Upgraded Rounds

I mentioned in my Blue Rock recap that I started out riding the 2017 Frankie before getting my butt in gear and riding the 2018 Frankie (new Francis who dis). I’d like to elaborate a little bit on what I already mentioned, because I’ve definitely adjusted my strategy in the ring.

Getting our gallop on: I used to go in the ring and immediately pick up a hand gallop before waiting for the buzzer, because I needed a little extra time to open up his step. Nowadays we can get that fire stoked much more quickly, so I don’t need that runway as much. It ends up giving me a bit too much time to overanalyze and start picking at him. Much better to just rev the engine and head to the first jump.

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Please take away my runway, I will just abuse it

Related distances: I used to have to land and WOAH hard in every line, because he almost always landed a little off balance and strung out. Not awful, but it definitely took a stride or two to get him back under me, and that would eat up a decent part of the line. Nowadays he lands in much better balance and much more tuned in to me, so I can simply steady him and press out of the line- which has the added benefit of me being able to soften and allow him to the fences, which leads to him jumping out of his skin.

Left drift: we’ve always had a left drift. Partly because I think he fires a little more strongly on the right side, partly because I have a weak left leg that doesn’t block him hard enough. We’ve gotten much better at using outside aids around the turns and getting him straight in both directions, and I think the carrot stretches have helped him feel more bendy.

Release: he used to jump fairly flat all the time without really using his neck, so there was never a need for a big release- he just didn’t take up the slack when it was given. Now he’s firing harder off the ground and using his body much more actively, which is awesome! But it also means that I need to reward that much more actively. I need to focus hard on some core work, since right now I tend to collapse up his neck a bit upon landing when I give that long release. I have a decent auto release in my toolbox, so it’s just a factor of getting that super ingrained in my muscle memory. Planks galore!

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We use our neck more when we are not being restricted by our pilot

Taking breaks on course: yeah I never had the mental state to be able to do this before. This past show was the first one where I felt like I could use the ends of my ring to take a deep breath, half-halt and reset, and give Frankie a little scratch on the neck as I softened. Not too much because I didn’t want him to think we were done, but we were both able to calm down a bit before firing back up. I definitely think this helped keep him tuned into me and feeling fresh instead of tiring out in the latter parts of the course.

Part of this progression has been due to working on our adjustability, partly due to increased fitness, partly due to education (for both of us), and in large part due to me relaxing enough to think more actively while in the ring instead of LOSING MY MIND OMG FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL. Let’s be real- there will always be Francis-take-the-wheel moments. No one is perfect. The goal is to make them less frequent and less cringe-inducing.

After all, it’s like I’ve always told you. I’m not so concerned with our ribbons- I’m concerned with making sure I can come out of the ring and internalize the lessons learned and apply them in the next round. Go make new mistakes, and then fix them, and then move on to even newer mistakes.

At this point, the horse is super broke and fit and educated, and will go around as well as I allow him to. It used to be that mistakes in the ring were kinda 50-50 due to me getting in the way AND him still learning the expectations we had. Well, we’ve gotten rid of that last part. He knows the game, likes the game, and is damn good at the game. Mistakes are now 100% rider-generated. In one way, WOW OK PRESSURE IS ON because I can no longer cite “lack of experience” as an excuse, but in another enormously huger way it’s AMAZEBALLS. I have a schoolmaster packer that will turn and burn and slice and sit back and do absolutely everything I ask. Now it’s on me to ask for the right things at the right time.

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MAHM STEP UP PC- Liz
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Ouch

Francis got a light week post-Blue Rock. Partially by design to let him recuperate after working hard, partially because work was crazy and I was playing catch-up from being out of the office, and partially because I couldn’t really breathe properly.

See, in true Olivia fashion, I managed to bash myself in the chest SUPER hard with the butt end of my crop while at Swan Lake. Adrenaline carried me through the rest of the show, but it started hurting more and more acutely. Laughing, sneezing, coughing, and taking deep breaths all caused pretty severe pain. As did turning my steering wheel with my left arm. All of which I basically ignored because ugh whatever.

But then I hopped on for a hard ride over the weekend, and had to quit early since I couldn’t catch my breath. No deep breaths = getting winded WAY too quickly. I’m only willing to ignore things until they interfere with my riding, so I went in for medical attention.

The good news: there’s no fracture! Hooray for keeping my bones intact.

The “eh” news: there’s a deep bone contusion, and the treatment is basically the same as if I’d fractured an upper rib. Hooray!

I’m now on a medication to manage the inflammation and resulting pain, another for the resulting muscle spasms, and get to play with a fun toy called an incentive spirometer 4x a day for the next 10 days to make sure I don’t get pneumonia.

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Yeah it’s totally normal to rattle this around at the office. Totally. Also mine goes up to 4000, am I set up for failure?!

The especially fun part is that breathing deeply is still painful (though the anti-inflammatory helps a TON). Don’t injure anything near your lungs, kids. It’s annoying.

Luckily I’m medicated and on the mend, so we can get back to our regular training program without lurking fears of a punctured lung. Sorry Francis, hope you enjoyed your break while it lasted. Your mama is broken, but not broken enough to stay out of the saddle.

GushFest 2018

You guys. It’s time.

It’s been a solid 6 months. And you know what that means.

It’s time for Francis GushFest 2018 (Q2).

Because UGHHHH GUYSSSSSS HE’S THE BESTTTTTTTTT

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Like he’s a total turdblossom at feeding time, and sometimes it’s hard to muck his stall because #NapKing doesn’t want to stand up, and he likes to play Bitey-Face out in the field, and sometimes he twists his body over the jumps so he doesn’t have to work as hard. So clearly he isn’t perfect.

But he’s so dang cool, day after day after day.

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Blerp PC- Liz

He’s the most fun ever to play with on the ground. He’s so inquisitive and happy and content and radiates that sense of calm curiosity. He’s pretty sure everyone loves him and he loves to make new friends- who coincidentally always love him. He makes funny faces for the camera and gives me the stretchy moose lips when we scratch in juuuuust the right spot. He offers to groom me back because that’s the polite thing to do.

He thinks baseball hats are very fun toys, and is always always always game for some face scratches and snuggles (Towel Time behind the ears especially is the Bestest Ever). But I can also trust him to stand calmly on the crossties for as long as I need to get ready and situated. He’s happy to chill. He will bend over backwards if it means he gets ear rubs- even when I’m on him, he’ll turn his head back for ear rubs when he knows he did a good job.

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Mahm. Scritches. Thnks. PC- Liz

And then under saddle. Man oh man.

He’s the best kind of teacher- the kind who doesn’t get upset when I make mistakes, but also doesn’t give me anything for free either. I can ask for something the wrong way a million times and he’ll just keep trucking until I ask correctly, and then he rewards me with prompt obedience. He works exactly as hard as I do. It’s a true partnership of give and take and give some more.

There’s so much trust. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around us, what the jumps look like, where we are- I have 100% faith that he’s going to show up to work. And he has trust that I’ll do right by him. I may not set him up perfectly to every jump and I may make mistakes with my aids, but he knows I’ll do my best to stay out of his way and that we get lots of pats and scratches and down time after we work. And so he goes to work happily every single time.

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So proud of himself for a job well done.

And as we’ve both learned and gained some measure of subtlety, dangit we have so much fun. He knows the game and needs less help from me on a basic level, but looks for more input on a tactical level. We can plan for the inside turn (blasting up to oxers off a short turn is his new power move) and moving my shoulders forward and back is like a magic lever to his stride length. He’s super fast without feeling like we’re racing at any point, so we’re competitive without the pace being intimidating.

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FrancisGoZoomies(TM)

He’s my absolute favorite horse that I’ve ever ridden by such a long shot. No matter how my day was, no matter how nervous I may be, as soon as my feet are in the stirrups I am happy.

His quiet partnership has given me the confidence to dream bigger, try new things, gain comfort in my leadership skills, led me to new friendships, and is such a bright light in my life. I don’t have adequate words for how special he really is and how much he means to me.

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My best buddy. PC- Liz

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a lot of sweat and mud and work and setbacks and triumphs and the whole range therein. He just makes it all a joy.

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PC- Tracy

Show Recap: Blue Rock Classic

I have so many alternate titles for this show recap:

“Prioritize Your Protein: I Don’t Want to Look at Steak for Quite Some Time”

“Step Up: Not the Dance Movie, Just Trying to Match My Horse’s Skill Level”

“Rain Dances: For the Love of God Stop Doing Them, We’ve Had Enough”

etc.

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Baby thoroughbred just wants snuggles alllll the time.Β 

But at the end of the day, here’s your basic recap: Frankie was a freakin’ rockstar. You can stop reading now if you were just on the edge of your seat wondering if he would be a good boy. I know it’s a rarity.

I’m not going to go in chronological order for this post because I don’t feel like it, so here’s what happened:

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DragonPony went in the ring rarin’ to go every time. Smart boy knows what the buzzer means now!

Big Guy packed me around the Highs like a pro, as per usual. I will say, the first day I had a bit of a tough time. In the past, Frankie has landed off the jumps a little unbalanced and a little strung out. It’s always taken me a few strides to get my bearings and get him back under me, and our half-halts didn’t go very far- I’ve had to kinda adjust my track to suit the stride length and not the other way around.

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Unrelated he’s just the sweetest most handsome creature.

The fun thing about doing multiple training rides per week and private lessons is that he is now much more fit and broke and holy moly we actually have a fantastic half-halt now. Nowadays he lands balanced and immediately asks me what he should do next. So on that first day I rode him like 2017 Francis needed- a little “louder” with my aids and a little less trusting of my seat, and giving him room where I didn’t need to (or should have). He was a good boy, but was a little peeved at me- he was jumping out of his SKIN and I wasn’t really rewarding that effort.

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Did he clear it tho
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I left the ring with the words, “holy crap I don’t even deserve you, you are a prince.”

So the next day my trainer sent me in with the phrase, “we have beautiful hands.” I rewarded more over the jumps, I trusted his balance, I supported with my leg more without nagging. And lo and behold: we had a lovely course, with a very happy horse.

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Those ears though. I know he loves food and scritches more than anything else, but he does seem to really enjoy his job ❀
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Until I get used to his new style of actually working hard over the jumps, I’m exaggerating my release. Better than punishing him for all that effort!
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And when I ask for the long one, he’s still happy to deliver. Best boy.

Classic day was similar- I’m still learning how to press all the buttons on my crazy-amazing broke horse, he was a little more tired, but overall thrilled with how we went around. I felt like I actually had a brain in my head- when jump 1 came up a little sticky, I actually made a move to help him get set up for jump 2 instead of saying OH CRAP FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL like I would’ve in the past. Our sticky moments were less sticky and happened less often, he was less tired and felt fitter than has on Sundays past, and our good moments are getting better and better and more consistent. And of all places, we had a rail over the liverpool. I mean, I’m glad he doesn’t care what he’s jumping, but maybe care a little bit?!

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And we got to compete with one of our barnmates, which was super wicked fun. We agreed that we were definitely the most obsessed with our horses of anyone on the showgrounds. Probably because we had the best horses, and that’s scientific fact.

So there’s our recap of the Highs. Trainer is very happy with his continuing development, we are both continuing to grow and learn, we’re excited to keep improving, and we had a total blast in the ring together. I swear, he is the most fun horse to ride.

But here’s something else that’s super cool: I have a 1.20m horse.

That’s right, the Big Man made it around his first ever 1.20m course with AT!! Both of them worked so so hard and it was absolutely incredible to watch. AT reported that he was a little surprised and definitely needed some help from her to get to the right spot- he can’t handle a joke at that height at this point. But he was game for it and went and played the game, which is all I was hoping for in his first time out. We’ll powwow later to see what our plan should be moving forward, but I am beyond thrilled with how he did.

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Jump 1 was very soft, jump 2 was a surprise, and by jump 3 (this one) he seemed to be getting it.
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NO SCOPE NO HOPE

My sweet boy officially made it around a 1.20m course without looking or feeling overfaced, and I am bursting with pride. This was never on our radar for him when we bought him- his willingness to go out there and try makes my heart so absolutely full.

As usual, Frankie gets an A+ for handling the horse show life. He ground-tied politely at the wash rack despite many distractions, he came out of his stall happily for every ride, and settled right into work despite the icky weather and sloppy footing. We’ve come to expect excellent behavior from him, but I’m still grateful every time that he handles travel and competition life so well.

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He really doesn’t stress about being in new places.

I’ll try to upload some of our videos to YouTube soon so I can share. Frankie will get today off and a few light days to work out any soreness and give him a break, but then we’re back to it and prepping for Upperville in early June!

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More adventures with the Frankfurter!

Transportation Woes

Alternate title: At Least One Thing That Carries My Butt Around Is Functional

The functional one being Frankie, of course. The not-so-functional one is my car.

Long story short, I no longer have working anti-lock brakes in my Jeep. Options are to either shell out more money than the car is worth to fix it, scrap my show season to afford a new car, or ignore the problem until show season is over.

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I think you can guess which one I’m going with. Luckily this didn’t happen in winter when the roads get slick, and the mechanic said the car was totally fine to drive as long as I was careful. So if you see a red Jeep with horse plates in VA, give me a little space to brake, k? I’m frantically doing research on what I’ll do in the fall and calling in all favors from friends and friends-of-friends, so at some point I should be able to introduce a new (or more realistically, used-and-slightly-crappy) vehicle.

But back to the functioning beast. Our private lessons are, as expected, absolutely transforming us. Even with just 3 under our belt, I can already feel such a difference in my ability to ask Frankie to work harder as well as his own ability to work harder. At first he threw a few tantrums about settling into work, but he very very quickly learned that this is the new normal and now steps right into it. He still has his evasions that he tries and a big part of our lessons is teaching me how to anticipate and preemptively correct those evasions, but it really does feel like getting to the next level of our feel and communication.

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“Communicate THIS” PC: Liz

A few examples: transitions. THEY’RE HARD YO. We’ve been doing tons of them and insisting that Francis step under into them (both upwards and downwards) without popping up and inverting. When I get it right, it’s magical. Slowly starting to get it right more often.

Connection. It used to take me a solid 45 minutes and a virgin sacrifice to get Frankie up into the bridle. And to be totally honest, even then it wasn’t great. I simply did not give enough leg, hold a steady enough contact, or insist on this enough. This is still very much a work in progress, but I’m actually able to get him pushing from behind up into the contact much more consistently. It’s not 100% of the time by any stretch, but it’s vastly improved!

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THE BEEFIEST. THE SHINIEST. PC: Liz

 

Adjustability. Turns out that when I stop using a driving seat and have my horse balanced underneath me, I can totally pick whatever stride length I want. Which means I can then pick whichever spot I want. It also turns out that my eye is a lot better than I thought it was- I just haven’t had the tools to accurately ride to the spot I see. Now that I’m communicating with Frankie more clearly and he’s built the knowledge and strength, I feel so much more confident in our ability to get to a really solid take-off.

Overall brokeness. Holy. Crap. Guys. My horse is so frickin’ broke now, it’s not even funny. He will always be a little dull and he would not make a professional happy (pretty sure you’d see a pic of him in the dictionary under “Ammy Friendly”) but he has become the fanciest horse I have ever sat on. Ever. Including my German import I had in high school. He has so many dang buttons and he’s gotten so strong, it’s like I can think something and he does it. Part of that is the training we’ve been doing super intensely lately, part of it is me learning how to ride more better, and part of that is continuously building our communication and partnership. I’ve been absolutely blown away by him in our last few lessons.

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Let me love you forever PC: Liz

It feels like we’re in a totally different place from even a few weeks ago. I need to get some video so you can see the Frankfurter strut his stuff- hopefully we get some good ones at the show this week! Trainer confirmed that she’ll be taking him in his first 1.20m and I’m spazzing out excited. Keep your fingers crossed and send high-flying thoughts in our direction!

Ow. My Legs.

Before I get into talking about how my legs hurt so much, I have to tell you about my meetup with Liz and Austen!! We got to meet up (huskies in tow) out in Middleburg for lunch, and it was so fantastic to be able to just talk ponies and cocktails. It’s the funniest feeling meeting blog friends in real life- even though it was our first time seeing each other in the real world, it felt like we already knew each other so well. I was hoping they would have time to come meet Frankie, and even more fantastically they had their cameras with them!

It was so lovely to get to introduce them to Frankie. I know I may be biased because I’m his mother, but there is something so special about that horse and I love getting to share that spark with friends. He was enthralled with the huskies and was on the lookout for scritches the whole time. We even popped Liz and Austen up for a brief ride- Frankie was a bit confused that he still had to work, but was happy enough to go be a good goober for both of them. It makes my heart so happy to see him go be such a good soul. Bonus: I have so many absolutely gorgeous pictures to share with you guys!!

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This one is absolutely getting framed. Liz, somehow you managed to capture Frankie so beautifully and with such kindness, and it brings tears to my eyes.

Now on to my muscle soreness: we have officially entered the era of private lessons once more. It’s been two weeks with my new flex schedule and while it’s been a bit of an adjustment to get out the door earlier in the mornings, it’s ABSOFREAKIN’ FANTASTIC. I may never be able to go back to a normal schedule again, you guys. So far we’ve had two (incredible) private lessons on Friday afternoons, and here are some jumbled thoughts that I have so far:

  • In our first lesson, we did not jump a single fence. We worked on correct transitions, channeling our energy straight and powerfully, and convincing Frankie that I know what I’m doing up top (which is only sometimes true, but he doesn’t need to know that). I was sweaty and dying by the end.
  • Frankie absolutely can and should carry himself, and he is smart enough to know that historically I have not insisted on this. He does not test Trainer or AT. He does test me- which is fair. We had a few mini-tantrums when I continued to insist, but once we pushed past that he gave me INCREDIBLE work. He’s pretty sure this whole “work super hard to build muscle and self-carriage” thing is bogus, but he seems to be resigning himself to it.
  • THIS IS SO FREAKIN’ HARD. My muscles are so sore. Like, muscles that I don’t usually use for riding are sore. Which is actually also super encouraging, because it means that I’m moving in different ways and the whole point of this is to be doing things differently and better. But ow. Seriously, ow.
  • Francis is, as always, my tattletale. My leg comes off? Head immediately pops up and he totally inverts. I stop engaging my core? Prancing jigging steps. He is happy to work, but only as hard as I am. And he will not give me what I’m asking unless I ask properly, which makes him such an excellent teacher! Luckily he’s patient as I work through all the ways to *not* ask properly before landing on the right way.
  • He needs to respect this new bit- he cannot park on the end of it like he did with the snaffle. If he learns to park on this bit, we have just lost all our adjustability that we gained with the additional leverage. This is why I must insist on that self-carriage, and it’s why my trainer didn’t entrust me with this type of bit until quite recently.
  • Rewards must be quick and frequent. As soon as I feel him soften, I must soften in return- but not until I get that softening. Reward the good, and respond to resistance with consistent but firm correction. Set him up to answer correctly so that we can reward often.
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We take breaks when we are a good pony. PC- Liz
  • When we have the right canter, we don’t need to see a spot. In our last lesson, I felt like I nailed every single distance to every single fence. Some were a little longer or shorter than others, but every single one felt powerful and out of stride. He was so adjustable and powerful that getting to that right spot was downright easy, and he rewarded me by cracking his back over the fences- I got popped out of the tack a few times because of the strength of his effort!
  • Riding him more strongly and insisting on more is downright addicting. Of course he’s always a blast to ride, but feeling that balance and power underneath me is the most incredible feeling. I was grinning through my entire last ride. I was also panting and sweating trying to get all my muscles to move in concert, but I was on the verge of giggling as I felt Frankie round up into the bridle and push. I didn’t ever want to hop off.
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“Do not want work, pls stop.” (as I gasp for air) PC- Liz

In a nutshell, I’m trying to learn how to ride Frankie like my trainer rides Frankie. And it’s really really hard and a lot of work and everything hurts and it is so incredibly fun as we both learn the rules of the game.

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THE SWEETEST SNOOT. PC- Liz

Muscles are sore, heart is full, and I’m so beyond thrilled with the Big Best Beast.