Eventing, Olympics and Emotion: My Favorite Photos of 2016

I’ve traveled a lot this year, and photography is my favorite part of my job, so it was hard to narrow down my favorite photos, but I chose the following for two reasons. First, I love a classically perfect jumping photo, so I’ve included a few. Second, I’ve worked really hard this year on seeking out more candid moments. Sure, I can get a hundred shots of horses with perfect knees over a big oxer, but in the end, I think it’s the more emotional moments that really resonate with people.

It probably helped that I had a borrowed Nikon D5 and 200-400 lens to play with at the Olympics, which was amazing, but many of these were taken with our trusty D3 or D4S and a fixed 300m or 70-200mm lens.

Click on a photo to view the gallery in higher res.

2014 Recap – Some pretty high highs, but some pretty low lows

 

Oh So was looking good in his lesson this week.

When I decided to write a year-end recap, I had initially decided to title it something like, “2014–the year that never was” or, “2014 Sucked”, but once I started looking back, I realized that while 2014 was full of lots of lows, it was also full of plenty of highs.

I was feeling pretty good heading into the year–I spent New Years covering a George Morris clinic in Florida–five days of beautiful, sunny weather and lots of learning–but as I prepared to board my flight to go home, I found out my English Pointer Ramsey had died suddenly. My parents tried to keep him comfortable so I could say goodbye, but he just couldn’t hold on.

It was devastating to lose a member of our family and I still think about him everyday. This is the first Christmas in awhile where he won’t be there.

Most of January and February were spent surviving one of the coldest and most miserable winters we’ve had in awhile, all while trying to start Oh So’s rehab under saddle and transitioning him to some turnout after being on stall rest. It was odd not preparing for Southern Pines in March, but I did have something to look forward to with Bear, who turned four in February.

He made quite a bit of progress over the winter and we were finally able to get out and cross-country school in March, where he proved that he had the aptitude for eventing. We did several combined tests and he surprised me with his willing attitude. It was such a difference to Oh So–no drama!

We did out first real event in early September at Loch Moy, and save for a little drama in dressage, had a good time.

Over the summer, Oh So returned to full work and we had a few cross-country schools under our belts before deciding to try for a novice and a couple of trainings in the fall season. I was feeling a bit out of practice over the bigger fences but towards the end of the summer, I really felt like I was back in sync with him.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Unfortunately, he did something to his right hip/SI joint around the same time and it took awhile to figure that out. I was so close to being able to compete with him that I could taste it! We’re now starting to jump again and I’m hoping to compete again in the spring.

As a result of Oh So’s injury, Bear got to start his recognized eventing career sooner than I’d thought. I was pretty nervous but he did very well at his first beginner novice at Seneca Valley, save for being eliminated at the water!

We had a longer gap than I wanted between that and Waredaca, which was full of drama and ended in me falling off, but we rebounded for Virginia the next weekend and completed (and went through the water!).

AEC Texas-style!

This is the first year of my life since I started eventing where I really haven’t had a “season”. At times I felt lost, both in my training because I didn’t have a goal to work towards, but also with what to do when my whole life has revolved around the eventing season.

But as a result, I got to travel quite a bit and learn through osmosis. Watching the best horses and riders in the U.S. as part of my job is a treat, whether it’s eventing, dressage or show jumping.

Riding Bear has taught me a lot more about riding than I imagined. He might be mentally quieter than Oh So, but I have to sit tighter from time to time since he is still four!

I’ve also learned to savor every ride. Before Oh So’s injury, I got worked up about this or that as we prepared for an event, but to be honest, I’m lucky he came back from his injury and that I can still ride him. I’m looking forward to that moment as the starter counts us down in the box in our first event back.

The view from San Gimignano

Outside of horses, I got a sister-in-law when my brother got married in May and I learned I’m becoming an aunt next year to a little girl!

I also traveled to Italy for 10 days. I love traveling and find I always come back a much more educated person. I’m not sure where I’ll go in 2015, but I’m thinking maybe Germany later in the year.

On a sad note, we had to put down one of our cats, Winnie, who we inherited with our farm back in 2002. He was quite old and developed cancer cells on his lungs, so it was time, but sad none the less.

Professionally, I took a step up at COTH this year and really felt like I found my place and became a part of the team. I traveled A LOT, which is my favorite part of the job.

I met interesting people, saw cool places and took lots of photos.

Here’s a recap with links to my coverage-

George Morris clinic
Nations Cup Wellington
Global Dressage Forum North America
Carolina International
The Fork
Jersey Fresh
WEG Prep Trial
National Young Horse Championships
Plantation Field
AECs
Fair Hill
Mary King Clinic
USEA Convention

I’ve got a lot of cool things lined up for next year, including a trip to the Pan American Games in Toronto and a big life change that I’ll post about when it happens.

I’m looking forward to next year and I’m glad to say goodbye to 2014. Here’s to hoping for Oh So’s return to competition, finding Bear a good home and a little bit of luck.

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.

The Insanity Begins

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There really hasn’t been much to say the last few weeks. Oh So is fairly calm on stall rest and I’m really getting the urge to ride. I am physically aching to ride, which is driving me nuts! I’ve only ever gone 2 weeks without riding in my entire life.

Lisa found me the perfect project horse, an OTTB that was 7 and had been started under saddle, like Oh So, but hadn’t done much since he stopped racing at 4.

We had him vetted last week and he was totally sound and perfect…until we got to the X-rays. He ended up having OCDs on his hocks, so no go, unfortunately.

I was so close I could taste it, and now I’m just feeling a little down in the dumps. I just want a horse to ride! How hard can that be? Lisa is back on the hunt again and has a couple of leads that she’s checking out this weekend. I just feel like I flushed $1,000 down the toilet.

Oh So had an ultrasound yesterday and the vet said she saw about 15% improvement on the accessory ligament and 25% improvement on the suspensory. She had hoped for more improvement on the accessory, but overall, we’re moving forward positively.

Since I had nothing to do last weekend, on Sept. 22, I made my first trip to the Plantation  Field International Horse Trials in Unionville, Pa. (check out my photos here.)

2013-09-22 07.53.45The self-proclaimed “best event ever” is in it’s sixth year hosting CIC divisions and while I’ve been to many of the east coast’s top FEI-events as a spectator or reporting for The Chronicle, for some reason, I’d never made the trip. Plus, we have so many events in Virginia and Maryland that a four hour drive to compete and stay overnight seems like a lot of effort!

Nestled in the heart of the Brandywine Valley, Plantation Field is smack dab in the middle of eventing and hunt country and since it’s inception, is starting to become riders’ last run before the fall three-days.

In striving to be the “best event ever”, Plantation Field engages the community. Several local business and riders sponsored cross-country fences, donated money, or set up booths in the trade fair.

Bringing more interest from the public is a constant battle for horse sports, so this year, the Plantation Field team stepped up the trade fair and held “a weekend in the country”, that included a Kid’s Corner, Wine Bistro, Beer Garden, and to top it all off, a Downton-Abbey themed tailgating contest where spectators came in their poshest tweeds.

The event is taylor-made for the spectator, with the trade fair at the crest of a hill 2013-09-22 10.34.23-1overlooking the cross-country course on one side and the show jumping arena on the other.

While there were several spectators that made their way down to the water jump, many were just as happy to sit under the food tent, drink a beer and watch from the top of the hill.

I took photos of the CIC divisions, and the three-star division got dramatic when 7 horses and riders fell at the A element of the water jump and officials ultimately decided to take out the A and B.

Plantation was the start of a pretty insane next 6 weeks. I’m off to the AECs in Texas today, then home for a couple of days, then up to Capital Challenge in Md. for a day, then Morven Park.

I’ll have a weekend off before spending an entire week in Harrisburg, Pa. covering the Pennsylvania National. Unfortunately, that falls on Fair Hill weekend, which is celebrating its 25th year. I’ve gone for the last 11 years of my life, and I’m devastated to miss it, but we’re short-staffed, so I have to fill in.

I’m hoping to drive from Harrisburg to Fair Hill on Sunday morning so I can at least catch some of the show jumping.

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Ups and Downs

I decided to wait to post anything about the last two weekends until I’d finished the Virginia Horse Trials yesterday. What started out as excitement to try a new course resulted in the worst event of my career and now a loss of confidence.

Last weekend I went up to Fair Hill since I hadn’t been there in awhile. Lisa couldn’t come, but I felt prepared. I knew the dressage warmup was going to be crowded and small, and it was definitely like bumper cars once I got there. Oh So did the best he could, but he was definitely tense.

When it got closer to my time, the warmup cleared out a bit and I was able to have some time to warmup around the outside of the ring before it was my turn. The test itself was calm, but had a surprising lack of impulsion that I really didn’t notice until I watched my video. We ended up with a 36, which was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.

I had expected show jumping to be on footing, so when I got up there the night before and saw that it was on a grassy hill, it bothered me a bit, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

His warmup was ok, but I think he was thinking cross-country. I didn’t jump anything huge and I didn’t pick too much to the jumps. When I got in the ring, the first two fences were nice, then he had the third down on the way up. As I came around to a triple bar to a one-stride, I picked and he got too close to it, adding a third stride in between and nearly unseating me.

I had to circle to get to the next fence in the line, and after that, it all fell apart. I think we were both frazzled and I didn’t ride him with enough pace. We ended up with 9 rails down, which was both embarrassing and upsetting.

I tried to put it behind me for cross-country. I thought the course was nice with some different things to try and not too many max galloping fences. As I came around to fence 7, a simple right-handed corner, I think I took back and got him a little too close, so he jumped awkwardly over it and I came off on landing. I tried to hang on, thus falling under his feet and I got kicked in the back of my thigh and pulled a muscle in my other one. He galloped off, probably wondering why mom was on the ground.

I’ve only fallen off him once before during a cross-country school, so that was upsetting enough, but the show jumping, where I have little confidence as is, really bothered me. I decided to drop down to training for the Virginia Horse Trials just as a precaution.

Our dressage warmup at Lexington was quite good and I trotted into the ring feeling confident, but then I cantered too early and the bell rung, so our rhythm was upset and I think I let it get to me. He acted like an ass for the free walk to medium walk as usual. Unfortunately the training level test has no challenges to keep him or me occupied, so we ended up with a 38.2, when it should have been 10 points lower. We were also in an open division with barely any chance of being competitive unless we scored below 30.

The cross-country course was basically like speed bumps, so no problems there. He tripped up the bank out of water because it was so small and started lining up the prelim coffin at the end!

My plan to have a confidence building show jumping round didn’t pan out, as we had three rails down. The first one was my fault, because the first fence was off of a tight turn. The second one down came off a similar turn and we got a little close to it, but he could have tried. The third rail was off of a rollback turn and there was no reason for it to come down since he hit the spot perfectly. He just wasn’t being careful.

So, now I feel like we’ve hit rock bottom. I’m going to try not to let it get to me between now and Seneca in three weeks, but I still haven’t decided whether to drop back to training level for that one. I think the other two phases will suffer because they’re so easy for him and I’m more confident, but I also don’t want to have another bad show jumping round.

I know my saddle isn’t helping, so I’m trying to get going on testing out a few different brands, but I think the bottom line is that he doesn’t think there are consequences to knocking rails and I just can’t practice enough on one horse.

I’m considering a bit change again and maybe trying a lesson with a jumper trainer in my price range. If anyone in the Middleburg area has any suggestions, please email me at piaffeprincess86@yahoo.com.

I know we’re competent at this level, I just need to be consistent with my riding, keep telling myself that we can do it and figure out the key to getting the best possible jump out of him.

A weekend in New Jersey

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Last weekend I headed to the Horse Park of New Jersey to cover Jersey Fresh for COTH. The last time I went there was in 2008 where I saw a horse fall and die of a heart condition right in front of me. That day really stuck with me over the last few years and sort of turned me off of the upper levels of eventing, but of course, that was during the rash of deaths and bad injuries.

photo-6Thankfully, this year’s Jersey Fresh was a safe day of cross-country and I had a pretty good time. My co-worker Megan and I drove up on Friday and shot a little bit of dressage, then checked out the course.

There were four different courses which made it a little confusing to keep track of, but by Saturday, I had a pretty good idea. Cross-country day fluctuated between cool, humid, sunny, hot and cloudy. I was pretty happy with what I shot and Megan and I did a nice, informal press conference with some of the top riders.

Sunday was much cooler and the show jumping ring was pretty close to everything, so it made for an easier day. The same old people won, which made for slightly boring stories, but  was happy with our online coverage.

This weekend, I’m headed to Fair Hill to compete. I haven’t been there since 2009 when Oh So did his first novice, and I’m a little nervous since my trainer can’t be there, but I’m excited to jump around a different course.

Fair Hill International: A beautiful fall weekend

I was up at Fair Hill this weekend covering the event for COTH. This was my 11th year in a row going and it’s always my favorite because it’s the best time of year. When I first started going, there was still the long-format, so things have changed a lot over the years, but it’s always well-run and just a good time.

I wasn’t feeling as excited this year because I’m still bummed about my run at Loch Moy. It’s just really got me feeling less confident. But I put that aside the best I could to cover dressage on Thursday. I also did coursewalk photo galleries for the CCI** and CCI*** in an effort to try something different with the coverage for the magazine.

My coworker Sara joined me on Friday and we shot dressage all day. Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with the dressage this year in the CCI***. Maybe it’s because many of the top riders weren’t there and the field was small, but there wasn’t any one horse that I thought, “Oh, he’ll win the dressage”.

My weekend took a bad turn when my car wouldn’t start on Friday evening. We tried jumping it, but it wouldn’t even turn over, so we left it there overnight and I got it towed in the morning (apparently the tow truck got stuck in the mud to make things worse). I ended up being distracted throughout the day on Saturday worrying about my car and if I was going to be able to go home the next day. It turned out that the shop it was towed to couldn’t figure it out and thought maybe it was a problem with the anti-theft system, so I had to have it towed to a Ford dealership, who wouldn’t be able to look at it until Monday. So, a huge towing bill later, the car decided to start when we checked on it on Sunday night! So, a huge headache for what turned out to be nothing (I hope. The car is currently at the Ford dealership at home to see if they can figure out why it would randomly not start).

So, back to cross-country. It was a picture perfect day and even though we had a very heavy thunderstorm on Friday morning, the footing held up enough that not too many people withdrew. It was also a safe day, which was nice. They didn’t change too much on the cross-country which made it kind of difficult to get some new shots, but I think I got some good ones.

Show jumping day was also gorgeous. Hannah Sue Burnett won the three-star and was a very gracious winner for the second time. Connor Husain won the two-star and was quite overwhelmed which was cute. I always love Fair Hill because you can stand right in the warm up arena for dressage and show jumping and hear all the gossip and the way the top riders were coached. Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin got help from dressage rider Michael Barisone, while a lot of the riders were getting help from Lauren Hough for the show jumping.

Here’s a link to all of our coverage from the weekend along with a ton of photos. Hope you enjoy it!

Now I’ve got two weeks before the ATCs with Oh So. I’m going to try to get a cross-country school in to practice with my lower leg. I had a really good ride this morning on the flat, so at least I’m feeling confident there!