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!

Bear With Me!

I’m in the midst of a move right now (technically homeless for a few days, but a barn friend is graciously putting a roof over my head and feeding me wine, so it’s all good) meaning I don’t have access to my computer for a bit- I’m writing this on my phone right now. 

But my Upperville recap will be the first thing on the docket when I once again have a keyboard, never fear. 

Spoiler alert: it was AMAZING. No ribbons in a super competitive division of about 35 horses, but rounds that felt good, that I’m proud of. Frankie was the best he’s ever been (which is saying something, we all know he’s always great) and was absolutely worth his weight in gold. Sailed through our first 1.15m like it was nothing even with my ammy mistakes, and tried to pull me to jumps even when our courses were over. I know you’re all probably getting sick of reading this, but wow. This horse is so far beyond anything I could’ve hoped for in a million years, and I am so grateful to get the chance to go out and have fun with him. I may be biased, but pretty sure I have the best horse in the world. Love my Francis!!!

Ok I got a bit carried away, but here are a few pics to tide you over until I can put a real post together. 

Mother ran you past a distance to a 1.10m oxer? No problem for a FrancisBeast!
Somehow he always knows where the camera is…
Our first jump in the ring at Upperville, and he galloped right up like a champ
The traditional horse show nap. At least he knows how to relax.
This is the same horse that used to hang his legs and heave over a jump. Doesn’t look like the same horse, but it is.

Thank you so much Abby, Glendon, Manfriend, Manfriend’s Momma, and everyone else who snapped some great pics this weekend!

Can’t wait to share more details with y’all. 

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!

Tentative Summer Show Schedule

OK gang, we have a tentative plan for the rest of show season.

I was originally planning on doing Loudoun Benefit, but then heard I might be travelling for work that week and also I have no money for a full week show in June hahahahahahelpmeplease. So Loudoun got crossed off the list.

And Upperville too- no full week show for me, and also Manfriend is graduating that Thursday so I’ll be cheering him on (woohoo so proud!!!).

But then my Trainer is the actual best person, and arranged for me to split a stall with someone so I can just show Saturday-Sunday at Upperville!!! We’ll do the 1.10m High class on Saturday and then the 1.15m High classic on Sunday.

Which, you guys. I am getting so mushy and emotional about. This venue was where Frankie and I competed together for the first time in June of last year, at the 0.90m and 1.0m level. And almost exactly one year later, we’re going back and we are going to totally rock that 1.15m class.

It’s not so much about the height, it’s about the confidence and partnership we’ve gained. To be able to go back to that same venue with new skills and abilities and feel that contrast. This was not even on the radar at this time last year. So yeah, I’m a squishy little ball of emotions about this right now. So unbelievably proud of my horse and grateful and UGHHHHHHH I’ll shut up about it. For now.

From there, we are tentatively looking at doing HITS in July where we will do the Highs and/or the Modified AOs (which is the 1.15m division there) and/or maybe the adult medals(?), and then it’ll be finals time in August! USEF has officially officially posted points to confirm all the sleuthing.

I’m thinking that we’ll wrap up our season at Culpeper finals- by then we will have done 3-4 out of the 6 weeks they host and maybe we’ll be in the running for circuit division points? Not going to chase that, but it would be pretty cool.

So we’ll round out our second season together that Sunday.

And I already have a plan. That Sunday, we will go do our 1.10m/1.15m class. Then the following weekend we will be finding a local show. And we will go do the pleasure division. It’s happening, guys. Trainer is already on board.

Modified AO jumper pony Sunday, pleasurific hack horse Saturday. It’s going to be perfect.

What are your summer plans??

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 😉

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.

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:

mcdonogh_classic

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.

How We Do Shows

Now that I’ve been to a couple rated shows with my trainer, I figured I’d share how things tend to go over the course of the week. With a few caveats:

  • Things may be slightly different for the hunter riders since they have a whole division every day. I don’t know, I don’t pay a ton of attention to those rings haha
  • I won’t claim that this is the “best” way, there’s plenty of ways to have a safe and successful show! This is just how we do it, and it runs pretty smoothly!

Pre-Show:

Discuss which classes to enter- pretty easy for me since I just do my division over the course of the weekend. Jumpers at our barn tend to do 1-2 classes each day so we plan around that (since each class requires a separate warmup and the courses are so long, each class involves almost as much jumping efforts as a full hunter division. Hence the limited classes.).

Trainer checks on grooming and lets us know what’s necessary- do we need to pull manes? Trim fetlocks? Other assorted grooming tasks? I tend to outsource this to a working student/Assistant Trainer since they are waaaaay better at this than I am. I can practice when it isn’t show season. We also give a bath the night before leaving to create a base clean.

Pack our trunks. For me this means completely unpacking my trunk, then repacking with ONLY what I need for the show: standing wraps/pillow wraps and tack (including open-fronts). When the weather cools down, we’ll include a cooler. Basically we don’t want to cart anything there that isn’t totally necessary.

Make sure all show clothes are clean and packed. Polish boots. Pack ring bag.

Set-up day:

Haul to the show. I don’t have a trailer, so Frankie rides with Trainer in one of hers. They often haul the day before I get there, so I miss out on all the loading and unloading and setup (oh no, woe is me…).

Set up EVERYTHING.

Horse stalls: Each horse gets two water buckets, a tonnnn of shavings, and hay. Grain buckets come in and out at meal times. Rider trunks go in front of their horse’s stall (locked). Wrap “bags” in barn colors get zip-tied to stall fronts to hold standing wraps when they’re not in use.

Feed stall: hay, grain, shavings, extra buckets go here. Sometimes our mini-fridge goes here too, and rider trunks if they don’t fit in the aisle. I also tend to leave my backpack/bootbag here during the days. We’ll set up some hooks to hold helmets, half-chaps, jackets, etc.

Grooming stall: rubber mats, shelving units with brushes, saddle pads, towels, fly spray, show sheen, and everything else we could possibly need. Wall-box with safety pins, emergency numbers, rider numbers, strings, pens, random useful stuffs. Crossties. TONS of hooks/saddle racks to hang tack on.

Miscellaneous: tack-cleaning station with a variety of soaps and conditioners and small bucket of water. White-board to track who needs to be in what ring to do which class when, and which horses need to be braided on any given day (and by default, who needs to leave a check for the braider. Hooray for jumpers not needing braids!). If we’re at a show with temporary stalls (i.e. pretty much anything under a tent), we’ll move panels around to create a dressing room to change in.

The pretty stuff: we have draperies with Trainer and Barn name on it. We also have a pew to sit on, a couple chairs, flowers, table, etc. Depending on location, we’ll put mulch down and hang flowers from the tent.

ocala_stall setup

Pick up numbers from show office. Trainer usually grabs mine for me and makes sure I’m entered in all the right classes. She’ll add/scratch anything for the next day.

Horses get a training ride. Since we usually get there the day before we actually show, the horses all go for a hack. Riders are encouraged to ride their own, but ammies like me who are stuck at work like chumps tend to have Trainer or Assistant Trainer hop on.

Trainer reports on Pony’s behavior and lets us all know what time to show up the next day.

Actual show days:

Show up about an hour before the first class is supposed to walk (if the website says my class is walking around 10:15AM, that means showing up at 9:15AM. Even though we all know that in reality my class probably won’t walk until noon.). Put gear down and give Pony smooshes and snuggles.

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Smooches from EVERYONE

Go learn my course. If I can sneak into an earlier course walk, fantastic. Put my name in the order of go if Trainer hasn’t already (spoiler alert, she probably has).

Chill for a bit. Watch some rounds going in whatever class is running. Hang out with fellow riders. Say hi to people I recognize from last show. Try not to make eye contact with the intimidating woman running the in-gate. Have a protein bar. Drink my weight in water.

Call Trainer/Assistant Trainer when it’s time for my class to walk. Walk it together and discuss strategy about how best to ride the course.

Stay and watch 2-3 rounds go while Trainer finishes up in another ring. OR if early in the order, forego the watching.

Go back to the barn and finish getting dressed. Assistant Trainer and assorted working students/barn rats/awesome people have already tacked up Pony using one of our barn’s logo saddle pads and polished his hooves and he’s napping on the crossties.

Hop on and head to the warmup ring. Flat around to get muscles moving. Trainer shows up and claims a jump. Do whatever she says while trying desperately not to cause a major collision. Easier said than done.

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EVERYBODY WATCH OUT AND STEER AROUND ME PLS

Head to the in-gate. Tell Trainer the course one last time and take a deep breath. She says, “Go have fun.” Enter the ring.

WHEEEEEEEEEE JUMPSSSSSS WHEEEEEEE

Exit the ring. De-brief with Trainer. What worked? What didn’t work? What do we need to do differently next time? Go for a short walk to cool out Pony. Call Mom and Dad to gush over how cool Pony is.

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De-briefing session means Francis gets to chill for a sec

Get back to the barn and hop off. Working students/barn rats/awesome people take Pony to untack and hose him off if he’s done/has a long break before his next class, or untack and put him in his stall if it’s a shorter break.

If I’m not done for the day: go learn the next course, walk it, repeat the whole process.

If I am done for the day: change into more comfortable shoes and a less sweaty shirt. Throw on a baseball cap, you bum, your hair is disgusting.

Go cheer on our other riders- hold their horses, film their rounds, wipe their boots, whatever. Visit the vendors and bleed out more money. Go to the show cafe and get something greasy and covered in cheese.

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Check for ribbons and freak out

At any point before leaving for the day:

Confirm classes for the next day. Add/scratch if needed.

Clean and condition all tack. This includes hosing down and sun-drying boots, scrubbing bits, etc. Put all tack away in trunk and lock it.

Re-wrap pillow/standing wraps so Assistant Trainer can wrap the horses that need it. She does really aesthetically pleasing wraps.

Trainer sets up the whiteboard for the next day. This is basically our bible. Ask her what time to be there the next morning. If she says anything earlier than 8am, try to convince her she’s wrong. Begrudgingly admit she knows what she’s talking about and agree to be there early.

Last day of show:

Once done with my last class, get Pony and tack cleaned up and squared away.

Go to the show office and close out. Subtly check bank account on phone when they hand me the bill. Pray. Cry quietly as I sign the check.

Break down the setup: all trunks go on the trailer, hoses, buckets, draperies, chairs, mini-fridge, ALL OF IT. Make sure hay nets are full and trailer is ready to receive the steeds.

Put Pony on the trailer with his buddies.

Follow the trailer home.

Unload Pony and toss him in his stall to chill for a bit while I help clean out the trailer- depending on the length of the journey, this ranges from picking the poop to stripping the shavings. Get new shavings and re-load hay nets so trailer is already set to go for the next use.

Unload all gear- laundry to the laundry room, other stuff to….other places. I dunno, I just follow instructions at this point.

Take care of Pony- hose off if needed, bath if needed, grooming if needed. In general this is pretty light since he was taken care of at the showgrounds. Usually toss outside to play since he’s been cooped up for a couple days. He can prolly just hang outside for like the next 3 days before asking him to work again.

Unload trunk- hang tack back up in the tack room and throw all my garbage back in my trunk. Put trunk back where it lives.

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All tucked away in its home

Head home, have a glass of wine and go to bed at 8pm because yes, tomorrow is Monday and the real world is waiting.

What do you do differently?