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Lila Gendal

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How To Climb A Rope

Lila and Skybreaker discovering new heights. Fall, 2014. Lila and Skybreaker discovering new heights. Fall, 2014.

I recently had the privilege of sitting down and listening to a distinguished member of the Special Forces Regiment, Major General Sid Shachnow.  He was the guest speaker for Denny Emerson’s Adult Camp at Tamarack Hill Farm in Southern Pines. What a remarkable individual with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to share with those lucky enough to be listening.

Sid was born in Lithuania, and at six years old was imprisoned for three years during WWII in a German concentration camp. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1950, and in 1962 he volunteered for Special Forces, which ultimately led to his title as Major General of the Special Forces. He also served as a Green Beret for thirty-two years.

Even though Sid essentially has nothing to do with the sport of eventing, everything he had to say, and every story he shared absolutely shared commonalities with our sport in more ways than I could count.

He spoke of determination and fear, of resilience and leadership, and of confidence. He covered a great deal more, and shared some amazing stories, though one in particular story stood out for me. This might not be word for word, but this is the general gist of the story:

There were two young men about to go through part of the training session, which consisted of climbing a rope. The first man was incredibly agile and powerful, therefore climbing the rope effortlessly. The second man was not as fortunate as the first. This individual started climbing about half way up the rope until he slid down while gathering painful rope burns in-between his fists along the way.

Sid noticed this guy never gave up. He continued and struggled, but never stopped. Sid said the first guy didn’t stand out at all, even though he climbed the rope effortlessly. The second guy, however, was someone who had what it took to be in the Special Forces. He demonstrated commitment, and utter determination, even though he wasn’t the best rope climber in the world.

I absolutely love this story that Sid had to share because when you’re sitting in a room with twenty other die hard and enthusiastic non-professional event riders, perhaps one of those twenty has what it takes and is truly a naturally gifted equestrian, but what about those other nineteen individuals?

What about those riders who are not going to the World Equestrian Games anytime in the near future, but have perseverance, grit, and are unwilling to give up no matter how difficult the lessons?

I like to think I am learning how to become a much better rider all the time. I was not born yesterday. I know I am not the next Michael Jung, or Ingrid Klimke, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not a spot for me in this small eventing community. This does not mean that I throw in the towel because I have to constantly work on and train myself to become more finessed and more able.

Talent can only take you so far in life, the rest boils down to how willing you are to work hard.

Do you mind getting your hands dirty? Does it bother you to start at the bottom and work your way up the rope, even if you slip fifteen thousand times before reaching the top? How badly do you want this life, and what are you willing to sacrifice in order to reach your goals?

Falling down, and feeling the rope slide through your hands may seem like a constant deterrent, but giving up won’t get you anywhere. Focus and fortitude will get you to the top of that rope, no matter how talented, or untalented you are, so never give up and keep on climbing!

Outside the Indoor

Vinnie! Vinnie!

Even though I was unquestionably grateful for the use of an indoor arena for the better part of the winter, leaving the cold, compact area behind has been rejuvenating. As I have mentioned before, the winters seems to revolve around drills and practice. Of course, there’s always time set aside for wintry trail rides, but the majority of my time in the saddle was spent indoors.

Each week I gave myself various assignments and small goals to work towards. Whether I wanted to focus on my position or the quality of the canter, I usually arrived at the barn with some mission, whether grand or diminutive.

Most winters I am unable to travel south for various reasons. This month will be the second time I have ever brought a horse to Southern Pines. I am not a regular north/south type of equestrian. My traveling and my horse life is completely dictated by my pocket book and what I am leaving at home. Luckily all my ducks were aligned this winter, which allowed me a quick getaway. Not to mention I am sitting on the world’s most incredible horse, and I could not think of a better time to come down here.

Every winter spent in Vermont, I am inevitably working toward that first outdoor jump school with Denny. This jump school might take place in April or May, or sometimes earlier depending on the year. It doesn’t matter if I am working on half pass, or counter canter, or riding in knee-deep powder, I am aware of the inevitability of that first jump school. The first jump school in a way kicks off the season. The first jump school means more to me than I can describe.

Well, what do you know? I kicked off the season yesterday and could not have been more thrilled! I hacked Vinnie over to Tamarack Hill Farm and have to mention that I was wearing a T-shirt even though I don’t have any photographic evidence. This event did take place. Not only was I about to jump my favorite horse EVER, but I was about to jump on a beautifully warm and sunny day. Honestly, what more could I want from life? I am only slightly joking here!

The jump school went remarkably well. I say “remarkably” because if anyone is going to mess up a jump lesson, it would be me and nobody else. I am so inside my head at times, and because I am ridiculously competitive and eager, I sometimes get ahead of myself by overriding. Luckily I managed to keep my cool, but everyone knew Vinnie and I were pumped to be jumping again. Vinnie even let out a small, but expressive buck! It was pretty cute!

The most interesting part of yesterday’s experience was not what I was able to accomplish with this incredible horse, but rather, the homework and practicing that occurred ALL WINTER LONG WHILE RIDING INSIDE completely paid off. Everything I worked hard for and everything I studied and analyzed all came together. It wasn’t a coincidence, and nothing was by accident. I am getting to know Vinnie better and better, and our relationship is evolving, and I could not be more ecstatic about this connection we are making.

At the end of the day, yes, I am beyond appreciate and grateful to be down here practicing. But even more than that, I am thrilled that I pushed myself and Vin this winter. Every time I thought about staying home and sitting next to the fire as opposed to riding, I always chose to ride. Snow storm? So what … my car had snow tires and all-wheel drive. Ridiculous wind and frigid cold days didn’t stop me from riding.

I worked hard to get to where I am, and what’s really cool is that nobody can take that away from me. I earned what I am getting, like a grade you received after studying for an exam. There’s such a thing as good luck in the horse world, but there’s a greater power which revolves around making your own luck.

So, to all my fellow New England riders, your time will come. Your hard work will pay off. And whether you have to wait three days, or two months, it’ll all be worth the time and energy you put into your riding this winter!

From The Icicles To The Pines

Vinnie's first day in so. pines...looking for a good spot to roll! Vinnie's first day in so. pines...looking for a good spot to roll!

Hallelujah, I have arrived in Southern Pines and I could not be more ecstatic considering what I left at home. In the wee hours on Monday morning, two trailers, three ladies, one dog, and four geldings made the trek from Hartland, VT to Southern Pines, North Carolina. 5 a.m. was our departure time, and considering I barely slept a wink the night before the trip felt especially draining, though completely worth it.

I tried to sleep the night before our drive, but I felt like a bright eyed and eager child anxiously waiting for Christmas morning. My mind was buzzing a million times per second. The morning came quickly, and it looked like a winter wonderland behind those big barn doors.

Huge snowflakes gently falling from the sky. Ardent horses waiting in their stalls looking slightly suspicious after their early wake up call, with no breakfast and shipping boots being put on. They knew something was up!

We managed to get everything loaded and packed. Of course, the real anticipation was whether or not we would actually get the mammoth trailers out of the driveway and navigate our way from the back narrow dirt roads to I-91! Carefully and strategically, we inched our way to the interstate all calm, cool and collected. Once we hit the main roads, the weather no longer became an obstacle.

Fast forward about sixteen hours and we reached our destination, at least that’s what the Garmin told us! Even though it was late at night, feeling the warm air, and feeling actual dirt under my feet felt like heaven.

We unloaded the horses and decided to put mister Steady Eddie, i.e. Vinnie, out in the paddock as we figured he was the least likely to do anything dramatic. Whoops, big mistake. Vinnie went from zero to sixty in less than one second. Like a bat out of hell. He takes off and I’m thinking the worst. Crap, there go his shoes, and I’m sure he’ll escape somehow and DAMN IT why did we put him outside.

Not too shabby!

Not too shabby!

I went walking around the dark and completely unfamiliar pasture searching for a big white face, but couldn’t see anything. I thought to myself that he either got tired of running, or he’d jumped out. Finally, I located the big friendly chestnut and we returned to his stall.

The rest of the night was a bit foggy, as I was running on empty and forgot which driveway I was staying at. I accidentally pulled into three different driveways before realizing where I was and where I was meant to be. I felt like a zombie for about a day and a half.

I’ve taken Vinnie out for two hacks since I’ve been down here. I don’t know how anyone could ever take this life for granted. To be able to go outside on a nice day and take your horses for a trail ride, or do some flatwork or jumping is beyond nice.

Going from the ice kingdom to this amazingness has been almost like a culture shock. Not to mention everyone down south seems especially cherry and bubbly. And why shouldn’t they be? They rarely get snow and the birds are singing outside their bedroom windows. They don’t have to put nine hundred layers on just to go out and start the car.

It always amazes me how friendly everyone is down here, even at the grocery stores and even gas stations. So not the despondent New England attitude.

For now, I am beyond content and am looking forward to my first jump school, more conditioning rides, and preparing for the Carolina International CIC and H.T.! That’s all for now. Stay tuned!

How To Keep Your Veterinarian Happy

Skybreaker THF June jumper show 2014 Skybreaker THF June jumper show 2014

I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed this sort of client versus veterinarian scenario. A vet examines a horse and the owner seems positively sure that her vet must be incorrect in his diagnosis, advice, or his response. Obviously the individual who did not spend grueling hours studying for years on end must have the correct answer, and the pathetic vet who spends his or her day researching and learning must be incorrect. Yes, I believe this must be reality…not!

Not to mention, I think there’s a specific reason why many vets and farriers seem slightly despondent at the end of the day, or week, or month; either because they had to suffer through hours of agonizing dialogue with their rude clients, perhaps they never got paid, perhaps they were kicked, or perhaps they showed up at the barn with no client or horse in sight.

Whatever the reason, these vets do not have an easy job in my opinion. Here are some ways we can keep our veterinarians happy!

Be mindful and respectful: Even though most horse people think they know it all, or claim they have all the answers and solutions, guess what? We don’t have all the answers, so get over yourself and your ego!

When we hire a professional, we are placing our trust in that individual to accomplish a certain task. We are seeking help and therefore must be mindful and respectful when it comes to dealing with our vets.

Pay your vet in a timely fashion. Even though this should go without saying, most, if not all vets would like to be paid upon receipt. Correction, all vets would like to be paid. There are no special or extenuating circumstances that would permit anyone to not pay their vet. If you would like your vet to return for any future visits, paying him or her would be in your best interest.

Be at the barn and on time! Okay, perhaps not all vets have shown up at your barn when they said they would. Perhaps they are ritually thirty minutes late. Just wait it out! It’s far worse for you to not show up and have your horse ready and waiting, then it is for your vet to be late.

Often, your vet might be traveling from some other farm where his last horse possibly needed more attention than he anticipated. It’s like going to the doctor’s office, and waiting for your doctor to finally walk into the room.

Lastly, have your horse clean and ready. If your vet is to examine your horse, perhaps you ought to have your horse inside the barn, waiting in a stall, clean and dry. I’m sure vets do not appreciate working on, or dealing with a horse covered in mud from head to toe. Have you horse clean and ready for your vet.

So, what would you like to add to the list?

Top 4 Wardrobe Malfunctions

Lila and Vinnie Huntington 2014 Lila and Vinnie Huntington 2014

Nobody ever said riding horses was as simple as pie. Obviously, if you are the rider who takes your horse out bareback every other Friday for a leisurely stroll, then perhaps riding horses does not seem very taxing, or challenging. However, if you are out there training, competing, sweating, aching, and riding every day at 5 a.m. before you have to get to the office, or in-between hospital shifts in order to get your riding hours in, and conditioning miles in before you enter some event, then you know riding and eventing can be unrelenting at times.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most competitors have a mental or actual check list before leaving the farm for a show. Typically we like to have all our ducks in a row.

We like to be timely. We have crossed every “T” that needs crossing, and dotted anything that resembles an “I.” We are thorough and precise. We pack enough of everything plus extras. Nine times out of ten, we know our dressage test and we are more or less ready for the level we signed up for.

There’s so much that goes in to getting ready for and preparing for a show. Not to mention, when you’re actually competing, there are a number of things you simply do not want to even think about.

Perhaps you are late filing your taxes. Doesn’t matter. Leave it alone until you get home. Maybe you are having an argument with your sister. Put it on the backburner, because you came here to compete.

Life gets in the way, and thus we have to compartmentalize certain distractions when competing. However, what are we supposed to do when more apparent, but unexpected issues present themselves, say wardrobe malfunctions? What then? Here are my top four wardrobe difficulties while competing:

1)      Dressage Coat Buttons. There I was at GMHA, maybe three years ago. My horse looked immaculate, groomed, bathed, and braided to perfection. I was putting the finishing touches on myself. Hairnet, helmet, gloves, check. Boots polished and on, check. Dressage whip within reach.

I stupidly had my jacket on while I bent down to put my spurs on and POP, there went not one but TWO buttons. I am supposed to be in the ring in less than thirty minutes. How humiliating.

2)      Bursting Breeches. I will never forget my breeches incident of ’97. I was young, naïve and new to this whole competing routine. I also didn’t realize I had grown significantly in the last year since I had worn my show breeches last. So there I was galloping, or maybe the right phrase ought to be barely cantering on cross country, when all I hear is R-I-P!

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, “there goes the back side of my pants, Im pretty sure my breeches just split down my butt.” I was mortified to say the least.

3)      Tall Boot Zipper. I wasn’t actually at an event when this lovely incident occurred, however I was at a local jumper show and was riding in front of an audience. I went in for my second round, and immediately felt my leg slipping around and an odd loose feeling occurred.

My zipper had popped open and my course was getting progressively worse. I could NOT stop thinking about my boot and how the calf part of the boot was flapping around loosely in the breeze. What a serious pain. Which reminds me I need to purchase a backup pair of emergency tall boots for this very reason!

4)      Loose Armband. Okay, this might sound incredibly minor and insignificant, but I have a different view on armbands after competing at Loch Moy last fall. I had entered the most challenging event I have ever been to as my third Prelim. Normally I would never have thought this would be a good idea, but when you’re sitting on a horse who has successfully competed through the two-star level, you adjust your realm of possibilities meter.

I thought I could handle this event, and knew Vinnie could handle it without a problem. I was about half way around cross country, when I had a long gallop stretch before a massive table, uphill to the water complex. This was not a time to get distracted.

However, before I get to the table, my arm band slips all the way down to my wrist. I kept fussing with the armband until it was sort of back in place, and went about my course. Before we left Maryland, I purchased a new armband. The ten bucks was worth it I think!

So, what sort of interesting wardrobe malfunctions have you experienced?

That Ultimate Partnership

Best horse ever! Theatre Royal, owned by Gayle Davis, at GMHA Festival Of Eventing. Training Rider. Photo taken by Denny Emerson Best horse ever! Theatre Royal, owned by Gayle Davis, at GMHA Festival Of Eventing. Training Rider. Photo taken by Denny Emerson

Best friends don’t just pop up instantly like dandelions, bursting with color during the peak of summer. I was incredibly lucky, though, in the beginning. From about kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I was basically attached at the hip to another. She was my absolute best friend in the whole wide world. If I could stretch my arms out to show you how much I adored this girl, I would. We were inseparable. She was like my outgoing and fearless twin sister.

Those summer days when we biked six miles to the local small town store to buy cherry cokes and a bag full of fresh, sweet cherries. We climbed trees we weren’t supposed to climb. We jumped on my trampoline until the sun went down. We laughed nonstop. We got to the point where she didn’t even have to say anything to me and I would burst out laughing hysterically.

One time I actually accompanied my best friend and her family to church. We knew we weren’t supposed to laugh, which made this particular outing even more excruciatingly difficult. The more we tried to hold it in, the worse it became. Eventually we burst from the seams laughing and were actually kicked out of church. Whoops!

This kind of friendship is immeasurable and will never be forgotten. In fact, knowing someone that well — all their idiosyncrasies, habits, reactions, and expressions — makes me think of the bond and partnership that we seek with our equine friends. Some of you out there have this undeniable and unwavering bond that only you and your horse share. Others are looking forward to this bond, and some might search for decades.

Some of these amazing stories where so and so bred, raised, broke, and competed from Beginner Novice through Rolex are incredible stories. How could these riders not know their horses like the back of their hands? I think these stories are absolutely amazing and the partnership some of these riders have with their horses is unlike anything I have ever heard or seen in my life!

Obviously this partnership is not limited to the elite four star event riders. This relationship can be with your beginner novice champion horse you have owned for ten years, or your Prix St. Georges dressage horse, or your jumper, or your endurance horse. Regardless of your discipline, it’s the intricate and elaborate relationship you have with your horse.

These partnerships mean everything. When you and your horse anticipate each other’s every movement, aid, or signal is truly inspiring. When you know what your horse is about to do before they do it, and vice versa.

I cannot say that I know Vinnie, aka the super-duper-extremely-cool-Irish-chestnut-gelding, inside and out. I have only been riding him for eight months. I obviously did not produce this horse, nor can I take any credit for his overall amazingness, but I wouldn’t trade a second of this time for any amount.

He is truly a remarkable animal and getting to know him has been a trip. Even though we haven’t known one another for any lengthy amount of time, this particular horse has given me more confidence than I could have ever dreamed about. He has taught me how to be a bolder rider. He has taught me how to relax and how to not push our relationship into a faster gear. He has taught me that it takes a while to truly get to know and understand a horse.

He is a one of a kind and I cannot wait to get to know this one better! Stay tuned!

4 Thoughts Heading Into The Box

Lila and Skybreaker. Hitching Post Farm. 2013 Lila and Skybreaker. Hitching Post Farm. 2013

In eventing, cross country represents the meat of this sport. I have yet to meet an event rider who feels indifferent about cross country. We’ve all met, or perhaps we know of, or perhaps we are those individuals who abhor dressage, or cringe when it comes to show jumping. And yet, no matter how young, or old, green, or professional, one thing remains a constant: WE LIVE FOR CROSS COUNTRY!

Some things will never change. That precise moment when you and your horse are about to enter the start box. Adrenaline racing through your veins. Your heart thumps rapidly. Your vison becomes narrowed. The excitement and energy could be sliced with a knife it’s so thick and transparent.

Some horses are shying away, other’s rearing and spinning out of pure anticipation of what is about to come, others clueless about the new and unknown experience they’re about to have. Thousands of thoughts instantly are transformed into one thought, emotion or feeling. Every competitor has a different experience. Here are five thoughts that frequently enter my head on the way to the start box:

I think I might puke! Let me introduce myself. Hi, my name is Lila Gendal and I spent the first ten years of my life as a mute. Of course I knew how to speak, though the thought of speaking to other human beings who were NOT my sisters, father or mother was terrifying to say the least.

I am not inheritably bold or aggressive, but I have found my niche in this sport. Needless to say, I do get nervous about heading out on cross country. Even though I am extremely pumped and excited, I will always feel butterflies. In fact, if you ask any of my friends, they will tell you I usually feel as though I need to barf right before cross country. There’s no way around it!

Well, what the hell, here we go! One of the coolest qualities about event riders is their screw it, let’s just give it a go sort of mentality. When push comes to shove, countless event riders are willing to put everything on the line and go out there and give it their best shot.

Sometimes cross country goes flawlessly, while other rounds are atrocious, and everything in-between. There are countless unknown variables associated with this phase, which makes cross country undeniably alluring and nerve wracking for many. Though when push comes to shove, eventers unanimously decide to dive in and give it a go, even if the going gets rough!

Heading out to battle! Last fall I’ll never forget the feeling I had before cross country day. A friend and I were up at the wee hours in the morning, just leaving our hotel and heading over to Loch Moy. As we rode down in the elevator I couldn’t help but think that I was going to war. I know, a very dramatic statement, but your mind can play all kinds of strange tricks on you.

Outside, the temperature was very chilly and a pitch black surrounding didn’t help my motivation. That, plus the fact that I am NOT a morning person in the least. I knew I was about to tackle the biggest cross country course of my life and I started wondering if I was really truly prepared.

I doubted myself and played games in my head. This was a reoccurring thought that morning: Did I voluntarily sign up to do this? Of course after I crossed through the finish flags, I was beaming ear to ear. But those hours and moments before I left the box were unnerving!

Pure excitement! Amidst the butterflies, the nerves, and the adrenaline, there always has been and will continue to be total exhilaration. Why else would we put ourselves through this if we didn’t actually deep down love this moment? Obviously, this emotion depends on what we are sitting on, but more often than not, the word elated comes to mind when I think of cross country.

Galloping and jumping out in big beautiful field and through woods is completely fun and I cannot imagine the day when it won’t be fun. Seriously, it doesn’t matter if I am taking my little Connemara pony Beginner Novice, or going Prelim on my favorite horse Vinnie, the excitement and the thrill is there!

So, what are YOUR thoughts heading into the start box?

Take A Chill Pill!

Even though I have been riding, competing and training horses for the majority of my life, I have found one aspect of this sport incredibly and continually perplexing. If you are an avid rider, with immense goals, unwavering commitment, and a die-hard essence, how can you rise to the occasion by riding under pressure and performing to the best of your ability, while remaining cool, calm and almost seemingly nonchalant about life in general?

In other words, and in my opinion, some of the top riders in the world have ultimately mastered the melding of intensity and indifference. These riders epitomize the ability to meld the two seemingly contradictory qualities.

Let’s take a look at the rider who appears be comprised of 90% intensity, and a measly 10% of indifference. We have met this rider. Perhaps we are this rider. Perhaps we used to be this rider. Regardless, this particular rider will ultimately struggle when he or she yearns to make it to the top of any given equestrian sport. Such intensity becomes apparent through our minds and bodies instantly.

I should know, because I struggle finding my balance, especially when I was younger. I used to have far too much intensity and not enough apathy. Because I wanted to be a great rider, I allowed this intensity to overtake my soul while riding. When your mind seems to be wound too tightly, more often than not, our body, our arms, our hands, our legs, etc. follow this extreme pressure. Through trial and error, and through the guidance of some amazing mentors, I have been able to push that intensity aside, and find a soft agreeable counterpart.

Let’s look at the totally relaxed, almost out to lunch rider who wouldn’t know what intensity was if it hit them in the middle of their face. We have met this individual. Perhaps we are this person. I was never little miss go with the flow, but am learning to channel my inner California surfer chick persona while training, schooling and competing. Honesty, the totally relaxed, easy going and nonchalant rider has many notable qualities.

In fact, if I were going to have to pick someone who I think would make the best long term trainer, I would pick the latter individual than the overly competitive and intense rider for countless reasons. However, mister, or missus Go-With-The-Flow inevitably has his or her own demons as well. This rider might not be the best competitor in the world because no matter what score, or what number, or what color ribbon, or what qualifying score, he or she is blissfully and unshakably content and cool with their riding career.

These are obviously huge stereotypes and over-generalizations. But, hopefully, you get my point. In order to become a serious competitor, you must, I mean must have that perfect fusion of goddamnit-lets-get-it-done-or-die attitude, with that peaceful, tranquil and soothing ability to communicate flawlessly with our equine partners.

This, my friends seems like a true goal to work towards, or achieve. Maybe you already are one of these described competitors. Kudos to you! If you are not, have no fear, there’s always time to mesh these contradictory qualities, but first you must recognize how fundamental they are, and which qualities you have, or do not have.

That begin said, which rider are you and what are YOU working on improving and why?

Jumping Tiny Jumps

Lila and Vinnie practicing over small jumps, 2014. Lila and Vinnie practicing over small jumps, 2014.

For many of us, the winter months seem to revolve around homework, practicing and fine-tuning almost anything and everything that needs tuning. Of course, we practice and drill ourselves in the summer time, but for me, the winter almost feels like studying for exams and doing various and specific homework assignments that help prepare me for the summer’s competition schedule.

Recently, I watched a very interesting indoor jump lesson where two individuals were practicing jumping their horses over very small jumps more or less randomly placed in the arena. They worked on accuracy, precision and getting THAT canter — not too fast, not too slow, but just right.

After watching this lesson, I decided to follow their lead and jump relatively small jumps the following day. There were about five jumps total set up, and my mission was to basically get in right to every single fence by developing and maintaining a quality canter that allowed me to move forward, come back or stay the same as I needed. If none of these options in the canter were available, then the distance to the jump would inevitably go missing.

I started by warming up Vinnie in our normal fashion, allowing him time to stretch his legs and get into the swing of things. He is going to be 16 this spring and has some normal stiffness, so I always give him a slightly longer warm-up up than I would give a younger horse. I do tons of walking on a loose rein to begin with, followed by a very methodical and easy stretchy trot and canter in both directions until I feel his back, mind and the rest of his body click into gear.

After his warm up, I gave him another break and then went straight to work. In the beginning, the exercise seemed simple and almost felt flawless. Vinnie has a naturally engaged canter, which can spoil me at times. If I can get his mojo going, as Vinnie tends to be super laid back and casual, especially in the indoor, then everything seems to fall into place. Although, the flip side to this horse is that because he is very lazy and laid back, I can easily fall victim to his complacent, underwhelming and almost robotic canter that honestly gets neither of us anywhere!

However, the middle of my ride was very telling. Both Vinnie and I started feeling a tiny bit tired and were losing focus ever so slightly, which resulted in semi OK distances. The whole purpose of this exercise for ME is to really stay focused, find that perfect uphill, balanced and quality canter, AND consistently see a really good distance, not a mediocre distance.

I started feeling tiny pieces unravel beneath me and decided to stop, take a deep breath and change it up. I cantered around the ring not jumping, just cantering. I asked myself repeatedly: Is this the right canter? NOPE. How about now? Not quite. Is this a canter I would want to jump out of? YES … I found it. This is it … OK, now go jump out of this canter and find that canter immediately upon landing.

After a swift kick in the pants, I regained my lost focus and ended on a fabulous note, jumping around a small course, landing, turning, jumping, landing, turning, jumping, etc. We were nailing our distance, and we were in sync, which felt incredibly rewarding.

The ability to succeed is in my control and within my reach, but I have to make the effort and stay completely focused; otherwise, it’ll vanish at a moment’s notice. I am not looking to be an OK rider; I am longing to become a great rider, and great riders don’t allow for mediocrity, but rather they strive for excellence.

What’s fascinating about this exercise is that some people might find this incredibly boring and useless. And yet, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen overly confident riders truck in for a lesson with Denny, and he might have someone try this exercise and they cannot do it.

They immediately crumble and the lesson seems demoralizing in a way. They either go home and practice, or they don’t practice and they come back in a month only to replay each agonizing experience over again. They cannot see their distance to a rail on the ground, yet they are desperate to jump HUGE jumps and work on really challenging courses.

I understand the urge or the fascination with jumping bigger, harder fences. Believe me, I love jumping, especially a bigger course on a great horse whom I trust and have a relationship with. But I also see the extraordinary benefits of jumping small jumps in a relatively small area repeatedly. I have come to love this particular challenge and exercise because it is unbelievably telling. You either can do it or you can’t. The jumps and the course don’t lie.

You can either fall victim to this exercise by avoiding it all costs, or you can man up and face the music by working on homework and drilling yourself as if you were in in basketball practice. Honestly, how else does a basketball player improve his or her shooting skills? They have to practice making a basket by actually practicing to make a basket. There is no other way I can think of besides doing the thing in order to accomplish that very thing.

The same goes for jumping. I am sure that upper-level riders and Grand Prix show jumpers don’t jump four or five feet every time they jump. I’m positive that many professionals mix up their week with gymnastic exercises, cavaletti work and jumping “smaller” courses, as well as jumping bigger courses with harder questions. These are all skill sets and different ways of practicing similar things.

Everything we do with our horse and the training and exercises we do are all interconnected. Therefore, missing some steps or overlooking certain areas in our riding or training will ultimately haunt us forever. We have to start small and work our way up to the bigger, harder exercises. There’s no such thing as skipping small steps and becoming a great rider.

The Elephant In The Room

Jumping my Conn x pony this summer Jumping my Conn x pony this summer

Nine years ago an ignorant, inexperienced, awkward, and confused young lady arrived at Tamarack Hill Farm. I knew how to get on a horse and “get the job done” so to speak, but there was nothing about my riding that made the words “effortless,” or “graceful” come to mind.

Riding with Denny sent me up and down a steep learning curve for several years, forcing me to face the music by learning how to effectively ride, or give up and abandon ship. Even though the first few years were testing, giving up never even crossed my mind.

One crucial component that Denny focuses on day in and day out is a ‘correct’ jumping position. It doesn’t matter if you’re having your very first Denny lesson, or you are a weekly regular, you will realize why a solid jumping position is of tremendous importance. He’ll often talk about checking these items off the list: Eyes up, chin up, heels down, lower leg securely on, a soft giving release, let your hips go back, and let the horse come up to you, not the other way around.

Believe me, I have struggled with and continue to struggle at times with my jumping position. I was not born with a naturally good position over fences, nor did I learn about such a classic position until much later in my life. I had bad habits’ with deep roots.

I used to throw myself at the horse and I had no concept of a solid lower leg. I was a total and complete mess. Until I came to work with Denny, I didn’t understand how to acquire such a position, and I did not understand the inevitable repercussions of a flawed jumping position.

For me, learning how to acquire and maintain a consistently good jumping position is crucial. I have certain standards for myself and my riding and achieving this goal will monumental. I don’t want to be an okay rider, I want to be the best rider I can and having a very good position seems synonymous with being a very good rider, at least in my book it does.

So, the elephant in the room seems to revolve around jumping positions. There are, in my opinion, horrific styles out there, and there are flawless styles out there. This obviously leads to the question, which position type is the right one? Is there such a thing as the “correct” jumping position?

We all know what George Morris would say, and I have a very good idea about Denny’s methods and opinions on the subject. But there seems to be a spilt world. On one side we have the hunter jumper folks who have their own styles and approaches, and then there are the eventers who seem to offer a wide array of positions.

Skybreaker June 2014

Skybreaker June 2014

Not to mention there are very accomplished individuals who have competed in numerous CCI 4* with alternative jumping positions. There’s also lots of classic positions out there as well. I don’t want to start another world war, but I’d like to open up a discussion on jumping positions, particularly for event riders. I am an event rider, so obviously I can’t argue for or against other disciplines, and even if I could, I don’t know that I’d like to journey down that road!

Once I learned about and figured out what it felt like to be in a “correct,” or more classic jumping position, it was a no-brainer for me. I felt more secure, more balanced, and more prepared for the inevitable surprises that show up on cross country, not to mention this style works very well for me and my horses.

I wouldn’t personally feel comfortable any other way. I’m not insinuating that I have some amazing position that deserves a round of applause, nor am I suggesting that’s its my way or the highway. Rather, I am sharing my story and what works for me as an event rider.

So, I am just dying to know how important this subject is to everyone. Do events riders care about their position? If so, why do you care, and if you don’t care, I want to know why? What styles do you want to emulate? What riders are your idols when it comes to flawless jumping positions? What is a good jumping position in your book and why?

Conquering Your Fears

Lila and Skybreaker fall 2014, 4'9 Lila and Skybreaker fall 2014, 4'9"

I’ll never forget those warm summer days that my family and I spent on Bear Island, on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. My grandparents owned a small rustic cabin on the island where my family would gather frequently for weekends. Seeing how nobody owned iPhones, iPads, televisions, or anything remotely resembling an electronic device in the cabin, we found other ways to amuse ourselves and to pass time!

As children, my sisters and I literally could not wait to run over to the “mail dock” every morning where we would anxiously await the mail boat, which not brought us the boring and dull mail, but was fully stocked with ice cream and candy. We would purchase a delicious and gooey snack and we all participated in a long standing tradition only held on Bear Island.

Each kid would stake out their piling in preparation. Once everyone claimed their piling, they would either shimmy their way up the five foot pole, or ask for a leg up from a neighbor. After the candy and stamp purchases were complete, the boat would start backing up, but beyond the normal distance needed to back, in order to make a gigantic wave for the eager teens waiting to jump off, catapult, elegantly dive, or what have you, into the crisp lake.

Surprisingly, I was never concerned about diving into the lake after the boat passed. I was however pretty terrified of sitting on a piling with a diameter about as large as a basketball while I waited for the boat to move. I would crouch on the piling, while the boat gently knocked against the large pillars, giving me an uneasy feeling, considering there was at least a five foot drop with cement behind me.

I usually had my father stand behind me as he anchored me into a secure position. As a young kid, this was terrifying, and yet I kept going back for more. I was determined to experience the end result, even though the getting there was frightening.

Lila & Valonia XC schooling this year

Valonia and I cross country schooling.

 

Which brings to my next point. Eventing, at times seems terrifying, and yet we know what we are literally signing up for and we obviously want to partake in such a sport, otherwise we would not do it…right? And yet, inevitably there are going to be times where we are extremely scared, terrified, sort of nervous, and the list goes on.

Let’s be honest here, we all are afraid of a certain distance, or a certain jump, or a certain kind of horse, or a certain number of strides, or other related distances, or corners, or coffins. I don’t care if you have been around Rolex eight times, or you are just going novice for the first time, we all have fears. So, what do we do about it? How do we conquer certain fears? How do we get over specific phobias? How do we re-train ourselves and our minds?

In a recent jump lesson, I realized I am nervous, and anxious about jumping something off of a hard left turn, or angling a jump going to the left. At first I didn’t realize where this fear came from, which made me more insecure. But after a couple months now of intense winter homework and getting regular jumping instruction from an amazing mentor, I have come to realize that the right side of my body does not work as effectively as the left side of my body.

Consequently, making difficult left turns to jumps can be problematic when I have limited right side aids helping to guide and support my horse. Which ultimately boiled down to a lack of strength issue.

Almost immediately after this realization, not only did I practice these sort of turns in my flatwork, but I joined a gym to strengthen the right side of my body and to become a stronger, more agile and effective rider. Suddenly, my fears started to dissipate. I am not a fearless rider by any means, but I am willing to dig deep in order to understand my fears, where they originate from, and then grow from that experience.

Theatre Royal OP Huntginton, taken by May Emerson

Theatre Royal OP Huntginton, taken by May Emerson

We all have insecurities. Not a single rider in this world is completely fearless. We might know some arrogant individuals who come across as valiant, but deep down, there are some worries, some fears, some insecurities, which is completely acceptable in my book. Seriously, people…think about this.

Take some 130 pound female, galloping on her 1200 pound irish sport horse towards a table seven feet in width and four feet tall. Maybe 90% of the time they are spot on, and nail their distance and the horse jumps in perfect form. But what if that girl misses? Or what if that horse accidentally hangs a leg…or what if, what if, what if?

We are never going to be indestructible robots without emotion, or without some kind of fear. We are human after all and will make mistakes from time to time. I think the only way to get over fear is to practice what you are afraid of in varying degrees. Don’t scare yourself more by practicing something that seems out of your reach.

Practice something that seems doable and that you can succeed at. Once you have conquered the smaller steps, try raising the bar, just incrementally, and only when you and your horse are ready. We might not ever truly get over all of our fears, but we can set ourselves up for success by creating situations that seem scary, but that are actually doable. Over time, what may seem unattainable might actually become routine.

What It’s Like On The Inside: Kim Severson Eventing

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. Photo by Jenni Autry. Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. Photo by Jenni Autry.

She won the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* not once, not twice, but THREE times with Winsome Adante in 2002, 2004 and 2005. She was also part of the gold medal winning USA team at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, where they placed 6th individually. And to top it all off, she competed at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where she won the individual silver medal and team bronze. Of course, I’m referring to the one and only Kim Severson!

I would love to know more about Kim’s everyday life, competition schedule and training routine — wouldn’t you?! She’s truly a remarkable rider, coach, competitor and the list goes on. Luckily, Taylor Mohr, a new member at Kim Severson Eventing, agreed to walk us through life at Kim’s, so without further ado …

EN:  How old are you and where are you originally from?

Taylor: “I am 22. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but have moved around a bunch throughout the years. I guess I would consider myself from Vermont, as that’s where I lived the longest at an age where I remember it!”

EN: How long have you been riding and eventing?

Taylor: “I was first put on a horse at 3 by a family friend and never looked back! I started taking formal lessons at 5 1/2 and switched to riding at an event barn at age 11. I’ve worked with a variety of trainers and have spent the last two years focusing strictly on dressage while working on a degree in psychology.”

EN: What drew you to Kim Severson’s Barn, and how long have you been working for her?

Taylor: “When I made the decision to consider taking a year off from school to ride and compete, I told myself that I wouldn’t actually take the year if I didn’t find the ‘perfect’ situation. I had no interest in being at a huge upper level barn with eight working students and 40 horses. I wanted to be with a trainer I respected and could learn a lot from but in a bit of a lower key situation. But I also wanted to be with someone that was actively riding at the upper levels as well.

“I came down to interview with Kim and was impressed by the small size of her program, the tranquility of the farm, and the intense organization and attention to detail in every aspect of the facility. I started right after Fair Hill, so I’ve been here almost three months now!”

EN: Did you ever imagine yourself working at Kim’s barn?

Taylor: “Absolutely not! I never even imagined her responding to my email let alone having an interest in having me at her barn, as I had just come back from taking a two-year break from eventing and am not an upper-level rider.”

Cooley Quality Control and Kim in Ireland photo: Theresa BUJNOCH

Cooley Quality Control and Kim Severson in Ireland. Photo by Theresa Bujnoch.

EN: How has your experience been so far at Kim’s?

Taylor: “It’s such a learning experience. I learn so much every day, whether it’s on horseback, on the ground or stable management/horse care.”

EN: What does a typical day look like at Kim’s? 

Taylor: “We start around 7:30 a.m., feed, change blankets, etc. All of our horses live out 24/7 unless the weather is terrible, so all of Kim’s horses come in each morning to be groomed and checked over. Kim comes out and rides her horses, and Mattie (the head groom/barn manager) and I trot any horses that need to be done and ride/have lessons on our own horses.

“We get all the horses back out to feed lunch and clean up the barn. Some afternoons Kim teaches lessons to truck-ins and other afternoons we have projects like jump painting, moving horses around or re-setting the jump ring. We feed around 5 p.m. and then are done for the night!”

EN: What is it like working for such an accomplished and talented event rider?

Taylor: “It’s a pretty cool experience. The opportunities I’ve had even in the barely three months I’ve been here have been pretty incredible, like going horse shopping in Ireland! And I enjoy the wide variety of horses in the barn that I’ve gotten the chance to sit on!”

Trot Sets! Photo:Taylor Mohr

Trot Sets! Photo by Taylor Mohr.

EN: What is it like taking a lesson from Kim?

Taylor: “I was told on my first day at KSE by our vet: ‘Kim teaches every student like they are headed for the Olympics no matter what their goals are,’ and that is absolutely true. Her lessons are tough, and she is always completely honest if you keep messing the same thing up. She always checks in to make sure I understand what she’s saying/explaining, which is helpful as well.

“I especially love the lessons where she is on one of her horses while teaching because she demonstrates what I’m doing wrong and then how to do it correctly. I also really appreciate that even when I’m not in a ‘lesson’ but am riding while she’s working with one of her horses or teaching someone else, she will yell out tips to correct my position and more effectively ride whichever horse I’m sitting on.”

EN: What have you learned so far about riding and training?

Taylor: “I think the biggest thing is how much we focus on fitness. Our horses trot and do hill work multiple times a week. And in what seems like mundane trot sets, we still work on forward and back and transitions. We also work with a lot of trot poles and cavaletti as part of out flat work and jump warm up.

“One of Kim’s favorite exercises is to place cavaletti at (seemingly!) random distances down the long side and have us count strides and then focus on adjusting the canter to fit a greater or lesser number of strides in the same distances. I never realized how helpful trot poles are with helping horses figure out where their feet are, especially the babies!”

EN: Are you able to watch Kim ride, and what have you gained from such an experience?

Taylor: “I watch Kim ride quite a bit, whether that’s riding alongside her or setting fences for a jump school. She always has a conversation with her horses, whether actually out loud or not. But she’s very verbally rewarding to all her horses when they are working on tough stuff and get it right, and I have yet to see her even get remotely upset with the horses.”

EN: You recently went to Ireland. Tell us about that experience and what you brought back to the States?

Taylor: “Ireland was one of the most beautiful and wonderful places I’ve ever been. The situation surrounding my trip was completely unexpected, and I decided I was going about a week before we left. So I didn’t have much time to prepare, but it was totally worth it and was difficult to force myself to come home.

“It’s really awesome to be able to sit on such a variety of young horses in a tight time period; I jumped fences I wouldn’t have considered jumping in the U.S. and on 4- and 5-year-olds I had never ridden before. I ended up bring home a 5-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding, Cooley High Water, who I’m having a lot of fun with. He’s super green but will jump anything I put in front of him. Now having been over there, I completely understand why the Irish horses are so game on cross country”

Cooley High Water. Photo: Taylor Mohr

Cooley High Water. Photo by Taylor Mohr.

EN: What are your short term and long-term goals as a rider?

Taylor: “My goals for right now are to get my new Irish horse going and out in the event world. He’s entered at some events in Aiken, and I’m really looking forward to the process of moving him up through the levels. He has a super brain and is very willing, so I’m excited to see what he can do.

“I can’t think of a better place to be with a young horse than with Kim, and I’m happy to have her guidance through the process. Longer term, I would love to do a one-star, but at this point we have to work on staying in the dressage ring and on a 20-meter circle. So that’s a bit of a ways off. “

EN: Other than the obvious reasons for working for someone with such tremendous accomplishments, why would you point a young ambitious rider towards Kim’s?

Taylor: “Kim is super down to earth and very honest. She will tell you how she feels, and that’s a character trait I really respect in an individual. She offers advice on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, and even if I initially may seem hesitant about something she’s suggesting, she pretty much always ends up being right. I also love that she’s brought so many young and green horses all the way to the upper levels of the sport.”

EN: What are you most looking forward to next?

Taylor: “We leave for Aiken in less than two weeks, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve never been to Aiken or been able to be south for an entire spring season, so I’m pretty excited about that. We also have a lot of really cool young horses in the barn right now, and it’s going to be a fun spring/summer watching them mature and grow up and enter the event world.”

Thank you so much for chatting with EN, Taylor, and good luck in 2015 to Team KSE!

The Do’s And Don’ts: Eventing Etiquette

Lila and Skybreaker. OT Huntington H.T. 2014 Lila and Skybreaker. OT Huntington H.T. 2014

I’ve been eventing for the last nineteen years and have no intentions of slowing down. In the beginning, many of us found ourselves lost at sea, with blank looks on our faces when we stared at our foreign looking cross country maps, or found ourselves blubbering like babies after forgetting our dressage test TWICE!

The learning curve was quite steep, as there are so many rules and maps, and tests to remember. And yet, the years pass by and we eventually become more comfortable with memorizing dressage tests with a seconds notice, or learning our show jumping course two riders before we go, and we make it work. Amidst this chaos and high stress, we also learn the general protocol at these outings. In other words, there seems to exist certain Eventing Etiquettes, or at least there are some unspoken Do’s and Don’ts:

DON’T: If your dressage judge makes a comment, or critiques your ride at the finale of your test, which can occur on an occasion, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT question his or her comments with a sly or rude remark. If you know in your heart of hearts, you are right and the judge was incorrect, simply bite your tongue, smile, nod, and quietly leave the arena.

Nine hundred and ninety times, your dressage judge knows more than you do. Be respectful of this reality and do not act like a superior diva.

DO: Entitlement is a slippery and dangerous slope that will only cause pain in the end. You are not god’s gift to the earth, even if you think you are. When you walk around at a horse trial, don’t walk past volunteers, without saying thank you, or saying good morning. If you had time on cross country, but you are positive you came in under the time, find someone to speak with quietly and respectfully.

Do not point fingers, or make a big scene with the organizer, secretary, or fence judge, ESPECIALLY if you are 26th out of 26 riders.

DON’T: Do not get mad at people who are volunteering. Last summer I was at a local event and witnessed first-hand a friend who was voluntarily helping people park their trailers. One woman was outraged at the trailer parking spot she was given, so she proceeded by yelling at the poor guy who was just trying to help her, and then she proceeded by spinning her tires and leaving her spot in a huff. Seriously?

Get over yourselves and learn how to be more accommodating and selfless. Go with the flow and learn to be thankful and appreciative. It’s because of this girl and many others that volunteers are dropping off the eventing maps. BE NICE to those who volunteer and if you are an event rider, you should also volunteer whenever you have a chance.

DO: Smile and say thank you. I’m not an outgoing person at all, but I’ve learned how to get along with strangers and let other people know that I’m appreciative. A smile and a thank you go so much further than a frown and a few disgruntled remarks. We are all in the same boat. We have all been late to a show. We have all almost missed our dressage tests. We have all had something come up at an event, whether it be a shoe missing, or a horse that won’t load.

Lend a hand, be courteous and be kind. It takes years to build up trust from others, and only seconds to trash. There are certain individuals we all know who we pray we are not stabled next to, or people we specifically avoid by parking eight trailers away from them. Don’t become one of these annoying and entitled individuals.

For me, the list goes on and on — what’s on your list?

Eventing 26-48: A Different Perspective

The United States seems perpetually obsessed with youth. Holding onto our age and trying to mimic attractive Hollywood actresses and actors by dying our hair, working out 10 times a day and voluntarily visiting plastic surgeons does not truly make age disappear. When I traveled to India and Bhutan in 2008, the idea of aging and death was viewed as the norm, and this concept was completely refreshing.

This idea of youth and trying to fit into certain programs and meeting specific criteria recently came to mind as I turned 29 on the first of the year. I ultimately realized I would never have the opportunity to participate in certain eventing programs geared towards the younger eventing crowd. All over the internet and in eventing magazines, we are reading about and hearing about a minute group of individuals experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be a part of programs such as Eventing 25 or Eventing 18.

In a recent article on Eventing Nation, we read about how these programs are projected to “to create a pipeline to develop the young riders who will one day represent the U.S. on international teams … According to Leslie Law: The reason these riders have been named to the program is because they’ve shown talent; they’ve obviously produced good results.”

For me personally, one of the most exciting parts of this sport revolves around the fact that you do not have to stop riding or hand in your cross country vest at a certain age. There are countless sports where athletes peek at a young age, like figure skating or gymnastics. Eventing will continue to act as a unique and alluring sport because it allows you to progress at different rates, and anyone can start eventing at any age, really.

The flip side to these alluring features are the inevitable and numerous variables that all have to fall into place if you have any hopes of participating in such a program, such as the number of years it takes to become a really skilled event rider, finding or buying that incredibly special horse, financial support and the list goes on.

I’m all for education, higher learning and training with top professionals in this sport … if I were given the opportunity. Unfortunately, these programs do not factor in how long it takes to become a great rider and how long it might take to get an outstanding horse. For some lucky individuals, this process can take a few short years; for others, it can take a lifetime.

What about the riders who are just turning into superstars right now who are past their prime, so to speak? What about the 29 to 40-year-olds that are extremely talented, but never were able to quite wedge their foot in the door due to financial reasons or finally acquiring a horse of a lifetime? Or what about the riders who were born the wrong year, or because they didn’t have a great horse until now, or because they are finally turning into a seriously competitive and talented rider, but they are 26?

Furthermore, I am in no way insinuating that those named to Eventing 18 and Eventing 25 do not deserve what they’re about to receive as far as training and education. I know that those individuals worked hard to get to where they are and are undoubtedly very talented young riders sitting on top of phenomenal horses.

What I am saying, or wishing, is that there ought to be more programs for avid equestrians whose ages fall outside of those strict confines. Who’s to say there aren’t 40 individuals for every under 25 rider who are more skilled and practiced athletes than the young professionals selected, but will remain unnoticed and disregarded because they are too old?

I also understand the concept of out with the old, in with the new. The idea that the top riders in our country will not remain at the top forever is completely realistic. Similarly, the idea that there are only a certain number of slots for such riders remains a given. Individuals and groups will continue to replace each other in this sport. The older and more experienced riders will pass down their wisdom and knowledge to the up and coming superstars, and this cycle will continue as a circle does.

If you are a tenacious event rider seeking instruction or you are an avid competitor who cannot gain momentum because you are undiscovered, how do you get noticed? If you are not 18 or you are over 25, will you ever be offered an experience or have the opportunity to apply to such a program?

Obviously, this is not a be all, end all conversation. If you are not able to participate in one of these programs, that does not mean you will not go to Badminton someday. If you are not one of these young riders, that does not mean you will not rise to the top in the sport and become a famous event rider someday.

What this does mean, at least to me, is that there are limited opportunities in this sport when it comes to certain programs and training opportunities because of the unfortunate age parameters. Learning how to become a great rider or developing into a good enough rider to qualify for one of these programs can take decades for many individuals.

Where are the developing slightly older rider programs? Where’s the time, money or willing trainers for those students working their butts off, who deserve a shot, but who will never receive it because their ages caused them to expire? What about the riders who are seriously talented but do not have the sponsors or financial backing to really get noticed? Or the skilled athletes who can’t afford the floating horses and Grand Prix show jumper type horses?

I’m not against Eventing 25 or Eventing 18; I’m disappointed and perplexed at the fact that there are limited opportunities to train with some of the best coaches in the country past a certain age. Also disheartening is the fact that one either needs to be young and talented or have money. There’s not much hope for everyone who falls between those categories.

How do we get noticed when we’re “old,” according to the USEF and USEA? How do we gain support and momentum in a world obsessed with youth? Where do we go from here, and what does the future hold for those individuals older than 25, but still desperately hoping for a spot or a shot at success?

How To Cool Your Jets

Skybreaker fall of 2014 Skybreaker fall of 2014

Have you ever been in a situation with your horse when you wanted to either strangle, decapitate, or leave your precious pony on the side of the road with a sign dangling from his neck saying “FREE”? Of course hundreds of you are going to quietly pretend you’re not human for a second and shy away from this article out of pure dismay. However, the other more honest group of fellow equestrians might nod their heads in agreement.

Obviously we all adore, love, can’t live without, and can’t imagine our lives without these darling creatures, but there are those moments in our riding careers, where our horses truly test the limits by pushing all of our buttons simultaneously. Like the time when “Suzie” would NOT load on the trailer for SIX hours, which was puzzling because Suzie loaded the last nine hundred and sixty two times. Or the time when “Jade” would NOT, I mean would NOT go anywhere near that stream, to the point where you fell off twice in attempting to get the horse through the water.

We’ve all been in, or we will be in extremely trying situations with our horses where our patience will be tested immediately. How do we avoid the inevitable, or the nearing boiling point with our horses? How do we avoid confrontation, and how do we basically cool our jets, when the going gets rough?

Eventing requires a certain amount of grit, combined with that inherent just jump in already and get it done sort of attitude. Event riders need to be bold, brave, gutsy and thrill seeking. I’m fairly certain that other equestrian sports require these characteristics, though I can only speak from an Event rider’s point of you at this moment in time. Not only do we need to possess these skills, but we also have to learn how to relax and keep our cool when the adrenaline hits an all-time high.

Learning how to ride and learning how to be an analytical person takes years for some, decades for others, and a lifetime for several other individuals. Understanding our horses and the way they actual think and react is not an easy task, but can be accomplished.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard riders say, “my horse is being a jerk,” or “my horse is being an idiot,” or “my horse doesn’t like x, y, and z.” It’s so easy to blame a problem on a horse and not take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, or lack of actions in many cases.

We need to learn how to rephrase our questions, such that our horses are not the bad guys. In other words, “how can I explain this better to my horse?” Or, “what could I do differently in order to get a more appropriate response from my horse?” Or, “How can I get inside my horses head right now, so I can better understand where this episode derived from?”

Unfortunately, I have witnessed riders losing their tempers with their horses. I’m guessing, many of us have witnessed this, or have experienced this in some form or another. At the end of the day, no matter what discipline, or what level you ride at, or whether you’re a professional or an amateur, you need to learn how to keep your cool.

If the ‘drama’ with your horse is escalating, figure out a non-confrontational way to deal with this drama. Don’t add fuel to the fire by battling it out with a horse. Your horse is not being “bad,” or being a “jerk,” but instead your horse does not understand what’s being asked of him or her. We have to learn how to be diplomatic with our horses.

Learning to cool our jets seems easier said than done. When the going gets rough, we have to learn how to control our tempers and read our horses. We have to be private investigators and truly understand what makes our horses react to certain things.

We have to get inside our horses brains and understand the way they think. We have to find, or discover a non-confrontational, and usually non-verbal form of communication with our horses. We need to be problem solvers, not soldiers ready for battle at a moments notice.

There are absolutely going to be trying moments with your horse, or in our riding careers, but it’s our job as the human being to take the high road, and the more advanced and sophisticated road by not battling with our horses.

Back Again to the Gold Cooler Jumper Series

Vinnie looking semi pleased with himself after our second Gold Cooler Jumper Series show! Vinnie looking semi pleased with himself after our second Gold Cooler Jumper Series show!

A small group of die-hard event riders journeyed to the Berkshire Equestrian Center last weekend in Richmond, Massachusetts, where an indoor jumper show was taking place. This jumper show is part of the seriously awesome Gold Cooler Jumper Series that Ken Whelihan has thoughtfully put together.

Ken is an MA licensed riding instructor and trainer with a background in judging, competing and teaching. Interestingly, The Berkshire Equestrian Center was where this series originated, and 2014 will be the third season for this winter series at seven stables from Greenfield, Massachusetts, to Gales Ferry, Connecticut. The season usually consists of 14 shows ending with the final competition in March at the Mount Holyoke College.

Talk about shaking up a dull and uninspiring winter and transforming it into an exhilarating and anticipated season with this lively series. Honestly, if you have the time, money and desire to get in and out of the ring for a relatively inexpensive amount of money, why not participate, especially for event riders who seem to make up the minority at these shows?

Like I was saying, four event riders, including myself made the couple hour trip down to the land where grass is still visible and horses are comfortably being ridden outdoors. We were all relatively excited and anxious about the size of the jumps and the space in which you were given, but knew we came for a reason!

As event riders, many of us are spoiled at times and become accustomed to jumping in larger areas, where you have what seems like an inordinate amount of space and time to plan your next move. The amount of space at these indoor jumper shows is not unrealistic, nor is the area unfathomable to ride in, and yet, when you’re not used to riding within such confines, one can easily go off course, get flustered or totally blank! There’s no extra time to think or plan; you simply have to do in order to make it around.

We were at this show basically the entire afternoon. There were enough people present to put the pressure on, particularly when you could see all those unfamiliar faces sitting on the other side of the window where the heated viewing area was. Not to mention there was a very intimidating and booming loud speaker, so you and your horse immediately become known. In fact, if it were just Ken Whelihan standing alone at the in-gate, there would still be plenty of pressure riding and jumping in front of such an accomplished equestrian!

We all went in and rode better after each round. I was very anxious about the size of the jumps and how twisty the courses were. I knew that it would be incredibly easy to go off course and look like a sailor lost at sea. I managed to make it around three courses and could not have been more thrilled with the power and boldness that Vinnie continues to demonstrate. Of course, there will always be more homework and more studying to do, but that’s the name of the game, right?

These shows are absolutely super, and I am beyond thrilled that I heard about these shows through my trainer. I hope this series continues to gather support and draw in more riders. Having something like an indoor jumper show to look forward to and to practice for makes the winter go by considerably fast! Learning how to turn and roll back and ride in such small areas will absolutely benefit our riding abilities. As event riders, if we can jump those heights and make those kind of turns in an indoor, the rest seems pretty doable when you look at the broader picture!

Thank you everyone who helped me with the horse shuffling in Vermont, and thank you to Berkshire Equestrian Center for putting on an exciting and seamless show! We really appreciate the effort put into these shows! Till next time!

Christmas in Woodstock

Sister Ski Day! Sister Ski Day!

Lately all I do is drive. I decided to take Vinnie back to his real home in Woodstock, Vermont, this winter, where I go and ride him as frequently as I can. Even though 40 minutes seems monotonous at times, I rarely am stumped for conversations inside my head during these regular jaunts. My mind usually buzzes a thousand times per second, therefore the drive goes by relatively quickly.

Woodstock will always be a very special, yet haunted town for me. I have thousands of amazing memories from GMHA and competing, to the breathtaking Woodstock Inn and Resort where both my parents used to work. I have vivid memories of my younger sister and I chowing down on chocolate chip cookies after school while listening to my father play the piano at the Inn. I remember begging my mom for more coins, so we could go play video games upstairs.

I’ll never forget searching through the gift shop and finding all sorts of gifts I’d ask my mom for. But mostly, I’ll remember the music and my fathers never-ending enthusiasm.

The holidays are both spectacular and emotional for me. Hearing Christmas carols and seeing kids open presents will continually be fun, though I will always be reminded of my childhood and what I did have that I do not have now: my father. I lost my father in this very town many years ago. I cannot drive by our old house without feeling chills and tears as they start to well up. Being reminded of him causes a tremendous amount of pain, though knowing I had more than a decade of insanely fun memories makes me appreciative.

Driving through this village brings so many thoughts to the forefront of my mind. I leave the barn after riding the world’s coolest horse, and I wonder how it came to be that I would be riding this horse, of all horses. I wonder about all the experiences and losses that led me to this point in my riding career. I wonder about the future and what I will be able to accomplish with this horse. It’s all like a dream come true. I leave the barn feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Then all of a sudden, the home where my father had his heart attack appears in my rearview mirror. Then I drive by where he used to work day in and day out. Then I drive past the ice cream shop where my dad would get everyone a treat before heading home. Then I drive past Kedron Valley Stables, where he used to pick me up and drop me off for my weekly riding lessons. Driving through this town is like a whirlwind down memory lane.

The holidays remind me that I have so much to be grateful for. I have been offered new and exciting opportunities. I have this incredible opportunity to ride a horse that knows it all and has so much to teach me. I have a support team and a network of friends, new and old. I have an amazing family who makes me laugh and try harder. I have instructors who drive me to be a better rider while encouraging me to never give up. And I have an incredible boyfriend who challenges me, believes in me and supports me.

I am doing what I always wanted to do in life. Even though my father is not here today, I know he would be proud of what his girls have set out to do with their lives. Let the holidays remind us to never forget and always be appreciative!

Gold Cooler Jumper Series Helps Eventers Beat Winter Blues

Icicle Kingdom, aka VERMONT! Icicle Kingdom, aka VERMONT!

Winter in New England could be described as a double edged sword. On the one hand, we are surrounded by a breathtaking icicle kingdom, especially when driving down some of these long, back, dirt roads in Vermont.

I find myself intentionally pulling off the side of the road in hopes of capturing such splendor on my iPad.Vulnerable and heavy branches caked with thick sheets of ice are precariously draped above the road, creating a small but luring tunnel beneath them. On the off chance the sun is shining, and the light happens to hit the frozen extremities just so, magic seems to be the result.

On the other hand, thousands of people are without power, with all the electrical lines down. Several of these back roads that connect us with our real lives and jobs are often impassable. The freezing temperatures and the driving conditions can be trying and finding motivation when the sun disappears at approximately 4:22pm is extremely difficult.

As an avid event rider, staying focused and finding inspiration every winter can be a challenge. Though, when you have something like an indoor jumper show to look forward to, and an entire Gold Cooler Jumper Series to work towards, the winter just went from bleak, miserable and uninspiring, to highly motivating, uplifting and thrilling.

Yesterday, I took Vinnie to our first indoor jumper show together at Orion Farm in South Hadley Massachusetts, which is part of the Gold Cooler Jumper Series. A couple friends and I made the couple hour journey to the sunny south, where the sun was shining, the grass was visible and the atmosphere was perfection. And yes, 42 degrees shall be described as the sunny south, when 10 below is the norm!

We were running slightly late, after dealing with ice, shoveling trailers out of snowbanks, and driving on back roads to do some horse shuffling. We arrived just in time for the last division, which was the 3’6”-3’9” class. We hustled to get on our horses and warm up as quickly as we could, as to not keep everyone waiting even longer than they already had been. We jumped a couple warm up jumps, went in the indoor and immediately learned our courses.

The Vinster waiting patiently  to leave!

The Vinster waiting patiently to leave!

My heart was pounding. I was second to go in the ring. There were enough people standing around and watching to make the adrenaline kick in. I trotted towards the judge and proceeded as the whistle blew.

My inner dialogue turned on immediately. Good GOD these seem big. I thought this was 3’3” NOT 3’9”? Whatever, suck it up, and get it together Lila. Don’t go off course, dumb dumb. Stay focused. Keep him coming, but not running. Stay balanced. Shoulders back, leg on. But don’t get tight.

We made it around the first course and while it did not feel like the most effortless, or straight forward round of my life, I was completely happy with Vinnie and how he felt. He is totally honest and continues to make me feel like I can literally conquer the world.

Denny constantly talks about going to more of these jumper shows and dealing with the pressure of going in the ring. I used to not understand why he was so insistent about these shows, but after going to several now, I completely realize how crucial they are.

If you’re not used to jumping in a smaller area, it can be very challenging. The jumps obviously come up quickly, and you can easily lose momentum. You do not have a lot of time to set cruise control, nor do you have tons of time to think about your next move.

You have to know exactly where you’re going, and you have to make decisions very quickly. You immediately realize where your holes are in your riding and what your homework will be before the next outing.

Not only do these jumper shows give me an opportunity to get off the farm and do something fun for the day, but they offer us inexpensive chances to practice our skills, to learn how to ride in smaller areas, to refine our riding, to remember a course quickly, and to put ourselves under pressure.  Coping with pressure is one of the hardest things for me in this sport, and to have opportunities to be under pressure seems priceless.

While the layer of rust was completely evident at this show yesterday, I was beyond thrilled to get myself and Vinnie out in public again. I was just so happy to be jumping a course.

Thank you so much Orion Farm for being so incredibly accommodating and for waiting for our crew to finally arrive. We all had an amazing time and appreciate the effort to make these shows happen! We’ll be back, don’t worry!

Five Reasons Why The Good Keep Getting Better

Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice at Luhmühlen. Photo by Jenni Autry. Phillip Dutton and Mighty Nice at Luhmühlen. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Have you ever gone to an event and noticed that there exists this inevitable elite group of talented riders? I’m talking about those individuals who win an extraordinary number of events time after time, to the point where competing against that person will become an inescapable fact and, not to mention something you will ultimately dread.

This reality becomes extremely apparent in Area 1, where there are fewer “big name” riders and fewer Olympic type events. And yet, even at these small, local shows, we will see this group of riders and horses who continue to hold their own, and who continue to impress.

It’s as if they’re untouchable. Once you scan through the names on the “accepted list,” weeks before the event, you realize that the blue ribbon will most likely be going to that familiar name that belongs in the elite group of riders.

So, how do you become one of these named riders? What does it take? Why do the good riders keep getting better and moving up the eventing ladder? Who do we get our foot in the door? How do we become members of this elite group, if that is our goal? While I am by far no expert, I have some, how about five, thoughts:

1. Unwavering work ethic

Working hard at becoming a very good rider might not guarantee that you will instantaneously compete at Rolex someday, but I guarantee that not working hard will get you nowhere. These talented individuals don’t nail their distances, have fabulous seats, and flawless positions from not working hard.

They have absolutely put in the hours, and most likely the concept of being a “good” rider is not satisfactory in their books. They long to be great riders, and so they are.

 2 Good horses

Let’s be real here for a second. When’s the last time you saw a rider who constantly came home with a blue ribbon while sitting on a “difficult” horse? When’s the last time you saw those elite group of riders go through their dressage test with horses whose heads were the highest point, while standing on two legs for half the test?

I’m not insinuating that in order to become one of these select riders, you need to purchase a fifty thousand dollar New Zealand import. I’m saying, in order to do well, you have to have a decent horse. Obviously the word “decent” is open for debate, but most of us can spot a nice horse when we see one.

 3. Practicing relentlessly

To be perfectly honest, I have witnessed first-hand riders who say they want to get better, and yet they fail to go home and practice their suggested homework. These specific riders we scrutinize over at events have absolutely gone home and practiced.

They have all had their ups and downs, but they are anything but indolent and they are willing to put in the hours of time that is required for greatness.

 4. Guts

Something I notice about this group of lovely riders is that they tend to be seriously gutsy. Whether they are taking a green horse Novice, or they are taking their seasoned pro around the Intermediate course, they consistently get the job done.

If something goes wrong, and there needs to be a quick, but thoughtful decision made on cross country, they tend to it immediately. They are less afraid, and they are precise.

 5. Amazing under pressure

Lastly, and this goes hand in hand with being less afraid, these elite groups go down centerline on a mission, and they enter into the show jumping ring without the slightest inkling of fear on their face.

Whether or not they are nervous, they rise to the occasion and they do not crumble under pressure. They do what they’ve practiced. They appear to look comfortable and they put off an effortless aura around them.

 These ideas are not set in stone, nor am I the expert of all experts. I am just going by what I have seen in the last seventeen years of my eventing career. I know a good rider when I see one. So, what would you add to the list, and why?

What Do YOU Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Livin the dream! Lila and Vinnie August 2014! Livin the dream! Lila and Vinnie August 2014!

At one time or another most children are asked that inevitable cliché question: So, (insert some random name here), what do YOU want to be when you grow up?

Some children answer swiftly and decidedly, I want to be an airplane driver, or I want to bake pies. Others look confused and bewildered by such a prodigious question.

Of course when I was asked this ridiculous question as a youngster I looked petrified and immediately ran the other way. How dare that big scary human ask me such a personal and difficult question? If I wasn’t so terrified of human beings, I probably would have answered with the following: I’d like to gallop and jump over huge brush fences with a chestnut with a big white face, just like National Velvet did!

For as long as I can remember I have been riding horses. I was hooked from day one. Even though I cried every time I fell off (which was weekly), and even though I was deathly afraid of jumping, and even though the thought of hanging out with other kids my age at riding camp was daunting, still I followed down the horse avenue.

Horses have always been IT for me. I understand horses. I love reading horses and communicating with horses. I love getting to know a new horses. I love the relationship you develop with your horse over time. I love the smell of a barn, the sound of horses munching on hay relaxes me, and having a horse trot up to you in a field is a pretty remarkable feeling.

Teaching a young horse how to jump, or learning what it’s like to jump an experienced horse is something else. The progress, the struggling, the ups and downs make it all wroth my while. I am an addict and there’s no cure in sight.

Every now and again, I’ll be sitting, chatting with a non-horsey human, and they will inevitably ask me what I do for a living. First of all, trying to describe the sport of eventing to someone who thinks mustangs and racehorses are the only horses known to man can present obvious challenges, especially when you begin by describing dressage.

Regardless, after being asked about my life and what I have done and am hoping to do raises certain questions and thoughts in my own mind. What if I didn’t ride, then what? Or, If I stopped riding horses right now, what the hell would I do, and why?

I can’t help but wonder from time to time what I would be doing with my life if I were not pursuing horses and riding as a career. I’m sure these thoughts have glossed over, or passed through other similar minds. In no way am I regretting my decisions or the direction my life has taken. I am beyond grateful and appreciative for this life and this particular journey.

I mean, seriously, how many people get to wake up every day and live their dream? How many people always dreamed of having a barn full of horses that they could ride every day, all day? I know this is a very specific lifestyle and I would not trade it for all the money in the world.

However, sometimes I catch myself thinking about those what ifs. What if I had gone into government type work? Or, what if I had gone to law school? Or, what if I had stuck with engineering as a major? Where would I be now? Where would I be living? Would I be happy? Would I be lonely? Would I feel fulfilled? Would I travel the world? Would I have more time for family vacations and baby showers and birthday parties? What if….

Schooling Valonia at Huntginton, 2014!

Schooling Valonia at Huntginton, 2014!

Thinking about the unknowns can be fun and exciting and it can also be formidable. Honestly, this all came to mind because I saw an old friends a few days ago and these questions resurfaced. I try and not dwell on the what ifs. I like to live my life now and look towards the future.

Things are constantly in flux, in life, on a horse farm, within the confines of your own personal riding bubble. Horses come and horses go. You change your goals and you create goals you never thought were humanly possible. You grow and you crash down.

To answer my initial question of what do I want to be when I grow up: I want to be doing exactly and precisely what I am doing right now.

I want to continue to compete next summer. I want to try and reach my next goal of doing a CIC * in August, I want to build my teaching program, I want to write more articles, I want to grow as a rider and as a trainer, I want to learn and I want to build better, stronger and lasting relationships with my horses. I want to be what I am, and I couldn’t be more excited about this journey!

If I can do this, so can you. Start by identifying your dreams in life, then chase them down!

How To Tolerate Winter Time Chores

Lila's new winter project...Tate, running around the field! Lila's new winter project...Tate, running around the field!

Boy, oh boy, are New Englanders in for a surprise this year! Winter has officially made its yearly debut and friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers are hiding out in their cocoons and preparing themselves for full hibernation. Going to the local grocery store, or the post office seems like a major outing.

Before leaving the nest for such a thrilling adventure, one must layer clothes on top of clothes before facing the whipping wind and freezing temperatures. By the time you bitterly throw your various articles of clothing on, boots tied, scarves strategically wrapped, and you’ve waited the sufficient amount of time that is required to defrost your car, you realize why such a simple outing seems like an epic journey.

By the time you step foot into your car, your grumpiness gauge goes from average every day grumpiness to full blown rage and frustration. Mundane tasks and simple projects are turned into instantaneous battles when dealing with the winter months in New England, particularly when you reside on a farm.

When dealing with numb fingers and toes, frozen water buckets, feisty feral horses, broken gates, freezing pipes, extremely thick and dangerous ice rink driveways, loneliness, depression, chapped lips, and general disdain for the world around you, it’s easy to fall into despair. However, winter time chores have the potential to become tolerable when you have somebody or something that can help ease your daily pain and suffering.

1) Tractors. I’ll admit, before arriving at Tamarack Hill Farm, and meeting someone who’s life seems to revolve around these machines, I never realized how one apparatus could change the way you look at the world from November through April. These machines are truly life savers. They plow, they pull, they dig, and they basically do it all (until they break).

One day, if I am really lucky and I ask at the appropriate time, I might be permitted to drive and learn to operate such a powerful piece of equipment. For now, I’ll gaze through the barn window and sigh with relief, while he who takes care of all things farm related drives the tractor.

2) Running Water. It’s the simple things in life sometimes that makes or breaks your day. Having running water truly seems like a luxury. The only way we know this IS in fact a luxury is because we have spent months without running water in the barn.

Ah yes, those miserable snow storms where you have to bring warm buckets of water from your house, down the long driveway, across the street, over the brook, through some weeds, and over a mountain, before you arrive at the barn, realizing you spilled half the bucket down your now freezing leg.

3)Music. I am sort of a loner and I’m okay with this fact about myself. Though, after days, weeks, and even months pass by and I have not come into contact with anyone or anything besides the barn mice, even I need to hear the sounds of other voices that are not actually in my head. Yes, I sing to myself and I listen to local news. As long as the power is turned on, I am a happy camper. Nothing like cleaning stalls with Taylor Swift every morning. Yep…I listen to Taylor Swift.

Carhartt suits come in ALL sizes!

Carhartt suits come in ALL sizes!

4) Where to put all that manure? This may seem silly, but if the manure pile is in close proximity to the barn, then my general attitude towards the world seems more pleasant. See, we have two different barns here at THF. One main barn and one lower barn, where the manure pile lives.

There are perks and cons to both barns, but if you have a handy dandy tractor bucket dropped off at your convenience, where you can easily dump your wheelbarrow into the bucket, then life is good….or life seems easier.

5) Carhartt Overalls. I may not be entering any beauty pageants EVER, but particularly in the winter when I look like a marshmallow man, or an angry Santa Claus with hay and shavings stuck to random extremities. Even though carrying around extra weight of the clothing seems exhausting and endless, I am a HUGE fan of these not so fashionable, but extremely warm and practical overalls. Seriously…invest in a pair!

So, fellow winterites….whats on YOUR list?

13 Questions with EN: Bailey Moran And Loughnatousa Caislean

Bailey Moran and Loughnatousa Caislean. Photo by Sally Spickard. Bailey Moran and Loughnatousa Caislean. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Have you seen this talented and determined young pair? Perhaps you’ve heard of 19-year-old Bailey Moran from San Antonio, Texas, and her super duper awesome Irish Sport Horse gelding Loughnatousa Caislean? We sat down with Bailey to ask 13 burning questions. Many thanks to Bailey for her time, and thanks for reading!

Lila:  How old are you and where are you from?

Bailey: “I’m 19 as of Nov. 1. I was born in Conroe, Texas, and now live in San Antonio, Texas, however at the end of the year I’ll be making the trip to Florida to spend January through April in Ocala. After the Ocala International, I’ll be based in central Pennsylvania for the remainder of the year. “

Lila: Are you attending college or will be attending?

Bailey: “I am not currently attending college. I do plan to take some business courses whenever my riding slows down a bit. Who knows when that will be!”

Lila: Tell us about your childhood and your background with horses?

Bailey: I started riding when I was 6. I’ve done everything.”

Lila: Does your family ride horses?

Bailey: My mother grew up joy riding on a little palomino called Sunny, and now both my parents trail ride for the fun of it in their off time. My father, also known as Eventing Dad, did compete up to the ‘Goldilocks’ level a few years ago. I think he’d probably like to compete again some time if the right horse came along.”

Lila: Tell us about your horse — age, breed, personality, how you found him?

Bailey: Loughnatousa Caislean (Lock-na-two-sah Cash-lawn) or ‘Leo’ is a 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding. We found him in Ireland as a 5-year-old who’d never shown before in August of 2011. He’s a very funny boy who’s notorious for picking favorites! He can be very cooperative for those who he enjoys the company of and very uncooperative for those he doesn’t! The good news is, if for some reason you’re not in his favor, you can most likely bribe him with Sour Patch Kids, and he will very quickly be your best friend.”

Bailey Moran and Loughnatousa Caislean. Photo credit to Storey Crenshaw.

Bailey Moran and Loughnatousa Caislean. Photo credit to Storey Crenshaw.

Lila: What makes your partnership unique?

Bailey: Leo and I feed off of each other. The more confident I am, the more confident he is, and vice versa. We’ve been together from the very beginning. When we brought him over from Ireland, I had just recently moved up to Training level, and Leo didn’t even know what eventing was. The second he stepped foot onto his first cross country course, he was at home.

“It was evident from the beginning that eventing simply made sense to him. He understood what I was asking of him and was more than game. To this day, he has never, ever said ‘no’ to me. I feed off his bravery, and in turn feel like I could conquer the world on the back of that horse. He is unbelievable.”

Lila: You went to the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships in the CH-J* last year. Tell us about that experience.

Bailey: The one-star was actually a massive shock to us all. He had only moved up to Prelim in October of 2012, so qualifying for Young Riders was actually a bit of a dream that we had never anticipated coming true. Neither of us had never been to an event of that scale, and it did show on the cross country course. We had a couple of green run outs where I just missed my line and he never read the question.

“It was a huge learning experience and still an incredible feeling to bring home a double clear show jumping that Sunday. I value our showing there and all it taught me. We are the partnership we are today because of the mistakes we’ve made and what we took away from them. “

Lila: Do you have plans of moving up to Advanced in 2015? If so, when and where?

Bailey: Absolutely! We’re right on track to move up to Advanced at Rocking Horse II in February. I’m trying hard to have no expectations, but when you’re sitting on a horse who tries as hard as he does, it’s impossible to not be over the moon excited!”

Lila: What was your season like this year?

Bailey: He gave me the most unbelievable season I’ve ever experienced! We moved up to Intermediate in January and after taking a couple of events to figure out the level, he hit his stride as he always does. We qualified again for Young Riders, this time at the CH-Y**, and had another learning experience there, but he returned home in tip top shape and placed in the top three in his last four events of the season, with one third, one second and two firsts.”

Lila: What has been your biggest accomplishment with this particular horse?

Bailey: That’s an easy one. In 2009, I was running Beginner Novice at the American Eventing Championships in Chicago on my pony, Razzmatazz. The first day I was there, I was doing my 20-meter circles in the warm up ring when I looked up and started sobbing uncontrollably. I was surrounded by many eventing greats, such as Karen O’Connor, Phillip Dutton, Leslie Law and countless others, and I was terrified that I was going to have to compete against them. Well, I wasn’t, of course. Not that year.

“But this year, I once again warmed up among the same greats and more. To finish third in the Intermediate division of the AECs, bested by none other than Buck Davidson and Tamie Smith, was undoubtedly the most magical moment of my entire career thus far. To join a victory gallop surrounded by those I have always looked up to and will always continue to look up to was surreal and enchanting.”

Bailey Moran and Loughnatousa Caislean, photo: Father Dan Moran

Bailey Moran and Loughnatousa Caislean. Photo by Dan Moran.

Lila: Have you ever had a horse like this one?

Bailey: Absolutely not, and I find it hard to think that I will ever have one who compares. I have never gotten off Leo without a beaming smile on my face. At our last event this season, I returned to the barn after cross country. Within minutes, I was reduced to a blubbering, crying mess as I hugged my goofy chestnut’s neck, thanking him for the ride he’d given me that day, for every ride before it and every ride that is to come.

“There will be plenty of good horses in the future, and I’m sure ones just as special as he. But they will never be special in the same way. I will never have the same connection to a horse as I have with Leo.”

Lila: What are your hopes and goals for the future? Is Rolex in the back of your mind?

Bailey: Rolex used to be a joke around the house. When we won the AECs at the Training level in 2012, I had jokingly made a comment, saying, ‘See you at Rolex in 2016!’ not at all believing it could be a real possibility. The long term plan is definitely to shoot for Rolex in 2016 if all goes well with our move up to Advanced.

“Ideally, I’d like to run the Carolina International CIC3*, Plantation Field CIC3*, and Fair Hill International CCI3* next year in order to qualify. If we do make it to Rolex in the next year and a half, we’ll be setting our sights on getting noticed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic team. For now, they’re all just dreams. A lot has to fall into place to make those goals possible. But two years ago, Rolex was only a dream as well!”

Lila: What advice would you offer to someone as eager and as young as you searching for their next superstar event horse?

Bailey: “Look for a horse that makes you smile! For a horse that makes you feel untouchable, brave and excited. The first time I cross country schooled on Leo, I told my parents, ‘This is the most confident I have ever felt on a horse!’ Look for something you can trust, that gives you more confidence than you ever dreamed was possible. And if they’re a chestnut with an adorable crooked blaze, that’s just the icing on the cake.”

And here they are at the AEC Intermediate Championships, brought to you by RNS Video:

Money Can’t Buy You Everything

Schooling Valonia at Huntginton, 2014! Schooling Valonia at Huntginton, 2014!

I started riding horses as a child, and I remember taking weekly riding lessons, like so many kids do, and absolutely loving it. Despite the fact that I was essentially a mute human being for the better part of upbringing, when my parents asked if I wanted to continue riding horses, my response was painfully consistent! As I grew up and began to have a vague understanding of the value of a dollar, I realized riding lessons were very expensive, and my parents did not have the funds to support my passion forever. In fact, weekly riding lessons seemed to be pushing the envelope.

I begged, I pleaded, and I did anything and everything to prove to my parents that they needed to help me continue to follow my dreams. There were screaming matches, doors slammed and tears shed. I wanted so badly to have a horse and to be in “the program” so to speak, like all of my friends at the barn. In hindsight, my parents were amazing and I am unbelievably grateful to have had their support, and continue to have my mother’s support, as my father is no longer with us.

Not coming from a wealthy family was a battle I faced on a daily basis as a teenager. I wasn’t able to participate in clinics. I never had fancy horses or phenomenal jumpers. I could only attend a certain number of events for the season, and paying for partial board and lessons was tricky. I worked my butt off so I could keep a horse at Hitching Post Farm. I felt too young to have such financial concerns, yet this was realit,y and if I wanted to stick with this life, I had to become familiar with the way the horse world worked.

Vinnie's On It! THF Jumper show!

Vinnie’s On It! THF Jumper show!

Even though at the time I was juggling my emotions with an empty back account, I am proud of my upbringing and would not change any of it for anything. If you had asked me when I was an arrogant and unappreciative 16 year old, I would have told you that I longed for some rich family to adopt me so I could have owned lots of pretty horses and go climb the levels in eventing and become famous. Quite honestly, I know some of these individuals and could not fathom spending more than 30 seconds with them.

Not having a lot of extra money as a kid and a teenager put my life into perspective. If I wanted to have ANYTHING to do with nice horses or reputable trainers, I had to work my ass off. If I wanted to be a better rider, I had to clean extra stalls and go above and beyond just to get the opportunity to ride extra horses. So that’s what I did. I was at the barn every waking second. I rode anything and everything I could get my hands one. All I wanted to do was ride. I had to prove that I wanted it badly enough.

So here I am, 28 years old and am riding with one of the most accomplished event riders and trainers of his time. I never in a million years thought I would end up riding and training with Denny Emerson, but here I am. I never thought I would sit on horses that float across the ground or jump 5 feet with ease. I never thought I would have so much help and support. I never thought I would be able to ride and compete a horse as amazing as Vinnie.

I feel incredibly lucky, but I know that luck is synonymous with hard work. Nobody ever handed anything to me on a silver platter, and I am beyond grateful for that … so thank you, Mom and Dad, for giving me those opportunities and setting a great example of what hard work really means.