Back On Track And Looking Ahead

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Life is finally starting to feel a little more normal as the weather’s been getting warmer. Oh So and I are about six weeks behind in our competition season due to the strangles, but we were able to get out to a combined test and Twilight Eventing at Loch Moy, both of which we won!

The dressage test at the combined test felt a bit tight, although it scored well, but I was fine with it since it was the first show of the season. He was much better for Twilight–very relaxed and supple and loose in his body.

Novice CT at Loch Moy. GRC Photography Photos

My show jumping round at Twilight wasn’t the smoothest since I’d had two rides on him after being gone for a week at Kentucky, but we were there for the cross-country anyways!

It was a pretty simple course, but it was open and gallopy, which is what he needed for his first run of the year. Now we’re looking ahead to the starter trial and some recognized events in June and July.

 

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Twilight Eventing!

He’s been looking really good lately and feeling even better. I decided to keep him on stall board through the summer to help put some weight back on after he lost about 50 pounds due to the winter and his illness. He’s happy to be inside eating all day and away from the bugs I think. I’ve changed up my routine so I go for a 20-minute hack before we work in case he’s a little stiff from being in. He’s also been extremely spooky, which is kind of funny!

I think his neck injection is really kicking in because he’s been very supple and working really well on the flat. We’ve had a few lessons with my dressage trainer Heidi, and we’ve been working towards improving his changes. He’s accepting leg yielding away from the wall and back for the most part, although this week every time I leg yielded off the wall on the left lead he gave me very lovely changes back right! It’s kind of funny because you could tell he thought he was doing the right thing. I just stayed calm and got the correct lead back and continued to leg yield until he listened to my aids. We also played with some canter/walk and walk/canter transitions and haunches in which will all help improve those changes.

We’ve been working on gymnastics with Lisa since he’s been getting pretty excited jumping lately, so we’re just dialing it back a bit to make him sit and wait.

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Photographing at Kentucky.

 

I’ve been on a couple of work trips since my last update, including The Fork and Kentucky. The Fork was a bit underwhelming as far as entries go, but Boyd Martin won, and it was kind of a cute story.

Kentucky was a lot of fun, but a very long time to be gone. In the end, Oliver Townend won, which was a bit of a bummer since everyone was rooting for Boyd to be the first U.S. rider since 2008 to win it. Maybe next year!

Now I’m off to Jersey Fresh for the weekend. Looks like it might be a bit wet!

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Favorite Photos of 2017

Despite being injured and off my feet for several months this year, I still had the chance to go to a ton of amazing competitions for my job in 2017.

As always, I feel incredibly fortunate to do what I love for a living, and this year I got to check off a couple of bucket list events, as well as go to some longtime favorites. I attended 18 competitions this year for COTH (14 actual trips total, counting the USEA Convention).

A photographer friend generously gifted me some Lightroom classes to work on while I was laid up, and I think my editing skills have gotten a little better this year! I’m always in search of the perfect jumping shot, but I’ve been trying my best to be aware of my surroundings and capture quiet, candid moments as well. My New Year’s resolution is to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone and play with different perspectives as I continue to capture some of the country’s best horses and riders.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my coverage this year.

 

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!

Slow and Steady

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Thomas and Oh So hanging.

I’ve had Thomas for just about three months now, and we’re slowly making progress in his re-training.

He’s proven to be very willing, but also a little weary of new things, so we’ve had to be creative in introducing him to jumping and just going slow. I feel like we should be further along at times, but then I have to remind myself I’ve only had him for three months. We’re still learning to trust each other, but we had a good breakthrough in my lesson last Thursday.

After initially teaching him to pick up his feet and actually jump (where he was a little oblivious to the whole thing and happy to do it) he’s now realized that it can sometimes be hard and scary, so I’ve been working on keeping him straight to canter and trot poles first, then just trotting to small verticals with a ground pole or cantering tiny cross rails.

I’m still trying to decide whether he’s spooky or just scared of/inexperienced towards random objects like the flower boxes or blocks in the ring, so I try to move stuff around a few times a week. Sometimes even just trotting between two sets of standards that have boxes can cause him to spook or fall in on a circle if he thinks he’s being aimed at something, so before we pointed him at a jump with something under it, Lisa suggested we try lunging him over things.

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Oh So schooling a few weeks ago. 70 degrees in February!

I have plenty of practice with that since I used to jump my minis in hand all the time! We set up a few things, and I led him over them for a couple of days, then she came for a lesson, and when we aimed him at things, he went! We ended up doing a little course of trot jumps with blocks under them, and he was very good.

I’ve never used that type of training technique, but I’m thinking it’s going to be useful when we start to introduce cross-country jumps.

I’m just still learning to trust him and be firm enough with him, but also sympathetic. I’m a little frustrated that I can’t afford as many flat lessons as I want because most of my budget is going towards jumping lessons with him and Oh So as I took towards trying to compete a bit this spring. I haven’t taken him off property yet, which is making it difficult to get a flat lesson.

I had Heidi come out once, but she doesn’t travel much, so I feel a little aimless, and I just don’t want to mess him up or slow our progress. The most important thing she said is that we insist on bend now, so I’ve been working with that, and it almost immediately improved his right lead canter departure. He gets it on the first try almost every time now. But now going left he sometimes gets the wrong lead, which Lisa says is a common thing while training an OTTB.

The left side is obviously the most difficult right now, and he seems to breathe a little heavier or hold his breath going that way, either because it’s hard or because he’s focusing.

I think I’m going to have to start doing some reading to remind myself of the basic training scale and come up with some exercises, but it really helps to have eyes on the ground to give me something to work on and look forward to and to come up with a program. I also hate doing flatwork in my jump saddle, but a dressage saddle is not in the budget right now. I know I need to trust that I can do this, but being the perfectionist that I am, it’s really hard to do that.

On the ground he’s starting to trust me a little more, and now walks up to me most times when I go to get him in the field instead of running away. He’s very food motivated and has expensive taste, so it’s carrots only right now!

We just had a moderate snow storm, so we’ll have to keep waiting to get him off property until I can ride a few days in a row and it’s not crazy windy and cold. Timing is everything!

Oh So has been feeling a little stiff from behind, so I’m going to have him injected next week. My guess would be stifles, but we’ll see. Don’t tell him, but he’s entered at Morven in the novice the first week of April! Unfortunately I decided not to enter Morningside this week for a combined test because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to ride again, but we’re hoping to get to an indoor this weekend if the snow hasn’t melted.

Since my last post I’ve been to Red Hills, which was a lovely warm weekend in Tallahassee, Fla. It’s such a different vibe there because the local community is so involved, so there are  a lot of clueless spectators, but it’s great to give the sport more exposure.

I’m off to one of my favorites next weekend, Carolina International, then The Fork.

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Beauty at Red Hills.

 

Paradise at Pine Top

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I’m knee-deep in my busy spring travel season, but I just wanted to write a quick update about my trips so far.

My most recent trip was to Pine Top in Thomson, Ga. I’d never been, and since they added a CIC*** last year that was well attended, I thought it might make sense to go this year.

Unfortunately entries were way down, and only 13 started in the three-star, but I’m still happy I went.

The trip there was not super fun, as I got to ride on a tiny propeller plane to the Augusta regional airport, which was loud and scary!

The event was kind of in the middle of nowhere, but the historic farm was really beautiful.

I arrived on Thursday afternoon and walked the cross-country course. I was immediately overcome with this feeling of, “ah…” It was such a beautiful day, everything was really green and pristine, and it just seemed like a really nice, no frills kind of event. It really made my heart pang a little, wishing I was riding myself.

I sat down with the owner of the farm, who couldn’t have been nicer. He even invited me to an anniversary dinner with his wife and 20-plus other people at the local Mexican restaurant!

Friday was fast and furious, and Clark Montgomery was the eventual winner–always a favorite of mine!

The lack of media attention was kind of refreshing to be honest. I love all of my regular media friends, and while I had to round up the people I needed to talk to myself, it just made the day feel a little more casual and a little more down-to-earth after spending so much time immersed in Wellington with sponsors and VIPs and wealth.

I wish there had been more riders so I could have wandered around a bit, but I found a good spot and was pretty happy with my photos, and I only came home with one fire ant bite!

I got an email from the farm owners on the Monday after the event thanking me for coming, which was so nice.

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Loughan Glen. Love that eye!

Earlier in the month I had an insane two weekends in Wellington covering the $100,000 Wellington Eventing Showcase, the Great Charity Challenge, the Palm Beach Masters and a CSI**** Grand Prix, then I went back down three days later for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI***** and the WEF CSI***** Grand Prix. Whew!

I love jumpers but don’t get to cover them often, so that was exciting. The WEF showgrounds just come alive at night with the crowds and literal-circus atmosphere.

The Showcase was so fun to have pretty much all of my media and photographer friends in one place, and I love being immersed in the dressage world too, mostly because the fashion inspires me! I got to interview Mark Todd at the Showcase, which I was slightly nervous for, but I had my friend Shelby from USEA there to keep me calm!

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On the job! Kasey Mueller/Rare Air Photography photo.

Red Hills is up next, another favorite because of the natural beauty of the park it’s held at, and the Carolina International at the Carolina Horse Park, which holds a lot of happy memories of my own riding.

I’ll be at The Fork in early April on my first trip to Tryon, then on to Rolex!

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I got another cover shot out of the Showcase!

The Fork CIC recap

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I headed down to The Fork CIC last Friday to cover it for The Chronicle. I’d never been before, so was a little concerned about the long drive, but it ended up being fairly uneventful. I knew I was in the south when the cashier at Chik-Fil-A told me to have “a blessed day”!

I shot a little bit of dressage that afternoon, and got to see the winning test, ridden by Phillip Dutton on Mighty Nice.

The event ran in accordance with the new FEI rules for CICs, with cross-country on the final day. I’m not sure how I feel about this, and I know several of the riders I talked to were not fans. I personally enjoy the show jumping finale and think it makes for a more nail-biting finish. Plus, it’s the way eventing is supposed to be. How far will the FEI keep moving us away from the original meaning of the sport?

24650_10100928865687667_1080213131_nSome of the riders said that they didn’t like not being able to practice show jumping their horses after cross-country. Where will they get to learn the feeling their horses give them except when it counts at a big CCI?

It also made for a disappointing finale on Sunday when all of the riders were back at the barn taking care of their horses after cross-country and not at the awards ceremony. Sponsors and owners are the backbone of the sport and you’ve got to cater to them. There was hardly anyone left in the VIP tent on cross-country where the “awards ceremony” was supposed to take place, and in the end, only a few top placed riders actually showed up.

OK, rant over. Other than that, I had a really great time. The weather was beautiful and cross-country day was safe, which is the most important thing. The farm was gorgeous, but the layout was tough and everything was soooo far away from everything else. The 150453_10100928169427977_1425436798_nstabling and horse paths were an absolute mess due to heavy rain on Thursday, but the cross-country course dried out nicely for the weekend.

Here’s a link to all of my coverage. I was really happy with my photos and I’m sad I can’t show the world everything I got!

As for Oh So, he had a horrible skin reaction to a newish pair of turnout boots on Monday and I thought I had it under control, but his legs really blew up yesterday and I had to call the vet out to give him some Dex. He’s really sore and the skin is cracking on one leg, so no lesson for us on my day off. It kind of throws off everything for the next two weeks because I had planned on competing at the Morningside combined test this weekend.

If he’s not sound by Saturday, I’ll scratch and enter next weekend’s CT instead, but I really need a jump lesson and have now lost the place I used to take him to during the week occasionally, so I’m kind of freaking out.

I892381_10100930390581767_649375013_o walked him today and his legs went down, but he wasn’t comfortable enough to trot. I’m just mad at myself for not getting on top of this sooner and maybe salvaging my weekend.