To the Left, To the Left

I’m getting old. So very old and decrepit.

I woke up on Friday with a crick in my neck that only got worse until Tuesday when I couldn’t look left without muscle spasms. WHY HAS MY YOUTH FORSAKEN ME?!

Dramatics aside, I went into my lesson and told Trainer that I might hold off on jumping so I didn’t strain my neck further. She humored me by saying yeah sure we’ll see how it goes.

But here’s the thing- I’m a pretty crooked rider. And it turns out that when I’m intentionally holding my head very straight, I’m less crooked. We may or may not have made jokes about popping a neck brace on me at shows. So by the time we finished up our flatwork, Trainer had announced, “executive decision, you have to jump, you’re so nice and straight today.”

Like I’m hard to convince. HAH. Jokes on her, I was totally on board.

I do think riding cures just about any minor muscle ailment I’ve run into- the heat and little motions tend to loosen me up better than just about anything else. Also we did TONS of no-stirrup work so my focus was honestly more on how my legs were likely going to fall off.

Note: they’re not falling off as much as they used to!!! I don’t know that I can last a whole hour, but I was able to keep going for a decent amount of time. Getting stronger!!

We popped over a crossrail a couple times to warm up- remembering to push him across the ground and wait with my shoulders- and then did some interesting exercises before doing coursework. The jumps looked deceptively simple: some diagonals, couple outside jumps, and one on the quarter line. Here’s the setup:

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First exercise: trot up F, then trot down A. I am not adept at creating these diagrams, but take my word for it that you could get a straight approach down to A. The key here was reeeeally going straight and using the corner after F to give yourself room to come back to trot for A. If you waited too long for that transition, the horse basically had a runway down the ring to A and it became much harder to trot. In recent weeks I’ve remembered how to steer so this exercise went fairly well. A Francis in motion likes to stay in motion so we’re still tuning up those downwards- but I do love that he’s so forward thinking.

Second exercise: canter down the bending line F to the oxer at D in a shaped four, then up A and BREAK TO TROT BEFORE JUMPING F OMG. That is a four stride line. Trotting in the middle. This was tough!! We saw that bending F to D in everything from two to five strides, but I opted to take a nice wide bend and sit back for the four. Not gorgeous, but serviceable. Like I mentioned, a Frankie in motion tends to stay in motion so I got pretty creative with my track when we got to the canter-in-trot-out line. The key was jumping turning in early and jumping A a little towards the wall to create an exaggerated bending track with more space to maneuver. I chose to ride Frankie basically to G and then slice F left-to-right to give myself even more room. We certainly need to practice that level of control; we got the job done but it did get a little messy.

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Here it is again because I hate scrolling

Then, we moved onto some coursework. The first was cutting left through the middle to a short approach down A, up the outside line swedish B to vertical C in a forward three or steady four, down the oxer at D, up the outside oxer at E, trot, down F, then rollback left to C, and finish up with the short turn down G.

Notice all those left turns? Remember how I said I couldn’t turn my head left? Pretty sure Trainer was playing a joke on me.

I was overall very happy with how this rode. Outside leg made the turn to A more powerful and packaged so we could get to the base, which set us up with some pace out of the corner to go for the forward three up the line. Frankie was listening like a pro and we could get our adjustable canter back down to the oxer- I really had to focus on waiting with my shoulders and believing in the closer spot. When I waited and asked, Frankie delivered and jumped that oxer SO cute. Then up the outside- this was allllmost too long, but we were carrying enough pace to see us through. Which of course made getting the trot back tough, but we got it in time to slice F a little left to right to give us maximum space to make our rollback to the wall. It went so smoothly!!!! So smoothly that I forgot about my last jump at G until the last minute and then made a weird turn to it. Exhibit #968 of why Francis is my homeboy- he didn’t question anything and popped over with his big ol’ donkey ears flopping in the breeze. Love them donkey ears.

In the past these tight turns have given us difficulty- I have the bad habit of riding the horse in front of me (i.e. I’m a handsy rider) instead of riding the whole horse. I’m finally learning to engage my outside leg to balance and Francis is responding by rocking back and PUSHING through the turns so he’s already balanced and powerful and we don’t need an extra straight stride to prepare for takeoff. Such a cool feeling. Legit SUCH a cool feeling.

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Seriously scrolling is for noobs

Second course: Up the oxer at B, rollback over the oxer at D, up the oxer at E, trot, broken F to A in a quiet four, up G, and down the outside line in three (going towards home there really wasn’t a four there for anyone).

Getting a powerful spot to the base of B set us up for a smooth turn back to D, and using the end of the ring gave us time to build momentum up to the outside oxer. Getting our trot back was a little easier this time for the turn around to F. Frankie really tried to dive left (this is his trademark move), but for the first time I was able to anticipate and correct that so we maintained a nice steady track to A. Balancing around the end of the ring and building back up on the longer approach to G, then packaging up that power around the corner- we got a nice close spot to C and galloped down the three towards home.

I was so so so happy with this course. I was able to anticipate what my horse would do and actively correct those things as they were happening instead of being reactive. I was able to choose the spot I wanted instead of galloping up and hoping Frankie knew when to take off. My turns involved leg, not just hand. It really felt like a lot of the pieces that I’ve been working so hard on came together in this course.

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Frankie was barely sweaty by the end! I think that our focus on strength-building flatwork really translated well to this lesson- he’s able to carry himself more and push off the ground instead of pulling. He’s never going to be one of those hot sensitive jumper-types, but he’s consistently getting more and more responsive to my cues and is demonstrating that he is entirely capable of making those short powerful turns we’re looking for.

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Also capable of eating everything in sight BECAUSE HE IS A HIPPO

Trainer was happy with our progress and so was I. Two and a half weeks until we go to Culpeper and I’m feeling more and more prepared!

And don’t tell my trainer, but my neck feels totally better. Horses. Good for what ails ya.

Keeping the Momentum

Francis and I had our last class on Sunday morning before he headed home, and due to weather and an unexpected move for me* he got Monday and Tuesday off. I ain’t mad, homeboy earned a break!

*my apartment flooded two weeks ago and it turns out the repairs will be extensive enough that my roommate and I are headed to a new apartment. Everything is working out and she and I and the dog are moving this weekend! It’s just been a whirlwind getting it all set up in a matter of days.

But we did get to have a lesson on Wednesday and I was reeeeeally eager to ride. Loudoun was such a boot-camp and I want to make sure we capture those lessons and internalize them!

He was a little heavy during our warmup and wanted to lean on my hand- nothing new there. While he’s very happy to follow instructions, he’s not a sensitive horse. Leaning on the bit doesn’t bother him. I’m learning to use my outside aids to steady and balance him around the corners so doesn’t have to lean on me as much.

My crookedness is also getting better! My trainer has reminded me often that when I ask for the canter I need to ask the hind end first- if I don’t think that way, I start getting handsy and grabby. Asking for a bit of haunches in and true bend into the canter has made our departs much more consistent.

We also discussed canter-walk transitions. Namely, that we need to sharpen ours up. Trainer made an excellent point that once we have sharp transitions, we can use this as a litmus test for his hocks- if he starts getting unwilling or unable to step under into that downwards, we want to see if his hocks need maintenance. So not only is this a useful thing to work on in terms of precision and obedience, but it’ll be a great “marker” for us in years to come. We know he has a mildly boggy hock and the vet said it shouldn’t need maintenance for quite some time- I’d like to keep it healthy and happy and do whatever we need to do to keep Francis sound and enjoying his job.

Then jumping time! We warmed up over a crossrail blah blah blah. These trot jumps are getting better as I’m pressing him across them- less lurchy than before. Then we started playing around with courses:

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First course: A-B-C-D-E-F. Go figure. Twist: after landing off of the oxer (B), we had to break to trot for the crossrail (C) and bending out over D. This went wonderfully! I was able to get the energy up and have a useful canter around the course. Some of the distances were gappier than others, but none of them felt lurchy or too chippy- we had a nice powerful stride to work from. Coming back to a trot from that oxer was tough and we may have had to use the wall to help us brake. But Frankie loves taking breaks on course and thought that was fine. Our first time through the bending E-F I put four strides and wasn’t thrilled with it. The four could’ve worked if we rode more direct and galloped out a bit more, but it wasn’t quite there the way I rode it.

Next!: E-F-C-D-B- circle around to roll back over F- immediate left turn to A. E to F rode will in a more shaped, balancing 5 strides, which made getting our trot back much more smooth. Everything else flowed up nicely out of stride, and the last turn was SO cool. With my equitation background I have a deeply ingrained love of my crest release. Guess what you can’t do with a crest release? Steer in the air. Guess what NEEDED to happen so we could change direction over F and make it to A? Steering in the air.

AND WE TOTALLY DID IT!!!! Outside leg made that right turn to the brick (F) come up well, and an opening left rein meant we landed already heading in that direction. I was able to sit back and let A come up in a balancing four strides. I definitely need to be more still with my shoulders and let him jump up to me more, and remember to have a present inside leg to bend around.

My big VW bus of a foxhunter is transforming into a zippy jumper! I’ve always been a little nervous to go balls-to-the-wall with the jumper turns, but this was a great confidence booster that I CAN ask him to do it and he WILL deliver if I set him up properly.

The plan is to maybe hit a local show in July depending on timing, and then either Lexington or HITS Culpeper in August. Maybe dabble in some adult medals? Who knows!

Any tips for sharpening our canter-walk transitions?