Best Laid Plans

So. Um. I know I told you all that we were just doing the eq this weekend, some XC schooling next weekend, and maybe a pleasure division at a local show in October to wrap up our season.

But then this happened.

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So we’re gonna go do that instead.

100% sure that I’m only invited because people that actually qualified decided not to go, but WHATEVER WE’RE GOING TO ZONES!!!! This was not even remotely on my radar as a possibility this year. Like, at all. Which of course also means that I did not budget for this and will have to get creative with how to pay for it. I only need one kidney, right? RIGHT??

Man, you guys. You know I get so sappy about Francis, but can you blame me? He’s helping me achieve all these dreams I could’ve never imagined. It’s our first year in the division, we just had our true move up in April, I was doing the 0.80m/0.90m only a little over a year ago. And now he’s taking me to Zones for the Highs.

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He really is the horse of a lifetime.

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Eq Lesson Recap

Alternate title: “Olivia, you’re not being timed right now.”

Francis and I were able to fit in an extra lesson this weekend to sharpen up some things, and I was super happy with the Beast. I mean, I’m always super happy with the Beast, but it’s really fun getting to push our comfort zone and work on some different stuff together.

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Unrelated but I’ve got some tall beefy men in my life and Manfriend is delightfully tolerant of the fact that I’m constantly staring at the horse.

Our flatwork involved a major focus on straightness, and riding off the rail to test that straightness. Francis has thoroughly figured out the leg-yield-to-the-rail game and we wanted to get him ACTUALLY listening to my cues instead of assuming he knew what was happening.

We also know that between him and me, our left turns are crap. I don’t know if I’m so lopsided that I’ve made him lopsided, if he was one-sided before and made me more one-sided, or if both of us were lopsided to start and we’ve just fed on each other. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, the fact remains that we are not ambiturners. We worked on a lot of serpentines with the intent to keep our turns smooth and consistent. No making angry faces and speeding up through the left turns because stepping under is hard.

We put some work in on our counter-canter as well, which I really enjoy working on with Frankie. I have to help him get those haunches out of the way around the turns, but he’s got good balance and it doesn’t feel too difficult for him. I’m pretty sure it’s just because he doesn’t care about being on the wrong lead, but I’ll take it. We talked about how I can set him up for it- come off the rail and ask for the bend like we’re turning back to the rail- and AT reminded me that pumping with my shoulders is not traditionally accepted as a canter transition aid. I GUESS.

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Literal death grip on the lead because Francis was throwing a tantrum about not being able to eat the grass.

 

On to jumping! Warmup over a little crossrail went relatively well- I’ll never be a huge fan of trot jumps, but we’re getting better at finding forward-but-not-running-at-it. Then a nice big bending line with a focus on straightness over and away from the jumps.

Then we started building our course! The jumps were set to mimic one of the Maclay Regionals- I love this time of year because we end up trying out all the medal courses and it’s a BLAST. We did a different course from the medal so we could focus on what we needed to try, but it was great nonetheless.

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We started out with the S-turn: red to gray Swedish oxer in 5 or 6, out over green skinny in 5 or 6. Either a 5 to a 5 or a 6 to a 6. We clearly did the 5 to 5 because Francis is a tank. Frankie has a tendency to bulge left so I pushed him right hard over the gray and he responded surprisingly well- so well, in fact, that the 5 out was a little tight because I wasn’t anticipating such a reaction. Happy to see progress there, even if it led to a closer spot out!

Then it was around to the outside line, set in 4 strides. I LOVED how this was set. My trainer is a huge fan of setting short lines for us to help that booty werk, but this one was set on a regular flowing stride. It was lovely. My only job was to keep both legs on so Frankie could stay straight through and land his lead.

Then it was two long approach oxers. Going down 6 was junky every time- either we ended up moving up to a gallop spot, which was adequate but not delightful- or we shortened to a smaller spot, which was fine but not as smooth as I’d like. Nothing disastrous or dramatic, just not as rhythmic as I was aiming for. Balancing through the end up to the gray Swedish the other way went fine every time.

Then it was come back to walk and counter-canter the long approach to blue oxer on the rail. For this I turned early to go between jumps 10 and 11, which set us up to “turn left” to the rail to more easily get the counter-lead. Francis jumped this blue one super cute every time.

The first time through the combo, Frankie assumed he wasn’t jumping it. We got through it just fine- homeboy can walk a 3′ jump- but he was pretty sure that there wasn’t a jump coming up out of that corner. Second time went much more smoothly. The five strides out over the oxer was set short, especially flowing out of a combo, but he sat back nicely for me.

Then it was just a simple rollback to the final vertical- the first time I went around jump 1 to get there, but then decided to go inside the next time. I need to remember to support strongly with that outside rein and leg around left turns to help him out, because we are much more balanced when we do that.

I liked this course a lot! It was a good test of our “togetherness” over a variety of questions. It’s refreshing to take a break from the get-it-done attitude and drill more into getting every piece polished and perfected.

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Short answer: yes

We’re not trying to qualify for anything or pursue a career in the equitation (literally already missing the jumper ring and I haven’t even done the eq yet)- this outing will be an opportunity to school my horse. Straightness ALWAYS over every jump. Forward pace without getting heavy on the forehand. But like, not too forward because OLIVIA YOU’RE NOT BEING TIMED. No need to rush anything. The eq courses at Culpeper are usually pretty hunterific so we can find our stride and let it flow around the course.

Frankie’s mane is pulled and ready for the braider, I have laced reins instead of rubber on my bridle, and we are feeling good about exploring a new ring together! I can’t wait to let you know how it goes and share pictures.

 

Your Perfect Horse

Some of the barn ladies and I were talking about what our “next horse” would be. None of us are currently in the market, but we started sharing what our dream horse would be and how they would be different from our current mounts.

Of course you can probably guess what my answer was: “exactly the same as Frankie but with scope for 1.45m.” Hey, I know what I like.

But then I started thinking about it. If money was absolutely no barrier and I could custom design every single itty bitty little thing, what would I want in my next horse?

To start with, I want a dapple bay. A deep, dark dapple bay. No chrome please, just that beautiful chocolate color- though I wouldn’t complain about a big pretty blaze. At least 17-17.1 and big-bodied. A nice thick neck, sturdy legs, big solid hooves, a kind eye and refined face, big ol’ ears, and a gorgeously full tail. Perfect conformation goes without saying. Mare or gelding is fine, I’m not picky about that. Somewhere in the 8-10 years old range- old enough to know what they’re doing, young enough to have plenty of years to do it.

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Bay, 17.1, semi-decent conformation, nice tail, 11yo, healthy. Not too bad so far.

I want Next Horse to be easy to handle on the ground. They must not spook, nip, or sass when being led, no matter where we are or what we are doing. Next Horse will make cute faces for the camera every time. Next Horse (NH) will always stand quietly, ground tie perfectly, and never paw. There will be no girthiness and NH will take the bit happily every time I tack up.

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Easy to handle, chill, cute faces: check

NH will get along well with other horses out in the field without getting overly attached. NH will never roughhouse and get scraped from playing, nor will NH ever lose a shoe from playing too hard in the mud. NH is not prone to sunburn, skin funk, sensitivity to flies, fungus, thrush, etc. NH is a model of robust health.

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NO CHECK FOR YOU THIS TIME, MISTER I-LOST-THE-SAME-SHOE-4-TIMES-IN-A-MONTH

Under saddle, NH is super broke. There is lovely elastic movement at all gaits with good range of longitudinal adjustability. All lateral work comes easily to NH along with perfectly balanced non-automatic lead changes and counter-canter. In fact, I could probably take NH to a lower level dressage show without embarrassing myself. NH does not spook or get silly, even when it is super cold out.

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Perfect? No. But he still gets at least half a check mark for being cute while dealing with me up top.

NH likes to trail ride, including crossing water. In fact, NH likes most things and will do them with little urging. NH is confident with or without other horses around. NH is sensitive to my aids but still forgiving- he doesn’t mind the occasional swinging leg or off-balance sitting trot. There is a great work ethic there- NH likes having a job.

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18 million check marks for being forgiving.

NH can also jump a house. I’m thinking 1.45m to be on the safe side. NH will jump anything I point him at- liverpools, triple bars, open water. NH will soar over all of these at max height and width with ease. NH actually finds his own distances to these jumps as well. I can walk into any ring and know that NH will jump every jump without hesitation. NH is forward thinking but will re-balance when asked.

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It may not be 1.40m, but he gets lots of check marks for always jumping the jumps no matter what.

So I guess what I said before pretty much still holds. I’d want a Frankie with GP scope. Lucky me for getting my dream horse (or did my dream horse slowly morph into a Frankie? Hmmm…).

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He has enough check marks that he gets to stick around 😉

Your turn! What’s your perfectly perfect ideal horse?

Addressing the Fear

I consider myself a fairly brave rider. I have my weenie moments like anyone else, but I’ve never told my trainer “I can’t” when she gives me a task. A big part of that is trust- trust that my trainer won’t put me in an unsafe situation, trust in my horse to do his job, trust in my own abilities. I don’t mind getting nervous because I know I have the tools to work through it.

But there is one thing that does freak me out a little bit, and I acknowledge that it’s kinda ridiculous: bringing horses in from the field.

A lot of this fear stems from an incident when I was young, where my dad went to help me catch my pony and ended up getting kicked by another horse in the field. He has a dent in his leg from that kick even now. And then my horse in high school was just an absolute juvenile delinquent and dragged me around when it came to turnout (it got better over time, but I was teeny tiny). Over time, I started to view turning horses in/out with a sense of dread. And that dread still rears its ugly head to this day.

 

I really REALLY don’t like bringing horses in. Which is why I’ve been forcing myself to do it as often as I can lately.

And I’m in a great spot to get to work on this- I am at a barn full of happy, well-behaved horses who all have good ground manners. I can lead a horse in each hand without worrying if they’ll spook/bite each other/try to drag me. From the 32yo pony to the 3yo baby warmblood, they all know how to walk politely (even when they know that dinner is waiting for them).

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HE’S TERRIFYING

But when I go to bring Frankie in from the field, I get a pit in my stomach. None of this is due to him, God bless him. He can be playing Wild Island Stallion with his buddies and acting like an idiot, but he keeps all four feet on the ground as soon as I come close. And other horses can be romping and playing and running, but he will stay by my side and follow where I lead. I have absolute trust that my horse will be a solid citizen.

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He really just wants scritches

It’s the other horses that worry me- without cause. When I see other horses running up to see where Frankie is going, I brace myself for Frankie to bolt- despite Frankie never showing any inclination for this. When another horse follows us closely to the gate, I wait for them to start kicking at each other- again, despite Frankie literally NEVER even flicking an ear at his herd-mates. I put his halter on quickly because I am so sure he will try to rip it out of my hands to go play with his friends- even though he always puts his face down to make it easier for me.

Slowly but surely, I am working through this fear. I trust Frankie’s ground manners, and I’m coming to trust his herd-mates’ manners too. And when they are playing like fools, I’m learning to trust my own ability to tell them to cut the crap and get out of my way. I’m not completely relaxed yet, but I’m happy to be making progress.

What fears are you working through?

Ode to My Trainer

I’ve told you all ad nauseam how much I love my trainer. How she pushes me, teaches me, keeps Frankie fit and healthy. She truly works so hard for her clients and it’s inspiring to see.

But when I take a step back and look at the last few years with her (it’ll be three years next week!), I realized that she’s done so much more than that.

She has believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and she’s put in time and effort on my behalf countless times when there was pretty much nothing in it for her.

You may remember that I didn’t start out with her as a competitor. I started out as a once-a-week group lesson rider with no horse and no shows on the calendar. Heck, I couldn’t afford a horse or shows at that point. My trainer was making next to no money from having me as a client.

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A few months into riding with Trainer

After only two lessons, she went out of her way to arrange a half-lease for me. She didn’t get a commission on that and my payments all went directly to Addy’s owner, but she thought it would be good for the horse and knew I wanted to ride. So she made it happen.

When I eventually scraped together some money for shows, she made sure to let me know when the nearby local ones were happening and rallied other riders to go too, knowing those were the only ones I could afford.

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She drove almost 4 hours round-trip in one day so I could afford a rated show

When I said I wanted to buy a horse to go do the 1.0m Adult Jumpers, she told me to dream bigger and found a mount to take me to 1.10m and beyond. Despite the fact that I had never competed over 3′.

Countless times she has sat with me after lessons to talk about how to word a sale ad, common conformation flaws, how course design affects the ride, the nutrient content of our feed, considerations when matching a horse and rider, potential upcoming USEF rule changes and the implications of those, and every other topic under the sun about the equine industry.

She has gone into the warmup ring and rattled, soothed, riled, encouraged me by turns, somehow always knowing what will get me into the ring feeling my best. She knows when to say, “not bad, but wait with your shoulders,” and when to say, “GET MAD AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.” She never fails to send me in with a pat and a “go have fun!”

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And she has fantastic taste in hunt coats

And a few weeks ago at Finals, as I was managing my second warmup of the morning and trying to overcome some mental hurdles, she pulled me in for a rare quiet moment. She looked me square in the eye and said:

“You deserve to be here. Don’t think for one second that you don’t. You have just as much of a chance to go lay this down as any other rider here. You’ve earned your spot in this competition.”

Somehow, without me ever verbalizing (and without me fully realizing it myself), she understood those insidious feelings of inadequacy that we all face every so often. She confronted them head on and gave me her confidence when she knew my own was low.

Of course I’m happy with my trainer from a “checkbox” perspective: my horse is healthy and happy, we are progressing steadily and safely, and we are continuously adding new skills to the toolbox. But she has my loyalty for so much more than that.

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She has taken me from this…
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…to this.

I’m one of my trainer’s more involved clients now: I board my horse with her, I utilize her training services in addition to my own lessons, I compete at the big shows regularly. But I’ll never forget that she’s been going to bat for me and believing in my dreams since I was just another lesson kid.

Growing Up and Glowing Up

I’m super thrilled about my new job- getting to do super interesting work for a cause I believe in, meeting fascinating intelligent people, and getting to take advantage of some really great work-culture benefits. I miss my friends from my old job, but this definitely feels like a great next step in my career.

As part of feeling like I’m stepping into a big-girl job though, I’m trying to present myself in a more polished way. I was able to get away with t-shirts and no makeup at my last job and as a researcher, it was totally fine. My new office is still casual, but I now work extensively with more senior officers- I don’t want to look like that stereotypical sloppy millennial who will never be able to afford a house because I’m too busy buying my horse things he doesn’t need eating avocado toast.

Even though that describes me in a nutshell.

A big step for me was getting the damn haircut. I looked like a sister wife. It wasn’t just “oh I grew my hair out” long, it was “I joined a cult and now showing my ankles is a sin” long. So taking care of that was a step in the right direction.

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Here’s the haircut but more importantly, I have a desk fountain now.

I also went ahead and got some new clothes from Target. Guys, their new stuff is AWESOME. My rules for work clothes are (1) no dry cleaning and (2) it has to be comfortable. So I swapped out some of my more tired pieces and got some cute stuff to wear to work that makes me feel more put-together.

The last piece of the puzzle was updating my makeup game. This one was harder for me-most days I’m up at 6:45, out the door by 7:30 to get to work, and it’s not unusual for me to stroll back into the house close to 9:30pm. And while I don’t need my makeup to last at the barn, I do need it to last from when I apply it at 7am until at least 5ish when I leave the office. Usually closer to 5:30pm. So I need stuff that will go the distance with me.

Lo and behold- as soon as I started thinking about this, Alli from Rocking E Cowgirl just so happened to be offering some lip products for testing and reviewing! I’m not one to question the universe when things line up like that, so I happily participated in testing the Senegence Lipsense in the Apple Cider color.

My main criteria I needed in order to be happy with it were:

  1. It has to last all day with minimal work (I am lazy and won’t do touch ups)
  2. I don’t want dry flaky lips
  3. Seriously, don’t make me touch it up
  4. The color has to be versatile because I really don’t want to carry 20 different lipsticks in my purse

I’ve been using it for a few months now, and I’m really happy with it! I don’t get any of the dry lips that I usually get with other long-lasting lip colors, the color is just enough without being too flashy, and I’d definitely consider it long-lasting.

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Perfectly intact by the time I made it to the barn at 6pm

The gloss that goes on top definitely needs touching up throughout the day, but I tend to go for more of a matte look at work anyways. The color doesn’t budge through coffee, water bottles, lunch, etc.

I will note that it takes a bit of time to apply properly- it’s not the type of lipstick you can swipe and go. On days that I’m in a rush and I don’t have the time to apply it properly, it comes off much more easily. Alli was super awesome about giving me a little tutorial on how to apply it correctly, and when I do that it will honestly stay put until I use makeup remover before bed.

Overall, I’d give this product a solid 4/5, with the only ding being the time it takes to apply.

Go ahead and contact Alli at rockingeboarding@gmail.com if you’d like more information, or if you’re interested in ordering some of your own!

The Art of the Deal

You know how versatile Frankie is. I just recently told you about our fall plans to go out and Do All The Things.

And Frankie really does seem happy to go along with all of these different schemes- the most “bad” behavior we’ll ever get from him is a little sluggishness at the beginning of our rides. The most “spiciness” we get from him is jigging when he thinks we might canter soon. He’s a genuinely happy relaxed dude 24/7.

But see, we have a deal. Frankie carts my butt around and does everything I ask without complaint.

And in return, I never ask him to canter bareback.

That’s his hard limit. That’s his big NOPE. He turns into a total fruitloop, tucks his head between his knees, and dolphin-leaps until you can manage to pull him to a stop. It’s not just with me- he pulled this with the tiny 12yo girl who is WAY lighter than I am (she’s weirdly strong for her size and was able to hang on no problem, luckily).

He’s not back-sore (I checked and had other smarter people check too). He will happily let me sit the trot bareback ’til the cows come home. But he has decided that cantering is for when you’re wearing a saddle, dammit.

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Trotting: fine
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Standing around: also fine

Is this something we could work on? Yeah. It takes more than a little porpoising to unseat me, and I’m sure we could work together to convince him to stop being such a banana about it.

But you know what? Frankie puts up with a LOT from me without complaint. So I don’t mind giving him this one thing. Our bareback rides can just be walk/trot/stand around and chat with our friends.

Do you have any “deals” like this with your pony?

Show Outfitting

Frankie and I are pretty un-fussy when it comes to our show outfits. We’ve built them up over time to become a setup that works for us and our job, but none of it is that different from when we started. Here’s a breakdown of what both of us wear to shows:

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PC: A. Frye

The Human

Breeches: my go to are TS Trophy Hunters in white for classics and tan for everything else. I’ll sub in my old-model RJs or my Ghodos if I need to, but the TS are by far my favorite breech to ride and spend a long show day in.

Shirt: since I mainly show in the summer, my fave is my Ariat short sleeve show shirt. Super breathable and light under a jacket (and yes, I almost always wear a jacket, even in the jumpers). I have an Essex Coolmax that’s not bad for a long-sleeve, and a thicker RJ for winter shows.

Jacket: I now have two that I love! My AA Motionlite coat in Aviation Blue is an absolute dream for hot days- it’s literally mesh. And I think the color looks so pretty on Francis. For formal days or when it’s cooler out, I have my Grand Prix softshell in hunter green. It’s definitely cut more conservatively- I would be comfortable taking this in the hunter or equitation ring. I also love how this looks next to Frankie’s dark coat. I just think everything looks pretty on him #handsome.

Boots: For now, my Mountain Horse Sovereigns. I love love love these boots. My brown versions that I school in are pretty but not as high quality, but the black ones have held up wonderfully and fit like they’re custom. Fairly soon though, I’ll likely retire these to schooling status and splurge on a new pair of show boots. Any recommendations? (I know you all have recommendations on this haha)

Miscellaneous: Samshield gloves. I got a monogrammed pair as a gift several birthdays ago and they’ve held up remarkably well to frequent schooling and shows! CO GR8 helmet. It’ll likely need replacing next year but I’m not in a hurry. One-knot hairnets, because I’m old school and haven’t figured out the shmancy hairnets yet. Hunt Club belt because I like the colors and just-right stretchiness. Snarky socks. No-name rolly spurs with plain black spur straps (yawn). No-name crop a Barn Mom gifted to me when I lost my beloved black and navy crop at a show #RIP.

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PC: K. Borden

The Horse

Saddle: ….the same one as always. Antares Unicorn saddle that fits my giraffe legs and tiny butt, and was re-panelled to fit Francis.

Saddle pad: teeny non-slip pad underneath, then a navy AP pad with my barn’s name and logo on it. No half-pad- see note about saddle being fitted to Francis.

Girth: Showmark plain girth, size 52″. After more than a year of constant hard use, the elastic is just starting to fray. This will become my schooling girth, and I’ll probably get exactly the same kind as a new show girth. Why mess with what works?

Breastplate: Nunn Finer 3-point with elastic. I like having the security of this helping everything stay in place as the jumps go up. No martingale attachment, because Francis.

Bridle: Vespucci fancy stitch. This was my birthday present last year and I love it! It only gets used for shows so it will remain gorgeous for a very long time. It’s technically a hunter style bridle, but I like that it’s versatile and I think it looks nice on Frankie’s sweet face. Maybe eventually I’ll get a figure-8 to fit in with the jumper crowd, but again- why mess with what works?

Bit: Full cheek slow twist single-jointed snaffle. We school in a plain full cheek at home and I like having a little more bit at shows- and Frankie doesn’t seem to care one way or another. I didn’t actually love this bit at our last show, so I may want to experiment a little with him.

Boots: Equifit tab-close open fronts. These are also only for show use and so are holding up well.

Bonnet: I use my trainer’s bonnet with the farm logo on it. Sometimes she probably regrets that I’m representing her due to my potato-riding, but TOO LATE IT’S ON.

Your turn! What’s your show get-up? (Not gonna lie, hoping some eventers pick up on this because y’all have waaay more fun outfits)

Mr. Versatile

We have such a super fun fall coming up!

As you all know, we just came off of Jumper Championships where Francis was the most adorably wonderful amazing packer pony in the whole universe. He was Jumper Man Extraordinaire.

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FrancisGoZoomies(TM)

So now that we’ve gotten him fully legged up into Jumper Mode, we’re switching the game on him!

We have one last show of the season coming up at the end of September. Our options were to do the High division (though points wouldn’t count towards anything since finals are over), try some higher classes (eh the courses get harder throughout the season, so now is a tough time to try that), or do something totally different. We went with the last option.

Francis will play Eq Pony for me! We’ll even do several flat classes *GASP*. I’m so excited to see what he looks like braided and all eq-y. I haven’t done anything besides jumpers in a couple years now, and Frankie has only done the jumpers with me- it’ll be interesting to see if we can transition a bit.

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FrancisNoZoomies(TM)

We just want to go out there and have fun trying something a little different. We always have a blast going to compete together, I have no doubt Frankie will be a superstar eq horse for me too. The tough part will be for me to actually ride well instead of clinging to my horse like a barnacle #noaddedvalue.

But wait, there’s more!

We’re FINALLY going XC schooling in October! I’ve been looking forward to this since I brought Frankie home. I’m not planning on doing anything intimidating because we all know I’m a ring princess, but I know Francis is going to have a total blast out there. If it’s half as much fun as when I took Addy out, it’ll be one to remember.

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Big Man can show me the ropes of XC (this is Frankie with his previous trainer!)

I think we’ll then wrap up our season with one of the local shows, where we’ll do the pleasure classes. You thought I was joking. I am not. I would really like to go toodle around with my pony and enjoy a low-pressure outing.

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Honestly I think toodling around on a loose rein will be his favorite show yet

There you have in. In the space of just a few months, I will be taking my 1.15m High Adult JumperPony into the equitation ring, out on the cross country field, and bopping around the pleasure division.

Biggest pats for Best Pony who so happily carts my butt around everywhere I point him. I can’t wait to share our adventures with you all ❤

Glow Up

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Who even is this horse. How is this even a thing. I can’t even right now.

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This was less than a year ago.

No crazy gimmicks, no weird techniques. Just good nutrition, focus on fitness, and a thoughtfully structured training program- combined with a good brain, athleticism, and amazing work ethic.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.