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.

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Decisions, Decisions

And all of them fun!

As you know, I’m already pretty pumped for next season with the Frankfurter. I’m absolutely giddy at the thought of getting our butts in shape and working together towards our goals.

But that means I have to define our goals. Which is HARD YO. Because we have some really great options.

Option one: stick with the original plan and work towards a move up to the Low AOs. This would mean competence at 1.20m and tentatively 1.25m for some of the bigger classics. I think this is pretty within reach for our abilities. I doubt we would qualify for any year-end shows, because the additional fees for the bigger heights would mean fewer shows, and also let’s be honest it’s historically tough for me to be any good in my first season at a new height. But that’s fine by me if we go this route. If I want to do this with Frankie, next year would be the time to do it since he isn’t getting any younger.

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His first 1.20m class this past year and while he was surprised, he wasn’t particularly struggling

Option two: stay at the 1.10-1.15m and try to be really really good at it. If I did this, I would set my sights on qualifying for some fun shows- Penn, WIHS, maybe Team Finals again, etc. I’d have to be pretty strategic about getting points for these since the budget is not unlimited, but I certainly think we could have a blast exploring new options at our current height. It’s clearly well within Frankie’s abilities, and I could still send him in with AT to do some 1.20m classes to keep him really sharp (also I love playing Owner, it’s super fun).

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We could try for more big ribbons

Option three: say screw it all and go for something completely different like the Adult Eq or some National Derbies. BECAUSE WHY NOT HAVE ALL THE OPTIONS??? Especially with how dang broke my horse is now, and how cute he’s learned to jump, I think we could try some different rings and have a blast. I’m leaning towards doing this in a few years though, once he wants to step down to 3′.

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IF A JUNIOR CAN DO IT SO CAN I

Option four: some mix of all of these? Forego some of the shows and try to clinic with some big names? (Peter Wylde is coming to my area next June, and GM tends to roll through every fall). Try a local HT? Do other stuff I’m not thinking of?

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We could just stand majestically for a while, he’s pretty dope at that.

Basically, I can’t lose. There’s certainly tradeoffs to consider, and in some cases choosing one option means closing another one off, but there really is no bad option. I’m planning to sit down with my trainer in the next few weeks to come up with a game plan for our show season, and see what she thinks will work for us.

No matter what we choose, or if we do a mix of everything, there is one constant.

I will take a thousand pictures of Francis napping everywhere we go.

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SNOOZES 4 LYFE

How Big is Big?

There was a question on COTH recently about what counts as a “big” jump.

There were a range of answers, but the general consensus seemed to be that it’s entirely relative. What’s big to one horse and rider pair might look small to the same rider on a different horse. What’s small change for one rider may be prohibitively daunting to another.

I couldn’t agree more. Jumping over 3′ on the DragonMare was intimidating because I knew we were reaching the max of her scope and she could be a difficult ride. The same height on the Frankenbean causes no angst. I also remember how long it took me to ever go over a 3′ jump- so for a very long time, my decisive answer to that question would have been 3′. That counts as big. Nowadays I feel differently. It’s completely relative.

But then thinking about it further, I started considering the skill sets I needed at each height and how that changed. At this point, what would I consider “big”? Keep in mind- I’m coming at this with my own experiences and my own horse. He’s tall. He’s powerful. He makes jumps feel smaller than they are. I’m fully aware that a smaller horse that moves differently will make this journey looks COMPLETELY different. It’s all relative!

At 18″ I was learning to stay with the motion, release with my hands, stay steady in my leg. Distances were unimportant because of the height. Lots and lots of focus on my equitation- heels down, straight back, elbows in, etc.

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Short Stirrup QUEEN

At 2’6″ I had to fold a tiny bit more. Distances were still pretty unimportant, but we started counting strides and trying to find the sweet spot. Continued focus on correct equitation.

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Grab mane and look cute

At 3′ finding the right spot started to become more important. Still not the end of the world if we missed, but there was more of a focus. We started to introduce the auto-release as I got stronger. The motion was slightly bigger over the jumps, but technique still held- heels down, eyes up, release. Correcting my position constantly.

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Remember when I actually used to have really great equitation? Ah the days of yore.

At 1m (3’3″) it was more of the same. Slightly more important to help my horse to the spot, release a little bigger for the bigger effort. Position is finally starting to get into muscle memory, but still constantly working on it.

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For realz though I used to look pretty in the saddle

At 1.10m (3’7″ish) it was NOT more of the same holy CRAP it’s time to learn how to ride. All of a sudden we need an actual useful canter because he can no longer just lurch over it from any gait. So he has to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden it becomes much more important that I support from any distance. So I have to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden riding that powerful canter at any stride length is crucially important. So we need major adjustability which means focusing hard on his self carriage and responsiveness. AND THAT’S BEFORE WE EVEN GET TO THE JUMP. Then once we’re at the jump, it’s no longer just fold and then unfold. THERE’S AIR TIME AND A LANDING PHASE NOW FOLKS. I won’t get into the gritty details because I already did last year, but suddenly I had to pretty much re-learn how to jump. At this point we talk about my equitation purely in terms of utility. At this point, if I don’t have my technical skills in order, I’m just gonna fall off the side. They’re not taken for granted and we still work to correct them, but there’s more of an assumption of base-level correctness. Now it’s about truly using my position instead of having a position.

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Releases get bigger, staying centered becomes WAY WAY WAY more important, and core strength becomes a major factor. 

At 1.15m (3’9″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.20m (3’11″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.25m (4’1″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

So yeah. For me there was a clear tipping point in terms of skills and training that happened right around the 1.10m mark. Do I have a magical amazing horse that bails me out at that height when I mess up? Yes. Does that make his life way harder at that height than it was at anything lower? Definitely. Once I’ve gotten over that hump it’s been relatively straightforward to put the jumps up little by little.

I always thought of moving up in height as a very linear process, and that’s certainly not true. The graph of height vs. skills needed has looked a lot more like this for me:

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I really hope that one day I look back on this post and laugh that I ever thought 3’6″ was big. I’m curious to see if there is another “tipping point” in the future as the jumps continue to go up. I’d love to find out!

There’s my long winded answer that can be summed up as this: I feel like jumps start getting big at around 3’6″, but that answer has changed a thousand times over the years and I think the answer is going to be different for everyone at different times.

Your turn! Tell me- how would you answer that question?

Sneaking It In

With just about 50 days left until the wedding, I feel a lot like a deer that someone has slipped some caffeine pills to. High alert and gangly. Now that invites are out and we’re getting RSVPs back, it’s really kicked into the next gear of our final approach.

My bridal shower and bachelorette party were both last weekend, and both were amazing. So many friends from so many different parts of my life were all in the same room for the shower which was weird and amazing- Trainer was chatting with my in-laws’ neighbors, my cousins were hanging out with my college roommates, etc. It flew by and I felt incredible loved.

For the bachelorette part, I’ll just leave you with this picture from the morning after.

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#classy

Despite my current extreme case of raccoon brain, I’m managing a sneaky amount of horse-related activities over the next month or so until I head north.

Folks at the barn are organizing a group excursion to WIHS to watch the medal and GP classes go. I’ve gotten to go for a couple years now, and while I was hoping the next time would be on Frankie, I’ll still take a seat in the stands!!

One of the ladies also organized an event at a local animal park for the barn folks. I think it’s geared mostly for the kids, but I’ll show up for anything that includes llamas and my barn peeps.

Lastly, by some incredibly lucky stroke of fortune, our annual XC outing is actually going to happen on one of the only weekends I am available to participate. I may not be actively competing, but I’m excited to get off property with Francis! Hoping we can enlist someone for more media than last year, because he is such a tank and I know all you eventing folks would love to see my weenie butt cling on as he packs me around.

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It was so fun with both of these beasts, can’t wait to do it again!!

Lucky me to have so many fun things on the calendar ❤ Can’t wait to share them all with you!

Snaps for Olivia

So earlier this week I had a little party about how my professionally-trained-for-years horse was acting like a professionally-trained-for-years horse. That even though he’s a little out of shape and out of a consistent program, he’s still a super capable steed with lots of buttons that can Do The Things. Because while I know it’s pretty normal for a trained horse to remain trained (especially one with his disposition), I’ll never stop being giddily grateful for my shmancy pony.

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Unrelated, I just think it’s funny how much he enjoys the vacuum. PC- Liz.

 

We had our first lesson since August this week, meaning we jumped for the first time in 3 weeks. I certainly didn’t ride at the level that I was at during show season- my muscles are much weaker, I was cursing out my trainer while doing our no-stirrup work, and our turns were…creatively angled. But Frankie packed me around cheerfully, adjusted his stride promptly when asked, jumped cute, and was overall an absolute prince for me. Seriously, I could gush about how great he was for hours.

But I won’t. Because today I want to give myself some kudos.

I arrived home from my lesson beaming from ear to ear, and told my fiance all about how great Francis was, how the jumps stayed around 3′ but that was kinda a welcome step back since I’m so out of shape, and how glad I am to have a horse that can take care of me when my riding is decent-not-awful-but-definitely-not-great.

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We’ll work our way back up to being able to steer in the air. For now it’s no shame grab mane.

And then he reminded me- only about 3 years ago, jumping 3′ was my white whale. It was my hump that I had never conquered in all my years of riding. Counting up my years in the saddle, it took a solid 10 years to get to the point of jumping 3′ with any sort of consistency. And because he is a lovely person, he gave me a big hug and told me how he thought it was pretty cool that something that had been a mental block for so long now feels easy enough to be a step back. He was there when I got back in the saddle, he was there when I jumped my first 3′ jump with Addy, and he was there when I came home from a show with a ribbon from my first ever 3′ division. He has many clear memories of my endless monologues about the journey to 3′. He’s been there for every move up over the past few years and he’s cheered for all of them.

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He took this picture, back in 2015. I was so excited to finally jump this height.
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Having him there means the world to me. 

So yeah, he reminded me to give myself some grace. I’ve been kinda disappointed about stepping back after being on such an incredible trajectory for the past few years. I needed that reminder to consider the bigger picture, and give myself some credit for the progress we’ve made instead of being glum about what we’re not currently doing. Because what we’re doing is still really cool.

Thanks for bearing with this remarkably self-indulgent post, and we’ll get back to the pony-indulging posts shortly. We all know that Francis is the real MVP 😉

Dressage Lessons

You all know that one of the many reasons I love my trainer so much is her willingness to talk about all different aspects of the horse world- the pros and cons of the pony jumper division, farrier billing mechanisms, educational programs offered through USHJA, etc. A little while ago we were having one of those conversations that included a ton of different topics, and one thing that she started laughing about was how she will regularly have a client ask if they can have “a dressage lesson.”

Quick context: yes, her focus is in the hunter/jumper/equitation world and she is the bomb dot com at that. But she did spend several years over in Germany with a dressage barn as well, so asking her for a dressage lesson isn’t as random as it sounds.

So I started opening my mouth to say something like, “Ooh yeah I’d like a dressage lesson too!” but before I could, she continued, “What do they think they’d be doing differently in a dressage lesson that I don’t have them doing in our flatwork? They’re not going to move right into half-passes just because we aren’t jumping that day.”

Huh.

And I realized that was kinda why I wanted a dressage lesson. I wanted to do the super exciting fancy dressage-y stuff like tempi changes and canter pirouettes and all that jazz! We can ignore the fact that getting a left-to-right change depends on many things, but my cues are not usually one of them. It would most certainly happen effortlessly in a Real Dressage Lesson.

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This was Frankie’s response to my whispered instructions to “go channel Valegro”

I also realized that we do, in fact, incorporate a ton of awesome stuff into our flatwork already. Our canter circles have gotten smaller and smaller, and we’ve gotten pretty good at doing haunches-in at the same time. It’s not even close to a pirouette, but several of the building blocks are there that weren’t there before. We have started playing around with half-passes as we’ve built strength and nuance. We’re not very good at it, but that’s the first step to being good at something, right? We’re not going to go win any gold medals in the sandbox, but I think we could go do a lower level test without embarrassing ourselves (after I learn some basic geometry, you know, minor things like that).

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“NO NO NO NO NO” -Frankie’s response to flat lessons

I’ve been working with Frankie in his elevator bit for a few months which has been super excellent for him- but I was also pretty sure that a large part of our newfound ability to actually push up into the bridle and werk was due to having that type of leverage. So the other day I popped his plain snaffle back in for a leisurely ride, and then tested the waters. And lo and behold, I got some lovely work out of him in that snaffle. It was a real breath of relief to know that he is stronger and more educated to that contact, I am stronger and more educated to that contact, and we are not reliant on the stronger bit to maintain it. We can be straight and manipulate the bend and work over our back and extend and collect without hanging on my hand. In short- we can kinda dressage!

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We were in the plain snaffle all last year and it was…fine. But for a very NOT sensitive horse, it was not the best fit. We’ve built a lot of sensitivity since then, but I still much prefer having a more direct line of communication on course.

I certainly don’t plan to switch back to a snaffle for jumping since it gives me a lot more tools when we’re both fired up to bigger fences, but I’m happy to know that our dressaging is paying off so handsomely.

 

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Can you see what a hunkachunka he is these days?!?! CAN YOU?!?

Looks like we’ll be continuing our unintentional dressage lessons!

Soapbox: Routine

You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately? Expectations for our horses, and how reasonable those expectations are- and by extension, what we can do to make those expectations more reasonable.

I admittedly have very high expectations of the Frankenbean. I expect him to jump anything I point him at, perform at consistently high levels, and to behave in a calm and civilized manner. So how do I set those expectations up for success?

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It boils down to spending lots of time with this view

Jump anything: create positive experiences for him. He came to me with a great deal of confidence (seriously forever grateful for the people who brought him along so wonderfully), and we work very hard to keep up that confidence. By creating a variety of experiences for him and setting him up to do well in all of those experiences, he knows that things will be ok even if they’re slightly different from the norm.

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Snoozefest over the liverpool. It doesn’t really occur to him to look at it too hard.

Perform at consistently high levels: give him the fitness, support, and knowledge necessary. He can’t jump the big jumps if he’s fat, has sore hocks, and lacks adequate body awareness. He can’t give me truly obedient lateral work if his hind end is weak, he’s stiff through his body, and dull to my leg. Those basic building blocks of conditioning, health, and training MUST be in place for any sort of progress to happen.

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Wearing the Hat of Knowledge to preemptively check for lameness

Behave calmly: manage his energy levels with a consistent routine. This brings me to the crux of this post, and is something that feeds into everything else I’ve already mentioned. Horses are creatures of habit, and creating a steady routine is key to creating expectations.

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This view. Rain or shine, hot or cold.

Yes, Frankie is a naturally very relaxed dude. But we don’t take that for granted- we work with that to create a program for him that allows him to meet (or often in his case, exceed) our expectations. He is worked with enough intensity to build fitness, with enough variety to build experience, and with enough frequency to maintain/improve condition. And when he’s conditioned up fully, to maintain a healthy energy level- we all know that a truly fit horse is going to have a bit more fire than a tubby one, no matter how naturally relaxed that horse may be. When other adult responsibilities get in the way of maintaining that type of schedule, the two options that make the most sense to me are (1) enlist help, usually in the form of a professional or (2) lower our expectations for a bit until we can support them better.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying hopping on once a week, five times a week, twice a month, however often. Everyone is on their own journey with horses, and no two people are going to enjoy being in the exact same program! But the expectations must fit that program. The higher the expectations are on the horse, the more consistent and deliberate that routine must be to help them succeed.

I will now get off my high horse, and get back on my big brown high horse 😉

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It’s time to get to work. PC- Liz

Upgraded Rounds

I mentioned in my Blue Rock recap that I started out riding the 2017 Frankie before getting my butt in gear and riding the 2018 Frankie (new Francis who dis). I’d like to elaborate a little bit on what I already mentioned, because I’ve definitely adjusted my strategy in the ring.

Getting our gallop on: I used to go in the ring and immediately pick up a hand gallop before waiting for the buzzer, because I needed a little extra time to open up his step. Nowadays we can get that fire stoked much more quickly, so I don’t need that runway as much. It ends up giving me a bit too much time to overanalyze and start picking at him. Much better to just rev the engine and head to the first jump.

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Please take away my runway, I will just abuse it

Related distances: I used to have to land and WOAH hard in every line, because he almost always landed a little off balance and strung out. Not awful, but it definitely took a stride or two to get him back under me, and that would eat up a decent part of the line. Nowadays he lands in much better balance and much more tuned in to me, so I can simply steady him and press out of the line- which has the added benefit of me being able to soften and allow him to the fences, which leads to him jumping out of his skin.

Left drift: we’ve always had a left drift. Partly because I think he fires a little more strongly on the right side, partly because I have a weak left leg that doesn’t block him hard enough. We’ve gotten much better at using outside aids around the turns and getting him straight in both directions, and I think the carrot stretches have helped him feel more bendy.

Release: he used to jump fairly flat all the time without really using his neck, so there was never a need for a big release- he just didn’t take up the slack when it was given. Now he’s firing harder off the ground and using his body much more actively, which is awesome! But it also means that I need to reward that much more actively. I need to focus hard on some core work, since right now I tend to collapse up his neck a bit upon landing when I give that long release. I have a decent auto release in my toolbox, so it’s just a factor of getting that super ingrained in my muscle memory. Planks galore!

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We use our neck more when we are not being restricted by our pilot

Taking breaks on course: yeah I never had the mental state to be able to do this before. This past show was the first one where I felt like I could use the ends of my ring to take a deep breath, half-halt and reset, and give Frankie a little scratch on the neck as I softened. Not too much because I didn’t want him to think we were done, but we were both able to calm down a bit before firing back up. I definitely think this helped keep him tuned into me and feeling fresh instead of tiring out in the latter parts of the course.

Part of this progression has been due to working on our adjustability, partly due to increased fitness, partly due to education (for both of us), and in large part due to me relaxing enough to think more actively while in the ring instead of LOSING MY MIND OMG FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL. Let’s be real- there will always be Francis-take-the-wheel moments. No one is perfect. The goal is to make them less frequent and less cringe-inducing.

After all, it’s like I’ve always told you. I’m not so concerned with our ribbons- I’m concerned with making sure I can come out of the ring and internalize the lessons learned and apply them in the next round. Go make new mistakes, and then fix them, and then move on to even newer mistakes.

At this point, the horse is super broke and fit and educated, and will go around as well as I allow him to. It used to be that mistakes in the ring were kinda 50-50 due to me getting in the way AND him still learning the expectations we had. Well, we’ve gotten rid of that last part. He knows the game, likes the game, and is damn good at the game. Mistakes are now 100% rider-generated. In one way, WOW OK PRESSURE IS ON because I can no longer cite “lack of experience” as an excuse, but in another enormously huger way it’s AMAZEBALLS. I have a schoolmaster packer that will turn and burn and slice and sit back and do absolutely everything I ask. Now it’s on me to ask for the right things at the right time.

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MAHM STEP UP PC- Liz

Transportation Woes

Alternate title: At Least One Thing That Carries My Butt Around Is Functional

The functional one being Frankie, of course. The not-so-functional one is my car.

Long story short, I no longer have working anti-lock brakes in my Jeep. Options are to either shell out more money than the car is worth to fix it, scrap my show season to afford a new car, or ignore the problem until show season is over.

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I think you can guess which one I’m going with. Luckily this didn’t happen in winter when the roads get slick, and the mechanic said the car was totally fine to drive as long as I was careful. So if you see a red Jeep with horse plates in VA, give me a little space to brake, k? I’m frantically doing research on what I’ll do in the fall and calling in all favors from friends and friends-of-friends, so at some point I should be able to introduce a new (or more realistically, used-and-slightly-crappy) vehicle.

But back to the functioning beast. Our private lessons are, as expected, absolutely transforming us. Even with just 3 under our belt, I can already feel such a difference in my ability to ask Frankie to work harder as well as his own ability to work harder. At first he threw a few tantrums about settling into work, but he very very quickly learned that this is the new normal and now steps right into it. He still has his evasions that he tries and a big part of our lessons is teaching me how to anticipate and preemptively correct those evasions, but it really does feel like getting to the next level of our feel and communication.

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“Communicate THIS” PC: Liz

A few examples: transitions. THEY’RE HARD YO. We’ve been doing tons of them and insisting that Francis step under into them (both upwards and downwards) without popping up and inverting. When I get it right, it’s magical. Slowly starting to get it right more often.

Connection. It used to take me a solid 45 minutes and a virgin sacrifice to get Frankie up into the bridle. And to be totally honest, even then it wasn’t great. I simply did not give enough leg, hold a steady enough contact, or insist on this enough. This is still very much a work in progress, but I’m actually able to get him pushing from behind up into the contact much more consistently. It’s not 100% of the time by any stretch, but it’s vastly improved!

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THE BEEFIEST. THE SHINIEST. PC: Liz

 

Adjustability. Turns out that when I stop using a driving seat and have my horse balanced underneath me, I can totally pick whatever stride length I want. Which means I can then pick whichever spot I want. It also turns out that my eye is a lot better than I thought it was- I just haven’t had the tools to accurately ride to the spot I see. Now that I’m communicating with Frankie more clearly and he’s built the knowledge and strength, I feel so much more confident in our ability to get to a really solid take-off.

Overall brokeness. Holy. Crap. Guys. My horse is so frickin’ broke now, it’s not even funny. He will always be a little dull and he would not make a professional happy (pretty sure you’d see a pic of him in the dictionary under “Ammy Friendly”) but he has become the fanciest horse I have ever sat on. Ever. Including my German import I had in high school. He has so many dang buttons and he’s gotten so strong, it’s like I can think something and he does it. Part of that is the training we’ve been doing super intensely lately, part of it is me learning how to ride more better, and part of that is continuously building our communication and partnership. I’ve been absolutely blown away by him in our last few lessons.

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Let me love you forever PC: Liz

It feels like we’re in a totally different place from even a few weeks ago. I need to get some video so you can see the Frankfurter strut his stuff- hopefully we get some good ones at the show this week! Trainer confirmed that she’ll be taking him in his first 1.20m and I’m spazzing out excited. Keep your fingers crossed and send high-flying thoughts in our direction!

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.