Upperville 2018

Upperville 2018 is a wrap! It was definitely a rollercoaster of a show- long days and good moments and pilot-error moments and all that good stuff. Spoiler alert: Frankie could not have been better. He was professional to the extreme, and packed me around with incredible consistency and kindness.

So let’s jump into it! (Strap in, because this is a MONSTER post)

On Wednesday, Frankenbean trailered in with Trainer and AT to get some more miles in the 1.20m. While I would’ve loved to be there, I sadly had to be at work and missed his round. Fortunately I was able to get a full report card from Trainer that evening!

Her thoughts, in no particular order: overall, thumbs up. He looked much less surprised by the height and settled into it much more quickly than his first outing. She’s very happy with the increase in his fitness and recommends we continue the program we have him in (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!). He was able to handle a range of distances with much more power and agility- he did have one rail on course, but it was from a perfect spot, he was just a little careless over it. The close and long spots he rode cleanly. There was a four stride set a little short and he kinda blew through the half-halt until stride 3, so working on responsiveness is (as always) something for us to focus on. He finished middle of the pack (26th) in a class of 59, against much more experienced horses, and didn’t look like a newbie- he looked like he belonged there.

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It’s a crappy blurry screenshot, but Sir Francis was totally unfazed by the big jumps!

I got to watch the video and I absolutely agree, he looked rather nonchalant about the whole thing. Trainer did recommend that AT take him in at least one more time to solidify him at this height before I take over, which I’m entirely on board with. It gives him more positive miles, and it gives me a little more time to make sure I’m totally tuned into giving him a good ride.

Francis got to go home and relax outside, and I gave him a short flat ride on Thursday to stretch out before our weekend together.

Friday. Was. Long. I was up by 4:30a, at the barn by 5:15a, on the showgrounds by 6:45a. And I didn’t show until 4:30p-ish. At one point I slumped over a folding table and napped for a solid hour. It was great cheering on my barnmates and seeing AT take our OTTB in the 1.25m 6yo class (he seriously gets better and better every time out, whoever buys him is gonna be one lucky rider), but I’ll admit that I was pretty exhausted by the time I hopped on.

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Francis also did some shavings-snorkeling while we waited

We got to the warmup ring and my eye was…uncharacteristically long. Like, a mile long. This used to be my default, but I thought we had conquered that instinct a long time ago. AT worked with me to get to the base, but for whatever reason I just struggled seeing anything but an awful gap.

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Friday’s course

Our first fence on course was a big wide oxer on a long approach away from home (I have opinions about that being the first question in the first class- from a course design standpoint, I think that would be more appropriate on a Saturday or Sunday once we’ve had the chance to get a sense of the ring), and instead of trusting the rhythm and my horse’s brokeness, I straight up gunned him at it. For no reason. And he very understandably said NOPE WE DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE. I reapproached and FINALLY asked for the short one. And homeboy was perfection- a little sticky off the ground because he was like wtf is going on up there lady, but he carried on without holding a grudge. I was still a little frazzled going into the line 2-3, but by 4 I felt mostly recovered and was very happy with the rest of our course. As if I needed more proof- I have a super broke horse that will perform exactly as well as I allow. Overall disappointed in myself for giving him a mediocre ride, but still very proud of how he handled it and moved on without question.

I didn’t get home until 9p that night after trailering back and getting Frankie settled in and my tack cleaned, and I fell asleep before I even finished lying down in bed haha. Luckily, we didn’t have to leave the barn until 11a the next day so I got to sleep in!

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He still went down for a nap as soon as we arrived. And had opinions about being woken up.

The sleep definitely helped (both of us). I had one or two flyers in the warmup that Trainer swiftly put the kibosh on, and we went in for our II.2.b (immediate jumpoff) round.

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Saturday’s course

If we’re friends on Facebook, you already saw the video I posted of this round (and if we’re not, why aren’t we?!). Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it yet:

Short version: Francis. Was. A. Star. Jump 2 to 3 walked in a bending 7 but we did a more direct and forward 6, I got a little up on 5a but he powered out the 2 stride, 8 to 9 walked in a balanced 6 and I didn’t steady enough so we got a VERY flowing 5. So certainly not even close to perfect, but Frankie was forward and eager and listening and obedient and all those good things. And we went clear so we got to jump off! In case it’s hard to see on the diagram, the jumpoff was 9-6-7-8-10a-10b-11. All very standard- we had a rail at 8 where I asked for the close spot and he just nicked it slightly, then we stayed inside 1 and 6 to set up a more efficient turn up to the combo, and then we left out a stride over 11 to gallop out in 6 instead of the 7 we had put in the first round.

I was dripping with sweat but happy as a clam. It was redemption from Friday for sure. I felt like I was making better decisions and Francis was responding beautifully.

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Powerful and muscley and shiny and amazing and omg I love him so much

I also got to see Jen and Cally go in the sidesaddle! Is there anything better than meeting up with blog friends?? Both of them performed wonderfully- you can tell how hard they’ve been working, and Cally was such a queen. Jen even let me hop on for a quick WTC in the sidesaddle! New goal: do sidesaddle on Francis. It was such a weird sensation, but super fun to try something new. Maybe we’ll be in the ring together next year for the sidesaddle classes 😉 Enjoy seeing a short clip of Cally being very tolerant with me!

And then Sunday. I have mixed feelings about Sunday. Not about Frankie obviously- he was a little more tired but was really nicely balanced and lovely to ride. But there was kinda a lot going on for me mentally.

For one- upset stomach. Like really really not comfortable, regretting ever eating any food, could not talk about food or smell it or anything. Part of that I think was from eating something that disagreed with me.

But the other part was definitely nerves. Which was kinda new for me. I’ve gotten jittery anxious energy before, but I rarely get full-on nervous. I don’t like it. 0/10 would not recommend.

Luckily I have a trainer who knows me extremely well and knows how to work me through it. When we were watching some rounds go in the Children’s before my class, she went, “Hmm. The jumps look like they’re set lower than yesterday.” Since she is the Alpha and Omega to me at shows, I immediately believed her and felt better because the jumps totally looked lower! Looking back- I have my doubts. I think they were set pretty normally. But she knew that I needed some reassurance that it was well within our skill set. By the time I hopped on, I was feeling a lot better and ready to go.

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Trotting into the ring looking like a hunka chunka beefcake omg
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Sunday’s course

Ok so funny story. I was pretty concerned about the turn from 2 to 3. That’s super early on course for a combo, away from the in gate, and historically we struggle more turning left. Repeat after me: OLIVIA STOP LIVING IN THE PAST. I was so concerned with that left turn, in fact, that I continued turning left after 3a and missed 3b altogether. Frankie was a little confused at the track but totally game for it! Legit just straight up bad steering hahaha. Circled back and made it through just fine, and was quite happy with the rest of the course. I was especially happy with the combo 10abc- we haven’t done a triple since Team Finals last August, but we got in powerfully and he pressed out wonderfully.

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FLY BIG MAN FLY

So overall: some really great moments, some struggles to work through, but I could not be any more grateful for my horse. We nailed every combo (when I actually steered) which is something I so badly wanted to improve upon. We went and made different mistakes. And every single time we walked in the ring, I had complete faith that Frankie would be there with me every step of the way. We’ve spent so much time and effort getting him up to speed- now it’s time to get myself up to his level!

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The most amazing horse in the world ❤

 

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Show Recap: Blue Rock Classic

I have so many alternate titles for this show recap:

“Prioritize Your Protein: I Don’t Want to Look at Steak for Quite Some Time”

“Step Up: Not the Dance Movie, Just Trying to Match My Horse’s Skill Level”

“Rain Dances: For the Love of God Stop Doing Them, We’ve Had Enough”

etc.

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Baby thoroughbred just wants snuggles alllll the time. 

But at the end of the day, here’s your basic recap: Frankie was a freakin’ rockstar. You can stop reading now if you were just on the edge of your seat wondering if he would be a good boy. I know it’s a rarity.

I’m not going to go in chronological order for this post because I don’t feel like it, so here’s what happened:

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DragonPony went in the ring rarin’ to go every time. Smart boy knows what the buzzer means now!

Big Guy packed me around the Highs like a pro, as per usual. I will say, the first day I had a bit of a tough time. In the past, Frankie has landed off the jumps a little unbalanced and a little strung out. It’s always taken me a few strides to get my bearings and get him back under me, and our half-halts didn’t go very far- I’ve had to kinda adjust my track to suit the stride length and not the other way around.

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Unrelated he’s just the sweetest most handsome creature.

The fun thing about doing multiple training rides per week and private lessons is that he is now much more fit and broke and holy moly we actually have a fantastic half-halt now. Nowadays he lands balanced and immediately asks me what he should do next. So on that first day I rode him like 2017 Francis needed- a little “louder” with my aids and a little less trusting of my seat, and giving him room where I didn’t need to (or should have). He was a good boy, but was a little peeved at me- he was jumping out of his SKIN and I wasn’t really rewarding that effort.

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Did he clear it tho
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I left the ring with the words, “holy crap I don’t even deserve you, you are a prince.”

So the next day my trainer sent me in with the phrase, “we have beautiful hands.” I rewarded more over the jumps, I trusted his balance, I supported with my leg more without nagging. And lo and behold: we had a lovely course, with a very happy horse.

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Those ears though. I know he loves food and scritches more than anything else, but he does seem to really enjoy his job ❤
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Until I get used to his new style of actually working hard over the jumps, I’m exaggerating my release. Better than punishing him for all that effort!
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And when I ask for the long one, he’s still happy to deliver. Best boy.

Classic day was similar- I’m still learning how to press all the buttons on my crazy-amazing broke horse, he was a little more tired, but overall thrilled with how we went around. I felt like I actually had a brain in my head- when jump 1 came up a little sticky, I actually made a move to help him get set up for jump 2 instead of saying OH CRAP FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL like I would’ve in the past. Our sticky moments were less sticky and happened less often, he was less tired and felt fitter than has on Sundays past, and our good moments are getting better and better and more consistent. And of all places, we had a rail over the liverpool. I mean, I’m glad he doesn’t care what he’s jumping, but maybe care a little bit?!

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And we got to compete with one of our barnmates, which was super wicked fun. We agreed that we were definitely the most obsessed with our horses of anyone on the showgrounds. Probably because we had the best horses, and that’s scientific fact.

So there’s our recap of the Highs. Trainer is very happy with his continuing development, we are both continuing to grow and learn, we’re excited to keep improving, and we had a total blast in the ring together. I swear, he is the most fun horse to ride.

But here’s something else that’s super cool: I have a 1.20m horse.

That’s right, the Big Man made it around his first ever 1.20m course with AT!! Both of them worked so so hard and it was absolutely incredible to watch. AT reported that he was a little surprised and definitely needed some help from her to get to the right spot- he can’t handle a joke at that height at this point. But he was game for it and went and played the game, which is all I was hoping for in his first time out. We’ll powwow later to see what our plan should be moving forward, but I am beyond thrilled with how he did.

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Jump 1 was very soft, jump 2 was a surprise, and by jump 3 (this one) he seemed to be getting it.
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NO SCOPE NO HOPE

My sweet boy officially made it around a 1.20m course without looking or feeling overfaced, and I am bursting with pride. This was never on our radar for him when we bought him- his willingness to go out there and try makes my heart so absolutely full.

As usual, Frankie gets an A+ for handling the horse show life. He ground-tied politely at the wash rack despite many distractions, he came out of his stall happily for every ride, and settled right into work despite the icky weather and sloppy footing. We’ve come to expect excellent behavior from him, but I’m still grateful every time that he handles travel and competition life so well.

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He really doesn’t stress about being in new places.

I’ll try to upload some of our videos to YouTube soon so I can share. Frankie will get today off and a few light days to work out any soreness and give him a break, but then we’re back to it and prepping for Upperville in early June!

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More adventures with the Frankfurter!

Transportation Woes

Alternate title: At Least One Thing That Carries My Butt Around Is Functional

The functional one being Frankie, of course. The not-so-functional one is my car.

Long story short, I no longer have working anti-lock brakes in my Jeep. Options are to either shell out more money than the car is worth to fix it, scrap my show season to afford a new car, or ignore the problem until show season is over.

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I think you can guess which one I’m going with. Luckily this didn’t happen in winter when the roads get slick, and the mechanic said the car was totally fine to drive as long as I was careful. So if you see a red Jeep with horse plates in VA, give me a little space to brake, k? I’m frantically doing research on what I’ll do in the fall and calling in all favors from friends and friends-of-friends, so at some point I should be able to introduce a new (or more realistically, used-and-slightly-crappy) vehicle.

But back to the functioning beast. Our private lessons are, as expected, absolutely transforming us. Even with just 3 under our belt, I can already feel such a difference in my ability to ask Frankie to work harder as well as his own ability to work harder. At first he threw a few tantrums about settling into work, but he very very quickly learned that this is the new normal and now steps right into it. He still has his evasions that he tries and a big part of our lessons is teaching me how to anticipate and preemptively correct those evasions, but it really does feel like getting to the next level of our feel and communication.

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“Communicate THIS” PC: Liz

A few examples: transitions. THEY’RE HARD YO. We’ve been doing tons of them and insisting that Francis step under into them (both upwards and downwards) without popping up and inverting. When I get it right, it’s magical. Slowly starting to get it right more often.

Connection. It used to take me a solid 45 minutes and a virgin sacrifice to get Frankie up into the bridle. And to be totally honest, even then it wasn’t great. I simply did not give enough leg, hold a steady enough contact, or insist on this enough. This is still very much a work in progress, but I’m actually able to get him pushing from behind up into the contact much more consistently. It’s not 100% of the time by any stretch, but it’s vastly improved!

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THE BEEFIEST. THE SHINIEST. PC: Liz

 

Adjustability. Turns out that when I stop using a driving seat and have my horse balanced underneath me, I can totally pick whatever stride length I want. Which means I can then pick whichever spot I want. It also turns out that my eye is a lot better than I thought it was- I just haven’t had the tools to accurately ride to the spot I see. Now that I’m communicating with Frankie more clearly and he’s built the knowledge and strength, I feel so much more confident in our ability to get to a really solid take-off.

Overall brokeness. Holy. Crap. Guys. My horse is so frickin’ broke now, it’s not even funny. He will always be a little dull and he would not make a professional happy (pretty sure you’d see a pic of him in the dictionary under “Ammy Friendly”) but he has become the fanciest horse I have ever sat on. Ever. Including my German import I had in high school. He has so many dang buttons and he’s gotten so strong, it’s like I can think something and he does it. Part of that is the training we’ve been doing super intensely lately, part of it is me learning how to ride more better, and part of that is continuously building our communication and partnership. I’ve been absolutely blown away by him in our last few lessons.

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Let me love you forever PC: Liz

It feels like we’re in a totally different place from even a few weeks ago. I need to get some video so you can see the Frankfurter strut his stuff- hopefully we get some good ones at the show this week! Trainer confirmed that she’ll be taking him in his first 1.20m and I’m spazzing out excited. Keep your fingers crossed and send high-flying thoughts in our direction!

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?