Adventures In Rio: The Olympic Spirit Is Alive, And We’re Making The Most Of It

This blog originally appeared on coth.com.

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Our home away from home.

When I was first asked by my editors if I wanted to cover the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I’ll admit I asked for 24 hours to think about it.

Most people would jump at the chance to go to an Olympics, but like most people, the things I’d heard through the mainstream media worried me—Zika, dirty water and crime.

But once I thought about it, I realized I’d better not pass up the opportunity. Besides, my co-worker Mollie Bailey has lived in the city, knows the language and has experienced several international championships, so that eased my mind a little.

As we got closer to our departure I began to feel a little more nervous as the media started to ramp up the stories about Rio’s crime and unpreparedness, terrorism threats and the spread of Zika.

On the day of my flight, I was feeling even more nervous, despite being an experienced international traveler. Would there be signs in the airport in English? Would my huge Pelican case full of camera gear be stolen right off the baggage claim? Would someone brush against me and steal my phone or purse?

Luckily Mollie went ahead a few days before me and was texting and sending me email updates about exactly what I should expect.

The airline had lost her luggage (more on that later), but she seemed to be having a great time crashing with our photographer friend Shannon Brinkman, who’d rented an apartment in Barra.

So, I anxiously stepped off the plane, followed my fellow travelers down a long corridor, and around the last bend, we were greeted by several people in Olympic gear. I went through the customs line very quickly, then made my way to get my luggage, which was there!

I grabbed a cart, was ushered by more friendly volunteers to the exit, and felt like a celebrity walking the red carpet as I walked out of the airport surrounded by people holding signs for their friends and customers.

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Our dorm room before we got our twin beds.

The bus to Deodoro Village arrived almost immediately, and I hopped on with two other people and was off in about an hour from landing.

I’ve never traveled to South America, but I knew about the poverty surrounding Rio so I wasn’t totally surprised by the landscape—favelas, dilapidated buildings, graffiti, dirt and trash, flanked by the beautiful mountains in the background, higher than any I’ve seen in the U.S.

There were no Walmarts, chain restaurants or open fields alongside the highway, just the urban sprawl of Rio.

As the bus pulled in to Deodoro, which is a military base, I saw several colorful buildings decorated with tanks, airplanes and statues, and armed men at every corner.

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Check in was in a temporary tent that was attached to a small convenience store. It was very easy, and the staff were very helpful. I was escorted to my room and given help with my bags.

When I opened the door to our home away from home for the next two and a half weeks I was a little taken aback. A double bed sat inside a tiny dorm room with a small bathroom attached. With barely enough room to turn around with my luggage, I turned around and asked a staff member if there were any bigger rooms because we’d requested a room with twin beds.

Nope. This was it. But they were able to quickly change the bed situation so Mollie and I won’t have to literally sleep on top of each other! Now we’re about three feet away.

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Deodoro accommodation village.

The good news is our room is part of a small apartment that has two other bedrooms (we’ve met one of our roommates, a field hockey photographer from Canada), a lounge area with a balcony and couches and a kitchen so we can spread out a little.

The kitchen only has a microwave and fridge, which might come in handy if it comes down to eating the Ramen they have for sale at the convenience store, but we’re not to that point yet! We’re hoping to find a grocery store and buy some healthier food than what’s available in the cafeteria on site, but for the last three nights we’ve only been able to make it that far. If we want restaurants or grocery stores we’ll have to find a taxi and make our way back towards Rio.

We’ve promised ourselves we won’t eat at the cafeteria every night!

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The main stadium and mixed zone.

I met up with Mollie at the equestrian venue on Thursday after dealing with our accommodations. We hit the ground running and went on a stable tour where we were able to play fan girls and get lots of photos of horse and human stars. It’s funny because I see our U.S. eventers on a monthly basis and have gotten to know some of them well over the years, but in this setting, Mollie and I became like paparazzi, shouting, “Boyd, Boyd! Over here!” or, “Go Glen!” as they walked by.

Our timing was well enough that we saw the U.S. eventers coming back from a flat school in the main arena. It was good to see everyone settling in, smiling and happy.

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Marmosets greeted us by our bus every morning.

The show jumpers are trickling in, so within the next few days, every Olympic horse will be on site. Where else can you see the U.S. eventers, then walk around the corner and see Valegro playing with his groom Alan Davies’ and be passed by Michael Jung on his way to walk his cross-country course?

At the entrance to the stables and into the venue itself, everyone, including the horses, have to walk over a squishy disinfectant pad each time in an effort to keep things sanitary.

We went on to a media course walk with the course designer Pierre Michelet, who explained that the track is twisty, so time will be influential. The word in the stables from riders is that it’s a lot bigger than they expected, so I don’t think this will be a dressage show!

The venue is first class, as many riders have already reported, and our media tent is right by the main arena.

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Locals waiting for the torch to pass through.

The photo staff are very helpful, and we have almost full run of the place as far as shooting locations. Unfortunately after day 1, it seems the best locations are facing the sides of the arena with no spectators in the stands, but I promise, despite my photos, there were people! It was a little sparse for eventing dressage, but it seems like a good mix of eventing fans and Brazilians, who got a bit rowdy when their first rider, Marcio Appel came in the ring.

They were cheering and shouting for him during the test, which didn’t help his horse, but I can understand. They are true sports fans and so proud to have the Olympics in their country.

As we were standing outside waiting for our bus on Thursday, the street was filling up with locals hoping to catch a glimpse of the torch on its way through.

A young girl went up to Shannon, who was standing nearby, and handed her a note in English that read, “Welcome to Brazil” with a heart.

How cool is that?

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The rest of our Thursday involved taking a bus to the Main Press Center to get my photo vest, which took about a minute, getting some food from their more expansive cafeteria, then catching a bus to Shannon’s apartment to pick up Mollie’s rogue luggage which had finally arrived, then back on a bus to the MPC, then on another bus back to Deodoro.

In general the transportation has been very easy, with buses coming on time every 20-40 minutes. We were getting to the end of that period waiting to go back to the MPC when we started discussing taxis straight back to Deodoro instead.

I’m really glad we didn’t do that because after we finally made it back to the MPC and on another bus to Deodoro we met some friendly field hockey commentators who told us they’d tried to get a cab to Deodoro but the driver couldn’t find the place (apparently there is no address) and when he did was unable to get very close. Thanks to our field hockey friends, who Mollie helped learn to pronounce several Portuguese names on our bus ride back, we learned that only one cab company is allowed on site. Good to know!

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A view from the cross-country. (Notice the blimp!)

It is kind of cool to be able to interact with journalists from other sports. At the Pan Ams, we never saw any other sports, and at the World Games, it’s only equestrian journalists, so we’ve been chatting up several people, including our field hockey friends, who are from Ireland and New Zealand and were fascinated by Donald Trump!

We arrived to the first day of competition full of energy and excitement and were promptly greeted by a broken metal detector. With a bus full of journalists needing to get in and get set up, it wasn’t the best way to start a morning, so Mollie did some Portuguese sweet talking and found her way in with a smaller backpack, but I was stuck in line for another 15 minutes until they let us go through another line. Apparently the second scanner broke right after I went through…

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Disinfecting!

All was going well until the lunch break when those in the media center heard a loud noise. I jumped, but thought someone just dropped a camera or something. I was gathering my things to head back out to shoot and thought nothing of it until I was told a stray bullet had pierced the tent!

We’ve felt very safe since we’ve been here, with armed military and police with their fingers near the trigger on every corner, but that was a little alarming. The official story is that there is none, but a lot of people believe it was a stray bullet from a military training exercise. We may never know, but we would really like to!

I’ll check back in a few days with, I’m sure, more stories. We’re trying to keep a sense of humor because it’s still early days, but as with every international championship, there’s always something!

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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!

Product Review: Smartpak Piper Breech With Silicone Grip Fullseat

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The minute I saw Smartpak’s new Piper Silicone Fullest breeches, I had to have them. I’m a fan of their original Pipers and have several colors. They’ve become my go-to schooling breeches, and I use a dark brown pair for cross-country at events and a black pair for dressage schooling shows.

I was intrigued by the silicone grippers on the new Pipers, and picked the black and white pair to try, but there are so many other fun colors I would love to have.

They’re very similar to the original Pipers in fit (a mid-rise on me that requires a belt to fit the best) and just a little more expensive.

I’ll admit, it was a weird feeling sitting the saddle for the first time in these. I felt like I had a little less give in my seat, and they actually squeaked a little in the leg area as I broke them in during the first few rides. Maybe it was because I tend to grip with my knees a little? I guess that’s a good reason not to!

When I got off, I noticed little squares imprinted on the seat of my saddle, but those went away after a few minutes.

I’ve found my other pairs of Pipers wear out in the crotch through the full seat material very quickly and tend to pill a little, but I wear them ALOT. These don’t have the same material in the full seat so I’ll be curious to see how they hold up.

If you’re worried about them imprinting in very soft leather, these might not be for you, but if you want a fun pop of color at a good price, these are a good buy.

Available at Smartpak.com for $99.95 or a little less with a USEF discount. Smartpak also makes a knee patch version.

Starting A New Chapter

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It’s taken me a couple of weeks to sit down and write this blog, mostly because I’ve been super busy with a trip to Rolex (more on that later), but also because it’s been hard to put into words how I feel about Bear being sold.

It happened very fast. I got an email from a mother asking if he would be suitable for her 12-year-old daughter. At first, I thought it didn’t sound like a good match, but I let Lisa talk to them, and she thought it sounded promising so we went ahead and set up a time to meet.

The girl was very mature for her age, and seems like a perfectionist (sound like anyone??), and when she got on Bear and rode him around with a loose rein like a hunter, he just plodded along, no problems.

Lisa thought it was a good match, the girl loved him, and we set up a vetting for the following Monday. He passed with flying colors, and I dropped him off that evening, less than a week after they tried him. We hadn’t had any serious interest in him all winter or spring, so it was surprising.

I hardly had time to think about it before I set off for Rolex on Wednesday!

As all horse people know, our horses are like our children, and we want what we think is best for them. I can’t say I imagined Bear going to be a schoolmaster for a junior with no concrete eventing goals as a 6-year-old, but that’s just a testament to the kind of quiet, good soul he is.

I thought I’d find him another amateur like me, or, in the back of my mind, I thought of the countless stories I hear when interviewing riders every week–of how they had their horse for sale, and no one came to see him or he didn’t pass the vet, and they ended up taking him through the levels–like it was destiny that they keep him.

I feel like I had a lot more to learn from Bear and that his education was far from complete. I feel like I hadn’t quite unlocked his potential in dressage. Even though my dressage trainer Heidi said his trot was never going to be huge, there were glimmers of what he could be.

The same with the jumping. He was just getting to the point where he was really enjoying his job, becoming braver and really taking charge on course. I really had hoped to complete a novice successfully before he was sold. He felt the same over a training level fence as he did over a beginner novice fence, so I know there was so much more potential in there.

But when I dropped him off at his new home, I knew he’d be in good hands. It was a smaller barn, like mine at home, and he has a kid who will love on him and learn from him.

When I said goodbye, he was just quietly grazing in the small paddock they set aside for him, greeting his new buddies over the fence, and seemed perfectly content.

In the end, he doesn’t care whether he goes prelim or putters around beginner novice the rest of his life, but it’s hard to not see him through his full potential, if only to prove to myself I can do it.

All of my friends and acquaintances asked why I was selling him, and why I didn’t keep him while Oh So was slowly moving towards retirement age. In the end, it’s about the cost of keeping two horses going and some poor timing.

Oh So is 16 this year, and I’m not sure how long he’ll keep going. In his mind, he’ll go until he’s 25, but his body won’t hold up. We take it one day at a time and hope he stays sound.

I wish everything in life didn’t have to come down to money, but with horses, it always seems to. To have two horses competing, plus paying for board, farrier, vet, lessons and shows for both is just not feasible for me at this point.

But now I have some money to put away for my next horse, which I don’t plan on selling. It’s just too painful. I’m now left with a lot of free time on my hands, which in a way is good–maybe I can pursue other things outside of horses.

I’ve been going kind of non-stop with either one or two riding horses, plus taking care of the farm since we bought the place in 2002. This is the first time in my life that I only have one horse to worry about, and it feels a little empty right now.

But at the same time, I’m happy to be back with my partner in crime as we move on to our next adventure. For now, that means a combined test at Morningside in May, then the starter trials at Loch Moy to get going. I’d love to do Seneca and Surefire in June, but I can’t plan too far ahead with him.

I’m keeping my eye out for another boarding barn, something smaller, so if you know of anything near Leesburg/Purcellville/Middleburg, please let me know! I’m also keeping my eye out for other riding opportunities to keep myself fit.

Here’s a video of my last show with Bear at Morningside. He was second in the novice CT with a 30 in dressage. Our show jumping round was in the rain again, and was a little rough around the edges, but he jumped clear! That plus our win at Morven Park and the TIP Award was a perfect way to cap off our career together.

Rolex was a whirlwind trip, but I got a chance to visit my brother, sister in law and niece at their new house in Cincinnati, eat lots of chili and watch Michael Jung be amazing! It was my first time as a member of the media, and it was fun and kind of chilling to stand in the middle of the ring for dressage and show jumping, something I’ve only ever watch on TV or from afar.

Cross-country day was pretty gross and wet, but it was a safe day overall, and I was really happy with my photos and got a cover shot out of it!

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Off to Jersey Fresh this weekend!

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.

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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.

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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.

My Favorite Photos of the Year

I had a pretty crazy year of travel for The Chronicle and I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos I’ve taken.

I mostly covered eventing, including Red Hills, Bromont, the Carolina International, Great Meadow, Jersey Fresh, Plantation Field, The Fork, Fair Hill and the AECs, as well as CDI***** dressage in Florida, the USEA Convention, two Jimmy Wofford clinics and the Pan Am Games.

I wrote about my favorite memory for COTH as well.

“This year I headed to my first ever championship as a member of the media when I covered the Pan American Games in Toronto with my co-worker Lisa Slade.

I was a little nervous, having heard tales of chaos and stress at multi-discipline championships from other more seasoned staffers. But I’d also heard them rave about how amazing it was to see Valegro dance to music or feel the tension so thick in the air you could cut it with a knife as the final horse cleared the final show jump in eventing.

In the end, the experience was much more the latter. Sure, Lisa and I had to sneak in PB&Js every day for lunch because the few food vendors were overwhelmed and yes, there were some stressful days worrying about getting our coverage up even though we were wet/hot/cold/hungry/tired, but to me it was worth it to experience the U.S. team on the podium multiple times, and to be able to witness equestrian sport on a global scale.

I wish I’d had time to talk to every rider from another country and learn their story, but reporting on the medal contenders was first priority, leaving little time for much else. I did get to talk to a few South American riders across all three disciplines over those two weeks though, and learning the stories of what they go through to be able to compete at the Pan Ams, which for many is the pinnacle of their career, and how excited they were to bring attention to equestrian sport in their countries was really amazing. They took their jobs as ambassadors of the sport very seriously and with a great amount of pride.

There really were so many memorable moments, it’s hard to choose! McLain Ward riding the spicy Rothchild to his first individual championship medal, Brazil’s Ruy Fonseca so close to an individual gold before dropping the final rail in the eventing to give Marilyn Little the gold, the impressive Brazilians across all disciplines, Steffen Peters’ elation aboard Legolas in the dressage…Some say the Pan Ams aren’t as prestigious as other championships, but to me and the many riders who were privileged to be there, those medals and experiences mean so much.”

Without further ado, here are my favorite photos in no particular order.1DSC_0038

Brazilian dressage rider Leandro Aparecido Da Silva’s daugther gave Di Caprio a pat after his test at the Pan Ams. I’m not the strongest candid photographer (I’m working on it!), but this one was pretty sweet.

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Buck Davidson and Ballynoe Castle RM at Jersey Fresh. “Reggie” and Buck’s partnerships is one of my favorites. I just love how Reggie is jumping picture perfect over this massive table and how Buck is in the perfect balance. This is something to emulate!

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Kim Herslow and Rosmarin at the Pan Ams. Dressage riders are the most emotional riders as I came to find out at the Pan Ams. Kim took a moment after her test to give Rosmarin a hug, even among the loud cheering in the stadium.

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I turned around quickly and captured this shot of a rider during dressage day at Fair Hill. It’s my favorite event to go to, especially when the weather and fall foliage cooperates like it did this year!

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A lot has been said about Marilyn Little this year, but this photo captures the side of her I see when I interview her at competitions. RF Demeter is a special partner for her, and it showed after they won the Bromont CCI***.

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Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border standing off at Fair Hill. I love a photo of a good jumping horse, and “Crossy” sure looks scopey here! Kim is soft-spoken, but I love interviewing her because she’s so real. She’ll humbly admit how difficult it was to learn to ride this horse and it’s wonderful that they’re now on the same page (and getting results!).

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McLain Ward and Rothchild at the Pan Ams. This photo (in its’ original form here) was a little back lit, but our design team worked their magic, and it became my second ever cover shot! It’s also one of the rare shots of “Bongo” with her ears forward. McLain’s partnership with this fiery little horse is one of my favorites in show jumping.

 

Product Review: Bell Boots

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a product review here, then I remembered I’d done two recently for Untacked!

Here is my bell boots Test Lab. I would like to amend one thing though with the Woof boots. I used them for a full show jump lesson on Bear this fall and the bulb on the back that helps them stay in place actually rubbed him raw! So, negative points on those.

I’m going to try to find some time this week to write up a post on what I’ve been up to with the boys, but until then…

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A Trifecta

It’s been pretty non-stop since I got back from Fair Hill in October. I made a pretty major life change and became a boarder for the first time in 13 years.

While I was perfectly happy with my life, my parents thought it was time for me to move out and be closer to my job. They want to retire eventually and not take care of two crazy OTTBs, so here we are. Sam and the minis are still at home, along with my two cats. I really miss having them around, but I’ve been able to get home about once a week or every ten days  to get my fix.

Boarding after taking care of my own horses for so long has been a major adjustment. I like controlling every aspect of my horse’s care and now I can’t, and that really irritates me. From how much hay they get to which paddock they go in to how many times the arena gets dragged, I’m struggling a bit and my OCD is freaking out.

The good news is the place I’ve found is about as good as I can get for my budget and is close to my apartment in Leesburg. I can stop by on my way to work to turn them out and ride on the way home. I’ve got friends nearby who can help me out and the barn owner comes highly recommended. It’s not the fanciest place, but there’s tons of rideout, an indoor and a little cross-country course, which Oh So has been loving.

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The boys are both in a small paddock together right now but will be going out in a group next week, another thing I’m freaking out about.

They were pretty awful about being separated at first, but they’re slowly getting better–just screaming now, no running.

The good news about being in the area I’m in is that it’s closer to a lot more things. On my first weekend, I took Bear cross-country schooling at Loch Moy, which is now only 45 minutes away. We worked through some of his “teenage” moments at the water and down banks that weekend and he finished really well.

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The next weekend I took him to school at Hunt Club Farm. He did his first ever combined test there, but now they’ve got a nice cross-country course. I think doing the two back-to-back weekends of schooling really helped both of our confidence and we went to the starter trial at Loch Moy and won our beginner novice division on his dressage score of 26!

Loch Moy Starter Trial
Loch Moy Starter Trial

I wasn’t really happy with our dressage warmup because it was so crazy and I just didn’t have a plan. He felt behind the leg, but he was mentally handling everything. We had a few minutes to work near our ring and after watching our video, I think we actually looked a little quick in trot. Sometimes I think I look for more out of him compared to Oh So, but I need to just take it down a notch and trust we’re actually moving forward. As a result, I drew my heel up a bit as I was kicking/using my spur, so I looked awful!

I got a little rapid in my show jumping, taking a few “bids” three strides away and he thought that was great fun! He was a bit wild and I just didn’t keep an even pace, so not the prettiest round, but he was certainly going and enjoying himself.

Loch Moy Starter Trial
Loch Moy Starter Trial

Cross-country was much more steady and he was very brave and attacked each fence. A few in the woods backed him off just enough to make for some nice jumps, and he went right in the water.

The week before Loch Moy I took Oh So for an outing at Waredaca’s Starter Trial. He wasn’t quite ready to do the full thing since he hasn’t cross-country schooled since this summer before his tendon sheath issue, so we did a novice CT.

Oh So at Waredaca
Oh So at Waredaca

His warm up was quite good, but once we got onto the bluestone near our ring he tightened up a bit and got very strong in my hand. We must have faked it well because we got a 27! Lisa made some good points in our warmup about downgrading our work for the novice test. It’s so easy and while we both prefer a test with more to do, for now, we can warmup with more transitions and a more open frame, rather than counter canter and lateral work.

Our show jumping round was a bit rough in between the fences since he was so eager to go, but we got it done. In fact, he was almost a bit backed off, which was a weird feeling. I think just not being out for awhile had him quite up.

We ended up winning the combined CT division and a Waredaca gift card!

Oh So at Waredaca
Oh So at Waredaca

Last weekend I took Bear to a new event for me, Full Moon Farm. It’s been ages since I’ve been to a new event, so I had a little tinge of nervousness.

We warmed up mostly on the grass to get him thinking forward and finished up on the sand near our ring. I still didn’t really have a plan, other than thinking forward and working on our transitions, but we ended up with a 26.8. I was a little surprised since I thought the score might be a bit higher due to the recognized element and the fact that the test felt similar to the one at Loch Moy, but I’ll take it!

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Show jumping was on a grassy hill, so Lisa and I talked a lot about how we would ride the turns and slopes. It was quite open, but as a result of focusing on my turns, we had 2 time faults! Oops. It was a smoother round than Loch Moy, but we didn’t get all of our leads like I was hoping. He did a few cleaner flying changes though, so that was cool. He doesn’t quite know how to do them on command, so the fact that he was balancing himself was good.

We’ve been lucky this fall to be able to event this far into November, and the footing on cross-country was about as good as it could have been. It was a little tacky, something Bear’s never seen before.

This prize was a bit of a head-scratcher.
This prize was a bit of a head-scratcher.

He was a little wide-eyed as we started since the course is kind of like a roller coaster and goes by the parking and the show jumping. There’s a lot to look at, but once we got to fence 5, a jump with a roof over it, he seemed to be pretty on. He did the little down bank to a roll top well, a bending line, an up bank and the water and ditch perfectly. We actually picked a line to the water to get the best footing, so he barely had to put a foot in it, but we were still between the flags!

We ended up winning the open beginner novice division, which was a great way to end the season. I feel like with some consistency over the last few weeks, we hammered it home to him and he gets it now. With me traveling so much this year and dealing with getting his feet right, we were just inconsistent. He probably could have been going novice by now, but it’s OK. He is still only five (and still for sale!).

 

Happy face.
Happy face.

Yesterday I took Oh So cross-country schooling and he had so much fun. He just wants to run and jump and was actually frustrated that we were walking around with a group of babies before our lesson! He was jigging and prancing and generally being silly, but it makes me smile. Every day I can still ride him is a blessing, so we’ll take it one day and one jump at a time. I’m hoping to take him to a derby at Loch Moy in December which is entirely run in their arenas.