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.
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.
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.
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.