You know how after every single ride I spaz out about how great my horse is and how much I love him? Hope you’re not sick of that yet ’cause it’s still a thing. Sorry not sorry.
I’m really just overjoyed at how much he’s taking care of me lately. I’m not nearly in the shape I was a few months ago, my mental focus is pretty scattered, and I went around half the ring yesterday on the wrong diagonal before my trainer’s laughter caught my attention.
20 years of riding under professional instruction. And I forgot to check my diagonal.
So yeah, clearly I’m not “all there” for him right now. You know how he handles it? Happy ears, obediently going left when I have an oh-crap-turn-left-not-right moment, toting my potato butt around without complaint. It’s awesome.
I have to share our course because of how cool it was. Trainer said it was an adaptation from the West Coast 3’3″ Jumper Seat Medal Finals that happened last week- I love finals season because we get to try out all the fun Big Eq courses! We sometimes have to tweak a bit for the shape/size of the arena but they’re always fun to play with. Here it is:
So it’s corner oxer, forward bending 4 strides to bounce, shaped short 5 out over the natural; other natural to box in a flowing 4, s-turn out over blue in a short 4; up the outside line in a one to a three; then other s-turn also in a forward 4 to short 4.
This course was SO MUCH FUN. Lots of rating our stride bigger and smaller and focusing on our track. That one stride to the three felt incredible. I was a Big Eq Princess in that moment. It just came up perfectly and I could sit there and look pretty as my horse flowed effortlessly through. I think that’s what being on drugs must feel like because I am jonesing for another hit of that.
I guess I’m just really thrilled with how easy this all felt for him. It was ok that I wasn’t all there giving him explicit instructions, because he didn’t really need that much input despite the technicality of the course. He rated easily, he was prompt off my leg and forward-thinking, he was straight up easy to ride.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked really hard to educate him to the job. It’s been a joy and has gone quite smoothly, but it’s definitely still been a lot of sweat and time. And I plan to continue putting in the sweat and the time to continually improve both of our abilities.
But right now in this in-between where I’m not super actively training, I feel like I’m getting to sit back and enjoy the outcome of all that hard work. I’m simply enjoying my incredibly well-trained horse.
Britt had a fantastic post recently about what she hears most often from her trainers, and I just needed to join in!
“Coil the spring”
We talk a lot about getting Frankie’s energy up in front of my leg, and then recycling it back to his hind end to create power. And what happens when you try to compress a crooked spring? It bounces out to the side. She says this to remind me to keep Frankie straight between my aids and bouncing up in front of me.
“We have beautiful hands”
This is a more recent one, as Frankie’s jump has gotten a lot rounder and more powerful (and therefore pops me out of the tack much more easily). This reminds me to keep a soft following hand over the fence to reward this effort. It also makes me chuckle as I’m walking into the show ring.
Ya girl over here gets fetal sometimes, especially around tighter turns. Hearing this belted across the show ring is just the kick in the pants I often need to get my balance back centered over his and in the driving seat up through the turn.
“Ride the plan”
I really like a thinking ride. That’s 100% of why I like the jumpers- I don’t actually like to go fast. I just really like puzzles and strategy and planning, and for me a well-ridden jumper course is the ultimate in executing a plan. Trainer knows this, and we work together during our course walks to develop a detailed, comprehensive plan that plays to our strengths and accounts for our weaknesses. Sometimes I just need a lil reminder that we come up with a plan for a reason, and I shouldn’t just abandon it in a panic (HAHAHA WHO DOES THAT DEFINITELY NOT ME).
“Go have fun”
My all time favorite thing she ever says. It’s our little ritual every single time I walk into the show ring. No matter how jittery and anxious I may be, no matter how intimidated I am by the course, this makes me smile and remember that I’m doing this because I frickin’ love flying around with my Francis.
Before I get into talking about how my legs hurt so much, I have to tell you about my meetup with Liz and Austen!! We got to meet up (huskies in tow) out in Middleburg for lunch, and it was so fantastic to be able to just talk ponies and cocktails. It’s the funniest feeling meeting blog friends in real life- even though it was our first time seeing each other in the real world, it felt like we already knew each other so well. I was hoping they would have time to come meet Frankie, and even more fantastically they had their cameras with them!
It was so lovely to get to introduce them to Frankie. I know I may be biased because I’m his mother, but there is something so special about that horse and I love getting to share that spark with friends. He was enthralled with the huskies and was on the lookout for scritches the whole time. We even popped Liz and Austen up for a brief ride- Frankie was a bit confused that he still had to work, but was happy enough to go be a good goober for both of them. It makes my heart so happy to see him go be such a good soul. Bonus: I have so many absolutely gorgeous pictures to share with you guys!!
Now on to my muscle soreness: we have officially entered the era of private lessons once more. It’s been two weeks with my new flex schedule and while it’s been a bit of an adjustment to get out the door earlier in the mornings, it’s ABSOFREAKIN’ FANTASTIC. I may never be able to go back to a normal schedule again, you guys. So far we’ve had two (incredible) private lessons on Friday afternoons, and here are some jumbled thoughts that I have so far:
In our first lesson, we did not jump a single fence. We worked on correct transitions, channeling our energy straight and powerfully, and convincing Frankie that I know what I’m doing up top (which is only sometimes true, but he doesn’t need to know that). I was sweaty and dying by the end.
Frankie absolutely can and should carry himself, and he is smart enough to know that historically I have not insisted on this. He does not test Trainer or AT. He does test me- which is fair. We had a few mini-tantrums when I continued to insist, but once we pushed past that he gave me INCREDIBLE work. He’s pretty sure this whole “work super hard to build muscle and self-carriage” thing is bogus, but he seems to be resigning himself to it.
THIS IS SO FREAKIN’ HARD. My muscles are so sore. Like, muscles that I don’t usually use for riding are sore. Which is actually also super encouraging, because it means that I’m moving in different ways and the whole point of this is to be doing things differently and better. But ow. Seriously, ow.
Francis is, as always, my tattletale. My leg comes off? Head immediately pops up and he totally inverts. I stop engaging my core? Prancing jigging steps. He is happy to work, but only as hard as I am. And he will not give me what I’m asking unless I ask properly, which makes him such an excellent teacher! Luckily he’s patient as I work through all the ways to *not* ask properly before landing on the right way.
He needs to respect this new bit- he cannot park on the end of it like he did with the snaffle. If he learns to park on this bit, we have just lost all our adjustability that we gained with the additional leverage. This is why I must insist on that self-carriage, and it’s why my trainer didn’t entrust me with this type of bit until quite recently.
Rewards must be quick and frequent. As soon as I feel him soften, I must soften in return- but not until I get that softening. Reward the good, and respond to resistance with consistent but firm correction. Set him up to answer correctly so that we can reward often.
When we have the right canter, we don’t need to see a spot. In our last lesson, I felt like I nailed every single distance to every single fence. Some were a little longer or shorter than others, but every single one felt powerful and out of stride. He was so adjustable and powerful that getting to that right spot was downright easy, and he rewarded me by cracking his back over the fences- I got popped out of the tack a few times because of the strength of his effort!
Riding him more strongly and insisting on more is downright addicting. Of course he’s always a blast to ride, but feeling that balance and power underneath me is the most incredible feeling. I was grinning through my entire last ride. I was also panting and sweating trying to get all my muscles to move in concert, but I was on the verge of giggling as I felt Frankie round up into the bridle and push. I didn’t ever want to hop off.
In a nutshell, I’m trying to learn how to ride Frankie like my trainer rides Frankie. And it’s really really hard and a lot of work and everything hurts and it is so incredibly fun as we both learn the rules of the game.
Muscles are sore, heart is full, and I’m so beyond thrilled with the Big Best Beast.
Some very exciting changes going on in my little corner of the universe!
First off- there was a bit of a re-org at work. Nothing dramatic and my job title didn’t change, but the focus of my work is shifting a bit to more organizational effectiveness and process streamlining. I. Am. Thrilled. It’s a much better fit for my experience, skills, and interests, and my new manager and I have already worked together multiple times to great success. I think this new little department of ours is going to be super helpful for the company as a whole, and it’s going to be superduperamazingfantastic for my own career growth.
Also work related- my flex schedule was approved! One of my all-time favorite perks of my job is that they’re very willing to be flexible with my schedule (remember when I worked remotely from Ohio for 2 weeks so I could compete without using vacation time?). As long as the work gets done when it needs to be and I attend any meetings that require my presence, no one is too fussy about the specific hours and where I am. But even better than that is a formalized flex schedule! Starting next week, I’ll be in the office Mon-Thurs 7:30a-5p with a 30 min lunch break, WFH Friday morning for 4 hours, and then I have every Friday afternoon off. Entirely.
What does one do with a free Friday afternoon? One heads to the barn.
One of the big reasons I wanted to work on a flex schedule was to fit in a private lesson somewhere. Currently I’m really only available for a 7p lesson, or maaaaaybe 6p if I can rush out the door. You know who else is only available at 6p or 7p? Every single other person. So all lessons at those times have by necessity been group lessons. I knew that if I wanted to get an hour all to myself, I’d have to come up with a way to get to the barn at a different time. Which I now have every week!
Don’t get me wrong- my group lessons have been great. I love learning from watching other riders go, and hearing my trainer explain things in different ways to different learners has been enormously helpful. But I’m also now at the point where I’m hoping to get Frankie feeling great at 1.20m+, and there are few other riders at the barn with that ambition (at least in the near term). I think some individual attention will really help push us to the next level and get us focusing on tackling the skill sets we need to master. Our last spate of private lessons was totally transformative for us and I’m excited to keep transforming!
This timing works out perfectly with Frankie’s maintenance- by the time next Friday rolls around, he will be ready to get back into full work after his series of SI and hock injections. He’ll be full of bouncy juice, has been adjusted by the chiro, has better saddle fit, is rocking his carrot stretches, and I just got him a shiny new BoT pad (in navy, duhhh). Because why not do everything we can while we’re at it, right? I have a feeling he’s going to be feeling fantastic, and I’m going to have to grab a lot more mane!
I also got his new 3-ring in and have been using a borrowed figure-8 to great success. I think we’ve really found a great balance of giving him something soft enough to move forward onto, while still giving me a clear enough line of communication to get his attention.
We had a lesson in it last night and I fell in love with my horse all over again. He was hunting down the jumps, had fire in his step but was tuned into me the whole time, and was straight up FUN. He’ll get a few more days off after his hock injections today and I seriously can’t wait. If he’s already going around so amazingly beforehand, I can only imagine how incredible he’ll be once everything is totally 100%.
I also got to sit down with my trainer to talk about our show season coming up, and how best to prepare. Right now the tentative plan is to have AT hop on 2x a week leading up to Blue Rock in May, and then have her take him in a few 1.20m classes to see how he likes it. I’ll stick in the 1.10m Highs for now. We’ll plan on attending Upperville in early June (my favorite show of the year!) where I’ll do the 1.10m/1.15m Highs and she may take him in a 1.20m schooling round, and then late June at Lake Placid I’ll just take him in the 1.15m Highs. If all is going well at that point and we’re all comfortable with the moveup, I’ll take over the ride in the 1.20m Low AOs in August or September. It’s all very tentative and subject to change at any minute, but I’m very happy with this plan. We’re in no rush, so I’d rather Frankie build a lot of confidence and know-how at that height before his amateur mother steps in. As always, we’ll be paying very very close attention to see how he likes that job to make sure we’re not pushing him too much. Even if it doesn’t materialize the way we’re planning, the fact that my trainer has faith in us and Frankie’s abilities means the world to me.
It also turns out that I’m no longer busy during Team Finals (we’re only doing Lake Placid for one week instead of two) and I have enough points to qualify….so I may be looking at the finances to see if we could go from Lake Placid down to Tryon first week of July. I don’t have to decide for a while and it may end up being too much for the Frankfurter, but cool to have the option!
Things are feeling really good right now. Exciting career changes, exciting progression in our training, and an exciting summer coming up. It’s all a little crazy but it’s the best kind of crazy.
Oh yeah, and I’m planning a wedding. Coolcoolcoolcoolcoolcool.
I wasn’t planning on blogging before heading out to Ohio, but I just had the most motivating session with my trainers and I have to share with all y’all.
The best way I can think of to sum it up is as follows:
Learning how to ride is kinda hard.
Learning how to ride WELL is super freakin’ hard.
Learning how to ride in a way that shows nuance and expertise is EXPONENTIALLY HARDER THAN ALL OF THAT.
As I had mentioned, Assistant Trainer and I set up a time for me to watch her ride Frankie and then have me hop on for some coaching on replicating that ride. It ended up being about 30 minutes of AT riding with constant commentary (mad respect for being able to multitask like that) and then 30 minutes of me working with Francis- and I could barely keep track of my limbs, let alone speak.
First off- Frankie looked AMAZING with AT. I’m such a visual learner and getting to see what kind of work he is capable of makes me that much more confident and excited about achieving it with him myself. I wish I had video to show you, but I was too wrapped up in listening and watching.
Some of the key takeaways that AT shared throughout both her ride and mine:
Walking needs to be powerful and forward. While warming up we’re not at all worried about where his head is- we are entirely focused on getting him moving off the leg and pushing powerfully from behind. Insisting on straightness- no wiggling out of a powerful forward walk.
A good way to encourage him to open up his stride more at the walk is alternating leg aids- cue with my left heel as he’s about to pick up his left hind, right heel for right hind, etc. Getting him more sensitive to my cues will help make this more effective at encouraging the activity from behind.
The contact on the outside rein needs to be steady- it does not need to be heavy, but it does need to be consistently present at all times. Test his self-carriage often by releasing the inside rein. He should not change pace or the shape of his body.
Stretch breaks are good, but that doesn’t mean throwing away the work. He is never allowed to grab the reins out of my hands- when I like what he is doing, I can feed the reins to him and encourage the stretch down. Part of working the most effectively with him is timing our breaks to be just as much of a training tool as the active work.
Insist more. Frankie is a well-trained, athletic, fancy horse- if I stick to my guns and continue asking, he will give me correct work. I can’t get lazy or he will get lazy. This doesn’t mean that he can’t do the work, it just means that I have to keep supporting and encouraging the right answer.
No more calling him a llama. The language we use matters, so we are only allowed to call him a fancy shmancy show horse. My new go-to is gonna be FancyPants Francis, but I’m open to other posh nicknames for the big guy.
Carrying himself properly is really hard work, and we can’t expect him to do it all the time quite yet. At the same time, we need to ask for it a little more every time so that we build that strength and build that muscle memory for him. He lets us know that he’s tired by getting strung out or trying to break- that’s when it’s on us to work really hard to support him for another half-lap or so to push just a liiiiittle bit more. Not enough to fatigue him, just enough to push a little harder than last time.
Drop my stirrups as often as needed. Especially when working at the sitting trot, go ahead and drop my stirrups so I can wrap around his barrel and get him super active to my leg. As he gets stronger and learns more self-carriage, that trot is getting a lot bouncier, but his back is also getting rounder and softer so sitting is getting easier.
At all times: straightness. Keep a major focus on where his hips are- is he trying to slide them to the inside or outside? Stay very vigilant about keeping his whole body on one smooth track unless explicitly asking for lateral movements. Keeping a steady outside rein will mostly take care of his shoulders, but let hands go wide if he needs some help finding that center track for his front half.
Don’t ride his head. When we are pushing powerfully from behind, we’re straight through his body, I have a steady contact on the outside rein, and am half-halting from my seat and inside rein, he will be poll-high and in the bridle. The goal is not a false headset- it’s that he’s so strong and soft through his body that he is pushed up into the bridle. If he gets too high- add more leg. If he gets too low- half-halt from my seat.
Almost think to counter-bend through the end of the ring. Frankie is happy to pretzel into a false bend and that is not productive. Keep that strong outside rein (notice a pattern yet?) and use my outside leg to keep his haunches on a smooth track through the turns.
When coming down to a walk, no plopping. He must continue forward on the contact. Do not feed him the reins until he is giving me the walk I want.
And this isn’t even everything- just the high level recap. It was mentally and physically a hugely demanding session- I was getting feedback on what to tweak with literally every single stride.
I basically rode in circles for 30 minutes, and my legs are about to fall off. All of this was hard. My brain felt like a hamster on a wheel trying to put all of these pieces together, my legs are like cooked noodles from the sheer intensity of the workout, and I’m still heavily ruminating on all the work we did.
None of these things are new concepts, it all basically boils down to inside leg to outside rein. It’s just the timing and subtlety of these aids that is some next-level work. AT assures me that with enough practice, these cues and their timing will become as automatic as keeping my heels down- I’m pretty sure it’ll take a good long time to get to that point but I’m hopeful.
Trainer was there as well so I had both her and AT working with us. Talk about intense. She told me that she’s not as fixated on my position so much anymore- there are certainly always going to be things to fix and improve upon, but she knows I know the job. Our focus now is on being the most effective rider I can be. In her words, “this is the difference between coming out to the barn to ride, and coming out to train. It’s time to train.”
So now I am incredibly sore and incredibly motivated. It feels like we’re really kicking it into a whole new gear and I couldn’t be more excited to get to work with my FancyPants pony.
I’ve told you all ad nauseam how much I love my trainer. How she pushes me, teaches me, keeps Frankie fit and healthy. She truly works so hard for her clients and it’s inspiring to see.
But when I take a step back and look at the last few years with her (it’ll be three years next week!), I realized that she’s done so much more than that.
She has believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and she’s put in time and effort on my behalf countless times when there was pretty much nothing in it for her.
You may remember that I didn’t start out with her as a competitor. I started out as a once-a-week group lesson rider with no horse and no shows on the calendar. Heck, I couldn’t afford a horse or shows at that point. My trainer was making next to no money from having me as a client.
After only two lessons, she went out of her way to arrange a half-lease for me. She didn’t get a commission on that and my payments all went directly to Addy’s owner, but she thought it would be good for the horse and knew I wanted to ride. So she made it happen.
When I eventually scraped together some money for shows, she made sure to let me know when the nearby local ones were happening and rallied other riders to go too, knowing those were the only ones I could afford.
When I said I wanted to buy a horse to go do the 1.0m Adult Jumpers, she told me to dream bigger and found a mount to take me to 1.10m and beyond. Despite the fact that I had never competed over 3′.
Countless times she has sat with me after lessons to talk about how to word a sale ad, common conformation flaws, how course design affects the ride, the nutrient content of our feed, considerations when matching a horse and rider, potential upcoming USEF rule changes and the implications of those, and every other topic under the sun about the equine industry.
She has gone into the warmup ring and rattled, soothed, riled, encouraged me by turns, somehow always knowing what will get me into the ring feeling my best. She knows when to say, “not bad, but wait with your shoulders,” and when to say, “GET MAD AND DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.” She never fails to send me in with a pat and a “go have fun!”
And a few weeks ago at Finals, as I was managing my second warmup of the morning and trying to overcome some mental hurdles, she pulled me in for a rare quiet moment. She looked me square in the eye and said:
“You deserve to be here. Don’t think for one second that you don’t. You have just as much of a chance to go lay this down as any other rider here. You’ve earned your spot in this competition.”
Somehow, without me ever verbalizing (and without me fully realizing it myself), she understood those insidious feelings of inadequacy that we all face every so often. She confronted them head on and gave me her confidence when she knew my own was low.
Of course I’m happy with my trainer from a “checkbox” perspective: my horse is healthy and happy, we are progressing steadily and safely, and we are continuously adding new skills to the toolbox. But she has my loyalty for so much more than that.
I’m one of my trainer’s more involved clients now: I board my horse with her, I utilize her training services in addition to my own lessons, I compete at the big shows regularly. But I’ll never forget that she’s been going to bat for me and believing in my dreams since I was just another lesson kid.
First off, I LOVE being in a full training program. I lesson at least once a week- private lesson if it’s available- and will only cancel that lesson if I am too ill to breathe or something unavoidable gets in the way. My trainer is usually in the ring during most of my other rides during the week/on weekends, and will often give me pointers when she’s between lessons. We have her eyes on us pretty much non-stop.
She’s also the property owner and barn manager where we board, so all of Frankie’s care is united there. She tracks his deworming, farrier schedule, vaccinations, feed, turnout, blanketing, training rides, lessons, hacks, trail rides, shows, EVERYTHING. She can give informed advice on preventative vet care because she knows every detail of his workload. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve texted her saying “Frankie threw a shoe” or “Frankie has a scrape” and gotten the response, “I know, already talked to the farrier and he’ll be out later today” or “Yes, we put some Corona on it this morning.” Caring for Frankie is so ridiculously simple: I have one single point of contact that handles everything.
All this is to say that my trainer is the integral core piece of Frankie’s life in every way and that I lean heavily on her for advice and guidance.
Which finally brings me around to the point I really want to talk about: having a trainer that I trust, with a training style that meshes with my learning style, is immensely important to me not only from the perspective of learning to to ride horses moar better, but also because I very much like this integrated-care approach.
However, I hadn’t ridden with anyone else in a very long time. I’ve been with my barn since I got back in the saddle as an adult, so the only two trainers I’ve been with have been Trainer and Assistant Trainer (who have very complementary styles). I did one clinic on Addy back in the day that I loved but that was about it. So I didn’t really know if I liked other trainers’ styles because I hadn’t actually ridden with other trainers.
Until recently, when we had a guest trainer come in to teach lessons for two weeks. And it was great! I gave a brief recap of our first lesson with him (where I was a potato but it was def an educational experience), and I’ll just tell you now that our second lesson went better and also included some great exercises. I am very grateful to have had the chance to ride with him and learn from him and get his perspective on some of the persistent issues I have in the saddle.
But. It really confirmed for me just how much I mesh with Trainer and AT. That may be due at least in part to familiarity (2.5 years of coaching leads to us knowing each other pretty well) and knowing what we expect from each other, but it also gave me an appreciation for how motivated I feel after a lesson with my trainer.
In a nutshell, here’s a few things I really like to have during a lesson:
Warm me up. Please don’t tell me to warm myself up and then you’ll jump me around. I want you to critique my flatwork and help develop that. I can WTC around on my own time- give me some harder exercises that I need your help with. I can warm myself up on the flat at shows when we don’t have a full hour, but during lessons I expect full attention for the full hour I’m paying for.
Constant feedback. What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Please explain how these things led to my horse doing what he did. How can I change what I’m doing? During my walk breaks, please talk to me about why we’re working on what we’re doing today. As you’re setting jumps, please tell me why they’re placed where they are. I want to suck every teachable moment out of every lesson.
Tell me what to change. If I biff a jump, I know I should go back and do something differently next time. I know what my options are. I can absolutely come up with something myself. But I’d really like your input on what you think the best option is.
Give me homework. If we struggled with an exercise, please tell me what I can work on between lessons to develop that skill. Help me be prepared so that we can continue progressing in our next lesson instead of re-treading ground.
What you’re thinking is true: I am a needy girlfriend in client form.
On top of all that, I also like my trainer to have an eye to the future. To believe in me. To suggest ways of stretching and growing and pushing comfort zones. When I say, “do you think someday I could do this?” to respond with, “dream bigger.” Who will help me figure out ways to pursue those big dreams.
So to recap, I want constant unceasing attention to every detail of my ride as well as an emotional and financial coach.
But I guess that’s why I have such a love affair with my trainers: because I have found exactly that. My motivation and excitement for the future expands after every ride with either of them. They take that internal fire and stoke it into something even bigger (thank you Emma for that analogy).
So what about you? What do you look for in a trainer, and in a training program?
You’ve heard me say over and over lately that I’m on show hiatus. Very regrettably so, but my bank account is heaving a sigh of relief for the multiple-month reprieve in show spending.
But being on show hiatus doesn’t mean we aren’t working hard. On the contrary- we’re working harder than ever both in the saddle and out of it. And it’s really REALLY fun.
I’ve been out at the barn pretty much every day, even the days I’m not riding. I’ll have a glass of wine with a fellow ammy as we deep clean our tack and talk about our horses, or I’ll organize my trunk while shooting the breeze with another boarder.
My trainer will give me a session on nutrition- why exactly Frankie eats what he eats, when he eats it. And a conformation seminar to identify Frankie’s strengths and weaknesses. I watched Assistant Trainer clip her horse while she gave pointers, and then she showed me the best way to break in a new bridle quickly.
At this point I know just about every rider and their parents (if they’re a junior) that are at the barn, since I’m there just about every day. I get to say hi and chat and catch up with like-minded people. And when someone new shows up for a lesson, I can sometimes help show them where and how things go around here.
Frankie gets a good grooming every day as his dark winter coat comes in, and his hooves, while always in good shape, are looking even better. Don’t even get me started on his tail- it’s long and luxurious and absolutely gorgeous.
We have days where I ask him to work really hard, and then we have days where his only job is energy and straightness as I work on myself. He’s continuing to build muscle and fitness even though he’s no longer in full training.
The pieces, while not together yet, are steadily coming together. We’re eliminating a lot of the old mistakes and we’re making new mistakes. We’re moving into the realm of skills that we can’t master in a single lesson- we can just keep persistently building strength and ability over time.
October has been an amazing month for all of the little things adding up, all the steps carrying us further. There have not been any single major breakthroughs, just the consistency and hard work adding and adding and adding together until suddenly I look back and realize that our knowledge and skills have progressed.
It’s a calm, contented sort of progress rather than the adrenaline-rush progress I felt all show season. And while I am eager to get back into the show ring as soon as warmer weather rolls around, I’m satisfied for now to buckle down and do hard work.
Put aside idleness, grasp the nettle, and do some hard work. – St. Bernard of Clairvaux
A lot has changed since I got back from Greece a week ago. Obviously we’re making plans which is all well and good, but the big change here is: we’re working HARD to get there. Even harder than before.
Because here’s the deal: I can get away with a decent amount of weakness at 1m. Francis is scopey enough and tall enough that he can get out of trouble with very little assistance from me at that height. Obviously it’s much smoother and cleaner when I ride strongly, but there is a decent margin for rider error.
I cannot get away with weakness at 1.10m and up. My leg MUST be there. My hand MUST be there. I MUST make decisions on course. I will still make mistakes and I will still miss, and Frankie will still be able to make it over, under, or through- but only if I am strong enough to help him out.
So this month of training is not just to kick-start Frankie’s fitness and ability at the higher heights, it’s also to kick-start my own. As my horse becomes better and better schooled and more responsive, I have to rise to the occasion and give him a ride that supports that training. Luckily, the best way to learn how to ride strongly is to….ride strongly!
So here’s what I’m thinking about:
At the walk- insist on a forward walk with poll high, on the contact. Frankie has a BEAUTIFUL swinging forward walk….when I’m not touching his mouth. As soon as I pick up his face he assumes he should either a) walk very slowly or b) start jigging/trotting. He needs to continue that forward swinging walk while accepting the bit.
At the trot- SHORTEN MY REINS. Gone is the era of a light contact. Now it’s time to feel my horse and have a much quicker way of communicating. Half-halt more strongly with my legs to get him up off his front end and rocking back and up into my hand. Push hard inside leg to straightening outside rein to get straightness and power. He will start out with his nose in the air- that’s ok. Once he realizes I mean it, he drops down and gets to work. Don’t give up the contact. Don’t give up the leg.
At the canter- get in his way. No more half-seating around. Sit and drive with my seatbones and legs, and insist that he push from behind. Develop a more staccato, active canter behind. No overbending around the corners- that outside rein still needs to be there. Dropping down onto my hand does not equal roundness- get that poll higher and pushhhh up into the bridle. STOP WITH THE HALF SEAT. We ain’t doin’ the hunters. We are doing the jumpers and we have to ride like ze Germans. This is what works for Frankie.
Downwards transitions- he must stay light. If he tries to bear down and coast to a stop, we rein back and then try again.
Jumping- quick recovery off every jump. This means auto-release and maintaining a feel over the fence. This also means landing and immediately deciding whether to move up or woah for the add. Either will work as long as I ask ASAP. Get to the close spot- no leaving it out.
And there you have it! We are upping the ante and putting both of us to work. Hence the muscle soreness. I love it.
My lesson this week was really tough since we are striving for more than we did before, but oh so insightful. When I got the right canter, I could actually hear the difference in his footfalls. When I got the right trot, I could extend and collect IMMEDIATELY. When I kept my leg on more strongly, I could adjust my striding in a line and get a much quicker reaction. His responsiveness and adjustability is improving in direct correlation with how strongly and actively I’m riding.
HUH WEIRD. IT’S ALMOST LIKE HORSES RESPOND BETTER TO BETTER RIDING. WHO WOULD’VE THOUGHT. MIND BLOWN.
What’s a time that you or your trainer decided to up the ante?
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.
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.
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!