Ocala 2020: Managing the Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m honestly just along for the ride

Washington Regional 2019

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

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Cutest pony on the planet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piedmont Jumper Classic 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big smiles all around with this excellent creature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I….I have no words.

And an obligatory nap pic:

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

Showplace Spring Festival: Return to the Show Ring!

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

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

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

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

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And our second jumpoff round here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He earned these!

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

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

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

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

Why Jumpers?

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BECAUSE THE JUMPERS FRIGHTEN ME

Nah all kidding aside, I was ruminating on this the other day. Frankie and I have played in the equitation, I grew up exclusively doing the hunters/eq, we’ve toodled around baby XC, Frankie has done eventing and hunters and pleasure classes with other riders. I’ve even mentioned that I hope to take him in a hunter derby at some point.

So with all that time spent in other rings, why do I keep our main focus on the jumper ring? It’s not a question of ability – we’ve both been perfectly happy and capable in other disciplines. And it isn’t a question of access – I’m in comfortable driving distance of high-level barns of practically every English discipline. Even my own beloved trainer has a strong record in all three H/J/E (she’s even a hunter R judge).

Circumstances have not forced us into the jumper ring. It is by no means a default, and by no means an accident. In simple terms, I focus us in the jumper ring because I love it there.

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PC – ESI Photography

In my world, training for and competing in the jumper ring combines all of my favorite parts from each discipline and turns them into something even greater than the sum of its parts. There is the precision flatwork of dressage, there is the speed and thrill of eventing, there is the careful effective position of equitation, there is knowing how to bring out the best in my horse from the hunters. And it takes all of these parts and gives back a sport that is pure strategy and focus and fun.

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PC – USHJA

I love the focus on results above all else, but that the results reward the process. Sure, you’re not being judged on your position – but try to go clear on the Frankfurter without a supportive leg and balanced body. See how that works out. And you’re not being judged on your horse’s steadiness of pace or bascule – but try to beat the time and leave the oxers up without a good jump and adjustable stride. At the end of the day though, when the rubber meets the road you have to be willing to dig in and throw out the pretty to make it work.

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PC – K. Borden

I love the strategy of it. How it’s a thinking ride with every single stride. Once that buzzer sounds, there’s no time to be nervous or notice anything else, because a good course demands your attention. It’s all about playing to your horse’s strengths to set them up to succeed through the entire course, with each component building on the next. How you need to ride the plan, but above all else ride the horse you have under you in that moment.

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PC – Hoof Print Images

I love the people. The Zone 3 Adult Jumper riders are all fantastic, and getting to see them and catch up at shows is a treat. We cheer each other on, we wave hello in the warmups, we take pictures for each other. The show crews in our area are wonderful people, ready to say congratulations on a good round and answer my many questions. The warmup rings tend to be surprisingly civilized since most people have done this before and behave accordingly. For all the horror stories I’ve heard of snobbery at the big shows, I’ve never failed to have someone smile back and say thank you when I tell them how pretty their horse is (which I do constantly because I really really really like ponies).

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Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years with Frankie, I love it even more because of how professional and eager he is to do this job. How he starts asking me to move out when he hears the buzzer. How he lands already looking for the next fence, even after we’ve passed through the timers. How he struts back to the gate after a good round with his ears up, proudly knowing he’s done a great job. How I know I can trust him to be right there with me every step of the way.

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PC – K. Borden

It’s not about the speed – we’ve made amazing times not by galloping, but by being deliberate and efficient with our turns. It’s not about the height – I’ve had just as much fun at 0.80m as I have at 1.15m. It’s the power and precision and exhilaration of working with my partner to pull together all our skills to perform.

I’m excited to keep trying new things with the Frankfurter and find great joy in expanding our horizons, but my heart will always be in the jumper ring on the back of my favorite big bay.

WEC 2019: The Rides

I’ll be honest with all y’all, I had a hard time sitting down to write this post. Not for any emotional reason – like I said earlier, I had a total blast and was super happy with my rounds, learned a ton, etc. But as this blog has grown and evolved, I’ve moved away from a round-by-round analysis as my own mindset and training philosophies have changed. I find it much more useful to consider a show as a whole and look for patterns, rather than fully dissecting what went right or wrong in each round. That worked fantastically for me for a long time and I’m glad I did it, but times and perspectives change.

That being said, I do want to share some of the course diagrams with you, talk about what I found good and bad in there, talk about some of those patterns that I noticed throughout the week, and a bit about the competition itself.

First I’ll kick off by talking about Tuesday and Wednesday, where I didn’t show but I did hop on for a brief lesson with Belle. We were able to go into the Sanctuary (the big jumper ring) both days to string together a few jumps instead of being stuck on a single in the warmup ring, but no full courses either day. Basically my thoughts are that I don’t particularly like flatting this horse. There’s nothing wrong with her, she’s not trying to do anything bad, but it wasn’t fun and interesting in the way it is with Frankie. She had a very VERY clear attitude that it was a necessary evil to get out of the way. But once we started jumping? Big fat grin on my face. She was a BLAST. Much much more forward than I’m used to and much harder to pull up off the last fence, but she locked on and carried me every step. I felt much more confident about heading into the show ring with her on Thursday.

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My first schooling class at 0.80m on Thursday
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And my second schooling class on Thursday at 1.0m

Notice how similar they are? Honestly these are both basically hunter courses with some combos and an end jump thrown in: bending, outside, bending, outside. Not a ton of places for inside turns which is fine, they were just schooling rounds to get used to the ring and each other. Clear in the first round and a single rail in the second where I didn’t quite give a generous enough release. I noticed that we had a pretty strong right drift, which is interesting to me since Frankie has such a strong left drift.

This was also my first full round jumping 1.0m since probably August or September, since Frankie and I haven’t jumped at height in a good long time! I definitely got a bit fetal in places when she jumped hard, but by the end I was feeling much more confident about the height and it wasn’t an issue again.

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Schooling class at 1.0m on Friday before our division started

This was another really soft course in my eyes. There really isn’t that much to say, it’s another glorified hunter course. I had to sit back pretty hard in the lines to help her fit it in, but she went clear for another blue ribbon round.

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Our first Low division class!

I was hoping that the division courses might be a little more intense, but I didn’t really get my wish. I had one rail at 10a that I’m actually not at all mad about – she was trying to blow through my hand and leave a stride out to the combo (UM NO MA’AM) and I had to check her pretty hard to get her back under me. Checking her earlier would’ve saved the rail, but I’m glad we at least got the job done and rode the striding. That rail was enough to bump us to 5th out of I think 8th. I’m thrilled that we weren’t last considering how rusty I was!

I forgot to take a picture of the course for our speed round on Saturday, but I have something better: video! Monica came for a visit and was there to see us go in the ring. Funnily enough, this was probably the round that I was least happy with all week. Still happy with it in many parts, but there were several sticky moments where Belle 100% bailed me out of trouble.

She was definitely the most tired in this round out of the entire week, and I didn’t adjust my riding enough to that. You can see that 2 was an OHCRAP moment, we left one out for a launcher at 6, and it was a bit of a wrestle to fit in the stride to the last jump. Other than that, there were some great moments! You can definitely see that right drift, and me doing approximately zero to correct it. Womp. Overall her majesty did manage to take us clear and fast, and she earned us a second place in this round. Queen Mare is a Queen.

Also this was my first show with my hair in a braid and I hate how it looks swinging around so BRB going to chop it all off.

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Which brings us to classic day! I was expecting a tired pony again, but certainly did not get it. I think only doing one class on Saturday was just enough of a break for her.

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Classic round from Sunday

Everything rode in a 7 here. Legit every related track you see was a 7 stride (except 3-4 which was 8. But that I rode in a 7). I was super bummed to have a rail at fence 1 – I think I just didn’t help get her eyes on it quickly enough, because it was a good spot and she jumped well out of stride. Other than that, this course rode wonderfully and was our best one of the week. I was able to rate her stride to get just the jumps I wanted, I controlled the right drift at least a little, and our turns were super efficient.

Luckily, tons of other people got rails in this class too (I mean, luckily for me, not for them). Only two people made it to the jump off and we were the fastest 4-faulters, which earned us a big pretty yellow ribbon!

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It’s the one directly over her left ear. My friend took some shmancy ribbon pics with us, I’ll share when I get them!

I’m beyond thrilled with all of these placings. I was able to knock the rust off after over 7 months out of the show ring, navigate at 1.0m on a strange horse with some solid rounds, and felt confident and positive all week long.

I’m so happy that we had Belle in the barn, not only for me but for her. She got to have turnout every day which is unusual for her, we got her a massage on Saturday, and she was fed and groomed and loved on with a lot of care and attention. Our barn has a reputation for returning our leases in better shape than we got them, and she 100% deserved that as well. She had to put up with a lot with a rusty ammy in the irons, so I’m glad she seemed to enjoy pampering that came along with it.

This was exactly the show that I needed to boost my confidence and make showing fun again after a season of some pretty intense burnout. I’m feeling great and ready to get back out there with my bestest boy to tackle some new adventures!

 

 

WEC 2019 vs. 2018 Comparison

Not getting into the actual show recap quite yet, I just want to talk about how different this year felt compared to last year. I’ve been to plenty of shows over multiple years (HITS, Upperville), but having to travel out this far is a different ballgame. There were some nice changes in the facility as some construction has completed (the vendor area is stunning), but it felt like I hadn’t even left. Like, it was creepy. It’s been a full year. But even though it felt like I had never left, this week was completely different from last year’s outing. Completely 100% different.

For one, I stayed on my own offsite in a hotel, not on the grounds. While it was still only 10 minutes away, it meant that I did all my work in my hotel room instead of working from the barn. Much more separation than before. It also gave more separation to heading back and forth from the show – I didn’t feel like I was on the grounds 24/7 like last time, which was a nice change. Having my own room also gave me much more alone time in the evenings, which this outgoing introvert thrives on.

We were also in a completely different barn! Last year we were in M, and this year we were in A. Check the map below and you can see that they literally could not be further apart.

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It was lovely though, we got our own spacious aisle and even turnout!! This was my one big gripe last year, that the ponies didn’t have any time to go play and stretch their legs. We had to rotate them through so it wasn’t a full day like they get at home, but a huge huge huge improvement over none at all. I think it really helped them stay fresh. (Interesting side note – we were the only ones using turnout. I found that absolutely wild)

I also showed up suuuuper early in the week and was the only client there for a solid 3 days. I opted to drive out on President’s Day since my office was closed, so I could work remotely Tues-Wed and then take Thurs-Fri off completely. It meant a few extra nights in a hotel, but was totally worth the savings on vacation time. It was super leisurely for those few days: I did my work during the day, then headed over to the barn to lesson, clean tack, hang out with my trainer and AT. No stress no fuss.  It’s not often that I get to be the only client and I obviously adore my barn fam, but there was something really chill about having such an open schedule for the first few days.

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As the resident tall girl, I was in charge of hanging all the ribbons throughout the week. This is my aesthetic.

 

 

 

Of course probably the biggest difference is that I was riding a different horse. I haven’t shown another horse since before I bought Frankie back in 2016! I leased a gorgeous mare named Belle, a 17yo Selle Francais who has been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and leads tours. No joke, this mare is the ultimate definition of a packer. She self-adjusted, aimed herself at the jumps, found her own spots, maintained her own forward (and hoo boy was she a rocket), and was generally self-sufficient with very little needed from me.

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She was also a VERY sweet girl with some of the best ground manners I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Her only little quirk is that she’d get spooky walking back from the ring. All business on the way there to warm up, but she knew when she was done and started giving everything the hairy eyeball. Funny mare.

I’ll be honest, riding something like this kinda opened my eyes to how hard I need to work with Francis. Obviously he’s still my favorite ride and I wouldn’t change a thing, but I do have to be giving him constant input. Constant. Belle did not require input beyond pointing her at the jumps and encouraging her to fit the last stride in, and I’m pretty sure I could’ve completely dropped the reins and she still would’ve found her way around the course.

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Clear schooling round meant a blue ribbon, and Big Lady knew she earned that for me.

So another big difference was that the pressure was off. I did some 0.85m classes as a warmup to get to know each other, then stuck in the Lows for my division. No pressure to do any big jumps. As long as I released, Belle jumped a 10 from any spot. And it wasn’t my horse. I had nothing to prove. She wasn’t even a sales horse, where I might’ve felt pressure to show well to help her resume. Her entire job is to take people like me and give them a safe and enjoyable ride in the jumper ring.

While I certainly missed my big bay beast, he was very happy back at home – fully recovered from his heel grab – and I was thrilled the get the chance to learn how to adjust my ride to something so completely different.

Overall it was a much more relaxing trip than last year, and I had a much more enjoyable time. So much so that I was sad to leave on Sunday! I know that doing another week would’ve been too much (contrary to popular belief, I do sometimes learn from experience), but it was hard to pull myself away to head back to reality.

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World’s most supportive husband right here

Next up I’ll write about some of our rides, and do a bit more cohesive recap of how the week went!

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.

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.