Show Recap: WEC 9

So we last left off on Monday, when the ponies got the day off and I got some work done. I was in high spirits coming off a really successful first week- not every round was perfect, but I felt like we were learning a TON together and that’s always my goal.

Then we hit week 2.

It turns out that the first week of a horse show is fun. Duh. We already knew that. It turns out that the second week of a horse show is not about having fun. It is about sheer mental and physical endurance to do the damn thing.

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Never get sick of seeing our names up there in lights tho

But I’ll back up to the beginning of the week to walk us through.

Tuesday I hopped on for a short lesson in the jumper ring, where we popped over a few low fences. The windows were all open to let the beautiful breeze in, and we had a great ride practicing getting our forward canter to the base (that will always be a skill I have to practice). We didn’t want to tire him out, so after a few successful efforts we called it a day and I hopped back on my computer to continue working.

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Took regular hand-walking breaks to get outside and let him graze when the weather was nice

Wednesday we signed up for two schooling classes, the Low at 1m, and the Medium at 1.07-1.10m. Course here:

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The Low trip was, as my trainer so eloquently put it, “a little potato-y.” Like, not awful. We went clear for a blue ribbon. Just underpowered. We only went clear because Frankie can walk over 1m. I had gotten him on a bit of a half-step to the combo at 6ab and we lurched through a bit, so I knew I wanted to correct that track from 5. We went back into the warmup and I fired him up a bit before going back in for the Mediums with the same course.

And jumps 1-5 came up a TON better. He was firing harder and I was riding harder to help him out. And I went ahead and corrected my track to 6ab. I corrected it so far, in fact, that I got him to a different half-step. He politely tried and then politely came back down to earth when he realized he couldn’t make it, but I was JUMPING THAT DANG COMBO DAMMIT and went ahead without him.

Womp womp.

On the plus side, I get full points for taking all the poles down with me. Right? That’s how that works? Poor Francis seemed very confused to see me down there- I’ve never popped off him before- but true to his nature, he waited patiently for me to hop to my feet.

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Nice. Hopping.

I got right back on and we popped over a fence in the warmup ring, just so we could both end the day on a positive note. I knew I didn’t have any real damage- just some stiffness from bracing, and a positively glorious bruise on my hip (it’s still developing and shifting colors!).

So on Thursday I went ahead and said I DON’T WANNA JUMP. I was stiff and sore and limping and had zero desire to hang on over a course. AT took Francis in the Low Schooling instead so he could get a pro tuneup, and I hopped on later in the day to flat around- turns out that the movement from riding really did help loosen me up and work out a lot of the kinks. Riding: good for what ails you.

 

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“You are a mystical healer” PC Tracy

You know what else is good for what ails you? The onsite chiro at WEC. Dude is a wizard. I went into his tent for 40 minutes and emerged sans limp and with waaaay less stiffness. I really loved his philosophies on body work (basically he’s a terrible businessman because he doesn’t try to upsell unnecessary sessions but he’s an actual good human) and he knew that the main goal was to get comfortably back in the saddle. I made everyone in the barn go see him and they loved him too.

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We went to the 1.35m Welcome that night as a team and enjoyed our wine. Best barn family a girl could ask for.

 

So then we got to Friday, which was the start of the division! At this point, I was seriously considering dropping down to the Lows for the weekend. We know that language has power, so I’m simply going to say it this way- there is an huge opportunity for me to improve my ride up to and through combos. I worried that I was going to continue making similar mistakes at the bigger height and put Francis in an unfair spot.

But, the show must go on. I hopped on Friday for our power/speed class, and in full honesty: this was the first time I have ever gone into the show ring on Frankie feeling nervous. I’ve had anxious energy before, but this time I was straight up nervous.

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Trainer knows how to break up my tension though. We have a tradition- the last thing she always says as I go in the ring is “go have fun,” and I always respond with “I always do.” Those little routines make me so happy.

Thankfully I have the best big beast in the world, and as soon as we cleared jump 1 I came back to myself and realized we know what we’re doing out there.

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I was actually quite happy with how this rode. The line up 4-5 particularly felt really bouncy and strong, and Frankie rocked back nicely for me.

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And he entered the ring looking like a BAMF

And then I turned a little too early to 8ab because I was freaking out about riding up to another combo, which meant that I sliced 8A left-to-right and Francis continued on a straight line that did not include 8B hahahahahahaha I’m actually still laughing at this. I got confused on the re-approach and just left the ring making faces and giggling at my idiocy.

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Aw bubba so sweet with your anxiety-ridden mother who has hangups about turning left

So sure we didn’t actually officially complete the course, but I felt like I got a lot of my mojo back. Frankie clearly wasn’t holding any grudges, he just expected me to steer. Which apparently was not a realistic expectation for him to have.

On to Saturday! Despite feeling a lot more confident after my round the previous day, I was 110% done with competing. I had zero desire to go in the ring. I was cool with riding, but had NO competitive edge. At all. For the first time ever, I went to my trainer and said, “I don’t want to show today.” And she responded with, “you don’t have a choice.”

I was at the physical, mental, and emotional level of dealing poorly with literally everything at that point, so I called Fiance in tears about how badly I didn’t want to go in the ring. And then I wiped my face, went back to the barn, tacked up, and went in the ring. Because at that point it was about proving to myself and my trainer that I had the grit to go do the job.

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By the time we went in the ring, I had my game face back on.

Here’s our speed round:

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You guys, I cowboyed around this course. I literally one-handed it through 4AB because I had one hand behind my leg with the crop. Our turn from 6 to 7 to 8 actually rode quite nicely, he balanced and turned well for me. 8 to 9AB walked in a fairly direct bending 6, and I shaped HARD for an 8 in there because I wanted us to get super straight in. No more drive-bys for me! As I told my trainer when I came out of the ring, “I didn’t care if we had any problems anywhere else, but I REFUSED to have an issue with any of the combos.” Mission completed.

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Hahahahaha so many faults on the scoreboard

It was an ugly course, and I was really proud of it. I rode the crap outta my horse around there, because he was tired and not really helping me out and I had to pick him up and carry him with me over those jumps. Despite a 12 fault score, other people had an even worse day (I saw at least 4 people fall off at 4A) and we snuck a 7th place in this class. I am glad we got a ribbon, because it did feel like an accomplishment despite the messy bits.

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And there were several rather nice bits like this. 

Saturday night at dinner, we may have all started chanting “ONE MORE DAY” to get us through it. All of us were fried, including the horses. And the dogs.

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Caught him napping every single day, because he knows how to treat himself.

So we finally reached the last day. Sunday. Classic Day. Everything was loaded on the trailer except Francis, because we were the last riders from our barn to go in the ring. It was time to wrap this up. Course here:

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You guys. I could not be prouder of Frankie. He jumped his heart out over this whole course. He was clearly exhausted- and usually when he’s tired like that, he kinda mentally checks out. Not that he’s bad or anything, just that he phones it in and doesn’t want to go play. Not so this time. He was right there with me every step of the way saying “I’m tired but I’ll give it a go for you.” It was such a wonderful show of partnership from him.

The first bending was just a little underpowered, but I woke him up out of the corner and 3 to 4AB came up really nicely. Bending 5 to 6 was a shaped 6 strides to 4 strides out over 7, and I needed to wait with my shoulders a bit to help him fit that 4 in more easily. I continued straight for a few strides after 7 to help us square up the turn to 8, then galloped him up to it. I knew that he would have trouble with the short one given how tired he was, so I tried to get him to a bit of a gap to give him a break. Bending up to 9AB he just needed a quick tap to get his attention, then I let him open up to 10 and galloped him home over 11.

We had a bunch of rails. But I felt like I actually made decisions that were right for the horse I had under me, and he responded by giving me every single thing I asked for. The poor guy was tired, and I can’t fault him for that- I don’t think those rails would have fallen in week 1.

I don’t have any pics from our second classic, but Tracy took some WONDERFUL ones when she came last week!!!

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Frankie. Over there. I’m going to need you to handle that line. 
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Jump 1 was REAL cute
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I don’t know what I love more- my trainer’s look of defeated concern, my look of giddy panic, or Frankie’s halfhearted “why are you doing this to me” face
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I sent this to trainer and she asked what part of the course it was from, to which I responded “judging by your face, it was right before shit hit the fan.”
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IT’S A SHAME HE HAS TO WORK SO HARD OVER THE HEIGHT.

We snapped a few quick pictures, cooled Francis out, stuck him on the trailer, and I got in the car for the 8 hour journey home.

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Francis smiling with his ribbons
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Biggest boy so excited to go home!

The End.

Nah you know I can’t wrap it up that abruptly. I need more closure than that. But I will save my thoughts on WEC as a venue for another post- the good, the bad, the smelly. Let me know if you have any specific questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them as well!

Right now I’m feeling burned out- physically, mentally, emotionally. It was a LOT. But I also feel stronger, more knowledgeable, proud, and like I’m actually learning how to ride. I know that last bit sounds a little silly, but it’s true. Frankie has spent so long taking care of me, and I finally feel like I’m learning how to take care of him more when he needs it. Our partnership keeps growing and growing and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

Francis got a much-deserved break on Monday and Tuesday, and I’ll be headed out for a light hack after work to stretch those muscles. He’s back to all-day turnout with his buddies, and we’ll be having the vet out soon to give him a full exam. He’s healthy and sound, but we just asked for a lot of hard work from him and we’re going to continue having a busy season- I want us to be extremely proactive in managing his health and fitness as we keep moving and moving up (spoiler alert Homeboy is probs doing the 1.20m with AT next time out WUTTUP).

A few thank yous to wrap us up:

A huge thank you to Tracy and Monica for coming out to see us, and Tracy for snapping pics!! Getting to turn an online friendship into a real-life thing was amazeballs.

Buddy Fianci, for listening to me complain about being at a horse show for too long and not pointing out the obvious that this is literally the dumbest thing to ever complain about. And for being mega supportive in cheering us on from afar. And for being cute. And I just like him a lot is all.

Big big big thank you to my boss and my CEO for giving the thumbs up for me to work remotely while I was competing. I never-in-a-million-years thought that competing for 2 weeks would be a possibility at this point in my career, and their enthusiastic permission to chase my dreams means the world to me.

Hugest thank yous to my trainers and the people who helped us get to the ring every day. They were endlessly supportive and encouraging (even when I was a lumpy crabcake) and none of this would be possible without their tireless devotion to the horses. I’m so grateful that Frankie gets such attentive and knowledgeable care, inside the ring and out.

And as always, Frankie. What can I say? He is the horse of a lifetime. I still don’t know how I got so lucky to have him in my life. From leaping huge obstacles together to taking quiet walks, getting to spend all day every day with him was the greatest gift. He is an incredible creature and I couldn’t love him more.

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PC Tracy
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30 Things

I promise I’m working on a write-up of WEC 9, but this hop was too fun not to join in! I’m a perpetual oversharer so maybe you know a lot of this, but here’s a bunch of things about me that don’t relate to horses:

1. I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in biological engineering, concentrating in biomedical engineering. I always look at people a little funny when they say how much fun college was- I had plenty of good times and wouldn’t change a thing, but it was not what I would call “fun.” It was the best education I could ask for, but it was hard.

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With our favorite prof on graduation day

2. I don’t do cold. I grew up in New England, went to school in NY, and promptly moved down to Virginia to escape the cold. I did my time, I have no interest in being cold ever again. One snow per year is enough for me.

3. I am a full on Northern Virginia convert. I love love love living here so much. It’s stupidly expensive and the traffic sucks, but it is beautiful and diverse and exciting and amazing. Like, I understand that people want to live other places, but pretty sure Nova is the best possible place.

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I can get pictures like this, and also have any cuisine I want within 5 minutes.

4. Cheese. I love cheese. All I ever want is cheese. Good day? Celebrate with cheese. Bad day? Drown my sorrows in cheese. Buddy Fianci is the best at arranging cheese plates and it’s a huge reason why we need to lock this thing down legally forever. Kidding. But it does help.

5. I love love love crossword puzzles. I do every one that I can get my hands on. Sometimes I struggle with TV or movie references since I don’t watch that much, but I can usually puzzle it out (ha) from the other clues.

6. Along the same lines, I love trivia games. I’m still in an online trivia group with my old coworkers and I play every day! I’m in a rivalry with my old CIO and send him snotty messages when I beat him. I think his ego needs it.

7. I have a really hard time doing just one thing, with few exceptions: reading an amazing book or riding my horse. Otherwise, I need to have music going, a crossword puzzle (see above), and three text conversations just to be able to watch a TV show.

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Probably the only time I’m ever completely focused (also I had to sneak more Francis in here somewhere)

8. My favorite genres to read are historical fiction and fantasy. I just really love reading about places and times and worlds that I can’t experience outside the book. The Wheel of Time series has been an incredibly huge presence in my life since I was young.

9. I dyed my hair all different colors when I was younger- every shade from platinum blonde to almost black, and even purple once. I was always a pretty conservative dresser and a good kid, so this was my way of branching out a bit. I’ve been my natural shade of mousy brunette for years now, but I still think of myself as blonde (I always use the blonde emojis).

10. I connect most with people over humor. You can be the nicest most interesting person in the world, but I’m not particularly interested in spending time together unless we can laugh. All my closest friends are sharp and witty and amazing people, and Buddy Fianci is hands down the funniest person I have ever met.

11. My heritage is 50% Greek from my mother, and 50% Scottish/Irish/English from my father. Basically, I have extremely pale olive-toned skin.

12. My mom and I traveled all over the world together just the two of us when I was younger- cruises, two trips to Italy, Mexico, etc. The most amazing trip was when I was in college, when we toured around Tuscany over spring break. I had just taken an Art History class, and she took me to see all the masterpieces in person. She’s the best travel buddy ever, and my best friend.

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Sunglasses twins.

13. My oldest brother is 10 years older, and he basically helped raise me. I went into engineering in large part because he went into engineering and I wanted to be just like him, and I lived with him and my sister-in-law for 6mo after graduating college. I’m incredibly close with both of them (I couldn’t be closer to my sister-in-law if we had actually shared a womb), and am godmother to their younger little girl!

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Living with them was the best ever

14. My other brother is 5 years older, and is so much cooler than all of us in every way. He is talented musically, artistically, financially, socially, and in any other area you can think of. He married an equally sparkling woman and between the two of them, they are probably the most-loved couple in RI. Not even exaggerating. Every single person that meets them loves them. I get it, they’re awesome.

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Totally candid normal picture, guys

15. To round out the immediate family, my dad is basically a superhuman. He’s a fetal surgeon, a professor at an Ivy League medical school, and a colonel in the Air National Guard, where he also serves as state air surgeon. He’s a true renaissance man- he loves history and reading poetry to us (and is an incredible reader), sails his boat all summer, and is beyond devoted to my mother. You can’t talk to him for 5 minutes without him mentioning how much he loves her. I talk to my father every single day, and he is the most supportive, encouraging, compassionate man on the planet.

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Best dad/person ever

16. I’m big into hydration. I drink tons and tons of water all day erry day. My Beloved Betrothed carries a Nalgene with him everywhere and I lovingly refer to him as my constant source of clean fresh drinking water.

17. I met my roommate on Craigslist several years ago, and now we are maids-of-honor in each other’s weddings. It was fate. We are polar opposites in every way, but that’s why it works (also she’s hilarious, see point #10).

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We’re gonna need to get a duplex because we need to live together forever

18. I don’t like icing, or plain sugary candies. Chocolate- yes. Sugar- no. I’ll scrape the icing off of cupcakes and cakes, and would much rather have some pie. We vetoed the wedding cake- we’re going with doughnuts instead (Dunkin 4 lyfe).

19. I have spreadsheets for my spreadsheets. Everything goes in a spreadsheet. All wedding planning is in spreadsheets. All budgeting for my life is in spreadsheets (I made a baller daily tracker). Google Sheets runs my life.

20. I grew up doing alllll sorts of different activities- I did ballet on a pre-professional track into my teens (I quit to pursue riding more); played tennis recreationally; spent most summers out on the water at sailing camp; took piano, violin, flute, and trumpet lessons (I ended up on the trumpet and was first chair in high school); ice skated often; practiced with the swim team despite never being on the team; and obviously rode ponies.

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Also went to zoo camp because I was very cool.

21. I hate loud noises and countdowns. I can be totally zen, but if someone starts saying “ten…nine…” I will FLIP OUT. Dearest Fiance thinks this is hysterical and threatens me with countdowns on the regular.

22. I don’t cook. I used to try and pretend that I would, but I’ve stopped lying to myself. I can cook, I just don’t. Baking is my fun rainy day activity, but Fiance is for sure the chef of the household- he enjoys it and is really good at putting meals together. Thank goodness, because I am queen of the microwave.

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Legit our third date he came and cooked for me. Also OMG what a baby he was.

23. I was raised in the Greek Orthodox church and my faith is very much a strong part of my identity. Getting married in the Greek church is hugely important to me, and I’m so so so grateful that Fiance is on board with that (it’s gonna be My Big Fat Greek Wedding WHATSUP).

24. If money was no object, I would probably go into tutoring full time. I love working with all ages to develop problem-solving skills. I wouldn’t want to be a teacher- I don’t do groups like that- but working one-on-one with people to learn together is one of the most satisfying feelings ever.

25. I’m a very outgoing introvert. I LOVE meeting new people and will strike up conversations with just about anyone (especially at a horse show), but at the end of the day I recharge best with some quiet time at home.

26. While most people call me Olivia, the people close to me call me Liv, and my family calls me Livy. I was Livy to everyone growing up- teachers, friends, friends’ parents, etc., but really only my parents and siblings call me that anymore.

27. I wear sunscreen on my face every day. My Nana always drilled sun safety into us and I think of her every morning when I put my sunscreen on.

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Also grew up going to the beach at every opportunity, so my fair skin has always needed lots of protection.

28. I’m a huge list person- probably why I wanted to join in this blog hop so badly! It’s why I gravitate towards spreadsheets so much- I make lists to organize my thoughts for work, personal life, etc. It’s just how my brain works.

29. I’ve only ever had one car- my Jeep, Benjamin. I’ve had him since I was 17 and now at 125k+ miles, he’s trying to die and I won’t let him. I’ll be driving that Jeep until it falls apart, which hopefully won’t be for another couple of years.

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Benjamin was there for the world’s best proposal

30. I’m not a big jewelry person except for two pieces- my engagement ring (duh), and my class ring. I feel naked without them.

I’ve loved reading all of yours, hope you enjoyed learning a little more about me!

WEC 8

We made it through our first week of WEC! As I write this, it’s Monday morning- the ponies have the day off, but I’m sitting in our barn area answering emails and catching up on work. I can hear the horses munching their hay, I can see Frankie poking his nose out at me to say hello every so often, and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.

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I have wifi and an outlet, coffee and the smell of hay. Best. Workstation. Ever.

But let me back up to the start of the week! Frankie arrived here last Monday and according to Trainer, handled the travel like a champ and came off the trailer feeling dandy. Not bad for such a long ride. He got training rides Mon/Tues to get him going while I was impatiently waiting to depart.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon. It was certainly a long drive (with the several breaks I took, about 8 hours) but not too terribly difficult, and with my early 5:45am start I was here by early afternoon. I even got to hop on for a brief hack around the Sanctuary (the jumper ring) and pop over a few jumps in the warmup ring in a mini-lesson. Spoiler alert- Francis felt like a million bucks. We kept the jumps tiny and just focused on super straightness and power off the ground. I can feel it when we get it right, it’s just developing the feel to consistently get it every single time.

You guys, this place is HUGE. ENORMOUS. ALL INDOORS. On days like today where the weather is nice, they open up allll the doors to let the fresh air in, but when it’s cold they button us up and blast the heat- it snowed last week, and I was too warm wearing a light sweater inside that day.

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How are you so cute???

Our first day of competition was Thursday, where we had signed up for a Medium Schooling Jumper class at 1.07-1.10m to get us in the ring and feeling good. I don’t have a picture of the course diagram, but I do have something even better- I have video! Don’t get mad, but this is the only video I have of the entire week.

Overall I’m really pleased with this round! It was our first time in the ring and Francis was a consummate professional. I got popped out of the tack a few times and buried him to the base of at least one jump, but he was forward and fresh and had more than enough power to bail me out. Not perfect, but a fantastic start to the week. This was a blue/red round (clear rounds get a blue ribbon and the rest get a red) and despite some clonking of rails we managed to go clear- I ain’t mad about starting the week with a blue ribbon!

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OH MY GOD HORSE YOU ARE AN ANGEL

I spent the rest of Thursday getting work done, hand walking Frankie, cleaning tack, and generally soaking in the awesomeness that is getting to work remotely.

Friday was our first day of the division- we just had one II.2.b (immediate jumpoff) class for the Highs. Course here:

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Frankie warmed up fantastically, and jumps 1-4 came up smoothly and beautifully. Then I forgot literally everything I’ve ever learned and shoved him at the combo on a half-step. REAL SMART. Frankie very understandably declined to go into an in-an-out with an orangutan piloting. We circled around to re-approach, I shoved him at it just as badly but he is an excellent goober so he made it through somehow, I lost a stirrup, I shoved him at the next jump, and he was like OK THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE PRACTICED. And then I left the ring apologizing to my horse.

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“Maybe you should apologize for taking me away from my 3rd nap of the day, lady”

I could not tell you why this happened. I mean I can clearly tell you what went wrong and how I could’ve fixed it, but I cannot figure out why I went full potato. I was feeling really frustrated with myself to be honest. I kinda wanted to go crawl in a hole and wallow a bit in my own inadequacy. Luckily, I work with a trainer who is a strong believer in ending on a good note- she arranged for me to go around one of the Low classes to get our confidence back. It wasn’t a perfect course, but it absolutely served its purpose of giving us our mojo back. Wise lady.

Saturday we were signed up for two classes- a speed class, and another jumpoff class. My plan was to go in for the speed class and see how it went, and then decide if we needed another round to school before the classic.

Here’s the speed course:

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Jump 1 towards home came up perfectly. I went between the oxer and vertical and then gave myself a few straight strides to 2. I kept him straight between my leg and hand into the combo, and was able to soften and kick a bit into it. We ended up leaving out a stride out over 4, but he was so balanced and responsive that I was able to do the turn inside 8 to get to 5. He fired over that oxer like you wouldn’t believe. I had to steady him a bit towards home down that diagonal line. Then I went around the oxer to give him a straightaway to the second combo, and he just flowed over that so beautifully. I had to sit him back to a short one over 8, then opened up before rocking back for the final line towards home. Double clear and fast.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this round was my best round I’ve ever put in at a show. It wasn’t picture perfect at every step, but I felt so dang in tune with my horse and effective. Every inside turn came up effortlessly for him, he rated back and forth off my seat super quickly, and was firing on all cylinders. This is the round that I would KILL to have video of.

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Happy snugs

We left the ring sitting in first, and held that lead to win the class. Our first blue ribbon as a team. There were tears. This felt like a ribbon that we had truly earned by being good, not just by being lucky or by having soft competition.

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omg

We decided to scratch the next class- we weren’t going to get any better schooling than that! I’m also a fan of saving Frankie’s legs where we can, there’s no need to tire him out unnecessarily.

Sunday was classic day, and also visitor day! We had Monica (formerly of the OTTB Eventer) and Tracy of the Printable Pony come to visit! It was sooo fantastic to get to connect in real life and introduce the Frankfurter. Blogger meetups are my fave!

Here’s our classic course:

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Jumps 1 to 2 felt good. I let him get a little fast and flat through the turn, so we lurched a bit over 3, but I was able to get him back for the combo (we did knock a rail on the way out). 5 to 6 was a bit of a mad scramble as I didn’t really half halt enough (also that oxer at 6 was so freakin’ huge I almost peed my pants when I walked the course), and we kinda barreled our way through 7ab. Again- I wasn’t supporting him enough. He was more tired than on previous days and that means he needs more support from me to maintain the bouncy canter we needed. Coming off the combo I put my leg on HARD and got him underneath me, and the last three jumps felt fantastic! Really bouncy and flowing well.

So not our best course, but nothing to be ashamed of either. We spent so long developing that “forward” button, now I’m trying to transition to better channeling that forward without killing the energy. It’s all part of the process! Like I told Monica and Tracy- I might not be the best rider out there, but I’m definitely having the most fun. Pretty sure I have the bestest horse out there too.

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Yasss frannndssss!!!!

Frankie has felt like a million bucks all week. I’ve loved working with the french-link elevator, and Frankie has been going fantastically in it. It’s soft enough that he wants to come over onto the bit, but I actually get a real reaction when I half-halt. We’re still learning, but I think it’s a great tool in our tool box.

You guys, he is a different horse than I brought home almost 2 years ago. He is such a patient teacher as I learn new ways of communicating with him, and he continues to give his all every time we raise the bar. He’s still willing to bail me out when I need it, but he is ready and able to give me such incredible work when I’m on my game. I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet to have this kind of partnership with this animal. EMOTIONS.

He’ll get today off, a light hack on Tuesday, a short lesson Wednesday, then we’ll back back at it on Thursday! I can’t wait to tell you how it goes.

No Less Than 100 Percent

One of my favorite topics of discussion with my trainer is around finding the right match of horse and rider- I consider myself so ridiculously blindingly amazingly lucky in that I have a horse that could not be more perfectly matched to me, so I’m fascinated by all the factors that go into making that match.

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Seriously, he could not be more perfect for me in any way. I adore him so much.

I do think that a lot of it is impossible to know before the horse and rider get to know each other (we certainly didn’t think Francis would be this incredible), but some pieces can be fairly apparent off the bat.

Maybe we don’t stick the 5’6″-and-growing 12yo girl on a medium pony.
The kid with aspirations in the hunter ring will probably be happiest on a mount with good movement and a nice jump.
A timid rider will likely become more nervous on a horse with quirks like head shaking or kicking out.

That’s not to say that none of this is insurmountable (except for the pony thing, for the love of god stop handicapping your kids into the pony divisions. But that’s a rant for another day). The hunter kid might be able to work with a horse to develop better movement, and the timid rider might be able to learn some guts to ride the quirky horses. It happens every day. But for a horse that someone wants to be able to ride comfortably immediately, there are plenty of things that make that partnership much easier to build quickly.

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For example, if you have a rider who can’t see a distance to save her life, you should probably find a remarkably tolerant animal to cart her around while she learns.

One way my trainer likes to put it is that in a good partnership, there needs to be at least 100% confidence in/desire to do their job. The horse and the rider together make up this percentage. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to talk about jumping because that’s the world I know, but I think this can apply to any discipline.

If the rider is really really timid and isn’t sure if they want to make it over the jump, then the horse needs to be so well-schooled that it is definitely going. In these cases, the horse makes up for the inexperience/uneasiness of the rider.

If the horse is green or nervous and doesn’t want to jump (or if the the horse is tired, as sometimes happens with Frankie), the rider needs to have 100% conviction that they are getting to the other side. In these cases, the rider makes up for the inexperience/uneasiness of the horse.

Anything less than a sum of 100% can lead to a runout- either because the rider pulls out of the track, or because the horse stops.

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Or it leads to your saint of a horse overjumping by 2′ because he doesn’t realize that a runout is an option

The best partnerships are where you’re above 100%- where both the horse and rider are eager to go do their job together. The top showjumpers are operating at 200%, with mounts that are incredibly well trained and confident, and with riders who know how to encourage the best work from their horses.

I’d say that Frankie regularly operates at around 60-70%. I am confident that he is going to jump the jump in front of him- he has never given me a dirty stop. He locks on more often than he used to, but he’ll never be the drag-you-to-the-fence type. I don’t think he’s at 100%, because if I pull or don’t steer he won’t jump the jump- because he assumes I don’t want him to. When he gets tired- at the end of a long course, or in the second trip of the day, or later in the week- this percentage goes down a bit. Not because he’s unwilling, but because he needs more support from me.

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Mahm. Tired. Pls help. (still best pony tho)

I think I’m operating probably around 60-70% as well. It may be ugly, it may be messy, but I will jump the damn jump. I don’t have any baggage of riding a stopper and I ride a horse that will always give me what I ask, so in general I don’t pull out of a line/off a track unless I think I will legitimately hurt myself or Frankie by asking him to go for it. In the past my percentage has gone down as well as I get tired, so I’m working hard to make sure I can actually raise my percentage- to make up for any drops in Frankie’s. I’ll also be able to raise my percentage by improving my skills on course.

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I will help you navigate the massive chip I rode you to, darling boy

That makes for a combined percentage of at least 100%, which is part of why I love this horse so dang much. We both have such a fun time going out there and doing our thing.

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The face of a horse that knows he’s gone and done a great job. Happy Francis.

Of course, our goal is to constantly increase that percentage as a team. For Frankie that means building the “fire” in his step and building his fitness so that he doesn’t flag at the end of a long day. For me it also means building fitness, and it also means improving my cues to the point of being able to encourage the best possible jump out of my horse. That way if I’m ever on a horse that’s less perfect than Frankie (so literally any other horse), I can lend them some confidence that we’ll make it over together.

What do you think about this way of looking at a partnership? What do you think your and your horse’s percentages are?

PS- By the time this posts, I should be several hours into my journey west. Talk to y’all from WEC!!!!

Sore and Ready

I wasn’t planning on blogging before heading out to Ohio, but I just had the most motivating session with my trainers and I have to share with all y’all.

The best way I can think of to sum it up is as follows:

Learning how to ride is kinda hard.
Learning how to ride WELL is super freakin’ hard.
Learning how to ride in a way that shows nuance and expertise is EXPONENTIALLY HARDER THAN ALL OF THAT.

As I had mentioned, Assistant Trainer and I set up a time for me to watch her ride Frankie and then have me hop on for some coaching on replicating that ride. It ended up being about 30 minutes of AT riding with constant commentary (mad respect for being able to multitask like that) and then 30 minutes of me working with Francis- and I could barely keep track of my limbs, let alone speak.

First off- Frankie looked AMAZING with AT. I’m such a visual learner and getting to see what kind of work he is capable of makes me that much more confident and excited about achieving it with him myself. I wish I had video to show you, but I was too wrapped up in listening and watching.

Some of the key takeaways that AT shared throughout both her ride and mine:

  • Walking needs to be powerful and forward. While warming up we’re not at all worried about where his head is- we are entirely focused on getting him moving off the leg and pushing powerfully from behind. Insisting on straightness- no wiggling out of a powerful forward walk.
  • A good way to encourage him to open up his stride more at the walk is alternating leg aids- cue with my left heel as he’s about to pick up his left hind, right heel for right hind, etc. Getting him more sensitive to my cues will help make this more effective at encouraging the activity from behind.
  • The contact on the outside rein needs to be steady- it does not need to be heavy, but it does need to be consistently present at all times. Test his self-carriage often by releasing the inside rein. He should not change pace or the shape of his body.
  • Stretch breaks are good, but that doesn’t mean throwing away the work. He is never allowed to grab the reins out of my hands- when I like what he is doing, I can feed the reins to him and encourage the stretch down. Part of working the most effectively with him is timing our breaks to be just as much of a training tool as the active work.
  • Insist more. Frankie is a well-trained, athletic, fancy horse- if I stick to my guns and continue asking, he will give me correct work. I can’t get lazy or he will get lazy. This doesn’t mean that he can’t do the work, it just means that I have to keep supporting and encouraging the right answer.
  • No more calling him a llama. The language we use matters, so we are only allowed to call him a fancy shmancy show horse. My new go-to is gonna be FancyPants Francis, but I’m open to other posh nicknames for the big guy.
  • Carrying himself properly is really hard work, and we can’t expect him to do it all the time quite yet. At the same time, we need to ask for it a little more every time so that we build that strength and build that muscle memory for him. He lets us know that he’s tired by getting strung out or trying to break- that’s when it’s on us to work really hard to support him for another half-lap or so to push just a liiiiittle bit more. Not enough to fatigue him, just enough to push a little harder than last time.
  • Drop my stirrups as often as needed. Especially when working at the sitting trot, go ahead and drop my stirrups so I can wrap around his barrel and get him super active to my leg. As he gets stronger and learns more self-carriage, that trot is getting a lot bouncier, but his back is also getting rounder and softer so sitting is getting easier.
  • At all times: straightness. Keep a major focus on where his hips are- is he trying to slide them to the inside or outside? Stay very vigilant about keeping his whole body on one smooth track unless explicitly asking for lateral movements. Keeping a steady outside rein will mostly take care of his shoulders, but let hands go wide if he needs some help finding that center track for his front half.
  • Don’t ride his head. When we are pushing powerfully from behind, we’re straight through his body, I have a steady contact on the outside rein, and am half-halting from my seat and inside rein, he will be poll-high and in the bridle. The goal is not a false headset- it’s that he’s so strong and soft through his body that he is pushed up into the bridle. If he gets too high- add more leg. If he gets too low- half-halt from my seat.
  • Almost think to counter-bend through the end of the ring. Frankie is happy to pretzel into a false bend and that is not productive. Keep that strong outside rein (notice a pattern yet?) and use my outside leg to keep his haunches on a smooth track through the turns.
  • When coming down to a walk, no plopping. He must continue forward on the contact. Do not feed him the reins until he is giving me the walk I want.

And this isn’t even everything- just the high level recap. It was mentally and physically a hugely demanding session- I was getting feedback on what to tweak with literally every single stride.

I basically rode in circles for 30 minutes, and my legs are about to fall off. All of this was hard. My brain felt like a hamster on a wheel trying to put all of these pieces together, my legs are like cooked noodles from the sheer intensity of the workout, and I’m still heavily ruminating on all the work we did.

None of these things are new concepts, it all basically boils down to inside leg to outside rein. It’s just the timing and subtlety of these aids that is some next-level work. AT assures me that with enough practice, these cues and their timing will become as automatic as keeping my heels down- I’m pretty sure it’ll take a good long time to get to that point but I’m hopeful.

Trainer was there as well so I had both her and AT working with us. Talk about intense. She told me that she’s not as fixated on my position so much anymore- there are certainly always going to be things to fix and improve upon, but she knows I know the job. Our focus now is on being the most effective rider I can be. In her words, “this is the difference between coming out to the barn to ride, and coming out to train. It’s time to train.”

So now I am incredibly sore and incredibly motivated. It feels like we’re really kicking it into a whole new gear and I couldn’t be more excited to get to work with my FancyPants pony.

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Our WEC Schedule: As Told by GIFS

I’ve talked a lot about how we’re preparing for WEC, but I haven’t really talked about what WEC will actually look like. So here’s a rambling timeline of what’s happening when and how and where and why and who and all that fun stuff.

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This weekend: get a few final rides in, clean EVERYTHING, and pack my trunk. Give Francis an extra solid grooming and make sure the Treat Fairy leaves some snacks for him to find.

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What I look like to Frankie when I leave carrots in his bucket. Treat Fairy FTW.

Monday: Trainer, AT, and the horses hit the road bright and early. Or really, dark and early. It’ll be an 8-9 hr ride and they’re planning on getting there by mid afternoon so they can ride all the ponies- they’ll need some stretching of the legs after a long day in the trailers. I’ll still be in VA, going to work and making final preparations.

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Francis after getting out of the trailer

Tuesday: Trainers will get the horses more settled and our stalls set up. Another pro ride for Francis. I will again, still be in VA and working and packing.

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Me at work Tues

Wednesday: Travel day for me, which means a vacation day from work! I’ll hop in the car for the 7-8hr ride out west. I’m hoping to hit the road early enough that I can be there in time for an afternoon hack/lesson with the Beast. Tentative plan is to stay on an air mattress in a friend’s cabin (a series of rooming options fell through all at once, so I’m kinda scavenging beds at this point. Luckily I have the best barn fam to help me out!).

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I have plans with the barn children

Thursday: I’m working part time (probs about 4 hours), so I’ll need to time this around my ride(s). Potentially doing a warmup class to get us in the ring before our division starts. This day will be a combination of doing my job, riding my horse, and keeping in touch with my wedding vendors.

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What Thursday will look like

Friday: I preemptively took a full vacation day from work so I can focus on riding. This will be the first day of my division- we’re doing the Highs. Just one class this day. I’ll spend the time that I’m not riding helping our other riders and hanging out! Probs also doing wedding stuff too honestly.

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Time to go ride the horse for realz

Saturday: Two classes for the Highs. This will just be a horsey day with no work or wedding stuff. I have no doubt I’ll stay busy enough with the pony.

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The plan is to enter the ring with both of us feeling this confident every time. No invading Russia.

Sunday: Classic day! Another pony-centric day.

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EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’ BOUT MY WHITE PANTS

Monday: Frankie will get the day off from riding, but I’ll likely end up taking him for a walk or something so he can stretch his legs. I’ll be working full time remotely, so it’ll probably look something like working 7-11a, pony time from 11a-1p, working 1-5p (then obvi more pony time). We’ll see how the timing ends up working out.

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Oh right that thing that pays the bills

Tuesday-Wednesday: Still working full time, but I’ll throw some hacks/lessons in on Francis. As long as I get 8ish hours of work in I’m golden. Def also wedding stuff too. At some point during these two days my barn bestie will be arriving and I can crash in her hotel room for the rest of week 2.

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Preemptively congratulating myself for working, riding, staying hydrated, and planning a wedding from Ohio

Thursday: working part time again, maybe another warmup class.

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Get back in it!

Fri-Sun: same as week 1.

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Second verse, same as the first

We’ll see what the timing looks like on Sunday- if we’re done early enough, I’ll hit the road to get home that night. If it’s getting late, I’ll just wait and head home on Monday.

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Either way, Imma be dead.

We’ll also play it by ear during week 2 when it comes to classes. Right now we’re just planning on doing the Highs each week, but we may decide to do an adult eq class at some point, or have AT take Frankie over a bigger track to get some miles. I’m not too worried about it.

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IT’S SO SOON AND I CAN’T WAIT YOU GUYS.

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I’ll try to remember to blog as I go, but you can check my Instagram (@hellomylivia) for live updates on my story. I’m on there an inappropriate amount. Damn millennials and their phones.

millennial out

 

Dressaging My Horse

I’m going to talk about a really novel theory here: better flatwork leads to better jumping.

ALERT THE MEDIA THIS IS AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT EVERYBODY IS NOW GASPING IN SHOCK.

I know, I know. We all know this. But I want to talk about it, so humor me.

More specifically, I want to talk about how hard we “push” on the flat and over fences, and how we can connect (or sometimes disconnect) the two.

I know for me- and I can’t be alone in this- my temptation is to push over fences. Jack ’em up, give us tighter turns, let’s giddyup and go. I don’t do this willy-nilly because I am not a total dumdum, but I love jumping and my drive to improve focuses on jumping.

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Doing this is better than cocaine (I mean…I think? I’ve only done the jumping, not the drugs)

But. Without dressage-ing my horse and building capabilities on the flat, I will eventually reach an ceiling of my horse’s abilities over fences. So I need to be pushing just as hard to extend our fitness and abilities on the flat if I expect to be pushing hard over fences.

This is why we’ve raised our expectations on the flat as we’ve raised the fences. Establishing balance around smaller circles = time saved by doing the inside turn in a jumpoff. Firmly installing lateral movements at all gaits = better control and precision on course. Maintaining a steady connection between the aids = the ability to adjust to the right spot, slice a jump without a runout, communicate more clearly. Not to mention the fact that all of this builds fitness and self-carriage.

This is why we do crap tons of lateral work and spend so much time “warming up” in our lessons. Frankie’s abilities over the small fences got 100x better as we improved our flatwork, and suddenly the bigger fences were coming up more smoothly.

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Remember when I considered this decent form for Francis?

So what would happen if we pushed to improve over fences without pushing to improve our dressage? What if there was a disconnect between the two?

Let’s assume that Frankie was in good fitness from hill work and regular exercise, but that we didn’t emphasize lateral work, collection/extension, things like that. Let’s assume that I hopped on him every day, WTC around for an hour, then hopped off. No pushing of technical skills on the flat.

I’d better hope I have the magic eye for distances >4 strides out, because we don’t have a ton of adjustability. I’ll need to shorten or lengthen much earlier because my horse won’t be tuned to that.

And I’ll need to hit the perfect take-off spot every time, because he will have a tough time getting a bouncy enough canter to handle a super short or long one.

Once we land, the turns better not be too sharp. We have a tough time connecting to the outside rein and moving off the inside leg, so we’re not super balanced as the turns get tighter.

We have a tough time moving our shoulders/haunches independently, so I’ll need to set my horse up very straight to each jump. Otherwise we risk a drive-by. I don’t have a lot of options with my turns since it’s limited to how quickly we can move his whole body.

And all this is assuming that my horse has developed the self-carriage to get a powerful enough stride to jump the bigger jumps. Which I find unlikely.

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A million leg-yields and shoulders-in later, that’s more like it.

So yeah. If we were running into a problem with our lateral work or collection, it wouldn’t make sense to me for us to try to progress with bigger jumps or tighter turns. It would make sense to keep the jumps at a comfortable, manageable level while we improved our knowledge and abilities on the flat and only THEN ask harder questions over fences.

While I haven’t sat in a dressage saddle in at least 10 years, I take dressage-ing my horse extremely seriously. Of the 5-6 hours of work he does each week, 4.5-5.5 of those hours are spent on the flat developing strength and consistency, flexibility and adjustability. When he gets a pro ride, that’s usually heavily flatwork-focused. We know he can jump the jumps- developing his “buttons” on the flat is what gives him more tools to do that. Even when working over fences, we keep them under 3′ most of the time- there are so many skills we can practice without jumping his legs off.

Frankie definitely prefers to jump. No matter how lazy or bored he seems on the flat, he perks up and hunts down the fences as soon as they go up. He would probably be much happier if we jumped more and flatted less. But I strongly believe that this would be doing him a huge disservice and lead to holes in training/health problems down the road.

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Mahm. Flatwork stinks. So bored. Mahm. Stahp.

So there’s my soapbox for the day. I’m sure it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, no novel new concepts, but I’m feeling pretty passionate about it these days. And if there’s anyone out there that I can rant to about the importance of developing a stronger shoulder-in, it’s all y’all crazies.

Gurl You Fancy

You all know that as part of our prep for WEC, we’ve got Francis in bootcamp: 6 days on, 1 day off, with one of those rides coming from AT. I’m also upping the intensity of my own rides, we’re doing lots of stretches, and overall just turning up the heat a bit for the ol’ Frankfurter.

I don’t know which of these things is the cause, or if it’s (probably) the combination, but Frankie feels the best he’s ever felt. Obviously he’s always been an excellent beast and works very hard and is the bestest pony in the whole universe. But the last couple weeks, he feels downright fancy.

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Mahm y r u so surprised I is a shmancy llama

I’ve been riding just in my basic snaffle- no gag, no special mouthpiece, nada. But he’s been so much lighter in my hand, carrying himself across the ground. Collecting his stride at the canter usually takes some pretty “loud” seat and leg aids, with a strong feel of the bridle to keep him under himself. I almost had a heart attack the other day- I sat back a little, half-halted lightly with my seat, and BAM OUR STRIDE WAS MAGICALLY 2′ SHORTER.

UM. WHAT.

OK so this is a new sensation. Maybe I’m finally learning how to ride?

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hahahahaha yeah ok sure that’s definitely it

 

I decided to test him a little bit by asking for a rather small circle on the left lead- as you may know, we are not ambiturners. Those left turns have always been a little more unbalanced and he has struggled to give me the bend in that direction.

WELL BUTTER MY BISCUIT WE GOT A LOVELY SLIGHT BEND THROUGH THE SUPREMELY BALANCED TURN WITH A POWERFUL COLLECTED STRIDE.

I swear, I had such a light steady touch on the reins because he was feeling so strong over his back and up into the bridle, I was just there on the other end of the contact feeling like I was pushing instead of pulling. And it was amazing. I extended and collected at all gaits in both directions so I could explore this new button and it worked every single time.

You all know that I have fun with Frankie during every ride- even the frustrating days where I feel like I can’t ride to save my life have their moments of redemption or progress (or Francis making cute faces which makes everything better). But it’s a whole new level to literally feel his progress- I’ve been giggling like a little girl throughout my rides.

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The giggling isn’t exactly new either I guess. SORRY FOR BEING SO HAPPY.

I have some time set up with AT next weekend for me to watch her ride and talk me through how she works with Frankie, and then I’m going to hop on so she can coach me through replicating that ride. We’re also going to try again with the elevator- that’s what she rides him in and thinks we’ll have a lot of success once we adjust to it. I’ll definitely be glad for some 1-on-1 coaching to sort that out. I’m such a visual learner so I know this session will be MAJORLY helpful in pinpointing specific things I can do differently to encourage the best work out of Francis.

I’m supremely grateful that AT suggested that we work together on this- her rides on Frankie have always been very noticeably good for his fitness and responsiveness, so building the capabilities to do that more on my own is fantastic. She isn’t just hopping on and off to do her scheduled ride and leaving it at that, she’s thinking ahead to sharing that knowledge and equipping me with those tools. I know some people prefer not to use pro rides, but mine come with so many perks for my own riding!

T-9 days to blast off and I. Can’t. Wait.

Buying Pants: The Saga

Something you may know about me is that I have a pants obsession. A riding pants obsession. To the point where Assistant Trainer literally told me to stop buying pants. I have a problem.

My go-to has been the TS Trophy Hunters- the 26L fits like a glove and they’re super durable, so I haven’t felt any burning desire to change that up. Until now.

Partially because I really want to try some of the newer tech fabrics, partially because there are some really GORGEOUS options out there, partially because I’m a firm believer in voting with your wallet and I’m not super supportive of the TS brand ATM, and in large part because Amanda said she had breeches for sale.

It was a perfect storm to fuel my obsession.

It started simply: I asked for options in my size. She assured me that there would be plenty to choose from, and then convinced me that big sales mean the expense doesn’t actually count. I was willingly convinced.

She sent me picture after picture of high-end gorgeous pants. So so many. I was in heaven. Then she dropped the price bomb:

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In classic Olivia fashion, I quickly made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the beautiful pants under consideration (in case you were wondering, the columns were brand, color, how much I liked them from 1-5, and price). Despite wanting to take them all, I knew I couldn’t.

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I finally managed to narrow it down to the 3 top contenders. Despite originally being in the market for tan and white only, two of the three were colors. Womp womp. I have no willpower.

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My spreadsheet only took me so far. I started spiraling. How could I give up any of those pants? At those prices?! I begged for help and got only “BUY THEM ALL” back. Traitor.

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I continued spiraling. I continued making spreadsheets. I continued bombarding Amanda with a play-by-play into the workings of my brain.

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Clearly asking for help from a financial angle wasn’t working. I decided to go the emotion route, hoping that Amanda would be able to give me some clarity. No such luck. I eventually had to make the call myself.

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We both solidly threw Buddy Fianci under the bus (literally the day after he proposed, Trainer started talking to him about what a great wedding present an import would be. He is a very patient man). Buddy Fianci politely declined to buy me the pants. I’m still working on him.

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I bought the dang pants and called it a day. Then SPENDMYMONEY MCDEMONFACE started pushing SWEATERS OF ALL THINGS AS IF I HADN’T ALREADY BLOWN MY BUDGET ON BEAUTIFUL ITALIAN PANTS.

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I guess I can forgive her. After all, these gorgeous things are winging their way towards me:

Mmmmmmm pants.

And that, my friends, is how you buy pants in 34 easy steps when you’re a spreadsheet junkie, have no willpower, and have a friend with a bright future in sales.