A little sliver of exciting news to share amidst the pandemonium: my wonderful husband and I have bought our first house!
We actually started the process back at the beginning of February – we weren’t planning on buying yet, but we wanted to start getting a feel for the area and tour some open houses. We ended up seeing this one on a whim and by the time we walked out we were sold. I spent much of my Ocala trip not just working and doing schoolwork, but negotiating a mortgage and getting things set up to make the purchase!
After some last minute hurdles that may have given me five heart attacks, we closed mid-March and moved in over the weekend. It currently looks like several bombs have gone off and scattered our belongings everywhere, but I’m totally in love with our new place.
Moving during a pandemic has provided a few unique challenges. Our washer and dryer will be delivered to the house, but they are not currently offering in-home installation. So getting those up the stairs and installed is going to take a while (I’m planning on going full Little House on the Prairie and washing stuff in the sink). Internet installation is delayed due to short staff, so I’m working off a hotspot until they can come out (fingers crossed within the next few days). We can’t go to Home Depot to get blinds and we can’t find the right drill bit to install curtain rods, so there’s very little privacy at the moment.
But you know what? Our new neighbors have been incredibly welcoming and I’m already in a group chat with them checking in with each other. The sense of community despite the times is a huge blessing. And we’re finding workarounds for these other snafus.
I’m so excited to keep settling in to our new little slice of almost heaven. If you need me, I’ll be gazing out the window.
PS because I know you’ll ask 😉 No, Frankie is not moving. One of my main criteria when house hunting was that we stayed within reasonable distance of our current barn where he could remain in excellent care. Especially now when I’m not seeing him, having that confidence in his care and regular updates is a huge weight off my mind.
Pardon the delay in sharing the rest of my Ocala experience – life has been a bit bonkers lately and the blog has taken a bit of a backseat as I try to sort some things out. All good things that I’m excited to share, just want them a bit more settled first!
But let’s get back to our Southern Sojourn.
I don’t want to dissect every single ride in detail, so I’m going to do what I did in my last post and just kinda share overarching thoughts and patterns that I noticed during our two weeks down there.
First off, Frankie felt fit. I already talked about how we carefully and successfully managed his energy throughout our time there, but this only worked because I had a really fit and happy horse. His joints felt good, his muscling felt good, his saddle fit well, and he had the conditioning to hold up to the workload. After literal years of trying to find the right balance for him, this is what I’d consider our greatest success of the past few months – pushing hard enough without overdoing it.
On the equitation side of things, we’re getting there. Considering this was only our third (I think?) time tackling the adult medals, we’re making solid progress. My main job is to remember to drop him a bit when he wants to speed up. When I relax my body like that and allow him to soften in turn, he is really a lovely ride that allows me to stay very quiet up top. It’s a very different feel from the jumper ring where I want him fired up and dragging me a bit, so I’m extra proud of him for being able to switch back and forth like that. We ended up having some strong rounds, and even managed a 5th out of 21 for one class with some truly top notch horse and rider pairs in there. There was a definite sense of satisfaction to know how far my Francis has come in his training and to be able to hold our own against those superbly polished pairs.
During this whole show, Francis felt SMART. You all know that I rarely use that word when it comes to my lovable Dingus Man. Kind and forgiving, he is. A genius, he is not. He’s been very good at his job in the jumper ring for quite a while, but this is the first show where I felt like I had a truly very intelligent animal under me. This was also the first show that my trainer gave her full blessing to take the riskiest inside-iest turns possible. We used to go for the more conservative inside turns, aiming for efficient and smooth.
This time we aimed for the bonkers turns where you look and say, “there’s no way that can work.” At one point I was going the opposite direction of my next jump, directly next to it. Within 3 strides we had already turned and jumped. We made slices, we cut through the ring, we wasted no strides going around where we could squeeze through instead. And Francis was absolutely brilliant about all of it. He was catty, he was tuned into me every step of the way, he was maneuverable and eager to do it. My job was to not fall off the side when he made those turns. He simply felt downright smart about every single course. (I have videos to share, I just gotta upload them first!)
Along with the smarts was some really lovely adjustability. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those riders with a naturally perfect eye, but our hard work on quality of canter, adjustability of stride, and judgement to the base has definitely paid off. There were certainly “oops” moments here and there but far fewer than there used to be. I know a bit more about what to ask for, Frankie knows a lot more about how to respond, and it led to some of the best courses we’ve ridden to date. Of the rails we pulled on course I can confidently say that there was only one that was a true omg-I-biffed-it rail. The rest were just unlucky rubs where we weren’t quite careful enough. And as a whole there were fewer rails than there used to be. At some point I need a shirt that says #fastest4faulters because every time we had a rail, we ended up being the fastest time on the clock. We’re putting the pieces together of taking those risks while still going clean and seeing a ton of progress!
As a truly wonderful feather in our cap, Frankie carried me clear and fast in our Classic the second week to an astounding 2nd out of a combined Child/Adult field of 37. We managed to hold the lead until the very last rider, who put down an INCREDIBLE jumpoff and 100% deserved the win. That big red ribbon was the best possible finish to our bootcamp.
This whole show felt like a really lovely assembly of so many of the lessons we’ve learned over the years. We set ourselves up for success, we took risks that paid off, we went in the ring trying to win and not just make it around, and the ribbons reflected the ride.
We had the type of consistency I’ve been hoping to accomplish for a while now. At the end of Week 2, my trainer and I even said that we kinda wished I had moved back up to the Highs that week. Frankie clearly was feeling funky fresh and we had the accuracy.
So coming off such a successful show we’ve decided to dabble in that division again this season! We’ll do a step up at a smaller nearby show that tends to set a bit soft, and we’ll hit the 1.10-1.15m ring again at Upperville. I honestly did not have plans to step back up this year (or ever, really) and I’m still delightedly surprised at how good my horse is feeling these days. I fully expected to need to slow things down as he moves into his teenage years; he’s always been tough to keep fit. But whatever we’re doing is clearly working well for him so we may as well keep flying!
Much like my trip down to Ocala in 2016, this trip down to Florida turned out to be a game changer. Cheers to my fifth show season with the Frankfurter and cheers to always being amazed by this horse.
Man, I don’t even know where to start with our trip down to Florida. It was such a long time (felt like it at least), so busy balancing riding, working, homework, and other stuff, and had a ton of stuff that I’d love to share. This is going to be several posts, so I beg your patience as I try to organize my rambling thoughts.
First I’d like to talk about some of the things that we learned/did differently based on what we’ve learned before.
The first is what happened on our first Thursday, which was our first competition day. Frankie had been there and had explored the showgrounds since Monday, but it was definitely much more crowded and busy on Thursday. I got to the warmup ring with a VERY tense horse under me. I couldn’t blame him in the least – there are 17 rings there, many loudspeakers, buzzers, gold carts, mopeds, TONS of activity all around. Lots to look at. I opted to do a short flat warmup and then take a solid 10-15 minutes to simply walk around the warmup ring. That did the trick and after a few big sighs we were able to have a much more focused and productive warmup. That’s something I learned a while ago: Frankie is usually pretty relaxed, but sometimes he just needs a moment to take a breath. After that he was certainly interested in all the activity, but in a curious way and not a WHAT THE HECK IS ALL THIS MA way.
The other is a new learning! A little context: usually we only do one round with Frankie per day. I know that seems like very little for the amount that I pay to show, but with the height and the jumper divisions I’ve found that one round hits the sweet spot for us to keep him feeling fresh and ready. But I had two eq medals both Fridays. Not a big deal when it’s an open card and I can just pop in and out of the ring for multiple rounds in a row. But that becomes difficult when the woman running the gate fed the order sheet to her dog and decided smiling and shrugging was the answer to all questions. That means that all of a sudden we have a dreaded gap between our rounds.
So we ended up sitting there for 10, 15 minutes waiting for our next turn in the ring. And it was dinner time. So by the time I finally go back in the ring, Francis is D O N E with all of this GARBAGE it’s time to EAT why am I even HERE. I asked for a bit more pace, he said “NOPE SLOWIN WAY DOWN.” I asked him to steady back a bit, he said “NAH GOTTA GO FAST.” We missed A WHOLE ENTIRE LEAD CHANGE. FOR NO REASON. It was the biggest pettiest little temper tantrum that my angel boy has ever pulled, and it was hysterical. I’ll be the first to say that mistakes on course are pretty much always caused by me, but this was certifiably just Frankie giving a hard NOPE to doing a second round. Bless his heart, his little rebellions are too funny.
So the following week when we knew we’d have a small break in between classes, here’s what I did: I hopped off, loosened his girth, hand-walked him in circles to keep him entertained, played with him a bit, then hopped on and did a quick WTC to tune him back in directly before heading into the ring. Worked like a charm and I had a soft happy horse under me for both rounds.
Frankie was also able to go play in the paddock almost every day, often with his buddy Vinnie. It’s certainly not as big as he’s used to, but it very noticeably helped keep him feeling fresh. I do think getting to go out with Vinnie helped too; Francis is such a social animal and thrives when he gets to hang out with buddies.
Between regular turnout, ice boots after every round, a massage between the two weeks, and very judicious jumping, we had a fresh and happy horse all the way through. Managing his energy levels has always been tough for us to ensure that he doesn’t hit Sunday totally exhausted and honestly I’m beyond thrilled that we’ve found what works. He works very hard for me so it feels good to be able to support that better!
I think I’ll leave it off here for now, and save talking about the rides themselves for the next post. In case you’re new here, spoiler alert: Francisco was beyond incredible and blew my expectations out of the water with every single round.
We’re in the final stretches of prepping for Ocala!!!!
To get Frankie super ready to go, we’ve been amping up the duration and intensity of both my rides and his training rides. I continue to be the world’s biggest fan of training rides – they remind him how to be shmancy and he is just a delight to ride when he’s all tuned up like that. We spent so long encouraging and teaching him how to use those muscles and I’m still giddy about how much more educated he is now. I never want to hop off these days.
We also went ahead got a bulk order of Ulcergard for the ponies. My friend found a great price and we all jumped on it. Frankie will get a heavier dose for his travel days and then smaller amounts every day that he’s there. I hate how expensive this stuff is but you know what’s even more expensive? Treating ulcers. I’ll happily spend a little on the front end to keep his tummy feeling good.
Our chiro/acupuncture guy came out this week, so Francis got himself an adjustment. I opted not to do the acupuncture this time since I didn’t really see noticeable results the last few times, but he does seem to really enjoy his chiro. Anything to help him feel his best down there! My husband was recently musing that he never expected to be in a serious conversation about the pros vs cons of equine acupuncture, but here he is. It also turns out that our favorite braider will be down south, and she’s also the person that does Frankie’s massages. So he’ll get a nice refresh between weeks 1 and 2!
I was originally hoping to stock up on some show clothes before heading down (despite my obsession with pretty things, I really don’t end up actually purchasing clothes all that often) but ended up deciding to save my pennies. Of course as soon as I said that, a good friend ended up selling me a bunch of breeches for a ridiculously fantastic price, including 2 pairs that are show ready. Between those and the laundry facilities at the hotel I should be able to clean up as often as needed. I already mentioned that I’m hoping for a buffer in my budget to allow at least a little shopping while there.
There’s something else exciting potentially in the works for while I’m down there, but I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch. I promise to share once things are finalized! (And before you ask, no I will not be buying/leasing another horse, I really like spending my money on my own darling spoiled boy).
I’m also actually getting excited for the drive down! My mom decided to fly in to the closest airport and we’re splitting the drive into a couple days before she flies back home from Jacksonville. So I’ll get to Ocala Wednesday afternoon, not completely hating my life and having had a super awesome roadtrip with my momma.
I have a pretty solid packing list and a final few things to do before heading down. I’ve got my cooler for his ice boots, my wifi hotspot device, a few other random things I’m trying to remember. My spring term for school starts the Monday that I hit the road so it’s going to be a balancing act fitting work, school, and ponies into my days. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Just kidding, finding the right bit is more annoying than it is fun.
Here’s what we’re working with: I almost always ride Francis in a French link elevator with my reins on the second ring. He is very happy and soft in this bit, I can have gentle hands, he prefers the clarity of leverage over mouth pressure, overall it works really well for him. We like it and have no real need to switch it up.
Except, of course, that this bit is considered unconventional in the equitation and hunter rings. Which means that we HAVE to switch it up.
We’ve been using a plain pelham for the last year, a la this:
It’s been…fine. Frankie historically is not fussy about his bits and this is no exception. The only one he’s really shown a vague dislike for is a slow twist, so we keep the mouthpieces smooth now. I rode him in a plain full cheek snaffle like this one for the first 2 years I had him and it worked well enough.
So my hope was that the pelham would be similar to that, with a little bit of the leverage he seems to prefer. And again, it’s fine. No theatrics, nothing awful, just kinda dull and leaning. It’s a good thing those courses are less twisty turny than the jumper ring, because I feel like I have a much slower line of communication with this bit.
It’s not a big deal if I’m just popping in an equitation class now and then, but I do enjoy them and want to continue to give them a go with Francisco. So I decided that it’s time to find something better than “fine.” I want something actively good.
The first place I started was by testing the mouthpiece. I picked up a French link full cheek snaffle to see if this mouthpiece might fit more happily in his mouth, similar to his elevator.
I do like this bit a lot, especially on the flat. I don’t have the same brakes that I do in the elevator, but I have a surprising amount of adjustability and softness that I never had in a snaffle before. I think this is partially due to Frankie’s continuing education since we last tried the snaffle, but I also think that this mouthpiece is a little gentler and encourages some more softness for him. My only qualm is that I have to make any adjustments on course 4 strides out instead of 2 since it takes a bit longer to communicate – and let’s be honest, I’m not good enough to always know what I need to do a full 4 strides out. So a step in the right direction but not quite where I want it. (Side note – I’m having Frankie’s half-leaser use this bit with him. He’s easier to get to know in a snaffle and I always hesitate putting leverage in hands that I don’t know as well.)
The next one we decided to try was a shaped Mullen Happy Mouth pelham:
I know some horses love the single piece and some are not fans. So far Frankie seems to be a fan! He’s soft and forward into the bridle, and I have that little bit of leverage to help me communicate. He has such a dull mouth that it really doesn’t make much sense to use harsher mouthpieces, so backing that off to something softer for him makes sense to me. My trainer doesn’t absolutely love it, but this is what we’re tentatively using for now.
Of course, I then asked my trainer what she’s been using on him in her training rides, and she responded that she’s been using no noseband and this KK Ultra loose ring and he’s been very happy.
So I’m going to see if I can find this in a D to try out (loose ring is technically allowed I believe but is not The Look(TM) at the moment). Of course it’s a fancy expensive one, so I’m looking for a used one (please let me know if you have anything for me I will happily buy it off you!!). I keep my noseband pretty loose anyways, but hey maybe I’ll just take it off altogether for the jumper ring. Let his nose fly free in the breeze. I would really prefer to put him in a snaffle that he likes for the eq/derby rings – I think having a bit that looks stronger visually (like the pelham) sends a signal to the judge that he’s a stronger or heavier ride and that isn’t the case at all. So we’ll keep working on it to make sure he’s comfortable and can hear me.
Basically the verdict is that my horse likes a center piece to jangle, except when he likes a single piece. And he likes the clarity of a little leverage, except when he goes better in a snaffle.
It’s kinda a season of exciting but bittersweet news over in our corner of the world.
Firstly, our beloved Assistant Trainer has decided to move on to new adventures after 6(!) years with our barn. She’ll still be around ad hoc when we need her and she’s certainly not disappearing into the ether, just not as our end-all-be-all barn manager anymore. We’re all thrilled for her new venture and it is a very positive parting, but we’re all also very brokenhearted to lose her. Her attention to detail and her horsemanship are far and away the best I’ve ever encountered. Having her knowledge and eyes on the horses has been reassuring in the extreme. She knows just when to push and ask for more and when to give a break, she takes her time developing new skills with endless patience, and never takes shortcuts when it comes to the horses’ well-being. I’m sure we will find a wonderful new barn manager/trainer, but I’ll honestly be satisfied if they are even half as good as AT has been. With all her talent and attentiveness and tenacity, I can’t wait to see what she’ll accomplish!
The other bittersweet piece of news is that one of the horses in the barn colicked the other day. He ended up needing surgery, but it went well and he’s recovering (thank goodness). Of course, this means he’ll be rehabbing for a good long time and is out for the rest of the season. Major bummer for all parties involved.
However, the silver lining here is that his teenage owner is a fan of the jumper ring, and her mom is trying to figure out a plan that means she still gets to show while her horse is rehabbing, without having to buy or full lease a second horse.
I think you can guess who is coming to the rescue here: Francis.
We’ve set up an excellent partial lease situation that means this kiddo is still getting to train and show on a confidence-boosting horse, and I get (a) reassurance that he’s getting loved on when I can’t be there and (b) help with some of his bills. I wasn’t actively looking for someone to share Frankie with, but I’m happy with how well this works out for all of us.
There’s also a certain sense of circling back around: having a flexible partial lease on Addy opened up a lot of doors for me and helped me grow in ways I never would have been able to otherwise. It feels kinda karmic to now be on the other side, able to share my own horse with someone in need of more saddle time.
So there you have it. We’re bidding a fond farewell-for-now to one of the very biggest influences on my riding, and we’re giving a warm welcome to the newest member of the Official Frankie Fan Club.
Change can be intimidating, but I’m eager to see where it takes us over the next few months!
We’ve reached an interesting milestone in our training called “Frankie is dang good at his job and there’s no reason to pound on him.” What this means in practice is that we do the 1m classes at shows, and we don’t really jump a ton or very high at home. I joked that I feel like one of those ammies that toodles around at home and just shows up for competitions every so often.
Our lessons rarely go up to 3′. We don’t even jump every week. Maybe once a month (or less) we put the jumps up to competition height for a single course to check and make sure we remember how to do it. We do.
I think there’s a lot that has gone into making this a sustainable way of moving forward together.
Firstly, we spent a long time schooling 1m+ with consistency. Never a pounding, but it took a long time for Frankie to develop better body awareness and get confident navigating that height and above. We needed to school it regularly to help him build on those experiences. We could not have gotten comfortable at this height by schooling it as infrequently as we do now. We can only back off because we have something to back off from.
Secondly, he has the temperament for it. His reaction to a bigger fence has never been to back off or get flustered. We certainly don’t try to surprise him and we ramp back up to make sure he’s ready to go, but he’s easy going enough to see a bigger fence and simply put in a bigger effort. No muss no fuss.
Thirdly, we have a program that keeps him fit enough to do the height. Between myself and his pro rides he is worked most days and encouraged to use himself properly. We do pole work, we do stretchy work, we do transitions, we do all the good stuff to help build muscle. And then we do lots of stretches, regular massages and chiro, veterinary maintenance as needed (yes he is incredibly spoiled). So when we do ask him for the bigger effort, he feels strong and limber enough to happily give that.
The other day we had one of our check-ins pre-Ocala. We had spent most of our lesson at around 2’6″ schooling the add, which is forever helpful for Frankie to sit and work his booty. At one point we put 7 strides in a bending that was later a comfortable 4. It was actually ridiculous. But the jumps went up to full height and I asked him to stretch out and give me a bigger step. He opened right up and went around beautifully. Trainer simply said, “Well that didn’t look like a hardship.”
So here we are. We’re saving his legs for shows, and giving him all the tools he needs to succeed. My hope is that by being careful and intentional about his workload we can keep him sound and happy in his job for many years to come!
We’re just about a month out from our trek down south to Florida for a blessed two weeks in the warmth! I’m getting crazy excited to spend that time with Frankie down there (not least because he can finally get a bath omg he REEKS). I remember feeling really burnt out after two weeks of showing at WEC, but I’m feeling confident that the better weather and a lighter schedule will alleviate that. We are very much there to have a good time.
In the spirit of the final countdown to departure, I figured I would share a few things I’m bringing, a few ways we’re preparing, and just talk about it more a bit.
The first exciting thing that I’m bringing is a portable hotspot. My parents gifted me their previously-unused MiFi hotspot to bring down and I’m super grateful for it. I’ll have guaranteed wifi to do my work and school assignments on the showgrounds or wherever else I find myself. I’m able to do most of my communicating and social media via phone, but have you ever tried writing an essay or creating a slide deck like that? It ain’t fun.
The second exciting thing I’m bringing down is my giant cooler. I’ll be able to keep that stocked with ice to hold Frankie’s ice boots (along with some wine and hummus for yours truly). Especially for such a long show, I want to have all tools on hand to keep Frankie feeling good about it.
As you may guess, a giant cooler doesn’t really fit in my plane luggage. I will be making the drive down south. All 12 hours of it. Not really my idea of a great time, but the price of a roundtrip plane ticket plus rental car blew my budget out of the water. It looks like I’ll make the trip down solo, but I’ll be caravan-ing back up with a friend so we can at least take breaks together. She offered to just make the whole trip together in the same car, but with my work schedule and homework I really need the flexibility of my own vehicle. This is probably the part I’m least excited by – I HATE roadtrips with a fiery passion. The plan is to hit the road around 5am so I can be there in time for dinner, and then we’ll break the trip back north into 2 days to arrive home on Monday. Ugh.
Luckily, I’m able to split my hotel room with said friend and her daughter! She had a zillion points she was able to use so my hotel expenses are WAY WAY lower than I had worried they’d be. There’s a 24hr gym, a pool, a business center, complimentary breakfast, and (most importantly) a bar, all about 20 minutes from the show. I plan on making full use of all these amenities. It’s tough to share a smallish hotel room with 2 other people for 2 full weeks but I’m hopeful that we’ll manage.
For Frankie, there’s not a ton of prep work to take care of. He’ll need another full clip in the coming weeks to get him looking show-ready and I’ll need to scrub my tack. But for anything else? He’s feeling pretty darn good. I’d like to make a concerted effort to make sure he’s getting worked consistently to get his fitness a titch better, and I’m sure my trainer will have us work on some stuff in our lessons, but he’s at the point now where I’m confident taking him wherever and knowing he’ll be happy to go around. The only thing left on my to-do list is to stock up on Ulcergard – he is probably the least anxious, least ulcer-prone horse I know, but I refuse to take chances on such a long trip.
We’ve set up the commercial shipper for the ponies to head down – it looks like we’re bringing 4 or 5 with us and leasing a couple ponies for the kids down there. Frankie did well with the commercial shipper up to Lake Placid so I’m not super concerned about that. He’ll also arrive on Sunday or Monday, and Trainer will have the chance to get him out a bit before I arrive on Wednesday or Thursday. We all chipped in for a paddock so he will get his beloved turnout every day that weather permits. I’m hoping that he can share with one of the other geldings to get double time, but we’ll see how that works out. I’m just glad he’s getting any turnout, it makes such an enormous difference in keeping him feeling fresh!
Budget-wise I’m trying to pre-pay as much as possible. Our stalls and splits are already paid for and I’ve put in several deposits to my trainer. My goal is to take care of as much as possible ahead of time so I’m not scrambling on the back end – this isn’t a trivial expense, so I’m continually grateful to my husband for being entirely on board with my going. I’d ideally like to open up a little room in the budget for some shopping – y’all know I can’t resist the vendors at these things. I do have an actual useful wishlist, so hopefully I don’t get sucked into getting something ridiculous that I don’t need.
At this point, this ain’t our first rodeo. I’d love to write about the secret tips and tricks, but I don’t think I have any – it’s all kinda old news at this point! That being said, let me know if you have any questions or comments or anything about prepping/attending one of these, clearly I love to talk about it!
It was a year full of changes and growth, full of fun adventures, and full of wonderful sweet times with my family and friends and favorite horse on the planet. Cheers to a fantastic 2019, and cheers to an even better 2020!