A Case Study About Case Studies

Today, I want to talk to you about something completely not pony related. It’s work related. It’s about a fascinating session I was able to attend at this conference I’m attending for work, and what I observed.

This particular session was a discussion about female protagonists in case studies used in the classroom for graduate management education. Or more accurately, the lack of female protagonists. Graduate business programs often heavily utilize these cases to teach concepts across their curricula, but very few of them mention women at all- even if they are present, it’s even less likely that the woman is in a leadership position, and even LESS likely that they speak to another woman at any point. And it’s overwhelmingly likely that women are featured in “pink industries” such as cosmetics. So these programs are trying to teach their students how to be leaders, but 40% (roughly the percentage of women in many programs, which is rising) go through their classes without seeing anyone like them succeeding.

I don’t think any of this is really a surprise. Frustrating and disappointing, yes. A surprise, no. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what I expected in the room, and what I observed.

First of all, I expected this session to be packed to the gills. Given the #MeToo visibility and current climate, I expected that anyone in a position to effect change would be desperate for information and the opportunity to brainstorm solutions. But that wasn’t the case at all. While there was a decent turnout, there were plenty of empty chairs in the moderately-sized room. I would argue (and have already spoken to some conference organizers about this) that this should not have been a breakout session- in the future it should be one of the main discussions held in the main ballroom, with everyone in attendance. This is a conversation that requires everyone’s participation. Cultures and climates cannot change in a vacuum.

I also expected there to be very few men in attendance. I was semi-right on this. I’d say about 25% of the room was male. Given that there were more men than women at this conference, this certainly was not a representative sample of the population- but not surprising. In fact, it was a little higher than I had expected.

When talking about goals for female representation in case studies, I expected the goal to be about 50%. After all, women are half the population and will (hopefully) make up half the classroom in the not-too-distant future. Not so. I heard 3 men say that 30% “would be hard enough to achieve.” I understand that change doesn’t happen overnight and there’s a considerable workload to updating course materials, but I was blown away that they so casually dismissed the possibility of even trying to achieve an equal balance.

I then observed the conversations taking place. I observed one of the co-panelists (a middle-aged white man) refer to complaining as “bitching,” I observed the same man share 3 stories on how supportive he is of these efforts, and I observed that 4 men spoke about 80% of the words spoken in total in that session.

So we have a session about the need for more equal female representation. And these guys were so busy telling us what allies they are that they left almost no time for the female co-panelist to actually share the results of the research her foundation has done.

I know these men had good intentions and do genuinely want to help make lasting changes in their programs. None of this was maliciously done. It was simply lacking in awareness that they had completely hijacked the conversation and proved the point of why exactly these changes are necessary. It was the most frustratingly ironic thing I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a perfect case study (about case studies).

The cure for this is increased awareness. It’s making sure that this conversation keeps happening and is visible and can grow and evolve. It’s getting people in positions of influence to join the conversation and then DOING something about it. I’m planning to be one of those influential people one day, and you can bet this will be top of mind.

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WEC Bootcamp

It’s bootcamp time for me and Francis!

With only 5 weeks left until we ship out to Ohio, we are officially ramping up for our 2018 show season. Here’s how we’re preparing:

Francis got a fresh clip. Despite getting a very handsome clip in November (which lasted him all season last year), he immediately got stupid fuzzy again and needed another haircut to be able to work without sweating his butt off. AT did a fantastic job, and once I pull his mane he’s going to look super official legit shmancy show pony.

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OMG Frankie the day before I bought him. I put this here bc I wanted a pic of him clipped, but he looks so different now!

Training rides! AT will hop on once a week for a tune up until we leave. Honestly, we’ll probs just continue this all season since Frankie so clearly benefits from regular skillful rides. We can bump up to 2x later if we want, but I don’t think that’s super necessary at this point.

I’m on 5x a week to give Frankie a total of 6 days on, 1 day off (one lesson with me, one training ride, and four flatwork/relaxing hack sessions with me). That’s what we did for show season last year, and he really thrives in a steady routine like that. He’s had a very quiet couple of months in this off season, so we need to steadily ramp his fitness back up- though I will say, that his energy has been great and he’s been feeling nice and fresh. I think that mental and physical break was great for him.

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Naht fresh. Want naps. Moar food.

For me, lots of no stirrup work. Both on my own and in lessons- Trainer has said that she wants me doing coursework sans stirrups every time I jump. I’m pretty comfortable doing courses up to 1-1.10m-ish without stirrups, but I’ll need to get a little stronger before I’m confident putting the jumps up to full height. I’m hoping to get to the point where I can stay with Frankie more easily when he cracks his back over the big ones.

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I may or may not be allowed to use my hands

Monitoring health- for both of us. I’ve definitely lost some tone over the holidays due to lots of tasty food and drinks and riding less consistently. I’m back on the healthy eating train, strength building train, and consistent riding train- see above. Frankie is currently feeling good, but we’ll be carefully monitoring him (as always) to see if he’ll need any extra support from us as we raise the jumps. Likely we’ll do another SI injection in May, but for now he’s feeling peachy.

Of course, I have to travel all next week for work and will be missing out on bootcamp. Womp womp. I have my favorite barn rat working Frankie for me, AT will do her ride on him, and I’ll be hitting the hotel gym to keep up, so hopefully we can hit the ground running when I return.

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Let’s get back to this! Only bigger! (There’s totally room for another rail there, right?)

So excited to get back out there with the World’s Bestest Pony Ever!!!

2017 Secret Santa!

I know, I know- I’m so late with this! Joke’s on all of you who called me “organized” on Amanda’s post. But I finally have a moment to breathe and tell you about the world’s most amazing present. From none other than Carey from Me Jump Pretty One Day!

I knew I was in for a treat when I got this teaser card:

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Who can resist that face??? And the drool was a perfect touch- no joke, I have this hanging in my office and I’ve had people stop in the middle of sentences to ask what that is. I tend to start stuttering about how fun and silly horses are and try to get back on topic. They don’t get it. I love it.

A short while later, I opened up my package to reveal a personalized desk calendar!! The time and effort Carey put into this was so so so beyond thoughtful, and I love it so much. It’s even already come in handy flipping through the year as I’m wedding planning! Here’s the cover:

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I quickly flipped through and ooh-ed and aah-ed over the pretty pictures of me and Francis.

And then I spotted something. And I turned back to the front. And I spotted those little letters: “Olivia and To Be Frank 2018. (and Cosmo)”

AND COSMO.

Ladies and gentlemen, as if this couldn’t get any better, we have Mo joining us in every. single. picture. Here’s January:

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Hah! There he is!!! I cackle with glee every time I look at this!!!

Carey was kind enough to share the digital files she used, so here’s a selection of my favorites (though let’s be real, they’re all my favorites because this is AMAZING).

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February: the subtlety! Can you spot him keeping an eye on us??
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April: the attention to detail! The just-right-out-of-focus-ness!
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May: there he is, watching our trial ride!!
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August: like we just interrupted his grazing time!
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December: classic Mo face photobombing!!!

I’m pretty sure this is the Secret Santa gift to beat all Secret Santa gifts. I’m still giggly about it every day, and I get to giggle about it all year! Thank you SO MUCH Carey for this wonderfully thoughtful and hilarious and amazing present!!!

And of course a huge big thank you to Tracy of The Printable Pony for hosting this every year- this was a huge highlight of my holiday season, and I already can’t wait until next year!!

I gotta go stare at this some more and chortle like a bubbling-over teapot. I’ll be back in a bit.

Earth to Francis

We all know that Frankie is a perfect angel, right? Never does anything remotely bad, is rock solid 100% of the time?

Frankie decided to use this cold snap to remind me that he is not, in fact, the pretty pony on the merry-go-round. He is a horse. With opinions (even if they rarely make an appearance).

It started last weekend in my lesson- we warmed up on the flat just fine, popped over a few crossrails, and then the wheels fell off. Frankie discovered that when he sneezed, rooted, and humped his back just so, he could pull the reins right out of my hands. LIKE A JERK.

We would head up to a jump (tiny ones in short courses bc omg cold), he would canter up like a normal horse, jump it like a horse who has done this a thousand times, then his brain would fall out his butt and he would land porpoising until I pulled him up in a heap.

Every. Time.

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MAHM MUST PLAY

And I won’t pretend to any startling feats of bravery here: while I never felt unseated, it definitely did kick some nerves into play. It didn’t feel dangerous, just entirely unenjoyable and yucky. For that lesson, we ended up doing a bunch more flatwork to get our brains back in our skulls and get my own body to stop emitting PANIC vibes.

Listen, I get it: the temp had plummeted, he hadn’t gotten much turnout time for a few days, it was windy, all these things would make any horse fresh. And all things considered, it wasn’t dangerous or malicious behavior- it was a fit horse with a lot of excess energy that simultaneously wanted to play but also get out of work. It isn’t hard to figure out why this happened.

Still annoying as hell tho.

Fast forward to Thursday, which was equally cold and gross and turnout-less. In the interest of self-preservation, I asked Trainer if I could lunge Francis for 10-15 min before hopping on to let him move out and warm up and let out any silliness. And yes, if you were wondering: this was my first time lunging him. Homeboy hasn’t really needed it in the past.

Luckily, his unicorn status held and he lunged like he does it every day (after a quick reminder that coming into the middle is invasive and rude and not allowed). I say luckily, because I spent most of the time trying to organize the line and half-heartedly clucking at him. Good boy Francis.

So I hopped on, very pleased that we had warmed him up and let him work out some energy.

Until we cantered and he remembered that rooting and pulling and humping was super fun last time. DANGIT FRANCIS NOT AGAIN.

So we borrowed a gag converter from AT and set off again.

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Example: it goes through the bit rings and up through the brow band, then a second set of reins attaches and gives the gag action.

And the next time he tried to dive down, we had a bit of an Earth To Francis moment with the leverage. Which he did not like. So he cantered like a normal horse in a straight line. And then tried again. Earth To Francis. Rinse. Repeat. Multiple times in each direction.

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MAHM NO STAHP

Eventually he realized that the pressure only hit when he was acting the fool, so he stopped acting the fool. We did a few little courses to confirm that we had a balanced, thinking horse under us, then called it a day.

And I promptly went out and ordered my own gag converter.

I will say, I actually liked the feeling of the gag more than the three-ring we tried before. Especially with the double reins, it was easy to engage when I needed a little extra lightness in the front end, and chuck away when we were doing fine- by our last mini-course, I didn’t need to engage it at all. I plan on using the converter for a while, then potentially getting a regular gag bit to try out. We shall see.

The countdown is on for WEC! 43(ish) days until Frankie and I head west for a few weeks.

Coming up soon: telling you all about my AMAZING Secret Santa gift, some product reviews of things that are making my winter hibernation more bearable, and continued ramblings from yours truly.

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See, we can be cute

 

2018 Goals

I have so much to talk about, I don’t even know where to start! I need to tell you all about my Secret Santa gift (you can all sit down because mine wins everything), our recent lesson where Frankie discovered how to root and crowhop at the same time (oh joy), how I’ve pretty much already planned our wedding (yessir we have a date!), and a whole bunch of other stuff.

But to start off my year, I do want to put down some goals that have been tumbling around in my head. Pinky promise we’ll get to the rest soon.

So without further ado, here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2018.

Equestrian Goals:

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Jump more colorful sticks with this handsome beast
  • Work with my trainers, my vet, my farrier, and other members of the team to keep Frankie healthy and sound. He’s currently in great shape both physically and mentally, so I’m looking forward to working with these awesome pros to make sure our program keeps him happy and feeling his best!
  • Test the waters at 1.20m. We don’t need to win the class, and we may not “officially” move up completely, but I do want us to safely and competently make it around at 1.20m. I know Frankie is plenty capable, so I’ll just have to get my butt in shape!
  • Become a better rider. This is intentionally vague- I have different bad habits that come and go at random. I’d like fewer bad habits, and I’d like them to show up less often. I want to go make newer, fewer mistakes and improve the support I’m able to give Francis on course.
  • Come up with a plan moving forward. Frankie told me that he really wants a brother, but mama’s broke. Talk to Trainer and figure out the best way for me to continue moving up without having to sell an organ.
  • Have a blast competing! We’ve got some INCREDIBLE shows lined up on the calendar for this year and I plan to enjoy the heck out of every single one!

Professional Goals:

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I don’t know why the photographer at work blurred me this much but I find it HYSTERICAL
  • Take the time to consider what I want my long term trajectory to be, and create a more concrete pathway to reach that point. I’m finally starting to figure out what I really like doing and starting to coalesce a vision of what I want to achieve, so it’s time to get deliberate about moving in that direction.
  • Research business schools and the GMAT. I don’t think I’ll want to start school in 2018, but 2019 may be the year to go start working towards that MBA. This ties into that first goal of finding my pathway- I have a strong feeling that another degree will be majorly helpful to advance the way I’d like to.
  • Maintain close relationships with my mentors and colleagues. I’m lucky to have a fantastic network of professional (many of whom have become close friends). Life may get busy, but I want to be sure that my relationships with these talented and intelligent people stays a priority.

Personal Goals:

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GET IT TOGETHER

 

 

  • Plan a wedding and get married! Does this count as a goal? I feel like it’s more of a major life event. Leaving it here anyways. Super psyched about this. Along these lines- move in with Buddy Fianci (sorry guys, this is the one that’s sticking in my head for now). It’s gonna be rad to be roommates.
  • Maintain a consistent workout schedule and (semi) healthy eating habits. There’s a lot of stuff that I really enjoy doing that requires me to be in good shape, so I’d like to make sure I’m as physically prepared as possible to Do All The Things.
  • Make time to just breathe and rest. Between riding, competing, planning a wedding, moving, maybe starting school, and just existing, it’s going to be a MAJORLY busy year and I don’t want to burn out. I want to make sure that I build regular self-care into my routines.

So you know, nothing ambitious for 2018 😉

Can’t wait to share the adventure with all of you wonderful people!

2017 In Review

January: I started off the year with a big realization about just how much I want to throw my whole heart into riding. Frankie and I continued to school some bigger (to us) jumps and made our official move up to the High Adult division!

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McDonogh, January 2017

February: I did an anniversary lookback on what Ocala meant for me as a rider. I rode (poorly) for a guest trainer, we talked about who gets to ride my horse, and I took a moment to look back and appreciate some of the progress I’ve made over the years.

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Daydreaming about Ocala, February 2016

March: I talked about what I look for in a trainer and admitted that I am a special needs client. Manfriend and I celebrated an anniversary. Work was pretty busy so this was a quiet month on the blog, but Frankie continued to be a constant.

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Frankie AND Manfriend

April: I continued working to find a balance between real life and the barn. We celebrated one year of Francis being part of the family! We made it to our first big show of the season at Culpeper where Francis won his first 1.15m and carted me around the Highs. We marveled at what a long way he’s come.

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You will never be able to escape from this photo, sorrynotsorry

May: I talked about how the bigger jumps forced me to reevaluate my position. Frankie got his SI injected and we confirmed our qualification for the USHJA Regional Jumper finals. I spent some time in a dress.

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Learning how to land off the jumps

June: I made some big changes with a new job and a new apartment. We went to Upperville and Frankie showed us just how professional he could be- including taking us to the jumpoff in my first 1.15m track.

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Best Pony Ever made the 1.15m look like child’s play

July: I stirred the pot a bit by defending the use of grooming services at shows. We started thinking about what the future might hold for us, but also kept our focus shorter-term by building a fitness plan. We looked at how Frankie developed his jumping technique over time and I got to panic less about finances.

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July was hot. Frankie was not amused.

August: We got to lesson in the new outdoor ring and talked about sale ads. We then ended up going to USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships, which was the culmination of many months of hard work- and we even managed to pull off a team silver medal!

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This happened.

September: I told you about our fall plans to go Do All The Things, went over my show outfitting, and told you about my deal with Francis. We talked about what our perfect horse would be (Frankie, obvi) and Manfriend chimed in with a how-to guide to being a Horse Show Boyfriend.

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And we took unofficial Christmas card photos

October: We started out the month with a show in the equitation division (where Francis was a star but I was an idiot) and then we got out of the ring for some XC schooling. We talked about self care heading into the winter months and jumped some weird looking fences. Big surprise- we scored a last minute invite to Zone 3 Finals to round out our season, where Francis showed up and told us all how fast he could go.

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Goin’ fast and lookin’ cute

 

November: I got to share with you how proud I am of a certain barn rat. We talked about how we feel when we leave the ring– whether it was good or bad. I got some sun, got excited about a new USEF rule, and decided that Francis is always a star to me- even if we didn’t get a spot in a big clinic.

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I spent time in clothes other than breeches!

 

December: We reviewed our entire show season to celebrate the USEF New Year! I spent a lot of time travelling from place to place while Frankie relaxed, and we got to make a super fun decision around our next show year. Then I got the best surprise of my life when Manfriend asked if he could become my Horse Husband!

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Frankie’s getting a dad!

From beginning to end, 2017 was truly a year to remember. So much growth and learning, so many wonderful memories made, and so much love shared. Cheers to 2018 being even better!!

A Little Leverage

So for my birthday, we tried out a new bit with Francis- specifically, the bit that AT uses with him when she rides. It’s a copper mouth French-link elevator, as such:

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Just with a copper mouth

We started out with my main rein on the snaffle ring and the curb rein on the first ring down, to give me a change to get used to having a little leverage. From a mouthpiece standpoint, I did really like the French link- it felt like Frankie was softening to it a bit more than either the plain snaffle or the slow twist I’ve used in the past.

After warming up a bit and getting my “sea hands” so to speak, we took off the curb and then moved my main rein down so we could test this out for real. Overall I do really like it- it’s definitely a big adjustment for me in how I need to ride and it was far from perfect, but it did give us some tools that I was happy about.

The trot work in this was…eh. Francis was bracing and we had to focus on lots of bending and take-release-take-release for him to realize that while I wasn’t going to just hang on his face, I did expect him to carry himself upright and not hang on me in return. The canter work was a lot better, which I wasn’t surprised by. His canter is naturally his best gait, and he’s always had much better carriage and balance in the canter than in the trot no matter what bit is in his mouth. It was much easier for me to keep a light touch on the reins, give with that inside hand a bit more, and allow him to carry me without as much of a “discussion” on who has to hold his head up.

Then it was time to jump, and in this lesson we focused on some more interesting turns with the jumps set low. I was a bit surprised while we were warming up- Frankie was really cracking his back and putting in an effort over the crossrails we were trotting, which is rare for him. I actually got caught off guard a couple times and got a little left behind, so I tried to make sure I slipped my reins when that happened so he didn’t get punished in the mouth for doing his job.

After warming up, here was our first course:

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So we trot in the crossrail on the rail, rollback to the box, turn left and long approach down to the little oxer, canter up the long side, and then go straight down the middle by slicing- either a direct 2 or a teeny shaped 3.

My goal was to ride the first jump BEFORE riding the turn, which meant packaging him up and not throwing my shoulders at him. The rollback went much better when we stopped trying to get perpendicular to the jump and instead sliced it straight towards the end of the ring. The long approach was just fine, and he opened up his step nicely to put the two strides in the middle line.

With this new bit, my focus was to release more with my hands both over fences and in between, and rely more on my legs. It gives me great shortening ability and I don’t want to accidentally shorten too much. It doesn’t come second-nature yet, but that focus on controlling his stride from my seat and legs more intensely gave us much better turns and control of that shoulder.

Here was our other course:

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So short approach down the box, up the outside line in a flowing three, down the oxer sliced right to left to give us room to turn up the center line to do that in a flowing two the other direction.

I tend to have a tough time coming out of that corner up to 2, so we ended up getting a bit of a chocolate chip- but he listened fantastically and opened up to put the three in without a problem anyways. We had set jump 3 a little bigger to give him a chance to stretch and he jumped it really nicely.

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Well, nice is a strong word. Still cute tho.

Then the last part of the course was good- I didn’t keep as straight as I should’ve going up the center so it got a bit gappy, but not terribly ugly.

Overall this lesson was a really good test of working with some leverage. It’ll take some time for both of us to adjust and fine-tune with this new tool, but I do think it’s a great option for us to explore. My big concern is that I’m used to carrying a certain amount of weight with the snaffle, and with this I need to carry much less weight for a similar response. I like that I can be lighter with him and that he seems to like the mouthpiece, so now it’s just a matter of training myself to feel his responses and tweak how I carry my hands accordingly. Especially when we get him fired up and jumping the big jumps, I think this is a step in the right direction to have something that he seeks the contact with and is gentle on his mouth, but still gives me the control to get the adjustability we’ll need to safely get around.

Flying up to Rhody tonight for Christmas with the fam, and I can’t wait to see them all! Stay safe on all of your travels!

Grids on grids on grids

While I’m still totally reveling in the fact that I’ve conned an actual Prince Charming into marrying me, I’ve also been having some great rides with my four-legged prince! Our last couple lessons have been gymnastic-focused. You all know how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE gymnastics!

Last week we didn’t do anything too crazy- my lungs have been taking a stupid long time to recover from my swamp illness, and I’ve been riding inconsistently, so we kept the jumps fairly low and just worked on building some strength back.

Which means that after going through a couple times, Trainer had me drop my stirrups. Which honestly- I don’t mind. It forces my balance to be more centered and my leg actually stays a lot more stable since I can’t brace against the stirrup. I keep threatening to go in the show ring without my stirrups since I ride so much more correctly. It’s annoying.

I jokingly asked Trainer if she wanted me to drop my reins too, which clearly she immediately said yes to. I mean I wasn’t doing a ton with them anyways- Frankie knows that his job is to continue through the grid, so it’s not like I was steering. Hands on hips it was! Like an absolute bro, Francis carried me right on through a couple times and let me strengthen my balance.

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Apparently hands on hips means chicken wings. Also I know the jump isn’t huge but maybe put in a little bit of effort dude.

I then pressured Trainer into letting me join an extra lesson this week, since I so rudely did not get one on Saturday. Clearly the whole day was a wash.

This was another gymnastic lesson, but we switched it up a bit. We wanted to try and address some of Frankie’s very prominent left drift (which is made even more prominent by my disgustingly weak left leg). So I carried a dressage whip on my left through the grid.

Francis was also freshly clipped and had lots of gas in the tank during our warmup. Well, at the trot. By the time we moved into our canter work, he remembered that holding still is more fun than not holding still. But I actually rode without a crop or spurs for the first time and we kept moving! So I’d consider that spicy in FrancisWorld.

Another thing you should know is that Frankie jumps SO MUCH BETTER when he’s annoyed. You may remember back at Zone Finals where we riled him up for our second warmup and got much better work from him. He doesn’t buck or bolt or spook or sass when he’s pissed off- he just jumps out of his skin. He’s literally a unicorn, it’s the actual best response ever. And you know what really annoys him? Being smacked behind my leg. It doesn’t need to be a big smack. It can be a little tickle from a dressage whip. Nothing gets him pinning his ears and cracking his back quite like it.

So between a new haircut and that dressage whip in my hand, Francis went through that grid with the roundest bascule I’ve ever felt from him. It was SUCH fantastic energy firing off the ground! He was pretty sure life was miserable DESPITE LITERALLY NOTHING BEING DIFFERENT BECAUSE I BARELY TOUCHED HIM WITH THE WHIP but it was an awesome workout for him and good practice getting the fire in his step.

Naturally, we jacked the last jump up to give him a bit of a challenge- a nice square oxer that we set up at 4′. He just flew. It was amazing. Trainer let me go back and do it again, but the deal was that I couldn’t have my stirrups. He still flew, and took me with him. Landed cantering away casually while I was up there grinning like an idiot. I swear, jumping over colorful sticks with this creature is the best feeling in the entire world.

This all made me that much more excited to try some bigger tracks with him. He clearly has the scope for it, he was barely trying over that last oxer. And now that we’ve figured out that he jumps much more correctly (and therefore much more safely) once we rile him up a bit, I think we’ll be able to up the ante on course. This will never be his “normal,” but it’s something we can practice.

He definitely gets very strong when he’s like that, but at the same time he’s so much more adjustable since we have all that impulsion from behind. We’ll need to play around with bits to give us something that gives me the leverage to channel this energy without backing him off. We have a couple good ideas that we’re going to test.

His favorite little barn rat will give him some rides while I go up north for Christmas, then we’re counting down to WEC! We’ll probably fit in one local show to do the 3′ eq and one B one-day to do the Highs in January as our kickoff to the season, then it’s off to Ohio for two weeks. I. Can’t. Wait.

If I don’t talk to y’all before then, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, very happy holidays, and get to spend lots of time with the people and creatures you love!

A New Chapter

I’m going to need your help, everyone. We have to come up with a new name for Manfriend.

He’s decided that he’s sick of dating me. He no longer wants to be my Manfriend.

SO WE’RE GONNA BE PLANNING A WEDDING Y’ALL OMGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!

As a native Rhode Islander I’m strongly leaning towards Buddy Fianci, but that’s a bit of a mouthful. We’ll be taking suggestions. Hit us up.

We’d been talking about getting married for a while so I could put my Pinterest boards into practice we could take an exciting new step forward together. I knew it was coming soon. I knew that ex-Manfriend (which he will go by until we get something better into play so get your suggestions in soon) had talked to my parents for their blessing over Thanksgiving. Mostly because he is not subtle and I’m exceedingly nosy. We’re a fun couple. I’ve spent the last 3 months turning to him every time he tied his shoe and yelling, “Nicholas is this it?!”

Anyways, what I’m trying to get at is that I’m hard to surprise. ex-Manfriend gets a zillion bonus points for managing to COMPLETELY bamboozle me.

Because I honestly thought that he was visiting his grandma that morning, but would be meeting me at the barn afterwards to watch me ride. I honestly thought I had a lesson scheduled for 2, but would be going early to hang out. In case my trainer is reading this, you still owe me that lesson.

As I was getting ready to head to the barn, I got a call from my friend saying that she was taking Christmas pics of the horses because it was so nice out- we could take Frankie’s after my lesson, but could I come a little earlier to hold horses beforehand?

Here I am thinking I’m so slick, like HOLY CRAP THIS IS THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR HIM TO PROPOSE AFTER MY LESSON WHILE WE’RE TAKING PICS HE NEEDS TO CAPITALIZE ON THIS. So I picked my outfit with care. My favorite navy breeches. My favorite tech shirt. My Team Finals hat. Actual makeup. Like a real person.

I called ex-Manfriend as I was about to pull into the barn to ask him to grab a change of clothes for the pics- and being a skilled con-man, he said he would be there in 20 and probably had a blazer in the trunk or something. I was busy blasting some seasonal Mariah and in a fantastic mood, so I let the “probably” slide.

And then I pulled up to the barn and saw balloons.

Something you should know about me: I LOVE BALLOONS. Like, a lot. My dad always brings them to the airport when he picks me up because I always tell him that a reunion without balloons is just a meeting. Balloons are my favorite.

At this point, I’m thinking that someone has decided to take their Christmas pics with balloons. Because naturally, balloons are festive and lovely and who wouldn’t want that?! I’m ready to go help out this genius soul with their gorgeous balloon-inspired photoshoot.

And then I spot a bay horse. There’s plenty of bay horses at the barn, but this one looked pretty tall. And handsome. But it could still be any of the bays, really.

And then I turned the corner and realized that it was for sure my horse. And that standing in front of him was Manfriend in the blazer that he DEFINITELY HAD and holding roses.

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Which apparently Francis tried to eat
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My sweet sweet boys ❤
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As I was pulling up, they spotted me.

Being a rational human being, I completely froze and considered driving my car past them to park.

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I just sat in here completely frozen for what felt like a VERY long time.

Then I saw my friend frantically gesturing for me to get out of the car, so I stumbled my way out and said, “Nicholas you liar.”

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Nicholas you garbage liar man

Sweet words of love.

To be fair, he retorted by mockingly saying, “Nicholas is this it?!”

I feel like we’re even.

I side-eyed my way over to him to listen to what he had to say. But real talk, I was on a major adrenaline high and the phrases that I caught were “love you so so much” and “want to spend my life with you” and then he was on one knee and I pretty much dive bombed him and then took the ring before he could give it to me and got kinda aggressive about it.

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Step 1: say wonderful things and propose in an amazing way
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Step 2: Try to breathe around the leech on your face
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Step 3: Regain your footing

 

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Step 4: give me the ring before I can nab it with my grabby raccoon hands (side note: fav pic of the day. All adorable and sweet and then BAM FRANCIS LLAMA FACE)
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Step 5: omgomgomgomgomg

I swear I wasn’t crying, I was just…leaking. Mighta been sweat, mighta been tears, mighta been both. Francis joined in the celebration looking for scritches.

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The first true family portrait
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Frankie: “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD”

There were confetti poppers waiting for us.

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There was champagne.

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The balloon with words on it simply said, “You’re Special.”

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hahahahahahaha

Magical.

We went inside and shared some bubbly together with Francis and some of my closest friends, as we started to share the news with friends and family.

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In my favorite place with my favorite person
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My face is now stuck like this, sorry not sorry.

What does one do when freshly engaged? Clearly there’s only one right answer here.

You ride the horse. Without steering.

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Francis take the wheel
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GALLOP ON MIGHTY STEED
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Less than 10 seconds after he sneezed his brains out from allergies.
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brb obsessed with my new jewelry

Seriously, I could not have asked for a more magical day. I would’ve said yes no matter how he asked, but the fact that he came to my favorite place on the planet and involved my heart horse made it so far and beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of.

I’m so grateful for my friends who took all these wonderful pics to remember the occasion and helped Nicholas coordinate everything. I’m so lucky to have such generous, caring, hilarious, wonderful people to call my barn family!! My favorite little barn rat even captured the whole thing on video- including lots of her giggles.

Most of all, I’m grateful that I get to lock down this wonderful guy of mine. It’s gonna be a real awesome life together!!!

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Gold Star Clinic Questionnaire

As promised, here are the questions from the application I had to fill out for the Gold Star Clinic! I didn’t include my answers, but I did include some thoughts on the questions, format, etc. in italics below. Let me know your thoughts!

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  • At what age did you start riding?
  • At what age did you start jumping?
  • Is your family involved in the horse industry?
  • Have you participated in any other disciplines? Check as follows: Hunter, Jumper, Equitation
  • How many years did you compete in the Hunters?
  • Do you feel your Hunter experience helped you develop as a Jumper rider? Please explain.
  • How many years did you compete in Equitation?
  • Do you feel your Equitation experience helped you develop as a Jumper rider? Please explain.

Pretty basic stuff so far. 

  • Did you compete in the Talent Search competitions?
  • Have you competed in any Equitation Finals? If so, in which did you compete and at what age(s) and year(s)? Did you place?
  • At what age did you start riding in Jumper competitions?
  • Have you competed in the National Junior Jumper Championship and Prix de States competition? If so, at what age(s) and what year(s)? Did you place?
  • Have you competed in the North American Children’s, Junior or Young Rider Championships? If so, at what age(s), level, and in what year(s)? Did you place?
  • It is important to know how you felt about the experience of competing at the Junior Jumper Championship/Prix de States and the NAChJYRC. Please write about that experience and how it did or did not impact your riding career.
  • It is important to know how you felt about the experience of competing at the USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships. Please write about that experience and how it did or did not impact your riding career.

Clearly this above section was aimed at people who had a fairly prolific career as a junior or are currently juniors. I had to put N/A for pretty much all of these except the last question about Team Finals.

  • When you started your riding career, did your parents feel that they had enough information about the sport to make informed decisions on competitions, trainers and horse selection? Please explain.

Again, this is clearly aimed at junior riders. Also I competed mostly locally and at small rated shows at the 2’6″ level as a kid, so my parents didn’t really need any info. 

  • Have you ever taken dressage lessons? If so, did you find it beneficial and why?
  • Do you have a young horse between the ages of 3 and 7 that you are working with?
  • Do you know and follow top breeding bloodlines?
  • Do you have an interest in your horse breeding and development? If so, please explain how it is important for your future and the future of the industry.
  • Have you had any education on conformation, lameness, feeds and nutrition, shoeing, health and welfare of the horse? If so, was it helpful information and do you use the education you received? Please explain.

I found this section interesting- looking for diverse knowledge bases. I thought some of the yes/no type questions should have prompted more explanation (which I provided unprompted because I like to say stuff).

  • Physical fitness is a key component to top athlete performances, please describe your personal fitness program. Well that’s kinda a leading question, dontcha think? 
  • Have you ever participated in a clinic or the USHJA Emerging Athlete Program? If so, who was the clinician, did you feel it was beneficial and why? This was a tough question to answer- no I did not do the EAP, but yes I have clinicked. It wasn’t a USHJA registered clinic though, so does that count? I ended up mentioning it, but I think this should (1) be separated into two questions and (2) clarified.
  • Have you ever been a working student or have you been an apprentice for anyone other than your current trainer? If so, who did you work for and at what age? What did you learn from the experience? Well yeah, as a kid. Which wasn’t THAT long ago, so I think it should count.
  • Do you use visualization techniques when competing? This was just a checkbox yes or no, but I would’ve loved a chance to write more about this.

 

  • What do you feel are your riding weakness and strengths? Please explain.
  • What are your immediate goals? Please be specific.
  • What are your long term goals? Please be specific and explain how you intend to reach those goals.
  • In what way do you think that the USHJA/USEF can help you to reach your goals? Lemme suck up to you real quick.
  • Do you intend to become a professional or are you already a professional? This application was for a junior/amateur program, so not sure why there was an option to say that you are currently a professional.
  • Please list your goals for the current competition year. Be sure to include your tentative schedule for both yourself and your horse(s) (i.e. Zone Jumper Team Championships, NAJYRC, Prix des States, Equitation Finals, Nations Cups, and international competitions, as well as any preparation for these targets). This was another section that felt tough for me to answer as a working amateur, because the honest response is “it depends on whether or not I get a good year-end bonus and how much time off my boss approves before she gets fed up with me missing meetings to go compete.” I have plenty of goals, but my budget requires me to be flexible on those and pass up on things I’d otherwise like to do. Most of these big shows listed are specifically for junior riders (which I am not) or for those competing at very high heights (which I am also not). Team Finals is pretty much the only nationally recognized program for ammies at the 1.15m level.

 

  • Provide a written recommendation from a show jumping professional/trainer.
  • Write a short essay describing your equestrian goals and future plans. 1 page maximum. Let me tell you, it was HARD to get this down to 1 page. As evidenced by the posts on this blog, I can talk for days about my plans and goals and my path forward. Thousands and thousands of words.
  • Submit any additional information you wish to have considered by the selectors. Like…anything? Anything at all?