Eventing, Olympics and Emotion: My Favorite Photos of 2016

I’ve traveled a lot this year, and photography is my favorite part of my job, so it was hard to narrow down my favorite photos, but I chose the following for two reasons. First, I love a classically perfect jumping photo, so I’ve included a few. Second, I’ve worked really hard this year on seeking out more candid moments. Sure, I can get a hundred shots of horses with perfect knees over a big oxer, but in the end, I think it’s the more emotional moments that really resonate with people.

It probably helped that I had a borrowed Nikon D5 and 200-400 lens to play with at the Olympics, which was amazing, but many of these were taken with our trusty D3 or D4S and a fixed 300m or 70-200mm lens.

Click on a photo to view the gallery in higher res.

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Book Review: Schooling For Success With William Fox-Pitt

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The basics of horse training never go out of style, and with bringing along a baby this year who’s learning everything for the first time, I was inspired to pick up William Fox Pitt’s 2004 book, Schooling For Success recently.

William needs no introduction, but the book does a good job with one about how he got started in eventing and features a first-hand account written by him about some of his top horses and some of their quirks.

It’s obviously not up to date at this point, but I remember many of the horses he writes about–Moon Man, Tamarillo, Chaka–all horses I watched on my Badminton and Burghley DVDs years ago.

I’m a big visual learner, and considering I take photos for a living, I’m really interested in studying a rider’s and horse’s form at each pivotal moment. William’s book relies heavily on unique photo sequences and examples of correct and incorrect form.

He starts with a primer on the rider’s position, the paces and pole work. In fact, these sections are the most photo heavy of the book. William notes that the most important thing for any horse is to establish forwardness and freedom in every pace. He likes to use long and low exercises in his warm up before collecting more.

Sadly the pole work section is only one page. I would love to know more about what exercises he uses, especially with his youngsters.

In the jumping section, William uses about two pages on average to touch on things like grid work, introducing spooky jumps, angles and accuracy and riding a course. Throughout the entire book, he has handy tidbit boxes to summarize the main points of the text and to offer other useful pointers.

After watching William teach a clinic last fall, it was clear to me that he values a systematic training process when bringing along young horses and that comes across in his book. He notes that he uses a gradual and thorough teaching process, views a refusal as a sin to be avoided, introduces young horses to new concepts with a lead, and that a horse should associate going cross-country with having fun.

In the cross-country section, he goes over each kind of fence you might encounter, from basic banks to trakehners and ditches. Most of the photos feature photos of riders going over huge fences, which can be inspiring, but not always useful to the lower level rider that the book appears aimed at, so that would be my only real criticism.

Towards the end of the book, William offers troubleshooting tips for each phase, as well as a quick look into his daily life with his novice level horses.

Schooling For Success offers common sense training tips, explained clearly that will benefit visual learners best. Ten years on, I think it’s time for an updated version, perhaps with a bit more text!

Lessons Learned

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Things are finally settling down after my last trip of the season.

I headed to Galway Downs on Halloween to cover the CCI divisions. I flew into San Diego and headed north to Temecula for a quick interview with Gina Miles on Thursday and pretty much crashed at the hotel after that due to some jet lag!

Friday was dressage day. The facility is really beautiful, albeit a bit dusty! It’s nestled at the base of some mountains and the dressage rings are set right near the cross-country course. In fact, one division galloped through the arenas and to a water jump right on the edge.

The cross-country course at Galway is pretty much on a dirt track. There’s a training track with stables and a polo field in the middle of the track. The course started on the polo field and crossed out over the track onto dirt. It was pretty flat except for parts where the course went up onto the track again, then back down into the polo field. I thought it was quite strange that they actually drag the course before.

The CCI*** was quite small, which was unfortunate because I didn’t get to see much of the course as I was shooting, but I talked to some nice people and thought my coverage came out well.

Here’s a link to my coverage.

My flight back on Monday got delayed in Denver for 4 hours, so it turned out to be a

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longer day than I’d expected.

On Wednesday, which also happened to be my birthday (!), I went to Morningside to cover a William Fox-Pitt clinic for the website.

His ideas weren’t earth-shattering, but served as a good reminder of the basics. I was reminded of a few things I can work on with Oh So once he’s back jumping to keep his footwork up to speed.

I’ve had a couple of lessons with Bear since my last update and he’s progressing really nicely.

With Nicky, we decided to build a round pen out of jumps in the corner of the ring because he was turning in to the circle a lot and I was having trouble staying behind him and keeping him forward. The round-pen definitely helped and we were able to put both side reins on and have some nice work on the circle.

It was kind of neat when he did come round a bit and I could see glimmers of what he can be a few months down the road.

We worked a little bit on making circles by opening the inside rein and applying inside leg. Towards the end of the lesson, we walked up at an angle to the fence line and asked him to step over a little bit in a mini-turn on the forehand.

He seems very willing to take on each new task so far, but when we ride at night, sometimes things are too interesting to put his head down!

I took him to his first off-property lesson on Sunday. He was a bit tough to get on the trailer since he’d slipped the day before when we practiced, but we figured out a way to keep him from slipping on the ramp, and with the help of the lunge line behind his butt, he finally got on. Once he was on, he was fine, but he’s a little apprehensive to step the whole way William Fox-Pitton.

I gave him a tiny bit of Ace for this first time off property, but he seemed to act pretty much like he usually does.

We walked around the arena at Maresfield by hand, and he neighed a lot looking for the other horses. Once I got on, it was kind of the same story, but he still did what I asked of him, so that was a good start.

We trotted over three poles in a row, which he didn’t seem to care about, and then Lisa decided it was time to canter (!!!). I was in my dressage saddle, so I was a little worried that my leg wouldn’t be out in front of me if he put in a buck, but once he got going, he was just fine. His canter is actually pretty comfortable and feels ground-covering, so I’m excited for him to gain some more strength.

He got on the trailer a little better for the ride home and settled back into his stall, probably pretty tired!

I tried cantering at home tonight and he was much quicker to pick it up, but he didn’t get the right lead every time, which is understandable. Lisa wants me to start working him on some small hills to strengthen his stifles and I’d like to start taking him for short hacks with my mom, but she won’t be home this weekend so that will have to wait a bit.

Oh So continues to be an ass on stall rest. He really does want to make my life difficult! He got extremely upset when I was putting tack on the trailer on Sunday and started running circles in his stall. I did get on him for the first time since the injury over the weekend because the vet said I could start doing some walk work to keep his mind busy. We’re only doing 5 minutes right now, but he seemed happy to be doing his job again.

No cocktail of drugs seems to work for him for small paddock turnout. He nibbles some hay, then takes off bucking and screeching to a halt– everything he’s not supposed to do.

I’m at the point now, since it’s getting so cold and dark and he’s becoming more unruly, of just letting him go and hoping he settles down when he’s out with Sam. Trying to put him in a small paddock just makes it worse, and the paddocks are only going to get muddier as the winter wears on.

He’s not due for another ultrasound until Christmas, when he’ll be walking under saddle for 24 minutes a few times a week. I’m just torn. Do I let him go and be done with it, possibly undoing the healing we’ve achieved so far, or do I continue on with the plan and possibly get my teeth kicked out and freeze to death every day twice a day?B

I’m fine if it takes him an extra month to get back into real work if he goes out now, but the problem is that whenever we turn him out, be it tomorrow or 3 months from now, he’s still going to run. The vet just wants him walking more so the leg is stronger before he gets real turnout. She’s fine with him in a small paddock, but that’s obviously not working.

Thoughts?