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.

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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!

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.

Doing A Whole Lotta Nothing

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As the title implies, the last week has been a total waste when it comes to riding. It started a week ago Sunday when we had an absolutely bitter day, with temperatures in the teens and wind chills below zero at night. I can’t remember the last time we had 60 mph wind gusts, and we had to barricade the barn doors because of how strong they were.

I actually had a very good lesson with Bear the day before where we worked on shortening his stride. I guess I’ve always thought that the concept of shortening the stride was a little too advanced for Baby Bear, but Lisa said it was time.

We’re not exactly working on it yet in canter on the flat (mostly just working on proper bend on the circle both directions, some short bursts of counter canter and some lengthening down the longside to get him moving forward), but when we set up a simple vertical on the short side of an indoor ring with a placing pole on both sides set a little short, as long as I kept my leg on around the turn and sat up a bit, he grasped the concept easily.

Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!
Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!

I was excited and inspired to continue with some homework later in the week, but that never happened because of the Polar Vortex 2015 edition!

The ring was quite dry and unfrozen last Sunday despite the temperature being in the low 20s and I could have ridden if I wanted to deal with the horrible wind. On Monday late afternoon, we got our first serious winter snow storm–about 5 inches that fell over night, luckily.

And ever since, it’s remained below freezing, save for this Sunday, so no riding! I’m bummed that we had to get pretty much all of our winter weather within the span of a week. We got another 3 or 4 inches of snow on Saturday, canceling any plans I may have had to trailer out to an indoor to see Lisa.

I walked Oh So up and down the driveway one day and actually took him to an indoor about 5 minutes away on Sunday, but the footing was not good, so I decided not to take Bear and ended up walking him around the outside of the ring where my dad had plowed and it had melted because it was 50 degrees (!!!). We went up and down the driveway a few times and that was that, unfortunately.

It’s not looking like we’ll get much melting until later in the week and I scratched the dressage show Bear was going to do last weekend and the derby cross for Oh So this weekend.

Will it ever end? 😦

I’m more concerned about Oh So losing fitness since he’s ring fit, but is lacking with hill fitness. Bear will be the same when I get back on him as he was the last time I rode, which is a strange feeling for me!

My tentative plan, depending on how much we can get out to school cross-country, is to enter Bear in a combined test at Morningside in March and then Morven Park beginner novice, but only if he feels very confident and I don’t feel too rusty! We can always make it a CT if the footing is bad or we’re not totally ready. If he’s not sold by then, he could do CDCTA or a starter trial at Loch Moy in April.

Oh So is going to need to regain his fitness on the hills since he wasn’t quite there last year after he did something to his hip. We’re going to be very careful about when we start competing and probably won’t do a full event until late April, maybe Loudoun Hunt HT.

I’m a planner by nature, so it’s really hard for me to not have a schedule for Oh So, but roughly, we’ll do a couple of novices, mostly to get me back into jumping the bigger fences, and do training for most of the year and see how he goes. The vet was pretty confident about the strength of his tendon last year and as long as we’re careful about what kind of footing he goes on, I don’t see why he couldn’t do prelim again. I’m actually more concerned about his hind end now that he’s older and had that injury to his hip. I hope that was a one time thing, but I’m guessing he has some arthritic changes in his hocks too, so we’ll be continuing with hock injections once a year like we’ve been doing for a few years.

But this all hinges on the snow melting and actually getting out to school cross-country and see how he feels.

A circus world at WEF.
A circus world at WEF.

As for my trip to Florida a couple of weeks ago, I had a really awesome time, save for it being quite chilly, but I guess it doesn’t even compare to the -1 we had last week at night!

I covered the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI 3* and 5* and unfortunately the winners were the usual suspects and a bit boring to interview, but how can you complain about watching some of the best horses and riders in the world?

I went over to the WEF showgrounds on Saturday night and watched the Great Charity Challenge, a fun costume class run like a relay against the clock. I hadn’t been to WEF since 2004 when I won an award from the American Hanoverian Society, and it’s changed so much. It’s pretty much a circus world, like, literally there were fire throwers and circus food!

I had to miss a big jumper class the next day because of my flight, but it was fun to get a little glimpse into a world that I will probably never be able to participate in.

It was a wet weekend in Florida.
It was a wet weekend in Florida.

Homework and basics–keeping things interesting in the winter

As Oh So has come back into jumping after his hip injury, Lisa and I have come up with some small exercises that still challenge him without stressing him too much or too soon.

A couple of weeks ago, she set up three small verticals that he could basically canter over at three strides apart on the short side of the ring we went to. She also had a jump on the short side, so we made a circle of three jumps at three strides, then about 5 or 6 strides, over the jump, then 5 or 6 strides back to the short side. It was meant to make jumping seem “blah” for him and to work on his canter stride and my position.

I’ve recreated that in my ring on a smaller scale these past few weeks. I’ve made them small cavaletti with one stride in between so I can just canter him over them (see first two clips in the video above where he is actually relaxed!). My plan is to make them small bounces on a smaller circle next time to really get his hind legs active and strong. I feel like I’m behind in his legging up because I don’t have much of a hill at home and it’s been so wet, so this is the best I can do for now.

This past weekend, I took him to an indoor, which is always challenging. Indoors make you tend to ride backwards and this time, we were actually jumping solid beginner novice/novice fences.

We trotted over a low, wide oxer, which was beneficial for me since I had to follow through with my hands and wait with my upper body. It also helped him stretch his topline and use his back.

It took me a few tries to get my feel back as we cantered over it, then we continued on to a tall cross-rail across the diagonal, three strides angled over an oxer that was part of a gymnastic on the centerline, then three more strides to a tall cross-rail at the end of the diagonal.

The first time, he actually waited and listened because it’s been awhile since we’ve jumped such an acute angle. The next time, the first two were good, then he tried to plow off over the last.

So, we had a very strong half halt the next time, and by the final try, he actually backed off and listened! He knows how to do this and just wants to jump bigger and get on with it, so I’ve accepted the fact that it will take several rides before we get our “whoa” button back. I certainly can’t fault him for wanting to jump again!

We finished by trotting into a bounce, one stride, one stride, bounce, which really made him sit up and listen. I tend to build things gradually at home for my own sake, but the more times you do things with him, the worse it can sometimes get, so it can be a good strategy to go right through.

On New Year’s Day I took Bear cross-country schooling since the footing seemed to be the best it’s probably going to be for awhile.

He was certainly happy to be out and it took him about 20 minutes to focus. I was worried since we didn’t have stud holes that he might slip, but he stayed quite balanced the whole time.

As you can see from the video, he was quite good. The brush jump tickled his foot I think, so he kicked out on landing, but the bounce bank was great considering he’d never done it before.

He was even happy to trudge through the water with ice on top, but we unfortunately couldn’t do much more than that at the water jump.

On Sunday I jumped him before taking Oh So to his lesson. I just cantered a few things, like the spooky Christmas tree, which he could care less about, and did a double bounce to a one-stride, which he just loped over.

I’ve got two new books with tons of cavaletti and grids in them, so I’ll set something up this weekend after the deep freeze comes and goes this week and write reviews.

Baby Bear Gets His Call Up At Seneca Valley Horse Trials

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

Since I scratched Oh So from Seneca due to his SI pain, my coach Lisa suggested I enter Bear in the beginner novice in his place so I didn’t lose my money. I was a little hesitant because he just did his first three-phase the week before, but we’ve been jumping beginner novice height at home in the ring, so I nervously agreed.

I had planned on having another couple of cross-country schools over solid beginner novice height jumps, but since the opportunity presented itself, Lisa and I went into Seneca with the idea of schooling.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

We ended up parked right by the cross-country warm up, which I thought would be terrible, but Bear just hung out and watched people go by all day while eating out of his hay net, which was a nice surprise.

The dressage was a bit of a walk and he got a little nervous as we approached the warm up ring. I hadn’t competed at Seneca since they moved the dressage rings and I like where they are now, very isolated from the jumping. There were four rings, but there was enough space so it wasn’t too crazy. He was quite tight and up for the first 10 minutes or so and then he settled and decided to get behind my leg!

I moved him over to a more isolated spot as our time approached in an effort to diffuse any separation anxiety. He did one neigh and a hop, but then settled. The ground was so hard and this was his first time doing dressage on grass, so I think he was a little short in his stride throughout the test.

I stupidly didn’t look over my test one last time before dressage so I ended up with two errors, which I’ve never done in my life, in the simplest test known to man!

Besides my dumb errors, he was just a bit behind my leg. It didn’t look so bad on the video, but he did seem a bit uneven in the contact and his push from behind.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

We had four hours to wait until show jumping, and I actually kept myself quite calm!

The show jumping course, also on grass, looked pretty doable for us. The cross-country definitely looked a bit bigger though.

He did not like the hard ground in show jumping and felt a little four-beat and stiff around some of the turns, but he was jumping well. We’ll need to work more on bending through our turns in the coming weeks.

I asked for one long one, which he actually obliged, and a short one that he tapped but it stayed up, and the rest were pretty spot on. He was swapping leads a bit and swishing his tail (I think due to my spurs), so it wasn’t the smoothest round in between the jumps, but he was clearly seeking the fences.

Lisa took my spurs off for cross-country, we did a warmup roll top and it was off to the start box! I’ve definitely missed the countdown and the butterflies as the starter says “go!”

The first jump was a cabin and he met that nicely but got the wrong lead to number 2, which was a pretty big roll top with brush on top.

I think it caused some issues for others and he definitely hesitated on takeoff and in the air, but once we landed, he seemed to be happy to canter away to the next jump.

The next several jumps were good and I just worked on keeping my leg forward and my upper body back in case he did anything silly. I need to be conscious of my upper body because we weren’t getting the correct lead most of the time because he follows my weight.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

I flubbed a couple of them and got him too close, but I now have a better feel of when he gets long and strung out in his canter, so hopefully I can correct that next time.

We got over the first 11 fences well and then came the water…he stopped dead, which I expected he might, and after three step backs, we were eliminated.

The jump judge kindly let Lisa lead him in and then we trotted back in once more so we could end on a good note. There was only a ditch and two jumps left, so while I’m bummed we didn’t complete, it wasn’t totally unexpected. He still needs some time to get in the water and when they flag it at the beginning like that, you’re SOL if they take a few tries to get in.

So, on paper, it looks bad, but I think it turned out to be a great schooling opportunity. If I had to do it differently, I would have taken him in another water before, but there was no water on our elementary course at Loch Moy.

He showed me that he seems to be enjoying his job and he definitely has the scope and gallop to go higher, and I got to head out of the start box at a recognized event for the first time in over a year. What more could I ask for?

I’m hoping to do Waredaca and maybe VA Horse Trials in October after we get a bit more

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

cross-country schooling in.

Oh So is starting his work back a few days early today because he’s been a jerk in the barn and needs a job. I walked him and trotted a bit and he felt a little uneven, but I’m hoping that goes away as he works more.

Here’s the video of Bear at Seneca. I edited it to get rid of my mistakes in the dressage and my mom had a camera issue, so she only got one jump on cross-country 😦