It’s ShowTime

I have two big things I wanted to share, so let’s start with the best one first!!

Our darling girl has officially made it to her first horse show. Evangeline went in for her first leadline class under the oaks at Upperville, and it was everything I was dreaming of from literally the day I found out I was pregnant.

Like. The cuteness. I cannot.

Y’all haven’t seen cute until you’ve seen a size 18M show coat. We did have to get a little creative: her bows simply attached to her helmet because she has such short hair, and her “paddock boots” are just toddler shoes with brown laces instead of the sparkly pink they came with, and her breeches are knee patch pants. But the show shirt and coat and helmet and garters are all genuine show clothes made in a tiny size!! And do you see that little itty bitty saddle?!

We were lucky enough to borrow the sweetest little pony mare who was beyond gentle and careful with Lina. My dad came down to be her other handler, and she was so happy to have her Colonel close by (in full Colonel dress, no less). Yes, all the grandkids call him Colonel. It’s hilarious. I also got to wear an absolutely enormous hat, so I’m very happy.

It was utter chaos. 10/10 would totally do again.
Also hilarious that they had full size numbers for the little kids. It was literally the size of her entire torso.

Overall, it was such a fun experience that I definitely hope to repeat next year. Lina has been carrying around her pretty rainbow ribbon ever since, she loved waving at her adoring fans lining the ring, she giggled when she pat her pony’s nose, it was simply heartwarming. I was hoping she’d have as much fun participating as I did preparing, and thankfully that was the case!

And now that Evangeline’s show debut has happened, we’re turning our attention towards my own re-debut! Francois and I will be competing at Loudoun Benefit this weekend, and I am vibrating with anticipation.

The OG readers may remember that Loudoun was our very first show together when I got him back in 2016. We’re both older and wiser (questionable) now, and it’ll be super fun for this to be our re-entry to the show world.

In the spirit of not being an entire idiot, we decided to do the 0.90m class on Friday to see where we’re at. Depending on how that feels, we’ll either stick in the 0.90m classes for the weekend or head into the 1m Low Adults for Saturday/Sunday. The only reason I super want to do the Lows is because both Sat/Sun are speed classes (and you all know I love a good speed class), but really I’ll be happy either way. We’ve got nothing to prove, nothing to qualify for, we’re just here for a good time.

We’ve been schooling some decent height in our last couple lessons and it has all felt beyond easy for Frankie, so I know he’ll be good to go for whatever height we end up doing. My eye isn’t as rusty as I thought and I’m feeling stronger every ride! Francisco literally feels the best he’s ever felt right now in terms of muscling and fitness and rideability – I was joking that we should throw him in the 1.10m classes at Tryon if he’s gonna make this all look so easy.

Bad photo. Good horse.

I’m joking. Probably.

But in all seriousness, I feel really really prepared and excited going into this show. A few friends expressed some gentle concern when I mentioned my plan to get back in the show ring so soon after getting back in the saddle, and I will fully admit that it was an aggressive timeline, but now that we’re here it feels extremely comfortable.

My trunk is packed, Francois heads over to the show tomorrow, and I can’t wait to share updates!

South Not North

In the usual way of things, we have a change of plans for our summer show schedule!

Instead of heading north to Michigan to enjoy GLEF for two weeks, we’re instead heading down to Tryon for a week. My trainer called recently to ask if I was dead-set on Michigan, and I believe my words were: “I literally don’t care where we end up as long as I get to show.”

I’m a high maintenance client in most ways, but I am supremely not picky about where I get to hop over colorful sticks for exorbitant amounts of money.

It might not look like a smile, but I remember being pretty dang happy

While GLEF is staying on my bucket list, I’m super majorly excited to head down to Tryon! You may remember that we almost made the trip down a couple years ago (holy crap it was already five years ago), so I’m super super excited to finally get there. I’m especially excited that my husband was able to take some time off work for us to turn it into a little family vacation. The super-cute AirBnB is booked and we’re excited to make the trip! The house I picked has a fenced in yard and is pet friendly, but I’m not convinced we should be subjecting our polar bear to July in North Carolina. She’ll likely stay up north, either at Grandma and Grandpa’s air conditioned house, or at her own air-conditioned home with a house sitter.

Yes, she sleeps like this every day. Yes, she snores. Yes, my coworkers can hear her when we’re in meetings.

I’m feeling really good about being ready to go show. We’ve slowly started putting a few jumps up and it’s going well – I definitely have to grab mane and cling on when I ask for shorter turns and Frankie delivers, but he’s smart enough to stay under me. He’s on schedule to get his usual injections this week, we’ll likely sign up for a massage after Loudoun, and the combo of training rides and fitness center visits is fantastic for his overall feeling under saddle. In short: he feels absolutely lovely, and is just as fun as ever. I simply adore him.

Muscle Man!

Right now I’m riding him in his snaffle since I don’t quite trust my balance with the leverage of the elevator I like him best in. It’s not the end of the world if we stick with this, but I’m hoping to get strong and balanced enough to get back in the elevator for the show ring since he does get a bit know-it-all-ish when he hears the buzzer go off. To be fair, he does know quite a bit. We’ll play it by ear; he’s also a lot more broke and smart than the last time we showed in a snaffle, so I’m not overly concerned about it – we’ve shown at a lot higher height, with way fewer miles under our belt, and it was fine.

In a snaffle. Totally survived. It went fine.

We’re excited to be heading into our summer show season, and will keep you all updated!!

Phases of Training

Strap in guys, this one is a monster post.

It’s no secret that Frankie’s workload these days is much lighter than it was last summer. I’ve talked about it quite a bit, and he’s been on this lighter schedule for roughly a year now so I have some solid comparison to go on. In looking back at the 3.5ish years he’s been mine, I think our training approach can be broken into 3 main phases (thus far). I’d like to take a look at those three phases, what worked, what the results were, and what I’ve learned about what works best for my horse and our partnership.

Part One: Train Like Lesson Students. Apr 2016 – Nov 2016

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This first phase lasted most of the first calendar year that I owned Frankie. We lessoned once a week, he did not receive training rides, his physical maintenance was minimal, and we were showing at 1.0m in the Low Adult jumpers.

At this point, the main focus of our program was getting to know each other. I hesitate to even call it a program, because there was not a lot of cohesiveness to what we were doing. It truly was all about the basics: making sure forward was always the answer, learning to keep my balance and keep my leg on a very different ride than I was used to, building show miles and trust in the show ring. We developed strength and balance but little nuance on the flat. He had decent muscling and decent conditioning – plenty to do his job comfortably but nothing to write home about. We ended this phase with a much better understanding of each other and much better communication, along with a great deal of trust built by a successful show season.

The biggest thing we learned at this point was how to hit the gas pedal. Building that forward motion did not come particularly naturally to either of us at that point, but has been the foundation for literally everything we’ve done since. In a sense, we had to learn to gallop before we could learn to trot. We had to rev the engine before we could tune it into sportscar mode, which brings me to our next phase.

Part Two: Train Like Pros. Dec 2016 – Jul 2018

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Our second phase lasted about a year and a half, and coincided with our move up to the 1.10/1.15m High Adult jumpers. We took private lessons at least once a week, started with one training ride a week which then bumped up to two training rides a week, had a dedicated 6 day/week strength and conditioning program for both of us, and got much more aggressive with our physical maintenance.

At this point, the main focus of our program (and it truly was a Program with a capital P) was to hone our skills for the move up. Our private lessons very closely tied into what AT worked on in her pro rides for him, with the goal of getting me closer to riding at that level. He often worked twice a day in addition to his hilly turnout, and he was superbly muscled and trim. By the end of this phase, we were confident at 1.15m, he was going at 1.20m with a pro in the irons, and we had competed at a lot of bucket list locations.

One of the biggest things we developed during this phase was a sense of timing. Before this, I knew what a half-halt was, I knew how to adjust his stride, and I could get out of his way over a fence. My biggest takeaway from this intensive period was learning WHEN to cue him in different ways to give him the most support and be the most effective rider I could be. I remember at first feeling completely discombobulated and my trainer reassuring me that the muscle memory would come in time – she was right, and these frequent rides were the reason I was able to internalize it. Even though I’m a little flabby and rusty now, I’ve been able to maintain this sense of timing in much of our work (though not all! This skill certainly atrophies from lack of use like any other).

Supporting this heavily increased workload was heavily increased maintenance. We did hock and SI injections, he got massages, he saw the chiropractor, he got his tack evaluated and re-evaluated. Maintaining that level of fitness truly was not easy for him, and while he remained sound as a bell and healthy, he needed our help to maintain that muscle tone comfortably.

The time and effort we needed to put in to keep Frankie at peak fitness and performance was very high and difficult to maintain with wedding planning and then school added into the mix, which brings me to our next phase.

Part Three: Train Like Ammies. Aug 2018 – present

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Our current phase has lasted about a year now, and has coincided with a step down in height and exploration of the eq and derby rings. We’re back in group lessons that happen mostly weekly, he’s still in his 2x/week training rides to maintain fitness, but I’m only on 3-4x/week and the conditioning work, while still a part of the program, is less targeted and intense. Physical maintenance stays high but is needed less often.

At this point the main focus of our program is maintaining the base. Maintaining his fitness at a reasonable point, maintaining the skills and abilities we fought so hard to learn, and maintaining a base level that we can work off of when we’re ready to jump back in more intensely. He’s got a bit more of a dad bod, but is fine to jump around 3′ once a week. As he gets older, we’re incorporating more hill work to keep his hind end feeling strong, we’re icing his legs after every jump school, we’re using Back on Track hock boots to support his hock injections, and we’re overall being more thoughtful about the every-day preventative maintenance that we’re providing.

One of the big things we’ve developed during this phase is confidence. We haven’t introduced anything newly difficult to Frankie in almost a year – that’s not to say that we haven’t asked him to work hard because we certainly have, but the heights and questions have all been heights and questions he’s been asked before. It’s like giving him a test that he’s already taken, so he knows how to ace it. It’s been refreshing for both of us to step back and do things that are so solidly in our wheelhouse.

Overall Thoughts

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Each of these phases made sense at the time, and each has taught me more about what Frankie needs to feel his best. We’ve consistently learned and changed what we do to fit his needs, and I have a few main takeaways to consider as we move forward together:

  • This is a horse that thrives on knowing he’s done a good job. When introducing new skills/heights/expectations, take plenty of time to ask him questions he knows the answer to. His work ethic and attitude soars when he’s set up to get it right.
  • The timing of the release is everything for him. He is not a sensitive horse and is happy to hang on my hand forever. He also knows that his job is to go forward now, so this means I end up with a front-heavy unbalanced horse. Learning WHEN to release after a solid half-halt has 100% been the key to developing a consistent and balanced gait, with a horse that trusts that his effort at maintaining that will be rewarded.
  • His conditioning will absolutely not take care of itself. He loses fitness practically overnight and it’s tough to regain it once lost. It’s also hard to maintain on a busy amateur schedule, which means that our expectations for his performance have to match our ability to help him out in that area.
  • He doesn’t need a program, but he does thrive in one. Much as he loves knowing that he’s done a good job, he loves consistency in his workload and is much happier when he’s getting worked with fairly consistent intensity at consistent intervals. Those intervals and intensity don’t have to remain unchanging forever, but he is happiest when those hold steady for a solid chunk of time.

To get super reductionist, Frankie is a horse that thrives on consistency and well-timed rewards. If and when a new phase in our training is necessary, these are some common threads for us to carry forward.

Burnout

You know that feeling when there’s 2148734 different things going on and all you want to do is hibernate for 7-8 weeks? Yeah, I’m there. Totally there.

Not with Frankie though- never with Frankie. He’s my decompression and therapy time to handle the burnout. We’ve had a series of great lessons lately where our flatwork is getting more and more refined, and we’re asking him to really turn ‘n burn around some sharper rollbacks.

Which is great, because our big move-up is coming up on the 17th! We’re headed to a venue in Maryland for our official debut in the 1.10m High Adults. It will be Frankie’s first indoor show, his first time showing out of a trailer instead of having a stall, and our first time at this new height- somehow, I don’t think any of this will bother him at all. He has never blinked at any ring/commotion, he hops on and off the trailer with no hesitation, and he’s been rocking the bigger jumps in lessons lately. We’re hoping to get some points towards qualifying for the Zone 3 USHJA AA Jumper Finals in August.

I thought I would be more nervous for this move up, but really I’m just excited. I feel ready. And that actually surprises me- we bought Frankie to be my 1.10m horse eventually, I just thought it would take a year or two to get there instead of 8 months. I didn’t expect to feel prepared quite yet. But as my trainer said, why wait around if we’re ready? It’s the start of a new show season and we’ve got some new goals to pursue, so let’s go out and chase them.

So lots of excitement around that. Which is really really great, because I kinda need that to keep me going right now amid the craziness at work and holiday season and random “stuff” that always seems to pop up around this time of year.

Apologies in advance if the blog goes a bit quieter than usual this month- Frankie will be helping me past the burnout ❤