Break out the Calendars

I know I mention my husband in passing with some regularity, but I want to start this post off by saying straight out that this guy is cool. I like him SO much. He’s always the first to encourage me to try new things, is my biggest support when things get hectic, and keeps me going with things get tough. Whenever I have cool news to share about Frankie, just know that behind the scenes is a wonderful man who makes this all possible.

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AND HE FEEDS ME SO WELL BECAUSE HE IS A PRINCE AMONG MEN

As I’ve mentioned previously, we’re heading to the Piedmont Jumper Classic at the end of September. The plan is to go in at 0.90m the first day to get our sea legs back, and then step back into the 1.0m Low Adult classes over the weekend. Partially because I like riding in a division, but more so because I have a pair of as-yet-unworn white pants that are just begging for a classic. I never said that my decision-making process was logical.

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I believe I have made my feelings about white pants extremely clear to everyone. I like them.

To prep for that, Frankie is getting his SI injected next week as a complement to his hock injections. While he’s a pretty solid chunk right now, his fitness is actually in decent shape and he’s been giving me some AMAZING rides lately. I’ve been putting the screws to him a bit as a reminder that he is in fact a shmancy show horse, and he’s been showing up to work like a pro. We schooled some 1m-ish jumps in our recent lesson and he was soft and rhythmic and adjustable, so I think the addition of the SI injection will make it that much more comfortable and easy to do the Lows at the show. I could gush more about just how great he’s going but just trust me on it – all the hard work we put into developing a partnership and skills has paid off, and I am rewarded with a wonderfully trained animal. It’s great.

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This animal has won speed classes yet falls asleep on the crossties almost daily. He has reach peak levels of energy conservation.

In other exciting news, we’re adding a few things to the calendar! Our next show after Piedmont will be the WIHS Local Show/Zone Finals at the end of October. We’re obviously not qualified for any Zone champs this year, but they have a few adult medals on Friday and a few open 1.0m jumper classes on Saturday we can go have fun in. I like the venue and it’s close to home, so should be a good time.

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I have competed there multiple times yet somehow have ZERO media of me actually on a horse there. So enjoy this uncomfortably close selfie of me picking up a ribbon Frankie and I won there in the Highs a few years ago.

And in a first for us, we are signing up for a clinic in October as well! Will Simpson (Olympic Gold Medalist, Beijing 2008) is offering a one-day clinic as part of the Rutledge Farm Sessions Olympic Medalist series, with a focus on finding perfect distances and shaving off time in the jump-off. Sounds useful, right?? Rutledge Farm is just down the road in Middleburg, and the chance to ride with someone with so much experience doesn’t come along every day – I just had to sign up along with some of the other girls at the barn. I’ve heard that he’s very kind and patient with the horses and riders, and that he gives great homework to take away from it, so I’m thrilled to expand our knowledge with him.

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The facilities just look gorgeous, and they bring in lots of big names across disciplines – Peter Wylde, Boyd Martin, Ali Brock, Philip Dutton, and Stacia Madden are all there this year.

I originally figured I should do EITHER the clinic OR the show, since we’re trying to make some reasonable financial decisions. WBBH (World’s Best Horse Husband) is the one that encouraged me to go for both, and that he wants me to be able to enjoy Frankie as much as possible. Like I said, he is a kind and thoughtful and wonderful man and I am extremely lucky.

So there you have it! I originally thought we’d have a quiet fall, but it turns out we have two shows and a clinic slated in the next two months alone! I can’t go to the big show in November, but hoping to maybe do a nearby one-day in December to round out the year.

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TIME TO WAKE UP MY DUDE AND GO BE A SHOW PONY

Just to be obnoxious and really drive it home, I’m feeling extraordinarily grateful for the ability to go out and do these things with Frankie. I counted myself lucky to be able to do 3 shows with him the first year that I owned him, and even with school in the mix it looks like 2019 will end up having 7-8 shows across different disciplines. I could’ve never imagined having the support professionally and personally to take the time/ money/ energy to do this and I hope to never take it for granted. None of it would be possible without a boss who encourages me to use my PTO and work remotely so I can travel, friends who stay in touch when we all have busy schedules, parents who have always taught me to go tenaciously after what I want, trainers that push me to be better, and of course, my dream heart horse Frankie and my dream man Nicholas. I’m grateful.

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I’m honestly living my dream life with this ridiculous goofy wonderful creature.

OK now time to stop with the gross mushy stuff and get back to riding!

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Gold Star Clinic Questionnaire

As promised, here are the questions from the application I had to fill out for the Gold Star Clinic! I didn’t include my answers, but I did include some thoughts on the questions, format, etc. in italics below. Let me know your thoughts!

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  • At what age did you start riding?
  • At what age did you start jumping?
  • Is your family involved in the horse industry?
  • Have you participated in any other disciplines? Check as follows: Hunter, Jumper, Equitation
  • How many years did you compete in the Hunters?
  • Do you feel your Hunter experience helped you develop as a Jumper rider? Please explain.
  • How many years did you compete in Equitation?
  • Do you feel your Equitation experience helped you develop as a Jumper rider? Please explain.

Pretty basic stuff so far. 

  • Did you compete in the Talent Search competitions?
  • Have you competed in any Equitation Finals? If so, in which did you compete and at what age(s) and year(s)? Did you place?
  • At what age did you start riding in Jumper competitions?
  • Have you competed in the National Junior Jumper Championship and Prix de States competition? If so, at what age(s) and what year(s)? Did you place?
  • Have you competed in the North American Children’s, Junior or Young Rider Championships? If so, at what age(s), level, and in what year(s)? Did you place?
  • It is important to know how you felt about the experience of competing at the Junior Jumper Championship/Prix de States and the NAChJYRC. Please write about that experience and how it did or did not impact your riding career.
  • It is important to know how you felt about the experience of competing at the USHJA Zone Jumper Team Championships. Please write about that experience and how it did or did not impact your riding career.

Clearly this above section was aimed at people who had a fairly prolific career as a junior or are currently juniors. I had to put N/A for pretty much all of these except the last question about Team Finals.

  • When you started your riding career, did your parents feel that they had enough information about the sport to make informed decisions on competitions, trainers and horse selection? Please explain.

Again, this is clearly aimed at junior riders. Also I competed mostly locally and at small rated shows at the 2’6″ level as a kid, so my parents didn’t really need any info. 

  • Have you ever taken dressage lessons? If so, did you find it beneficial and why?
  • Do you have a young horse between the ages of 3 and 7 that you are working with?
  • Do you know and follow top breeding bloodlines?
  • Do you have an interest in your horse breeding and development? If so, please explain how it is important for your future and the future of the industry.
  • Have you had any education on conformation, lameness, feeds and nutrition, shoeing, health and welfare of the horse? If so, was it helpful information and do you use the education you received? Please explain.

I found this section interesting- looking for diverse knowledge bases. I thought some of the yes/no type questions should have prompted more explanation (which I provided unprompted because I like to say stuff).

  • Physical fitness is a key component to top athlete performances, please describe your personal fitness program. Well that’s kinda a leading question, dontcha think? 
  • Have you ever participated in a clinic or the USHJA Emerging Athlete Program? If so, who was the clinician, did you feel it was beneficial and why? This was a tough question to answer- no I did not do the EAP, but yes I have clinicked. It wasn’t a USHJA registered clinic though, so does that count? I ended up mentioning it, but I think this should (1) be separated into two questions and (2) clarified.
  • Have you ever been a working student or have you been an apprentice for anyone other than your current trainer? If so, who did you work for and at what age? What did you learn from the experience? Well yeah, as a kid. Which wasn’t THAT long ago, so I think it should count.
  • Do you use visualization techniques when competing? This was just a checkbox yes or no, but I would’ve loved a chance to write more about this.

 

  • What do you feel are your riding weakness and strengths? Please explain.
  • What are your immediate goals? Please be specific.
  • What are your long term goals? Please be specific and explain how you intend to reach those goals.
  • In what way do you think that the USHJA/USEF can help you to reach your goals? Lemme suck up to you real quick.
  • Do you intend to become a professional or are you already a professional? This application was for a junior/amateur program, so not sure why there was an option to say that you are currently a professional.
  • Please list your goals for the current competition year. Be sure to include your tentative schedule for both yourself and your horse(s) (i.e. Zone Jumper Team Championships, NAJYRC, Prix des States, Equitation Finals, Nations Cups, and international competitions, as well as any preparation for these targets). This was another section that felt tough for me to answer as a working amateur, because the honest response is “it depends on whether or not I get a good year-end bonus and how much time off my boss approves before she gets fed up with me missing meetings to go compete.” I have plenty of goals, but my budget requires me to be flexible on those and pass up on things I’d otherwise like to do. Most of these big shows listed are specifically for junior riders (which I am not) or for those competing at very high heights (which I am also not). Team Finals is pretty much the only nationally recognized program for ammies at the 1.15m level.

 

  • Provide a written recommendation from a show jumping professional/trainer.
  • Write a short essay describing your equestrian goals and future plans. 1 page maximum. Let me tell you, it was HARD to get this down to 1 page. As evidenced by the posts on this blog, I can talk for days about my plans and goals and my path forward. Thousands and thousands of words.
  • Submit any additional information you wish to have considered by the selectors. Like…anything? Anything at all? 

Shining Stars

I got a really cool email a few weeks ago. As a team medalist at Zone Jumper Finals back in August, I was eligible to apply for a “wildcard” spot at a Gold Star Clinic as part of the Emerging Jumper Rider program through USHJA. From what I understand, all individual medalists automatically earn an invite, and then they open up the wildcard spots to the team medalists for consideration.

I haven’t worked this hard on an application since college, y’all. It was a long and hefty questionnaire, an essay on my goals for the future, and then I needed a letter of recommendation from a show jumping professional (thank you Trainer!). They also allowed me to include “any other materials I’d like the selectors to consider.”

I immediately started making plans for a professionally shot and cut video, testimonials from everyone I’ve ever met as to my dedication, a music video about me and Frankie. You know. Normal stuff like that. I ended up going with a link to this blog and some of my favorite posts to be like I THINK SO HARD ABOUT RIDING ALL THE TIME and a cute pic of me and Francis.

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Because how can you resist these happy faces?!

All materials assembled (and after I dried my tears from seeing the nice things Trainer said about me in her LoR), I sent off my packet for consideration.

I’ll be honest, just being on the list of names invited to apply for a spot was enough to get me shaking and giggly. We’re fairly new to this still and don’t have the same mileage as a lot of the other riders yet, so making that short list is an absolute dream come true.

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I just like to smile, smiling’s my favorite

I just heard back: they had an unexpectedly high response of individual medalists, which meant that they weren’t able to accept any wildcard applicants- but I was invited to audit.

I forgot to mention: this clinic is down in Wellington. Florida. 15 hours away. Santa had told me that if I got a spot, my presents wouldn’t be under the tree but would be a commercial shipper for Francis. While I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to go audit and get the chance to pick Richard Spooner’s brain and watch Anne Kursinski ride, I can’t really justify the expense of changing flights/hotel/etc without also getting the chance to ride.

I have a couple feelings about this:

  1. Really glad that there’s so much interest in the program. I think these types of “pipeline” programs that they’re promoting more in recent years are exactly what we need to get good talent to the top levels, and clearly competitors are responding that these are programs they like.
  2. Bummed I didn’t get a spot. I’m only human! Of course I wanted to go ride and learn!
  3. Relieved that if I didn’t get it, it wasn’t for lack of trying. I wasn’t outmatched, they liked my application, they simply did not have room. That’s entirely out of my control.
  4. At the same time, a little annoyed that they didn’t end up taking ANY wildcards. Though at least they’re rewarding the wildcards with the auditing invite plus a Q&A with Richard, so they clearly are trying to still give something to us. This is the first year they’re implementing this program so growing pains are to be expected, and they have already committed to expanding it next year.
  5. Thoughtful about my application. It asked some questions that I hadn’t really taken the time to consider before. I definitely don’t see the time spent on my application as a waste- it was a great exercise in considering where I want my future in this sport to go, and gave me a space to crystallize some thoughts I have on different aspects of the industry.
  6. Wishful that I had more funds so that I could go and audit without affecting my show fund for the rest of the season.
  7. Excited to set aside some money to clinic next year with a big name- not sure who or when yet, but now I’ve got the clinic bug and would definitely like to find one that fits my needs.
  8. Motivated to earn an individual spot on the podium so they have no excuse not to let me in next year.

OK, so that’s more than a couple feelings! I’m a complicated person, clearly.

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This guy will be the first to tell you that I’m a dang enigma sometimes

Frankie and I will be working hard to stay on their radar screen in 2018, and we’ll keep participating in as many programs as we can! If positivity and persistence count for anything (and I’m convinced they do), we’re gonna do some real cool stuff.

Paul Matthews Clinic Review: Day 2

On to day 2!

I arrived at the barn on Sunday very excited to apply what we learned on the first day. I showed up a little early so I would have time to be a human lunge line (meaning hopping on and trotting in circles 4ever) just in case PonyBeast was feeling particularly beastly again.

Thankfully, the Beast had mellowed out from a combination of hard work the previous day and shivering through the night outside. (Don’t yell at me, she had plenty of blanket on, I’m exaggerating about the shivering).

We continued our work on the flat focusing on straightness and balance, and this time Addy and I were actually able to focus on those things instead of getting into a detailed discussion of just how fast is “too fast” and why I don’t ever let her do fun things because I’m the worst mom ever.

We started out by cutting straight across the ring, being careful to square each corner and half-halt through the middle to maintain the balance. Then we started some other patterns- one of my favorite exercises was one that forced us to rethink our use of the corners in the ring and got the horses really tuned into where we were going next:

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Yeah, I know. Super professional looking.

I found this exercise immensely helpful and plan to use it often. We had to be very conscious of our outside rein around the turns to help balanced, stay very straight down the quarter lines, keep a subtle bend around the circles, and I found it to be a refreshing departure from the usual circles and turns around the ring. There were so many elements in play to make this flow smoothly and Beastly rocked it!

Moving on to canter work, we continued the trend of mixing up our patterns so the horse couldn’t anticipate and would stay tuned in and thinking about what their rider wanted. Part of this was working on relaxing through lead changes. To do this we didn’t actually do any lead changes, we used the following shape:

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Moar Paint figures!

In  this example you would start on the left lead, then go across the diagonal as if you were going to change direction. Then about 3 strides away from the wall you would turn left and continue on the left lead. The key here was maintaining absolute straightness across the diagonal and balancing around the turn using the outside rein. This got some of the automatic-swappers thinking hard and listening instead of anticipating the change. Luckily for me, Addy is indifferent to changes and just saw this as a lumpy circle.

Jumping time! We warmed up the same way as yesterday- trot pole set out in front of a small vertical, then halt in a straight line afterwards. I am pleased to report that our halts were much more civilized this time around.

Then we applied everything we had worked on so far to a mini course:

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We were to pick up a trot, then canter a circle until we were happy with the quality of the canter, then come up the gray oxer, down the outside vertical, up the yellow planks, and down the outside oxer (which I forgot to make an oxer in the diagram, so sue me). He watched us do this first and then tailored the exercise for each of us.

Since Addy was being so awesome chill and a total rockstar, our exercise was simply to halt in a straight line after each fence. Then I would do a canter circle and approach the next fence. One of the other girls would halt after each fence, then circle towards the wall before resuming the course in order to stop her horse from anticipating and getting hotter throughout the course. Another one didn’t halt at all, and worked on building up more of a gallop between fences.

We ended by doing all four jumps as a mini-course once more to see how the exercises helped. And honestly? It felt fantastic. Addy was soft and elastic in the bridle, let me balance and collect her deep into the corners, didn’t rush at the jumps, waited to the base, and came right back to me whenever I asked.

She still tried to lean in through the turns and speed up to the jumps- she is, after all, the DragonMare- but the big difference was that she listened when I corrected her. I wasn’t struggling to get through to her- she was tuned in and waiting for my cues. I couldn’t have been happier with her!

Overall thoughts on the clinic: the focus was much more on how to train the horse properly than it was on equitation. The only remarks he made on our position were related to how it affected the horse’s way of going. This may have been different in other sections, but for us the focus was clearly on the horse and how to get the best ride possible out of the horse you were on. I absolutely loved that! As you may have read in my past posts (over and over and over and over….), that’s really what I’m trying to learn at this point: how to encourage the best ride possible from Addy. I’ve already seen a huge response from Pretty Girl from these exercises and have plans to include them regularly into our work moving forward so we can continue to develop. The combination of training tips and mental training tips from the sports psychology seminar was the perfect mix for me.

Overall rating: 5 stars. Learned a TON and was worth every penny.

Paul Matthews Clinic Review: Day 1

We survived our first clinic!

So originally we were supposed to have Kip Rosenthal come and teach us how to horse, but she unfortunately came down sick and was unable to come. Thankfully my trainer is super wicked awesome and was determined to create some learning opportunities for us, so we were able to get Paul Matthews to come teach us how to horse!

My group was the smallest- four amateur adults who all do the 3′ hunters/jumpers. This ended up being FANTASTIC, as we were all able to get really tailored instruction for our particular needs.

Saturday was the first day, and the short version is that Addy was an absolute Beast. It was cold, she had excess energy, and I really should’ve lunged her around before hopping on.

Not that she was bad! Pretty Girl never does anything REALLY bad. Princess Pony just wanted to go fastfastfast all the time. So our tailored attention was mostly on getting her attention back on me instead of zooming around like a bus with the brake lines cut.

One of the most useful tips Paul gave me was to constantly half-halt and release. I know this isn’t a new concept and I’ve mentioned it before, but somehow the way he showed me and explained it made sense: my job was to half-halt her back into a nice steady rhythm, and then immediately release her mouth. As soon as she started speeding up, repeat. And repeat. And repeat forever until she develops the self-carriage to maintain her own rhythm without leaning on the bit.

Once we established a way to correct her rhythm, we focused on straightness and using our corners. He had us ride across the diagonal towards a certain point on the wall, halt, then leg yield over to the track and continue to square the corner.

Corners have always been a trouble spot for Addy and I since she likes to lean to the inside and rush, so this exercise definitely helped us develop a feel for how to balance and use our space more effectively. I also really appreciated that Paul tailored this exercise to each horse depending on what they needed to improve on- Addy and I didn’t leg yield since we were more focused on getting a prompt and straight halt. This wasn’t a one-size-fits-all clinic; Paul was very conscious to meet each individual’s training needs.

Before finishing up, we put our skills to the test over a tiny jump exercise as such:

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Trot down over the outside vertical (with trot pole set out), then canter up the diagonal oxer and either halt or continue through the corner.

Clearly this is a very simple exercise, but it definitely forced us to use what we learned during the flat session. We had to come into the trot fence balanced and collected instead of rushing so that we could square our corner afterwards. We had to maintain straightness on the track to the oxer so that we could wait for a distance and then land using the corner again.

Paul had me incorporate halts into my exercise so Addy would stop rushing and anticipating. So I would halt in a straight line after the outside vertical, and then turn left towards the wall. He had us doing this (turning towards the wall) pretty frequently to stop the horses from thinking they can just continue on around the track non-stop. After turning left towards the wall we walked a tiny circle twice, then straightened out, trotted, cantered a circle, THEN continued on to the oxer.

Paul didn’t want us doing walk-canter transitions because Addy is already a very forward-thinking horse and he wanted more deliberate transitions. Addy has a tendency to kinda explode up into the canter and he wanted me to show her that upwards transitions should be calm.

So the short version of our day 1 session: Addy was a zoomzoom beast, but I was glad she did that because we learned SO MUCH about how to correct that and start asking more of her. By the end she had settled into working and we were definitely improving our use of the ring and our rhythm at all gaits.

One of the really great things about this clinic was that we had a sports psychology seminar that evening with Dr. Ann Reilly- author of A Sport Psychology Wordbook for Riders. I don’t know about you, but I find that the mental aspect of riding tends to be my biggest hurdle. Am I physically capable of riding a horse over a 3’3″ oxer? Absolutely. Do I sometimes psych myself out and convince myself that I can’t do it? All the freakin’ time.

So I was definitely looking forward to this and it didn’t disappoint! We started off by talking about all the different ways riders tend to psych themselves out and shift to negative thinking, and she reassured us that everyone feels this way- from novice beginners all the way up to the Olympic level. Then we talked about some ways to counteract this negative thinking and shift ourselves back into a positive frame of mind. Some of the big takeaways here were:

  • Don’t ignore mental preparation on show day. You’ve put in the training and you’ve prepared your horse, so you should also devote time to preparing yourself.
  • Nutrition is important! Low blood sugar and dehydration cause a physical response that heightens your nerves and adrenaline. Even if you don’t like riding on a full stomach, forcing down a PowerBar and some water can make a world of difference.
  • Focus on the positives. Watch videos of yourself riding a course well. If you have a sub-par round, watch it with your trainer so that you can identify the technical corrections you need to make, but don’t dwell on those. Dwell on the successes.
  • Keep your perspective. If you flubbed a jump badly, thats OK. So you flubbed a jump. That has zero bearing on how you’ll do as you continue forward.
  • Eliminate “should have” from your vocabulary. Saying “I should have done this differently” has no value. The past is the past.
  • Deep breathing (in through your nose and out through your mouth) while counting backwards from 50 on every exhale can be very relaxing and centering. Do this when you start to feel frazzled.
  • Use positive statements instead of “don’t” statements. Instead of saying “I don’t want to add in that line,” say “I will make the strides in that line.”
  • Write down what you want to happen over and over. The act of putting pen to paper and physically seeing your goals helps train your mind to see them as attainable.
  • Make friends with your ring. If you’re at a show, go walk around the perimeter of the ring, study the jumps, and visualize riding your course until you feel like you’ve already ridden it a thousand times.

We ended the session with a guided visualization of a show day. She took us through everything from arriving at the showgrounds to completing two courses and everything in between. This is definitely a technique I’ll be using to prepare for shows.

I appreciated that she was able to specifically address problems unique to riders because she’s a rider herself! Using the techniques we discussed certainly helped me on day 2 of the clinic.

Stay tuned to hear more about Day 2! (Spoiler alert: It. Was. Awesome.)

PS- if you follow me on Instagram or we’re friends on Facebook you already know this, but I BOUGHT A SADDLE!!! It’s a buffalo leather Antares Contact, 17.5″ with 5A flaps (yes that’s the longest flap they make). Believe it or not, it was the first and only saddle I tried. The saddle fitter basically looked me up and down and pulled out the exact saddle we needed #voodoomagic. It fits Addy like a glove- I don’t even need to use a half pad and she was moving happily with zero soreness- and my giraffe legs fit in it. I’ve never ridden in a saddle that fits my legs. It’s magical. Apparently when my leg has somewhere to go, it goes in the right spot! I’m actually convinced this saddle has cured a bunch of my bad habits. And man oh man is it grippy. I’m in love with it. It’s used, so the leather is super buttery soft and broken in, and the color is just gorgeous. I feel super secure in it! This weekend was a trial by fire (two hours of riding each on Saturday and Sunday) and it remained comfortable the entire time. The only thing left to do with it is replace the brass nameplate to reflect its new owner! Thinking I may get one of those little metal monograms instead of a brass plate- thoughts?