This weekend was seriously horse-tacular: I got to go into DC for WIHS on Thursday, spent Saturday watching steeplechasing at the Virginia Gold Cup, and hung out for our in-barn show on Sunday!
You guys. All the little kids on the ponies. My heart. For many of the itty-bitties this was their first time learning about courtesy circles, how to line up after a flat class, and all those little things that go along with shows. Trainer ran it more clinic-style, very informal, lots of cheering when they got it right and gentle correction when they needed a bit more help. It was the absolute cutest to see the smiles on their faces!
Despite being a little worse for the wear from a Halloween party the night before (total blast, but oh god this is why I can’t drink liquor or stay up past 11pm anymore), I was pressured into taking Frankie into one of the jumper classes at the end of the day. While wearing a Tin Man costume.
Luckily he was on his extra bestest packer behavior because all I wanted was a nap and 18 packets of Ramen with extra salt. He snorted a bit at the new banner hanging in the ring, but I tried Aimee’s and Carly’s technique of letting him smoosh it with his nose and suddenly he didn’t care anymore. Magic Snoot.
After a nice little warmup, they put the jumps up to whatever height, I have no idea. Course was here:
Despite his pilot riding the struggle bus hardcore, Francis pulled through and gave me a freakin’ fantastic course here. We cut through the middle to do a short turn up to 1, went inside the round bale at the end to coast down to 2, 3 was normal, inside the bale again to a short approach to 4, galloping 3 strides out over 5, bending 6 to 7 in a forward 4, around the end to come down 8 in a bit of a longer turn (it was format II.2.b so I wasn’t too worried about time first round), and up out of the corner to 9.
Then Best Boy Francis went ahead and gave me a rock solid jump off: short turn up to 1 again, inside the bales to get to 4, turn in front of 8 to get to 7 sliced L to R, inside the bales to get down to 8, gallop up 9 again. All inside turns, all clean, all fast, and all on a fairly loose rein because holding reins is hard work. Joke’s on me, now my legs are sore from steering.
We won the class with the fastest clean jumpoff time and I immediately hopped off, went home, put on sweats, and started Season 2 of Stranger Things.
I am a garbage person.
But the kids were happy, the ponies were adorable, and Francis has officially reached the point in his training where he can cart his trash-mother around the inside turns of a jumpoff without breaking a sweat.
I know we all say that there’s a special place in heaven for the lesson ponies that take such good care of their kids, but I also propose that there is a special place in heaven for the horses that put up with their amateurs.
As we wrap up our season, I want to give ourselves a little performance review similar to how I do performance reviews at work. What have we done well this year, what has room for improvement, and what are some goals moving forward?
Things we’ve improved upon:
Powering across jumps. Frankie used to land off of every jump in a heap and need a lot of help getting the momentum back. He’s now much stronger at pushing off, landing, and continuing without needing me to hold his hand about it.
Finding the right spot. While I don’t have a magic eye and still get to a sticky spot fairly often, I think I’ve gotten a lot better at adjusting our stride to get to the right spot. Along with a better ability to see the spot, Frankie’s increased fitness and education means that we have a lot more adjustability to get to the spot once we see it.
Our turning radius. We’ve actually made the inside turns lately, and it turns out that this works really well for us. It forces me to keep my foot on the gas, it keeps Frankie’s attention, and we don’t get rails when we do this. This has been a big area of growth over the past few months.
Things that still need work:
Getting the “fire” going early on. I still sometimes need extra time to get us vibrating at the right frequency. I’ll be working on achieving that feel more quickly.
My leg. This will be a huge focus for me this winter- while I feel secure in the tack, I want to work really hard to build a more stable base of support over fences. This will only get more important as the jumps go up.
Combos. We can do combos. We regularly go through them totally fine. But we definitely need to practice doing some at height so that I don’t back myself off mentally, and so Frankie knows that he needs to really fire through them more.
Goals moving forward:
Test the waters at 1.20m. I’m not sold on doing our whole season at that height, I don’t need us to move up a division officially, but I would like to go in and get around a softer 1.20m course. I know he has the scope and his technical agility improves every dang day it seems, so I’d love for us to stretch our abilities to give it a go at least once.
Find a better show bit. I’m really just not psyched about the slow twist we’ve been using- Frankie is a chill dude so he’s not fussy about it, but I definitely think we can do better. I’d like to dedicate time and effort to finding an option that gives us good control while being comfortable for him.
Build rider fitness in conjunction with horse fitness. Frankie is in a great program right now, and we should be able to maintain it throughout the winter with a few tweaks. I tend to get a little hibernate-y during the winter, so I’ll be making a point to hit the gym more so I can keep up with the WonderPony.
I’m sure as we move into the new season I’ll create more specific goals, but moving into the winter those are three big things I’d like to focus our energy on. I couldn’t be prouder of how much Frankie has grown and learned this season, and I’m absolutely tickled that he teaches me as he goes.
How has your 2017 show season gone? What are you looking forward to over the winter?
Our 2017 season is officially over! I’m pretty bummed, because I do think we get better and better with every round out there, and I’m already itching to go keep building. But we’ll just have to keep training at home and prepping for 2018.
Overall I think this was a fantastic last show of the season- there were high points, there were low points, there was redemption. And through it all, we got to go back and keep working to fix our mistakes and take some risks and build on our training. What more can you ask for??
I’ll start with Day 1, where we had a regular class and then a classic.
Frankie came off the trailer feeling sassy, and gave me a nice little skitter moment in the warmup. He didn’t actually want to spook, and once I put my leg on and took a contact he settled right down to work. It was a nice quick warmup with some great fences, and then we went in the class!
We angled jump 1 a little left to right so Frankie knew we were turning right afterwards. This set us up for a nice tight turn to roll back over 2. We galloped up out of the corner for the two-stride, then had to rock back a little for six strides out over 4- I needed to rock back a little harder a little earlier in the line, but we fit it in ok. Then we angled 5 a little right to left to set us up for an inside turn to the one-stride on the rail- we got in a little tight and had to power out over the vertical. Then we went inside the plants to get to 7 and galloped out the bending line, last bending line from 9 to 10, then I went inside the plants for a nice tight turn to the last vertical that I cut off in the pic oopsie daisy.
By the grace of Francis, we went clear and fast and left the ring as class leaders. We had a few sticky spots here and there were I didn’t rock him back or get his attention enough, but he was a POWERHOUSE. We took every available inside option and he sat his butt down for those turns as if he’s always done that. My sweet sweet Range Rover of a horse has turned sporty!!! We ended up getting edged out by less than 2 seconds (by an ex-Grand Prix horse) to take second place in the class out of 14 competitors!
We had about 90 minutes to relax and cool down before our classic, course here:
I felt like it was pretty soft as far as classic courses go- no S-turns or end jumps, no triple combo. It was full of big sweeping turns and related distances. Basically it looked like a sped up hunter course to be completely honest.
The first half of this course was meh- I had too much pace going for lines 1-2 and 3-4. The two stride went well again and I rocked him back harder this time for the six strides out, so that felt a ton better. We had an even easier turn to the one-stride and I thought we hit a much better flow through it this time, and bending 9-10 was lovely. Unfortunately the “meh” part of the course was enough to keep us out of the ribbons despite the stellar last half, but I was still really happy with Frankie! He worked hard throughout the entire course and was listening like a pro.
We got him home and unloaded by mid-afternoon, and he got to go outside and play with his buddies overnight. We had an early day on Sunday! I met Trainer there at 7:30a to give us time to walk the course and discuss plan of attack before my ring’s 8am start.
Our warmup for the first class was lovely- he was soft, adjustable, quiet, willing, absolutely delightful.
Note to self: this is not what we want. Soft and quiet Francis equals a low RPM Francis equals a bad time for all when the jumps are big.
Here’s our first course for the Welcome class:
I won’t walk you through our whole plan of attack, because we didn’t make it past jump 3A. Jumps 1 and 2 came up fantastically- 1 was a nice ramped oxer and we went direct to 2 in a forward six strides. Then we came up out of the corner and….stalled. We barely made it over 3A and then I simply did not help my horse in any way and he was like WTF lady there is no way I am making it over that oxer and he was totally right. So we circled around, reapproached, and I made exactly the same mistake. And at that point he was also like AHA I DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS WE HAVE DECIDED THIS IS EXCELLENT FAREWELL. And just kinda petered to a stop while I did nothing about it except jump ahead and end up sitting in front of the saddle while he stood there looking pleased with himself for getting to be done after three jumps.
We had about an hour before the next class, and we decided that it was time to get Frankie a little mad. Because when he’s mad, he’s focused and fast and powerful and starts charging the jumps. And while ideally I wouldn’t be using Zone Finals as a schooling round, my first priority was to go back in there and give him a good experience through the combo so that we both could build confidence in our abilities. That was Goal #1 and everything else came secondary to that.
So I went in for my next warmup and practiced using my stick behind my leg over the jumps. Not hard enough to actually hurt him obviously, but enough to get his attention. Enough to kinda annoy him and get him really focused hard on jumping. We got some GREAT super fiery jumps out of him in the warmup, and went into the ring first for our last class of the weekend.
Very similar in a lot of ways. 1 to 2 was an inviting bending seven strides. 3 to 4 was the same direct six, that came up even nicer this time since we were already rolling. Then I got in the back seat, bridged my reins, and gave Frankie a good smack out of the corner. And whatdya know- that combo rode beautifully, even with the jumps jacked up to the full 1.15m. It was a nice easy 4 strides out over 6. I then cut off the end of the ring to get to the two-stride on the wall, which looked FREAKIN’ HUGE MAN HOLY CRAP (I almost peed my pants looking at that oxer while walking the course), but Frankie just flew through it. There was a bending 7 strides out over the skinny jump…which we maybe put 5 strides in. I told you, Frankie was F-L-Y-I-N-G. I then proceeded to mangle our last line ha ha el oh el.
With a time allowed of 76 seconds, do you know what we clocked in at?
THAT IS SO STUPID FAST. Like, clearly stupid because he hit some rails and I’d rather we didn’t do that. But say what you will about our abilities. We do. Not. Get. Time. Faults.
While this round probably looked like a bit of a hot mess from the outside, I was actually thrilled with it for a couple reasons:
We went back and made the combo work. That ended up being the best part of our course. We got to prove to each other that we could, in fact, go make it happen powerfully.
Historically, the second course of the day and the second day of competition is tough for us. We both start losing steam. We made plenty of mistakes in this round, but losing steam was not one of them.
Overall we made new mistakes. Getting both of us to operate at that higher RPM has been a huge long journey, full of inconsistencies. Even though we still hit some rails, we hit them for different reasons than we have in the past. I can live with making different mistakes instead of repeating the same ones over and over.
Frankie showed me this weekend that when I show up to work, he can face off with the best of them. That we don’t have to play it safe anymore- the tight turns and risky gallops are never where we have rails. We have rails when I get complacent and try to play it safe. We both thrive under a little pressure to go Get It Done.
It’s been a truly incredible progression throughout the 2017 season as we’ve both gained our sea legs, so to speak. We both know our jobs SO much better in the ring and our partnership keeps getting stronger and stronger.
I know I keep saying this, but every time I think Frankie has hit a new high, he goes out there and gets even more amazing. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect partner to chase my dreams with. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a horse like him.
Cheers to an amazing 2017 season full of growth and learning, and I already can’t wait for our 2018 season together!
PS- the pro pics should be online today or tomorrow, and I’m hoping there will be some good ones for me to buy. I didn’t have anyone to grab media this weekend, so fingers crossed we get some photo evidence of Frankie’s awesomeness!
A little picture into what life looks like for the Big Man.
7-7:30a: Come in from turnout to eat breakfast- grain and hay.
7:30a-12p: Nap. Drink some water. Bother the people cleaning his stall. Nap more.
12p: Enjoy some more lunchtime hay, since he’s managed to hoover up most of his.
12-3:30p: Nap more. Flat out on the side. Naps 4 dayz. Slop some hay into the water buckets for a change of pace.
3:30-4p: Eat dinner grain, then go outside with his buddy Nolan.
4pm-7am: Eat more, play with Nolan, sleep some, ruin blankets, play more.
On days I show up, he gets to hang out in his stall after dinner for a bit:
3:30-6p: Digest dinner, eat more hay, stare out the window.
6-7p: Get scratchies/groomies/tacked up.
7-8p: Go for a ride. Sometimes a little earlier if traffic allows. Lessons are a full hour, other rides usually are a little shorter.
8-8:30p: Groomies, rinsing when weather permits, more scratchies. Then outside with Nolan again.
Around November we’ll switch the horses to daytime turnout, which means they’ll get turned out after breakfast and come inside for the night at dinner time.
Frankie will only stay in when weather forces it- a real downpour, temps extremely low, thunderstorms, things like that. He’ll still go out in a drizzle, and I love that he gets solid playtime every day along with social time with his little herd. Yes, he comes in with dings and scrapes sometimes from playing too hard, but I figure horses will manage to hurt themselves no matter what, and this way he at least gets plenty of benefit out of it.
And of course on the weekends, I go during the day and rudely interrupt Frankie’s naptime. I’m a mean mom.
Pretty much our whole schedule revolves around naps. Hey, it’s hard work being such an awesome pony!
Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?
Yes! So much yes! October in Virginia is my idea of paradise. Low humidity, beautiful breezes, cool but not freezing, and lovely views out over the neighborhood. The horses all start getting their dark winter coats and there’s enough crispness in the air to give them an extra pep in their step. Spring is nice too, but the pollen gets absolutely everywhere, and out of loyalty to Manfriend and his awful allergies I hate spring in a show of solidarity. Summer is too hot and humid and winter is the actual worst. Fall all the way forever.
Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer?
Ugh. Yes. Francis got super fuzzy super early this season, and the nights are starting to cool down while the days still get up into the high 70s. I’d consider his workload moderately heavy at the moment, so clipping him has helped keep him comfortable as I ask him to sweat.
Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?
We have an in-house show coming up that I’m angling to do a costume class for! Though I will admit that I haven’t put any thought into what Frankie would be. If money/time was no object, I would love to either turn him into the Millennium Falcon so I could be Han Solo, or turn him into the USS Enterprise so I could be Captain James T. Kirk. I have a thing for scrappy belligerent space captains, clearly (so another option could be to turn him into Serenity and I could be Mal…).
Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?
Hahahaha no. Frankie has not yet found something that he’s afraid of. And “quirks” are not really a thing that he does. I swear, he and Manfriend are tied for first place in the Most Emotionally Stable Creature Award. Which is a fantastic thing because I am a roller coaster of a human being.
Pumpkin spice. It’s everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse?
I am the meanest ever no-treat mom. Tons and tons of pats and scratches and praise, but no treats for the big guy.
We’re getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few “big-bang” shows to look forward to?
Zone Finals! We have two classes on Saturday (the WIHS qualifier) and two classes on Sunday (actual Zone 3 Finals). I am super super excited for both days. We’ll get to see some of the friends we made at Team finals and I like how the schedule works- two classes a day is our sweet spot, and only two days in a row means I’ll still have a nice fresh horse on Sunday. They also build up the heights for each class which is a nice progression: 1.05-1.10m and 1.10-1.15m on day one, then 1.15m on day two. While we haven’t prepared for this as rigorously as we did for Team finals in August, I think a little mental refresher was great for both of us. Frankie feels fit, is going great, and I’m beyond excited to end our season with a bang!
Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?
No trailer, so nothing on that front! And my car is a 4WD Jeep, so I don’t do anything differently with it in the winter. I do know that I’ll need a new car sooner rather than later, but I’m hoping my trusty vehicle will last through one more winter before I have to bite that expensive bullet.
Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?
More trail rides on the weekends! It’s just too hot to enjoy this in the summer. Even if I’ve already put in a good workout, I like to go for a walk around the neighborhood to cool out- as long as sunlight allows.
October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?
Our barn is in a residential neighborhood, so I don’t worry about this too much. I do hear more gunshots (this is Virginia, after all) but never nearby. I also usually take my trail rides in the early afternoons on the weekends, which is not prime hunting hours.
What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?
Oh boy. I don’t even know- there’s a few things in the works that would be AWESOME if they happened, but I don’t want to jinx it by getting ahead of myself. At the end of the day, I’m just psyched to keep having fun with my favorite horse on the planet, building our fitness, and honing our skills. We’ll be picking right back up in February to kick off our new season!
It’s a double post day! Curse my poor planning. But I had such a great lesson, I just want to share it with y’all before the memories fade.
You may have noticed that it’s been a relatively quiet few weeks at the barn. After the pressure of preparing for team finals, we have taken a noticeable step back from our training.
I think that’s been more mental than anything else- I’m still lessoning every week, Francis is still getting at least one training ride every week, we went to a show and XC schooling and we’ve still been working hard.
But we also have not schooled any height since finals and my “homework” rides have been more about enjoying my pony than anything else. This week’s lesson was the first time that we played with tighter turns/combos/bigger fences since we went in for our last round at Culpeper.
And I think that taking a deep breath to relax was exactly what the doctor ordered. Our canter work felt balanced and adjustable, Frankie jumped out of his skin, he carried me forward through the combo, and felt really fresh the entire time (not like, sassy fresh, just energetic in a good way. Because Francis.) I didn’t have to find a spot to the jumps- we had such a great canter and so much adjustability that the spots came up to us. Funny how having the right canter makes everything better, right?
While warming up we did have a moment that warranted some strong correction: Frankie likes to dive left. Even if we’re on a nice straight track to the jump, he will throw himself left over the jump and then immediately fade left upon landing. If I let him. This time I booted him HARD with my spur off the left side as we were warming up, and lo and behold: my horse jumped a straight line. Correcting that firmly early on in our ride made him pay attention the rest of the time. And when we do that, we land our leads/get our changes!
We warmed up with a couple basic exercises, then Trainer jacked the jumps up and gave me this course:
The first “jump” was just one of the brick walls we use as fill, without standards. Frankie was pretty sure that going around was the right answer, so I had to really over-ride this and get him balled up between my leg and hand. I sense more wingless jumps in our future.
Then it was down the single outside- this rode up wonderfully every time, since Frankie was carrying a lovely pace to flow up out of the corner. The short rollback to 3 was tough- I needed to get my left leg on HARD and then straighten with my left rein to get that to work.
Then the bending out over 4 was either a bent 5 stride, or a more direct galloping 4. The first time through I held for 5 and didn’t love it, so the next time I booted up for the 4 and LOVED IT SO MUCH OMG WE HAD FIRE IN OUR STEP.
Then it was down the faux coop- Trainer stacked some cavallettis and put some plywood sheets on them. My job upon landing was to control that left shoulder so that we actually had some straightness to ask for a change.
Then it was up the one-stride and I was honestly thrilled with that. I’ve mentioned before that Frankie tends to back off in combos and needs a ton of support from yours truly. But homeboy must’ve been feeling like a fancypants rockstar, because he galloped right up and carried me through like an absolute professional- even though the oxer out was a big lofty swedish.
Now for the fun part: it was a bending four strides from the green box down to the barrels. My trainer is a generally nice person, so these barrels were on their sides, with the fake bamboo acting as wings. But she hates me likes to challenge me, so she stood them up and said AIM STRAIGHT.
So I landed off the green fuzzy, locked on…and Francis did a drive by. I’ll be honest, it took us a couple tries to eventually make it over.
But I don’t really count this as a refusal. I genuinely think that Frankie did not realize that he was supposed to jump it. He wasn’t peeking hard or spooking or anything like that, he’s just always gone around the barrels in the ring instead of over. Once we made it over once (with the help of some guide poles), we had zero problem locking on and jumping it like a pro- even after we took the guide poles away. He’s not the fastest thinker in the world, but he is very willing once he understands the game.
Takeaways: we need to practice more wingless skinnies to test our steering! I need to be more active in telling him “yes this is a jump” and he needs to be paying attention enough to say “yes ma’am.”
Another takeaway is to let go and let my horse do his job. He’s so much more educated now and I can trust that education instead of needing to micromanage every step. We are going to be trying some new bits to take advantage of his buttons- remember I mentioned that I didn’t love the slow twist for shows? We’ve got some ideas to play around with so I’ll let you know what we end up using.
I do really wish we had gotten some video from this lesson. Not only did Frankie go SO well, but I had shortened my stirrups a hole. It was a revelation. Everything was better. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of bad habits went away. Like. Guys. The skies opened up and the angels sang. I would love to get a visual to see if it made as much of a difference as it felt like. If nothing else, I felt tons more secure in the tack so it’s for sure a win.
I’d also like to take some official confo shots of Francis soon, maybe this weekend. He got his first clip of the season and honestly AT did such a stupendous job that I want to capture it on camera. He looks like a stud. I also want to do a comparison- we’ve worked so hard on building muscle and developing him, I want to see if there’s a visible difference from last year. I also just want a million pictures of my horse, so sue me.
Your turn to share! What are some of the stranger looking jumps you’ve done lately?
As the days get shorter, I want to talk to you once more about something I feel very passionately about: mental health!
While October is for sure my favorite month of the year (Pumpkins! Pretty leaves! Drizzly gray days! Not feeling sweat dripping down my back when I do literally anything!), I head into the winter every year with the same attitude as I approach a root canal: let me get to the other side in one piece, and then I can actually return to the land of the living.
Advice that historically has not helped me cope with Satan’s Season:
“Oh, you’ll grow out of it someday.” STILL WAITING
“Try smiling more!” YES LET ME FAKE SOME MORE EMOTIONS, SEEMS HEALTHY
“Just remember that it’s all in your head.” tHaT iS lItTeRaLlY tHe EnTiRe PrObLeM
However, over the years I have managed to find a few things that make a truly noticeable difference in my ability to navigate the uncaring ocean of my brain chemistry from November through March:
Drinking too much water. Staying hydrated gives me so much more energy, keeps me more mentally focused, helps stave off headaches, clears my skin, and keeps me moving. You know, because of all the bathroom breaks. Seriously though- I can’t emphasize enough how much of an effect this has on every aspect of my life.
Making my bed every morning. This creates a definite separation for me from bed time to awake time. Literally as soon as I’ve gotten out of bed, I’ve accomplished something! Sometimes that’s the momentum I need to start my day. And then when I get home in the evening I feel like I’m coming home to a neat, clean room. Even if the bed is the only neat and clean thing about it.
Cutting out caffeine. I know, this sounds like sacrilege to you coffee-addicts out there. But I’ve never been a huge coffee drinker, even in the summer! My sleep schedule definitely gets more sensitive when the days get shorter so I tend to cut out caffeine all together. I stick with herbal teas or cocoa when I’m craving a warm drink, but my best friend is my Nalgene filled with- you guessed it- water. Otherwise I end up staying awake for 3 days in a row and I wish I was exaggerating.
Staying active. That physical momentum is so helpful. And I like the way my body feels when I’m fit- I look pretty much the same all the time, but I can definitely feel the difference when my fitness starts slipping. I even invested in some stupid expensive equipment to make exercising fun, and his name is Francis.
Buying a horse. For realz, Frankie has been the biggest bro in the world. He gives me a huge reason to stay active- he thrives on exercise, we need to stay in shape to keep progressing, etc. He also gives good structure to my days- I can’t just go home and shlump into bed. I gotsta get dem endorphins going. And I can’t leave out the fact that he’s just the sweetest creature on the planet. He doesn’t care that there might be a few crossed wires upstairs, he just thinks it’s neat that I scratch his ears and take him on adventures. He is a never-ending source of quiet affection. Also owning a horse means I’m too distracted by stress about money to remember that I’m depressed!
Giving myself days off. Between work, the barn, going home to see family, celebrating birthdays, going out for happy hour, and other social events, sometimes it feels like I have something on the calendar every single day. And while I genuinely like people, I NEED my alone time to rejuvenate and re-energize. So sometimes I’ll pencil in a day to just lay around in my pajamas, watch Netflix, drink tea, and be a lazy garbage person. These garbage person days make me less of a garbage person on the other days. It’s a delicate garbage balance.
I’ve also built in a bunch of fun things to look forward to this winter: I’m visiting family and bringing Manfriend, we’re taking a trip to Florida with my roomie and her manfriend, I’ll be taking time to go compete at WEC with the Frankenator, all sorts of things like that.
So while I’m already looking forward to the warm spring breezes that bring allergens to make Manfriend sneeze real cute, I feel good about the robust preparation I’m putting into making this winter an enjoyable season instead of just a survivable one. I know there will still be ups and downs, and I’ve got the warm fuzzies thinking about the absolutely stellar support system I have- both two-legged and four-legged.
For all of you: I would love to be part of your support system. As mentioned, I genuinely like people (weird, I know) and I like crazy people the best. I have no answers to big questions and give pretty crappy advice (usually I just tell you to hydrate more), but I’d love to chat at any time. Unless I’m sleeping. Hit me up but not before 7am or after 10pm thanks.
Cheers to a fantastic season of fun adventures and progress in all of our personal and professional endeavors!
I absolutely love hearing nice things about my horse- and I know I’m not alone in that. Whenever anyone says anything remotely complimentary about Frankie, I automatically think they’re a good person with fantastic taste in horseflesh. And I’m also the type of person to take things in the spirit that they’re meant. I don’t really read into things and tend to assume good intentions.
So recently when someone complimented Frankie, I was very pleased, and then it made me think a little harder. To paraphrase, what they said was: “Frankie is such a good boy, it’s so cool to see how far he’s come! You’re so lucky that he’s progressed so easily!”
First of all, yes he is such a good boy and has come so far! We’re all so proud of him, it’s so gratifying that other people notice it too! And yes, I am so so so lucky is so many ways, including with Frankie. I was very grateful to receive such a sweet compliment.
But I’d like to clarify: I wouldn’t call it easy.
Fun, engaging, rewarding, exciting: yes.
You’ve heard my phrase: bringing Frankie along has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Minus the blood and tears.
Notice that we kept in the sweat.
It’s been a LOT of sweat. Not just from myself, but from my trainers (let’s be honest, probably MORE from my trainers). They have very thoughtfully and carefully put together a program that has taught Frankie the right answers to our questions, while building the fitness to safely answer them.
It’s been a lot of lessons, a lot of homework rides, a lot of training rides BEFORE we actually need them so he doesn’t have a chance to dull any skills. It’s been many many dedicated hours from a whole cast of people.
We’ve always had good material to work with: Frankie may have been inexperienced in some ways when we got him, but he’s always been trained as a sporthorse and was plenty broke. He’s athletic, sane, and a very hard worker. He’s responded to this consistent training so incredibly well and is a pleasure to work with.
But let’s be honest, I have frustrating moments during my rides on the regular. Despite being a Very Good Boy, Francis is not a sensitive character. This is a good thing in so many ways, but it also means that it can be tough to get his attention. Little cues don’t really register with him. They need to be a bit louder. So escalating my cues to the volume he needs in order to recognize what I’m asking can be a bit of a process. We’ve definitely had rides where I felt incompetent and downright annoyed by the end, but we chip away at building those skills and eventually we add them to the toolbox.
I consider myself beyond fortunate to have a horse that responds so well to the training that we’re putting into him- but that training is still a lot of work, and I’m really proud of that work.
At the same time, I’m weirdly glad that it looks easy from the outside. It’s kinda an affirmation that we’re introducing new skills and upping the difficulty for Frankie at a very manageable pace- we have never over-faced him with something he could not do. If it looks easy, it means the countless hours where it’s NOT easy are paying off.
So at the end of the day, I’m still extremely gratified by that compliment. Even though it’s a little inaccurate, it was said with kindness and really- anyone who loves Frankie is OK in my book.
We got out for a XC school this past weekend! I’ve been looking forward to this literally since the day I brought Francis home and spoiler alert: it turned out to be just as super fun as I expected it to be.
Sadly I have next to no media of the outing since our only ground crew was my trainer (who was busy actually watching us ride) and her 2nd grader (who is enthusiastic but easily distracted). So you’ll just have to take my word for it: Francis was perfect.
He bopped over everything with no urging on the first try every time- down banks, double up banks, water, logs, brush, benches, all of it. When some of the other horses got a little balky at the stacked logs going downhill, or the down bank into the water, or the log in the treeline- Frankie forged ahead as a lead for them. When I slipped my reins going down a bank, I didn’t worry about getting them back too quickly because Francis was happy as a clam to keep jumping anything in front of him.
I’m too much of a weenie to try anything too hard and this was a purely just-for-fun outing, so we stuck to mostly the teeny tiny jumps. I have no doubt Frankie could’ve done way more- maybe next time we’ll tackle some of the bigger combos!
He was brave and relaxed and happy the entire time, which meant that I was brave and relaxed and happy the entire time. I had bitted up a little to a slow-twist snaffle, but I really don’t think that was necessary. We would’ve been fine in the plain snaffle- after a few “sassy” head tosses during our warmup, he settled right down into his normal chill self.
My only real regret from this outing was that we didn’t capture more on camera so I can relive the fun and share with you all. It was the best feeling in the world to have so much trust in Frankie and enjoy him being an absolute pro out there.
Blue ribbon eq horse last week, XC superstar this week, and we’re heading to Zone 3 finals for the 1.15m High Jumpers at the end of the month. I’m thinking we really need to fit in a dressage lesson soon so we can cross another discipline off our list! I’d honestly really love to try a low-level (VERY low-level) HT with Francis at some point- in the spirit of Doing All The Things with him.
Maybe someday we’ll find something he’s bad at or we won’t have fun trying a new thing together. But I doubt it. 18 months in and I’m still just as obsessed with this horse as the day I brought him home- more so, even. Best pony ever!
Alternate title: How Stupid of an Injury Can You Get?
I’ll allay your fears off the bat: no one has any lasting damage, and nothing was even remotely related to Francis. Homeboy was uninvolved in my tomfoolery and continues to be his awesome amazing wonderful self.
This was probably the most relaxed show I’ve done in a long time. The numbers were EXTREMELY low so the showgrounds were crazy quiet, we weren’t trying to qualify or get points or anything, and it seemed super low key.
Friday was just a schooling day for us- we went in to do a ticketed warmup in one of the rings to try and find our eq pace. Which was hard. My trainer kept telling us to slow down, even when it felt like I was going backwards! I needed to get us into a nice rhythm and then leave my horse alone, instead of letting my electric seat take over and build a gallop. No gallop needed. But overall it was a great schooling session where we got to jump some fill (which we haven’t done in a good long time) and get my eye adjusted to the different pace. When we got the right pace, Frankie was able to jump up nice and square every single time.
Saturday was our first eq day! Due to ring changes and schedule shifts, our very first class was a 3′ Eq Classic in the GP. On the one hand, a nice familiar ring with jumper-style jumps to ease us in. On the other hand, Frankie definitely knows that this ring means zoomies. It was an…interesting round. I came out of the ring and yelled DOUBLE CLEAR to my trainer, which is apparently not what we are supposed to go for in the eq. It was an odd combination of zooming around, yet not really making the striding anywhere. I think for me, it was tough to adjust my eye to the smaller jumps. Overall though Frankie was obedient and wanted to please (as always) and we ended up getting a nice big pretty yellow ribbon for our efforts.
Then we had two trips for the 18-35 Adult Eq division in the big Hunter 1 ring. We hadn’t gotten to school in there and I’ve never shown in there before, so I was excited to give it a try! The courses themselves were a little disappointing- they were the exact same as the hunter rounds, so no opportunity to show off any handiness. The most “exciting” it got was a two-stride across the diagonal.
I was really really happy with Frankie in both trips. Neither trip was beautifully polished, and definitely had a lot of room for improvement, but Frankie was thinking hard and trying to figure out what I was asking. We’ve spent so long telling him that the show ring means GOING NOW MUST RUN and this time I was telling him the opposite. He definitely thought he was supposed to turn and burn around some of those corners and kept checking with me to make sure he was doing the right thing. My big thing to remember was softening at him- when I dropped him a little bit, he responded by relaxing and coming back to a more appropriate pace.
I could also feel him jumping SUPER cute- I didn’t end up buying it, but the photographer got a really adorable one of him over one of the oxers. I know he doesn’t actually need to try at 3′, so I’m proud of him for still putting in some effort! He makes my job so much easier when he jumps like that. His motion is so much easier to follow, the timing is much easier to allow to happen naturally, overall I feel like I’m able to show off my eq a little bit more.
Despite the little bobbles for us to work on, we took first in both classes! Full disclosure: we were the only entry in the second class. I told you the numbers were crazy low. But there were four entries in the first class! I may or may not have hugged the announcer when he told me (I really should stop hugging strangers at horse shows).
I couldn’t be prouder of Frankie for going into a new ring, in a new discipline, with new jumps and new courses, and trusting me enough to listen and think so hard. He always has so much try and this was no different- I could really feel him trying to figure out what I wanted. He got lots of pats and scratches as I took out his braids.
Sunday dawned cool and breezy as I loaded my gear into the car for our final day of showing. And stick with me folks, because this is where I get dumb.
A little context: I have a Jeep Liberty. And the trunk of the Liberty opens in two pieces, as such:
In this picture, the car is nice and clean and not a decrepit old trash heap like mine is. So the top part opens all the way automatically. But in my decrepit old trash heap, it does not actually open all the way. It opens to about forehead height.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
While swinging my gear into the car, I smashed my head into the glass so. Dang. Hard.
I made it about 45 minutes before the pressure-headache-feels-like-a-hangover-slight-dizziness set in. I chugged water, took some Advil, and waited for it to subside. And it didn’t.
And that is the story of how I slammed my head into my car so hard that I ended up scratching my classes and having my boyfriend and his brother drive 90 minutes to come pick me up and drive me home.
Was I being overcautious? Probably. I’m pretty sure I could’ve made it around another couple trips- especially with such a trustworthy steed. But I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to any sort of head injury, no matter how IDIOTICALLY they may have occurred. Part of me is saying that I was being way overly unnecessarily careful about the whole thing, and the other part of me is saying that I made the right call by scratching. Ugh.
Further earning his Sweetest Horse Ever award, Frankie stood calmly with his head down so I could take his braids out without using the step ladder. I swear he always seems to know when I’m feeling unsteady and is extra careful with me at those times. Such a total lovebug.
The dizziness wore off within a few hours and I’m now just nursing a bit of a headache and some wounded pride. If nothing else, it makes a pretty funny story (especially when I act out the field neuro exam Manfriend gave me upon my father’s instructions). Luckily Manfriend had a sense of humor about the whole thing and reassured me that next time I should just ask him to come to the show, there’s no need to bash my head in to convince him. Har har har.
I guess I was overdue for a klutzy moment.
Please make me feel better and share your most ridiculous injuries that kept you from riding/showing. I can’t be alone in this!