Pride in the Journey

At this point I’ve owned Francis for over four years, and it has honestly been a total blast the whole time. Each incremental piece of progress has been a joy to tease out and refine, finding confidence together has built a true partnership, and even the inevitable setbacks haven’t seemed so bad when I have such a good-natured beast to go try again with. I often reflect on our time together and it makes me feel a lot of feelings: excitement about the adventures we’ve gone on/are yet to go on, awe at how much further we’ve gone than I ever hoped for, comfort in how well we know each other, joy in his own happiness in his work.

Always happy to march out of the ring on the buckle, knowing he did a great job

One of the strongest emotions I feel about our journey together is pride. I am incredibly proud of Frankie every darn day for his work ethic, for his kind response to hardship, for his ability to do his job. He is a very different horse than I brought home and the work we have put in together over the years has led to a strong and confident athlete who knows (and likes!) his job.

For the first two years, that improvement was primarily on me. Under the guidance of my trainer, I was really the only one who ever sat on him. No training rides or professional attention beyond our weekly lessons. With a lot of hard work and sweat, we successfully made it up to the 1.15m height together. We all know that the lion’s share of the hard work there was Francisco going out there and trying his heart out for me despite my many mistakes, but I was also very proud of myself for growing to that point.

Only amateur rides got us here

After that, I enlisted some help. I signed Frankie up for pro rides as part of his regular schedule to see how that might help him. And help him it did – I’ve mentioned many times that building this into our program did wonders for both of us. While the jumps didn’t go higher for us, our timing and abilities and awareness grew exponentially more quickly. I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had the opportunity and ability to take advantage of this type of program; I’m very conscious that it’s not an option for many.

I don’t have any less pride in this part of the journey. I’m just as proud of Frankie for learning and gaining confidence around the bigger tracks, even though I wasn’t the only one helping him get there. And I’m just as proud of myself for showing up and learning how to give my horse the ride he needs to feel good about his job as he gained these skills.

And then pro rides helped boost us to here

All of this is a self-indulgent and rambling way to say that I really don’t think there’s a single way of training that makes one a “good horseperson.” There is so much to be excited about when working hard with less support, and there is so much to be excited about when working hard with more support. There are opportunities to learn and grow no matter how we do it.

As long as we end up with happy, healthy horses at the end of the day, we’re on the right journey.

The happiest boy ❤

New Rule, Who Dis?

I’m a rule person. I like structure, I like clear expectations, I like when people DON’T SIT IN THE LEFT LANE FOR NO REASON OR TALK IN THE MOVIE THEATER LIKE HEATHENS. I like rules. I like when other people follow rules.


So naturally, I have the USEF Rulebook app on my phone, have read my pertinent sections back to front several times, and avidly follow rule changes or new rule proposals.

Because rules control the fun.

I don’t know how closely y’all stay up to date on rule changes, but a new USEF rule for 2018 has literally changed my life. Like, I got shivers because I could see my future track of competitions changing. Here’s the rule:

JP117.2:  Amateur Jumper: A horse that is ridden by an Amateur. Classes are restricted to riders who are no longer eligible to compete as junior exhibitors.

  1. (For Amateur rules please see GR1306)
  2. Dividing Classes. Sections may be offered divided by either specific height or age of rider.
  3. Level of Difficulty:
    1. 1.40/1.45m Amateur classes will have courses set at either 1.40m (4’7”) or 1.45 m (4’9’). The maximum height for the first class of this section, and for any classes in which time is the deciding factor in the initial round, is 1.40 m (4’7”). Note: Only Amateur classes set at either 1.40m or 1.45m will be pointed toward HOTY awards in the 1.40/1.45m Amateur category.
    2. 1.30/1.35m Amateur classes will have courses set at either 1.30m (4’3”) or 1.35m (4’5”). All Amateur classes set at either 1.30m or 1.35m will be pointed towards HOTY awards in the 1.30/1.35m Amateur category.
    3. 1.20/1.25m Amateur classes will have courses set at either 1.20m (3’11”) or 1.25m (4’1”). All Amateur classesat either 1.20m or 1.25m will be pointed toward the 1.20m/1.25m Amateur category for purposes of HOTY awards.
    4. Local competitions – no minimum course requirements and no points towards National Horse of the Year awards. 

In case you haven’t fully grasped the significance of this yet, it means that USEF shows can now offer classes from 1.20m that are limited to amateurs who do not need to own the horse.


I’ll say that again: there are now classes for amateurs to compete against other amateurs without needing to buy an AO horse.

Ho. Lee. Crap.

Does this have potential for abuse by shamateurs who will be basically professional and riding a string of horses like a pro? Yes. I’m not naive, there are always people who skate around the system like this.

But there are also people like me. Who can’t afford an AO horse and likely never will, who don’t want to take the time to find a talented baby or diamond in the rough to develop (more power to those of you who do, I just don’t want that). Who know that leasing a horse for that height is likely the only feasible way to do it with their time and money constraints, but also knew that meant competing in the Open classes against pros.

It may not be a perfect solution, but this is a real bridge to the upper levels for riders who might not otherwise be able to afford it. To my eyes, this is a fantastic way of creating greater access to higher levels by not restricting the pathway to those who can afford either the price tag of an established jumper or the time investment to bring one along.

I’m still in no rush- I’ll get there when I get there. It’s just extremely exciting to me that when I do get there, I have options to progress on my own terms.

Tell me your thoughts! I know the amateur rule is a very touchy one (with good reason) and I’d love to hear what you think- agree or disagree- about the new Amateur Jumper divisions.


An Ode to the DragonMare

I realized that in so many of my posts, I talk at length about what an angel Addy is. She’s so sweet, what a good pony, she takes such good care of me. And I stand by that. Despite our occasional bobbles, she is a wonderful perfect girl, and I never want her to change.

But she’s also so much more than that. Saying she’s an angel and leaving it at that is doing her such a disservice, so I sat down and thought hard about what makes this horse so special. That’s when I realized what it is: Addy tailors her rides to her rider. She responds differently to each different person on her back, and she does it because she’s just so goshdarn smart.

Unlike her rider.

On Saturdays, Addy gives a walk-trot lesson to a very very new beginner. She never gets fast, she halts easily, and turns when the reins are pulled in that direction. Even when they’ve given cantering a try, she loped around a bit and then easily came back to a walk. She is supremely uncomplicated on Saturdays. She knows that she’s got a novice rider, and she expects that they will not be tackling anything particularly challenging that day. And so she is a weekend schoolmaster.

This used to be how she was in my lessons on Wednesdays too: I rode very unsubtly, and she was an unsubtle ride. Even over small jumps she was a babysitter. Contrast that to my current lessons on Wednesdays: we try to improve on our lateral work, bending and counter-bending, transitions within gaits, bending lines and rollbacks and all sorts of more complicated exercises. Addy has shifted into a more advanced ride as the exercises have grown in complexity, the jump heights have gone up, and my aids have grown (slightly) more refined.

One of our first lessons together: loopy rein, barely-there release, and praying mantis position. What a good sport she was!

Our homework rides are no longer me practicing some circles in two-point, but working on collection and extension, lateral work, and moving more on the bit instead of stretched out. As I’m expecting better work from her, she’s expecting better work from me. If I open a rein without supporting with my leg, she will not move in that direction. If I ask for a halt but don’t reinforce with my seat and leg, she will keep on plowing. We have a difficult time walking in a straight line because the beast gets anticipatory and excited. If I abandon her over a jump she will either duck out, pick a hugely gappy distance, or change her pace. She is always good-natured and tries hard to please, but no longer expects to call the shots. She wants me to be the leader I’m supposed to be in our partnership.

Mahm are you actually paying attention to what you’re asking me to do?? MAHM

The way she goes now is so different: she pushes to speed up at almost all times, likes to have a more consistent contact, prances instead of moving out if my aids are muddled, and jumps with her knees up by her chin (it’s the cutest thing in the world, but definitely jumps me out of the tack more). I am constantly regulating pace, playing with her mouth, adding leg, adjusting my seat, and shifting to stay over her center of balance.

Yeah, that whole “loop in the reins” is not for us anymore.

Contrast that to a few months ago, where we bumbled around on a loose rein and my jumping position looked like a praying mantis. If she had pushed forward or pranced back then, I would’ve toppled off the side because I was riding so weakly. Once I became a more active rider, she became a more active ride. It has been a very gradual process, but I realized that if someone described her to me as she is now when I first got back into riding, I would’ve been terrified of her! A horse that tends to go fast, prefers some guidance to a good distance,  and has all these buttons to push? I could not have handled that. I’m still learning how to work with it!


Luckily, she has only given me what I can safely handle. Riding her is like second nature now- of course we are going to hold hard around that corner and leg up to the jump, of course we are going to add tons of leg to control our pace, of course I’m going to play with her mouth a little to get her to soften, of course she’s going to peek at the new jump and leap it like a gazelle. And then of course we are going to have fun, because we are partners in this.

I am so far from being a great rider- there is so much for me to learn and build on and get stronger at, so I’ll settle for “decent” until I can become great. And as much as it pains me to admit it, she is not the perfect horse- she’s not the fanciest and she gets heavy and sticky at times. But I am convinced that as she raises her expectations of me, I will be able to meet them. And as I meet those expectations I’ll be able to raise my expectations for her in turn, which she will no doubt meet with ease.


She has the talent and heart, and I have the drive. We’re just going to keep pushing each other higher and higher.