Horse Trials and Tribulations

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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted because I’ve been busy, busy, busy!

After Seneca, I gave Bear an easy week and a half, then went for a quick overnight trip to Plantation Field for the CIC divisions.

It wasn’t an official work trip, but I found the photos I took last year to be useful so I borrowed a lens and went to the press conference. Buck Davidson won the CIC** and was a gracious interview as always. He and Boyd Martin have been criticized recently because they took their WEG horses to Plantation three weeks after failing to complete in France, but they both gave honest and reasonable answers to my questions about why.

Buck knows his horse better than anyone and shares a special partnership with him, one I’ve seen and heard him talk about first hand on multiple occasions, so it was sad to see him ripped apart for it. He was able to finish the season on a good note on a happy and sound horse. Isn’t that something we all hope for after a bad go?

Check out a photo gallery from Plantation Field.

Plantation Field
Plantation Field

I left for Texas for the American Eventing Championships the Thursday after Plantation. Sadly, the day before I left, my family made the decision to put our cat Winnie to sleep. We’ve had him since we inherited him when we moved to our farm in 2002 and he was about 2.

He’s lived a long, healthy life, but over the last two months, he started coughing. We took him to the vet and she found cancer cells on his lungs on an X-ray. We treated him with antibiotics and he seemed a little better–moving and eating normally but coughing a little. A few days before I left for the AEC he had some blood coming out of his nose and was uncomfortable eating. We made the decision to take him to the vet, but I decided I didn’t want to go. I’ve never been in the room for that before and I just didn’t think I could handle it. My dad went and held his paw during his final breaths.

10687219_10101805294891517_7728162552678193557_nI’ve never had the opportunity to choose when one of my animals is put down because they’ve always either died tragically or gotten sick or injured very suddenly, so I was glad that we had the choice this time to end his suffering, but it’s still sad nonetheless.

He was a sweet kitty and I’ll miss watching him lay in the sun with our other cats or dip his paws in the water bowl to get them clean. I hope he’s hanging out in the sun with Ramsey somewhere.

I headed off to Texas with a heavy heart, but I enjoyed my trip. My friend Megan, who used to work at COTH, freelanced for us and helped me out. She lives in Ft Worth now and works for the APHA. We had a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Thursday night and had three full days ahead of us.

It was hot, but not too sticky. I was sad to see a small group in the advanced division, especially when they get the bulk of the prize money. There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about what the AEC should be and if they should move around or stay in Texas.

I can only say that I was disappointed to have the Adult Team Challenge move there. I really enjoyed my first and only ATC in 2012 at the VA HTs and wish they would stay regional. It’s just not viable for most amateurs to go to Texas, especially when it’s that hot in September.

That being said, the ATC riders I spoke to were all really fun. As much as I enjoy speaking

AEC Texas-style!
AEC Texas-style!

to the professionals on a weekly basis, I like finding out other people’s stories and telling them.

Here’s a link to all of our coverage.

 I had an uneventful trip back from Tyler through Houston and came back to Oh So feeling not quite right from behind again.

Before I left for Texas, he had started back walking and trotting under saddle after his SI injection and felt much improved for the first four days, then felt off again. I gave him the weekend while I was gone, hoping for the rest to do him good, but it didn’t.

I had the vet out again and she said he looked improved from behind, but still weak. She thought maybe he needed another week of before we started riding again, so we worked out a plan of lunging for a week and walking under saddle. I’ll start trotting under saddle this week and see what happens.

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Morven Park

Needless to say, I’m really disappointed that we won’t even be able to get to one event this year. I’m just hoping he comes sound again and that this isn’t going to be a battle from here on out. His check ligament and suspensory look good and feel good, but the more I think about it, the more I think he did something in the field to make himself so ouchy from behind. I’m hoping slow work will help him recover.

I had a busy weekend taking Bear for a jump lesson and cross-country school with Lisa at Morningside. He hadn’t been off the property in three weeks and I thought the fact that it was 35 degrees and we were alone would bother him, but he stood quietly while I put studs in and tacked up. He was a bit up as we trotted around the ring, but settled nicely and I surprised myself by not feeling totally out of practice.

We popped over a ditch, went down a bank and went up and down the hills a few times before we went through the water to end on a good note. I slowed things down a bit by trotting to the water the first time and letting him stop, then calmly asking him to walk in and he was fine. Lisa said not to make him flustered by using my whip or kicking for now. I’m hoping to try that strategy at Waredaca in a few weeks so we don’t get eliminated!

I also went to Morven Park on Saturday to watch the advanced and the CIC***. There weren’t that many riders unfortunately, but there were more than last year, which had about 5 start cross-country.

I was really bummed about not being able to compete Oh So there. The prelim course looked nice, although I’m not happy that they keep holding the show jumping on the muddy grass in the fall. There were apparently a lot of problems over the weekend.

Check our photos from Morven Park.

I’ hoping to take Bear cross-country schooling again this weekend while Lisa is out of town, then I’m off to Fair Hill next weekend to cover it for COTH, then Waredaca and VA HT to close out the season. Fingers crossed for sound horses and dry weather!

Morningside at 7:30am.
Morningside at 7:30am.
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Three Shows, One Week

TexasRose

Whew! I’ve finally got some time to sit down and relax after traveling to three shows in a week.

It all started with the American Eventing Championships in Tyler, Texas. After some schedule shuffling, I made it down late Thursday, but ended up having to drive from Dallas to Tyler, which was about a two-hour drive in traffic. At least I got to see Dallas up close!

It wasn’t deathly hot, but still hotter then I’ve been used to after our cool late summer. The Texas Rose Horse Park was workmanlike and tidy, but not what I would call “stunningly beautiful.” It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, amongst cows and open fields, but apparently Tyler has a population of close to 100,000.

The cross-country featured a ton of brand new jumps and I thought the courses looked challenging and up to the standard that we’re used to in Area II, but with a little less terrain. It was quite dry, but they aerated.

I got to have some help from my former officemate and friend, Megan Brincks, who moved to Fort Worth to work for the American Paint Horse Association. We had a great time and I wish we’d had more time to just hang out and have dinner, but we were so busy. Here’s a link to all of our coverage.2013-09-27 09.15.58

It cooled down a bit on Sunday after some storms, so I was able to go to the tiny Tyler airport minimally sweaty and with only one fire ant bite! My flight to Dallas was all of 20 minutes in the air, which was pretty funny, but there were no direct flights from Tyler to D.C.

I wrote my story on Monday and Tuesday and headed up to the Prince Georges Equestrian Center on Wednesday to cover the WCHR Professional Challenge and WCHR Developing Professional Challenge.

I’m still learning about the hunters, but from what I could gather, the WCHR (World Champion Hunter Rider) program is kind of like the Adequan Gold Cup series in eventing. Certain shows are designated WCHR shows and riders can gain points for the final each year. I still don’t know how some riders could qualify to ride in both classes, but hey, what’s another ribbon?

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Greg Crolick won the Developing Pro class and he was a pleasure to talk to. I find that a lot of hunter riders are tough to talk to because they ride so many horses and compete in so many classes that they really don’t develop a relationship with the horses they ride. So when I ask, “What makes him so special?”, I don’t often get a good answer.

I also find it tough interviewing hunter and jumper riders because I don’t follow that scene as closely, so I don’t always know the background of the horse or rider before I interviewthem as they come out of the in gate.

The night ended pretty late, but I was happy with my photos and coverage.

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I’m not sure why I decided to go, but I dragged myself out of bed early on Saturday to drive up to Morven Park to take photos of the advanced cross-country. I was really tired and it was really hot, but Morven is one of my favorites and the advanced only runs once a year now.

As expected, several pairs withdrew due to the hard ground, but about 15 still went. I had planned to stay up and watch some of the intermediate too, but I was fading fast.

Check out a few more photos here.

Now I’ve had the rest of the weekend to recover and get ready for Harrisburg next week.

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The Insanity Begins

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There really hasn’t been much to say the last few weeks. Oh So is fairly calm on stall rest and I’m really getting the urge to ride. I am physically aching to ride, which is driving me nuts! I’ve only ever gone 2 weeks without riding in my entire life.

Lisa found me the perfect project horse, an OTTB that was 7 and had been started under saddle, like Oh So, but hadn’t done much since he stopped racing at 4.

We had him vetted last week and he was totally sound and perfect…until we got to the X-rays. He ended up having OCDs on his hocks, so no go, unfortunately.

I was so close I could taste it, and now I’m just feeling a little down in the dumps. I just want a horse to ride! How hard can that be? Lisa is back on the hunt again and has a couple of leads that she’s checking out this weekend. I just feel like I flushed $1,000 down the toilet.

Oh So had an ultrasound yesterday and the vet said she saw about 15% improvement on the accessory ligament and 25% improvement on the suspensory. She had hoped for more improvement on the accessory, but overall, we’re moving forward positively.

Since I had nothing to do last weekend, on Sept. 22, I made my first trip to the Plantation  Field International Horse Trials in Unionville, Pa. (check out my photos here.)

2013-09-22 07.53.45The self-proclaimed “best event ever” is in it’s sixth year hosting CIC divisions and while I’ve been to many of the east coast’s top FEI-events as a spectator or reporting for The Chronicle, for some reason, I’d never made the trip. Plus, we have so many events in Virginia and Maryland that a four hour drive to compete and stay overnight seems like a lot of effort!

Nestled in the heart of the Brandywine Valley, Plantation Field is smack dab in the middle of eventing and hunt country and since it’s inception, is starting to become riders’ last run before the fall three-days.

In striving to be the “best event ever”, Plantation Field engages the community. Several local business and riders sponsored cross-country fences, donated money, or set up booths in the trade fair.

Bringing more interest from the public is a constant battle for horse sports, so this year, the Plantation Field team stepped up the trade fair and held “a weekend in the country”, that included a Kid’s Corner, Wine Bistro, Beer Garden, and to top it all off, a Downton-Abbey themed tailgating contest where spectators came in their poshest tweeds.

The event is taylor-made for the spectator, with the trade fair at the crest of a hill 2013-09-22 10.34.23-1overlooking the cross-country course on one side and the show jumping arena on the other.

While there were several spectators that made their way down to the water jump, many were just as happy to sit under the food tent, drink a beer and watch from the top of the hill.

I took photos of the CIC divisions, and the three-star division got dramatic when 7 horses and riders fell at the A element of the water jump and officials ultimately decided to take out the A and B.

Plantation was the start of a pretty insane next 6 weeks. I’m off to the AECs in Texas today, then home for a couple of days, then up to Capital Challenge in Md. for a day, then Morven Park.

I’ll have a weekend off before spending an entire week in Harrisburg, Pa. covering the Pennsylvania National. Unfortunately, that falls on Fair Hill weekend, which is celebrating its 25th year. I’ve gone for the last 11 years of my life, and I’m devastated to miss it, but we’re short-staffed, so I have to fill in.

I’m hoping to drive from Harrisburg to Fair Hill on Sunday morning so I can at least catch some of the show jumping.

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Motoring At Morven Park

Despite the crummy weather, I had a pretty good time at Morven Park this weekend. I tried to stay as relaxed as I could in dressage warmup, but he was holding in himself a little bit and once I started trotting around the ring, he tightened up. So much for that awesome, relaxed ride at the combined test. His trot work was tight, but we managed to get a couple A PMB13-0829607of eights in the canter work for a 34 and second place after dressage.

I was surprisingly not that nervous for show jumping, and it helped that I was at the end of the prelim division, so the warmup calmed down considerably by the time I went in the ring. We actually only jumped a few fences in the warmup, including a tall vertical and a lower oxer, and we were good to go.

I didn’t get a chance to walk the course, so I watched a few and went in. We ended up with one rail, fence 3. We stepped over fence 2 quietly, then went for what looked to be  a forward five strides, but he ended up getting there pretty quickly, and we had the front rail of the oxer down. There was a tight turn to fence 4, then five strides to set you up to an in and out that he ticked, but waited for the B element.

I got him a bit close to the next oxer, but we got that line better and he actually tried pretty hard in the triple too.

After greasing him up and checking our tack, we were off to cross-country. It had started raining again, but it wasn’t a heavy rain. After the first fence, he was off, and I pretty much had no control for the rest of the ride. I’m guessing it was because I didn’t take off the padded cover I had on the curb chain. He’d had a rub leftover from Southern Pines, and 1C JAC13-0833467I’d been riding with it on, but I think he really needed it on Sunday!

We had our usual funny jump over fence 3, a picture frame, where he always ducks. There was a new combination at 5ab, which was a log on a mound, four strides to a big table. He popped over that nicely and made the four easily, then he was off again across the field. My reins had started to get slippery and I barely got him back for the elephant trap at 6. That’s a fence that I remember seeing when I was younger and thinking it was huge. It’s a big slanted open timber fence with a ditch on the backside; very old school. We took it on a bit of an angle to get to the next fence, and he jumped it well, but pecked a bit on landing and I’m almost certain he pulled his left front shoe there.

Again, I had no control to the keyhole, but he jumped it efficiently and was off for another long gallop before a new, very wide table. He did that well, but I fell forward on landing. Luckily, I got situated in time for a turn to a drop into water. He jumped that confidently, but again, I was pitched forward a bit on landing. I had started to tire some by that point from fighting him and my slippery reins, which I knew was a bad sign.

B GFC13-0832715Immediately after the water was a set of new jumps on an angle. We got a little close to the first one, but he popped out over the second one well and then really took off. I regained control enough to have a nice jump over the mushrooms before heading to the canyon.

I’d ridden the canyon combination terribly in the spring and he had backed off it due to his greeness, so I was determined to get a better ride. It kind of sucks you in with the giant boulders on either side that form a path, then up a hill and up a bank where you can’t see anything but sky.

He jumped big in, then we jumped up the bank well and popped over a skinny three strides later. The last major combination was at the quarry. We stepped in over a new log, then did four strides like a roller coaster to another log. I’ve never felt him power over a fence as much as I did over the B element. It felt like we were flying!

We ended up about 13 seconds over the time and slotted into third place. Had we been a little bit faster, we could have won since we were only 3 points off the leader. I’ve never been so exhausted after a course before, so I think we’ll be making sure the curb chain is ON next time.

I was really pleased though with both of us. For the first time, I’m really thinking that the C AST13-0834128one-star at Virginia this fall wouldn’t be such a stretch. We’ve come out this year more confident in each other in both jumping phases and I know he can do the dressage, it just depends on if he wants to let the tension go that day or not.

I’m headed off to cover the The Fork CIC for The Chronicle this weekend in North Carolina, then the weekend after I’m planning on doing a CT at Morningside, then back to Morven for Loudoun Hunt Horse Trials.

Consistency at CDCTA

I took Oh So up to the CDCTA combined test at Morven Park on Saturday for a little extra practice before Morven’s event in two weeks. The forecast was quite dire, calling for rain and temperatures in the 40’s, but we lucked out for most of the day. I had very late times (dressage at 1:54 and jumping at 4:15), which will probably be the only time this season I’ll have ride times in the afternoon, so it was nice to not have to rush in the morning.

I don’t say this often (or ever), but his dressage warmup was amazing. He was calm, quiet, A ECS13-0807482supple, and stretching, and I felt like I could have gone in and done my test with 20 minutes of warmup. Who is this horse and what has he done with my OTTB? We’d had a very good flat lesson on Thursday, and this was actually even better than that.

Unfortunately they were running a little behind, so I was probably on for 45 minutes, but he didn’t seem to mind. We trotted right in and the test itself was pretty good. Just from watching my video I could see a difference i his whole way of going. He had a lot more freedom in his shoulders and was just generally smooth. He did start to get a little low in his poll as we started going around the outside of the ring and I think it was just because he 429748_10100902399780557_1999114969_nwas maybe a little bit tired. He tends to get that way sometimes if we’ve had too long a warmup.

I had to work pretty hard during the test to keep his poll up, and we did score a couple of 6s due to that, but overall, he was very obedient. We got an 8 on our medium canter circle, our left leg yield, and my position (!), and even got a 7 on the weird ‘give the reins away at X’ that I hate in prelim test A. We ended up with a 31.8 and the judge seemed to love him when we chatted after the test.

A weather front came in as I was tacking up for show jumping and it suddenly went from about 50 to 40 and spitting rain, so that was unpleasant, but he didn’t seem to mind. The course was not huge, which can be expected at a schooling show, but it was still challenging enough. There were a couple of long canters to single fences, which tends to get me picking his stride down to nothing, so that was my big thing. But we both went in, I was pretty relaxed, and he was totally listening, and had a clear round! That kind of feels good. 🙂

He ticked a few, but the fact that he was waiting in between the lines and my position wasn’t horrible made it a good round. I had signed up for a second round, but decided I didn’t need it. We ended up second.

B JAC13-0809247Now we’ll have a couple of quiet weeks before Morven at the end of the month. We’re currently getting more snow, so I’m hoping that will end soon and that maybe we’ll have a dry day for Morven. I can hope, right?

Morven Park recap

Well, I survived an event without Lisa and had a pretty good result to boot. I decided to let Oh So stay out overnight before Morven to see if it would help with his dressage. I bathed and braided him the night before and to my surprise, his braids still looked great in the morning and he was clean! Unfortunately, the turnout didn’t seem to help with the tension in dressage.

This was the second show in a row where I felt like I was just barely holding him together from an explosion. He started out holding himself a bit in the warmup and I had only allowed about 35 minutes, when I could have used more. We’d had a good flat lesson earlier in the week trying some renver in trot and canter, so I was able to get some in trot, but it didn’t seem to influence him as well as it did at home. We had to disrupt our rhythm a bit to go up to the ring, and his trot work in the test was just a bit tense. He was also fussing with his tongue for some reason and I could see it in my photos. He had his usual near-explosion after the free walk and his halts were kind of crappy, but we ended up with a 33 to be in first after dressage.

I barely had time to breathe before I needed to be on for show jumping, so my course walk was more like a course run and I didn’t really get a chance to think critically about what I was going to do at each fence, but I guess it didn’t really matter, because we only had one rail down! The ring was on the track with a slight slope, not what I was expecting at Morven, so I had to make sure I really kept his stride open going up some of the hills. I lost his shoulder a bit, and as a result some impulsion, to the triple combination and we got there on an off stride, but he somehow powered over the first oxer and then added a half stride in the one-stride distance and cleared the second part. He made the next one stride distance, but had the rail down just barely. It was kind of embarrassing to be the person who got two strides in the one-stride, but it didn’t look as bad on the video as it felt. Lesson learned, as I rode the last combination a lot better.

I had an hour before cross-country which was slightly nerve-wracking, and it had been raining a bit, so I knew the footing wasn’t going to be perfect. I took a bit of a short spot to a table at fence 4, then subsequently rode terrible to the quarry and got two strides in the one-stride again! Luckily he just kept going, but was a bit suspicious of my bad riding for a couple of fences. He did the water complex quite well and tried his hardest at the bounce bank where I think I didn’t ride strong enough to. Overall, I felt like I was a bit backed off or some reason, be it the footing, or my uncertainty about a couple of the combinations when I walked them on my own. We were about 15 seconds over time, so not too bad considering I wasn’t really going for it because of the footing.

I think I like the bit so far, but I almost have to be careful he doesn’t listen to it too much and then find that my leg isn’t on to push him forward. We ended up second and won an autographed copy of Denny Emerson’s book.

On to Loch Moy this weekend, then ATCs.

A busy weekend

My weekend was pretty non-stop and I’m finally getting a chance to relax a bit. It started with a 6am wakeup call for an 8:30 lesson in Middleburg with Oh So. We tried a new Pelham/Myler bit with a port, and I think we have a winner…for now! He was very respectful of it and we had a really good ride at a place we don’t go very often. They had some good little gymnastics and bending lines set up, so it was a nice change.

When I got home, it was off to ride Sam and work the minis. I don’t have a ton of time during the week to work the minis, so I try to work them on the weekends whenever possible. I had done a short flat lesson with Sam earlier in the week just to talk with my trainer about how he looked and to have her remind me of some points with my position, including my terrible left hand. As I anticipated, I’ve started to lean forward “at” him a bit, partly because I think his neck is so short compared to Oh So, but also because I think I sub-consciously don’t want to sit “into” him and stress him too much. She reminded me that I’d be doing him a disservice by not riding him correctly, so now I have some things to think about. I had my dad snap some photos on Saturday since it’s been awhile since I’ve seen myself on Sam.

Yesterday I went on assignment for The Chronicle to the Capital Challenge Horse Show at the Prince Georges Equestrian Center in Upper Marlborough, Md. I had competed there ages ago as a junior on a dressage team. As most people know, I’m not a fan of hunters, so I’m not too educated about them, although I’ve had it thoroughly explained to me in the office, so I think I’m starting to get it!

I was covering three equitation finals for juniors and amateurs at 3′ and 3’6″. I have to say I was impressed at the two finalists for the 3’6″ junior class, who had to come back and do an extra test involving cantering a course without stirrups, trotting a fence and counter cantering one, straight into a halt.

I was also there to practice shooting indoors, so you can check out my work here. I thought   I did an ok job, but I think I should have tried a 300mm fixed lens in addition to the 70-200mm one I had. It almost felt like I wasn’t at a horse show though. No mud, water or dust to slop through, no hills to climb, no blazing sun. Just perfectly coifed and clean kids sitting in the stands and watching after their rides while the grooms took the horses. Definitely different than eventing! The amateur I spoke to was quite good. She was a re-rider, getting back into the sport after 20 years away from it working for Estee Lauder. Now she’s starting her own company so she can have more time to ride. I like that idea!

I have a flat lesson with Oh So today, then we’re jumping on Wednesday in preparation for Morven Park on Sunday. I’ll be without Lisa for the first time at an event, so I’m a bit nervous, but we’ll do our best. I’m planning on going up on Saturday to watch the advanced cross-country, then walking my own course.

We also got our prelim bronze medal in the mail the other day from USEA!