Four Months

So it’s not a big milestone like six months or a year.

But Frankie has officially been my pony for four months today. The check was cashed and he came home on March 30, 2016 and here we are four months later.

Buying Frankie has proved to be the most financially dumb decision I’ve ever made. The most social-life killing decision. The most limiting in terms of doing ANYTHING ELSE.

And it has proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life. I’m more sure of that with every single day that passes.

I may not have much money in the bank, I may not make it to every happy hour, and I may pass up on weekend trips more often than not- but I also have a HORSE. A FREAKIN’ HORSE. (I was gonna go for something sappy and poetic here but seriously, A HORSE).

It’s only been four months with my furry soulmate, but it feels like so much longer. To celebrate, here’s some of my favorite moments with him, starting with that very first ride:

Hopping off after my first trial and hearing my friend whisper, “This is your horse.”

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Blasting over a 3’6″ oxer in my second trial and loping calmly away as I grinned ear to ear.

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Getting smooches from him in his stall on the first day he arrived home.

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Hearing my trainer ask if I wanted to do the big course she had set up for our Maclay rider, because she knew I had a horse I could do it with.

Nailing that course.

Bopping around the neighborhood on a long rein and enjoying the sunshine with a bunch of the other ammies.

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Jumping a full course in the oh-so-terrifying jump field in a lesson, and managing to smile when I realized that my horse was relaxed and happy.

Spending most of an hour walking and then feeling things click into place as he rounded, lifted, and stepped under- thereby turning me into a professional Grand Prix dressage rider.

Galloping through a hay field and feeling him having just as much fun as I was.

Nailing our sticky left-to-right lead change while schooling at our first show together, despite the ponies up our butt, water trucks blasting around, and loudspeakers blaring.

Going in for our first ever classic round and feeling like we belonged in that class- despite my rider mistakes. Feeling like my horse had figured out his job and was happy to do it and GOOD at it.

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Getting the add-stride every time I asked for it in a lesson, even if my abs and legs were crazy sore the next day.

Working on transitions on a random Thursday and having someone tell me, “wow, he is such a cool horse.”

Telling him he’s a cool horse and laughing uproariously as he promptly nodded in agreement.

Seeing him be so gentle and careful with manfriend

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Feeling the energy cycling beneath me up to a single oxer despite the heat and humidity, because all he wanted to do was jump.

Add to that to every time I walk into his stall and he leans into his neck scratches. Every slobbery smooch I get after hopping off and cooling him out. Every sweet snuggle when I’m grooming him on the crossties but all he wants is a minute to love on each other. Every ear prick when we’re going for a walk and he wants to stay at my hip the entire time. Every soft nuzzle when I take his halter off, but he isn’t quite ready to join his four-legged friends yet.

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I bought Frankie first and foremost to be an athletic partner. He has a job to do and it brings me so much joy that he is talented, healthy, and happy to do his job. But he’s also become much more than my show partner. He’s the best part of my day and I can’t imagine my life without him.

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This horse has improved my confidence by leaps and bound, and taken me further in a short time span than any other horse would’ve been able to. He lets me make mistakes without holding it against me, and then rewards me when I do something right by giving me fantastic work.

You all know how much I love Francis- I tell you about it several times a week. But I need to share how my boy makes my heart feel full to bursting and how sometimes I overflow into happy tears because I’m overwhelmed with love for this big bay doofus.

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All this emotion, only 4 months in. This horse is so incredibly special and I can’t wait to ride through life with him.

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Lesson Recap: In Which My Horse is a Blast

I am a broken record, but I will tell you again and again: my horse is SO fun. We have a long way to go and there’s plenty I want to work on with myself, but hot damn it is SO much fun working with this animal.

Let’s get into it.

Homeboy was rarin’ to go despite the high temps and humidity. And by rarin’ to go I mean he jigged for a second when I picked up the reins, I told him to calm the eff down, and he was like OK and settled. WILD HORSE IS WILD.

Trainer had us do a really interesting exercise as we moved up into canter work. Like so:

july_cantercircles
SO PROFESSIONAL

Does this diagram even make any sense? Lemme try to explain. We did small circles over the poles at each end of the ring, then went to the other end and did another circle. Except imagine there’s a bunch of jumps in the way. And 4 horses all doing this at the same time. A little chaotic.

But this was a fantastic exercise to get the horses tuned off our leg and a little more contained between our leg and hand. Frankie showed some weakness on his right side- he likes to get long and low and heavy when he feels off balance and working to the right has always been his tougher side. My job was to help him keep his balance and rock his weight back by using my leg and seat to half-halt him up. The left was a little better; still heavy, but more balanced.

We then warmed up over a crossrail. Uneventful. Francis has begun a habit of trotting over little Xs without actually jumping them so my job is to squeeze him up and over BECAUSE IT’S AN ACTUAL JUMP FRANCIS. Way to overachieve, buddy.

Here’s our course for the day!

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Enter a caption

First time through was up the green box, turn left to the rail and come back to trot, rollback over the yellow box and canter out over the oxer in a bouncy bending six, outside vertical around to the gray oxer, and then down the red jump off the short turn.

Uneventful. Especially over smaller jumps, Frankie just kinda plops over them. I was very happy with the bending six- I was able to sit back and shorten his stride early in the line so we could flow out. I took the long way around from D to E and the long approach to the oxer set us up a bit long and reachy.

So then Trainer jacked the jumps up! I gotta tell you, I used to get TERRIFIED when the jumps would go up over like 2’6″. That was my happy place. Then 3′ was my happy place. Now I’m like PUT THEM ALL UP FOREVER KEEP GOING MAKE EM BIGGER because seeing a spot to the bigger jumps is like a thousand times easier with Francis. Maybe because he’s so tall that we need tall jumps to be in my line of sight? I have no idea. It just makes my job SO much easier when the jumps go up.

We did the same course, but made a few small tweaks. B was no longer a trot jump, so I really had to get the motor going out of that short rollback so I could gallop out in 5. I also tried the inside turn from D to E- between the green and yellow boxes. With standards and poles and muck buckets in the way this got a little dicey, but Frankie don’t care about none of that. It rocked us back enough that our spot to the oxer was muuuch better. Then packaging back up around the short turn to the red- not quite as pretty but we made it work.

SO FUN. SERIOUSLY SO FUN. Frankie clobbered the first jump because he didn’t realize the jumps had gone up and he is a total goon, but then he got his head in the game. And guys. My horse is like the most fun ever to ride. We just flew around that course with the biggest grins. At least I was grinning, I can’t speak for Frankie- though he had the sweetest pricked ears.

Lots to work on? Totally. My trainer has noted that we’ve vastly improved getting the impulsion and pace we want, and now it’s time to really wrap around him and fine-tune our controls. Get that bouncy canter back more quickly after every jump instead of loping away like a hunter. Wait for him to jump up to me instead of crawling up his neck when we get a closer spot. Tighten up and make sure everything is holding still that needs to be still, so the moving parts can be more clearly effective.

It’s happening, though. Little by little, we’re figuring each other out and getting tighter and more controlled with every ride. And jeeeeez we’re having a blast with it. Even covered in sweat towards the end of the lesson, Francis perked up and galloped up to every fence. He’s a very happy boy with a very happy rider!

Does your horse have a weaker side? How do you work on building strength more evenly?

PS- I expected my tack post yesterday to be more of a filler post, but was so happy to hear from all of you! I hope to see some posts from y’all with your own set up, it was really fun getting a glimpse in the comment section 🙂

Tack Breakdown

I’ve mentioned our tack setup in passing a couple times, but here’s a more detailed breakdown of what Frankie and I use on a regular basis. It’s the same at home and at shows, we’ll just swap out our boots and use an official saddle pad.

Saddle: used buffalo Antares, 17.5 5A

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Before we got it re-paneled

The one and only saddle I tried when I started saddle shopping. The fitter had been told that I have stupidly long legs and had prepared by bringing several saddles with longer flaps, but she took one look at me and just handed me this one. The seat is a leeeettle bit big- I could probably use a 17 instead of a 17.5- but that 5A flap is SO hard to find in my price range. For those unfamiliar with Antares saddle sizing: the number (in this case 5) refers to the length of the flap, ranging from 00 (itty bitty pony/child size) to 5 (giraffe legs) with most “normal” adult saddles being around a 2 or 3, and the letter (in this case A) refers to the positioning of the flap- the options are N for normal, A for forward, and AA for super forward. Apparently there are other options but you’ll have to figure those out for yourself because that’s the extent of my knowledge. Back to my own saddle: the 5A means that it’s a forward flap and literally the longest non-custom one they have. It’s pretty much as close as I can afford to custom-it puts me just in the right spot and is super duper comfy. Buffalo for the win, that stuff is soft and sticky and wonderful. We recently had it re-paneled to fit Frankie, so now we have a like-custom saddle for a fraction of the price! I love my saddle rep, she is literally the coolest.

This thing is my baby. It isn’t even healthy how much love I have for this inanimate object.

Girth: Showmark Performance girth, size 52

(see below picture)

I grabbed this from Dover 2 days before Loudoun when I abruptly realized that I probably shouldn’t show in the ratty hand-me-down fleecy girth I’d been using (and still use sometimes). A wonderful case of procrastination and panic gone right! I’m very very happy with this girth. The leather is good quality, soft, and easy to clean, and the elastic is nice and stiff so I’m not tempted to just keep tightening. Frankie doesn’t seem to really care which girth I use so I can’t talk much about how happy it makes my horse…but it doesn’t make him UNhappy so that has to count for something? I guess?

Down the line I’d like to save up for an anatomically shaped one or even a belly guard, but that’s just me wanting to play dress up with my horse. You’ve all seen pics of Frankie jumping. He clearly doesn’t need a belly guard.

Breastplate: Nunn Finer 3-point w/ elastic

breastplate
Girth kinda visible? I love the navy elastic because I love all things navy.

This is the newest addition to the family and I’m thrilled with it. Getting my saddle re-paneled helped immensely with saddle slippage, but I’m still worried about it when the jumps go up and he starts actually trying (which has happened roughly twice since I bought him). So I asked my trainer, “3 point or 5? Elastic or leather? Any good brands? Any terrible ones? I NEED GUIDANCE.” And she casually said, “Nunn Finer makes a nice elastic 3-point.” And this is why I love her. Short, to the point, and the next day I had my new breastplate in hand! (I know a lot of people are not big Dover fans, but I placed the order at 2pm and it was waiting at my door the very next day, and shipping was like $5. I was pretty darn happy with it).

So far this has been great- it’s very adjustable size-wise, the leather is really good quality and has softened up very quickly, and it fits Frankie nicely. I was a little intimidated by all the buckles at first, mostly because I’m clueless when it comes to anything besides a plain saddle and bridle, but now I really appreciate all those buckles- I was able to adjust each piece to the right length to fit Frankie just right. The neoprene shoulder discs do make Frankie sweat but don’t seem to be causing any rubs. Further updates as we get more use out of this thing.

Bridle: Smartpak Plymouth snaffle

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Bridle, bit, and EquiFits all present and accounted for

A fantastic schooling bridle! I’ve used this almost every day since bringing Frankie home and it has held up fantastically. The leather softened almost immediately (I did use neatsfoot oil to hurry the process) and with regular saddle soap and conditioner it still looks good. Not to mention, Frankie looks super handsome in it. He looks handsome all the time forever, but that’s beside the point.

I’m planning to splurge on a Vespucci sometime in the not-too-distant future (drool) so we can have a schooling bridle and a show bridle, but this one has been serving as both so far. I don’t think it’ll last forever- mostly because it gets used so heavily- but I’ll likely replace it with the same when it does eventually kick the bucket.

Bit: Full cheek plain snaffle

(see above picture)

Frankie was in a plain full cheek when we tried him out and he seemed fine, so I grabbed one to continue using when we brought him home. He wears the same one at home and at shows, though I’ll likely pop a Pelham in his mouth when we start doing the eq. Is this the absolute best bit we could possibly have for him? Not sure- we haven’t really done any experimenting. But he’s healthy and happy and responsive to it and I’d rather not mess with something that ain’t broken!

Boots: Eskadron open-fronts OR EquiFit open-fronts (tab closure, discontinued model)

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The white boots look sharp on those dark legs!

(see above picture for EquiFits)

We school in the Eskadrons and I’m mostly glad to have them because of the hinds. Homeboy interferes in the back pretty regularly and I like having a little something to help protect him. Not much to say about these- we all know Eskadron. These replaced the first pair of open-fronts I had for Frankie and I like these soooo much better- they hug his leg without pinching or gapping.

We show in the EquiFits- love these. I was worried at first because they seemed SUPER small, but after a short break-in period they fit him like a glove. I’m glad to have something a little more substantial on his legs when we show since the jumps tend to be higher and we’re jumping more often. They clean up nicely and look great on him!

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I’m not planning on adding anything else to the tack family any time soon. Maybe a bonnet in my barn colors? I’m lucky that he’s pretty easy-going about tack and easy to fit so we’ll keep things basic and straightforward. I haven’t had to make any hard decisions on what to use with him, but we’ll take it one day at a time!

Do you have any specific tack choices you’ve made? Why?

 

Horse First

I really liked Lauren’s post the other day about putting the horse first, and I’d like to chime in on that.

I’ve said several times how fortunate it is that I have a trainer/barn owner who is such a strong advocate for good horsemanship. But that’s not quite right. Calling it “fortunate” implies that I randomly picked a trainer and *phew* lucky me, they’re a good egg. It implies that good horsemanship is a nice perk rather than the reason I chose my trainer.

In reality, choosing my trainer was based almost entirely on her demonstrated dedication to the welfare of all horses in her barn. I certainly have competitive goals and am constantly striving to be the best rider I can be, but I knew that I wanted a trainer who puts her horses first every time.

It’s not just the basics: of course she makes sure all the horses have proper nutrition, and will adjust their feed based on workload, show schedule, turnout time, etc. She ensures they all have clean stalls, free access to water, plenty to eat, warm blankets, and gentle handling. She emphasizes proper grooming, cool downs, and tack fitting to her students.

More than that though, she has a stable full of happy horses who genuinely like their jobs. That’s no accident. That’s the result of careful, consistent training.

Under her guidance, we offer lots of praise when the horses offer good work. We take lots of breaks when horse and rider need a mental break. We gently but firmly correct bad behavior the first time so we don’t create bad habits. We push our abilities slowly and methodically, not rushing up the levels just to qualify for something. We focus on creating a good experience for the horse, THEN a good experience for the rider, and THEN getting the ribbons. We do lots of homework at home, so at the shows we’re not worried about schooling our horses.

Based on her guidance, we do not drug our horses. We do not punish them when they are confused or frightened. We do not overwork them into submission to make them too tired to misbehave. We do not use extreme bits or tack to substitute for gaps in training.

There is a reason that my trainer has my patronage. I trust her to always put Frankie’s needs first and to demand that same dedication from her staff and riders. This is not a fortunate benefit to riding and boarding with her, it is the REASON I ride and board with her.

So I’ll echo what Lauren said: there are plenty of shady characters out there, but my way of battling that is by choosing to give my business to the people who share the philosophy of “horse first.” Always.

Non-Showing Show Recap

This past weekend I tagged along with my barn to a local schooling show, where we brought 11- yes, you read that right, 11- horses at varying levels. I considered bringing Frankie for the experience but (1) this was a hunter show and I’m trying to get him to be LESS hunter-y, (2) the highest height offered was 3′ and I’d rather build experience at 3’3″ or higher, and (3) um you heard how good he was at Loudoun, right? He’s already figured out his job, we don’t need to put miles on him. Wait also (4) I have no money and am already signed up for a week long rated later in the month hahahahahahahaa cue the nervous laughter.

But because I am a sucker for torture, I showed up at the barn voluntarily at 6am to help the gang out. And despite my profound exhaustion and deepening farmer’s tan, I’m so glad I went!

*side-note: I vote we rename “farmer’s tan” to “ombre arms.” Sounds so much more trendy and cool, right?!

It was a bit of organized chaos getting everyone there- we had a couple of adults who have been through this process before and could be trusted to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff, a couple of adults who are relatively new to showing and needed more guidance on what to do, and a couple of kids who needed even more guidance.

I got put in charge of the kiddos and OMG I LOVED IT. I’ve mentioned before that I spent a couple summers working at a horsey summer camp and those were the best summers of my life, but let me reiterate: I LOVE little kiddos. Add in big bows and cute ponies, and I’m basically in heaven. So when Trainer asked if I could supervise their warmup while she supervised the people who would be jumping, I let out this weird squealing happy noise and went to collect my pony parade.

First, let me give you a little biography on the pony: Figgy is a 32yo former eventer, then hunter pony, now lesson pony who is literally the best pony in the universe. That wasn’t a typo. He is 32 and still popping over crossrails. He’s probably in better shape than Frankie. And is definitely fancier. He is going to outlive all of us.

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He has more ribbons than there are grains of sand on a beach.

We had two little girls sharing him for the show- one to do the walk-trot division, and the other to do the pre-short stirrup division. The warmup for both of them consisted of practicing biiiiig circles and using our corners, remembering to check our diagonals, steering around jumps and other horses, trotting in our two-point, and all sorts of fun little exercises. Despite some horse-show-jitters they were both wonderful listeners!

My favorite moment: when one little girl was about to hop on for her class, her momma asked her what the most important thing to remember was.

“Be safe!”

And what else?

“Have fun!”

That, people, is how you horse-show-parent. Not one mention of ribbons or winning. And when she got a ribbon in her walk-trot class, that beaming smile could’ve lit up the whole show grounds. Her mom and dad were so thrilled and told her how happy they were that she was so focused, that she corrected her diagonal so quickly, that she sat up so tall and kept her heels down. They praised her hard work, not the ribbon. It was fantastic to see that little family having so much fun together- I could write a whole post just on good sportsmanship like that.

The rest of my day was spent grabbing water for people and horses, untacking and loading horses, taking videos of our sale horse going around (if anyone is looking for a fancy chestnut hunter with tons of chrome, we have a gorgeous one!), and whatever other tasks needed doing.

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Despite the dramatic caption, I swear I was having fun.

The learning continued when we got back to the barn- Trainer taught me how to unhitch a trailer. I really really appreciated this; she probably just wanted to be done with the day and go home, but she took the time to patiently walk me through a new skill.

I just gotta say how grateful I am to have trainers who are patient and present for all of their riders, fantastic kids who work hard and learn quickly, a community of ammies that support each other, and horses that are healthy and happy to do their jobs. Even our baby OTTB we have for the RRP got great ribbons in the pleasure division!

A little exhaustion and weird tan lines are a small price to pay for having so much fun with such awesome people and ponies.

Do you like to tag along to shows where you’re not riding?

Ice Breaker Speech

I’ve gotten the opportunity to join a Toastmasters group at work- for those of you who haven’t heard of Toastmasters, it’s a low pressure “course” to improve public speaking confidence by building on new skills as you progress. I already love public speaking and I’m LOVING the chance to hone my skills and get more practice!

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What I look like when I’m excited to get up in front of people and blab

Last week I was asked to give a 3-5 minute “ice breaker” speech last week as part of our session and I talked about- you guessed it- riding. Clearly I’m an extraordinarily one-dimensional person. But I thought you might like to see it! There’s nothing here you didn’t already know, but it was a fun speech to give to a group of my coworkers.

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Do you remember that crazy horse girl from when you were younger? They seem to be ubiquitous- those 12 year olds clutching their toy horses and spouting off facts about 25 different breeds. The girls that would relate every conversation back to, “well ACTUALLY horses do it differently,” no matter how unrelated the conversation is to horses. Sound familiar?

Well, I’m what happens when that weird horse girl grows up. But it wasn’t always supposed to be this way!

Even though I rode throughout my childhood and even had my own horse in high school, I stepped away when I left for college. I hopped back on a horse just long enough to catastrophically shatter my elbow during my sophomore year, but that was an isolated incident in the midst of several years spent on my own two feet.

And then I moved down to Virginia, with both feet still firmly on the ground. For over a year, I didn’t even think about getting back in the saddle! Honest truth, I had stepped into my role as a Working Professional with a capital P, and picking up a hobby was not top of mind.

Then one day my boyfriend casually asked, “Didn’t you say that you used to ride horses? Maybe you should see if there are any barns in the area.”

The very next day I went to tour a barn in Leesburg, and one week later I took my first lesson in almost five years. I couldn’t walk for a week because I was so sore, but I had the bug. That feeling of freedom and confidence and exhilaration was back and I was pleased as punch to have found a place where I could go once a week and enjoy my hobby once again.

It was a lovely plan. Once a week. No competitions or anything, just a one hour lesson.

That plan didn’t last long.

Three months later I had committed to leasing a horse and spending three days a week at the barn.

Five months later I nervously entered the show ring for the first time in 10 years.

Eight months later, with my trainer’s encouragement, I moved up to a division I had never competed in as a junior.

Sixteen months later, against the well-intentioned advice of several people I love and respect, I used much of my life savings and most of my jealously-hoarded vacation time to compete down in Florida for a week with the big timers.

And then eighteen months later, after realizing just how much more than a hobby this sport is to me, I took the plunge and bought my own equine best friend to compete with every month.

A year and a half. That’s how long it took to go from swinging up into the saddle after a five year hiatus, to spending six days a week in training for A-rated competitions with my horse Frankie. It’s never been in my nature to do things half-way; I’m not the type to make a decision and then wait to act.

My mother- one of those well-intentioned people who thought blowing my savings on a horse show was ridiculous- came down to watch Frankie and me in our first competition together last month, and I think it may have finally clicked for her. She got to see first-hand how this is not a sport for weekends or to spend an hour on and then move on with my day.  Instead, she got to see how every waking moment was dedicated to the pursuit of perfection, tempered with the knowledge that perfection is unattainable. How every breath and every footfall was deliberately chosen to help us fly. How the hours leading up to my ride were spent analyzing all the possible options, and the hours following my ride were spent dissecting every stride and determining what we need to train harder on. She got to see that I’m spending all my time not just on my hobby, but on a whole lifestyle.

I don’t think my boyfriend anticipated all of this when he asked that fateful question, “I wonder if there’s a barn nearby?”- you see, he’s allergic to horses.

Blog Hop: F&%k Yeah!

I am so grateful for this blog hop from I Will Jump Sweet Jumps (and thank you to Carly from Poor Woman Showing for introducing me to a new blog! My computer won’t let me comment, but I lurk and stalk like a creeper.). Because we all need reminders that even when things get crappy, we are total badasses for doing literally anything with horses.

Here are the pics I look at when I need that reminder:

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I hadn’t shown in 10 years and Addy had never shown, but we went around the 2’6″ hunters with a smile and had a blast.
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This was my first time ever in the jumper ring and despite some rough rounds, we eventually made it, and we looked damn good doing it.

 

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I competed in the adult jumpers down in Florida and managed to walk away with some ribbons in a gigantic division. Sometimes I actually know what I’m doing in the ring (and sometimes I get to ride AMAZING horses).
morven_oxer
A year to the day after our first show in the 2’6″ hunters, I was able to confidently school Addy around a 3′ jumper course and feel like I was actively training, not just piloting her.
frankie_combo
The very first time I sat on Frankie, my trainer jacked the jumps up and I wasn’t scared to try. Even with a new horse and a new ring, I was able to put together a serviceable course at a height that was intimidating to me.
LB_sat_green oxer
In my very first show on my new horse, which was his first show ever, at a new-to-me height, we figured each other out and got better and better together. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I felt like I was flying.

Totally a baller! What reminds YOU of what a baller you are??

The World’s Greatest Detective

Just call me Sherlock.

Because I am officially on the hunt for clues about Frankie’s past!

The problem: we bought Frankie through a sale barn, and they had only had him for about 4 weeks when we snatched him up. They had minimal info on his history- just enough to be able to tune him up and market him properly.

The solution: use every available resource to track down his past.

Progress: I found a sale ad for Frankie on VirginiaEquestrian.com from back in November and sent a note to the address in the ad. The gist of it:

“Hi I have your horse he’s doin’ great please tell me everything you know about him kthanksbye.”

And I actually got a fantastic response back! It turns out I had contacted his previous trainer (hereby referred to as PT), and she and his old owner had been wanting to track him down to check in on him. She was able to give me some great information, here’s what I learned:

  • He was started late- he wasn’t saddle broke until 5 or 6
  • When PT got him, she could tell he had a nice foundation over fences but did not know much dressage/flatwork, so they did a lot of schooling in that respect, but she noted he was “always so easy and brave to jump and could so easily jump the big fences.”
  • They had bought him to use as a foxhunting horse, but after taking him out a couple times they realized he was NOT a fan of the hounds.
  • When foxhunting didn’t work out, they took him to a horse trial and he had a blast. The owner wanted him to be happy but needed a foxhunter, so they put him up for sale. He had been in training with PT all of last year and only went to Phyllis in the winter because PT didn’t have a ring to keep him going in.
  • Even though he wasn’t the foxhunter they were looking for, PT and his owner “both absolutely enjoyed him” and thought he was a really good guy

I’m so so so excited to start putting the pieces together! My ultimate goal is to hopefully track his history all the way back to his breeder so I can put together a fairly complete picture of his life up to this point. I’m hoping she’ll be able to send me further back up the chain and I can take it from there.

Thoughts on what I’ve found out so far:

He was broke so late! I think this is such a wonderful thing- he’s so tall with such long legs, he needed that time to mature and finish growing. Someone loved him enough to let him grow up and get strong before asking him to jump. And now we know the reason my vet was able to say he had never seen a 10yo with such good legs!  This is also fantastic from a competition standpoint: so many show horses have to start slowing down in their early teens due to over-use, but Frankie has only been lightly used and has only jumped for a couple years. We should have many happy healthy years together doing the bigger jumps before we have to start stepping back.

I’m a little surprised that he was offended by the hounds when out hunting. He tends to LOVE other animals and isn’t overly concerned with chaos so I would’ve expected him to tolerate it fairly well. Though I do realize that foxhunting is a totally different animal.

It sounds like he really only has a solid year of intense flatwork schooling on him, which makes me love his brain even more. We’re not going to go win any dressage shows any time soon (especially with yours truly in the saddle), but he’s responsive, adjustable, and relaxed under saddle so I consider that a win. He’s had a series of trainers that have brought him along fantastically.

More updates as more information comes in! In the meantime, enjoy these two pics I tracked down of Francis going XC last year:

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SO DARK AND NON-SUN BLEACHED AND HANDSOME
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I feel a sudden urge to braid my horse because he is the cutest creature in the world

 

Puttering

This may be one of my favorite words that Danny Emerson uses. Puttering. He uses this to describe his way of slowly, calmly asking the horse to work a little bit harder. And then backing off. And then asking again a little bit. And if something goes wrong, taking a minute to relax before trying again. No rush, no pressure, no angst.

We’ve been puttering, and I gotta say that it’s been fantastic.

The hot weather has hit Virginia like a wrecking ball, and I am a wussy sissy baby that IMMEDIATELY got hit with heat stroke- complete with nausea, fever, chills, and headaches for like 3 days straight. NOT HANDLING THIS WELL.

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Culprit: Baseball game. TOO HOT.

But once I recovered enough to get back in the saddle, I found Frankie eager to work. Me? Not so much. So we had to come to an agreement: working hard enough to satisfy Frankie’s need for activity, while keeping things light enough to satisfy my need to NOT FAINT WHY IS IT THIS HUMID. A delicate balance.

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Coming soon to theaters: One of them was a salty veteran of the police force. The other was a rookie cop with no respect. wHaT wAcKy AdVeNtUrEs WiLl ThEy GeT iNtO nExT?!?!11/?!

Our agreement has been longer sessions of lower impact flatwork. Lots of walk breaks, lots of work at the walk and trot, frequent water breaks, and lots of exercises to engage the PonyBrain- we’re playing games together and mixing up our usual walk-trot-sitting trot- no stirrup work-canter-walk routine.

It’s looking more like this:

Walk a bunch. Both directions. Leave the ring and walk some more. Spiral and wiggle all over the ring and outside the ring. Enjoy the fact that Frankie neck-reins.

Pick up a contact. Just a light one, not asking for much yet. Start trotting around to stretch out and get muscles moving.

Come back to a walk. Drop the contact. Pick up the contact. Drop the contact. Pick it back up. Drop it again.

Lots of figures at the trot. Half seat, posting, sitting, standing straight up, drop stirrups, pick them back up. Go from a longer contact to a more packaged contact. Lengthen, collect, lengthen, collect.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Lateral work at the walk and trot, mostly off the rail. Get that hind end tuned into my leg and get him thinking about where all four feet are going.

Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Canter. Do some circles, do some simple changes, do some canter-walk-canter-trot-canter-walk transitions, ask for collection, ask for lengthening.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Trot around on a nice long rein so Frankie can stretch out. Then pick him up again. Then stretch out. Then pick him up. Then stretch out.

Walk. Do some more figures.

Leave the ring. Wander the property.

This low-pressure puttering has been absolutely wonderful for us. Walking on a contact used to mean jigging and anticipation, and now it means that we’re playing the Contact Game. By the time we’re done all I have to do is shift my weight and take a light feel, and Frankie shifts his weight back, rounds up, steps under, and works harder. And that’s with a feather light touch.

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Unrelated: new breastplate! Because more leather straps is what we were missing in our life.

If I don’t like the transition I got, we just try again. No fuss, we just try again until we get it right and then we throw a party. Those canter-walk transitions are still not where they need to be, but we’re definitely closer than we were before.

By the ends of our rides, I’ve gotten a horse who is soft and majorly adjustable- almost more so than I know how to handle. He’s sensitive to my leg to the point where I can get his shoulders straight, right, left. His hind end straight, right, left. Bent, counter-bent, long contact, or higher and rounder. Moving off my leg even when I’m not intentionally telling him something (oops).

At the ends of these rides I have a horse that is lathered in sweat- it’s hot out and he’s been working hard. But I also have a happy horse with pricked ears who wants to keep going. I’m not moseying back to the barn with a tired horse- we’re marching back with plenty of energy to spare because we’ve worked hard and it felt good.

I can’t always take this kind of time with him- have you seen the warmup ring at a show lately?- but I plan to keep taking this time when I can. It’s gotten us working together as a team, developing our muscles together, and kept us both fresh and having fun even in this Godforsaken wasteland of a climate.

Who knew puttering could be so productive?

What approach do you take when the heat hits?

The Dreaded Add Step

Many of you, Dear Readers, have been following along since I was riding the DragonMare. Which means you’ve seen plenty of videos and pictures and read plenty of long descriptions on how we did NOT do the add step. Ever. Even fitting in the normal number of strides was enough of a struggle, we never came CLOSE to fitting another in. Unless we trotted in. But even then.

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NO ADD NEVER ADD ALWAYS LEAVE IT OUT

Now I’m on a very different horse- one who is much less anxious about jumping and doesn’t rush fences, who is very adjustable, who is very obedient to my cues.

And who is 17hh, has super long legs, a ground-covering stride, and has been taught to go for the hunter gap…because, you know, he was a hunter.

So yeah, the add step is still not something that comes easily to us.

But last week I had to change my lesson time around and ended up with a group that’s working at a lower height than Frankie and I usually practice at. “Pssh, this will be easy, we can trot crossrails in our sleep.”

HUBRIS, FRIENDS. HUBRIS.

First of all, that flatwork was no joke. I’m used to basically WTCing each direction as a warmup and then moving into the jumping. But these kiddos did SO much more flatwork. SO much more work on extensions and collections and moderating pace. These are things that I work on extensively on my own time, but having my trainer get after me while doing these things was intense. I was ridiculously out of breath from that.

And then the jumping part. Warming up over a couple crossrails was similar enough to how we usually warm up, nothing major there. But then we were told to do the outside line. The kiddos were told to trot in, and then press press press to canter out in four strides.

I assumed I would trot in, and hold hold hold to canter out in four strides. Sounds reasonable, yes? Frankie has a much bigger stride and more pep in his step, so trotting in and putting the four in would be a challenge.

Except Trainer told me to canter in, and then put in the four. THE DREADED ADD STEP.

Luckily BrontosaurusRex is a Very Good Boy and sat back when asked. But holy moly, that took so much leg. So. Much. Leg.

And then Trainer upped the difficulty even more: she had me canter into a line and put four strides in. But this time, the line was set towards home and the jump in was a little more substantial.

All praise to the Very Good Boy who obligingly put in four teeny strides. It was like riding a carousel horse- he has a very active canter and all that energy was just cycling up and down instead of forward. Super cool feeling. SO MUCH LEG.

The key to this exercise was not to over-release over the first jump. Of course I don’t want to hit him in the mouth or restrain him, but there’s no need to shove my hands up his neck over a 18″ crossrail that he’s barely picking up his feet for.

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He barely picks up his feet over this height, so you can imagine that he just kinda lopes over the smaller stuff.

This ties back to what Trainer has been telling me since we brought Frankie home: auto-release is the name of the game with him. Keeping a feel on his mouth not only helps us steer in the air (like we talked about last week), but it also allows us to land and adjust our pace immediately instead of waiting for a recovery stride.

Frankie has infinite good qualities, but he is not a sensitive horse. He is not the type to turn and burn, or to immediately adjust based on light pressure on his mouth. However, he is very happy to maintain whichever stride I set him at. Which means that the key is to ask early and ask firmly so that we can focus on maintaining our step down the line instead of fussing the whole way through.

We finished up by galloping up to a long approach single oxer to let him stretch out and take a mental break from the collection. We were both much happier with that, but the damage was done. My core and legs were so sore for days.

Worth it to add another option to our toolbox!

Do you love the add, or when in doubt do you leave it out?