Remember that part where I said that Frankie is a little lacking in polish on the flat?
I TAKE IT BACK. I TAKE IT ALL BACK.
Chapter 1: Seriously Olivia that doesn’t count as fancy, that’s a pretty normal thing
Francis and I went for a trail ride with some buddies a few weekends ago, and it was just as fun as I anticipated. Frankie the Tankie was clearly having a blast getting to play outside, and it was cool to be on a horse that I could boot up to a gallop and then have him come right back with minimal pressure on his plain snaffle. I wasn’t really that surprised- one of his selling points in his ad was that he goes XC in a snaffle.
Here’s where the fancy comes in: Frankie has a SUPER active walk. Like, the vet commented when we were vetting him that he’s never seen a horse with so much movement in his walk. And he’s a tall guy. So when we’re all walking along on this trail ride, he naturally pulls ahead. And when we want to stand and wait for everyone to catch up, that’s no fun BECAUSE STANDING IS BORING I DON’T WANNA DO IT MAHHHHMMMM.
Being the mean mom that I am, I made him stand quietly. Once he gave me a few moments of stillness, I decided to reward him by giving him a job that required some use of his brain while we waited for the rest of the crew. LATERAL WORK SEEMS FUN LET’S DO THAT.
And I think my horse has a future as a reiner. Turns on the haunches, on the forehand, leg yields, he was FEELING it. All based almost entirely on leg. So now he’s just armed me with the knowledge that he can totally give me tighter turns if I balance and ask properly. Muahahaha.
Summary of Chapter 1: my horse has way better lateral buttons installed than I realized.
Chapter 2: Seriously Olivia this is so ridiculously basic how are you just getting this now
The following Monday was spent on flatwork, and I had a mission in mind to figure out that whole “working on a contact” thing. You know, that thing that I definitely should have been figuring out looong before now. Go ahead and judge me, I promise you I’m judging myself more.
But better late than never! I entered the order of Inside Leg to Outside Rein and dedicated myself to feeling the contact and putting the puzzle pieces together. Here’s what I came up with: inside leg pushing into the outside hand + balancing and softening with the inside hand and maintaining straightness with the outside leg + relaxed and swinging seat + engaged but not tense core + relaxed jaw + a sacrifice to the moon goddess + Venus aligning with Pluto = uphill, round through the back, freely moving, on the contact Franklin.
Sound familiar to LITERALLY EVERYONE???
Clearly I figured this out and now we work perfectly on a contact and I do all of those things all the time. Obviously.
What actually happened was that I got a much better feel for how to position myself to encourage that type of movement in Frankie, and we spent roughly 30 minutes at the walk while I practiced maintaining that feel. As an overcooked baked potato of a rider, I often lost that feel. But every so often it would click into place and I could feel the Tank soften right onto the bit, step under himself, and engage his back.
It. Was. Magical. I have a whooooole new understanding of what makes you DQs tick. Don’t get me wrong, I would go totally nuts if I couldn’t hop colorful sticks regularly, but I have a newfound appreciation for the obsession with getting every little piece into place because HOLY GUACAMOLE my horse felt fancy.
In true Olivia fashion, I texted my friend after that ride saying the following: “And every so often he would just soften and round and it was like HOLY CRAP TEACH US TO PIAFFE BECAUSE WE ARE FANCY DRESSAGE RIDERS. Canter half-passes are up next.” That is a direct transcript, caps and all.
Summary of Chapter 2: my horse has crazy fantastic flat buttons when I figure out how to press them, and I learned how to walk properly some of the time, maybe.
Chapter 3: Seriously Olivia do you want a gold star just for doing what you’re supposed to do?
I mean, yes? I would love gold stars for everything.
Right now I’m going to talk about quality of the canter and how I’ve been struggling a bit to nail that sweet spot with Francis. He has a RIDICULOUSLY comfortable canter to sit to, but a big long stride, so it can be very deceptive. I’ll be bopping along all comfortable and my trainer will be like “OLIVIA WHY ARE YOU GALLOPING ALL OVER MY RING CAN YOU PLEASE NOT” and it’s like ohhhh my bad totally didn’t realize.
But I also want to make sure I have lots of power in the stride. So what I’ve been working on is compressing his stride a bit by keeping my legs wrapped around him and shifting my seat to change the stride length, and picking my hands up out of my lap to recycle that energy back to his hind end.
STARTING TO CLICK INTO PLACE
When I do these things, I get this amazing uphill powerful canter that is SO adjustable. Like, we did the pony strides in a line, then went back and did the galloping horse strides. And they both rode smoothly because we were able to rate his stride. I’m kinda spazzing out about this because while the BeastMare has many amazing qualities, we struggled a lot with adjustability. So to have a horse that will literally give me any stride length I ask for as long as I sit up and keep my leg on? This is new. And amazing.
So now I need to remember that feeling so I can get it off the bat, not 30 minutes into our lesson. As my trainer reminded me, we don’t get one or two or three practice courses in the jumpers. We get a couple singles in the warmup ring and then it’s showtime. I need to be able to push up into that energetic elastic stride from the get-go. Frankie is broke to death- he’ll give it to me immediately if I ask. I just need to remember to ask.
Summary of Chapter 3: Sometimes I can actively ride my horse instead of galloping around with a big fat grin on my face.
Overall thoughts: If I give Frankie clear and correct instructions, he will immediately and happily give me some gloriously gorgeous work. Turns out the only one who needs polish is me!