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Kristen Kovatch

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‘OMG, What Happened To Your Face?’: Grass Mumps

Disclaimer: This anecdote is not meant to serve as veterinary advice. Any horse health concerns should be taken to your veterinarian.

A crisp fall morning earlier this week found me ambling back from the cow pasture on my horse Jobber after a successful move of the farm’s cattle herd between fields in the pasture rotation. Jobber had done a fabulous job of being exactly where I needed him to be every time I asked, and for the first time in her life, my border collie had been actually helpful rather than popping up exactly where she didn’t need to be at the most critical moments.

I stepped down out of the saddle back at the barn, gave Jobber a good pat on the neck, gathered my reins and felt my eyes bug out of my head.

“What. Happened. To. Your. FACE?”

On the 15-minute walk from the point where I had last dismounted to close up a wire gate as the last of the cattle disappeared over the hill in their new pasture and now, Jobber’s cheeks had bloomed into a series of… well, to put it succinctly, lumps. He looked rather like a hamster — not a good look for my normally sleek Thoroughbred, despite the bloom of his thick winter coat.

The initial lumpy swellings on Jobber’s cheeks. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

The swellings were fairly symmetrical, firm to the touch, and did not appear to be sensitive. Jobber stood there patiently, likely thinking what are you doing now, human as I poked and prodded at his face. I gently pulled at the reins as though I was riding — no bit sensitivity. I pulled his bridle in the barn, got him untacked and groomed, and checked his temperature. Normal. Judging from the way he was trying to clean up stray wisps of hay from the floor, he appeared to have a fine appetite.

I stood back and looked at my horse, who looked back at me expectantly. What? This is what I look like now, he could have been saying.

I tentatively turned Jobber back out so I could observe him. My immediate thought was a bad tooth — but the swelling was symmetrical, and he got right to work grazing, so that seemed unlikely. He had had a mild facial swelling earlier in the summer which I believed was likely a bee sting or a big horsefly bite, but again, this swelling was symmetrical on both sides. Had he stuck his head in a thorn bush while we had been moving cattle? That had definitely happened, yes … but what were the chances that he somehow pricked both cheeks equally to the point of swelling, without me finding any actual wounds or embedded thorns? The swelling was too high to be a symptom of strangles, and he was lacking the other key symptoms as well (fever, loss of appetite, nasal discharge and coughing).

The eventual diagnosis? Grass mumps.

Yes, it’s a real thing — poorly explained in most veterinary literature, and rather mysterious in cause, grass mumps (sometimes called grass glands) are swellings of the parotid gland, located below the ear and behind the cheek. While it’s generally believed to be a mild allergic reaction to new grass, or perhaps new pollens, no one seems to know for sure why the swellings appear. Generally, removing the horse from the triggering grass is enough for grass mumps to clear up on their own within a day or two; some advise giving antihistamine.

Diagram showing the location of the parotid gland. Photo via public domain.

This was still a bit puzzling to me, as we’re clearly well into fall — Jobber had been on this pasture all summer, and due to some recent pasture decisions, the cattle had eaten down most of the pasture so there was little brand-new growth. Then I remembered — the day before moving all of those cattle, I had moved the horses into a different section of pasture where they hadn’t been grazing since the spring. With some untouched weeds bobbing over the fenceline, I had probably set up the perfect storm for these mysterious grass mumps.

When I next checked Jobber, the swelling had faded from his cheeks and had settled into the classic location for grass mumps — symmetrical swelling below the ear and behind the cheek, over the area of the throatlatch, right over the parotid glands. The next morning, they were barely noticeable, and by afternoon they were gone completely.

Swelling now over the parotid area over the throatlatch — the classic “grass mumps.” Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Thus ended a brief and characteristic equestrian panic, and thus my knowledge grew just a little bit more about weird conditions that our beloved horses are prone to developing at the drop of a hat. Grass mumps can be filed under the heading of “things that look worse than they actually are,” as well as “things that may look somewhat like much more serious conditions” — but in reality, they’re more bark than bite.

24 hours later, back to normal (if slightly dirty). Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

For more information about grass mumps, I recommend the article “Jaw Swelling In Horses: Strangles or Grass Mumps?” from friends of Horse Nation, Kentucky Equine Research.

That’s Spooky! Details on HN’s Halloween Short Story Contest

The old “snort-n-spook,” a Halloween classic with year-round appeal. Photo courtesy of Kate Samuels. 

Have a spooky Halloween horsey short story to share?

Whether you have an old tale that’s been passed down in your barn family or you conjure up the best spooky story in your mind and put it down on paper, Horse Nation is calling for your best horsey Halloween tales for its first annual short story contest. We’ll publish the best around Halloween, and we’ll be reading our favorites on the Halloween episode of Horses in the Morning, the horse world’s first and favorite daily podcast!

How to enter:

  1. Send your story, either in the body of the email or in an attachment, to [email protected] Include your full name (or penname!)
  2. Stories should be limited to about 2,500 words. If you’re under that limit, that’s fine; if you’re a bit over, we’ll use our discretion. Stories selected for publishing may be edited slightly for length if necessary.
  3. Multiple entries are welcome!
  4. “Spooky” suggests a true good old-fashioned goosebump-inducing ghost story, but we’ll also welcome lighthearted spoofs. That means you can write “The Curse of Hunter’s Hill Farm,” or “The Horse Who Was Too Fat For His Girth To Buckle.”
  5. Entries are due by midnight on Wednesday, October 24!

HN will publish the best 5-8 stories on October 29-31, and we will read our favorites on the October 31 episode of Horses in the Morning.

Go Writing! Here are a few spooky tales to get you started:

 

Best of HN: Equestrian Life Hack — Moving Stall Mats

Horse Nation contributor Melanie O’Neill, an event and dressage rider from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, shared this recent mind-blowing equestrian life hack. We’ve all had to contend with the dreaded barn chore of moving, cleaning and then replacing those cumbersome yet necessary stall mats — they’re bulky, heavy and just not designed to be picked up and moved easily.

Melanie found a cheap and easy way to haul those mats around the farm using common materials lying around pretty much every barn we can think of. In Melanie’s words: “I have heard of using clamps or vise grips, but I didn’t have those … and this is free!”

Genius! With just a long section of twine and a few pieces of old hose for secure handles, Melanie made a handy little DIY mat handle in just a few seconds flat.

Thanks, Melanie! Have an equestrian life hack of your own to share? Let us know by emailing [email protected]!

Go riding!

Hurricane Michael Wrecks Panhandle Farms, Including Aqua Farms Sport Horses

The quickly-intensifying storm smashed the Florida panhandle on Wednesday, leaving destruction in its wake. Joe Pimentel’s Aqua Farms, one of North America’s top Trakehner breeding operations, was hit particularly hard.

Aerial view of catastrophic storm surge and wind damage in Mexico Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael. The powerful surge swept numerous homes clean off their foundations while violent winds caused extensive structural damage. NOAA/public domain

Hurricane Michael was a storm of unprecedented strength and speed: the storm rapidly intensified from a “disturbance” on Saturday to a fully-fledged hurricane just shy of Category 5 wind speed by Wednesday. The Florida communities of Panama City and Mexico Beach took a direct hit, with images from Mexico Beach in particular showing scenes of widespread devastation. The famous tourist destinations are essentially unrecognizable.

Due to the storm’s speed, it was able to cover a lot of ground inland, remaining a defined hurricane as it clawed its way across the Southeast. While the remains of Michael have now blown out to sea over the Atlantic, the recovery efforts are just beginning, and among the millions affected by this storm are horse owners and equestrians.

Hit particularly hard was Joe Pimentel’s Aqua Farms Sport Horses: Pimentel is the president of the Trakehner Association of North America (TANA) and respected as one of the largest breeders of Trakehners in the United States. His farm in the Panama City area is home to 75 horses, including several prized stallions.

While the farm was built to withstand hurricanes, the intensity and track of Michael wreaked havoc on the 250-acre property: the roof blew off the stallion barn, the indoor arena is a pile of rubble and an estimated $1 million worth of outbuildings were damaged or destroyed, reports TANA secretary Jean Marie Larson to Horse Nation. While the storm track meant that Aqua Farms did not suffer flooding, the farm did take the brunt of the western edge’s high winds.

Tragically, one horse was killed by the storm — a broodmare who had foaled in September, leaving behind an orphaned filly. Another injured horse was euthanized by a veterinarian, who came to the farm as soon as she could to treat horses injured by flying debris. Larson reports that transport will be heading to the farm soon to pick up the orphaned filly and any other critical cases so that they can be cared for while the farm cleans up.

Orphaned filly with “Trakehner royalty” bloodlines. Photo courtesy of Jean Marie Larson.

Efforts are underway by friends of Pimentel to assess how much hay and feed he needs for the immediate health of his horses. A GoFundMe has been set up by Pimentel’s sister to assist. Larson adds that Pimentel has been part of the Trakehner community for decades and has been “a great guy for a lot of us,” and the horse world is already responding in kind.

Elsewhere in the region, efforts are underway to provide relief for other horse owners in the wake of Michael. Tune Ups Veterinary Equine Services, spearheaded by Dr. Bess Darrow, is gathering monetary donations and organizing a volunteer team to assist horse owners in need; Dr. Darrow reports to HN that the situation is currently “chaotic” and she is having a hard time getting into the area.

For all readers who wish to lend a hand, Fleet of Angels is connecting victims with help via its National Equine Evacuation Directory — the directory connects those in need with evacuation sites, volunteer shippers and donated goods including feed and supplies. The directory includes easy-to-navigate channels for individuals who need assistance as well as those who can provide; Fleet of Angels is also accepting monetary donations.

Our hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Michael.

This story was originally posted on our sister site, Horse Nation.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 5

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed it: Part IPart IIPart III, Part IV.

I’ve grown strangely accustomed in the five days that I’ve been here in Kentucky to a number of things: getting up happily (well, maybe not happily, but promptly, anyway) before dawn, operating with little sleep, little food, and tragically way too little water, and spending about 14 hours at the showgrounds. This is the horse show life: It’s been a long time since I’ve lived it, and while it’s bizarre and strange and taxing on every system, it’s also glorious, triumphant and stupidly fun.

This morning, however, was unique.

“I need to be at the stirrup cup in 20 minutes and I’m panicking” read the text message I read in the pre-dawn darkness. Meagan DeLisle (of HN and JN fame) had been braiding horses literally all night long, and as often happens with dedicated braiders, had left her horse for last … meaning that he was still chilling out in his stall, braided down but not pulled up.

That’s how I wound up with a pull-through in my hand, hastily pulling up hunter braid for the first time in about a decade, a headlamp shining the way as Meagan pulled on her show clothes and tacked up her horse. I’m pleased to say that not only did the braids not look completely terrible when the sun actually rose, but Meagan made it to the stirrup cup with time to spare, and a glass of port later, was looking much more optimistic about her day.

Meagan and Flash gathering at the Stirrup Cup on a very picturesque hunting morning. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Jobber was back to “home Jobber” mode after extensive hand-grazing and riding over the past few days, and after another long graze this morning, I anticipated needing only minimal warm-up for the freestyle performance. While I had been looking forward to showing Jobber’s talents with cattle in the freestyle, I equally had zero expectations for the class as far as placing and scoring went — I simply wanted to show the world that Thoroughbreds could work cows!

Expectations should have been placed, perhaps, on the unknown factor — the cow itself. Fellow ranch work competitor Fawn had kindly hauled in a roping steer on a trailer for me, and while our experience was mostly in working cows and calves in the pasture, I was pretty confident that Jobber would take to a roping steer easily. What I should have doubted, perhaps, was the roping steer’s ability to take to us. From the moment the black and white booger stepped off the trailer, he was pretty resistant to any of our attempts to actually direct him anywhere … almost as though that big indoor atmosphere that I had worried about with Jobber had struck fear right into his little bovine heart.

In a normal reined cow horse run — the specific discipline in which I hope to show Jobber in 2019 — this cow would have gotten us a whistle blow and a new cow pretty much immediately. But in the Makeover’s freestyle format, in which this was a BYO cow event, that wasn’t really an option … so we tried to make the most of what we had. At least we kept the spectators entertained.

Freestyle at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover

In a regular reined cow horse run, this cow would have been whistled out and I would have gotten a new one — but this was the freestyle and I had to work with what I got on a time crunch! Therefore, enjoy four minutes of me trying various methods to get this little booger to move as Jobber tries his hardest, despite the cow goring him (he is fine, but I think he might STILL be mad about it).

Posted by Jobber Bill, 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover on Friday, October 5, 2018

On the plus side, I’ve never used a flag around Jobber before (this may shock some stocksmen, but it’s just not a tool we typically use on our farm). I’m pleased he handled that well, and also beyond pleased that he lost absolutely none of his bravery after getting thumped in the chest by this irritated steer.

Shout-out to all of the random folks who jumped over the wall to help herd this booger of a cow back to his trailer! It got a little western, but it got done.

Photo by Nancy Kohler-Cunningham.

Our Makeover performances are now behind us: I’ll come back to the indoor arena tomorrow for the awards presentation for working ranch, in which we are officially seventh place — for which I’m over the moon happy. For the way that Jobber just walks into the indoor ring with all of its atmosphere and all eyes on him as though he does this every day — when in reality he spends his time outside just wandering around the pastures with me — made me so unbelievably proud of him and so grateful for the horse he has become. I am truly a lucky horse owner.

Oh, and Jobber also found this giant soccer ball in the warm-up ring and dragged me over so he could push it around. Photo by Melissa Murray.

As the sun set this evening, Meagan and I, inherently just two grown-up pony children, slipped on our helmets and halters and let Flash and Jobber graze lazily out in the field, enjoying the fact that thanks to the Makeover, we had found these lifetime horses for ourselves. We may not be here to chase the prizes and the placings, but we are only here because this organization and this event made us believe that we could tackle this challenge.

The past 10 months with Jobber have been full of highs and lows, challenges and rewards, and so much expansion of my horse knowledge. He has truly been a life-changing horse for me, and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey when we get home … after I turn him out and let him chase our cows around on his own for a few days out on the pasture.

Photo by Allison Everhart.

Knowing When It’s Time to Retire a Horse: Q&A With Madeline Backus, Presented by Draper Therapies

Originally published on EN’s sister site Horse Nation.

Madeline Backus and PS Arianna at the Badminton horse inspection. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Madeline Backus and her mare PS Arianna were a fan-favorite duo in their rise to the upper levels of eventing — memorably, Madeline helped fund her first ride at the Kentucky Three-Day Event by selling baked goods. Madeline and “Ari” had been partnered since Backus was 10 and Ari was 5, working their way up the levels including competing in three NAJYRC events, passing A level Pony Club testing, being named to the Under 25 emerging athletes list for three years and, at their crowning first CCI4* at the Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2017, placing 20th and earning the JD Reeves Award for highest-placed young rider.

The pair did not stop there — in 2018, Madeline received Wilton Fair and Rebecca Broussard grants that allowed her and Ari to travel overseas to train and compete. The pair competed at Badminton, after which Backus made the tough decision to bring Ari home to retire.

“This incredible story that I’ve had the pleasure to be part of has not gone without its ups and downs,” Madeline says. “Ari had a major injury in 2011 that took her two years to recover from, as well as lots of bumps and learning curves along the way. She will always be a very special horse to me and has a forever home with me.”

We caught up with Backus to talk about retirement of performance horses and indicators that it’s time.

Horse Nation: Did you have a retirement plan in place for Ari before you made the ultimate decision?

Madeline Backus: When it was time, I planned to bring her home to Colorado, where she had grown up. I am very lucky that my family has an extra property down the road where we keep the broodmares and retired horses, so she will get to go out with the herd. And it’s wonderful to have a mare, so I am planning to breed her, or look into embryo transfer. I definitely want a few little Ariannas running around in a couple of years!

HN: What factors went into your decision? What factors would you recommend others take into consideration when looking at their own horses?

MB: It was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. Ari turned 17 this year, and has had a lot of wear and tear. I have been lucky to have some amazing vets and therapies to help keep Ari feeling her best, and help her through her old injury. She has always loved her job, and fought to keep competing. After Badminton, where I had a minor tumble, it was becoming harder to keep her sound for the upper levels. I had great vets and chiropractors, and even though she trotted sound, I knew something wasn’t right.

One day I was schooling cross country gearing her up for Bramham International (our reroute after Badminton) and she stopped with me. She has never stopped. I withdrew from Bramham, in hopes I could reroute because it was just something minor that we could get through like we have done so many times before. I gave her some time off, and then started her back up again. Our rides, even jumping, seemed like work for her, and I knew she was doing it because that’s what she was trained to do, and not because she really wanted to. That’s when I knew I was making the right decision, even if it was the last thing I wanted to do. She owes me nothing, and it wouldn’t be right to push her through if it’s not what she wants to do anymore.

The biggest piece of advice I have from my first experience with retiring a horse, is to trust that you know your horse best. Don’t risk safety and partnership with your horse if you’re worried they might not be at the top of their game. Allow yourself the time to make such a big decision, as it’s not a light one that can be made easily. And don’t worry if it didn’t end on the best note. It’s not just about how your horse’s career ended, it’s about all of the perseverance and achievements they had throughout it.

HN: When do you know it’s “time”?

I think that’s something that will be different for every horse and rider. Ari told me a couple of ways, and after I stopped being in denial of what she was saying, it was very clear to me. When the initial thought of her retirement was real, I did try to bring her back because we had gotten through so many injuries and bad times before, so I had to make sure it wasn’t just another blip I could get through. I didn’t do this by taking her to events — I just continued riding her at home and really listened to her. I know now, without a doubt, I made the correct decision. It’s great to have her back home where she can relax and enjoy herself. I’ve been taking her on bareback rides, and letting her just have fun. That’s what it’s all about.

We wish PS Arianna all the best in retirement! Go riding.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 4

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed it: Part IPart II, Part III.

Well, it’s official: I have the best horse in the world.

Let me back up a little.

It was finally the official start of the Thoroughbred Makeover, and it was organized chaos: horses coming and going, all braided to the nines as they headed to the hunter and jumper rings; eventers strutted out to the cross-country course and the dressage horses headed up to the iconic Rolex arena. I particularly loved seeing the barrel racers in their bright colors coming back through the barns, especially the barrel racer who had been her horse’s winning jockey, bringing him full circle into his second career.

We had plenty of time to kill this morning before the ranch work started, feasibly with a trail course inspection at noon. That ended up running late, and then the ranch itself ran late — so I had several hours to take Jobber out to the big field and go for a ride.

From our vantage point on top of the hill, I could catch glimpses of the eventers tackling the cross country course, hunters and jumpers warming up in the schooling ring and lots of horses coming out to hand-graze between competition. Despite the tension and likely stress among many of the competitors, everyone with whom I interacted was positive, encouraging and supportive of their fellows. This is hands-down the nicest horse show I have ever been to.

After letting Jobber canter his great big heart out in the field and walking on a long rein back to the barn, it was time for the ranch trail inspection. I somehow picked up a group of folks all walking the course together, and hope I helped steer everyone to success who was seeking some guidance!

The course was challenging: every competitor would first enter and perform the ranch riding pattern, which called for smooth upward and downward transitions at a forward but relaxed pace; the trail portion was a fascinating array of obstacles including a log drag, sidepassing, numerous pole obstacles, ground tying, a gate and the most challenging of all — trotting through a “covered wagon” (essentially a giant tent).

Jobber was back to his unflappable, mellow self, and no matter how well or poorly the ranch ride would go, I was just over the moon that he was happy and willing again after yesterday’s total meltdown in the stall. He ambled around the warm-up pen on a loose rein, stood at the in-gate and watched some of our new friends ride, and soon it was our turn.

At this point, I knew the Makeover would come down to two things: was the horse prepared? Would he handle the atmosphere? We had done our homework, I felt, at home — we had schooled the majority of these obstacles (maybe not the wagon) and I knew he could do them all, feasibly. But while we had schooled plenty in the indoor arena, it was a far different scene today with the stands full of people, all of the vendors set up, the announcer and music going full-blast and obstacles in every direction. The atmosphere worried me the most.

Waiting at the in gate. Photo by Nancy Kohler-Cunningham.

Naturally, I needn’t have worried about any of this at all. Jobber strutted casually into the arena like he owned the place and we laid down what I felt was a great pattern: straight and balanced with solid transitions and a great display of lengthening and collecting.

Jobber’s big weakness is his klutziness — despite schooling him extensively both in hand and under saddle over poles, I knew this would be our weak spot, and with the poles set pretty close to require the horse to really read and adjust his stride, I was anticipating likely bashing into most of them. True to form, Jobber bounced off pretty much every pole, which cost us some big points, but he had nailed his transitions and his leads and I couldn’t have asked for more.

The first obstacle of the trail course was the covered wagon, and in my strategizing with my support team and my new friends in the ranch riding class, I stated my objective — the wagon would set the stage for how we tackled the rest of the course. If he handled the wagon well, we would go for the higher degree of difficulty. If the wagon was a disaster, we would play conservative to build his confidence back up and end on a good note.

Jobber made the turn up the centerline right under the Jumbotron at a bright working trot, ears pricked forward — just before the wagon, I asked him to walk, and with just the barest hesitation he marched right under the canopy and trotted out the other side. Anyone sitting in the upper half of the ring was treated to an ear-to-ear grin as we bounced out of the wagon and on to the next obstacle.

Heading into the wagon without hesitation. Photo by Nancy Kohler-Cunningham

The log drag had some options for degree of difficulty: one could take the safer, conservative route and drag to the right, leaving the log to the inside and not wrapping around the horse’s haunches, or one could drag to the left and show that their horse was comfortable with the rope no matter where it went. The purpose of the log drag in the ranch course is to imitate dragging a calf to the branding fire, and if my experience with cattle has taught me one thing it’s that the unexpected can happen at any moment. We opted to take the higher degree of difficult and head left into our figure eight.

At the course walk, the judges had stated that if you could replace the log exactly where it stated, you’d be right on the money — and with a little maneuvering, we parked that log right where we had picked it up, then nicely sidepassed and backed to replace the rope on the tree. Of all of the obstacles we tackled today, I’m most proud of how we handled the drag.

The back and sidepass was a bit rough — Jobber will sometimes swing a hind leg out while starting his back, and that caused him to straddle a pole rather than back into the chute. The sidepass was a little sticky to get started, but in taking my time and thinking our way through it, we were able to recover and finish the obstacle in decent form.

He handled the turnaround in the box well, and picked right up into the left lead lope before taking the highest degree of difficulty and transitioning to the walk right before the ground poles for a second time — knowing he would probably step on them all again, I knew I had to make up points where I could! We then handled the spoke wheel of raised poles like a real winner, stepping carefully and not knocking a single one.

The ground tie, despite having practiced at home, just didn’t really pan out — Jobber stood for about half a beat before being pretty certain he had to walk with me, which I can forgive completely. We remounted, worked the gate to exit the pattern, and we had completed a dream ride at the Thoroughbred Makeover.

Ranch Work at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover (1 of 2)

Part one of two videos of our ranch work patterns! Thanks to Kate Samuels for the videos.

Posted by Jobber Bill, 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover on Thursday, October 4, 2018

Ranch Work at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover (2 of 2)

Part two of our ranch work patterns at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover! Thanks to Kate Samuels for the video.

Posted by Jobber Bill, 2018 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover on Thursday, October 4, 2018

My support team rushed down out of the stands, all of them — my coach Nancy, my friend Eileen and new bestie/Jumper Nation editor Meagan — with tears in their eyes over how brave and amazing my little horse had been. I am so grateful for all of their help this week.

Additionally, the spectators are just awesome. At every obstacle, I could hear quiet calls of “good job,” “that was beautiful,” “good work, cowgirl” and numerous claps, cheers and whistles. I said it before up above, but I’ll say it again — this is hands-down the nicest horse show I have ever been to.

I fully expected to finish mid-pack, but as of press time, I’m in the top ten! I’m out of the top five that will be called back to ride in the finale, but if I stay in the top ten, I do get to come back and get a big pretty ribbon. While I’m not in this for the prizes, the simple validation of how amazing my little horse is will mean the world if I get to hang a ribbon on his bridle and look at a tangible reminder of all of our hours of hard work.

This has already been one of the best experiences in my horse life, and there are still two more days to go.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 3

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed it: Part I, Part II

There are a few lines to open a phone call that no horse owner really ever wants to hear, but Meagan DeLisle of Jumper Nation tried her hardest to break it to me easy.

“So I don’t want to alarm you, but…”

Oh, great.

“… Jobber’s kind of freaking out.”

“About what?”

“Well, I don’t know — it’s dead quiet here.”

I hung up the phone, made a hasty apology to the volunteer coordinator who I was supposed to be helping this morning — they had given me a golf cart! I was going to be useful! — and hustled back across the Kentucky Horse Park to Barn 14, where I could hear the distant but distinctive banging of a hoof meeting stall door. Meagan and one of our shedrow neighbors were gathered outside Jobber’s stall, trying to keep him quiet, but there he was, his bedding mounded up into a mountain in the corner, flinging himself in circles around the stall dripping in a full-body sweat.

I hurried to get his halter on and take him out, having the sneaking suspicion that my good-minded little horse had finally had enough of being “trapped” in a 10 x 10 stall. After all, Jobber lives out on a glorious wide pasture with his herdmates, wandering at will up and down the big hill grazing on what I firmly believe is some of the finest grass in the nation. (The proof is in the pudding, and he’s filled out gorgeously.)

This booty and topline powered by good old-fashioned grass. Photo by Allison Howell

We headed out to the cross country field behind the barns where Jobber fretfully grabbed mouthfuls of grass, then circled me, then grabbed mouthfuls of grass, then circled again, his ears and eyes constantly flickering at any movement or sound. Over the next two hours, Jobber settled, cooled, and relaxed once again, finally settling to the green grass he had been clearly desiring.

The signs had really been there for about 24 hours, but it took this very clear shout from Jobber to really get through to me — this show setup is a drastically different environment from what he’s used to, and I had taken too much for granted with his generally good attitude about life. Standing out in that field while Jobber gradually settled, I made a silent promise to try to listen to him a bit better.

So we saddled up and headed back to the field. After all, as a proud member of #TeamNoArena, what sense was there in heading to yet another schooling ring — fantastic though the footing may be? We started out on a long-rein hill walk, heading up to the top, then back down, then at the trot, circling around various cross-country obstacles and trees. When the moment felt right, I cued him into a ground-covering canter, pointed him up the hill and turned him loose.

Jobber’s strides ate up the ground as though he was hungry to work — we were at the top of the big hill before I knew it, arcing wide along the fence as the earth sloped gently down to an old stone wall. The black fenceposts flashed by as I settled into the regular rhythm, and we could have been in our home pasture, racing the wind, Jobber’s ears pricked happily forward and his hoofbeats cadenced and regular. He slowed himself at the end of the fenceline, settling down to a trot and then a walk, striding forward easily and happily on a long rein, finally able to blow off the steam that had clearly been building since he first set foot in his stall.

Many Thoroughbred lovers will state that it takes quite a lot to get to the bottom of these horses, and I no longer had any qualms that I would “wear Jobber out” as long as good horsemanship still dictated the day. We hacked to the indoor arena, worked in front of the massive Jumbotron, hacked back across the park and cooled down so Jobber could settle down for a bit of lunch, then saddled back up in the afternoon for a very special hack — the United Nations.

That’s what Meagan called the best hacking group ever: Meagan of Jumper Nation on Flash, Kate Samuels of Eventing Nation on Turkey and me on Jobber, plus my good friend from college Kait on her Frankie (shout out to Frankie for the best Jockey Club name ever — Fakeittilumakeit). We went on a lovely hack all over the park, enjoying catching up in a unique meeting as we let our horses relax. As far as we know, this is the first time staff from all three sites have gotten together — and how special to be riding together on Thoroughbreds at the Horse Park!

After the evening’s competitor meeting, Meagan and I took our horses back out to the grass field for one last hand-graze, meeting some new friends along the way and watching the sun set on what turned out to be another perfect Kentucky day. It may have started awfully rough, but I learned a lot about my horse and my horsemanship — and all was well as the sun went down in a painted sky.

Tomorrow, I’ll show in working ranch — stay tuned for another behind-the-scenes update, win, lose, or absolute failure!

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 2

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch reports with her project Jobber Bill! If you missed part 1, check it out here

One aspect of the Makeover that I may have been a little bit glib about was the fact that Jobber’s back in a stall. If I stalled him part-time at home, this probably wouldn’t be a big issue, but taking a horse that lives out 24/7 on a beautiful, massive pasture with his small herd and putting him back in a stall has been an interesting challenge for my horsemanship. Jobber is still the same level-minded horse he is at home, but he has a lot of go here — still no buck (knock wood) and he’s always willing to work, but he could power-walk the trails and hills here all day long and still want to power-walk after a good ride.

From yesterday’s “modeling session” in which Jobber sported the incredible memento saddle blankets for all western competitors this year. Photo by the talented and lovely Allison Howell.

Now that more neighbors are moving into our shedrow, Jobber’s settling down much better in the stall. Nevertheless, in this morning’s pre-dawn, he was the only horse in his row, and we shared a quiet moment watching a sudden strong rain fall, taking a moment of quiet together to get ready for the day. Jobber would have a few more hours to stand in his stall, unfortunately. It was volunteering day!

Every show needs volunteers to run efficiently and smoothly, and with ten disciplines taking place in multiple rings and areas all over Kentucky Horse Park, there’s a lot of set-up that needs to get done quickly. Sure, while I could have used my morning to hack Jobber extra and get him out and about more, I also felt that with so many extra days in my schedule here, the least I could do was give the Retired Racehorse Project a few hours of my time and help the show go smoothly.

Volunteering is a unique opportunity to get intimate with a discipline you may not practice much on your own — this morning, I loaded jump wagons, then helped other volunteers and members of the Kentucky Dressage Association build three dressage rings in the iconic Rolex Arena. Many hands make light work, and we had all three rings squared away within two hours.

Yep — the Rolex Arena. The dressage folks, plus eventing dressage, are getting the star treatment this week and get to show in the big ring, which I’m sure is a rite of passage for many of those riders. (It may also be super terrifying for some of their horses, but they’ll learn a lot.) While I’m not competing in dressage, I’m happy that I could help build the rings and be part of the dressage riders’ experience in my own little way.

…and then I decided to get a little piece of the Rolex Arena experience for myself later, on one of my several hacks around the park. How can you not? I mean, it’s there, and it was open for schooling, and while maybe some purists are rolling over in their graves to imagine my scrubby little ranch horse meandering across that hallowed ground, but there I went. #YOLO

Jobber takes Rolex … checking on my earlier handiwork. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

In the afternoon, we were able to get into the indoor arena, where both the working ranch and the freestyle will be held, conveniently getting to meet some of the folks I had been following and been inspired by all year. Jobber schooled really nicely in the indoor, but I made the mistake of practicing the working ranch pattern — which I had not ever run prior to today, and then made the mistake of trying to run it a second time. He anticipated the lope departures, so I made the executive decision to not practice the pattern again — just the transitions.

While chatting with some spectators — everyone is SO friendly here — I mentioned I wanted to go explore the park and trail ride, and they pointed out their family member riding a lovely, easy-going bay gelding. I snagged Tashi and her horse Nexen, a four-year-old gelding who trained but never raced, and with whom she had accomplished eventing, dressage and an endurance race in the past year. She’s competing in dressage and the freestyle this week, and we had a lovely hack around the park.

After Tashi and Nexen headed back to the barn, I picked up a few more new friends — Kyle and Binky, a mare who survived Hurricane Maria in Puero Rico, and Dakota and Ziggy, a super sporty little mare (offered in the sale!), who were handwalking, and we went for a second lap around the park.

I haven’t had a single class yet — I won’t until Thursday — but the Makeover has been such a fabulous experience already for the opportunities to meet friendly people, hang out and meet people I had only e-met until now, and of course, share time and conversation about these brilliant, brilliant horses that we’ve been lucky enough to ride. Everyone here feels so passionately about racehorse aftercare — not only for the sake of the horses, but also for the sake of the riders who are blessed with athletic, willing and good-minded mounts. I’ve had some great conversations today with some great people about just how mind-blowingly good these horses are.

The park is really starting to fill up now — more horses are arriving and tomorrow will be a real crush as the last big wave of competitors moves in. Every day has been better than the last; Jobber is schooling great and loving riding around the horse park (even if the whole living-in-a-stall situation is not quite what he was looking forward to). I’m looking forward to another morning of volunteering, and plenty of riding in the afternoon!

If you’re around the Makeover, swing by my mobile office at Barn 14 — you won’t miss the giant Horse Nation banner! Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

WEGging Out: Questions from the Armchair Perspective

While EN had its boots on the ground at the 2018 World Equestrian Games, Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch was working remotely from her home in New York to cover all the non-eventing disciplines, keeping us up to speed with daily pint-sized “WEG Happy Hour” recaps. Being almost 700 miles away from Tryon, Kristen recruited information from a number of sources, and in doing so cultivated a unique perspective of whether or not the Games were a “success.” Kristen shares her own armchair perspective and raises some interesting questions. 

WEG 2018 may be over and out, but there’s still plenty to contemplate as we look back on the Games. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Less than a week after the World Equestrian Games, my life has resumed its normal rhythm again. No more am I chasing down the best of #Tryon2018 on Instagram or scouring the internet for the best stories of the day to present at our near-midnight WEG happy hours; I’m no longer trying to multitask with a live stream window constantly running, distracting me with every cheer or gasp. Yes, the World Equestrian Games have come and gone again, and for this home-based reporter, they were a lot of fun while they lasted and I’m happy to be back to the usual grind.

In the lead-up to WEG and the two weeks during the games, I could log on to social media and divvy my newsfeed into two groups: those who sympathized with the monumental task set before the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), and those who seemed bound and determined to think the worst of WEG before the games even began. Even now, a week later, I’m still seeing posts of attrition about just how terrible WEG really was. Interestingly, most of these posts are from people who did not attend.

As a full disclaimer, neither did I — Eventing Nation sends its crack team to cover eventing in-depth, but due to the wide-reaching all-disciplines foundation of Horse Nation, the logistics of sending even a small army of reporters to try to cover the juggernaut of eight disciplines’ world championships over two weeks would blow any semblance of a travel budget right out of the water.

That said, I feel that there is plenty to be learned in the aftermath of WEG from the home perspective.

Under construction

The Tryon WEG seemed to be plagued by bad luck and bad press right from the start: as a refresher, the facility stepped in at nearly the eleventh hour when Bromont, Canada backed out as a host in mid-2016. While most host facilities have at least four years to prepare, Tryon would attempt to do the near-impossible in just 18 months, including not only barn space and competition space for eight disciplines with riders from all over the world, but the infrastructure to support those horses, riders, teams, support staff, media, vendors and spectators that make the World Equestrian Games what it is.

Bad weather slowed construction to a crawl; on a timeline in which every minute was precious, it became obvious months ahead of time that the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) would be cutting it very, very close.

In the end, the equine accommodations and competition spaces were finished and ready to welcome the world. The rest of the facility? As of September 12, when our team from Eventing Nation was on site, there was still plenty of construction left to complete. Even as WEG continued, so did construction — parking areas in particular were improved overnight. Regardless, a red-dirt bare cliff face topped by large machinery loomed in the background of many a shot from the live feed, and the mud seemed to be everywhere.

Compounding factors

The dates for the 2018 WEG were pushed back about a month, based on two studies commissioned by the FEI to look at the best weather from an equine welfare standpoint. Despite these studies, North Carolina was plagued with high heat and humidity, and right off the bat the weather began taking its toll. The ill-fated endurance race on the first day of competition will likely go down in FEI history as one of the most gut-wrenching fiascos of all time: after already being restarted and shortened after half of the field was misdirected on course, the endurance race was ultimately cancelled when over 50 horses wound up in the clinic with metabolic issues. You can find a more detailed account on the endurance race here.

Hurricane Florence certainly left her mark on the Games as well — wreaking havoc and destruction across the Southeast, the arrival of Florence and her heavy rains caused events scheduled for Sunday, September 16 to be pushed back to Monday, September 17. With a tight travel schedule that could not be modified for the dressage horses, the Freestyle event was ultimately canceled. Flooding around the facility was reportedly minor.

TIEC also came under fire on social media when a photo began circulating of what appeared to be a barracks-style tent with spartan bunks and little privacy, accompanied by the caption that this was the TIEC-provided accommodations for grooms. Mark Bellissimo, CEO of TIEC, issued a personal statement in apology, stating that he was “too optimistic” about being able to answer demand.

It was the half-finished feel of the place that drove show jumping legend Eric Lamaze of Canada to air his grievances on Facebook:

Tryon marked my seventh World Championships and, in my opinion, it was the worst one ever held. We heard stories in the…

Posted by Eric Lamaze on Saturday, September 22, 2018

Now, in defense of Tryon: the facility had 18 months to do what other WEG hosts have done in at least four years. Šamorín Equestrian Center in Slovakia had also put in a bid in 2016 to be the substitute host when Bromont backed out, but the strength of Tryon’s resume and the allure of Bellissimo’s experience and resources ultimately won TIEC the bid. Most Tryon sympathizers point to conditions outside of TIEC’s control for delaying construction.

I spoke with a few actual spectators who attended the event to find their impressions — was it a giant mud-filled disaster with construction materials piled everywhere?

  • The ticketed events, the parking, shuttles, seating, food, restrooms, shopping all were more than satisfactory.
  • The only thing we waited for was a seat at the restaurants. We parked at Staley’s private lot and never waited more than a couple minutes to get picked up.”
  • I came later in the day on cross-country, but same time as reining people were coming in. No wait for shuttle, no wait at the gate. Then a golf cart gave me a ride to the end of the cross-country course. I felt like a VIP.”

So Tryon may not have been a total disaster.

But perhaps the biggest take-away question from the past month should be: is it better to make the attempt and fail, or to never attempt at all? I admire what TIEC tried to do in the name of equestrian solidarity and celebration of our sport on the international stage. But was it too ambitious to try to get it all done on such a shortened timeline?

Would the equestrian world have been better served by having no World Equestrian Games at all and waiting for a future WEG to be held when Tryon was ready for it? Or is a half-finished facility doing its very best with the hand it’s been dealt for a world championships better than nothing?

These are questions to which I don’t have the answer. By its very nature, horse sport always rewards the try, and if we never tried and failed, we would never learn and grow towards that elusive quality of perfection. But another equally important skill to learn is to know when to quit, regroup and come back to try again another day.

Go riding.

Jobber Takes Kentucky: Thoroughbred Makeover, Day 1

Horse Nation editor Kristen Kovatch and her OTTB Jobber are ready to tackle the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, and they’re taking us along for the ride!

Photos by Kristen Kovatch.

The last time I pulled a true all-nighter was in college, and it was purely for fun, if you can believe that — a couple of friends and I simply wanted to see if we could do it, so we made a pot of coffee and a list of random activities and worked until we had finished both and the sun was coming up.

Frankly, I didn’t know if I still had it in me, and I was starting to get genuinely concerned around the neighborhood of 6 a.m. this morning. I had cycled through my second and third winds already, vacillating between droopy weariness combated with singing loudly to the radio and coffee drinks, and bright-eyed peppiness and the sensation that I could keep driving all the way across the country. I could see the merit in a midnight pickup time for my gracious drivers Neil and Leslie — we had positively whizzed through the usual highway tangles around Erie, Cleveland and Columbus with barely any other drivers in sight.

But the hours behind the wheel, keeping the brake lights of the trailer in view, had finally begun taking their toll — despite my best intentions of sleeping late on Sunday and maybe taking a nap after dinner before doing a final pack of the car and wrapping Jobber’s legs, I hadn’t slept an extra wink, and I was paying for it now: we were in Kentucky, with the final destination of the Horse Park just a long half hour away, but the Thoroughbred Makeover felt further away than ever.

And then I glanced to the left, towards the east, and saw the gray hint of first light, the sun’s prelude creeping over the edges of the earth and transforming the mist-shrouded stone and black fences of Lexington into a scene of true magic. The iconic Kentucky Horse Park sign loomed. We had arrived after a long journey with many personal ups and downs of spirit … but we were here now.

All photos by Kristen Kovatch.

Some hours later, any memory of those rougher moments — whether the ones in the car in the true dark night of the soul, or the various road bumps and detours we had taken in the past ten months of our partnership — was erased as Jobber and I picked our way down one of the various horse paths in Kentucky Horse Park. Walnuts trees arched overhead and the sun filtered through as resident horses grazed in paddocks alongside. Jobber’s ears were pricked and he looked at every new sight we passed, but he was brave and confident, drinking in this new and expansive world.

Our ramble took us briefly into the indoor arena, where we’ll show on Thursday and Friday in working ranch and freestyle, before being politely asked to leave so crews could continue transforming the space into what was needed for the Makeover; we then wandered along the paved and graveled tracks before finding ourselves at the edge of the venerable Rolex dressage arena. We wandered back down into the Walnut Ring, where we put in a brief school — while I love my fields and pastures at home, it’s truly lovely to float the rein and let Jobber lope a circle and not have to worry about ditches or rocks or slick cow patties or other unseen hazards grabbing a foot.

It’s been a long 24 hours for both me and Jobber, but it’s already been a rewarding trip: he made the trip in great condition and wowed some of the volunteers here with his overall body condition. In fact, he looked good enough to model the gorgeous western saddle blankets being given to all western competitors this year — we had a lot of fun “posing” Jobber under some big trees to get the beauty shots, his ears perked and eyes focused on various new things he could see in the distance. I couldn’t resist hugging him right then and there: we had made it, after all, and no matter what happened after that moment, we had accomplished my little bucket-list goal that had been growing in my mind since watching the 2017 Makeover finalists — we were here in Kentucky.

Jobber’s been off the track since October 2016, with most of his 2017 spent turned out in a pasture; he’s only been in serious retraining since December (and if you consider the amount of snow and ice we had in the winter, you could also reason that he’s only been in consistent work since maybe April). While I still maintain that I ultimately got lucky and got exactly the horse I needed for my particular situation, I’m also proud of how far we’ve come — all the way from our humble cow pastures to the country’s premier horse show facility to celebrate with our new friends and fellow OTTB enthusiasts.

Check back daily this week for Kristen’s Thoroughbred Makeover blogs! For more information about the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, please see the event’s website and follow the Retired Racehorse Project on Facebook.

Go riding.

Best of HN: ‘Meet Kricket, the Internet’s Favorite Endurance Mini’

Jen Joines and her rescued miniature horse Kricket didn’t set out to become inspirational icons to show that no dream is too big — but here they are, living the dream, fresh off a 65-mile riding tour. We caught up with Jen to learn Kricket’s story!

All photos/videos courtesy of Jen Joines.

All Jen Joines was really looking for was a companion animal.

“There was only one other horse on the property where I kept my paint mare,” describes Joines of Anaheim, California. “So when I took her out to ride, the other horse would panic, and vice-versa.” Joines worked out a deal with the property owner in which she would get a miniature horse to keep everyone company and not pay additional board, and set out to find the right horse. She had just organized the adoption of miniature rescue Kricket from Falcon Ridge Equine Rescue when the other horse on the property passed away. “I couldn’t in good faith change my mind at that point… so Kricket came home.”

Kricket’s transformation.

While she was in the best physical shape of the three miniatures who had been rescued together, Kricket was still a mess: she was at a good weight but had no muscle tone, and didn’t know how to move faster than a walk due to a lifetime of confinement. It took four people to get her into the trailer for the ride home in October of 2016.

Joines’ teenage neighbor stepped in to help, riding the paint mare while Joines slowly started bringing Kricket into work in-hand to get the horse out and moving. Joines has ridden a variety of disciplines, but most recently had started training in endurance; she followed the discipline’s principles to condition Kricket with long, slow, stamina-building miles.

When the teenage neighbor expressed a desire to try an introductory endurance race in May of 2017 — which requires an accompanying entered adult to be within one minute of a youth rider — Joines scanned the rules, realized that there was no rule that explicitly stated a horse had to be ridden, and signed herself up as the accompanying adult… with Kricket.

Kricket’s second endurance intro ride at 20 Mule Team, roughly 9 miles into the 15 mile race, Ridgecrest, CA

“So we walked 18 miles in the mountains. And just like every other entry, we vetted in, did the ride, had our mid-race vet check and vetted out.” Joines’ long, slow miles of conditioning had done the job, and while it may have taken them quite a long time to finish, Kricket did in fact finish.

“Everyone thinks I’m out of my mind, but so far no one has challenged me on it,” Joines details. She does make sure that she’s respectful of other horses and riders on the trail, especially those that for whatever reason totally fall apart at the sight of a mini — she and Kricket move to the side and let others pass as needed. “The only big problem I’m noticing now is that when they have water offered on the trail, it’s too high up for Kricket to reach! I pack a collapsible bowl for her so she can get a drink with everyone else.”

Getting her initial vet check done. 20 Mule Team, Feb 2018

Accompanied by a variety of riders on Joines’ paint mare, she and Kricket have completed several introductory races on six legs, and gotten their time down from six and a half hours to two and a half hours. They’ve managed to beat a few horses in races as well! Kricket was also named Runner of the Month for August by Run Motivators, a virtual race organizer through which Joines tracks their on-foot miles (in Kricket’s name).

One big bucket list item for Joines was the AERC-sanctioned Grand Canyon ride. When her mare was diagnosed with a respiratory condition, Joines was unable to compete last year. “So I said ‘come hell or high water, we’re going this year,’ and we ended up turning it into a hundred-mile ride over ten days across four states.” And that, of course, included Kricket.

This is the spine at Thunder Mountain… The most nerve wracking section of the entire trail#poweredbygreenmare #greenmarenaturals

Posted by The Mini Adventures of Kricket on Monday, September 3, 2018

Video has since gone viral of brave little Kricket tackling some of the toughest riding trails in the American West, ponied behind Joines and her paint mare. The trio was accompanied by several of Joines’ friends and their horses who came along for the ride. The team rode in Kaibob National Forest around the Grand Canyon’s East and North Rim; Barracks Slot Canyons in Mt. Carmel Junction Utah; Red Canyon, part of the Dixie National Forest outside Bryce Canyon; Thunder Mountain, Utah and intended to finish in Red Cliff Desert Preserve in Utah when Kricket exhibited some colic symptoms and forced a reroute to a veterinary hospital in Las Vegas. (Kricket made a full recovery and returned home with no further issues!)

Some seriously rocky trails today at Thunder Mountain#poweredbygreenmare

Posted by The Mini Adventures of Kricket on Thursday, August 30, 2018

“We planned the entire trip thanks to the Facebook group Horse Trails and Camping Across America,” Joines states. “I recommend that group to anyone planning a long trail ride. Everywhere we rode was public land that anyone can ride on, which is awesome.”

Joines never intended to turn Kricket into a viral star; she considered the Facebook page simply a fun way to chronicle her progress with her mini. That said, she’s happy that she can inspire others to try something different, and maybe hit the trails with their own miniatures.

“Kricket wants to be on the trail. We do show a little bit — her first halter show was memorable when she reared and screamed at the judge — but ultimately she really likes to be out on the trail.”

Kricket jumping at a show.

What’s next for this pair?

“I’d love to get through some limited distance races — those are 25 to 30 miles. I’m sure Kricket can make it as long as I get her conditioned… but I’m not sure if I can. So on that note, I entered my first ultramarathon for December to challenge myself and get stronger.” Run Motivators is also issuing a 1200 mile challenge for 2019 — 100 miles every month. Joines hopes she and Kricket can complete that challenge.

Kricket’s medal rack.

Above all else, Joines and Kricket simply have fun. And shouldn’t that be what it’s all about?

Follow the adventures of Kricket at her Facebook page! And go riding.

Snuggle time at Santiago Oaks Regional Park

WEG Happy Hour: USA Clinches Team Show Jumping Gold In Thrilling Jump-Off

McLain Ward of the United States on Clinta. Photo FEI/Martin Dokoupil.

What were the chances that after three rounds of jumping there would be a tie for the gold medal position? In fact, it’s the first time that such a result has occurred at the World Equestrian Games, culminating in a jump-off for gold. The jump-off itself was so close that it literally came down to the final round — and McLain Ward and the stunning Clinta delivered. Catch the full recap, and watch the winning round, complete with thunderous roar from the thrilled home crowd. [U.S. Show Jumping Team Takes WEG Gold On Home Turf]

Turn up your volume for this one. It’s well worth it.

Winning Team – Jumping | FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018

Well…we’ll be watching this EPIC moment again and again for a long time. It all came down to the most electrifying jump off we have ever seen at the FEI World Equestrian Games. But when put to the sword, it was Team USA who came through a nail-biting finish and overcame a very strong Swedish team. Huge congratulations to Team USA – that was incredible!🥇 US Equestrian 🇺🇸🥈 Svenska Ridsportförbundet – Officiell sida 🇸🇪🥉 Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung e.V. (FN) / 🇩🇪

Posted by Fédération Equestre Internationale on Friday, September 21, 2018

History was also made in Para-Dressage, in which the Netherlands became the first team to dethrone the British since the sport’s recognition. It came down to less than one percentage point, and the Dutch edged out the reigning Brits with consistent performances across the board. Para-dressage competition concludes tomorrow with the freestyle championship. [The Netherlands ends Great Britain’s unbeaten para dressage run: ‘We will come back stronger’]

The USA has set the bar high on the first day of combined driving, led by the legendary Chester Weber in driven dressage. Weber currently sits second in the individual standings with a score of 35.10, and teammate Misdee Wrigley-Miller is fourth with a 42.00; USA’s James Fairclough held the drop score. This summary article from the FEI does a great job of explaining just why driven dressage is a tougher challenge than it looks: combine the traditional challenge of dressage with the task of pulling a carriage while working in unison with a total of four horses, and driven dressage is in fact not a casual drive in the park! [USA Drive to the Top]

Don’t miss these gorgeous images from today’s show jumping team final! [Show Jumping at #Tryon2018: Day 2 Photo Gallery]

What does it mean to be chef d’equipe? Rob Ehrens of the Netherlands shares his thoughts and his strategies that have helped pilot the Dutch team to the highest highs as well as the lowest lows. From communication to scheduling, Ehrens details how he drew his road map to the WEG in a fascinating look at one of the more critical roles for a world championship team. [It’s Business As Usual: Rob Ehrens Discusses His Role As Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe For The Netherlands]

WEG Happy Hour, Sept. 19: Vaulters, Jumpers & Para Dressage

Each day Horse Nation presents a pint-sized recap from the World Equestrian Games. Today: The action is heating up in Tryon with three disciplines on the schedule today: get the pint-sized recap on the day’s vaulting, jumping and para dressage action.

Katharina Luschin of Austria on Fairytale. Photo FEI/Martin Dokoupil.

The inaugural Vaulting Nations Cup Team Championship has gone to Germany. When you watch clips of their performance below, you’ll understand why. Part acrobatics, part gymnastics and 100% skill, the well-executed routines impressed both judges and fans. [Germany Celebrates Perfect Performance]

Winning Team – Vaulting Nations Cup Team Championship | FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018

Somebody give us CPR…because that was BREATHTAKING 😲 😲It was the closest thing we’ve seen to a faultless performance from Team Germany in the inaugural FEI Vaulting Nations Cup Team Championship at Tryon2018. They showed some superb acrobatics and beautiful theatrics – what more could you want? 🥇 Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung e.V. (FN) / Team Germany 🇩🇪🥈 SVPS – FSSE / Team Switzerland 🇨🇭🥉 Team Austria 🇦🇹

Posted by Fédération Equestre Internationale on Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rebecca Hart became the first U.S. rider to earn a medal in Para-Dressage, winning Grade III individual bronze. Her mount El Corona Texel was competing in his first ever championship, impressively as were several of the other winning horses. Overall, the para dressage riders have been totally rocking competition with horses that might be on the biggest stage of their lives, and to watch the performances is to be inspired and reminded that there is no limit to what is possible on horseback. [Hart Wins First Ever WEG Para-Dressage Medal For Team USA]

An impressive 124 entries faced off in today’s speed round, kicking off the show jumping phase of the World Equestrian Games. The United States currently rests in fourth place with three more rounds of jumping to go over the next four days; McLain Ward and Clinta are the highest-placed U.S. individual pair in eighth. With plenty of jumping to go, strategy will become important; Team USA, which also includes Laura Kraut and WEG rookies Devin Ryan and Adrienne Sternlicht, have plans in place for tomorrow. Catch plenty of post-round interviews here. [FEI World Equestrian Games Tryon 2018: Show Jumping, Day One]

Plenty of riders are making their world championship debuts in Tryon; Chronicle of the Horse caught up with four of them after today’s show jumping speed round. Get the scoop on the horses, the nerves, representing their home countries and the thrill of riding at the World Equestrian Games, these four rookies — including Japan’s Karen Polle, Canada’s Erynn Ballard, USA’s Devin Ryan and Macedonia’s Luka Zaloznik — share all. [Four First-Times From the FEI World Equestrian Games]

Horse and Hound‘s Polly Bryan describes why she has a soft spot for para-dressage: “It can be a tricky sport to understand and follow, with athletes split into five grades according to their disability, and the individual, team and freestyle championships to make sense of. But those who choose not to get involved are missing out — especially the media. Para dressage is the dream sport for a journalist — our job is to hunt out the very best stories, and convey the drama of the action, and here is a discipline absolutely bursting at the seams with drama, emotion and characterful competitors.” Read the rest of her excellent editorial. [Polly Bryan’s WEG blog: why para dressage is the dream sport]

Go riding!

Thoroughbred Makeover Master Class to Feature Top OTTB Trainers

Featured commentary Richard Lamb. Photo: Anne Litz.

The off-track Thoroughbred, or OTTB, is experiencing a huge resurgence in popularity: more and more equestrians are rediscovering the breed’s versatility and athleticism in a variety of disciplines, and adoption groups, rehoming services and social media are making it easier than ever to bring an ex-racehorse home.

But what do you look for in a sporthorse or pleasure prospect? How do you pick the right horse? And when you get your OTTB home … now what?

To help answer these questions and educate a new generation of OTTB enthusiasts, whether they’re brand-new to the world of ex-racehorses or returning after many years away, the Retired Racehorse Project has added the Makeover Master Class, an interactive session of demonstrations and discussions with four leading trainers and four adoptable prospects relatively fresh off the track. The Master Class is free to attend and will take place on Sunday, October 7 at the Thoroughbred Makeover, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

Featured trainer Clare Mansmann. Photo: Allison Howell.

The horses: Four adoptable prospects (who will all be 2019 Makeover-eligible) from four leading aftercare organizations: CANTER, New Vocations, Turning for Home and Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue

The format: Representatives from each aftercare organization will introduce the horses and what they’ve learned about them, including both their track history and their program history post-track; the four featured trainers will discuss conformation and personal preferences using the four horses as examples. Each horse will be evaluated at liberty and through a jump chute, and trainers will then be assigned a horse through random draw.

Trainers will then work with their horses for an hour in individual roundpens using whatever methods they feel will suit the horse best, then regroup for a summary of their observations and impressions plus what they might expect in the individual restarting process. The day will conclude with a Q&A session.

Featured trainer Elizabeth James. Photo: Retired Racehorse Project.

The trainers: Four trainers/trainer combinations who are not only specifically Thoroughbred Makeover veterans but longtime OTTB enthusiasts and horsemen. With four unique backgrounds and perspectives, the demonstrations and discussion are sure to provide plenty of insight!

  • Tik Maynard literally traveled the world in pursuit of horsemanship knowledge, spending time as a working student in Germany as well as an assistant trainer to Anne Kursinski. His own training business, established in 2014, focuses on eventing and horsemanship. His recently-published memoir In the Middle Are the Horsemen gives readers a glimpse at how much there is to learn in a well-rounded horse life
  • Rosie Napravnik is off the track herself: the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks (she did that twice) and a Breeders’ Cup race, she has since retired and is now establishing herself as a sporthorse trainer, transitioning Thoroughbreds from the racing life to the sporting life
  • Elizabeth James is both an educator and a horsewoman, previously an equine professor at Laramie County Community College in Wyoming and University of Kentucky. She is now the manager of Double Dan Horsemanship
  • Tom and Clare Mansmann have a combined 65 years of experience in the horse world, including working horses both on and off the track. It might be easier to list what the Mansmanns haven’t done on horseback — the pair has competed up to the CCI3* level in eventing, plus hunter equitation, show jumping, dressage, cutting and field hunting. Clare Mansmann authored Horse Nation’s popular series “So You Want To Get An OTTB.”

Featured trainer Tom Mansmann. Photo: Anne Litz.

The commentators: To provide added insight, commentators will cycle around the trainers as they work with their horses and help narrate what’s happening in individual sessions.

  • Emily Brollier Curtis, USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. Curtis has developed six horses to FEI levels and competed horses at every level of the sport
  • Dan James of Double Dan Horsemanship, originally from Australia and now based right in Kentucky, winner of the 2008 Way of the Horse colt starting competition and the 2012 Road to the Horse colt starting competition
  • Richard Lamb, coach and clinician with decades of experiencing, chef d’equipe and/or coach for the US Pony Club team at the USEF National Pony Jumper Championships

Featured commentator Emily Brollier Curtis. Photo: Anne Litz.

The Master Class will start at 10 a.m. in the TCA Covered Arena — it’s free to attend and there will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions! Learn more about the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover at the event website.

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Best of HN: #DressageLife, or Why You Should Be Following Pontus Hugosson

If the name Pontus Hugosson sounds slightly familiar to Horse Nation readers, it may be because we shared this gem for an “Oh Crap” Monday, in which the specific line, I believe, was “we have to admire the self-confidence in Hugosson that said ‘yes, I do want to share this on social media.'”

That seems to be the guiding mantra for this guy, whose Facebook page Pontus Hugosson is actually tagged “@pontushumor.” While Hugosson is still actively training and competing, he’s also carving out a few minutes of his day to create and publish some true equestrian cinematic wonders of our time.

This one, for example, made me actually LOL:

I don’t know what to say!😂 #dressagelife

Posted by Pontus Hugosson on Tuesday, August 28, 2018

THE HAT TIP, THOUGH.

After getting over my giggles, I found a few more true winners on Hugosson’s page that confirmed that yes, we all need to go follow this guy immediately.

Don’t take it personally!😍

Posted by Pontus Hugosson on Tuesday, August 21, 2018

My favorite part of this one is the actual horse casually watching him roll by… I get the impression this is totally normal around Hugosson’s barn:

Superstar all weekend and then monday hits you like..

Posted by Pontus Hugosson on Monday, August 13, 2018

Pontus Hugosson, you’re officially a Horse Nation hero. Go riding!

Best of HN: Sydney Luzicka Breaks Ankle, Places in Grand Prix

Broken bones are usually a pretty good reason to back off on the training and riding for a bit, let oneself heal and recuperate. And while we may have just reminded equestrians that the lost art of self care is something worth striving for, we also have to salute the total ballers who don’t let things like catastrophic personal injury stop them from striving for those big goals. Sydney Luzicka is one of those people.

After suffering a broken left ankle in an accident at the end of April, Luzicka underwent surgery with plans for a fairly lengthy rehab, originally predicted to be at least three months before she could ride again. Less than a month later, however, Luzicka was back in the saddle — sans stirrups, but presumably with doctor’s permission!

This girl is no-stirrup #goals. No-Stirrup November has nothing on Sydney Luzicka.

Missing Colorado 😭 the boys were so amazing!!!!!! 💜

A post shared by Sydney Luzicka (@sydneyluzicka) on

Pretty safe to say that this kid can ride. (We’re also digging the bitless bridle on this gorgeous gray!)

Can’t wait to show tomorrow!!!!

A post shared by Sydney Luzicka (@sydneyluzicka) on

Her most recent achievement came in the $40,000 Grand Prix de Santa Fe where she placed fourth — still without stirrups, against professional riders. Here’s a highlight reel:

This is why we practice without stirrups, folks. This girl’s leg is just as solid as though she still had her irons — and if she’s this strong now, there’s no telling where she might go. Put her on your list to watch!

Okay, just one more for good measure:

Thanks for the amazing pics @photos.by.amj I love them!!!!

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Un. Real.

Go riding!

Best of Horse Nation: Hitching the Six

Photo by Missy Dabolt.

Twenty years had passed since the last time a six-horse hitch had rumbled into the show ring at the Warren County Fairgrounds. Hundreds of horses and rolling wheels had kicked up plenty of dust over those two decades in various configurations — cart horses, farm hitches, unicorns, three- and four-abreast, the tricky single tandem or the four-horse hitch — but the last classic six-horse hitch had come and gone a long time ago, nothing more than a memory now.

It took a brave and confident driver with no small amount of skill to drive a six, and certainly it took six reliable horses who worked together well, plus a full company of ground support and extra equipment and the investment of time to put a six together. Very few of the teamsters brought any more than four horses to the fair any more; numbers had been gradually dwindling over the past few years. Draft horses themselves, of course, were an anachronism now: a symbol of a bygone era that would never come back again, a bit of history still lovingly preserved by a few horsemen keeping the old ways going.

And by us. The scene must have looked a bit like an anthill to a casual observer what seemed like two dozen people flitted about six horses standing on the parched and dusty grass on a hot August afternoon, the show ring eerily silent as the fairgoers waiting in the stands murmured quietly amongst themselves, their eyes across the ring to where we worked to put together the first six-horse hitch that the county fair would see in two decades.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

The six was a long-time dream and a combined effort of three farms: the Swanson family’s Silhouette Acres, the Spellings’ Brokenstraw Percherons and our Painted Forest Farm. The Swansons and Spellings worked together, owning horses in partnership and regularly combining their hitches for the unicorn or the four; in more recent years they had brought us into the fold in the fair barn, with all of us gathering at the end of a long day showing to relax and unwind and chat and pour another cup of coffee. It was likely over one of those friendly and familiar circles that the idea of hitching a six first emerged.

Independently, we had three strong teams: Silhouette Acres’ Percheron mares were always solid and would make up the wheel team, the only team with the ability through the hitch to actually stop the wagon. The Spellings’ geldings would be in the lead, the most reliable team to be that far away from the driver with only his voice and his lines to guide them. And in the swing, the linchpin holding this entire thing together, would be our geldings Chuck and Derek, a tough and reliable team that was getting better and better with each passing season.

The pieces came together slowly but steadily — bits of harness were added as each pair was hooked up and backed in to the hitch, lines passed up to Mr. Swanson on the bench, a header on each horse to hold him or her steady as handlers and assistants fluttered about to hook up additional tongues, eveners, rings and lines, at once foreign and familiar. The spectators in the stands, despite the heat of the day and the amount of time it took to put this hitch together, waited patiently, as though they knew they were in for a real treat.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Barry tightened the lines. Six heads lifted, twelve ears flicked back and then forward as he raised his voice. In unison, hesitantly for the first step and then with confidence, twenty-four hooves stepped forward, manes and mane rolls fluttering in the wind, the polished steel on the harnesses catching the light, the chains rattling as the six Percherons stepped forward to fill the traces.

The Swanson daughters and I clutched each other’s arms in joy as the wagon rattled forward and a whispering rustle flickered across the stands as the hitch rolled into view. Swanson and Spelling on the bench expertly turned the team into the in-gate, and the first six-horse hitch in twenty years rolled back into the fairgrounds with a quiet rumble like distant thunder.

They picked up a trot together, six horses moving like pistons, moving as though they had done this every day of their lives. The sum of them was greater than their individual parts, and as I glanced up and down the rail where we had spread ourselves, Spelling and Swanson and Bentley and assorted family and friends from all three farms as helpers, I knew what it was to be part of a team, working together to create something truly special. We were not individual farms or families on that afternoon — we were one team, working together, just as our six horses pulled together out in the ring.

Great hitch day at the Warren County Fair! Dave won both the cart and the pair hitch, plus the special award for best hitch pair. I placed fourth in lady’s cart and second in lady’s hitch. @chloe_pty in her show debut placed third in senior youth cart in an adorable moment of genuine surprise; Hunter won the senior youth cart and placed third in the senior youth team. A fabulous day for Painted Forest Farm! The crowning moment that really represents what the fair is all about was when we hooked up the six, the first time this hitch has been hooked here in several years. It was a combined effort with horses coming from the Swanson and Spelling families plus our Chuck and Derek as the swing team. It took a village to physically get this hitch hooked up and we were so excited to see it get to the ring for this exhibition. The fair is all about teamwork and cooperation even though there’s also plenty of friendly competition, and this moment seeing our horses coming together really encapsulated that spirit in a moving way. Until next year!

A post shared by Kristen Kovatch Bentley (@thehorsebackwriter) on

Our six horses moved proudly together as the spectators cheered and clapped, and many of us on the rail may have wiped a tear or two (the dust, I’m sure). The team reversed, halted on a dime, trotted another lap as our generous judge narrated from the announcer’s booth about what it had taken to put this team together.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

All too soon, the six was trotting back out of the ring, smooth as silk, the great metal gates slowly swinging shut to bring the draft horse show of the fair to a close for another year. In a few days we would all go our separate ways again, horses vanning off to various corners of the surrounding counties to go back to their own barns and stalls and paddocks, hooked back to their own working wagons, and we would all go with them, dreaming of the time when we were a piece of living history, pulling together as one.

Go driving.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

Best of HN: $5.85M Personal Equestrian Mountain in New Jersey

Yep, the entirety of the peak of Pohatcong Mountain could be all yours to enjoy with your horses. Outdoor arena with a view, anyone? Hill workouts for days and days? Price reduced!

Sometimes a girl doesn’t wanna have to choose. Sometimes I want a private mountain where I can ride or drive all of my horses in peace and stare off into space and think deep thoughts in peace and solitude, and sometimes I want to be close to a city center to get away from the farm for two minutes (these moments are fleeting, but they do happen).

If this description sounds like you too, then bam, have I got a deal for you. This little beauty of an estate in Asbury, New Jersey encompasses the entire peak of Pohatcong Mountain with gorgeous views of the Appalachian range… plus it’s only an hour’s drive from Philadelphia and New York. Win!

Let’s start with a little flyover.

The property boasts 51 acres in total, with additional acreage — up to 100 acres with two homes and multiple outbuildings — available for purchase in separate parcels if you really want to spread out. The farm already has everything you need, however, from the exquisite 10,000 square foot home (with three bedrooms and four and a half bathrooms) to the three barn structures including six stalls. And, of course, look at all of that gorgeous pasture.

Let’s start our tour in the home.

All photos courtesy of Devon LeCompte/Weidel Real Estate

Totally custom, this is a one-of-a-kind home that puts you right in the middle of your farm. From the look of the listing photos, you can glance out any window and see your ponies grazing away essentially right in the lawn, and if that’s not your childhood dream come to life then you’re reading the wrong website.

The house is also chock-full of unique features that have definitely starred in your wildest HGTV dreams, such as this sweeping staircase down which I can imagine myself swanning gracefully in riding attire (rather than the reality, in which I’d likely trip and fall wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a faded holey tee shirt).

My other favorite thing about this house is that you get a, you know, halfway decent view out of most of the windows. Like, say, the kitchen.

And the living room. Hey, what’s that out the window? How about a GORGEOUS VIEW.

And while you’re ruminating over your fabulous day in your gorgeous bathroom. What’s that I see outside the window?

VISTAS. VISTAS EVERYWHERE.

Okay, okay, we get it. If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a walk down to the equestrian facilities. This is, after all, Fantasy FARM Thursday.

How does this sexy thing suit you?

If you’re the kind of equestrian who loves amenities, you’ve got to check this place out. The aisle is done in rubber pavers that look like authentic old brick. Six palatial stalls will have your horses living like kings. The barn is outfitted with a wet fly suppressant system. I didn’t even know I needed that until right now.

The hot and cold wash stall is legitimately nicer than my actual shower… in my house.

There’s a backup generator for just the barn in case the power goes out; find an RV hookup outside for when your friends or family or out-of-town trainer come in for the weekend. Both the riders’ lounge and the cedar-lined tack room (CEDAR, people) are climate controlled. There’s a laundry room, kitchenette and bathroom… all in the barn.

And in case you forgot already from the flyover video earlier, there’s turnout to spare.

(And for your horses, there’s even… you guessed it, a great view.)

Just imagine, Horse Nation. This whole place could be yours for the relatively reasonable price of just $5.85 million.

Your castle on the hill is waiting. Check out this property listing by Devon LeCompte at Weidel Real Estate to learn more.

Best of HN: 6 Things Everyone Who Has Ever Worked at Horse Camp Has Done

Flickr/YMCA of Snohomish County/CC

A few weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about summer horse camp, that equestrian rite of passage for anyone who has ever rocked a pastel Troxel and packed an extra apple in their brown-bag lunch for their favorite camp pony. An equally important period of my life came after I was “too old” for my barn’s summer day camp program — I became not a camper, but instead a volunteer assistant counselor, trading my hours spent helping to keep all the wheels turning on the camp wagon for a sort of free-lease situation in which I spent many hours cantering around in the woods bareback. For a horse-crazy teenager, this was the life.

For anyone else who has ever worked at summer horse camp, this one’s for you. Though our camps may have been many and varied, our experiences were one — here are six things we all know we did.

1. Set up a horseless horse show, purely to wear out the campers.

Especially in those weeks where it seemed that EVERYONE was always wound up at all times, the horseless horse show was a godsend to the nation’s hardworking assistant counselors: my fellow assistants and I would stand in the middle or lean up against the arena wall and call out “trot” or “canter” or “counter-canter” if we were feeling particularly sassy, and watch the campers run ’round and ’round making horse noises and coming up with their own elaborate show names.

Sometimes this technique totally backfired and only got the campers more hyped up. We never really learned.

2. Devised a code language or list of nicknames so you could talk to your fellow assistants without the campers figuring out what you were gossiping about.

Okay, this one is a little mean, but I’ve never been one to shy away from the truth, and I’m sure the assistants older than me did the same thing when I was a camper: sometimes, this was the only way to have a conversation when you were surrounded by the campers all day long, especially if it was a rough week with a few individuals who drove us particularly crazy. I’m sure we also code-named the horses so we could feel cool talking horse talk without the campers being “in the know.”

3. Reorganized the tack room… again.

This was usually a rainy-day activity when the outdoor arena was closed and only one group at a time could ride in the indoor; half of the assistants would come up with some kind of indoor session, perhaps learning parts of the horse or parts of tack, and the rest of us would go through and try to fix the tornado that was a dozen and a half young riders all in a hurry to put their saddles and bridles away.

4. Made up a complicated ghost story or barn legend to enthrall the campers.

Especially while walking along with the traditional daily post-lesson trail ride, we used to come up with elaborate tales to pass the time and keep the campers in our thrall. My childhood barn had the added appeal of being an old Colonial structure with a legitimate mill house right across the street, and neighborhood legend stated that a group of patriots had hanged a Tory, or British sympathizer, during the American revolution, somewhere on the property.

We also had a stuffed animal scavenger hunt in the woods where we trail rode, and one particularly creepy-looking doll earned himself the ubiquitous nickname “Chuckie.” He starred in plenty of horrifying tales and no one ever really wanted to actually find him during said scavenger hunts thanks to our overactive teenage imaginations.

5. Put in legitimate miles around the arena running with first-time trotters.

If FitBits had been around when I was a camp assistant, I’d love to know my mileage in a given summer, trotting around the arena pulling a reluctant yet patient pony along in my wake while the instructor chanted “updownupdownupdown” and the wee tot bounced along trying to figure out how to post. The hours seemed endless, especially in those sticky southeastern Pennsylvania summers.

Consider the favor returned, whatever camp assistant had to run around with me when I was that wee tot.

6. Counted down to the end of camp… and then got sad when it was over.

I distinctly remember one of my best camp assistant friends letting a mean watch tan develop over the course of a summer, and then taking a pen to her arm in the last week and drawing in the hands pointing to 3:00. When we asked her what time 3:00 was, she responded “that’s 3:00 on Friday for the last day of camp!”

And then when that magical hour rolled around and the final bobble-helmeted camper had climbed in the car and departed, a strange sense of emptiness consumed us all: the campers were gone, camp was over for another year, and we had nothing more to look forward to than going back to school in a few weeks.

Go horse camp. And go riding!

Rolex Central Park Horse Show Canceled For 2018 Due to Competition Conflicts

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Originally scheduled to take place September 26-30 in Wollman Rink in the world-famous Central Park of Manhattan, the 2018 Central Park Horse Show has been canceled due to competition conflicts in a very busy autumn for equestrians.

The World Equestrian Games wrap up in Tryon, North Carolina just the week prior to the scheduled CPHS; simultaneously, the American Gold Cup is running. One week after the planned CPHS date, the FEI Nations Cup takes place in Barcelona, Spain. With the goal of attracting the best riders in the world, the reality for the Central Park Horse Show and its managing entity International Equestrian Group is that it’s simply too tight of a turnaround for competitors and equine welfare.

The cancellation means we won’t see eventing in the Big Apple this year. The International Equestrian Group has not yet confirmed that the popular Arena Eventing Competition will return in 2019. The inaugural showcase was a sold-out affair last September with 24 riders participating. Aussies Ryan Wood and Dom Schramm sped to win the $50,000 class.  Click here to see EN’s coverage of the 2017 Central Park Horse Show.

The Central Park Horse Show was perhaps one of the most unique showing environments in the world — a pop-up show grounds took over Wollman Rink, a dazzle of lights in the dark hush of Central Park, introducing the world of competitive equestrianism to a whole new audience in the heart of New York City. Horse Nation has examined this concept of the urban horse show in past editorials, championing these interactions as opportunities to keep the horse world thriving and growing with new fans and riders.

Fortunately, the CPHS promises to be back bigger and better than ever in 2019, with the addition of a brand-new FEI CSI5* show jumping competition. This format will put the CPHS on an elite list of shows offering such a designation, which is bound to attract the world’s best to put on a great show under the iconic New York City skyline.

CPHS is well-known for its diverse offerings, including dressage, jumping, arena eventing, hunters, Arabians, arena polo, and Pony Club games. We’re eager to see what the International Equestrian Group has up their sleeves for the 2019 edition!

Go riding.

Shelby Allen contributed to this report. 

[2018 Rolex Central Park Horse Show Canceled, Will Return As A CSI***** Jumping Competition In 2019]

Best of HN: Remembering Randy

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

There’s a certain heaviness that settles on the heart when you can sense that something just isn’t right, and that sensation was growing heavier with every step I took across the long pasture on Monday, drawing slowly uphill. I couldn’t pick out the spot in the pasture when I stopped trying to convince myself that Randy was asleep, but by the time I reached him where he lay, his hitch partner Rocky standing sentinel another hundred feet up the hill as though he too was aware — and perhaps he was — I knew he was gone.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Randy was huge, in every sense of the word: a thick, cresty Belgian gelding with the ubiquitous dinner-plate hooves, a barrel-shaped horse built for moving mountains with a personality to match. This personality had blossomed in the last two years since Rocky and Randy had come home to the family farm; Randy might not always be the first to meet you at the gate but he certainly barged through the little herd until he was all you could see.

Like a good leader, he established himself in that position quietly: there was no great big show of teeth or hooves, no blowhard need to assert himself loudly, just his large, immovable bulk slowly muscling his way to the best bale in the feeder, the first spot by the barn door for grain, the run-in shed at the first hint of rain. He looked out for his own, with his first priority Rocky, his hitch partner of well over a decade, and then the rest of his herd on down the line — a leadership position I finally understood fully when I had tried to introduce my new horse Jobber into the herd in the fall only to have him run all over the paddock by King Randy, seeking to defend his people. (Randy had welcomed Jobber into the fold by February.)

Randy, leading up the herd. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

When I had left my teaching position at Alfred University, I was at peace with the concept of saying goodbye to the various horses in the school herd who had been my co-workers and co-teachers for four years. They would be in good hands with the next instructor to step into my position. But as I walked down the long lane to the shady paddock where Rocky and Randy lived, tears blinded my eyes and I walked by memory alone. I’ve struggled for years to do literary justice to the rare air one breathes around draft horses, their presence and indescribable sense of otherness — they are horses like any other in theory, yes, but somehow they are so much more. Saying goodbye to these two and leaving them behind — having taught an estimated hundred-plus students how to drive, plus many other adventures — was the hardest part of leaving that job.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

Surpassing all hope, we welcomed them back into our lives just two years later with the understanding that our farm would be their last home. The team was aging, but had plenty of life left in them: we drove all over our corner of the county, around the farmstand to take customers out to the pumpkin patch, down to the lakeshore to the summer cottages, around a great-aunt’s property and centuries-old barn to awaken the ghosts of years gone by, hauled to the gated community for a season of sleigh rides. It was the team that brought my now sister-in-law into my life while at Alfred, which in turn led to me meeting my now-husband. To give Rocky and Randy a safe, loving home seemed like a fairy-tale ending for all of us.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

I had simultaneously kept my expectations low about Rocky and Randy’s retirement and looked forward to enjoying my time with the team for years: “the boys” were still in great shape, though Rocky had deteriorated somewhat due to the nature of his shivers and Randy had a few more creaks and pops in his joints than he used to. I knew they were here to retire and eventually pass on, and had prepared myself right from the get-go to make sure they knew plenty of love while knowing that this was the final stop. They were estimated at this point to be in their early twenties.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Somehow, it felt fitting that Randy would go this way, the biggest horse in my herd, the biggest presence: there was no sign of any struggle; he appeared to have dropped where he had been standing. Just the previous day he had led the herd at a full charge down the hill to me as I approached with the evening feed; earlier that morning the farm staff reported he had been full of spunk and had taken himself on a jolly chase of some of the cows. A thunderstorm had rolled through, and I can only speculate that it was a bolt from above that took my great big horse away, probably with very little awareness, suffering or pain. He may have been aged, but he looked like he was still in his prime.

Photo by Erik Bentley.

Randy, therefore, would not diminish slowly into old age or infirmity. While I certainly had hoped for more time, there is some peace in this. Passing as he did right in the pasture, it seems as though the other horses were able to see him and be aware that he was gone, especially Rocky, his partner of so many years. In my experience with the passing of horses, there is such a thing as closure for the other members of the herd. It may not make the loss any easier for us as humans, but I believe that horses are graced with both the ability to mourn and the ability to understand and accept.

There are details that will continue to sink in over the next days and weeks and months: Randy’s harness hanging empty in the tackroom, the weeds growing up around the horse-drawn spreader. I did not just lose a horse but a team; Rocky drives single quite nicely, but the sum of a team is of course greater than its parts, and that’s a tough loss to comprehend. I mourn the loss of my beloved giant, but I choose to remember all of the great experiences I had with Randy, and just how lucky I was to get these extra years and to be able to give him a home where he knew he was loved.

Photo by Kaitlyn Bentley.

That evening, as I pulled out of the barn driveway, I turned my head to look out over the pasture where my little herd was grazing: already, the herd seemed somehow diminished without its biggest horse and biggest presence, and yet at the same time, it was as though they had closed the gap around Randy’s absence, adjusting to his passing. The horses grazed now in the last rays of the setting sun, the light setting the damp grass to sparkling.

I turned up the radio as the horses faded into my rearview. This was the first song to come on. It’s from the movie Pete’s Dragon, which I haven’t seen, but from my numerous comparisons of the “other” presence of draft horses to what I’d imagine it’s like to meet a mythical dragon, it seemed so fitting in every way. Like most songs by The Lumineers, it’s a little happy, a little sad.

Nobody knows how to say goodbye,
It seems so easy ’til you try,
Then the moment’s passed you by,
Nobody knows how to say goodbye.

Nobody knows how to get back home,
And we set out so long ago,
Searched the heavens and the earth below,
Nobody knows how to get back home.

Through the darkness to the dawn,
When I looked back you were gone,
Heard your voice leading me on
Through the darkness to the dawn.

Love is deep as the road is long,
It moves my feet to carry on,
Beats my heart when you are gone,
Love is deep as the road is long.

Nobody knows how the story ends,
Live the day, do what you can,
This is only where it began,
Nobody knows how the story ends,
Nobody knows how the story ends.

Days later, I still find Rocky looking, his head lifted, ears patiently forward, eyes scanning the horizon slowly, as though Randy will come walking around the corner of the hill and back into our lives. I still find myself looking for Randy too. I expect we’ll be looking for him for quite some time.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.