Three Ring Francis

The Big Guy had his field trip last week! He and one of our lovely junior riders went out and competed in all three rings: they did the 0.85m and 0.95m jumpers, the 3′ equitation classes, and the 3′ children’s hunter division. CHECK THE CUTENESS:

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A REAL LIFE TAIL BRAID
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Nah it’s cool I’m not crying or anything
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When did he learn to jump so cute?!

I’m not comfortable sharing pics of a minor without their/their parent’s consent and I’m too lazy to edit more emoji faces into the pictures, but rest assured that I have lots and lots of pics of the Frankfurter being adorable.

Apparently he had a few rails in the hunter classes, because natural fill is a real snoozefest. But the videos I saw were really lovely- she rode him beautifully, very steady and consistent. And the two of them got 3rd in one of their 0.95m jumper classes- this maaaay have actually been her first foray into the jumper ring. So happy that Frankie could share his awesomeness ❤ Trainer said he was “wonderful” so I’m just bursting with pride at that.

Also never fear, I got plenty of nap pics of him. He certainly wasn’t worked up that I wasn’t there.

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Screenshot from a video of one of the girls snuggin’ on him. Tough life, dude.

I felt a bit like a parent who had a kid away at summer camp- it was odd to not go to the barn at all after work. I don’t plan to make a habit of that, but it was nice to have a break to catch up on things!

And getting to catch up on things while Frankie got to go play with a talented rider, in some new rings, under the trusted supervision of my trainers? It doesn’t get much better.

I can’t wait to go out and love on my 3-ring creature! A break was nice, but I miss my giant four-legged buddy.

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Upgraded Rounds

I mentioned in my Blue Rock recap that I started out riding the 2017 Frankie before getting my butt in gear and riding the 2018 Frankie (new Francis who dis). I’d like to elaborate a little bit on what I already mentioned, because I’ve definitely adjusted my strategy in the ring.

Getting our gallop on: I used to go in the ring and immediately pick up a hand gallop before waiting for the buzzer, because I needed a little extra time to open up his step. Nowadays we can get that fire stoked much more quickly, so I don’t need that runway as much. It ends up giving me a bit too much time to overanalyze and start picking at him. Much better to just rev the engine and head to the first jump.

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Please take away my runway, I will just abuse it

Related distances: I used to have to land and WOAH hard in every line, because he almost always landed a little off balance and strung out. Not awful, but it definitely took a stride or two to get him back under me, and that would eat up a decent part of the line. Nowadays he lands in much better balance and much more tuned in to me, so I can simply steady him and press out of the line- which has the added benefit of me being able to soften and allow him to the fences, which leads to him jumping out of his skin.

Left drift: we’ve always had a left drift. Partly because I think he fires a little more strongly on the right side, partly because I have a weak left leg that doesn’t block him hard enough. We’ve gotten much better at using outside aids around the turns and getting him straight in both directions, and I think the carrot stretches have helped him feel more bendy.

Release: he used to jump fairly flat all the time without really using his neck, so there was never a need for a big release- he just didn’t take up the slack when it was given. Now he’s firing harder off the ground and using his body much more actively, which is awesome! But it also means that I need to reward that much more actively. I need to focus hard on some core work, since right now I tend to collapse up his neck a bit upon landing when I give that long release. I have a decent auto release in my toolbox, so it’s just a factor of getting that super ingrained in my muscle memory. Planks galore!

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We use our neck more when we are not being restricted by our pilot

Taking breaks on course: yeah I never had the mental state to be able to do this before. This past show was the first one where I felt like I could use the ends of my ring to take a deep breath, half-halt and reset, and give Frankie a little scratch on the neck as I softened. Not too much because I didn’t want him to think we were done, but we were both able to calm down a bit before firing back up. I definitely think this helped keep him tuned into me and feeling fresh instead of tiring out in the latter parts of the course.

Part of this progression has been due to working on our adjustability, partly due to increased fitness, partly due to education (for both of us), and in large part due to me relaxing enough to think more actively while in the ring instead of LOSING MY MIND OMG FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL. Let’s be real- there will always be Francis-take-the-wheel moments. No one is perfect. The goal is to make them less frequent and less cringe-inducing.

After all, it’s like I’ve always told you. I’m not so concerned with our ribbons- I’m concerned with making sure I can come out of the ring and internalize the lessons learned and apply them in the next round. Go make new mistakes, and then fix them, and then move on to even newer mistakes.

At this point, the horse is super broke and fit and educated, and will go around as well as I allow him to. It used to be that mistakes in the ring were kinda 50-50 due to me getting in the way AND him still learning the expectations we had. Well, we’ve gotten rid of that last part. He knows the game, likes the game, and is damn good at the game. Mistakes are now 100% rider-generated. In one way, WOW OK PRESSURE IS ON because I can no longer cite “lack of experience” as an excuse, but in another enormously huger way it’s AMAZEBALLS. I have a schoolmaster packer that will turn and burn and slice and sit back and do absolutely everything I ask. Now it’s on me to ask for the right things at the right time.

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MAHM STEP UP PC- Liz

The Education of Franklin

I’ve said something in a couple posts now: “Frankie is a different horse than we brought home.”

I’d like to talk about that a little.

Because in all the important ways, he is exactly what we brought home: a safe, sane, athletic partner to learn the ropes with in the jumper ring. That part hasn’t changed an inch- he packs around any ring, has zero spook in him, and happily jumps anything you point him at.

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5 minutes after meeting him, he let me bury him to this oxer without complaint. Saint Francis.

But we also bought an inexperienced horse. And that is a compliment, not a condemnation- he was brought along carefully and slowly and thoughtfully and never overfaced with something he couldn’t do. He had very good training on him, and his previous trainer even took him to a few events where he did wonderfully!

But he never had to pack an ammy around the jumper ring. He never had to deal with his rider alternately kicking and pulling to a 1m fence, crashing him into the standards, then asking him to try again immediately. Until he met me.

He’s had to handle being a newcomer to the jumper world while being piloted by another newcomer. Neither of us really knew what to do first when we heard the buzzer. I didn’t know how to ask for the close spot, and he didn’t know how to give it to me even if I did manage to ask. I was in “hang on and pray” mode, and he was in “try hard and hope this is the right answer” mode.

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At least we both have winning personalities

This is the part where I’m supposed to say how sorry I am for giving my horse bad rides and how I wish I could be better for him blah blah blah. And OBVIOUSLY I wish I was a better rider. That’s literally all I think about, have you ever read this blog?! But it is what it is. I take as good care of him as I possibly can, and work every day to take care of him a little better. We live and learn.

Emphasis on the learn, because I’m circling around to my point now (finally).

Frankie doesn’t count as an inexperienced horse anymore. We’ve done five shows together so far- four of which were multi-day shows- and he has completely transformed over these five shows.

He hears the buzzer, feels me shorten my reins, and starts asking if he can go yet MAHM IT’S TIME TO GO NOW.

He sees a crapton of poles and charges fearlessly ahead, making that combo his bi–maintaining his forward momentum without hesitation.

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Last jump in the triple combo, and he flies over it with room to spare!

I sit down and ask for some collection and he knows that doesn’t mean slow down. It means HOLD THE HECK UP FOR YOUR MOTHER TO SEE THE DAMN SPOT YOU WALNUT.

He uses his body over the jumps. Like, wow. Big change here.

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I will be sharing this picture every single chance I get so learn to love it

Yet he somehow still knows that Zoomin’ Time is over when I drop the reins, and happily jogs over to the in-gate while soaking up his pats and scratches.

He feels supremely confident on course. Ears up, hunting down the jumps, galloping out of the turns. No sucking back or lurching over fences- he powers across the ground.

He doesn’t check in with me constantly for instruction on what to do next. He doesn’t need to, because I am much more present up top. He also doesn’t need to because he already has a good idea of what’s next.

A couple humans deserve credit for a lot of this: my trainers have put so much time and effort into developing him, building fitness, and educating him to his job. They have progressed him immensely! And I won’t pretend false humility here- I’ve put in a lot of work myself. I’m a very different rider than I was a year ago. So Frankie has a team of people working hard to help him out.

But.

None of that would make such a wonderful impact on him if he didn’t want to do the job. Which he so clearly does. He’s one of the happiest horses I’ve ever met, day after day after day. He knows his job and he LOVES his job.

I used to describe Frankie as “a really good boy, super game for anything, we’re learning about the jumper ring.” Nowadays, I just call him my jumper.  No caveats needed.

McDonogh Winter Classic

We survived our first outing in our new division! And not just survived, but had a total blast doing it. Francis is a prince. Here’s the rundown.

It was about 90 minutes to trailer there and then we had a wait before it was time to warm up, so Frankie came off the trailer looking a bit like a fire-breathing dragon. When I hopped on, he actually gave me the worst behavior he’s ever given me: put his head between his knees and dolphin leapt about a little. I nervously said to Trainer, “Frankie is kinda acting up right now,” to which she responded, “So? Go do something about it.”

……Right. I can actually ride my horse. I had forgotten that fun little fact for a hot second. I put my leg on and asked for some bend and forward and TADA no more shenanigans. I mean, he had been standing on a trailer for a couple hours, he came off in a strange place that was super breezy and loud with lots of strange horses, it was pretty frigid. The fact that he didn’t try to play MORE is cause for celebration.

The rest of our warmup went really really well- Frankie had fantastic forward energy and carried us up to the base of every jump super strongly. Then it was time for our first class in the 1.10m!!!!

So I looked in the ring and said oh good, once they reset the jumps we’ll be good to go. Except as we all know, I am the WORST at judging jump height. The jumps were already reset. So a big fat shoutout to Trainer for making us jump bigger jumps at home, because these looked totally manageable and not at all intimidating.

Here’s the diagram for our first course (sorry it’s blurry! I added in the numbers to hopefully help):

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So single oxer away, down the outside line in 5, across the middle, rollback, up the diagonal line in 5, one-stride, bending out in 6 strides.

Overall thoughts on the course: pretty hunterific! No really tricky questions- if you sliced 4 a little right-to-left, it set you up to go inside 3 and have plenty of room to roll back to 5. 6 to 7 was a forward five strides, but it was later in the course so there was plenty of time to get the motor going. The one-stride was very forgiving, and then just balancing down for the six strides out.

Francis. Felt. Amazing. Ears perked, forward, locking onto the jumps and galloping up to them, and he just felt like he was having fun around the course. The lines rode really nicely- we got in a little tight to the combo but legged through just fine and balanced out. Was it perfect? No way. But my horse felt like a rockstar and I felt like I rode it much more strongly than I usually ride. Sadly no video of this round so you’ll have to take my word for it. Double clear and a good pace got us 3rd out of 14ish in this class!!!

We then had a decent break before our next class, which was II2b (immediate jumpoff). After sitting for a bit we decided to trot around and jump another jump or two to get us moving again before going back in the ring for this course:

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A lot of the same lines as the previous course, just in a different order. The jumpoff was a little tricky: to get from 2 to 4a we went between jumps 3 and 6 (Frankie was v v confused by this) and I think a better option would’ve been to go to the left of 6 to shave off some time. I saw others do this and they’re the ones that beat our time.Even with that, double clear and good pace got us 5th in this round!

Fun side note: my gloves had ZERO grip for some reason. I’ve ridden in these gloves plenty of times without a problem, but this weekend I had practically zero purchase on my reins. Usually that wouldn’t be a problem, but when Francis wakes up and gets into fiery jumper mode, he pulls the reins right out of my hands. I have video of this round and once I’m able to share it you’ll see- I really had to cowboy around and flap a bit for steering. Thank goodness Trainer has had me strengthening my legs so I could mostly steer that way.

Then we had another decent break before our classic, with this course:

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Again, not a ton of new questions. Our first oxer on this course was our best jump all day- Frankie used himself beautifully over it! But by this point I had been on for close to 2 hours and both Frankie and I were cold and pretty exhausted. I had also decided to take off my gloves and ended up choking up on my reins- overcorrecting from my inability to hold my reins in previous rounds. Predictably, we ran into trouble in the combo.

You know what you should do when your horse is tired and you’re headed into a triple combo? Because I can tell you right now what you SHOULDN’T do. You should not make your reins super duper short, hold his face, add in the previous line, then kick up into a strung out gallop, then lean with your shoulders while still holding his face. Because that leads to a Francis trying very hard to do his job but simply not being able to due to rider interference.

We reapproached the combo and I did literally the exact same thing: death grip on the face and leaning. So Frankie basically coasted to a stop and said, “Nope. No more for me, thank you.” And honestly, I couldn’t blame him. At this height, with depleted energy levels, I needed to be there SO MUCH MORE for him and I really wasn’t. Asking him to cart me around with no help was unfair. It wasn’t a dirty stop, it was a I-can’t-do-this-alone stop. This meant it was time to retire from the ring, and while I was disappointed that we didn’t make it around the course, it was definitely for the best. Frankie always ALWAYS jumps the jumps, so when he says “I can’t” that is something that I want to pay very close attention to.

Overall thoughts on the show: a really confidence-boosting wonderful first outing in our new division! The height was not intimidating at all, Frankie jumped two double-clear rounds really powerfully, and we had tons and tons of fun getting out there and galloping around the course. Our 3rd and 5th place got us 5 points towards the 20 we need to qualify for our Zone championship too- score!

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That sweet face!!!! His, not mine. Obviously. Homeboy loves trying to eat his ribbons ❤

I was really proud of how Frankie handled the whole trip. Not surprised because naturally he’s always a total bro, but very proud. We had no problem getting on and off the trailer, no spooky moments, and once he let out the minor silly beans during our warmup he was super workmanlike and marched around like a pro. Of course he was a good boy last season, but it feels like our hard work over the last few months has really paid off in improving Frankie’s fitness, the way he uses his body, and building some of that jumper “fire” in him. He has just come such a long way and has turned into a wonderful competitive partner in the show ring. UGH EMOTIONS. Seriously so incredibly grateful to have a horse that is such a pleasure to work with and learn from.

My barn is headed to Ocala for a few weeks in February (BRB sobbing that I can’t join this year) so I won’t get to go show again until March, but I’m already itching to get back out there. I’m crazy excited for our season in the High Adults with the bestest pony in the whole world.

6 Tips for Remembering Your Jumper Courses

I’ve heard a lot of ammies say that one of their big concerns at a horse show is remembering the course. Naturally, no one wants to go off course and be eliminated. But it doesn’t have to be a source of angst! Here are a few tips to help you remember your next jumper course.

Tip 1: Don’t think of the jumps individually, but instead as part of certain configurations. And there are a limited number of configurations. Most of the time, your course will consist of a mix of the following elements:

  • Line
  • Bending line
  • Rollback
  • S-turn
  • End jump

When you group the jumps together like that, suddenly you aren’t thinking about every single jump, you’re thinking about many fewer elements.

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This could be 13 individual jumps. OR you can think about it this way: diagonal line, center line to combo, rollback over 5, bend out over the outside line, bending 8 to 9, end combo, single oxer. That’s seven elements- you just cut down on what you have to remember by 50%.

Tip 2: The goal is to go from one end of the ring to another. You will not be endlessly circling around one end of the ring for 13 jumps. The overarching track will take you from one end of the ring to another multiple times.

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In this case you start on the left side, go to the right side, back to the left, back to the right, and end back at the left. There are nuances, sure, but overall you’re just going back and forth across the ring.

Tip 3: Let your oxers be your guide. You will never be jumping an oxer backwards, so if you’re looking at your course, seeing which way the oxers are set can help show you which jump might be next.

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If you know your first jump (oxer on the end), the logical next jumps are 2 or 6b. But there’s an oxer in the combo going the other way, so 2 is pretty clearly your next jump.

Tip 4: Learn your jumpoff as part of your course. Don’t think of it as two separate courses. Even if you get to take a breather before the jumpoff, think of it as continuing your course rather than starting a whole new one.

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After coming off jump 10, there’s a breather before the jumpoff. But as you’re walking, you want to position yourself to have an easy approach to 1 for your jumpoff when the buzzer sounds, and continue on as if you had never stopped.

Tip 5: Walk the course multiple times. The first time to get the striding in any lines and start cementing the course in your mind. The second time to think about strategy- where can I make an inside turn? Where will I need extra outside leg because we’re going by the ingate and NO WE’RE NOT DONE YET STAY IN THE RING PLS. Where are my “breathing spots” to reset while on course?

Tip 6: Learn one course at a time. Don’t worry about your third course of the day before you’ve ridden your first. Once you leave the ring, go ahead and start thinking about your next course. But one thing at a time.

Here’s your cliffnotes:

  1. Group the jumps into elements
  2. Get from one end of the ring to the other
  3. Look at your oxers
  4. Learn your jumpoff as part of your course
  5. Walk the course multiple times
  6. Learn one course at a time

What techniques do you use to remember your courses in the jumper ring?

 

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.

Loudoun Benefit: Part 2

So we’ve covered the weekdays, now let’s dive into the weekend.

Saturday

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Dressed and feeling funky fresh
We opted not to hack Frankie around that morning- he clearly didn’t need the extra exercise to calm him down, and we wanted him a little “fresh” for our speed round later.

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My mom was totally cool with the horse poop everywhere. Despite a >10 year hiatus, she was the best show mom ever!!
Our warmup was much better and closer to what we were looking for: moving up to the close spot and pressing up and over instead of dropping him to the base.

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Warmup oxers ain’t no thang to Frank the Tank
With a good warmup under our belt, we headed into the ring…and proceeded to read Braille around the whole course. Three rails down. Frankie is usually allergic to fences so I always know that any rails down are rider error- in this case, I didn’t rock him back enough. I managed to get the RPMs up where the needed to be and was much more intentional about riding the plan we had walked, but I let him get a little fast and flat in places.

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But this out of a combo was much stronger than in the past, so we accomplished our goal of creating a good experience through a combo

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And I actually steered over the jumps instead of flapping my reins and hoping he’d interpret it as “turn right here.” LAWLZ at the 12 faults on the board by jump 8.

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And we did get some super cute jumps.
So yeah- three rails isn’t great. But it was a more confidently, strongly ridden course on a horse that felt more “jumper-y” than he had on previous days. I was beaming as I left the ring! You can see Saturday’s post for the video of this round.

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Well, I was beaming once I caught my breath. Promise.
We even had D’Arcy from thecluelessbutcuriousrider and Courtney from An Equestrian Life there to watch and love on Frankie! I mean, I’m sure that’s not the ONLY reason they were there. But that’s what I’m going with.

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Francis casually mooching for treats from the Horse Blogger Contingent

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And from the Family Contingent
One of the many many many things I love about this horse? I can go gallop around a jumper course, and a few short minutes later I can mosey around with him on a long lead after a bath. Homeboy is chill with all of it.

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mlem mlem mlem mlem mlem

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Endless smooches for my best boy.
We watched some cute pony hunters go as I attempted to explain the purpose of a fake tail to my godmother, cheered on our junior rider in the Maclay, and headed out to get some shuteye before an early morning- our classic was running first thing on Sunday.

Sunday

Classic day! And sadly, the last day of the show. Boo.

Since our classic was the first class of the day at 8am and we were 9th in the order, we knew we wanted to walk the course around 7:30 to give us plenty of time to tack up and warm up. I was up before 6. Do not like.

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Paparazzi shot of me doing my hairnet magic. I blame my hunter roots for my obsession with perfect hair. It is a destination that eludes me, but I will continue to strive.
In the true nature of horse shows where something has to go wrong at some point, I lost a glove (we later found it at the hotel, so it wasn’t completely gone, just not available to me at the time). And in the true nature of a fantastic show mom, my momma ran to the first open tack trailer and snagged me a new pair, then jogged them out to the warmup ring. Because she’s an awesome show mom like that.

This was another great warmup- we galloped up to the jumps and got moving quickly. It was one of our shorter warmups because of that; we didn’t need more time to get our butts in gear because our butts already were in gear.

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Francis continued his streak of saying, “eh no problem.”

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Even when the height went up a bit
And I’ll just show you our round here:

Was it perfect? Absolutely not. I overrode that first bending line so that he had to pop up and over, I let him get flat out of the one-stride so we knocked the rail on the way out of the four stride, and that last bending line we got a little up on it.

But this was our best round yet. The jumps looked downright teensy, the turns came up, we were straighter to the jumps, we rode the plan, and we had SO. MUCH. FUN. Also, does he look super shiny and buff and adorable, or am I just biased???

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All smiles as we left the ring

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Biggest hugs for show pony
My boy is a real show pony. We threw him in the deep end: our first show together, at a new-to-me height, which just so happened to be AA rated and a week long. This could have blown up in our faces if Frankie didn’t like being a show horse.

But every step he took and every sweet smooch he gave was pure Francis. He went around a gigantic new ring at a bigger height, with tons of chaos and noise and distractions in a simple snaffle. We have tons to work on and practice and improve- no doubt about it. We came away from this show without a single piece of satin.

I couldn’t care less. My goal was to create a positive experience for my horse and make it around at 1m, and by the end of the show I can confidently say that I accomplished both. So we had a couple rails. Big deal. We can work on that. We have the attitude and now we have more know-how.

To Be Frank is just getting started, and it’s onwards and upwards from here!

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Loudoun Benefit: Part 1

Our first show is in the books! Before I dive into a detailed day-by-day recap, let me just share a few overall thoughts:

It takes a village. I had two incredible trainers, a team of barn hands helping me get where I needed to be with Frankie when we needed to be there, a great show team to cheer each other on, the best show mom and show godmom, and countless other people that offered encouragement and support throughout the weekend. Thank you doesn’t quite cut it for these amazing people, but I’ll say it anyways: thank you.

I’ve been on the verge of tears for several days now. Don’t be worried, they’re happy tears! I’m just overwhelmed at just how amazing my boy is. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner than my Francis, and I love him more and more every day. He’s everything I could’ve hoped for and more.

On to the recap!

Wednesday

After just baaaarely making it until noon at the office, I sped over to the showgrounds to check in with my pony and see what the plan was. Trainer had ridden him the previous day when he arrived and said he was a perfect gentleman- there was no need for her to hop on again. We had a mini-lesson in first the jumper warm-up ring, then the Salem hunter warm-up ring, then the hunter 2 warm-up ring. Basically we tried to go where the ring was most clear to give the competitors right of way. We didn’t jack the jumps up too big, just popped over and did a few exercises with rollbacks, slices, blah blah blah. Francis was a dream! Despite tractors dragging rings, water trucks, ponies going up his butt, and the general hubbub of shows, he didn’t blink an eye or take a single wrong step. He got a nice bath and a walk before being put away.

Thursday

First competition day! We had signed up for the open 0.90m class early in the day to get our feet wet, and then the open 1.0m class to test the waters before our official division at that height. It was an excellent plan.

You know what they say about best laid plans?

Yeah. They moved the 0.80m and 0.90m classes to a separate ring in order to keep things moving- a fantastic idea. But that meant that my 1.0m class ran before my 0.90m class. Because gradually moving up SOUNDED TOO TAME.

So Frankie’s and my very first class together at our very first show was also at a new height in the GP ring. And it was the Hot Mess Express. Like, someone build a bronze bust of Francis because he deserves a shrine in his honor. Let me back it up.

We walked the course with my trainer and the jumps looked HUGE. Like, OMG WTF LOL. I saw them measuring the jumps and you know what that means- they were at max height. Deep breaths. It doesn’t matter that we’ve never actually done a FULL course at that height. Or that he’s never shown before. Or that this is our first show. Or that maybe I should be doing Short Stirrup instead.

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Definitely the attitude you want to go in with, right?

WRONG.

The first jump came up beautifully, and I let out this deep breath and said hooray! This is so easy! I don’t actually have to do anything! Frankie totally got this!

And I abandoned my pony to his own devices.

And this is where he earns that bronze statuette- he went around that course and tried his very best to cart my butt around despite ZERO input from the lady upstairs. It never crossed his mind to stop, even when he really should have. I would not have blamed him.

This pic right here?

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There’s a reason he’s jumping 2′ above the rails. It’s because the first time we attempted that jump (it was part of a combo), I basically crashed him through it. And he was like HELL NO THAT SUCKED LET’S NOT TOUCH ANY RAILS and finished up the course pretending it was 1.20m. Because he is too pure for this world and wants so badly to do a good job.

I came out of that ring to a puzzled look from my trainer asking what the hell that was. Vacant was the word we came up with. My trainer kinda lit the fire then and I’m grateful- one of the many reasons I ride with her is because she doesn’t sugarcoat bad rides. My mommy and daddy can pat me on the back and tell me “good job,” but my trainer is there to help me improve. Her criticism was constructive and we came up with a plan for our next round.

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Cool part? Seeing our names up on the board together. Why is my name up there twice? Because I’m the owner AND rider. Call me sentimental, but it was HUGE to see our names up there.

Next was the 0.90m. This was just to be a confidence-builder after the Scrambled Egg Breakfast Special that went on earlier. We both took a breather before it ran, and when we walked it we decided that I was going to aim for time-faults. Because let’s be real- Frankie doesn’t get time faults. I’m pretty sure we could trot the whole course and still make time allowed. This was more of a mental technique to slow myself down and BE DELIBERATE. As in, actually make choices on course and adjust as different things happen instead of playing elevator music and saying YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN YOUNG ONE to my horse.

This did go better. We had one rail and the combo was still a bit messy (homeboy trotted out because HE IS TOO PURE FOR THIS WORLD) but overall it was an improvement, and that was what we were going for. When we debriefed afterwards, we agreed that combos have to be our focus moving forward- he likely hasn’t had a ton of exposure to them and I had just given him two crappy experiences through them. We need to teach him that we love combos and want to jump them strongly and power through.

So day 1 was a bit of a mess, but it ended on a better note than it started. Which is the goal!

Friday

First day of our division- the 1.0m Low Adult Jumpers. This was better!

I took Frankie for a short hack in the morning to get his muscles stretched out and let him check out the day. He was lovely again- a little sluggish at first, but he woke right up and gave me some excellent flat work in a very busy ring.

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My Momma came to town!!!! It was an adventure with some severe weather, but she made it…
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…and brought my Nouna, who couldn’t get enough of Frankie! Frankie picked up on this immediately and just ate up all the loving.

We then had a little break before walking the course. We brought a bunch of the kiddos to teach them how to accurately walk striding, so we had one of the biggest contingents in the ring.

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My mom thought the course walk was hilarious. She called it the “Zombie Walk” the whole weekend.

Then it was time to go back to the barn and get tacked up!

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You can tell by my face that I’m NOT nervous as I watch Frankie get tacked up. Totally not. In all honesty though, I always get keyed-up-anxious-energy before I hop on and then relax once we get moving. Francis is a very soothing presence.

When we were officially warming up for our class, it still took longer than it should have for me to get my head in the game and RIDE. I was still kinda letting him pick the spot and didn’t leg across the jump. It’s not that the distances were bad, I just wasn’t helping my horse out. Again. After my trainer yelling out, “MANAGE THE POTATO,” I got my ass in gear and rode my horse. Yes, she literally said that. She knows that I call it potato-brain when I mess up. New favorite phrase: manage the potato.

But we went into the ring after a couple good jumps in the warmup. Overall? This still wasn’t a perfect course by any stretch of the imagination. We had some bad spots. BUT. We got the bad spots because I was riding to the bad spots.

Wait, what? Why are we pleased about this?

Because it means that I was RIDING! Yes, I was riding poorly, but at least I was doing something. The height was less intimidating than the day before, I knew that I needed to give my horse more oomph off the ground, and while a rail kept us out of the jumpoff, I was thrilled that we managed to fix a bunch of the mistakes from the previous day.

Frankie got tons of hugs and kisses and scratches and a nice bath.

Bonus?

I got to see Jen from A Year in the Saddle take her girl Cally in the side-saddle classes!

LB sidesaddle Cally
Which they obviously rocked!

Dudes, go watch side saddle sometime. It’s so intense. It’s even better when you can cheer someone on and they exclaim, “OH MY GOD WE DID IT” after jumping the line. Have I mentioned lately how much I love horse bloggers??

And since this is already a monster post, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for a recap on the rest weekend!

Sneak Peek

This is just a little snippet to tide you over until I have a chance to sit down and write!

This week has been a huge learning curve, and every round is better than the last. Frankie is a legit professional at being a show pony and has been perfect from day one! I’m slowly learning how to ride this bigger (to me) height more accurately- the pieces are definitely coming together. We still have our classic tomorrow morning to strut our stuff. Can we just show together forever??

https://youtu.be/S2CzRaMPGWQ

Here’s our speed round from today. If I had to come up with a headline, it would be:

Horse and Rider Test Fence Strength: Poles Fall to Ground in Despair

Can’t wait to fill you in fully!!!

Hold Up Sometimes I Can Ride

We had a great lesson! Hallelujah! I needed that. I’m naturally a very optimistic person and I don’t tend to let things get to me, but I was starting to wonder if this was the end of my short and lackluster stint as A Very Adequate Adult Jumper.

Seriously Olivia, cut the dramatics and ride the damn horse.

Flatwork was great etc etc etc lots of no stirrup work etc etc etc (actually though I rode with some of our juniors and Trainer inflicts SO much more no-stirrup work on them than she does on us weakling ammies).

THEN JUMPING. Professional diagram incoming:

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Our warmup was to simply trot everything in the ring. There were 3 of us that made this pretty manageable, and Francis was very nonchalant about all of it. I mean, he’s nonchalant about everything, but still.

We started by working on 1 to 2: trotting in over the crossrail, then bending out over a little oxer in 6 or 7. This was really hard! There were enough track options and jumps in the way that either the 6 or the 7 could be a totally accurate choice, but you had to know which one you were going for and ride that plan. Outside leg outside leg outside leg. After several weakling gross looking 7 stride tries, we got our butts in gear and went for the more aggressive 6. Sooo much better.

Then we did 3 to 4: canter in over the outside vertical and then out over the stone wall in 4 or 5. This was another toughie- the horses tended to get sucked out to the wall which forced the track wide, making the 5 a better option. But if you could swing out into your corner without stalling, you could power across 3 and go more direct in 4. The trick there was outside leg HARD around that corner to 3, because it comes up really fast out of the turn and you needed to be scooting. This was another case of do-it-weakly-a-bunch-then-realize-your-horse-is-a-jumper-and-you-can-ask-for-more-power-and-do-it-in-a-galloping-4. You know, that kinda thing.

Then our course: 1-2-3-4-5-6a-6b. Trotting in the crossrail bending out over the oxer, up the broken 3-4, down the wall, then up the two-stride. Trainer had me drop my stirrups after the wall before I got to the two stride because she’s a masochist, but that’s neither here nor there.

The two bending lines were ehhhh fine. Not stellar but workable. Then we gangsta leaned around the turn to the wall, I flopped my feet out of the stirrups, then popped up the two stride. That combo is set basically one stride off the turn and it’s long, so the trick there was WAIT FOR IT outside leg and pressing hard into it so you didn’t get an icky little third stride in there.

Sensing a theme here?

Trainer then popped the jumps up a little bit and had me do 2-4-2-6a-6b. Up the oxer bending out in 4, back down over the oxer the other way (it was a Swedish), then up the combo, again without stirrups.

Now this was more like it. Outside leg and stabilizing outside rein into the first oxer, with an opening rein that let us get a nice direct open four strides 4. Then I actually engaged my left leg and sat evenly in my saddle and LO AND BEHOLD THE HEAVENS OPENED UP AND ANGELS SANG.

But for real though. I could ride straight and BOOM LEAD CHANGE then BEND through my turn and I had SO MUCH MORE TIME* to figure out exactly what pace I wanted so that coming around to the brick wall, we had options. It wasn’t just accepting whatever came up out of the turn.

*I didn’t actually have more time- the number of seconds that elapsed from landing off 4 around to the brick were pretty much the same. It just felt sooo much more organized and intentional.

Then sitting Francis on his butt and getting a nice bouncy canter let us get up out of that turn so we could press across and out the combo.

UGH. YES. The pieces are starting to come together.

I think a big part of this is retraining my perspective from DragonMare to BrontosaurusRex. With Addy, getting to the base meant holding. Hold hold hold to the base, otherwise she would blow through to a dangerously long distance or just nope out altogether. Frankie is quite different- he will jump from anywhere. I don’t need to manage him mentally. So if we want the nice close jumper-y distance, I need to ride UP to that distance.

I’m still looking for that nice close spot that makes him jump carefully and sets us up for a civilized landing, but the way I mentally approach that distance is pretty much the opposite now. I’m still sitting deep and keeping my shoulders back and mashing my horse together so that we can compress the stride; I need that compressed stride to have some FIRE in it.

He is a Land Rover: he can happily handle rough terrain and is super duper dependable. But he does not have the sensitivity of a Ferrari. He will totally rev up and get going and attack the jumps IF I tell him to. Instead of being a calming influence, I need to be an energetic influence.

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Like, a super energetic influence.

And I’ll probably continue with the no-stirrup work too to keep tightening up…

We’re headed to our first show in less than 3 weeks and I am ITCHING to get out there and compete. And then I’m itching to tell you guys all about it 😉