Star Lord and Abraham Lincoln

Frankie has earned both of these names so far this week.

You know those rides where everything seems to go right? Where you get consistency and straightness and fantastic effort and a whole bunch of things you’ve been working on start clicking into place and you feel like “wow, I’m actually a halfway decent rider” and stars and rainbows flash  before your eyes?

And you know those rides where your horse truly has to earn his oats by packing your butt around, because your body flails around and you can’t half-halt to save your life and don’t see a distance ever and your leg is swinging back and forth like you’re doing the hokey-pokey and you start to think “oh my god I am terrible at this sport” and the poop emoji flashes before your eyes?

Have you ever had both of those rides, one day after the other? BECAUSE THIS WEEK HAS ALREADY BEEN A ROLLERCOASTER FOR ME.

I’ll start with the hearts and stars ride: Monday. Things are quiet with half the barn gone to Florida, so I ended up having the whole ring to myself. Obviously this meant it was time to play some tunes.

Pro tip: the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 album not only has great tunes on it, but is almost exactly 45 minutes. AKA perfect for my warm up-work-cool down session I had planned. 10/10, would recommend.

awesome mix.gif

I spent a good amount of time just asking for a forward trot on a very loose rein. I used that time to do some of my own exercises- half set, stand straight up, no stirrups, etc. All Frankie had to do was stay forward and straight, and he could stretch down as much as he wanted. Being a peanut roller at heart, Francis took full advantage of this and dragged his nose through the dirt around the ring.

Once we were both limbered up and moving out, I started to ask for a bit more connection. And a bit more. And as I worked all sorts of different patterns and did extensions-collections around the ring, I slowly picked him up more and more.

Um. My horse is HANDSOME. Turns out that when I take my time and really warm him up to it, we get amazingly consistent steady contact with lift, good bend throughout his body, sensitivity to the aids, and all over unicorn status. Engaging all his muscles and he felt STRONG.

muscle-strong
v v strong

Canter work was equally fantastic- our collections actually had some OOMPH to them. And then our transitions! Our downwards transitions are notoriously dull and not-so-prompt. But on Monday, they were crisp and forward into the transition and UGH SO GOOD. Basically every step Francis took on Monday was complete magic.

baby-groot
sweet, sweet magic

I felt like the next Danny Emerson, I am such a genius amazing and watch me coax this wonderful flatwork out of my boy. I had completely lost track of time and was so caught up in our work, I felt so energized! And then I hopped off and realized OMG OW MY BODY OH LORD HELP ME. Because it turns out that asking for all this great work required crazy core engagement and strong legs. I just hadn’t noticed at the time because I was so excited about our work.

flatwork_mon
Clearly you can tell how great he was from our mirror selfie.

Which brings us to Tuesday: lesson day with the guest trainer. Let me start us off with the last thing he said to me as I left the ring post-lesson:

“You have a very honest horse there. He saves you a lot, doesn’t he? Maybe you should help him out more.”

And that’s a very accurate assessment of how that lesson went: Frankie was his usual sweet self, and I could. Not. Do. Anything. Like, at all.

dancing-potato

This is not to say that we had a totally tragic lesson and I ruined my horse- we certainly had some good moments in there and as mentioned, Frankie went really well.

But honestly, I haven’t ridden this poorly in months. My legs hung there uselessly instead of supporting, my core was a marshmallow so my half-halts were literally nothing, my heels were up-down-sideways-everywhere, I was hunched and crooked and chased my horse at jumps and then picked to the base and holy crap. It was like ok maybe things are going well PSYCH I am awful.

potato-face

It was a shame, because I really liked the exercise this trainer had us work through: a few rollbacks, a few bending lines, a few singles on a long approach, and then a triple combo, all set low and all done in both directions. It was great for asking a variety of questions of the horses without being terribly complicated. Frankie rocked it without my help.

So chalk it up to soreness, chalk it up to laziness, chalk it up to nerves in front of a new trainer, chalk it up to whatever you want: I was a bag person up top. As in, I looked like I was created entirely out of burlap bags.

Ah well. Tons of pats for pony, and we’ll try again later.

potato-vodka

 

Make That Booty Werk

Oh man, guys. We are asking Francis to work his butt a little harder and it’s really really fun. It’s so noticeable how much these different exercises are encouraging him to use his body better and I’m pretty giddy about riding him and feeling him get better and better.

I headed to the barn on Monday planning on a pretty decent flatwork session, but didn’t have a big plan for what we would work on- my go-to right now is transitions since ours need sharpening for sure. But Assistant Trainer was there and set up a bunch of ground poles, so pole-day it was!

Plus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all (I mean honestly, nothing bothers him let’s be real here), so I never worry about him trying to back off or speed through poles.

Minus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all, so he’s not awfully concerned about keeping track of his feet.

So my role in this partnership as we trotted through was to keep my leg on to generate the impulsion, and then keep a steady hand for balance. The following pattern was set up in the ring, along with a few single poles on the diagonal that I didn’t include, so sue me:

feb_canter-poles

The poles along the long side were a simple exercise: forward and straight. The poles in the corner made it so you could stay out and put a few more steps in between the two, or stay closer in and push for fewer steps. We alternated a couple times between the two, trying to find the right balance of pressing up while keeping a consistent rhythm.

canter_poles
OH DEAR GOD FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL

And then it was time to canter the poles! We started with 3 in a row set to bounce them, then added more and more until we were bouncing through all six in a row. The corner exercise remained, where we could either put one full stride between the two, or stay in and bounce them around the turn.

So I don’t know about you guys, but I have a weird anxious energy about ground pole exercises. I would 100% rather put the jumps up to any height instead of having to canter poles on the ground. Luckily Frankie does not share this anxiety, and was really really good throughout these exercises in both directions.

I did have to take a bit firmer contact so that he didn’t try to get flat through the bounces- they were set a little shorter than he would’ve liked, which was FANTASTIC for sitting him down on his butt to push. And that corner exercise forced him to pay attention to where his hind feet were doing as he pushed out of the turn. It definitely helped force a little of that “explode out of the turn” feeling we’re always trying to develop.

After working through this a couple times each direction, I could feel Frankie pick himself up and soften onto my hand. It was a very very cool feeling to have that elastic energy under me to play with.

Then on Tuesday we had our lesson! Fairly basic warmup on the flat, then we did some more canter poles, set on the quarter line as a one stride-bounce-one stride exercise. We needed a lot more power from behind to have the energy for this- Trainer played Flight of the Bumblebees for me as I went through as a reminder to get that canter more active. In other news, I now demand a soundtrack for every exercise.

Trainer then slowly built up each element of the gymnastic until it looked like this:

feb_gymnastic

Placing pole, crossrail, one stride, crossrail bounce, one stride, oxer out.

The rule was trot in then press out. This was tough for Frankie! As a not-super-fiery kinda dude, he really didn’t want to work hard through this, especially when the jumps were little. We had to play around with our pace coming in- I wanted to help him out by pressing forward in, but then he inevitably put in a canter step before takeoff. I had to be very conscious to get a nice short powerful trot in and then SQUEEZE through the rest of the exercise to get him going.

We then added a halt after the oxer, with the goal being to halt in a straight line. This took three tries! Frankie really was NOT expecting to have to stop so soon after opening up for that oxer. The goal with this was to be able to go from a short powerful trot, to bigger powerful canter, back to a halt very quickly: pushing the range of adjustability that we’re looking for. We love that Frankie is not a sensitive horse for so many reasons, but we do want him sensitive enough to react to my adjustments more quickly than he currently does.

This exercise actually went much more smoothly once the last oxer went up in height, forcing Frankie to pay attention. Once he realized he could go big jumpiez he perked right up and carried me through the grid with less work on my part.

And the last time through the grid felt SO good. I didn’t have to work to push him through because he had great up-and-down- energy to adjust himself. And that last oxer, OMG. He picked his back up and used his neck and rounded up and over the jump, and really jumped up to me instead of me having to presspresspress across it. I wish I had a pic of that jump because it honestly felt like one of the best efforts he’s ever given me. You should’ve seen the big fat grin on my face 😀

It was also cool to feel him develop that same elasticity over the course of the lesson- he really picked his poll up and sought the contact, and started asking me for forward instead of the other way around. I honestly think he likes his job a lot- he’s kinda a slug on the flat and when the jumps are little, but when we raise the expectations he starts getting excited about his work. Gawd he’s so cool.

As previously mentioned, the barn heads down to Florida this weekend! Luckily, Trainer has found someone to come in and teach lessons while she is gone- it’s been a long time since I trained with someone else, so I’m excited to see what new perspectives he’ll have for us. And of course, I’m excited to share with you.

Other random exciting news: Trainer is expanding the outdoor ring even more than she had originally planned, and the footing has been ordered. It looks like Memorial Day is the target completion date for the whole project and I am SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED. It’ll be totally amazeballs to have a nice big ring to set some nice big jumps in 😉 I’ll have to start taking some progress pics so you can see the transformation.

Do you have any go-to groundpole exercises?

Much Needed

As you could likely tell from my post the other day, I wasn’t in the best spot mentally. I also hadn’t ridden my horse in three days. HMMM I WONDER IF THERE WAS A CONNECTION THERE.

I showed up to my lesson this week and warned Trainer: “I’m probs rockin’ a low grade fever, and I may start crying for no reason. Just a quick heads up.” Being used to my various mental gymnastics, Trainer just rolled with it and said she would give me other things to focus on. She’s the best ever.

I was actually a little curious about what Frankie would be like when I pulled him out- he hadn’t been ridden in three days, hadn’t been turned out in two, was body clipped over the weekend, and the temperature had dropped by a lot. Kinda  perfect recipe for freshness. I knew he wouldn’t be wild because that’s not in his wheelhouse, but I expected a few small shenanigans.

 

25
THE FACE OF A NATURAL BORN KILLER

And he offered such big misbehavior: he walked off from the mounting block as I was getting my stirrups, before I told him to walk off. WOAH THERE WILD PONY, CALM YOURSELF. No seriously though, he was absolutely perfectly behaved the whole time. Love love LOVE my steady Eddie.

We’ve been playing a lot with different lateral movements lately and how to adjust our contact depending on our needs, and we continued that work. Lots of shifting the contact from indirect/direct outside and inside reins around smaller circles, and how we can use that to encourage the bend through his whole body. Weirdly enough, when I managed a more correct, steady contact, he instantly rounded onto the bit and stepped under. Strange how that works, right??

We then started playing around with canter half-passes. And I say playing around because they were nowhere near an actual half-pass. But sucking at something is the first step at not sucking at something! We ended up taking a step back from this to work on our haunches-in at the canter on a small circle to develop that type of motion- lots of balancing on the outside rein, getting that outside leg back to push his bum over. Not perfect by any stretch, but we had our moments and I could really feel it when we got it. I think as I learn how to ask more accurately this will come together, because Frankie was really listening and trying to figure out what I wanted.

All this lateral work has been FANTASTIC for us. Honestly this wasn’t even on my radar, but Trainer has been pushing us and introducing these movements and it’s really noticeable in our jumping work- turns come up more balanced and I’m much more able to place his body exactly where I want it.

Next step, canter pirouettes, amiright? Seriously though, we’re getting some really nice dressage buttons installed on him and he’s been super trainable for all of it. Hooray for versatile pony!

On to the jumping work! We kept the jumps low and worked on a gymnastic type exercise, as seen here:

nov_gymnastic

We started by trotting in-cantering out each bending line in 6 strides (1-2 and 1-3). Then trotting in-cantering out each way in 5 strides by moving up to the base.

Then we did this exercise in 5 strides cantering in both ways for the add step: 1-2-3-1, and 1-3-2-1. Like a teardrop pattern.  Then cantering in and doing all lines in 6. Hear that? We totally did the double add!! And it actually looked like we did it on purpose instead of landing and two strides later saying OH CRAP and hauling back and breaking to trot and then almost stopping and then lumping over the jump. Because, you know, that’s totally never happened or anything.

This time when I mashed him together, he actually came up rounder and gave some real collection of his stride without losing impulsion. And it made him jump more carefully, even over the smaller jumps. As Trainer says- he doesn’t care about the small jumps because they’re not hard, so we have to make him care by creating the impulsion and pushing him up to the base.

We’re working on adjustability no matter how we get into the line- it might not be the perfect distance in, but I have to keep my leg on and believe in the base and mash him together for the stride length I’m asking for. A common theme lately: recover faster after every jump. Still in progress, but it’s definitely improved from a few weeks ago.

I’m pretty sure that next week we’ll be schooling the liverpool for the first time in case we run into it at the show- here’s to hoping that isn’t the one thing that bothers Frankie! I’ll try to get media too, it’s totally a bucket list thing for me to jump that liverpool (Trainer’s is M-A-S-S-I-V-E).

Any tips as we work to install the half-pass?

Fancy Flatwork and Curvy Courses

 

How many of you guys watched Harrisburg this past weekend? Man, the course diagram looked fairly simple but it did NOT ride simply.

pessoa_medal_course

Not a ton of jumps, but those end oxers were TOUGH, and the bending combo too. Plus getting the same strides from 5/8 to the combo in both directions. This course seriously asked some hard questions and the kids who ended up on top had to work their butts off to get there.

Naturally, my trainer returned from Harrisburg inspired to inflict this same course on her students. Which brings me to our lesson this week. Which I am still sore from.

For a change, I’m actually going to talk about our flatwork for more than 10 seconds, since we worked on it a LOT this week. I mean, we always do, but this was some next level stuff.

Trot work: I have gotten better about offering a consistent, steady contact to Frankie, and now it’s his job to take that contact and meet me halfway. It was interesting- he’s always been stronger at connecting to the outside rein going to the left, but I felt more connected going to the right this week. My suspicion is that my monster right leg is the culprit here- it’s so much stronger than my left leg, it isn’t even funny.

Trainer had me drop my stirrups and work at the sitting trot for a GOOD long time to help me sit deeper and develop a better feel for Frankie’s movement. Lots of big circles, small circles, counter-bending to the correct bend, shoulder-in down the long side. I’m still working on keeping more still and connected when asking for that shoulder-in, but Frankie was very obliging about giving it to me when I asked properly. Now I just have to ask properly more! We focused a lot on straightness, power from behind up into the bridle, and getting him moving off my leg.

Canter work: homeboy doesn’t get to take a couple flail-y steps to move from the walk to the canter. After a couple sloppy departs, we were able to sharpen these up. We also worked heavily on our canter-walk transitions, with the intent of stepping under and moving into a nice flowing forward walk.

We still have a ways to go to get these truly sharp, but there’s definite progress there. We used to coast down half the long side and ooze into a shuffling walk and we’ve definitely cut down the time it takes. I need to remember to sit tall and engage my core when asking for the downwards so Frankie can’t lean on my hand and dive down.

Here’s a clip of some of our flatwork:

Some things I need to work on position-wise that will help Frankie out, but super proud of my boy for putting his thinking cap on and working so hard!

On to the jumping. And guys. It was a doozie. Here’s the diagram:

oct_medal_course

First course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3. Overshooting the turn to 2 and slicing that left to right gave a little more room to the turn to 3. Barely. Woof.

Second course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3, bending 4a to 4b in one stride, out over 5 in two strides.

This added a challenge over 3- I had to stay very straight so that there was room to turn to 4. Then it was a big one-stride, so we had to cowboy out of that turn to gallop out the 1 to the 2. Still woof.

Full course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3, bending 4a to 4b in one, bending out over 5 in two, immediate right turn over 6, hairpin left over 7, up 5 the other way, bending in two to 4a, then two strides to 4b, turn right over 3 the other way, then loop back over 2 the other way.

HOLY BAJEESUS. The first part rode the same, then 6 and 7 came up decently. It was a bit gallopy from 7 back to 5, then had to really shape and press for the 2 strides to the combo. Then fitting two strides in there was HARD. We really had to shape that combo.

The first time through I accidentally put 3 strides between 5 and the combo, which made the two-stride much easier to fit in. Apparently that counts as cheating though, so we had to go back and make it a two to a two.

So yeah. A very challenging course modeled after the questions asked in the Harrisburg course.

Thoughts on the jumping: my auto release is getting there. It still isn’t muscle memory, but it felt like an improvement from last time. I also felt stronger in my leg- again, not completely where it needs to be yet, but progress. Frankie is jumping more cleanly when I support him better and get him to that tighter spot. Overall: we’re making steady progress together.

What needs work now is my mindset. If the distance isn’t coming up easily, I have a tendency to kinda give up and say “Frankie take the wheel.” I need to trust myself more and MAKE the striding happen. Frankie isn’t always right. He might not be thrilled about the tighter spot, but that’s what we need to jump powerfully and cleanly. He’s not going to get offended or fussy if I ride more actively, so I need to be a nosy pepper. Imma get jalapeno business.

And then best boy got a bath because apparently 82 degrees in October is a thing this year.

october_bath
He might actually be a moose instead of a horse, need to get the DNA test done.

A few side notes as we wrap up here:

Send manfriend your questions! He’s really excited to share with all y’all. You can also feel free to send questions to me directly, on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Which brings me to some fun news:

We now have a Facebook page! That was pretty much the last thing on the social media to-do list for the blog, so go check it out and follow along for yet ANOTHER way to get your daily dose of Francis. Also please tell me what you usually share on Facebook and how you manage all your social media accounts and general tips on time-management and how to be an adult OK thanks.

What kind of lateral work do you like to incorporate to get your horse moving off your leg?

Guest Post: Frankie’s Godmother

Jenn hasn’t blogged for a while, but she has been extremely active in her role as Frankie’s fairy godmother. We finally got her down for a visit so she could hop on and play around with him, and here’s what she had to say!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Greetings blog land! It’s been a minute since you heard from me last, but I need to share my firsthand experience of riding Franklin(/Frankie/Francis/To Be Frank) when I visited Olivia and her roommate last weekend.

I was super excited to re-meet Francis, since I had only briefly seen him go when Olivia tried him for the first time. We both loved him from the first minute, but I (obviously) didn’t get to sit on him that weekend, and the trial ride wasn’t terribly long. So when Olivia told me I could flat Frankie around during my visit, I was really excited! He’s probably one of the nicest horses I’ve sat on, and while I love me some Roger, I was really looking forward to getting a feel for Olivia’s horse-child.

Olivia hopped on him first for approximately 6 minutes, and then we jacked up the stirrups and I climbed aboard. Though he’s 17h, I don’t think he rides quite that large. In other words, I don’t feel like an ineffective munchkin sitting on him, although I’m sure I looked like one!

Frankie is suuuuuuuper wiggly at the walk, which is surprising, given his training level and age, so that took a minute to get used to. The wiggly walk is almost comical, because it’s definitely NOT indicative of his trot or canter. I picked up the trot, and once I got used to the forwardness, it was really fun! Frankie definitely has a metronome trot, and is easily adjustable with a half-halt or a tiny spur. Homeboy can go all day every day at the same speed, and will only stop when you tell him to, but you don’t feel like he’s running away with you either.

While I was figuring him out, I was able to get some nice work out of him in a frame, and I wish we had gotten video of it because it felt amazing! He needs a little help in the corners with keeping that shoulder where it belongs, but other than that, Frankie is really fun to trot around.

jenn_frankie
The lone screenshot. And it’s blurry. I, Olivia, am a disappointing turnip when it comes to documenting anything

I brought him back down to a walk, and then Olivia advised me about how best to pick up the correct canter lead…basically, just set him up with a little haunches-in and inside bend, and outside leg, and BOOM correct lead. I made sure to ask in the corner just for some added help, but Frankie was totally on point and we got the correct leads both times. Olivia says he’s slightly weaker to the right, but Frankie isn’t green or inexperienced by any stretch of the imagination and once I picked up the canter I couldn’t tell which side was slightly weaker.

Now, I adore Roger’s canter and think it’s really comfortable, but ohhhh man, Frankie might give Roger a run for his money. Frankie’s canter is super easy to sit and covers a lot of ground, but again, you never feel like you’re getting run away with, or like he’s unbalanced or flailing around. I can see what Olivia means by easily seeing distances from his canter; you can set a metronome to it and you’d always know where you were in the ring, and while I didn’t jump him at all, I can see how he’s easy and fun to jump around with that lovely canter.

Francis is a super fun guy; totally willing to do whatever you ask and will stay in cruise control in whatever gait unless he’s told otherwise. He’s definitely NOT spooky or easily distracted, and he loves attention and will stand cross-tied forever if you let him. He has great muscling and is SO SHINY, and he’s totally a love bug…Olivia jokes that he’s the horse version of a golden retriever.

I’m really glad I got the chance to hop on Frankie, and I can’t wait to hear about their show at HITS this weekend!

Puttering

This may be one of my favorite words that Danny Emerson uses. Puttering. He uses this to describe his way of slowly, calmly asking the horse to work a little bit harder. And then backing off. And then asking again a little bit. And if something goes wrong, taking a minute to relax before trying again. No rush, no pressure, no angst.

We’ve been puttering, and I gotta say that it’s been fantastic.

The hot weather has hit Virginia like a wrecking ball, and I am a wussy sissy baby that IMMEDIATELY got hit with heat stroke- complete with nausea, fever, chills, and headaches for like 3 days straight. NOT HANDLING THIS WELL.

natsgame
Culprit: Baseball game. TOO HOT.

But once I recovered enough to get back in the saddle, I found Frankie eager to work. Me? Not so much. So we had to come to an agreement: working hard enough to satisfy Frankie’s need for activity, while keeping things light enough to satisfy my need to NOT FAINT WHY IS IT THIS HUMID. A delicate balance.

buddy_cops
Coming soon to theaters: One of them was a salty veteran of the police force. The other was a rookie cop with no respect. wHaT wAcKy AdVeNtUrEs WiLl ThEy GeT iNtO nExT?!?!11/?!

Our agreement has been longer sessions of lower impact flatwork. Lots of walk breaks, lots of work at the walk and trot, frequent water breaks, and lots of exercises to engage the PonyBrain- we’re playing games together and mixing up our usual walk-trot-sitting trot- no stirrup work-canter-walk routine.

It’s looking more like this:

Walk a bunch. Both directions. Leave the ring and walk some more. Spiral and wiggle all over the ring and outside the ring. Enjoy the fact that Frankie neck-reins.

Pick up a contact. Just a light one, not asking for much yet. Start trotting around to stretch out and get muscles moving.

Come back to a walk. Drop the contact. Pick up the contact. Drop the contact. Pick it back up. Drop it again.

Lots of figures at the trot. Half seat, posting, sitting, standing straight up, drop stirrups, pick them back up. Go from a longer contact to a more packaged contact. Lengthen, collect, lengthen, collect.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Lateral work at the walk and trot, mostly off the rail. Get that hind end tuned into my leg and get him thinking about where all four feet are going.

Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Canter. Do some circles, do some simple changes, do some canter-walk-canter-trot-canter-walk transitions, ask for collection, ask for lengthening.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Trot around on a nice long rein so Frankie can stretch out. Then pick him up again. Then stretch out. Then pick him up. Then stretch out.

Walk. Do some more figures.

Leave the ring. Wander the property.

This low-pressure puttering has been absolutely wonderful for us. Walking on a contact used to mean jigging and anticipation, and now it means that we’re playing the Contact Game. By the time we’re done all I have to do is shift my weight and take a light feel, and Frankie shifts his weight back, rounds up, steps under, and works harder. And that’s with a feather light touch.

breastplate
Unrelated: new breastplate! Because more leather straps is what we were missing in our life.

If I don’t like the transition I got, we just try again. No fuss, we just try again until we get it right and then we throw a party. Those canter-walk transitions are still not where they need to be, but we’re definitely closer than we were before.

By the ends of our rides, I’ve gotten a horse who is soft and majorly adjustable- almost more so than I know how to handle. He’s sensitive to my leg to the point where I can get his shoulders straight, right, left. His hind end straight, right, left. Bent, counter-bent, long contact, or higher and rounder. Moving off my leg even when I’m not intentionally telling him something (oops).

At the ends of these rides I have a horse that is lathered in sweat- it’s hot out and he’s been working hard. But I also have a happy horse with pricked ears who wants to keep going. I’m not moseying back to the barn with a tired horse- we’re marching back with plenty of energy to spare because we’ve worked hard and it felt good.

I can’t always take this kind of time with him- have you seen the warmup ring at a show lately?- but I plan to keep taking this time when I can. It’s gotten us working together as a team, developing our muscles together, and kept us both fresh and having fun even in this Godforsaken wasteland of a climate.

Who knew puttering could be so productive?

What approach do you take when the heat hits?

Weekly/Daily Schedules

Woohoo for schedules! When I first got Frankie I was a little lost- I get to ride whenever I want??? (Seriously Olivia what did you think happens when you own a horse). I’m a creature that craves structure, so I came up with the following: a tentative outline for our rides for the week, and a tentative outline for our hacks. There will likely never be a full week that we go with this schedule, and I doubt we will ever stick to my hour-long outline perfectly, but that’s ok! This is just to help guide me to make sure Frankie is getting worked consistently without being over-taxed, and we’re working on what we need to work on.

frankie_napping
POOR THING IS EXHAUSTED AT 4PM ON A SATURDAY AFTER WORKING FOR 20 MINUTES ON FRIDAY OH NO SO OVERWORKED

Weekly Schedule

Sunday– Fun day. Trail ride, bareback, etc. Clean and condition tack
Monday– Hard hack, 1 hr. Check everything for wear and needed repairs
Tuesday– Day off
Wednesday– Lesson (jumping)
Thursday– Light hack (30 min) just to stretch legs OR fun day. Clean and condition tack.
Friday– Hard hack (1 hr)
Saturday– Medium hack (45 min). Tidy up trunk.

Summary: Frankie is in work 6 days a week, one of which is jumping and the rest with varying levels of intensity. I talked to my trainer about the frequency of riding and we agreed that he’s in fantastic shape (shout out to his eventing barn for doing conditioning sets with him!) and this type of schedule will work well to maintain muscle without over-stressing him. I’ll be taking any opportunity to get outside the ring for any of these days- we often use a big turnout to hack in, there are lots of trails nearby, etc. Once we start showing on the weekends he will get time off after each show to recover.

I wipe down my tack after every ride, but they get more thorough TLC 2x a week. My trunk is pretty neat and I intend to keep it that way, and especially now that blanket season is over it’s pretty quick to give my gear the once-over for any problems showing up.

And before I forget to mention- Frankie gets a minimum 30 minute (usually longer) grooming session every time I hop off. He’s just too pretty, I can’t resist!

frankie_trot

60 minute flatwork

0-10: Walk on a loose rein all over the ring- circles, changing directions, get our muscles moving.
10-20: Trot on a loose rein. Lots of 2-point, no stirrups, serpentines and circles and changes of bend, slowly asking for more contact as we get moving.
20-30: Walk/trot/halt transitions on a contact with a little lateral work thrown in there. Lots of extensions/collections plus transitions between gaits.
30-40: Canter work, including lots of extensions/collections.
40-50: More dedicated lateral work. For now mainly at the walk and a little at the trot, but we’ll up the difficulty as we go.
50-55: Stretchy trot.
55-60: Walk, preferably outside the ring

 45 minute flatwork

0-10: Walk on a loose rein
10-20: Walk/trot/halt transitions, slowly asking for more contact
20-30: Canter work
30-35: Lateral work, extensions/collections
35-40: Stretchy trot
40-45: Walk

Again, these are just frameworks! This is what’s working well for Frankie and me for where we are right now- tuning up our transitions within gaits and our lateral work. I’m trying to be very conscious of letting our warm-ups take plenty of time and building up the intensity slowly. Certain days we tweak it to spend extra time on one thing or another as necessary. Frankie is a very relaxed, confident horse and I want to do everything in my power to keep it that way. I don’t plan to be the person that makes him tense and anxious.

So there you have it. Frankie is working hard and loving it. We had a great hour long ride earlier this week and even though we were both sweating and tired by the end, he was still stepping out with his energetic walk and ready for more!

How do you plan your rides? Do you have a standing “framework” or do you make your plan based on where you are that day?

Fancy Pony

Remember that part where I said that Frankie is a little lacking in polish on the flat?

I TAKE IT BACK. I TAKE IT ALL BACK.

Chapter 1: Seriously Olivia  that doesn’t count as fancy, that’s a pretty normal thing

Francis and I went for a trail ride with some buddies a few weekends ago, and it was just as fun as I anticipated. Frankie the Tankie was clearly having a blast getting to play outside, and it was cool to be on a horse that I could boot up to a gallop and then have him come right back with minimal pressure on his plain snaffle. I wasn’t really that surprised- one of his selling points in his ad was that he goes XC in a snaffle.

Here’s where the fancy comes in: Frankie has a SUPER active walk. Like, the vet commented when we were vetting him that he’s never seen a horse with so much movement in his walk. And he’s a tall guy. So when we’re all walking along on this trail ride, he naturally pulls ahead. And when we want to stand and wait for everyone to catch up, that’s no fun BECAUSE STANDING IS BORING I DON’T WANNA DO IT MAHHHHMMMM.

frankie_trailride
Everything the light touches is Franklin’s.

Being the mean mom that I am, I made him stand quietly. Once he gave me a few moments of stillness, I decided to reward him by giving him a job that required some use of his brain while we waited for the rest of the crew. LATERAL WORK SEEMS FUN LET’S DO THAT.

And I think my horse has a future as a reiner. Turns on the haunches, on the forehand, leg yields, he was FEELING it. All based almost entirely on leg. So now he’s just armed me with the knowledge that he can totally give me tighter turns if I balance and ask properly. Muahahaha.

Summary of Chapter 1: my horse has way better lateral buttons installed than I realized.

Chapter 2: Seriously Olivia this is so ridiculously basic how are you just getting this now

The following Monday was spent on flatwork, and I had a mission in mind to figure out that whole “working on a contact” thing. You know, that thing that I definitely should have been figuring out looong before now. Go ahead and judge me, I promise you I’m judging myself more.

But better late than never! I entered the order of Inside Leg to Outside Rein and dedicated myself to feeling the contact and putting the puzzle pieces together. Here’s what I came up with: inside leg pushing into the outside hand + balancing and softening with the inside hand and maintaining straightness with the outside leg + relaxed and swinging seat + engaged but not tense core + relaxed jaw + a sacrifice to the moon goddess + Venus aligning with Pluto = uphill, round through the back, freely moving, on the contact Franklin.

Sound familiar to LITERALLY EVERYONE???

Clearly I figured this out and now we work perfectly on a contact and I do all of those things all the time. Obviously.

HAH.

What actually happened was that I got a much better feel for how to position myself to encourage that type of movement in Frankie, and we spent roughly 30 minutes at the walk while I practiced maintaining that feel. As an overcooked baked potato of a rider, I often lost that feel. But every so often it would click into place and I could feel the Tank soften right onto the bit, step under himself, and engage his back.

frankie_fancytrot
Addy’s mom rode him for me over the weekend while I was out of town, and got some GORGEOUS work from him.

It. Was. Magical. I have a whooooole new understanding of what makes you DQs tick. Don’t get me wrong, I would go totally nuts if I couldn’t hop colorful sticks regularly, but I have a newfound appreciation for the obsession with getting every little piece into place because HOLY GUACAMOLE my horse felt fancy.

In true Olivia fashion, I texted my friend after that ride saying the following: “And every so often he would just soften and round and it was like HOLY CRAP TEACH US TO PIAFFE BECAUSE WE ARE FANCY DRESSAGE RIDERS. Canter half-passes are up next.” That is a direct transcript, caps and all.

Summary of Chapter 2: my horse has crazy fantastic flat buttons when I figure out how to press them, and I learned how to walk properly some of the time, maybe.

Chapter 3: Seriously Olivia do you want a gold star just for doing what you’re supposed to do?

I mean, yes? I would love gold stars for everything.

Right now I’m going to talk about quality of the canter and how I’ve been struggling a bit to nail that sweet spot with Francis. He has a RIDICULOUSLY comfortable canter to sit to, but a big long stride, so it can be very deceptive. I’ll be bopping along all comfortable and my trainer will be like “OLIVIA WHY ARE YOU GALLOPING ALL OVER MY RING CAN YOU PLEASE NOT” and it’s like ohhhh my bad totally didn’t realize.

frankie_fancycanter
Big ol’ gallopy stride. Complete with tiny little jockey stirrups.

But I also want to make sure I have lots of power in the stride. So what I’ve been working on is compressing his stride a bit by keeping my legs wrapped around him and shifting my seat to change the stride length, and picking my hands up out of my lap to recycle that energy back to his hind end.

STARTING TO CLICK INTO PLACE

When I do these things, I get this amazing uphill powerful canter that is SO adjustable. Like, we did the pony strides in a line, then went back and did the galloping horse strides. And they both rode smoothly because we were able to rate his stride. I’m kinda spazzing out about this because while the BeastMare has many amazing qualities, we struggled a lot with adjustability. So to have a horse that will literally give me any stride length I ask for as long as I sit up and keep my leg on? This is new. And amazing.

So now I need to remember that feeling so I can get it off the bat, not 30 minutes into our lesson. As my trainer reminded me, we don’t get one or two or three practice courses in the jumpers. We get a couple singles in the warmup ring and then it’s showtime. I need to be able to push up into that energetic elastic stride from the get-go. Frankie is broke to death- he’ll give it to me immediately if I ask. I just need to remember to ask.

Summary of Chapter 3: Sometimes I can actively ride my horse instead of galloping around with a big fat grin on my face.

Overall thoughts: If I give Frankie clear and correct instructions, he will immediately and happily give me some gloriously gorgeous work. Turns out the only one who needs polish is me!

The Little Things

I’ve been knocked flat on my back by a killer sinus infection all week (seriously I have never experienced such excruciating sinus pressure before), so I was absolutely ITCHING to get back on my horse.

scoutsnuggles
Spent roughly three days like this: bathrobe, slippers, and snuggly pup.

I managed to join one of the lesson groups on Thursday, and we learned a lot!

unimpressedfrankie
Well, I learned a lot. Frankie kinda has his end of the bargain covered.

This lesson focused a lot on polishing up the basics. In the words of my trainer: “This is easy stuff, so do it perfectly.” No pressure or anything.

But in all seriousness, this was a fantastic lesson. I’m not going to outline every stride of it (spoiler alert: we walked, trotted, cantered, and popped over some little jumps), so here were my big takeaways:

  • My stupid toes point straight out. If you’ve ever seen a picture of me jumping, you already know that this is my bad habit. I have no idea where this habit came from because it never was a problem as a junior, but unless I’m being very conscious of it, my toes point straight out and I jab my horse in the ribs with my spurs. Frankie is extremely tolerant of this, but I’d rather not test that tolerance and poke the poor guy unnecessarily. TOES MUST POINT FORWARD.
spurstraps
Even though my new spur straps are SO PRETTY DO YOU EVEN SEE HOW PRETTY THEY ARE
  • Frankie loves to round over his back into the bridle at the canter. This is a new feeling for me, and it’s a good one! The only problem here is that sometimes he’ll stretch and drop his head so much that he drops right onto my hand and hangs there. This is where I need to refine my half-halt to maintain the stride while re-balancing him up off my hand. I’ve had a couple successes here so now I’m trying to internalize that feeling so we can get it every time. My instinct is to pull up with my hands and that doesn’t do anyone any good- when I half-halt from my seat and just use my hands to balance and contain the energy, we get some GORGEOUS movement.
  • I need to use more outside aids around the corners. He’s such a big guy that he needs a little extra support keeping his body together, so I need to let my hands be softer and use my legs to keep that energy flowing. I got some great homework for this: ride about 5ft in off the track so we’re not just tempted to fall out to the wall. I LOVE getting homework!
  • Don’t drop him when we walk. After cantering, I like to give him a walk break on a loose rein so he has a chance to catch his breath before we proceed. BUT. When I ask for that downwards transition, I shouldn’t just let my reins get longer and fall down into the walk. If he gets used to that, he could start rooting if I DON’T immediately give him a loose rein when we walk, and that would be killer in an eq class. My goal is to get clean downwards transitions, continue walking on the contact for a bit so that he knows we’re still working, and only THEN loosen the reins to let him stretch.
  • Auto-release is the name of the game. Frankie will jump the jump. And I can set him up for the next jump. But wouldn’t it be great if I could land ALREADY setting him up for the next one?? I’m generally pretty strong in my jumping position and Frankie is nicely adjustable, so nailing that auto-release is going to be what puts us into the next level of continuity and smoothness through our courses. My trainer has promised to call me out on this and remind me to work on this in every lesson.

We learn something new with every ride! This weekend we’re planning on doing a little trail ride and I’m SO excited to get my seasoned foxhunter outside to play around. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m in awe that I get to call this horse mine. I’m learning so much from him and above all, we’re having fun together.

Show update: our first show will likely be the Loudoun Benefit show at the Upperville showgrounds mid-June. The plan right now is to do a 0.90m class to see how we’re feeling, and then give the 1m a try. I reserve the right to change this plan at any time, but I’m feeling very determined to give the 1m a go!!

handsomefrankie

Also: one of my trainers has assigned us a challenge. You know those 30-day challenges that you see on Pinterest where you do more squats every day or something like that? It’s like that. You can pick any 30-day plank challenge or sit up challenge, and if you don’t notice a difference in your riding at the end of 30 days, you don’t have to keep going. I will be doing a plank challenge, and would love your help in keeping me accountable!

addykisses
In case you were wondering how the DragonMare is doing, Frankie lives right across the aisle from her and I still stuff her face with treats every time I see her 🙂 Frankie is my best boy, but Addy will always be best girl.

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:

cloverleaf_pattern
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:

nonleadchange
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:

clinic_minicourse

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.