Coconino Summer 2: Dressage

I’m gonna be honest y’all, I think I was dreading dressage more than any other phase, for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it was Prelim Test B, which we had never ridden before, and it’s a lot different from Prelim Test A. The biggest change is that it’s in the long court, which… I haven’t even BEEN in a long court in over a year. I sat there forever trying to remember where all the letters were and wrapping my brain around where the boundaries of all my figures would be in the larger space. Am I a redneck eventer that does 99% of her dressage in a field? YES.

DA FUQ are all those letters?

Second, this test has a lot of canter work and it all comes quite early in the test. Henry is one that tends to get more tense and ultra-sensitive after he canters, and thinks that pretty much any leg aid after that means he should canter again. His canter work also is not generally as good as his trot work, so having half of the movements involving canter was going to be a disadvantage, score-wise. I knew I would have my work cut out for me when it came to keeping his brain in, I was just hoping the test would err more towards the side of tense rather than complete meltdown.

Third, they moved the location of the ring at the last minute. Considering it took me 4 days of riding him in the first location for him to finally relax, I was not particularly pumped about that. Originally all of the arenas were on the racetrack, and I took him out there every day usually twice a day, walking and trotting quietly and getting him to stretch and chill. It worked great, and eventually he gave me some stellar work out there. But… it took me days to get there, so I was sad that the ring moved. It’s always fun trying to dressage an OTTB at Coconino. Great way to gauge just how much post-racing PTSD they really have, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Would rather eat PB&J than do dressage

I also found out that our judge was Peter Gray, who is one of my favorites, but he’s also not one to just throw pity points at you. Peter has an eagle eye, being an FEI judge, and he scores appropriately. He’s very proper and correct and professional and by-the-book. Given all of this, I was mostly just hoping that I could remember my test, not mess up the geometry too badly, keep the lid on my horse, and maaaaaaybe score under a 40. That seemed like a big enough ask, all things considered.

My test wasn’t until 10:30 on Thursday, which gave me plenty of time to do a pre-ride that morning. This is a strategy we discovered last summer at Chatt, but I wasn’t able to use at any of our Prelims so far since I’ve had crack-of-dawn dressage rides. This time I was on Henry early and headed down to the track, which is when I discovered that they had moved our dressage arena from the place we’d finally become well-acquainted with, to where they’d previously had showjumping warmup. Naturally, this turned my horse (who will jump some really gnarly shit without batting an eye, I would like to point out) into a snorting idiot again. When I got down there they had just finished dragging, and the gate was open, so we went in and walked and trotted around, figuring out all my letters and geometry until Henry decided he was okay. He wasn’t quite as chill as he’d been in the old location, but he did eventually take a deep breath and relax.

I did a relatively short warm-up before the test itself, mostly just trying to get his brain as firmly attached as I could. Lots of changes of direction and leg yields at the trot, and going back and forth from stretching to working. He felt pretty good, and I went down to the ring hoping I could keep him together.

Does not understand why we have to halt more now. Would like to file a formal protest.

They honked the horn right when I was completely opposite of where I wanted to enter from, so I ended up doing a half-loop back around the end of the arena to get the approach I wanted off of the right. Remember this, it’ll matter later.

We went up centerline nice and straight and forward, garnering an 8 to start us off. This is something I practice a lot (along with the final halt) because I feel like it’s one of those movements that you can always get a good score on, no matter what else is happening. The rest of our test may vary in quality, but our entry is usually good, and this one was no different even though C seemed approximately 15 miles away. From there we went straight to the lengthening, which I got a little greedy about and Henry almost broke (Peter politely said it was “losing rhythm”) so I had to dial it back down. Oh well, I went for it.

Werk that arab tail

After that it was up centerline to the leg yield right (our weaker direction, but still good enough for an 8), then straight into the canter work. Our first medium circle was… not much of a medium. His tail started spinning and the hind end felt a little bit light, so I backed off. Sometimes I can push for it, sometimes I can’t, and this time was a can’t. After that we went into the first counter canter loop, where my main focus was keeping him from doing a flying change. That’s his favorite “not called for” (as one judge put it) maneuver to throw into his dressage tests… which he may or may not have done three times in the past year. Anyway, my geometry was a little bit off, but we did the loop and kept the lead, so I’ll take it. From there it was on to the movement I dreaded the most, the simple change across the diagonal.

To know why I dreaded it the most, you need to know a little about Henry. He’s a horse that tries really hard… almost too hard. Despite his bad boy persona, he wants very badly to be the goodest boy, and he can get pretty upset if he thinks he’s made a mistake. And what’s one of the things that makes him think he’s made a mistake? Rapid fire transitions. Especially to and from canter. He tends to LEAP back into canter and stiffen his back completely, overreacting to any bit of leg. Despite spending years working on this, they can still make him have a complete and total come-apart quicker than just about anything else. So we came across the diagonal, I sent up a silent prayer to the horse gods, and…

he was fantastic. 7.5! I wanted to chuck the reins at him and give him a huge pat right there, but… ya know… middle of dressage test decorum… so I settled with reaching down and scratching his neck with my inside hand. He immediately took a deep breath, and we went on to the next movement.

The medium canter this direction was about the same as the first. Not much of a medium, but a little effort. The counter canter loop was about the same too – not the most correct geometry, but we kept the lead and he didn’t get stuck. Then we came across the diagonal again and went back to trot at X, and as I expected, he kind of spent the rest of the test thinking we were going to canter again. We lost some of the relaxation and flow that we’d had before. The movements all happened like they were supposed to – we halted, did our reinback, free walked, etc – but it was all just a bit “on edge”. He really wanted to go back to canter, but tried so hard to be obedient. I kept reaching down and quickly touching his neck to reassure him that he was good, and he stayed with me.

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We did have a bigger bobble when we went back to trot from the walk and turned up centerline to leg yield the other way. He took one canter step right before we turned, which is unfortunate because that turn is tied together with the leg yield (see box 17 on the test). The leg yield itself was quite good, better than the first one, but the canter step in the turn meant that the whole movement got knocked down to a 4. Womp womp.

After that we just had the stretchy trot serpentine (which about blew my brain trying to figure out THAT geometry on the fly) and up centerline to our final halt, which got another 8. So we started and ended with 8’s, and had a range of scores in between. I completely agreed with all of the comments (god, you really cannot get anything past Peter), and the scores were fair. He had some brilliant moments, and some less brilliant moments, so it was a just a bit inconsistent. We ended with a 32.9, which I was really quite pleased with. Considering I thought there was a lot of room for improvement, I can’t complain about that score. It was right there with other horses who are more experienced and much fancier than we are.


One minor detail… remember how I said I had to meander around a bit to get the approach I wanted into the ring? Well, that put me a few seconds late entering the arena. And you know who really watches that clock? Peter. So I got an error for entering late, which brought the final score to 33.8. Whoops.

I was proud of Henry though, he tried his little heart out and was really good, definitely exceeding any expectations I had for dressage. I know how hard this test was for him mentally and I was thrilled that I was able to keep him with me and keep his brain intact from start to finish. He showed a lot of maturity.

And the best part? The next phase was CROSS COUNTRY, something we were both a lot more excited about!

We’re home!

Boy, I really left y’all hanging there didn’t I? I fully intended to come back and write another couple update posts while we were still at Coconino, but to be totally honest I was having a really good time immersing myself in my horse life and enjoying my showcation, and I decided to take advantage of the break. My mental health really required that I just decompress for a bit and let everything else fall away, so I did.

In short, Coconino was fantastic. Flagstaff is so beautiful, the weather is so nice (the locals thought it was hot – LOL), and it was really great to put everything else in my life aside for a while and just have fun with Henry. Every time I think I can’t possibly love that horse any more than I already do, he gives me even more of himself. It’s incredibly humbling to feel how hard he tries for me and how much he loves his job. I will get into the show recap in subsequent posts, but he gave me the absolute ride of my life on cross country, and it’s one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.


In between the first and second show, we snuck an afternoon away for non-horsey things. We drove down the mountains to the city of Sedona, did some touristy things, ate some food, and enjoyed the down time. It’s amazing how a short 40 minute drive brings a complete change in the scenery. I’m not generally a lover of the Southwest or the desert, but you have to admit that Arizona is beautiful.


On Wednesday I did a schooling jumper round, because it had been a while since we’d jumped a course. Henry was WILD but went in there with his tail on fire and had quite a good time. I think after the first week he was wondering exactly WTF we were doing here, since he hadn’t shown yet. That whole first week I rode him twice a day, one quiet stretchy hack and one actual ride, generally flat work since he was a complete IDIOT out there on the track for those first several days. I was definitely glad I’d chosen not to show week 1 and let him settle in, and he did finally relax, but boy he was glad to see some jumps after all that dressage.

from our Prelim schooling round

Henry likes to put up a grumpy, detached persona, but I think he enjoyed having extra attention. He let his derpy personality hang out and made some new friends, which garnered him lots of extra treats throughout the two weeks. I was worried that he’d be a lunatic about Dobby, since they’re turned out together at home and trailered to Coconino together, but we put them on opposite sides of the aisle with some trailers in between that blocked the line of sight, and they settled after the first few minutes. It ended up not being a problem the whole time, which was a big relief. I bedded his stall deep, gave him an endless buffet of hay, and he was pretty happy with his horse show life.

a teeny bit of supplement powder left on the bottom of your bucket? No problem, Henry will clean that up for you free of charge.

Aside from horse time, there was also a lot of good quality Horse-Friend time. Our group was huge, with 19 horses, and we had a little compound of trailers where most of us were camping. It’s really a fantastic group of people, everyone is super supportive of each other and genuinely helpful and kind. Sometimes it’s hard to find that, especially in a group that ranges in age from teenagers to grandmothers, and in experience from Beginner Novice to Advanced, but somehow with these folks it just works.

The Texas girls got cold on that rainy afternoon

While the show didn’t end the way I wanted (spoiler alert), I still came away with a whole new level of confidence. This sport is hard, especially when we start challenging ourselves and pushing the limits. Sometimes things go our way and sometimes they don’t. Regardless of that, we had some really monumental moments and some big breakthroughs. Before Coconino I was 70% sure that we could actually do Prelim, but now I’m sitting at 100%. The lingering doubt is gone and I know for sure that we can do this. I’m sitting on a brilliant horse.

find a coach who meets you at the finish like this

Amidst all that time with like-minded friends, there were some conversations about what success really means, what it looks like for different people, and how expectations change and evolve as we move through life. I had plenty of time for quiet introspection, hacking through the woods every morning, and I found myself reflecting on the last time we were at Coconino in 2016 – who I was then and what I thought I wanted. Everything is so very different now, including me. I’ve had a pretty massive change in perspective and mindset. If you’d told my 2016 self (who cared so much about placings and scores and qualifications) that we’d be back in 2019 at Prelim, and have one of the best shows of our lives despite not finishing, I never would have believed you. Things are so very different.

The Weldon’s Wall that has lived in my mind for years as tangible evidence of things we can’t do or a rider I can’t be… we conquered that shit without a problem. I made a figurative mountain out of that thing and my horse hopped right over it like it was nothing. What other limitations have I been putting on us for no reason? What else am I allowing to occupy a larger-than-life space in my mind?

Using Hillary for scale became one of my new favorite things

While some things about it are definitely still a work in progress, and it’s certainly not fancy, Coconino is a great show and hopefully we’ll be back next year to give it another go. There’s something about Flagstaff that just manages to anchor itself to my soul. Maybe it’s the cold quiet mornings, or the sound of the wind whistling through the pines, or how you can look up and see so many stars in that big dark northern Arizona sky. Maybe it’s just the fact that I can go there and strip bare of everything except the equestrian part of me. No work, no personal life, no worries, just me and the best horse I’ve ever had. Whatever it is, it’s magical. I feel better today than I have in a long time. Recharged and ready to look ahead at what’s next.


The boys traveled well, eating and drinking a lot (they downed their whole water buckets on that last Texas leg when it got really hot – I think the horses will miss the Flagstaff weather, too!) and settled right back in at home. They were super happy to get back to turnout last night, and I have no doubt that Henry will be napping hard in his stall this morning. He is looking forward to his summer break, I’m sure. Oh – and Presto grew a foot while I was gone.

Pretty sure he was telling Dobby that he’s excited they get to go to FEH Champs together

Stay tuned for the actual show recap once I can get myself and some media organized!

Coconino Days 1-5

Well that was probably the longest break I’ve taken from the blog in years, but I was too busy enjoying my vacation from real life. It’s been ridiculously nice. The cool mountain air, 24/7 pony time, and hanging out with cool horse people all day… it’s what my soul needed, in a big way. As I’m typing this post it’s 47 degrees and I’m sitting in front of Henry’s stall listening to him munch his hay.

At 6:30am on a Friday I would usually be sitting at my desk at work. This was way better.

The drive was delightfully uneventful. We broke up the 17 hour drive into two days, put on a podcast, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Both boys hauled great, ate and drank a lot, and got to stretch their legs at our layover location. They came off the trailer looking fresh and happy and feeling really good.

Dobby is learning how to beg for cookies at the rest stops

We arrived on the 4th in the early afternoon, got the boys settled, and did an easy ride to stretch their legs. My original plan for the first week was to do some jumper rounds and a schooling dressage test on Friday before the show started, but due to a high number of entries they only offered jumper rounds through Novice and only had a short court set up for dressage. So… those things didn’t happen. I didn’t really mind though, because Henry was kinda wild and spooky those first few days. I got on him twice a day and he still didn’t finally stop spooking at the dressage letters and tents (and bushes and trees and rocks and stumps and squirrels and…) until yesterday. At Coconino the dressage courts are set up in the racetrack, which can definitely make it a little tougher for the OTTB’s. They ain’t dumb, they remember what a track is. One morning I got on and ended up just cantering for 20 minutes straight until he finally relaxed and took a deep breath. That seemed to be what he needed, and he’s felt better and better as he’s settled in.

We have a lot of people and horses in our group so it’s not as if I was lacking things to do, even if I wasn’t showing. I would hack early in the morning, help and spectate all day, and then ride again in the afternoon. It’s been busy, and really fun to watch and cheer on my barnmates without the stress of showing myself. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’m delighted just to be here, no matter what I’m doing.

I also get texted pictures like this, when Henry cons our neighbor Julie into giving him cookies

Yesterday after the show was over they opened the course briefly for XC schooling, so we headed out with a group. I really just wanted to jump a few things to get us dialed back in to the XC ride, but we ended up jumping a lot of the Prelim stuff. Including the giant gross Weldon’s wall that I hate with every fiber of my being. If someone burns it down, it wasn’t me. But Henry was FANTASTIC, just locking on to everything like a machine. He didn’t even blink at the Weldon’s, or the skinnies, or the coffin, or the water combinations. Even when he tripped in the ditch of the coffin he never took his eye off of the skinny out. He just felt absolutely amazing and really happy to finally be doing something he thinks is fun.

So, after that we had a discussion about changing my entry. Originally I had entered Training, but switched to PT last week when I saw that they were offering it. After yesterday’s school Trainer said that she thought another Training would kinda be a waste of his legs at this point, and she’d rather see me challenge myself at Prelim than just hop around another Training. After how he felt yesterday, I have to say that I agree. He’s on fire, and he’s ready for the harder and bigger stuff. It felt like we could have done anything. So last night I switched my entry to Prelim. This poor secretary, I am so annoying.

Today is a day off, we’re taking everyone on a walk hack this morning and then the humans are headed off to do some hiking and sightseeing. Tomorrow, back to work!

Day Zero

Y’all, I made it. The last day of work before we leave for Coconino tomorrow. I’m so delighted, I’ve already planned how I’m going to make my exit this afternoon.

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Like this.

It’s been a stressful couple months. Work has been crazy, and I’ve recently taken on more responsibility, which has just magnified the stress. I’m not a particularly anxious person, so I deal with it pretty well (ie I stuff it deep down inside where it can fester forever), but still… I need a break. Will everything be on fire when I get back? Probably. Will it take me weeks to fix it? Probably. Do I care right now? Not a damn bit.

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I am so ready for cooler temps, lower humidity, the smell of pine trees permeating the air, 10 days of nothing but poniesponiesponies, and hanging out with all my best horse peeps. The horse show aspect hasn’t even registered. I don’t even care about that.

It is a thing of beauty. I will take 20% humidity, please and thank you.

Of course, it is still a horse show so I still have to pack all that crap. You will be delighted to know that, true to form, I haven’t packed anything yet. Because that’s who I am as a person.

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But I did laundry last night, so that’s step 1. Go me. This afternoon I’ll pack the trailer, and tonight I’ll pack all my own stuff. I’m pretty excited to be pulling Henry’s blanket and my jackets and vests back out, not gonna lie. Bring on the 40 degree mornings, Flagstaff. I’m so ready for this trip that I’m not even stressed about it, or any of the logistics of our 16 hour drive. I just want to put my best bud in the trailer and hit the highway headed west.

I have done one thing so far, in that I dyed and cleaned up Henry’s tail. It’s been a long time since I dyed it and it was back in it’s natural rust-streaked state, so now it’s black again. Or “Brown Black”. Thanks Clairol.

If this doesn’t make your heart go pitter-patter, we can’t be friends.

Actually, I’ve done 2 things. I downloaded 8 new books to my Kindle so that I’ll have reading material while we’re there. Priorities, ya know?

As always when I leave for more than a few days, I’m going to miss Presto. He will probably be delighted though, just eating and sleeping. I know that he’s in great hands, so I’m not as nervous being gone as I have been in the past. The barn owner actually takes better care of him than I do, I think. She was relatively horrified that he went to his FEH show a little ribby and covered in bite marks (I mean, he’s 2…), and now that he’s qualified for championships she’s made it her own personal pet project to make him beautiful before then.


I gave up on caring about this horse’s missing chunks of hair somewhere around month 2 of his life, but she is going to town with the coconut oil. By the time she’s done he looks like an appaloosa. He’s also spending like 20 hours a day eyeball deep in hay, which I have zero complaints about. Of course, he just keeps growing up, not out. This growth spurt has to end eventually though, right?


We’re planning on leaving as the sun is coming up tomorrow morning, so we can get to our layover location before the worst heat of the day. Just like our last trip to Coco, we’re staying with Bobby’s husband’s parents again at their farm in New Mexico. I will try to post regular updates from the road, as long as my WordPress app will allow. I’m not taking my computer and I won’t have WiFi (my heart just cackled in glee at both of those things), but I’ll do my best.

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Human Fountain

On Friday I took off work early so we could head up to Willow Draw for one last XC school before Coconino. It’s a 4 hour drive, and it’s hot, so we decided to drive up on Friday, school on Saturday morning, and then drive home. That makes it slightly less awful. We got there Friday evening, rode the horses for all of 10 minutes (lord, the humidity), went to get food, and then went to bed.

staring out towards the start box, as one does

On Saturday morning all started out normal. I got up, fed the horses, changed, and started prepping all my stuff. Then my stomach started hurting. Then I found myself in the bathroom 3 times in the span of an hour. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I realized my stomach was not happy. I swung up on my horse just hoping I wouldn’t have to make an emergency run for the bushes while we were riding. I dunno what’s up with me lately but the last 3 times I’ve seen Trainer, I’ve been either sick or injured. Maybe it’s her. (just kidding… maybe…)

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Stop it.

Henry was On Fire with a wild hair up his butt, very happy to be back out in his element. We had to have a couple of discussions about who’s actually in charge of the speed at which we travel and where we leave the ground. He was super game though, definitely his normal self, which is a relief since I tried to kill us at our last XC schooling and I was worried it might affect his confidence. Yeah, no. Zero percent. He was balls to the wall and very delighted to be there.

We didn’t do a whole lot, no need to jump his legs off right before a long trip, we just wanted to get him listening and balanced and get our heads back into the XC game. Rideability was the focus. By the midway point of the school I started feeling like I might puke, but I managed to hold it together until the end. Something was definitely up. By this point I was in what could only be called severe gastric distress, I just wasn’t sure which end was ultimately going to suffer most. You know what makes for a really long drive home? Someone who has to stop at regular intervals to become a human fountain. It was horrific. Indescribably bad. I had Satan inside of me.

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We eventually made it back to the barn late afternoon, got the horses unloaded, and then I started driving home. At which point I became concerned I wouldn’t actually make it before Satan made another appearance. I had the pedal to the metal, white-knuckling the steering wheel. By the time I Toyko-drifted into my neighborhood I was sweating profusely. My normally 40 minute drive took 33 minutes. Y’all, this was one of the most distressed times of my life. I made it to the bathroom, but barely. The neighbor was outside when I came screeching into my driveway and made a mad dash for the house, so I don’t know what he thinks but either way he’s probably right.

By that point I was definitely convinced I had food poisoning, and I capped off my delightful day by puking 6 times in half an hour. That seemed to finally do the trick though, or just managed to empty me out so completely that there was nothing left for my body to be angry about. Either way, it was a sweet relief. I spent yesterday rehydrating and ate some soup, all of which stayed down just fine. My appetite isn’t back to 100%, but the human fountain episodes are gone, so all seems to be well now. Talk about some really freaking great timing though. Lord.

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So that was… a fun… experience.

But Henry feels great, and he looks great, and despite spending 8 hours in a trailer and plus an XC school all within 24 hours he was still apparently wild enough to run laps in turnout that evening while Presto and Dobby buried their heads in the round bale. I jokingly told the vet that maybe he put in too much hock juice. I’m totally okay with it though, I like it when he feels good, even if it means he’s extra sassy.

And now, let the packing commence. 2 more work days until I’m free!