Dressage Lessons

You all know that one of the many reasons I love my trainer so much is her willingness to talk about all different aspects of the horse world- the pros and cons of the pony jumper division, farrier billing mechanisms, educational programs offered through USHJA, etc. A little while ago we were having one of those conversations that included a ton of different topics, and one thing that she started laughing about was how she will regularly have a client ask if they can have “a dressage lesson.”

Quick context: yes, her focus is in the hunter/jumper/equitation world and she is the bomb dot com at that. But she did spend several years over in Germany with a dressage barn as well, so asking her for a dressage lesson isn’t as random as it sounds.

So I started opening my mouth to say something like, “Ooh yeah I’d like a dressage lesson too!” but before I could, she continued, “What do they think they’d be doing differently in a dressage lesson that I don’t have them doing in our flatwork? They’re not going to move right into half-passes just because we aren’t jumping that day.”

Huh.

And I realized that was kinda why I wanted a dressage lesson. I wanted to do the super exciting fancy dressage-y stuff like tempi changes and canter pirouettes and all that jazz! We can ignore the fact that getting a left-to-right change depends on many things, but my cues are not usually one of them. It would most certainly happen effortlessly in a Real Dressage Lesson.

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This was Frankie’s response to my whispered instructions to “go channel Valegro”

I also realized that we do, in fact, incorporate a ton of awesome stuff into our flatwork already. Our canter circles have gotten smaller and smaller, and we’ve gotten pretty good at doing haunches-in at the same time. It’s not even close to a pirouette, but several of the building blocks are there that weren’t there before. We have started playing around with half-passes as we’ve built strength and nuance. We’re not very good at it, but that’s the first step to being good at something, right? We’re not going to go win any gold medals in the sandbox, but I think we could go do a lower level test without embarrassing ourselves (after I learn some basic geometry, you know, minor things like that).

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“NO NO NO NO NO” -Frankie’s response to flat lessons

I’ve been working with Frankie in his elevator bit for a few months which has been super excellent for him- but I was also pretty sure that a large part of our newfound ability to actually push up into the bridle and werk was due to having that type of leverage. So the other day I popped his plain snaffle back in for a leisurely ride, and then tested the waters. And lo and behold, I got some lovely work out of him in that snaffle. It was a real breath of relief to know that he is stronger and more educated to that contact, I am stronger and more educated to that contact, and we are not reliant on the stronger bit to maintain it. We can be straight and manipulate the bend and work over our back and extend and collect without hanging on my hand. In short- we can kinda dressage!

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We were in the plain snaffle all last year and it was…fine. But for a very NOT sensitive horse, it was not the best fit. We’ve built a lot of sensitivity since then, but I still much prefer having a more direct line of communication on course.

I certainly don’t plan to switch back to a snaffle for jumping since it gives me a lot more tools when we’re both fired up to bigger fences, but I’m happy to know that our dressaging is paying off so handsomely.

 

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Can you see what a hunkachunka he is these days?!?! CAN YOU?!?

Looks like we’ll be continuing our unintentional dressage lessons!

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Recipe for Success

We all know there isn’t one single way to succeed. Heck, the definition of the word “succeed” is going to be different for every person you talk to. It’s finding breakthroughs with a challenging horse, or tackling a difficult course in a lesson, or finally getting the dang rain rot to go away altogether. It’s getting ribbons at shows, or it’s building a connection, or it’s getting the confidence to try a new discipline. I could go on endlessly- and for most people I know, success is some blend of many different things that is constantly shifting over time.

So what does success look like to me right now- and what does it not look like?

As someone who loves to compete, part of my success looks like doing well at horse shows. It looks like being able to give my horse a thorough and efficient warmup, setting him up to perform well on course, riding my plan, being bold with some more assertive inside turns, and finding the right balance between softly allowing Frankie to do his job vs. surrounding him and providing him the support he needs to attack the course.

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This. This looks like success to me.

Success to me does not look like ribbons. I’ve gotten good ribbons for courses that I rode poorly- I got lucky and my horse bailed me out. I’ve had trips that felt extraordinarily competent- smooth, deliberate, efficient, and incredibly in tune with my horse- where an unlucky rail kept us out of the ribbons. I’ll never be mad about getting a ribbon, but I can walk away from a show without any ribbons and still feel satisfied with our accomplishments.

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This round didn’t get a ribbon. Still very very happy with this smug lookin’ beast

Success also looks like a happy horse. I don’t do this sport for a living- I’m an amateur. I do it for fun. For me, a cranky horse is not fun. I consider myself successful when I’m able to provide the care necessary for Frankie to be comfortable in performing his job, which leads to him being happy to go play the game. Success is teaching him the rules of the game and being consistent, so that he is able to confidently navigate the ring. I feel like a total winner when I feel him lock on to a jump and ask to carry me to it.

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When he hears the buzzer and asks to go? Joyful. (also I’m never going to stop using this pic sorrynotsorry)

Success looks like individualizing our program to build on Frankie’s strengths, knowing that the skills he needs to develop are not the same as the other horses in the barn, and the way we work on them may not be the same. It’s lots of fitness work because he’s a chunkaroo at heart, it’s hand walks at shows to give him fresh air when he’s stuck in a stall, and it’s getting in his way a little to tell him the right answer when we’re schooling.

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It also means getting out of his way a little more sometimes

It does not look like being good at just one thing. Yes, our efforts are focused mainly in the jumper ring- but we enjoy hacking out, we’ve practiced our polish in the equitation ring, and we regularly ride with the hunters to practice nice smooth steady courses. He’s a wonderful show horse, but only because I ask him to be. Part of enjoying our partnership means enjoying different ways of working together.

Overall, success to me means improving our skills as a team so that we can go on adventures together with confidence in our abilities to navigate whatever comes up!

Your turn- what looks like success to you for where you are in your journey right now?

 

Pleasurific Pony

I’ve been toodling lately. Between moving, travel, wedding planning, a busy season at work, and showing a lot lately, I’m a bit fried both mentally and physically. 3 shows in two months may not be a lot to some people, but I’m just not used to it! So for a little bit, I’m taking a step back from hard training to just enjoy my sweet pony.

And part of that enjoyment is sharing him!

I’ve often mentioned my fav Talented Junior Rider(TM) that hops on Frankie for me when I can’t be there, and she’s been taking some rides on him while I’ve been traveling and getting situated in the new place. She seems to enjoy hopping on him, and I know Frankie absolutely ADORES her! Seriously, he will follow her to the ends of the earth, homeboy loves himself some Devyn. She’s a very solid and hard-working young horsewoman and strikes an excellent balance of making him work while also loving on him. Bonus- she and her mom also clean my tack really well after she uses it 😉

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He falls asleep on the crossties with her, he’s pretty sure this is what heaven is like.

Her mom Kristen is also my barn bestie! That whole family actually is my adopted barn family. They even helped Nick plan his proposal, and were there to take pictures and share the moment. We do Friday barn happy hours, take turns bringing wine, and generally I just adore the whole fam because they are wonderful and supportive and snarky and hilarious and the best.

 

She also takes 90% of the pics I use here- if it’s adorable, it’s probably from Kristen.

Kristen has hopped on Frankie once or twice- she is a dedicated Pony Mom, but is a lovely horsewoman in her own right- and I’m always encouraging her to hop on more. There’s nothing better than seeing Frankie bop around with my friends! So when we saw that there was a nearby local show coming up, it was quickly decided that Kristen would go take Frankie in the pleasure division to play around, for her first show in 6+ years. Trainer was enthusiastically on board.

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Hahahaha I got the stink face for standing at the rail and yelling YOU’RE DOING GREAT SWEETHEART. I was the embarassing Pony Mom.

These were Frankie’s first flat classes, believe it or not! And as expected, he was just an angel doll.

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LOOK AT MY SWEET BOY BEING SO WONDERFUL I MUST FILM EVERYTHING OMG

It was funny- he was visibly confused at the lack of jumps, and kept helpfully pulling Kristen towards them like “OK lady we had our warmup now I know my job is jumpies.” Gotta love that helpful spirit of his.

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IT’S RIGHT THERE I SEE IT LET’S GO JUMP IT

I hopped on him between classes to work him down a bit, and yes we were all laughing that Frankie needed some “prep.” Homeboy has spent the last two years getting educated to the contact and learning how to fire up, and all of a sudden he had a loopy rein and was supposed to just bop around.

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Happiest boppiest pony on the planet!

I swear, he thought he died and went to heaven. AT was joking that now Frankie really REALLY wants a Mommy Ammy to drink mimosas off his back and toodle with forever. He got a little taste of what his retirement with me will look like down the line, and now he’s pretty pumped about it. Sorry bud, you’re too athletic for me to retire you just yet. You’ve got some more work to do.

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We all brought wine and beer and mimosas, and my job as helper was to hand them out as everyone exited the ring. Pretty sure we had more alcohol than we had people. I LOVE our mom crew.
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These ladies had been out of the show ring for years, and they all went in and rocked it with great ribbons!!! Frankie and his buddy Vinnie (on the right) both do the High Adults and 1.20m jumpers, and they both went in and were such sweet beans in the pleasure and low hunter classes. My heart.

Seriously, what an absolute unicorn- he was doing the 1.15m jumpers all fiery and fancy in a national show up at Lake Placid, and two weeks later he was happily taking a re-rider around some flat classes at a local show.

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Those ears never did anything but this. HE’S JUST SO HAPPY AND ADORABLE.

I’m so grateful to have a horse that I can share with my friends like this! It brings me such great joy to see him so happily take on different jobs and try new things. He’s kinda like a jack of all trades and master of all of them. Because he is a WonderPony.

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There is nothing more exhausting than a local show with 37 entries in the 2′ low hunters and a gatekeeper who has never done this before.

Between moving Nick in to our third-floor walkup on Saturday and getting up at 5:30a to go to this show on Sunday, I am EXHAUSTED. Time to toodle some more with the world’s best pony ’til I can get some energy back.

Playing Catchup on Life

Jeepers crow you guys, I feel like I haven’t had a chance to breathe lately!

Frankie is doing just fine, getting loved on by our resident Talented Junior Rider(TM) and getting a bit of a break from the intense training we’ve been in. I’ll be out this week to ride, but there’s lots going on in the non-horse world that’s keeping me busy!

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Frankie LOVES his TJR. She makes him work hard, but loves on him and takes him for walks. He’s one happy boy.

First off- as I already mentioned, last week I came home to a new apartment! All my stuff is unpacked but it’s definitely still in transition as my dude moves his stuff in as well over the next few weeks. We also won’t have a couch for roughly a month (worth waiting to get one for free IMO). So it’s a bit chaotic and a bit unorganized but it’s also fantastic. I’m a 3 minute drive (or a 10 minute walk if I ever stop being a lazy butt) from work, we have tons of closet space, and are close to friends and family. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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All I wanted was a porch. And we got a porch. I’m so happy.

 

Nick and I also drove up to the Buffalo area this past weekend for a family reunion! His mom’s side of the family gets together every year and this was my first intro to most of them before the wedding. There’s nothing quite like meeting 40+ of your future in-laws in one go. It was a serious blast- we picked cherries, we played tug-of-war with the cousins, basked in the pool, ate TONS of good food, and generally enjoyed the summertime with family.

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We went for lots of golf cart rides around the farm because it was SUPER BEAUTIFUL
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This dog’s name was Buster and he was literally the best at being a dog. The happiest, friendliest, chillest black lab on the planet.

We also snuck by Niagara Falls for literally 90 seconds on our way home so I could see them while we were up there.

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SMILE OK GREAT NOW RUN BACK TO THE CAR BECAUSE THE FREE PARKING WAS ONLY 20 MINUTES

Between Lake Placid and this trip, I really don’t want to have to drive to upstate New York again for a little while. No more road trips pls.

And then things are moving forward on the wedding-planning front! All the big vendors have been booked, so we’re kinda in a lull. The big decisions are made, and it’s not reeeeally time for the detailed decisions yet. But I’ve got my checklists and timelines and spreadsheets (duh) so I think we’re still in great shape.

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Fun fact- Minted liked our save the date cards so much, they asked to use our picture. They changed the info obvi, but cool to see us in advertisements!

After a really intense few months in the thick of show season, it feels good to switch gears back to my “civilian life” for a little bit for a change of pace. I’m eager to settle into a new routine in the new place, and find a balance between training and progressing with Frankie in our off season and being a functioning adult.

The Cost of Improvement

So we just did a breakdown of how much we spend on horse shows, and now I’m on a kick. So I’ll talk a little bit about what else I spend my money on when it comes to Francis- specifically, how we ramped him up for this show season.

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We took extra naps

You’ve heard me talk ad nauseam about how fantastically incredibly amazing Francis is- and I ain’t sorry. He deserves the hype. Those of you who have met him and seen him in real life can attest that he’s a straight up awesome dude.

I think we’ve progressed quite steadily since I brought him home a little over two years ago. We’ve both built knowledge, we’ve both built fitness, and we’ve really developed a wonderful partnership that I’m very proud of. But the rate of improvement has vastly accelerated over the last few months. When I say that I didn’t have this horse under me three months ago, I mean it. It’s an incredible transformation.

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HE. IS. A. STUNNING. BEEFCAKE. 

But it is not a surprising transformation. It has been a very deliberate, careful process.

First off we did some stuff to ensure his comfort- SI injection, hock injections, chiropractor, massage, shimming our half pad to get his saddle to sit better, etc. This is more than we’ve done in the past, but I think it’s appropriately commensurate with his workload and age. All things considered, he’s fairly low-maintenance (especially for a Shmancy Show Horse). I’d say we probably spent an extra $1500 this year on this type of stuff over last year.

So that was the base we needed to establish in order to push harder. We got his body feeling loose and happy and comfortable before we started asking him to work more.

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The Hat of Knowledge told us what he needed

Because the real transformation came from more professional attention. Simple as that. Two training rides per week to teach Frankie how to use his body more actively and more correctly, and a full hour private lesson with me every week to teach me how to reinforce and correctly ask for that level of work. Over the past few months, I’d say we spent an extra $500-1000 or so on this over the same period last year.

I know there’s a range of opinions on training rides, but I couldn’t be more thrilled with how they’ve been working for us. Trainer and AT have built these rides to be part of a cohesive program- the skills that AT works on with Frankie are the same skills that Trainer works with me on in my lessons. We have frequent discussions on what/how they’re working on things so that I can continue that work on my own time. It’s very much a team effort to be consistent and fair with what we’re asking of Frankie.

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“Fair would be more cookies plz.” PC- Liz

And it’s really really working. You should’ve seen our first private lesson when we kicked this phase of our program off. Trainer ended up having to get on to show me that yes, actually, Frankie is capable of this, he’s just not convinced that I mean it. We didn’t even jump because I was just trying to get a certain level of flatwork out of him. It took a solid 45 minutes to get a few moments of that correctness so we could end on a good note.

Nowadays when I hop on he immediately set off to work. It doesn’t take 45 minutes- he is right there offering it up as soon as I ask. He knows I mean it now. I’m having to get more and more creative with my rides. He answers every question I ask promptly and obediently, so I’m having to come up with new, harder questions. I am the limiting factor in this equation now.

So it’s a lot of work, and a lot of luck, and a lot of patience, but at the end of the day we accelerated our improvement by throwing more money at it. It’s not romantic and it doesn’t make for a good Lifetime movie. But hey- it works.

Cost of Showing

Hoo boy. I’ve been seeing all y’all sharing the costs of competing, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see the differences by region, by discipline, by moon sign, by all that stuff. We all know I can’t resist a good blog hop, so here’s my breakdown:

Annual Fees:

USHJA for rider: $85 per year
USEF for rider: $80 per year
USHJA for horse: $75, lifetime
USEF for horse: $300, lifetime

So basically Frankie is set for life since I got him registered shortly after I bought him, but every year I cough up another $165 to keep myself in good standing. Could I save some money by doing the 3-year or lifetime memberships? Maybe. But I also refuse to fork over that much at once, so I’ll keep trucking along. I don’t really factor this into my show budget because it’s such a drop in the bucket (just keep reading, it gets painful).

Individual Show Fees:

I break this into two main groups- fees that I pay directly to the show, and fees that I pay directly to my trainer as part of her services. I’ll start with the check I usually write to the show.

Show Fees to the Show

Stall: varies pretty widely. WEC was $75, HITS Culpeper was $300. Most places that we go tend to be in the $250-$275 range. Upperville is so close that we were able to ship in, which saved me a good amount of money #praisebe. But I’m annoyingly enamored with shows that are more than 30 minutes away, so we get a stall for every other show.

Splits: the best part of having a filthy disgusting gelding is that we get to use extra shavings HOORAY. If we get a grooming stall, then we all split that cost as well. My trainer sets up this up so I don’t usually break this out as a line item, but it’s usually ~$100.

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Poopy shavings go in forelocks, right?

“Other” fees: this includes office fees, federation/affiliate fees, zone fees, ambulance fees, and any other fees the office can tack on without causing widespread mutiny. These all usually add up to another ~$100 or so.

Classes: finally we get to the part we’re actually there for! I usually just do my division, with maybe one class earlier in the week for AT to do the bigger sticks. Or for me to use as a warmup. For most prize lists this looks like:

  • Warmup/training class: ~$50
  • High Adult Jumper Division (including classic): ~$300. I know that seems high for only 3 classes, but my classic is pretty much always a $2500 class, hence the high fee. Not that I ever get any prize money back because by the time Sunday rolls around I’m usually tired and riding like a spider monkey clinging to my horse’s back, but IT’S FINE IT’S ALL FINE JUST TAKE ALL MY MONEY.
  • Nomination fee: this is a fairly new one for me. Some shows charge it if you do any jumper classes. Some charge if you enter any class at 1.20m+. Sometimes this is $150. Usually it’s more. $225ish is a pretty safe middle ground.
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LET ME PAY YOU FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF WEARING WHITE PANTS

And that about covers the check I write to the show itself. All that adds up to about $1k. Depending on the venue I can get this down to $900 sometimes (especially if they don’t have a STUPID POINTLESS NOMINATING FEE), but yeah. I’m probably going to be crying in the show office as I sign that check.

Show Fees to my Trainer

Just in case you thought we were done- we’re not! I won’t be sharing my trainer’s specific pricing, but I will tell you what services I pay for.

Shipping: we did use a commercial shipper to get the ponies up to Lake Placid (side note- the people at Johnson Horse Transportation were SO NICE and easy to work with. I love them. Absolutely lovely people.) but my trainer ships us everywhere else. She has a 4-horse and between her and some clients there’s like 18 2-horse trailers, so we always have a ride. If I can’t be there to get Frankie loaded/unloaded they will get him and all my stuff on the trailer, wrap/unwrap his legs, and clean out the trailer. I usually like to be there, but sometimes work gets in the way or I’m straight up exhausted and it’s worth paying a little extra. Also for stall set-up/breakdown- again, I like to be there if possible, but I’m often at work. And set-up and breakdown are LABOR INTENSIVE YO.

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Francis you angel creature. Ships like a pro.

Coaching: Everything from mental coaching when I go off the deep end, to warming us up, to yelling SHOULDERS as I careen around the turns on course, to debriefing afterwards about what worked and what didn’t. She is an excellent coach. Sometimes AT coaches me, and she’s also fantastic. I’ve talked at length about that, but seriously. Their level of dedication to their clients is incredible.

Training rides: If I can’t be there early enough in the week, AT will hop on to let Francis stretch his legs and get some tuning up. It definitely helps set us up for success.

Pro show rides: For if AT takes Frankie in any classes. We did that once last year to step Frankie up to the 1.15m, and we’re doing it more often this year to give him some miles in the 1.20m.

Day care: no, not for Trainer’s children. For Francis of course! This is kinda a catch-all that includes mucking Frankie’s stall, feeding Frankie, wrapping his legs at night, and tacking up/grooming if needed. I tack myself up pretty regularly, but it’s nice to have the help if time is tight.

Supplies: covers transport and use of all grooming materials, hoof oil, saddle pads, non-slip pads, hoses, buckets, mounting blocks, chairs, etc. I pretty much just bring my saddle and bridle and Trainer/AT supply the rest.

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Everything the light touches is communal supplies. Except Francis. He’s all mine.

Misc. grooming/medication: we do face/ears/legs touchups before shows, and Frankie is a real asshole about having his ears clipped so someone else handles that. If he needs any medication, Trainer/AT takes care of it and just invoices me- for example, Frankie scraped his eye somehow at WEC, and they gave him an anti-inflammatory.

Hotel/meal split: showing clients split the cost of food and lodgings for Trainer, AT, and any additional help they need to bring.

I think that about covers it. I feel like that looks like a lot of different fees, but they’re all reasonable and I appreciate the transparency in knowing exactly what I’m paying for each specific type of service we get. And the level of care Frankie and I get is really top-notch- I never worry for a moment about his well-being, and everything is very tailored to our learning style and goals. The overall cost varies pretty widely by how far we travel (shipping), how many days we’re there (day care, coaching, training, hotel/meal splits) so it’s hard to give a consistent total.

So adding up the fees I pay to the show and the fees I pay to my trainer, we’re looking at a $1700-$2000+ total for a rated show, not including my meals or hotel bill.

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Which is why I don’t show all the time and why I eat peanut butter sandwiches a lot.

So here’s the question I’ve gotten in the past: could I do it for cheaper?

Short answer: yes.

Slightly longer answer: yes, but I won’t.

Full answer: not much I can do about the fees I pay to the show. They set the prices and I either pay them or choose not to go to that venue (one of several reasons we don’t go to Culpeper anymore). When it comes to the fees I pay my trainer, obviously I could do a lot differently there. I could muck and feed myself, I could forego training rides, I could load/unload, setup/breakdown, do all clipping and grooming and tacking myself, bring all my own supplies, etc. But I don’t/won’t do that for several reasons.

One reason is that this is the way my trainer’s show program is set up. It is a well-oiled machine, she has been transparent about this from day one, and it is what I willingly signed up for. No one is forcing us to show or to ride with this barn, and part of being in this program means working within the program. I like the program. It is not for everyone, but it’s great for me and my horse so I am very happy to work within it. And quite frankly I trust Trainer’s/AT’s cumulative years of expertise in horse care far more than my own, so there’s also a comfort in knowing that Frankie has knowledgeable eyes on him around the clock.

Another reason is that I straight up don’t want to. I go to horse shows for fun. I get to learn a lot, ride my favorite horse, compete over interesting courses, try new skills, hang out with like-minded people. I respect the HELL out of people that work their butts off to do self-care at shows, but it’s not something I want to do myself. I’m perfectly happy to pay the “convenience fee” for full care.

So there is my extremely long-winded breakdown of show costs. One of these days I’ll do a full breakdown of all Francis-related costs and we can all cry together.

Blog Hop: Your Trainer’s Mantra

Britt had a fantastic post recently about what she hears most often from her trainers, and I just needed to join in!

“Coil the spring”
We talk a lot about getting Frankie’s energy up in front of my leg, and then recycling it back to his hind end to create power. And what happens when you try to compress a crooked spring? It bounces out to the side. She says this to remind me to keep Frankie straight between my aids and bouncing up in front of me.

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Get that shmancy prance up and bouncy

“We have beautiful hands”
This is a more recent one, as Frankie’s jump has gotten a lot rounder and more powerful (and therefore pops me out of the tack much more easily). This reminds me to keep a soft following hand over the fence to reward this effort. It also makes me chuckle as I’m walking into the show ring.

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It isn’t supposed to mean “touch his ears” so this is clearly a work in progress

“SHOULDERS!!!”
Ya girl over here gets fetal sometimes, especially around tighter turns. Hearing this belted across the show ring is just the kick in the pants I often need to get my balance back centered over his and in the driving seat up through the turn.

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I’m almost 100% certain that Trainer said SHOULDERS in this exact turn

“Ride the plan”
I really like a thinking ride. That’s 100% of why I like the jumpers- I don’t actually like to go fast. I just really like puzzles and strategy and planning, and for me a well-ridden jumper course is the ultimate in executing a plan. Trainer knows this, and we work together during our course walks to develop a detailed, comprehensive plan that plays to our strengths and accounts for our weaknesses. Sometimes I just need a lil reminder that we come up with a plan for a reason, and I shouldn’t just abandon it in a panic (HAHAHA WHO DOES THAT DEFINITELY NOT ME).

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In theory I’m supposed to look where I’m going? All the time?

“Go have fun”
My all time favorite thing she ever says. It’s our little ritual every single time I walk into the show ring. No matter how jittery and anxious I may be, no matter how intimidated I am by the course, this makes me smile and remember that I’m doing this because I frickin’ love flying around with my Francis.

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Big release of tension, big smiles

Lake Placid 2018: The Riding

Here’s the quick and dirty version for those of you in a rush: I rode poorly overall but did have one round I was happy with. Frankie was the bestest beast on the planet (obviously) no matter what his pilot was doing. It was stunningly gorgeous and while it was challenging and a bit overwhelming, it was a wonderful show and I would recommend it to anyone.

For the sake of not hitting you with a 3k word post, I’ll split this out into 2-3 different topics.

I’ll start with the actual riding!

Frankie went in for a schooling round with my Trainer on Tuesday (while I was driving up) to let him get in the ring and see the place. Because we all know that the big guy really needs time to look around. Hah. When I arrived and asked if he was settling in ok, both Trainer and AT just looked at me and said, “Olivia, when does he not??” The angst. He does not has it. I got to see the video of him going around and he looked fine. A bit unfocused perhaps, but nothing crazy or worrisome. AT always does such a great job of using those rounds as a real schooling opportunity.

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THE SCENERY THO

I was able to lesson in one of the schooling rings on Wednesday where we did mostly flatwork and a few small jumps. Frankie felt AMAZING. Super obedient, bendy, and giving me everything I asked for. Our lateral work feels like it has come SO so so far- haunches-in/out and shoulder-in/out was much more prompt and less of a wiggly wrestling match. We iz learning gud. We cooled out by going on a trail ride down to the river, which may be one of my favorite parts of this show. All the fancy ponies were so happy to go out in nature and relax! Frankie seemed content to lead the way, snorting happily the whole time.

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We had matching big bay geldings

Then Thursday was the first class of our division, a jumpoff round that they turned into a straight speed round due to weather (wet. It was wet.).

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Waiting our turn in the rain, bein super cute.
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Reppin’ the gang while we waited for the course walk.

It was a fairly straightforward course. That I rode like a potato. I got SUPER long to the first oxer, which told Frankie that I had no idea what I was doing, and I never quite got him balanced underneath me after that. We smashed our way through the two-stride. I did the last line with one stirrup. “We made it out alive” is about the best I can say about it.

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Honestly the last two jumps were the two best jumps because I was in survival mode. I told Trainer to just start sending me in without stirrups, I ride a MILLION TIMES BETTER.

So yeah. Disappointing because it was like I completely forgot how to ride. Frankie was a trooper, but he should not have had to put up with that. Extra pats for pony.

On to Friday. Where the nerves showed up because I thought Frankie would justifiably be like UM NO to everything. Not sure why I thought that because he has literally never shown that inclination, but I was super sure that he hated me. I’m not saying it was logical.

I was holding it together ok until I was partially tacked up. And then I had to wait a few minutes before bridling and heading to the ring. And fun fact about me is that the waiting is what makes me more nervous than anything. So when Trainer said to hold off for 5 minutes, I stood up, walked out of the tent, and puked.

WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL, SELF.

30 seconds later I got on the horse and had a really great warmup and then a round that I was quite happy with. One rail in the speed phase of the power and speed put us just out of the ribbons but it was definitely redemption from Thursday.

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The jumps were big, the spreads were wide, and Frankie absolutely flew. 

Our combos were accurate, we made decisions, I tipped a bit with my shoulders a few times but it worked out ok because my horse is a prince, and it was definitely the confidence boost I needed.

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Lots of pics of me on Frankie with one hand on my leg. Weather was nicer on Friday!

We were completely done by 10am (I was the first class in the ring with a 7:30a start), so I spent the rest of the day doing touristy stuff with my momma (I’ll share that stuff in another post!).

On to Saturday.

Ah, Saturday.

So my class on Saturday was the last of the day in the big grass Grand Prix field, going around 5p. Meaning I had all day to work myself up.

And work myself up I certainly did. I basically had a meltdown about how I was not capable of doing this, I was panicked about going on the grass, EVERYTHING IS BAD FOREVER AND I AM TERRIBLE. I haven’t had an attack of nerves like that since I was a kid. It was ridiculous and frankly embarrassing. I’m only telling you this because y’all are my people and it would feel dishonest to say that everything was sunshine and rainbows and I am a beacon of emotional fortitude. I ain’t.

After much urging, I called Trainer to basically word vomit that I am a potato rider who can’t do anything right. And she is the actual best. She reaffirmed her confidence in both my and my horse’s abilities, she wanted us to go have fun, and basically reminded me that I am not terrible and everything is not bad.

There should be a special award for trainers of ridiculous ammies. She deserves one for literally being my sports therapist.

So by the time I got to the barn I was still nervous, but in a much better place. I was gonna go out there and ride my beloved animal who probably has more experience going on grass than most of the other horses there (hello foxhunting and eventing careers), and we were gonna have a blast. The mimosa I had during the course walk helped too.

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Peep me last in line.

So between my Trainer talking me off the ledge, AT making me laugh ’til I forgot I was nervous, and the healing powers of champagne, I was actually excited to go Do The Thing.

We headed to the warmup and were doing rather well- Frankie was right there with me giving me everything I asked for.

And then I tipped my shoulders at a jump that I really should not have tipped my shoulders at (sound familiar? From Thursday?) and toppled right off the side. And took off Frankie’s entire bridle as I went. Womp womp.

Continuing his bid for sainthood, Frankie just stood there looking perplexed as someone said LOOSE HORSE and people helped me up. I’m 100% fine, just a little sore on my shoulder where I rolled. We quickly got his bridle back on and put me back in the saddle.

But at that point I started riding REALLY defensively. I took a few more jumps to confirm that we could still do it, and then opted to scratch. At that height, on a new footing, with all the hoopla around it, I needed to be able to help my horse out and I was not at all in a place where I was confident in my abilities to do that.

So that was definitely disappointing. I got myself into the right mental zone just in time to bungle it up before even stepping foot in the ring.

But on the flip side, I tried. I had spent the morning panicking, but I still got on the horse and I tried. And after I fell off I got BACK on the horse and kept trying. So while it didn’t go according to plan, I’m going to take that as a victory.

If that all sounds like a rollercoaster, it’s because it absolutely was. I had nerves rear their ugly head in a major way that hasn’t happened in almost 15 years, I didn’t ride to the best (or even the medium) of my abilities, I had my second tumble off Francis. It was definitely not how I hoped to go in the ring for such a major show.

But I also pushed through the nerves to give it a go, learned a lot about what kind of warmup we need to go in and do well, and I got to ride the best horse on the planet. No matter how all-over-the-place I was, Frankie was my constant the entire time. He really is an incredible animal.

So at the end of the day, I feel like one majorly lucky girl.

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Next up: more about the area, the showgrounds as a whole, and getting to spend time with my momma!

Moving On: June Edition (Volume 2)

Alternate title: #Blessed

Other alternate title: Dear Lord I Have an Lovely Fiance

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Lovely on all levels

Do y’all remember just about a year ago, when Roomie and I moved? It was a wildly hectic time full of travel and job changes and Upperville. As a refresher: we had a hard move-out date for our apartment. The weekend of Upperville. While I was competing with the Frankenbean, ex-Manfriend basically did all the heavy lifting of moving all my stuff out. And by basically I mean entirely.

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Literally while I was in this specific round, he was loading all my crap into a truck

I’ve been with Roomie and her ManDude in our townhouse for the last year and it’s been awesome. But it’s also time for some changes.

First off, Roomie and ManDude eloped! They were already engaged and planning their wedding, but didn’t want to wait to be married. So they straight up just got married. Ya girl here showed up to take pics and 3rd-wheel their elopement brunch because I love them so much.

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So stunning and sweet and intimate and wonderful and check those shoes

It also means that I went from living with my best friend and her boyfriend (fairly normal) to living with my best friend and her fiance (pushing it a bit) to living with my best friend and her husband (full on You Me and Dupree).

The other change is that ex-Manfriend and I are also getting married soon (duh). And after close to two years of living 2+ hours apart, he just got a job offer back here so we can get our first place together! It’s been a whole long hiring process for him, so we’re beyond thrilled to have things moving forward.

So with all these big changes, the stars are aligning and we managed to find a really great place with a really lovely landlord (seriously, he’s just a delight) that’s in a great location for a great price. Our official move in date is at the end of June!

What else is going on at the end of June?

You guessed it.

Lake Placid.

So for the second year in a row, my dearest betrothed is tasked with moving for me because of a horse show. I want to promise him that this won’t become a pattern, but apparently we only move during peak show season…sooooo…????

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Frankie ships up on Monday, I’ll spend Tuesday driving up, and I’ll be returning Sunday.

I guess I’ll return home…to a different home?

BRB frantically trying to pack everything I own in one weekend before leaving.

I may be a little behind on the blogging front as I try to juggle packing, a week long horse show, and then arranging a new apartment and adjusting to living with my giant ManCreature while also keeping up with a busy season at work. But I pinky promise to take tons of pics and share all my adventures in Lake Placid, and I’ll pick it back up as soon as possible!

Soapbox: Routine

You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately? Expectations for our horses, and how reasonable those expectations are- and by extension, what we can do to make those expectations more reasonable.

I admittedly have very high expectations of the Frankenbean. I expect him to jump anything I point him at, perform at consistently high levels, and to behave in a calm and civilized manner. So how do I set those expectations up for success?

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It boils down to spending lots of time with this view

Jump anything: create positive experiences for him. He came to me with a great deal of confidence (seriously forever grateful for the people who brought him along so wonderfully), and we work very hard to keep up that confidence. By creating a variety of experiences for him and setting him up to do well in all of those experiences, he knows that things will be ok even if they’re slightly different from the norm.

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Snoozefest over the liverpool. It doesn’t really occur to him to look at it too hard.

Perform at consistently high levels: give him the fitness, support, and knowledge necessary. He can’t jump the big jumps if he’s fat, has sore hocks, and lacks adequate body awareness. He can’t give me truly obedient lateral work if his hind end is weak, he’s stiff through his body, and dull to my leg. Those basic building blocks of conditioning, health, and training MUST be in place for any sort of progress to happen.

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Wearing the Hat of Knowledge to preemptively check for lameness

Behave calmly: manage his energy levels with a consistent routine. This brings me to the crux of this post, and is something that feeds into everything else I’ve already mentioned. Horses are creatures of habit, and creating a steady routine is key to creating expectations.

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This view. Rain or shine, hot or cold.

Yes, Frankie is a naturally very relaxed dude. But we don’t take that for granted- we work with that to create a program for him that allows him to meet (or often in his case, exceed) our expectations. He is worked with enough intensity to build fitness, with enough variety to build experience, and with enough frequency to maintain/improve condition. And when he’s conditioned up fully, to maintain a healthy energy level- we all know that a truly fit horse is going to have a bit more fire than a tubby one, no matter how naturally relaxed that horse may be. When other adult responsibilities get in the way of maintaining that type of schedule, the two options that make the most sense to me are (1) enlist help, usually in the form of a professional or (2) lower our expectations for a bit until we can support them better.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying hopping on once a week, five times a week, twice a month, however often. Everyone is on their own journey with horses, and no two people are going to enjoy being in the exact same program! But the expectations must fit that program. The higher the expectations are on the horse, the more consistent and deliberate that routine must be to help them succeed.

I will now get off my high horse, and get back on my big brown high horse 😉

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It’s time to get to work. PC- Liz