USHJA Zone 3/4 Jumper Team Championships: Part 2

Moving on to the weekend part of the weekend.

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Moar naps.

Saturday was team day. Importantly, the outfit was white pants and the Kastel sunshirt they gave us with Zone 3 printed on the front. I’m in love with this sunshirt.

Let me tell you, Saturday was EVENTFUL. I was slated to go in first for my team as the second anchor (I was just as surprised as you are) so we walked the course as early as possible and then started warming up while they were dragging and watering.

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Walking into the warmup ring

And it was the worst warmup we’ve ever had.

We had the pace. My eye was there. And Frankie was just sticking over the jumps. If I hadn’t had a team depending on me, I would’ve scratched. And then Frankie threw a shoe about 30 seconds before I was due in the ring.

This required a wonderful coordination of effort from the warmup ring steward finding the shoe and radio-ing the in-gate to let them know what was going on, the woman running the in-gate moving me down in the order, the on-site farrier tacking the shoe back on, and Trainer pulling me aside for a kick in the seat.

To paraphrase: “stop riding like crap, you’re better than this. It’s a good thing we get a reset button right now. Get your head in the game.”

And then she told me something that I didn’t realize I needed to hear. She said, “Olivia, you have every right to be here. You qualified just like everyone else. You have just as much of a shot of going in there and laying down a clear round.”

I didn’t realize that I was feeling that Imposter Syndrome until she said that. Somehow she was able to read that in me and knew just what to say to get me motivated. She truly is an incredible coach.

So we went back to the warmup ring and had one of the best warmups we’ve ever had. No joke.

And Frankie threw the shoe again.

But by this point I was the last one to go in the ring, they were waiting on me to close the class, and my team needed me.

So we went in with three shoes.

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At this point all I could do was laugh and say what the hell let’s give it a go.

And proceeded to lay down the fastest trip in the class with zero rails. Double clear.

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It was the same round both trips. Not much to say about it- another tough but fair one that I think played to Frankie’s strengths.

To say that I was ecstatic about this would be a gross understatement. I was shaking with emotion as we left that ring.

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Shortly before I collapsed on his neck from sheer joy

And if you know me at all, you know that I needed a place to channel that emotion. So when one of my teammates (who is a total fixture on my circuit and wins everything and rides SO FREAKIN’ WELL and I love watching her at every show) came up to congratulate me on my round, I went straight in for the hug and literally said these words: “I LOOK UP TO YOU SO MUCH I LOVE WATCHING YOU RIDE YOU’RE SUCH AN INSPIRATION.”

Because I have ZERO chill.

God bless her she patted me on the back and handled the shaking psycho hanging on her neck very graciously. At this point Frankie had been whisked away to the farrier before we had to go back in for our second round.

And to anyone who says that sportsmanship is dead in the horse world, I’d like to invite you to come to Zone Finals. Because when word got around that my horse had lost a shoe, someone FROM ANOTHER TEAM immediately offered us a set of bell boots. The warmup ring steward gave us good juju. The woman running the in-gate gave us good juju. Everyone was helping out and pitching in and I wish every person who complains about poor horsemanship could’ve been there to see all of these people offering a helping hand without hesitation or agenda. I will never forget that sense of community and shared purpose.

But it does turn out that the shoe was unlucky, because we went in for our second round and dropped three rails. Womp womp. This meant that I was the drop score for our team for the second round. But at least I actively contributed in the first round! I actually liked my second round a lot better- it flowed more smoothly and I had a more rideable horse. One of the rails was definitely my fault, but the other two were just Frankie being sloppy with his hind end. I’m sure by this point he was tired.

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Happy Francis!
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I CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS SWEET HORSE

Even so, our team scores left us tied for first with Team 3. Meaning it came down to a jumpoff.

Ho. Lee. Crap. SO EXCITING.

Team 3’s chosen rider went in there and laid down a super crazy fast clear jumpoff. Then our rider went in there and laid down an equally crazy fast jumpoff- she was faster by 0.05 seconds. But then- ever so gently- we heard the faintest *poof* of the last rail hitting the ground. The entire in-gate area erupted in screams and cheers and congratulations. Team 4 took the silver!

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I’m up there losing my mind and Frankie is just waiting for naptime again.
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“Mahm is this ribbon eatable?”

The ribbon ceremony was absolutely incredible. They played the Olympics theme song over the speakers, they took a thousand official pictures, they sent us off for a victory gallop, they put medals around our necks up on the podium, they took a thousand more official pictures. Oh man.

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I had never met any of these women before this day. Didn’t matter. Team hugs.
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Absolutely punch drunk laughing at nothing in total hysterics
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Aw yiss
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As the token tall girl, I always stand in the back
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Cheesin’ HARD

It was a dream come true. And true to form, Francis handled all the hooplah as if he’d been there a million times. Flapping ribbons? Horses running up his butt in the victory gallop? Loudspeakers and music and flags and flashes? Ain’t no thang for the Frankfurter. He very placidly cantered a lap and then happily went back to his stall. What a pro.

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He was very happy to go for a walk later in the afternoon to stretch his legs. We were required to have his number on him every time he left his stall.

I’d like to give a shoutout here to my adopted barn moms- they took a thousand pictures (all the good ones here are from my barn moms) and cheered and supported and one of them literally cried watching me in the victory gallop. I felt so surrounded by love. I’ve got the best barn family in the world.

And it would be remiss of me to not mention the help I got with Frankie- our team made sure that he was shiny and groomed and tacked up whenever I needed him and worked their butts off to coordinate that around 7 other riders. They are rockstars who worked bazillion hour days without complaint the whole time.

I’ll wrap up Sunday quickly, since it was a bit anticlimactic.

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Lot of related distances

I thought this was a fairly straightforward course for the most part, but the triple at 10ABC was the true weed-out spot. A to B was set SUPER long as a one stride. I got nervous when I walked it- Frankie has a big step, but as mentioned previously he does back off in combos. I think this was the big test of those who could go in there and lay it down perfectly, versus those who didn’t quite have it all together.

At this point in our career, we are the latter. It wasn’t a terrible course but it wasn’t our best either, and we did have to mad scramble out of the triple. Overall I’m proud of Frankie’s effort here and he listened really well. It had been a long weekend and I know he was tired, but he was definitely more fit than he has been in the past and was able to give me more powerful efforts. My big mistake in this course was that I rode the plan too strongly. I should’ve adjusted as we went through instead of trying to stick to a plan that clearly wasn’t working for the horse I had under me. My new mantra: ride the horse, not the course.

Between our 6 faults on Friday, 12 faults on Saturday, and then some additional faults on Sunday (I think 8 due to 2 rails?), we were out of the ribbons for the individual final. But one of my teammates from Saturday took home the Individual Gold! And despite squeaking in there with minimum points, we didn’t end up in dead last.

By that point, we were ready to go home.

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Frankie was very happy to snuggle with his mama and relax outside.

What a weekend. I couldn’t be happier with how Frankie performed- we asked him for a lot of hard rounds at bigger heights with more difficult questions, and he took it all in like a total champ. It was certainly a physical stretch for us to have a full weekend of long courses and big jumps, but it was also a mental stretch. We had to deal with some snags and exhaustion and figure out how to keep trucking. It raised the bar for us in a whole bunch of different ways and I think we rose to the occasion.

We aren’t yet at the top of the pack in our division, but every round we go out there and the pieces come together a little bit more. Every round that goes well is due a little more to skill and a little less to luck. We’re making different mistakes. We’re fitter, stronger, faster, tighter than we used to be.

As always, we have a long long way to go, but we’re a lot further than we used to be. My heart is full to bursting with love and gratitude for this horse who so patiently teaches me so much.

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USHJA Zone 3/4 Jumper Team Championships: Part 1

This was such a monster of a weekend, I’m not sure how many posts it’ll take to feel like I’m doing it justice. At least 2. But I’m just gonna keep writing until I get everything down that I want to get down, and that’s gonna be a LOT. So strap in.

I’ll start with Thursday- the day before the show. I arrived around 7a to help set stalls up for the 8 horses we had joining for the weekend. Everyone chipped in and got things put away and we were done surprisingly quickly! Frankie naturally plopped down for a nap almost immediately.

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Next time I’ll bring him a snorkel so he doesn’t have to come up for air

We were required to be checked in by 10am- that’s when the USHJA people would be going around to make sure every Championship horse was on the premises where they were supposed to be. We had some excitement trying to find Frankie’s most recent vaccination papers, but luckily my Trainer is WAY more organized than I am and has a legit binder of everyone’s paperwork. We got his number hung on his stall with no further incident.

This was a pretty quiet day since I didn’t have any classes. We just had a brief lesson later in the day where we worked on some one-strides and tight rollback turns, all set fairly low so we wouldn’t tire Frankie out. He felt so awesome, really listening to my cues and slicing jumps like he’s been doing this his whole life.

Then my hotel tried to cancel my reservation because they were overbooked and didn’t even call me about it, so I had to channel my mother to get that sorted out. Long story short, I ended up with the room I booked after a lot of back and forth.

Frankie and I went for a couple walks later in the day to stretch his legs and let him see the show grounds, and you just know he was super spooky and nervous about it. HAH LOL. He mosied around on a loose lead and grazed and leaned in for scratchies. He’s gotten the hang of this whole “horse show” thing by now.

We ended the day with the official Zone 3 rider’s meeting with the Chef d’Equipes to talk about expectations for the weekend and receive our swag. I gotta be honest, it was super motivating to hear them talking about representing our Zone. I mean, I knew that’s what this was. But it kinda hit home to hear them talk about it. They gave us a brief demonstration of how to jog and went through our outfits for the weekend (you know how excited I get about outfits) and then released us.

On to Friday! And ohhhh man what a busy day.

We started with the jog first thing. Outfit for human was tan breeches, shiny shiny boots, navy polo with the USHJA logo on it, number tied around our backs, and hair up in a ponytail under our white Zone 3 hats. Outfit for horse was snaffle bridle and nothing else- no bonnet, boots, etc. Some people braided and they looked really nice. All of us groomed and primped and polished our ponies so they were super clean.

Y’all, jogging is hard. First we had to wait in line- stop/go/stop/go/stop/go as we slowly moved up, which is Frankie’s least favorite thing in the world. He’s happy to stop. He’s happy to go. He is NOT happy to wait around. Combine that with the sight of a gray mare in the distance, and I was flying a kite (Frankie is OBSESSED with gray mares). We were that embarrassing pair standing perpendicular/backwards/sideways to everyone else because he couldn’t take his eyes off that distant horse. Homeboy pooped like 14x in those 10 minutes.

And that was all before we even actually jogged.

Once we got to the front of the line, I had to start over because I asked him to jog too early (in my defense, they way they showed us the night before and they way they asked us to do it day of were slightly different). He may have run me over a bit. But I ran my little heart out to keep up with him and he passed easily. Not that I thought he wouldn’t pass, but having 2 vets and a bunch of USHJA officials staring at you is kinda nerve-wracking. I was very happy to go back and let Frankie cope with the loss of that distant gray mare while I went to the next rider’s meeting.

This was the meeting where they drew the order for the first individual qualifier round that day, and announced our teams for Saturday- which ended up being different from the teams they had announced last week. I ended up on Team 4 with 3 other ladies from Zone 3. Side note- they provided breakfast and coffee for us every day under this tent, which was totally awesome of them.

We had the option of doing a training session on Friday before our Individual round, and Trainer and I decided that it would be a good idea. They gave us a course and 90 seconds in the ring to use however we wanted- some people went in and trotted around for 90 seconds, some jumped the whole course, some just jumped one fence, some did a totally different course. As long as you only jumped the flagged jumps, and in the correct direction, you could do whatever you wanted. I opted to school over the liverpool and go through a one-stride combo to get the gears working.

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Trainer and I discussing strategy ringside. Holding him because this weekend Francis decided that holding still is THE WORST. Check my awesome official polo.

I legged up to that liverpool and Frankie popped over it no problem. We’ve never encountered one in the show ring before, but I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t care. Homeboy never cares. We did circle around and go through to school that one-stride a couple times though. I needed him thinking FORWARD no matter what and he sometimes backs off when he sees all those poles. Not enough to stop, just enough to get kinda stuck. We ended on a good note. I actually bought an 8″x10″ photo of us from this training round- I look kinda like a barnacle clinging to Frankie, but he looks AMAZING. Seriously, like a million bucks. Trainer said that one is going on her gallery wall in the lounge #goalachieved.

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This is not the one where he looks like a million bucks, but he’s awful nonchalant about that liverpool. Good Francis.

After a break, it was time for our first individual qualifier round.

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A very reasonable course that asked challenging but fair questions

Overall- not bad. Two rails, which wasn’t great, but a fantastic time. It was faults converted, so those two rails just added 8 seconds to my time. Then we subtract the winner’s time so that the winner has a score of 0, and that left me with something like 6.15 faults. Meaning I actually went 2 seconds faster than the winner which is kinda cool. And the reason that we got such a great time is because we took every. single. inside. turn. (Funny enough, those turns aren’t where we had rails either).

You guys. We did every inside turn. This was a HUGE risk/stretch for us. We sometimes will pick one or two tighter turns to shave time, but the SS Frankenstein is not known for his turning radius. I was SO FREAKIN’ PROUD. We went inside Fence 9 to get from 4B to 5. We went inside 12 to get to 7. WE WENT INSIDE 4AB IN THE 3′ OF CLEAR SPACE TO GET TO 9. WE SLICED 11 LIKE A BADASS TO GO INSIDE 3 TO GET TO 12. Holy moly I wish I had a picture of 11. We were basically parallel to the jump and I asked Frankie to go for it and that sweet creature was just kinda like “this seems weird but whatever you say” and jumped it on the sharpest angle BY FAR I have ever asked him to jump anything.

Here are some pics of him being so excellent:

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In case you thought I had addressed my crookedness. No. I have not. He’s clearly super stressed about that liverpool down there.
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COULD HE BE ANY CUTER I SWEAR TO GOD

Especially once I heard that first rail go down, I asked Frankie to haul ass like a bat out of hell to get a good time. And that’s exactly what he did. Was it our smoothest, prettiest course ever? Absolutely not. We had to get scrappy in places. But we took risks we’ve never taken, we asked for a faster pace than I’ve ever asked for before, and my horse delivered. It was exactly the round we needed to set the tone for the weekend.

Stay tuned for the rest of the weekend!

Sneak Peek: Zone Jumper Finals

I’m still processing this weekend. There are a lot of emotions, a LOT of exhaustion, and more than a few blisters to doctor. This was a huge stretch for us both mentally and physically.

Until I manage to organize my thoughts at least semi-cohesively (and don’t worry, I have TONS to share), here’s a few pictures of me and my best boy having the time of our lives this weekend.

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Yes, I do enter the ring every time grinning like a fool
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Happy pony
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It’s too bad he spooks at these crazy jumps HAH
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Last in the ring, and we went clear all around with a blisteringly fast pace. SO MANY pats for pony.
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The incredibly talented ladies of Team 4
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Wearing this medal nonstop forever not sorry about it
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Manfriend being literally an enormous support.

Anchoring the Team

I found out who my teammates are for Finals this weekend!

And um. They’re like really, REALLY good.

The way it works is that they match the top point rider with the lowest (who is qualified), second highest with second lowest, etc. Seeing as I squeaked in riiiiight over the minimum required to qualify (mama can’t afford no more shows, sorry), I’m matched with the two top point riders in my zone and one other with lower points. But the girl with lower points is actually a beast too. I may or may not have stalked all of them on Instagram and found their show results on USEF.

You guys. They are all seriously so much better than I am it isn’t even funny.

I’m not saying this in a self-deprecating “I suck!” kind of way. I mean this entirely in a “holy crap this is so awesome I get to ride with some total badasses” kind of way. They all have way more mileage in the division, some really freakin’ cool horses, and I know I’m going to learn TONS from them.

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Except Frankie will be leading the class in posing for the camera. (PC: A. Frye)

Don’t get me wrong- Frankie and I are planning to show up and lay down some powerful trips. I’m not just happy to be there, I want to be there and be competitive- and we’re in a much stronger place to do that than we ever have been. Frankie is fit and spicy and raring to go (and by spicy I mean he swished his tail once over a jump this weekend WATCH OUT WILD MAN but yeah that’s sassy for him). We’re not going to be phoning this one in.

But I’m also realistic about our abilities compared to the other pairs- we’re not going to be anchoring the team with my blisteringly fast times. So I have to come up with other ways to anchor the team.

I am going to be The. Most. Enthusiastic. Teammate you have EVER heard of. I am going to cheer all our rounds like a crazy person, dress our horses up in war paint (single-handedly if I have to), bring the wine, drink the wine for our underage teammates, all of it. If everyone on my team doesn’t feel like a powerful amazing woman at all times, I am not doing my job.

If you can’t tell, I’m really really really really excited. It’s going to be AMAZING.

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What I lack in skill and decorum, I make up for in enthusiasm

This week’s schedule:

Monday: Frankie gets new shoes and fresh feets. It’s his day off to play with his buddies and rest. I’ll take the time to polish my boots, pack my bags in advance, and do any final prep to my own gear.
Tuesday: we have a lesson, and this will be our final jump school before the competition.
Wednesday: I’ll flat around and probably go for a little trail ride; all tack will get a deep cleaning; Frankie gets a bath and neatened up- bridle path, mane pulled, etc.
Thursday: we trailer over at an ungodly early hour- we have to be on site 24 hours before the jog Friday morning or something like that. We’ll have a lesson on-site to get us tuned in.
Friday: jog in the morning (we’ve been practicing) and rider’s meeting to make sure we all know what’s going on. First individual qualifier round (1.10m) in the afternoon after the regular classes have gone in the GP ring.
Saturday: team day! Two identical rounds at 1.15m in the GP ring, again in the afternoon. Frankie’s previous owner and trainer are both coming to see him!!
Sunday: individual final day at 1.15m. Only the top 20 riders at this point are invited to compete in this class, and I plan to be one of them.

It’s a pretty busy week ahead so you may not hear from me on the blog, but stay tuned for updates on my Instagram (@hellomylivia) and on my Facebook page (….also Hellomylivia)- I’ll be keeping up with these throughout the competition!

I can’t wait to tell you all about how much fun Frankie and I will have anchoring our team.

Blog Hop: Dealbreakers

It feels like a blog hop kinda week!

This one came from Amanda and Henry: what makes you not even want to hop on a horse?

I’m actually pretty picky about this. I’m fairly confident in my own “stick-a-bility” through shenanigans, but hey. I really don’t want to deal with that.

So things that I do not do:

  • Rearing. Obviously. I won’t touch that with a 9 foot pole.
  • Spooking. Of course every horse will have a spooky moment now and again, but if the horse spooks often enough to be described as “spooky,” then I do not want to be in that saddle. I really don’t like going in the ring and wondering if my horse will be offended by the flags/buzzer/wind/noise/commotion.
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I like ponies that can chill on a loose rein at shows
  • Bolting. I like a horse who thinks forward is the right answer, and I don’t mind a little gallop-fest after the fences. But I do NOT like when someone cuts my brake lines.
  • Stopping. Much like spooking, pretty much every horse will stop at some point. And sometimes it’s the safest choice if the fence is big and they can’t safely jump it. But if I’m riding well and my horse is healthy and sound and I’m asking a reasonable question, then I want my horse to jump the jump. I’ll still hop on a horse to flat around, but I don’t have the patience or desire to work with a horse that has a stopping problem- no matter what their potential is once they work through it.
  • Too much playtime. The occasional crowhop? Fine. Throwing an exuberant buck every once in a while after a big fence? Also fine. I have enough balance and strength to ride through this. But I don’t want this to be the norm. I’ll still hop on and deal with it if I have to, but I won’t spend money.
  • Bad work ethic. Listen, we all have lazy days. We all have days that we don’t want to show up and play the game. But I don’t want to try and convince a horse that hates his job that maybe it isn’t so bad after all.
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I like ponies that like their job

 

For me, there are a couple different layers. There are horses that I’ll flat, but I’m not interested in jumping. There are horses that I don’t even want to flat. Heck, there are horses that I don’t even want to go near. At the end of the day, I pay too much money for me to voluntarily feel unsafe on the regular.

Blog Hop: Change

We have a blog hop from Oh Gingersnap!

Have you at some point moved on to a different horse, trainer, stable, etc with the purpose of advancing your progress? What made you realize the time was right for a change? Or did you opt to adjust your goals in order to stay with what you know is working? How did either choice work out in the long run?

I haven’t done a blog hop in a long time, but I can definitely relate to this!

I had been half-leasing Addy for over a year, and she taught me SO SO much. She was my introduction to the jumper ring, moved me up to the 3′, and challenged me without scaring me. For a long time, she was exactly what I needed. I knew that eventually I wanted to move up beyond what she could do, but there wasn’t any urgency.

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Doing the 3′ local jumpers together

As you all remember, I then went to Ocala and got a taste of the show life and decided that I really wanted to pursue that path more intensely.

And Addy was not the horse for that path.

Could she have been? Maybe. Pretty Girl could physically jump a 1m track without issue. She was generally well behaved at shows, and likely would’ve gotten even better with more miles and a stronger ride.

But then it came down to two things: 1. she wasn’t particularly happy in the job of being a show horse and 2. her abilities and limitations were already known, and would’ve kicked into play fairly quickly at that point.

The first part: she didn’t really want to be a show horse. Don’t get me wrong, we went to plenty of shows together and she was a very very good girl. But those were all one-day affairs. Based on what I know about her (which is quite a lot), I think she would’ve been miserable staying in a stall for the week with limited turnout. She loved being a lesson horse, loved going off property for trail rides, and loved fooling around XC. That was her wheelhouse and she was darn good at it. Asking her to fit into a training program for a rated show campaign might have worked, but it wasn’t the job she really liked.

The second part: she jumped a 10 every time, but I wouldn’t really want to take her around a full competition course over about 1m. I had jumped bigger singles with her, but she started getting a little anxious when the jumps went up much more than that. She was the queen of 3′ and we were already doing that together- moving up with her wasn’t really likely to happen.

So with all the love in the world and with full appreciation for the DragonMare, we knew she wasn’t the right fit for me to pursue my goals. I was lucky enough to have a fairly informal/flexible lease with her owner and she was wonderfully willing to work with me.

And that’s when we started looking for Frankie! We wanted a horse that was safe and sane enough for me to ride at my current skill level, had the ability to move up a few levels so I wouldn’t outgrow him immediately, and could mentally and physically handle the rigors of a show career.

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Way more relaxed than Addy would be in a busy warmup ring (PC: A Frye)

And it’s definitely the best decision I ever made- for all of us. Addy didn’t have to deal with the stress of my expectations for her and got to enjoy her job of being an absolute rockstar lesson/local show pony, and I got to start chasing my goals with a horse who is better suited to the task.

Short version: yes, I changed horses so that I could advance my progress in a different direction. And yes, it worked out wonderfully. Change can be scary, but it can be a great thing too!

Goals Check-In

Ummmm so I’ve been awful at tracking these this year. In my defense, I did tell you guys that I wanted to stop setting arbitrary goals for myself. But now I feel like checking in. So sue me.

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I’m soooo changeable

So let’s see what I set out to do in January:

  • Continue strengthening and advancing our flatwork. This is a solid work in progress. I don’t have any concrete goals to achieve here, but I do think we are continuing to improve and I plan to keep that trajectory going. Will we go 4th level dressage any time soon? No. Do we have a solid understanding of connection, engagement, and adjustability? Certainly more than we did earlier in the year.
  • Have a strong season in the 1.10m High Adult division. So far so good! We have a few more shows to round out the season, but the height has proven to be a non-issue. It’s not always perfect, but I’ve been able to walk in the ring and consistently ride the plan to give Frankie a good ride. We’ve enjoyed schooling at the 1.15m-1.20m at home and we’ll see where that takes us.
  • Qualify for the USHJA Zone Jumper Championship. We qualified! Finals are coming up very quickly and I can’t wait to report back on how it goes. I have no doubt that Frankie and I will have a blast.
  • Take Frankie in an eq class. Thus far, we have focused our efforts in the jumper ring. This is a tentative “maybe” for the last show of the season at the end of September. It turns out that my love for the jumper ring goes even deeper than I thought it did- I don’t really miss the eq ring at all anymore!
  • Try riding bridle-less. Not yet! This might be more fun in the off season when Frankie is fat and lazy, but right now he is in fitness show pony mode with a bit more juice in the engine. We’ll take a brief step back after the end of the show season and we can revisit it then.

Overall I think we’re doing well! Frankie is healthy, shiny, happy, and continues to cart my butt around without protest.

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I mean, there’s some protest. But it’s quiet.

Daybreak Exercises

As part of ramping up to finals, I’m trying to hop in a few extra lessons. The more time I can get my trainer’s eyes on me, the better!

So last week Trainer asked if I wanted to sneak in a weekend lesson. I naturally said, “Of course! As long as it isn’t at 7am or anything crazy like that ha ha ha” you can see where this is going.

Yep. The only time we could fit in was 7am on Sunday.

Like a dutiful idiot, I set my alarm for 5:45am and was bringing Francis in from the field by 6:30 (he’s currently on overnight turnout). He seemed a little confused that he wasn’t immediately getting his breakfast, but was surprisingly snuggly as I was tacking up. Apparently Morning Francis is extra happy.

7am barn
I gotta say, the barn is stunning at the crack of dawn.

Despite the early hour, this ended up being a fantastic lesson! It was a private lesson because I was the only one dumb enough to go along with Trainer’s demonic schemes great ideas so we got to focus in on some specific exercises for Frankie.

One of these is bending/counter-bending along with haunches-in/out on a smallish circle. Moving his bum and asking him to bend through his  body gets him connecting so much more solidly to that outside rein. I think part of that connection comes from physically asking his body to step under and respond to the aids, but part of it is mental- it tells him that he is not a trail pony today and he needs to engage. Once we get that connection and engagement in our trot work, the impulsion and pace throughout our canter and coursework improves noticeably.

We also had a great canter pole exercise set up: simply three poles on the ground. They were walked at about 3 strides apart, but slightly different distances. We worked on adjusting our stride in there: 3 strides to 3 strides, 3 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 3 strides. So hard, especially with the different distances between them!

The 3-3 was decent- we had to stay balanced to shorten/lengthen a little based on where we were, but nothing crazy. And the 4-4 was ok too- we just came in a little bouncier and held that shorter stride. The 3-4 was definitely hard- we had to really open up for the 3, but immediately ask to shorten in the second half which meant he had to be super tuned into my aids. And the 4-3 was tough too- we wanted to super-collect in strides 1-2 so stride 4 could be powerful enough to set us up for the 3 strides out.

All of these variations tied in so well with what we’ve been working on lately. The biggest thing is that when we collect and bounce through a turn, it allows me to push to the base instead of pulling to the base. And then suddenly the skies open up and the angels sing and Frankie jumps out of his skin and we land balanced and the world is a better place. So I was glad we got to work on an exercise to a) improve my ability to ask for different stride lengths and b) improve Frankie’s sensitivity to those cues so that I get a reaction more quickly.

On to the jumping! Man, I hate trot jumps. I’m not very good at them. I trotted a few x-rails without stirrups last week and Trainer mentioned that I wasn’t very good at it (she said it with love), and I reminded her that I’m not very good at them with stirrups either. Womp womp. Once we managed to fling ourselves over a crossrail with moderate success we moved on to build up the exercise.

And I LOVED this exercise.

7am lesson

 

So a rollback left turn to the end jump, right turn long approach down to the ivy barrels, left up the corner tree jump, bend left up the brick wall, and right turn across the same end jump, turning left to finish. Jumps were big enough to force an effort from Francis without being intimidating.

The first time was….ok. We ended up getting a little chippy to the ivy barrels since I didn’t keep us straight and packaged, which meant that we got a late change through the turn and the tree jump was a bit unorganized. Brick wall was fine, but I overshot my turn to the end jump and Frankie (god bless him) had to scramble a bit to get to the jump.

I made a really nice mixture of mistakes here- sometimes I held too much to the base, sometimes I kicked too much to the long spot, sometimes I faded left, sometimes I drifted right. I’m non-discriminatory in my bad riding.

So we talked about how to fix it. The main image to keep in my head was keeping Frankie on the tracks- straight laterally and connected between my leg and hand. Keeping that image definitely helped me smooth out our track and get more straightness.

The end jump to ivy worked out great- I picked him up and got him off my left leg through the turn, which let me send him up to the base. Because we were straighter and more balanced, we got an early change and a nicer turn to the tree. Brick wall was good, then I sliced the end jump a little right to left instead of trying to line it up straight. That meant our track from brick to end was smoother, and it meant that Frankie knew he was turning left afterwards. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than before!

While it was only 5 jumps and seems like a fairly simple exercise, this was a great test for us. We had to be able to manage tight turns and long approaches, upright verticals and wide fill, and pay attention to our basics- pace, straightness, and connection. Everything came up correctly when we had our basics covered. Funny how that works.

I would lesson again at 7am in a heartbeat! I didn’t realize how much I missed my private lessons.

I loved being doing by 8am too. I took my time cleaning my tack, went to Dunkin and grabbed coffee and doughnuts for the early bird crew, gave Frankie a super intense bath, and just had some bonding time with my horse. He so clearly thrives on that sort of attention and so do I.

Only two weeks until we’re on site for finals! Getting so excited.

Do you like to ride/lesson early in the mornings?

Next Season

“Olivia, it’s only August!” “Olivia, live in the moment!”

NO.

I am seriously so freakin’ excited for next season already, I just have to share some of the plans.

First of all, we will be kicking off next season with a bang in Ohio. I snuck this into my sidebar, but Frankie and I will be heading over to WEC in February! We had a barn powwow about whether or not we wanted to do Ocala this year vs WEC, and the unanimous consensus was to head west instead of south. It’s closer to home- less stress on the horses, easier to get there, CHEAPER to get there. It’s overall cheaper- in like, every way. There’s a great variety of classes. Because it’s so much more accessible in terms of location and price, we should have a bigger group able to go. We’ve all heard only stellar reviews from people who have competed there. AND IT’S CHEAPER. Did I say that yet? All y’all that live within driving distance of Ohio will have to come visit us!

Our other big exciting plan for the year is two weeks up in Lake Placid next June/July! We’ll be doing the I Love New York/Lake Placid shows. Our barn went a few years ago for one week and loved it, so this year we’re heading back for both weeks. It’ll be a nice escape from the Virginia heat and we’ll get to see some really world class riders go. I’m hoping some of my family will take the excuse for a vacation and get a lake house up there- it would be the perfect mix of competing and vacation! I’ve never been but I’m already so excited.

This will definitely require some creative scheduling- I do not, in fact, have unlimited vacation time. My boss has given the thumbs up for me to work remotely when I’m in Ohio at least part time, and as long as that works decently she’s OK with me doing that next summer as well. It’ll also require careful budgeting, so I’m already in savings mode to prepare. Sometimes I think about all the vacations I could take and shoes I could buy if I didn’t like horse shows so darn much…

We’ll fit in some closer-to-home shows next summer as well- I’m hoping we can do either Upperville or Loudoun Benefit again, do some Lexington shows, head to Prince George’s, etc. We haven’t decided whether we’re going to try for Regional Finals again, since we’re going to play next year by ear as to which division we’re competing in. This year was a very definite “move up” year and I expect 2018 to be more of a transition. We may move up and down depending on how we feel. Heck, I may even finally make it into an equitation class like I’ve been talking about for years. Trainer tactfully changes the subject every time I bring up doing a hunter derby so that might be a hard pass (Why doesn’t she doesn’t think my paddle-moving-llama-pony can win in the hunters???! I don’t get it?1?!). I still plan on us working hard to get after it, but I’m less married to my division for next year.

Frankie and I can’t wait! Well. I can’t wait. Frankie is just happy to be here.

How Good Are You?

I’m sure I’m not the only one here who reads sale ads all the time. Not because I’m looking for another horse- Frankie will have to buy his own brother if he wants one- but because I find sale ads completely fascinating.

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Stop sleeping and go get a job, you freeloader.

There are a lot of different aspects I find fascinating, but one of the main ones is talking about rider ability: “beginner-friendly,” or “suited for intermediate riders.”

What. The Heck. Does. That. Mean.

(Heads up, I’ll be focusing mostly on the H/J world for this post because that’s really where my interest and focus lies.)

Rider ability is such a nuanced, shades-of-gray, subjective variable to capture. So lets go through a few hypotheticals to illustrate what I mean.

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Random picture of Manfriend because DANG he’s cute

Rider A and Rider B are doing similar exercises in their lessons. They can both canter off the line and are able to grab mane over teeny crossrails. They can both be a little timid but are happy enough to learn as they go. Rider A is 7 and Rider B is 13. While they do similar work, Rider B has much more body awareness and control, her posting trot is more controlled, and she has better balance. Despite both of them doing the same things, you would not sell them the same horse.

Rider C and Rider D both compete in the 3′ jumpers. They can both make it around safely at that height and enjoy competing on the local circuit with some degree of success. Rider C has been riding a 15yo schoolmaster who has done this job for years, and Rider D rides a young OTTB that she’s brought along from the ground up. You would not sell them the same horse.

Then on the flip side, the horses.

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“Who, me?”

Pony is such a cool horse. He’s very easy and lazy on the flat, but for someone who knows what they’re doing, he’s super scopey and talented over fences- and hot. Is Pony better suited for a home with a more experienced rider who is willing to put up with some quirks for the sake of talent? Or is Pony suited for a lower-level home where he will never be asked to do more than go around on the buckle? He’s good at both of those things. Well, how old is Pony? It’s a lot harder to sell a 14yo as an upper level partner than it is to sell an 8yo in that role. What breed is Pony? What gender? What training program/maintenance/feed/moon sign were they born under? All of these inform where Pony has the best chance of finding a happy home in a job they like (only halfway joking about the moon sign).

So a horse that may be only suited for an advanced rider could be perfect for a beginner rider, doing beginner things. I’ve known a horse or two like that.

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He liked me a lot more last year when I didn’t make him work as hard

I’ve known riders just learning how to canter that consider themselves intermediate, and I’ve known riders comfortably coursing at 2’6″ that call themselves beginners. I don’t think either of them is right or wrong, because it’s a completely made up system.

Added to that is the fact that many adults reeeally don’t like being called beginners. It messes with our pride. Sometimes we prefer the term “novice rider.”

For myself, I’d consider myself solidly intermediate. I can comfortably school around a 1.15m-1.20m course and compete at 1.15m, I have a working understanding of connection and adjustability as it pertains to longitudinal and latitudinal motion, and I’m reasonably certain that I won’t ruin a horse that you throw me on. Probably.

But a lot of those “rider abilities” are actually my horse’s abilities. I’m lucky enough to have a very forgiving, quiet ride who lets me make mistakes and learn. If you put me on another more difficult horse, I would not be able to do many of the things I can do with Frankie.

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Pretty positive that another horse would immediately tell me to eff off if I tried to pull this on them #SaintFrancis

I think someone with a more difficult horse that may be jumping lower heights/doing less “advanced” exercises is likely a better rider than I am- their position is probably more solid, they probably have more nuance in their aids, etc. The resume of activities they can do may look different, but the strength and ability is there.

So that’s my little rant for the day. How good is good? What makes a good rider good? What “level” of rider do you consider yourself? Why? What are your thoughts on this?