The Big Guy had his field trip last week! He and one of our lovely junior riders went out and competed in all three rings: they did the 0.85m and 0.95m jumpers, the 3′ equitation classes, and the 3′ children’s hunter division. CHECK THE CUTENESS:
I’m not comfortable sharing pics of a minor without their/their parent’s consent and I’m too lazy to edit more emoji faces into the pictures, but rest assured that I have lots and lots of pics of the Frankfurter being adorable.
Apparently he had a few rails in the hunter classes, because natural fill is a real snoozefest. But the videos I saw were really lovely- she rode him beautifully, very steady and consistent. And the two of them got 3rd in one of their 0.95m jumper classes- this maaaay have actually been her first foray into the jumper ring. So happy that Frankie could share his awesomeness ❤ Trainer said he was “wonderful” so I’m just bursting with pride at that.
Also never fear, I got plenty of nap pics of him. He certainly wasn’t worked up that I wasn’t there.
I felt a bit like a parent who had a kid away at summer camp- it was odd to not go to the barn at all after work. I don’t plan to make a habit of that, but it was nice to have a break to catch up on things!
And getting to catch up on things while Frankie got to go play with a talented rider, in some new rings, under the trusted supervision of my trainers? It doesn’t get much better.
I can’t wait to go out and love on my 3-ring creature! A break was nice, but I miss my giant four-legged buddy.
See, all the movies make wedding planning look like an endless series of brunch meetings with your mom and maid of honor laughing prettily as you effortlessly agree on everything.
But like for realz we all work which means that we can really only do stuff on the weekend, and THERE’S NO TIME FOR BRUNCH WE HAVE 18 DECISIONS TO MAKE IMMEDIATELY and yes I understand that person wants a plus one but it ain’t happening so stop asking and why did four separate people straight up not provide their apartment number and no I don’t want a human gargoyle outside the doors and why was that even on the list for consideration??
Don’t get me wrong, wedding planning is a lot of fun. Every vendor we’ve chosen has turned out to be a Total Bro about everything we throw at them, and our coordinator is the most delightfully enthusiastic man. We love him. My maid of honor and I have actually done some lovely brunches, and my mom could legitimately start a career as a wedding planner- she’s amazing at all of this. It’s going to be the most rad party in the history of rad parties.
BUT WHY WERE HUMAN GARGOYLES A THING I HAD TO EVEN THINK ABOUT???
Anyways, as we’re getting closer to the wedding, planning is really ramping up which means that my time and energy is ever-more devoted to that.
Ergo, my time and energy is not at the barn as much as I’d like.
Frankie is entirely on board with this. He is reverting to DadBod Francis, which apparently is his natural state if he’s not in a 6 day a week program. I swear, total fat kid at heart. He may be half TB, but he definitely takes after the WB side in the hard-to-keep-fit sense. I can definitely feel his hind end losing some power- nothing crazy, but he was SUPER powerful off his hind end earlier in the summer and he lost that explosiveness practically overnight. 100% chunkaroo.
Luckily, I’m not asking him to do anything that requires him to be in peak shape. I’ve done a few lessons where we do simple courses with jumps that stay below 3’3″-3’6″ish, and we toodle. I have the barn juniors hop on fairly regularly, and I still have AT do one ride a week on him to make sure he still gets a steady reminder on How To Horse Properly. One of the (many many) reasons I am so grateful for this horse is that he has handled it all without blinking- he went from full show training to practically a pasture pet overnight, and he just kinda rolls with it.
He’s actually going on a fun adventure with one of the barn girls this week- he’ll be making his hunter debut! She’s doing a week-long lease to take him in the 3′ Children’s Hunters down at Lexington National. It’s going to be adorable! He’s super NOT a hunter, but he’s steady and safe and willing. She’s an absolutely lovely rider with impeccable horsemanship, so I think this will be a fun outing for both of them. Gotta love that Frankenbean- in the course of two months, he will have competed in the 1.20m jumpers, the WT pleasure, and the 3′ Children’s Hunters. Atta boy, go Do All The Things!
I originally had big plans for late summer/early fall- namely, a move-up to the 1.20m with the Beast. But realistically, I just don’t have the time, energy, or quite frankly the funds to support the training program needed to be strong enough at that height. It was disappointing to look at the schedule and realize that I’d have to shift my expectations, but that’s life!
Luckily I have a healthy and sound horse, so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to give it a go next year, when I have a new name and no wedding to plan. I think I would take it harder if I had a different horse, but it’s hard to feel bad about pretty much anything when I ride Frankie. Whatever our adventures end up being, and whatever the timing is, we’re going to have fun.
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.”
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.
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).
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!
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.
Looks like we’ll be continuing our unintentional dressage lessons!
We all know there isn’t one single way to succeed. Heck, the definition of the word “succeed” is going to be different for every person you talk to. It’s finding breakthroughs with a challenging horse, or tackling a difficult course in a lesson, or finally getting the dang rain rot to go away altogether. It’s getting ribbons at shows, or it’s building a connection, or it’s getting the confidence to try a new discipline. I could go on endlessly- and for most people I know, success is some blend of many different things that is constantly shifting over time.
So what does success look like to me right now- and what does it not look like?
As someone who loves to compete, part of my success looks like doing well at horse shows. It looks like being able to give my horse a thorough and efficient warmup, setting him up to perform well on course, riding my plan, being bold with some more assertive inside turns, and finding the right balance between softly allowing Frankie to do his job vs. surrounding him and providing him the support he needs to attack the course.
Success to me does not look like ribbons. I’ve gotten good ribbons for courses that I rode poorly- I got lucky and my horse bailed me out. I’ve had trips that felt extraordinarily competent- smooth, deliberate, efficient, and incredibly in tune with my horse- where an unlucky rail kept us out of the ribbons. I’ll never be mad about getting a ribbon, but I can walk away from a show without any ribbons and still feel satisfied with our accomplishments.
Success also looks like a happy horse. I don’t do this sport for a living- I’m an amateur. I do it for fun. For me, a cranky horse is not fun. I consider myself successful when I’m able to provide the care necessary for Frankie to be comfortable in performing his job, which leads to him being happy to go play the game. Success is teaching him the rules of the game and being consistent, so that he is able to confidently navigate the ring. I feel like a total winner when I feel him lock on to a jump and ask to carry me to it.
Success looks like individualizing our program to build on Frankie’s strengths, knowing that the skills he needs to develop are not the same as the other horses in the barn, and the way we work on them may not be the same. It’s lots of fitness work because he’s a chunkaroo at heart, it’s hand walks at shows to give him fresh air when he’s stuck in a stall, and it’s getting in his way a little to tell him the right answer when we’re schooling.
It does not look like being good at just one thing. Yes, our efforts are focused mainly in the jumper ring- but we enjoy hacking out, we’ve practiced our polish in the equitation ring, and we regularly ride with the hunters to practice nice smooth steady courses. He’s a wonderful show horse, but only because I ask him to be. Part of enjoying our partnership means enjoying different ways of working together.
Overall, success to me means improving our skills as a team so that we can go on adventures together with confidence in our abilities to navigate whatever comes up!
Your turn- what looks like success to you for where you are in your journey right now?
So we just did a breakdown of how much we spend on horse shows, and now I’m on a kick. So I’ll talk a little bit about what else I spend my money on when it comes to Francis- specifically, how we ramped him up for this show season.
You’ve heard me talk ad nauseam about how fantastically incredibly amazing Francis is- and I ain’t sorry. He deserves the hype. Those of you who have met him and seen him in real life can attest that he’s a straight up awesome dude.
I think we’ve progressed quite steadily since I brought him home a little over two years ago. We’ve both built knowledge, we’ve both built fitness, and we’ve really developed a wonderful partnership that I’m very proud of. But the rate of improvement has vastly accelerated over the last few months. When I say that I didn’t have this horse under me three months ago, I mean it. It’s an incredible transformation.
But it is not a surprising transformation. It has been a very deliberate, careful process.
First off we did some stuff to ensure his comfort- SI injection, hock injections, chiropractor, massage, shimming our half pad to get his saddle to sit better, etc. This is more than we’ve done in the past, but I think it’s appropriately commensurate with his workload and age. All things considered, he’s fairly low-maintenance (especially for a Shmancy Show Horse). I’d say we probably spent an extra $1500 this year on this type of stuff over last year.
So that was the base we needed to establish in order to push harder. We got his body feeling loose and happy and comfortable before we started asking him to work more.
Because the real transformation came from more professional attention. Simple as that. Two training rides per week to teach Frankie how to use his body more actively and more correctly, and a full hour private lesson with me every week to teach me how to reinforce and correctly ask for that level of work. Over the past few months, I’d say we spent an extra $500-1000 or so on this over the same period last year.
I know there’s a range of opinions on training rides, but I couldn’t be more thrilled with how they’ve been working for us. Trainer and AT have built these rides to be part of a cohesive program- the skills that AT works on with Frankie are the same skills that Trainer works with me on in my lessons. We have frequent discussions on what/how they’re working on things so that I can continue that work on my own time. It’s very much a team effort to be consistent and fair with what we’re asking of Frankie.
And it’s really really working. You should’ve seen our first private lesson when we kicked this phase of our program off. Trainer ended up having to get on to show me that yes, actually, Frankie is capable of this, he’s just not convinced that I mean it. We didn’t even jump because I was just trying to get a certain level of flatwork out of him. It took a solid 45 minutes to get a few moments of that correctness so we could end on a good note.
Nowadays when I hop on he immediately set off to work. It doesn’t take 45 minutes- he is right there offering it up as soon as I ask. He knows I mean it now. I’m having to get more and more creative with my rides. He answers every question I ask promptly and obediently, so I’m having to come up with new, harder questions. I am the limiting factor in this equation now.
So it’s a lot of work, and a lot of luck, and a lot of patience, but at the end of the day we accelerated our improvement by throwing more money at it. It’s not romantic and it doesn’t make for a good Lifetime movie. But hey- it works.
Hoo boy. I’ve been seeing all y’all sharing the costs of competing, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see the differences by region, by discipline, by moon sign, by all that stuff. We all know I can’t resist a good blog hop, so here’s my breakdown:
USHJA for rider: $85 per year
USEF for rider: $80 per year
USHJA for horse: $75, lifetime
USEF for horse: $300, lifetime
So basically Frankie is set for life since I got him registered shortly after I bought him, but every year I cough up another $165 to keep myself in good standing. Could I save some money by doing the 3-year or lifetime memberships? Maybe. But I also refuse to fork over that much at once, so I’ll keep trucking along. I don’t really factor this into my show budget because it’s such a drop in the bucket (just keep reading, it gets painful).
Individual Show Fees:
I break this into two main groups- fees that I pay directly to the show, and fees that I pay directly to my trainer as part of her services. I’ll start with the check I usually write to the show.
Show Fees to the Show
Stall: varies pretty widely. WEC was $75, HITS Culpeper was $300. Most places that we go tend to be in the $250-$275 range. Upperville is so close that we were able to ship in, which saved me a good amount of money #praisebe. But I’m annoyingly enamored with shows that are more than 30 minutes away, so we get a stall for every other show.
Splits: the best part of having a filthy disgusting gelding is that we get to use extra shavings HOORAY. If we get a grooming stall, then we all split that cost as well. My trainer sets up this up so I don’t usually break this out as a line item, but it’s usually ~$100.
“Other” fees: this includes office fees, federation/affiliate fees, zone fees, ambulance fees, and any other fees the office can tack on without causing widespread mutiny. These all usually add up to another ~$100 or so.
Classes: finally we get to the part we’re actually there for! I usually just do my division, with maybe one class earlier in the week for AT to do the bigger sticks. Or for me to use as a warmup. For most prize lists this looks like:
Warmup/training class: ~$50
High Adult Jumper Division (including classic): ~$300. I know that seems high for only 3 classes, but my classic is pretty much always a $2500 class, hence the high fee. Not that I ever get any prize money back because by the time Sunday rolls around I’m usually tired and riding like a spider monkey clinging to my horse’s back, but IT’S FINE IT’S ALL FINE JUST TAKE ALL MY MONEY.
Nomination fee: this is a fairly new one for me. Some shows charge it if you do any jumper classes. Some charge if you enter any class at 1.20m+. Sometimes this is $150. Usually it’s more. $225ish is a pretty safe middle ground.
And that about covers the check I write to the show itself. All that adds up to about $1k. Depending on the venue I can get this down to $900 sometimes (especially if they don’t have a STUPID POINTLESS NOMINATING FEE), but yeah. I’m probably going to be crying in the show office as I sign that check.
Show Fees to my Trainer
Just in case you thought we were done- we’re not! I won’t be sharing my trainer’s specific pricing, but I will tell you what services I pay for.
Shipping: we did use a commercial shipper to get the ponies up to Lake Placid (side note- the people at Johnson Horse Transportation were SO NICE and easy to work with. I love them. Absolutely lovely people.) but my trainer ships us everywhere else. She has a 4-horse and between her and some clients there’s like 18 2-horse trailers, so we always have a ride. If I can’t be there to get Frankie loaded/unloaded they will get him and all my stuff on the trailer, wrap/unwrap his legs, and clean out the trailer. I usually like to be there, but sometimes work gets in the way or I’m straight up exhausted and it’s worth paying a little extra. Also for stall set-up/breakdown- again, I like to be there if possible, but I’m often at work. And set-up and breakdown are LABOR INTENSIVE YO.
Coaching: Everything from mental coaching when I go off the deep end, to warming us up, to yelling SHOULDERS as I careen around the turns on course, to debriefing afterwards about what worked and what didn’t. She is an excellent coach. Sometimes AT coaches me, and she’s also fantastic. I’ve talked at length about that, but seriously. Their level of dedication to their clients is incredible.
Training rides: If I can’t be there early enough in the week, AT will hop on to let Francis stretch his legs and get some tuning up. It definitely helps set us up for success.
Pro show rides: For if AT takes Frankie in any classes. We did that once last year to step Frankie up to the 1.15m, and we’re doing it more often this year to give him some miles in the 1.20m.
Day care: no, not for Trainer’s children. For Francis of course! This is kinda a catch-all that includes mucking Frankie’s stall, feeding Frankie, wrapping his legs at night, and tacking up/grooming if needed. I tack myself up pretty regularly, but it’s nice to have the help if time is tight.
Supplies: covers transport and use of all grooming materials, hoof oil, saddle pads, non-slip pads, hoses, buckets, mounting blocks, chairs, etc. I pretty much just bring my saddle and bridle and Trainer/AT supply the rest.
Misc. grooming/medication: we do face/ears/legs touchups before shows, and Frankie is a real asshole about having his ears clipped so someone else handles that. If he needs any medication, Trainer/AT takes care of it and just invoices me- for example, Frankie scraped his eye somehow at WEC, and they gave him an anti-inflammatory.
Hotel/meal split: showing clients split the cost of food and lodgings for Trainer, AT, and any additional help they need to bring.
I think that about covers it. I feel like that looks like a lot of different fees, but they’re all reasonable and I appreciate the transparency in knowing exactly what I’m paying for each specific type of service we get. And the level of care Frankie and I get is really top-notch- I never worry for a moment about his well-being, and everything is very tailored to our learning style and goals. The overall cost varies pretty widely by how far we travel (shipping), how many days we’re there (day care, coaching, training, hotel/meal splits) so it’s hard to give a consistent total.
So adding up the fees I pay to the show and the fees I pay to my trainer, we’re looking at a $1700-$2000+ total for a rated show, not including my meals or hotel bill.
Which is why I don’t show all the time and why I eat peanut butter sandwiches a lot.
So here’s the question I’ve gotten in the past: could I do it for cheaper?
Short answer: yes.
Slightly longer answer: yes, but I won’t.
Full answer: not much I can do about the fees I pay to the show. They set the prices and I either pay them or choose not to go to that venue (one of several reasons we don’t go to Culpeper anymore). When it comes to the fees I pay my trainer, obviously I could do a lot differently there. I could muck and feed myself, I could forego training rides, I could load/unload, setup/breakdown, do all clipping and grooming and tacking myself, bring all my own supplies, etc. But I don’t/won’t do that for several reasons.
One reason is that this is the way my trainer’s show program is set up. It is a well-oiled machine, she has been transparent about this from day one, and it is what I willingly signed up for. No one is forcing us to show or to ride with this barn, and part of being in this program means working within the program. I like the program. It is not for everyone, but it’s great for me and my horse so I am very happy to work within it. And quite frankly I trust Trainer’s/AT’s cumulative years of expertise in horse care far more than my own, so there’s also a comfort in knowing that Frankie has knowledgeable eyes on him around the clock.
Another reason is that I straight up don’t want to. I go to horse shows for fun. I get to learn a lot, ride my favorite horse, compete over interesting courses, try new skills, hang out with like-minded people. I respect the HELL out of people that work their butts off to do self-care at shows, but it’s not something I want to do myself. I’m perfectly happy to pay the “convenience fee” for full care.
So there is my extremely long-winded breakdown of show costs. One of these days I’ll do a full breakdown of all Francis-related costs and we can all cry together.
Britt had a fantastic post recently about what she hears most often from her trainers, and I just needed to join in!
“Coil the spring”
We talk a lot about getting Frankie’s energy up in front of my leg, and then recycling it back to his hind end to create power. And what happens when you try to compress a crooked spring? It bounces out to the side. She says this to remind me to keep Frankie straight between my aids and bouncing up in front of me.
“We have beautiful hands”
This is a more recent one, as Frankie’s jump has gotten a lot rounder and more powerful (and therefore pops me out of the tack much more easily). This reminds me to keep a soft following hand over the fence to reward this effort. It also makes me chuckle as I’m walking into the show ring.
Ya girl over here gets fetal sometimes, especially around tighter turns. Hearing this belted across the show ring is just the kick in the pants I often need to get my balance back centered over his and in the driving seat up through the turn.
“Ride the plan”
I really like a thinking ride. That’s 100% of why I like the jumpers- I don’t actually like to go fast. I just really like puzzles and strategy and planning, and for me a well-ridden jumper course is the ultimate in executing a plan. Trainer knows this, and we work together during our course walks to develop a detailed, comprehensive plan that plays to our strengths and accounts for our weaknesses. Sometimes I just need a lil reminder that we come up with a plan for a reason, and I shouldn’t just abandon it in a panic (HAHAHA WHO DOES THAT DEFINITELY NOT ME).
“Go have fun”
My all time favorite thing she ever says. It’s our little ritual every single time I walk into the show ring. No matter how jittery and anxious I may be, no matter how intimidated I am by the course, this makes me smile and remember that I’m doing this because I frickin’ love flying around with my Francis.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
I somehow managed to get several recent videos to share! I’m excited for you to see the Frankenbean in full force being a rockstar.
First up: our speed round from Blue Rock. I used to hate speed rounds- we were never that fast- but it has quickly become my favorite format. This round wasn’t blindingly fast and we did have a rail coming out of the 4 stride vertical-vertical line (when we were walking the course, I knew that would be a potential trouble spot to get him rocked back hard enough there) so we were out of the ribbons in a competitive class, but I was overall very happy with this course. As always there is rider error to work on (anyone see that short one into the combo because I didn’t set up the track properly AGAIN), but Francisco is one happy boy out there.
Next up are a few clips from our lesson last Friday. I wish I could express just how fantastic he was, it was seriously one of the best lessons we’ve ever had. He was so tuned in and workmanlike from the moment I got in the irons. Gah. I’ll just let you watch. He’s amazing. I did not have this horse under me 3 months ago, I can tell you that. Both our trainers have really been pushing us to raise the bar and he keeps coming out and showing us just how hard he can work.
Hope you enjoy getting to see the Frankenbeast strut his stuff! He’ll be doing a 1.20m class with AT at Upperville during the week, and then we’ll be doing our High division Fri-Sun. Can’t wait to get out there with the biggest bestest brownest unicorn!