July Thoughts: Rio’s Becoming A Reality and Still Walking

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I’ve been soldiering on through the July heat and humidity, counting down the days until I head off to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and until Oh So’s next appointment.

I worked at Great Meadow last weekend, a great local event that’s made lots of improvements in the three years since its inception.

Before that, I got to meet Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen in person, which was really cool. I’ve spoken over the phone with Clark over the last two years, and he’s always been very honest and open about the highs and lows of his partnership with Glen, so it was nice to meet him and Glen in person.

The event was brutally hot for dressage day, but cross-country was much cooler thankfully. It was a good day of sport and Clark and Glen easily got the win.

It was also fun to see the U.S. team off to Rio. They had about 15,000 spectators over the three days, which gave the event a big atmosphere, something that’s great for them, but not for the girl with the 300mm fixed lens!

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The new arena at the Great Meadow International.

At this point, the reality of Rio has finally hit. I’ve got my credentials, my vaccinations (six in one day!), I’ve stocked up on sun shirts (reviews to come), now all I need are the little things–bug spray, money belt, call the bank and get a phone plan.

I think I’ve downplayed the Olympics in my mind. I’m of the opinion that horse sports will be fine without the Olympics, and I don’t love the fact that the FEI is trying to change them, and eventing in particular, to suit the masses who will just never care. I’ve just never thought of them as the pinnacle of horse sport, but I’m coming to realize they’re still a big deal! The Pan Ams felt like just a puffed up horse show, but I think the Olympics are going to be a whole different ball game.

While it’s been a lot of work, I’ve enjoyed working on the eventing roster for our Olympic Preview issue because I’ve been Googling people from the smaller countries to find out who’s officially on their teams, fun facts and hometowns.

I’d love to know more about CCI*** events in Moscow or how the girl from Belarus ended up eventing. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet some people from smaller countries once we get there. One of my favorite parts of the Pan Ams was learning about riders from smaller countries who were so proud to bring attention to equestrian sports in their countries. I guess that’s why the Olympics could still be good for equestrian sports, but not at the expense of changing the heart of them.

I’m nervous and excited for my first trip to South America.

I’m always nervous to leave my horses, and this will be the longest I’ve ever been gone.

I know nothing about the language, but I’ve downloaded a phrase book, and I’m also going to find a book on the culture to read before I go (better late than never!). I’ve also got to read up on the food so I’ll know what to order since I’m kind of picky.

I’d love to do some sightseeing, but I have no idea if that will be possible. My hope is we can find a large group to go with at some point. I just want to see Christ the Redeemer, and I’ll be set!

This will be my bigger test as a journalist, and I’m excited to tackle it. We’re going to have some nice rented equipment from Nikon which will be amazing.

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Rocky and Lucky have a chat.

Everyone keeps asking me about Oh So, and I keep telling them, we’re still walking! We’re bored to death, and we’re doing a short bit of trotting each day so he doesn’t totally fall apart, but I am really struggling. A couple of nice friends have offered for me to ride their horses, but only on occasion, so I still feel very unfit, as if I’m wasting away just like Oh So.

I put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone had a horse to ride or half-lease, and no replies unfortunately, so I can only hope that Oh So’s appointment next month brings good news.

This horse has been my life for the last 9 years, for better or worse. When I’m not able to do what I love, what I work hard for and work hard at, I feel helpless and adrift, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get back to it, at least with him.

It’s been really hard to get a grip on not doing the thing that I live for, the thing I’ve been doing for the last 20 years of my life.

I won’t be making any decisions until his next appointment, but I’ve certainly had enough to ponder on our long walks each day.

 

Highs And Lows

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As with most things in life, horses are full of ups and downs. I’ve been on a slow and gradual downhill slide with Oh So since his original injury in 2013 as we’ve dealt with  little injuries here and there stemming from his age and recovery.

After a really amazing event at Seneca last weekend, we’ve unfortunately hit another bump on the way down.

He’s actually been going better than ever on the flat, as I’ve written about recently, and I was thinking of playing around at some dressage shows to do something a little more challenging than the novice tests. He’s felt sound under saddle, but I’ve noticed he’s been resting both of his front legs on the toe a little more often than usual. He’s done it at seemingly random intervals over the last year or two, but has always been sound. I decided to make an appointment with Morven Park though anyways to see if there was something else going on, and to get his back checked for kissing spine, which the chiropractor suggested at our last appointment.

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Seneca. GRC Photo.

Because he’s been going well though, Lisa and I decided to keep going with Seneca since the footing and weather was good.

We had a super early wakeup call, so maybe that’s why were both so relaxed, but we scored a 17.6 in the open novice division! It ended up being the lowest score of the whole show across any division. I have no idea why he was so relaxed, but I can count on one hand the number of times he’s been that rideable in a test. And it’s an added bonus that he’s been very relaxed in his warm ups lately so I don’t need more than about 25 mins of warmup.

The show jumping was OK. He was a little bit heavy in my hand and was tapping rails, but they all stayed up! The open course at Seneca is much better for me because it makes me ride forward.

The cross-country went well. Not much else to say about a novice course! I wish it was a little bigger, but it was well-designed and flowed nicely. We ended up winning by almost 10 points and won the TIP Award too!

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He had the Monday after Seneca off, then I did a little flatwork on Tuesday, and he felt OK-maybe a little stiff behind, but that’s normal for him.

My appointment was on Wednesday with Dr. Adams at Morven Park, who saw him about a two months ago when he needed his teeth done and was a little wonky behind (probably from being chased by a nasty horse at the old barn).

I wanted to have him check the DDFT sheath, and expected we might need to inject it to make him more comfortable, even if he wasn’t unsound, since it’s been about a year since the original DDFT sheath issue.

He flexed off on both front legs and was sore on palpation, which wasn’t surprising considering he’s been holding his legs up on occasion. Dr. Adams decided that we should inject the tendon sheath, but before we decided on that, we X-rayed his back.

Unsurprisingly, he has kissing spine and some arthritis in his back. I’m guessing he’s always had it, but in my inexperience I never thought about that and always worked on saddle fit before thinking about X-rays. He’s also been going very well, but Dr. Adams said he seems to have learned to live with it. He said we could inject his back, which I might do sometime, but that’s the least of my worries right now!

 We were about to just inject the tendon sheath on the left and be done with it, but I asked if we should have an updated ultrasound image. He said he didn’t feel it was necessary but did it anyways because I asked.

I’m now kind of sad I asked for it because he found a small core lesion near the suspensory branch on the right front, which was the leg with the original suspensory (that was located higher up).

He said it looked like fresh inflammation, but couldn’t really say for sure because he hadn’t seen the original injury. I’m having the vet who treated the original injury send him some images, but until then, he suspects it’s new. I’m also not sure how helpful they’ll be because his last ultrasound on that leg was probably mid-2014.

I doubt he did it when he was at Seneca. I think it’s just wear and tear, and while it could be nothing, the vet would prefer we’re cautious and wants me to let him have 2 months of walking and trotting then have it rechecked. 😦 I might pursue shockwave too to help it along.

His overall impression was that Oh So is beginning a pattern of injury that shows he compensating for pain elsewhere.

I know the day will come one day when he will no longer be able to be ridden, but I’m not ready for that yet, and I don’t think he is either. It just doesn’t seem right that a 16-year-old horse should be retired!

While I wait to hear from the vet, I’ve been pondering what to do with a lot of people I trust, and I still just don’t have the answer. Some people think I should just keep riding him until he is lame, which may not be for a long time., but what if I make the lesion worse? He can’t go through anymore stall rest, so if it comes to that, he’ll have to be retired totally.

The problem with letting him have any kind of downtime is that other parts of his body will start to weaken, like his hind end, then we never get anywhere as we work to build it up again.

I just have to decide how many more times I want to go through with the whole letting him down and legging him back up cycle. It’s exhausting and frustrating that I (selfishly) can’t have goals or anything to look forward to. I’m kind of just living on a wing and prayer right now that he comes out sound every day.

My second option is to let him have his two months of light work, hope he doesn’t break down elsewhere or get too bored, and pursue other horses to ride, which is sort of what I’m leaning towards. I’m just not quite ready to get another horse yet because it’s sort of an either or situation. Either he retires and I get another horse or he stays in work going through the the same cycle of frustration.

I can’t afford to board two riding horses, and I’m just not sure about leasing him to someone who’s not familiar with his issues, but I also don’t think he’s ready to sit in a field yet.

Once I’m done with the Olympics in August, we can ultrasound again and see where we’re at, then maybe pursue another horse, which I want to be my next Oh So. I don’t think I’m cut out for the business of selling. It’s just too painful.

It’s been a weird couple of months since I sold Bear. I do best when I’m busy, and two horses was just enough for me. I’ve gradually gotten used to having one (fragile) horse, which is an uncomfortable feeling, and now I’m sort of screwed. I’m a planner, and now I have no plans. I’m goal-oriented, and I have no goals for the first time in my riding career.  My horse(s) and my job are my life. I see people posting on social media about how awesome their weekends are with their horses, and I’m not sure of the next time we’ll even have a lesson.

I had a nice, quiet visit home this weekend to just spend time with Sam and the minis and my cats, which helped me think, but the decision is still cloudy in my mind. I wish it could just be made for me!

I’d love to hear in the comments if anyone has been through a similar situation. I’m just afraid of making the wrong decision.

In other news, I had a nice visit up to Bromont in Canada earlier this month. I spent a day in Montreal, which seemed like a nice city to live in, but was a little low on actual things to do. Next up is the Nations Cup at Great Meadow, then the Olympics!

Catching Up On March

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It’s been a busy month as my travel schedule and show schedule has ramped up. I went to a combined test with Bear at Morningside on the 19th to do the novice, and it ended up being cold and miserable, but we survived!

His test was quite steady, but he was a little low in the poll in trot. We’ve been working on lots of bending on circles at home getting him to use his body, especially to the right, but sometimes he gets low as a result. We scored a 36, which I thought was too high, but oh well!

I didn’t get a chance to walk the whole show jumping course, but I know the ring well enough. We had the first rail down, which was a tall vertical. He was a little distracted going around the ring, and I let him get a bit flat, so he trailed his hind end. The round got better as it went on though, and by the triple combination at the end, he was jumping very nicely and I didn’t screw it up!

We wanted to go out on the hill after, but it started snowing, so those plans got scrapped!

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We did get a chance to go schooling the next week though at Gordonsdale, and we popped over some bigger stuff, as well as some drops into water and banks, which he was very brave about.

I headed off to Red Hills at the beginning of the month. It’s a really unique event in Tallahassee, Fla., where I think the non-horsey public ratio is higher than the eventing enthusiasts who attend. They redesigned the course this year, which I think the riders appreciated. Since it was my second time there, I had a better idea of where I wanted to shoot, and I was really happy with my photos.

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The Carolina International at the Carolina Horse Park last weekend was my next stop for one of my favorite events to cover and ride at. It was a bit warm for the first two days, then kind of cold and dull for cross-country day, but I got tons of great photos. I really wish I could have packed my horses for the trip!

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Bear went schooling again on Tuesday this week at Loch Moy. He’s never done their schooling course, and it’s been awhile since I’ve done it, but there was a ton of stuff to do on some decent hills, so we worked a lot on jumps up and down, as well as jumps before and after the water. He also did his first baby keyhole jump and ducked just like Oh So does!

What that school revealed is that he needs to get stronger cantering down the hills, and I need to sit in the correct balance and not let him get too much in my hand, which results in me taking my leg off as we approach a jump at the bottom of a hill.

We had our first event of the season this weekend at Morven Park, which is my hometown event now that I live literally five minutes away!

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His dressage was very steady, and I worked to keep his poll up this time. We had one bobble in the free walk to medium walk transition where he anticipated, but otherwise, I worked on riding some shoulder fore on the long sides and tried to trot from canter as soon as I came off my circles to help him step under with his inside hind and make the transitions smoother. His final halt was a little more unbalanced than usual (i.e. not square), but he ended up with a 29.5 for first place!

The show jumping course was about as flowing as it could be for the shape and size of the ring at Morven, and he was feeling pretty good about himself! He was jumping around the fences nicely, but was a little bullish about his inside shoulder around the turns, and I was working on stepping into my outside stirrup and not touching the inside rein.

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He jumped clear there and got pretty excited about going to the start box when we got down to cross-country. It’s fun that he’s starting to know the routine, even if he’s a little unsure of some of the fences sometimes.

The beginner novice course was on the “Big kids” side of the property this year, which gave it a lot more galloping space. I asked for a bit of a long one to the second fence and unfortunately set the tone for the next few jumps and the gallop stretches. He’s still learning to gallop in between the fences, and I had to work had to keep him from getting too much on his forehand, especially as I got about 10 strides away from the jumps, but the jumps themselves he was brave about. I couldn’t seem to find a rhythm until the end, but he was motoring along and finished confidently.

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The water question was a big one with a log coming out, then straight down into a gully in the shadows, and he thought about it a little, but when I asked he went.

We finished well and ended up winning! He also won the TIP Award for beginner novice. I kind of wish we’d entered the novice, but we ended up with the better weather day, and I’m glad we got a confident run in. Now we continue to school and put the jumps up more as we look to MCTA possibly for a novice move up.

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Oh So had his first jump lesson in a couple of weeks after he felt a little weird behind the saddle, right hind. I think it’s stifles, so he has an appointment with the vet this week. He’s felt fantastic this week though, so hopefully it’s just some maintenance, then we can get on with planning some cross-country schools and some shows with him.

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I’m off to The Fork this weekend, then a few weeks until my first work trip to Rolex!

 

Is it spring yet?

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I almost titled this blog post “Death By Dressage,” but then I caught myself becoming what I’d feared – an indoor arena complainer.

I’ve never had access to an indoor ring and have always made do with outdoor lights. If the ring froze, then no riding, but our Virginia winters are mild enough that it doesn’t freeze every night.

Unfortunately, the barn owner where Oh So and Bear live had the outdoor lights taken down in December to be replaced and they have yet to be put up, so I’ve been stuck in the indoor with both horses during the week for nearly three months.

It’s also been so wet and muddy that I haven’t been able to get out on the hills or hack really anywhere until recently, which is a change from home, where I was able to at least walk up and down the hill in our small field and on a trail behind our property with good footing.

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The fields have been ankle-deep mud, and I’ve just closed my eyes and prayed every day that I turn the boys out, hoping they don’t injure themselves.

As far as work, they’ve both been doing well. I’ve been trying to do a weekly flat lessons as I can afford them. I’ve been used to have two flat lessons a week, one on each, so I’m struggling to find things to work on and trust my instincts. I feel like I’m stifling Bear’s progress a little since we’re kind of doing the same thing a lot, but after my lesson last week I’m feeling a little more confident in my abilities.

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Heidi hadn’t seem him in a couple of weeks because of weather and my travel, and I’ve been working on bending and more forward, as well as working on getting him more laterally supple and moving his shoulders using counter leg yields and leg yields on a diagonal in walk mostly, but some in trot.

We started in walk, just bending and flexing him to the inside on small circles, and that really helped keep him supple when we trotted off. He’s been getting very good with his stretchy trot circles and gives me a good feeling. Oh So’s always been tough with those, but Bear keeps a nice steady rhythm and really goes down. The fact that he did that made me feel like we’re on the right track with his training. He still needs to be sharper off my aids, but he’s slowly progressing.

We finally got off the property last weekend and went up to Loch Moy to jump around their derby course. He was a little rogue and excited, but it was fun! We had a good gallop around the big ring and settled him over some smaller stuff on a circle before jumping most of the novice stuff. He was a star, and I felt like we could go on a jump some of the training level stuff, but Lisa rightly told me to hold off since we haven’t jumped much at home because of being stuck in the indoor.

Oh So has been doing well. I’m really hoping to get him out on the hills this week finally because he needs to strengthen his hind end before we think of taking him to an event this season.

I had a tiring flat lesson this morning in which we worked on collection in canter. We worked some canter/walk transitions, which we’ve been practicing, then moved on to some haunches in on the long side in preparation for more serious work on canter half passes in the future. He was struggling going left, and my left arm is kind of limp now, but he was trying hard and I didn’t lose him mentally, which is good. He’s been a good sport about all of this flat work this winter, and I’m hoping to start letting him have some fun with some cross-country schools soon.

He got to go up to Loch Moy in January before we had the big snow storm and really felt great. Last week we went to a new ring and played hunter over some small stuff. He was quite rhythmical and I was actually happy with how I was seeing things and not messing with him.

I had a busy February traveling to Wellington, Fla., for three days for a contest I won through Practical Horseman. I took my friend and co-worker Kimberly and we had a great time not working, watching horses jump and playing tourist/VIP.

We went on an airboat ride at a kind of red-neck establishment and almost froze to death, watched the Wellington Eventing Showcase and got sunburned, and finished it out by almost being blown away at the Wellington Masters.

I went down three days later for work to the Adequan Global Dressage Festival and covered the CDI****. I always love covering dressage and wish I did it more throughout the year, but Florida is the place to be, without a doubt, this time of year.

Next I’m heading to beautiful Tallahassee for Red Hills, then it’s pure craziness with the Carolina International, The Fork, Rolex and Jersey Fresh, in addition to slipping in some competitions. I’m hoping to start out with a Morningside CT and go from there.

September Catch Up – France, Marlborough, Plantation, Dallas and the AECs. Phew!

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A lot has happened this month. I had a really awesome vacation in France, but I’ll write a separate blog post about that soon. When I got back, I did a quick lesson with Bear that Monday at Morningside. Unfortunately, they put blue dye in the water jump, and he was quite unnerved about it. We spent some time trotting around in it, but he was very suspicious about putting his feet down.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

I felt good about the rest of the cross-country school and show jump part of the lesson and we headed into Marlborough feeling pretty good. The warm up for dressage was on grass that had just been mowed and he doesn’t have a lot of practice with warming up on it, so combined with the clumps of grass, I don’t think he was as fluid in his movement as he could have been. I still don’t have a good warm up plan for him, other than to not do more than half an hour so I don’t make him a flat tire, but I realized after the fact that I really needed him to be more forward and better bent. I expected he might be more forward since he hadn’t been out in a busy warm up ring in awhile, but that was not the case since it was a bit hot. So, I need to work more on circles and asking for some lengthened, forward steps, which is something we do at home all the time.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo

He was a bit excitable in the show jumping warm up. It’s hard because whenever we go to lessons, it’s usually just us, so he hadn’t been in a busy warm up ring for awhile in that situation either. He was certainly jumping well, just being a 5-year-old upon landing and going to the jumps, so I took him away from that area and let him have a good gallop in an open area of the field right before we went in.

The round was more about getting it done than making it look pretty. Since it was in an open area, I think I rode much better, but he thought it was pretty hilarious to swap leads in front of a couple of the jumps. He did get all his leads on landing though, which was a big improvement. Maybe I wasn’t throwing my upper body to the inside?

GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo
GRC Photo

We did have the last rail down. I let him get a little flat going up a hill to a max oxer and he ticked it from behind as he was cantering away. We also had some random time faults, but I was more concerned with making good turns and letting him really see the jumps. Otherwise, I was happy with the round. For not having been in the ring since June, I didn’t totally mess it up and he felt like he had scope to spare over the bigger jumps.

I was feeling good for cross-country, but knew I’d need to give him a strong ride since there were a few things he’d never seen before. The first combination at 4ab was a max new wood ramp off a tight turn in the woods, three strides to another ramp. It was more of a training level question and was the thing I was most worried about, but he had no problem with it!

There was a log before the water and when he saw the water, he stopped at the edge. It wasn’t numbered, so it didn’t count against us when I turned him around and asked him to canter in. That actually worked and he broke to trot when he got in, but he was still clearly unnerved from his school at Morningside. He jumped the ramp out good, then did a bank up, two strides to another jump very well. A few more questions later, we came out of the woods into another open field, made a left turn and headed to the bank where he promptly stopped and I fell off, but landed on my feet.

I was honestly not expecting an issue at the bank. He’s been going off them confidently all year. I got back on, but he wasn’t having it, so we were eliminated a few fences from home.

I’m really disappointed about it since he was on track to have a really good finish. I feel like we’ve taken a slight step back, so we’re going to do the beginner novice at MD Horse Trials in October and try to school at Morven or Surefire in the next week to get him through some unfamiliar water and off a few more banks.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Lisa reminded me that he’s still green, but I’m also worried that issues like these blot his record as I’m trying to sell him. I can only hope people realize he’s still a green OTTB. Yes, some horses his age are going prelim, but he might be one that needs to spend some more time at novice. If I could cross-country school more often that would help, and if I could do an event every other week, that would help us both get in a rhythm, but that was just not to be this year because of travel and the summer heat.

I think it’s more about the process than the actual jumps. He has no problem over the jumps, but when there’s so much going on when he’s on course or in the warm up, that’s where his greenness shows. Lisa watched him stop at the bank at Marlborough and thought he was overwhelmed with the people and the fact that it was a big bank in the middle of nowhere.

After Marlborough I went up to Plantation Field for the day to take photos, and this past weekend I went to Texas for the AECs. It was hot, buggy and dusty, as usual, but I did a vacation day in Dallas on Thursday and at least got to see most of the big city sights. It’s definitely a contrast to Paris!

Oh So is feeling good and we’e started jumping little stuff again. I came home to Sam with a giant, painful abscess coming out his hind coronet band that we’re still battling with. What next?…

August Catch Up

Sorry for the delay in posting. Things got busy after my last post from Toronto.

Show jumping ended up with a jump-off for the medals and in the end, McLain Ward and Rothchild got the gold. I love that little horse and it’s McLain’s first medal. I somehow knew it would be his weekend when we got there and I’m glad I predicted right! I also got my second COTH cover ever out of it!

I had half a day to tour Toronto, so I went on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and a boat tour of the islands and to see the skyline. I wish I’d had more time, but I got a great view of the city for next time. I think a vacation of Canada’s biggest cities is now on my bucket list.

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Before I left for Toronto, I had a great gallop/cross-country school with Oh So that Sunday, but by the Wednesday before I left, he felt off. My trainer confirmed my fears when she tried riding him while I was gone and promptly asked my dad to take him to the vet at Morven Park.

He was diagnosed with some stress/wear and tear on his left deep digital flexor tendon sheath, so they injected it. He also flexed off on his right hind, even though he’d had hock injections 10 days before. They elected not to pursue the right hind until I got back.

We gave him two weeks off while I was gone and when I got back I walked him for a week up until Sunday when I tried trotting. He felt pretty good, but on Monday my trainer thought he still felt off, but maybe from the right hind. I rode him again tonight and I felt right hind also. Not bad, but it’s there.

I’m a little unsure right now as to what I should do. I think I’ll probably keep working in more trot work for a week or so, and if it’s not getting better by then, I’ll have to have the right hind checked out.

I think he aggravated the deep digital flexor with the gallop. He’d had a mysterious lameness back in April where we ultrasounded and saw some change in that area, but it was never called an actual injury. We gave him two weeks off, he came sound, and went on to do a dressage show and Waredaca, as well as a couple of gallops and cross-country schools.

I’m starting to believe that this is the beginning of the end for him, unfortunately. We tried so carefully to bring him back from his right front issue and had a few good months before little things kept happening. I’m not sure why he can’t keep it together, other than that he raced until he was 7. He’s the type of horse that seemed like he would go into his 20s, but his body is just not holding up.

It’s really hard for me to accept it because he’ll be my only horse once Bear is sold. If I have to do dressage for the rest of his career, I’d be OK with that, but I don’t want to give up jumping and I really don’t think he wants to either.

I thrive on having goals and achieving those goals through showing and it just doesn’t look like I’ll ever be able to make plans with him again.

I’m trying not to be a Debbie Downer about it all, but with each day that passes, I lose a little more hope.

Lisa posing Bear for his photo shoot.
Lisa posing Bear for his photo shoot.

As for Bear, he had a shoeing change while I was gone and is really feeling great about himself! He’s been quite forward and even a little 5-year-old-ish, which is kind of funny.

We took some glamour shots for his sales ad and he’s officially on the market. We took him to Gordonsdale for a cross-country school on Saturday and had the first person try him. I thought it went well, but’ll see what happens!

I’ve got a fairly quiet August until my vacation in September, then it’s full steam ahead with the AECs, moving myself and my horses and then Fair Hill. I’m hoping to enter Bear in another event for fun, maybe Marlborough in September, but it will depend on how everything goes.

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Crazy wall jump for Pan Am show jumping.
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Pachi the Pan Am mascot.
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Pan Am flame in Toronto.

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A Good Day At Seneca Valley HT

This post is a bit late since I’ve been swamped lately at work and home and just haven’t had the inspiration to sit in front of my computer!

Almost two weeks ago, I took Bear to Seneca Valley HT to do the beginner novice. It was super hot and I had later ride times, but somehow I survived. We did minimal dressage warm up and the test itself I felt wasn’t our best–maybe a bit hurried in trot, but we scored a 31 to be 10th in a big open division.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Show jumping was on grass in a nice, big area, so I was able to have a bit more pace. Bear was just fine over everything and stayed very focused, but I was a bit inconsistent and took a couple of long ones and a couple of short ones. We ended up having fence two down which was in a related line. I just held the contact in my hand a bit too long as he took off and didn’t soften, so he had the front rail down of the oxer.

The fences I did get right were quite nice though, including the in and out and a bending line on the right lead from 5 to 6 and a five stride from 7 to 8.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

On the walk over to cross-country, I was feeling a bit weak from the heat–not sick or faint, just weak. I tend to avoid competing in the summer because when that happens, I feel I’m not as effective as I could be and I don’t want to let me horse down. I rallied as we circled the box and cantered a few circles as they counted us down. I think doing that works better for Bear since we can have a good, forward canter going to the first fence. With Oh So, it’s more about keeping him calm and just walking.

I have to say, nearly every fence was perfect on cross-country. It was a nice course that had us galloping the first half and then doing three fences in the woods. One was a light to dark question going into the woods and he backed off into my leg just the right amount. The other two fences in the woods were around somewhat sharp turns and he did those probably the best of all.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

He did come back to trot for the water, but he wasn’t hesitant about it and I was able to canter out.

We finished in 9th place, just out of the ribbons. I think it was a good learning course for him and I feel like he could go do novice tomorrow–it’s just me and the show jumping that needs work!

Great Meadow XC day
Great Meadow XC day

I had Oh So entered at Surefire the following weekend, but they changed the schedule on me and I had to work the new Great Meadow event nearby, so I scratched. It’s too darn hot anyways. We’ve been having an absolute heat wave lately and I’m so over it!

Last weekend was definitely crazy as I covered Great Meadow on Friday until late, went cross-country schooling at Seneca with Oh So on Saturday early, went back to Great Meadow on Saturday night, then went back the next morning. There were crazy storms on Saturday at Great Meadow and I was stuck in the press tent with a few other journalists when a mini tornado or microburst hit. It was one of the more terrifying experiences I’ve had with lightning, rain, wind and tornado warnings. It cleared for an hour and I got a beautiful shot of a double rainbow, then they evacuated the place and more rain hit as I drove home.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Here’s a video of Oh So schooling at Seneca. We did some training stuff at the end that’s not on there. He was great and I was pretty on point over the novice stuff. I felt like we really got our groove back, but I needed a bit more pace at the training fences.

I also had a lovely time at Bromont in Quebec, Canada three weeks ago. I had to remember a bit of my French, but it’s definitely become one of my favorite events. Next up is my big trip to the Pan Ams in July!

Plugging Away

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The snow finally melted, but not before it made my life a hassle when I tried to get down to Florida for the Red Hills Horse Trials.

After driving through the snow to the Richmond airport, my flight was promptly canceled and I made the decision to drive to the Charlotte airport since there were no flights out of any area airports the next day.

Five hours later, I got a hotel, slept and was on a plane the next day to Tallahassee and at the show by lunchtime. Whew!

It was a lovely event marred only by the sad death of Kyle Carter’s horse, Conahy’s Courage. I don’t have anything else to add to the conversation that’s been swirling since it happened, except that it happened at a pretty simple fence and just seemed like a freak accident, not anything involving course design, speed or experience.

Here’s a link to my coverage.

Once I got back, it was full steam ahead with both boys. Oh So has been feeling really good from behind–back to his normal self since before his hip injury, so now I feel like we can press on and finally get to an event!

The footing is drying out so I’m planning on getting him out on some hills to really strengthen his hind end before we do anything. I’m looking at a combined test in April to get going and then maybe his first event late April or in May.

On the flat, he’s been getting more consistent about his work, meaning he doesn’t always get tense, which has sort of always been him. I’ve found I can ask for a lateral movement or a change in gait or pace and he’s tolerating it and I’m not “losing him” and spending the rest of the ride getting him quiet again.

For awhile, I thought he might never be the same after having so much time off, but he’s coming around. He is getting a bit strong in my hand as the ride goes on though, so I’m trying to make sure he listens to my half halts and that I don’t get tense in my arms trying to hold him. I think that’s the last piece that needs to be polished after his time off, so to speak.

Bear has been going well but I’ve had to modify our plans since we haven’t been able to school cross-country because of the weather. I’m hoping to take him to an unrecognized event in April if we can get a couple of schools in.

I had a conversation with Lisa last week about starting to treat him like an adult and not so much a baby anymore, which means he must move off my leg when I ask, he needs to start moving away from the jumps quicker and he needs to start learning to shorten and lengthen his canter stride. We worked on that in our lesson last week by asking him to shorten his stride across the short side of the indoor ring to a vertical with ground rails on either side, similar to what we did a few weeks ago.

I played around with it in my flat lesson the other day too, but he misinterpreted my aid to mean trot instead of shorten, so that’s something I’ll be working on in the next few weeks.

Here’s a video of both boys this last week. In the flat session with Bear, Nicky and I worked on leg yielding on a straight line in canter to get him to sit a bit from behind and not canter wide behind. He seemed to get it and now we’ll start working more on some counter canter loops.

Oh So’s lesson shows his warmup, which was nice and quiet. We worked on leg yielding to warm him up and keeping a little more inside flexion in trot and canter and the leg yields to make sure he stayed soft.

Horse Trials and Tribulations

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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted because I’ve been busy, busy, busy!

After Seneca, I gave Bear an easy week and a half, then went for a quick overnight trip to Plantation Field for the CIC divisions.

It wasn’t an official work trip, but I found the photos I took last year to be useful so I borrowed a lens and went to the press conference. Buck Davidson won the CIC** and was a gracious interview as always. He and Boyd Martin have been criticized recently because they took their WEG horses to Plantation three weeks after failing to complete in France, but they both gave honest and reasonable answers to my questions about why.

Buck knows his horse better than anyone and shares a special partnership with him, one I’ve seen and heard him talk about first hand on multiple occasions, so it was sad to see him ripped apart for it. He was able to finish the season on a good note on a happy and sound horse. Isn’t that something we all hope for after a bad go?

Check out a photo gallery from Plantation Field.

Plantation Field
Plantation Field

I left for Texas for the American Eventing Championships the Thursday after Plantation. Sadly, the day before I left, my family made the decision to put our cat Winnie to sleep. We’ve had him since we inherited him when we moved to our farm in 2002 and he was about 2.

He’s lived a long, healthy life, but over the last two months, he started coughing. We took him to the vet and she found cancer cells on his lungs on an X-ray. We treated him with antibiotics and he seemed a little better–moving and eating normally but coughing a little. A few days before I left for the AEC he had some blood coming out of his nose and was uncomfortable eating. We made the decision to take him to the vet, but I decided I didn’t want to go. I’ve never been in the room for that before and I just didn’t think I could handle it. My dad went and held his paw during his final breaths.

10687219_10101805294891517_7728162552678193557_nI’ve never had the opportunity to choose when one of my animals is put down because they’ve always either died tragically or gotten sick or injured very suddenly, so I was glad that we had the choice this time to end his suffering, but it’s still sad nonetheless.

He was a sweet kitty and I’ll miss watching him lay in the sun with our other cats or dip his paws in the water bowl to get them clean. I hope he’s hanging out in the sun with Ramsey somewhere.

I headed off to Texas with a heavy heart, but I enjoyed my trip. My friend Megan, who used to work at COTH, freelanced for us and helped me out. She lives in Ft Worth now and works for the APHA. We had a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Thursday night and had three full days ahead of us.

It was hot, but not too sticky. I was sad to see a small group in the advanced division, especially when they get the bulk of the prize money. There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about what the AEC should be and if they should move around or stay in Texas.

I can only say that I was disappointed to have the Adult Team Challenge move there. I really enjoyed my first and only ATC in 2012 at the VA HTs and wish they would stay regional. It’s just not viable for most amateurs to go to Texas, especially when it’s that hot in September.

That being said, the ATC riders I spoke to were all really fun. As much as I enjoy speaking

AEC Texas-style!
AEC Texas-style!

to the professionals on a weekly basis, I like finding out other people’s stories and telling them.

Here’s a link to all of our coverage.

 I had an uneventful trip back from Tyler through Houston and came back to Oh So feeling not quite right from behind again.

Before I left for Texas, he had started back walking and trotting under saddle after his SI injection and felt much improved for the first four days, then felt off again. I gave him the weekend while I was gone, hoping for the rest to do him good, but it didn’t.

I had the vet out again and she said he looked improved from behind, but still weak. She thought maybe he needed another week of before we started riding again, so we worked out a plan of lunging for a week and walking under saddle. I’ll start trotting under saddle this week and see what happens.

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Morven Park

Needless to say, I’m really disappointed that we won’t even be able to get to one event this year. I’m just hoping he comes sound again and that this isn’t going to be a battle from here on out. His check ligament and suspensory look good and feel good, but the more I think about it, the more I think he did something in the field to make himself so ouchy from behind. I’m hoping slow work will help him recover.

I had a busy weekend taking Bear for a jump lesson and cross-country school with Lisa at Morningside. He hadn’t been off the property in three weeks and I thought the fact that it was 35 degrees and we were alone would bother him, but he stood quietly while I put studs in and tacked up. He was a bit up as we trotted around the ring, but settled nicely and I surprised myself by not feeling totally out of practice.

We popped over a ditch, went down a bank and went up and down the hills a few times before we went through the water to end on a good note. I slowed things down a bit by trotting to the water the first time and letting him stop, then calmly asking him to walk in and he was fine. Lisa said not to make him flustered by using my whip or kicking for now. I’m hoping to try that strategy at Waredaca in a few weeks so we don’t get eliminated!

I also went to Morven Park on Saturday to watch the advanced and the CIC***. There weren’t that many riders unfortunately, but there were more than last year, which had about 5 start cross-country.

I was really bummed about not being able to compete Oh So there. The prelim course looked nice, although I’m not happy that they keep holding the show jumping on the muddy grass in the fall. There were apparently a lot of problems over the weekend.

Check our photos from Morven Park.

I’ hoping to take Bear cross-country schooling again this weekend while Lisa is out of town, then I’m off to Fair Hill next weekend to cover it for COTH, then Waredaca and VA HT to close out the season. Fingers crossed for sound horses and dry weather!

Morningside at 7:30am.
Morningside at 7:30am.

Bouncing Around Baby Novice

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OK, so I’ve run out of creative titles and am going with alliteration!

But that title pretty accurately represents my Saturday with Bear at Morningside.

We had another early ride time before 9am and I kept him in the night before after a couple hours of turnout in the evening. Combined with the cool weather and the bigger atmosphere at Morningside, I knew he’d be a little up first thing in the morning.

There were a few trailers when we pulled in and he was definitely looky. I decided to get on about an hour before our test to walk over to the show area and let him have a look.

He was on his toes on the way over there, definitely a different side of him I haven’t seen before!

We watched a few horses do their dressage tests, then walked back and by that point, he was building. We had a few “baby” moments in the warmup ring where I wish I’d had my martingale on, then Lisa got there and we got down to business.

Once he was moving he focused the best he could considering the stimuli. He was grinding his teeth a bit, but we worked through walk, trot and canter, keeping the connection and making sure he was staying slower rather than quickening.

We walked over to the ring a few minutes before our test and worked in the arena on footing. He was totally focused by that point, but in hindsight, I should have asked for another couple of canter transitions before we went in for the test because he wasn’t sharp off my leg.

We got 8s on the centerline and the first trot circle, which was pretty cool. As we got to the corner for our left canter transition, he was totally dead to my leg and I had to kick and squeeze to get him into it. 4. Oops!

I also had to give him a reminder tap with the whip during the circle. 5. Resistant.

We don’t quite have a free walk yet so we got a 6 on that, but when I gathered him up for the trot transition, he stayed fairly connected in walk, which is good for him at this point in his training. I haven’t been insisting on that connection in walk because my dressage trainer Nicky doesn’t think he needs to be that connected yet, but Lisa wanted to see a little more, so I asked and he yielded.

I had some more trouble getting into the right lead canter and clucked at him, and the judge noticed. Oops. 6.

We had a good transition down to trot on the long side, which I think is sort of difficult since I always ask on a circle, then couldn’t quite stayed balanced enough to turn down centerline, so we got a 5 on that and the halt since he was against my hand. Again, something we need to keep practicing.

We ended up with a 37.4 on Beginner Novice Test A. I think if we can fix the canter work, he could easily score below 35 and I’d be perfectly happy. He got a 7 on his gaits, so that was nice.

So now for the over-analyzing-even-though-he’s-4-and-I-should-just-be-happy-that-we-stayed-in-the-ring:

I’m at the point now in his training where he needs to be sharper off my leg. He always feels slow to me compared to Oh So, so I have to keep his natural rhythm in mind, but he can be a little lazy. Lisa suggested a small pair of spurs now. I’m working at home on getting him more forward and sharper off my leg, but it just didn’t translate at the show.

Of course, I’d rather have him slower than faster, but I literally got a cramp in my leg from asking him to canter during the test!

We also need to work on smoother turns onto the centerline and smoother transitions through walk into the halt.

I didn’t get a chance to walk the show jumping, so I was a little nervous. We warmed up on the track, which is tough because it’s hard to get in a rhythm, but he didn’t seem to mind. We hung out for a bit while other’s went before us, then went in.

We was a little high-headed and looking around but we made it over all the jumps and got all the distances! We didn’t get every lead, but we got some of them and he tried to change for others, so I think it was our smoothest round yet.

We ended up fourth.

We went up on the hill to play on the cross-country course, but there weren’t a ton of small jumps for us, so we worked over a small ditch and up and down some hills. He went in to the water on the first try and we trotted and cantered over a log on the edge of the water. Training level here we come! 😉

So overall, I was really happy with how he handled the atmosphere. It was a lot to throw at him with two dressage rings going, horses in the distances, tons of trailers and more than one horse in the warmup.

He keeps getting better every outing, so I’m dropping our first entry in the mail tomorrow for the Waredaca Starter Trial on June 8 at beginner novice.

I think we need a couple more cross-country schools, but at this point it’s time to bite the bullet and just do it. There aren’t any convenient unrecognized events until September and by that point, I think we’ll be ready for recognized beginner novice.

I’m off to my brother’s wedding in Dayton, Ohio this weekend, so the horses will have a few days off. Oh So is up to five minutes canter and his work ethic/submission is slowly coming back. I’ve got the vet coming soon to watch us ride and determine when we can start adding more work and maybe jumping.

I went to Jersey Fresh last weekend to cover it for COTH. It was a pretty nice weekend and I was happy with our coverage. It was a shame so many didn’t make it around the CCI*** course and that there were so few entries to start with. I did an extensive analysis of the event in the issue out this week.

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