The Between-Shows Training

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.

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v v casual

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.

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The least muss. The least 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.”

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Very little is a hardship to this guy, he’s living a real good life

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!

Houston We Have Liftoff

Of all the rides I’ve had on Frankie, this is the one that I truly wish we had video of. Not because it was a paragon of correctness and grace. Not because it highlighted all of our natural strengths.

No. I want video for the pure comedy gold.

Our exercise this past week has been a series of trot-in one-strides, inspired by an exercise Joe Fargis has recommended in the past. It was set as so:

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OMG we haven’t had a powerpoint course diagram in 5ever right?!

The full exercise was simply weaving across the ring from A to B to C to D. The first jump in each was always a crossrail, but the second jump went progressively higher. Seems very simple and straightforward, right? Right. It actually is a very straightforward exercise.

But here’s the cool part about it: since everything is trotting in, your horse cannot rely on speed to make it out over the second jump. The striding is set fairly short, so speed actively makes it more difficult (and cheating to allow more space by getting crooked was Not Allowed). The only way to make it out is to power off the hind end.

So yeah, we were basically doing super-sets of squats with our horses with this exercise.

The first time we did this earlier in the week, we ended up putting the back jumps up to roughly 3’ish to encourage a bigger effort, then backing the height back down to make sure we were still able to stay super straight and careful even at lower heights. It was a great way to work on strength for our horses and correctness of position and placement for us riders.

We’re not at the comedy part yet.

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Unrelated he’s just a camera ham

The second time we did this was during a lesson I had with our juniors. It started out similarly – working to keep Frankie straight through a combination of leg and opening rein as needed, staying out of his way when he wanted to stretch over the oxers, overall building on what we had done previously.

But you know what the juniors do? They jump big.

So Trainer jacks the back jumps up to whatever height (3’6″? more? no clue but it looked real big) and has us go again. Quick reminder that I haven’t jumped that height in a super long time but I was thinking not a big deal, I know my horse and he’s a pretty smooth ride and I definitely haven’t forgotten everything about how to jump bigger.

Turns out that I’m really quite comfortable getting to bigger jumps at speed.

What do you get when you take away that speed, add extreme power in the hind end, and jack the oxer up real big?

HOUSTON, YOU GET LIFTOFF.

I swear zero part of me was making any sort of contact with Frankie. I was completely airborne. He went up, I went up with him, and then I KEPT GOING UP. Launched into the stratosphere. The air started getting thinner. I had time to reflect on all the choices that had carried me into the rafters.

I somehow managed to land on top of my horse as he calmly and quietly cantered away. AND PROCEEDED TO DO THIS 5 MORE TIMES.

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“Mahm. Suck less.”

On the plus side, I very much stayed out of his way so he was never punished for putting in such a powerful effort. On the other side, the reason I stayed out of his way was because I was nowhere near him. There was a solid 6″ of air between me and my saddle.

Trainer was cracking up laughing, I was cracking up laughing (while desperately trying to keep my stirrups), and Frankie was boppin’ around wondering what was so funny.

From the way it felt and the way Trainer described it, Francis basically gave us a really incredible hunter-style jump. You know the kind you see in a derby, where the horse is not moving quickly and then they just LAUNCH super powerfully over the big jump. And then they land back in the same quiet rhythm. It’s why I don’t get annoyed at the big hunter riders for having less-than-perfect equitation – that type of explosive jump out of that quieter pace is BONKERS difficult to stay with.

And now I have first hand experience of this and no thank you I have zero aspirations to do any big hunter classes ever in my life good lord that is INSANE.

I hit the gym with our new barn manager (who I’m slightly obsessed with HI COLLEEN I KNOW YOU’RE READING THIS YOU’RE/WE’RE INCREDIBLE) a few hours later because wow ok Francis if you’re going to work that hard I gotta step up my game to match.

Next time I’m bringing a hang glider to assist in my return to earth.

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LITERALLY HOW ARE YOU SO SWEET AND PERFECT ALL THE TIME

Porpoise for President

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.

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One of our many trips, this one to RI to visit family!

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.

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My friend sent me this while I was out of town. She is his favorite auntie because she always gives scratches and leaves treats in his bucket ❤

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.

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We did hill sets recently and I was brave enough to trot which displeased Francis greatly. But the view and breeze from the top weren’t too bad at all.

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.

Porpoise for president.

OK Showoff

Recently, Franklin has been a downright pleasure to ride.

Don’t get me wrong, the Big Man has always been a joy and I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every ride with him. Even the “meh” rides with him always have something redeeming for me to focus on.

But for a while, it was a different type of enjoyment. It was a developing kind of enjoyment, where I had the satisfaction of knowing that we were building skills together and helping each other learn new ways of doing things. Tackling new challenges to push our limits and improve. We were in that mode basically since day 1, mastering new skills  and heights and then looking for the next one to push for.

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Bigger jumps, wider jumps, harder striding

As you know, we’re keeping things a little easier lately. We’ve put the jumps back down to 1m or lower, we’re competing less, and we’re not aiming at any particular goal right now. We’re not pushing that hard for new skills or heights, we’re working diligently to be better at the ones already solidly in our toolbox.

And Frankie completely and totally gets it. I haven’t had to explain anything for him lately. There has been no learning curve or delay while we both try to figure out what the right answer is. He has promptly understood and delivered every. single. thing. I’ve asked him to do.

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Me: Go be cute. Francis: U MEAN LIKE DIS

A few major examples that pop into my mind are from recent lessons. A few weeks ago, he warmed up beautifully – softly and happily, really just lovely. While that may be pleasant to flat, historically that translates to a weak and underpowered jump from him. At shows we joke that if he’s too happy in the warmup, we need to ruin his day a little bit to get him fired up enough for our round. So I was prepared to have to wrestle with him a bit during our first course to get him firing on all cylinders.

Imagine my surprise when he was forward, adjustable, listening, and jumping extremely well. No need to ruin his day at all. I think this was partially due to me providing more proactive support (albeit in anticipation of needing to provide more), but I do think it’s at least partially his own knowledge and fitness being at the point where his job makes sense to him. There is a definite sense of things “clicking” for him lately, where it used to take a bit longer for him to fully understand the rules of the game.

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Don’t let these happy ears fool you, historically he really only jumps well when he’s mad

And this past week, we were schooling a diagonal line to a bending line. Trainer didn’t tell me the striding, so the first time we went through and it rode in a very comfortable, slightly flowing 4 to a 5. Very easy.

You all know that Trainer doesn’t like when things are too easy, so of course she asked me to go back through and school the add. Do it in a 5 to a 6. You all also know that the add has always been a tough sell for Frankie – it’s hard to get that big body compressed and powerful enough!

So I approached the line, sat him down to collect him, got a really wonderfully collected carousel horse canter, got him to the base, and asked him to fit it in.

And this beast went and did it in 6. And then bent out in 7, and then happily kicked up to a hand gallop for our next fence.

That’s right, folks. We got the elusive double add.

Honestly having this much adjustability feels like a bit too much power and responsibility for me, but I’m tickled pink that he understands that cue so well now and is able to execute it so well. Seeing his thinking ears and then seeing him be so proud of himself at every “Good man!!” is a different and wonderful kind of joy.

At the end of the day I’m happy if Frankie is happy, and seeing him blossom under the praise for a job well done is just what I said above – a downright pleasure.

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My sweet sweet angel boy

A Constant Student

Since I kicked off classes last week, I’ve really started getting back into the student-mindset. Despite being out of school for close to 6 years at this point, I found that certain patterns came back as soon as I started reviewing the first syllabus. Almost like a muscle memory.

I did the same thing I used to do in undergrad – mark deadlines on the calendar, build a study plan for each week, go through my checklist of materials to make sure I had everything. I started reading some of the articles and textbook chapters, taking notes and jotting down thoughts where I agreed or disagreed with the conclusions. There’s something refreshing about the expectation of forming an opinion as a student, while the professional world is so much more about achieving harmonious consensus.

I found that this attitude also spilled over into my recent rides with Francis.

Last weekend I had spent a few hours on school-work in the morning, and then took a break to go get some air and work with the Frankfurter. And you would have thought he was a cart horse. Plodding along with zero intention of moving faster than a slow shuffle.

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Walking is HARD moving is HARD I just want TREATS

My usual instinct in those situations is to push. It’s time to work, so I need him moving. Sometimes this is exactly what he needs! But I started thinking about some of the articles I had read about conditioning work, some of the conversations I had with some professionals I admire, and some of the patterns that I’ve noticed with Frankie’s work ethic.

And I decided to let him do his cart-horse shuffle for a solid 10 minutes. On the buckle, wandering the ring, no instruction beyond simply moving his body in a way that he felt comfortable. And then we started trotting a little. Still on a loose rein, still making big loops, maybe a few shallow serpentines to help him start bending through his body. Then a few easy walk-trot transitions to help him start listening. Slowly slowly starting to pick up a light contact as he started focusing in on me and the work.

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Not trying to go too hard too fast, just letting the muscles warm up

By the time I hopped off, I had a forward fresh horse who had just given me some of the best trot-canter transitions I had ever gotten out of him. Balanced, stepping under, lifted through his back. Absolutely lovely.

And then this past weekend, we had a lesson with AT (who you all know absolutely kicks my butt). She opted to let us warm ourselves up while she observed, just intermittently calling out when she wanted us to do something different. While I do love my guided warmups, it felt really good to tune into what Frankie needed and just focus on that in the moment – tons of figures off the rail, lots of transitions within gaits, slowly picking up the contact and asking for more engagement.

I joked with AT that I probably work harder when I know she’s watching my own work than I do when she’s telling me what to do, since I don’t want her to think I’m slacking. It was really encouraging though, I do tend to be pretty reliant on my trainers and this was a great reminder that I do know what we need to work on and I can work on it independently. I’m glad that’s a skillset my trainers encourage, rather than wanting me to always depend on them for everything.

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My favorite activity is making matching faces

Frankie was obedient if a bit heavy in our flat work. Several years later he does still think that carrying his own body around is some sort of bogus hard work, but as he gains some fitness back it’s improving. But you know what gets rid of the heaviness and revs the engine more than anything else?

Jumping. It was hysterical – I had a lazy horse who was giving me pretty good work but was requiring a TON of effort on my part, and then we pointed him at a crossrail and all of a sudden we had gas in the tank. It was our first time jumping in the outdoor this season, and he was SO happy to stretch out his stride a bit. I could even feel him think about porpoising a bit! He didn’t because he’s Francis, but I definitely could sense him considering it. I ain’t mad, he was having fun and feeling good.

Our coursework that day was just lovely. He gave me everything I asked for, and for the most part I was had the wherewithal to ask for what I needed. His tendency was to stretch his stride out to monster proportions in the bigger ring, but to his credit he did soften and come back to a more useful canter as soon as I asked. It used to take a long time to make that adjustment and nowadays he brings it under much more quickly. We were able to put some of the jumps up (not huge, but bigger than we’ve jumped in a while) and it just felt effortless.

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Literally how is he such an angel, this horse is the most amazing creature

It does feel that lately I’ve turned a bit of a corner in my ability to think on course. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I know my horse so well now, that he’s so educated, that I needed the mental break for a few months, or a combination of all of these. But I’m feeling much more able to make a plan for my ride and then execute where necessary, while still adjusting in the moment to give Frankie what he needs. I don’t think there’s a super visible change, but it’s this subtle change in my own perceptions of what we’re doing.

At the end of the day, I’m excited to learn new things and pursue my degree, but I think I’m most excited to be back in the mindset of a student and apply that mindset to everything else in my life.

Why Does My Horse Keep Outsmarting Me: A Memoir

Guys.

He did it again.

My darling Francisco played me like a fiddle.

You’d think after almost 3 years I would’ve learned by now, but apparently only ONE of us actually retains anything.

Basically since I’ve gotten back from Ohio and gotten Frankie back into work, he’s been….blah. Not bad at all, just kinda….blah. Rushy behind at the trot, short-strided at the canter, very behind my leg with no inclination to come up and meet me.

And in true dumb-dumb fashion, I responded by lightening my seat, softening my reins, and encouraging him to move out more. In my defense, that doesn’t sound like a crazy reaction, right?! Opening the door to invite my pokey horse to move forward?

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You’d think I would’ve learned at our FIRST SHOW that a light seat has literally never been the right answer for the Frankfurter

So the other night in my lesson, I was doing this and getting “meh” reactions to it. Again, nothing terrible. Just….meh. We started popping over a few small jumps and again, he was kinda tuning me out, mincing little steps, adding strides in (which he almost NEVER does). I was at least partially blaming the belly band I’ve started using to prevent spur rubs – be careful what you wish for, because it certainly does dull my spur for better or for worse. And at that point my trainer chimed in:

“Olivia go wrestle with him a little. Stop asking and start insisting.”

Does that sound familiar? So I sat down, took a feel, booted him up, and stopped allowing the mincing steps.

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Unlike this day where I encouraged the mincing sorry for the conflicting messages Francis

What did I get?

I GOT MY HORSE BACK. HE ACTUALLY CARRIED ME TO THE JUMPS AND WENT STRAIGHT TO GET HIS CHANGES AND COULD BEND LEFT LIKE A NORMAL HORSE THAT IS TOTALLY FINE.

He was SO mad (which in Francis-world means his ears were at neutral position and he tossed his head twice #dramatic). His plan was finally foiled.

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Throwback to a few weeks ago when he fake-spooked at something so I made him canter a few laps and that made him pout and act exhausted for the next 45 minutes because he is so completely uncommitted to being bad

But guys. Next time I say anything about Frankie being less than ideal, please remind me that it’s 100% my own problem for letting him get away with it. Literally as soon as I gave him a solid whack behind my leg and got in his face a little he was a million times better. It’s like he didn’t want to show up to work until I had committed to showing up for work.

WHICH I SHOULD KNOW BY NOW BECAUSE THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.

 

Re-Tuning The Engine

Now that we’re past WEC, the weather is starting to get a little more mild, and Francis is totally recovered from his heel grab, we’re starting to get back into the swing of things with a bit more consistency. Homeboy and I both thrive on consistency, so I’m really happy to keep the learning train going.

We had a fantastic lesson over the weekend that ended up being entirely flatwork-focused and included some basic pole work, and it highlighted some really useful things for us to focus on moving forward.

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Someday I’ll learn to stop sniffing mane (or not). Photos all unrelated but my friend sent me some from WEC 🙂 PC – K. Borden

The big one right now is getting that self-carriage back into play. I haven’t insisted on it for a while since I’ve been in toodling mode, but everything gets so much easier when I have a balanced powerful creature under me. Go figure. Luckily we’re starting at a different baseline than last year – this time around, he already knows the game. He’s just pretty sure he doesn’t have to play the game and would really rather not thankyouverymuch.

His walk has always been very forward and full of movement and he’s gotten much happier about continuing that fluidity on a contact, and he’s had an absolutely lovely canter since day one (and now that we can collect more, it’s just gotten lovelier). It’s the trot that has given him the most trouble with forward, straight, and round. To work on this, we’re doing a lot in the sitting trot. Since that trot is his worst gait, having me sit deeper and wrap around to help pick him up is majorly helpful. It’s much easier to help him find that softness and roundness from there and carry it into our posting trot than it is to build that straight off while posting.

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Part One of the PowerPose sequence. Bigs and Littles all invited. PC – K. Borden

We also threw in quite a bit of lateral work to keep his brain engaged and I have to tell you, a busy-brain Francis is an amazing creature to ride. It’s like when he’s bored he kinda tunes out and drones around, but giving him something challenging to try gets him fired up and incredibly tuned in. Trotting leg-yield zigzags gave us some really lovely trot work and helped correct some problems we were having with the bend. Working on some canter half-passes was a downright magical button where suddenly his canter got a thousand times more powerful and light in my hand. I’m certainly still working on how to ask clearly for that, but he was right there delivering when I got it right. I’m still kinda riding the high from those few correct steps.

I also think I’m going to switch back to a driving rein for a while. At this point I know how to squeeze him up and forward, but I’d like to give him somewhere a little more elastic to go in my hand. The way he needs to be ridden has certainly shifted as we’ve both gotten more educated, so I’d like to respond to that and give him a chance to raise his own bar a bit.

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Part Two before heading to the show ring with a VERY skeptical mare. PC – K. Borden

As much as I loved getting to learn from Belle at WEC, I enjoy working on the flat with Francis SO much. Obviously he’s a beast over fences and I love flying with him and jumper ring 5ever. But raising the ante on the flat and gaining more and more precision and control of our movements is downright addicting, especially with how willing and teachable he is. I can see why you dressage folks are so passionate about it.

It’s funny, there was a tweet lately that simply asked: “how do you cue for the canter?” There were tons of responses that were super detailed – sit deeper on my outside seat bone, scoop with my abs, steady outside rein, etc etc etc. Like, REAL detailed. And I realized that at this point I have no idea how to respond. That’s not to say I don’t know how to cue for the canter, obviously. I just have no idea how to articulate what I’m doing. I just kinda do it. And that’s the case for a lot of what I do with Frankie. Obviously I’m doing something right at some points, because it’s working. But isolating and articulating what each part of my body is doing? Hard. It’s simply not how my brain learns and processes, I need the visual and feel much more than I need the words.

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Part Three EVERYONE PULL IT TOGETHER THIS IS SERIOUS. PC – K. Borden

I was trying to explain what a half-pass is to my non-horsey father. Eventually I was able to adequately explain the movement (I think, though he may have just humored me and said he got it). He asked how I ask Frankie for it. My super detailed answer? “I just kinda…push. Over. Like, off my leg. But also my other leg. And my seatbone is there too. Both seatbones really. But one more than the other. And my hands. They’re there.”

So detail, much explain.

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Someday I’ll learn to jump the center of a fence….or not. PC – K. Borden

There’s a reason why I’d be a terrible coach and why I’m not that good at telling people how to ride my horse. You’ve seen my instructions, they’re literally just to kick and take a feel and everything magically falls into place. I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more in play there. Just don’t ask me to articulate it.

Bringing it back to where we started talking about our lesson, I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on with my body, but I can tell you that it’s working. Even getting it wrong is fun with Frankie – if I’m getting it wrong, it means we’re trying something new and eventually we’ll figure it out. I just love getting to work with him and I love how engaged and eager he is to learn.

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Much love for the best team ❤ PC – K. Borden

First Lesson Back!

Frankie and I had a lesson this past weekend. Which may not seem like a huge deal but it TOTALLY IS BECAUSE WE HAVEN’T LESSONED SINCE MID-NOVEMBER OMG. Two months. TWO MONTHS. I literally have not had a lesson in two freakin’ months, and have jumped 2 crossrails in that time. BUT WE FINALLY DID THE THING.

I approached this lesson with a certain amount of trepidation- I am comically out of shape, out of practice, out of whack, out of pretty much everything. Frankie has been in his 2x/week program with AT for about 6 weeks now though, and this really ended up being our saving grace. We had decided to restart his bootcamp before restarting mine so that he could help me get back in shape, and it’s working exactly as intended.

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I went for a jog with Nick to try to get back in shape and then my knee hurt because I am a decrepit piece of trash but my new leggings are cute so I made him take a picture to prove that I tried. It’s been a rollercoaster.

My trainer had me warm up a little differently than we have in the past. In the past we’ve been very much about setting the tone early, placing him where I want him from the get-go, and riding very strongly off the bat.

But this time, she told me not to worry about anything for a while. Don’t worry about trying for too much forward, don’t worry about asking for too much contact, just trot around for a bit to let him stretch his muscles. Ask for a little bend through the turns. Leave him alone. Leg steady and on but not nagging. We slowly started adding in some lengthening and collecting. A little shoulder-in down the long sides, then straight and forward. Big circle then smaller circle. Wide loopy serpentine. No pressure, no worries.

And you know what we got? We got a very very happy Frankie, who loosened and stretched over his back, softened up into the bridle, and kept a lovely light connection without hanging on my hand. It took longer than it does when I ride more strongly, but he was offering this up to me because he wanted to- not because I was telling him to. It was truly delightful. Especially because I lack the muscle strength to really place him where I want him, it was super cool to adjust how I ride to allow him to place himself.

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Completely unrelated I just really like this picture from Christmas Eve at my in-laws. Yep, there’s a post-wedding mustache in the works.

Our jumping exercise focused more on letting Frankie place himself: halting after jumps. We’ve done this plenty of times and it’s always been tough. Once we get the momentum going for the jump, it’s hard for Francis to sit back on his butt to stop in a straight line! Continuing the theme from our warmup, Trainer had us approach it differently than we have in the past:

My job: stay straight over the jump, sit up, and steer straight towards the wall.
Frankie’s job: stop before he hits the wall.

That was literally it. No pulling. No arguing. He has enough self-preservation to not run into the wall, and I simply allowed him to exercise that.

I gotta tell you- it went against all my instincts to not try and pull up. But it WORKED. I know it isn’t rocket science, but it was so cool. Since day 1 Frankie has needed a lot of input on what to do with his body, and now that he’s so well-broke we’re turning our attention to building his ability to think for himself. It kept him super mentally engaged in the work even though the jumps were small and it set up him to give good answers. He was visibly proud of himself by the end.

While one of the purposes of this exercise was to let Frankie learn to stop himself, it was also a big exercise in straightness. Since these jumps were across the diagonal, it was natural that Frankie would continue on through the end of the ring, which often meant that he would lean a shoulder over the jump in anticipation. But every time we halted at the wall, I’d turn a different direction afterwards. After doing this a couple times, Frankie stopped leaning. He jumped straight over his body and CUTE. And he stopped anticipating the turn.

So eventually when I didn’t ask for the halt and instead asked him to continue through the end of the ring, he went straight into the corner with great balance, gave a beautiful change, and was right there waiting for my input up to the next fence. And all this with a fairly light steady contact.

You know how I know that it worked? Trainer said, “this is the kind of ride that would be really nice in a derby.”

That’s right, guys. After close to three years of working together to build our skills and abilities, we’ve developed our straightness, our balance, our body awareness, and our just-plain-cuteness to the point that my Trainer thinks we could put in a good showing in a hunter derby.

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Basically what I’m trying to say is that he is the next Brunello and that is in no way an exagerration. PC- USEF Network

So it looks like we may be trying one out this season! Like I said before, we don’t have any crazy big competition goals for this year besides having fun, and it sounds super fun to try something new with the Frankfurter. Not to mention that I think he’ll have a good time with it too- while he’s learned to be a pro in the jumper ring, it’ll be a nice mental break for him to do something a little steadier and a little simpler. Trainer is a big proponent of her horses going in multiple rings for just that reason- switching it up and letting them try new things makes for happier horses.

I’m also a financial masochist and asked for a quote on showing at WEC in February. But more on that later.

PS- who wants to come hang out with me to take pics and/or videos? I have no images of me going faster than a walk since September 19th and I wish I was making that up. I’ll buy you tacos, I’m not above bribery.

Reaping the Benefits

You know how after every single ride I spaz out about how great my horse is and how much I love him? Hope you’re not sick of that yet ’cause it’s still a thing. Sorry not sorry.

I’m really just overjoyed at how much he’s taking care of me lately. I’m not nearly in the shape I was a few months ago, my mental focus is pretty scattered, and I went around half the ring yesterday on the wrong diagonal before my trainer’s laughter caught my attention.

20 years of riding under professional instruction. And I forgot to check my diagonal.

So yeah, clearly I’m not “all there” for him right now. You know how he handles it? Happy ears, obediently going left when I have an oh-crap-turn-left-not-right moment, toting my potato butt around without complaint. It’s awesome.

I have to share our course because of how cool it was. Trainer said it was an adaptation from the West Coast 3’3″ Jumper Seat Medal Finals that happened last week- I love finals season because we get to try out all the fun Big Eq courses! We sometimes have to tweak a bit for the shape/size of the arena but they’re always fun to play with. Here it is:

west coast gymnastic course

So it’s corner oxer, forward bending 4 strides to bounce, shaped short 5 out over the natural; other natural to box in a flowing 4, s-turn out over blue in a short 4; up the outside line in a one to a three; then other s-turn also in a forward 4 to short 4.

Phew!

This course was SO MUCH FUN. Lots of rating our stride bigger and smaller and focusing on our track. That one stride to the three felt incredible. I was a Big Eq Princess in that moment. It just came up perfectly and I could sit there and look pretty as my horse flowed effortlessly through. I think that’s what being on drugs must feel like because I am jonesing for another hit of that.

I guess I’m just really thrilled with how easy this all felt for him. It was ok that I wasn’t all there giving him explicit instructions, because he didn’t really need that much input despite the technicality of the course. He rated easily, he was prompt off my leg and forward-thinking, he was straight up easy to ride.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked really hard to educate him to the job. It’s been a joy and has gone quite smoothly, but it’s definitely still been a lot of sweat and time. And I plan to continue putting in the sweat and the time to continually improve both of our abilities.

But right now in this in-between where I’m not super actively training, I feel like I’m getting to sit back and enjoy the outcome of all that hard work. I’m simply enjoying my incredibly well-trained horse.

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Also really enjoying his love of drinking from the hose ❤

 

Hello Please Hold

EVERYBODY STOP THE PRESSES WE ARE DOING A LESSON RECAP FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A MILLION YEARS.

I had my first group lesson in a while with some of my barnmates- my friend on her fancy hunter, one of the juniors on her fancy eq horse, and a fellow ammy on her brand new 4yo hunter (who is SWOON gorgeous). Basically a sea of beautiful horses and riders and then me and my chunky overgrown pony.

Francis was…fine. It’s not that he was bad or disobedient, it just felt kinda like when you call a customer care center and they put you on hold. They eventually pick up. When they dang sure feel like it and not one second sooner. He did not feel as eager to play the game as he usually does. Granted- it was a trillion degrees out and humid, and he’s pretty out of shape (still weeping softly that he lost fitness SO FRICKIN’ FAST) so I’m not surprised that he wasn’t the most fiery and adjustable. We took lots of walk breaks to stretch and rest.

I’m going to ignore the other jumps we did so I can show you this gymnastic. I think Trainer said she got it from McLain or something, so you know it’s gotta be good.

mclain_gymnastic

It’s a canter in to a crossrail, bounce to a small oxer, then two strides to another small oxer with a ground pole placed as marked. We only did it a few times due to the heat, but I think this was a really useful exercise for Frankenbean.

The bounce to the wide oxer meant that we had to come in with plenty of power to press across, but then he had to rate himself back for the two stride. My job was to keep my leg on, follow with my hand, and let him figure himself out. Educating him to adjust himself like that is something we’ve been constantly working on since it doesn’t come naturally to him.

It’s funny- he’s a super duper easy horse to ride in the sense that if you tell him to do something, you can absolutely trust that he will do that thing. But I’ve had some people hop on and tell me that can make him a tougher ride for beginners for exactly that reason- he needs a lot of input to know what he’s supposed to do and they’re not equipped to manage that. He’s just not a super independent thinker. Food for thought.

After getting a nice trip through the gymnastic where we got some softness and good pace, I asked to be done on that note. I felt like I had been low-key arguing with Frankie all evening to get him on board with the plan, and wanted to reward him for listening and agreeing to play the game.

I also signed him up for a massage next week as a preemptive measure. We’re trying to get him back into *moderately good* shape which likely means some tired muscles, and I don’t want him getting sore and cranky about being back in a program. Yes, I signed my horse up for a massage because he felt a little less unicorn-y than usual in one lesson. It’s a new level of spoiling the Big Beast. BUT HE’S REAL CUTE AND DESERVES IT.

We have an official schedule for who is riding him on different days of the week, which is just in time for my trip north this weekend for wedding stuffs. 93 days left to go and I can’t even wait.

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We’re gonna take family pics like this together until we’re all old and decrepit

Random quick PSA- if you’re ever in the mood for a pick-me-up, look at the Highlights marked “Snugs” on my Instagram. It’s exclusively pics and videos of Francis being a sweet bean. I figure if it makes me so happy to see it, maybe it’ll make other people happy too 🙂