Paradise at Pine Top

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I’m knee-deep in my busy spring travel season, but I just wanted to write a quick update about my trips so far.

My most recent trip was to Pine Top in Thomson, Ga. I’d never been, and since they added a CIC*** last year that was well attended, I thought it might make sense to go this year.

Unfortunately entries were way down, and only 13 started in the three-star, but I’m still happy I went.

The trip there was not super fun, as I got to ride on a tiny propeller plane to the Augusta regional airport, which was loud and scary!

The event was kind of in the middle of nowhere, but the historic farm was really beautiful.

I arrived on Thursday afternoon and walked the cross-country course. I was immediately overcome with this feeling of, “ah…” It was such a beautiful day, everything was really green and pristine, and it just seemed like a really nice, no frills kind of event. It really made my heart pang a little, wishing I was riding myself.

I sat down with the owner of the farm, who couldn’t have been nicer. He even invited me to an anniversary dinner with his wife and 20-plus other people at the local Mexican restaurant!

Friday was fast and furious, and Clark Montgomery was the eventual winner–always a favorite of mine!

The lack of media attention was kind of refreshing to be honest. I love all of my regular media friends, and while I had to round up the people I needed to talk to myself, it just made the day feel a little more casual and a little more down-to-earth after spending so much time immersed in Wellington with sponsors and VIPs and wealth.

I wish there had been more riders so I could have wandered around a bit, but I found a good spot and was pretty happy with my photos, and I only came home with one fire ant bite!

I got an email from the farm owners on the Monday after the event thanking me for coming, which was so nice.

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Loughan Glen. Love that eye!

Earlier in the month I had an insane two weekends in Wellington covering the $100,000 Wellington Eventing Showcase, the Great Charity Challenge, the Palm Beach Masters and a CSI**** Grand Prix, then I went back down three days later for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI***** and the WEF CSI***** Grand Prix. Whew!

I love jumpers but don’t get to cover them often, so that was exciting. The WEF showgrounds just come alive at night with the crowds and literal-circus atmosphere.

The Showcase was so fun to have pretty much all of my media and photographer friends in one place, and I love being immersed in the dressage world too, mostly because the fashion inspires me! I got to interview Mark Todd at the Showcase, which I was slightly nervous for, but I had my friend Shelby from USEA there to keep me calm!

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On the job! Kasey Mueller/Rare Air Photography photo.

Red Hills is up next, another favorite because of the natural beauty of the park it’s held at, and the Carolina International at the Carolina Horse Park, which holds a lot of happy memories of my own riding.

I’ll be at The Fork in early April on my first trip to Tryon, then on to Rolex!

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I got another cover shot out of the Showcase!
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Eventing, Olympics and Emotion: My Favorite Photos of 2016

I’ve traveled a lot this year, and photography is my favorite part of my job, so it was hard to narrow down my favorite photos, but I chose the following for two reasons. First, I love a classically perfect jumping photo, so I’ve included a few. Second, I’ve worked really hard this year on seeking out more candid moments. Sure, I can get a hundred shots of horses with perfect knees over a big oxer, but in the end, I think it’s the more emotional moments that really resonate with people.

It probably helped that I had a borrowed Nikon D5 and 200-400 lens to play with at the Olympics, which was amazing, but many of these were taken with our trusty D3 or D4S and a fixed 300m or 70-200mm lens.

Click on a photo to view the gallery in higher res.

Reflecting on 2016

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!

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GRC Photo

I started the year in one barn and moved to another in the summer that I thought would be a good fit. It didn’t end up being what I thought it would be, so I moved Oh So to a field boarding situation in November.

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!

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Bear went to a new home in April.

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!

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Harley on course at Loch Moy. GRC Photo.

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.

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Thomas is enjoying his new life so far!

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!

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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.)
Olympics (Brazil)
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.

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On the job at Rolex! Kasey Mueller/Rare Air Photography

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.

Surprise! I Bought A Horse.

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I wasn’t quite expecting to get another horse so soon, but when my trainer Lisa said she found one for a really cheap price earlier this month, I decided to take a look.

I was hoping to wait until at least the spring, see how Oh So made it through the winter and try to compete a bit next year, but sometimes life throws things your way, and I’m trying to take things in stride.

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Lisa found Forward Thinking via a trainer friend at Charlestown Race Track. Apparently his owner/trainer had been arrested for fraud, so his horses needed to be dispersed.

His last race was on Nov. 3, and he was actually a pretty good race horse. He raced about 30 times and won seven times, taking home over $100,000. This year he was slowing down though and only raced a handful of times, finishing middle of the pack.

My biggest hesitation was that he’s 7, and will be 8 in May. That makes him almost the exact age that Oh So was when I got him, but he was already working under saddle and jumping little things.

I’ve always regretted those “lost years” I could have had with Oh So, but this horse was $700, has great conformation and seems very sweet, so I decided to take a chance on him.

I’m hoping he’ll be my next Oh So–one I can take through prelim, or at least training. I have lots of goals I want to accomplish, and I’m ready to feel motivated again.

I looked at him at the track on Dec. 1, vetted him on Dec. 3 and he came home on Dec. 12 after my trip to the USEA Convention, so this has all been quite a whirlwind.

I was nervous to turn him out since it’s probably been awhile since he’s had that luxury, but I had no options at my barn other than to put him out with Oh So on the first day. Lisa and I gave them both a little Ace, hand walked them around the field and let them go. Luckily there wasn’t a ton of running and they seemed to bond pretty quickly. Now the challenge will be to make sure they both get used to being separated, especially when one goes away in the trailer, because the barn is situated so they can’t see the other horses on the other side of the property.

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He’s settled in well so far. I feel kind of bad because he probably got the shock of a lifetime being thrown into field board on one of the worst weather weeks we’ll probably have all winter. They weathered an ice storm last night and highs in the 20s earlier this week, but he seems to be taking it in stride and hasn’t lost his (considerable) appetite!

Lisa and I were able to work with him only once this week because of letting him settle in and the weather, so I’m a little anxious to get going, but next week is looking better.

We started by teaching him about lunging. He was a little tentative at first, but once he got the hang of it, Lisa was able to take him over a couple of trot poles. He seems like a willing and fast learner, so I’m hoping with my experience now we can move along a little faster than I did with Oh So and Bear.

I’ve spent the last few days just bonding on the ground and trying to think of a barn name. I still haven’t found one, and it’s a little weird calling him “new horse!”

I’m excited at the prospect of being able to compete next year, so fingers crossed he starts to enjoy his job!

October Update: Lots of travel and change

I’ve just finished off my whirlwind fall of travel, and I’m ready for a break! Since I last updated I’ve been to Plantation Field, Cincinnati, Dressage At Devon, Fair Hill and the Virginia Horse Trials.

Plantation was the first weekend where it really felt like fall. I covered it for the first time officially for COTH, and Phillip Dutton was a fitting winner at his hometown event.

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The ruins at Plantation Field.

I visited my brother, niece and sister-in-law in Cincinnati the following weekend, and it was kind of hot but I had a good time playing tourist and eating Skyline chili! The city is undergoing a lot of change, and my brother lives very close to downtown which is fun, plus they have a great view!

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Dressage At Devon was up next and back to cold and rainy. I went to Devon a few times with my mom long ago, but I’d never been as a member of the media. It was fun to see some different faces than who we usually see in Wellington, even if the scores weren’t as high. I wrote a commentary for the magazine, which I’ve only ever done once before, about how I hope riders and spectators will continue to attend shows like Devon, or Morven Park, which was on the same weekend, because they’re so unique and historic.

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Under the lights at Devon.

My favorite event, Fair Hill, was up next, and while the weather was the driest and warmest it’s been in the 15 years I’ve been attending, it was unfortunately a little underwhelming this year. The entries were down, and Marilyn Little sparked a lot of controversy when her eventual winner RF Scandalous was seen with blood on her mouth on cross-country day.

After two of the most stressful weeks of my work life trying to write the story of the win while also reporting on what it meant to have a three-star national champion win with blood on her mouth, I hope what came out is a fair portrayal of what happened.

The “blood rule” was followed in theory, but there’s since been a lot of discussion about whether it’s right for the public image of the sport to allow a horse with visible blood to continue. I try to always see both sides of an argument, so I won’t weigh in, but I have to say I was disappointed with several things posted on the internet about how the media handled the incident.

It’s difficult when the sport is so small and everyone is friendly. We love feel good stories and stories of winners but we are journalists and have to report on the bad things as well. I feel like sometimes the riders get a little closed off when controversial things happen, but we’re just doing our jobs asking for the facts. If top riders want to get the press and be treated like celebrities, they need to realize that sometimes that means answering tough questions.

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Fair Hill cross-country day!

After Fair Hill I had a free weekend and took Oh So and Harley to a flat lesson with Heidi. She gave me some tips with Harley about keeping his walk and canter more forward and asking for more bend in all three gaits, so now I have some homework.

Oh So was very good, and we upped the work a little by adding in some canter/walk and walk/canter transitions.

I’m hoping we can get back to where we left off this spring and continue to work on those transitions and eventually get clean changes both directions.

He’s finally pretty much back to full flatwork and now we’re getting ready to pop over some jumps for the first time since June this week, so I’m excited!

Both boys were very well behaved during gale force winds with leaves hitting us all in the face and dust swirling around!

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Oh So and Harley take on the coliseum at the VA Horse Trials.

This past weekend we took Harley to the VA Horse Trials for some exposure and I brought Oh So along to ride in good footing. Both boys traveled well together and settled in. Harley was very professional for being 5 and they both thought they were living the life of luxury with Meghan and I tending to their every need.

I schooled Harley on Saturday and Meghan sat on Oh So. She’s only ridden in a dressage saddle a few times, so she was working on getting her balance and playing with some leg yielding, but she was pushing all of Oh So’s buttons by accident, and it was pretty funny. He would offer a turn on the forehand, haunches, leg yield or rein back and not get frustrated, so that was cool to see him play schoolmaster.

A lot of memories came flooding back, and I don’t know if I’ll ever compete him there again, but I’m glad we went.

Today I moved Oh So to a new farm just up the road from where he was in Waterford. I found a deal I couldn’t pass up where I’ll be able to afford two horses if I decide to get one in the spring. The only thing is he’ll be living out 24/7 so I’m pretty nervous about it , but he settled right into his paddock today and made friends with a mare across the fence line. He ate his dinner and was checking out some chickens when I left him, so I hope it goes well.

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Meghan and I did some sightseeing at Natural Bridge in Lexington.

We won’t have an indoor, but we do have lights, so back to living the way we were at home. I’ll just have to pull out my winter breeches a bit sooner!

Harley is doing his first event this weekend on my (30th, gulp) birthday, and I’ve entered Oh So in a dressage show at Loch Moy the following weekend. It may be the end of the season, but I’m going to squeeze in what I can!

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Oh So checking out his new digs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bucket list goals as I’ve been interviewing people this fall, and I came up with a list of my own. I still feel pretty aimless without having any competitions to look forward to, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

  • Complete another training three-day (I did one in 2006 with Sam and finished 2nd).
  • Complete a CCI*.
  • But before that, I’d like to finish a prelim on my dressage score.
  • Ride at the Kentucky Horse Park.
  • Earn my USDF bronze medal (maybe Oh So could take me there!)
  • Ride at another AEC.
  • Hit up a few other events I’ve never competed at like Plantation Field and at the Horse Park of New Jersey.
  • Compete at an Area 2 championship (that never seemed to work out with Oh So’s schedule).

I think most of these will have to wait until my next horse, but I’m still holding out hope for Oh So!

Rio’s In The Rearview and An Oh So Update

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Life is back to normal finally after my trip to Rio! Oh So got the go ahead to start ramping up his work again, which is awesome, but we’re only adding 5 minutes of trot per week, so the going will be slow for awhile.

He flexed and palpated pretty well, so the vet decided not to do ultrasound and just told us to start adding trot. He also got his back injected in the areas where he has kissing spine, so hopefully that will help him feel a little better.

In the mean time I’ve been having a lot of fun riding my friend Meghan’s 5-year-old OTTB Harley, who is wise beyond his years.

He only raced twice and then was used to pony horses at the track, and while he’s very green in his body and education, he’s willing to take instruction, and he’s come along quickly over the last two months that I’ve been riding him a couple of times a week.

We’ve taken him off property to cross-country school three times and show jumped twice, and he keeps getting better. He’s pretty willing to jump anything, but sometimes it’s the other jumps on cross-country or the things going on outside the ring that catch his attention.

I’m really enjoying the process of working with a young horse again. I wasn’t sure I was ready to start over after Bear, but we’re slowly starting to trust each other, and it’s fun when it clicks for him.

On the flat he just needs to learn to take the contact forward, down and out. He’s been ridden in draw reins before, and he seemed afraid of the contact at first. Now he’s taking the bit tentatively, but still comes behind the vertical in trot on occasion. In canter he wants to raise his head and hollow his back, especially to the jumps, so we’re keeping them small right now while we work on his flatwork.

Meghan has felt a difference in him, which makes me feel confident that I’ve been doing the right thing despite no proper flat lessons and riding in my jump saddle!

The hope is to get him to a starter trial this fall. I don’t think the jumps will be the problem, just the activity, but we’ll keep working hard!

 

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Copacabana Beach

I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about Rio, and it’s coming a little more in to focus now that I’m not in the thick of it.

I watched all of the cross-country on the NBC replays when I got back to the U.S., and it really helped me understand the course better and how grueling it really was.

While I was out on course, I really had no idea what was going on because of the terrible announcing, so it helped to see it again.

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View from Sugarloaf

Being there and focusing just on getting the best photos made it almost seem like another horse show until the medal ceremonies. I’ll admit I had a tear in my eye when the U.S. team got on the podium in dressage!

I wish I’d had more time to explore the city, but the day off I did have was amazing. I went to Sugarloaf Mountain and was the highest into the sky I think I’ve ever been. I’ve been to a lot of castles and mountain ranges in my life, but that was so high my legs were getting a little wobbly.

I had a ticket to see Christ the Redeemer that afternoon but the clouds came in, and I didn’t get the view I wanted. Ah well. Now I can say I’ve been there!

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Sugarloaf Cable Cars
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Christ the Redeemer

I spent the weekend at Plantation Field and now I’m off to Cincinnati to visit my brother and sister-in-law, see my niece and eat chili!

Next week is Dressage at Devon and then on to Fair Hill in the October.

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Rocky loves to ham it up!
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Toppers and Rocky
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Plantation Field
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Sam!

Adventures In Rio: Non-Stop Action, And Lots Of Bread And Cheese

This blog originally appeared on coth.com.

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The first water jump.

Bom dia from Rio!

It’s been awhile since my last check in because Mollie and I have been going full throttle writing for the website and writing two magazines stories on a deadline for mid-week.

The excitement hasn’t ever stopped, as we’ve had a second bullet found on the groundssome drama in dressage and some last-minute show jumping team changes.

I’ll back up to cross-country day—the best day of any horse show if I say so myself!

It was warm, but overcast, and quite a large crowd came out to have some fun. From the very beginning though, it was clear it was going to be a tough course.

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On the job!

I spent the first part of the day shooting the first and last water, and got some great shots, then wandered towards other parts of the course where there was absolutely no announcing, so I felt utterly lost as to what was going on and why people weren’t making it to where I was.

It was weird feeling so disconnected from the action, so I was texting with a co-worker back at the office who was watching the live stream. She was about 10 minutes behind the live action, but she still knew before I did that U.S. rider Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen had retired on course.

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Looking out of the start box.

Bummer! I’m a huge fan of Clark and Glen after having spent so much time chatting with him over the last couple of years, and finally meeting him and Glen in person this summer, so I was just gutted for them.

Lauren also had some terrible luck, but looked good when I saw her, and Phillip and Boyd gave masterful riding demonstrations. Blackfoot Mystery, and Boyd, looked exhausted coming through the last water, and Boyd nursed him home expertly.

It says a lot about a course when a guy who rides 10 horses at a one-day event in the middle of summer is exhausted riding one horse around a four-star!

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The stands filling up.

As usual, Michael Jung was masterful, although he had a bit of a save on Sam through the last water when he wanted to bow his right shoulder over one of the fish.

I think I shot some of my best photos ever on cross-country, which you can check out here.

Eventing show jumping day went by in a blur. We had to cover two rounds of jumping, plus team and individual medals.

The French team, who are all very handsome and charming, won gold and our hearts!

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Daily inspo.

Mollie and I fell into bed that night, but no rest for the weary as we went straight into dressage the next two days with the Grand Prix and team medals. I saw Valegro! OK, so a lot of people have seen him, but I’ve never seen him in person, so I was super excited.

He was just as round and cute as I’d expected!

We rallied one more day to cover the Special, but for me, it was a tough night as I got food poisoning from our media village dining hall and spent all night with severe stomach cramps that continued into the next day.

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Police horses on the job.

Luckily we had shots of all of the riders who would be in the Special, and they ran in reverse order, so I spent the morning in bed and found enough strength to go over to the venue and shoot the afternoon. I couldn’t miss Valegro again!

I almost doubled over in pain as Steffen Peters was riding, another I didn’t want to miss, but I held it together for a few more riders until Charlotte went.

We’ve been subsisting on basically bread and cheese since we’ve arrived because we haven’t been able to go to any restaurants or find a grocery store until Saturday.

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American bread and cheese! What a treat.

Mollie and I get up every morning to the sound of idling buses and military men doing drills, grumble about how the breakfast at the media village hasn’t changed, and load up our plates with the same rolls, cheese and thankfully some fresh fruit.

We’ve also started packing cheese sandwiches because the venue only has, well, more bread and cheese sandwiches with meat that aren’t so tasty.

We grumble again as we eat in the dining hall at night, but we’re usually so hungry we stuff our faces with rice, pasta, often crunchy, and iceberg lettuce, then pass out to the sound of guns going off fairly close by and rowdy rugby journalists.

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Working hard with George Morris watching over me.

We had a day off on Saturday, and while all of our journalist and photographer friends were off having fun at the beach or sightseeing, we had to hunker down and write our eventing and dressage stories for the magazine.

After writing from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., we decided to give ourselves a break and head to Barra where a couple of photographer and journalist friends are staying.

We hopped on a bus to the Main Media Center and were soon being escorted down the Olympic road by military guards. Our bus driver told us another media bus had a rock thrown through its window. Lovely.

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Just chilling with McLain Ward and Kent Farrington…

We took a quick bus from the MPC to Barra and had a wonderful evening of actual food, capped off by a lovely walk past all of the main venues like the diving arena.

It was cool to be in the middle of it all, if only for a short time.

We grabbed some healthy snacks at a grocery store and made our way home, feeling refreshed and ready to shoot the first day of show jumping.

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Equestrian on TV!

The weather has been up and down, from very pleasant to downright hot the last two days, but the crowds showed up in full force for show jumping.

It was absolutely deafening when a Brazilian rider came in the ring, and when they went clear, watch out!

The locals are all wonderful, and the military are all friendly. Unfortunately it seems that what we’re allowed to bring in through security each day changes, but we’ve learned to adapt!

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Military presence on every corner.

We’ve been keeping the TV on at night and watching some of the other sports while we write, and even saw a five minute blurb about the horses last night. It’s weird not having access to NBC and their instant replays. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I get home to find out what actually happened on cross-country!

We’re in the home stretch! I’m counting down the days until I can cook my own food and see my horse, but until then, Mollie and I figured out a way to order pizzas to Deodoro Village, and I have to say, American bread and cheese tasted heavenly!

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