A Love Letter to Training Rides

While I had my Trainer or AT hop on Frankie with some regularity (if not frequency) during the first few years of owning him, 2018 was the first year that I set aside a larger portion of our budget for a more regimented schedule of training rides. Frankie spent pretty much all of our show season in his 2x/week program of pro rides in addition to his rides with me.

As a training tool for competition, these rides were absolutely invaluable. My lessons always built on the exercises that Frankie had worked on that week, so there was a ton of consistency and continuity in our work. The extra saddle time helped his fitness immensely, and the correctness of the work made sure the right muscles were developing appropriately. It was a very sympathetic program, but rigorous nonetheless. And while Frankie likes to pretend that he’s a lazy slug that hates work, he actually thrived in such a busy program- both physically and mentally.

img_3593
AT taking Frankfurter in a schooling round at Lake Placid before I arrived

But as we kick off 2019, I’m not in the midst of show season, I’m not planning on having a particularly busy or competitive show season in the next few months- but I still have Frankie in a 2x/week program.

And I still love it just as much, albeit for slightly different reasons.

For one, there’s the continued benefit to Frankie. His training rides are tailored to exactly what he needs to work on- not any other horse, not his rider. Just him. While he’s always been a confident horse, I’ve found that these sessions have made that confidence absolutely skyrocket as he’s been set up for success and praised for trying. He’s kept fit, he’s kept limber, he’s kept educated.

img_3463
A very blurry screenshot of AT taking Frankie in for miles in the 1.20m at Upperville

But there’s also several enormous benefits to me.

The first and most obvious benefit is when I’m in the saddle. A fit and well-educated horse is a million times easier and (in my book) more fun to ride. Especially Frankie, who tunes into me much more easily when he’s in consistent moderate-heavy work. So as I’m getting back into shape and gaining my strength back, having his help makes it much easier and more enjoyable. Basically I only have to worry about myself since I know he’s got this on lock.

IMG_3192.jpg
And AT giving him a great ride in his first ever 1.20m class at Blue Rock

The other benefit is when I’m out of the saddle- namely, that I actually feel that I can take days out of the saddle. As much as I love being at the barn and want to be there all the time, I have other responsibilities to take care of (that I ignored for like 3 years straight womp womp). It used to be that I’d try to cram everything in after the barn and would have to stay up super late, or I’d just push everything to the weekend when I had a bit more time. But now I feel like I can take a day to go home after work and take care of things without feeling guilty about not seeing Frankie. He’s still getting worked, he’s still progressing. It’s allowing me to find a different balance in my life without sacrificing Frankie’s quality of workload.

Basically instead of trying to be an ammy that trains like a pro, these pro rides let me be an ammy that trains like an ammy. Some days I’m a pretty good ammy, some days I’m a pretty floppy ammy, some days I’m an absentee ammy, some days I’m a competitive ammy. I work hard, I cross train, I spend most of my time obsessing about my horse and his care and his work and his health and his schedule and all things Francis-related. But it’s really really refreshing to give myself permission to spend time on other things every once in a while without feeling like I’m trading away my progress in the saddle.

img_0820
All that pro attention has made one extremely ammy-friendly pony

I’m still figuring out what my new normal is as a newlywed, and I’m so grateful to have the help of wonderful people and a great program at the barn to help me as I adjust.

 

Advertisements

2018 Highlights

I’ve enjoyed doing this in the past, so I’m going to keep up the tradition of highlighting some of my favorite posts over the last year.

January: We entered bootcamp mode to prep for WEC, and we worked our butts off getting into shape. We talked about how his care has changed as the fences have gone up and had our first show of the season.

IMG_2033.jpg
Francis was a star despite the mud!

February: I had a meltdown about pants and surprised approximately no one by talking about the importance of flatwork. Then we spent most of the rest of the month at WEC 8 and then WEC 9!

IMG_2310.jpg
We won our first blue ribbon as a team here- and it was a speed class!

March: I gave my official review of the WEC shows and we talked about how we manage our pony finances. I was able to share some of our amazing engagement photos just before Francis and I celebrated two years of partnership.

Olivia-5b
It was freezing but it was worth it. PC- Samantha Robshaw Photography

April: We got the vet out and realized that Frankie needed some better support from us. I talked about what I didn’t know I didn’t know, and shuffled my work schedule to accommodate private lessons.

IMG_2886
We wore the hat of knowledge to learn what he needed

May: We got to hang out and play with Austen and Liz (and the pups)! Then we headed to Blue Rock where Frankie rocked his first 1.20m with my trainer, and I gushed about how cool he is. Obviously.

27900982778_7e6aac8040_o.jpg
Liz took this picture and I’m still crying about it to this day

June: I was thrilled with Frankie at our annual Upperville outing (and our best round was even on the live stream!) My favorite pic of all time arrived, and I got on my soapbox about the importance of routine and consistency.

img_3480
Frankie was absurdly fantastic PC- K. Borden

July: I talked about my emotionally tough but rewarding trip to Lake Placid, and then discussed the cost of showing and the cost of improving. In the midst of my move to a new apartment with my then-fiance, Frankie went for a spin as a pleasure pony and I mused on what success looks like to me.

img_3945
Just 2 weeks after doing the 1.15m at Lake Placid, he bopped around the pleasure division with my friend

August: things quieted down on the horse front around here as wedding planning ramped up. Frankie took a junior around all three rings because he is adorable, I got myself a new helmet FINALLY, I adjusted to the lack of training structure, and we had fun talking about what we’d buy with a zillion dollars.

img_4200
Showing us all just how willing he is to play any game

September: it was the season of blog hops, as we talked about how Frankie has changed since I got him and we went “Behind the Stall Door.” Frankie continued to show up to work– only when I asked him to- and I reminded myself to give myself some grace during the light season.

img_4435
Literally the only picture I have of him during this month. It was quiet.

October: I was extra grateful for how broke my horse is these days, but felt the effects of not getting enough barn time. We discussed jump height and what counts as “big,” and then I started considering what I wanted to do with Francis in 2019.

img_4466
He requested that we do not continue these shenanigans into 2019.

November: wedding prep was in final countdown mode, so things were very chill at the barn. Amanda gave us 25 interesting questions to answer, and I started considering using a gas mask around my smelly horse. We went for the world’s chillest XC session, and started planning on legging back up post-wedding.

img_4844
WOAH THERE CALM DOWN EASY WILD STALLION

December: I got a new name and Frankie got a dad! It was the best wedding I could dream of, but I was so thrilled to get back and play with my ginger-snooted creature. I talked about the way we’ve tackled new skills, gave you a how-to guide on riding the Beast, and finally reviewed the goals we set in the beginning of the year.

IMG_5095
The love of my life ❤

This year I logged more miles in the car to get to horse shows than ever before, I got to meet and spend time with some amazing people, and best of all- I got to marry the funniest, kindest, best man I’ve ever known. 2018 will always be a year to remember.

Blogiversary Math

It’s hard for me to believe, but my fourth blogiversary is already here! It’s so crazy that I’ve been writing about my adventures for so long, and that so many of you have joined the journey. Many of you have even been here since Day 1, and I’m amazed and grateful that you’ve stuck around. You’ve all been an incredible source of support, advice, hilarity, and general awesomeness over the years.

To celebrate, I did what I do best- I analyzed some numbers. Enjoy a few charts of this blog!

views_visitors_posts

I thought this one was interesting! Visitors and views have both increased steadily over time even though the number of posts per year has declined. My hypothesis is that the content has gotten more relevant- while I did enjoy my lesson recaps, those didn’t encourage as much interaction as some of my more recent posts.

Based on the average % change in visitors and views (excluding the jump from 2015 to 2016, which was abnormally high), I can aim for roughly 37k views and 13k visitors in 2019. I mean, as long as I can maintain some decent quality of content, no pressure.

blog_comments

This one isn’t too surprising for me. Basically the number of comments I get on each post is fairly steady, but the number of comments per visitor and per view has gone down. I interpret this to mean that there are a fewer number of people commenting, but those people that do are more active. Like I said- not surprising. I don’t have the largest following, but those of you who stick around are a frickin’ fantastic group that I get to chat with a ton.

map_all views.png

These are all the countries I’ve been able to reach over the last few years! My readers are predominantly in North America (consistently about 93% of my traffic), with roughly 4-5% of you in Europe, and the rest of you coming from all over the rest of the globe. Hi everyone!!

Some of the links you all have clicked on most often from here:

My trainer/barn’s website
Instagram
The Printable Pony
The 900 Dollar Facebook Pony
In Omnia Paratus
Amateur At Large
Guinness on Tap

And some of the ways you have found me:

Fraidy Cat Eventing (aka everyone’s favorite blogroll)
A Enter Spooking
The 900 Dollar Facebook Pony (apparently the link-love is reciprocal)
Instagram (weird how linking between my accounts actually works, right?)

Some of my most popular posts by views:

2015: How to Groom Your Gray Horse
2016: Setting the Record Straight (which I didn’t even write you guys, come on)
2017: How to be a Better Horse-Show-Boyfriend (seriously guys?! After all I do for you, you like him more than me?! Uncool)
2018: What I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know (Finally. Thank you.)

And some of my most popular posts by comments:

2015: First Time XC Schooling
2016: The Maybe-Not Forever Home
2017: HITS Culpeper: Commonwealth National 2017
2018: Show Recap: WEC 9

And not to get sappy at you, but the fact that these are the ones you’ve commented on the most makes me so happy. Most of these were really big adventures and you guys were so awesome and encouraging about them.

A lot has changed in the past four years: I’ve moved (three times), gotten married, changed my name, changed jobs, bought The Best Horse(TM), traveled all over for shows, tried new adventures with the Frankenbean, and have learned more than I could’ve imagined. This blog and the community I’ve found with all of you has been a wonderful constant, and I’m so excited to keep sharing the adventures with you!

10599709_10152805445525376_6049597033803271661_n
From 2015…
41728358992_4250bc9fc0_o.jpg
…to 2019 and on. Cheers to 4 fantastic years! PC- Liz Stout Photography

First Lesson Back!

Frankie and I had a lesson this past weekend. Which may not seem like a huge deal but it TOTALLY IS BECAUSE WE HAVEN’T LESSONED SINCE MID-NOVEMBER OMG. Two months. TWO MONTHS. I literally have not had a lesson in two freakin’ months, and have jumped 2 crossrails in that time. BUT WE FINALLY DID THE THING.

I approached this lesson with a certain amount of trepidation- I am comically out of shape, out of practice, out of whack, out of pretty much everything. Frankie has been in his 2x/week program with AT for about 6 weeks now though, and this really ended up being our saving grace. We had decided to restart his bootcamp before restarting mine so that he could help me get back in shape, and it’s working exactly as intended.

img_5517
I went for a jog with Nick to try to get back in shape and then my knee hurt because I am a decrepit piece of trash but my new leggings are cute so I made him take a picture to prove that I tried. It’s been a rollercoaster.

My trainer had me warm up a little differently than we have in the past. In the past we’ve been very much about setting the tone early, placing him where I want him from the get-go, and riding very strongly off the bat.

But this time, she told me not to worry about anything for a while. Don’t worry about trying for too much forward, don’t worry about asking for too much contact, just trot around for a bit to let him stretch his muscles. Ask for a little bend through the turns. Leave him alone. Leg steady and on but not nagging. We slowly started adding in some lengthening and collecting. A little shoulder-in down the long sides, then straight and forward. Big circle then smaller circle. Wide loopy serpentine. No pressure, no worries.

And you know what we got? We got a very very happy Frankie, who loosened and stretched over his back, softened up into the bridle, and kept a lovely light connection without hanging on my hand. It took longer than it does when I ride more strongly, but he was offering this up to me because he wanted to- not because I was telling him to. It was truly delightful. Especially because I lack the muscle strength to really place him where I want him, it was super cool to adjust how I ride to allow him to place himself.

img_5417
Completely unrelated I just really like this picture from Christmas Eve at my in-laws. Yep, there’s a post-wedding mustache in the works.

Our jumping exercise focused more on letting Frankie place himself: halting after jumps. We’ve done this plenty of times and it’s always been tough. Once we get the momentum going for the jump, it’s hard for Francis to sit back on his butt to stop in a straight line! Continuing the theme from our warmup, Trainer had us approach it differently than we have in the past:

My job: stay straight over the jump, sit up, and steer straight towards the wall.
Frankie’s job: stop before he hits the wall.

That was literally it. No pulling. No arguing. He has enough self-preservation to not run into the wall, and I simply allowed him to exercise that.

I gotta tell you- it went against all my instincts to not try and pull up. But it WORKED. I know it isn’t rocket science, but it was so cool. Since day 1 Frankie has needed a lot of input on what to do with his body, and now that he’s so well-broke we’re turning our attention to building his ability to think for himself. It kept him super mentally engaged in the work even though the jumps were small and it set up him to give good answers. He was visibly proud of himself by the end.

While one of the purposes of this exercise was to let Frankie learn to stop himself, it was also a big exercise in straightness. Since these jumps were across the diagonal, it was natural that Frankie would continue on through the end of the ring, which often meant that he would lean a shoulder over the jump in anticipation. But every time we halted at the wall, I’d turn a different direction afterwards. After doing this a couple times, Frankie stopped leaning. He jumped straight over his body and CUTE. And he stopped anticipating the turn.

So eventually when I didn’t ask for the halt and instead asked him to continue through the end of the ring, he went straight into the corner with great balance, gave a beautiful change, and was right there waiting for my input up to the next fence. And all this with a fairly light steady contact.

You know how I know that it worked? Trainer said, “this is the kind of ride that would be really nice in a derby.”

That’s right, guys. After close to three years of working together to build our skills and abilities, we’ve developed our straightness, our balance, our body awareness, and our just-plain-cuteness to the point that my Trainer thinks we could put in a good showing in a hunter derby.

brunello.png
Basically what I’m trying to say is that he is the next Brunello and that is in no way an exagerration. PC- USEF Network

So it looks like we may be trying one out this season! Like I said before, we don’t have any crazy big competition goals for this year besides having fun, and it sounds super fun to try something new with the Frankfurter. Not to mention that I think he’ll have a good time with it too- while he’s learned to be a pro in the jumper ring, it’ll be a nice mental break for him to do something a little steadier and a little simpler. Trainer is a big proponent of her horses going in multiple rings for just that reason- switching it up and letting them try new things makes for happier horses.

I’m also a financial masochist and asked for a quote on showing at WEC in February. But more on that later.

PS- who wants to come hang out with me to take pics and/or videos? I have no images of me going faster than a walk since September 19th and I wish I was making that up. I’ll buy you tacos, I’m not above bribery.

GIF Name Game

Ok, you guys got me. I was curious after seeing the hilarity ensure from all of you. Would the GIFs encapsulate Frankenbean? Would his many names lead to the many facets of Francis?

I started out with his actual real name (that I rarely call him): Frankie.

frankie_gif.gif

Alright, alright. He does think the mares love him. Spoiler alert: approximately zero of them do. Doesn’t stop him from flirting tho.

Now onto what he goes by more often: Francis.

francis_gif

Remember back when I got him and lobbied for his show name to be Saint Francis or Pope Francis but got told that was distasteful and borderline sacrilegious? Me neither. But yeah. It fits.

What about his affectionate nickname of The Frankfurter?

frankfurter_gif

Yeah ok I see it. Finger guns and all.

And lastly, what about his official show name? To Be Frank:

tobefrank_gif

Aaaaand this one may just fit the best of all. Constantly eating. Always making a mess. Only smart at weird random things. Always up for weird hijinks. Yep.

Making the Small Stuff Fun

I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that we don’t school Francis at heights over 3′ too often, preferring to work on our skills at a lower height. This is mainly to ensure that we’re not putting too much impact on his joints too often, but it also has the benefit of really tuning him in to my aids.

The reason for that is because left to his own devices, Frankie doesn’t care about jumps below 3’ish. He can trot those. He. Does. Not. Care. You can put him on the buckle and kick him at them and he will take a slightly-glorified canter stride over. And for lower levels of skill and fitness, this is totally fine. For a school horse this is desirable even. Let him take care of the smaller stuff so that his rider can focus on her own skills.

sep_roachasaurusrex
Back in the first few months of owning him, sans stirrups and letting him just take the wheel so I could work on me. Not the end of the world, but we’re not really helping him develop.

But in that scenario, he’s also not really learning to use his body over the jumps and he’s not building his fitness at all. He’s just cantering. It doesn’t do much for his attention span or his muscles.

So something that we’ve worked on extensively is making him care about the small jumps. When we trot a crossrail, he must carry me to it and then away without lurching half-heartedly over it (have I mentioned lately how much I hate trot jumps??). When we canter small verticals, he must listen when I place him at the base, and he must pick his feet up. Once he’s fired up and moving, he must STILL compress when I ask so that he can jump well.

He must care about the small jumps just as much as he cares about the big jumps, or else the skills we’re working on won’t transfer as smoothly.

cutejump
The angle makes this look bigger than it was. He had a lovely bouncy canter going in, he had lovely freedom of motion over the jump, and he had a lovely forward canter away- even though this is still trot-able height for him.

This did not come naturally at first to Francis as I mentioned, and it’s still something that I have to be conscious of every ride. It requires a solid squeeze off the ground to support him and let him know that I’m still active so he must be too.

I’ve found that the benefits of this are entirely worth it. They include (but are not limited to):

  • Keeping him tuned into me at all times. There is no such thing as being left to his own devices. He learns that the answer is always ALWAYS to check in with his pilot. This majorly helps his rideability and sensitivity on the flat and over fences.
  • Building hind-end strength. At the lower heights, I will pretty much always ask him to fit the stride in to the base. This requires him to power off the ground even for lower jumps.
  • Developing the jumper chip. Much as there is a hunter gap, there is also a jumper chip that we like. Practicing that at the lower heights helps him build the muscle and the memory to aim for that spot as the fences go up. He jumps much more cleanly and carefully from that close spot, so this helps him develop the ability to carry himself powerfully from there.
  • By using his body properly, we can practice everything at a lower height in a way that translates directly to the bigger heights. Our canter, our takeoff, our landing are all the same- the only change is how much time we spend in the air. We don’t need to revisit our stride power and stride length as the jumps go up as much, since we’re already working on that. This makes it that much easier to raise the jumps since he already has the tools he needs.

This is something I only started working on with him after a year or so of getting to know each other. It’s never something that I even considered as a problem- I thought that “he just doesn’t care about the small jumps!” was a positive and never thought to address it. Now that we’ve learned to make him care about the small jumps, I can recognize how much it’s helped us in so many aspects of our riding, while having the benefit of better preserving his joints.

41954179591_f886db1b39_o.jpg
Not to mention that this careful work has helped him develop muscles in allll the right places.  PC- Liz Stout Photography

We’ll likely spend a good amount of time at some lower heights as we both get our sea legs back, but we’ll definitely be working hard at it!

Welcome to 2019

Happy New Year everyone!

In past years I’ve set yearly goals, which have worked out well. 2016 goals were set before I bought Frankie, but were general enough that we were able to accomplish them. 2017 goals were focused mainly around showing, and included some stretch goals that we achieved. I tried something different in 2018 by breaking my goals out into equestrian, professional, and personal themes.

So with all that in mind, I’ve been wracking my brain on how to set goals for 2019. What am I hoping to accomplish with Frankie, with my husband, with my career?

img_4485
Francis is hoping to accomplish many more scritches in the new year

I’ll be totally honest with you- at this point, I have no idea.

I’m still reveling in the sense of relief and freedom from wedding planning. It was entirely worth it and magical, but having all this free time back is pretty liberating. What do I want to do with it?

For now, I want to just enjoy. I’ve spent the last couple of years purposefully overextending myself to chase a lot of goals while I’m young and healthy. While I’m still young and healthy, I’m also really satisfied with what I’ve been able to accomplish. There’s still plenty to do, but there isn’t as much of a sense of urgency as there has been in the past. We’ve already managed to check off so many bucket list items.

Team Finals? Not only did we qualify, but we helped our team win a silver medal against excellent competition.

jtc_sat_sash
The most professional boi

Two week show? We went to WEC and won our first blue ribbon as a team.

IMG_2297.jpg
Never tired of seeing our name in lights

Lake Placid? We made it! Even if I struggled mentally, there was lots to be proud of.

img_3644
Big guy knows how to pose

Upperville? We’ve gone several years in a row and had fantastic rounds each year.

img_3479
Lawd he struts

Moving up? Frankie has been a rockstar with me in the irons at 1.15m, and I’ve gotten more joy than I anticipated from watching him go at 1.20m with AT.

IMG_3192.jpg
He flies

Trying new things? We’ve gone XC schooling, we’ve gotten blue ribbons in the eq ring, Francis has tried out the pleasure division and the children’s hunters, and we’ve hacked out regularly.

CA391777-ED44-46F4-81A5-F73CAE58986A
Happy pony does ALL the things

Improving our abilities? Frankie is now hands-down the fanciest horse I could hope to have. And he only gets better over time.

img_3502
Literally a flying pegasus unicorn angel

Staying healthy? As he approaches his teenage years, Frankie looks and is going better than ever. His vets/farriers/healthcare team are the best in the business.

img_5190
After a few months of light work, he’s gaining fitness back very quickly and looks shiny and happy

We’ve accomplished an incredible amount over the last almost-three-years together. And it’s been beyond fun to tackle all of these things with the happiest sweetest big bay guy. With all that to be proud of, it’s hard to say “I wish I could do more with him.” He’s already given me more than I could’ve ever dreamed of.

I’m naturally a very goal-driven and competitive person by nature, so I may eventually come down from this post-wedding high and decide to set some goals to work towards. I’m certainly not counting that possibility out. But for now, here are my main goals for 2019:

Be happy with Frankie. Train hard because we both are happier in a fairly intense program and we both love to learn, go to shows where we can have fun, spend lots of time together, expand our skills, and enjoy our partnership. No specific heights or shows necessary, we’ll take those as they come in whatever form they come.

Be happy with my husband. Our first month of marriage has flown by with all the chaos of the holidays, and I have a feeling it’ll only get better from here. He’s the best guy I’ve ever known and we have so many exciting adventures ahead of us.

Be happy with my career. Do the best work I can, learn from my brilliant coworkers, move forward with my own skill set.

Be happy with myself. Find a balance that works without needing to overextend. Eat right and work out to feel strong and confident in my skin. Use face masks as often as needed because those TOTALLY count as self-care. Use this blog as the creative outlet it is.

sunny pic

Cheers to the new year, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you!