I’ve been toodling lately. Between moving, travel, wedding planning, a busy season at work, and showing a lot lately, I’m a bit fried both mentally and physically. 3 shows in two months may not be a lot to some people, but I’m just not used to it! So for a little bit, I’m taking a step back from hard training to just enjoy my sweet pony.
And part of that enjoyment is sharing him!
I’ve often mentioned my fav Talented Junior Rider(TM) that hops on Frankie for me when I can’t be there, and she’s been taking some rides on him while I’ve been traveling and getting situated in the new place. She seems to enjoy hopping on him, and I know Frankie absolutely ADORES her! Seriously, he will follow her to the ends of the earth, homeboy loves himself some Devyn. She’s a very solid and hard-working young horsewoman and strikes an excellent balance of making him work while also loving on him. Bonus- she and her mom also clean my tack really well after she uses it 😉
Her mom Kristen is also my barn bestie! That whole family actually is my adopted barn family. They even helped Nick plan his proposal, and were there to take pictures and share the moment. We do Friday barn happy hours, take turns bringing wine, and generally I just adore the whole fam because they are wonderful and supportive and snarky and hilarious and the best.
She also takes 90% of the pics I use here- if it’s adorable, it’s probably from Kristen.
Kristen has hopped on Frankie once or twice- she is a dedicated Pony Mom, but is a lovely horsewoman in her own right- and I’m always encouraging her to hop on more. There’s nothing better than seeing Frankie bop around with my friends! So when we saw that there was a nearby local show coming up, it was quickly decided that Kristen would go take Frankie in the pleasure division to play around, for her first show in 6+ years. Trainer was enthusiastically on board.
These were Frankie’s first flat classes, believe it or not! And as expected, he was just an angel doll.
It was funny- he was visibly confused at the lack of jumps, and kept helpfully pulling Kristen towards them like “OK lady we had our warmup now I know my job is jumpies.” Gotta love that helpful spirit of his.
I hopped on him between classes to work him down a bit, and yes we were all laughing that Frankie needed some “prep.” Homeboy has spent the last two years getting educated to the contact and learning how to fire up, and all of a sudden he had a loopy rein and was supposed to just bop around.
I swear, he thought he died and went to heaven. AT was joking that now Frankie really REALLY wants a Mommy Ammy to drink mimosas off his back and toodle with forever. He got a little taste of what his retirement with me will look like down the line, and now he’s pretty pumped about it. Sorry bud, you’re too athletic for me to retire you just yet. You’ve got some more work to do.
Seriously, what an absolute unicorn- he was doing the 1.15m jumpers all fiery and fancy in a national show up at Lake Placid, and two weeks later he was happily taking a re-rider around some flat classes at a local show.
I’m so grateful to have a horse that I can share with my friends like this! It brings me such great joy to see him so happily take on different jobs and try new things. He’s kinda like a jack of all trades and master of all of them. Because he is a WonderPony.
Between moving Nick in to our third-floor walkup on Saturday and getting up at 5:30a to go to this show on Sunday, I am EXHAUSTED. Time to toodle some more with the world’s best pony ’til I can get some energy back.
Here’s the quick and dirty version for those of you in a rush: I rode poorly overall but did have one round I was happy with. Frankie was the bestest beast on the planet (obviously) no matter what his pilot was doing. It was stunningly gorgeous and while it was challenging and a bit overwhelming, it was a wonderful show and I would recommend it to anyone.
For the sake of not hitting you with a 3k word post, I’ll split this out into 2-3 different topics.
I’ll start with the actual riding!
Frankie went in for a schooling round with my Trainer on Tuesday (while I was driving up) to let him get in the ring and see the place. Because we all know that the big guy really needs time to look around. Hah. When I arrived and asked if he was settling in ok, both Trainer and AT just looked at me and said, “Olivia, when does he not??” The angst. He does not has it. I got to see the video of him going around and he looked fine. A bit unfocused perhaps, but nothing crazy or worrisome. AT always does such a great job of using those rounds as a real schooling opportunity.
I was able to lesson in one of the schooling rings on Wednesday where we did mostly flatwork and a few small jumps. Frankie felt AMAZING. Super obedient, bendy, and giving me everything I asked for. Our lateral work feels like it has come SO so so far- haunches-in/out and shoulder-in/out was much more prompt and less of a wiggly wrestling match. We iz learning gud. We cooled out by going on a trail ride down to the river, which may be one of my favorite parts of this show. All the fancy ponies were so happy to go out in nature and relax! Frankie seemed content to lead the way, snorting happily the whole time.
Then Thursday was the first class of our division, a jumpoff round that they turned into a straight speed round due to weather (wet. It was wet.).
It was a fairly straightforward course. That I rode like a potato. I got SUPER long to the first oxer, which told Frankie that I had no idea what I was doing, and I never quite got him balanced underneath me after that. We smashed our way through the two-stride. I did the last line with one stirrup. “We made it out alive” is about the best I can say about it.
So yeah. Disappointing because it was like I completely forgot how to ride. Frankie was a trooper, but he should not have had to put up with that. Extra pats for pony.
On to Friday. Where the nerves showed up because I thought Frankie would justifiably be like UM NO to everything. Not sure why I thought that because he has literally never shown that inclination, but I was super sure that he hated me. I’m not saying it was logical.
I was holding it together ok until I was partially tacked up. And then I had to wait a few minutes before bridling and heading to the ring. And fun fact about me is that the waiting is what makes me more nervous than anything. So when Trainer said to hold off for 5 minutes, I stood up, walked out of the tent, and puked.
WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL, SELF.
30 seconds later I got on the horse and had a really great warmup and then a round that I was quite happy with. One rail in the speed phase of the power and speed put us just out of the ribbons but it was definitely redemption from Thursday.
Our combos were accurate, we made decisions, I tipped a bit with my shoulders a few times but it worked out ok because my horse is a prince, and it was definitely the confidence boost I needed.
We were completely done by 10am (I was the first class in the ring with a 7:30a start), so I spent the rest of the day doing touristy stuff with my momma (I’ll share that stuff in another post!).
On to Saturday.
So my class on Saturday was the last of the day in the big grass Grand Prix field, going around 5p. Meaning I had all day to work myself up.
And work myself up I certainly did. I basically had a meltdown about how I was not capable of doing this, I was panicked about going on the grass, EVERYTHING IS BAD FOREVER AND I AM TERRIBLE. I haven’t had an attack of nerves like that since I was a kid. It was ridiculous and frankly embarrassing. I’m only telling you this because y’all are my people and it would feel dishonest to say that everything was sunshine and rainbows and I am a beacon of emotional fortitude. I ain’t.
After much urging, I called Trainer to basically word vomit that I am a potato rider who can’t do anything right. And she is the actual best. She reaffirmed her confidence in both my and my horse’s abilities, she wanted us to go have fun, and basically reminded me that I am not terrible and everything is not bad.
There should be a special award for trainers of ridiculous ammies. She deserves one for literally being my sports therapist.
So by the time I got to the barn I was still nervous, but in a much better place. I was gonna go out there and ride my beloved animal who probably has more experience going on grass than most of the other horses there (hello foxhunting and eventing careers), and we were gonna have a blast. The mimosa I had during the course walk helped too.
So between my Trainer talking me off the ledge, AT making me laugh ’til I forgot I was nervous, and the healing powers of champagne, I was actually excited to go Do The Thing.
We headed to the warmup and were doing rather well- Frankie was right there with me giving me everything I asked for.
And then I tipped my shoulders at a jump that I really should not have tipped my shoulders at (sound familiar? From Thursday?) and toppled right off the side. And took off Frankie’s entire bridle as I went. Womp womp.
Continuing his bid for sainthood, Frankie just stood there looking perplexed as someone said LOOSE HORSE and people helped me up. I’m 100% fine, just a little sore on my shoulder where I rolled. We quickly got his bridle back on and put me back in the saddle.
But at that point I started riding REALLY defensively. I took a few more jumps to confirm that we could still do it, and then opted to scratch. At that height, on a new footing, with all the hoopla around it, I needed to be able to help my horse out and I was not at all in a place where I was confident in my abilities to do that.
So that was definitely disappointing. I got myself into the right mental zone just in time to bungle it up before even stepping foot in the ring.
But on the flip side, I tried. I had spent the morning panicking, but I still got on the horse and I tried. And after I fell off I got BACK on the horse and kept trying. So while it didn’t go according to plan, I’m going to take that as a victory.
If that all sounds like a rollercoaster, it’s because it absolutely was. I had nerves rear their ugly head in a major way that hasn’t happened in almost 15 years, I didn’t ride to the best (or even the medium) of my abilities, I had my second tumble off Francis. It was definitely not how I hoped to go in the ring for such a major show.
But I also pushed through the nerves to give it a go, learned a lot about what kind of warmup we need to go in and do well, and I got to ride the best horse on the planet. No matter how all-over-the-place I was, Frankie was my constant the entire time. He really is an incredible animal.
So at the end of the day, I feel like one majorly lucky girl.
Next up: more about the area, the showgrounds as a whole, and getting to spend time with my momma!
Upperville 2018 is a wrap! It was definitely a rollercoaster of a show- long days and good moments and pilot-error moments and all that good stuff. Spoiler alert: Frankie could not have been better. He was professional to the extreme, and packed me around with incredible consistency and kindness.
So let’s jump into it! (Strap in, because this is a MONSTER post)
On Wednesday, Frankenbean trailered in with Trainer and AT to get some more miles in the 1.20m. While I would’ve loved to be there, I sadly had to be at work and missed his round. Fortunately I was able to get a full report card from Trainer that evening!
Her thoughts, in no particular order: overall, thumbs up. He looked much less surprised by the height and settled into it much more quickly than his first outing. She’s very happy with the increase in his fitness and recommends we continue the program we have him in (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!). He was able to handle a range of distances with much more power and agility- he did have one rail on course, but it was from a perfect spot, he was just a little careless over it. The close and long spots he rode cleanly. There was a four stride set a little short and he kinda blew through the half-halt until stride 3, so working on responsiveness is (as always) something for us to focus on. He finished middle of the pack (26th) in a class of 59, against much more experienced horses, and didn’t look like a newbie- he looked like he belonged there.
I got to watch the video and I absolutely agree, he looked rather nonchalant about the whole thing. Trainer did recommend that AT take him in at least one more time to solidify him at this height before I take over, which I’m entirely on board with. It gives him more positive miles, and it gives me a little more time to make sure I’m totally tuned into giving him a good ride.
Francis got to go home and relax outside, and I gave him a short flat ride on Thursday to stretch out before our weekend together.
Friday. Was. Long. I was up by 4:30a, at the barn by 5:15a, on the showgrounds by 6:45a. And I didn’t show until 4:30p-ish. At one point I slumped over a folding table and napped for a solid hour. It was great cheering on my barnmates and seeing AT take our OTTB in the 1.25m 6yo class (he seriously gets better and better every time out, whoever buys him is gonna be one lucky rider), but I’ll admit that I was pretty exhausted by the time I hopped on.
We got to the warmup ring and my eye was…uncharacteristically long. Like, a mile long. This used to be my default, but I thought we had conquered that instinct a long time ago. AT worked with me to get to the base, but for whatever reason I just struggled seeing anything but an awful gap.
Our first fence on course was a big wide oxer on a long approach away from home (I have opinions about that being the first question in the first class- from a course design standpoint, I think that would be more appropriate on a Saturday or Sunday once we’ve had the chance to get a sense of the ring), and instead of trusting the rhythm and my horse’s brokeness, I straight up gunned him at it. For no reason. And he very understandably said NOPE WE DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE. I reapproached and FINALLY asked for the short one. And homeboy was perfection- a little sticky off the ground because he was like wtf is going on up there lady, but he carried on without holding a grudge. I was still a little frazzled going into the line 2-3, but by 4 I felt mostly recovered and was very happy with the rest of our course. As if I needed more proof- I have a super broke horse that will perform exactly as well as I allow. Overall disappointed in myself for giving him a mediocre ride, but still very proud of how he handled it and moved on without question.
I didn’t get home until 9p that night after trailering back and getting Frankie settled in and my tack cleaned, and I fell asleep before I even finished lying down in bed haha. Luckily, we didn’t have to leave the barn until 11a the next day so I got to sleep in!
The sleep definitely helped (both of us). I had one or two flyers in the warmup that Trainer swiftly put the kibosh on, and we went in for our II.2.b (immediate jumpoff) round.
If we’re friends on Facebook, you already saw the video I posted of this round (and if we’re not, why aren’t we?!). Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it yet:
Short version: Francis. Was. A. Star. Jump 2 to 3 walked in a bending 7 but we did a more direct and forward 6, I got a little up on 5a but he powered out the 2 stride, 8 to 9 walked in a balanced 6 and I didn’t steady enough so we got a VERY flowing 5. So certainly not even close to perfect, but Frankie was forward and eager and listening and obedient and all those good things. And we went clear so we got to jump off! In case it’s hard to see on the diagram, the jumpoff was 9-6-7-8-10a-10b-11. All very standard- we had a rail at 8 where I asked for the close spot and he just nicked it slightly, then we stayed inside 1 and 6 to set up a more efficient turn up to the combo, and then we left out a stride over 11 to gallop out in 6 instead of the 7 we had put in the first round.
I was dripping with sweat but happy as a clam. It was redemption from Friday for sure. I felt like I was making better decisions and Francis was responding beautifully.
I also got to see Jen and Cally go in the sidesaddle! Is there anything better than meeting up with blog friends?? Both of them performed wonderfully- you can tell how hard they’ve been working, and Cally was such a queen. Jen even let me hop on for a quick WTC in the sidesaddle! New goal: do sidesaddle on Francis. It was such a weird sensation, but super fun to try something new. Maybe we’ll be in the ring together next year for the sidesaddle classes 😉 Enjoy seeing a short clip of Cally being very tolerant with me!
And then Sunday. I have mixed feelings about Sunday. Not about Frankie obviously- he was a little more tired but was really nicely balanced and lovely to ride. But there was kinda a lot going on for me mentally.
For one- upset stomach. Like really really not comfortable, regretting ever eating any food, could not talk about food or smell it or anything. Part of that I think was from eating something that disagreed with me.
But the other part was definitely nerves. Which was kinda new for me. I’ve gotten jittery anxious energy before, but I rarely get full-on nervous. I don’t like it. 0/10 would not recommend.
Luckily I have a trainer who knows me extremely well and knows how to work me through it. When we were watching some rounds go in the Children’s before my class, she went, “Hmm. The jumps look like they’re set lower than yesterday.” Since she is the Alpha and Omega to me at shows, I immediately believed her and felt better because the jumps totally looked lower! Looking back- I have my doubts. I think they were set pretty normally. But she knew that I needed some reassurance that it was well within our skill set. By the time I hopped on, I was feeling a lot better and ready to go.
Ok so funny story. I was pretty concerned about the turn from 2 to 3. That’s super early on course for a combo, away from the in gate, and historically we struggle more turning left. Repeat after me: OLIVIA STOP LIVING IN THE PAST. I was so concerned with that left turn, in fact, that I continued turning left after 3a and missed 3b altogether. Frankie was a little confused at the track but totally game for it! Legit just straight up bad steering hahaha. Circled back and made it through just fine, and was quite happy with the rest of the course. I was especially happy with the combo 10abc- we haven’t done a triple since Team Finals last August, but we got in powerfully and he pressed out wonderfully.
So overall: some really great moments, some struggles to work through, but I could not be any more grateful for my horse. We nailed every combo (when I actually steered) which is something I so badly wanted to improve upon. We went and made different mistakes. And every single time we walked in the ring, I had complete faith that Frankie would be there with me every step of the way. We’ve spent so much time and effort getting him up to speed- now it’s time to get myself up to his level!
I have so many alternate titles for this show recap:
“Prioritize Your Protein: I Don’t Want to Look at Steak for Quite Some Time”
“Step Up: Not the Dance Movie, Just Trying to Match My Horse’s Skill Level”
“Rain Dances: For the Love of God Stop Doing Them, We’ve Had Enough”
But at the end of the day, here’s your basic recap: Frankie was a freakin’ rockstar. You can stop reading now if you were just on the edge of your seat wondering if he would be a good boy. I know it’s a rarity.
I’m not going to go in chronological order for this post because I don’t feel like it, so here’s what happened:
Big Guy packed me around the Highs like a pro, as per usual. I will say, the first day I had a bit of a tough time. In the past, Frankie has landed off the jumps a little unbalanced and a little strung out. It’s always taken me a few strides to get my bearings and get him back under me, and our half-halts didn’t go very far- I’ve had to kinda adjust my track to suit the stride length and not the other way around.
The fun thing about doing multiple training rides per week and private lessons is that he is now much more fit and broke and holy moly we actually have a fantastic half-halt now. Nowadays he lands balanced and immediately asks me what he should do next. So on that first day I rode him like 2017 Francis needed- a little “louder” with my aids and a little less trusting of my seat, and giving him room where I didn’t need to (or should have). He was a good boy, but was a little peeved at me- he was jumping out of his SKIN and I wasn’t really rewarding that effort.
So the next day my trainer sent me in with the phrase, “we have beautiful hands.” I rewarded more over the jumps, I trusted his balance, I supported with my leg more without nagging. And lo and behold: we had a lovely course, with a very happy horse.
Classic day was similar- I’m still learning how to press all the buttons on my crazy-amazing broke horse, he was a little more tired, but overall thrilled with how we went around. I felt like I actually had a brain in my head- when jump 1 came up a little sticky, I actually made a move to help him get set up for jump 2 instead of saying OH CRAP FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL like I would’ve in the past. Our sticky moments were less sticky and happened less often, he was less tired and felt fitter than has on Sundays past, and our good moments are getting better and better and more consistent. And of all places, we had a rail over the liverpool. I mean, I’m glad he doesn’t care what he’s jumping, but maybe care a little bit?!
So there’s our recap of the Highs. Trainer is very happy with his continuing development, we are both continuing to grow and learn, we’re excited to keep improving, and we had a total blast in the ring together. I swear, he is the most fun horse to ride.
But here’s something else that’s super cool: I have a 1.20m horse.
That’s right, the Big Man made it around his first ever 1.20m course with AT!! Both of them worked so so hard and it was absolutely incredible to watch. AT reported that he was a little surprised and definitely needed some help from her to get to the right spot- he can’t handle a joke at that height at this point. But he was game for it and went and played the game, which is all I was hoping for in his first time out. We’ll powwow later to see what our plan should be moving forward, but I am beyond thrilled with how he did.
My sweet boy officially made it around a 1.20m course without looking or feeling overfaced, and I am bursting with pride. This was never on our radar for him when we bought him- his willingness to go out there and try makes my heart so absolutely full.
As usual, Frankie gets an A+ for handling the horse show life. He ground-tied politely at the wash rack despite many distractions, he came out of his stall happily for every ride, and settled right into work despite the icky weather and sloppy footing. We’ve come to expect excellent behavior from him, but I’m still grateful every time that he handles travel and competition life so well.
I’ll try to upload some of our videos to YouTube soon so I can share. Frankie will get today off and a few light days to work out any soreness and give him a break, but then we’re back to it and prepping for Upperville in early June!
Now that my brain is no longer on a constant loop of GET ME OUT OF OHIO, I wanted to give my thoughts on WEC as a show venue overall.
In case you’re in a rush and want to get the gist of it right away (because yes this turned into a gigantic post): I give this place an enthusiastic thumbs up. If you’re on the fence about competing there, I would definitely recommend giving it a go.
That being said, it is not perfect (what place is?). So I’m going to break down the parts I loved and the parts where I think there’s still room for improvement.
Course design. There was a good mix of track questions and technical questions that felt appropriate for the different levels. Schooling classes were soft early in the week to give you a chance to get around and see the jumps. They were deliberate about designing courses to be able to pre-load in most cases, to keep the schedule moving efficiently.
The jumps. An excellent variety of colors and designs, well-maintained. The hunter jumps looked like a jungle- the fill was gorgeous. The ring crews worked tirelessly to quickly re-set jumps whenever needed.
Footing. Soft but not too deep, dragged and watered often, and treated with a dust-controller. They were very careful and attentive to the footing in all rings- warmups included. The warmup ring (at least for the jumpers) was dragged every time the main arena was dragged. Makes sense to me! The ring crew again worked extremely hard to clear manure between rounds, rake out takeoff/landing areas between drags, and make sure every competitor had the same access to a clear, well-maintained track.
The class schedule. They ruthlessly cut classes with low counts- if it does not fill, it does not run. This helps them keep the schedule on track and finish up by a reasonable hour- the Sanctuary was done by 4-5p most days, sometimes earlier.
Order of go. By the time I left each night, I knew where in the order I was for the following day. Adds always went at the top of the order. They were flexible enough if you needed to move (due to trainer conflicts mostly), but it was great being able to know a ballpark of when I should be getting ready.
Stall size. Frankie was able to stretch out and take his naps. ‘Nuff said.
Availability of wash stalls. They were EVERYWHERE and all had warm/hot water. It was so quick and easy to hose Frankie down after every round.
Wifi. A few weak patches here and there as I moved through the facility, but it was strong in the barn and by the ring. I was able to log in and work remotely without a problem, and more importantly, I was able to keep up with my social media!
Activities. Most every evening had something: a welcome stake, a chicken dinner by the ring, an exhibitor pizza party. The junior cadet program every Saturday is a chance for the junior riders to do a mini-clinic on different aspects of horsemanship, and there’s the chance for them to win $250-500 off their show bill just for attending. They clearly want this to be a fun experience, not just a competition.
The rider’s lounge. A nice quiet space away from the hustle and bustle, with free coffee/snacks, couches, and a table to eat lunch.
The vendors. Not just your usuals like Antares and FarmVet, but a chiropractor, day spa (haircuts and mani-pedis!), food truck, and knick knacks. The gift shop had lots of great items as well. Plenty of really fantastic shopping!
The music. There was a constant loop of classic rock in the Sanctuary, and they played Africa by Toto a solid 8-10x a day. It’s hard to walk a course when you’re jamming so hard, but we made it work.
The price. I only had to pay $75 per week for Frankies stall (!!!). They strictly patrol the horse stalls vs tack stalls (horse stalls are cheaper) and I think that additional flexibility would help their ability to be a center of leasing/ horse trials/ etc., but I was thrilled with the low cost. Also thrilled that all my division classes were money classes- every time I won a ribbon, I knocked a little bit off my show bill. Every drop counts! I paid WAY less per week for a full 4-5 days of competition than I have for 3 days at HITS Culpeper.
The personnel. Everyone was polite, friendly, and pleasant to work with. Happy to answer questions (no matter how stupid, and no matter how often I asked) or point me in the right direction. From the gate check, to the ring crew, to the hay and water truck guys, everyone had a smile and was eager to help us out.
The cabins. I was able to stay in one of the onsite cabins with friends the entire time, and loved it. Good wifi, strong shower pressure, washer/dryer inside, and comfortable beds. And a 90 second walk to get to Francis in the mornings. I have a few suggestions to turn these from fantastic to AMAZEBALLS, but those are just picky things. They’re already wonderful.
The drive. It was a relatively straightforward 7.5-8hr drive door to door. A few scary spots going through the mountains of WVa and Pennsylvania, but manageable. Much closer than Florida.
The Less Good
Lack of turnout. This is my only real gripe- the rest are softer. We had some really beautiful days where I know Frankie would have benefited hugely from a few hours to move around and graze himself, but he had to settle for a few hand walks when I wasn’t busy with work. I’ve heard rumors that adding turnout is in the future plans, so this will be huge!
Lack of outdoor rings. There are plenty in the works so I know this won’t be a problem for long- construction appears to be moving quickly on these. Right now there is only one main (huge) outdoor, so in the gorgeous weather on Tuesday we all went out for a hack. But there were some yahoos on lunge lines, kids literally galloping their ponies around, and when my steady unflappable tank of a horse started flagging his tail and wheeling, I skedaddled from that anarchy faster than you can say “children are a blessing.” It will be nice to spread out more when the weather is warm.
Spotty wifi. I couldn’t log on to the internet in the rider’s lounge. This would have been the perfect place to set up a little workstation at the table, but I just couldn’t get to my emails here. I think this is a chance to cater really well to their working ammies- the better ability I have to work remotely, the longer I can stay and compete (and therefor the more money I am willing to pay them).
The food. I loved that we had multiple options- the food truck had great smoothies and breakfast sandwiches, and the grill had lunch/dinner options as well as a full bar (and you could eat overlooking the pony ring, squee!). But the food was eh. Not awful, but eh. If I’m going ahead and suggesting everything that would be perfect, I would want a little stand that had some quick grab stuff- fruit and protein bars, things like that. Fast snacks to power up before your ride.
Low ceilings in places. I don’t mean the barns- Frankie had more than enough headspace. But when walking to/from the rings while mounted, I often had to duck below girders along the path. Not a huge deal at all- I admittedly have a gigantic animal and am tall myself, and it was never a problem, but I’m trying to be honest about all potential shortfalls.
Low counts in the higher divisions. Most days, the Medium and High Jr/AOs were cancelled, and even the Lows had very low counts. They even cancelled the Low Jr/AO Classic our second week due to low entries. I’m hoping to eventually move up to the AOs, so it’s a little disheartening to know that the offerings are a bit scarce for the upper levels. Hoping this will change as more people start attending.
The photographer. This is the first show in a long time that I haven’t bought a pro pic. I still may after perusing, but I just don’t love a lot of them- always from the same angle, timing was often off, and lots of pics of me cantering around and not actually jumping. I liked that they offered a digital social media package (bc let’s be real, that’s why I want the pics), but I was overall unimpressed by the shots they took.
The location. As mentioned the drive wasn’t that bad, but it was driving to rural Ohio. There’s pretty much nothing inside a 30 minute drive- plenty of cute stuff outside that radius, but it was a hike. And inside that 30 minute radius was farmland, highways, and a distinct lack of good restaurants (with one or two exceptions). I’ve always lived in places with very high restaurant concentrations (RI, Ithaca, Nova) so I’m definitely spoiled in this way, and rural Ohio may as well have been a different planet to this East-Coaster! It made me that much more grateful that they hosted plenty of activities onsite.
You stick a couple hundred horses under one roof and crank the heat up, what do you think will happen? There were plenty of manure piles outside, fans running, and doors went open on nice days, but there’s no escaping the fact that horses are stinky creatures. All my gear came home with a distinct dust+urine aroma, and I’m still cycling through making sure everything is washed/disinfected.
There you have it! Like I said- overall, I give this place two enthusiastic thumbs up. My “negatives” are relatively minor, and the good parts vastly outweigh them.
Now let me know- do you have any specific questions that I haven’t answered yet? Let me know in the comments!
So we last left off on Monday, when the ponies got the day off and I got some work done. I was in high spirits coming off a really successful first week- not every round was perfect, but I felt like we were learning a TON together and that’s always my goal.
Then we hit week 2.
It turns out that the first week of a horse show is fun. Duh. We already knew that. It turns out that the second week of a horse show is not about having fun. It is about sheer mental and physical endurance to do the damn thing.
But I’ll back up to the beginning of the week to walk us through.
Tuesday I hopped on for a short lesson in the jumper ring, where we popped over a few low fences. The windows were all open to let the beautiful breeze in, and we had a great ride practicing getting our forward canter to the base (that will always be a skill I have to practice). We didn’t want to tire him out, so after a few successful efforts we called it a day and I hopped back on my computer to continue working.
Wednesday we signed up for two schooling classes, the Low at 1m, and the Medium at 1.07-1.10m. Course here:
The Low trip was, as my trainer so eloquently put it, “a little potato-y.” Like, not awful. We went clear for a blue ribbon. Just underpowered. We only went clear because Frankie can walk over 1m. I had gotten him on a bit of a half-step to the combo at 6ab and we lurched through a bit, so I knew I wanted to correct that track from 5. We went back into the warmup and I fired him up a bit before going back in for the Mediums with the same course.
And jumps 1-5 came up a TON better. He was firing harder and I was riding harder to help him out. And I went ahead and corrected my track to 6ab. I corrected it so far, in fact, that I got him to a different half-step. He politely tried and then politely came back down to earth when he realized he couldn’t make it, but I was JUMPING THAT DANG COMBO DAMMIT and went ahead without him.
On the plus side, I get full points for taking all the poles down with me. Right? That’s how that works? Poor Francis seemed very confused to see me down there- I’ve never popped off him before- but true to his nature, he waited patiently for me to hop to my feet.
I got right back on and we popped over a fence in the warmup ring, just so we could both end the day on a positive note. I knew I didn’t have any real damage- just some stiffness from bracing, and a positively glorious bruise on my hip (it’s still developing and shifting colors!).
So on Thursday I went ahead and said I DON’T WANNA JUMP. I was stiff and sore and limping and had zero desire to hang on over a course. AT took Francis in the Low Schooling instead so he could get a pro tuneup, and I hopped on later in the day to flat around- turns out that the movement from riding really did help loosen me up and work out a lot of the kinks. Riding: good for what ails you.
You know what else is good for what ails you? The onsite chiro at WEC. Dude is a wizard. I went into his tent for 40 minutes and emerged sans limp and with waaaay less stiffness. I really loved his philosophies on body work (basically he’s a terrible businessman because he doesn’t try to upsell unnecessary sessions but he’s an actual good human) and he knew that the main goal was to get comfortably back in the saddle. I made everyone in the barn go see him and they loved him too.
So then we got to Friday, which was the start of the division! At this point, I was seriously considering dropping down to the Lows for the weekend. We know that language has power, so I’m simply going to say it this way- there is an huge opportunity for me to improve my ride up to and through combos. I worried that I was going to continue making similar mistakes at the bigger height and put Francis in an unfair spot.
But, the show must go on. I hopped on Friday for our power/speed class, and in full honesty: this was the first time I have ever gone into the show ring on Frankie feeling nervous. I’ve had anxious energy before, but this time I was straight up nervous.
Thankfully I have the best big beast in the world, and as soon as we cleared jump 1 I came back to myself and realized we know what we’re doing out there.
I was actually quite happy with how this rode. The line up 4-5 particularly felt really bouncy and strong, and Frankie rocked back nicely for me.
And then I turned a little too early to 8ab because I was freaking out about riding up to another combo, which meant that I sliced 8A left-to-right and Francis continued on a straight line that did not include 8B hahahahahahaha I’m actually still laughing at this. I got confused on the re-approach and just left the ring making faces and giggling at my idiocy.
So sure we didn’t actually officially complete the course, but I felt like I got a lot of my mojo back. Frankie clearly wasn’t holding any grudges, he just expected me to steer. Which apparently was not a realistic expectation for him to have.
On to Saturday! Despite feeling a lot more confident after my round the previous day, I was 110% done with competing. I had zero desire to go in the ring. I was cool with riding, but had NO competitive edge. At all. For the first time ever, I went to my trainer and said, “I don’t want to show today.” And she responded with, “you don’t have a choice.”
I was at the physical, mental, and emotional level of dealing poorly with literally everything at that point, so I called Fiance in tears about how badly I didn’t want to go in the ring. And then I wiped my face, went back to the barn, tacked up, and went in the ring. Because at that point it was about proving to myself and my trainer that I had the grit to go do the job.
Here’s our speed round:
You guys, I cowboyed around this course. I literally one-handed it through 4AB because I had one hand behind my leg with the crop. Our turn from 6 to 7 to 8 actually rode quite nicely, he balanced and turned well for me. 8 to 9AB walked in a fairly direct bending 6, and I shaped HARD for an 8 in there because I wanted us to get super straight in. No more drive-bys for me! As I told my trainer when I came out of the ring, “I didn’t care if we had any problems anywhere else, but I REFUSED to have an issue with any of the combos.” Mission completed.
It was an ugly course, and I was really proud of it. I rode the crap outta my horse around there, because he was tired and not really helping me out and I had to pick him up and carry him with me over those jumps. Despite a 12 fault score, other people had an even worse day (I saw at least 4 people fall off at 4A) and we snuck a 7th place in this class. I am glad we got a ribbon, because it did feel like an accomplishment despite the messy bits.
Saturday night at dinner, we may have all started chanting “ONE MORE DAY” to get us through it. All of us were fried, including the horses. And the dogs.
So we finally reached the last day. Sunday. Classic Day. Everything was loaded on the trailer except Francis, because we were the last riders from our barn to go in the ring. It was time to wrap this up. Course here:
You guys. I could not be prouder of Frankie. He jumped his heart out over this whole course. He was clearly exhausted- and usually when he’s tired like that, he kinda mentally checks out. Not that he’s bad or anything, just that he phones it in and doesn’t want to go play. Not so this time. He was right there with me every step of the way saying “I’m tired but I’ll give it a go for you.” It was such a wonderful show of partnership from him.
The first bending was just a little underpowered, but I woke him up out of the corner and 3 to 4AB came up really nicely. Bending 5 to 6 was a shaped 6 strides to 4 strides out over 7, and I needed to wait with my shoulders a bit to help him fit that 4 in more easily. I continued straight for a few strides after 7 to help us square up the turn to 8, then galloped him up to it. I knew that he would have trouble with the short one given how tired he was, so I tried to get him to a bit of a gap to give him a break. Bending up to 9AB he just needed a quick tap to get his attention, then I let him open up to 10 and galloped him home over 11.
We had a bunch of rails. But I felt like I actually made decisions that were right for the horse I had under me, and he responded by giving me every single thing I asked for. The poor guy was tired, and I can’t fault him for that- I don’t think those rails would have fallen in week 1.
I don’t have any pics from our second classic, but Tracy took some WONDERFUL ones when she came last week!!!
We snapped a few quick pictures, cooled Francis out, stuck him on the trailer, and I got in the car for the 8 hour journey home.
Nah you know I can’t wrap it up that abruptly. I need more closure than that. But I will save my thoughts on WEC as a venue for another post- the good, the bad, the smelly. Let me know if you have any specific questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them as well!
Right now I’m feeling burned out- physically, mentally, emotionally. It was a LOT. But I also feel stronger, more knowledgeable, proud, and like I’m actually learning how to ride. I know that last bit sounds a little silly, but it’s true. Frankie has spent so long taking care of me, and I finally feel like I’m learning how to take care of him more when he needs it. Our partnership keeps growing and growing and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Francis got a much-deserved break on Monday and Tuesday, and I’ll be headed out for a light hack after work to stretch those muscles. He’s back to all-day turnout with his buddies, and we’ll be having the vet out soon to give him a full exam. He’s healthy and sound, but we just asked for a lot of hard work from him and we’re going to continue having a busy season- I want us to be extremely proactive in managing his health and fitness as we keep moving and moving up (spoiler alert Homeboy is probs doing the 1.20m with AT next time out WUTTUP).
A few thank yous to wrap us up:
A huge thank you to Tracy and Monica for coming out to see us, and Tracy for snapping pics!! Getting to turn an online friendship into a real-life thing was amazeballs.
Buddy Fianci, for listening to me complain about being at a horse show for too long and not pointing out the obvious that this is literally the dumbest thing to ever complain about. And for being mega supportive in cheering us on from afar. And for being cute. And I just like him a lot is all.
Big big big thank you to my boss and my CEO for giving the thumbs up for me to work remotely while I was competing. I never-in-a-million-years thought that competing for 2 weeks would be a possibility at this point in my career, and their enthusiastic permission to chase my dreams means the world to me.
Hugest thank yous to my trainers and the people who helped us get to the ring every day. They were endlessly supportive and encouraging (even when I was a lumpy crabcake) and none of this would be possible without their tireless devotion to the horses. I’m so grateful that Frankie gets such attentive and knowledgeable care, inside the ring and out.
And as always, Frankie. What can I say? He is the horse of a lifetime. I still don’t know how I got so lucky to have him in my life. From leaping huge obstacles together to taking quiet walks, getting to spend all day every day with him was the greatest gift. He is an incredible creature and I couldn’t love him more.
We made it through our first week of WEC! As I write this, it’s Monday morning- the ponies have the day off, but I’m sitting in our barn area answering emails and catching up on work. I can hear the horses munching their hay, I can see Frankie poking his nose out at me to say hello every so often, and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.
But let me back up to the start of the week! Frankie arrived here last Monday and according to Trainer, handled the travel like a champ and came off the trailer feeling dandy. Not bad for such a long ride. He got training rides Mon/Tues to get him going while I was impatiently waiting to depart.
I arrived Wednesday afternoon. It was certainly a long drive (with the several breaks I took, about 8 hours) but not too terribly difficult, and with my early 5:45am start I was here by early afternoon. I even got to hop on for a brief hack around the Sanctuary (the jumper ring) and pop over a few jumps in the warmup ring in a mini-lesson. Spoiler alert- Francis felt like a million bucks. We kept the jumps tiny and just focused on super straightness and power off the ground. I can feel it when we get it right, it’s just developing the feel to consistently get it every single time.
You guys, this place is HUGE. ENORMOUS. ALL INDOORS. On days like today where the weather is nice, they open up allll the doors to let the fresh air in, but when it’s cold they button us up and blast the heat- it snowed last week, and I was too warm wearing a light sweater inside that day.
Our first day of competition was Thursday, where we had signed up for a Medium Schooling Jumper class at 1.07-1.10m to get us in the ring and feeling good. I don’t have a picture of the course diagram, but I do have something even better- I have video! Don’t get mad, but this is the only video I have of the entire week.
Overall I’m really pleased with this round! It was our first time in the ring and Francis was a consummate professional. I got popped out of the tack a few times and buried him to the base of at least one jump, but he was forward and fresh and had more than enough power to bail me out. Not perfect, but a fantastic start to the week. This was a blue/red round (clear rounds get a blue ribbon and the rest get a red) and despite some clonking of rails we managed to go clear- I ain’t mad about starting the week with a blue ribbon!
I spent the rest of Thursday getting work done, hand walking Frankie, cleaning tack, and generally soaking in the awesomeness that is getting to work remotely.
Friday was our first day of the division- we just had one II.2.b (immediate jumpoff) class for the Highs. Course here:
Frankie warmed up fantastically, and jumps 1-4 came up smoothly and beautifully. Then I forgot literally everything I’ve ever learned and shoved him at the combo on a half-step. REAL SMART. Frankie very understandably declined to go into an in-an-out with an orangutan piloting. We circled around to re-approach, I shoved him at it just as badly but he is an excellent goober so he made it through somehow, I lost a stirrup, I shoved him at the next jump, and he was like OK THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE PRACTICED. And then I left the ring apologizing to my horse.
I could not tell you why this happened. I mean I can clearly tell you what went wrong and how I could’ve fixed it, but I cannot figure out why I went full potato. I was feeling really frustrated with myself to be honest. I kinda wanted to go crawl in a hole and wallow a bit in my own inadequacy. Luckily, I work with a trainer who is a strong believer in ending on a good note- she arranged for me to go around one of the Low classes to get our confidence back. It wasn’t a perfect course, but it absolutely served its purpose of giving us our mojo back. Wise lady.
Saturday we were signed up for two classes- a speed class, and another jumpoff class. My plan was to go in for the speed class and see how it went, and then decide if we needed another round to school before the classic.
Here’s the speed course:
Jump 1 towards home came up perfectly. I went between the oxer and vertical and then gave myself a few straight strides to 2. I kept him straight between my leg and hand into the combo, and was able to soften and kick a bit into it. We ended up leaving out a stride out over 4, but he was so balanced and responsive that I was able to do the turn inside 8 to get to 5. He fired over that oxer like you wouldn’t believe. I had to steady him a bit towards home down that diagonal line. Then I went around the oxer to give him a straightaway to the second combo, and he just flowed over that so beautifully. I had to sit him back to a short one over 8, then opened up before rocking back for the final line towards home. Double clear and fast.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this round was my best round I’ve ever put in at a show. It wasn’t picture perfect at every step, but I felt so dang in tune with my horse and effective. Every inside turn came up effortlessly for him, he rated back and forth off my seat super quickly, and was firing on all cylinders. This is the round that I would KILL to have video of.
We left the ring sitting in first, and held that lead to win the class. Our first blue ribbon as a team. There were tears. This felt like a ribbon that we had truly earned by being good, not just by being lucky or by having soft competition.
We decided to scratch the next class- we weren’t going to get any better schooling than that! I’m also a fan of saving Frankie’s legs where we can, there’s no need to tire him out unnecessarily.
Sunday was classic day, and also visitor day! We had Monica (formerly of the OTTB Eventer) and Tracy of the Printable Pony come to visit! It was sooo fantastic to get to connect in real life and introduce the Frankfurter. Blogger meetups are my fave!
Here’s our classic course:
Jumps 1 to 2 felt good. I let him get a little fast and flat through the turn, so we lurched a bit over 3, but I was able to get him back for the combo (we did knock a rail on the way out). 5 to 6 was a bit of a mad scramble as I didn’t really half halt enough (also that oxer at 6 was so freakin’ huge I almost peed my pants when I walked the course), and we kinda barreled our way through 7ab. Again- I wasn’t supporting him enough. He was more tired than on previous days and that means he needs more support from me to maintain the bouncy canter we needed. Coming off the combo I put my leg on HARD and got him underneath me, and the last three jumps felt fantastic! Really bouncy and flowing well.
So not our best course, but nothing to be ashamed of either. We spent so long developing that “forward” button, now I’m trying to transition to better channeling that forward without killing the energy. It’s all part of the process! Like I told Monica and Tracy- I might not be the best rider out there, but I’m definitely having the most fun. Pretty sure I have the bestest horse out there too.
Frankie has felt like a million bucks all week. I’ve loved working with the french-link elevator, and Frankie has been going fantastically in it. It’s soft enough that he wants to come over onto the bit, but I actually get a real reaction when I half-halt. We’re still learning, but I think it’s a great tool in our tool box.
You guys, he is a different horse than I brought home almost 2 years ago. He is such a patient teacher as I learn new ways of communicating with him, and he continues to give his all every time we raise the bar. He’s still willing to bail me out when I need it, but he is ready and able to give me such incredible work when I’m on my game. I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet to have this kind of partnership with this animal. EMOTIONS.
He’ll get today off, a light hack on Tuesday, a short lesson Wednesday, then we’ll back back at it on Thursday! I can’t wait to tell you how it goes.
It’s weirdly smushed, the quality is potato-like at best, but we have actual media of our classic round! One of the dads very kindly filmed us going in for our second round of the day.
A couple rough spots that I’d like to smooth out, but I think the pieces are coming together. I need to keep supporting with my leg across the jumps (and STOP JUMPING AHEAD YA DINGUS), and we need to figure out a bit setup that gives us a more nuanced connection. I was so happy with how Frankie pressed through the combos, how he balanced through the turns, and how dang easy the height felt to him. He basically cantered over the whole course. That definitely makes me feel more comfortable about trying to move up- 1.10m is clearly just a speed bump to him at this point. It’s me much more than him that’s causing any problems hahahahahaithurtsbecauseitstrue. He definitely gave me everything I asked for, so now I need to remember to ask the right things at the right time.
As always- it’s far from perfect, but it’s an encouraging step forward together! Love love love this big leggy goofy guy for packing my butt around.
We made it to our first show of the season! A few major takeaways before we dive into the detailed recap:
Francis knows his job. Real well. I definitely needed to keep my leg on to channel the energy, but he pressed across the jumps nicely and was clearly having a blast out there.
Our bit setup still needs some attention. The gag converter was great, but Francis absolutely tuned out the plain snaffle. Like, just parked on the end of the rein and hung there and dragged me. No bueno. Trainer and I are setting aside some time to play around with this more.
This was a great “pulse check” for where we are right now! We’re a little rusty from being out of the ring since October, we’re better at some things than we used to be, we have some stuff to focus our attention on, and overall we’re making steady progress.
Now into more details!
The jumper ring didn’t start until 12:30 (which got pushed back to 1p), which means we didn’t have to leave the barn until 10a (it’s about a 90 min drive). I’m a huge fan of not-too-early show days fo sho. The horses all loaded on the trailer quickly and quietly, and I hopped in the truck with Trainer to make our way to Maryland.
We had one ammy taking her new horse to their first jumper show together- they got some great ribbons in the 0.80m classes and had SO MUCH FUN. Her gelding came from the same sale program as Frankie and clearly has a similar outlook on life: things are fun, I like jumping, I like my person, don’t worry I got you mom. Such a good egg, and his mama was having a blast out there. I think we have another jumper ring convert!
We also had one of our kids come with her little mare, and they totally rocked the 0.80m classes as well! They’ve come SUCH a long way together, I’m weirdly proud of this kid that isn’t mine. But she has such a great attitude and is a hard worker and the mare is the COOLEST little Connemara and I love seeing them go out there and improve every time. They even went in for their first ever .90m class and did SO well!!
Then Assistant Trainer took one of our OTTBs in for some schooling rounds at 1.0m and 1.10m. This little horse is AMAZING. He won 4th in the show hunters at RRP in 2016, but he is definitely blossoming into an incredible jumper. He’ll be doing the 6yo YJC jumpers this year with AT, and when they put him up for sale he’s gonna make an INCREDIBLE Jr/AO jumper for someone. The kid has springs in his feet, and has so much heart. I’ll keep you posted on him, because he’s gonna be one to watch.
Then it was our turn to go in the Highs! We just signed up for the first class- a II.2.b round- and the Classic- also a II.2.b. I opted out of the speed round- I don’t like to do more than 2 classes per day with Frankie, we’re not chasing points or anything, this was just a chance to knock some of the dust off and get back in the show ring.
It was rainy and wet ALL DAY and our classes were held outside, which meant slop. I was thrilled with our first warmup- we had one dolphin moment where Francis thought it would be fun to root and play, but I informed him that it wasn’t funny, booted him up into a hand gallop, and that was the end of that. Turns out the right answer really is more leg. He was so totally on it to all our warmup fences, super locked on and carrying me forward.
Here’s our first course:
If you’re thinking that this looks like a hunter course, I agree. It was outside line in 5, bending line in 7, outside in one to four, diagonal in five to two, single diagonal to finish.
Not a ton to say about this course- we had to rock back to fit the 5 in comfortably in the first line, we got up on 4 because I let our track from 3 get too direct, the one to the four was fine, the five to the two was fine, and turning to 9 was fine. Not always a perfect spot to every jump, but no disasters. Francis kinda tuned me out throughout a lot of it, but the course was simple enough that we still made it through clear. That won’t be the case for harder courses, hence the need to figure out a better bit setup.
We moved on to the jump off, which was just the first line, jump 3, rollback to the oxer, two-stride combo, and final jump. We decided to go inside the end jump to get to 3, which set us up to slice it a bit to get a nice tight inside turn to 6. Then we just kept rolling right to get to the combo, and turned hard to get back over 9.
Again- not perfect, but Francis was happy to make the tighter turns and it was fast enough to get us 2nd in a very competitive class! It’s really cool to know that even when we’re not at our best, Frankie has the pace and turns to be a strong competitor, and it motivates me even more to tighten up and get us really on it.
We had a bit of a break while the speed class ran, so I hopped off and walked him around so he could catch his breath. He was like a big puppy mooching for scritches, saying hi to passing ponies, lookin’ all cute. Sweet boy.
Frankie was listening better during our second warmup, which we kept fairly short and sweet. We focused on pushing up to the base to get a strong short distance, rather than giving up and letting him go for the long one. That’s another piece of homework for us- working really hard to build strength so that short one can always be powerful and pressing across. It isn’t about finding a perfect distance, it’s about giving him the tools to make any distance workable.
Here was our classic course:
The only change here was the first line, bending in 6. Then it went into the same lines as before: 5 to 2, outside in 5, bending diagonal in 7, outside 1 to 4.
I gave plenty of shape to the first 6 since it walked a tad short, and bending out gave us some more room to fit it in really well. I pressed up a little in the five to get to the base of 4A, which set him up to land a bit more compressed for the short 2- the vertical out had been changed to a plank, so we wanted him really up and down for that*. The outside 5 was harder to fit in since we were already rolling, but Francis obliged. I gave more shape to the bending 7 which made it flow much more nicely. Then we got a great moment of softness going into 9A, which made the one stride feel a lot more powerful, and I was able to compress for the 4 strides out.
* I need to write up some of the stuff I’ve been learning about course design and how different types of jumps invite different efforts. It’s so fascinating.
Our jumpoff was fun- I went more direct 1 to 2 to leave the stride out to put in 5, had a decently tight turn to 3, rollback to oxer, then other diagonal rollback to oxer. Very symmetrical. We need to work on our balance through those tighter turns, but Frankie was very tidy and they’re definitely getting better. I was a little nervous to ask for super tight turns in the sloppy footing, but it didn’t end up being a problem.
One thing that went better in this course was putting leg on- often when Frankie starts dragging, my instinct is to take my leg off the gas pedal. Which just leads to a strung out horse. I’m still not doing it 100% of the time, but there were definitely spots on course where I remembered to put my leg on when this happened and VOILA. We had a horse that lifted and came back under himself. It’s almost like riding with a strong supportive leg leads to clear communication with my horse. Who woulda thought.
We got a pretty pink ribbon for our efforts, and the prize money paid for most of my show bill! That’s a first for us, and something I could happily get used to.
Especially thinking back to where we were at this same show last year, I’m beyond thrilled with how far Frankie has come and how much we’ve learned together. We had a blast jumping over colorful sticks together and we get better with every outing. So excited for WEC in 15 short days!!!!
Also all my muscles hurt and I’m dying, but worth it. We gotsta get our butts in shape.
Before I sign off: my trainer has been blogging more often lately, and I need to share it with you. I tend to keep her name and our barn name relatively quiet, but I got her permission to share- I think you all will love it. Some of my recent favorites talk about overcoming fear and moving forward- not just in riding, but in life. Posts like these are the reason I call her my life coach and not just my riding trainer. She rules. I’m excited to hear what you think!
You know those lessons where things aren’t perfect, but you hop off and feel really good about the work you put in?
We had one of those this week. We made some mistakes, my bad habits popped up, but I felt like Frankie was really workmanlike and we were super on the same page about fixing what needed to be fixed.
One highlight was a long approach single vertical on the wall that showed up every course. First try: we got to a decent spot, but for some reason my body totally pretzeled and we took the rail down. Second try: we got to a decent spot, but Frankie thought it was boring and we took the rail down. Third try: Trainer decided to give him something to focus on and raised it to 4’ish, and we left the rail up.
When left to his own devices, Frankie jumps SO much better and cleaner when we amp up the difficulty and engage him mentally. Tighter turns, bigger jumps all are interesting enough to him to get him really firing off the ground and thinking about his job. My job is to create that fire and get him focusing and thinking, even when his job is a little bit easier.
On that note, it’s super cool to see what engages him and what doesn’t and how that changes over time. Things that used to be difficult (and therefore interesting) for him have slowly become easier (and boring), and we’re able to turn up the heat to ask for more. He’s delightfully trainable and not bothered by pressure.
When going through a bending line (bending left, four strides that needed some woah once the jumps went up), Trainer made the rail very uneven with the left side higher. My job was to still jump the center of the jump, with the uneven rail encouraging Frankie to keep his body straight over it instead of leaning to the left through the turn. When I let him jump the low side- yawn, poor form. When I kept my leg on and got him to the middle, we got a great effort. Trainer commented that going to the low side is a green horse move- it gives them more room to fit the stride in, makes the track a little easier, and keeps the question simple. Frankie (and I) both know better, so we need to perform at a higher level.
We used the gag converter in this lesson, and I gotta say- I love it! 90% of the time I don’t need it and that gag rein has some flop in it. But the 10% of the time that he’s kinda tuning me out and bopping around singing LALALA I AM FRANCIS, it’s been just the right amount of “oomph” to get him back under me. I really like that it’s the same plain snaffle too. I felt like he got a little backed off on the slow twist, but with the plain one he feels more comfortable in the mouth. I’m excited to take it for a test run at McDonogh this weekend! We’ll be doing the 1.10m Ch/AA division as a nice soft season opener to get our sea legs before Ohio.
We also have homework from AT! She put her first ride since October on him last week, and gave me the following instructions for my own rides on him:
Ride him off the rail, and don’t let him fade out through our turns. He’s developed the habit of fading out to the rail and picking his own track, and we want him tuned in. No more just following the outside- lots of figures and working off the rail and CONTROLLING THE DANG HAUNCH THROUGH THE TURNS.
Amp up the intensity. He’s getting one pro ride from her, one lesson with me, and one day off a week which means four days of flatwork. Those are no longer allowed to be toodling. If we want to build enough fitness and muscle for the bigger tracks, we need to work towards that. It doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) high impact work, but tons of transitions between and within the gaits to get him firing harder and develop those muscles. She mentioned that every horse has a weakness, and our job is to make sure that we’re not stressing that weakness. Frankie’s is that he’s a little bit over at the knee, so we want to help make sure he can rock back to use his hind end more, and use his body effectively over the jumps so he lands comfortably.
More carrot stretches! His left side is stiffer than his right- it’s naturally his weaker side and I’ve only made it worse with my own unevenness. We’re going to incorporate more stretches every day to help him even out and build that suppleness. Along those lines, we’re also going to be incorporating massage/chiro to make sure that as he’s working and getting more flexible, we’re removing any barriers to that and keeping him comfortable.
I feel super super motivated after getting these instructions from her. I absolutely love that she takes the time to explain the “why” of the work and how it will help keep Frankie in top condition. It makes me even more determined to follow through- we’re not just doing this so Frankie can jump big jumps, we’re doing this so that he can be healthy and safe for a long time to come.
PS- Every person to whom I’ve mentioned, “oh yeah, my horse will start getting regular massages this year,” thinks I’m a total nutcase. But I know all y’all are nutcases too. Anything for the ponies, amiright?