I’m thrilled to share with you all that our little girl Evangeline Grace has joined us!
Her arrival was full of surprises: waiting which turned into a planned induction which turned into spontaneous labor which turned into a c-section, and we all truly thought she would be a boy. But she showed up safely and healthy at 10lbs8oz and 22″ long (for my non-human-baby friends, that’s roughly the size of a 2-3 month old) and is the most squeezable lovable girl in the world. We’re going to be able to skip the Smalls, folks, she’s going to fit on Frankie before we know it.
It’s definitely been a big month since she arrived as I’m dealing with the physical recovery from aforementioned c-section, we’re figuring out a sleeping and feeding pattern, and try to get rest in as much as possible, but we’re loving every minute. World’s Best Husband immediately turned into World’s Best Dad and is taking amazing care of both of us, and my parents are spending some time at our house to help me adjust as he goes back to work. Eventually I’ll have to figure out how to do things solo, but I’m truly appreciating all the extra help figuring things out!
So far we’ve taken a few outings to enjoy the perfect early summer weather, and the peanut seems to love being outside in the warmth and fresh air. My first solo outing with her was not to the grocery store or doctor’s office, but to the Loudoun Benefit horse show where we cheered on our barn fam and loved on Francis (who she met at 2 weeks old, on our way home from the doc’s). We nursed in a grooming stall and changed her on a tack trunk, so she’s already getting the full horse show experience!
I’m itching to get my core strength back so I can safely get back in the saddle, and extra excited to share the whole barn experience with our daughter as she grows. Our Lina is the most amazing little creature and it’s going to be an amazing adventure with her!
I’m still here, lurking and reading your posts and daydreaming about eventually getting back in the saddle.
For those of you in the Frankfurter Fan Club, you’ll be happy to know that he is absolutely thriving. He and his kiddo had a wonderful trip down to Ocala where he packed around all three rings and they got to try some new stuff together. It really is wonderful to watch his leaser get to know him, every single time out she finds that “click” a little more. I reassured her that I’ve had this horse for close to five(!) years and I’m still learning something new from him every time out. He has spent his days doing his favorite things: napping, mooching for scratches, and overall thanking his lucky stars that he has a child to pat him and stuff him with cookies and a barn mom to tell him constantly how gorgeous he is. I asked my trainer if he was being good for his kid, and she responded, “Of course he is. He knows how to be nothing else.” Best boy. His barn mom loves to brush him for as long as he’ll put up with (which is forever) and he’s absolutely gleaming.
I’ll grudgingly admit that starting this lease in December was the right call. With all the ice and snow and mud and COLD weather we’ve gotten this winter, I really haven’t missed going to the barn and riding. Call me a wimp, but I have never loved riding in the cold and was quite content to stay snuggled up in my blankets and receive pictures of my giant moose buried ears deep in a mountain of hay.
Now that the weather is warming up, I’m itching to spend more time at the barn. I’m so grateful that my leasers don’t mind me popping in to say hi whenever I want, and I always love getting to see them and chat about what they’re working on that week. They really are making great progress together. Luckily my last day of work is coming up next week, which means plenty of free time to go get my barn fix (at least til baby arrives)!
As far as pregnancy goes, I’ve been very fortunate. Minor aches and pains that you might expect, but nothing terrible and it’s been smooth sailing. We’re in the home stretch as we expect to meet this munchkin in mid-May! I think we’re about as prepared as we can be – which I’ve been reliably informed is Not Very Prepared – but in a bizarre reversal of personality traits, I’m feeling very zen about it (I only have 1-2 spreadsheets going!). We’ll figure it out as we go. Baby will be fed, kept warm, comforted, and loved immensely – I figure the rest is just gravy.
Overall, I’m thrilled to be heading into warmer weather and all that it brings: walks around the neighborhood with my husband and pup, opportunities to comfortably socialize with friends outdoors, more time loving on my perfect Francis, the arrival of our little person, a step away from a job that was adding in a lot of stress, and all that good stuff.
Still loving the chance to keep up with what you’re all up to, and can’t wait to have my own in-the-saddle updates to share eventually!
2021 marks the first year in quite some time that I not only have zero show plans for the foreseeable future, but am not even riding. I gotta tell you: it’s weird. But as much as I miss it, my body was definitely telling me that it was time to step back and I’m glad I listened. Who knows, maybe Francisco will let me hop on for a brief walk around sometime!
While I didn’t do a full season recap of the year, I did want to capture a bit of what 2020 looked like, how things are going now, and what we’re looking forward to in 2021.
2020 in Review
We started off 2020 with our trip down to Ocala for two weeks. Frankie could not have been more professional in the jumper ring, he was a doll in the equitation classes, and we earned some lovely ribbons that I was very proud of. We finished out the second week wishing we had moved back into the Highs, and had plans to go ahead and do the Highs for the rest of the season since he was going so dang well.
Of course that’s when the world kinda fell apart, and our show plans got put on hold as we all figured out what was going on. At the same time, my husband and I bought our first house, I started a new position at work and simultaneously transitioned to full time WFH, we brought home our wonderfully derpy pup Maggie, and I opted to power through to finish up my MBA program over the summer. Frankie got a bit of a lighter workload as we adjusted to those big changes, which he didn’t mind one bit.
Once I finished my MBA program at the end of July, I was fully ready to re-commit to training and competing, and was hoping to get back on track for the Highs! I was a little puzzled why I didn’t seem to be losing weight/toning up as quickly as I expected, and got my answer almost immediately – we had a baby on the way!
Luckily, I still got to sneak in a couple shows with Francisco: we did the 1m classes at a great local show, and then as I started to get a bit more cautious, I opted to do the 0.80m classes at my favorite Piedmont Classic. As always, Frankie was my perfect steady Eddie constant – but who’s surprised there?
Since the fall, I slowly scaled back my riding to be jumping less, then to not jumping at all, then to short hacks, and finally in December I realized that it was time for me to hand over the reins so Frankie could stay in more consistent work. We found a perfect lease situation for the year that has still allowed me to get my fill of Francis smooches, while watching him get absolutely doted on by a wonderful family.
Where We Are Now
Which brings us to now!
Frankie’s lease is going wonderfully. I get regular photo updates, he’s been a prince for his kid, she’s progressing amazingly with him, his coat and condition look fantastic, the whole family just adores him, and I get to stop by periodically to give him smooches and snuggles. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better set up and I’m so happy he’s thriving with this new setup! They have a few shows on the calendar coming up and I can’t wait to see how they do.
On the personal front, we’re coming up on our first year in the new house and I’m still loving it. I have all sorts of little projects planned, but I feel like we were able to settle in really fast. Our neighbors are the actual best – it’s pretty much all couples and young families around our age, and it’s been a blast. There have been 3 babies born on our street within the past few months, so our little one will have plenty of friends to grow up with. We feel so lucky.
On the professional front, there are a few changes coming up. The new position I took last spring has turned out to not be a great fit for my interests and strengths, and I’ve opted to move on from that. And for the first time ever, that means I’m leaving a job without something else lined up. While that’s a bit scary, I’m really looking forward to it, which brings me to:
Coming Up in 2021
Now that we’re all caught up, it’s time to look ahead!
Frankie will continue with his lease for the full year. I’m loving the chance to go out and see him, and I can’t wait to bring my baby out for barn time this summer/fall. His leasers seem to love him (almost) as much as I do and have done wonders for putting my mind at ease about how he’s doing. I seriously hit the leaser jackpot with them.
The first project we need to finish in the house is completing the nursery! Luckily we’re almost done with that – we need to paint a wall, hang some curtains, and stock it with supplies (minor stuff clearly), but the big pieces are in place. As time and finances allow, I have a couple other things I’d love to check off my list: accent wall in the master bedroom, replace the chandelier in the dining room, furnish the second guest room, put in a fire pit area in the back yard, install way more bookshelves in pretty much every room. Some of these are relatively cheap and already in motion, and then we have some bigger items that may have to wait a bit longer as we save up: building out a nice big back porch and finishing out the basement are more likely going to be 3-5 year projects. We’re not in a rush.
On the professional front, I’m super excited. I finish out in my current role at the end of March, which should (in theory) give me 6ish weeks before baby arrives. I may have some part-time contract work lined up for that time, but if that doesn’t pan out then I’m just excited to have a little extra time to rest and prepare for our new arrival. Once I’m ready to start working again, I’m hoping to move more into the contract/freelance sphere to give me some more schedule flexibility. My goal for this January is to build out a more concrete view of what that looks like so I can start making moves. I’m really excited to see if I can make this work, and enormously grateful for my husband being so supportive of me going out on this limb!
While I leased Frankie out primarily due to my pregnancy, it’s turned out to be a professional blessing as well by giving me the financial flexibility to take this risk on. I’ll be thrilled if things work out the way I hope, but if things are shaky or not panning out I’ll have some time to course correct before Frankie’s bills are back in the budget.
Of course, the biggest event we’re looking forward to in 2021 is the arrival of Baby P. Time seems to be flying and we’re starting to really get excited! I’ve been fortunate in that my doctors have described my pregnancy as “textbook” and boring” and I’ve felt relatively good (once I got over that awful nausea haha), so we’re eager to meet Frankie and Maggie’s new kid. Because lets be real – this may be our child, but they are going to have their own posse of giant floofy creatures to love on them.
As this new chapter starts for me, I’m happy to say that a new chapter is starting for Francisco as well.
In a wonderful turn of events, Frankie has a new kid to love on him for the next year! Starting next week, he will be fully leased out to one of the juniors that rides with my trainer, and is already happily embracing his job as a confidence-boosting packer (though we all know that’s really always been his job).
I’m certainly having a lot of emotions about this: relief that he is remaining in-barn under my trainer’s watchful care, happiness that he’ll get to do a job he really enjoys at a level he finds straightforward, pride that he’s such a good boy that can make this kid happy, excitement to see their growth together, gratitude for the people that worked together to find such a perfect situation to keep Frankie nearby. But also regret that I won’t be the one holding the reins for the next year, and sadness that I’ll be cheering him on from the sidelines instead of waiting for the buzzer go off from his back.
But that’s all part of the different chapters, and I can acknowledge the bittersweetness while still embracing this new chapter. This truly is an ideal setup for us for the next year: it takes a financial burden off me and my husband while we adjust to a new lifestyle, while still keeping Frankie where I can stop by and see him whenever I’d like. I’ll still get to groom him and give him tons of smooches, will still get to bring my baby out to meet him as soon as we’re out of the hospital (too soon? nah), and will still feel good knowing that he’s going to be receiving the same wonderful care he’s been thriving under for the past five years.
I’ve always promised Frankie to make the best decisions I possibly can for his care and I’m confident that he’s going to have a wonderful year making this kiddo very happy! He’s more than earned an easy retirement with me when the time comes, but we have many years and many adventures yet before that happens. In the meantime, I am especially grateful that my trainer and whole barn family love Frankie and want to keep him around as much as I do.
With Frankie officially handed off and me officially out of the saddle, I’m not sure what this blog will look like in the coming months. I certainly plan to keep up with all of you, and hope to share pieces of the adventure. I’ll probably be more active on my other social media in the meantime though, so feel free to connect with me on Instagram at @hellomylivia!
The last month or two has been very light on the riding front for me as I’ve started adjusting my schedule and expectations due to the tiny creature currently inhabiting my body. I quickly decided to limit my riding to only Frankie – while friends have offered to let me hop on their wonderful animals, I simply trust Francis the most out of all of them and know him the best.
I’m also only riding when there are other people nearby/in the barn/in the ring. I’ve never hesitated to ride solo before and I’m also very sure that Frankie won’t pull anything silly, but it’s an easy enough restriction to put on us to make sure we’re being safe. Our barn almost always has other boarders or lessons going on so this hasn’t posed a difficulty.
I did spend several weeks only flatting, largely because I felt a bit like death warmed over. The phrase morning sickness is a lie – I was a nauseated goblin most of the day and especially in the evenings. Every ride ended up being play-by-ear; some days I hopped a crossrail but more often I’d flat around and then call it a day. Now that I’m finally feeling a bit better, we’re doing very advanced crossrail courses of 4-6 jumps. Wildly advanced stuff.
While I’m not convinced that Frankie knows what’s going on (sweet boy is not the most observant), he has continued his unbroken streak of being a Very Good Boy. I was joking the other day that he’s clearly already putting in his application for short stirrup pony: he loped around those crossrails happily, offering auto changes and letting me sit there and do nothing.
From my conversations with other friends who have kids, it sounds like everyone takes a step back from riding at different points – some stop early on, others continue flatting but stop jumping, and others keep going with few changes for quite some time. I’m planning to keep riding at this more low-key level as long as my body feels comfortable with it, and I’m endlessly grateful to have my perfect Francisco who I can trust to keep me safe. My saddle time and my barn time overall are so important to me, no matter what other changes are going on.
However, realistically I will need to take a step back at some point, so I am investigating options to ensure Francis still has a job to do when that does happen. I certainly have my preferences for what type of situation I find for him and my trainer is on board with those plans, so fingers crossed that things work out the way I’m hoping. Regardless of what option we pursue I’ll be eager to get back in the saddle with him once the little one is here and I’m feeling recovered. As sappy as it may sound, Frankie has been with me through so many big changes in my adult life already and it feels right that he’s part of this next chapter too.
To my friends with kids: what did you do with your horse(s) when you took a step back? Any tips as we explore different options?
Phew, I’m so relieved that the cat is finally out of the bag. Do you know how hard it is for me to keep my own secrets?? I’m the opposite of a private person.
But now that I can actually share what happened, I want to capture this show as a record for me to look back on. And it was a blast!
You may remember that the plan was for me to go in the 1.10m High classes since Frankie was going so well and we were getting back into shape post-grad school. And I will say, we did continue schooling around that height even after I found out I was expecting – I trust this horse with my life and honestly feel safer on him than my own two feet.
However, as we started pushing a little bit harder it became apparent that Frankie was having a bit of an identity crisis. Several times a week I hopped on and told him to fire up into Spicy Jumper Mode(TM), and several times a week his kid hopped on and they worked on mellowing out into 2’6″ hunter mode. He is excellent at both of these jobs. But I think it was a bit too much for his brain to try and switch back and forth on a day-to-day basis. I was left feeling like I was kicking and holding nothing, and he was getting fast with the kid.
After some frustrating rides where I just couldn’t get the right pace to make the bigger jumps feel comfortable, we decided to keep the height feeling very comfortable and not try to make Frankie be two things at once. We talked about what my goals were for this show (have a lot of fun) and for the rest of the season (I knew due to scheduling this would likely be my last show for a long time) and ultimately we opted to actually go in for the lowest classes they offered: the 0.80m.
I am honestly so glad we made this decision. I knew this was a height Frankie could quite literally walk over, at a venue we’ve been to many times, and I could point-and-shoot the entire thing. There was no stress and no nerves, just bopping around the ring enjoying my perfect packer in a setting where he strutted out of the ring feeling majorly confident about himself.
It was a far cry from the turn and burn that got us Champion in the Lows last year, and an even further departure from the original plan to go in the Highs, but it set us up for a wonderful relaxing experience before I took a break from showing. We had several clear rounds for pretty blue ribbons, my husband got to come out and cheer us on one morning, we went for walks around the pretty showgrounds, and Francis was happy as a clam to play packer pony.
Of course, I’m already itching to get back in the show ring with the Frankfurter. Counting down until I can take Francisco in the jumpers in the morning and stick him in leadline in the afternoon!
I’ve been sitting on a big secret, guys. The biggest secret. And bestest secret. It’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while – it was impossible for me to say anything at all without spilling the beans.
I’m very excited to say that Frankie will be adding to his already impressive resume. In addition to jubilant jumper, exquisite equitation mount, delightful derby-er, happy hacker, excellent eventer, and all around Best Boy Ever, next spring Francis gets to try out a new adventure: lead line pony.
We’re so excited to welcome the new member of our family next May!
It’s been a fantastic week! I got to jump around a horse that was not Frankie for the first time in years, Frankie and I put the jumps up a bit in a lesson, and we made it back in the show ring for the first time since February!
I’ve told you all about sweet Meeko, who is an absolute star that belongs to my good friend at the barn. She’s been super generous about letting me pop on for a hack, and this week I was lucky enough to take him in a lesson. I gotta tell you – as much fun as flatting him is, jumping him is just next level. He is a metronome and beautifully forward; I could keep a light seat and just guide the track, and he took care of the rest.
And then for the first time in at least 18 months, Francisco and I popped over a solid 3’6″ish jump! He’d been packing me around so perfectly at 3’3″ that we decided to do some grid work and let us both see how putting them up a bit felt. It was nice to be able to focus just on the motion and not think about track/distances/etc.
Honestly? It felt really good. I definitely need some more strength in my core to hold myself in place, I need to work on my angles, I need to step deeper in my lower leg, all sorts of things I need to polish to be proficient at that height. But I feel really confident that I can pull that together.
Even better was how Frankie felt. We assumed that he would be surprised when the last jump went up – previously it was set to around 2’6″ while we worked on other things, and suddenly it was somewhere between 3’6″ and 3’9″. I kicked him into the grid expecting him to hesitate or lurch or have some sort of reaction to seeing a much larger obstacle waiting for him.
What do I ever doubt him? Homeboy popped over it without blinking. You would’ve thought he’s been schooling that height regularly. He was uber casual about it, cantered away the exact same, and didn’t act like anything had changed. All our hard work on strength and adjustability clearly made him feel confident (as a side note, I truly believe he feels stronger and fitter and overall better than he did when we were actually competing at that height, so I’m not surprised that he felt so good over it).
It was just 2 jumps, but it was enough of a test to know that it’s still in there and he still feels good about that job. And while I don’t have video of our trips through the grid with no hands and no stirrups (#SaintFrancis), I do have video of our trips through at height! Head on over to my Instagram to hear me yell “Yes!!!” after surviving. Lots to work on for me, but thrilled with Francisco.
Which brings us to our Saturday show. There is a fantastic show series literally 10 minutes from the barn that has a super extensive prize list, gorgeous rings, and is run beautifully all for a great price. We shipped in for the afternoon to do the open 1m schooling jumpers and figured we would pick 2 out of the 3 classes to get back in the ring.
After a quick warmup to make sure we were listening (we were) and awake (we were), we headed in for our jumpoff round. It definitely took a couple jumps for Frankie to realize where he was; you can hear him tap a couple jumps in the first half, and I felt like I was kicking the crap out of him. I think he’s spent so much time slowing down for his lease kid that he genuinely didn’t think he was supposed to open back up. A quick tap with the whip and I could almost see it click in his head. All of a sudden I had my Francisco back and he carried me around beautifully, listening like a pro and helping me out. He won us that class out of 5 or 6 entries!
We opted to not do the power and speed class (I have a deep hatred of that format honestly, it is my least favorite by far) and went in for a speed round, which was the exact same course minus a jumpoff. We didn’t change it up too much except for making one turn a bit more efficient and leaving a stride out in one line. I needed him to help me out when I didn’t quite set him up right to a couple jumps in there, but luckily he was back in Jumper Mode(TM) and was more than happy to take care of me. Francisco ended up winning this smaller class as well out of 3.
I certainly can’t be unhappy with 2 blues for 2 trips, and I certainly couldn’t be more thrilled with how happy, forgiving, and straight up fun Frankie felt. He helped me out in places, he listened and let me help him in places, and I felt 100% confident at every point. The height felt completely doable and (dare I say it) even low to us, so I’m hoping we’ll get to work on polishing up and getting over some bigger fences. Onwards and upwards with the best horse in the whole world!
Have I made it clear enough lately that I’m obsessed with my horse? I want to make sure you all know this. It’s extremely important.
I’m coming off my third lesson since getting back in the swing of things and it’s going AMAZINGLY. After managing to hang on over a simple 2’6″ course two weeks ago, I joined one of the bigger lessons and managed to grab mane over some more difficult 3’3″/1m courses. I was certainly sore the next day, but it actually went really smoothly and the height didn’t feel like a question mark at all. Francis started out with a much smaller stride than I’m used to so I had to get after him to open up, but once he realized he could gallop a bit he was lovely and adjustable and forward to the base.
I hopped back on for another lesson this past Sunday and I am just glowing about it. We kept the courses fairly simple – the ends of the ring were a bit deep from some recent rain – but the jumps were up around 1m and there were some useful questions about striding (long five away from home to a short four towards home was a great test of adjustability). And it all rode So. Stinkin’. Well. I felt like I could see the spot I wanted for every jump and then actually ride to that spot. This is a revelation.
I always assumed that I just didn’t have a naturally good eye. This has always been one of my absolute biggest weaknesses and I have worked super hard over the years to build that skill set. Plot twist: trying to see a distance was never the problem. I actually have a decent eye. It was the adjustability and responsiveness that were missing to actually get us to the spot I saw. Now that we have that I feel like we have so many more options open to us. Frankie definitely still wants me to tell him where I want him, but he is so much faster to say “yes ma’am” and allow me to place him.
So now that we’re comfortably coursing at 1m again, we’re jacking the jumps up some more to test the waters at 1.10m-1.15m. We have a grid lesson planned for later this week to (1) give me a chance to re-acclimate to the motion of the bigger jumps without thinking about a course and (2) use some placement poles to encourage Frankie to jump a bit straighter over his body. I’m hoping that will come back to us pretty quickly; it’s been 2+ years since we’ve competed higher than 1m but we’ve built a TON of strength and ability in the meantime.
We also have our show coming up this Saturday to knock the rust off around the 1m. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the barn and we’re popping in a couple open jumper classes in the afternoon, and I think it’s going to be a perfect way to see how we’re feeling before finalizing our plans for Piedmont.
I also did a bad thing and bought these. My trainer is amusedly resigned. I told her to blame Holly.
At this point I’ve owned Francis for over four years, and it has honestly been a total blast the whole time. Each incremental piece of progress has been a joy to tease out and refine, finding confidence together has built a true partnership, and even the inevitable setbacks haven’t seemed so bad when I have such a good-natured beast to go try again with. I often reflect on our time together and it makes me feel a lot of feelings: excitement about the adventures we’ve gone on/are yet to go on, awe at how much further we’ve gone than I ever hoped for, comfort in how well we know each other, joy in his own happiness in his work.
One of the strongest emotions I feel about our journey together is pride. I am incredibly proud of Frankie every darn day for his work ethic, for his kind response to hardship, for his ability to do his job. He is a very different horse than I brought home and the work we have put in together over the years has led to a strong and confident athlete who knows (and likes!) his job.
For the first two years, that improvement was primarily on me. Under the guidance of my trainer, I was really the only one who ever sat on him. No training rides or professional attention beyond our weekly lessons. With a lot of hard work and sweat, we successfully made it up to the 1.15m height together. We all know that the lion’s share of the hard work there was Francisco going out there and trying his heart out for me despite my many mistakes, but I was also very proud of myself for growing to that point.
After that, I enlisted some help. I signed Frankie up for pro rides as part of his regular schedule to see how that might help him. And help him it did – I’ve mentioned many times that building this into our program did wonders for both of us. While the jumps didn’t go higher for us, our timing and abilities and awareness grew exponentially more quickly. I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had the opportunity and ability to take advantage of this type of program; I’m very conscious that it’s not an option for many.
I don’t have any less pride in this part of the journey. I’m just as proud of Frankie for learning and gaining confidence around the bigger tracks, even though I wasn’t the only one helping him get there. And I’m just as proud of myself for showing up and learning how to give my horse the ride he needs to feel good about his job as he gained these skills.
All of this is a self-indulgent and rambling way to say that I really don’t think there’s a single way of training that makes one a “good horseperson.” There is so much to be excited about when working hard with less support, and there is so much to be excited about when working hard with more support. There are opportunities to learn and grow no matter how we do it.
As long as we end up with happy, healthy horses at the end of the day, we’re on the right journey.