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
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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.

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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 🙂

Recent Videos!

I somehow managed to get several recent videos to share! I’m excited for you to see the Frankenbean in full force being a rockstar.

First up: our speed round from Blue Rock. I used to hate speed rounds- we were never that fast- but it has quickly become my favorite format. This round wasn’t blindingly fast and we did have a rail coming out of the 4 stride vertical-vertical line (when we were walking the course, I knew that would be a potential trouble spot to get him rocked back hard enough there) so we were out of the ribbons in a competitive class, but I was overall very happy with this course. As always there is rider error to work on (anyone see that short one into the combo because I didn’t set up the track properly AGAIN), but Francisco is one happy boy out there.

Next up are a few clips from our lesson last Friday. I wish I could express just how fantastic he was, it was seriously one of the best lessons we’ve ever had. He was so tuned in and workmanlike from the moment I got in the irons. Gah. I’ll just let you watch. He’s amazing. I did not have this horse under me 3 months ago, I can tell you that. Both our trainers have really been pushing us to raise the bar and he keeps coming out and showing us just how hard he can work.

Hope you enjoy getting to see the Frankenbeast strut his stuff! He’ll be doing a 1.20m class with AT at Upperville during the week, and then we’ll be doing our High division Fri-Sun. Can’t wait to get out there with the biggest bestest brownest unicorn!

Ow. My Legs.

Before I get into talking about how my legs hurt so much, I have to tell you about my meetup with Liz and Austen!! We got to meet up (huskies in tow) out in Middleburg for lunch, and it was so fantastic to be able to just talk ponies and cocktails. It’s the funniest feeling meeting blog friends in real life- even though it was our first time seeing each other in the real world, it felt like we already knew each other so well. I was hoping they would have time to come meet Frankie, and even more fantastically they had their cameras with them!

It was so lovely to get to introduce them to Frankie. I know I may be biased because I’m his mother, but there is something so special about that horse and I love getting to share that spark with friends. He was enthralled with the huskies and was on the lookout for scritches the whole time. We even popped Liz and Austen up for a brief ride- Frankie was a bit confused that he still had to work, but was happy enough to go be a good goober for both of them. It makes my heart so happy to see him go be such a good soul. Bonus: I have so many absolutely gorgeous pictures to share with you guys!!

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This one is absolutely getting framed. Liz, somehow you managed to capture Frankie so beautifully and with such kindness, and it brings tears to my eyes.

Now on to my muscle soreness: we have officially entered the era of private lessons once more. It’s been two weeks with my new flex schedule and while it’s been a bit of an adjustment to get out the door earlier in the mornings, it’s ABSOFREAKIN’ FANTASTIC. I may never be able to go back to a normal schedule again, you guys. So far we’ve had two (incredible) private lessons on Friday afternoons, and here are some jumbled thoughts that I have so far:

  • In our first lesson, we did not jump a single fence. We worked on correct transitions, channeling our energy straight and powerfully, and convincing Frankie that I know what I’m doing up top (which is only sometimes true, but he doesn’t need to know that). I was sweaty and dying by the end.
  • Frankie absolutely can and should carry himself, and he is smart enough to know that historically I have not insisted on this. He does not test Trainer or AT. He does test me- which is fair. We had a few mini-tantrums when I continued to insist, but once we pushed past that he gave me INCREDIBLE work. He’s pretty sure this whole “work super hard to build muscle and self-carriage” thing is bogus, but he seems to be resigning himself to it.
  • THIS IS SO FREAKIN’ HARD. My muscles are so sore. Like, muscles that I don’t usually use for riding are sore. Which is actually also super encouraging, because it means that I’m moving in different ways and the whole point of this is to be doing things differently and better. But ow. Seriously, ow.
  • Francis is, as always, my tattletale. My leg comes off? Head immediately pops up and he totally inverts. I stop engaging my core? Prancing jigging steps. He is happy to work, but only as hard as I am. And he will not give me what I’m asking unless I ask properly, which makes him such an excellent teacher! Luckily he’s patient as I work through all the ways to *not* ask properly before landing on the right way.
  • He needs to respect this new bit- he cannot park on the end of it like he did with the snaffle. If he learns to park on this bit, we have just lost all our adjustability that we gained with the additional leverage. This is why I must insist on that self-carriage, and it’s why my trainer didn’t entrust me with this type of bit until quite recently.
  • Rewards must be quick and frequent. As soon as I feel him soften, I must soften in return- but not until I get that softening. Reward the good, and respond to resistance with consistent but firm correction. Set him up to answer correctly so that we can reward often.
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We take breaks when we are a good pony. PC- Liz
  • When we have the right canter, we don’t need to see a spot. In our last lesson, I felt like I nailed every single distance to every single fence. Some were a little longer or shorter than others, but every single one felt powerful and out of stride. He was so adjustable and powerful that getting to that right spot was downright easy, and he rewarded me by cracking his back over the fences- I got popped out of the tack a few times because of the strength of his effort!
  • Riding him more strongly and insisting on more is downright addicting. Of course he’s always a blast to ride, but feeling that balance and power underneath me is the most incredible feeling. I was grinning through my entire last ride. I was also panting and sweating trying to get all my muscles to move in concert, but I was on the verge of giggling as I felt Frankie round up into the bridle and push. I didn’t ever want to hop off.
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“Do not want work, pls stop.” (as I gasp for air) PC- Liz

In a nutshell, I’m trying to learn how to ride Frankie like my trainer rides Frankie. And it’s really really hard and a lot of work and everything hurts and it is so incredibly fun as we both learn the rules of the game.

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THE SWEETEST SNOOT. PC- Liz

Muscles are sore, heart is full, and I’m so beyond thrilled with the Big Best Beast.

Thoroughbred Francis

What do you get when you have the chiropractor out to make your horse feel good, but then they get stuck in their stall for two days because of the snow?

You get a Francis who is acting like a bona fide TB. No more WB. Just TB.

Now, I don’t mean OMG HE WAS CRAZY AND FAST. Because our barn is full to the gills of TBs and OTTBs, and exactly zero of them are crazy or fast. Including the babies right off the track. Also can you imagine Francis being crazy? Because I can’t (even his foolishness is not crazy).

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Nooo, I is never naughty

But he was very much in the mentality of YOU WANNA PULL I WILL PULL RIGHT BACK LADY. And it wasn’t malicious or cranky, he was just feeling really good and wanted to go do his thang.

He was a very good boy warming up, pushing from behind and quite responsive. A titch fast at the canter- our lengthenings felt a little more lengthy than usual, and our collections felt a little more bouncy than usual too- but he felt nice and bendy and bouncy. All good things.

He bounded over a crossrail a few times to warm up, then we switched directions, and he did his fun root-n-play move around our next course. Meaning I just kinda slipped my reins, kept my leg on, and gave extra big releases over the fences to reward his big effort. Useful to work through together? Yes. AIN’T NO FUN THO.

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“You’re not exactly a barrel of laughs all the time either, lady”

So the next course, I was determined to not pick a fight. I was not going to engage. I was going to stay super duper soft through my hands, keep a steady leg, and a light seat.

And all of a sudden, happy Francis was right there with me, cantering around so softly and turning left like a dang professional.

I got a head toss in the next course when I used too much hand.

And then as soon as I softened at him, he softened right back. Lovely little stride, stepping under, straight through his body. Absolutely delightful.

I think absolutely none of this is groundbreaking stuff for anyone, but it was certainly an adjustment in how I usually have to ride my horse. He’s always been a “more” type of horse- add more leg, take more feel, get in the driving seat. He’s such a chill dude that any urgency has to come from me. So getting to practice that softness without sacrificing the strength was a majorly useful exercise for both of us.

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THROW AWAY THE REINS. BUT NOT LIKE, ALL THE WAY. BUT A LOT OF THE WAY. NOT THAT MUCH. MAYBE MORE THO. IDK.

I’m really happy with how he feels after getting adjusted- the chiro mentioned that he noticed some tightness in his back and pelvis, and he feels noticeably looser and more flexible under saddle now. We’re also working with our saddle fitter to get things 100% perfect on that front (we’re getting closer!), he’ll continue to get chiro semi-regularly, I may look into massage, and our vet is coming out in April to do a full exam and a lameness locator baseline evaluation. He’s going to compare these to his notes from Frankie’s pre-purchase to see what/if any changes have taken place, and we’ll decide from there what strategy we’ll pursue moving forward.

So we’re coming at this wellness thing from several angles, and I’m really excited about it. I want to make sure he’s feeling 100% in every way before asking him to jump into a busy show season, and my trainers are completely on board with that. They’ve agreed that the outcomes of all these measures will determine what our show season looks like- Frankie will tell us what kind of workload he can comfortably support.

On that note, I am incredibly grateful for the team of people that works to keep Frankie feeling his best. My trainers could be making more money off of me by pushing me to compete, but they always put Frankie’s health and happiness above everything else. They’re not just fantastic coaches and trainers, but excellent role models for good horsemanship. Our vet cares so deeply about the horses, and has never tried to throw unnecessary treatments at us. Our farrier is just straight up ridiculously competent. There’s this whole crew of amazingly knowledgeable people working in concert to make sure the horses aren’t just sound, but happy and healthy and enjoying their work.

It looks like our next show is penciled in for the end of May, so I’m excited to spend the next couple months honing in hard on Frankie’s well-being. Add in some hacks around the neighborhood once it warms up, and I think we will have a majorly strong, flexible, happy, goofy, fancy show horse on our hands.

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And the cutest show horse. Always the cutest.