Y’all can’t keep me away from a fun blog hop just because I’m not an eventer! Out of the shows I’ve gotten to attend there is such a clear favorite in my mind that I just have to share.
If you’ve been following along for any amount of time, you already know that I’m talking about Upperville. (And to a similar extent Loudoun Benefit, which is held on the same showgrounds the following week).
In my world, Upperville is basically an immovable holiday. I change flights, I take time off of work, I have my dude move me out of apartments for me, all for the sake of Upperville.
Of course I love it for a lot of the technical aspects: the footing is absolutely fantastic and meticulously maintained, the course design is always fair but challenging, and the staff is friendly and professional.
It also has old tent stalls with very few outlets, insanely chaotic warmup rings, and takes place during the heat of the Virginia summer.
I’ll never say that it’s perfect.
But there’s just something so special about it. By unspoken agreement, everyone pulls out all the stops for their aisle-fronts: gleaming wooden tack trunks, coordinating banners, fresh mulch, piles of flowers, wrought-iron fences, bubbling fountains (yes, really). The jumps are full of lush greenery in the hunter rings and beautiful shapes and colors in the jumper ring.
There are the side-saddle and hunt classes with so much tradition on display. The hunters are some of the most beautiful animals I’ve had the pleasure of seeing go around – and watching them along with the commentary of my trainer (a hunter R judge) turns it into a learning experience. The classic lime ices are perfect on a humid morning. I can ride a track in the same ring as McLain, on the very same day.
Add to this that Upperville is about 30 minutes from our home stable, and there’s definitely a sense of hometown pride to it. The rolling fields adjacent to the showgrounds are perfect for cooling out in view of the rolling hills.
And they make a perfect backdrop for photos.
Upperville isn’t my favorite because it’s objectively the best show. WEC has nicer stalls, Swan Lake has great footing too, McDonogh is super accessible, Culpeper has more step-up classes, Lake Placid has the most stunning vistas, Ocala has better weather. There’s been plenty to love at all of these shows and we’ve had great experiences at all of them.
For me, Upperville is different. It’s where Frankie and I tackled our first 1.15m class as a team, where he beat ML in a 1.20m class, and where I felt truly competitive for the first time despite being out of the ribbons.
Whenever non-horsey friends and family ask if they can come watch me ride, the only one I suggest they attend is Upperville. Other facilities host competitions. Upperville is truly a horse show that’s a blast for competitors and spectators alike.
My show season is very light this year due to classes starting up in the spring, but there’s no way Frankie and I could miss our 4th opportunity to get back on that showground.
Upperville 2018 is a wrap! It was definitely a rollercoaster of a show- long days and good moments and pilot-error moments and all that good stuff. Spoiler alert: Frankie could not have been better. He was professional to the extreme, and packed me around with incredible consistency and kindness.
So let’s jump into it! (Strap in, because this is a MONSTER post)
On Wednesday, Frankenbean trailered in with Trainer and AT to get some more miles in the 1.20m. While I would’ve loved to be there, I sadly had to be at work and missed his round. Fortunately I was able to get a full report card from Trainer that evening!
Her thoughts, in no particular order: overall, thumbs up. He looked much less surprised by the height and settled into it much more quickly than his first outing. She’s very happy with the increase in his fitness and recommends we continue the program we have him in (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!). He was able to handle a range of distances with much more power and agility- he did have one rail on course, but it was from a perfect spot, he was just a little careless over it. The close and long spots he rode cleanly. There was a four stride set a little short and he kinda blew through the half-halt until stride 3, so working on responsiveness is (as always) something for us to focus on. He finished middle of the pack (26th) in a class of 59, against much more experienced horses, and didn’t look like a newbie- he looked like he belonged there.
I got to watch the video and I absolutely agree, he looked rather nonchalant about the whole thing. Trainer did recommend that AT take him in at least one more time to solidify him at this height before I take over, which I’m entirely on board with. It gives him more positive miles, and it gives me a little more time to make sure I’m totally tuned into giving him a good ride.
Francis got to go home and relax outside, and I gave him a short flat ride on Thursday to stretch out before our weekend together.
Friday. Was. Long. I was up by 4:30a, at the barn by 5:15a, on the showgrounds by 6:45a. And I didn’t show until 4:30p-ish. At one point I slumped over a folding table and napped for a solid hour. It was great cheering on my barnmates and seeing AT take our OTTB in the 1.25m 6yo class (he seriously gets better and better every time out, whoever buys him is gonna be one lucky rider), but I’ll admit that I was pretty exhausted by the time I hopped on.
We got to the warmup ring and my eye was…uncharacteristically long. Like, a mile long. This used to be my default, but I thought we had conquered that instinct a long time ago. AT worked with me to get to the base, but for whatever reason I just struggled seeing anything but an awful gap.
Our first fence on course was a big wide oxer on a long approach away from home (I have opinions about that being the first question in the first class- from a course design standpoint, I think that would be more appropriate on a Saturday or Sunday once we’ve had the chance to get a sense of the ring), and instead of trusting the rhythm and my horse’s brokeness, I straight up gunned him at it. For no reason. And he very understandably said NOPE WE DON’T DO THAT ANYMORE. I reapproached and FINALLY asked for the short one. And homeboy was perfection- a little sticky off the ground because he was like wtf is going on up there lady, but he carried on without holding a grudge. I was still a little frazzled going into the line 2-3, but by 4 I felt mostly recovered and was very happy with the rest of our course. As if I needed more proof- I have a super broke horse that will perform exactly as well as I allow. Overall disappointed in myself for giving him a mediocre ride, but still very proud of how he handled it and moved on without question.
I didn’t get home until 9p that night after trailering back and getting Frankie settled in and my tack cleaned, and I fell asleep before I even finished lying down in bed haha. Luckily, we didn’t have to leave the barn until 11a the next day so I got to sleep in!
The sleep definitely helped (both of us). I had one or two flyers in the warmup that Trainer swiftly put the kibosh on, and we went in for our II.2.b (immediate jumpoff) round.
If we’re friends on Facebook, you already saw the video I posted of this round (and if we’re not, why aren’t we?!). Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it yet:
Short version: Francis. Was. A. Star. Jump 2 to 3 walked in a bending 7 but we did a more direct and forward 6, I got a little up on 5a but he powered out the 2 stride, 8 to 9 walked in a balanced 6 and I didn’t steady enough so we got a VERY flowing 5. So certainly not even close to perfect, but Frankie was forward and eager and listening and obedient and all those good things. And we went clear so we got to jump off! In case it’s hard to see on the diagram, the jumpoff was 9-6-7-8-10a-10b-11. All very standard- we had a rail at 8 where I asked for the close spot and he just nicked it slightly, then we stayed inside 1 and 6 to set up a more efficient turn up to the combo, and then we left out a stride over 11 to gallop out in 6 instead of the 7 we had put in the first round.
I was dripping with sweat but happy as a clam. It was redemption from Friday for sure. I felt like I was making better decisions and Francis was responding beautifully.
I also got to see Jen and Cally go in the sidesaddle! Is there anything better than meeting up with blog friends?? Both of them performed wonderfully- you can tell how hard they’ve been working, and Cally was such a queen. Jen even let me hop on for a quick WTC in the sidesaddle! New goal: do sidesaddle on Francis. It was such a weird sensation, but super fun to try something new. Maybe we’ll be in the ring together next year for the sidesaddle classes 😉 Enjoy seeing a short clip of Cally being very tolerant with me!
And then Sunday. I have mixed feelings about Sunday. Not about Frankie obviously- he was a little more tired but was really nicely balanced and lovely to ride. But there was kinda a lot going on for me mentally.
For one- upset stomach. Like really really not comfortable, regretting ever eating any food, could not talk about food or smell it or anything. Part of that I think was from eating something that disagreed with me.
But the other part was definitely nerves. Which was kinda new for me. I’ve gotten jittery anxious energy before, but I rarely get full-on nervous. I don’t like it. 0/10 would not recommend.
Luckily I have a trainer who knows me extremely well and knows how to work me through it. When we were watching some rounds go in the Children’s before my class, she went, “Hmm. The jumps look like they’re set lower than yesterday.” Since she is the Alpha and Omega to me at shows, I immediately believed her and felt better because the jumps totally looked lower! Looking back- I have my doubts. I think they were set pretty normally. But she knew that I needed some reassurance that it was well within our skill set. By the time I hopped on, I was feeling a lot better and ready to go.
Ok so funny story. I was pretty concerned about the turn from 2 to 3. That’s super early on course for a combo, away from the in gate, and historically we struggle more turning left. Repeat after me: OLIVIA STOP LIVING IN THE PAST. I was so concerned with that left turn, in fact, that I continued turning left after 3a and missed 3b altogether. Frankie was a little confused at the track but totally game for it! Legit just straight up bad steering hahaha. Circled back and made it through just fine, and was quite happy with the rest of the course. I was especially happy with the combo 10abc- we haven’t done a triple since Team Finals last August, but we got in powerfully and he pressed out wonderfully.
So overall: some really great moments, some struggles to work through, but I could not be any more grateful for my horse. We nailed every combo (when I actually steered) which is something I so badly wanted to improve upon. We went and made different mistakes. And every single time we walked in the ring, I had complete faith that Frankie would be there with me every step of the way. We’ve spent so much time and effort getting him up to speed- now it’s time to get myself up to his level!
Phew. Moved into the new apartment, had my first day at the new job, and now I need to tell you more about Upperville.
I had some pretty high hopes going into Upperville- not of the ribbon variety, but more just reeeeally wanting to go lay down some good rides in our division. I combined that drive for success with barely riding for two weeks prior to competing. Because that’s always how to get better at things, right? Completely wing it.
Except you forget the part where Francis is literally a unicorn pegasus hearts and flowers kind of horse that is way better to me than I deserve. Srsly.
Overall I was thrilled with our rounds- despite my lack of saddle time I think I made decent decisions and stuck to the plan, and Frankie was just so on top of things that he made up for any of my deficiencies.
On to the details.
I arrived on Saturday to the oh-so-familiar sight of Francis conserving his energy for the upcoming competition:
Someone commented that the stalls seemed small and I just pulled this pic out and said: “17.1 horse. Stalls are fine.”
But I left him to his beauty sleep and went to learn my course with my trainer. By the time we got back to get ready for warmup he had roused himself (luckily, I had a BEAST of a time getting him up at Culpeper) and we were able to go get our muscles moving.
Weirdly enough, I’m almost more proud of our warmups than I am of our actual rounds. It’s always taken me a little while to get my head in the game and ask Frankie for some real work, but this time we set right to it and were making better choices much more quickly. I consider that a big step forward for us. And of course, he met this dedication with his own hard work:
We didn’t need a ton of time to get us going and it was pretty hot, so we opted to head into the ring without too much of a delay. Course here:
I liked this course a lot!
We came up to jump 1 off a shorter turn on the right lead- we like to collect through the turn and then bounce up instead of taking a longer runway approach.
We stumbled a bit off 2 but recovered in time for 3, and just continued on to 4. The bending into the combo walked a little short and I ended up holding a bit too much- it was uphill and away from the gate so it didn’t ride as short as I anticipated. But Francis was a bro and powered out the one stride totally fine.
6 to 7 was fine and all was clear, so we continued on to the speed phase.
I let him get up on 8 too much and knocked a rail, and then we knocked one of the rails in the combo, got a bit of a flyer out over 11, and then 12 to 13 was decent.
Did we make mistakes? Absolutely. Did my horse listen like a champ and give me what I asked for every step of the way? Also absolutely. His first time in the ring, tons of activity, and he stayed tuned in to me the whole time. Even better- after going through the timers and finishing, he tried to veer left and pull me towards jump 3. He wanted to go jump more. While we were out of the ribbons, I finished in the top 50% of the class and with a happy horse who was loving his job. I consider that a definite show success!
On to Sunday!
Sunday was brutally hot. Like, it sucked. You know how when it’s that hot out you don’t want to eat because nothing is refreshing enough and your body is just too hot? Yeah. I did choke some fuel down, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.
But Frankie continued his eternal streak of being a Very Good Boy.
I was a little nervous for our Sunday round- our first 1.15m class together, and Upperville does not set the heights forgivingly. This was going to be a true test at height, and I knew there would definitely be a triple combo in there somewhere. I was right:
While more challenging, I thought this was a really fair test. There were a few options for the bold to make some intense inside turns, the time allowed was tight, but it wasn’t trappy anywhere. If you rode a good pace and made efficient turns, you could safely ride this competitively.
We again chose to make a short turn on the right lead to jump 1 (passing in front of jump 3). 2 to 3 was a standard 5 strides- I saw some horses struggle to get out in 5 if they didn’t jump in correctly, but I liked our jump 2 and Frankie carried his standard stride to take us out just a leeetle bit long.
End jump at 4 was fine, 5 was ok- it was a skinny and a very upright vertical so a lot of horses knocked that one. We got a bit close on it, but Frankie was scrappy and got his feets out of the way. I needed to hold more left leg and get straighter into the combo, but we ended up to a good takeoff spot and made it through unscathed. We flew a bit into 7 which made 8 really tight- Frankie earned his oats by getting clear over that, because that was a tough spot for him.
And then my horse started running out of steam. Due to scheduling confusion and the heat we had done a longer warmup than we strictly needed, and this was a long course. But true to self, he still went about his job like a pro and carried me through the triple combo without touching a rail. We galloped up 10-11 and took a well earned breather.
Despite the heat and both of us starting to flag, we had gone clear and within time! They buzzed us for our jumpoff almost immediately.
Again, 1 was fine. I didn’t get him back quickly enough to make the turn I wanted to 3, so we went a bit wide. 13 to 14 was a basic bending line, not much to say there. Then I am so proud of Frankie- we took a tighter turn and sliced across the oxer at 10 and he didn’t even blink. We made it around through the one-stride no problem again, and just has one jump left. Away from the gate. The course designers absolutely did this on purpose- both of us tired and hot and ready to be done, and I didn’t get his attention back on me and we biffed the last one. Womp womp. Just goes to show- do not relax until you are through those last timers.
But we again managed to finish in the top 50% of a big class, even if we were out of the ribbons. And we again finished with a horse that was tired, but a horse that had his ears up and made his way back to the barn with a spring in his step.
And the height? Not even a thing. Frankie charged fearlessly ahead to every jump on course.
So yeah. My goal of going to Upperville and having some good rides was 100% successful in my book. Nowhere near perfect, but we’re further along that path than we used to be. And if you didn’t have a crush on Frankie before this, I hope you do now because he deserves all the love in the world from everyone. I count my lucky stars every day to have this goofy wonderful gelding in my life.
We now have our sights set on Zones in August! Our new outdoor is complete (post to come once I get pics I’m satisfied with) and full of fun jumps for us to practice with, and Frankie has never felt better.
It’s looking like we’ll do that in August, and then wrap up our season at Culpeper Finals end of September- we’ll plan to do the Modified A/O division at 1.15m, and I’m going to beg and plead and work really hard to convince my trainer that we should probably try a 1.20m class. We’ll revisit as we get closer depending on Frankie’s fitness, my own fitness, and how our training is going, but that’s a tentative stretch goal. We’ll focus on smoothing out the rough edges at 1.15m first, I GUESS.
I’m in the midst of a move right now (technically homeless for a few days, but a barn friend is graciously putting a roof over my head and feeding me wine, so it’s all good) meaning I don’t have access to my computer for a bit- I’m writing this on my phone right now.
But my Upperville recap will be the first thing on the docket when I once again have a keyboard, never fear.
Spoiler alert: it was AMAZING. No ribbons in a super competitive division of about 35 horses, but rounds that felt good, that I’m proud of. Frankie was the best he’s ever been (which is saying something, we all know he’s always great) and was absolutely worth his weight in gold. Sailed through our first 1.15m like it was nothing even with my ammy mistakes, and tried to pull me to jumps even when our courses were over. I know you’re all probably getting sick of reading this, but wow. This horse is so far beyond anything I could’ve hoped for in a million years, and I am so grateful to get the chance to go out and have fun with him. I may be biased, but pretty sure I have the best horse in the world. Love my Francis!!!
Ok I got a bit carried away, but here are a few pics to tide you over until I can put a real post together.
Thank you so much Abby, Glendon, Manfriend, Manfriend’s Momma, and everyone else who snapped some great pics this weekend!