I spent Father’s Day like so many before, at Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials with my dad!
I had super early ride times and was done by 10:30, which I was grumbling about at 4 a.m. when I woke up, but I’m glad we got done before it got unbearably hot.
Bittersweet Field, where the event is held, had some damage due to cars and tons of rain this spring, and they ended up cancelling the prelim and intermediate. As a result, there were some rutty spots on course and the dressage warm up was half the size and not super great.
I can’t remember a Memorial Day weekend where it wasn’t hideously hot in Virginia, and this year was no different. I competed at the third Loch Moy Starter Trial after missing the second one last month due to Oh So’s injury. As much as I missed being at Virginia Horse Trials, I was glad I made the choice I did, because we won!
It was basically gross and humid from the time I got to the barn at 7am until I got home that night at 7pm which really just exhausts me. I’ve never been a hot weather person, and this was the first weekend where we were eventing in the heat. We’d gotten a taste of it the week before at the PVDA show and didn’t like it then either!
It was looking iffy that we would make it to the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Horse Trials last week with Oh So having time off for his injury and losing some riding time, plus tons of rain the week before, but I’m happy to say we made it!
I walked the course on Saturday evening because Morven Park is literally five minutes from my house! The footing looked a bit deep in spots, especially at crossings, and I thought for sure Lisa would say we shouldn’t run, so I mentally prepared for the disappointment of just doing a combined test. To be honest, having not done a recognized event at any level for nearly two years, even some of the novice tables looked kind of big to me!
He stayed in overnight to keep clean, and I was there bright and early the next morning to braid, which I also haven’t done for awhile!
Yesterday Oh So and I finally got to leave the start box for the first time in nearly a year. I really can’t believe it’s been that long, but with my injury and then the fall and winter weather, the timing was bad, and it just didn’t happen.
I’ve been dying to get out all winter, but we had a very cold and then wet winter, so we haven’t been able to cross-country school much.
We went to Loch May last week before I went down to The Fork and had an easy school just getting us both used to cantering and jumping up and down hills. When you’ve been on a flat surface all winter it takes a little while to get that feel back!
It’s been a crazy busy month with my vacation, a trip to Ocala and Thanksgiving, so I haven’t had much time to blog. Now I’m off to California tomorrow for the USEA Convention and for a quick visit to L.A.!
But before that I was able to get Oh So out to the Loch Moy Donation Derby on Sunday.
I was super excited to ride Saturday, but after I fed him his breakfast and went to clean his legs up I realized he’d sprung a shoe! He lives out in a decent amount of mud and hasn’t lost a shoe for a very long time, and it was quite dry, so I was pretty upset.
Luckily the derby ran a second day, so if I could find a farrier to tack it back on I’d be OK.
I spent the day calling about 10 farriers with no luck, and by 4 p.m., I’d resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be going- a great way to cap a pretty horrible year of wasted money and disappointment as far as my riding goals.
But a local farrier came through in the end by some miracle at 5 p.m. and we got it back on!
Spring has finally spring in Virginia, and I’m ready to start competing and getting Thomas out and about!
After my last post, I took Oh So to Morven Park to see Dr. Adams assuming we’d get his hock or stifles done.
Upon flexions though, he was very good from behind and mildly positive on his right front ankle. He had some mild inflammation there that Dr. Adams thought was some minor arthritis, so we injected that and a few areas in his back behind the saddle where he palpated a bit sore.
The good news is his left front ankle and the areas around his windpuff and deep digital flexor tendon sheath flexed 100 percent negative! Dr. Adams admitted he was a little nervous to see him considering our last appointment he was not feeling positive about his overall soundness and ability to continue competing, but he said he looked better than ever. He’s gained 100 pounds since August too thanks to a good feeding program from my barn owner.
I entered Morven Park with the assumption that it would be wet and we might not be able to run cross-country, and unfortunately a ton of rain on the Friday before meant the footing wasn’t going to be ideal for him. Any other year I would say the footing was pretty darn good for Morven, especially by the time I would have gone on Sunday, but there were too many spots of concern on course for Lisa to want to risk him.
I’m bummed it became an expensive combined test, especially considering we were leading after show jumping!
He was a little up as we headed down to the dressage warmup with atmosphere, but as soon as I picked up the reins he went to work. He was a little tight as we got to the main arena and started trotting around, but I tried to stay as relaxed as I could. He can be forgiven for being a bit tense for our first outing of the year! Unfortunately he got me again in our free walk and anticipated the medium walk and jigged, so there will be some dressage schooling shows in our future to get that under control again.
I was remarkably relaxed for show jumping, and we warmed up quite well actually. He was jumping big and I wasn’t picking! The round was quite good–no picking, no rails and he got all his leads because I wasn’t ducking. I was really pleased considering we’d had a bit of a tough lesson the week before. Not bad, just the fact that he didn’t want to sit and rock back over the jumps. We ended up putting some ground rails in front of a few of them to make him wait, but I counted on him backing off the jumps at the show.
I decided against entering MCTA in May because everything is on grass and it can often be wet. Such is life these days for us. Instead, I’m going back to Morven to try my hand at a recognized dressage show.
The last time I did a recognized dressage show I had Palais and was in the junior division, so it will be interesting to see how we stack up. I’m expecting it to be tougher for sure, but maybe we can win a TIP Award?
We’re doing First 2 and 3. I’m hoping two tests in a day will get him a little more rideable in the ring. If that goes well there’s a recognized show at Loch Moy in June that would be fun to try.
Next up for us though is the CDCTA schooling day on Saturday and the Loch Moy starter trials next week.
Thomas has been going well, but unfortunately at the end of March I felt some funny steps from behind. I did a couple of days of bute thinking it was because he had run around a lot one day when I was there, and then he came sound and had a great lesson with Lisa that weekend.
My farrier came on the 29th and he was sore on his left hind foot and heel in particular, but the farrier thought it was the way his alignment and gait was as he’s been working to correct it.
He was still sound until last week when he was not wanting to walk on it. While I was away at The Fork my barn manager’s farrier came out and found an abscess. I’ve been soaking it this week, and my farrier comes tomorrow, so fingers crossed we can put a shoe back on because I’m home for two weekends in a row, and it’s time to get him off property! He’s also bored and ready to get back to work so I’ve been trying to mess with him in one way or anther every night. We’ve groomed, hand grazed he’s helped me set up jumps in the ring!
As far as travel, I’ve since been to the Carolina International and The Fork since my last update. Carolina is always lovely, and the weather was perfect. I got some great photos too, but I was really envious of those who got to ride the training course. The Carolina Horse Park is one of my favorite venues, and I really want to go back and compete.
The Fork was held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, and it was my first time there. Let’s just say it was definitely better than driving to podunk Norwood, N.C.!
I’m not sure I totally agree with the main venue’s courses. Many of the lower level jumps were set in the arenas and in a derby field, although I found myself thinking it would be the perfect place for Oh So because you can guarantee the footing will be good! But it just didn’t feel like eventing to me.
The brand new three-star course was pretty cool though. It was open and gallopy and the footing felt like carpet. They’ve barely scratched the surface of what the World Equestrian Games’ course will be, and it was exciting to be there to watch it christened. I loved my photos too!
Now I’ve got a couple of weeks until the big one…Rolex!
Here’s a few photos I took of the boys with my nice camera recently. Oh So’s in his ugly phase right now, but once his summer coat comes in, he’ll look great!
I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by! I’m ending it in a very different place than I expected to, but a better place for sure! It was a year of travel and new discoveries, but also a little sadness and less competing than I’d hoped.
It was the first full year I’ve been living in Leesburg and the first year of being a boarder. While I do enjoy living on my own, being a boarder is still a difficult adjustment. I miss having having my horses in my backyard and being able to see them multiple times a day. I miss seeing them first thing when I wake up and even the late night checks when it’s freezing outside!
I’ve never done field board in my life, so I was pretty nervous the first month, but he’s taken to it well and enjoys being dirty all the time! The good news is he’s moving around a lot more so his front legs look very good.
I’m slowly learning to let go of some of my more “type A” tendencies when it comes to horse care, and it hasn’t backfired yet, so fingers crossed!
I always knew Bear would have to be sold so I could replenish my savings account as I adjusted to living on my own, but it didn’t make it any less painful to say goodbye to him in April when I finally sold him.
I thought I would be able to focus my time and money on Oh So this year and at least do some novices, but after we did two events, he had a minor injury, and the vet advised us to take it easy over the summer, so there went my fall plans.
But, I’ve been learning to find silver linings in life, and while it sucked to not be able to compete, I met some great friends over the summer, and it allowed me to ride Harley for a few months. I even got to compete him on my birthday, which gave me such joy to be back out on course again. Working with him gave me more confidence bringing along a baby, and I was able to use what I learned from Bear to get him to his first event. I’m happy I was able to show his owner Meghan what he’s capable of, and now she’s ready to have some fun and come to the dark side!
After I competed him in November and moved to my new barn, I had planned to stick to my idea of maybe getting a baby in the spring and seeing how Oh So felt to compete, but of course my trainer Lisa had her eye out and found Forward Thinking in December. It was a whirlwind, but now I have a new horse to work with and goals to start thinking about.
I have no idea if Thomas will become my next “horse of a lifetime” like Oh So is, but so far he seems like a willing partner, and I’m excited to start jumping him soon.
As for the rest of my life, I’ve become an aunt for the second time this year, but I haven’t been able to meet my new niece yet since my brother and sister in law moved to Ohio. I’ve never been more than a few hours from my brother, so it’s been hard, but probably harder on my parents who are enjoying being grandparents.
I traveled more than ever this year, and to be honest, I felt a little burned out by the end of the year, but more creatively than physically. I love my job, and I’ve been covering mostly eventing over the last few years, but sometimes it gets hard to think of new and different ways to write about the same people that keep winning. I find that the few months I don’t travel from November until January usually help me recover and refresh a bit, so by February, I think I’ll be ready to tackle another year!
Here’s where I’ve been this year for work:
Global Dressage Festival CDI*****/WEF CSI***** (Fla.)
Red Hills CIC*** (Fla.)
Carolina International CIC*** (N.C.)
The Fork CIC*** (N.C.)
Rolex Kentucky CCI**** (Ky.)
Jersey Fresh CCI*** (N.J.)
Bromont CCI*** (Quebec)
Great Meadow International CICO*** (Va.)
Plantation Field CIC*** (Pa.)
Dressage At Devon (Pa.)
Fair Hill International CCI*** (Md.)
Ocala Jockey Club CIC*** (Fla.)
USEA Convention (Fla.)
Most of what I wrote for the web can be seen here. These are only stories with just my byline though. I did a lot of writing with co-workers as well.
Obviously the most amazing trip was to Rio for the Olympics. I never imagined I would cover an Olympic Games, and it’s still sinking in that I was there. I went to the Newseum this week with my dad for the first time in many years, and in one display case they had examples of photographer credentials over the years. They had one from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and it was cool to think that I have one too now!
It was also refreshing to talk to new and different people, especially since I enjoy covering dressage and show jumping, but don’t get to do it that often.
My travel wasn’t all fun and games though. There was tragedy at Jersey Fresh when a horse and human died on cross-country day. I had never interviewed Philippa Humphreys, but her death still hurt just as much. It was a somber, eerie feel on show jumping day, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
I was excited to go to Rolex and Dressage At Devon for the first time as a member of the media. I’ve been going to both for a long time as a spectator, but to be able to take photos was the best feeling.
I love exploring other cultures and their history, but I decided with a big trip to Rio this year that I wouldn’t go to Europe. But since I turned 3o in November, I gave myself a gift, and I’ll be going on a 10-day trip in May with stops in London, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Paris.
Looking ahead to 2017, I’m hoping it will be my year to get back out there and compete regularly and grow more both professionally and personally.
My first trip is to Florida for the Wellington Eventing Showcase and GDF CDI*****, then possibly Pine Top CIC***, and the usual suspects of Red Hills, Carolina International and The Fork. We had a very exciting planning meeting this month with the whole staff, and I think we’re all excited to tackle the next year.
I’ve waited all summer but I finally got out to a show with Oh So on Nov. 12 at Loch Moy. I haven’t had a place to practice in a real dressage ring all summer, so my accuracy was lacking a bit, but he was very well behaved for our two first level tests.
I’ve never actually been to a show by myself, but I wasn’t able to find anyone to help out, so off we went. Logistically for a dressage show it’s OK, but then I don’t have anyone to video! I did manage to get the ring steward to help me out for the second test though so I could have something to show Heidi.
The first test he got a bit rough in the contact, not ugly, just not as soft in my hand as I would have liked, especially coming back from the lengthened canters. We scored a 66%, which was not what I hoped for, but that’s why we did a second test.
I haven’t been schooling trot lengthenings much at home because I don’t want to stress his tendons, so those were a little weak this time around too.
I had about an hour between rides, so I got off and stood around in the freezing cold. No kidding, it was 26 degrees when we got there!
I did a short warmup for the second test, and it flowed much better. The judge mentioned he did get a little behind the vertical, and that’s something Heidi is on me about a lot, so I always work to keep my hands up and push his nose out, but sometimes he sneaks behind a bit and I can’t tell from where I’m sitting.
We ended up third and fourth and won the TIP reserve award.
It was nice to get back in the ring again, even if it was just in time for the season to end. I’ve got some things I want to work on this winter, including perfecting our right to left flying change. I worked on that a bit today in my lesson with Heidi, and I think we’re both just stuck a bit on it, but I have some homework until next time. This was the first time I’ve ever really continuously asked him for changes during a single ride, and he got the left to right every time, so that was good.
Harley’s first event the week before went very well. We had a minor meltdown in dressage warm up in which we couldn’t get the right lead at all, and he missed it in the test, but got it on the second try. He scored a 31, which I was pleasantly surprised by, but it was only good enough for ninth out of 10.
I was a little rusty in the show jumping, but he jumped all the jumps and jumped clear on cross-country!
Now I’m off to Ocala for the weekend to cover the inaugural Jockey Club International, and when I get back the arena cross-country course at Loch Moy will be open, and Oh So will be ready to have some fun!
As with most things in life, horses are full of ups and downs. I’ve been on a slow and gradual downhill slide with Oh So since his original injury in 2013 as we’ve dealt with little injuries here and there stemming from his age and recovery.
After a really amazing event at Seneca last weekend, we’ve unfortunately hit another bump on the way down.
He’s actually been going better than ever on the flat, as I’ve written about recently, and I was thinking of playing around at some dressage shows to do something a little more challenging than the novice tests. He’s felt sound under saddle, but I’ve noticed he’s been resting both of his front legs on the toe a little more often than usual. He’s done it at seemingly random intervals over the last year or two, but has always been sound. I decided to make an appointment with Morven Park though anyways to see if there was something else going on, and to get his back checked for kissing spine, which the chiropractor suggested at our last appointment.
Because he’s been going well though, Lisa and I decided to keep going with Seneca since the footing and weather was good.
We had a super early wakeup call, so maybe that’s why were both so relaxed, but we scored a 17.6 in the open novice division! It ended up being the lowest score of the whole show across any division. I have no idea why he was so relaxed, but I can count on one hand the number of times he’s been that rideable in a test. And it’s an added bonus that he’s been very relaxed in his warm ups lately so I don’t need more than about 25 mins of warmup.
The show jumping was OK. He was a little bit heavy in my hand and was tapping rails, but they all stayed up! The open course at Seneca is much better for me because it makes me ride forward.
The cross-country went well. Not much else to say about a novice course! I wish it was a little bigger, but it was well-designed and flowed nicely. We ended up winning by almost 10 points and won the TIP Award too!
He had the Monday after Seneca off, then I did a little flatwork on Tuesday, and he felt OK-maybe a little stiff behind, but that’s normal for him.
My appointment was on Wednesday with Dr. Adams at Morven Park, who saw him about a two months ago when he needed his teeth done and was a little wonky behind (probably from being chased by a nasty horse at the old barn).
I wanted to have him check the DDFT sheath, and expected we might need to inject it to make him more comfortable, even if he wasn’t unsound, since it’s been about a year since the original DDFT sheath issue.
He flexed off on both front legs and was sore on palpation, which wasn’t surprising considering he’s been holding his legs up on occasion. Dr. Adams decided that we should inject the tendon sheath, but before we decided on that, we X-rayed his back.
Unsurprisingly, he has kissing spine and some arthritis in his back. I’m guessing he’s always had it, but in my inexperience I never thought about that and always worked on saddle fit before thinking about X-rays. He’s also been going very well, but Dr. Adams said he seems to have learned to live with it. He said we could inject his back, which I might do sometime, but that’s the least of my worries right now!
We were about to just inject the tendon sheath on the left and be done with it, but I asked if we should have an updated ultrasound image. He said he didn’t feel it was necessary but did it anyways because I asked.
I’m now kind of sad I asked for it because he found a small core lesion near the suspensory branch on the right front, which was the leg with the original suspensory (that was located higher up).
He said it looked like fresh inflammation, but couldn’t really say for sure because he hadn’t seen the original injury. I’m having the vet who treated the original injury send him some images, but until then, he suspects it’s new. I’m also not sure how helpful they’ll be because his last ultrasound on that leg was probably mid-2014.
I doubt he did it when he was at Seneca. I think it’s just wear and tear, and while it could be nothing, the vet would prefer we’re cautious and wants me to let him have 2 months of walking and trotting then have it rechecked. 😦 I might pursue shockwave too to help it along.
His overall impression was that Oh So is beginning a pattern of injury that shows he compensating for pain elsewhere.
I know the day will come one day when he will no longer be able to be ridden, but I’m not ready for that yet, and I don’t think he is either. It just doesn’t seem right that a 16-year-old horse should be retired!
While I wait to hear from the vet, I’ve been pondering what to do with a lot of people I trust, and I still just don’t have the answer. Some people think I should just keep riding him until he is lame, which may not be for a long time., but what if I make the lesion worse? He can’t go through anymore stall rest, so if it comes to that, he’ll have to be retired totally.
The problem with letting him have any kind of downtime is that other parts of his body will start to weaken, like his hind end, then we never get anywhere as we work to build it up again.
I just have to decide how many more times I want to go through with the whole letting him down and legging him back up cycle. It’s exhausting and frustrating that I (selfishly) can’t have goals or anything to look forward to. I’m kind of just living on a wing and prayer right now that he comes out sound every day.
My second option is to let him have his two months of light work, hope he doesn’t break down elsewhere or get too bored, and pursue other horses to ride, which is sort of what I’m leaning towards. I’m just not quite ready to get another horse yet because it’s sort of an either or situation. Either he retires and I get another horse or he stays in work going through the the same cycle of frustration.
I can’t afford to board two riding horses, and I’m just not sure about leasing him to someone who’s not familiar with his issues, but I also don’t think he’s ready to sit in a field yet.
Once I’m done with the Olympics in August, we can ultrasound again and see where we’re at, then maybe pursue another horse, which I want to be my next Oh So. I don’t think I’m cut out for the business of selling. It’s just too painful.
It’s been a weird couple of months since I sold Bear. I do best when I’m busy, and two horses was just enough for me. I’ve gradually gotten used to having one (fragile) horse, which is an uncomfortable feeling, and now I’m sort of screwed. I’m a planner, and now I have no plans. I’m goal-oriented, and I have no goals for the first time in my riding career. My horse(s) and my job are my life. I see people posting on social media about how awesome their weekends are with their horses, and I’m not sure of the next time we’ll even have a lesson.
I had a nice, quiet visit home this weekend to just spend time with Sam and the minis and my cats, which helped me think, but the decision is still cloudy in my mind. I wish it could just be made for me!
I’d love to hear in the comments if anyone has been through a similar situation. I’m just afraid of making the wrong decision.
In other news, I had a nice visit up to Bromont in Canada earlier this month. I spent a day in Montreal, which seemed like a nice city to live in, but was a little low on actual things to do. Next up is the Nations Cup at Great Meadow, then the Olympics!
It’s been a very interesting month that started with me finishing up an awesome weekend at Rolex and took a hard turn at Jersey Fresh.
A lot has already been said about the tragedies at Jersey Fresh where Philippa Humphreys died in a fall on cross-country and a horse was euthanized due to an injury, so I won’t add much else.
It was an eerie feeling to be there on Sunday morning, unlike any event I’ve ever been to. I’ve been to a few events where a horse has been euthanized, but it was just a totally different feeling in the air when a person died. It was somber and quiet for show jumping, and the event became a challenge to write about, knowing that while the winners were happy with their horses, there was still a dark cloud hanging over the weekend.
I’m proud of how the story turned out for the magazine though. I spoke with a few riders and people involved with the event, and got some interesting responses about safety in the sport and dealing with a tragedy.
Unfortunately my co-worker and friend Kimberly was at the fence when it happened, and I can only imagine what she’s going through. As an enthusiast of the sport and someone who wants to try it, I hope it doesn’t dampen her spirit. In the end, we’re all out there knowing the risks but loving the reward. There’s no better feeling than coming off a cross-country course, knowing maybe you were a little scared before and getting it done when you thought you couldn’t, or breezing around on a young horse who’s finally “getting it.”
There are people out there working to make the sport safer but it takes time and money. I don’t think galloping at solid fences on a 1,000lb animal will ever be totally safe, but things can get safer.
Oh So has been feeling as good as ever on the flat. I’ve been able to have several flat lessons over the last few weeks, and we’ve been working on our walk/canter and canter/walk transitions and just really being able to stretch him down in trot and canter.
I had a chiropractor out to work on him about 2 weeks ago, and he was quite sore over his back, which he sort of always has been despite frequent saddle fits. The vet thought he might have a mild case of kissing spine, which he may have always had, but it’s hard to know when his work has been getting better under saddle.
I’ve started him on Robaxin to see if that helps him, but I think I’m going to pursue a spinal X-ray and see if injecting his back might make him more comfortable.
I took him to Morningside for a novice CT two weekends ago, and it was pouring rain the whole time! I can’t seem to luck out there this year. Three out of the four times I’ve been it’s been miserable.
The footing was horrendous, but the base was OK, so we went ahead and competed. I hardly had much of a planned warm up since I was so worried about the footing. He was tripping a bit during the test, and we were both just trying to get through it. We scored a 27.5, but it was far from a fluid test. He just felt a bit tight and unhappy, sort of like me!
The show jumping warm up on the track was basically a giant puddle, so we jumped two fences, literally, and then waited about 15 minutes for our turn. I hate the jumper show-type schedule, but he was remarkably good for waiting around, and I didn’t screw it up too bad! I picked to fence 4, and he landed on the wrong lead,, and I brought him back to trot to get it, but other than that, it was an OK round. We ended up winning! He feels really good so I’m hoping we can try a training CT next time, at the very least for the more interesting dressage test.
On Sunday we finally got out to an event! It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since his last one at Waredaca.
Unfortunately it was just the starter trial at Loch Moy, so the fences were quite small and the course design was a bit twisty. I feel like we could have done the training, but just to be out was a gift in itself.
Our dressage of course ended up in the newer ring of five, which had the deepest footing. Neither of us liked it, so again, our test was just trying to get through. We scored a 27.8. My dad missed our test though, so no video!
Show jumping was a bit inconsistent on my part. I just need to be able to get in the ring frequently or I start freaking out and picking or taking long ones.
Cross-country was pretty good too. I had a beautiful jump out of the water and turned the wrong way…oops! I realized my mistake and had to make an awkward turn back to a random loop on course, but the rest of it was good.
Everything felt out of stride, all I had to do was lift up my chest a bit as a I came to the jumps and he rocked back and found them, just like old times!
We ended up winning and got the TIP reserve award!
On Monday I moved him to a new barn in Waterford, about 20 minutes from my place but not really on the way to work unfortunately. It’s brand new, and there’s a nice indoor, but at the moment the footing is too deep for him. I’m hoping it will settle by the winter.
The areas around the barn are under construction, as is the interior of the barn, but it will be done soon. He’s settled in seemingly well and is out with an older gelding and two mares, the first time he’s ever even touched a mare I think! So far so good though. He seems to have met his doppleganger in one of them. It’s hard to tell them apart.
I’ll miss my friends at the other barn, but I learned a lot about boarding and what I can live with and without while I was there. The main reason I started looking was because he was being beaten up by a recently gelded jerk of a horse. When a paddock finally opened up for that horse and then Bear sold, I thought it would be a good opportunity for a fresh start.
I’m happy to be at a place now where I feel comfortable about everything involving my horse’s care and have a barn owner who lives on site and treats each horse individually, so I know he’ll be in good hands.This month I’m planning on running the novice at Seneca and maybe doing a couple of first level tests at a dressage schooling show because I’m getting tired of doing the same boring novice test!
I’m also heading off to Bromont next week, which is one of my favorites!