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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!”
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.
I’ll take the Mean Mom moniker happily if it keeps Frankie as wonderfully content as he is.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I know I mention my husband in passing with some regularity, but I want to start this post off by saying straight out that this guy is cool. I like him SO much. He’s always the first to encourage me to try new things, is my biggest support when things get hectic, and keeps me going with things get tough. Whenever I have cool news to share about Frankie, just know that behind the scenes is a wonderful man who makes this all possible.
As I’ve mentioned previously, we’re heading to the Piedmont Jumper Classic at the end of September. The plan is to go in at 0.90m the first day to get our sea legs back, and then step back into the 1.0m Low Adult classes over the weekend. Partially because I like riding in a division, but more so because I have a pair of as-yet-unworn white pants that are just begging for a classic. I never said that my decision-making process was logical.
To prep for that, Frankie is getting his SI injected next week as a complement to his hock injections. While he’s a pretty solid chunk right now, his fitness is actually in decent shape and he’s been giving me some AMAZING rides lately. I’ve been putting the screws to him a bit as a reminder that he is in fact a shmancy show horse, and he’s been showing up to work like a pro. We schooled some 1m-ish jumps in our recent lesson and he was soft and rhythmic and adjustable, so I think the addition of the SI injection will make it that much more comfortable and easy to do the Lows at the show. I could gush more about just how great he’s going but just trust me on it – all the hard work we put into developing a partnership and skills has paid off, and I am rewarded with a wonderfully trained animal. It’s great.
In other exciting news, we’re adding a few things to the calendar! Our next show after Piedmont will be the WIHS Local Show/Zone Finals at the end of October. We’re obviously not qualified for any Zone champs this year, but they have a few adult medals on Friday and a few open 1.0m jumper classes on Saturday we can go have fun in. I like the venue and it’s close to home, so should be a good time.
And in a first for us, we are signing up for a clinic in October as well! Will Simpson (Olympic Gold Medalist, Beijing 2008) is offering a one-day clinic as part of the Rutledge Farm Sessions Olympic Medalist series, with a focus on finding perfect distances and shaving off time in the jump-off. Sounds useful, right?? Rutledge Farm is just down the road in Middleburg, and the chance to ride with someone with so much experience doesn’t come along every day – I just had to sign up along with some of the other girls at the barn. I’ve heard that he’s very kind and patient with the horses and riders, and that he gives great homework to take away from it, so I’m thrilled to expand our knowledge with him.
I originally figured I should do EITHER the clinic OR the show, since we’re trying to make some reasonable financial decisions. WBBH (World’s Best Horse Husband) is the one that encouraged me to go for both, and that he wants me to be able to enjoy Frankie as much as possible. Like I said, he is a kind and thoughtful and wonderful man and I am extremely lucky.
So there you have it! I originally thought we’d have a quiet fall, but it turns out we have two shows and a clinic slated in the next two months alone! I can’t go to the big show in November, but hoping to maybe do a nearby one-day in December to round out the year.
Just to be obnoxious and really drive it home, I’m feeling extraordinarily grateful for the ability to go out and do these things with Frankie. I counted myself lucky to be able to do 3 shows with him the first year that I owned him, and even with school in the mix it looks like 2019 will end up having 7-8 shows across different disciplines. I could’ve never imagined having the support professionally and personally to take the time/ money/ energy to do this and I hope to never take it for granted. None of it would be possible without a boss who encourages me to use my PTO and work remotely so I can travel, friends who stay in touch when we all have busy schedules, parents who have always taught me to go tenaciously after what I want, trainers that push me to be better, and of course, my dream heart horse Frankie and my dream man Nicholas. I’m grateful.
OK now time to stop with the gross mushy stuff and get back to riding!
I first saw these questions over with Amanda, who got them from Alaina (which is a new blog to me so hooray!) and I had to hop on this blog hop.
Q1: What hobbies do you have outside of riding?
Uhhh. Does doing schoolwork count? I do really enjoy baking, and can make a mean profiterole. I’ve been helping some friends build out spending/budget trackers which is deeply satisfying to my spreadsheet-centric brain. I also LOVE to read. No non-fiction please, I just want fantasy and historical fiction. I’d swim every day if I could. So there’s lots of things that I could happily build out into a full hobby, but for now my life is pretty much centered on work-barn-school-sleep.
Q2: What is your boarding situation? Are you happy with it?
Frankie is in full care at my trainer’s facility and I couldn’t be happier with it. He receives top notch care, I have access to tons of knowledgeable professionals, and we’ve both learned and progressed so much together. I totally understand why people want to keep their horses at home, but I’m fairly sure I’ll be a life-long boarder.
Q3: What’s on your horsey-related wish list?
Oh man this is a pretty sizable list right now haha. In no particular order: new stirrups, new standing and pillow wraps, a custom trunk cover, some custom embroidered BoT saddle pads, a new brush set, some minor things for my first aid kit, some more show-condition breeches, some more schooling breeches (seriously, y’all know I love pants), a new show shirt or two, a shadbelly, a standing martingale to do the derbies, and a fake tail for Frankie. So yeah. Pretty good sized list going on. None of them are 100% necessary to our health and happiness so none of them have been super urgent purchases, but I do need to start chipping away at some of the more important ones – I’ve known I need new stirrups for like 18 months now, and my show pants are starting to really show their wear.
Q4: What is your most expensive horsey-related item?
Other than the horse himself, probably my saddle if we’re looking at a concrete object. Not that I spent a crazy amount on it, but it was still a decent sized investment. If we’re talking about other expenses, either my two weeks at WEC with Frankie or our week in Lake Placid are going to show up as some high cash flow. Worth it, but RIP to my bank account. I do a lot of my “shopping” on Twitter and FB these days and have gotten some great deals on the stuff we need.
Q5: What was the hardest horsey-related decision you’ve had to make lately?
Honestly, the decision to go back to school. While that’s not inherently horse-related in itself, Frankie was a major part of that decision. Willingly choosing to limit my riding and training while my horse and I are still young and healthy is not something I wanted to do, but ultimately I do think it’s going to set me up to be able to provide my family, including Frankie, with a better life (and hopefully a sibling down the road).
Q6: What’s something you feel you can’t live without in your routine?
This is the toughest one in the list for me haha. Can I cop out and just say Frankie? As long as I’m getting time with him regularly, everything else goes more smoothly. And he’s pretty chill, so there’s no one thing he truly NEEDS beyond all the love and attention in the world.
Q7: What’s on your horsey-related calendar for the rest of the summer?
Nothing major! We have a show at the end of September that I’m excited for, Frankie will get his SI injected in the next few weeks, but we’re going to just keep enjoying working together with no pressure. Classes start back up shortly and that will eat up a lot of my time.
Q8: What is one thing you would willingly change about your horse?
I would make it so that he holds his condition more easily. Many of my friends with TBs find it much easier to leg their horses back up after a break, or can maintain a lighter schedule without losing too much fitness. If Francis is not in a high-intensity 6x/week program, he has a very VERY difficult time maintaining fitness, and it’s frankly hard to keep up with my current schedule. We both have the ability and desire to jump higher and work harder (well, I have the desire certainly), but I’m very conscious that his fitness level won’t support that in a healthy way. If he could just hold on to his fitness better, I think we could accomplish more in the time I do have. At the end of the day though, I’m lucky that that’s the worst thing I can think of. In terms of behavior or ability, I wouldn’t change a thing – he’s my dream horse and has given me the world.
Q9: What is something you most want to improve on with you and your horse?
Our asymmetry, which is 100% caused by my own asymmetry. My right hip consistently blocks him and makes his job so much harder. It’s proven majorly difficult to isolate and address so I feel like I haven’t made much progress on this front, but getting myself straightened out and balanced would seriously help so much.
Q10: What has been your [current] horse’s most severe injury?
Knock on wood, Frankie has been wonderfully sturdy over the past few years. His heel grab earlier this year put him on stall rest for a bit while that healed up all the way, but that was hardly a major injury. All fingers and toes crossed that he remains sturdy and healthy for a long time to come.
Q11: What do you feel your biggest downfall is as a rider?
Physical strength. When I’m cross training and fully in shape, I feel like Frankie and I can go conquer the world – we’ve got the partnership, he’s got the ability, and between him and my trainer I’ve learned a ton about how to better manage my mental preparation. But much like my horse, I find it tough to stay in shape without a pretty strict routine. While he tends to get a lil hay belly and turn into a chunk, my body’s response is to just lose muscle and turn into a fettuccine noodle. And when I’m not strong, I can’t give Frankie the support he needs to do good work. He never takes advantage because he’s an angel boy, but I do get frustrated sometimes that I can’t just Do The Thing I know how to do. This is entirely within my control since I can just work out more often, but DUDE I’m so tired from work and school and working out is the worst so I mostly just mope about losing all my muscle tone and wallow in self pity. Someday I’ll learn how to better manage my schedule so I can get some strength training back in there more consistently.
Q12: What feeds your motivation?
While this may be a relatively unpopular perspective, my motivation is largely fed by competitions. I LOVE competing. Not because I need to win, but because there is something incredibly exhilarating about experiencing that atmosphere and testing my skills against other people. I always learn something new to develop and I love aiming for the next level. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely live for the time I get to spend with Frankie just brushing him and hacking around on the buckle. Those times are therapeutic and I often need them after a long week of adulting. But at the end of the day, I’m extremely goal-oriented and having these arbitrary markers to check in on our progress are what I most enjoy working towards.
It’s no secret that Frankie’s workload these days is much lighter than it was last summer. I’ve talked about it quite a bit, and he’s been on this lighter schedule for roughly a year now so I have some solid comparison to go on. In looking back at the 3.5ish years he’s been mine, I think our training approach can be broken into 3 main phases (thus far). I’d like to take a look at those three phases, what worked, what the results were, and what I’ve learned about what works best for my horse and our partnership.
Part One: Train Like Lesson Students. Apr 2016 – Nov 2016
This first phase lasted most of the first calendar year that I owned Frankie. We lessoned once a week, he did not receive training rides, his physical maintenance was minimal, and we were showing at 1.0m in the Low Adult jumpers.
At this point, the main focus of our program was getting to know each other. I hesitate to even call it a program, because there was not a lot of cohesiveness to what we were doing. It truly was all about the basics: making sure forward was always the answer, learning to keep my balance and keep my leg on a very different ride than I was used to, building show miles and trust in the show ring. We developed strength and balance but little nuance on the flat. He had decent muscling and decent conditioning – plenty to do his job comfortably but nothing to write home about. We ended this phase with a much better understanding of each other and much better communication, along with a great deal of trust built by a successful show season.
The biggest thing we learned at this point was how to hit the gas pedal. Building that forward motion did not come particularly naturally to either of us at that point, but has been the foundation for literally everything we’ve done since. In a sense, we had to learn to gallop before we could learn to trot. We had to rev the engine before we could tune it into sportscar mode, which brings me to our next phase.
Part Two: Train Like Pros. Dec 2016 – Jul 2018
Our second phase lasted about a year and a half, and coincided with our move up to the 1.10/1.15m High Adult jumpers. We took private lessons at least once a week, started with one training ride a week which then bumped up to two training rides a week, had a dedicated 6 day/week strength and conditioning program for both of us, and got much more aggressive with our physical maintenance.
At this point, the main focus of our program (and it truly was a Program with a capital P) was to hone our skills for the move up. Our private lessons very closely tied into what AT worked on in her pro rides for him, with the goal of getting me closer to riding at that level. He often worked twice a day in addition to his hilly turnout, and he was superbly muscled and trim. By the end of this phase, we were confident at 1.15m, he was going at 1.20m with a pro in the irons, and we had competed at a lot of bucket list locations.
One of the biggest things we developed during this phase was a sense of timing. Before this, I knew what a half-halt was, I knew how to adjust his stride, and I could get out of his way over a fence. My biggest takeaway from this intensive period was learning WHEN to cue him in different ways to give him the most support and be the most effective rider I could be. I remember at first feeling completely discombobulated and my trainer reassuring me that the muscle memory would come in time – she was right, and these frequent rides were the reason I was able to internalize it. Even though I’m a little flabby and rusty now, I’ve been able to maintain this sense of timing in much of our work (though not all! This skill certainly atrophies from lack of use like any other).
Supporting this heavily increased workload was heavily increased maintenance. We did hock and SI injections, he got massages, he saw the chiropractor, he got his tack evaluated and re-evaluated. Maintaining that level of fitness truly was not easy for him, and while he remained sound as a bell and healthy, he needed our help to maintain that muscle tone comfortably.
The time and effort we needed to put in to keep Frankie at peak fitness and performance was very high and difficult to maintain with wedding planning and then school added into the mix, which brings me to our next phase.
Part Three: Train Like Ammies. Aug 2018 – present
Our current phase has lasted about a year now, and has coincided with a step down in height and exploration of the eq and derby rings. We’re back in group lessons that happen mostly weekly, he’s still in his 2x/week training rides to maintain fitness, but I’m only on 3-4x/week and the conditioning work, while still a part of the program, is less targeted and intense. Physical maintenance stays high but is needed less often.
At this point the main focus of our program is maintaining the base. Maintaining his fitness at a reasonable point, maintaining the skills and abilities we fought so hard to learn, and maintaining a base level that we can work off of when we’re ready to jump back in more intensely. He’s got a bit more of a dad bod, but is fine to jump around 3′ once a week. As he gets older, we’re incorporating more hill work to keep his hind end feeling strong, we’re icing his legs after every jump school, we’re using Back on Track hock boots to support his hock injections, and we’re overall being more thoughtful about the every-day preventative maintenance that we’re providing.
One of the big things we’ve developed during this phase is confidence. We haven’t introduced anything newly difficult to Frankie in almost a year – that’s not to say that we haven’t asked him to work hard because we certainly have, but the heights and questions have all been heights and questions he’s been asked before. It’s like giving him a test that he’s already taken, so he knows how to ace it. It’s been refreshing for both of us to step back and do things that are so solidly in our wheelhouse.
Each of these phases made sense at the time, and each has taught me more about what Frankie needs to feel his best. We’ve consistently learned and changed what we do to fit his needs, and I have a few main takeaways to consider as we move forward together:
This is a horse that thrives on knowing he’s done a good job. When introducing new skills/heights/expectations, take plenty of time to ask him questions he knows the answer to. His work ethic and attitude soars when he’s set up to get it right.
The timing of the release is everything for him. He is not a sensitive horse and is happy to hang on my hand forever. He also knows that his job is to go forward now, so this means I end up with a front-heavy unbalanced horse. Learning WHEN to release after a solid half-halt has 100% been the key to developing a consistent and balanced gait, with a horse that trusts that his effort at maintaining that will be rewarded.
His conditioning will absolutely not take care of itself. He loses fitness practically overnight and it’s tough to regain it once lost. It’s also hard to maintain on a busy amateur schedule, which means that our expectations for his performance have to match our ability to help him out in that area.
He doesn’t need a program, but he does thrive in one. Much as he loves knowing that he’s done a good job, he loves consistency in his workload and is much happier when he’s getting worked with fairly consistent intensity at consistent intervals. Those intervals and intensity don’t have to remain unchanging forever, but he is happiest when those hold steady for a solid chunk of time.
To get super reductionist, Frankie is a horse that thrives on consistency and well-timed rewards. If and when a new phase in our training is necessary, these are some common threads for us to carry forward.
It may be a million degrees out, but we finally have a show on our calendar! Frankie and I will be heading to the Piedmont Jumper Classic the last weekend of September. No clue if we’ll be sticking in the 0.90m or if we’ll head into the Lows and I don’t much care, it’s just going to be fantastic to get our butts back in the jumper ring and let Frankie do what he does best. As much as I’m thoroughly enjoying our forays into the eq and derby rings, let’s not forget that Frankie has spent 3 years tuning up into a super fun amazing jumper. Plus, this show is held on the same showgrounds as Upperville and is entirely jumpers. All the beauty of Upperville, smaller crowds, close to home and reasonably priced – what is there not to like?!
In other upcoming show news, it looks like the barn will be returning to Ocala this February after spending the last few winter shows at WEC in Ohio. I’m very much hoping to make it work financially so I can take Frankie down for both weeks and enjoy a change of scenery with him. The prize list is a mile long with a million different jumper classes we could do AND a very large array of adult eq and medal classes so we certainly wouldn’t lack for variety. Those of you who have been around for a while know that my trip down to Ocala back in 2016 was ultimately what sparked buying a horse to compete more heavily with (which of course led to Frankie joining the family #bestdayever), so I have some amazing memories of being down there. It would feel kinda full circle to go back there with my own horse to the place that was such a catalyst to a turning point in my riding journey.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the World’s Best Horse Husband (WBHH). We’ve got some financial goals we’re working towards together and clearly horse shows are a luxury and NOT a necessity, so for him to support this pursuit of my passion really does mean the world to me. He’s a good one. I like him so much.
In the meantime, we’re chugging along happily. Frankie is secretly part dragon and handles the heat like a champ, I myself turn into a slightly al dente linguine, but between the two of us we’re getting some good work in and staying in reasonably decent shape. I will say, his coat right now is LOVELY. He is shiny, sleek, some dapples are peeking through, and his winter coat is just starting to grow in with that gorgeous dark color. We’re going to be supplementing his hock injections with an SI injection to make him feel extra good, I’ve been icing his legs pretty much every time we jump, and he’s honestly looking and feeling great.
I’ve been enjoying my summer break from school, but I’m also excited to jump back into classes next week. I have two back to back terms which means no break until December 6, but then I get a two month break until February! …and then it’s another marathon straight through to the end of May. But that’s fine. I’m on track to finish the program early October 2020 which really isn’t that far away, and so far I’ve maintained my 4.0. They don’t do anything higher, I checked.
I’m pondering some ideas for blog posts about some of the training approaches we’ve been taking lately and how that balance has been working, but for now the short version is: it’s hot but Frankie is cool, we’ve got some exciting shows coming up, and I’m a happy nerd.
I promise we’re still alive and kicking over here! My guy and I have been traveling every other weekend for a while now, I’m in the last week of this term for school, and work is picking back up after a lull, so I’ve had to be more deliberate about my time management – hence why you haven’t heard from me in a while.
But I still have two legs, Frankie still has all four of his, and even if I’m only riding 2x a week that’s still saddle time with my favorite creature and I still love it.
This week’s lesson was really fantastic. Due to a perfect storm of weather, hock injections (woohoo!), me being out of town, and mercury being in retrograde, the big guy was stuck inside for several days and not ridden for even longer. Not ideal, but we did the best we could with what we had.
So when I hopped on for my lesson, I had a speecy spicy Francisco under me. Homeboy just had so many excess calories that needed an outlet! He really was quite obedient as we warmed up – loose through his back, getting some great lift at the trot, rather exuberant about his lengthenings. But I could definitely tell that there was a lil more pizzazz under me than usual, so I took the opportunity to just trot/canter on a looser rein for some extra time during the breaks to give him an outlet. I could tell that he very badly wanted to be a good boy, but just HAD TO MOVE OMG PLS.
Once we started jumping, we did have some porpoising on the back side of a few fences. Not even true crowhopping per say, more of a put-my-head-between-my-knees-and-hump-my-back-for-a-bit. He’s really not very good at misbehaving, I think he just felt so GOOD to be working (especially with those hock injections kicking in) that he had to express his emotions for a bit. Not a big deal, just sat back and slipped the reins til he was done, then kept him cantering and moving forward. No need to react or pull or start a fight about it – I learned a while ago that when he’s got the sillies, the best thing to do is to stay light and let him do his job.
Sure enough, we ended up getting some really lovely courses. He was light in the bridle, forward thinking, and jumping like a dream. Not every spot was perfect, but he felt comfortable and able to sit down a bit to the shorter ones, and he was even cute when we moved up to a bit of a gap! Honestly, I’ll take spicy Francis any day.
I have to say, I really really think that we’ve clicked to the next level of communication over the past few months. It seems silly to say that since I’ve been riding so much less, but it’s true. I’ve always enjoyed riding him and we’ve learned and grown along the way, but it just feels so natural right now. I think something and he does it. I can predict how he’ll react to just about anything (I knew the porpoising was coming the instant we walked away from the mounting block). We enjoy each other’s company, we enjoy our work together, and it’s simply a joy. I’m so-so at riding other horses, but right now it feels like I’m pretty darn good at riding mine.
Sorry not sorry for the gushfest, guys. I’m more obsessed with this creature every day.
I am flawless and have never made any mistakes or done anything wrong in my life, so it seems appropriate that I share with you my secrets of doing everything perfectly while maintaining clear skin and an amazing sleep schedule.
My first tip is to make sure you’re eating super healthy. Definitely don’t skip breakfast because you slept in an extra 15 minutes, definitely don’t skip lunch because you worked through it (again), and definitely don’t just eat a ridiculous amount of buttered noodles when you get home at 9:30pm. Snacking on candy throughout the day is right out, and taking a multivitamin can really only cover for so many sins. You’ll want to plan out nicely portioned and packaged organic balanced meals with planned healthy snacks. Gotta fuel your body with the nutrients you need!
The next tip is to set aside blocks of time throughout the week for your different activities! If Mondays are set aside for schoolwork, focus on that to get it done. There is no possible way that the only day your case study group can meet is on Tuesday so you have to miss your lesson. Not even a thing that happens. It’s all about setting up your schedule in advance because you have complete control over these things!
Protect your weekends. With work and school during the week, your weekends are your time to catch up on errands, see friends, and spend quality time at the barn. You probably don’t have any trips scheduled ever, and it’s unlikely that you have weddings to attend in the near future. You definitely are always at home and available to catch up on things.
Most importantly, make time to ride consistently. How can you get better (or even maintain) if you’re not getting consistent saddle time?! You need to spend time on your own improvement and keep your horse in shape!
I mean, when you’re out of town on those RARE trips, I guess the barn rat can hop on to keep your horse moving.
And when that case study needs to get done and the group can only meet on lesson day, I suppose he can get a training ride instead.
And when your immune system just shuts down from exhaustion and you can’t stop coughing, maybe he can be used in a lesson.
Screw it, guys. I’m getting floppier by the day, relying on my entire barn fam to keep Frankie fit and in work, and taking it one day at a time.
To all my fellow ammies juggling all that life brings, I salute you.