Remember a few months ago when I confessed that I had been nabbed by an Instagram ad? The situation has continued to worsen. Facebook must have stepped up their creeper algorithms or something, because lately they’ve been inundating me with amazing things. Or at least, that’s what my morning brain thinks.
See, I seem to be at my weakest before 8am. I’m an early riser, and I get to work before 6:30. Even on the weekends you’ll find me awake in my living room, probably on my computer, well before 6am. That, it seems, is my own personal witching hour.
As the day wears on and the more practical parts of my brain start to wake up, I can talk myself out of just about anything. But before those parts are firing on all cylinders, if you throw an ad for something AMAZING at me, the odds are much higher that I’ll buy it. Especially if there’s a sale or a coupon code involved, because apparently even my morning brain is a sucker for a deal.
I also tend to make these small purchases and promptly forget about them, which makes the mail really fun a week or so later when I’m like ooooo what is THIS fun surprise??? Highly recommend buying gifts for yourself this way.
So the weekend before last an ad for Yes Custom popped up on my feed with something like this:
The memory, it is vague. But according to my receipt the shirts were on sale for $12. Therefore I can totally understand what had happened next.
My morning brain, being a cheeky little bastard, was like “omg, we should get one of these with HENRY’S face all over it! It would be EFFING EPIC!”. So naturally, I ordered one, at 6:41am. And naturally, I completely forgot about it. Until yesterday when it showed up in the mail.
Morning brain was right – it is EFFINGEPIC.
Your eyes do not deceive you. That is Henry’s patented cracked-out-dolphin cross country face, plastered on a shirt over and over and over again. Of all the Henry faces, that one is my favorite, so it makes perfect sense. Morning brain really hit this one out of the park.
This time I have absolutely no regrets about my morning brain purchase. It was worth every penny of the $12, and quite honestly it might be the best piece of clothing I own. Do I look like an absolute nutter wearing it? Oh hell yeah. Do I care? Oh hell no.
Nothing says “I am obsessed with my horse to the point of being insane” quite like this shirt. And that’s accurate, so why not fly that freak flag proudly.
I will 110% be rocking this thing on the regular. Friends, you have been warned. And yes, it’ll definitely be paired with the matching Henry socks that I already owned. It’s all about the outfit, y’all.
Last week Willow Tree Warmbloods hosted their first Oldenburg inspection! Michelle decided to present the pony foal Nunez WTW to them so that he could get his Weser-Ems (Oldenburg’s pony book) papers. He’s officially a German Riding Pony, y’all.
The inspection was on a Monday, so I couldn’t be there this time, but Michelle looks to have done a great job of managing everything on her own. Inspections can be quite the production between getting the farm ready, setting everything up, and primping all the horses. Luckily she has other friends around that are willing to lend a helping hand.
Their efforts were well rewarded when Nunez showed himself off really well and got great scores, earning himself a Premium designation! He is really beautiful and athletic with tons of presence, so I’m not surprised.
His sire Nuno is on a roll, all of his foals have been Premium this year. Sebastian, the inspector, really loved his dam Stormie as well, giving her good scores and encouraging Michelle to continue using her for pony breeding. Clearly she is a great producer! Seeing how well Nunez turned out is making everyone even more excited for Stormie’s 2020 Usandro foal.
If the pony foal isn’t enough cuteness to satisfy you, Michelle also let a friend’s daughter present her favorite mare, Hanna. Hanna is a 24 year old Selle Francais mare who started her career doing the jumpers in Belgium before being imported and turned into a junior hunter. She’s taught a lot of kids how to ride, and now – with the help of Michelle and Sebastian – she’s turned one of them into basically a pro handler. Handling and presenting horses in hand is definitely an art, and we don’t have many people in this country that are good at it. Kid is pretty good already, she seems like a natural!
Michelle presented some of the other mares as well, some for inspection and some just to get the inspector’s overall opinion on the program. He quite liked Peyton, the TB mare, commenting that she is exactly the type of thoroughbred that should be used in sporthorse breeding. It was nice to have him agree with us, since we spent forever finding juuuuuust the right TB mare to add to the program.
While I was sad I couldn’t be there this time, all in all it looks like my favorite breeder and favorite mares all had a great day. I think Nunez has been going around telling everyone on the farm that he’s officially F.A.N.C.Y. – as if his ego wasn’t big enough already.
Whoever buys this kid will definitely have one heck of a pony!
I talked a lot last week about the subject of gratitude, the power of saying thank you, and how much it really enhanced my Coconino experience. My horse, my coach, my friends, my family… I mentioned how important all of them are in this whole crazy endeavor. But there’s someone else, who, while might not directly impact the experience, is often there to document it. And we all know just how true “pics or it didn’t happen” really is.
If you’ve paid attention to any of my picture captions here or on Instagram, you’ve seen the name Dusty Brown. He’s not a horse professional or a show photographer, he’s a horse show husband to barnmate Julie and and horse show dad to barnmate Kate. He hauls the horses, fixes whatever is broken in whoever’s living quarters, and, my particular favorite: he takes pictures. And not just pictures, but like… AWESOME pictures.
Dusty is super dedicated to doing a good job. He doesn’t wander aimlessly around and stumble upon lucky shots, he’s got a list of ride times (which in our group is lengthy), a plan of action, and he’s out there way in advance plotting all of his angles and what jumps he wants to get. He even has this badass 360 camera thing that he sets up so it can get really cool video like this.
He’s got a great eye, and for some reason he seems to not mind sitting in the woods all day, taking pictures of rider after rider. He is a better person than I, in that regard. Dusty also has the uncanny ability to remain in the background of whatever is going on, which allows him to get fantastic candid shots. I never even see him, I’m pretty sure he’s got an invisibility cloak or something. He’s also great about capturing whatever he sees along the way that he thinks might make a cool picture. He’s pretty much always right.
And then, after he spends all that time trudging around the show, taking pictures of all of us, he edits and uploads the best ones into an album. This is no small feat considering we had 19 horses with us in our group this time and there were thousands of photos to go through. Dusty also somehow manages to always get in a completely different position or at different jumps from the show photographer, so you end up with totally different pictures. As a blogger who always needs media, it’s just as exciting to have him at a lesson or XC schooling, too. I don’t know WHY he does it, but I’m really appreciative of the fact that he does.
He even does special photo shoots for sale horses, snagging some beautiful pictures. We all know how much those matter, yet how much of a pain in the ass it can be to get them.
Three cheers for anyone who’s willing to stand around (or run back and forth from ring to ring) all day and take pictures or video. It’s not the most glamorous part of this whole thing, but if you ask me, it’s one of the most important. After all, once it’s all said and done, all we really have left are the memories and the media. Thanks for being there to help capture it.
It is entirely possible that I have a wee bit of a riding shirt problem. I few weeks ago I reorganized my closet (ie gave it some semblance of order with work clothes on one side and riding clothes on the other) and was amazed at how many shirts I have. Show shirts, sun shirts, polos, cross country shirts, shirts with my trainer’s business name on them… I have a lot. I just love shirts, ok? Like… did I take 14 riding shirts with me to Coconino even though I knew we’d be doing laundry and I really only needed 5? MAYBE.
But when it comes to show shirts, I like something that’s just a little bit different. A little bit unique. A little bit fun. Just a plain white shirt with nothing on it? Nah, fam. Nah. I left the hunter world a long time ago, I don’t need that boring nonsense.
Of course, I’m also cheap. Love you, Cavalleria Toscana, but I’m not paying over $75 for a shirt. It’s just not happening.
This love for all things unique and yet also budget-friendly has led me down some perhaps slightly less well-beaten paths. It seems as though I find my best things overseas, with smaller brands that maybe haven’t made the jump over to the mainstream US market yet. So I follow a lot of these smaller overseas brands on Instagram, which always gets me into trouble, yet I have no regrets. That’s how I find the good stuff.
I’ve been really into that whole laser cut, perforated athletic clothing trend lately. It’s a subtle but interesting detail, my favorite thing, and it has that whole benefit of added ventilation. Biiiiiig plus when you live in Texas. I couldn’t really find anything in that style that was affordable, though, until I was scrolling through Instagram one day and saw the above post from Australian company Black Horse Clothing. I’ve been watching them for a while because they have a lot of cute breeches and tops, and the prices are good, but that perforated shirt – called the “Shannan” – really stopped me in my tracks. I needed it.
I loved the look of the contrasting white collar and cuffs, the piping, the zip top, the little Australian flag on the back, and of course – the perforations. And the best part? It was only $69 USD. This wasn’t my first time ordering a shirt from Australia, so I knew my size (their size charts are spot on, too!). The only real hesitation I had was figuring out what color to get. Talk about crippling indecision.
White was appealing because of it’s ability to go under any color show coat, of course, but with all the details of this shirt I was really thinking that I also wanted something I could wear for lessons, schooling shows, or when jackets were waived. I’m not into the StayPuff look of all-white, so that narrowed me down to navy and gray. I figured gray could fill all of the above purposes, while still looking good under my navy or hunter green jackets. Plus I have a lot of navy, but not a lot of gray.
Then I did what any good friend would do and talked Hillary into buying the navy.
But in my defense, the navy shirt looks AMAZING on her gray horse with a pair of whites, she wore it at Coconino and got about 1 trillion compliments. Plus since we ordered together we got to split shipping. Win-win.
I also wore my gray one at Coconino, in the jumper rounds.
I really like these shirts a lot. They’re stretchy and comfortable, and close-fitting without being super tight or clingy. I LOVE the pop of contrast of the white cuff and collar against the gray and navy. Yes, it was dirty by the end of the day, but it washed up really well and is nice and white again. Dress it up with whites and you’re good for a show day – either zip up the collar and put a jacket over it, or unzip the collar and wear it by itself. Dress it down with colored breeches and you’re good for a clinic or lessons. It’s super versatile. I do think that if you’re very tall or have a very long torso or very long arms, you might find that it fits a little short. I’m 100% average in my build, 5’6″ tall, and the sleeves and torso length are perfect on me.
If you’re scared of ordering from Australia – don’t be. Our shirts only took 6 business days to get to us, better than some US-based shops can do. The transaction was easy and simple (I paid via Paypal) and I had tracking information the next day.
While the Shannan top is my favorite, Black Horse has a good variety of shirts, breeches, sweaters, gloves, jackets, and accessories as well. They even have a men’s line! I’ve already plotted my next purchases, whenever my budget allows. Odds are good you can find enough stuff to offset the $20 USD shipping charge, or just be evil like me and rope someone else into ordering with you and splitting it. Worth it.
Typically this time of year is Henry’s vacation. I like to give him a nice holiday every year, and summer seems like the best time since it’s miserable in Texas and Henry doesn’t handle the heat very well. It tends to work out pretty perfectly where we get back from whatever show we’ve traveled to for the summer, and then he gets his time off to rest and relax and recharge.
I don’t give him completely off, since Henry’s not the kind of horse that does well if you just throw him out in the field and forget about him. He’s got to be inside under fans during the day in the summer or he’ll roast alive, and he needs to stay fit and moving in order to keep his body feeling it’s best, so after owning him for this long I’ve gotten it down to a science. Usually I leisurely hack him a few days a week out in the field and do one stretchy trot/canter day. Sometimes on the hack days we take Presto with us, because why not. It’s a considerably lighter schedule than normal for Henry, no jumping and no galloping, but enough “work” to keep his muscle tone and not lose too much fitness.
Normally by the time Henry gets to his vacation every year, he’s pretty ready for it. Since it comes right after a long travel period, he usually seems to like having a bit of time to himself, without too much human attention. I don’t blame him. I’m usually ready for a bit of a break after that, too. I get to read more, spend a little more time at home (I mean, ok, I go to the barn like 5 days a week instead of 6-7), and focus a bit more on doing things with Presto. It’s a nice mental recboot for both of us before Henry and I start gearing back up for the fall season.
This year, though, Henry has been a little different. He came back from Coconino feeling so fresh that it’s kinda like he never spent 36 hours in a trailer and ran a Prelim in between. The night he got home he was tearing around the turnout, bucking and playing with the other horses (generally NOT his thing), and he’s been doing the same pretty much every night since. On our hacks he’s been much more perky and forward, and the other morning he was so wild that I had to canter him for 10 minutes just to get the crazies out.
He’s also been gravely offended every time I focus on Presto. He stares at me accusingly across the barn aisle when I’m in Presto’s stall, and watches me as I piddle around the barn. He’s not a particularly human-centric horse, so that’s a little bit odd for him. And so far this week, every time I’ve ridden him back up to the barn, he’s walked right past where I usually stop and dismount, wanting to keep going. Even during feeding time. How weird is THAT?
I considered taking him to a local h/j show this weekend and jumping around a couple 3’6″ classes, since our last jumping experience didn’t end particularly well. I don’t think he cares about that, but it might have been beneficial for me to just go jump around. But Texas is in the middle of a big VS outbreak, and there have been a lot of cases in our county, so I’m thinking unnecessary travel isn’t the best idea at moment. It also doesn’t help boarding at the vet’s house, where you hear about all the new cases long before they’re actually confirmed and released publicly. It’s spreading like crazy at the moment, and not very far from us either. Please stay away, infected flies and mosquitoes. I’m covering my horses in ridiculous amounts of fly spray, but there’s not much else I can do aside from laying low. So – no jumper show. Which is too bad, because I think Henry would actually like to go.
So instead, I’ve just kind of been… not resting him as much as I usually would. I don’t know if he just feels really good right now, or if those few weeks off in May/June were enough vacation for him. The heat finally broke, too, it’s only been 90 degrees this week and it feels AMAZING, so that might be part of it. He just doesn’t seem like he wants much of a break. I’m still keeping his schedule a lot lighter than normal, but we’re cantering more, and I’ve thrown in some bareback dressage rides.
Normally this is such a good time of year to dial back, with the heat, hard ground, and the lack of shows. Well, except for that one BIG show, but I’ve had little to no desire to go to that since they moved it to the end of August. That sounds absolutely miserable for the heat-and-humidity-intolerant Henry, especially considering it would cost me more than 2 weeks at Coconino did.
So instead I’ll just cheer on my barnmates from afar. I am a little jealous about the KHP aspect of it though, I would really like to run around the cross country there someday. Just… not in August. Yuck. Hard pass.
Henry also needs a cracked molar removed, which will force him into a (hopefully) short vacation whether he likes it or not. I’m not particularly excited about that but it needs to be done before it turns into a problem. The appointment is on the books, and I’m not looking forward to it.
In the meantime I’m just kind of piddling around, and sort of trying to figure out a fall schedule that makes sense. Picking shows has given me some crippling indecision, and I’ve made zero progress. The season will start when I’m in Europe for Burghley, and by the time I get home, it’ll be in full swing. My budget will limit me to 2 shows, so that makes it extra complicated. Thus, like a mature and responsible adult human, I’m choosing to ignore all of that completely and procrastinate on making any kind of plan. Because why not?
If you want to show in Texas, you learn pretty quickly how to deal with long trailer rides. It’s 2 hours each way just to get to a lesson, 2-6 hours each way for a recognized event, and then of course if you want to show out of state, you have to drive between 6 and 10 hours in any direction just to cross the state line. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the shows in our area, which are great, but we’ve only got 4 venues in the entire giant state of Texas that put on events. Sometimes you just find yourself needing a change of scenery.
Our summer pilgrimages have become a bit of a thing by now. I don’t think anyone will ever succeed in talking me into going to Chatt in July ever again, but Coconino hasn’t let me down yet. It’s fun, it’s pretty, and the weather is amazing.
Of course, to get anywhere worth going, especially in the summer, we’ve got to drive at least 14 hours.
The hardest part of these long trips is getting the horses there in the best possible condition, feeling good and ready to show. This year’s trip is the first time that I felt like I’ve finally really and truly dialed in the best way for Henry to travel long distances like this. Before I dive into what we did this time, what’s worked for me, and what hasn’t worked for me, I have to put up a big disclaimer: every horse is different. What works for some doesn’t work for others. Some like riding a certain way, some need special care, some get more stressed than others.
Here are the main points I’ve learned when it comes to me and my horse:
Start gut support several days in advance. Because nobody needs ulcers, and travel is just about the biggest stressor there is for a horse. I’ve done omeprazole paste in the past, but this time I tried the ranitidine powder that my vet has compounded. We started it before we left and he stayed on it for the entire trip, it was easy to administer, and it seemed to work great.
Break up the trip. We did this our first time going to Coconino too, because 16 hours (which really ends up being 17+ with a trailer and gas stops) driving straight through is awful. I know because that’s what we did coming back from Chatt last year, and I will never ever ever do it again. My horse was miserable and so was I, both mentally and physically. Somewhere around 8-9 hours per day is the point at which we both seem ready to be done driving.
Take the weather into account. Most of the drive to Coco was HOT. The trailer has good ventilation and fans (Henry finds those to be vital in the summer), but still… roasting them all day isn’t ideal. Both mornings we left at the crack of dawn so that we could get most of the driving out of the way before the hottest part of the day.
Keep them moving. Some people like to stop every 4 or so hours and walk the horses around for a while, but that’s not always possible or safe, especially with young horses and remote highways. Since that wasn’t an option, we took advantage of arriving at our layover location early, let the boys settle in for a few hours, then got on to take them for a long walk. They got to stretch, clear their lungs and noses, and get everything circulating again. It really seemed to help, Henry arrived feeling REALLY good in his body.
Control the dust. Maybe I’m hyper-sensitive about this after spending years traveling with Halo, who was very prone to pneumonia, but I always soak the hay and wet the bedding to keep the dust down in the trailer. Shipping fever is one of the bigger risks with a long haul, so the more you can do to keep their airways clear, the better. If you can, pick the poop out of the trailer at your stops, and check to make sure the horses are getting good ventilation. Another big part of it is making sure that they’re able to lower their heads enough to clear their airways as needed.
Know your horse’s preferences for comfort. I learned last year that my horse does not haul very well over long distances in a slant load. He was incredibly sore on his bracing leg for days after we got home. Some horses are the opposite and prefer to lean their bodies against a slant wall. You might not have an option, but knowing how your horse rides in that particular trailer will help you tailor the trip accordingly.
Be prepared. This includes everything from making sure your truck and trailer maintenance is up to date, to having spare tires, to carrying a first aid kit, to ensuring that you have the correct paperwork for travel. If you’re worried about truck or trailer problems, a USRider membership might not be a bad idea either. On this trip, for the first time ever for me, we got stopped in New Mexico and asked to show our horses’ health paperwork. Make sure you keep your coggins and health certificate on hand. I had forgotten to print hard copies and had to pull mine up on my phone, which was fine, but hard copies are easier.
Make a plan. In addition to finding a good layover facility, it’s not a bad idea to figure out if there’s a feed store near your destination(s) that carries the same feed and type of hay that you typically use, as well as basic supplies. You don’t want to change anything with your horse’s diet while you’re traveling, but if you can get the same feed there, sometimes it’s a lot easier to just buy it upon arrival rather than haul weeks worth of stuff along with you.
Provide plenty of water. I always pack water from home, since the horses are more likely to drink water that smells and tastes familiar to them. In the past we’ve offered water at stops (and Henry almost never drank), but this time we tried something a little different and hung buckets from the center dividers and kept them about 1/2 to 3/4 full. They didn’t slosh, and the horses actually DRANK! The last day especially, when we were getting into the hotter areas, both horses drank a full bucket during the drive. If you have a horse that is a particularly bad drinker you can add water to their regular grain ration to help get a little bit more hydration.
Use each stop to assess, and make changes as need. Every time we stopped for gas I opened the escape doors, checked each horse for injuries, made sure they weren’t too hot, gave them both a cookie, checked water, etc. The stops are a good time to see how the horses are traveling, see how the ventilation is, and open more doors/windows if needed. If you have trailer cameras (my favorite invention ever and worth every penny) it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on all of those things constantly, but if you don’t, the stops are really important and your best opportunity to get ahead of any potential trouble.
Really though, I think the most important thing is knowing your horse. Know how they prefer to ride, know what they might need help with, and be ready to provide them with extra support if needed. With the right kind of management and good plan, it’s entirely possible to make long trips without putting a lot of stress or wear and tear on your horse. This trip Henry traveled the best he ever has, and arrived each day feeling super fresh, happy, and loose.
I’m sure there’s more I forgot to mention here, but these are the main takeaways I had, anyway. Making such a long trip can be really daunting, but with a little bit of thought, preparation, and good management, it can go just fine.
What are your favorite tips and tricks for hauling long distances? Or, if you haven’t made one before, what are your biggest concerns and hesitations?
My poor sweet barn owner, the vet’s wife, is really one of the kindest people I’ve come across in the horse world. She always wants to help, and just wants us/our horses to be happy. However, I’m pretty sure that she’s relatively horrified by how “feral” looking my horses can sometimes look, compared to how she’s used to show horses looking.
I don’t clip whiskers of any kind, eyes or noses, and I don’t clip ears. Henry gets body clipped as needed, and I trimmed those long goat hairs off the bottom of Presto’s head last winter, but if you’re used to slick hairless show horses, mine are not it. They routinely have bite marks and their manes are thick because I don’t pull them (I do keep them trimmed short with scissors, but I don’t pull). I do chop off any fetlock hair that dares try to grow, because I can’t stand it, but otherwise… they are certainly not the sleekest looking animals. I like them a little more natural. They’re happy. They’re at an appropriate weight for their jobs and well-muscled and fit and sound… that’s what I care about most. I’m pretty sure it made her REALLY happy when I dyed Henry’s tail before Coconino, even though I refused to clip his nose or ears. At least I’m not a total street rat, right?
The barn owner grew up in breed show land, and now shows minis. And if you know those folks, they REALLY go all out on the turnout. No whiskers, clipped ears, coat clipped almost bald around the eyes, slather on some baby oil, the whole 9 yards. What you definitely won’t ever see is a horse showing up covered in bite marks.
But, um… have y’all met Presto? If he has more fur than bites, I consider it a win. Most of them are his own fault too, because he stands there and lets himself be bitten without ever running away. I mean really, what an idiot. But he does always look like a walking punching bag. I gave up on that a long time ago, because he’s a baby horse and that’s life. Bite marks on that kid don’t faze me at all.
The barn owner was relatively horrified last month when I said that I was taking Presto to an in-hand show. He was a bit ribby (I mean jesus, y’all should see how much that thing eats but he just grows UP, not out) and huge chunks of him were missing. She was too polite to express her disapproval, but you could see the panic in her eyes. When we came home with a qualifying score and I told her he was going to Championships in September, she made it her personal mission to make him “beautiful” by then. I snickered a little at that, because I’m a bad person, but bless her, if she wants to try to clean up that giramoose I’ll absolutely let her. As long as it doesn’t involve removing ear or nose hair.
So he’s been eyeball deep in hay pretty much 24/7, and she upped his fat intake. And to her credit, he has definitely filled out a bit. Of course, he started filling out around this time last year too, once he got past his big spring growth spurt. Still, we’ll give her the credit. The thing that has amused me most is her quest to rid him of bite marks. She is religious about putting ointment on them, but every day he just comes in with more.
When we got back from Coconino he was actually pretty well healed up. He’d just been going out with the other 2yo’s, and they’re like half his size so they don’t really play that hard. One night back with Henry and Dobby and he had so many bite marks the next day, I couldn’t even count them. It’s not like they pick on him really, either… Presto picks on THEM and then stands there and takes their retaliatory wrath.
So she’s been putting her special ointment on all these marks, to the point where by the time she’s done, he legit looks like an appaloosa. It is endlessly amusing to me, because every day he seems to get more and more spotted. It’s driving her nuts, and it’s making me laugh. She has threatened to remove him from Dobby and Henry’s company if they can’t keep their mouths to themselves. I, of course, don’t give a crap if he goes to Championships covered in bite marks. He’s a 2yo, he goes outside, he plays with other horses… it’s just not a big deal in our world. He’s sorta dark, they kinda blend in. And in our world they WANT the FEH horses to look like they live in a pasture, so it’s a far cry from the perfection required at breed shows.
But hey… if he keeps getting dozens of spots of ointment every day, maybe we could broaden our horizons and look into the appaloosa shows. Are giraffaloosas a thing?
The quest I’ve been on, over the past year or so, to improve my mental game and mindset has probably been one of the most life-changing things I’ve ever done. If I was the same person I was 2 or 3 years ago and Coconino had ended the way it did, the old me would have probably had a meltdown. There would have been tears for sure, and I probably would have spent the whole drive home stewing in self-doubt and negativity. I definitely would have felt like the whole trip was a waste of time and money, at the very least. But honestly? I felt none of those things. What’s changed the most? My perspective. And encompassed in that are two things in particular: understanding that all of this is a process, and approaching everything from a position of gratitude.
I used to think of horse shows as the end goal. Every single one was my own personal Beginner Novice or Novice or Training Olympics. But, as I’ve come to learn, that’s a totally backward way of looking at it. Why do I really ride and show? To be a better rider, to have fun with my horse, and to grow my horse into the best possible version of himself that I’m capable of producing. It’s 100% possible to do all of those things, and dare I say it’s actually MORE possible to do those things, when you surrender the idea of winning.
These days I look at each show as a progress report. What did we do well? What did we learn? How did my horse feel? Did we grow? Not only is that way more productive towards garnering improvement, it forces me to be more intelligent and less emotional about all of this. Progress isn’t linear. Riding will ALWAYS be full of ups and downs. This sport is ridiculously hard. Shit happens. None of it defines who I am, or who my horse is. For me it’s been incredibly important to learn to handle the emotions, and to always remember to keep perspective. Part of that has come with me sitting down, scraping all the way down to my core, and understanding what success really means to me. It’s not blue ribbons and accolades, it’s betterment. I want to be a better horseman and rider. Period. Full stop. And show results have absolutely no impact on that.
The biggest thing, of course, is that I’ve realized that I get to CHOOSE how I feel about any of this. Instead of going “omg I fell off I must be such a loser and I suck and I don’t belong here and what a waste of time” – which is really just you being controlled by your emotions in the moment – I get to say “well that wasn’t what I wanted but what was good about this experience and what did we learn?”. It is 100% within our own power to decide how we look at things and how we feel about them. Realizing that was not only incredibly liberating, it’s also made me a better rider. I’m more patient with myself and my horse, and better at seeing and pursuing the things that are best for both of us in the long run.
The other big thing, for me, is having a spirit of gratitude. The simple act of appreciation completely changes how your brain is firing (for real, it’s a true story). The negatives quickly start to fall away. It’s easy to forget, in the day-in-day-out drudgery, just how lucky we are to do this. All of this is such a privilege, something that could be taken away at any moment. I don’t want to waste one second of it being bitter or negative, especially about things I have no control over. The best way for me to do that? Practicing gratitude.
I’m grateful to my horse for taking me places I never thought I would get to go. I’m grateful for the relationship we have and how hard he’s willing to try for me even when I’m not much help to him. I’m grateful for the circumstances in my life that have allowed me to find ways to afford to do this. I’m grateful to the people around me that support us, and are invested in our journey. I’m grateful to the team of professionals that keep my horse feeling his best. I’m grateful to the people that spend countless hours organizing and putting on horse shows, to allow us to participate in the sport we love. I’m grateful that I get to leave a horse show with a healthy horse and healthy rider, so that we can go home and work on all the things we learned and, hopefully, try again another day. When I really sit down and think about it, the list of things I’m grateful for could go on for a really really really long time. It’s overwhelming.
The morning that I went out on cross country at Coconino is the same morning that news broke of Ashley Stout’s accident, which claimed her life and that of her horse. She was doing everything right, and still, tragedy struck. The same could be true of any of us on any given day, whether it’s on the back of a horse or in a car accident or some random health problem that we never saw coming. And then we remember how incredibly fragile our horses are too… they come and go from our lives all too quickly and easily. As I’ve gotten older it’s become more important to be grateful for everything we get to do, and everything that my horses give me, even if some things don’t end the way I might have wanted. There will come a day, for all of us, when we don’t get to do this anymore. Even my worst day on a horse is better than my best day without them.
I think that sometimes we get so bogged down in the intricacies and goals and plans that we lose touch with that 10yo girl inside of us that just freakin loved ponies. Loved being around them, loved watching them, loved brushing them, and went to sleep with a smile on her face just because she got to pet a horse that day. That kid is still inside all of us, and that kid is why we really do this. To her, show results and bad rides don’t matter. She’s just thrilled to be there, doing what she loves with her favorite horse. I’ve lost sight of that kid before, and I never want to lose sight of her again.
I also never want to be bitter, whiny, or entitled about any of this. I’ve always thanked volunteers, but over the past several shows I’ve made it my goal to seek out organizers to thank them as well. Without them our sport wouldn’t exist. They make facilities available to us, they organize shows, they put in hours and hours of their time, and usually the only real feedback they get is the negative kind. The poor show secretary (that I sought out to thank for being so flexible and accommodating when I changed my entry TWICE) looked absolutely terrified until she realized we weren’t there to yell at her, and then seemed blown away when we thanked her instead. It kind of made me sad.
What I’ve noticed, in talking to them, is that for the most part everyone is genuinely trying to do the best they can. Just like us (the riders) organizers don’t always make the right decisions or do the right things, because they’re human after all, but they’re trying. They deserve to be acknowledged for that, especially if we want them to continue slaving away for our sport. And if we want to offer constructive feedback, it almost always works better when it’s prefaced by a genuine thank you for all the things that DID go right. In the process of talking to all these people, there were great conversations encompassing all sorts of aspects of the show, from footing to courses to format, and all the positives and negatives of each. I gained more perspective, more gratitude, and in turn made my own experience feel more positive. It’s a win-win. And it all started with a simple thank you.
So if you’re struggling or frustrated or upset, maybe try making contact with that inner 10yo kid who just loved horses. Look for the positive. Thank someone. What are you grateful for? I also challenge you to ask yourself what success truly means to you… you might find that it changes your perspective completely.
You know that expression “sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the windshield”? On stadium day I was most definitely the bug. I went splat.
I was heading into showjumping in first place, after our clear cross country. We walked the course that morning, and while there were a lot of jumps in a small space, the course wasn’t anything particularly crazy. We’ve jumped A LOT of prelim rounds by now, between schooling shows and jumper rounds and HT’s, and never had much problem. I don’t like stadium, but I tend to not lose sleep over it. I just wanted to stay on and jump the jumps in the right order.
You see where this is going, right?
Anyway, when we were walking the course, the thing I was most concerned about was the footing. It had rained a lot the afternoon before, and I was kind of shocked at how inconsistent the arena felt, and how wet the corners still were. They had sealed the surface, but not dragged it, so big clumps of mud kind of just sat all over the place. Parts of it were fine, but other parts were very squishy.
I assumed that it would dry up quite a bit more in the hour before we went now that the sun was out, and that they’d drag it, so I didn’t worry too much about it. Warmup was fine, and we went up to the gate with one person to go ahead of us. Said person had a very hard time turning, cruising past a few fences before getting eliminated. Hmm. That’s a little concerning from an experienced Prelim pair. That’s when I noticed that they hadn’t dragged the arena.
So I went in, picked up my canter, and immediately did not like how the footing felt in the first turn. My horse doesn’t handle mud very well at all, and you can always feel a change in him as soon as he hits it. But we cantered out of the turn, hit the dryer part in the middle, and all was well again. Henry cantered down to the first single oxer and pinged off the ground fantastically.
I had juuuust enough time to think “wow he’s jumping really well” before we got to the next corner and he started slipping. Slipping, slipping, slipping, as if in slow motion. He caught himself, slipped again, tripped, and basically fishtailed around the corner. Nothing I tried seemed to help. I briefly thought about making a circle but didn’t see anywhere to go that would be any better. He stayed on his feet, but we careened up to the next fence basically sideways and still slipping, and he tried his best to jump it anyway. I went waaaaaay up in the air and then straight into the ground. Just like that – rider fall.
So… that sucked. I got up and walked out with him, but poor Henry was definitely a bit rattled that I had come off. They always escort you to the medic after a fall, and when I walked away, leaving Henry with Hillary and my trainer, he got very concerned about why I was leaving and where I was going. We found the EMT (who was asleep in his backseat), he asked me if I was okay, I said yes I landed on my hip in the mud, and he told me to come back if I started feeling bad. Henry was physically okay, thank god, but it took him a couple hours to return to his normal personality. He was clearly rattled by the whole thing.
I was disappointed for our show to end that way, mostly because the first two phases were so great. I thought my horse really deserved the completion, and to have something so ridiculous happen was a bummer. However… that’s horse showing. Especially eventing. Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don’t. Should they have dragged the arena earlier? Yes. They stopped and dragged after my division, and the footing was much improved. But I know they did what they thought was the right thing at the time (new footing was just put into this arena recently and they really weren’t sure the best thing to do with it when it was wet)… it just didn’t work out in my favor. The horses with a more up and down, slower-legged way of going didn’t have too much problem with it, but the flatter-moving, faster-legged horses seemed to really struggle to find purchase and jump out of it. Mine wasn’t the only one.
While it was disappointing to miss out on the win (although to be fair, no one finished Prelim, soooo), I can’t be too upset. My horse was just so good the whole time, and we learned a lot, and grew our confidence a ton. The pieces are slowly coming together. The way it ended in no way takes away from everything else, and I was still smiling about that XC round. Maybe next year we can go back and seek redemption, but for now, I’m not too worried about it. Coconino was still a major success in my book, and remains one of my favorite shows. We had a great time!
I’m not really even sure how to start this recap post. Henry gave me what can only be described as the ride of my life on cross country that day, and I’m struggling to find the words to describe it. Was it foot perfect? No. There were a couple spots where I messed up, and he saved it, and there were a couple spots where he didn’t quite get it, and I helped him out. He was bold, he was focused, he was looking for the flags and taking me to the jumps… it felt like a real partnership, and I was sitting on a really confident horse that was absolutely on fire for his job. I’m not sure that it gets much better than that.
They changed the course a bit after week 1, particularly the second water and a new coffin. Yeah… they built a new coffin. As in, they were still digging the (massive) hole for the ditch the night before XC. The changes made those questions more challenging than they’d been the first week, and I was a little concerned about both, since they ended up being questions that Henry and I hadn’t quite seen before.
I’ll be honest, when I walked the course beforehand, I didn’t have the balls to look all the jumps in the eye. Some of them were really big, and I had to shield my eyes a bit when I walked past a few. There are some things I just don’t need to know before I mount up. It took me a while to be able to look the Training fences “in the eye” on the ground too, and I’m not quite there yet with some of the Prelim. Everything looks so much smaller and more doable from the back of a horse as you’re galloping towards it.
But I did go back out there that afternoon with Hillary and make myself look at them, especially the width. It’s a confidence boost to know how easily Henry hopped over them, even if they still look big to me. I took pictures of some of the jumps then, too, since I hadn’t done my usual course walk with pictures before. And I think that worked out for the best, because I got to use Hillary and her dogs for scale, which was fun. Especially since her face in most of these pictures looks horrified.
That was most of the more interesting jumps, anyway. Well except for the one big gross log oxer in the back that I was too lazy to walk back out to for a photo.
The footing at Coconino is interesting, being mostly wood chips. It’s not like anything else we ever run on, especially around here. You’re never quite sure how it’s going to feel to jump out of, but it felt pretty good under my horse’s feet once we got going. You do spend some time on your course walks very carefully plotting your course to avoid stray stumps or rocky patches, but they’ve done a lot with the footing since I was there last in 2016.
I didn’t wear a watch, mostly because we just aren’t to the point yet where time is a consideration. We still need to focus on the jumps first and foremost, and I don’t want to find myself worrying or feeling pressured about the time. It’s a distraction I don’t need yet. Especially for this course, which was definitely the most challenging we’ve faced, and very twisty and turny and up and down. I needed to focus on balance, not speed.
My helmet camera died the second I turned it on, so… I don’t have footage from that perspective. I did have barnmates scattered throughout the course though, so got a decent amount of video!
Henry set off from the box like a man on a mission, landing from fence 1 and digging in, already wanting to go forward and searching for 2. It was at this point that I thought to myself “this might be just fine after all”. When a horse leaves the box like that, it definitely boosts your confidence a bit. He pinged over the trakehner at 3, jumping HUGE over it and landing in a gallop that was pulling me up the hill to the coop at 4, then back down the hill to the wagon, which he also jumped the shit out of. Yup, he was definitely in the mood to play.
I checked my whoa before the water at 6, wanting to make sure he didn’t just blast through there. It was the first combo and I wanted to ride it a bit quietly, since we had many more combos to go and I needed him to stay rideable. He was really good there, hopping through it politely and easily.
Then it was down to the Weldon’s Wall, which had a really wonky approach. Nothing like weaving through trees and then having to turn sharply a few strides before a wide gallop fence. I completely botched the distance there, 110% awful, but Henry just stuffed another stride in and packed my ass right over. There are not enough cookies in the world for this creature, y’all. He earned a whole box of them at that jump alone.
After that was our wide skinny table
which he galloped right up to the base of and pinged over like it was Beginner Novice. This horse has more scope than I give him credit for, I think.
Then we weaved around to our first corner combination at 9AB. The jumps there were not that big, at or close to Training height really, but the approach made the line pretty tricky. You came off of a very long gallop, then had to hang a sharp right hand turn around some trees with just a few straight strides before the corner. Week 1 I watched someone have two runouts here because the horse didn’t get his eye on the corner out of the turn, so I knew I needed to take it seriously. I brought Henry waaaaaay back down to a showjump canter and carefully picked my line to make sure we were straight.
As soon as he got his eye on the corner he took me right to it, then down and back up the hill to the coop. It was no problem. After that we had a long gallop to a skinny cabin and then a smaller brush fence (which I again missed the distance to and Henry was like “hold my beer”. Get him more cookies.) before heading down to the second water. Of all the things on course, I was most nervous about this and the coffin. The water because the approach to the first jump was SO SHORT, you literally had two straight strides off a sharp turn for them to even see the jump in, and I definitely wasn’t sure that he would get his eye on the corner out. There were a lot of jumps back there, it was visually quite busy, and we’ve never done a corner out of water before. I rode the first element slightly right so I could exaggerate the bend a little bit and get him straighter to the corner, and it rode freaking brilliantly.
Like… he was foot perfect. He saw the corner as soon as we jumped in, and he locked right on, never wavering from the line. It was a pretty amazing feeling, and I hope I never forget how that felt. I could have stopped and gone home right then and there and felt like we’d won. There is nothing so thrilling to me as feeling a horse come into his own and really love and understand the job. I rode away from that water with a smile on my face.
But I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about it, in the moment, because we had a gallop up the hill to that big disgusting vomit-inducing double brush table. That thing did not look any smaller from horseback, but I just kept coming to the base and let Henry sort it out, which he did perfectly, while I tried to stay out of his way. He jumped it so freaking hard, I don’t even think he touched the brush. More cookies. So many piles of cookies. I had to settle for lots of big pats at the time.
After that we had the combination of skinny tables, which also rode really well. Easy, by this point. He just kept looking for the flags, and all I really had to do was guide the way and keep him balanced.
Then it was the big oxer out in the back, which you can’t really see behind the tree.
And then it was time for the coffin. I distinctly remember galloping to the crest of that hill and starting our downhill approach, thinking to myself “Do not fuck this up. Do not fuck this up. Do not fuck this up.”. Our fall at Holly Hill was at a downhill coffin, and I really didn’t want to repeat that. I heard my trainers instructions in my head – balance at the top of the hill, then keep coming – so I did… then I rode down to that thing and attacked it like it had personally done something to me.
Henry jumped the hanging log in and I could feel him quickly assessing, looking for the out. I gave him a bit of verbal encouragement over the ditch, where he was still trying to figure out where the out was. I had to sit and tug a little, but he finally locked on and hopped over C. It was a bit scrappy but we got it done.
I found out later that a barnmate’s husband was down at the coffin helping the course designer rake the landing of the ditch after each horse, and when I jumped through, the course designer said “that’s the way it’s SUPPOSED to be ridden!”. Which was a really nice compliment to get. He stopped what he was doing to watch us go up the hill and jump the Normandy Bank, too (which felt more like a little gymnastic by this point).
After that we flew over the last rolltop and through the finish flags with a clear round! I was slow, as expected, so picked up 10 time faults, but we were the only Prelim pair to jump around clear. The second water and the coffin wreaked some havoc.
I can’t even put into words how proud I am of this horse. He tried so hard for me, was absolutely brilliant, so genuine, and really rose to the challenge. He jumped some big fences and challenging combinations without so much as a second thought, and any lingering doubts I had beforehand about our ability to do this were completely erased. I still have to pinch myself a bit when I stop and think about what we’re doing, actually DOING, and how it so vastly exceeds anything I thought we could ever achieve. It doesn’t seem real. This kind of partnership is what it’s all about, and these moments are the reason why we keep putting in the work, day in and day out. I’ll be riding that high for a long time.