WEC: The Good, The Less Good, The Smelly

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.

The Good

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.

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Buncha cool jumps for us, good footing

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.

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I haven’t even scratched the surface of the sheer number of nap pics I took while there

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.

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Daily bathtime for Francis!

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.

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Super nice to have this photo op spot too, even if Frankie almost tripped and fell on his face stepping onto the platform. He’s speshul.

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.

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Francis thoroughly enjoyed his reasonably priced stall. Toldja I have tons of nap pics.

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!

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He sure did love those hand walks tho

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).

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This ended up being my workstation. Totally awesome to be near the ponies, but not the most ergonomic.

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.

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Unrelated, this dog was just hilarious. Sploot.

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.

The Smelly

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!

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Show Recap: WEC 9

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.

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Never get sick of seeing our names up there in lights tho

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.

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Took regular hand-walking breaks to get outside and let him graze when the weather was nice

Wednesday we signed up for two schooling classes, the Low at 1m, and the Medium at 1.07-1.10m. Course here:

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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.

Womp womp.

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.

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Nice. Hopping.

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.

 

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“You are a mystical healer” PC Tracy

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.

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We went to the 1.35m Welcome that night as a team and enjoyed our wine. Best barn family a girl could ask for.

 

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.

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Trainer knows how to break up my tension though. We have a tradition- the last thing she always says as I go in the ring is “go have fun,” and I always respond with “I always do.” Those little routines make me so happy.

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.

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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.

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And he entered the ring looking like a BAMF

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.

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Aw bubba so sweet with your anxiety-ridden mother who has hangups about turning left

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.

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By the time we went in the ring, I had my game face back on.

Here’s our speed round:

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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.

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Hahahahaha so many faults on the scoreboard

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.

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And there were several rather nice bits like this. 

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.

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Caught him napping every single day, because he knows how to treat himself.

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:

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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!!!

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Frankie. Over there. I’m going to need you to handle that line. 
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Jump 1 was REAL cute
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I don’t know what I love more- my trainer’s look of defeated concern, my look of giddy panic, or Frankie’s halfhearted “why are you doing this to me” face
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I sent this to trainer and she asked what part of the course it was from, to which I responded “judging by your face, it was right before shit hit the fan.”
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IT’S A SHAME HE HAS TO WORK SO HARD OVER THE HEIGHT.

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.

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Francis smiling with his ribbons
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Biggest boy so excited to go home!

The End.

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.

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PC Tracy

WEC 8

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.

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I have wifi and an outlet, coffee and the smell of hay. Best. Workstation. Ever.

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.

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How are you so cute???

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!

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OH MY GOD HORSE YOU ARE AN ANGEL

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:

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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.

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“Maybe you should apologize for taking me away from my 3rd nap of the day, lady”

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:

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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.

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Happy snugs

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.

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omg

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:

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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.

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Yasss frannndssss!!!!

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.

McDonogh Winter Classic Video

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.

Season Opener 2018

We made it to our first show of the season! A few major takeaways before we dive into the detailed recap:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

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Trainer loving on this excellent egg

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:

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Hunterific

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.

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Yay Francis! Handling the mud and slop like a champ.

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:

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Also hunterific

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!

Doing Work and Getting Homework

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.

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Aw so sweet

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.
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This angle makes it look more pronounced than it actually is, but you can see that he’s definitely over at the knee
  • 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?

2017 Show Season Recap

Now that the 2017 USEF show season is officially over, let’s take a look back on the past year of competition to see how we did and how we progressed.

McDonogh Winter Classic

Our first outing of the year in January, and our first time competing in the Highs! This was ostensibly our first time doing the 1.10m classes, but I’ll eat my socks if these jumps were actually 1.10m. They looked maaaaybe 1.0m. So a soft entry into the Highs, which was probably a good thing.

I had zero connection due to constantly slipping reins, but we were able to make it around quickly enough to place well. I was still learning about finding my track and Frankie was still learning about how do turnz, but he was a good sport and we learned a lot. We ran into trouble at the triple combo in the classic which was likely due to that being the third class of a long cold day, and both of us losing energy. Overall, this was a positive first outing of the season despite the bobbles.

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HITS Commonwealth National

Our first real outing at a true 1.10m, but I felt much more confident than I had in January. We were able to go back and do a triple combo really strongly, and he handled the sloppy footing like a champ all weekend. Francis did his first 1.15m round with my trainer and won it. My main areas that needed improvement were letting him get fast and flat and not really doing much of anything about it. We weren’t to the point of doing the inside turns quite yet, but we had noticeable improvement and both of us started knowing what we were doing in the ring.

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Upperville

Oh Upperville. This was probably our best show of the year. I could’ve done a better job of keeping him between my leg and hand, and I didn’t ask hard enough to get the turns I wanted in places, but we went around some big tracks and it went much more smoothly than it had in the past. It was only 2 classes and we didn’t place, but I consider these two of our best rounds to date. For my own record of improvement, I was happy with our ability to go out cold and warm up concisely and correctly both days.

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Zone Jumper Finals: Part 1 and Part 2

By far the biggest and most intense competition experience I’ve ever had. It was so much more involved than any other show- there was a jog, there were rider’s meetings, there was the team aspect. And the courses were definitely bigger and harder than we’ve done before. I could tell that we were some of the less-schooled competitors there in terms of miles and experience, but we held our own and had a couple of strong rounds. We were able to make the inside turns everywhere we wanted to, we opened up our stride, and it was a great stretch of our abilities.

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HITS Culpeper Finals

Our foray out of the jumper ring and into the equitation! This was a great test of our ability to reel it in and do something a bit more polished. Was it expert-level? Absolutely not. Did we have to think very hard about what we were doing and change our ride accordingly? Absolutely. But I’m so pleased with how well Frankie was able to relax and give me a good effort in a new ring, over very different types of jumps. Despite the small class sizes, I’m proud of those ribbons.

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Zone Finals

Our last show of the season was a strangely appropriate mishmash of the entire season. We ran into trouble at a combo, just like in our first show- but we went back and fixed it strongly. I let him get fast and flast like our second show- but he has learned enough self-carriage to bounce up to the jumps. We used our warmup to school some skills, like Upperville. We used our inside-turn skills and eye to the bigger fences, like Team Finals. It felt like we were really able to apply what we had learned- not necessarily in having the best rides, but in being able to go out there and make stronger corrections more quickly. There were highs and lows, but I walked away proud of my horse and feeling like both of us have improved immensely since the beginning of our season. Getting a high ribbon in a competitive class was big icing on the cake.

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What’s next?

I’m excited for our 2018 season! It looks like it’ll be a year of quality over quantity on the show front- with some big hitters like WEC and Lake Placid on the agenda, I likely won’t have the budget or vacation time to do much else. I’m hoping to fit in some smaller one-days nearby to get points, make a showing at Upperville again, and see if I can try some new venues. It’ll depend a lot on the money situation (as usual!). We may also try to fit in a clinic or two, depending on who comes to town. I’m not going to commit to a division quite yet- I suspect we’ll want to spend most of our time in the Highs at 1.10-1.15m, but I do want to test our limits a bit in a 1.20m class if possible. We’ll see how Frankie and I are feeling as we get more into show season. I very very much want to continue growing and progressing up the levels, and I can’t wait to get to work!

WIHS Regional/Zone 3 Finals

Our 2017 season is officially over! I’m pretty bummed, because I do think we get better and better with every round out there, and I’m already itching to go keep building. But we’ll just have to keep training at home and prepping for 2018.

Overall I think this was a fantastic last show of the season- there were high points, there were low points, there was redemption. And through it all, we got to go back and keep working to fix our mistakes and take some risks and build on our training. What more can you ask for??

I’ll start with Day 1, where we had a regular class and then a classic.

Frankie came off the trailer feeling sassy, and gave me a nice little skitter moment in the warmup. He didn’t actually want to spook, and once I put my leg on and took a contact he settled right down to work. It was a nice quick warmup with some great fences, and then we went in the class!

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First course!

We angled jump 1 a little left to right so Frankie knew we were turning right afterwards. This set us up for a nice tight turn to roll back over 2. We galloped up out of the corner for the two-stride, then had to rock back a little for six strides out over 4- I needed to rock back a little harder a little earlier in the line, but we fit it in ok. Then we angled 5 a little right to left to set us up for an inside turn to the one-stride on the rail- we got in a little tight and had to power out over the vertical. Then we went inside the plants to get to 7 and galloped out the bending line, last bending line from 9 to 10, then I went inside the plants for a nice tight turn to the last vertical that I cut off in the pic oopsie daisy.

By the grace of Francis, we went clear and fast and left the ring as class leaders. We had a few sticky spots here and there were I didn’t rock him back or get his attention enough, but he was a POWERHOUSE. We took every available inside option and he sat his butt down for those turns as if he’s always done that. My sweet sweet Range Rover of a horse has turned sporty!!! We ended up getting edged out by less than 2 seconds (by an ex-Grand Prix horse) to take second place in the class out of 14 competitors!

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Cheesin’ hard!

We had about 90 minutes to relax and cool down before our classic, course here:

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I felt like it was pretty soft as far as classic courses go- no S-turns or end jumps, no triple combo. It was full of big sweeping turns and related distances. Basically it looked like a sped up hunter course to be completely honest.

The first half of this course was meh- I had too much pace going for lines 1-2 and 3-4. The two stride went well again and I rocked him back harder this time for the six strides out, so that felt a ton better. We had an even easier turn to the one-stride and I thought we hit a much better flow through it this time, and bending 9-10 was lovely. Unfortunately the “meh” part of the course was enough to keep us out of the ribbons despite the stellar last half, but I was still really happy with Frankie! He worked hard throughout the entire course and was listening like a pro.

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He was not amused by his mother’s constant need for selfies.

We got him home and unloaded by mid-afternoon, and he got to go outside and play with his buddies overnight. We had an early day on Sunday! I met Trainer there at 7:30a to give us time to walk the course and discuss plan of attack before my ring’s 8am start.

Our warmup for the first class was lovely- he was soft, adjustable, quiet, willing, absolutely delightful.

Note to self: this is not what we want. Soft and quiet Francis equals a low RPM Francis equals a bad time for all when the jumps are big.

Here’s our first course for the Welcome class:

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I won’t walk you through our whole plan of attack, because we didn’t make it past jump 3A. Jumps 1 and 2 came up fantastically- 1 was a nice ramped oxer and we went direct to 2 in a forward six strides. Then we came up out of the corner and….stalled. We barely made it over 3A and then I simply did not help my horse in any way and he was like WTF lady there is no way I am making it over that oxer and he was totally right. So we circled around, reapproached, and I made exactly the same mistake. And at that point he was also like AHA I DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS WE HAVE DECIDED THIS IS EXCELLENT FAREWELL. And just kinda petered to a stop while I did nothing about it except jump ahead and end up sitting in front of the saddle while he stood there looking pleased with himself for getting to be done after three jumps.

Oops.

We had about an hour before the next class, and we decided that it was time to get Frankie a little mad. Because when he’s mad, he’s focused and fast and powerful and starts charging the jumps.  And while ideally I wouldn’t be using Zone Finals as a schooling round, my first priority was to go back in there and give him a good experience through the combo so that we both could build confidence in our abilities. That was Goal #1 and everything else came secondary to that.

So I went in for my next warmup and practiced using my stick behind my leg over the jumps. Not hard enough to actually hurt him obviously, but enough to get his attention. Enough to kinda annoy him and get him really focused hard on jumping. We got some GREAT super fiery jumps out of him in the warmup, and went into the ring first for our last class of the weekend.

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Very similar in a lot of ways. 1 to 2 was an inviting bending seven strides. 3 to 4 was the same direct six, that came up even nicer this time since we were already rolling. Then I got in the back seat, bridged my reins, and gave Frankie a good smack out of the corner. And whatdya know- that combo rode beautifully, even with the jumps jacked up to the full 1.15m. It was a nice easy 4 strides out over 6. I then cut off the end of the ring to get to the two-stride on the wall, which looked FREAKIN’ HUGE MAN HOLY CRAP (I almost peed my pants looking at that oxer while walking the course), but Frankie just flew through it. There was a bending 7 strides out over the skinny jump…which we maybe put 5 strides in. I told you, Frankie was F-L-Y-I-N-G.  I then proceeded to mangle our last line ha ha el oh el.

With a time allowed of 76 seconds, do you know what we clocked in at?

56 seconds.

THAT IS SO STUPID FAST. Like, clearly stupid because he hit some rails and I’d rather we didn’t do that. But say what you will about our abilities. We do. Not. Get. Time. Faults.

While this round probably looked like a bit of a hot mess from the outside, I was actually thrilled with it for a couple reasons:

  1. We went back and made the combo work. That ended up being the best part of our course. We got to prove to each other that we could, in fact, go make it happen powerfully.
  2. Historically, the second course of the day and the second day of competition is tough for us. We both start losing steam. We made plenty of mistakes in this round, but losing steam was not one of them.
  3. Overall we made new mistakes. Getting both of us to operate at that higher RPM has been a huge long journey, full of inconsistencies. Even though we still hit some rails, we hit them for different reasons than we have in the past. I can live with making different mistakes instead of repeating the same ones over and over.

Frankie showed me this weekend that when I show up to work, he can face off with the best of them. That we don’t have to play it safe anymore- the tight turns and risky gallops are never where we have rails. We have rails when I get complacent and try to play it safe. We both thrive under a little pressure to go Get It Done.

It’s been a truly incredible progression throughout the 2017 season as we’ve both gained our sea legs, so to speak. We both know our jobs SO much better in the ring and our partnership keeps getting stronger and stronger.

I know I keep saying this, but every time I think Frankie has hit a new high, he goes out there and gets even more amazing. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect partner to chase my dreams with. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a horse like him.

Cheers to an amazing 2017 season full of growth and learning, and I already can’t wait for our 2018 season together!

PS- the pro pics should be online today or tomorrow, and I’m hoping there will be some good ones for me to buy. I didn’t have anyone to grab media this weekend, so fingers crossed we get some photo evidence of Frankie’s awesomeness!

The Rollercoaster Show

Alternate title: How Stupid of an Injury Can You Get?

I’ll allay your fears off the bat: no one has any lasting damage, and nothing was even remotely related to Francis. Homeboy was uninvolved in my tomfoolery and continues to be his awesome amazing wonderful self.

This was probably the most relaxed show I’ve done in a long time. The numbers were EXTREMELY low so the showgrounds were crazy quiet, we weren’t trying to qualify or get points or anything, and it seemed super low key.

Friday was just a schooling day for us- we went in to do a ticketed warmup in one of the rings to try and find our eq pace. Which was hard. My trainer kept telling us to slow down, even when it felt like I was going backwards! I needed to get us into a nice rhythm and then leave my horse alone, instead of letting my electric seat take over and build a gallop. No gallop needed. But overall it was a great schooling session where we got to jump some fill (which we haven’t done in a good long time) and get my eye adjusted to the different pace. When we got the right pace, Frankie was able to jump up nice and square every single time.

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How is my horse so handsome all the time? How?

 

Saturday was our first eq day! Due to ring changes and schedule shifts, our very first class was a 3′ Eq Classic in the GP. On the one hand, a nice familiar ring with jumper-style jumps to ease us in. On the other hand, Frankie definitely knows that this ring means zoomies. It was an…interesting round. I came out of the ring and yelled DOUBLE CLEAR to my trainer, which is apparently not what we are supposed to go for in the eq. It was an odd combination of zooming around, yet not really making the striding anywhere. I think for me, it was tough to adjust my eye to the smaller jumps. Overall though Frankie was obedient and wanted to please (as always) and we ended up getting a nice big pretty yellow ribbon for our efforts.

Then we had two trips for the 18-35 Adult Eq division in the big Hunter 1 ring. We hadn’t gotten to school in there and I’ve never shown in there before, so I was excited to give it a try! The courses themselves were a little disappointing- they were the exact same as the hunter rounds, so no opportunity to show off any handiness. The most “exciting” it got was a two-stride across the diagonal.

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Literally no effort went into the eq courses

I was really really happy with Frankie in both trips. Neither trip was beautifully polished, and definitely had a lot of room for improvement, but Frankie was thinking hard and trying to figure out what I was asking. We’ve spent so long telling him that the show ring means GOING NOW MUST RUN and this time I was telling him the opposite. He definitely thought he was supposed to turn and burn around some of those corners and kept checking with me to make sure he was doing the right thing. My big thing to remember was softening at him- when I dropped him a little bit, he responded by relaxing and coming back to a more appropriate pace.

I could also feel him jumping SUPER cute- I didn’t end up buying it, but the photographer got a really adorable one of him over one of the oxers. I know he doesn’t actually need to try at 3′, so I’m proud of him for still putting in some effort! He makes my job so much easier when he jumps like that. His motion is so much easier to follow, the timing is much easier to allow to happen naturally, overall I feel like I’m able to show off my eq a little bit more.

Despite the little bobbles for us to work on, we took first in both classes! Full disclosure: we were the only entry in the second class. I told you the numbers were crazy low. But there were four entries in the first class! I may or may not have hugged the announcer when he told me (I really should stop hugging strangers at horse shows).

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We’ve got the blues!

I couldn’t be prouder of Frankie for going into a new ring, in a new discipline, with new jumps and new courses, and trusting me enough to listen and think so hard. He always has so much try and this was no different- I could really feel him trying to figure out what I wanted. He got lots of pats and scratches as I took out his braids.

Sunday dawned cool and breezy as I loaded my gear into the car for our final day of showing. And stick with me folks, because this is where I get dumb.

A little context: I have a Jeep Liberty. And the trunk of the Liberty opens in two pieces, as such:

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In this picture, the car is nice and clean and not a decrepit old trash heap like mine is. So the top part opens all the way automatically. But in my decrepit old trash heap, it does not actually open all the way. It opens to about forehead height.

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My professional reenactment diagram

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

While swinging my gear into the car, I smashed my head into the glass so. Dang. Hard.

I made it about 45 minutes before the pressure-headache-feels-like-a-hangover-slight-dizziness set in. I chugged water, took some Advil, and waited for it to subside. And it didn’t.

And that is the story of how I slammed my head into my car so hard that I ended up scratching my classes and having my boyfriend and his brother drive 90 minutes to come pick me up and drive me home.

OMG.

Was I being overcautious? Probably. I’m pretty sure I could’ve made it around another couple trips- especially with such a trustworthy steed. But I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to any sort of head injury, no matter how IDIOTICALLY they may have occurred. Part of me is saying that I was being way overly unnecessarily careful about the whole thing, and the other part of me is saying that I made the right call by scratching. Ugh.

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MAHM WUT R U DOIN Y R U SWAYING

Further earning his Sweetest Horse Ever award, Frankie stood calmly with his head down so I could take his braids out without using the step ladder. I swear he always seems to know when I’m feeling unsteady and is extra careful with me at those times. Such a total lovebug.

The dizziness wore off within a few hours and I’m now just nursing a bit of a headache and some wounded pride. If nothing else, it makes a pretty funny story (especially when I act out the field neuro exam Manfriend gave me upon my father’s instructions). Luckily Manfriend had a sense of humor about the whole thing and reassured me that next time I should just ask him to come to the show, there’s no need to bash my head in to convince him. Har har har.

I guess I was overdue for a klutzy moment.

Please make me feel better and share your most ridiculous injuries that kept you from riding/showing. I can’t be alone in this!

USHJA Zone 3/4 Jumper Team Championships: Part 2

Moving on to the weekend part of the weekend.

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Moar naps.

Saturday was team day. Importantly, the outfit was white pants and the Kastel sunshirt they gave us with Zone 3 printed on the front. I’m in love with this sunshirt.

Let me tell you, Saturday was EVENTFUL. I was slated to go in first for my team as the second anchor (I was just as surprised as you are) so we walked the course as early as possible and then started warming up while they were dragging and watering.

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Walking into the warmup ring

And it was the worst warmup we’ve ever had.

We had the pace. My eye was there. And Frankie was just sticking over the jumps. If I hadn’t had a team depending on me, I would’ve scratched. And then Frankie threw a shoe about 30 seconds before I was due in the ring.

This required a wonderful coordination of effort from the warmup ring steward finding the shoe and radio-ing the in-gate to let them know what was going on, the woman running the in-gate moving me down in the order, the on-site farrier tacking the shoe back on, and Trainer pulling me aside for a kick in the seat.

To paraphrase: “stop riding like crap, you’re better than this. It’s a good thing we get a reset button right now. Get your head in the game.”

And then she told me something that I didn’t realize I needed to hear. She said, “Olivia, you have every right to be here. You qualified just like everyone else. You have just as much of a shot of going in there and laying down a clear round.”

I didn’t realize that I was feeling that Imposter Syndrome until she said that. Somehow she was able to read that in me and knew just what to say to get me motivated. She truly is an incredible coach.

So we went back to the warmup ring and had one of the best warmups we’ve ever had. No joke.

And Frankie threw the shoe again.

But by this point I was the last one to go in the ring, they were waiting on me to close the class, and my team needed me.

So we went in with three shoes.

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At this point all I could do was laugh and say what the hell let’s give it a go.

And proceeded to lay down the fastest trip in the class with zero rails. Double clear.

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It was the same round both trips. Not much to say about it- another tough but fair one that I think played to Frankie’s strengths.

To say that I was ecstatic about this would be a gross understatement. I was shaking with emotion as we left that ring.

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Shortly before I collapsed on his neck from sheer joy

And if you know me at all, you know that I needed a place to channel that emotion. So when one of my teammates (who is a total fixture on my circuit and wins everything and rides SO FREAKIN’ WELL and I love watching her at every show) came up to congratulate me on my round, I went straight in for the hug and literally said these words: “I LOOK UP TO YOU SO MUCH I LOVE WATCHING YOU RIDE YOU’RE SUCH AN INSPIRATION.”

Because I have ZERO chill.

God bless her she patted me on the back and handled the shaking psycho hanging on her neck very graciously. At this point Frankie had been whisked away to the farrier before we had to go back in for our second round.

And to anyone who says that sportsmanship is dead in the horse world, I’d like to invite you to come to Zone Finals. Because when word got around that my horse had lost a shoe, someone FROM ANOTHER TEAM immediately offered us a set of bell boots. The warmup ring steward gave us good juju. The woman running the in-gate gave us good juju. Everyone was helping out and pitching in and I wish every person who complains about poor horsemanship could’ve been there to see all of these people offering a helping hand without hesitation or agenda. I will never forget that sense of community and shared purpose.

But it does turn out that the shoe was unlucky, because we went in for our second round and dropped three rails. Womp womp. This meant that I was the drop score for our team for the second round. But at least I actively contributed in the first round! I actually liked my second round a lot better- it flowed more smoothly and I had a more rideable horse. One of the rails was definitely my fault, but the other two were just Frankie being sloppy with his hind end. I’m sure by this point he was tired.

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Happy Francis!
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I CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS SWEET HORSE

Even so, our team scores left us tied for first with Team 3. Meaning it came down to a jumpoff.

Ho. Lee. Crap. SO EXCITING.

Team 3’s chosen rider went in there and laid down a super crazy fast clear jumpoff. Then our rider went in there and laid down an equally crazy fast jumpoff- she was faster by 0.05 seconds. But then- ever so gently- we heard the faintest *poof* of the last rail hitting the ground. The entire in-gate area erupted in screams and cheers and congratulations. Team 4 took the silver!

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I’m up there losing my mind and Frankie is just waiting for naptime again.
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“Mahm is this ribbon eatable?”

The ribbon ceremony was absolutely incredible. They played the Olympics theme song over the speakers, they took a thousand official pictures, they sent us off for a victory gallop, they put medals around our necks up on the podium, they took a thousand more official pictures. Oh man.

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I had never met any of these women before this day. Didn’t matter. Team hugs.
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Absolutely punch drunk laughing at nothing in total hysterics
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Aw yiss
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As the token tall girl, I always stand in the back
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Cheesin’ HARD

It was a dream come true. And true to form, Francis handled all the hooplah as if he’d been there a million times. Flapping ribbons? Horses running up his butt in the victory gallop? Loudspeakers and music and flags and flashes? Ain’t no thang for the Frankfurter. He very placidly cantered a lap and then happily went back to his stall. What a pro.

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He was very happy to go for a walk later in the afternoon to stretch his legs. We were required to have his number on him every time he left his stall.

I’d like to give a shoutout here to my adopted barn moms- they took a thousand pictures (all the good ones here are from my barn moms) and cheered and supported and one of them literally cried watching me in the victory gallop. I felt so surrounded by love. I’ve got the best barn family in the world.

And it would be remiss of me to not mention the help I got with Frankie- our team made sure that he was shiny and groomed and tacked up whenever I needed him and worked their butts off to coordinate that around 7 other riders. They are rockstars who worked bazillion hour days without complaint the whole time.

I’ll wrap up Sunday quickly, since it was a bit anticlimactic.

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Lot of related distances

I thought this was a fairly straightforward course for the most part, but the triple at 10ABC was the true weed-out spot. A to B was set SUPER long as a one stride. I got nervous when I walked it- Frankie has a big step, but as mentioned previously he does back off in combos. I think this was the big test of those who could go in there and lay it down perfectly, versus those who didn’t quite have it all together.

At this point in our career, we are the latter. It wasn’t a terrible course but it wasn’t our best either, and we did have to mad scramble out of the triple. Overall I’m proud of Frankie’s effort here and he listened really well. It had been a long weekend and I know he was tired, but he was definitely more fit than he has been in the past and was able to give me more powerful efforts. My big mistake in this course was that I rode the plan too strongly. I should’ve adjusted as we went through instead of trying to stick to a plan that clearly wasn’t working for the horse I had under me. My new mantra: ride the horse, not the course.

Between our 6 faults on Friday, 12 faults on Saturday, and then some additional faults on Sunday (I think 8 due to 2 rails?), we were out of the ribbons for the individual final. But one of my teammates from Saturday took home the Individual Gold! And despite squeaking in there with minimum points, we didn’t end up in dead last.

By that point, we were ready to go home.

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Frankie was very happy to snuggle with his mama and relax outside.

What a weekend. I couldn’t be happier with how Frankie performed- we asked him for a lot of hard rounds at bigger heights with more difficult questions, and he took it all in like a total champ. It was certainly a physical stretch for us to have a full weekend of long courses and big jumps, but it was also a mental stretch. We had to deal with some snags and exhaustion and figure out how to keep trucking. It raised the bar for us in a whole bunch of different ways and I think we rose to the occasion.

We aren’t yet at the top of the pack in our division, but every round we go out there and the pieces come together a little bit more. Every round that goes well is due a little more to skill and a little less to luck. We’re making different mistakes. We’re fitter, stronger, faster, tighter than we used to be.

As always, we have a long long way to go, but we’re a lot further than we used to be. My heart is full to bursting with love and gratitude for this horse who so patiently teaches me so much.