They're also a great way to continue building a brand and suite of services. A positive clinic experience often leads to repeat customers and referrals.

2. Some clinicians might actually like teaching the basics. Look no further than Janet Foy. She's built an incredible clinic format called "Through the Levels" featuring a progressive two day curriculum that's just as educational for the auditor as it is for the rider. Riders must literally apply (I believe with VIDEO) to participate, the fees are high, and auditors pay too.

And? As the title suggest, ALL levels are filled for these clinics, including Training and First. Bc even tho Janet Foy is world class in every measurable aspect, she still recognizes that upper level dressage is rooted in correct basics developed and refined through the lower levels.

pictured: charlie don't need no damn basics! at least, not according to him lol
4. Since when are training issues + homework applicable only to UL riders?! You don't have to be jumping 3'6 to recognize that drifting over a fence is a problematic habit, for example. David O'Connor has developed a practically-canned clinic format that puts riders at all levels through the same "land in the circle" exercise. And guess what? Basically everyone struggles with it. (2017 recap here, and 2015 recap here)

Just bc that particular bad habit isn't likely to cause serious issues until riders start facing turning questions or skinny fences on course doesn't mean you can't start working on it earlier in the horse and rider's education.

And that's just one example. Sure, it's true that "understudy" trainers can similarly work through these training issues. But what's wrong with getting a fresh perspective from a clinician who might be able to better explain how these issues fit into the bigger picture.

Like when my lessons with dressage clinician Stephen Birchall basically served to give me glimpses of what the future could hold for me and Isabel. (incredible Isabel lessons here and here, less insightful lessons with Shen here and Charlie here)

training issues like not wanting to touchy the water can crop up at any time!
5. I fully agree that there ARE arguments against the clinic. Some of which maybe echo some of the above writer's thoughts. Clinics are expensive. And yes, you can often derive the same insights and outcomes at a lesser cost with a more "every day" style trainer.

For example, this is the exact reason I'm not likely to ever pay to ride with DOC or Boyd Martin after auditing them, when I could ride with Dan for a fraction of the cost. And yes, I totally recognize that I may feel the same way after observing Phillip Dutton teach.

Clinics also lack context. The format is characterized by clinicians teaching unknown horse and rider pairings, with very limited background. Some riders lie or exaggerate their experiences. Some horses have bad days. It can be risky.

Clinicians can minimize that risk by sticking to simplistic exercises (like Ralph Hill) or a pre-determined routine (like DOC), and others adopt more of a "sink or swim" attitude (Boyd Martin probably falls more into this category).

This can produce very real challenges and risks for a rider lacking in confidence, or a sensitive horse. It can also be problematic for the rider looking for a challenge, or the rider who entered the appropriate level who ends up feeling overlooked when the lesson is taken hostage by the struggling or unprepared rider...

Or. Ya know. Maybe you just really really REALLY don't mesh with the clinician and end up feeling like it was a waste of time. Or worse. This is always a possibility, as I learned all too well in that one fix-a-test experience...

None of this has ANYTHING to do with the idea that it's a "personal insult" to the clinician to bring a green or low level horse to a clinic, however.

who could ever be insulted by this cute mare anyway?!?
6. Because riding is a Base Heavy sport. It's a simple fact that there are many more riders and horses at the lower levels than there are at the upper levels. It's undeniably a bigger market.

Raise your hand if you currently or in the near future believe you and your horse can competently get around a BN course. I would bet money that virtually anyone reading this who jumps (even if you're new to it or dabbling!) might realistically feel this way. Now, same question, except the jumps are prelim height. Probably fewer of you are raising your hand, and fewer still are in the "my horse and I can do today" category.

Even without concrete statistics, it's not controversial to say that only a fraction of riders ever make it to the upper levels of any given horse sport. I'd go so far as to bet that roughly 3 in 5 (if not more) English discipline riders top out around 1st/2nd level dressage and ~3' jumping.

maybe this horse could have gone farther. we'll never know tho
The highest echelons of horse sports are made possible by the membership and participation of this base of low level riders. You can argue all you want that it's watering down the sanctity of the sports. That today's safe, quiet hunters in their 2'6 derbies are a far cry from the catty brave field hunters of days past. Or that re-configuring the FEI eventing levels to a 5* system, effectively introducing a lower (ie more accessible) FEI level, dilutes the value of achieving FEI status.

But. Eh. Personally, I don't feel that way. I feel that the sport is strengthened by inclusion and accessibility.

Besides, top level riders, educators, and decision makers in this sport recognize the critical importance of developing the pipeline of future riders. Considering US Eventing's latest round of soul searching following our repeated poor team performances and failure to qualify on the world stage, it's hard to argue otherwise.

this local circuit of unrated hunter shows was the highlight of my summers!
7. Anyway, tho, the most fundamental argument against the above writer's position is simpler than any of that. To me, it boils down to: What does means to identify as a rider at the low levels?

More specifically? What are the eligibility requirements to call yourself a "Rider" or a member of any particular sport? And who is enforcing that criteria? How good do you have to be before you're not considered a "waste of time" any more?

This thought process first entered my mind when Marilyn Little's repeated and ethically repugnant bloody mouth episodes exploded into the mainstream dialogue. Many immediately dismissed her as "not a real eventer anyway," which.... made me wonder what on earth that made *me* if even ML wasn't considered legit.

I'm not a USEA member, I've never ridden in a USEA recognized event. It's not clear if I ever will. I may never wear a watch while running a cross country course. I may never do a multi-day show, or travel farther than ~2hrs to a venue. Cantering around an unrecognized novice cross country course this past summer may as well have been Kentucky, as far as I'm concerned.

i just dare you to try telling this younger version of myself that i don't count as a "real" rider
8. And that's ok, right? In my mind, the typical single-horse adult amateur working a full time job should live their riding life as they see fit.

Which, realistically, means different things to different riders. In everything from taste in clothing or gear, choices about riding in weather or sub-optimal conditions, decisions on when and how often to lesson, and what degree of autonomy we maintain.

And yes: choices about whether we want to spend our hard earned dollars on a one-off lesson with some big name star in the equestrian world. A lesson that could mean a major breakthrough in training, or... ya know, not. I don't even care the motivation.

The writer above says that this should only happen for upper level riders looking for validation or to solve a specific problem. I feel differently tho. I think, if you want to, why not?

first: we conquer the pony ride! next? the world!!
The clinician is offering the lesson spaces presumably bc he wants them filled. If the lessons are marketed for "BN to Advanced," then... presumably BN riders are welcome.

I see no value in projecting any other eligibility requirements on that, or saying that my interest in riding with a world class professional is "insulting" to that professional if I'm not already riding at a high level. And, frankly, I reject that way of thinking and am immediately skeptical of anybody espousing that belief.

If you're thinking about entering a clinic? It's worth evaluating why. It's worth being practical about expectations and goals for a single lesson with a stranger, and about whether you can actually afford it or if the funds would be better used elsewhere.

If, after that thought process, you decide that, YES, you want to do it? Then have at it! That's what clinics are for - that is literally why they exist haha. So riders like us can pay a prescribed fee for this new experience and everything that comes with it: Like riding with different people! Experiencing a different style of teaching! Getting to check out a new venue! And hopefully walking away with more tools in your chest! And maybe pictures too!!

go riding! or the terrorists win!!
I mean, why else do we ride? What, exactly, is the existential purpose of riding in the year 2018? Like.... it's all kinda pointless anyway, right? We're here for the joy! The fulfillment! Bc ponies are awesome and it's a great way to enjoy a weekend! We certainly do not need some killjoy gatekeeper telling us we're not good enough or whatever, in the misguided hopes that maybe we'll decide to pay her for lessons instead lol....

And idk about you, but the idea of taking a lesson with Phillip Dutton or any other super star celebrity rider sounds hella more exciting than spending the equivalent on a new purse or whatever. Isn't "focusing on experiences" supposed to be the big new trend replacing consumerism anyway?

What about you - what do you think? Do you agree with my laissez-faire attitude towards riding in general, and clinics in particular? Or maybe you think there's a kernel of truth in the above writer's position? Has your opinion been colored by your own clinic experiences?

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December isn't even half way over yet, but I'm forging ahead with the plan to finish recapping what proved to be a monumental year for me and Charlie.

The gist is I'm rounding up the links to the defining moments from each month. It's always interesting to see how my impressions and feelings on different events shift over time, with hindsight being 20-20 and all that.

You can find the first six months of 2018 summarized here in Part 1. By the end of June, Charlie and I (well, mostly just me, let's be honest) were still reeling after a shockingly bad performance at our second Novice at Plantation.

So let's dive right in, picking up where we left off:

the most elegant brontosaurus that ever was

- Checking in on my quarterly and year-long goals was depressing. Everything looked.... bleak given what I perceived to be the shambles of our current state.

- Charlie got time off, coming back into work with the distraction of an appt to refit and customize the dressage saddle I bought last winter. The saddle maker himself, Jan Huslebos, evaluated us and ultimately performed field surgery on the saddle right then and there, removing the bottom half of the thigh blocks. It was pretty cool, tbh.

- I continued the "distraction" theme with more volunteering. Scribing for judges Stephen Bradley and Helen Bretell at the jumping phase of a YEH qualifier at Loch Moy was great!

- But eventually we had to get back to work on our training. This lesson was a perfect case study for working through Charlie's and my issues. It was the kick in the pants I needed to remember that when *I* do *my* job consistently, Charlie is a happier horse and is easier to ride.

dressage saddle zadel surgery!!
- Looming in my personal background: for the first time in a decade.... It was consuming, but it eventually happened!

- We finally schooled our home xc course for the first time since March. It was a GREAT ride, partly bc I adjusted my attitude to be more "present" and less preoccupied with any future plan that relied on everything in the ride going just so. It was also great bc the same issues from Plantation cropped up for us to work through in a more productive setting.

- That xc ride and those issues helped me decide to tap Charlie's shoes for studs. I wrote about that process here, and a little more here, and also some other general hoof updates here.

- Best day of the month: We capped things off with a pace clinic at Loch Moy. This was just the ticket for getting our mojo back: focusing purely on getting Charlie moving out, in front of my leg. Reminding him that he was born to run, and reminding me to keep pushing forward for that pace. This felt like a turning point, finally!

finally, finally clicking back into gear again

- Moar volunteering!! This time at the cross country vet box for the CIC1/2* at Loch Moy. Another cool experience, esp bc I did a lot of spectating too!

- We checked off a major bucket-list item by schooling xc at Boyd Martin's Windurra! The ride was positive mileage for us, but I felt disappointed that it wasn't more productive. Tho hey, at least I got to change a trailer tire for the first time! lol...

- Even so, things were looking up. Charlie had two KILLER jump lessons this month - tackling 3'3+ course work with a renewed vigor and gusto that felt incredibly refreshing. Not even bragging, he looked like one million dollars. Lesson recaps and media here and here.

there goes charlie, just casually blowing my mind....
- Best day of the Month: Redemption at MCTA's Jenny Camp Starter Trial! Charlie busted out three beautiful phases (dressage, stadium, cross country). I confronted head on his resistance to leaving the start gate for xc, and.... that was it, we moved on, were over it, and had an AWESOME run! Finishing in 2nd place, solidifying Charlie's status as a legit N event horse.

- I meanwhile mused/ranted about the increasingly ridiculous marketing gimmicks used by companies tying to sell a product by preying on our insecurities as owners....

- Ooh and we hit up one of Loch Moy's twilight events! The stadium was easily Charlie's best yet N effort. And while I wussed out from schooling all the T xc jumps (ahem, except for that *one* giant ass table at the end!) it was more positive mileage over N fences.

- Then the month ended on an all-too-familiar low note when Charlie, AGAINST ALL ODDS, managed to puncture his hoof on a piece of mulch. While walking. In the woods. Wtf, sir. Wtf.

pictured: the best feeling in the world

- I knew from experience that Charlie would likely brew an abscess from the mulch incident. But until then, we forged ahead with planning our DIY outfit for our annual hunter pace tradition! Miracle of miracles, Charlie was sound for the pace!! And it was AWESOME!!!

- Plus he was schooling pretty darn well, and I mused about his optimal work schedule.

- We celebrated two years as a team. This horse, guys <3 <3 <3

- He's fragile tho, haha, and the abscess from the mulch arrived just in time to trash our plans for a 2-day show jump and xc clinic with legendary eventer Ralph Hill. I had tortured myself about signing up and finally took the plunge by entering T. Oh well... I audited instead. Le sigh. It was a good one tho - lots of useful, actionable takeaways!

yup, i'm obsessed with this horse 100%
- Once Charlie recovered, he went back to work like he never missed a day. He was schooling great and really stepping up for our jump lessons! And we finally got our first xc lesson in a year!! It was a bit of a bust, tho - we worked over the same N fences we'd seen all summer instead of the hoped-for challenge of facing more T stuff. Oh well! Charlie was foot perfect anyway ;)

- Meanwhile, more fun volunteering by scribing for the conformation phase at the FEH East Coast Championships on a rainy, chilly Sunday.

- Best day of the month: An awesome, lengthy trail ride from our barn all the way down to the nearby Gunpowder River with a group of barn mates. Beautiful day, beautiful scenery, and great horses made for the perfect end of summer ride.

hacking thru the river!

- Technically this happened in September, but I wrote about it in October so I'm counting it in this month. Sue me. Anyway: Charlie and I competed in our final event of the season, and won it on our dressage score!! It wasn't our best performance ever - dressage was elegant and obedient, but our stadium was stilted and out of sync, just one of those lucky clears. Cross country was pretty baller, tho <3

- That event was preceded by a likewise stilted and out of sync jump lesson, with Charlie's first real refusal in a lesson. We needed a system reset, and got exactly that when we FINALLY had a lesson with erstwhile coach Dan!! It was great, just what I needed to ride better so Charlie could perform better. Damn I miss these lessons something fierce...

- We checked in on our quarterly and yearly goals -- with the whole picture looking decidedly different (for the better!) compared to last time.

- Also wrote all about my favorite volunteer roles at events, and what's involved in each of them.

killin it over those roll tops!
- Charlie then aggravated his old splint injury in an alarmingly, hauntingly familiar way. I instantly had flashbacks to the previous year's similar trajectory that culminated in surgery. But after spending ALL the money on diagnostics, the vets assured me the horse was FINE.

- His timing was yet again extremely frustrating, as the injury coincided with our second attempt at a cross country clinic, entered at Training level. This time with Stephen Bradley. It's really starting to get old paying full price for these lessons, but then ending up only getting to audit...

- While Charlie enjoyed time off, I hit up some local big events - including Fair Hill's CCI2/3* as a spectator, and Waredaca's Classic 3DE as a volunteer. Both were super fun! I also ruminated on Charlie's impressive transformation over the last two years.

Best day of the month: Definitely riding in the pairs and teams classes at the Elkridge Harford Hunter Trials earlier in the month! This was a fun, low-key day to get out and jump some jumps and gallop across some fields. In other words, it was perfect <3

definitely a favorite picture from this past year <3

- Charlie continued to rest after his splint blow up, tho we managed to sneak in a gorgeous and quintessentially "Fall in Maryland" trail ride! Otherwise, tho, the horse sat around working on his Dad Bod 2.0 before finally getting back to being ridden.

- I spent this time reflecting on Charlie's progress, especially in the dressage ring. And decided, maybe Charlie is actually ready for First Level after all! I also amused myself by compiling our annual Best Of & Bloopers Video haha.... Hahaha...

one of my favorite views!
- Despite my worst fears, Charlie legitimately, honest-to-god seemed pretty darn sound after the splint scare. He got back to work (again) really nicely, including an excellent jump lesson focusing on grids and gymnastics, and an even better and highly anticipated return to dressage lessons with trainer C.

- Upper level event rider Matt Brown meanwhile wrote an excellent series at Chronicle of the Horse, with Part 1 addressing the impact goals have on mental health. This was a great article and gave me a lot of food for thought about how I structure my goals, hopes, and dreams.

- Mostly tho, it was a quiet month spent settling into the season's changing rhythms and shorter days.

- Best day of the month: SCHOOLING TRAINING FINALLY!! Lol.... After months of frustrated plans, we finally had a proper school over T cross country fences at Loch Moy's arena derby course. And Charlie just.... flew. Acted like jumping these giant jumps was the easiest thing in the world, as if he'd been doing it his whole life. God I just freakin love this horse tho!

there goes charlie, making that giant T fence look tiny....

- Obviously we're not even half way through this month yet, so it seems a little silly to summarize it haha. But that's never stopped me before ;)

- This is reflection season, after all, so it's fitting that I'd be taking time to review what all has happened this year. Like wrapping up my volunteer experiences throughout 2018. And the qualitative analysis of Charlie's 2018 dressage scores. Or these very same "Year in Review" posts haha (Part 1 can be found here).

- I also submitted our season results to MCTA for year end awards. Winning an event, and coming in second at one of MCTA's own events (meaning: double points!) has me hopeful for a strong finish!

- Ooh, and wrote about all the various relationships I have with professionals in the equine services industry, and polled the audience on how you approach that topic too. Got LOTS of really interesting and varied responses!

this horse <3 
- All this retrospective navel-gazing was made possible in part bc Charlie lost a shoe in the mud, and then was so pitifully hoof sore (despite getting the shoe tacked back on after only a day without it....) that he got yet another week off work, ugh.

- The riding year isn't entirely over yet, tho, with a few more big plans in the works. Obviously with horses everything is written in pencil, especially with a horse like Charlie, but the top of our list of Plans is a show jumping clinic with Phillip Dutton scheduled for mid month. My heart is set on Charlie coming with me, but if history is any guide, I may end up just auditing. We'll see.

- And naturally I still have to wrap up our goals for the year to see how that all shook out. My gut feeling tho was that, even with all the setbacks, Charlie really stepped up to the plate this year. I feel happy.


So there ya have it: 2018 summed up in all its glory. Obviously with horses anything and everything can change in a moment, so it's important to take time to enjoy and appreciate the good feelings when they come! Here's to a happy 2019 ;)
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This weekend I volunteered probably for the last time this calendar year, at Loch Moy's Donation Derby. The event took place over those three giant arenas Charlie and I schooled last week, and all the competitors were dressed to the nines in all manner of Christmas decorations. Bells, tinsel, reindeer antlers, elf shoes, horse body paint.... You name it, we saw it!.

Each arena was filled with mostly cross country jumps, but a few stadium jumps too. My role was super easy: I was positioned as a steward in the middle of the three rings, which just had two stadium jumps. My job was to reset dropped rails, adjust the heights for each level, and also to clear out the poles and itsy cross rails from the first ground pole division.

one of my volunteer prizes from Sara this year. hard to express just how much i love this calendar!
It was a super fun event, everyone seemed to have a blast. And it seemed like the perfect way to cap off my busiest year of event volunteering to date.

this does not include the 5 schooling shows i volunteered for at my own barn 
As you may remember, Sara from Roaming Rider hosted a Volunteer Challenge this year. Participants were encouraged on a monthly and quarterly basis to get out and give back at every opportunity that presented itself, in any capacity.

Turns out, it was just the nudge I needed to take this activity I've always enjoyed a little more seriously. I honestly really enjoy being at horse shows. I love the atmosphere, love the vibes. It's just a great feeling being out there to watch so many riders go and Do the Things with their horses lol.

dressage scribin, yo!
Originally I planned to volunteer in some capacity at least once each in 7 of the 12 month calendar year, and ended up getting closer to 10 of 12. It's hard to remember exactly bc the small schooling dressage shows and the starter trials at my own barn weren't organized through the USEA Volunteer Dashboard, so I can't actually remember those details lol.

Suffice it to say, tho, that it ended up being a lot of hours. All told, I spent the equivalent of two full time work weeks volunteering in 2018. This included spending time in a lot of new roles, learning about different classes. Like the FEH and YEH classes, and the cross country vet box at FEI events.

 the two purple boxes add up to my total hours for the year, plus the hours from the 5 shows not reflected thru the dashboard
The most prolific volunteers across the country accumulated many, many more hours than I did lol. The folks at the top of the leaderboards had at least 100+ hrs each, and included folks in roles like EMT, unpaid judge, or TD. The Top 10 nationally had a cumulative total of nearly 2,000 hrs, otherwise known as almost a full year's worth of work. 

But I was still pretty proud to end the year toward the top of some lists. There are different rankings categories, tho I'm not sure each category has any actual recognition associated with it.

jump judgin, yo!
Actually, from what I can tell from my research, there's very little recognition associated with any volunteering outside of like, the Top 10 nationally. Tho the top prize is a pretty substantial chunk of change, I believe.

If it were up to me, I'd probably argue that it'd be more valuable to spread the love a little farther - even if it's just with like, t-shirts or hats or something lol. But nobody asked me ;)

just this, again and again and again
I'm satisfied enough to look at that rankings board and feel like maybe I made a difference at events this year. In an ideal world, my hopes as a volunteer are twofold:

-One is to help organizers feel less stressed and more.... organized lol, so that they continue to want to offer so many awesome events.

- and Two is to help facilitate positive, fun experiences for riders and their horses. Whether this is helping calm their nerves and answer their questions in the warm up ring, or even just taking careful clear notes as a scribe or jump judge.

More than anything, tho, I really enjoyed getting out to so many events this past year and learning so much more about the machinations of how these events work. Hopefully next year will include a lot of volunteer opportunities too. Actually there are still a couple more areas within the realm of event planning and design that I'm interested in pursuing additional educational opportunities.

So we'll see what happens. For now, it's a wrap on the 2018 volunteer year!!

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We got to squeeze in another cross country schooling this year!! And finally, finally, the pieces clicked together well enough that I was finally brave enough to really focus on Charlie's and my introduction to schooling Training level cross country fences!!

very few actual pictures of us, but the shadows speak volumes <3
Loch Moy is one of our favorite venues for many many many reasons. And Arena XC is just one of them haha. But damn, it's a good one!

i spy with my little eye, charlie's cute neighbor pony, and charlie looking majestically out his window lol
The gist is: Loch Moy Farm, home to the Maryland Horse Trials, has about 8 acres across three all-weather rings (check out the link for an aerial shot) that they transform into a cross schooling derby mecca during the winter months.

The lowest ring has a water complex, multiple bank complexes, and a couple ditches built in permanently. The three rings communicate with each other through various passageways (including a fun hill from the middle to the lowest). And all three are filled with full courses of portable cross country fences from Intro and Elementary all the way up to Modified.

this window is so neat bc it's basically at ground level. must be a very different view for tall charlie!
Schooling is available by appointment for the extremely reasonable, imo, fee of $50, tho I have vouchers from all the time I've spent volunteering here this past year. Charlie got his first ever taste of cross country here back in January 2017, and then repeated the effort with a baller BN school this past January.

obvi i don't expect anyone to recognize a random picture of a field.... but this is the big field at isabel's farm. we made a pit stop to pick up rachael and birdie, but ended up switching to her rig when my truck started running a little too hot....
Originally, I had thought to maybe do the upcoming Donation Derby there, but frankly.... I wanted the schooling more than a competition run. I wanted to really focus on working over Training level fences.

Meanwhile, the derby courses aren't the best for moving up: they often make up for the ease of running over a flat surface by ratcheting up the complexity. Which is awesome, don't get me wrong, but that's not something I would want at T right now, obvi haha.

our intrepid team!!!
So my friends and I decided to head out for our own schooling session instead of the derby. And I'm so so SO glad we did! It was awesome. Plus the best weather in recent memory: high 50s with good sun. Yessss!!

wheeeeee shadow jumper!!!
The weather actually worked out to my advantage, I think. Since our recent grids and gymnastics lesson, I'd schooled Charlie once over some ~N sized jumps on a chilly windy day. And homeboy was FRESH OMG. Attacking the jumps but landing very very strongly haha.

I hadn't wanted to shut down that feeling bc I knew I would need his forward bravery in order to feel brave enough myself for the bigger fences at the upcoming schooling.... But it was a touch wild haha. Turns out tho, with the warmer weather he was not quite so electric, tho still quite bold. And the overall effect was that I was very focused on adding leg instead of holding back. It was a good recipe!

kinda wish the jumps were flagged. one of these is T and one is M, not sure which is which. on the softer side since this was ring 1 for the course. we jumped the right side and charlie gave it a LOT of room OMG. you'll have to watch the video for a sense of the airtime!
I had gone back and reread my blog post from schooling at Shawan Downs earlier this year, ahead of my move up to N. That was one of our most successful schools of the year, I think, and I wanted to reread the post to see if I could figure out what contributed to that success.

ditch thru the driveway to ring two!
And it seemed to be two key pieces:

1) I had walked the course the week prior while everything was still flagged, so I knew exactly which jumps were N and therefore couldn't trick myself into believing otherwise.

2) I aimed Charlie at our first N fence very early in the ride (I think my third jump) to force my eye to adjust up to height asap. Bc once one jump looks "ok" then suddenly everything at that height looks better.

garden gates! left side is T, right side is N -- we jumped the right
While the jumps at Loch Moy aren't flagged yet for the Derby (and the courses aren't online yet either, I totally checked haha....), we've been riding at this farm's events for long enough to be pretty familiar with all of their jumps. Charlie's already jumped basically every. single. thing. from their intro, BN and N courses. So I figured I'd be able to recognize the T jumps.

T brush table!! left side is M roll top, right side is N pheasant feeder
And I followed the same pattern from Shawan Downs: aimed Charlie at a T jump almost immediately. We did a cursory warm up at trot and canter, during which I integrated some of the small 2' stadium jumps for lead changes, then immediately pointed to the first line of XC fences. Systematically circling through: first BN, then N, then T.

Naturally these were quite inviting fences, since they were very early on what will be the Derby course. Then after that first T jump, I looped right around to a line of log verticals for T and M. Honestly not sure which was which, but both were well within Charlie's abilities. And he actually jumped the SHIT out of it haha, maybe the little tree under it spooked him? Who knows haha, it felt GREAT!

T mushroom roll top table thingy!! we jumped this at the twilight event we did too, but i was happy to have a second shot to reaffirm that it wasn't a fluke
We then left that arena by cantering the path through the driveway, over the ditch, and into the giant middle arena that usually has the most awesome stuff. It was also currently occupied by a large lesson, so we opted to just cruise directly through to the lowest third ring, but not before catching the N log roll and N garden gate first.

While I was allowing a bit of a left drift (a common Emma problem), Charlie was jumping great. I kept reminding myself to let him canter more forward on an open stride, and keep my reins short with hands half way up the neck. Charlie took care of the rest <3

hint: it was not a fluke lol. look at dem shadow knees!!!!
Once in the lowest ring, we really started cruisin. Our giant T table friend from the Twilight event this summer was down here. And I knew I wanted a second shot at it. Recall I had kinda wimped out from schooling any T on that Twilight course, even tho it was right there.

But then by the last jump, I knew if I didn't jump at least one T thing I'd really regret it. And figured that since it was the last jump, nbd if we kinda biffed it haha. And we did kinda biff it haha, but it was fine. Better than fine - Charlie proved to me that he could easily jump a T table from a long spot. Which like, good to know, bro. Good to know.

left side BN corner, right side N corner
So for this ride, I did a little circuit from an N log coop, to the T brush box thingy that was honestly a last minute choice (I originally planned to aim at the N feeder but.... c'mon, big girl pants, Emma! Aim at the T stuff!!), then around to the table. Boom, Charlie fucking nailed it. Yesss!!

Another little loop around to the N corner and Charlie was in the freakin ZONE. You can see in the shadows but he was just happily carrying me forward to the jumps, taking leg and a loose curb rein, and feeling flippin fantastic!

T boat!!! charlie has now officially jumped the BN, N and T variations of this boat
This horse, he's just so incredible. He's so brave, he makes me feel brave. Brave enough to tackle the above T boat. Which like. Ya know. It's fucking giant. All of these jumps look giant to me, let's be real. I've never schooled T before. Just that table the one time at the Twilight, and a couple jumps shared between N and T.

lol and oh but he flew!! check out that shadow tail flick action!!
But this? This was the real deal. And Charlie ate it up! We got to a long spot and both just went for it. For me, that's something I'm really proud of. Even tho we were jumping the biggest cross country jumps of both of our lives, I never once got left behind or stayed totally in the back seat.

wheeee into the water!!!
As a rider notorious for my nervous, defensive habits, this was kinda a big deal. Going for the long spot? It just isn't my nature haha. But it *is* Charlie's nature. And ya know. I'm finally learning to go along for the ride lol.

T log roll, also quite inviting
Anyway, I was basically already on Cloud 9 at that point. Feeling like we'd accomplished everything I wanted, plus some. But lo! There was still that middle arena to revisit!!!

T roll top. one of my favorite pictures of isabel is over the N version of this jump <3
We kept it pretty simple up here tho. A quick trip over the most inviting of the T fences in this ring: a log roll top to the paneled roll top pictured above, with a nice long gallop in between. Then another little circuit over the T cut out table. Which.... we kinda chipped a little bit the first time so I repeated that one for a better effect (in the video!!).

Honestly that one looked pretty big to me too, so I was very proud of myself for going for it anyway.

just having so much fun galloping around on my giant thoroughbred <3
There were a few other things I could have tried on this day but opted not to. Idk why. I'm pretty sure Charlie would have jumped the moon if I aimed him at it. But ya know. We don't have to do *all the things* in just one day lol.

T cutout table (and evidence of our first effort on the left side baseboards haha)
It's actually kinda funny, in a way, bc when I laid out "schooling T" in my goals for the year, I had expected that we'd be working on the technical stuff (like combinations or whatever) at smaller heights first, before I worked on the actual height elements.

charlie was FLYING guys, what a star!! and uh, emma, maybe it's time to condition that slippery ass saddle haha
But that assumption was rooted in the idea that I'd be doing this in xc lessons. Which .... have been sparse to non existent. Meanwhile, I tend to be hesitant to ride combinations without having either walked them ahead of time, or having a trainer there for guidance.

The height, tho? Well we've been schooling 3'3+ stadium jumps in lessons for months now. The height is clearly no problem for Charlie, it was just a matter of pumping myself up enough to actually translate that to xc jumps. And esp in an arena setting, on a nice flat well groomed surface? It's that much easier haha.

up bank combination! up the hill to the little X, then a few strides to another jump
Tho I knew I'd regret it if I didn't practice at least a little complexity haha. So to finish up, we did the super fun line from the lowest ring, up the bank, up the hill to an X, five strides to the N roll top arc thing. Charlie was foot perfect!

final jump of the up bank line, N roll top on left, T coop on right
Like, so so so good. Even now, looking back on it, rewatching the video, I see all sorts of other things I could have tried. Or feel like maybe I *should* have been brave enough to do a few more jumps.

Charlie - Arena XC Schooling @ MDHT 11252018 - YouTube

But. No, I'm 100% satisfied. I'm proud of myself for going for it. I have wanted this for a long time. Have been trying so hard to make the lessons happen, to create the opportunity to start working on T. And, ya know, there have been obstacles. We had to scratch at the last minute from TWO xc clinics this year, both of which I had entered for T. That's disappointing, ya know?

returning to the trailers feeling happy 
But I knew Charlie was ready. And..
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There are a number of benefits to boarding at a sprawling historic multi generational family farm. It's a giant farm, with a ton of people around all the time and all manner of buzzing activity.

Bess is a real troublemaker haha
Cars up and down the drive all day long. Lesson ponies endlessly cycling from the kid-filled shedrow barn up to the arenas, and back again. Tractors and kubotas and trailers chugging hither and thither. Shetlands literally everywhere, not to mention the sheep, goat and Goose the pig.

Oooh, and the dogs. Lots and lots and LOTS of dogs. Everywhere. At least half a dozen (if not more) live on the farm itself, spread across the multiple households onsite. And of course boarders and trainers often bring their dogs too.

All this to say - it's a great farm to board if you want a horse completely bombproofed and accustomed to all manner of shenanigans haha.

dog ball!!
Also nice: the farm hosts all sorts of fun schooling shows all year round, meaning the dressage ring is routinely set up with a proper court. So even tho Charlie and I aren't entered to ride in this particular show, we still got to school inside the boards for as long as we wanted! And even better? We had the ring all to ourselves!

puppy is having the most fun ever haha
Well.... Almost all to ourselves haha....

Is your farm similarly busy? Do you like it? Or do you prefer a quieter atmosphere? Or are you like Charlie, preferring the distraction of a puppy to actually, ya know, working on that whole 'dersage' thing?? lol....
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