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.Β So really the big difference for me has been learning how to ride the “landing” phase.

landing_oxer
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.

landing_vertical
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.
hipangle_closed2
Hip angle slightly closed as we open stride through a wide turn
hipangle_open
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?

My Horse is a Prince and My Life is a Lie

We’ll start out with the part where my horse is a prince and get to the lying later on.

We had our first lesson of the new year! I hadn’t ridden in almost 2 weeks (one brief hack in there doesn’t reeeeally count), but one of our junior riders flatted Frankie around for me while I was out of town. 10/10, would recommend barn rat usage to all people. So the only one feeling flabby and out of shape after the holidays was me!

Naturally, Trainer had me do a decent amount of no-stirrup work. She said “sorry” at first, but I told her to take that back, we both knew she wasn’t sorry. Lots of circles and changing rein and changing the bend helped keep my mind off that oh-so-pleasant burning sensation in my legs and core.

We also played around more with our shoulder-in which has developed very nicely, and then worked on that leg yield exercise I told you about before, where we leg yield diagonally down the long side. I’ll wait here if you want to review the professional diagram I made of that.

This exercise has come a long way! I’ve been able to keep his haunch in off the wall and give little corrections to keep his body straight. I still have to exaggerate my aids a bit, but they get a reaction more crisply and more quickly. My homework is to continue working on our lateral work and get that shoulder and haunch more precisely where I want them. We’re really happy with how well Frankie is retaining and progressing with these movements- he may be solid bone between the ears, but he truly is supremely trainable and wants to please.

No crazy canter exercises in this lesson, just a couple large-ish circles and extension-collection exercises to get us tuned in and listening. He felt absolutely fantastic in his canter work- up and light in the bridle, round over his back, listening well. We kicked it up into a hand-gallop for those extensions but he still came right back to collect. Good pony!

We warmed up over a crossrail end jump a few times going to the right….and every single time we landed the left lead, no matter how strongly I asked for the right in the air. So we cantered it and angled it to ask even harder for the lead, then went back and trotted it again. Bam. Right lead. He just needed a little louder message on that one. Of course, he then proceeded to land the right lead after EVERY jump for the next 5 minutes, but we’re working on it.

We built up our course in pieces, here’s the diagram:

jan_sturns

The first exercise was trot in 1, canter out 2 in a bright five strides. Not much of a story here- we had to be nice and forward to the first jump in order to kick up for the five.

Next was 3-4-5: trot in the end jump, hard left for the yellow, then s-turn to the corner vertical in a balancing 5. The key was looking over 3 and leading with that left rein to get us looking where we were going, and then holding out and shaping to make 4-5 fit in more evenly.

Next we did 6-7-8: canter up the quarter line, bend out in a waiting 5, then down the single gate. The five was a little tight but not terrible when this exercise was done alone, but it got much tighter when this was at the end of the course. Single gate was….a single gate. Not much to say there.

Then the jumps went up and we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Corner vertical bending up the outside in a balancing five (now cantering in), then immediate left over the end jump, hard left over the yellow oxer, s-turn out back over the corner vertical in a shaped five, immediate turn up the quarter line oxer, bending out in a collected five, and ending down the single gate.

Overall, I was very happy with how this rode. We were able to get a nice conservative distance to one, which set us up to rock back for the five. The turn to the end jump came up fairly easily, and once I remembered to look where I was going and start the turn over the jump, the yellow oxer came up nicely too. We shaped out for the five and jumped the left side of 5 to give us a little extra room to get to the quarter line, and sat back for the bending line. And then the single gate continued to just be a single gate. Whatevs.

We did end up doing 4-5-6-7 one more time to practice that turn from the corner to the quarter line- once I got back with my shoulders and sat my butt in the saddle like ze Germans this rode up really powerfully and I could feel Francis jumping the heck out of that green oxer. Of course then I was excited and galloped out in four, but we made it work.

Overall, a fantastic lesson to kick off 2017! We did discuss bumping up to a slow twist- not because we want to slow Frankie down, but because we want a titch more responsiveness for those turns. Now that my legs are stronger and Frankie has developed some of that jumper-fiery-fitness, we’re going to play around so I can be lighter with my hands.

Now on to the whole “my life is a lie” part of the story. As I finished up my lesson, the following conversation ensued:

Me: Thank you so much for a great start to the year! And thank you for not putting the jumps up too high, I’m glad you’re easing me in after the break.
Trainer: …..you realize part of that course was 3’6″, right? You really have no idea how big jumps are, do you?
Me: HAH awesome. Then props to me for not being intimidated by 3’6″. Big progress! Less than a year ago, 3’6″ was the biggest I had EVER jumped, and even that was only once or twice.
Trainer: And look at you now, jumping 4′!
Me: ….you said 3’9″.
Trainer: Well the course overall was set to 3’9″, but some of those jumps were 4′.

So I officially quit. I give up. I completely give up on knowing how big the jumps are. From now on, I will no longer even attempt to estimate what we’re jumping unless we are at a show and someone officially tells me what the deal is. Because clearly I have no earthly idea what’s going on.

Womp womp. Extra big pats for pony for not even blinking and dealing with my ammy mistakes every day ❀

We have another lesson this weekend where Trainer said she would jack the jumps up, and all I want in this world is to get some media from it. Private lessons are great, but it means I haven’t been able to get pics/videos of our rides in over a month and I’d love to be able to review our progress! Maybe I can coerce a barn rat….

My question for you today: How do you get media of your riding when you’re the only one in the ring? I need your tricks!

The Last Lesson of 2016

A short and sweet lesson recap of our last lesson of the year!

This lesson actually ended up being very funny- Frankie kept sneezing over. And over. And over. And OMG I SWEAR YOU’RE FAKING IT NOW BUDDY. Coincidentally, I had over-oiled my reins a little ways back, but thought they were adequately dried out enough to use.

LOL NOPE. I had absolutely no grip on the reins WHATSOEVER. Like, at all. Of course it was Frankie so his only response to the super inconsistent contact was to just get super heavy and long and try to drag me around, but it was definitely annoying to feel the reins slipping through my fingers every time I tried to take a feel.

Of course, this was the day that we practiced a lot of canter in-trot out of a 4 stride line. We quickly realized that this was NOT working without a proper feel, and tied knots in my reins so I could at least have SOMETHING to hold onto. Things improved rapidly after that.

Trainer also had me do my trot jumps this time without reins- it turns out that when you take away my hands, suddenly my leg stays in place and my upper body folds better and I don’t jump ahead and things get magical. So my tentative plan in the show ring is to drop my reins before every fence and put my hands on my hips. Seems like a good plan, yes?

We finished up the lesson by doing a no-stirrups course with the jumps around 3′ ish, as seen here:

dec_nostirrups
Similar setup to last week, just slightly different course

Long approach down the oxer, up the quarter line in a galloping 3, down over the stone wall and rollback between 1 and 6 to come up the red outside vertical, then down the liverpool.

This whole thing rode fantastically! Frankie was really up in front of my leg and locked on to every fence- the rollback rode really powerfully and came up out of stride, and he powered right up to the base of the liverpool. I think riding this without stirrups really helped place me in more of a driving seat which got Frankie more revved up. And you know Frankie. A little revving is just what the doctor ordered.

We decided to end on that note since it rode so well, and chatted for a bit. We discussed how much more educated Frankie is about the contact nowadays and how we can continue to progress that education. We talked about different exercises we can do to keep Frankie fit even when the ground gets harder over the winter. And then Trainer gave me the best birthday present she could have given me.

I mentioned to her that the jumps last week looked pretty big to me, and I was excited that we’re really getting used to the bigger fences. To which she responded, “that’s kinda weird.”

Um. Sorry? I explained that the 3’6″ is quickly becoming more manageable, but sometimes when I first see them I get a bit star-struck and intimidated.

So she explained,”Olivia, the reason I’m surprised that 3’6″ looked intimidating to you is because I’ve had you schooling 3’9″ pretty regularly for a month or two. You never ask about the height so I assumed you knew. Are you sure those jumps were only 3’6?”

So yeah. My birthday surprise was that I’ve apparently been schooling higher than I realized for a while now. Hooray for jump height ignorance!

I’m headed home for Christmas and you may not hear from me before then, so in case I forget to post:

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, your families, friends, and animals!!! Much love to all of you ❀

Eff You Winter: A Tale of Show Prep for a non-Show

But like actually, people. I hate hate HATE being cold. And I hate hate HATE freezing rain. Mostly because freezing rain means shows get cancelled.

Yes, our move-up show has been cancelled due to weather Y U DO THIS TO ME WEATHER GODS.

Honestly though, if the weather is going to be that bad then I’m glad we’re staying home. It’s nerve wracking enough to jump all the big jumps for the first time, I’d rather do it when I’m not also panicked about the trailer sliding off the road and sending Francis to an icy doom. Not that I pictured that at all when I saw the forecast. No way.

So a little disappointed that the show is cancelled but also grateful for the chance to 1. sleep in omg I haven’t slept in for MONTHS it feels like and 2. have a bit more time to prepare for the move up. That can never hurt.

Our lesson this week was under the assumption that we’d be showing, so it was prep time. Assistant Trainer taught so you know it was good. Her style of teaching really works with Trainer’s style so well and I LOVE lessoning with her- I always know that we’re going to do something super challenging and I’ll be majorly sore the next day, but I’ll also walk out of the lesson feeling really accomplished. She won’t sugar coat things when I mess up, but she’s the first to throw a big party when I get something right. Seriously, both my trainers are amazing and I can’t say enough good things about them both.

Anywho, I’ll hop off the love train and actually tell you about our lesson.

Flatwork this time was much more basic, mostly to get us moving and warmed up. Lots of extensions and collections within each gait to get us tuned into each other and adjustable. Frankie started out a little sluggish so my job was to get him moving forward and powerfully first before trying to contain and recycle that energy. Lots of big circles to small circles, serpentines and changing direction to make sure he was moving off my leg and suppling throughout his body.

Warmup was trotting a crossrail a few times which UGH TROT JUMPS ARE SO HARD and why can’t we just canter everything pls. I think they’re getting better- Frankie has figured out that they do actually count as jumps, and I’m trying to wait with my shoulders a bit more. Maybe someday they won’t be terrible.

Then AT put the jumps around 2’9″-3’ish (I think?) to give us a bit of a warmup course, seen here:

dec_liverpool_course

So it was single outside vertical, down the bending line in a waiting four strides, up the single oxer, down the box again as a single, up the one stride combo on the outside, liverpool, and up the quarter line in a GALLOPING three strides.

You read that right. The famous liverpool indeed made an appearance. But I’ll get to that when I get to that.

Single jumps off a long approach are kinda our jam at this point so the first jump came up nicely. Getting to a nice close spot to the box meant sitting back for the four strides was very do-able, and we held out to get a nice wide track up the black oxer. Down the box was another straightforward jump, got some power through the end of the ring to get up through the combo, and then it was a long approach down the diagonal to the liverpool. I sat up, legged on, held my breath, channeled Frankie straight, prepared for a peek or a hard jump….and nothing. He galloped right up to the base and popped over it like any other wide jump. There was no time to celebrate though, because that turn to the quarter line was TIGHT and we had to really dig in out of the corner to make the striding, especially at the lower height.

But then I was done and BEAMING because bucket list item totally checked off! I’m sure we will jump many more liverpools in our career but this was the first time I’ve ever jumped one! Remember that I only started doing the jumpers a year ago, I’m still new at anything that isn’t huntery haha. But seriously, if I needed another reason to love my Francis…he is such a confidence booster and takes SUCH good care of me.

So with my confidence high and my horse warmed up, AT put the jumps up. And up. And up (except the liverpool, she left that around 3’ish). And holy crap my heart kinda went into my throat because those jumps are so freakin big and you actually want us to jump that are you sure this doesn’t seem right maybe we should go back to the 0.65m division for a bit because those look way bigger than 1.10m and now my internal voice is babbling oh god oh god oh god. I’m sure none of them were over 1.10m, they just looked HUGE because our standards are not tall and the ring itself is not big. So yeah, definite nerves. Of course, as soon as I picked up the reins and moved out the nerves disappeared- Francis has that effect on me.

dec_bigjumps
BIG AIRY VERTICALS OMG DO YOU EVEN SEE THAT BLACK OXER ON THE LEFT OMG

AT had me pick up a gallop down the long side to get our energy up before packaging down at the short end for our first approach. We had to work a bit harder to fit the four stride into the broken line, and power up out of the corner to the black oxer. I got Frankie a little too tight to the single box and we popped it a bit, and then I just absolutely mangled the one-stride and had to come back around and try again with more leg. The liverpool came up just as nicely as last time, and the quarter line was another HAULING ASS down the line.

AT’s comment: “Not bad, made some good decisions and some bad decisions, but you look a little starry-eyed at the height. Give him a break and then try again, this time with more gusto and intent.” She was totally right- I was a little intimidated by the height and I let that back me off.

So we tried again. And I didn’t necessarily make better decisions, but this time I kept my leg on and RODE instead of just steering around the course. We still got a few fliers and a few tight spots, but they weren’t as “sticky” this time around because it turns out keeping your leg on really helps support your horse WHO KNEW.

Final comments from AT: “Was this your best coursework? No. But you’re learning that the answer when shit hits the fan is to just keep kicking and GO. So we can work on smoothing things out, but that intent is more there and that’s what we need to see.”

I gotta tell you- I’m thrilled. We managed around a full course at the bigger height including a liverpool and made it happen. Pretty? Not yet. But my horse tried his heart out and jumped the big jumps for me without question. We only had a single rail the whole lesson when I biffed it HARD and to quote AT, “he didn’t even look like a moose over some of those.” Progress! Best jumping moose in the world.

dec_liverpool
And yes, obviously I needed to take a pic with the liverpool to commemorate the occasion.

Haunches-Out and Outside Leg

No political discussion from me, guys. All I’ll say is this- I have seen so many people reaching out to each other today to express love and support, and that gives me a lot of hope.

Let’s talk about happy stuff though- I got to ride my horse for the first time in a week! I can’t even tell you how happy that made me. AND it was a lesson, so we were able to really buckle down and work hard.

We’re continuing our pursuit of stronger lateral work- for my last few lessons, Trainer has had me drop my stirrups and sit the trot so I can really get deep and drape around Frankie more as I ask for these movements. Our shoulder-in has progressed and is much more consistent (though there’s still a ways to go), so we’ve started working more on our haunches-out.

To do this we’re practicing a lot of true counter-bend throughout his whole body- it isn’t enough for me to ask for the bend in front of me (seriously Olivia that’s not bend that’s just crooked). We’ve been doing circles on the counter-bend and asking him to push his haunches to the outside and it’s hard!! Frankie is eager to please, but making him move his body in these new ways is tough for him, and he generally tries to evade by speeding up. It’s taking a lot of core strength to pick him up and say, “no friend, we move sideways now with tiny powerful steps.” We got a couple good efforts from him last night, and we’re going to keep working to develop his sensitivity to my leg and ability to isolate his front and hind ends.

Our canter exercise involved a lot of circle work: canter a large circle, BALANCED sitting trot small circle, canter large circle, BALANCED canter small circle, repeat. When he stayed round and balanced and up off my hand, this worked well. When I let my leg get weak, he decided that breaking to a giant trot was easier than continuing a collected canter. Frankie really is such a tattle-tale: he will put in exactly as much effort as I put in.

My key takeaway here was to make sure my outside aids were present and pushing him around. I needed that inside leg to shape the circle, but he needed that outside leg to push his body around and channel the energy around the turn. And at all times, I need to sit up and get deep in my seat- Frankie needs that support right now and he doesn’t get that when I hover up out of my tack.

Then the jumping part! We warmed up a couple times over a little vertical off a diagonal turn, focusing on finding the right track out of the corner and channeling him straight to the base. Once we were feeling that, we started building up our course:

nov_bending

Our first exercise was 7 to 2 in a bending 7 strides. This was still pretty much part of our warmup, but Frankie was nice and forward and responsive so this came up nicely without having to go back and make any fixes.

Next was 1-2-3a-3b-4. Outside vertical, end-ish jump, four forward strides to the oxer into the combo, one stride to the itty bitty skinny box out, hard right over the other end-ish jump. The first jump came up nicely- we motored out of the corner and homeboy carried a nice pace up and over- then I needed to hold that outside leg to push him across 2. The four stride was a bit gallop-y, but that set us up for a decent combo. Luckily Frankie is super point-and-shoot, so the skinny was very straightforward for him. Then it was lots of right leg to push him out the the corner and give us more space to make the turn to 4.

Next part: 5-6-7-8. Diagonal vertical, rollback over outside (going between 2 and 8), back up the white gate, and bending out over the wall in a forward bending four. I had to look through that rollback so we didn’t get sucked out to the wall, and motor up out of that turn. Then again- we had to motor up out of the rollback to the gate. Then it was holding my outside aids in the bending- left leg to push him over on the track, and left hand to straighten him out once it was in view.

Then we put it all together! 1-2-3a-3b-4-5-6-7-8. The only different part here is 4-5, which was a bending 4. Nothing crazy there as long as I landed looking through my turn to set us up for the rollback.

nov_wall
This was the hilarious last jump on course. Pic was taken from Frankie’s back so perspective is a little off, but this was about 3′. I giggled when I saw it.

Overall I was happy with this course. Some takeaways:

  1. Ride the frick up out of the corner. Yes, we need to package and balance into our turns. But then it’s time to hit the gas and get him to dig in and power out of the turns up to the jump. When he has that power, we can make pretty much any distance work.
  2. Outside leg 5ever. Two legs, two hands. All the time. Outside aids are what get him straight, and straight means power.
  3. Use our power to push across the jumps. Yes, even from the short tight spots. This was such a noticeable difference- when he had a bit of fire in his step, he jumped so much better, which allowed me to maintain a stronger position and land galloping.
  4. On that note- land galloping when we can. Obviously if there’s a combo or set striding we have to recover quickly off the jump and balance, but when possible we want to land and immediately rev the engine back up. That way we don’t have to build our pace and power back up from scratch every time.

I really feel like we’re making great progress- sometimes I get discouraged by how much difficulty we (mostly I) have with certain exercises, but then I realize that these exercises are much harder than what we’ve done in the past. Of course we’re going to struggle more, this is difficult stuff! I’m so proud of how far and how quickly Frankie has developed a lot of skills that are new to him, and it’s getting me really excited for our future together.

And lucky for me, work has slowed down enough that I can get back to my usual routine of riding 6x/week! Frankie might not be thrilled about the extra work, but I sure am.

What are some exercises you use to develop haunches-out?

Nice and Simple

JK LOL NOTHING IS SIMPLE EVER

Since Trainer and Assistant Trainer were in Kentucky for the RRP last week (they got 4th and 9th in the 2’6″ Hunter division out of >70 horses! Yay sweet baby TBs!), I was able to fit in a make-up lesson over the weekend. And yes, I’m sore.

We started by flatting around in the outside ring since it was hotter than Hades, but Frankie was a bro about handling the heat. There was a fun groundpole exercise set up with a lot of options:

trotpoles

We started out by trotting straight through down the long side- the goal was to stay super duper straight and bouncy through them, instead of letting the slant force us to drift left or right. I needed to keep my shoulders back and half-halt, and channel through more strongly with leg and hand.

Then we went through all swervy- doing a shallow serpentine down the long side through the “channels” created by the poles. This was a tough one! The key for us was sitting Frankie down on his butt to collect and counter-bending through all those shallow turns. If I didn’t have strong enough outside aids, we got really swervy and overshot a lot.

Next, Trainer put the pairs of poles together to make 4 canter poles set at diagonals down the long side. The catch- they weren’t really set at a real stride length. It forced us to focus on a truly bouncy, adjustable canter so that we could shorten or lengthen as needed to make it through the poles.

So hard! But I’m happy to say that our canter is coming along really nicely, and we were eventually able to bounce on through there with an energetic, collected canter. It was super tricky though to stay straight and not fall in at the end without swapping out, especially to the right- Francis loves himself his left lead.

Then it was time to jump!!! We warmed up over a crossrail and then started doing separate pieces of our course. There were only 6 jumps in the ring, so I knew it would be a simple course HAHAHAHAH PSYCH NO WAY.

simplecourse
I promise I will explain

Our first exercise was 1-2-3: up the single diagonal, roll back around over the green end jump, and gallop out over the vertical in the combo in a forward 4 strides. Staying nice and straight into the corner after 1 helped give the room to make the turn to 2, and we had to hit the gas and gallop the final stride to 2 so we could keep rolling out over the vertical on the wall.

Next was 4-5-6a-6b-7: outside vertical, down the diagonal, up the combo in one stride, and down the other single diagonal. Not much to say here- we had to rev up out of the corner and ride strongly to 5, the combo came up nicely, and then waiting with my shoulders to get to the base of 7.

After that, we did 8-9-10-11-12: outside vertical, right hand turn to the end jump in 4 strides, back over the outside vertical, then diagonal jump to diagonal jump in a SHORT 2 strides. I needed to power my canter up out of the corner to 10, but surprisingly the 2-stride rode fantastically- we sliced 11 a bit and then sat back hard to fit the two in, but Frankie was super chill about it.

Then we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6a-6b-7-8-9-10-11-12. Who says you can’t make a 13 effort course out of only 6 jumps?! At this point most of the jumps were set to 3’3″-3’6″ish (I think, we all know I’m terrible at judging fence height, but these looked decently big to me), and the oxer out of the combo was definitely the biggest.

Guys. Frankie is such a bro. There were really good pieces and then there were sloppier pieces, but Frankie gave me EXACTLY what I asked for every step of the way. I literally went “woohoo!” over the oxer in the combo since it felt like we were jumping the moon. And proud moment- Frankie had a bit of a stumble about 2 strides out from the final 2-stride and I let the reins slip so he could recover. In the past it would’ve taken us a while to regroup and I would’ve circled, but instead I just kept my leg on and supported him to the base, and the combo rode perfectly. With no reins.

We did go back and come down the single outside vertical a few more times so I could practice riding more strongly and actively to the base, and when I finally got it right I could feel Frankie stretch and use his neck better, and Trainer said he used his whole body over it.

Overall, I really loved getting to do a bigger course. Frankie jumps more strongly once the jumps hit around 3’6″ and that helps my position IMMENSELY- it’s so much easier to hold myself up when he gives me that little *push* out of the saddle. It’s also much easier to see my spots to the bigger jumps, and I feel like I can really gallop Frankie up to the base.

I may have trouble walking the next day because my legs and abs are sore, but that just means I’m actually working my muscles properly! My friend said she got some video, so hopefully she can send that along soon for me to share with you guys πŸ™‚

Do you have any tricks for setting a challenging course with limited number of jumps?

Fancy Flatwork and Curvy Courses

 

How many of you guys watched Harrisburg this past weekend? Man, the course diagram looked fairly simple but it did NOT ride simply.

pessoa_medal_course

Not a ton of jumps, but those end oxers were TOUGH, and the bending combo too. Plus getting the same strides from 5/8 to the combo in both directions. This course seriously asked some hard questions and the kids who ended up on top had to work their butts off to get there.

Naturally, my trainer returned from Harrisburg inspired to inflict this same course on her students. Which brings me to our lesson this week. Which I am still sore from.

For a change, I’m actually going to talk about our flatwork for more than 10 seconds, since we worked on it a LOT this week. I mean, we always do, but this was some next level stuff.

Trot work: I have gotten better about offering a consistent, steady contact to Frankie, and now it’s his job to take that contact and meet me halfway. It was interesting- he’s always been stronger at connecting to the outside rein going to the left, but I felt more connected going to the right this week. My suspicion is that my monster right leg is the culprit here- it’s so much stronger than my left leg, it isn’t even funny.

Trainer had me drop my stirrups and work at the sitting trot for a GOOD long time to help me sit deeper and develop a better feel for Frankie’s movement. Lots of big circles, small circles, counter-bending to the correct bend, shoulder-in down the long side. I’m still working on keeping more still and connected when asking for that shoulder-in, but Frankie was very obliging about giving it to me when I asked properly. Now I just have to ask properly more! We focused a lot on straightness, power from behind up into the bridle, and getting him moving off my leg.

Canter work: homeboy doesn’t get to take a couple flail-y steps to move from the walk to the canter. After a couple sloppy departs, we were able to sharpen these up. We also worked heavily on our canter-walk transitions, with the intent of stepping under and moving into a nice flowing forward walk.

We still have a ways to go to get these truly sharp, but there’s definite progress there. We used to coast down half the long side and ooze into a shuffling walk and we’ve definitely cut down the time it takes. I need to remember to sit tall and engage my core when asking for the downwards so Frankie can’t lean on my hand and dive down.

Here’s a clip of some of our flatwork:

Some things I need to work on position-wise that will help Frankie out, but super proud of my boy for putting his thinking cap on and working so hard!

On to the jumping. And guys. It was a doozie. Here’s the diagram:

oct_medal_course

First course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3. Overshooting the turn to 2 and slicing that left to right gave a little more room to the turn to 3. Barely. Woof.

Second course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3, bending 4a to 4b in one stride, out over 5 in two strides.

This added a challenge over 3- I had to stay very straight so that there was room to turn to 4. Then it was a big one-stride, so we had to cowboy out of that turn to gallop out the 1 to the 2. Still woof.

Full course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3, bending 4a to 4b in one, bending out over 5 in two, immediate right turn over 6, hairpin left over 7, up 5 the other way, bending in two to 4a, then two strides to 4b, turn right over 3 the other way, then loop back over 2 the other way.

HOLY BAJEESUS. The first part rode the same, then 6 and 7 came up decently. It was a bit gallopy from 7 back to 5, then had to really shape and press for the 2 strides to the combo. Then fitting two strides in there was HARD. We really had to shape that combo.

The first time through I accidentally put 3 strides between 5 and the combo, which made the two-stride much easier to fit in. Apparently that counts as cheating though, so we had to go back and make it a two to a two.

So yeah. A very challenging course modeled after the questions asked in the Harrisburg course.

Thoughts on the jumping: my auto release is getting there. It still isn’t muscle memory, but it felt like an improvement from last time. I also felt stronger in my leg- again, not completely where it needs to be yet, but progress. Frankie is jumping more cleanly when I support him better and get him to that tighter spot. Overall: we’re making steady progress together.

What needs work now is my mindset. If the distance isn’t coming up easily, I have a tendency to kinda give up and say “Frankie take the wheel.” I need to trust myself more and MAKE the striding happen. Frankie isn’t always right. He might not be thrilled about the tighter spot, but that’s what we need to jump powerfully and cleanly. He’s not going to get offended or fussy if I ride more actively, so I need to be a nosy pepper. Imma get jalapeno business.

And then best boy got a bath because apparently 82 degrees in October is a thing this year.

october_bath
He might actually be a moose instead of a horse, need to get the DNA test done.

A few side notes as we wrap up here:

Send manfriend your questions! He’s really excited to share with all y’all. You can also feel free to send questions to me directly, on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Which brings me to some fun news:

We now have a Facebook page! That was pretty much the last thing on the social media to-do list for the blog, so go check it out and follow along for yet ANOTHER way to get your daily dose of Francis. Also please tell me what you usually share on Facebook and how you manage all your social media accounts and general tips on time-management and how to be an adult OK thanks.

What kind of lateral work do you like to incorporate to get your horse moving off your leg?

Twisty Turnies

Uh. Wow. Thank you guys! I honestly did not expect the outpouring of awesome support you guys have chimed in with and it’s totally baller. It seems that this topic really resonates with a lot of you, and for that I’m glad!

One thing I do want to ask for your help with though: let’s do our part to not make talking about mental health a “brave” action. I appreciate it so much and don’t want to sound ungrateful- but this is just opening up a conversation.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away, it’s this:Β  mental health struggles don’t have to be some secret, terrible thing. It can just be a thing. Obviously not a fun thing, but plenty of stuff isn’t fun and we still talk about it. Like taxes or baby vomit or that weird shade your teeth turn after a glass of red wine and you don’t notice it until you see the pictures the next day.

So yeah. Y’all are awesome wonderful human beings and I wish balanced brain chemistry for all of you! There may be only so much that a corner of the blogosphere can do to de-stigmatize conversations about mental health, but I’m hoping you’ll join me in keeping that conversation open and candid.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now let’s talk about ponies because we had an awesome lesson!

We’re continuing our mega-hard work and this was the first lesson where I really felt it starting to pay off in a big way.

The new fun torture training method the dungeon masters trainers have come up with is two-pointing without stirrups. And their form of encouragement is to gleefully yell “THE SADDLE IS LAVA YOU CAN’T SIT.” Luckily Francis is a remarkably tolerant horse who will bop around no matter how much I slide around up top. Thanks bud, you da man.

Our quality of canter is also developing nicely. I still have to kinda get in his way and pick his front end up, but he’s starting to realize that rocking back and balancing around the turns is not some form of devil worship.

Also very pleased with our walk- I mentioned that Frankie shortens up considerably and loses steam when I pick up the reins. With some practice and reinforcement, he’s very quickly learned that contact still means forward! I’ve been also doing lots of lateral work at the walk and this seems to loosen him up over his back at all gaits.

But let’s talk about the jumps because even if the flatwork is interesting, going zoomies over wooden sticks is actually the fun part.

We warmed up over a broken x-rail to vertical in 6 or 7 strides- my goal was to get plenty of energy up to the trot jump, and then channel that energy out in 6. Overall very pleased with this- trot jumps have always been my archenemy, but adding a little leg into my hand has made them much less lurchy!

And then here is the super fun course:

sep_twistycourse

Woof. We were given the opportunity to pick one “piece” of the course to school first- I chose the bending 9 to 10. The reason 10 looks so skinny here is because it is the skinniest skinny ever. Off a 90 degree bending turn? I wanted to give that a go before stringing it all together.

Francis is a jump-happy fiend though, so I basically opened my right rein off the vertical and he was like YES WHICH ONE OK THE SKINNY SOUNDS GOOD. And I tucked my knees in real tight ’cause I was 80% sure they were gonna bash through the standards. And all was well.

So the whole course: came through the middle to a short approach down the gray oxer, around to the bending line in a forward flowing five strides, then down the diagonal line in a flowing six strides, up the s-turn (skinny green vertical, bending four strides over the box, bending three teeny strides over the skinny rolltop), bending vertical to skinny, then coming around to the box, bending four strides to the one stride combo.

sep_skinnyjump
Wasn’t joking. So skinny. Francis for scale.

Goshdarnit guys I REALLY wish I had gotten video of this. Frankie was just a pro at this whole thing. Bobbles we ran into during the first go-around: I needed to stay straighter into the corner after jump 3 to set us up for a clean change if needed. The bending 3 from 7 to 8 was tiny, so I needed to set that up and balance better to fit it in. Then I needed to support more with my leg through the one-stride at the end.

So the jumps went up in height a little and we went back and it felt SO GOOD. That better quality canter really became apparent here- I still had to sit up and help Frankie balance through the turns, but neither of us is having to work as hard at that since the balance is already there. And when I’m present with my leg and keep him straight, we get nice clean changes. And with his better balance and power from behind, combined with waiting with my shoulders to the base, we were able to make even the tighter distances powerful.

I think most telling was the one-stride: these have always been lurchy for him and I’ve had to pressssssss him through to help him out. I was certainly still there with my leg, but this had a different feel to it- he was powering through instead of heaving himself out of there. He was able to land and immediately balance himself instead of landing on his forehand and lumping through the rest.

The pieces are definitely coming together. Better fitness and better knowledge are opening up a lot more choices on course rather than accepting whatever track and distance comes up. Bootcamp is awesome!

frankie_twins
Francis also has a new turnout buddy that IS HIS LONG LOST TWIN BROTHER. It’s kinda adorable. Everyone is struggling real hard to tell the difference in this picture!

What do you think of the course? Which piece would you have chosen to practice first?

Lesson Recap: The Sweet Spot

We managed to squeeze a lesson in on Wednesday before Frankie shipped down to Culpeper and it was great!

We kept the flatwork pretty short and to the point- it was stupid hot out and there was a thunderstorm threatening to break right overhead. Frankie was definitely lazy to start off- meaning that he reeeeally wanted me to carry him around the ring instead of carrying himself- but to his credit, he showed up to work and put in some effort as we got going.

Then we did our super fun warmup exercise of Trot Every Jump In The Ring All At Once. Four horses. Tiny indoor. A tad chaotic. But really good practice for the warmup ring at shows! Frankie woke right up when he realized it was almost time for zoomies, so we had to go back and actually TROT THE JUMP NO CANTER NOT YET a couple times.

And then it was too hot to do a 2’6″ warmup course like we usually do so Trainer just jacked a bunch of them up to 3’ish (I think? We all know I’m the actual worst at figuring out how big jumps are. They’ll look really big at the time but then I’ll review videos and be like huh that’s actually kinda small. Who knows).

august_course

First course: long approach down to the box at A, up the oxer, down the single diagonal, up the outside, down the quarter line. Super straightforward. Lots of single, unrelated distances which is really where Frankie and I shine. I’ll sometimes push through the distance to the base, but we can pretty consistently see the spot from a long approach. It’s those darn lines that I have trouble with- do I ask him to package more? Open up? One then the other- no definitely not that. We also experimented with taking the inside turn (turning before E and C) to come to A, which was plenty of room to maneuver.

And then we got fun! Coming off the left lead to rollback over A, immediately turn right and rollback over the oxer at B, up the quarter line, down C to F in a broken four, up the outside at D.

That S-turn to start actually went surprisingly well. I don’t know why I’m surprised- my horse is pretty darn good at his job- but it was pleasant. Not particularly pretty, but serviceable. The quarter line to the bending four was where we had to go back and try again. The quarter line was a forward three away from home and came up nicely every time. But then I had to rock him back and get in close to the red vertical because the broken four was TIGHT. We had another smaller horse do it in 3. Trainer and I decided that we needed to school the add though, because Francis jumps much better and more cleanly from that tighter spot.

This took a couple times through to really correct. I needed to land off the red and IMMEDIATELY sit deep and package that stride. A.k.a. I really needed to use that auto-release so I could land with a feel on his mouth. The last time through felt really good- I was able to leg him up to the base of the out instead of holding all the way through.

The single vertical on the outside was fine. Because singles are my jam.

Takeaways: the spot I get Francis to VERY much affects how he jumps. He is not like Addy, who tucked neatly and jumped a 10 every time. Frankie needs to get a little deep (but not too deep) to the base, and needs a lot of support from my leg in order to get a good clean effort. Some examples here:

aug_outsidejump
Still hanging his legs, but much less “pop”-y when we don’t get buried at the base
aug_boxjump
Same jump. Same height. Different distances. Different breed of animal: alpaca vs. horse.

And then just because I think he’s really cute:

aug_redcute

Here’s the compilation of our coursework from this week:

Looking at this, I see a couple things: I need to work on my release. I’m just not happy with that at all. I also need to wait with my shoulders and stop trying to jump for Frankie. Let him jump up to me. In fact, I’m picking apart most of my eq and have lots of homework for myself.

But I’m also very happy with the improvements I see: I’m able to get a good quality canter more quickly that has better energy. I’m able to get clean lead changes in both directions, even if I have to ask pretty firmly. Frankie is able to power up and over the jumps even from awkward distances, because he has great muscle and athleticism. The awkward distances are less frequent and less awkward than they used to be.

So overall I’m happy with our progress. We still have a ways to go to suit my perfectionist tendencies, but we are on our way!

By the time you’re reading this, I’ll likely already be done with my first trip- we decided to add a 0.90m class first thing (8am gross) to let Frankie stretch his legs and see what energy level we’re working with. Later today I’ll be doing the first class of the Low division- hopefully I can rope a barn rat into filming both trips. Can’t wait to report back on To Be Frank’s second outing!

How much does your distance to a fence affect how your horse jumps? Are they more like Addy (affects it relatively mildly) or more like Frankie (affects it dramatically)?

Lesson Recap: In Which My Horse is a Blast

I am a broken record, but I will tell you again and again: my horse is SO fun. We have a long way to go and there’s plenty I want to work on with myself, but hot damn it is SO much fun working with this animal.

Let’s get into it.

Homeboy was rarin’ to go despite the high temps and humidity. And by rarin’ to go I mean he jigged for a second when I picked up the reins, I told him to calm the eff down, and he was like OK and settled. WILD HORSE IS WILD.

Trainer had us do a really interesting exercise as we moved up into canter work. Like so:

july_cantercircles
SO PROFESSIONAL

Does this diagram even make any sense? Lemme try to explain. We did small circles over the poles at each end of the ring, then went to the other end and did another circle. Except imagine there’s a bunch of jumps in the way. And 4 horses all doing this at the same time. A little chaotic.

But this was a fantastic exercise to get the horses tuned off our leg and a little more contained between our leg and hand. Frankie showed some weakness on his right side- he likes to get long and low and heavy when he feels off balance and working to the right has always been his tougher side. My job was to help him keep his balance and rock his weight back by using my leg and seat to half-halt him up. The left was a little better; still heavy, but more balanced.

We then warmed up over a crossrail. Uneventful. Francis has begun a habit of trotting over little Xs without actually jumping them so my job is to squeeze him up and over BECAUSE IT’S AN ACTUAL JUMP FRANCIS. Way to overachieve, buddy.

Here’s our course for the day!

july_lesson
Enter a caption

First time through was up the green box, turn left to the rail and come back to trot, rollback over the yellow box and canter out over the oxer in a bouncy bending six, outside vertical around to the gray oxer, and then down the red jump off the short turn.

Uneventful. Especially over smaller jumps, Frankie just kinda plops over them. I was very happy with the bending six- I was able to sit back and shorten his stride early in the line so we could flow out. I took the long way around from D to E and the long approach to the oxer set us up a bit long and reachy.

So then Trainer jacked the jumps up! I gotta tell you, I used to get TERRIFIED when the jumps would go up over like 2’6″. That was my happy place. Then 3′ was my happy place. Now I’m like PUT THEM ALL UP FOREVER KEEP GOING MAKE EM BIGGER because seeing a spot to the bigger jumps is like a thousand times easier with Francis. Maybe because he’s so tall that we need tall jumps to be in my line of sight? I have no idea. It just makes my job SO much easier when the jumps go up.

We did the same course, but made a few small tweaks. B was no longer a trot jump, so I really had to get the motor going out of that short rollback so I could gallop out in 5. I also tried the inside turn from D to E- between the green and yellow boxes. With standards and poles and muck buckets in the way this got a little dicey, but Frankie don’t care about none of that. It rocked us back enough that our spot to the oxer was muuuch better. Then packaging back up around the short turn to the red- not quite as pretty but we made it work.

SO FUN. SERIOUSLY SO FUN. Frankie clobbered the first jump because he didn’t realize the jumps had gone up and he is a total goon, but then he got his head in the game. And guys. My horse is like the most fun ever to ride. We just flew around that course with the biggest grins. At least I was grinning, I can’t speak for Frankie- though he had the sweetest pricked ears.

Lots to work on? Totally. My trainer has noted that we’ve vastly improved getting the impulsion and pace we want, and now it’s time to really wrap around him and fine-tune our controls. Get that bouncy canter back more quickly after every jump instead of loping away like a hunter. Wait for him to jump up to me instead of crawling up his neck when we get a closer spot. Tighten up and make sure everything is holding still that needs to be still, so the moving parts can be more clearly effective.

It’s happening, though. Little by little, we’re figuring each other out and getting tighter and more controlled with every ride. And jeeeeez we’re having a blast with it. Even covered in sweat towards the end of the lesson, Francis perked up and galloped up to every fence. He’s a very happy boy with a very happy rider!

Does your horse have a weaker side? How do you work on building strength more evenly?

PS- I expected my tack post yesterday to be more of a filler post, but was so happy to hear from all of you! I hope to see some posts from y’all with your own set up, it was really fun getting a glimpse in the comment section πŸ™‚