A Love Letter to Training Rides

While I had my Trainer or AT hop on Frankie with some regularity (if not frequency) during the first few years of owning him, 2018 was the first year that I set aside a larger portion of our budget for a more regimented schedule of training rides. Frankie spent pretty much all of our show season in his 2x/week program of pro rides in addition to his rides with me.

As a training tool for competition, these rides were absolutely invaluable. My lessons always built on the exercises that Frankie had worked on that week, so there was a ton of consistency and continuity in our work. The extra saddle time helped his fitness immensely, and the correctness of the work made sure the right muscles were developing appropriately. It was a very sympathetic program, but rigorous nonetheless. And while Frankie likes to pretend that he’s a lazy slug that hates work, he actually thrived in such a busy program- both physically and mentally.

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AT taking Frankfurter in a schooling round at Lake Placid before I arrived

But as we kick off 2019, I’m not in the midst of show season, I’m not planning on having a particularly busy or competitive show season in the next few months- but I still have Frankie in a 2x/week program.

And I still love it just as much, albeit for slightly different reasons.

For one, there’s the continued benefit to Frankie. His training rides are tailored to exactly what he needs to work on- not any other horse, not his rider. Just him. While he’s always been a confident horse, I’ve found that these sessions have made that confidence absolutely skyrocket as he’s been set up for success and praised for trying. He’s kept fit, he’s kept limber, he’s kept educated.

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A very blurry screenshot of AT taking Frankie in for miles in the 1.20m at Upperville

But there’s also several enormous benefits to me.

The first and most obvious benefit is when I’m in the saddle. A fit and well-educated horse is a million times easier and (in my book) more fun to ride. Especially Frankie, who tunes into me much more easily when he’s in consistent moderate-heavy work. So as I’m getting back into shape and gaining my strength back, having his help makes it much easier and more enjoyable. Basically I only have to worry about myself since I know he’s got this on lock.

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And AT giving him a great ride in his first ever 1.20m class at Blue Rock

The other benefit is when I’m out of the saddle- namely, that I actually feel that I can take days out of the saddle. As much as I love being at the barn and want to be there all the time, I have other responsibilities to take care of (that I ignored for like 3 years straight womp womp). It used to be that I’d try to cram everything in after the barn and would have to stay up super late, or I’d just push everything to the weekend when I had a bit more time. But now I feel like I can take a day to go home after work and take care of things without feeling guilty about not seeing Frankie. He’s still getting worked, he’s still progressing. It’s allowing me to find a different balance in my life without sacrificing Frankie’s quality of workload.

Basically instead of trying to be an ammy that trains like a pro, these pro rides let me be an ammy that trains like an ammy. Some days I’m a pretty good ammy, some days I’m a pretty floppy ammy, some days I’m an absentee ammy, some days I’m a competitive ammy. I work hard, I cross train, I spend most of my time obsessing about my horse and his care and his work and his health and his schedule and all things Francis-related. But it’s really really refreshing to give myself permission to spend time on other things every once in a while without feeling like I’m trading away my progress in the saddle.

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All that pro attention has made one extremely ammy-friendly pony

I’m still figuring out what my new normal is as a newlywed, and I’m so grateful to have the help of wonderful people and a great program at the barn to help me as I adjust.

 

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Triumphant Return

I’m baaaaack!!!!!

Didja miss me? (Just say yes. I don’t care if you’re lying). Because I gotta be honest, I missed all y’all. Two weeks was a long time.

But enough with the sappiness, let’s get into the good stuff. Greece was great blah blah blah you saw pictures and it was a magical once-in-a-lifetime type of trip and coming back home was only tolerable because my pony was waiting for me.

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REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOOOOOOD

So let’s talk about the pony.

I had a “meeting” with Assistant Trainer for her to hop on Frankie and show me what they’ve been working on while I was away, so that I can be sure to ride consistently and not undo all their hard work. And side note here- my trainers are awesome. Usually in this situation we would just discuss what’s been going on, but AT knows that I’m a very visual learner, so she hopped on to SHOW me instead of just telling me. I gotta tell ya, super grateful that she tailored her communication for me like that.

Also grateful that this training is very clearly tailored to how Frankie goes and what our competitive goals are. We discussed how Frankie will never be the fastest horse in the ring- he isn’t “spicy” like most jumpers. On the one hand, this is fantastic for me. I never worry about getting run away with, I trust him to jump the jumps, and overall he is Mister Reliable and this relaxed disposition makes him a pretty perfect horse for me. On the other hand, we need to generate more power. He currently gives zero f**ks about anything, and we need him to give a couple f**ks. Not like, a ton. Just a couple. (Pardon my French)

So with the knowledge that we cannot turn him into a fiery white-eyed jumper (and we don’t WANT to do that), we discussed how making efficient turns and jumping cleanly are going to be the key to success in the ring. We’ll be doing lots of gridwork and exercises to encourage him to use his body better over the jumps- currently he doesn’t really use his neck effectively, and is slow to pick up his feet. We’re also building lots of strength in that hind end to get him pushing instead of pulling, so those turns will be less barge-like.

Part of this process is asking him to carry himself higher than he has been. We’ve been doing lots of long and low which has been lovely, but now he’s at the point fitness-wise and experience-wise where we need him rounding up into the bridle and carrying himself from his hind end more. He’s naturally built fairly uphill, so this isn’t working against his conformation. Just retraining and building different muscles to get him rocking back and powering across the ground.

We also got some groundwork exercises that can help build muscle and train in some of that lateral responsiveness that will help our turns. We’re definitely upping the expectations in each ride- Frankie is past the point where he needs hand-holding and is ready to buckle down and work. It’ll be hard work for him for now, but this is going to make his job in the show ring SO much easier.

I was able to hop into a lesson later that day to apply what we talked about. And wow. It makes a huge difference. The quality of his gaits was majorly improved (hello suspension) and his responsiveness was noticeably better. Asking for collections and extensions was a much less “heavy” process, when he was traveling uphill like that we were able to get that adjustability SO much faster.

Moving into the jumping, I could also tell a difference- clearly they’ve been schooling the close spot with him. A couple times I didn’t see a spot and kinda tried to launch from outer space and Frankie just said “NOPE I HAVE BEEN INSTRUCTED TO FIT IT IN AND I WILL BE ADDING THAT STRIDE YOU ARE WELCOME MOTHER” and it was like huh….that was actually a much better choice. Thank you horse.

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We have this fun new ivy-covered rolltop/barrel, and a coop set up too. Yay new jumps!

Overall I am SO PSYCHED for this month of training together. Even if we weren’t competing regularly I would be glad for this- we’re working together to get Frankie really fit and able to do his job well and I can’t see a downside to that. I came back after 16 days and hopped on my fit, shiny, healthy, happy horse and jumped around while he took care of me. Can’t complain about that!

Again, I’m thrilled to be back and checking in with all of you. Cheers!

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I swear if I don’t get to jump this liverpool ASAP I’m going to lose it. Formal request is to try it out this week in our lesson. I don’t know if you can tell from this angle, but its SUPER wide. I just wanna.

 

Bootcamp for Francis

I’m heading to Greece for two weeks for a family vacation at the end of August and I can’t wait! Two weeks of lounging by the pool, playing with my niece, laughing with my brothers, sailing the Aegean with my parents, telling stories with my sisters. Two weeks of paradise.

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We’re heading back to the same villa we stayed at 5 years ago. It is not terrible
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Five years younger but we’re still all fresh to death. We get to bring another sister this time around!
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Accurate. Will be doing this in every picture.

BUT.

Two weeks away from my Francis.

Sadface. I hate not seeing him two days in a row, so to go two full WEEKS is going to be a major bummer. I’ll miss my sweet boy so much! Not to mention I’m going to lose all my muscle because I refuse to work out on vacation. I’m sorry but I just won’t do it.

For the first time, I’ve had to consider what to do with my horse when I can’t be there for a solid 16 days. I can ask buddies to hop on him once or twice if I’m gone for the weekend, but I like him to be ridden 5-6x a week and I simply can’t coordinate 10-12 rides for while I’m gone.

So after talking to my trainer and discussing the different options available, I’ve decided to put Francis into full training for the month of September. He will get ridden by a pro 5-6x a week including flatwork, gymnastic work, and conditioning rides. I’ll be having a chat with Trainer before I leave to discuss what we want to work on with him and formulate a plan to get there.

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Priority numero uno: snuggle him tons while I’m gone because he needs his smooshes.

In an ideal world I would then compete at HITS Culpeper finals at the end of September, but it’s looking like the finances won’t be in place for that. Because I will have just paid for a month of training. So my wonderfully tuned up horse will just have to dazzle me at home. Womp womp.

Honestly though, this is going to set us up really well. Our first show at 1.0m this year was very manageable once I got over my stage fright, and I think with some hard work at home over the winter we can move up to the High Adults (1.10m) in the spring without too much fuss. This month of training will kick us into gear and get him ready to tackle some bigger fences in the fall and winter training season.

I’m dreaming pretty big with Frankie. It’s no secret that I want to make it to the 1.10m classes, but I do think he has the potential to take me even higher. I don’t think he’ll ever be the most traditional jumper- he doesn’t have that FIRE to attack the jumps like a lot of the top finishers I see at the shows- but I simply love competing and progressing on him. Despite the expense, I think putting him into professional training for the month is going to be fantastic for both of us as we pursue our goals!

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Clearly scope is not an issue for him

What arrangements do you make for your horse when you travel?