We Lessoned!

For the first time in about a month, I actually jumped my pony over colorful sticks!

OHGOD
This is pretty much all I’ve done for the last month. Toodle.

Nothing crazy- some grid work with placing poles to inspire straightness and encourage a good effort over the jumps. Seeing as Francis thinks lifting his shoulders and picking up his knees and rounding over his back over jumps is like OMG SO DUMB, this was a fantastic exercise for him.

And a fantastic exercise for me too- I didn’t have to worry about remembering courses, finding a distance, or doing much of anything besides work on my own position. Professional diagram below:

gymnastic_april

So trot in to the crossrail, one SHORT stride to the oxer, then one bigger stride to the vertical out. Poles to keep us straight to the oxer, then straightening poles over the vertical. Then a pole after the vertical because FRANCIS STOP SUCKING OUT TO THE WALL.

The added poles were really what made this grid work so well for us- that first stride to the oxer was super short. As in, the first time through we definitely bounced it. #18footstride. No bueno.

The trick was to get a short powerful trot in, so that he could land close to the crossrail and put in a nice short stride there. That channel created by the poles forced him to keep his body straight and not give himself extra room by bulging to either side. Homeboy actually had to pick himself up.

Then I LOVED the straightening poles over the last fence. You’ve all seen pictures of Frankie jumping- homeboy is athletic enough and is happy to jump anything, but he doesn’t have the most…classical…technique. As in, he jumps like a llama.

But the V-poles here really forced him to pick his shoulders up and stay completely straight, instead of leaning to either side. And while I don’t have media, I could feel him jumping SO CUTE. When your horse typically jumps like a drunk alpaca, it’s pretty easy to feel the difference. It’s such a nicer motion to stay with- I could let him push me up out of the saddle and give a really generous release instead of trying to figure out where the center of balance is and keeping a feel because lord knows we’re going to land in a heap and we need all the communication we can get right now so help me.

The pacing of this exercise was also something I needed to work on- you really had to ride one jump at a time (no kidding Olivia, that’s what we call “progressing through time.”) But what I mean is that the timing of the aids had to be more precise here.

That first stride was very short. Meaning we could not canter in, we could not beast-trot in (that’s an official dressage term btw). We had to get a powerful, short, straight, elastic trot in and keep shoulders up to collect the first stride. And then over the oxer I needed to PRESS and land moving for the bigger stride. If I asked too early for the bigger stride, I made Frankie’s life harder to the oxer. If I asked too late, I made his life harder to the vertical. If I timed it properly, I set him up for success at both jumps.

Side note- I love that even after doing grids for almost 20 years, there’s still so much to think about and consider even when they’re simple like this. Grids 4 lyfe.

After going through a couple times successfully- proving that it wasn’t just a fluke- I asked to be done a little early so we could end on a really good note. I needed a win after dealing with some stress at work lately, and Francis delivered. Because he is literally the best horse on the planet and if you disagree I will fight you in real life.

selfie
I have never related so hard in my life

I have to give a HUGE shoutout to Assistant Trainer here too. She’s been putting some pro rides on Frankie lately while I’ve taken a break from lessoning and it is seriously so noticeable. He always WANTS to give me the right answer, and she does such a great job of explaining to him what that right answer is. I’m incredibly grateful that I could take a month-long break from doing anything besides toodling, hop back on my horse, and have him more educated and fit than he was when we left off.

We didn’t do anything super crazy with this lesson- none of the jumps were very big at all- but it was the perfect way to knock some of the rust off. Frankie was happy, he jumped cute, I was less jiggly/loose in the tack than I anticipated I’d be, we worked up a good sweat, I loosened up some of the knots in my neck and back, and overall I count this as a successful therapy session. Bonus points that it was good training for both of us.

Star Lord and Abraham Lincoln

Frankie has earned both of these names so far this week.

You know those rides where everything seems to go right? Where you get consistency and straightness and fantastic effort and a whole bunch of things you’ve been working on start clicking into place and you feel like “wow, I’m actually a halfway decent rider” and stars and rainbows flash  before your eyes?

And you know those rides where your horse truly has to earn his oats by packing your butt around, because your body flails around and you can’t half-halt to save your life and don’t see a distance ever and your leg is swinging back and forth like you’re doing the hokey-pokey and you start to think “oh my god I am terrible at this sport” and the poop emoji flashes before your eyes?

Have you ever had both of those rides, one day after the other? BECAUSE THIS WEEK HAS ALREADY BEEN A ROLLERCOASTER FOR ME.

I’ll start with the hearts and stars ride: Monday. Things are quiet with half the barn gone to Florida, so I ended up having the whole ring to myself. Obviously this meant it was time to play some tunes.

Pro tip: the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 album not only has great tunes on it, but is almost exactly 45 minutes. AKA perfect for my warm up-work-cool down session I had planned. 10/10, would recommend.

awesome mix.gif

I spent a good amount of time just asking for a forward trot on a very loose rein. I used that time to do some of my own exercises- half set, stand straight up, no stirrups, etc. All Frankie had to do was stay forward and straight, and he could stretch down as much as he wanted. Being a peanut roller at heart, Francis took full advantage of this and dragged his nose through the dirt around the ring.

Once we were both limbered up and moving out, I started to ask for a bit more connection. And a bit more. And as I worked all sorts of different patterns and did extensions-collections around the ring, I slowly picked him up more and more.

Um. My horse is HANDSOME. Turns out that when I take my time and really warm him up to it, we get amazingly consistent steady contact with lift, good bend throughout his body, sensitivity to the aids, and all over unicorn status. Engaging all his muscles and he felt STRONG.

muscle-strong
v v strong

Canter work was equally fantastic- our collections actually had some OOMPH to them. And then our transitions! Our downwards transitions are notoriously dull and not-so-prompt. But on Monday, they were crisp and forward into the transition and UGH SO GOOD. Basically every step Francis took on Monday was complete magic.

baby-groot
sweet, sweet magic

I felt like the next Danny Emerson, I am such a genius amazing and watch me coax this wonderful flatwork out of my boy. I had completely lost track of time and was so caught up in our work, I felt so energized! And then I hopped off and realized OMG OW MY BODY OH LORD HELP ME. Because it turns out that asking for all this great work required crazy core engagement and strong legs. I just hadn’t noticed at the time because I was so excited about our work.

flatwork_mon
Clearly you can tell how great he was from our mirror selfie.

Which brings us to Tuesday: lesson day with the guest trainer. Let me start us off with the last thing he said to me as I left the ring post-lesson:

“You have a very honest horse there. He saves you a lot, doesn’t he? Maybe you should help him out more.”

And that’s a very accurate assessment of how that lesson went: Frankie was his usual sweet self, and I could. Not. Do. Anything. Like, at all.

dancing-potato

This is not to say that we had a totally tragic lesson and I ruined my horse- we certainly had some good moments in there and as mentioned, Frankie went really well.

But honestly, I haven’t ridden this poorly in months. My legs hung there uselessly instead of supporting, my core was a marshmallow so my half-halts were literally nothing, my heels were up-down-sideways-everywhere, I was hunched and crooked and chased my horse at jumps and then picked to the base and holy crap. It was like ok maybe things are going well PSYCH I am awful.

potato-face

It was a shame, because I really liked the exercise this trainer had us work through: a few rollbacks, a few bending lines, a few singles on a long approach, and then a triple combo, all set low and all done in both directions. It was great for asking a variety of questions of the horses without being terribly complicated. Frankie rocked it without my help.

So chalk it up to soreness, chalk it up to laziness, chalk it up to nerves in front of a new trainer, chalk it up to whatever you want: I was a bag person up top. As in, I looked like I was created entirely out of burlap bags.

Ah well. Tons of pats for pony, and we’ll try again later.

potato-vodka

 

Big Stretches

You know that post-show hangover? Yeah, that was Monday for me. So tired. So sore. Ded.

But then Tuesday dawned with that most wondrous of feelings: Second Day Sore. SDS. I was a decrepit little hobbit around the office all day, and I know my lesson that afternoon would be dicey.

Luckily, the the no-stirrup work and gymnastics we did actually stretched me out and helped my muscles recover that much faster- score!

Our private lessons have come to an end due to scheduling conflicts, so I’m getting back into the zone of semi-privates once more. Our flatwork was nothing crazy- lots of extensions and collections within gaits, making sure we got a prompt response to my cues and were controlling that shoulder around our turns (both his AND mine).

Frankie felt really great! Forward, working over his back as he warmed up, balanced. I think the rest day and the slightly warmer temperatures put him in his happy place because he was really a pleasure to ride (I mean….he always is….but yeah he was great).

We kept the exercises fairly straightforward for the jumping phase. For a while we just worked through a simple grid: trot in crossrail-one stride-vertical-one stride-oxer. It never got very high and it was more to allow me to focus on my own position through the exercise. Then we did a little gymnastic-y type course:

jan31_gymnastic

So gymnastic up the long side, cut across the middle, up the bending line red to skinny in a straightforward 4, down the one stride combo, then up the oxer to barrel bending out in 4 or 5.

My goal through the gymnastic was to stay still with my shoulders, keep my leg on while staying in a light seat, and focus on straightness through my entire body all the way through. Over the middle jump 2, we sliced it a little bit and then tried to hug jump 1A to give us plenty of space to make the turn to 3. The 4 stride was very steady- neither forward nor holding- and Frankie locked onto the skinny early on so no problems there. We had to cowboy up out of the corner a bit for the one stride, then balance around for the last bending line. The first two times we galloped out in four strides, then went back and shaped and held for the five.

Overall nothing crazy! The jumps stayed low and none of the striding was tricky. Much more focus on my own equitation and playing with our tracks to see how different tracks affect our overall course. It was honestly pretty relaxing! Happy horse, straightforward exercises, stretching my tired muscles and his.

We’ll have one more lesson next week before the barn heads down to Florida, then we’ll be on a mini-vacation. Trainer mentioned that she maaaaay get someone to come teach while she’s gone, so we’ll see if our flatwork sessions will have a lesson thrown in there. As much as I wish I could go down the Florida with them, it will be nice to have a quieter ring to work in- it’s tough to do as much lateral work and pole work as I’d like with all the lesson kids sharing the indoor this time of year.

The outdoor ring is currently under expansion and should be GORGEOUS with brand new footing later in the spring- I really can’t wait for the weather to turn so we can ride outside more!!! Also so I can consistently feel my toes and not feel like a marshmallow in 10,000 layers. But also to ride outside.

The High Schoolies

I was able to take a makeup lesson this weekend despite the STUPID FREAKIN COLD WEATHER, so of course I jumped at the chance (HAH FUN PUN). I may or may not have asked my Trainer if she was going to cancel lessons the day of, but I bundled up and braved the cold.

This ended up being a group lesson with the three of us competing in the High Child/Adults this season- two of us ammies, and our superstar junior. Despite LOVING my private lessons, this was a great chance to learn from watching some super talented riders- and my trainer was happy she could just put the jumps up and leave them there for the duration of the lesson.

Warmup was slow and steady to get us all accustomed to the cold. We spent the first 20-30 minutes just focused on getting our muscles moving and letting our lungs adjust. Lots of lengthening and shortening within the gaits, with frequent change of rein. Francis didn’t have the same elastic-ness that he often does these days- but can you blame him?? It was disgusting out. Like the total bro that he is, he showed up to work and did his best.

We warmed up slowly over fences too, doing plenty of crossrails to get our backs working. We also did a trot-in-canter-out bending line to play with stride length.

Then it was time for a warmup course with the jumps set low:

jan_high-schooling_1

Bear with me through this recap, a couple jumps moved/changed. But to start we simply did outside single, diagonal oxer, up the diagonal in a forward three strides, and then down the combo in a balancing two.

That three stride proved to be a really useful exercise for us- Frankie is not naturally a “spicy” horse, so he doesn’t land and rev. Which is totally great in a lot of ways: I never worry about him landing and taking off. BUT. We do want him to land and continue instead of landing and saying “well I hope that’s it for me.” A friend commented that she was really surprised when she rode him because in videos he looks like a pretty forward ride over fences. He is not. He is happy to go forward, but only when told. So having that forward line to practice landing and GOING was something we really needed.

Trainer then put the jumps up to a decent height and we did the following course:

jan_high-schooling_2

Cut through the quarter line to get to the oxer, up the bending line in a balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, down the combo again- this time with an oxer in- and finishing on the single brick. Or something like this. My video is showing me that I’m wrong, but something like this ended up happening eventually and I already saved the jump diagram, so you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I’m knowingly lying to you.

Overall not too bad! I needed to balance a little more in that five to even out the striding, I didn’t support enough with my leg over the single oxer, we got a bit of a launcher over the oxer into the combo, and Frankie tried to blow through my hand so we ended up popping up a chip to the last jump. So not great either. But manageable. I simply was not as present as I needed to be up top as we navigated the course, so Frankie was left to his own devices a few times. I would defend myself by saying I could feel neither my fingers nor my feet, but let’s be honest: this is a problem even when I have full feeling.

Our last course:

jan_high-schooling_3

Up the brick to start, down the outside line in a pretty standard three strides, up the bending in the balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, and down the outside 2-stride.

This felt better! Definitely not without some sticky points, but definitely more active and present. We got a nice gallop up to the first brick and then backed up into the short end before revving up to the outside line. Funny enough- we had been doing so many bending lines and singles that Frankie assumed he should turn out of the line. He was happy to continue out over the oxer when I put my left leg on, but that was definitely not his assumption. Balancing around the tight turn back to 4 and then sitting back for the five strides (which was def tight), and then I was thrilled with our straightness and pace to the yellow oxer- for sure our best jump. I got him a little tight to the line and we had to cowboy out for the three (good practice!)- I sat back too soon over the green wall which caused a hind rail- and then we came out pretty nicely in the two- this started feeling tighter and tighter as the jumps went up and we carried more pace, and we knocked the rail the first time through.

jan_lesson_yellow.jpg
OK so we’re not going in the hunter ring, but this is pretty cute as far as Francis-style-jumping goes

We ended up going back one last time to just do the last 4 jumps: the three stride diagonal to the combo. I was happier with our balance and pace there. We came in pretty tight to the combo and still managed to make it out in one piece: our big project is getting Frankie more comfortable with the tight spot and I’m so proud of his progress here!

We then got to watch our superstar junior jump 4’6″ and I was really weirdly proud of her. Not my child, not my horse. But like, I was vicariously jumping that through her and she rocked it with picture perfect eq. I want to be like that 17 year old girl when I grow up.

Overall: we had our sticky spots that we need to work on. I need to be more present and active from the get-go instead of taking a course or two to warm up to it. I need to support Frankie more when I ask for the closer spots, since he will always jump it but is MUCH happier if I help him out. I need to adjust my timing so that I can recover quickly after the jumps, without causing hind rails. Lots of homework.

But my horse also jumped like a freak and kept the same ears-perked-but-also-flopping expression as the jumps went up and up and up. We were able to get out of the sticky spots more quickly and more easily than we could even just two months ago.

frankie_jumpingfreak
One time I can actually comment on height: we know that the wood kickboard sticks at 4′, so clearly the 1.10m will not pose a problem for him.

I sound like a broken record and I sound like a sap, but I’m going to keep saying it: I am incredibly grateful to get to learn and progress with this horse. He’s the most patient and wonderful teacher I could ever ask for and hold on I’m literally crying as I write this because GAWD I’m obsessed with my horse. He is the coolest.

jan_lesson_canter
And he be super cute too.

As a treat: here’s the video from our lesson, so you can see said sticky spots. The vain part of me wanted to edit out the icky parts, but hey, THAT’S WHAT INSTAGRAM IS FOR. But actually. Enjoy the honest version here. I will continue to watch this over and over and sob quietly about what a saint my pony is.

Any tips on developing that landing-softly-but-not-too-soon feeling?

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.

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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.

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

Much Needed

As you could likely tell from my post the other day, I wasn’t in the best spot mentally. I also hadn’t ridden my horse in three days. HMMM I WONDER IF THERE WAS A CONNECTION THERE.

I showed up to my lesson this week and warned Trainer: “I’m probs rockin’ a low grade fever, and I may start crying for no reason. Just a quick heads up.” Being used to my various mental gymnastics, Trainer just rolled with it and said she would give me other things to focus on. She’s the best ever.

I was actually a little curious about what Frankie would be like when I pulled him out- he hadn’t been ridden in three days, hadn’t been turned out in two, was body clipped over the weekend, and the temperature had dropped by a lot. Kinda  perfect recipe for freshness. I knew he wouldn’t be wild because that’s not in his wheelhouse, but I expected a few small shenanigans.

 

25
THE FACE OF A NATURAL BORN KILLER

And he offered such big misbehavior: he walked off from the mounting block as I was getting my stirrups, before I told him to walk off. WOAH THERE WILD PONY, CALM YOURSELF. No seriously though, he was absolutely perfectly behaved the whole time. Love love LOVE my steady Eddie.

We’ve been playing a lot with different lateral movements lately and how to adjust our contact depending on our needs, and we continued that work. Lots of shifting the contact from indirect/direct outside and inside reins around smaller circles, and how we can use that to encourage the bend through his whole body. Weirdly enough, when I managed a more correct, steady contact, he instantly rounded onto the bit and stepped under. Strange how that works, right??

We then started playing around with canter half-passes. And I say playing around because they were nowhere near an actual half-pass. But sucking at something is the first step at not sucking at something! We ended up taking a step back from this to work on our haunches-in at the canter on a small circle to develop that type of motion- lots of balancing on the outside rein, getting that outside leg back to push his bum over. Not perfect by any stretch, but we had our moments and I could really feel it when we got it. I think as I learn how to ask more accurately this will come together, because Frankie was really listening and trying to figure out what I wanted.

All this lateral work has been FANTASTIC for us. Honestly this wasn’t even on my radar, but Trainer has been pushing us and introducing these movements and it’s really noticeable in our jumping work- turns come up more balanced and I’m much more able to place his body exactly where I want it.

Next step, canter pirouettes, amiright? Seriously though, we’re getting some really nice dressage buttons installed on him and he’s been super trainable for all of it. Hooray for versatile pony!

On to the jumping work! We kept the jumps low and worked on a gymnastic type exercise, as seen here:

nov_gymnastic

We started by trotting in-cantering out each bending line in 6 strides (1-2 and 1-3). Then trotting in-cantering out each way in 5 strides by moving up to the base.

Then we did this exercise in 5 strides cantering in both ways for the add step: 1-2-3-1, and 1-3-2-1. Like a teardrop pattern.  Then cantering in and doing all lines in 6. Hear that? We totally did the double add!! And it actually looked like we did it on purpose instead of landing and two strides later saying OH CRAP and hauling back and breaking to trot and then almost stopping and then lumping over the jump. Because, you know, that’s totally never happened or anything.

This time when I mashed him together, he actually came up rounder and gave some real collection of his stride without losing impulsion. And it made him jump more carefully, even over the smaller jumps. As Trainer says- he doesn’t care about the small jumps because they’re not hard, so we have to make him care by creating the impulsion and pushing him up to the base.

We’re working on adjustability no matter how we get into the line- it might not be the perfect distance in, but I have to keep my leg on and believe in the base and mash him together for the stride length I’m asking for. A common theme lately: recover faster after every jump. Still in progress, but it’s definitely improved from a few weeks ago.

I’m pretty sure that next week we’ll be schooling the liverpool for the first time in case we run into it at the show- here’s to hoping that isn’t the one thing that bothers Frankie! I’ll try to get media too, it’s totally a bucket list thing for me to jump that liverpool (Trainer’s is M-A-S-S-I-V-E).

Any tips as we work to install the half-pass?

Moving Sideways and Moving Up

Startlingly enough, I actually have a lot to say about the flatwork we did in our lesson this week. I know, I know, usually it’s “blah blah blah warmup stuff then JUMPS,” so this will be a bit of a departure.

I’ve mentioned lately that Frankie and I have worked a bunch on our shoulder-in. And it’s really come together nicely! He’s already well schooled on it- I just had to learn how to ask properly.

So we decided to switch things up and work on strengthening our leg-yields. We’re pretty solid at coming down the quarter-line and leg yielding out to the wall, so Trainer decided to switch it up and make it hard for us: bring his haunch in off the wall, and then leg-yield diagonally down the long side. As thus:

wall_legyield
Pretend that potato-looking thing is a horse, this is about the limit of my Paint skills.

So the wall is essentially blocking any attempts to evade forward. I set this up getting the counter-bend through the corner, asked his haunch to move over….and Frankie very promptly gave me a BEAUTIFUL shoulder-in (or should I say shoulder-out since it was towards the outside).

Like, he wasn’t confused or anything. He was very pleased that he knew exactly what he was doing. Except Francis, there are other things besides shoulder-in.

We came back to the walk and worked on communicating the whole haunches-in-straighten-your-body-yes-that-means-you-have-to-cross-over-I-know-it’s-hard-but-please thing. It took a few tries, but I could really feel him thinking, and we eventually got some great steps!

So we stepped back up into the trot (this was all done sitting without irons, so I could get a nice deep feel) and tried again. I’ll freely admit that at one point, Frankie bumped his nose into the wall because I wasn’t indicating “sideways” enough and he is such a pure soul that he tried to go forward through a wall for me. Dear sweet boy. But we got some good effort and a couple great steps! This will be a work in progress but I can definitely feel when we get it right.

Side note: all this sitting deep and pushing sideways had the effect of getting Frankie really up into the bridle. It felt great.

We did some regular canter work to get him moving- big circles and such, and he was feeling nice and light on my hand. Trainer had us start developing our counter-canter this week too, which is new for us. The key with Frankie was to keep his stride nice and collected, since he really wanted to dive down and get strung out off balance. He is more than happy to gallop around on the wrong lead- getting him to collect and balance for a true, nice counter-canter was a bit more effort for him.

To work on this we did a fun figure-8 exercise: Pick up the correct lead, then come across the diagonal to change direction while holding the same lead, come around the short end on the counter-lead, then go back across the diagonal to change direction and be on the correct lead. We did this in both directions and it went well! Frankie has a fairly easy change when you ask but it isn’t auto by any stretch. Which honestly, I prefer. This way I can choose exactly which lead I want him to be on no matter which direction we’re going, and can only ask for the change when I really want it.

Trainer and I are thinking that if I qualify for Regionals early enough, Frankie and I might go play in the eq ring once I’m not having to chase points. So we gotta get that counter-canter and lateral work polished up!

Trainer also made a great point- in the winter when we can’t jump as much, lateral work is going to help keep Frankie fit and muscled for his job. I also like this because it’s something I can work hard on between lessons when we’re flatting together.

NOW we can talk about the jumps. But you don’t get a Powerpoint diagram today because that whole Paint diagram thing took all my artistic skill for the day. I’ll recover soon. Probably.

But really, we didn’t do anything crazy course-wise. A couple diagonal jumps, a bending line in four short strides, a one-stride combo then bending out in three strides. Trainer did put the jumps up pretty high once I was warmed up, so that felt great. And I’m not sure what “pretty high” means to be honest- coulda been 3’3″, coulda been 3’6″, coulda been 2’9″ for all I know. They looked bigger than what we usually do so I’m guessing around 3’6″? I’ve learned not to ask.

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Big enough that the Beast had to put in an actual effort to get over it

But I really do prefer the bigger jumps on Francis- when he puts in more effort, I find it a lot easier to keep my leg tight and stay centered. Like his motion pushes me into the right spot.

nov_plank
Well maybe not the right spot. But a BETTER spot.

We discussed how I need to recover a lot faster after each jump- I tend to take a full stride after landing to recover and that’s like 16′ into a line. Not OK. Trainer wants me to think of standing up in my irons as we land- not sitting back down in the tack, but stretching up. This is the first time in my life that I’m jumping big enough that there’s a “landing phase” instead of just putting feet down so it’s going to be developing muscle memory. I plan to watch a lot of Beezie and McLain to see how they move their bodies on that larger scale.

I’ll wrap up by confessing to you that I’m a liar. I’ve been telling you over and over how we’re on show hiatus for the winter to save money. BUT. BUT. Trainer has some one-day rated shows she’s willing to go to so I can get points for Regionals early in the season before classes get huge. And the one-days are so much cheaper than the week-long ones (obvi). So this will save money in the long run!

We haven’t picked which one (or two or three) we’re going to do, but it looks like the move up to 1.10m is going to be in December or January. I’M SO EXCITED TO JUMP BIG JUMPS WITH THE FRANKFURTER.

What are some fun lateral-work exercises you like to use to keep your horse fit during the winter?

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?