Chugging Along

I wish I had something super exciting to share with you, but things are pretty quiet over here!

By quiet I mean that work is very busy but manageably so, school is interesting and fun and not nearly as time-consuming as I had feared, I’ve been spending some wonderful time with friends, and Francis continues to be the World’s Best Horse(TM) at all times forever.

I guess by quiet I actually mean it’s not even a little bit quiet, but it’s been really nice finding a new equilibrium for myself.

I’m now about 5 weeks into my first 7-week term, and I continue to love being a student. Even the dreaded group projects have been great, as I hooked up with 3 other fantastic people who are smart and interesting and great to work with. We share pictures of our dogs every day (we all agreed that Frankie counts as a giant dog) and it’s been a pleasure getting to know them and work with them!

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Everyone needs to see this picture of Francis being the most precious snoozler

On the home front, I bit the bullet and hired a cleaning service to come into our house once a month. So far it has been worth every single penny for peace of mind. Could I just do it myself? Absolutely. But with work and school and the barn and other commitments piling on, I want to be able to just enjoy my limited free time at home with my husband without worrying about chores. It took a major source of stress off the table entirely! I don’t know that it’s something we’ll continue once I finish school and my schedule opens up a bit, but for now it’s some very welcome help.

On the random personal front, I finally got that haircut I’ve been talking about! I told you all how much I hated that super long braid coming out of my helmet, so I went ahead and chopped it all off. My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner bc OMG I LOVE MY NEW HAIRCUT SO MUCH. Seriously, I feel twenty pounds lighter and a million times better.

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I’m not so great at selfies but I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER

On to the star of the show: Frankie continues to be a steady rock of wonderfulness, sharing his happiness every day. He recently accidentally got a week off – between school, work, sickness, and my trainers being gone at a show, he missed his training rides and I didn’t make it out – but I didn’t even find this out until after I hopped on and he was absolutely perfect. He’s constantly re-winning the Best Ammy Horse Ever Award. I can almost see my reflection in his coat right now from the shine, he has little dapples peaking out, and is just looking beautiful right now. I know soon enough he’ll get sunbleached and faded so I’m enjoying that spring coat while it lasts!

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The lighting isn’t great but just look how handsome he is!!! I just can’t stand it.

We have a show coming up later this month and I’m feeling great about it! We’re planning to do a mishmash of things – some Low Adult jumper classes, some adult eq classes, and if the weather holds and they run it outside I’ll do the hunter derby with him too. We’re not trying to qualify for things, we’re not trying to get the jumps higher, we’re just planning to go out there and have fun doing some different work together. I’m incredibly excited to go play with my best boy!

So there you have it. Things are busy, but a good busy, and I’m thoroughly enjoying this stage of life. Hoping to rope a friend into videoing some rides soon so I can have some media to share though – I realized I don’t have any record of me jumping my horse since last year!! I pinky promise that we’ve actually been doing work and he’s been awesome at it. Can’t wait to share when we have something 🙂

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Favorite Exercises

Technically everything is my favorite thing to do with the Frankfurter since he’s a total bro, but there are certain favorite exercises that are even MORE favorite than others. They vary in technicality, but all of them have been super helpful for both myself and for Francis.

Sitting Trot

I’m starting pretty darn basic over here folks. Just about any time I need a reset on anything, or want to work on anything lateral, I get into a nice collected sitting trot. Something about having that full contact through my seat and legs helps things *click* for Frankie more so than any other gait. I know much good advice says that slowing things down helps introduce concepts, but I find his collected trot much more rideable than his walk when I’m asking him to engage his brain. It’s also a great core workout for me and helps me get my hip angle open so that when I’m on course I can have a bit more range of motion. Once we’re warmed up, I like to do quite a lot at the sitting trot when we’re working on the flat (we play around with extensions while sitting sometimes and WOW CORE WORKOUT. Those DQs have abs of steel, man.).

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We also like dropping our stirrups

Shoulder-In

Ah, the magical shoulder in. It is such a tattle tale for us. As soon as I ask for it, it becomes immediately apparent whether Frankie is truly on my aids or if I’m letting him fake it. It’s also juuust enough brain power to help him loosen up his body and focus on me even in a busy ring. If we’ve been doing a lot of lateral work he sometimes will start anticipating by going all pretzel-y, and a gentle shoulder-in helps cut down on the noise and gives his brain a break while still engaging.

Short-set/Irregularly-set grids

We almost never set grids that are at perfect stride lengths. We’ll often do short stride to short stride, short stride to long stride, or long stride to short stride. Never long stride to long stride, because then we’re not really working on adjustability OR rocking back. The imperfect/short options help him figure out how to self-police his stride, which is something that we’re constantly trying to help him build. I credit a huge amount of his muscling and improvement over fences to these short grids.

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Short strides make Frankie mad but they also make dat booty powerful (also this isn’t one jump looped, this is 9ish efforts looped haha)

Canter poles

OK so these aren’t actually a favorite because they terrify me. But I did have to put them on the list since I’ve found them so helpful in building collection and straightness. Frankie is smart enough to not want to step on these, but not smart enough to know he can split his legs over them, so he’s really very good about self-shortening to make it through the poles as set. It’s a nice balance. Placing these on the quarter line also helps tattle on any drift we might have (especially towards the wall) so that I can keep him balanced and straight.

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Poles. Are. Terrifying. (For me, not for Francis. He’s mostly just sad that they are not eatable)

Counter-bend on a circle

One of my favorite things that we work on is making a medium sized circle, then making the same circle with a counter-bend, then going back to the regular bend. This helps unlock his body through his ribcage, and it’s just hard enough that he has to really be paying attention to me. This is one I like to do at the sitting trot to be super present and help him balance, and keep that trot a little more collected.

Most of these exercises have a common theme: they engage Frankie’s brain and challenge him. We intersperse these harder exercises with plenty of stretch breaks for our bodies and brains before going back to it.

I’ve also found that I can tailor the difficulty of these exercises depending on how Frankie feels that day – the circles can be smaller or bigger, the poles/grids can be shorter or a little easier, our lateral work can be a little shallower. I’m also finding that we’re developing new exercises to engage his brain (my new favorite is the canter half-pass, which is still rudimentary but developing really nicely).

I’ll also add that most of these exercises were not ones that I would’ve chosen for us when I first got Frankie and had to firmly install the forward button. At that point we didn’t have enough power in his stride to be able to ask for collection and lateral motion, and our focus was on forward motion at all times. Now that he knows the job and has a solid base level of fitness though, these are my go-tos on working to build our strengths and address our weaknesses.

I’d love to know what you all like to work on with your ponies too!

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 Jumpers?

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BECAUSE THE JUMPERS FRIGHTEN ME

Nah all kidding aside, I was ruminating on this the other day. Frankie and I have played in the equitation, I grew up exclusively doing the hunters/eq, we’ve toodled around baby XC, Frankie has done eventing and hunters and pleasure classes with other riders. I’ve even mentioned that I hope to take him in a hunter derby at some point.

So with all that time spent in other rings, why do I keep our main focus on the jumper ring? It’s not a question of ability – we’ve both been perfectly happy and capable in other disciplines. And it isn’t a question of access – I’m in comfortable driving distance of high-level barns of practically every English discipline. Even my own beloved trainer has a strong record in all three H/J/E (she’s even a hunter R judge).

Circumstances have not forced us into the jumper ring. It is by no means a default, and by no means an accident. In simple terms, I focus us in the jumper ring because I love it there.

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PC – ESI Photography

In my world, training for and competing in the jumper ring combines all of my favorite parts from each discipline and turns them into something even greater than the sum of its parts. There is the precision flatwork of dressage, there is the speed and thrill of eventing, there is the careful effective position of equitation, there is knowing how to bring out the best in my horse from the hunters. And it takes all of these parts and gives back a sport that is pure strategy and focus and fun.

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PC – USHJA

I love the focus on results above all else, but that the results reward the process. Sure, you’re not being judged on your position – but try to go clear on the Frankfurter without a supportive leg and balanced body. See how that works out. And you’re not being judged on your horse’s steadiness of pace or bascule – but try to beat the time and leave the oxers up without a good jump and adjustable stride. At the end of the day though, when the rubber meets the road you have to be willing to dig in and throw out the pretty to make it work.

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PC – K. Borden

I love the strategy of it. How it’s a thinking ride with every single stride. Once that buzzer sounds, there’s no time to be nervous or notice anything else, because a good course demands your attention. It’s all about playing to your horse’s strengths to set them up to succeed through the entire course, with each component building on the next. How you need to ride the plan, but above all else ride the horse you have under you in that moment.

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PC – Hoof Print Images

I love the people. The Zone 3 Adult Jumper riders are all fantastic, and getting to see them and catch up at shows is a treat. We cheer each other on, we wave hello in the warmups, we take pictures for each other. The show crews in our area are wonderful people, ready to say congratulations on a good round and answer my many questions. The warmup rings tend to be surprisingly civilized since most people have done this before and behave accordingly. For all the horror stories I’ve heard of snobbery at the big shows, I’ve never failed to have someone smile back and say thank you when I tell them how pretty their horse is (which I do constantly because I really really really like ponies).

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Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years with Frankie, I love it even more because of how professional and eager he is to do this job. How he starts asking me to move out when he hears the buzzer. How he lands already looking for the next fence, even after we’ve passed through the timers. How he struts back to the gate after a good round with his ears up, proudly knowing he’s done a great job. How I know I can trust him to be right there with me every step of the way.

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PC – K. Borden

It’s not about the speed – we’ve made amazing times not by galloping, but by being deliberate and efficient with our turns. It’s not about the height – I’ve had just as much fun at 0.80m as I have at 1.15m. It’s the power and precision and exhilaration of working with my partner to pull together all our skills to perform.

I’m excited to keep trying new things with the Frankfurter and find great joy in expanding our horizons, but my heart will always be in the jumper ring on the back of my favorite big bay.

Day in the Life: Full Training Edition

So I realized that I talked a ton last year about how busy I was, how much time I spent at the barn, balancing everything, blah blah blah we’re all adults and all have to deal with this Olivia calm down. But then I realized that I never really laid out what that schedule looked like for me, and I’m self-indulgent and want to share.

Without further ado, this is what my schedule looked like when Frankie and I were in hardcore mode. Also this is admittedly an idealized version- we all know that things came up and changed day to day. It looked a little different throughout the week, so I’ll walk through what that was.

Tuesday-Thursday

5:30a- up for a workout. Mostly strength work with resistance bands, with some cardio thrown in. The program I used had fantastic 30-40 min workouts that hit that balance for me really well. (I’m using a different program these days that I actually like MUCH more. Still 5:30a wakeups though)

6:30a- grab breakfast, rinse off, listen to music, tidy up the house if necessary. The Spousal Unit does all the cooking around here so I cover dishes, and I’m usually too tired at night. So morning chores it is.

7:05a/7:15a- head to work. I work about 0.75 miles away from our condo, so I try to walk if weather permits. Sometimes I’m lazy or tired or cold or just a useless lump and I’ll drive. Either way, I call my dad to chat with him to start my day off. It’s the best way to kick off my morning.

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He loves his grandpony

7:30a- log in and start working! Regular office hours are 8:30a-5:30p, but I have an alternate schedule to get me in and out a little earlier. My boss and the entire leadership team seem fascinated by the whole horse thing, so they’ve been incredibly supportive and flexible with me.

5:00p- log off and hop in the car. Sit in traffic for a little under an hour to get to the barn. Ugh. I usually call the SO, my mom, my best friend, my sister in law, really anyone to keep me company. I legit hate being in the car so much. If any of you are ever free between 5 and 6pm EST and want to chat, lemme know. I require constant entertainment, and still have this commute most days.

6:00p(ish)- get to the barn, woohoo! During the summer Frankie was outside at night, so I’d either text AT around lunchtime to ask her to keep him in for me, or just go out and get him. He’s a brat and doesn’t come to the gate, so I have to tromp around to collect him. His patented move is to wait for me to come close, then walk a few steps away, then stop and wait for me to halter him. It’s not running away, it’s just enough to be annoying UGH FRANCIS.

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Can’t even get mad bc he’s the actual cutest

Timing then was flexible. Sometimes I’d hop on right away if the ring was relatively quiet, sometimes I’d wait a bit for it to quiet down. Or for there to be adults in the ring with solid steering. All the horses in the barn are fine with some traffic, but it’s always nice to have a bit more room to spread out. During the week we did a lot of flatwork, sometimes over poles if they were set up, lots of lateral work, extensions/collections/etc. I always tried to go along with whatever gait the lesson is working in to make it easier. Some days I’d head out for a trail ride to cool off, or some days I’d hop on bareback and plop around when we needed a mental break.

8:30/9/9:30p- head out. Usually I’d be off the horse by 8 or 8:30 at the latest, but somehow I almost always got sucked into chatting with my barn friends (still do tbh). They’re a super cool bunch. At this point traffic died down and I could make it home within 25-30 minutes or so.

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In my rickety old Jeep that had questionable brakes things were fine I lived

Once I was home (between 9-10ish), it was dinner-shower-bed in pretty quick succession. Maybe an episode of something if it was early enough. But I’m an annoying cranky turnip if I don’t get at least 7-8 hours of sleep and my husband is the sleepiest man alive, so bedtime seemed like a better idea.

So that’s Monday through Thursday! The slightly longer workdays meant that Fridays were (and still are) my flex days, which is totally awesome.

Friday

No workout in the morning. Maybe a stretch session, a jog, or a walk. Maybe not.

Log on to my computer around 7:30 or 8am from home. I try to do all my “tasks” earlier in the week, and save my WFH days for the more conceptual stuff- storyboarding, sketching out layouts for new projects, things like that. I have my little workstation set up in our den, but sometimes I’ll curl up on the couch and work there.

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This is my spot and it’s my favorite place to curl up ever

Log off around 11:30/noon. Since I work longer days Mon-Thurs, I only had to put in a few hours on Fridays!

Then it was time to head to the barn. Since 1p doesn’t count as rush hour, I could make it there in 30 min or so.

Friday afternoons were (and sometimes still are) for private lessons. These. Were. Intense. Sometimes these were entirely flatwork, sometimes grid-focused, sometimes jumping. Usually the jumps were fairly small as we focused on skills, but we bumped them up a couple times a month so I could remember how to see a spot to the bigger fences. I was usually gasping for air and had noodle legs by the end. But I also was beaming with satisfaction at what we accomplished.

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A satisfied Frankfurter. PC- Liz Stout Photography

By the time Frankie was cooled out and put away, other people started to arrive as their kids got out of school/they got out of work. There aren’t usually any lesson kids on Fridays, so it’s the core group. We take turns bringing wine, we watch the juniors ride, we chat, it’s awesome. Friday barn happy hours are the actual best.

Depending on how much I got sucked into happy hour, I’d try to do some grocery shopping on my way home and start doing laundry/cleaning/anything else that I didn’t have time to take care of between Mon-Thurs. Eeeevery once in a while I’d get to see some friends.

Weekends

Weekends were mainly spent with morning/afternoons at the barn, afternoons/evenings at home. Or at horse shows. Everything that normal people do during the week got shoved into these days.

Monday

The weekend of the horse world, right? This was Frankie’s day off, and mine as well by default. This was my day to just go home after work and relax. No chores. No anything. Just hang out at home.

At this point, Frankie was being ridden 6x/week by myself, and 2x/week by AT, getting 1 day off, along with hilly turnout every day. It was certainly hardcore mode for both of us.

So there you have it. That’s what my life looked like for much of 2018.

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It was a great schedule, even when I felt a bit hectic. But I’m sure you can see why it wasn’t particularly sustainable once I added hardcore wedding planning into the mix, and now adding classes into the mix. I’m currently at a more moderate 3-4x/week schedule with Francis and while I certainly miss the drive and focus of 2018, I’m learning to slow down and enjoy the journey in a different way.

A Love Letter to Training Rides

While I had my Trainer or AT hop on Frankie with some regularity (if not frequency) during the first few years of owning him, 2018 was the first year that I set aside a larger portion of our budget for a more regimented schedule of training rides. Frankie spent pretty much all of our show season in his 2x/week program of pro rides in addition to his rides with me.

As a training tool for competition, these rides were absolutely invaluable. My lessons always built on the exercises that Frankie had worked on that week, so there was a ton of consistency and continuity in our work. The extra saddle time helped his fitness immensely, and the correctness of the work made sure the right muscles were developing appropriately. It was a very sympathetic program, but rigorous nonetheless. And while Frankie likes to pretend that he’s a lazy slug that hates work, he actually thrived in such a busy program- both physically and mentally.

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AT taking Frankfurter in a schooling round at Lake Placid before I arrived

But as we kick off 2019, I’m not in the midst of show season, I’m not planning on having a particularly busy or competitive show season in the next few months- but I still have Frankie in a 2x/week program.

And I still love it just as much, albeit for slightly different reasons.

For one, there’s the continued benefit to Frankie. His training rides are tailored to exactly what he needs to work on- not any other horse, not his rider. Just him. While he’s always been a confident horse, I’ve found that these sessions have made that confidence absolutely skyrocket as he’s been set up for success and praised for trying. He’s kept fit, he’s kept limber, he’s kept educated.

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A very blurry screenshot of AT taking Frankie in for miles in the 1.20m at Upperville

But there’s also several enormous benefits to me.

The first and most obvious benefit is when I’m in the saddle. A fit and well-educated horse is a million times easier and (in my book) more fun to ride. Especially Frankie, who tunes into me much more easily when he’s in consistent moderate-heavy work. So as I’m getting back into shape and gaining my strength back, having his help makes it much easier and more enjoyable. Basically I only have to worry about myself since I know he’s got this on lock.

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And AT giving him a great ride in his first ever 1.20m class at Blue Rock

The other benefit is when I’m out of the saddle- namely, that I actually feel that I can take days out of the saddle. As much as I love being at the barn and want to be there all the time, I have other responsibilities to take care of (that I ignored for like 3 years straight womp womp). It used to be that I’d try to cram everything in after the barn and would have to stay up super late, or I’d just push everything to the weekend when I had a bit more time. But now I feel like I can take a day to go home after work and take care of things without feeling guilty about not seeing Frankie. He’s still getting worked, he’s still progressing. It’s allowing me to find a different balance in my life without sacrificing Frankie’s quality of workload.

Basically instead of trying to be an ammy that trains like a pro, these pro rides let me be an ammy that trains like an ammy. Some days I’m a pretty good ammy, some days I’m a pretty floppy ammy, some days I’m an absentee ammy, some days I’m a competitive ammy. I work hard, I cross train, I spend most of my time obsessing about my horse and his care and his work and his health and his schedule and all things Francis-related. But it’s really really refreshing to give myself permission to spend time on other things every once in a while without feeling like I’m trading away my progress in the saddle.

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All that pro attention has made one extremely ammy-friendly pony

I’m still figuring out what my new normal is as a newlywed, and I’m so grateful to have the help of wonderful people and a great program at the barn to help me as I adjust.

 

Making the Small Stuff Fun

I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that we don’t school Francis at heights over 3′ too often, preferring to work on our skills at a lower height. This is mainly to ensure that we’re not putting too much impact on his joints too often, but it also has the benefit of really tuning him in to my aids.

The reason for that is because left to his own devices, Frankie doesn’t care about jumps below 3’ish. He can trot those. He. Does. Not. Care. You can put him on the buckle and kick him at them and he will take a slightly-glorified canter stride over. And for lower levels of skill and fitness, this is totally fine. For a school horse this is desirable even. Let him take care of the smaller stuff so that his rider can focus on her own skills.

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Back in the first few months of owning him, sans stirrups and letting him just take the wheel so I could work on me. Not the end of the world, but we’re not really helping him develop.

But in that scenario, he’s also not really learning to use his body over the jumps and he’s not building his fitness at all. He’s just cantering. It doesn’t do much for his attention span or his muscles.

So something that we’ve worked on extensively is making him care about the small jumps. When we trot a crossrail, he must carry me to it and then away without lurching half-heartedly over it (have I mentioned lately how much I hate trot jumps??). When we canter small verticals, he must listen when I place him at the base, and he must pick his feet up. Once he’s fired up and moving, he must STILL compress when I ask so that he can jump well.

He must care about the small jumps just as much as he cares about the big jumps, or else the skills we’re working on won’t transfer as smoothly.

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The angle makes this look bigger than it was. He had a lovely bouncy canter going in, he had lovely freedom of motion over the jump, and he had a lovely forward canter away- even though this is still trot-able height for him.

This did not come naturally at first to Francis as I mentioned, and it’s still something that I have to be conscious of every ride. It requires a solid squeeze off the ground to support him and let him know that I’m still active so he must be too.

I’ve found that the benefits of this are entirely worth it. They include (but are not limited to):

  • Keeping him tuned into me at all times. There is no such thing as being left to his own devices. He learns that the answer is always ALWAYS to check in with his pilot. This majorly helps his rideability and sensitivity on the flat and over fences.
  • Building hind-end strength. At the lower heights, I will pretty much always ask him to fit the stride in to the base. This requires him to power off the ground even for lower jumps.
  • Developing the jumper chip. Much as there is a hunter gap, there is also a jumper chip that we like. Practicing that at the lower heights helps him build the muscle and the memory to aim for that spot as the fences go up. He jumps much more cleanly and carefully from that close spot, so this helps him develop the ability to carry himself powerfully from there.
  • By using his body properly, we can practice everything at a lower height in a way that translates directly to the bigger heights. Our canter, our takeoff, our landing are all the same- the only change is how much time we spend in the air. We don’t need to revisit our stride power and stride length as the jumps go up as much, since we’re already working on that. This makes it that much easier to raise the jumps since he already has the tools he needs.

This is something I only started working on with him after a year or so of getting to know each other. It’s never something that I even considered as a problem- I thought that “he just doesn’t care about the small jumps!” was a positive and never thought to address it. Now that we’ve learned to make him care about the small jumps, I can recognize how much it’s helped us in so many aspects of our riding, while having the benefit of better preserving his joints.

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Not to mention that this careful work has helped him develop muscles in allll the right places.  PC- Liz Stout Photography

We’ll likely spend a good amount of time at some lower heights as we both get our sea legs back, but we’ll definitely be working hard at it!

Smartypants McRetainsWell

I’m officially all healed up from my tailbone injury and back in the saddle! I think taking a solid week or two of next-to-no activity was just what I needed to let the inflammation die down. Even with the holiday this week it looks like I’ll get a solid 4 rides in. That’s more than I’ve done in months!

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My Christmas present was being able to ride pain-free!

True to form, Francis has been an angel boy for me. I’m comically low on endurance, so he’s pretty thrilled about the frequent walk breaks as I gasp for air. I WOULDN’T BE SO OUT OF BREATH IF YOU’D JUST MOVE FORWARD MORE, HORSE. He’s a little confused and annoyed that after so long I’m asking him for correct work again and actually backing that up with some semblance of leg, but is begrudgingly delivering.

And luckily he remembers all the stuff we worked on over the summer. He thinks self-carriage is The Worst and would rather not, but I’m not having to hold his hand nearly as much as I did last spring. This is regular “would rather nap” and not “I literally have no clue what’s going on” like it used to be.

I’m also really really glad that we opted to bump up to 2x/week with AT as I get back into it. She’s definitely sharpening him back up so that when I’m on he’s able to respond quickly and correctly, and it’s certainly helping get him back in shape. It means that he sometimes gets ridden twice a day but he’ll live. I promise.

It’s funny, now that he’s back in a more intense program, he actually comes out more eager to work. He’s gone back to shoving his face in the bridle and putting his face at chest level for me to tack up. Legit he was mouthing around looking for the bit as I tacked up the other day. So he can fake the grumpies all he wants, he actually loves having a job to do.

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“hello mahm would like scritches pls”

The super fun part right now is that my muscle memory is definitely there. I know how to ride my horse to get good work out of him, and I know the timing I need to ask. You know what’s not there? The muscle strength. You know, a very minor consideration. Those things combined mean that I’m riding him pretty well since my body does it fairly automatically, and then the next day I wake up INCREDIBLY SORE.

It’s the best sore I’ve ever felt. I’m so incredibly happy to be back on board this creature and back in a training program.

So our short term steps forward: Mama needs to work out, hard. I already have my program chosen and will be kicking that off this weekend. Between that and returning to a 5-6x/week riding schedule I think the first month of the new year may be a bit achy. It’ll be fine.

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I even went for a jog. It was awful. I’ll probably do it again soon.

We’re also looking to restart the private and/or semi-private lessons- it turns out our other rider in my division is also free on Friday afternoons, so we may combine forces! We’ll play showing by ear, likely making an excursion in the Lows in January or early February depending on what’s available, timing of any injections, finances, etc. I don’t have any major competitive goals for this year besides enjoying ourselves, and will likely be trying to save money for more clinics and training opportunities.

A few things tentatively on the radar are trailering in for a lesson with Joe Fargis, potentially doing Team Finals again, signing up for when George comes to town in the fall, and Upperville. Because I can’t NOT go to Upperville. We’ll see what happens as we get back into shape!!

 

Order of Operations

Since I’m still doing super boring things in the saddle (aka walking around with two coolers and letting my pony snoot all the things in the ring for 20 minutes), I’m going to talk for a while about what we used to do when we did not-boring things. Today specifically I’m going to talk about the different skills we tackled with Frankie, what order we tackled them in, and why (not that I always have stellar insights, but I’ll try to articulate it).

To start, let’s rewind to the “base” that we started with when I bought Frankie. I won’t go over this again because I talk about this literally all the time (the words “good egg” and “broke but inexperienced” come up a lot). In a nutshell, we had a physically and mentally mature horse with decent fitness and the basic buttons firmly installed. A fantastic base to work with!

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Calm, obedient, and love at first sight.

The very first thing we worked on was the go button. We ignored my equitation for a while, we ignored collection (for the most part), we ignored technique, we ignored a great many things and we made. the. horse. move. forward. off. my. damn. leg. This was not a trivial exercise for a horse like Frankie, who had made it to the age of 10 without reeeeally needing to move very fast. We were NOT trying to gallop him off his feet, just make sure he understood that he must move forward promptly when asked. Thankfully he did catch on to this fairly quickly and while he’s certainly still a leg workout, I find him appropriately responsive and downright speedy when I ask.

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OMG HORSE MOVE IT PLS (this is before I figured out the joys of the driving seat)

Once we had a HAUL ASS button installed, we started focusing more on straightness. Not only must he move forward promptly, he must do so without trying to evade out sideways. The outside rein started being mentioned more often. Transitions had to happen without losing the shoulder or haunch. Walking in a straight line had to be a thing. Lateral work was our friend here, connecting his different parts and teaching him that he can move them independently. Going sideways in order to go straight, in a sense. He still likes to wiggle at the walk if left unattended, and will throw his shoulder out if I let him, but is much more educated to that straightness.

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“NO GO STRAIGHT I WANNA DO MY GANGSTA LEAN”

So then we had forward and straight. WOAH REVOLUTIONARY IT’S ALMOST LIKE THIS IS THE BASIS FOR EVERYTHING ELSE.

The next thing we did? Put the jumps up. This is around when we moved up to the 1.10-1.15m height and started schooling some bigger jumps at home. I don’t know that I would recommend this 100% of the time to 100% of people on 100% of horses, but I’m comfortable with how this worked for us. It wasn’t until we introduced some height that Frankie started really figuring out how to use his body a bit better over the jumps, and that now translates over the lower fences as well.

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“Oh wait you mean like THIS OH OK GOT IT”

In conjunction with that, moving up to the next division introduced some more difficult turns as we started exploring the inside options. Getting him to move not only forward, but sideways off my leg was crucial. Counter-bending through turns. Maintaining good balance. All that good stuff.

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I also learned that it really helps to actually look where I’m going. Weird, right?

This is around when we also began a more in depth conversation about adjustability. Can I place my horse where I want him? Can I feel my stride length and adjust to ride the plan? Our collection work became more intense as we pushed the envelope- changing his stride length between 10-14′ was no longer acceptable, we wanted 8-16′ of play or more. “Canter up and down like a carousel pony” was said more than once. Frankie did not like learning this skill. Collection is hard, yo. Butt muscles got sore.

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It sure did help his quality of movement at all stride lengths tho

And finally, we began having a really serious conversation about self-carriage. I know what many of you are thinking- WOAH THAT IS BACK ASSWARDS. I get it. But the fact is that up to this point, we were chugging along pretty well, and likely could’ve continued chugging along if I hadn’t said “hmm I wonder if Frankie can jump 1.20m” one day. He was always obedient and athletic enough to do just fine. Frankie is incredibly hard to push up into the bridle, both conformationally and in way of going. It absolutely does not occur to him at ALL and even now that he’s a bit more educated, it takes constant reminders. Convincing him that this is how life is now was very difficult and came with many grumpy ears. Getting him to carry his own dang head around sharpened up every other ask and took it to the next level.

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“NO NO NO NO HATE NO NO NO” PC- Liz

 

But ultimately, we now have a horse that knows how to use his body, moves powerfully across the ground, is adjustable and forward, and is broke as shit. The self-carriage is by no means a complete check in the box- we have a ways to go to really help him understand and move this way. But so far developing this has also developed more specific skills- our lead changes are prompter and smoother, our turns are tighter, he can literally canter like a carousel pony, and his movement has much more suspension and lift to it. Even if he thinks this is a total scam and he should go be a camp pony.

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“Why. Why is this my life.”

Your turn! What has your approach been? How has it changed for different horses? Has it followed conventional approaches pretty closely, or have you changed your order of operations? I’m curious!

XC, Wedding Prep Style

Our annual XC school was an absolute blast. Tons of rain the night before meant soggy footing which meant Frankie and I kept it VERY low key, but we loved our glorified trail ride.

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Just how low key was it?

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WOAH THERE DON’T TRY TOO HARD FRANCIS

Literally we popped over a couple logs and then WALKED SO SLOWLY up out of the water. That’s all we did.

It was thoroughly delightful.

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With our wonderful group of bays! (plus one token chesnugget). This group includes AT’s 4yo uber-talented baby jumper out for mileage, my ammy friend with her new horse playing around for fun, myself (duh), my friend with her super amazing shmancy hunter that is a MACHINE ON XC OMG, a junior on her newish eq horse, and another ammy on one of the saint-like schoolies. Everyone did something slightly different, but everyone had a blast and the horses all really enjoyed themselves.

10/10 will do again.