Thursday, March 26, 2020

Winter Series Jump Show with Charms

Well I'm nearly 2 weeks late with this post about my little schooling show with Charmer but oh well. Better late than never I suppose. Despite the fact that this show was only 12 days ago, somehow it feels like a lifetime ago as the world seems to continue to get crazier. I know we are all seeing far too many posts about all of that, so I'll try to keep this post a bit happier and away from the craziness of life for the time being.

We left off in my last post with me getting Charms back into a bit of a program and jumping some little fences again. Throughout the week leading up to our final winter series show (on March 14th), Charmer and I did some nice little conditioning rides and a lot of work on getting his hind end under him and being softer in the bridle. I did pop him over a couple of fences the night before the schooling show just to make sure that I didn't have fear of imminent death for taking him out. He popped fences like a civilized creature and remained nicely soft in the bridle.

On Saturday morning, we loaded up and headed out. I'd given him a good amount of time in his Back on Track blanket overnight to help keep him loose in his body. He unloaded a bit on high alert, but nothing bad at all. The weather was supposed to be drizzly and grey all day which was a bit unfortunate, but luckily this is an indoor show anyways. The rain had held off for the most part, but as I was almost done tacking up, it started raining on us a bit. I quickly finished tacking and got on in order to keep my tack as dry as possible.

We headed to the large outdoor warmup ring. Which honestly is one of my least favorite rings to ride in probably ever, but it does the job. The footing was even deeper than I remember it being in several spots (only good for walk work in a couple places), and its an incredibly distracting location. Two of the edges are trailer parking, which isn't that bad, but one end butts up against a large dirt paddock with several mules & donkeys, and one long side has a large row of pine trees between you and a bunch of cows (so the horses hear them but don't see them). I always factor in that I want to do as little work in the outdoor as possible because especially for Charmer, it winds him up more than relaxes him.

We spent about 10 minutes in the outdoor, doing only walking, laterals and a bit of solid trot work before I headed to the indoor to pop a few fences (there is open warmup inside but they ask you to be ready to jump before you head in). I got wonderfully lucky to head in as a large group of riders left the ring, leaving just me and one other little girl. The less horses in the ring the better typically for Charmer. I took one lap of canter each direction and he felt softly forward both ways. He was still just a touch on edge but no longer felt like a bomb about to go off.

This was my first show in 18 months on Charmer and so I wasn't entirely sure how he would react to jumping these fences again. Nearly every fence had a filler, there were a couple of oxers, and most fences were a part of some sort of related distance. Good ol' super prepared me hadn't schooled any of those things (lol!). To be fair, none of these things have been an issue for Charms in the past, and it was a last minute, lowkey show so I wasn't super worried.

I headed around and pointed him at the most bland of the designated warmup fences, a basic brown vertical with an unimposing plank filler. And he jumped it like a school pony. I wandered around and jumped the other 3 warmup fences (2 oxers and 2 verticals with plank fillers). Good boy C didn't even bat an eye at a single one. We cantered a few of the fences and did one related line and called it quits before we had even jumped 10 fences.

I headed out to wait until the classes began. Luckily I was first to go and only had about 15 minutes to wait. They let me in the ring with 5 minutes to go and I got some nice time to wander around. I'd signed up for two rounds at 2'3" just to have some fun! The first round, I mostly trotted into the fences and honestly probably held him back a little bit. He was absolutely a perfect boy despite the inkling of distrust I had (for no good reason at all). I left the ring with a BIG smile on my face.

We waited for about 4 other rides and headed back in for our second round. I decided to canter this time around and it was fun! A few sticky moments when we had to change our leads and such but he took smart distances to every fence and never got wild. I gave him all the pats as we headed out of that ring. The classes were huge, and its a schooling show, so I didn't go for a ribbon or wanting one at all, and we didn't get one for our times, but based on how happy I was, you would've assumed I'd just won grand champion or something.

He felt so good that I nearly considered going in for a 2'6" round but I figured that was unfair to him and pushing my luck, as we hadn't really schooled that height consistently since he's been back in work. It was such a great feeling to end wanting more!

Unfortunately shows, life, and lessons seem on hold indefinitely (as Idaho is under 3 week shelter-in-place like much of the rest of the country & world). But I'm planning to continue working on things at home with the boys during this break from everything else! I can't wait to hit the show ring again sometime in the next few months hopefully with Charms!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Jumping Back to Normalcy

I've got some stuff to blog about with Banner, but for now the spotlight is still on Charmer, so Banner's posts will be coming up later this week. Bringing Charmer back into work has quite honestly been such a joy for me. He's a lot of horse, and there's no denying that, but he is quite athletic and I have a connection with him that I'm not sure I've ever felt with any other horse. His back feels like "home", and I kind of always know what he's going to do even before he does it. It's a very wonderful and unique feeling that I'm appreciating even more after all the time off he got last year.

I've been slowing building up his strength (as I mentioned in my last post) and working on getting him to use his body appropriately again. His baseline fitness tends to come back pretty quickly, so I've been really working on making sure he stays soft in the bridle as he gets more fit.

Sort of on a whim, but not completely, I picked up a Bomber bit for him last week. He has always tended to be a touch "fussy" with his mouth, and after trying him in a rubber mullen (which improved things but still wasn't perfect), I had the idea of trying a Bomber. Of course those bits are $$$ so I wasn't about to just run out and buy a brand new one right away until I sold some stuff to fund this idea of mine. Luckily I found one for sale on Facebook in the exact size & style I wanted for just $85 shipped, which was a significant enough discount to make me jump on it.

Getting some solid form back

We've tried it out for a few rides with some pretty positive results so far. Obviously no bit is a majykal fix, but he has been a bit more willing to softly reach into the contact, respect my half-halts just a touch more, and be quieter with his mouth. I managed to jump him solidly at 2'3" yesterday in it without feeling like I was out of control at any point, which is always a good place to be with him.

Can't forget about a little Kung Fu Fighting tho

Again, on a bit of a whim, I decided to throw Charmer in our last local winter series show of the season this upcoming Saturday. The show is super cheap and its a pretty lowkey schooling environment, so I figured it is a good opportunity for us to get back out and see how he feels about that.

The morning classes start at 2'3" and unfortunately the show always lasts a crazy long time, so I knew if I wanted to take him, I'd have to make sure we could do the 2'3" because I sure as heck am not sticking around until 6pm or later to do the little classes. As a little prep, last week I set a single fence and started at a x-rail and slowly built to 2'3", both trotting and cantering. It was fairly solid and he didn't really knock any rails (we used to jump 2'9"+ easily so the height really isn't an issue provided he can stay sane).

So yesterday, I decided to drag out my jump/photographer crew (my husband) as I played around with Charms a bit more. I only set one more fence, but I started them off at 2'3" right off the bat just to see what he would do (spoiler, he was totally fine with that since they're still little fences for him). But the way I set them allowed me to do a pretty tough "bending line" at almost a 90* angle if I wanted a challenge, but each fence was also separate enough for me to do them individually.

Wut R Legz?

I trotted each fence with him first and he was a little slow on the approach but felt good and we got some nice little jumps so then I moved on to canter. One of my goals was to maintain basically the "same" canter all the way up to the fence, but still feel like I had an adjustable horse if I needed it. My other goal was to not bury him into the fences, but also not allow him to do that to himself (he likes taking a big stride beforehand and then the takeoff spot is too close and doesn't allow for a nice, smooth jump).

After a couple of very "sticky" jumps in which he kind of lost power all the way to the base of the fence, I kicked him up into my hand and focused on trying to almost feel like I was increasing the power. Not rushing, or even making a bigger canter, but having more impulsion on the approach. And wouldn't you know it, the jumps started feeling better and more fluid! Crazy how all those things my trainers have told me over the years actually work.

We still had a few bolty moments and a few (hilarious) kick outs, but for the most part he was super solid, and even the handful of weird moments that we had were super manageable.

Favorite jump shot of the day

We are back to mostly flatwork this week as we head into our little teeny schooling show this Saturday, but I'm feeling good about taking him out, and super happy with how his fitness is improving right now! Taking time off of riding him and working on myself seemed to really benefit both of us. Charmer is physically looking really good (despite needing some chiro), and we finally have his feet under him which is keeping him from being footsore or anything. And my own personal strength & riding ability has really improved over the last year or so, and we just feel like a much better team now all around.

So proud of this kid.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Strength Training

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, the one good thing that came out of Banner's little injury and my subsequent panicking was that it finally allowed me a chance to take Charmer out to my lesson this Tuesday! I'd been trying to set up time to take him instead of Banner for a little while, but my schedule hasn't really allowed it to happen unfortunately.

Photos from an unrelated jump ride at home!

I've been able to keep up a reasonable amount of consistency with Charmer lately, which has been nice. And we are slowly working on improving his strength and adding in some jumps again. I have an annoying tendency to get very in my own head about riding him so I knew as we progressed, I needed to prioritize a lesson sooner rather than later so that I could get some good direction on how to improve with him.

We arrived in the early afternoon Tuesday, and he was his nice calm, cool collected self on the ground. He's incredibly well mannered and handleable on the ground, and he lived at our training facility long enough that he's quite relaxed there! I tacked up early and quickly and gave him a quick lunge. He actually didn't buck or anything on the line and seemed to work out of his minimal stiffness quickly (thank you Cosequin ASU!).

After our brief lunge we headed over to the big ring. Its been probably a year and a half since he's been in there! Even the couple of field trips we have taken have all been in the other, smaller rings. There were 2 other horses in the ring when I came in, and again we haven't ridden with other horses in the ring for a very long time, but Charmer took to it like a fish to water. All those years of racehorse living taught him how to settle into new environments quickly (even if this isn't exactly a new environment).

Sometimes he's a little extra

We walked, trotted and cantered around like a reasonably civilized creature with only a few teeny moments of weirdness, but that was pretty expected since he's out of shape and hasn't been out in a while! Trainer C came in and we showed off out basic trot work along with where we're at with our canter work. Then we moved on to cantering over a pole. This really highlighted his main weakness of not sitting down on his hind end. He's pretty active in his front end right now but isn't quite sitting down with his hind yet, so she decided to have me try an exercise in the canter before we moved onto jumps.

We would canter a half 15m circle off of the rail and then leg yield back to the long side, transition back down to trot and pick up the other lead to do the same back the other way. This funky little figure 8 really helped Charmer to find his inside hind leg & sit down a bit more. Once this improved (and he started to get a bit tired) we moved on to the last little bit of our lesson, popping over a cute little x-rail!

We used a placing pole and a nice little x-rail that was probably about 15-18" in the center. We started off trotting over it each way and got some lovely little jumps. We also worked on tight turns on the haunches on the backside to shift his weight back onto his hind end before we transitioned back to trot. A few really nice transitions, and it will just keep getting better as his strength improves!

Our very last exercise was finally cantering the little x-rail a few times, and we got some awesome passes! I've worked really hard to improve as a rider over the last couple of years and I was really able to ride him proactively and positively while also settling his wild on the backside of the fence. It was really nice to feel some of that hard work pay off. I'm desperately hoping to really get him back in the local show ring this year and keep him going. It's been SO much fun to bring him back into work!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Cue Panic

I'm definitely a few days late with this post, as I intended to make it on Monday, but oh well! Better late than never. Last Thursday (Feb 20th), I pulled Banner out as normal for a casual dressage ride. Everything seemed nice and normal until I started grooming and saw a big fat spot on his RF leg. It was super unusual swelling and definitely sent me into a wild panic. The outside of his leg looked 100% normal, but the inside had odd swelling in a place that made me fear suspensory or possibly tendon damage.

I immediately called my vet in a fairly worried, but trying to stay level-headed, state and left a voicemail explaining what I saw & wanted to get her out as soon as I could fit into her schedule. Bless her, she called me back within an hour (she was in the middle of acupuncturing another horse but called as soon as she was done), and we were able to make an appointment for Friday. The plan was to keep him in his stall, wrapped overnight and see what we found the next day.

My horses never actually get locked in their stalls, so I had to call my dad to help me hang a gate on the back of Banner's stall so we could get him locked inside for the night, and afterwards I immediately drove to TSC for a bunch of shavings to get his stall bedded deeply. Standing wraps went on both fronts and I proceeded to worry my brain to bits through the night. The level-headed part of me tried not to overreact, but the anxiety part of me screamed that this was bad and I had to prepare for worst case scenario.

Luckily, he didn't seem lame from what I'd seen walking him up, but I was too paranoid to check at any gait other than walk until we had seen the vet. Sometime around 11pm that night, my brain finally quieted enough for a few brief hours of sleep, but around 2am something woke me up and I couldn't fall back asleep until 4:30am. A few more hours of pretty restless sleep before I got up at 6am and immediately went out to check on B & his leg.

My tiny amount of hope that it just magically would disappear faded immediately after I removed his wraps. It was still puffy and warm, although possibly slightly less than it had been the night before but I wasn't sure. I headed off to work to wade through a miserable day as all I could think about was my poor little B. It almost became worse once arriving home though because then I had no distractions.

He weaseled so many cookies out of me over the 3 days he was stalled

Luckily I didn't have to wait long before the vet came out around 3:00. She palpated his whole leg extensively for about 5-10 minutes before letting me know that she didn't feel any tendon issues and she had found an incredibly small scrape on the back of that leg. I'd looked for one when it first occurred but couldn't find one. It was teeny. like 1/8th of an inch in width and only about 3/4 of an inch long. Buried under all the winter hair, it was easy to miss. It even took her a couple minutes before finding it because of it's small size.

We took him out for a brief session at the trot on the lunge to see if he was lame, and much to my relief he was quite sound. The consensus was that somehow he just banged himself just right in order to have his leg blow up. We decided to keep him on a couple more days of stall rest to ensure the swelling went completely away and that he would stay sound before releasing him back into his big pasture, but luckily Monday arrived, and the swelling and heat were gone, and I had a very sound horse still.

So happy to be out of jail

I haven't managed to get a ride back on him yet since it happened but we are slated for a light ride to triple check his soundness probably tomorrow. Definitely playing it extra safe, but he really stressed me out good on this little injury.

The only good thing that came out of all of this, was that I finally managed to take Charmer to a lesson for the first time since late last summer!! That will be its own post (hopefully for tomorrow), but at least there was a small silver lining. I'm beyond grateful to know that it wasn't nearly as bad as I feared and Banner is so thrilled to be out of his stall.

Monday, February 17, 2020


Banner has been in a pretty weird funk for the last few weeks it seems. Our winter schedule is always a little lighter since I don't board anymore and therefore don't have an indoor arena. He's on a 2-4 day a week schedule depending on the weather, arena ride-ability & light. Our summer schedule is generally 5-7 days a week, so definitely a big difference! I'm not totally sure what's up with him, but I'm feeling a touch lost about it and a bit frustrated, so we are back to the mega basics for a few rides to see if I can get my happy lil pony back! I'm hoping he is just a little burned out on the tough stuff we have been working on & some light work will return him to his unicorn status. 

With the days getting longer though, I've found myself with a little extra time now that my rides with Banner have been short & sweet. Its been perfect timing for continuing to bring Charms back into work. I've been trying to hit a lesson with him for the last few weeks but the stars just haven't aligned for that to work out yet. I've managed to maintain a good 3 days a week with him for the last few weeks (although sometimes it's just been lunging instead of riding) and I'm pretty thrilled about how he's feeling. 

I'm working on having a soft connection with him so he maintains a softer mouth as I bring him back & so far its been working really well! We have established a solid walk/trot/canter again both ways (although hes definitely stiffer to the right, which unfortunately is my bad way too) & are getting some lovely moments in all the gaits. Bringing him back is reminding me of so many memories with him and I'm loving it. I'm not really sure how to describe it in a way that really makes sense, but getting back on Charmer always feels like "home". I just know his tack & his gaits & his quirks like they're a part of me. 

Yesterday I decided to step it up a notch and bring some jumps back into the mix! We started off with a pole obviously and he was comically bored by it. When we cantered the pole I had a moment where I expected him to do something dumb & stopped supporting him and he broke to the trot like the perfect child that he is. I get all in my head about jumping in general, but for some reason with Charmer its worse (probably partly because his bascule jumps me out of the tack 80% of the time). I finally laughed it off, got my head screwed on straight & jumped him like I know what I'm doing and he was a super good kiddo. 

We started off with a teeny crossrail and he was great! Slightly awkward over some of the jumps because we were trotting them and they were so little, but he was quiet and an appropriate amount of forward for the fences. Raised it to a slightly bigger crossrail and he was fantastic to the left, but got a bit more strung out/wild to the right. Our neighbors horse came over to observe & he was distracted (he could see her going right but not going left) and it is naturally already his worse direction (stiff in his right hip). Managed to settle him down enough for one final good jump after a few slightly extra excited ones going to the right, and ended on a lovely jump back to the left.

Large BOING for little crossrail

There is one more show of our winter series on March 14th & I'm tentatively hoping to bring both of the kids to that. I need to get Charmer back up to jumping about 2'3" in order to take him (that's the height that the morning classes start) & I need Banner to get out of his weird funk of just randomly being a jerk for no real reason at all. Both of those things are definitely feasible goals if I can get my life together enough to really pursue them. 

Hopefully I'll keep up on blogging (one of my goals for this year!) & keep you guys posted on if I get Charmer back up to height & Banner back to normal soon!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Undersaddle Again!

Charmer has been an absolute rockstar this last week or so as I've been slowly easing him back into work. I had to move my lesson from Tuesday last week to Thursday with Banner, and it was just pretty horrendous - think temper tantrums every 5 minutes. I left on Thursday feeling pretty frustrated and discouraged, plus being super exhausted after dealing with Banner's antics for the better part of an hour and a half.

After I got home, I wallowed in self pity for a few hours as I did some laundry and watched TV, and after an appropriate amount of time feeling sorry for myself about how miserable our lesson had been, I finally picked myself up and went outside to go play with Charmer. The day was lovely, nearly 50* and super sunny, so I felt guilty if I let the lovely weather pass me by. It was a pretty good thing it was so nice outside, or I would've probably passed up going out.

My poor property is still mildly a swamp from having basically a week straight of rain, but the arena footing was reasonable enough to manage a lunge and possibly a ride. I was very grateful for hot water access near my barn when I pulled Charmer out, because his legs were so muddy that I had to hose them off. Once I got him cleaned up, we tacked up and headed out for a lunge. And of course, he decided that everything was suuuper scary on this lunge.

We had a bit more imitation porpoising and general flailing around than usual, but the work he was giving me in between all the leaping and snorting was solid. I'm not really sure why I decided that this was the perfect day to get on him for the first time in 2020, but it was. So I climbed aboard after our little 15 minute lunge, and wouldn't you know it? He was foot perfect. Just walk and trot, and general relearning each other in the tack, but he was fantastic!

Both kids got Friday off because I had too many other things going on to make time for them, but Saturday morning was pretty wide open! The sun went away on Saturday, so even though we had reasonable temperatures, it felt significantly colder, but I managed to convince myself to ride at least one pony anyways. Still feeling a pretty solidly bruised ego from Banner and his horrible behavior on Thursday, made me decide that I'd rather bring out Charmer.

I managed to even rope the husband into taking some photos for me on Saturday morning, which was extra awesome! We did a brief lunge session, but probably our shortest yet - just probably 5-7 minutes of quick w/t/c and making sure his brain was with me.

I climbed aboard, and he felt a bit more wired than he had on Thursday, but still fairly settled and reasonable. We got some good walk work, and I did some brake checks as well. He got a few moments where he remembered how to actually bend around my inside leg and soften a bit. We moved onto trot work, and even though he got a touch heavy on my hands, and we weren't pushing for a big, true working trot, we got some solid work in at the trot. Then, I decided to move on to the canter. He is always a touch explosive in his canter transitions, especially if he hasn't done it under saddle in a little bit, so I always try to do my best to set him up for success.

Sure enough, we got a mini explosion and a pretty dull/awkward transition when I first asked, but it was super mild for him. After a lap of canter, we regrouped and tried again. Much less sass the second time around and his transition was a bit sharper - felt less like I was trying to start a pull-to-start lawn mower. Again, we didn't get much work in a true working gait, but it was solid and quiet.

We repeated all of this work back the other direction and again he was a very good boy. A bigger explosion in our first canter, because we were going right this time (usually the way he has a bigger reaction), but it still felt really good.

All of the work I've been doing on my own riding in the last year has helped me to be more aware of my own body position when I'm riding Charmer. I think this is allowing me to bring him back better, and softer than before. I'm thrilled to see what 2020 has in store for me and my dragon child. Hopefully he will come back to full work and be better than ever!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Bringing Back the Big Man

Last year, I got a bit swept away with Banner about showing and lessons and moving up and improving my riding. Which don't get me wrong, I love that we improved so much and accomplished so much last year! But unfortunately time seemed to run away from me last year, and my sweet Charms was put on the back burner. It was really no fault of his own, but I needed to work through some of my riding baggage and Banner helped me do that.

I would pull Charmer out for a few days every so often to lunge or ride, and don't get me wrong, he got groomed and I stuffed him full of cookies every day or two. He wasn't ignored by any means, but we just didn't get much of anything done under saddle in 2019. Despite the fact that I know he didn't care about getting time off, I still felt (and feel) immensely guilty about it. He is very talented and I felt like I just let that go to waste for a year.

Starting in 2020, I feel like I have adjusted to have some slightly better time management skills for everything in my life, and I'm prioritizing trying to get both of the horses going this year. Now unfortunately, it is still January, and that means questionable weather for the rest of this month and probably the next two months at least as well. But I've managed to take advantage of every nice day we have had (that I haven't been dying of the plague) to do something with at least one, if not both of the horses. And I love it!

I've pulled out Charmer for a couple of lunges in the last week. And let me tell you, I am always blown away by him. He has a naturally beautiful movement and look about him that always gives me all the heart eyes. After so much time off, the fact that he still looks so fancy to me is amazing as well.

At the beginning of last week, I pulled him out for what I would call his first "real" lunge of the year. I pulled out the surcingle (which was a workout to put on Mr. Chunky by the way) and while we spent most of the time not using side reins or anything, even just putting it on makes Charmer know that it is "work time". We spent this whole ride at just walk and trot, reminding him how to be a real horse and then we spent a few minutes each way at the end using one side rein on the outside and the lunge line as an inside rein to remind him that he knows what contact is. And he was an absolute rockstar for all of it!

We did our second lunge later in the week on Friday night. I felt horrible (yay for getting sick again), but I knew that it would be our last good day until probably this Thursday to get any work done with him. The weather forecast had us getting rain basically late Friday through Wednesday, which turns my poor arena into an absolute lake. Between already hating riding in the rain plus the fact that it tears up my footing, we basically won't do anything until this misery is behind us I think.

I actually tacked him up this time so he could readjust to all of that. When I sent him out on the lunge he had this beautiful marching walk with a great overstep. Warmed up like that for a bit and then I sent him off into a trot. And let me tell you it was the floaty-est trot I've ever seen from him. I of course didn't get that trot on video but I got some and even the bit I got I was very happy with! We played around in the canter a bit, and as I expected we had some fireworks, but he also gave me some beautiful strides as well. As his fitness improves I'm hoping the explosions will lessen and the beautiful moments will increase.

We played with all this same stuff the other direction and even though he was a bit tired we still got some absolutely incredible moments out of him. Poor guy was huffing and puffing a bit by the end of our 25 or so minute session, but that is to be expected when you are an out of shape wooly mammoth. As his fitness returns he should be less winded at the end of our sessions and I'm also considering clipping him if we are going to make work a regular appearance in his life again!

I couldn't be more happy with bringing him back and I'm excited and hopeful for our year together!