Horse of the Year

I didn’t buy a super fancy horse back in 2016. I bought a safe, athletic horse with the kindest eye I’ve ever seen, but I did not buy fancy.

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I love him dearly, but he does kinda have the conformation and movement of a cart horse.

I had very moderate expectations for what we would do together. I had my sights set on the 1.10m jumpers and hoped to compete in some bigger shows, but mostly wanted a safe partner to learn new skills on.

Obviously Frankie blew this out of the water – he’s earned me ribbons up to 1.15m and has even done 1.20m with my trainer, and has held his own at some of the biggest shows in the country. Fancy or not, this horse can jump and walks into the ring with a swagger in his step because he knows how good he is at his job.

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He walks out with a strut and a smile too

And then this past year was a reset of sorts. I got married and went back to school, and our super intense training was put down a notch into a more moderate schedule. Frankie gained a bit of a belly and got a bit fuzzy – like I keep saying, he’s not the fanciest horse. With the scale back in our training came a scale back in my expectations for him.

Within the last three weeks alone, my kind un-fancy horse has won division champion in the jumpers, participated beautifully in a clinic with an Olympic rider, toted me around the Adult Amateur hunters, and carried me to yet another division tricolor in the jumper ring. Expectations be damned, Frankie cheerfully showed up for all of it.

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Calmly interested, eager to hop on the trailer and explore new places, always turning around for ear rubs when he thinks he deserves them (which is constantly), and always happy to receive love from his people (which is everyone). His contentment in his job makes it all a joy.

Sometime soon I’ll get around to recapping our clinic experience, and sometime soon I’ll share our recent show where he moved flawlessly from the hunter ring to the jumper ring, but for now I’m just going to shamelessly dote on my imperfect, un-fancy, perfectly fancy horse.

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Yeah buddy, you can have all the ear rubs in the entire world.

Our Show Warmup

I realized that while I love giving you all a blow-by-blow of our shows, I tend to gloss over the way that we warm up for our rounds. Not that it’s particularly exciting, but every horse is a bit different and it seems that we all have slightly different approaches to the way we prepare to enter the ring.

 

The main title of our approach is: Conserve All Energy. That is really our goal behind all showing decisions, but it especially comes into play in the warmup ring.

What this means in practice is as short of a warmup as I can reasonably get away with, while still making sure my horse’s muscles are stretched and ready to go.

To go into a bit more detail, I tend to mount at our stall and use the walk to the warmup ring to set the tone ofย  “we move forward off the leg when it’s time to work.” By the time we get to the ring, I may do a lap or so at the walk depending on timing, but we get to work pretty quickly.

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Stretchies on a loose rein to get us goin’. PC – A. Frye

At this point it’s just about loosening up. I’ll do a couple laps each direction at the trot and then the canter to get the blood flowing and start really reinforcing the GO button. Light contact and a supportive leg to reassure him in a new environment but not asking for much yet.

Once we’re all on board with the forward motion, I’ll do a few lengthenings/shortenings within the gaits to tune him into my seat and make sure he’s fully paying attention. Maybe a few little shoulder-ins to help move his body a bit more. At this point I start picking up more of a feel as he starts lighting up a little.

And that’s my flat warmup. Short, simple, to the point. Francis is luckily well-behaved and attentive in busy rings, so we do not use this as a schooling opportunity – it is simply a warmup in the purest sense of the word: we warm up our muscles. We may throw in a few extra shoulder-ins on the rare occasion that he takes offense to a wheelbarrow by the rail, or we may do a few more transitions if he’s feeling antsy, but by and large I simply use this chance to make sure we’re paying attention to each other and are ready to jump. I very much want to save his energy for the jumping efforts.

Which we also try to limit before we go in. We’ll pop over a vertical a couple times, going up in height every time. We’ll then move to an oxer and do that 2-3 times. By that point we should be up to full competition height. We’ll then usually reset to a vertical and go up a bit over competition height to remind Frankie to pick up his feetsies. If there’s a particularly tough turn on course we’ll end practicing that turn – for example, if I know that there’s a point in my course where we have to land and immediately turn right, I’ll practice coming off a short approach and immediately turn. It sets the tone for him that he needs to be asking where we’re going at all times rather than assuming.

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Always always, the emphasis is on forward and straight to the base to encourage a good effort. PC – A. Frye

That’s pretty much it. We limit our flatwork to what we need to prepare to jump, and we limit our jumps to get us up to height and ready to turn. I like to head over to the ring when I’m 1 or 2 out which gives us a brief break to walk and relax before picking up the reins and heading in.

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I like to take this chance to let him relax and reset mentally so he feels fresh going into the ring.

That’s our warmup in a nutshell! It tends to be shorter than many others that I see, but over the years we’ve found that it works best for us. I have a fairly lazy horse, we often compete in the heat, and I like him to exit the show ring still feeling like he has plenty of gas in the tank.

I know warmups look very different for everyone, especially across disciplines – how do you approach warming up at shows?