Decisions, Decisions

And all of them fun!

As you know, I’m already pretty pumped for next season with the Frankfurter. I’m absolutely giddy at the thought of getting our butts in shape and working together towards our goals.

But that means I have to define our goals. Which is HARD YO. Because we have some really great options.

Option one: stick with the original plan and work towards a move up to the Low AOs. This would mean competence at 1.20m and tentatively 1.25m for some of the bigger classics. I think this is pretty within reach for our abilities. I doubt we would qualify for any year-end shows, because the additional fees for the bigger heights would mean fewer shows, and also let’s be honest it’s historically tough for me to be any good in my first season at a new height. But that’s fine by me if we go this route. If I want to do this with Frankie, next year would be the time to do it since he isn’t getting any younger.

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His first 1.20m class this past year and while he was surprised, he wasn’t particularly struggling

Option two: stay at the 1.10-1.15m and try to be really really good at it. If I did this, I would set my sights on qualifying for some fun shows- Penn, WIHS, maybe Team Finals again, etc. I’d have to be pretty strategic about getting points for these since the budget is not unlimited, but I certainly think we could have a blast exploring new options at our current height. It’s clearly well within Frankie’s abilities, and I could still send him in with AT to do some 1.20m classes to keep him really sharp (also I love playing Owner, it’s super fun).

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We could try for more big ribbons

Option three: say screw it all and go for something completely different like the Adult Eq or some National Derbies. BECAUSE WHY NOT HAVE ALL THE OPTIONS??? Especially with how dang broke my horse is now, and how cute he’s learned to jump, I think we could try some different rings and have a blast. I’m leaning towards doing this in a few years though, once he wants to step down to 3′.

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IF A JUNIOR CAN DO IT SO CAN I

Option four: some mix of all of these? Forego some of the shows and try to clinic with some big names? (Peter Wylde is coming to my area next June, and GM tends to roll through every fall). Try a local HT? Do other stuff I’m not thinking of?

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We could just stand majestically for a while, he’s pretty dope at that.

Basically, I can’t lose. There’s certainly tradeoffs to consider, and in some cases choosing one option means closing another one off, but there really is no bad option. I’m planning to sit down with my trainer in the next few weeks to come up with a game plan for our show season, and see what she thinks will work for us.

No matter what we choose, or if we do a mix of everything, there is one constant.

I will take a thousand pictures of Francis napping everywhere we go.

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SNOOZES 4 LYFE
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How Big is Big?

There was a question on COTH recently about what counts as a “big” jump.

There were a range of answers, but the general consensus seemed to be that it’s entirely relative. What’s big to one horse and rider pair might look small to the same rider on a different horse. What’s small change for one rider may be prohibitively daunting to another.

I couldn’t agree more. Jumping over 3′ on the DragonMare was intimidating because I knew we were reaching the max of her scope and she could be a difficult ride. The same height on the Frankenbean causes no angst. I also remember how long it took me to ever go over a 3′ jump- so for a very long time, my decisive answer to that question would have been 3′. That counts as big. Nowadays I feel differently. It’s completely relative.

But then thinking about it further, I started considering the skill sets I needed at each height and how that changed. At this point, what would I consider “big”? Keep in mind- I’m coming at this with my own experiences and my own horse. He’s tall. He’s powerful. He makes jumps feel smaller than they are. I’m fully aware that a smaller horse that moves differently will make this journey looks COMPLETELY different. It’s all relative!

At 18″ I was learning to stay with the motion, release with my hands, stay steady in my leg. Distances were unimportant because of the height. Lots and lots of focus on my equitation- heels down, straight back, elbows in, etc.

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Short Stirrup QUEEN

At 2’6″ I had to fold a tiny bit more. Distances were still pretty unimportant, but we started counting strides and trying to find the sweet spot. Continued focus on correct equitation.

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Grab mane and look cute

At 3′ finding the right spot started to become more important. Still not the end of the world if we missed, but there was more of a focus. We started to introduce the auto-release as I got stronger. The motion was slightly bigger over the jumps, but technique still held- heels down, eyes up, release. Correcting my position constantly.

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Remember when I actually used to have really great equitation? Ah the days of yore.

At 1m (3’3″) it was more of the same. Slightly more important to help my horse to the spot, release a little bigger for the bigger effort. Position is finally starting to get into muscle memory, but still constantly working on it.

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For realz though I used to look pretty in the saddle

At 1.10m (3’7″ish) it was NOT more of the same holy CRAP it’s time to learn how to ride. All of a sudden we need an actual useful canter because he can no longer just lurch over it from any gait. So he has to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden it becomes much more important that I support from any distance. So I have to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden riding that powerful canter at any stride length is crucially important. So we need major adjustability which means focusing hard on his self carriage and responsiveness. AND THAT’S BEFORE WE EVEN GET TO THE JUMP. Then once we’re at the jump, it’s no longer just fold and then unfold. THERE’S AIR TIME AND A LANDING PHASE NOW FOLKS. I won’t get into the gritty details because I already did last year, but suddenly I had to pretty much re-learn how to jump. At this point we talk about my equitation purely in terms of utility. At this point, if I don’t have my technical skills in order, I’m just gonna fall off the side. They’re not taken for granted and we still work to correct them, but there’s more of an assumption of base-level correctness. Now it’s about truly using my position instead of having a position.

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Releases get bigger, staying centered becomes WAY WAY WAY more important, and core strength becomes a major factor.Β 

At 1.15m (3’9″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.20m (3’11″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.25m (4’1″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

So yeah. For me there was a clear tipping point in terms of skills and training that happened right around the 1.10m mark. Do I have a magical amazing horse that bails me out at that height when I mess up? Yes. Does that make his life way harder at that height than it was at anything lower? Definitely. Once I’ve gotten over that hump it’s been relatively straightforward to put the jumps up little by little.

I always thought of moving up in height as a very linear process, and that’s certainly not true. The graph of height vs. skills needed has looked a lot more like this for me:

height skills

I really hope that one day I look back on this post and laugh that I ever thought 3’6″ was big. I’m curious to see if there is another “tipping point” in the future as the jumps continue to go up. I’d love to find out!

There’s my long winded answer that can be summed up as this: I feel like jumps start getting big at around 3’6″, but that answer has changed a thousand times over the years and I think the answer is going to be different for everyone at different times.

Your turn! Tell me- how would you answer that question?

Side Effects

It’s no secret that I haven’t been getting as much barn time lately. Mostly because it’s literally all I talk about on this blog #sorrynotsorry. And while this is for an excellent cause and I’m really enjoying all the little details that go into planning this amazing wedding, it’s having a few side effects.

First of all, I’m so out of shape it isn’t even funny. I haven’t been this weak since before I got back in the saddle, way back in 2014. My muscle strength is low, my endurance is even lower, and I get aches and pains way more easily. Sitting wrong in my desk chair is now cause for a sore back. Rolling over wrong while sleeping leads directly to a crick in the neck. I’m trying to build in more time for workouts before work, but ya girl here is exhausted. I’d like to at least throw in some yoga or something to help me out, because this is getting a little ridiculous.

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I mostly ride like this now (also omg look at that long-suffering face on the poor guy hahaha)

Second of all, it’s not all that great for my mental health. I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with SAD in the past (check this post and this one), but luckily I found something a few years back that almost completely eradicates all of my symptoms. It’s an expensive therapy, and very time consuming, but I can’t deny that it has helped more than any other intervention that I’ve tried.

That therapy is named Francis, obviously.

Training with him has given me a needed structure to my days, goals to work towards, forced fresh air and exercise no matter the weather (hello endorphins), regular social time with friends, and that certain X factor that comes from having a close bond with a giant fuzzy wonderful creature. For the relatively mild symptoms that I’ve experienced, the structure and love he provides are exactly what I need to feel my usual energetically positive self year-round.

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“Mahm you look like we both need head scritches I shall provide”

And I don’t have much of that right now.

I didn’t really realize it until chatting with my best friend about how I’ve been in a funk lately, and she commented on my lack of barn time. The woman is a genius, I swear.

Am I miserable? Absolutely not. I’m far too busy with wonderful things to be miserable. And I still get 1-2x a week to go see my friends, move my body, brush my increasingly fluffy pony. Things really are pretty good. And extremely necessary- especially now that we’re in the final stretch, I can’t imagine doing everything ON TOP OF spending several hours at the barn most days. There simply are not enough hours in the day.

This self-enforced break is just reminding me of what I already knew- training with Frankie isn’t just good for my body, but it’s good for my heart, my mind, and my soul.

Sneaking It In

With just about 50 days left until the wedding, I feel a lot like a deer that someone has slipped some caffeine pills to. High alert and gangly. Now that invites are out and we’re getting RSVPs back, it’s really kicked into the next gear of our final approach.

My bridal shower and bachelorette party were both last weekend, and both were amazing. So many friends from so many different parts of my life were all in the same room for the shower which was weird and amazing- Trainer was chatting with my in-laws’ neighbors, my cousins were hanging out with my college roommates, etc. It flew by and I felt incredible loved.

For the bachelorette part, I’ll just leave you with this picture from the morning after.

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#classy

Despite my current extreme case of raccoon brain, I’m managing a sneaky amount of horse-related activities over the next month or so until I head north.

Folks at the barn are organizing a group excursion to WIHS to watch the medal and GP classes go. I’ve gotten to go for a couple years now, and while I was hoping the next time would be on Frankie, I’ll still take a seat in the stands!!

One of the ladies also organized an event at a local animal park for the barn folks. I think it’s geared mostly for the kids, but I’ll show up for anything that includes llamas and my barn peeps.

Lastly, by some incredibly lucky stroke of fortune, our annual XC outing is actually going to happen on one of the only weekends I am available to participate. I may not be actively competing, but I’m excited to get off property with Francis! Hoping we can enlist someone for more media than last year, because he is such a tank and I know all you eventing folks would love to see my weenie butt cling on as he packs me around.

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It was so fun with both of these beasts, can’t wait to do it again!!

Lucky me to have so many fun things on the calendar ❀ Can’t wait to share them all with you!

Reaping the Benefits

You know how after every single ride I spaz out about how great my horse is and how much I love him? Hope you’re not sick of that yet ’cause it’s still a thing. Sorry not sorry.

I’m really just overjoyed at how much he’s taking care of me lately. I’m not nearly in the shape I was a few months ago, my mental focus is pretty scattered, and I went around half the ring yesterday on the wrong diagonal before my trainer’s laughter caught my attention.

20 years of riding under professional instruction. And I forgot to check my diagonal.

So yeah, clearly I’m not “all there” for him right now. You know how he handles it? Happy ears, obediently going left when I have an oh-crap-turn-left-not-right moment, toting my potato butt around without complaint. It’s awesome.

I have to share our course because of how cool it was. Trainer said it was an adaptation from the West Coast 3’3″ Jumper Seat Medal Finals that happened last week- I love finals season because we get to try out all the fun Big Eq courses! We sometimes have to tweak a bit for the shape/size of the arena but they’re always fun to play with. Here it is:

west coast gymnastic course

So it’s corner oxer, forward bending 4 strides to bounce, shaped short 5 out over the natural; other natural to box in a flowing 4, s-turn out over blue in a short 4; up the outside line in a one to a three; then other s-turn also in a forward 4 to short 4.

Phew!

This course was SO MUCH FUN. Lots of rating our stride bigger and smaller and focusing on our track. That one stride to the three felt incredible. I was a Big Eq Princess in that moment. It just came up perfectly and I could sit there and look pretty as my horse flowed effortlessly through. I think that’s what being on drugs must feel like because I am jonesing for another hit of that.

I guess I’m just really thrilled with how easy this all felt for him. It was ok that I wasn’t all there giving him explicit instructions, because he didn’t really need that much input despite the technicality of the course. He rated easily, he was prompt off my leg and forward-thinking, he was straight up easy to ride.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked really hard to educate him to the job. It’s been a joy and has gone quite smoothly, but it’s definitely still been a lot of sweat and time. And I plan to continue putting in the sweat and the time to continually improve both of our abilities.

But right now in this in-between where I’m not super actively training, I feel like I’m getting to sit back and enjoy the outcome of all that hard work. I’m simply enjoying my incredibly well-trained horse.

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Also really enjoying his love of drinking from the hose ❀