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 of  “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?

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Piedmont Jumper Classic 2019

We came, we saw, we jumped! After much of a spring and summer spent dabbling in the other rings, we spent our whole weekend chasing time and rails.

The short version in case you’re in a rush: I am proud almost to the point of tears with the Frankfurter. He was beyond professional in a big ring and packed my rusty butt around the Lows with those cheerful ears hunting down the jumps, including some delightful inside turns. Best Boy Francis is very much Best Boy and he earned us the ribbons to prove it.

For those of you not in the area, this show is held on the same showgrounds as Upperville and Loudoun Benefit, but only on the jumper side. The way the schedule ran meant all my classes went in the main ring over there – which you may remember as the class Frankie and I were in for our very first classes together as a team a few years ago. Despite returning to Upperville/Loudoun for several years since then, I’ve been in other rings. So this was actually the first time we’ve back in that giant ring since that very first show! Talk about a walk down memory lane.

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A little throwback to 2016 when I first saw my name in lights when we marched in that ring. Emotions!

Originally the plan was to go in and do a 0.90m as a warmup on Friday, see how that felt, then plan on doing the Low classes later that day and throughout the weekend.

Fate is funny though. Just like that first show back in 2016, the schedule got moved around fairly last minute so that the 0.90m ended up running in a different ring AFTER the Lows had already gone. So much like 2016, we ended up going straight into the Lows and saying “cool cool cool this is probably fine.” The parallels with that show really were kinda comical.

But no matter how similar, there were a few big major difference from that first show. Instead of it being the first 1.0m class for both of us, we now have several years under our belt competing even higher. Our confidence over this height is rock solid, our skill set over this height is solid, and nowadays Frankie really is a schoolmaster dream to pilot around the jumper ring. I know I say this all the time, but he’s just so. dang. good. at his job and it makes taking him around a downright pleasure.

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Big smiles all around with this excellent creature

Our first round on Friday was a mix – we ended up with 3 rails, but I’m actually extremely happy with the ride. Frankie was accurate, forward, and responsive. I don’t think either of us did anything really *wrong* to have those rails, I simply think he wasn’t expecting to have to do a full round at that height. It’s been a little while. Considering how long it’s been since we’ve gone around the jumper ring (6+ months) and how long it’s been since he’s had to compete over 3′ (14ish months), I was thrilled with how well he remembered the game.

Saturday was a speed round. In case you didn’t know, speed rounds are my FAVORITE OMG I LOVE THEM. It’s just you and the course, being as efficient and aggressive as possible to get. it. done. No phases, no separate jumpoffs. Just one round to go kill it.

And kill it we did. Francis was a STAR. He galloped up when I asked, he sat down when I needed him to, he helped me out when I gave a bit of an override, I helped him out when he needed some support to rebalance into a shorter line. He landed asking to turn and locked onto every jump. It was fantastic. We went early in the class to set the pace and held onto the lead for the blue ribbon.

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Have you ever seen a more handsome hunk?!?!!?
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The most handomest derp in all the land
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Our awesome kiddo won her High Children’s jumper class earlier that day, so it was a fantastic day for the barn!

Sunday was our stakes class with a jumpoff, which ended up getting combined with the Low Children’s. Frankie is always a bit tired on Sundays and needs a bit more support so my plan always accounts for that a bit. A surprising number of people that day were going clear in the first round but getting time faults, so I knew we couldn’t take our time at all. We certainly had to take turns helping each other out over such a long course but ultimately Frankie did pull out a clear round within time allowed!

Our jumpoff came up pretty fantastically – I swung way wider on a rollback than I had planned which ate up some unnecessary strides (around 0:32 in the video below), but we did a pretty killer inside turn (0:40ish) and a super fun slice (0:47ish) that I don’t think many people ended up doing.

Double clear and a speedy jumpoff were enough to clinch us 3rd behind two children, which also earned us champion in the division for the weekend!

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Frankie: “Why did you pull me out of my stall for this?? I cannot eat this?? Mahm??”

In a nutshell: Frankie was perfect, we had a total blast, and he is incredibly good at his job. I’m also very glad that we chose the division that we did – sticking with the 1m classes right now means that we can go in and build confidence while trying some of those tougher turns without overfacing ourselves. While I’d love to eventually get back into the bigger classes, this was 100% the right choice for where we are right now.

To close out, I’d like to share with you my new favorite photo ever taken of all time:

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I….I have no words.

And an obligatory nap pic:

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Cheers to a fantastic weekend of fun and jumps with the bestest horse to ever exist!

Can We Try This Again

Y’all, I’ve been riding my horse more often and for longer times lately and IT FEELS AMAZING. He’s giving me lovely work, he’s jumping out of his skin and firing off the ground beautifully, and he’s straight up happy. I’ve told you so many times that the big dude thrives in a fuller training regimen and the proof is so clear – his already playful and curious nature is absolutely next level these days.

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I need to remember how to hold my position more tightly when the jumps go back up a bit, but the Frankfurter is simply excellent at his job

 

We’ve been incorporating more conditioning rides and as it turns out – Francis is totally faking being a chunk. I mean, physically he’s obviously rockin’ that Dad Bod. But endurance-wise? Barely sweating, not even puffing. Jokes on him, that just means we’re making these sets longer and more difficult. Seriously Francis, now I don’t believe you when you say you’re exhausted after trotting two laps.

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Couldn’t quite seem to keep all my body parts coordinated through this grid, but I’m confident it’ll all come back in time. 

Making the point to ride more frequently and with more focus is also straight up making me a better person in all areas of my life. I know it was the right call to take a small step back from riding for the wedding and for school, but now that I have a better handle on things I definitely prefer getting back into my previous 5-6x a week schedule. It forces me to be more disciplined and productive with my time and I’m simply a better student, employee, wife, daughter, friend, etc. when I’m getting my full horse fix. I suspect a lot of you know the feeling.

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We’re both much happier when we get extra time to goof off together.

As you may have seen in pictures, I also got myself a new helmet during the IHAD weekend sales! And this whole thing is actually where the title of this post comes in. As you may or may not remember, I got a new helmet about a year ago – I went to Dover, tried on a bunch, and was informed that nothing really fit my head except the CO that I ultimately ended up buying. I was super bummed because I had really liked a Samshield I had tried on previously, but we all know that helmet fit is paramount and that was basically the only thing they had in stock that truly fit my head. The rep there sadly informed me that the Samshields just didn’t fit my head as well.

You know what I wish she had said instead, that would’ve been more accurate? “The Samshields THAT WE CURRENTLY HAVE IN STOCK don’t fit you as well.” That sentence would have been accurate.

Because back in June, I stopped by one of my favorite show vendors to peruse their ever-lovely merchandise. I admired the Samshields yet again but informed the rep there that sadly my head was not destined for such breathability. She then proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes pulling out not only different SIZES of liner, but different SHAPES. Because newsflash guys, Samshield makes liners for both round and oval heads. And it turns out that yes, Samshield does have an option that fits me perfectly and safely and is extremely comfortable (and yes, I have basically a child-sized head). I didn’t pull the trigger and buy it on the spot because I was in the midst of paying for the show – but with truly amazing service, the rep wrote down all the info I needed to be able to order it myself when I was ready.

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After a VERY intense week of lessons/pro rides/conditioning rides, we did have a much-needed toodling day to stretch our muscles and recover. I love my mobile couch so much.

So fast forward to now, I went ahead and ordered it from their site. They put in the customer service and effort so they 100% deserved that sale. And I now have a helmet that fits perfectly, helps with the sweaty head, makes me feel super fancy, AND I can swap out different sized liners so I can actually safely wear my hair either up or down. This is LIFE CHANGING to no longer get a blinding headache when I need to wear my hair up in the eq ring.

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Francisco approves of it and that’s clearly the most important thing

So the moral of the story is that when working with a salesperson, it would be good if that salesperson is not only knowledgeable in what you’re talking about, but is willing to, I don’t know, PULL OUT ANOTHER SIZE WHEN ONE DOESN’T FIT.

And in a quick mishmash of other updates: Frankie’s leg wound is healing great with no complications, we’re psyched for our show this upcoming weekend, and I finally bought brunette hairnets (I haven’t been blonde in many years). All good stuff.

Time to Tighten Up

As we’re heading into our busy fall, I’m thinking hard about how to make sure Frankie is ready to tackle every adventure feeling fit and healthy. I’ve gotten pretty good at managing his workload at shows so he doesn’t get too tired – he never does more than 2 classes a day, and we stick to 1 when possible – but the clinic we’re signed up for does have a roughly 90 minute slot. I definitely don’t want to be the pair that’s losing energy halfway through, so conditioning is the name of the game!

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I feel like this angle is EXTRA unflattering but yeah he’s a real chonky boi right now

To do that, I’m trying to increase the length of our rides. My lessons once a week are obviously a full hour, but historically I’ve let myself get lazy with our other rides. I’ve been making an effort lately to help increase both of our fitness levels by pushing a bit harder (within reason) and this is roughly what I’ve come up with:

Lesson 1x a week. Hoping to transition back into private lessons on Fridays this fall as the show season slows down a bit – maybe even this week? A full hour private lesson vs full hour group lesson is quite different in terms of duration of work. And I do miss those private sessions where we can really drill into the specifics of what Frankie needs from me to be better.

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Honestly I kinda desperately need some dedicated attention so we can look like this again

Training rides 2x a week. These happen mid-week and to be fair I do need these days at home to get schoolwork done. These tend to not be hugely long sessions since AT has plenty of horses to get done. They’re more targeted at tuning up his sensitivity and getting him to work really correctly, which is more of a weight-lifting exercise for him. I then usually manage to undo all this hard work from week to week, but that’s fine we don’t need to talk about that.

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My trainer can literally make my horse go around a course this big looking happy and confident so yeah big fan of what she’s doing with him

Conditioning rides 2x a week. I’ve been keeping up with our hill sets with some degree of success when weather cooperates for us to get out in that field. We’re up to 6 sets up the long steep hill, and I think we can comfortably add a 7th the next time out. He’s definitely sweaty and puffing by the end, but less so than when we started. It’s also a long enough walk back down to the bottom that he gets solid recovery time between sets. I also kicked off trot set days, which are the most boring thing ever but super helpful. After the first couple sets Frankie likes to offer some great stretch, so I think these days will be a great mental break for him to stretch out and metaphorically jog on a treadmill for an hour (with regular breaks, of course).

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Off to the right is the hill we use, it’s nice and steep and goes on just long enough that Francis hates me by the time we reach the top

Practice rides 1-2x a week. These days are more for me than for Frankie, and these are really the ones I need to extend. Our dedicated practice days tend to feature pole work, focus on improving our lateral work, tons of transitions, and getting Francis super tuned in to me. These days he’s so dang good at his job that I tend to ask, get the right answer, and want to let him be done because he was a Good Boy. I need to get more creative about offering breaks in different ways without being done so we can continue to improve our stamina while reinforcing those skills.

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Note to self practice rides are for more than just bopping around on a loose rein

This puts me on roughly 4 times a week, which is proving to be fairly attainable with my school schedule these days! Francis also recently got his hocks and SI injected, is getting a massage next week, and has been seeing the chiro regularly. I’m hoping that with some help from my trainer during the week, this schedule and support will help him feel his best for our busy schedule of fall outings coming up through the end of the year!

Mean Mom

You all know that there is nothing I love more than gushing about how much I adore my Francisco. He is truly the light of my life and I need everyone to know it. Constantly. I’m even happier when I can get people out to the barn to bask in the presence of the Sweet Sleepy Boy.

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My MIL loves to come see him, and he loves soaking up all her praise. It’s very heartwarming.

For my non-horse friends and family, there has been a pattern of some surprise when they come out and see how I handle Frankie. Apparently they often have certain expectations based on my unceasing verbal adoration. I’m not sure what those expectations are, but I imagine gazing adoringly and softly cooing sweet nothings feature prominently. Reality, however, is quite different. More than once, I’ve had someone tell me:

“Olivia, you’re kinda a mean mom.”

And you know what? They are totally right. I am kinda a mean mom.

I don’t feed Frankie any treats, I never let him rub his head on me, I give regular “course corrections” in the form of a smack when he’s not focused or behaving. I’m (surprisingly to them) strict with Frankie.

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I put ice boots and BoT wraps on him every time we jump I AM SO VERY MEAN TO HIM

But here’s the thing. Francis is a very large horse. Francis also loves treats more than anything in the world, and forgets that he’s big when he thinks he might get one. His excitement about the treat trumps the lessons he knows about respecting personal space. This is absolutely something we could fix with groundwork and practice, but I don’t see a need. The Treat Fairy will sometimes leave him something in his bucket, and I praise verbally instead. He is an enormous fan of verbal praise, so the lack of treats does not ruin his life (I promise).

And no, I don’t let him rub his face on me when untacking. You know what he likes to rub his face on? Fenceposts. And the younger horse in his herd that he sometimes likes to pick on. You know what I do not want my horse to see me as? An inanimate object or as lower in the dynamic of our own little herd. Not exactly the precedent I want to set in terms of who is the leader here.

And yeah, I’ll give him a slap or a poke and a bit of a growl when he moves into my personal space. He’s the one that has to move his feet out of my way, not the other way around. Again – you know who moves their feet for Frankie? That younger gelding. Again – I’m not particularly willing to be low man on the totem pole here.

Frankie gets plenty of face scratches – but only when I offer them to him, and he happily accepts. He gets to go for nice long walks and get nice long grooming sessions – respectfully holding still when asked, and only coming into my personal space when invited. Every time that he offers the right behavior (which is almost all the time), he is praised with scratches and pats and a hearty “good boy!”

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He doesn’t even have to get up, I will bring the face scratchies directly to naptime

With all my strictness, do you know what I end up with? A horse who has clear boundaries, who respects those boundaries to keep us both safe even in tough situations (like his Very Bad Day recently), who can relax because he never has to guess how he should act. There is consistency around it – he doesn’t get away with something one day, and then punished for it the next. By being a fair and consistent leader for my horse, I’m allowing him to be a contented follower.

So yes. I am strict with my horse and I can kinda be a mean mom. But I also have a horse that I can hand off to a child and know he will be careful and polite. That almost never spooks, because he has faith that I’ll take care of things for him. And at the end of the day, I have a horse that is relaxed and happy because he knows and likes his role in our dynamic.

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You can even basically drop the reins while nervously waiting to propose and he’ll keep chillin’

I’ll take the Mean Mom moniker happily if it keeps Frankie as wonderfully content as he is.

Frankie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Well guys, after 3.5 years, we finally had a day where poor Francis Simply Could Not Even. He tried really hard, but the deck was stacked against him and the poor guy simply could not get those hamsters back on those wheels.

His morning did start off very rough – a drunk driver crashed into the fence next to his field and subsequently a telephone pole (against all odds, the driver managed to drive away from the accident and was found a few streets over, passed out and not a scratch on him). So to be fair, he didn’t have the calmest start to the day. This also led to a million utility vehicles with accompanying flashing lights and jackhammers right next to him. This was Poor Francis Incident 1 of the day.

By the time I got to the barn, he had been relaxing in his stall for a few hours and seemed happy to see me. I hadn’t heard about the morning’s incident yet and had no reason to think he wasn’t feeling completely settled.

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This was a few days earlier and completely unrelated, he’s just a really cute land hippo

Poor Francis Incident 2 of the day happened right as I was pulling him out of his stall to put him on the crossties: either a tractor backfired, a door slammed, or some other loud noise happened behind the barn as we were exiting. This was Very Scary and I had a tense-as-a-rock giraffe on those crossties. With plenty of pats and soothing tones we got a bit of relaxation, but not our usual crosstie nap.

Partially because Poor Francis Incidents 2 and 3 were happening in sight of where he was tied: there was a truck full of roundbales where there was previously Not A Truck, and there was a man clanging and fixing a fence where there was previously Not A Man.

Neither of these would have usually bothered Frankie beyond some mild curiosity, but he was already on high alert mode and looking for reasons to stay on alert. Every time he started to relax, the clanging started up again and we re-started the cycle.

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This is our usual attitude. This is not the attitude we had that day.

No big deal though, I know if I could hop on then we could channel some of this energy and give him something else to focus on. I don’t have a death wish though, so I opted to take him for a quick hand walk around the outdoor – the aforementioned utility vehicles and flashing lights were directly adjacent on the road within full view, and I wanted to give him a chance to see them with me offering reassurance.

He was holding it together pretty well until we reach the end of the ring closest to the trucks – which, of course, is when Poor Francis Incident 4 kicked in and they decided to start jackhammering. Homeboy was ready to peace out of there and take me with him, so I got us turned around and headed back towards safety (with Frankie taking many looks behind to make sure that this monster wasn’t chasing us).

I got us back in the barn, loosened his girth, and just stood there with him for a solid 10 minutes letting him decompress. His little brain was so overstimulated and he clearly needed some quiet time to take a deep breath. Once his head was no longer a periscope and his muscles weren’t hard as rocks, I took him into the indoor for a ride.

Considering what a tough time he had been having, he was a really really good boy for me. We took plenty of walk breaks when he started tensing up (mostly due to the clanging and hammering), we did some lateral work to keep his brain on me, and we praised tons for trying. And he sincerely was trying. I was very proud of him.

We even went back out into the outdoor and walked a few laps to finish up, with not even a peek at the trucks. He was back to his happy self.

Proud of how he listened and handled himself, I put him in the wash stall to give him a nice cool bath as a reward.

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We can totally do nice things together!

Which is when they decided to unload the round bales off the Truck That Wasn’t There Before. Poor Francis Incident 5.

At that point I gave up, put him back in his stall to eat his hay in peace and comfort, and decided to try again another day. Poor Francis. Every single time we got to a good spot, something else happened. Couldn’t catch a break.

I gotta say, even though he was clearly convinced that he had entered a Bizarro World of Doom, he looked to me at every point. He never once invaded my personal space – despite clearly wanting to crawl in my pocket – and respected the lead even when he very much wanted to trot away from the zona peligrosa. His attitude was never “I gotta get outta here,” it was very much “WE gotta get outta here.”

Just goes to show you: even unicorns can have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days sometimes.

Frankie Long Legs

You know that running joke about how horses know when we enter a show, and immediately maim themselves?

REAL FUNNY JOKE, RIGHT????

I was very excited to have a friend offer to take some pics/video of my lesson over the weekend – other than shows, I literally have no evidence that I’ve jumped my horse since 2018. I swear that I have. I’m an extremely visual learner, so the prospect of that video made me absolutely giddy.

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Classic: Frankie having no concept of personal space and assuming everyone loves him as much as he loves them.

Until I pulled Frankie out to tack him up and noticed a not insignificant amount of blood on his hind leg. Followed that trail up to a decent looking laceration on the inside of his leg, about midway down his cannon bone. I brought him over to AT to get her opinion, we poked and scrubbed it with some iodine to get a better view, jogged him (sound, but a little ouchie most likely from the aforementioned poking), and she texted a pic to our vet to get her thoughts.

Sure enough, she said it looked like it needed stitches to stay closed. Our vets are also the actual best, and she was at the barn roughly 15 minutes later to take care of it. She made short order of giving Frankie some night night juice and getting the wound cleaned and stitched.

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He was trying valiantly to stay awake, poor guy

 

Frankie came out of the sedative remarkably quickly (I think mostly fueled by anger since I had pulled his hay) and is recovering well so far. He’s on stall rest for a few days so he doesn’t play too hard and rip it back open, but I have permission to hand walk and graze him for as long as I want – he’s sound and walking is totally fine as long as he’s not being goofy (and homeboy is never goofy on the lead because Angel Boy).

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A dignified puddle of drool. I felt bad for laughing but also he’s fine and this was hilarious.

Honestly the timing isn’t the worst on this. Our vet is coming out later this week to inject Frankie’s SI anyways, so she’ll be able to check on his leg and make sure everything is going alright with the healing process. Hopefully by the time he’s ready to go back to work post-injection, his leg will be in good enough shape that we can get him out to stretch. Right now he’s getting a vacation from work, all the naps he wants, and gets to go for walkies. He’s not having a bad time.

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We went for a nice long walk and then grazed for a bit – sound as a bell and very tolerant of me poking around the wound, no heat or soreness (and he 100% lets us know when he’s sore) and in very good spirits. Also he’s not actually that insanely over at the knee, I swear I just caught him mid-step.

I don’t think this should affect our show at the end of the month at all, as long as he heals as expected. If it turns out that he loses a ton of fitness this week and we have a tough time toning him up then I’m fine with dropping down a level, but I really think we’ll have plenty of time to get back into the swing of things.

Horses, man. There’s always something!

Break out the Calendars

I know I mention my husband in passing with some regularity, but I want to start this post off by saying straight out that this guy is cool. I like him SO much. He’s always the first to encourage me to try new things, is my biggest support when things get hectic, and keeps me going with things get tough. Whenever I have cool news to share about Frankie, just know that behind the scenes is a wonderful man who makes this all possible.

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AND HE FEEDS ME SO WELL BECAUSE HE IS A PRINCE AMONG MEN

As I’ve mentioned previously, we’re heading to the Piedmont Jumper Classic at the end of September. The plan is to go in at 0.90m the first day to get our sea legs back, and then step back into the 1.0m Low Adult classes over the weekend. Partially because I like riding in a division, but more so because I have a pair of as-yet-unworn white pants that are just begging for a classic. I never said that my decision-making process was logical.

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I believe I have made my feelings about white pants extremely clear to everyone. I like them.

To prep for that, Frankie is getting his SI injected next week as a complement to his hock injections. While he’s a pretty solid chunk right now, his fitness is actually in decent shape and he’s been giving me some AMAZING rides lately. I’ve been putting the screws to him a bit as a reminder that he is in fact a shmancy show horse, and he’s been showing up to work like a pro. We schooled some 1m-ish jumps in our recent lesson and he was soft and rhythmic and adjustable, so I think the addition of the SI injection will make it that much more comfortable and easy to do the Lows at the show. I could gush more about just how great he’s going but just trust me on it – all the hard work we put into developing a partnership and skills has paid off, and I am rewarded with a wonderfully trained animal. It’s great.

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This animal has won speed classes yet falls asleep on the crossties almost daily. He has reach peak levels of energy conservation.

In other exciting news, we’re adding a few things to the calendar! Our next show after Piedmont will be the WIHS Local Show/Zone Finals at the end of October. We’re obviously not qualified for any Zone champs this year, but they have a few adult medals on Friday and a few open 1.0m jumper classes on Saturday we can go have fun in. I like the venue and it’s close to home, so should be a good time.

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I have competed there multiple times yet somehow have ZERO media of me actually on a horse there. So enjoy this uncomfortably close selfie of me picking up a ribbon Frankie and I won there in the Highs a few years ago.

And in a first for us, we are signing up for a clinic in October as well! Will Simpson (Olympic Gold Medalist, Beijing 2008) is offering a one-day clinic as part of the Rutledge Farm Sessions Olympic Medalist series, with a focus on finding perfect distances and shaving off time in the jump-off. Sounds useful, right?? Rutledge Farm is just down the road in Middleburg, and the chance to ride with someone with so much experience doesn’t come along every day – I just had to sign up along with some of the other girls at the barn. I’ve heard that he’s very kind and patient with the horses and riders, and that he gives great homework to take away from it, so I’m thrilled to expand our knowledge with him.

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The facilities just look gorgeous, and they bring in lots of big names across disciplines – Peter Wylde, Boyd Martin, Ali Brock, Philip Dutton, and Stacia Madden are all there this year.

I originally figured I should do EITHER the clinic OR the show, since we’re trying to make some reasonable financial decisions. WBBH (World’s Best Horse Husband) is the one that encouraged me to go for both, and that he wants me to be able to enjoy Frankie as much as possible. Like I said, he is a kind and thoughtful and wonderful man and I am extremely lucky.

So there you have it! I originally thought we’d have a quiet fall, but it turns out we have two shows and a clinic slated in the next two months alone! I can’t go to the big show in November, but hoping to maybe do a nearby one-day in December to round out the year.

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TIME TO WAKE UP MY DUDE AND GO BE A SHOW PONY

Just to be obnoxious and really drive it home, I’m feeling extraordinarily grateful for the ability to go out and do these things with Frankie. I counted myself lucky to be able to do 3 shows with him the first year that I owned him, and even with school in the mix it looks like 2019 will end up having 7-8 shows across different disciplines. I could’ve never imagined having the support professionally and personally to take the time/ money/ energy to do this and I hope to never take it for granted. None of it would be possible without a boss who encourages me to use my PTO and work remotely so I can travel, friends who stay in touch when we all have busy schedules, parents who have always taught me to go tenaciously after what I want, trainers that push me to be better, and of course, my dream heart horse Frankie and my dream man Nicholas. I’m grateful.

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I’m honestly living my dream life with this ridiculous goofy wonderful creature.

OK now time to stop with the gross mushy stuff and get back to riding!

Blog Hop: 12 Tough Questions

I first saw these questions over with Amanda, who got them from Alaina (which is a new blog to me so hooray!) and I had to hop on this blog hop.

Q1:  What hobbies do you have outside of riding?

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I made dis. vanilla chai spice flavored cream puff/profiterole/whatever the heck they’re called at least they tasted real good

Uhhh. Does doing schoolwork count? I do really enjoy baking, and can make a mean profiterole. I’ve been helping some friends build out spending/budget trackers which is deeply satisfying to my spreadsheet-centric brain. I also LOVE to read. No non-fiction please, I just want fantasy and historical fiction. I’d swim every day if I could. So there’s lots of things that I could happily build out into a full hobby, but for now my life is pretty much centered on work-barn-school-sleep.

Q2: What is your boarding situation?  Are you happy with it?

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Big fan of these facilities

Frankie is in full care at my trainer’s facility and I couldn’t be happier with it. He receives top notch care, I have access to tons of knowledgeable professionals, and we’ve both learned and progressed so much together. I totally understand why people want to keep their horses at home, but I’m fairly sure I’ll be a life-long boarder.

Q3:  What’s on your horsey-related wish list?

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This. I want this.

Oh man this is a pretty sizable list right now haha. In no particular order: new stirrups, new standing and pillow wraps, a custom trunk cover, some custom embroidered BoT saddle pads, a new brush set, some minor things for my first aid kit, some more show-condition breeches, some more schooling breeches (seriously, y’all know I love pants), a new show shirt or two, a shadbelly, a standing martingale to do the derbies, and a fake tail for Frankie. So yeah. Pretty good sized list going on. None of them are 100% necessary to our health and happiness so none of them have been super urgent purchases, but I do need to start chipping away at some of the more important ones – I’ve known I need new stirrups for like 18 months now, and my show pants are starting to really show their wear.

Q4: What is your most expensive horsey-related item?

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I will be buried with this saddle.

Other than the horse himself, probably my saddle if we’re looking at a concrete object. Not that I spent a crazy amount on it, but it was still a decent sized investment. If we’re talking about other expenses, either my two weeks at WEC with Frankie or our week in Lake Placid are going to show up as some high cash flow. Worth it, but RIP to my bank account. I do a lot of my “shopping” on Twitter and FB these days and have gotten some great deals on the stuff we need.

Q5: What was the hardest horsey-related decision you’ve had to make lately?

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I don’t have any pictures of me at my home desk so enjoy this picture of me doing homework during undergrad 10 FREAKIN YEARS AGO (also shut up about the hair)

Honestly, the decision to go back to school. While that’s not inherently horse-related in itself, Frankie was a major part of that decision. Willingly choosing to limit my riding and training while my horse and I are still young and healthy is not something I wanted to do, but ultimately I do think it’s going to set me up to be able to provide my family, including Frankie, with a better life (and hopefully a sibling down the road).

Q6:  What’s something you feel you can’t live without in your routine?

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This perfect chunk.

This is the toughest one in the list for me haha. Can I cop out and just say Frankie? As long as I’m getting time with him regularly, everything else goes more smoothly. And he’s pretty chill, so there’s no one thing he truly NEEDS beyond all the love and attention in the world.

Q7: What’s on your horsey-related calendar for the rest of the summer?

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It’s time to get back in the jumper ring

Nothing major! We have a show at the end of September that I’m excited for, Frankie will get his SI injected in the next few weeks, but we’re going to just keep enjoying working together with no pressure. Classes start back up shortly and that will eat up a lot of my time.

Q8:  What is one thing you would willingly change about your horse?

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Do you even SEE that belly?! Someone on Insta recently asked if he was pregnant. That was a new low.

I would make it so that he holds his condition more easily. Many of my friends with TBs find it much easier to leg their horses back up after a break, or can maintain a lighter schedule without losing too much fitness. If Francis is not in a high-intensity 6x/week program, he has a very VERY difficult time maintaining fitness, and it’s frankly hard to keep up with my current schedule. We both have the ability and desire to jump higher and work harder (well, I have the desire certainly), but I’m very conscious that his fitness level won’t support that in a healthy way. If he could just hold on to his fitness better, I think we could accomplish more in the time I do have. At the end of the day though, I’m lucky that that’s the worst thing I can think of. In terms of behavior or ability, I wouldn’t change a thing – he’s my dream horse and has given me the world.

Q9:  What is something you most want to improve on with you and your horse?

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I can even see it here at the posting trot: my right hip.

Our asymmetry, which is 100% caused by my own asymmetry. My right hip consistently blocks him and makes his job so much harder. It’s proven majorly difficult to isolate and address so I feel like I haven’t made much progress on this front, but getting myself straightened out and balanced would seriously help so much.

Q10:  What has been your [current] horse’s most severe injury?

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He didn’t mind having a little break for me to simply fuss over him

Knock on wood, Frankie has been wonderfully sturdy over the past few years. His heel grab earlier this year put him on stall rest for a bit while that healed up all the way, but that was hardly a major injury. All fingers and toes crossed that he remains sturdy and healthy for a long time to come.

Q11:  What do you feel your biggest downfall is as a rider?

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There is a lot of me, I am very long.

Physical strength. When I’m cross training and fully in shape, I feel like Frankie and I can go conquer the world – we’ve got the partnership, he’s got the ability, and between him and my trainer I’ve learned a ton about how to better manage my mental preparation. But much like my horse, I find it tough to stay in shape without a pretty strict routine. While he tends to get a lil hay belly and turn into a chunk, my body’s response is to just lose muscle and turn into a fettuccine noodle. And when I’m not strong, I can’t give Frankie the support he needs to do good work. He never takes advantage because he’s an angel boy, but I do get frustrated sometimes that I can’t just Do The Thing I know how to do. This is entirely within my control since I can just work out more often, but DUDE I’m so tired from work and school and working out is the worst so I mostly just mope about losing all my muscle tone and wallow in self pity. Someday I’ll learn how to better manage my schedule so I can get some strength training back in there more consistently.

Q12:  What feeds your motivation?

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One of the best feelings I’ve ever felt.

While this may be a relatively unpopular perspective, my motivation is largely fed by competitions. I LOVE competing. Not because I need to win, but because there is something incredibly exhilarating about experiencing that atmosphere and testing my skills against other people. I always learn something new to develop and I love aiming for the next level. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely live for the time I get to spend with Frankie just brushing him and hacking around on the buckle. Those times are therapeutic and I often need them after a long week of adulting. But at the end of the day, I’m extremely goal-oriented and having these arbitrary markers to check in on our progress are what I most enjoy working towards.

Phases of Training

Strap in guys, this one is a monster post.

It’s no secret that Frankie’s workload these days is much lighter than it was last summer. I’ve talked about it quite a bit, and he’s been on this lighter schedule for roughly a year now so I have some solid comparison to go on. In looking back at the 3.5ish years he’s been mine, I think our training approach can be broken into 3 main phases (thus far). I’d like to take a look at those three phases, what worked, what the results were, and what I’ve learned about what works best for my horse and our partnership.

Part One: Train Like Lesson Students. Apr 2016 – Nov 2016

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This first phase lasted most of the first calendar year that I owned Frankie. We lessoned once a week, he did not receive training rides, his physical maintenance was minimal, and we were showing at 1.0m in the Low Adult jumpers.

At this point, the main focus of our program was getting to know each other. I hesitate to even call it a program, because there was not a lot of cohesiveness to what we were doing. It truly was all about the basics: making sure forward was always the answer, learning to keep my balance and keep my leg on a very different ride than I was used to, building show miles and trust in the show ring. We developed strength and balance but little nuance on the flat. He had decent muscling and decent conditioning – plenty to do his job comfortably but nothing to write home about. We ended this phase with a much better understanding of each other and much better communication, along with a great deal of trust built by a successful show season.

The biggest thing we learned at this point was how to hit the gas pedal. Building that forward motion did not come particularly naturally to either of us at that point, but has been the foundation for literally everything we’ve done since. In a sense, we had to learn to gallop before we could learn to trot. We had to rev the engine before we could tune it into sportscar mode, which brings me to our next phase.

Part Two: Train Like Pros. Dec 2016 – Jul 2018

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Our second phase lasted about a year and a half, and coincided with our move up to the 1.10/1.15m High Adult jumpers. We took private lessons at least once a week, started with one training ride a week which then bumped up to two training rides a week, had a dedicated 6 day/week strength and conditioning program for both of us, and got much more aggressive with our physical maintenance.

At this point, the main focus of our program (and it truly was a Program with a capital P) was to hone our skills for the move up. Our private lessons very closely tied into what AT worked on in her pro rides for him, with the goal of getting me closer to riding at that level. He often worked twice a day in addition to his hilly turnout, and he was superbly muscled and trim. By the end of this phase, we were confident at 1.15m, he was going at 1.20m with a pro in the irons, and we had competed at a lot of bucket list locations.

One of the biggest things we developed during this phase was a sense of timing. Before this, I knew what a half-halt was, I knew how to adjust his stride, and I could get out of his way over a fence. My biggest takeaway from this intensive period was learning WHEN to cue him in different ways to give him the most support and be the most effective rider I could be. I remember at first feeling completely discombobulated and my trainer reassuring me that the muscle memory would come in time – she was right, and these frequent rides were the reason I was able to internalize it. Even though I’m a little flabby and rusty now, I’ve been able to maintain this sense of timing in much of our work (though not all! This skill certainly atrophies from lack of use like any other).

Supporting this heavily increased workload was heavily increased maintenance. We did hock and SI injections, he got massages, he saw the chiropractor, he got his tack evaluated and re-evaluated. Maintaining that level of fitness truly was not easy for him, and while he remained sound as a bell and healthy, he needed our help to maintain that muscle tone comfortably.

The time and effort we needed to put in to keep Frankie at peak fitness and performance was very high and difficult to maintain with wedding planning and then school added into the mix, which brings me to our next phase.

Part Three: Train Like Ammies. Aug 2018 – present

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Our current phase has lasted about a year now, and has coincided with a step down in height and exploration of the eq and derby rings. We’re back in group lessons that happen mostly weekly, he’s still in his 2x/week training rides to maintain fitness, but I’m only on 3-4x/week and the conditioning work, while still a part of the program, is less targeted and intense. Physical maintenance stays high but is needed less often.

At this point the main focus of our program is maintaining the base. Maintaining his fitness at a reasonable point, maintaining the skills and abilities we fought so hard to learn, and maintaining a base level that we can work off of when we’re ready to jump back in more intensely. He’s got a bit more of a dad bod, but is fine to jump around 3′ once a week. As he gets older, we’re incorporating more hill work to keep his hind end feeling strong, we’re icing his legs after every jump school, we’re using Back on Track hock boots to support his hock injections, and we’re overall being more thoughtful about the every-day preventative maintenance that we’re providing.

One of the big things we’ve developed during this phase is confidence. We haven’t introduced anything newly difficult to Frankie in almost a year – that’s not to say that we haven’t asked him to work hard because we certainly have, but the heights and questions have all been heights and questions he’s been asked before. It’s like giving him a test that he’s already taken, so he knows how to ace it. It’s been refreshing for both of us to step back and do things that are so solidly in our wheelhouse.

Overall Thoughts

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Each of these phases made sense at the time, and each has taught me more about what Frankie needs to feel his best. We’ve consistently learned and changed what we do to fit his needs, and I have a few main takeaways to consider as we move forward together:

  • This is a horse that thrives on knowing he’s done a good job. When introducing new skills/heights/expectations, take plenty of time to ask him questions he knows the answer to. His work ethic and attitude soars when he’s set up to get it right.
  • The timing of the release is everything for him. He is not a sensitive horse and is happy to hang on my hand forever. He also knows that his job is to go forward now, so this means I end up with a front-heavy unbalanced horse. Learning WHEN to release after a solid half-halt has 100% been the key to developing a consistent and balanced gait, with a horse that trusts that his effort at maintaining that will be rewarded.
  • His conditioning will absolutely not take care of itself. He loses fitness practically overnight and it’s tough to regain it once lost. It’s also hard to maintain on a busy amateur schedule, which means that our expectations for his performance have to match our ability to help him out in that area.
  • He doesn’t need a program, but he does thrive in one. Much as he loves knowing that he’s done a good job, he loves consistency in his workload and is much happier when he’s getting worked with fairly consistent intensity at consistent intervals. Those intervals and intensity don’t have to remain unchanging forever, but he is happiest when those hold steady for a solid chunk of time.

To get super reductionist, Frankie is a horse that thrives on consistency and well-timed rewards. If and when a new phase in our training is necessary, these are some common threads for us to carry forward.