Rounding Out May

This past weekend, I took some time away from the barn to go to my college roommate’s wedding! All of us roommates are spread out across the country and almost never get to see each other and it was AMAZING to be together.

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Corey and his girls, just like the old days
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It may take a team of 3-4 professionals several hours, but I do clean up OK sometimes

It was crazy fun to dress up considering I spend 97% of my time in jeans/breeches, hair in a ponytail, sans makeup. And the #BrideTribe was omg so much fun. Love these ladies.

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I sent this pic to my mom to prove that 1) I have not gone completely feral and 2) I still interact with human beings

So Frankie got some time away from his mother to hang out with the kid that rides him for me sometimes. He does love her.

But he must’ve heard me refer to him as “low maintenance” and decided to give me the finger: he pulled one of his front shoes off 3 times in quick succession, tore up his foot, and now needs glue-ons plus pads up front for a while so his hoof doesn’t fall off or something like that.

Thanks for the extra $$$ I need to spend, horse. First it’s injections and now it’s this. I THOUGHT HORSES WERE SUPPOSED TO BE EASY TO CARE FOR AND PREDICTABLE.

Nah though he’s fine. Totally sound and not ouchy, just an idiot in the paddock. We ran through some grids in our lesson the other day and he didn’t put a foot wrong. I’m grateful that my farrier is being proactive about making sure he’s got healthy tootsies.

In other exciting news, the ring expansion is proceeding and the end is in sight!

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It’s even further along than this picture- there’s a border around the whole thing and the sand footing should be trucked in soon. There’s going to be enough space for a solid 6-stride line down the long side and we are SUPER excited! Bigger ring means bigger jumps, amiright??

Things are a little hectic right now and will be through June (roommate and I are moving apartments, Manfriend graduates, Upperville, heading home for a few days, etc.) but Francis continues to be my cheerful constant. Yet again, I’m grateful for his whole team that keeps him healthy and happy when his ammy mom can’t be there as consistently.

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HITS Video: First High Round

Things are a little hectic around here and I will have some cool news to share soon, but in the meantime enjoy this video of our first round in the Highs at HITS!

I clearly didn’t make all the right decisions here. I was so used to having to boot him up to the jumps that all of a sudden he was carrying me and WHOOPS GONNA CHIP TO EVERYTHING. I need to remember that Homeboy is more fit and more educated now and needs support, not squeezing.

This was our first true time competing at this height (like I said once before, McDonogh was set VERY forgivingly and likely not true to height) and I couldn’t be happier with how Francis did. He has to deal with his ammy mom making tons of mistakes but he does it all with his little ears perked up and just trucks around. Worth his weight in gold, this horse.

Our next outing will be Upperville- just for the weekend- where we will do the 1.10m/1.15m classes. Can’t wait!

If You Ain’t First, You’re Last

I’ve been on a Ricky Bobby kick lately for the last 11 years and I need to use it to express what Frankie and I are up to lately.

Let me start with some of my recent bad habits that have shown up.

Rogue left shoulder. It likes to go up. And forward. And collapse.

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You’re not on fire, Shoulder

So I focused on keeping it down and back. Now it is too far down and back. It goes literally everywhere EXCEPT where it should be.

Rogue right hand. I don’t know what to do with it.

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Horse handled real good

It just…creeps up. Not a ton. Just a little. Just enough.

Weak lower leg. But only at the trot. Stays in place at every other gait and is pretty secure over fences.

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Let’s use this other knife to pry it out

Who knows where it goes when I’m trotting around. Certainly not where it should.

So then I’m going around all cocky about how great I am as a rider and wow what a great person I am in general as a human

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And I just get this look from my trainer as she tries to figure out how I’ve actually somehow gotten so much worse, practically overnight

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She’s going 26 mph

But then it’s all cool because my horse saves my ass and goes anyways

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GO FAST RICKY BOBBY

I am 100% positive that my trainer has given me this speech at every show, almost verbatim:

“You need speed. You need to go out there, and you need to rev your engine. You need to fire it up. You need to grab a hold of that line between speed and chaos, and you need to wrestle it to the ground like a demon cobra! And then, when the fear rises up in your belly, you use it. And you know that fear is powerful, because it has been there for billions of years. And it is good. And you use it. And you ride it; you ride it like a skeleton horse through the gates of hell, and then you win, Ricky. You WIN!”

All that’s left for Frankie and I to do is to keep truckin’ along and

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I’m not sure which one of us is which

Tentative Summer Show Schedule

OK gang, we have a tentative plan for the rest of show season.

I was originally planning on doing Loudoun Benefit, but then heard I might be travelling for work that week and also I have no money for a full week show in June hahahahahahelpmeplease. So Loudoun got crossed off the list.

And Upperville too- no full week show for me, and also Manfriend is graduating that Thursday so I’ll be cheering him on (woohoo so proud!!!).

But then my Trainer is the actual best person, and arranged for me to split a stall with someone so I can just show Saturday-Sunday at Upperville!!! We’ll do the 1.10m High class on Saturday and then the 1.15m High classic on Sunday.

Which, you guys. I am getting so mushy and emotional about. This venue was where Frankie and I competed together for the first time in June of last year, at the 0.90m and 1.0m level. And almost exactly one year later, we’re going back and we are going to totally rock that 1.15m class.

It’s not so much about the height, it’s about the confidence and partnership we’ve gained. To be able to go back to that same venue with new skills and abilities and feel that contrast. This was not even on the radar at this time last year. So yeah, I’m a squishy little ball of emotions about this right now. So unbelievably proud of my horse and grateful and UGHHHHHHH I’ll shut up about it. For now.

From there, we are tentatively looking at doing HITS in July where we will do the Highs and/or the Modified AOs (which is the 1.15m division there) and/or maybe the adult medals(?), and then it’ll be finals time in August! USEF has officially officially posted points to confirm all the sleuthing.

I’m thinking that we’ll wrap up our season at Culpeper finals- by then we will have done 3-4 out of the 6 weeks they host and maybe we’ll be in the running for circuit division points? Not going to chase that, but it would be pretty cool.

So we’ll round out our second season together that Sunday.

And I already have a plan. That Sunday, we will go do our 1.10m/1.15m class. Then the following weekend we will be finding a local show. And we will go do the pleasure division. It’s happening, guys. Trainer is already on board.

Modified AO jumper pony Sunday, pleasurific hack horse Saturday. It’s going to be perfect.

What are your summer plans??

The Education of Franklin

I’ve said something in a couple posts now: “Frankie is a different horse than we brought home.”

I’d like to talk about that a little.

Because in all the important ways, he is exactly what we brought home: a safe, sane, athletic partner to learn the ropes with in the jumper ring. That part hasn’t changed an inch- he packs around any ring, has zero spook in him, and happily jumps anything you point him at.

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5 minutes after meeting him, he let me bury him to this oxer without complaint. Saint Francis.

But we also bought an inexperienced horse. And that is a compliment, not a condemnation- he was brought along carefully and slowly and thoughtfully and never overfaced with something he couldn’t do. He had very good training on him, and his previous trainer even took him to a few events where he did wonderfully!

But he never had to pack an ammy around the jumper ring. He never had to deal with his rider alternately kicking and pulling to a 1m fence, crashing him into the standards, then asking him to try again immediately. Until he met me.

He’s had to handle being a newcomer to the jumper world while being piloted by another newcomer. Neither of us really knew what to do first when we heard the buzzer. I didn’t know how to ask for the close spot, and he didn’t know how to give it to me even if I did manage to ask. I was in “hang on and pray” mode, and he was in “try hard and hope this is the right answer” mode.

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At least we both have winning personalities

This is the part where I’m supposed to say how sorry I am for giving my horse bad rides and how I wish I could be better for him blah blah blah. And OBVIOUSLY I wish I was a better rider. That’s literally all I think about, have you ever read this blog?! But it is what it is. I take as good care of him as I possibly can, and work every day to take care of him a little better. We live and learn.

Emphasis on the learn, because I’m circling around to my point now (finally).

Frankie doesn’t count as an inexperienced horse anymore. We’ve done five shows together so far- four of which were multi-day shows- and he has completely transformed over these five shows.

He hears the buzzer, feels me shorten my reins, and starts asking if he can go yet MAHM IT’S TIME TO GO NOW.

He sees a crapton of poles and charges fearlessly ahead, making that combo his bi–maintaining his forward momentum without hesitation.

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Last jump in the triple combo, and he flies over it with room to spare!

I sit down and ask for some collection and he knows that doesn’t mean slow down. It means HOLD THE HECK UP FOR YOUR MOTHER TO SEE THE DAMN SPOT YOU WALNUT.

He uses his body over the jumps. Like, wow. Big change here.

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I will be sharing this picture every single chance I get so learn to love it

Yet he somehow still knows that Zoomin’ Time is over when I drop the reins, and happily jogs over to the in-gate while soaking up his pats and scratches.

He feels supremely confident on course. Ears up, hunting down the jumps, galloping out of the turns. No sucking back or lurching over fences- he powers across the ground.

He doesn’t check in with me constantly for instruction on what to do next. He doesn’t need to, because I am much more present up top. He also doesn’t need to because he already has a good idea of what’s next.

A couple humans deserve credit for a lot of this: my trainers have put so much time and effort into developing him, building fitness, and educating him to his job. They have progressed him immensely! And I won’t pretend false humility here- I’ve put in a lot of work myself. I’m a very different rider than I was a year ago. So Frankie has a team of people working hard to help him out.

But.

None of that would make such a wonderful impact on him if he didn’t want to do the job. Which he so clearly does. He’s one of the happiest horses I’ve ever met, day after day after day. He knows his job and he LOVES his job.

I used to describe Frankie as “a really good boy, super game for anything, we’re learning about the jumper ring.” Nowadays, I just call him my jumper.  No caveats needed.

Regional Championships: The Journey

Background

With our 3rd and 5th from the show back in January, Frankie and I had amassed 14 points in our division. To qualify for the Regional Adult Jumper Championships, you need to apply (which I already did) and get at least 20 points by June 1.

I know there is a consistent system on how points are awarded based on how many people are in the class, the placing, and the moon sign on the previous Tuesday, but I do not know what this system is. It is not the standard 10-6-4-2-1-0.5 that I thought.

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Someone communed with the universe to come up with the point system

So going into HITS, we needed to get at least 6 points.

As you saw in our show recap, Frankie and I captured 2nd place in a class on Sunday. Hooray! That means we got the points….right? Probably? The class barely filled (only three people), so I didn’t know how many points 2nd would net me.

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Mayyyybe???

I feverishly refreshed my record on USEF.org over and over and over hoping to see results- no dice. With the deadline looming, I had no idea whether or not I needed to go to another show in May.

Cue the detective work.

Private Eye

The first logical step for me was to call the HITS home office. I asked a very nice lady if she knew whether points from the recent Culpeper show had been sent in to USEF, she looked into it and said they were recently sent/in the process of being sent, and USEF had to take it from there.

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Thank you nice lady I am hanging up now

And then called USEF and talked to another very nice lady. She did some sleuthing for me, and told me that points weren’t likely to be posted for at least another week or two.

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Thank you other nice lady but also I’m getting nervous

(Someone be proud of me that I called strangers twice in one day, I do not like talking to strangers on the phone)

I had 24 hours to make a decision on an upcoming show, so that wasn’t going to work for me. I was a little stumped! Both the show and USEF were dead ends.

But LOL I am a huge creeper and once I remembered that I started getting creative.

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Time for some doughnuts and stalking

I went to the USHJA Zone 3 list of riders in my division, and clicked through name by name until I found someone who had placed 2nd out of 3. I noted their name, their horse’s name, and which show/class they had received that placing in.

Then I took that information over to the Horse Search feature on USEF and found that pair, scrolled down until I found that specific show and class, and looked to see how many Zone points they had earned with that specific class.

10 points.

Meaning we earned 10 points as well, we are currently at a total of 24, and that means we are qualified for finals!

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Let’s get psyched for finals, gang. Also lets learn how to ride a 1.15m course before we get there hahahahahahatotallyit’llbeawesome.

Bouncy Juice

Francis has the bouncy juice!

Myself along with the rest of Frankie’s healthcare team have been talking preventative maintenance for a while, and decided that spring would be when we made a decision on what to do. We know that Frankie is very sound, we manage his schedule carefully so he doesn’t get over-jumped, and he’s never shown any sort of discomfort with his job. And we also know that we very much never want him to deal with discomfort if we can avoid it.

So after consulting with my trainer, my vet (who btw I LOVE because he is brilliant and cares so much and is genuinely the nicest guy) and consulting my bank account, we decided to go ahead with an SI injection last week after we got back from the show. Frankie also got his sheath cleaned while he was doped up, ha ha bro deal with the indignity.

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WHAT DIGNITY

But back to the bouncy juice.

Frankie got several days off post-injection, just getting some groomings from Yours Truly. I then had a barn kid hop on him while I was out of town for the weekend to flat him around and let him start getting back into work after a solid week off post-show- he never gets kooky after time off so I wasn’t worried about him. He got a very good report card and lots of loving from his little friend! (She’s not so little really, she’s got super long legs and fits him fantastically. She loves Frankie, Frankie loves her, and I have a trusted barn rat to hop on when I can’t get to the barn. We all win.)

And then we had a lesson yesterday to start pressing some buttons and see how he’s doing! It was a very low-key lesson, nothing crazy. Pretty basic WTC warmup, I threw in a couple leg-yields to get him off my leg FRANKLIN. But his canter felt really fantastic! I’ve always loved his canter of course, but he had some great “bounce” to his step yesterday.

We tried out a couple courses- again, nothing crazy. At their highest I don’t think anything topped 3’ish (though what do I know) and the courses themselves were pretty simple. A couple singles, a bending line, a long approach oxer, all very comfortable. We got some cute jumps!

In the past we’ve gotten sub-par jumping efforts when we ask him to take off from a closer spot- he leans his body to give himself some room, legs go askew, basically he loses track of his body and flings himself across the jump. That’s a bit dramatic- it’s not all that bad and he’s not that contorted. But not great usage of his body.

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Um.

 

But I asked for the base to pretty much every jump last night (c’mon dude they’re not that big, you can trot these fences) and he gave some great lift through his shoulder and used his neck and back more! I don’t think this was due entirely to the injection- we’ve worked hard to build fitness and education, and he gave some lovely efforts at the show last weekend- but I do think increased comfort in his movement is only a good thing.

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Close spot! Jumping like a normal horse instead of a deer-llama!

I know I’m a broken record on this, but I really am thrilled with how Frankie continues to get better and better. We’ve worked hard to build fitness and muscle, we’ve worked hard to educate him on his job, we’re doing everything in our power to make sure he is healthy and comfortable, and he is responding to our efforts with a wonderful work ethic. It’s really a pleasure working with my trainers to mold Frankie’s natural athleticism into such a fun sporthorse.

I’m not sorry about being a broken record. Frankie is my unicorn.

I know some of you have gone the SI-injection route. What did you think? Did you notice a difference?

Hang Time

Since Frankie and I have started schooling some bigger (to us) jumps, I’ve felt like I have to completely relearn how to ride over fences.

I was used to this motion: legs up, legs down.

Not a lot of arc, and by the time his back feet left the ground we were already coming in for a landing. Frankie doesn’t have a lot of roundness to his jump on a consistent basis (though there is MASSIVE improvement from when we got him), so it was a very flat, steady motion.

Now that the jumps are a bit higher and he has to work a little harder, the motion is more like this: front legs up-back legs up-hang in air-front legs down-back legs come down to push off.

The big difference here in his motion is that his hind legs are leaving the ground while we’re still on our way up, and there is a moment in the air as we “peak.” It is a distinct three-phase motion of takeoff, peak, and landing. The takeoff and peak don’t feel that different, but having his body crest over the top and then shift downwards was mighty disorienting at first. So really the big difference for me has been learning how to ride the “landing” phase.

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Half seat. Then a little less half seat-y.

All of a sudden, I can’t just get into my half-seat and stay there ’til we land. Unless I want to land on his neck every time, and even the most tolerant pony in the world (aka Francis) gets annoyed at that after a while. I have to shift my balance over his so that I can land with my shoulders already up and telling Francis was to do next. No recovery stride to haul myself back in the saddle.

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Usually looking like a sack of potatoes trying to stay over the saddle. See notes below about thigh and core strength.

Guys. This took is taking a lot of work. Having the world’s most tolerant ammy-friendly horse has been an absolute Godsend as I try to sort my parts out. My “recovery time” on landing is one of the biggest things my trainer and I are working on (along with riding to the right takeoff spot, but that is a lifelong struggle).

I won’t pretend to have good advice on how to do this, but here are a few things that have helped me start to get my body in the right place:

  • Heels down. I know, I know, we’ve all known this since we sat on our first pony. But being very conscious of this has helped- dropping my weight down into my heels and using that mental image to keep my leg perpendicular to the ground. I don’t always get this right (as evidenced by pretty much every picture ever), but there is a big difference when I focus on this.
  • Building strength in my thighs. This means lots of no-stirrup work, including no-stirrup half seat. Keeping my heel down helps me keep my lower leg stable and strong, but getting my thighs stronger has helped me keep my entire leg on to hold me in that centered position.
  • Building core strength. This is probably the number one improvement right here- maintaining that increased strength through my core helps SO much as my hip angle changes. When my core is loose, I collapse up the neck on landing. When my core is engaged, I stay over his back. I’m not as completely still and stable as I’d like to be yet, so planks galore to build that strength!
  • Thinking “shoulders tall” with every. single. stride. That needs to stay independent of my hip angle (see below), but keeping this mantra in my head helps me to constantly ~try to~ keep my shoulders facing forwards instead of collapsing up the neck.
  • Increasing flexibility in my hip angle. I don’t exactly mean by doing stretches or anything since my hips are decently flexible already- I more mean expanding the range of angles I use during my riding. This angle used to stay pretty closed as I stayed in a half-seat and then closed a little more over jumps. Now there is SUCH a wider range: slightly closed when I ask for a gallop, more open when I sit back and ask for collection, closed at takeoff, wider for landing. And not only is there a wider range, that range all needs to happen within 0.8 seconds. I’m still getting comfortable with a wider hip angle but Frankie responds well to my seat when I open up like that.
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Hip angle slightly closed as we open stride through a wide turn
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Hip angle opens a bit as I ask him to collect before sending him forward to a single oxer

A big part of the goal here is to make sure I can change my seat as soon as I can upon landing- staying off his back when I need to allow him, but getting in the backseat and driving him when I need to. This needs to be able to happen within a 1-stride combo, not 3 strides out from a jump. So yeah. That landing needs to be tight and balanced and I need to know what I’m asking for as soon as his front feet leave the ground. I should start doing some quick-thinking exercises too!

Like I said before, it does feel like I’m completely re-learning how to jump. I’m making a LOT of mistakes these days- big pats for Francis for truckin’ along while I play with my angles and slowly get stronger.

How have you approached adjusting to the motion of bigger jumps?