The Dog Days of Summer

It may be a million degrees out, but we finally have a show on our calendar! Frankie and I will be heading to the Piedmont Jumper Classic the last weekend of September. No clue if we’ll be sticking in the 0.90m or if we’ll head into the Lows and I don’t much care, it’s just going to be fantastic to get our butts back in the jumper ring and let Frankie do what he does best. As much as I’m thoroughly enjoying our forays into the eq and derby rings, let’s not forget that Frankie has spent 3 years tuning up into a super fun amazing jumper. Plus, this show is held on the same showgrounds as Upperville and is entirely jumpers. All the beauty of Upperville, smaller crowds, close to home and reasonably priced – what is there not to like?!

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Seriously I will never complain about the chance to ride around in this ring. PC – G. Mohan

In other upcoming show news, it looks like the barn will be returning to Ocala this February after spending the last few winter shows at WEC in Ohio. I’m very much hoping to make it work financially so I can take Frankie down for both weeks and enjoy a change of scenery with him. The prize list is a mile long with a million different jumper classes we could do AND a very large array of adult eq and medal classes so we certainly wouldn’t lack for variety. Those of you who have been around for a while know that my trip down to Ocala back in 2016 was ultimately what sparked buying a horse to compete more heavily with (which of course led to Frankie joining the family #bestdayever), so I have some amazing memories of being down there. It would feel kinda full circle to go back there with my own horse to the place that was such a catalyst to a turning point in my riding journey.

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Baby me on my lovely lease horse, trying desperately to convince myself and everyone around me that “no I really don’t think I’m going to buy a horse any time soon.” Signed the check for Frankie less than 6 weeks later. Willpower: I have none.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the World’s Best Horse Husband (WBHH). We’ve got some financial goals we’re working towards together and clearly horse shows are a luxury and NOT a necessity, so for him to support this pursuit of my passion really does mean the world to me. He’s a good one. I like him so much.

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Also he’s real cute and I like his face a lot.

In the meantime, we’re chugging along happily. Frankie is secretly part dragon and handles the heat like a champ, I myself turn into a slightly al dente linguine, but between the two of us we’re getting some good work in and staying in reasonably decent shape. I will say, his coat right now is LOVELY. He is shiny, sleek, some dapples are peeking through, and his winter coat is just starting to grow in with that gorgeous dark color. We’re going to be supplementing his hock injections with an SI injection to make him feel extra good, I’ve been icing his legs pretty much every time we jump, and he’s honestly looking and feeling great.

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Not sure what I’m doing with my hands here but I’m sure it made sense at the time

I’ve been enjoying my summer break from school, but I’m also excited to jump back into classes next week. I have two back to back terms which means no break until December 6, but then I get a two month break until February! …and then it’s another marathon straight through to the end of May. But that’s fine. I’m on track to finish the program early October 2020 which really isn’t that far away, and so far I’ve maintained my 4.0. They don’t do anything higher, I checked.

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I’m pondering some ideas for blog posts about some of the training approaches we’ve been taking lately and how that balance has been working, but for now the short version is: it’s hot but Frankie is cool, we’ve got some exciting shows coming up, and I’m a happy nerd.

Puttering

This may be one of my favorite words that Danny Emerson uses. Puttering. He uses this to describe his way of slowly, calmly asking the horse to work a little bit harder. And then backing off. And then asking again a little bit. And if something goes wrong, taking a minute to relax before trying again. No rush, no pressure, no angst.

We’ve been puttering, and I gotta say that it’s been fantastic.

The hot weather has hit Virginia like a wrecking ball, and I am a wussy sissy baby that IMMEDIATELY got hit with heat stroke- complete with nausea, fever, chills, and headaches for like 3 days straight. NOT HANDLING THIS WELL.

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Culprit: Baseball game. TOO HOT.

But once I recovered enough to get back in the saddle, I found Frankie eager to work. Me? Not so much. So we had to come to an agreement: working hard enough to satisfy Frankie’s need for activity, while keeping things light enough to satisfy my need to NOT FAINT WHY IS IT THIS HUMID. A delicate balance.

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Coming soon to theaters: One of them was a salty veteran of the police force. The other was a rookie cop with no respect. wHaT wAcKy AdVeNtUrEs WiLl ThEy GeT iNtO nExT?!?!11/?!

Our agreement has been longer sessions of lower impact flatwork. Lots of walk breaks, lots of work at the walk and trot, frequent water breaks, and lots of exercises to engage the PonyBrain- we’re playing games together and mixing up our usual walk-trot-sitting trot- no stirrup work-canter-walk routine.

It’s looking more like this:

Walk a bunch. Both directions. Leave the ring and walk some more. Spiral and wiggle all over the ring and outside the ring. Enjoy the fact that Frankie neck-reins.

Pick up a contact. Just a light one, not asking for much yet. Start trotting around to stretch out and get muscles moving.

Come back to a walk. Drop the contact. Pick up the contact. Drop the contact. Pick it back up. Drop it again.

Lots of figures at the trot. Half seat, posting, sitting, standing straight up, drop stirrups, pick them back up. Go from a longer contact to a more packaged contact. Lengthen, collect, lengthen, collect.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Lateral work at the walk and trot, mostly off the rail. Get that hind end tuned into my leg and get him thinking about where all four feet are going.

Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Canter. Do some circles, do some simple changes, do some canter-walk-canter-trot-canter-walk transitions, ask for collection, ask for lengthening.

Walk. Drop the contact. Pick it up. Drop it. Pick it up.

Trot around on a nice long rein so Frankie can stretch out. Then pick him up again. Then stretch out. Then pick him up. Then stretch out.

Walk. Do some more figures.

Leave the ring. Wander the property.

This low-pressure puttering has been absolutely wonderful for us. Walking on a contact used to mean jigging and anticipation, and now it means that we’re playing the Contact Game. By the time we’re done all I have to do is shift my weight and take a light feel, and Frankie shifts his weight back, rounds up, steps under, and works harder. And that’s with a feather light touch.

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Unrelated: new breastplate! Because more leather straps is what we were missing in our life.

If I don’t like the transition I got, we just try again. No fuss, we just try again until we get it right and then we throw a party. Those canter-walk transitions are still not where they need to be, but we’re definitely closer than we were before.

By the ends of our rides, I’ve gotten a horse who is soft and majorly adjustable- almost more so than I know how to handle. He’s sensitive to my leg to the point where I can get his shoulders straight, right, left. His hind end straight, right, left. Bent, counter-bent, long contact, or higher and rounder. Moving off my leg even when I’m not intentionally telling him something (oops).

At the ends of these rides I have a horse that is lathered in sweat- it’s hot out and he’s been working hard. But I also have a happy horse with pricked ears who wants to keep going. I’m not moseying back to the barn with a tired horse- we’re marching back with plenty of energy to spare because we’ve worked hard and it felt good.

I can’t always take this kind of time with him- have you seen the warmup ring at a show lately?- but I plan to keep taking this time when I can. It’s gotten us working together as a team, developing our muscles together, and kept us both fresh and having fun even in this Godforsaken wasteland of a climate.

Who knew puttering could be so productive?

What approach do you take when the heat hits?