Jessica Bortner-Harris
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Jessica Bortner-Harris

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About Jessica Bortner-Harris

Eventing Background

USEA Rider Profile Click to view profile
Area II
Highest Level Competed Advanced/***
Farm Name Rocky Start Stables, LLC
Trainer Bonnie Mosser

Latest Articles Written

And Yet We Ride On

Jessica Bortner-Harris and Win the War. Photo courtesy of Jordan Armstrong. Jessica Bortner-Harris and Win the War. Photo courtesy of Jordan Armstrong.

It was a beautiful January day, even for Aiken. Full Gallop was sunny and warm, and the parking lot was packed with competitors there to get 2016 off to a great start. I had competed Win the War, aka Bug, in the Intermediate earlier in the day to a third place and top OTTB, and I had just completed my young horse’s second Training, ending on his dressage score. I was beaming from ear to ear and feeling pretty great about how the year was starting.

My young horse, Bishop de Selah, is a phenomenal athlete and a quirky guy. He is not malicious in any way, but we call him the “grey squirrel” for a reason. He seemed pretty chill and was standing quietly tied to the trailer after his cross country run. He was untacked, and I was hot. I decided to take my helmet and vest off before taking him for a shower.

That is the last thing I remember before waking up on the ground surrounded by a lot of faces.

From what I can gather, I must have bent down to take off his hind boot about the same time that he spooked or I touched a sore spot. I can sit and ruminate on it for hours, but my brain won’t divulge the answer, so I will probably never know. What I do know is he kicked the side of my left arm where the humerus head goes into the shoulder.

The force of it broke my collarbone, most likely popped my shoulder in and out of socket, and then bounced off the top of my head. I am not sure how long I was knocked out, though I am sure it was a decent amount of time. I had blood coming out of my head, and a lot of pain in my left shoulder/collarbone when I awoke.

As soon as I woke up, I was completely lucid besides not knowing what the heck was going on. I knew where I was, why I was there, and I could rattle off my husband’s brand new phone number with ease. The two things that popped into my head as I was lying there were:

1. How the heck am I going to get Bug to Wellington for the Showcase?
2. My collarbone is broken and there is no way I will be able to go to Rolex!

I was more upset about those two things than much else. Once the EMT assured me that I wasn’t dying, that’s all I could really think about.

Fast forward to a few days later. My truck is a manual transmission, so I was stranded in Aiken with no way to go anywhere without help. I was beyond heartbroken about my accident and thus, my plans for Rolex being shattered.

All I wanted to do was figure out a way to get Bug to Wellington for the Showcase. If I couldn’t ride him, I wanted to be able to watch someone else do it. My very good friends, John and Kim Sigmon, came to my rescue. John brought Kim down to Aiken, and she and I set off on a great adventure.

After watching Dan Jocelyn with Bug those few days and being hopped up on a lot of pain drugs, I began the difficult mental journey of deciding just how I wanted to approach the rest of the year. Dan was very kind and did an excellent job with my boy.

Many think Bug is quite easy when they watch him go, but in reality, he is extremely intelligent and loves his job almost to the point of being unrideable at times. He will be quiet and almost hunter­like in the warm up and will go into the arena and be a completely different horse. It was educational and fun to watch Dan deal with Bug, and it was definitely a bit of a confidence boost to see that Dan dealt the same issues that I do.

While watching, I kept coming back to the same question. Do I skip Rolex completely this year and shoot to take him myself next year, or do I find a category A rider willing to compete him this spring and take him?

I have had Bug since he was a 4-year-old off the track, so we have been working together for coming up on 11 years. He and I know each other inside and out, and he is a ridiculous mama’s boy. He constantly kept an eye and ear on me while Dan was riding, just to be sure I was paying attention and approved. He is my heart horse and the horse of a lifetime.

My heart wants so badly to be the one to take him around Rolex for the first time. I want to feel that amazing boy run and jump over the biggest track in the U.S.

However, my mind kept poking my heart. I am not oblivious to the naysayers. There are many out there who think that Bug does all of the work, and I just sit up there for the ride. I am also quite aware that Bug will be 15 this year, and with horses, everything is a ticking time bomb. What if something happens to him in the next year? I KNOW that he is a four star horse with all of my heart and soul.

Do I risk him missing what I truly believe he is ready and made to I talked with a few people outside of my inner circle about my emotional hemming and hawing and even went so far as to talk with Dan about possibly riding Bug at Rolex. I wanted to get the opinion of some people that were not really emotionally involved with Bug and I.

Dan said that it was obvious Bug had what it takes to do it, but he had some concerns about who was going to keep him going and competing while he was in England. Obviously, his concerns were legitimate. Did I really want to pass Bug from rider to rider just to get him to Rolex?

Knowing Bug as I do, I just didn’t think that would be something he would like. However, my mind wasn’t quite ready to let go of having someone else ride him. I made the decision to call Clayton Fredericks. I have ridden with him enough times that he understands Bug and I, and he happens to be a Category A rider.

Obviously, he is coaching Canada, so I wasn’t really optimistic that he would be able to take him on himself, but I wanted to run my dilemma by him. I needed someone who knows us, but who is outside of my normal circle enough to give me an opinion.

I will be forever grateful to Clayton for his words of wisdom that night. In a nutshell, he said that he was sure lots of people would jump at the chance to take Bug around Rolex. “He’s an amazing horse. However, what makes Bug special is his bond with you. Why would you let someone else take this horse around his first four star? You have been working with him for 11 years, and you have made him. You are more than good enough to take him. Bug wants to go to Rolex with you.” Of course, I got all teary and thanked him for his words and time.

Even after making the decision that I would wait and take Bug myself, I still found it very difficult to actually type out the announcement for all of the people on FB that kept asking, “Will you still be able to go to Rolex?” Bug has a very big fan club all his own, and many people were excited to watch us go. However, actually typing out the words was difficult. It felt like my dream was hanging in limbo once more, as so many things can happen from here to there.

Those of us whose hearts beat in time with our horse’s hooves understand the passion and drive that fuels us forward in this inherently risky sport. We knowingly take the risk that our dreams could be shattered, our bodies injured, or our lives lost at any second, and yet, we ride on.

Thanksgiving Resolution

Win the War and I in the CCI** at Fair Hill this year.
Photo by the great Mike McNally. Win the War and I in the CCI** at Fair Hill this year. Photo by the great Mike McNally.

Life seems to just keep flying by faster than I can keep up.  I always mean to sit down and write, but there just doesn’t ever seem to be time.  As Thanksgiving has arrived, I find myself reflecting on all of the things for which I am thankful, and it leads me down roads that end with a giant reflection of myself.  I am not happy with everything that I see.

Horses have always been my passion, where there is passion, there is great emotion.  I have always been a competitive person who worked very hard to obtain my goals, where there is competitive drive, there is great emotion.  Passionate competitive drive can mean a blend of emotion that can drive a person to victory, and it can also mean driving a person to insanity.

2014 has been a year of almosts.  I spent most of the year tasting what big things Bug and I are capable of, and the full experience being just out of my grasp.  Competing at the Advanced/*** is no joke.  Reaction time has to be so quick.  There is no room for error.  Due to a lot of factors, I have been having some reaction time errors, and being the person that I am, I became very passionate about getting better.

Unfortunately, when a lot of emotion is involved in life, we can sometimes become our own worst enemy.  I started letting what everyone else is doing get into my head.  I kept striving to be everyone else.  I allowed these things to turn me into someone that I don’t want to be.

After Fair Hill, I started to really analyze who I have become, as both a rider and as a person.  There have been a lot of things coming up in my life in the past few months that have really showed me that I want to get away from who I am becoming.

Thanksgiving is a time for all of us to reflect on what we have.  I used to participate in the Facebook frenzy of listing the things for which I am thankful.  However, this year, I realized that I was allowing all of the white noise in my life to distract me from what I need to be focusing on.

I AM SO BLESSED.

Why am I running my brain ragged focusing on what went wrong, when I need to focus on what went right and continue to strive to make that a constant?  Why am I allowing the white noise of what everyone else is doing and saying to block out all of the meaningful words and actions?  Why am I allowing all of the bad to outweigh the good?  I have allowed myself to get distracted from why I started doing all of this in the first place.

You can’t please everyone all of the time.  I try.  I fail.  As I have found this year, no matter how much good you do for people, they will still stab you in the back.  It’s human nature.  Finding a way to let that go is something that I find difficult.  However, it’s something that is going to happen regularly, and I need to rise above it.  People will say nasty things about me.  I have to know and believe that they aren’t true.  Rising above the noise is so difficult, but it’s something that I have to learn.  God made me who I am, and it’s my job to keep striving to be the better person.  I have allowed others to drag me down.

Where is all of this leading?  I’m glad you asked.  It’s leading me to my Thanksgiving Resolution.  From now moving forward, I am going to stand up and be thankful.  I am going to focus on what is good and right in my life, and try my best to move on from the bad.  Instead of focusing on how to fix the bad, I will focus on how to make the good better.  This does not mean that I will work any less at being the best.  It means that I am changing the way I do it.

From this point on, I am going to make a stand for the positive and leave the negative behind.

What am I thankful for?

I have an amazing husband who, thank the Lord, is not into the horse scene.  He keeps me grounded and reminds me that this is supposed to be fun, and I am supposed to smile.  Without him, I never would have taken this hard look at myself, and I would have continued down the road of the negative focus.  When I am down in a hole, he reaches down with a smile and pulls me to my feet.  He isn’t afraid to tell me when I’m out of bounds, and he brings me back to the real world.  He reminds me daily of what and who I want to be.

My parents have always supported me.  I haven’t always been the best daughter, but they have kicked me in the butt when I needed it.  They support my crazy life and give me the emotional and mental pushes I need.  Without them, I would never have  made it this far with this crazy dream of mine.

Having a good coach makes all of the difference.  Bonnie Mosser has shown me what I am capable of, and no matter how much I mess up or drive her crazy, she is always there with an insightful word or the push that I need to keep moving forward.  She understands my amazing horse and is always quick to try something new if the old way isn’t working.  Her strong competitive drive and amazing skill as a rider and teacher have taught me so much.  Her ability to see the root of a problem, no matter how minor, is amazing, and without her, I would not be where I am today.

Bug. Bug. Bug. (Win the War)  I would not be who I am as a rider without this amazing animal.  We are a team to be reckoned with, and our bond is so strong.  I KNOW this horse has what it takes to be a top horse, and we will prove it together in 2015.

My horses.  Besides Bug, I have a lot of really nice horses coming up.  Ellie Mae has made a little bit of an appearance this year, and I expect she will really be getting some of the spotlight next year.  There are quite a few others coming up, and I’m really excited about them all.  I am truly blessed with some lovely horses right now.

The Rocky Start Stables Team.  I have an incredible group of students, clients, and owners right now.  When I sit back and think about all of their smiling faces, my heart swells with pride.  They have all worked so hard and come so far.  Everyone supports me and gives me a word of encouragement when things aren’t going as well as I hope.  They are truly amazing and I am grateful for their loyalty.

My farm.  There is nothing like owning your own place.  I know that it isn’t fancy.  I know that we have a lot of work to do, but my horses love it here and are happy.

My sponsors.  Wow.  I have an incredible, supportive group of sponsors.  Hastilow Competition Saddles USA, Snider’s Elevator, ThinLine, Omega Alpha Equine, KL Select with the USG Body Protector, From the Blindside Jewelry, Ultimate Side Reins, and Wilson College.  They all play a huge role in keeping myself and my horses looking and going great, and I’m so thrilled to have them all on board.

I could go on and on and on about everything in my life that I’m thankful for, but I will spare everyone.  The point of all of this is to remind myself that there is so much good in my life.  Focusing on the good is so much more beneficial to me than focusing on the bad.

There are many that would say that I shouldn’t share too much of myself.  Well, anyone that knows me well, knows I struggle with that.  I tend to say what I’m thinking and try to be as tactful as I can be.  However, I am sharing this because:

1.  When I start to become negative, I want those surrounding me to remind me to ignore the white noise.

2.  I hope that this post will help others that may be struggling with the negative.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.  Be blessed.  Be happy.  Be positive.

AND KICK ON!

Bridging the Gap

Bug and I have a pretty strong bond. Bug and I have a pretty strong bond.

Lately, I have noticed a big gap in our sport. It’s a gap that has always been there, and I am sure that it always will be. However, I feel like there needs to be a strong bridge built to connect both sides. Being someone who is an upper-level rider and professional, yet who lives in the boonies and really has to work and fund everything myself, gives me a lot more insight into the gap between the professional world and the amateur world.

Though I get paid to teach and train, I do almost all of the work of the horse care myself. The number of horses on my farm varies, but I have had up to 17 or 18 and managed all of their daily care myself. Because of this, I am quite close to each horse and know them all quite well. I have a relationship with them all and have been accused of treating them more like children than horses and thus being more “amateur” minded. I believe this is what makes my program strong.

The professional world is a tough one. It’s eat or be eaten in a lot of cases. This carries over to the horse world. There are many trainers and riders out there and a limited amount of paying customers. We all have to work our hardest to prove that our program is good, and we must learn to market ourselves effectively. As in any professional job, it can be tough not to get carried away in the fight.

Unfortunately, in our sport, there are also horses involved, and we must also keep their best interests at heart. There are so few upper-level riders that each one is under constant public scrutiny. Case in point, Buck Davidson and Boyd Martin were both questioned for their choice to run their WEG horses at Plantation this past weekend. As a society, we are constantly being reminded of our right to having an opinion, and we do have that right. However, I feel that it is easy to throw stones without being involved in the situation.

On one hand, we brag to other equestrians about the high level of horse care needed to compete in our sport. On the other hand, we turn around and accuse our upper-level riders of not putting their horses’ best interests at heart. I am not defending or attacking any riders or their choices. I am merely stating that I see a huge problem.

We are under A LOT of public scrutiny as a sport.  Horses and riders are having accidents, and we need to stand together to fix this sport. How can we expect a public ignorant of what we truly do to believe us if we are not providing a united front?

As professionals, I think we could do more to support the majority of our sport — the amateurs. Without the 98 percent majority of our sport, we would not have a job! It is quite easy to get sucked into our own mental vortex. This is a tough sport, and you have to be focused to get anywhere at the upper levels. However, there are a lot of people out there with great ideas. We just need to listen.

Heaven knows I don’t know the exact answer to the issue. I also know that it’s hard to listen to everyone who wants to be heard. However, I believe that the gap is getting bigger instead of smaller, and this worries me for the future of our sport. Entries are down and fees just keep rising. We need to get everyone on the same page and start supporting each other rather than point fingers.

The Ups and Downs of Learning

Win the War and I jumping the hanging log into the water complex at Plantation this past weekend.  Photo by Rebekkah Redden Win the War and I jumping the hanging log into the water complex at Plantation this past weekend. Photo by Rebekkah Redden

It’s been awhile since I have written anything for EN. Life has been a bit of a whirlwind, and I feel like I’m running in circles most of the time. It seems to be typical for those trying to get a professional equine business going. However, after the ups and downs of this year with my main man, Win the War (lovingly known as “Bug” to those who haven’t read about him in my past posts), I felt I needed to step out of my cave and shed some light on what we have been going through.  Who knows, it might help someone else!

Bug is a freak.

  • When he is relaxed, he is a very good mover. A DQ told me this summer that he is the best moving TB she has ever seen or ridden. (At the time, she was riding him and medium trotting all over the arena doing all of his movements.)
  • When he jumps, he uses so much force, it is sometimes necessary to have a seat belt.
  • He is cocky. He has a hard time understanding that he doesn’t need to add width or height to the jumps.
  • He is brave yet careful. If he locks onto a jump, he is probably going to jump it, whether you want to or not.

All of these things can make it difficult to ride him. I don’t know how many times someone has said to me, “Bug just seems so easy. He is point and shoot. He could easily be an amateur’s mount.” I try my best to smile through gritted teeth. Am I the best rider in the world? No. However, I think I have stepped up my game quite a bit in the last few years, but he is still not easy. He does everything with exuberance, and with that much talent, it can be tough to ride.

In the past, it was easy for me to just allow this awesome horse of mine to take the reins and save my butt. He did so on a regular basis, and he still does sometimes. However, both Bonnie Mosser and Kim Severson made it clear to me that as I moved up the levels, that couldn’t keep happening regularly. I have been working for years to get lighter, fitter, stronger. I ride many horses a day, and I am ALWAYS striving to learn and improve.

Sometimes, the more you learn, the more issues you have until it all comes together. Bonnie has really been changing my ride this year. We have upped the game, as I have big dreams for this horse. However, it seems that every show, a blip or two comes out of the woodwork. The more rideable I make him, the more he looks to me to back it up. If you watch video of me from years past compared to now, there is a definite difference in how I am riding.

For instance, this past weekend, Bug and I ran the CIC2* at Plantation. We have been having blips at Advanced here and there this season, and I just didn’t ride well at Five Points. The goal was to have a good outing. The problem is my gallops and fitness work haven’t changed, so Bug came out breathing fire. His dressage, show jumping and cross country all had evidence of how strong and well he is feeling. Unfortunately, the cross country really showed it. I knew he was going to be strong, but I didn’t realize just how much. I came out of the box slow to try to get his attention, and he was amazing. However, the more I let the throttle out, the more I had trouble controlling his jump.

The nature of his jump is very powerful off the ground. His style, even on cross country, is very classic with a lot of bascule. However, add some strength into the bridle, and his balance tends to be a bit ahead of him when he lands. Due to this problem, we ran into trouble at the last combination on course, a table to a corner to a skinny. He jumped over the table with too much and landed running.  It just wasn’t meant to be. This showed me that we have some work to do before Morven, and we are definitely only doing the two-star at Fair Hill.

Funny enough, now that I am a lot lighter (I have lost about 40 pounds this year), I am having a harder time controlling him. I can’t use my weight against his strength, and it has been a huge learning curve trying to get my muscle memory to catch up with my weight loss. My body is constantly changing. Am I any weaker? No, I think I’m the fittest I have ever been. Now, I have to learn how to use my new body to ride this horse of mine.

What is the point of all of this?  Riding will always be an ongoing process, even with education and change. The better I get, the more there is to learn. We are both going better than we have ever gone, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still issues to work through. It’s easy to get down on ourselves and to even judge others when there are issues. However, in this game we play, things can be getting better, and the scoreboard may not show it. Just keep striving to be better and more educated, and eventually, things will fall into place.

Green Meadow Farm: Helping with Horses

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Photo by Beckie Thompson

Sometimes, I sit quietly in the corner of my horse’s stall, and I take in the quiet that is the barn.  Horses are slowly munching hay, and its sweet smell fills my nostrils.  Warm breath snuffles my hair, and I look up and smile.  No matter what is going on in my life, this will always be the place where I belong.

How many of us feel like the only place we fit in is at the barn?  How many of us take this “hobby” to a whole new level of passion?  How many of us would not have mentally survived the stressors and tragedies in our life if we had not had our horses?

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Photo by Beckie Thompson

As a child, I never really fit in at school.  Not only was I the fat kid, but I was also the weird girl who rode horses.  I did not have many true friends, and I was bullied regularly at school.  I shed a lot of tears.  I spent each week at school yearning for the weekend and time at the barn.  Learning to ride and working my tail off taking care of the horses really helped me find a place to fit in.  Not to mention teaching me so many other life lessons about responsibility and respect.

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Photo by Beckie Thompson

Win the War and I have been asked to help a very special non-profit that is close to my heart.  Green Meadows Farm in Lancaster, PA uses horses to help children learn to fit in and learn to deal with emotion.  They specialize in children that have been adopted and are adjusting to their new families, as well as children from underprivileged families.  For more information, please check out their website.

Those that volunteer their time to this great cause.

Those that volunteer their time to this great cause. Photo by Rachel Tress

How can you help?  On June 28th, Win the War and I will be making an appearance for a demo and talk at their Annual Lawn Party Fundraiser.  If you live anywhere near Lancaster, PA, you should come on out!

The BEST way to help is to go bid at their online auction.  I have wrangled some pretty awesome ULR’s into donating some lessons, as well as some other fun stuff!  Check out the site and bid, bid, bid!

This is a great cause, and I would love it if the Eventing community could get together and blow their goal out of the water!

Getting a Taste of the Top

Bug was sure there were more cookies with his name on them after his dressage. Bug was sure there were more cookies with his name on them after his dressage.

I am guilty — I think that my horse is amazing. As horse owners, I think we all think that our horse is pretty much the best. If we didn’t, why would we own them and spend countless hours and dollar bills on their care? Our time with them builds a bond that is strong. We learn them inside and out.

I have been saying for years that I know my horse has what it takes to be a top horse in all three phases. However, being green at eventing, I couldn’t seem to ride him to bring it out. I know that when the dressage score isn’t very good or there is a rail or runout, it’s all on me. I love that my horse puts all of his effort into this job of his, and even if I make it so he just can’t get it done correctly the first time, he comes right back to show me how I should have done it.

My coach, Bonnie Mosser, has really put a lot of effort and thought into my training. She has helped me to really become a better rider, and not only that, a better horseman.  As I said in my USEA interview, not only have we been working hard on Bug’s way of going, but Kathryn Scheiss has been working hard on getting his body in a good place. I had it in my head going into Chatt Hills that I was going to give it all I had and prove that I could hang with the big boys. Granted, there weren’t going to be a ton in my CIC3* division, but it was all about the performance we gave, not necessarily about the ribbon we brought home.

Unfortunately, Bonnie is a busy lady and was just returning from teaching in Iowa, so I did not have her on hand to warm me up for dressage. She sent me an encouraging text before I hopped on, and I set out to make her proud. Bug felt a bit excited in the warm up, but he quickly settled into being relaxed and supple. It’s the most amazing he has ever felt. I stayed calm and took what we had to the ring.

For the first time in my life, I had a dressage test that just felt good. I just sat and rode and felt what was going on underneath me. Did I leave points on the table? Heck yes. However, it felt smooth and relaxed and flowing. I was so pleased. Imagine my surprise when I started getting texts afterward congratulating me on my amazing test. I hadn’t even seen the score yet! I may possibly have jumped up and down a few times when I saw the live scores. Holy crap, I was tied with Jon Holling for FIRST!

Honestly, just that phase was a huge win for me. I have known for years that Bug has what it takes to lay down a test like that and better, but I just couldn’t seem to figure it out. To be in first after dressage in a CIC3* was just huge. I was smiling like an idiot all day. The best part was that Bug totally knew he had done well. He was begging for cookies all afternoon with a smile of his own. He knew he had made his mama happy.

Pressure? What’s that? I hadn’t ever felt pressure before the jumping phases. I was always near the bottom and had to climb my way to the top. Learning to hold on to the top of that mountain is a new thing for me. I was determined to ride my best and pull my way to the peak. My flag was going at the top of the Chatt Hill CIC3* mountain.

Jumping under the lights was a new experience for us, but I was hoping that Bug would meet it like he does most new jumping experiences that he’s not sure of — by jumping higher. I didn’t need to fear! He went in there and was all business with springs in his feet. I had moments of riding a bit too backwards, but Bug helped me out every time. He cruised smoothly around the course like it was child’s play, bringing home one time penalty. Again, I was sitting at the top. I definitely slept with a grin on my face that night.

This spring has been a bit of an up and down roller coaster for me with the cross country. If my rounds were clean, they were really, really good. Otherwise, my rounds didn’t seem to make it to the finish flags. This is unusual for Bug, but we have been working through things. Going from letting him just take me around the courses to me trying to actually ride and make the rounds look good has definitely been a work in progress.

I had walked the course multiple times, and I knew what I had to do. I wasn’t that nervous about being in first; I was nervous about doing right by this amazing horse I was sitting on. Bug felt super out of the box, and he cruised around the course like it was nothing. Unfortunately, I, again, got in his way at the angled rolltops at 11AB and put him at a distance that was impossible for him to get out of.

Bug was less than thrilled with his pink ribbon when he had the blue one in his grasp.

Bug was less than thrilled with his pink ribbon when he had the blue one in his grasp.

That one split second mistake cost me a lot. I was so mad at myself, but I had many more fences to jump. I was determined that we were getting through those finish flags this time. We had a few more moments where my reaction time just wasn’t quick enough, but my superstar horse stepped up to the plate and helped me out.  We had some really, really good moments too.

After coming through the flags, many emotions hit me — disappointment being the biggest one. I had let myself, my coach, and most of all, my horse, down. However, after taking more time to think it through, I realized that I had just learned a HUGE lesson. I could be at the top. I had finally showed myself what I have been saying for years. My horse has it. Now I have to catch up to him.

We did end up finishing fifth, even with the 20 and time, as the course seemed to ride tough for most. It’s hard to be thrilled with fifth when I came from first, but I am definitely still happy. The fire has been lit in my belly, and I am ready to push harder and become a consistent contender. Every horse I sit on is going to make me stronger and better. There is a huge mountain ahead, and I am going to put my flag at the top and keep it there.

I must send out a huge thanks to everyone who supported me and sent me well wishes throughout the weekend. They were very much appreciated! I am also very thankful to my sponsors: Snider’s Elevator, ADM Nutrition, ThinLine, From the Blindside Jewelry and Wilson College.

Transformation Tuesday: Finding the Motivation

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Bug and I in 2008 after competing in the Training level at Loch Moy. We have both changed a lot! Photo by Gary Bortner.

I have always struggled with my weight. I played sports successfully all through my elementary, middle and high school careers, and though I excelled, I was still never lean and mean. Sports came easily to me, and I didn’t need to work that hard to be good, so why take it a step higher?

As we all know, with horses, it doesn’t matter how good you are at riding; you have to ALWAYS keep working harder if you want to succeed. Not only are you competing against others, but you are your own competitor. Can I be that much better than I was yesterday? This applies to all levels of the sport. If you want to get better, you have to keep striving to work hard and improve.

Bug and I again in 2008.

Bug and I again in 2008. Photo by Gary Bortner.

When I found Bug, I was searching for where I was going to go in this sport. The fierce competitor in me wanted to shoot for the stars, but I knew that I had a lot of work to do. To cruise along at the lower levels would have been easy for me, but did I want easy? Was this the sport that would actually kick me into gear? Did I love it enough to take that step outside of my comfort zone? Turns out, finding THAT horse for me is what finally pushed me.

Bug and I in a lesson with Bonnie Mosser in 2013.  Photo by Alice Van Bokkelen

Bug and I in a lesson with Bonnie Mosser in 2013. Photo by Alice Van Bokkelen.

When I started riding with Kim Severson, Bug and I had done one or two Training level events. Kim recognized the talent in my horse and started pushing me to catch up. Because Bug is such an extravagant jumper, it was hard for me to stay with him in my unfit state. Finally, Kim and I had a big talk. She basically told me that if I wanted to take myself and my horse to the level that we were capable of, I needed to take a hard look at myself and make a change. She just laid it all out there for me, and it was up to me to motivate myself to make the change I needed to go where I wanted. If I was happy just getting by, I could continue on the path that I was going down. That was a life-changing moment for me, and I am very thankful to Kim for pushing me.

Bug and I at Pine Top this February.  Photo by Lee Ann Zobe.

Bug and I at Pine Top this February. Photo by Lee Ann Zobbe.

That following January, I took the plunge. I didn’t do anything crazy or have any weight loss secrets. I just changed how I ate and decided to be more active. I lost 50 pounds that spring. Not only did I feel happier and healthier, but Bug was thrilled not to be carrying the equivalent of an extra bag of feed around with me.

I still struggle with my weight, especially in the winter, but I haven’t let myself ever get back to where I was. I am always striving to be lighter, leaner and more fit. If I am going to continue to strive to be at the top of this sport, I have to continue to up the ante in my life.

So, Eventing Nation, what do you struggle with, and how do you find the motivation?

The Forget the Battle, Win the War Syndicate

Win the War and I at the Retired Racehorse Training Project. Photo by Niamh O'Connell. Win the War and I at the Retired Racehorse Training Project. Photo by Niamh O'Connell.

A few months ago, I wrote an article discussing whether or not I should syndicate Bug. After a lot of thought and conversations with Dr. Mark Hart of the Event Owners Task Force, I have decided to move forward with syndication. The decision was a difficult one, as I have brought Bug along myself, and I was a bit nervous about giving up a part of him. However, the more I thought about it, the more excited I got about sharing this amazing horse with others. He really is the horse of a lifetime and a lot of fun to be involved with.

So, what goes into a syndication? I was pretty clueless about how it all worked, so I needed a lot of guidance. Luckily for me, the Event Owners Task Force can be utilized by anyone with an upper-level horse that is interested in syndication. Dr. Mark Hart is in charge of the Task Force, and I spent a lot of time emailing and conversing with him. He is a wealth of knowledge about how this process works, so it was great talking with him to figure out what would work best for Bug and I.

After a lot of discussion, this is what we finally decided on:

1. I would sell 49 percent of Bug to the syndication for $30,000. There are ways to write a contract stating that I would always keep control of my horse, but after hearing so many horror stories of horses being sold out from under people, I decided to be safe and keep my 51 percent controlling share. My boy is just too precious to me to risk losing him.

2.  Because I am an up-and-comer and Bug and I need to prove ourselves, we decided to keep the total buy in low. Being an Advanced/CIC3* horse, Bug is probably worth more than $61,000. However, I wanted to keep the buy in low so that people who may not normally be involved in a syndicate might be able to buy in if interested. With 10 shares being offered, this made the buy in $3,000 per share.

3.  Because I am an up-and-comer, I wanted the syndication to be as exciting for people as I could make it. The initial $30,000 buy-in money will then be put toward buying another up-and-coming horse. This makes the syndication a two-horse investment. If the second horse is ever sold, the owners of the syndicate stand to make some profit.

4.  Competing an upper-level horse is expensive, to say the least. Again, I wanted the syndication to be as affordable as I could make it. The yearly maintenance fee is $3,000, and this will go toward the upkeep of both horses. I was excited to learn from Mark that this fee is something that is tax deductible for investors, so it’s another benefit for syndicate owners.

As with most eventing syndicates, people that want to be involved must realize that the chance of making a profit on the syndication is very low. These syndicates are about wanting to support a horse and rider and be involved with them as they move up the levels and, hopefully, represent the U.S. internationally.  A lot of the big shows are starting to have an Owner’s Tent out on the cross-country course. This is a great way for syndicate owners to hang out in style as they watch their horses go around a tough course.

Every syndication may come with its own perks, as well. I am still working on the perks for Bug’s syndicate, but I am planning to include some extra bonuses to make it fun for everyone. Also, if a group of people is interested in buying a share, there are no rules that they can not go in together to purchase one share — the more the merrier!

I am very excited to announce that the first share of the “Forget the Battle, Win the War Syndicate” has been purchased by Dr. Desiree Lerro of Echo Knoll Farm and Patrick Forestall of Videos by Patrick. I am very excited to have them on Bug’s team, and I greatly appreciate their support!

If anyone else is interested in more information on this syndication, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]. I think this is going to be a fun endeavor for everyone involved.

Hilda Donahue: Riding the Virginia City 100

We’ve been following along with four-star eventer Hilda Donahue, who’s originally from Ireland but now bases her business in Orlando, Fla., in her journey to complete the Virginia City 100 endurance ride in Nevada. Click here to read Hilda’s first blog. Did Hilda and Patrick complete the 100-mile endurance ride? You’ll have to read to find out!

Hilda and Patrick before the Virginia City 100.

From Hilda:

The drive into Virginia City, Nev., for my first endurance ride — nothing less than a 100-mile ride — was certainly a foreshadowing of what was to come. The town was built literally on the side of a mountain with elevations of 7,500 feet. As we traveled toward base camp — the equivalent to our stabling area — I kept looking for grassy trails. No such thing. We were in high desert land with mountains primarily comprised of quartz rock. Lucky me — I was about to experience this historic area on Patrick’s Fire, a beautiful Arabian gelding loaned to me by my sister-in-law.

Ride day began at 3:30 a.m. I awoke to howling, 30-mph winds and a weather report that was less than favorable for any outdoor activity. Like any motivated event competitor, not riding was not an option. Besides, having grown up in Ireland, I was well accustomed to challenging weather. Little did I know or anticipate that snow flurries awaited us!

By 4:30 a.m., I was ready to mount. Patrick was clearly ready. The moment I got in the tack, he gave an entertaining display of enthusiasm; it was an acrobatic performance including leaps, levades, caprioles and bucks on the asphalt in the dark. The thought of falling off before I ever got to the start line was beyond comprehension. How would I ever explain not even making it to the start? Patrick attracted considerable attention; I can assure you that I was now fully awake and ready to ride.

Forty-nine horse and rider combinations, most of which were Arabians, started the race. The youngest rider was 13 years old; the oldest was 71 years old. The previous day’s activities included the pre-ride vet check and a rider meeting, both similar to what we experience at CICs and CCIs. The vet check was extremely thorough, with every rider given a detailed chart that also must be shown at the many subsequent checks.

Things like capillary refill time, jugular refill, mucous membranes and the horse’s attitude are all monitored before, during and after the race. Acceptable pulse and respiration rates are determined according to weather and terrain. Horses have to reach the required pulse and respiration at each stop to be allowed to continue.

There is no stabling at these rides. Horses either stay tied overnight to their trailer — a high-tie system also appeared to be safe and popular — or small pens were erected. If horses were in pens, bedding was not put down. It is very different from our manner of setting up an elaborate stabling area with deep bedding and horses in stable bandages and magnetic blankets. These Arabians are tough, and simple, good old-fashioned horse care is practiced.

After about a mile hack to the start, all riders gathered outside the Delta Saloon. It reminded me of hunt meets back in my native Ireland, except it was pitch dark with no pack of hounds and no master to lead the way. The possibly of getting lost was my greatest fear. One hundred miles over foreign terrain following a trail marked with flour and ribbons tied to shrubs just did not give me much comfort.

Those of you who know me are well aware how directionally-challenged I am in daylight with GPS.  Thank goodness that I did, in a sense, have a “master” — my sister in law, Sharon — to ride with. Sharon and her family are all familiar with the Virginia City trail. Ten miles into the ride, Patrick settled down nicely.  His walk was relaxed and his trot more efficient. Cantering was kept to a minimum, but when we did  he felt fantastic.

As dawn broke, I could not help but be moved by the beauty of the scenario. How fortunate was I — enjoying a wonderful horse, riding with experienced Sharon in historic, picturesque Virginia City? My biggest problem was that I had lost my hairnet, and my spare one was hard to access while navigating and riding in the dark. I was the only person riding with a hair net, lipstick and polished boots; I felt a bit odd!

At 18 miles, there was a trot-by where the vets observed soundness. Patrick felt and looked great. Sadly, Sharon’s older mare was mildly uneven behind. When we reached the first 45-minute vet check at 24 miles, Sharon sensibly withdrew her mare. In true good sportsmanship style , Sharon never complained and got to work advising me on how to continue successfully with Patrick.

I, of course, was horrified at the thought of losing my ” master.” While the McKenzie, Dutcher and Finston family team — these guys are pros at this— attended to Patrick’s needs during the 45-minute break, I pulled myself together, chanting, “You catch rode and completed at Adelaide on a horse called Kelycin FIASCO, so you can easily do this!”

Off I went, ALONE, into the unknown; thankfully, it was daylight, and after a few miles, I caught up with the delightful Lou Smith Egstrom. She lives in the Virginia City area and is an accomplished dressage and endurance rider. How perfect was that? Luck of the Irish, St.Patrick and/or my prayers with my husband that morning paid off.

By now, Patrick and I had become quite the team. He had established an impressive trot rhythm, covering the ground with maximum ease and efficiency. He told me when he needed walk breaks, and I was selective where I cantered. I guided him around the many rocks we encountered.

We climbed and descended 7,800 feet with grueling terrain. I was thankful to have the superbly comfortable Voltaire saddle to sit on, which allowed Patrick to use his back comfortably, along with his ThinLine pad. Patrick sure-footedly navigated his way up and down while I did my best to stay out of his way.

Rather amusing along the way was our experience with a herd of wild Mustangs who tried to follow us. I know I am desperate to have another event horse, but this was not my idea of how to acquire one. Not so amusing was the drastic weather changes; we encountered everything from high winds to snow flurries.

At the 36-mile, 15-minute vet check, Patrick was in 11th out of 12 horses and looking good. Each vet check stop was bustling with activity. Patrick’s crew got to work immediately, watering and feeding him, massaging his muscles, tending to his legs, and removing and checking tack. I stood back feeling helpless, but felt comfort in observing their experience. Thank you Sharon, Bob, Karon, Scott, Dustin, Ken, Jeff and Carolyn. I was feeling very sound myself, thanks to the comfortable and stylish Symphony breeches provided by Tredstep Ireland. If you have not tried them, I highly recommend the Symphony #3 Rosa breeches.

After the successful vet check, we trucked along and headed to the section of the ride referred to as the SOB due to the horrifically steep descent and climb, which you encounter three times in a row. Patrick cleverly navigated his way up and down; I did my best to stay out of his way. Once again, the luxury of the comfortable Voltaire saddle, the ThinLine pad and Tredstep breeches helped me tremendously.

The next stop was at 51 miles back at base camp in Virginia City. I was met by the dream team, and after the mandatory one-hour hold, we set off again into the wilderness. Our goal now was to deal with the predicted very high winds and freezing temperatures while getting to the 75-mile vet check before dark. This check was back again at base camp in Virginia City after a big loop back around the mountains.

Despite strong winds and snow flurries, (Saint) Patrick soldiered on. By 5:30 p.m. (12 and a half hours into the ride), the 75-mile stop was in sight. My instructions were to dismount about a quarter- mile away, loosen the girth and calmly lead Patrick in so he arrived with a low heart rate — looking good and, hopefully, relaxed. Shortly after I dismounted — right as Sharon approached to throw a cooler over him — Patrick spooked badly.

The wind had picked up even more, causing a piece of tin metal to dislodge from a roof, which created a horse-eating, terrifying noise. Patrick was close to being unmanageable for a few moments, and in his swift “flight” instinct, he stepped on his coronary band. We were literally 300 meters from the vet check. Patrick’s team iced his mild but sensitive injury, but despite all efforts, he jogged unsound.

Like all event riders know, the decision to not continue is never easy but always the correct one. Although I only got to ride 75 miles, I was thrilled with the fact that Patrick had taken me over that distance in wretched weather and terrain like I had never encountered. The next morning, Patrick sure looked great — what a relief! With great interest, I watched the vets assess what horse was worthy of the Best Conditioned Award.

The top-10 finishers are presented and  jogged, turned sharply, halted and trotted on. They are also flexed and examined thoroughly, their attitude is assessed. I am proud to share that my husband, Ken, is a former recipient of the coveted Best Conditioned Award. The awards ceremony and breakfast was an enjoyable gathering. These endurance riders, not unlike most of us eventers, are a hardworking, helpful group who love their horses and seem to genuinely care about each other and their sport.

With great interest, I learned that the winning horses (this was a historic tie!) completed in 13 hours. The slowest horse completed in 20 hours and 13 mins — a great accomplishment, as the American Endurance Riders Conference motto states “to finish is to win.” I did not finish; I did not win. However, I had the most incredible riding experience, met some wonderful people and was reminded how awesome the McKenzie family is as they teamed together to ensure the horses well being.

Not unlike eventing, where there is a team behind the scenes that is key to any rider’s success, those “crewing” at these rides are invaluable. I could not have ridden the 75 miles without them. I have to also give credit to Andrea Cannon back in Florida for managing things at Ashmore while I was off in the mountains in Nevada.

Without a doubt, I want to thank some of my sponsors, Tredstep Ireland, Voltaire Design and ThinLine for helping myself and Patrick ride in comfort and style. After the busy winter/spring season here with students eventing, I am told that in March I will be starting back again with Patrick. Onwards!

 

Reflections at the End of the Season

Win the War and I competing in the Advanced at Pine Top this spring. Photo by Hoofclix.

My show season for 2013 has come to a close, and I find myself at the point of reflection. It’s always a huge relief both emotionally and financially for the season to end for a bit. However, I always find myself immediately planning the next year. I spend hours pouring over the USEA Omnibus trying to figure out what’s next for my horses. I am a planner by nature, but as with all things horses, I only use pencil when making my schedules. All of this planning gives me something to work toward, as it can sometimes be hard to be motivated on those cold winter days.

Bug and I came out strong at the beginning of this year, and I thought this was going to be the year that we really stepped up to the plate. I was focused, I was fit, and I had been working hard all winter. Unfortunately, Bug ended up being out of commission starting at the beginning of March, putting a damper on all of our spring plans.

Bug missing a few months of work really took away from his baseline fitness. When he finally came back to work, it took me quite awhile to get him back to the horse that I was used to. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include my loss in fitness as well. Due to all of this, I believe our fall season suffered. It took us quite a few shows to get our mojo back, and when we finally found it, the season was almost over. Suddenly, Bug was back to himself with his fitness, but I hadn’t been used to riding that horse.

As disappointed as I am with how this year developed, I can say that I have learned and grown up a lot. Having an amazing, thoughtful coach has really helped me to have a plan and understand everything that happens with my horse. I think I have learned more about myself and my horse in this past year than I have in a long time. Even though I have always had my horses’ best interest at heart, I have learned so much about making the decisions that really count for them.

I am always proud of Bug, as he always gives me his all.  There isn’t a day that he doesn’t show up to give his whole heart and then some. I struggle with feelings of letting him down at times, but I have learned that he doesn’t see it that way. He does his job because he loves it, and as long as I keep doing what’s best by him, he is happy. I am most proud of the way I have handled the tough decisions this year. I was presented with things that I have never had to deal with before, and I believe that I made the best and most mature decisions that I could make.

This is a sport of constant growing and changing. We should never be static in our learning but always growing and changing. That is something that makes me want to keep coming back for more. The knowledge is always there for the taking, and I plan to keep grabbing fistfuls. Winter boot camp is already starting, and I am ready to whip myself into shape. My horses will be seeing a lot of me this winter, and I plan to come out kicking next spring.

Wrapping Up a Great Weekend at Virginia Horse Trials

The Virginia Horse Center. Awesome photo by Riley Wagner.

The Virginia Horse Trials is one of my favorite shows of the season, and I try to go every spring and fall. Penny and Brian Ross are enthusiastic supporters of our sport, and they always do an AMAZING job of organizing this show. For those that have never been, you should definitely try to make it at some point in your competition career. The facility is top notch, the area is beautiful and the show is a blast.

This fall, VAHT offered Beginner Novice through Intermediate national level horse trials, and they also offered a CCI* and CIC2* at the FEI level. Brian Ross designs the Beginner Novice through Prelim courses, which are always a good test for each level without overfacing.

John Williams has been brought on board to design the Intermediate, CCI* and CIC2* courses. Overall, I think all of the cross country rode very well. There weren’t a ton of issues at any one fence at any level, and the number of Es, Rs, and RFs were low compared to the number of entries.  In my opinion, the course designers did an excellent job of challenging everyone.

The big news of the weekend is the record number of entries in the CCI*. They ended up having three divisions in order to fit everyone’s dressage in on Friday. There were two regular divisions and one Junior/Young Rider division. There seemed to be a bit of talk about the discrepancies between judges in the CCI* divisions, but the judges seemed to be pretty close in scoring, if a bit tough, in the CIC2*.

The show jumping was all designed by John Williams and proved to be influential in all of the levels. The CIC2*, Prelim and part of the Training divisions all show jumped outside on top of the hill. Beginner Novice, Novice, one division of Training and all of the CCI* show jumped in the Coliseum. The courses were definitely rewarding forward, balanced riding.

However, I believe the show jumping proved most influential in the CCI*. I watched quite a few of the rounds, and the rails were flying. On the whole, the horses seemed just a bit tired from the cross country the day before. One horse from each CCI* division was spun at the jog before show jumping.

I have to send out a huge shout out to Bob Thornton for completing his second recognized BN event.  Bob rides with Bonnie Mosser and has been riding for less than a year!  He and his amazing mare, Easy Company, finished 6th in the Beginner Novice Rider division.  This weekend was all about teamwork for those of us on Team Bonnie Mosser.  There were a bunch of us competing, and we all pitched in to help each other.  THAT is what this sport is all about!

[Final Scores]

 

Fair Hill: Making the Tough Decision

Bug and I in the CCI*** at Fair Hill Photo by Tami Beauchamp Tritapoe

I am confident that my horse has what it takes to compete at the top levels.  He is scopey, brave, and all heart.  However, I am very green at this level.  Before I acquired Bug off the track, I hadn’t ridden above Training level, and I have only been jumping for 10 years.  I did not get the opportunity to be a working student for anyone and be in an upper level program.  One doesn’t realize just how much you can learn from that sort of environment.  I am now learning and absorbing as much as I can from Bonnie Mosser in my lessons.

If any of you have been following along with the journey Bug and I have been taking, you are well aware of my debacle at my first CCI*** at Bromont last spring.  It really tore me apart to have let my horse down so much, especially after we ran around 3/4 of the course before being pulled up.  I struggled a lot with mentally beating myself up after that.  We have been working very hard for the past year and a half through a lot of ups and downs.  However, I felt that Bug and I were ready for the big CCI*** at Fair Hill this year.

After walking the XC mutiple times and listening to the big names talk, I knew that the course was very stiff.  The words “three and a half star” were floating around quite a bit.  However, I knew that Bug and I could get it done if I was on my game.  The lines were very tight, so there was not much room for error.

Before the jog

After the ups and downs of my year, I told myself before I went to Plantation that I was either going to get myself in gear, or I was going to go home and fix it.  I want to be competitive and do the VERY BEST by my horse.  We rocked around Plantation well, and I was ready to take that mojo to Fair Hill.

During the time between Plantation and Fair Hill, I was unable to compete at Morven due to the Retired Racehorse Training Project.  I did not see this as a bad thing and just kept doing Bug’s gallops and working on tweaking things.  However, when cross country day at Fair Hill came, I realized my horse was a lot fitter than I thought.  Not only was he fitter, but he was more in front of my leg than he’s ever been.  This was definitely a great thing, but I also hadn’t ridden this new horse of mine over cross country.  However, he felt amazing in warm up, and I was determined to bring it home.

The jump before we ultimately retired. Photo by Tami Beauchamp Tritapoe

Bug came out of the box guns blazing.  He was jumping bigger and bolder and landing going.  Normally, he likes to add the little chip in front of the fence and we balloon up over everything and land stagnant.  Everything was going great until fence 7AB.  The question was a huge brush ditch and wall in five strides to a skinny triple brush.  Unfortunately, I missed my line a bit.  I saw it in the air, but Bug landed going, and I struggled to try to get him back to the skinny.  He never really saw it, and we had a run by.  I collected myself and jumped the skinny thinking, “Okay, get yourself together.”

We jumped a few more fences before coming up to 10, 11AB.   Ten was a large brush fence with a drop on landing in 5 to 11A, a huge oxer, in a bending 6 to a big brush corner.  The lines were very tight, and there was not much room for error.  Bug jumped in great and was right on the 5 to the oxer.  However, upon seeing we were there, I just softened a bit too much, and he added his chip.  We ballooned way up over it and landed stagnant.

Walking home. Photo by Tami Beauchamp Tritapoe

If I had the experience under my belt to react faster, I would have pulled right and took my time getting to the corner.  But, I was on the line and thought I should keep kicking.  However there was absolutely no distance there, thus run by number two.  At that moment, I quickly ran through my options.  I decided at that moment that it was better to retire and call it a day.  Today was not our day, so why risk my horse and myself?

It was terribly disappointing, but at the same time, I left with a smile on my face.  My horse is amazing.  He felt absolutely phenomenal.  I just need more experience at this level.  Because I pulled up early, Bug only ran about 3+ minutes.  I can take this chance to go to the CIC** at VAHT and ride him while he’s still this fit around a course that isn’t quite as imposing.

In this sport, we are constantly presented with the tough decisions.  Whenever I am presented with one, I try my very best to do what is best for my horses.  The competitive drive can be hard to overcome at times, but without these amazing creatures, this sport wouldn’t be possible for us.

 

 

RRTP: The Multi-Talented Thoroughbred

The RRTP Makeover and Symposium took place at Pimlico by the finish line. Photo by Gary Bortner

Being a thoroughbred lover for most of my life, I have always found it easy to love and admire the great breed.  I have often had people asking me about the breed’s sanity, and it surprises me a bit every time.  There are always cases in every breed where there is a horse here or there that has a screw loose.  Yes, thoroughbreds tend to come off the track on a “high,” but for most, that is not their true nature, and they change very quickly with some letdown time.

Popular Makeover trainer, Elissa Ogburn, and the beautiful Governor Jack Photo by Gary Bortner

I hope that the horses this weekend put an end to that thought process for many.  In between riding and taking care of my two, I got to watch quite a bit of the symposium, and the thoroughbreds never ceased to delight.  Of course, the normal English show disciplines were well-represented with eventers, hunter/jumpers, fox hunters, and dressage riders.  Our disciplines have been using thoroughbreds for years, though many have dropped off in the recent years in favor of the warmblood breeds.  Though I own some non-OTTBs, the OTTB will always be my go to breed, and I am hoping that others will go back to them as well.

Patti Fieldler and Hapaheart showed that an OTTB can be a police horse Photo by Gary Bortner

What I loved most about the whole weekend was the addition of disciplines that may not immediately be associated with OTTBs.  My favorite to watch was Dale Simanton with Duck.  Dale is a cowboy from out west that uses OTTBs for cattle and ranch work.  When asked to speak about Duck, Dale got choked up.  His love for his horses was very evident, and I was so impressed with him for using OTTBs in a world where the Quarter Horse rules.

The US Polo Association did a very cool demo. Photo by Gary Bortner

The weekend seemed to be a huge success.  The semiars were packed, and I believe that everyone took at least one new piece of knowledge home with them.  Unfortunately, Pimlico has quite a bit of seating, so though the grandstand looked sparse, there was a good crowd there to watch the horses go.

Hotty and I at the Opening Ceremony Photo by Gary Bortner

As far as my own horses, I was THRILLED with how well Hotty handled the situation.  The Opening Ceremony worked her up the most, as we led them out without tack but in a bridle.  I think they were all looking for the paddock.  However, when I rode her out to the track, and she saw the jumps, she immediately took a deep breath and relaxed.  She handled everything beatuifully and went really well in her presentation.  She got quite a few compliments.

Hotty jumping a XC fence in her part of the Makeover. Photo by Gary Bortner

Bug’s weekend was also pretty awesome.  I took him out Saturday morning to gallop on the track.  It was early and things hadn’t really started rolling yet.  It was surreal galloping where so many of the greats had run.  Bugs footprints were settled in those of the greats.   Bug doesn’t get too excited about much other than jumping, but he definitely knew he was on the track.  He ate it up and loved every minute of it.

Bug showing off in the USEA Demo. I love that you can see him up close and on the jumbotron. Photo by Niamh O'Connell

For the USEA Demo, Erin Sylvester on Paddy the Caddy and I showed a bit of flatwork then jumped show jumps and cross country fences.  Paddy is one of Erin’s Prelim horses, and is quite a nice looking boy.  He handled everything great and jumped well.  In typical Bug fashion, he ate up the crowd and jumped extra high for everyone, finishing his turn with a brush chevron that seemed to please the crowd.

Chatting up Chris McCarron in the warmup. Photo by Gary Bortner

I must say, as well, that I was pretty awed to get to chat up famous jockey, Chris McCarron, in the warmup area.  He was very interested in how the OTTBs are being used in eventing and said that he goes to Rolex every year to watch.  He seems truly invested in the breed and helping them to find homes after.  Saturday evening, he sorted cattle for the first time in his life on a horse that had raced his last race only a month before.

Steuart Pittman and the rest of the Retired Racehorse Training Project should be applauded for this awesome event.  They showcased this breed in a way that showed the thoroughbred’s ability to do anything.  I think I can speak for all of the 26 trainers by sending them a HUGE thank you for allowing us to be a part of this event.  I loved every minute of it, and I am excited to see what is in store for the future.

I would also like to send out a huge thanks to my sponsors: Snider’s Elevator, Stubben North America, ThinLine, ADM Nutrition, Pad Perfect, Ultimate Side Reins, Omega Alpha Supplements, Wilson College and From the Blind Side Jewelry for all of their support.  They fuel my passion and help things like this to be a success.  It doesn’t matter how good you are as a trainer, if you don’t have the right nutrition, tack, etc, you can’t be 100% successful.  Many of my personal sponsors were also sponsors of the RRTP Makeover, which shows their dedication to this great breed.

 

RRTP: We have arrived!

We've arrived at the RRTP! The Rocky Start Stables stall area at Pimlico.

This morning, I set off from NC with Bug and Hotty on a trip to Baltimore, MD.  Our destination, the Retired Racehorse Training Project Makeover and Symposium.  Hotty is my makeover horse and will be showing off on Saturday, and Bug is participating in the USEA Cross Country Demo on Sunday.  Even though I grew up in York, PA (which is less than an hour from Baltimore), I never had the chance to go to Pimlico to watch the races.

Bug ears on the track at Pimlico. What a cool feeling to be riding on this track.

After getting everything unpacked, I took each of the horses out on the track to see the place.   I took Bug out first, and I was very interested to see how he would behave.  Of course, as all things are with Bug, he took it all in stride.  He knew he was at the track, but he was not worried about it.  He was actually pretty sure that he was there to show off.  He trotted all of the way around the track like a champ.  Because we’re two weeks out from Fair Hill, he’s actually due to have a gallop while he’s here.  I’m really excited that I’ve been given permission to take him out on the track tomorrow morning to have his gallop!  Many amazing horses have run on that track, and now Bug will be another one.

The kids in the park next to the stabling area wanted to pet a horse. Bug was more than happy to oblige his fans.

Most of the other Makeover horses were pretty riled up about being back on the track, so I was pretty interested to see how my Hotty girl would handle things.  She went out there like a champ and was very well behaved.  The “arena” part of the track is small and everyone wanted to get their chance in it, so it was pretty crowded.  She looked around a bit, but he settled right in and was quite good.  I even jumped a few jumps to make sure her mind was focused.  I am so proud of how well she handled it, and I’m excited for tomorrow.

Hotty's last confo shot before leaving for RRTP. She's changed so much!

Thus far, it has been really cool to see all of the different trainers from different disciplines and their horses.  Everything gets under way tomorrow, and I will try to get as many pictures as I can!  For those of you who didn’t get to buy tickets, it will be streaming live on HRTV.com!

Winning the War at Plantation Field

Win the War and I into the water. I have my game face on to scare away the water gremlin. Photo by the amazing Amy Dragoo.

Bug and I made the trek up to beautiful Unionville, Pa., for our first visit to the Plantation Field Horse Trials in 2008. I was excited for us to run our first CIC* together in prep for the full format CCI* at MidSouth later that fall. This was the last year that the CCI* full format counted in the FEI, and I was excited to be a part of history.

Bug and I put in one of our better dressage tests, and then he rocked around the cross-country course, adding only a handful of time penalties to our score. We were sitting in ninth going into show jumping. I was beyond elated. About an hour and a half after we completed cross country, Bug started acting funny. He had always been a super healthy horse with no issues, so I knew immediately that something was wrong. His vitals were all normal, so the vets didn’t believe that there was anything wrong, but I keep reiterating to them that I knew my horse very well and he was colicky.

Due to the strictness of the FEI rules, there was only so much we could do legally to treat him. Nothing seemed to work, so I decided to withdraw him to be able to give him the treatment he needed to help. I was praying that once we gave him Banamine, everything would be fine. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up that way.

That afternoon, Bug and I took the short drive from Plantation to New Bolton. Again, when I got there, the vets did not believe that he had anything major going on. They kept him there and sent me on my way with the hope that it was something medical, as they did not think he was a surgical case.

Bug through the keyhole. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Again, no such luck. After I left, his vitals started to change a bit, and the vets decided exploratory surgery was the answer. It turns out that Bug had a displacement of his colon. It was as minor as colic surgery can be, but without the surgery, he would not have made it. The vets complimented me over and over for knowing my horse so well and ignoring what everyone else was telling me.

My first weekend at Plantation was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. After this experience, I had been avoiding Plantation like the plague. I do not tend to be a superstitious person, but I found it very hard to take Bug back there. Finally, this year, I decided enough was enough, and I was going back. I am very glad that I did!

Though there was controversy surrounding the cross country on the CIC3*, I thought the rest of the event was pretty super. I couldn’t believe how much it had changed since I had been there five years ago — what a gorgeous venue and well-run event.

Bug and I did not put in our best dressage test. There was nothing horrendous about it; it just wasn’t up to par. I left a lot of points on the table that I could easily have picked up, which was very frustrating to me. However, I quickly forgot about Friday when Saturday morning rolled around. I had come to take back my missing jumping mojo.

Marc Donovan always designs very influential show jumping courses. One really has to ride forward in good balance to get them done. I walked the course and I had a plan. I had my game face on, and I was ready to “Win the War”!

Bug and I jumped around double clear to a round of applause. The course felt amazing. Bug was jumping great, and I was on top of the world. We ended up being one of 12 double clears in the 51 horse division. It felt so great to have so many people come up and compliment us on our round, as I have been working so hard at home to put all of the pieces together.

Going into Sunday, I knew that I had to ride forward to the fences, and I was determined to shoot for the time. I was going to take my game face from yesterday along for the ride. Bug flew around that course like it was child’s play. He answered each question with ease, and I just kept kicking.

I had an idea that people were having issues at the water. I decided that once I was on my line in, I was just going to keep Bug in front of my leg, but let him sort out how to drop in. He sailed through the whole thing with no problem. We ended up going clear and only six seconds over the time. I was elated. In fact, I am still having problems wiping the silly grin off my face when I start thinking of our jump rounds this past weekend.

We ended up finishing 18th out of 51 in the divison, moving up from 45th after dressage. I am pretty proud of a top-20 finish in such a competitive CIC3*.  This horse of mine is truly a phenomenon. I must also say that I am pretty proud of myself for putting on my big girl britches and riding like I know I can.

The newest in the "Forget the Battle, Win the War" line of fundraising T-shirts. Order through the end of September!

Also, for those that have been looking for more Win the War wear, I am selling a new long sleeved T-shirt this fall to help support all of Bug’s upkeep for the competition season. If you are interested in ordering, you can do so with PayPal here on my site. I am taking orders through the end of September. I would love to see Bug fans in his shirts scattered around Fair Hill this year! We will be working hard between now and Fair Hill. Bring on the CCI3*.

Forget the Battle, Win the War!

Hilda Donahue: Preparing to Ride the Virginia City 100

Four-star eventer Hilda Donahue, who’s originally from Ireland but now bases her business in Orlando, Fla., has graciously volunteered to write about her experience preparing to ride in the Virginia City 100 endurance ride in Nevada later this month. Thanks for writing, Hilda. Go endurance!

Hilda and Patrick

From Hilda:

Most of us event riders tend to be ambitious, courageous and attracted to extreme sports. When my sister-in-law asked me to ride her horse in my inaugural endurance ride, of course, I agreed! Usually, the novice endurance rider chooses a 25-mile ride to start, but my first ride will be nothing less than the Virginia City 100 race in Nevada, which spans 100 miles in 24 hours on Sept. 21.

Initially, I was introduced to endurance riding by John and Sue Greenall while working for a family in Montana. When Sue mentioned the Tevis Cup, I recalled hearing that Denny Emerson has completed the Tevis, so I researched it and was impressed at the level of horsemanship necessary to endure such a ride. As I believe in trying to emulate successful professionals like Denny, I thought that if Denny chose to do some serious endurance riding, there must be some benefit to it. The Tevis is the four-star ride of endurance riding, where, like the Virginia City 100, you cover 100 miles in 24 hours with multiple vet checks, but you’re also climbing 19,000 feet and descending 21,000 feet.

Lucky, lucky Me ( I am Irish, after all!), my mount for the Virginia City ride finished the Tevis this year. Patrick is an 8-year-old, 16-hand Arabian-cross gelding. He’s was an orphaned, bottle-fed foal, so is a personable fellow with a sweet disposition, although at times he can be skittish and spooky. I have ridden him twice; this past weekend we enjoyed a 15-mile ride at Point Reyes in San Francisco. Yes, I flew 2,900 miles to ride 15 miles! Once again, I am fortunate that my awesome sister-in-law Sharon Finston and her husband, Bob, are conditioning Patrick while I keep things going at my farm in Orlando and continue to teach clinics.

What fascinates me about this discipline is the terrain the horses have to negotiate. As a child foxhunting in my homeland in Ireland, we would encounter a variety of challenging footing. That was easy going compared to what I have witnessed so far on endurance “training rides,” as they are referred to.  To effectively protect Patrick’s feet, he was just shod (12 days out) with “sneakers,” which absorb concussion, protect the sole and assist with traction. Riders carry an easy boot in case a shoe gets cast on the ride.

Patrick's sneakers

Appropriate and comfortably fitting tack is essential. I will be riding in the extremely comfortable, lightweight and performance-enhancing Voltaire Palm Beach saddle. My pad of choice is, of course, a ThinLine pad. ThinLine has generously provided me with their lightweight and shock-absorbing pads over the years for many CCI3* and CCI4* events. Regarding bridles, Patrick will wear a simple bridle with a mild curb bit — we ride totally on the buckle — and a breastplate.

Interestingly, my other sister-in-law, Karon Dutcher, also an accomplished rider, has designed a hollow bit with holes that attaches to a tube and water bottle. This allows the rider to squirt water into the horse’s mouth while riding. Riders also carry a sponge attached by a cord to the saddle to facilitate soaking the sponge in water troughs and rivers along the way without dismounting.

Rider comfort matters too. Again, I am grateful to another sponsor, Tredstep Ireland, for outfitting me with their quality, comfortable, and high-performance  stylish riding attire. My choice is to wear items from their Symphony line. Those of you who know me know I will, of course, be riding in pearls!

Rather like our sport, a supportive team, or “crew” as endurance riders call it, is essential. After the initial pre-ride vet inspection — similar to the first horse inspection in event, although less formal — there are several mandatory vet checks along the ride. Should a horse be deemed unsound, not meet the respiration and pulse rates — determined based primarily on weather — he or she will be “pulled,” or eliminated. Just like in eventing, all decisions are made in the best interest of the horse.

Another view of Patrick's sneaker

At the vet checks, a crew is waiting ready to cool the horse, hydrate, feed, and check legs and shoes. Unlike eventing, some of these vet checks are in the middle of the night, so a dedicated, committed crew is essential. My crew will be led by my husband, Ken. He won the most the coveted Best Conditioned Award at a former Virginia City ride. Ken also is a Tevis Cup finisher, so I am extremely relieved that Patrick will have a top notch crew to help him.

Like eventing, a multitude of things can occur in training and on the day. Certainly, it’s a sport with many ups and downs, so it’s important to enjoy the journey and listen to your horse. The winning horse is the first one to cross the finish line while stopping periodically to pass vet checks that ensure the horse is sound and ” fit to continue.” However, the motto of the American Endurance Riders Conference is “to finish is to win.”

I am just looking forward to the ride and consider it a privilege to get to participate. I know I will be challenged from a dressage standpoint, as I will need to be supple, balanced, and clear and light with my aids. From a cross-country perspective, I will need to be brave — while riding in the dark on unfamiliar and grueling terrain and climbing and descending 7,800 feet! — and make sensible decisions regarding pace and speed. From a show-jumping standpoint, I will need to re-mount after short rests and be effective in getting my friend Patrick mentally and physically back in the game.

Although I have ridden around Rolex, Burghley, Pau and Adelaide, I do believe that this ride will be a challenge for me. I am looking forward to sharing with you the details about the ride later this month. As my mentor and friend William Micklem says, “Onwards!”

An Ode to Woman Power

Bug and I before our first Advanced cross country at Southern Pines last year. Photo by Jordan Armstrong.

Recently, I lost one of my aunts to cancer.  She had been battling it valiantly for quite awhile, but cancer is mean, and it doesn’t give up easily. It seems that when life takes a dive, I sit back and reflect. There have been so many strong women in my life. Nothing against the men in my life, but I have found that the majority of the people who have helped to mold and shape my life have been women.

My mom is a truly amazing woman. She worked incredibly hard at her job for 35 years or so, and she never complained about it. She tried very hard to keep me on the straight and narrow, and she was not afraid to set me straight if I needed it. She pushed me to follow my dreams and do what would make me happy. (Dad definitely had a lot to do with it, too!)

Many ask me how I got started with horses, as neither of my parents are particularly “horsey” people. That role fell to my twin aunts, Brenda and Glenda. They’re my father’s sisters, and they are the ones that started it all. They both have had horses all of their lives, and they had me on a horse at six months of age. I fell in love and never looked back. I have been horse crazy for as long as I can remember, and I couldn’t wait to go to their houses in the hopes that I might get to ride.

The next big chapter in my life came with the addition of Jacki Rutledge of Rutledge Horse and Cattle Company in Spring Grove, Pa. I started taking riding lessons with Jacki when I was 8 years old. I wanted so badly to ride western like my aunts, but Jacki told me that if I couldn’t ride in an English saddle first, I had no business being on a horse. She is a great horsewoman that loves each and every one of the many horses at her farm.

I rode with Jacki until I went off to college at 18. My first horse, Colby, the cutest black Quarter Horse-Morgan cross, came from her.  Colby and I did everything together: western pleasure, English pleasure, halter classes and even pleasure driving. I worked for Jacki every summer and every Saturday during the my entire time riding with her. She taught me so much about horse care. I wasn’t one of those kids that boarded my horse somewhere and knew nothing about his care. I worked hard, and I learned a ton.

Unfortunately, my first stint at college didn’t go well, due to a lot of unforeseen blips in my life. I took some time off from college and lost my way a bit. I still had a driving passion to ride horses, but there were so many other things going on around me. When I was 21, I was working at the local hospital in the radiology department. My job was to sort the x-rays and hang them in the reading room for the radiologists.

It’s funny how life can lead you to the people you need to meet. One of the doctors there was a small woman with a ton of personality. Dr. Desiree Lerro is also another strong horsewoman. She had been a jockey from 1972 to 1982, and then went on to become a doctor. She also runs her own sporthorse breeding facility, Echo Knoll Farm. She quickly learned of my passion for horses and my dreams.

She helped me out a lot with the OTTB I had at the time, Mr. Lincoln.I had decided that I wanted to delve into the world of dressage and eventing, but I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Desi helped me a lot in getting Abe to understand dressage and how to use himself. She was also instrumental in convincing me to go back to college to get my equestrian degree.

Enter Wilson College. Wilson was an all women’s liberal arts college at the time that I attended, and it was full of strong women. During my time there, Annette Gavin of Hastilow Competition Saddles, was one of the main riding instructors and classroom professors in the equestrian department. She played a huge role in teaching me about eventing.

I had never jumped before I went to college, and Annette is the one that got me started. She guided me in my pursuits and really helped me to learn to train a horse. She was instrumental in taking me from a greenie over jumps to jumping 4-foot courses by the time I graduated three-and-a-half years later. I still had a ton to learn, but she definitely laid the groundwork for my future.

After college, I ended up finding my way to the next influential woman in my life, Kim Severson. The first time I rode with her in a clinic, I gained so much knowledge. I knew then that this was someone I needed to ride with as much as I could. Her farm is more than four hours from me, but I did my best to get to her as much as I could. She was instrumental in starting me down the road from a training-level rider (and not a great one, at that!) to my first CCI2*.

Kim saw that I had a horse full of potential, but that I needed a lot of guidance to take him where he needed to go. Unfortunately, due to the distance between us, it became difficult to get as much help as I needed at the upper levels. However, she still plays a large role in my competition coaching, and she always has insightful things to say about my riding that keep me thinking and moving forward.

Realizing that I needed more help closer to home, I started the search for my next coach. Enter Bonnie Mosser. Bonnie has been an amazing help to me. Not only has she helped me to bring Bug up through the three-star level, but she has taught me so much about bringing along my young horses and running my business. Her insight into the eventing world and riding has been paramount to my success.

When things don’t go as planned, Bonnie is always there to help me make a new plan and to think things through. Her outlook on life has definitely helped to mold and shape how I am approaching my riding and business. Her influence has also helped me to remember that there is more to life than just riding. We have to have a bit of fun too!

Finally, I can’t forget to add the person who first got behind me with sponsorship. Susan Snider, owner of Snider’s Elevator, a feed mill/store extraordinaire, in Lemasters, Pa., has worked very hard to turn a small, family-owned feed mill into the bustling business that it is today. She knows firsthand just how hard you have to work to make things happen, and she has taught me a lot about running a business.

In my short 32 years, there have already been eight amazing, strong women in my equine career. This doesn’t begin to count the many others that have affected my life in some way, shape or form. Though all of these women taught me about horses and riding, I believe that they also taught me about life. I believe it is my job to pay it forward and be a strong woman and good influence to other young women. I wish that every young woman could have as many great influences in their life as I have had.

RRTP: From Sexy to Hotty

 

PrettyHippHopHotty competing in her first Novice at the Carolina Horse Park. Photo by High Time Photography

Unfortunately, with horses, things don’t always go as planned.  As I’ve been talking about in my previous blogs, Sexy’s feet just haven’t been holding up well to life off the track.  She has been out of work more than she has been in work, and I keep trying to figure out a way to get her back in the game.  However, I think that what is best for Sexy is some time off to just allow her feet to grow and get stronger.  We are doing everything we can to help her feet, but as all horse people know, with hooves, you just have to wait.  I just don’t feel comfortable pushing her because I’m under the clock.

I have spoken with Steuart about my concerns, and he has decided to break the rules in my case.  There are only 34 days left before the big Symposium, which doesn’t really give me much time to get a new horse and give them the down time they need before starting work.  In light of this, I am going to be bringing my horse,PrettyHippHopHotty, as my Makeover horse.  I have had her for about a year, but she has only been in real work for about 10 months.  This will give people a chance to see how an OTTB might progress after a bit more time in retraining.

Hotty stretching before a lesson. She has such presence.

PrettyHippHopHotty, lovingly known as Hotty, (I know, how do I find the mares with the fun names?) is a 2007 TB mare by Bowman’s Band out of She’s Pretty Too who is by Housebuster.  She is a 16.3 chestnut mare with a blaze and a right hind coronet.  She is a big mare with a lot of presence and a kind eye.  I am absolutely in love with her!  She reminds me a lot of Win the War (my Advanced event horse) in body style and intelligence.  She has a bit of diva attitude, but we have learned to communicate on the same wavelength.

I have a good relationship with Jodie Pointer of Cabin Creek TB Rescue.  I went to her place one day to pick up a resale project.  As I was walking down the aisle, this big beautiful redhead with a blaze stuck her head out of her stall.  It was love at first sight!  I immediately asked Jodie about her, and she told me her story.  Hotty had been having some foot soreness issues when she would run, so she was there for some time off.  A week or so later, Jodie called me with the news that the owners had decided that Hotty could come to me after one more race.  I was thrilled!

A month or so later, I went to pick up my new girl.  It turns out that the owners decided not to risk running her again when they had finally gotten her sound.  I was beyond elated.

Hanging on for the 8 second ride when she first started jumping. Photo by Alice VanBokkelen.

Due to Hotty’s feet issues and things going on in life, I turned her out for about 3 months or so before she started working.  She had a lot of tightness issues in her body from racing.  She carried herself very stiffly and was not a fan of much leg or connection.  She was afraid to walk over poles on the ground, much less think about jumping anything. Once she finally figured out how to jump over things, she would land and give me 8 seconds of fun on the landing side.

Hotty in the dressage at Full Gallop Farm. Photo by Jan Taylor.

With a lot of patience and a good bodywork person (Kathryn Schiess of The Perfect Ride Equine Bodywork), Hotty is finally coming into her own.  Her movement has improvement ten fold, and her jump just keeps getting better and better.  She is successfully competing at the Novice level with big hopes to be going Training by the end of the season.

So, with just over 30 days left in the Makeover, I will post pictures and video of Hotty’s progress.

Here are some videos of her from the past few months:

Growing Up

Bug ears at Millbrook!

 

I have always been competitively natured.  All through school I played team sports, and the drive to win was something I felt in full force.  I am also a very emotional person by nature, so combined with the will to win, I could get pretty upset when things didn’t go my way.  It usually took me a day or two to come out of my wallowing and assess what actually happened.  If I made a mistake and cost the team the win, I would beat myself up about it for weeks.

Now that I am older and have been through a lot of ups and downs, I have found that I am starting to learn to cope with disappointment a lot better than I used to.  I still have a very high drive to win and do well, and I am definitely hard on myself when I do not perform as I had hoped, but I am now able to use these things to analyze the situation rather than wallow.

This past weekend was my first time at Millbrook.  Bug and I haven’t run Advanced since February, and before that, Bromont was our last run at the big time.  This was going to be a big weekend, as it was a good test to see if Bug and I had our “A” game on.  I have been working hard on all three phases, as I no longer want to just go and complete at Advanced, I want to be competitive.

Unfortunately, this weekend was not ours.  In hindsight, I think the long trip took more out of Bug than I had thought it would.  Being only his second run back, his fitness level was not where I needed it.  He was just not the horse I am used to this weekend.  Of course, it is my job as the rider to take the reins and help him through.  I take full credit for our less than stellar performance this weekend.  I needed to step in and help him when he needed it, and at times, I dropped the ball.

We started the weekend with mediocre dressage.  Now, I am definitely one to admit that dressage is difficult for us as a team, but I have been working hard to improve our scores steadily.  Unfortunately, Bug was a bit more tense than normal, and I am still figuring out how to push for what I want without making him worse.

I was excited to get on to the jumping, as that is what comes more naturally to us both.  The XC course was causing a lot of issues, and I am definitely happy to have gotten around.  Honestly, it was probably one of my most positive rides on him.  I tend to freeze up at times and not keep kicking.  Besides one moment of freezing, I think the rest of the course went quite well for us.   My moment came on the back hill at the two angled cabins.  We jumped in great and the distance was right there, but I never really kicked Bug off the ground with my right leg.  Normally, when Bug sees the flags, he is going.  However, this moment, he had an uncharacteristic run out.  I was so mad at myself for allowing it to happen, but he came around and jumped great to finish.  Honestly, I think it was a bit of a blessing, as it made me buckle down and ride positively the rest of the way around.

The worst part of the weekend came on Sunday.  Bug is normally an amazing show jumper.  He usually likes to add quite a bit of air above the fences.  However, when we came out Sunday morning, he just didn’t feel like he usually does.  He was tired and not pinging off the ground.  Mentally, I panicked a bit.  Where was my superstar?  After jumping the first two fences, I totally blanked on where I needed to go, as I was so discombobulated about Bug not feeling like he always does.  This loss of direction cost us a circle and things just kept going downhill.  We ended up with three rails after that.  He is not a horse that normally has one rail, much less three.

There is definitely a huge growing up process that comes with this sport.  If you want to play with the big guns and do well, you have to know how to not only prepare your horse physically, but you have to learn to prepare yourself physically and mentally.  Learning to think fast and have the body strength and balance to act on it is one of the most important skills needed in this sport.  Not only have I taken away what I need to work on when riding Bug, but I have a lot of things to work on off the horse as well.

It is hard for me not to come home and wallow.  However, I know that I have only a few weeks until our next run, and I need to take advantage of every second.    We may not have had the outcome we wanted this time around, but we will be working hard and coming out swinging at the next event!

 

Puzzle Pieces: My Newest Blog for RRTP

Training horses has always been like a puzzle to me.  I have an image in my head of what I want the final product to look like, and I work at putting the pieces together to get there.  Unlike a real puzzle, sometimes that final image can change, but I am always working with the pieces.  Sometimes, the pieces even change shape.

The puzzle consists of more than just the actual training.  When horses come off the track, they tend to go through a phase of readjusting to their new lives.  Many are kept in stalls at the track for years, so they have no clue how to go outside and be a “real” horse.  They are exposed to elements, other horses, grass, bugs, etc.  Also, the diet of most racehorses is so vastly different from what we feed sporthorses.  Our farrier work is even different.  Health concerns play a huge role in the puzzle.  A trainer must figure out what works best for each horse and realize that sometimes things look worse before they get better.

Since Sexy has arrived here, I have made a lot of changes in her life.  It took her awhile before she would eat my feed, as I feed non-molasses based feeds from ADM Alliance Nutrition.  Everything I feed is very high fat, but it is not like eating the candy from the track, I am sure.  Between changing her feed and turning her out 24/7, Sexy did lose some weight.  Again, this is part of the puzzle.  I have had many off the track horses drop weight before they put it back on.  Every time, I have a bit of a panic attack that I am doing something wrong.  However, after a few months, they start to pick weight back up and look healthy and glowing. Their bodies just need time to go through the shock of such a big change in their lives.  Some horses deal with it better than others.

I am excited to announce that Omega Alpha supplements has joined Sexy’s team, and I am eager to see how all of their supplements help get Sexy back on track nutritionally.

Another piece to the puzzle has been skin care.  We have been having a rain forest wet summer.  The mud is abounding and all of the horses are suffering from rain rot.  Constant baths with anti-fungals are a daily chore.  Sexy has been a victim of this annoying problem.  This is another puzzle piece that looks worse before it looks better.  I must say, she is looking a bit sad right now, but I think we are on the road to getting everything cleared up.

When Sexy arrived here, she was a sweet, laid back girl with a bit of a herd bound problem.  She was low mare on the totem pole in the field.  Over the past few months, Sexy has changed her attitude completely.  She was turned out in my back field with about 4 other mares.  She would come in to work and then go back out.  During this time, Sexy managed to completely take over the herd.  She is the smallest mare, but she turned into top dog.  My working students would joke that Sexy had become feral.

This was not a puzzle piece I had even planned to deal with!  Sexy has now been moved to a stall and is being turned out at night.  I was worried about her hurting herself or the other mares, as she really had found her mare ‘tude.  Also, I was concerned that her trainability would suffer.  Since moving to the barn, she has changed a lot.  She is back to her old, laid back self, and she is much less attached to the other horses.

Due to the excess of rain, I haven’t been able to do as much arena work with Sexy as I had hoped I would be doing by now.  However, she is getting more and more confident on her hacks, and she is understanding lunging in side reins more and more.  I did have a few days that I did some flatwork with her in the arena.  She was quite good.  On the last day in the arena, we did some trot poles and even a small crossrail, and she handled it all like a champ.

While some of the puzzle pieces have changed, I am confident that I am still on the right track to the final picture in my head.

A Rocky Start in Breeding

Pine Island Girl (TB), and her filly, Fuerst Fury, on day one

Many people ask me how my farm, Rocky Start Stables, got its name.  I came up with the name in my business class in college.  We had to write a business plan, and it was the name I chose.  I planned to do a lot of retraining of off the track Thoroughbreds (funny how I stuck with that plan!) and it just seemed like a fun play on words.  However, when the real world threw me into starting my own farm, it seemed even more apt.  My husband had land that had been in his family, and we had to start from the ground up.  Rocky Start just seemed to fit.

Fuerst Rendition, 2004 Hanoverian stallion, competing in the Prelim at Full Gallop. Photo by HoofClix

Besides riding, training, and teaching, there is a bit of breeding going on at Rocky Start.  In 2008, I was given the chance to obtain an extremely well bred 2004 Hanoverian stallion, Fuerst Rendition.  He is the only US bred son of Fuerst Heinrich, winner of the 2003 World Dressage Young Horse Championships in Germany.  Fuerst Heinrich passed away at the age of 7, so his offspring are difficult to find.  The catch to this great opportunity: The stallion was 4 years old, unbroken, and possibly unsound.  Did I really want to take the chance?

Renn and I working on our dressage. Photo by [email protected]

Fuerst Rendition, or Renn, had been stepped on by his mother.  His left hind fetlock had to be reconstructed at Virginia Tech, and he was only given a 15% chance of ever being sound.  When I met him as a 4 year old, he was a gangly boy and not much to look at.  He did, however, move beautifully.  I was concerned about taking a stallion that was unable to prove himself performance wise.  He had the bloodlines and the movement, but what if I couldn’t get him sound?  Luckily, the owners had bred 3 mares to him, and they offered me their best mare.  If I had one foal as a start, maybe I could get his name out there…slowly.

Furest Love, owned by Catherine Schumak, by Renn and out of a TB mare, winning the 3yo FEH at The Ark last fall. Photo by Jordan Armstrong.

To make a long story short, I turned Renn out on a hill for about 6 months before trying to bring him into work.  A friend and I broke him to drive first.  We had him pulling a tire and rim all over the place to try to build his hind end strength.  This seemed to be the key, as I got him going under saddle a few months later.  He has some issues with his hips being uneven, due to his hind fetlock being bigger than the other.  I just have to keep him managed with body work.  I don’t know if he will ever be able to physically deal with a big career in eventing, but I do know, he makes some beautiful babies.

My lovely TB mare, Pine Island Girl, dam of Fuerst Fury.

Breeding has definitely been an eye opening experience for me.  There is a lot to it, and it is a risky business.  On July 10th, it will be coming up on a year since I lost my first baby girl, Mia.   I still tear up every time I think about her, and I pray that I will not have to go through something like that again.  Although, as every breeder tells me, it’s part of the game.  If you want to make the fabulous ones, you have to deal with a lot of heartache.

Twiggy and Ellie Mae, happy to be home.

Life definitely has a funny way of working out.  After I lost Mia’s mother, I was a bit gun shy of breeding for myself.  For a few years, Renn bred a bunch of outside mares, but I was too afraid to breed for myself.  Finally, a week before I lost Mia, I took my favorite mare, Pine Island Girl (lovingly known as Ellie Mae), to Greystone Veterinary Services to be bred to Renn.   On July 6th, I brought Ellie Mae home with the hope that she was pregnant.

Another of Renn's babies, Fuerst Encounter, owned by Jamie Linscott, pictured as a yearling, out of a paint mare.

It has been a long year, hoping and praying that the pregnancy would go well.  I made the decision months ago that Ellie Mae would be going back to Greystone to foal out.  I wanted to be sure she was in the best hands possible.   On June 6th, 8 days early, Ellie Mae gave birth to a beautiful, leggy filly.  Everything went well, and mama and foal are doing great.  After a lot of thought, I have decided to name my new little girl, Fuerst Fury (lovingly known as Twiggy for her long legs!).  She is gorgeous, well put together, and very friendly.

Twiggy again.

I do not plan to have a huge breeding business, but I definitely enjoy bringing along the babies.  I have another TB mare, Miss Ten Oaks, bred to Renn for a fall baby that I am very excited about.  Renn’s progeny all seem to be stamped with his lovely movement, laid back personality, intelligence, and his beautiful head.  The oldest group is just turning 4, and I am excited to follow their progress.  Being someone who does not have a lot of funding, it is nice to know that I have the chance to produce my own special horses.  I still plan to keep bringing along OTTB’s, as that is a big passion of mine, but I think it will be fun to have some purpose bred horses to bring along as well.

Miss Ten Oaks, aka Oakley, is bred to Renn for an October 2013 baby.

 

It’s All About The Horse

Bug and I competing in the Advanced at Pine Top this spring. Photo by Hoofclix.

Many of you have been following my journey with my amazing horse, Win the War (aka Bug), since we made the big move up to Advanced last spring. For those that are new to our story, I have ridden all of my life, but I didn’t start jumping until about 10 years ago. I acquired Bug in 2005 from Charles Town Racetrack as a 4 year old. He hadn’t done well at the track, and I was excited to start him in his new career of eventing. Little did I know, seven years later, we would be competing in our first Advanced.

We competed at the Advanced level last year with pretty good results. We went on to the CCI*** at Bromont, where my piloting error caused us to jump outside of the flags at a corner. He jumped around three-fourths of the course like a star, so I know he has what it takes. Due to life throwing some wrenches at me unrelated to Bug, I decided to compete at the Intermediate level last fall to try to really fill in the holes.

This spring, we came out with a bang, and I was feeling really excited about the season. Unfortunately, after Pine Top, Bug popped a splint and has been out the spring season. However, he is BACK and feeling great. I have our schedule all mapped out (in pencil, of course), and I am hoping that with the amazing Bonnie Mosser’s help, we will be ready to rock and roll this fall.

Syndication is a term that is being tossed around a lot in our industry these days. It is a way for people to get involved in the sport and help riders follow their dreams. It isn’t a way for people to make money, by any means, but there are a lot of people out there that just want to be a part of something big. To own a piece of an upper level horse is a really cool way for people to live out their dreams through someone else.  There are a lot of options available, and every syndication is a bit different.

For me, syndication could be a great way to help with Bug’s yearly expenses.  Syndication is not only about being involved with the horse, but it is about supporting and backing a rider that one believes in.  I am an up and coming rider with big dreams.  I know that there are a lot of us out there. Do I tend to put all of the spotlight on Bug? Yes. He is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime horse. However, I must remember that I have brought him along from just being off the track. I have spent countless hours building the relationship that we have. I have worked hard to get where I am. Am I perfect? No. Do I have a lot to learn? Heck yes. Taking all of that into account, though, I am doing my best to educate myself constantly. I sit on a lot of horses every day and am using every minute to try to become better.

During my research into syndication, some people had some very blunt advice for me.  I have been told that no one will want to invest in me, as Bug and I have had so few Advanced runs. I have been told that I am silly to even talk about “The Team” and myself in the same sentence. I have been told that I should sell Bug to fund the rest of my career. I have been told that it is all about the rider in this business, not just one horse. At first, I wanted to take these things personally. However, after the dust settled, I realized that these people are truly trying to give me good business advice. All of these things may, in fact, be true. Sometimes, though, you have to balance what everyone else is saying and fighting for your dreams.

To me, this sport IS about the horse. To say anything contrary to that seems silly in my mind. Each and every big-named rider has had one horse that has really sent them to the top. The good riders go on to produce more, but just getting one horse to the top is no small feat. I have other horses coming up through the ranks, but I am trying to be fair to every horse I sit on. I don’t want to push them too quickly just to make a name for myself. I realize that we are in a results-oriented world. However, how many riders do you know that have AMAZING talent, but they just aren’t sitting on the right horses? Does it make them any less stellar of a rider? The horse is a very important part of this game we play.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about horsemanship.  Arrows have been flying at riders that are putting qualifications before the best interest of the horse.  It seems ironic to me that some of the people telling me that the business is all about the rider, not the horse, are some of the same people criticizing riders for putting the RIDER before the HORSE.  To me, everything about this sport is about the horse.  Sound business practices are definitely important.  I understand that people won’t want to invest in me or my horses if I don’t make wise choices and give them a reason to want to invest.

I have not decided 100% on what I want to do.  Honestly, it scares me to sell any part of Bug, as he is THAT horse for me.  I will continue to work hard and try to improve my riding on a daily basis.  If I find that there are, in fact, people out there willing to invest in Bug and me, then I would love to share my dreams with them. Coming up with syndicate benefits is something I plan to do; I am thinking hard about what I have to offer.   I am willing to be as invested in his syndicate as they are in us.   Maybe I won’t make it in this game because of my outlook, but I am sure going to try!

Some Random Rules for Buying and Selling Horses

I love making good matches. This is Public Scandal and his little girl, Anna. I helped her parents surprise her with him this past Christmas.

Being an up-and-coming professional is pretty difficult in our business.  Selling horses is one of the best ways for me to keep my business alive.  I am not interested in being a “horse trader,” and I try very hard to train each horse fairly without pushing them just so I can get them sold quickly.  I am interested in getting them going well, so that they will be successful in their future homes.  Making good matches is something I love doing.

Throughout my time dealing with sales horses, I have made up my own set of rules that I think everyone should consider.

 

For Sellers:

1.  Be HONEST!  There are so many stories of horrible experiences in the sales world.  Lying only gives you a bad name, and it could put the horse and the buyer in a bad position at a later date.   So many horses are misrepresented, and it just makes people more and more untrusting of sellers.  My biggest pet peeve: Stick your horse and be honest about its height!  I often say that most of the horse industry has no idea of exactly how tall their horses are.   We’ve been told for so long that 16 hands is really 16.2, that our concept of true size has been lost.

2.  Return e-mails/phone calls promptly.  This is a buyer’s market.  If you wait around and don’t reply, the buyer will just move on to someone who will.  If you are serious about selling, be serious about following up.

3.  Represent your horse as best you can.  I know that it can be difficult to get good photos and video.  Trust me, I struggle with this myself.  However, picking a photo where the horse is jumping horribly over their shoulder or standing placidly in the field is just not a good way to draw in buyers.  Even if the horse in question is not in work, at least clean it up and stand it up for a good conformation shot.  Buyers do not want to waste their time traveling to try a horse.  If you don’t represent it well in your ad, your horse will never get  a chance.

4.  Be open minded.  There are people out there who are a good match to your horse.  However, they may not have the exact amount of money that you are asking.  If the match seems like a good one, be open to REASONABLE offers.  I am definitely a seller who will bend my asking amount a bit if it means that the horse is going to the perfect home.  Yes, selling horses is about making money, but to me, it’s also about doing what’s best for the horse.

 

For Buyers:

1.  Be realistic and fair.  If your budget is $1500, people asking $5,000 are probably not open to your offer.  Granted, some people have no real idea of what their horse is worth.  However, it is not very respectful to e-mail someone with a $5,000 horse to ask if they will take $1500.  I understand that it is a buyer’s market, but without ever having seen the horse, this can be upsetting to sellers.  I am much more willing to negotiate some on the price if I have seen the horse with the buyer.  Again, I realize that I would be even more frustrated if the buyer did not inform me of their low budget and came to try the horse before springing it on me.  I think, for the most part, it is safe to say that buyers should research horses within $1,000 of their budget.

2.  Be open-minded.  There is no perfect color and their is no perfect height.  There are some mares in the world who are not evil!  The trend toward gigantic horses astounds me.  I am 5’9″ and Bug is 16 hands.  We do just fine.  A smaller horse with a bigger barrel will sometimes fit a taller rider than a tall horse that is narrow.  Though I am partial to redheads, I am open to any color.  Do I want to spend hours scrubbing a grey horse?  Not particularly.  Am I going to pass on an exceptional horse because it’s grey?  No.  I have always been a gelding person, but I must say, my farm is full of mares right now, and they are all amazing girls.  I think it’s easy to pass over a great horse because our minds are closed to certain things.

3.  Respond to e-mails/phone calls promptly.  If the seller has taken the time to get back to you quickly, please be respectful and do the same.  I realize that life gets busy.  If that happens, try to at least drop a quick line to say you will get back to them soon.

4.  If you have requested pics, info, video, and the seller responds, please acknowledge that you got them.  I send out info all of the time and never hear one word back from the buyer.  If you don’t like the horse, please respond respectfully stating that you are not interested or don’t think it would be a good match.  The seller won’t be upset that you don’t like the horse, and they will appreciate that you took the time to respond when they took the time to give you the info you wanted.

5.  Be honest.  When you are talking with the seller about what you need in a horse, don’t embellish.  Good sellers really want to make a good match.  They need to know exactly how well you ride and what you are interested in doing with the horse.  It is fair to everyone involved if you are up front from the beginning.

I think this little set of rules helps everyone involved in the buying/selling business.  I am sure there are many other rules out there that I haven’t listed.

What rules do you have for buying and selling horses, Eventing Nation??