Pardon the delay in sharing the rest of my Ocala experience – life has been a bit bonkers lately and the blog has taken a bit of a backseat as I try to sort some things out. All good things that I’m excited to share, just want them a bit more settled first!
But let’s get back to our Southern Sojourn.
I don’t want to dissect every single ride in detail, so I’m going to do what I did in my last post and just kinda share overarching thoughts and patterns that I noticed during our two weeks down there.
First off, Frankie felt fit. I already talked about how we carefully and successfully managed his energy throughout our time there, but this only worked because I had a really fit and happy horse. His joints felt good, his muscling felt good, his saddle fit well, and he had the conditioning to hold up to the workload. After literal years of trying to find the right balance for him, this is what I’d consider our greatest success of the past few months – pushing hard enough without overdoing it.
On the equitation side of things, we’re getting there. Considering this was only our third (I think?) time tackling the adult medals, we’re making solid progress. My main job is to remember to drop him a bit when he wants to speed up. When I relax my body like that and allow him to soften in turn, he is really a lovely ride that allows me to stay very quiet up top. It’s a very different feel from the jumper ring where I want him fired up and dragging me a bit, so I’m extra proud of him for being able to switch back and forth like that. We ended up having some strong rounds, and even managed a 5th out of 21 for one class with some truly top notch horse and rider pairs in there. There was a definite sense of satisfaction to know how far my Francis has come in his training and to be able to hold our own against those superbly polished pairs.
During this whole show, Francis felt SMART. You all know that I rarely use that word when it comes to my lovable Dingus Man. Kind and forgiving, he is. A genius, he is not. He’s been very good at his job in the jumper ring for quite a while, but this is the first show where I felt like I had a truly very intelligent animal under me. This was also the first show that my trainer gave her full blessing to take the riskiest inside-iest turns possible. We used to go for the more conservative inside turns, aiming for efficient and smooth.
This time we aimed for the bonkers turns where you look and say, “there’s no way that can work.” At one point I was going the opposite direction of my next jump, directly next to it. Within 3 strides we had already turned and jumped. We made slices, we cut through the ring, we wasted no strides going around where we could squeeze through instead. And Francis was absolutely brilliant about all of it. He was catty, he was tuned into me every step of the way, he was maneuverable and eager to do it. My job was to not fall off the side when he made those turns. He simply felt downright smart about every single course. (I have videos to share, I just gotta upload them first!)
Along with the smarts was some really lovely adjustability. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those riders with a naturally perfect eye, but our hard work on quality of canter, adjustability of stride, and judgement to the base has definitely paid off. There were certainly “oops” moments here and there but far fewer than there used to be. I know a bit more about what to ask for, Frankie knows a lot more about how to respond, and it led to some of the best courses we’ve ridden to date. Of the rails we pulled on course I can confidently say that there was only one that was a true omg-I-biffed-it rail. The rest were just unlucky rubs where we weren’t quite careful enough. And as a whole there were fewer rails than there used to be. At some point I need a shirt that says #fastest4faulters because every time we had a rail, we ended up being the fastest time on the clock. We’re putting the pieces together of taking those risks while still going clean and seeing a ton of progress!
As a truly wonderful feather in our cap, Frankie carried me clear and fast in our Classic the second week to an astounding 2nd out of a combined Child/Adult field of 37. We managed to hold the lead until the very last rider, who put down an INCREDIBLE jumpoff and 100% deserved the win. That big red ribbon was the best possible finish to our bootcamp.
This whole show felt like a really lovely assembly of so many of the lessons we’ve learned over the years. We set ourselves up for success, we took risks that paid off, we went in the ring trying to win and not just make it around, and the ribbons reflected the ride.
We had the type of consistency I’ve been hoping to accomplish for a while now. At the end of Week 2, my trainer and I even said that we kinda wished I had moved back up to the Highs that week. Frankie clearly was feeling funky fresh and we had the accuracy.
So coming off such a successful show we’ve decided to dabble in that division again this season! We’ll do a step up at a smaller nearby show that tends to set a bit soft, and we’ll hit the 1.10-1.15m ring again at Upperville. I honestly did not have plans to step back up this year (or ever, really) and I’m still delightedly surprised at how good my horse is feeling these days. I fully expected to need to slow things down as he moves into his teenage years; he’s always been tough to keep fit. But whatever we’re doing is clearly working well for him so we may as well keep flying!
Much like my trip down to Ocala in 2016, this trip down to Florida turned out to be a game changer. Cheers to my fifth show season with the Frankfurter and cheers to always being amazed by this horse.