Back In The Tack!

About 10 days ago I decided to get back on Oh So, and so far it’s been going better than I expected. The surgeon didn’t exactly say no, he just wanted me walking 100% first and asked if I could wait until the end of August. I stifled a laugh. If I wait any longer I won’t be able to get to any shows this season, so the sooner I can start the better!

I’d say I’m about 85% back to normal and I just tend to get stiff walking if I’ve been sitting. My range of motion and strength is not quite there yet, but I feel fairly normal when walking once I’m loosened up. Going down stairs is a bit of a challenge, mostly due to calf pain and some pain/stiffness on the inside of my right foot, and that’s been manifesting itself when I ride too.

There were no fireworks or fanfare on the day I got on. In fact, no one was around but the barn owner’s son, who was working on his car. But at about 12 weeks since my accident I wanted to at least try to get on and see what happened.

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I created a custom mounting block by putting the three-step block against an overturned Rubbermaid water trough, and climbed up. I should preface by saying I started lunging Oh So about 10 days before just to get him going and see how he felt. I’ve avoided longing him over the years because of his tendon issues, so it took a few tries for him to remember to stay out on the circle, but he got it pretty quickly and even wanted to play a little in canter, which was hilarious.

I longed him the day I got on just to be safe, and the climbed aboard. He pretty much felt like nothing had changed!

Over the last two weeks I’ve played around with warming up without stirrups, then taking them up, doing some posting trot, doing some canter, taking a break and dropping them, then repeating.

I’ve felt some mild pain, more like discomfort, around the plates and on the inside of my right foot, which has been giving me trouble going down stairs. Overall though, I think it’s just going to be building up endurance, mine and his.

I’m not really riding firmly with my lower leg due to discomfort and lack of strength, so I’m not able to help him in the downwards transitions as much as I’d like, but we’re getting there. Cantering is much better, and I’ve even done some trot poles.

It might be ambitious, but I feel like I’ll be ready to do a dressage show by mid-September. That’s my goal. I’d like to try jumping or at least riding in my jump saddle next week to see how I feel. If I could make it to a couple of events this fall I would be thrilled.

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Thomas comes home tomorrow. I’ve been visiting him a few times a week and watching Dusty ride him. I finally got to see him off property this weekend at Morningside, and he definitely seemed to go better there. He still needs to look at jumps before he goes over, but once he gets the idea he’ll go. He popped up and down the bank a few times and went into the water no problem. Dusty and I discussed that he just needs to learn about where to put his feet or he gets worried. I sense a lot of gymnastics in his future.

Last week I tried a new farrier for him, and I thought he did a good job. It was a quiet, calm experience which is what he needs since he tends to get worried about things involving his feet.

My hope is to utilize some of the things Dusty’s been doing to get him used to things under him and around his feet. Unfortunately he had a minor mounting incident at Morningside where he backed up quickly, but didn’t take off. I’m sort of at a loss as to what to do. It seems so trivial that something like mounting could cause me to want to sell him, but it’s going to be on my mind for a while unfortunately. Even if it happens once out of 100 times, I now realize what could happen.

I suppose I’ll have to learn to ride that out if I want to keep him, but I just can’t afford to get injured again. He is so sweet on the ground and wants to try under saddle, but something upsets him during the mounting process. I will be riding alone the majority of the time, and it’s just scary to think about not having any help.

My friend Meghan will be riding him a bit while I continue to get stronger, so I’m hoping to use the extra time to bond and do some longing and ground work.

Money is extremely tight right now with medical bills and a lack of a roommate, but I hope to have a chiropractor out to look at his back and make sure there are no signs of something like kissing spine that could be contributing to the issue.

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One of my favorite shots from Great Meadow.

Otherwise it’s been a pretty quiet month, which I needed. I covered the Great Meadow International as my first assignment back and hobbled around, but it was nice to see all my friends again.

I fulfilled a bucket list event when I went to Montana for Rebecca Farm. It was pretty incredible. The jumps were works of art and the scenery and weather was to die for. It was a lot to cover NAJYRC and the FEI divisions, and it was all kind of a blur, but I did find an evening to go to Glacier National Park to take a breath.

While I only scratched the surface of what there is to see at the park, it only inspired me to go back again. Now I have a few more weekends before the fall season picks up again with the AEC, Plantation Field, Fair Hill and then my rescheduled vacation, which I desperately want to go on since I had to miss it because of my accident.

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Slow and Steady

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Thomas and Oh So hanging.

I’ve had Thomas for just about three months now, and we’re slowly making progress in his re-training.

He’s proven to be very willing, but also a little weary of new things, so we’ve had to be creative in introducing him to jumping and just going slow. I feel like we should be further along at times, but then I have to remind myself I’ve only had him for three months. We’re still learning to trust each other, but we had a good breakthrough in my lesson last Thursday.

After initially teaching him to pick up his feet and actually jump (where he was a little oblivious to the whole thing and happy to do it) he’s now realized that it can sometimes be hard and scary, so I’ve been working on keeping him straight to canter and trot poles first, then just trotting to small verticals with a ground pole or cantering tiny cross rails.

I’m still trying to decide whether he’s spooky or just scared of/inexperienced towards random objects like the flower boxes or blocks in the ring, so I try to move stuff around a few times a week. Sometimes even just trotting between two sets of standards that have boxes can cause him to spook or fall in on a circle if he thinks he’s being aimed at something, so before we pointed him at a jump with something under it, Lisa suggested we try lunging him over things.

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Oh So schooling a few weeks ago. 70 degrees in February!

I have plenty of practice with that since I used to jump my minis in hand all the time! We set up a few things, and I led him over them for a couple of days, then she came for a lesson, and when we aimed him at things, he went! We ended up doing a little course of trot jumps with blocks under them, and he was very good.

I’ve never used that type of training technique, but I’m thinking it’s going to be useful when we start to introduce cross-country jumps.

I’m just still learning to trust him and be firm enough with him, but also sympathetic. I’m a little frustrated that I can’t afford as many flat lessons as I want because most of my budget is going towards jumping lessons with him and Oh So as I took towards trying to compete a bit this spring. I haven’t taken him off property yet, which is making it difficult to get a flat lesson.

I had Heidi come out once, but she doesn’t travel much, so I feel a little aimless, and I just don’t want to mess him up or slow our progress. The most important thing she said is that we insist on bend now, so I’ve been working with that, and it almost immediately improved his right lead canter departure. He gets it on the first try almost every time now. But now going left he sometimes gets the wrong lead, which Lisa says is a common thing while training an OTTB.

The left side is obviously the most difficult right now, and he seems to breathe a little heavier or hold his breath going that way, either because it’s hard or because he’s focusing.

I think I’m going to have to start doing some reading to remind myself of the basic training scale and come up with some exercises, but it really helps to have eyes on the ground to give me something to work on and look forward to and to come up with a program. I also hate doing flatwork in my jump saddle, but a dressage saddle is not in the budget right now. I know I need to trust that I can do this, but being the perfectionist that I am, it’s really hard to do that.

On the ground he’s starting to trust me a little more, and now walks up to me most times when I go to get him in the field instead of running away. He’s very food motivated and has expensive taste, so it’s carrots only right now!

We just had a moderate snow storm, so we’ll have to keep waiting to get him off property until I can ride a few days in a row and it’s not crazy windy and cold. Timing is everything!

Oh So has been feeling a little stiff from behind, so I’m going to have him injected next week. My guess would be stifles, but we’ll see. Don’t tell him, but he’s entered at Morven in the novice the first week of April! Unfortunately I decided not to enter Morningside this week for a combined test because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to ride again, but we’re hoping to get to an indoor this weekend if the snow hasn’t melted.

Since my last post I’ve been to Red Hills, which was a lovely warm weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. It’s such a different vibe there because the local community is so involved, so there are  a lot of clueless spectators, but it’s great to give the sport more exposure.

I’m off to one of my favorites next weekend, Carolina International, then The Fork.

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Beauty at Red Hills.

 

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!

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!