Riding Francis: A How-To Guide

Whenever people hop on the Frankenbean, I find myself giving them similar advice. Which I will now share with you, so if you ever come to visit us and want to take a spin on the Beast you will be prepared to enjoy him fully.

Without further ado, here is the Official Guide to Francis:

  • Put more leg on. More. No, even more. Seriously, more. I pinky pinky promise he isn’t trying to go anywhere. Ever. The only reason he ever looks like he might be forward is because his rider is squeezing the ever-loving-crap outta him. He does not think to take you forward to that crossrail. Leg. Him. On.
  • Take a feel. He will be mildly annoyed, but only because he knows this means he has to work and he’d rather be eating. He is not trained to a loopy rein, he is trained to a connection. If you don’t take one, he assumes you don’t really have that much to ask of him and he will act like a beginner pony. Safe, but not particularly talented. You want the good material, you gotta start by telling him you can speak his language.
  • Now that you’ve taken a feel, put even MORE leg on. He will test you by trying to get behind your leg because moving forward on a contact is Hard Work. Set the tone early that this is Not Allowed.
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Austen learned quickly that sometimes we have Feelings about using our muscles
  • Carry a crop. You likely won’t need to use it. But he knows if it’s there or not. Somehow, he always knows.
  • Be direct with your questions and don’t be afraid to ask firmly. He is not offended by direct pressure- as long as you are fair and release that pressure when he gives the right answer. He’s not particularly sensitive and likes to have a conversation, so it’s ok to “speak” a little louder if you’re not getting a response. He also won’t be offended if you tell him it’s the wrong answer. Just try asking a little differently and reward his attempts to understand. He’s not the quickest thinker, but he will remember what you tell him.
  • Place him. It’s better to make the wrong decision than it is to make no decision. Put him at the base of the jump. Tell him that his canter is too strung out. Get your ass in the saddle and PRESS him up into the bridle. He will forgive you any mistakes, but he’ll forgive you much quicker if you don’t leave those mistakes up to him.
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Buried him to the base. Note that the ears are still up. Things are ok.
  • Pat early, pat often. He’s a really good boy, likes doing a good job, and likes being TOLD that he’s doing a good job. Lightening your seat and giving him a scratch on the withers as you come through the end of the ring is a cause for much rejoicing. A hearty “Good man!!!” and pats on the neck give him the happy feelings. Trust me, you’ll want to pat him.
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He really REALLY loves hearing what an excellent boy he is
  • Trust him. You don’t have to ride him defensively- he will not spook, and you can trust that he will do exactly what you ask of him. Seriously. He will not spook. He’s a confident horse, so you can be confident that he’ll take care of you. If you’re nervous, ask him to slow down. It’ll make his day, he loves that. He has absolutely no buck, spook, bolt, or anything else like that- his default mode is “things are ok, and they would be even better if I could nap.”
  • When in doubt, rev the engine. Francis is the living embodiment of the phrase, “the right answer is ALWAYS more leg.” I cannot stress this enough. Literally anything wrong can be fixed by adding some leg into your hand and getting the RPMs higher. It cures any wiggliness, it cures lack of impulsion, it cures sticky distances, it cures form over fences, it cures ALL THE THINGS. Any time you need a reset, loosen your reins and ask for a bit of a hand-gallop. It’s the magic button and then you can re-gather and get back to it.
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“Pls stop telling them to leg me and let me live my life”
  • He will do exactly what you ask of him. No more, no less. He is the ultimate tattle tale. He’s capable of really great stuff, but will not offer that up to anyone who doesn’t ask clearly and firmly. He’ll work for you, but only if you work for him. Don’t make the assumption that he will power up to the jumps- he absolutely will only if you tell him to. If you’re pulling and taking your leg off, he will peter right out and get lurchy. If you want to test his buttons and see what he’s capable of, be prepared to set the tone early and then sweat for it- if you can do that, he is sensitive and responsive and will do absolutely anything.
  • Enjoy the snot out of him. He’s extremely safe, extremely obedient, extremely well-trained, and genuinely enjoys his job. Toodle on a loose rein if you want, or package him up and see how sporty you can get. He’ll do it all with a smile, and he’ll make you smile too.

TL;DR add a metric crapton of leg and enjoy riding the Best Horse Ever(TM).

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Bloghop: Favorites of 2018

Blog hop time, this time from Amanda at The $900 Facebook Pony! The rules: there must be a picture for all of these categories. Join in!

Favorite Show Picture

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Maybe my favorite picture of all time. Seeing this always reminds me of how far we’ve come together, and how he’s blown every expectation we had for him out of the water. His power over the fence, his expression as he looks to the next one, all of it makes me so proud.

Favorite Non-Show Picture

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Liz captured this photo, and it brings tears to my eyes every time I look at it. I have no idea how she managed to so beautifully capture his expression and kindness. It’s such a faithful representation of my handsome boy.

Favorite thing you bought

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Do private lessons count? I didn’t really buy much tack or equipment this year since we were well set, and spent my money on training and vet care instead. We worked our butts off and it was sweaty but amazing.

Favorite moment on horseback

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Getting back in the saddle after being gone for weeks, just to walk around. Feeling that familiar swinging walk, seeing those happy ears, and realizing just how much I had missed that feeling.

Favorite moment out of the saddle

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If this doesn’t capture us, I don’t know what does. My mom snapped this as I was tacking up, incredibly nervous and jittery, and Frankie somehow knew that I needed some love. He gave me the confidence to put my feet in the irons and try- even though that ride ended with me falling off before I could even go in to compete, he was right there with me the whole time.

Favorite “between the ears” picture

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View from our outdoor ring at sunset. I’ve grown to really love my adopted home state, and I feel so lucky that Frankie and I get to call this barn home.

Favorite horse book or article

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My trainer put out some incredibly thoughtful and interesting blog posts this past year, and I’m hard pressed to pick just one. I find that she has a knack for articulating different concepts in a way that makes sense to my brain, and uses examples that I can apply directly. Big big fan.

Favorite horse ridden (or groomed/cared for) aside from your own

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I got to hack my friend’s SUPER broke and fancy hunter. While he’s also a tall leggy bay, he is completely different from Frankie and I absolutely did not do him justice. It was so weird and cool to feel what it’s like to sit on a horse with such beautiful hunter movement!

Favorite funny picture of your horse

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Another from Liz! It was so hard to pick just one for this category- Francis is a King Goof and I have endless silly pics of him. I just love how in this one we have his fancy tack on, the composition of the shot is beautiful, the jumps set up in the background, ears up and attentive…and then classic Francis. It’s so him.

Favorite fence that you successfully jumped or movement that you conquered

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We’re showjumpers, every fence is some variation of colorful sticks hahaha. But this particular jump was a decent sized oxer into a one stride off a short turn, which we had been struggling with. But Frankie was super on it, I rode well (for once), and this came up powerfully out of stride like we knew what we were doing. So it isn’t really the jump itself as much as the skills that finally clicked into place to jump it well.

Favorite horse meme or funny picture

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It’s all about balance, ok???

Order of Operations

Since I’m still doing super boring things in the saddle (aka walking around with two coolers and letting my pony snoot all the things in the ring for 20 minutes), I’m going to talk for a while about what we used to do when we did not-boring things. Today specifically I’m going to talk about the different skills we tackled with Frankie, what order we tackled them in, and why (not that I always have stellar insights, but I’ll try to articulate it).

To start, let’s rewind to the “base” that we started with when I bought Frankie. I won’t go over this again because I talk about this literally all the time (the words “good egg” and “broke but inexperienced” come up a lot). In a nutshell, we had a physically and mentally mature horse with decent fitness and the basic buttons firmly installed. A fantastic base to work with!

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Calm, obedient, and love at first sight.

The very first thing we worked on was the go button. We ignored my equitation for a while, we ignored collection (for the most part), we ignored technique, we ignored a great many things and we made. the. horse. move. forward. off. my. damn. leg. This was not a trivial exercise for a horse like Frankie, who had made it to the age of 10 without reeeeally needing to move very fast. We were NOT trying to gallop him off his feet, just make sure he understood that he must move forward promptly when asked. Thankfully he did catch on to this fairly quickly and while he’s certainly still a leg workout, I find him appropriately responsive and downright speedy when I ask.

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OMG HORSE MOVE IT PLS (this is before I figured out the joys of the driving seat)

Once we had a HAUL ASS button installed, we started focusing more on straightness. Not only must he move forward promptly, he must do so without trying to evade out sideways. The outside rein started being mentioned more often. Transitions had to happen without losing the shoulder or haunch. Walking in a straight line had to be a thing. Lateral work was our friend here, connecting his different parts and teaching him that he can move them independently. Going sideways in order to go straight, in a sense. He still likes to wiggle at the walk if left unattended, and will throw his shoulder out if I let him, but is much more educated to that straightness.

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“NO GO STRAIGHT I WANNA DO MY GANGSTA LEAN”

So then we had forward and straight. WOAH REVOLUTIONARY IT’S ALMOST LIKE THIS IS THE BASIS FOR EVERYTHING ELSE.

The next thing we did? Put the jumps up. This is around when we moved up to the 1.10-1.15m height and started schooling some bigger jumps at home. I don’t know that I would recommend this 100% of the time to 100% of people on 100% of horses, but I’m comfortable with how this worked for us. It wasn’t until we introduced some height that Frankie started really figuring out how to use his body a bit better over the jumps, and that now translates over the lower fences as well.

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“Oh wait you mean like THIS OH OK GOT IT”

In conjunction with that, moving up to the next division introduced some more difficult turns as we started exploring the inside options. Getting him to move not only forward, but sideways off my leg was crucial. Counter-bending through turns. Maintaining good balance. All that good stuff.

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I also learned that it really helps to actually look where I’m going. Weird, right?

This is around when we also began a more in depth conversation about adjustability. Can I place my horse where I want him? Can I feel my stride length and adjust to ride the plan? Our collection work became more intense as we pushed the envelope- changing his stride length between 10-14′ was no longer acceptable, we wanted 8-16′ of play or more. “Canter up and down like a carousel pony” was said more than once. Frankie did not like learning this skill. Collection is hard, yo. Butt muscles got sore.

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It sure did help his quality of movement at all stride lengths tho

And finally, we began having a really serious conversation about self-carriage. I know what many of you are thinking- WOAH THAT IS BACK ASSWARDS. I get it. But the fact is that up to this point, we were chugging along pretty well, and likely could’ve continued chugging along if I hadn’t said “hmm I wonder if Frankie can jump 1.20m” one day. He was always obedient and athletic enough to do just fine. Frankie is incredibly hard to push up into the bridle, both conformationally and in way of going. It absolutely does not occur to him at ALL and even now that he’s a bit more educated, it takes constant reminders. Convincing him that this is how life is now was very difficult and came with many grumpy ears. Getting him to carry his own dang head around sharpened up every other ask and took it to the next level.

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“NO NO NO NO HATE NO NO NO” PC- Liz

 

But ultimately, we now have a horse that knows how to use his body, moves powerfully across the ground, is adjustable and forward, and is broke as shit. The self-carriage is by no means a complete check in the box- we have a ways to go to really help him understand and move this way. But so far developing this has also developed more specific skills- our lead changes are prompter and smoother, our turns are tighter, he can literally canter like a carousel pony, and his movement has much more suspension and lift to it. Even if he thinks this is a total scam and he should go be a camp pony.

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“Why. Why is this my life.”

Your turn! What has your approach been? How has it changed for different horses? Has it followed conventional approaches pretty closely, or have you changed your order of operations? I’m curious!

Frankie the Orange-Snooted Reindeer

Frankie came home with me in spring of ’16, which means this is his third(!) winter with me. He’s been clipped every time, which sometimes includes his face (if we’re actively showing) and sometimes doesn’t (if we’re focused on training/smaller shows).

One thing has remained constant: the bright orange snoot.

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Early spring 2016, when he first came home. Ginger snoot.

This is exclusively a winter phenomenon. His spring/summer coat comes in with appropriate dark bay snoot hairs.

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Summer 2016. Dark snoot.

But inevitably winter rolls around, and out pops the orange snoot.

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Winter 2016-17. FULL GINGER.

Which sticks around for a few months, and then boom.

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Summer 2017. SUCH A VERY DARK SNOOT.

Once is interesting. Twice may be a coincidence. But we have an official pattern here.

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Winter 2017-18. SO ORANGE.

And by now I’ve almost brought us up to the present day so bear with me for a few more pics.

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Summer 2018. Deep and chocolatey.

And to wrap us up:

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December 2018. Full. On. Orange.

There you have it folks. The world’s most smoochable snoot comes in a seasonal ginger spice color. So festive.

First Ride Back

You guys, I got to ride my horse for the first time in WEEKS. It may as well have been decades because HOLY MOLY did I miss this creature.

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Ignore the feral-length mane and LOOK HOW CUTE HE IS

The major ouchie I’ve been dealing with from falling down the stairs (which is seriously the stupidest way to get injured) is a bruised tailbone. For a day or two I was pretty worried that it might be cracked, but at this point I’m almost certain it’s just really badly bruised. Standing, sitting, and laying down are now fine, but bending over/picking things up off the ground does require some ginger movements (major MVP points to Frankfurter for holding his own feet up for me to pick). With that in mind, I wanted to ease back into the saddle pretty cautiously.

Frankie is also freshly clipped and it’s been frigid here, so I wanted to be sure I didn’t have SpicyFrancis under me. We only get 2-3 days a year of SpicyFrancis, and luckily this was not one of them. Big Man was an absolute perfect angel.

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Unamused by his crippled mother. Also so in love with his winter orange snoot.

The verdict so far: walking is completely fine. Posting trot causes a few twinges but nothing too bad. Half seat is uncomfortable, sitting trot is right out. Cantering is also pretty uncomfortable- half seat remains twingey, and sitting is still no bueno despite how smooth his stride is.

I’ve had a bad tailbone injury in the past that I rushed, and it haunted me for literally years. So I’m going to move forward with an abundance of caution here, and stick to walk/trot for a bit until I’m more healed. Overkill? Maybe. But I’d way rather take it slow and steady and let myself heal completely.

In the meantime, I could not be happier to be reunited with my best boy. I don’t think I realized just how much I missed him until I was back giving him scritches- I had tears in my eyes when I got to hug his neck and feel his nose on my shoulder. He’s so playful and curious and kind and funny and sweet and I often struggle to articulate just how much I adore being around him.

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The happiest to just share time with him

Slow and steady is just fine for now, as long as we’re together ❤

#FrankieHasADad

HI EVERYONE I’M BACK AND FRANKIE OFFICIALLY HAS A DAD WOOHOO!!!!

I only have a few pics to share as my friends send them to me or post on social media (for the love of George why can’t they tag me so I know when there’s a good one), but I missed y’all too much to wait until I had real beefy content to share.

In a nutshell: it was a perfect fairy tale day, and I got to marry the best man on the planet.

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You can’t see my priest because he’s roughly 5’2″ and Nicholas and I were a literal human shield for most of the ceremony.

 

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I felt like a princess, he looked like James Bond, and I got to wear a tiara without anyone rolling their eyes at me
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Dancing, laughing elegantly, so classy
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We did the thing!!

I also managed to fall down the stairs a few days later, so my triumphant return to hardcore training with Francis may be a little ginger and slow paced as I wait for all those bruises to heal (seriously, it’s an impressive number and color range).

Can’t wait to settle into life with the sweetest snoot and our officially official father figure!!

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Fresh haircut, who dis?

Fumigation Season

This is going to be a short one, folks. I just felt a pressing need to share something that you may or may not know about the Frankenbean.

You obviously all know how much he loves nap time. I’ve made that abundantly clear over the years, and those of you who have met up with us at shows have seen it first hand. Homeboy loves a good rest.

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Must sleep all the time

I’ve also mentioned in passing that Francis is not one to keep a neat stall. Like, it’s awful. They basically have to strip it every day because of (1) how dang MUCH he poops and pees and (2) how much he spreads it all around into a big icky coleslaw of disgusting. Our people try really hard to keep his stall clean and he pretty much makes their jobs hell. I’ve seen how thorough of a job they do. And then I’ve come back ~45 minutes later and seen the carnage my boy has wrought.

The logical combination of these facts is something that you may not have thought about for our darling boy.

What do you get when you combine a filthy stall and a horse that loves to stomp around and take naps in it?

You get the world’s SMELLIEST HORSE.

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rude

I swear, this horse is one of the greatest gifts of my life and he is an angel upon this earth, but he reeks. His blankets reek. When his fluffy winter coat grows in, it traps the smells SO much more strongly and it gets a million times worse. At least in the summer, rolling in the mud and dust helps cut the stench. No such luck in the winter.

So the other day when he started steaming while I was riding, I knew it was time for a haircut. For more than one reason. Of course I want him to be comfortable while we’re working and that means getting rid of his yak-like fluff.

But this steam also smelled atrocious. I was breathing in the fumes of my pungent steed. Literally being gassed by his propensity for wallowing in his own filth.

There’s my confession for the day. I’m the proud owner of the stinkiest horse in the barn, and it’s reached epic levels.

XC, Wedding Prep Style

Our annual XC school was an absolute blast. Tons of rain the night before meant soggy footing which meant Frankie and I kept it VERY low key, but we loved our glorified trail ride.

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Just how low key was it?

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WOAH THERE DON’T TRY TOO HARD FRANCIS

Literally we popped over a couple logs and then WALKED SO SLOWLY up out of the water. That’s all we did.

It was thoroughly delightful.

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With our wonderful group of bays! (plus one token chesnugget). This group includes AT’s 4yo uber-talented baby jumper out for mileage, my ammy friend with her new horse playing around for fun, myself (duh), my friend with her super amazing shmancy hunter that is a MACHINE ON XC OMG, a junior on her newish eq horse, and another ammy on one of the saint-like schoolies. Everyone did something slightly different, but everyone had a blast and the horses all really enjoyed themselves.

10/10 will do again.

Heads Up Francis

Brace yourself big guy, because we’re getting ready to leg back up!!!

With less than a month left until the wedding, I chatted with my trainer about the plan post-wedding, when I won’t have the equivalent of a part-time job wedding planning. And you know what?

I. Am. Pumped.

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We’re not talking too much about any shows just yet- we both clearly need to get back into shape and that won’t happen overnight. Y’all know how notoriously difficult Frankenbean is to get and keep fit. Homeboy has a big ol’ hay belly that he needs to lose.

As we were talking about the best way to leg him back up, I asked if it would make more sense to have me work him harder in December, then put him into a 2x/week program with AT in January. Ultimately though, I also need to get back in shape and I’m going to get tired and sore and cranky in the process. Trainer said we can do whatever I’m comfortable with, but used the phrase “let us help you.” Because she is an absolute gem.

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So after discussing pros and cons of different approaches, Francis is going back in his program in December! I’m really happy about this- Frankie is a million times easier to ride when he’s fit and I know that those 2x a week with AT will get him there much more quickly. She’ll take him out to the hills on the property and get him working and lifting so that I can focus on getting my own strength back instead of carrying Francis around. It’s a total ammy move and I LOVE it.

We’re also getting proactive about his vet care- when he last got his SI done, the vet recommended that we move to a 9 month cycle instead of 12 month. 9 months puts us right in January, but we’re going to have him checked to see if we should make that happen in December instead. We know he’s going to be uncomfortable as he gets back in shape and we definitely want to minimize that in any way we can. If we decide to wait until January to give him the bouncy juice, we’ll likely give him Pentosan to help him out in the meantime.

We’ll also be proactive with his other care- likely add a few massages to the schedule to help combat any muscle aches. If he tells us he needs it, we’ll add some chiro and/or acupuncture to the mix. I’m also intrigued by Magna Wave after hearing Amanda’s account of how much Henny liked it. If other people in the barn are interested, maybe we’ll bring someone in.

So don’t feel too bad for Frankie. Sure, he has to get in shape. But he’s also getting incredible amounts of pampering under the supervision of a whole cadre of knowledgeable pros. Let no one say that I don’t spoil the crap out of my horse.

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He’s basically the horse version of this cat

While we’re not putting any shows on the schedule just yet, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about that at least a little. There’s quite a few within a two hour drive in the winter months that Trainer said we could likely ship into for the day. I love the idea of getting out there more often for a MUCH smaller amount than all those 5 day long sagas. We’ll see where we are at the end of December/early January and potentially make an outing in the Lows to get our sea legs back. I’m in zero rush to get back up to speed so we’ll see how Frankie is feeling as we move along and let him tell us when he’s feeling good to get back out there.

In the same vein, I’m going to kinda let him dictate what we decide to do this show season. If he’s going great and feeling really good and solid in the Highs, we’ll try a 1.20m to see how it goes. If the amount of support he’ll need at that height surpasses my skill level, or if he tells me that he’s most comfortable at 1.15m, we’ll stick with that. My job is to give him the fitness and tools he needs to succeed, and from there he gets to tell me what that looks like.

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It’s officially time for me to get my workouts in- I may not be motivated to build strength for myself, but you bet your butt I’ll do it for Francis. So excited to get back to work with my bestest beast!!

Blog Hop: 25 Questions

Clearly a sucker for a blog hop, and Amanda so kindly provided one! Let’s dive right in.

Why horses? Why not a sane sport, like soccer or softball or curling?

Team sports are super not my thing. Never have been. I went to like one soccer practice as a kid and hated it and never went back. I really don’t like having my success hang on other people. And I also don’t like things that require catching or throwing. Reeeally not my forte. That left things like swimming, ballet, and horseback riding- all of which I did extensively as a kid. For whatever unknown reason, the horse stuff got into my blood and I never recovered!

What was your riding “career” like as a kid?

Casual lessons until I was around 11, when I half-leased a 20yo Morgan to do some local short stirrup shows with (he was the best!). Got my own horse Star when I was 13, and did all the 2’6″ mini medals and pre-children’s hunter divisions I could. As I started wrapping up high school and got more focused on college prep and AP courses, we sold him to teach someone else the ropes (side note, he’s now happily retired down in Florida getting as much love as he could ever want).

If you could go back to your past and buy ONE horse, which would it be?

Ooh tough one. There was this GORGEOUS 18.1h hunter I tried as a kid once that was just amazing. But ultimately he did end up having soundness issues, and I’m no longer into the whole hunter thing. So it’s a good thing we passed on him.

What disciplines have you participated in?

Hunter, equitation, jumper all the way! I took a few lessons at an eventing barn and went to summer camp with an eventing focus as a kid, but I’ve been pretty firmly ensconced in the HJ world most of my life. Played polo 3-4 times and really enjoyed it but was TERRIBLE at ever hitting the ball.

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Sometimes I pretend to be eventer-y

What disciplines do you want to participate in some day?

Pretty happy in jumperland! I’d like to take some formal dressage lessons with the Frankfurter sometime, and I’ve already mentioned I think it would be fun to do a little HT with him. I’ve been weirdly adjacent to the eventing world for a while so it would be fun to participate.

Have you ever bought a horse at auction or from a rescue?

Nope! Both horses I’ve owned were bought through a pretty traditional route where my trainer found me horses to try and I picked based on that.

What was your FIRST favorite horse breed – the one you loved most as a kid?

Oh man I LOVED me some quarter horses. My dream horse was a chestnut quarter horse that I would keep in the field behind my house and ride to school.

If you could live and ride in any country in the world, where would it be?

Probably the Czech Republic right now. They have some incredible young stock that they’re breeding and bringing in from around Europe, so the access to super nice horseflesh is there. I also fell in love with Prague when I went a million years ago and would love to go back.

Do you have any horse-related regrets?

Nothing major. I might do some small things differently, but overall I’m happy with the path that I’ve taken.

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While I don’t have regrets, Francis clearly has a few that led him to the life of ammy packer

If you could ride with any trainer in the world, ASIDE from your current trainer, who would it be?

There’s plenty I’d love to clinic with regularly as check-ins, but I wouldn’t want to switch full time to a different trainer. Joe Fargis is a big one I’d love to work with, and he’s in my area so hopefully at some point I may actually be able to trailer in for a lesson. I’d love to have a session with Beezie where she’s on the horse and just narrates everything she’s feeling and doing.

What is one item on your horse-related bucket list?

I don’t know that I really have one! There are plenty of shows I’d love to do with Frankie (Vermont, WIHS, etc.) but none of them are do-or-die, more “wow that would be cool if we can.” I think it would be fun to do the charity challenge down at WEF, but that’s mostly because I love any excuse to dress up in costume and perform in front of an audience.

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STICK ME IN A TUTU AND JACK THE JUMPS UP

If you were never able to ride again, would you still have horses?

To be completely honest, probably not. While I love love love just spending time around the horses and find a great deal of peace in it, I get so much joy from being in the saddle. I think it would be hard for me to be around horses knowing that it wasn’t an option to ride. I would definitely retain ownership of Frankie because he’s stuck with me forever, but I’d probably lease him out so he could stay in work.

What is your “biggest fantasy” riding goal?

If we’re going full fantasy, I’d love to make it to the Regional GP level, which is 1.40m. Go to all the big shows up and down the east coast, winter in Wellington, and have a shot at some real prize money. I could even cross over into the High AOs if I wanted.

More realistically but still a not-quite-within-reach dream, I’d like to be competitive in the Low AOs. Consistently fast and clean at 1.25m.

What horse do you feel like has taught you the most?

Francis, hands down. He’s always always always a very good boy, but he definitely challenges me as a rider. He works only as hard as I do, and insists that I ask correctly. The combination of his patience as I get things wrong and his willingness to offer amazing work when I get it right is one of the greatest gifts in my life. Aaaand here come the emotions.

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He has also taught me the extreme importance of constant snugs

If you could change one thing about your current horse/riding situation, what would it be?

More money. This is really my only limiting factor- I have the flexibility in my schedule to put in the time, I have the desire, I have access to a fantastic health care team to support the work, and I have access to top notch training. More money would mean more training and more shows, which is what I’d want to do.

If you could compete at any horse show/venue in your home country, where would it be?

Right now the two big ones I can think of are Vermont and WIHS. I was just at WIHS over the weekend and it’s such a uniquely interesting venue, and I’ve heard so many amazing things about Vermont over the years. Trainer said that Vermont may be our big summer show this coming year, so I may be able to knock that one off the list sooner rather than later! Old Salem Farm may be another one- those pics are absolutely stunning.

If you could attend any competition in the world as a spectator, what would be your top choice?

I’m lucky enough that I’ve gotten to spectate world class riders several times, either down in Ocala, here at Upperville, or at WIHS! These tend to be less crowded venues than something like WEG or the Olympics, but still world class athletes. Best of both worlds in my book. I hate crowds.

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McLain was literally in the next ring over at Upperville

Have you ever thought about quitting horses?

I did quit horses, for 7 years. Every once in a while I think about all the things I could be doing if I didn’t have the horse- vacations, nicer clothes, things like that- but none of those things are any fun when you’re miserable. And I get pretty miserable when I don’t get to ride.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about the horse industry, what would it be?

The lack of information flow. New research about horse welfare takes a long time to trickle out to everyone, shady characters are able to keep shady deeds under wraps, rules aren’t always clear, there’s a million different ways that poor information flow hurts the sport and hurts the horses.

Oh yeah, and make it all cheaper.

What’s the dumbest horse-related thing you’ve done that actually turned out pretty well?

Does buying a horse count?? Because that was super dumb and worked out fanastically hahaha.

As you get older, what are you becoming more and more afraid of?

That I’m going to have to compromise my horse-related goals for other things as I get married and start a family. Right now I’m able to throw myself pretty much 100% into advancing, and while I know and am ok with that changing, not knowing how it will change does cause some anxiety. Luckily I’ve been able to talk about that with WBF (World’s Best Fiance) and he understands, so there’s a big comfort in knowing that we’re on the same team and we’ll figure it out as we go.

What horse-related book impacted you the most?

Misty of Chincoteague! I read and re-read that until the pages fell out.

What personality trait do you value most in a horse and which do you dislike the most?

I probably value forgiveness the most. I mess up regularly, and it’s tough when the horse holds a grudge. I think a horse that can handle a mistake and keep trucking is a very special creature. I really dislike a horse that doesn’t want to do the job. Slow I can deal with. Needing help and support I can deal with. But I want my mount to show up to work and at least meet me halfway.

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Please don’t hate me when I climb up your neck and shove you at the jump. Please keep going.

What do you love most about your discipline?

The strategy and nuance of it. A really good jumper course tests you in a million subtle ways- from the jump materials (is a light lower panel pulling your horse’s attention down?), to the grading of the ring (even a slight downhill builds momentum), to the striding (the tricky ones will put a tight line to a flowing line or vice versa just to test you), to your bravery (your horse has never seen these jumps and has to trust), to your conditioning (ever seen a chunky upper level jumper?), to your versatility (you need really solid flatwork to be able to manipulate the stride and track properly), to your scrappiness (when shit hits the fan, you’d better be able to throw out the pretty and kick on), to a thousand other things I’m not thinking of right now. It’s a test of skills both physical and mental. Also I like big colorful sticks go fast fast nice fun good.

What are you focused on improving the most, at the moment?

In the next few weeks, getting our fitness back is the number one priority and that’s going to be a sore couple weeks for both of us. Once we’re both legged back up, I need to work on understanding my adjustability better. I know we have it in spades, but I’m working hard to be more precise on exactly where I’m asking Frankie to be. Having that type of precision and control of his stride lets us power off the ground more consistently, which lets us put the jumps up higher safely. Pretty much everything I’d ultimately like to accomplish with him ties back to that understanding of my horse’s ability to adjust and speed to react to those adjustments.

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It’s time to get back to beefcake status, not dad-bod-with-a-beer-gut status