Mean Mom

You all know that there is nothing I love more than gushing about how much I adore my Francisco. He is truly the light of my life and I need everyone to know it. Constantly. I’m even happier when I can get people out to the barn to bask in the presence of the Sweet Sleepy Boy.

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My MIL loves to come see him, and he loves soaking up all her praise. It’s very heartwarming.

For my non-horse friends and family, there has been a pattern of some surprise when they come out and see how I handle Frankie. Apparently they often have certain expectations based on my unceasing verbal adoration. I’m not sure what those expectations are, but I imagine gazing adoringly and softly cooing sweet nothings feature prominently. Reality, however, is quite different. More than once, I’ve had someone tell me:

“Olivia, you’re kinda a mean mom.”

And you know what? They are totally right. I am kinda a mean mom.

I don’t feed Frankie any treats, I never let him rub his head on me, I give regular “course corrections” in the form of a smack when he’s not focused or behaving. I’m (surprisingly to them) strict with Frankie.

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I put ice boots and BoT wraps on him every time we jump I AM SO VERY MEAN TO HIM

But here’s the thing. Francis is a very large horse. Francis also loves treats more than anything in the world, and forgets that he’s big when he thinks he might get one. His excitement about the treat trumps the lessons he knows about respecting personal space. This is absolutely something we could fix with groundwork and practice, but I don’t see a need. The Treat Fairy will sometimes leave him something in his bucket, and I praise verbally instead. He is an enormous fan of verbal praise, so the lack of treats does not ruin his life (I promise).

And no, I don’t let him rub his face on me when untacking. You know what he likes to rub his face on? Fenceposts. And the younger horse in his herd that he sometimes likes to pick on. You know what I do not want my horse to see me as? An inanimate object or as lower in the dynamic of our own little herd. Not exactly the precedent I want to set in terms of who is the leader here.

And yeah, I’ll give him a slap or a poke and a bit of a growl when he moves into my personal space. He’s the one that has to move his feet out of my way, not the other way around. Again – you know who moves their feet for Frankie? That younger gelding. Again – I’m not particularly willing to be low man on the totem pole here.

Frankie gets plenty of face scratches – but only when I offer them to him, and he happily accepts. He gets to go for nice long walks and get nice long grooming sessions – respectfully holding still when asked, and only coming into my personal space when invited. Every time that he offers the right behavior (which is almost all the time), he is praised with scratches and pats and a hearty “good boy!”

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He doesn’t even have to get up, I will bring the face scratchies directly to naptime

With all my strictness, do you know what I end up with? A horse who has clear boundaries, who respects those boundaries to keep us both safe even in tough situations (like his Very Bad Day recently), who can relax because he never has to guess how he should act. There is consistency around it – he doesn’t get away with something one day, and then punished for it the next. By being a fair and consistent leader for my horse, I’m allowing him to be a contented follower.

So yes. I am strict with my horse and I can kinda be a mean mom. But I also have a horse that I can hand off to a child and know he will be careful and polite. That almost never spooks, because he has faith that I’ll take care of things for him. And at the end of the day, I have a horse that is relaxed and happy because he knows and likes his role in our dynamic.

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You can even basically drop the reins while nervously waiting to propose and he’ll keep chillin’

I’ll take the Mean Mom moniker happily if it keeps Frankie as wonderfully content as he is.

Frankie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Well guys, after 3.5 years, we finally had a day where poor Francis Simply Could Not Even. He tried really hard, but the deck was stacked against him and the poor guy simply could not get those hamsters back on those wheels.

His morning did start off very rough – a drunk driver crashed into the fence next to his field and subsequently a telephone pole (against all odds, the driver managed to drive away from the accident and was found a few streets over, passed out and not a scratch on him). So to be fair, he didn’t have the calmest start to the day. This also led to a million utility vehicles with accompanying flashing lights and jackhammers right next to him. This was Poor Francis Incident 1 of the day.

By the time I got to the barn, he had been relaxing in his stall for a few hours and seemed happy to see me. I hadn’t heard about the morning’s incident yet and had no reason to think he wasn’t feeling completely settled.

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This was a few days earlier and completely unrelated, he’s just a really cute land hippo

Poor Francis Incident 2 of the day happened right as I was pulling him out of his stall to put him on the crossties: either a tractor backfired, a door slammed, or some other loud noise happened behind the barn as we were exiting. This was Very Scary and I had a tense-as-a-rock giraffe on those crossties. With plenty of pats and soothing tones we got a bit of relaxation, but not our usual crosstie nap.

Partially because Poor Francis Incidents 2 and 3 were happening in sight of where he was tied: there was a truck full of roundbales where there was previously Not A Truck, and there was a man clanging and fixing a fence where there was previously Not A Man.

Neither of these would have usually bothered Frankie beyond some mild curiosity, but he was already on high alert mode and looking for reasons to stay on alert. Every time he started to relax, the clanging started up again and we re-started the cycle.

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This is our usual attitude. This is not the attitude we had that day.

No big deal though, I know if I could hop on then we could channel some of this energy and give him something else to focus on. I don’t have a death wish though, so I opted to take him for a quick hand walk around the outdoor – the aforementioned utility vehicles and flashing lights were directly adjacent on the road within full view, and I wanted to give him a chance to see them with me offering reassurance.

He was holding it together pretty well until we reach the end of the ring closest to the trucks – which, of course, is when Poor Francis Incident 4 kicked in and they decided to start jackhammering. Homeboy was ready to peace out of there and take me with him, so I got us turned around and headed back towards safety (with Frankie taking many looks behind to make sure that this monster wasn’t chasing us).

I got us back in the barn, loosened his girth, and just stood there with him for a solid 10 minutes letting him decompress. His little brain was so overstimulated and he clearly needed some quiet time to take a deep breath. Once his head was no longer a periscope and his muscles weren’t hard as rocks, I took him into the indoor for a ride.

Considering what a tough time he had been having, he was a really really good boy for me. We took plenty of walk breaks when he started tensing up (mostly due to the clanging and hammering), we did some lateral work to keep his brain on me, and we praised tons for trying. And he sincerely was trying. I was very proud of him.

We even went back out into the outdoor and walked a few laps to finish up, with not even a peek at the trucks. He was back to his happy self.

Proud of how he listened and handled himself, I put him in the wash stall to give him a nice cool bath as a reward.

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We can totally do nice things together!

Which is when they decided to unload the round bales off the Truck That Wasn’t There Before. Poor Francis Incident 5.

At that point I gave up, put him back in his stall to eat his hay in peace and comfort, and decided to try again another day. Poor Francis. Every single time we got to a good spot, something else happened. Couldn’t catch a break.

I gotta say, even though he was clearly convinced that he had entered a Bizarro World of Doom, he looked to me at every point. He never once invaded my personal space – despite clearly wanting to crawl in my pocket – and respected the lead even when he very much wanted to trot away from the zona peligrosa. His attitude was never “I gotta get outta here,” it was very much “WE gotta get outta here.”

Just goes to show you: even unicorns can have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days sometimes.

Lovin’ Through the Cold Months

I realized something recently. It was something I already knew, but recent events made it SO much more obvious. Here’s the scenario:

The weather is much colder, and Frankie is clipped. I worry about him getting cold while grooming, so I try to work around a cooler and move as quickly as possible so I can hop on and get his muscles warmed up. After riding, I brush him and get him snugged back in his blankets as quickly as possible.

Frankie becomes less affectionate and snuggly. He doesn’t do anything bad, but he isn’t his usual sweet self on the crossties and ignores me when I go into his stall.

So after a few days of this I pop a second cooler on, switch on the heat lamps, and groom him for a much longer time. After riding, I put his blankets back on but then take the time to brush his mane and tail, rub his ears, and polish his hooves.

Frankie tries to get in my pockets and has his ears up watching me the whole time. The next day I walk into his stall and he leaves his hay to come say hello and get scratches.

Um. WOW.

I hear you loud and clear, Francis. Message received. More quality grooming time moved up the priority ladder to “Crucial.” I’ve always known that Frankie loves himself some lovin’, but this really drove the point home that his mood and attitude towards work is SO so so tied to that time together.

I’ve made an effort to spend more time on the ground with Frankie over the past couple of weeks and it’s been noticeable how much happier he is to see me. Which totally makes my heart so happy! Even without giving him any treats, he mooches on me for scratches and ear rubs. He even returns the favor for me sometimes by using his nose to “groom” my shoulder or hip.

So this is my reminder to myself: no matter how caught up in training and competing I get, I need to make Frankie’s comfort and happiness a priority by making sure we spend plenty of time bonding together. Even when it’s cold out and all I want to do is go to my heated car. Frankie is worth braving the weather.

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Even when I’m wearing literally 5 layers and can barely move my body

How do you build in bonding time when the temperature gets low?