October 19, 2022

Maryland 5*: The Actual Event

Just like the-event-formerly-known-as-Rolex this year, the Maryland 5* could not have asked for better weather for XC day. It was sweatshirt weather in the morning, but quickly warmed up into t-shirt weather well before lunch.

TERRAIN

This was my first time going, and I was impressed. It's a really well-run event, with jumbotrons throughout the course, tents provided for tailgaters, bars with tents and chairs and tables spread out through the course, and other touches that just subtly say they've got a little more money to work with than Kentucky probably does, although not in any way that would put me off attending one or the other.

Fudgester visiting the Mars tent. He did the ramp after some encouragement, but the throne was a bridge too far. PC: Austen

I have no regrets on becoming the Kentucky Tailgate Queen (tickets purchased last week! Message me for details), but it WAS nice to just enjoy a 5* as a spectator. We did a lot of walking, and our tickets included a craft brewery/distillery/winery tasting with lots of Maryland alcohol establishments.

Traveling with a pack at what I think was the best distillery there, Lyon Distilling out of Maryland. Basically all they do is rum, but their best product was, surprisingly, their orange curacao. Who knew THAT spirit could be complex?

Walking and talking with my former roommate Mark. PC: Austen

By far, the highlight of the weekend was meeting Alli, who I've talked to daily for years but never met! And her husband Mike, who works in the same line of work I do, so we had quite a bit to talk about.

PC: Austen

At the end of it, we faced a long ride back to the parking lot, but some random stranger with a 2008ish GMC Yukon stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. Eventers are just the best.


Did I do a lot more socializing and drinking than actually watching the event? Yes. Did I have a blast? Also yes. 

 

3* competitor doing their thing

I could definitely see making this an annual event. I feel like that's a good balance, one 5* that I throw a huge party at and one that I just relax at.

Fudge's review of Maryland

October 17, 2022

Maryland 5*: Riding Things

Last weekend, Fudge and I made the 16 hour roundtrip drive to visit Austen and attend the Maryland 5*. I originally had plane tickets, but when I got Fudge last month, I canceled them. It felt like the perfect opportunity to break my new dog in to long car rides and horse shows.

And riding in the back of Subarus with strangers

I was supposed to arrive Thursday, BUT got 2.5 hours down the road and realized I forgot my purse, and that my emergency truck CC was expired! Thankfully I had enough gas to get home, so Fudge and I turned around and had a staycation afternoon instead, with pizza and catching up on the Great British Baking Show.

5 hours of driving to visit one rest area and then go home. Fudge's first road trip was a weird one.

But we finally made it on Friday, and immediately got to riding ponies. First up was a trail ride. Austen put me on Charizard (or Chardonnay, but he's really more of a Pokemon), a saintly QH fella that was safe but fun.

Look, it's me, on a full-sized horse!

Austen took what I think is the first photo of my Celeris in broad daylight. How have I had them a year and not done that yet? Haha.

Side note, 19" saddle, 5'1 me. I fit 19"s really well if they have a big block in my way.

I've been out on hacks at her barn before, but never through the trails. I'd sell a piece of my soul for access to them.


Whatever Fudge is, there's some kind of water dog or retriever in there. He was in his element in the creek.



Another creek - he drinks like this ALL THE TIME and it's the weirdest thing. He submerges his face up to his eyeballs if the bowl is deep enough.

When we got to a big field in the middle of the ride, we went for a canter around it. Even when a literal tree fell in the woods next to us and the horses spooked, I never felt even a little anxious.

Me: "Wow, this canter is so smooth, I feel like I could do the Champagne Challenge on him" PC: Austen


After putting Charizard and Guinness away, we headed over to the indoor so I could ride Bast for the first time. While I was waiting, Austen's friend offered me a ride on her 24 year old former 2* eventer and did Dressage through 4th level Warmblood. Once again, I felt a truly surprising lack of anxiety whatsoever as I said yes and climbed on, even though I couldn't figure out how to ride that horse for the life of me, lol.

No media of that, but that's him on the right and Austen on the left

Then I got on Bast, and wow, what a cool experience! Unlike the WB, I immediately felt at home on Bast, and was able to ask for everything through Second Level and even touching Third, the first time I've ever ridden some of that stuff on a horse other than Connor. Austen has really done a remarkable job with him if a stranger can get on him and just boom, everything is right there without her even having to instruct me on how to ride him.

He's fitting right in to that horse show life.

After that, we went and got tacos for Fudge's first restaurant meal ever. After an 8 hour drive and having taken 41,000 steps that day (he normally averages 15,000), he could not have cared less and slept like a baby on the patio, lol.


All in all, it was a fantastic day, but the thing I most can't get over is my total lack of anxiety over getting on three unfamiliar full-sized horses. Old me, even a few years ago, would have been terrified, and probably said no to at least the ride on the WB. And the spook when the tree fell would have made me tighten up in fear rather than sit the spook and laugh.

I felt like a different person on those horses. Am I just a better rider? Or was my riding anxiety, like my work anxiety certainly was, also caused by the hormonal birth control I went off of two years ago this month? Who knows, but it makes me want to start catch riding more things.

October 14, 2022

Training Disco

Disco continues to be the best baby horse, even as we enter what should be his "teenage" phase. I will knock on wood for that, and fully expect him to push us at some point still, but so far, so good.

As far as training him goes, I feel relatively confident in my ability to train him, but less confident about fixing any problems I accidentally create, so my three rules to live by are "small steps", "set him up for success", and "don't rush it".  For example, crosstying. I want him to crosstie, but there are a lot of skills involved in getting there (and a baseline level of maturity needed too). So far, going back a year ago:

  1. I taught him to give to pressure in a halter and lead, including a "head down" cue.
  2. I simulated standing tied by weaving the lead rope through the bars of his stall.
  3. Once I was confident that his reaction to feeling the crown of the halter was to step forward and release pressure, I taught him to tie in the arena with the help of a blocker tie ring. I introduced this over the winter, then didn't touch it at all for several months.
  4. I taught him to tie in his stall, which has a less secure attachment point than the arena.
  5. Over the course of several months, I let the routine become "every day you get tied to the wall in your stall and I pick your feet out and you have to stand there for it," until this was a boring and normal part of his life.
  6. I cross tied him twice over the summer in the wash rack, first with Mary's help and then alone, both times it was very hot and I knew my water-loving baby would want a bath, but then I left it alone for about three months.

 

Oh Connor. Haha.

Over the summer, I didn't work with him much at all, partially because when the horses are on night turnout, the time that I have to work with him during the week is when he's antsy to go outside after being in all day. And yes, he does have to learn that he has to work whenever I tell him to, but at 14-18 months old, that's a LOT to ask. See previous statement about not setting him up for failure.

Definitely helpful when the horse trains himself sometimes too, lol

Last week, we went back to day turnout, and I felt like I could adequately set him up for success in introducing crosstying and that he was mature enough for it. I waited until they came in from a day of turnout, and he'd had dinner and was standing around looking bored in his stall. Then I put Connor and Disco in sets of aisle crossties facing each other, so that Disco would have something to look at. 

Once I was confident that he wasn't going anywhere and that he understood the assignment, I picked his feet out just like our usual evening routine in his stall, just in a different place. One thing he's familiar with (the routine of being restrained and getting his feet picked out every night), one new thing (crosstying).


He was perfect. Better than perfect. It was no big deal to him, which made me feel good about the year of prep work and the slow, incremental steps I took to get there. I picked his feet out, gave him really good scratches in his favorite places with my Hands on Grooming Gloves, ran a Tiger's Tongue over him and put him right back in his stall. He was only crosstied for a couple of minutes and never had a chance to get bored.

Finally going through a fugly phase, I thought it might never happen!
 

I'm not going to take it for granted or push it. I know he's still a tad young to be crosstied, and certainly not for long periods of time. But we'll "plateau" here for a while, continuing to pick his feet out in his stall most nights but doing the crossties as a fun five minute "field trip" once or twice a week, until that too becomes a boring routine and we're both hungry for a new challenge - maybe standing there for 10 minutes instead of 5 a few months from now, that kind of thing.

One small step at a time!

October 12, 2022

Me and My Biomechanics Changes

Back in late August, Kate stayed overnight with me when she was in town for a wedding, and ended up giving me the most incredible gift: figuring out how I've been blocking him.


She watched me set off from the mounting block at a walk, and almost immediately said "Your right hip isn't moving." She had me stop, take my foot out of the stirrup, and told me to "drop" my right hip, straight down. "That actually hurts, I said, "But not a pain hurt. Like I can feel it pulling in a way that tells me I haven't stretched that part of my body in a very long time."

When I set off at the walk again, with Kate walking next to us saying "drop, drop" every time my right hip should have been traveling downward to match the left, it felt like a tsunami of information I'd gotten from so many other people crystallized in that moment. The PT telling me my hips didn't "sway" enough when I walked, and that my right hip was stuck up and forward. CGP and I figuring out that if I thought about putting my right side "forward", Connor suddenly went better. Why the left SI was impossible for me to ride but easy for CGP. Celeste telling me I needed to give him space for his body on the right side, especially on the left rein, and that it would surprise him if I did, because I hadn't been. Even problems I'd been having while running and doing CrossFit suddenly made total sense.

I ran a 5k without pain - my first time running more than two miles in ten years! - as a result of Kate's discovery. It was far from my college PRs, but I ran just over 23:00 to win an age group that had over 60 runners in it. And had NO KNEE OR HIP PAIN during or after, which has not been normal for me for a long time.

That right hip was frozen, in a chicken-or-egg situation with my disused right oblique, and all these years, I haven't been moving with him or allowing the energy to flow on that side. Even now, six weeks later, I can feel it plain as day when I go back to the old way I used to sit on him, and I want to apologize to him for asking him to do so much when I was only 50% there. It feels like the difference between walking with him/sitting on him, and walking against him/sitting above him.

It's certainly possible to get too wrapped around the axle on biomechanics, but in this case, it was appropriate to do so. It has changed everything, including Connor. Where he used to be hollow and curved on his right side, if I just remind myself to walk with him when I feel that, he suddenly fills that side out and becomes straight - no messing with the reins required. 

It's a far cry from schooling Third, but it's a relaxed horse with an open throatlatch moving freely under a rider that is not a burden, and that's the goal right now.
 

Likewise, if I feel myself getting against him in the reins, I often find I've forgotten to walk with him in that moment, and when I do, he drops his head, licks and chews the bit, and relaxes. And in return, the work is coming so much easier to him - it's amazing how much easier ToH and SI and all that becomes when you're moving with the horse.

Since Kate came, he has even started standing with equal weight over both forefeet in the crossties recently, for the first time I can ever remember. Like, seriously?!

Making my rides as pretty as possible has also helped motivate me to get back into the saddle

This is the other reason I'm not taking lessons right now - this has to become my default way of going before I layer anything else on top of it. Just like Connor not using his underneck for balance has to become his default way of going before we layer anything else on top of that.

So, as always, we are taking the slow bus to progress, but we are enjoying the journey while we do it 💗

October 10, 2022

Connor and his Biomechanics Changes


Hello, my name is CobJockey, and I've ridden three times this week!

(This is a recent record.)

"Excuse me what?" PC: Barnmate Leah

It feels good to get back to it, even if what I'm doing looks wildly different than what I was doing a year ago. So let's look at what has changed. First up, with Connor.

I mentioned that we had a session with Celeste last winter. While I haven't been faithful about doing every single one of her exercises regularly, I've done enough to see a huge change in the way he moves and his musculature. It sort of drives me crazy - there's a lot about the way it's marketed and the cult-like fanbase that puts me on edge after my "cult-like clinician experience" from several years ago, but I think she's onto something, and I'm so grateful that I did it for him.

My current theme with him is "Okay, you can do the thing, but can you do it with your underneck relaxed?" One of the things Celeste told me that stuck with me is that his underneck had become his pillar of strength over the years, and he was actually afraid, truly fearful, to let go of it. He wouldn't even try to put his head down for a full 20 minutes when I started asking, and you could see fear in his eyes. In his mind, we were asking him to walk off a plank, or let go of a life preserver in the ocean, and we hadn't even touched the under saddle stuff yet - he was still just wearing a halter and lead rope standing next to me in the arena!

He was just clinging to his pillar of strength as we went further and further up the levels - and the left lead canter depart is still the one thing he desperately clings to the underneck on. PC: Blogger Leah

So we've taken things all the way back. My rides look more like training or First Level rides these days. And I love it. He's never been more relaxed, and he hasn't had a head shaking episode in months at this point. There's a softness in his eyes after our rides that hasn't always been there, and even standing in his stall or the crossties, his posture has changed. It's honestly kind of incredible to see.

Given that, and given my biomechanics discovery from Kate (more on that Wednesday), I'm still not taking lessons at this point. I know what I need to work on, and I know what needs to be solid and ingrained before I add in the pressure of thinking about someone else's opinion of where we are. I love my GP trainer madly, but right now it just needs to be me and Connor.