WEC Bootcamp

It’s bootcamp time for me and Francis!

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.

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OMG Frankie the day before I bought him. I put this here bc I wanted a pic of him clipped, but he looks so different now!

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.

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Naht fresh. Want naps. Moar food.

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.

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I may or may not be allowed to use my hands

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.

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Let’s get back to this! Only bigger! (There’s totally room for another rail there, right?)

So excited to get back out there with the World’s Bestest Pony Ever!!!

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The Fun Decisions

I don’t know if any of you caught it (why would you?), but for a hot second my sidebar for upcoming shows said:

“Lake Placid June/July 2018 OR Tryon June/July 2018”

I’ll explain.

In the email I received about the Gold Star clinic, they said that they hoped to see me next year at Team Finals, which would be held for my area from July 4-8 at Tryon.

See, my barn has already started making plans to be in Lake Placid at that time. So of course I immediately emailed my trainer to ask what I should do because she runs my life, and she gave me the most ANNOYING ANSWER EVER: “What are your goals for the year? We can make either work depending on what you’d like to do.”

UGH STOP BEING REASONABLE AND ACCOMMODATING AND TRUSTING ME TO MAKE MY OWN DECISIONS WE ALL KNOW THIS IS A BAD IDEA.

So suddenly, I had to make the choice between two incredibly amazing opportunities. A no-lose scenario. Either way, I’d be competing at a gorgeous venue and having a fantastic time. These are the fun decisions!

Considerations about Tryon: I would still be on the radar for USHJA programs and get the chance to try again to make it into a Gold Star clinic. Since Trainer and AT wouldn’t be able to join, they’d send me down with another trainer from the area that I HIGHLY respect, and there’s definite benefit to getting fresh eyes. I’ve heard Tryon is a gorgeous venue.

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THINK OF THE PHOTO OPS

Considerations about Lake Placid: it’s high profile enough that I won’t be fading into obscurity there, especially if we manage to place well. I would have my own trainers to work with and my show family to have fun with. It’s been described as a total paradise, the barn doesn’t go every year, and my family is tentatively willing to come up for a week’s vacation since there’s so much to do in the area besides just show.

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HOLY CRAP STILL THINK OF THE PHOTO OPS

While a tough decision (because both sound so fun and I like to do All The Fun Things), I’ve decided to commit to Lake Placid! At the end of the day I compete because I have a blast doing it, and the idea of doing two weeks of vacation/showing with my barn family sounds like the most fun I could possibly have. Trainer has offered to take us down to Tryon another time since that’s more easily accessible, but I may not get another chance to go north for several years.

Another consideration is that I may simply not get enough points to qualify for Team Finals. Trainer and I have decided that while I’ll spend part of my time in the division where I’ll likely get some points, I’m also going to be dabbling in the 1.20m. I’ll be moving between two divisions enough that it would be difficult to get a lot of points in either. I’m a member of WIHS and NAL so if I get points for that I wouldn’t be mad, but I’m not going to chase those. This will be a very busy competition year of challenging ourselves and progressing- not necessarily qualifying for any big finals. I’m hopeful that this year of some big shows and big tracks will be the set up I need for 2019 to be absolutely killer.

I’m officially no longer sick and SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED about our upcoming show season!!! I’m pinching myself a little that I get to do so many cool things with the best horse on the planet. Can’t wait to take y’all along for the ride!

Lemme know if you’ll be at any of the shows in my sidebar! Frankie and I would LOVE to meet you in person!

2017 Show Season Recap

Now that the 2017 USEF show season is officially over, let’s take a look back on the past year of competition to see how we did and how we progressed.

McDonogh Winter Classic

Our first outing of the year in January, and our first time competing in the Highs! This was ostensibly our first time doing the 1.10m classes, but I’ll eat my socks if these jumps were actually 1.10m. They looked maaaaybe 1.0m. So a soft entry into the Highs, which was probably a good thing.

I had zero connection due to constantly slipping reins, but we were able to make it around quickly enough to place well. I was still learning about finding my track and Frankie was still learning about how do turnz, but he was a good sport and we learned a lot. We ran into trouble at the triple combo in the classic which was likely due to that being the third class of a long cold day, and both of us losing energy. Overall, this was a positive first outing of the season despite the bobbles.

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HITS Commonwealth National

Our first real outing at a true 1.10m, but I felt much more confident than I had in January. We were able to go back and do a triple combo really strongly, and he handled the sloppy footing like a champ all weekend. Francis did his first 1.15m round with my trainer and won it. My main areas that needed improvement were letting him get fast and flat and not really doing much of anything about it. We weren’t to the point of doing the inside turns quite yet, but we had noticeable improvement and both of us started knowing what we were doing in the ring.

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Upperville

Oh Upperville. This was probably our best show of the year. I could’ve done a better job of keeping him between my leg and hand, and I didn’t ask hard enough to get the turns I wanted in places, but we went around some big tracks and it went much more smoothly than it had in the past. It was only 2 classes and we didn’t place, but I consider these two of our best rounds to date. For my own record of improvement, I was happy with our ability to go out cold and warm up concisely and correctly both days.

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Zone Jumper Finals: Part 1 and Part 2

By far the biggest and most intense competition experience I’ve ever had. It was so much more involved than any other show- there was a jog, there were rider’s meetings, there was the team aspect. And the courses were definitely bigger and harder than we’ve done before. I could tell that we were some of the less-schooled competitors there in terms of miles and experience, but we held our own and had a couple of strong rounds. We were able to make the inside turns everywhere we wanted to, we opened up our stride, and it was a great stretch of our abilities.

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HITS Culpeper Finals

Our foray out of the jumper ring and into the equitation! This was a great test of our ability to reel it in and do something a bit more polished. Was it expert-level? Absolutely not. Did we have to think very hard about what we were doing and change our ride accordingly? Absolutely. But I’m so pleased with how well Frankie was able to relax and give me a good effort in a new ring, over very different types of jumps. Despite the small class sizes, I’m proud of those ribbons.

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Zone Finals

Our last show of the season was a strangely appropriate mishmash of the entire season. We ran into trouble at a combo, just like in our first show- but we went back and fixed it strongly. I let him get fast and flast like our second show- but he has learned enough self-carriage to bounce up to the jumps. We used our warmup to school some skills, like Upperville. We used our inside-turn skills and eye to the bigger fences, like Team Finals. It felt like we were really able to apply what we had learned- not necessarily in having the best rides, but in being able to go out there and make stronger corrections more quickly. There were highs and lows, but I walked away proud of my horse and feeling like both of us have improved immensely since the beginning of our season. Getting a high ribbon in a competitive class was big icing on the cake.

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What’s next?

I’m excited for our 2018 season! It looks like it’ll be a year of quality over quantity on the show front- with some big hitters like WEC and Lake Placid on the agenda, I likely won’t have the budget or vacation time to do much else. I’m hoping to fit in some smaller one-days nearby to get points, make a showing at Upperville again, and see if I can try some new venues. It’ll depend a lot on the money situation (as usual!). We may also try to fit in a clinic or two, depending on who comes to town. I’m not going to commit to a division quite yet- I suspect we’ll want to spend most of our time in the Highs at 1.10-1.15m, but I do want to test our limits a bit in a 1.20m class if possible. We’ll see how Frankie and I are feeling as we get more into show season. I very very much want to continue growing and progressing up the levels, and I can’t wait to get to work!

In-Barn Halloween Show

This weekend was seriously horse-tacular: I got to go into DC for WIHS on Thursday, spent Saturday watching steeplechasing at the Virginia Gold Cup, and hung out for our in-barn show on Sunday!

You guys. All the little kids on the ponies. My heart. For many of the itty-bitties this was their first time learning about courtesy circles, how to line up after a flat class, and all those little things that go along with shows. Trainer ran it more clinic-style, very informal, lots of cheering when they got it right and gentle correction when they needed a bit more help. It was the absolute cutest to see the smiles on their faces!

Despite being a little worse for the wear from a Halloween party the night before (total blast, but oh god this is why I can’t drink liquor or stay up past 11pm anymore), I was pressured into taking Frankie into one of the jumper classes at the end of the day. While wearing a Tin Man costume.

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Hahahaha so much SideEye from the goob

Luckily he was on his extra bestest packer behavior because all I wanted was a nap and 18 packets of Ramen with extra salt. He snorted a bit at the new banner hanging in the ring, but I tried Aimee’s and Carly’s technique of letting him smoosh it with his nose and suddenly he didn’t care anymore. Magic Snoot.

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I plan to wear metallic leggings instead of breeches from now on, heads up

After a nice little warmup, they put the jumps up to whatever height, I have no idea. Course was here:

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Then jumpoff: 1-4-7-8-9

Despite his pilot riding the struggle bus hardcore, Francis pulled through and gave me a freakin’ fantastic course here. We cut through the middle to do a short turn up to 1, went inside the round bale at the end to coast down to 2, 3 was normal, inside the bale again to a short approach to 4, galloping 3 strides out over 5, bending 6 to 7 in a forward 4, around the end to come down 8 in a bit of a longer turn (it was format II.2.b so I wasn’t too worried about time first round), and up out of the corner to 9.

Then Best Boy Francis went ahead and gave me a rock solid jump off: short turn up to 1 again, inside the bales to get to 4, turn in front of 8 to get to 7 sliced L to R, inside the bales to get down to 8, gallop up 9 again. All inside turns, all clean, all fast, and all on a fairly loose rein because holding reins is hard work. Joke’s on me, now my legs are sore from steering.

We won the class with the fastest clean jumpoff time and I immediately hopped off, went home, put on sweats, and started Season 2 of Stranger Things.

I am a garbage person.

But the kids were happy, the ponies were adorable, and Francis has officially reached the point in his training where he can cart his trash-mother around the inside turns of a jumpoff without breaking a sweat.

I know we all say that there’s a special place in heaven for the lesson ponies that take such good care of their kids, but I also propose that there is a special place in heaven for the horses that put up with their amateurs.

Happy Halloween to you and all your creatures!

WIHS Regional/Zone 3 Finals

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

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

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

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

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First course!

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

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

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Cheesin’ hard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s our first course for the Welcome class:

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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

56 seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rollercoaster Show

Alternate title: How Stupid of an Injury Can You Get?

I’ll allay your fears off the bat: no one has any lasting damage, and nothing was even remotely related to Francis. Homeboy was uninvolved in my tomfoolery and continues to be his awesome amazing wonderful self.

This was probably the most relaxed show I’ve done in a long time. The numbers were EXTREMELY low so the showgrounds were crazy quiet, we weren’t trying to qualify or get points or anything, and it seemed super low key.

Friday was just a schooling day for us- we went in to do a ticketed warmup in one of the rings to try and find our eq pace. Which was hard. My trainer kept telling us to slow down, even when it felt like I was going backwards! I needed to get us into a nice rhythm and then leave my horse alone, instead of letting my electric seat take over and build a gallop. No gallop needed. But overall it was a great schooling session where we got to jump some fill (which we haven’t done in a good long time) and get my eye adjusted to the different pace. When we got the right pace, Frankie was able to jump up nice and square every single time.

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How is my horse so handsome all the time? How?

 

Saturday was our first eq day! Due to ring changes and schedule shifts, our very first class was a 3′ Eq Classic in the GP. On the one hand, a nice familiar ring with jumper-style jumps to ease us in. On the other hand, Frankie definitely knows that this ring means zoomies. It was an…interesting round. I came out of the ring and yelled DOUBLE CLEAR to my trainer, which is apparently not what we are supposed to go for in the eq. It was an odd combination of zooming around, yet not really making the striding anywhere. I think for me, it was tough to adjust my eye to the smaller jumps. Overall though Frankie was obedient and wanted to please (as always) and we ended up getting a nice big pretty yellow ribbon for our efforts.

Then we had two trips for the 18-35 Adult Eq division in the big Hunter 1 ring. We hadn’t gotten to school in there and I’ve never shown in there before, so I was excited to give it a try! The courses themselves were a little disappointing- they were the exact same as the hunter rounds, so no opportunity to show off any handiness. The most “exciting” it got was a two-stride across the diagonal.

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Literally no effort went into the eq courses

I was really really happy with Frankie in both trips. Neither trip was beautifully polished, and definitely had a lot of room for improvement, but Frankie was thinking hard and trying to figure out what I was asking. We’ve spent so long telling him that the show ring means GOING NOW MUST RUN and this time I was telling him the opposite. He definitely thought he was supposed to turn and burn around some of those corners and kept checking with me to make sure he was doing the right thing. My big thing to remember was softening at him- when I dropped him a little bit, he responded by relaxing and coming back to a more appropriate pace.

I could also feel him jumping SUPER cute- I didn’t end up buying it, but the photographer got a really adorable one of him over one of the oxers. I know he doesn’t actually need to try at 3′, so I’m proud of him for still putting in some effort! He makes my job so much easier when he jumps like that. His motion is so much easier to follow, the timing is much easier to allow to happen naturally, overall I feel like I’m able to show off my eq a little bit more.

Despite the little bobbles for us to work on, we took first in both classes! Full disclosure: we were the only entry in the second class. I told you the numbers were crazy low. But there were four entries in the first class! I may or may not have hugged the announcer when he told me (I really should stop hugging strangers at horse shows).

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We’ve got the blues!

I couldn’t be prouder of Frankie for going into a new ring, in a new discipline, with new jumps and new courses, and trusting me enough to listen and think so hard. He always has so much try and this was no different- I could really feel him trying to figure out what I wanted. He got lots of pats and scratches as I took out his braids.

Sunday dawned cool and breezy as I loaded my gear into the car for our final day of showing. And stick with me folks, because this is where I get dumb.

A little context: I have a Jeep Liberty. And the trunk of the Liberty opens in two pieces, as such:

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In this picture, the car is nice and clean and not a decrepit old trash heap like mine is. So the top part opens all the way automatically. But in my decrepit old trash heap, it does not actually open all the way. It opens to about forehead height.

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My professional reenactment diagram

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

While swinging my gear into the car, I smashed my head into the glass so. Dang. Hard.

I made it about 45 minutes before the pressure-headache-feels-like-a-hangover-slight-dizziness set in. I chugged water, took some Advil, and waited for it to subside. And it didn’t.

And that is the story of how I slammed my head into my car so hard that I ended up scratching my classes and having my boyfriend and his brother drive 90 minutes to come pick me up and drive me home.

OMG.

Was I being overcautious? Probably. I’m pretty sure I could’ve made it around another couple trips- especially with such a trustworthy steed. But I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to any sort of head injury, no matter how IDIOTICALLY they may have occurred. Part of me is saying that I was being way overly unnecessarily careful about the whole thing, and the other part of me is saying that I made the right call by scratching. Ugh.

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MAHM WUT R U DOIN Y R U SWAYING

Further earning his Sweetest Horse Ever award, Frankie stood calmly with his head down so I could take his braids out without using the step ladder. I swear he always seems to know when I’m feeling unsteady and is extra careful with me at those times. Such a total lovebug.

The dizziness wore off within a few hours and I’m now just nursing a bit of a headache and some wounded pride. If nothing else, it makes a pretty funny story (especially when I act out the field neuro exam Manfriend gave me upon my father’s instructions). Luckily Manfriend had a sense of humor about the whole thing and reassured me that next time I should just ask him to come to the show, there’s no need to bash my head in to convince him. Har har har.

I guess I was overdue for a klutzy moment.

Please make me feel better and share your most ridiculous injuries that kept you from riding/showing. I can’t be alone in this!

Best Laid Plans

So. Um. I know I told you all that we were just doing the eq this weekend, some XC schooling next weekend, and maybe a pleasure division at a local show in October to wrap up our season.

But then this happened.

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So we’re gonna go do that instead.

100% sure that I’m only invited because people that actually qualified decided not to go, but WHATEVER WE’RE GOING TO ZONES!!!! This was not even remotely on my radar as a possibility this year. Like, at all. Which of course also means that I did not budget for this and will have to get creative with how to pay for it. I only need one kidney, right? RIGHT??

Man, you guys. You know I get so sappy about Francis, but can you blame me? He’s helping me achieve all these dreams I could’ve never imagined. It’s our first year in the division, we just had our true move up in April, I was doing the 0.80m/0.90m only a little over a year ago. And now he’s taking me to Zones for the Highs.

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He really is the horse of a lifetime.

Glow Up

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Who even is this horse. How is this even a thing. I can’t even right now.

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This was less than a year ago.

No crazy gimmicks, no weird techniques. Just good nutrition, focus on fitness, and a thoughtfully structured training program- combined with a good brain, athleticism, and amazing work ethic.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

USHJA Zone 3/4 Jumper Team Championships: Part 2

Moving on to the weekend part of the weekend.

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Moar naps.

Saturday was team day. Importantly, the outfit was white pants and the Kastel sunshirt they gave us with Zone 3 printed on the front. I’m in love with this sunshirt.

Let me tell you, Saturday was EVENTFUL. I was slated to go in first for my team as the second anchor (I was just as surprised as you are) so we walked the course as early as possible and then started warming up while they were dragging and watering.

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Walking into the warmup ring

And it was the worst warmup we’ve ever had.

We had the pace. My eye was there. And Frankie was just sticking over the jumps. If I hadn’t had a team depending on me, I would’ve scratched. And then Frankie threw a shoe about 30 seconds before I was due in the ring.

This required a wonderful coordination of effort from the warmup ring steward finding the shoe and radio-ing the in-gate to let them know what was going on, the woman running the in-gate moving me down in the order, the on-site farrier tacking the shoe back on, and Trainer pulling me aside for a kick in the seat.

To paraphrase: “stop riding like crap, you’re better than this. It’s a good thing we get a reset button right now. Get your head in the game.”

And then she told me something that I didn’t realize I needed to hear. She said, “Olivia, you have every right to be here. You qualified just like everyone else. You have just as much of a shot of going in there and laying down a clear round.”

I didn’t realize that I was feeling that Imposter Syndrome until she said that. Somehow she was able to read that in me and knew just what to say to get me motivated. She truly is an incredible coach.

So we went back to the warmup ring and had one of the best warmups we’ve ever had. No joke.

And Frankie threw the shoe again.

But by this point I was the last one to go in the ring, they were waiting on me to close the class, and my team needed me.

So we went in with three shoes.

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At this point all I could do was laugh and say what the hell let’s give it a go.

And proceeded to lay down the fastest trip in the class with zero rails. Double clear.

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It was the same round both trips. Not much to say about it- another tough but fair one that I think played to Frankie’s strengths.

To say that I was ecstatic about this would be a gross understatement. I was shaking with emotion as we left that ring.

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Shortly before I collapsed on his neck from sheer joy

And if you know me at all, you know that I needed a place to channel that emotion. So when one of my teammates (who is a total fixture on my circuit and wins everything and rides SO FREAKIN’ WELL and I love watching her at every show) came up to congratulate me on my round, I went straight in for the hug and literally said these words: “I LOOK UP TO YOU SO MUCH I LOVE WATCHING YOU RIDE YOU’RE SUCH AN INSPIRATION.”

Because I have ZERO chill.

God bless her she patted me on the back and handled the shaking psycho hanging on her neck very graciously. At this point Frankie had been whisked away to the farrier before we had to go back in for our second round.

And to anyone who says that sportsmanship is dead in the horse world, I’d like to invite you to come to Zone Finals. Because when word got around that my horse had lost a shoe, someone FROM ANOTHER TEAM immediately offered us a set of bell boots. The warmup ring steward gave us good juju. The woman running the in-gate gave us good juju. Everyone was helping out and pitching in and I wish every person who complains about poor horsemanship could’ve been there to see all of these people offering a helping hand without hesitation or agenda. I will never forget that sense of community and shared purpose.

But it does turn out that the shoe was unlucky, because we went in for our second round and dropped three rails. Womp womp. This meant that I was the drop score for our team for the second round. But at least I actively contributed in the first round! I actually liked my second round a lot better- it flowed more smoothly and I had a more rideable horse. One of the rails was definitely my fault, but the other two were just Frankie being sloppy with his hind end. I’m sure by this point he was tired.

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Happy Francis!
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I CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS SWEET HORSE

Even so, our team scores left us tied for first with Team 3. Meaning it came down to a jumpoff.

Ho. Lee. Crap. SO EXCITING.

Team 3’s chosen rider went in there and laid down a super crazy fast clear jumpoff. Then our rider went in there and laid down an equally crazy fast jumpoff- she was faster by 0.05 seconds. But then- ever so gently- we heard the faintest *poof* of the last rail hitting the ground. The entire in-gate area erupted in screams and cheers and congratulations. Team 4 took the silver!

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I’m up there losing my mind and Frankie is just waiting for naptime again.
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“Mahm is this ribbon eatable?”

The ribbon ceremony was absolutely incredible. They played the Olympics theme song over the speakers, they took a thousand official pictures, they sent us off for a victory gallop, they put medals around our necks up on the podium, they took a thousand more official pictures. Oh man.

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I had never met any of these women before this day. Didn’t matter. Team hugs.
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Absolutely punch drunk laughing at nothing in total hysterics
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Aw yiss
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As the token tall girl, I always stand in the back
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Cheesin’ HARD

It was a dream come true. And true to form, Francis handled all the hooplah as if he’d been there a million times. Flapping ribbons? Horses running up his butt in the victory gallop? Loudspeakers and music and flags and flashes? Ain’t no thang for the Frankfurter. He very placidly cantered a lap and then happily went back to his stall. What a pro.

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He was very happy to go for a walk later in the afternoon to stretch his legs. We were required to have his number on him every time he left his stall.

I’d like to give a shoutout here to my adopted barn moms- they took a thousand pictures (all the good ones here are from my barn moms) and cheered and supported and one of them literally cried watching me in the victory gallop. I felt so surrounded by love. I’ve got the best barn family in the world.

And it would be remiss of me to not mention the help I got with Frankie- our team made sure that he was shiny and groomed and tacked up whenever I needed him and worked their butts off to coordinate that around 7 other riders. They are rockstars who worked bazillion hour days without complaint the whole time.

I’ll wrap up Sunday quickly, since it was a bit anticlimactic.

jtc_sun_course
Lot of related distances

I thought this was a fairly straightforward course for the most part, but the triple at 10ABC was the true weed-out spot. A to B was set SUPER long as a one stride. I got nervous when I walked it- Frankie has a big step, but as mentioned previously he does back off in combos. I think this was the big test of those who could go in there and lay it down perfectly, versus those who didn’t quite have it all together.

At this point in our career, we are the latter. It wasn’t a terrible course but it wasn’t our best either, and we did have to mad scramble out of the triple. Overall I’m proud of Frankie’s effort here and he listened really well. It had been a long weekend and I know he was tired, but he was definitely more fit than he has been in the past and was able to give me more powerful efforts. My big mistake in this course was that I rode the plan too strongly. I should’ve adjusted as we went through instead of trying to stick to a plan that clearly wasn’t working for the horse I had under me. My new mantra: ride the horse, not the course.

Between our 6 faults on Friday, 12 faults on Saturday, and then some additional faults on Sunday (I think 8 due to 2 rails?), we were out of the ribbons for the individual final. But one of my teammates from Saturday took home the Individual Gold! And despite squeaking in there with minimum points, we didn’t end up in dead last.

By that point, we were ready to go home.

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Frankie was very happy to snuggle with his mama and relax outside.

What a weekend. I couldn’t be happier with how Frankie performed- we asked him for a lot of hard rounds at bigger heights with more difficult questions, and he took it all in like a total champ. It was certainly a physical stretch for us to have a full weekend of long courses and big jumps, but it was also a mental stretch. We had to deal with some snags and exhaustion and figure out how to keep trucking. It raised the bar for us in a whole bunch of different ways and I think we rose to the occasion.

We aren’t yet at the top of the pack in our division, but every round we go out there and the pieces come together a little bit more. Every round that goes well is due a little more to skill and a little less to luck. We’re making different mistakes. We’re fitter, stronger, faster, tighter than we used to be.

As always, we have a long long way to go, but we’re a lot further than we used to be. My heart is full to bursting with love and gratitude for this horse who so patiently teaches me so much.

USHJA Zone 3/4 Jumper Team Championships: Part 1

This was such a monster of a weekend, I’m not sure how many posts it’ll take to feel like I’m doing it justice. At least 2. But I’m just gonna keep writing until I get everything down that I want to get down, and that’s gonna be a LOT. So strap in.

I’ll start with Thursday- the day before the show. I arrived around 7a to help set stalls up for the 8 horses we had joining for the weekend. Everyone chipped in and got things put away and we were done surprisingly quickly! Frankie naturally plopped down for a nap almost immediately.

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Next time I’ll bring him a snorkel so he doesn’t have to come up for air

We were required to be checked in by 10am- that’s when the USHJA people would be going around to make sure every Championship horse was on the premises where they were supposed to be. We had some excitement trying to find Frankie’s most recent vaccination papers, but luckily my Trainer is WAY more organized than I am and has a legit binder of everyone’s paperwork. We got his number hung on his stall with no further incident.

This was a pretty quiet day since I didn’t have any classes. We just had a brief lesson later in the day where we worked on some one-strides and tight rollback turns, all set fairly low so we wouldn’t tire Frankie out. He felt so awesome, really listening to my cues and slicing jumps like he’s been doing this his whole life.

Then my hotel tried to cancel my reservation because they were overbooked and didn’t even call me about it, so I had to channel my mother to get that sorted out. Long story short, I ended up with the room I booked after a lot of back and forth.

Frankie and I went for a couple walks later in the day to stretch his legs and let him see the show grounds, and you just know he was super spooky and nervous about it. HAH LOL. He mosied around on a loose lead and grazed and leaned in for scratchies. He’s gotten the hang of this whole “horse show” thing by now.

We ended the day with the official Zone 3 rider’s meeting with the Chef d’Equipes to talk about expectations for the weekend and receive our swag. I gotta be honest, it was super motivating to hear them talking about representing our Zone. I mean, I knew that’s what this was. But it kinda hit home to hear them talk about it. They gave us a brief demonstration of how to jog and went through our outfits for the weekend (you know how excited I get about outfits) and then released us.

On to Friday! And ohhhh man what a busy day.

We started with the jog first thing. Outfit for human was tan breeches, shiny shiny boots, navy polo with the USHJA logo on it, number tied around our backs, and hair up in a ponytail under our white Zone 3 hats. Outfit for horse was snaffle bridle and nothing else- no bonnet, boots, etc. Some people braided and they looked really nice. All of us groomed and primped and polished our ponies so they were super clean.

Y’all, jogging is hard. First we had to wait in line- stop/go/stop/go/stop/go as we slowly moved up, which is Frankie’s least favorite thing in the world. He’s happy to stop. He’s happy to go. He is NOT happy to wait around. Combine that with the sight of a gray mare in the distance, and I was flying a kite (Frankie is OBSESSED with gray mares). We were that embarrassing pair standing perpendicular/backwards/sideways to everyone else because he couldn’t take his eyes off that distant horse. Homeboy pooped like 14x in those 10 minutes.

And that was all before we even actually jogged.

Once we got to the front of the line, I had to start over because I asked him to jog too early (in my defense, they way they showed us the night before and they way they asked us to do it day of were slightly different). He may have run me over a bit. But I ran my little heart out to keep up with him and he passed easily. Not that I thought he wouldn’t pass, but having 2 vets and a bunch of USHJA officials staring at you is kinda nerve-wracking. I was very happy to go back and let Frankie cope with the loss of that distant gray mare while I went to the next rider’s meeting.

This was the meeting where they drew the order for the first individual qualifier round that day, and announced our teams for Saturday- which ended up being different from the teams they had announced last week. I ended up on Team 4 with 3 other ladies from Zone 3. Side note- they provided breakfast and coffee for us every day under this tent, which was totally awesome of them.

We had the option of doing a training session on Friday before our Individual round, and Trainer and I decided that it would be a good idea. They gave us a course and 90 seconds in the ring to use however we wanted- some people went in and trotted around for 90 seconds, some jumped the whole course, some just jumped one fence, some did a totally different course. As long as you only jumped the flagged jumps, and in the correct direction, you could do whatever you wanted. I opted to school over the liverpool and go through a one-stride combo to get the gears working.

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Trainer and I discussing strategy ringside. Holding him because this weekend Francis decided that holding still is THE WORST. Check my awesome official polo.

I legged up to that liverpool and Frankie popped over it no problem. We’ve never encountered one in the show ring before, but I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t care. Homeboy never cares. We did circle around and go through to school that one-stride a couple times though. I needed him thinking FORWARD no matter what and he sometimes backs off when he sees all those poles. Not enough to stop, just enough to get kinda stuck. We ended on a good note. I actually bought an 8″x10″ photo of us from this training round- I look kinda like a barnacle clinging to Frankie, but he looks AMAZING. Seriously, like a million bucks. Trainer said that one is going on her gallery wall in the lounge #goalachieved.

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This is not the one where he looks like a million bucks, but he’s awful nonchalant about that liverpool. Good Francis.

After a break, it was time for our first individual qualifier round.

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A very reasonable course that asked challenging but fair questions

Overall- not bad. Two rails, which wasn’t great, but a fantastic time. It was faults converted, so those two rails just added 8 seconds to my time. Then we subtract the winner’s time so that the winner has a score of 0, and that left me with something like 6.15 faults. Meaning I actually went 2 seconds faster than the winner which is kinda cool. And the reason that we got such a great time is because we took every. single. inside. turn. (Funny enough, those turns aren’t where we had rails either).

You guys. We did every inside turn. This was a HUGE risk/stretch for us. We sometimes will pick one or two tighter turns to shave time, but the SS Frankenstein is not known for his turning radius. I was SO FREAKIN’ PROUD. We went inside Fence 9 to get from 4B to 5. We went inside 12 to get to 7. WE WENT INSIDE 4AB IN THE 3′ OF CLEAR SPACE TO GET TO 9. WE SLICED 11 LIKE A BADASS TO GO INSIDE 3 TO GET TO 12. Holy moly I wish I had a picture of 11. We were basically parallel to the jump and I asked Frankie to go for it and that sweet creature was just kinda like “this seems weird but whatever you say” and jumped it on the sharpest angle BY FAR I have ever asked him to jump anything.

Here are some pics of him being so excellent:

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In case you thought I had addressed my crookedness. No. I have not. He’s clearly super stressed about that liverpool down there.
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COULD HE BE ANY CUTER I SWEAR TO GOD

Especially once I heard that first rail go down, I asked Frankie to haul ass like a bat out of hell to get a good time. And that’s exactly what he did. Was it our smoothest, prettiest course ever? Absolutely not. We had to get scrappy in places. But we took risks we’ve never taken, we asked for a faster pace than I’ve ever asked for before, and my horse delivered. It was exactly the round we needed to set the tone for the weekend.

Stay tuned for the rest of the weekend!