Book Review: World Class Grooming For Horses

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WORLD-CLASS GROOMING FOR HORSES

By Cat Hill and Emma Ford
Trafalgar Square Books

*This review originally ran in The Chronicle of the Horse.*

Cat Hill and Emma Ford offer tips from their years of grooming and stable keeping for top riders of all disciplines in World-Class Grooming For Horses.

Even if you learned how to care for your horses from a mentor, Pony Club or by picking up tips from others, you’re sure to find something useful. It’s all there in one spiral bound book, making it a great resource for experienced horsemen and novices alike, and it should be considered required reading for those looking into working student or groom positions.

The book covers all aspects of horse care, from getting tacked up to ride, cleaning the barn and basic equine health care, to more detailed jobs like clipping, taking care of horses at a show, wrapping and studs.
Ford has spent most of her career as a groom for top eventer Phillip Dutton, and Hill works mostly as a freelance groom for eventers these days, but they’ve both worked for a variety of riders, so even if you’re not an eventer, you’ll find their knowledge useful. Both authors spice up the book with personal stories of mistakes and lessons learned from their years of working in the industry, which gives a fun insight into the care of upper-level horses.

Everything a groom does for a horse is done not only for its health, but also its safety, so the authors make sure to point out every little detail. Nearly every page is full of step-by-step photos to make sure you’re raking your herringbone pattern on the barn floor properly or folding your horse’s winter blanket so it doesn’t look messy.

Whether you’re looking for instructions on how to do hunter braids, wrap a leg or properly adjust a figure-eight noseband, you can be sure Ford and Hill have done it thousands of times, and they’re eager to share their knowledge.

A Good Day At Seneca Valley HT

This post is a bit late since I’ve been swamped lately at work and home and just haven’t had the inspiration to sit in front of my computer!

Almost two weeks ago, I took Bear to Seneca Valley HT to do the beginner novice. It was super hot and I had later ride times, but somehow I survived. We did minimal dressage warm up and the test itself I felt wasn’t our best–maybe a bit hurried in trot, but we scored a 31 to be 10th in a big open division.

GRC Photo

GRC Photo

Show jumping was on grass in a nice, big area, so I was able to have a bit more pace. Bear was just fine over everything and stayed very focused, but I was a bit inconsistent and took a couple of long ones and a couple of short ones. We ended up having fence two down which was in a related line. I just held the contact in my hand a bit too long as he took off and didn’t soften, so he had the front rail down of the oxer.

The fences I did get right were quite nice though, including the in and out and a bending line on the right lead from 5 to 6 and a five stride from 7 to 8.

GRC Photo

GRC Photo

On the walk over to cross-country, I was feeling a bit weak from the heat–not sick or faint, just weak. I tend to avoid competing in the summer because when that happens, I feel I’m not as effective as I could be and I don’t want to let me horse down. I rallied as we circled the box and cantered a few circles as they counted us down. I think doing that works better for Bear since we can have a good, forward canter going to the first fence. With Oh So, it’s more about keeping him calm and just walking.

I have to say, nearly every fence was perfect on cross-country. It was a nice course that had us galloping the first half and then doing three fences in the woods. One was a light to dark question going into the woods and he backed off into my leg just the right amount. The other two fences in the woods were around somewhat sharp turns and he did those probably the best of all.

GRC Photo

GRC Photo

He did come back to trot for the water, but he wasn’t hesitant about it and I was able to canter out.

We finished in 9th place, just out of the ribbons. I think it was a good learning course for him and I feel like he could go do novice tomorrow–it’s just me and the show jumping that needs work!

Great Meadow XC day

Great Meadow XC day

I had Oh So entered at Surefire the following weekend, but they changed the schedule on me and I had to work the new Great Meadow event nearby, so I scratched. It’s too darn hot anyways. We’ve been having an absolute heat wave lately and I’m so over it!

Last weekend was definitely crazy as I covered Great Meadow on Friday until late, went cross-country schooling at Seneca with Oh So on Saturday early, went back to Great Meadow on Saturday night, then went back the next morning. There were crazy storms on Saturday at Great Meadow and I was stuck in the press tent with a few other journalists when a mini tornado or microburst hit. It was one of the more terrifying experiences I’ve had with lightning, rain, wind and tornado warnings. It cleared for an hour and I got a beautiful shot of a double rainbow, then they evacuated the place and more rain hit as I drove home.

GRC Photo

GRC Photo

Here’s a video of Oh So schooling at Seneca. We did some training stuff at the end that’s not on there. He was great and I was pretty on point over the novice stuff. I felt like we really got our groove back, but I needed a bit more pace at the training fences.

I also had a lovely time at Bromont in Quebec, Canada three weeks ago. I had to remember a bit of my French, but it’s definitely become one of my favorite events. Next up is my big trip to the Pan Ams in July!

Oh So’s Back In Business!

2015-05-31 17.53.21 The stars aligned and Oh So and I finally got to an event together, our first in 22 months! We did the novice at Waredaca, and unfortunately it was super hot, but somehow I survived!

The warm up was on grass and quite firm, so I only trotted and cantered for about five minutes then kept walking until they called me over to the ring with 10 minutes to go. That was really helpful since we could work on footing and near the ring. He tightened up a bit but I kept telling myself to relax and we ended up with one of the quietest and most obedient tests of his career! I thought for sure he’d be tense because of the simplicity of the novice test, and I did keep his tempo slower than what the judge wanted, but it kept the peace and we ended up with a 24.4. Whoa! The judge actually

GRC Photo

GRC Photo

complimented us at the end and recognized him. She asked if he was my prelim horse and I told her about his injury and she asked if I ever did intermediate. It was nice to see someone recognized him after his long absence.

We had several 8s, an 8.5 on his right trot circle, an 8 on his gaits and 7s on the rest of the collectives. As we walked back to the barn, he saw the show jumping and realized what was next, so that was exciting! I barely had time to untack before I had to be over at show jumping. I jumped a few in warm up and in we went! I picked to fence 3, but otherwise, it was a nice, smooth round on my part and I felt quite confident, which was a nice feeling considering show jumping is my toughest phase. He was slightly fussy in between some of the longer lines, but not bad. We got all of our leads except to the last fence, which looked a bit rough.

Lisa kept telling me all day that we were there for fun and schooling so I think that helped me. He knew the start box when he saw it and he settled right in to the first three galloping fences. The jumps were tiny and he was laughing at that them, but I definitely needed it. I haven’t jumped much cross-country above beginner novice since his injury. In fact, we haven’t actually had a cross-country school over novice sized fences since last August at Loudoun before he tweaked his hip. We jumped a few small fences at Morningside in April before Loudoun, then he tweaked his leg in the field and I took him to Gordonsdale last weekend and he lost a front shoe in the first five minutes of trot! So I was definitely rusty.

I rode terribly to a bending line at 4 and 5 and I picked to a couple of small ones, but once we got to the half coffin, I told myself to cut it out and the rest was smooth sailing. He was kind of lining up some of the bigger fences, especially at the water, so I had to disappoint him.

He finished up in third place, on a tie with the second placed person, but I didn’t know that when I went out, and they were closer to the optimum time. We also ended up winning the TIP award for novice.

GRC Photo

GRC Photo

He cooled off very quickly and settled right down to nap while he iced. I’ve waited a really long time for this moment and while I felt a little unprepared and I wasn’t perfect, I knew he would take care of me.

Those who know me know how much Oh So has meant to me over the last eight years–he’s my best friend and partner in crime and I’m so happy he’s back doing what we both love. I had the vet out on Monday to do some mesotherapy on his back and she watched him go and said his right front looked good.

I poulticed him on Monday and his legs were as tight as I’ve ever seen them on Tuesday morning and I rode him this evening and he felt back to his normal self. He does feel a bit weaker from behind than he used to be, so I think I  need to focus on our hill work and maybe work on some more lateral exercises on the flat like walk to canter and haunches in to get him to sit a bit more. I felt it most when I collected him to do the bank down on cross-country.

Bear and I have been going through a learning curve on the flat, so I decided to scratch him from Waredaca, hence the reason Oh So went instead. I’ve lost a bit on confidence in my abilities for some reason and I’m having trouble with the feeling of getting him off his shoulder and really, truly bending around my inside leg and going forward. It’s purely my inexperience with his quiet way of going compared to Oh So and I’m frustrated with myself for not being able to fix it.

He’s at a point now where I can push him a little more on the flat and not treat him like such a baby and it’s a lesson I’m slowly learning. He’s entered at Seneca and Oh So will go to Surefire…fingers crossed! I’m headed to Bromont in Quebec for the weekend and I’m super excited to cover it for COTH. It should be perfect weather.

Bear and lucky having a chat.

Bear and lucky having a chat.

Back In Business!

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Apologies for the length between updates. All of a sudden I have a horrible case of strep throat and am pretty much incapacitated!

I’ve tried to ride a bit this week but it’s been miserable with the humidity and the inability to breathe properly!

Last week I took Oh So to his first show since his injury nearly two years ago. We started small by going to Warrenton for the CDCTA Evening Dressage series and did First 2 and 3.

I didn’t have a ton of chance to practice the tests, so I was pretty much just trying to remember them! He hadn’t been out in about a month since he knocked himself/did something in the field. Unfortunately, that injury took two solid weeks to get better, but he got a clean bill of health at his last appointment, so all we can surmise is he twisted an ankle. Also unfortunately, that meant I lost two entries, including our supposed first event back at Loudoun.

So, I had no expectations going into the show, other than to maybe get a 65% on both tests. His warmup was decent, but I think maybe I should have worked on flexing him a bit more to the inside than I’m comfortable with to help keep some tension at bay. I’ve also gotten into the habit of straightening my elbows and carrying my hands low as a result of Bear’s shorter neck and the judge ended up dinging me on that with a 6.5 for the rider score on both tests. Ouch! I was totally clueless I was doing it of course!

The first test was just a bit yucky. He tensed up and I felt a bit rusty riding him in the big ring. He thought it would be fun to run off with me down the long side in lengthened canter  and on the diagonals for changes of lead through canter.

The second test, shown above, was better as far as him listening to me. The simple change was still a bit rough and he was back to his old ways of trying to jig after the free walk going from left to right, so that was ugly. I didn’t go for it in the lengthened canters as much as I could have because I haven’t been schooling that at home and he wanted to run off and I was also a bit conservative in the lengthened trot. But the overall picture and connection was much more steady.

We ended up with a 64% on the first test and a 67% on the second test. Good enough for me! We’ve got a ways to go to be back where we were before his injury, but I feel like we’re on our way.

I’m just thrilled to have him back and I hope our next show will be a real event. I took him for a jump lesson on Sunday and it took a few fences, but we were back in a rhythm quickly and he was enjoying himself.

Bear has been going well too and we’re preparing for the unrecognized event at Loch Moy this weekend followed by Waredaca’s recognized event.

Ten days ago, I went to Jersey Fresh for a nice weekend of work. I love the event and would love to compete there some day in their horse trials.

Here’s a link to our coverage.

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Finally! The first event of the season at Loudoun Hunt

The weather cleared, the footing dried up and it all came together this weekend for my first event of the season with Bear.  Lisa and I have been working hard with Bear this winter teaching him to jump in a better shape, shorten and lengthen a bit and have a quality canter in between the fences and I think it paid off at Loudoun.

The event was fairly quiet, which helped my nerves a bit. We had a simple warm up for dressage and Bear was not fazed by any of the other horses whizzing by him. The test was steady and the only thing I would have changed were my upward and downward transitions. I tend to freak out a bit as I sit the trot to get into canter, worrying he might not be sharp off my leg, so the second canter transition was a bit hurried in my opinion.

1A PMB15-0206747The downward transitions are tough for me to teach him at home since I don’t have the best feel for them. As a result, I sometimes don’t ride them as forward as they should be and he tends to be a bit abrupt with the hind legs.

He was very steady and focused in the test to score a 29.7 for second place behind a Hanoverian that looked like he was ready to go third level!

Bear's loot.

Bear’s loot.

I let my nerves get the best of me a bit in the show jumping and the round wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped for. It’s a smaller ring than at Morningside, so I let him get a bit unbalanced in some of the turns instead of keeping his inside shoulder up. He cross cantered around one turn after a big effort and I screwed up the distance to the first jump, but overall, he was focused, careful and not looky.

He was raring to go in the start box and I set off with the goal of jumping clear since we hadn’t done that in our three previous events. He was focused on every fence and was willing to jump everything out of stride or even a bit long when I made those moves.

There were a couple of moments when he got his lead over a jump but then had to change on the flat to get to the next jump where he missed since he’s not really confirmed with his changes yet, so we did counter canter a couple, but we finished and he was very confident the whole way around. He even went right in the water.1C RWN15-0210809

I’m going to need to work on his gallop in between fences and downhill though because he was getting a bit low. I had to give him several upward pulls on the reins to remind him to stay up and we took our time down the hills in canter, but that’s all part of the learning process.

His stride is deceptively large so we made it home in plenty of time to keep second place. We also won the TIP Award for the beginner novice level, which included a ribbon, backpack and $75! I’ve always wanted to win one and I’ve come close with Oh So, so that was pretty cool. I’ve never won money before at an event.

That money helps make the sting of losing Oh So’s entry for Loudoun hurt a little less. It’s going on two weeks now and he’s still a bit off in trot so I’ve got an appointment on Wednesday to find out what’s going on. To say this is discouraging is an understatement. I’ve waited for nearly two years to get back to an event with him and we’re still not there yet. Fingers crossed it’s not something too serious.

1C RWN15-0210813

First show of the season!

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I was finally able to make it out to my first show of the season with Bear at Morningside last Saturday.

It was quite windy, but he settled right in when we got to the show. The warmup on the polo field was pretty sucky so we had to warm up on the track and in the tiny little warm up ring, which always bothers me, but he seemed just fine with it.

The person ahead of us scratched, so we were able to warm up near our ring on good footing. The test itself was pretty good for the first time out. He was a bit spooky near the judge’s stand because there was a tarp flapping on the side of the hut. He took exception to that during his right lead canter circle at C, but the judge was quite kind and gave us a 25.3, with a 9 on our final centerline!

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I think the biggest thing to think of in the tests with him is to push him into the corners and really “show off” of those circles since it’s such a simple test. Our free walk and the transition to medium walk then trot needs some work and his final halt was square but not quite round and soft, so we’ll be working on those things before Loudoun. In watching myself, I’m still too active and trying to “push him along”. My heel was drawn up a bit and I was tipped forward in some photos, so I’ll be working on keeping a longer leg and a taller, more upright body position.

We went out on the hill after and had a short cross-country school. I’ll be taking him for a jump lesson tomorrow since my plans with Oh So have now changed.

I had a lovely jump school in the ring at Morningside on Sunday morning with Lisa and we went out on the hill to do a slow canter, Oh So’s first of the year. The footing wasn’t the best at some fences, so we literally jumped two jumps, the coffin and a small log into the water.

He had Monday off and was fooling around in the mud on Tuesday according to my mom. When I went to ride, he was most definitely off and I had the vet scheduled to come for chiropractic work, but we ended up doing a lameness exam instead. Sigh.

We isolated it to the left front and blocked it. He got better after we had blocked the lower fetlock/suspensory area and then ultrasounded. Thankfully there was nothing obvious on the ultrasound so we determined he probably tweaked his leg in the field. He’ll have a few days off and I’ll watch him go and decide what to do.

Unfortunately, I had planned on doing a combined test at Morningside this weekend, which will now not happen. I’m keeping my entry to Loudoun for now since we’re 10 days out and I’m hopeful, but really discouraged about the whole situation. I wish I had a real answer as to what it was, but now it’s a wait and see. Will I ever get to go to an event again?

He feels about as good as he’s ever been and his hind end feels really good too, so now I just cross my fingers and wait. And never speak out loud about any competition plans ever again.

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A Whirlwind of Travel

The Fork.

The Fork.

Things are finally quieting down now that I’ve finished up my travel for the time being. I went down to Southern Pines two weeks ago to cover the Carolina International with a co-worker and had a great time. It’s one of my favorite venues and I really wished I had my horses with me since the courses looked so tempting!

USEF Network live streamed the event, which was really cool and I was happy with my photos.

Carolina International

Carolina International

Two weeks later, I went down to The Fork to cover it and had perfect weather again. I’ve really lucked out this year!

Before I went down to The Fork, I had a few really good lessons with both boys. Oh So had a good jump lesson and we went out on the hills of a local cross-country course and we did three five minute trot sets. The hills were pretty steep, but he came back the next day on the flat feeling great. That was a real test for him after a long winter of not being able to ride outside the ring much and after his hip injury last fall, so I’m feeling confident heading into our first show.

That’s right, I said show! My entry is in for a CT at Morningside next weekend and Loudoun Hunt Horse Trials the week after at novice. Don’t tell him though! I’m super excited to get out, but first we have to do a couple of cross-country schoolings.

I also had a great flat lesson before I left. We were working on collecting his canter and Nicky suggested I come down to a 10 meter circle in counter canter and do a flying change the other direction. I was not expecting to try something like that, but the timing was right in the moment and he had a nice, clean change. I’ve never attempted a change that way and it definitely benefitted him since he tries to anticipate.

Oh So's getting bored of jumping novice height.

Oh So’s getting bored of jumping novice height.

Bear went to his first cross country schooling of the year at Morven Park’s schooling day before I left for The Fork and he was a star. It was super windy and the parking lot was full to the brim with people and horses, so a little overwhelming, but it was good to get him out in public again.

Bear enjoyed his cross-country schooling at Morven Park.

Bear enjoyed his cross-country schooling at Morven Park.

He neighed once or twice while tacking up, but he was very settled. Once we got on, there was a lot to look at with horses popping up over the hills and leaves swirling, but he jumped everything I asked very easily. He even went in the water on the first try and up and down the banks.

Now I feel confident taking him to do the beginner novice at Loudoun in a couple weeks. I think all the work we’ve done over the winter to teach him about lengthening and shortening and working on his form has paid off and I’m excited to test it out.

We’re doing a CT at Morningside on Saturday and will go for another school on their cross-country course after.

Here’s a short video of Oh So having a jump school at home.

And last but not least, I became an aunt right before I left for Carolina! Meet Ava Berreth! I finally got to hold her when I got back from The Fork and she came for an Easter visit.

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