With only 5 weeks left until we ship out to Ohio, we are officially ramping up for our 2018 show season. Here’s how we’re preparing:
Francis got a fresh clip. Despite getting a very handsome clip in November (which lasted him all season last year), he immediately got stupid fuzzy again and needed another haircut to be able to work without sweating his butt off. AT did a fantastic job, and once I pull his mane he’s going to look super official legit shmancy show pony.
Training rides! AT will hop on once a week for a tune up until we leave. Honestly, we’ll probs just continue this all season since Frankie so clearly benefits from regular skillful rides. We can bump up to 2x later if we want, but I don’t think that’s super necessary at this point.
I’m on 5x a week to give Frankie a total of 6 days on, 1 day off (one lesson with me, one training ride, and four flatwork/relaxing hack sessions with me). That’s what we did for show season last year, and he really thrives in a steady routine like that. He’s had a very quiet couple of months in this off season, so we need to steadily ramp his fitness back up- though I will say, that his energy has been great and he’s been feeling nice and fresh. I think that mental and physical break was great for him.
For me, lots of no stirrup work. Both on my own and in lessons- Trainer has said that she wants me doing coursework sans stirrups every time I jump. I’m pretty comfortable doing courses up to 1-1.10m-ish without stirrups, but I’ll need to get a little stronger before I’m confident putting the jumps up to full height. I’m hoping to get to the point where I can stay with Frankie more easily when he cracks his back over the big ones.
Monitoring health- for both of us. I’ve definitely lost some tone over the holidays due to lots of tasty food and drinks and riding less consistently. I’m back on the healthy eating train, strength building train, and consistent riding train- see above. Frankie is currently feeling good, but we’ll be carefully monitoring him (as always) to see if he’ll need any extra support from us as we raise the jumps. Likely we’ll do another SI injection in May, but for now he’s feeling peachy.
Of course, I have to travel all next week for work and will be missing out on bootcamp. Womp womp. I have my favorite barn rat working Frankie for me, AT will do her ride on him, and I’ll be hitting the hotel gym to keep up, so hopefully we can hit the ground running when I return.
So excited to get back out there with the World’s Bestest Pony Ever!!!
I found out who my teammates are for Finals this weekend!
And um. They’re like really, REALLY good.
The way it works is that they match the top point rider with the lowest (who is qualified), second highest with second lowest, etc. Seeing as I squeaked in riiiiight over the minimum required to qualify (mama can’t afford no more shows, sorry), I’m matched with the two top point riders in my zone and one other with lower points. But the girl with lower points is actually a beast too. I may or may not have stalked all of them on Instagram and found their show results on USEF.
You guys. They are all seriously so much better than I am it isn’t even funny.
I’m not saying this in a self-deprecating “I suck!” kind of way. I mean this entirely in a “holy crap this is so awesome I get to ride with some total badasses” kind of way. They all have way more mileage in the division, some really freakin’ cool horses, and I know I’m going to learn TONS from them.
Don’t get me wrong- Frankie and I are planning to show up and lay down some powerful trips. I’m not just happy to be there, I want to be there and be competitive- and we’re in a much stronger place to do that than we ever have been. Frankie is fit and spicy and raring to go (and by spicy I mean he swished his tail once over a jump this weekend WATCH OUT WILD MAN but yeah that’s sassy for him). We’re not going to be phoning this one in.
But I’m also realistic about our abilities compared to the other pairs- we’re not going to be anchoring the team with my blisteringly fast times. So I have to come up with other ways to anchor the team.
I am going to be The. Most. Enthusiastic. Teammate you have EVER heard of. I am going to cheer all our rounds like a crazy person, dress our horses up in war paint (single-handedly if I have to), bring the wine, drink the wine for our underage teammates, all of it. If everyone on my team doesn’t feel like a powerful amazing woman at all times, I am not doing my job.
If you can’t tell, I’m really really really really excited. It’s going to be AMAZING.
This week’s schedule:
Monday: Frankie gets new shoes and fresh feets. It’s his day off to play with his buddies and rest. I’ll take the time to polish my boots, pack my bags in advance, and do any final prep to my own gear.
Tuesday: we have a lesson, and this will be our final jump school before the competition.
Wednesday: I’ll flat around and probably go for a little trail ride; all tack will get a deep cleaning; Frankie gets a bath and neatened up- bridle path, mane pulled, etc.
Thursday: we trailer over at an ungodly early hour- we have to be on site 24 hours before the jog Friday morning or something like that. We’ll have a lesson on-site to get us tuned in.
Friday: jog in the morning (we’ve been practicing) and rider’s meeting to make sure we all know what’s going on. First individual qualifier round (1.10m) in the afternoon after the regular classes have gone in the GP ring.
Saturday: team day! Two identical rounds at 1.15m in the GP ring, again in the afternoon. Frankie’s previous owner and trainer are both coming to see him!!
Sunday: individual final day at 1.15m. Only the top 20 riders at this point are invited to compete in this class, and I plan to be one of them.
It’s a pretty busy week ahead so you may not hear from me on the blog, but stay tuned for updates on my Instagram (@hellomylivia) and on my Facebook page (….also Hellomylivia)- I’ll be keeping up with these throughout the competition!
I can’t wait to tell you all about how much fun Frankie and I will have anchoring our team.
As part of ramping up to finals, I’m trying to hop in a few extra lessons. The more time I can get my trainer’s eyes on me, the better!
So last week Trainer asked if I wanted to sneak in a weekend lesson. I naturally said, “Of course! As long as it isn’t at 7am or anything crazy like that ha ha ha” you can see where this is going.
Yep. The only time we could fit in was 7am on Sunday.
Like a dutiful idiot, I set my alarm for 5:45am and was bringing Francis in from the field by 6:30 (he’s currently on overnight turnout). He seemed a little confused that he wasn’t immediately getting his breakfast, but was surprisingly snuggly as I was tacking up. Apparently Morning Francis is extra happy.
Despite the early hour, this ended up being a fantastic lesson! It was a private lesson because I was the only one dumb enough to go along with Trainer’s demonic schemes great ideas so we got to focus in on some specific exercises for Frankie.
One of these is bending/counter-bending along with haunches-in/out on a smallish circle. Moving his bum and asking him to bend through his body gets him connecting so much more solidly to that outside rein. I think part of that connection comes from physically asking his body to step under and respond to the aids, but part of it is mental- it tells him that he is not a trail pony today and he needs to engage. Once we get that connection and engagement in our trot work, the impulsion and pace throughout our canter and coursework improves noticeably.
We also had a great canter pole exercise set up: simply three poles on the ground. They were walked at about 3 strides apart, but slightly different distances. We worked on adjusting our stride in there: 3 strides to 3 strides, 3 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 3 strides. So hard, especially with the different distances between them!
The 3-3 was decent- we had to stay balanced to shorten/lengthen a little based on where we were, but nothing crazy. And the 4-4 was ok too- we just came in a little bouncier and held that shorter stride. The 3-4 was definitely hard- we had to really open up for the 3, but immediately ask to shorten in the second half which meant he had to be super tuned into my aids. And the 4-3 was tough too- we wanted to super-collect in strides 1-2 so stride 4 could be powerful enough to set us up for the 3 strides out.
All of these variations tied in so well with what we’ve been working on lately. The biggest thing is that when we collect and bounce through a turn, it allows me to push to the base instead of pulling to the base. And then suddenly the skies open up and the angels sing and Frankie jumps out of his skin and we land balanced and the world is a better place. So I was glad we got to work on an exercise to a) improve my ability to ask for different stride lengths and b) improve Frankie’s sensitivity to those cues so that I get a reaction more quickly.
On to the jumping! Man, I hate trot jumps. I’m not very good at them. I trotted a few x-rails without stirrups last week and Trainer mentioned that I wasn’t very good at it (she said it with love), and I reminded her that I’m not very good at them withstirrups either. Womp womp. Once we managed to fling ourselves over a crossrail with moderate success we moved on to build up the exercise.
And I LOVED this exercise.
So a rollback left turn to the end jump, right turn long approach down to the ivy barrels, left up the corner tree jump, bend left up the brick wall, and right turn across the same end jump, turning left to finish. Jumps were big enough to force an effort from Francis without being intimidating.
The first time was….ok. We ended up getting a little chippy to the ivy barrels since I didn’t keep us straight and packaged, which meant that we got a late change through the turn and the tree jump was a bit unorganized. Brick wall was fine, but I overshot my turn to the end jump and Frankie (god bless him) had to scramble a bit to get to the jump.
I made a really nice mixture of mistakes here- sometimes I held too much to the base, sometimes I kicked too much to the long spot, sometimes I faded left, sometimes I drifted right. I’m non-discriminatory in my bad riding.
So we talked about how to fix it. The main image to keep in my head was keeping Frankie on the tracks- straight laterally and connected between my leg and hand. Keeping that image definitely helped me smooth out our track and get more straightness.
The end jump to ivy worked out great- I picked him up and got him off my left leg through the turn, which let me send him up to the base. Because we were straighter and more balanced, we got an early change and a nicer turn to the tree. Brick wall was good, then I sliced the end jump a little right to left instead of trying to line it up straight. That meant our track from brick to end was smoother, and it meant that Frankie knew he was turning left afterwards. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than before!
While it was only 5 jumps and seems like a fairly simple exercise, this was a great test for us. We had to be able to manage tight turns and long approaches, upright verticals and wide fill, and pay attention to our basics- pace, straightness, and connection. Everything came up correctly when we had our basics covered. Funny how that works.
I would lesson again at 7am in a heartbeat! I didn’t realize how much I missed my private lessons.
I loved being doing by 8am too. I took my time cleaning my tack, went to Dunkin and grabbed coffee and doughnuts for the early bird crew, gave Frankie a super intense bath, and just had some bonding time with my horse. He so clearly thrives on that sort of attention and so do I.
Only two weeks until we’re on site for finals! Getting so excited.
Frankie’s mama may be a TB, but Francis is alllll warmblood in pretty much every way.
He is the epitome of the big dumb warmblood gelding ( I say this with love), he’s built a little thicker than many TBs, and he sheds out more on a warmblood schedule (literally still shedding). So while he’s technically only half Oldenburg, I definitely think he takes after that side of his breeding much more strongly.
Including the fact that his natural state is a little chunk-a-roony. Manfriend has gleefully taken to calling him “Ol’ Frankie Dad-Bod.” Francis has a great work ethic, is athletic, but he loses fitness practically overnight when he’s not in a pretty intense program.
His fitness has improved over time- but his job has gotten a lot harder too. As I’ve mentioned a few times now, fitness is our main focus in the lead-up to finals. So that people can stop calling my sweet boy names like “chubby bunny” and start being like “wow what a shredded ripped Hulk of a horse.”
He’s not obese or anything, and is probably slimmer than most show hunters, but still. He’s only 11, is jumping 1.15m with tentative hopes for higher, and he has a total dad bod. A DAD BOD.
With 6 weeks to go until finals, what are we doing to turn Francis from Andy Dwyer to Star Lord?
Training rides. AT will be hopping on 2x a week to put some pro rides on him. We wanted to hit a balance of still giving me plenty of saddle time, but often enough to let the pro rides build on each other. 2x a week it is.
A 6 on/1 off schedule. Frankie will be worked with varying levels of activity 6 days a week. We’ve worked this schedule with him before with good results, so we’re getting back into that stricter rotation. It’ll be 2 pro rides (which will vary in time/intensity based on his schedule for the week), 1 lesson, 1-2 days hill work/terrain hacks, 1-2 light days.
Hill work. As mentioned above, we’ll be incorporating more hill work in our schedules. Some days will be more dedicated to this- there’s a low-traffic road near the barn with a nice shoulder and gentle slope that’s just perfect for trot sets- and we’ll be searching out more hill terrain for cool-down walks after other rides. I haven’t taken enough advantage of the terrain we have nearby in the past and I’m excited to make use of it. I think this will also help us have a good balance with rides- while we’re upping the intensity, we’re also going to be doing more hacks and trail rides to let him get out of the ring and decompress.
Raising the expectations. My “practice rides” with him often end up being fairly short, and I don’t make him do too much. Especially in the summer heat, my motivation to sweat even harder wanes a little. But enough of that crap. Francis knows how to carry himself on the contact. He knows how to collect with impulsion. He knows how to counter-canter and leg yield and shoulder-in. We won’t drill for the sake of drilling, but I will be asking for more out of our rides- he knows the right answers, I just need to be more insistent about asking the questions.
No stirrups. What, you thought Frankie was the only one who needs to get in shape?! I’ll be jumping on the fitness train and spending a lot more time without my stirrups. I’ll also be making more consistent use of the gym during my lunch breaks- with free access within walking distance, I have zero excuse not to go. I’m gonna need to get my own butt in gear to keep up with Frankie.
As always, we’re doing all of this in close contact with a whole team of professionals to make sure Frankie is getting the right nutrition, has healthy balanced feet, and is as healthy as…well, as healthy as a horse.
We ask an awful lot of him and finals will be a real test of that- three straight days of long championship courses. We owe it to him to give him every single tool that we possibly can, so he can perform his job comfortably without exhausting himself.
I’d also like Manfriend to stop calling him Frankie Dad-Bod, but I think he finds it too hilarious to ever stop saying it.
Our first show of the new USEF year is coming up this weekend! It’ll be a lot of firsts for us: our first indoor show, our first time trailering in to a rated show, our first time in the 1.10m division, our first winter show with my trainer.
Up until now, I’ve managed to only show in the warmer spring and summer weather because I used to be a smart woman. Alas, my brain fell out when I bought a horse and I transformed into a big dummy that will say yes to any horse show.
A lot of the prep for this show is the same as the summer shows: cleaning and conditioning all tack, loading the trailer/packing my trunk, polishing my boots, reciting prayers to the god of good distances. You know, the usual stuff. But we do have a few things that are a bit different:
Frankie got a haircut. Homeboy got clipped! Originally we were going to do a blanket clip, but when I lost my everloving mind decided that showing in December would be fun, we went ahead and shaved him all over. I was told he was well-behaved for the torture that is body clipping and he looks SO HANDSOME OMG. So shiny and sleek and pretty!!! I worried that the extra cold air might make him a little *spicy* but let’s be real here. It’s Frankie. His version of spicy is picking up the canter when I ask him to trot, then coming back to trot when he realizes that’s what he supposed to do. Not exactly Secretariat. His tail is in good shape and his mane is neatly pulled, so he officially looks like a fancy shmancy show pony.
Bridle Break-In 101. The birthday fairy sent me (aka Frankie) a BEAUTIFUL new show bridle off my wishlist, then I spent way too long gazing at it lovingly and left the breaking-in part until this weekend. It has been scrubbed, dunked in oil overnight, and tenderly massaged for a few days- I’ll be riding in it every day this week to get it softer. Any tips for getting the reins to soften up faster? I hesitate to oil them because, you know, grip. And yes- I know I should make the switch to rubber reins. But that’s a solution for a later time. In hindsight, I could have planned this better.
Planning for a long, cold day. We have a junior going in the first classes of the day (Big Eq), and then we’re waiting until literally the last division of the day for the High Adults. Meaning we’ll probs be there around 6am and I’ll be surprised if I’m showing before 3pm. I’m planning to hack Francis around when we get there so I can see the ring (because real talk Frankie doesn’t need to see the ring first. We all know who the neurotic one is in this relationship), then hand-walking him periodically throughout the day. Layers on layers on layers will be the name of the game. And then more layers.
In terms of riding, there’s no final prep work to be done. I will likely make mistakes on course but that’s OK. Our problem-solving skills have come a long way in the last few months and I’m confident that we can safely navigate the courses. Frankie is in great muscle, sound, fit, healthy, and getting more responsive with every ride. We’re ready for the move up!
Any tips for surviving winter shows without dying from frostbite?
I honestly forgot that the show is this week until just now. Oops? I guess now is as good a time as ever to figure out what we’re doing for prep:
Oh wait. Nothing. We’re doing nothing to prep.
Seriously though, I think we’re in good shape! Despite looking like he’s fresh from the slaughterhouse (homeboy is covered in scrapes and cuts from “playing” outside), Francis is shiny, in good muscle, and has been working hard lately. Our tack is clean and neat, my show clothes are ready to go, and my entry has been in for weeks.
Basically I’ll pack my trunk, polish my boots, and off we’ll go.
I’m extremely happy about this- that a big horse show is not some huge intimidating event we have to go out of our way to prepare for. All the work we do on a day-to-day basis is the prep work and we can just ride that wave right to Culpeper. That’s a testament to the training and care Frankie and I get from Trainer and Assistant Trainer.
Here’s the plan: he will show up Thursday and Trainer/Assistant Trainer will likely hop on to let him stretch his legs. Not so much a schooling ride since he’s invariably well-behaved, just a chance to see where he is and get the muscles moving.
I will show up Friday morning and we will do our division class: Low Adult Jumper (II.2.b). Saturday we’ll do the same thing (II.2.c), and then Sunday we have two classes to round out the Low division (II.2.c and II.1). Sadly there isn’t a classic for the Lows! There is a 1.10m Adult Classic on Sunday that I’m going to plead with my trainer to let me do, though I have a feeling she’ll tell me to slow my roll and enjoy our season at 1.0m. But I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t fling myself into situations with minimal preparedness.
Overall I think we’re going to have a great week! We have riders doing a wide variety of classes- our superstar junior is doing the Big Eq and jumpers, we have a re-rider making her rated show debut in the maiden adults with her hunter, we have an ammy doing the 3′ hunters, and yours truly in the jumper ring. All fantastic show buddies and excellent horsewomen.
You’re welcome for getting that song stuck in your head.
Just a brief update today on our show prep!
One of the lovely ammies at the barn suggested a trail ride this weekend, and I eagerly jumped up and down with my hand in the air and yelled PICK ME PICK ME. Turns out it wasn’t a contest, just an open invitation. But I got to go on the trail ride so who’s the real winner here?
We were out for a solid hour on trails by the barn that I had NO idea existed. Like zero clue. Big hills, through the woods, across hay fields, it was stunningly gorgeous. I would’ve taken some more pictures, but I am a trail riding weenie and don’t like letting go of the reins when I don’t have walls holding me in.
But in all seriousness, Francis was his usual lovely self- he poked around on the buckle the whole time with his usual sweet curiosity. He thought the deer leaping out were super cool, he dolphin-leapt up some bigass hills and then came right back to me, and loped around a hay field with his buddy Moose. We were both sweaty and tired by the end of our ride and I think it was EXACTLY what we needed. A good workout that was a great mental refresher!
He got some TLC afterwards and lots of grazing time. My saddle came back and he seems SUPER happy with it- he offered up some great engagement over his back with very little urging from me (I basically picked up a light contact and he rounded and stepped under). I’m hoping this means he’s happy with the saddle fit, but we have the rep coming out before the show to watch us go and confirm.
I spent time polishing up my boots and prepping some gear, and then today will be the final preparations: all tack will get deep cleaned, I’ll pack up and lock my trunk so it’s ready to be loaded on the trailer, and Francis will get his own deep cleaning. He’ll probably roll in the mud tonight, but I at least have to say I tried.
For real though, lists 5ever for EVERYTHING. Grocery lists, chore lists, to-do lists, wishlists, packing lists, I will make a list for everything ever. When I’m overwhelmed at work? I stop and make a list of what needs to get done. Lists are soothing.
But one of my favorite lists that has evolved over the years has been my horse show prep checklist. This has gone through many iterations as I’ve grown and learned- it had its beginnings back in middle school when I was doing the Short Stirrup division.
Back in those days, my trainer would swing by my house to pick me up in the wee hours of the morning. Having inherited the punctuality gene from my non-Greek parent, I was very determined to be ready for him. So ready, in fact, that my morning checklist had times associated with every item. Including putting on socks. That sucker was detailed. 5am: wake up. 5:02am: go to the bathroom. 5:03am: wash face. All the way up to 5:45am: get in the car. Just ask my parents, they saw it all in action.
But I don’t think you’re all interested in how long it took middle-school-me to put on each article of clothing. Instead, here’s how I prep for shows as an adult!
The day before:
Do a nice relaxing ride on the beast. Keep it simple and fairly short and let her stretch around. Some people like to give their ponies the day off before a show, but Beastly and I definitely need that time to have fun together.
Give the Beast a bath. She’s going to roll in mud and poop overnight anyways, but this just feels like something I should do. If nothing else, I try to get her mane and tail a little whiter. Proceed to cry intermittently about how unfair it is that your friend gets to ride a dark bay with ZERO chrome.
Clean tack. I usually keep my tack wiped down and in good condition, so this isn’t too onerous. I’ll be extra careful to condition well so we get a nice gleam on the leather, and I’ll pay attention to any grime built up around buckles and keepers. Then the saddle goes in the cover and the bridle gets put in the bridle bag. (Side note: for me, this process also includes changing bits to the Pelham)
Pack my grooming tote. My trainer has lots of grooming stuff available in the trailer anyways so I don’t get too fussed about this, but I do throw a few things together:
Load the trailer. I’m lucky enough that my trainer has a 4 horse trailer that we almost always use, and it has a nice big dressing room. I always make sure to have all these things in there
Girth (and maybe a spare if I’m feeling SUPER prepared)
Fleece pad if it’s a hunter show, half-pad if it’s a jumper show (if we’re doing the jumpers, we use AP pads that have our barn logo on it under the half-pad so I don’t worry about packing those)
Confirm that Trainer’s collection of 239487 show coats are still there just in case this list doesn’t work and I forget to bring my show coat. Which actually happened one time.
Clean Beastly’s boots. I like to trailer her in her boots, so I’ll brush those down to get rid of any sweat or mud that’s accumulated. Then I hang them on her stall door so I don’t forget them in the morning.
Get out her nice halter and leadline. These are relics from my past show days when my parents funded things, so we have a very fancy leather lead with my name on a brass plate, and a fancy halter that says Starlight Express. Totally not her name. Turns out my studly Holsteiner and my albino elephant have a very similar head size.
Bribe pony with treats and kisses to not kill me the next day.
Then I go home and prep my own gear!
Lay out exactly what clothing I’ll be leaving the house in. That usually means my show pants, boot socks, hiking boots, an undershirt, maybe my show shirt/polo, fleece sweatshirt (depending on weather), and my beloved Pony Farm hat. This way I don’t have to rummage through drawers in the wee hours of the morning.
Lay out other show clothing to bring. For hunter shows this is probably my show shirt and jacket, but for jumper shows I generally just wear my polo all day. I always mean to bring a raincoat. I never remember to bring a raincoat.
Polish my tall boots. Sometimes I’ll do this while I’m cleaning tack since the soap is out anyways, and sometimes I do this at home. Once they’re nice and shiny I put them in their boot bag to protect them.
Pack my show backpack. I’ve heard some polarizing things about show backpacks, but mine has been absolutely invaluable. I’ll put my wallet, checkbook, sunglasses, glasses, and Coggins, along with any other necessary paperwork in one pocket. A change of clothes/jacket goes in the big pouch. My crop, gloves, spurs, and helmet all have their place along with a pocket for my water bottle. No need for a purse!
Knock back some ZZQuil and go to sleep! Judge me if you must, but I like to get more than 6 hours of sleep. If I’m going to be up at 4a-5a, this means I want to be drooling on my pillow by 10p. That’s not that much earlier than I usually go to bed, but early enough that I like to get a little chemical help to zonk out.
Now on to the day of the show!
Don’t bother with makeup, just get dressed, grab all my gear that’s waiting by the front door, and hit the road.
Once at the barn, make sure Beastly and any other horses heading to the show get their breakfast.
While she’s eating, identify the poop/mud spots and attempt to curry them out. Mentally talk yourself into believing that the judge won’t care if your gray looks like a paint.
Braid and wrap Beastly’s tail. I don’t mean fancy shmancy braiding, I mean a basic braid down to the very end. This makes it much easier to wrap up with an Ace bandage. I do this because her butt is up against the wall in the trailer and if I don’t, her tail will be entirely crusted over with manure by the time we arrive at the show. It’s super cute. As is, I have to deal with poopy fetlocks.
Triple check the trailer and my car to make sure I have everything while Unicorn finishes her breakfast.
Get her boots on, her fancy lead rope and halter, and take her to the indoor. Turn her loose for 10 minutes to get the silly beans out of her system.
Load her on the trailer (always on the driver’s side because she’s always the biggest pony on the trailer) and hit the road!
So there you have it! So far this routine has served me well to arrive on time, in style, and feeling prepared. Whether or not I feel prepared as a rider is a whole different ball game and requires prep much sooner than the day before.