A little picture into what life looks like for the Big Man.
7-7:30a: Come in from turnout to eat breakfast- grain and hay.
7:30a-12p: Nap. Drink some water. Bother the people cleaning his stall. Nap more.
12p: Enjoy some more lunchtime hay, since he’s managed to hoover up most of his.
12-3:30p: Nap more. Flat out on the side. Naps 4 dayz. Slop some hay into the water buckets for a change of pace.
3:30-4p: Eat dinner grain, then go outside with his buddy Nolan.
4pm-7am: Eat more, play with Nolan, sleep some, ruin blankets, play more.
On days I show up, he gets to hang out in his stall after dinner for a bit:
3:30-6p: Digest dinner, eat more hay, stare out the window.
6-7p: Get scratchies/groomies/tacked up.
7-8p: Go for a ride. Sometimes a little earlier if traffic allows. Lessons are a full hour, other rides usually are a little shorter.
8-8:30p: Groomies, rinsing when weather permits, more scratchies. Then outside with Nolan again.
Around November we’ll switch the horses to daytime turnout, which means they’ll get turned out after breakfast and come inside for the night at dinner time.
Frankie will only stay in when weather forces it- a real downpour, temps extremely low, thunderstorms, things like that. He’ll still go out in a drizzle, and I love that he gets solid playtime every day along with social time with his little herd. Yes, he comes in with dings and scrapes sometimes from playing too hard, but I figure horses will manage to hurt themselves no matter what, and this way he at least gets plenty of benefit out of it.
And of course on the weekends, I go during the day and rudely interrupt Frankie’s naptime. I’m a mean mom.
Pretty much our whole schedule revolves around naps. Hey, it’s hard work being such an awesome pony!
Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?
Yes! So much yes! October in Virginia is my idea of paradise. Low humidity, beautiful breezes, cool but not freezing, and lovely views out over the neighborhood. The horses all start getting their dark winter coats and there’s enough crispness in the air to give them an extra pep in their step. Spring is nice too, but the pollen gets absolutely everywhere, and out of loyalty to Manfriend and his awful allergies I hate spring in a show of solidarity. Summer is too hot and humid and winter is the actual worst. Fall all the way forever.
Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer?
Ugh. Yes. Francis got super fuzzy super early this season, and the nights are starting to cool down while the days still get up into the high 70s. I’d consider his workload moderately heavy at the moment, so clipping him has helped keep him comfortable as I ask him to sweat.
Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?
We have an in-house show coming up that I’m angling to do a costume class for! Though I will admit that I haven’t put any thought into what Frankie would be. If money/time was no object, I would love to either turn him into the Millennium Falcon so I could be Han Solo, or turn him into the USS Enterprise so I could be Captain James T. Kirk. I have a thing for scrappy belligerent space captains, clearly (so another option could be to turn him into Serenity and I could be Mal…).
Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?
Hahahaha no. Frankie has not yet found something that he’s afraid of. And “quirks” are not really a thing that he does. I swear, he and Manfriend are tied for first place in the Most Emotionally Stable Creature Award. Which is a fantastic thing because I am a roller coaster of a human being.
Pumpkin spice. It’s everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse?
I am the meanest ever no-treat mom. Tons and tons of pats and scratches and praise, but no treats for the big guy.
We’re getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few “big-bang” shows to look forward to?
Zone Finals! We have two classes on Saturday (the WIHS qualifier) and two classes on Sunday (actual Zone 3 Finals). I am super super excited for both days. We’ll get to see some of the friends we made at Team finals and I like how the schedule works- two classes a day is our sweet spot, and only two days in a row means I’ll still have a nice fresh horse on Sunday. They also build up the heights for each class which is a nice progression: 1.05-1.10m and 1.10-1.15m on day one, then 1.15m on day two. While we haven’t prepared for this as rigorously as we did for Team finals in August, I think a little mental refresher was great for both of us. Frankie feels fit, is going great, and I’m beyond excited to end our season with a bang!
Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?
No trailer, so nothing on that front! And my car is a 4WD Jeep, so I don’t do anything differently with it in the winter. I do know that I’ll need a new car sooner rather than later, but I’m hoping my trusty vehicle will last through one more winter before I have to bite that expensive bullet.
Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?
More trail rides on the weekends! It’s just too hot to enjoy this in the summer. Even if I’ve already put in a good workout, I like to go for a walk around the neighborhood to cool out- as long as sunlight allows.
October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?
Our barn is in a residential neighborhood, so I don’t worry about this too much. I do hear more gunshots (this is Virginia, after all) but never nearby. I also usually take my trail rides in the early afternoons on the weekends, which is not prime hunting hours.
What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?
Oh boy. I don’t even know- there’s a few things in the works that would be AWESOME if they happened, but I don’t want to jinx it by getting ahead of myself. At the end of the day, I’m just psyched to keep having fun with my favorite horse on the planet, building our fitness, and honing our skills. We’ll be picking right back up in February to kick off our new season!
I absolutely love hearing nice things about my horse- and I know I’m not alone in that. Whenever anyone says anything remotely complimentary about Frankie, I automatically think they’re a good person with fantastic taste in horseflesh. And I’m also the type of person to take things in the spirit that they’re meant. I don’t really read into things and tend to assume good intentions.
So recently when someone complimented Frankie, I was very pleased, and then it made me think a little harder. To paraphrase, what they said was: “Frankie is such a good boy, it’s so cool to see how far he’s come! You’re so lucky that he’s progressed so easily!”
First of all, yes he is such a good boy and has come so far! We’re all so proud of him, it’s so gratifying that other people notice it too! And yes, I am so so so lucky is so many ways, including with Frankie. I was very grateful to receive such a sweet compliment.
But I’d like to clarify: I wouldn’t call it easy.
Fun, engaging, rewarding, exciting: yes.
You’ve heard my phrase: bringing Frankie along has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Minus the blood and tears.
Notice that we kept in the sweat.
It’s been a LOT of sweat. Not just from myself, but from my trainers (let’s be honest, probably MORE from my trainers). They have very thoughtfully and carefully put together a program that has taught Frankie the right answers to our questions, while building the fitness to safely answer them.
It’s been a lot of lessons, a lot of homework rides, a lot of training rides BEFORE we actually need them so he doesn’t have a chance to dull any skills. It’s been many many dedicated hours from a whole cast of people.
We’ve always had good material to work with: Frankie may have been inexperienced in some ways when we got him, but he’s always been trained as a sporthorse and was plenty broke. He’s athletic, sane, and a very hard worker. He’s responded to this consistent training so incredibly well and is a pleasure to work with.
But let’s be honest, I have frustrating moments during my rides on the regular. Despite being a Very Good Boy, Francis is not a sensitive character. This is a good thing in so many ways, but it also means that it can be tough to get his attention. Little cues don’t really register with him. They need to be a bit louder. So escalating my cues to the volume he needs in order to recognize what I’m asking can be a bit of a process. We’ve definitely had rides where I felt incompetent and downright annoyed by the end, but we chip away at building those skills and eventually we add them to the toolbox.
I consider myself beyond fortunate to have a horse that responds so well to the training that we’re putting into him- but that training is still a lot of work, and I’m really proud of that work.
At the same time, I’m weirdly glad that it looks easy from the outside. It’s kinda an affirmation that we’re introducing new skills and upping the difficulty for Frankie at a very manageable pace- we have never over-faced him with something he could not do. If it looks easy, it means the countless hours where it’s NOT easy are paying off.
So at the end of the day, I’m still extremely gratified by that compliment. Even though it’s a little inaccurate, it was said with kindness and really- anyone who loves Frankie is OK in my book.
We got out for a XC school this past weekend! I’ve been looking forward to this literally since the day I brought Francis home and spoiler alert: it turned out to be just as super fun as I expected it to be.
Sadly I have next to no media of the outing since our only ground crew was my trainer (who was busy actually watching us ride) and her 2nd grader (who is enthusiastic but easily distracted). So you’ll just have to take my word for it: Francis was perfect.
He bopped over everything with no urging on the first try every time- down banks, double up banks, water, logs, brush, benches, all of it. When some of the other horses got a little balky at the stacked logs going downhill, or the down bank into the water, or the log in the treeline- Frankie forged ahead as a lead for them. When I slipped my reins going down a bank, I didn’t worry about getting them back too quickly because Francis was happy as a clam to keep jumping anything in front of him.
I’m too much of a weenie to try anything too hard and this was a purely just-for-fun outing, so we stuck to mostly the teeny tiny jumps. I have no doubt Frankie could’ve done way more- maybe next time we’ll tackle some of the bigger combos!
He was brave and relaxed and happy the entire time, which meant that I was brave and relaxed and happy the entire time. I had bitted up a little to a slow-twist snaffle, but I really don’t think that was necessary. We would’ve been fine in the plain snaffle- after a few “sassy” head tosses during our warmup, he settled right down into his normal chill self.
My only real regret from this outing was that we didn’t capture more on camera so I can relive the fun and share with you all. It was the best feeling in the world to have so much trust in Frankie and enjoy him being an absolute pro out there.
Blue ribbon eq horse last week, XC superstar this week, and we’re heading to Zone 3 finals for the 1.15m High Jumpers at the end of the month. I’m thinking we really need to fit in a dressage lesson soon so we can cross another discipline off our list! I’d honestly really love to try a low-level (VERY low-level) HT with Francis at some point- in the spirit of Doing All The Things with him.
Maybe someday we’ll find something he’s bad at or we won’t have fun trying a new thing together. But I doubt it. 18 months in and I’m still just as obsessed with this horse as the day I brought him home- more so, even. Best pony ever!
From my favorite horse-show boyfriend himself, here’s Manfriend’s instructions on how to survive as someone who loves a girl who loves horse shows:
If you’re reading this, there’s a fairly decent chance that you’ve been to a horse show. If you’re reading this and you haven’t been to a horse show, then: A. Why are you here? and B. You’re a terrible horse-girl significant other and she’s probably mad at you.
Being a horse show boyfriend/husband is unlike watching any other sport because quite frankly, there’s not a lot of spectating going on. It’s a relay race of hauling, holding, schlepping, reacting, and then maybe a little bit of watching. Being around your woman while she’s competing means that for the next several hours, the horse is the center of her universe and you are essentially Pluto. You have to be barely seen, not heard, but if she needs a planet then it’s handy that you’re there.
Now, before I’m made out to be a hater who dreads going to shows, you must know that watching Olivia compete, win, and win some more is an absolute joy for me. Frankie is an awesome horse and equestrian sports (once you learn how it all works) are a blast to watch. Having said that, I felt compelled to post my “Crack Commandments” as it were so my other dudes in the game can survive and thrive as well.
Here’s a man’s guide to surviving a horse show.
Embrace the smells. I think there is something wrong with Olivia’s olfactory receptors. She seems to think that horse manure, hay, urine and general barn smells are like a Yankee Candle burning softly in a cinnamon factory. This is the same woman who will get in my car and gag at the Febreze air freshener. Barn smells aren’t something I’ve gotten used to and probably won’t for a long time, but it’s something you’re just going to have to suck up- figuratively and literally.
Become “The Invisible Mule.” After your lady has walked her course, she is in the zone. She is Eminem before facing off with Poppa Doc at the end of 8 Mile. She will need things like water handed to her, someone to hold the reins while she takes care of something, or someone she can hand her phone off to when it’s go-time. If you’re one of those guys who rocks flip flops and those Chubbies shorts, you’re gonna have a bad time. You’ll need something with ample pocket space to hold water, gloves, her crop, etc.- a hoodie at the bare minimum. You will have to be silent and unseen until your services are needed. Also, you’re going to be walking alongside her while she’s mounted quite a bit, so flip flops are a bad idea. Actually, no man should ever wear flip flops in public for any reason so write that down.
Learn to be a cell phone camera expert. Unless you’re a step ahead of me and you have a nice camera, learn how to film a round. You need to get good at keeping the horse in frame and zooming in and out as you go (without making it a shaky Cloverfield J.J. Abrams-esque mess). Olivia has this blog in which she posts her video/picture content, but trust me, your horse lady would love to (and should) watch her rounds to review her technique. Not only does it help her progress, but it also equals mad likes on Instagram. And as we all know, if you can’t post it on Instagram then what’s the point? Does it even count?
Bring water. Seriously. Half of you people are dehydrated throughout the entire day. This has a bit to do with horse shows and being outside and everything to do with not being a moron and wondering why you have a headache around 1:30PM. Sure, it may not look that cool to be having to make a bathroom stop more often, but it’s even lamer to be a grown man who passed out because you forgot to drink a beverage that keeps you alive.
Learn the sport. As cool as it is to watch your girlfriend/wife pilot around a 1 ton beast that has a mind of its own; it’s MUCH more fun when you actually know what’s going on. Imagine going to a hockey game for the first time and wondering why all the figure skaters with shoulder pads are hitting each other. That’s what watching the jumpers without knowing the scoring system or rules is like. Once I learned what I was watching, I found myself muttering “sh*t yea” a lot more when I watched Olivia nail the last fence. Also, if you’re like me and curse like a 14-year-old on Call of Duty when mom’s not home, watch your language. There are lots of kids at these things, I’ve probably gotten stared at.
Hopefully by now you’ve learned a few things from a guy who has committed nearly every faux pas in the horse show universe and learned from it. Have fun at these things- they’re seriously a great time if you like competitive spirit and watching your loved one be better than other people.
After all, in the words of Coach Reilly from the first Mighty Ducks: “it’s not worth playing if you can’t win-WIN!”
Many of you likely remember Holly of HeyHeyHolls fame, and I have good news for you. She’s back! I managed to coerce her into a visit to me and Frankie (I bribed her with wine and pony rides, it worked like a charm), and then managed to coerce her into a guest post. Y’all should absolutely go add her new site Marescara to your feed as she forays into eventing with her new lease.
Without further ado, I present: horse shows, as told by toddlers in tiaras and a couple of real housewives.
Stemming from a running conversation Olivia and I have been having, I decided it was more than time to just turn this into a post. Consequently, I present to you…
When I have to put my horse on a diet because he keeps taking his grazing muzzle off
I guess I’ll go braid and clip my fat horse for this show
Getting ready to show and realizing I have no idea what I’m doing
The real reason I horse show
So I try to ask for nice dressage work during our test and instead I get
After dressage, I go to get my horse out of his stall and instead, he’s laying down
But then my horse realizes it’s time to go run cross-country
I ask for a distance and my horse blatantly ignores me
My trainer and barnmates watching my rounds
If you cut me off in the warm up and don’t apologize
First jump, check. Second jump is… where?
My trainer when I pick and pull and fidget to the base, AGAIN
My horse when I pick and pull and fidget to the base, AGAIN
Come out of the ring and didn’t fall off or go off course!
And just because I think this is hysterical, here’s Holly making Frankie look like a giant. Or maybe Frankie just makes Holly look like a child. Or maybe it’s a little bit of both. Either way:
Make sure you chime in to Marescara for more fun posts from Holly!
So. Um. I know I told you all that we were just doing the eq this weekend, some XC schooling next weekend, and maybe a pleasure division at a local show in October to wrap up our season.
But then this happened.
So we’re gonna go do that instead.
100% sure that I’m only invited because people that actually qualified decided not to go, but WHATEVER WE’RE GOING TO ZONES!!!! This was not even remotely on my radar as a possibility this year. Like, at all. Which of course also means that I did not budget for this and will have to get creative with how to pay for it. I only need one kidney, right? RIGHT??
Man, you guys. You know I get so sappy about Francis, but can you blame me? He’s helping me achieve all these dreams I could’ve never imagined. It’s our first year in the division, we just had our true move up in April, I was doing the 0.80m/0.90m only a little over a year ago. And now he’s taking me to Zones for the Highs.
Some of the barn ladies and I were talking about what our “next horse” would be. None of us are currently in the market, but we started sharing what our dream horse would be and how they would be different from our current mounts.
Of course you can probably guess what my answer was: “exactly the same as Frankie but with scope for 1.45m.” Hey, I know what I like.
But then I started thinking about it. If money was absolutely no barrier and I could custom design every single itty bitty little thing, what would I want in my next horse?
To start with, I want a dapple bay. A deep, dark dapple bay. No chrome please, just that beautiful chocolate color- though I wouldn’t complain about a big pretty blaze. At least 17-17.1 and big-bodied. A nice thick neck, sturdy legs, big solid hooves, a kind eye and refined face, big ol’ ears, and a gorgeously full tail. Perfect conformation goes without saying. Mare or gelding is fine, I’m not picky about that. Somewhere in the 8-10 years old range- old enough to know what they’re doing, young enough to have plenty of years to do it.
I want Next Horse to be easy to handle on the ground. They must not spook, nip, or sass when being led, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Next Horse will make cute faces for the camera every time. Next Horse (NH) will always stand quietly, ground tie perfectly, and never paw. There will be no girthiness and NH will take the bit happily every time I tack up.
NH will get along well with other horses out in the field without getting overly attached. NH will never roughhouse and get scraped from playing, nor will NH ever lose a shoe from playing too hard in the mud. NH is not prone to sunburn, skin funk, sensitivity to flies, fungus, thrush, etc. NH is a model of robust health.
Under saddle, NH is super broke. There is lovely elastic movement at all gaits with good range of longitudinal adjustability. All lateral work comes easily to NH along with perfectly balanced non-automatic lead changes and counter-canter. In fact, I could probably take NH to a lower level dressage show without embarrassing myself. NH does not spook or get silly, even when it is super cold out.
NH likes to trail ride, including crossing water. In fact, NH likes most things and will do them with little urging. NH is confident with or without other horses around. NH is sensitive to my aids but still forgiving- he doesn’t mind the occasional swinging leg or off-balance sitting trot. There is a great work ethic there- NH likes having a job.
NH can also jump a house. I’m thinking 1.45m to be on the safe side. NH will jump anything I point him at- liverpools, triple bars, open water. NH will soar over all of these at max height and width with ease. NH actually finds his own distances to these jumps as well. I can walk into any ring and know that NH will jump every jump without hesitation. NH is forward thinking but will re-balance when asked.
So I guess what I said before pretty much still holds. I’d want a Frankie with GP scope. Lucky me for getting my dream horse (or did my dream horse slowly morph into a Frankie? Hmmm…).
Your turn! What’s your perfectly perfect ideal horse?
I consider myself a fairly brave rider. I have my weenie moments like anyone else, but I’ve never told my trainer “I can’t” when she gives me a task. A big part of that is trust- trust that my trainer won’t put me in an unsafe situation, trust in my horse to do his job, trust in my own abilities. I don’t mind getting nervous because I know I have the tools to work through it.
But there is one thing that does freak me out a little bit, and I acknowledge that it’s kinda ridiculous: bringing horses in from the field.
A lot of this fear stems from an incident when I was young, where my dad went to help me catch my pony and ended up getting kicked by another horse in the field. He has a dent in his leg from that kick even now. And then my horse in high school was just an absolute juvenile delinquent and dragged me around when it came to turnout (it got better over time, but I was teeny tiny). Over time, I started to view turning horses in/out with a sense of dread. And that dread still rears its ugly head to this day.
I really REALLY don’t like bringing horses in. Which is why I’ve been forcing myself to do it as often as I can lately.
And I’m in a great spot to get to work on this- I am at a barn full of happy, well-behaved horses who all have good ground manners. I can lead a horse in each hand without worrying if they’ll spook/bite each other/try to drag me. From the 32yo pony to the 3yo baby warmblood, they all know how to walk politely (even when they know that dinner is waiting for them).
But when I go to bring Frankie in from the field, I get a pit in my stomach. None of this is due to him, God bless him. He can be playing Wild Island Stallion with his buddies and acting like an idiot, but he keeps all four feet on the ground as soon as I come close. And other horses can be romping and playing and running, but he will stay by my side and follow where I lead. I have absolute trust that my horse will be a solid citizen.
It’s the other horses that worry me- without cause. When I see other horses running up to see where Frankie is going, I brace myself for Frankie to bolt- despite Frankie never showing any inclination for this. When another horse follows us closely to the gate, I wait for them to start kicking at each other- again, despite Frankie literally NEVER even flicking an ear at his herd-mates. I put his halter on quickly because I am so sure he will try to rip it out of my hands to go play with his friends- even though he always puts his face down to make it easier for me.
Slowly but surely, I am working through this fear. I trust Frankie’s ground manners, and I’m coming to trust his herd-mates’ manners too. And when they are playing like fools, I’m learning to trust my own ability to tell them to cut the crap and get out of my way. I’m not completely relaxed yet, but I’m happy to be making progress.
I’ve told you all ad nauseam how much I love my trainer. How she pushes me, teaches me, keeps Frankie fit and healthy. She truly works so hard for her clients and it’s inspiring to see.
But when I take a step back and look at the last few years with her (it’ll be three years next week!), I realized that she’s done so much more than that.
She has believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and she’s put in time and effort on my behalf countless times when there was pretty much nothing in it for her.
You may remember that I didn’t start out with her as a competitor. I started out as a once-a-week group lesson rider with no horse and no shows on the calendar. Heck, I couldn’t afford a horse or shows at that point. My trainer was making next to no money from having me as a client.
After only two lessons, she went out of her way to arrange a half-lease for me. She didn’t get a commission on that and my payments all went directly to Addy’s owner, but she thought it would be good for the horse and knew I wanted to ride. So she made it happen.
When I eventually scraped together some money for shows, she made sure to let me know when the nearby local ones were happening and rallied other riders to go too, knowing those were the only ones I could afford.
When I said I wanted to buy a horse to go do the 1.0m Adult Jumpers, she told me to dream bigger and found a mount to take me to 1.10m and beyond. Despite the fact that I had never competed over 3′.
Countless times she has sat with me after lessons to talk about how to word a sale ad, common conformation flaws, how course design affects the ride, the nutrient content of our feed, considerations when matching a horse and rider, potential upcoming USEF rule changes and the implications of those, and every other topic under the sun about the equine industry.
She has gone into the warmup ring and rattled, soothed, riled, encouraged me by turns, somehow always knowing what will get me into the ring feeling my best. She knows when to say, “not bad, but wait with your shoulders,” and when to say, “GET MAD AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.” She never fails to send me in with a pat and a “go have fun!”
And a few weeks ago at Finals, as I was managing my second warmup of the morning and trying to overcome some mental hurdles, she pulled me in for a rare quiet moment. She looked me square in the eye and said:
“You deserve to be here. Don’t think for one second that you don’t. You have just as much of a chance to go lay this down as any other rider here. You’ve earned your spot in this competition.”
Somehow, without me ever verbalizing (and without me fully realizing it myself), she understood those insidious feelings of inadequacy that we all face every so often. She confronted them head on and gave me her confidence when she knew my own was low.
Of course I’m happy with my trainer from a “checkbox” perspective: my horse is healthy and happy, we are progressing steadily and safely, and we are continuously adding new skills to the toolbox. But she has my loyalty for so much more than that.
I’m one of my trainer’s more involved clients now: I board my horse with her, I utilize her training services in addition to my own lessons, I compete at the big shows regularly. But I’ll never forget that she’s been going to bat for me and believing in my dreams since I was just another lesson kid.