Upperville: The Recap

Phew. Moved into the new apartment, had my first day at the new job, and now I need to tell you more about Upperville.

I had some pretty high hopes going into Upperville- not of the ribbon variety, but more just reeeeally wanting to go lay down some good rides in our division. I combined that drive for success with barely riding for two weeks prior to competing. Because that’s always how to get better at things, right? Completely wing it.

Except you forget the part where Francis is literally a unicorn pegasus hearts and flowers kind of horse that is way better to me than I deserve. Srsly.

Overall I was thrilled with our rounds- despite my lack of saddle time I think I made decent decisions and stuck to the plan, and Frankie was just so on top of things that he made up for any of my deficiencies.

On to the details.

I arrived on Saturday to the oh-so-familiar sight of Francis conserving his energy for the upcoming competition:

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Too tired to close his mouth.

Someone commented that the stalls seemed small and I just pulled this pic out and said: “17.1 horse. Stalls are fine.”

But I left him to his beauty sleep and went to learn my course with my trainer. By the time we got back to get ready for warmup he had roused himself (luckily, I had a BEAST of a time getting him up at Culpeper) and we were able to go get our muscles moving.

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The rule is that I’m responsible for listening to our trainer, and Frankie is responsible for finding the nearest camera to make cute faces at. (PC: A. Frye)

Weirdly enough, I’m almost more proud of our warmups than I am of our actual rounds. It’s always taken me a little while to get my head in the game and ask Frankie for some real work, but this time we set right to it and were making better choices much more quickly. I consider that a big step forward for us. And of course, he met this dedication with his own hard work:

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I swear he doesn’t even look like the same horse as last year. (PC: A. Frye)

We didn’t need a ton of time to get us going and it was pretty hot, so we opted to head into the ring without too much of a delay. Course here:

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I liked this course a lot!

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His first time in this ring, keeping an eye on things. (PC: A. Frye)
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Specifically, keeping an eye on the camera because he is a diva (PC: A. Frye)
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UGH MAHM FINE WE WILL GO JUMPS (PC: A. Frye)

We came up to jump 1 off a shorter turn on the right lead- we like to collect through the turn and then bounce up instead of taking a longer runway approach.

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And it paid off with this lovely effort. In love with those perfectly even back feet!

We stumbled a bit off 2 but recovered in time for 3, and just continued on to 4. The bending into the combo walked a little short and I ended up holding a bit too much- it was uphill and away from the gate so it didn’t ride as short as I anticipated. But Francis was a bro and powered out the one stride totally fine.

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Please ignore everything about me in the Superman position and focus on the cute horsie NOTHING TO SEE HERE EXCEPT MY HORSE (told you he’s better to me than I deserve) (PC: A. Frye)

6 to 7 was fine and all was clear, so we continued on to the speed phase.

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Aw buddy be cuter (PC: A. Frye)

I let him get up on 8 too much and knocked a rail, and then we knocked one of the rails in the combo, got a bit of a flyer out over 11, and then 12 to 13 was decent.

Did we make mistakes? Absolutely. Did my horse listen like a champ and give me what I asked for every step of the way? Also absolutely. His first time in the ring, tons of activity, and he stayed tuned in to me the whole time. Even better- after going through the timers and finishing, he tried to veer left and pull me towards jump 3. He wanted to go jump more. While we were out of the ribbons, I finished in the top 50% of the class and with a happy horse who was loving his job. I consider that a definite show success!

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We also got to go cool down with these views, so not too shabby.

On to Sunday!

Sunday was brutally hot. Like, it sucked. You know how when it’s that hot out you don’t want to eat because nothing is refreshing enough and your body is just too hot? Yeah. I did choke some fuel down, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.

But Frankie continued his eternal streak of being a Very Good Boy.

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Including mugging for the camera while getting tacked up.

I was a little nervous for our Sunday round- our first 1.15m class together, and Upperville does not set the heights forgivingly. This was going to be a true test at height, and I knew there would definitely be a triple combo in there somewhere. I was right:

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While more challenging, I thought this was a really fair test. There were a few options for the bold to make some intense inside turns, the time allowed was tight, but it wasn’t trappy anywhere. If you rode a good pace and made efficient turns, you could safely ride this competitively.

We again chose to make a short turn on the right lead to jump 1 (passing in front of jump 3). 2 to 3 was a standard 5 strides- I saw some horses struggle to get out in 5 if they didn’t jump in correctly, but I liked our jump 2 and Frankie carried his standard stride to take us out just a leeetle bit long.

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Cute jump 2! (PC: G. Mohan)

End jump at 4 was fine, 5 was ok- it was a skinny and a very upright vertical so a lot of horses knocked that one. We got a bit close on it, but Frankie was scrappy and got his feets out of the way. I needed to hold more left leg and get straighter into the combo, but we ended up to a good takeoff spot and made it through unscathed. We flew a bit into 7 which made 8 really tight- Frankie earned his oats by getting clear over that, because that was a tough spot for him.

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Flyer to 7 but he still real cute (PC: G. Mohan)

And then my horse started running out of steam. Due to scheduling confusion and the heat we had done a longer warmup than we strictly needed, and this was a long course. But true to self, he still went about his job like a pro and carried me through the triple combo without touching a rail. We galloped up 10-11 and took a well earned breather.

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Yeah he totally looks tired, doesn’t he? (PC: G. Mohan)

Despite the heat and both of us starting to flag, we had gone clear and within time! They buzzed us for our jumpoff almost immediately.

Again, 1 was fine. I didn’t get him back quickly enough to make the turn I wanted to 3, so we went a bit wide. 13 to 14 was a basic bending line, not much to say there. Then I am so proud of Frankie- we took a tighter turn and sliced across the oxer at 10 and he didn’t even blink. We made it around through the one-stride no problem again, and just has one jump left. Away from the gate. The course designers absolutely did this on purpose- both of us tired and hot and ready to be done, and I didn’t get his attention back on me and we biffed the last one. Womp womp. Just goes to show- do not relax until you are through those last timers.

But we again managed to finish in the top 50% of a big class, even if we were out of the ribbons. And we again finished with a horse that was tired, but a horse that had his ears up and made his way back to the barn with a spring in his step.

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And the height? Not even a thing. Frankie charged fearlessly ahead to every jump on course.

So yeah. My goal of going to Upperville and having some good rides was 100% successful in my book. Nowhere near perfect, but we’re further along that path than we used to be. And if you didn’t have a crush on Frankie before this, I hope you do now because he deserves all the love in the world from everyone. I count my lucky stars every day to have this goofy wonderful gelding in my life.

We now have our sights set on Zones in August! Our new outdoor is complete (post to come once I get pics I’m satisfied with) and full of fun jumps for us to practice with, and Frankie has never felt better.

It’s looking like we’ll do that in August, and then wrap up our season at Culpeper Finals end of September- we’ll plan to do the Modified A/O division at 1.15m, and I’m going to beg and plead and work really hard to convince my trainer that we should probably try a 1.20m class. We’ll revisit as we get closer depending on Frankie’s fitness, my own fitness, and how our training is going, but that’s a tentative stretch goal. We’ll focus on smoothing out the rough edges at 1.15m first, I GUESS.

Hope to get some more updates out to you soon!

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McDonogh Video!

Here’s a video of our second round + jumpoff:

I realize that my turns are hella huge- remember yesterday when I said my reins kept slipping? This round was for sure the worst, they were basically there for decoration more so than any actual use. It’s too zoomed out to see the floppage too much, but you can take my word for it.

Yay for happy pony going jumpiez!!

 

 

McDonogh Winter Classic

We survived our first outing in our new division! And not just survived, but had a total blast doing it. Francis is a prince. Here’s the rundown.

It was about 90 minutes to trailer there and then we had a wait before it was time to warm up, so Frankie came off the trailer looking a bit like a fire-breathing dragon. When I hopped on, he actually gave me the worst behavior he’s ever given me: put his head between his knees and dolphin leapt about a little. I nervously said to Trainer, “Frankie is kinda acting up right now,” to which she responded, “So? Go do something about it.”

……Right. I can actually ride my horse. I had forgotten that fun little fact for a hot second. I put my leg on and asked for some bend and forward and TADA no more shenanigans. I mean, he had been standing on a trailer for a couple hours, he came off in a strange place that was super breezy and loud with lots of strange horses, it was pretty frigid. The fact that he didn’t try to play MORE is cause for celebration.

The rest of our warmup went really really well- Frankie had fantastic forward energy and carried us up to the base of every jump super strongly. Then it was time for our first class in the 1.10m!!!!

So I looked in the ring and said oh good, once they reset the jumps we’ll be good to go. Except as we all know, I am the WORST at judging jump height. The jumps were already reset. So a big fat shoutout to Trainer for making us jump bigger jumps at home, because these looked totally manageable and not at all intimidating.

Here’s the diagram for our first course (sorry it’s blurry! I added in the numbers to hopefully help):

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So single oxer away, down the outside line in 5, across the middle, rollback, up the diagonal line in 5, one-stride, bending out in 6 strides.

Overall thoughts on the course: pretty hunterific! No really tricky questions- if you sliced 4 a little right-to-left, it set you up to go inside 3 and have plenty of room to roll back to 5. 6 to 7 was a forward five strides, but it was later in the course so there was plenty of time to get the motor going. The one-stride was very forgiving, and then just balancing down for the six strides out.

Francis. Felt. Amazing. Ears perked, forward, locking onto the jumps and galloping up to them, and he just felt like he was having fun around the course. The lines rode really nicely- we got in a little tight to the combo but legged through just fine and balanced out. Was it perfect? No way. But my horse felt like a rockstar and I felt like I rode it much more strongly than I usually ride. Sadly no video of this round so you’ll have to take my word for it. Double clear and a good pace got us 3rd out of 14ish in this class!!!

We then had a decent break before our next class, which was II2b (immediate jumpoff). After sitting for a bit we decided to trot around and jump another jump or two to get us moving again before going back in the ring for this course:

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A lot of the same lines as the previous course, just in a different order. The jumpoff was a little tricky: to get from 2 to 4a we went between jumps 3 and 6 (Frankie was v v confused by this) and I think a better option would’ve been to go to the left of 6 to shave off some time. I saw others do this and they’re the ones that beat our time.Even with that, double clear and good pace got us 5th in this round!

Fun side note: my gloves had ZERO grip for some reason. I’ve ridden in these gloves plenty of times without a problem, but this weekend I had practically zero purchase on my reins. Usually that wouldn’t be a problem, but when Francis wakes up and gets into fiery jumper mode, he pulls the reins right out of my hands. I have video of this round and once I’m able to share it you’ll see- I really had to cowboy around and flap a bit for steering. Thank goodness Trainer has had me strengthening my legs so I could mostly steer that way.

Then we had another decent break before our classic, with this course:

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Again, not a ton of new questions. Our first oxer on this course was our best jump all day- Frankie used himself beautifully over it! But by this point I had been on for close to 2 hours and both Frankie and I were cold and pretty exhausted. I had also decided to take off my gloves and ended up choking up on my reins- overcorrecting from my inability to hold my reins in previous rounds. Predictably, we ran into trouble in the combo.

You know what you should do when your horse is tired and you’re headed into a triple combo? Because I can tell you right now what you SHOULDN’T do. You should not make your reins super duper short, hold his face, add in the previous line, then kick up into a strung out gallop, then lean with your shoulders while still holding his face. Because that leads to a Francis trying very hard to do his job but simply not being able to due to rider interference.

We reapproached the combo and I did literally the exact same thing: death grip on the face and leaning. So Frankie basically coasted to a stop and said, “Nope. No more for me, thank you.” And honestly, I couldn’t blame him. At this height, with depleted energy levels, I needed to be there SO MUCH MORE for him and I really wasn’t. Asking him to cart me around with no help was unfair. It wasn’t a dirty stop, it was a I-can’t-do-this-alone stop. This meant it was time to retire from the ring, and while I was disappointed that we didn’t make it around the course, it was definitely for the best. Frankie always ALWAYS jumps the jumps, so when he says “I can’t” that is something that I want to pay very close attention to.

Overall thoughts on the show: a really confidence-boosting wonderful first outing in our new division! The height was not intimidating at all, Frankie jumped two double-clear rounds really powerfully, and we had tons and tons of fun getting out there and galloping around the course. Our 3rd and 5th place got us 5 points towards the 20 we need to qualify for our Zone championship too- score!

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That sweet face!!!! His, not mine. Obviously. Homeboy loves trying to eat his ribbons ❤

I was really proud of how Frankie handled the whole trip. Not surprised because naturally he’s always a total bro, but very proud. We had no problem getting on and off the trailer, no spooky moments, and once he let out the minor silly beans during our warmup he was super workmanlike and marched around like a pro. Of course he was a good boy last season, but it feels like our hard work over the last few months has really paid off in improving Frankie’s fitness, the way he uses his body, and building some of that jumper “fire” in him. He has just come such a long way and has turned into a wonderful competitive partner in the show ring. UGH EMOTIONS. Seriously so incredibly grateful to have a horse that is such a pleasure to work with and learn from.

My barn is headed to Ocala for a few weeks in February (BRB sobbing that I can’t join this year) so I won’t get to go show again until March, but I’m already itching to get back out there. I’m crazy excited for our season in the High Adults with the bestest pony in the whole world.

Eff You Winter: A Tale of Show Prep for a non-Show

But like actually, people. I hate hate HATE being cold. And I hate hate HATE freezing rain. Mostly because freezing rain means shows get cancelled.

Yes, our move-up show has been cancelled due to weather Y U DO THIS TO ME WEATHER GODS.

Honestly though, if the weather is going to be that bad then I’m glad we’re staying home. It’s nerve wracking enough to jump all the big jumps for the first time, I’d rather do it when I’m not also panicked about the trailer sliding off the road and sending Francis to an icy doom. Not that I pictured that at all when I saw the forecast. No way.

So a little disappointed that the show is cancelled but also grateful for the chance to 1. sleep in omg I haven’t slept in for MONTHS it feels like and 2. have a bit more time to prepare for the move up. That can never hurt.

Our lesson this week was under the assumption that we’d be showing, so it was prep time. Assistant Trainer taught so you know it was good. Her style of teaching really works with Trainer’s style so well and I LOVE lessoning with her- I always know that we’re going to do something super challenging and I’ll be majorly sore the next day, but I’ll also walk out of the lesson feeling really accomplished. She won’t sugar coat things when I mess up, but she’s the first to throw a big party when I get something right. Seriously, both my trainers are amazing and I can’t say enough good things about them both.

Anywho, I’ll hop off the love train and actually tell you about our lesson.

Flatwork this time was much more basic, mostly to get us moving and warmed up. Lots of extensions and collections within each gait to get us tuned into each other and adjustable. Frankie started out a little sluggish so my job was to get him moving forward and powerfully first before trying to contain and recycle that energy. Lots of big circles to small circles, serpentines and changing direction to make sure he was moving off my leg and suppling throughout his body.

Warmup was trotting a crossrail a few times which UGH TROT JUMPS ARE SO HARD and why can’t we just canter everything pls. I think they’re getting better- Frankie has figured out that they do actually count as jumps, and I’m trying to wait with my shoulders a bit more. Maybe someday they won’t be terrible.

Then AT put the jumps around 2’9″-3’ish (I think?) to give us a bit of a warmup course, seen here:

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So it was single outside vertical, down the bending line in a waiting four strides, up the single oxer, down the box again as a single, up the one stride combo on the outside, liverpool, and up the quarter line in a GALLOPING three strides.

You read that right. The famous liverpool indeed made an appearance. But I’ll get to that when I get to that.

Single jumps off a long approach are kinda our jam at this point so the first jump came up nicely. Getting to a nice close spot to the box meant sitting back for the four strides was very do-able, and we held out to get a nice wide track up the black oxer. Down the box was another straightforward jump, got some power through the end of the ring to get up through the combo, and then it was a long approach down the diagonal to the liverpool. I sat up, legged on, held my breath, channeled Frankie straight, prepared for a peek or a hard jump….and nothing. He galloped right up to the base and popped over it like any other wide jump. There was no time to celebrate though, because that turn to the quarter line was TIGHT and we had to really dig in out of the corner to make the striding, especially at the lower height.

But then I was done and BEAMING because bucket list item totally checked off! I’m sure we will jump many more liverpools in our career but this was the first time I’ve ever jumped one! Remember that I only started doing the jumpers a year ago, I’m still new at anything that isn’t huntery haha. But seriously, if I needed another reason to love my Francis…he is such a confidence booster and takes SUCH good care of me.

So with my confidence high and my horse warmed up, AT put the jumps up. And up. And up (except the liverpool, she left that around 3’ish). And holy crap my heart kinda went into my throat because those jumps are so freakin big and you actually want us to jump that are you sure this doesn’t seem right maybe we should go back to the 0.65m division for a bit because those look way bigger than 1.10m and now my internal voice is babbling oh god oh god oh god. I’m sure none of them were over 1.10m, they just looked HUGE because our standards are not tall and the ring itself is not big. So yeah, definite nerves. Of course, as soon as I picked up the reins and moved out the nerves disappeared- Francis has that effect on me.

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BIG AIRY VERTICALS OMG DO YOU EVEN SEE THAT BLACK OXER ON THE LEFT OMG

AT had me pick up a gallop down the long side to get our energy up before packaging down at the short end for our first approach. We had to work a bit harder to fit the four stride into the broken line, and power up out of the corner to the black oxer. I got Frankie a little too tight to the single box and we popped it a bit, and then I just absolutely mangled the one-stride and had to come back around and try again with more leg. The liverpool came up just as nicely as last time, and the quarter line was another HAULING ASS down the line.

AT’s comment: “Not bad, made some good decisions and some bad decisions, but you look a little starry-eyed at the height. Give him a break and then try again, this time with more gusto and intent.” She was totally right- I was a little intimidated by the height and I let that back me off.

So we tried again. And I didn’t necessarily make better decisions, but this time I kept my leg on and RODE instead of just steering around the course. We still got a few fliers and a few tight spots, but they weren’t as “sticky” this time around because it turns out keeping your leg on really helps support your horse WHO KNEW.

Final comments from AT: “Was this your best coursework? No. But you’re learning that the answer when shit hits the fan is to just keep kicking and GO. So we can work on smoothing things out, but that intent is more there and that’s what we need to see.”

I gotta tell you- I’m thrilled. We managed around a full course at the bigger height including a liverpool and made it happen. Pretty? Not yet. But my horse tried his heart out and jumped the big jumps for me without question. We only had a single rail the whole lesson when I biffed it HARD and to quote AT, “he didn’t even look like a moose over some of those.” Progress! Best jumping moose in the world.

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And yes, obviously I needed to take a pic with the liverpool to commemorate the occasion.