Ocala 2020: The Beast

Pardon the delay in sharing the rest of my Ocala experience – life has been a bit bonkers lately and the blog has taken a bit of a backseat as I try to sort some things out. All good things that I’m excited to share, just want them a bit more settled first!

But let’s get back to our Southern Sojourn.

I don’t want to dissect every single ride in detail, so I’m going to do what I did in my last post and just kinda share overarching thoughts and patterns that I noticed during our two weeks down there.

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

First off, Frankie felt fit. I already talked about how we carefully and successfully managed his energy throughout our time there, but this only worked because I had a really fit and happy horse. His joints felt good, his muscling felt good, his saddle fit well, and he had the conditioning to hold up to the workload. After literal years of trying to find the right balance for him, this is what I’d consider our greatest success of the past few months – pushing hard enough without overdoing it.

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

On the equitation side of things, we’re getting there. Considering this was only our third (I think?) time tackling the adult medals, we’re making solid progress. My main job is to remember to drop him a bit when he wants to speed up. When I relax my body like that and allow him to soften in turn, he is really a lovely ride that allows me to stay very quiet up top. It’s a very different feel from the jumper ring where I want him fired up and dragging me a bit, so I’m extra proud of him for being able to switch back and forth like that. We ended up having some strong rounds, and even managed a 5th out of 21 for one class with some truly top notch horse and rider pairs in there. There was a definite sense of satisfaction to know how far my Francis has come in his training and to be able to hold our own against those superbly polished pairs.

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

 

During this whole show, Francis felt SMART. You all know that I rarely use that word when it comes to my lovable Dingus Man. Kind and forgiving, he is. A genius, he is not. He’s been very good at his job in the jumper ring for quite a while, but this is the first show where I felt like I had a truly very intelligent animal under me. This was also the first show that my trainer gave her full blessing to take the riskiest inside-iest turns possible. We used to go for the more conservative inside turns, aiming for efficient and smooth.

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

This time we aimed for the bonkers turns where you look and say, “there’s no way that can work.” At one point I was going the opposite direction of my next jump, directly next to it. Within 3 strides we had already turned and jumped. We made slices, we cut through the ring, we wasted no strides going around where we could squeeze through instead. And Francis was absolutely brilliant about all of it. He was catty, he was tuned into me every step of the way, he was maneuverable and eager to do it. My job was to not fall off the side when he made those turns. He simply felt downright smart about every single course. (I have videos to share, I just gotta upload them first!)

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

Along with the smarts was some really lovely adjustability. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those riders with a naturally perfect eye, but our hard work on quality of canter, adjustability of stride, and judgement to the base has definitely paid off. There were certainly “oops” moments here and there but far fewer than there used to be. I know a bit more about what to ask for, Frankie knows a lot more about how to respond, and it led to some of the best courses we’ve ridden to date. Of the rails we pulled on course I can confidently say that there was only one that was a true omg-I-biffed-it rail. The rest were just unlucky rubs where we weren’t quite careful enough. And as a whole there were fewer rails than there used to be. At some point I need a shirt that says #fastest4faulters because every time we had a rail, we ended up being the fastest time on the clock. We’re putting the pieces together of taking those risks while still going clean and seeing a ton of progress!

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DO YOU SEE THIS ANIMAL AND HOW PERFECT HE IS

As a truly wonderful feather in our cap, Frankie carried me clear and fast in our Classic the second week to an astounding 2nd out of a combined Child/Adult field of 37. We managed to hold the lead until the very last rider, who put down an INCREDIBLE jumpoff and 100% deserved the win. That big red ribbon was the best possible finish to our bootcamp.

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

This whole show felt like a really lovely assembly of so many of the lessons we’ve learned over the years. We set ourselves up for success, we took risks that paid off, we went in the ring trying to win and not just make it around, and the ribbons reflected the ride.

We had the type of consistency I’ve been hoping to accomplish for a while now. At the end of Week 2, my trainer and I even said that we kinda wished I had moved back up to the Highs that week. Frankie clearly was feeling funky fresh and we had the accuracy.

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

So coming off such a successful show we’ve decided to dabble in that division again this season! We’ll do a step up at a smaller nearby show that tends to set a bit soft, and we’ll hit the 1.10-1.15m ring again at Upperville. I honestly did not have plans to step back up this year (or ever, really) and I’m still delightedly surprised at how good my horse is feeling these days. I fully expected to need to slow things down as he moves into his teenage years; he’s always been tough to keep fit. But whatever we’re doing is clearly working well for him so we may as well keep flying!

Much like my trip down to Ocala in 2016, this trip down to Florida turned out to be a game changer. Cheers to my fifth show season with the Frankfurter and cheers to always being amazed by this horse.

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

Ocala 2020: Managing the Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m honestly just along for the ride

Sunshine and Rainbows

I’m back north and back on reliable wifi after our little Florida vacation!!!

I have tons and tons to share with you about our two weeks down in the sun and am working on several big posts, but for now I wanted to share a few pictures of our trip.

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Going in for our first round the first week on my v v spicy pony. As always, entering the ring grinning like a fool because of how much fun I have with the Frankfurter. PC – K. Borden
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And leaving the ring after our last round the second week, happily accepting all forms of love and appreciation as his due. PC – K. Borden
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Having to stand to wear his ice boots was TORTURE how could I just LEAVE HIM THERE it was so BORING and TERRIBLE
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He had a bear of a time spitting out all those shavings when we woke him up to go work.
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Shmancy equitation pony being a total angel boy!!!
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Both of us were very happy to have some sunshine.

I can’t wait to tell you more about the show – it far exceeded my expectations, my horse was even more incredible than I could have hoped for, and I’m going to be riding this high for a while.

Final Ocala Prep

We’re in the final stretches of prepping for Ocala!!!!

To get Frankie super ready to go, we’ve been amping up the duration and intensity of both my rides and his training rides. I continue to be the world’s biggest fan of training rides – they remind him how to be shmancy and he is just a delight to ride when he’s all tuned up like that. We spent so long encouraging and teaching him how to use those muscles and I’m still giddy about how much more educated he is now. I never want to hop off these days.

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We haven’t trained either of us how to take nice pictures but that’s ok we’re good at other things

We also went ahead got a bulk order of Ulcergard for the ponies. My friend found a great price and we all jumped on it. Frankie will get a heavier dose for his travel days and then smaller amounts every day that he’s there. I hate how expensive this stuff is but you know what’s even more expensive? Treating ulcers. I’ll happily spend a little on the front end to keep his tummy feeling good.

Our chiro/acupuncture guy came out this week, so Francis got himself an adjustment. I opted not to do the acupuncture this time since I didn’t really see noticeable results the last few times, but he does seem to really enjoy his chiro. Anything to help him feel his best down there! My husband was recently musing that he never expected to be in a serious conversation about the pros vs cons of equine acupuncture, but here he is. It also turns out that our favorite braider will be down south, and she’s also the person that does Frankie’s massages. So he’ll get a nice refresh between weeks 1 and 2!

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PLZ I NEED ALL THE ATTENTION IN THE WORLD OR I WILL DIE

I was originally hoping to stock up on some show clothes before heading down (despite my obsession with pretty things, I really don’t end up actually purchasing clothes all that often) but ended up deciding to save my pennies. Of course as soon as I said that, a good friend ended up selling me a bunch of breeches for a ridiculously fantastic price, including 2 pairs that are show ready. Between those and the laundry facilities at the hotel I should be able to clean up as often as needed. I already mentioned that I’m hoping for a buffer in my budget to allow at least a little shopping while there.

There’s something else exciting potentially in the works for while I’m down there, but I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch. I promise to share once things are finalized! (And before you ask, no I will not be buying/leasing another horse, I really like spending my money on my own darling spoiled boy).

I’m also actually getting excited for the drive down! My mom decided to fly in to the closest airport and we’re splitting the drive into a couple days before she flies back home from Jacksonville. So I’ll get to Ocala Wednesday afternoon, not completely hating my life and having had a super awesome roadtrip with my momma.

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She is so small, and yet, so powerful

I have a pretty solid packing list and a final few things to do before heading down. I’ve got my cooler for his ice boots, my wifi hotspot device, a few other random things I’m trying to remember. My spring term for school starts the Monday that I hit the road so it’s going to be a balancing act fitting work, school, and ponies into my days. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our 2019 Show Season

It’s a bit early to do a full yearly recap, but I’d love to do a brief review of what 2019 looked like in the show ring!

February: WEC, OH

 

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Loved this sweet mare!

I opted to leave Francis at home for the week, and leased an amazing mare to do the Low Adult Jumpers with. She was a great teacher and it was a fun and satisfying re-entry to the show ring after a 7 month(!) break. I really enjoyed the chance to learn from a horse that was so been-there-done-that and it was nice to stretch myself to adapt to a very different type of ride.

Results: clean schooling rounds, 5th in our jumpoff round and 2nd in the speed with a 3rd in our classic.

March: Showplace Spring Festival, MD

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Big Man earned some pretty colors ❤

I got back in the ring with my favorite boy! We shipped in and did a couple 0.90m classes to knock some rust off and Frankie turned out to have no rust at all. This was a low key and fun outing to build confidence for the rest of our season.

Results: 3rd in our speed round and 7th in our jumpoff round.

May: Blue Rock Classic, PA

 

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First time in the medals since I was a kid, and Frankie acted like he does it every day!

For the first time ever, we didn’t do a single jumper class at a show! This was our first foray into the adult medals (including tests) and we even tried our hand at our first hunter derby. We were certainly more competitive in the eq than in the derby, and it was a BLAST trying some new things with the Frankfurter.

Results: 4th in the Ariat, 3rd in the Dover Adult Medal, 6th in the MHSA Adult Medal, and tons of fun in the USHJA National Hunter Derby.

June: Loudoun Benefit, VA

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THE BRAIDS. THE FAKE TAIL. THE GIANT EARS. I LOVE ALL OF IT.

Continuing our streak of new things, we played in the medal/derby rings again at this show. It was a great chance to finesse our equitation rounds and Francisco showed up and excelled at that type of precision. We also took the high options in the derby for a score that I was really proud of.

Results: 8th in the VHSA eq on the flat, 4th in the VHSA Adult Medal, and lots of fun again in the derby.

September: Piedmont Jumper Classic, VA

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Literal heart eyes for my most handsome creature

Returning to those same showgrounds after a little summer break, we stepped back into the jumper ring for a full weekend of the Low Adults. He was forward, eager to the jumps, landed turning, and was simply beyond professional. We have fun in the other rings, but Frankie clearly knows the job superbly well in the jumper ring.

Results: 7th in our jumpoff round, 1st in our speed, and 3rd in our stakes for division champion.

October: WIHS Regional, MD

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This guy makes literally everything fun

Frankie and I tried out the AA hunter division for the first time! We certainly don’t have the movement to excel in that ring (I mean, no horse can be good at EVERYTHING) but Frankie was a winner in my heart with his sweet attitude and gentleness. The next day we zipped back over to the jumper ring, where we put the pedal to the metal for some great rounds. It was a perfect way to end the year with versatility and challenge.

Results: king of my heart in the AA 18-35 Hunter O/F classes, 6th in our jumpoff class, 1st in our speed for division reserve champion.

I can’t believe that this show year was so full! I fully expected to have to cut way back on showing when I went back to school in the spring. I’m beyond grateful for my support system that made this all possible – my trainers who kept Frankie fit and ready to go every when I couldn’t get out as often, my husband who took care of things at home when I was away, my classmates that put up with conference calls from hotel lobbies, my boss who gave me the flexibility to work from the barn when needed. It hasn’t always been easy balancing it all and I’m so fortunate to have this kind of help along the way.

Cheers to a fantastic and full 2019 season, and cheers to all that’s next with my Very Bestest Boy!

Washington Regional 2019

I’m finally playing catch-up and covering our most recent show (it’s only about a month later, it’s fine it’s all fine).

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Cutest pony on the planet!

I was mostly excited for this show because it meant a chance to go in all 3 rings: we had two AA hunter classes and an adult medal planned for Friday, then the Low Adults over in the jumper ring on Saturday. I know it’s laughable to put us in the hunters, but he sure looks cute all braided up, and it was my only chance to get in the indoor before our medal class ran.

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Fun fact, he stood here licking the wall literally all day. Hours on end. He is a very speshul boy.

While we’ve done a couple derbies this year, this was actually our first time in a regular AA hunter class. Is he a good enough mover to pin? Not even close. Was he the ACTUAL CUTEST BOPPING AROUND ON A SOFT REIN AND FINDING HIS OWN SPOTS?? Yes. Yes he was. Like, catch us in the hunter ring because that was so much fun and he was literally the cutest creature to ever exist. I basically got up in my halfseat, grabbed mane, and let him do his diagonal-outside-diagonal-outside thing. He was like a happy lil rocking horse, entirely point and shoot and adorable. I died. I think both of us wish that he was a better mover because it was so low-stress and enjoyable for both of us.

I’m ultimately very glad we went in the two AA classes, because our adult medal ended up not running. There were 5 in it and then at the very last minute 2 scratched and they needed at least 4 to fill. We found out about this as we were trotting around the warmup getting ready, but we at least were near the cool photo op area!

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Drama llama not amused by being woken up from his nap to go work.

Overall it was a fun foray into a ring that we don’t usually go into. I do this whole showing thing for fun so I’m never bothered by the lack of ribbons if my horse was a good boy and did his job – which, yeah. It’s Francis. He’s always a good boy and always does his job. It’s literally always fun.

Saturday was our triumphant return to the jumper ring for the Adult Lows, with one speed class and one jumpoff class.

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Pretty basic speed round, it felt pretty hunterific to me. Lots of big bendings and the only real inside turns were from 6 to 7 and 7 to 8a.
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Those little back feetsies

Keeping up our streak of only ever winning speed classes, Frankie laid down an incredible pace to snag the blue! In a weird way, I almost knew we were going to before we even got to the first jump – I literally said to him under my breath, “let’s go win this” as we approached. He felt so locked on and focused, and I know that if I match his focus he can absolutely set the pace. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – speed is definitely my favorite format!

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Similar lines, this course felt even more basic than the speed round. Jumpoff didn’t have any wild turns either.
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Oh my gosh you angel boy just be cuter with those lil ears

We had a good long break before our jumpoff class, so the big guy got to go rest for a bit. I’ll say that class was definitely weaker – I thought I tipped a rail at 5b, so I decided to go for broke and leave out strides to be the fastest 4 faulter. Which then led to me ACTUALLY tipping a rail. It was A plan, it probably wasn’t the BEST plan. On the bright side, the mistakes that I made were very intentional. It wasn’t that I lost control or didn’t know what I was doing, it’s that I made the wrong call and my horse listened to me. I still see this as progress! My trainer noted that this so-so round was still more accurate and deliberate than my best rounds were not that long ago and I’ll absolutely take that as a win.

Despite our rail in the jumpoff, our win in the speed was enough for us to get the reserve champion ribbon! So far Francis has managed a tricolor in both division outings we’ve done this year.

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We even got a fancy little plate (which I think is cool) and a big bag of treats (which Frankie thinks is VERY cool)

This was a nice relaxed show for us, where we got to go have a great time playing around together. I’m feeling really great about our step down to the 1.0m classes – it has taken all nerves away about the height, Frankie is extremely confident, I’m not as worried about getting in his way, and it’s allowing us to be competitive without having to be perfect. I’m an amateur, this is supposed to be fun!

We’re now on a showing hiatus so I can save my pennies for Ocala, but I’m already very eager to get back in the ring with me big sweet boy. It’ll be a whole new set of competitors and big classes and I know we’re going to have a fantastic time.

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Even if he does make cranky faces when I wake him up from naptime.

Piedmont Jumper Classic 2019

We came, we saw, we jumped! After much of a spring and summer spent dabbling in the other rings, we spent our whole weekend chasing time and rails.

The short version in case you’re in a rush: I am proud almost to the point of tears with the Frankfurter. He was beyond professional in a big ring and packed my rusty butt around the Lows with those cheerful ears hunting down the jumps, including some delightful inside turns. Best Boy Francis is very much Best Boy and he earned us the ribbons to prove it.

For those of you not in the area, this show is held on the same showgrounds as Upperville and Loudoun Benefit, but only on the jumper side. The way the schedule ran meant all my classes went in the main ring over there – which you may remember as the class Frankie and I were in for our very first classes together as a team a few years ago. Despite returning to Upperville/Loudoun for several years since then, I’ve been in other rings. So this was actually the first time we’ve back in that giant ring since that very first show! Talk about a walk down memory lane.

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A little throwback to 2016 when I first saw my name in lights when we marched in that ring. Emotions!

Originally the plan was to go in and do a 0.90m as a warmup on Friday, see how that felt, then plan on doing the Low classes later that day and throughout the weekend.

Fate is funny though. Just like that first show back in 2016, the schedule got moved around fairly last minute so that the 0.90m ended up running in a different ring AFTER the Lows had already gone. So much like 2016, we ended up going straight into the Lows and saying “cool cool cool this is probably fine.” The parallels with that show really were kinda comical.

But no matter how similar, there were a few big major difference from that first show. Instead of it being the first 1.0m class for both of us, we now have several years under our belt competing even higher. Our confidence over this height is rock solid, our skill set over this height is solid, and nowadays Frankie really is a schoolmaster dream to pilot around the jumper ring. I know I say this all the time, but he’s just so. dang. good. at his job and it makes taking him around a downright pleasure.

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Big smiles all around with this excellent creature

Our first round on Friday was a mix – we ended up with 3 rails, but I’m actually extremely happy with the ride. Frankie was accurate, forward, and responsive. I don’t think either of us did anything really *wrong* to have those rails, I simply think he wasn’t expecting to have to do a full round at that height. It’s been a little while. Considering how long it’s been since we’ve gone around the jumper ring (6+ months) and how long it’s been since he’s had to compete over 3′ (14ish months), I was thrilled with how well he remembered the game.

Saturday was a speed round. In case you didn’t know, speed rounds are my FAVORITE OMG I LOVE THEM. It’s just you and the course, being as efficient and aggressive as possible to get. it. done. No phases, no separate jumpoffs. Just one round to go kill it.

And kill it we did. Francis was a STAR. He galloped up when I asked, he sat down when I needed him to, he helped me out when I gave a bit of an override, I helped him out when he needed some support to rebalance into a shorter line. He landed asking to turn and locked onto every jump. It was fantastic. We went early in the class to set the pace and held onto the lead for the blue ribbon.

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Have you ever seen a more handsome hunk?!?!!?
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The most handomest derp in all the land
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Our awesome kiddo won her High Children’s jumper class earlier that day, so it was a fantastic day for the barn!

Sunday was our stakes class with a jumpoff, which ended up getting combined with the Low Children’s. Frankie is always a bit tired on Sundays and needs a bit more support so my plan always accounts for that a bit. A surprising number of people that day were going clear in the first round but getting time faults, so I knew we couldn’t take our time at all. We certainly had to take turns helping each other out over such a long course but ultimately Frankie did pull out a clear round within time allowed!

Our jumpoff came up pretty fantastically – I swung way wider on a rollback than I had planned which ate up some unnecessary strides (around 0:32 in the video below), but we did a pretty killer inside turn (0:40ish) and a super fun slice (0:47ish) that I don’t think many people ended up doing.

Double clear and a speedy jumpoff were enough to clinch us 3rd behind two children, which also earned us champion in the division for the weekend!

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Frankie: “Why did you pull me out of my stall for this?? I cannot eat this?? Mahm??”

In a nutshell: Frankie was perfect, we had a total blast, and he is incredibly good at his job. I’m also very glad that we chose the division that we did – sticking with the 1m classes right now means that we can go in and build confidence while trying some of those tougher turns without overfacing ourselves. While I’d love to eventually get back into the bigger classes, this was 100% the right choice for where we are right now.

To close out, I’d like to share with you my new favorite photo ever taken of all time:

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I….I have no words.

And an obligatory nap pic:

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Cheers to a fantastic weekend of fun and jumps with the bestest horse to ever exist!

Loudoun Benefit 2019

Frankie and I went out and dabbled in the eq/hunter rings again! Short version: tons of fun, continuously learning how to adjust to this new way of going, and Frankie was literal perfection.

Are you at all surprised by that last bit??

Anywho, we opted to stick in just the derby/eq rings again for this show since it worked so well last time. I think with some practice, Frankie will be able to more easily transition between the jumper ring and the others, but for now it’s super helpful for both of us to “drill” a bit to really figure out what we need to do.

He shipped into the showgrounds on Tuesday with a whole bunch of other ponies, by all reports settled in like a gentleman (aka naps. Immediate naps). Our barn had 11 or 12 horses at this show, so we staggered shipping in over the course of a few days! Kinda crazy, I think pretty much everyone that shows went to this particular one. A much bigger group than we usually have, and it was fantastic!

I opted to have Trainer take Francis around one of the 3′ hunter divisions (sans U/S) on Wednesday, just so he could see the big ring and get the measure of it. I would do it myself if I didn’t have this pesky office job getting in the way, but I wanted him to go around that ring before the derby on Saturday. He absolutely LOVES my trainer – it’s seriously adorable – and was a very sweet boy for her. With 50+ in the class there’s zero chance that my mobile sewing machine would place against actual hunter types, but I’m always pleased when he shows his consistency and good nature. I do really think we could do well in the AA or AO hunters, where manners and suitability are considered!

He then got a light day on Thursday – no competing, just stretching his legs a bit.

Friday I was FINALLY able to get away from work, and got to do our Ariat Adult Medal class! First thing in the morning, bright and early. Trainer did hop on him for a quick hack early in the morning – the temp had dropped down to the low 50s overnight and she wanted to make sure he was feeling mannerly. In her words: “I forgot it was Frankie. He’s obviously fine.”

I have video of this class from two different angles, funny enough! I’ll include them both here, along with the course map.

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Overall thoughts: I literally rode him to nothing at that first jump. I was just happily sitting up there and did. zero. things.

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FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL WE’RE GOIN FOR THE LONG ONE. 

Then I majorly overcorrected and chased him to jump 2. Because clearly that’s the right move. But after that I was really happy with the rest of the course! I didn’t get him straight enough after jump 4, so we had a bit of an unbalanced late change (and you can see me wrestling with him a little bit as he goes WEEEEEE and stops paying attention). But overall he was responsive, polite, and handled himself really well in such a big ring.

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Look at how happy he is. Just look at him.
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Ignore my questionable position here and just admire the scenery and cute horse.

It was pretty cool being done by 8:30am, and I got to spend the rest of the day cheering on my barnmates, loving on Frankie, and enjoying the gorgeousness of these showgrounds.

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This is God’s country

Then Saturday was kinda hysterical in its timing. The Jr/Am derby started at 7:30a in the main hunter ring, and I was third in the order. Then the VHSA Flat class started at 8a in Hunter 2, followed immediately by the VHSA medal class. This meant going from one ring to another very quickly, including a costume change for both me (getting rid of shad and stock tie and donning my hunt coat) and Francis (taking off his martingale and adding his boots). This led to a pretty hysterical revolving door of show coats, martingales, and boots. But we figured it all out!

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It’s really a shame that Frankie gets so keyed up before we go in the ring. You can just see it in his expression.

Lucky me – I have video of our derby trip too!

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Thoughts on this: I really need to get my act together when the first jump is a long approach oxer away from home, apparently. But honestly, I couldn’t be more thrilled with how he went around. He was super adjustable, flowed well, carried a nice steady rhythm without needing too much from me, and was a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

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Does he have the tightest form? No way. Does he have the sweetest expression? For sure.
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Seriously I know he’s basically cantering over this but his little ears and little nose are just the cutest I’ve ever seen.

I was extremely pleased with our base score of 72, with the two high options giving us a score of 74. We held on to a top 12 spot for much longer than I thought we would before the cutoff for the handy rose above a 74! With almost 60 in the class, there were some truly gorgeous rounds that got some very high scores. Overall, I’m delighted. We’re never going to be truly competitive in that ring with Frankie’s movement and his lack of desire to try very hard at that height, but we sure are having fun learning how to show ourselves off to best advantage.

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Took the high option here, and Francisco was not particularly bothered

We then did our costume change and headed over for our equitation on the flat class! Nothing too crazy here – they had us sit the trot for a while, and show a lengthening at the trot (we may have broken into a canter for a stride going to the right oops). I definitely need to polish myself back up, but was able to snag an 8th place and a ribbon! Ain’t mad about that.

We then had our VHSA adult medal class, which was super fun. Frankie gave me all the cool inside turns, sat down and waited to the base for me, and didn’t even mind when I took him on a track that meant I had to duck under the branches of a tree. He was definitely getting tired at this point though, and I had to really kick hard for the lead changes. I think I should get bonus points for literally carrying him through those because homeboy was not offering them up in the least.

I thought it was a solid, workmanlike trip but nothing stellar. I was very surprised to be called back to test in 4th (this class has the option to test the top 4)! The test was pretty simple: canter directly to an outside single, rollback to an oxer, rollback to a trot fence, rollback to a long approach oxer towards home, then show the sitting trot to the in-gate.

I am a noodle brain and completely forgot the sit trot to the gate, but other than that it was a great test! I think if I had remembered that dang trot, we may even have moved up. But considering this was my first time having to test in a solid 12 years, I’m really very happy with it.

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Very proud of our ribbon!

I then got to spend the rest of the day cheering on friends and relaxing again. It was lovely.

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I wanted to take his braids out, he wanted to nap. We compromised and did both at the same time. He kept trying to lay his head on my legs for snugs.

Thoughts on the show as a whole: I own a unicorn. He truly is incredible. I also think that with some practice and polish on my part, we’re going to be really strong competitors in the adult equitation. Trainer agreed, and mentioned that Frankie looks super handy and capable in that ring, and it’s something that he can excel at with the lifestyle he’s leading right now. He’s obviously fantastic in the jumper ring, but that does require us to keep him more conditioned and fired up, which is something that I don’t really have the capacity for right now. He’s really fitting into the equitation very naturally, and it’s a ring that’s very familiar to me as well.

I don’t know when our next show will be – I’m travelling a lot in July and August – but I think we’ve found a solid groove to work in.

As always, feeling so grateful for an amazing barn family, an amazing group of horses, incredibly supportive and encouraging trainers, and for my darling Francis. Every day gets better and better with him

 

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He is beauty, he is grace
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BUT WHAT EVEN IS THIS LLAMA FACE

 

Blue Rock Classic 2019

 

Apologies for the week delay on this post! In a nutshell – I got home from the show Sunday evening, left first thing on Monday morning for a staff retreat in Maryland, got back home from that Wednesday evening, spent Thursday after work finishing all my schoolwork for this term, then promptly got sick with a killer cold on Friday and spent 90% of my long weekend either in bed or on the couch.

It’s been a busy week.

But I can’t leave you hanging forever, because I seriously had SO MUCH FUN at this show! If you’re connected with me on Facebook or Insta then you’ve already seen some of the adorable pictures that came out of it.

The high-level recap: we ended up doing the hunter derby and Adult Medals, Francis was mildly bemused at first that it wasn’t time for zoomies, but by the end was absolutely delighting in his new job.

We just did a short lesson on Thursday in one of the hunter rings to let Frankie know he could open up his step. We kept it fairly short and sweet since he was jumping so well and flowing so nicely. We’ve worked so so hard to tell him to collect and fire more up-and-down, and I think it was refreshing for him to be told to move more across the ground like that. It was definitely useful to play with his stride to figure out where to place him. In the jumper ring I always have to shorten him up since we’re galloping, but his natural stride length was actually spot on in the lines for the hunter ring. I just needed to keep my leg on to help him balance, rate him a bit towards home, and encourage him to keep a steady pace and he took care of the rest.

Then Friday was derby day!! We did go in to do a 2’6″ schooling round first thing in the morning, just so he could get a chance to see the ring. I’m never worried about him spooking, but I figured with a big class like the derby with a lot of commotion, I’d rather do everything I can to set him up for success.

As you can imagine, he was downright adorable in the 2’6″. I don’t think he’s ever actually shown that low, and he was probably thinking that his blessed retirement was upon him.

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“HELLO RETIREMENT THIS IS THE LIFE FOR ME”

Unfortunately for him, he’s still young and healthy and while I’m happy to step down to the 3′ for now, I’m not quite ready to step all the way back down. Sorry dude. Because it was time to get braided and primped and shiny and shad-ed up for the derby!!

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Notice the two ammies that have no shame and the two juniors that are beet red and would really rather not be seen with us. They will learn in time to give zero effs.
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We decided to do a quick high fashion photoshoot. The hairnets. The stock ties. The bright blue sports bra extremely visible through my shirt. The height of luxury.
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All jokes aside, these young ladies are wonderful riders, even better horsewomen, and just stupendous teammates. Couldn’t ask for a more supportive and encouraging crew.

As an extra special treat, I actually have video from the derby! So I’ll keep my comments brief.

And thanks to my favoritest barn mom/photographer/bestie/wine sharer/snarkfest, we have some pictures to share from derby day too!!

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Does Francis go in a martingale ever? No. Did we put one on him to visually break up his brontosaurus neck? Yes. Yes we did.
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“Quick, look dramatic and oddly butt-high”
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Jumps 1-4 were in the main ring, then you crossed over into the neighboring ring for jumps 5-6, then made your way back to the main ring for jumps 7-12. It was super cool.
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This wasn’t even the jump we had the rail on. I know 3′ is easy for you dude, but maybe try just a leeeeettle bit harder?!
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There it is. My hunterific prince.
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Basically my new favorite picture. 

Brief comments: first jump was a little sticky as I figured out my striding, and definite wobbles here and there while I figured out what horse I had underneath me and Frankie figured out that there was not actually a time to beat. An unlucky rail where he simply didn’t bother to pick his feet up all the way so our score was appropriately low, but overall I’m tickled with our first attempt. I learned a ton about how to adjust my ride and I think next time we’ll do even better!

The next day, we were up bright and early to do our two adult equitation medals (I think it was the Dover and the MHSA if I remember correctly?). Sadly no media from those two trips, but I was very very happy with both of them. In the first we got called back in to test on the flat, and were able to move up from fourth to third! We got a shmancy medal for that one. The second trip was overall more balanced and a better showing, but we did have a little weak spot into the two-stride that bumped us down to fifth. Entirely fair, we were up against some strong competition! We were able to do some really cool inside turns with our track that I think showed us both off to best effect.

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No video or pics of our rounds, but we do have a nice sweaty pic with our ribbons!

I had originally planned on doing the Low Adults over in the jumper ring that afternoon, but I definitely had a tired horse under me. Neither of us are in the best physical condition, the temperature was quickly rising, and so I opted to scratch our jumper class (knowing that it meant we would not be eligible for the classic the next day). While a bummer to miss the classic, it definitely felt like the right choice to make sure Frankie wasn’t getting overworked.

This meant that the next day we just had our Ariat Adult Medal first thing in the morning! Lucky us – one of our barnmates woke up early too so they could come video and cheer us on. And also lucky us – Austen was there too!!

And lucky us, they got to witness me LOSE MY MIND ENTIRELY OH MY LANTA.

OK so you know how I go to horse shows pretty regularly? Like, not as often as some, but more often than many. I’ve done this before. I know the drill. I can get myself and my horse to the ring looking good and on time. No big deal.

EXCEPT APPARENTLY IT IS A BIG DEAL AND I CAN DO NONE OF THESE THINGS BECAUSE I LITERALLY FORGOT TO PUT MY NUMBER ON. AND THEN WHEN THEY SAID WHATEVER JUST GO IN THE RING AND TELL US YOUR NUMBER, I TOLD THEM THE WRONG ONE.

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1. Realization 2. Resignation 3. PANIC

This was caught on video that will certainly be turned into a reaction gif sometime soon. Just wow. Why am I like this.

Anyways, we did go in and put in a pretty decent trip actually.

Again, not perfect, but I think it showed steady improvement day over day. They had everyone back in to flat (AT WHICH POINT I DID HAVE A NUMBER ON) and I pulled a sixth here. I do think our flatwork should have bumped us up a place or two (there was a decent amount of crowhopping and swapped leads among our competitors), but I’m just happy they let me continue despite my absolute ammy potato brain!

I’ll close out by saying that I think it worked out for the best that we stuck in the eq ring instead of going back and forth to the jumpers. Frankie is a great learner with repetition, and maintaining the same expectations for his pace and rhythm over the course of the weekend 100% helped it *click* for him. By the last day, he very noticeably understood the game much better and I was able to sit and equitate instead of having to manage him.

I’ll also add that I think the equitation/medals is a really bright spot for Frankie and I. The courses are interesting enough to keep him focused and attentive, the jumps are low enough that he doesn’t have to work too hard, and the striding is very suited to his natural way of going.

We have Loudoun Benefit coming up in a few weeks, and I’m excited to go do a similar mishmash with him! Love love love my happy, sweet, game, wonderful steed.

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And don’t you worry. He got plenty of naps.

 

 

 

Showplace Spring Festival: Return to the Show Ring!

Guys, we went and competed for the first time SINCE LAST JUNE!!! This is by far the longest break Frankie’s had since he came home with me three years ago. While I’m glad we took a little break and I had a ton of fun with my lease mare in Ohio, I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear the buzzer go off with my very favorite horse in the world.

This was a nice soft re-entry to showing for us – we shipped in for the day so it wasn’t a huge long weekend of competing, and just signed up for some 0.90m and 1.0m classes. The plan was to go in for the 0.90m and see how we felt, and continue on to the 1.0m depending on how much energy we had in the tank and how good we were feeling in the ring.

I’ll be honest, I had to give myself a little kick in the seat for a moment. We’ve spent two solid seasons in the 1.10-1.15m classes, and at first I felt a bit silly stepping all the way back to 0.90m. I pretty quickly realized that was my own pride talking, and that emotion has no place in this sport. Neither of us is in peak condition, we’re both rusty in some skills, and this was our first outing of a new season. Keeping the jumps at a height that was very solidly in our comfort zone set us up for a low-stress, confidence-boosting outing. And I’m really glad we did that! It worked just as intended and let us both get out there without pushing unnecessarily hard.

We started off with our 0.90m classes, with our first speed round here:

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And our second jumpoff round here:

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We warmed up in the pouring rain and despite the weather and the activity, I could literally feel him sharpen up and focus. He very definitely knew he was at a show.

We also then walked in the ring and I almost fell off when he spooked at the starting buzzer. We all started cackling because he was just like WAIT WHAT TIME TO GO LET’S GET OUTTA HERE but is a notoriously bad spooker. As in, he’s very bad at spooking. He doesn’t really commit. The poor guy hasn’t heard a buzzer in nine months, but luckily it must’ve jogged his memory. Once I got my stirrups back he was asking me to go!

I won’t dissect my rounds too much, but I will say that they’re two of the best rounds I’ve ever had in the show ring. Frankie could not have been better: forward, hunting down the jumps, adjustable, jumping well, eager to work, and a downright pleasure to ride. Every single spot flowed up effortlessly because we had such a useful canter to adjust from around the entire course. He gave me every single thing I asked for and felt excited to go do his work.

Even missing one of the inside turns in our speed round got us 3rd (yay speedy Francis!), and an unlucky rail in our second round bumped us to 7th. I ain’t mad, he just got a little traily with his hind end at one jump and the rest of the round was picture perfect. I was beaming.

At that point, I knew that we could go in and beast the 1.0m classes but opted to scratch and be done for the day. He had just given me two beautiful rounds and showed no signs of being tired, so I wanted to keep this as fun and positive and rewarding as possible for him. I had somehow forgotten the way he struts when he’s proud of himself – he absolutely marched back to his stall visibly pleased with himself and being extra playful with me.

I’m absolutely on cloud nine from these rounds. I had very moderate expectations going in – I fully expected our first round to be a little sticky as we both remembered how to navigate. He’d been suuuuper lazy and sluggy the entire week prior, so I was ready to need to really kick him on.

Nope. Right out of the gate, he knew exactly what he was doing. He went around like he shows every single weekend.

Sometimes I think he must read this blog. Remember when I told you that my lease mare in Ohio made me realize how much work Frankie is? I feel like eating those words now. The input I was giving him was so much more subtle than it’s ever had to be, because he had it covered. Based on how sore I am today I know I must’ve been working hard in the moment, but it didn’t feel like work at the time. It felt like a really wonderful back-and-forth as we helped each other out around the course. I’m proud of the way I rode and adjusted to the horse I had under me so that we could support each other like that.

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He earned these!

I’m also endlessly grateful that he’s such an easy traveler. We had a lot of difficulties getting another horse on the trailer in the morning, and Frankie handled the commotion around that without blinking. He walked right on and off the trailer, hung out in his stall drinking and eating, and marched right back on the trailer at the end of the day.

I may be projecting, but he seemed happy to get off property and go on a little adventure for the day. He was in full Happy Francis mode all day even in the rain, and just felt good.

Overall, a fantastic re-entry to the show ring with the actual best horse on the planet. I’m so glad we had the chance to get back out there together and have fun! Our tentative plan is to do Blue Rock mid-May, and I’m also planning to do Upperville in early June (duh, can’t miss Upperville). Depending on my school schedule and finances, I’d also love to do Loudoun Benefit the week after Upperville – my trainer and I discussed the possibility of doing the jumpers at Upperville, but then trying out some of the Adult Eq/Medals during LB. I’d love to explore some different types of classes with Frankie!

I’m nursing my horse show hangover but I already can’t wait for the next time. Three years in, and this horse still blows me away every time.