Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Thoroughly Impressed

Last week, I had an opportunity to go out cross country schooling! Banner and I had a show jumping lesson earlier in the day, so I decided to bring Charmer! Its been over two years since I've brought him out, so I didn't expect much of anything for the schooling, but appreciated the opportunity to get out with him in a low pressure, mellow environment. 

We arrived long before all of the others joining our group lesson, giving Charmer a fair amount of time to settle into the surroundings and let me get him all ready at my own pace. Once some of the other riders arrived, I threw Charmer on the lunge and worked on transitions and just taking in the sights at first. We moved on to roping him over a few of the smaller fences & playing in the water and popped him up and down the banks a bit!

He was distracted and a touch wild but listened well for the most part and was at least jumping nicely! We got to a place where I felt like he was as focused as I could make him on the lunge and decided it was now or never. I got on, and warned the other riders that he may be a touch volatile if anyone rode too close (which everyone was wonderfully respectful of his space) but I definitely just planned on doing my thing.

I expected very little from this schooling since it has been SO long since we were last out, I really only expected to pop some BN fences from the trot and maybe play in the water. When we started out, I had an absolute ball of stressful energy. We could only move sideways at points, but I eventually was able to channel his lil psycho energy into small circles and serpentines at the trot until we finally got his brain back in his head. 

I still definitely only expected to just trot some fences, so we started off playing with the upbank. Charmer has always done really well with terrain questions (banks/ditches/water), so while this wouldn't be the logical place to start with a lot of horses, it worked well for him! He popped very politely up the bank a handful of times before we turned around and hopped back down a bit. The first time was definitely a flyer, but then he remembered solid downbank etiquette. 

Finally, I felt like I had a reasonably rideable horse at this point, and he was remembering the game and the fact he actually kind of enjoys XC! While everyone else started playing with the banks, we headed over to a small hanging log to play over. He was quite unimpressed with it and popped over like a very polite boy. We started cantering away for longer and longer stretches of time after each jump and he was staying super polite and rideable which thoroughly impressed me!!

One of the very cool things about having a horse as athletic & brave as Charmer is that the jump is really never the problem. As long as I ride like a half drunk monkey and point at the right fence, he will pretty much reliably jump it. We have issues sometimes on the backside and in-between fences, but its so cool to know that the actual jump itself won't be the issue. 

As we continued playing over fences, my confidence (and his) just kept growing, He was jumping like a superstar and remaining soft in the bridle and coming back in my half halts. We finally put together a little course and while I cantered in the middle, I still started off trotting the actual fences, but I did canter him over the last fence of our first mini course! Which happened to be a Novice A-frame, which is actually the first Novice XC jump I've ever put him over, and it absolutely felt like nothing on him, which was amazing!

With each fence, my confidence with him just soared higher and higher, We strung together a larger course of beginner novice fences and he tackled each one with ease. One or two of the fences were sticky, but that had more to do with my leg not being on and as encouraging as he needed me to be. I reapproached the fences that were a touch sticky and he was perfect on the second go around every time. 

Once we completed our first course, I made a little comment that "wow he wants to make me want to jump some of the Novice fences". So my friend, who was my trainer at this particular outing as well, started giving me some bigger, more challenging courses. Charmer was clearly a little bit surprised by the first couple of them, but once I rode positively and kept my leg on, he jumped the snot out of them. 

I almost wanted to attempt some even tougher fences with him, but didn't want to push it on his first day back out. We did however play with almost every Novice fence on the property, except for one or two of them. And we ended the day with jumping a jump about one stride out of the water, and doing our first upbank out of water! He absolutely loves the water and was pumped about the upbank! 

For the first XC outing of the year with him, it was absolutely better than I could have imagined. Half the fences we jumped were bigger than we have ever jumped before together! I'm definitely looking forward to getting him out again and hopefully improving a few of the areas that we struggled a little bit, mostly due to my own lack of trust in him. I'd also love to hopefully hit one of our schooling shows before the year is over to gallop around a couple full courses on him and see how he does!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Figuring Out New Normal & Vet Appt.

I'm in a weird state with Banner right now, in which I both have a lot to say and nothing to say at the same time. There are lots of things going through my brain but nothing that seems ready to voice to the world yet. He's happy, healthy & sound, which is always a good place to be. Our partnership seems different than it was & I can't quite put my finger on it. We toodle like pros, but real work has not really been our forte lately.

Hence why the blog has been once again taken back over by my sweet Charmer pony & there has been a little bit of radio silence on Banner. Its just a weird place to be, and I'm not sure I'm ready to let the world into my brain at this time with this particular issue. Luckily, with the world - and show season - on pause for the time being, it's a good time to take the pressure off.

I know there has been a crazy amount of discussion all over social media (whether it be FB, insta, blogs, etc) whether we should keep riding at this time. It's a question that has been very charged on both sides it seems, and a question that has crossed my mind as well. For many, this question has a black and white answer, as many boarding barns have shut their doors to their clients for the safety of the barn workers (understandably so - where would we be without incredible barn staff).

For those of us with our horses at home, its much less of a black and white question. I see both sides of the argument for sure. Its hard to pass up the beautiful spring weather, but also there is always real risk of getting on a horse at any time and can be harder to justify with many hospitals being overwhelmed across the country.

I have continued to ride through this time, but I do reevaluate this question all the time. And I have skipped a couple rides when I just felt like I wasn't in the headspace for it, weather was bad or ponies seemed wild. Typically, I flat probably 90-95% of my rides at home, as I usually only jump in my lessons (although those may be on hold even more indefinitely than however long the virus affects us). I've maintained my schedule of almost entirely flatwork during this time, as jumps always increase the potential risk level. Likely I may still jump during this time, but smaller fences with less complex exercises.

Or maybe we will just do stretchy trot 24/7

If the cases in my area in my state grow drastically, I will continue to reevaluate my decision and maybe change the plan. But for now, owning two reasonably predictable horses (as predictable as an unpredictable animal can be I guess), that I've owned for nearly 5 and 2 years respectively, I feel okay continuing to ride with caution.

Especially as I've been bringing Charmer back into work, I've noticed that having several days off in a row have made him more backsore, and keeping a consistent program seems to keep him the loosest, happiest and most comfortable. In the interest of keeping Charms comfortable, I'd made an appointment over a month ago with our mobile vet for 4/7. We were considering canceling, but since my property is so private, my vet has continued to do the appointments at the smaller farms so there isn't a huge backlog of appointments when things begin to get lifted.

I absolutely adore my vet, especially because she is also certified in chiropractic & acupuncture work! Both of the boys got their spring vaccines done & Charmer was scheduled for a full chiropractic appointment. I already had an inkling of all of the places that he was out, so I gave her a full rundown of what I'd been noticing undersaddle. Sure enough, pretty much every single place I had noticed was a little off, showed up a little off as she examined him as well. Nothing too major, but definitely just a little tweaked in several places (a year off will do that to ya).

He definitely did something funky to his poll, as he was more out there than expected. I'd noticed a little bit of him holding his head slightly crooked undersaddle but it was pretty minor, but he was more out there than I thought he'd be. His neck was actually pretty good for the most part (yay!), but shoulders were pretty tight - LF more than the RF.

I threw blogger Micaylah in the tack for funsies

As we got to his back, both the vet and I were a little surprised to find he was more sore on the right side of his back, despite wanting to be bent to the left most of the time (typically the more sore side is the side they bend to, as they don't want to stretch the sore area out). Luckily all of the long & low work that we have been doing made a fairly significant difference as to how sore he was in his lumbar spine. He was still sore in that area, but much less so than he had been a week or so ago when I first noticed it.

ALL the stretchies

The place he was most screwed up (and I knew this going into it) was his pelvis. He was high on his right hip (again, I'd noticed this undersaddle), and sore in his left hind. We got some big reactions and releases from him here, when he clearly felt a LOT better after a few of those adjustments. It'll be really interesting to see how he holds this adjustment undersaddle over the next few weeks! I popped on him for a basic ride last night and he was definitely moving much more evenly behind, which was fantastic to feel.

Also, I always have my vet do a quick hock check on Charmer when she's out, as he's shown soreness there in the past and I always want to be cautious and ahead of the game if he needs maintenance in his hocks. She said they felt great! YAY! Looks like the Cosequin I have him on has been doing its job keeping him comfortable and fluid in his joints.

I'm thinking there will be another appointment for C in the next few months to make sure he stays even and straight through his body, but it was great to get a pretty good bill of health on him at this appointment!

Monday, April 6, 2020


On top of the incredible turmoil of the world in general right now, I am heartbroken to learn that my trainer is moving away at the end of the month. She is moving back to her hometown to be closer to her family, as her young son grows up. And I absolutely understand her reasoning and it makes sense, but I am quite saddened by the news.

Photos are from the last lesson I had with Trainer C

I've had a relationship with her as a Trainer for nearly 3 years now, and she has inside knowledge of Banner (as she rode him weekly for months before I owned him). She has always been patient and kind with Charmer as well, and keeps a good sense of humor about his antics.

Lately, Banner has really been kind of a pill and I was definitely planning to lean heavily on Trainer C to try to get us back to "normal", but now this has rocked my world just a bit. There's another trainer at the barn that I train at that I am also familiar with & who I love, but she is more expensive, and even just the $10 or $15 difference that it is, adds up really quickly.

I am going to work on stepping up my at home training game so I'm a bit less reliant on trainers, but I do best in a program, and I know that about myself. Based on location and what I'm looking for in a trainer, I feel a bit stuck as to where I go from here.

I have a friend who runs her own training barn at a reasonable price per lesson that I'm considering working with, but she definitely doesn't have the experience level that Trainer C does. Or my other option is to work with Trainer S at the same barn, but minimize my # of lessons in order to stay within a reasonable budget.

Compared to the craziness going on in the lives of so many right now, I know this is a trivial concern, but it has really been a struggle for me to wrap my brain around over the last few days. It seemed very out of the blue and now I am suddenly reeling to figure out what my training life will look like once things begin returning to "normal".

I'm so grateful for Trainer C and all that she has done to improve my riding and continuing education in the saddle over the last few years, and it will be such a loss to our community to have her leave.

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.