Product Review: Kerrits Stretch Panel Riding Jacket

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I’d been eyeing the Kerrits Stretch Panel Riding Jacket all winter because of my love of lightweight jackets, the color blue and color blocking, so when it went on steep discount recently, I picked one up in the Night Shade color.

The blue parts of the jacket have a really cool horse design if you look closely, and the black soft-shell points are slimming and stretchy.

I recently wore it on assignment when the mornings were chilly in the 40s and the afternoons were comfortable in the 70s, and it was a good choice. It’s slightly filled for warmth, almost puffy, with the effect of a fleece jacket, but the lining is smooth. The outer soft-shell fabric made it easy for hay and horse hair to come off, but I’m kind of wanting to keep this one out of the barn. Oh So tends to like to put his drippy nose on everything, especially when I come wearing something new!

This jacket is the perfect length for riding, but it’s also stylish enough to wear out and about. Love it!

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!

Product Review: New To Me Items This Winter

I’ve found some great stuff this winter that’s come in handy around the barn. Here’s a few top picks. I’ve got some new horse care items from different brands to try this month, so I’ll check back in after I’ve tested them.

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Kerrits Outsider Barn Jacket

I’ve been looking for a new medium weight winter jacket for riding to replace my older Kerrits one, so naturally I went back to the source! I have a heavy Mountain Horse jacket, but I only wear it in the coldest of weather because I feel like it’s too bulky to ride in, but this is the perfect weight.

My older Kerrits one had the coolest design feature on the front–instead of buttons to conceal the zipper it had magnets. It was a little odd to be carrying it on my arm and have it stick to the metal railing on stairs, but it snaps shut as soon as you zip up the jacket making for a sleek look.

The new one doesn’t have that feature on the front unfortunately, but does utilize it in the back for the flaps so they open to have more flexibility when sitting in the saddle and snap shut when you’re just wearing it around the barn.

It’s very waterproof and stain proof (Oh So loves to put his drippy nose on me all the time!). It also has arm pit vents and a detachable hood and comes in some really nice colors.

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Noble Outfitters Horseplay Backpack

I was searching for a small backpack to take with me on cross-country when I’m working and don’t want to haul my laptop camera bag out on course. Noble has two different backpacks, and I got the smaller, cheaper one. I can fit snacks, orders of go, my wallet, drinks and even my 70-200mm lens in this little lightweight backpack, and I can use it to transport stuff from my house and car to my truck when I go to shows.

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FITS Zephyr Show Coat

Where has this been all my life? I hate wearing jackets in anything other than cold weather shows, and this mesh coat is so lightweight I have no problem wearing it in the summer. It’s kind of see through when you hold it up to light, but it’s opaque when you wear it. I did wear it at a November show and I was freezing, so I’ll make sure to pull out my trusty older jacket for early spring and fall shows. It’s got a zipper front with buttons over it and faux pockets. They also make a dressage version. I got this for a steal on TackOfTheDay.com last summer.

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Arista Equestrian clothing

I came across this brand at Dressage At Devon. It’s well above my budget, but I found two pieces that were steeply discounted, so I couldn’t resist. I got the Hooded Box Fleece Jacket and a lightweight technical fabric jacket, similar to the one above.

The fleece jacket is nice and warm and has a hood and an offset front zipper. It’s stylish enough to wear in public and warm enough to wear as an under layer at the barn. The jacket is made of a stretchy soft shell and has pleats in the back for riding and stretch panels on the shoulders. I love the black accents against the gray.

The brand also appears to have a lower priced brand called F.O.A.L. I’ve been eying their technical shirts at Dover, but I think I’ll wait until they’re on sale because they’re still a little pricey.

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Hands On Grooming Gloves

These are my new holy grail grooming item. A friend turned me on to them, and they’ve been invaluable for grooming Oh So, and now Thomas, who both love to get mud between their ears and everywhere in between. I can get crusted mud off of their faces and around sensitive areas like their eyes, and I can run my hands down their legs and get all the mud off every crevice.

These can be used for bathing too, but I haven’t tried them that way yet.

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Kerrits Pocket Fleece Zip Neck

I’m a sucker for a fleece of any kind for riding as a base layer and as a top layer on warmer winter days. I also love color blocking, so I got the purple version of this Kerrits piece. It’s got side pockets for a cell phone, and while I wish they were zippered, it’s still a cool feature. The material is sort of textured on the outside, so it could be OK to wear in the real world too!

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.