Jack ‘Em Up

Have I made it clear enough lately that I’m obsessed with my horse? I want to make sure you all know this. It’s extremely important.

I’m coming off my third lesson since getting back in the swing of things and it’s going AMAZINGLY. After managing to hang on over a simple 2’6″ course two weeks ago, I joined one of the bigger lessons and managed to grab mane over some more difficult 3’3″/1m courses. I was certainly sore the next day, but it actually went really smoothly and the height didn’t feel like a question mark at all. Francis started out with a much smaller stride than I’m used to so I had to get after him to open up, but once he realized he could gallop a bit he was lovely and adjustable and forward to the base.

I hopped back on for another lesson this past Sunday and I am just glowing about it. We kept the courses fairly simple – the ends of the ring were a bit deep from some recent rain – but the jumps were up around 1m and there were some useful questions about striding (long five away from home to a short four towards home was a great test of adjustability). And it all rode So. Stinkin’. Well. I felt like I could see the spot I wanted for every jump and then actually ride to that spot. This is a revelation.

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Not a revelation: the pure obsession I have with this perfect animal

I always assumed that I just didn’t have a naturally good eye. This has always been one of my absolute biggest weaknesses and I have worked super hard over the years to build that skill set. Plot twist: trying to see a distance was never the problem. I actually have a decent eye. It was the adjustability and responsiveness that were missing to actually get us to the spot I saw. Now that we have that I feel like we have so many more options open to us. Frankie definitely still wants me to tell him where I want him, but he is so much faster to say “yes ma’am” and allow me to place him.

So now that we’re comfortably coursing at 1m again, we’re jacking the jumps up some more to test the waters at 1.10m-1.15m. We have a grid lesson planned for later this week to (1) give me a chance to re-acclimate to the motion of the bigger jumps without thinking about a course and (2) use some placement poles to encourage Frankie to jump a bit straighter over his body. I’m hoping that will come back to us pretty quickly; it’s been 2+ years since we’ve competed higher than 1m but we’ve built a TON of strength and ability in the meantime.

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HUGE shoutout to my friend Aimee for sharing her amazing Meeko with me lately. His big gorgeous movement has been a major core workout for me and has helped so much in the process of getting back in shape!

We also have our show coming up this Saturday to knock the rust off around the 1m. It’s less than 10 minutes away from the barn and we’re popping in a couple open jumper classes in the afternoon, and I think it’s going to be a perfect way to see how we’re feeling before finalizing our plans for Piedmont.

I also did a bad thing and bought these. My trainer is amusedly resigned. I told her to blame Holly.

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GOBLIN BRAIN LOVES GOLD

Jelly Legs

Francis and I survived our first lesson back together! I haven’t done a lesson since June, and I haven’t survived a full hour (albeit group) lesson since probably March-ish. My whole body is sore now and my legs were definitely getting shaky by the end, but it was sooo well worth it.

I have to say, credit for this lesson going so well lies squarely with my trainer and our pro rider. My muscle memory was there strongly enough that I could ask Frankie for what I wanted, but lack of stamina meant I lacked the oomph to back up the ask for very long. It’s thanks to the consistent solid rides he’s been getting that he was willing to maintain what he was doing until I got my act together to tell him differently. It’s really amazing to feel that and contrast it with how reliant he was on his rider not so long ago. I love that he’s confident enough in his job and fit and comfortable enough in his body to offer up the right answers so readily. Even his collections didn’t require as much holding together as usual.

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I had tried to lesson the day before, but the skies opened up on us complete with extremely close lighting for a solid hour while I was supposed to be riding. We opted to postpone.

In all fairness, he is also VERY good at reading the room and is often a much easier ride for less experienced riders. We’ll see if he reverts back to some more “testing” behavior as I get my strength back and up the ante.

Another thing I’m grateful to our pro rider for is her work on his trot jumps. His trot jumps have historically been ATROCIOUS. Like, three people have fallen off him over trot jumps. PR (Pro Rider) decided to tackle this head on with him, and I got back in the saddle to find that my horse now has a delightfully smooth and easy trot jump. Literal point and shoot, no boundy canter step or stutter step or lurch. Just easy approach, power across, landing forward. It is witchcraft.

Most excitingly, we jumped our first full course in a very long time! It even included a bending line and a one-stride combo. Frankie was absolutely delightful: forward to the base, sat down and waited when I asked, easy lead changes when he needed them, and light in the bridle. I was super happy with that course not just because it rode well, but because it was a huge reassurance that while my strength is still lacking, my eye is still there and I still know how to make choices. I was most worried that my balance and technical abilities would be super rusty (and to be fair, they’re not as polished as they used to be) but I’m feeling much more confident that as I gain my strength back it’ll all come together pretty quickly.

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We had a rainbow to celebrate the occasion of our first lesson back in the swing of things!

It’s lessons like these that make me truly grateful for the program that I’ve had Frankie in for the last few years. While I would definitely prefer to be a more hands-on owner and do all his rides myself, work and life and stuff has made it so that I rely on a whole team of people to keep Frankie fit and happy. It’s thanks to this whole team that I was able to hop on and jump around despite my own time off. They make the whole horse ownership thing not only possible for me at this stage of life, but fun for me no matter what is going on.

After such a promising re-entry to jumping around at 2’6″, the obvious choice was to plan for a nearby ship-in show in a few weeks at 1m. While this may seem a bit fast to put the jumps back up, Frankie is feeling fabulous and my strength is coming back more quickly than expected. He’s old hat at 1m so I’m not super concerned. Based on how that goes, we will decide what the plan is for Piedmont at the end of September: either 1m feels super easy and we will go for the 1.10-1.15m Highs at Piedmont, or it feels decent and we decide to stick in the 1m Lows at Piedmont. I’m happy either way!

Thrilled to be back in the zone and back sharing the ups and downs with all of you ❤

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Francis carried his kid around the novice eq, along with the 0.75m and 0.85m jumpers in some big classes last weekend and was just perfect for her. My heart is bursting at how much fun they’re having together.

Houston We Have Liftoff

Of all the rides I’ve had on Frankie, this is the one that I truly wish we had video of. Not because it was a paragon of correctness and grace. Not because it highlighted all of our natural strengths.

No. I want video for the pure comedy gold.

Our exercise this past week has been a series of trot-in one-strides, inspired by an exercise Joe Fargis has recommended in the past. It was set as so:

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OMG we haven’t had a powerpoint course diagram in 5ever right?!

The full exercise was simply weaving across the ring from A to B to C to D. The first jump in each was always a crossrail, but the second jump went progressively higher. Seems very simple and straightforward, right? Right. It actually is a very straightforward exercise.

But here’s the cool part about it: since everything is trotting in, your horse cannot rely on speed to make it out over the second jump. The striding is set fairly short, so speed actively makes it more difficult (and cheating to allow more space by getting crooked was Not Allowed). The only way to make it out is to power off the hind end.

So yeah, we were basically doing super-sets of squats with our horses with this exercise.

The first time we did this earlier in the week, we ended up putting the back jumps up to roughly 3’ish to encourage a bigger effort, then backing the height back down to make sure we were still able to stay super straight and careful even at lower heights. It was a great way to work on strength for our horses and correctness of position and placement for us riders.

We’re not at the comedy part yet.

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Unrelated he’s just a camera ham

The second time we did this was during a lesson I had with our juniors. It started out similarly – working to keep Frankie straight through a combination of leg and opening rein as needed, staying out of his way when he wanted to stretch over the oxers, overall building on what we had done previously.

But you know what the juniors do? They jump big.

So Trainer jacks the back jumps up to whatever height (3’6″? more? no clue but it looked real big) and has us go again. Quick reminder that I haven’t jumped that height in a super long time but I was thinking not a big deal, I know my horse and he’s a pretty smooth ride and I definitely haven’t forgotten everything about how to jump bigger.

Turns out that I’m really quite comfortable getting to bigger jumps at speed.

What do you get when you take away that speed, add extreme power in the hind end, and jack the oxer up real big?

HOUSTON, YOU GET LIFTOFF.

I swear zero part of me was making any sort of contact with Frankie. I was completely airborne. He went up, I went up with him, and then I KEPT GOING UP. Launched into the stratosphere. The air started getting thinner. I had time to reflect on all the choices that had carried me into the rafters.

I somehow managed to land on top of my horse as he calmly and quietly cantered away. AND PROCEEDED TO DO THIS 5 MORE TIMES.

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“Mahm. Suck less.”

On the plus side, I very much stayed out of his way so he was never punished for putting in such a powerful effort. On the other side, the reason I stayed out of his way was because I was nowhere near him. There was a solid 6″ of air between me and my saddle.

Trainer was cracking up laughing, I was cracking up laughing (while desperately trying to keep my stirrups), and Frankie was boppin’ around wondering what was so funny.

From the way it felt and the way Trainer described it, Francis basically gave us a really incredible hunter-style jump. You know the kind you see in a derby, where the horse is not moving quickly and then they just LAUNCH super powerfully over the big jump. And then they land back in the same quiet rhythm. It’s why I don’t get annoyed at the big hunter riders for having less-than-perfect equitation – that type of explosive jump out of that quieter pace is BONKERS difficult to stay with.

And now I have first hand experience of this and no thank you I have zero aspirations to do any big hunter classes ever in my life good lord that is INSANE.

I hit the gym with our new barn manager (who I’m slightly obsessed with HI COLLEEN I KNOW YOU’RE READING THIS YOU’RE/WE’RE INCREDIBLE) a few hours later because wow ok Francis if you’re going to work that hard I gotta step up my game to match.

Next time I’m bringing a hang glider to assist in my return to earth.

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LITERALLY HOW ARE YOU SO SWEET AND PERFECT ALL THE TIME

Making the Small Stuff Fun

I’ve mentioned on multiple occasions that we don’t school Francis at heights over 3′ too often, preferring to work on our skills at a lower height. This is mainly to ensure that we’re not putting too much impact on his joints too often, but it also has the benefit of really tuning him in to my aids.

The reason for that is because left to his own devices, Frankie doesn’t care about jumps below 3’ish. He can trot those. He. Does. Not. Care. You can put him on the buckle and kick him at them and he will take a slightly-glorified canter stride over. And for lower levels of skill and fitness, this is totally fine. For a school horse this is desirable even. Let him take care of the smaller stuff so that his rider can focus on her own skills.

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Back in the first few months of owning him, sans stirrups and letting him just take the wheel so I could work on me. Not the end of the world, but we’re not really helping him develop.

But in that scenario, he’s also not really learning to use his body over the jumps and he’s not building his fitness at all. He’s just cantering. It doesn’t do much for his attention span or his muscles.

So something that we’ve worked on extensively is making him care about the small jumps. When we trot a crossrail, he must carry me to it and then away without lurching half-heartedly over it (have I mentioned lately how much I hate trot jumps??). When we canter small verticals, he must listen when I place him at the base, and he must pick his feet up. Once he’s fired up and moving, he must STILL compress when I ask so that he can jump well.

He must care about the small jumps just as much as he cares about the big jumps, or else the skills we’re working on won’t transfer as smoothly.

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The angle makes this look bigger than it was. He had a lovely bouncy canter going in, he had lovely freedom of motion over the jump, and he had a lovely forward canter away- even though this is still trot-able height for him.

This did not come naturally at first to Francis as I mentioned, and it’s still something that I have to be conscious of every ride. It requires a solid squeeze off the ground to support him and let him know that I’m still active so he must be too.

I’ve found that the benefits of this are entirely worth it. They include (but are not limited to):

  • Keeping him tuned into me at all times. There is no such thing as being left to his own devices. He learns that the answer is always ALWAYS to check in with his pilot. This majorly helps his rideability and sensitivity on the flat and over fences.
  • Building hind-end strength. At the lower heights, I will pretty much always ask him to fit the stride in to the base. This requires him to power off the ground even for lower jumps.
  • Developing the jumper chip. Much as there is a hunter gap, there is also a jumper chip that we like. Practicing that at the lower heights helps him build the muscle and the memory to aim for that spot as the fences go up. He jumps much more cleanly and carefully from that close spot, so this helps him develop the ability to carry himself powerfully from there.
  • By using his body properly, we can practice everything at a lower height in a way that translates directly to the bigger heights. Our canter, our takeoff, our landing are all the same- the only change is how much time we spend in the air. We don’t need to revisit our stride power and stride length as the jumps go up as much, since we’re already working on that. This makes it that much easier to raise the jumps since he already has the tools he needs.

This is something I only started working on with him after a year or so of getting to know each other. It’s never something that I even considered as a problem- I thought that “he just doesn’t care about the small jumps!” was a positive and never thought to address it. Now that we’ve learned to make him care about the small jumps, I can recognize how much it’s helped us in so many aspects of our riding, while having the benefit of better preserving his joints.

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Not to mention that this careful work has helped him develop muscles in allll the right places.  PC- Liz Stout Photography

We’ll likely spend a good amount of time at some lower heights as we both get our sea legs back, but we’ll definitely be working hard at it!

How Big is Big?

There was a question on COTH recently about what counts as a “big” jump.

There were a range of answers, but the general consensus seemed to be that it’s entirely relative. What’s big to one horse and rider pair might look small to the same rider on a different horse. What’s small change for one rider may be prohibitively daunting to another.

I couldn’t agree more. Jumping over 3′ on the DragonMare was intimidating because I knew we were reaching the max of her scope and she could be a difficult ride. The same height on the Frankenbean causes no angst. I also remember how long it took me to ever go over a 3′ jump- so for a very long time, my decisive answer to that question would have been 3′. That counts as big. Nowadays I feel differently. It’s completely relative.

But then thinking about it further, I started considering the skill sets I needed at each height and how that changed. At this point, what would I consider “big”? Keep in mind- I’m coming at this with my own experiences and my own horse. He’s tall. He’s powerful. He makes jumps feel smaller than they are. I’m fully aware that a smaller horse that moves differently will make this journey looks COMPLETELY different. It’s all relative!

At 18″ I was learning to stay with the motion, release with my hands, stay steady in my leg. Distances were unimportant because of the height. Lots and lots of focus on my equitation- heels down, straight back, elbows in, etc.

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Short Stirrup QUEEN

At 2’6″ I had to fold a tiny bit more. Distances were still pretty unimportant, but we started counting strides and trying to find the sweet spot. Continued focus on correct equitation.

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Grab mane and look cute

At 3′ finding the right spot started to become more important. Still not the end of the world if we missed, but there was more of a focus. We started to introduce the auto-release as I got stronger. The motion was slightly bigger over the jumps, but technique still held- heels down, eyes up, release. Correcting my position constantly.

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Remember when I actually used to have really great equitation? Ah the days of yore.

At 1m (3’3″) it was more of the same. Slightly more important to help my horse to the spot, release a little bigger for the bigger effort. Position is finally starting to get into muscle memory, but still constantly working on it.

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For realz though I used to look pretty in the saddle

At 1.10m (3’7″ish) it was NOT more of the same holy CRAP it’s time to learn how to ride. All of a sudden we need an actual useful canter because he can no longer just lurch over it from any gait. So he has to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden it becomes much more important that I support from any distance. So I have to do way more conditioning work. All of a sudden riding that powerful canter at any stride length is crucially important. So we need major adjustability which means focusing hard on his self carriage and responsiveness. AND THAT’S BEFORE WE EVEN GET TO THE JUMP. Then once we’re at the jump, it’s no longer just fold and then unfold. THERE’S AIR TIME AND A LANDING PHASE NOW FOLKS. I won’t get into the gritty details because I already did last year, but suddenly I had to pretty much re-learn how to jump. At this point we talk about my equitation purely in terms of utility. At this point, if I don’t have my technical skills in order, I’m just gonna fall off the side. They’re not taken for granted and we still work to correct them, but there’s more of an assumption of base-level correctness. Now it’s about truly using my position instead of having a position.

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Releases get bigger, staying centered becomes WAY WAY WAY more important, and core strength becomes a major factor. 

At 1.15m (3’9″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.20m (3’11″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

At 1.25m (4’1″ish) it’s pretty much more of the same.

So yeah. For me there was a clear tipping point in terms of skills and training that happened right around the 1.10m mark. Do I have a magical amazing horse that bails me out at that height when I mess up? Yes. Does that make his life way harder at that height than it was at anything lower? Definitely. Once I’ve gotten over that hump it’s been relatively straightforward to put the jumps up little by little.

I always thought of moving up in height as a very linear process, and that’s certainly not true. The graph of height vs. skills needed has looked a lot more like this for me:

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I really hope that one day I look back on this post and laugh that I ever thought 3’6″ was big. I’m curious to see if there is another “tipping point” in the future as the jumps continue to go up. I’d love to find out!

There’s my long winded answer that can be summed up as this: I feel like jumps start getting big at around 3’6″, but that answer has changed a thousand times over the years and I think the answer is going to be different for everyone at different times.

Your turn! Tell me- how would you answer that question?

Barrel Jumpers, Not Barrel Racers

It’s a double post day! Curse my poor planning. But I had such a great lesson, I just want to share it with y’all before the memories fade.

You may have noticed that it’s been a relatively quiet few weeks at the barn. After the pressure of preparing for team finals, we have taken a noticeable step back from our training.

I think that’s been more mental than anything else- I’m still lessoning every week, Francis is still getting at least one training ride every week, we went to a show and XC schooling and we’ve still been working hard.

But we also have not schooled any height since finals and my “homework” rides have been more about enjoying my pony than anything else. This week’s lesson was the first time that we played with tighter turns/combos/bigger fences since we went in for our last round at Culpeper.

And I think that taking a deep breath to relax was exactly what the doctor ordered. Our canter work felt balanced and adjustable, Frankie jumped out of his skin, he carried me forward through the combo, and felt really fresh the entire time (not like, sassy fresh, just energetic in a good way. Because Francis.) I didn’t have to find a spot to the jumps- we had such a great canter and so much adjustability that the spots came up to us. Funny how having the right canter makes everything better, right?

While warming up we did have a moment that warranted some strong correction: Frankie likes to dive left. Even if we’re on a nice straight track to the jump, he will throw himself left over the jump and then immediately fade left upon landing. If I let him. This time I booted him HARD with my spur off the left side as we were warming up, and lo and behold: my horse jumped a straight line. Correcting that firmly early on in our ride made him pay attention the rest of the time. And when we do that, we land our leads/get our changes!

We warmed up with a couple basic exercises, then Trainer jacked the jumps up and gave me this course:

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The first “jump” was just one of the brick walls we use as fill, without standards. Frankie was pretty sure that going around was the right answer, so I had to really over-ride this and get him balled up between my leg and hand. I sense more wingless jumps in our future.

Then it was down the single outside- this rode up wonderfully every time, since Frankie was carrying a lovely pace to flow up out of the corner. The short rollback to 3 was tough- I needed to get my left leg on HARD and then straighten with my left rein to get that to work.

Then the bending out over 4 was either a bent 5 stride, or a more direct galloping 4. The first time through I held for 5 and didn’t love it, so the next time I booted up for the 4 and LOVED IT SO MUCH OMG WE HAD FIRE IN OUR STEP.

Then it was down the faux coop- Trainer stacked some cavallettis and put some plywood sheets on them. My job upon landing was to control that left shoulder so that we actually had some straightness to ask for a change.

Then it was up the one-stride and I was honestly thrilled with that. I’ve mentioned before that Frankie tends to back off in combos and needs a ton of support from yours truly. But homeboy must’ve been feeling like a fancypants rockstar, because he galloped right up and carried me through like an absolute professional- even though the oxer out was a big lofty swedish.

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That one in the background. Frankie jump big!

Now for the fun part: it was a bending four strides from the green box down to the barrels. My trainer is a generally nice person, so these barrels were on their sides, with the fake bamboo acting as wings. But she hates me likes to challenge me, so she stood them up and said AIM STRAIGHT.

So I landed off the green fuzzy, locked on…and Francis did a drive by. I’ll be honest, it took us a couple tries to eventually make it over.

But I don’t really count this as a refusal. I genuinely think that Frankie did not realize that he was supposed to jump it. He wasn’t peeking hard or spooking or anything like that, he’s just always gone around the barrels in the ring instead of over. Once we made it over once (with the help of some guide poles), we had zero problem locking on and jumping it like a pro- even after we took the guide poles away. He’s not the fastest thinker in the world, but he is very willing once he understands the game.

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We started trying to get his ears up for the pictures, but AT said “this face is more true to his mood right now.” Poor, long suffering Francis.

Takeaways: we need to practice more wingless skinnies to test our steering! I need to be more active in telling him “yes this is a jump” and he needs to be paying attention enough to say “yes ma’am.”

Another takeaway is to let go and let my horse do his job. He’s so much more educated now and I can trust that education instead of needing to micromanage every step. We are going to be trying some new bits to take advantage of his buttons- remember I mentioned that I didn’t love the slow twist for shows? We’ve got some ideas to play around with so I’ll let you know what we end up using.

I do really wish we had gotten some video from this lesson. Not only did Frankie go SO well, but I had shortened my stirrups a hole. It was a revelation. Everything was better. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of bad habits went away. Like. Guys. The skies opened up and the angels sang. I would love to get a visual to see if it made as much of a difference as it felt like. If nothing else, I felt tons more secure in the tack so it’s for sure a win.

I’d also like to take some official confo shots of Francis soon, maybe this weekend. He got his first clip of the season and honestly AT did such a stupendous job that I want to capture it on camera. He looks like a stud. I also want to do a comparison- we’ve worked so hard on building muscle and developing him, I want to see if there’s a visible difference from last year. I also just want a million pictures of my horse, so sue me.

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His Coggins pic from the day we vetted him, March 2016. I def see a big difference in the shape of his body.

Your turn to share! What are some of the stranger looking jumps you’ve done lately?

Daybreak Exercises

As part of ramping up to finals, I’m trying to hop in a few extra lessons. The more time I can get my trainer’s eyes on me, the better!

So last week Trainer asked if I wanted to sneak in a weekend lesson. I naturally said, “Of course! As long as it isn’t at 7am or anything crazy like that ha ha ha” you can see where this is going.

Yep. The only time we could fit in was 7am on Sunday.

Like a dutiful idiot, I set my alarm for 5:45am and was bringing Francis in from the field by 6:30 (he’s currently on overnight turnout). He seemed a little confused that he wasn’t immediately getting his breakfast, but was surprisingly snuggly as I was tacking up. Apparently Morning Francis is extra happy.

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I gotta say, the barn is stunning at the crack of dawn.

Despite the early hour, this ended up being a fantastic lesson! It was a private lesson because I was the only one dumb enough to go along with Trainer’s demonic schemes great ideas so we got to focus in on some specific exercises for Frankie.

One of these is bending/counter-bending along with haunches-in/out on a smallish circle. Moving his bum and asking him to bend through his  body gets him connecting so much more solidly to that outside rein. I think part of that connection comes from physically asking his body to step under and respond to the aids, but part of it is mental- it tells him that he is not a trail pony today and he needs to engage. Once we get that connection and engagement in our trot work, the impulsion and pace throughout our canter and coursework improves noticeably.

We also had a great canter pole exercise set up: simply three poles on the ground. They were walked at about 3 strides apart, but slightly different distances. We worked on adjusting our stride in there: 3 strides to 3 strides, 3 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 3 strides. So hard, especially with the different distances between them!

The 3-3 was decent- we had to stay balanced to shorten/lengthen a little based on where we were, but nothing crazy. And the 4-4 was ok too- we just came in a little bouncier and held that shorter stride. The 3-4 was definitely hard- we had to really open up for the 3, but immediately ask to shorten in the second half which meant he had to be super tuned into my aids. And the 4-3 was tough too- we wanted to super-collect in strides 1-2 so stride 4 could be powerful enough to set us up for the 3 strides out.

All of these variations tied in so well with what we’ve been working on lately. The biggest thing is that when we collect and bounce through a turn, it allows me to push to the base instead of pulling to the base. And then suddenly the skies open up and the angels sing and Frankie jumps out of his skin and we land balanced and the world is a better place. So I was glad we got to work on an exercise to a) improve my ability to ask for different stride lengths and b) improve Frankie’s sensitivity to those cues so that I get a reaction more quickly.

On to the jumping! Man, I hate trot jumps. I’m not very good at them. I trotted a few x-rails without stirrups last week and Trainer mentioned that I wasn’t very good at it (she said it with love), and I reminded her that I’m not very good at them with stirrups either. Womp womp. Once we managed to fling ourselves over a crossrail with moderate success we moved on to build up the exercise.

And I LOVED this exercise.

7am lesson

 

So a rollback left turn to the end jump, right turn long approach down to the ivy barrels, left up the corner tree jump, bend left up the brick wall, and right turn across the same end jump, turning left to finish. Jumps were big enough to force an effort from Francis without being intimidating.

The first time was….ok. We ended up getting a little chippy to the ivy barrels since I didn’t keep us straight and packaged, which meant that we got a late change through the turn and the tree jump was a bit unorganized. Brick wall was fine, but I overshot my turn to the end jump and Frankie (god bless him) had to scramble a bit to get to the jump.

I made a really nice mixture of mistakes here- sometimes I held too much to the base, sometimes I kicked too much to the long spot, sometimes I faded left, sometimes I drifted right. I’m non-discriminatory in my bad riding.

So we talked about how to fix it. The main image to keep in my head was keeping Frankie on the tracks- straight laterally and connected between my leg and hand. Keeping that image definitely helped me smooth out our track and get more straightness.

The end jump to ivy worked out great- I picked him up and got him off my left leg through the turn, which let me send him up to the base. Because we were straighter and more balanced, we got an early change and a nicer turn to the tree. Brick wall was good, then I sliced the end jump a little right to left instead of trying to line it up straight. That meant our track from brick to end was smoother, and it meant that Frankie knew he was turning left afterwards. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than before!

While it was only 5 jumps and seems like a fairly simple exercise, this was a great test for us. We had to be able to manage tight turns and long approaches, upright verticals and wide fill, and pay attention to our basics- pace, straightness, and connection. Everything came up correctly when we had our basics covered. Funny how that works.

I would lesson again at 7am in a heartbeat! I didn’t realize how much I missed my private lessons.

I loved being doing by 8am too. I took my time cleaning my tack, went to Dunkin and grabbed coffee and doughnuts for the early bird crew, gave Frankie a super intense bath, and just had some bonding time with my horse. He so clearly thrives on that sort of attention and so do I.

Only two weeks until we’re on site for finals! Getting so excited.

Do you like to ride/lesson early in the mornings?

Return of the Lesson Review

A real, bona fide lesson review! With all the craziness going on lately I haven’t really talked in detail about our lessons as much as I used to. I’m excited to dive in a bit!

We’ve been able to ride in our outdoor pretty much every time lately and it. is. amazing. So much more room to spread out, less congestion in the ring, more options, great footing, I could  go on and on about how much we love this ring. The only minor gripe I have is that when the wind is blowing, it gets harder to hear my instructor calling out instructions. I swear it doesn’t take me that long to halt once I know I’m supposed to. But honestly that’s the only thing I can think of that isn’t amazeballs wonderful.

Frankie warmed up really nicely in this lesson- he got up in front of my leg, stayed pretty light in the bridle, and gave some nice bend through his body. I was trying to stay focused on straightness in my own body to help him out– I know that I get in his way pretty often and I’d like to be less terrible about that.

One exercise that I liked was canter-extend the gait- collect the gait-hand gallop-halt. We have a nice canter- I think it’s Frankie’s best gait naturally, and we’ve been able to get more “jump” in his stride over time- he extends calmly, our collections have gotten much stronger, and he hand gallops quite happily. That halt is HARD though. I’ve mentioned that our downward transitions need work and that was really highlighted here. It’s not that Frankie has anything against stopping (holding still is his second favorite thing, right after eating), but stopping well requires effort and MAHM NOOOO.

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I like to help him out by throwing my upper body from side to side.

We warmed up over a small crossrail, and the only reason I mention this is because Frankie LAUNCHED over it the first time. Like, head between the knees staring at the jump as he popped 4′ in the air. Over the world’s tiniest crossrail. Because that was definitely the scariest biggest thing we’ve ever jumped.

Once we got that out of the way though, he was absolutely flippin’ fantastic. I had a lot more horse under me than I have lately- the cooler temps (it was down to 80F!) definitely helped, but I do think he’s responding well to our conditioning program as well. Some of the tighter spots actually ended up riding really nicely.

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The trick for the first exercise was to slice 1 a little right to left, to bend us out towards the rail.

Our first exercise was a simple trot-in-canter-out bending line at 10 strides. We wanted to shape it enough to let us line both jumps up perpendicularly, while maintaining a direct enough track to get exactly 10. That was definitely tough for me- I’m not great at counting past 7 or 8 in a line and this forced me to emphasize straightness and rhythm.

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This is the crossrail he launched. You can tell how he really hung on to that tension.
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Long course alert!

Next we did the same bending line (in 9 once we started to canter in), up the single on the long side, down the one-stride combo, inside turn to get back around to the end jump, left to continue over the brick wall towards home, up the ivy barrels bending out over natural, red vertical bending out over tree jump.

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Brick wall towards home rode really nicely every time

That dang combo gave me no end of trouble. I would land off of the red vertical and have a strung out horse, and I didn’t work hard enough to wrestle him back into some semblance of a balanced stride. It got moderately better but I need to work harder there.

That inside turn got a whole heck of a lot smoother when I shifted both hands to the inside. That made it a lot more clear to Frankie where exactly I wanted him to go- we all know that he’s happy to do anything as long as I’m clear about what that is.

I hadn’t walked either of those last two lines/Trainer hadn’t mentioned what they should be, but both ended up being sixes, albeit of different stride lengths (a flowing 6 for the ivy-natural, and a more controlled 6 for the red-tree). Frankie listened really well in both places when I asked for him to rate forward and back.

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Our last course was as follows: end jump, left over brick, right over tree; up the combo; down red to tree; up ivy; break to trot and out over the skinny.

That blasted combo gave me just as much trouble in this direction. I had decided I wanted a closer spot in but just kinda….took my leg off and did nothing. BECAUSE THAT’S USUALLY THE RIGHT ANSWER.

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Yeah, doing nothing and letting my horse bail me out is definitely sustainable.

The other tough part here was the trot jump. I already mentioned that I had more horse under me than usual, and so the first time through this it ended up looking like ivy jump-canter-canter-trotWHATNOCANNOT-ittybitty canter-skinny jump-snort because we are very pleased with ourselves.

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I don’t know what this was, but it was not a trot jump.

Yeah, we went back and tried that again- this time with a few actually discernible trot steps that weren’t fading completely left. This was another valuable exercise for us, and again highlighted those downwards transitions.

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It got…better? Even if it still wasn’t quite trotting.

We need to strike a balance between getting Frankie fired up to the jumps, while still tuned in to me and responsive to my cues. We’re pretty good at both separately- we just need to put those pieces together so that we can have snorty happy pony who also knows how to trot in a straight line.

I can always tell when Frankie is thinking hard about the work we’re doing when he starts (1) prancing at the walk (2) asking to canter before I tell him to and (3) getting SUPER round and soft onto the bit and offering a lot of collection. It’s a great feeling to get that sort of mental and physical engagement from him.

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EXCEPT CAN YOU GIVE ME A DANG SECOND TO PICK UP MY REINS YA DINGUS

So areas to focus on: downwards transitions, getting our stride back instead of getting strung out, and generally trying to be better at this whole “riding” thing.

What have you been working on lately?

 

Progression: Jumping

This has been mentioned time and time again in my posts over the last few months, but I’d like to take a minute and devote some time specifically to this:

Frankie consistently jumps much better now than he used to.

I don’t just mean that he jumps prettier- though he absolutely does. I mean that he jumps better- more strongly, cleanly, and powerfully. The “pretty” is a lovely side effect of these improvements.

So let’s take a little stroll down memory lane to see where we started together, and talk about some of what we’ve done to get to where we are today.

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First time I tried him, March 2016

 

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Our first show together, Loudoun Benefit, June 2016

 

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Our second show, HITS Culpeper, August 2016

 

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Working hard over the winter, November 2016

 

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Playing over the bigger jumps, January 2017

 

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NEVER NOT SHARING THIS PICTURE. First big outing in our new division, HITS Culpeper, April 2017

 

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Warming up at Upperville, 2017

 

Let’s go ahead and contrast an early and more recent one together real quick:

The height of the fence isn’t a factor here- in fact, the warmup fence on the right is quite a bit lower than the one in the show ring from last year (same venue, funny enough).

What we had early on was a horse that knew to get to the other side of the jump, but didn’t know how to use his body to do that efficiently.

What I see more recently is a horse that pushes off more powerfully from behind, uses his back and neck more actively, and is tidier with his front end.

And I think this speaks to a couple of different factors: (1) fitness and (2) knowledge.

Frankie has now spent roughly 18 months in a consistent professional program- he was certainly in training before that, but transitioned to a stricter program when he was put up for sale (which has continued since I bought him). Through that steady increase in fitness, he’s better able to power off the ground by rocking back instead of “pulling” himself over the jump. His back and neck muscles have developed the strength to use them in different ways. I’d still like to condition him further and fitness will be our main focus in the coming months, but the consistency of our program has been good thus far for his muscle strength and endurance.

In terms of knowledge, we’ve tried to build exercises that set him up to jump well- that make it clear what the “right answer” is. This means lots of grids set fairly short- asking him to rock back and collect his stride to carry himself through. This also means lots of lateral work on the flat, to unlock some of that motion and get him stronger in his hind end and over his back.

I think those shorter lines and grids are absolutely crucial for Frankie. He has a naturally big stride- not fast, just big- and it tends to get bigger and more strung out as he gets tired. By building the strength he needs on the flat to carry some collection in his stride, we are able to set him up to carry himself to the jumps. These shorter lines also force him to rock back on his butt to launch off- there’s no room for him to lurch over. And these lines make him fire a little faster to get his front end up and out of the way.

These are not often big jumps- we jack the jumps up 2-3x a month, if that. We only jump 1x a week, and most of the time they’re kept at 3’ or (usually) lower. We spend the time working on more efficient turns, adjusting our stride, playing with our track, and setting ourselves up to make jumping easier for him. So while I think Frankie gives a better effort over the bigger jumps partially because he has to in order to make it over, we have built up his fitness and ability mostly over smaller jumps and on the flat.

I will say that Frankie still prefers to gallop up out of stride instead of riding to the “jumper chip.” Doing that makes his life easy, since he has plenty of time to get his legs out of the way and doesn’t have to shift his weight back as much for takeoff.

The big difference now is that even though he doesn’t love the close spot, he can still give me a powerful effort. In the past, he simply didn’t (1) know that the close spot was the right answer or (2) have the fitness to give me that answer even if I asked (which I didn’t because I also didn’t know what I was doing and mostly still don’t so luckily he does now womp womp). It used to be extremely weak and lurchy and gross and icky.

In the spirit of total honesty- it is still sometimes totally icky. This is a work in progress, and I definitely need to back up all of my asks with a crapton of leg, otherwise he says HAH I CAN HALF-ASS THIS TOO MAHM. Which is fair.

So I definitely think there’s plenty of room for improvement here. As mentioned, fitness is going to be a big priority for us moving forward, to continue building that ability and willingness to rock back, adjust, and power off the ground. We’d like to shift that close spot to more of an automatic answer for him instead of automatically looking for an out-of-stride spot.

I think this is a great example of form following function. We’ve never tried to make Frankie jump prettier- we’ve just tried to get him fit for his job and set him up to answer the different questions he’ll be asked on course.

Hopefully as we continue to build our muscle and endurance, we keep improving together!

Especially for those of you with young/green/inexperienced horses: what have you done to develop their jumping abilities? I’d love to see any progress pics y’all have to share!

Hang Time

Since Frankie and I have started schooling some bigger (to us) jumps, I’ve felt like I have to completely relearn how to ride over fences.

I was used to this motion: legs up, legs down.

Not a lot of arc, and by the time his back feet left the ground we were already coming in for a landing. Frankie doesn’t have a lot of roundness to his jump on a consistent basis (though there is MASSIVE improvement from when we got him), so it was a very flat, steady motion.

Now that the jumps are a bit higher and he has to work a little harder, the motion is more like this: front legs up-back legs up-hang in air-front legs down-back legs come down to push off.

The big difference here in his motion is that his hind legs are leaving the ground while we’re still on our way up, and there is a moment in the air as we “peak.” It is a distinct three-phase motion of takeoff, peak, and landing. The takeoff and peak don’t feel that different, but having his body crest over the top and then shift downwards was mighty disorienting at first. So really the big difference for me has been learning how to ride the “landing” phase.

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Half seat. Then a little less half seat-y.

All of a sudden, I can’t just get into my half-seat and stay there ’til we land. Unless I want to land on his neck every time, and even the most tolerant pony in the world (aka Francis) gets annoyed at that after a while. I have to shift my balance over his so that I can land with my shoulders already up and telling Francis was to do next. No recovery stride to haul myself back in the saddle.

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Usually looking like a sack of potatoes trying to stay over the saddle. See notes below about thigh and core strength.

Guys. This took is taking a lot of work. Having the world’s most tolerant ammy-friendly horse has been an absolute Godsend as I try to sort my parts out. My “recovery time” on landing is one of the biggest things my trainer and I are working on (along with riding to the right takeoff spot, but that is a lifelong struggle).

I won’t pretend to have good advice on how to do this, but here are a few things that have helped me start to get my body in the right place:

  • Heels down. I know, I know, we’ve all known this since we sat on our first pony. But being very conscious of this has helped- dropping my weight down into my heels and using that mental image to keep my leg perpendicular to the ground. I don’t always get this right (as evidenced by pretty much every picture ever), but there is a big difference when I focus on this.
  • Building strength in my thighs. This means lots of no-stirrup work, including no-stirrup half seat. Keeping my heel down helps me keep my lower leg stable and strong, but getting my thighs stronger has helped me keep my entire leg on to hold me in that centered position.
  • Building core strength. This is probably the number one improvement right here- maintaining that increased strength through my core helps SO much as my hip angle changes. When my core is loose, I collapse up the neck on landing. When my core is engaged, I stay over his back. I’m not as completely still and stable as I’d like to be yet, so planks galore to build that strength!
  • Thinking “shoulders tall” with every. single. stride. That needs to stay independent of my hip angle (see below), but keeping this mantra in my head helps me to constantly ~try to~ keep my shoulders facing forwards instead of collapsing up the neck.
  • Increasing flexibility in my hip angle. I don’t exactly mean by doing stretches or anything since my hips are decently flexible already- I more mean expanding the range of angles I use during my riding. This angle used to stay pretty closed as I stayed in a half-seat and then closed a little more over jumps. Now there is SUCH a wider range: slightly closed when I ask for a gallop, more open when I sit back and ask for collection, closed at takeoff, wider for landing. And not only is there a wider range, that range all needs to happen within 0.8 seconds. I’m still getting comfortable with a wider hip angle but Frankie responds well to my seat when I open up like that.
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Hip angle slightly closed as we open stride through a wide turn
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Hip angle opens a bit as I ask him to collect before sending him forward to a single oxer

A big part of the goal here is to make sure I can change my seat as soon as I can upon landing- staying off his back when I need to allow him, but getting in the backseat and driving him when I need to. This needs to be able to happen within a 1-stride combo, not 3 strides out from a jump. So yeah. That landing needs to be tight and balanced and I need to know what I’m asking for as soon as his front feet leave the ground. I should start doing some quick-thinking exercises too!

Like I said before, it does feel like I’m completely re-learning how to jump. I’m making a LOT of mistakes these days- big pats for Francis for truckin’ along while I play with my angles and slowly get stronger.

How have you approached adjusting to the motion of bigger jumps?