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
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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.

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!

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.