Adventures In Rio: Non-Stop Action, And Lots Of Bread And Cheese

This blog originally appeared on coth.com.

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The first water jump.

Bom dia from Rio!

It’s been awhile since my last check in because Mollie and I have been going full throttle writing for the website and writing two magazines stories on a deadline for mid-week.

The excitement hasn’t ever stopped, as we’ve had a second bullet found on the groundssome drama in dressage and some last-minute show jumping team changes.

I’ll back up to cross-country day—the best day of any horse show if I say so myself!

It was warm, but overcast, and quite a large crowd came out to have some fun. From the very beginning though, it was clear it was going to be a tough course.

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On the job!

I spent the first part of the day shooting the first and last water, and got some great shots, then wandered towards other parts of the course where there was absolutely no announcing, so I felt utterly lost as to what was going on and why people weren’t making it to where I was.

It was weird feeling so disconnected from the action, so I was texting with a co-worker back at the office who was watching the live stream. She was about 10 minutes behind the live action, but she still knew before I did that U.S. rider Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen had retired on course.

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Looking out of the start box.

Bummer! I’m a huge fan of Clark and Glen after having spent so much time chatting with him over the last couple of years, and finally meeting him and Glen in person this summer, so I was just gutted for them.

Lauren also had some terrible luck, but looked good when I saw her, and Phillip and Boyd gave masterful riding demonstrations. Blackfoot Mystery, and Boyd, looked exhausted coming through the last water, and Boyd nursed him home expertly.

It says a lot about a course when a guy who rides 10 horses at a one-day event in the middle of summer is exhausted riding one horse around a four-star!

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The stands filling up.

As usual, Michael Jung was masterful, although he had a bit of a save on Sam through the last water when he wanted to bow his right shoulder over one of the fish.

I think I shot some of my best photos ever on cross-country, which you can check out here.

Eventing show jumping day went by in a blur. We had to cover two rounds of jumping, plus team and individual medals.

The French team, who are all very handsome and charming, won gold and our hearts!

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Daily inspo.

Mollie and I fell into bed that night, but no rest for the weary as we went straight into dressage the next two days with the Grand Prix and team medals. I saw Valegro! OK, so a lot of people have seen him, but I’ve never seen him in person, so I was super excited.

He was just as round and cute as I’d expected!

We rallied one more day to cover the Special, but for me, it was a tough night as I got food poisoning from our media village dining hall and spent all night with severe stomach cramps that continued into the next day.

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Police horses on the job.

Luckily we had shots of all of the riders who would be in the Special, and they ran in reverse order, so I spent the morning in bed and found enough strength to go over to the venue and shoot the afternoon. I couldn’t miss Valegro again!

I almost doubled over in pain as Steffen Peters was riding, another I didn’t want to miss, but I held it together for a few more riders until Charlotte went.

We’ve been subsisting on basically bread and cheese since we’ve arrived because we haven’t been able to go to any restaurants or find a grocery store until Saturday.

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American bread and cheese! What a treat.

Mollie and I get up every morning to the sound of idling buses and military men doing drills, grumble about how the breakfast at the media village hasn’t changed, and load up our plates with the same rolls, cheese and thankfully some fresh fruit.

We’ve also started packing cheese sandwiches because the venue only has, well, more bread and cheese sandwiches with meat that aren’t so tasty.

We grumble again as we eat in the dining hall at night, but we’re usually so hungry we stuff our faces with rice, pasta, often crunchy, and iceberg lettuce, then pass out to the sound of guns going off fairly close by and rowdy rugby journalists.

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Working hard with George Morris watching over me.

We had a day off on Saturday, and while all of our journalist and photographer friends were off having fun at the beach or sightseeing, we had to hunker down and write our eventing and dressage stories for the magazine.

After writing from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., we decided to give ourselves a break and head to Barra where a couple of photographer and journalist friends are staying.

We hopped on a bus to the Main Media Center and were soon being escorted down the Olympic road by military guards. Our bus driver told us another media bus had a rock thrown through its window. Lovely.

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Just chilling with McLain Ward and Kent Farrington…

We took a quick bus from the MPC to Barra and had a wonderful evening of actual food, capped off by a lovely walk past all of the main venues like the diving arena.

It was cool to be in the middle of it all, if only for a short time.

We grabbed some healthy snacks at a grocery store and made our way home, feeling refreshed and ready to shoot the first day of show jumping.

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Equestrian on TV!

The weather has been up and down, from very pleasant to downright hot the last two days, but the crowds showed up in full force for show jumping.

It was absolutely deafening when a Brazilian rider came in the ring, and when they went clear, watch out!

The locals are all wonderful, and the military are all friendly. Unfortunately it seems that what we’re allowed to bring in through security each day changes, but we’ve learned to adapt!

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Military presence on every corner.

We’ve been keeping the TV on at night and watching some of the other sports while we write, and even saw a five minute blurb about the horses last night. It’s weird not having access to NBC and their instant replays. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I get home to find out what actually happened on cross-country!

We’re in the home stretch! I’m counting down the days until I can cook my own food and see my horse, but until then, Mollie and I figured out a way to order pizzas to Deodoro Village, and I have to say, American bread and cheese tasted heavenly!

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

This blog originally appeared on coth.com.

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Our home away from home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our dorm room before we got our twin beds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deodoro accommodation village.

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

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

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

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The main stadium and mixed zone.

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

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

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Marmosets greeted us by our bus every morning.

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

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

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

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

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Locals waiting for the torch to pass through.

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

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

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

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

How cool is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Disinfecting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The new arena at the Great Meadow International.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rocky and Lucky have a chat.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Highs And Lows

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

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

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

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Seneca. GRC Photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catching Up On March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is it spring yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!