Blog Hop: Dealbreakers

It feels like a blog hop kinda week!

This one came from Amanda and Henry: what makes you not even want to hop on a horse?

I’m actually pretty picky about this. I’m fairly confident in my own “stick-a-bility” through shenanigans, but hey. I really don’t want to deal with that.

So things that I do not do:

  • Rearing. Obviously. I won’t touch that with a 9 foot pole.
  • Spooking. Of course every horse will have a spooky moment now and again, but if the horse spooks often enough to be described as “spooky,” then I do not want to be in that saddle. I really don’t like going in the ring and wondering if my horse will be offended by the flags/buzzer/wind/noise/commotion.
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I like ponies that can chill on a loose rein at shows
  • Bolting. I like a horse who thinks forward is the right answer, and I don’t mind a little gallop-fest after the fences. But I do NOT like when someone cuts my brake lines.
  • Stopping. Much like spooking, pretty much every horse will stop at some point. And sometimes it’s the safest choice if the fence is big and they can’t safely jump it. But if I’m riding well and my horse is healthy and sound and I’m asking a reasonable question, then I want my horse to jump the jump. I’ll still hop on a horse to flat around, but I don’t have the patience or desire to work with a horse that has a stopping problem- no matter what their potential is once they work through it.
  • Too much playtime. The occasional crowhop? Fine. Throwing an exuberant buck every once in a while after a big fence? Also fine. I have enough balance and strength to ride through this. But I don’t want this to be the norm. I’ll still hop on and deal with it if I have to, but I won’t spend money.
  • Bad work ethic. Listen, we all have lazy days. We all have days that we don’t want to show up and play the game. But I don’t want to try and convince a horse that hates his job that maybe it isn’t so bad after all.
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I like ponies that like their job

 

For me, there are a couple different layers. There are horses that I’ll flat, but I’m not interested in jumping. There are horses that I don’t even want to flat. Heck, there are horses that I don’t even want to go near. At the end of the day, I pay too much money for me to voluntarily feel unsafe on the regular.

Blog Hop: Change

We have a blog hop from Oh Gingersnap!

Have you at some point moved on to a different horse, trainer, stable, etc with the purpose of advancing your progress? What made you realize the time was right for a change? Or did you opt to adjust your goals in order to stay with what you know is working? How did either choice work out in the long run?

I haven’t done a blog hop in a long time, but I can definitely relate to this!

I had been half-leasing Addy for over a year, and she taught me SO SO much. She was my introduction to the jumper ring, moved me up to the 3′, and challenged me without scaring me. For a long time, she was exactly what I needed. I knew that eventually I wanted to move up beyond what she could do, but there wasn’t any urgency.

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Doing the 3′ local jumpers together

As you all remember, I then went to Ocala and got a taste of the show life and decided that I really wanted to pursue that path more intensely.

And Addy was not the horse for that path.

Could she have been? Maybe. Pretty Girl could physically jump a 1m track without issue. She was generally well behaved at shows, and likely would’ve gotten even better with more miles and a stronger ride.

But then it came down to two things: 1. she wasn’t particularly happy in the job of being a show horse and 2. her abilities and limitations were already known, and would’ve kicked into play fairly quickly at that point.

The first part: she didn’t really want to be a show horse. Don’t get me wrong, we went to plenty of shows together and she was a very very good girl. But those were all one-day affairs. Based on what I know about her (which is quite a lot), I think she would’ve been miserable staying in a stall for the week with limited turnout. She loved being a lesson horse, loved going off property for trail rides, and loved fooling around XC. That was her wheelhouse and she was darn good at it. Asking her to fit into a training program for a rated show campaign might have worked, but it wasn’t the job she really liked.

The second part: she jumped a 10 every time, but I wouldn’t really want to take her around a full competition course over about 1m. I had jumped bigger singles with her, but she started getting a little anxious when the jumps went up much more than that. She was the queen of 3′ and we were already doing that together- moving up with her wasn’t really likely to happen.

So with all the love in the world and with full appreciation for the DragonMare, we knew she wasn’t the right fit for me to pursue my goals. I was lucky enough to have a fairly informal/flexible lease with her owner and she was wonderfully willing to work with me.

And that’s when we started looking for Frankie! We wanted a horse that was safe and sane enough for me to ride at my current skill level, had the ability to move up a few levels so I wouldn’t outgrow him immediately, and could mentally and physically handle the rigors of a show career.

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Way more relaxed than Addy would be in a busy warmup ring (PC: A Frye)

And it’s definitely the best decision I ever made- for all of us. Addy didn’t have to deal with the stress of my expectations for her and got to enjoy her job of being an absolute rockstar lesson/local show pony, and I got to start chasing my goals with a horse who is better suited to the task.

Short version: yes, I changed horses so that I could advance my progress in a different direction. And yes, it worked out wonderfully. Change can be scary, but it can be a great thing too!

Goals Check-In

Ummmm so I’ve been awful at tracking these this year. In my defense, I did tell you guys that I wanted to stop setting arbitrary goals for myself. But now I feel like checking in. So sue me.

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I’m soooo changeable

So let’s see what I set out to do in January:

  • Continue strengthening and advancing our flatwork. This is a solid work in progress. I don’t have any concrete goals to achieve here, but I do think we are continuing to improve and I plan to keep that trajectory going. Will we go 4th level dressage any time soon? No. Do we have a solid understanding of connection, engagement, and adjustability? Certainly more than we did earlier in the year.
  • Have a strong season in the 1.10m High Adult division. So far so good! We have a few more shows to round out the season, but the height has proven to be a non-issue. It’s not always perfect, but I’ve been able to walk in the ring and consistently ride the plan to give Frankie a good ride. We’ve enjoyed schooling at the 1.15m-1.20m at home and we’ll see where that takes us.
  • Qualify for the USHJA Zone Jumper Championship. We qualified! Finals are coming up very quickly and I can’t wait to report back on how it goes. I have no doubt that Frankie and I will have a blast.
  • Take Frankie in an eq class. Thus far, we have focused our efforts in the jumper ring. This is a tentative “maybe” for the last show of the season at the end of September. It turns out that my love for the jumper ring goes even deeper than I thought it did- I don’t really miss the eq ring at all anymore!
  • Try riding bridle-less. Not yet! This might be more fun in the off season when Frankie is fat and lazy, but right now he is in fitness show pony mode with a bit more juice in the engine. We’ll take a brief step back after the end of the show season and we can revisit it then.

Overall I think we’re doing well! Frankie is healthy, shiny, happy, and continues to cart my butt around without protest.

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I mean, there’s some protest. But it’s quiet.

Next Season

“Olivia, it’s only August!” “Olivia, live in the moment!”

NO.

I am seriously so freakin’ excited for next season already, I just have to share some of the plans.

First of all, we will be kicking off next season with a bang in Ohio. I snuck this into my sidebar, but Frankie and I will be heading over to WEC in February! We had a barn powwow about whether or not we wanted to do Ocala this year vs WEC, and the unanimous consensus was to head west instead of south. It’s closer to home- less stress on the horses, easier to get there, CHEAPER to get there. It’s overall cheaper- in like, every way. There’s a great variety of classes. Because it’s so much more accessible in terms of location and price, we should have a bigger group able to go. We’ve all heard only stellar reviews from people who have competed there. AND IT’S CHEAPER. Did I say that yet? All y’all that live within driving distance of Ohio will have to come visit us!

Our other big exciting plan for the year is two weeks up in Lake Placid next June/July! We’ll be doing the I Love New York/Lake Placid shows. Our barn went a few years ago for one week and loved it, so this year we’re heading back for both weeks. It’ll be a nice escape from the Virginia heat and we’ll get to see some really world class riders go. I’m hoping some of my family will take the excuse for a vacation and get a lake house up there- it would be the perfect mix of competing and vacation! I’ve never been but I’m already so excited.

This will definitely require some creative scheduling- I do not, in fact, have unlimited vacation time. My boss has given the thumbs up for me to work remotely when I’m in Ohio at least part time, and as long as that works decently she’s OK with me doing that next summer as well. It’ll also require careful budgeting, so I’m already in savings mode to prepare. Sometimes I think about all the vacations I could take and shoes I could buy if I didn’t like horse shows so darn much…

We’ll fit in some closer-to-home shows next summer as well- I’m hoping we can do either Upperville or Loudoun Benefit again, do some Lexington shows, head to Prince George’s, etc. We haven’t decided whether we’re going to try for Regional Finals again, since we’re going to play next year by ear as to which division we’re competing in. This year was a very definite “move up” year and I expect 2018 to be more of a transition. We may move up and down depending on how we feel. Heck, I may even finally make it into an equitation class like I’ve been talking about for years. Trainer tactfully changes the subject every time I bring up doing a hunter derby so that might be a hard pass (Why doesn’t she doesn’t think my paddle-moving-llama-pony can win in the hunters???! I don’t get it?1?!). I still plan on us working hard to get after it, but I’m less married to my division for next year.

Frankie and I can’t wait! Well. I can’t wait. Frankie is just happy to be here.

How Good Are You?

I’m sure I’m not the only one here who reads sale ads all the time. Not because I’m looking for another horse- Frankie will have to buy his own brother if he wants one- but because I find sale ads completely fascinating.

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Stop sleeping and go get a job, you freeloader.

There are a lot of different aspects I find fascinating, but one of the main ones is talking about rider ability: “beginner-friendly,” or “suited for intermediate riders.”

What. The Heck. Does. That. Mean.

(Heads up, I’ll be focusing mostly on the H/J world for this post because that’s really where my interest and focus lies.)

Rider ability is such a nuanced, shades-of-gray, subjective variable to capture. So lets go through a few hypotheticals to illustrate what I mean.

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Random picture of Manfriend because DANG he’s cute

Rider A and Rider B are doing similar exercises in their lessons. They can both canter off the line and are able to grab mane over teeny crossrails. They can both be a little timid but are happy enough to learn as they go. Rider A is 7 and Rider B is 13. While they do similar work, Rider B has much more body awareness and control, her posting trot is more controlled, and she has better balance. Despite both of them doing the same things, you would not sell them the same horse.

Rider C and Rider D both compete in the 3′ jumpers. They can both make it around safely at that height and enjoy competing on the local circuit with some degree of success. Rider C has been riding a 15yo schoolmaster who has done this job for years, and Rider D rides a young OTTB that she’s brought along from the ground up. You would not sell them the same horse.

Then on the flip side, the horses.

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“Who, me?”

Pony is such a cool horse. He’s very easy and lazy on the flat, but for someone who knows what they’re doing, he’s super scopey and talented over fences- and hot. Is Pony better suited for a home with a more experienced rider who is willing to put up with some quirks for the sake of talent? Or is Pony suited for a lower-level home where he will never be asked to do more than go around on the buckle? He’s good at both of those things. Well, how old is Pony? It’s a lot harder to sell a 14yo as an upper level partner than it is to sell an 8yo in that role. What breed is Pony? What gender? What training program/maintenance/feed/moon sign were they born under? All of these inform where Pony has the best chance of finding a happy home in a job they like (only halfway joking about the moon sign).

So a horse that may be only suited for an advanced rider could be perfect for a beginner rider, doing beginner things. I’ve known a horse or two like that.

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He liked me a lot more last year when I didn’t make him work as hard

I’ve known riders just learning how to canter that consider themselves intermediate, and I’ve known riders comfortably coursing at 2’6″ that call themselves beginners. I don’t think either of them is right or wrong, because it’s a completely made up system.

Added to that is the fact that many adults reeeally don’t like being called beginners. It messes with our pride. Sometimes we prefer the term “novice rider.”

For myself, I’d consider myself solidly intermediate. I can comfortably school around a 1.15m-1.20m course and compete at 1.15m, I have a working understanding of connection and adjustability as it pertains to longitudinal and latitudinal motion, and I’m reasonably certain that I won’t ruin a horse that you throw me on. Probably.

But a lot of those “rider abilities” are actually my horse’s abilities. I’m lucky enough to have a very forgiving, quiet ride who lets me make mistakes and learn. If you put me on another more difficult horse, I would not be able to do many of the things I can do with Frankie.

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Pretty positive that another horse would immediately tell me to eff off if I tried to pull this on them #SaintFrancis

I think someone with a more difficult horse that may be jumping lower heights/doing less “advanced” exercises is likely a better rider than I am- their position is probably more solid, they probably have more nuance in their aids, etc. The resume of activities they can do may look different, but the strength and ability is there.

So that’s my little rant for the day. How good is good? What makes a good rider good? What “level” of rider do you consider yourself? Why? What are your thoughts on this?

What’s New, Francis?

I anticipated some sluggishness from Frankie for a little bit due to the increased training workload, but homeboy has been a star!

I’ve been conquering my fear of trail rides at least 1-2x a week lately, and he is one happy camper. We can have golf carts zoom up our butt (our barn is in a golf course community, so they’re a pretty common sight), bunnies hurl themselves across our path, helicopters flying overhead, and he keeps bopping around on the buckle barely flicking an ear. I’ve been making a point to seek out hills to do trot sets on, and he is just as relaxed as he is at the walk. This is nothing new for him and he’s demonstrated his steadiness on trails before, but getting out there more consistently has been great for my own confidence outside the ring- you all know that I’m a huge baby in unconfined spaces.

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You can definitely tell from his ears just how hot and electric he is. 

In our lesson two weeks ago, it was unbearably hot. Absolutely brutal. But like the unicorn he is, Frankie went around the ring and didn’t put a foot wrong. He needed a little more support from me to get that energetic canter we’re always searching for, but we were able to focus on straightness through his body to get some really nice efforts. Considering I saw a lot of other horses exhibiting some tantrum behavior that day due to the heat (I can’t even blame them), it was that much sweeter to have Frankie going so consistently. As usual, I found my pace somewhere in the middle of my course- I need to get that off the bat instead of taking 2-3 jumps to manufacture it. It’s another case of Frankie giving me exactly what I ask for and not an inch more or less. When I ask, I receive. It’s about time I get my head out of my butt and ask already.

He’s also been rising to the occasion in our flatwork sessions. I’ve been making a point to ask for more consistent contact with plenty of stretch breaks, instead of the other way around. I’ve been throwing in more counter-canter to help develop some better balance and feel around our turns, which has been going quite well. I’m working on asking more deliberately for my leads and helping him re-balance using my seat instead of my hands. We’ve also been trying to include lots of downwards transitions- he’s very prompt with his upwards transitions (as long as he’s in front of my leg HAH), but likes to dive on his forehand into his downwards. I’m focusing on keeping his weight rocked back so that we can move forwards into the downwards, instead of him pulling me forward out of the tack. This has a ways to go to be really consistent, but I’m confident we’ll get there.

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Unrelated but I just love all the different things I have up on my walls. Yes, that small one is a print of Paul Revere on a velociraptor. And no, I’m not sorry for having 3023498 books by my bed.

This week Frankie was absolutely 100% My Little Pony. It was a bit of a rough week for a couple reasons (Manfriend is a cop now and scary situations come with the territory- he’s totally fine but I’m still a bit shaken) and I was feeling a little emotionally raw. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing, but I swear Frankie could tell. He was SUPER snuggly and affectionate on the ground and was such an ultimate packer in my lesson.  Of course he’s always sweet and a good boy, but this was some next level love. It really felt like he was checking in with me every few minutes to make sure I was doing ok. We’ll get back to training harder shortly, but I’m grateful that we had a day of horse therapy where I was able to rely entirely on my horse and trust that he would take care of me.

In non-riding related Frankie news, I finally bit the bullet and put him on a Smartpak. His hooves aren’t in great shape due to the crap weather this year- he’s been in glue-ons and pads up front for a few cycles now and has basically a prosthetic reconstructed hoof on his right front (LOL BYE MONEY)- so he’s starting a hoof supplement. I figured as long as I’m tossing stuff in his feed we may as well toss in a joint supplement too- I’m not completely sold on the effectiveness, but it can’t hurt and at this point I’m willing to throw every tool in the toolbox at him. If it supports his joints even marginally, that’s worth it to me. When I made the mistake of complaining, “but he used to be so low maintenance!” to AT, she not-so-gently reminded me that we get to do a lot of cool stuff we couldn’t do before, and that comes with increased care. Touche.

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We could not do this last year.

The short version of all of this is that we’re working hard and having fun doing it. I’m feeling confident that we’re setting ourselves up for success for our show at the end of August and beyond!

Oh Right, I Forgot

You know how sometimes you forget things that you’ve known forever? Or not that you’ve forgotten, they’ve just kinda slipped by the wayside?

I have a couple things like that and I’m trying to focus more attention on them.

Most basic of all: moving forward at the walk. Francis almost always has a super forward swingy walk throughout our rides, so I never really think about it. But as it gets hotter and he gets lazier (yes, it is possible), he sees walking as a chance to amble around like a 32yo school pony. Actually, he walks SLOWER than the 32yo school pony. It’s embarrassing. I need to consciously notice what kind of walk we have and correct if needed to make sure it’s the walk we want.

Also super basic: allowing my horse to turn left. I’m so weirdly crooked in such strange ways that I’ve pretty much blocked my horse from being able to turn left. The only way I can convince my body to straighten out is to think “right hip forward and light.” Because it reeeeally wants to be tilted back and digging into Frankie’s back. So basically I’m thinking I’m telling him “move off my left leg and bend through your body!” but what my seat is telling him is “BEND TO THE RIGHT AND ALSO MOVE LEFT FOREVER.” When I consciously think to push my right hip forward, we suddenly get straighter through his body, smoother turns, better bend, more adjustability, and more lightness in my hand. So yeah. Gonna have to figure out how to just not be a total pretzel at all times so that my horse can do his job. I’M NOT AN AMBITURNER.

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But like…literally.

Still basic: shoulders tall at the sitting trot. I think we’ve got a pretty decent sitting trot- Frankie usually stays pretty soft through his back so it’s fairly comfortable to go with his motion. But I’ve been so focused on my seat and core that I’ve neglected working on keeping my upper body tall. I know I’m capable of putting those pieces together, it’s just a matter of actually doing the thing. We don’t do flat classes or anything so this isn’t a competition goal, just a polish and precision goal.

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It’s happened before, I’m like 70% sure it can happen again.

Less basic: Solidifying my position over fences. In theory, I’m fantastic at this. My trainer and I joke that in theory, I’m an Olympic rider. I know what I should be doing, and I’m pretty good at diagnosing what I’ve done wrong and how I can fix it. It’s just a matter of….doing those things. And doing those things the first time so I don’t have to diagnose and go back and fix and go through that whole process. For example, my leg isn’t staying where I want it and I’d like to work more on an automatic following release. These are tools I know I have in my toolbox, and I need to be more conscious of honing them and actively using them. My position always looks 20x more solid when shit hits the fan- aka massive chip or leaving a stride out- than it does when things are going well. I want it to consistently be solid.

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SOMEHOW MY LEG DOESN’T BUDGE WHEN I RIDE LIKE CRAP WHAT THE HELL

Also less basic: Insisting on adjustability. Frankie CAN and HAS given me powerful strides ranging from 8′ to 18′. The adjustability is there to use if I ask for it. I need to stop settling into a comfortable canter and maintaining that for the whole course- everything comes up so much more smoothly and powerfully when I actively rate back and forth. Collect through the turn, power up to the single, sit  back in the line, push through the combo, etc. There is no magic stride length to get the job done and I need to use the appropriate stride to each question on course.

I can’t be the only one! What habits do you need to remind yourself of? What’s  so basic that you’ve neglected it and now have to go back and fix?

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

I’ve seen a series of articles on various sites lately (and even joined in the conversation) about all the judgement going on in our sport, from all sides. And it got me thinking about how much energy goes into these comparisons and observations. Because really, it seems that you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

 

If you don’t use grooming services at shows, you’re poor and don’t belong there. If you do, you’re elitist and don’t care about true horsemanship.

If you don’t wear an ear bonnet in the jumper ring, you’re hopelessly out of date. If you do, you probably haven’t earned the right.

If you listen to a trainer on structuring a program for your horse, you’re a pushover who doesn’t have any knowledge of your own. If you don’t, you’re some self-righteous rider who thinks they know better than a professional.

If you jump more than once a week, you’re running your horse into the ground. If you don’t jump at least once a week, you’re not actively training.

If you have your horse on supplements, you’re wasting money on crap they’ll pee out. If you don’t, you’re not giving your horse the tools he needs to succeed.

If you don’t have name brand breeches, you’re not really part of the sport. If you do, you’re trying too hard.

 

If you don’t show, you’re a podunk backyard rider. If you do, you’re putting your own ambition above a true connection with your horse.

If you don’t coordinate your tack, you’re a hot mess. If you do, you care more about looks than about riding correctly.

If you spend more than $5k on a horse, you’re foolish for not finding a talented project to bring along. If you don’t spend at least $25k, you must not be realistic about what it takes to get to the upper levels.

If you’re not jumping at least 3’6″, you’re not a competent rider. If you’re jumping over 3’6″, it’s probably because your horse is doing it for you, and anyone could do it too if they had a horse like that.

If you don’t show in Florida during the winter, you’re truly not part of the circuit. If you do, you’re one of “those people” with gobs of money and no real responsibilities to worry about.

 

If you call the vet too often, you’re overly paranoid and trying to treat holes in your training. Not often enough, and you’re a negligent owner.

I could keep going (and going and going). I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of many of these, often in the form of well-intentioned advice. I’m pretty positive that many of you have run into these and other judgments in your time in the horse world.

At the end of the day, there will always be people throwing shade because you’re not doing things their way. And at the end of the day, I plan to continue surrounding myself with a knowledgeable, supportive community to help me do the best I can for my horse- learning and trying to make tomorrow better than yesterday for him. Anything else just isn’t worth the energy.

 

Chubby Bunny

Frankie’s mama may be a TB, but Francis is alllll warmblood in pretty much every way.

He is the epitome of the big dumb warmblood gelding ( I say this with love), he’s built a little thicker than many TBs, and he sheds out more on a warmblood schedule (literally still shedding). So while he’s technically only half Oldenburg, I definitely think he takes after that side of his breeding much more strongly.

Including the fact that his natural state is a little chunk-a-roony. Manfriend has gleefully taken to calling him “Ol’ Frankie Dad-Bod.” Francis has a great work ethic, is athletic, but he loses fitness practically overnight when he’s not in a pretty intense program.

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OK fine there’s a bit of a belly there I admit it

His fitness has improved over time- but his job has gotten a lot harder too. As I’ve mentioned a few times now, fitness is our main focus in the lead-up to finals. So that people can stop calling my sweet boy names like “chubby bunny” and start being like “wow what a shredded ripped Hulk of a horse.”

He’s not obese or anything, and is probably slimmer than most show hunters, but still. He’s only 11, is jumping 1.15m with tentative hopes for higher, and he has a total dad bod. A DAD BOD.

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The most flattering picture ever taken

With 6 weeks to go until finals, what are we doing to turn Francis from Andy Dwyer to Star Lord?

  • Training rides. AT will be hopping on 2x a week to put some pro rides on him. We wanted to hit a balance of still giving me plenty of saddle time, but often enough to let the pro rides build on each other. 2x a week it is.
  • A 6 on/1 off schedule. Frankie will be worked with varying levels of activity 6 days a week. We’ve worked this schedule with him before with good results, so we’re getting back into that stricter rotation. It’ll be 2 pro rides (which will vary in time/intensity based on his schedule for the week), 1 lesson, 1-2 days hill work/terrain hacks, 1-2 light days.
  • Hill work. As mentioned above, we’ll be incorporating more hill work in our schedules. Some days will be more dedicated to this- there’s a low-traffic road near the barn with a nice shoulder and gentle slope that’s just perfect for trot sets- and we’ll be searching out more hill terrain for cool-down walks after other rides. I haven’t taken enough advantage of the terrain we have nearby in the past and I’m excited to make use of it. I think this will also help us have a good balance with rides- while we’re upping the intensity, we’re also going to be doing more hacks and trail rides to let him get out of the ring and decompress.
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Ambivalent ears
  • Raising the expectations. My “practice rides” with him often end up being fairly short, and I don’t make him do too much. Especially in the summer heat, my motivation to sweat even harder wanes a little. But enough of that crap. Francis knows how to carry himself on the contact. He knows how to collect with impulsion. He knows how to counter-canter and leg yield and shoulder-in. We won’t drill for the sake of drilling, but I will be asking for more out of our rides- he knows the right answers, I just need to be more insistent about asking the questions.
  • No stirrups. What, you thought Frankie was the only one who needs to get in shape?! I’ll be jumping on the fitness train and spending a lot more time without my stirrups. I’ll also be making more consistent use of the gym during my lunch breaks- with free access within walking distance, I have zero excuse not to go. I’m gonna need to get my own butt in gear to keep up with Frankie.

As always, we’re doing all of this in close contact with a whole team of professionals to make sure Frankie is getting the right nutrition, has healthy balanced feet, and is as healthy as…well, as healthy as a horse.

We ask an awful lot of him and finals will be a real test of that- three straight days of long championship courses. We owe it to him to give him every single tool that we possibly can, so he can perform his job comfortably without exhausting himself.

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Like that one time he literally fell asleep every time I wasn’t actively asking him to move.

I’d also like Manfriend to stop calling him Frankie Dad-Bod, but I think he finds it too hilarious to ever stop saying it.

 

Progression: Jumping

This has been mentioned time and time again in my posts over the last few months, but I’d like to take a minute and devote some time specifically to this:

Frankie consistently jumps much better now than he used to.

I don’t just mean that he jumps prettier- though he absolutely does. I mean that he jumps better- more strongly, cleanly, and powerfully. The “pretty” is a lovely side effect of these improvements.

So let’s take a little stroll down memory lane to see where we started together, and talk about some of what we’ve done to get to where we are today.

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First time I tried him, March 2016

 

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Our first show together, Loudoun Benefit, June 2016

 

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Our second show, HITS Culpeper, August 2016

 

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Working hard over the winter, November 2016

 

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Playing over the bigger jumps, January 2017

 

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NEVER NOT SHARING THIS PICTURE. First big outing in our new division, HITS Culpeper, April 2017

 

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Warming up at Upperville, 2017

 

Let’s go ahead and contrast an early and more recent one together real quick:

The height of the fence isn’t a factor here- in fact, the warmup fence on the right is quite a bit lower than the one in the show ring from last year (same venue, funny enough).

What we had early on was a horse that knew to get to the other side of the jump, but didn’t know how to use his body to do that efficiently.

What I see more recently is a horse that pushes off more powerfully from behind, uses his back and neck more actively, and is tidier with his front end.

And I think this speaks to a couple of different factors: (1) fitness and (2) knowledge.

Frankie has now spent roughly 18 months in a consistent professional program- he was certainly in training before that, but transitioned to a stricter program when he was put up for sale (which has continued since I bought him). Through that steady increase in fitness, he’s better able to power off the ground by rocking back instead of “pulling” himself over the jump. His back and neck muscles have developed the strength to use them in different ways. I’d still like to condition him further and fitness will be our main focus in the coming months, but the consistency of our program has been good thus far for his muscle strength and endurance.

In terms of knowledge, we’ve tried to build exercises that set him up to jump well- that make it clear what the “right answer” is. This means lots of grids set fairly short- asking him to rock back and collect his stride to carry himself through. This also means lots of lateral work on the flat, to unlock some of that motion and get him stronger in his hind end and over his back.

I think those shorter lines and grids are absolutely crucial for Frankie. He has a naturally big stride- not fast, just big- and it tends to get bigger and more strung out as he gets tired. By building the strength he needs on the flat to carry some collection in his stride, we are able to set him up to carry himself to the jumps. These shorter lines also force him to rock back on his butt to launch off- there’s no room for him to lurch over. And these lines make him fire a little faster to get his front end up and out of the way.

These are not often big jumps- we jack the jumps up 2-3x a month, if that. We only jump 1x a week, and most of the time they’re kept at 3’ or (usually) lower. We spend the time working on more efficient turns, adjusting our stride, playing with our track, and setting ourselves up to make jumping easier for him. So while I think Frankie gives a better effort over the bigger jumps partially because he has to in order to make it over, we have built up his fitness and ability mostly over smaller jumps and on the flat.

I will say that Frankie still prefers to gallop up out of stride instead of riding to the “jumper chip.” Doing that makes his life easy, since he has plenty of time to get his legs out of the way and doesn’t have to shift his weight back as much for takeoff.

The big difference now is that even though he doesn’t love the close spot, he can still give me a powerful effort. In the past, he simply didn’t (1) know that the close spot was the right answer or (2) have the fitness to give me that answer even if I asked (which I didn’t because I also didn’t know what I was doing and mostly still don’t so luckily he does now womp womp). It used to be extremely weak and lurchy and gross and icky.

In the spirit of total honesty- it is still sometimes totally icky. This is a work in progress, and I definitely need to back up all of my asks with a crapton of leg, otherwise he says HAH I CAN HALF-ASS THIS TOO MAHM. Which is fair.

So I definitely think there’s plenty of room for improvement here. As mentioned, fitness is going to be a big priority for us moving forward, to continue building that ability and willingness to rock back, adjust, and power off the ground. We’d like to shift that close spot to more of an automatic answer for him instead of automatically looking for an out-of-stride spot.

I think this is a great example of form following function. We’ve never tried to make Frankie jump prettier- we’ve just tried to get him fit for his job and set him up to answer the different questions he’ll be asked on course.

Hopefully as we continue to build our muscle and endurance, we keep improving together!

Especially for those of you with young/green/inexperienced horses: what have you done to develop their jumping abilities? I’d love to see any progress pics y’all have to share!