Progress

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am pretty fiercely driven to be the best I can possibly be at everything I do. I won’t say competitive because it doesn’t matter so much to me how I rank compared to other people. I am constantly comparing myself to…myself.

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Both of my parents are incredibly intelligent, detail-oriented, driven people. I never had a shot of turning out any other way.

I am constantly scrutinizing videos and pictures and nitpicking- my toe is turned out too much, my leg isn’t directly under me, my hands are too low, my hands are too high, the list goes on and on.

And I think that can be a really good thing. Being realistic about my faults is what allows me to address them- the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? I don’t see it as being hard on myself, I see it as identifying opportunities to work hard and improve.

However, I think it’s so important to temper this nit-picking with the recognition of the progress we’ve made. Not in a bragging “look what I can do” kind of way, but more in an “even though there’s a long way to go, we’ve already come so far” kind of way. Recognizing that slow progress is still progress.

 

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So as we kick off my second show season with Francis, here’s a couple things that have come a long way that I’m psyched about:

  1. My ability to think on course. Pretty much since I jumped my first crossrail at age 6, I’ve picked up my canter…….and then come back to a walk. The jumping part in the middle has been a blacked out blur. I’m FINALLY getting the confidence and presence of mind to take a deep breath and consider my options on course. To actively make choices about my approaches and pace instead of letting my horse choose and clinging along for the ride.
  2. My understanding of WHY I ask for certain movements the way I do. Many moons ago, I was taught that picking up the canter involves moving my outside leg back a little and nudging. Now that I’ve spent the time learning about the biomechanics of the gaits and how my aids affect those mechanics, I’m questioning and exploring different ways of asking with some really fantastic results. There’s SO much more to learn but my eyes have been opened to this aspect of riding.
  3. My bravery. For a formerly EXTREMELY timid rider, I honestly can barely recognize myself. Not even so much that I’m jumping higher than I ever expected- instead, I’m excited that when I see a new jump, my immediate reaction is “ooh, I can’t wait to try that!” And when my trainer tells me a course, I don’t worry if I can make it around, I think, “OK, here’s what I’m going to do at every stride to make this a great course.” Do I still crash and fail? All the time! But I believe in myself and my abilities SO much more than I used to. My setbacks are not signs of failure, they are opportunities to learn and improve.
  4. My drive. Of course I’ve always loved riding and wanted to be better at it. But it’s only in the last year or so where I’ve consciously decided to pursue this sport wholeheartedly, and made changes in my life to accommodate that. Things may not end up working out exactly the way I have planned, but I’m setting big goals and doing everything in my power to turn them into reality.

I’m hoping to walk this balance moving forward: remembering to recognize my progress, while still pushing myself to constantly improve. Knowing that I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m a lot closer than I used to be!

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What are you proud of lately?

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#AdultAmmyStrong

A little announcement in case you don’t follow me on Instagram or Facebook (but seriously, follow me on Instagram. I’m way more active there than anywhere else):

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I’m very excited to announce that I am one of the 2017 #AdultAmmyStrong ambassadors! And of course, by extension, Francis will be reppin’ the #AdultAmmyFriendly horse community. OK, so I made that last part up. But I’m a fan so it’s sticking.

For those of you who haven’t encountered this hashtag on social media yet, it’s a community of adult amateur riders coming together to celebrate, commiserate, support, and encourage each other. We all have our own balance of work, family, riding, showing (or not), boarding (or not!), owning or leasing or volunteering or lessoning, but all of our unique paths have one thing in common: we never outgrew that crazy horse-kid phase.

I’m so totally excited to be involved with this! Not only am I horse-crazy, but I freakin’ love meeting new horse people. I’m that obnoxious girl at every show that will come up and tell you how much I love your horse and hi my name is Olivia what’s yours nice to meet you want to grab a quesadilla later? So to have a really fun reason to build a sense of community with like-minded people is going to make this show season even more awesome.

Frankie will have a shmancy AAS banner on his stall at every show, I’ll be writing guest posts for the AAS blog, I’ll continue to be active on social media, and both of us are going to get to connect with a truly wonderful community.

Cheers to a fantastic 2017 of being #AdultAmmyStrong!

Who Can Ride My Horse?

I mean I’m pretty sure literally anyone CAN ride Frankie. He’s not a tough ride. So maybe a more appropriate title is: who MAY ride my horse? This is a much shorter list.

And it’s a list that has evolved over time, and changes based on a couple different factors.

Last year, I would put Frankie in the lesson program when I was out of town and have one of the other ammy riders hop on.This was sufficient to meet my criteria of 1) keeping Frankie working and 2) not ruining my horse.

Earlier in the winter, I was a bit more relaxed about this as well- I had one of our juniors hack Frankie for me when I was home for the holidays and she did a great job with him! He was, of course, a gentleman for her and she enjoyed riding him.

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Literally this horse will put up with anything

I have always taken great joy in having literally anyone briefly flat him around. I’m always trying to get people’s parents up on him for pony rides, and will swap horses with the barn kids for a few laps around. I know Francis will be chill about it, and I know a few laps  won’t undo any training. It warms my heart to see my sweet boy taking care of the novices.

I’m also OK with some of the stronger barn kids doing a bit more with him under my trainer’s supervision- I trust her judgement about what they can do with him, and I know her first priority with him is keeping him show-ready.

But for pretty much any situation besides a short hack, my list of people I want on my horse narrows dramatically- especially during show season.

My basic rule of thumb during this show season is: I only want people on Frankie that are better riders than me (other than myself, obviously). I only want people adding to his training, because I certainly undo enough of it myself. This means that my first choice is to pay for a pro to hop on if I’m not available to ride (and even sometimes when I am available to ride).

Because this year we’re asking for a more extended season (starting earlier, showing more) and we’re asking for more intense work (bigger jumps, more classes). He’s certainly athletic enough for the move up, but he does actually have to work harder now and I want to do everything in my power to prepare him for his job. That means increased fitness and sharper tools in our toolbox- with the emphasis on that “sharper” part.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the ability to ride Frankie safely. In case you couldn’t tell from the EVERYTHING I’VE EVER SAID, Frankie is a supremely chill easy ride. His favorite gait is the halt and he will bop around on the buckle for the rest of his life if you let him. But that last part is exactly why I’m so picky about who hops on him: we don’t want him bopping around on the buckle. We want him connected, on the bit, pushing across the ground, firing on all cylinders. Which he is also quite happy to do (more and more), but only if we reinforce that way of going with consistency.

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We love stretchy trot, but sometimes he has to pick his nose up so he can see the jumps

I’ll relax a bit about this after our show season slows down in the fall. Heck, I’m planning on taking him in some local pleasure classes for a nice change of pace. And if anyone at the barn is in need of a safe mount with some fun buttons, we’ll leg them right up for a ride.

They’ll just have to deal with my controlling-mother tendencies for a few more months.

How do you decide who can hop on your horse?

Star Lord and Abraham Lincoln

Frankie has earned both of these names so far this week.

You know those rides where everything seems to go right? Where you get consistency and straightness and fantastic effort and a whole bunch of things you’ve been working on start clicking into place and you feel like “wow, I’m actually a halfway decent rider” and stars and rainbows flash  before your eyes?

And you know those rides where your horse truly has to earn his oats by packing your butt around, because your body flails around and you can’t half-halt to save your life and don’t see a distance ever and your leg is swinging back and forth like you’re doing the hokey-pokey and you start to think “oh my god I am terrible at this sport” and the poop emoji flashes before your eyes?

Have you ever had both of those rides, one day after the other? BECAUSE THIS WEEK HAS ALREADY BEEN A ROLLERCOASTER FOR ME.

I’ll start with the hearts and stars ride: Monday. Things are quiet with half the barn gone to Florida, so I ended up having the whole ring to myself. Obviously this meant it was time to play some tunes.

Pro tip: the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 album not only has great tunes on it, but is almost exactly 45 minutes. AKA perfect for my warm up-work-cool down session I had planned. 10/10, would recommend.

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I spent a good amount of time just asking for a forward trot on a very loose rein. I used that time to do some of my own exercises- half set, stand straight up, no stirrups, etc. All Frankie had to do was stay forward and straight, and he could stretch down as much as he wanted. Being a peanut roller at heart, Francis took full advantage of this and dragged his nose through the dirt around the ring.

Once we were both limbered up and moving out, I started to ask for a bit more connection. And a bit more. And as I worked all sorts of different patterns and did extensions-collections around the ring, I slowly picked him up more and more.

Um. My horse is HANDSOME. Turns out that when I take my time and really warm him up to it, we get amazingly consistent steady contact with lift, good bend throughout his body, sensitivity to the aids, and all over unicorn status. Engaging all his muscles and he felt STRONG.

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v v strong

Canter work was equally fantastic- our collections actually had some OOMPH to them. And then our transitions! Our downwards transitions are notoriously dull and not-so-prompt. But on Monday, they were crisp and forward into the transition and UGH SO GOOD. Basically every step Francis took on Monday was complete magic.

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sweet, sweet magic

I felt like the next Danny Emerson, I am such a genius amazing and watch me coax this wonderful flatwork out of my boy. I had completely lost track of time and was so caught up in our work, I felt so energized! And then I hopped off and realized OMG OW MY BODY OH LORD HELP ME. Because it turns out that asking for all this great work required crazy core engagement and strong legs. I just hadn’t noticed at the time because I was so excited about our work.

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Clearly you can tell how great he was from our mirror selfie.

Which brings us to Tuesday: lesson day with the guest trainer. Let me start us off with the last thing he said to me as I left the ring post-lesson:

“You have a very honest horse there. He saves you a lot, doesn’t he? Maybe you should help him out more.”

And that’s a very accurate assessment of how that lesson went: Frankie was his usual sweet self, and I could. Not. Do. Anything. Like, at all.

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This is not to say that we had a totally tragic lesson and I ruined my horse- we certainly had some good moments in there and as mentioned, Frankie went really well.

But honestly, I haven’t ridden this poorly in months. My legs hung there uselessly instead of supporting, my core was a marshmallow so my half-halts were literally nothing, my heels were up-down-sideways-everywhere, I was hunched and crooked and chased my horse at jumps and then picked to the base and holy crap. It was like ok maybe things are going well PSYCH I am awful.

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It was a shame, because I really liked the exercise this trainer had us work through: a few rollbacks, a few bending lines, a few singles on a long approach, and then a triple combo, all set low and all done in both directions. It was great for asking a variety of questions of the horses without being terribly complicated. Frankie rocked it without my help.

So chalk it up to soreness, chalk it up to laziness, chalk it up to nerves in front of a new trainer, chalk it up to whatever you want: I was a bag person up top. As in, I looked like I was created entirely out of burlap bags.

Ah well. Tons of pats for pony, and we’ll try again later.

potato-vodka

 

Stoicism, Thy Name is Francis

Emma was talking about how Princess Charlie likes to scare his mom, and it got me thinking about Frankie and how he handles the ouchies.

Because despite both being cute bay geldings, Frankie could not be further on the other end of the spectrum here: Frankie don’t give a shit. (Dad if you’re reading this I know you don’t like it when I swear but I will make it up to you somehow, probably with gratuitous flattery, you handsome talented smartest best dad in the world)

But seriously. Francis is one stoic dude. Sprung shoe? Not noticeable under saddle. Lost shoe? We kept it light, but still not noticeable under saddle. Scrapes up and down his leg from playing too hard? Threw some ointment on it and he was perfectly sound with no heat. Chomping bite mark-shaped lump on his neck? Yep, he’s fine. Weather changes and location changes and stressful situations? He seeks out the water bucket and chills. In the almost year that I’ve had him(!!!!) he hasn’t taken a single ouchie step or had a minute where he felt anything less than healthy (omg please don’t jinx this I’m knocking on every wood surface within reach).

This works out really well, because homeboy LOVES to play with his buddies outside. His favorite game in the world is Wild Island Stallion. To the point where we bought him a muzzle because STOP DESTROYING EVERYONE’S BLANKETS YA DINGUS. But all that playtime means he comes in with a new bump or scrape pretty much every day.

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A split second before squealies and bities

If these bumps and scrapes seemed to bother Frankie at all, I would probably look into  changing his turnout situation. But Francis is SO happy to be outside with his buddies and clearly doesn’t much care about his battle wounds. He does fine when the weather forces him to be stuck in his stall, but he’s noticeably happier when he’s had his romping time outside.

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68F in February means bath time for the Big Man

In my mind, Frankie is like an overgrown 5 year old boy. Super friendly and wants to play with the kids at recess, but doesn’t realize that he’s so big and is playing too rough. But like he’s a happy kid so when he scrapes his knee he just gets back up and says IT’S ALL OK EVERYTHING IS FINE and keeps playing. And wants to get into everything. And puts everything in his mouth. And isn’t very smart. But listens to the teacher really well. And he def won’t get into an Ivy League college but he’ll probs get recruited to play football at a good school so that’s ok. I have a whole persona for him in my head, it’s a fun one.

So maybe it’s not that Frankie is that stoic, he’s just not smart enough to realize that things hurt. It’s one of the reasons that my trainer and I discuss preventative maintenance fairly regularly to keep an eye on things: by the time Frankie actually shows us he’s hurting, he’ll likely already be in a decent amount of discomfort. So we want to really stay on top of things BEFORE he displays any ouchie behavior.

Is your horse more of an ouch-mom-this-hurts-cannot-horse-today type, or more of a rub-some-dirt-in-it-let’s-go type?

EDIT: Between writing this post and actually posting it, Frankie’s leg has gotten fat from a scrape he got while playing outside. He’s totally sound and we’re treating aggressively so it doesn’t get worse, but seriously this is what I get for talking about how sturdy my horse is. Horses, man. They’ll humble you real quick.

Make That Booty Werk

Oh man, guys. We are asking Francis to work his butt a little harder and it’s really really fun. It’s so noticeable how much these different exercises are encouraging him to use his body better and I’m pretty giddy about riding him and feeling him get better and better.

I headed to the barn on Monday planning on a pretty decent flatwork session, but didn’t have a big plan for what we would work on- my go-to right now is transitions since ours need sharpening for sure. But Assistant Trainer was there and set up a bunch of ground poles, so pole-day it was!

Plus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all (I mean honestly, nothing bothers him let’s be real here), so I never worry about him trying to back off or speed through poles.

Minus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all, so he’s not awfully concerned about keeping track of his feet.

So my role in this partnership as we trotted through was to keep my leg on to generate the impulsion, and then keep a steady hand for balance. The following pattern was set up in the ring, along with a few single poles on the diagonal that I didn’t include, so sue me:

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The poles along the long side were a simple exercise: forward and straight. The poles in the corner made it so you could stay out and put a few more steps in between the two, or stay closer in and push for fewer steps. We alternated a couple times between the two, trying to find the right balance of pressing up while keeping a consistent rhythm.

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OH DEAR GOD FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL

And then it was time to canter the poles! We started with 3 in a row set to bounce them, then added more and more until we were bouncing through all six in a row. The corner exercise remained, where we could either put one full stride between the two, or stay in and bounce them around the turn.

So I don’t know about you guys, but I have a weird anxious energy about ground pole exercises. I would 100% rather put the jumps up to any height instead of having to canter poles on the ground. Luckily Frankie does not share this anxiety, and was really really good throughout these exercises in both directions.

I did have to take a bit firmer contact so that he didn’t try to get flat through the bounces- they were set a little shorter than he would’ve liked, which was FANTASTIC for sitting him down on his butt to push. And that corner exercise forced him to pay attention to where his hind feet were doing as he pushed out of the turn. It definitely helped force a little of that “explode out of the turn” feeling we’re always trying to develop.

After working through this a couple times each direction, I could feel Frankie pick himself up and soften onto my hand. It was a very very cool feeling to have that elastic energy under me to play with.

Then on Tuesday we had our lesson! Fairly basic warmup on the flat, then we did some more canter poles, set on the quarter line as a one stride-bounce-one stride exercise. We needed a lot more power from behind to have the energy for this- Trainer played Flight of the Bumblebees for me as I went through as a reminder to get that canter more active. In other news, I now demand a soundtrack for every exercise.

Trainer then slowly built up each element of the gymnastic until it looked like this:

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Placing pole, crossrail, one stride, crossrail bounce, one stride, oxer out.

The rule was trot in then press out. This was tough for Frankie! As a not-super-fiery kinda dude, he really didn’t want to work hard through this, especially when the jumps were little. We had to play around with our pace coming in- I wanted to help him out by pressing forward in, but then he inevitably put in a canter step before takeoff. I had to be very conscious to get a nice short powerful trot in and then SQUEEZE through the rest of the exercise to get him going.

We then added a halt after the oxer, with the goal being to halt in a straight line. This took three tries! Frankie really was NOT expecting to have to stop so soon after opening up for that oxer. The goal with this was to be able to go from a short powerful trot, to bigger powerful canter, back to a halt very quickly: pushing the range of adjustability that we’re looking for. We love that Frankie is not a sensitive horse for so many reasons, but we do want him sensitive enough to react to my adjustments more quickly than he currently does.

This exercise actually went much more smoothly once the last oxer went up in height, forcing Frankie to pay attention. Once he realized he could go big jumpiez he perked right up and carried me through the grid with less work on my part.

And the last time through the grid felt SO good. I didn’t have to work to push him through because he had great up-and-down- energy to adjust himself. And that last oxer, OMG. He picked his back up and used his neck and rounded up and over the jump, and really jumped up to me instead of me having to presspresspress across it. I wish I had a pic of that jump because it honestly felt like one of the best efforts he’s ever given me. You should’ve seen the big fat grin on my face 😀

It was also cool to feel him develop that same elasticity over the course of the lesson- he really picked his poll up and sought the contact, and started asking me for forward instead of the other way around. I honestly think he likes his job a lot- he’s kinda a slug on the flat and when the jumps are little, but when we raise the expectations he starts getting excited about his work. Gawd he’s so cool.

As previously mentioned, the barn heads down to Florida this weekend! Luckily, Trainer has found someone to come in and teach lessons while she is gone- it’s been a long time since I trained with someone else, so I’m excited to see what new perspectives he’ll have for us. And of course, I’m excited to share with you.

Other random exciting news: Trainer is expanding the outdoor ring even more than she had originally planned, and the footing has been ordered. It looks like Memorial Day is the target completion date for the whole project and I am SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED. It’ll be totally amazeballs to have a nice big ring to set some nice big jumps in 😉 I’ll have to start taking some progress pics so you can see the transformation.

Do you have any go-to groundpole exercises?

A Look Back on Ocala

One year ago this week, I was down in Florida competing at HITS Ocala. It’s so bizarre- it feels like I was just down there last month, but it also feels like a completely different lifetime. Things were so different just one short year ago!

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For example, my leg did this a year ago!
Before heading down to Ocala: I had shipped in to one rated show (HITS Culpeper) but had never done an “away” show with my trainer. I was half-leasing Addy and had taken her in a few jumper classes, but mostly did the local 3′ hunters with her. I had daydreamed about competing on the A circuit, but was pretty sure I didn’t have the budget to make it there.

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Wistfully gazing at the GP ring at Culpeper
And then I got to compete for a week. And learn. OH BOY DID I LEARN.

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Learned to check for saddle slippage
I learned about how my barn runs things at these big shows. They’ve done it so often that it’s a well-oiled machine and I just had to listen to where I should be and when. I learned what I would be responsible for (clean tack and appropriate apparel) and what would be taken care as part of the fee I was paying (pretty much everything else). I had never experienced the “full care” package at shows and let me tell you- I love taking care of everything myself at home, but knowing your horse is clean and ready for you when you need him after your course walk is such a wonderful luxury.

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Masterful side-eye
I learned what the warmup protocol is when we have 2 trainers, 7 riders, and 4 rings to be in all at roughly the same time. How to prep my horse to make the most of the time I have with my trainer, what to wait for her to do with us, what to expect from our warmup before heading into the show ring. I also learned that apparently my trainer knows every single person at every single horse show, and guaranteed she’s already radio-ed the ingate about the trainer conflict. And that she is a master of switching from pony kid to eq junior to pro in the hunters to ammy jumper and back again at a moment’s notice.

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Switching from the jumpers to the eq and back again
I learned about the jumper ring. Holy crap, did I learn about the jumper ring. Each course walk was eye opening as I slowly figured out that fast and clear don’t just happen- there’s such a science and an art to it. The jump materials, the direction of the lines, the angle of the ring, during which part of the course each element comes up, the location of the in-gate, so many different factors came up as something to consider on course. At this point, I honestly couldn’t handle thinking about a lot of these independently- just making it around the course with the jumps in the right order was my main goal. But knowing that there was such a strategy to it made me hungry to learn more.

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However I did not learn to not lean on my horse’s neck

I learned about what type of ride I prefer. I got to ride two amazing, very different horses during the week- one who has since gone on to success in the hunter ring, and one who was an absolute firecracker. I got to briefly sit on several other horses to see which ones I liked best, and much to my surprise it was the firecrackers. My previously wimpy self was delighted.

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This one is now a hunter
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This was one zippy little mare
 

I learned about the horse show routine: waking up early, taking naps in the grooming stall when I could, hitchhiking on passing golf carts, hurry up and wait, get in line to add/scratch as early as possible, hurry up and wait some more, cheering for our other riders, going for a quick gallop on the track after our class is over because why not?!, getting the BIG margarita with dinner, helping zip up those mega tight tall boots, carrying a crop the entire time because guaranteed someone’s gonna need it, working through nerves, celebrating the good parts, figuring out how to fix the bad parts, watching the Grand Prix riders, exploring the beautiful barns.

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Hurrying up and waiting…and waiting…
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Catching rides on every passing golf cart
While chatting with some of the ladies down there, they joked that I would have my own horse in no time. I smiled and responded, “Man, I wish. I just don’t think the budget is there. Maybe someday!”

They must’ve seen something in my eyes that I didn’t- by the time I left the ring for my last class, it was already cemented in my mind. I needed to chase this feeling, and that meant I needed a horse to chase it on. Frankie joined the family a little over a month later.

A lot has changed from when I headed down to Ocala. I’ve gotten to show at the A rated shows, and have plans to do even more this year. I’ll be on the A circuit just like I dreamed. I’ve moved from the 0.80m/0.90m classes to the 1.0m classes to the 1.10m classes with near-future plans to dabble in the 1.15m. I get to help show other riders the ropes at shows instead of needing constant direction. I have less money, less social life, more muscle, more joy than at this time last year. My pristine, never-worn white breeches are now dirty and stained from use, and I’m still so excited every time I put them on.

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All these show clothes are now filthy and worn
It’s no exaggeration to say that my week in Ocala last year was completely life changing. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have bought a horse if it hadn’t been for that experience, which means I wouldn’t have competed where I have, which means I would’ve missed out on some of the greatest times I’ve ever had.

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#proud
It didn’t fit into my goals to go down this year- trying to qualify for champs means quantity of shows takes priority- nor did it fit into my budget- turns out buying a horse DESTROYED MY SAVINGS- but you can bet I’m already saving up to go to Florida again next year, this time with my own amazing steed in tow.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep hustling so that the next trip down there can be just as incredible as the first.

My Horse, the Guru

Frankie obviously has taught me so much about riding since I brought him home. But he’s also taught me a lot about how I want to move through life. Here are just a few of the life lessons my sweet  boy has taught me.

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Even though Mom hasn’t fed me a cookie in six months, today might be the day she gives me a cookie.

Hope springs eternal with this horse. Past patterns be damned, that’s in the past! Today is a new day and there is always ALWAYS the possibility of good things. I strive to live my life with this kind of optimism.

I’m happy to go anywhere you ask, but I’d like it better if I could lead the way instead of having to follow slow walkers.

He will cross water, canter around hay fields, and traverse any terrain on the buckle as long as he gets to be the leader of the pack. He simply loathes having to stop and wait. He’s my reminder to fearlessly trailblaze in my own life. To not hold myself back and instead be confident as I make my own strides forward.

I know we crashed through this jump last time but I’m gonna go ahead and try again for you.

No matter how badly I mess up, he always always gives me another chance to make it right. He teaches me to let go of grudges and move forward- there’s no point holding onto negative energy.

You haven’t given me a thorough grooming in a few days. So don’t expect me to look cheerful.

Sweet boy loves getting loved on. And he always reinforces the importance of nurturing my relationships. Of spending the time and effort to connect and take care of each other.

Lateral work is hard. The instant you take your leg off I’m just gonna do my own thing.

Leg on = hard work. Leg off = making stuff up as he goes. He’s my constant teacher that I get back what I put into my work, and giving up means missing out on some amazing results.

I LOVE playing Wild Island Stallion with my friends, but Mom is nearby so I’ll keep all four feet on the ground and make sure no one else gets too close.

As soon as he sees me coming, he stops romping and turns back into my gentle giant. He understands the value of being careful with your loved ones and making sure your actions match your intentions of keeping them safe and happy.

Who’s that sitting in the corner? I should go say hi. She looks nice. Maybe I get scratchies?

Francis LOVES strangers, and his favorite game at shows is to pose for photos with non-horse people. He never fails to go with ears perked to every new person to see if they might be a new friend. He’s my inspiration to approach new people with that same sense of curiosity and hope that they just may be a friend I haven’t made yet.

Oooh that’s the itchy spot. I should start grooming my human to see if she has any itchy spots too.

When I hit just the right spot on his neck, Frankie stretches out and starts nosing at my hip. He is so selfless in his thanks- he’s happy to receive some scratchies and returns the favor without hesitation. That’s the sense of gratitude and generosity I want to have for all the happy events in my life, big or small.

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And all this without even realizing it. Turns out my big goofy gelding is smarter than a lot of people.

What has your horse taught you about life lately?

Kick Ride or Nah?

I had totally forgotten about this, but someone recently reminded me that Frankie was used in a few ammy lessons while I was out of town a few months back. And I only just found out that the person riding him in one of these lessons struggled over some of the jumps.

Of course my first reaction was to worry that my horse had done something bad (which would be very out of character), so I started apologizing to her. Luckily, she quickly reassured me that he didn’t offer any misbehavior, she was just caught by surprise. I’ll paraphrase what she said here:

“From when I’ve seen you riding, I expected Frankie to be a really forward ride to the jumps. So when we got to a crossrail and he lurched over it from a crawl, I was totally caught off guard and got unbalanced. I didn’t expect him to need so much leg to the jump.” To which my trainer responded, “Any of that energy is entirely rider-generated, he doesn’t really think to go anywhere.”

First off, I totally can’t blame her for struggling. Frankie lurches something awful over the smaller jumps and it can be really hard to stay with the motion. It’s much much much easier to go with him over the bigger jumps as he puts more effort in.

We also had one of our Pony Moms up on Frankie for a quick ride recently- he was PERFECT for her and I’m def gonna be pressuring her into doing some pleasure classes with him next fall because seriously #adorable. Trainer saw her riding and smiling about Frankie being so good, and laughed, “He’s lazy, right?”

So it got me thinking. I usually think of Frankie as a fairly forward ride- he’s got a nice open stride and I never have to kick to keep him going, even if he isn’t hot or “up” by any stretch of the imagination (HAH!).

But. We do like to find a spot to get a gallop going before our first fence. And we focus a lot on sitting back and driving up out of the corners.  And he does require a lot of support from my leg to remind him that he needs to put some effort in. He’s a tattletale when it comes to effort: he will always go to the jump, but the quality of his effort directly correlates to the amount of work his rider is doing. Balanced, clear aids + strong leg = shmancy powerful Francis. Weak/nonexistent aids + no leg = strung out, lurchy Francis. It’s very easy to tell when I’m not supporting him like I need to.

jump_lurch
Exhibit A: Not a crappy spot. But I took my leg off so it was a crappy jump.
jump_better
Exhibit B: Tight distance with a swap off- crappy spot. But a little leg made him press across the jump better- not a crappy jump.

So I wouldn’t really call him a “kick ride” OR  a “woah ride.” I’d call him a “leg ride.” As long as my leg is on and present, we can ask for forward and receive it. And the more fit he gets and the stronger my leg is able to be, the more “spice” we are getting to the jumps- I’m starting to feel him really lock on and carry me up to it. This is pretty much my ideal ride at this point in my riding career- having a blast galloping up to the jumps while feeling very safe knowing that Frankie will always coast to a stop when asked. He’s truly a confidence booster and teacher in the best possible way.

What’s your favorite kind of ride?

Big Stretches

You know that post-show hangover? Yeah, that was Monday for me. So tired. So sore. Ded.

But then Tuesday dawned with that most wondrous of feelings: Second Day Sore. SDS. I was a decrepit little hobbit around the office all day, and I know my lesson that afternoon would be dicey.

Luckily, the the no-stirrup work and gymnastics we did actually stretched me out and helped my muscles recover that much faster- score!

Our private lessons have come to an end due to scheduling conflicts, so I’m getting back into the zone of semi-privates once more. Our flatwork was nothing crazy- lots of extensions and collections within gaits, making sure we got a prompt response to my cues and were controlling that shoulder around our turns (both his AND mine).

Frankie felt really great! Forward, working over his back as he warmed up, balanced. I think the rest day and the slightly warmer temperatures put him in his happy place because he was really a pleasure to ride (I mean….he always is….but yeah he was great).

We kept the exercises fairly straightforward for the jumping phase. For a while we just worked through a simple grid: trot in crossrail-one stride-vertical-one stride-oxer. It never got very high and it was more to allow me to focus on my own position through the exercise. Then we did a little gymnastic-y type course:

jan31_gymnastic

So gymnastic up the long side, cut across the middle, up the bending line red to skinny in a straightforward 4, down the one stride combo, then up the oxer to barrel bending out in 4 or 5.

My goal through the gymnastic was to stay still with my shoulders, keep my leg on while staying in a light seat, and focus on straightness through my entire body all the way through. Over the middle jump 2, we sliced it a little bit and then tried to hug jump 1A to give us plenty of space to make the turn to 3. The 4 stride was very steady- neither forward nor holding- and Frankie locked onto the skinny early on so no problems there. We had to cowboy up out of the corner a bit for the one stride, then balance around for the last bending line. The first two times we galloped out in four strides, then went back and shaped and held for the five.

Overall nothing crazy! The jumps stayed low and none of the striding was tricky. Much more focus on my own equitation and playing with our tracks to see how different tracks affect our overall course. It was honestly pretty relaxing! Happy horse, straightforward exercises, stretching my tired muscles and his.

We’ll have one more lesson next week before the barn heads down to Florida, then we’ll be on a mini-vacation. Trainer mentioned that she maaaaay get someone to come teach while she’s gone, so we’ll see if our flatwork sessions will have a lesson thrown in there. As much as I wish I could go down the Florida with them, it will be nice to have a quieter ring to work in- it’s tough to do as much lateral work and pole work as I’d like with all the lesson kids sharing the indoor this time of year.

The outdoor ring is currently under expansion and should be GORGEOUS with brand new footing later in the spring- I really can’t wait for the weather to turn so we can ride outside more!!! Also so I can consistently feel my toes and not feel like a marshmallow in 10,000 layers. But also to ride outside.