Houston We Have Liftoff

Of all the rides I’ve had on Frankie, this is the one that I truly wish we had video of. Not because it was a paragon of correctness and grace. Not because it highlighted all of our natural strengths.

No. I want video for the pure comedy gold.

Our exercise this past week has been a series of trot-in one-strides, inspired by an exercise Joe Fargis has recommended in the past. It was set as so:

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OMG we haven’t had a powerpoint course diagram in 5ever right?!

The full exercise was simply weaving across the ring from A to B to C to D. The first jump in each was always a crossrail, but the second jump went progressively higher. Seems very simple and straightforward, right? Right. It actually is a very straightforward exercise.

But here’s the cool part about it: since everything is trotting in, your horse cannot rely on speed to make it out over the second jump. The striding is set fairly short, so speed actively makes it more difficult (and cheating to allow more space by getting crooked was Not Allowed). The only way to make it out is to power off the hind end.

So yeah, we were basically doing super-sets of squats with our horses with this exercise.

The first time we did this earlier in the week, we ended up putting the back jumps up to roughly 3’ish to encourage a bigger effort, then backing the height back down to make sure we were still able to stay super straight and careful even at lower heights. It was a great way to work on strength for our horses and correctness of position and placement for us riders.

We’re not at the comedy part yet.

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Unrelated he’s just a camera ham

The second time we did this was during a lesson I had with our juniors. It started out similarly – working to keep Frankie straight through a combination of leg and opening rein as needed, staying out of his way when he wanted to stretch over the oxers, overall building on what we had done previously.

But you know what the juniors do? They jump big.

So Trainer jacks the back jumps up to whatever height (3’6″? more? no clue but it looked real big) and has us go again. Quick reminder that I haven’t jumped that height in a super long time but I was thinking not a big deal, I know my horse and he’s a pretty smooth ride and I definitely haven’t forgotten everything about how to jump bigger.

Turns out that I’m really quite comfortable getting to bigger jumps at speed.

What do you get when you take away that speed, add extreme power in the hind end, and jack the oxer up real big?

HOUSTON, YOU GET LIFTOFF.

I swear zero part of me was making any sort of contact with Frankie. I was completely airborne. He went up, I went up with him, and then I KEPT GOING UP. Launched into the stratosphere. The air started getting thinner. I had time to reflect on all the choices that had carried me into the rafters.

I somehow managed to land on top of my horse as he calmly and quietly cantered away. AND PROCEEDED TO DO THIS 5 MORE TIMES.

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“Mahm. Suck less.”

On the plus side, I very much stayed out of his way so he was never punished for putting in such a powerful effort. On the other side, the reason I stayed out of his way was because I was nowhere near him. There was a solid 6″ of air between me and my saddle.

Trainer was cracking up laughing, I was cracking up laughing (while desperately trying to keep my stirrups), and Frankie was boppin’ around wondering what was so funny.

From the way it felt and the way Trainer described it, Francis basically gave us a really incredible hunter-style jump. You know the kind you see in a derby, where the horse is not moving quickly and then they just LAUNCH super powerfully over the big jump. And then they land back in the same quiet rhythm. It’s why I don’t get annoyed at the big hunter riders for having less-than-perfect equitation – that type of explosive jump out of that quieter pace is BONKERS difficult to stay with.

And now I have first hand experience of this and no thank you I have zero aspirations to do any big hunter classes ever in my life good lord that is INSANE.

I hit the gym with our new barn manager (who I’m slightly obsessed with HI COLLEEN I KNOW YOU’RE READING THIS YOU’RE/WE’RE INCREDIBLE) a few hours later because wow ok Francis if you’re going to work that hard I gotta step up my game to match.

Next time I’m bringing a hang glider to assist in my return to earth.

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LITERALLY HOW ARE YOU SO SWEET AND PERFECT ALL THE TIME

Grids on grids on grids

While I’m still totally reveling in the fact that I’ve conned an actual Prince Charming into marrying me, I’ve also been having some great rides with my four-legged prince! Our last couple lessons have been gymnastic-focused. You all know how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE gymnastics!

Last week we didn’t do anything too crazy- my lungs have been taking a stupid long time to recover from my swamp illness, and I’ve been riding inconsistently, so we kept the jumps fairly low and just worked on building some strength back.

Which means that after going through a couple times, Trainer had me drop my stirrups. Which honestly- I don’t mind. It forces my balance to be more centered and my leg actually stays a lot more stable since I can’t brace against the stirrup. I keep threatening to go in the show ring without my stirrups since I ride so much more correctly. It’s annoying.

I jokingly asked Trainer if she wanted me to drop my reins too, which clearly she immediately said yes to. I mean I wasn’t doing a ton with them anyways- Frankie knows that his job is to continue through the grid, so it’s not like I was steering. Hands on hips it was! Like an absolute bro, Francis carried me right on through a couple times and let me strengthen my balance.

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Apparently hands on hips means chicken wings. Also I know the jump isn’t huge but maybe put in a little bit of effort dude.

I then pressured Trainer into letting me join an extra lesson this week, since I so rudely did not get one on Saturday. Clearly the whole day was a wash.

This was another gymnastic lesson, but we switched it up a bit. We wanted to try and address some of Frankie’s very prominent left drift (which is made even more prominent by my disgustingly weak left leg). So I carried a dressage whip on my left through the grid.

Francis was also freshly clipped and had lots of gas in the tank during our warmup. Well, at the trot. By the time we moved into our canter work, he remembered that holding still is more fun than not holding still. But I actually rode without a crop or spurs for the first time and we kept moving! So I’d consider that spicy in FrancisWorld.

Another thing you should know is that Frankie jumps SO MUCH BETTER when he’s annoyed. You may remember back at Zone Finals where we riled him up for our second warmup and got much better work from him. He doesn’t buck or bolt or spook or sass when he’s pissed off- he just jumps out of his skin. He’s literally a unicorn, it’s the actual best response ever. And you know what really annoys him? Being smacked behind my leg. It doesn’t need to be a big smack. It can be a little tickle from a dressage whip. Nothing gets him pinning his ears and cracking his back quite like it.

So between a new haircut and that dressage whip in my hand, Francis went through that grid with the roundest bascule I’ve ever felt from him. It was SUCH fantastic energy firing off the ground! He was pretty sure life was miserable DESPITE LITERALLY NOTHING BEING DIFFERENT BECAUSE I BARELY TOUCHED HIM WITH THE WHIP but it was an awesome workout for him and good practice getting the fire in his step.

Naturally, we jacked the last jump up to give him a bit of a challenge- a nice square oxer that we set up at 4′. He just flew. It was amazing. Trainer let me go back and do it again, but the deal was that I couldn’t have my stirrups. He still flew, and took me with him. Landed cantering away casually while I was up there grinning like an idiot. I swear, jumping over colorful sticks with this creature is the best feeling in the entire world.

This all made me that much more excited to try some bigger tracks with him. He clearly has the scope for it, he was barely trying over that last oxer. And now that we’ve figured out that he jumps much more correctly (and therefore much more safely) once we rile him up a bit, I think we’ll be able to up the ante on course. This will never be his “normal,” but it’s something we can practice.

He definitely gets very strong when he’s like that, but at the same time he’s so much more adjustable since we have all that impulsion from behind. We’ll need to play around with bits to give us something that gives me the leverage to channel this energy without backing him off. We have a couple good ideas that we’re going to test.

His favorite little barn rat will give him some rides while I go up north for Christmas, then we’re counting down to WEC! We’ll probably fit in one local show to do the 3′ eq and one B one-day to do the Highs in January as our kickoff to the season, then it’s off to Ohio for two weeks. I. Can’t. Wait.

If I don’t talk to y’all before then, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, very happy holidays, and get to spend lots of time with the people and creatures you love!

We Lessoned!

For the first time in about a month, I actually jumped my pony over colorful sticks!

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This is pretty much all I’ve done for the last month. Toodle.

Nothing crazy- some grid work with placing poles to inspire straightness and encourage a good effort over the jumps. Seeing as Francis thinks lifting his shoulders and picking up his knees and rounding over his back over jumps is like OMG SO DUMB, this was a fantastic exercise for him.

And a fantastic exercise for me too- I didn’t have to worry about remembering courses, finding a distance, or doing much of anything besides work on my own position. Professional diagram below:

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So trot in to the crossrail, one SHORT stride to the oxer, then one bigger stride to the vertical out. Poles to keep us straight to the oxer, then straightening poles over the vertical. Then a pole after the vertical because FRANCIS STOP SUCKING OUT TO THE WALL.

The added poles were really what made this grid work so well for us- that first stride to the oxer was super short. As in, the first time through we definitely bounced it. #18footstride. No bueno.

The trick was to get a short powerful trot in, so that he could land close to the crossrail and put in a nice short stride there. That channel created by the poles forced him to keep his body straight and not give himself extra room by bulging to either side. Homeboy actually had to pick himself up.

Then I LOVED the straightening poles over the last fence. You’ve all seen pictures of Frankie jumping- homeboy is athletic enough and is happy to jump anything, but he doesn’t have the most…classical…technique. As in, he jumps like a llama.

But the V-poles here really forced him to pick his shoulders up and stay completely straight, instead of leaning to either side. And while I don’t have media, I could feel him jumping SO CUTE. When your horse typically jumps like a drunk alpaca, it’s pretty easy to feel the difference. It’s such a nicer motion to stay with- I could let him push me up out of the saddle and give a really generous release instead of trying to figure out where the center of balance is and keeping a feel because lord knows we’re going to land in a heap and we need all the communication we can get right now so help me.

The pacing of this exercise was also something I needed to work on- you really had to ride one jump at a time (no kidding Olivia, that’s what we call “progressing through time.”) But what I mean is that the timing of the aids had to be more precise here.

That first stride was very short. Meaning we could not canter in, we could not beast-trot in (that’s an official dressage term btw). We had to get a powerful, short, straight, elastic trot in and keep shoulders up to collect the first stride. And then over the oxer I needed to PRESS and land moving for the bigger stride. If I asked too early for the bigger stride, I made Frankie’s life harder to the oxer. If I asked too late, I made his life harder to the vertical. If I timed it properly, I set him up for success at both jumps.

Side note- I love that even after doing grids for almost 20 years, there’s still so much to think about and consider even when they’re simple like this. Grids 4 lyfe.

After going through a couple times successfully- proving that it wasn’t just a fluke- I asked to be done a little early so we could end on a really good note. I needed a win after dealing with some stress at work lately, and Francis delivered. Because he is literally the best horse on the planet and if you disagree I will fight you in real life.

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I have never related so hard in my life

I have to give a HUGE shoutout to Assistant Trainer here too. She’s been putting some pro rides on Frankie lately while I’ve taken a break from lessoning and it is seriously so noticeable. He always WANTS to give me the right answer, and she does such a great job of explaining to him what that right answer is. I’m incredibly grateful that I could take a month-long break from doing anything besides toodling, hop back on my horse, and have him more educated and fit than he was when we left off.

We didn’t do anything super crazy with this lesson- none of the jumps were very big at all- but it was the perfect way to knock some of the rust off. Frankie was happy, he jumped cute, I was less jiggly/loose in the tack than I anticipated I’d be, we worked up a good sweat, I loosened up some of the knots in my neck and back, and overall I count this as a successful therapy session. Bonus points that it was good training for both of us.

Big Stretches

You know that post-show hangover? Yeah, that was Monday for me. So tired. So sore. Ded.

But then Tuesday dawned with that most wondrous of feelings: Second Day Sore. SDS. I was a decrepit little hobbit around the office all day, and I know my lesson that afternoon would be dicey.

Luckily, the the no-stirrup work and gymnastics we did actually stretched me out and helped my muscles recover that much faster- score!

Our private lessons have come to an end due to scheduling conflicts, so I’m getting back into the zone of semi-privates once more. Our flatwork was nothing crazy- lots of extensions and collections within gaits, making sure we got a prompt response to my cues and were controlling that shoulder around our turns (both his AND mine).

Frankie felt really great! Forward, working over his back as he warmed up, balanced. I think the rest day and the slightly warmer temperatures put him in his happy place because he was really a pleasure to ride (I mean….he always is….but yeah he was great).

We kept the exercises fairly straightforward for the jumping phase. For a while we just worked through a simple grid: trot in crossrail-one stride-vertical-one stride-oxer. It never got very high and it was more to allow me to focus on my own position through the exercise. Then we did a little gymnastic-y type course:

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So gymnastic up the long side, cut across the middle, up the bending line red to skinny in a straightforward 4, down the one stride combo, then up the oxer to barrel bending out in 4 or 5.

My goal through the gymnastic was to stay still with my shoulders, keep my leg on while staying in a light seat, and focus on straightness through my entire body all the way through. Over the middle jump 2, we sliced it a little bit and then tried to hug jump 1A to give us plenty of space to make the turn to 3. The 4 stride was very steady- neither forward nor holding- and Frankie locked onto the skinny early on so no problems there. We had to cowboy up out of the corner a bit for the one stride, then balance around for the last bending line. The first two times we galloped out in four strides, then went back and shaped and held for the five.

Overall nothing crazy! The jumps stayed low and none of the striding was tricky. Much more focus on my own equitation and playing with our tracks to see how different tracks affect our overall course. It was honestly pretty relaxing! Happy horse, straightforward exercises, stretching my tired muscles and his.

We’ll have one more lesson next week before the barn heads down to Florida, then we’ll be on a mini-vacation. Trainer mentioned that she maaaaay get someone to come teach while she’s gone, so we’ll see if our flatwork sessions will have a lesson thrown in there. As much as I wish I could go down the Florida with them, it will be nice to have a quieter ring to work in- it’s tough to do as much lateral work and pole work as I’d like with all the lesson kids sharing the indoor this time of year.

The outdoor ring is currently under expansion and should be GORGEOUS with brand new footing later in the spring- I really can’t wait for the weather to turn so we can ride outside more!!! Also so I can consistently feel my toes and not feel like a marshmallow in 10,000 layers. But also to ride outside.