WIHS Regional/Zone 3 Finals

Our 2017 season is officially over! I’m pretty bummed, because I do think we get better and better with every round out there, and I’m already itching to go keep building. But we’ll just have to keep training at home and prepping for 2018.

Overall I think this was a fantastic last show of the season- there were high points, there were low points, there was redemption. And through it all, we got to go back and keep working to fix our mistakes and take some risks and build on our training. What more can you ask for??

I’ll start with Day 1, where we had a regular class and then a classic.

Frankie came off the trailer feeling sassy, and gave me a nice little skitter moment in the warmup. He didn’t actually want to spook, and once I put my leg on and took a contact he settled right down to work. It was a nice quick warmup with some great fences, and then we went in the class!

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First course!

We angled jump 1 a little left to right so Frankie knew we were turning right afterwards. This set us up for a nice tight turn to roll back over 2. We galloped up out of the corner for the two-stride, then had to rock back a little for six strides out over 4- I needed to rock back a little harder a little earlier in the line, but we fit it in ok. Then we angled 5 a little right to left to set us up for an inside turn to the one-stride on the rail- we got in a little tight and had to power out over the vertical. Then we went inside the plants to get to 7 and galloped out the bending line, last bending line from 9 to 10, then I went inside the plants for a nice tight turn to the last vertical that I cut off in the pic oopsie daisy.

By the grace of Francis, we went clear and fast and left the ring as class leaders. We had a few sticky spots here and there were I didn’t rock him back or get his attention enough, but he was a POWERHOUSE. We took every available inside option and he sat his butt down for those turns as if he’s always done that. My sweet sweet Range Rover of a horse has turned sporty!!! We ended up getting edged out by less than 2 seconds (by an ex-Grand Prix horse) to take second place in the class out of 14 competitors!

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Cheesin’ hard!

We had about 90 minutes to relax and cool down before our classic, course here:

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I felt like it was pretty soft as far as classic courses go- no S-turns or end jumps, no triple combo. It was full of big sweeping turns and related distances. Basically it looked like a sped up hunter course to be completely honest.

The first half of this course was meh- I had too much pace going for lines 1-2 and 3-4. The two stride went well again and I rocked him back harder this time for the six strides out, so that felt a ton better. We had an even easier turn to the one-stride and I thought we hit a much better flow through it this time, and bending 9-10 was lovely. Unfortunately the “meh” part of the course was enough to keep us out of the ribbons despite the stellar last half, but I was still really happy with Frankie! He worked hard throughout the entire course and was listening like a pro.

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He was not amused by his mother’s constant need for selfies.

We got him home and unloaded by mid-afternoon, and he got to go outside and play with his buddies overnight. We had an early day on Sunday! I met Trainer there at 7:30a to give us time to walk the course and discuss plan of attack before my ring’s 8am start.

Our warmup for the first class was lovely- he was soft, adjustable, quiet, willing, absolutely delightful.

Note to self: this is not what we want. Soft and quiet Francis equals a low RPM Francis equals a bad time for all when the jumps are big.

Here’s our first course for the Welcome class:

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I won’t walk you through our whole plan of attack, because we didn’t make it past jump 3A. Jumps 1 and 2 came up fantastically- 1 was a nice ramped oxer and we went direct to 2 in a forward six strides. Then we came up out of the corner and….stalled. We barely made it over 3A and then I simply did not help my horse in any way and he was like WTF lady there is no way I am making it over that oxer and he was totally right. So we circled around, reapproached, and I made exactly the same mistake. And at that point he was also like AHA I DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS WE HAVE DECIDED THIS IS EXCELLENT FAREWELL. And just kinda petered to a stop while I did nothing about it except jump ahead and end up sitting in front of the saddle while he stood there looking pleased with himself for getting to be done after three jumps.

Oops.

We had about an hour before the next class, and we decided that it was time to get Frankie a little mad. Because when he’s mad, he’s focused and fast and powerful and starts charging the jumps.  And while ideally I wouldn’t be using Zone Finals as a schooling round, my first priority was to go back in there and give him a good experience through the combo so that we both could build confidence in our abilities. That was Goal #1 and everything else came secondary to that.

So I went in for my next warmup and practiced using my stick behind my leg over the jumps. Not hard enough to actually hurt him obviously, but enough to get his attention. Enough to kinda annoy him and get him really focused hard on jumping. We got some GREAT super fiery jumps out of him in the warmup, and went into the ring first for our last class of the weekend.

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Very similar in a lot of ways. 1 to 2 was an inviting bending seven strides. 3 to 4 was the same direct six, that came up even nicer this time since we were already rolling. Then I got in the back seat, bridged my reins, and gave Frankie a good smack out of the corner. And whatdya know- that combo rode beautifully, even with the jumps jacked up to the full 1.15m. It was a nice easy 4 strides out over 6. I then cut off the end of the ring to get to the two-stride on the wall, which looked FREAKIN’ HUGE MAN HOLY CRAP (I almost peed my pants looking at that oxer while walking the course), but Frankie just flew through it. There was a bending 7 strides out over the skinny jump…which we maybe put 5 strides in. I told you, Frankie was F-L-Y-I-N-G.  I then proceeded to mangle our last line ha ha el oh el.

With a time allowed of 76 seconds, do you know what we clocked in at?

56 seconds.

THAT IS SO STUPID FAST. Like, clearly stupid because he hit some rails and I’d rather we didn’t do that. But say what you will about our abilities. We do. Not. Get. Time. Faults.

While this round probably looked like a bit of a hot mess from the outside, I was actually thrilled with it for a couple reasons:

  1. We went back and made the combo work. That ended up being the best part of our course. We got to prove to each other that we could, in fact, go make it happen powerfully.
  2. Historically, the second course of the day and the second day of competition is tough for us. We both start losing steam. We made plenty of mistakes in this round, but losing steam was not one of them.
  3. Overall we made new mistakes. Getting both of us to operate at that higher RPM has been a huge long journey, full of inconsistencies. Even though we still hit some rails, we hit them for different reasons than we have in the past. I can live with making different mistakes instead of repeating the same ones over and over.

Frankie showed me this weekend that when I show up to work, he can face off with the best of them. That we don’t have to play it safe anymore- the tight turns and risky gallops are never where we have rails. We have rails when I get complacent and try to play it safe. We both thrive under a little pressure to go Get It Done.

It’s been a truly incredible progression throughout the 2017 season as we’ve both gained our sea legs, so to speak. We both know our jobs SO much better in the ring and our partnership keeps getting stronger and stronger.

I know I keep saying this, but every time I think Frankie has hit a new high, he goes out there and gets even more amazing. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect partner to chase my dreams with. I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a horse like him.

Cheers to an amazing 2017 season full of growth and learning, and I already can’t wait for our 2018 season together!

PS- the pro pics should be online today or tomorrow, and I’m hoping there will be some good ones for me to buy. I didn’t have anyone to grab media this weekend, so fingers crossed we get some photo evidence of Frankie’s awesomeness!

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Planning Ahead to Move Up Someday: the Maybe Edition

Just to clarify up front: we are not moving up any time soon. We are in the midst of a lovely season in the Highs and are continuing to work out the kinks and polish it up.

Because let’s be honest, there is PLENTY to work on.

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For example, some day I’ll actually learn how to ride, maybe. PC: A. Frye

But I also like to have a bit of a longer view to what’s coming up, and sat down with my trainer to discuss what our plan is moving forward. The verdict: we have no real verdict, and I’m really excited about it.

What we do have is a series of options depending on how things go throughout the rest of the season. A couple of soft “maybes.”

One maybe: we get to the end of this season in the 1.10m-1.15m classes and decide we need another season in this division. Which would be fun! We could really focus hard on perfecting our rounds at that height, and there are plenty of fun classics and competitions at this height to keep us entertained.

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We can get plenty of cute pics in this division. And yes I’m still sharing this picture forever.

Another maybe: we get to the end of this season and feel really great and comfortable with how we’re going, and decide to try and move up. Which leads to another series of maybes.

In this case we work really hard over the winter to build fitness and accuracy, and very slowly start to try out a 1.20m class here and there- maybe putting my trainer in the irons at first to give him a better ride. Focusing on the ones offered early in the season and early in the week, where the courses are set more simply and forgivingly. And we pay very very close attention and make sure to work closely with our vet to make sure we’re not pushing further than Frankie wants to go- we know that being able to clear a few 1.20m fences does not equal the ability to navigate a full long course at a show. So this potentially leads us to a couple other maybes.

Maybe Frankie and I have built up enough fitness to do a soft entry into the 1.20m classes, and can give the Low A/O division a try. Which I think would be super cool.

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Seeing him fly like this over 1.15m is encouraging. PC: G. Mohan

Or maybe Frankie gives it a try and tells us that he’s not comfortable moving up more- which is also fine. Because that leads to another set of maybes.

Maybe at this point I decide to stay in the Highs with Frankie and come up with new goals within that height range- WIHS, other finals, etc. There are plenty of options!

Or maybe we decide to lease Frankie out to someone looking for a proven 1.15m packer, and use that lease fee to find me a 1.20m lease. Which would mean no A/O division for me, but there are other opportunities to give that height a try- the regional championships that I’m doing offer a 1.20m/1.25m section and they don’t require ownership to compete like they do in the A/Os.

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Have someone else deal with Sir Naps-a-Lot for a year

And because horses like to poop all over the best-laid plans, I am so sure that there are at least 100 other “maybes” that we haven’t even started to consider. Chances are high that we end up with the final option of “none of the above.”

So there you have it: we have no idea what we’re going to be doing long term, but we’re excited to find out. In the meantime we’re going to focus hard on fitness, get our eyes fixed on Regionals, and keep building our partnership for whatever the future might hold!

Ending note: I’m grateful to have a trainer who takes the time to talk about those longer-term goals with honesty and openness. And especially grateful that throughout our whole conversation, she made it abundantly clear that her #1 priority is Frankie’s health and longevity. In a sport where we so often hear about people pushing hard and fast at the expense of the horse, I’m proud to ride with someone who never compromises the horse for the show.

Do you like to plan out your maybes? 

Upperville: The Recap

Phew. Moved into the new apartment, had my first day at the new job, and now I need to tell you more about Upperville.

I had some pretty high hopes going into Upperville- not of the ribbon variety, but more just reeeeally wanting to go lay down some good rides in our division. I combined that drive for success with barely riding for two weeks prior to competing. Because that’s always how to get better at things, right? Completely wing it.

Except you forget the part where Francis is literally a unicorn pegasus hearts and flowers kind of horse that is way better to me than I deserve. Srsly.

Overall I was thrilled with our rounds- despite my lack of saddle time I think I made decent decisions and stuck to the plan, and Frankie was just so on top of things that he made up for any of my deficiencies.

On to the details.

I arrived on Saturday to the oh-so-familiar sight of Francis conserving his energy for the upcoming competition:

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Too tired to close his mouth.

Someone commented that the stalls seemed small and I just pulled this pic out and said: “17.1 horse. Stalls are fine.”

But I left him to his beauty sleep and went to learn my course with my trainer. By the time we got back to get ready for warmup he had roused himself (luckily, I had a BEAST of a time getting him up at Culpeper) and we were able to go get our muscles moving.

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The rule is that I’m responsible for listening to our trainer, and Frankie is responsible for finding the nearest camera to make cute faces at. (PC: A. Frye)

Weirdly enough, I’m almost more proud of our warmups than I am of our actual rounds. It’s always taken me a little while to get my head in the game and ask Frankie for some real work, but this time we set right to it and were making better choices much more quickly. I consider that a big step forward for us. And of course, he met this dedication with his own hard work:

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I swear he doesn’t even look like the same horse as last year. (PC: A. Frye)

We didn’t need a ton of time to get us going and it was pretty hot, so we opted to head into the ring without too much of a delay. Course here:

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I liked this course a lot!

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His first time in this ring, keeping an eye on things. (PC: A. Frye)
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Specifically, keeping an eye on the camera because he is a diva (PC: A. Frye)
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UGH MAHM FINE WE WILL GO JUMPS (PC: A. Frye)

We came up to jump 1 off a shorter turn on the right lead- we like to collect through the turn and then bounce up instead of taking a longer runway approach.

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And it paid off with this lovely effort. In love with those perfectly even back feet!

We stumbled a bit off 2 but recovered in time for 3, and just continued on to 4. The bending into the combo walked a little short and I ended up holding a bit too much- it was uphill and away from the gate so it didn’t ride as short as I anticipated. But Francis was a bro and powered out the one stride totally fine.

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Please ignore everything about me in the Superman position and focus on the cute horsie NOTHING TO SEE HERE EXCEPT MY HORSE (told you he’s better to me than I deserve) (PC: A. Frye)

6 to 7 was fine and all was clear, so we continued on to the speed phase.

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Aw buddy be cuter (PC: A. Frye)

I let him get up on 8 too much and knocked a rail, and then we knocked one of the rails in the combo, got a bit of a flyer out over 11, and then 12 to 13 was decent.

Did we make mistakes? Absolutely. Did my horse listen like a champ and give me what I asked for every step of the way? Also absolutely. His first time in the ring, tons of activity, and he stayed tuned in to me the whole time. Even better- after going through the timers and finishing, he tried to veer left and pull me towards jump 3. He wanted to go jump more. While we were out of the ribbons, I finished in the top 50% of the class and with a happy horse who was loving his job. I consider that a definite show success!

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We also got to go cool down with these views, so not too shabby.

On to Sunday!

Sunday was brutally hot. Like, it sucked. You know how when it’s that hot out you don’t want to eat because nothing is refreshing enough and your body is just too hot? Yeah. I did choke some fuel down, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.

But Frankie continued his eternal streak of being a Very Good Boy.

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Including mugging for the camera while getting tacked up.

I was a little nervous for our Sunday round- our first 1.15m class together, and Upperville does not set the heights forgivingly. This was going to be a true test at height, and I knew there would definitely be a triple combo in there somewhere. I was right:

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While more challenging, I thought this was a really fair test. There were a few options for the bold to make some intense inside turns, the time allowed was tight, but it wasn’t trappy anywhere. If you rode a good pace and made efficient turns, you could safely ride this competitively.

We again chose to make a short turn on the right lead to jump 1 (passing in front of jump 3). 2 to 3 was a standard 5 strides- I saw some horses struggle to get out in 5 if they didn’t jump in correctly, but I liked our jump 2 and Frankie carried his standard stride to take us out just a leeetle bit long.

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Cute jump 2! (PC: G. Mohan)

End jump at 4 was fine, 5 was ok- it was a skinny and a very upright vertical so a lot of horses knocked that one. We got a bit close on it, but Frankie was scrappy and got his feets out of the way. I needed to hold more left leg and get straighter into the combo, but we ended up to a good takeoff spot and made it through unscathed. We flew a bit into 7 which made 8 really tight- Frankie earned his oats by getting clear over that, because that was a tough spot for him.

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Flyer to 7 but he still real cute (PC: G. Mohan)

And then my horse started running out of steam. Due to scheduling confusion and the heat we had done a longer warmup than we strictly needed, and this was a long course. But true to self, he still went about his job like a pro and carried me through the triple combo without touching a rail. We galloped up 10-11 and took a well earned breather.

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Yeah he totally looks tired, doesn’t he? (PC: G. Mohan)

Despite the heat and both of us starting to flag, we had gone clear and within time! They buzzed us for our jumpoff almost immediately.

Again, 1 was fine. I didn’t get him back quickly enough to make the turn I wanted to 3, so we went a bit wide. 13 to 14 was a basic bending line, not much to say there. Then I am so proud of Frankie- we took a tighter turn and sliced across the oxer at 10 and he didn’t even blink. We made it around through the one-stride no problem again, and just has one jump left. Away from the gate. The course designers absolutely did this on purpose- both of us tired and hot and ready to be done, and I didn’t get his attention back on me and we biffed the last one. Womp womp. Just goes to show- do not relax until you are through those last timers.

But we again managed to finish in the top 50% of a big class, even if we were out of the ribbons. And we again finished with a horse that was tired, but a horse that had his ears up and made his way back to the barn with a spring in his step.

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And the height? Not even a thing. Frankie charged fearlessly ahead to every jump on course.

So yeah. My goal of going to Upperville and having some good rides was 100% successful in my book. Nowhere near perfect, but we’re further along that path than we used to be. And if you didn’t have a crush on Frankie before this, I hope you do now because he deserves all the love in the world from everyone. I count my lucky stars every day to have this goofy wonderful gelding in my life.

We now have our sights set on Zones in August! Our new outdoor is complete (post to come once I get pics I’m satisfied with) and full of fun jumps for us to practice with, and Frankie has never felt better.

It’s looking like we’ll do that in August, and then wrap up our season at Culpeper Finals end of September- we’ll plan to do the Modified A/O division at 1.15m, and I’m going to beg and plead and work really hard to convince my trainer that we should probably try a 1.20m class. We’ll revisit as we get closer depending on Frankie’s fitness, my own fitness, and how our training is going, but that’s a tentative stretch goal. We’ll focus on smoothing out the rough edges at 1.15m first, I GUESS.

Hope to get some more updates out to you soon!

HITS Video: First High Round

Things are a little hectic around here and I will have some cool news to share soon, but in the meantime enjoy this video of our first round in the Highs at HITS!

I clearly didn’t make all the right decisions here. I was so used to having to boot him up to the jumps that all of a sudden he was carrying me and WHOOPS GONNA CHIP TO EVERYTHING. I need to remember that Homeboy is more fit and more educated now and needs support, not squeezing.

This was our first true time competing at this height (like I said once before, McDonogh was set VERY forgivingly and likely not true to height) and I couldn’t be happier with how Francis did. He has to deal with his ammy mom making tons of mistakes but he does it all with his little ears perked up and just trucks around. Worth his weight in gold, this horse.

Our next outing will be Upperville- just for the weekend- where we will do the 1.10m/1.15m classes. Can’t wait!

HITS Culpeper: Commonwealth National 2017

Our first big show of the season is in the books! Strap in for a BEAST of a post guys, because I’ve got lots to say. Don’t worry, we also have lots of great pics thanks to the best show friends ever.

And holy crap guys, I have to put this out there straight off: Francis. Was. Amazing. Like, I can’t even express the amazing. This horse has come SO far in a year, is SO much more educated, and legit was perfection all weekend. I certainly have plenty to work on, but the horse is totally aces.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and you know that Francis is a real professional show pony now, we can get into the good stuff.

Francis shipped into the showgrounds on Thursday and got a training ride with a good report card- a storm was blowing in while Trainer was on him and he was apparently a little looky with all the wind and noise, but settled into work once she set the screws to him a bit. She let me know to show up bright and early the next day to kick things off.

On Friday we opted to do a warmup 1m class in the GP ring for a couple reasons: 1) To get us listening to each other before out 1.10m classes and 2) to let us get into the GP ring before our classic on Sunday. Not that Francis cares, but Trainer knows I like to get the lay of the land if at all possible.

Course here:

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Note the dampness because EVERYTHING WAS WET UGH

No hard questions here. The intent was to treat this as a schooling round- I didn’t want to go in there and gallop around. The footing was super soupy from the storms so my plan was to stay balanced and get some adjustability from Francis. I felt like he really delivered! We got a bit of a launcher at fence 5 when I asked too late for the move up, but the rest of the time we managed to get some pretty good, close distances. Especially at that height where Frankie doesn’t need to work too hard, we wanted him listening to the base- I had to wrestle him back a bit through that last line towards home, but he obliged and fit in that last stride. Overall it felt like a very competent schooling round with a few sticky spots but plenty of good spots, and that perfectly met our goal going into the ring. Even with a rail, it was good enough to get us 8th out of 20ish in an open class!

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I love the flags in the background here, we got the Grand Prix look!
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You guys. Francis is picking his knees up. OMG.
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Note the lake right behind us. Srsly so soupy.
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Jumping into the last line towards home. I had to sit down hard after this to ask him to fit the strides in that last line- he could see the in-gate and wanted to gallop home.

We then had quite a while before our first High Adult round went in Jumper 1, and Francis took full advantage of that break.

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“Oh. Hey.”
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You don’t even realize how long he was down there. HOURS. Pretty sure he was snoring.
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We thought he’d try to get up when we came in to bug him… Nope. He was very content to stay where he was and snuggle.

Sadly, we did eventually have to rouse him from his nap and pick the shavings out of his tail. He gave us plenty of sighs to let us know what a bother it was. But he had to go cart his Momma over some colorful sticks!

I was not nervous per say, but a little intimidated. Sure, we went in the Highs at 1.10m back in January, but I’m pretty convinced those jumps were set at a VERY forgiving height. So for me this felt like our first REAL time going out there at a true 1.10m in competition.

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Waiting our turn on the buckle like a true fiery jumper steed
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Slightly less damp by this point in the day.

But as soon as the buzzer rang, that apprehension flew out the window. Was it a perfect course? Absolutely not! But the height didn’t even seem like a factor- the sticky spots were due to my own mistakes and not due to any difficulty making it over that height.

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Oh but he real cute tho

We got a flyer to jump 1, which led to me letting him get a bit strung out and knocking fence 2. That meant that the line from 2 to 3 which had walked a little tight ended up being more of a push ride out. Then I got a bit up on 4a and had to kick out of the two-stride, but that set us up to gallop out of stride over 5. He jumped the snot out of this one, I splurged on the pro pic.

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Knees!
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The pro pic is basically a clearer, more zoomed in, better version of this crappy screenshot I grabbed. Of course I had to get the pic, look how cute he is!!

I needed more left leg to get a better track across 6, but bending out over 7 was nice and 8a-b rode fine. That five strides out over 9 was tough and ended up being an ugly jump honestly. The last line actually felt fantastic though- Frankie gave me this incredible moment of softness about 1 stride out from 10 and it set us up to rock back and fit the stride in over the last fence.

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Jump 10. When we get that softness to the base, wow. Just wow.

They did end up combining the Children and Adult sections so that rail was enough to keep us out of the ribbons in a class of 16. Honestly though, I was thrilled with Frankie and felt like this course was a really good representation of where we are together. (Be prepared to hear that again, it was kinda the theme of our weekend).

Saturday was super fun for me- I got to play owner! We had Assistant Trainer take Francis in the 1.15m class so he could get some confidence building miles at that height before he has to deal with the height AND his mother.

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Pretty hunter-ific in my opinion

It was a blast getting to see Frankie go with such a strong and competent rider. I do the best I can for him, but let’s be real. I’m no pro. Since I wasn’t actually on I don’t have much to say, so just enjoy these pics of Francis being a star:

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Waiting their turn AND LOOKING LIKE SUCH A HUNKY BEEFCAKE OMG
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First oxer on course, and Trainer mentioned he definitely felt a little surprised by the height
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He eventually figured it out
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Sweet back feetsies
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Someday my leg will be this strong and stable. Someday.

Some comments from AT when she came out of the ring: overall, she said Francis was a good boy and listened well to her. The close spot to the base still does not come naturally to him and he has to think hard about it, so she wants to work on his fitness to make that easier for him.

But you know who earned his first blue ribbon?

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Very proud Momma with the star steed and best AT evah. She may be tiny, but the woman has totally inhuman strength. She’s amazing.

I was supposed to have my High class after this, but I ended up scratching. It was freezing and raining and windy and while I would’ve been fine competing because Frankie don’t care ’bout none of that, it would not have been fun. So I played my Ammy card and said “nah not today.”

On to Sunday! We had our classic first thing in the morning, then a speed class to round out our weekend together.

Classic course here:

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Of course my eyes immediately went to 8abc. The elusive triple combo.

I really liked this course. It asked some harder questions than earlier in the weekend but nothing felt tricky or intimidating. There were plenty of options. The footing again was REALLY soupy so I didn’t want to turn-and-burn too much.

We ended up knocking a couple rails because, you know, me. But there were a couple parts to this course that I was thrilled with.

The first was 5ab to 6. We turned inside 13 to get there and only had one straight stride, but we were able to power through and then balance out over 6. It rode nicely.

Then I am just over the moon about the triple combo. 7 to 8a walked in a shaped bending 9 strides, but after watching some rounds Trainer and I decided that I would land and hold him straight and upright for 4 strides, then turn and send him forward for the final 4 to put 8 in there. That worked out PERFECTLY. We were able to come into the triple carrying a good pace to the base and there was no sticky point throughout- he carried us through like he had done it a million times.

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Coming out of the triple

Of course I was so excited about the triple that I stopped thinking and had a ridiculous distance to 9, but we recovered for the last line. Womp womp.

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Last jump was casual

Again- not a perfect course, but very representative of where we are as a team and a huge improvement from just a short while ago. When I have the presence of mind to ask, Frankie delivers every time. I just have to think a bit faster on course so I can time the ask better.

Francis had a 2 hour break before our speed round and obviously he lay down for a nap. And guys. He did NOT want to wake up. I was pushing him, poking him, pulling him, cajoling him, and he basically gave me the horse version of “Moooom 5 more minutes.” He just kept leaning into me for more scratches.

Clearly Homeboy was conserving his energy though, because he then went and gave me the speediest speed round he’s ever done.

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He obligingly stood for pictures before going in the ring

I don’t have any clear pics from this round, but I’ll tell you right now that it was pretty chippy because WOW Francis was galloping around. I have a video that I’ll share with you eventually but you’ll have to promise not to judge me.

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Imagine us jumping over this. We did the inside turn from 8b to 9 which worked great, but other than that pretty straightforward.

But that’s the great part about the jumpers- it doesn’t matter how pretty you are, as long as you get the job done. And Frankie was really excited to get the job done. Ears forward, galloping around, finding the fences. He heard that buzzer and said OK LET’S GO.

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And it paid off!

Not a bad way to round out our weekend.

Some overall thoughts to wrap up this monster post:

Frankie is simply so much more educated than he was last season. While he still likes a very active ride, he didn’t need constant instruction on where to place every foot. He was confident and willing to go forward and listen instead of needing constant reassurance and getting “stuck” in places. He heard the buzzer and moved out. He felt me sit and waited for my cue. He feels like a trained jumper horse now- not just a Very Good Boy who is happy enough to go in the jumpers. The transformation from a year ago is astounding to me. He is a completely different horse than we brought home and is constantly surprising us and delighting us with how trainable, athletic, and willing he is.

Trainer said that we first started out last season in the “hang on and pray” stage. Then we moved on to the less dangerous “find your pace” stage. She said we’ve now moved on past that to a point where we can have some fun with our courses. We can confidently make a plan, because we both have the fitness and knowledge and ability to stick to the plan. We can strategize how to make each course work best for us instead of just trying to make it around in one piece. We have a very long way to go and acres of improvement to make, but we have come such a long way in the past year.

You may notice that Frankie is picking up his knees in most of these pictures. If you’ve followed along with us for any amount of time, you know that Frankie generally jumps like a drunk alpaca. Somehow the combination of increased fitness, increased education, and jacking the jumps enough so he had to put a bit of effort in has led to a horse that actually jumps kinda cute! Go Francis!

In terms of behavior, I was so happy with Frankie. Is he a big dolt who needs a reminder to hold still sometimes? Absolutely. We will be working on that. In terms of his demeanor though, he was relaxed and happy and chill the whole weekend- as evidenced by his constant napping. He stood for baths, walked around quietly on the buckle before and after his rounds, and loaded on the trailer to go home without blinking an eye.

Really our partnership has grown so much. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to grow and learn with this incredible animal.

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The most accurate representation of the two of us that I’ve ever seen

PS- we should know soon if we have all the points we need to qualify, but we’re adding a 1-day show to the schedule in May just in case 😉

McDonogh Video!

Here’s a video of our second round + jumpoff:

I realize that my turns are hella huge- remember yesterday when I said my reins kept slipping? This round was for sure the worst, they were basically there for decoration more so than any actual use. It’s too zoomed out to see the floppage too much, but you can take my word for it.

Yay for happy pony going jumpiez!!

 

 

McDonogh Winter Classic

We survived our first outing in our new division! And not just survived, but had a total blast doing it. Francis is a prince. Here’s the rundown.

It was about 90 minutes to trailer there and then we had a wait before it was time to warm up, so Frankie came off the trailer looking a bit like a fire-breathing dragon. When I hopped on, he actually gave me the worst behavior he’s ever given me: put his head between his knees and dolphin leapt about a little. I nervously said to Trainer, “Frankie is kinda acting up right now,” to which she responded, “So? Go do something about it.”

……Right. I can actually ride my horse. I had forgotten that fun little fact for a hot second. I put my leg on and asked for some bend and forward and TADA no more shenanigans. I mean, he had been standing on a trailer for a couple hours, he came off in a strange place that was super breezy and loud with lots of strange horses, it was pretty frigid. The fact that he didn’t try to play MORE is cause for celebration.

The rest of our warmup went really really well- Frankie had fantastic forward energy and carried us up to the base of every jump super strongly. Then it was time for our first class in the 1.10m!!!!

So I looked in the ring and said oh good, once they reset the jumps we’ll be good to go. Except as we all know, I am the WORST at judging jump height. The jumps were already reset. So a big fat shoutout to Trainer for making us jump bigger jumps at home, because these looked totally manageable and not at all intimidating.

Here’s the diagram for our first course (sorry it’s blurry! I added in the numbers to hopefully help):

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So single oxer away, down the outside line in 5, across the middle, rollback, up the diagonal line in 5, one-stride, bending out in 6 strides.

Overall thoughts on the course: pretty hunterific! No really tricky questions- if you sliced 4 a little right-to-left, it set you up to go inside 3 and have plenty of room to roll back to 5. 6 to 7 was a forward five strides, but it was later in the course so there was plenty of time to get the motor going. The one-stride was very forgiving, and then just balancing down for the six strides out.

Francis. Felt. Amazing. Ears perked, forward, locking onto the jumps and galloping up to them, and he just felt like he was having fun around the course. The lines rode really nicely- we got in a little tight to the combo but legged through just fine and balanced out. Was it perfect? No way. But my horse felt like a rockstar and I felt like I rode it much more strongly than I usually ride. Sadly no video of this round so you’ll have to take my word for it. Double clear and a good pace got us 3rd out of 14ish in this class!!!

We then had a decent break before our next class, which was II2b (immediate jumpoff). After sitting for a bit we decided to trot around and jump another jump or two to get us moving again before going back in the ring for this course:

mcdonogh_jumpoff

A lot of the same lines as the previous course, just in a different order. The jumpoff was a little tricky: to get from 2 to 4a we went between jumps 3 and 6 (Frankie was v v confused by this) and I think a better option would’ve been to go to the left of 6 to shave off some time. I saw others do this and they’re the ones that beat our time.Even with that, double clear and good pace got us 5th in this round!

Fun side note: my gloves had ZERO grip for some reason. I’ve ridden in these gloves plenty of times without a problem, but this weekend I had practically zero purchase on my reins. Usually that wouldn’t be a problem, but when Francis wakes up and gets into fiery jumper mode, he pulls the reins right out of my hands. I have video of this round and once I’m able to share it you’ll see- I really had to cowboy around and flap a bit for steering. Thank goodness Trainer has had me strengthening my legs so I could mostly steer that way.

Then we had another decent break before our classic, with this course:

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Again, not a ton of new questions. Our first oxer on this course was our best jump all day- Frankie used himself beautifully over it! But by this point I had been on for close to 2 hours and both Frankie and I were cold and pretty exhausted. I had also decided to take off my gloves and ended up choking up on my reins- overcorrecting from my inability to hold my reins in previous rounds. Predictably, we ran into trouble in the combo.

You know what you should do when your horse is tired and you’re headed into a triple combo? Because I can tell you right now what you SHOULDN’T do. You should not make your reins super duper short, hold his face, add in the previous line, then kick up into a strung out gallop, then lean with your shoulders while still holding his face. Because that leads to a Francis trying very hard to do his job but simply not being able to due to rider interference.

We reapproached the combo and I did literally the exact same thing: death grip on the face and leaning. So Frankie basically coasted to a stop and said, “Nope. No more for me, thank you.” And honestly, I couldn’t blame him. At this height, with depleted energy levels, I needed to be there SO MUCH MORE for him and I really wasn’t. Asking him to cart me around with no help was unfair. It wasn’t a dirty stop, it was a I-can’t-do-this-alone stop. This meant it was time to retire from the ring, and while I was disappointed that we didn’t make it around the course, it was definitely for the best. Frankie always ALWAYS jumps the jumps, so when he says “I can’t” that is something that I want to pay very close attention to.

Overall thoughts on the show: a really confidence-boosting wonderful first outing in our new division! The height was not intimidating at all, Frankie jumped two double-clear rounds really powerfully, and we had tons and tons of fun getting out there and galloping around the course. Our 3rd and 5th place got us 5 points towards the 20 we need to qualify for our Zone championship too- score!

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That sweet face!!!! His, not mine. Obviously. Homeboy loves trying to eat his ribbons ❤

I was really proud of how Frankie handled the whole trip. Not surprised because naturally he’s always a total bro, but very proud. We had no problem getting on and off the trailer, no spooky moments, and once he let out the minor silly beans during our warmup he was super workmanlike and marched around like a pro. Of course he was a good boy last season, but it feels like our hard work over the last few months has really paid off in improving Frankie’s fitness, the way he uses his body, and building some of that jumper “fire” in him. He has just come such a long way and has turned into a wonderful competitive partner in the show ring. UGH EMOTIONS. Seriously so incredibly grateful to have a horse that is such a pleasure to work with and learn from.

My barn is headed to Ocala for a few weeks in February (BRB sobbing that I can’t join this year) so I won’t get to go show again until March, but I’m already itching to get back out there. I’m crazy excited for our season in the High Adults with the bestest pony in the whole world.

The High Schoolies

I was able to take a makeup lesson this weekend despite the STUPID FREAKIN COLD WEATHER, so of course I jumped at the chance (HAH FUN PUN). I may or may not have asked my Trainer if she was going to cancel lessons the day of, but I bundled up and braved the cold.

This ended up being a group lesson with the three of us competing in the High Child/Adults this season- two of us ammies, and our superstar junior. Despite LOVING my private lessons, this was a great chance to learn from watching some super talented riders- and my trainer was happy she could just put the jumps up and leave them there for the duration of the lesson.

Warmup was slow and steady to get us all accustomed to the cold. We spent the first 20-30 minutes just focused on getting our muscles moving and letting our lungs adjust. Lots of lengthening and shortening within the gaits, with frequent change of rein. Francis didn’t have the same elastic-ness that he often does these days- but can you blame him?? It was disgusting out. Like the total bro that he is, he showed up to work and did his best.

We warmed up slowly over fences too, doing plenty of crossrails to get our backs working. We also did a trot-in-canter-out bending line to play with stride length.

Then it was time for a warmup course with the jumps set low:

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Bear with me through this recap, a couple jumps moved/changed. But to start we simply did outside single, diagonal oxer, up the diagonal in a forward three strides, and then down the combo in a balancing two.

That three stride proved to be a really useful exercise for us- Frankie is not naturally a “spicy” horse, so he doesn’t land and rev. Which is totally great in a lot of ways: I never worry about him landing and taking off. BUT. We do want him to land and continue instead of landing and saying “well I hope that’s it for me.” A friend commented that she was really surprised when she rode him because in videos he looks like a pretty forward ride over fences. He is not. He is happy to go forward, but only when told. So having that forward line to practice landing and GOING was something we really needed.

Trainer then put the jumps up to a decent height and we did the following course:

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Cut through the quarter line to get to the oxer, up the bending line in a balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, down the combo again- this time with an oxer in- and finishing on the single brick. Or something like this. My video is showing me that I’m wrong, but something like this ended up happening eventually and I already saved the jump diagram, so you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I’m knowingly lying to you.

Overall not too bad! I needed to balance a little more in that five to even out the striding, I didn’t support enough with my leg over the single oxer, we got a bit of a launcher over the oxer into the combo, and Frankie tried to blow through my hand so we ended up popping up a chip to the last jump. So not great either. But manageable. I simply was not as present as I needed to be up top as we navigated the course, so Frankie was left to his own devices a few times. I would defend myself by saying I could feel neither my fingers nor my feet, but let’s be honest: this is a problem even when I have full feeling.

Our last course:

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Up the brick to start, down the outside line in a pretty standard three strides, up the bending in the balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, and down the outside 2-stride.

This felt better! Definitely not without some sticky points, but definitely more active and present. We got a nice gallop up to the first brick and then backed up into the short end before revving up to the outside line. Funny enough- we had been doing so many bending lines and singles that Frankie assumed he should turn out of the line. He was happy to continue out over the oxer when I put my left leg on, but that was definitely not his assumption. Balancing around the tight turn back to 4 and then sitting back for the five strides (which was def tight), and then I was thrilled with our straightness and pace to the yellow oxer- for sure our best jump. I got him a little tight to the line and we had to cowboy out for the three (good practice!)- I sat back too soon over the green wall which caused a hind rail- and then we came out pretty nicely in the two- this started feeling tighter and tighter as the jumps went up and we carried more pace, and we knocked the rail the first time through.

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OK so we’re not going in the hunter ring, but this is pretty cute as far as Francis-style-jumping goes

We ended up going back one last time to just do the last 4 jumps: the three stride diagonal to the combo. I was happier with our balance and pace there. We came in pretty tight to the combo and still managed to make it out in one piece: our big project is getting Frankie more comfortable with the tight spot and I’m so proud of his progress here!

We then got to watch our superstar junior jump 4’6″ and I was really weirdly proud of her. Not my child, not my horse. But like, I was vicariously jumping that through her and she rocked it with picture perfect eq. I want to be like that 17 year old girl when I grow up.

Overall: we had our sticky spots that we need to work on. I need to be more present and active from the get-go instead of taking a course or two to warm up to it. I need to support Frankie more when I ask for the closer spots, since he will always jump it but is MUCH happier if I help him out. I need to adjust my timing so that I can recover quickly after the jumps, without causing hind rails. Lots of homework.

But my horse also jumped like a freak and kept the same ears-perked-but-also-flopping expression as the jumps went up and up and up. We were able to get out of the sticky spots more quickly and more easily than we could even just two months ago.

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One time I can actually comment on height: we know that the wood kickboard sticks at 4′, so clearly the 1.10m will not pose a problem for him.

I sound like a broken record and I sound like a sap, but I’m going to keep saying it: I am incredibly grateful to get to learn and progress with this horse. He’s the most patient and wonderful teacher I could ever ask for and hold on I’m literally crying as I write this because GAWD I’m obsessed with my horse. He is the coolest.

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And he be super cute too.

As a treat: here’s the video from our lesson, so you can see said sticky spots. The vain part of me wanted to edit out the icky parts, but hey, THAT’S WHAT INSTAGRAM IS FOR. But actually. Enjoy the honest version here. I will continue to watch this over and over and sob quietly about what a saint my pony is.

Any tips on developing that landing-softly-but-not-too-soon feeling?

The Year Ahead: 2017 Goals

Let’s start this out by taking a look back at the goals I set for Frankie and myself this past year:

  • Take some more private lessons. Check! We transitioned to private lessons in October and it has been AMAZING for our progress.
  • Make it to the High Adult Amateur Jumpers in the next few years. Sending in entries for our new division as soon as weather permits!
  • Have a successful show season at 1.0m/Low Adults this year. We absolutely did- we wrapped up our first season strong and that height is very comfortable to us now.
  • Compete in a horse trial. Womp womp, fail. Money is TIGHT, so all extra budget is going towards shows.
  • Go on a hunter pace or two. See above.
  • Learn more first aid skills. Yes and also no. I certainly know more than I used to, but this will be a continuous learning process.
  • Keep Frankie shiny. Yes! Even after being clipped he is sleek and shiny and looking really fantastic.
  • Get WAY better at polo wraps. Another fail. We didn’t end up using these nearly as often as I anticipated, so I didn’t spend time on this.

Now that I know my horse, my budget, and my own skills a little bit better, here are our goals for 2017:

  • Continue strengthening and advancing our flatwork. We have our leg-yields, shoulders-in, and haunches-in installed at all gaits. I’d like to get those even stronger and more tuned into my aids, and start working on our other movements.
  • Have a strong season in the 1.10m High Adult division. We’ve been schooling at (or above, as the case would have it) our new division height pretty strongly, and we’re ready to go attack the new show season!
  • Qualify for the USHJA Zone Jumper Championship. This is a Nations Cup-style final with individual and team aspects that sounds SUPER fun. We had a junior do the Children’s section of it last year and she had a total blast. It’s set to 1.10m with a 1.15m final round, which sounds like the perfect stretch for us. We just need 20 points to qualify, so we’re hoping to get those points as soon as possible.
  • Take Frankie in an eq class. This will depend on quickly we accrue points for Zones. If we can qualify early and then stop chasing points, then I’d like to take Frankie in some of the Adult eq medal classes for a change of pace- I think he’d be really good at it, especially with all the progress we’ve made in the quality of our flatwork!
  • Try riding bridle-less. Hey, they can’t all be show goals! I’ve ridden him in just a halter plenty of times, this seems like the logical next step.

We have our first lesson of 2017 tonight, and I can’t wait to get working towards these goals. Cheers to a new year!

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