Our First Clinic

At long last, I’m finally typing up my thoughts about our clinic with Will Simpson last month!

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There’s Francis trying to snuggle with Will! PC – Phelps Media Group

This was a one-day clinic where each group had 4-5 riders and about 90 minutes with Will to work on the flat and over fences. They started with the 3’6″ group, moved on to the 3’3″ group (which was mine!), took a lunch break and then had the 3′ and 2’6″ groups in the afternoon.

He had all of the groups do similar exercises on the flat, and I found this part really useful. Starting at the walk and eventually moving up to the canter, he has us establish a nice forward pace on a very loose rein, then add a bit of leg and a bit of hand to encourage a release over the poll. The instant the horse gives, you release the hands. Nothing groundbreaking in itself, but his explanation of the timing and aids definitely helped it click into place for me. He even got on Frankie to demonstrate!

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Not a big deal at all, just my horse being ridden by an Olympian.
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Francis: “Oh crap oh crap this isn’t my mom, he actually knows what he’s doing, this means work, MAHM COME GET ME”

For a horse that struggles with the concept and execution of self-carriage (or more accurately, a rider that struggles with the right way to ask for this), I’ve found this exercise to be extremely helpful in every ride since. I’m able to remind Frankie to soften and give, allow him a release when he gets it right, and decide how frequently and for how long I ask for it. Not only am I getting a rounder horse up into the bridle, but I’m able to ask for a more productive stretch once we’re warmed up.

You can even watch Will work with him on these exercises!

The next exercise he had us all do was a figure-8 over a pole at the walk, making sure to step over it with the inside front leg first. It was simply a very tight turn, eyes locked on the pole, and adjusting your track by moving left or right to get the perfect spot. I was a bit nervous about this since I am regularly a clueless monkey up top, but this actually worked pretty well. It was great practice for getting your eyes on an obstacle and keeping them there while making adjustments as necessary. He said he loves this exercise because it’s a great chance to practice precision and finding a spot without pounding the horse or stressing them out – they have no idea if they got it wrong since they’re just walking over a pole on the ground, so it’s easy to go try again.

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Francisco had those thinking ears on

The last big flat exercise he had us work on was cantering small circle-big circle-small circle. The way he had us do it was to pick up the canter on a very small circle to really encourage the horse to rock back and power up into the new gait, establish the canter on a larger circle, and then ask for the walk transition on a very small circle by using the turn to let them balance themselves into the downwards. I did like this a lot for Frankie – anything that puts the onus on him to balance and propel himself is very helpful and keeps his brain engaged. He caught on to this delightfully quickly and I really liked how the small circle discouraged him from “plopping” down into the walk.

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The actual most perfect Frankfurter be-boppin’ around

Then we moved on to some over fences work. The main exercise Will had our group do was coming to a small jump off a short left hand turn. His order of operations was: (1) lock eyes on the jump as soon as reasonably possible (2) use an opening rein to establish the bend towards the jump, then release the bend to allow flexibility in the track (3) actually jump the jump.

The hardest part for me was keeping my eyes on the jump for that long. Will really drilled it into us that once you look at the jump, you should not be looking away – that gives your brain the chance to get distracted and lose the spot. It definitely took some practice to not let my eyes wander off #easilydistracted and I noticed a difference when I was able to stay super focused on the jump. I found it interesting that he seemed to like a bigger flowier distance even to the little jump we were doing. For small jumps I usually try to put Frankie a bit at the base to encourage a better effort and I had to adjust to leave a bit further out for the spot Will wanted us to get.

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This is why I like a closer spot for small jumps – when we’re any further out, he’s comfortable cantering over it. And apparently taking a quick nap.

We moved on to doing 2 jumps on a circle, putting our eyes on the next fence while we were still over the previous one. Continuing to use the opening correcting rein to give us options on the track. It was interesting and certainly effective.

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It was the brown end jump and the tan RF jump (that was set smaller for our exercise). Bit of a circle of death in a good way.

And that was our session. Some good takeaways – nothing truly groundbreaking, but clearly communicated and good practice applying those concepts.

However.

There were several other exercises set up in the ring. There was a series of 8 bounces to encourage self-propulsion, and there was a gymnastic set up with 4 oxers each set one stride apart. I was really pumped to give those a go with our new skills. But then we broke for lunch and didn’t get to do either of them. Every other group got to do every exercise except for ours. Other groups ran over their allotted time to be able to do them while ours ended a bit early. I’m definitely salty about that. I’m not sure of the reason for it and I assume there is a logical one, but logically I also paid the same amount of money and would have liked the same opportunity to go through all the exercises.

You can read about all the exercises here: https://www.phelpssports.com/five-essential-exercises-olympic-gold-medalist-will-simpson/

You can also watch the 3’6″ group on USEF on demand here (complete with AT on her baby horse that she’s brought along from the ground up!): https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2019rutledge/?cl=b

I will say that the venue itself and the way the clinic was run was wonderful. The farm is stunningly beautiful, the ring had great footing, there were snacks and water and a few little vendors set up, and I even got a swag bag! Frankie got some treats and I got a customized wine glass with the date and the clinician’s name on it. Not gonna lie, it made my hoarder heart want to go back and clinic there again just so I can collect a set. The host did a truly fantastic job of making me feel welcome and supported as a rider there, there were plenty of opportunities for auditors to ask questions, and you can’t beat the location.

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Is there anything better than a beautiful barn in Virginia in the fall? I think not.

I also had a great time with my friends that went, and of course I enjoy any opportunity to try new things with my favorite beast.

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Friends!
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The sweetest bay boys were happy to chill on the trailer while the other folks rode. Frankie loves Vinnie, and Vinnie solidly tolerates Frankie.
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This post wouldn’t be complete without a picture of Francis making some sort of funny face.

So overall thoughts: I’m kinda eh on it. It was fine. There were some interesting takeaways that I’ve found useful in the month since the clinic. I think I would’ve been perfectly happy for the novelty of riding with an Olympian if I had paid less for it. As is, I’m not thrilled that my group got less to do, and ultimately that colors my view. That being said, I’m already looking for the next clinician I want to ride with at that venue because the overall experience of participating there and the atmosphere was A+. Clinician was a decent 6/10, venue and experience were a solid 11/10.

 

BRB Dying

I know I haven’t yet gotten around to recapping our clinic or most recent show – recently I’ve been travelling to see family and to be in my dear friend’s wedding, school has been fascinating but busy, work has been demanding a bit more time, and I’m straight up exhausted. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

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My college roommates are the prettiest, you can’t change my mind.

I haven’t had a lesson in several weeks now due to travel and feeling run down, and luckily Francisco has been getting plenty of exercise and love. He’s getting his first clip of the season soon (partially to help him cool off after exercise, and partially so his fluff doesn’t trap his stench so strongly). I’m a bit of a hands-off owner right now as I try to gain some energy and consistency back. In the past I’ve felt some guilt about needing to step back, but at this point I know that he’s perfectly happy and healthy and will be waiting for me.

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His favorite junior has been cooling him out with beautiful walkabouts. He’s a happy camper.

We do have a bit of a break from showing for the winter, which certainly helps. November historically is a pretty quiet month for us and is a good reset after a busier-than-expected show season. My plan is to keep Francis in comfortable moderate work to maintain fitness, then start ramping back up in December.

Because we’re planning to head to Ocala for our February vacation! I still need to hash out the details with my boss and barn-wise we’re still building our cohort, but WBH (World’s Best Husband) and I talked about the expense and the tradeoffs and he’s supportive of us making the trip. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – I’m unbelievably grateful for this guy and his encouragement of these hare-brained schemes.

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Even if this is what happens when I ask him to take a nice picture

We’re planning to be down there for two weeks in February doing jumper and eq classes to our heart’s content. We already have a barn outing planned to see the manatees and it looks to be a good group heading down (let’s be honest, we always have a good group).

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So stinkin’ excited to be in the sun again, this time with my most favorite horse in the world.

My one concern is figuring out how to do work/schoolwork while I’m down there. I remember in 2016 that there was some spotty wifi in the food building, but I also heard a rumor that they’ve improved their wifi coverage and even added some to the barn areas. Have any of you been there recently and can share your experience with the wifi? Would love to know if I need to invest in a hotspot device!

Short version: I’m beyond worn out from an incredibly busy fall, but quieter times are coming before ramping back up for a wonderful spring.

Horse of the Year

I didn’t buy a super fancy horse back in 2016. I bought a safe, athletic horse with the kindest eye I’ve ever seen, but I did not buy fancy.

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I love him dearly, but he does kinda have the conformation and movement of a cart horse.

I had very moderate expectations for what we would do together. I had my sights set on the 1.10m jumpers and hoped to compete in some bigger shows, but mostly wanted a safe partner to learn new skills on.

Obviously Frankie blew this out of the water – he’s earned me ribbons up to 1.15m and has even done 1.20m with my trainer, and has held his own at some of the biggest shows in the country. Fancy or not, this horse can jump and walks into the ring with a swagger in his step because he knows how good he is at his job.

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He walks out with a strut and a smile too

And then this past year was a reset of sorts. I got married and went back to school, and our super intense training was put down a notch into a more moderate schedule. Frankie gained a bit of a belly and got a bit fuzzy – like I keep saying, he’s not the fanciest horse. With the scale back in our training came a scale back in my expectations for him.

Within the last three weeks alone, my kind un-fancy horse has won division champion in the jumpers, participated beautifully in a clinic with an Olympic rider, toted me around the Adult Amateur hunters, and carried me to yet another division tricolor in the jumper ring. Expectations be damned, Frankie cheerfully showed up for all of it.

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Calmly interested, eager to hop on the trailer and explore new places, always turning around for ear rubs when he thinks he deserves them (which is constantly), and always happy to receive love from his people (which is everyone). His contentment in his job makes it all a joy.

Sometime soon I’ll get around to recapping our clinic experience, and sometime soon I’ll share our recent show where he moved flawlessly from the hunter ring to the jumper ring, but for now I’m just going to shamelessly dote on my imperfect, un-fancy, perfectly fancy horse.

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Yeah buddy, you can have all the ear rubs in the entire world.

Our Show Warmup

I realized that while I love giving you all a blow-by-blow of our shows, I tend to gloss over the way that we warm up for our rounds. Not that it’s particularly exciting, but every horse is a bit different and it seems that we all have slightly different approaches to the way we prepare to enter the ring.

 

The main title of our approach is: Conserve All Energy. That is really our goal behind all showing decisions, but it especially comes into play in the warmup ring.

What this means in practice is as short of a warmup as I can reasonably get away with, while still making sure my horse’s muscles are stretched and ready to go.

To go into a bit more detail, I tend to mount at our stall and use the walk to the warmup ring to set the tone ofย  “we move forward off the leg when it’s time to work.” By the time we get to the ring, I may do a lap or so at the walk depending on timing, but we get to work pretty quickly.

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Stretchies on a loose rein to get us goin’. PC – A. Frye

At this point it’s just about loosening up. I’ll do a couple laps each direction at the trot and then the canter to get the blood flowing and start really reinforcing the GO button. Light contact and a supportive leg to reassure him in a new environment but not asking for much yet.

Once we’re all on board with the forward motion, I’ll do a few lengthenings/shortenings within the gaits to tune him into my seat and make sure he’s fully paying attention. Maybe a few little shoulder-ins to help move his body a bit more. At this point I start picking up more of a feel as he starts lighting up a little.

And that’s my flat warmup. Short, simple, to the point. Francis is luckily well-behaved and attentive in busy rings, so we do not use this as a schooling opportunity – it is simply a warmup in the purest sense of the word: we warm up our muscles. We may throw in a few extra shoulder-ins on the rare occasion that he takes offense to a wheelbarrow by the rail, or we may do a few more transitions if he’s feeling antsy, but by and large I simply use this chance to make sure we’re paying attention to each other and are ready to jump. I very much want to save his energy for the jumping efforts.

Which we also try to limit before we go in. We’ll pop over a vertical a couple times, going up in height every time. We’ll then move to an oxer and do that 2-3 times. By that point we should be up to full competition height. We’ll then usually reset to a vertical and go up a bit over competition height to remind Frankie to pick up his feetsies. If there’s a particularly tough turn on course we’ll end practicing that turn – for example, if I know that there’s a point in my course where we have to land and immediately turn right, I’ll practice coming off a short approach and immediately turn. It sets the tone for him that he needs to be asking where we’re going at all times rather than assuming.

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Always always, the emphasis is on forward and straight to the base to encourage a good effort. PC – A. Frye

That’s pretty much it. We limit our flatwork to what we need to prepare to jump, and we limit our jumps to get us up to height and ready to turn. I like to head over to the ring when I’m 1 or 2 out which gives us a brief break to walk and relax before picking up the reins and heading in.

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I like to take this chance to let him relax and reset mentally so he feels fresh going into the ring.

That’s our warmup in a nutshell! It tends to be shorter than many others that I see, but over the years we’ve found that it works best for us. I have a fairly lazy horse, we often compete in the heat, and I like him to exit the show ring still feeling like he has plenty of gas in the tank.

I know warmups look very different for everyone, especially across disciplines – how do you approach warming up at shows?

Piedmont Jumper Classic 2019

We came, we saw, we jumped! After much of a spring and summer spent dabbling in the other rings, we spent our whole weekend chasing time and rails.

The short version in case you’re in a rush: I am proud almost to the point of tears with the Frankfurter. He was beyond professional in a big ring and packed my rusty butt around the Lows with those cheerful ears hunting down the jumps, including some delightful inside turns. Best Boy Francis is very much Best Boy and he earned us the ribbons to prove it.

For those of you not in the area, this show is held on the same showgrounds as Upperville and Loudoun Benefit, but only on the jumper side. The way the schedule ran meant all my classes went in the main ring over there – which you may remember as the class Frankie and I were in for our very first classes together as a team a few years ago. Despite returning to Upperville/Loudoun for several years since then, I’ve been in other rings. So this was actually the first time we’ve back in that giant ring since that very first show! Talk about a walk down memory lane.

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A little throwback to 2016 when I first saw my name in lights when we marched in that ring. Emotions!

Originally the plan was to go in and do a 0.90m as a warmup on Friday, see how that felt, then plan on doing the Low classes later that day and throughout the weekend.

Fate is funny though. Just like that first show back in 2016, the schedule got moved around fairly last minute so that the 0.90m ended up running in a different ring AFTER the Lows had already gone. So much like 2016, we ended up going straight into the Lows and saying “cool cool cool this is probably fine.” The parallels with that show really were kinda comical.

But no matter how similar, there were a few big major difference from that first show. Instead of it being the first 1.0m class for both of us, we now have several years under our belt competing even higher. Our confidence over this height is rock solid, our skill set over this height is solid, and nowadays Frankie really is a schoolmaster dream to pilot around the jumper ring. I know I say this all the time, but he’s just so. dang. good. at his job and it makes taking him around a downright pleasure.

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Big smiles all around with this excellent creature

Our first round on Friday was a mix – we ended up with 3 rails, but I’m actually extremely happy with the ride. Frankie was accurate, forward, and responsive. I don’t think either of us did anything really *wrong* to have those rails, I simply think he wasn’t expecting to have to do a full round at that height. It’s been a little while. Considering how long it’s been since we’ve gone around the jumper ring (6+ months) and how long it’s been since he’s had to compete over 3′ (14ish months), I was thrilled with how well he remembered the game.

Saturday was a speed round. In case you didn’t know, speed rounds are my FAVORITE OMG I LOVE THEM. It’s just you and the course, being as efficient and aggressive as possible to get. it. done. No phases, no separate jumpoffs. Just one round to go kill it.

And kill it we did. Francis was a STAR. He galloped up when I asked, he sat down when I needed him to, he helped me out when I gave a bit of an override, I helped him out when he needed some support to rebalance into a shorter line. He landed asking to turn and locked onto every jump. It was fantastic. We went early in the class to set the pace and held onto the lead for the blue ribbon.

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Have you ever seen a more handsome hunk?!?!!?
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The most handomest derp in all the land
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Our awesome kiddo won her High Children’s jumper class earlier that day, so it was a fantastic day for the barn!

Sunday was our stakes class with a jumpoff, which ended up getting combined with the Low Children’s. Frankie is always a bit tired on Sundays and needs a bit more support so my plan always accounts for that a bit. A surprising number of people that day were going clear in the first round but getting time faults, so I knew we couldn’t take our time at all. We certainly had to take turns helping each other out over such a long course but ultimately Frankie did pull out a clear round within time allowed!

Our jumpoff came up pretty fantastically – I swung way wider on a rollback than I had planned which ate up some unnecessary strides (around 0:32 in the video below), but we did a pretty killer inside turn (0:40ish) and a super fun slice (0:47ish) that I don’t think many people ended up doing.

Double clear and a speedy jumpoff were enough to clinch us 3rd behind two children, which also earned us champion in the division for the weekend!

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Frankie: “Why did you pull me out of my stall for this?? I cannot eat this?? Mahm??”

In a nutshell: Frankie was perfect, we had a total blast, and he is incredibly good at his job. I’m also very glad that we chose the division that we did – sticking with the 1m classes right now means that we can go in and build confidence while trying some of those tougher turns without overfacing ourselves. While I’d love to eventually get back into the bigger classes, this was 100% the right choice for where we are right now.

To close out, I’d like to share with you my new favorite photo ever taken of all time:

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I….I have no words.

And an obligatory nap pic:

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Cheers to a fantastic weekend of fun and jumps with the bestest horse to ever exist!

Can We Try This Again

Y’all, I’ve been riding my horse more often and for longer times lately and IT FEELS AMAZING. He’s giving me lovely work, he’s jumping out of his skin and firing off the ground beautifully, and he’s straight up happy. I’ve told you so many times that the big dude thrives in a fuller training regimen and the proof is so clear – his already playful and curious nature is absolutely next level these days.

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I need to remember how to hold my position more tightly when the jumps go back up a bit, but the Frankfurter is simply excellent at his job

 

We’ve been incorporating more conditioning rides and as it turns out – Francis is totally faking being a chunk. I mean, physically he’s obviously rockin’ that Dad Bod. But endurance-wise? Barely sweating, not even puffing. Jokes on him, that just means we’re making these sets longer and more difficult. Seriously Francis, now I don’t believe you when you say you’re exhausted after trotting two laps.

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Couldn’t quite seem to keep all my body parts coordinated through this grid, but I’m confident it’ll all come back in time.ย 

Making the point to ride more frequently and with more focus is also straight up making me a better person in all areas of my life. I know it was the right call to take a small step back from riding for the wedding and for school, but now that I have a better handle on things I definitely prefer getting back into my previous 5-6x a week schedule. It forces me to be more disciplined and productive with my time and I’m simply a better student, employee, wife, daughter, friend, etc. when I’m getting my full horse fix. I suspect a lot of you know the feeling.

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We’re both much happier when we get extra time to goof off together.

As you may have seen in pictures, I also got myself a new helmet during the IHAD weekend sales! And this whole thing is actually where the title of this post comes in. As you may or may not remember, I got a new helmet about a year ago – I went to Dover, tried on a bunch, and was informed that nothing really fit my head except the CO that I ultimately ended up buying. I was super bummed because I had really liked a Samshield I had tried on previously, but we all know that helmet fit is paramount and that was basically the only thing they had in stock that truly fit my head. The rep there sadly informed me that the Samshields just didn’t fit my head as well.

You know what I wish she had said instead, that would’ve been more accurate? “The Samshields THAT WE CURRENTLY HAVE IN STOCK don’t fit you as well.” That sentence would have been accurate.

Because back in June, I stopped by one of my favorite show vendors to peruse their ever-lovely merchandise. I admired the Samshields yet again but informed the rep there that sadly my head was not destined for such breathability. She then proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes pulling out not only different SIZES of liner, but different SHAPES. Because newsflash guys, Samshield makes liners for both round and oval heads. And it turns out that yes, Samshield does have an option that fits me perfectly and safely and is extremely comfortable (and yes, I have basically a child-sized head). I didn’t pull the trigger and buy it on the spot because I was in the midst of paying for the show – but with truly amazing service, the rep wrote down all the info I needed to be able to order it myself when I was ready.

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After a VERY intense week of lessons/pro rides/conditioning rides, we did have a much-needed toodling day to stretch our muscles and recover. I love my mobile couch so much.

So fast forward to now, I went ahead and ordered it from their site. They put in the customer service and effort so they 100% deserved that sale. And I now have a helmet that fits perfectly, helps with the sweaty head, makes me feel super fancy, AND I can swap out different sized liners so I can actually safely wear my hair either up or down. This is LIFE CHANGING to no longer get a blinding headache when I need to wear my hair up in the eq ring.

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Francisco approves of it and that’s clearly the most important thing

So the moral of the story is that when working with a salesperson, it would be good if that salesperson is not only knowledgeable in what you’re talking about, but is willing to, I don’t know, PULL OUT ANOTHER SIZE WHEN ONE DOESN’T FIT.

And in a quick mishmash of other updates: Frankie’s leg wound is healing great with no complications, we’re psyched for our show this upcoming weekend, and I finally bought brunette hairnets (I haven’t been blonde in many years). All good stuff.

Time to Tighten Up

As we’re heading into our busy fall, I’m thinking hard about how to make sure Frankie is ready to tackle every adventure feeling fit and healthy. I’ve gotten pretty good at managing his workload at shows so he doesn’t get too tired – he never does more than 2 classes a day, and we stick to 1 when possible – but the clinic we’re signed up for does have a roughly 90 minute slot. I definitely don’t want to be the pair that’s losing energy halfway through, so conditioning is the name of the game!

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I feel like this angle is EXTRA unflattering but yeah he’s a real chonky boi right now

To do that, I’m trying to increase the length of our rides. My lessons once a week are obviously a full hour, but historically I’ve let myself get lazy with our other rides. I’ve been making an effort lately to help increase both of our fitness levels by pushing a bit harder (within reason) and this is roughly what I’ve come up with:

Lesson 1x a week. Hoping to transition back into private lessons on Fridays this fall as the show season slows down a bit – maybe even this week? A full hour private lesson vs full hour group lesson is quite different in terms of duration of work. And I do miss those private sessions where we can really drill into the specifics of what Frankie needs from me to be better.

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Honestly I kinda desperately need some dedicated attention so we can look like this again

Training rides 2x a week. These happen mid-week and to be fair I do need these days at home to get schoolwork done. These tend to not be hugely long sessions since AT has plenty of horses to get done. They’re more targeted at tuning up his sensitivity and getting him to work really correctly, which is more of a weight-lifting exercise for him. I then usually manage to undo all this hard work from week to week, but that’s fine we don’t need to talk about that.

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My trainer can literally make my horse go around a course this big looking happy and confident so yeah big fan of what she’s doing with him

Conditioning rides 2x a week. I’ve been keeping up with our hill sets with some degree of success when weather cooperates for us to get out in that field. We’re up to 6 sets up the long steep hill, and I think we can comfortably add a 7th the next time out. He’s definitely sweaty and puffing by the end, but less so than when we started. It’s also a long enough walk back down to the bottom that he gets solid recovery time between sets. I also kicked off trot set days, which are the most boring thing ever but super helpful. After the first couple sets Frankie likes to offer some great stretch, so I think these days will be a great mental break for him to stretch out and metaphorically jog on a treadmill for an hour (with regular breaks, of course).

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Off to the right is the hill we use, it’s nice and steep and goes on just long enough that Francis hates me by the time we reach the top

Practice rides 1-2x a week. These days are more for me than for Frankie, and these are really the ones I need to extend. Our dedicated practice days tend to feature pole work, focus on improving our lateral work, tons of transitions, and getting Francis super tuned in to me. These days he’s so dang good at his job that I tend to ask, get the right answer, and want to let him be done because he was a Good Boy. I need to get more creative about offering breaks in different ways without being done so we can continue to improve our stamina while reinforcing those skills.

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Note to self practice rides are for more than just bopping around on a loose rein

This puts me on roughly 4 times a week, which is proving to be fairly attainable with my school schedule these days! Francis also recently got his hocks and SI injected, is getting a massage next week, and has been seeing the chiro regularly. I’m hoping that with some help from my trainer during the week, this schedule and support will help him feel his best for our busy schedule of fall outings coming up through the end of the year!

Mean Mom

You all know that there is nothing I love more than gushing about how much I adore my Francisco. He is truly the light of my life and I need everyone to know it. Constantly. I’m even happier when I can get people out to the barn to bask in the presence of the Sweet Sleepy Boy.

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My MIL loves to come see him, and he loves soaking up all her praise. It’s very heartwarming.

For my non-horse friends and family, there has been a pattern of some surprise when they come out and see how I handle Frankie. Apparently they often have certain expectations based on my unceasing verbal adoration. I’m not sure what those expectations are, but I imagine gazing adoringly and softly cooing sweet nothings feature prominently. Reality, however, is quite different. More than once, I’ve had someone tell me:

“Olivia, you’re kinda a mean mom.”

And you know what? They are totally right. I am kinda a mean mom.

I don’t feed Frankie any treats, I never let him rub his head on me, I give regular “course corrections” in the form of a smack when he’s not focused or behaving. I’m (surprisingly to them) strict with Frankie.

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I put ice boots and BoT wraps on him every time we jump I AM SO VERY MEAN TO HIM

But here’s the thing. Francis is a very large horse. Francis also loves treats more than anything in the world, and forgets that he’s big when he thinks he might get one. His excitement about the treat trumps the lessons he knows about respecting personal space. This is absolutely something we could fix with groundwork and practice, but I don’t see a need. The Treat Fairy will sometimes leave him something in his bucket, and I praise verbally instead. He is an enormous fan of verbal praise, so the lack of treats does not ruin his life (I promise).

And no, I don’t let him rub his face on me when untacking. You know what he likes to rub his face on? Fenceposts. And the younger horse in his herd that he sometimes likes to pick on. You know what I do not want my horse to see me as? An inanimate object or as lower in the dynamic of our own little herd. Not exactly the precedent I want to set in terms of who is the leader here.

And yeah, I’ll give him a slap or a poke and a bit of a growl when he moves into my personal space. He’s the one that has to move his feet out of my way, not the other way around. Again – you know who moves their feet for Frankie? That younger gelding. Again – I’m not particularly willing to be low man on the totem pole here.

Frankie gets plenty of face scratches – but only when I offer them to him, and he happily accepts. He gets to go for nice long walks and get nice long grooming sessions – respectfully holding still when asked, and only coming into my personal space when invited. Every time that he offers the right behavior (which is almost all the time), he is praised with scratches and pats and a hearty “good boy!”

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He doesn’t even have to get up, I will bring the face scratchies directly to naptime

With all my strictness, do you know what I end up with? A horse who has clear boundaries, who respects those boundaries to keep us both safe even in tough situations (like his Very Bad Day recently), who can relax because he never has to guess how he should act. There is consistency around it – he doesn’t get away with something one day, and then punished for it the next. By being a fair and consistent leader for my horse, I’m allowing him to be a contented follower.

So yes. I am strict with my horse and I can kinda be a mean mom. But I also have a horse that I can hand off to a child and know he will be careful and polite. That almost never spooks, because he has faith that I’ll take care of things for him. And at the end of the day, I have a horse that is relaxed and happy because he knows and likes his role in our dynamic.

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You can even basically drop the reins while nervously waiting to propose and he’ll keep chillin’

I’ll take the Mean Mom moniker happily if it keeps Frankie as wonderfully content as he is.

Frankie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Well guys, after 3.5 years, we finally had a day where poor Francis Simply Could Not Even. He tried really hard, but the deck was stacked against him and the poor guy simply could not get those hamsters back on those wheels.

His morning did start off very rough – a drunk driver crashed into the fence next to his field and subsequently a telephone pole (against all odds, the driver managed to drive away from the accident and was found a few streets over, passed out and not a scratch on him). So to be fair, he didn’t have the calmest start to the day. This also led to a million utility vehicles with accompanying flashing lights and jackhammers right next to him. This was Poor Francis Incident 1 of the day.

By the time I got to the barn, he had been relaxing in his stall for a few hours and seemed happy to see me. I hadn’t heard about the morning’s incident yet and had no reason to think he wasn’t feeling completely settled.

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This was a few days earlier and completely unrelated, he’s just a really cute land hippo

Poor Francis Incident 2 of the day happened right as I was pulling him out of his stall to put him on the crossties: either a tractor backfired, a door slammed, or some other loud noise happened behind the barn as we were exiting. This was Very Scary and I had a tense-as-a-rock giraffe on those crossties. With plenty of pats and soothing tones we got a bit of relaxation, but not our usual crosstie nap.

Partially because Poor Francis Incidents 2 and 3 were happening in sight of where he was tied: there was a truck full of roundbales where there was previously Not A Truck, and there was a man clanging and fixing a fence where there was previously Not A Man.

Neither of these would have usually bothered Frankie beyond some mild curiosity, but he was already on high alert mode and looking for reasons to stay on alert. Every time he started to relax, the clanging started up again and we re-started the cycle.

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This is our usual attitude. This is not the attitude we had that day.

No big deal though, I know if I could hop on then we could channel some of this energy and give him something else to focus on. I don’t have a death wish though, so I opted to take him for a quick hand walk around the outdoor – the aforementioned utility vehicles and flashing lights were directly adjacent on the road within full view, and I wanted to give him a chance to see them with me offering reassurance.

He was holding it together pretty well until we reach the end of the ring closest to the trucks – which, of course, is when Poor Francis Incident 4 kicked in and they decided to start jackhammering. Homeboy was ready to peace out of there and take me with him, so I got us turned around and headed back towards safety (with Frankie taking many looks behind to make sure that this monster wasn’t chasing us).

I got us back in the barn, loosened his girth, and just stood there with him for a solid 10 minutes letting him decompress. His little brain was so overstimulated and he clearly needed some quiet time to take a deep breath. Once his head was no longer a periscope and his muscles weren’t hard as rocks, I took him into the indoor for a ride.

Considering what a tough time he had been having, he was a really really good boy for me. We took plenty of walk breaks when he started tensing up (mostly due to the clanging and hammering), we did some lateral work to keep his brain on me, and we praised tons for trying. And he sincerely was trying. I was very proud of him.

We even went back out into the outdoor and walked a few laps to finish up, with not even a peek at the trucks. He was back to his happy self.

Proud of how he listened and handled himself, I put him in the wash stall to give him a nice cool bath as a reward.

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We can totally do nice things together!

Which is when they decided to unload the round bales off the Truck That Wasn’t There Before. Poor Francis Incident 5.

At that point I gave up, put him back in his stall to eat his hay in peace and comfort, and decided to try again another day. Poor Francis. Every single time we got to a good spot, something else happened. Couldn’t catch a break.

I gotta say, even though he was clearly convinced that he had entered a Bizarro World of Doom, he looked to me at every point. He never once invaded my personal space – despite clearly wanting to crawl in my pocket – and respected the lead even when he very much wanted to trot away from the zona peligrosa. His attitude was never “I gotta get outta here,” it was very much “WE gotta get outta here.”

Just goes to show you: even unicorns can have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days sometimes.

Frankie Long Legs

You know that running joke about how horses know when we enter a show, and immediately maim themselves?

REAL FUNNY JOKE, RIGHT????

I was very excited to have a friend offer to take some pics/video of my lesson over the weekend – other than shows, I literally have no evidence that I’ve jumped my horse since 2018. I swear that I have. I’m an extremely visual learner, so the prospect of that video made me absolutely giddy.

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Classic: Frankie having no concept of personal space and assuming everyone loves him as much as he loves them.

Until I pulled Frankie out to tack him up and noticed a not insignificant amount of blood on his hind leg. Followed that trail up to a decent looking laceration on the inside of his leg, about midway down his cannon bone. I brought him over to AT to get her opinion, we poked and scrubbed it with some iodine to get a better view, jogged him (sound, but a little ouchie most likely from the aforementioned poking), and she texted a pic to our vet to get her thoughts.

Sure enough, she said it looked like it needed stitches to stay closed. Our vets are also the actual best, and she was at the barn roughly 15 minutes later to take care of it. She made short order of giving Frankie some night night juice and getting the wound cleaned and stitched.

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He was trying valiantly to stay awake, poor guy

 

Frankie came out of the sedative remarkably quickly (I think mostly fueled by anger since I had pulled his hay) and is recovering well so far. He’s on stall rest for a few days so he doesn’t play too hard and rip it back open, but I have permission to hand walk and graze him for as long as I want – he’s sound and walking is totally fine as long as he’s not being goofy (and homeboy is never goofy on the lead because Angel Boy).

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A dignified puddle of drool. I felt bad for laughing but also he’s fine and this was hilarious.

Honestly the timing isn’t the worst on this. Our vet is coming out later this week to inject Frankie’s SI anyways, so she’ll be able to check on his leg and make sure everything is going alright with the healing process. Hopefully by the time he’s ready to go back to work post-injection, his leg will be in good enough shape that we can get him out to stretch. Right now he’s getting a vacation from work, all the naps he wants, and gets to go for walkies. He’s not having a bad time.

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We went for a nice long walk and then grazed for a bit – sound as a bell and very tolerant of me poking around the wound, no heat or soreness (and he 100% lets us know when he’s sore) and in very good spirits. Also he’s not actually that insanely over at the knee, I swear I just caught him mid-step.

I don’t think this should affect our show at the end of the month at all, as long as he heals as expected. If it turns out that he loses a ton of fitness this week and we have a tough time toning him up then I’m fine with dropping down a level, but I really think we’ll have plenty of time to get back into the swing of things.

Horses, man. There’s always something!