WEC: The Good, The Less Good, The Smelly

Now that my brain is no longer on a constant loop of GET ME OUT OF OHIO, I wanted to give my thoughts on WEC as a show venue overall.

In case you’re in a rush and want to get the gist of it right away (because yes this turned into a gigantic post): I give this place an enthusiastic thumbs up. If you’re on the fence about competing there, I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

That being said, it is not perfect (what place is?). So I’m going to break down the parts I loved and the parts where I think there’s still room for improvement.

The Good

Course design. There was a good mix of track questions and technical questions that felt appropriate for the different levels. Schooling classes were soft early in the week to give you a chance to get around and see the jumps. They were deliberate about designing courses to be able to pre-load in most cases, to keep the schedule moving efficiently.

The jumps. An excellent variety of colors and designs, well-maintained. The hunter jumps looked like a jungle- the fill was gorgeous. The ring crews worked tirelessly to quickly re-set jumps whenever needed.

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Buncha cool jumps for us, good footing

Footing. Soft but not too deep, dragged and watered often, and treated with a dust-controller. They were very careful and attentive to the footing in all rings- warmups included. The warmup ring (at least for the jumpers) was dragged every time the main arena was dragged. Makes sense to me! The ring crew again worked extremely hard to clear manure between rounds, rake out takeoff/landing areas between drags, and make sure every competitor had the same access to a clear, well-maintained track.

The class schedule. They ruthlessly cut classes with low counts- if it does not fill, it does not run. This helps them keep the schedule on track and finish up by a reasonable hour- the Sanctuary was done by 4-5p most days, sometimes earlier.

Order of go. By the time I left each night, I knew where in the order I was for the following day. Adds always went at the top of the order. They were flexible enough if you needed to move (due to trainer conflicts mostly), but it was great being able to know a ballpark of when I should be getting ready.

Stall size. Frankie was able to stretch out and take his naps. ‘Nuff said.

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I haven’t even scratched the surface of the sheer number of nap pics I took while there

Availability of wash stalls. They were EVERYWHERE and all had warm/hot water. It was so quick and easy to hose Frankie down after every round.

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Daily bathtime for Francis!

Wifi. A few weak patches here and there as I moved through the facility, but it was strong in the barn and by the ring. I was able to log in and work remotely without a problem, and more importantly, I was able to keep up with my social media!

Activities. Most every evening had something: a welcome stake, a chicken dinner by the ring, an exhibitor pizza party. The junior cadet program every Saturday is a chance for the junior riders to do a mini-clinic on different aspects of horsemanship, and there’s the chance for them to win $250-500 off their show bill just for attending. They clearly want this to be a fun experience, not just a competition.

The rider’s lounge. A nice quiet space away from the hustle and bustle, with free coffee/snacks, couches, and a table to eat lunch.

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Super nice to have this photo op spot too, even if Frankie almost tripped and fell on his face stepping onto the platform. He’s speshul.

The vendors. Not just your usuals like Antares and FarmVet, but a chiropractor, day spa (haircuts and mani-pedis!), food truck, and knick knacks. The gift shop had lots of great items as well. Plenty of really fantastic shopping!

The music. There was a constant loop of classic rock in the Sanctuary, and they played Africa by Toto a solid 8-10x a day. It’s hard to walk a course when you’re jamming so hard, but we made it work.

The price. I only had to pay $75 per week for Frankies stall (!!!). They strictly patrol the horse stalls vs tack stalls (horse stalls are cheaper) and I think that additional flexibility would help their ability to be a center of leasing/ horse trials/ etc., but I was thrilled with the low cost. Also thrilled that all my division classes were money classes- every time I won a ribbon, I knocked a little bit off my show bill. Every drop counts! I paid WAY less per week for a full 4-5 days of competition than I have for 3 days at HITS Culpeper.

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Francis thoroughly enjoyed his reasonably priced stall. Toldja I have tons of nap pics.

The personnel. Everyone was polite, friendly, and pleasant to work with. Happy to answer questions (no matter how stupid, and no matter how often I asked) or point me in the right direction. From the gate check, to the ring crew, to the hay and water truck guys, everyone had a smile and was eager to help us out.

The cabins. I was able to stay in one of the onsite cabins with friends the entire time, and loved it. Good wifi, strong shower pressure, washer/dryer inside, and comfortable beds. And a 90 second walk to get to Francis in the mornings. I have a few suggestions to turn these from fantastic to AMAZEBALLS, but those are just picky things. They’re already wonderful.

The drive. It was a relatively straightforward 7.5-8hr drive door to door. A few scary spots going through the mountains of WVa and Pennsylvania, but manageable. Much closer than Florida.

The Less Good

Lack of turnout. This is my only real gripe- the rest are softer. We had some really beautiful days where I know Frankie would have benefited hugely from a few hours to move around and graze himself, but he had to settle for a few hand walks when I wasn’t busy with work. I’ve heard rumors that adding turnout is in the future plans, so this will be huge!

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He sure did love those hand walks tho

Lack of outdoor rings. There are plenty in the works so I know this won’t be a problem for long- construction appears to be moving quickly on these. Right now there is only one main (huge) outdoor, so in the gorgeous weather on Tuesday we all went out for a hack. But there were some yahoos on lunge lines, kids literally galloping their ponies around, and when my steady unflappable tank of a horse started flagging his tail and wheeling, I skedaddled from that anarchy faster than you can say “children are a blessing.” It will be nice to spread out more when the weather is warm.

Spotty wifi. I couldn’t log on to the internet in the rider’s lounge. This would have been the perfect place to set up a little workstation at the table, but I just couldn’t get to my emails here. I think this is a chance to cater really well to their working ammies- the better ability I have to work remotely, the longer I can stay and compete (and therefor the more money I am willing to pay them).

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This ended up being my workstation. Totally awesome to be near the ponies, but not the most ergonomic.

The food. I loved that we had multiple options- the food truck had great smoothies and breakfast sandwiches, and the grill had lunch/dinner options as well as a full bar (and you could eat overlooking the pony ring, squee!). But the food was eh. Not awful, but eh. If I’m going ahead and suggesting everything that would be perfect, I would want a little stand that had some quick grab stuff- fruit and protein bars, things like that. Fast snacks to power up before your ride.

Low ceilings in places. I don’t mean the barns- Frankie had more than enough headspace. But when walking to/from the rings while mounted, I often had to duck below girders along the path. Not a huge deal at all- I admittedly have a gigantic animal and am tall myself, and it was never a problem, but I’m trying to be honest about all potential shortfalls.

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Unrelated, this dog was just hilarious. Sploot.

Low counts in the higher divisions. Most days, the Medium and High Jr/AOs were cancelled, and even the Lows had very low counts. They even cancelled the Low Jr/AO Classic our second week due to low entries. I’m hoping to eventually move up to the AOs, so it’s a little disheartening to know that the offerings are a bit scarce for the upper levels. Hoping this will change as more people start attending.

The photographer. This is the first show in a long time that I haven’t bought a pro pic. I still may after perusing, but I just don’t love a lot of them- always from the same angle, timing was often off, and lots of pics of me cantering around and not actually jumping. I liked that they offered a digital social media package (bc let’s be real, that’s why I want the pics), but I was overall unimpressed by the shots they took.

The location. As mentioned the drive wasn’t that bad, but it was driving to rural Ohio. There’s pretty much nothing inside a 30 minute drive- plenty of cute stuff outside that radius, but it was a hike. And inside that 30 minute radius was farmland, highways, and a distinct lack of good restaurants (with one or two exceptions). I’ve always lived in places with very high restaurant concentrations (RI, Ithaca, Nova) so I’m definitely spoiled in this way, and rural Ohio may as well have been a different planet to this East-Coaster! It made me that much more grateful that they hosted plenty of activities onsite.

The Smelly

You stick a couple hundred horses under one roof and crank the heat up, what do you think will happen? There were plenty of manure piles outside, fans running, and doors went open on nice days, but there’s no escaping the fact that horses are stinky creatures. All my gear came home with a distinct dust+urine aroma, and I’m still cycling through making sure everything is washed/disinfected.

There you have it! Like I said- overall, I give this place two enthusiastic thumbs up. My “negatives” are relatively minor, and the good parts vastly outweigh them.

Now let me know- do you have any specific questions that I haven’t answered yet? Let me know in the comments!

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Show Recap: WEC 9

So we last left off on Monday, when the ponies got the day off and I got some work done. I was in high spirits coming off a really successful first week- not every round was perfect, but I felt like we were learning a TON together and that’s always my goal.

Then we hit week 2.

It turns out that the first week of a horse show is fun. Duh. We already knew that. It turns out that the second week of a horse show is not about having fun. It is about sheer mental and physical endurance to do the damn thing.

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Never get sick of seeing our names up there in lights tho

But I’ll back up to the beginning of the week to walk us through.

Tuesday I hopped on for a short lesson in the jumper ring, where we popped over a few low fences. The windows were all open to let the beautiful breeze in, and we had a great ride practicing getting our forward canter to the base (that will always be a skill I have to practice). We didn’t want to tire him out, so after a few successful efforts we called it a day and I hopped back on my computer to continue working.

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Took regular hand-walking breaks to get outside and let him graze when the weather was nice

Wednesday we signed up for two schooling classes, the Low at 1m, and the Medium at 1.07-1.10m. Course here:

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The Low trip was, as my trainer so eloquently put it, “a little potato-y.” Like, not awful. We went clear for a blue ribbon. Just underpowered. We only went clear because Frankie can walk over 1m. I had gotten him on a bit of a half-step to the combo at 6ab and we lurched through a bit, so I knew I wanted to correct that track from 5. We went back into the warmup and I fired him up a bit before going back in for the Mediums with the same course.

And jumps 1-5 came up a TON better. He was firing harder and I was riding harder to help him out. And I went ahead and corrected my track to 6ab. I corrected it so far, in fact, that I got him to a different half-step. He politely tried and then politely came back down to earth when he realized he couldn’t make it, but I was JUMPING THAT DANG COMBO DAMMIT and went ahead without him.

Womp womp.

On the plus side, I get full points for taking all the poles down with me. Right? That’s how that works? Poor Francis seemed very confused to see me down there- I’ve never popped off him before- but true to his nature, he waited patiently for me to hop to my feet.

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Nice. Hopping.

I got right back on and we popped over a fence in the warmup ring, just so we could both end the day on a positive note. I knew I didn’t have any real damage- just some stiffness from bracing, and a positively glorious bruise on my hip (it’s still developing and shifting colors!).

So on Thursday I went ahead and said I DON’T WANNA JUMP. I was stiff and sore and limping and had zero desire to hang on over a course. AT took Francis in the Low Schooling instead so he could get a pro tuneup, and I hopped on later in the day to flat around- turns out that the movement from riding really did help loosen me up and work out a lot of the kinks. Riding: good for what ails you.

 

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“You are a mystical healer” PC Tracy

You know what else is good for what ails you? The onsite chiro at WEC. Dude is a wizard. I went into his tent for 40 minutes and emerged sans limp and with waaaay less stiffness. I really loved his philosophies on body work (basically he’s a terrible businessman because he doesn’t try to upsell unnecessary sessions but he’s an actual good human) and he knew that the main goal was to get comfortably back in the saddle. I made everyone in the barn go see him and they loved him too.

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We went to the 1.35m Welcome that night as a team and enjoyed our wine. Best barn family a girl could ask for.

 

So then we got to Friday, which was the start of the division! At this point, I was seriously considering dropping down to the Lows for the weekend. We know that language has power, so I’m simply going to say it this way- there is an huge opportunity for me to improve my ride up to and through combos. I worried that I was going to continue making similar mistakes at the bigger height and put Francis in an unfair spot.

But, the show must go on. I hopped on Friday for our power/speed class, and in full honesty: this was the first time I have ever gone into the show ring on Frankie feeling nervous. I’ve had anxious energy before, but this time I was straight up nervous.

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Trainer knows how to break up my tension though. We have a tradition- the last thing she always says as I go in the ring is “go have fun,” and I always respond with “I always do.” Those little routines make me so happy.

Thankfully I have the best big beast in the world, and as soon as we cleared jump 1 I came back to myself and realized we know what we’re doing out there.

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I was actually quite happy with how this rode. The line up 4-5 particularly felt really bouncy and strong, and Frankie rocked back nicely for me.

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And he entered the ring looking like a BAMF

And then I turned a little too early to 8ab because I was freaking out about riding up to another combo, which meant that I sliced 8A left-to-right and Francis continued on a straight line that did not include 8B hahahahahahaha I’m actually still laughing at this. I got confused on the re-approach and just left the ring making faces and giggling at my idiocy.

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Aw bubba so sweet with your anxiety-ridden mother who has hangups about turning left

So sure we didn’t actually officially complete the course, but I felt like I got a lot of my mojo back. Frankie clearly wasn’t holding any grudges, he just expected me to steer. Which apparently was not a realistic expectation for him to have.

On to Saturday! Despite feeling a lot more confident after my round the previous day, I was 110% done with competing. I had zero desire to go in the ring. I was cool with riding, but had NO competitive edge. At all. For the first time ever, I went to my trainer and said, “I don’t want to show today.” And she responded with, “you don’t have a choice.”

I was at the physical, mental, and emotional level of dealing poorly with literally everything at that point, so I called Fiance in tears about how badly I didn’t want to go in the ring. And then I wiped my face, went back to the barn, tacked up, and went in the ring. Because at that point it was about proving to myself and my trainer that I had the grit to go do the job.

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By the time we went in the ring, I had my game face back on.

Here’s our speed round:

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You guys, I cowboyed around this course. I literally one-handed it through 4AB because I had one hand behind my leg with the crop. Our turn from 6 to 7 to 8 actually rode quite nicely, he balanced and turned well for me. 8 to 9AB walked in a fairly direct bending 6, and I shaped HARD for an 8 in there because I wanted us to get super straight in. No more drive-bys for me! As I told my trainer when I came out of the ring, “I didn’t care if we had any problems anywhere else, but I REFUSED to have an issue with any of the combos.” Mission completed.

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Hahahahaha so many faults on the scoreboard

It was an ugly course, and I was really proud of it. I rode the crap outta my horse around there, because he was tired and not really helping me out and I had to pick him up and carry him with me over those jumps. Despite a 12 fault score, other people had an even worse day (I saw at least 4 people fall off at 4A) and we snuck a 7th place in this class. I am glad we got a ribbon, because it did feel like an accomplishment despite the messy bits.

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And there were several rather nice bits like this. 

Saturday night at dinner, we may have all started chanting “ONE MORE DAY” to get us through it. All of us were fried, including the horses. And the dogs.

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Caught him napping every single day, because he knows how to treat himself.

So we finally reached the last day. Sunday. Classic Day. Everything was loaded on the trailer except Francis, because we were the last riders from our barn to go in the ring. It was time to wrap this up. Course here:

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You guys. I could not be prouder of Frankie. He jumped his heart out over this whole course. He was clearly exhausted- and usually when he’s tired like that, he kinda mentally checks out. Not that he’s bad or anything, just that he phones it in and doesn’t want to go play. Not so this time. He was right there with me every step of the way saying “I’m tired but I’ll give it a go for you.” It was such a wonderful show of partnership from him.

The first bending was just a little underpowered, but I woke him up out of the corner and 3 to 4AB came up really nicely. Bending 5 to 6 was a shaped 6 strides to 4 strides out over 7, and I needed to wait with my shoulders a bit to help him fit that 4 in more easily. I continued straight for a few strides after 7 to help us square up the turn to 8, then galloped him up to it. I knew that he would have trouble with the short one given how tired he was, so I tried to get him to a bit of a gap to give him a break. Bending up to 9AB he just needed a quick tap to get his attention, then I let him open up to 10 and galloped him home over 11.

We had a bunch of rails. But I felt like I actually made decisions that were right for the horse I had under me, and he responded by giving me every single thing I asked for. The poor guy was tired, and I can’t fault him for that- I don’t think those rails would have fallen in week 1.

I don’t have any pics from our second classic, but Tracy took some WONDERFUL ones when she came last week!!!

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Frankie. Over there. I’m going to need you to handle that line. 
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Jump 1 was REAL cute
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I don’t know what I love more- my trainer’s look of defeated concern, my look of giddy panic, or Frankie’s halfhearted “why are you doing this to me” face
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I sent this to trainer and she asked what part of the course it was from, to which I responded “judging by your face, it was right before shit hit the fan.”
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IT’S A SHAME HE HAS TO WORK SO HARD OVER THE HEIGHT.

We snapped a few quick pictures, cooled Francis out, stuck him on the trailer, and I got in the car for the 8 hour journey home.

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Francis smiling with his ribbons
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Biggest boy so excited to go home!

The End.

Nah you know I can’t wrap it up that abruptly. I need more closure than that. But I will save my thoughts on WEC as a venue for another post- the good, the bad, the smelly. Let me know if you have any specific questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them as well!

Right now I’m feeling burned out- physically, mentally, emotionally. It was a LOT. But I also feel stronger, more knowledgeable, proud, and like I’m actually learning how to ride. I know that last bit sounds a little silly, but it’s true. Frankie has spent so long taking care of me, and I finally feel like I’m learning how to take care of him more when he needs it. Our partnership keeps growing and growing and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

Francis got a much-deserved break on Monday and Tuesday, and I’ll be headed out for a light hack after work to stretch those muscles. He’s back to all-day turnout with his buddies, and we’ll be having the vet out soon to give him a full exam. He’s healthy and sound, but we just asked for a lot of hard work from him and we’re going to continue having a busy season- I want us to be extremely proactive in managing his health and fitness as we keep moving and moving up (spoiler alert Homeboy is probs doing the 1.20m with AT next time out WUTTUP).

A few thank yous to wrap us up:

A huge thank you to Tracy and Monica for coming out to see us, and Tracy for snapping pics!! Getting to turn an online friendship into a real-life thing was amazeballs.

Buddy Fianci, for listening to me complain about being at a horse show for too long and not pointing out the obvious that this is literally the dumbest thing to ever complain about. And for being mega supportive in cheering us on from afar. And for being cute. And I just like him a lot is all.

Big big big thank you to my boss and my CEO for giving the thumbs up for me to work remotely while I was competing. I never-in-a-million-years thought that competing for 2 weeks would be a possibility at this point in my career, and their enthusiastic permission to chase my dreams means the world to me.

Hugest thank yous to my trainers and the people who helped us get to the ring every day. They were endlessly supportive and encouraging (even when I was a lumpy crabcake) and none of this would be possible without their tireless devotion to the horses. I’m so grateful that Frankie gets such attentive and knowledgeable care, inside the ring and out.

And as always, Frankie. What can I say? He is the horse of a lifetime. I still don’t know how I got so lucky to have him in my life. From leaping huge obstacles together to taking quiet walks, getting to spend all day every day with him was the greatest gift. He is an incredible creature and I couldn’t love him more.

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PC Tracy

WEC 8

We made it through our first week of WEC! As I write this, it’s Monday morning- the ponies have the day off, but I’m sitting in our barn area answering emails and catching up on work. I can hear the horses munching their hay, I can see Frankie poking his nose out at me to say hello every so often, and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.

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I have wifi and an outlet, coffee and the smell of hay. Best. Workstation. Ever.

But let me back up to the start of the week! Frankie arrived here last Monday and according to Trainer, handled the travel like a champ and came off the trailer feeling dandy. Not bad for such a long ride. He got training rides Mon/Tues to get him going while I was impatiently waiting to depart.

I arrived Wednesday afternoon. It was certainly a long drive (with the several breaks I took, about 8 hours) but not too terribly difficult, and with my early 5:45am start I was here by early afternoon. I even got to hop on for a brief hack around the Sanctuary (the jumper ring) and pop over a few jumps in the warmup ring in a mini-lesson. Spoiler alert- Francis felt like a million bucks. We kept the jumps tiny and just focused on super straightness and power off the ground. I can feel it when we get it right, it’s just developing the feel to consistently get it every single time.

You guys, this place is HUGE. ENORMOUS. ALL INDOORS. On days like today where the weather is nice, they open up allll the doors to let the fresh air in, but when it’s cold they button us up and blast the heat- it snowed last week, and I was too warm wearing a light sweater inside that day.

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How are you so cute???

Our first day of competition was Thursday, where we had signed up for a Medium Schooling Jumper class at 1.07-1.10m to get us in the ring and feeling good. I don’t have a picture of the course diagram, but I do have something even better- I have video! Don’t get mad, but this is the only video I have of the entire week.

Overall I’m really pleased with this round! It was our first time in the ring and Francis was a consummate professional. I got popped out of the tack a few times and buried him to the base of at least one jump, but he was forward and fresh and had more than enough power to bail me out. Not perfect, but a fantastic start to the week. This was a blue/red round (clear rounds get a blue ribbon and the rest get a red) and despite some clonking of rails we managed to go clear- I ain’t mad about starting the week with a blue ribbon!

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OH MY GOD HORSE YOU ARE AN ANGEL

I spent the rest of Thursday getting work done, hand walking Frankie, cleaning tack, and generally soaking in the awesomeness that is getting to work remotely.

Friday was our first day of the division- we just had one II.2.b (immediate jumpoff) class for the Highs. Course here:

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Frankie warmed up fantastically, and jumps 1-4 came up smoothly and beautifully. Then I forgot literally everything I’ve ever learned and shoved him at the combo on a half-step. REAL SMART. Frankie very understandably declined to go into an in-an-out with an orangutan piloting. We circled around to re-approach, I shoved him at it just as badly but he is an excellent goober so he made it through somehow, I lost a stirrup, I shoved him at the next jump, and he was like OK THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE PRACTICED. And then I left the ring apologizing to my horse.

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“Maybe you should apologize for taking me away from my 3rd nap of the day, lady”

I could not tell you why this happened. I mean I can clearly tell you what went wrong and how I could’ve fixed it, but I cannot figure out why I went full potato. I was feeling really frustrated with myself to be honest. I kinda wanted to go crawl in a hole and wallow a bit in my own inadequacy. Luckily, I work with a trainer who is a strong believer in ending on a good note- she arranged for me to go around one of the Low classes to get our confidence back. It wasn’t a perfect course, but it absolutely served its purpose of giving us our mojo back. Wise lady.

Saturday we were signed up for two classes- a speed class, and another jumpoff class. My plan was to go in for the speed class and see how it went, and then decide if we needed another round to school before the classic.

Here’s the speed course:

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Jump 1 towards home came up perfectly. I went between the oxer and vertical and then gave myself a few straight strides to 2. I kept him straight between my leg and hand into the combo, and was able to soften and kick a bit into it. We ended up leaving out a stride out over 4, but he was so balanced and responsive that I was able to do the turn inside 8 to get to 5. He fired over that oxer like you wouldn’t believe. I had to steady him a bit towards home down that diagonal line. Then I went around the oxer to give him a straightaway to the second combo, and he just flowed over that so beautifully. I had to sit him back to a short one over 8, then opened up before rocking back for the final line towards home. Double clear and fast.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this round was my best round I’ve ever put in at a show. It wasn’t picture perfect at every step, but I felt so dang in tune with my horse and effective. Every inside turn came up effortlessly for him, he rated back and forth off my seat super quickly, and was firing on all cylinders. This is the round that I would KILL to have video of.

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Happy snugs

We left the ring sitting in first, and held that lead to win the class. Our first blue ribbon as a team. There were tears. This felt like a ribbon that we had truly earned by being good, not just by being lucky or by having soft competition.

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omg

We decided to scratch the next class- we weren’t going to get any better schooling than that! I’m also a fan of saving Frankie’s legs where we can, there’s no need to tire him out unnecessarily.

Sunday was classic day, and also visitor day! We had Monica (formerly of the OTTB Eventer) and Tracy of the Printable Pony come to visit! It was sooo fantastic to get to connect in real life and introduce the Frankfurter. Blogger meetups are my fave!

Here’s our classic course:

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Jumps 1 to 2 felt good. I let him get a little fast and flat through the turn, so we lurched a bit over 3, but I was able to get him back for the combo (we did knock a rail on the way out). 5 to 6 was a bit of a mad scramble as I didn’t really half halt enough (also that oxer at 6 was so freakin’ huge I almost peed my pants when I walked the course), and we kinda barreled our way through 7ab. Again- I wasn’t supporting him enough. He was more tired than on previous days and that means he needs more support from me to maintain the bouncy canter we needed. Coming off the combo I put my leg on HARD and got him underneath me, and the last three jumps felt fantastic! Really bouncy and flowing well.

So not our best course, but nothing to be ashamed of either. We spent so long developing that “forward” button, now I’m trying to transition to better channeling that forward without killing the energy. It’s all part of the process! Like I told Monica and Tracy- I might not be the best rider out there, but I’m definitely having the most fun. Pretty sure I have the bestest horse out there too.

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Yasss frannndssss!!!!

Frankie has felt like a million bucks all week. I’ve loved working with the french-link elevator, and Frankie has been going fantastically in it. It’s soft enough that he wants to come over onto the bit, but I actually get a real reaction when I half-halt. We’re still learning, but I think it’s a great tool in our tool box.

You guys, he is a different horse than I brought home almost 2 years ago. He is such a patient teacher as I learn new ways of communicating with him, and he continues to give his all every time we raise the bar. He’s still willing to bail me out when I need it, but he is ready and able to give me such incredible work when I’m on my game. I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet to have this kind of partnership with this animal. EMOTIONS.

He’ll get today off, a light hack on Tuesday, a short lesson Wednesday, then we’ll back back at it on Thursday! I can’t wait to tell you how it goes.

Our WEC Schedule: As Told by GIFS

I’ve talked a lot about how we’re preparing for WEC, but I haven’t really talked about what WEC will actually look like. So here’s a rambling timeline of what’s happening when and how and where and why and who and all that fun stuff.

get ready

This weekend: get a few final rides in, clean EVERYTHING, and pack my trunk. Give Francis an extra solid grooming and make sure the Treat Fairy leaves some snacks for him to find.

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What I look like to Frankie when I leave carrots in his bucket. Treat Fairy FTW.

Monday: Trainer, AT, and the horses hit the road bright and early. Or really, dark and early. It’ll be an 8-9 hr ride and they’re planning on getting there by mid afternoon so they can ride all the ponies- they’ll need some stretching of the legs after a long day in the trailers. I’ll still be in VA, going to work and making final preparations.

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Francis after getting out of the trailer

Tuesday: Trainers will get the horses more settled and our stalls set up. Another pro ride for Francis. I will again, still be in VA and working and packing.

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Me at work Tues

Wednesday: Travel day for me, which means a vacation day from work! I’ll hop in the car for the 7-8hr ride out west. I’m hoping to hit the road early enough that I can be there in time for an afternoon hack/lesson with the Beast. Tentative plan is to stay on an air mattress in a friend’s cabin (a series of rooming options fell through all at once, so I’m kinda scavenging beds at this point. Luckily I have the best barn fam to help me out!).

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I have plans with the barn children

Thursday: I’m working part time (probs about 4 hours), so I’ll need to time this around my ride(s). Potentially doing a warmup class to get us in the ring before our division starts. This day will be a combination of doing my job, riding my horse, and keeping in touch with my wedding vendors.

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What Thursday will look like

Friday: I preemptively took a full vacation day from work so I can focus on riding. This will be the first day of my division- we’re doing the Highs. Just one class this day. I’ll spend the time that I’m not riding helping our other riders and hanging out! Probs also doing wedding stuff too honestly.

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Time to go ride the horse for realz

Saturday: Two classes for the Highs. This will just be a horsey day with no work or wedding stuff. I have no doubt I’ll stay busy enough with the pony.

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The plan is to enter the ring with both of us feeling this confident every time. No invading Russia.

Sunday: Classic day! Another pony-centric day.

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EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’ BOUT MY WHITE PANTS

Monday: Frankie will get the day off from riding, but I’ll likely end up taking him for a walk or something so he can stretch his legs. I’ll be working full time remotely, so it’ll probably look something like working 7-11a, pony time from 11a-1p, working 1-5p (then obvi more pony time). We’ll see how the timing ends up working out.

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Oh right that thing that pays the bills

Tuesday-Wednesday: Still working full time, but I’ll throw some hacks/lessons in on Francis. As long as I get 8ish hours of work in I’m golden. Def also wedding stuff too. At some point during these two days my barn bestie will be arriving and I can crash in her hotel room for the rest of week 2.

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Preemptively congratulating myself for working, riding, staying hydrated, and planning a wedding from Ohio

Thursday: working part time again, maybe another warmup class.

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Get back in it!

Fri-Sun: same as week 1.

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Second verse, same as the first

We’ll see what the timing looks like on Sunday- if we’re done early enough, I’ll hit the road to get home that night. If it’s getting late, I’ll just wait and head home on Monday.

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Either way, Imma be dead.

We’ll also play it by ear during week 2 when it comes to classes. Right now we’re just planning on doing the Highs each week, but we may decide to do an adult eq class at some point, or have AT take Frankie over a bigger track to get some miles. I’m not too worried about it.

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IT’S SO SOON AND I CAN’T WAIT YOU GUYS.

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I’ll try to remember to blog as I go, but you can check my Instagram (@hellomylivia) for live updates on my story. I’m on there an inappropriate amount. Damn millennials and their phones.

millennial out

 

McDonogh Winter Classic Video

It’s weirdly smushed, the quality is potato-like at best, but we have actual media of our classic round! One of the dads very kindly filmed us going in for our second round of the day.

A couple rough spots that I’d like to smooth out, but I think the pieces are coming together. I need to keep supporting with my leg across the jumps (and STOP JUMPING AHEAD YA DINGUS), and we need to figure out a bit setup that gives us a more nuanced connection. I was so happy with how Frankie pressed through the combos, how he balanced through the turns, and how dang easy the height felt to him. He basically cantered over the whole course. That definitely makes me feel more comfortable about trying to move up- 1.10m is clearly just a speed bump to him at this point. It’s me much more than him that’s causing any problems hahahahahaithurtsbecauseitstrue. He definitely gave me everything I asked for, so now I need to remember to ask the right things at the right time.

As always- it’s far from perfect, but it’s an encouraging step forward together! Love love love this big leggy goofy guy for packing my butt around.

Season Opener 2018

We made it to our first show of the season! A few major takeaways before we dive into the detailed recap:

  1. Francis knows his job. Real well. I definitely needed to keep my leg on to channel the energy, but he pressed across the jumps nicely and was clearly having a blast out there.
  2. Our bit setup still needs some attention. The gag converter was great, but Francis absolutely tuned out the plain snaffle. Like, just parked on the end of the rein and hung there and dragged me. No bueno. Trainer and I are setting aside some time to play around with this more.
  3. This was a great “pulse check” for where we are right now! We’re a little rusty from being out of the ring since October, we’re better at some things than we used to be, we have some stuff to focus our attention on, and overall we’re making steady progress.

Now into more details!

The jumper ring didn’t start until 12:30 (which got pushed back to 1p), which means we didn’t have to leave the barn until 10a (it’s about a 90 min drive). I’m a huge fan of not-too-early show days fo sho. The horses all loaded on the trailer quickly and quietly, and I hopped in the truck with Trainer to make our way to Maryland.

We had one ammy taking her new horse to their first jumper show together- they got some great ribbons in the 0.80m classes and had SO MUCH FUN. Her gelding came from the same sale program as Frankie and clearly has a similar outlook on life: things are fun, I like jumping, I like my person, don’t worry I got you mom. Such a good egg, and his mama was having a blast out there. I think we have another jumper ring convert!

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Trainer loving on this excellent egg

We also had one of our kids come with her little mare, and they totally rocked the 0.80m classes as well! They’ve come SUCH a long way together, I’m weirdly proud of this kid that isn’t mine. But she has such a great attitude and is a hard worker and the mare is the COOLEST little Connemara and I love seeing them go out there and improve every time. They even went in for their first ever .90m class and did SO well!!

Then Assistant Trainer took one of our OTTBs in for some schooling rounds at 1.0m and 1.10m. This little horse is AMAZING. He won 4th in the show hunters at RRP in 2016, but he is definitely blossoming into an incredible jumper. He’ll be doing the 6yo YJC jumpers this year with AT, and when they put him up for sale he’s gonna make an INCREDIBLE Jr/AO jumper for someone. The kid has springs in his feet, and has so much heart. I’ll keep you posted on him, because he’s gonna be one to watch.

Then it was our turn to go in the Highs! We just signed up for the first class- a II.2.b round- and the Classic- also a II.2.b. I opted out of the speed round- I don’t like to do more than 2 classes per day with Frankie, we’re not chasing points or anything, this was just a chance to knock some of the dust off and get back in the show ring.

It was rainy and wet ALL DAY and our classes were held outside, which meant slop. I was thrilled with our first warmup- we had one dolphin moment where Francis thought it would be fun to root and play, but I informed him that it wasn’t funny, booted him up into a hand gallop, and that was the end of that. Turns out the right answer really is more leg. He was so totally on it to all our warmup fences, super locked on and carrying me forward.

Here’s our first course:

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Hunterific

If you’re thinking that this looks like a hunter course, I agree. It was outside line in 5, bending line in 7, outside in one to four, diagonal in five to two, single diagonal to finish.

Not a ton to say about this course- we had to rock back to fit the 5 in comfortably in the first line, we got up on 4 because I let our track from 3 get too direct, the one to the four was fine, the five to the two was fine, and turning to 9 was fine. Not always a perfect spot to every jump, but no disasters. Francis kinda tuned me out throughout a lot of it, but the course was simple enough that we still made it through clear. That won’t be the case for harder courses, hence the need to figure out a better bit setup.

We moved on to the jump off, which was just the first line, jump 3, rollback to the oxer, two-stride combo, and final jump. We decided to go inside the end jump to get to 3, which set us up to slice it a bit to get a nice tight inside turn to 6. Then we just kept rolling right to get to the combo, and turned hard to get back over 9.

Again- not perfect, but Francis was happy to make the tighter turns and it was fast enough to get us 2nd in a very competitive class! It’s really cool to know that even when we’re not at our best, Frankie has the pace and turns to be a strong competitor, and it motivates me even more to tighten up and get us really on it.

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Yay Francis! Handling the mud and slop like a champ.

We had a bit of a break while the speed class ran, so I hopped off and walked him around so he could catch his breath. He was like a big puppy mooching for scritches, saying hi to passing ponies, lookin’ all cute. Sweet boy.

Frankie was listening better during our second warmup, which we kept fairly short and sweet. We focused on pushing up to the base to get a strong short distance, rather than giving up and letting him go for the long one. That’s another piece of homework for us- working really hard to build strength so that short one can always be powerful and pressing across. It isn’t about finding a perfect distance, it’s about giving him the tools to make any distance workable.

Here was our classic course:

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Also hunterific

The only change here was the first line, bending in 6. Then it went into the same lines as before: 5 to 2, outside in 5, bending diagonal in 7, outside 1 to 4.

I gave plenty of shape to the first 6 since it walked a tad short, and bending out gave us some more room to fit it in really well. I pressed up a little in the five to get to the base of 4A, which set him up to land a bit more compressed for the short 2- the vertical out had been changed to a plank, so we wanted him really up and down for that*. The outside 5 was harder to fit in since we were already rolling, but Francis obliged. I gave more shape to the bending 7 which made it flow much more nicely. Then we got a great moment of softness going into 9A, which made the one stride feel a lot more powerful, and I was able to compress for the 4 strides out.

* I need to write up some of the stuff I’ve been learning about course design and how different types of jumps invite different efforts. It’s so fascinating.

Our jumpoff was fun- I went more direct 1 to 2 to leave the stride out to put in 5, had a decently tight turn to 3, rollback to oxer, then other diagonal rollback to oxer. Very symmetrical. We need to work on our balance through those tighter turns, but Frankie was very tidy and they’re definitely getting better. I was a little nervous to ask for super tight turns in the sloppy footing, but it didn’t end up being a problem.

One thing that went better in this course was putting leg on- often when Frankie starts dragging, my instinct is to take my leg off the gas pedal. Which just leads to a strung out horse. I’m still not doing it 100% of the time, but there were definitely spots on course where I remembered to put my leg on when this happened and VOILA. We had a horse that lifted and came back under himself. It’s almost like riding with a strong supportive leg leads to clear communication with my horse. Who woulda thought.

We got a pretty pink ribbon for our efforts, and the prize money paid for most of my show bill! That’s a first for us, and something I could happily get used to.

Especially thinking back to where we were at this same show last year, I’m beyond thrilled with how far Frankie has come and how much we’ve learned together. We had a blast jumping over colorful sticks together and we get better with every outing. So excited for WEC in 15 short days!!!!

Also all my muscles hurt and I’m dying, but worth it. We gotsta get our butts in shape.

Before I sign off: my trainer has been blogging more often lately, and I need to share it with you. I tend to keep her name and our barn name relatively quiet, but I got her permission to share- I think you all will love it. Some of my recent favorites talk about overcoming fear and moving forward- not just in riding, but in life. Posts like these are the reason I call her my life coach and not just my riding trainer. She rules. I’m excited to hear what you think!

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!!!

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!