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.
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.
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.
It’s taken me forever to gather my thoughts (and the time!) to write this blog, but here goes…
Next on my bucket list of countries was France. To be honest, I never thought much about France, but once I started researching, I realized it was a big country. I picked an 8-day vacation, but wish I’d added a couple of extra days in Paris. The tour only went from Paris, counter clockwise down to the Loire Valley and back to Paris, so there’s a whole lot of country left for me to explore!
I got to Paris pretty early in the morning and dropped my things at the hotel, which was on one of the outer arrondissemonts, or neighborhoods of Paris. The trips I usually take are budget trips, so the hotels might not be in the city center or very fancy, but they’re typically still good.
I shared a cab ride with another women from another group tour staying at the same hotel and we stuck together and walked around the base of the Eiffel Tower, took the metro to the catacombs, which had a line around the block, then hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus for the rest of the afternoon to get oriented to the city before we were both ready to fall asleep!
My first impressions were that Paris is huge! Sites are sort of grouped together, but somewhat far apart, so the metro is very valuable and pretty cheap. If you had a bike, that might be a good choice, as well as the city buses or hop-on-hop-offs, but those are somewhat slow.
The second day we took a group tour of the highlights of Paris. We had a local guide show us around Notre Dame and the highlights of the Louvre Museum, which would take days to truly appreciate!
We saw the Mona Lisa, which as expected, was much smaller in person, but it was absolutely mobbed by tourists. You had to fight your way to the front of the crowd of people taking selfies with the thing!
I hadn’t expected to have the afternoon off, but since I didn’t sign up for an optional welcome dinner, I took off from the Louvre on my own. I strolled through the gardens and had made a plan to not spend a ton of money on cabs to go back to a few places I wanted to see, but realized the walk would be quite long, so I bought another ticket on the hop-on-hop-off and headed to the Champs Elysees first.
I immediately found my mecca, the flagship Sephora store, and took a stroll around. Knowing the Euro was good, not great, I made sure to focus my purchases on things you can’t find at U.S. Sephora stores, so I brought home some fun things to try, including a cute keepsake palette.
I ended my evening climbing the steps of the Sacre Couer for a decent view of the city. It’s located in the “red light district” of Pigalle near the Moulin Rouge. It was quite touristy and a bit far from the Eiffel Tower and the main sightseeing areas, but it was worth the bus ride up.
We headed northwest on day 3 to Monet’s home at Giverny to see the gardens that inspired his impressionist style. There were beautiful lilly ponds, a Japanese bridge and so many flowers I’d never seen before. His home was modest and had a great view of his gardens.
There wasn’t much else to see in the little village surrounding Giverny, so we headed off to Rouen, a town made famous for its beautiful cathedral and for the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. It featured wooden framed houses, giving it a cool medieval feel.
Next up was a quick stop in Honfleur, a fishing village with a famous wooden church. It was near the Normandy Bridge, a beautiful cable bridge connecting the town to the rest of the Normandy region. They sold Calvados, a regional apple flavored liquor that’s found throughout the Normandy region, so I picked up a sample set!
The church was quite small, and the town was definitely small, but I popped in one of the many caramel shops, another regional specialty, to pick up some samples.
We arrived in the seaside resort town of Deauville in the early evening, but we were all pretty exhausted, so only had time and daylight enough to take an hour stroll. The Deauville American Film Festival was being held while we were there, so we got to see the red carpet, but I was too tired to go out after dinner to see any celebrities. Apparently Keanu Reeves, Orlando Bloom and Robert Pattinson were there.
The next morning the tour group was up bright and early to go to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. Unfortunately, as we drove up to the gates, we were informed that it was closed due to a “technical problem”! Needless to say, a lot of people were very disappointed, but our tour guide made some arrangements and we were able to visit the actual beach that morning and a smaller American Cemetery a little further inland the next day.
Omaha Beach was a really moving experience. There were still pieces of machinery in visible in the water and the memorial looked out to the sea. We drove a little further up the coast to a town called Arromanches, which has a WWII museum and several other artifacts overlooking the beach.
We drove to the town of Bayeux next to see the Bayeux Tapestry. The town had a beautiful cathedral and lots of shops selling poppy-themed things. The tapestry itself was amazing. The museum gave headsets that you listened to as you walked along the tapestry and learned the story.
By the end of the day, we’d made our way to another overnight stop at Mont St. Michel. We took a bus on the causeway and were dropped off in front of what was one of the most impressive feats of human engineering I’ve ever seen. The abbey towers above the water, and because we came while the tide was out, looked even more monstrous.
I hiked up to the top, through narrow winding streets of what was once an old town. Now it’s just touristy stores, a few hotels and restaurants. The view from the top was impressive looking out over the water. To one side, Brittany, to the other, Normandy.
The next morning, we headed to the American Cemetery in Brittany. It was smaller, and according to the American vets who ran the place, gets much fewer visitors than the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, so they were thrilled to show us around. It was a very somber experience to walk amongst the graves and read the names.
I particularly loved the Normandy region because of the caramels! I brought home lots of different kinds, as well as some apple liquor, or Calvados. Yum!
After the cemetery, we went to another seaside town, St. Malo, which was enclosed by medieval walls. There were several ruins of old fortresses that were only accessible when the tide was out.
I grabbed a baguette for lunch and walked with it (something I ended up doing a lot!) since we only had a couple of hours. The tow itself had lots of modern shops, so I ended up in a few beauty stores to check out some French brands. I walked around a bit of the city wall too.
We made a seemingly random stop in the college town of Rennes, which was beautiful with some timber-framed houses, but we only had an hour, which was hardly enough time, and I felt like I saw better timber houses elsewhere in Normandy. But it was cool to see a little slice of life in a more modern French town. We were about the only tourists though, so we got some strange looks!
Day 6 brought us to chateau country, where we stopped at Chenonceau, which was pretty amazing. The gardens were beautiful, but the house itself, straddling a river, was pretty spectacular. The interior seemed quite modest (by Versailles standards).
You could spend weeks hitting all the chateaux in the Loire Valley, but we hit some of the bigger ones. After a quick trip for a wine tasting in a traditional limestone cave, we went to Chateau de Amboise, which was perched atop a hill looking down on the city of Amboise. There was a pretty cool winding staircase that knights used to ride their horses around to get to the top of the castle, and lots of examples of gothic architecture and scary gargoyles. The town had lots of cute shops and restaurants, and a bakery to die for.
On our final day, we stopped at Blois to see its chateau, but I got a little lost and missed the good view of it! I did find another Sephora though…
We made a stop to see the famous Chartres Cathedral, which is a strong example of gothic architecture, but to be honest, it wasn’t as impressive to me as others we’d seen along the way.
We ended up back in Paris in the afternoon for a guided visit to Versailles. Luckily it was a quieter day, but it was still packed inside every room! Everything was covered in gold and the hall of mirrors was pretty amazing. I strolled around the gardens for a half hour before it started down pouring. I know we only scratched the surface of what’s inside, but our guide showed us some good highlights.
I ended the night with a trip to the Cabaret with a few other ladies in the group. It was for real, with topless dancers and all!
I feel like I’ve only just gotten started discovering France. I wish I’d added on another day in Paris on my own to do things like the catacombs or a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower, so now I have a list for when I go back!
As for the country, there’s so much more to see and I’m unsatisfied that I couldn’t tick the whole thing off my list! Now I’ll have to go do more of the Loire Valley and southern France next.
There’s always an excuse with the World Cups Finals being awarded to Paris in 2018…
Sorry for the delay in posting. Things got busy after my last post from Toronto.
Show jumping ended up with a jump-off for the medals and in the end, McLain Ward and Rothchild got the gold. I love that little horse and it’s McLain’s first medal. I somehow knew it would be his weekend when we got there and I’m glad I predicted right! I also got my second COTH cover ever out of it!
I had half a day to tour Toronto, so I went on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and a boat tour of the islands and to see the skyline. I wish I’d had more time, but I got a great view of the city for next time. I think a vacation of Canada’s biggest cities is now on my bucket list.
Before I left for Toronto, I had a great gallop/cross-country school with Oh So that Sunday, but by the Wednesday before I left, he felt off. My trainer confirmed my fears when she tried riding him while I was gone and promptly asked my dad to take him to the vet at Morven Park.
He was diagnosed with some stress/wear and tear on his left deep digital flexor tendon sheath, so they injected it. He also flexed off on his right hind, even though he’d had hock injections 10 days before. They elected not to pursue the right hind until I got back.
We gave him two weeks off while I was gone and when I got back I walked him for a week up until Sunday when I tried trotting. He felt pretty good, but on Monday my trainer thought he still felt off, but maybe from the right hind. I rode him again tonight and I felt right hind also. Not bad, but it’s there.
I’m a little unsure right now as to what I should do. I think I’ll probably keep working in more trot work for a week or so, and if it’s not getting better by then, I’ll have to have the right hind checked out.
I think he aggravated the deep digital flexor with the gallop. He’d had a mysterious lameness back in April where we ultrasounded and saw some change in that area, but it was never called an actual injury. We gave him two weeks off, he came sound, and went on to do a dressage show and Waredaca, as well as a couple of gallops and cross-country schools.
I’m starting to believe that this is the beginning of the end for him, unfortunately. We tried so carefully to bring him back from his right front issue and had a few good months before little things kept happening. I’m not sure why he can’t keep it together, other than that he raced until he was 7. He’s the type of horse that seemed like he would go into his 20s, but his body is just not holding up.
It’s really hard for me to accept it because he’ll be my only horse once Bear is sold. If I have to do dressage for the rest of his career, I’d be OK with that, but I don’t want to give up jumping and I really don’t think he wants to either.
I thrive on having goals and achieving those goals through showing and it just doesn’t look like I’ll ever be able to make plans with him again.
I’m trying not to be a Debbie Downer about it all, but with each day that passes, I lose a little more hope.
As for Bear, he had a shoeing change while I was gone and is really feeling great about himself! He’s been quite forward and even a little 5-year-old-ish, which is kind of funny.
We took some glamour shots for his sales ad and he’s officially on the market. We took him to Gordonsdale for a cross-country school on Saturday and had the first person try him. I thought it went well, but’ll see what happens!
I’ve got a fairly quiet August until my vacation in September, then it’s full steam ahead with the AECs, moving myself and my horses and then Fair Hill. I’m hoping to enter Bear in another event for fun, maybe Marlborough in September, but it will depend on how everything goes.
OK, so I’m not actually in Toronto, but Orangeville, Ontario, covering the Pan American Games for COTH with my co-worker Lisa. The equestrian disciplines are being held at the Caledon Equestrian Park and it’s lovely, but we’re feeling a bit disconnected from the rest of the Pan Ams, most of which are held downtown.
I was a little hesitant leaving my horses behind for two weeks, but how could I pass up the opportunity to visit a city I’ve never been to? Who knew I’d be going to Canada twice in one year?
We arrived on Thursday July 9 and drove out to Orangeville, about an hour and a half from Toronto, to our AirBNB house. I’ve never used AirBNB before, but Lisa has, so I trusted her judgement! We actually met the family before they headed out the door so they could give us a tour. We’re in a neighborhood off the one main street in the town, but it’s quite a maze and both of us have nearly gotten lost when we go walking or running. Each house seems to have it’s own beautiful, unique landscaping too, so I can usually find my way back based on what flowers or sculpture they have in their front yard (is that normal for suburbia? Or is it just me?)
It is really bizarre living in someone’s home–sleeping in their bed, using their kitchen, sitting on their coach. I feel like I’m in an alternate suburban reality and I’m living someone else’s life, or maybe the life I could be living if I didn’t have horses (and in this alternate life, I also have a baby with baby proof cabinets. So annoying!)
When we come back to the house after a long day of work, we make dinner if we haven’t eaten out, do laundry, go walking through the neighborhood, watch TV…I can’t say I’m bored yet even with all that extra time I might be spending riding because of the mostly long days where we come home and want to crash.
Our first full day in Canada was spent finding the horse park, then driving to Toronto to get our press credentials validated at the MPC. It was sort of illogical to have to drive all the way back there because there was no satellite office near the horse park. We were advised not to drive into the city because of traffic, so we took a GoBus from a station about 45 minutes from our house. Well, the buses only run once every hour during the day and the trains only run at rush hour, so we had lots of waiting to do. It took about an hour on the air conditioned coach to get to Union Station where we then hailed a cab to get to the MPC. Our cab driver was super nice and helpful, find of like every Canadian we’ve come across so far!
We stopped inside the MPC, which was inside a convention center with lots of food, space to work, air conditioning, journalists from other sports…that was our one and only look because we have our own media center on the grounds of the horse park. It would have been fun to talk to other journalists. Ah well, the people we did meet who gave us our photo vests and swag were very nice.
We had a quick bite and made our way over to the Rogers Center where the opening ceremonies were held. Our seats were so-so, but we had the 300mm lens so we took a few photos without totally whacking people in the back of the head! Cirque Du Soleil performed basically a world dance party, then the athletes came out. We stayed until the United States came out, cheered, then walked back through town to catch the bus so we wouldn’t be too tired in the morning.
Things at the venue for dressage went fairly smoothly. There were lots of complaints about no live streaming, no food for the media, and not being allowed to bring certain items in through security, but otherwise it was lots of fun to watch Steffen Peters and Laura Graves do so well. The U.S. team won gold!
We only had the eventing jog on Thursday, but I went out to check out the cross-country course. It was beautifulyl built with lots of little Canadian touches and you could see quite a bit from one place. The jumps weren’t that big, but they were technical.
Eventing dressage day on Friday was fairly uneventful and a little bit of a letdown after watching Grand Prix dressage. Cross-country day was hot, about 87, but the local weather made it sound like it was the apocalypse with heat advisories. There was a bit of a breeze and some occasional cloud cover that made it bearable, but the walk to the media center, which was so far out of the way in the most illogical place, was tough. It was a safe day of sport with not too many scary rides.
Show jumping day was full of tension and my heart was beating in my chest each time a U.S. rider came in. It was down to the wire, but we got gold and Marilyn Little got individual gold.
The press conferences have been a bit disorganized, but I got what I needed for my magazine story, which I worked on all today. We’ve got jumping starting tomorrow through the end of the week, so that should be exciting. I haven’t covered a grand prix in awhile and we’ve got some heavy hitters coming up. We’re hoping to get back to Toronto to do the tourist thing on Friday and home on Sunday!
It’s been going by so fast and I can feel my riding muscles wasting away, but it’s been lots of fun so far. Maybe a tad hot, but certainly better than at home. Everyone we’ve met has been super friendly and it’s been interesting seeing a slice of daily life in Canada.
When I decided to write a year-end recap, I had initially decided to title it something like, “2014–the year that never was” or, “2014 Sucked”, but once I started looking back, I realized that while 2014 was full of lots of lows, it was also full of plenty of highs.
I was feeling pretty good heading into the year–I spent New Years covering a George Morris clinic in Florida–five days of beautiful, sunny weather and lots of learning–but as I prepared to board my flight to go home, I found out my English Pointer Ramsey had died suddenly. My parents tried to keep him comfortable so I could say goodbye, but he just couldn’t hold on.
It was devastating to lose a member of our family and I still think about him everyday. This is the first Christmas in awhile where he won’t be there.
Most of January and February were spent surviving one of the coldest and most miserable winters we’ve had in awhile, all while trying to start Oh So’s rehab under saddle and transitioning him to some turnout after being on stall rest. It was odd not preparing for Southern Pines in March, but I did have something to look forward to with Bear, who turned four in February.
He made quite a bit of progress over the winter and we were finally able to get out and cross-country school in March, where he proved that he had the aptitude for eventing. We did several combined tests and he surprised me with his willing attitude. It was such a difference to Oh So–no drama!
We did out first real event in early September at Loch Moy, and save for a little drama in dressage, had a good time.
Over the summer, Oh So returned to full work and we had a few cross-country schools under our belts before deciding to try for a novice and a couple of trainings in the fall season. I was feeling a bit out of practice over the bigger fences but towards the end of the summer, I really felt like I was back in sync with him.
Unfortunately, he did something to his right hip/SI joint around the same time and it took awhile to figure that out. I was so close to being able to compete with him that I could taste it! We’re now starting to jump again and I’m hoping to compete again in the spring.
As a result of Oh So’s injury, Bear got to start his recognized eventing career sooner than I’d thought. I was pretty nervous but he did very well at his first beginner novice at Seneca Valley, save for being eliminated at the water!
We had a longer gap than I wanted between that and Waredaca, which was full of drama and ended in me falling off, but we rebounded for Virginia the next weekend and completed (and went through the water!).
This is the first year of my life since I started eventing where I really haven’t had a “season”. At times I felt lost, both in my training because I didn’t have a goal to work towards, but also with what to do when my whole life has revolved around the eventing season.
But as a result, I got to travel quite a bit and learn through osmosis. Watching the best horses and riders in the U.S. as part of my job is a treat, whether it’s eventing, dressage or show jumping.
Riding Bear has taught me a lot more about riding than I imagined. He might be mentally quieter than Oh So, but I have to sit tighter from time to time since he is still four!
I’ve also learned to savor every ride. Before Oh So’s injury, I got worked up about this or that as we prepared for an event, but to be honest, I’m lucky he came back from his injury and that I can still ride him. I’m looking forward to that moment as the starter counts us down in the box in our first event back.
Outside of horses, I got a sister-in-law when my brother got married in May and I learned I’m becoming an aunt next year to a little girl!
I also traveled to Italy for 10 days. I love traveling and find I always come back a much more educated person. I’m not sure where I’ll go in 2015, but I’m thinking maybe Germany later in the year.
On a sad note, we had to put down one of our cats, Winnie, who we inherited with our farm back in 2002. He was quite old and developed cancer cells on his lungs, so it was time, but sad none the less.
Professionally, I took a step up at COTH this year and really felt like I found my place and became a part of the team. I traveled A LOT, which is my favorite part of the job.
I met interesting people, saw cool places and took lots of photos.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted because I’ve been busy, busy, busy!
After Seneca, I gave Bear an easy week and a half, then went for a quick overnight trip to Plantation Field for the CIC divisions.
It wasn’t an official work trip, but I found the photos I took last year to be useful so I borrowed a lens and went to the press conference. Buck Davidson won the CIC** and was a gracious interview as always. He and Boyd Martin have been criticized recently because they took their WEG horses to Plantation three weeks after failing to complete in France, but they both gave honest and reasonable answers to my questions about why.
Buck knows his horse better than anyone and shares a special partnership with him, one I’ve seen and heard him talk about first hand on multiple occasions, so it was sad to see him ripped apart for it. He was able to finish the season on a good note on a happy and sound horse. Isn’t that something we all hope for after a bad go?
I left for Texas for the American Eventing Championships the Thursday after Plantation. Sadly, the day before I left, my family made the decision to put our cat Winnie to sleep. We’ve had him since we inherited him when we moved to our farm in 2002 and he was about 2.
He’s lived a long, healthy life, but over the last two months, he started coughing. We took him to the vet and she found cancer cells on his lungs on an X-ray. We treated him with antibiotics and he seemed a little better–moving and eating normally but coughing a little. A few days before I left for the AEC he had some blood coming out of his nose and was uncomfortable eating. We made the decision to take him to the vet, but I decided I didn’t want to go. I’ve never been in the room for that before and I just didn’t think I could handle it. My dad went and held his paw during his final breaths.
I’ve never had the opportunity to choose when one of my animals is put down because they’ve always either died tragically or gotten sick or injured very suddenly, so I was glad that we had the choice this time to end his suffering, but it’s still sad nonetheless.
He was a sweet kitty and I’ll miss watching him lay in the sun with our other cats or dip his paws in the water bowl to get them clean. I hope he’s hanging out in the sun with Ramsey somewhere.
I headed off to Texas with a heavy heart, but I enjoyed my trip. My friend Megan, who used to work at COTH, freelanced for us and helped me out. She lives in Ft Worth now and works for the APHA. We had a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Thursday night and had three full days ahead of us.
It was hot, but not too sticky. I was sad to see a small group in the advanced division, especially when they get the bulk of the prize money. There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about what the AEC should be and if they should move around or stay in Texas.
I can only say that I was disappointed to have the Adult Team Challenge move there. I really enjoyed my first and only ATC in 2012 at the VA HTs and wish they would stay regional. It’s just not viable for most amateurs to go to Texas, especially when it’s that hot in September.
That being said, the ATC riders I spoke to were all really fun. As much as I enjoy speaking
to the professionals on a weekly basis, I like finding out other people’s stories and telling them.
I had an uneventful trip back from Tyler through Houston and came back to Oh So feeling not quite right from behind again.
Before I left for Texas, he had started back walking and trotting under saddle after his SI injection and felt much improved for the first four days, then felt off again. I gave him the weekend while I was gone, hoping for the rest to do him good, but it didn’t.
I had the vet out again and she said he looked improved from behind, but still weak. She thought maybe he needed another week of before we started riding again, so we worked out a plan of lunging for a week and walking under saddle. I’ll start trotting under saddle this week and see what happens.
Needless to say, I’m really disappointed that we won’t even be able to get to one event this year. I’m just hoping he comes sound again and that this isn’t going to be a battle from here on out. His check ligament and suspensory look good and feel good, but the more I think about it, the more I think he did something in the field to make himself so ouchy from behind. I’m hoping slow work will help him recover.
I had a busy weekend taking Bear for a jump lesson and cross-country school with Lisa at Morningside. He hadn’t been off the property in three weeks and I thought the fact that it was 35 degrees and we were alone would bother him, but he stood quietly while I put studs in and tacked up. He was a bit up as we trotted around the ring, but settled nicely and I surprised myself by not feeling totally out of practice.
We popped over a ditch, went down a bank and went up and down the hills a few times before we went through the water to end on a good note. I slowed things down a bit by trotting to the water the first time and letting him stop, then calmly asking him to walk in and he was fine. Lisa said not to make him flustered by using my whip or kicking for now. I’m hoping to try that strategy at Waredaca in a few weeks so we don’t get eliminated!
I also went to Morven Park on Saturday to watch the advanced and the CIC***. There weren’t that many riders unfortunately, but there were more than last year, which had about 5 start cross-country.
I was really bummed about not being able to compete Oh So there. The prelim course looked nice, although I’m not happy that they keep holding the show jumping on the muddy grass in the fall. There were apparently a lot of problems over the weekend.
I’ hoping to take Bear cross-country schooling again this weekend while Lisa is out of town, then I’m off to Fair Hill next weekend to cover it for COTH, then Waredaca and VA HT to close out the season. Fingers crossed for sound horses and dry weather!
I’m not sure why it always takes me weeks to get the motivation to write about my trips, but here goes. Better late than never!
I honestly didn’t know much about Italy when I decided to book a trip last year, but I knew I liked the food and Roman history, so why not?
I took a COSMOS bus trip again like I’ve done in the past, just because I like having everything taken care of and I don’t want to travel a foreign country totally alone. These kinds of trips definitely cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but I like that you get a good feel for a country with a little taste of certain sites so you can come back again and be at least somewhat familiar.
The bad thing is that if you really enjoy a city, there’s often not a ton of time to explore things like museums or historical sites, especially considering Italy had the longest lines and the most tourists I’ve ever seen!
The tour I chose was about 10 days, with really more like 8 days of actual sight-seeing. The flight over was fairly uneventful. I had a layover in Paris and got to the hotel in Rome about noon where they wouldn’t let me into my room until 3, so I had a quick bite and almost fell asleep in the lobby (I don’t sleep well on planes).
Had I known how to get downtown easily, I might have explored Rome, but COSMOS usually books hotels a bit outside the center of a city to keep costs down, so we were located several miles away.
The first real day of the tour started on Monday.
As we drove through the suburbs outside the ancient city center, our guide pointed out some of the wealthier areas. “Really?” I thought. Buildings were covered in graffiti and everything just looked a little “dirty”. It was a stark contrast to other European cities I’ve been to.
We went straight to Vatican City and were able to beat the lines, another perk of being
with a tour group. Even so, there were thousands of people there–we were all shoulder to shoulder as we were shuffled into the gardens with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica as an impressive backdrop.
After getting an explanation of the Sistine Chapel’s major features, we walked to St. Peter’s and entered the basilica. I’ve seen some impressive cathedrals in Spain, but this one was even more massive. It was tough to get a good photo because of all the people, but it was breathtaking.
We had a quick lunch and hopped on the bus to go to the Colosseum. Because of my interest in historical dramas (i.e. watching lots of Rome and Spartacus), I had a pretty good idea of what the Colosseum would look like. It was pretty cool to walk inside and be able to see underneath the floor where the animals and gladiators would have stayed. It would have been a dark, dank place, but with the floor gone, sunlight illuminated the narrow aisles and rooms.
There was a bizarre cooling effect when you stood in the aisles. The sun beat down on the circular paths around the Collosseum, but step into a short alley and a brisk breeze cooled you down quickly.
We took a walk to Palatine Hill and looked down over more ruins. I wish we’d had more time to walk down and look at things more closely, but it was fun to see a wide-angle view of what a typical Roman town center looked like.
After a quick break at the hotel, we took a guided walk through some of Rome’s squares. We walked to the Pantheon past the Trevi Fountain (which was under construction with scaffolding). It was my first glimpse into real Roman life. It was bustling, hot and crowded, but invigorating.I really enjoyed sitting at the fountain in Piazza Navona and people watching for a bit, gelato in hand!
We finished the evening with a traditional Italian dinner, complete with a male and female opera singer to give us some atmosphere.
On Day 2, we hopped on the Ring Road, sort of like the Capital Beltway, but with less traffic, and headed north to Orvieto, a beautiful hill town.
Driving towards it, it reminded me of some of the Spanish hill towns I’ve visited. Built upon rocky cliffs, it seems impossible that civilization thrives there, but once we hopped on a
nearly vertical tram and arrived at the top, we were treated to really spectacular views.
In college, I was fascinated by the Etruscan culture that I learned about in my art history class, so to see Orvieto, with it’s rich Etruscan history, was pretty neat. I wish I’d had time to visit their museum and see the artifacts, but I was too busy in the few hours we had there wandering the quaint streets and admiring the beautiful cathedral.
The colorful, striped facade really surprised me. I guess I was expecting plain, like English cathedrals, but this was more like ones I’ve seen in Spain.
After plenty of photos, I wandered through the streets just off the beaten, touristy path and had the most surreal experience, like you’d imagine in the movies. I passed a small courtyard and peaked in when I heard a lovely lady singing in Italian. It was a music school and from what I could hear, she was teaching a class. It really provided a nice backdrop to my walk through the town.
I stopped at a cute pizza place with a couple from Australia in our group and had a nice lunch. The pizza was so light, with not a ton of toppings and the crust was quite flaky. Yum!
I wandered around some medieval gardens before we headed back down the mountain. Orvieto has a really cool well that you can do down in, but there was just no time!
We headed to Siena next and went straight to the main town square, Piazza Del Campo. They have an insane horse race in the square twice a year, where people stand in the bottom of the bowl shaped plaza and horses and riders race around in circles. For that day though, there were just lazy tourists lounging around and locals sitting outside at bars, waiting for the Italy vs. Uruguay World Cup match.
We had a couple of hours to wander before dinner, so I hiked through the hilly streets to the cathedral, which featured another beautiful facade, and back to the restaurant for another huge, multi-course meal, which would become the norm for the rest of the trip!
After dinner, about 8pm, the streets of Siena were almost totally bare. Peaking in all the
shops and bars, every local was glued to their TV or computer watching the game. Our guide commented that it was the quietest she’d ever seen the streets!
When Italy lost, there was a collective groan across the city that we could hear as we walked back to the bus.
We trekked to another hill town on Day 3, the walled medieval city of San Gimignano in the Tuscan region. The drive to and from was just like the movies, lots of houses built into the hillsides or perched atop a hill overlooking grape vines. This was serious wine country!
San Gimignano was fairly touristy in its main square, so I got a gelato and headed up the hill to a nice view at the top. There were a handful of towers left over from medieval times that gave the town a unique look, but I was disappointed by the touristy nature of most of the shops.
I did have my first experience paying and going through a turnstile to use the public restrooms though!
We spent a few hours in the afternoon at a local winery with a guide who showed us how
they make and store wine. I’m not a big wine drinker, but it was fun to do a tasting at the end to have an authentic experience. When in Rome! (or Tuscany rather…)
That night, we went to a local farm that made their own wine, olive oil and other items. We sat as a group and had a fabulous meal with so many courses! I was happy to see some grilled meat and some really good french fries, but we also had traditional pasta dishes, way too many bottles of wine, and the ever-present tiramisu. We washed it down with a shot of grappa, which burned!
We spent the a whole day in Florence, which was still not enough. We started the morning touring a leather shop and then had a walking tour with a local guide through the crowded streets. And I thought Rome was bad!
As we rounded the turn and saw the Duomo in front of us, I was taken aback. It’s so huge, I could barely fit it in my photo frame! It truly is a masterpiece and along with the Baptistry, which was undergoing renovations, touring wasn’t really possible since the lines were so long and I didn’t want to waste any time.
I also wanted to go to the Uffiza Art Gallery, but again, lines. I had lunch with a small group during a thunderstorm, the only time it rained while I was in Italy, then wandered the shops on my own for awhile.
I bought several leather items, making sure to find authentic places. There were so many handbags everywhere it was hard to tell which were real. I splurged on a small one for about 45 euros, which is so much more than I would ever spend at home, but now I have one that says “Made In Firenze”.
I also found an awesome local Italian makeup store called Kiko Cosmetics, which was like a U.S. high-end drugstore brand, but set up like a Sephora. I bought a bunch of items to try like eye shadows and lip glosses.
I left Florence having spent too much money, but I’m glad I took the time to explore!
We continued our drive through Tuscany and on to Pisa on Day 5 for a quick stop. Talk about even more touristy! People just stop here for a photo op with the Leaning Tower, but
it was definitely less crowded than other sites. The road leading up the main square was so packed with rip-off tourist merchandise, it was just excessive!
The other buildings on site were impressive and you could pay 16 euros to go up the Leaning Tower, but I wasn’t keen on that, so I wandered around inside the cathedral from free and people watched a bit.
We headed towards Venice next, and after taking a break at our hotel which was about 20 minutes outside the city, we hopped on a boat to get to the main island.
I’d read that Venice was touristy because of the fact that so many cruise ships dock there for day trips, and that much of the local population is leaving due to the inconvenience of living there (flooding, tourists, etc.), but I was still really charmed with the place.
We had dinner at a nice restaurant and spent a bit of time in St. Mark’s Square people watching. The cathedral had scaffolding all over the front, so no good photos there, but I enjoyed wandering around watching dueling bands play to patrons and onlookers and people just taking it all in.
We spent all day in Venice and started the day with a tour of a Murano glass shop. They had some gorgeous pieces, but all but the smallest things were out of my price range!
We hopped on a gondola ride next. I’m not a huge small boat fan, so the rocking from side to side made me nervous, but once we got off the main drag and into the canals, the ride settled considerably. We had an authentic singer as well, who gave us some romantic ambiance as we went through the canals.
After that, we had lots of free time, but again, I didn’t want to wait in lines to go in the Palace or up to Tower, so with no map in hand, I wandered the narrow streets, over bridges and canals. I made my way to the Rialto Bridge, which had shops up and down the steps and a great view of the Grand Canal. I found my way back just following signs to St. Marks–no map needed, which surprised me!
I stopped into several Venetian Glass shops searching for the perfect, affordable but authentic pieces and found a nice horse and lots of jewelry! It’s overwhelming how much there is and now I’m obsessed and will be searching out more authentic pieces online!
After lunch, we took a guided tour on a boat through the lagoon. There are hundreds of islands, many of them sinking, in Venice and we saw a few with some old structures on them that had been abandoned.
We passed Murano, where they make glass and got off at Burano, a tiny miniature Venice
with few tourists and very colorful houses. Burano’s speciality is lacemaking, so I picked up a couple of small pieces and wandered the dead-quiet backstreets to see a bit of authentic local living.
After checking out their leaning tower, I sat with the group and enjoyed the view before we headed back for dinner at the hotel.
It was a long, hot day, but I was able to find relief by just stepping into a shaded alley, where the breezes flowed! I wish I’d had more time, but I feel like I got the gist of Venice and I really enjoyed it. It was unlike any city I’ve ever been to.
On our last day, we had a lot of driving to do on the way back to Rome, but we stopped in Assisi, a town in Umbria that’s home to the St. Francis Basilica.
We hiked up the steep streets to a beautiful wide, open piazza that sat in the shadow of
St. Francis. I saw what must have been a riding tour group walking their horses, who were slipping and sliding down the hill, and that was about the only horse sighting I had on my trip!
The basilica was massive and beautifully decorated inside, like most I saw, but no photos allowed!
After touring the basilica, I had a really amazing slice of crispy pizza on the sidewalk and some gelato and did a little souvenir shopping.
I wish I’d had time to see some of the Roman ruins, but we had a seriously long drive ahead of us.
That night, a small group of about 15 of us decided to walk from our suburban Rome hotel to the metro and head back into the city to check out a few more sights and get dinner. The metro was pretty easy to figure out and seemed clean and safe. We got off near the Spanish Steps, which were packed with people, and walked to the top so we could have a good view of the city. We wandered through a park, past several monuments and squares, and found a nice restaurant where we all agreed we had the best meal of the trip because we got to decide what we wanted (and no tiramisu!).
Overall, it was a pretty amazing trip and eye opening as usual. I’m really lucky I’m able to save some money and travel–it’s a really important thing to me to be able to experience new cultures, history and people and I pride myself on my adventurous spirit!
I wish I’d had the vacation time to take a longer trip and go to the South, especially Pompeii, but it didn’t work out this time. I feel like a Southern Italy trip is calling my name, but first I think I want to try some of the smaller countries next year like Sweden, Switzerland, etc.