Things I Take for Granted

While I never take Frankie as a whole for granted (I’m extremely grateful every dang day for this horse), I realized recently that there are quite a few aspects of his behavior/personality that I do take for granted. These are things I can’t imagine having to handle differently, because they’re just life for us.

He likes to be groomed. He’s extremely happy with literally any type of brush I use on him, leans into the curry comb, picks his feet up for me before being asked, and genuinely enjoys the attention and feeling of being groomed. He’s not particularly sensitive, and is not at all picky about any part of the process. In fact, he’s noticeably much happier when I take extra time to groom him. It’s clearly one of his (several) love languages.

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We accept scritches and we give them in return

He walks pleasantly on a lead rope. In over 3 years of owning him and taking him to various hectic places, I have never once needed a chain to get his attention or give me some leverage. I’ve used the same plain cotton lead since day one, and it’s pretty much always loose. He is very polite whether we’re walking around the farm, walking onto any size trailer, around a busy showgrounds, or anywhere else.

Speaking of which, he walks on and off the trailer with no fuss. He’s been on 2-horse trailers, 4-horse trailers that he had to back into, commercial semi shippers. Even when there’s commotion around him due to other horses protesting the trailer, or showgrounds packing up, or airplanes flying low overhead, he ambles right on and starts munching hay.

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He especially likes when Vinnie is next to him, even if Vinnie is ambivalent about the whole thing.

And then once he’s on and off the trailer he’s an easy traveler. Even after a long trailer ride, he hops right off to get a drink of water and roll. He eats well, he drinks well, and he’s generally very happy to go for a walk and explore. He’s always very interested in his new surroundings but very rarely (if ever) anxious about them.

He will bend over backwards to make sure I’m safe. This struck me especially recently, when I went to bring a horse in from a field and she very clearly projected her intention to kick me every time I got near her with a halter. Not fun. Frankie has never once expressed any body language with even a whisper of aggression, and he has even deliberately placed himself between me and other horses that were playing rambunctiously. He’s a big horse so I handle myself with care around him, but I 100% trust that his intentions are good.

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Old picture, but I can hand him off to just about anyone and trust that he will be polite and safe with them

On a related note, his intentions in general are good. Sure, he likes to try new evasions to get out of work. But when something doesn’t quite go perfectly I know it’s because (a) I’m not asking correctly or (b) he’s not sure how to use his body in that way or (c) this is hard work for him and he’s building strength. Trusting his intentions means that we give each other some grace and I think really helps him thrive and feel proud of himself (oh jeez this is gonna be a whole other post about this one topic).

Overall, I think I take for granted what an easy horse he is. I never have to consider how he may act or feel on any given day – he has his ups and downs like anyone, but they never affect how he is to handle or how safe he is to ride. I never have to say no to anything because I don’t think he can handle the atmosphere/travel/challenge. He doesn’t require anything special to be happy (though he does really love his massages). I love that I can just show up and trust that he’ll be my trusty steed.

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Always happy to play along ❀

Your turn! What do you take for granted about your mount?

 

Confession Time

So guys, I have a confession for you.

You all know Frankie’s stats by now: he’s a dark bay 17.1 Oldenburg x TB gelding that is turning 14 this spring. Easy stuff that we all know.

Except I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. I’ve suspected for a while (and continue to suspect) that one of those stats is wrong.

I don’t think Frankie is about to turn 14. I think he’s about to turn 15.

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Hear me out here – I bought him in spring 2016, where they told me he was 10. I was like great cool he is 10 years old in 2016 which means he was born in 2006 end of story. Got him signed up with USEF with that info and we all continued on our merry way.

But I then found a sale ad for him from the previous autumn, also listing him as a 10yo. And I do think that one was accurate.

So what I think happened: he was 10 when they had him at the consignment barn, but turned 11 sometime that spring (forever annoyed that I’ve never been able to learn more about his birthday or younger years). Which would mean that he was actually born in 2005, which means that in a few months I will have a 15yo horse.

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Francis using this as an excuse to say he canNOT do work anymore

This matters exactly 0% to me – his muscling and his coat look more amazing than ever (seriously, he is SO FREAKIN’ SHINY), he’s sound as a bell and healthy, and he truly looks better with every passing year. I suspect (and hope) he’s going to be the type that I can enjoy at varying levels well into his late 20s. Whether he’s 15 or 14 doesn’t change anything in terms of what we’re doing, because what we’re doing is clearly working for him.

But apparently I don’t even know how old my horse is, and for that I get to wear a dunce cap.

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Washington Regional 2019

I’m finally playing catch-up and covering our most recent show (it’s only about a month later, it’s fine it’s all fine).

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Cutest pony on the planet!

I was mostly excited for this show because it meant a chance to go in all 3 rings: we had two AA hunter classes and an adult medal planned for Friday, then the Low Adults over in the jumper ring on Saturday. I know it’s laughable to put us in the hunters, but he sure looks cute all braided up, and it was my only chance to get in the indoor before our medal class ran.

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Fun fact, he stood here licking the wall literally all day. Hours on end. He is a very speshul boy.

While we’ve done a couple derbies this year, this was actually our first time in a regular AA hunter class. Is he a good enough mover to pin? Not even close. Was he the ACTUAL CUTEST BOPPING AROUND ON A SOFT REIN AND FINDING HIS OWN SPOTS?? Yes. Yes he was. Like, catch us in the hunter ring because that was so much fun and he was literally the cutest creature to ever exist. I basically got up in my halfseat, grabbed mane, and let him do his diagonal-outside-diagonal-outside thing. He was like a happy lil rocking horse, entirely point and shoot and adorable. I died. I think both of us wish that he was a better mover because it was so low-stress and enjoyable for both of us.

I’m ultimately very glad we went in the two AA classes, because our adult medal ended up not running. There were 5 in it and then at the very last minute 2 scratched and they needed at least 4 to fill. We found out about this as we were trotting around the warmup getting ready, but we at least were near the cool photo op area!

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Drama llama not amused by being woken up from his nap to go work.

Overall it was a fun foray into a ring that we don’t usually go into. I do this whole showing thing for fun so I’m never bothered by the lack of ribbons if my horse was a good boy and did his job – which, yeah. It’s Francis. He’s always a good boy and always does his job. It’s literally always fun.

Saturday was our triumphant return to the jumper ring for the Adult Lows, with one speed class and one jumpoff class.

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Pretty basic speed round, it felt pretty hunterific to me. Lots of big bendings and the only real inside turns were from 6 to 7 and 7 to 8a.
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Those little back feetsies

Keeping up our streak of only ever winning speed classes, Frankie laid down an incredible pace to snag the blue! In a weird way, I almost knew we were going to before we even got to the first jump – I literally said to him under my breath, “let’s go win this” as we approached. He felt so locked on and focused, and I know that if I match his focus he can absolutely set the pace. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – speed is definitely my favorite format!

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Similar lines, this course felt even more basic than the speed round. Jumpoff didn’t have any wild turns either.
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Oh my gosh you angel boy just be cuter with those lil ears

We had a good long break before our jumpoff class, so the big guy got to go rest for a bit. I’ll say that class was definitely weaker – I thought I tipped a rail at 5b, so I decided to go for broke and leave out strides to be the fastest 4 faulter. Which then led to me ACTUALLY tipping a rail. It was A plan, it probably wasn’t the BEST plan. On the bright side, the mistakes that I made were very intentional. It wasn’t that I lost control or didn’t know what I was doing, it’s that I made the wrong call and my horse listened to me. I still see this as progress! My trainer noted that this so-so round was still more accurate and deliberate than my best rounds were not that long ago and I’ll absolutely take that as a win.

Despite our rail in the jumpoff, our win in the speed was enough for us to get the reserve champion ribbon! So far Francis has managed a tricolor in both division outings we’ve done this year.

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We even got a fancy little plate (which I think is cool) and a big bag of treats (which Frankie thinks is VERY cool)

This was a nice relaxed show for us, where we got to go have a great time playing around together. I’m feeling really great about our step down to the 1.0m classes – it has taken all nerves away about the height, Frankie is extremely confident, I’m not as worried about getting in his way, and it’s allowing us to be competitive without having to be perfect. I’m an amateur, this is supposed to be fun!

We’re now on a showing hiatus so I can save my pennies for Ocala, but I’m already very eager to get back in the ring with me big sweet boy. It’ll be a whole new set of competitors and big classes and I know we’re going to have a fantastic time.

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Even if he does make cranky faces when I wake him up from naptime.

Our First Clinic

At long last, I’m finally typing up my thoughts about our clinic with Will Simpson last month!

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There’s Francis trying to snuggle with Will! PC – Phelps Media Group

This was a one-day clinic where each group had 4-5 riders and about 90 minutes with Will to work on the flat and over fences. They started with the 3’6″ group, moved on to the 3’3″ group (which was mine!), took a lunch break and then had the 3′ and 2’6″ groups in the afternoon.

He had all of the groups do similar exercises on the flat, and I found this part really useful. Starting at the walk and eventually moving up to the canter, he has us establish a nice forward pace on a very loose rein, then add a bit of leg and a bit of hand to encourage a release over the poll. The instant the horse gives, you release the hands. Nothing groundbreaking in itself, but his explanation of the timing and aids definitely helped it click into place for me. He even got on Frankie to demonstrate!

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Not a big deal at all, just my horse being ridden by an Olympian.
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Francis: “Oh crap oh crap this isn’t my mom, he actually knows what he’s doing, this means work, MAHM COME GET ME”

For a horse that struggles with the concept and execution of self-carriage (or more accurately, a rider that struggles with the right way to ask for this), I’ve found this exercise to be extremely helpful in every ride since. I’m able to remind Frankie to soften and give, allow him a release when he gets it right, and decide how frequently and for how long I ask for it. Not only am I getting a rounder horse up into the bridle, but I’m able to ask for a more productive stretch once we’re warmed up.

You can even watch Will work with him on these exercises!

The next exercise he had us all do was a figure-8 over a pole at the walk, making sure to step over it with the inside front leg first. It was simply a very tight turn, eyes locked on the pole, and adjusting your track by moving left or right to get the perfect spot. I was a bit nervous about this since I am regularly a clueless monkey up top, but this actually worked pretty well. It was great practice for getting your eyes on an obstacle and keeping them there while making adjustments as necessary. He said he loves this exercise because it’s a great chance to practice precision and finding a spot without pounding the horse or stressing them out – they have no idea if they got it wrong since they’re just walking over a pole on the ground, so it’s easy to go try again.

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Francisco had those thinking ears on

The last big flat exercise he had us work on was cantering small circle-big circle-small circle. The way he had us do it was to pick up the canter on a very small circle to really encourage the horse to rock back and power up into the new gait, establish the canter on a larger circle, and then ask for the walk transition on a very small circle by using the turn to let them balance themselves into the downwards. I did like this a lot for Frankie – anything that puts the onus on him to balance and propel himself is very helpful and keeps his brain engaged. He caught on to this delightfully quickly and I really liked how the small circle discouraged him from “plopping” down into the walk.

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The actual most perfect Frankfurter be-boppin’ around

Then we moved on to some over fences work. The main exercise Will had our group do was coming to a small jump off a short left hand turn. His order of operations was: (1) lock eyes on the jump as soon as reasonably possible (2) use an opening rein to establish the bend towards the jump, then release the bend to allow flexibility in the track (3) actually jump the jump.

The hardest part for me was keeping my eyes on the jump for that long. Will really drilled it into us that once you look at the jump, you should not be looking away – that gives your brain the chance to get distracted and lose the spot. It definitely took some practice to not let my eyes wander off #easilydistracted and I noticed a difference when I was able to stay super focused on the jump. I found it interesting that he seemed to like a bigger flowier distance even to the little jump we were doing. For small jumps I usually try to put Frankie a bit at the base to encourage a better effort and I had to adjust to leave a bit further out for the spot Will wanted us to get.

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This is why I like a closer spot for small jumps – when we’re any further out, he’s comfortable cantering over it. And apparently taking a quick nap.

We moved on to doing 2 jumps on a circle, putting our eyes on the next fence while we were still over the previous one. Continuing to use the opening correcting rein to give us options on the track. It was interesting and certainly effective.

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It was the brown end jump and the tan RF jump (that was set smaller for our exercise). Bit of a circle of death in a good way.

And that was our session. Some good takeaways – nothing truly groundbreaking, but clearly communicated and good practice applying those concepts.

However.

There were several other exercises set up in the ring. There was a series of 8 bounces to encourage self-propulsion, and there was a gymnastic set up with 4 oxers each set one stride apart. I was really pumped to give those a go with our new skills. But then we broke for lunch and didn’t get to do either of them. Every other group got to do every exercise except for ours. Other groups ran over their allotted time to be able to do them while ours ended a bit early. I’m definitely salty about that. I’m not sure of the reason for it and I assume there is a logical one, but logically I also paid the same amount of money and would have liked the same opportunity to go through all the exercises.

You can read about all the exercises here: https://www.phelpssports.com/five-essential-exercises-olympic-gold-medalist-will-simpson/

You can also watch the 3’6″ group on USEF on demand here (complete with AT on her baby horse that she’s brought along from the ground up!): https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2019rutledge/?cl=b

I will say that the venue itself and the way the clinic was run was wonderful. The farm is stunningly beautiful, the ring had great footing, there were snacks and water and a few little vendors set up, and I even got a swag bag! Frankie got some treats and I got a customized wine glass with the date and the clinician’s name on it. Not gonna lie, it made my hoarder heart want to go back and clinic there again just so I can collect a set. The host did a truly fantastic job of making me feel welcome and supported as a rider there, there were plenty of opportunities for auditors to ask questions, and you can’t beat the location.

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Is there anything better than a beautiful barn in Virginia in the fall? I think not.

I also had a great time with my friends that went, and of course I enjoy any opportunity to try new things with my favorite beast.

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Friends!
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The sweetest bay boys were happy to chill on the trailer while the other folks rode. Frankie loves Vinnie, and Vinnie solidly tolerates Frankie.
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This post wouldn’t be complete without a picture of Francis making some sort of funny face.

So overall thoughts: I’m kinda eh on it. It was fine. There were some interesting takeaways that I’ve found useful in the month since the clinic. I think I would’ve been perfectly happy for the novelty of riding with an Olympian if I had paid less for it. As is, I’m not thrilled that my group got less to do, and ultimately that colors my view. That being said, I’m already looking for the next clinician I want to ride with at that venue because the overall experience of participating there and the atmosphere was A+. Clinician was a decent 6/10, venue and experience were a solid 11/10.

 

BRB Dying

I know I haven’t yet gotten around to recapping our clinic or most recent show – recently I’ve been travelling to see family and to be in my dear friend’s wedding, school has been fascinating but busy, work has been demanding a bit more time, and I’m straight up exhausted. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

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My college roommates are the prettiest, you can’t change my mind.

I haven’t had a lesson in several weeks now due to travel and feeling run down, and luckily Francisco has been getting plenty of exercise and love. He’s getting his first clip of the season soon (partially to help him cool off after exercise, and partially so his fluff doesn’t trap his stench so strongly). I’m a bit of a hands-off owner right now as I try to gain some energy and consistency back. In the past I’ve felt some guilt about needing to step back, but at this point I know that he’s perfectly happy and healthy and will be waiting for me.

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His favorite junior has been cooling him out with beautiful walkabouts. He’s a happy camper.

We do have a bit of a break from showing for the winter, which certainly helps. November historically is a pretty quiet month for us and is a good reset after a busier-than-expected show season. My plan is to keep Francis in comfortable moderate work to maintain fitness, then start ramping back up in December.

Because we’re planning to head to Ocala for our February vacation! I still need to hash out the details with my boss and barn-wise we’re still building our cohort, but WBH (World’s Best Husband) and I talked about the expense and the tradeoffs and he’s supportive of us making the trip. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – I’m unbelievably grateful for this guy and his encouragement of these hare-brained schemes.

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Even if this is what happens when I ask him to take a nice picture

We’re planning to be down there for two weeks in February doing jumper and eq classes to our heart’s content. We already have a barn outing planned to see the manatees and it looks to be a good group heading down (let’s be honest, we always have a good group).

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So stinkin’ excited to be in the sun again, this time with my most favorite horse in the world.

My one concern is figuring out how to do work/schoolwork while I’m down there. I remember in 2016 that there was some spotty wifi in the food building, but I also heard a rumor that they’ve improved their wifi coverage and even added some to the barn areas. Have any of you been there recently and can share your experience with the wifi? Would love to know if I need to invest in a hotspot device!

Short version: I’m beyond worn out from an incredibly busy fall, but quieter times are coming before ramping back up for a wonderful spring.