What’s New, Francis?

I anticipated some sluggishness from Frankie for a little bit due to the increased training workload, but homeboy has been a star!

I’ve been conquering my fear of trail rides at least 1-2x a week lately, and he is one happy camper. We can have golf carts zoom up our butt (our barn is in a golf course community, so they’re a pretty common sight), bunnies hurl themselves across our path, helicopters flying overhead, and he keeps bopping around on the buckle barely flicking an ear. I’ve been making a point to seek out hills to do trot sets on, and he is just as relaxed as he is at the walk. This is nothing new for him and he’s demonstrated his steadiness on trails before, but getting out there more consistently has been great for my own confidence outside the ring- you all know that I’m a huge baby in unconfined spaces.

trailride_ears
You can definitely tell from his ears just how hot and electric he is. 

In our lesson two weeks ago, it was unbearably hot. Absolutely brutal. But like the unicorn he is, Frankie went around the ring and didn’t put a foot wrong. He needed a little more support from me to get that energetic canter we’re always searching for, but we were able to focus on straightness through his body to get some really nice efforts. Considering I saw a lot of other horses exhibiting some tantrum behavior that day due to the heat (I can’t even blame them), it was that much sweeter to have Frankie going so consistently. As usual, I found my pace somewhere in the middle of my course- I need to get that off the bat instead of taking 2-3 jumps to manufacture it. It’s another case of Frankie giving me exactly what I ask for and not an inch more or less. When I ask, I receive. It’s about time I get my head out of my butt and ask already.

He’s also been rising to the occasion in our flatwork sessions. I’ve been making a point to ask for more consistent contact with plenty of stretch breaks, instead of the other way around. I’ve been throwing in more counter-canter to help develop some better balance and feel around our turns, which has been going quite well. I’m working on asking more deliberately for my leads and helping him re-balance using my seat instead of my hands. We’ve also been trying to include lots of downwards transitions- he’s very prompt with his upwards transitions (as long as he’s in front of my leg HAH), but likes to dive on his forehand into his downwards. I’m focusing on keeping his weight rocked back so that we can move forwards into the downwards, instead of him pulling me forward out of the tack. This has a ways to go to be really consistent, but I’m confident we’ll get there.

room_art
Unrelated but I just love all the different things I have up on my walls. Yes, that small one is a print of Paul Revere on a velociraptor. And no, I’m not sorry for having 3023498 books by my bed.

This week Frankie was absolutely 100% My Little Pony. It was a bit of a rough week for a couple reasons (Manfriend is a cop now and scary situations come with the territory- he’s totally fine but I’m still a bit shaken) and I was feeling a little emotionally raw. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing, but I swear Frankie could tell. He was SUPER snuggly and affectionate on the ground and was such an ultimate packer in my lesson.  Of course he’s always sweet and a good boy, but this was some next level love. It really felt like he was checking in with me every few minutes to make sure I was doing ok. We’ll get back to training harder shortly, but I’m grateful that we had a day of horse therapy where I was able to rely entirely on my horse and trust that he would take care of me.

In non-riding related Frankie news, I finally bit the bullet and put him on a Smartpak. His hooves aren’t in great shape due to the crap weather this year- he’s been in glue-ons and pads up front for a few cycles now and has basically a prosthetic reconstructed hoof on his right front (LOL BYE MONEY)- so he’s starting a hoof supplement. I figured as long as I’m tossing stuff in his feed we may as well toss in a joint supplement too- I’m not completely sold on the effectiveness, but it can’t hurt and at this point I’m willing to throw every tool in the toolbox at him. If it supports his joints even marginally, that’s worth it to me. When I made the mistake of complaining, “but he used to be so low maintenance!” to AT, she not-so-gently reminded me that we get to do a lot of cool stuff we couldn’t do before, and that comes with increased care. Touche.

upp_sun_purple
We could not do this last year.

The short version of all of this is that we’re working hard and having fun doing it. I’m feeling confident that we’re setting ourselves up for success for our show at the end of August and beyond!

Advertisements

Oh Right, I Forgot

You know how sometimes you forget things that you’ve known forever? Or not that you’ve forgotten, they’ve just kinda slipped by the wayside?

I have a couple things like that and I’m trying to focus more attention on them.

Most basic of all: moving forward at the walk. Francis almost always has a super forward swingy walk throughout our rides, so I never really think about it. But as it gets hotter and he gets lazier (yes, it is possible), he sees walking as a chance to amble around like a 32yo school pony. Actually, he walks SLOWER than the 32yo school pony. It’s embarrassing. I need to consciously notice what kind of walk we have and correct if needed to make sure it’s the walk we want.

Also super basic: allowing my horse to turn left. I’m so weirdly crooked in such strange ways that I’ve pretty much blocked my horse from being able to turn left. The only way I can convince my body to straighten out is to think “right hip forward and light.” Because it reeeeally wants to be tilted back and digging into Frankie’s back. So basically I’m thinking I’m telling him “move off my left leg and bend through your body!” but what my seat is telling him is “BEND TO THE RIGHT AND ALSO MOVE LEFT FOREVER.” When I consciously think to push my right hip forward, we suddenly get straighter through his body, smoother turns, better bend, more adjustability, and more lightness in my hand. So yeah. Gonna have to figure out how to just not be a total pretzel at all times so that my horse can do his job. I’M NOT AN AMBITURNER.

ambiturner.gif
But like…literally.

Still basic: shoulders tall at the sitting trot. I think we’ve got a pretty decent sitting trot- Frankie usually stays pretty soft through his back so it’s fairly comfortable to go with his motion. But I’ve been so focused on my seat and core that I’ve neglected working on keeping my upper body tall. I know I’m capable of putting those pieces together, it’s just a matter of actually doing the thing. We don’t do flat classes or anything so this isn’t a competition goal, just a polish and precision goal.

sittrot.gif
It’s happened before, I’m like 70% sure it can happen again.

Less basic: Solidifying my position over fences. In theory, I’m fantastic at this. My trainer and I joke that in theory, I’m an Olympic rider. I know what I should be doing, and I’m pretty good at diagnosing what I’ve done wrong and how I can fix it. It’s just a matter of….doing those things. And doing those things the first time so I don’t have to diagnose and go back and fix and go through that whole process. For example, my leg isn’t staying where I want it and I’d like to work more on an automatic following release. These are tools I know I have in my toolbox, and I need to be more conscious of honing them and actively using them. My position always looks 20x more solid when shit hits the fan- aka massive chip or leaving a stride out- than it does when things are going well. I want it to consistently be solid.

chipjump.gif
SOMEHOW MY LEG DOESN’T BUDGE WHEN I RIDE LIKE CRAP WHAT THE HELL

Also less basic: Insisting on adjustability. Frankie CAN and HAS given me powerful strides ranging from 8′ to 18′. The adjustability is there to use if I ask for it. I need to stop settling into a comfortable canter and maintaining that for the whole course- everything comes up so much more smoothly and powerfully when I actively rate back and forth. Collect through the turn, power up to the single, sit  back in the line, push through the combo, etc. There is no magic stride length to get the job done and I need to use the appropriate stride to each question on course.

I can’t be the only one! What habits do you need to remind yourself of? What’s  so basic that you’ve neglected it and now have to go back and fix?

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

I’ve seen a series of articles on various sites lately (and even joined in the conversation) about all the judgement going on in our sport, from all sides. And it got me thinking about how much energy goes into these comparisons and observations. Because really, it seems that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

 

If you don’t use grooming services at shows, you’re poor and don’t belong there. If you do, you’re elitist and don’t care about true horsemanship.

If you don’t wear an ear bonnet in the jumper ring, you’re hopelessly out of date. If you do, you probably haven’t earned the right.

If you listen to a trainer on structuring a program for your horse, you’re a pushover who doesn’t have any knowledge of your own. If you don’t, you’re some self-righteous rider who thinks they know better than a professional.

If you jump more than once a week, you’re running your horse into the ground. If you don’t jump at least once a week, you’re not actively training.

If you have your horse on supplements, you’re wasting money on crap they’ll pee out. If you don’t, you’re not giving your horse the tools he needs to succeed.

If you don’t have name brand breeches, you’re not really part of the sport. If you do, you’re trying too hard.

 

If you don’t show, you’re a podunk backyard rider. If you do, you’re putting your own ambition above a true connection with your horse.

If you don’t coordinate your tack, you’re a hot mess. If you do, you care more about looks than about riding correctly.

If you spend more than $5k on a horse, you’re foolish for not finding a talented project to bring along. If you don’t spend at least $25k, you must not be realistic about what it takes to get to the upper levels.

If you’re not jumping at least 3’6″, you’re not a competent rider. If you’re jumping over 3’6″, it’s probably because your horse is doing it for you, and anyone could do it too if they had a horse like that.

If you don’t show in Florida during the winter, you’re truly not part of the circuit. If you do, you’re one of “those people” with gobs of money and no real responsibilities to worry about.

 

If you call the vet too often, you’re overly paranoid and trying to treat holes in your training. Not often enough, and you’re a negligent owner.

I could keep going (and going and going). I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of many of these, often in the form of well-intentioned advice. I’m pretty positive that many of you have run into these and other judgments in your time in the horse world.

At the end of the day, there will always be people throwing shade because you’re not doing things their way. And at the end of the day, I plan to continue surrounding myself with a knowledgeable, supportive community to help me do the best I can for my horse- learning and trying to make tomorrow better than yesterday for him. Anything else just isn’t worth the energy.

 

The Money Talk

Everyone says that if you want to keep the peace, avoid talking about politics or money.

You’re in luck for the first- I don’t plan to ever talk about politics on this blog beyond urging y’all to get involved in your state and local governments.

But screw it. I’m gonna talk about money.

nervous.gif

Frankie gets top notch care and we compete at some bigger shows, all of which comes with a price tag. One that I’ve always been willing to pay because I’m an idiot who can’t stay away from the barn, but one that I could only kinda afford to pay.

I don’t know how it comes across in this blog, but I was making a lot of sacrifices to make it work. A LOT. And it was only kiiiiinda working thanks entirely to the flexibility and understanding of my support network. The bills got paid every month. By a hair.

nomoney.gif
Every month after bills

I started making a list of all the luxury items I would get down the road once I was able: underwear without holes in it. Makeup that isn’t just a sample I got from Birchbox in 2014. Windshield wipers for my car that actually, ya know, wipe the windshield. A damn haircut. The cheese I keep seeing at the grocery store that I’ve never actually tried but looks amazing.

cheese
How I feel about the cheese aisle at Wegman’s

I’ll be honest: if I could go back and do things differently, I wouldn’t. Budgeting down to the nickel, being super disciplined with my spending, and maintaining that level of awareness of my finances were all skills that I needed to learn and carry forward. The opportunities I got to pursue were worth every moment of stress about how to pay for it, and there is a definite sense of pride that at the age of 25, I’m able to do what I love every day because I’ve worked hard for it.  

I don’t regret any of it- given the choice between anything else and doing another class at a show, I’d pick competing more every single time. As long as Frankie was getting what he needed to be solidly ready for his job, I was fine ignoring everything else.

ignoring.gif
Right? RIGHT?!

But I did make a few big shifts lately- changed my budget, adjusted some spending, made some huge life changes (new job, new apartment), and took some steps to get into a healthier place financially.

I didn’t realize what a constant source of near-panic my finances were for me until they weren’t anymore. There was such a physical sense of relief from making these changes that I literally giggled out loud to myself.

relief.gif

After a year-ish of stress (definitely a coincidence that I bought a horse a year-ish ago) I’m finally at a point where I’m able to do both- take care of Frankie AND myself. Nothing crazy, but I can now say yes to the occasional happy hour and have non-holey underwear and get the damn haircut. My life balance is shifting a little.

For my barn life, this will hopefully mean more horse shows next season (including a solid 2 weeks in the winter at Ocala or WEC), more frequent preventative vet visits for Frankie as I ask for harder work, more professional training rides for him, and more non-traditional care- I’m excited to see how he likes chiro/acupuncture/massage. He’s a sturdy dude and isn’t showing any signs of discomfort, but I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to get some extra pampering.

relax.gif

I think the conventional takeaway from the past year would be “learn from your mistakes, don’t overextend!” But like I said, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Only other horse people can understand the near-compulsion to keep coming back to the barn and trying again no matter the cost.

I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but holy crap am I glad to have a break. Frankie’s earned a massage (and so have I).

Chubby Bunny

Frankie’s mama may be a TB, but Francis is alllll warmblood in pretty much every way.

He is the epitome of the big dumb warmblood gelding ( I say this with love), he’s built a little thicker than many TBs, and he sheds out more on a warmblood schedule (literally still shedding). So while he’s technically only half Oldenburg, I definitely think he takes after that side of his breeding much more strongly.

Including the fact that his natural state is a little chunk-a-roony. Manfriend has gleefully taken to calling him “Ol’ Frankie Dad-Bod.” Francis has a great work ethic, is athletic, but he loses fitness practically overnight when he’s not in a pretty intense program.

cn_fri_waiting
OK fine there’s a bit of a belly there I admit it

His fitness has improved over time- but his job has gotten a lot harder too. As I’ve mentioned a few times now, fitness is our main focus in the lead-up to finals. So that people can stop calling my sweet boy names like “chubby bunny” and start being like “wow what a shredded ripped Hulk of a horse.”

He’s not obese or anything, and is probably slimmer than most show hunters, but still. He’s only 11, is jumping 1.15m with tentative hopes for higher, and he has a total dad bod. A DAD BOD.

upp_sat_nap
The most flattering picture ever taken

With 6 weeks to go until finals, what are we doing to turn Francis from Andy Dwyer to Star Lord?

  • Training rides. AT will be hopping on 2x a week to put some pro rides on him. We wanted to hit a balance of still giving me plenty of saddle time, but often enough to let the pro rides build on each other. 2x a week it is.
  • A 6 on/1 off schedule. Frankie will be worked with varying levels of activity 6 days a week. We’ve worked this schedule with him before with good results, so we’re getting back into that stricter rotation. It’ll be 2 pro rides (which will vary in time/intensity based on his schedule for the week), 1 lesson, 1-2 days hill work/terrain hacks, 1-2 light days.
  • Hill work. As mentioned above, we’ll be incorporating more hill work in our schedules. Some days will be more dedicated to this- there’s a low-traffic road near the barn with a nice shoulder and gentle slope that’s just perfect for trot sets- and we’ll be searching out more hill terrain for cool-down walks after other rides. I haven’t taken enough advantage of the terrain we have nearby in the past and I’m excited to make use of it. I think this will also help us have a good balance with rides- while we’re upping the intensity, we’re also going to be doing more hacks and trail rides to let him get out of the ring and decompress.
hillwork
Ambivalent ears
  • Raising the expectations. My “practice rides” with him often end up being fairly short, and I don’t make him do too much. Especially in the summer heat, my motivation to sweat even harder wanes a little. But enough of that crap. Francis knows how to carry himself on the contact. He knows how to collect with impulsion. He knows how to counter-canter and leg yield and shoulder-in. We won’t drill for the sake of drilling, but I will be asking for more out of our rides- he knows the right answers, I just need to be more insistent about asking the questions.
  • No stirrups. What, you thought Frankie was the only one who needs to get in shape?! I’ll be jumping on the fitness train and spending a lot more time without my stirrups. I’ll also be making more consistent use of the gym during my lunch breaks- with free access within walking distance, I have zero excuse not to go. I’m gonna need to get my own butt in gear to keep up with Frankie.

As always, we’re doing all of this in close contact with a whole team of professionals to make sure Frankie is getting the right nutrition, has healthy balanced feet, and is as healthy as…well, as healthy as a horse.

We ask an awful lot of him and finals will be a real test of that- three straight days of long championship courses. We owe it to him to give him every single tool that we possibly can, so he can perform his job comfortably without exhausting himself.

frankie_sleeping
Like that one time he literally fell asleep every time I wasn’t actively asking him to move.

I’d also like Manfriend to stop calling him Frankie Dad-Bod, but I think he finds it too hilarious to ever stop saying it.

 

Progression: Jumping

This has been mentioned time and time again in my posts over the last few months, but I’d like to take a minute and devote some time specifically to this:

Frankie consistently jumps much better now than he used to.

I don’t just mean that he jumps prettier- though he absolutely does. I mean that he jumps better- more strongly, cleanly, and powerfully. The “pretty” is a lovely side effect of these improvements.

So let’s take a little stroll down memory lane to see where we started together, and talk about some of what we’ve done to get to where we are today.

frankie_ad_oxer
First time I tried him, March 2016

 

LB_sat_red
Our first show together, Loudoun Benefit, June 2016

 

culpeper_propic
Our second show, HITS Culpeper, August 2016

 

nov_yellow
Working hard over the winter, November 2016

 

frankie_jumpingfreak
Playing over the bigger jumps, January 2017

 

img_5476
NEVER NOT SHARING THIS PICTURE. First big outing in our new division, HITS Culpeper, April 2017

 

img_5847
Warming up at Upperville, 2017

 

Let’s go ahead and contrast an early and more recent one together real quick:

The height of the fence isn’t a factor here- in fact, the warmup fence on the right is quite a bit lower than the one in the show ring from last year (same venue, funny enough).

What we had early on was a horse that knew to get to the other side of the jump, but didn’t know how to use his body to do that efficiently.

What I see more recently is a horse that pushes off more powerfully from behind, uses his back and neck more actively, and is tidier with his front end.

And I think this speaks to a couple of different factors: (1) fitness and (2) knowledge.

Frankie has now spent roughly 18 months in a consistent professional program- he was certainly in training before that, but transitioned to a stricter program when he was put up for sale (which has continued since I bought him). Through that steady increase in fitness, he’s better able to power off the ground by rocking back instead of “pulling” himself over the jump. His back and neck muscles have developed the strength to use them in different ways. I’d still like to condition him further and fitness will be our main focus in the coming months, but the consistency of our program has been good thus far for his muscle strength and endurance.

In terms of knowledge, we’ve tried to build exercises that set him up to jump well- that make it clear what the “right answer” is. This means lots of grids set fairly short- asking him to rock back and collect his stride to carry himself through. This also means lots of lateral work on the flat, to unlock some of that motion and get him stronger in his hind end and over his back.

I think those shorter lines and grids are absolutely crucial for Frankie. He has a naturally big stride- not fast, just big- and it tends to get bigger and more strung out as he gets tired. By building the strength he needs on the flat to carry some collection in his stride, we are able to set him up to carry himself to the jumps. These shorter lines also force him to rock back on his butt to launch off- there’s no room for him to lurch over. And these lines make him fire a little faster to get his front end up and out of the way.

These are not often big jumps- we jack the jumps up 2-3x a month, if that. We only jump 1x a week, and most of the time they’re kept at 3’ or (usually) lower. We spend the time working on more efficient turns, adjusting our stride, playing with our track, and setting ourselves up to make jumping easier for him. So while I think Frankie gives a better effort over the bigger jumps partially because he has to in order to make it over, we have built up his fitness and ability mostly over smaller jumps and on the flat.

I will say that Frankie still prefers to gallop up out of stride instead of riding to the “jumper chip.” Doing that makes his life easy, since he has plenty of time to get his legs out of the way and doesn’t have to shift his weight back as much for takeoff.

The big difference now is that even though he doesn’t love the close spot, he can still give me a powerful effort. In the past, he simply didn’t (1) know that the close spot was the right answer or (2) have the fitness to give me that answer even if I asked (which I didn’t because I also didn’t know what I was doing and mostly still don’t so luckily he does now womp womp). It used to be extremely weak and lurchy and gross and icky.

In the spirit of total honesty- it is still sometimes totally icky. This is a work in progress, and I definitely need to back up all of my asks with a crapton of leg, otherwise he says HAH I CAN HALF-ASS THIS TOO MAHM. Which is fair.

So I definitely think there’s plenty of room for improvement here. As mentioned, fitness is going to be a big priority for us moving forward, to continue building that ability and willingness to rock back, adjust, and power off the ground. We’d like to shift that close spot to more of an automatic answer for him instead of automatically looking for an out-of-stride spot.

I think this is a great example of form following function. We’ve never tried to make Frankie jump prettier- we’ve just tried to get him fit for his job and set him up to answer the different questions he’ll be asked on course.

Hopefully as we continue to build our muscle and endurance, we keep improving together!

Especially for those of you with young/green/inexperienced horses: what have you done to develop their jumping abilities? I’d love to see any progress pics y’all have to share!

Planning Ahead to Move Up Someday: the Maybe Edition

Just to clarify up front: we are not moving up any time soon. We are in the midst of a lovely season in the Highs and are continuing to work out the kinks and polish it up.

Because let’s be honest, there is PLENTY to work on.

upp_sat_combo
For example, some day I’ll actually learn how to ride, maybe. PC: A. Frye

But I also like to have a bit of a longer view to what’s coming up, and sat down with my trainer to discuss what our plan is moving forward. The verdict: we have no real verdict, and I’m really excited about it.

What we do have is a series of options depending on how things go throughout the rest of the season. A couple of soft “maybes.”

One maybe: we get to the end of this season in the 1.10m-1.15m classes and decide we need another season in this division. Which would be fun! We could really focus hard on perfecting our rounds at that height, and there are plenty of fun classics and competitions at this height to keep us entertained.

img_5476
We can get plenty of cute pics in this division. And yes I’m still sharing this picture forever.

Another maybe: we get to the end of this season and feel really great and comfortable with how we’re going, and decide to try and move up. Which leads to another series of maybes.

In this case we work really hard over the winter to build fitness and accuracy, and very slowly start to try out a 1.20m class here and there- maybe putting my trainer in the irons at first to give him a better ride. Focusing on the ones offered early in the season and early in the week, where the courses are set more simply and forgivingly. And we pay very very close attention and make sure to work closely with our vet to make sure we’re not pushing further than Frankie wants to go- we know that being able to clear a few 1.20m fences does not equal the ability to navigate a full long course at a show. So this potentially leads us to a couple other maybes.

Maybe Frankie and I have built up enough fitness to do a soft entry into the 1.20m classes, and can give the Low A/O division a try. Which I think would be super cool.

upp_sun_purple
Seeing him fly like this over 1.15m is encouraging. PC: G. Mohan

Or maybe Frankie gives it a try and tells us that he’s not comfortable moving up more- which is also fine. Because that leads to another set of maybes.

Maybe at this point I decide to stay in the Highs with Frankie and come up with new goals within that height range- WIHS, other finals, etc. There are plenty of options!

Or maybe we decide to lease Frankie out to someone looking for a proven 1.15m packer, and use that lease fee to find me a 1.20m lease. Which would mean no A/O division for me, but there are other opportunities to give that height a try- the regional championships that I’m doing offer a 1.20m/1.25m section and they don’t require ownership to compete like they do in the A/Os.

cn_fri_nap_flat
Have someone else deal with Sir Naps-a-Lot for a year

And because horses like to poop all over the best-laid plans, I am so sure that there are at least 100 other “maybes” that we haven’t even started to consider. Chances are high that we end up with the final option of “none of the above.”

So there you have it: we have no idea what we’re going to be doing long term, but we’re excited to find out. In the meantime we’re going to focus hard on fitness, get our eyes fixed on Regionals, and keep building our partnership for whatever the future might hold!

Ending note: I’m grateful to have a trainer who takes the time to talk about those longer-term goals with honesty and openness. And especially grateful that throughout our whole conversation, she made it abundantly clear that her #1 priority is Frankie’s health and longevity. In a sport where we so often hear about people pushing hard and fast at the expense of the horse, I’m proud to ride with someone who never compromises the horse for the show.

Do you like to plan out your maybes? 

You Guys Rock and So Does My Horse

Today is a hodge-podge of thoughts- I am working on a more formalized schedule for myself so I can get back to blogging about our rides and lessons! Until then, I appreciate you all putting up with my semi-cohesive ramblings lately.

In exciting news, Jumper Nation decided to run my last post! The editor reached out to me and said they like having different perspectives for editorials, and I was more than happy to share my thoughts.

Of course, in hindsight I should have tweaked it a bit before sharing. I wrote my post for a specific audience: you all, who know me pretty well and generally give me the benefit of the doubt (thank you!). Turns out that some of my wording offended some people on Facebook, because they don’t know me and assumed I meant something different than what I did mean. Can’t really blame them, it’s super hard to read tone in text, especially when it’s a total stranger that you’ve never read before. Hopefully it added a little to the conversation, but I think I’ll do a couple things differently next time I want to share something with a wider platform. Live and learn!

On to the even more fun stuff: Francis.

Seriously you all are probably sick of me gushing over him, but I feel like the last few weeks have been a different gear for us. Not that we’ve been jumping big jumps (we haven’t) or doing super difficult courses (also no), just getting a lot of our basics tuned up and more correct.

For example: contact. Frankie has progressively gotten more educated to the contact and knows how to carry himself on said contact, but it was not something that he automatically thought to do. Of course he wouldn’t, that’s hard work! My trainers could always get him going really well over his back and up into the bridle, but I struggled to get that consistently.

frankie_napping
It’s hard to do things when all you want is to nap

It’s still not perfect and it will forever be a growing and learning process, but I do think we’ve turned a corner in terms of asking and receiving a more balanced contact. I think it’s a combination of me asking a little differently and a little more strongly, Frankie understanding the question better, and Frankie being fit enough to answer the question.

I also think he loves our new outdoor ring. He’s got a bit more room to move, the footing is a tad firmer (it’s gorgeous omg), and he’s just a happy horse when he’s outside. Before our new outdoor was done, we really only rode outside for shows- wondering if maybe he associates jumping outside with showtime? Whatever the reason may be, he is a very happy boy and is going around fantastically.

I have more stuff to talk about with Frankie, but I think that’ll all need a dedicated post.

Second to last thing for now: I have a new toy! You may have seen my video on Instagram (if you haven’t, go check it out @hellomylivia) and I’m really excited to put together more POV videos! I opted for a chest mount instead of a helmet mount because I am cheap and the helmet mounts in my price range looked really flimsy. So I now have a funny looking strappy contraption that holds my phone to my chest. I’m still figuring out how to adjust the angle and secure it so it won’t flop around when I jump- any suggestions? Here’s the link to what I got.

I’ve decided to remove most sound if I post videos from lessons. Namely, my trainer talking. Little snippets here and there are fine, but I don’t want to be giving away her livelihood for free. I also won’t be posting videos with kids visible in there. Any other suggestions for ways you keep your media barn-friendly?

And the last thing for now: I love my new job! It’s requiring me to be much more structured with my time and plan things out, which makes my color-coordinated file-folder heart go pitter-patter. Everyone has been so nice, and my new boss has been incredibly supportive of barn time (I’ve already got time off approved for Regionals in August!). The only real downside is that my commute to the barn has increased by a decent amount, but thankfully my trainer has been flexible and understanding as I adjust to the new schedule. And my new boss has already offered to put me on an alternate schedule so I can beat traffic and get to the barn earlier- how ridiculous awesome is that??

work outfit
I even look moderately less feral on a regular basis now

The crazy hectic-ness of June is dying down and Frankie and I are adjusting to our new normal. Lucky for me, he continues to earn his barn nickname of “The Unicorn” and continues to be the best pony on the planet.  

Full Service at Shows

I read an interesting article from Jumper Nation the other day, bemoaning the overuse of grooms for younger students at shows.

I think the author made a great point about the importance of horsemanship, but I’d contest that the author is rolling two points into one, and I only really agree with one. From how I read it, I took away these major themes:

  1. Knowing your horse inside and out and spending time with them grooming, tacking, and general care is hugely important, especially for young riders
  2. People that use grooms at shows are not on the track to becoming well-rounded horse-people.

I agree completely and wholeheartedly with the first point. I don’t think I have to convince anyone here that grooming, tacking up, untacking, grazing, bathing, loving on your horse at all possible times is a GREAT thing. And that putting in the time and effort to learn about aspects of horsemanship other than purely riding is really necessary to becoming a well-rounded horsewoman/horseman.

I just don’t think that using full grooming at shows is mutually exclusive with this.

I say this as someone who rides with a barn that provides full grooming at shows: someone grooms the horse, tacks them up for the riders, bathes them when they’re done for the day, wraps them at night, and basically takes care of everything. All the riders (young and old) have to do is ride.

Does that mean the kids don’t know how to do any of those things? Hell no!

They all spend 5-6 days a week doing all of those things and more for hours and hours at home. For every time someone else has tacked up their horse, they’ve tacked him up hundreds more. For every grooming they get from our helper at a show, they’ve scrubbed their ponies waaaaay more often. These are kids that show up and work hard.

“Well Olivia, if they’re sooooo good at all these things, why don’t they do them at shows?!”

Glad you asked!

First of all, sometimes they do all of these things! Sometimes our helpers are busy, or they want to run their faces under the hose while bathing their horse, or any number of reasons. And then they tack up their own horse or bathe them or whatever. It happens regularly. No one is warding them away from their horse and telling them they can’t come near them, and they are all more than happy to join in the work when need be.

Really the main reason we do full grooming is because it lets my trainer exert a little more control on the situation. Instead of wrangling 7-10 students going in 6 different rings for 3 different disciplines and hoping everyone knows when to be ready and where to go, she has one go-to person coordinating that for her.

She can focus on the training and coaching, because she has her one point of contact getting people where they need to be, when they need to be there. She has one person to call to say, “Rosie needs to be up at Jumper 1 warmup in 15 min, and Shadow hacks in Hunter 2 in 30.” And she knows both horses will be shiny, riders in the saddle, ready to go when she gets to the ring. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of well-oiled machinery.

To be fair, I think the author is referring to the kids that NEVER tack up their own horse or take part in their care beyond riding. And for that segment of the population, I would agree entirely with everything she says. But I would contend that there are plenty of people who have similar arrangements to our barn- grooming at shows but not at home- who use this service for more reasons than simply, “I’m too lazy to brush my own horse.” A middle ground to the entitled elite and the scrappy DIYers.

So there you have it. I’m a huge believer in well-rounded horsemanship and hope to see our barn kids continue learning and growing in this area as they progress. But I’m also entirely OK with someone else tacking up their horses at shows.

From the brief conversations I’ve had with people, this seems to be a hot topic. So please jump in and share your thoughts on this- I’d love to hear different perspectives!