Favorite Exercises

Technically everything is my favorite thing to do with the Frankfurter since he’s a total bro, but there are certain favorite exercises that are even MORE favorite than others. They vary in technicality, but all of them have been super helpful for both myself and for Francis.

Sitting Trot

I’m starting pretty darn basic over here folks. Just about any time I need a reset on anything, or want to work on anything lateral, I get into a nice collected sitting trot. Something about having that full contact through my seat and legs helps things *click* for Frankie more so than any other gait. I know much good advice says that slowing things down helps introduce concepts, but I find his collected trot much more rideable than his walk when I’m asking him to engage his brain. It’s also a great core workout for me and helps me get my hip angle open so that when I’m on course I can have a bit more range of motion. Once we’re warmed up, I like to do quite a lot at the sitting trot when we’re working on the flat (we play around with extensions while sitting sometimes and WOW CORE WORKOUT. Those DQs have abs of steel, man.).

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We also like dropping our stirrups

Shoulder-In

Ah, the magical shoulder in. It is such a tattle tale for us. As soon as I ask for it, it becomes immediately apparent whether Frankie is truly on my aids or if I’m letting him fake it. It’s also juuust enough brain power to help him loosen up his body and focus on me even in a busy ring. If we’ve been doing a lot of lateral work he sometimes will start anticipating by going all pretzel-y, and a gentle shoulder-in helps cut down on the noise and gives his brain a break while still engaging.

Short-set/Irregularly-set grids

We almost never set grids that are at perfect stride lengths. We’ll often do short stride to short stride, short stride to long stride, or long stride to short stride. Never long stride to long stride, because then we’re not really working on adjustability OR rocking back. The imperfect/short options help him figure out how to self-police his stride, which is something that we’re constantly trying to help him build. I credit a huge amount of his muscling and improvement over fences to these short grids.

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Short strides make Frankie mad but they also make dat booty powerful (also this isn’t one jump looped, this is 9ish efforts looped haha)

Canter poles

OK so these aren’t actually a favorite because they terrify me. But I did have to put them on the list since I’ve found them so helpful in building collection and straightness. Frankie is smart enough to not want to step on these, but not smart enough to know he can split his legs over them, so he’s really very good about self-shortening to make it through the poles as set. It’s a nice balance. Placing these on the quarter line also helps tattle on any drift we might have (especially towards the wall) so that I can keep him balanced and straight.

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Poles. Are. Terrifying. (For me, not for Francis. He’s mostly just sad that they are not eatable)

Counter-bend on a circle

One of my favorite things that we work on is making a medium sized circle, then making the same circle with a counter-bend, then going back to the regular bend. This helps unlock his body through his ribcage, and it’s just hard enough that he has to really be paying attention to me. This is one I like to do at the sitting trot to be super present and help him balance, and keep that trot a little more collected.

Most of these exercises have a common theme: they engage Frankie’s brain and challenge him. We intersperse these harder exercises with plenty of stretch breaks for our bodies and brains before going back to it.

I’ve also found that I can tailor the difficulty of these exercises depending on how Frankie feels that day – the circles can be smaller or bigger, the poles/grids can be shorter or a little easier, our lateral work can be a little shallower. I’m also finding that we’re developing new exercises to engage his brain (my new favorite is the canter half-pass, which is still rudimentary but developing really nicely).

I’ll also add that most of these exercises were not ones that I would’ve chosen for us when I first got Frankie and had to firmly install the forward button. At that point we didn’t have enough power in his stride to be able to ask for collection and lateral motion, and our focus was on forward motion at all times. Now that he knows the job and has a solid base level of fitness though, these are my go-tos on working to build our strengths and address our weaknesses.

I’d love to know what you all like to work on with your ponies too!

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A Constant Student

Since I kicked off classes last week, I’ve really started getting back into the student-mindset. Despite being out of school for close to 6 years at this point, I found that certain patterns came back as soon as I started reviewing the first syllabus. Almost like a muscle memory.

I did the same thing I used to do in undergrad – mark deadlines on the calendar, build a study plan for each week, go through my checklist of materials to make sure I had everything. I started reading some of the articles and textbook chapters, taking notes and jotting down thoughts where I agreed or disagreed with the conclusions. There’s something refreshing about the expectation of forming an opinion as a student, while the professional world is so much more about achieving harmonious consensus.

I found that this attitude also spilled over into my recent rides with Francis.

Last weekend I had spent a few hours on school-work in the morning, and then took a break to go get some air and work with the Frankfurter. And you would have thought he was a cart horse. Plodding along with zero intention of moving faster than a slow shuffle.

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Walking is HARD moving is HARD I just want TREATS

My usual instinct in those situations is to push. It’s time to work, so I need him moving. Sometimes this is exactly what he needs! But I started thinking about some of the articles I had read about conditioning work, some of the conversations I had with some professionals I admire, and some of the patterns that I’ve noticed with Frankie’s work ethic.

And I decided to let him do his cart-horse shuffle for a solid 10 minutes. On the buckle, wandering the ring, no instruction beyond simply moving his body in a way that he felt comfortable. And then we started trotting a little. Still on a loose rein, still making big loops, maybe a few shallow serpentines to help him start bending through his body. Then a few easy walk-trot transitions to help him start listening. Slowly slowly starting to pick up a light contact as he started focusing in on me and the work.

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Not trying to go too hard too fast, just letting the muscles warm up

By the time I hopped off, I had a forward fresh horse who had just given me some of the best trot-canter transitions I had ever gotten out of him. Balanced, stepping under, lifted through his back. Absolutely lovely.

And then this past weekend, we had a lesson with AT (who you all know absolutely kicks my butt). She opted to let us warm ourselves up while she observed, just intermittently calling out when she wanted us to do something different. While I do love my guided warmups, it felt really good to tune into what Frankie needed and just focus on that in the moment – tons of figures off the rail, lots of transitions within gaits, slowly picking up the contact and asking for more engagement.

I joked with AT that I probably work harder when I know she’s watching my own work than I do when she’s telling me what to do, since I don’t want her to think I’m slacking. It was really encouraging though, I do tend to be pretty reliant on my trainers and this was a great reminder that I do know what we need to work on and I can work on it independently. I’m glad that’s a skillset my trainers encourage, rather than wanting me to always depend on them for everything.

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My favorite activity is making matching faces

Frankie was obedient if a bit heavy in our flat work. Several years later he does still think that carrying his own body around is some sort of bogus hard work, but as he gains some fitness back it’s improving. But you know what gets rid of the heaviness and revs the engine more than anything else?

Jumping. It was hysterical – I had a lazy horse who was giving me pretty good work but was requiring a TON of effort on my part, and then we pointed him at a crossrail and all of a sudden we had gas in the tank. It was our first time jumping in the outdoor this season, and he was SO happy to stretch out his stride a bit. I could even feel him think about porpoising a bit! He didn’t because he’s Francis, but I definitely could sense him considering it. I ain’t mad, he was having fun and feeling good.

Our coursework that day was just lovely. He gave me everything I asked for, and for the most part I was had the wherewithal to ask for what I needed. His tendency was to stretch his stride out to monster proportions in the bigger ring, but to his credit he did soften and come back to a more useful canter as soon as I asked. It used to take a long time to make that adjustment and nowadays he brings it under much more quickly. We were able to put some of the jumps up (not huge, but bigger than we’ve jumped in a while) and it just felt effortless.

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Literally how is he such an angel, this horse is the most amazing creature

It does feel that lately I’ve turned a bit of a corner in my ability to think on course. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I know my horse so well now, that he’s so educated, that I needed the mental break for a few months, or a combination of all of these. But I’m feeling much more able to make a plan for my ride and then execute where necessary, while still adjusting in the moment to give Frankie what he needs. I don’t think there’s a super visible change, but it’s this subtle change in my own perceptions of what we’re doing.

At the end of the day, I’m excited to learn new things and pursue my degree, but I think I’m most excited to be back in the mindset of a student and apply that mindset to everything else in my life.

Our 2019 Season

You know what they say about best laid plans?

Literally the day after I told y’all that I was planning to do the jumpers at Upperville, and about a week after I told you that Upperville is my favorite event of the year, they released the prize list.

And they’ve opted to not include the Low Ch/AA Jumper division this year.

Welp.

Basically what this means is that if I want to compete at Upperville, my options are to (A) compete Monday-Wednesday in the schooling open classes at 1.0m or (B) leg back up to the 1.10-1.15m to do the Highs.

As much as I’d love to say that we can leg back up, I’m not sure that’s realistic for us right now. Classes are starting next week and I’m sure that will impact my ability to ride super often, and that height is challenging enough for us that we need to be at our peak to be successful. Frankie is wonderful at picking up the slack for me when I need it, but I don’t think it’s fair to ask him to pick up quite so much slack.

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The reason he made the height look so easy is because of the BOATLOADS OF TIME we spent training and conditioning. He’s pretty scopey on his own but definitely needs a partnership at that height (which I swear I can give him despite my sometimes-questionable equitation). PC- K. Borden

And competing earlier in the week is much harder for my working schedule than it is to take a long weekend. I can usually rearrange my schedule to minimize PTO hours when I take a Friday off, but there’s no such flexibility on other days. I’m intentionally hoarding vacation days for our honeymoon in August(!!), so this is a tough option.

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We’re going to St. Lucia and to say I’m excited would be an understatement. PC – Sandals

So for all my love of Upperville, it’s looking like it’s not in the cards for us this year. I know they were looking for ways to streamline the schedule, but I am bummed they chose to do it by eliminating the division I was hoping to compete in.

What this means for our show schedule is that we’ll do Blue Rock at Swan Lake in May, then do Loudoun Benefit in June. Not sure if we’ll stick with the jumpers, or maybe throw a derby or some eq classes in there for funsies.

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In case you all forgot how cute Frankie looks as an eq horse. PC – K. Borden

 

After that? It’s gonna be reeeeal quiet on the show front for us. July is hot enough that I don’t particularly like showing in VA then (and summer term means I can’t jet off to Lake Placid again sadly), I’ll be gone on our honeymoon during the bigger shows in August, and then we’re already into the fall.

Ah well. Such is life.

I’m excited for classes to start and figure out what that means for my riding schedule, my social schedule, my sleep schedule. It may mean fewer shows than I’d prefer, but I knew there would be tradeoffs when I decided to go back to school. I’ll still get to enjoy my favorite horse and I know he’ll be happy and ready for whatever adventures present when the time is right!

Showplace Spring Festival: Return to the Show Ring!

Guys, we went and competed for the first time SINCE LAST JUNE!!! This is by far the longest break Frankie’s had since he came home with me three years ago. While I’m glad we took a little break and I had a ton of fun with my lease mare in Ohio, I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear the buzzer go off with my very favorite horse in the world.

This was a nice soft re-entry to showing for us – we shipped in for the day so it wasn’t a huge long weekend of competing, and just signed up for some 0.90m and 1.0m classes. The plan was to go in for the 0.90m and see how we felt, and continue on to the 1.0m depending on how much energy we had in the tank and how good we were feeling in the ring.

I’ll be honest, I had to give myself a little kick in the seat for a moment. We’ve spent two solid seasons in the 1.10-1.15m classes, and at first I felt a bit silly stepping all the way back to 0.90m. I pretty quickly realized that was my own pride talking, and that emotion has no place in this sport. Neither of us is in peak condition, we’re both rusty in some skills, and this was our first outing of a new season. Keeping the jumps at a height that was very solidly in our comfort zone set us up for a low-stress, confidence-boosting outing. And I’m really glad we did that! It worked just as intended and let us both get out there without pushing unnecessarily hard.

We started off with our 0.90m classes, with our first speed round here:

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And our second jumpoff round here:

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We warmed up in the pouring rain and despite the weather and the activity, I could literally feel him sharpen up and focus. He very definitely knew he was at a show.

We also then walked in the ring and I almost fell off when he spooked at the starting buzzer. We all started cackling because he was just like WAIT WHAT TIME TO GO LET’S GET OUTTA HERE but is a notoriously bad spooker. As in, he’s very bad at spooking. He doesn’t really commit. The poor guy hasn’t heard a buzzer in nine months, but luckily it must’ve jogged his memory. Once I got my stirrups back he was asking me to go!

I won’t dissect my rounds too much, but I will say that they’re two of the best rounds I’ve ever had in the show ring. Frankie could not have been better: forward, hunting down the jumps, adjustable, jumping well, eager to work, and a downright pleasure to ride. Every single spot flowed up effortlessly because we had such a useful canter to adjust from around the entire course. He gave me every single thing I asked for and felt excited to go do his work.

Even missing one of the inside turns in our speed round got us 3rd (yay speedy Francis!), and an unlucky rail in our second round bumped us to 7th. I ain’t mad, he just got a little traily with his hind end at one jump and the rest of the round was picture perfect. I was beaming.

At that point, I knew that we could go in and beast the 1.0m classes but opted to scratch and be done for the day. He had just given me two beautiful rounds and showed no signs of being tired, so I wanted to keep this as fun and positive and rewarding as possible for him. I had somehow forgotten the way he struts when he’s proud of himself – he absolutely marched back to his stall visibly pleased with himself and being extra playful with me.

I’m absolutely on cloud nine from these rounds. I had very moderate expectations going in – I fully expected our first round to be a little sticky as we both remembered how to navigate. He’d been suuuuper lazy and sluggy the entire week prior, so I was ready to need to really kick him on.

Nope. Right out of the gate, he knew exactly what he was doing. He went around like he shows every single weekend.

Sometimes I think he must read this blog. Remember when I told you that my lease mare in Ohio made me realize how much work Frankie is? I feel like eating those words now. The input I was giving him was so much more subtle than it’s ever had to be, because he had it covered. Based on how sore I am today I know I must’ve been working hard in the moment, but it didn’t feel like work at the time. It felt like a really wonderful back-and-forth as we helped each other out around the course. I’m proud of the way I rode and adjusted to the horse I had under me so that we could support each other like that.

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He earned these!

I’m also endlessly grateful that he’s such an easy traveler. We had a lot of difficulties getting another horse on the trailer in the morning, and Frankie handled the commotion around that without blinking. He walked right on and off the trailer, hung out in his stall drinking and eating, and marched right back on the trailer at the end of the day.

I may be projecting, but he seemed happy to get off property and go on a little adventure for the day. He was in full Happy Francis mode all day even in the rain, and just felt good.

Overall, a fantastic re-entry to the show ring with the actual best horse on the planet. I’m so glad we had the chance to get back out there together and have fun! Our tentative plan is to do Blue Rock mid-May, and I’m also planning to do Upperville in early June (duh, can’t miss Upperville). Depending on my school schedule and finances, I’d also love to do Loudoun Benefit the week after Upperville – my trainer and I discussed the possibility of doing the jumpers at Upperville, but then trying out some of the Adult Eq/Medals during LB. I’d love to explore some different types of classes with Frankie!

I’m nursing my horse show hangover but I already can’t wait for the next time. Three years in, and this horse still blows me away every time.

Three Years of Francis

Can you believe we’ve already had 3 years together?

It feels like just yesterday that Frankie came home, but also feels like he’s always been a part of my life. I simply can’t imagine not walking into the first stall on the right and trading scratches and smooches with this big brown beast.

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PC- Liz Stout Photography

Our first year was spent getting to know each other. I’m pretty sure I didn’t fully adjust to his way of going until we were a solid 10-12 months in. Luckily he never took a bad step, and was patient with me while we figured each other out.

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At his very first show, he calmly packed me around like he had been doing it for years

Our second year was spent pushing our boundaries. We jumped heights that were new to both of us, we trained in ways we had never trained, and we went out and strutted our stuff.

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Somehow he’s always known when he does a good job. PC- K. Borden

This third year has been the best yet, where our partnership has become that much better. We’ve chased dreams, we’ve explored so many amazing places, and we’ve taken everything we’ve done to the next level while learning and growing together.

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New heights and new places – but there’s always time for snugs

I wish I had better words to describe this past year – the thousands of words I’ve shared with you on this blog still don’t do it justice. I don’t think any words can really capture the emotions, the drive, the companionship, the laughs, the tears, the toughness, the excitement, and everything else we’ve encountered together.

Sometimes I feel a bit silly. All I ever tell you about is the sunshine and rainbows and sparkles that accompany the Frankfurter wherever he goes. That has to be boring.

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The happiest boy

Honest to goodness, I can’t help it. We’re both so so so very far from perfect, but even the difficult days are fun and exciting with him. His happiness to work and learn makes everything more enjoyable. I’ve never had cause to be nervous, no matter the occasion. His brattiest worst behavior is hysterical in its lack-of-badness. He’s simply not very good at it. I only have sunshine and sparkles to share because he really is that kind of horse. Kind, calm, goofy, affectionate, hard-working, fun, trainable, sweet, consistent, wonderful, the list goes on for miles.

Our relationship now is no longer new. We’re not getting to know each other – we know each other plenty well. I know just where he likes to be scratched on his forehead, and when he needs a little longer to stretch in his warmup. I can tell at a glance when he is tired or relaxed or eager or happy (his default). He knows that if he turns his head after finishing a course, I’ll rub his ears for him. He knows that I’ll always let him drink from the hose before a bath and that I’ll never ask him to do anything scary. Every day is a comforting conversation because we know and trust each other’s rhythms.

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PC- Liz Stout Photography

For as long as I’ve been riding and competing, and as long as I’ve been engrossed with the barn, I could’ve never imagined having a partner like Frankie. He’s one in a million and a once in a lifetime. In and out of the saddle, he brings so much joy and kindness into every single day we share. I don’t know what adventures we’ll get to go on together in the years to come, but I can’t wait to find out.

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PC- Liz Stout Photography

Prioritizing Expenses

I was chatting with a friend over the weekend about what we like to spend our money on. I feel EXTREMELY fortunate to get to train and compete like we do, but I’m also not made of money and have had to very clearly prioritize what I spend my money on.

Of course this list has changed over time – when I first bought Frankie, getting him the tack/blankets/gear to be comfortable in a new home was priority numero uno. But if I’m considering a steady state of affairs, here’s how I prioritize Frankie’s bank account:

1.Vet/farrier care. This never gets delayed or cheaped out on. We have an amazing farrier and a fantastic vet, and we’ve built a level of trust that they’ll do what’s best without doing anything unnecessary. Trainer and AT coordinate schedules and have heavy feedback into Frankie’s care and they’ve kept him healthy and happy. It’s a fantastic healthcare team. Tied into this category are items that help keep him happy – I recently picked up some ice boots that I put on him after jumping.

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tHe HaT oF kNoWlEdGe

2. Lessons. This will always always always be my number one priority once Frankie’s basic needs are met. This might be different if I worked with a different trainer, but I don’t need to tell you again how obsessed I am with mine. This consistent knowledgeable feedback is invaluable to me, and I’m grateful that we have the opportunity for it to be so frequent.

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Lessons make a FancyPants Francis even more FancyPants

3. Training rides. When I first got Francis, these weren’t that high on the list. But after incorporating them into the rotation more often and seeing the benefits for him both in the on and off season, I’m a believer. The one-two punch of lessons and training rides accelerated our progress more than I thought was possible and opened my eyes to a whole new level of riding.

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This transformation brought to you by (drumroll please) a whole bunch of lessons and training rides

4. Shows. Ya’ll know ya girl here loves to compete. And y’all know I’ll happily sacrifice a chance at some ribbons to go to the big shows. I won’t cancel my lessons or training rides to be able to afford a show, but I’ll cancel just about anything else.

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I literally go into the ring giggling this is my favorite activity on the planet

5. Tack. Thankfully Frankie pretty much has what he needs to be happy, but every once in a while I do pick something up. I recently nabbed a used Vespucci figure-8 that looks great on him, and also got a used Equifit BellyBand to protect his sensitive skin. I have a rolling wishlist that currently includes new stirrup irons, replacement standing+pillow wraps, and an embroidered BOT pad to show in. None of them are immediate needs, so I’ll either ask for them as gifts or wait til some room in the budget opens up (though the stirrup irons are fairly quickly approaching the necessary category).

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We switched our bit last year when we had enough forward and enough responsiveness to handle a little leverage, but we mostly leave it alone now.

6. Other gear and clothing. While I have a well-known obsession with pants, they do actually fall this far down on the list! Basically Frankie has to have everything he needs before I open up the budget for myself. Current wishlist includes a new Samshield show shirt to match my gorgeous Samshield whites, and a custom tack trunk cover so I can make my cheapo beloved Stanley trunk look super legit at shows. Again – not immediate needs, so these will either be gifts or wait until show season is over.

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Spoiler alert these are going to be mine in May (fingers crossed my schooling pair can hold out that long, they are literally falling apart)

Board isn’t in there because it is a constant fact of life for us. I love our barn, the boarding fee is very reasonable for the quality of facilities and region, and I don’t plan on moving unless something truly catastrophic happens. It doesn’t factor into the priority list because it’s simply there.

And of course things pop up here and there and I don’t stop to think about the priority list. If Frankie’s saddle isn’t fitting and I need to pay to have that addressed, I don’t put it off. If I see a pretty pair of pants after drinking two glasses of wine, I buy them. I can always take shows off the schedule, but I can’t take Frankie’s happiness and my own enjoyment of the sport off the schedule.

I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, and I’m sure everyone’s order looks different! I’d love to hear what yours looks like and why.

Why Does My Horse Keep Outsmarting Me: A Memoir

Guys.

He did it again.

My darling Francisco played me like a fiddle.

You’d think after almost 3 years I would’ve learned by now, but apparently only ONE of us actually retains anything.

Basically since I’ve gotten back from Ohio and gotten Frankie back into work, he’s been….blah. Not bad at all, just kinda….blah. Rushy behind at the trot, short-strided at the canter, very behind my leg with no inclination to come up and meet me.

And in true dumb-dumb fashion, I responded by lightening my seat, softening my reins, and encouraging him to move out more. In my defense, that doesn’t sound like a crazy reaction, right?! Opening the door to invite my pokey horse to move forward?

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You’d think I would’ve learned at our FIRST SHOW that a light seat has literally never been the right answer for the Frankfurter

So the other night in my lesson, I was doing this and getting “meh” reactions to it. Again, nothing terrible. Just….meh. We started popping over a few small jumps and again, he was kinda tuning me out, mincing little steps, adding strides in (which he almost NEVER does). I was at least partially blaming the belly band I’ve started using to prevent spur rubs – be careful what you wish for, because it certainly does dull my spur for better or for worse. And at that point my trainer chimed in:

“Olivia go wrestle with him a little. Stop asking and start insisting.”

Does that sound familiar? So I sat down, took a feel, booted him up, and stopped allowing the mincing steps.

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Unlike this day where I encouraged the mincing sorry for the conflicting messages Francis

What did I get?

I GOT MY HORSE BACK. HE ACTUALLY CARRIED ME TO THE JUMPS AND WENT STRAIGHT TO GET HIS CHANGES AND COULD BEND LEFT LIKE A NORMAL HORSE THAT IS TOTALLY FINE.

He was SO mad (which in Francis-world means his ears were at neutral position and he tossed his head twice #dramatic). His plan was finally foiled.

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Throwback to a few weeks ago when he fake-spooked at something so I made him canter a few laps and that made him pout and act exhausted for the next 45 minutes because he is so completely uncommitted to being bad

But guys. Next time I say anything about Frankie being less than ideal, please remind me that it’s 100% my own problem for letting him get away with it. Literally as soon as I gave him a solid whack behind my leg and got in his face a little he was a million times better. It’s like he didn’t want to show up to work until I had committed to showing up for work.

WHICH I SHOULD KNOW BY NOW BECAUSE THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.

 

Blog Hop: My Favorite Event

Y’all can’t keep me away from a fun blog hop just because I’m not an eventer! Out of the shows I’ve gotten to attend there is such a clear favorite in my mind that I just have to share.

If you’ve been following along for any amount of time, you already know that I’m talking about Upperville. (And to a similar extent Loudoun Benefit, which is held on the same showgrounds the following week).

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Our very first round as a team, back in 2016 at Loudoun Benefit in the Grand Prix ring! Talk about jumping in the deep end with a new horse.

In my world, Upperville is basically an immovable holiday. I change flights, I take time off of work, I have my dude move me out of apartments for me, all for the sake of Upperville.

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Remember when Nick was loading up a Uhaul with my possessions literally while I was over this jump in 2017 oops lol

Of course I love it for a lot of the technical aspects: the footing is absolutely fantastic and meticulously maintained, the course design is always fair but challenging, and the staff is friendly and professional.

It also has old tent stalls with very few outlets, insanely chaotic warmup rings, and takes place during the heat of the Virginia summer.

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Throwback to 2015 before I had a horse to show, but volunteered to help set up the stalls. As the tallest I got to stack a ladder on top of a hay bale on top of a trash can so we could reach the ONE OUTLET IN OUR AISLE #holdmybeer

I’ll never say that it’s perfect.

But there’s just something so special about it. By unspoken agreement, everyone pulls out all the stops for their aisle-fronts: gleaming wooden tack trunks, coordinating banners, fresh mulch, piles of flowers, wrought-iron fences, bubbling fountains (yes, really). The jumps are full of lush greenery in the hunter rings and beautiful shapes and colors in the jumper ring.

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The entire place is just gorgeous from every angle. PC – A. Frye

 

 

There are the side-saddle and hunt classes with so much tradition on display. The hunters are some of the most beautiful animals I’ve had the pleasure of seeing go around – and watching them along with the commentary of my trainer (a hunter R judge) turns it into a learning experience. The classic lime ices are perfect on a humid morning. I can ride a track in the same ring as McLain, on the very same day.

Add to this that Upperville is about 30 minutes from our home stable, and there’s definitely a sense of hometown pride to it. The rolling fields adjacent to the showgrounds are perfect for cooling out in view of the rolling hills.

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And they make a perfect backdrop for photos.

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Which then make perfect subject matter for oil paintings

Upperville isn’t my favorite because it’s objectively the best show. WEC has nicer stalls, Swan Lake has great footing too, McDonogh is super accessible, Culpeper has more step-up classes, Lake Placid has the most stunning vistas, Ocala has better weather. There’s been plenty to love at all of these shows and we’ve had great experiences at all of them.

For me, Upperville is different. It’s where Frankie and I tackled our first 1.15m class as a team, where he beat ML in a 1.20m class, and where I felt truly competitive for the first time despite being out of the ribbons.

Whenever non-horsey friends and family ask if they can come watch me ride, the only one I suggest they attend is Upperville. Other facilities host competitions. Upperville is truly a horse show that’s a blast for competitors and spectators alike.

My show season is very light this year due to classes starting up in the spring, but there’s no way Frankie and I could miss our 4th opportunity to get back on that showground.

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PC – G. Mohan

Why Jumpers?

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BECAUSE THE JUMPERS FRIGHTEN ME

Nah all kidding aside, I was ruminating on this the other day. Frankie and I have played in the equitation, I grew up exclusively doing the hunters/eq, we’ve toodled around baby XC, Frankie has done eventing and hunters and pleasure classes with other riders. I’ve even mentioned that I hope to take him in a hunter derby at some point.

So with all that time spent in other rings, why do I keep our main focus on the jumper ring? It’s not a question of ability – we’ve both been perfectly happy and capable in other disciplines. And it isn’t a question of access – I’m in comfortable driving distance of high-level barns of practically every English discipline. Even my own beloved trainer has a strong record in all three H/J/E (she’s even a hunter R judge).

Circumstances have not forced us into the jumper ring. It is by no means a default, and by no means an accident. In simple terms, I focus us in the jumper ring because I love it there.

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PC – ESI Photography

In my world, training for and competing in the jumper ring combines all of my favorite parts from each discipline and turns them into something even greater than the sum of its parts. There is the precision flatwork of dressage, there is the speed and thrill of eventing, there is the careful effective position of equitation, there is knowing how to bring out the best in my horse from the hunters. And it takes all of these parts and gives back a sport that is pure strategy and focus and fun.

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PC – USHJA

I love the focus on results above all else, but that the results reward the process. Sure, you’re not being judged on your position – but try to go clear on the Frankfurter without a supportive leg and balanced body. See how that works out. And you’re not being judged on your horse’s steadiness of pace or bascule – but try to beat the time and leave the oxers up without a good jump and adjustable stride. At the end of the day though, when the rubber meets the road you have to be willing to dig in and throw out the pretty to make it work.

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PC – K. Borden

I love the strategy of it. How it’s a thinking ride with every single stride. Once that buzzer sounds, there’s no time to be nervous or notice anything else, because a good course demands your attention. It’s all about playing to your horse’s strengths to set them up to succeed through the entire course, with each component building on the next. How you need to ride the plan, but above all else ride the horse you have under you in that moment.

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PC – Hoof Print Images

I love the people. The Zone 3 Adult Jumper riders are all fantastic, and getting to see them and catch up at shows is a treat. We cheer each other on, we wave hello in the warmups, we take pictures for each other. The show crews in our area are wonderful people, ready to say congratulations on a good round and answer my many questions. The warmup rings tend to be surprisingly civilized since most people have done this before and behave accordingly. For all the horror stories I’ve heard of snobbery at the big shows, I’ve never failed to have someone smile back and say thank you when I tell them how pretty their horse is (which I do constantly because I really really really like ponies).

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Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years with Frankie, I love it even more because of how professional and eager he is to do this job. How he starts asking me to move out when he hears the buzzer. How he lands already looking for the next fence, even after we’ve passed through the timers. How he struts back to the gate after a good round with his ears up, proudly knowing he’s done a great job. How I know I can trust him to be right there with me every step of the way.

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PC – K. Borden

It’s not about the speed – we’ve made amazing times not by galloping, but by being deliberate and efficient with our turns. It’s not about the height – I’ve had just as much fun at 0.80m as I have at 1.15m. It’s the power and precision and exhilaration of working with my partner to pull together all our skills to perform.

I’m excited to keep trying new things with the Frankfurter and find great joy in expanding our horizons, but my heart will always be in the jumper ring on the back of my favorite big bay.

Re-Tuning The Engine

Now that we’re past WEC, the weather is starting to get a little more mild, and Francis is totally recovered from his heel grab, we’re starting to get back into the swing of things with a bit more consistency. Homeboy and I both thrive on consistency, so I’m really happy to keep the learning train going.

We had a fantastic lesson over the weekend that ended up being entirely flatwork-focused and included some basic pole work, and it highlighted some really useful things for us to focus on moving forward.

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Someday I’ll learn to stop sniffing mane (or not). Photos all unrelated but my friend sent me some from WEC 🙂 PC – K. Borden

The big one right now is getting that self-carriage back into play. I haven’t insisted on it for a while since I’ve been in toodling mode, but everything gets so much easier when I have a balanced powerful creature under me. Go figure. Luckily we’re starting at a different baseline than last year – this time around, he already knows the game. He’s just pretty sure he doesn’t have to play the game and would really rather not thankyouverymuch.

His walk has always been very forward and full of movement and he’s gotten much happier about continuing that fluidity on a contact, and he’s had an absolutely lovely canter since day one (and now that we can collect more, it’s just gotten lovelier). It’s the trot that has given him the most trouble with forward, straight, and round. To work on this, we’re doing a lot in the sitting trot. Since that trot is his worst gait, having me sit deeper and wrap around to help pick him up is majorly helpful. It’s much easier to help him find that softness and roundness from there and carry it into our posting trot than it is to build that straight off while posting.

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Part One of the PowerPose sequence. Bigs and Littles all invited. PC – K. Borden

We also threw in quite a bit of lateral work to keep his brain engaged and I have to tell you, a busy-brain Francis is an amazing creature to ride. It’s like when he’s bored he kinda tunes out and drones around, but giving him something challenging to try gets him fired up and incredibly tuned in. Trotting leg-yield zigzags gave us some really lovely trot work and helped correct some problems we were having with the bend. Working on some canter half-passes was a downright magical button where suddenly his canter got a thousand times more powerful and light in my hand. I’m certainly still working on how to ask clearly for that, but he was right there delivering when I got it right. I’m still kinda riding the high from those few correct steps.

I also think I’m going to switch back to a driving rein for a while. At this point I know how to squeeze him up and forward, but I’d like to give him somewhere a little more elastic to go in my hand. The way he needs to be ridden has certainly shifted as we’ve both gotten more educated, so I’d like to respond to that and give him a chance to raise his own bar a bit.

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Part Two before heading to the show ring with a VERY skeptical mare. PC – K. Borden

As much as I loved getting to learn from Belle at WEC, I enjoy working on the flat with Francis SO much. Obviously he’s a beast over fences and I love flying with him and jumper ring 5ever. But raising the ante on the flat and gaining more and more precision and control of our movements is downright addicting, especially with how willing and teachable he is. I can see why you dressage folks are so passionate about it.

It’s funny, there was a tweet lately that simply asked: “how do you cue for the canter?” There were tons of responses that were super detailed – sit deeper on my outside seat bone, scoop with my abs, steady outside rein, etc etc etc. Like, REAL detailed. And I realized that at this point I have no idea how to respond. That’s not to say I don’t know how to cue for the canter, obviously. I just have no idea how to articulate what I’m doing. I just kinda do it. And that’s the case for a lot of what I do with Frankie. Obviously I’m doing something right at some points, because it’s working. But isolating and articulating what each part of my body is doing? Hard. It’s simply not how my brain learns and processes, I need the visual and feel much more than I need the words.

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Part Three EVERYONE PULL IT TOGETHER THIS IS SERIOUS. PC – K. Borden

I was trying to explain what a half-pass is to my non-horsey father. Eventually I was able to adequately explain the movement (I think, though he may have just humored me and said he got it). He asked how I ask Frankie for it. My super detailed answer? “I just kinda…push. Over. Like, off my leg. But also my other leg. And my seatbone is there too. Both seatbones really. But one more than the other. And my hands. They’re there.”

So detail, much explain.

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Someday I’ll learn to jump the center of a fence….or not. PC – K. Borden

There’s a reason why I’d be a terrible coach and why I’m not that good at telling people how to ride my horse. You’ve seen my instructions, they’re literally just to kick and take a feel and everything magically falls into place. I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more in play there. Just don’t ask me to articulate it.

Bringing it back to where we started talking about our lesson, I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on with my body, but I can tell you that it’s working. Even getting it wrong is fun with Frankie – if I’m getting it wrong, it means we’re trying something new and eventually we’ll figure it out. I just love getting to work with him and I love how engaged and eager he is to learn.

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Much love for the best team ❤ PC – K. Borden