Ocala 2020: The Beast

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.

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Big pattern: the cutest possible ears to exist on the planet

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.

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When we enter the ring and I get this sass face and this prancy trot, I know we’re in for a good time with an energetic horse

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.

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I myself could use some polish, but ISN’T HE THE CUTEST REAL LIFE EQ HORSE?!

 

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.

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Or we can do casual and cranky honestly either one is fine

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!)

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His eyes may be closed but his heart is already turning left

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!

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DO YOU SEE THIS ANIMAL AND HOW PERFECT HE IS

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.

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The button braids. The bonnet. the happy ears. All of it.

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.

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The height. It did not pose a challenge for him (even with a spider monkey on his back).

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.

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Sweaty, dirty, and full of love always for my perfect boy

Ocala 2020: Managing the Energy

Man, I don’t even know where to start with our trip down to Florida. It was such a long time (felt like it at least), so busy balancing riding, working, homework, and other stuff, and had a ton of stuff that I’d love to share. This is going to be several posts, so I beg your patience as I try to organize my rambling thoughts.

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I need to start an album of pics like this where we both look so magically photogenic

First I’d like to talk about some of the things that we learned/did differently based on what we’ve learned before.

The first is what happened on our first Thursday, which was our first competition day. Frankie had been there and had explored the showgrounds since Monday, but it was definitely much more crowded and busy on Thursday. I got to the warmup ring with a VERY tense horse under me. I couldn’t blame him in the least – there are 17 rings there, many loudspeakers, buzzers, gold carts, mopeds, TONS of activity all around. Lots to look at. I opted to do a short flat warmup and then take a solid 10-15 minutes to simply walk around the warmup ring. That did the trick and after a few big sighs we were able to have a much more focused and productive warmup. That’s something I learned a while ago: Frankie is usually pretty relaxed, but sometimes he just needs a moment to take a breath. After that he was certainly interested in all the activity, but in a curious way and not a WHAT THE HECK IS ALL THIS MA way.

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This is leaving that warmup ring. Ears alert but no longer doing his best Anxiety Llama(TM) impersonation. 

The other is a new learning! A little context: usually we only do one round with Frankie per day. I know that seems like very little for the amount that I pay to show, but with the height and the jumper divisions I’ve found that one round hits the sweet spot for us to keep him feeling fresh and ready. But I had two eq medals both Fridays. Not a big deal when it’s an open card and I can just pop in and out of the ring for multiple rounds in a row. But that becomes difficult when the woman running the gate fed the order sheet to her dog and decided smiling and shrugging was the answer to all questions. That means that all of a sudden we have a dreaded gap between our rounds.

So we ended up sitting there for 10, 15 minutes waiting for our next turn in the ring. And it was dinner time. So by the time I finally go back in the ring, Francis is D O N E with all of this GARBAGE it’s time to EAT why am I even HERE. I asked for a bit more pace, he said “NOPE SLOWIN WAY DOWN.” I asked him to steady back a bit, he said “NAH GOTTA GO FAST.” We missed A WHOLE ENTIRE LEAD CHANGE. FOR NO REASON. It was the biggest pettiest little temper tantrum that my angel boy has ever pulled, and it was hysterical. I’ll be the first to say that mistakes on course are pretty much always caused by me, but this was certifiably just Frankie giving a hard NOPE to doing a second round. Bless his heart, his little rebellions are too funny.

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99% sure he knows when I’m mocking him and makes grouchy faces just to play along

So the following week when we knew we’d have a small break in between classes, here’s what I did: I hopped off, loosened his girth, hand-walked him in circles to keep him entertained, played with him a bit, then hopped on and did a quick WTC to tune him back in directly before heading into the ring. Worked like a charm and I had a soft happy horse under me for both rounds.

Frankie was also able to go play in the paddock almost every day, often with his buddy Vinnie. It’s certainly not as big as he’s used to, but it very noticeably helped keep him feeling fresh. I do think getting to go out with Vinnie helped too; Francis is such a social animal and thrives when he gets to hang out with buddies.

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WOW SHOW LIFE IS SO STRESSFUL FOR THESE GUYS THEY REALLY SEEM TO HATE THIS

Between regular turnout, ice boots after every round, a massage between the two weeks, and very judicious jumping, we had a fresh and happy horse all the way through. Managing his energy levels has always been tough for us to ensure that he doesn’t hit Sunday totally exhausted and honestly I’m beyond thrilled that we’ve found what works. He works very hard for me so it feels good to be able to support that better!

I think I’ll leave it off here for now, and save talking about the rides themselves for the next post. In case you’re new here, spoiler alert: Francisco was beyond incredible and blew my expectations out of the water with every single round.

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I’m honestly just along for the ride

Ocala 2020 Prep

We’re just about a month out from our trek down south to Florida for a blessed two weeks in the warmth! I’m getting crazy excited to spend that time with Frankie down there (not least because he can finally get a bath omg he REEKS). I remember feeling really burnt out after two weeks of showing at WEC, but I’m feeling confident that the better weather and a lighter schedule will alleviate that. We are very much there to have a good time.

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We will be able to take naps OUTSIDE as well as inside

In the spirit of the final countdown to departure, I figured I would share a few things I’m bringing, a few ways we’re preparing, and just talk about it more a bit.

The first exciting thing that I’m bringing is a portable hotspot. My parents gifted me their previously-unused MiFi hotspot to bring down and I’m super grateful for it. I’ll have guaranteed wifi to do my work and school assignments on the showgrounds or wherever else I find myself. I’m able to do most of my communicating and social media via phone, but have you ever tried writing an essay or creating a slide deck like that? It ain’t fun.

The second exciting thing I’m bringing down is my giant cooler. I’ll be able to keep that stocked with ice to hold Frankie’s ice boots (along with some wine and hummus for yours truly). Especially for such a long show, I want to have all tools on hand to keep Frankie feeling good about it.

As you may guess, a giant cooler doesn’t really fit in my plane luggage. I will be making the drive down south. All 12 hours of it. Not really my idea of a great time, but the price of a roundtrip plane ticket plus rental car blew my budget out of the water. It looks like I’ll make the trip down solo, but I’ll be caravan-ing back up with a friend so we can at least take breaks together. She offered to just make the whole trip together in the same car, but with my work schedule and homework I really need the flexibility of my own vehicle. This is probably the part I’m least excited by – I HATE roadtrips with a fiery passion. The plan is to hit the road around 5am so I can be there in time for dinner, and then we’ll break the trip back north into 2 days to arrive home on Monday. Ugh.

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At least this time I’ll be making the trip in a car that has functional brakes AND windshield wipers! Remember when I drove through the mountains to Lake Placid without either hahahahahahait’sfineilived

Luckily, I’m able to split my hotel room with said friend and her daughter! She had a zillion points she was able to use so my hotel expenses are WAY WAY lower than I had worried they’d be. There’s a 24hr gym, a pool, a business center, complimentary breakfast, and (most importantly) a bar, all about 20 minutes from the show. I plan on making full use of all these amenities. It’s tough to share a smallish hotel room with 2 other people for 2 full weeks but I’m hopeful that we’ll manage.

For Frankie, there’s not a ton of prep work to take care of. He’ll need another full clip in the coming weeks to get him looking show-ready and I’ll need to scrub my tack. But for anything else? He’s feeling pretty darn good. I’d like to make a concerted effort to make sure he’s getting worked consistently to get his fitness a titch better, and I’m sure my trainer will have us work on some stuff in our lessons, but he’s at the point now where I’m confident taking him wherever and knowing he’ll be happy to go around. The only thing left on my to-do list is to stock up on Ulcergard – he is probably the least anxious, least ulcer-prone horse I know, but I refuse to take chances on such a long trip.

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For whatever reason, the dude seems to super enjoy getting on the trailer. I’m not mad about it.

We’ve set up the commercial shipper for the ponies to head down – it looks like we’re bringing 4 or 5 with us and leasing a couple ponies for the kids down there. Frankie did well with the commercial shipper up to Lake Placid so I’m not super concerned about that. He’ll also arrive on Sunday or Monday, and Trainer will have the chance to get him out a bit before I arrive on Wednesday or Thursday. We all chipped in for a paddock so he will get his beloved turnout every day that weather permits. I’m hoping that he can share with one of the other geldings to get double time, but we’ll see how that works out. I’m just glad he’s getting any turnout, it makes such an enormous difference in keeping him feeling fresh!

Budget-wise I’m trying to pre-pay as much as possible. Our stalls and splits are already paid for and I’ve put in several deposits to my trainer. My goal is to take care of as much as possible ahead of time so I’m not scrambling on the back end – this isn’t a trivial expense, so I’m continually grateful to my husband for being entirely on board with my going. I’d ideally like to open up a little room in the budget for some shopping – y’all know I can’t resist the vendors at these things. I do have an actual useful wishlist, so hopefully I don’t get sucked into getting something ridiculous that I don’t need.

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Not that I EVER fall victim to my own love of pants

At this point, this ain’t our first rodeo. I’d love to write about the secret tips and tricks, but I don’t think I have any – it’s all kinda old news at this point! That being said, let me know if you have any questions or comments or anything about prepping/attending one of these, clearly I love to talk about it!

T-36 days to sunshine and nonstop ponies.

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I WANT. TO WEAR. SHORT SLEEVES. PLEASE.

A Look Back on Ocala

One year ago this week, I was down in Florida competing at HITS Ocala. It’s so bizarre- it feels like I was just down there last month, but it also feels like a completely different lifetime. Things were so different just one short year ago!

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For example, my leg did this a year ago!
Before heading down to Ocala: I had shipped in to one rated show (HITS Culpeper) but had never done an “away” show with my trainer. I was half-leasing Addy and had taken her in a few jumper classes, but mostly did the local 3′ hunters with her. I had daydreamed about competing on the A circuit, but was pretty sure I didn’t have the budget to make it there.

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Wistfully gazing at the GP ring at Culpeper
And then I got to compete for a week. And learn. OH BOY DID I LEARN.

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Learned to check for saddle slippage
I learned about how my barn runs things at these big shows. They’ve done it so often that it’s a well-oiled machine and I just had to listen to where I should be and when. I learned what I would be responsible for (clean tack and appropriate apparel) and what would be taken care as part of the fee I was paying (pretty much everything else). I had never experienced the “full care” package at shows and let me tell you- I love taking care of everything myself at home, but knowing your horse is clean and ready for you when you need him after your course walk is such a wonderful luxury.

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Masterful side-eye
I learned what the warmup protocol is when we have 2 trainers, 7 riders, and 4 rings to be in all at roughly the same time. How to prep my horse to make the most of the time I have with my trainer, what to wait for her to do with us, what to expect from our warmup before heading into the show ring. I also learned that apparently my trainer knows every single person at every single horse show, and guaranteed she’s already radio-ed the ingate about the trainer conflict. And that she is a master of switching from pony kid to eq junior to pro in the hunters to ammy jumper and back again at a moment’s notice.

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Switching from the jumpers to the eq and back again
I learned about the jumper ring. Holy crap, did I learn about the jumper ring. Each course walk was eye opening as I slowly figured out that fast and clear don’t just happen- there’s such a science and an art to it. The jump materials, the direction of the lines, the angle of the ring, during which part of the course each element comes up, the location of the in-gate, so many different factors came up as something to consider on course. At this point, I honestly couldn’t handle thinking about a lot of these independently- just making it around the course with the jumps in the right order was my main goal. But knowing that there was such a strategy to it made me hungry to learn more.

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However I did not learn to not lean on my horse’s neck

I learned about what type of ride I prefer. I got to ride two amazing, very different horses during the week- one who has since gone on to success in the hunter ring, and one who was an absolute firecracker. I got to briefly sit on several other horses to see which ones I liked best, and much to my surprise it was the firecrackers. My previously wimpy self was delighted.

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This one is now a hunter
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This was one zippy little mare
 

I learned about the horse show routine: waking up early, taking naps in the grooming stall when I could, hitchhiking on passing golf carts, hurry up and wait, get in line to add/scratch as early as possible, hurry up and wait some more, cheering for our other riders, going for a quick gallop on the track after our class is over because why not?!, getting the BIG margarita with dinner, helping zip up those mega tight tall boots, carrying a crop the entire time because guaranteed someone’s gonna need it, working through nerves, celebrating the good parts, figuring out how to fix the bad parts, watching the Grand Prix riders, exploring the beautiful barns.

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Hurrying up and waiting…and waiting…
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Catching rides on every passing golf cart
While chatting with some of the ladies down there, they joked that I would have my own horse in no time. I smiled and responded, “Man, I wish. I just don’t think the budget is there. Maybe someday!”

They must’ve seen something in my eyes that I didn’t- by the time I left the ring for my last class, it was already cemented in my mind. I needed to chase this feeling, and that meant I needed a horse to chase it on. Frankie joined the family a little over a month later.

A lot has changed from when I headed down to Ocala. I’ve gotten to show at the A rated shows, and have plans to do even more this year. I’ll be on the A circuit just like I dreamed. I’ve moved from the 0.80m/0.90m classes to the 1.0m classes to the 1.10m classes with near-future plans to dabble in the 1.15m. I get to help show other riders the ropes at shows instead of needing constant direction. I have less money, less social life, more muscle, more joy than at this time last year. My pristine, never-worn white breeches are now dirty and stained from use, and I’m still so excited every time I put them on.

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All these show clothes are now filthy and worn
It’s no exaggeration to say that my week in Ocala last year was completely life changing. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have bought a horse if it hadn’t been for that experience, which means I wouldn’t have competed where I have, which means I would’ve missed out on some of the greatest times I’ve ever had.

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#proud
It didn’t fit into my goals to go down this year- trying to qualify for champs means quantity of shows takes priority- nor did it fit into my budget- turns out buying a horse DESTROYED MY SAVINGS- but you can bet I’m already saving up to go to Florida again next year, this time with my own amazing steed in tow.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep hustling so that the next trip down there can be just as incredible as the first.

Show Recap: The Big Kahuna

I swear, there has been a reason to my absence. I was in boot camp mode getting my butt in shape. And I was prepping my gear. And I was packing. “For what??” you may ask.

For those of you who do not follow me on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter: I had the chance to go down and show at HITS Ocala for a week!

My trainer goes every year and gave me a quote for joining (which my wallet spasmed at), but I basically said “screw the cost, this is a bucket list thing.” I’ve always wanted to go down and show in Florida, and by golly I was going to.

Spoiler alert: it was incredible. Life changing, fantastic, incredible.

For the first few days I leased this ROCKSTAR of a Dutch Warmblood named Poppy, show name Emblazon. Homeboy was only 6 years old, but I would’ve guessed he was 14 or 15. He was a total steady Eddie- nothing phased him for a second and he went around every ring like he had been there a thousand times. Fantastically uncomplicated and a wonderful teacher. We did the 0.90m/low adult jumpers and dabbled in the 3′ adult eq classes.

On Friday morning we found out that Poppy was going to be headed north a day early, so my trainer had me quickly hop on 3 other horses that evening to see if we could snag one for Sunday. This led to the running joke in the barn, which is that I fell in love with every single horse I sat on. Apparently taking me to try horses is like taking a child to a candy shop- I can’t decide which one I like best because OMG THEY’RE ALL SO PRETTY GRABBY HANDS ALL OF THEM PLZ. But I loooooved the feel of the mare that I tried (I think maybe I just have a weird mystic voodoo connection with mares), which is what brought me to Saturday: showing Poppy in the 0.80m, taking Poppy early in the order for 0.90m, then untacking him and taking a golf cart over to get the mare and taking her last in the order for the 0.90m.

Mareface was a 7 year old WBxTB named Victoriosa and I was IN LOVE. Smoothest canter you’ve ever felt, jumped clear every time, and crazy adjustable. Did I mention she went in a rubber snaffle and no martingale?

So Sunday I took her in the 0.90m Low Adult Jumpers. The course seemed fair, a couple turns and some combos, but nothing outlandish. And we landed off the last jump. And the bell didn’t ring. And you know what that means: JUMP OFF TIME!! We picked up the gear a bit and flew through the final sequence with room to spare. I was a hot mess and got her to some awful spots, but that saint of a mare just kept trucking and picked her beautiful feet up every time.

Homegirl got us second place. A beautifully clear round with the speed demon mare: I was ecstatic.

And then we geared up for our Low Adult Classic: 0.95m in the Grand Prix ring. This was another great course! I thought it was a very fair test with a lot of interesting elements- a couple spots where you could really shave your turn, some combos you had to power through, and a couple bending lines to pick up speed. And pick up speed we did. We had an unlucky rail on the VERY last jump that kept us out of the jumpoff, but apparently we hauled ass enough to be the fastest 4-faulters, putting us in 11th!

This was huge for me, and it’s for a very silly reason. It’s for the pants. Almost a full year ago, I bought a pair of white Tailored Sportsmans as a reminder to reach for my goals and work hard. And almost a full year later, I got to wear those whites in the Grand Prix ring in Ocala, even making it into the ribbons. I don’t think I’ve ever teared up about pants before.

This whole experience just shifted my perspective so much as a rider. Being in the saddle for several hours a day did absolute wonders for my balance and ability to change my seat. I’m much stronger and can be much more subtle with my aids.

It also made me recognize just how much I love competing. Not necessarily winning- though I’ll never complain about getting a ribbon- but getting out in the ring and doing my best to lay down a good trip. The atmosphere of focus and determination, the exhilaration of galloping up to that wide oxer, the knowledge that I can and I will do better this time than I did last time. I couldn’t wait to get in the ring for each and every round.

And I can’t wait to get in the ring again. I’ll be saving my pennies to take another week to show next year (either at Ocala, Vermont, Lake Placid, or one of the other big shows my barn goes to), but in the meantime I’ll be planning on getting out and showing at least once a month. Who cares if I have to go broke to afford it? The whole point of having money in the bank is to spend it on ponies…right?

I should have some more exciting news for you in the near future (and I promise not to leave you hanging for quite so long this time). But for now, check out my Instagram (@hellomylivia) or friend me on Facebook to see pics from Ocala!!!

 

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