25 More: Hop

L kicked this off with some questions she found on Tumblr, Amanda chimed in, and y’all know I can never resist these things.

1. What is the first thing you do when you get to the barn?

I stop in and see Francis! I’m usually still holding my keys and gear, but I head straight for his stall to say hello and trades scratches. If he’s outside, I’ll wander the barn a bit first to say hi to any friends that are there.

2. Is there a breed that you would never own?

It kills me to say this, but any pony breed. I deeply love ponies, but at almost 5’10” it would be pretty impractical. We’ll see if any future spawn wants a pony though, because I am entirely on board with living vicariously through them.

3. Describe your last ride?

Our lesson this week, where we practiced being hunterific and handy. Frankie was wonderfully responsive, rateable, and had great energy. He’s pretty sure that slowing down like this is his favorite thing.

4. Have any irrational riding fears?

My one big one is riding outside the ring any faster than a walk. It’s completely irrational – I ride the actual safest calmest horse on the planet – but there you have it. I enjoy walking around the neighborhood, but the idea of picking up a trot gives me the cold sweats.

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After our TERRIFYING hill set in the pasture where he was deeply content to not move very quickly, while I myself was spooking at the wind.

5. Describe your favorite lesson horse?

When I was younger, there was an ancient lesson horse named Alfie where I learned to ride. He was the slowest kick ride to ever exist, and was pretty much the only horse that didn’t make my neurotic self break down in tears. He was a wonderful big chestnut old man ❤

6. Would you ever lease out your horse?

Totally! I’m still enjoying the heck of out Francisco, but that’ll likely be in his future. He’s a pretty darn perfect 3′ packer that can easily do higher with a solid ride, can cross into any ring (as long as you’re not trying to win the hack), and is super chill and easy to handle/ride. He’s going to be a great teacher for a tall kid/adult re-rider.

7. Mares: Yay or neigh?

I won’t turn down a good mare! I tend to click more with geldings since they usually forgive my transgressions a bit more quickly, but I adored Addy and her quick-thinking nature.

8. How many time per week do you get to see your horse?

These days, around 3-4x per week. At our peak it was 5-6x pretty consistently, but adding classes into the mix has required me to adjust my schedule. Luckily he gets pro attention a couple times a week, so he’s still shiny and happy!

9. Favorite thing to do on an “easy day” with your pony?

Hop on bareback in a halter and mosey about the property watching lessons and drinking wine. I do this on Fridays sometimes when I’ve had a rough week, and basically use Francis as a mobile couch while I hang out with friends and watch some of our talented juniors work. Bless the ammy friendly horse.

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We do this regularly and it is therapeutic

10. Conformational flaw that bothers you the most?

This is a tough one – basically anything that would make it difficult/dangerous for a horse to jump safely. Frankie is pretty over at the knee and while it hasn’t posed problems, I would definitely correct it if I could.

11. Thing about your riding that you’re most self conscious about?

Eh I’m honestly not that self-conscious of a person. I would love to have a more stable lower leg, I’d love to address my asymmetry better, I’ve gotten in the bad habit of hunching my shoulders, my eye for a distance comes and goes. But those are just skills I want to work on, not things that make me feel self-conscious.

12. Will you be participating in no stirrup November?

Partially? I do need to include more no-stirrup work to get back into shape. But I don’t track my times or anything like that.

13. What is your grooming routine?

Pick feet, curry all over, brush mane and pick shavings/debris out of tail, soft brush all over twice. The longer I take, the happier Frankie is. I’m saving up for a nice brush set, so I think this will expand when I have the full set!

14. Describe a day in the life of your horse?

Come inside for breakfast, lay down for a long mid-morning nap, wake up and eat some hay, get groomed, go to work, more groomings/bathtime, and then go outside overnight to play with friends and eat more hay. It’s a good life.

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Must nap. All the time.

15. Favorite season for riding?

Either fall or mid spring. The air is crisp and clear, we can ride outside without broiling in the sun, Frankie’s coat gets super dark and beautiful as it changes.

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Fall in Virginia is just heaven on earth

16. If you could only have 1 ring: indoor or outdoor?

Oooh this is a tough one. I love love love having our indoor so that we can ride in all weather year-round, but we do get a little stir-crazy after being stuck in there all winter. Can I opt for a covered ring to get the best of both worlds?!

17. What impresses you most about the opposite discipline (english vs. western)?

This may seem silly, but their setups at the big shows. The way they take these stall fronts and turn them into completely new areas is totally mindblowing.

18. You have unlimited funds to buy one entire tack set for your horse, what is he/she wearing?

Antares. I love it.

19. How many blankets do you have? When do you blanket?

Just 3 – one light, one medium, one heavy. He’s blanketed in various combinations as weather demands from late fall through early spring (we just packed ours up to be cleaned and stored last week). I also have a wool cooler and a fleece quarter sheet that I use in the winter.

20. What is your horse’s favorite treat? Favorite place to be scratched?

Literally all treats are favorite treats, which is why he gets very few and in moderation. My trainers will often give him a mint/carrot when he leaves the show ring, and he has yet to say no to any of them. He loves being scratched right at the base of his ears/his forehead, he always really leans into that.

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I gave him a treat the other day and proceeded to have this up in my business. Adorable, yes, but OMG GET OUT OF MY FACE YOU GIGANTIC GOLDEN RETRIEVER.

21. Something about your barn that drives you crazy?

I just sat here and thought for a while and I really don’t have one haha. The care is wonderful, the training is thorough, the people are lovely. I very much enjoy my time there and can’t think of anything I would change. If anything, make it closer to home. One the weekends/off hours it’s only 30-35 minutes from my house and the office, but I do spend about an hour getting there after work during rush hour.

22. Roached manes, pulled manes, or long flowing manes?

Pulled manes for sure, but I do sometimes do a quick neaten-up with scissors at the very end. I don’t usually pull too short since we don’t braid for the jumper ring, but I have a feeling we’ll being keeping it more ready for braids these days.

23. Can you handle a buck or a rear better?

Definitely a buck, but I’d really prefer neither thankyouverymuch.

24. I would never buy a horse who ___________________?

Was super spooky. Even if they don’t bolt or do anything too naughty, I really don’t like riding something that I have to coax along like that. It makes me really keyed up and nervous and I ain’t about that.

25. Favorite facial marking?

Frankie has a little double swirl right in the middle of his forehead and I think it’s the most precious thing in the world. It’s a perfect spot for scratches and smooches.

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The sweetest bestest spot for scritches
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That Summer Ammy Life

Frankie and I are living the ammy life hardcore these days, yo.

Twice a week, AT hops on and reminds Francis that he knows how to do fancy things. A couple other times a week, his mother hops on and does her best to uninstall all fancy things by letting him toodle.

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He’s extra happy to see me these days because he knows it entails little to no effort

Every so often my schedule actually allows a lesson and I lean entirely on Frankie’s willingness to cart me around with very little input. Bless his education because heaven knows I’m not helping him out that much these days.

We’re going to shows and doing the 3′ where Frankie can jump from literally any distances without having to work at it. Thankfully. And we’re spending time in rings that don’t require us too move too fast because we’re both hot and lazy and out of shape.

It could not be more of a contrast to where we were last year: conditioning intensely, schooling 1.20m+, firing on all cylinders. It looks a lot more like grazing in the sun, walking around the pastures and calling it a “hill set,” and getting pictures from my barn friends of Frankie enjoying his naps when I’m stuck doing schoolwork.

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A lot of views of this chonkasaurus

I love that he can fire up and be my fancy prancy show pony, but I’m eternally grateful for my steady-Eddie, easy-going, happy-to-chill bud. He is the ultimate ammy packer and we’re having a wonderfully relaxing and fun summer so far.

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With plenty of naps.

Blue Rock Classic 2019

 

Apologies for the week delay on this post! In a nutshell – I got home from the show Sunday evening, left first thing on Monday morning for a staff retreat in Maryland, got back home from that Wednesday evening, spent Thursday after work finishing all my schoolwork for this term, then promptly got sick with a killer cold on Friday and spent 90% of my long weekend either in bed or on the couch.

It’s been a busy week.

But I can’t leave you hanging forever, because I seriously had SO MUCH FUN at this show! If you’re connected with me on Facebook or Insta then you’ve already seen some of the adorable pictures that came out of it.

The high-level recap: we ended up doing the hunter derby and Adult Medals, Francis was mildly bemused at first that it wasn’t time for zoomies, but by the end was absolutely delighting in his new job.

We just did a short lesson on Thursday in one of the hunter rings to let Frankie know he could open up his step. We kept it fairly short and sweet since he was jumping so well and flowing so nicely. We’ve worked so so hard to tell him to collect and fire more up-and-down, and I think it was refreshing for him to be told to move more across the ground like that. It was definitely useful to play with his stride to figure out where to place him. In the jumper ring I always have to shorten him up since we’re galloping, but his natural stride length was actually spot on in the lines for the hunter ring. I just needed to keep my leg on to help him balance, rate him a bit towards home, and encourage him to keep a steady pace and he took care of the rest.

Then Friday was derby day!! We did go in to do a 2’6″ schooling round first thing in the morning, just so he could get a chance to see the ring. I’m never worried about him spooking, but I figured with a big class like the derby with a lot of commotion, I’d rather do everything I can to set him up for success.

As you can imagine, he was downright adorable in the 2’6″. I don’t think he’s ever actually shown that low, and he was probably thinking that his blessed retirement was upon him.

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“HELLO RETIREMENT THIS IS THE LIFE FOR ME”

Unfortunately for him, he’s still young and healthy and while I’m happy to step down to the 3′ for now, I’m not quite ready to step all the way back down. Sorry dude. Because it was time to get braided and primped and shiny and shad-ed up for the derby!!

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Notice the two ammies that have no shame and the two juniors that are beet red and would really rather not be seen with us. They will learn in time to give zero effs.
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We decided to do a quick high fashion photoshoot. The hairnets. The stock ties. The bright blue sports bra extremely visible through my shirt. The height of luxury.
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All jokes aside, these young ladies are wonderful riders, even better horsewomen, and just stupendous teammates. Couldn’t ask for a more supportive and encouraging crew.

As an extra special treat, I actually have video from the derby! So I’ll keep my comments brief.

And thanks to my favoritest barn mom/photographer/bestie/wine sharer/snarkfest, we have some pictures to share from derby day too!!

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Does Francis go in a martingale ever? No. Did we put one on him to visually break up his brontosaurus neck? Yes. Yes we did.
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“Quick, look dramatic and oddly butt-high”
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Jumps 1-4 were in the main ring, then you crossed over into the neighboring ring for jumps 5-6, then made your way back to the main ring for jumps 7-12. It was super cool.
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This wasn’t even the jump we had the rail on. I know 3′ is easy for you dude, but maybe try just a leeeeettle bit harder?!
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There it is. My hunterific prince.
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Basically my new favorite picture. 

Brief comments: first jump was a little sticky as I figured out my striding, and definite wobbles here and there while I figured out what horse I had underneath me and Frankie figured out that there was not actually a time to beat. An unlucky rail where he simply didn’t bother to pick his feet up all the way so our score was appropriately low, but overall I’m tickled with our first attempt. I learned a ton about how to adjust my ride and I think next time we’ll do even better!

The next day, we were up bright and early to do our two adult equitation medals (I think it was the Dover and the MHSA if I remember correctly?). Sadly no media from those two trips, but I was very very happy with both of them. In the first we got called back in to test on the flat, and were able to move up from fourth to third! We got a shmancy medal for that one. The second trip was overall more balanced and a better showing, but we did have a little weak spot into the two-stride that bumped us down to fifth. Entirely fair, we were up against some strong competition! We were able to do some really cool inside turns with our track that I think showed us both off to best effect.

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No video or pics of our rounds, but we do have a nice sweaty pic with our ribbons!

I had originally planned on doing the Low Adults over in the jumper ring that afternoon, but I definitely had a tired horse under me. Neither of us are in the best physical condition, the temperature was quickly rising, and so I opted to scratch our jumper class (knowing that it meant we would not be eligible for the classic the next day). While a bummer to miss the classic, it definitely felt like the right choice to make sure Frankie wasn’t getting overworked.

This meant that the next day we just had our Ariat Adult Medal first thing in the morning! Lucky us – one of our barnmates woke up early too so they could come video and cheer us on. And also lucky us – Austen was there too!!

And lucky us, they got to witness me LOSE MY MIND ENTIRELY OH MY LANTA.

OK so you know how I go to horse shows pretty regularly? Like, not as often as some, but more often than many. I’ve done this before. I know the drill. I can get myself and my horse to the ring looking good and on time. No big deal.

EXCEPT APPARENTLY IT IS A BIG DEAL AND I CAN DO NONE OF THESE THINGS BECAUSE I LITERALLY FORGOT TO PUT MY NUMBER ON. AND THEN WHEN THEY SAID WHATEVER JUST GO IN THE RING AND TELL US YOUR NUMBER, I TOLD THEM THE WRONG ONE.

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1. Realization 2. Resignation 3. PANIC

This was caught on video that will certainly be turned into a reaction gif sometime soon. Just wow. Why am I like this.

Anyways, we did go in and put in a pretty decent trip actually.

Again, not perfect, but I think it showed steady improvement day over day. They had everyone back in to flat (AT WHICH POINT I DID HAVE A NUMBER ON) and I pulled a sixth here. I do think our flatwork should have bumped us up a place or two (there was a decent amount of crowhopping and swapped leads among our competitors), but I’m just happy they let me continue despite my absolute ammy potato brain!

I’ll close out by saying that I think it worked out for the best that we stuck in the eq ring instead of going back and forth to the jumpers. Frankie is a great learner with repetition, and maintaining the same expectations for his pace and rhythm over the course of the weekend 100% helped it *click* for him. By the last day, he very noticeably understood the game much better and I was able to sit and equitate instead of having to manage him.

I’ll also add that I think the equitation/medals is a really bright spot for Frankie and I. The courses are interesting enough to keep him focused and attentive, the jumps are low enough that he doesn’t have to work too hard, and the striding is very suited to his natural way of going.

We have Loudoun Benefit coming up in a few weeks, and I’m excited to go do a similar mishmash with him! Love love love my happy, sweet, game, wonderful steed.

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And don’t you worry. He got plenty of naps.

 

 

 

OK Showoff

Recently, Franklin has been a downright pleasure to ride.

Don’t get me wrong, the Big Man has always been a joy and I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every ride with him. Even the “meh” rides with him always have something redeeming for me to focus on.

But for a while, it was a different type of enjoyment. It was a developing kind of enjoyment, where I had the satisfaction of knowing that we were building skills together and helping each other learn new ways of doing things. Tackling new challenges to push our limits and improve. We were in that mode basically since day 1, mastering new skills  and heights and then looking for the next one to push for.

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Bigger jumps, wider jumps, harder striding

As you know, we’re keeping things a little easier lately. We’ve put the jumps back down to 1m or lower, we’re competing less, and we’re not aiming at any particular goal right now. We’re not pushing that hard for new skills or heights, we’re working diligently to be better at the ones already solidly in our toolbox.

And Frankie completely and totally gets it. I haven’t had to explain anything for him lately. There has been no learning curve or delay while we both try to figure out what the right answer is. He has promptly understood and delivered every. single. thing. I’ve asked him to do.

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Me: Go be cute. Francis: U MEAN LIKE DIS

A few major examples that pop into my mind are from recent lessons. A few weeks ago, he warmed up beautifully – softly and happily, really just lovely. While that may be pleasant to flat, historically that translates to a weak and underpowered jump from him. At shows we joke that if he’s too happy in the warmup, we need to ruin his day a little bit to get him fired up enough for our round. So I was prepared to have to wrestle with him a bit during our first course to get him firing on all cylinders.

Imagine my surprise when he was forward, adjustable, listening, and jumping extremely well. No need to ruin his day at all. I think this was partially due to me providing more proactive support (albeit in anticipation of needing to provide more), but I do think it’s at least partially his own knowledge and fitness being at the point where his job makes sense to him. There is a definite sense of things “clicking” for him lately, where it used to take a bit longer for him to fully understand the rules of the game.

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Don’t let these happy ears fool you, historically he really only jumps well when he’s mad

And this past week, we were schooling a diagonal line to a bending line. Trainer didn’t tell me the striding, so the first time we went through and it rode in a very comfortable, slightly flowing 4 to a 5. Very easy.

You all know that Trainer doesn’t like when things are too easy, so of course she asked me to go back through and school the add. Do it in a 5 to a 6. You all also know that the add has always been a tough sell for Frankie – it’s hard to get that big body compressed and powerful enough!

So I approached the line, sat him down to collect him, got a really wonderfully collected carousel horse canter, got him to the base, and asked him to fit it in.

And this beast went and did it in 6. And then bent out in 7, and then happily kicked up to a hand gallop for our next fence.

That’s right, folks. We got the elusive double add.

Honestly having this much adjustability feels like a bit too much power and responsibility for me, but I’m tickled pink that he understands that cue so well now and is able to execute it so well. Seeing his thinking ears and then seeing him be so proud of himself at every “Good man!!” is a different and wonderful kind of joy.

At the end of the day I’m happy if Frankie is happy, and seeing him blossom under the praise for a job well done is just what I said above – a downright pleasure.

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My sweet sweet angel boy

Chugging Along

I wish I had something super exciting to share with you, but things are pretty quiet over here!

By quiet I mean that work is very busy but manageably so, school is interesting and fun and not nearly as time-consuming as I had feared, I’ve been spending some wonderful time with friends, and Francis continues to be the World’s Best Horse(TM) at all times forever.

I guess by quiet I actually mean it’s not even a little bit quiet, but it’s been really nice finding a new equilibrium for myself.

I’m now about 5 weeks into my first 7-week term, and I continue to love being a student. Even the dreaded group projects have been great, as I hooked up with 3 other fantastic people who are smart and interesting and great to work with. We share pictures of our dogs every day (we all agreed that Frankie counts as a giant dog) and it’s been a pleasure getting to know them and work with them!

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Everyone needs to see this picture of Francis being the most precious snoozler

On the home front, I bit the bullet and hired a cleaning service to come into our house once a month. So far it has been worth every single penny for peace of mind. Could I just do it myself? Absolutely. But with work and school and the barn and other commitments piling on, I want to be able to just enjoy my limited free time at home with my husband without worrying about chores. It took a major source of stress off the table entirely! I don’t know that it’s something we’ll continue once I finish school and my schedule opens up a bit, but for now it’s some very welcome help.

On the random personal front, I finally got that haircut I’ve been talking about! I told you all how much I hated that super long braid coming out of my helmet, so I went ahead and chopped it all off. My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner bc OMG I LOVE MY NEW HAIRCUT SO MUCH. Seriously, I feel twenty pounds lighter and a million times better.

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I’m not so great at selfies but I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER

On to the star of the show: Frankie continues to be a steady rock of wonderfulness, sharing his happiness every day. He recently accidentally got a week off – between school, work, sickness, and my trainers being gone at a show, he missed his training rides and I didn’t make it out – but I didn’t even find this out until after I hopped on and he was absolutely perfect. He’s constantly re-winning the Best Ammy Horse Ever Award. I can almost see my reflection in his coat right now from the shine, he has little dapples peaking out, and is just looking beautiful right now. I know soon enough he’ll get sunbleached and faded so I’m enjoying that spring coat while it lasts!

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The lighting isn’t great but just look how handsome he is!!! I just can’t stand it.

We have a show coming up later this month and I’m feeling great about it! We’re planning to do a mishmash of things – some Low Adult jumper classes, some adult eq classes, and if the weather holds and they run it outside I’ll do the hunter derby with him too. We’re not trying to qualify for things, we’re not trying to get the jumps higher, we’re just planning to go out there and have fun doing some different work together. I’m incredibly excited to go play with my best boy!

So there you have it. Things are busy, but a good busy, and I’m thoroughly enjoying this stage of life. Hoping to rope a friend into videoing some rides soon so I can have some media to share though – I realized I don’t have any record of me jumping my horse since last year!! I pinky promise that we’ve actually been doing work and he’s been awesome at it. Can’t wait to share when we have something 🙂

Q & A

A la Amanda, I asked Instagram for questions, and here is the result! I may have to do this again, because it was super fun for me to see the questions that came in.

Tell us about your first ride on a horse that you remember!

I started taking lessons when I was 6 years old, so my very first ride is lost in the sands of memory. But I do distinctly remember going on a short “trail ride” through one of the paddocks on a little pony, and sliding right down his neck when he stopped to grab a snack! I remember him standing there patiently while I giggled like crazy laying there on the ground, and I remember getting back on and hearing my instructor say “lean back!” Kinda funny that the first ride I can remember is also my first tumble, but it clearly didn’t stop me from falling in love with ponies.

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Way back in 1998, six years old and already giggling about riding a pony (also what kind of helmet is that?!)

What are your long term goals for Frankie, or possibly a second horse? (Related question: when will Frankie get a brother? I got this question multiple times haha)

I’ll break this down into two parts!

My long term goals for Frankie are a little up in the air right now. Originally he was going to be my High Adult horse, and then last year we had our eyes set on the Low AOs. That didn’t end up happening since I shifted a lot of my focus to wedding planning, and now that I’m taking classes it’s not looking likely that I’ll do that this year either. Realistically by the time I’m done with my degree and ready to recommit to a stricter training program, Frankie will be 14 or 15 and that move-up to the AOs may not be in his best interest. If he’s feeling great and seems comfortable pushing, then we’ll absolutely go for it! I certainly don’t want to rule it out – he’s sound and healthy and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be sound and healthy for a good long time. If he tells us he’d rather keep the jumps a little lower, I’m perfectly happy to do whatever level he feels best at. Once he tells us that he needs an easier job with less intense training, I’ll may find him a lease situation for a junior or ammy rider that wants a safe packer-type to learn the ropes on. At this point I don’t know when that would be, I’m in zero rush and hope to enjoy him for a good while longer before he steps down to something like that. He won’t be for sale at any point though – I need him around to do leadline with any future kiddos.

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Giving pony rides is literally his favorite thing to do, he’ll love having that in his future

As to a second horse, that’s something I’d potentially like to look into in the future. It’s definitely not in my near-term plans due to the expense that I put towards maintaining and competing with Frankie. I’d much rather be able to spoil him rotten with everything he could need or want than spread myself too thin and not be able to provide top level care for both horses. Once I’m done competing with Frankie and we find him a situation where he pays his own bills a bit, it would be really nice to bring another horse into the family. Hopefully by then I’ll have progressed enough in my career to handle that financially, but I won’t get a second horse unless I can guarantee quality care for both creatures. That being said, life has a way of laughing at the best laid plans! I have a feeling my life will look very different in 5, 10, 15 years and I don’t want to jinx myself by placing all my hopes in one basket (pardon the mixed metaphor).

Do you have any fears when you ride? What are the biggest ones and how do you cope? 

I wouldn’t say that I have a ton of fear (usually), but I definitely have my own anxieties sometimes! I was an EXTREMELY fearful kid, and spent all of my junior years basically afraid of my own shadow. If I was a horse, I would have been the spookiest most ulcer-prone creature in the barn. Luckily as an adult I seem to have outgrown most of that.

These days, pretty much all of my nerves center around waiting. As long as I’m tacking up, warming up, walking a course, doing SOMETHING (either at home or at shows), I can stay mentally focused enough that I don’t notice any nerves. It’s having to wait – being in the barn but being too early to tack up, or standing around watching my trainer raise the jumps – that I can feel some butterflies in my tummy.

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Not gonna lie, my trainer has us do Wonder Woman poses before heading to the ring now and I kinda really definitely love it (even if Mare was v v skeptical)

The best way I’ve found to combat this is to keep myself busy with other things – visualize my course, walk some patterns with Frankie while we wait, things like that. I’ve never been nervous on Frankie once we actually get moving, so my tools for managing nerves all center around keeping myself mentally in the zone until I have both feet in the stirrups and am actively engaged in our work. I also frequently remind myself that I have a horse that I can trust to take me through fire, and that my trainer would never put me in an unsafe situation. That trust takes me a long way.

What practical factors went into your decision to buy vs. continue leasing?

I’d say that the turning point for me was when I was able to crystallize my goals into something more tangible. I had been to a few local shows with my lease mare Addy (the DragonMare!), had the chance to tag along to a few bigger ones, and realized that my goal was to compete at some bigger rated shows and start jumping bigger jumps. Addy was AMAZING and taught me so so so so much, but she was not particularly suited to show life and we had about maxed out the height she was happy performing at.

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She was a powerhouse and I just adored her.

Having come off of a lease, I was also looking for a situation where I could have more input into the care – not that I would have changed anything about Addy’s situation, but there were (reasonable) limitations on what I could do with her as a leaser that wouldn’t be in place as an owner.

From a budget standpoint, I knew that my budget would either get me a lease on a solid horse for a year, or be a purchasing budget for something that might need a little bit of development. I’m not aging out or chasing any time-specific goals, so I decided to purchase something I could work with and learn with over time, rather than having to end it after a year. I of course ended up with Frankie, which was the best possible outcome!

If you could ride any horse in the world (past, present, or fiction) who would it be?

This is such a hard one! The obvious answer is Frankie (duh) because he’s a total blast to ride, but I wouldn’t turn down the ride on Cortes C before his retirement. Of course I know so much of his excellence was due to his partnership with a great horsewoman, but he just looks so darn game. His balance and expression and the way he carried himself was incredible. I was happy to hear that they put his welfare first and retired him rather than risk injury, but it was sad to lose him as a player.

If you could train with anyone in the world EXCEPT your current trainer, who would it be?

Another tough one! Right now a trainer that I’m watching is Cian O’Connor. Among others, he coaches Lillie Keenan who is a total girl crush of mine, and his attention to detail and focus on mental coaching is intriguing. Closer to home, I’d love to trailer into ride with Joe Fargis. Several riders at my barn have taken lessons with him and said great things, and he really is one of the great names in our sport. I’d love to get the perspective of someone with such a lifetime of experience to impart.

If you could change one thing about this sport, what would it be?

I’ve said this once before, but it bears repeating: improved communication. I see people at high levels complaining about things that don’t affect 99% of regular people, and I see people just starting out in the sport complaining about things because they heard something untrue through the grapevine and took it as gospel. Being able to have an open dialogue across disciplines, across income brackets, across regions would help get people on the same page and focused on what matters most. Improved communication would help expose the truth where it needs to be exposed and shared, and create channels of improved safety across the sport. A lot of the specific issues I’d like to see addressed boil down to a mismatch in communication.

Wedding Pictures!

We’ve had our wedding pictures back for a while, and I’m so excited to share them with you. Between our photographer and her second shooter, we had over 1600(!) images to reminisce over, and I was able to narrow it down to 300ish top favorites. I wish I was exaggerating. Here are a few of my all time favorites that make me smile real big. And if you’re more of a video person, scroll down for that 😉

PC: Samantha Robshaw Photography
VC: Stop Go Love

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The most elegant photo of me from that day, hands down. And entirely staged. My earrings were definitely already on.
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If you know me at all, you know I have a strong penchant for socks
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Mah girlsssss
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My best friend knows how to have a good time
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My mini-me was just the happiest little girl all morning
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She loved being part of the whole thing
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Kinda annoying that he can look this good while brushing his teeth but whatever it’s fine
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I’m not a big cryer, but I definitely got a little weepy when I saw my dad get emotional. Held it together before and after just fine.
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Big brothers and little girls! My middle brother totally looks like he has to poop (but it’s elegant because it’s in a tux, or so he tells me)
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We all had pockets for snacks
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They were both perfect all morning and then NOPED as soon as we got to the church hahahaha I’m using this picture as blackmail for their entire lives
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For the non-Greeks: these were our first steps as man and wife
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So happy we were in my childhood church!
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Directly after the ceremony, hiding in the back room waiting for people to leave so we could take pictures. I’m so so so happy she captured this moment like this.
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Stopped by the State House for pics!
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Listen, when I first toured the venue I warned them all I’d do something weird with this torch. No one can say I didn’t warn them.
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Parents!
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I’ll never ever forget coming into the hall and seeing all our family and friends around us like that. Magical.
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Gross
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The one battle I fought HARD was to have Dunkin’ Donuts at my wedding, and I was beyond happy to have my doughnuts. I only got one bite because I was so busy with everything, but that one bite was worth it.
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We got literally everyone involved in the Greek dancing. It was so cool that my new in-laws jumped in so eagerly!!
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10/10 would recommend having a change of shoes to anyone getting married
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The evening in a nutshell.

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!

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!