Chubby Bunny

Frankie’s mama may be a TB, but Francis is alllll warmblood in pretty much every way.

He is the epitome of the big dumb warmblood gelding ( I say this with love), he’s built a little thicker than many TBs, and he sheds out more on a warmblood schedule (literally still shedding). So while he’s technically only half Oldenburg, I definitely think he takes after that side of his breeding much more strongly.

Including the fact that his natural state is a little chunk-a-roony. Manfriend has gleefully taken to calling him “Ol’ Frankie Dad-Bod.” Francis has a great work ethic, is athletic, but he loses fitness practically overnight when he’s not in a pretty intense program.

cn_fri_waiting
OK fine there’s a bit of a belly there I admit it

His fitness has improved over time- but his job has gotten a lot harder too. As I’ve mentioned a few times now, fitness is our main focus in the lead-up to finals. So that people can stop calling my sweet boy names like “chubby bunny” and start being like “wow what a shredded ripped Hulk of a horse.”

He’s not obese or anything, and is probably slimmer than most show hunters, but still. He’s only 11, is jumping 1.15m with tentative hopes for higher, and he has a total dad bod. A DAD BOD.

upp_sat_nap
The most flattering picture ever taken

With 6 weeks to go until finals, what are we doing to turn Francis from Andy Dwyer to Star Lord?

  • Training rides. AT will be hopping on 2x a week to put some pro rides on him. We wanted to hit a balance of still giving me plenty of saddle time, but often enough to let the pro rides build on each other. 2x a week it is.
  • A 6 on/1 off schedule. Frankie will be worked with varying levels of activity 6 days a week. We’ve worked this schedule with him before with good results, so we’re getting back into that stricter rotation. It’ll be 2 pro rides (which will vary in time/intensity based on his schedule for the week), 1 lesson, 1-2 days hill work/terrain hacks, 1-2 light days.
  • Hill work. As mentioned above, we’ll be incorporating more hill work in our schedules. Some days will be more dedicated to this- there’s a low-traffic road near the barn with a nice shoulder and gentle slope that’s just perfect for trot sets- and we’ll be searching out more hill terrain for cool-down walks after other rides. I haven’t taken enough advantage of the terrain we have nearby in the past and I’m excited to make use of it. I think this will also help us have a good balance with rides- while we’re upping the intensity, we’re also going to be doing more hacks and trail rides to let him get out of the ring and decompress.
hillwork
Ambivalent ears
  • Raising the expectations. My “practice rides” with him often end up being fairly short, and I don’t make him do too much. Especially in the summer heat, my motivation to sweat even harder wanes a little. But enough of that crap. Francis knows how to carry himself on the contact. He knows how to collect with impulsion. He knows how to counter-canter and leg yield and shoulder-in. We won’t drill for the sake of drilling, but I will be asking for more out of our rides- he knows the right answers, I just need to be more insistent about asking the questions.
  • No stirrups. What, you thought Frankie was the only one who needs to get in shape?! I’ll be jumping on the fitness train and spending a lot more time without my stirrups. I’ll also be making more consistent use of the gym during my lunch breaks- with free access within walking distance, I have zero excuse not to go. I’m gonna need to get my own butt in gear to keep up with Frankie.

As always, we’re doing all of this in close contact with a whole team of professionals to make sure Frankie is getting the right nutrition, has healthy balanced feet, and is as healthy as…well, as healthy as a horse.

We ask an awful lot of him and finals will be a real test of that- three straight days of long championship courses. We owe it to him to give him every single tool that we possibly can, so he can perform his job comfortably without exhausting himself.

frankie_sleeping
Like that one time he literally fell asleep every time I wasn’t actively asking him to move.

I’d also like Manfriend to stop calling him Frankie Dad-Bod, but I think he finds it too hilarious to ever stop saying it.

 

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Victory Gallops

WE GOT TO JUMP LAST NIGHT!!! For the first time in a couple weeks, the weather and my health cooperated and we got to hop over obstacles. Sure, it was only two weeks since we had jumped, but it felt longer! And Addy certainly let me know how happy she was to have some “real” work to do.

We warmed up with some nice stretchy walk and then trotted big circles and serpentines to encourage the horses to reach for the contact. Addy was pretty pokey- for her, this means that I wasn’t actively trying to slow her down. I still didn’t need to add leg. We worked on our half seats a bit, some sitting trot/extended trot transitions, and she was listening wonderfully.

We moved on to canter, and she definitely woke up! She still listened beautifully, but pokey pony was gone. We think that she wasn’t taking the ride seriously until we started moving. We did some collecting and lengthening in the canter, with our lengthenings looking much less like a wrestling match than the collectings.

Then it was time for jumps! We warmed up by trotting over a crossrail a couple times- my trot jump is feeling a lot better thanks to the advice I got from you guys!- and then over a broken line in 8ish. I say 8ish because the other horses put 9. But the 8 worked so nicely for us!

Now on to the course! Presenting this week’s professional diagram- jumps were 2’6″-2’9″:

feb25_lesson_course

How this course was meant to be ridden: 1 to 2 in a bending 8, balance around the corner for the Swedish oxer, balance around the corner for the bending 4 to 5 in 6 strides (my proportions on this diagram are clearly off, I swear that was the striding), balance around the corner to 6, then you’re done.

How we actually rode it: 1 to 2 in a bending 7 once the jumps were up. Careen around the corner to the oxer. EXTRA CAREEN around to 4, almost miss it and slice it straight to 5 in 5. CAREEN AROUND THE CORNER to 6. Ask for woah. Do not receive woah. Realize that this is Addy’s version of a happy dance for a course well done.

So we did a victory gallop.

While the turns were quite tight and we probably didn’t balance as well through them as we should have (hence the wild careening about the ring), this course ended up riding extremely smoothly. The bending 7 was very comfortable, and the oxer was in a sweet spot off the rail so we got a nice close distance to it. The tight turn meant that we had to slice 4, but that worked out for the best, since slicing that line straight to the end gave us more room to maneuver around the left turn to the last jump.

We also reversed the course: 4-5-6-1-2-3. Similar turns, similar careening. This time it was the 1-2 line that got sliced- the horses build a lot over 6 since it’s towards home and pretty big, so balancing around to 1 is HARD! But the slice ended up working beautifully again.

And when we ended the course, we did a victory gallop.

Instead of getting tired as the lesson progressed, she got more excited about what she was doing and our victory laps got longer. She wasn’t trying to take off or be bratty, so I let her express herself. There’s nothing quite like being on a horse that is telling you so clearly, “I’M HAVING SO MUCH FUN RIGHT NOW!!”

A couple things I noticed and was really happy about:

  1. I’ve been trying to focus on my release more and I felt that it paid off yesterday. Addy has such a big powerful jump, and I never want to discourage her by knocking her in the mouth. I don’t want to exaggerate my release by any stretch; I want to be conscious of staying out of her way so she can use herself. She responded yesterday by giving me a tremendous effort over every single jump!
  2. While the corners were tight and we did a bit of barrel racing turns to get around them, I was able to sit deep in the tack and keep a feel on her mouth. I’ve struggled in the past with getting popped out of the tack around hard turns; this time I felt more secure and comfortable, even if we were listing to port.
  3. Our distances were very deliberate. As I’ve been getting my eye back, I’ve admittedly had a couple “Jesus take the wheel” moments. Or more accurately, “Addy please get me out of this mess” moments (or even more accurately, a little of both). There was none of that yesterday. I saw my spots and either moved up or collected to reach the spot that I chose. I even asked her for a couple close spots and she didn’t get nearly as upset about it as she usually does- either she was happy to be jumping, or she finally thought that I was there to support her. Progress!
  4. I could feel her hesitating a lot and getting wiggly to jump 5- this was a very simple vertical with no filler. For some reason, this is Addy’s least favorite type of jump- she will go over any flower box, stone wall, gate, or any type of filler without blinking, but give her a plain vertical with no filler and she gets very wary. But this time instead of letting her call the shots and duck out, I closed my leg and rode more actively to the base. Once we made it over once she didn’t look at it again. I think she needed to get the reassurance that I wasn’t going to let her go it alone- I was there to help her out.

The pattern here was that this was a much more active ride than I’ve been doing lately. My requests to Addy felt deliberate and I was able to support her to the base of every jump, then get out of her way. I know we have homework to do- our downwards transitions are still sticky and getting those will  be the key to balancing around those tough corners- but this lesson felt like such progress! I finally felt that our success was due at least in part to my riding and not just Addy’s ability.

I also found out about our new plan for a first show! There’s a VHSA show about 20 minutes away on March 14th, and we’re planning on being there! They have some 2’6″ hunter classes we can do, and if things go well we may enter the 2’9″ benefit hunters. Trainer asked if I’d want to try out the 3′, but I’d like to stick to our original plan and see how Addy behaves at shows before getting to the top of my comfort zone. I’m so excited!! Anyone in the area planning on going to River Chase on the 14th?

Have you had an “aha” moment where you realized you were taking control of your ride? How do you handle tough turns in your course- do you ride them a certain way, or are there flatwork exercises that help you prepare?

Double Whammy

Brace yourself for a long post today, Dear Reader, because I had two lessons this week! Twice the sweat, twice the fun, twice the muscle aches, twice the word count!

Let’s start off with Tuesday’s lesson: pretty standard up until the very last minute. Addy was feeling extremely peppy on the flat because (a) I was pretty tired and gross on Monday so she didn’t get much exercise and (b) turnout has been sporadic due to the crappy weather. Lots of circles to get her listening and stop her careening around like a freight train. Once we were thoroughly warmed up on the flat and cantering in place (she was very happy to woah, just didn’t want to stop cantering. She was doing a three beat walk, it was as ridiculous as it sounds) we started going over some ground poles. She jumped them like they were 2’6″ a couple times, then realized that trotting over them like a normal pony would be fine. This was close enough to jumping that it settled her down- like I mentioned last week, she always quiets down to do her job when we start jumping even if she’s a snorty beast on the flat. We slowly built up the course and ended up with this:

february_twostride

Trot in an extended two-stride then collected two-stride, change direction over the green, same trot-in double two-stride on the other side, then another change of direction over the other middle jump. We kept the jumps quite low since we were focused on adjustability more than anything else.

This all went as expected- Addy wasn’t thrilled about the collected parts, but sat back and listened well. She liked the turns over the middle and we measured our striding correctly around the whole course. She was responsive and balanced and lovely. Hooray! At the very end of the lesson, things were going so well that I asked Trainer if I could give the 2-stride exercise a try with the jumps up.

Let this be a lesson to myself: if everything is going well, CALL IT A DAY.

Trainer did in fact put the jumps up REAL big (I swear it looked 3’6″ but I’ve been informed it was just barely 3′) and said to go for it! I trotted in quite happily, got the nice two stride to the second jump, desperately half-halted to get the collected two to the monster jump at the end, prepared for take-off, aaaaaand she ducked off to the left. We tried again, with my left leg pushing hard and all my body language saying “don’t go left!” She went left. And then did it again.

Wait, what?! My angel pony, ducking out of a jump and being lazy because she doesn’t like to collect? Doing something wrong?! Say it isn’t so!

At this point it was clear that I was just reinforcing bad habits, but I reverted to my weeny-mode and was scared to use my crop too much. In fact, this was the first time I’ve ever carried a crop with her and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Trainer lowered the last jump for us to drill through a few times, and then put it back up while we had the momentum. She had a rail on the left to funnel us in and was standing over there to encourage Addy to just jump the darn thing.

We jumped that thing so far over to the right I think we cleared the standard.

But we made it! It wasn’t pretty, but we made it over the jump! She got lots of pats and we celebrated that she jumped it even though she clearly didn’t want to.

It was not one of our finer moments. In fact, this was the most trouble I’ve ever had on her- the only times she’s ducked out in the past have been because I getting in her way or miscommunicating. This time she was ducking out simply because it was a little out of her comfort zone. Because of that this ended up being an extremely valuable lesson: she learned that she has to trust me to get her to the jump and then she has to follow through, and I learned that my seat is far more developed than I thought it was. I could’ve easily tumbled off the side at any of those duck-outs, but I was able to stay solidly in the tack and handle her shenanigans. I didn’t particularly want to handle those shenanigans, but I have the muscle tone to go with the muscle memory to do what I need to do now.

Moving on to Wednesday:

Manfriend came! He dutifully fulfilled his role as photographer/videographer extraordinaire, so definitely check out my Instagram (@hellomylivia) ’cause I’m gonna be posting some highlights.

We warmed up with a decent amount of no-stirrup work (hence the soreness) and Addy was marginally less peppy. Still not thrilled about downwards transitions, but she had fewer ants in her pants than Tuesday so it was more civilized. The jumps were set up in the same configuration as Wednesday, so after warming up over some ground poles we got to it.

Trainer put the back jump up again and no duck-outs this time! It wasn’t quite as high as Tuesday so it was a little less intimidating for both of us, and she was more familiar with the combination this time around. All in all, she was a rockstar!

As we were wrapping up the lesson, we did try a slightly different course: jumps 5-6-7, serpentine over 4 to 8, then hairpin off the rail back over 1-2-3. I’ll wait here while you check out the diagram again. This one went so well! We had gotten the hang of the awkward striding in the combinations, and she’ll turn on a dime so all of those went well. I’m finally learning to sit nice and deep in the tack around those turns so I can help her balance, and she’s responding by pushing off more with her hind end. Better riding leads to better effort from the horse, who knew?!

Sadly manfriend had stepped out of the ring for a moment so he didn’t catch that last course on video. I though briefly about trying it again for the camera, but I learned my lesson on Tuesday: when there’s nothing to fix, don’t try to fix it. She was such a good girl for the entire lesson- even if she did still do that weird canter-walk hybrid from time to time- so she got to be done and get her carrots.

My angel pony came back to me. Confidence is back up and I can’t wait to get back on ASAP! For now though, I’m going to take some Advil and try to figure out how on earth I got so sore.

PS- Here’s a little highlights clip I put together! The jumps were nice and low so we could focus on other things, but look at how big she jumps them! I’ll be posting some stills on my Instagram so you can see how she tucks up and jumps so cute even over the little crossrails. I would love to get constructive criticism, so fire away!

(Apologies for the vertical filming, I know that makes for an awkward YouTube video. I swear it looks really cool on my phone)

How do you correct your horse when they duck out like that? What exercises do you use on the flat to work on your canter adjustability?

2015 Horse World Resolutions

December_rearview
Addy’s resolution is to keep showing off dat rump.

I’m jumping on the resolutions bandwagon. Tomorrow I plan on sharing my real-life resolutions, but today I’m focusing on what I’d like to accomplish in 2015 in my barn life. In no particular order:

  • Get comfortable schooling 3′. When I left off riding several years ago I was a huge weenie scaredy cat, and 2’6″ was pretty much my limit. Now that I have the confidence and the horse to go higher, I want to go for it!
  • Make it to a horse show. This is a huge one, and hopefully something I can check off the list before warmer weather rolls around. I’ll be happy with a small local show, but I want to show off my new show coat!
  • Try a jumper class. I have always been an eq rider, ever since the first time I sat on a horse. My trainer always blamed my classical ballet training for that. With this newfound courage comes a newfound desire to go fast. Fast + careful horse = ready for something new.
  • Live through a lesson with no stirrups. Ten years ago my trainer would take away my stirrups every winter, and I wouldn’t get them back til spring. You can bet my legs were more stable than the rock of Gibraltar. I don’t care if I can’t walk afterwards, I want to make it all the way through an hour lesson.
  • Keep up my confidence. This may seem kinda vague, but I’ve always been an extremely timid rider. Since returning as an adult I’ve noticed that I’m a lot braver and willing to try new things, and I want to keep that momentum going. I know there will be bad/scary/intense rides in the future, and I want to be able to take those in stride (literally and figuratively).

Care to share your resolutions for the new year? Think there’s anything I should add?

The Majestic Steed

No self-respecting horse girl can not talk about her horse, so here’s my beautiful girl Addy.

Who can resist this face?!
Who can resist this face?!

While I wish I owned this magnificent creature, I’m half-leasing her from a totally awesome woman at my barn, and together we keep her working hard and full of carrots. The stars definitely aligned on this one: I rode Addy in a lesson, jokingly asked if she was up for lease, and my trainer talked to her owner and made it happen. Owner was looking for someone to spend time with Addy when she couldn’t get to the barn, and I was looking for a mount to learn on. Such a win-win situation.

The specs: she is a 10 year old, 16.2 Thoroughbred-Percheron cross who definitely leans more towards the Percheron side. I’ve always been a warmblood gal, and I like to say she’s an “original” warmblood.

While she may be massive, she’ll jump anything at any height with the cutest tucked knees, and she absolutely loves her job. For someone just getting back into the swing of things she’s the perfect teacher and confidence boost!

Some things we’re working on:

  • Not turning into a snowplow. Addy’s draft horse heritage means she has practically no neck, so she really tends to get super heavy on the forehand and plow around. We’re working on maintaining impulsion and getting more uphill, and she’s getting better every day.
  • Fitting the extra stride in. Addy will go for the long spot. Every. Single. Time. I’ll be casually sitting there 2 strides out, and she’ll decide that’s a good place to take off. With practice, she’s trusting me to get her to the base before launch. This means her already tucked knees are getting even more and more square and tucked. Adorbs.
  • Balance. Every horse has their sticky side, and Addy is no different. She will turn on a dime and leg yield for days, but doing circles to the right sometimes feels like tilt-a-whirl. Lots and lots of flatwork, bending exercises, and lateral work have made this a thousand times better, but there’s still a ways to go.

Some things that we’re fantastic at (thanks to her!):

  • Pace. Granted it’s a fast pace, but I never worry about her being sluggish and behind my leg, and she always sits back and woahs when I ask her to. I’ll never get stronger legs with her, since she requires such light aids. I’ve never even carried a crop!
  • Working on the bit. Once I had ridden her a few times I decided to ask her to drop into a frame, and it was like she was waiting for me to ask. That big beautiful Percheron neck looks awful purty all arched up like that. She’ll collect and balance with the best of them when she’s working like this.
  • Having the best time of anyone in the ring. Every single time I’ve ridden this horse I’ve had the biggest smile on my face. We “woohoo!” over every course, and snort through every hack. She loves her job and it makes riding her so much fun every single time.

So, now you know a little bit about my girl and what we’re up to currently! Together we’re learning and getting in shape and having a blast doing it. I could talk about her for ages, but I’ll have to save the rest for future posts 😉