2014 Recap – Some pretty high highs, but some pretty low lows

 

Oh So was looking good in his lesson this week.

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.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

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!).

AEC Texas-style!

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.

The view from San Gimignano

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.

Here’s a recap with links to my coverage-

George Morris clinic
Nations Cup Wellington
Global Dressage Forum North America
Carolina International
The Fork
Jersey Fresh
WEG Prep Trial
National Young Horse Championships
Plantation Field
AECs
Fair Hill
Mary King Clinic
USEA Convention

I’ve got a lot of cool things lined up for next year, including a trip to the Pan American Games in Toronto and a big life change that I’ll post about when it happens.

I’m looking forward to next year and I’m glad to say goodbye to 2014. Here’s to hoping for Oh So’s return to competition, finding Bear a good home and a little bit of luck.

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Horse Trials and Tribulations

2014-09-28 09.47.25-1

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?

Check out a photo gallery from Plantation Field.

Plantation Field
Plantation Field

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.

10687219_10101805294891517_7728162552678193557_nI’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

AEC Texas-style!
AEC Texas-style!

to the professionals on a weekly basis, I like finding out other people’s stories and telling them.

Here’s a link to all of our coverage.

 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.

2014-10-04 11.36.30
Morven Park

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.

Check our photos from Morven Park.

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!

Morningside at 7:30am.
Morningside at 7:30am.

Forgot About It Friday – Sam At The AECs (2006)

I thought I’d join in on the Throwback Thursday fun occasionally, so here’s my inaugural post. I forgot to post yesterday, so here it is on Forgot About It Friday!

I continue to get new followers to this blog every week and I really can’t believe there are people out there who care about my rambling thoughts, but thank you and welcome!

This Throwback Thursday post is for those who might not know a lot about my previous riding history. I keep meaning to do a comprehensive post, but that would involve digging up and scanning a lot of photos, so I just haven’t done it yet!

So for now, here’s a video of my one and only time competing at the USEA American Eventing Championships on my now retired horse, What The Heck, or Sam.

If you want to know Sam’s whole story, click on his name at the top of the blog.

2006 was probably the most successful season I’ve ever had on any horse, results-wise.

It was the first full year I’d been training with Lisa Reid, who is still my trainer today. She revamped my riding with Sam and had us drop back to training when we’d been doing prelim pretty unsuccessfully on our own. I thought at the time that once you did training, prelim was next, but I didn’t have a true event coach at the time.

We ended up winning three training level events, finishing fourth and second in the others, finishing second at the Waredaca Training Three-Day and winning our first prelim back at the end of the year at the VA Horse Trials, all with mostly clear rounds in show jumping, which was our nemesis.

We’d gone down to Southern Pines in March and finished fourth in a huge open training division, scoring in the 20s in dressage.

So when we went back to Southern Pines for the AECs, I was confident in our abilities.

I can’t remember exactly where we placed after dressage, top ten I think, but we had an awesome cross-country and moved into fourth.

I was confident going into show jumping but he dropped a rail, and I knew I could afford one to stay in the top 10, but I lost my focus and we dropped another to finish in 21st in the junior training.

I was devastated and pretty much cried the whole way home. We’d been doing so well and the one time we had a chance at prizes and prize money, I blew it.

We went on to finish second at the Waredaca Training Three-Day, losing the lead with a rail, but we won our prelim at Lexington to end the year on a good note.

I’ve learned a lot since then, mostly that it doesn’t really matter! Show jumping is still my nemesis, but in the last few years, as much as I love being competitive, I’m just happy to be out there competing. Yeah, I get down in the dumps when we have three rails, but the thrill of cross-country usually makes up for it!

Sam has been retired from eventing since his last competition in 2009 and we had several years of fun doing dressage at first and second level and jumping a bit at home before I ultimately retired him this year at age 21.

Ups and Downs

I decided to wait to post anything about the last two weekends until I’d finished the Virginia Horse Trials yesterday. What started out as excitement to try a new course resulted in the worst event of my career and now a loss of confidence.

Last weekend I went up to Fair Hill since I hadn’t been there in awhile. Lisa couldn’t come, but I felt prepared. I knew the dressage warmup was going to be crowded and small, and it was definitely like bumper cars once I got there. Oh So did the best he could, but he was definitely tense.

When it got closer to my time, the warmup cleared out a bit and I was able to have some time to warmup around the outside of the ring before it was my turn. The test itself was calm, but had a surprising lack of impulsion that I really didn’t notice until I watched my video. We ended up with a 36, which was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected.

I had expected show jumping to be on footing, so when I got up there the night before and saw that it was on a grassy hill, it bothered me a bit, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

His warmup was ok, but I think he was thinking cross-country. I didn’t jump anything huge and I didn’t pick too much to the jumps. When I got in the ring, the first two fences were nice, then he had the third down on the way up. As I came around to a triple bar to a one-stride, I picked and he got too close to it, adding a third stride in between and nearly unseating me.

I had to circle to get to the next fence in the line, and after that, it all fell apart. I think we were both frazzled and I didn’t ride him with enough pace. We ended up with 9 rails down, which was both embarrassing and upsetting.

I tried to put it behind me for cross-country. I thought the course was nice with some different things to try and not too many max galloping fences. As I came around to fence 7, a simple right-handed corner, I think I took back and got him a little too close, so he jumped awkwardly over it and I came off on landing. I tried to hang on, thus falling under his feet and I got kicked in the back of my thigh and pulled a muscle in my other one. He galloped off, probably wondering why mom was on the ground.

I’ve only fallen off him once before during a cross-country school, so that was upsetting enough, but the show jumping, where I have little confidence as is, really bothered me. I decided to drop down to training for the Virginia Horse Trials just as a precaution.

Our dressage warmup at Lexington was quite good and I trotted into the ring feeling confident, but then I cantered too early and the bell rung, so our rhythm was upset and I think I let it get to me. He acted like an ass for the free walk to medium walk as usual. Unfortunately the training level test has no challenges to keep him or me occupied, so we ended up with a 38.2, when it should have been 10 points lower. We were also in an open division with barely any chance of being competitive unless we scored below 30.

The cross-country course was basically like speed bumps, so no problems there. He tripped up the bank out of water because it was so small and started lining up the prelim coffin at the end!

My plan to have a confidence building show jumping round didn’t pan out, as we had three rails down. The first one was my fault, because the first fence was off of a tight turn. The second one down came off a similar turn and we got a little close to it, but he could have tried. The third rail was off of a rollback turn and there was no reason for it to come down since he hit the spot perfectly. He just wasn’t being careful.

So, now I feel like we’ve hit rock bottom. I’m going to try not to let it get to me between now and Seneca in three weeks, but I still haven’t decided whether to drop back to training level for that one. I think the other two phases will suffer because they’re so easy for him and I’m more confident, but I also don’t want to have another bad show jumping round.

I know my saddle isn’t helping, so I’m trying to get going on testing out a few different brands, but I think the bottom line is that he doesn’t think there are consequences to knocking rails and I just can’t practice enough on one horse.

I’m considering a bit change again and maybe trying a lesson with a jumper trainer in my price range. If anyone in the Middleburg area has any suggestions, please email me at piaffeprincess86@yahoo.com.

I know we’re competent at this level, I just need to be consistent with my riding, keep telling myself that we can do it and figure out the key to getting the best possible jump out of him.

Virginia Horse Trials and ATCs recap

I’ve written my ATC story for the magazine and now I can finally write a bit about my weekend at the Virginia Horse Center.

My mom and I drove down on Thursday afternoon so I could get a ride in before dark. It was an average ride, he had some moments of tension, especially when about 15 horses came up to use the same ring as us at the same time. I’ve been feeling a bit lost in my flatwork at home since I haven’t had a lesson in three weeks due to my trainer being out of town, so I did the best I could, playing with some changes of pace and lateral work to get him to be more even in my reins.

Brian and Penny Ross put on a nice dinner for ATC teams on Thursday night where we drew times. It was fun to get to know my teammates a bit better, but we couldn’t find a fourth member unfortunately, so we were without a drop score.

I had a bit of time before my test of Friday so I did a short ride with walk, trot, canter and a hack. He was better than Thursday and wanted to stretch a bit, which was my goal. The warmup for the test was pretty good and I had him right where I wanted him in his back and was able to sit the trot nicely, but we had to walk over to our ring and he chose that moment to decide he was done. Our ring was on a hill overlooking another ring, so he was quite distracted and got tight in trot. I know he knows better, but what can you do? I held him together the best I could, but he was getting quite strong in my hand and pushing against my inside leg. The canter work was good, but the trot work was too tight. We ended up with a 35.7 for third place, which was about what I was expecting.

We did the Friday night jumper class just to get in some practice. I hadn’t ridden him in the Myler for a week or so because he doesn’t love it, so when I put it in for our round, he was spitting it out and not taking contact, which was slightly scary, plus he was getting amped up in the warm up ring. Lisa and I decided to change my course plan as I was about to go in, so we didn’t end up getting as many fences in as I would have liked, but we were trying to reduce the amount of rollbacks and pulling. He jumped most of the combinations quite well and just had one rail because he was counter-cantering around a tight turn and got a bit close. Once he was on course, he got less fussy as he went to the jumps, but was still fussing in between them. As much as I like the lightness I get in my hand from the bit, it’s just too uncomfortable for him, so I think we’re going to have to find something different.

I had a lot of time to think before cross-country on Saturday, but strangely, I wasn’t that nervous. Maybe it’s because I know the course so well, but I was able to walk it twice and really think hard about keeping my lower leg forward and on. We started out well and took a bit of a flyer to fence 4, which was quite big, and then I had to slow down and really jam my leg forward because there was a new combination at 5 going downhill.

Since the spring, they’d created a new bank into the side of the hill. There was a rolltop, 4 strides, down the bank, then four strides to a skinny V. I felt secure going over the rolltop, but he wiggled a bit to the bank and ended up a bit left upon landing. I widened my hands though and he found the V easily.

I screwed up a combination of a cabin, two strides to a triple brush by getting too close to the cabin, but he lengthened his stride in between and made it out, thankfully. We took a HUGE spot the a steeplechase jump, then made a U-turn to a bounce bank, which he’d never done before, but he did it quite neatly, then jumped the combination at the water handily.

We ended up with just 2 time penalties, so I was very pleased with both of us. He didn’t hesitate to anything, and I was able to ride efficiently and stay secure for most of the course. It was a great round to finish the season.

I spent most of Sunday morning watching the lower level ATC teams and doing interviews and win photos for my story. The course was up on top of the hill, which was a nice change. It was a flowing course, but also a forward one, as some of the jumps were off tight turns. As we got closer to my time, I actually wasn’t as nervous as I can be. Usually my heart is pounding in my chest! He was much more accepting of the Myler too.

We had one rail at fence three, where I decided we should take a long one. He waited in the two stride and the triple, which was a good feeling. Unfortunately, we dropped to fifth place overall, but our team completed and we ended in third.

It was quite fun to do the awards ceremony and a victory lap. I think Oh So could get quite used to it, being the center of attention and all!

I had a really great time at my first ATC. I met a lot of new people, my teammates were awesome, and got to hang out with many of my riding friends, two of whom were on winning teams (Congrats Sally and Terry!). I would happily do it again, hopefully with a four-person team, because I want to win that fancy cooler!

So, now that we’re done for the season, the pressure if off a bit. I’m planning on working more without stirrups, and really working on my lower leg.
I’ll write up a separate post about our season wrap-up since this one has grown a bit long.

I’m off to Atlantic City this weekend to celebrate my birthday and my grandma’s 90th, so it should be fun to do something non-horsey on the weekend. I’ve got plans this winter to get to D.C. for some museums and maybe see some live theater, which I just never have time to do. I’m also going to try to continue with my product and book reviews now that I have some downtime.

I also wrote a pretty cool story about Elisa Wallace, an eventer who won the Extreme Mustang Makeover, and it was on the front page of COTH yesterday.

A Sam update

I feel like I haven’t said much about Sam since my depressing post back in the early summer. He’d been feeling quite bad from behind and I was contemplating retiring him completely. Well, we took a few weeks of just hacking and only trotting if he felt ok, and since late July, he’s felt pretty good. I’ve been able to work on some canter lengthenings, started sitting the trot some more again, and I’ve done some basic lateral work in trot, which ends up making him go better.

We’ve also been hacking quite a bit, although he still acts like a 2-year-old most of the time, so I know he’s not feeling that bad! My mom and I cleared an old trail across the street that follows a gas line, and it makes for a good hour-long ride, so he’s been enjoying that. I’ve also been doing some trot and canter pole work, which usually gets him really excited. I’m going to try to get my dad to take some photos of us sometime this week.

Here’s a blast from the past video of one of our more successful prelims at the VA Horse Trials where we won our division.

A victory at Virginia Horse Trials

I didn’t have huge expectations going into this weekend- I hadn’t had a jump or flat lesson in three weeks and had been in Spain for much of that time. I was kind of tired driving down on Friday and knew it was going to be a hot and sticky weekend. We had a decent flat ride once we got there, but Oh So definitely felt like he needed to be more laterally supple. I schooled some movements from the test since I hadn’t had a chance to have a decent flat school earlier in the week.

Our dressage time on Friday was early, so that helped conserve our energy. He got a little up once we started trotting around the ring, but started things off right with a square halt. He kind of blew off my right leg throughout the test, so it just felt a bit rough to me. Low and behold, we were in first after dressage in a big division with a 29.6!

The cross-country course was a bit different than last fall, but I’m so comfortable with the venue that I felt confident going out, even in the heat of the day. We only did about four jumps in the warm up and we hit every spot perfectly. The theme of the course was definitely angling. The first question was at 4ab. It walked a good five strides, and we took the direct route in instead of bending the line. We got to the first part slightly short, landed, did two strides, and I saw an  easy four out, so he lengthened and made it out fine. I’m glad we’ve spent so much time on our canter lengthenings!

I took a bit of a flyer to a roll top downhill and had to really get him back fast to a skinny chevron. The next question was a cabin, then a choice of a left or right line to a really wide triple bar type brush. We chose the right side and angled the cabin in. He was a bit fussy to the first part, but locked on just in time.

After a few good galloping fences, we had a smallish extremely angled set of cabin with one stride in between. It felt comfortable in the middle, but the photos look like he took off quite long. The water was the usual log in, then a sharp bending line to a big, square table out. I wasn’t loving that line, because it tends to get wet at the takeoff for the table and then horses slide and clobber the max table. He jumped up around it quite nicely, even if we were a bit short to it. We had an angled bank up, one stride to a cabin which he did easily. The last question was a coffin at the bottom of the hill. We got in ok, did the one stride to the ditch, then should have gotten a three, but we kind of flubbed the third stride. Next time I need to to sit up faster after the ditch so he really rocks back and jumps around the last part. We finished about 10 seconds over the time for 4.8 time penalties.

For show jumping, I took him up to an empty ring and just let him walk, trot and canter stretching, then I walked up and down a hill for a few minutes before heading over to warm up. We didn’t jump too many fences, but he was really jumping up and over some of them. I was nervous as usual, but we went in and only had one down that he barely touched with his hind toe. He was actually trying really hard, which I don’t always feel in show jumping. It was one of few rounds where I came out and actually felt good about on my part and his. As is normal for this event, we had time faults. Eight to be exact, but I was more concerned about the quality of the jumping, plus everyone else had time faults too, so we ended up winning!

After I saw the score board, I honestly thought I would cry. I never thought we’d win at prelim, let alone in only our fourth one together. My goal still is to finish on my dressage score, but how can I complain after he tried so hard this weekend for me?

Next up is Seneca in three weeks. I’ll post photos here as soon as I get my cd from Brant Gamma.

I’m also working on a blog about my trip to Spain, and I’m gradually uploading photos, so I’ll link to those as soon as possible. It’s a tedious process for sure!