Kim Bradley
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Kim Bradley

Achievements

About Kim Bradley

I'm a children's novelist (yes, published--16 and counting--go ahead and Google me) whose first byline came in The Chronicle of the Horse in 1987. It earned me $25, which I probably spent on a riding lesson. I _typed_ my first novel manuscript (never published) on an electric typewriter; my writing career predates the internet by a good bit, which probably makes me the dinosaur of EN bloggers. Or the Wise Crone, take your pick. I have a stunningly gorgeous husband who's glad I ride, because it means he doesn't have to feel guilty about the money or time he spends golfing, and two very tall near-adult children, neatly divided between my husband's passion and mine. I event because I may be menopausal but I'm still badass, and my lovely horse, The Good Ship Sarah, is wicked good. I also hunt with a pack that requires members to carry small plastic dinosaurs in their waistcoat pockets to prevent them from taking themselves too seriously. I have more horses than stalls, a decreasing number of cats, a cute fluffy dog who gets away with murder, and an elderly incontinent terrier. Besides horses I love books and yarn; if you see someone knitting while she walks her cross-country course, that's probably me. The enclosed photo is me knitting a sock before cross country at the 2012 Olympic Games. I wasn't kidding.

Eventing Background

USEA Rider Profile Click to view profile
Area 3
Highest Level Competed Training
Farm Name Clarion Farm
Trainer Karen O'Connor (yes, really!) Cathy Wieschhoff and Caroline McClung

Latest Articles Written

#TBT: How To Ride an Ostrich (2011)

Each Thursday we take a trip down memory lane to a favorite EN post from over the years. This week's comes from Kim Bradley, a longtime EN friend and contributor, who wrote about her experience riding an ostrich. Wylie explains why it's one of her favorite EN posts of all time: "Not only is riding an ostrich a secret fantasy of mine, Kim's description is brilliantly hilarious. The first eight paragraphs of this story comparing horses and ostriches ... I can't even." Originally published on Feb. 17, 2011, we think it's as fun a read today as it was back then. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Kim Bradley. Photo courtesy of Kim Bradley.

The first thing to know is that riding an ostrich is nothing like riding a horse. But a quick side-by-side comparison, horse vs. ostrich, will show you why they are different.

Look into a horse’s eyes. You might see affection, indifference, loathing, fear–whatever it is, you’ll see something. You’ll sense that somewhere behind those eyes there’s a functioning brain, making decisions that might occasionally be described as rational.

Look into a ostrich’s eyes, and you’ll be able to check your hairdo. That’s about it. Gram for gram I don’t think ostriches’ brains are that much smaller than horses’, but ostriches clearly have a lot less neurons firing.

Look at the horse’s neck. Nice and sturdy, with all that handy mane to grab.

Look at the ostrich’s neck. If you have any doubts about its flimsiness, give it a little push. The neck will coil away from you like a large and hairy snake. Nothing to hang onto there.

Look at the horse’s legs. Four of ’em. One on each corner. Kind of comforting, really.

Ostrich, two legs. Not as good.

In fact, riding an ostrich is remarkably like riding a pencil-necked two-hundred-and-fifty pound chicken. For all that, I was very keen to give it a go.

We were in Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of South Africa. Located inland from Mossel Bay near gently rolling mountains, the town was originally settled by–I was surprised at this, too–Latvian Jews. They all speak Afrikaans now. (The drugstore in Oudtshoorn, manned entirely by white people, was also the one place in all of South Africa where I absolutely could not make my English-speaking self understood.) Ostriches were farmed here starting in the late 1800s, because of the demand for ostrich feathers to decorate ladies’ hats. Before World War I and the invention of the automobile, prime ostrich feathers were worth their weight in gold.

Now, however, ostriches are prized for their meat and their skin, which makes a remarkably beautiful (and expensive)leather. The ostrich farms cater to tourists; at ours we began with a lovely meal of ostrich fillet (tastes like beef, not chicken) and red South African wine. We moved on to petting ostriches, admiring paddocks of foot-high baby ostriches, and learning about ostrich development in general. Next our hostess escorted our group to a small paddock, and that’s where the real fun began.

The ostriches aren’t trained to be ridden. There’s no saddle, no reins, no attempt at or semblance of control.

The farm staff turned a half dozen ostriches loose into the paddock, where they milled about randomly the way ostriches do. A staff member grabbed one and threw a cloth bag over its head. Apparently doing that confuses ostriches into temporary docility. The men pushed the bagged ostrich up against the board fence of the paddock, lifted the ostrich’s wings, and told me to climb aboard.

I won’t ride a horse without a helmet, pants, and sturdy leather shoes, but I rode my ostrich in capris and a sun hat.

The ostrich’s body was thinner and smaller than that of my daughter’s small pony. Its feathers were wonderfully soft, and for a moment I worried about crushing them. (The ones on the body aren’t the valuable ones–and anyway, the days of ostrich plumes are long past.) As instructed, I hooked my legs over the ostrich’s knees, which are right up by its body. (Think about the legs on a roast chicken. No, flip it over, legs pointing down. See? I tucked my feet right around the chicken thighs–only on the ostrich, of course.) I grabbed the wing pits. I leaned back.

The man yanked the bag off the ostrich’s head. The ostrich exploded. With only two legs, ostriches can’t buck, which was dead useful. My ostrich skittered instead, ping-ponging back and forth around the small paddock, scattering the other ostriches into a sort of cascading hysteria. It took considerable will to maintain my grip on the wingpits and not fasten my hands around its neck instead. After all, that’s where the mane should be. But I’m pretty sure that strangling the ostrich was not in my best interests just then.

I figure I managed eight seconds, like a bull rider. I didn’t fall off, but I didn’t actually dismount, either. With a lapful of wings, my only real option was to slide straight backward, into the supporting grasp of two of the staff members, who were laughing themselves silly at the screeching white woman on the bird.

It’s hard to call it riding. But I sat on the back of a galloping ostrich, and by golly I had fun.

Not Getting My Act Together

Photo by Dene Masengill-Jones. Please note lack of flash, logo saddle pad, and corn. Photo by Dene Masengill-Jones. Please note lack of flash, logo saddle pad, and corn.

I have this persistent fantasy in which I get my act together.

In which my office desk is not one great sliding pile of very important papers, in which my stack of books to read immediately numbers less than 100, in which the laundry is done, folded and put away all on the same day, the barn is pristine and I don’t ignore my home improvement projects in favor of my to-read pile.

My husband thinks many of these problems would solve themselves if only someone could block my access to Amazon.com. But I digress.

Yesterday I coped with the weight of my responsibilities by taking the day off to go foxhunting. Even there it was obvious to the casual observer that I am not quite all together.

To start with: the time schedule. Hounds would be cast at 10 am. I would need to be mounted by 9:45. It should take me 15 minutes to unload my horse, put my boots and jacket on, and tack the horse. It should take one hour and ten minutes for me to drive to the venue.

I pulled out of the driveway at 8:23 am.

Astute mathematical minds will note that I was already three minutes behind. Horse people will note that I was in trouble: either I’d not given myself any extra time, or I’d already used it up before pulling out of the driveway.

With horses, you have to allow extra time. Things go wrong. The horse decides it would be very amusing to run from you in the pasture. The horse decides it would be very amusing to roll in mud. The horse steps on its own lead and breaks its halter, and you have to find another halter that fits the horse–it will of course be the oddest-sized horse in the barn–before you load. The horse decides it would be very amusing to refuse to get onto the trailer.

Not that any of those have ever happened to me.

Anyway, the biggest problem with yesterday morning was that I didn’t pack the trailer the night before. Every horse person knows to do this, but still I didn’t. I merrily threw a bunch of tack and my mare–both clean enough for a Thursday–onto the trailer and set out late because I’d wanted another cup of coffee.

I drove fast and got there mostly on time, unloaded the horse, tied her to the trailer, and put my boots and jacket on. (I was already wearing the rest of my gear, stock tie, pin, etc.) My hunting license was in my jacket pocket, as was my plastic dinosaur, talisman of our hunt, so I felt pretty good. I’d remembered my hair nets, too.

I began tacking up. Unfortunately, my daughter and I both have the same brand of girth for our jumping saddles. The difference is that hers is 3″ shorter. You can guess which one I had with me. I tugged and pulled and Sarah rolled her eyes and snorted.

In desperation I removed the riser pad, and then, in further desperation, took off my fluffy fitted foxhunting saddle pad and rooted in the trailer for something thinner. I ended up with a square white baby pad with logos embroidered on both sides.

This is not foxhunting appropriate. On the other hand, neither is riding without a girth.

Then it turned out the flash noseband had fallen off my bridle. Flash nosebands aren’t really hunt appropriate either, but I still wasn’t happy to have lost mine. Then I reached into the trailer tack room to grab my hunt whip, and it wasn’t hanging in its spot. I belatedly recalled that I’d moved it into the barn before our final horse trial.

In our hunt you are permitted to ride without a hunt whip, which has a crooked handle and a four-foot long leather lash, because those suckers are expensive, but you are not permitted to hunt without something with which to whack an animal that needs whackin.’

I rooted through the trailer tack room again and came up with one of my daughter’s eventing crops, fortunately her black one and not the one striped in her colors, lime green and yellow.

By now I was late to mount up, but you could see that coming. I joined the field and murmured apologies to the master for the advertising on my wholly incorrect saddle pad. She graciously forgave me. We cast hounds, and then spent the next three hours wandering around corn fields in a howling wind.

The wind dried up all the scent and we didn’t chase a thing; Sarah did well until we got back to the trailer, when she snorted, “That’s IT?” and proceeded to kick up a fuss.

I went home and did the barn chores thoroughly and well. Then I retired to the house, thumbed through the mail, and thought about the paperwork and housework and laundry. Then I poured myself a glass of wine, got a novel, and took a long hot bath.

Maybe today I’ll get my shit together. On the other hand, today was a pretty good day.

The Best Pony Clubbers in the Whole Wide World

Walking the course at D Rally. Photo by Cindy Holmes. Walking the course at D Rally. Photo by Cindy Holmes.

I’m still trying to figure out if my pony club members are exceptional, or if I just see them that way.

A year ago I stood up at the USEA Meeting in defense of my kids. Somehow, the open town hall meeting on the future of eventing had turned into a slog against kids-these-days, and pony club kids were singled out as being lazy, disinterested, and mounted on very expensive horses they were unable to ride.

This went so against my experiences, against my children, that I got up and made some sort of speech. Looking back, I don’t remember precisely what I said or exactly why I felt compelled to say it, except that keeping my mouth shut has never been one of my virtues.

I do remember saying that based on my experience, if we want kids to be part of the eventing community, we have to offer them community. That what my pony clubbers have right now is each other, and that that has been the strongest force for good in our club.

Last year, a private donation let us bring the phenomenal Cathy Wieschhoff to our summer camp. Our camp is already the single favorite event on our calendar. The kids keep their ponies on my farm and sleep in my basement.

In the evenings I show them where the showers are, feed them, and leave them alone. The first night they goof off. The second night they work. We hold our spring rating on the third day of camp, so the second night is one giant member-directed ratings prep, with everyone not rating either quizzing or cleaning tack for those who are.

Moving the rating to camp may be the single best thing we’ve ever done, because it invests the entire club in the success of the tests. Each kid that passes is cheered and high-fived and group-hugged–and, because of that, we now have non-rating members showing up at our fall rating, too, just to pay back the love and the tack cleaning.

Anyway, here in the sticks we don’t get a lot of world-class instruction, so when Cathy came to camp my kids were on point. They were neat and prepared and respectful, and they rode hard. They loved Cathy and she loved them. At the end of camp I told them if we wanted her back we’d have to raise a bunch of money. They got busy and raised it.

Our annual fun show, which we had a couple of weeks ago, usually gives us most of our operating funds for the year.

This year, the entire membership worked as one – parents, too – from the 8-year-old who spent a long hot day resetting the trail class after each competitor to the grad student who came back just to work registration, every single family pitching in for the concessions and the former club member who judged the show for free.

We didn’t make our operating funds for the year. We made our operating funds plus Cathy Wieschhoff returning plus repaying the testing fees for our new HA and HB members. Then we sold Yankee Candles so we’d be able to do even more fun things.

A couple of my older members came to me with a plan to revamp our unmounted meetings. One of my C2s has an idea about how to best prepare our C2s, all seven of them, for the C3 rating.

Oh, and last year my club worked Rolex. Only two of them had ever been to Rolex before. Most didn’t really know what Rolex was. They do now. William Fox-Pitt tipped his hat to one of our younger members, who’d had a really crummy year up until then.

He thanked her for her work and she’ll never forget that, not as long as she lives. She went on to win her division at the D event rally. She has eventing stars in her eyes.

Best of all, as we were cleaning up from the horse show, I saw two little girls struggling to carry a heavy box between them. One of them was our newest member, just joined; the other, a child I didn’t really know. “Thank you for helping,” I said to her.

“Oh, I have to help,” she said, earnestly. “I have to work. I’m gonna be in Pony Club.”

2014: The Flip Side

Sarah arriving at UT. Photo by Kim Bradley. Sarah arriving at UT. Photo by Kim Bradley.

Up until yesterday, in the two years that I’ve owned Sarah, my big grey horse, I had never been grateful that she did not have EPM. (For the Muggles: Equine Protozoal Myelitis, a very serious neurological disease spread by, of all things, possum poop.) That changed yesterday, when we concluded a four-hour examination at the University of Tennessee Equine Rehabilitation Center by injecting her hocks. (For the Muggles: treating a problem that’s both very common and very likely to go away.)

I spent the whole rest of the night feeling ambivalent about the election returns (I regard most politicians the way I do most possums, not bothering me in any personal way but somewhat icky all the same.) and very, very grateful that Sarah did not have EPM. We are all grateful today. Even the neurologists at UT were practically giddy when they turned Sarah over to the lameness crew.

So then I decided to look at the flip side of my year:

I was down in Florida in February, riding for two weeks in beautiful weather on beautiful farms, and being trained by two of the best eventers in the business, and that I have the opportunity to do that is nothing short of amazing. When Sarah showed slight — very slight — signs of lameness, some of the best equine vets in the country happened to be right there on the farm at the time, and did a full workup, and we found the problem right away.

We were able to start treatment immediately. She immediately responded. Wow. My daughter got to join me for a few days, too, and we sang karaoke, and my daughter did not put the video on Facebook. I’m grateful for all of that.

My daughter acquitted herself well at the Pony Club National Championships. She has the quirkiest little horse in the world, and somehow they suit each other perfectly, and I’m still not sure how that happened. When I got knocked out, my daughter stepped up like a hero, keeping me from moving and also preventing the EMTs from cutting my safety vest off by showing them how it could be undone at the shoulders.

My parents were on hand, since they’d come to watch their granddaughter ride, and that meant that my mom rode in the ambulance with me, where she got to answer two questions (What happened? and Where’s Sarah?) three thousand times. My dad brought my daughter once she’d taken care of the horses (with help from one of the HM judges, whose name we never knew).

I’ve sometimes had a rocky relationship with my dad, and now I have the sweet memory of him getting a warm washcloth and washing the blood off my face while I was still semi-conscious. My mom and daughter alerted our network of family and friends, and the resulting outpouring of love was a huge comfort to me.

My nephews insisted on Facetiming me so they could see I was really okay. Our lovely Pony Club friends took care of all of our tack and then left a soft comfort-food dinner for us in our hotel room (Soft for my injured mouth.). (My poor husband and son landed from an international flight, learned that I was in an ambulance en route to the hospital, and then had to turn off their phones for two hours while they went through customs, which was agony for them, but I’m always very grateful to them, too.)

I recovered from my head injury without incident. I had been wearing a helmet. My horse was fine.

My Holston Pony Club team was bloody brilliant at their event rally; I was so, so proud.

At this most recent horse trials, it was not snowing, as it was on our farm at home. My daughter had to ride on the first anniversary of a tragedy that shook her high school community to pieces, and it was very hard, and she persevered. Her dressage sucked, but her jumping was beautiful. Not adequate — beautiful.

Best of all, I listened to my horse. She was telling me she wasn’t right, and I heard her, and I got off and called it quits. And then I was able to get help, good help, immediately. I live in the sticks, in the middle of nowhere, and it still amazes me that I can get to a nationally ranked equine center in two hours.

Sarah’s the fourth horse I’ve taken to UT (seizures, suspensory surgery, eye ulcer), and every time I’ve come away grateful for the combination of veterinary knowledge and horse love shown by the staff there. For Sarah it was like a day at the spa. She was surrounded by people who pet her and loved her and gave her cookies, and only occasionally made her trot or poked her with needles.

I am grateful for my big grey horse and her goofy charm. I am immeasurably thankful for my family and friends. When you look at the flip side, 2014 was actually a pretty good year.

Vet, Ambulance, Vet: My 2014 Eventing Season

Me and Sarah. Photo by Sandy Cole. Me and Sarah. Photo by Sandy Cole.

To recap: I went down to Florida last February and discovered that Sarah had injured her right hind annular ligament. Ultrasounded it three times, spent spring doing rehab. Recovered fully. Registered to compete at River Glen, but first took advantage of my daughter’s attendance at USPC Championships/Festival to ride in some clinics myself. Got popped out of the tack, inconveniently landed head first, and spent over six times as much money on the ambulance ride to the hospital as I did on the CT scan once I got there.

Sidelined for River Glen. Recovered. Went to the VA Starter Trials/Old Dominion Regional Event Rally, where in addition to being co-host of the rally, DC of a competing club, coach of a rider, driver and chaperone of a second rider and mother of a third, I bopped around Beginner Novice because I was a little desperate to get back in the saddle/start box.

I had Book Stuff to do on other weekends this fall when I might have evented, so it came down to last weekend, the Virginia Horse Trials, to put some sort of pleasant ending to the season. My daughter was also competing, my husband came and brought our dog, and my friend Michelle had paid for a party tack stall, so it was all looking pretty fun, until Thursday, when Sarah threw one of her semiannual fits about hating dressage, or hating me being the boss of her, or both — whatever. She does have temper tantrums occasionally but they aren’t that hard to weather.

Saturday, though — Saturday she didn’t feel tantrummy as much as she felt unyielding. She was NOT going to be round, she would not relax. Our dressage has vastly improved since spring and I’d had pretty good hopes for our test, until about 15 minutes beforehand when we were getting absolutely nowhere in the warmup. My coach thought her back end looked stiff. My husband said she wasn’t steering correctly.

I couldn’t fix it, so I gritted my teeth and did the best I could, which was really stinking lousy. Bad enough that I got sympathy from the dressage judge. Her comments were, “Capable horse not on aids today. Nice effort. Good luck.” If she’d been from the south she would have added, “Bless your heart.”

I was pretty angry for a few minutes. I fumed and made faces and used bad words. But I had to show jump in an hour, so mostly I just changed tack and snuck out to watch my daughter ride her test. Then we went into show jumping warmup.

Now Sarah is a big part-draft grey mare, and she is more than capable of throwing a large-scale hissy fit. Some days when she gets mad, she actually stomps her feet. But she loves to jump, and she knows the Virginia Horse Park, and she loves to jump — show jumping wasn’t going to be dressage, for sure, and it wasn’t in that I felt how hard she was trying in warm up, but she was still tight through the jaw, neck and back, and she wasn’t quite steering well through the turns, and her back end wasn’t quite right and her jumps were off too.

It was all subtle — no TD would have eliminated me — but it was wrong. I pulled up, concerned, and saw the same concern on my coach’s face. She said, “She didn’t look like this at the starter trials.” I said, “She didn’t feel like this at the Pony Club show last week.” We looked at each other for another moment, and then I dismounted and ran up the irons. I thought maybe I was making something out of nothing, finding a problem when there was only a bad attitude, but I’ve been mistaken the other direction before and I won’t do that again. I’d rather be cautious than stupid.

My trainer repeated that Sarah’s back end looked funky. I had a chiropractor already scheduled for today, Monday. We came home. My chiropractor is also a vet, and he’s convinced that Sarah’s problems are neurological, not skeletal. We’re drawing blood to test for EPM tomorrow.

So that was 2014: vet, ambulance, vet. I’ll pin my hopes on 2015. I know it could be worse, but I’m hoping that it’s better.

Skipping the WEG Rocked

Kiri and I at the finish line. Photo by April Hawkins. Kiri and I at the finish line. Photo by April Hawkins.

I will start by saying that three words which should never, ever be strung together in this order are: “Beginner Novice Trakehner.” “Beginner Novice,” sure. “Trakehner” if you must. “Beginner Novice Trakehner” – are you kidding me?

With all the love and appreciation that I do have for Brian and Penny Ross, who not only organize the Virginia Starter Trials (which are much more chaotic than a regular horse trials as so many starters don’t have a clue), allow the Old Dominion Pony Club Region to piggyback their event rally onto the starter trials, and also organized the stabling so that my mare was as far away from her BFF, my daughter’s horse, Mickey, as possible, I have to say that putting a trakehner on Beginner Novice is too much.

[For the Muggles: a Trakehner is a type of cross-country jump consisting of a log hanging over an open, revetted ditch. Trakehners are scary as hell, to horse and human both; they’re inherently difficult no matter what their height.]

As posted yesterday, I skipped attending the World Equestrian Games in favor of watching my daughter and my pony clubbers ride like wildfire at the Old Dominion Regional Event Rally this weekend, and I’m glad I did.

Since there was a Starter Horse Trials, and also schooling on Saturday morning, I decided to bring my darling mare Sarah along. Factoring in that we hadn’t competed since her rehab from an injury last winter, that I was less than three weeks back in the saddle from knocking myself unconscious, that I was coaching one of my club’s riders, and that I was actually also co-hosting the rally, I decided to drop from Novice to Beginner Novice.

The trakehner didn’t bother Sarah, who’d jumped it on the Novice Area 2 Championship course the year before. It didn’t bother my daughter, who was going Novice, or her teammate Halie, who was riding a combined test. Nor did it overly bother our darling neophyte, Kiri, because I told the rest of the team that if they gave Kiri the idea that trakehners weren’t your usual and customary beginner novice fence I would personally cause them injury.

It was Kiri and her horse Spencer’s first riding rally and first event and the third different venue they’d ever schooled cross-country. They schooled brilliantly except for Kiri falling off at the trakehner. She hopped right back on, pummeled Spencer authoritatively, and jumped it.

They were delighted and delightful during the schooling, because they were so willing despite their inexperience, and because Kiri’s smile could light small cities most of the time. Spencer accidentally fell off the down bank and said, “Oh, COOL! That’s what you want!” and went down it happily every time afterward. He was brave at the water. He barely flicked at ear at anything and he strutted off the course licking his lips, ears forward.

My daughter, meanwhile, put to rest the demons of a difficult week (our old dog died, among other crap). Over one fence Mickey bounced her so loose that I thought her air vest would deploy; she landed on his neck, stirrup-less, and disappeared behind a small hill. She reappeared with her butt in the saddle, her feet in the stirrups, her contact reestablished and all her attention focused on her next fence. Her teammates went wild.

The whole crew. Photo by Kim Bradley.

The whole crew. Photo by Kim Bradley.

As an aside, my friend Michelle also got jumped loose schooling, and her air vest DID deploy. Her young mare Ava took off like a shot, ran loose, and, according to two unrelated eyewitnesses, jumped a parked motorcycle on the way back to the barn. I’m so sorry not to have been the third eyewitness.

So that was Saturday. Then the rally started, with jogs, equipment checks, helmet checks, and formals. Then we walked the courses. Sunday morning my first job was coaching Halie. I’m not much of a coach, more there for moral support, though I did explain to Halie just how and when she was supposed to enter the dressage ring, as it was her first time.

I failed to tell her how to exit and, as a result, she left not only the dressage arena but also the ring around it, and made her pony Chip climb a small mountain on his way back to me. She put in a lovely test, forward and accurate and happy, and then she went down and coolly cantered her way around the green showjumping course that all the other competitors in her division were nervously trotting. Halie’s got her eye on cross country for next time, and I’m thrilled.

When Kiri went into dressage, Spencer ogled at the letter A. “Oh, crap,” I said, recognizing a hole in our preparation, “he’s never been in a dressage arena before.” Caroline McClung, who was coaching my daughter and Kiri, said drily, “Well, that might have been nice to know.” But it was a good test – solid, no mistakes.

I couldn’t help but be mounted for showjumping when I went to watch my daughter’s dressage test–the times were too close–but I did manage to watch her while preventing my horse from ever seeing hers, or hers from seeing mine.

At one point I asked a complete stranger, “Excuse me, could you please pet my horse for a moment? I need her to not notice this bay gelding walking by.” The complete stranger obliged.

My daughter has been working very hard to improve her dressage and on Saturday it paid off, with by far their best test ever, which put them in first place in their division, which is not where you typically find us Bradleys after the dressage.

Then I went down and asked when they were going to raise the jumps to BN, only to be told that they were set, which was awesome, and then Sarah and I jumped them and it was REAL RIDING, as opposed to my old technique of point-and-run.

Then Kiri showjumped. On the drive home she said that the course was the best riding she’d ever done, and I wholeheartedly agree. Spencer might have been a little nervous about the grandstand and the bright fences and the atmosphere, but Kiri had courage enough for them both. Then we rode together to cross country. Showjumping had been running behind and they were taking cross-country riders as they got them. We didn’t need much warmup. “I’ll go first,” Kiri said.

I watched her first fences from the start box – fluid, strong. Then Sarah and I set out. At one point I caught another glimpse of Kiri and Spencer, still cantering so that was good. Sarah found the jumps easy-peasy. I concentrated on balancing her without taking too big a tugshe’s gotten so much more responsive that I have to be careful not to pull too much–and it was lovely, lovely, especially when I got to the Beginner Novice trakehner and Kiri wasn’t lying underneath it.

They had one stop, at that wretched trakehner, but only one. On the second try she got him over. We laughed ourselves silly at the finish line.

Later in the afternoon my daughter romped clear over the novice course. She won her division; Halie and Kiri both got ribbons in theirs. In the rally they were first in horse management and second overall. Our stable manager, Caroline, won the region’s stable management award and my daughter’s horse got best-conditioned.

The ribbons were lovely, but they weren’t the point. The point was all that joy. On the way home I commented to my daughter that this plus her placing at Pony Club Championships insured that she was already qualified for next year’s championships. “Hmm,” Kiri said. “So if I want to ride at championships, I have to get another qualifying result–like, say, this fall at River Glen?”

Yes ma’am. You bet.

Why I Didn’t Go To the World Equestrian Games

My daughter and Kiri, at Waffle House the morning of the rally. Photo by me. My daughter and Kiri, at Waffle House the morning of the rally. Photo by me.

In 2010, I took my young daughter to the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. We had a wonderful time. Two years later, the two of us made a grand trip to the London Olympics, where we got to watch all four days of eventing. It was the trip of a lifetime.

For a long time I planned to go to the 2014 WEG, which are currently still in progress in Normandy, France. I wouldn’t have been able to take my daughter, now a high school junior, but I had several friends going, I have a working knowledge of French, and I love Normandy. I would, I thought, have my own adventure.

As the months went by, however, I began to have doubts. Planning for London was complex but went smoothly; everything about this trip seemed awkward. I didn’t get tickets for the dressage phase. Getting to Caen, the hub of the WEG, was easy but the train schedule meant I’d have to spend one whole day going from Caen back to Paris after the eventing was finished, then fly out the next day – hardly a horrible option, but it meant that a trip to see two days of competition would take at least six days away from home. So I asked my friend, a Very Big Name Eventer, for her opinion: was it worth it?

“Here’s what I think,” she said. “You’re only going to get so many chances to go to something like this in your lifetime. Take them.”

That was great advice, but it swayed me the opposite direction. Because the biggest obstacle to my attending the WEG was actually the Old Dominion Region pony club event rally, held in conjunction with the Virginia Starter Trials in Lexington, VA. If I went to the WEG, I’d miss the rally.

I’m 47. My daughter is 16. If I have another hale 35 years, God willing, I will get my chances at eight more WEGs and eight more Olympic games. Since my daughter has declared her intention to go to college as far as possible from Tennessee (I’m not offended: I went as far east from Indiana as I could), I very much doubt she’ll rally once she’s in college. If she does, it won’t be over Labor Day weekend. And she loves eventing rally. If I’d gone to the WEG, she still would have gone to rally, but I wouldn’t have been there to see it.

Then there’s the rest of the team. Some of our club’s experienced eventers have family members who also compete, and so they headed to a recognized event instead. That left me, as DC, in charge of a fairly inexperienced team. Our stable manager, Caroline, is a bright and competent young woman, but also a D2 who’d never been to a rally before. 13-year-old Halie, doing a combined test, comes from pony hunters and had never done dressage.

And Kiri. Kiri is 18, just starting college. She’d been in pony club four years, owned her horse Spencer for four years, gone as stable manager to several rallies but never once ridden in them. Never evented. Rarely attended local shows. Boards with our joint-DC at a farm with no cross country. Four years ago, at camp, Kiri and Spence could barely trot down a hill; neither had ever encountered hills before. Watching them move up, and learn, and get their C1 and then their C2 over the jumps on my farm has been inspiring to me, and I wanted very much for Kiri to have this one event, this one rally. I once read an article by Denny Emerson that said, “Eventing is the only sport in the world where you can finish 35th and be unable to sleep that night for sheer, transcendent joy.”

Kiri had worked so hard. She had done so well. I wanted her to gallop across the cross-country finish line and feel that joy born of effort and hard work, unlike anything else. That feeling would stay with her always.

And finally, my daughter. Some day I’ll go to the WEG, maybe even the Olympics, without her. But not yet. This year I went to the pony club rally, while I still had time.

Tomorrow: what happened.

My Hips Do Lie

Yes, I'm looking down, but this was my first time back in the saddle since my crash. Photo by Laurel Murphy. Yes, I'm looking down, but this was my first time back in the saddle since my crash. Photo by Laurel Murphy.

So it seems that the concussion I had at pony club Festival few weeks ago temporarily removed the filter that keeps me from saying whatever pops into my head. In the ER, when a young man in scrubs introduced himself as “Dr. So-and-so,” I said, “Staff or resident?” “Uh, resident,” he said. “Oh, NO!” I said. “I’m at an ER in JULY!!”

July is when hospitals get new residents, fresh from medical school. Dr. Howser was not amused, and it may have been why he stitched up the inside of my mouth without anesthesia.

At one point they carefully rolled me off the backboard they’d transported me on, and started pressing on my back to see if anything hurt. When they got to my lower back I yelled, “Ouch!” and then said, “Oh, don’t worry about that, that’s from the damn dressage.”

That morning I’d had a 90-minute semiprivate dressage lesson with Susanne Winslade, an instructor and pony club National Examiner from New Hampshire. It rained hard during most of the lesson, which puzzled me a lot when I was in the hospital. “Why am I wet?” I asked my mother. “You were riding in the rain, and didn’t have other clothes to change into.”

“When was I riding in the rain?” I’d ask. “This morning,” she said. A few minutes would go by, and I’d pluck at my shirt and say, “Why am I wet?” until finally someone covered me with a blanket to shut me up. Concussed people are lots of fun.

The worst part about riding is that when the horse does something incorrectly it’s usually the rider’s fault. The best part about riding is that when the horse does something incorrectly it’s usually the rider’s fault. Because you, the rider, can fix it. But it sucks to have to do it.

I’d ridden in front of Susanne Winslade for maybe five minutes when she stopped me and told me I was doing it all wrong. “I’m going to make a simple change that is going to be very hard for you,” she said. She had me put my thumb onto the crest of my hipbone, and my index finger on top of my hip joint. She showed me how my thumb was about an inch in front of my finger. “Now, I want you to move the top of your hip back so that your finger and thumb are directly over each other.” I did. “Now, I want you to sit like that,” she said. “Forever.”

It was the weirdest feeling in the world. I can’t even tell you how weird. Thirty years of riding and I’d never ridden with my hips correctly before. My whole stomach scrunched up and my abs started shrieking. I felt like a hunchback. “You need to sit like this all the time,” Susanne said. “In the car, in your office, everywhere, until it becomes a new muscle memory.”

Oh, my. After just one lesson I thought I was going to die. My hips were cursing me. I was cursing them. Just think about changing your entire posture–sure, it was only an inch, but it changed muscles from my shoulders to my heels.

Four weeks post-concussion, one week back in the saddle, I can tell you that this new position is still the most foreign thing in the world, and also it’s painful all the time. My husband sees me grimace and immediately thinks 1) that I suffered permanent brain damage when I fell off, and am secretly seeing double and just not telling him, or 2) that he has done something wrong. There have been a lot of, “Kim, are you okay?” questions at our house.

No, I am not okay. I hurt. Even my usual Pilates routine is agony with the new hip thing. Riding in the car sucks. Sitting at my desk sucks.

Riding the horse, on the other hand, is awesome. Sarah loves the new hip thing. She reveres the new hip thing. She’s suddenly so much more free under saddle, and she’s happy. Yesterday I tried the new hip thing over very tiny fences, and I suddenly understand what my instructors have been trying to make me do for the past several years. This.

That wasn’t even all I learned from Susanne Winslade, in one lesson, in the pouring rain. I’ll write about the other Big Reveal soon. Warning: it hurts just as much as the first one.

You can follow my everyday blogging here.

#mindyourmelon: USPC Festival Lawn Dart Edition

Photo by my daughter. My grin is crooked because smiling hurts. Photo by my daughter. My grin is crooked because smiling hurts.

Well, what turned out to be my last day riding at the United States Pony Club Festival did not go as planned. After the thrill of championships competition, and a Saturday spent eating and sleeping, my daughter and I woke on Sunday raring to go learn stuff. Our horses were up for it, too, especially my mare Sarah, who was beginning to wonder just exactly why I’d stuck her in a box for six days.

Sunday morning we both got dressage instruction, mine a semi-private lesson with Susanne Winslade for 90 minutes. Probably the best dressage instruction I’ve ever gotten, but unfortunately I now have to sit differently in the saddle for the rest of my life and also go back to taking Pilates. It rained during the lesson, and I didn’t even notice, to the extent that later in the day I found myself wondering how exactly my shirt got so wet (and that was before I hit my head!).

My parents had come to watch my daughter and I ride, so I was tickled when my daughter and I got the same cross-country instructor for the afternoon. We were with Erika Adams, and our group had been assigned the water complex first. We tromped through the water, then jumped an easy jump a few strides from the water, then jumped a cross rail on the edge of the water, cantered through, and jumped a Novice jump about 6 strides away.

The Novice jump had been used going in the opposite direction for Championships and so had a pony club banner on what was now the near side. My ordinarily fearless mare either spooked at the banner, or paused to read it. I told her to jump it, and she did, only bigger than usual, so that I got jumped out of the tack.

You’ve been there. We all have. That “Oh Crap” moment when you realize you’re coming off, followed by a remount, some ribbing from your companions, and a do over. Easy-peasy. In fact, whereas I was furious with myself for my near-fall at O’Connor camp, I haven’t been able to muster even a twinge of annoyance for myself or Sarah over this one. It was One Of Those Things. A bounce. Wishful thinking that you could have stuck it.

Except that I apparently landed first on my head. I don’t know for sure, because I got knocked out, and that was followed by a rather confusing time in which my daughter, who’d galloped to my side, insisted firmly that I not try to get up, some EMTs put me on a backboard, and eventually I got a nice ride in an ambulance, sirens and lights full bore, to the University of Kentucky Hospital’s ER.

My mom went with me in the ambulance. I don’t care how old you are, when you’re hurt it’s nice to have your mom nearby. My dad brought my daughter after they’d gotten the horses put away, and he made the nurses bring him a washcloth so he could wash the blood off my face.

I cut the inside of my mouth way down in the crease between my gums and the bottom of my lip. It’s anyone’s guess how that happened. A lovely judge from Midsouth untacked and unstudded my mare (thank you!) and our wonderful partners in crime, the Campbell family, took care of all our gear and brought dinner and ice cream to our hotel room. And after a CT scan to prove I hadn’t really messed with my head, I was discharged with a concussion. No riding for three weeks. Goodbye, River Glen.

But hey. Good thing I was minding my melon, eh? The picture shows my helmet with the brim broken off. Wear your helmets, gentle readers. Accidents happen to us all, usually at the stupidest of times.

For my regular blog readers, #mindyourmelon is Evention TV’s helmet awareness campaign tag. For my Eventing Nation readers, you can check out my regular block here.

Death by Pony Club

Photo by me - taken at 4:37 am. Photo by me - taken at 4:37 am.

It’s only been the first full day of Pony Club Championships–the eventers have finished dressage–and already I’m thinking this is going to kill me.

Monday: Arrive Lexington, 3 pm. Depart from horse park, 7 pm. Dinner. Bed by 9:30.
Tuesday: Wake, 5 am. Work all day. Bed by 10:30 only because I insisted.
Wednesday: Wake, 4:20 am. Barns close, 6 pm.

I’ve got my mare Sarah here with me, and her layover stall is in the Tetrathlon barn. Both yesterday and today I stretched out across my tack trunk and a bale of hay, my head cushioned on a dirty saddle pad, and slept. Slept like the dead. If funky photos of me turn up on the internet, blame the Tetrathlon kids.

One of the Tetrathlon kids was acting too tired to tack up today. I threatened to put his photo on Eventing Nation. It’s wonderful having this kind of power.

By afternoon, the Tetrathlon kids were in an uproar over some aspect or aspects of the horse management judging. Three girls were discussing the judge’s perfidy in loud voices while stabbing at the floor with their brooms. Stab, stab. The sole male member of their team came back from hand walking his horse. “Take another lap,” one of the girls snapped at him. “We’re having Angry Sweeping and Rant Time.” He took another lap.

My daughter’s team wasn’t mad at the horse management judges. They were mad at the dressage judges. They’re eventers, after all. When I was allowed to check on them, mid-afternoon, they were composing a song reflecting their hatred of dressage.

Seriously? I’m here until next Monday? Provided, of course, that I live that long.

When Champs and Camps Collide

I’m typing this one-fingered on my phone while I sit in the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park waiting for the opening ceremony of the 2014 USPC National Championships. I don’t generally like ceremonies of this type, and I’m feeing hot, cynical, and tired. But I wanted to share this photo with you.

It’s my daughter and her horse at the first jog this afternoon. They’re competing on a Novice event team. You can barely tell, because of her pinny, but the shirt she’s wearing is actually part of the official uniform from the 1998 World Equestrian Games. It was formerly owned and worn by an eventer you may have heard of, one David O’Connor.

Every year at O’Connor Camp we have a team Jeopardy competition. I’m usually damn good at it, as it combines my native competitiveness with my ability to retain arcane bits of information.

Alas. My daughter is even more competitive and arcane then I. And this year the prizes were really awesome: she won that shirt.

She wears it well.

O’Connor Event Camp: What Happened on Thursday

Karen O'Connor teaching at camp. Photo by Dixie Marshall. Karen O'Connor teaching at camp. Photo by Dixie Marshall.

So, I’ve been back from O’Connor Event Camp for two weeks and I still haven’t written about that Thursday.

Thursday is cross-country day. It’s far and away my favorite day at camp. This year I made a big mistake and very nearly hurt my horse, and also myself, and I was angry with myself for a long time.

That didn’t have anything to do with the camp or the instructors; it had everything to do with me and my riding. I own it. I just didn’t know how to write about it. Yesterday my daughter and I schooled our cross-country jumps at home, for the first time since camp, and I think I understand now not so much what I did wrong – I knew that right from the start – but why, and what I need to do to fix it, besides, of course, not ride like such an ass.

That all sounds perhaps more dramatic than it should. I’ll go back to camp. On Thursday morning the instructors – in this case Cathy Wieschhoff – worked horses with specific issues over cross-country fences online.

The first year I went to camp, my horse Gully had a water issue, until David sent him out on line. Gully batted his sweet eyelashes at David and begged to know how David would like him to enter the water: walk, trot, or canter? Over a jump first? Out over a jump? It took about five minutes for Gully to do everything possible in, out, and through the water complex, and I was steaming, except that I was also really glad. We never had trouble at water again.

This year Cathy worked several horses over ditches, one up and down a bank, and two through water. Educational and entertaining. Then we all got into our gear and headed back out to the course to ride. Ditches, banks, water – our groups rotated through. Cathy and Karen O’Connor used show jumps to create small complexes; the ditch, for example, became a coffin.

My mare, Sarah, was all that and a bag of chips, as usual, but we weren’t quite together. This puzzled me; we’d always felt more together before. With her injury and subsequent rehab I’d barely jumped her since Florida, but in Florida, back in February, we’d felt really fine. Some of my best cross-country ever. On Thursday at camp, right from the start, this wasn’t true. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t right.

Then we went to the bank. After a few simple up and downs, Karen asked us to jump a cabin, four strides to a small (maybe 2′) up bank, one stride to a larger (2’9″?) up bank, down a ramp and away yonder to a keyhole, and that’s where I screwed up.

Coming up to the cabin, I pulled Sarah in at the last moment. She jumped, but without energy. I sort-of kicked, she scrambled up the first bank, lurched forward, got her front legs onto the second bank, and slammed her stifles onto the edge of it, hyperextending both legs. Somehow, because she’s strong and sturdy and doesn’t panic, she managed to pull her hind legs up beneath her. We found a canter and lurched over the keyhole jump.

It was beyond ugly; it was frightening. It wouldn’t have taken much for Sarah to have slid backward off that bank. Karen was furious, but I can’t remember a single thing she said; I was too busy screaming at myself inside my head.

Eventually we tried again and were better, but not great. Then we went down to the water and I finally pulled my head out of the fog and rode, and all that went well.

Back at the barn, my fellow campers surrounded me with help, affection, and the cold hard truth. They gave Sarah arnica and bute; they gave me a glass of cold white wine. “Wow,” they said, “you really screwed up. That was entirely your fault.”

The staff at Sandy River gave me ice for Sarah’s legs, and let me turn her out overnight. All night I dreaded finding a lame horse in the morning, but I didn’t. She was completely, jauntily, fine.

As I said, yesterday I finally understood. I knew I’d gone wrong by taking back too much and way too late; what I didn’t know was why I’d felt like I needed to do that. Turns out that now that Sarah is both sound and fit, her throttle has a wider range of motion. I say go, and she goes faster than she used to; I say whoa, she slows up more than before.

It doesn’t excuse my bad riding but it helps me understand it; I need to practice making more subtle cues. My daughter also thinks I’m waiting until too close to the fence to balance Sarah; I need to get that done earlier so I can ride her forward the last several strides. I think that’s also true; luckily, I have lots of jumps at home for practice.

Luckier still, I’ve got a good horse, still sound and happy despite her rider. This isn’t much about OCET camp, I know, but it’s what happened at camp, and what happened to me.

To read my almost-daily blog, which isn’t always about horses, click here.

O’Connor Event Camp Day 3: Everyone Riding on the Same Big Hill

Me and Sarah. Photo by Sandy Cole. Me and Sarah. Photo by Sandy Cole.

A few minutes ago, here on the 3rd day of O’Connor Event Camp, I walked into the barn with my hair shaken out of its ponytail.

“Did you just wash you hair in a bucket?” one of my fellow campers asked.

“No,” I said.

The next camper I met grinned at me. “Did you go swimming again?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

It. Is. Just. Sweat.

Lots of sweat.

We did The Man From Snowy River today, which means we learned how to properly gallop downhill like mad fiends. It’s about balance and guts and learning how to stay in control by not being wholly in control. It’s also the point in the camp week where campers start laughing from glee.

We cheer for each other now. We love watching “D” get brave and “M” drop her hands and “K” hail a cab.

Over and over, in the past several years, I’ve heard people say that they can’t come to this camp yet because they don’t have the right horse, or their horse doesn’t know enough yet, or they don’t know enough yet, and I always try to explain how wrong they are. This is a place for everyone to learn. Most of us don’t have our stuff together, but what we want is to learn to be safe, confident, happy eventers, working in partnership with our horses.

Once, when I was first married, I took a lesson at a barn near my work. Midway through the instructor said, “Really, I can’t help you unless you buy a horse of you own.” That was awesome. If I could have afforded a horse of my own, I wouldn’t have tried a lesson at his crummy barn.

Here, no one tells you your horse is unsuitable. They teach you how to make your horse better. They teach you a way of communicating with your horse, so that you and your horse can work together (with you in charge).

Sarah loves camp. I knew she would. She loved our bending-line show jumping exercise this morning, and she loved the Man From Snowy River. I did too.

Except, of course, for the sweat.

O’Connor Event Camp Day 2: Flowers, and Cake, and a Hat

Today is my 47th birthday.

I have never been shy about my age. I’ve never wanted to look younger than I am, or pretended to be an age other than I was; I love my birthday. I don’t expect trumpet processionals or lavish gifts, but I really do like a small fuss being made. One of my favorite things about Facebook is that it tells all my friends that today’s my birthday, so I get well-wishes from people I haven’t seen for 20 years. This makes me happy.

When I was a kid I always felt a little sorry that I had a summertime birthday. Other kids envied the fact that I didn’t have to go to school on my birthday, but I wanted to be able to pass out a special treat to everyone. I wanted to wear the special birthday hat. In the summer, that doesn’t happen.

Unless you happen to have your birthday during O’Connor Event Camp. What a day! First of all, if you gave me the choice of anything at all to do on my birthday, having a morning flat lesson with Karen O’Connor and an afternoon jump lesson with David O’Connor would probably be pretty high on that list. Second, I got to spend the whole day with my gorgeous daughter and our two lovely horses. I keep hoping some other mother/daughter combos are going to come to camp. It’s so much fun to do this together. Last, and absolutely not least, at lunch they surprised me with a big birthday cake. I got to blow out all the candles-they were trick candles, so I blew them out several times-and then I got to share my birthday treat with all my fellow campers. And they gave me a special birthday hat. I got to wear it all day, except when I was riding. It was awesomesauce.

Oh, and camp was luscious too. I only got yelled at once, by David, when we were all doing an exercise together. He had said quite plainly that we were all to stay on one circle, but when the horse in front of me slowed down I bowed out on the circle instead of slowing down.

In the list of rider responsibilities, direction is number 1, and speed is number 2, which means I should have broken to the trot rather than deviate from the line. I do know this. Mostly. But the grey mare did her best today, and so did I, and I can feel our progress. If there’s anything better than making progress doing something you love, I don’t know what it is. It’s a marvelous feeling to have on your birthday.

P.S. When I got back to my tatty hotel room, I found a beautiful flower bouquet, sent by my beautiful husband, who, as usual when Katie and I go off on an equine adventure, has gone on a golf trip with our son.

O’Connor Event Camp Day 1: David Rules

David O'Connor works a 4-year-old OTTB mare. Photo by Kim Bradley. David O'Connor works a 4-year-old OTTB mare. Photo by Kim Bradley.

I love watching David O’Connor work a horse online.

By “online,” I don’t mean on the internet. I mean on an actual line — a long, heavy rope attached to the horse’s head via a rope halter. Controlling the horse’s movements on the ground both establishes the human as the herd leader — vital, unless you’d rather a 1,000-pound animal with a brain the size of a walnut be the boss of you — and gives said human some really useful tools to calm the horse when it’s stressed; lead the horse into places it would rather not go like a wash stall, trailer, etc.; and introduce it to all sorts of jumps, including ditches, water and banks, without the added stress of a rider.

The first morning of O’Connor Camp is always devoted to this very specific type of groundwork. David lectures, and then he demonstrates, and then he and the other instructors — in this case Karen O’Connor and Cathy Wieschhoff — help the campers try it with their own horses.

The principles of groundwork are not difficult to learn, but so much of their success depends on timing: on exactly when to put pressure on a horse and when to release it. You can’t learn the timing aspect overnight — every horse, in every situation, is different, so it takes practice. Turns out David is a holy master of timing.

I knew this already. I’ve been to camp before. But as I watched him working with a 4-year-old OTTB mare for the very first time while at the same time lecturing to an arena full of campers, I felt a very deep satisfaction. It is so fabulous to watch a person earn an animal’s trust and respect so deeply, so quickly. It gives you a sense of possibility. It give me a feeling of joy.

My horse, Sarah, is an old hand at rope work. When I worked her in the ring along with my fellow campers, the instructors barely paused to speak to me. Midway through the lesson, I realized that while I’ve been to camp many times, Sarah never has been. But she fully understands this sort of communication because I find it useful, and I taught her. That gave me a nice sense of satisfaction, too.

Later in the afternoon, while former international groom Sam Burton Hanley lectured the camp about bandaging and leg care, David came into the barn. He added some of his own thoughts on bandaging, then quickly put a polo wrap on the demonstration horse. Now, I know that probably all major international-level riders are good at polo wrapping their horse. I’m sure that part is quite normal. But I do wonder how many international-level riders so clearly enjoy teaching polo wraps to a bunch of teenagers and adult amateurs.

The odds that any of us at O’Connor Camp end up on one of the High Performance lists, to earn teaching by U.S. Team Coach O’Connor, are mighty close to zero. Yet David enjoys teaching us. He cares whether or not we learn. This is pretty cool. I try to find a parallel in other sports — Tiger Woods? Rafael Nadal? I don’t know those men, but something tells me it wouldn’t be likely.

So that’s the story from the first day of O’Connor Camp. David O’Connor rules.

O’Connor Camp: The Horse I’ll Ride In On

Photo by Katie Bradley. Photo by Katie Bradley.

Okay, guys, sorry. I know there are real-life issues right now. I’m still upset about the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, I’m annoyed with the IRS (multiple reasons), and several bloggers I know are on an anti-SEC-trafficking trip to Southeast Asia, which I’m pretty sure I could not endure but commend them for. (You can read about that at RageAgainstTheMinivan and JamieTheVeryWorstMissionary, among others, and if you’d like to fight sex trafficking the group The Exodus Road is doing real-time on-the-streets rescue and prosecution, and your dollars will help them.) Yesterday I went to the library and took out 8 books about Afghanistan, because I read A Thousand Splendid Suns (it was splendid) and still don’t understand Afghanistan, except for the obvious, what a mess. Also, the food pantry at Faith In Action is really low again.

All that’s to say that I haven’t suddenly become oblivious. But I can’t help blogging a ton about horses this week: I am going back to camp.

I love camp. I loved camp when I was 7 years old and camp was a week in buggy woods in tents with “greenies.” (That’s the Girl Scout word for pit-hole outhouse.) I loved camp when it meant washing my hair in a lake when I was 10, and I really loved camp when I was 13 and went to a place where we rode insane wholly unsuitable and dangerous horses, without helmets or instruction, in tennis shoes, a couple times a week. That was awesome. But then, back in 2006 I went to the O’Connor Event Camp, and it was even better – awesome squared. I got to take my horse, I was old enough to drink wine, and my hotel room had a shower, flush toilet, and air conditioning. There weren’t even that many bugs! Plus I learned to control my horse cross country, which ensured my survival to this present day.

When I think back to that camp, the memory that first springs to mind is Karen O’Connor bellowing, “Kim! When I tell you to slow down I at least want to see your SHOULDERS MOVE!” And me laughing. And then slowing down, because that’s not an instructor you want to piss off.

Anyway, I didn’t go to camp in 2007, because I went to my brother’s wedding instead. Then I went in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 – see a pattern here? And then in 2012 there was no camp. There was the Olympics instead, in late July, and Karen and David had to go to England in early June. In 2013, still no camp. So today, knowing that I’m going to camp tomorrow, my spirits are pretty damn high.

At all previous camps, I had my first event horse, my ever-beloved Gully, who always did his best for me. In 2012 I had to retire him. That summer, just after the Olympics, I bought Sarah, my grey mare. She’s a handful and a hoot and I love her; she hunts first field, goes cross-country boldly, and stands with her forehead just barely brushing my chest, so I can bury my face in her forelock and rub her ears and kiss her. We’re disgusting. So, until very recently, was our dressage.

At first it was simply green-bean lack of steering and balance. You’ll have that in a very large 5-year-old. But last fall, when it should have been getting better, it got worse. She cross-cantered and swapped out of her right lead, and overall was surly about the whole thing. It took awhile, because she never limped, to realize she’d strained a ligament in the back of her right hind ankle.

Luckily we could treat it, and I spent the spring very carefully resting and rehabilitating her. Then I carefully worked toward getting her fit again. And then we started back with the dressage.

It’s like a miracle. Gully never in his life felt this good. I had a dressage lesson with Cathy Wieschhoff during our pony club camp, because if you think I’m missing an opportunity to ride with Cathy you’re wrong, and I didn’t want to stop because it felt so fabulous. Cathy said, “Ask for the canter, by raising your inside rib cage,” and I did, and Sarah did, just lifted into the canter beneath me, on her right lead, natch, and then Cathy told me to do the same thing to ask for the downward, and I did, and it was amazing. The trot floated; the canter rocked. I’ve been practicing transitions all week just for the utter joy of them. It’s like a whole new party trick.

So this is the horse I’m taking to camp: sound, sassy, on the bit, and ready to jump the moon. I could not be happier.

(Except of course for the tiny part of me that longs for Gully, that always will. But I can’t help that.)

You can read all of my blog posts – including ones not about horses – here.

O’Connor Event Camp: Eight Years Ago and Today

Photo of a long-ago camp by a long-ago camper Photo of a long-ago camp by a long-ago camper

On Thursday, as I was waiting to hear the announcement of the 2014 World Equestrian Team, a flood of memories came back to me. I was so happy to see my girl Lauren Kieffer named as an alternate, and I was also just interested in general. I sat on the couch with my iPad and logged on every few minutes while watching World Cup soccer with my children. A flood of memories came back to me.

Eight years ago, I wasn’t nearly as concerned with the WEG team. Eight years ago, I was at my very first O’Connor Event Camp. I had so much to learn, and from the very start felt like I was learning as hard and fast as I could, and I was surrounded by eventers (many of whom I consider friends to this day) and it was wonderful, and then, at noon on the second day, my horse almost died.

We had finished the lessons and gathered in one large happy group outside the Virginia Horse Center’s covered arena. I sat on my good horse Gully on a loose rein, listening to David O’Connor recap the lesson, when suddenly Gully swayed, then staggered sideways. He felt like he was struggling not to collapse. “Gully?” I said, my voice high and frightened. “Gully?”

“Hop down.” Karen O’Connor had appeared at my knee. While I flung myself off, she cleared a space around us. Cathy Wieschhoff rushed forward and took off Gully’s saddle. He continued to stagger, muscles trembling, eyes glassy. I fought panic. “Gully!”

Different instructors moved the other campers away, called the vet, called the human EMTs on the ground. Gully staggered and gasped, then stood with his head hanging. None of us had seen anything like it. After several minutes, Cathy and I cautiously led him into the barn. An EMT showed up, and Karen insisted they listen to Gully’s heart — she thought he’d had a heart attack. But his heartbeat sounded normal, and his pulse was only slightly elevated.

And then he seemed fine. The rest of the campers went to lunch while I sat outside Gully’s stall, waiting for the vet. We’d taken his food away but he began to sniff around for hay; he peed, and it looked completely normal and light in color, which seemed to rule out tying up. The campers returned, tacked up and headed out for their afternoon lesson, and I was still waiting.

I don’t wait well. Eventually I stalked up to the only other person in the barn, Karen’s groom Max Cochoran, and growled, “Isn’t there anywhere I can get a Diet Coke around here?” All the vending machines sold Diet Pepsi.

Max said, “Cooler in the back of David’s truck.”

I went to the truck. The back had two coolers, one of Diet Coke, one of beer. I took a Diet Coke, popped it open, and drank a big swig. When I returned to the barn, Karen had come back. She gave my soda a side eye. I said, “If I have to wait much longer, I’m going to steal one of your beers.”

She nodded. We sat down on three chairs close together. I was still new enough that part of my brain was saying, “OMG! It’s Karen O’Connor! KAREN O’CONNOR is sitting right next to you!” (The other part was consumed with worry about my horse.) Karen, meanwhile, was staring at her cell phone as though she could make it ring by mental telepathy. This was still before texting was possible.

I stared at her staring at her phone, and realized she was waiting to see if she’d been named to the 2006 WEG team. Well, I thought, my life cannot possibly get anymore surreal than this. (I was wrong.) Eventually Karen sighed, snapped the phone back into her pocket and went off to teach.

The vet came. We went over every aspect of my horse and could not find a single thing wrong. I know that doesn’t sound like a horse that nearly died, but I also knew he nearly had. Eventually his blood work came back with elevated liver enzymes, which suggested that when I’d hand-grazed him that morning, he’d gotten a mouthful of some type of poisonous plant, but we never really knew for sure. He never showed the same symptoms again.

When the afternoon lesson was finished, Karen was the first person back to the barn. She came straight to Gully’s stall. “How is he?” she asked. “What did the vet say?” She listened while I told her everything we’d done and learned. “Let me know if he does anything else funny,” she said, before walking down to her own horses at the end of the barn.

Then Max came in. “Hey, Kim,” she whispered, “She got the call a few minutes ago. She made it.”

I looked down the long barn. Karen was standing outside Woody’s stall, stroking his nose and talking to him.

I’ve never forgotten that she asked about Gully first.

The Best Pony Clubbers in the Whole Wide World

Pony Club camp! Photo by Kim Bradley. Pony Club camp! Photo by Kim Bradley.

If you were at the United States Eventing Association’s annual meeting last December, and you attended the “town hall” meeting on the future of eventing — which, admittedly, most of you neither were nor did — you’ve heard me brag about my Pony Clubbers before.

That’s because 1) somehow the town hall meeting, which began with the question “how do we attract more people to the fabulous sport of eventing?” quickly devolved into a rant about “kids these days,” specifically singling out Pony Clubbers as entitled brats on super-expensive horses with declining horsemanships skills — a rant which continued for so long that it began to annoy me until I produced a small rant of my own, and 2) my kids are the bomb.

Pony Club, for you non-horse people, is like 4H, only just about riding. It’s international and, despite the name, welcomes horses as well as ponies. It’s a lovely organization that makes a team sport out of an individual one; it requires children to take care of their mounts as well as ride them, and it physically bans parents from the barn.

I’ve never been a Pony Clubber — I started riding too late — but I became a fan way back when I was covering hunter/jumper shows for equine magazines and saw an 8-year-old hop off one of her many show ponies just outside the ring, hand the reins to a groom and tell me blithely that she’d never been to school because they just went to horse shows year around, and also she didn’t bother with the equitation classes because she didn’t know her diagonals. She was a nice kid; it wasn’t her fault. But I was at the time pregnant with my first child, and I thought, my kid will never, ever think riding is like this.

Anyway — as usual, I digress — out here in east Tennessee, we mostly don’t ride expensive horses. We mostly don’t have high-level instructors or lots of people vying for spots on Young Rider teams, and we sure as heck don’t have grooms. What we have — oh, thank God for this — is each other. That’s what I said at the USEA convention, sort of. I said that my kids were fabulous and that kids like them were the future of eventing, and as a result my kids got to go work Rolex dressage, which they did in droves, with enthusiasm. It was the first time most of them had been to Rolex, the first time they’d seen all that horses could be.

Which brings me to our beloved Pony Club camp.

Not very many years ago, we almost lost our club over a fight between grown-ups who should have known better. I was thankfully away when it happened, and trust me, I never asked, but when the dust cleared, we had six members, none rated higher than D-3. They didn’t always get along.

I wasn’t DC then, but I took over our summer camp, moved it to my barn, and made it free to members and not open to anyone else. By the end of three days, the members were a club again, and from that point, it’s been gravy.

We have 17 members now, ranging from our three newly minted D-2s to four C-2s (two of which are taking their HB in August) and two HBs (one of which is taking her HA next week). Fourteen of them came to camp last week; 13 slept in my basement. I keep waiting for this camp thing to backfire. I keep thinking that at some point the combination of teenage girls and no sleep is going to manifest itself in the biggest eruption of drama ever, but it simply doesn’t happen.

I’ve quit allocating an hour for morning chores because these kids get themselves up early, get themselves to the barn and get everything done. In half an hour, the ponies are fed, watered and groomed; the stalls are clean and the aisles swept; and all I’ve done is put the milk back into the fridge, braid the littlest one’s hair and drunk coffee.

This year, because our members are advancing so well, we hired a fancy instructor for the first time: the indomitable Cathy Wieschhoff. If you want intelligent teaching, compassion and ass-kickin’ where ass-kickin’ is required, Cathy’s your woman. I loved her to pieces before camp. Now my whole club loves her to pieces too. Cathy was awesome, but she wasn’t the point.

This camp makes us. It’s come to define us. It gives us our sense of being a club. By the end of the first day, the new members are grabbing the brooms to sweep the aisle, reminding each other to keep stall doors closed, holding horses for one another, because that’s what you do. They’re tucking in their polo shirts and wearing belts with their britches, and tying their hair out of the way, because that’s what you do. Not once in four years have I had to scold a member for not trying or not helping or not taking care of her pony. Not once have I had to raise my voice in any way.

The best part is Tuesday night. Wednesday we hold ratings examinations, and, while they are individual tests, the honor of the club comes into play. Not everyone rates, but everyone prepares. A C-2 takes the three D-2 candidates aside and carefully goes over the horse management they need to know. Two older girls slip back to the barn “to do nights, and show Sydnie the Pony Club way of putting on a blanket.” When the small girls go to bed — sent there forcibly by the older ones — the older ones look over their tack. One of the littles has forgotten to clean her boots. When she wakes up, she’ll find them cleaned and polished to a beautiful shine.

We’re sending four kids to Nationals this July. We’ll be out in force at our eventing rally in the fall. We’ll work Rolex again next year. These children are the future of our sport — them, and children like them, all over the world.

Penny. Penny. Penny. Penny.

The Virginia Horse Center.  Photo by Riley Wagner. The Virginia Horse Center. Photo by Riley Wagner.

I’m heading up to the Virginia Horse Trials tomorrow to put a little Eventing Karma in my tank.

Religious karma may or may not be a real thing. Eventing Karma is not only real, it’s something you ignore at your very certain peril. Go ahead. Be the rider that complains that a jump on your cross country course is “too easy.” That’ll be the one your horse throws you over. At the Olympics. Be the person who won’t loan your stuff in the stabling. At your next event, you’ll find 3-inch nails sticking out at eye level inside your horse’s stall, while you wail ineffectually, “Doesn’t anybody have a hammer?” Be the jerk who sniggers when a Big Name Rider takes a splash. Your horse will buck you off in warmup so that you land at the BNR’s feet.

Oh, yeah. I’ve had my horse escape his stall and gallop loose and free over the cross-country course, causing a 20-minute hold, only to be caught by a World Champion. That was fun. (I fired my imaginary groom.) But I’ve had many more moments of grace, and over time, no one has given me as many karmic gifts as Penny Ross.

Penny and her husband Brian run the Virginia Horse Trials, spring and fall, as well as the starter trials that are also my region’s Pony Club rally. Penny and I exchange emails like this:

Me: Penny, you didn’t list my ride times!

Penny: Kim, you didn’t enter!

Me: Oh. (It was the stress of all those Pony Club forms. Surely I’d filled out my own, too?)

Penny: I’ll work you in.

Me: thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Or this:

Me: Penny, my daughter forgot her USEA medical card but has her USPC medical card. Does that count?

Me: Penny, my horse is funky. Can I switch divisions?

Me: Penny, my mare tried to buck me off in dressage. Is this bit legal for cross-country?

Penny. Penny. Penny. Penny.

A few years ago I gave her a nice bottle of white wine, but this year I came up with an even better way to pay Penny back for all she’s done for me, and my Pony Clubbers and my eventing tribe. My mare’s ankle has healed but she’s not fit yet, and my daughter has only had a few weeks back riding after the whirlwind of high school tennis. So we’re heading up to the Virginia Horse Trials in my ancient minivan, without our horses, our breeches, our boots.

We’re bringing sunscreen and working shoes. We’re giving Penny three full days of our volunteer labor to tip our Eventing Karma a little bit back to the other side. It’s the only thing I could think of to save me from getting dumped into the water jump the next time I leave the box.

The White Pony

This is me as a freshman at Smith, with Tara, the elderly black pony who was my next teacher.
And yes, I wore my helmet like that. This is me as a freshman at Smith, with Tara, the elderly black pony who was my next teacher. And yes, I wore my helmet like that.

When I graduated from college, lo, a quarter-century ago, my parents threw a small backyard barbecue in celebration (I was getting married in 6 weeks so we didn’t want a big party.). Most of the guests were relatives, but some were old family friends, including my Grandma and Grandpa Ford.

They weren’t actual kin to me. When I was born prematurely, my doctor told my mother I couldn’t possibly be put into group day care until I was a year old. A friend who worked with my mom suggested that her mother, who was nearly finished raising something like eight children, might be willing to watch me for a little while. That little while turned out to be every day for four years, until my brother was born; I loved them wholeheartedly, and they loved me, to the extent that I used to go camping with them, and visited them regularly for years. I last spent the night in their farmhouse when I was a senior in high school.

They lived on a farm, but Grandpa had years back leased his land for cattle and gone to work at the International Harvester factory in town. Sometimes Grandma would take me to the barns to look at the cows. Every day we walked the length of the front pasture, empty except for the apple tree on the corner, to pick up her mail at the end of the drive. They hung a tire swing for me on the tree in their front yard, and taught me to slide down their bannister, and, on nights when I stayed over, took me down to shower in the old-fashioned cellar, where salamanders lived under rocks.

At my graduation party I was surprised by how much they’d aged. Grandpa was almost entirely deaf, and even Grandma moved slowly. After four years at a women’s college on the east coast I felt like a different person than the girl that had stayed so often with them; I wanted them to know the new me, but couldn’t figure out how to convey how much I’d changed. (That I’d thought I’d changed, and that I thought it was important, shows how very young I was.) Finally I said, “I learned to ride horses in college. I learned to really ride.” It had been the greatest joy of my life so far. I’d always dreamed of riding horses–always–and had never had the opportunity. The college I’d attended had had its own barn, and good instruction, and I’d spent all my extra hours learning to clean stalls and sweep the aisle and make hot bran mash like I’d read about in books.

I thought they’d express polite interest, but Grandma just grinned. “That don’t surprise us none,” she said, “Does it, Grandpa?”

“EH?” said Grandpa.

“SHE SAYS SHE LEARNED TO RIDE HORSES, OUT THERE AT THAT SCHOOL. I SAY, THAT DON’T SURPRISE US NONE, DOES IT?”

Grandpa’s face creased into an angelic grin. “Oh, no,” he said, slowly. “No, it don’t. I’d forgotten. All those years ago. That white pony.”

“What wh–” but then I, too, remembered.

It had been a magical summer. Looking back it had to have been the summer before my brother was born, which means that it was the summer I turned three at the end of June. All summer long the Fords loaned out their front pasture to the neighbor’s white pony.

He must have had a name, but I never knew it. He stood contentedly in the knee-high grass, chewing, and I brushed his legs–all I could reach–with an old wooden brush Grandma gave me. I held the brush in both hands. Sometimes Grandma picked me up so I could brush his long smooth back, and once a day–no more, no matter how much I begged–she would put me on his back and lead me around the pasture while I held his mane.

Every day after lunch, Grandma would set down with me in her big rocking chair and read to me from a book of poems by James Whitcomb Riley. Then she would tuck me into her bed in the first-floor bedroom, across the landing from the family room. I didn’t have to sleep but I had to stay in the bed and quiet while she watched her “show,” As The World Turns. As soon as that was over the afternoon was mine, to be with the pony until my mother drove up the drive.

Grandma sat on the porch step while I brushed. Brush, brush, brush. The pony stopped chewing sometimes to look me in the eye, and I patted his nose even though Grandma said he didn’t like that. While I brushed him I pushed his legs sideways, closer and closer to the fence. I had an idea that if he would stand right against the fence, I could climb it and then swing aboard the pony and ride him without Grandma leading him. It never worked, because the pony was too clever. He’d move closer and closer to the fence, and then, when I went to climb it, quickly sidestep away.

Once when I wanted to switch sides I went right under him. Grandma saw and levitated off the porch stop, hollering, “Kimmy! Don’t you do that! Don’t you ever do that again! The pony’s liable to kick you in the head!”

I knew the pony would never kick me, but after that I checked first to see whether Grandma was looking before I ducked beneath him.

Years later I found myself saying to my own young son, “When you’re finished brushing him on the one side, I want you to walk around his front to go to the other side. Do not go underneath him. I don’t care how much easier it looks, I don’t want you doing it.”

My son gave me a mulish look. “I am onto you, boy,” I said. “I catch you ducking under that pony and you’ll owe me two weeks cleaning stalls before you ride him again.”

“How do you know?” my son asked.

I tried to tell him, about the magical summer with the small white pony, but at the time he was too young to understand.

You can read my regular blog, which isn’t always about horses, at www.kimberly-brubaker-bradley.blogspot.com, and read more about me and my books at www.kimberlybrubakerbradley.com.

 

The Mom With The Saddle

My kids and me (and my aunt Cindy) at the AECs in 2006, taken by my uncle, Michael Evertson.

My kids and me (and my aunt Cindy) at the AECs in 2006, taken by my uncle, Michael Evertson.

I don’t remember exactly who said this or why. We were down at the ballpark’s lower fields, so it had to be when my son was at least 10 years old. I’d said something to another mom about my horse. “Oh,” the woman said, her eyes widening, then narrowing, “I’ve heard of you. You’re the mom with the saddle.”

The Mom with the Saddle.

I grinned, taking it as the compliment she didn’t mean it to be. I’ve heard of you. Once, three years or more before that, I’d cleaned all my tack during a Little League baseball game. I’d had a clinic the next day, so my tack needed to be spotless, and, believe me, there is nothing about watching 7 year olds play baseball that requires such intense concentration that you can’t clean a bridle at the same time.

The woman clearly thought it strange that I had an interest of my own more absorbing than my son’s potentially big-league baseball career. I, on the other hand, thought it strange that she thought that her son, or mine, or any of the other kids on the field, had a potentially big-league baseball career. They were good boys who played hard. The end.

Once one of the Little League mothers got so incensed screaming at her son and the team as a whole that my son, playing second base, screamed back. “We’re trying! he said. “Quit yelling at us!”

I never yelled. I showed up and cleaned my tack, or I knitted. Meanwhile, my children also showed up for me. “So, what happened at the second canter transition?” my 7-year-old son asked after the dressage at my first ever event. “I thought you were going to go out of the ring.” He thought about it, then added, “That would have made you eliminated.”

“I know.” Which was exactly what happened at the transition, inconveniently placed at A. Gully saw the exit and figured it was time to leave. I lost a stirrup but convinced him to both stay in the ring and to canter, which made it a success. Of sorts. It wasn’t exactly dressage, but then, neither was anything else I did in those days.

My gift to my children is that I have let them see me fail. They saw me fall off over the first fence in show jumping. Twice. Saw me bite back obscenities and then say them anyway. Saw me eliminated at the water. Saw me move up to Novice, then Training. Saw me galloping over the finish line at the AECs. They saw me do well and do poorly, and keep trying, and work through difficulties and withdraw when my horse didn’t feel quite right and kick on when it was raining and I was scared. I think, I hope, it’s been good for them. I can’t yell when they make mistakes, having made far too many of my own. They know that sometimes success is a relative term.

It’s been years since my son played Little League. My daughter plays high school tennis now. Last week, I kept a previous commitment instead of going to her second day of sectionals. She was playing one of the best girls in the state and could not possibly win. She called me when the match was over. “Mom!” she said, “on my serve I took her to deuce twice!”

“Awesome!” I said, and meant it, and she knew I did.

Kim Bradley is one of our fantastic writers on Bloggers Row.  Be sure to check out more stories from Kim and other contributors on the Bloggers Row page: you’ll find a link at the top toolbar of this site, and the three most recent posts are displayed in the lower right sidebar.  Go moms, and go Eventing!

Camp Camp Camp Camp

Camp 2011. I'm on the far left, wiping my eyes. Crying? Sweating? Probably sweating. Camp 2011. I'm on the far left, wiping my eyes. Crying? Sweating? Probably sweating.

Well, color me joyful. I just signed up for summer camp.

Not just any camp: O’Connor event camp, my happy place in the world. After two years’ absence–one caused by both O’Connors spending the entire summer in England leading up to the 2012 Games, the next because Karen was still recovering from her very scary accident–it’s back. Even better, it’s moving to the Sandy River Equestrian Center in Axton, Virginia.

I will always love the Virginia Horse Center, where all previous camps I’ve attended have been held. Whenever we turn off I-81 and see House Mountain in the distance my daughter and I sigh. We’re home. But VHC is dusty and hot as heck in the summer, and though Axton, VA, is not likely to be any cooler it’s at least got tons of trees. And a swimming pool! And a cross country course I’ve never jumped before. I know the layout of Sandy River because I went to a clinic there last January, but the weather was lousy so we stayed in the indoor, grateful we had walls to block the Arctic wind. I saw the cross-country course in the distance. It looked amazing. Can’t wait.

I first went to camp in 2006. I loved it. First of all, I knew next to nothing about eventing, which hadn’t at all stopped me from doing it, and the week of good instruction completely flooded my brain, in a good way. I went from careening out of control over jumps–“When I tell you to slow down,” KOC bellowed on day one, “I at least want to see your shoulders move!” –to actually being able to balance my horse cross-country. I learned so much about how much I didn’t know. It was awesome.

Also, Karen O’Connor let me ride in her cross-country saddle. Because my own was part of my problem. And that was really cool.

Also, I loved camp and camping as a girl, and I still do. I was one of those kids who’d belly-flop into the lake every single morning before breakfast, who enthusiastically sang all the camp songs. I’ve never minded sweat, bugs, dirt. I like to play outside. A week with my horse? Fabulous! My horse thought so, too.

I couldn’t go to camp in 2007 due to my brother’s wedding, but I didn’t miss a year between 2008 and 2011. Eventually my daughter and her horse started coming, too. My daughter got a new horse in 2012 and has been mourning the fact that dear Mickey’s never gotten to go to camp. We’re fixing that.

Here’s the lineup of instructors: Karen O’Connor. David O’Connor (oh, yeah, I think I’ve heard of him). Cathy Wieschhoff, who’s a veteran camp instructor, and such a fabulous teacher that I’ve ridden with her as much as possible since 2006 and am paying her to teach my beloved pony clubbers in June. Clark Montgomery. You might have heard that he’s leading Badminton after dressage, but he also taught back in 2006 and I remember him for his patient expertise. Clark’s wife, Jess Montgomery, will teach stable management.

Let’s see. It’s May 9. Six weeks ’til camp begins. Better start the trot sets, and begin cleaning up my tack…