Guess what I did five years ago today? Impulse-purchased a 6yo TB named Jerry, sight unseen!
Jerry, of course, became Henry, also known as the single greatest purchase I have ever made. Life is short, buy the horse. Even when maybe you shouldn’t. Even when it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, and you didn’t wake up that day expecting to buy a horse, but for some reason you just really like him.
We’ve come a long way since then…
and done a lot of things. He’s been a hunter, a jumper, a trail horse, a foxhunter, and an eventer. He’s also been a pretty fantastic “big brother”, teaching the next generation how to be a proper horse.
He puts on a pretty believable grumpy front, but – not to ruin his street cred – he’s actually super sweet. He likes his little brother (although maybe he just likes having someone to boss around) and he definitely loves his job. Every year he continues to blow me away with how hard he tries, and what he’s capable of.
He might not be the best mover, or have the most correct conformation, or care much about leaving the stadium fences in the cups, but he puts up with a lot. I couldn’t ask for a better teacher and partner, and to me, that makes him perfect. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been really fun.
I feel like I talk about how great Henry is all the time, so I’ll keep this one short.
Happy 5 years to you, bestest bud… it’s an honor to be your human. ❤
While Presto is, on the whole, a very easy and well-behaved little baby colt, he’s still… well… a baby colt.
He goes through phases where he thinks it might be fun to test the boundaries a bit, or attempt to discreetly break rules that he definitely knows exist. Kid has a mouth on him, and he likes to explore with it. He quickly remembered why that was a bad idea, when he tried to explore ME with that mouth, and he almost lost his face. That won’t stop him from trying again in a few weeks though, whenever he manages to rebuild the courage and/or forget what happened the last time he tried. He also knows that he’s expected to stand in the MIDDLE of the crossties, not swing his butt around to the side until he’s as parallel as possible and gawking at the horse in the stall next to him. That doesn’t stop him from doing it the SECOND I get out of sight. Last week he waited until I disappeared into the tack room then swung his butt all the way over to the bridle hooks (he’s so flexible, it’s like Gumby) and pooped on my lovely new Horseware jacket. He claims it was an accident but I don’t believe him.
He’s solidly in that teenage phase where he enjoys toeing the line a bit. Part of it is the coltishness finally finding it’s way to the surface. For an almost 2yo intact male he’s about as quiet and non-studdish as they come, but I think his hormones just show in the form of mouthiness and being easily distracted. Then again he’s also (almost) 2, and those are common traits of 2yo’s anyway. But those little jewels are set to come off whenever the weather cooperates, IF it ever cooperates. I need a good 5 day span of cold temps but no rain.
He’s still on a lighter training schedule than he was earlier in the year, when I was really trying to solidly establish manners and tying and desensitization and all of that stuff. We’re holding steady at one “working” session every week or so, where I just check in and make sure he hasn’t forgotten what he’s learned, and remind him that his life does indeed have expectations attached. Lately this has entailed wearing a saddle, spending 5 minutes walking, trotting, and halting on the lunge with voice commands, and then standing at the mounting block. It’s a very easy existence.
He seems kind of bored though, and when I’m in the barn doing stuff with Henry I often look out and see Presto standing at his gate, staring at me intently. He craves attention, and he loves coming into the barn. For that reason, I think it’s important to keep doing enough with him to keep his brain engaged and check in with how he’s retaining his basics.
Since his sessions have become less frequent, sometimes he forgets little things like… the shape of a freaking circle. Or that whoa doesn’t mean stop and turn your shoulders in. Or that I exist. Sometimes I have to remind him that when we’re leading, if I take steps backward, he has to back up too. The rule when we’re leading is for his shoulder to stay at my shoulder, unless or until I say otherwise, no matter which direction I go, without me having to touch the lead rope. Sometimes he has temporary amnesia. Especially when the mares in the field next to the arena start chasing each other around because it’s dinner time, a circumstance under which he is NOT exempt from my rules.
He’s worn his saddle for two sessions now, both of which were a non-event. He gives zero shits. Since that went so well, our focus now will be returning to the bridle. I haven’t really asked him to wear one since the summer, and it’s time to revisit the concept a little more thoroughly. The other day I put it on and took it off a few times, until he figured out to lower his head when I asked and open his mouth when he felt the bit on his lips. He’s not much of a fan though, so I think that’s something we’ll have to continuously work on for a while. After that we’ll revisit ground driving, and eventually work our way to ground driving with the lines attached to the bit.
But first… nut removal. I owe him one for pooping on my jacket.
This year promises to be a bit lean all around, as I have to pay for things like Presto getting gelded, insurance renewals on 2 horses, shots/coggins for errybody, membership renewals, and truck registration. Oh, and Christmas. Seriously, Dec/Jan are the freaking worst. Hopefully no one expects a particularly good present from me, and several people that I normally exchange gifts with have all agreed that maybe let’s all just do cards this year. But the SO and a couple of relatives asked for a list of stuff I might want, which I know some people think is lame, but man do I love it. Partly because it gives me an excuse to go gallivanting around the Internet maniacally, like a modern day version of Supermarket Sweep.
Perhaps it’s less fun when you try (I said try) to keep everything on said list under $150ish, because hahahaha horses are expensive and I’m not gonna be the a-hole that puts a whole bunch of stupidly expensive stuff on my list. Whatever. Still fun. Also proof that I could easily blow through a lot of money in no time, not that any of us needed proof of that. Anyway, here’s what I came up with!
This is intriguing to me since it’s got all of my favorite liniment things: arnica, witch hazel, and peppermint oil. This is relatively new from BoT so I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s interesting and it’s only $10, so it’s a great stocking stuffer or add-on item if you’re trying to make a free shipping minimum. Or if you only want to spend $10, which is also fair.
I’m a diehard Roeckl lover, but I also think the Samshield gloves are really pretty and would love a navy or brown pair for shows. Plus gloves are something that I always need, and will always use, so you can’t go wrong with that as a gift. At least not for me, the glove lover.
These breeches have quickly become my go-to, especially for shows. They’re so comfortable, and relatively inexpensive. I only have one white pair though, and I would gladly take like… a dozen more. Or at least one or two more, so I could wear them on both days of a multi-day show. I did happen to notice that the suede knee patch version is on closeout, if you happen to fit in the sizes they have.
I actually NEED this, although it’s a bit too expensive to actually ask anyone to buy me for Christmas. Except for maybe the SO… I can usually sell him pretty well on safety items. I still haven’t quite decided if I want the AirMesh or the RaceSafe ProVent, though. Sizing is the real question mark on the Racesafe, since I’ve never tried them on. I know that I love my current Airowear, and I know what size I need, so that’s probably the more practical choice. Neither of them come in navy though, which is some real bullshit.
This might seem like the equestrian version of “underwear and a toothbrush” when it comes to Christmas gifts, but when in doubt, buy me more clipper blades. I will ALWAYS use them. I feel like this is pretty standard across the board for equestrians. Ulcergard would fall under this same heading, along with fly spray and horse shampoo and hoof pack and horse treats. And it’s way less weird to give someone any of that stuff than it is to give them underwear or a toothbrush.
Y’all know how I feel about wearable horse technology. This is a neat little sensor that attaches to your blankets and tells you via an app if your horse is too hot or too cold or just right, how much time they spend laying down or standing still or moving around, etc. Do I need it? Prolly not. Do I want it? Of freakin’ course.
Look, I wanted this on Black Friday and I still want it now, even though I have the original ISI2 and there’s nothing wrong with it except for the fact that the ISI3 exists and is better and therefore I want it. Also they still have their Black Friday pricing deal. So.
If I had to sum up the 2018 show season in one quick sentence, I would say that it definitely did not suck. Not even a little bit. There were moments that sucked, don’t get me wrong. We tried a lot of new and harder things this year, and growth is rarely comfortable. There’s still A LOT to work on and plenty of room for improvement. Overall though, I feel like I learned a lot and so did the boys. There were ribbons, which was fun, but mostly we’re all better than we were when we started, which is the real point. Also if you had told me at the beginning of 2018 that I’d end the year with a Prelim horse and a FEH Champs winner, I’d probably still be laughing.
The year started out a little bit slow, as far as shows go. 2017 was our first year running Training, during which it became pretty comfortable. Over the winter into 2018 I focused more on trying to smooth things out and nail down some of the harder stuff, which carried into spring as well. But in January we did go to a small local show and do our first Prelim combined test. The dressage definitely felt challenging, but we muddled through it for a 38. The stadium was about half Training height and half Prelim height, relatively soft, although we had a couple rails. It was the perfect first little intro to something a bit bigger, starting to experiment with pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone.
February was disgustingly cold/wet and March was pretty consumed with Presto, XC schooling, and side gigs. Our next show and first recognized show of the year wasn’t until the first weekend in April, at Texas Rose. Dressage was tense but relatively obedient, stadium was a little flat (story of my life) and lacked focus on my part, but XC was fantastic and a really nice confidence boost to start the season. Texas Rose used to scare the pants off me, but Henry made easy work of it.
A couple weeks later we went back to the small local venue for another try at the Prelim combined test, with a better dressage and a clear stadium (still with a “soft” course, with some set below height) to finish on a 35. This was the show where I tried out the hackamore for SJ, and really liked how Henry felt in it.
After that I got a bit distracted with getting Presto settled in at the barn, and playing with him, and generally felt a little uninspired about our usual list of recognized shows. Plus a lot freaked out about paying board on two horses. I decided to buckle down on the finances a bit until I felt less cringey writing that big gross check every month, and sat out the rest of the spring recognized shows. That didn’t stop us from having Presto make his big fancy show debut in May though, at the same little local venue doing an in-hand trail class. There was a lot of neighing, but overall he was a freaking champion about everything. He mostly went just to hang out and see the horse show sights, but his 3rd place was an adorable bonus.
The next weekend it was Henry’s turn, and we went to Trainer’s barn for a Clear Round jumper show, doing one Training height round and one Prelim height round. This show wasn’t messing around with their measuring stick, and the Prelim jumps were all set to legit Prelim height and width. Trainer gave her official seal of approval to the hackamore, and Henry was a beast.
By the end of May everyone decided they wanted to go spend two weeks showing at Chatt in July, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to join. I’d made a good bit of extra money from some side gigs, and was itching to branch out to a venue we’d never been to before. So with Georgia penciled in during the summer, I sent in a hasty entry for the June schooling horse trial at MeadowCreek, to knock some rust off and get a XC round in.
This show was a bit of a “trial” in a lot of ways. We’d just started a new approach to Henry’s dressage, and Trainer wasn’t going to be at the show but gave me very explicit instructions on what to do. And wouldn’t you know it?
This ended up being a turning point in our dressage. Before that we were usually mid to lower end of the pack after dressage, but since then I don’t think we’ve been out of the top 5. We had one rail down in stadium, but a double clear XC helped bump us back up to ultimately take the win.
After MeadowCreek it was Presto’s turn again, and I hauled him down to Houston for his first official FEH class. I really just wanted him to score 70 or above, not really expecting him to make the Championship qualifier cutoff of 72, especially not with Peter Gray (one of the Championships judges) judging. Presto was SO growthy at that point. While he placed 4th out of 4 nice yearlings, I was thrilled with his score of 75.95. He was qualified for Championships!
A few days later, Henry and I left for Chatt. The first week was so hot and humid and miserable, I was really regretting all my life choices that led me to Georgia. Dressage continued on it’s “better” trend from MeadowCreek, though, and cross country was AWESOME. I really love going to totally new venues and jumping totally new things. Stadium was borderline tragic when I lost a stirrup, panicked for no actual reason, and rode Henry directly INTO an oxer. We survived, albeit with 8 penalties. I decided I really should buckle down on addressing my show anxiety, because that was just dumb.
Week two saw an even better dressage (scoring what I think was our first 9 ever), and a much improved stadium, although still with eight penalties. The number doesn’t always tell the story. But I did accidentally try to kill us both on XC when I rode terribly to the upbank out of the water and Henry had to pull out a 5th leg to save us. Granted, the course ate so many people that we still ended up 6th. I just couldn’t put all 3 phases together either week of Chatt, which was frustrating.
The best part of that whole Chatt adventure was getting to spend all that time with my trainer, getting lots of lessons and feedback. When you rarely get more than a lesson a month, if that, having a bit of a “summer camp” like that is SO valuable. We got a lot done in that two weeks.
After Chatt Henry got his annual vacation while it was too freaking hot to do anything else. In August Presto put on his big boy bridle and went to a local h/j show to do the hunter breeding class, so I could get one more show outing under his belt before FEH championships. He behaved himself pretty well, and was the winning yearling by default since he was the only one.
Henry was back to work by the end of August, but it’s still too damn hot to event around here that time of year. The next show on the docket was again for Presto – FEH Central Championships! I opted to have Martin Douzant show him for me, so I could sit back and enjoy seeing my little baby horse do his thing. I had zero expectations for Champs, really just wanting to not be last. I was shocked when he scored a 79.9 (an 80.2 from Robin Walker, and a 79.7 from Peter Gray) to win the yearling colts and take Reserve Champion overall yearling. I don’t take FEH results that seriously when it comes to accurately predicting a horse’s future, but considering what a rough start Presto had, it was still a really amazing and fun moment. As a “hobby” breeder, with a 2nd generation homebred, I was hella proud. Still am.
The following weekend it was Henry’s turn, with the recognized event at Willow Draw. We hadn’t shown there before, partly because it’s a one day, and partly because it intimidated me a little, but Henry was perfect. He put in a very solid dressage (except for an unnecessary flying change – oops) for a 32, I finally got my act together in stadium for a clear round, and he was a little machine on XC (even when I tried to bury us at the trakehner), finishing on our dressage score for 2nd place. FINALLY I managed to put together 3 good phases.
The fall seemed to pass like a blur after that. The next weekend we went to another Clear Round jumper show at my trainer’s place, doing more Prelim classes. There were a couple small mistakes, but Henry was super, and we were both really feeling comfortable at the 1.10m height.
If spring was a little slow, we were making up for it now. A couple weeks later we headed to Louisiana for Holly Hill, all by ourselves. The dressage judge really hated us (to be fair, she seemed to hate everyone) and we got our worst score of the year, a 39, on what I felt like wasn’t a bad test. We put in another good stadium round though – clear – and a REALLY FUN clear XC. A couple of fences had me worried, but Henry was on fire. We finished on our dressage score again for another 2nd place.
There was no rest for the wicked, and a couple weeks after Holly Hill we were off to Texas Rose for our first P/T. I was relatively terrified, because Texas Rose is by far the biggest most intimidating venue in Area 5, and why I let trainer talk me into doing my first “real” Prelim stadium there, I had no idea. The dressage was ok, aside from my error (hey there’s no half pass in Prelim dressage, just FYI), and we got another 9 on our test for a score of 34. For a first recognized Prelim test, with an error, I’d take that all day long. Stadium was huge and terrifying, I wanted to die, but aside from goofing up one fence, it was a decent round. There were rails down, but it wasn’t bad. An unfortunate slip on XC led to me having to circle in a combination, picking up a 20, but I was still really happy with the show. I left feeling like maybe we could really do this Prelim thing for real.
Which was good, because turns out we really were doing this Prelim thing for real. We officially entered our first Prelim horse trial, with Trainer’s blessing, at a schooling show in December, held at a venue that uses the same courses as their recognized events. Legit Prelim without the added pressure and cost of recognized, and it was free since I had so many volunteer credits to use. Can’t beat that. My only goal was to finish, but Henry really stepped up and blew me away. He got a 30 in dressage, our best score of the year. A few rails fell in stadium but it was a solid round, just a bit flat and quick, which doesn’t work that well when your horse isn’t particularly careful. But on cross country, he was a freaking machine. We had one of our best rounds EVER at any level, everything flowed really well, and he was just eating it up. I took my time on purpose, so we had lots of time penalties, but we finished with no XC jump penalties and a newly minted PRELIM horse.
2018 was quite a year! What stands out to me most is the growth, partially in skillset but mostly mentally. Some things went well, some things didn’t, and some things are still an ongoing process. But my viewpoint has changed, the way I look at showing has changed, and my goalposts have moved yet again. I learned so much throughout the year, about riding and about myself, and I’m so grateful to have Henry and Presto to take me on this journey. I’m not sure that any year will top this one, but I sure am looking forward to finding out what 2019 has in store.
Last week Roaming Rider did a review of her 2018, and under her Lessons Learned section, one of her bullet points was “form a tribe”. She’s right in that it’s a bit of a corny saying, for sure, but I 100% agree with her on just how crucially important it is to any kind of success.
I know that, for me at least, Henry and I wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today if not for the people we have surrounding us. Our vets, our farrier, our trainer, our friends… they’re all part of that support group, they’re all important, and when you combine them all together it has a bit of a dream team effect. The importance of the roles of the vets and farrier are obvious – they keep Henry at his physical peak, keep him looking and feeling good, and help me make sure that he stays that way. We’ve had our vets (yes, I use a couple, depending on what it’s for) ironed out for years, and this year we finally locked on to a truly fantastic farrier. Not only do Henry’s feet look a whole lot better, but because his angles are back to where they should be, it’s had an overall positive effect on the entire rest of his body. We’ve done less maintenance this year than ever, despite a busier show schedule, increased work load, and more traveling.
But those are the most obvious “tribe members”, right? It’s easy for anyone to understand why they’re so critical – they look after the physical side of things. But what I think is even more important, although much less visible, is the emotional support. Friends, family, trainer… wherever you get it from, it’s really hard to be successful in this sport, or to grow yourself as a rider, without the right kind of people around you.
I keep a relatively small close group of friends. I’m not the best at socializing (okay that’s probably a gross understatement, I can hear everyone who knows me laughing wildly at that) and I’m not that great with people. As I’ve gotten older I’ve decided not to keep close ties with people who don’t enrich my life in some way, people who make me want to be better and do better. I believe strongly that we become like the people we surround ourselves with. I want to be around people who aren’t afraid to dream big, to raise the bar, to push beyond what other people might see as the limit. They might not be where they want to be yet, but they’ve got guts and they’ve got heart. But also people who are honest and who truly want the people around them to succeed as well. I ain’t got time for petty, or nay-sayers, or people who want to stay in their comfort zone forever and keep everyone else down there with them.
I’m lucky to have a lot of friends that I find to be genuinely inspiring. Whether it’s their unfailingly positive attitude, their tenacity, or their sincere selflessness, I look at the people around me and see a lot of good. Everyone is human of course, but what’s in your heart is what matters, and at this point in my life I’ve somehow managed to surround myself with a extraordinary number of golden-hearted people. That trend continues from my close friend group to what I guess you could call my “barn family” – my trainer’s other clients. Pretty much none of us board together, but you’ve never seen a better, more supportive group of people in your life. Everyone is sincerely invested in each other’s success, and that kind of support is priceless on both good days and bad.
I’m truly convinced that the reason there are so many good people in one place is because that kind of attitude comes from the top – the “top” in this situation being my trainer. You reap what you sow, and she sows work ethic, positivity, and gratitude. She can always find the good in a situation, and is one of those truly weird people (completely unlike myself) who seems to always know the right thing to say. She’s honest, she doesn’t put up with self-pity or cattiness or bullshit, and she has a good eye for a horse. Most importantly, she isn’t afraid to dream big FOR you, even if you don’t believe in yourself enough to do it on your own, and she always has your best interest as her priority.
My whole world has changed since I first started eventing. I’ve always been one of those people who is content to do things largely on their own. I didn’t NEED anybody else, right? I mean, to a point that is right… you don’t really need people to just get by, if you’re self-sufficient. I could take lessons with whoever and check off all the boxes and we probably would have done just fine. “Fine” isn’t what it’s all about though, at least not for me. The relationships I’ve formed have been the difference between “fine” and “wildest dreams”.
Since these people kind of fell into my life and made me realize how much of a box I had kept myself in, they’ve completely changed how I see everything. Most importantly, myself. They’ve challenged me and inspired me, supported me and believed in me, and that has truly changed my life. Find people like that: people who believe in you no matter what, people who don’t let you play small, people who constantly make you want to be better – as a rider and a horseman and a human. Find those people, and your road to success, whatever that may look like for you, suddenly becomes paved.
As I mentioned early last week, my only big purchase from Black Friday was a pair of Freejump stirrups. These days I’m spending more time in the saddle, jumping higher, and going for longer/faster conditioning rides, which have taken quite a toll on my already bad knees. My increasing pain over the last few months pushed me to research other stirrup options, and with the Freejumps being on sale for a ridiculously good price, I couldn’t resist the temptation.
It wasn’t just a random, spur of the moment decision though. By the time all was said and done I looked hard at 4 different companies/irons and reached out to them asking questions related to my own particular issues or preferences. Only 2 of those companies responded, one of which seemed to just copy and paste the information that was on their website, which answered precisely none of my questions, which is why I asked them in first place. The other was Freejump, who forwarded me data relating specifically to the questions I was asking, and followed up with a phone call from one of their reps, discussing my particular issues, explaining the differences between the models, recommending which one might suit my needs best, and even offering to find me some stirrups to take on trial.
I really wanted an iron that would help a bit with shock absorption, but was still quite solid under my foot. I’d used the jointed irons in the past and found them to feel unstable, so I was hoping for something with just a little bit of “give” to help ease some of the pounding on my knees. Before I talked to Freejump, I really wasn’t aware of how they were built or why. I knew they were safety stirrups, due to the open and flexible outer branch, but I didn’t realize that they were built on a metal core, also designed to offer some flexion upon impact.
The two models I had been looking at were the Soft’Up Pro, the ones with the offset eye that hang perpendicular to the horse, and the Soft’Up Classic, which is built more like a traditional iron. The main difference is the top – offset eye vs traditional eye – although the newer Classics also have additional stud grips built into the footbed. More grip was definitely appealing, but given the fact that most of my pain was knee related, the offset eye made more sense. The rep also said that most eventers seem to prefer the Pro, since, if you do lose a stirrup, it’s hanging right there at an angle that makes it very easy to pick back up.
I was originally planning on taking Freejump up on the offer of a trial pair, but when I saw them on sale at Riding Warehouse, with only one pair of navy remaining, I decided to just buy them. I could always return them if they didn’t work out, and I didn’t want to miss out on a super good price (or the only color that matters in the whole world).
They went on my saddle last Monday, and in the course of the last week and a half I’ve jumped in them, gone on a couple long trots, had a gallop day, and used them for a show. It’s been a pretty good little trial run. A lot of people have been asking me how I like them so far, so here are my first impressions.
First off, I was kind of surprised by their weight. I’ve previously ridden in Royal Riders in some capacity over the last 10 years (they used to be on my jump saddle, then moved to my dressage saddle when I got the Lorenzinis) and the thing I liked least about them was that I felt they were too light. That’s the main reason I’ve steered away from composite irons ever since. The metal core of the Freejumps makes them feel much closer to a traditional metal iron than a composite, which to me was a plus. I want my stirrups to hang down next to my foot if I lose one, not be flopping all over the place like a fish.
The footbed was also interesting, much grippier than the cheap composites, but not as abrasive as the cheesegrater footbed. The metal studs sit higher than the other grippers, giving a little bit more traction on the bottom of the boot. To me they could still be a bit grippier (maybe the Classic footbed with it’s extra studs has more?) but they’re at least AS grippy as a cheesegrater pad. Sometimes I think they’re more grippy, sometimes I think they’re the same… jury is still out on that one. I think the way that they hang and the way they’re made helps them stay with your foot a little bit more, making them seem grippier than the footbed itself might provide.
The first thing I thought when I put my foot in them was that they felt comfortable, which, my next thought was “that’s a very weird word to describe stirrups”. It’s accurate though. That offset eye, plus the angle and shape of the footbed… your foot just seems kind of drawn to them, settling into the perfect spot. I also felt right away like it was easier to put my heel down. Whether that’s the slight flexibility of the iron or because of the way the footbed is made, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely without a doubt easier to drop weight into my heel and keep it there.
Where they’ve really impressed me so far, though, is on conditioning days. Typically during our long slow trots or gallops I have to shove my feet “home” in the stirrups to prevent my ankles from burning, and my knees are always SCREAMING the next day. That first gallop day though… I never shoved my feet into the stirrups at any point, and while my left knee (the worse one) was a little sore the next day, it was nothing compared to before. I think now I can finally raise my stirrups a hole for XC without feeling like my legs are broken.
So far I’m very pleasantly surprised, to be honest. I was hoping that a stirrup change would help, but I didn’t really expect it to help that much. I was looking for just a little bit of relief, and I’ve gotten way more than that, and gotten it immediately. For anyone that has been eyeballing Freejumps, I fully recommend that you ask questions and do some research and try them out, especially if you have bad knees and/or ankles. My only reservation at this point is longevity… I have no idea how they will hold up over time. Like any composite, or any iron that isn’t one solid piece, I fully expect them to have a more limited lifespan than a traditional solid metal iron. If I’m this much more comfortable on a day to day basis, though, it seems a fair trade.
I am lucky enough to have collected a lot of really nice equipment by this point in my life. From my Majyk Equipe gear to my Lund tack to my Tucci boots to my Devoucoux saddles to my TraumaVoid and Samshield helmets, and everything in between, I have spent a very long time accumulating a lot of nice things, slowly but steadily upgrading as I could afford it. Because life is too short to not have nice things, especially when your horse is a unicorn.
If you’ve spent any time around me at all this year, though, there are a few items that you’ve probably heard me talk about more than once. These things have shown themselves to be fantastic purchases, proving their usefulness over and over again to the point where I find myself constantly singing their praises, probably to the point of annoyance to some people. But buckle up, because you’re about to hear about them one more time. These are the top 3 MVP’s of 2018.
I’ve had my eye on these things since they first came out, but since I already own a really nice custom coat, I couldn’t totally justify the purchase of another one. And then we decided to go show at Chatt. In Georgia. In July. That was the last push I needed to finally bite the bullet and buy one of these.
My only regret is that I didn’t buy it sooner. It’s SO stretchy, and SO comfortable, and SO lightweight. The air flows through the mesh so well that you can feel any little breeze. It washes easily, fits beautifully, the price point is completely reasonable, and I honestly can’t think of a single negative thing to say about it. If the weather is over 60 degrees, you will see me in this coat, for sure. I often find myself wandering around the showgrounds still wearing it, not even realizing that I’d forgotten to take it off. I want one in every color. Even if it cost twice as much, I would still buy it. If you show in hot weather, you NEED this coat. Period. I even convinced Bobby to buy one, and he’s the cheapest mofo I know.
When I got my new trailer (you da real MVP of 2018, trailer, not gonna lie, but I thought that might be a little impractical on this list…) I knew without a doubt that I wanted a camera system in it. I haul a lot, I haul long distances, and with Presto being so young and precocious, I wanted a way to be able to make sure no one was in trouble back there. I left my tech guru father in charge of picking out the best camera for my situation, and I certainly have not been disappointed. Really I have no idea how I ever hauled without cameras back there. They were extremely easy to install and the peace of mind they’ve provided has been absolutely priceless.
I can see if they’re eating, if they’re sweating, what the airflow is like, if they seem fussy, or if maybe one particular little turd has managed to untie himself and get his head under the chest bar (AHEM looking at you, PRESTO). The picture quality is fantastic, and I have never once had any issues with interference. When I hauled Presto to FEH Championships in September, a cement truck pulled out in front of us and I had to slam my brakes on, barely missing his bumper. I could feel Presto scrambling in the back, but thanks to my camera I could quickly and easily check on him and see that he was fine, upright, and quickly went back to munching hay. I really can’t say enough good things about the value of having cameras in your trailer, and there’s no doubt that they could potentially help prevent a bad situation.
People love to comment and say “I wouldn’t be able to stop watching the camera!”. I always roll my eyes a little at that, because it’s ridiculous. As with anything else, you quickly adjust to just glancing at the camera sometimes, or when you’re stopped, keeping your eyes on the road the rest of the time just like you always do. So if you’re on the fence – install a camera system. You won’t regret it.
I already reviewed this thing in depth, so I won’t go into all the details again, but if you’re looking for a cheap and easy thing to give as a gift or throw in your grooming bag, grab one or two of these. I use mine pretty much every day for a wide variety of applications. At only $6 this is an incredibly useful little item, and just when I think I’ve come up with all the possible ways to use it, I find another thing it’s good for. In one day alone I used it to scrub buckets, give my horse a bath, and clean Magic Cushion residue off of a boot – and it excelled at all 3 jobs. Cheap, versatile, and effective? Can’t beat that.
What are your favorite purchases of the year? Any must-have items?
The good thing about being the only person in Prelim is that our 30.7 dressage score was good enough for first. Admittedly, anything I did that day was going to be good enough for first, as long as I stayed on and didn’t forget the course. Which was enough of a challenge for me at a first Prelim attempt, let’s be honest.
After dressage I walked stadium one more time then swapped tack and got back on. We headed down to stadium warmup, which is very small and the footing is pretty deep. I hate all warmups as a general rule, but I hate that one the most. I just could not get Henry in front of my leg at all coming out of the hairpin turn (he’s kind of the worst at handling deep footing) and he decided maybe the solution was to just stop. Twice.
That was not the solution.
Trainer promptly went and acquired me a whip, Henry got smacked on his hiney for the first time EVER by me, and proceeded to become extraordinarily offended. His eyes bugged right out of his head as he leapt into a gallop, feet magically unstuck from the deep footing, and he marched right down to the oxer and pinged over it like the Good Boy he usually is. We went up to the ring and waited for the people walking the course to clear out, and Henry stood there doing the equine equivalent of rocking back and forth in fetal position in the corner, still wide eyed and absolutely beside himself about getting a smack on the butt. Seriously horse, it was one smack. And you kind of had it coming. Get in front of my damn leg, you drama king.
Once we were in the ring I picked up the gallop like I meant it and powered down to the first jump. After which Henry landed and basically just kind of dragged me the whole rest of the way, screaming “OH MY GOD I WAS A BAD BOY, OH MY GOD SHE HIT ME” on repeat. Still traumatized, clearly. He definitely never once even vaguely thought about stopping. I think I could have gotten him there upside down and backwards and he still would have jumped. Granted, he never once even considered listening to any of my attempts at a half halt either.
You know what’s not useful on an overly dramatic horse that’s having an existential crisis about having been a bad boy? A goofy little loosely-fitted hackamore with a leather curb strap that is essentially a glorified halter. In normal circumstances it’s great, but this time… not so much. We ended up just too deep and flat, past the distance to a few of the verticals, and had rails there. Which is the complete opposite of Texas Rose, where his rails came at the oxers.
The hardest jump sequence to me was 5-6-7-8, which weaved across the diagonal. 5 was an oxer placed very close to the in gate off of a really awkward short turn, then bending to a vertical in the shade, then land and hang a sharp left to an oxer, then land and hang an even sharper right to a vertical. It was a very herky-jerky sequence and the turn to 8 was sketchy at best.
Really though, Henry’s little temporary lapse in sanity aside, it was fine. It was our second real Prelim round ever, no one died, and it wasn’t tragic. Two phases down, one to go. I sure was laughing my butt off as I pulled him up though, which took some effort. Henry’s eyes were still bugging out of his head like we might all just randomly start beating him at any moment, because clearly that happens to him all the time. Honestly Henry, you are ridiculous. IT WAS ONE SMACK. In FIVE YEARS of owning you.
After that I had to shove him full of cookies back at the barn, which seemed to convince him that he was indeed a Good Boy again. He relaxed and went back in his stall to munch on some hay for a couple hours before cross country, his Bad Boy experience completely forgotten.
My ride time was at noon on the dot, as soon as dressage wrapped up (dressage is all in the middle of XC, so I’m pretty sure no one wants to be doing their test as horses are galloping right past them). I stepped into warmup just as the last person was saluting, and after a couple laps of gallop and a few warmup jumps, Trainer sent us on our way with a “Good luck, have fun, ride smart!”. I got over to the startbox and turned on my helmet camera, which ended up being a huge mistake as we had about a 10 minute delay while all the jump judges finished finding their spots. As soon as Control radioed and said they were ready, my camera beeped and died. Not even kidding. I’m really sad about it now. Luckily there were a few people videoing and Hillary was taking pics, so I at least have some media.
I figured that I would know after jump 3 (the big red wagon) how the rest of the course was going to go. As usual I wanted to come out of the startbox positive, getting him thinking forward right away. If you can get Henry convinced that he’s running away with you a bit (which he isn’t, but he thinks he might be) at the beginning and jump a couple of fences from a more open gallop, his confidence swells. He came out of the box all business, pinged over fence 1, and when I landed and put my leg on, he eagerly dug in and galloped away. At that point I thought “Hmm… I think this might be a good day…”. We jumped the big rolltop at 2 out of stride, then wove around the mound to the wagon. I saw the distance as soon as we came around the corner and so did Henry, and again, we galloped over it right out of stride. A huge smile crept onto my face at this point and I let out a “HELL YEAH GOOD BOY”. As predicted, by jump 3 I knew how it was going to go… and I knew we had this.
We wove through the woods over the combination at 4ab, down the big log stack with the dropped landing, over the skinny, and then up and over the Irish bank. The chevron came up fast off of a short turn but Henry never even blinked, just popped over and kept right on galloping through the trees to the trakehner. Clearly for our first Prelim I wasn’t worried about time at all… I hadn’t even worn my watch, nor was I going to press him for speed. Trying to make 520mpm would basically be a flat out gallop for Henry, and I wanted to just let him gallop at a comfortable pace and focus on having good jumps. It sure seemed like everything came up one after the other really quickly as it was, without many long gallop stretches. I guess that’s the effect of riding through the woods versus out in the open.
After the trakehner we had a narrow rolltop out of the woods, coming back into the main field for the water. This was a “busy” spot, with a log down into the water, a skinny on the opposite bank, then immediately to a bending line of arks as we curved back around the water. I sat and whoaed as we came down to the water, taking care to jump in quietly (and slightly to the right) lest we go blasting past the skinny. As soon as we landed from that Henry moved right back up to gallop easily over the arks, landing and powering away, back up the hill. He had plenty in the tank, and he seemed to be having a grand ol’ time as he hopped over the bench like it was a speed bump.
From there we headed to the jump that I thought might be most tricky, a big corner off of a left hand turn, heading back into the woods. The tricky part for my horse was the fact that there was an unflagged fence right where we needed to turn, and I thought Henry might lock onto that one, messing up our approach to the corner. And he did lock onto that one (Henry you are predictable) but I stuck my right spur in and got him turned toward the corner instead, which he locked onto with equal gusto. By this point he was having such a good time I think he would have jumped a tank if I pointed him at one.
After the corner we curved around the edge of a pond and popped out a few strides away from the brushy boat table (I dunno what else to call it, it’s a table with an orange boat on the front face and brush on the top). He jumped the freaking snot out of that, stumbling a little on landing but quickly righting himself back up and galloping on. From there we went to the downhill bank combo – a skinny rolltop, two strides to a downbank, then down the hill to a chevron with a dropped landing. That put us back into the main field once again for the last two fences – the train and the big ugly last table. The train was easy peasy, and I came up to the table thinking “ok, self, don’t mess this up”. And then, there it was, the nice forward distance, and we closed the last 5 strides to get up to that thing perfectly. He jumped it like a freaking superstar, with room to spare. Definitely not tired.
And then we crossed through the finish flags, and then trainer yelled “YOU HAVE A PRELIM PONY!” (which you can hear in the video) and then cue all the bawling that I already wrote about on Monday. We racked up plenty of time faults, as expected, but we were clear. We finished. We did it. We actually fucking did it. Days later I’m still pinching myself, and still stuffing Henry full of cookies.
It was a totally respectable round too, not even a case of survival. I felt like I made mostly good decisions, and my horse felt like he was brimming with confidence. He had plenty left in the tank, definitely could have gone faster, and strutted back to the barn like the damn unicorn he is.
It was one of the best rides of my lifetime, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Alright, enough of the mushy preamble, time for the good stuff! Swapping back to my old show recap format for this one, because there was a lot of “other” stuff besides just the riding parts to talk about.
If you’re looking for drama, you know you’ll always find it here. Life with Henry is never boring, and he proved that on Friday afternoon when, during our last ride at home before leaving for Pine Hill, he decided to fling a shoe into the abyss. Do you know how easy it is to find a shoe in a 20 acre field? Spoiler alert: IT ISN’T. Lord knows where that thing is, because hell if I could find it. Cue a semi-frantic text to the farrier.
He needs to be sainted. Like for real he had just put this set of shoes on Henry on MONDAY (taking great care to get everything the way he wanted, I might add) and yet he showed up at the barn at 6:55 on Saturday morning to make a whole new shoe (which isn’t exactly quick and simple with clips and stud holes) and get us fixed up and ready to go. And then after he was done he tried to help me pack my trailer. He is a farrier unicorn.
With that crisis averted and taken care of so quickly, we were actually on the road to Pine Hill half an hour earlier than planned. I unloaded, parked my trailer (being early = prime trailer parking), unpacked, set everything up, and then I had some time to kill so I went to walk cross country to get my first impressions while I could be alone with my thoughts. I was concerned about the footing with all the rain we’ve had lately, but was pleasantly surprised by how good the ground felt. Clearly they had done a lot of work to help dry things out and improve the softer/muddier areas. There’s a course walk up online from the spring show (although it’s missing a pic of the last fence) but I wish I had done my own, because they had everything brushed up and decorated and the course looked just beautiful. It’s amazing how much of a difference brush and plants and flowers can make! Of course, since I was the only entry in Prelim I was like “geez I hope we make it this far, otherwise they decorated all my jumps for nothing.”.
After I walked the course, I got on Henry and met Trainer for a quick dressage school. Henry was uncharacteristically fantastic… like he buckled down and went right to work, feeling great and rideable and about as fancy as Henry ever gets. It was the best dressage ride we’ve had in quite a while. Suspicious. Highly suspicious.
Then we walked showjumping, which, after the enormity that was Texas Rose’s stadium a few weeks ago when I did the P/T there, Pine Hill’s stadium looked almost cute in comparison. The jumps are more simple, less intimidating, and I swear there were a couple at TR that could not possibly have been “only” 1.10m. I was happy that the PH course looked very comfortable to my eye. It was big enough, and hard enough, but not poop-your-pants menacing.
After that we headed out to walk XC one more time, this time with Trainer (when I say we, Hillary and her baby Bea came along for most of it, too. Bea is going to be a pro by the time she’s actually old enough to ride.). My favorite part was watching Hillary’s eyes as we walked past the big chevron in the woods. It looked just like this:
Prelim jumps are big. I don’t recommend making direct eye contact. I tended to just give them a friendly pat on the top as I walk by, without actually looking at it much. I definitely didn’t get within 20′ of the trakehner (don’t need to know how big the ditch is, thanks) and I know I didn’t get up close and personal with the others either.
Well, except for this one.
That’s the last fence, a big ugly gross table that was large enough to house a family of hobbits. There was sand on the top of it, which I used as my own personal little zen garden, dragging my fingers around in the sand while trying not to let myself notice how big that stupid thing really was. If we made it that far, it would be the last thing standing between us and a completed Prelim. I wanted so badly to make it to this fence, in all of it’s hideous glory.
It was one of those courses where nothing really scared me in particular, but everything demanded great respect. We are officially in the territory of No Joke. They’re all big, they’re all wide, they’re all solid AF. There isn’t a “gimme” fence among them, even the smaller ones have some kind of technicality to them. Mistakes are easier to make and they carry greater consequences. But underneath all of that, I also felt a budding sense of confidence. I felt 100% that we were capable of this, if I rode him right and made good decisions. I just had to focus on that and let everything else go.
After we were done at the barn, Hillary and I went and gorged ourselves on Mexican food before rolling into our hotel. Typically I have a bit of a hard time falling asleep at shows because my mind is just too busy going over the dressage test or the courses or visualizing how I’m going to ride things and trying to remember everything Trainer said. This time though? I was completely passed the eff out before 9pm. I think that little zen garden on the last fence did it’s job, because I felt pretty at peace with what we needed to do.
Of course, since I fell asleep so early, I was wide awake at 4:15am. By 4:30 I gave up on the idea of going back to sleep, so I ended up at the barn half an hour earlier than necessary, waking Henry up out of a dead sleep (I swear he was snoring) to give him his breakfast. I had to be on by 7 anyway, so it was going to be an early morning regardless. Sorry bud.
I always have a hard time writing much about dressage. It just kind of… is. We go out, we warm up, we go in the ring, we do the thing, ta-da. Which is definitely selling it short, considering how much time we have spent laboring over our dressage (and omg is LABORIOUS ever the perfect word to describe it). Our ride time was 7:30, first horse of the day in Ring 1, which was nice because it meant warmup was less crowded. While Henry was not quite as brilliant as the day before, he was still pretty relaxed and on my aids. I went over to my ring early and the judge and scribe were ready too, so they went ahead and rang me in. Of course, Henry tried to leap into a canter at the sound of the bell (this isn’t the starting gate, ya dingus) which added a little dollop of tension just before we cruised up centerline.
Really though, it was a decent test. Not as relaxed as he can be, but also nowhere near as horrifically tight as he can be (and historically has been). I tried to ride as accurately as possible, although there were a couple of deep spots in really inconvenient places (like on the rail where I made my first 10m trot circle, and both corners where the 10m canter half circles are). He got a little stuck a couple times, but recovered well. Overall it was a very obedient, steady test with nothing overly spectacular, but nothing awful either. I’ve been repeating that opening sequence of 10m circle-turn left-halt-trot-turn right-10m circle-up centerline-leg yield for the past couple weeks ad nauseam. Generally I try to avoid drilling movements or teaching Henry the test, since he is the king of anticipation, but in this case this particular string of movements is challenging enough for him that it seemed to help us both if he knew exactly what was coming. It was much better than our last attempt at Texas Rose, so I think it helped.
The judge thought the test was good enough for a 30.7, which I will happily take with zero complaints and no questions asked, since she typically isn’t inclined to be overly charitable with her scores.
I have a heck of a show recap to write about yesterday’s horse trial, our first Prelim. That will take me a little while though, and before I give you all the details of how it went down, I’m going to spoil it a little and tell you how it ended, and what a monumental moment it was for me.
It was an extremely emotional weekend, bookended by the lowest of lows and highest of highs. A good friend lost her horse on Friday, and as horse people I think we all feel our friends’ losses almost as acutely as we do our own. It’s a terrible feeling, understanding just how heartbroken they are, and also knowing that you’re helpless to fix it. Nothing can fix it. All you can do is stand beside them and feel it with them. We anchor our hopes and dreams to another living thing, a fragile one at that, and we love them in a unique way that other people don’t really understand. When we lose them, the pain is acute and pervasive. It is the worst part of owning and loving these animals, and it absolutely sucks.
Those kinds of things always hit me hard, feeling like a sharp reminder to always keep perspective and to have gratitude for what you have. And when it comes to Henry, I find myself repeatedly rocked back on my heels by the enormity of the gratitude I feel for him. He carried me dutifully around our first Prelim yesterday like a heat seeking missile, never missing a beat. It was one of those cross country rounds that we eventers live for – not perfection, no, that’s not what we’re about, but it was one of those rides where I helped him and he helped me, and together we just absolutely slayed it. It was a team effort, and we were in sync every step of the way.
As soon as I crossed the finish I was overwhelmed with pride for him, and pride for us, and there my emotional state swung 180 degrees the other direction. Who cries the whole way back to the barn after their first Prelim because they’re just so overwhelmed with pride and joy and gratitude and awe? Um yeah that’d be me. And then I alternated crying most of the way home, sometimes out of joy for myself, and sometimes out of anguish for my friend. That’s an odd yo-yo of emotion, but that’s horses. Sometimes they break our hearts, and sometimes they make our dreams come true.
Yesterday Henry absolutely did make my dreams come true, although I’m not sure it’s even fair to describe it that way. This is not at all what I had in mind when I bought him 5 years ago, or when we switched paths from jumpers to eventing 4 years ago. I guess I never dared to dream big enough. This horse, in all of his imperfection and improbability, has expanded my ideas about what is possible. I never went looking for a horse like this, but how I got so lucky to happen upon him, why he fatefully ended up in my path, I’ll never know. And how I lucked into the support group I have – my trainer (who has believed in us from the very beginning, although I have no idea WHY, considering we were a messy BN pair when we fell into her lap), my friends, everyone who showed up or sent messages to wish us well and cheer us on… it’s incredibly humbling, and I’ll never stop feeling immense gratitude for all of it. It truly does take a village, and I hope that my achievement feels like your achievement too.
We don’t get a lot of moments like this in our sport. We put in so much work, day in and day out, month after month, year after year. Progress often feels agonizingly slow, if it’s even recognizable at all. There’s always something that could be better. We question whether we’re good enough, whether we’ll ever measure up, whether our horses are capable. It’s a lot of blood and sweat and tears and money. We agonize over every decision. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control, derailing our plans and sabotaging all of what we’ve worked so hard to get. But sometimes, on these rare occasions, the stars align just right, everything goes our way, and we’re rewarded for all of that hard work.
Henry and I officially have a Prelim under our belts, with a clear cross country at that. If this is a dream, please don’t wake me up. These are the moments we live for, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to relish it for one more day before we delve into a recap.