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Holly Covey

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The Aging Eventer: What to Expect from Experience

As you age as a rider, pain becomes your motivator. Photo by Kayla Benney.

The answer to the question, “What can I gain from this?” can easily be answered by the Aging Eventer. “Pain.” Pretty much that is the state of most of my days, and most of the days of my Aging Eventer friends.

As you fossilize, yet continue to ride, you do gain all sorts of great experiences — and injuries, big and little, that follow you along the way. You body reminds you that you have done this before, and it usually hurts — as you slam painfully on the ground, and your intrepid mount scuttles away with empty stirrups flying in the breeze.

Do we muscle through these times? Yes. Do we pay for it later? Yes. But is it worth it? Yes, always yes. At least for me. Even though I have suffered through some very sore Mondays and Tuesdays at work after not-so-great weekends at events.

Often, the pain is a reminder that I should have done something differently. Made sure the stirrup pads were cleaned out before mounting with gummy mud on my boot soles. Changed to the rubber reins. Forgot to put the “Equitation In A Can” on my saddle. Walked the course more than once. Paid attention. Rode better. Been more fit. Jumped more at home. Took more lessons. Checked the dressage test one more time. Clinched the front shoes. Paid for the hock injections. Bought the nicer breeches. Gone to the bathroom before cross country. You get the picture.

Jimmy Wofford says pretty regularly that experience is what you get just after you need it. I’m a living and breathing Eventer Example of that rule. I am often wondering how on earth I’ve competed this long without knowing what I should be doing, or been eliminated more times for forgetting my armband. I wonder at my ability to keep liking this sport many times (and my family shares this wonder, trust me, I constantly am reminded of their skepticism).

You’d think, with age and experience (and treachery) you could make a case for being satisfied with what I have done. But no. There are more courses I want to ride. There are better dressage tests and show jump rounds out there and I want to see if I can do them. I don’t want to wait a minute longer to see if I can get to the Promised Land. Yes, I still — after many years of failure, many years of denial, many years of Not Quite There Yet — still want to event successfully.

The deep need to continually test oneself in this sport isn’t something we in eventing own alone. Although we laughingly refer to ourselves as routinely crazy, I think all horse sports do attract people for life. The goals are good ones. Most of the time they make us better horsepeople, better riders, and yes, better people for the dreaming and achieving.

Do you think you will event past age 60? Me neither. At least I never thought about it. I just thought I would ride until I couldn’t. And now that I am over that hill (way over it) and starting down the slope, I wonder every time I put foot in stirrup how is it I still do this. Riding now is as natural as breathing, as it should be for being well over 50 years of my life. Should I give it up? Should I let go? How much of a hindrance am I to my horses now? Because now it gets harder to get up from the falls, and it gets tougher to shake the fear of the subsequent pain if I do lose proper vertical order.

Pain is a great fear, but it is also a great incentive. I do a lot of two point, ride without stirrups, sit the trot practice and continue to really work on timing and fitness of both me and the horses. But the best thing to just keep doing is to RIDE. As much as I can. One of the problems is there isn’t much help in the way of what to do and how to do it correctly at this state of existence, since most of the people I know (who have more experience than I) are way younger than I am, still in flexible and functional bodies, and can’t relate to my creakiness.

Will I be able to hold my own against riders who are way less than half my age — more like one third? Maybe not. Yet, I don’t compete or want to compete for those reasons. I really just like to try to complete all three phases without penalties and believe me, that is tough enough in this sport!

So if you are not sure you can still keep going — or if you are young and seeing us Fossil Eventers still trying out there — know that it’s because we are just not quite done yet dreaming the dreams and reaching the goals. We may, or may not, get there. Just don’t let the ibuprofen bottle be empty.

 

We’re All Eventers Here: Me, Myself and I

“I know you are alone, so the minute you leave to walk the course, I will break my halter and get loose.” Photo by Holly Covey.

“Usually, I had to be in tears — that was his clue to finally get on the trailer,” said one of my fellow Event Alone Club members. Are you also a member of the Event Alone Club?

Last weekend, after pronouncing herself covered in wet mud and nearly electrocuted by her electric fence, all just prior to loading up for a schooling show, my friend admitted she was quite ready to beg for someone to come along and help.

And I too have been there. The last event of the season, I lay on the ground gasping for air after having a loss of Proper Vertical Order at Fence #11, and my first thought was, “How will I get home if I can’t drive?” Because of course I was alone. Isn’t that your first thought if you go to an event by yourself, and fall off? Of course it is. Not, “how hurt am I,” or “what is bleeding now,” but how will you get yourself back in the truck and return home?

Oh, I know you all out there have family. They are forced or enjoy going to an event. Good for you. There are those of us who don’t have enough family to ruin, or our family is just too darn smart to be caught in the truck at 0-dark-30 on the way to a competition. We’re the proud card-carrying members of EAC, and we embrace the sole survivor mentality.

Mostly, the horses know this. They are very aware there are only one set of legs and arms in the vehicle, and do their best to find a way to take out one. Step on your foot while unloading from the trailer. Bash your arm while you try to bridle them. Refuse to load when you leave, but run you over to get on to go home. Pinch your hand on the butt bar, blow hay down your neck when you tie them, poop all over your hunt coat which falls off its hanger during the ride ….

Not only the horses, but of course the vehicles also come gunning for us. I have EAC friends who have left the ramp down on their trailer and driven off, fully loaded and ready to go. Flat tires, oh the tires, so many flats, so few tools and nice good looking (single) good samaritans …. Alone, at night, side of a busy interstate and no working jack or credit card. The Cursing-At-Your-Truck app works good, though.

And the barn. Oh, the barn. It hides stuff you need when it sees you alone heading off to that show or event. The cross country bridle. Horse boots. Haybag. Water tubs. Pitchfork. Your bag of beautifully polished boots, setting next to the helmet bag, on the bench you have to walk past sixty two times in order to load all the other stuff you need. More have gotten home only to report they left their saddle on a saddle rack in the parking lot. I have heard of horses being forgotten … nah, nobody does that. Do they? (Or did they?)

To earn your Sole Survivor badge, you have to come home with something bloody, something broken, some lesson learned and some experience gained. At times, all four happen at once, and in a split second; other times, it’s a long drawn-out nightmare that takes all weekend to conclude. Would having a friend along help?

Sometimes, it might. At least a second pair of eyes to check on things left in the barn aisle before you drive off; a second set of hands to hold the broken butt bar in place until you get it hooked; a second pair of legs to run back the four miles from the end of the parking lot to the secretary’s booth to get your number in time for dressage.

It would be nice to have someone in the passenger seat, who would bring cookies and hot coffee along, not need to stop to go to the bathroom at the world’s dirtiest truck stop, or want to disappear the instant you pull onto the show grounds. Just someone along for moral support. Who could warn you when you are about to swear at the organizer for blocking your parking spot.

A person however inexperienced, who could say things like, “that safety vest bulletproof?” and, “does the horse actually jump THAT high?” And other confidence-producing masterpieces of psychological support. A person who does not worry or make you anxious unless they really think it is critical that a braid that fell out gets immediately redone even if the dressage judge is madly ringing the bell for you to enter. A person whose sum total of support consists of keeping the truck passenger seat warm all day. A person who drops your phone in the water bucket as pretty much the first task they complete upon arrival at the show grounds. Yes, these are the people we think we need.

So instead of begging, we just are so stubborn and “focused” we just decide we can go it alone. Don’t need no stinkin’ help. And off we go into the sunrise, ready to do what it takes to be a Sole Survivor. Do you have what it takes? Can you do it all by yourself? Be a proud member of the Event Alone Club, join us in our suffering and discover the truth about eventing — that it’s really a lot easier to (kidnap) bring along friends!

Take Good Care of Your Jumps! A Few Tips for Safety and Economy

Jump course winter creativity! Photo by Holly Covey.

Everybody’s got jumps — but are you taking care of them correctly?

Sounds crazy, because jumps take a beating on a daily basis in most event barns, but there are some things you can do to help keep your jump course alive and well for years of use.

To begin with, most barns that have a great set of jumps start with high quality obstacles. It doesn’t matter if you get a nice set of wooden jumps or vinyl, if they are well made and properly constructed of good materials, they should last if you are careful how you treat them.

For wooden jumps, in the east, it’s usually a good idea to look for pressure-treated wood components that touch the ground. They tend to last a bit longer and are more resistant to moisture and subsequent rot. But eventually everything gets some disintegration going, especially if they are outside or stored with ground contact.

When standards get loose feet, they are even more subject to damage; so when your standards start to become wobbly, it’s best to get them repaired or replaced. When a standard does not hold a rail securely, your horse doesn’t get a fair shake at making a proper effort over the jump; a tippy standard can come down with just a light tap, taking with it any other components of the jump and causing an unneeded crash.

With the price of lumber skyrocketing, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your wooden jumps are carefully stored for the winter if they are not being used. If you can put them inside — great. If there’s no storage indoors, they will keep alright outside, but the key is to get them off the ground, by putting some scrap lumber underneath of your stack, or some pallets. Then cover them securely. In most climates this will be okay for a few cold months.

If you bring your outside jumps into the indoor for the winter, now’s the time to check over all of the joints, the feet of the standards, check for splinters and cracks on the rails, etc. Your friend is some Number 50 coarse grit sand paper to smooth the chips and splinters, and a cordless drill with some wood screws in 4-inch or longer length.

To help loose feet stay tighter, you can place a few screws in your feet to hold them until you can get them repaired or replaced, but new screws won’t hold old, rotten wood.  Make certain you are screwing from good wood into good wood; if any part of the sharp end of the screw is visible, back it out and reset it to avoid it cutting someone’s hand when they pick it up.

Winter isn’t really the time to repaint — and here’s why. Most good quality exterior paint has temperature parameters. Any colder than the recommended temperature, and the paint just won’t seal, and it is hard to get it to dry evenly, too. So wait for warmer temperatures for painting — if you have peeling paint and really want to see fresh paint on your jumps, you can sand them a bit to smooth out the surface until you get a warm enough day.

Things that are split or broken shouldn’t be used, and you’re smart to replace them or set them outside the ring, so a horse isn’t injured on them. Especially in a smaller indoor arena, there is usually less space to avoid a jump if a horse is wrong to it. Be careful that things are safely set so there is room for a horse to go past without getting caught on a cup edge or standard foot. This isn’t always possible but some trainers use their shortest rails to keep the jump widths small and then they fit better in the arena.

If there is one thing that really wrecks a set of jumps, it’s dragging them — anywhere. Always try to carry your standards when you move them, rather than drag them, even if it’s just a couple of feet.  Yes, this is often hard to do, but it will save your investment!

When I pick up a standard, I tip it slightly to get a hand under a foot, then swing it over and carry it off the ground with both hands near the base. Use gloves so you don’t pick up a splinter. That method works for most schooling standards (single standards) or light wing standards. If your standards are too heavy to lift, cut them down, or consider using schooling standards and not wing standards for some jumps and exercises at home. Even vinyl standards should be lifted to be moved; it’s safer for the jumps’ integrity. Jumps are heavy — lift carefully. Those of you who jump really big stuff have to use the 6-ft. standards and I feel for you!

A little side note here. If you have jumps that so heavy or large in size that you find you aren’t using them much, because they are hard to move — do something about it. Make them smaller, retrofit their size, cut them in half, or sell them to a big strong person! Your jumps need to work for you.

When you move boxes, do it with help so that each end is lifted the same and not dragged or slid over the ground. This loosens the screws in the box sides, helps the plywood to splinter away from the frame, and makes it unlevel when you place it under a jump. If you don’t have help, lift it and carefully tip it on it’s end, then bear hug it to carry it — this works with small quarter and half rounds, boxes and walls that are under about 2 feet in height. I’m a little taller than 5-ft. and I can carry many jump components like this. Bigger obstacles will need two people to carry to avoid damage. And if your stuff is too heavy to lift and move, get rid of it and get lighter things that work better for you! Life is too short!

Stack jumps carefully when you move them. Photo by Holly Covey.

It’s better if you are moving walls and boxes by vehicle to turn them on their tops. It keeps the frames tighter, and if you use a moving blanket it won’t scratch the tops. When you slide a box on the open bottom, it can just cause wear and tear on the frame and screws that hold the outer to the inner. If you an aqueduct wall with an arched center, tip them on the tops while transporting. But don’t store them upside down — that allows any moisture to get inside. Instead, put them back on their feet and cover them securely.

Poles are the hardest to keep pristine, because they get so much use. They are constantly in the dirt, either as ground lines or when a jump is taken apart for flat work. I try to keep my good poles up off the ground if I am not using them, but it’s hard to do, as I’m always wanting them down for trot poles, etc. So when you know you are not going to use a pole, set it up so it’s secure and in a safe place where it won’t fall on someone, off the ground, and under cover if possible. Remove those you are not using to a safe spot outside the arena. Stepping on a hidden rail on the ground, covered with dirt or grass, has turned many an ankle!

Carry jump rails from the middle of the rail; don’t drag them and don’t try to carry too many at once (too hard on your arms!) I try not to drop poles on their ends — it can split them. I think it also goes without saying that broken or split poles should not be used; not even for a ground line! A split pole is like a spear, it’s really dangerous around the feet of a jumping horse. Instead, set them safely aside, and some day when you have the time, take out your saw and trim away the broken ends to have a good shortened “skinny” pole — usually 6-ft. is a good useful length. Sand the raw edge a little to prevent splintering and voila, you have a new skinny jump rail. Lastly, keep your poles or rails painted and sealed because they take so much abuse and are often in the dirt. I sometimes use a clear sealant over paint just to try and keep the color to last a bit longer. I repaint my rails about every two years in my climate, and my jumps are outdoors.

I remove the flowers from my boxes and the floral decorations in winter. The wind blows them around and I don’t want to chase after them. They get dusty and tired looking in an indoor if not periodically washed off and let’s face it, it’s hard to wash anything in the dead of winter. So I remove them to an empty feed sack (a bit stiffer than a plastic garbage bag and keeps the flower stems from being smushed) and store for spring. Instead, I’ll use fun things like old Christmas trees (work great for filler under jumps) which often last a few months. Or painted wooden fillers, even some large goose decoys! Anything that is safe and a bit more weather resistant, and heavy enough to withstand winter winds and precipitation.

Jumps are expensive and an important investment to your business. It makes sense to be careful how you move them and store them to keep them working for you for many years to come.

 

2018 in Pictures: A Year of Ups and Downs

My year in eventing, in photos. I’m bringing you all along for the ride. We had some triumphs, we had some setbacks, and we had some fun. Take a look!

In the spring, we had mud. I got the tractor epic-stuck here near my back field.

When I finally got to compete through the raindrops, things went well at this schooling horse trial while I waited for better weather to spend more money to enter the recognized horse trials.

Conditioning was a struggle — here Hamish eyes my “Stifle Mountain,” a mound of dirt to walk up and down, that we created on my flat ground.

Fundraising for the Young Riders of Area II paid off this year — we had a Dream Team in the 2* at the North American championships in July who won gold. So excited when I got my Eventing Magazine, I stopped in the backyard and photographed the cover of the kids and shared it on Facebook before I got in the house after work.

Lucky made a last attempt at eventing, here pictured at Fair Hill, but we had a bad moment cross-country schooling at Windurra later that month and decided not to event any more. He was much happier. A major plan change for him!

Guess where I went in September! It was amazing at WEG — up the hill to the rocks — had a great time on the cross country course meeting people from all over the world, and finished off the day with a generous pickup truck ride up the hill from the course builder and course designer.

Lost my sweet old dog this year. He was with us from 6 weeks to his 16th year.

 

 

 

A new volunteer tent at Fair Hill was so much fun!

Fair Hill’s footing was perfect and the weather was awesome.

Lucky re-routed to dressage and lo and behold he found his niche. Winning First Level Team at the PVDA Chapter Challenge show in November (Team-mates Mogie Bearden-Muller on the left and Brooke Baker in the middle)

Last fun of the year was a superb clinic at Kealani Farm in Cochranville, PA, with Olympic three-day team rider Joseph Murphy.

Notches in Your Eventing Belt

Riding alone. Photo by Holly Covey.

There are a few things eventers should have under their belts. Experiences that shape you, make you, test you and confirm you really want to do this sport. Here are a few — how many notches do you have in YOUR eventing belt? Add a few more from the list in 2019!

1. The number of horses and riders you should sit and watch jump the same cross country fence: 100. We call this being a Jump Judge, and you do it when you volunteer at an event. I don’t think anyone can call themselves an eventer until they have performed this rite of passage. And 100 is a minimum.

2. The number of sunburns you will get in your lifetime while doing Number 1: four.

3. Audit an entire clinic with an Olympic rider in a hurricane, heat wave, snow storm or flood. There is something about nasty weather that makes toughing out an educational event beyond crazy to truly insane. As soon as it is clear we are ALL pretty much all insane, the experience will change you.

4. Compete in pouring rain. If you’ve done it you know what I mean. If you haven’t, and you stick with this sport, you will.

5. Lose badly … by doing something dumb. If you’ve done it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, and you stick with this sport, you will.

6. Win something. No matter whether it’s small, or large. An eventing win is like nothing else in sport. It’s a terrific high because so many horrific lows push you down. Savor these like the notable life experiences they are.

7. Experience maddening frustration. Lost shoes. Lameness. Forgetting your course. Missing a cross-country fence. Forgetting something. Not speaking up when something is wrong. Maxing out a credit card for fuel to get home and not having any money for food.

8. Find two lucky packages of stale crackers in the truck console to eat when you have no money, are starving and have a long drive home from an event.

9. Riding alone, keeping the faith, eye on the prize, feeling sore or tired or alone and unmotivated — yet tacking up anyway. Every day.

10. Using duct tape for everything.

11. Using haystring for everything else.

12. Loving your horse more than anything and doing everything for them you can think of. Including buying new tack and horse blankets when your boots have holes in them.

13. Watching every big event online from the first horse to the last.

14. Going to Rolex every year. And not being able to say, “Kentucky.”

15. Being the best horseman in the room.

16. Being the most humble rider in the lesson.

17. Being the hardest worker in the barn.

18. Paying attention, reading the rule book, respecting officials and making it a habit to be polite and friendly to everyone at every event you attend, riding or not.

19. Understand the horse as a partner, and be able to sell them on when they don’t have fun doing eventing.

20. Make a young horse.

21. Keep an old horse going well.

22. Provide leadership to a young rider.

What’s on your list? Share your experiences! What do you think makes an eventer?

Hey Mojo … Where Are You?

What mojo looks like at the end of the year. Photo by Holly Covey What mojo looks like at the end of the year. Photo by Holly Covey

What mojo looks like at the end of the year. Photo by Holly Covey.

In keeping with the theme of New Orleans, let’s talk about the mystery of mojo.

So when we talk about “mojo,” I think we are talking spirits, endeavors, emotions, ambitions, and forms of non-thinking activity. Does that cover riding jumping horses well? I think it does.

We get the mojo when we first dream of riding a horse; then we want to ride a horse over jumps; then we want to compete; then we want to win; then we want to get on a team; then we want to win with the team. That’s sort of an unhealthy progression of “wants,” but it is fairly accurate if you know anything about eventing or grand prix dressage or jumping, that is, competing horses at the highest levels.

Those who are most successful probably have the greatest amount of mojo flowing for them in the best most advantageous direction; but alas, for the vast unwashed horde of the REST of us, mojo is a fickle mistress.

Half the time, we don’t recognize when the mojo is flowing our way; we’re halfway through the greatest cross-country course of our lives before we realize we’ve jumped all the obstacles so far basically in stride and had no scary short ones yet. The other half of the time we spend anxiously awaiting the mojo to arrive, after six chips in a row in the Novice show jumping round that your husband finally showed up to view.

Mojo and me have a tricky relationship. I need it and hope it sticks around when it drops by, but it never seems to want to stay very long. I am jealous of my friends and others whose mojo is more consistent and much friendlier to them, who seem to be able to summon it when needed. These are the people who never fall off, whose leg looks like a queen’s, whose helmet is never dirtied, horse never misses a change, saddle pads always remain clean. I hate them.

Many people do not believe in spooks, or mojo, or the Easter Bunny, but I am here to testify that in my life, I have ridden horses that do believe. Unless you have super velcro butt saddles, you had better respect the believers that you sit on. They know mojo is alive and well, and lives in the corner of the indoor with the wheelbarrow and pitchfork. It does not matter that they have seen these a million times. Your horse believes, therefore, it lives and can pounce exactly when you are trying to improve your shoulder-in.

So mojo is the thing that makes the horse spook; well, not exactly. It’s more like the thing that doesn’t; it comes to calm and provide direction. Still not believing it? Ah ha. Well, there are convincing arguments in life for just about everything. I mean, just because someone tells a lie and everyone believes it doesn’t mean it is true. And, just because something is true, and no one believes it, doesn’t mean it isn’t truth. Mojo is like that. It’s true even if you don’t believe.

It’s enough for me that my horses believe in it. I’ll trust them to judge it, I’ll take it when it comes, I’ll try to get it to stick around a bit more. Perhaps mojo is just really hard work in disguise. Yah, that’s it. I’ll bake it some Christmas cookies, leave a stocking out full of goodies for it, and pay it respect; maybe that will help. That, and two-pointing without stirrups three times around the ring. That makes mojo happy. All the ribbons and awards, and pictures and applause — just a way of acknowledging mojo stuck with you for the year because you worked pretty hard to keep it around. I think I’ve found the answer to the mystery of the universe. It’s a dirty saddle pad and sore legs, isn’t it?

Go eventing.

Conquering the End of Season Blues: There’s Still Lots to Do!

We’ve almost come to the end of the 2018 eventing season. The frenzy of jump lessons, dressage practice, gallops and cross country schooling is almost done. So what’s left to do?

For one, you can take off your helmet, comb your hair, and make plans to attend your Area and local association meetings, which usually take place at the end of the year. Most groups need input and welcome any member to attend. Even if you don’t think you will be needed, it’s still fun to enjoy each other’s company, sit down without worrying about leaving a horse in the trailer, and think about the future.

There are still a few more recognized events to be held — Area III has dates right up to December 1 and then the year starts up again in January. Maryland, California and Texas see their last events in mid-November. But for the rest of us, it’s pretty much the end of our official eventing season.

The sad part of this: a fit horse and no place to run! So find a few things to keep you and your Event Horse ticking over.

The indoor schooling shows will begin soon if you are in a northern clime — these are wonderful for brushing up on dressage and jumping. Look around online at your local hunter/jumper circuit or dressage circuit, check through the calendars of your area CTA, dressage association, or Pony Club — chances are schooling shows are listed that might fit in with your plans to keep up your training.

You can take a look at the start of the 2019 eventing calendar online at www.useventing.com/competitions — just scroll down under the 2018 dates and the 2019 events will be listed.

Don’t forget “No-Stirrup November.” If you’re going to improve your riding, schooling without stirrups is a great way to get better. In our area we have a trainer who is offering “No-Stirrup” lesson specials — or get together with friends and practice together.

Hunting and rides with friends. Photo courtesy of Holly Covey.

Fall is traditionally a great time to get out and do paper chases, foxhunting, or trail rides — no bugs, footing is soft, and it’s fun to ride with others. Your horse will enjoy the change in scenery, too, from the pressure of competing. Do you have a friend who keeps asking you to come along on a trail ride or go cubbing (young hound foxhunt)? Now’s the time to do it!

Why not do a deep clean of your tack room? Take a good look at your tack and check over the reins, cheekpieces, and stirrup leathers while you’re at it. Look at all your billets high up underneath the flap, too, and check your girth buckles. Sometimes in the hurry-scurry of the season we miss cracks and worn places, and just a quick check can save you a bad fall if your girth or billet breaks at a crucial moment.

If you’re done for the year, consider sending your coats to the cleaners, and check all your helmets — take off the covers, look over the shells, check the buckles and harnesses. Just a look-over won’t hurt, and if you see anything that concerns you, take it to your local tack shop or helmet sales professional and have it checked out. You just can’t play around with a faulty helmet.

I usually take stock of my jumps, too. I pick up and put away the flowers and blow-away things, like cones, and store most of the dressage arena away. I will keep out the corners, just in case I want to practice figures to get them the correct size, but I anchor them with cement blocks so I don’t have to go over to the neighbor’s to pick them up after the next storm blows through.

Fall — time to put away jumps for the winter. Photo by Holly Covey.

Any jumps that need work I pull out of the ring, put in the workshop, and keep for a rainy day to repair or replace. In my climate, I can jump almost all winter, so I don’t remove all of my jumps, but I will stack poles and standards I don’t need in a dry place to keep them from splitting in wet and cold weather.

If you’ve parked your trailer for the winter, it’s a good time to check over the tires, wheels, brakes, hitch, roof, doors and windows. Fix anything needing it, make sure the openings shut tightly to keep out moisture in the winter. Check the spare, too.

If you work out of your trailer’s tack room, now is the time to de-clutter it, throw out all the old envelopes from the season’s events, and vacuum the floor, gooseneck, and corners; remove anything susceptible to moisture or cold, like tack, clothes, grooming equipment or products, and blankets. I usually put some dryer sheets in my trailer tack room to prevent pests, and keep it fresh after I’ve cleaned it. I still use my trailer in the winter but I don’t need to keep quite as much stuff in it when going to lessons or schooling shows, so I don’t close it up or park it.

Hopefully by now you’ve taken advantage of all the pre-season blanket sales and picked up a full wardrobe for every Event Horse in your barn (like my Event Horse — he has more clothes than I do). My local blanket cleaning/repair lady does an incredible job on waterproofing and repairing rips and these additions to the cleaning bill are always a good bargain in my experience — they prolong the life of an expensive turnout blanket and keep your horse from being damp.

Winter riding. Photo by Holly Covey.

I always get right to the point in coat hair growth that I say, “golly, I think it’s gonna take three hours to dry this horse off,” before I finally drag out the clippers. I hope to get to the clipping earlier this year! Some people love clipping, some hate it. Judging by the number of bids I put in on the donated body clips to the fundraising auctions, I’m in the latter category. Really, I don’t hate clipping; clipping hates me. So I compromise with just a hunter clip or bib clip on my hairiest Event Horse if I can’t find the time for a full on body clip.

The end of the season has important tasks, but one of the most important is to take a break from the training and enjoy a quiet fall ride, reconnect with your horses, take the time to think and reflect on the season’s ups and downs.

Keep working, keep trying, keep training with an eye toward the big picture. You might have had some disappointments this year, and maybe some triumphs. Savor the season’s results — all of them — and don’t worry about next season quite yet. There is time. You will get there.

Go eventing.

Fall … end of season blues. Photo by Holly Covey.

 

 

 

This Year at Fair Hill: A Glimpse Behind the Scenes

Photo courtesy of Holly Covey.

I have a friend who entered a dressage show on the same day as cross country day at Fair Hill, and I was shocked. Who would do that? Then I realized; there is a whole ‘nother world out there that does not think Fair Hill International is the most important event on the planet. Geez. Who knew?

It is said that the road to Kentucky goes down Gallaher Road. That’s for the competitors. I think for volunteers, our best time of the year also goes down Gallaher Road, too.

My oldest volunteer pin is from 2002. That for sure puts me in at 16 straight years of living and dying on that piece of gorgeous land at the corner of Gallaher Road and Elk Chapel Road in northern Maryland, but I also go back a few years before that. We think that I have been helping with the cross country course about 20 years. Wow, that is hard to type.

This year’s Fair Hill International renewal is now in its 30th year. While those of us who have come to know this event as our “home” international CCI feel like we have accomplished something, really, it’s not ours. It’s everyone’s.

There are people I’ve never met at Fair Hill who have worked hard every year doing something you and I don’t know about, but they are there. Every year I volunteer, I meet someone for the first time and we swap war stories about how many years we’ve been doing it and the Monsoon Year and other fun memories.

Not every job has been glamorous and gotten a photo on EN. Lots of jobs that go completely unheralded in putting on a great CCI and sporting event in the country are terribly difficult.

There are trash people and parking people. There are people who cook food for the volunteers long before a horse arrives to feed us while we work desperately on setting up. There are people who just run around on gaters and golf carts doing whatever. I am very envious of those people!

There are people who unhook their trucks from their horse trailers and go get cornstalks and mums and equipment and tables and chairs and set it all up. And have the time while doing their job to help others with questions, answer emails, make phone calls, straighten out problems and direct sponsors to their booth space.

There are people who spend hours on the phone months in advance getting sponsors, collecting checks, doing bookwork, accounting, advertising, and other minute detailed paperwork involved in an international sporting event.

These folks of course are all volunteers (most of them anyway) and love what they do. But they all have lives and kids and houses and jobs, too. And some have horses that still need feeding and stall cleaning and riding. At home. That other place you go to sleep and find clean clothes.

While we as volunteers are delighted to return year after year, we also know the importance of bringing in others to help and learn the essential jobs. Creating a family and experience goes that way. We have fun, too, in the midst of all that work. We’ve learned that if we didn’t, it made it hard to justify the time and attention. We all look at each other on Tuesday and compare the energy levels — pretty darn low.

Then … trailers with big logos come rumbling down Gallaher Road, horses start arriving, and riders start walking in, and trainers, and all the luminaries of the sport, and and we’re energized. They’re here! It’s starting!

While we don’t know how things will work in the new location, scheduled for 2020, right now and for next year we will continue at the Gallaher Road location for the CCI2* and CCI3*. As the FEI changes and moves its rules and proposals forward, we as volunteers are at the lowest end of the food chain. We follow as ordered.

But we are darn sure going to have a good time doing it! And our world, the third weekend in October, will always go down Gallaher Road and stop at a place we love to enjoy together. See you there!

 

A Manual for Wet Weather Hoof Care

Mud! The bane of farriers everywhere. Photo by Holly Covey.

My farrier told a story of shoeing at a stable this year where a teenager’s horse continually lost shoes. After the umpteenth time replacing a lost shoe, he asked the rider what she was doing to prevent it. She replied, “Nothing. That’s your job.”

I was aghast when I heard this – because it most certainly IS our job as horse owners and managers to keep our horse’s hooves in the best possible condition, and that means keeping the shoes on for the horse’s benefit. Not only that, but shoeing is one of the highest costs of horsekeeping – it behooves you as a horse owner to protect that investment!

The hooves are part and parcel of keeping the horse’s whole body well and require good nutrition and proper environment to be at their healthiest. The “proper environment” part is where the young teenager lost the meaning of horsemanship.

In times when there is a lot of moisture on and in the ground – such as this year in the east – it’s on us as horsemen to keep our horses’ hooves healthy by being careful about turnout in muddy and wet conditions.

Why Wet Weather Wreaks Havoc on Hooves

The horse’s hoof tends to be hard in arid conditions and soft in wet conditions. Moisture makes the hoof more “deformable.” Remember, a horse is ALWAYS on his feet, so the hard tissues (the horn and outer hoof wall structures) are subject to continual stress. When these soften, the interior structures of the hoof bear even more pressure, which tends to soften the entire hoof, and leads to a pancaking — a flatter hoof shape because the structures soften and spread.

Soft walls don’t hold nails well, and shoes loosen and are subject to loss. A soft hoof has even more difficulties with things such as white line disease, thrush and pathogens that can be absorbed into soft, mushy tissues, leading to abscesses, etc.

Mitigation Strategies

Preemptive avoidance: Persistently wet conditions can reshape a hoof, so to manage the moisture, performance horses who are turned out do need to be given a drier place to stand at least a few hours during the day or night. This allows the hoof to not be subject to continual moisture and gives it time to keep the moisture at bay. It doesn’t always work, but it helps to keep the horn tougher when a horse is stabled at least part of the day.

The easiest way to keep a horse out of the mud and water is to put them in a dry stall, of course, but that’s not always possible depending upon the stable schedule and setup. For most event horses, turnout is crucial, so good stable managers keep an eye out for the footing but turn out when the conditions seem the best – in terms of not just ground moisture, but also temperature, flies, heat, work schedule and feeding schedules.

Shavings, sawdust, straw or any other dry bedding will help to pull moisture out of the hoof as the horse stands and walks in it; regular hours of dry surface will help if a horse has no dry footing in turnout. These are used in stalls, of course, but some managers also bed their turnout sheds in order to keep moisture at bay.

In order to pay attention to the moisture level the hooves are subjected to, we look for dry paddocks, take steps to remove muddy conditions from walkways and gate areas (where horses tend to stand), and try to mitigate the time a horse has to spend in the wet and mud by turning out after the dew is off the grass, for instance.

There are products that can be used at gates and entrances that create a “mat” and moisture barrier to prevent mud, as well as using gravel, wood products, sand, etc. Soil conditions will dictate what you can use in your area of the country, what is economical, will last in all weather, and have the features your setup needs. Not everyone will be able to use sand or a commercial barrier product in outdoor conditions, but if you have a persistent problem, it’s a place to start.

Sometimes the water in your congregation areas comes from a source, such as a barn roof, or low lying area. If that’s the case, look into how you can divert the water through gutters, drainage systems, or filling in puddles that just won’t dry up. The best place to go for information on how to do that is your local county extension or soil conservation agency – they usually have free information, and are tasked with helping farm and stable owners fix and mitigate soil problems like drainage. In most cases, you’ll probably want to get a soil test before starting work so you know what kind of soil you’re working with in the area you want to fix. Changing the ground conditions can run into a lot of money, so an inexpensive soil test along with some consultation with experts would be a good first step to changing a drainage problem.

Other ways to directly affect the horse without a major construction project:

Hoof care products: There are commercial products that can be applied to the hoof wall for a moisture barrier, but the bottom of the hoof is still subject to ground moisture absorption, even with shoes and pads to protect it and a commercial product applied. There are thrush medicines that do an effective job of preventing and attacking the thrush bacteria, and other products that help to keep bacteria and pathogens at bay. Sometimes the simplest things work just as well – a weak bleach solution, for instance, in a squirt bottle to tighten and kill bacteria on the sole and frog.

Nutrition: Nutrition of the whole horse has a lot to do with hoof and horn quality, also, and that’s a whole blog in itself. Do you know what your horse is fed, and if the ingredients are helping his hooves? Check the bag labels, go online, do your research, ask an equine nutrition expert and see if you might be able to tweak your feeding program to get your horse’s hooves in better shape, too.

Awareness: If you have to turnout consistently in wet conditions, it’s good to check the clinches every day to insure the shoe is staying tight, and re-clinch if necessary; that’s something you can do with a hammer yourself, have your farrier show you how. And for sure talk with your farrier if you have a consistent shoe-blowing problem. There a lot of things he can do, and perhaps some tricks he can show you that will help.

In short, don’t leave it up to someone else. He’s dealing with your horses’ hooves for an hour or so every four to six weeks. All those other hours, it’s your responsibility! Mud is certainly one of the foremost frustrations of a farrier, too, as well as a horse manager. But it’s your job as caretaker to keep the hooves as carefully as you are keeping the rest of your horse and make the nightmare of lost shoes a little less scary.

All Eventing, All the Time

In the space of eight days, I made an expedition to a World Championship three day event, survived a major hurricane, worked long days driving 12 to 14 hours in the bowels of a major east coast city, prepared my own horse for a horse trial, decorated four courses at a local recognized horse trial, and oh, yes, competed at Training level; and today, after a needed 10-hour sleep, I am watching Plantation Field International 3* cross-country live on USEF Network.  All eventing, all the time!

Hint: I didn’t do all of those things perfectly. In fact, And my horse trial was a bit spotty — my horse is a unicorn — and I forgot to do something to one fence on the courses at Marlborough, which ended up jumping OK — and even the Plantation Field feed is a bit spotty this morning, but we all survived and it’s all good.

I think we get too far along in the perfection department to want to accept “just O.K.” If you read me regularly, you know I am always reminding myself, “This sport is HARD.” And it is. And we don’t appreciate how very difficult it can be when we watch the ease and splendor of our top level eventing athletes at the upper level events.

They make it look easy. I’m still remembering the absolute silken ride of Nicholas Astier, the focus of Ingrid Klimke, the quality of the Japanese riders and the grace of the horses over the cross-country course at Tryon. As a spectator, and big fan, these memories serve you for a few years.

Our corners. Photo by Holly Covey.

When I am riding at home I think about those riders and try to channel their riding, and I hope others are too, because they were fantastic to watch. Even if all you experienced was TV, please emulate the riding and think about how they approached and prepared horses for the questions, and how their horses responded.

Oooh, big corner at WEG. Photo by Holly Covey.

Coming home, driving through a serious rain deluge, I practiced my determination, focus, and patience. Yes, those things in everyday life we need also apply to our sport!

And then I want to talk about sharing the experience, and being a part of a hard working set of folks who care first about the sport, then their event, then how well they can cover every detail. I worked this weekend with a first-time organizer who did a fantastic job with nearly every aspect of a beloved local event. Helping her were caring, above-self folks who are dedicated to the sport, and working with people who are approaching an event with an attitude like this makes it easy to work hard.

If you have a local event who makes a plea for volunteers, it’s your duty to go and help. Even a little bit, and even for just a few hours, and before or after the event if you plan to compete. Every person’s hands are precious, every little act – even bending over to pick up a discarded water bottle and toss in bin — makes a difference. But do a little more if you can!

If you cheerfully approach a task or competition, give yourself positive feedback about your endeavor, surround yourself with people who give you help and support, and show up. Be present. Come to play and smile even if you don’t want to. This makes a difference not only to you but to others, and keeps everything at an even keel.

I am convinced that the smiles of the volunteers at Marlborough Horse Trials kept the rain mostly away and allowed the sun to come out Saturday, and that should mean something.

WEG water jumps. Photo by Holly Covey.

This sounds cheery and positive, and that’s not to mean all is rosy. Mistakes and poor experiences do happen, and were a part of both of my weekend events, but I’m going to choose to see the big picture here and go away with educational experiences from those not-so-hot moments. “You’re either winning or learning.”

And our local horse trials water jumps. Photo by Holly Covey.

The experience at WEG and at a small local horse trials a week later wasn’t really a huge contrast — it was actually a fun comparison of how shared experiences make memories and fun in a sport that ranges from Elementary to the ultimate, a World Championships. Go eventing!

WEG: Cross country Day!

How was your day on cross country? Our day started with another good bus ride, and we selected the cross country bus which took us directly down a paved driveway to be dropped off at the top of the lake right near the start box! Hooray! We had a short walk to the guys scanning tickets and were on our way for the day. I quickly did a little math; I asked my ticket-scanner how many he had done so far, he said 300-400 and there were 10 guys there, so we figured at least one hour prior to cross country, about 4,000 people were on course.

We saw a lot of horses and some really excellent rides — Ros Canter, Ingrid, Emma Tattersall, and Nicholas Astir stick out. Met a couple of British eventers, who told us they never got to see a horse at France at the last WEG, because they were stuck in traffic six miles away; they were happy they were on course before the first horse was even down to the start box, thrilled to be able to see everyone go this time. I met an endurance rider from Khazakstan and commiserated with her over the endurance race and she was OK about it, things just happen, she said, we will work for the next one. We walked back up Heartbreak Hill in time to see the last horses come through the last jumps and was a part of a small group that cheered for every rider to get them home.

Here are a few photos:

The crew fixes the pin on the oxer at the fountains. Photo by Holly Covey.

Dutton and Z. Photo by Holly Covey. 

Up the hill to the rocks. Photo by Holly Covey. 

Water jump was mobbed all day. Photo by Holly Covey. 

WEG! We Get a Ride Up the Hill

Golf cart after golf cart passed us old ladies and who stops for us but the chief course builder and course designer. They gave us a ride up Heartbreak.

It’s an amazing course but to be honest we couldn’t find out how to walk it because it looks like you’re wandering around in a construction yard. We actually had a caterpillar tractor clinking along next to us while we squeezed over next to the string.

So with a little intrepid walking and asking a lot of volunteer-looking people, we found most of the course and watched several teams try to figure out the puzzle of the water jump which was very entertaining.

We decided we knew where the start was, where the waters were, and most importantly where the beer was so we are all set for Saturday’s cross-country. The above picture is Moe’s Bar B Q in Forest City which was absolutely 100 percent awesome and tasted like heaven to us.

Oh and we shopped. Oh and we waiting in line for our bus. It looked really bad when we wandered over to the pickup place, with a very VERY long line over a block long, but it moved fast and we got on our bus after only a 16 minute 45 second wait (yes, I timed it.)

If you’re aren’t having a good time you aren’t trying. Hit that trade fair for some shopping therapy and find your way out to the water jumps, it will be fine. See ya out there! And wait for the good stuff.

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10 Days Away!!!!!

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

There’s a lot of excitement coming up this fall. The United States is hosting the World Equestrian Games. Wow. Just saying that gets me excited, you too, I bet. If you don’t have your tickets, there are some to be found, you can purchase from friends or others who don’t need theirs. Places to look include bulletin boards and social media from what I can see. The ticket rules allow the original purchaser to pass them to another person, so if you didn’t get a ticket and want one it looks like it’s OK to get one previously purchased.

It does look like tickets for Eventing are available, including seats for the show jumping day on Sunday, as of today. (Click here for ticket availability.)

Once we all get there, we are told traffic and parking are going to require patience. Well, we can deal, I guess. There is no ahead-of-time parking passes being sold. You have to pay to park each day and it looks like it will cost $20 per car. I imagine there will be a line to get in to pay and a line to park after you get in. There are supposed to be shuttle buses that pick up the parking lot folks and shuttle them to the event entrances. One hopes this system works if they have enough people to take money, enough buses and they run back and forth regularly — especially on cross-country day, Saturday, Sept. 15. We’ll plan on leaving plenty of time ahead.

I have no idea what or how we’re going to eat and drink. We’re probably at the mercy of the showgrounds. I know there is food there during normal competitions, but many thousands of us will be there and won’t be allowed to bring our own food in, so crossing fingers food doesn’t require huge waits or mortgage payment prices. I can go hungry, I guess until we get to a restaurant somewhere.

The course I am told has a nice hill in the center where you can see a lot of jumps, and the concessions may be located in the middle. I hope this is true. In true intrepid eventer style, I am making sure I wear comfortable shoes for walking. Maybe even boots.

My friends with serious photography habits were a bit worried about the camera rules, then when the revised guidelines came out, were a bit calmed. They hope to be able to get lots of great photos of all the best in the world over the fences and I hope we get to see their pictures afterwards.

Does anyone know what the cell phone service and internet will be like there? It would be wonderful if it’s good and we can contact our friends. Better yet, some suggested we wear items of apparel of some kind — hats, shirts, jackets, etc. — from our Areas or groups so we can recognize and find one another.

I have a feeling it might be hard to find one another if we aren’t already with each other from the parking lot! So I’ll use a little trick someone told me at Kentucky: Find a spot with a recognizable feature, near the attractions, to meet if you get lost and your cell won’t work (we use the Bruce statue there — we’ll have to find something at Tryon.)

We’re all stressing over the clear backpack thing. I’ll find something that works for carrying what I want to bring — mainly a phone, sunglasses, a hat, a credit card, maybe cash, some sunscreen, a bottle of water or an empty container for water, a couple pieces of candy for dry mouth, chapstick, aspirin, and a bandaid or two for blisters or stings. We’ll see whether that will work with the rules but I think so if packaged correctly.

I’d like to carry a waterproof pad to sit down on the ground, but not sure they will allow it; we usually stuff a small one in a backpack for Kentucky cross country day because you find yourself way out on course I always want to sit down, and eat or drink something to fuel up to walk back and the ground can be damp. They are allowing portable chairs but if you have one in a bag it will have to be searched when you enter. That might be a good option if you don’t mind carrying it with you all day; I’m not sure I will want to tote it all day with my back!

I’m debating whether to carry my camera. I have so many great photog friends, their pictures are going to be incredible, and I sure can’t do as well as the pros; but I’d like to be able to video a little bit, so I’m not sure what camera I’ll carry.

It feels like cross country day you have to be prepared, have a plan, pack carefully and strip for action like a military excursion. Having had a little experience with big crowds on cross country day, I am trusting that the venue also has a way to manage all of us spectators comfortably by having enough potties, food, and drink to keep us all happy.

All of you folks with media passes, it’s your job to let us know what to expect because you have access. Don’t forget to go out and check on us and see how we’re doing.

It’s all about the horses, so here’s to a good show and a good ride for everyone and hopeful the horses are all good, too. I hope we can see some great riding and I’m looking forward to giving everyone reports from the cheap seats!

See you there! Go eventing!

 

 

The Art of Holding a Horse

One of my favorite horse-holding pictures: Jan Byyny and Inmidair at the CCI3* jog Wednesday morning at Fair Hill International in 2013, the year they won. Photo by Holly Covey.

The holding of a horse isn’t quite as important as holding a baby, but it may be almost as dangerous — and fulfilling.

There is an art to holding a horse. Anyone who has been around a groom who has been holding lead ropes for most of their adult lives knows what their hands can do with that butter-soft leather lead shank. It is zen.

When we see photos of boyfriends skeptically but hopefully holding the lead rope of a wary, knowing horse, we all know what is just about to happen without even reading the caption. The horse makes a step, takes a pull — and it’s rodeo time.

We’ve all lead a horse down the aisle, thinking of other things, and had the horse remind us however gently or forcefully that leading them is not to be taken lightly: stepping on the end of the lead rope trailing under their feet, breaking the reins getting caught on something they shouldn’t have … and various other disasters.

Unlike many other pets, for which a leash is either an object of decoration (chihuahua), or something a man seizes and controls (pitbull), the lead rope of a horse is more of an umbilical cord at times.

We are united with a piece of twisted cotton, or a bit of leather.

I watch my grazing horse at the end of it and think of how he feels about that grass he is munching. Depending upon the weather on the day, and the moment I am holding him, I will think. I will take a turn either slapping at mosquitoes, tucking my hat over my ears a little lower in the cold, or pull up my hood against the wind. I must stop and I must stand, or slowly shuffle with him. The world doesn’t have to go on spinning for a few moments. We can just stand there.

I relax my hands — no death grip needed. The munching is a soothing rhythm. I watch him eat. I’ll check his legs, worry about his splint. I’ll watch his ears. I’ll check the swish of his tail, the look of his topline, the amount of fat over his ribs. I’ll watch the bend of his ankle and the reach of the hind leg, and check the clinches on the shoes and that the clips are folded in. Then after a while I stop checking things and just watch.

He knows I am there, holding him, watching him. He doesn’t care. He enjoys the grass. He doesn’t want to leave. I don’t either. We don’t talk, we just listen to each other. We eat grass together.

Grooms all over the world are doing it, all times of the year. Sometimes at competitions where they chat and talk with each other. Sometimes at home alone with a barnful of work to do, or an overwhelmingly tough problem to solve, or just general worry about money, relationship, job.

The lead line is a counselor.

And the art of holding a horse covers a lot of ground and stretches from your very first encounter with an equine all the way along your whole life, and hopefully, to the very end. Many who can no longer ride still own horses and handle them and lead them and hold them. Once you hold a horse, you never forget how to do it again even after many years.

The coolest part of holding a horse is the understanding he knows you are holding him, and he can’t run away, yet he can do what he pleases. It goes back to early training when he was just a foal, figuring out that when the first halter was placed on his head, that it meant his life would have meaning.

A halter does not divide the broken from the free. It creates a being, a precious life to hold in your hand and keep safe and train and compete and belong to. A lead rope is a lifeline.

So when you hand a lead over to someone it symbolizes your trust they will care and love that horse as you have come to. It means a new journey starts for them, and it is a sharing on down the line of the ancient trust a human creates with something it has tamed.

Boyfriends, take heed. Holding your girlfriend’s horse has deep and powerful meaning. Now if you could just figure out how to keep him from stepping on the lead rope! (Don’t worry — you’ll get it. Keep at it.)

Go eventing.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

There’s your earworm for the day:

“R-e-s-p-e-c-t … find out what it means to me …” Gotta have it, just a little respect.

Oh, yes. In order to receive respect from your horse, as an event rider, it is at times essential to give respect — particularly when you are jumping a horse that tends to get slightly heavy in your hand. You don’t want to pull on the mouth. You don’t want to make constant correction, at least, I don’t. I’d rather just ask politely and get a nice, congenial, “sure, Mom,” response.

Four and a turn photo by Holly.

Most amateur riders like me I think feel the same. It should not be so much work. So, in an effort to gain back some respect, I changed the Event Horse’s bit for a little at-home jump school. Oh, my. Let’s give that idea the proper amount of respect: OH MY.

I have a rather short arena but I can set a four-stride line. This one was right on the 12-foot normal stride. I knew I’d have to gain RPMs in the turn and keep up the pace through the line, then half halt for the next turn, after the second fence in the line.

What I didn’t count on was the new and different attitude that the different bit caused in Event Horse. He galloped down the line, I gave him a little space when we landed, then sat up and politely asked, with my normal, regular, old-bit amount of pressure, for a half halt to make the turn to the right.

Whoohoo! I got it really fast, really quickly,  a really really real half halt! As in I nearly went out the front door to the left while Event Horse braked to go right. The arena fence was right there, up close and personal. We didn’t lose PVO (proper vertical order, earth-horse-rider), but it was touch and go.

So. Lesson learned. New bit equals new level of respect, and rider must subsequently adjust as well. And this is the lesson — that if you demand respect at a certain level, say, change the bit to something a bit more — be ready to change yourself to ride the horse you get. This was not a complication I had planned on.

What happened was I expected him to respect my half halt but I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead. A different bit will have a different response, and required a different use by me — I should have been milder with my half halt and not assumed the same kind of pull would work.

So in doing the exercise again, I checked myself when we landed and asked much more softly and got a more balanced and smoother turn. Light bulb moment: respect the respect you expect!!!

I’ve got a horse that can be a real bully on the ground — the more I correct him, and the consistency of correction, makes a difference and is the only thing that seems to work. If he isn’t handled for a while or if someone else handles him and treats him differently, I’m back to Square One with him in the respect department. And on occasion, even with consistent pressure, he’ll still walk over top of me or bang me with his head reaching for something. He doesn’t have a “personal space” radar.

And that’s not a thing I want to thump him for all the time, either. What I am doing is watching my own body language and taking care to be correct in my approach and handling and following the rules to avoid having to correct him — rewarding his good behavior and asking him politely not to step on me in the cross-ties, etc. Respecting the rules myself first.

Respect doesn’t mean cruelty and fear, big nasty bits and tight nosebands; it really means I am ready for a different level of performance and I’d like to see if we can’t develop an even deeper partnership together. I get it now.

I guess I have to make r-e-s-p-e-c-t a two-way street when I ride.

I love the story Jim Wofford tells about one of his best horses. When jumping, Jim would just have to look in the direction he wanted to head, and the horse would follow his eye upon landing. I’d like to have that kind of communication with my horses some day, where bits and bridles and reins and spurs didn’t matter, and which stirrup you weighted signaled which way to go. That’s a cool concept.

So until Event Horse gains Wofford-Level clairvoyance, and I magically develop upper level riding skills overnight, I will continue to work hard on this ammy-rider-thing and when I get big ideas to change the tack, I’ll make sure I think it through first.

Go eventing!

Courage Under Fire: Caesar Rodney’s Dark and Stormy Ride for Independence

A statue of Caesar Rodney stands today downtown Wilmington, DE. Photo by Holly Covey.

Everyone knows that we in America celebrate the 4th of July as a great national holiday, commemorating the birth of our nation. But perhaps only horse people can appreciate the great courage — and great horsemanship — 242 years ago, that made this holiday possible.

Here’s the scene: It’s July in Delaware. Hot, steamy and drenching thunderstorms are battering the flat landscape around the tiny colony’s capitol city, Dover.

Caesar Rodney, 48 year old statesman, military man and farmer, is suffering from cancer on his jaw and face. He’s at his family farm near Dover, attending to his duties as head of the Delaware militia, and that’s just one of the many public service positions he holds to serve his state and country. In addition, he was voted a delegate to the Continental Congress, currently in session in Philadelphia. But he’s home when they call the vote that rocks the world.

On June 30, 1776, a motion for independence was put forward in the Continental Congress. Debates over independence continued into July 1, 1776. A vote was held, and nine colonies voted for independence. Two colonies, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, voted against independence. One colony, New York, abstained from the vote, and another colony, Delaware, was split on its vote.

A rider bangs on the door of his mansion, rousing the household, with an urgent message from fellow statesman and delegate, Thomas McKean, in Philadelphia. The Delaware delegation, including George Read, McKean and Rodney, had voted in a tie — McKean for independence, Read against. Rodney was urgently needed in Philadelphia, about 80 miles away, for a tie-breaking vote. Could he come to Philadelphia quickly? McKean could only buy a little time before the vote would fail due to lack of consensus, and then the notion of independence might also fail, and doom the fragile union of colonies to more oppression, ruinous taxes and tyranny. Rodney was needed — and needed fast. Could he ride the 80 miles to Philadelphia on a stormy night to save the vote?

Accounts are that he left immediately, about midnight, of July 1. As he proceeded northward through Delaware farmland, using the only roads available, the thunderstorms had muddied the paths and swelled the rivers and creeks. He likely crossed several, and those in the darkness of a stormy night.

A letter to his brother Thomas indicates he went by carriage for most of the trip, but the accounts of his arrival in Philadelphia have him wet, with muddy boots and spurs — indicating he rode as well. Experts believe he used a saddle horse for at least part of the journey, and then switched to a carriage as he got to present-day New Castle county.

It is likely that he traveled northward, approximately the path of today’s U.S. Route 13, passing through Smyrna, Odessa, New Castle, Wilmington, up toward Wilmington’s Penny Hill to what is now Claymont, Delaware, and then into Pennsylvania at Marcus Hook, then what is today the city of Chester, then on to Philadelphia.

18 hours — today a journey of about an hour and a half.

The ride was undertaken with a certain amount of courage, too. It was not ideal conditions for a fast overland trip and horses were the only mode of transportation. By all accounts, Rodney was an excellent horseman, and in so being, he probably knew what lay ahead of him.

Very few documents have survived from that era, and while we don’t know exactly what Rodney looked like, we know some about Colonial Delaware life and how Rodney would have felt that evening when the messenger came knocking on his door.

He knew his decision to break the vote meant he’d have to ride hard, on a dark and wet evening, probably in thunderstorms, lightning and rain. How many of us eventers have gone on in the rain and the wind?

He knew his horse might become exhausted; perhaps it was a favorite, maybe one he raised from a good mare and bred himself. He might even have injured this horse, or watched it drop exhausted, or have to leave it behind while he hurried to a waiting carriage. We have felt those feelings, seeing a favorite horse leave us.

He would have urged the driver to push the horse or horses pulling the carriage; being a farmer and horseman, certainly he would have been full of regrets for the hard way they were treated to get him to Philadelphia. Those of us who have had our horses go lame or get hurt know these feelings well.

He arrived with muddy boots and in his spurs, we know this, on July 2, to cast his Delaware vote for independence. This put Delaware over into 2 for and 1 against, carrying the state, making the vote “for” independence from the tyranny of Great Britain.

The last line of the Declaration of Independence reads, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

(Read the full text here.)

In two days, the final documents would be written and the delegates would approve them, and on July 4, independence would be declared, and the United States would be born.

When Caesar Rodney mounted his horse on that steamy night, he knew, the moment he put his foot in the stirrup, that what he was doing would essentially insure his death. His cancer had advanced, and the only doctors who might be able to treat him were in England; voting for independence and signing the document declaring it would label him a traitor, making his arrest and imprisonment or hanging a certainty should he try to travel to England.

The Crown would also threaten to take his land, his crops, his home and conscript his servants and tenants for their military. He could be looking at bankruptcy and destruction of his property as well. No, there was nothing good to come of a vote for independence for him personally. It would mean war, and being in charge of the Delaware militia, it would mean he would have to leave his farm and raise and lead an army, convince reluctant citizens to join and fund the army and fight against a colonial power that ruled the world. He’d have to do it with fighters who had little more than a few old muskets, axes and rags on their feet. It was an immensely daunting future that Rodney faced when he mounted and rode that night.

So when you see those words, “we mutually pledge to one another our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” they literally knew they ALL were signing a death warrant. That took courage.

And being eventers, we know a little bit about throwing our heart over an obstacle, and having the courage, however small, and however minor, to overcome a difficult task. We know what it takes to mount a horse, take a breath, and ride for our lives. And while we may not do 80 miles on a stormy night, and the stakes aren’t a nation at war (more like just trying to get home from work in time to ride before dark) … we know a little bit of how it feels to keep going when it gets tough, to keep trying despite all around you telling you it won’t work, and sticking up for what is right and what is fair.

The Founding Fathers of our nation indeed had courage, courage of a type we in our era will never see from current day politicians and public servants.  Those guys 242 years ago were tough, smart, courageous  — and pretty scared — but they did it anyway.

Sort of like eventers, too! Happy 4th of July — and now you know why we celebrate!

 

Gym? Pfft. Farm Life Is a Next-Level Workout

Who did THAT? Photo by Holly Covey.

They go to a gym. They work out. They run. I laugh.

Today, as I was deadweight lifting a 100-lb. track drag, and walking backwards 50 feet with it to get it out of the way of the mower, I wondered what those people who go to gyms think. I mean, why? Sure, I read all the latest research and white papers about exercise, and how barn work doesn’t relate to “real” physical activity supervised in the latest power gym by expert trainers.

Yeah, right. So how we gonna get anything done around here?

I’ll do your workout, and you get to come and pick up 400 bales of hay off the ground, throw them on a wagon, stack it, then pull it off the wagon and restack it in the barn.

I only have so many track drag deadlifts in me in a day. I don’t dare go “work out” in the morning, for fear I’d get home after work and find some sort of massive physical contest with a broken something-or-other, or have to move half the barn to get to some important part or piece of equipment, and I’d have no strength left.

Like this weekend. I decided I’d make a cross country course this weekend. Yep. Pulled out some posts, took down some fence, mowed some grass. Moved some drags and implements. Dug out some weeds on a dirtpile, worked on a tractor pushing it up to a rideable mound. Built a couple jumps. Dragged a log out of the woods to use for a jump. Cleared some brush. Trimmed back some trees. Picked up and dumped the clippings and brush. Dug out a couple of old things that needed to be moved out of the way. Moved about 50 cement blocks, restacked them, weedwacked and trimmed tall grass where they used to be and where they went in their new position.

Took me a couple hours. Working slowly, of course. In pretty much 100 percent humidity at or around 80F. But I will have five or six good cross country questions by Tuesday completed. Just small, just to school over. But it will be done.

And that was after cleaning four stalls, changing water in water tubs, sweeping, cleaning up, washing off deck furniture, and weeding a small flowerbed.

I’m not all kooky about getting stuff done, just the opposite, I leave a lot of chores unfinished and start a ton of projects I can’t seem to get finished. Most horse people with their own farms I know are somewhat the same. There is always something to do.

There’s a lot of hard, physical work involved in keeping a farm up. Not talking about a showplace — just basic mowing and dragging and watering and weed control. In this wet spring, we’ve had our share of grass and weeds running rampant. Some fields are like making an expedition to get in there and do some damage to the overgrowth. The fences are in there, last I saw.

I am always thinking about new stuff to jump or a different way to fix the run-in shed or something requiring Big Construction. For the most part, I get back to reality when I actually go out with hammer in hand and realize it’s beyond what I can do in one hour.

This time of year, it’s easy to get into projects that take time because we have light until late. As the daylight begins to recede, starting today, I will lose a minute or two each day to do my chores and start or finish outdoor projects. Then, gradually, I’m squeezed down to just being able to ride after work. And soon not even that as fall arrives.

And don’t forget the reason we do all this work is the horses, and they have to be ridden, groomed, washed, fed, watered and cared for, too. Oh, and if you live with someone else, all that applies to them, too. And what if you have a full time job?

I have gotten up early mornings to ride more years than I can count. As I approach my fifth decade of doing this stuff, I don’t even think about the various parts of my body that complain every morning. It’s discouraging to take inventory.

Farm work — just work — is often the only and all of the workout that I do each day. While I know that is not ideal, I also know that the physical work I do tires me out enough to make me feel as though a trip to the gym would be a welcome relief.

I wish I was in better shape and I wish the farm would fix itself. Wouldn’t that be great? All this new technology to have “smart homes” with computerized instructions and automation … imagine if we were to have it with the barn, the paddocks, the ring, the pastures, the yard and the flowerbeds. “Alexa, weed the front flowerbed,” or “Alexa, dump and scrub out the back field water tub and refill it.” What luxury. A smart barn.

Just think of it — are you dreaming about a robot that can set jumps for us so we never again have to get off a horse to put up a rail or a weedeating robot? Yes, please. A weedeating robot. Send me some seed money. Any venture capitalists out there? Every farm owner I know would be in sleeping bags in the parking lot lineup at Walmart should such a robot be available. At any cost!

So until that day comes my workouts remain purpose-driven. And exhausting enough. And I’m not moving that drag for a least a week (or until the weeds need cutting down!)

Before You Enter at A: Smart Tips From a Scribe

Photo by Holly Covey.

Whenever I scribe, I find out more stuff about dressage that makes just darn good sense, and helps me improve my own competitive riding.

My last scribing job got me thinking about one of the most important components of your day at an event, and the thing that starts off your competition. This is how you utilize the moments you have to trot around the dressage arena before you start your test. It seems kind of simple: You go around the ring and trot a little and then go in to be judged, but there are a few things to do, and not to do, that can really affect the quality (and score) of your judged test.

Be on time (= early).

The scourge of my life is to be on time, but in dressage, they really mean it. When it comes time for your dressage test, you must be on time. What does that mean? I think it means plan your warmup, bit check, and last minute fixes so that you are ready to approach your designated arena and do your familiarization round around the arena at least two minutes PRIOR to your ride time. This is so important. Judges have to keep things as fair as possible for everyone they judge. They try to give each rider the same amount of “around the ring” familiarization as possible, but if one rider runs late, then that pushes everything a bit behind. So if you are ready to ride at least two minutes before your scheduled time, you will not run the risk of being late.

Make a plan. 

Warmup procedures vary from event to event. Some warmup areas are close to the competition ring; others are further away and harder to estimate how much time it takes, so it makes sense to get up to dressage warmup in plenty of time to get all that figured out, check out the proper ring for your test, etc. Plan for what you will do when you enter and start your warmup circle. Will you go right, or left? Which side do you think your whip should be? What looks spooky and likely to draw a shy?

Head out there. 

It’s proper to wait until the rider before you has done their final salute before starting your warmup circle. The judge stops judging at the salute, so if the rider prior to you takes their time wandering out of the ring, you can keep warming up, just stay out of the exiting horse’s path.

Many times events have multiple arenas running at once. Do be mindful as you enter for your warmup circuit that the horse next to you might be in their test, or that a horse could be acting up next to your ring. If that is the case, it may be best to go the other way, turn the opposite direction, or go to the end or other side — tension tends to excite neighboring horses — to keep your horse focused and away from potential trouble!

Don’t hover around the end of the arena, waiting for the bell. Trot beside the boards up to the judge so she knows you are the next horse in her ring. When you “claim” the warmup circuit around your ring, the judge can relax knowing she doesn’t have to worry that the next rider hasn’t shown up, or guess which rider hovering at the end is the next one in her ring.

Pass the judge like a pro. 

If you are not sure how your horse will be with the judge and scribe at C (whether they are in a car, booth, or at a table, etc.) make sure you trot past it and let him see it. Even with an experienced horse, it’s always a good idea to approach the car and speak. Then your horse is aware there is something there. It’s OK to walk or trot past the car (pass in the front), and, in my experience from scribing, I think most judges don’t care how you go past — as I explain below, sometimes they are busy anyhow — but the important thing is don’t make a bad impression by stopping for a long time to chat or halting and expecting to be addressed. You’re just using up your warmup time, and making yourself late. The polite thing to do is keep moving, smile, and go on about your warmup loop. We can see you; we’re just busy.

It is a nice courtesy to put a horse’s head number on the side where the scribe can see it on your first circuit. (That goes back to the planning which way you will turn.) It’s OK by most judges to say hello, but do remember to put a happy expression on your face! Don’t worry if the scribe or judge doesn’t respond, often they are busy writing the collective remarks down from the previous rider, checking they did not forget a score or keeping up with the judge’s comments, and can’t always respond. They are aware of you, don’t think they don’t know you are there, because they do, but they aren’t ready to give you their full attention until you hear that bell.

Listen for the bell. 

Know that you have 45 seconds from the bell (or other signal) to get into the ring. Please be aware that you CANNOT TROT ALL THE WAY AROUND even the short ring in 45 seconds. That is not that long, but many think they can make it, and you would be surprised to know quite a few just squeak in the ring with no more than a second or two to spare! It’s a -2 deduction if you are late, so don’t chance it! Try this at home: set your timer on your phone for 45 seconds, pick up a trot, hit the button, and see how far around your ring you can get before it sounds. Now you know how far you can go in the time you have.

So when you hear the bell, immediately begin to plan the track of your entrance. If you happen to be on the long side, going towards A, keep going and plan your turn to enter; if you are going away from A, gently halt, but turn around in a workmanlike manner. You don’t have to hurry, but if you are going away from A and hear the bell and then turn around to enter, the judge knows you have heard the bell and are paying attention, which is always a good thing. If she sounds the bell and you keep going away from the entrance at A, the judge might not think you heard it.

Make a good first impression. 

From scribing, I’ve heard a few remarks over the years from judges — as the warmup rounds are the first impression a rider will make, even though not judged — and here are some common observations:

Go forward. Trot in, and keep that forward trot as you go around next to the boards. Do some transitions if time permits, just to check to see your horse is still in front of your leg and that your half halt is working. Adjust your reins and position your whip. Most judges like to see your horse on your aids and hopefully focusing on the job at hand as you trot in to start your test, and keeping him forward and regular to start with goes a long way toward showing a judge you are there to do the job well.

Know your horse. 

Not every horse will warmup the same: some need quieter steady work, others need more, etc. The important thing is to know your horse, and what will work and what makes him anxious — and avoid riding him in a way that doesn’t help your test score. This takes practice and feel!

Do you have a horse that reacts to the sand from their feet hitting the plastic boards? You may want to warmup right next to the plastic bar type arenas, so you get an idea of whether your horse will be OK with that noise or if you may need to adjust your riding in the ring when it happens. Another reason to ride close to the ring is if you aren’t sure you will hear the bell; keeping close insures you will be close enough to hear it.

Every horse is different. Some might need to walk a bit to relax and focus just before going in the ring. If that is the case for you, just be sure you plan for the time that takes. If you use up most of your warmup around the ring to walk, you won’t be able to establish a good trot rhythm in time to enter, ready to be judged. You may need to take the first two or three movements into the test to establish the trot, and therefore you’ll be throwing away a few points.

Troubleshooting tips. 

Sometimes if your horse is unfocused and looking around, the best way to proceed is not to let him do as he pleases, but to put him to work and ask him to behave. Judges I have scribed for always are dismayed when they watch a rider waste warmup time letting the horse look around until the bell, without making an effort to get him on the aids before going in the ring.

The warmup around the ring isn’t the time to do a lot of schooling or training, either. If you try a transition and mess it up, let it go. You may not have time to fix it before the bell rings; so make sure that if you plan on a transition or two, that you keep them simple and clear.

Perhaps you are on time but you haven’t heard the bell (or whistle, etc.), and keep warming up. If you aren’t sure, or it seems like a long time, check with the judge, don’t just keep circling. They are much happier being asked by the rider who is unsure, than left sitting in the car wondering what the heck you are doing circling around and around. If you didn’t hear the bell, make sure they know you didn’t hear it but be nice about it. Remember, you are responsible for riding at the correct time regardless of whether you heard the bell to enter, or not. And don’t enter until you hear it, as the judge isn’t ready to give you their full attention until they ring the bell.

And finally … enter at A!

Plan how you will enter at A. Don’t make a wiggle around the letter; make a curve that takes you past the letter onto the center line, from either side. If you wiggle around A, that makes your horse look like he is wandering down center line, and the judge is seated where she can clearly see that. When it is time to go in, enter like you mean it! Put a pleasant expression on your face, take a breath, and go for it!

Go Eventing.

Learning a New Dressage Test

Learning a new dressage test. Photo by Holly.

So, we decided to take a look at the omnibus page, and find out which test we are to ride in our upcoming event. Loading it on the phone, and tacking up the horse after work, off we set for the front yard.

The front yard is not really a yard. It has some landscaping, true, but it really is a dressage arena masquerading as a lawn. This provides some interesting entertainment, because being a lawn, with ornamental trees and flowers, as well as being some sort of a major crossroads for the neighborhood strays, it seems to attract all sorts of little animals.

So out we trudge to the arena, and I pull out the phone to begin to learn the test. Only there are like six texts I have to figure out first. And then there are 10 emails, too. And have to check Instagram and the latest crapola on other social media … oh, yeah, the test.

Meanwhile we’ve been walking for a while and I decide we had better start trotting. Second trot step, he nearly creams a bunny rabbit. Rabbit bolts. Horse bolts — the other direction. Suddenly I am without stirrups hanging around his neck and phone goes flying.

Fortunately, the phone has a good case. I save the day with the neck strap (oh yes, we ride with one of those every day), and figure, what the heck, I read through it at least twice, I know it without looking. So I shimmy back into the tack, and decide not to get the phone, but keep warming up and trot what I think is the pattern of the test, just to get to know it. Figure I’ll get the phone later. I know where it is. It’s beeping every now and again.

Except I really don’t know the test, and after trotting around pretty aimlessly for a while I decided I should really look for the phone. I had a basic idea where it was. Fortunately the occasional beep from social media posts gave it away, and I got off to pick it up. And there was the snake. And you know what snakes do. They look at you. And you look at the snake. And really it is not much time before you move and scream and they probably do the snake equivalent of screaming and move also. Except it’s towards you. So you leave. If you could leave the zip code, that would be pretty OK. Mostly I just went to the other corner of the dressage arena and tried to breathe again.

So after my oxygen uptake increased and I was able to prevent myself from having the Big One right there, we circled around and I wanted to get back on the horse really bad so I wasn’t in any snake path or anything and reached out to snatch the phone and quickly got back on. Now I can practice this test, all the distractions are out of the way. Except the snake which is in the corner sort of by M. So we didn’t do anything near M. So … the free walk sort of got turned toward C. And other necessary modifications. As you who are not lovers of reptiles will understand completely.

Do not forget the bunny rabbit. He is now somewhere out there in the taller grass on the other side of the arena but must have bunny friends he has to get to across the arena, so he sneaks through about X. Excuse me. I need to hop through. Just hopping through. Sheesh, I’m trying to get this canter transition in the right place. Really? Really?

The horse is not even caring about the rabbit now, as we’ve stopped to try and memorize the last little bits, and my phone has rather run out of battery, and I’m trying to get the test back up, and while we’re on that little break … he’s eating grass.

And eating. And like one of those Thelwell ponies who won’t lift their heads with a jackhammer, he eats. I tug on the reins like a little kid, thinking, this can’t be real. No one my age has trouble picking a horse’s head up out of the grass. Do I need to tie a hay string from his crownpiece to the front of the saddle? Finally I give him a big kick, and he reluctantly lifts his head, tufts of grass wadding out of his mouth.

“Dressage test,” I am huffing. Back to learning the dressage test. Please. And here comes the next set of assistants … the neighbor’s errant goats. They wander across the driveway, heading for the taller grass … see me … and beat feet back to their side — and back through the electric fence. Zing. Nothing is hurt but feelings.

So it’s finally quiet. Time to work on the test again. This time, I’m looking at the letters, thinking … that isn’t right … H is supposed to be over there … is that right? I can’t suddenly remember where the letters are supposed to go and I think they are, well, turned around a bit. So … if I learned the test going to the letters and now the letters are wrong …. the whole session is completely wasted.

So I give up, the phone has finally died with no battery left, the stray neighborhood cats are trotting through the arena on their way to my barn on their rounds. The pair of doves that live on the house roof are cooing. A couple of other birds are singing their night songs and the sun is going down. I am really doing a lot more communing with nature than I am learning a dressage test out here.

My horse really wants to graze, and you know, I sort of am hungry for dinner, too. So we called it a session and went back to the barn. And that, my friends, is what passes for learning a dressage test on my front lawn!

Gaining Inspiration from the Big Events

Sara Gumbiner and Polaris. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Do you believe in YOU?

The great riding that was in abundance at two special locations in the world in the last two weeks is a great place to start the process of believing in yourself and your horse. It probably should be noted that it is important to not just look at two riders’ performances, but at the rest of the 120-plus best-in-the-world riders who crossed the start lines at two great venues half the world apart.

I absolutely love to watch cross country videos and having Badminton and Kentucky past performances to watch online is like a godsend. If you’re a visual learner, or even can just appreciate really scopey horses jumping really well for talented, strong, and very good riders, you will appreciate what I am talking about!

Of course, my jumps are big at half the size, but we can all use better equitation, better balance, and better preparation for the questions we face on our cross-country courses. It’s a treasure trove of education — so please don’t forget to watch the great ones!

See Sara Gumbiner, and her remarkable performance last week at Kentucky. See also Jonelle Price, and her remarkable performance this week at Badminton. Positive and fabulous. These competitors together inspired me a great deal. I have been thinking about their riding and their influence has rubbed off! It means a lot that dreams do come true. It’s evidence that the rest of us can get there, too. Maybe not Kentucky or Badminton. But our own Kentuckys, and our own Badmintons are out there for us and we have to keep believing and working. Use the inspiration available to you for a positive result!

So go out there and use what you see on the live feed and on TV on Sunday afternoon to inspire you to ride better and work harder in the barn and in the tack. Keep believing.

Who are your favorites? What rides did you like? Share them with friends and discuss their merits. (One of my personal favorites was Lauren Kieffer on Veronica through the Eclipse Cross Pond (18abc) at Badminton. She was right with the mare as she pinged off the bank over that huge airy oxer in the out, a fabulous ride, where so many of the riders sat back.)

Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event: Re-watch all phases via USEF Network here

Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials: Coverage of the cross country phase will be available to re-watch here on Monday, May 7, at 5 p.m. EST

Pokey Things, Thwapper Sticks, Stinger Sticks & Snappy Poles

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Event Horse would like to talk to all his fellow event horses out there in Event Land about pokey things, thwapper sticks, stinger sticks, and snappy poles. Roughly translated, that means spurs, crops, dressage whips and lunge whips.

Event Horse says, “of all the things, the snappy poles are the least scary and the next least scary is pokey things. Because of my excellent disposition, I don’t much care about the snappy poles. They are attached to human’s arms, and I just can’t see them very well with only one eye (while I am being lunged). So I tend not to pay much attention.”

“Pokey things are not too bad. I rarely need to feel the whole end of the pokey thing in my ribs, anyhow. I have found if I jump forward when she just touches it to my side, she takes it away and gives me a wither scratch, so I don’t fear those too much,” he says.

Event Horse feels thwappers (crops) and stingers (dressage whips) are not very nice. He dislikes the noise of the crop on his side or flank. I don’t need that! he says. And his least favorite is the dressage whip, which he calls a stinger stick.

“These remind me of when my mother stirred up a nest of hornets and I got stung as a foal, ” Event Horse explains. “I dislike the stinger stick immensely. I always tried to look at it while Mommy rode with it until I trusted her and got used to her holding it without hitting me. It’s still not my favorite, ” he said.

He feels Event Horses like him should not have to deal with dressage whips. He reminded Mommy that he dislikes them by kicking at it while being ridden. It reminded her to be careful how she holds it, and maybe get a shorter one that won’t tickle his side. (Noted by Mommy.)

Thwappers don’t scare him as much, but he has heard some stories about them by the racehorses he has stabled with and knows they can be noisy but don’t hurt. Once Mommy used it when he was not going across a ditch while out hunting. Event Horse did not like the ditch. In fact, he did not like the ditch worse than he did not like the thwapper. So he went around. (It was a really deep and big ditch, Mommy actually didn’t use the thwapper that much because she trusted Event Horse when he said it was too big.)

Mommy says two taps maximum on all things. If the pokey things don’t work, then I get the thwapper twice. If I still don’t want to go, she looks at it and makes sure it’s not too big or too deep for me, because I will go most of the time over anything. That’s her rule.

“I have to try, or tell her ‘no’ politely — and if I get two taps and don’t go, then she knows it’s too big. I am very strong Event Horse and can jump most anything, so when I say, ‘no, too big’ it is bigger than Kentucky and I can’t do it and make sure she stays up there where she belongs. Mommy knows this. So she keeps her thwapper with her but doesn’t use it much. I don’t need it!” says Event Horse.

“I asked her why she carries the thwapper every ride. She says a long time ago an instructor named Jack told her, ‘Do not go to war without a gun.’ So she always carries it,” he says. Event Horse would like other event horses to know that is probably why all their riders carry them when they ride, too. He says not to worry, if you are big strong event horse and jump all the things, your Mommy won’t ever touch you with the thwapper, and that’s a good thing.

Event Horse. Photo by Merrilyn Ratliff.

Schooling For Success!

Playing the cross country schooling game. Photo by Holly Covey.

There have probably been a million blogs written on “how to cross country school,” and I guess this is the millionth-plus-one, but I’d like to talk about how I’ve learned to school my event horses over the years.

In the beginning, back in the Dark Ages, when I first was introduced to “horse trials” — there was no such thing as “schooling” a cross country course before you got to an event. I don’t recall being able to trailer to a course, and ride over the jumps there prior to the competition in the early days. We didn’t have very many events, most were a really long way away, and the crusty old military generals that built the courses didn’t want anyone to be anywhere near their precious courses until COMPETITION.  I remember one of these luminaries telling us all we “should have gone hunting all winter” to prepare — that would have been nice, if we lived closer than 1,000 miles from the nearest hunt. Hmmm. We built stuff at home and hoped it would do!

Later, when I moved to an area with more events, the concept of “going schooling” was a new thing we all moved heaven and earth to be able to do. We’d all go together in a group, spent most of a day, rode over the whole property and jumped, jumped, jumped. Then we’d go back to the trailers, eat and drink or picnic, do up our horses and ship home. The fee was like $10. We’d all sleep well that night!

Later, when the first USCTA Book of Eventing was published, we discovered that some people made their own water jumps at home (there were instructions!) and we thought that was a great idea and much better than zooming out to the barn to ride immediately after a monsoon. We used to drag jumps to the edge of the large puddles/small lakes in the arena immediately after large thunderstorms, quickly tack up and warmup, and splash through pretending we were jumping water jumps before the water drained into the sandy soil.

Mostly, we just got to the events crossing our fingers that we’d jumped enough at home, and would walk the courses with a mixture of trepidation, fear and cold sweat. There were a LOT more built-in, solid jumps in those days, and lots of stuff that was pretty unforgiving of mistakes even at the lowest levels. I clearly remember jumping solid log bounces, jumping docks IN water, jumping off docks into water, hayracks with totally false groundlines, and solid corners canted on the downhill, among other pretty gnarly stuff. There has been good change since those days!

Since those old days, I have since learned so much more about how to teach a horse to like cross country, and most of it has come from the close supervision and coaching from very good instructors. Far from the winging-it days, now I do it differently — and I have to think it’s a lot easier on the horses.

And in the decades I’ve been hauling horses to cross country courses I have learned that horses do understand and retain the things they are taught and exposed to, and that riders should think about what you expect your horse to do and how he feels about it when you ask. I know I don’t ride like I used to years ago, where we galloped at it and hoped for the best; today I think I try a bit more to be a better and more sympathetic rider, with more skill and less seat-of-the-pants technique.

When USET rider and top horsewoman Bonnie Mosser first coached me at Fair Hill in the Sawmill Field, she concentrated on my position and getting my horse in front of my leg. Rather than just fly around jumping willy nilly, it was organized. My riding reminders: stay in balance, do not catch the mouth, look where we wanted to go and where we wanted the feet to be when we landed. I was a disaster! I hung on my poor horse’s mouth, pinched on my knees, fell off over every drop, and had no clue how to get the poor thing through the water. For some reason, Bonnie magnanimously took me on (probably because she felt so sorry for my good horse) and completely improved my riding and my understanding of what I was trying to do on cross country. I owe much of what I learned about cross country riding from people like Bonnie, and am grateful for every lesson I was able to have with these top level riders — they have made my experience in eventing very enjoyable. And my horses would probably agree!

These concentrated lessons on MY position and MY riding really ended up helping my horses. It wasn’t a matter of “him doing this and that.” It was more ME being in balance and not interfering, and letting him do the job. Cross country schooling really is about riding across the country with your horse, with the least amount of work and interference, isn’t it? So easy to say — so hard to do!

Added to the position education were also often-detailed discussions about how to ride certain fences, such as questions with downhill approaches, drops, water, jumps on a curve, using momentum, achieving a more balanced gallop, and more. You learned even more on course walks with these riders at local events and horse trials, and the instruction would back up what you did when you came back and schooled a week later.

An early lesson I learned to hack about the field to warm up, letting my horse look and absorb, perhaps even to walk quietly through the water on the way to warmup, without jumping anything (a great way to introduce it to your horse before asking them to associate jumping with it).  And I learned that on the warmup trot, as a rider it was my responsibility to tighten my girth, check my reins, carry my bat, have on my gloves and spurs; and also to be observant on the warmup, checking the footing, looking at the landings and take-offs of jumps as I hacked past, watching out for holes or rocks, noticing where the greenhead flies might be and also the wasps! And if it didn’t look good — we didn’t do it.

I learned to gauge my horse’s interest and enthusiasm by cantering a big warmup circle, sending them forward, then bringing them back a few times, to see how the brakes and steering and gas pedal worked on the day. Sometimes we would find out in the first five minutes that we’d need a stronger bit, or different tack, long before we would start jumping, and would make a quick change to keep the session productive.

I learned that we always start with a simple, straightforward fence with a good ground line, like a log, and always a level below our current ability. We keep it low and correct, working on basics for the first third of the session. We then would move on to the second third of the lesson, where we would jump a few more difficult fences or take on something spooky or more complicated — a downhill jump, a turning question, something requiring a change of position and adjustment in stride. The last third would be spent on the most difficult things, because we were now warmed up and in front of the leg. That would be the time for attempting the coffins, water, drops and combinations. Then as a final test we might jump a few jumps in a row, and would quit on a good note with lots of praise and walk to cool out.

Of course, if anything went wrong, we’d work on it; and sometimes we’d change the order of difficulty around, or drop down a level and create confidence, if someone got scared or had a problem. We worked most of the time in small groups with similar jumping ability so we could school approximately the same jumps in the same portion of the field together. We also learned from watching one another, too! And throughout we kept moving. It was rare to park and sit — keeping your horse warm and walking was done so they would be ready when it was your turn at an obstacle. Cross country is not like a lesson at home; the horses need to relate to jumping a course and going from one question to the next as a whole, not as jump, rest, jump, rest. Tips like these I learned over the years working with people who have decades of experience making event horses.

For me, having those eyes on the ground from a very knowledgeable and experienced instructor made a huge difference in how my horse perceived cross country. It became something like a fun game we both enjoyed. That is always how I think a cross country schooling should be for both humans and horses. I really didn’t know how to methodically school a horse over cross country and simulate that fun game, until I got knowledgeable help. And I’m glad courses are different from the old days, too!

Caring and Sharing: Why Young Riders Matter

A youth pipeline is vital. Photo by Holly Covey

You can’t have a sport without a youth pipeline. Every successful sport has one. Bringing up children on ponies, then teens on horses, and finally, young adults on event horses keeps our sport alive — literally.

So, even if you, as an adult eventer, may not have a dog in the young rider hunt, you can recognize the vital importance of the Junior and Young Rider programs in supporting eventing horsemanship and sportsmanship. Our sport has a future, basically because each Area in the United States funds Young Rider (riders aged 16 to 21 years) teams to go to an international competition, and learn what it takes to compete at a high level.

Young Rider programs are different from USPC (Pony Club) programs, and different from regular horse trials with junior divisions. Young Riders are encouraged on an international scale, with a whole set of FEI rules. In the United States, we have developed our Young Rider program on a USEA area by area basis, which helps our vast nation put together young rider teams that can compete at our own North American Junior and Young Rider Championship. Eventing is only one division of the NAJYRC; show jumping and dressage also participate.

In 2018, the NAJYRC for show jumping (including Children’s classes) and dressage will be held at Old Salem Farm, North Salem, NY. For eventing, it will again be held at Rebecca Farms, as a part of The Event At Rebecca Farms, in Kalispell, MT., July 18-22. Young Riders compete at the one star and two star levels.

I’d like to take a moment and talk about the experience that these riders may have. While not all make the team, and not all get to ride at the championships, they are encouraged to attend and belong to the group. This promotes a sense of comaraderie, creates lifelong friendships, teaches children how to get along with one another and rely and learn from one another. It exposes the kids to other ways of doing things, how to live and work together, and the process of changing ones’ mindset from “me” to “us.” The value of this is beyond compare in the horse world and probably spills over to the rest of their lives, too.

In addition to the personal expansion, a young rider does go through a selection process with their horses, their coaches, and family members. How great is that? We are teaching a young rider, still in their formative years, the value of riding under pressure and the importance of detail, preparation, organization, and horsemanship to achieve a goal. Isn’t that what we’d like to see, going forward — riders representing America that can handle the pressure in top international competition. Not bad.

Quite a few of our upper level riders today had Young Rider experiences. Most of them think fondly of their competition team experience — a few credit it with helping them become the professional riders they are today.

Here’s what Murray Kessler, president of the USEF, has to say about the Young Rider championship program: “These championships are a very important part of the developmental pathway that USEF must prioritize. For many young athletes, this is the first time that they will get championship experience or the opportunity to compete as part of a team representing their country, so these championships are a big deal.”

Young riders and their families also have a positive impact financially on the sport and provide support for organizations, events, trainers, coaches, suppliers and services that work within the industry. Their contributions are mighty, and the economic impact is important. Ask yourself if you’re someone who has benefited directly from coaching, training or selling a horse to a young rider. A healthy Young Rider (or Young Rider advancement program) is a good thing for your business.

So, what are you doing to help? Perhaps you are assisting with your Young Rider team, supporting their fundraisers (team participation is very expensive, often in the thousands and many riders need the help of donated funds), giving time, or a facility for training — encouraging the kids in your barn to join a YRAP (Young Riders Advancement Program).

In Area II, the YRAP helps kids go behind the scenes and shadow officials at recognized events. Most of these kids are eventing and riding at the Novice or Training level, or may not be old enough yet to join the YR program (age 16 to 21); YRAP in Area II gives them a taste of the things they need to know in order to move up to Young Riders competition, and offers them some recognition, sets up teams at recognized events and helps prepare parents and coaches, too.

Fundraising is a major part of support for the YR teams, and that is because any qualified rider should not be held back from participating because of finances. It’s always a good thing to have a fund to help everyone on the team participate, even if some riders are more able to afford the travel required. Most of the east coast teams in 2017 and looking forward to 2018 are having to raise lots of funds to help get horses to Montana from the east coast, just like many of the west coast young riders in the past have had to raise funds to help get east, when the NAJYRCs are held on the eastern side of the U.S. Because of the large size of the U.S. and Canada, our young rider competitors are used to long travel distances to participate in these championships — they are a big deal and they require commitment from families in a big way.

So as an eventer, I’d like to think that you understand the need for helping out our Young Rider programs, and can find a way to help support the various fundraisers that each Area has to help their kids get to Montana this year.

Here are links to Area fundraising programs, or just their websites if they don’t have a fundraising specific page —Area I, Area II, Area III, Area VIArea V, Area VIArea VIIArea VIIIArea IX, Area X. Eventing Nation is always happy to help get the word out about YR fundraising efforts: You can email us details at [email protected]

In addition, there’s some more support you can offer, and that has to do with being an adult, and creating a positive attitude for the kids who are dreaming the Big Dream of Young Riders. While it’s easy to post on social media what your opinion might be on Young Rider programs in your area, there’s a pretty serious impact you might be having on those kids who read those comments — it never hurts to know a little bit about the influence you as an adult eventer might be having.

This is taken from an article written by Brian McNeill, a 4-H Youth development specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension. It applies pretty closely to our Young Riders.

“Non-parental adults in community organizations play an important role with youth. Studies done with 4-H youth show adults in their 4-H clubs make them feel important (65%) and listen to them (64%). In addition, most youth reported that their volunteer leaders do pay attention to them (74%)

“Some specific characteristics of non-parental adults who play this role include that they are: Good listeners; supporters: and have a good sense of youth development.

“Organizations that work with young people want a positive and successful experience for the youth they serve. Expecting and encouraging these characteristics in non-parental adults ensures they are creating the most positive experience possible for the young people.”

So as non-parental adults (and I emphasize “adults” here), it is up to us in this sport as caring people to make sure we make all of our actions for Young Riders POSITIVE. They have enough disappointment, downers and difficulties to surmount in the sport of eventing, as we all know. This sport is HARD. The young riders who have chosen this path deserve only support and “the most positive experience possible” by all adults who have anything to do with this program, on or off the field.

Our leadership example sets the tone. I’d like to see today’s young riders become tomorrow’s sport leaders — and, hopefully, what they learn from us will help them to work towards making our sport survive — and leave it better than we give it to them.

What can you do? Encourage young riders you interact with. Be a fan of your local young rider team. Support fundraisers, “like” and share the links, give something if you can. Have positive messages. Come out and cheer and support them when they compete. Be a positive force that encourages others, because you don’t know when — or how — you will influence a young person.

Our sport depends on it.