Colleen Hofstetter
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Colleen Hofstetter

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About Colleen Hofstetter

I live in Western Pennsylvania, which is the opposite side of the east coast eventing mecca. However, this is Area VIII and we have great farm land and hills that makes for scenic beauty and terrific conditioning. Area VIII is also home to many fine events from large impressive venues such as Richland Park and Rolex, but also numerous more local events and circuits. Horses and eventing have been a common topic of conversation for me for many more years than I care to remember, and there have been many great memories and some more sobering ones, as we all have had. While not actively competing, I still love to ride and I still love the sport of 3 Day Eventing. I find the people, the places, and the horses most interesting and continually changing!

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Rocking Horse Stables Ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll in 2017

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon. Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Like a herald at the gates of the 2017 eventing season, Rocking Horse Stables will be kicking off the first of four recognized horse trials in Altoona, Florida this coming weekend on Jan. 27-29.

Rocking Horse Stables, long a cornerstone of the southern eventing community, will be welcoming riders based in Florida as well as the proverbial snowbirds and their equine partners from many areas of the country. Hosting riders from Beginner Novice through Advanced divisions, RHS managers and staff pride themselves on presenting a positive yet challenging eventing venue.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

One of the most heavily subscribed events in the country, RHS typically draws about 500 entries to each event. The Winter II competition, which hosts Advanced divisions, will push entries over the 500 mark.

Organizer Leyna Cannon says, “When the number edges towards 580, I get nervous! We simply run out of daylight!”

Lenya Cannon, working mom! Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

Lenya Cannon, working mom! Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

This trend has necessitated adding a fourth day of competition, thus the Advanced divisions start tomorrow on Thursday. The other mainstay divisions are at the Training level, which is divided into A, B, C and D sections, as well as multiple groups at the Preliminary level. The ship-in parking lot ends up looking like a sea of horse trailers with well over 200 rigs pulling in each day. This is in addition to both permanent stabling and temporary stabling on grounds.

Additionally, RHS will be hosting an Eventing Officials Continuing Education Clinic on Feb. 16-19. Forty-plus officials holding certification at the “r,” “R” and “S” levels will be attending.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Farm owners and managers Jeanne and Dave Merrill and Leyna and Brian Cannon have not had the down time that many riders and horses have had.

Work at the 150-acre farm hardly ceases throughout the year as there are always maintenance and improvements to be done. Offering a winter haven to 80-plus seasonal boarders, as well as year-round boarders, RHS has numerous practice and all-weather dressage and jumping rings, as well as cross-country schooling just about any time you and your pony are ready.

Boarders sign on for a dry stall, with as much bedding as you want — let me repeat that — as much bedding as you want! Plus 30 or more turnout paddocks, wash stalls, a round pen for lunging, hacking trails across the street and thru the Ocala National Forest, and camping hookups for those who bring along their own living accommodations. Everything necessary to produce effective campaigning of your horse.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Market Street Equestrian is permanently based at RHS while northerners such as Steph Kohr, Lisa Marie Ferguson, and others set up shop for the winter season.

Market Street trainer Marcea Funk. Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

Market Street trainer Marcea Funk. Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

Steph Kohr illustrating a point during a lesson. Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

Steph Kohr illustrating a point during a lesson. Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

At times the venue resembles a mining camp with all the machinery coming and going: backhoes, brush hogs, chain saws … you name it. The place could be an ad for John Deere. The Merrills and Cannons, along with grounds manager Spike Smith, make the venue spit polish clean and keep changing up things to improve and expand.

Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

There are several anchors to the competitions and one is the work done by course designer Morgan Rowsell. In his eighth year of course design at Rocking Horse, Morgan attributes much to his predecessor John Williams as well as to the time he has spent with Derek di Grazia, Hugh Lochore, Ian Stark, Mark Phillips, Tremaine Cooper and John Nicholson amongst others.

Morgan explains that there is a really good global community of designers who are all very good about sharing information. He also walks as many different courses as possible to see what other ideas are out there. With Rocking Horse specifically in mind, Morgan has been able to design here what riders may see at other venues in the U.S. as well as international competitions.

Rocking Horse course builder Traver Schick and assistant Graham Schick. Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

Rocking Horse course builder Traver Schick and assistant Graham Schick. Photo courtesy of Colleen Hofstetter.

What does Morgan like best about working at RHS?

“The size of the RHS venue is great,” he explains. “I can make the courses very different each time. I typically try to change about 20-30 percent of the jumps for each competition. RH also has a large number of jumps and complexes so I don t have to use every jump or complex each time we run. Again this gives me the advantage to make each event different.”

“The other advantage for me as a designer at RH is the number of rides at the events. I get to see a lot of horses ride over my designs. I get a chance to see young horses, experienced horses, short strided horse, long strided horse. This all helps me see with some accuracy how it rides with a variety of horse and riders.”

Morgan designs at several very well know events throughout the country, including the New Jersey H.T. in June and in July at the Horse Park of New Jersey; the Seneca Valley H.T. in June and September in Poolesville, Maryland; the Flora Lea Horse trials in Medford, New Jersey, in May and September; the ESDCTA Horses trials in October; Three Lakes in January and February; and all five events at Rocking Horse.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

Photo courtesy of Leyna Cannon.

A major coup is having been selected to design the track for the relaunch of the Essex Horse Trials in Far Hills, New Jersey, a long awaited and highly anticipated return to the competition season. Congrats Morgan!

The Stars Have Aligned Over Rookery Park

Catherine Witt, William Fox-Pitt and Fernhill Pimms at Blenheim 2013. Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

Catherine Witt, William Fox-Pitt and Fernhill Pimms at Blenheim 2013. Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

What do a secret agent, Billy Elliot, Scooby Doo and Danger Mouse all have in common? Read on to find out!

Being a horse lover — as is everyone who reads EN — I continue to marvel at the skill and discipline of the upper-level event horses. But in addition to that, I wonder about the personalities of the horses when they don’t have on their game face.

So who better to ask about the behind-the-scenes personalities of top level event horses than Catherine Witt, who happens to own several upper-level event horses: several as in eight three-star or four-star horses (and nine if you count the one just retired)!

Catherine, who lives in the UK, has horses with the likes of William Fox-Pitt, Francis Whittington and Bill Levett. The names of her horses are quite familiar to all of us, having won 12 FEI competitions in the last few years, including Rolex and Blenheim in 2014.

Here we go through the list of names: Bay My Hero, Fernhill Pimms, Luxury FH, Parklane Hawk, Seacookie TSF, The Soapdodger, Alexander NJ, Easy Target and Fernhill Highlight. Wow!

Catherine had been involved with race horses for many years, but was fearful of racing accidents with so many horses all running at once. A keen horsewoman herself, she happened to see William Fox-Pitt riding at a local event.

Well, it seems a dream was born that day, as Catherine decided that she would love to have a three-day event horse ridden by William, and she also felt that there would be less chance of horse injury in a pile up since there are only one or two horses on course at a time. So from a chance glimpse of William’s masterful riding, a full-time avocation was born!

Rookery Park in Nantwich, Cheshire, is home base for Catherine, and many of her horses spend their early years or their “vacations” at Rookery. Rookery, a 30-stall, 200-acre stable, is also where some of the young horses show their stuff and give a glimpse of what they might like to do in the future.

Catherine and Lux. Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

Catherine Witt and Luxury FH. Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

Luxury FH

Take Luxury FH, for example, who will be stepping up to the three-star level this year after placing second at the Tattersalls CCI2* and Osberton CCI2* in 2014, as well as winning the Smith and Williamson British Intermediate Championship at Gatcombe this year with rider William Fox-Pitt.

Catherine describes Luxury FH as a “Scooby Doo personality,” since it takes a nanosecond for cues to kick in, and then he has that “yup, yup, let’s go” attitude.

After putting in his winning round at Gatcombe, William said that Luxury went into the ring, where the stands are very close, and “it felt like he spoke to every person in the stadium. I couldn’t believe he left all the poles up!” Catherine said that William was “astounded” that he never touched a rail since this fellow likes to introduce himself to everyone.

Minty on vacation at Rookery Park. Not a “soapdodger” in this picture! Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

Minty on vacation at Rookery Park. Not a “soapdodger” in this picture! Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

The Soapdodger

Two other of her lesser known (at least in the U.S.) horses ridden by WFP are The Soapdodger and Fernhill Pimms. Anyone want to wager on which name William doesn’t care for? You would be correct if you picked The Soapdodger; in fact, Catherine stated that William was “appalled” that she used that particular British colloquialism to describe this lovely grey gelding.

“Minty,” as he is known around the barn, is a typical hard-to-keep-clean 7-year-old with a bright future, having joined William’s string in April 2014 and finishing the season with a second place at the Osberton CICYH*. The Soapdodger is a crowd-pleaser, as many people have commented that they love his name, which William has accused Catherine of rigging up.

Catherine has high hopes for this young man, though, and has reminded William that he will learn to love the name, especially if he hears it being announced at Burghley in a few years! (Editor’s Note: “Soapdodger” is a British term describing an unkempt or dirty individual — definitely a clever name for a light grey horse. We like it, Catherine!)

Fernhill Pimms

Fernhill Pimms is another of Catherine’s horses and one that is co-owned by Carol Gee. “Pimms,” of course, is named after that famous brew, and he won the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials CIC3* for 8- and 9-year-olds in 2013 with William in the irons.

Pimms is one who feeds on the atmosphere, and once he sees all the hoopla and the flags flying, he will snap to attention, Catherine says, as if he is saying, “Colorful flags, lots of people: This must be important!”

A beautiful Moonie in a picture perfect pose at Lexington. Catherine did say he thinks everyone is there to see him! Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

A beautiful Moonie in a picture perfect pose at Lexington. Catherine did say he thinks everyone is there to see him! Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

Bay My Hero

While the youngsters are learning the ropes, Catherine and William still have the heavy hitters to plan for. The superstar Bay My Hero, or “Moonie,” has been with Catherine since 2007. As for the story of how the name Moonie came about, it harkens back to his sire Cult Hero and how some cults worship the moon — hence Moonie, get it?

Moonie, in addition to winning the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* in the spring of 2014, was also fourth at the Burghley CCI4* last fall. Catherine describes Moonie as a “Billy Elliot type of horse — always dancing around and very happy in his own skin.” Moonie is quite the confident guy and thinks that anyone around him is there just to see him.

Following the Burghley 2014 competition, it was found that Moonie had been brewing a chest infection, which William felt contributed to him being “a little under par but still game for the cross country.” Like so many four-star horses, Moonie loves his job and is a trier.

His favorite treats are mints, which Catherine generously supplies to all the boys. Moonie takes it to an extreme, though, so much so that during Moonie’s younger years, William banned Catherine from the dressage warm-up ring, since Moonie would immediately focus on Catherine and her pockets as soon as he saw her or heard her voice.

Nowadays he is much more disciplined but still loves to be in the thick of things, especially if there is trouble going on in the pasture. We could be seeing Moonie again this year at Rolex, but that is not a firm decision at this point.

Parklane Hawk

Another possible entry at Rolex is Parklane Hawk or “Parker,” a barn name easy to figure out. Parker had a slower year in 2014 after four years of incredible work winning the Blenheim CCI3* in 2010, the Burghley CCI4* in 2011 and the Rolex CCI4* in 2012; placing third at Burghley in 2012; and coming fifth at the Badminton CCI4* and third at Burghley in 2013. (Note to self: It will never happen to you, so don’t even dream about it!)

An import from New Zealand, Catherine describes Parker as being “very workmanlike and not having the personality of the others, but being like a Lamborghini — very efficient and precise. He has a good work ethic and does his job with quality and skill.” However, Parker is 15, and that is when Catherine likes to see the horses step down from the limelight, so he may be retiring soon.

Seacookie in retirement. Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

Seacookie in retirement. Photo courtesy of Catherine Witt/Rookery Park.

Seacookie TSF

One stalwart of the stable is Seacookie TSF, a Trakehner gelding that Catherine has owned since 2008 and has now retired. Seacookie had an illustrious career, having placed second at Burghley in 2010, first at Blenheim CCI3* in 2012, second at Lexington in 2013, first at Pau in 2013 and ninth at Rolex in 2014.

Catherine believes in retiring her horses in one piece and at the age of 15. Retirement for Catherine’s horses means spending the rest of their lives at Rookery Park, enjoying their leisure years as a pasture puff or carrying on their careers in a less demanding endeavor “until they leave this planet,” as she puts it.

Giving back to her horses is a priority even before retirement, and they will frequently spend their down time “on holiday” after a big competition season at Rookery Park. We all need a holiday at Rookery, which has a beautiful Tudor-style barn.

Easy Target

A recent feature on EN was another of Catherine’s horses, Easy Target or “Smokey.” This grey gelding is ridden by Francis Whittington; he had a great season in 2014, albeit that Badminton didn’t end the way it started out since Francis had to retire on cross country after a spectacular dressage test.

However, Smokey did go on to place second in both the CIC3* competitions at Barbury Castle and Gatcombe Park and then upped the ante by winning the Blenheim CCI3* in September. And the great news for us in the U.S. is that we could be seeing Smokey in Kentucky this year.

Francis describes Smokey as a horse with a lot of heart, and Catherine compares him to “Danger Mouse” since he has so much will. She describes him as maybe “not the best galloping horse,” but one that loves to get into everything and frequently has only two feet — the back ones — on the ground. You can read the report on Francis’ clinic that was recently held in North Carolina by clicking here.

Fernhill Highlight

Last but not least of Catherine’s upper-level horses is another one with that famous Fernhill prefix — Fernhill Highlight. “Fernie” started his one- and two-star career with William before getting a little homesick, and he returned to Rookery, where Catherine was able to create a long-term partnership with Francis.

Catherine describes Fernhill Highlight as being like a “secret agent — his persona is on the quiet side, and he likes to stay under the radar.” He placed fifth at Blenheim in 2014, a few places behind his stablemate Freddie Mac, after dropping a rail in stadium and will hopefully be moving up to the four-star level in 2015.

Alexander NJ

A third rider to whom Catherine entrusts her horses is Bill Levett, who is campaigning Alexander NJ at the two- and three-star level. Catherine is one-third owner in this horse and enjoys supporting a variety of riders. “It all helps the sport to grow, as riders have to have good horses to attract owners.” This 10-year-old gelding has been in the top 10 during 2014, placing at both the Tattersalls CCI3* and the Burnham Market CIC3*.

Catherine sees herself as being incredibly lucky but is also realistic and says that she doesn’t expect her luck to go on forever. “I know there will be a time when I start to fade away from eventing, so every success is precious. I have been more fortunate than others, but the circles of owners that I have come to know are all very supportive of each other,” she said.

“I am always cheering for the winner, and I say to myself, ‘Well, it wasn’t me this time, but good for him or her!’ Being able to participate in this sport is a dream come true.”

For Catherine, the upper-level competitions are also a trial to get through, and she says that the only day she is not anxious is the day before the trot up, and by the end of the competition, she has a migraine headache. Catherine also has a policy of not getting involved with the rider during the competition and lets the riders come to find her when they have the time, usually in the evening of each day.

“I try to keep a low profile,” she said. But she also makes sure the grooms are well cared for and sponsors a dinner for the British, New Zealand and Australian grooms on the final day of the competition. “I don’t attend. I am usually in my hotel room having a migraine!” she said. “But if my horses never win another thing, I’ve been very fortunate.”

Catherine has been looking for another horse to continue her involvement in the sport, and she said that horses “sort of come to me. But I only have geldings and no chestnuts at all!”

I did tell her that if I wrote on EN that she is looking for a new horse she would be besieged once she arrives in Kentucky this year! Her reply was “isn’t that the best way?” So anyone out there with an upper-level potential horse that is a gelding and not a chestnut, you may want to seek her out in April!

Good luck to Catherine and all her horses this coming year, and Go Eventing!

What Makes Them So Good?

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry. William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

I was wondering: What makes the riders who are often at the top of the standings so good?

While it was not the fairy tale ending we were all hoping for, the 2014 World Equestrian Games were still exciting to watch, even though I was not over there. I did turn into a bit of a cyborg since I might was well have had a few electronic devices embedded in my hand, and I pestered the living daylights out of the people I did know who were there.

I personally think the ladies rocked it, and this was a major bright spot for Boyd Martin, who has had more than his fair share of obstacles. But, the U.S. didn’t come close to a medal, and while the cross country course was a mess due to the weather, and only 65 percent completed the course, there were riders that did complete the course and in outstanding fashion. Most of these riders were European!

What makes them so good? I’m am doing my best imitation of Judith Miller and not naming my sources, but here are what some of my “across the pond” friends think about the differences in the eventing horse world here and in Europe:

Them Us
1. The culture of horses. Riding is just not as popular as other U.S. sports.
2. Fox hunting event horses. Very little cross over with eventing.
3. Horses condition on the road through villages. In most places, you’d be run over by soccer moms.
4. Government funding. Sponsors, organizational, private grants.
5. Availability of horse shows. Only on the weekends and plan to travel.
6. Large numbers competing at upper levels. Numbers of Advanced riders is around 13 per division.
7. Proximity of 4* courses. Only one in the U.S.
8. Familiarity with course designers. More courses = increased designers.
9. Access to sale horses. Not many come to the U.S to buy.
10. Access to top trainers. Travel time and expenses.
11. Accustomed to the weather. We go south to escape it.

Let me be clear, none of this is coming from the likes of Yogi Breisner or Michael Jung. Just me and some buddies emailing, Twittering and generally being electronic armchair coaches — plus some of my own personal observations from my time spent in Europe.

When I mention the culture of horses, what I mean is that everyone has horses over in the UK. Even at my B&B in the middle of a quaint English village, there was a horse in the yard (garden) next to me — woke me up every morning with a sweet neigh — smack dab in the middle of a residential area. That is not going to happen here — not if you live in a development or townships with covenants.

In some neighborhoods people are even given citations for having their horsey friends over and having three or four dually trucks parked in the driveway and on the lawn (Florida friends know who I am talking about!).

Then there is fox hunting. There are 163 registered fox hunts in the U.S. and Canada, according to the 2013 Masters of Foxhounds Association. The combined square miles of land in North America is 7,649,186. In the UK, between the hunts listed with the Masters of Foxhounds in the UK, as well as the Federation of Welsh Packs and Fell Packs, there are 241 registered hunts as of 2013.

On Boxing Day in the UK in 2006, 320,000 people turned out at meets — the highest ever recorded. The total square miles of the United Kingdom is 94,058. It doesn’t take a statistician to realize that there are more people hunting over smaller land areas in the UK than in all of North America.

The thing about fox hunting a young horse is that it puts a strong base of fitness on them, and just as with humans, a horse that has a well developed physique as a youngster will stay fit and be easier to maintain as they age. Hence, being able to go the distance on cross country. Now I am not saying eventers put their horses in many of the situations shown here with these crazy Irishmen, but I think there is merit in the hunting for base of fitness argument.

Another thing I noticed during my time spent in the UK is that many people condition on the hard road — right through the village they go!

I have had upper-level riders tell me a good way to strengthen or rehab tendons is to walk on an asphalt driveway or quiet road. The theory being that the concussion of hoof on road will send a bit of a shock up the tendon and strengthen it. I don’t think that has ever been proven, but I once did count 11 riders trotting through a nice little village near Cirencester as I sat in the pub and looked out the window. Personally, I would be afraid to trot on the roads, but I am not brave at all.

Some of the points mentioned in my chart above can be grouped together. The availability of horse shows, competitions, schooling opportunities, gallops is amazing in the UK. Wednesday afternoon and going to a horse show? Not in the U.S. unless you are in Aiken, S.C., during a few weeks in the winter.

Nicola Wilson mentioned in an interview that she was a bit tardy in leaving for the WEGs on Monday, Aug. 25 because she was showing that day — on a Monday! Interesting! And it seems that most of the time people in the U.S. are going across the Atlantic to buy horses — not sell them (unless you are Doug Payne!).

In the Nutrena American Eventing Championships, there were 12 entries for the Advanced level, which is a reflection of the competition being held after all the big gun venues of four-stars in Europe. However, last year there were only 13 entries; there have been many discussions on reasons for the low numbers at the top — travel time being a big factor.

A good case can be made that the eventing mecca in the U.S. is located on the East Coast, specifically the Mid-Atlantic states; I am not sure how it would be to see Andrew Nicholson or William Fox Pitt weekend after weekend. I would think it would ratchet up the motivation/inspiration. You know the saying “keep your friends close and your enemies competitors closer.”

But really, when it comes down to it, could it be the funding? In the UK, elite riders are funded through the National Lottery in a two-tier system under the auspices of the “World Class Performance Programme.” UK Sport funds the governing body which provides up to £55,000 of “in-kind” support to “podium-level” athletes. Those on the “development stage” are eligible for £30,000 of in-kind support. In-kind support is described as having access to:

  • World class coaches
  • Sports science and medicine support
  • Warm weather training and acclimatisation
  • International competition schedule
  • Athlete development programmes
  • Access to appropriate training facilities

There is also an Athlete Personal Award given to the riders. The amount is determined through a series of criteria based not only on the number of Olympic or World Championship medals a rider earns, but also the winnings from competitions.

It usually equals about £37,000 but can be reduced if the person has won a boat load of cash throughout the year. If you want to read in depth about the system, click here. If you want to see recent recipients and how much loot they got, click here.

However, all of this talk of subsidizing riders doesn’t explain the phenomena of New Zealand eventer Andrew Nicholson! That man can just ride, and that is all there is to it. Let me end with a video of one of the greats talking about his horses. Here is William Fox-Pitt in an interview last spring projecting how his year would unfold. Pretty accurate I would say!

Lucinda Green’s Summer Clinic Tour Returns to the U.S.

Lucinda giving instruction on “engine-line-balance” to Lisa Hennings on the Tax Man. Photo by Dean Hennings. Lucinda giving instruction on “engine-line-balance” to Lisa Hennings on the Tax Man. Photo by Dean Hennings.

Summertime is rolling along quite nicely in Area VIII, and with the beautiful weather has come a bouquet of great riding clinics. The variety of opportunities almost makes up for the long and cold winter we endured.

One of the annual thrills in Area VIII is the yearly clinic at Jackie Smith’s Stone Gate Farm in Ohio with Lucinda Green. This clinic fills up quickly, and many people “call in sick” or take vacation days to attend.

The stop in Winona, Ohio, was one of seven venues in the U.S. and Canada, where Lucinda taught two-day clinics; she started out in Maryland, then went on to Ohio, New York, Toronto, Minnesota and Massachusetts. She spent a little over two weeks in this part of the world and will return in the fall to various locales. FYI — the early bird catches the worm, so as soon as you receive the notice for the clinic, send in your registration because there may not be a spot if you diddle daddle!

While there are several wonderful clinicians coming to the area, listening to Lucinda is one of my favorite things on my summertime bucket list. I do love to hear an English accent complete with lots of British colloquialisms, but there is more to it than just that.

A foundation of her teaching is the message that riders need to understand what the horse is giving back to them — communication based on understanding horses — inside and out, understanding the physical and mental nuances of equines. I find that Lucinda has so much to give that it is nigh but impossible to sum it all up in less than 2,000 words, but it is possible to mention a few basic tenants of her teaching:

1. In order to practice the focus, the communication and the sharp reactions needed for jumping, use a random pattern of low, skinny fences, without measured striding. This gives horses the opportunity to practice their footwork so they become more adept at “dancing” in front of a fence if they get in trouble.

2. There are two sides of cross country: the technical side and the nimble side, which comes from practicing lines as described above and jumping fences out of a forward rhythm. Also, it is paramount that the horse sees the fence at the earliest possible moment. Lucinda also reminded riders of their need to understand how a horse sees and how the horse moves its head in order to best see an obstacle.

3. The rider has three jobs: maintain the engine, line and balance (aka the elbow!). The horse has the job of jumping the fence from wherever he feels is best. Lucinda reminded everyone that a horse has very strong survival instincts, so trying to think for your equine partner can be counter-productive. However, the rider still has the responsibility of maintaining the engine, line and balance.

Lucinda is a strong proponent of working horses outside of a ring for the benefit of both horse and rider. “Get out of the ring and the arena,” Lucinda said. “Get out into the country and practice cantering up and down hills. Riders need to develop feel. Learn how the horse sees things. The way a horse sees an obstacle is very interesting, and if you understand that, you will understand what your horse is trying to tell you about the job at hand.”

Another concept that Lucinda mentions quite frequently is discipline for the horse. “Small instances of disobedience chip away at the overall riding relationship between horse and rider,” she said. Riders need to be soft in the hand but ready for anything.

When it comes to young horses, Lucinda said “never trust them.” Having said that, Lucinda cautions that you can’t expect a youngster to be an angel, but they are looking for their parameters. Lucinda admonishes that lower-level riders spend too much time “messing, fiddling, popping and putzing; they are not getting out with the job.” And when a mistake is made, a rider must be able to just “sit it out,” not overreact, decide if it is necessary to have a do-over or continue on.

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Lucinda telling Bailey to “wait it out”. Photo by Dean Hennings.

While the underlying premise of the above ideas are not new, the delivery from Lucinda is so motivating. I sure can’t put my finger on it exactly, but she did make me want to go home and ramp it up a bit in my lessons. Is it a different psyche because she is British; because she is legendary, having won Badminton six times among many other achievements; or does it just make so much sense?

Some other tidbits that came out during Lucinda’s two days of teaching:

Equipment: Have plenty of options with bits; some horses are more suited to martingales with elastic arms, so ensure that your horse has the correct type of martingale.

Breeding: Her preferred breed of horse is something with seven-eighths Thoroughbred and one-eighth of “something sensible.” Lucinda points out that Thoroughbreds are pretty tough animals, and they have the speed and stamina to deal with the current genre of courses being built: courses that require a horse to be ridden forward while being nimble enough to be technical. There’s that delicate balance again. She noted that William Fox-Pitt mostly has horses that are at least 65 percent Thoroughbred crossed with warmbloods.

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Lucinda pointed to “Zeke,” ridden by Rebekah Simmons as an ideal event horse. “I wish I had four of him,” she said. Photo by Lasting Impressions Photography.

The big question: Will the Americans enjoy success on the world stage? Given Lucinda’s lengthy involvement in our sport, she can look back to the 80s when, as she stated, “The Americans were enormously successful.”

Lucinda doesn’t feel that we as Americans need to go horse shopping in Europe, but that the Europeans have a definite advantage when it comes to competitions. “European riders can fairly easily ship from one country to the next and test out the competition. But the U.S. has to spend a boat load of money to send a select few abroad, and if that doesn’t pan out, then the money pot has dwindled, and you are almost back to square one, which is competing against the same group of riders over and over in divisions that may have as few as 10 or 15 people, while over in the UK it is not uncommon to see 120 people entered in upper-level competitions each and every weekend.”

However, Lucinda doesn’t see our situation as bleak. “The U.S. was extremely successful before, and as all things evolve, they will be again. Lots of pieces are falling into place right now, and there have been some good changes — with more to come I am sure.

Let’s hope Lucinda is right! She usually is, so get your stars and stripes ready for Normandy!

Reality TV and the World of Three-Day Eventing

Umm...I think you forgot your helmet! And clothes! Umm...I think you forgot your helmet! And clothes!

As usually happens at an all girls get together, confessions of one sort or another generally spill out as the wine gets spilled. Being no exception and being at a recent impromptu barn buddies drink fest, albeit a lightweight one, I made a confession: I love to watch Bravo TV!

I’ll admit it – the Real Housewives series is something I indulge in, with the Beverly Hills girls and the recent Ladies of London currently vying for my attention. We have limited TV channels at my house but when someone mentioned another reality series that involved horses, I had to Google it, and I found it – Rodeo Girls!!

Barrel riding is generally not my cup of tea, but hey, what the heck; so I tuned in to those barrel running, long locks flying, money winning rodeo hotties. Yes I did. Once. Well maybe one and a half times…

My first impression: what kind of bras are they wearing?? Ok, back up, first impression: what, no helmets? I have friends that ride western and I guess I never noticed the hat thing, but those Rodeo Girls must have used a lot of Braidit to keep their hair from flying around.

Doing their pattern and spinning around the barrels and not a wisp of a misplaced hair. I’m guessing they think our smooshed down, hair netted, stick to your skull coiffures are really unattractive – I’ll take helmet hair though over a concussion!

But back to the bra thing – seriously – I need to follow some of their blogs and find out what brand they have on cause there was no flying around with those lady parts! Just lots of bling and, as in any reality TV show, lots of trash talking. Some of those riders deserve kudos though – one is from a 6th generation ranching family, some are balancing college classes and riding, and some are in the throes of a comeback.

And, it was also hard to miss the green stuff being handed out at the end. Unlike our sport, cash payouts are common, but based on their rigs in the background and the silver on their saddles, I’m guessing it doesn’t put much of a dent in the overall bill. However, their horses looked well cared for thanks to the grooms waiting a bit off screen; I saw the nails on those Rodeo gals and they haven’t been picking hooves and detangling tails lately! Rodeo Girls or Rodeo Drive was kinda looking like one and the same – especially once they flashed to someone’s “ranch”. A dry, dusty, tumbleweed place it was not!

This got me to thinking about one of the first reality shows I remember: “Filthy Rich Cattle Drive,” a 2005 production created by none other than Joe Simpson, Jessica Simpson’s father. Surprising that she wasn’t in it, but there were lots of other infamous famous ne’re-do-wells and it had the tag line “Cows don’t care who your daddy is.”

There were five male and five female participants.

Even back then when Filthy Rich Cattle Drive was airing, the standard reality show formula was present: drama and people behaving badly. But of course I decided to check in with Hulu and review a few scenes.

The premise was to put this group of fast lane sophisticates into various situations on a 100 mile cattle drive in Colorado. Given the location of the 6000 acre Saddleback ranch, the scenery was gorgeous – who wouldn’t want to ride through that countryside?

As it turns out, the people on the drive hated it, with lots of arguments and typical wailing about flies landing on suntans and dust and dirt getting in the Gucci cases. I don’t know about you, but two weeks of blue skies, horses, leisurely rides, and camp fire cooked meals sounds fabulous to me. Of course what I was interested in were the horses, how they worked, how they were cared for, the wranglers, and the cows. What well trained, sainted, healthy horses they were.

I have always loved watching cutting horses work at the local fairs, and even with total novices on their backs, those equines knew their jobs. (Note to self: doesn’t that sound like the kind of horse you need?) The head wrangler was a bit too much, in my opinion, and his showing off antics caught up with him and his horse in one episode. I do hope the ASPCA people were there and got after that guy.

Anyhow, the 10 participants were on teams and there were points awarded based on the teams’ accomplishment or failure of particular tasks. The one good thing is that there were two charities that benefitted from all the shenanigans: they raised more than a combined $80,000 for two Colorado children’s charities (Humble Ranch and H-Bar-H). Who says reality TV doesn’t have a purpose?

So what about a reality TV series based on eventing? My research shows me that there was something with the Medal/Maclay riders and Beezie and Frank Madden several years ago. At least a few of the kids featured in that series were genuine riders and continue to compete today. And there were a few mentions of televised happenings at an eventing barn – maybe at the O’Connors? But what about a full blown reality show starring some eventers?

There’s plenty of drama in the event world: from international issues such as Jock Paget, or national debates on horses on or off “the list”, or simple barn based things like that horrible feeling when you realize the horse you have slaved over for months and years is not quite right a week out from a major competition!

We also have pretty nice looking people who are weight and fitness conscious and look good in tight fitting clothes. There are plenty of incredible bodies at events to look at – all those shiny, fit, six pack muscled horses. And don’t forget money – plenty of money being talked about as entries are sent in, vet bills paid, supplements ordered, schooling and lessons paid for, and on and on. We all know that every other line on our bank printout is something horse related!

Eventers also have plenty of bling, sparkly headbands, expensive couture, supple leather, gas guzzling rigs, and sweat. Oh wait, there’s the reality of it all – sweat! Well maybe eventers wouldn’t make such great TV material, but then again, it all depends on your point of view. I know I’d much rather watch something based on eventing rather than alligator killing, duck whistle blowing, wild boar wrestling, etc. shows.

That’s a way to get some money into eventing – start a TV show, get a mass following, launch 100s of off shoot industries, and everyone retire to the swamp! Well, I’d retire someplace else, such as this place! Go eventing!

A History Lesson from Lucinda Green

Lucinda Green at Blenheim. Photo courtesy of Eventing Safety John. Lucinda Green at Blenheim. Photo courtesy of Eventing Safety John.

What can be better than a day of listening to Lucinda Green talk about all things horses? It gets better when D-Day – the Invasion of Normandy is mentioned – now we have history and horses together – my two favorite topics!

So how did we get from the breeding and athleticism of horses to the events of D Day? Let me back up for the younger readers here – remember that brief chapter in your American history books about a major world conflict in the 1940s that involved millions of people and oodles of countries?

Not sure exactly what is taught in history classes these days, but for many people the events of World War II are very significant. And so it turns out for Lucinda, as I found out when doing some research before going to her clinic.

Lucinda comes from a family with a strong military connection; having said that I can’t really explain what all the stuff about “The Kings” this and “The Queens” that really means, but Lucinda comes from a long line of people who did their duty for their country.

What caught my eye in Lucinda’s bio was that her grandfather was the Viceroy of India from 1936-1943, the longest ruling Viceroy in the British Raj. Lucinda explains the family story of her maternal grandfather, the second Marques of Linlithgow, being asked by King George V, to take the position. “When the King asks, you don’t say no,” explained Lucinda. An honor, yes, but an expensive one…no pay while doing the job, just the honor of serving the empire on which “the sun never sets”.

So Lucinda’s grandfather sold some very valuable family possessions, including an ancient Bible, to finance the family’s stay in India. That branch of the story could go on forever as the British Raj in India is one of my favorite topics, but her family returned to England in 1943 and went from palaces to bombed out London.

With the striking British fortitude we have come to expect in their event riders, Lucinda’s family pitched right in with the war effort. By June of 1944 Lucinda’s mother lacing up a “good pair of sturdy brown shoes” and was working at military canteens serving hot coffee and donuts to soldiers on leave or getting ready to leave. Her father, Major-General George Erroll Prior-Palmer, was the commander of the 27th Armoured Brigade, and was one of the Brits to “storm the beaches of Normandy”.

The movies and TV serials such as Private Ryan and Band of Brothers can tell the story of the Normandy landings much better than I, so I won’t even try. However, as Lucinda tells the story, her father’s unit, under his command, was given a very difficult task. They had very few casualties and achieved the military objective. When Major-General Prior-Palmer reported to Field Marshall General Montgomery, Commander of all Allied Forces, that they had accomplished their goal and needed more tanks for the next maneuver, Montgomery replied “there are no more tanks for you, we never expected your unit to survive.”

Wow! Her father and his brothers in arms did the impossible. I’m thinking that Lucinda’s indomitable spirit, one that has enabled her to win Badminton 6 times, earn European and World Championships, Olympic Medals, and all sorts of other things that I am sure the shine from would hurt one’s eyes, comes by her naturally – it’s in the genes!

Now, back to horses. Given that I noticed today that some of the grooms and horses heading across the pond are doing so on this, the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Europe that led to the end of WWII, and that some of those riders hoping to secure a spot on the team are already on foreign soil in Canada, the coincidences are jumping out at me! For some riders this is a have or be had competition; same for those soldiers way back when.

Riders and horses are landing somewhere in Europe; same as many soldiers did. Protective head gear, body protectors, equipment on people, equipment on horses, ditto for both endeavors. Some riders and horses will be successful and will come home to very happy supporters – lets hope they all do! However it turns out for riders at Bromont and next week at the CCI4* at Luhmuhlen , best of luck to all of you and thank you to our British friends who produced heroes, our country that also produced heroes, and to the great sport of Three Day Eventing!

-Colleen Hofstetter