Wednesday, May 10, 2017

So Many Updates!

Wow! I cannot believe it has been over a month since I last posted. This post is going to be a monster, considering I am covering a big month of happenings for Charmer and I, so buckle up! First off, I audited a Karen O'Connor clinic on April 1-2, then Charmer had several weeks of his pro training before having a fun schooling show on April 22nd with one of his trainers, and then I had my first lesson on him after his 3 weeks of pro training, and then I played with Charmer over his very first cross-country jumps!!

We will start off with a brief recap of the KOC clinic. This was my first time auditing a clinic from KOC, and while I have definitely heard some brutal stories about her in clinics, everyone walked away from this clinic without any tears. Karen definitely is very up front about her opinions of you, your horse, and well, basically everything. She will tell you if you are royally screwing up, and she won't let you forget it. I ended up jump crewing for her practically the whole weekend, along with a few other friends who were auditing as well. It was kind of nerve-wracking, because she never really told you the exact height or spread she wanted, she would just say "raise that jump" or "widen that oxer", and we would all just kind of have to guess what was the most appropriate height for the class.

The one thing that I definitely took away from Karen's clinic is that, if you are brave enough to clinic with her, you need to be ready for her to uncover every single one of your flaws in your riding. She is blunt and honest. If that is not the style of riding that works for you, then she is not the clinician for you. When she finds what you need help with though, she gives some really incredible pointers on how to improve. I saw at least 75% of the pairs that rode that weekend increase drastically in at least one area of their riding.

I did however, see the brutality that I have long heard about KOC. Being a part of the jump crew on the ground, I was almost never more than 20ft away from Karen, and I heard everything. She definitely will mutter some choice phrases about your riding under her breath if you are really doing things wrong. I also watched one horse and rider fall due to her pushing a concept that the horse was not quite ready for (in my opinion). Also, if you are claiming to be able to ride at training/prelim level, and you do not have an established flying change, she will ding you hard on that. She got after nearly every rider in that group for the fact that they did not have a lead change.

I also witnessed another horse rear straight up because of the way in which Karen was pushing the rider and horse to do something that the horse legitimately could not understand. For every rider/horse pairing that worked with Karen's ideas, it was an incredibly fruitful clinic, but she does have a teaching style that may not work for everyone. I think a clinic with her might really benefit Charmer and I down the line, but I would have to have a healthy dose of bravery to enter my first clinic with her.

Now to move on to Charmer's show with one of his trainers! The barn that Charmer and I are trained at puts on several schooling shows every year. When one of them rolled around in April, during Charmer's month of pro training, I jumped at the opportunity to have one of his trainers ride him. Trainer CP offered to pop him around some courses for me, and I was thrilled.

Charmer has really been learning a lot of manners during his time with these trainers, and it was facinating watching them go around. It also helps that apparently CP really enjoys jumping him, as she told me after their first round.

They first started in the 2'6", and I could really notice the difference in how Charmer goes. He was much more controlled and thoughtful, instead of just "RUN AND JUMP AND BE WILD". He pulled a rail with a lazy leg, but overall the course was calm, quiet and beautiful.

Then they entered a 2'9" round, and that is where I really noticed how much Charmer's confidence has improved. He was not backed off, or strung out coming into any of the fences. There was no wild, scared look in his eye when he was faced with a line or a fence that was new or different to him. He took every jump in stride and came back to CP after every jump. He had two lazy rails in that class, but that will get better with more practice and time.

The day after the show, I ended up having a lesson on him. It was the first time I had ridden him since he first went into pro training. And I was shocked. I basically looked like one of those little kids that is on one of those fair ride ponies with just this stupid look of glee and excitement on their face. I just walked and trotted and cantered around, and it was incredible. He was so light in the bridle and so quietly forward.

I basically just let him run around with his head wherever he wanted because I was just so thrilled to have this nice forward horse on my hands. SG told me that I needed to actually get his head down and ride and things, but even she understood just how excited I was about how he felt.

We did a little course, and I have never felt so confident. It was also easily the most fun I have had in years. We nailed our distances, and only had like two little run away moments (which were SO much more mild than they used to be), and just had a grand old time.

Also for the first time in years, I actually left a stride out. Yes. That's right folks. I did a 6 stride in 5 strides. I am pretty much infamous (especially on Charmer) for putting in more strides than I should, but after I put 7 strides in the 6 stride once, SG told me to actually let him go. So I really let him go. And basically every stride had a lead change and it was huge and fast, but we did a 6 stride in 5 strides, and even though SG made me actually do it again, correctly, in 6 strides, it was kind of a miracle for me to have actually left a stride out.

After my lesson, I went on vacation for 10 days (DisneyWorld. It was a blast.) and Charmer continued his training. When I came back, I really wanted to take Charmer over his first XC jumps. I have had this horse for almost two years and I want him to be an eventer, and yet I have never taken him over any XC jumps. So I decided that Sunday was the day. I got him ready, tacked him up and we went out to the XC field.

We did our first ever solid fences, and he rocked them! Then we graduated to attempting our first banks (both up and down), and our first ditch.

And we might make an eventer out of this horse yet. He is a complete superstar with banks. Up is no big deal whatsoever, and down is also no big deal. He has decided that he is basically the best with banks. Which I totally love, because banks are one of my favorite things to do on cross country, especially with a horse that does them well.

Ditches were a bit of a scarier question for him, and he was not thrilled about going over it, but after a lot of patience and coaxing, we did it 3 times, and I think it will only get better with practice! 

Gotta end with an awesome bank picture because banks are apparently what we do best. 

Well if you made it through that whole long monster of a post, I applaud you. It has been a big month for Charmer and I and I cannot wait to see where the new few months will take us!

Saturday, April 1, 2017


So here is the exciting news that I eluded to in my last post! Charmer and I have moved barns. We are now boarding (for the time being) at the barn where we take lessons, and for this month, I have been able to put Charmer into pro training - which means he is going to get at least a dozen rides by our favorite trainer this month, along with a few other high level riders and trainers that work at the barn!

I wish I could have said something abut this move ahead of time, but we were in a bad boarding situation and I couldn't risk our barn owner knowing about anything. To give a little background, the owner was still feeding the horses and things, but a lot of things had gone down that made the barn owner and I not get along whatsoever, and it turned into a little bit of fear for my own safety as well as my horse's.

But on a happier note! This move is exactly what we needed. I was a little hesitant on how Charmer would react to moving from a large dry lot to a 12'x12' stall with turnout (there are runs but they are flooded right now). Everything seems to be going really well though! He is loving the fact that he gets grained twice a day at this barn, as well as four feedings of hay. He seems like quite a happy little camper about his situation right now actually. Plus we picked up a back on track mesh sheet to help ease a little bit of his occasional back soreness, and I think he likes that as well!! I am excited to see if it helps him long term after wearing it for a while.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Vets, Tack, Excitement

Tonight, Charmer has a vet/chiropractor appointment. Mostly a routine "get all the things back in line" checkup, but also checking up on a few things to ease my paranoid, nervous, crazy horse mom brain. Assuming all goes well in his appointment tonight, I will have some very exciting news coming up tomorrow. I cannot say anything until all of the i's are dotted and t's are crossed, because the situation is somewhat delicate, but suffice it to say, I am busting with excitement and nervousness about it right now.

This is my face about our exciting news 😁

Also there is a new piece of tack that is gracing my plain bay horse's face. I haven't gotten the chance to ride in it, but it is a new noseband from Uisce Saddlery. I first heard about them from SprinklerBandits blog and got a sudden itch to get one. I have wanted a white padded, fancy stitched noseband for Charmer for quite a while now, and that seemed like the perfect thing to order. It arrived in just under 3 weeks, within the time frame she gave me, and the quality is great! Not to mention that the stitching and the white padding look fantastic against Charmer's plainer-than-plain bay face. I can pretty much guarentee that this will not be the last item I am buying from Uisce Saddlery! Hopefully someday I can work up my courage to get a color padded noseband, but I'm not quite gutsy enough yet. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

WSH Icebreaker Show: Photo Dump

I am basically too tired to do a real write up on the show that we had on Saturday, but in order to sum it all up - the day started a little rocky, but once I got on and we got to work, Charmer was a superstar! We had some of our best rounds to date. We kept our brains in our skulls and we ended up being one of only a handful of horses all day that did not buck, bolt, spook or refuse at anything. Also, every pole stayed up! Charmer did not even try to take anything down. Lots of people commented that he looked really nice, and calm. So yay for a successful show and I hope you guys enjoy this photo dump.

Rocking our warmup
Trotting through puddles
Power trot
Loving the burgundy and navy look
Crossrail king
I love the mountains in these pictures
Eating up those 2' jumps
"2'3" and scary fillers? Psh, easy."
Snappy knees
"Oxers are no big thang"
Wow look at me actually looking up!
Ever so careful hind end
He rocked this turquoise oxer line
Just stepping over little square red oxer
Lots of refusals from other horses at the scary flowers
But Charmer didn't even blink!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Battle of Confidence Vs. Fear

Approximately a year and a half ago, I broke my pelvis. I was at a horse show, riding a horse for a local lady. There were a lot of various mistakes made by several parties (myself included) and long story short, it ended up with the horse falling down at a warmup fence. She took the pole down and all would have been fine if she was more experienced, but she was too green. She lost her footing, I jumped off, and she ended up crashing down on top of me with her left shoulder on my left hip.

After being carted off in an ambulance, getting x-rays, and a whole lot of waiting, I found out I had broken my pelvis in two places. Luckily the breaks were fairly stable so I didn't need a full body cast or surgery, but it still meant I couldn't ride for a while. The fear, anger and depression that followed consumed me almost entirely. Even when I could walk and ride again, I was depressed and frustrated that I just couldn't ride the same - and maybe I never would. I was angry about the constant limp I had and the excessive pain that I was in. And I had absolutely crippling fear at the thought of getting hurt again.

I kept riding, going to shows, etc. to keep convincing myself that everything was fine - that I was fine. But the reality was that I was not. I honestly was horrified of cantering a crossrail. I didn't do it for probably at least 6 months. 3 strides out from a jump, I would just lock up and stop riding. If Charmer tossed his head oddly or took a canter stride even a centimeter larger than I wanted, I would panic.

There were so many days and nights where I would come home from the barn crying. My spirit was broken and I knew it. My confidence was gone. I was scared of everything.

Charmer did the best he could to keep his brain in his head and do what I was asking, even though I was never asking right. His athleticism and heart saved us multiple times when I was just sitting like a useless sack of potatoes.

I reached a point where I just knew I needed help from someone that knew more and that rides better than me.

We took a lesson with Trainer S, and most of the lesson consisted of lots of flailing and general "I'm done" attitude from Charmer. I don't blame him. He put up with my fear, frustration and poor riding for longer than I think any other green OTTB ever would have. Trainer S told me that I am a capable rider - provided I make a plan and ride proactively and don't just sit there like a useless sack of potatoes. Easier said than done. But I tried. And failed. My confidence just was not there and I couldn't make it grow back overnight. No matter how hard I tried.

I kept doing my best to force things. I figured if I just keep making myself go out, do things, ride more, etc. then it would all just work out and I would magically be the rider I used to be. Well as you can probably guess, that is not what happened. The result was usually me still locking up and not riding, and my poor horse somehow squirreling the both of us over the fence.

We spent a long time changing various tack - we got new saddles (dressage and jump), we got more bridles and bits than I care to admit and more. It had reached a point where I had a pony that was not thrilled with his setup, and a rider that was too scared to fix her riding. So the one thing I could do was try to fix the setup for him. We went from hackamores to Micklems to figure 8s, from french link bits to corkscrews to Mylers. Nothing made it better.

Then we found the magic bit. A Nunn Finer shaped cartwheel bit. Winning. Charmer was finally happy with his setup. Unfortunately for me, this meant I no longer had an excuse to blame our problems on. Now I just had to get myself under control and, you know, actually ride.

Our winter consisted of changing up some tack to fit me better (we got Charmer sorted out, so now I needed tack that worked for me too). And a whole lot of Jayne on the ground yelling at me to go forward. Use my leg. Look up. Ride. Those things. Utterly crazy, right? I mean that can't be right. Actually be proactive and not be a passenger? But because I generally think she kind of knows what she is talking about when it comes to pony things (shhh - don't tell her that) I decided to listen to her.

I was having to break tons of habits all at once. Looking up instead of looking down. Actually releasing instead of just freezing. Try to keep my leg under me instead of let them flop around uselessly. Folding in my hips instead of locking up and not moving. It was a lot to work on, and it still is, but it gave me a goal.

As soon as Trainer S was back in town, I set up a lesson. And much to everyone's surprise, me actually deciding to be proactive in my riding, and not being a immovable robot, actually made my horse do infinitely better. Wow, actually listening to all of those things that smart people told me, worked? Who knew.

In the second lesson, when asked to canter, I had a revelation. I asked him to canter, and did not seize up, I didn't immediately pull back on the reins, I just asked and allowed him to go forward. I wasn't scared, I wasn't afraid to die, I was having fun. Fun. This has been a word that has practically been out of my vocabulary for the last year and a half. I got up and I just smiled. I laughed. I was breathing and talking, not just shutting down. I think that was the moment that I realized how far my confidence battle has come.

Even when I had a little reality check in our third lesson, I still had the ability to ride a forward canter to jump. And jump things more than just a teeny crossrail. The war that I have been fighting with my own fear for the last year and half has been brutal, rough, and exhausting. But for the first time, I feel like I am starting to win that war. It seems like I am finally having more confidence back in my life than the fear. As much as I knew I missed feeling confident, I don't think I ever fully grasped how much. I have so much more joy, excitement and peace in my life now that I am finally confident again, doing the one thing that I have always loved.

I am not naive enough to think that "well now I am just magically confident again and I will never be afraid of anything again". I know that this is a battle that I will be fighting for years, if not the rest of my life. But the feeling of being able to fly with my best friend, with a big smile plastered on my face, is the thing that keeps me going.

This feeling makes everything worth it

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reality Check

After two weeks of absolute magic in our lessons, I knew I couldn't expect it to last forever. Our lesson this weekend ended up being a little less magical-unicorns-dancing-on-rainbows-with-sunshine-and-happiness and a little more remember-that-your-horse-is-a-seven-year-old-OTTB-who-is-still-green-and-just-learned-how-to-pick-up-his-feet.

We warmed up fairly well at a decent w/t/c. Our canter work is definitely wayyy better in these last few weeks (yay!). We did some 20m circle work over a couple of poles w/t/c and she brought up the same point that she has for the last couple weeks - I'm too nice. I tend to be too giving with the reins and don't give him the poke in the belly when he is falling in. I need to work on being a little more assertive and a little less "nice".

As soon as we started jumping it went a little downhill. For some reason I was just casually looking down at the jump. Couldn't tell you why. So of course that made Charmer nervous about whatever monsters I was staring at. After a while we got over the fear of monsters, but it was not fantastic there for a little bit.

A little bit of Charmer's head shaking "wildness" came back (I put that in quotes because it was not as wild as I've dealt with before - it just wasn't as calm as the last two weeks). We started off our little course with a rollback, which he was not horribly thrilled about, so that got fairly significant head shakes almost every time.

Our course was trotting into the green gate, then canter rollback to little red crossrail, and then canter into the 2'3"ish vertical. We have definitely started to step up our cantering jumps game, which is really really exciting to me. We got a little wild to the vertical a few times, but it was definitely more manageable than he has been before.

I should mention that up to this point, especially with the trot fence in the beginning, I was getting him wayyy too deep into the jump. Finally about halfway through the lesson I listened to Trainer S and got myself together and stopped burying him at that first fence. Once I pulled it together, Charmer got a little less violent about his head shaking. He just needed me to, you know, ride.

Then we added a left turn circle after the blue vertical and headed to this cute little 2'6" yellow vertical. Unfortunately, I could not see a distance to this jump to save my life. We pulled this rail twice. Hard. But thankfully, Charmer was in a fairly forgiving mood and did not decide to dump my butt into the fence. Thanks pony <3

Sassy lead changes for the win

We schooled through our four jump course a few more times and finally I figured my life out at the yellow jump and stopped screwing him up and Charmer flew over it.

We also had a life-flashed-before-my-eyes moment at one point where I thought Charmer was going to take another step at the blue vertical, but instead he decided to go for it (he was right, I was wrong). So I in turn got super left behind, and ended up slipping my reins out to the buckle and only had my right hand left on the reins. I had a moment of "this is the end. He is going to kill me" but instead he just cantered a few strides while I got my reins back together and fixed my life.

Trainer S had us try that line again and it went a whole lot better (thank goodness) and pony got a whole lot of pats for not killing me.

We added on one final jump - a nice 2'3" purple vertical. Charmer was all "NO TOUCHY" again with this one. The first time we put all 5 jumps together, it was not great - I did not have enough forward and kept burying him at the fences - which in turn made him a grumpy pony and threw some nice I-didn't-like-that head shakes to tell me off. I deserved it.

Then we did the course a second time. And I actually insisted on forward momentum, stopped burying him at the deepest spot I could find, and actually looked up and rode. And it was one of the nicest courses I've done on him.

Trainer S was pretty happy with where we ended the lesson. She would have been happier if we had started at that point (lol), but by the end we actually kind of looked like we knew what we were doing. It was not my best ride, and Charmer made sure to tell me that. Even still, I am happy that we are at a better place than we have ever been. He is rideable now, even if he gets a little "wild" and now I have to work on setting him up better and riding more proactively. We are starting to be able to jump more than just two crossrails in a lesson. This lesson definitely helped bring me back to earth a little bit after having a couple really magical lessons, but even with a less-than-perfect lesson this week, I am still so proud of where our journey is taking us.