Porpoise for President

I promise we’re still alive and kicking over here! My guy and I have been traveling every other weekend for a while now, I’m in the last week of this term for school, and work is picking back up after a lull, so I’ve had to be more deliberate about my time management – hence why you haven’t heard from me in a while.

But I still have two legs, Frankie still has all four of his, and even if I’m only riding 2x a week that’s still saddle time with my favorite creature and I still love it.

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One of our many trips, this one to RI to visit family!

This week’s lesson was really fantastic. Due to a perfect storm of weather, hock injections (woohoo!), me being out of town, and mercury being in retrograde, the big guy was stuck inside for several days and not ridden for even longer. Not ideal, but we did the best we could with what we had.

So when I hopped on for my lesson, I had a speecy spicy Francisco under me. Homeboy just had so many excess calories that needed an outlet!  He really was quite obedient as we warmed up – loose through his back, getting some great lift at the trot, rather exuberant about his lengthenings. But I could definitely tell that there was a lil more pizzazz under me than usual, so I took the opportunity to just trot/canter on a looser rein for some extra time during the breaks to give him an outlet. I could tell that he very badly wanted to be a good boy, but just HAD TO MOVE OMG PLS.

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My friend sent me this while I was out of town. She is his favorite auntie because she always gives scratches and leaves treats in his bucket ❤

Once we started jumping, we did have some porpoising on the back side of a few fences. Not even true crowhopping per say, more of a put-my-head-between-my-knees-and-hump-my-back-for-a-bit. He’s really not very good at misbehaving, I think he just felt so GOOD to be working (especially with those hock injections kicking in) that he had to express his emotions for a bit. Not a big deal, just sat back and slipped the reins til he was done, then kept him cantering and moving forward. No need to react or pull or start a fight about it – I learned a while ago that when he’s got the sillies, the best thing to do is to stay light and let him do his job.

Sure enough, we ended up getting some really lovely courses. He was light in the bridle, forward thinking, and jumping like a dream. Not every spot was perfect, but he felt comfortable and able to sit down a bit to the shorter ones, and he was even cute when we moved up to a bit of a gap! Honestly, I’ll take spicy Francis any day.

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We did hill sets recently and I was brave enough to trot which displeased Francis greatly. But the view and breeze from the top weren’t too bad at all.

I have to say, I really really think that we’ve clicked to the next level of communication over the past few months. It seems silly to say that since I’ve been riding so much less, but it’s true. I’ve always enjoyed riding him and we’ve learned and grown along the way, but it just feels so natural right now. I think something and he does it. I can predict how he’ll react to just about anything (I knew the porpoising was coming the instant we walked away from the mounting block). We enjoy each other’s company, we enjoy our work together, and it’s simply a joy. I’m so-so at riding other horses, but right now it feels like I’m pretty darn good at riding mine.

Sorry not sorry for the gushfest, guys. I’m more obsessed with this creature every day.

Porpoise for president.

Chugging Along

I wish I had something super exciting to share with you, but things are pretty quiet over here!

By quiet I mean that work is very busy but manageably so, school is interesting and fun and not nearly as time-consuming as I had feared, I’ve been spending some wonderful time with friends, and Francis continues to be the World’s Best Horse(TM) at all times forever.

I guess by quiet I actually mean it’s not even a little bit quiet, but it’s been really nice finding a new equilibrium for myself.

I’m now about 5 weeks into my first 7-week term, and I continue to love being a student. Even the dreaded group projects have been great, as I hooked up with 3 other fantastic people who are smart and interesting and great to work with. We share pictures of our dogs every day (we all agreed that Frankie counts as a giant dog) and it’s been a pleasure getting to know them and work with them!

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Everyone needs to see this picture of Francis being the most precious snoozler

On the home front, I bit the bullet and hired a cleaning service to come into our house once a month. So far it has been worth every single penny for peace of mind. Could I just do it myself? Absolutely. But with work and school and the barn and other commitments piling on, I want to be able to just enjoy my limited free time at home with my husband without worrying about chores. It took a major source of stress off the table entirely! I don’t know that it’s something we’ll continue once I finish school and my schedule opens up a bit, but for now it’s some very welcome help.

On the random personal front, I finally got that haircut I’ve been talking about! I told you all how much I hated that super long braid coming out of my helmet, so I went ahead and chopped it all off. My only regret is that I didn’t do this sooner bc OMG I LOVE MY NEW HAIRCUT SO MUCH. Seriously, I feel twenty pounds lighter and a million times better.

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I’m not so great at selfies but I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER

On to the star of the show: Frankie continues to be a steady rock of wonderfulness, sharing his happiness every day. He recently accidentally got a week off – between school, work, sickness, and my trainers being gone at a show, he missed his training rides and I didn’t make it out – but I didn’t even find this out until after I hopped on and he was absolutely perfect. He’s constantly re-winning the Best Ammy Horse Ever Award. I can almost see my reflection in his coat right now from the shine, he has little dapples peaking out, and is just looking beautiful right now. I know soon enough he’ll get sunbleached and faded so I’m enjoying that spring coat while it lasts!

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The lighting isn’t great but just look how handsome he is!!! I just can’t stand it.

We have a show coming up later this month and I’m feeling great about it! We’re planning to do a mishmash of things – some Low Adult jumper classes, some adult eq classes, and if the weather holds and they run it outside I’ll do the hunter derby with him too. We’re not trying to qualify for things, we’re not trying to get the jumps higher, we’re just planning to go out there and have fun doing some different work together. I’m incredibly excited to go play with my best boy!

So there you have it. Things are busy, but a good busy, and I’m thoroughly enjoying this stage of life. Hoping to rope a friend into videoing some rides soon so I can have some media to share though – I realized I don’t have any record of me jumping my horse since last year!! I pinky promise that we’ve actually been doing work and he’s been awesome at it. Can’t wait to share when we have something 🙂

Three Years of Francis

Can you believe we’ve already had 3 years together?

It feels like just yesterday that Frankie came home, but also feels like he’s always been a part of my life. I simply can’t imagine not walking into the first stall on the right and trading scratches and smooches with this big brown beast.

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PC- Liz Stout Photography

Our first year was spent getting to know each other. I’m pretty sure I didn’t fully adjust to his way of going until we were a solid 10-12 months in. Luckily he never took a bad step, and was patient with me while we figured each other out.

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At his very first show, he calmly packed me around like he had been doing it for years

Our second year was spent pushing our boundaries. We jumped heights that were new to both of us, we trained in ways we had never trained, and we went out and strutted our stuff.

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Somehow he’s always known when he does a good job. PC- K. Borden

This third year has been the best yet, where our partnership has become that much better. We’ve chased dreams, we’ve explored so many amazing places, and we’ve taken everything we’ve done to the next level while learning and growing together.

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New heights and new places – but there’s always time for snugs

I wish I had better words to describe this past year – the thousands of words I’ve shared with you on this blog still don’t do it justice. I don’t think any words can really capture the emotions, the drive, the companionship, the laughs, the tears, the toughness, the excitement, and everything else we’ve encountered together.

Sometimes I feel a bit silly. All I ever tell you about is the sunshine and rainbows and sparkles that accompany the Frankfurter wherever he goes. That has to be boring.

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The happiest boy

Honest to goodness, I can’t help it. We’re both so so so very far from perfect, but even the difficult days are fun and exciting with him. His happiness to work and learn makes everything more enjoyable. I’ve never had cause to be nervous, no matter the occasion. His brattiest worst behavior is hysterical in its lack-of-badness. He’s simply not very good at it. I only have sunshine and sparkles to share because he really is that kind of horse. Kind, calm, goofy, affectionate, hard-working, fun, trainable, sweet, consistent, wonderful, the list goes on for miles.

Our relationship now is no longer new. We’re not getting to know each other – we know each other plenty well. I know just where he likes to be scratched on his forehead, and when he needs a little longer to stretch in his warmup. I can tell at a glance when he is tired or relaxed or eager or happy (his default). He knows that if he turns his head after finishing a course, I’ll rub his ears for him. He knows that I’ll always let him drink from the hose before a bath and that I’ll never ask him to do anything scary. Every day is a comforting conversation because we know and trust each other’s rhythms.

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PC- Liz Stout Photography

For as long as I’ve been riding and competing, and as long as I’ve been engrossed with the barn, I could’ve never imagined having a partner like Frankie. He’s one in a million and a once in a lifetime. In and out of the saddle, he brings so much joy and kindness into every single day we share. I don’t know what adventures we’ll get to go on together in the years to come, but I can’t wait to find out.

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PC- Liz Stout Photography

Riding Francis: A How-To Guide

Whenever people hop on the Frankenbean, I find myself giving them similar advice. Which I will now share with you, so if you ever come to visit us and want to take a spin on the Beast you will be prepared to enjoy him fully.

Without further ado, here is the Official Guide to Francis:

  • Put more leg on. More. No, even more. Seriously, more. I pinky pinky promise he isn’t trying to go anywhere. Ever. The only reason he ever looks like he might be forward is because his rider is squeezing the ever-loving-crap outta him. He does not think to take you forward to that crossrail. Leg. Him. On.
  • Take a feel. He will be mildly annoyed, but only because he knows this means he has to work and he’d rather be eating. He is not trained to a loopy rein, he is trained to a connection. If you don’t take one, he assumes you don’t really have that much to ask of him and he will act like a beginner pony. Safe, but not particularly talented. You want the good material, you gotta start by telling him you can speak his language.
  • Now that you’ve taken a feel, put even MORE leg on. He will test you by trying to get behind your leg because moving forward on a contact is Hard Work. Set the tone early that this is Not Allowed.
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Austen learned quickly that sometimes we have Feelings about using our muscles
  • Carry a crop. You likely won’t need to use it. But he knows if it’s there or not. Somehow, he always knows.
  • Be direct with your questions and don’t be afraid to ask firmly. He is not offended by direct pressure- as long as you are fair and release that pressure when he gives the right answer. He’s not particularly sensitive and likes to have a conversation, so it’s ok to “speak” a little louder if you’re not getting a response. He also won’t be offended if you tell him it’s the wrong answer. Just try asking a little differently and reward his attempts to understand. He’s not the quickest thinker, but he will remember what you tell him.
  • Place him. It’s better to make the wrong decision than it is to make no decision. Put him at the base of the jump. Tell him that his canter is too strung out. Get your ass in the saddle and PRESS him up into the bridle. He will forgive you any mistakes, but he’ll forgive you much quicker if you don’t leave those mistakes up to him.
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Buried him to the base. Note that the ears are still up. Things are ok.
  • Pat early, pat often. He’s a really good boy, likes doing a good job, and likes being TOLD that he’s doing a good job. Lightening your seat and giving him a scratch on the withers as you come through the end of the ring is a cause for much rejoicing. A hearty “Good man!!!” and pats on the neck give him the happy feelings. Trust me, you’ll want to pat him.
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He really REALLY loves hearing what an excellent boy he is
  • Trust him. You don’t have to ride him defensively- he will not spook, and you can trust that he will do exactly what you ask of him. Seriously. He will not spook. He’s a confident horse, so you can be confident that he’ll take care of you. If you’re nervous, ask him to slow down. It’ll make his day, he loves that. He has absolutely no buck, spook, bolt, or anything else like that- his default mode is “things are ok, and they would be even better if I could nap.”
  • When in doubt, rev the engine. Francis is the living embodiment of the phrase, “the right answer is ALWAYS more leg.” I cannot stress this enough. Literally anything wrong can be fixed by adding some leg into your hand and getting the RPMs higher. It cures any wiggliness, it cures lack of impulsion, it cures sticky distances, it cures form over fences, it cures ALL THE THINGS. Any time you need a reset, loosen your reins and ask for a bit of a hand-gallop. It’s the magic button and then you can re-gather and get back to it.
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“Pls stop telling them to leg me and let me live my life”
  • He will do exactly what you ask of him. No more, no less. He is the ultimate tattle tale. He’s capable of really great stuff, but will not offer that up to anyone who doesn’t ask clearly and firmly. He’ll work for you, but only if you work for him. Don’t make the assumption that he will power up to the jumps- he absolutely will only if you tell him to. If you’re pulling and taking your leg off, he will peter right out and get lurchy. If you want to test his buttons and see what he’s capable of, be prepared to set the tone early and then sweat for it- if you can do that, he is sensitive and responsive and will do absolutely anything.
  • Enjoy the snot out of him. He’s extremely safe, extremely obedient, extremely well-trained, and genuinely enjoys his job. Toodle on a loose rein if you want, or package him up and see how sporty you can get. He’ll do it all with a smile, and he’ll make you smile too.

TL;DR add a metric crapton of leg and enjoy riding the Best Horse Ever(TM).

GushFest 2018

You guys. It’s time.

It’s been a solid 6 months. And you know what that means.

It’s time for Francis GushFest 2018 (Q2).

Because UGHHHH GUYSSSSSS HE’S THE BESTTTTTTTTT

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Like he’s a total turdblossom at feeding time, and sometimes it’s hard to muck his stall because #NapKing doesn’t want to stand up, and he likes to play Bitey-Face out in the field, and sometimes he twists his body over the jumps so he doesn’t have to work as hard. So clearly he isn’t perfect.

But he’s so dang cool, day after day after day.

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Blerp PC- Liz

He’s the most fun ever to play with on the ground. He’s so inquisitive and happy and content and radiates that sense of calm curiosity. He’s pretty sure everyone loves him and he loves to make new friends- who coincidentally always love him. He makes funny faces for the camera and gives me the stretchy moose lips when we scratch in juuuuust the right spot. He offers to groom me back because that’s the polite thing to do.

He thinks baseball hats are very fun toys, and is always always always game for some face scratches and snuggles (Towel Time behind the ears especially is the Bestest Ever). But I can also trust him to stand calmly on the crossties for as long as I need to get ready and situated. He’s happy to chill. He will bend over backwards if it means he gets ear rubs- even when I’m on him, he’ll turn his head back for ear rubs when he knows he did a good job.

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Mahm. Scritches. Thnks. PC- Liz

And then under saddle. Man oh man.

He’s the best kind of teacher- the kind who doesn’t get upset when I make mistakes, but also doesn’t give me anything for free either. I can ask for something the wrong way a million times and he’ll just keep trucking until I ask correctly, and then he rewards me with prompt obedience. He works exactly as hard as I do. It’s a true partnership of give and take and give some more.

There’s so much trust. It doesn’t matter what’s going on around us, what the jumps look like, where we are- I have 100% faith that he’s going to show up to work. And he has trust that I’ll do right by him. I may not set him up perfectly to every jump and I may make mistakes with my aids, but he knows I’ll do my best to stay out of his way and that we get lots of pats and scratches and down time after we work. And so he goes to work happily every single time.

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So proud of himself for a job well done.

And as we’ve both learned and gained some measure of subtlety, dangit we have so much fun. He knows the game and needs less help from me on a basic level, but looks for more input on a tactical level. We can plan for the inside turn (blasting up to oxers off a short turn is his new power move) and moving my shoulders forward and back is like a magic lever to his stride length. He’s super fast without feeling like we’re racing at any point, so we’re competitive without the pace being intimidating.

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FrancisGoZoomies(TM)

He’s my absolute favorite horse that I’ve ever ridden by such a long shot. No matter how my day was, no matter how nervous I may be, as soon as my feet are in the stirrups I am happy.

His quiet partnership has given me the confidence to dream bigger, try new things, gain comfort in my leadership skills, led me to new friendships, and is such a bright light in my life. I don’t have adequate words for how special he really is and how much he means to me.

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My best buddy. PC- Liz

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a lot of sweat and mud and work and setbacks and triumphs and the whole range therein. He just makes it all a joy.

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PC- Tracy

Pony Finances

Let’s talk expenses! Not specifics, because that’s fairly private and incredibly region-dependent, but let’s talk about how we handle them. Mostly because I just made a big change in my approach to horse expenses, and I want to know if all y’all already do this and are like “dude obviously,” or if you’re going to tell me that this is super weird and definitely awful.

Let’s get into it.

There are a few very predictable expenses for Frankie every month:

  • Board
  • Lessons
  • Training rides (if I opt for them that month)
  • Farrier (this isn’t quiiiiite every month, he’s on a 4-6 week cycle depending on time of year and how good/bad his feet are at the time. Still rather predictable tho.)
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Unlimited snugs are included for free in our monthly package

And then there are some that pop up regularly but not as consistently:

  • Vet care- both routine vaccinations/checkups, and more intense things like injections. Also who knows when everything could go sideways and he needs emergency vet care (knocking on wood SO INTENSELY HERE PLEASE STAY ROBUSTLY HEALTHY)
  • Frankie’s insurance- I pay in 3 lump payments throughout the year, but they’re not all the same
  • Shows- different venues have different fees, shipping costs more/less depending on how far the venue is, I compete more often in the summer, etc.
  • Gear- blankets break, saddles need re-fitting, my spurs need replacing, etc. This is the hardest to predict.
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Thank the good Lord above that I don’t have to pay for a 2-week horse show every month. PC- Tracy

So what these means is that in any given month, I only really have a solid handle on the “no less than” number in advance. It’ll be at least X amount, and likely much higher. I have historical data (yes, obviously Frankie has his own spreadsheet, duh) to plug in for shows/vet/insurance so I’m not totally in the dark, but it still makes consistent budgeting hard when expenses fluctuate so much.

Now that my Human Mate and I are combining forces, I decided it was time for a full audit of my spending habits to figure out what makes the most sense as I move from doing-everything-solo-all-the-time to sharing-a-home-and-a-life-with-a-person. Which brings me to my big change:

Frankie got his own debit card.

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“It’s about time I got paid”

He won’t get to use it himself (honestly his dexterity with small objects extends exclusively to eating them), but I now have a separate account exclusively for horse expenses. I’ve taken my total horse expenses over a full year, divided by 12, and added a cushion, and that amount will automatically be going into his account every month.

Some months I will need more than that average, some months I will need less, but over time it should even out to have a constant buffer.

This simplified my budget like you wouldn’t believe. It took my line items from this:

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To this:

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Literally cut the number in half.

This makes my monthly budget A MILLION TIMES more predictable. Obviously if something totally unexpected happens I’ll need to pull from my main account, but I purposefully made Frankie’s monthly budget higher than I usually need (except in months where we compete) to try and build up some “savings” specifically for him.

So talk to me, folks. Is this a total no-brainer thing that you did years ago? Or do you think giving Francis his own bank account is overkill?

Such a Happy Francis

So obviously Francis was very well-behaved and wonderful during the full 2 weeks in Ohio. Not a foot out of place, polite and well-mannered, and working hard. I couldn’t have been prouder of him.

But as I mentioned in my last post, Francis is a very social beast. Very. And he didn’t get his group turnout while we were gone. Now that we’re back and he’s reunited with his buddies, he is SO HAPPY OMG SO HAPPY.

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MAHM THINGS ARE SO GOOD MAHM PC- Courtney

It’s funny- I can tell his mood so quickly just because I know my pony, but it’s subtle. Even when he’s cranky/tired, he’s polite. He never gets sassy or nippy or rude, he just kinda tunes out and gets a case of the “blahs.”

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Have you ever heard a horse snore? Come to our next show, and you totally can.

But Francis in a good mood is like a 5 year old little boy. When he’s happy, he’s like a sassy little pony stuffed into a giant 17.1hh body. He is playful and goofy and hilarious.

Our lesson this week had Happy Francis on full display: he was scratching my shoulder for me in exchange for the scratches I was giving him, during every break he would look back at me and rub his nose on my boots (begging for ear rubs), and he was snuffling at my clothes the entire time I was untacking.

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Hello yes I am good pls rub ears

Like any 5 year old little boy, that energy sometimes turns into poking and playing a little too far- at one point he tried to take a nibble of my boot while I was scratching his ears. I walloped him a good one because he knows better than to use teeth near me, and he proceeded to give me the middle finger around our next course because HOW DARE YOU I AM MUCH OFFENDED. Homeboy got over it by jump 3 tho. Because he was in SUCH A GOOD MOOD.

I tend to refer to Frankie as “my boy” or “my child,” but we really don’t have that type of relationship. I’d say he’s more like a little brother that I have custody of. At the end of the day, I’m in charge and he has to listen to what I’m saying. But we also love to play together. And sometimes there’s that exasperation of oh my GOSH Francis if you can’t be cool then you can’t hang out with me and my friends. Because he’s like the little brother who keeps poking*poking*poking to get attention.

But even when he’s got Pony Man Syndrome, I can’t help but laugh when he’s like that. His playfulness and joy is totally contagious. Even my trainer was chuckling at him the other day.

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GREETINGS I AM HERE FOR THE SCRITCHES

We will still have shows in our future that cut down on Frankie’s social time every so often, but it makes me happy beyond belief that he is so clearly content with his day-to-day life. A happy Francis makes one very happy Olivia.

Three Words

So I’m like a month late to this hop from 3Day Adventures with Horses, but it was too fun not to join in! I saw this when I was in Ohio and started thinking, and here’s what I’ve come up with for Francis.

Diligent– having or showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work or duties.

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Show him the jump, tell him what to do, and he will go do it. Period. PC- K. Borden

If you tell Frankie what the game is and explain the rules, he will go out there and play. If you raise the expectations, he will meet or exceed them. “Steady” implies slowness (and he actually has a motor now), and “responsive” implies reactivity to me, but I think diligent encapsulates his constant willingness to go out there and try. No matter what distractions may be going on and no matter what his job is in that moment- jumpers, cross country, hacking out, equitation, standing still on the crossties- he displays a clear and constant willingness to do the job correctly.

Confident– feeling or showing confidence in oneself; self-assured.

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Things are peachy keen according to Francis. PC- A. Frye

He is pretty sure that he’s doing just fine. He doesn’t get flustered when I correct or reprimand him- he knows that he’s not a bad boy, so he just goes ahead and tries something else. He doesn’t glance at jumps, because he knows they won’t bite him. He doesn’t blink when the jumps go up, because he knows I wouldn’t ask him to do something he couldn’t. He’s confident in himself and he’s confident in me- despite the times I mess him up.

Socialliving or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation.

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Always always wants snuggles and playtime. PC- Tracy

Frankie really thrives on companionship, whether that’s equine or human. He loves to play and trade scratches, LIVES for long groomings, and soaks up all attention he can get. He’s always a good boy, but he is noticeably happier and more relaxed when he’s had plenty of social interaction. This isn’t to say that he’s always super sweet to every horse- he can be a real asshole when he thinks someone is getting up in his grill- but he is curious and engaged and seeks out company. He’s a total bro.

So there’s my Francis in a nutshell! He’s a happy dude who takes pride in a job well done, and likes to kick back and relax with his buds.

….These may actually also be the word’s I’d use for Buddy Fianci. I guess I have a type? I love my boys ❤

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Tall, dark, and handsome. And happy. And fun. And athletic. And the similarities continue.

 

Sore and Ready

I wasn’t planning on blogging before heading out to Ohio, but I just had the most motivating session with my trainers and I have to share with all y’all.

The best way I can think of to sum it up is as follows:

Learning how to ride is kinda hard.
Learning how to ride WELL is super freakin’ hard.
Learning how to ride in a way that shows nuance and expertise is EXPONENTIALLY HARDER THAN ALL OF THAT.

As I had mentioned, Assistant Trainer and I set up a time for me to watch her ride Frankie and then have me hop on for some coaching on replicating that ride. It ended up being about 30 minutes of AT riding with constant commentary (mad respect for being able to multitask like that) and then 30 minutes of me working with Francis- and I could barely keep track of my limbs, let alone speak.

First off- Frankie looked AMAZING with AT. I’m such a visual learner and getting to see what kind of work he is capable of makes me that much more confident and excited about achieving it with him myself. I wish I had video to show you, but I was too wrapped up in listening and watching.

Some of the key takeaways that AT shared throughout both her ride and mine:

  • Walking needs to be powerful and forward. While warming up we’re not at all worried about where his head is- we are entirely focused on getting him moving off the leg and pushing powerfully from behind. Insisting on straightness- no wiggling out of a powerful forward walk.
  • A good way to encourage him to open up his stride more at the walk is alternating leg aids- cue with my left heel as he’s about to pick up his left hind, right heel for right hind, etc. Getting him more sensitive to my cues will help make this more effective at encouraging the activity from behind.
  • The contact on the outside rein needs to be steady- it does not need to be heavy, but it does need to be consistently present at all times. Test his self-carriage often by releasing the inside rein. He should not change pace or the shape of his body.
  • Stretch breaks are good, but that doesn’t mean throwing away the work. He is never allowed to grab the reins out of my hands- when I like what he is doing, I can feed the reins to him and encourage the stretch down. Part of working the most effectively with him is timing our breaks to be just as much of a training tool as the active work.
  • Insist more. Frankie is a well-trained, athletic, fancy horse- if I stick to my guns and continue asking, he will give me correct work. I can’t get lazy or he will get lazy. This doesn’t mean that he can’t do the work, it just means that I have to keep supporting and encouraging the right answer.
  • No more calling him a llama. The language we use matters, so we are only allowed to call him a fancy shmancy show horse. My new go-to is gonna be FancyPants Francis, but I’m open to other posh nicknames for the big guy.
  • Carrying himself properly is really hard work, and we can’t expect him to do it all the time quite yet. At the same time, we need to ask for it a little more every time so that we build that strength and build that muscle memory for him. He lets us know that he’s tired by getting strung out or trying to break- that’s when it’s on us to work really hard to support him for another half-lap or so to push just a liiiiittle bit more. Not enough to fatigue him, just enough to push a little harder than last time.
  • Drop my stirrups as often as needed. Especially when working at the sitting trot, go ahead and drop my stirrups so I can wrap around his barrel and get him super active to my leg. As he gets stronger and learns more self-carriage, that trot is getting a lot bouncier, but his back is also getting rounder and softer so sitting is getting easier.
  • At all times: straightness. Keep a major focus on where his hips are- is he trying to slide them to the inside or outside? Stay very vigilant about keeping his whole body on one smooth track unless explicitly asking for lateral movements. Keeping a steady outside rein will mostly take care of his shoulders, but let hands go wide if he needs some help finding that center track for his front half.
  • Don’t ride his head. When we are pushing powerfully from behind, we’re straight through his body, I have a steady contact on the outside rein, and am half-halting from my seat and inside rein, he will be poll-high and in the bridle. The goal is not a false headset- it’s that he’s so strong and soft through his body that he is pushed up into the bridle. If he gets too high- add more leg. If he gets too low- half-halt from my seat.
  • Almost think to counter-bend through the end of the ring. Frankie is happy to pretzel into a false bend and that is not productive. Keep that strong outside rein (notice a pattern yet?) and use my outside leg to keep his haunches on a smooth track through the turns.
  • When coming down to a walk, no plopping. He must continue forward on the contact. Do not feed him the reins until he is giving me the walk I want.

And this isn’t even everything- just the high level recap. It was mentally and physically a hugely demanding session- I was getting feedback on what to tweak with literally every single stride.

I basically rode in circles for 30 minutes, and my legs are about to fall off. All of this was hard. My brain felt like a hamster on a wheel trying to put all of these pieces together, my legs are like cooked noodles from the sheer intensity of the workout, and I’m still heavily ruminating on all the work we did.

None of these things are new concepts, it all basically boils down to inside leg to outside rein. It’s just the timing and subtlety of these aids that is some next-level work. AT assures me that with enough practice, these cues and their timing will become as automatic as keeping my heels down- I’m pretty sure it’ll take a good long time to get to that point but I’m hopeful.

Trainer was there as well so I had both her and AT working with us. Talk about intense. She told me that she’s not as fixated on my position so much anymore- there are certainly always going to be things to fix and improve upon, but she knows I know the job. Our focus now is on being the most effective rider I can be. In her words, “this is the difference between coming out to the barn to ride, and coming out to train. It’s time to train.”

So now I am incredibly sore and incredibly motivated. It feels like we’re really kicking it into a whole new gear and I couldn’t be more excited to get to work with my FancyPants pony.

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LoveFest

I know I gush about Frankie on the regular, but we haven’t had a dedicated gush session in a while.

So strap in, because I need to talk for a while about just how much I adore this horse.

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LITERALLY THE CUTEST EVER

Of course I always adore him, but it just hit me super hard in my last lesson. We weren’t doing anything crazy, the jumps weren’t huge and the courses were simple. It was one of those lessons where we went back to basics and focused on precision.

But for whatever reason, it struck me so hard that I really do have the horse of my dreams.

Whether it’s because we’ve trained him to perform exactly how I like, or because I’ve adjusted my own riding to his style of going, or (likely) a little bit of both, he’s my favorite horse that I’ve ever ridden in my entire life. By a long shot.

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He wishes I loved riding him less so he didn’t have to do weird crap like this, but he deals with it.

He’s the perfect mix of steady and fiery. His version of spooking is taking a deep breath and blinking twice, and will happily toodle on a loose rein forever and ever. But if I put some leg on and take a feel, he will turn and burn and jump the moon.

He’s so wonderfully athletic. Everything I’ve ever asked of him, he has been able to do without difficulty. As he’s learned how to use his body over jumps and we’ve developed our flatwork, the jumps have gone up and the turns have gotten tighter and he’s met it all with the same happy attitude.

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He’s just so darn HAPPY all the time

He doesn’t hold grudges. I mess up all. The. Time. And he bails me out without hesitating. I have no doubt I would be eating a lot more dirt on any other steed, but Francis keeps trucking and lets me go back and try again without a fuss. And then he turns around to look at me and demand ear rubs for being so good.

He’s got so much personality. I swear, he’s like a little boy. He just wants to know what’s going on, and get attention, and poke his nose where it doesn’t belong, and pretend he didn’t hear you when you told him not to eat the crop. He loves to play and I can spend hours with him without getting bored.

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He loves booping his snoot against me for snuggles

When I got him, I was hoping for a horse that could safely take me around a 1.10m course. What he’s given me is so so so much more than that. I’ve never had to say no to something because I thought my horse couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. He gives me the confidence to say yes to everything because I have the best partner in the world.

Championship rounds at 1.15m? No sweat, and let’s throw in some inside turns just ’cause. Cross country schooling? Happily, on a loose rein. Go into the equitation ring? Let’s go win the class. Toodle in a halter? Best day ever. Work on lateral movements I never even heard of ’til recently? Mahm it’s like this. Chill in his stall? We can trade scritches alllll day long.

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Also sometimes he wishes I would leave him alone to nap in peace but TOO BAD BUDDY LET ME LOVE YOU

He’s been my pony for just over 570 days and I keep waiting to be chiller about having a horse. Like, maybe one day I’ll wake up and this will be totally normal and whatever it’s all cool I just have this incredible animal that I get to take care of and ride no big deal at all. Except clearly I have NO chill and keep getting MORE excited about it because HOLY CRAP THIS HORSE IS AMAZING.

I feel like all I ever talk about is how much I love my horse, but I can’t help it. He’s everything I could ever want and more- and he just keeps getting better. Every time I think we’ve hit a peak, he goes out there and shows me that he’s got more to give.

My trainer jokes that if she hears me say “OMG I LOVE MY HORSE” less than 4 times in a lesson, she knows that something is terribly wrong. Can you blame me?? He’s the total package, and good looking to boot.

I’ll shut up for now. I just need y’all to know how much I love this big, goofy, wonderful creature.

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