Hang Time

Since Frankie and I have started schooling some bigger (to us) jumps, I’ve felt like I have to completely relearn how to ride over fences.

I was used to this motion: legs up, legs down.

Not a lot of arc, and by the time his back feet left the ground we were already coming in for a landing. Frankie doesn’t have a lot of roundness to his jump on a consistent basis (though there is MASSIVE improvement from when we got him), so it was a very flat, steady motion.

Now that the jumps are a bit higher and he has to work a little harder, the motion is more like this: front legs up-back legs up-hang in air-front legs down-back legs come down to push off.

The big difference here in his motion is that his hind legs are leaving the ground while we’re still on our way up, and there is a moment in the air as we “peak.” It is a distinct three-phase motion of takeoff, peak, and landing. The takeoff and peak don’t feel that different, but having his body crest over the top and then shift downwards was mighty disorienting at first. So really the big difference for me has been learning how to ride the “landing” phase.

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Half seat. Then a little less half seat-y.

All of a sudden, I can’t just get into my half-seat and stay there ’til we land. Unless I want to land on his neck every time, and even the most tolerant pony in the world (aka Francis) gets annoyed at that after a while. I have to shift my balance over his so that I can land with my shoulders already up and telling Francis was to do next. No recovery stride to haul myself back in the saddle.

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Usually looking like a sack of potatoes trying to stay over the saddle. See notes below about thigh and core strength.

Guys. This took is taking a lot of work. Having the world’s most tolerant ammy-friendly horse has been an absolute Godsend as I try to sort my parts out. My “recovery time” on landing is one of the biggest things my trainer and I are working on (along with riding to the right takeoff spot, but that is a lifelong struggle).

I won’t pretend to have good advice on how to do this, but here are a few things that have helped me start to get my body in the right place:

  • Heels down. I know, I know, we’ve all known this since we sat on our first pony. But being very conscious of this has helped- dropping my weight down into my heels and using that mental image to keep my leg perpendicular to the ground. I don’t always get this right (as evidenced by pretty much every picture ever), but there is a big difference when I focus on this.
  • Building strength in my thighs. This means lots of no-stirrup work, including no-stirrup half seat. Keeping my heel down helps me keep my lower leg stable and strong, but getting my thighs stronger has helped me keep my entire leg on to hold me in that centered position.
  • Building core strength. This is probably the number one improvement right here- maintaining that increased strength through my core helps SO much as my hip angle changes. When my core is loose, I collapse up the neck on landing. When my core is engaged, I stay over his back. I’m not as completely still and stable as I’d like to be yet, so planks galore to build that strength!
  • Thinking “shoulders tall” with every. single. stride. That needs to stay independent of my hip angle (see below), but keeping this mantra in my head helps me to constantly ~try to~ keep my shoulders facing forwards instead of collapsing up the neck.
  • Increasing flexibility in my hip angle. I don’t exactly mean by doing stretches or anything since my hips are decently flexible already- I more mean expanding the range of angles I use during my riding. This angle used to stay pretty closed as I stayed in a half-seat and then closed a little more over jumps. Now there is SUCH a wider range: slightly closed when I ask for a gallop, more open when I sit back and ask for collection, closed at takeoff, wider for landing. And not only is there a wider range, that range all needs to happen within 0.8 seconds. I’m still getting comfortable with a wider hip angle but Frankie responds well to my seat when I open up like that.
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Hip angle slightly closed as we open stride through a wide turn
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Hip angle opens a bit as I ask him to collect before sending him forward to a single oxer

A big part of the goal here is to make sure I can change my seat as soon as I can upon landing- staying off his back when I need to allow him, but getting in the backseat and driving him when I need to. This needs to be able to happen within a 1-stride combo, not 3 strides out from a jump. So yeah. That landing needs to be tight and balanced and I need to know what I’m asking for as soon as his front feet leave the ground. I should start doing some quick-thinking exercises too!

Like I said before, it does feel like I’m completely re-learning how to jump. I’m making a LOT of mistakes these days- big pats for Francis for truckin’ along while I play with my angles and slowly get stronger.

How have you approached adjusting to the motion of bigger jumps?

HITS Culpeper: Commonwealth National 2017

Our first big show of the season is in the books! Strap in for a BEAST of a post guys, because I’ve got lots to say. Don’t worry, we also have lots of great pics thanks to the best show friends ever.

And holy crap guys, I have to put this out there straight off: Francis. Was. Amazing. Like, I can’t even express the amazing. This horse has come SO far in a year, is SO much more educated, and legit was perfection all weekend. I certainly have plenty to work on, but the horse is totally aces.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and you know that Francis is a real professional show pony now, we can get into the good stuff.

Francis shipped into the showgrounds on Thursday and got a training ride with a good report card- a storm was blowing in while Trainer was on him and he was apparently a little looky with all the wind and noise, but settled into work once she set the screws to him a bit. She let me know to show up bright and early the next day to kick things off.

On Friday we opted to do a warmup 1m class in the GP ring for a couple reasons: 1) To get us listening to each other before out 1.10m classes and 2) to let us get into the GP ring before our classic on Sunday. Not that Francis cares, but Trainer knows I like to get the lay of the land if at all possible.

Course here:

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Note the dampness because EVERYTHING WAS WET UGH

No hard questions here. The intent was to treat this as a schooling round- I didn’t want to go in there and gallop around. The footing was super soupy from the storms so my plan was to stay balanced and get some adjustability from Francis. I felt like he really delivered! We got a bit of a launcher at fence 5 when I asked too late for the move up, but the rest of the time we managed to get some pretty good, close distances. Especially at that height where Frankie doesn’t need to work too hard, we wanted him listening to the base- I had to wrestle him back a bit through that last line towards home, but he obliged and fit in that last stride. Overall it felt like a very competent schooling round with a few sticky spots but plenty of good spots, and that perfectly met our goal going into the ring. Even with a rail, it was good enough to get us 8th out of 20ish in an open class!

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I love the flags in the background here, we got the Grand Prix look!
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You guys. Francis is picking his knees up. OMG.
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Note the lake right behind us. Srsly so soupy.
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Jumping into the last line towards home. I had to sit down hard after this to ask him to fit the strides in that last line- he could see the in-gate and wanted to gallop home.

We then had quite a while before our first High Adult round went in Jumper 1, and Francis took full advantage of that break.

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“Oh. Hey.”
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You don’t even realize how long he was down there. HOURS. Pretty sure he was snoring.
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We thought he’d try to get up when we came in to bug him… Nope. He was very content to stay where he was and snuggle.

Sadly, we did eventually have to rouse him from his nap and pick the shavings out of his tail. He gave us plenty of sighs to let us know what a bother it was. But he had to go cart his Momma over some colorful sticks!

I was not nervous per say, but a little intimidated. Sure, we went in the Highs at 1.10m back in January, but I’m pretty convinced those jumps were set at a VERY forgiving height. So for me this felt like our first REAL time going out there at a true 1.10m in competition.

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Waiting our turn on the buckle like a true fiery jumper steed
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Slightly less damp by this point in the day.

But as soon as the buzzer rang, that apprehension flew out the window. Was it a perfect course? Absolutely not! But the height didn’t even seem like a factor- the sticky spots were due to my own mistakes and not due to any difficulty making it over that height.

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Oh but he real cute tho

We got a flyer to jump 1, which led to me letting him get a bit strung out and knocking fence 2. That meant that the line from 2 to 3 which had walked a little tight ended up being more of a push ride out. Then I got a bit up on 4a and had to kick out of the two-stride, but that set us up to gallop out of stride over 5. He jumped the snot out of this one, I splurged on the pro pic.

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Knees!
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The pro pic is basically a clearer, more zoomed in, better version of this crappy screenshot I grabbed. Of course I had to get the pic, look how cute he is!!

I needed more left leg to get a better track across 6, but bending out over 7 was nice and 8a-b rode fine. That five strides out over 9 was tough and ended up being an ugly jump honestly. The last line actually felt fantastic though- Frankie gave me this incredible moment of softness about 1 stride out from 10 and it set us up to rock back and fit the stride in over the last fence.

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Jump 10. When we get that softness to the base, wow. Just wow.

They did end up combining the Children and Adult sections so that rail was enough to keep us out of the ribbons in a class of 16. Honestly though, I was thrilled with Frankie and felt like this course was a really good representation of where we are together. (Be prepared to hear that again, it was kinda the theme of our weekend).

Saturday was super fun for me- I got to play owner! We had Assistant Trainer take Francis in the 1.15m class so he could get some confidence building miles at that height before he has to deal with the height AND his mother.

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Pretty hunter-ific in my opinion

It was a blast getting to see Frankie go with such a strong and competent rider. I do the best I can for him, but let’s be real. I’m no pro. Since I wasn’t actually on I don’t have much to say, so just enjoy these pics of Francis being a star:

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Waiting their turn AND LOOKING LIKE SUCH A HUNKY BEEFCAKE OMG
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First oxer on course, and Trainer mentioned he definitely felt a little surprised by the height
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He eventually figured it out
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Sweet back feetsies
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Someday my leg will be this strong and stable. Someday.

Some comments from AT when she came out of the ring: overall, she said Francis was a good boy and listened well to her. The close spot to the base still does not come naturally to him and he has to think hard about it, so she wants to work on his fitness to make that easier for him.

But you know who earned his first blue ribbon?

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Very proud Momma with the star steed and best AT evah. She may be tiny, but the woman has totally inhuman strength. She’s amazing.

I was supposed to have my High class after this, but I ended up scratching. It was freezing and raining and windy and while I would’ve been fine competing because Frankie don’t care ’bout none of that, it would not have been fun. So I played my Ammy card and said “nah not today.”

On to Sunday! We had our classic first thing in the morning, then a speed class to round out our weekend together.

Classic course here:

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Of course my eyes immediately went to 8abc. The elusive triple combo.

I really liked this course. It asked some harder questions than earlier in the weekend but nothing felt tricky or intimidating. There were plenty of options. The footing again was REALLY soupy so I didn’t want to turn-and-burn too much.

We ended up knocking a couple rails because, you know, me. But there were a couple parts to this course that I was thrilled with.

The first was 5ab to 6. We turned inside 13 to get there and only had one straight stride, but we were able to power through and then balance out over 6. It rode nicely.

Then I am just over the moon about the triple combo. 7 to 8a walked in a shaped bending 9 strides, but after watching some rounds Trainer and I decided that I would land and hold him straight and upright for 4 strides, then turn and send him forward for the final 4 to put 8 in there. That worked out PERFECTLY. We were able to come into the triple carrying a good pace to the base and there was no sticky point throughout- he carried us through like he had done it a million times.

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Coming out of the triple

Of course I was so excited about the triple that I stopped thinking and had a ridiculous distance to 9, but we recovered for the last line. Womp womp.

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Last jump was casual

Again- not a perfect course, but very representative of where we are as a team and a huge improvement from just a short while ago. When I have the presence of mind to ask, Frankie delivers every time. I just have to think a bit faster on course so I can time the ask better.

Francis had a 2 hour break before our speed round and obviously he lay down for a nap. And guys. He did NOT want to wake up. I was pushing him, poking him, pulling him, cajoling him, and he basically gave me the horse version of “Moooom 5 more minutes.” He just kept leaning into me for more scratches.

Clearly Homeboy was conserving his energy though, because he then went and gave me the speediest speed round he’s ever done.

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He obligingly stood for pictures before going in the ring

I don’t have any clear pics from this round, but I’ll tell you right now that it was pretty chippy because WOW Francis was galloping around. I have a video that I’ll share with you eventually but you’ll have to promise not to judge me.

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Imagine us jumping over this. We did the inside turn from 8b to 9 which worked great, but other than that pretty straightforward.

But that’s the great part about the jumpers- it doesn’t matter how pretty you are, as long as you get the job done. And Frankie was really excited to get the job done. Ears forward, galloping around, finding the fences. He heard that buzzer and said OK LET’S GO.

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And it paid off!

Not a bad way to round out our weekend.

Some overall thoughts to wrap up this monster post:

Frankie is simply so much more educated than he was last season. While he still likes a very active ride, he didn’t need constant instruction on where to place every foot. He was confident and willing to go forward and listen instead of needing constant reassurance and getting “stuck” in places. He heard the buzzer and moved out. He felt me sit and waited for my cue. He feels like a trained jumper horse now- not just a Very Good Boy who is happy enough to go in the jumpers. The transformation from a year ago is astounding to me. He is a completely different horse than we brought home and is constantly surprising us and delighting us with how trainable, athletic, and willing he is.

Trainer said that we first started out last season in the “hang on and pray” stage. Then we moved on to the less dangerous “find your pace” stage. She said we’ve now moved on past that to a point where we can have some fun with our courses. We can confidently make a plan, because we both have the fitness and knowledge and ability to stick to the plan. We can strategize how to make each course work best for us instead of just trying to make it around in one piece. We have a very long way to go and acres of improvement to make, but we have come such a long way in the past year.

You may notice that Frankie is picking up his knees in most of these pictures. If you’ve followed along with us for any amount of time, you know that Frankie generally jumps like a drunk alpaca. Somehow the combination of increased fitness, increased education, and jacking the jumps enough so he had to put a bit of effort in has led to a horse that actually jumps kinda cute! Go Francis!

In terms of behavior, I was so happy with Frankie. Is he a big dolt who needs a reminder to hold still sometimes? Absolutely. We will be working on that. In terms of his demeanor though, he was relaxed and happy and chill the whole weekend- as evidenced by his constant napping. He stood for baths, walked around quietly on the buckle before and after his rounds, and loaded on the trailer to go home without blinking an eye.

Really our partnership has grown so much. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to grow and learn with this incredible animal.

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The most accurate representation of the two of us that I’ve ever seen

PS- we should know soon if we have all the points we need to qualify, but we’re adding a 1-day show to the schedule in May just in case 😉

We Lessoned!

For the first time in about a month, I actually jumped my pony over colorful sticks!

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This is pretty much all I’ve done for the last month. Toodle.

Nothing crazy- some grid work with placing poles to inspire straightness and encourage a good effort over the jumps. Seeing as Francis thinks lifting his shoulders and picking up his knees and rounding over his back over jumps is like OMG SO DUMB, this was a fantastic exercise for him.

And a fantastic exercise for me too- I didn’t have to worry about remembering courses, finding a distance, or doing much of anything besides work on my own position. Professional diagram below:

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So trot in to the crossrail, one SHORT stride to the oxer, then one bigger stride to the vertical out. Poles to keep us straight to the oxer, then straightening poles over the vertical. Then a pole after the vertical because FRANCIS STOP SUCKING OUT TO THE WALL.

The added poles were really what made this grid work so well for us- that first stride to the oxer was super short. As in, the first time through we definitely bounced it. #18footstride. No bueno.

The trick was to get a short powerful trot in, so that he could land close to the crossrail and put in a nice short stride there. That channel created by the poles forced him to keep his body straight and not give himself extra room by bulging to either side. Homeboy actually had to pick himself up.

Then I LOVED the straightening poles over the last fence. You’ve all seen pictures of Frankie jumping- homeboy is athletic enough and is happy to jump anything, but he doesn’t have the most…classical…technique. As in, he jumps like a llama.

But the V-poles here really forced him to pick his shoulders up and stay completely straight, instead of leaning to either side. And while I don’t have media, I could feel him jumping SO CUTE. When your horse typically jumps like a drunk alpaca, it’s pretty easy to feel the difference. It’s such a nicer motion to stay with- I could let him push me up out of the saddle and give a really generous release instead of trying to figure out where the center of balance is and keeping a feel because lord knows we’re going to land in a heap and we need all the communication we can get right now so help me.

The pacing of this exercise was also something I needed to work on- you really had to ride one jump at a time (no kidding Olivia, that’s what we call “progressing through time.”) But what I mean is that the timing of the aids had to be more precise here.

That first stride was very short. Meaning we could not canter in, we could not beast-trot in (that’s an official dressage term btw). We had to get a powerful, short, straight, elastic trot in and keep shoulders up to collect the first stride. And then over the oxer I needed to PRESS and land moving for the bigger stride. If I asked too early for the bigger stride, I made Frankie’s life harder to the oxer. If I asked too late, I made his life harder to the vertical. If I timed it properly, I set him up for success at both jumps.

Side note- I love that even after doing grids for almost 20 years, there’s still so much to think about and consider even when they’re simple like this. Grids 4 lyfe.

After going through a couple times successfully- proving that it wasn’t just a fluke- I asked to be done a little early so we could end on a really good note. I needed a win after dealing with some stress at work lately, and Francis delivered. Because he is literally the best horse on the planet and if you disagree I will fight you in real life.

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I have never related so hard in my life

I have to give a HUGE shoutout to Assistant Trainer here too. She’s been putting some pro rides on Frankie lately while I’ve taken a break from lessoning and it is seriously so noticeable. He always WANTS to give me the right answer, and she does such a great job of explaining to him what that right answer is. I’m incredibly grateful that I could take a month-long break from doing anything besides toodling, hop back on my horse, and have him more educated and fit than he was when we left off.

We didn’t do anything super crazy with this lesson- none of the jumps were very big at all- but it was the perfect way to knock some of the rust off. Frankie was happy, he jumped cute, I was less jiggly/loose in the tack than I anticipated I’d be, we worked up a good sweat, I loosened up some of the knots in my neck and back, and overall I count this as a successful therapy session. Bonus points that it was good training for both of us.

Balancing Act

Hi everyone!

Still here, still kicking. As mentioned in my last post, things have been a little crazy busy lately and I’ve had to carefully manage my commitments. I was hoping that taking a step back from blogging would do the trick, but I was still having a lot of stress around the clock and something else had to give.

And sadly, that has been barn time. It’s the last thing I want to cut back on, but the only thing within my control at the moment. So Francis and I haven’t had a lesson in a few weeks, and I’ve only gone out to the barn mayyybe 2x/week. He’s had a few pro rides, I’m letting him be used in a few lessons, and I’m making it out when I can so he’s still getting ridden with some consistency.

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And still bein’ super cute

At first I felt really guilty and bummed about this- I have such big plans for this show season! I want to ride! I don’t want other people riding my pony in lessons! My poor boy is being neglected by his mother!

But you know what? Life happens. Things will either calm down or I’ll learn to manage them better, and we can get back to our 5-6x/week training routine. This is part of being an adult ammy. Frankie absolutely doesn’t mind the relaxed training schedule, he’s probably thrilled!

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Even if he does make silly faces

And this is the part where I tell you just how grateful I am for my boy. Our rides lately have been chill WTC hacks- nothing advanced or difficult, just some equine therapy for yours truly. Francis has come out every single time with his sweet eye that I fell in love with the first time I saw him, happily bopped around with me, and soaked up my attention. It feels like he knows this is what I need right now. He’s been getting more and more powerful and “spicy” to the jumps lately (I use that term lightly, because Francis), so to feel him back himself off into My Little Pony really makes me emotional oh my gosh I’m tearing up as I write this because I love my horse so much.

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So many hugs and kisses for the sweetest

We even celebrated our 1 year anniversary of him joining the family! We wore matching hats, shared a bag of apples, and enjoyed a nice relaxing ride together. I’ll have to post my rambling introspection on how we’ve both changed over the last year in another post- there’s just way too much to say there. Needless to say, it’s been the best year of my life and I wouldn’t trade a single moment of it for anything.

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He was VERY unsure about the hat. Until he realized it was not for eating. Then he lost all interest and allowed me to wave it around and put it wherever.

Due to my lack of saddle time lately I decided to opt out of the show on 4/9 (competing at 1.10m after not jumping for a month seems…dicey), but I’m hoping to be back in the swing of things for the first week of Culpeper later in April! We’re planning on doing the High Adult division to lock in some more points, and tentatively (and I mean very tentatively) thinking of having either Trainer or Assistant Trainer take him in a 1.15m class to get some confidence-building miles at that height. I’d like him to navigate that height with a competent pilot up top before he has to jump that height AND deal with his mistake-prone mother. We school that height comfortably together at home, but we all know that shows are a whole different animal.

I’d love any advice you all may have on juggling different commitments as an ammy! Or if you don’t have any advice, I’d appreciate any good vibes you can send my way. Looking forward to making it out the other side of this craziness and getting back to my preferred craziness ❤

Oh Hey There

Briefly checking in!

Frankie has been a total bro lately. We’ve been incorporating more pole work to encourage him to sit down and collect, and he’s been totally ROCKING it. We’ve struggled to pick ourselves up and not rush through these exercises in the past, so feeling him understand the question and then answer it so well has been fantastic. Our jokes that “there’s a fancy horse hiding in there somewhere” are becoming a little more true as we continue to develop.

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I haven’t gotten new media literally in months, so enjoy this picture that makes me giggle every time I look

We also did the circle of death in our lesson last week and he was a super good boy for that. Very adjustable, very “bouncy” in my hand, very obedient, very fun. That type of collection is obviously tough to do, but more and more he’s got the fitness to maintain power in a shorter stride. It sometimes takes me a jump or two to develop my feel for the canter we need, but seeing as it used to take me a full course or two to get in the game I’ll take the improvement.

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WUT IZ CANTER

We have our next show coming up on March 18th- we’re going back to McDonogh for the High Adults, and hopefully we’ll keep collecting points. We currently have 14 towards the 20 we need so we’re getting there! We’re starting to pencil in the rest of show season with a great variety of venues and classes too, so lots of fun outings on our horizon. I’ll update my sidebar with show dates once these firm up a little.

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Planning to do Loudoun Benefit again this year because PRETTY

This very brief update may have to tide you over for a bit- with an insanely busy schedule (I don’t have a free weekend until June on my calendar), something will likely have to give so that I can, you know, fit sleep in somewhere. I’d really like to sleep at some point.

I’ll plan on chiming in when I have time/energy to spare and maybe I’ll get around to sharing some stuff from my drafts folder. I certainly don’t plan on going radio-silent altogether. I love Blogland too much ❤

Frankie and I will check in with y’all soon!

3 Years of Manfriend

Non-horse related post!

Manfriend and I celebrated our 3 year anniversary this past weekend. Which is kinda crazy to type out- the only thing I’ve ever done for three years at a time before has been go to school. And I had summer vacations from that.

But honestly? He’s the coolest. An absolute lunatic weirdo, but the coolest.

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He paid real money for this photo

You know what he got me as an anniversary gift?

A grooming tote. With a scrubby mitt, other brushes, and fly spray in there. HE GOT ME FLY SPRAY FOR OUR ANNIVERSARY. GUYS. FLY SPRAY. He gets it, he really does.

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He’s also prettier than I am with his stupid face UGH

He has been so incredibly encouraging and supportive of the horse thing. Even though he’s allergic to Frankie and standing in the indoor makes him sneeze, he still comes out to the barn because he knows it’s my happy place.

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A stolen moment between sneezes

He’s now located two hours away from me due to work, so we really only get to see each other on the weekends. There has been more than one time where I’ve said, “I can’t drive down to see you, I have to be here so I can ride.” And without hesitating he has said, “No worries, I’ll drive up to you.”

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How do you make a 17.1h WB look small? Toss a big ol’ 6’3″ man up top.

I’ve apologized to him for not having any money for date nights, and he’s immediately started listing all the fun things we can do together for free. I’ve shown up at his place covered in sweat and muck and horse hair, and he still calls me beautiful. I’ve excitedly talked about all these different dreams I have that all involve NEVER HAVING MONEY EVER AGAIN, and he’s never paused in rooting me on as I chase these crazy pie-in-the-sky goals.

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He knows how to lean real cute

Of course he has infinite other good qualities than just “he doesn’t mind the crazy.” But I am so SO grateful that he’s cool with the crazy. He makes me laugh ’til I cry on the daily, eggs on my weird obsession with lizards, feeds me when I’m hangry, is a constant source of fresh clean drinking water, and recognizes the necessity of having a jacket with you at all times. He’s the best.

I actually really hate cheesy corny romantic gooey stuff (despite how this post may make it seem), so I gotta stop now and save the sap for Francis. I’ll have to balance this out by using finger guns instead of hugging him for a month or something obnoxious like that.

Here are some pictures of his stupid annoying face UGH HE’S THE WORST.

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Our 2nd Marine Corps Birthday Ball back in 2015
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STOP EMBARRASSING ME IN PUBLIC
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I told you he’s prettier than me WITH HIS STOOPID FACE
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Two days before I signed the check to buy Frankie. Poor guy had no idea what was in store.
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For someone who’s allergic to horses, he sure is willing to go to lots of horse-themed events (Gold Cup 2016)
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3rd MCBB!
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He’s also exceedingly valuable as a bartender
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Our first Christmas tree together! Manfriend wore that hat for a month. He LOVES Christmas.
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Getting out of the house/barn for a New Year’s hike
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Wine and cheese and selfies. Standard Saturday.
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Guaranteed looking at a dog here.
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Anniversary dinner date!

I’m thinking it’s time to coerce him into another blog post soon so he can chime back in with his lunatic thoughts. ‘Til then, we’re going to keep leaving each other voicemails of screeching for 7 minutes straight, sending each other dat boi memes, and generally doing weird stuff.

Who’s Your Trainer?

The timing on this works out great- Amanda was just talking about finding the right training program for her and Henny. With my own trainers gone to Ocala for a few weeks, I was ruminating on this myself.

First off, I LOVE being in a full training program. I lesson at least once a week- private lesson if it’s available- and will only cancel that lesson if I am too ill to breathe or something unavoidable gets in the way. My trainer is usually in the ring during most of my other rides during the week/on weekends, and will often give me pointers when she’s between lessons. We have her eyes on us pretty much non-stop.

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She’s out of frame but WATCHING

She’s also the property owner and barn manager where we board, so all of Frankie’s care is united there. She tracks his deworming, farrier schedule, vaccinations, feed, turnout, blanketing, training rides, lessons, hacks, trail rides, shows, EVERYTHING. She can give informed advice on preventative vet care because she knows every detail of his workload. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve texted her saying “Frankie threw a shoe” or “Frankie has a scrape” and gotten the response, “I know, already talked to the farrier and he’ll be out later today” or “Yes, we put some Corona on it this morning.” Caring for Frankie is so ridiculously simple: I have one single point of contact that handles everything.

All this is to say that my trainer is the integral core piece of Frankie’s life in every way and that I lean heavily on her for advice and guidance.

Which finally brings me around to the point I really want to talk about: having a trainer that I trust, with a training style that meshes with my learning style, is immensely important to me not only from the perspective of learning to to ride horses moar better, but also because I very much like this integrated-care approach.

I’ve talked quite a few times about how much I like my trainer’s teaching style- most notably here, where I talk about how hard on me my trainer is sometimes and why I LOVE it.

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Please tell me how to be less bad at things

However, I hadn’t ridden with anyone else in a very long time. I’ve been with my barn since I got back in the saddle as an adult, so the only two trainers I’ve been with have been Trainer and Assistant Trainer (who have very complementary styles). I did one clinic on Addy back in the day that I loved but that was about it. So I didn’t really know if I liked other trainers’ styles because I hadn’t actually ridden with other trainers.

Until recently, when we had a guest trainer come in to teach lessons for two weeks. And it was great! I gave a brief recap of our first lesson with him (where I was a potato but it was def an educational experience), and I’ll just tell you now that our second lesson went better and also included some great exercises. I am very grateful to have had the chance to ride with him and learn from him and get his perspective on some of the persistent issues I have in the saddle.

But. It really confirmed for me just how much I mesh with Trainer and AT. That may be due at least in part to familiarity (2.5 years of coaching leads to us knowing each other pretty well) and knowing what we expect from each other, but it also gave me an appreciation for how motivated I feel after a lesson with my trainer.

In a nutshell, here’s a few things I really like to have during a lesson:

  • Warm me up. Please don’t tell me to warm myself up and then you’ll jump me around. I want you to critique my flatwork and help develop that. I can WTC around on my own time- give me some harder exercises that I need your help with. I can warm myself up on the flat at shows when we don’t have a full hour, but during lessons I expect full attention for the full hour I’m paying for.
  • Constant feedback. What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Please explain how these things led to my horse doing what he did. How can I change what I’m doing? During my walk breaks, please talk to me about why we’re working on what we’re doing today. As you’re setting jumps, please tell me why they’re placed where they are. I want to suck every teachable moment out of every lesson.
  • Tell me what to  change. If I biff a jump, I know I should go back and do something differently next time. I know what my options are. I can absolutely come up with something myself. But I’d really like your input on what you think the best option is.
  • Give me homework. If we struggled with an exercise, please tell me what I can work on between lessons to develop that skill. Help me be prepared so that we can continue progressing in our next lesson instead of re-treading ground.

What you’re thinking is true: I am a needy girlfriend in client form.

On top of all that, I also like my trainer to have an eye to the future. To believe in me. To suggest ways of stretching and growing and pushing comfort zones. When I say, “do you think someday I could do this?” to respond with, “dream bigger.” Who will help me figure out ways to pursue those big dreams.

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I really like jumping big jumps, but I want to jump them BETTER and then BIGGER

So to recap, I want constant unceasing attention to every detail of my ride as well as an emotional and financial coach.

WOMP WOMP.

But I guess that’s why I have such a love affair with my trainers: because I have found exactly that. My motivation and excitement for the future expands after every ride with either of them. They take that internal fire and stoke it into something even bigger (thank you Emma for that analogy).

So what about you? What do you look for in a trainer, and in a training program?

 

Progress

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am pretty fiercely driven to be the best I can possibly be at everything I do. I won’t say competitive because it doesn’t matter so much to me how I rank compared to other people. I am constantly comparing myself to…myself.

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Both of my parents are incredibly intelligent, detail-oriented, driven people. I never had a shot of turning out any other way.

I am constantly scrutinizing videos and pictures and nitpicking- my toe is turned out too much, my leg isn’t directly under me, my hands are too low, my hands are too high, the list goes on and on.

And I think that can be a really good thing. Being realistic about my faults is what allows me to address them- the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? I don’t see it as being hard on myself, I see it as identifying opportunities to work hard and improve.

However, I think it’s so important to temper this nit-picking with the recognition of the progress we’ve made. Not in a bragging “look what I can do” kind of way, but more in an “even though there’s a long way to go, we’ve already come so far” kind of way. Recognizing that slow progress is still progress.

 

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So as we kick off my second show season with Francis, here’s a couple things that have come a long way that I’m psyched about:

  1. My ability to think on course. Pretty much since I jumped my first crossrail at age 6, I’ve picked up my canter…….and then come back to a walk. The jumping part in the middle has been a blacked out blur. I’m FINALLY getting the confidence and presence of mind to take a deep breath and consider my options on course. To actively make choices about my approaches and pace instead of letting my horse choose and clinging along for the ride.
  2. My understanding of WHY I ask for certain movements the way I do. Many moons ago, I was taught that picking up the canter involves moving my outside leg back a little and nudging. Now that I’ve spent the time learning about the biomechanics of the gaits and how my aids affect those mechanics, I’m questioning and exploring different ways of asking with some really fantastic results. There’s SO much more to learn but my eyes have been opened to this aspect of riding.
  3. My bravery. For a formerly EXTREMELY timid rider, I honestly can barely recognize myself. Not even so much that I’m jumping higher than I ever expected- instead, I’m excited that when I see a new jump, my immediate reaction is “ooh, I can’t wait to try that!” And when my trainer tells me a course, I don’t worry if I can make it around, I think, “OK, here’s what I’m going to do at every stride to make this a great course.” Do I still crash and fail? All the time! But I believe in myself and my abilities SO much more than I used to. My setbacks are not signs of failure, they are opportunities to learn and improve.
  4. My drive. Of course I’ve always loved riding and wanted to be better at it. But it’s only in the last year or so where I’ve consciously decided to pursue this sport wholeheartedly, and made changes in my life to accommodate that. Things may not end up working out exactly the way I have planned, but I’m setting big goals and doing everything in my power to turn them into reality.

I’m hoping to walk this balance moving forward: remembering to recognize my progress, while still pushing myself to constantly improve. Knowing that I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m a lot closer than I used to be!

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What are you proud of lately?

#AdultAmmyStrong

A little announcement in case you don’t follow me on Instagram or Facebook (but seriously, follow me on Instagram. I’m way more active there than anywhere else):

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I’m very excited to announce that I am one of the 2017 #AdultAmmyStrong ambassadors! And of course, by extension, Francis will be reppin’ the #AdultAmmyFriendly horse community. OK, so I made that last part up. But I’m a fan so it’s sticking.

For those of you who haven’t encountered this hashtag on social media yet, it’s a community of adult amateur riders coming together to celebrate, commiserate, support, and encourage each other. We all have our own balance of work, family, riding, showing (or not), boarding (or not!), owning or leasing or volunteering or lessoning, but all of our unique paths have one thing in common: we never outgrew that crazy horse-kid phase.

I’m so totally excited to be involved with this! Not only am I horse-crazy, but I freakin’ love meeting new horse people. I’m that obnoxious girl at every show that will come up and tell you how much I love your horse and hi my name is Olivia what’s yours nice to meet you want to grab a quesadilla later? So to have a really fun reason to build a sense of community with like-minded people is going to make this show season even more awesome.

Frankie will have a shmancy AAS banner on his stall at every show, I’ll be writing guest posts for the AAS blog, I’ll continue to be active on social media, and both of us are going to get to connect with a truly wonderful community.

Cheers to a fantastic 2017 of being #AdultAmmyStrong!