Favorite Photos of 2017

Despite being injured and off my feet for several months this year, I still had the chance to go to a ton of amazing competitions for my job in 2017.

As always, I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I love for a living, and this year I got to check off a couple of bucket list events, as well as go to some longtime favorites. I attended 18 competitions this year for COTH (14 actual trips total, counting the USEA Convention).

A photographer friend generously gifted me some Lightroom classes to work on while I was laid up, and I think my editing skills have gotten a little better this year! I’m always in search of the perfect jumping shot, but I’ve been trying my best to be aware of my surroundings and capture quiet, candid moments as well. My New Year’s resolution is to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone and play with different perspectives as I continue to capture some of the country’s best horses and riders.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my coverage this year.

 

Out And About (And An Abscess)

Spring has finally spring in Virginia, and I’m ready to start competing and getting Thomas out and about!

After my last post, I took Oh So to Morven Park to see Dr. Adams assuming we’d get his hock or stifles done.

Upon flexions though, he was very good from behind and mildly positive on his right front ankle. He had some mild inflammation there that Dr. Adams thought was some minor arthritis, so we injected that and a few areas in his back behind the saddle where he palpated a bit sore.

The good news is his left front ankle and the areas around his windpuff and deep digital flexor tendon sheath flexed 100 percent negative! Dr. Adams admitted he was a little nervous to see him considering our last appointment he was not feeling positive about his overall soundness and ability to continue competing, but he said he looked better than ever. He’s gained 100 pounds since August too thanks to a good feeding program from my barn owner.

17758960_1618347974862014_478471679_o
Valerie Durbon Photo.

I entered Morven Park with the assumption that it would be wet and we might not be able to run cross-country, and unfortunately a ton of rain on the Friday before meant the footing wasn’t going to be ideal for him. Any other year I would say the footing was pretty darn good for Morven, especially by the time I would have gone on Sunday, but there were too many spots of concern on course for Lisa to want to risk him.

I’m bummed it became an expensive combined test, especially considering we were leading after show jumping!

1A PMB17-0173906
GRC Photo.

He was a little up as we headed down to the dressage warmup with atmosphere, but as soon as I picked up the reins he went to work. He was a little tight as we got to the main arena and started trotting around, but I tried to stay as relaxed as I could. He can be forgiven for being a bit tense for our first outing of the year! Unfortunately he got me again in our free walk and anticipated the medium walk and jigged, so there will be some dressage schooling shows in our future to get that under control again.

1A PMB17-0173926
GRC Photo.

I was remarkably relaxed for show jumping, and we warmed up quite well actually. He was jumping big and I wasn’t picking! The round was quite good–no picking, no rails and he got all his leads because I wasn’t ducking. I was really pleased considering we’d had a bit of a tough lesson the week before. Not bad, just the fact that he didn’t want to sit and rock back over the jumps. We ended up putting some ground rails in front of a few of them to make him wait, but I counted on him backing off the jumps at the show.

I decided against entering MCTA in May because everything is on grass and it can often be wet. Such is life these days for us. Instead, I’m going back to Morven to try my hand at a recognized dressage show.

The last time I did a recognized dressage show I had Palais and was in the junior division, so it will be interesting to see how we stack up. I’m expecting it to be tougher for sure, but maybe we can win a TIP Award?

We’re doing First 2 and 3. I’m hoping two tests in a day will get him a little more rideable in the ring. If that goes well there’s a recognized show at Loch Moy in June that would be fun to try.

1B ECS17-0179314
Not sure what’s going on with my leg here, but it’s not slipped back, so that’s good! GRC Photo.

Next up for us though is the CDCTA schooling day on Saturday and the Loch Moy starter trials next week.

Thomas has been going well, but unfortunately at the end of March I felt some funny steps from behind. I did a couple of days of bute thinking it was because he had run around a lot one day when I was there, and then he came sound and had a great lesson with Lisa that weekend.

My farrier came on the 29th and he was sore on his left hind foot and heel in particular, but the farrier thought it was the way his alignment and gait was as he’s been working to correct it.

He was still sound until last week when he was not wanting to walk on it. While I was away at The Fork my barn manager’s farrier came out and found an abscess. I’ve been soaking it this week, and my farrier comes tomorrow, so fingers crossed we can put a shoe back on because I’m home for two weekends in a row, and it’s time to get him off property! He’s also bored and ready to get back to work so I’ve been trying to mess with him in one way or anther every night. We’ve groomed, hand grazed he’s helped me set up jumps in the ring!

1B ECS17-0179334
Tiny jumps! GRC Photo.

As far as travel, I’ve since been to the Carolina International and The Fork since my last update. Carolina is always lovely, and the weather was perfect. I got some great photos too, but I was really envious of those who got to ride the training course. The Carolina Horse Park is one of my favorite venues, and I really want to go back and compete.

17522614_10103509615838677_4759686926545897873_n
The Fork derby field.

The Fork was held at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, and it was my first time there. Let’s just say it was definitely better than driving to podunk Norwood, N.C.!

I’m not sure I totally agree with the main venue’s courses. Many of the lower level jumps were set in the arenas and in a derby field, although I found myself thinking it would be the perfect place for Oh So because you can guarantee the footing will be good! But it just didn’t feel like eventing to me.

17504504_10103476499394297_8769042966361310426_o
Carolina International.

The brand new three-star course was pretty cool though. It was open and gallopy and the footing felt like carpet. They’ve barely scratched the surface of what the World Equestrian Games’ course will be, and it was exciting to be there to watch it christened. I loved my photos too!

Now I’ve got a couple of weeks until the big one…Rolex!

Here’s a few photos I took of the boys with my nice camera recently. Oh So’s in his ugly phase right now, but once his summer coat comes in, he’ll look great!

Slow and Steady

Photo Feb 26, 10 11 34 AM
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.

Photo Feb 20, 7 51 06 AM
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.

Photo Mar 11, 11 44 07 AM
Beauty at Red Hills.

 

Paradise at Pine Top

16825979_10103404288236037_7762291397707982675_o

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.

1dsc_0785
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!

16649234_10103403657100837_1895618124048097560_n
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!

16797884_10103389667610887_8507612271837998180_o
I got another cover shot out of the Showcase!

Like night and day

2014-03-16 10.32.05photo-4

I’ve realized as Oh So has been starting his trotting work and Bear has been progressing that they truly are different horses, in every aspect, but it’s a fun challenge to be riding two horses again.

Oh So has always had a “dramatic” personality, hence his name. He does everything to the extreme. He’s been an absolute handful (and kind of an a**hole sometimes!) as I’ve started his trotting work over the last month. The vet wanted us to do 30 second trot sets and add two minutes per week. The whole 30 second increment thing lasted about two weeks before he decided he’d had enough and was basically trantering and coming close to having a meltdown every day.

I compromised by letting him trot for a minute at a time and now I’ve added a few 2 minute sets. His hind end feels back to normal after he got used to using it again. We’re up to 12 minutes of trot this week and every day is sort of hit or miss. Sometimes I’m being run off with down the long side (no circles allowed yet) and other times I get glimmers of what he was like before the injury.

At the end of my last minute of trot today, I pretended I was trotting down centerline on one of the quarterlines and then asked him to walk and then halt, which he made perfectly square. The training is still in there somewhere!

I think once we can canter things will get better, although I’m sure he’ll be just as pissed to start with only a minute at a time!

Bear on the other hand, is decidedly non-dramatic (except in the morning when he goes out and bucks like nothing I’ve ever seen before!). He’s actually a little lazy, but I think he’s still learning about the meaning of “go.” I’m hoping once we can get out cross-country schooling in the next few weeks that he’ll find his “forward” button.

It’s interesting to have a horse that likes to be groomed. Oh So is so fidgety, but Bear actually has spots he likes.

After we jump a course with Lisa, we’ll stop to talk about it and Bear will just fall asleep in the sun. It took Oh So awhile to stand still while we were chatting and even today, he’s more likely to be thinking, “Let’s do it again!” or “I was awesome, wasn’t I?”

Sam was always in between when he was competing. He could definitely get hyped up and is sensitive/spooky about grooming, but he wasn’t really tense and didn’t internalize things like Oh So does. He was good off the leg and not overly lazy or sensitive.

As Bear has been learning about flatwork, my dressage trainer, Nicky, had me use my seat to sort of urge him into the upward transition from walk to trot. He’s getting sharper about it now from my leg and seat, but I accidentally used that aid on Oh So the other day. Big mistake! I just have to “whisper” to him with my leg and he’s off in a big trot down the long side.

Since Sam retired from full work about a year and a half ago, I’ve only been riding Oh So and now that he’s back in more work, I’ve also realized the challenge in adjusting my riding style. Oh So has such a huge stride and has been mistaken for a Warmblood before. He’s got a neck that’s a mile long and shark withers. Bear is a decent sized horse, about 16.1 hands I think but I haven’t measured him, and has a much shorter/average stride. I think his stride will continue to get better as he gets stronger and uses himself more, but for now, the difference between the two is kind of startling.

I realized that last week when Nicky came on Saturday for a lesson. Since we had time, she brought over her 6-year-old 1st/2nd level Warmblood and schooled him while I rode Oh So. He was on his best behavior that day (perhaps because he knew teacher was there?) and we had some really nice trot sets.

I got on Bear after that and I felt so out of balance and slow. I think I chased him a bit and after watching some video that my mom took, I realized I was way too active with my leg, practically urging him on every step. I just need to trust that he’s going to go forward and not pinch with my knee, which seems to slow him down a bit unintentionally.

Sun For A Change

The new Stonehenge complex.
The new Stonehenge complex at the Carolina International.

This weekend, I headed down to Southern Pines to cover the inaugural Carolina CIC for COTH. It felt a little odd driving down in a car and not turning into the stabling entrance, but I was happy to watch most of the top eventers in the country all in one place.

I saw a lot of my media friends and even got a sunburn! And now we might get snow again on Tuesday! Will it ever end?

I’m getting antsy to get Bear out to school cross-country. I’m hoping if we don’t get too much snow this week that we’ll be able to go. I’m also excitedly plotting a schedule of unrecognized dressage shows and combined tests. First we need to go hang out at a couple of shows, so I’m hoping we can go to one this weekend.

This was last Monday!
This was last Monday!
I'm so over it!!!
I’m so over it!!!
Rocky got a clip two weeks ago.
Rocky got a clip two weeks ago.