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:

dec_liverpool_course

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.

dec_bigjumps
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.

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

JK LOL NOTHING IS SIMPLE EVER

Since Trainer and Assistant Trainer were in Kentucky for the RRP last week (they got 4th and 9th in the 2’6″ Hunter division out of >70 horses! Yay sweet baby TBs!), I was able to fit in a make-up lesson over the weekend. And yes, I’m sore.

We started by flatting around in the outside ring since it was hotter than Hades, but Frankie was a bro about handling the heat. There was a fun groundpole exercise set up with a lot of options:

trotpoles

We started out by trotting straight through down the long side- the goal was to stay super duper straight and bouncy through them, instead of letting the slant force us to drift left or right. I needed to keep my shoulders back and half-halt, and channel through more strongly with leg and hand.

Then we went through all swervy- doing a shallow serpentine down the long side through the “channels” created by the poles. This was a tough one! The key for us was sitting Frankie down on his butt to collect and counter-bending through all those shallow turns. If I didn’t have strong enough outside aids, we got really swervy and overshot a lot.

Next, Trainer put the pairs of poles together to make 4 canter poles set at diagonals down the long side. The catch- they weren’t really set at a real stride length. It forced us to focus on a truly bouncy, adjustable canter so that we could shorten or lengthen as needed to make it through the poles.

So hard! But I’m happy to say that our canter is coming along really nicely, and we were eventually able to bounce on through there with an energetic, collected canter. It was super tricky though to stay straight and not fall in at the end without swapping out, especially to the right- Francis loves himself his left lead.

Then it was time to jump!!! We warmed up over a crossrail and then started doing separate pieces of our course. There were only 6 jumps in the ring, so I knew it would be a simple course HAHAHAHAH PSYCH NO WAY.

simplecourse
I promise I will explain

Our first exercise was 1-2-3: up the single diagonal, roll back around over the green end jump, and gallop out over the vertical in the combo in a forward 4 strides. Staying nice and straight into the corner after 1 helped give the room to make the turn to 2, and we had to hit the gas and gallop the final stride to 2 so we could keep rolling out over the vertical on the wall.

Next was 4-5-6a-6b-7: outside vertical, down the diagonal, up the combo in one stride, and down the other single diagonal. Not much to say here- we had to rev up out of the corner and ride strongly to 5, the combo came up nicely, and then waiting with my shoulders to get to the base of 7.

After that, we did 8-9-10-11-12: outside vertical, right hand turn to the end jump in 4 strides, back over the outside vertical, then diagonal jump to diagonal jump in a SHORT 2 strides. I needed to power my canter up out of the corner to 10, but surprisingly the 2-stride rode fantastically- we sliced 11 a bit and then sat back hard to fit the two in, but Frankie was super chill about it.

Then we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6a-6b-7-8-9-10-11-12. Who says you can’t make a 13 effort course out of only 6 jumps?! At this point most of the jumps were set to 3’3″-3’6″ish (I think, we all know I’m terrible at judging fence height, but these looked decently big to me), and the oxer out of the combo was definitely the biggest.

Guys. Frankie is such a bro. There were really good pieces and then there were sloppier pieces, but Frankie gave me EXACTLY what I asked for every step of the way. I literally went “woohoo!” over the oxer in the combo since it felt like we were jumping the moon. And proud moment- Frankie had a bit of a stumble about 2 strides out from the final 2-stride and I let the reins slip so he could recover. In the past it would’ve taken us a while to regroup and I would’ve circled, but instead I just kept my leg on and supported him to the base, and the combo rode perfectly. With no reins.

We did go back and come down the single outside vertical a few more times so I could practice riding more strongly and actively to the base, and when I finally got it right I could feel Frankie stretch and use his neck better, and Trainer said he used his whole body over it.

Overall, I really loved getting to do a bigger course. Frankie jumps more strongly once the jumps hit around 3’6″ and that helps my position IMMENSELY- it’s so much easier to hold myself up when he gives me that little *push* out of the saddle. It’s also much easier to see my spots to the bigger jumps, and I feel like I can really gallop Frankie up to the base.

I may have trouble walking the next day because my legs and abs are sore, but that just means I’m actually working my muscles properly! My friend said she got some video, so hopefully she can send that along soon for me to share with you guys 🙂

Do you have any tricks for setting a challenging course with limited number of jumps?

Curing the Achies

Trainer is at Lexington with some riders all week, so Assistant Trainer took over teaching. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed a pattern, but AT kicks my butt HARD. I love her, but ouch. So I’m always excited when she teaches!

Frankie started out pretty stiff, which is quite new for him. Putting the stiffness together with the myriad scrapes and cuts I found on him, we deduced that he was playing and rough-housing with his buddy all night. Awesome. Once he got moving he opened up a bit, but he was definitely lazy.

frankie_aug_lead
“Ugh. must I?”

Lazy for him does not mean slow. It does not mean that I have to boot him up constantly. What it DOES mean is that he has absolutely no desire to hold himself up. This isn’t as apparent at the trot, but as soon as we stepped up into the canter he basically said, “Mahhhm, I’m tired, please carry me around the ring.” OK BUDDY THIS AIN’T WORKIN’ FOR ME. As much as he is my baby and I will do anything for him, I am not physically able to drag his ass around the way he wanted me to.

frankie_aug_canter
These ears are at half-mast because I am the wORST MOM EVAR and am making him hold up his own gigantic head.

Those half-halts were getting CREATIVE, let me tell you. Like, they started out very soft and subtle and got zero response, and it eventually escalated to me bumping him HARD in the mouth with my outside rein to get him to just GETTHEFRICKOFFMYHANDJESUSCHRISTISWEARTOGOD. He got with the program and tried a bit harder once we had one or two of those come-to-Momma moments.

It did get better. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I love this horse’s brain. There were 4 of us in there and some of the lesson kids got rather close and he didn’t blink. Just kept truckin’ around.

It was pretty stupid hot and none of us had the brain power to remember courses, so we made it a gymnastics day. We had a pretty wide variety of rider and horse abilities in the lesson and I think gymnastics are perfect for these- you can very easily adjust them to be suitable for anyone.

It was set as a short one stride to a longer one stride- the first was tough for Francis to get bouncy through, but he loved opening up through the second part. Predictable.

The take-aways: I need to just keep my leg on for support and let Frankie do his job. I tried to manage that short step a bit too much and he simply didn’t need my help. I was also getting too forward with my shoulders and trying to jump for him- I need to wait and let him jump up to me. He’s gonna jump the jump. I don’t need to do it for him.

Lastly, I really need to work on that auto-release. I know that I don’t hit him in the mouth, but looking at some slo-mo videos it definitely doesn’t have that smooth quality I’d like; it looks like I’m pulling back on take-off before releasing. I think part of this is the way Frankie jumps, but a much bigger piece is that I need to strengthen my core and get my hands truly independent.

frankie_aug_jump
Knees are slowly making their way up when he has to start trying a little. 3’6″ seems to be where he starts putting in an effort.

I was really happy with this lesson though! My leg is slowly getting better and less slippy on Francis, and he was totally game even as the jump went up. AT sticked the last oxer at 3’6″ by the last time through and I was having a blast. It’s still a novelty for me to do those bigger jumps, but I feel so confident with Francis! He doesn’t blink and just does his job.

I’m also glad we made him stretch a little bit over the bigger jumps- he was moving out sooo much better by the end and I think getting to move those muscles made him feel tons better. No more stiffness.

I also have a short cautionary story to share: I turned Frankie out once he was done getting a bath and cooled down. As he often does post-bath, he immediately searched out a spot to roll. This time, he chose RIGHT next to the round bale. Like, he bumped into the bale going down.

And as you can probably guess, he eventually got stuck as he rolled around. The round bale was between his front and hind legs and the ground was mucky enough that he couldn’t get purchase to roll away from it. I’m just glad that he’s not a panicky horse by nature- after trying to get up a couple times, he just lay still for a moment and then looked back at me. “Mahm. Help?”

Of course I was already running to him to get that bale away from my precious boy. Manfriend was luckily there to help (he is SO MUCH STRONGER THAN ME) and Francis was able to quickly stand up and shake off.

And get this- shaky and bug-eyed, he just walked over for kisses. I swear he was so nervous and needed his Momma for a minute. After some much-needed snuggles, homeboy quickly calmed down and was back to munching his hay peacefully and no worse for the wear.

So I’m not sure what we could have done to prevent this (seriously horse you have a solid couple acres to roll, why did it have to be right there???) but just a tale of caution in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t figured this out yet: horses will try to injure themselves on literally everything. EVERYTHING.

Two questions today:

  1. What do you do when your half-halts aren’t making a difference?
  2. What’s the weirdest thing your horse has tried to maim themself on?