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Amy Nelson

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Eventing Shorts: ‘This Old Trail Horse’ Vs. ‘Flashy Young Prospect’

Rebecca and HS Roll Call. Photo courtesy of Clayton Mason.
Rebecca and HS Roll Call. Photo courtesy of Clayton Mason.

So often when riders want to get into eventing they do so because they see how exciting it is. They watched the top riders gallop around a four-star course on TV or at Rolex. “I want to do that!” they say. But you don’t start at the top.

The reality is when you get into eventing you aren’t galloping full speed. You aren’t doing a three-mile cross country course, with a 6’7” drop into water. You are jumping small, manageable fences at an easy canter, trotting small banks and simple water crossings. Don’t buy that top level event horse you see online. You don’t need “Flashy Young Prospect” to get started.

While he may not be as exciting, with his wooly coat and bare feet, you need a level-headed, steady Eddie horse that will be brave and safe. He does not have to be the best mover in dressage. He does not have to have the scope to go four-star. He needs to have a brain and not be spooky on a trail.

That is why I recommend “This Old Trail Horse.” An older trail horse has the experience of an event horse and all you have to do is teach him to jump. Chances are he’s already walked or trotted over logs and through water, and gone and up and down hills. It’s an easy transition to get him to jump.

Let’s look at Gus Gus. We bought him as a project for $1. He was standing in a pasture at an older couple’s home and they could no longer take care of him. He was a 15 year old trail horse who needed a job. We fattened him up, got him some routine vet care and pointed him at jumps. He took to it like a fish to water.

Eventually, my student Rebecca (an adult rider wanting to try eventing for the first time) bought him. She has put lots of time and miles into perfecting his dressage and jumping, but she wanted something that would be safe and easy to motor around a cross country course. Her goals do not include going four-star, but having fun, being competitive, and learning the lower levels.

Gus Gus has shown under the name HS Roll Call, and starting with his (and her) very first event, they have always been in the ribbons. They plan to go Beginner Novice this year, and as it turns out, he has the scope to go higher! Not bad for a 14.1-hand POA-looking grade pony who was a fuzzy teddy bear pasture pet.

Even a young rider who is looking to get to the top of the sport should consider “This Old Trail Horse” to get them started. I can give countless examples of similar horses who have come through our farm and took on this job. They are quiet, safe, easy-to-manage mounts who easily pick up their feet over a fence. The riders learn the sport without having to a handle a hot, young horse while they do it.

Low-level eventers don’t have to cost a fortune, but the experience they give their rider is priceless.

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

7 Ideas for Building Your Own DIY Cross Country Jumps on the Cheap

I need a day off and like, 20 million dollars. How do I practice eventing without having access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of cross country jumps?

Creativity and hard work.

Unfortunately, I’m not independently wealthy. I did not have a long lost uncle leave me millions of dollars. My dad is not a famous rockstar. I’m not an actress who does this as a hobby. So I’ve had to get creative to prepare my horse properly for events. Many of the questions on our course at Hummingbird Stables were built because my horse was worried about it at a show, so I recreated these, on a budget at home.

Here are some simple ideas you can do at home to practice, outside or even in an arena if you don’t have the land or if it’s winter.

🐴 Ditch – This one I literally went in the woods with a shovel. It took half a day, but easy enough for a BN ditch. I secured it with wood beams we had laying around and filled with gravel to keep weeds out. You could make a faux ditch in the arena with a tarp/poles. We also use natural ditches on the farm reinforced with beams as ditches. No digging needed!

Total cost = $20 in gravel and some sweat.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

🐴 Log/Trakehner – A former student of mine had connections to the local drainage tile company (those 2′ chunks of plastic drain tubes farmers use). We got ours for free as it was a 10′ scrap they couldn’t sell. You can like buy a scrap for cheap. Just pick up. We balance it on top of logs over the ditch to be our trakehner. The plastic is big enough like that to be a prelim jump, but light enough that I can move it myself.

Total cost = $0-??

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

🐴 Brush Fence/Palisade – Pallets are free when you pick up at your local farm store. Prop them up with wing standards and add trimmings from trees. Inside or outside!

Total cost = $0

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

🐴 Log cabin – again a farm store burn pile steal for free. It was already the square shape as it was a shipping container. I added sides, cut to fit and sanded edges for a smooth finish. Poles piled on top can make it anywhere from 3′ – 3’9″.

Total cost using scrap wood from the pile = $0 and a day of work.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

🐴 Drops – Look for natural spots in the land…dig away the excess with a shovel and reinforce with boards. Total cost $0 plus scrap wood.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

🐴 Indoor logs – Plastic rain barrels are awesome. On their sides they are 2′ high. Three across for lots of room, 2 for a skinny, stood up they are 3′ tall, add poles on top for higher jumps. Total cost = $20/each.

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

🐴 Indoor Jump Markers – Pool floaties stuffed in cones. Pool floaties are cheap at the dollar store, come in yellow (like white) and orange (like red). When stuffed into your cone you can mark you indoor cross country course! Total cost = $20.

Enjoy your practice on a budget!

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

The Morning After: Why Post Horse Show Depression (PHSD) Is a Real Thing and How to Cure It

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Your adrenaline-fueled cross country round is complete, show jumping is over, you’ve packed your trailer in a sleepy haze and are headed home. How long will the Horse Show High last? Not long. Then it’s back to work, back to normal, on a Monday. And you’re depressed.

Where exactly did this depression come from, and how can you cure it? Well, not to say an event is anything like having a baby … but in a way, it is. There’s a big build-up in the months leading up to it. There’s preparation. Physical exertion. You pack bags of items. You wait and wait, until on that special day, when your horse show is to arrive, it’s so exciting!! There’s adrenaline. There’s pain. There might be tears.

You definitely have not slept enough. Even the immense joy of bringing home a brand new bundle of prizes and ribbons is short-lived. And when you return to the daily struggle of laundry and bills and work, you get depressed.

What’s the cure?

Step 1: Pictures!!!

Ease the pain of PHSD by looking over your photos and video of the event. Be sure to post them on social media — the support of friends will help soften the depression. This could help a lot in the first week, especially if you didn’t get a ribbon. Or didn’t even finish. But look at that amazing dressage test! Look at your form over that fence! Nice work my friend.

Step 2: Have a plan.

Start looking at your calendar for the next event or, at the very least, the next local jumper/dressage show. The excitement of the new plan helps tremendously!

Step 3: Take lessons.

While your show is fresh in your mind (and you’re dwelling on that awful drop into water or the horrible triple combination and how your horse knocked down two rails), set up a lesson! Work on what needs attention, and be proud of what you did well.

Step 4: Pack for your next event. Here … we … go!!!!

And REPEAT.

But the good news is, you’re not alone. We all get Post Horse Show Depression. The bigger the show, the worse it is. So get going on the cure!

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. Read more of her “Eventing Shorts” on EN’s Blogger’s Row

Eventing Shorts: A Little Bit of Humble

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

As Macklemore says: “a little bit of humble, a little bit of cautious.”

Quoting rap lyrics for a reason. Stay humble. If you know everything already, go home.

Don’t take the lesson. Don’t ride in the clinic. Sure as hell don’t cry. Lessons are humbling. I’ve ridden with Mr. George Morris, Mr. Peter Trappmann, Mr. Grand Prix/Ms. Dressage-Event pro. Every time I come out humbled, but never defeated. I don’t make excuses like “my horse” this, “my equipment” that, “this never happens at home,” etc. etc. etc. … STOP.

Did you ride in the lesson for them to lie to you and say you’re amazing and brag to all your friends how perfect you are? Or did you ride to learn? To improve? To grow? Save your tears for the truck on the drive home.

Everyone struggles. I can tell you it was a shock — SHOCK I SAY — when I discovered that I wasn’t the perfect rider and didn’t know everything already! And it’s tough to find this out in front of an audience. But I didn’t pout. I didn’t blame the trainer (surely that Olympian doesn’t know as much as Susie Q Eventer!!). I didn’t quit and go home.

I’m a trainer and I have trainers. My trainers have trainers. Their trainer’s trainers still train.

The more I know about this sport, the more I realize I don’t know. Stay humble. Learn something. Or go home and give advice on the Internet to others who can’t cut it either.

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.

Eventing Shorts: The ‘Mini’ Eventer and the Future of Our Sport

Photo courtesy of RL Boston. Photo courtesy of RL Boston.

“Jump the middle one and kick, kick, kick!” I yelled, gasping for air as I ran alongside my student on her cross country course. I was beet red, lungs burning, thinking to myself, why did I agree to do this? Because this tiny 9-year-old girl on an 11-hand pony is the future of our sport.

It started out a normal mini event. Dressage test done. A few rails dropped in stadium, and at one point getting lost. But the cross country course was semi-serious business.

The course went up and down hills with 13 questions (things like logs and straw bales in the “Green as Grass” 18-inch group). But to my young rider Leila and our little lesson pony Shilah, it would feel like a three-mile course at Rolex! This was Leila’s very first event (in fact, her first show) and would make or break the sport of eventing in her eyes.

What if the pony stopped to eat the hay bale? What if she just ran around it and Leila fell off? What if Leila got lost just like she did in stadium? As a coach and someone who loves the sport of eventing, I couldn’t let that be her first experience. So I marched down to the show office to ask permission to run with her.

“It’s a mini event. It’s not USEA sanctioned. I understand at a sanctioned event the rider is not allowed outside help,” I explained. “But the little girl is only 9. Let me run with her, just so she doesn’t jump the wrong jump or get lost.”

The office staff wholeheartedly agreed, and granted permission. “The Avalon Horse Farm Mini Event was designed to get new people interested in the sport,” they said. “Go ahead and run.” The lady behind the desk had a devilish grin.

The course did not seem too long when we were walking it. A trip down a hill, around the pond, up a steep hill through the trees, make the turn, and go back the way you came. But when those little fuzzy legs started trotting as fast as they could go, and at one point accidentally cantering, I thought I was going to DIE. I kept telling myself, keep going, she’s counting on you.

When she made the turn at the halfway mark and started heading back down the hill, I was wheezing. Now, I’m in good shape. I am a Prelim event rider myself. I ride five to seven horses daily. But I am NOT a runner.

“Should I have Shilah walk down this hill so you can catch your breath?” little Leila asked. Wow, I really must look like I’m in pain for her to notice …

“Yes,” I agreed. “Well, so Shilah can take a break.” Yes, for Shilah, of course.

We got part way down the hill and she picked up a trot again as she approached fence 9. Four more to go, I told myself. We can do this. She cleared the final straw bale and had two more straightforward logs to jump. At this point my lungs were giving up. I waved my arms and with my final breath yelled, “Goooooooo. Keep goooooooooinggggg …. You can finish. Stay to the left and kick kick kick!” I wheezed.

She cantered her final fence to my horror (she had never cantered a jump ever!) and cantered across the finish line. Arms flapping, legs kicking, a supersonic white fluffball and her passenger. As I was about to lay down in the grass at fence 11, I heard the announcer say “Rider 70 has crossed the finish line and is clear. The coach has not finished and may need a stretcher.”

Photo courtesy of RL Boston.

The future of our sport is in these mini events. Inviting to a 9-year-old girl and a tiny old lesson pony. Forgiving enough for a young horse experiencing an eventing setting for the first time. Kind enough to allow a coach to literally go the extra mile (or three, I can’t be sure), and run the course with her student. And to ensure that another rider is forever hooked on the sport of eventing.

Watch out Rolex 2037.

And no, I won’t be running that course with her.

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. Read more of Amy’s “Eventing Shorts” series on EN’s own Blogger’s Row

Eventing Shorts: Listen for the Clicks

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Riding a horse is like breaking into a safe. Just “Listen for the clicks.”

“How do I get him in a frame?” “How do I get him balanced?” “How do you know what a horse already knows?”

I listen. I feel it. They tell me. There’s no simple “Do XYZ” answer in any of this. I guess as a horse trainer I’d consider myself a safe-cracker. Have you ever seen a movie where a criminal breaks into a safe by listening to it with his ear up to the padlock? He turns the dial until he hears the pin drop in when he’s on the correct number. Then he turns and listens for the next number, and so on.

Maybe your leg falls in a different spot, or my legs are stronger, or you sit more upright.

Every rider is DIFFERENT. Every horse is different. There’s no set exact way to get these results.

The more you practice, the more you FEEL your horse and pay attention to what you do to get a certain result, the easier it will be to break into the safe.

As a coach I tell my students I will tell you when the safe if wide open. It’s your job to listen for the clicks.

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.

Eventing Shorts: A Jump is Like College

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Everything I need to know about self carriage and jumping I learned in college.

Well … not really.

But every week riders struggle with releasing their horse over a fence. They are worried that he’s going to speed up. Or take off. The fix will not be made over a fence but how they ride on the flat.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a complete control freak OCD rider just like you. If you didn’t care as much you would have a cat or a dog. But because we are all overachiever control freaks we have horses. The key is on the flat, allowing your horse to have moments of freedom. Even a fast, forward, young horse needs a couple of strides where you release him on the flat and allow him to try to carry himself. This self carriage will translate to jumping.

So what does this have to do with college? If you grew up in a very strict home or you didn’t have a whole lot of freedom and your parents guided everything you did, and then you went to college … wooooooo party! You would go a little wild! You finally had freedom and you didn’t know how to handle it because you weren’t allowed small bits of freedom leading up to it. The jump = college.

If you don’t allow your horse little bits of freedom and responsibility on the flat, if you don’t trust them enough to carry themselves for a stride or two (which can become 10 and 20 in the future), then the second you release them over a fence they’re going to go wild! Even though it’s inevitable that they will fall out of balance or speed up or make a mistake on the flat you have to allow them to try. The few strides of self carriage will turn into many as they practice. But if you are always holding them in a speed or in a frame they will never learn to do it for themselves. Then they will go to “college.”

If my parents are reading this right now this has nothing to do with me. I was a saint.

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.

Eventing Shorts: Fear Breeds Fear

We are excited to welcome Amy Nelson as an EN guest blogger! Look for more of her “Eventing Shorts” series in the future on Blogger’s Row

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Fear breeds fear. Confidence builds confidence.

All too often I see a combination of a fearful horse and a fearful rider. Why? Why is this such a common occurrence? I’m pretty sure a nervous rider doesn’t go out and look for the spookiest, flightiest horse. Just as a confident experienced rider does not need to look for a quiet deadhead mount. So why do they tend to end up this way?

Because they feed off of each other. It doesn’t matter which came first, the chicken or the egg. It doesn’t matter which came first, the spooky horse or the scared rider. The problem is that they build and build. When one is fire and one is gasoline that partnership is not going to work.

I tell students all the time, “If your horse is going to be fire you need to be water.” And if you can’t be water then be an actress so he thinks you’re water. And if you can’t be an actress … then he is not the horse for you.

Why then is it so much easier for a young rider or a teenager? Because they are still “invincible.” They aren’t necessarily the best riders nor do they have as much experience as we do 25 years later. But they ride around confidently and the horse feels confident because of it.

I remember when I was 20 and had no fear and nothing could hurt me. When I was a teenager and I would ride my bike down the hill in the snow with no hands to visit my friends. Nothing could stop me. Now at 36 when I fall things hurt. I remember and don’t want to fall again. I’m not invincible.

Many times people cling to those horses that are not a good fit because of guilt, or love, for whatever reason in spite of it not being a healthy relationship. Just like maybe you have dated or married someone that wasn’t a good fit but you held on for whatever reason. There’s no shame in realizing that horse is not a good match.

Even though it’s hard to see it at the time, you will both be happier in the long run. Because a fearful horse with a fearful rider will just escalate, only instead of dividing the furniture and fine china, you will wonder why you’re bruised and sad in a sport that is supposed to be fun.

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.