Forward Thinking: The First Month

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First ears photo!

It’s been just about a month since I bought Thomas, and while the winter weather hasn’t been cooperating much, we’ve accomplished a lot in the rides we’ve been able to get in.

We started with lunging, and he picked up on that pretty quickly, so maybe he’s been taught that before. He sometimes wants to cut in on the circle a bit, especially to the right, but he’s accepting the side reins and really stretching down steadily once he’s been working about 10 minutes. He doesn’t try to stop and turn in, and he’s responding very well to voice commands.

Lisa and I have worked with him on mounting, and he’s been doing really well. He’s been standing stock still when I get on and walking off quietly. We had a very deep freeze and snow about 10 days ago, and I wasn’t able to ride for a whole week, which was torture! I had Lisa come out and help me on the first day back this week, and we were able to fit in a ride before it got dark. He did very well, and we even cantered over our first pole!

But the next day, I had to ride at night under the lights. He’s been fine with it so far, but I think I took for granted that maybe he would be a little spooky after a week not riding at night. I lunged, then went to get on, and he tried to walk off towards the pile of jumps that the mounting block is next to in the middle of the ring. I steered him away from it, but in the process of doing that and trying to stay off his back a little and also not lean forward, I lost my balance and grabbed my neck strap, and I think I touched the reins too. He went backwards, then forwards and somehow I flipped off over his head! I’m not sure exactly how it played out, but I can say the reins were all the way over his head, and I’m sore all over!

I can now say I’ve fallen off at the walk! We both scared ourselves I think, and after I caught him I walked him around a bit and got back on. He was a little freaked out, but we did our usual trot and canter after we calmed down, and he was fine, if a little on edge.

So, lesson learned. Hand walk some more at night before I get on and bring carrots to the mounting block. He definitely wants to please, but he’s still a race horse with some baggage.

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First trail ride!

As far as under saddle work, he’s really understood trot poles quickly. Lisa has set up little courses with sets of raised poles on half circles around the ring, and he’s felt his way through a few times, but overall he’s working hard and understanding that he might need to shorten his step before the first pole and how to bend while also lifting his leg.

We’ve cantered a total of about five times, and he’s already starting to understand the aid to get into canter and is taking fewer steps to get into it. The left lead is solid obviously, and the right lead isn’t too hard to get, but he usually needs a few tries. He’s stayed in a nice, steady pace and hasn’t tried to run off. We’re starting to do large circles, and he’s softening to the bit nicely.

Lisa and I took him for a walk outside the ring before the big freeze and he seemed to enjoy it. We walked through the woods and down the driveway. I wish I had more places to hack, but unfortunately I only have a long gravel driveway and a short trail through the woods.

I’m not sure when we’ll start jumping or trailering out, but I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. I think the next step is two canter poles in a row!

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Working hard!

Oh So has been doing well. I’ve been working on his tough right to left change by trying it out of counter canter. I had a lesson with Heidi two weeks ago and we worked on obedience and balance by asking for the counter lead on a circle. We both found it a little difficult, but when we came out of the corner, asked on the long side, then turned across the center of the ring at B, we got the left change.

I’m going to continue to work on that at home until I can go see her again. We’re having more winter weather this weekend (why does it always have to come when I have a day off?!), but I’m hoping to get him out somewhere to jump tomorrow.

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!

November Update: We went to a show!

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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!

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GRC Photo.
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GRC Photo