Grabbing Mane

With several lessons under our belt, I’m excited that things are (slowly) starting to come back together for us.

The good news is that the muscle memory is definitely there, and emerges more and more with every ride. The not so good news is that I often don’t have the strength or stamina to enact said muscle memory. But we’re tackling things methodically and it’s getting better every time I get in the saddle.

All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to ride, and I got my wish ❤

Both trainers have been really great about balancing my lack of fitness while still knocking the rust off by focusing on tightening up my position and giving straightforward exercises. I’ve been able to tackle some basic bending lines, some fun serpentines, we’re slowly starting to put the jumps back up, and I’ve been grinning ear to ear the whole time. Thankfully the height is the easiest part of things, since Francisco has a very easy jump to stay with. I’m eager to get less potato-ish so we can start putting the pieces together with technical + height – my eye is still basically there (as much as it ever was, which is not great but at least it’s something) and I like riding on a more open step to a little height.

I mean I don’t look the best I ever have, but I also don’t look the worst. I’ll take that as a win.

One thing I’m particularly grateful for is how fit Frankie is. He came out of the winter having gained a little weight, which I see as a win as he enters his mid-late teens. I’d much rather have him pack on a few pounds than lose any in the cold weather. He feels powerful, forward, eager to do his job, and with his usual good nature he is being very patient and careful with me (literally during one of the serpentine exercises he changed direction to stay under me when I wobbled around a turn. The horse is a saint.). All of the work over the past 6 years has really changed him – it’s crazy how correct muscling has literally made his conformation look different (better).

Frequent naps are the cornerstone of his fitness program

His fitness is fantastic for me as I get back to it. It means he has his own motor so I can focus on a supportive still leg rather than constantly squeezing (the OGs from 2016-2017 know how much pony kicking we used to do), it means he’s very comfortable and powerful enough to jump from a variety of spots when I don’t adjust as quickly as I should, it means he’s happy to collect and add the stride when it’s clear I have no idea what I’m doing. He’s so well educated that he’s easily tattling on me when I ask for something versus when I do nothing. He really came out of his lease even better than he went into it.

As I mentioned previously, I’m currently a bit of a weekend warrior (plus one weekday), so obviously I’m not able to keep up this fitness level on my own. I also very very much want to keep up this fitness level, both for the help it gives me and for the obvious reason that Frankie is healthier for it. The core of this remain his 2x a week pro rides that he’s been getting for years. The trainer I ride with on Mondays now is actually the person who has been giving him these rides for roughly 2-2.5 years now, and it definitely helps our lessons that she knows him so well. She’s the one who installed a really nice trot jump on him and has very patiently focused on correct, adjustable, educated work. She has also said that he’s the only horse that would tempt her to try the jumpers and that he’s good as gold, so clearly she has great taste.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we’ve also added weekly trips to the Equine Fitness Center for the Frankfurter to get his sweat on! I’m really eager to see how this helps with his fitness, his muscling, and overall way of going. It’s under the supervision of our usual vet who has been fantastic for us, and I’m hoping it’s a solid complement to our regimen of training, preventative maintenance, and conditioning. He’s been twice now, and got the following report card the first time:

I have never used a chain on him in 6 years of ownership WHY NOW FRANCOIS

Scary equipment he’s never seen? No problem, walk right on. A wash stall, the same as any wash stall he’s been in a HUNDRED times? NOPE NOPE NOPE. Chilling in a nice paddock with hay and water within sight of his buddies? NO WAY NO WAY. Apparently on his second visit they just had him go first so he always had a buddy within sight and he was fine. Why is every person and animal in my family so extroverted that it becomes a problem for other people.

Cute gym boi

It really is a full time gig trying to ensure that this horse becomes immortal. Worth it.

Overall, I’m beyond thrilled with how things are going. I love this big smelly beast with my whole heart, and getting to bop around with him makes me so so so happy. I’m excited to get off property and do some competing this summer!

Hairy beasts ❤

Ohmygosh OUCH

We are officially back at it!!!

And we’ve really gotten back into it with a bang: I was able to sneak a private lesson on Saturday morning, made a quick jaunt to the barn for a short hack on Sunday, and had my first group lesson in almost two years on Monday evening.

Oh. My. Gosh. Ow. My muscles. I’m making old man noises every time I sit down. Or stand up. Or walk. Or move in any way.

Worth it.

Saturday was a bit chaotic: I was heading to my in-laws directly from the barn, so I had the dog in the trunk, the baby in the carseat, my saddle and stroller in the backseat next to her, and all our overnight gear piled in the front. While we don’t need as much equipment as we did when she was younger, it is tough to travel light with a bebe. Nick was at work, so it was interesting getting everyone and everything wrangled solo. But with much goodwill and patience from Maggie and Lina we got to the barn pretty much on time! I was able to pop Maggie in Frankie’s stall while I rode (which she LOATHED), and my trainer’s daughter kept an eye on Lina and entertained her (which she LOVED).

I have no pics from that lesson due to the aforementioned chaos, so here’s a picture of the little entropy agent terrorizing her grandmother

We kept things fairly simple: some light flat work, a little sitting trot to test the muscles out, some lengthenings and shortenings to get Frankie feeling good. A couple crossrails, some little lines, then a short course to play over some jumps. Nothing over 2’6″, it was all such chump change for Francis. He felt simply incredible. I’ve been so grateful to hop on friends’ horses, but nothing compares to my perfect Frankfurter. He’s in fantastic shape, he looks like a million bucks, he was happy and forward and adjustable and ready to cover up all my mistake. I got stuck on the add step a little while I tried to figure out my eye, but overall I felt like things were starting to come back and every time got a little better. It was a perfect low-key confidence boost of a lesson to officially kick things back off.

Sunday was a treat – since it was Easter, I wasn’t planning on riding. But then Lina went down for her nap, my in-laws offered to keep her entertained if she woke up, and I was able to dash out for a quick ride. It was so fun! Very short and sweet – maybe 15 minutes, trying to work out some of the soreness from the day before – but the weather was perfect and Francisco was his usual happy self. This was also my first time going to the barn without Lina since she was born. As much as I love bringing her along, I gotta say that it was a luxury to have my whole focus on Frankie and take my time grooming him without worrying about her.

My favorite view through my favorite ears

And then my first group lesson on Monday! Nick took Lina and Maggie home while I split off to head to the barn, which was also a first for us. I thought I might make it home for bedtime, but we figured she’d be ok with her daddy even if I wasn’t there.

This was also my first lesson with one of the other trainers working out of our facility – I’ve only really worked with my barn owner/trainer and her former assistant trainer. I really liked her! She was sympathetic to my complete lack of muscle tone, but still gave solid technical feedback. I’ll be riding with her every other week and I think it’ll be a lot of fun. It was also great to ride with some of the other ammies that I haven’t gotten to spend time with in a while. I love having my barn social time back ❤

Big hugs for the Big Man

And because she is a very excellent little girl, Lina went down easy and bedtime was not a problem. I’m super relieved to know that getting to the barn during the week is going to be manageable!

Riding three days in a row may have been the most painful thing I’ve done to myself in a long time, but I don’t regret it for a minute. I’ve been absolutely floating with happiness at getting this time with my boy. I felt like we settled right back into our little routines and interactions, he’s still my goofy lovable creature, he’s still my heart. I’ll be hobbling around happily, constantly glancing at the calendar to see when I get to ride next.

PS – I’m on a bit of a hunt for show clothes if anyone is looking to offload. My body is a completely different size and shape than it was pre-baby, and while I expect things will shift more as I get back in the saddle, I don’t want to pressure myself into getting back completely in my old clothes. If anyone has a show coat in a size similar to a Grand Prix 12 or 14, show shirts in a S or M, or tan mid-rise breeches in a 28 or 30, hit me up!

Jack ‘Em Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOBLIN BRAIN LOVES GOLD

Jelly Legs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Between-Shows Training

We’ve reached an interesting milestone in our training called “Frankie is dang good at his job and there’s no reason to pound on him.” What this means in practice is that we do the 1m classes at shows, and we don’t really jump a ton or very high at home. I joked that I feel like one of those ammies that toodles around at home and just shows up for competitions every so often.

Our lessons rarely go up to 3′. We don’t even jump every week. Maybe once a month (or less) we put the jumps up to competition height for a single course to check and make sure we remember how to do it. We do.

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v v casual

I think there’s a lot that has gone into making this a sustainable way of moving forward together.

Firstly, we spent a long time schooling 1m+ with consistency. Never a pounding, but it took a long time for Frankie to develop better body awareness and get confident navigating that height and above. We needed to school it regularly to help him build on those experiences. We could not have gotten comfortable at this height by schooling it as infrequently as we do now. We can only back off because we have something to back off from.

Secondly, he has the temperament for it. His reaction to a bigger fence has never been to back off or get flustered. We certainly don’t try to surprise him and we ramp back up to make sure he’s ready to go, but he’s easy going enough to see a bigger fence and simply put in a bigger effort. No muss no fuss.

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The least muss. The least fuss.

Thirdly, we have a program that keeps him fit enough to do the height. Between myself and his pro rides he is worked most days and encouraged to use himself properly. We do pole work, we do stretchy work, we do transitions, we do all the good stuff to help build muscle. And then we do lots of stretches, regular massages and chiro, veterinary maintenance as needed (yes he is incredibly spoiled). So when we do ask him for the bigger effort, he feels strong and limber enough to happily give that.

The other day we had one of our check-ins pre-Ocala. We had spent most of our lesson at around 2’6″ schooling the add, which is forever helpful for Frankie to sit and work his booty. At one point we put 7 strides in a bending that was later a comfortable 4. It was actually ridiculous. But the jumps went up to full height and I asked him to stretch out and give me a bigger step. He opened right up and went around beautifully. Trainer simply said, “Well that didn’t look like a hardship.”

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Very little is a hardship to this guy, he’s living a real good life

So here we are. We’re saving his legs for shows, and giving him all the tools he needs to succeed. My hope is that by being careful and intentional about his workload we can keep him sound and happy in his job for many years to come!

Houston We Have Liftoff

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

No. I want video for the pure comedy gold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re not at the comedy part yet.

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Unrelated he’s just a camera ham

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

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

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

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

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

HOUSTON, YOU GET LIFTOFF.

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

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

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“Mahm. Suck less.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LITERALLY HOW ARE YOU SO SWEET AND PERFECT ALL THE TIME

Porpoise for President

I promise we’re still alive and kicking over here! My guy and I have been traveling every other weekend for a while now, I’m in the last week of this term for school, and work is picking back up after a lull, so I’ve had to be more deliberate about my time management – hence why you haven’t heard from me in a while.

But I still have two legs, Frankie still has all four of his, and even if I’m only riding 2x a week that’s still saddle time with my favorite creature and I still love it.

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One of our many trips, this one to RI to visit family!

This week’s lesson was really fantastic. Due to a perfect storm of weather, hock injections (woohoo!), me being out of town, and mercury being in retrograde, the big guy was stuck inside for several days and not ridden for even longer. Not ideal, but we did the best we could with what we had.

So when I hopped on for my lesson, I had a speecy spicy Francisco under me. Homeboy just had so many excess calories that needed an outlet!  He really was quite obedient as we warmed up – loose through his back, getting some great lift at the trot, rather exuberant about his lengthenings. But I could definitely tell that there was a lil more pizzazz under me than usual, so I took the opportunity to just trot/canter on a looser rein for some extra time during the breaks to give him an outlet. I could tell that he very badly wanted to be a good boy, but just HAD TO MOVE OMG PLS.

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My friend sent me this while I was out of town. She is his favorite auntie because she always gives scratches and leaves treats in his bucket ❤

Once we started jumping, we did have some porpoising on the back side of a few fences. Not even true crowhopping per say, more of a put-my-head-between-my-knees-and-hump-my-back-for-a-bit. He’s really not very good at misbehaving, I think he just felt so GOOD to be working (especially with those hock injections kicking in) that he had to express his emotions for a bit. Not a big deal, just sat back and slipped the reins til he was done, then kept him cantering and moving forward. No need to react or pull or start a fight about it – I learned a while ago that when he’s got the sillies, the best thing to do is to stay light and let him do his job.

Sure enough, we ended up getting some really lovely courses. He was light in the bridle, forward thinking, and jumping like a dream. Not every spot was perfect, but he felt comfortable and able to sit down a bit to the shorter ones, and he was even cute when we moved up to a bit of a gap! Honestly, I’ll take spicy Francis any day.

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We did hill sets recently and I was brave enough to trot which displeased Francis greatly. But the view and breeze from the top weren’t too bad at all.

I have to say, I really really think that we’ve clicked to the next level of communication over the past few months. It seems silly to say that since I’ve been riding so much less, but it’s true. I’ve always enjoyed riding him and we’ve learned and grown along the way, but it just feels so natural right now. I think something and he does it. I can predict how he’ll react to just about anything (I knew the porpoising was coming the instant we walked away from the mounting block). We enjoy each other’s company, we enjoy our work together, and it’s simply a joy. I’m so-so at riding other horses, but right now it feels like I’m pretty darn good at riding mine.

Sorry not sorry for the gushfest, guys. I’m more obsessed with this creature every day.

Porpoise for president.

A Constant Student

Since I kicked off classes last week, I’ve really started getting back into the student-mindset. Despite being out of school for close to 6 years at this point, I found that certain patterns came back as soon as I started reviewing the first syllabus. Almost like a muscle memory.

I did the same thing I used to do in undergrad – mark deadlines on the calendar, build a study plan for each week, go through my checklist of materials to make sure I had everything. I started reading some of the articles and textbook chapters, taking notes and jotting down thoughts where I agreed or disagreed with the conclusions. There’s something refreshing about the expectation of forming an opinion as a student, while the professional world is so much more about achieving harmonious consensus.

I found that this attitude also spilled over into my recent rides with Francis.

Last weekend I had spent a few hours on school-work in the morning, and then took a break to go get some air and work with the Frankfurter. And you would have thought he was a cart horse. Plodding along with zero intention of moving faster than a slow shuffle.

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Walking is HARD moving is HARD I just want TREATS

My usual instinct in those situations is to push. It’s time to work, so I need him moving. Sometimes this is exactly what he needs! But I started thinking about some of the articles I had read about conditioning work, some of the conversations I had with some professionals I admire, and some of the patterns that I’ve noticed with Frankie’s work ethic.

And I decided to let him do his cart-horse shuffle for a solid 10 minutes. On the buckle, wandering the ring, no instruction beyond simply moving his body in a way that he felt comfortable. And then we started trotting a little. Still on a loose rein, still making big loops, maybe a few shallow serpentines to help him start bending through his body. Then a few easy walk-trot transitions to help him start listening. Slowly slowly starting to pick up a light contact as he started focusing in on me and the work.

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Not trying to go too hard too fast, just letting the muscles warm up

By the time I hopped off, I had a forward fresh horse who had just given me some of the best trot-canter transitions I had ever gotten out of him. Balanced, stepping under, lifted through his back. Absolutely lovely.

And then this past weekend, we had a lesson with AT (who you all know absolutely kicks my butt). She opted to let us warm ourselves up while she observed, just intermittently calling out when she wanted us to do something different. While I do love my guided warmups, it felt really good to tune into what Frankie needed and just focus on that in the moment – tons of figures off the rail, lots of transitions within gaits, slowly picking up the contact and asking for more engagement.

I joked with AT that I probably work harder when I know she’s watching my own work than I do when she’s telling me what to do, since I don’t want her to think I’m slacking. It was really encouraging though, I do tend to be pretty reliant on my trainers and this was a great reminder that I do know what we need to work on and I can work on it independently. I’m glad that’s a skillset my trainers encourage, rather than wanting me to always depend on them for everything.

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My favorite activity is making matching faces

Frankie was obedient if a bit heavy in our flat work. Several years later he does still think that carrying his own body around is some sort of bogus hard work, but as he gains some fitness back it’s improving. But you know what gets rid of the heaviness and revs the engine more than anything else?

Jumping. It was hysterical – I had a lazy horse who was giving me pretty good work but was requiring a TON of effort on my part, and then we pointed him at a crossrail and all of a sudden we had gas in the tank. It was our first time jumping in the outdoor this season, and he was SO happy to stretch out his stride a bit. I could even feel him think about porpoising a bit! He didn’t because he’s Francis, but I definitely could sense him considering it. I ain’t mad, he was having fun and feeling good.

Our coursework that day was just lovely. He gave me everything I asked for, and for the most part I was had the wherewithal to ask for what I needed. His tendency was to stretch his stride out to monster proportions in the bigger ring, but to his credit he did soften and come back to a more useful canter as soon as I asked. It used to take a long time to make that adjustment and nowadays he brings it under much more quickly. We were able to put some of the jumps up (not huge, but bigger than we’ve jumped in a while) and it just felt effortless.

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Literally how is he such an angel, this horse is the most amazing creature

It does feel that lately I’ve turned a bit of a corner in my ability to think on course. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I know my horse so well now, that he’s so educated, that I needed the mental break for a few months, or a combination of all of these. But I’m feeling much more able to make a plan for my ride and then execute where necessary, while still adjusting in the moment to give Frankie what he needs. I don’t think there’s a super visible change, but it’s this subtle change in my own perceptions of what we’re doing.

At the end of the day, I’m excited to learn new things and pursue my degree, but I think I’m most excited to be back in the mindset of a student and apply that mindset to everything else in my life.

Why Does My Horse Keep Outsmarting Me: A Memoir

Guys.

He did it again.

My darling Francisco played me like a fiddle.

You’d think after almost 3 years I would’ve learned by now, but apparently only ONE of us actually retains anything.

Basically since I’ve gotten back from Ohio and gotten Frankie back into work, he’s been….blah. Not bad at all, just kinda….blah. Rushy behind at the trot, short-strided at the canter, very behind my leg with no inclination to come up and meet me.

And in true dumb-dumb fashion, I responded by lightening my seat, softening my reins, and encouraging him to move out more. In my defense, that doesn’t sound like a crazy reaction, right?! Opening the door to invite my pokey horse to move forward?

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You’d think I would’ve learned at our FIRST SHOW that a light seat has literally never been the right answer for the Frankfurter

So the other night in my lesson, I was doing this and getting “meh” reactions to it. Again, nothing terrible. Just….meh. We started popping over a few small jumps and again, he was kinda tuning me out, mincing little steps, adding strides in (which he almost NEVER does). I was at least partially blaming the belly band I’ve started using to prevent spur rubs – be careful what you wish for, because it certainly does dull my spur for better or for worse. And at that point my trainer chimed in:

“Olivia go wrestle with him a little. Stop asking and start insisting.”

Does that sound familiar? So I sat down, took a feel, booted him up, and stopped allowing the mincing steps.

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Unlike this day where I encouraged the mincing sorry for the conflicting messages Francis

What did I get?

I GOT MY HORSE BACK. HE ACTUALLY CARRIED ME TO THE JUMPS AND WENT STRAIGHT TO GET HIS CHANGES AND COULD BEND LEFT LIKE A NORMAL HORSE THAT IS TOTALLY FINE.

He was SO mad (which in Francis-world means his ears were at neutral position and he tossed his head twice #dramatic). His plan was finally foiled.

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Throwback to a few weeks ago when he fake-spooked at something so I made him canter a few laps and that made him pout and act exhausted for the next 45 minutes because he is so completely uncommitted to being bad

But guys. Next time I say anything about Frankie being less than ideal, please remind me that it’s 100% my own problem for letting him get away with it. Literally as soon as I gave him a solid whack behind my leg and got in his face a little he was a million times better. It’s like he didn’t want to show up to work until I had committed to showing up for work.

WHICH I SHOULD KNOW BY NOW BECAUSE THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE.

 

Re-Tuning The Engine

Now that we’re past WEC, the weather is starting to get a little more mild, and Francis is totally recovered from his heel grab, we’re starting to get back into the swing of things with a bit more consistency. Homeboy and I both thrive on consistency, so I’m really happy to keep the learning train going.

We had a fantastic lesson over the weekend that ended up being entirely flatwork-focused and included some basic pole work, and it highlighted some really useful things for us to focus on moving forward.

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Someday I’ll learn to stop sniffing mane (or not). Photos all unrelated but my friend sent me some from WEC 🙂 PC – K. Borden

The big one right now is getting that self-carriage back into play. I haven’t insisted on it for a while since I’ve been in toodling mode, but everything gets so much easier when I have a balanced powerful creature under me. Go figure. Luckily we’re starting at a different baseline than last year – this time around, he already knows the game. He’s just pretty sure he doesn’t have to play the game and would really rather not thankyouverymuch.

His walk has always been very forward and full of movement and he’s gotten much happier about continuing that fluidity on a contact, and he’s had an absolutely lovely canter since day one (and now that we can collect more, it’s just gotten lovelier). It’s the trot that has given him the most trouble with forward, straight, and round. To work on this, we’re doing a lot in the sitting trot. Since that trot is his worst gait, having me sit deeper and wrap around to help pick him up is majorly helpful. It’s much easier to help him find that softness and roundness from there and carry it into our posting trot than it is to build that straight off while posting.

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Part One of the PowerPose sequence. Bigs and Littles all invited. PC – K. Borden

We also threw in quite a bit of lateral work to keep his brain engaged and I have to tell you, a busy-brain Francis is an amazing creature to ride. It’s like when he’s bored he kinda tunes out and drones around, but giving him something challenging to try gets him fired up and incredibly tuned in. Trotting leg-yield zigzags gave us some really lovely trot work and helped correct some problems we were having with the bend. Working on some canter half-passes was a downright magical button where suddenly his canter got a thousand times more powerful and light in my hand. I’m certainly still working on how to ask clearly for that, but he was right there delivering when I got it right. I’m still kinda riding the high from those few correct steps.

I also think I’m going to switch back to a driving rein for a while. At this point I know how to squeeze him up and forward, but I’d like to give him somewhere a little more elastic to go in my hand. The way he needs to be ridden has certainly shifted as we’ve both gotten more educated, so I’d like to respond to that and give him a chance to raise his own bar a bit.

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Part Two before heading to the show ring with a VERY skeptical mare. PC – K. Borden

As much as I loved getting to learn from Belle at WEC, I enjoy working on the flat with Francis SO much. Obviously he’s a beast over fences and I love flying with him and jumper ring 5ever. But raising the ante on the flat and gaining more and more precision and control of our movements is downright addicting, especially with how willing and teachable he is. I can see why you dressage folks are so passionate about it.

It’s funny, there was a tweet lately that simply asked: “how do you cue for the canter?” There were tons of responses that were super detailed – sit deeper on my outside seat bone, scoop with my abs, steady outside rein, etc etc etc. Like, REAL detailed. And I realized that at this point I have no idea how to respond. That’s not to say I don’t know how to cue for the canter, obviously. I just have no idea how to articulate what I’m doing. I just kinda do it. And that’s the case for a lot of what I do with Frankie. Obviously I’m doing something right at some points, because it’s working. But isolating and articulating what each part of my body is doing? Hard. It’s simply not how my brain learns and processes, I need the visual and feel much more than I need the words.

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Part Three EVERYONE PULL IT TOGETHER THIS IS SERIOUS. PC – K. Borden

I was trying to explain what a half-pass is to my non-horsey father. Eventually I was able to adequately explain the movement (I think, though he may have just humored me and said he got it). He asked how I ask Frankie for it. My super detailed answer? “I just kinda…push. Over. Like, off my leg. But also my other leg. And my seatbone is there too. Both seatbones really. But one more than the other. And my hands. They’re there.”

So detail, much explain.

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Someday I’ll learn to jump the center of a fence….or not. PC – K. Borden

There’s a reason why I’d be a terrible coach and why I’m not that good at telling people how to ride my horse. You’ve seen my instructions, they’re literally just to kick and take a feel and everything magically falls into place. I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more in play there. Just don’t ask me to articulate it.

Bringing it back to where we started talking about our lesson, I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on with my body, but I can tell you that it’s working. Even getting it wrong is fun with Frankie – if I’m getting it wrong, it means we’re trying something new and eventually we’ll figure it out. I just love getting to work with him and I love how engaged and eager he is to learn.

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Much love for the best team ❤ PC – K. Borden