Lake Placid 2018: The Riding

Here’s the quick and dirty version for those of you in a rush: I rode poorly overall but did have one round I was happy with. Frankie was the bestest beast on the planet (obviously) no matter what his pilot was doing. It was stunningly gorgeous and while it was challenging and a bit overwhelming, it was a wonderful show and I would recommend it to anyone.

For the sake of not hitting you with a 3k word post, I’ll split this out into 2-3 different topics.

I’ll start with the actual riding!

Frankie went in for a schooling round with my Trainer on Tuesday (while I was driving up) to let him get in the ring and see the place. Because we all know that the big guy really needs time to look around. Hah. When I arrived and asked if he was settling in ok, both Trainer and AT just looked at me and said, “Olivia, when does he not??” The angst. He does not has it. I got to see the video of him going around and he looked fine. A bit unfocused perhaps, but nothing crazy or worrisome. AT always does such a great job of using those rounds as a real schooling opportunity.

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THE SCENERY THO

I was able to lesson in one of the schooling rings on Wednesday where we did mostly flatwork and a few small jumps. Frankie felt AMAZING. Super obedient, bendy, and giving me everything I asked for. Our lateral work feels like it has come SO so so far- haunches-in/out and shoulder-in/out was much more prompt and less of a wiggly wrestling match. We iz learning gud. We cooled out by going on a trail ride down to the river, which may be one of my favorite parts of this show. All the fancy ponies were so happy to go out in nature and relax! Frankie seemed content to lead the way, snorting happily the whole time.

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We had matching big bay geldings

Then Thursday was the first class of our division, a jumpoff round that they turned into a straight speed round due to weather (wet. It was wet.).

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Waiting our turn in the rain, bein super cute.
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Reppin’ the gang while we waited for the course walk.

It was a fairly straightforward course. That I rode like a potato. I got SUPER long to the first oxer, which told Frankie that I had no idea what I was doing, and I never quite got him balanced underneath me after that. We smashed our way through the two-stride. I did the last line with one stirrup. “We made it out alive” is about the best I can say about it.

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Honestly the last two jumps were the two best jumps because I was in survival mode. I told Trainer to just start sending me in without stirrups, I ride a MILLION TIMES BETTER.

So yeah. Disappointing because it was like I completely forgot how to ride. Frankie was a trooper, but he should not have had to put up with that. Extra pats for pony.

On to Friday. Where the nerves showed up because I thought Frankie would justifiably be like UM NO to everything. Not sure why I thought that because he has literally never shown that inclination, but I was super sure that he hated me. I’m not saying it was logical.

I was holding it together ok until I was partially tacked up. And then I had to wait a few minutes before bridling and heading to the ring. And fun fact about me is that the waiting is what makes me more nervous than anything. So when Trainer said to hold off for 5 minutes, I stood up, walked out of the tent, and puked.

WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL, SELF.

30 seconds later I got on the horse and had a really great warmup and then a round that I was quite happy with. One rail in the speed phase of the power and speed put us just out of the ribbons but it was definitely redemption from Thursday.

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The jumps were big, the spreads were wide, and Frankie absolutely flew.Β 

Our combos were accurate, we made decisions, I tipped a bit with my shoulders a few times but it worked out ok because my horse is a prince, and it was definitely the confidence boost I needed.

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Lots of pics of me on Frankie with one hand on my leg. Weather was nicer on Friday!

We were completely done by 10am (I was the first class in the ring with a 7:30a start), so I spent the rest of the day doing touristy stuff with my momma (I’ll share that stuff in another post!).

On to Saturday.

Ah, Saturday.

So my class on Saturday was the last of the day in the big grass Grand Prix field, going around 5p. Meaning I had all day to work myself up.

And work myself up I certainly did. I basically had a meltdown about how I was not capable of doing this, I was panicked about going on the grass, EVERYTHING IS BAD FOREVER AND I AM TERRIBLE. I haven’t had an attack of nerves like that since I was a kid. It was ridiculous and frankly embarrassing. I’m only telling you this because y’all are my people and it would feel dishonest to say that everything was sunshine and rainbows and I am a beacon of emotional fortitude. I ain’t.

After much urging, I called Trainer to basically word vomit that I am a potato rider who can’t do anything right. And she is the actual best. She reaffirmed her confidence in both my and my horse’s abilities, she wanted us to go have fun, and basically reminded me that I am not terrible and everything is not bad.

There should be a special award for trainers of ridiculous ammies. She deserves one for literally being my sports therapist.

So by the time I got to the barn I was still nervous, but in a much better place. I was gonna go out there and ride my beloved animal who probably has more experience going on grass than most of the other horses there (hello foxhunting and eventing careers), and we were gonna have a blast. The mimosa I had during the course walk helped too.

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Peep me last in line.

So between my Trainer talking me off the ledge, AT making me laugh ’til I forgot I was nervous, and the healing powers of champagne, I was actually excited to go Do The Thing.

We headed to the warmup and were doing rather well- Frankie was right there with me giving me everything I asked for.

And then I tipped my shoulders at a jump that I really should not have tipped my shoulders at (sound familiar? From Thursday?) and toppled right off the side. And took off Frankie’s entire bridle as I went. Womp womp.

Continuing his bid for sainthood, Frankie just stood there looking perplexed as someone said LOOSE HORSE and people helped me up. I’m 100% fine, just a little sore on my shoulder where I rolled. We quickly got his bridle back on and put me back in the saddle.

But at that point I started riding REALLY defensively. I took a few more jumps to confirm that we could still do it, and then opted to scratch. At that height, on a new footing, with all the hoopla around it, I needed to be able to help my horse out and I was not at all in a place where I was confident in my abilities to do that.

So that was definitely disappointing. I got myself into the right mental zone just in time to bungle it up before even stepping foot in the ring.

But on the flip side, I tried. I had spent the morning panicking, but I still got on the horse and I tried. And after I fell off I got BACK on the horse and kept trying. So while it didn’t go according to plan, I’m going to take that as a victory.

If that all sounds like a rollercoaster, it’s because it absolutely was. I had nerves rear their ugly head in a major way that hasn’t happened in almost 15 years, I didn’t ride to the best (or even the medium) of my abilities, I had my second tumble off Francis. It was definitely not how I hoped to go in the ring for such a major show.

But I also pushed through the nerves to give it a go, learned a lot about what kind of warmup we need to go in and do well, and I got to ride the best horse on the planet. No matter how all-over-the-place I was, Frankie was my constant the entire time. He really is an incredible animal.

So at the end of the day, I feel like one majorly lucky girl.

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Next up: more about the area, the showgrounds as a whole, and getting to spend time with my momma!

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Planning Ahead to Move Up Someday: the Maybe Edition

Just to clarify up front: we are not moving up any time soon. We are in the midst of a lovely season in the Highs and are continuing to work out the kinks and polish it up.

Because let’s be honest, there is PLENTY to work on.

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For example, some day I’ll actually learn how to ride, maybe. PC: A. Frye

But I also like to have a bit of a longer view to what’s coming up, and sat down with my trainer to discuss what our plan is moving forward. The verdict: we have no real verdict, and I’m really excited about it.

What we do have is a series of options depending on how things go throughout the rest of the season. A couple of soft “maybes.”

One maybe: we get to the end of this season in the 1.10m-1.15m classes and decide we need another season in this division. Which would be fun! We could really focus hard on perfecting our rounds at that height, and there are plenty of fun classics and competitions at this height to keep us entertained.

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We can get plenty of cute pics in this division. And yes I’m still sharing this picture forever.

Another maybe: we get to the end of this season and feel really great and comfortable with how we’re going, and decide to try and move up. Which leads to another series of maybes.

In this case we work really hard over the winter to build fitness and accuracy, and very slowly start to try out a 1.20m class here and there- maybe putting my trainer in the irons at first to give him a better ride. Focusing on the ones offered early in the season and early in the week, where the courses are set more simply and forgivingly. And we pay very very close attention and make sure to work closely with our vet to make sure we’re not pushing further than Frankie wants to go- we know that being able to clear a few 1.20m fences does not equal the ability to navigate a full long course at a show. So this potentially leads us to a couple other maybes.

Maybe Frankie and I have built up enough fitness to do a soft entry into the 1.20m classes, and can give the Low A/O division a try. Which I think would be super cool.

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Seeing him fly like this over 1.15m is encouraging. PC: G. Mohan

Or maybe Frankie gives it a try and tells us that he’s not comfortable moving up more- which is also fine. Because that leads to another set of maybes.

Maybe at this point I decide to stay in the Highs with Frankie and come up with new goals within that height range- WIHS, other finals, etc. There are plenty of options!

Or maybe we decide to lease Frankie out to someone looking for a proven 1.15m packer, and use that lease fee to find me a 1.20m lease. Which would mean no A/O division for me, but there are other opportunities to give that height a try- the regional championships that I’m doing offer a 1.20m/1.25m section and they don’t require ownership to compete like they do in the A/Os.

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Have someone else deal with Sir Naps-a-Lot for a year

And because horses like to poop all over the best-laid plans, I am so sure that there are at least 100 other “maybes” that we haven’t even started to consider. Chances are high that we end up with the final option of “none of the above.”

So there you have it: we have no idea what we’re going to be doing long term, but we’re excited to find out. In the meantime we’re going to focus hard on fitness, get our eyes fixed on Regionals, and keep building our partnership for whatever the future might hold!

Ending note: I’m grateful to have a trainer who takes the time to talk about those longer-term goals with honesty and openness. And especially grateful that throughout our whole conversation, she made it abundantly clear that her #1 priority is Frankie’s health and longevity. In a sport where we so often hear about people pushing hard and fast at the expense of the horse, I’m proud to ride with someone who never compromises the horse for the show.

Do you like to plan out your maybes?Β 

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. HeΒ 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!