Let’s talk expenses! Not specifics, because that’s fairly private and incredibly region-dependent, but let’s talk about how we handle them. Mostly because I just made a big change in my approach to horse expenses, and I want to know if all y’all already do this and are like “dude obviously,” or if you’re going to tell me that this is super weird and definitely awful.
Let’s get into it.
There are a few very predictable expenses for Frankie every month:
Training rides (if I opt for them that month)
Farrier (this isn’t quiiiiite every month, he’s on a 4-6 week cycle depending on time of year and how good/bad his feet are at the time. Still rather predictable tho.)
And then there are some that pop up regularly but not as consistently:
Vet care- both routine vaccinations/checkups, and more intense things like injections. Also who knows when everything could go sideways and he needs emergency vet care (knocking on wood SO INTENSELY HERE PLEASE STAY ROBUSTLY HEALTHY)
Frankie’s insurance- I pay in 3 lump payments throughout the year, but they’re not all the same
Shows- different venues have different fees, shipping costs more/less depending on how far the venue is, I compete more often in the summer, etc.
Gear- blankets break, saddles need re-fitting, my spurs need replacing, etc. This is the hardest to predict.
So what these means is that in any given month, I only really have a solid handle on the “no less than” number in advance. It’ll be at least X amount, and likely much higher. I have historical data (yes, obviously Frankie has his own spreadsheet, duh) to plug in for shows/vet/insurance so I’m not totally in the dark, but it still makes consistent budgeting hard when expenses fluctuate so much.
Now that my Human Mate and I are combining forces, I decided it was time for a full audit of my spending habits to figure out what makes the most sense as I move from doing-everything-solo-all-the-time to sharing-a-home-and-a-life-with-a-person. Which brings me to my big change:
Frankie got his own debit card.
He won’t get to use it himself (honestly his dexterity with small objects extends exclusively to eating them), but I now have a separate account exclusively for horse expenses. I’ve taken my total horse expenses over a full year, divided by 12, and added a cushion, and that amount will automatically be going into his account every month.
Some months I will need more than that average, some months I will need less, but over time it should even out to have a constant buffer.
This simplified my budget like you wouldn’t believe. It took my line items from this:
Literally cut the number in half.
This makes my monthly budget A MILLION TIMES more predictable. Obviously if something totally unexpected happens I’ll need to pull from my main account, but I purposefully made Frankie’s monthly budget higher than I usually need (except in months where we compete) to try and build up some “savings” specifically for him.
So talk to me, folks. Is this a total no-brainer thing that you did years ago? Or do you think giving Francis his own bank account is overkill?
Someone told Francis that he was fancy, and he decided that fancy horses are supposed to be expensive. I was really aiming for that Cinderella-story-we’re-doing-Grand-Prix-on-a-$10-per-month-budget, but alas. It is not meant to be.
First of all, despite going almost 2 years with perfect saddle fit and getting a thumbs up on fit just a few months ago, we have abruptly reached the point of not fitting properly anymore (on the one hand I’m glad he’s so muscle-y, but on the other hand COME ON). Our saddle fitter came out to discuss options and none of them are free. So that’s cool.
Then, homeboy is getting heightened vet care. As mentioned, he’ll be getting a full workup soon to figure out what he needs to be comfortable performing at the higher levels. My guess is going to be at the very least another SI injection, with potentially some other injections as well. Farewell money.
I’ve also mentioned massage/chiro. I’ve told Trainer to stick Francis on the list for the next time our person comes out. Fiance gleefully refers to the prospect of massage, chiro, and acupuncture as “Rubs, Cracks, and Pokes.” Plenty of rubs, cracks, and pokes are in Frankie’s future. He thinks I’m going to be the most ridiculous panhandler on the side of the road, with my sign saying, “My horse needs a massage, anything helps, God bless.” I mean, I’m considering it.
CONTINUING ON THE SPEND TRAIN, I switched back into the snaffle when we got back from WEC and oh dear Lord do I hate it. Absolutely loathe. Grabbing a bit identical to AT’s is high on the priority list, he went in that so beautifully.
Along those lines, a figure-8 bridle. That’s what he went in all WEC and I loved it. Hoping I can just get the noseband and not need a whole new bridle? Though at this point it’s kinda like WHATEVER I’LL JUST KEEP THROWING MONEY AT MY TACK.
If you need me, I’ll just be frantically rearranging my budget spreadsheet to accommodate my Very Fancy Horse.
So obviously Francis was very well-behaved and wonderful during the full 2 weeks in Ohio. Not a foot out of place, polite and well-mannered, and working hard. I couldn’t have been prouder of him.
But as I mentioned in my last post, Francis is a very social beast. Very. And he didn’t get his group turnout while we were gone. Now that we’re back and he’s reunited with his buddies, he is SO HAPPY OMG SO HAPPY.
It’s funny- I can tell his mood so quickly just because I know my pony, but it’s subtle. Even when he’s cranky/tired, he’s polite. He never gets sassy or nippy or rude, he just kinda tunes out and gets a case of the “blahs.”
But Francis in a good mood is like a 5 year old little boy. When he’s happy, he’s like a sassy little pony stuffed into a giant 17.1hh body. He is playful and goofy and hilarious.
Our lesson this week had Happy Francis on full display: he was scratching my shoulder for me in exchange for the scratches I was giving him, during every break he would look back at me and rub his nose on my boots (begging for ear rubs), and he was snuffling at my clothes the entire time I was untacking.
Like any 5 year old little boy, that energy sometimes turns into poking and playing a little too far- at one point he tried to take a nibble of my boot while I was scratching his ears. I walloped him a good one because he knows better than to use teeth near me, and he proceeded to give me the middle finger around our next course because HOW DARE YOU I AM MUCH OFFENDED. Homeboy got over it by jump 3 tho. Because he was in SUCH A GOOD MOOD.
I tend to refer to Frankie as “my boy” or “my child,” but we really don’t have that type of relationship. I’d say he’s more like a little brother that I have custody of. At the end of the day, I’m in charge and he has to listen to what I’m saying. But we also love to play together. And sometimes there’s that exasperation of oh my GOSH Francis if you can’t be cool then you can’t hang out with me and my friends. Because he’s like the little brother who keeps poking*poking*poking to get attention.
But even when he’s got Pony Man Syndrome, I can’t help but laugh when he’s like that. His playfulness and joy is totally contagious. Even my trainer was chuckling at him the other day.
We will still have shows in our future that cut down on Frankie’s social time every so often, but it makes me happy beyond belief that he is so clearly content with his day-to-day life. A happy Francis makes one very happy Olivia.
So I’m like a month late to this hop from 3Day Adventures with Horses, but it was too fun not to join in! I saw this when I was in Ohio and started thinking, and here’s what I’ve come up with for Francis.
Diligent– having or showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work or duties.
If you tell Frankie what the game is and explain the rules, he will go out there and play. If you raise the expectations, he will meet or exceed them. “Steady” implies slowness (and he actually has a motor now), and “responsive” implies reactivity to me, but I think diligent encapsulates his constant willingness to go out there and try. No matter what distractions may be going on and no matter what his job is in that moment- jumpers, cross country, hacking out, equitation, standing still on the crossties- he displays a clear and constant willingness to do the job correctly.
Confident– feeling or showing confidence in oneself; self-assured.
He is pretty sure that he’s doing just fine. He doesn’t get flustered when I correct or reprimand him- he knows that he’s not a bad boy, so he just goes ahead and tries something else. He doesn’t glance at jumps, because he knows they won’t bite him. He doesn’t blink when the jumps go up, because he knows I wouldn’t ask him to do something he couldn’t. He’s confident in himself and he’s confident in me- despite the times I mess him up.
Social– living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation.
Frankie really thrives on companionship, whether that’s equine or human. He loves to play and trade scratches, LIVES for long groomings, and soaks up all attention he can get. He’s always a good boy, but he is noticeably happier and more relaxed when he’s had plenty of social interaction. This isn’t to say that he’s always super sweet to every horse- he can be a real asshole when he thinks someone is getting up in his grill- but he is curious and engaged and seeks out company. He’s a total bro.
So there’s my Francis in a nutshell! He’s a happy dude who takes pride in a job well done, and likes to kick back and relax with his buds.
….These may actually also be the word’s I’d use for Buddy Fianci. I guess I have a type? I love my boys ❤
Now that my brain is no longer on a constant loop of GET ME OUT OF OHIO, I wanted to give my thoughts on WEC as a show venue overall.
In case you’re in a rush and want to get the gist of it right away (because yes this turned into a gigantic post): I give this place an enthusiastic thumbs up. If you’re on the fence about competing there, I would definitely recommend giving it a go.
That being said, it is not perfect (what place is?). So I’m going to break down the parts I loved and the parts where I think there’s still room for improvement.
Course design. There was a good mix of track questions and technical questions that felt appropriate for the different levels. Schooling classes were soft early in the week to give you a chance to get around and see the jumps. They were deliberate about designing courses to be able to pre-load in most cases, to keep the schedule moving efficiently.
The jumps. An excellent variety of colors and designs, well-maintained. The hunter jumps looked like a jungle- the fill was gorgeous. The ring crews worked tirelessly to quickly re-set jumps whenever needed.
Footing. Soft but not too deep, dragged and watered often, and treated with a dust-controller. They were very careful and attentive to the footing in all rings- warmups included. The warmup ring (at least for the jumpers) was dragged every time the main arena was dragged. Makes sense to me! The ring crew again worked extremely hard to clear manure between rounds, rake out takeoff/landing areas between drags, and make sure every competitor had the same access to a clear, well-maintained track.
The class schedule. They ruthlessly cut classes with low counts- if it does not fill, it does not run. This helps them keep the schedule on track and finish up by a reasonable hour- the Sanctuary was done by 4-5p most days, sometimes earlier.
Order of go. By the time I left each night, I knew where in the order I was for the following day. Adds always went at the top of the order. They were flexible enough if you needed to move (due to trainer conflicts mostly), but it was great being able to know a ballpark of when I should be getting ready.
Stall size. Frankie was able to stretch out and take his naps. ‘Nuff said.
Availability of wash stalls. They were EVERYWHERE and all had warm/hot water. It was so quick and easy to hose Frankie down after every round.
Wifi. A few weak patches here and there as I moved through the facility, but it was strong in the barn and by the ring. I was able to log in and work remotely without a problem, and more importantly, I was able to keep up with my social media!
Activities. Most every evening had something: a welcome stake, a chicken dinner by the ring, an exhibitor pizza party. The junior cadet program every Saturday is a chance for the junior riders to do a mini-clinic on different aspects of horsemanship, and there’s the chance for them to win $250-500 off their show bill just for attending. They clearly want this to be a fun experience, not just a competition.
The rider’s lounge. A nice quiet space away from the hustle and bustle, with free coffee/snacks, couches, and a table to eat lunch.
The vendors. Not just your usuals like Antares and FarmVet, but a chiropractor, day spa (haircuts and mani-pedis!), food truck, and knick knacks. The gift shop had lots of great items as well. Plenty of really fantastic shopping!
The music. There was a constant loop of classic rock in the Sanctuary, and they played Africa by Toto a solid 8-10x a day. It’s hard to walk a course when you’re jamming so hard, but we made it work.
The price. I only had to pay $75 per week for Frankies stall (!!!). They strictly patrol the horse stalls vs tack stalls (horse stalls are cheaper) and I think that additional flexibility would help their ability to be a center of leasing/ horse trials/ etc., but I was thrilled with the low cost. Also thrilled that all my division classes were money classes- every time I won a ribbon, I knocked a little bit off my show bill. Every drop counts! I paid WAY less per week for a full 4-5 days of competition than I have for 3 days at HITS Culpeper.
The personnel. Everyone was polite, friendly, and pleasant to work with. Happy to answer questions (no matter how stupid, and no matter how often I asked) or point me in the right direction. From the gate check, to the ring crew, to the hay and water truck guys, everyone had a smile and was eager to help us out.
The cabins. I was able to stay in one of the onsite cabins with friends the entire time, and loved it. Good wifi, strong shower pressure, washer/dryer inside, and comfortable beds. And a 90 second walk to get to Francis in the mornings. I have a few suggestions to turn these from fantastic to AMAZEBALLS, but those are just picky things. They’re already wonderful.
The drive. It was a relatively straightforward 7.5-8hr drive door to door. A few scary spots going through the mountains of WVa and Pennsylvania, but manageable. Much closer than Florida.
The Less Good
Lack of turnout. This is my only real gripe- the rest are softer. We had some really beautiful days where I know Frankie would have benefited hugely from a few hours to move around and graze himself, but he had to settle for a few hand walks when I wasn’t busy with work. I’ve heard rumors that adding turnout is in the future plans, so this will be huge!
Lack of outdoor rings. There are plenty in the works so I know this won’t be a problem for long- construction appears to be moving quickly on these. Right now there is only one main (huge) outdoor, so in the gorgeous weather on Tuesday we all went out for a hack. But there were some yahoos on lunge lines, kids literally galloping their ponies around, and when my steady unflappable tank of a horse started flagging his tail and wheeling, I skedaddled from that anarchy faster than you can say “children are a blessing.” It will be nice to spread out more when the weather is warm.
Spotty wifi. I couldn’t log on to the internet in the rider’s lounge. This would have been the perfect place to set up a little workstation at the table, but I just couldn’t get to my emails here. I think this is a chance to cater really well to their working ammies- the better ability I have to work remotely, the longer I can stay and compete (and therefor the more money I am willing to pay them).
The food. I loved that we had multiple options- the food truck had great smoothies and breakfast sandwiches, and the grill had lunch/dinner options as well as a full bar (and you could eat overlooking the pony ring, squee!). But the food was eh. Not awful, but eh. If I’m going ahead and suggesting everything that would be perfect, I would want a little stand that had some quick grab stuff- fruit and protein bars, things like that. Fast snacks to power up before your ride.
Low ceilings in places. I don’t mean the barns- Frankie had more than enough headspace. But when walking to/from the rings while mounted, I often had to duck below girders along the path. Not a huge deal at all- I admittedly have a gigantic animal and am tall myself, and it was never a problem, but I’m trying to be honest about all potential shortfalls.
Low counts in the higher divisions. Most days, the Medium and High Jr/AOs were cancelled, and even the Lows had very low counts. They even cancelled the Low Jr/AO Classic our second week due to low entries. I’m hoping to eventually move up to the AOs, so it’s a little disheartening to know that the offerings are a bit scarce for the upper levels. Hoping this will change as more people start attending.
The photographer. This is the first show in a long time that I haven’t bought a pro pic. I still may after perusing, but I just don’t love a lot of them- always from the same angle, timing was often off, and lots of pics of me cantering around and not actually jumping. I liked that they offered a digital social media package (bc let’s be real, that’s why I want the pics), but I was overall unimpressed by the shots they took.
The location. As mentioned the drive wasn’t that bad, but it was driving to rural Ohio. There’s pretty much nothing inside a 30 minute drive- plenty of cute stuff outside that radius, but it was a hike. And inside that 30 minute radius was farmland, highways, and a distinct lack of good restaurants (with one or two exceptions). I’ve always lived in places with very high restaurant concentrations (RI, Ithaca, Nova) so I’m definitely spoiled in this way, and rural Ohio may as well have been a different planet to this East-Coaster! It made me that much more grateful that they hosted plenty of activities onsite.
You stick a couple hundred horses under one roof and crank the heat up, what do you think will happen? There were plenty of manure piles outside, fans running, and doors went open on nice days, but there’s no escaping the fact that horses are stinky creatures. All my gear came home with a distinct dust+urine aroma, and I’m still cycling through making sure everything is washed/disinfected.
There you have it! Like I said- overall, I give this place two enthusiastic thumbs up. My “negatives” are relatively minor, and the good parts vastly outweigh them.
Now let me know- do you have any specific questions that I haven’t answered yet? Let me know in the comments!
So we last left off on Monday, when the ponies got the day off and I got some work done. I was in high spirits coming off a really successful first week- not every round was perfect, but I felt like we were learning a TON together and that’s always my goal.
Then we hit week 2.
It turns out that the first week of a horse show is fun. Duh. We already knew that. It turns out that the second week of a horse show is not about having fun. It is about sheer mental and physical endurance to do the damn thing.
But I’ll back up to the beginning of the week to walk us through.
Tuesday I hopped on for a short lesson in the jumper ring, where we popped over a few low fences. The windows were all open to let the beautiful breeze in, and we had a great ride practicing getting our forward canter to the base (that will always be a skill I have to practice). We didn’t want to tire him out, so after a few successful efforts we called it a day and I hopped back on my computer to continue working.
Wednesday we signed up for two schooling classes, the Low at 1m, and the Medium at 1.07-1.10m. Course here:
The Low trip was, as my trainer so eloquently put it, “a little potato-y.” Like, not awful. We went clear for a blue ribbon. Just underpowered. We only went clear because Frankie can walk over 1m. I had gotten him on a bit of a half-step to the combo at 6ab and we lurched through a bit, so I knew I wanted to correct that track from 5. We went back into the warmup and I fired him up a bit before going back in for the Mediums with the same course.
And jumps 1-5 came up a TON better. He was firing harder and I was riding harder to help him out. And I went ahead and corrected my track to 6ab. I corrected it so far, in fact, that I got him to a different half-step. He politely tried and then politely came back down to earth when he realized he couldn’t make it, but I was JUMPING THAT DANG COMBO DAMMIT and went ahead without him.
On the plus side, I get full points for taking all the poles down with me. Right? That’s how that works? Poor Francis seemed very confused to see me down there- I’ve never popped off him before- but true to his nature, he waited patiently for me to hop to my feet.
I got right back on and we popped over a fence in the warmup ring, just so we could both end the day on a positive note. I knew I didn’t have any real damage- just some stiffness from bracing, and a positively glorious bruise on my hip (it’s still developing and shifting colors!).
So on Thursday I went ahead and said I DON’T WANNA JUMP. I was stiff and sore and limping and had zero desire to hang on over a course. AT took Francis in the Low Schooling instead so he could get a pro tuneup, and I hopped on later in the day to flat around- turns out that the movement from riding really did help loosen me up and work out a lot of the kinks. Riding: good for what ails you.
You know what else is good for what ails you? The onsite chiro at WEC. Dude is a wizard. I went into his tent for 40 minutes and emerged sans limp and with waaaay less stiffness. I really loved his philosophies on body work (basically he’s a terrible businessman because he doesn’t try to upsell unnecessary sessions but he’s an actual good human) and he knew that the main goal was to get comfortably back in the saddle. I made everyone in the barn go see him and they loved him too.
So then we got to Friday, which was the start of the division! At this point, I was seriously considering dropping down to the Lows for the weekend. We know that language has power, so I’m simply going to say it this way- there is an huge opportunity for me to improve my ride up to and through combos. I worried that I was going to continue making similar mistakes at the bigger height and put Francis in an unfair spot.
But, the show must go on. I hopped on Friday for our power/speed class, and in full honesty: this was the first time I have ever gone into the show ring on Frankie feeling nervous. I’ve had anxious energy before, but this time I was straight up nervous.
Thankfully I have the best big beast in the world, and as soon as we cleared jump 1 I came back to myself and realized we know what we’re doing out there.
I was actually quite happy with how this rode. The line up 4-5 particularly felt really bouncy and strong, and Frankie rocked back nicely for me.
And then I turned a little too early to 8ab because I was freaking out about riding up to another combo, which meant that I sliced 8A left-to-right and Francis continued on a straight line that did not include 8B hahahahahahaha I’m actually still laughing at this. I got confused on the re-approach and just left the ring making faces and giggling at my idiocy.
So sure we didn’t actually officially complete the course, but I felt like I got a lot of my mojo back. Frankie clearly wasn’t holding any grudges, he just expected me to steer. Which apparently was not a realistic expectation for him to have.
On to Saturday! Despite feeling a lot more confident after my round the previous day, I was 110% done with competing. I had zero desire to go in the ring. I was cool with riding, but had NO competitive edge. At all. For the first time ever, I went to my trainer and said, “I don’t want to show today.” And she responded with, “you don’t have a choice.”
I was at the physical, mental, and emotional level of dealing poorly with literally everything at that point, so I called Fiance in tears about how badly I didn’t want to go in the ring. And then I wiped my face, went back to the barn, tacked up, and went in the ring. Because at that point it was about proving to myself and my trainer that I had the grit to go do the job.
Here’s our speed round:
You guys, I cowboyed around this course. I literally one-handed it through 4AB because I had one hand behind my leg with the crop. Our turn from 6 to 7 to 8 actually rode quite nicely, he balanced and turned well for me. 8 to 9AB walked in a fairly direct bending 6, and I shaped HARD for an 8 in there because I wanted us to get super straight in. No more drive-bys for me! As I told my trainer when I came out of the ring, “I didn’t care if we had any problems anywhere else, but I REFUSED to have an issue with any of the combos.” Mission completed.
It was an ugly course, and I was really proud of it. I rode the crap outta my horse around there, because he was tired and not really helping me out and I had to pick him up and carry him with me over those jumps. Despite a 12 fault score, other people had an even worse day (I saw at least 4 people fall off at 4A) and we snuck a 7th place in this class. I am glad we got a ribbon, because it did feel like an accomplishment despite the messy bits.
Saturday night at dinner, we may have all started chanting “ONE MORE DAY” to get us through it. All of us were fried, including the horses. And the dogs.
So we finally reached the last day. Sunday. Classic Day. Everything was loaded on the trailer except Francis, because we were the last riders from our barn to go in the ring. It was time to wrap this up. Course here:
You guys. I could not be prouder of Frankie. He jumped his heart out over this whole course. He was clearly exhausted- and usually when he’s tired like that, he kinda mentally checks out. Not that he’s bad or anything, just that he phones it in and doesn’t want to go play. Not so this time. He was right there with me every step of the way saying “I’m tired but I’ll give it a go for you.” It was such a wonderful show of partnership from him.
The first bending was just a little underpowered, but I woke him up out of the corner and 3 to 4AB came up really nicely. Bending 5 to 6 was a shaped 6 strides to 4 strides out over 7, and I needed to wait with my shoulders a bit to help him fit that 4 in more easily. I continued straight for a few strides after 7 to help us square up the turn to 8, then galloped him up to it. I knew that he would have trouble with the short one given how tired he was, so I tried to get him to a bit of a gap to give him a break. Bending up to 9AB he just needed a quick tap to get his attention, then I let him open up to 10 and galloped him home over 11.
We had a bunch of rails. But I felt like I actually made decisions that were right for the horse I had under me, and he responded by giving me every single thing I asked for. The poor guy was tired, and I can’t fault him for that- I don’t think those rails would have fallen in week 1.
I don’t have any pics from our second classic, but Tracy took some WONDERFUL ones when she came last week!!!
We snapped a few quick pictures, cooled Francis out, stuck him on the trailer, and I got in the car for the 8 hour journey home.
Nah you know I can’t wrap it up that abruptly. I need more closure than that. But I will save my thoughts on WEC as a venue for another post- the good, the bad, the smelly. Let me know if you have any specific questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them as well!
Right now I’m feeling burned out- physically, mentally, emotionally. It was a LOT. But I also feel stronger, more knowledgeable, proud, and like I’m actually learning how to ride. I know that last bit sounds a little silly, but it’s true. Frankie has spent so long taking care of me, and I finally feel like I’m learning how to take care of him more when he needs it. Our partnership keeps growing and growing and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
Francis got a much-deserved break on Monday and Tuesday, and I’ll be headed out for a light hack after work to stretch those muscles. He’s back to all-day turnout with his buddies, and we’ll be having the vet out soon to give him a full exam. He’s healthy and sound, but we just asked for a lot of hard work from him and we’re going to continue having a busy season- I want us to be extremely proactive in managing his health and fitness as we keep moving and moving up (spoiler alert Homeboy is probs doing the 1.20m with AT next time out WUTTUP).
A few thank yous to wrap us up:
A huge thank you to Tracy and Monica for coming out to see us, and Tracy for snapping pics!! Getting to turn an online friendship into a real-life thing was amazeballs.
Buddy Fianci, for listening to me complain about being at a horse show for too long and not pointing out the obvious that this is literally the dumbest thing to ever complain about. And for being mega supportive in cheering us on from afar. And for being cute. And I just like him a lot is all.
Big big big thank you to my boss and my CEO for giving the thumbs up for me to work remotely while I was competing. I never-in-a-million-years thought that competing for 2 weeks would be a possibility at this point in my career, and their enthusiastic permission to chase my dreams means the world to me.
Hugest thank yous to my trainers and the people who helped us get to the ring every day. They were endlessly supportive and encouraging (even when I was a lumpy crabcake) and none of this would be possible without their tireless devotion to the horses. I’m so grateful that Frankie gets such attentive and knowledgeable care, inside the ring and out.
And as always, Frankie. What can I say? He is the horse of a lifetime. I still don’t know how I got so lucky to have him in my life. From leaping huge obstacles together to taking quiet walks, getting to spend all day every day with him was the greatest gift. He is an incredible creature and I couldn’t love him more.
I promise I’m working on a write-up of WEC 9, but this hop was too fun not to join in! I’m a perpetual oversharer so maybe you know a lot of this, but here’s a bunch of things about me that don’t relate to horses:
1. I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in biological engineering, concentrating in biomedical engineering. I always look at people a little funny when they say how much fun college was- I had plenty of good times and wouldn’t change a thing, but it was not what I would call “fun.” It was the best education I could ask for, but it was hard.
2. I don’t do cold. I grew up in New England, went to school in NY, and promptly moved down to Virginia to escape the cold. I did my time, I have no interest in being cold ever again. One snow per year is enough for me.
3. I am a full on Northern Virginia convert. I love love love living here so much. It’s stupidly expensive and the traffic sucks, but it is beautiful and diverse and exciting and amazing. Like, I understand that people want to live other places, but pretty sure Nova is the best possible place.
4. Cheese. I love cheese. All I ever want is cheese. Good day? Celebrate with cheese. Bad day? Drown my sorrows in cheese. Buddy Fianci is the best at arranging cheese plates and it’s a huge reason why we need to lock this thing down legally forever. Kidding. But it does help.
5. I love love love crossword puzzles. I do every one that I can get my hands on. Sometimes I struggle with TV or movie references since I don’t watch that much, but I can usually puzzle it out (ha) from the other clues.
6. Along the same lines, I love trivia games. I’m still in an online trivia group with my old coworkers and I play every day! I’m in a rivalry with my old CIO and send him snotty messages when I beat him. I think his ego needs it.
7. I have a really hard time doing just one thing, with few exceptions: reading an amazing book or riding my horse. Otherwise, I need to have music going, a crossword puzzle (see above), and three text conversations just to be able to watch a TV show.
8. My favorite genres to read are historical fiction and fantasy. I just really love reading about places and times and worlds that I can’t experience outside the book. The Wheel of Time series has been an incredibly huge presence in my life since I was young.
9. I dyed my hair all different colors when I was younger- every shade from platinum blonde to almost black, and even purple once. I was always a pretty conservative dresser and a good kid, so this was my way of branching out a bit. I’ve been my natural shade of mousy brunette for years now, but I still think of myself as blonde (I always use the blonde emojis).
Very not blonde
10. I connect most with people over humor. You can be the nicest most interesting person in the world, but I’m not particularly interested in spending time together unless we can laugh. All my closest friends are sharp and witty and amazing people, and Buddy Fianci is hands down the funniest person I have ever met.
11. My heritage is 50% Greek from my mother, and 50% Scottish/Irish/English from my father. Basically, I have extremely pale olive-toned skin.
12. My mom and I traveled all over the world together just the two of us when I was younger- cruises, two trips to Italy, Mexico, etc. The most amazing trip was when I was in college, when we toured around Tuscany over spring break. I had just taken an Art History class, and she took me to see all the masterpieces in person. She’s the best travel buddy ever, and my best friend.
13. My oldest brother is 10 years older, and he basically helped raise me. I went into engineering in large part because he went into engineering and I wanted to be just like him, and I lived with him and my sister-in-law for 6mo after graduating college. I’m incredibly close with both of them (I couldn’t be closer to my sister-in-law if we had actually shared a womb), and am godmother to their younger little girl!
14. My other brother is 5 years older, and is so much cooler than all of us in every way. He is talented musically, artistically, financially, socially, and in any other area you can think of. He married an equally sparkling woman and between the two of them, they are probably the most-loved couple in RI. Not even exaggerating. Every single person that meets them loves them. I get it, they’re awesome.
15. To round out the immediate family, my dad is basically a superhuman. He’s a fetal surgeon, a professor at an Ivy League medical school, and a colonel in the Air National Guard, where he also serves as state air surgeon. He’s a true renaissance man- he loves history and reading poetry to us (and is an incredible reader), sails his boat all summer, and is beyond devoted to my mother. You can’t talk to him for 5 minutes without him mentioning how much he loves her. I talk to my father every single day, and he is the most supportive, encouraging, compassionate man on the planet.
16. I’m big into hydration. I drink tons and tons of water all day erry day. My Beloved Betrothed carries a Nalgene with him everywhere and I lovingly refer to him as my constant source of clean fresh drinking water.
17. I met my roommate on Craigslist several years ago, and now we are maids-of-honor in each other’s weddings. It was fate. We are polar opposites in every way, but that’s why it works (also she’s hilarious, see point #10).
18. I don’t like icing, or plain sugary candies. Chocolate- yes. Sugar- no. I’ll scrape the icing off of cupcakes and cakes, and would much rather have some pie. We vetoed the wedding cake- we’re going with doughnuts instead (Dunkin 4 lyfe).
19. I have spreadsheets for my spreadsheets. Everything goes in a spreadsheet. All wedding planning is in spreadsheets. All budgeting for my life is in spreadsheets (I made a baller daily tracker). Google Sheets runs my life.
20. I grew up doing alllll sorts of different activities- I did ballet on a pre-professional track into my teens (I quit to pursue riding more); played tennis recreationally; spent most summers out on the water at sailing camp; took piano, violin, flute, and trumpet lessons (I ended up on the trumpet and was first chair in high school); ice skated often; practiced with the swim team despite never being on the team; and obviously rode ponies.
21. I hate loud noises and countdowns. I can be totally zen, but if someone starts saying “ten…nine…” I will FLIP OUT. Dearest Fiance thinks this is hysterical and threatens me with countdowns on the regular.
22. I don’t cook. I used to try and pretend that I would, but I’ve stopped lying to myself. I can cook, I just don’t. Baking is my fun rainy day activity, but Fiance is for sure the chef of the household- he enjoys it and is really good at putting meals together. Thank goodness, because I am queen of the microwave.
23. I was raised in the Greek Orthodox church and my faith is very much a strong part of my identity. Getting married in the Greek church is hugely important to me, and I’m so so so grateful that Fiance is on board with that (it’s gonna be My Big Fat Greek Wedding WHATSUP).
24. If money was no object, I would probably go into tutoring full time. I love working with all ages to develop problem-solving skills. I wouldn’t want to be a teacher- I don’t do groups like that- but working one-on-one with people to learn together is one of the most satisfying feelings ever.
25. I’m a very outgoing introvert. I LOVE meeting new people and will strike up conversations with just about anyone (especially at a horse show), but at the end of the day I recharge best with some quiet time at home.
26. While most people call me Olivia, the people close to me call me Liv, and my family calls me Livy. I was Livy to everyone growing up- teachers, friends, friends’ parents, etc., but really only my parents and siblings call me that anymore.
27. I wear sunscreen on my face every day. My Nana always drilled sun safety into us and I think of her every morning when I put my sunscreen on.
28. I’m a huge list person- probably why I wanted to join in this blog hop so badly! It’s why I gravitate towards spreadsheets so much- I make lists to organize my thoughts for work, personal life, etc. It’s just how my brain works.
29. I’ve only ever had one car- my Jeep, Benjamin. I’ve had him since I was 17 and now at 125k+ miles, he’s trying to die and I won’t let him. I’ll be driving that Jeep until it falls apart, which hopefully won’t be for another couple of years.
30. I’m not a big jewelry person except for two pieces- my engagement ring (duh), and my class ring. I feel naked without them.
I’ve loved reading all of yours, hope you enjoyed learning a little more about me!
We made it through our first week of WEC! As I write this, it’s Monday morning- the ponies have the day off, but I’m sitting in our barn area answering emails and catching up on work. I can hear the horses munching their hay, I can see Frankie poking his nose out at me to say hello every so often, and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.
But let me back up to the start of the week! Frankie arrived here last Monday and according to Trainer, handled the travel like a champ and came off the trailer feeling dandy. Not bad for such a long ride. He got training rides Mon/Tues to get him going while I was impatiently waiting to depart.
I arrived Wednesday afternoon. It was certainly a long drive (with the several breaks I took, about 8 hours) but not too terribly difficult, and with my early 5:45am start I was here by early afternoon. I even got to hop on for a brief hack around the Sanctuary (the jumper ring) and pop over a few jumps in the warmup ring in a mini-lesson. Spoiler alert- Francis felt like a million bucks. We kept the jumps tiny and just focused on super straightness and power off the ground. I can feel it when we get it right, it’s just developing the feel to consistently get it every single time.
You guys, this place is HUGE. ENORMOUS. ALL INDOORS. On days like today where the weather is nice, they open up allll the doors to let the fresh air in, but when it’s cold they button us up and blast the heat- it snowed last week, and I was too warm wearing a light sweater inside that day.
Our first day of competition was Thursday, where we had signed up for a Medium Schooling Jumper class at 1.07-1.10m to get us in the ring and feeling good. I don’t have a picture of the course diagram, but I do have something even better- I have video! Don’t get mad, but this is the only video I have of the entire week.
Overall I’m really pleased with this round! It was our first time in the ring and Francis was a consummate professional. I got popped out of the tack a few times and buried him to the base of at least one jump, but he was forward and fresh and had more than enough power to bail me out. Not perfect, but a fantastic start to the week. This was a blue/red round (clear rounds get a blue ribbon and the rest get a red) and despite some clonking of rails we managed to go clear- I ain’t mad about starting the week with a blue ribbon!
I spent the rest of Thursday getting work done, hand walking Frankie, cleaning tack, and generally soaking in the awesomeness that is getting to work remotely.
Friday was our first day of the division- we just had one II.2.b (immediate jumpoff) class for the Highs. Course here:
Frankie warmed up fantastically, and jumps 1-4 came up smoothly and beautifully. Then I forgot literally everything I’ve ever learned and shoved him at the combo on a half-step. REAL SMART. Frankie very understandably declined to go into an in-an-out with an orangutan piloting. We circled around to re-approach, I shoved him at it just as badly but he is an excellent goober so he made it through somehow, I lost a stirrup, I shoved him at the next jump, and he was like OK THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE PRACTICED. And then I left the ring apologizing to my horse.
I could not tell you why this happened. I mean I can clearly tell you what went wrong and how I could’ve fixed it, but I cannot figure out why I went full potato. I was feeling really frustrated with myself to be honest. I kinda wanted to go crawl in a hole and wallow a bit in my own inadequacy. Luckily, I work with a trainer who is a strong believer in ending on a good note- she arranged for me to go around one of the Low classes to get our confidence back. It wasn’t a perfect course, but it absolutely served its purpose of giving us our mojo back. Wise lady.
Saturday we were signed up for two classes- a speed class, and another jumpoff class. My plan was to go in for the speed class and see how it went, and then decide if we needed another round to school before the classic.
Here’s the speed course:
Jump 1 towards home came up perfectly. I went between the oxer and vertical and then gave myself a few straight strides to 2. I kept him straight between my leg and hand into the combo, and was able to soften and kick a bit into it. We ended up leaving out a stride out over 4, but he was so balanced and responsive that I was able to do the turn inside 8 to get to 5. He fired over that oxer like you wouldn’t believe. I had to steady him a bit towards home down that diagonal line. Then I went around the oxer to give him a straightaway to the second combo, and he just flowed over that so beautifully. I had to sit him back to a short one over 8, then opened up before rocking back for the final line towards home. Double clear and fast.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this round was my best round I’ve ever put in at a show. It wasn’t picture perfect at every step, but I felt so dang in tune with my horse and effective. Every inside turn came up effortlessly for him, he rated back and forth off my seat super quickly, and was firing on all cylinders. This is the round that I would KILL to have video of.
We left the ring sitting in first, and held that lead to win the class. Our first blue ribbon as a team. There were tears. This felt like a ribbon that we had truly earned by being good, not just by being lucky or by having soft competition.
We decided to scratch the next class- we weren’t going to get any better schooling than that! I’m also a fan of saving Frankie’s legs where we can, there’s no need to tire him out unnecessarily.
Sunday was classic day, and also visitor day! We had Monica (formerly of the OTTB Eventer) and Tracy of the Printable Pony come to visit! It was sooo fantastic to get to connect in real life and introduce the Frankfurter. Blogger meetups are my fave!
Here’s our classic course:
Jumps 1 to 2 felt good. I let him get a little fast and flat through the turn, so we lurched a bit over 3, but I was able to get him back for the combo (we did knock a rail on the way out). 5 to 6 was a bit of a mad scramble as I didn’t really half halt enough (also that oxer at 6 was so freakin’ huge I almost peed my pants when I walked the course), and we kinda barreled our way through 7ab. Again- I wasn’t supporting him enough. He was more tired than on previous days and that means he needs more support from me to maintain the bouncy canter we needed. Coming off the combo I put my leg on HARD and got him underneath me, and the last three jumps felt fantastic! Really bouncy and flowing well.
So not our best course, but nothing to be ashamed of either. We spent so long developing that “forward” button, now I’m trying to transition to better channeling that forward without killing the energy. It’s all part of the process! Like I told Monica and Tracy- I might not be the best rider out there, but I’m definitely having the most fun. Pretty sure I have the bestest horse out there too.
Frankie has felt like a million bucks all week. I’ve loved working with the french-link elevator, and Frankie has been going fantastically in it. It’s soft enough that he wants to come over onto the bit, but I actually get a real reaction when I half-halt. We’re still learning, but I think it’s a great tool in our tool box.
You guys, he is a different horse than I brought home almost 2 years ago. He is such a patient teacher as I learn new ways of communicating with him, and he continues to give his all every time we raise the bar. He’s still willing to bail me out when I need it, but he is ready and able to give me such incredible work when I’m on my game. I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet to have this kind of partnership with this animal. EMOTIONS.
He’ll get today off, a light hack on Tuesday, a short lesson Wednesday, then we’ll back back at it on Thursday! I can’t wait to tell you how it goes.
One of my favorite topics of discussion with my trainer is around finding the right match of horse and rider- I consider myself so ridiculously blindingly amazingly lucky in that I have a horse that could not be more perfectly matched to me, so I’m fascinated by all the factors that go into making that match.
I do think that a lot of it is impossible to know before the horse and rider get to know each other (we certainly didn’t think Francis would be this incredible), but some pieces can be fairly apparent off the bat.
Maybe we don’t stick the 5’6″-and-growing 12yo girl on a medium pony.
The kid with aspirations in the hunter ring will probably be happiest on a mount with good movement and a nice jump.
A timid rider will likely become more nervous on a horse with quirks like head shaking or kicking out.
That’s not to say that none of this is insurmountable (except for the pony thing, for the love of god stop handicapping your kids into the pony divisions. But that’s a rant for another day). The hunter kid might be able to work with a horse to develop better movement, and the timid rider might be able to learn some guts to ride the quirky horses. It happens every day. But for a horse that someone wants to be able to ride comfortably immediately, there are plenty of things that make that partnership much easier to build quickly.
One way my trainer likes to put it is that in a good partnership, there needs to be at least 100% confidence in/desire to do their job. The horse and the rider together make up this percentage. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to talk about jumping because that’s the world I know, but I think this can apply to any discipline.
If the rider is really really timid and isn’t sure if they want to make it over the jump, then the horse needs to be so well-schooled that it is definitely going. In these cases, the horse makes up for the inexperience/uneasiness of the rider.
If the horse is green or nervous and doesn’t want to jump (or if the the horse is tired, as sometimes happens with Frankie), the rider needs to have 100% conviction that they are getting to the other side. In these cases, the rider makes up for the inexperience/uneasiness of the horse.
Anything less than a sum of 100% can lead to a runout- either because the rider pulls out of the track, or because the horse stops.
The best partnerships are where you’re above 100%- where both the horse and rider are eager to go do their job together. The top showjumpers are operating at 200%, with mounts that are incredibly well trained and confident, and with riders who know how to encourage the best work from their horses.
I’d say that Frankie regularly operates at around 60-70%. I am confident that he is going to jump the jump in front of him- he has never given me a dirty stop. He locks on more often than he used to, but he’ll never be the drag-you-to-the-fence type. I don’t think he’s at 100%, because if I pull or don’t steer he won’t jump the jump- because he assumes I don’t want him to. When he gets tired- at the end of a long course, or in the second trip of the day, or later in the week- this percentage goes down a bit. Not because he’s unwilling, but because he needs more support from me.
I think I’m operating probably around 60-70% as well. It may be ugly, it may be messy, but I will jump the damn jump. I don’t have any baggage of riding a stopper and I ride a horse that will always give me what I ask, so in general I don’t pull out of a line/off a track unless I think I will legitimately hurt myself or Frankie by asking him to go for it. In the past my percentage has gone down as well as I get tired, so I’m working hard to make sure I can actually raise my percentage- to make up for any drops in Frankie’s. I’ll also be able to raise my percentage by improving my skills on course.
That makes for a combined percentage of at least 100%, which is part of why I love this horse so dang much. We both have such a fun time going out there and doing our thing.
Of course, our goal is to constantly increase that percentage as a team. For Frankie that means building the “fire” in his step and building his fitness so that he doesn’t flag at the end of a long day. For me it also means building fitness, and it also means improving my cues to the point of being able to encourage the best possible jump out of my horse. That way if I’m ever on a horse that’s less perfect than Frankie (so literally any other horse), I can lend them some confidence that we’ll make it over together.
What do you think about this way of looking at a partnership? What do you think your and your horse’s percentages are?
PS- By the time this posts, I should be several hours into my journey west. Talk to y’all from WEC!!!!
I wasn’t planning on blogging before heading out to Ohio, but I just had the most motivating session with my trainers and I have to share with all y’all.
The best way I can think of to sum it up is as follows:
Learning how to ride is kinda hard.
Learning how to ride WELL is super freakin’ hard.
Learning how to ride in a way that shows nuance and expertise is EXPONENTIALLY HARDER THAN ALL OF THAT.
As I had mentioned, Assistant Trainer and I set up a time for me to watch her ride Frankie and then have me hop on for some coaching on replicating that ride. It ended up being about 30 minutes of AT riding with constant commentary (mad respect for being able to multitask like that) and then 30 minutes of me working with Francis- and I could barely keep track of my limbs, let alone speak.
First off- Frankie looked AMAZING with AT. I’m such a visual learner and getting to see what kind of work he is capable of makes me that much more confident and excited about achieving it with him myself. I wish I had video to show you, but I was too wrapped up in listening and watching.
Some of the key takeaways that AT shared throughout both her ride and mine:
Walking needs to be powerful and forward. While warming up we’re not at all worried about where his head is- we are entirely focused on getting him moving off the leg and pushing powerfully from behind. Insisting on straightness- no wiggling out of a powerful forward walk.
A good way to encourage him to open up his stride more at the walk is alternating leg aids- cue with my left heel as he’s about to pick up his left hind, right heel for right hind, etc. Getting him more sensitive to my cues will help make this more effective at encouraging the activity from behind.
The contact on the outside rein needs to be steady- it does not need to be heavy, but it does need to be consistently present at all times. Test his self-carriage often by releasing the inside rein. He should not change pace or the shape of his body.
Stretch breaks are good, but that doesn’t mean throwing away the work. He is never allowed to grab the reins out of my hands- when I like what he is doing, I can feed the reins to him and encourage the stretch down. Part of working the most effectively with him is timing our breaks to be just as much of a training tool as the active work.
Insist more. Frankie is a well-trained, athletic, fancy horse- if I stick to my guns and continue asking, he will give me correct work. I can’t get lazy or he will get lazy. This doesn’t mean that he can’t do the work, it just means that I have to keep supporting and encouraging the right answer.
No more calling him a llama. The language we use matters, so we are only allowed to call him a fancy shmancy show horse. My new go-to is gonna be FancyPants Francis, but I’m open to other posh nicknames for the big guy.
Carrying himself properly is really hard work, and we can’t expect him to do it all the time quite yet. At the same time, we need to ask for it a little more every time so that we build that strength and build that muscle memory for him. He lets us know that he’s tired by getting strung out or trying to break- that’s when it’s on us to work really hard to support him for another half-lap or so to push just a liiiiittle bit more. Not enough to fatigue him, just enough to push a little harder than last time.
Drop my stirrups as often as needed. Especially when working at the sitting trot, go ahead and drop my stirrups so I can wrap around his barrel and get him super active to my leg. As he gets stronger and learns more self-carriage, that trot is getting a lot bouncier, but his back is also getting rounder and softer so sitting is getting easier.
At all times: straightness. Keep a major focus on where his hips are- is he trying to slide them to the inside or outside? Stay very vigilant about keeping his whole body on one smooth track unless explicitly asking for lateral movements. Keeping a steady outside rein will mostly take care of his shoulders, but let hands go wide if he needs some help finding that center track for his front half.
Don’t ride his head. When we are pushing powerfully from behind, we’re straight through his body, I have a steady contact on the outside rein, and am half-halting from my seat and inside rein, he will be poll-high and in the bridle. The goal is not a false headset- it’s that he’s so strong and soft through his body that he is pushed up into the bridle. If he gets too high- add more leg. If he gets too low- half-halt from my seat.
Almost think to counter-bend through the end of the ring. Frankie is happy to pretzel into a false bend and that is not productive. Keep that strong outside rein (notice a pattern yet?) and use my outside leg to keep his haunches on a smooth track through the turns.
When coming down to a walk, no plopping. He must continue forward on the contact. Do not feed him the reins until he is giving me the walk I want.
And this isn’t even everything- just the high level recap. It was mentally and physically a hugely demanding session- I was getting feedback on what to tweak with literally every single stride.
I basically rode in circles for 30 minutes, and my legs are about to fall off. All of this was hard. My brain felt like a hamster on a wheel trying to put all of these pieces together, my legs are like cooked noodles from the sheer intensity of the workout, and I’m still heavily ruminating on all the work we did.
None of these things are new concepts, it all basically boils down to inside leg to outside rein. It’s just the timing and subtlety of these aids that is some next-level work. AT assures me that with enough practice, these cues and their timing will become as automatic as keeping my heels down- I’m pretty sure it’ll take a good long time to get to that point but I’m hopeful.
Trainer was there as well so I had both her and AT working with us. Talk about intense. She told me that she’s not as fixated on my position so much anymore- there are certainly always going to be things to fix and improve upon, but she knows I know the job. Our focus now is on being the most effective rider I can be. In her words, “this is the difference between coming out to the barn to ride, and coming out to train. It’s time to train.”
So now I am incredibly sore and incredibly motivated. It feels like we’re really kicking it into a whole new gear and I couldn’t be more excited to get to work with my FancyPants pony.