A Little Leverage

So for my birthday, we tried out a new bit with Francis- specifically, the bit that AT uses with him when she rides. It’s a copper mouth French-link elevator, as such:

elevator bit
Just with a copper mouth

We started out with my main rein on the snaffle ring and the curb rein on the first ring down, to give me a change to get used to having a little leverage. From a mouthpiece standpoint, I did really like the French link- it felt like Frankie was softening to it a bit more than either the plain snaffle or the slow twist I’ve used in the past.

After warming up a bit and getting my “sea hands” so to speak, we took off the curb and then moved my main rein down so we could test this out for real. Overall I do really like it- it’s definitely a big adjustment for me in how I need to ride and it was far from perfect, but it did give us some tools that I was happy about.

The trot work in this was…eh. Francis was bracing and we had to focus on lots of bending and take-release-take-release for him to realize that while I wasn’t going to just hang on his face, I did expect him to carry himself upright and not hang on me in return. The canter work was a lot better, which I wasn’t surprised by. His canter is naturally his best gait, and he’s always had much better carriage and balance in the canter than in the trot no matter what bit is in his mouth. It was much easier for me to keep a light touch on the reins, give with that inside hand a bit more, and allow him to carry me without as much of a “discussion” on who has to hold his head up.

Then it was time to jump, and in this lesson we focused on some more interesting turns with the jumps set low. I was a bit surprised while we were warming up- Frankie was really cracking his back and putting in an effort over the crossrails we were trotting, which is rare for him. I actually got caught off guard a couple times and got a little left behind, so I tried to make sure I slipped my reins when that happened so he didn’t get punished in the mouth for doing his job.

After warming up, here was our first course:

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So we trot in the crossrail on the rail, rollback to the box, turn left and long approach down to the little oxer, canter up the long side, and then go straight down the middle by slicing- either a direct 2 or a teeny shaped 3.

My goal was to ride the first jump BEFORE riding the turn, which meant packaging him up and not throwing my shoulders at him. The rollback went much better when we stopped trying to get perpendicular to the jump and instead sliced it straight towards the end of the ring. The long approach was just fine, and he opened up his step nicely to put the two strides in the middle line.

With this new bit, my focus was to release more with my hands both over fences and in between, and rely more on my legs. It gives me great shortening ability and I don’t want to accidentally shorten too much. It doesn’t come second-nature yet, but that focus on controlling his stride from my seat and legs more intensely gave us much better turns and control of that shoulder.

Here was our other course:

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So short approach down the box, up the outside line in a flowing three, down the oxer sliced right to left to give us room to turn up the center line to do that in a flowing two the other direction.

I tend to have a tough time coming out of that corner up to 2, so we ended up getting a bit of a chocolate chip- but he listened fantastically and opened up to put the three in without a problem anyways. We had set jump 3 a little bigger to give him a chance to stretch and he jumped it really nicely.

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Well, nice is a strong word. Still cute tho.

Then the last part of the course was good- I didn’t keep as straight as I should’ve going up the center so it got a bit gappy, but not terribly ugly.

Overall this lesson was a really good test of working with some leverage. It’ll take some time for both of us to adjust and fine-tune with this new tool, but I do think it’s a great option for us to explore. My big concern is that I’m used to carrying a certain amount of weight with the snaffle, and with this I need to carry much less weight for a similar response. I like that I can be lighter with him and that he seems to like the mouthpiece, so now it’s just a matter of training myself to feel his responses and tweak how I carry my hands accordingly. Especially when we get him fired up and jumping the big jumps, I think this is a step in the right direction to have something that he seeks the contact with and is gentle on his mouth, but still gives me the control to get the adjustability we’ll need to safely get around.

Flying up to Rhody tonight for Christmas with the fam, and I can’t wait to see them all! Stay safe on all of your travels!

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Grids on grids on grids

While I’m still totally reveling in the fact that I’ve conned an actual Prince Charming into marrying me, I’ve also been having some great rides with my four-legged prince! Our last couple lessons have been gymnastic-focused. You all know how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE gymnastics!

Last week we didn’t do anything too crazy- my lungs have been taking a stupid long time to recover from my swamp illness, and I’ve been riding inconsistently, so we kept the jumps fairly low and just worked on building some strength back.

Which means that after going through a couple times, Trainer had me drop my stirrups. Which honestly- I don’t mind. It forces my balance to be more centered and my leg actually stays a lot more stable since I can’t brace against the stirrup. I keep threatening to go in the show ring without my stirrups since I ride so much more correctly. It’s annoying.

I jokingly asked Trainer if she wanted me to drop my reins too, which clearly she immediately said yes to. I mean I wasn’t doing a ton with them anyways- Frankie knows that his job is to continue through the grid, so it’s not like I was steering. Hands on hips it was! Like an absolute bro, Francis carried me right on through a couple times and let me strengthen my balance.

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Apparently hands on hips means chicken wings. Also I know the jump isn’t huge but maybe put in a little bit of effort dude.

I then pressured Trainer into letting me join an extra lesson this week, since I so rudely did not get one on Saturday. Clearly the whole day was a wash.

This was another gymnastic lesson, but we switched it up a bit. We wanted to try and address some of Frankie’s very prominent left drift (which is made even more prominent by my disgustingly weak left leg). So I carried a dressage whip on my left through the grid.

Francis was also freshly clipped and had lots of gas in the tank during our warmup. Well, at the trot. By the time we moved into our canter work, he remembered that holding still is more fun than not holding still. But I actually rode without a crop or spurs for the first time and we kept moving! So I’d consider that spicy in FrancisWorld.

Another thing you should know is that Frankie jumps SO MUCH BETTER when he’s annoyed. You may remember back at Zone Finals where we riled him up for our second warmup and got much better work from him. He doesn’t buck or bolt or spook or sass when he’s pissed off- he just jumps out of his skin. He’s literally a unicorn, it’s the actual best response ever. And you know what really annoys him? Being smacked behind my leg. It doesn’t need to be a big smack. It can be a little tickle from a dressage whip. Nothing gets him pinning his ears and cracking his back quite like it.

So between a new haircut and that dressage whip in my hand, Francis went through that grid with the roundest bascule I’ve ever felt from him. It was SUCH fantastic energy firing off the ground! He was pretty sure life was miserable DESPITE LITERALLY NOTHING BEING DIFFERENT BECAUSE I BARELY TOUCHED HIM WITH THE WHIP but it was an awesome workout for him and good practice getting the fire in his step.

Naturally, we jacked the last jump up to give him a bit of a challenge- a nice square oxer that we set up at 4′. He just flew. It was amazing. Trainer let me go back and do it again, but the deal was that I couldn’t have my stirrups. He still flew, and took me with him. Landed cantering away casually while I was up there grinning like an idiot. I swear, jumping over colorful sticks with this creature is the best feeling in the entire world.

This all made me that much more excited to try some bigger tracks with him. He clearly has the scope for it, he was barely trying over that last oxer. And now that we’ve figured out that he jumps much more correctly (and therefore much more safely) once we rile him up a bit, I think we’ll be able to up the ante on course. This will never be his “normal,” but it’s something we can practice.

He definitely gets very strong when he’s like that, but at the same time he’s so much more adjustable since we have all that impulsion from behind. We’ll need to play around with bits to give us something that gives me the leverage to channel this energy without backing him off. We have a couple good ideas that we’re going to test.

His favorite little barn rat will give him some rides while I go up north for Christmas, then we’re counting down to WEC! We’ll probably fit in one local show to do the 3′ eq and one B one-day to do the Highs in January as our kickoff to the season, then it’s off to Ohio for two weeks. I. Can’t. Wait.

If I don’t talk to y’all before then, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, very happy holidays, and get to spend lots of time with the people and creatures you love!

A New Chapter

I’m going to need your help, everyone. We have to come up with a new name for Manfriend.

He’s decided that he’s sick of dating me. He no longer wants to be my Manfriend.

SO WE’RE GONNA BE PLANNING A WEDDING Y’ALL OMGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!

As a native Rhode Islander I’m strongly leaning towards Buddy Fianci, but that’s a bit of a mouthful. We’ll be taking suggestions. Hit us up.

We’d been talking about getting married for a while so I could put my Pinterest boards into practice we could take an exciting new step forward together. I knew it was coming soon. I knew that ex-Manfriend (which he will go by until we get something better into play so get your suggestions in soon) had talked to my parents for their blessing over Thanksgiving. Mostly because he is not subtle and I’m exceedingly nosy. We’re a fun couple. I’ve spent the last 3 months turning to him every time he tied his shoe and yelling, “Nicholas is this it?!”

Anyways, what I’m trying to get at is that I’m hard to surprise. ex-Manfriend gets a zillion bonus points for managing to COMPLETELY bamboozle me.

Because I honestly thought that he was visiting his grandma that morning, but would be meeting me at the barn afterwards to watch me ride. I honestly thought I had a lesson scheduled for 2, but would be going early to hang out. In case my trainer is reading this, you still owe me that lesson.

As I was getting ready to head to the barn, I got a call from my friend saying that she was taking Christmas pics of the horses because it was so nice out- we could take Frankie’s after my lesson, but could I come a little earlier to hold horses beforehand?

Here I am thinking I’m so slick, like HOLY CRAP THIS IS THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR HIM TO PROPOSE AFTER MY LESSON WHILE WE’RE TAKING PICS HE NEEDS TO CAPITALIZE ON THIS. So I picked my outfit with care. My favorite navy breeches. My favorite tech shirt. My Team Finals hat. Actual makeup. Like a real person.

I called ex-Manfriend as I was about to pull into the barn to ask him to grab a change of clothes for the pics- and being a skilled con-man, he said he would be there in 20 and probably had a blazer in the trunk or something. I was busy blasting some seasonal Mariah and in a fantastic mood, so I let the “probably” slide.

And then I pulled up to the barn and saw balloons.

Something you should know about me: I LOVE BALLOONS. Like, a lot. My dad always brings them to the airport when he picks me up because I always tell him that a reunion without balloons is just a meeting. Balloons are my favorite.

At this point, I’m thinking that someone has decided to take their Christmas pics with balloons. Because naturally, balloons are festive and lovely and who wouldn’t want that?! I’m ready to go help out this genius soul with their gorgeous balloon-inspired photoshoot.

And then I spot a bay horse. There’s plenty of bay horses at the barn, but this one looked pretty tall. And handsome. But it could still be any of the bays, really.

And then I turned the corner and realized that it was for sure my horse. And that standing in front of him was Manfriend in the blazer that he DEFINITELY HAD and holding roses.

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Which apparently Francis tried to eat
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My sweet sweet boys ❤
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As I was pulling up, they spotted me.

Being a rational human being, I completely froze and considered driving my car past them to park.

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I just sat in here completely frozen for what felt like a VERY long time.

Then I saw my friend frantically gesturing for me to get out of the car, so I stumbled my way out and said, “Nicholas you liar.”

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Nicholas you garbage liar man

Sweet words of love.

To be fair, he retorted by mockingly saying, “Nicholas is this it?!”

I feel like we’re even.

I side-eyed my way over to him to listen to what he had to say. But real talk, I was on a major adrenaline high and the phrases that I caught were “love you so so much” and “want to spend my life with you” and then he was on one knee and I pretty much dive bombed him and then took the ring before he could give it to me and got kinda aggressive about it.

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Step 1: say wonderful things and propose in an amazing way
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Step 2: Try to breathe around the leech on your face
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Step 3: Regain your footing

 

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Step 4: give me the ring before I can nab it with my grabby raccoon hands (side note: fav pic of the day. All adorable and sweet and then BAM FRANCIS LLAMA FACE)
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Step 5: omgomgomgomgomg

I swear I wasn’t crying, I was just…leaking. Mighta been sweat, mighta been tears, mighta been both. Francis joined in the celebration looking for scritches.

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The first true family portrait
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Frankie: “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD”

There were confetti poppers waiting for us.

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There was champagne.

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The balloon with words on it simply said, “You’re Special.”

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hahahahahahaha

Magical.

We went inside and shared some bubbly together with Francis and some of my closest friends, as we started to share the news with friends and family.

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In my favorite place with my favorite person
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My face is now stuck like this, sorry not sorry.

What does one do when freshly engaged? Clearly there’s only one right answer here.

You ride the horse. Without steering.

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Francis take the wheel
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GALLOP ON MIGHTY STEED
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Less than 10 seconds after he sneezed his brains out from allergies.
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brb obsessed with my new jewelry

Seriously, I could not have asked for a more magical day. I would’ve said yes no matter how he asked, but the fact that he came to my favorite place on the planet and involved my heart horse made it so far and beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of.

I’m so grateful for my friends who took all these wonderful pics to remember the occasion and helped Nicholas coordinate everything. I’m so lucky to have such generous, caring, hilarious, wonderful people to call my barn family!! My favorite little barn rat even captured the whole thing on video- including lots of her giggles.

Most of all, I’m grateful that I get to lock down this wonderful guy of mine. It’s gonna be a real awesome life together!!!

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Gold Star Clinic Questionnaire

As promised, here are the questions from the application I had to fill out for the Gold Star Clinic! I didn’t include my answers, but I did include some thoughts on the questions, format, etc. in italics below. Let me know your thoughts!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  • At what age did you start riding?
  • At what age did you start jumping?
  • Is your family involved in the horse industry?
  • Have you participated in any other disciplines? Check as follows: Hunter, Jumper, Equitation
  • How many years did you compete in the Hunters?
  • Do you feel your Hunter experience helped you develop as a Jumper rider? Please explain.
  • How many years did you compete in Equitation?
  • Do you feel your Equitation experience helped you develop as a Jumper rider? Please explain.

Pretty basic stuff so far. 

  • Did you compete in the Talent Search competitions?
  • Have you competed in any Equitation Finals? If so, in which did you compete and at what age(s) and year(s)? Did you place?
  • At what age did you start riding in Jumper competitions?
  • Have you competed in the National Junior Jumper Championship and Prix de States competition? If so, at what age(s) and what year(s)? Did you place?
  • Have you competed in the North American Children’s, Junior or Young Rider Championships? If so, at what age(s), level, and in what year(s)? Did you place?
  • It is important to know how you felt about the experience of competing at the Junior Jumper Championship/Prix de States and the NAChJYRC. Please write about that experience and how it did or did not impact your riding career.
  • It is important to know how you felt about the experience of competing at the USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships. Please write about that experience and how it did or did not impact your riding career.

Clearly this above section was aimed at people who had a fairly prolific career as a junior or are currently juniors. I had to put N/A for pretty much all of these except the last question about Team Finals.

  • When you started your riding career, did your parents feel that they had enough information about the sport to make informed decisions on competitions, trainers and horse selection? Please explain.

Again, this is clearly aimed at junior riders. Also I competed mostly locally and at small rated shows at the 2’6″ level as a kid, so my parents didn’t really need any info. 

  • Have you ever taken dressage lessons? If so, did you find it beneficial and why?
  • Do you have a young horse between the ages of 3 and 7 that you are working with?
  • Do you know and follow top breeding bloodlines?
  • Do you have an interest in your horse breeding and development? If so, please explain how it is important for your future and the future of the industry.
  • Have you had any education on conformation, lameness, feeds and nutrition, shoeing, health and welfare of the horse? If so, was it helpful information and do you use the education you received? Please explain.

I found this section interesting- looking for diverse knowledge bases. I thought some of the yes/no type questions should have prompted more explanation (which I provided unprompted because I like to say stuff).

  • Physical fitness is a key component to top athlete performances, please describe your personal fitness program. Well that’s kinda a leading question, dontcha think? 
  • Have you ever participated in a clinic or the USHJA Emerging Athlete Program? If so, who was the clinician, did you feel it was beneficial and why? This was a tough question to answer- no I did not do the EAP, but yes I have clinicked. It wasn’t a USHJA registered clinic though, so does that count? I ended up mentioning it, but I think this should (1) be separated into two questions and (2) clarified.
  • Have you ever been a working student or have you been an apprentice for anyone other than your current trainer? If so, who did you work for and at what age? What did you learn from the experience? Well yeah, as a kid. Which wasn’t THAT long ago, so I think it should count.
  • Do you use visualization techniques when competing? This was just a checkbox yes or no, but I would’ve loved a chance to write more about this.

 

  • What do you feel are your riding weakness and strengths? Please explain.
  • What are your immediate goals? Please be specific.
  • What are your long term goals? Please be specific and explain how you intend to reach those goals.
  • In what way do you think that the USHJA/USEF can help you to reach your goals? Lemme suck up to you real quick.
  • Do you intend to become a professional or are you already a professional? This application was for a junior/amateur program, so not sure why there was an option to say that you are currently a professional.
  • Please list your goals for the current competition year. Be sure to include your tentative schedule for both yourself and your horse(s) (i.e. Zone Jumper Team Championships, NAJYRC, Prix des States, Equitation Finals, Nations Cups, and international competitions, as well as any preparation for these targets). This was another section that felt tough for me to answer as a working amateur, because the honest response is “it depends on whether or not I get a good year-end bonus and how much time off my boss approves before she gets fed up with me missing meetings to go compete.” I have plenty of goals, but my budget requires me to be flexible on those and pass up on things I’d otherwise like to do. Most of these big shows listed are specifically for junior riders (which I am not) or for those competing at very high heights (which I am also not). Team Finals is pretty much the only nationally recognized program for ammies at the 1.15m level.

 

  • Provide a written recommendation from a show jumping professional/trainer.
  • Write a short essay describing your equestrian goals and future plans. 1 page maximum. Let me tell you, it was HARD to get this down to 1 page. As evidenced by the posts on this blog, I can talk for days about my plans and goals and my path forward. Thousands and thousands of words.
  • Submit any additional information you wish to have considered by the selectors. Like…anything? Anything at all? 

Slicez 4 Dayz

You already know it’s been pretty quiet on the lesson front lately due to travel and enough mucus buildup to last me three lifetimes, but Frankie and I got some good work in last week.

Our warmup was pretty standard, lots of lengthenings and shortenings to make sure we were speaking the same language. We threw in some really tight circles at the canter to test our ability to sit down and push out of the turns- I kept making moderately smallish sized ones and Trainer challenged me to ask harder for some tougher turns so that we aren’t just doing what we always do. It was a great reminder that we can and should up the ante with expectations around our flatwork! It ended up being really useful practice of helping each other balance and maintain the power even through tight turns- setting us up with some super useful jumpoff skillz.

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Unrelated he’s just really cute at posing in the snow

We started off with a few crossrails to start limbering up, then did an exercise where we trotted a crossrail across the diagonal, cantered through the end of the ring, cantered up a small vertical across the diagonal the other way, then halted in a straight line. We had to remember to ride the jump before the halt- when I started picking too much trying to get a small jump, we ended up having a messy chip and then the halt was harder because we were unbalanced. Once we got some RPMs going and jumped out of stride with more power, the halt came up much more easily because of how balanced he was between my leg and hand.

Then it was gymnastic time! Here’s the grid:

slant gymnastic

Yessirree, the jumps were set this way on purpose! The centers were all set a steady one stride apart- and by steady I mean short. Any attempt to give yourself some room by jumping one side would just screw you over in the next stride- there were definitely a few bounces thrown in there by some of the more exuberant jumpers.

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Straight shot down the middle

Despite a persistent left drift to singles, Francis knows that his job through grids is to go straight until explicitly told otherwise, and he rocked this grid like a pro. Our challenge was finding the right pace in- too much, and we made it harder to fit the smaller steps in. Too little, and we lurched over the first fence and became unbalanced.

Since the strides were so short, there was no time for jump-recover-jump-recover etc. They were all set quite low anyways, so the key was to have truly independent aids- a light seat, leg supporting straightness, and a following hand that still maintained a contact. You know, all really basic stuff that is super easy and I can do in my sleep. HAH.

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Also unrelated, my adopted snarky barn mom/bestie

The last time through was definitely the best, and earned a “that looked downright educated!” from Trainer. We had a balanced powerful stride in, and I was able to stay light in the tack and allow Frankie to figure his legs out without needing to interfere. I’m really proud of him for figuring out the game and using his little brain to make adjustments for himself. We all know that despite his infinite good qualities, he isn’t the fastest thinker, so I’m always very pleased when he uses that noggin for activities other than finding snacks.

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Don’t let his cute face fool you, he is constantly on the lookout for snacks. Despite my No Snack Rule, I caved and gave him an apple that day for being such an excellent goober. Shhh don’t tell anyone.

Random side note- Trainer has decided that she wants pretty much all her actively competing riders to qualify for the VHSA Adult (or Children, as the case may be) Equitation Final this year (to quote her: “I have a bunch of really correct lovely riders, we should absolutely be doing some equitation”), so looks like we’ll be adding some local shows to our calendar to get points for that. We will literally be bringing the classes- you need 3 to fill and we have 3 of each- and Trainer knows all the local show managers, so they’ll be sure to hold the classes for us. To keep costs down, I’m also going to share Frankie with my favorite barn rat for her to do the Children’s while she horse hunts for her next jumper. He can do the 3′ in his sleep and LOVES that kid, so it’ll be a great way for us both to get some local miles without a hefty pricetag. It’ll be a really cool season with the combo of rated jumpers and local eq! We’re definitely keeping Frankie on his toes by asking for lots of different things.

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We discussed this during our weekly barn happy hour, which directly led to me saying SURE SIGN US UP FOR EVERYTHING jk we all know I don’t need alcohol to fuel my poor financial decisions

And just in case you thought you could make it through one dang post without me going all sappy on you, THINK AGAIN. I’ve been going through lots of old blog posts and pictures as I put together a year-end recap, and it  fills me with so much gratitude that I get to go on all these fun adventures with Frankie. It was two short years ago when I made it around the 2′ puddle jumpers at my first rated jumper show, and daydreamed about getting to compete more often. I’m really having to pinch myself about what I’ve gotten to do with Frankie, and what exciting adventures we have coming up in the next year. Love my barn family (4-legged and 2-legged alike!) for helping me achieve things I never could’ve dreamed of!

 

Thought Exercise: Turnout

As you all know, one of my favorite aspects of my barn is everyone’s willingness to talk through different aspects of the industry. Of course my trainer and I spend a ton of time talking about (1) how to ride more better and (2) how to schedule shows to meet my goals without going broke. But she also takes the time to talk to me about the overall industry and the moving parts that make up the equestrian competition world.

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OK real quick I know I’m supposed to be reviewing my jumpoff but what do you think of allowing nose nets in the hunters THIS IS IMPORTANT

One thing that we were talking about recently was turnout. All the horses in our barn get turned out for at least 12ish hours a day, with many staying out closer to 24 hours if the weather is nice (they’ll come in for meals and riding, and then go right back out). They all go out in groups unless they’re in the med paddock, and will only stay in if there is truly extreme weather.

I love this for Frankie. No matter how intense our training program gets, he gets guaranteed “horse time” every day to stretch, roll, interact with his buddies, and relax. Of course there’s always a risk that he could get injured, but for me the benefits of group turnout outweigh the risks. We’ve had several people bring their horses into the barn and warn, “she’s spooky, he’s hot, be careful, he needs a specific bit, etc.” Once they’re on the full turnout schedule, literally every single one of these horses has ended up being completely chill. Without exception.

But this isn’t a blog post about how I’m a big fan of turnout. That’s boring. What I found much more interesting was our discussion of how turnout time actually can have a cascading effect on an entire training program.

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Go play this is crucial to our success

For example: let’s say that Frankie only goes out for 1-2 hours every day. In order to not lose competition-level fitness, this means that he needs to be ridden every day at least once, maybe twice. As a working amateur I certainly don’t have the time to ride twice a day, so Frankie goes into a full training program.

Well, now my horse is being ridden 6 times a week by a professional. So now I have certain expectations for how he will perform. If we struggle with an exercise in my weekly lesson, I’m annoyed that the pro rider didn’t school this enough with him. If we have rails down at a show, that’s my trainer’s fault for not preparing him to go win. I’m paying the trainer big bucks to have Precious Pony in a rigorous program, why pay that money if we’re not going to go win? I have relinquished responsibility for my progress and my results, and put a whole lot of stress on my trainer to be responsible for how I do.

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Someone owes me an apology for having 12 faults on the clock by jump 8.

On the flip side, let’s say that Frankie is turned out every day for 12 hours in a hilly field (which is the real life scenario). He can easily stay fighting fit in a 6 day/week schedule, because he spends most of his day moving up and down hills. That’s a schedule his ammy owner can work with. He may get regular tune-ups from a professional, but the vast majority of his rides come me.

So now the expectations for performance lie within myself, because I’m the one who puts most of the miles on him. If we mess up, I know why- it’s because we need to work harder on XYZ skills. If we do well, I can be really proud of the work that’s gotten us to that point. My trainer is responsible for making sure we’re competing at an appropriate level and giving us the tools we need to succeed, but as the main rider I am responsible for actually following through and giving a good ride. It puts the ownership of the accomplishment (or slip-up) firmly with the rider.

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Holy crap trainer I am an embarrassment to you and your program.

So the attitude and perspectives that we have while exiting the ring can lead back all the way to how much time the horse spends outside.

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See Francis, I told you playing with your friends would help us out

Is this a 100% direct exact correlation? No way! There are plenty of owners and horses that work hard and do well with less turnout, and there are plenty of kooks who turnout 20 hours a day. This is more of a thought exercise on how the pieces of how we care for our horses feed into the way we approach a training program, which feeds into the way we approach competitions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts- how does your approach to care affect how you train or compete?

The Fun Decisions

I don’t know if any of you caught it (why would you?), but for a hot second my sidebar for upcoming shows said:

“Lake Placid June/July 2018 OR Tryon June/July 2018”

I’ll explain.

In the email I received about the Gold Star clinic, they said that they hoped to see me next year at Team Finals, which would be held for my area from July 4-8 at Tryon.

See, my barn has already started making plans to be in Lake Placid at that time. So of course I immediately emailed my trainer to ask what I should do because she runs my life, and she gave me the most ANNOYING ANSWER EVER: “What are your goals for the year? We can make either work depending on what you’d like to do.”

UGH STOP BEING REASONABLE AND ACCOMMODATING AND TRUSTING ME TO MAKE MY OWN DECISIONS WE ALL KNOW THIS IS A BAD IDEA.

So suddenly, I had to make the choice between two incredibly amazing opportunities. A no-lose scenario. Either way, I’d be competing at a gorgeous venue and having a fantastic time. These are the fun decisions!

Considerations about Tryon: I would still be on the radar for USHJA programs and get the chance to try again to make it into a Gold Star clinic. Since Trainer and AT wouldn’t be able to join, they’d send me down with another trainer from the area that I HIGHLY respect, and there’s definite benefit to getting fresh eyes. I’ve heard Tryon is a gorgeous venue.

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THINK OF THE PHOTO OPS

Considerations about Lake Placid: it’s high profile enough that I won’t be fading into obscurity there, especially if we manage to place well. I would have my own trainers to work with and my show family to have fun with. It’s been described as a total paradise, the barn doesn’t go every year, and my family is tentatively willing to come up for a week’s vacation since there’s so much to do in the area besides just show.

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HOLY CRAP STILL THINK OF THE PHOTO OPS

While a tough decision (because both sound so fun and I like to do All The Fun Things), I’ve decided to commit to Lake Placid! At the end of the day I compete because I have a blast doing it, and the idea of doing two weeks of vacation/showing with my barn family sounds like the most fun I could possibly have. Trainer has offered to take us down to Tryon another time since that’s more easily accessible, but I may not get another chance to go north for several years.

Another consideration is that I may simply not get enough points to qualify for Team Finals. Trainer and I have decided that while I’ll spend part of my time in the division where I’ll likely get some points, I’m also going to be dabbling in the 1.20m. I’ll be moving between two divisions enough that it would be difficult to get a lot of points in either. I’m a member of WIHS and NAL so if I get points for that I wouldn’t be mad, but I’m not going to chase those. This will be a very busy competition year of challenging ourselves and progressing- not necessarily qualifying for any big finals. I’m hopeful that this year of some big shows and big tracks will be the set up I need for 2019 to be absolutely killer.

I’m officially no longer sick and SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED about our upcoming show season!!! I’m pinching myself a little that I get to do so many cool things with the best horse on the planet. Can’t wait to take y’all along for the ride!

Lemme know if you’ll be at any of the shows in my sidebar! Frankie and I would LOVE to meet you in person!

Unintentional Hiatus

It’s been a quiet month around here, folks. Coming off of Zone Finals, I figured we would scale back to have a week or two of light work before ramping up for our new season.

Best laid plans, and all that.

First, I went to Florida with the gang. Which was awesome.

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Aw Manfriend real cute

Then I went home to Rhody for 9 days with Manfriend. Which was also awesome.

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I baptized my sweet niece which means I get complete dibs on her as my minion for shenanigans at all future family gatherings.

Then I had my friend’s wedding up in Jersey. Which was gorgeous and awesome.

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College roomies UNITE 

Then Manfriend and I decided to head into NYC to visit friends while we were in the area. Which continued to be awesome.

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100% sure he was singing along to the guy playing the accordion by listing different types of pasta

Then the cold I had been battling for a few days turned into a full-on illness that laid me out for a while longer. Way less awesome. (No pictures of this because I am a marsh creature at the moment)

So for one reason or another, Frankie has jumped approximately 2 times in the last month, and I’ve only ridden him myself a handful of times. He is currently super duper fuzzy- WE LEGIT JUST CLIPPED YOU DUDE- and he’s got a definite Dad-bod going at the moment. My favorite barn rat has been keeping him working and happy and clean (tho he still smells like pee, not her fault, he’s just disgusting) while I’ve  been traveling, but it’s been one of the lightest workloads he’s had since I brought him home.

While definitely not intentional, I think this may be a blessing in disguise. While we will certainly have to work a little harder to get in shape before our show season kicks off in January, a little physical and mental break for both of us is something we rarely do. I’m hoping it’ll help us attack our training program with renewed freshness and energy.

There’s at least one more disruption in our schedule for Christmas, but I’m excited to get back into a program with the Smelly Beast and get ready for 2018!

2017 Show Season Recap

Now that the 2017 USEF show season is officially over, let’s take a look back on the past year of competition to see how we did and how we progressed.

McDonogh Winter Classic

Our first outing of the year in January, and our first time competing in the Highs! This was ostensibly our first time doing the 1.10m classes, but I’ll eat my socks if these jumps were actually 1.10m. They looked maaaaybe 1.0m. So a soft entry into the Highs, which was probably a good thing.

I had zero connection due to constantly slipping reins, but we were able to make it around quickly enough to place well. I was still learning about finding my track and Frankie was still learning about how do turnz, but he was a good sport and we learned a lot. We ran into trouble at the triple combo in the classic which was likely due to that being the third class of a long cold day, and both of us losing energy. Overall, this was a positive first outing of the season despite the bobbles.

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HITS Commonwealth National

Our first real outing at a true 1.10m, but I felt much more confident than I had in January. We were able to go back and do a triple combo really strongly, and he handled the sloppy footing like a champ all weekend. Francis did his first 1.15m round with my trainer and won it. My main areas that needed improvement were letting him get fast and flat and not really doing much of anything about it. We weren’t to the point of doing the inside turns quite yet, but we had noticeable improvement and both of us started knowing what we were doing in the ring.

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Upperville

Oh Upperville. This was probably our best show of the year. I could’ve done a better job of keeping him between my leg and hand, and I didn’t ask hard enough to get the turns I wanted in places, but we went around some big tracks and it went much more smoothly than it had in the past. It was only 2 classes and we didn’t place, but I consider these two of our best rounds to date. For my own record of improvement, I was happy with our ability to go out cold and warm up concisely and correctly both days.

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Zone Jumper Finals: Part 1 and Part 2

By far the biggest and most intense competition experience I’ve ever had. It was so much more involved than any other show- there was a jog, there were rider’s meetings, there was the team aspect. And the courses were definitely bigger and harder than we’ve done before. I could tell that we were some of the less-schooled competitors there in terms of miles and experience, but we held our own and had a couple of strong rounds. We were able to make the inside turns everywhere we wanted to, we opened up our stride, and it was a great stretch of our abilities.

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HITS Culpeper Finals

Our foray out of the jumper ring and into the equitation! This was a great test of our ability to reel it in and do something a bit more polished. Was it expert-level? Absolutely not. Did we have to think very hard about what we were doing and change our ride accordingly? Absolutely. But I’m so pleased with how well Frankie was able to relax and give me a good effort in a new ring, over very different types of jumps. Despite the small class sizes, I’m proud of those ribbons.

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Zone Finals

Our last show of the season was a strangely appropriate mishmash of the entire season. We ran into trouble at a combo, just like in our first show- but we went back and fixed it strongly. I let him get fast and flast like our second show- but he has learned enough self-carriage to bounce up to the jumps. We used our warmup to school some skills, like Upperville. We used our inside-turn skills and eye to the bigger fences, like Team Finals. It felt like we were really able to apply what we had learned- not necessarily in having the best rides, but in being able to go out there and make stronger corrections more quickly. There were highs and lows, but I walked away proud of my horse and feeling like both of us have improved immensely since the beginning of our season. Getting a high ribbon in a competitive class was big icing on the cake.

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What’s next?

I’m excited for our 2018 season! It looks like it’ll be a year of quality over quantity on the show front- with some big hitters like WEC and Lake Placid on the agenda, I likely won’t have the budget or vacation time to do much else. I’m hoping to fit in some smaller one-days nearby to get points, make a showing at Upperville again, and see if I can try some new venues. It’ll depend a lot on the money situation (as usual!). We may also try to fit in a clinic or two, depending on who comes to town. I’m not going to commit to a division quite yet- I suspect we’ll want to spend most of our time in the Highs at 1.10-1.15m, but I do want to test our limits a bit in a 1.20m class if possible. We’ll see how Frankie and I are feeling as we get more into show season. I very very much want to continue growing and progressing up the levels, and I can’t wait to get to work!