The Between-Shows Training

We’ve reached an interesting milestone in our training called “Frankie is dang good at his job and there’s no reason to pound on him.” What this means in practice is that we do the 1m classes at shows, and we don’t really jump a ton or very high at home. I joked that I feel like one of those ammies that toodles around at home and just shows up for competitions every so often.

Our lessons rarely go up to 3′. We don’t even jump every week. Maybe once a month (or less) we put the jumps up to competition height for a single course to check and make sure we remember how to do it. We do.

v v casual

I think there’s a lot that has gone into making this a sustainable way of moving forward together.

Firstly, we spent a long time schooling 1m+ with consistency. Never a pounding, but it took a long time for Frankie to develop better body awareness and get confident navigating that height and above. We needed to school it regularly to help him build on those experiences. We could not have gotten comfortable at this height by schooling it as infrequently as we do now. We can only back off because we have something to back off from.

Secondly, he has the temperament for it. His reaction to a bigger fence has never been to back off or get flustered. We certainly don’t try to surprise him and we ramp back up to make sure he’s ready to go, but he’s easy going enough to see a bigger fence and simply put in a bigger effort. No muss no fuss.

The least muss. The least fuss.

Thirdly, we have a program that keeps him fit enough to do the height. Between myself and his pro rides he is worked most days and encouraged to use himself properly. We do pole work, we do stretchy work, we do transitions, we do all the good stuff to help build muscle. And then we do lots of stretches, regular massages and chiro, veterinary maintenance as needed (yes he is incredibly spoiled). So when we do ask him for the bigger effort, he feels strong and limber enough to happily give that.

The other day we had one of our check-ins pre-Ocala. We had spent most of our lesson at around 2’6″ schooling the add, which is forever helpful for Frankie to sit and work his booty. At one point we put 7 strides in a bending that was later a comfortable 4. It was actually ridiculous. But the jumps went up to full height and I asked him to stretch out and give me a bigger step. He opened right up and went around beautifully. Trainer simply said, “Well that didn’t look like a hardship.”

Very little is a hardship to this guy, he’s living a real good life

So here we are. We’re saving his legs for shows, and giving him all the tools he needs to succeed. My hope is that by being careful and intentional about his workload we can keep him sound and happy in his job for many years to come!

The Dreaded Add Step

Many of you, Dear Readers, have been following along since I was riding the DragonMare. Which means you’ve seen plenty of videos and pictures and read plenty of long descriptions on how we did NOT do the add step. Ever. Even fitting in the normal number of strides was enough of a struggle, we never came CLOSE to fitting another in. Unless we trotted in. But even then.


Now I’m on a very different horse- one who is much less anxious about jumping and doesn’t rush fences, who is very adjustable, who is very obedient to my cues.

And who is 17hh, has super long legs, a ground-covering stride, and has been taught to go for the hunter gap…because, you know, he was a hunter.

So yeah, the add step is still not something that comes easily to us.

But last week I had to change my lesson time around and ended up with a group that’s working at a lower height than Frankie and I usually practice at. “Pssh, this will be easy, we can trot crossrails in our sleep.”


First of all, that flatwork was no joke. I’m used to basically WTCing each direction as a warmup and then moving into the jumping. But these kiddos did SO much more flatwork. SO much more work on extensions and collections and moderating pace. These are things that I work on extensively on my own time, but having my trainer get after me while doing these things was intense. I was ridiculously out of breath from that.

And then the jumping part. Warming up over a couple crossrails was similar enough to how we usually warm up, nothing major there. But then we were told to do the outside line. The kiddos were told to trot in, and then press press press to canter out in four strides.

I assumed I would trot in, and hold hold hold to canter out in four strides. Sounds reasonable, yes? Frankie has a much bigger stride and more pep in his step, so trotting in and putting the four in would be a challenge.

Except Trainer told me to canter in, and then put in the four. THE DREADED ADD STEP.

Luckily BrontosaurusRex is a Very Good Boy and sat back when asked. But holy moly, that took so much leg. So. Much. Leg.

And then Trainer upped the difficulty even more: she had me canter into a line and put four strides in. But this time, the line was set towards home and the jump in was a little more substantial.

All praise to the Very Good Boy who obligingly put in four teeny strides. It was like riding a carousel horse- he has a very active canter and all that energy was just cycling up and down instead of forward. Super cool feeling. SO MUCH LEG.

The key to this exercise was not to over-release over the first jump. Of course I don’t want to hit him in the mouth or restrain him, but there’s no need to shove my hands up his neck over a 18″ crossrail that he’s barely picking up his feet for.

He barely picks up his feet over this height, so you can imagine that he just kinda lopes over the smaller stuff.

This ties back to what Trainer has been telling me since we brought Frankie home: auto-release is the name of the game with him. Keeping a feel on his mouth not only helps us steer in the air (like we talked about last week), but it also allows us to land and adjust our pace immediately instead of waiting for a recovery stride.

Frankie has infinite good qualities, but he is not a sensitive horse. He is not the type to turn and burn, or to immediately adjust based on light pressure on his mouth. However, he is very happy to maintain whichever stride I set him at. Which means that the key is to ask early and ask firmly so that we can focus on maintaining our step down the line instead of fussing the whole way through.

We finished up by galloping up to a long approach single oxer to let him stretch out and take a mental break from the collection. We were both much happier with that, but the damage was done. My core and legs were so sore for days.

Worth it to add another option to our toolbox!

Do you love the add, or when in doubt do you leave it out?