The Francis Rules

I had another lesson this week, but I won’t bore you with the same courses I did earlier in the week. The only change was that my trainer made me do the second course without stirrups and we learned that apparently Francis takes that to mean it’s time for zoomies. Nothing wild, just a bit more pace than he usually carries. Good to know. My legs hurt. Ow.

Anyways, I was thinking of what my “rules” for Frankie are. Like if I had to go out of town and have someone watch him for me, what are some basics of how to take care of him. There aren’t many, but here they are:

1.No hand feeding treats.

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Even when he looks this adorable.

I know, I am the worst horse mom in the world. And I literally have a 5lb bag of treats sitting in my tack trunk. But homeboy gets really excited about treats. REALLY EXCITED. Like every time he senses the presence of a treat within a 2 mile radius it’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to him.

He does not nip or get mouthy or anything, but Big Guy doesn’t realize just how big he is and tries to crawl in your pocket to be like “here look how cute and snuggly I am you should feed me” and meanwhile you’re like Jesus Christ horse get off me you’re the size of an battleship. So he gets tonnnns of scratches and pats for being good and tons of verbal praise (his life is one long string of “Good boy!! Good man!”) but treats do not factor into the equation. Sometimes the treat fairy will visit and leave a few morsels in his bucket for him to find, and that’s it.

2. No face smacking.

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How could you even think about smacking this sweet mug?!

I don’t personally spend time anyone who actually does this, but I have seen people discipline their ponies by bopping them on the face. Um, if you hit my horse in the face you’d better brace for a jab in the eye because no. You do not do that. I’m a big proponent of a well-timed smack to discipline problem behaviors, but you do not hit the face or ears.

Things you may do with his face: scratch the itchies, rub the donkey ears, smoosh the snoot, snuggle the fluffers, present hands for licking, and give lots of kisses. Things you may not do with his face: hit it.

3. Make him pick up his feet.

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All four legs are functional. All four legs will come off the ground.

He will do it. You do not have to convince him for 5 minutes that it’s a good idea. He will pretend it’s really hard for him. He’s lying. Ask firmly and he will immediately present his hooves to you, ask halfheartedly and he thinks you don’t mean it and will keep all four feet planted on the ground.

4. As mentioned in Rule 1, Homeboy often forgets that he is gigantic. Remind him.

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He literally towers over my 5’9″ frame. He be huge.

Demand that he stop/turn/move promptly when leading and then throw a party when he does. He will not try to run you over and is quite well-behaved to handle, but needs reminders that he is not a lap dog and snuggles must be initiated by Mom.

And that about does it. I’m pretty sure anyone could safely ride him so I don’t have any rules there. What it all boils down to I think applies to many horses, not just Francis: be firm but fair.

Do you have any “rules” for handling your horse(s)?

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To the Left, To the Left

I’m getting old. So very old and decrepit.

I woke up on Friday with a crick in my neck that only got worse until Tuesday when I couldn’t look left without muscle spasms. WHY HAS MY YOUTH FORSAKEN ME?!

Dramatics aside, I went into my lesson and told Trainer that I might hold off on jumping so I didn’t strain my neck further. She humored me by saying yeah sure we’ll see how it goes.

But here’s the thing- I’m a pretty crooked rider. And it turns out that when I’m intentionally holding my head very straight, I’m less crooked. We may or may not have made jokes about popping a neck brace on me at shows. So by the time we finished up our flatwork, Trainer had announced, “executive decision, you have to jump, you’re so nice and straight today.”

Like I’m hard to convince. HAH. Jokes on her, I was totally on board.

I do think riding cures just about any minor muscle ailment I’ve run into- the heat and little motions tend to loosen me up better than just about anything else. Also we did TONS of no-stirrup work so my focus was honestly more on how my legs were likely going to fall off.

Note: they’re not falling off as much as they used to!!! I don’t know that I can last a whole hour, but I was able to keep going for a decent amount of time. Getting stronger!!

We popped over a crossrail a couple times to warm up- remembering to push him across the ground and wait with my shoulders- and then did some interesting exercises before doing coursework. The jumps looked deceptively simple: some diagonals, couple outside jumps, and one on the quarter line. Here’s the setup:

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First exercise: trot up F, then trot down A. I am not adept at creating these diagrams, but take my word for it that you could get a straight approach down to A. The key here was reeeeally going straight and using the corner after F to give yourself room to come back to trot for A. If you waited too long for that transition, the horse basically had a runway down the ring to A and it became much harder to trot. In recent weeks I’ve remembered how to steer so this exercise went fairly well. A Francis in motion likes to stay in motion so we’re still tuning up those downwards- but I do love that he’s so forward thinking.

Second exercise: canter down the bending line F to the oxer at D in a shaped four, then up A and BREAK TO TROT BEFORE JUMPING F OMG. That is a four stride line. Trotting in the middle. This was tough!! We saw that bending F to D in everything from two to five strides, but I opted to take a nice wide bend and sit back for the four. Not gorgeous, but serviceable. Like I mentioned, a Frankie in motion tends to stay in motion so I got pretty creative with my track when we got to the canter-in-trot-out line. The key was jumping turning in early and jumping A a little towards the wall to create an exaggerated bending track with more space to maneuver. I chose to ride Frankie basically to G and then slice F left-to-right to give myself even more room. We certainly need to practice that level of control; we got the job done but it did get a little messy.

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Here it is again because I hate scrolling

Then, we moved onto some coursework. The first was cutting left through the middle to a short approach down A, up the outside line swedish B to vertical C in a forward three or steady four, down the oxer at D, up the outside oxer at E, trot, down F, then rollback left to C, and finish up with the short turn down G.

Notice all those left turns? Remember how I said I couldn’t turn my head left? Pretty sure Trainer was playing a joke on me.

I was overall very happy with how this rode. Outside leg made the turn to A more powerful and packaged so we could get to the base, which set us up with some pace out of the corner to go for the forward three up the line. Frankie was listening like a pro and we could get our adjustable canter back down to the oxer- I really had to focus on waiting with my shoulders and believing in the closer spot. When I waited and asked, Frankie delivered and jumped that oxer SO cute. Then up the outside- this was allllmost too long, but we were carrying enough pace to see us through. Which of course made getting the trot back tough, but we got it in time to slice F a little left to right to give us maximum space to make our rollback to the wall. It went so smoothly!!!! So smoothly that I forgot about my last jump at G until the last minute and then made a weird turn to it. Exhibit #968 of why Francis is my homeboy- he didn’t question anything and popped over with his big ol’ donkey ears flopping in the breeze. Love them donkey ears.

In the past these tight turns have given us difficulty- I have the bad habit of riding the horse in front of me (i.e. I’m a handsy rider) instead of riding the whole horse. I’m finally learning to engage my outside leg to balance and Francis is responding by rocking back and PUSHING through the turns so he’s already balanced and powerful and we don’t need an extra straight stride to prepare for takeoff. Such a cool feeling. Legit SUCH a cool feeling.

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Seriously scrolling is for noobs

Second course: Up the oxer at B, rollback over the oxer at D, up the oxer at E, trot, broken F to A in a quiet four, up G, and down the outside line in three (going towards home there really wasn’t a four there for anyone).

Getting a powerful spot to the base of B set us up for a smooth turn back to D, and using the end of the ring gave us time to build momentum up to the outside oxer. Getting our trot back was a little easier this time for the turn around to F. Frankie really tried to dive left (this is his trademark move), but for the first time I was able to anticipate and correct that so we maintained a nice steady track to A. Balancing around the end of the ring and building back up on the longer approach to G, then packaging up that power around the corner- we got a nice close spot to C and galloped down the three towards home.

I was so so so happy with this course. I was able to anticipate what my horse would do and actively correct those things as they were happening instead of being reactive. I was able to choose the spot I wanted instead of galloping up and hoping Frankie knew when to take off. My turns involved leg, not just hand. It really felt like a lot of the pieces that I’ve been working so hard on came together in this course.

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Frankie was barely sweaty by the end! I think that our focus on strength-building flatwork really translated well to this lesson- he’s able to carry himself more and push off the ground instead of pulling. He’s never going to be one of those hot sensitive jumper-types, but he’s consistently getting more and more responsive to my cues and is demonstrating that he is entirely capable of making those short powerful turns we’re looking for.

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Also capable of eating everything in sight BECAUSE HE IS A HIPPO

Trainer was happy with our progress and so was I. Two and a half weeks until we go to Culpeper and I’m feeling more and more prepared!

And don’t tell my trainer, but my neck feels totally better. Horses. Good for what ails ya.