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.).

sittrot
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.

gridwork.gif
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.

canter_poles
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!

Advertisements

Order of Operations

Since I’m still doing super boring things in the saddle (aka walking around with two coolers and letting my pony snoot all the things in the ring for 20 minutes), I’m going to talk for a while about what we used to do when we did not-boring things. Today specifically I’m going to talk about the different skills we tackled with Frankie, what order we tackled them in, and why (not that I always have stellar insights, but I’ll try to articulate it).

To start, let’s rewind to the “base” that we started with when I bought Frankie. I won’t go over this again because I talk about this literally all the time (the words “good egg” and “broke but inexperienced” come up a lot). In a nutshell, we had a physically and mentally mature horse with decent fitness and the basic buttons firmly installed. A fantastic base to work with!

frankie_trot
Calm, obedient, and love at first sight.

The very first thing we worked on was the go button. We ignored my equitation for a while, we ignored collection (for the most part), we ignored technique, we ignored a great many things and we made. the. horse. move. forward. off. my. damn. leg. This was not a trivial exercise for a horse like Frankie, who had made it to the age of 10 without reeeeally needing to move very fast. We were NOT trying to gallop him off his feet, just make sure he understood that he must move forward promptly when asked. Thankfully he did catch on to this fairly quickly and while he’s certainly still a leg workout, I find him appropriately responsive and downright speedy when I ask.

lb_classicturn
OMG HORSE MOVE IT PLS (this is before I figured out the joys of the driving seat)

Once we had a HAUL ASS button installed, we started focusing more on straightness. Not only must he move forward promptly, he must do so without trying to evade out sideways. The outside rein started being mentioned more often. Transitions had to happen without losing the shoulder or haunch. Walking in a straight line had to be a thing. Lateral work was our friend here, connecting his different parts and teaching him that he can move them independently. Going sideways in order to go straight, in a sense. He still likes to wiggle at the walk if left unattended, and will throw his shoulder out if I let him, but is much more educated to that straightness.

cf_llama
“NO GO STRAIGHT I WANNA DO MY GANGSTA LEAN”

So then we had forward and straight. WOAH REVOLUTIONARY IT’S ALMOST LIKE THIS IS THE BASIS FOR EVERYTHING ELSE.

The next thing we did? Put the jumps up. This is around when we moved up to the 1.10-1.15m height and started schooling some bigger jumps at home. I don’t know that I would recommend this 100% of the time to 100% of people on 100% of horses, but I’m comfortable with how this worked for us. It wasn’t until we introduced some height that Frankie started really figuring out how to use his body a bit better over the jumps, and that now translates over the lower fences as well.

upp_sat_jump1
“Oh wait you mean like THIS OH OK GOT IT”

In conjunction with that, moving up to the next division introduced some more difficult turns as we started exploring the inside options. Getting him to move not only forward, but sideways off my leg was crucial. Counter-bending through turns. Maintaining good balance. All that good stuff.

IMG_2296.jpg
I also learned that it really helps to actually look where I’m going. Weird, right?

This is around when we also began a more in depth conversation about adjustability. Can I place my horse where I want him? Can I feel my stride length and adjust to ride the plan? Our collection work became more intense as we pushed the envelope- changing his stride length between 10-14′ was no longer acceptable, we wanted 8-16′ of play or more. “Canter up and down like a carousel pony” was said more than once. Frankie did not like learning this skill. Collection is hard, yo. Butt muscles got sore.

img_3479
It sure did help his quality of movement at all stride lengths tho

And finally, we began having a really serious conversation about self-carriage. I know what many of you are thinking- WOAH THAT IS BACK ASSWARDS. I get it. But the fact is that up to this point, we were chugging along pretty well, and likely could’ve continued chugging along if I hadn’t said “hmm I wonder if Frankie can jump 1.20m” one day. He was always obedient and athletic enough to do just fine. Frankie is incredibly hard to push up into the bridle, both conformationally and in way of going. It absolutely does not occur to him at ALL and even now that he’s a bit more educated, it takes constant reminders. Convincing him that this is how life is now was very difficult and came with many grumpy ears. Getting him to carry his own dang head around sharpened up every other ask and took it to the next level.

40878239925_98e9f04b0c_o.jpg
“NO NO NO NO HATE NO NO NO” PC- Liz

 

But ultimately, we now have a horse that knows how to use his body, moves powerfully across the ground, is adjustable and forward, and is broke as shit. The self-carriage is by no means a complete check in the box- we have a ways to go to really help him understand and move this way. But so far developing this has also developed more specific skills- our lead changes are prompter and smoother, our turns are tighter, he can literally canter like a carousel pony, and his movement has much more suspension and lift to it. Even if he thinks this is a total scam and he should go be a camp pony.

img_4466
“Why. Why is this my life.”

Your turn! What has your approach been? How has it changed for different horses? Has it followed conventional approaches pretty closely, or have you changed your order of operations? I’m curious!

Reaping the Benefits

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:

west coast gymnastic course

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.

Phew!

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.

IMG_4579.PNG
Also really enjoying his love of drinking from the hose ❤

 

Blog Hop: Your Trainer’s Mantra

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.

img_3479
Get that shmancy prance up and bouncy

“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.

IMG_3214.jpg
It isn’t supposed to mean “touch his ears” so this is clearly a work in progress

“SHOULDERS!!!”
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.

IMG_2244.jpg
I’m almost 100% certain that Trainer said SHOULDERS in this exact 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).

jtc_sat_stars
In theory I’m supposed to look where I’m going? All the time?

“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.

IMG_2301.jpg
Big release of tension, big smiles

Ow. My Legs.

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!!

27900982778_7e6aac8040_o.jpg
This one is absolutely getting framed. Liz, somehow you managed to capture Frankie so beautifully and with such kindness, and it brings tears to my eyes.

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.
41059810454_ac44eb378b_o.jpg
We take breaks when we are a good pony. PC- Liz
  • 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.
40878239925_98e9f04b0c_o.jpg
“Do not want work, pls stop.” (as I gasp for air) PC- Liz

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.

41770093351_c995e23bca_o.jpg
THE SWEETEST SNOOT. PC- Liz

Muscles are sore, heart is full, and I’m so beyond thrilled with the Big Best Beast.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

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.

work_conferenceoutfit
#professional

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.

obviously.gif
DUHH

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!

plesson_jumpahead
Last time we did private lessons, it started out like this. I fully anticipate that I will be cursing this decision and become incredibly sore, but it’s gonna be awesome I swear.

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%.

bounce.gif
He seriously felt like this last night, he was springy as all getout

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!

money.gif
EVERY SHOW JUST TAKE MY MONEY HERE YOU GO

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.

calm.gif

 

Sore and Ready

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.

IMG_2119.jpg

Ode to My Trainer

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.

striped_vertical
A few months into riding with Trainer

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.

culpeper_friends
She drove almost 4 hours round-trip in one day so I could afford a rated show

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!”

jtc_fri_ringside
And she has fantastic taste in hunt coats

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.

riverchase_26_white
She has taken me from this…
upp_sun_purple
…to this.

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.

Who’s Your Trainer?

The timing on this works out great- Amanda was just talking about finding the right training program for her and Henny. With my own trainers gone to Ocala for a few weeks, I was ruminating on this myself.

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.

cf_laugh
She’s out of frame but WATCHING

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.

I’ve talked quite a few times about how much I like my trainer’s teaching style- most notably here, where I talk about how hard on me my trainer is sometimes and why I LOVE it.

LB_sat_warmup
Please tell me how to be less bad at things

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.

nov_plank
I really like jumping big jumps, but I want to jump them BETTER and then BIGGER

So to recap, I want constant unceasing attention to every detail of my ride as well as an emotional and financial coach.

WOMP WOMP.

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?

 

Do Hard Work

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