Out And About (And An Abscess)

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

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

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

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

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Valerie Durbon Photo.

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

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

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GRC Photo.

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

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GRC Photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tiny jumps! GRC Photo.

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

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The Fork derby field.

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

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

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Carolina International.

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

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

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

October Update: Lots of travel and change

I’ve just finished off my whirlwind fall of travel, and I’m ready for a break! Since I last updated I’ve been to Plantation Field, Cincinnati, Dressage At Devon, Fair Hill and the Virginia Horse Trials.

Plantation was the first weekend where it really felt like fall. I covered it for the first time officially for COTH, and Phillip Dutton was a fitting winner at his hometown event.

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The ruins at Plantation Field.

I visited my brother, niece and sister-in-law in Cincinnati the following weekend, and it was kind of hot but I had a good time playing tourist and eating Skyline chili! The city is undergoing a lot of change, and my brother lives very close to downtown which is fun, plus they have a great view!

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Dressage At Devon was up next and back to cold and rainy. I went to Devon a few times with my mom long ago, but I’d never been as a member of the media. It was fun to see some different faces than who we usually see in Wellington, even if the scores weren’t as high. I wrote a commentary for the magazine, which I’ve only ever done once before, about how I hope riders and spectators will continue to attend shows like Devon, or Morven Park, which was on the same weekend, because they’re so unique and historic.

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Under the lights at Devon.

My favorite event, Fair Hill, was up next, and while the weather was the driest and warmest it’s been in the 15 years I’ve been attending, it was unfortunately a little underwhelming this year. The entries were down, and Marilyn Little sparked a lot of controversy when her eventual winner RF Scandalous was seen with blood on her mouth on cross-country day.

After two of the most stressful weeks of my work life trying to write the story of the win while also reporting on what it meant to have a three-star national champion win with blood on her mouth, I hope what came out is a fair portrayal of what happened.

The “blood rule” was followed in theory, but there’s since been a lot of discussion about whether it’s right for the public image of the sport to allow a horse with visible blood to continue. I try to always see both sides of an argument, so I won’t weigh in, but I have to say I was disappointed with several things posted on the internet about how the media handled the incident.

It’s difficult when the sport is so small and everyone is friendly. We love feel good stories and stories of winners but we are journalists and have to report on the bad things as well. I feel like sometimes the riders get a little closed off when controversial things happen, but we’re just doing our jobs asking for the facts. If top riders want to get the press and be treated like celebrities, they need to realize that sometimes that means answering tough questions.

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Fair Hill cross-country day!

After Fair Hill I had a free weekend and took Oh So and Harley to a flat lesson with Heidi. She gave me some tips with Harley about keeping his walk and canter more forward and asking for more bend in all three gaits, so now I have some homework.

Oh So was very good, and we upped the work a little by adding in some canter/walk and walk/canter transitions.

I’m hoping we can get back to where we left off this spring and continue to work on those transitions and eventually get clean changes both directions.

He’s finally pretty much back to full flatwork and now we’re getting ready to pop over some jumps for the first time since June this week, so I’m excited!

Both boys were very well behaved during gale force winds with leaves hitting us all in the face and dust swirling around!

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Oh So and Harley take on the coliseum at the VA Horse Trials.

This past weekend we took Harley to the VA Horse Trials for some exposure and I brought Oh So along to ride in good footing. Both boys traveled well together and settled in. Harley was very professional for being 5 and they both thought they were living the life of luxury with Meghan and I tending to their every need.

I schooled Harley on Saturday and Meghan sat on Oh So. She’s only ridden in a dressage saddle a few times, so she was working on getting her balance and playing with some leg yielding, but she was pushing all of Oh So’s buttons by accident, and it was pretty funny. He would offer a turn on the forehand, haunches, leg yield or rein back and not get frustrated, so that was cool to see him play schoolmaster.

A lot of memories came flooding back, and I don’t know if I’ll ever compete him there again, but I’m glad we went.

Today I moved Oh So to a new farm just up the road from where he was in Waterford. I found a deal I couldn’t pass up where I’ll be able to afford two horses if I decide to get one in the spring. The only thing is he’ll be living out 24/7 so I’m pretty nervous about it , but he settled right into his paddock today and made friends with a mare across the fence line. He ate his dinner and was checking out some chickens when I left him, so I hope it goes well.

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Meghan and I did some sightseeing at Natural Bridge in Lexington.

We won’t have an indoor, but we do have lights, so back to living the way we were at home. I’ll just have to pull out my winter breeches a bit sooner!

Harley is doing his first event this weekend on my (30th, gulp) birthday, and I’ve entered Oh So in a dressage show at Loch Moy the following weekend. It may be the end of the season, but I’m going to squeeze in what I can!

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Oh So checking out his new digs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bucket list goals as I’ve been interviewing people this fall, and I came up with a list of my own. I still feel pretty aimless without having any competitions to look forward to, but here’s what I’ve come up with.

  • Complete another training three-day (I did one in 2006 with Sam and finished 2nd).
  • Complete a CCI*.
  • But before that, I’d like to finish a prelim on my dressage score.
  • Ride at the Kentucky Horse Park.
  • Earn my USDF bronze medal (maybe Oh So could take me there!)
  • Ride at another AEC.
  • Hit up a few other events I’ve never competed at like Plantation Field and at the Horse Park of New Jersey.
  • Compete at an Area 2 championship (that never seemed to work out with Oh So’s schedule).

I think most of these will have to wait until my next horse, but I’m still holding out hope for Oh So!

Rio’s In The Rearview and An Oh So Update

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Life is back to normal finally after my trip to Rio! Oh So got the go ahead to start ramping up his work again, which is awesome, but we’re only adding 5 minutes of trot per week, so the going will be slow for awhile.

He flexed and palpated pretty well, so the vet decided not to do ultrasound and just told us to start adding trot. He also got his back injected in the areas where he has kissing spine, so hopefully that will help him feel a little better.

In the mean time I’ve been having a lot of fun riding my friend Meghan’s 5-year-old OTTB Harley, who is wise beyond his years.

He only raced twice and then was used to pony horses at the track, and while he’s very green in his body and education, he’s willing to take instruction, and he’s come along quickly over the last two months that I’ve been riding him a couple of times a week.

We’ve taken him off property to cross-country school three times and show jumped twice, and he keeps getting better. He’s pretty willing to jump anything, but sometimes it’s the other jumps on cross-country or the things going on outside the ring that catch his attention.

I’m really enjoying the process of working with a young horse again. I wasn’t sure I was ready to start over after Bear, but we’re slowly starting to trust each other, and it’s fun when it clicks for him.

On the flat he just needs to learn to take the contact forward, down and out. He’s been ridden in draw reins before, and he seemed afraid of the contact at first. Now he’s taking the bit tentatively, but still comes behind the vertical in trot on occasion. In canter he wants to raise his head and hollow his back, especially to the jumps, so we’re keeping them small right now while we work on his flatwork.

Meghan has felt a difference in him, which makes me feel confident that I’ve been doing the right thing despite no proper flat lessons and riding in my jump saddle!

The hope is to get him to a starter trial this fall. I don’t think the jumps will be the problem, just the activity, but we’ll keep working hard!

 

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Copacabana Beach

I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about Rio, and it’s coming a little more in to focus now that I’m not in the thick of it.

I watched all of the cross-country on the NBC replays when I got back to the U.S., and it really helped me understand the course better and how grueling it really was.

While I was out on course, I really had no idea what was going on because of the terrible announcing, so it helped to see it again.

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View from Sugarloaf

Being there and focusing just on getting the best photos made it almost seem like another horse show until the medal ceremonies. I’ll admit I had a tear in my eye when the U.S. team got on the podium in dressage!

I wish I’d had more time to explore the city, but the day off I did have was amazing. I went to Sugarloaf Mountain and was the highest into the sky I think I’ve ever been. I’ve been to a lot of castles and mountain ranges in my life, but that was so high my legs were getting a little wobbly.

I had a ticket to see Christ the Redeemer that afternoon but the clouds came in, and I didn’t get the view I wanted. Ah well. Now I can say I’ve been there!

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Sugarloaf Cable Cars
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Christ the Redeemer

I spent the weekend at Plantation Field and now I’m off to Cincinnati to visit my brother and sister-in-law, see my niece and eat chili!

Next week is Dressage at Devon and then on to Fair Hill in the October.

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Rocky loves to ham it up!
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Toppers and Rocky
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Plantation Field
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Sam!

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!

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!

Is it spring yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back on 2015

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2015 was a sort of uneven year for me. While I got to travel to some amazing places for work and pleasure, I didn’t quite get back into the competing groove with my horses like I’d been hoping.

Oh So’s year started out positive, and I’d had hopes of getting back to training level. I’ve sort of given up hope of ever going prelim on him again because his body came back from his injury a little weaker than I’d expected. The right front leg has held up well, but then his left front developed an issue on his deep digital flexor tendon sheath, which is now a constant worry for me since we had it injected in July. Every time I get on him, I’m cognizant of how he’s walking, and when we pick up trot, I worry if what I’m feeling is a front lameness or just some stiffness from behind.

We did one novice event at Waredaca and a dressage schooling show before that started bothering him, then spent the rest of the summer and fall keeping him in work but not really aiming for any events. He’s had some cross-country schools and jumps schools and did a novice CT at Waredaca, and now we’re here–at a point where I’m not sure what to do with him for fear of breaking him.

It’s hard to make goals like the ones I’d set out for in 2015 because then he’d have a little niggling soundness thing, whether it was his hind end or the left front.

I want to compete, and I know he loves to go and do, but do I keep riding knowing someday could be the last straw, or do I keep things light and not event, which is what I’m really missing?

It was a huge shock to my system when he was first injured in August 2013–my life revolved around competing him and preparing for the next event. I got Bear as a project to fill the void, but then he had some foot soreness issues this summer too, so our season didn’t go as planned.

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I don’t like the fact that I’m getting used to not competing or having a “season”. My goal is to remain a competent training level rider (I’ll tackle prelim again someday), and with Oh So possibly not jumping at that level anymore, I’m afraid my skills will degrade. I guess I’m fearful of becoming a timid re-rider should I make it to that level again someday. The perfectionist is me gets very irritated when I make dumb mistakes over novice level fences on a horse that I’ve ridden to prelim. I guess I have to accept that I’m in a trough, a low point in my riding career, and hopefully someday I’ll be able to pull myself out of it.

I’m also coming to terms with the fact that Bear will likely be sold soon, then I’m left with a horse who may or may not be able to compete, let alone last much longer. Then what will I do? I can’t afford board on two horses. I’m a generally pessimistic person in real life (could you tell?), and trying to remain optimistic over the last year with Oh So has been really tiring.

But as my trainer Lisa keeps reminding me, we should be happy for every ride we have left with him, and truly I am. He doesn’t care whether he jumps beginner novice or prelim height, just that he’s jumping, so I hope we can keep that up. He’s really come into his own on the flat and is very solid now, so it’s fun to play with him. Lowering my expectations has been very hard, but it’s only fair to him.

I’ve had a couple of really good lessons recently with Heidi Berry, a trainer I’ve reconnected with since moving to Leesburg. She helped me with Oh So while we were going training level as we worked through his tension. It’s been a few years since she’s seen him, and she’s really impressed, which is awesome to hear from an S dressage judge.

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I told her my goal was to get solid with the 2nd level stuff, and if it comes to the point where he shouldn’t be jumping, competing at recognized dressage shows would be a fun goal. She even thinks we could try third level if we get his changes.

Last week we touched base with turns on the haunches, medium trots and canter/walk and walk/canter transitions. He was really collecting nicely on a smaller circle, and we asked him to halt a few times from canter to really make sure we didn’t get the odd trot step. I felt like the timing with my seat was better too. She said to think of a canter/walk transition as a feather floating to the ground, soft and quiet.

We also had a good jump lesson with Lisa where we worked on me sitting in a more three-point position. I’m hoping to take him up to Loch Moy to school their cross-country course that runs in their arenas. It would be perfect for him.

As for Bear, I’ve taken a few lessons with Heidi on him and it’s been a big change, but one that will be good in the long run. The first thing she said when she saw us trot around was “body awareness,” so we’ve been working on bending him to the inside more than I’m comfortable with, and working some steep leg yields and counter leg yields to get him to move his shoulders up and over. I’ve also been thinking leg yield every time we do a downwards transition. Combine that with riding him more forward, and it’s a lot to work on!

We made it out to Gordonsdale to school cross-country two weekends ago and while it was cold and windy, he had a good time and we jumped some bigger fences. We also worked on some down banks into water, which we hadn’t really tackled yet, and he was very brave.

So as I head into 2016, I’m happy for two sound horses (at the moment), and really excited to travel. I’m going to cover several events for COTH, including the Olympics in Rio, which will be amazing and probably pretty crazy!

First up though, I’m going on a quick vacation to Wellington, Fla. I won a trip via Practical Horseman magazine to a World Cup show jumping qualifier. I’m going with my friend and officemate Kimberly and we’re planning on watching the Eventing Showcase, doing something non-horsey, and not working!

Then I head back down to Wellington three days after I get back to cover the GDF CDI***** dressage show, and on to more events during the spring. Whew!