Amy Nelson
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Amy Nelson

Achievements

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About Amy Nelson

Amy Nelson is a professional Event rider based in Rochester, IL. Owner and trainer of Hummingbird Stables, she has been riding Hunter/Jumper and Eventers for the past 25 years. She trains horses for competition, is a regional expert in OTTB retraining, and leads an active show team in Area IV. She has been a "pony person" and exercise rider at the racetrack, and competed in the RRP Thor, oughbred Makeover for several years. When not Eventing, she enjoys training flat shod gaited horses, playing with her dogs, and spending time trail riding with her husband.

Latest Articles Written

Friday Fashion Forecast: Corral Your ‘Showshirt Ponies’ With a SheFit Sports Bra

Let’s be honest … my “Showshirt Ponies” are nothing larger than a Welsh cross. An 11-hand, petite equine that still needs to be contained, but marches around with a Napoleon complex wanting to feel larger than reality. It does not take a whole lot to corral this type of pony, but maybe she needs a little lift once in awhile to feel confident. Seriously. I’m curvy like a dry piece of spaghetti. I was once addressed as “Sir” at a horse event. Many times at shows people ask if I am in the youth division (I’m 37 years old), and there have been incidents where horse show management asks if I am my husband’s daughter. 

Amy riding Hummingbird’s Mendacium — this warmblood can TROT!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have an adult working student named Ashley who has four kids and uses barn time as ‘adult time.’ She is very feminine in her curves, and has told me that she worries about her draft-cross “Showshirt Ponies” dragging to her knees. They are large, powerful horses, and a solid corral is a must-have or her ponies will be galloping free at a horse show. We do have one thing in common — we both work long 12-hour days … so comfort is a MUST.

Ashley corrals her draft-cross “showshirt ponies”

Is there really a sports bra that can work for both body types … and not make us want to tear it off by noon?

Introducing the SheFit Ultimate Sports Bra. The first thing I noticed with the SheFit Ultimate Sports Bra is how custom the fit really is. They do come in standard sizes like small, medium, large and then a variety of “Luxe” sizes. But the difference is in the design: the straps on the shoulders and the strap around your ribcage is fastened with extra-strength Velcro so you can make it the exact size and shape of your body.  No more guessing, or having the approximate fit!

Both Ashley and I loved this. On the rare occasion that I am actually bra shopping, nothing ever fits quite right. It’s either too tight or too loose and I either look like a sad pancake, or like a teenager with spare room who needs to stuff socks in with the gals to give the illusion of even a cob-sized pony in her corral. The website touts a “Zip, Cinch, Lift™ technology,” where “the Shefit bra adapts to each individual body type to provide unmatched personalized support to women of all unique shapes and sizes.” This is absolutely true. Both Ashley and I enjoyed the perfect fit.

Photo courtesy of SheFit.com

Now when you hear ‘Velcro,’ you may assume it’s cheap construction, but SheFit is anything but. The bra is made of high-quality material and extra stitching assures that your ponies will stay in the corral even with the most energetic sitting trot in your dressage test.  I personally loved the “lift” portion of the design, as my welsh ponies stood tall and proud all day long!
What about comfort? Ashley and I could both attest to this! As a horse trainer and farm owner my days are 12 hours long everyday. The first thing I do at the end of the day is get that bra off and put pajamas on. With the SheFit Ultimate Sports Bra, at no point throughout the day did I find myself tugging, adjusting, or otherwise grumping at the fact that my ponies were still contained. Ashley reported back to me late at night, after the kids went to bed, saying ,”I love it! It’s almost midnight and I’m just now taking it off, if that tells you anything! I was pleasantly surprised at how flattering it looked when it was on. I was able to wear it to work out this morning, and then kept it on when I changed to go to a work meeting! I loved that it had so much support, and you can adjust it where you needed it to be. This is the first night my back and shoulders aren’t sore!”
Corral Your Showshirt Ponies

Amy Nelson compares the fit of a regular sports bra to the “SheFit Ultimate Sports Bra”

I really loved the part where you can change the back of it as well — it was flattering under any shirt with the ability to be an “X” design, or an “H.” Cost-wise you’re looking at spending a bit more than the average sports bra, but for a three-day event, with the ability to literally change the design yourself, it’s well worth it. They come in a variety of colors for every style, they fit EXACTLY to your body, and they are super comfortable even at the hottest of horse shows! Make the SheFit Sports Bra your go-to support for your “Showshirt Ponies!”

Final Review

Cost: $$$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: ***** 5 Stars

From Rescue to Eventer in Nine Months

Three hours into trying to load our rescue mare into the trailer I had just about given up. We were trying to leave for her very first horse trials in our brand new trailer, and she was not having any of it. I had gotten her to the point where she would hop right into our old trailer, but since she did not approve of the upgrade, she was not about to get in. I thought she would love the new well-lit, spacious trailer with a super wide opening and high ceiling. I thought WRONG.

We tried everything to get Hummingbird’s Medacium (Dacey) into the trailer. Treats, a group of helpers, quietly trying to load her myself. There were tears and missing parts of fingers. She is so strong and would drag me away from the trailer like a rag doll and there was nothing I could do. After three hours of this, my husband and stepson had given up and went inside the house. We decided we would just have to scratch if she didn’t get in within the next 30 minutes. But I couldn’t let her win. Also, I had been looking forward to this moment for nine months since the day we adopted her as a future eventer — I just HAD to take to her to the show.

Dacey in June of 2017. Photo credit: Hummingbird Stables.

When she came in to our farm Hummingbird Stables in June of 2017, she could barely lead. She wouldn’t pick up her feet. She didn’t crosstie.  She wasn’t broke to ride. She was lacking any type of muscle and would hide in the corner of her stall when I would try to pet her. She’s perfect. She’ll be a great eventer. My husband and I both agreed and adopted her less than a month later. She was a foster fail.

News Article – Dacey Rescued

Between sobs, I whispered to the stubborn mule of a warmblood that she would be getting in this trailer whether we go to the show or not. “We’ll stay home,” I reasoned with Dacey. “I’ll scratch and let them have my two entries as a donation to the sport. But your next meal will be in this trailer. So, Dacey, figure it out.”

As if all of sudden she understood, or the fact that it was just us, or perhaps the hysterical weeping coming from her otherwise semi-normal human, she put her front two feet in the trailer. “GOOD GIRRRRRRRLLLLL!!!!!” I exclaimed between sputters. I was trying not to get overly excited but at this point I was hopeful. A minute and a half later she was in the trailer without complaint. We were both sweaty and exhausted and I started screaming with joy, “SHE’S IN!!!! LET’S GO WE CAN GO SHE’S INNNNNNNNNN!!”

From the back pasture up sprints one of my students, out of breath and looking panicked. She heard the screaming and commotion and thought I was hurt. “No she’s in the trailer! Woooooo!” I shouted with a grin.

My husband was not nearly as joyful as due to the late start we did not arrive to the Kentucky Horse Park Until 1 a.m. and to our campsite until 2. Back awake at 6 a.m. to prep for the day, he assured me that he would be getting a nap that afternoon. I smiled and nodded but knew that would not be the case.

Warm-up went surprisingly well at Spring Bay Horse Trials as this unflappable mare took everything in stride.  Her stubborn, strong personality was good for something as it turns out. She was not concerned with the atmosphere at the Kentucky Horse Park. She was not worried about the tractors or wash stalls or banners flapping in the breeze. I was starting to relax as I believed the worst must be over. We made it here and it seems like she is going to do great! That was until I went to walk the cross country course.

My student and I walked all over the Kentucky Horse Park admiring the course that was already set for the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event later this month. We were looking all around wondering where they would have tucked the courses for our event. Finally we stopped and asked another competitor. “Oh! The course is at Masterson Station Park! That’s down the road 15 minutes!” she exclaimed. “You have to trailer over on Sunday. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”

My heart sank. “WHAT?!!” we both exclaimed in unison. How could we have missed that detail on the entry? We are both professionals, yet somehow skipped over that all important detail that the cross country course was off site. How in the world would I get this fussy mare back in the trailer to be on time for her round? She definitely won’t tie to the trailer. What will I do with her during my other horse’s round? I guess we’ll take it one step at a time.

I figured I would do my dressage and show jumping the next day and give it a whirl Sunday morning. We would start loading super early so she could have plenty of time to figure it out. And if I couldn’t get her in the trailer I would just leave her in her stall until after my Training level round with my other horse Hummingbird’s River. This we’ll figure it out attitude was new for me and rather cathartic. There was nothing I could do to change what had to be done, so I was strangely calm going in to a difficult weekend.

Dressage was everything I could ask for in a super green horse, especially after a 30 degree temperature drop over night and a inch of snow! She took everything in stride and did all of the movements I had asked. She even trotted, suspiciously, but correctly, in the corner of the arena, after a terrifying puddle had formed when sun peaked out to melt the snow. Oddly enough the crazy weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as thanks to the purchase of a new trailer and my attempt at being a good competitor, I had forgotten my hunt coat in the laundry room at home! But they had made the announcement at the beginning of the day that winter coats would suffice. I was strangely thankful for the snow at that moment as it was going to get rather complicated borrowing my student’s coat for every phase.

Show jumping was fantastic as she only dropped one rail! Although she was not a fan of waiting her turn, and standing quietly by the in-gate was not an option. I apologized to the other wide-eyed competitors as we circled 27,000 times before our number was called, and you could hear the faint growl of an impatient mare as if she was saying, I know we need to jump the things, so let’s do this already so I can go eat. We had to get a running start to get IN the ring, but once she was going her jumps looked picture perfect.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium at Spring Bay Horse Trials 2018. Photo credit: Vics Pics

Sunday morning came sooner than I expected and it was time to load her in the trailer. My Training level run with Hummingbird’s River at 12:30 p.m., and Hummingbird’s Mendacium was at 2:30 p.m.  So we started loading at 9 a.m.

Thirty seconds later she was in the trailer happily munching her hay. We were going to be so early. She would have to stand (quietly??) in the trailer for several hours as she doesn’t yet tie. “I hate you so much,” I whispered, with a loving grin. And we were off to cross country three hours early.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium at Spring Bay Horse Trials 2018. Photo credit: Vics Pics.

Cross country was by far my favorite part of the event. The random competitor was right. We would love Masterson Station Park. I recognized many of the questions from previous events at the Kentucky Horse Park, as likely they brought those jumps over for Spring Bay Horse Trials. This formerly ribby, antisocial mare was brave and listening, and just a pleasure to ride. She brought me to the fences. She cantered off quietly after each question and was double clear by the time we reached the finish line.  She had finished in 10th place on paper, but 1st in our hearts.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium at Spring Bay Horse Trials 2018. Photo credit: Vics Pics

When we adopted her as an unbroke 7-year-old from Crosswinds Equine Rescue, we renamed her Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Mendacium is a lie, or a falsehood. Because we believed what we saw on the surface was not the truth. Under there somewhere was an athlete. A sweetheart. A horse that wanted attention and one that wanted a job. By the time we made it to the Kentucky Horse Park nine months after adopting her … we had found all that and so much more.

Prepping for Prelim: Does Size Matter?

Amy Nelson and 2015 mount “River Clam” (Hummingbird’s River). Photo by Xpress Foto.

The 2018 eventing season is upon us and perhaps you are looking to move up a level this year. But as you go up the ladder it’s not always about the height of the jump, but rather the complicated combinations and the speed at which they appear to your horse. How do you prepare your horse for such a leap? By realizing that SIZE DOESN’T MATTER.

Amy Nelson and River over a mini “log,” two strides to a small drop.

In a recent Dom Schramm clinic at my farm Hummingbird Stables, we were setting jumps for the Training/Prelim group. I was riding my horse River and asked if he wanted us to set the jumps higher. His response: “Why is everything about size with you?” I knew what he was getting at but everything in my being had to bite my tongue, when the obvious joke popped into my mind.

The giggles from the crowd proved that I was not the only one who had this thought. But he had a point. Why is everything about size?

My 7-year-old Training level OTTB has a lot of qualities. “He’s so big!” — every girl at a horse show. “He’s got a HUGE scapula.” — my Devoucoux saddle fitter. “He’s a bit enthusiastic and a little too keen.” — every trainer and clinician. But no one ever mentions his “great brain” or “what a thinker.” So how can I prep this big dumb dinosaur (bless his heart, though) for higher levels, where the ability to think quickly is imperative?
Oftentimes at  upper levels it’s not the actual size of the jump that becomes a problem. It’s the rapid combinations and the spooky looking questions. The log, two strides, drop into water, bending line to jump out of the water, and two strides to another jump. Or it’s the massive Weldon’s Wall or scary looking trakehner where you need to find the correct distance — not just run at it and hope for the best.

Amy Nelson and River over a small ditch with adjustable Weldon’s Wall.

On one of the many bad-weather days recently I was watching a travel show called Expedition Unknown and the host went to Turkey.  They had an attraction with mini versions of all the tourist sites of Turkey … only tiny versions, almost like a mini-golf display where you could walk around like a giant and see everything Turkey had to offer in one spot. Surely you would feel powerful and strong, marching around a tiny display of the country’s best attractions. They called it Mini-a-Turk. I was inspired!  I have goals of taking my young Training Level horse “River” to Prelim this year.  But he would benefit from seeing all the combinations of Prelim only with scaled down versions of the jumps.

As we go up the levels we need to remember that it’s not about SIZE, but about the EXER-CISE.  We can build the horse’s confidence over smaller versions of trakehners and Weldon’s walls and coffins. Using jump standards, adjust the wall or pole over your ditch to bring it up three inches at a time, until before you know it you’re jumping Prelim height. Get your horse thinking quicker over smaller versions of ABCD elements involving water. Because then when they go to the level they know how to answer the question.  This process can begin with lower level, younger horses with crossrails set up next to the water complex, teenie tiny ditches and poles, etc. By the time they are ready for upper levels, the combos are no big deal.

When you’re prepping for Prelim: size doesn’t matter.

3 … 2 … 1 … have a mini ride.

RRP Thoroughbred Makeover: You’ve Been Accepted! Now What?

Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover

On Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, the internet was on fire with celebratory posts like “I got in! I’m accepted into the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover 2018!” In fact, 794 trainers likely made such an announcement, and 231 of them declared Eventing as their primary discipline. But now that it’s Monday, the work week has begun, and the reality has set in, perhaps the question many are asking is, “Now what?”

Here’s some helpful advice for competitors doing the Makeover! As a competitor myself in 2015 and 2016, I can promise the range of emotions you will feel during the process are completely normal, and that everyone else feels the same way.

You’ll experience excitement when you realize you’re among an elite group of trainers, amateurs and youth from around North America (and the world!) who love OTTBs as much as you do.

You’ll have joy when your project trots that first ground pole, handles that first trail ride like a champ, or accepts the bit and your leg for the first time, when if you squint it almost looks like he’s thinking about a dressage frame (almost).

You’ll feel frustration when he gets the inevitable pasture injury. Or even devastation when he passes away suddenly due to colic at only 5 years old.

There’s an amazing support group of riders just like you, going through the same happiness and struggles, who are there for you. Many have experience with feeding (weight building) and care of OTTBs, dealing with injuries, and retraining a thoroughbred brain. Reach out to them.

Amy Nelson’s 2015 mount “River Clam” — Purchase Day on 10/2013 (top) to current 12/2017 (bottom).

EN spoke to Erin Harty from the Retired Racehorse Project, and we asked:

What are the top three things you want competitors to do leading up to the Makeover?

1. “Be an informed competitor. First and foremost, read the rules. Read the rules. READ THE RULES. (Seriously, can’t emphasize this enough.) Just about every question a competitor could have is covered in there. Also, read the emails RRP sends you. The competition at the Thoroughbred Makeover is not structured the same as a regular horse trial and while we go to great pains to explain everything to our competitors, we can’t help you if you don’t read the emails!”

2. “Seek out help — both in retraining your OTTB and with the specifics of the competition. It’s permitted in the rules for someone else to be the primary rider on your horse before July 30, so if you want to have a professional do the first few months of post-track training, you can. You should have an OTTB-knowledgeable professional trainer helping you, at least occasionally, regardless of your level of experience — we all need eyes on the ground! The Makeover also comes with a built-in support system of fellow trainers, many of whom have decades of experience in restarting thoroughbreds, and they’re more than happy to offer advice through our trainers-only Facebook group. The camaraderie among the trainers is one of the best aspects of the Makeover, so take advantage of it!”

3. “Market your own OTTB, and OTTBs in general. Although everyone has their own competitive goals, the primary goal of the Makeover is to increase nationwide demand for off-track Thoroughbreds, and our Makeover trainers play a huge role in doing that. The Makeover offers a great opportunity for your friends, family, barnmates, etc., to follow along as these horses start their journeys into second careers.”

“The more we talk about how talented our OTTBs are, how quickly they learn, and how versatile they can be, the more we elevate the status of OTTBs as a whole. We encourage all trainers to start a Facebook page for their own Makeover mount where they can post photos, videos and updates. For horses that are for sale, this is doubly important. The Makeover is an amazing opportunity to get your OTTB resale project in front of a huge audience of interested buyers. Invest the time in taking good photos and videos and writing a great sale listing for your horse.

“It’s also important not to get Makeover tunnel vision — this is just the start of your horse’s new career, it’s not the end goal. Put your horse first. Even if you don’t make it to the competition, you’re helping to get more of these amazing horses into new jobs.”

Amy Nelson and 2015 mount “River Clam” (Hummingbird’s River) at the Makeover Oct 2015 (left), Training Level Eventing at Hagyard Midsouth Three-Day Event Oct 2017 (right).

To me, as a previous competitor, the most important thing to remember is that it’s a JOURNEY, not a destination.  The RRP Thoroughbred Makeover will take place October 4-7, 2018 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Your eager mount will step onto the same course where four-star eventers and grand prix show jumpers have competed. They walk their course in this arena just like you will … with nervous excitement … as the world watches. But after the Makeover is done, and you head back home with your OTTB (or he goes home with a new, loving family), the real fun begins!

Amy Nelson and 2015 mount “River Clam” (Hummingbird’s River). Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

My 2015 mount River Clam (we show him under Hummingbird’s River) will aim to go Prelim this year, with a one-star on the horizon. It was amazing the emotions that hit me in October 2017, when on the two-year anniversary of his RRP Thoroughbred Makeover Competition, he was competing in Training Level at the Hagyard Midsouth Team Competition & Three-Day Event. Photos kept showing up on my social media history as a reminder of how far we’ve come.

This was a horse who finished in the top 2/3 of Eventers (read: 40th place out of maybe 60) … whom judges described as “very green,” “a little too keen,” and “very, VERY bold.” Don’t get me wrong, the judges were absolutely spot on. It’s taken a few years to direct this gangly grey dinosaur’s enthusiasm.

Amy Nelson and 2015 mount “River Clam” January 2015 (left), October 2017 (right).

But as you mount up this week for the first ride on your green OTTB, or even start shopping for a Makeover horse, remember: you’re not alone.  Retraining takes time. And as my trainer always told me, “Horses work on horse time. Not human time.”

3…2…1…have a great ride.

This article is dedicated to our 2016 mount Joegun (barn name Six) who was taken too soon by colic after the Makeover, and to all the others we have loved and lost.

 

 

The New Year Is Looming! 18 Transitions for a Better 2018

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s Mendacium practice transitions.

You survived No Stirrup November, the holidays are upon you, and you look to the New Year with excitement! You’re filling your 2018 calendar with horse trials and events, trying out brand new tack and show clothes from your wishlist, but do you have a plan? How can you be better this year than last?

Transitions, transitions, transitions.

The key to a responsive horse and a sophisticated hand and seat is doing 2,018 transitions as we move to the new year. Beginner students hear this all the time: it’s not the canter that’s difficult; it’s the transition. Advanced riders understand transitions get tougher as the dressage tests get harder. Medium to working to extended gaits, halt, rein-back … the list goes on. and on. In your stadium and cross country rounds you need transitions constantly. Your horse should go from a bold gallop to a coffin canter with ease. He should be able to do a working canter to cover some ground in stadium, and a more collected canter for a rollback or tight in-and-out.

He should listen to your seat and leg for a quiet downward transition — you should not rely on a heavy hand and stronger bit just to get the job done. It takes hours of practice to master transitions. What better time to practice 18 combinations of transitions, 2,018 times, than when you’re stuck inside, as the year changes?

Then you’ll be ready for spring, to go out confidently in all three phases knowing you’ll have smooth, consistent transitions.

In reality, there are probably more than 18 possible combinations. But let’s name 18 for 2018!

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

1.  Walk to Trot
2. Trot to Canter
3. Canter to Trot
4. Trot to Walk
5. Walk to Halt
6. Trot to Halt
7. Canter to Halt
8. Medium Trot to Working Trot
9. Working Trot to Extended Trot
10.  Extended Trot to Working Trot
11. Medium Canter to Working Canter
12. Working Canter to Extended Canter
13. Medium Canter to Collected Canter
14. Medium Trot to Collected Trot
15. Gallop to Coffin Canter
16.  Coffin Canter to Gallop
17. Halt to Rein-Back
18. Halt to Dismount and Take a Nap! ;)

Go from sitting to posting to two-point. And remember: It’s not your job to hold them in the perfect pace or hold them in the halt. It’s their job to do that pace or stay still until you tell them otherwise. With young Thoroughbreds we start with counting to three at the halt. Maybe we only make it to one or two. But it’s a start. Then we remind them to stop and try again; we don’t hold them in the halt. This can cause great anxiety and a young horse and lead to rearing if they feel trapped. Make it your goal throughout the winter to count to 10 or 30 or even 60 at the halt — so by spring your halt and salute at X will be no big deal!

If you’re riding a quieter, push-ride, concentrate on the upward transitions. Getting a response when you gently ask and work on more of the extended gates. This will brighten up a dull horse.

If you are on a hot, young horse, work on the downward transitions. Use mostly seat and leg and only a little bit of rein as the final message. This will help slow them be more responsive to listening for a downward transition. If you get them to the point where you can close your leg and sit on your seatbones for a halt, then in the excitement of a show you will at least get them to come back to a decent canter when you do the same.

The year is changing, and so should your gaits. Is it as fun as galloping around cross country? Of course not. But your future 2018 self will thank you for putting in all the work.

Transitions. Transitions. Transitions.

 

Friday Fashion Forecast: Arias Whips

You zip up your vest, click into your pinny, grab your whip, and take a deep breath as you get a leg up before cross country. In the start box as the timer counts down, a million things race through your mind. Your fingers grip the reins and squeeze your whip extra tight as nerves and excitement fill your body. THIS is why you event.

But something’s different. The golden glint of your whip shimmers through the morning fog. Your name on the handle gives you confidence as if to say, “I’ve made it. I can do this.” Your team logo peeks through to remind why the early mornings and late nights … they’re counting on you.

Arias Whips

Introducing Arias Whips. I had the opportunity to try a custom Arias Whip recently and while excited, I started out a bit skeptical. How would this be different than other whips on the market? Are they really so much better than a stock whip?

The process was a bit daunting at first — you really do customize everything from the popper, to the thread, and shaft. I’ll be honest, 25 years of riding and even working at the racetrack for a couple of years, and I had no clue what a popper was! As it turns out, it’s the flicky-thing at the end of the whip. You can choose a variety of different poppers and the website explains what each of them will do. It goes on the show all the options for colors, and customization, with detailed instructions on how each item should be decided. I was like a kid in a candy store! It was extremely difficult to pick a theme, colors, and what the handle should look like. I finally decided on black handle with gold sparkle and black shaft, to keep it simple so it would look classy for years to come. I chose my name and barn logo on the handle.

It took a few weeks to arrive, as expected, because Arias Whips deals in quality, not quantity. When it finally arrived (I saw the delivery driver lumber up our gravel drive), I was so excited I ran up to meet him! “My whip is here!” I spent 10 minutes relishing the beauty of the whip, the gorgeous detailing, and the extra soft grip … before panic set in. I had just finished riding my young horse River when the package came, put him in his stall, and forgot to latch the gate! I sprinted back to the barn, whip in hand — he was just standing there in his stall, gate wide open, happily munching his hay.

There’s something magical about this quality whip. The attention to detail, the craftsmanship, the lightweight body with a soft grip. When I held it in my hand, I felt like I was holding a magic wand of eventing.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BbkdyRpFE4b/

Carlos Arias spent three decades as a jockey, and in 2007 he purchased a whip business from former jockey Orlando Garrido. Located in California near the Santa Anita Racetrack, he has elevated whip making to an art form.  They offer jumping/eventing whips, and even dressage whips for jog ups.

pc: Arias Whips

If you have one whip in your career, make it an Arias Whip.

EN readers: Use the promo code ARIAS2017 for $20 off your next jump whip purchase!

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Instagram @ariaswhips

Final Review

Cost: $$$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: **** 4 Stars

 

 

#DropFaceChallenge & Other Highlights from the WD&CTA William Fox-Pitt Eventing Symposium

William Fox-Pitt was in Madison for the Wisconsin Dressage & Combined Training Association’s Eventing Symposium over the weekend, November 4-5, 2017. Eventing Nation’s Amy Nelson was there to recap highlights from the symposium, and she seized the opportunity to sit down and chat with him about cross country questions, horse show nerves, and why eventing is still a thrill.

Photo by Amy Nelson.

Throughout the symposium William answered audience questions between groups of eager riders, and this was extremely educational. A few talking-point takeaways …

Winter Is Coming

Since the symposium was in Area IV, where we face a long winter as eventers, the topic of how to deal with the off-season came up. In England, they have winter. Not like in the Midwest, William laughed, but still. He described his training routine over the colder months, including six weeks of “holiday” for his horses. It’s a fact. It takes six weeks for a horse to recover from strenuous work. Why not give them six weeks off? He explained that during the winter they let the horses get wooly and just be horses. Because, after all, a horse is an animal. Let their brains rest.

In answering one audience member’s question of, “How is eventing in the UK different from the U.S.,” William mentioned our extreme weather here. I never really thought about it, although in Illinois we can go from -10 actual temperature in the winter to 115 degrees in the summer. And I know we are not the most extreme state in the country! He also talked about how every show is so far, and you spend so much money in fuel and time to get there.

Training Outside the Box

“Not everyone has access to beautiful jumps like these,” he said as he gestured to the Jump4Joy stadium and indoor cross country fences in the Alliant Energy Center. You jump what you have available. Jump a dust bin or something weird. Jump chairs or whatever in the field. Jump without the fancy flags so when you have flags it’s just a bonus. I loved this.

He described how loads of his training is done outside, on hills, and in fields. As trainer with a small farm, I found this amazingly refreshing. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on what you don’t have, but this four-star rider provided a wonderful reminder that it doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. Lead changes should be taught outside in field. There’s less pressure on the horse than in a 20m by 40m arena. Use hills, tons of walking and long hacks to train your event horse.

Photo courtesy of WDCTA.

Winning the Warm-up

William explained the key to a successful warm up at an event as well. He admitted that warm-up arenas can be utter chaos, but advised, Forget all the parents and trainers. Just think about yourself and “get on with it.” This became one of his favorite phrases throughout the weekend. He suggested that riders jump a couple jumps, and one at speed, then go in the ring.

He also said if you have a horse that gets too spun up in the warm up ring, before cross country, that you should warm up earlier in the day and simply go straight to the start box from the stables when it’s your time. Time it out. But your horse will be more rideable.

And the key to success is have a plan and stick to it. Don’t change your plan at the last second just because you’re nervous.

One-on-One With EN

William sat down for a one-on-one with Eventing Nation’s Amy Nelson, during which he discussed why he keeps going after all his successes and struggles in the sport, what is his least favorite cross country question, what advice he would give to up-and-coming eventers, and he even participated in the #DropFaceChallenge. Take a look:

Interview with William Fox-Pitt for Eventing Nation.Amy Nelson for Eventing Nation.Madison, WI 11/5/17#dropfacechallenge #eventer #williamfoxpitt #wfpinwi

Posted by Amy Nelson Eventer – Official on Sunday, November 5, 2017

Eventing Nation challenges you! Post a photo or video of you doing a face that you would make over a drop using the #dropfacechallenge. Because we all get nervous, so let’s laugh at each other. Clearly Amy Nelson of EN is much more concerned over a drop (Prelim) than William Fox-Pitt is (four-star).

William Fox-Pitt and EN’s Amy Nelson. #dropfacechallenge

Confidence = Success

William wrapped up the weekend explaining where to find your confidence in the sport. Confidence comes from doing things well, he stated. And doing things well comes when you ride just below your limit. He told the audience that if you go out and ride at the upper limit of what you and your horse CAN do, neither one of you will be fully confident.

We’ve Got This!

I went away from the WDCTA William Fox-Pitt Symposium with a new energy about winter and training. If someone who competes at the four-star level, who has been to the Olympics multiple times, who is recognized around the world for his successful program, has wooly horses in a field that get fit with long hacks and riding up and down hills in the winter months … it gives us all hope that we can keep chipping away at a dream. Because as William said, this is what keeps him going: “I enjoy horses, and what they give us is very exciting and a great thrill.”

3 … 2 … 1 … Have a great winter.

Friday Fashion Forecast: Rockfish Wellies from Shires USA

Shires USA - Rockfish Wellington Magenta Gloss
pc: Amy Nelson Shires USA - Rockfish Wellington Magenta Gloss pc: Amy Nelson

As autumn is in full swing in many regions of eventing, we are faced with changing temperatures & precipitation. Depending on your area, rain, sleet, or (dare I say it?) snow could be in the forecast this fall. But that doesn’t stop you from trudging out to the pasture, catching your pony, and prepping for the next event/clinic/colorful hack. What does stop you? HOLES.

It appears my clothing choices as an “equestrian hobo” are full of holes. Holes in my socks. Holes in my pants (embarrassing ones at that I discovered this week) … and (gasp) … holes in my muck boots. There’s no worse feeling than slopping through a wet, gooey pasture, only to find holes in your boots. Soaked muddy socks, then stuffed into your expensive field boots, make for freezing feet and grumpy riding. The solution?  Shires USA!

Shires USA – Rockfish Wellington Dragonfly Matte
pc: Shires USA.

Take a look at one option at Shires … the super cute Rockfish Wellington Boots! They come in fun colors — gloss or matte — and are adjustable on the top. This type of top is fantastic … if you’ve ever led a horse that likes to shuffle their feet, they somehow kick up rocks and even poo, up and over into your boots? EW! This top keeps unwanted debris, and even rain, out.  Shires USA even carries neoprene lined Wellies for those of us in eventing areas that suffer from WINTER!

The difference is in the rubber. Rockfish hand makes theirs with a specific formula to resist cracks. That way for the cost of say three other pairs of muck boots, you can purchase ONE pair of Rockfish Wellies.  That means fewer wet feet and fewer old boots in landfills.  Plus, they use more than 90% sustainable materials in every pair.

As a trainer of a small show stable in Illinois, I turn out all our client horses myself. I clean all our stalls myself. I ride 5-7 horses each day and teach dozens of lessons each week. The key to my sanity is dry, comfortable feet this time of year. These boots are super comfortable, look great, and Shires USA is easy to navigate. I do most of my shopping in a haze over coffee … so that’s super important!

Check them out on Instagram @shiresusa
Facebook.com/ShiresEquestrianUSA

 

Final Review

Cost: $$$
Excitement: ** 2 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars

Friday Fashion Forecast: Foot Huggies Equestrian Boot Socks

Foot Huggies Equestrian Boot Socks Foot Huggies Equestrian Boot Socks

“What’s in your boot?” That’s the question Foot Huggies asks riders. For me, I’m always on the lookout for cute boot socks. I love bright colors, fun patterns, and something that shows my personality. Because, let’s be honest, at a show or around the barn, the majority of the time I’m wearing tennis shoes or boots. Field boots and dress boots are expensive, so I don’t want to put unnecessary wear on them by walking a two-mile cross country course or mucking stalls in them between rides. So fun socks are a must!

Foot Huggies – EVENTER
Photo Credit: Instagram

The problem is, most of my cute socks were never meant to last. My toes and heels poke through the flimsy fabric like some sort of equestrian hobo. My feet ache because of the utter lack of support. So I find myself shopping in the baseball sock section of the local sporting goods store, for tall socks with better strength and support. But these only come in plain black, or worse: dorky stripes like we wore in high school softball. Those were great for softball, but I politely refuse to wear them now as an adult equestrian.

Then I found Foot Huggies Equestrian Boot Socks! When I first discovered these I was instantly drawn to them — as an eventer I’m constantly spreading the word about our sport, and always trying to convince my hunter/jumper friends to “come to the dark side.” I adore the fact that you can wear your discipline with pride, right on your socks!

The best part about Foot Huggies is they do exactly what they promise — they hug your foot. They have wonderful support and cushion for walking your cross country course twice, but they are lean enough to fit in your boots without additional bulk.  They come in fun colors too!  Foot Huggies were designed by a fellow equestrian, Jeffi Girgenti, who is a manicurist by day, and jumper rider by passion.  She was on the hunt for a perfect boot sock, so she figured she might as well design one herself!  And all of the Foot Huggies are made right here in the USA.

Have a barn logo, equestrian shop, or team?  You can even have your own custom logo socks!  This is a cool process — they don’t print your logo on the socks.  They KNIT your logo into the sock itself.

Foot Huggies – DRESSAGE
pc: foothuggies.com

These socks definitely hold up to my abuse.  Walking miles a day, back and forth from pasture to pasture, pacing while teaching lessons, and riding 5-7 horses, I can certainly say these are coziest socks ever!

The best part?  Use the code “eventer2017” for 20% off your order at FootHuggies.com!

Want to WIN A FREE PAIR of Foot Huggies?? Post a comment below, and share this article. One winner will be randomly drawn on 11/3/17 of all the entries.  You will get to choose your color/design and size (Eventer, Jumper, Dressage, etc).  Entries close at 11:59pm CST 11/2/17.

Follow them on Facebook @foothuggies and Instagram @foothuggies_ridingboot_socks

Final Review

Cost: $$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars

My Quest to Be Average at Hagyard Midsouth

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird's River - Dunnabeck Horse Trials 2017 Amy Nelson & Hummingbird's River - Dunnabeck Horse Trials 2017

There are moments in eventing that makes it all worthwhile. Where the stars align, the clouds part, and something amazing happens.  After the early mornings and late nights, the hot summers and frigid winters, when you keep chipping away at the dream. Through stitches and broken toes, time faults and rails, forgotten movements and baby horse moments.

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River.

This weekend at Hagyard Midsouth, my young OTTB, River, was awarded the most precious gift: a 36.1 in dressage. To most eventers a 36.1 in dressage would be disappointing. It’s pretty average. But for me, I started to ugly cry down the center line because this young event horse finally got it together. No rearing or spooking … no off-track-giraffe-a-saurus … no frowny face and apology from the dressage judge on your test sheet. You stayed IN the ring, performed ALL of the movements, and some of them even looked like you knew what you were doing! You were fantastically mediocre.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River (Hagyard Midsouth 2017)

To put it all in perspective, a 36.1 is not terrible like 60.61 we got when he lurched down the centerline sideways as a car drove by at Lamplight — and yes,  that was eventing dressage!! (Judge’s comment: “Horse looks very athletic, but unfortunately does not want to play today.”) Not horrid like the 52.9 we got at Dunnabeck Horse Trials when he spooked at the VIP tent and kicked out during the canter transition, where judge actually apologized to ME at the end for the score she was forced to write (although she was quite kind, “haunches left of center … 2.0”).

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River (Hagyard Midsouth 2017)

The most frustrating part is I know in my heart he can do the movements, but will he?  My dressage trainer once said in a lesson, “Oh wow!  He’s ACTUALLY a nice mover! I never would have known.”  That’s because in my first lesson we spent the entire hour trying to trot down from A to C, and NEVER made it. Apparently the mirrors in the arena were terrifying, and the other horse in the ring was a total annoyance to my big grey dinosaur. Between rearing, kicking out, and bolting, we didn’t actually do any “dressage-ing” that lesson. I was comforted slightly when my vet, who also takes lessons from the same trainer, told me that she got bucked off and then trampled by her green horse in that very same arena.

So, to anyone who has ever brought a young horse through the levels, a 36.1 in Training level at the Kentucky Horse Park is like winning at Rolex. It’s by no means good. It’s average. Mediocre. Sufficient. This weekend, I was filled with joy, when we finally became average. We were all of a sudden invisible; no longer “that psycho grey.” There weren’t any whispers as left the ring, as I sheepishly would smile and explain to the gasping onlookers “he’s young.” Or “When he’s older he’s going to be amazing.” We were just another horse and rider combination that performed the movements with relative class but nothing spectacular.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River (Hagyard Midsouth at Kentucky Horse Park 2017). PC: Xpress Foto

My quest to be average continued throughout the weekend at Midsouth.  Our cross country round was clear with a little bit of time…nothing spectacular as we held on to a solid 15th place in a field of 23. We were in the top 2/3 of entries and completed the round with tremendous acceptability.

Instinctually, on Sunday I was preparing an apology to the crowd before we went into stadium. This is where my young event horse will either excel, or become completely unhinged.

Earlier in the year at Catalpa Horse Trials, he dropped every single rail, the standards, and flower pots, facing the VIP tent, but left every rail up going away from it. He even at one point crashed through a jump, then jumped the pile of poles on the ground in front of him. The crowd generally exclaims helpful things like, “ohhhh,” and “eeeeeeek” as we make our way around the course.  What type of round would we have today?

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River (Hagyard Midsouth 2017)

As it turns out we met the minimal standards of jumping.  He was rideable, listening, and dropped three rails.  Many other riders had the same 12 faults, and River was within the time allowed.  No crowd gasping.  The jump crew didn’t have to rebuild an entire triple combination while I waited with a jigging giraffe.  We stayed average and rocked that 15th place position with a totally mediocre score.

As you bring along a young horse in eventing, don’t be embarrassed to celebrate the simple victories. Ugly cry as you trot down the center line, halt and salute, and hug your “psycho grey.”

Because average is the 1st step to astronomical.

3…2…1…have an average ride.

Friday Fashion Forecast – Go Buckwild with Breeches!

“Tan or white breeches, belt, shirt of conservative color…” We all know the rules.  But when schooling, riding with friends, or hanging at the barn, why shouldn’t breeches be FUN?  Introducing Buckwild Breeches!  The brains behind Buckwild Breeches are riders too, and were not only tired of ill-fitting breeches, but also wanted materials and prints that showed some personality!  These are by far my favorite breech … here’s why you’ll love them:

PC: Buckwild Breeches Preorders Available for “Skulls & Roses.”

You love expressing your own style.  You have certain colors and matchy matchy saddle pads, wraps, and accessories for your horse.  Maybe you love bright colors, luxurious tones, or fun patterns. Here’s a way to show your personality in a beige world!

You hate being “pinched” by breeches. I personally have a pair of breeches I absolutely hate.  They poke me in the side with the side clasp, and bruise me after a full day of riding. Others are so long that as a short rider, I have to fold the Velcro at my ankle, causing more bruises in my boots. Why do I torture myself with a horrible fit?  Buckwild Breeches are built to fit ALL body types — I’m built like a short, dry piece of spaghetti. The bottom of the breech has a silky “sock” portion, which folds neatly in my tightest boots with absolutely no pain whatsoever for short riders. But it’s long enough for the tallest riders. The stretchy material fits like a glove gives the illusion of feminine curves in my square body. If you’re built like me and you’ve ever had breeches that are too big where they sag in the booty, the “diaper effect” is super embarrassing. Buckwild fits great. They also have a “curvy mare” section, for those riders with voluptuous body types and excellent stretch.

My student Dena with Buckwild Breeches.

Amy Nelson with Buckwild Breeches.

You show. You need a white competition breech that is grippy and washable, that won’t have the dreaded “I messed my pants” look when your white breeches get wet and pick up color from your saddle on cross country. The black seat with silicone grips is my absolute favorite. Or you need a tan competition breech that has more stretch than those that cost twice as much, and these don’t give you the wrinkled bunchy front when you sit in the saddle (you know exactly what I’m talking about).

You like the security of extra grip in the seat.  You’ll love “grip technology seat” as they call it … it’s like a silicone grippy seat that gives me excellent stickability on the most exciting rounds!

Can they hold up to my abuse? I’ve used the white competition breech in every show, and even took them for a swim (accidentally) in a Prelim water complex in Kansas City when my horse misjudged the water and fell.  Horse and rider were both fine, but my Buckwild Breeches were a bit mucky.  I threw them in the washer, a bit of bleach, and amazing! Good as new.

The word on the street is that Buckwild Breeches will be expanding in 2018, so be on the lookout for new products in addition to their breeches.  And, their super soft winter breeches are amazing for places in the Midwest or East Coast that have, well, winter.

Good news!  You can get 15% off your order by using this link for Buckwild Breeches!

**Keep in mind, these breeches run a little large.  Generally order one size smaller than normal will do the trick, but they do have a handy sizing chart to help.**

 

Final Review

Cost: $$
Excitement: **** 4 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: **** 4 Stars

Friday Fashion Forecast: GO PINK with ManeJane

October is breast cancer awareness month, and what better way to show your support than with adorable pink ribbon spur straps and a matching croc pink leather belt! Introducing ManeJane, a California-based U.S. company run by a woman named Shelby Flowers with a dream.An attorney by day, but a weekend warrior equestrian, she set out to spice up the world of rider accessories. They have hundreds of design and color combinations, so you can customize your spur straps to match your eventing theme and style. They even have a line pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness month in October!!

I’ll admit, when I first came across ManeJane, I was like a kid in a candy store. I immediately fell head over heels for the sparkles and bling, a bit rare in our sport of tradition. I adored the patent leather and colorful thread options. But could these spur straps REALLY survive me? The last time I ventured out and got a pair a sparkly spur straps they lasted a week. A WEEK! And don’t get me started on the red patent leather paddock boots I had to have (let’s just say whole chunks of shiny material was peeling off like flakes of broken dreams).

I was delighted to find that Mane Jane spur straps have held up extremely well. I only use them for shows, given how special they are I’d hate to ruin them in the muck of daily use. But with regular showing — using them on all three phases and schooling — the patent leather has not cracked at all. They look as nice as the first day they arrived! Even after a long, dirty cross country schooling day as seen in this photo.

Amy Nelson’s custom anchor with teal stitching spur straps. PC: RL Boston

I love the attention to detail with ManeJane. They were with me every step of the way in the customizing process. I have a Training level horse named River, so I wanted little anchors with teal stitching. I lost my cousin Kelly too soon to ovarian cancer, so I wanted the detail of teal her honor. They went the extra mile to make sure it matched my horse’s saddle pad and ear bonnet, along with the teal ribbon of ovarian cancer awareness.

For my Prelim horse Ace, we rock skull & crossbones … they sent several options of ideas in a mock up so I could see what the product might look like before it was made and sent out.  And everything is handmade right here in the US!

PC: ManeJane

ManeJane is not just about spur straps either. For breast cancer awareness month, they have the cutest pink belts! All the belts in their collection are reversible — you can have a fancy croc pattern on one side to go with your shadbelly, and the other matte side is great for cross country. The buckle is made of steel so even I can’t manage to break it. The best part? The buckle, shaped like a stirrup iron, won’t scratch your saddle if you have a ridiculous celebratory dismount when you cross the finish line!

PC: ManeJane

All of ManeJane’s accessories are fashion forward with a hint of tradition to look fabulous at the big shows. I adore the subtlety of custom spur straps, so I can sneak a blingy skull into my dressage test, and still look dressed to the nines as I halt and salute. 

Here is the best part: use the code “NELSON” at ManeJane.com for 20% off your order! Find them on Instagram @manejane7 and on Facebook.

Final Review

Cost: $$ (spur straps) – $$$$ (belts)
Excitement: **** 4 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: **** 4 Stars

Friday Fashion Forecast: Voler Apparel

We are less than 12 weeks away from holidays and as an active rider and eventer, you don’t want the same old lotion and mittens from your family and friends. Believe me. I have 18 bottles of lotions, bath soaps and miscellaneous personal hygiene items from well-meaning gift givers. I know I smell. I just came from the barn. I smile every year, and stuff it in the drawer with the rest of the collection. What I really want? Equestrian stuff. Welcome to the Friday Fashion Forecast.

Each week we’ll feature the latest in equestrian fashion and accessories for you and your horse. What’s more? Many will include great discounts! We will put each item through the test to see if it holds up in quality and value. I ride 5-7 horses a day. I run a small farm so I clean all 15 stalls myself, water my own arena, turn out all the horses, and work seven days a week. I wash all my laundry in ONE giant load. Can these items take a beating and still look great? We shall see.

We will kick things off with a show shirt from Voler Apparel. As an eventer on a budget I am always looking for a shirt that has multiple uses. One I can use for cross country that stands up to all weather, but at the same time looks great. And I do love fun colors to coordinate with my horse. After all, half the joy of eventing is going all matchy matchy on cross country!

For years I have shopped in the cycling section of my local sporting goods store for this very purpose. Cycling shirts come in flattering cuts, have “anti-stink” wicking material, and are longer in the back so they stay tucked in when you’re in your two-point. Most have a hidden zipper for easy changes between rounds, and a collar which is necessary in the show ring.  For many years I was also a cyclist, and noticed that a racing position is the same as a jumping position. Plus, why should cyclists have all the fun? Those shirts come in great colors and fun prints!

Voler Apparel top (left), Amy Nelson in Voler Apparel top (right)

Voler seems to understand that riding, like cycling, happens in the heat of the summer as well as cool rainy days of the fall. They have great all weather gear, and even the best raincoat I have found for eventing! It is clear so your number shows through on cross country, but keeps your vest and clothing completely dry.

Keep in mind many of the cycling tops do have pockets on the back, which are not visible when you ride with a vest. But they are also snug against the back of the top, so even if you tuck it in, they are not distracting to the overall look. Plus they come in handy for maps, water when walking your course, and possibly a cell phone (except at the sitting trot or higher jumps, you risk losing your phone!).  The pocket does not have a zipper.

Amy Nelson and Voler Apparel top

They carry men’s and women’s tops in a wide variety of sizes and cuts to fit many body types. They even have a “design studio” where your farm can design their own show shirt or team jersey with the help of experts. And all of their products are made right here in the USA. The prices are pretty close to what you’d pay for a quality show shirt, and some items on clearance are a bit less. They hold up in the washer very well, but I wouldn’t recommend throwing them in the dryer. Hanging to dry is best. Stains come out very well, and they even handle a bit of bleach. The zipper seems dainty for my abuse of clothing, but so far I have never had an issue and I break zippers on a weekly basis!

Amy Nelson with Equestrian Damask Voler Show Shirt

Recently Voler allowed me the opportunity to design a line of show shirts specifically for equestrians. I went with an elegant damask pattern, and comes in the three colors that are popular with riders. These shirts have a collar, so you can wear them in a clinic, for a schooling show,  under your vest on cross country, or even cover it with a stock tie for dressage or stadium.  This shirt does not contain back pockets.

Here is the best part: order ANYTHING from Voler.com and use the code “HORSE” at checkout for 15% off your entire order!

Final Review

Cost: $$ – $$$
Excitement: **** 4 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: **** 4 Stars

Who Has It Easier: Tall Eventers or Short Eventers?

Amy Nelson (left) and Lyndsey Humpal (right) at Hummingbird Stables

We asked Eventing Nation fans, who has it easier: tall riders or short riders? Turns out we ALL have a seat on The Struggle Bus. Some of us just have a little more leg room, and some of us can reach the overhead compartments.
Let’s compare:

Stirrups/Saddle

Tall Riders Say: Pros? No stirrups? No problem. I have plenty of leg to wrap around the horse! Cons? Stirrups do have to be on the last hole to be functional, and I can’t hop on a naughty horse that a student/friend was just on. If I do … my legs dangle and I just forget about adjusting the stirrup altogether and let my leg hang. I need a long flap, or three inches of knee pokes out in front of my knee roll.
Short Riders Say: Pros? I can school my 9-year-old student’s pony and the saddle/stirrups fit just right. I have never uttered the words, “that flap is too short for me.” Cons? No stirrups? Big problem. I am perched up here with my short legs, that barely go halfway down the horse’s side. I learn great balance this way though! Some of us buy children’s stirrups (one reader admitted she STILL had to punch holes in them to make them shorter). Where are all these tall stork children??
Bridling/Saddling
Tall Riders Say: Pros? Horses that are tough to bridle can’t get taller than my wingspan. I can reach. I can hoist a saddle on any horse’s back with ease. Cons? The opposite is true. I’ve had to literally sit on the ground to bridle a horse who was so relaxed his head was dragging.
Short Riders Say: Pros? I can fasten a noseband in 2.4 seconds. It’s eye level. Ponies, relaxed horses, you name it. I’ve become skilled at training the hard to bridle horses, because, I’m not going to put up with bridling a giraffe. Cons? If my horse wants to avoid the bridle, he can. Not by stretching up … just by standing. I have give the ol’ heave ho to get a saddle on my horse. He is not impressed. Sometimes he gives me encouragement though by biting my back as I struggle.
Mounting
Tall Riders Say: Pros? I can mount even a 16.2hh from the ground bareback. Cons? I need to make sure my girth is tight before I mount, as my size makes the saddle slide way more than a smaller rider!  I’ve ended up on the ground when I’ve gotten in a hurry and forgot to that final girth check.
Short Riders Say: Pros? If I forget to tighten my girth enough, it’s cool. My low center of gravity and small frame helps it not move too much until I’m secure. Cons? Normal mounting blocks aren’t tall enough, and forget mounting from the ground! Mount from the ground, bareback, Here, hold my beer. I once dropped my number in the woods on the way to the start box at an event. I was riding a 16.2hh 4-year-old OTTB.  I had to lower one stirrup all the way down, hop around as he kept moving, and it took 15 minutes to get on because there was no one to give me a leg up! I almost missed my warm up!

Short Rider Amy Nelson does the splits while trying to mount from the ground.

 

Breeches/Boots

Tall Riders Say: Pros? Sometimes freakishly tall items are on sale! Cons? Nothing fits. Breeches are too short. “Tall” field/dress Boots are too short. If they fit in the height, they will never fit in the calf. I’m pretty most people aren’t 6 feet tall with calves as wide as a piece of dry spaghetti.

Short Riders Say: Pros? Sometimes freakishly small items are on sale! Cons? Nothing fits. Breeches are too long. I have to roll the ends up eight times and stuff them in my boots, and get bruises at my ankles where all the fabric bunches. “Short” field/dress boots are too tall. They pinch in the back of my knee, especially in the saddle, and I get bruises. If they fit in the height, they will never fit in the calf.
Riding
Tall Riders Say: Pros? If I drop my reins I can easily pick them back up. I can use my size to my advantage on an unruly horse, and I can use my size to promote respect on the ground as they see me at eye level. My legs wrap around the horse’s barrel and help with the lazy ones to get going. On many good sized horses, my feet hang below the barrel! Cons? Longer torso means my center of gravity is higher, so it’s much harder to ride out a buck or naughty behavior. I can’t ride anything smaller than 13/14hh, even if they need a trainer. Trail riding? Be prepared to take out EVERY. SINGLE. SPIDERWEB. (With your face.)
Short Riders Say: Pros? I can ride your daughter’s 11hh leadline pony to keep him in shape, all the way up to an 18hh behemoth. It helps my business that I can “fit” on anything! My compact size makes it tough to unseat me, and we make great jockeys! I don’t have to be as absolutely perfect with my upper body (William Fox-Pitt) to stay out of my horse’s way on cross country. He’ll forgive my little smurf hands if I make a mistake. Cons? These stumps I call legs are not wrapping around the horse unless he’s 11hh. Riding a draft cross is like straddling a sofa. Sometimes in the ring as a trainer when I warm up a child’s horse at a youth only show they think I’m the kid competitor. Once I fell off my horse at a show at my husband grabbed my loose horse (he knows if I’m still breathing, get the horse). The ring steward asked, “Do you want me to hold the horse so you can go check on your daughter?” “That’s my wife.”  (whispers) “She’s so tiny…”
As it turns out, as a short rider, I was under the impression that the grass was always greener. It’s surely easier for tall riders. And I’m sure tall riders think that about us little guys. The truth is, we all struggle. Every BODY is different. So put yours to good use. Go Eventing.
Did we miss one? Post your #shortriderproblems or #tallriderproblems!

5 Tips for a Better Clinic Experience

Amy Nelson in a George Morris Clinic.  He is surely yelling at her to Amy Nelson in a George Morris Clinic. He is surely yelling at her to "RELEASE HIM" through the bullhorn. He said this a lot.

As eventing season in many regions winds down this fall, you may be looking to get a jump start on 2018 by riding in a clinic with an upper level rider. For those with year ’round eventing (I’m insanely jealous), you are likely riding with four-star riders to get ready for your next three-day event this fall.

Chances are you’ve spent a small fortune to ride in the clinic, so here are some tips to get the most out of your experience. While clinicians don’t expect you to have the fanciest clothes and the most expensive equipment, they do expect it to be neat and clean and in good working order. They do expect you to have manners, and for you to be humble. Spending an extra couple of minutes in the days before your ride will set the tone, and may even help you get ahead in the future.

  1.  Look the part. I have ridden with the likes of George Morris, Dom and Jimmie Schramm, and many other upper-level clinicians. They don’t expect you to have the most expen

    “I rode with George and didn’t cry.” — Amy Nelson

    sive anything but it shows them that you are putting forth an effort when you arrive in sensible tan breeches, a tucked-in collared shirt, a belt, and your hair tucked neatly away in your helmet. Don’t be the person showing up in a tank top with animal print breeches.

    They may not overtly say it, but a clinician will try harder if it looks like you care. And YES, George Morris WILL likely say something. I managed to not have any of his famous quotes directed at me, and I did have this tee shirt made for the occasion … which I still wear.

    2. Listen.

    They have seen a million horses and riders just like you. They don’t want to hear your excuses of he never does this at home. But this … but that. None of that matters. You are riding in the clinic because you believe that they have something valuable to say. If you know everything already then just stay home. 

    We learned in elementary school that we have two ears, but only one mouth, for a reason. Listen twice as much as you talk. IF you do talk, ask actual questions. It’s OK to ask a clinician to clarify something you don’t understand, or to ask for suggestions of exercises to practice at home. But don’t be the person who comes across as arrogant by talking more than the person who rode in Rolex.

    3. Be polite. Say things like thank you, and yes ma’am or yes sir. Sounds obvious?  You’d be surprised. These little details can set you apart and may convince the clinician to give you an extra couple of minutes of instruction, or extra tips that they might not otherwise divulge.

    Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River with Dom Schramm.

    4. Be punctual. Arrive early and be ready for your ride time. If you hang around for 45 minutes because you’re early, no one will be upset. But NEVER be late. The majority of clinicians expect you to be already warmed up by the time your group starts. Walk, trot, maybe a little bit of canter before your assigned ride time. They really don’t need to waste 15 minutes watching you warm up. You can do this in advance, and then you are ready to go for the actual instruction. Nothing irks a clinician more than you strolling up at 9:02 having just gotten on your horse.

5. Watch everyone. You paid for the clinic not just to ride in your group, but to watch and learn from ALL the groups. Maybe I look like the creepy stalker, but I don’t care. When I go to a clinic, I make it a point to watch every single group. Maybe my horse was in Prelim, but can I watch Beginner Novice or even Starter level and learn something? You bet. Maybe a new gymnastic, maybe a new way to approach to a cross country obstacle on the greenie I left at home. Maybe something to pass along to a student of mine, or a friend.

As the summer winds down you are probably looking to fill your calendar with fall and winter clinics. With a little preparation and effort, you will have a great time, learn heaps of new information, and make contacts along the way that can help you rise to the top of whatever level you have your eyes on. Because as George Morris once said (not to me, but someone in my group at a clinic): “You’re soooooo pretty, with your pretty little horse, and your pretty little clothes, but at some point you have to LEARN HOW TO RIDE!”

So get out there and learn.

3 … 2 … 1 … Have a good ride.

3 Common Myths Perpetuated by Horse Movies

  1. YOU CAN LEARN TO RIDE IN A WEEK.

An actor from Hollywood falls and hits his head, so he’s forced to stay at a ranch in the mountains for a week while he recovers from a concussion (because he can’t fly home).  So he learns how to ride. In that week. With a head injury.

The reality is the person in that movie, the real person, the stunt person, has been riding horses for years. I’m sure it looked liberating and fun as you were sitting on your living room couch in the air conditioning, smelling good, dressed to the nines. But the reality is riding horses is dirty, boiling hot, freezing cold, and everything in between. It’s hard work. It takes years to master.  And you certainly should not be learning how to ride with a head injury, Luke Perry.  In spite of what you may have seen on TV, you’re not going to gallop over the mountains, bringing in the herd, in your first week of riding.  And in this particular movie, the main character actually took the horse out without permission from the owner, in the middle of the night, in the mountains, to bring in the herd. I’d be furious.

  1. YOU CAN TAME THAT WILD STALLION.

It’s ok that he’s a snarling, wild beast, and totally feral. Because you’ve looked him in the eye, and have an unspoken bond, you can get on him bareback (probably in shorts or a dress and barefoot) and ride him. Perhaps you can tame him and ride off in a great race and win against actual racehorses, or use him to stake your claim on free land in the west.

The reality is it takes weeks if not months to start a horse under saddle.  And longer if they are wild. The ones that have been handled since birth are a challenge enough, and certainly won’t let you just jump on and ride off into the untamed land of the west immediately. It takes time and training, and chances are you will fall off at some point. You’d be left in the bushes somewhere in Kansas while the others in the movie claimed their land on…I don’t know…horses that are broke to ride?

  1. YOUR RANDOM PAINT/20 YEAR OLD MORGAN/GRADE PONY WITH 3 LEGS CAN WIN A HORSE RACE WITH A KID JOCKEY

Seriously? It sounds great. You train your backyard horse/wild stallion you just found in the mountains to race, and WIN against the actual racehorse so you have money to save your family farm.  Of course you don’t use trained professionals to train your horse.  A kid with no riding experience (he’s small like a jockey and looked into the horse’s eyes) and his grandpa can do it. And they win. And save the farm. Bareback.

The reality is jockeys have years of riding experience and need a license these days to race.  There are restrictions, and you have to earn your way on to a racetrack.  Even in the “oldy time days” where there weren’t as many restrictions, surely a sanctioned match race would have rules in place about child labor?  And if it they didn’t, as much heart as your paint/20 year old morgan/grade pony with 3 legs might have, and as much love as he has for you because you looked him in the eyes when you tamed him in the mountains while barefoot and wearing shorts, he likely doesn’t have the physical ability to win a race against a horse who is young, athletic, and bred for the job.

So when your social media friends snicker about Eventing, thinking they could do it, just smile.  They probably believe they’ve “galloped” on a horse (because that one time on vacation they did a fast trot on Fluffy the 25-year-old trail horse), and they saw Luke Perry learn to ride in 3 days with a head injury.  They watched a movie about how easy riding is while in the air conditioning, with tan legs and no bruises. You know the truth.

But did you try looking your horse in the eyes? That always works. For real.

3…2…1…have a good ride.

‘Sleepaway Camp’ for Adult Eventers

When I was a kid, we went to sleep away camp. More exciting than day camp, we got to experience a trip away from home, bunking with new friends, generally including activities like archery, arts and crafts and canoeing.  Adult Rider Camp for eventers is way, WAY better.

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River. Photo by D & G Photography.

This past weekend I attended the 3rd Annual Adult Rider Camp for eventers in Area IV. As my adult student and I loaded up the trailer to head to Otter Creek Farm, full of anticipation, she looked nervous. While I had gone to Adult Rider Camp last year, it was her first time. It was not the typical pre-camp jitters of a child, like, What if I get home sick? What if they don’t like me?

The nerves of an newbie adult event rider who works at a law firm by day, and is a weekend warrior adult amateur starter level eventer in her spare time, were legitimate concerns.  “Do you think their starter level logs are bigger in Wisconsin?” I laughed, but I knew what she meant.  “Will Dom and Jimmie Schramm make me canter my jumps?” “What if I fall off?”

As it turns out, she stayed on in all three sections of the clinic at camp.  I, however, took a rather gymnastic dismount, not unlike a balance beam routine, off my training level OTTB in stadium. I did manage to land on my feet, and knowing all eyes were on me, I raised my arms like a gymnast as my final bow.

“9.7” the photographer shouted.  I laughed it off, knowing that as a trainer, I come off some horse at least once a week. Jimmie Schramm asked if I was OK, and then gave me an enthusiastic leg up (she must work out, as I almost went flying off the far side of my horse when she did!). I grabbed mane as I was not about to let her throw me to the ground. I shook it off and was back on course.

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River, with Jimmie Schramm teaching. Photo by D & G Photography.

In cross country, I had a blast. Aside from learning new techniques, schooling new questions, I had the opportunity to make new adult rider friends. As it turns out, we tend to all have the same struggles.  Balancing jobs, families (one Intermediate rider at camp had just gotten back from having a baby), and trying to fit in our passion for eventing.

We all faced the highs and lows of the sport, as Dom Schramm put it: “Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug.” We bonded over how we all look down over ditches and drops, and laughed telling one-up stories of falls and forgotten courses. We came together as a cheering section when a rider struggled with getting their greenie over that super scary log cabin. We roared watching the “pocket rocket” 14-hand pony with a 17-hand personality soar over the Training level course with ease, with the look in his eyes that said, “Is this all you got?”

Adult Rider Camp in Area IV was held at the picturesque Otter Creek Horse Farm in Wheeler, Wisconsin, nestled in an echoey valley in what seemed to be an eternity from the daily grind. Because of the location, and I can only assume the rolling hills surrounding the facility, NO ONE had cell service on course.

I was able to squeak out a text here or there to my husband anxiously waiting for news back home. Texts like, “I survived XC, dressage later” had to be resent seven times, holding one arm up in the middle of the road, with a coat hanger in my teeth to finally send. But to me, this was the BEST part of camp. Because at lunch, when we all gathered under the pavilion like excited little campers, we actually had to talk to one another.

We couldn’t hide, and bury our noses in phones, posting on social media and texting loved ones back home. Just like in the 80s, when I went to camp for the first time, we nervously asked if that seat was taken. We made small talk about the delicious lunches, and by the end, exchanged stories and experiences with our new life-long friends.

Amy Nelson and Amanda Kothe

We are now back home, tired, but hopeful. Our new-found skills in tow, ready to face the next horse trials. And instead of writing letters, we are Insta-Face-Ering and will meet up at the next show.  “Eventers are soooo nice,” I heard as we were packing up. A few of the campers came from the fill-in-the-blank horse show world. “You guys are so supportive.  I never saw that in my other horse world.”

I guess it’s because we’ve all been the bug at some point. This sport is hard enough as is it.  So let’s be friends. Let’s go to sleepaway camp.

3…2…1…Have a nice ride!

Giving Back to the Horses Who Give Us the Sport

We announced the finalists in the 7th Annual EN Blogger Contest, and now we are bringing you their first round submissions. Leave your feedback in the comments, and please offer your encouragement and support to the finalists! We hope you enjoy their creativity, insight and love of the sport.

Amy Nelson and Ruby Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

She doesn’t halter well and has poor manners when leading because she’s scared. She’s head shy. She doesn’t pick up her feet. She doesn’t do well being bridled. She gets very scared in a trailer. She is 7 and has only been ridden four times. She can’t be fly-sprayed or bathed. She was neglected and came in 200 pounds underweight, but we have the weight under control! Would you have room to foster her, and help find her a career, and a new home?

I’ve helped out Crosswinds Equine Rescue in Sidell, Illinois, on and off for the past 10 years. Before I had my own place, I volunteered as a trainer at their farm by training and riding some of their rescues. One of my favorites was a bay Thoroughbred. Now, a decade later, I have found another way to give back to the animals I love so dearly.

I had two open stalls, so I agreed to take on two of their horses. Many of their volunteers at Crosswinds are excellent with grooming, feeding and other tasks, but lately some of the rescue horses have needed extra work when it comes to riding. They needed a professional trainer to ensure the horse found a job and a perfect forever home.

Conquering the world … one trot pole at a time.

Over the winter we fostered a cute 3-year-old Mustang mare named Tayah. She was an adorable grey that looked like a miniature Andalusian and quickly took to hunters. She had a rocking horse canter, was a total “push ride,” and would never hurt a fly. She was scooped up by a family with a young mom who rode, and the kids adore her.

Now we have a 3-year-old Tennessee walker filly named Amaretto who is learning the ropes of gaited western riding. She is a lovely mover with a quirky personality, and typical of her age, the attention span of a gnat. She was an orphan, so in my downtime in the evenings I groom her and allow her to lick my arm.

But the biggest challenge has been Ruby Tuesday. This 16.1-hand Hanoverian mare came in to us essentially knowing nothing — a 2-year-year old in a 7-year-old’s body. In her short life, she had been starved, neglected, abused and then finally seized by the ASPCA in North Carolina. No wonder she hated everything!

One day at our farm, she nearly lost her mind when the wind blew the barn door closed near her stall. This is going to be an eventer? I thought to myself. The first few days I spent every spare minute sitting in a chair in front of her stall. I ate my lunch there. I talked to her as I cleaned stalls. My working student would sneak in and brush her while I was teaching. My husband would steal kisses from her nose.

In a short time, Ruby has made an amazing turnaround. She is starting to come out of her shell and learn new skills. As it turns out, she is a lovely mover! She has trot to die for in the dressage ring, and even shows a desire to be an eventer as she jumped over an 18” pile of logs with me on a lead line. (Look out, Kentucky!)

She has months of foster training ahead of her, but I’m thrilled to be a part of her journey. If you have a spare stall, a spare hour, a spare dollar, I encourage you to give back to the animals who give us the sport of eventing. Because at the end of the day, I’m finding it’s not the clear rounds that give me the greatest joy. It’s a ground pole I walked over on a rescue horse, who now believes she can conquer the world.

About the Author: Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, Illinois.  She retrains OTTBs, problem horses and eventers at her Hummingbird Stables. She has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover and hopes to compete at the one-star level this year. Check out more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row

Eventing Shorts: How to NOT Get Eaten by a Panther in Eventing

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

If you can’t be an example … be a warning. Chances are your trainer has made (thousands) of mistakes … and you can learn from him or her without having to go through the agony of doing it wrong yourself. They’ve been “eaten by a panther” in eventing, and can spare you the same feat.

My husband gave me the most wonderfully ridiculous pep talk, after I made a huge mistake at a three-day event. I was “eaten by panther,” he said. ”But the positive side is that people will learn from you, your students will learn from you, so it won’t be in vain.”

My husband runs the Emergency Operations Center for our state, so he’s full of wisdom to encourage people and get them to rise to the occasion in the face of fear and challenges.

“Thousands of years ago,”he begins, “as a rite of passage young hunters used to go into the jungle with sharpened sticks to hunt panthers.”

*I roll my eyes* This ought to be good … as I’ve just thrown away a solid 7th place finish at Open Training level by making a detrimental mistake in stadium.

“Let’s call this hunter Bob.”

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t named Bob.

“Bob would find a panther, and when it leapt into the air to attack, the young hunter would hold the sharpened end of the stake straight up. As the panther pounced onto the stake, Bob stuck the other end into the ground to snare his prize. But do you know what happened?”

*I groan, being forced into engaging with this ridiculousness.*

“No,” I croak, between tears.

Amy’s husband, Darryl Dragoo. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

“The panther would land on the stake, only to slide down, still snarling and clawing, and eat Bob in its final moments of life! Bob’s family got a nice panther pelt, but he had perished.”

I’m pretty sure he made this up.

“The point?” I struggled.

“The point is … every hunter AFTER Bob, who saw what happened to Bob, put barbs on the end of their stakes. So the panther wouldn’t slide down. And wouldn’t eat them.”

He continued, “Every rider out there LEARNED something from you today. You got eaten by the panther. Today, you were Bob. But no one will make that mistake again.”

If you can’t be the example, be the warning. Watch others, as many as you can, and learn something! Take lessons. Because at some point, your trainer, let’s call him Bob, has been eaten by a panther.

Learn from Bob.

3..2..1. Have a good ride.

Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, IL.  She retrains OTTBs, problem horses, and trains eventers at her own show barn, Hummingbird Stables.  She competes with OTTBs in upper level eventing, has qualified for the AECs at many levels, and has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.  Her goals are to compete at the one-star level this year, and eventually four-star. You can follow Amy on Facebook here and on Instagram at @amynelsoneventer. Check out more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row

Taking a Show Horse on Course: Tips for Making the Switch from Hunter/Jumper to Eventing

Photos courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Many hunters and jumpers see eventing friends having a great time on cross country, and want to make the switch. Their horses jump 3’ or 3’6” comfortably in the arena, so how hard could it be? Making the switch from the ring to the field isn’t impossible, but it’s not as easy as you might think. There are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you and your horse are properly prepared for the task.

First of all, pay attention to the types of questions. A showjumper or hunter has two basic types of fences: the vertical and the oxer. In higher levels you have the triple bar, which is still very similar to the first two. Everything tends to have the same basic elements — poles and standards. Then you make a right hand turn to poles and standards. Maybe a left hand turn with poles and standards; perhaps a brick wall filler, or some flowers, or bushes, but still with poles and standards.  

In eventing, it’s way more! The USEA Cross Country Obstacle Design Standards book lists around 36 types of obstacles you might encounter on cross country. Mind you, not all will be seen at lower levels, but as you climb the ranks it will be everything from ditches to drops, banks, water, coffins, corners, trakehners, helsinkis and everything in between. While some of them are not appropriate at lower levels, your horse will see them as you pass by to go to your particular question. This can be scary for them!

Next, let’s look at terrain. Your horse needs to be confident on all sorts of terrain, from jumping uphill, to downhill, off a turn, in and out of water. When it rains, or is rock-hard dry, your horse has to jump confidently in spite of what the footing is like. It won’t always be consistent footing like in the arena. This might worry your horse.

What about atmosphere? How about the golf carts, people, and barking dogs? Maybe it’s raining — watch out for umbrellas! Or wildlife. I have been on course and actually almost trampled a wild turkey! Not to mention the herd of deer that darted by as we were in the start box. Your horse is supposed to be concentrating on the 36 specific obstacles, not worrying about atmosphere.

Finally, let’s throw into the mix that the horse cannot see the course ahead of time. Just like your jumper round, except again, you are dealing with terrain and dozens of different possible questions. It’s not as straightforward as simply different colors of jumps like in a stadium.

Maybe your show hunter will jump a log pile. How about a log pile that’s a different color, that’s on a hill next to a lady with an umbrella and a barking dog and a golf cart, as four deer scamper by into the woods. What then? How do you prepare your show horse to become an event horse? The answer is practice, practice, practice. Start him out at a level where he is going to feel confident. Take him out on schooling days. And when you do his very first event, start small.

Have you ever wondered why the top of show jumping is around 5’3”, but top level eventers jump 4’1”?  Sure, the horses and riders get tired. They do three disciplines instead of one. But perhaps, it’s also because the sheer number of obstacles, plus terrain, plus footing, plus the atmosphere of an event is difficult to master.

Maybe a good rule of thumb is start one foot smaller than you jump at home. Jumping 3’6” – go Beginner Novice for your horse’s very first event. Or even Starter Level. It’s better to take him on course and find it’s too easy, and make him feel like Superman the first time out. Don’t be ashamed of the SIZE of the fence. It’s not about size. It’s about all the other elements in play.  

Go Eventing.

Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, IL.  She retrains OTTBs, problem horses, and trains eventers at her own show barn, Hummingbird Stables.  She competes with OTTBs in upper level eventing, has qualified for the AECs at many levels, and has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.  Her goals are to compete at the one-star level this year, and eventually four-star. You can follow Amy on Facebook here and on Instagram at @amynelsoneventer. Check out more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row

Six Ways to Reduce Stress at Events

Keep it cool out there, Eventing Nation! Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Horse trials and three-day events can be very stressful. But there are certain things you can do to prepare to help reduce anxiety for yourself and the family members you dragged along! Here are a few tips to help keep you from becoming a frazzled mess at your next event.

Step 1: Learn your tests.

Start memorizing your dressage test as soon as you sign up for the event. The test will be posted and you can even practice this in your living room or in the breakroom at your office by walking out your pattern. Don’t worry, your coworkers will think this is totally normal, as you pretend to canter a circle while waiting for the coffee to finish. In all reality, it’s one less thing you have to worry about when you arrive at the show.

Step 2: Make reservations.

The day you sign up for the show, make reservations at your hotel or campground. Summers in certain areas get busy, and if you wait until the last minute, you might find yourself camping in the parking lot of a nearby equestrian center because it’s 100 degrees and that’s the only place to plug in your living quarters trailer within 50 miles (believe me).

Step 3: Make a list.

This is something you can do a week away from the show. Start writing down all of the things you need to bring with you, and all of the things you need to arrange before you go. Show clothes? CHECK. Saddle? CHECK. Wraps? Boots? Stud kit? CHECK.

Step 4: Pack.

Organize all the tack and show clothing you will need for the event a few days before you hit the road. If you are able, load the trailer a couple days in advance. If it is the same tack you use everyday, set that aside and make sure you allow an extra hour the night before you leave to clean tack and load in the trailer. Do not try to do it the day you are trying to leave, because inevitably you will forget something at home!

Step 5: Do not over-schedule yourself the day you aim to leave for the show.

Many of us have jobs, and families, and other commitments. Make sure you schedule yourself a day off when you plan to leave, and even the afternoon the day before you hit the road.

Step 6: Final trailer load.

The only things that you should leave for the day that you plan to hit the road are immediate items like hay and water buckets. Wrap horses’ legs, and don’t forget to put your horse in the trailer! You may laugh at this, but you know deep down you’ve had that fear of forgetting your horse. Make sure your polo wraps are clean and rolled in advance so all you have to do is put them on.

Tips: Plan to leave at a specific time but know that things come up. Allow yourself an extra hour before you leave, and an extra hour on the road. Traffic, construction and other time-stealers can be found along the route. Being on time and prepared will greatly help reduce the stress level.

Additionally, if you keep your items stored in tubs, labeled and always put back in the same spot when you are done, it will greatly reduce the stress at the show. Then you are not having to look for items in a panic! When you unload the trailer, make sure you have everything you need for that day. It’s not fun asking your husband to drive all the way back to the parked trailer to get your stud kit 20 minutes before your posted ride time (believe me!!).

Events can be stressful, but with a bit of organization and time management, you will be more relaxed and able to concentrate on what to do when you’re on course or in the ring. Was it trot at C, or was I supposed to trot at M???

3 … 2 … 1 … Have a good ride!

Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, IL.  She retrains OTTBs, problem horses, and trains eventers at her own show barn, Hummingbird Stables.  She competes with OTTBs in upper level eventing, has qualified for the AECs at many levels, and has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.  Her goals are to compete at the one-star level this year, and eventually four-star. You can follow Amy on Facebook here and on Instagram at @amynelsoneventer. Check out more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row

Be the Tortoise: Win at the Upper Levels By Losing at the Lower Ones

Amy and her tortoise (“Well, he desperately wants to be the hare!”) Photo by Merrick Studios.

How do you get your young, enthusiastic event horse to win at the upper levels? By losing at the lower levels. The key is helping your hasty hare to think like a thoughtful tortoise.

“Never win a speed class until you are at the highest level you want to be.” A Grand Prix level jumper trainer told me this years ago, and it stuck with me. As he has had students represent Germany in the Olympics, and has gone to the Grand Prix level in jumpers (as well as dressage), he knows what he’s talking about. “Slow DOOOOOOOWWWWN!!” he would bark, with his thick German accent and imposing stature. “He has to be CAHFUL!!!” (careful). He explained to me that if your goal is to do 5’3”jumps, there is no point in going as fast as you can at 2’6” just to win a 50 cent ribbon.

The same can be true in eventing. Is your goal to be Champion Beginner Novice Level Eventer? If it is, by all means, go fast. Go for the first place ribbon! Let your experienced horse stretch his legs and have some fun. If you goal is to go higher, whether it be Prelim level or all the way to four-star, if you are on a young/green horse who is new to the level or the sport — throw away your watch. Don’t set your timer. Slow and steady wins the race.

Remember the tortoise and the hare? Teach your horse to be thoughtful, and careful, and take his time before you add the complication of speed. There’s no shame in coming in last place when you had the best ride to set him up for higher levels. It’s not about winning. It’s about showing your horse how to play the game.

Recently I took a six-year-old to his first Training level event. While he is full of speed and enthusiasm on cross country I did not even set my watch. The rulebook says you can go at your own pace with the only penalty being time, so long as you stay under the time limit. Make sure you pay attention to the jump judges — if you are about to be overtaken they will give you instructions on when to pull up to give the other rider the right of way. But you can use every bit of that time limit to get your horse’s head in the game.

My goal was for him to listen, not to win. I wasn’t worried about time faults or NQRs. There is no point in going as I could at Training level when my goal with him is three- or four-star. Pay attention to where your feet go. Listen when I ask you to come back and soften. Focus on the multi-element questions. He went clear with a handful of time penalties (well under the limit) and I was happy! He was thinking. He was rideable. He was confident.

This is not to say move your horse up a level before he’s ready. That’s a recipe for disaster! But don’t be in such a hurry to win over smaller fences when you have your sights set higher.

How often do we see horses that seemingly “came out of nowhere.” They were unnoticed early in their careers and didn’t win a lot … until … BOOM!! They hit a hot streak. Maybe this is by design. Maybe they were taught at the lower levels to be focused and thoughtful. They became proficient at the fundamentals so that at the higher levels adding speed was the easiest part of the game.

So how do you win at the higher levels? By losing at the lower ones. Be the tortoise.

Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, IL.  She retrains OTTBs, problem horses, and trains eventers at her own show barn, Hummingbird Stables.  She competes with OTTBs in upper level eventing, has qualified for the AECs at many levels, and has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.  Her goals are to compete at the one-star level this year, and eventually four-star. You can follow Amy on Facebook here and on Instagram at @amynelsoneventer. Check out more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row

Reaching for the Eventing Stars After Age 40

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against at Rolex 2015. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Some days I think it’s too late. Maybe I should hang up my vest for the last time and pick a different passion. I know, the sport of eventing is full of highs and lows. But as I get older it feels that I don’t have enough time to battle back from the lows. Or I don’t have enough resilience. You’ve only got one shot, so they say, and what if I’ve already missed it?

In society emphasis seems to always be on youth — Young Riders, Young Horse competitions, 30 influential people under 30. But is there hope for getting to the TOP of the sport after 40?

My path to eventing started out more typical of the weekend warrior. While I have been riding on and off since I was 12, I did not own my first horse until I was in my mid-20s. I did not become serious in the sport of eventing until I was in my 30s. At that point I had a full-time job, a full-time farm, my second marriage, two stepchildren and an elderly mother-in-law who lives with us.

I am now 36 and trying to make my way to the stars. I hope to compete at a one-star this year but keep coming up empty-handed. This weekend after a fall with my horse at Preliminary I began to doubt myself. Is this a silly dream? Is it too late to get started?

Not according to these riders.

We all remember the story of Japanese rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, who first went to the Olympics in 1964. He returned after a 44-year hiatus to compete in dressage at the 2008 Beijing Games. He was 67 years old. He returned four years later to compete at the 2012 London Games at 71.

Kevin Keane and Fernhill Flutter at Rolex 2014. Photo by Jenni Autry.

In 2014 we watched as Dr. Kevin Keane, a full-time veterinarian and amateur rider, went on course at Rolex for the first time at the age of 59. When asked how he found the time to be a four-star rider when he also had a very demanding and time-consuming job, Kevin replied, “The eventing community is very fraternal, and even though we are all competitive, we still want each other to succeed. You have to have people around you to help you through a journey such as this.”

Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against at Rolex 2015. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Then there’s Bunnie Sexton, who completed her very first three-star and four-star after the age of 50.   We cheered her on at the 2017 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, and EN had the chance to ask her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say:

EN: For those looking to reach their dreams after the age of 40, either by going to the upper levels of eventing or even just going eventing for the first time, what advice would you give them?

Bunnie: “Get excellent instruction, which means going to people who don’t just tell you that you are great, the ones who are willing to be honest even when it hurts at the time. Then work like the devil to fix what is not good enough and continue to seek those who challenge you to be better.

“Eventing is full of ups and downs. The ups are great but the downs are where I have to dig deep and learn the most. In the end, set your own goals. There is great beauty in being the best partner to your horse at Beginner Novice. It should be no one else’s decision on what each pair’s ‘four-star’ truly is!”

EN: What made you decide to go for a three-star and then a four-star after raising four children?

Bunnie: “It was only when Bea di Grazia told me that Ecko and I should just keep going and that we were capable of whatever we set our minds to. It never occurred to me that it was OK to pursue a four-star after I was no longer in my 30s!”

EN: What is something you learned through competition that a younger version of you might not have picked up on?  

Bunnie: “I now know that every moment is a gift and that issues that come up are opportunities to work on weaknesses in my program. It becomes less about making the teams and more about getting the best out of each horse I am lucky enough to ride. Taking each horse to their own peak is a thrill, whether that is Rolex or creating the horse that at 25-years-old is still winning Training on scores of 25 with their person.”

EN: Do you think it is easier to reach the higher levels of eventing as a young rider or as an adult?  

Bunnie: “As a young rider, you have less life experience but often more financial support, a less worn body and usually a less complicated life situation. You have momentum that adult life often interferes with. As an adult, I feel much more solid in knowing that it’s about the process and enjoying the ups and pushing through the downs.”

EN: Was there a time you thought about giving up your four-star dream?  

Bunnie: “There have been many bumps in the road. In my 30s I thought I would never go further than Advanced as I couldn’t travel with my family obligations. In my 40s I had figured with back and neck surgeries my window had closed. In my 50s when we fell at Jersey Fresh, I doubted that I had what it took.

“Then after fellow trainers kicked me in the shins and told me to go to Bromont, where he finished sixth, I rallied. Then his feet got cut short and I doubted he would be able to get back to competition when he had to sit out Rolex 2014. This was all while I found I was ill and would be dealing with a chronic condition for the long-term.

“The point is, we keep working and striving. The journey has to be the point. The achievements are just the cherry on top of the joy of partnership with your horse.”

So, is it too late for me? No. Is it too late for you? No. Setbacks will happen. There will be bumps in the road. But the cross country course doesn’t care how old you are, and eventing is about the journey, not the destination.

Amy Nelson has been riding hunter/jumpers and eventers for 25 years and is based in Rochester, Illinois. She retrains OTTBs, problem horses, and trains eventers at her own show barn, Hummingbird Stables. She competes with OTTBs in upper-level eventing, has qualified for the AECs at many levels and has competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. Her goals are to compete at the one-star level this year and eventually four-star. You can follow Amy on Facebook here and on Instagram at @amynelsoneventer.