OK Showoff

Recently, Franklin has been a downright pleasure to ride.

Don’t get me wrong, the Big Man has always been a joy and I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every ride with him. Even the “meh” rides with him always have something redeeming for me to focus on.

But for a while, it was a different type of enjoyment. It was a developing kind of enjoyment, where I had the satisfaction of knowing that we were building skills together and helping each other learn new ways of doing things. Tackling new challenges to push our limits and improve. We were in that mode basically since day 1, mastering new skills  and heights and then looking for the next one to push for.

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Bigger jumps, wider jumps, harder striding

As you know, we’re keeping things a little easier lately. We’ve put the jumps back down to 1m or lower, we’re competing less, and we’re not aiming at any particular goal right now. We’re not pushing that hard for new skills or heights, we’re working diligently to be better at the ones already solidly in our toolbox.

And Frankie completely and totally gets it. I haven’t had to explain anything for him lately. There has been no learning curve or delay while we both try to figure out what the right answer is. He has promptly understood and delivered every. single. thing. I’ve asked him to do.

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Me: Go be cute. Francis: U MEAN LIKE DIS

A few major examples that pop into my mind are from recent lessons. A few weeks ago, he warmed up beautifully – softly and happily, really just lovely. While that may be pleasant to flat, historically that translates to a weak and underpowered jump from him. At shows we joke that if he’s too happy in the warmup, we need to ruin his day a little bit to get him fired up enough for our round. So I was prepared to have to wrestle with him a bit during our first course to get him firing on all cylinders.

Imagine my surprise when he was forward, adjustable, listening, and jumping extremely well. No need to ruin his day at all. I think this was partially due to me providing more proactive support (albeit in anticipation of needing to provide more), but I do think it’s at least partially his own knowledge and fitness being at the point where his job makes sense to him. There is a definite sense of things “clicking” for him lately, where it used to take a bit longer for him to fully understand the rules of the game.

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Don’t let these happy ears fool you, historically he really only jumps well when he’s mad

And this past week, we were schooling a diagonal line to a bending line. Trainer didn’t tell me the striding, so the first time we went through and it rode in a very comfortable, slightly flowing 4 to a 5. Very easy.

You all know that Trainer doesn’t like when things are too easy, so of course she asked me to go back through and school the add. Do it in a 5 to a 6. You all also know that the add has always been a tough sell for Frankie – it’s hard to get that big body compressed and powerful enough!

So I approached the line, sat him down to collect him, got a really wonderfully collected carousel horse canter, got him to the base, and asked him to fit it in.

And this beast went and did it in 6. And then bent out in 7, and then happily kicked up to a hand gallop for our next fence.

That’s right, folks. We got the elusive double add.

Honestly having this much adjustability feels like a bit too much power and responsibility for me, but I’m tickled pink that he understands that cue so well now and is able to execute it so well. Seeing his thinking ears and then seeing him be so proud of himself at every “Good man!!” is a different and wonderful kind of joy.

At the end of the day I’m happy if Frankie is happy, and seeing him blossom under the praise for a job well done is just what I said above – a downright pleasure.

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My sweet sweet angel boy

Riding the Choo-Choo Train to Awesometown

Guys.

Hey, Guys.

I am on cloud nine. Everything is so awesome. We had seriously SUCH an amazing lesson!!

Let’s get started: I hopped on as the lesson before me was wrapping up so we could walk around and stretch out our muscles. Once our lesson kicked off, we did lots and lots of trot work- two point, no stirrups, sitting trot, extended trot, all of that. My legs were burning but in a totally satisfying kind of way. I’ve been wearing my tall boots for lessons lately, and I have to say that they actually give me more support and help me hold my leg more than my half chaps. Weird.

We moved up into canter, and it was absolutely civilized! I suspect that has something to do with my half-halts getting more sophisticated, so it’s easier for her to listen. But then we started doing canter-trot transitions. Whoo boy. Those are top of the homework list right there. Addy gets so riled up because she wants to move back up into her canter, and we turn into a lovely giraffe stampeding around the ring. Wish I had a picture to show you, because she seriously turns into a parade pony.

But we worked past that and went through some ground poles (she only jumped them the first two times through, she’s learning!!) and then started warming up over a crossrail. Crossrail turned into a mini grid- just ground poles to a crossrail to a vertical/oxer- which she went through in her sleep, and then we were ready for our course! Behold:

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Never fear, mon amie, we will review this together. You can see part of this course in my latest Instagram post over in the sidebar!

Check this out! Super cool course, right?? We started out by just doing 1-6, and then separately doing 7-12; they’re simply mirror images of each other. But then to bump up the difficulty, we glued the two together for the monstrosity you see before you.

Here’s how it went: trot poles into the crossrail/oxer grid, turn right at the end and come back to trot to the bending green crossrail to red in three strides, up the pink to white in three, come back to trot to loop around over the bounce. Repeat in the mirror image (grid, left to do the white crossrail to pink in three, up the red to yellow in three, loop around over the bounce).

I think the diagram makes this look more complicated than it was, but the symmetry made it really easy to remember.

Remember our chat about deliberate riding last week?? Yesterday, my friends, was true deliberate riding. Let’s go through it step by step.

The grid was off a tight balancing turn but was set up for a big stride, so the timing there was tricky; we wanted to be nice and packaged through the turn up the centerline, but as soon as we hit the trot poles we needed to open up. Once that oxer in the back went up, it became even more important to be carrying a pace. The horses built up down the centerline, so I added in a halt at the end so Addy wouldn’t anticipate the turn. If you notice just how close to the rail the green crossrail is, you’ll realize that there is absolutely no time for a square turn there, so we sliced it going towards our next jump. This made the conservative three strides in there a VERY tight three strides, so we had to sit back and make it work. Then we had to package back up into a bouncy canter for the conservative three strides up the diagonal line, after which I added another halt since Addy turned into an excited snowplow. Then a sitting trot to loop around and get nice and straight to our bounce. Then do it all the other way!

Ermegerd this course was so much fun. Here’s what I mean by deliberate riding- Little Miss Go-Button over here wanted to charge all over the course and call the shots, which simply would not work with such tight turns and small striding. Baby Girl needed to listen to me and I needed to communicate very clearly exactly what I expected. And I’m squealing now because I actually managed to do that!

The grid was very easy; we had a nice balanced approach and you know by now that Addy has zero problem opening up her stride when asked. She wasn’t thrilled about the halt at the end, but she obliged. We trotted into the crossrail off the rail, then went to our pink AND PRETTY PONY DUCKED OUT. But instead of losing my nerve and letting her get away with it, she did not get to go past the jump (our trainer says that if the horse gets past the jump without going over it, they win. We both need to be winners, not just her) and I booted her over it from a walk. Before I get cries of “abuse!” you should know that it was a baby crossrail, she could absolutely jump it from a walk, and I gave her plenty of release. So there.

Anyways, we went back and tried that bending line again, and this time she didn’t even hesitate. She did land in a bit of a heap towards home, so I packaged her up around the short end for the diagonal line. For the first time, packaging her up actually worked to get this amazing bouncy canter, and you know what was different? I added leg. I added SO much leg. My legs are still shaky. But that’s what she needed! By wrapping my leg around her and giving her that support, she was able to balance herself much more easily and collect. It clicked! The diagonal line was very simple, but I asked for a halt in that corner to keep Addy from anticipating. Then it was a little baby trot, adding leg to keep her straight through the loop, and bounce on out. After which we did a big victory gallop because Pretty Girl reeeeally wanted to run around.

On every stride of this course, I felt like I was calling the shots. I started to feel that way last week, but this was a whole new level. I wasn’t perched on top hoping that Addy would take care of me (which she always has and I know she would)- I was the leader and an active partner in our work. Addy, of course, was thrilled that I had pulled my head out of my butt and actually contributed something.

Even better, I got such positive feedback from my trainer. She said that I should be really proud of the ride I put in, and that this is the strongest she’s seen me ride yet. Aahhhhh! I almost started tearing up when she said that. We’ve been working so hard together and feeling so good, and hearing that someone else can see us clicking was incredible. Hence the cloud nine.

I can’t wait to get back on and keep movin’ and improvin’.

Any tips for staying balanced and calm in canter-trot transitions? What do you do if your horse is building too much in the middle of a course?