Favorite Exercises

Technically everything is my favorite thing to do with the Frankfurter since he’s a total bro, but there are certain favorite exercises that are even MORE favorite than others. They vary in technicality, but all of them have been super helpful for both myself and for Francis.

Sitting Trot

I’m starting pretty darn basic over here folks. Just about any time I need a reset on anything, or want to work on anything lateral, I get into a nice collected sitting trot. Something about having that full contact through my seat and legs helps things *click* for Frankie more so than any other gait. I know much good advice says that slowing things down helps introduce concepts, but I find his collected trot much more rideable than his walk when I’m asking him to engage his brain. It’s also a great core workout for me and helps me get my hip angle open so that when I’m on course I can have a bit more range of motion. Once we’re warmed up, I like to do quite a lot at the sitting trot when we’re working on the flat (we play around with extensions while sitting sometimes and WOW CORE WORKOUT. Those DQs have abs of steel, man.).

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We also like dropping our stirrups

Shoulder-In

Ah, the magical shoulder in. It is such a tattle tale for us. As soon as I ask for it, it becomes immediately apparent whether Frankie is truly on my aids or if I’m letting him fake it. It’s also juuust enough brain power to help him loosen up his body and focus on me even in a busy ring. If we’ve been doing a lot of lateral work he sometimes will start anticipating by going all pretzel-y, and a gentle shoulder-in helps cut down on the noise and gives his brain a break while still engaging.

Short-set/Irregularly-set grids

We almost never set grids that are at perfect stride lengths. We’ll often do short stride to short stride, short stride to long stride, or long stride to short stride. Never long stride to long stride, because then we’re not really working on adjustability OR rocking back. The imperfect/short options help him figure out how to self-police his stride, which is something that we’re constantly trying to help him build. I credit a huge amount of his muscling and improvement over fences to these short grids.

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Short strides make Frankie mad but they also make dat booty powerful (also this isn’t one jump looped, this is 9ish efforts looped haha)

Canter poles

OK so these aren’t actually a favorite because they terrify me. But I did have to put them on the list since I’ve found them so helpful in building collection and straightness. Frankie is smart enough to not want to step on these, but not smart enough to know he can split his legs over them, so he’s really very good about self-shortening to make it through the poles as set. It’s a nice balance. Placing these on the quarter line also helps tattle on any drift we might have (especially towards the wall) so that I can keep him balanced and straight.

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Poles. Are. Terrifying. (For me, not for Francis. He’s mostly just sad that they are not eatable)

Counter-bend on a circle

One of my favorite things that we work on is making a medium sized circle, then making the same circle with a counter-bend, then going back to the regular bend. This helps unlock his body through his ribcage, and it’s just hard enough that he has to really be paying attention to me. This is one I like to do at the sitting trot to be super present and help him balance, and keep that trot a little more collected.

Most of these exercises have a common theme: they engage Frankie’s brain and challenge him. We intersperse these harder exercises with plenty of stretch breaks for our bodies and brains before going back to it.

I’ve also found that I can tailor the difficulty of these exercises depending on how Frankie feels that day – the circles can be smaller or bigger, the poles/grids can be shorter or a little easier, our lateral work can be a little shallower. I’m also finding that we’re developing new exercises to engage his brain (my new favorite is the canter half-pass, which is still rudimentary but developing really nicely).

I’ll also add that most of these exercises were not ones that I would’ve chosen for us when I first got Frankie and had to firmly install the forward button. At that point we didn’t have enough power in his stride to be able to ask for collection and lateral motion, and our focus was on forward motion at all times. Now that he knows the job and has a solid base level of fitness though, these are my go-tos on working to build our strengths and address our weaknesses.

I’d love to know what you all like to work on with your ponies too!

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.

More XC Media!

Sick of it yet?? Too bad! One of the moms there took some great pics and I just got access. I’ll have even more when the other girl finishes getting them off her camera! Enjoy a few more views of us having a ridiculous awesome time.

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Princess Unicorn surveying her surroundings and deciding if she wants to exit the trailer, while her loyal subjects await her.
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“Warmup xrails require a lot of inspection. Better put my head between my knees.” -Addy
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One bounce…
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…two bounce!
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Going dowwwwwn
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Happy mare likes big logs. Happy mare is also happy that Human doesn’t wear spurs, because Human has an awful habit of sticking her toes straight out.
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Happy mare locks onto her next target
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Rider squints through the haze as she and the Unicorn launch themselves up and out of the water
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Human tries to slow down the Beast with limited success
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Lifting off over the tire jump
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Hi, my name is Olivia, and I am a Mane Sniffer

First Time XC Schooling

So as mentioned, my barn went XC schooling this past weekend. It was Addy’s first time on a XC course, and my first time doing anything remotely resembling XC since I was roughly 11.

Oh my gosh. I totally get it. I completely understand why you crazy eventers do it. I can see why now.

And Addy totally gets it too. My pony that HATES airy verticals (literally just a colorful pole) hunted down every jump and acted like she had done this a thousand times.

I don’t even know what else to say. This was so incredibly awesomely fun, my horse was definitely having an awesome time, and I’m still grinning about all of it. Water, ditches, banks, logs, all of it was amazing. I still stink at down banks (stupid jumping position muscle memory getting me into trouble), but it was SO. MUCH. FUN.

I’ll just let you see the video of all the fun elements we got to try, and you can see Addy’s first XC school for yourself. It goes in order from our warmup to the last element we tried. (HUGE thank you to manfriend, who spent several hours trekking after us over hill and dale to take these videos PLUS some awesome pictures. All this despite his allergy to horses. I know. He’s the absolute best.)

When can we go again?!

An Ambidextrous Sport

I had a sore muscle in my arm the other day, and I got an interesting reaction from a coworker when I mentioned it. She said in quite certain terms that it was likely from riding because I’m right hand dominant.

No matter what I said, I could not convince her that riding is symmetrical(ish). That if I was holding more strongly with my right hand, we would be going in circles the whole time.

Who can blame her? Can you think of any other sport that is truly symmetric? Soccer players tend to kick with their dominant side, baseball players pitch and bat with their dominant side, track and field athletes run or throw or grip with a certain side. Even swimmers tend to breathe more from a certain side.

I’m not saying there are no exceptions to this (several popped into my head as I typed this), but it is exceptionally rare to find a sport in which there is no “dominant side.”

At least in theory.

I know that practice can be quite different- many of us have weaker left sides, or their right leg tends to float, or any number of bad habits that I certainly don’t have. But these are things that we’re all consistently working to correct (or should be).

We’re careful to lunge a horse the same number of circles in both directions. We want to sit directly in the center of the saddle so that we are prepared to ask for anything. A rollback to the right and a rollback to the left can easily be in the same course, so your legs better both be strong for that. You dressage folks are even more obsessed with straightness and balance than those of us in the H/J world, but we all should be!

I’ve read and re-read this article quoting George Morris probably 10-12 times now, and so much of it relates back to the ever-important straightness and balance. Straightness at all gaits, straightness to jumps, straightness for changes, straightness 4ever. Imagine how hard it is for the horse to be straight when we as riders aren’t straight! (Says the girl who collapses to the left, wiggles her inside leg, over-bends/counter-bends at random times, and then has the gall to ask “WHY WON’T SHE JUST GO IN A STRAIGHT LINE?!” Because you’re an idiot, Olivia. Because you’re an idiot.)

I had a really excellent school with Addy yesterday that brought this to the forefront- I lowered my stirrups by a hole to a more appropriate flatting length, put her snaffle bit back in, popped on some very gentle spurs, and declared it Equitation Day. She moved right up into the bridle almost immediately, was salivating out the wazoo, and gave me some really great effort. We did lateral movements, extensions, collections, transitions, and everything felt really calm and balanced. She wasn’t leaning on the bit to catch her balance, she was moving more upright and carried herself more. To say I was happy with how quickly she caught on would be an understatement. I started screaming for everyone to LOOK AT MY DRESSAGE PONY SHE’S SO FANCY.

However, our lack of ambidextrousness (is that a word? I’m assuming you’re all smart enough to know what I’m saying here) became more apparent once we moved into the canter. I was able to get a beautiful balanced canter to the left- she stayed nice and round, balanced and bent through her turns and around circles, and we could extend and collect without a fuss. It was one of the best quality canters I’ve ever gotten from her. But then going to the right, it wasn’t as nice. It wasn’t a hot mess by any means and she certainly was working hard for me, but required much more support around turns and when collecting.

I tested this out by counter-cantering, which historically has been pretty tough for us. She was able to hold when we were going left, but when she was unable to collapse in on the right she got very discombobulated. I didn’t want to drill this without a trainer present, but our short experiment confirmed what I thought- we need to build her muscle and balance more evenly. After all, it’s not fair to ask her to carry me around a course in all directions if I haven’t developed her capabilities in all directions.

I’m going to start building “Equitation Day” into our schedule much more often so that we can consciously work on that. Encouraging that correct round movement will likely be difficult for her at first, but with her work ethic and my fumbling attempts at support I think we’ll get there. Besides, she sure would look purty taking me around an Adult Medal class….

Does your horse have a stronger side? How do you address that? What are your favorite exercises for building self-carriage and balance?

Chapter 2: In Which my Horse is a Fire-Breathing Dragon from Planet Unicorn

Show number two is under our belts!! Those of you who I’ve connected with on Instagram already know how it went, but don’t spoil it for the rest of the gang. Suspense is always fun.

Anywho, I had a really bad feeling about this show. Addy has been stocked up in her left hind for a couple days, and even though she’s been perfectly sound, I’m a paranoid horse mom (or aunt or nanny or whatever). I rode her yesterday briefly and she felt A-OK and both Trainer and Assistant Trainer gave the thumbs up, so when my alarm went off at 5:45am on Sunday, I figured we may as well give it a try.

Well, that lasted until I got to the barn. After eating her breakfast I noticed that her leg was still pretty puffy, but she still didn’t mind me poking and prodding around it. Trainer said we should toss her on the lunge line for a bit and see how she was moving and if the swelling would go down.

OH THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT. Oh my word. Pretty Girl just ran in circles, threw bucks, snorted, pranced, and was generally full of beans. So glad we got her moving around like that BEFORE anyone got on.

Once she had tired herself out a little we checked and saw the swelling had already started to go down. She hadn’t taken a single ouchie step, so it was time to load onto the trailer! At this point I was feeling SO nervous- the stress of worrying about her leg for the past couple days, wondering if today was the day she became a bucking bronco pony, worrying about the fact that I didn’t have any buddies with me so who was going to hold my horse if I had to pee?! and just general show nerves. But I’ve been a weenie in the past, and I was determined to at least make it to the show and put in an effort.

We made it there, and Beastly over here came off the trailer with nostrils flared and tail pricked. Showoff. I asked Trainer to hop on her first to take her around, which turned out to be unneeded. It was like Addy remembered her job and instantly relaxed once someone was on her back. She went around the warmup ring with absolutely no problems, both with Trainer and with myself.

She went back on the trailer just long enough for me to get my number and sign up for my classes, then it was back on! My first round at 2’9″ was, um, interesting. I’d like to think of it as a warmup round. We chipped, we took fliers, we had one memorable oxer where we stuck a 5 in a bending line where a lot of horses were putting 7. Ah well. Such is life. We needed to box it in a lot harder- I thought that because she was relaxed in the warmup she would be relaxed on course, but that was not the case. She seems to know when it’s showtime and transforms into the racehorse half of her heritage.

Second round was a little bit better- still not one of our best rides, but a definite improvement. Nothing too noticeable here, except for the fact that we did manage the comfortable 6 in the bending line.

We won both classes! I think we were the only person in one class and there was only one other person in the other…but hey. A win is a win. I’ll take it.

Then it was flat class time. Note to self: we do not do well in flat classes. Addy gets very confused why we’re not jumping any of the pretty jumps and wants to run and be freeee and feel the wind in her mane and is having none of my “please trot you beastly little dragon.” She was an absolute fire-breathing dragon. Manfriend was giggling at the video I showed him- and that was the direction that she was behaving decently in. We cantered when they said walk. We cantered when they said trot. We hand-galloped when they said canter. I ran her into a wall when they said walk and line up. It was all very exciting. I think if they could’ve given me lower than second place they would have, but alas there were only two of us in the class. Bright side: my trainer saw me struggling and called out that I should forget about trying to make her hunter-y and just make her listen. So this flat class ended up being a very useful schooling session where she ended up listening, even if she was framed up like a dressage horse instead of on the buckle.

This did end up being enough for me to get champion in my division out of two people, but like I said- a win is a win! And now we have a big pretty champion ribbon hanging on her door!

Our 3′ division was canceled since no one else signed up, but my trainer convinced them to offer a 3′ option in the Child/Adult Hunters (which was listed at 2’6″). Warmup for that was uneventful, but she was definitely charging around with me a bit. We bumped her up to a slow twist recently, but I think she may need something stronger for shows because she was blowing right through my hand.

But we went in for our first 3′ round!!!! And it felt amazing. We got packaged up, got nice distances, she jumped sooo cute, and it flowed smoothly. I walked out of the ring with the absolute biggest grin on my face. I wasn’t surprised when we won that class, and I don’t mean to sound cocky there. But you know that feeling when you just click with your horse and it feels so good and you just know that you rocked it? It was that feeling.

Second round was ehhhhhh not great. We didn’t package up nearly as well, and it was a bit of a hot mess. By this point Addy was a little tired and less inclined to collect when asked. Also for some reason, I did not see a single distance in this round. For the life of me, I could not see anything. It was like my eye had gone out the window. All I could do was close my leg and hope for the best. Addy, of course, is the best pony to exist in the whole wide world and carried my butt through the whole course very good-naturedly. This was enough to get us 3rd!

Second flat class- we went into this one with a schooling mentality so it was less eventful. I literally said the words to her: “Do not be a dragon. You are not a unicorn. You are a horse. Please act like a horse. This is a horse show for horses.” I think some rando got that on the video they were recording of their buddy in the class and I’d love to get a copy of me giving Pretty Girl a pep talk. We were still much too “up” and had some breaking-into-canter moments because oh man trotting is boring IS THAT A JUMP CAN I DO IT PLEASE. But overall it was less fire-breathing. We still got 5th out of 5, but that’s as expected. Seriously. Flat classes are not our friend (though I think we could do well in eq flat classes where there’s a little more to distract her with, she loves dressage-y movements and going in a frame).

For your viewing pleasure, a selection of our trips! I’m trying to figure out how to edit together all the funny parts from our flat class, so hopefully I can share that later in the week.

  • First 2’9″ trip at 0:00 (obviously)
  • Second 2’9″ trip at 1:13 (this is truncated for some reason, and a little fuzzy)
  • First 3′ trip at 1:34- if you’re going to watch anything, just watch this one. It’s the good one.
  • Second 3′ trip at 2:45. You can ignore this one (please).

We did the 3′!!! And we even managed to win one of our classes at that height!! I am so so so unbelievably proud of my girl, who has handled this transition to being a show pony with her usual sweetness and dependability. She gets Monday off to play outside with her friends all day, and then it will be business as usual in our lesson on Wednesday. Can’t wait to keep progressing with her!

PS- regarding Addy’s leg, we think the stocking up is probably due to some crazy weather changes, inconsistent turnout, and a changing riding schedule. By the end of the show, the swelling was almost completely gone and she was still completely sound. We’re tracking it closely and taking some steps to make sure she’s not ouchie in any way, but so far she’s been perfectly fine. I’ll keep you posted!

Dusty Troxels, Internet Fame, and Horse Show Plans

This past weekend was chock full of awesomeness on the horse front! After a bit of a roller coaster last week, I’m so excited to share the awesomeness with you.

  • Addy and I had a bareback day. This may sound super minor to most of you, but I haven’t had a “goof-off” day since I owned my own horse in high school. There just isn’t the time to do that when you’re lessoning once a week on a school horse. Getting to hop on and bump around the farm a bit was so relaxing and made me feel like a “real” horse person again! I rode in street clothes and a dusty old Troxel (the dead bug was removed from the helmet before I used it) and got absolutely covered in hair, but it was totally therapeutic.
  • I’m on the internet! I submitted a picture from a recent lesson to Judge My Ride and I got a really quick response from Rob Gage! He didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t expect- I know Addy has perfect form, I was pretty happy with my upper body, and my legs desperately need strengthening- but it was awesome to get that feedback from him. Check out my post on their website here, or see it on Pinterest! Having my picture in two places totally makes me internet famous, right??

  • We have scheduled our first horse show!!! We’ll be attending the LTD show at Morven Park in Leesburg, VA on February 21. The plan now is to do the 2’6″ Schooling Hunter division, but that’s still under discussion. It’s right down the road from our barn and a fairly small show, so I think it’ll be a perfect low-key low-pressure way to enter the show ring. A little nervous and a whole lot excited.

Lots of good things, but as always in the horse world, something had to go wonky. Owner Lady said that Addy was a bit of a nut on Saturday, so Sunday I showed up (crop in hand) ready to WORK. She clearly had excess energy and I was going to flatwork that right into the ground. I was ready to go, and I felt that I needed a grueling ride to get my mental focus back- so of course I went to pick out Addy’s feet to get her ready to rumble. And she was missing a shoe.

Argh! The farrier will be there this week so we won’t lose too much time, but I have a feeling that these days off are going to make her even more energetic. I did stay on Sunday and groom her for a solid hour, so I still got my horse therapy that day and Addy got her scratches and treats.

Not the best wrap-up to the weekend, but lots to look forward to! Wish me luck when I do get back on…

Who else has a post on Judge My Ride to share? When’s your first show of the season? Anyone heading to Morven Park on the 21st??