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Meagan DeLisle

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Makeover Moments with Flashback Justice: Sleep Deprived and Satisfied, Day Three

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Jumper Nation editor Meagan DeLisle reports with her project Flashback Justice. If you missed part 1, read it here

The days go by a lot faster when you are on Makeover time and before I knew it, day two was just a memory. We spent the majority of our Thursday hacking around the property and helping Flash adjust to the commotion of the now busy showgrounds, but Thursday night was the start of a marathon like no other.

Like many of my fellow competitors, the financial burden of traveling for the Makeover required me to get creative with my budget. In an attempt to offset some of my expenses, I booked several clients for braiding prior to the release of the competition schedule and low and behold, all 10 of my clients were slated to show on Friday. So what did that mean for poor Meagan? It meant I was up at the barn at 10 p.m. Friday night to begin a long night of braiding.

Next thing I knew I was trimming off the excess yarn off of my last horse at 6:45 a.m. on Friday morning. I had officially been awake for a full 24 hours and still had to braid my own horse, tack up, put on my official dress and make it out to the Stirrup Cup at 7:30 a.m.

Basically, I was in deep trouble.

Tacked up and ready to go thanks to a little help from our friends. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Thankfully, Kristen came to the rescue and helped me get ready in record time. As the sun rose in the distance, Flash and I made our way through the dark and sleepy horse park on our way to the Sunken Road field for our first competition of the Makeover. Flash let out a giant sigh as we cut our way through the dense fog that covered the landscape. I don’t think there could ever have been a more perfect way to start a hunt morning.

To my surprise, Flash was unalarmed by the growing number of horses around us. He sat happily, half asleep, in the middle of the field as I enjoyed a traditional cup of port courtesy of the local hunt chapter. “Today is going to be a great day,” I thought to myself.

We started off with our flat phase of the hunt test. Flash was in spectacular form and went around like a pro, so much so that we had a flat score of 33. The highest score on the flat was 38, so I was very proud of my baby horse.

Flash trying to sneak a snack before our flat class on this foggy Friday morning. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Then it was time to move onto the mock hunt. The hounds ran around with glee, happy to be enjoying the beautiful countryside at the Kentucky Horse Park. I was thrilled to see Flash was unphased by the commotion around us. A handful of our competitors were struggling with the overwhelming nature of the hunt. We trotted off at a great pace and set our sights on the first jump: a log that was welcoming in height, but a bit intimidating in width. I could feel Flash focusing on the fence and was excited to show off his scope over fences, but as we approached I could see the footing on the take-off was pretty dicey.

Flash was going to jump, I could feel himself coiling up and ready to go, but as he prepared to take off I felt his back end slide and he planted his front feet firmly as if to say, “Mom … I just can’t.” I can’t fault a horse for his own self-preservation, so rather than get upset I just gave him a pat and we went on our merry way. My goal for the rest of the course was to have fun and to let Flash keep his confidence up. Some fences we skipped, some fences he popped over in his typical exuberant fashion. We galloped in the beautiful open field and I smiled. It was a beautiful day for a hunt.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

All in all, I knew our scores were in the gutter and I didn’t care. My horse trotted through the knee-deep water with zero hesitation and a happy expression. We went around the final fence on course with lots of pats when a Steward caught my attention. I was afraid we were somehow in trouble, but instead she said to me, “You do such a good job with him. Way to go!”

And that is when I started crying … again … for like the fifth time on this trip.

We opted to scratch the individual final and just make our way to the schooling ring to pop over some fences on better footing. After sailing over them, we made our way back to the barn for a little rest break before our competitive trail class.

In trail, I just wanted to have fun. I could feel Flash was a bit frustrated from the morning’s activities and I just wanted him to be happy. The first obstacle was navigating the famous head of the lake and many of the horses were hesitating at the entrance because of the muddy down-ramp, but baby Flash sauntered right in without a care. “Excellent water!” Called the judge as made our way to the next challenge. Like the field hunters, some of the obstacles were too much for Flash today and that was okay. We gave everything a shot and then rather than let him work himself up, we would move on to the next task at hand. All in all, Flash completed the majority of the class beautifully and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with him.

As the day wore on, my sleep deprived state got the best of me. Kristen stacked a few bags of shavings together so I could curl up and take a much-needed nap before the potluck dinner, where several of our friends joined us for an evening filled with tacos and laughter. As the sun dropped below the skyline, Kristen and I hopped on for a late-night, bareback ride out in the field behind the barns. Just the fact that I could do that made me happier than any ribbon ever would. Here I was watching the lightning bugs light up the field, listening to the sound of my best pal softly munching on grass with no tack aside from a halter. That is when I knew that no matter what the scores said, I had won.

Makeover Moments with Flashback Justice: Day 1 and I’m Already Crying

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Jumper Nation editor Meagan DeLisle reports with her project Flashback Justice. 

After what seemed like a never-ending six hours on the road, Flashback Justice and I made it to the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park late Tuesday evening. For the most part, the barn aisles were desolate with just a few stragglers here and there unloading the last bits of their tack and hay. Flash traveled quite nicely and was eager to settle into his new abode. Thanks to the help of my friend (and Horse Nation editor) Kristen, we unpacked in record time. I took a few brief moments to soak up the quiet atmosphere before making my way out for the night. With around 5oo horses projected to compete this week, I knew that the quiet moments would probably be few and far between from this point on.

Wednesday was our first official day at the KHP. I arrived bright and early for my favorite part of horse ownership, barn chores. Flash was happy to see me (or happy to see that I was bringing him breakfast… ehh, either way I will take it) and happily munched on his morning hay while I picked his stall. Slowly but surely, trucks and trailers began to fill the barn aisles and the environment transformed to that of a busy horse show.

Kristen was set up to volunteer for the majority of the day, so I opted to go on a mid-morning trail ride and check out our surroundings. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of Flash as we embarked on our big adventure. All around us the commotion was growing. The arenas were full of schooling horses, tractors and golf carts were whizzing by, but Flash plodded along on the buckle more interested in trying to grab a snack here and there than the world around us.

We made our way to the covered arena where a handful of horses were acclimating to the show ring and I decided to have a light flatwork session and assess Flash’s mental state. Normally he is very chill and I often forget that he is a green five-year-old who has only been off the track for a year, but every now and then he humbles me. Today was not one of those days, however. After we flatted on the buckle in a nice frame walk, trot and canter, I decided not to get too greedy and to just allow him to relax and enjoy a quiet ride for the remainder of the morning.

So around the park we went. We went everywhere without a care in the world. We ventured down horse paths, we plodded down roads, we even made our way up to the legendary Rolex arena, all on a loose rein. As we hacked alongside the cross country course on our way back to the barn, I felt tears spring into my eyes.

Entering the Rolex arena. Photo by Meagan DeLisle.

Just a year ago, this horse was tripping over crossrails and pulling back when tied. I was combatting some confidence issues myself at the time and never imagined that a year from that point I would be enjoying a leisurely ride on my OTTB without having to worry about what he might do next. All of those emotions paired with the beauty of the horse park definitely got me in my feels.

The day drifted on at a peaceful pace. While everyone around me seemed to be rushing to cram as much schooling in as possible, I was enjoying hanging out by Flash’s stall and knocking some work out. All day long beautiful horses passed by me, horses that in no way looked like they have only been off the track just a short year. I give mad props to all of my fellow competitors. I have yet to see a horse who looks under-conditioned at this year’s Makeover.

A fellow writer from our Eventing Nation side of the family, Kate Samuels, is also here competing this week so Kristen and I made plans to meet up later in the afternoon for a trail ride. As all of us work remotely this is the first time, to our knowledge, that a representative from all three branches of the Nation Media family has been at the same event together. I quickly coined our group as the “United Nations,” (my best wordsmithing to date). We had a blast hacking all around the property with one another, laughing and joking about our horses and the many adventures we have gotten ourselves into.

The United Nations! Photo by Eileen Cody.

After tending to Flash for the night, I rolled out of the horse park and made my way a Waffle House for a late night smorgasbord of breakfast food. As I sat in the back of the restaurant in a booth all by myself with a warm cup of coffee, I was able to decompress from the day while reflecting on our first day at the KHP.

Today was pretty much perfect. I met new friends, reconnected with old friends, had two great rides and enjoyed a day full of ponies. Who knows what else this week has in store, but one thing is for sure. I am so proud of my little horse. The ribbons don’t matter, just the fact that he has come so far and brought me so much happiness is all I need.

Go Jumping.

Meagan’s RRP Diary: Who is Training Who?

Photo by Jesse Franks Photography. Photo by Jesse Franks Photography.

The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Jumper Nation editor Meagan DeLisle reports with her project Flashback Justice. 

Recently a photo of Flash from the day I purchased him sight unseen popped up in my Facebook memories. It doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed since I jumped on the Thoroughbred Makeover bandwagon and joined the RRP family, but here we are. I have sat down at my computer several times over the last few days and tried to sum up just what this experience has been like for me and how it has impacted my life, but the words just haven’t felt right. And then, after having to leave Flash at my trainer’s barn for a week due to work issues, I got a text message that read, “Meagan… Flashy is the best horsey ever.”

I have always thought Flash was something worth fighting for. My experience training horses is frighteningly limited which should have been a big red flag when I woke up one day and said, “I want to do the Thoroughbred Makeover.” In true Meagan fashion, however, I just decided to dive in head-first and figure out how to swim later. In order for me to survive this endeavor with all of my limbs attached, it was going to take a pretty special horse to tolerate my amateur mistakes as I learned along the way.

Photo by Jesse Franks Photography.

Flash was a cute little four-year-old Thoroughbred, smaller than what most shoppers are looking for, with a big blue spot in one eye and osselets from his racing days. Like me, he was a bit of a mixed bag. Certain parts about him you loved and others made you think, “is this such a good idea?” But I took one look at his photo and somehow just knew. Within a few hours, my funds were transferred and the deal was done. I had my first restart.

From the get-go, I loved my baby horse, and I wasn’t the only one. Everyone who met him fell in love with his charming demeanor. Despite a few bumps in the road thanks to his accident-prone nature, he took every bit of his retraining process in stride. When we reached a roadblock, he challenged me to find a new way to communicate what I wanted. When I wasn’t feeling confident, he put on his big boy pants and helped his mother out. He adapted to the Meagan that I was each day and pushed me to be a better horse person.

With each ouchie he came in from the field with, I became better at dressing wounds.

With each mild tantrum he threw leaving his friends at the barn, I became more patient and assertive (NOT aggressive).

With each clear round he put in, I became more grateful.

With each thing he questioned due only in part to his greenness, I became more humble.

We have eight months to transform these horses in preparation for the Thoroughbred Makeover. Most of us spend our time focusing on what we can do to make our horses better, but today it hit me:

In our eight months together, Flash has changed me more than I have changed him.

He is still the same silly, willing and lovable horse that came off the trailer this time last year. I, on the other hand, am a much different person than I was then and I have Flash to thank for that. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and then later became my comfort zone. His being in my life introduced me to new experiences and new people who have helped me mature as a horseman. Without Flash, I may have never ridden with Buck Brannaman or been brave enough to sign up for my first horse trials (which sadly got rained out, but I have no doubt that Flashy would have given me his all despite my fear of riding cross-country).

Flash has been such a phenomenal influence on my life. My only goal when I started this journey was to train a horse that a mother would love to have for her kids. And now here I am eight months later selfishly clinging onto him for myself so that my future (very far future) children will have such a special horse to ride. Flash has given me a whole new level of confidence in myself as a rider that I have always lacked. While I struggled through lesson after lesson of getting my job done right, he just toted me around as if that was his calling. When I wasn’t the most fair to him, he never held it against me. He allowed me the chance to learn that I haven’t always had before on more challenging horses.

Photo courtesy of Meagan DeLisle.

My trainer has always wanted to hop on Flash just for giggles to see how he would react to some bigger fences. Up until now I have done 100% of his retraining all by myself, so I was thrilled to see someone more skilled than I am hop on and do something more challenging with him. Imagine my surprise when my tiny 2’6″ packer sailed over 1.0m fences without hesitation and with room to spare. I nearly cried as my trainer went on and on about what a nice horse he was. I was just so proud of him.

These horses, whether they are our forever friends or projects for resale, they change our lives. I could have picked any horse on the internet, but something told me I needed Flash and Flash needed me. I think it was kismet, our coming together. We all have that horse that impacts our careers as riders and I think Flash is mine.

Who knows how we will do next weekend? We might get there and it may be cold as can be and we might lose our minds or he might jump his way to first place. Either way, one thing will remain the same: I am so thankful for this little horse and all the joy he has brought to my life.

Thank you, Flash. Thank you for making me love riding again.

2028 Olympic Talent Watch: Claire and Morgan Gestes, Age 9

The 2028 U.S. Eventing Team is already out there somewhere, and it’s up to us all to nurture their talent and their big dreams. “2028 Olympic Talent Watch” is an (adorable) series in which we identify junior eventers who are already exhibiting the heart and the guts to lead American eventing to glory in the (distant) future. Any short-stirrup riders you know come to mind? Email us their story at [email protected] Today, let’s meet Claire and Morgan Gestes! 

Morgan and Claire with trainer Jen Robertson. Photo by Darah Gestes.

Super twins Claire and Morgan Gestes were born to love horses. Their father, Terry, spent a good chunk of his life exercising and training racehorses, so it just seemed natural that his nine-year-old twin daughters would follow suit. Even with just a few years in the saddle, these pony-loving kiddos already have their sights set on some big dreams.

The dynamic duo has been riding in some shape or fashion since the tender age of three. After several years of leadline and flatwork lessons, the Gestes family decided to invest in a pony for the kids to have of their own. Morgan fell in love with Jet, a spunky POA/Quarter Horse cross, and while there they got to meet his mother, Cocoa, whom Claire also fell head over heels for.

Claire and Jet competing at Champagne Run. Photo by Xpress Foto.

“We went there with the intention of buying one pony for them to share,” mother Darah recalls. “But Claire was in love with Cocoa and it worked out where we could surprise Claire with her on their birthday.” The duo has since switched mounts, but they both can be seen leaning across their pony’s neck to huge and kiss the other pony after a successful jumping round.

The twins only recently began jumping heavily around eight months ago when they began training with Jen Robertson of Altamonte Show Stable in St. Louis, Missouri.

“They are delightfully arrogant,” jokes Jen. “If I have a 4’6″ oxer set in the ring, they immediately ask if they can jump it on their medium ponies. When I put it down, they always say ‘awww man!’ They are super fun to coach and it is unique since their parents were involved in the horse world in a different fashion.”

“One time Morgan’s pony spooked and bolted across the field. Most parents would be mortified, but they were there clapping their hands and yelling, ‘Good job Morgan! You look awesome with those bridged reins!’ I fell in love with that family right then and there.”

Since upping their training regime they have participated in a few local mini-events and completed their first ever Starter horse trial at Champagne Run. Their trailer is packed and loaded to head out to Heritage Park next weekend for their second Starter premiere.

While most people believe twins are identical in everything they do, these sisters are very different in the saddle. “Claire is very go with the flow. She loves dressage and the technicality of the flatwork,” Darah says. “Now Morgan, on the other hand, has a need for speed. She is always ready for bigger, higher and faster!”

But both of the girls have a dare-devilish streak in them. “At Champagne Run Claire asked me, ‘What if my pony runs away with me and just DOES the water complex?'” Jen recalls. “I told her she would be in trouble, but I had a sinking feeling it didn’t stick. So I had to stand at the water complex with my arms crossed to make sure she didn’t attempt it. She later admitted she was going to do it until she saw me standing there!”

Morgan and Jet at Champagne Run. Photo by Xpress Foto.

Inspired by their first ever trip to the Kentucky 3-Day Event this year, Claire and Morgan are ready to kick things up a notch. Darah recently shared this adorable photo on Facebook showing off Claire’s list of goals she dreamed up on her own and hung up in her room.

Photo by Darah Gestes.

“I feel like as a family this is our thing,” Darah says proudly. “Ever since the girls laid eyes on their first horse, they have always lit up around horses. We spend our weekends with the trailer in tow heading off to horse shows. It is truly what we love to do!”

And now that family affair is growing even more. Parker, the twins’ seven-year-old brother, has also began taking riding lessons and is proving to be quite the natural in the saddle.

One thing is for sure: There is greatness in these girls’ future if they keep it up at this rate!

Best of JN: Steve Guerdat and Bianca Blaze to First Place in Day 1 of WEG Showjumping

Holy smokes Batman! Day one of showjumping at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon was nothing short of spectacular. The leader board is full to the brim with phenomenal names in showjumping such as Markus Ehning of Germany, Lorenzo De Luca of Italy and, of course, the United State’s own superstar McLain Ward. But it was the Swiss who would rise to the top on Tuesday with two riders in the top five.

Watch as Steve Guerdat guides Bianca through many trying obstacles, including a wall and a liverpool, with no hesitation. The duo crossed the timers at 76.33 seconds, narrowly edging out Brazil’s Pedro Veniss who ended on a time of 76.68

Jumping Day 1 Leading Round | FEI World Equestrian Games, Tryon 2018

Oh My Stevie G!!! 😲The rockstar that is Steve Guerdat set a blistering round with Bianca here Tryon2018 in the penultimate round of the day to steal the day I win away from Pedro Veniss!!! What a round! What a day of jumping!

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

Go Jumping!

Best of JN: On Determination with Genevieve Munson

If you were to look up the word “determination” in the dictionary, you are bound to find a photo of fourteen-year-old Genevieve Munson. Despite her remote location in Northwest Arkansas, this ambitious young rider has risen through the ranks while adding several prestigious accomplishments to her riding resume. 

Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

From Humble Beginnings To Pony Finals Champion

Since the moment she could sit up on her own, Genevieve has been on the back of a horse. Following in her older siblings footsteps, the Rogers, Arkansas native began taking riding lessons at a local as a child. She made her schooling show debut when she was four and by the time she was seven years old she had moved up to the rated circuit.

“When I was seven I showed my little hunter pony,” Genevieve recalled, “and at nine I started riding with the local Pony Club and achieved my D3 rating. That’s when my transition to the jumpers really started. We went to do a demo as a D3 rider in Kansas City and that is where I met Bluebell’s owner, Carlie Beisel.”

The little blue roan pony had come to Carlie’s barn to be a dressage pony for one of her students, but the duo wasn’t clicking right away. One day, while a young rider was leading Bluebell around the farm, the pony spooked and jumped a five-foot gate. That is when Carlie knew it was time for a career change and the 13-year-old pony went to live with Genevieve. 

“Bluebell is what really brought me to the jumper ring,” shared Genevieve. “I owe so much to that pony. She gave me my next step-up and kind of tossed me into the spotlight.”

Genevieve and Bluebell. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography

And toss her into the spotlight she did; together, Genevieve and Bluebell accomplished some pretty incredible feats including winning the individual and team gold at the 2014 Pony Finals. “For me it was always the goal,” Genevieve reflected on their 2014 success. “That’s where I wanted to go so that is what I was going to do. It was blissful, of course, because I had finally figured out how to make that a reality.”

“Make It Happen” Mentality

Genevieve has carried that same focus and determination throughout her riding career and it has served her well. Rogers, Arkansas isn’t known to be an epicenter for top equestrian talent, but she has never let that hold her back.

“I have a circle of people around me that support me and help me. I am very lucky to have that,” she shared of her unusual training scenario. Genevieve rides and trains at home with the help of her older sister, but partners up with different trainers as she travels all over the country to compete. That networking has afforded Genevieve the opportunity to work with trainers such as Martien van der Hoeven, Matt Cyphert and Linda Allen.

“Certainly I’ve met roadblocks along the way and obviously there is a financial strain, but we have always figured out a way to make this happen,” she continued. One of those systems that has allowed Genevieve to compete at the higher levels was by catch riding while at shows. Over the years Genevieve’s networking skills and perseverance have caught the eye of riders, such as Michael Burnett, who have allowed her the opportunity to show their horses and garner more experience in the ring.

Photo provided by Genevieve Munson

“I met Michael at the George Morris clinic last October and we connected later. Next thing I knew he was reaching out to me in regards to catch riding for him here and there and it has worked out really nicely,” shared Genevieve. “My purpose is to present a trainer’s sales horses in the best possible manner in the junior classes. There is a benefit for both parties so it is truly a win-win.”

Some of those catch rides Genevieve takes on are spur of the moment with their first time together being in the show ring, but she doesn’t let that unnerve her. “It comes down to feel,” she said. “If you depend on knowing what the horse might do all the time, you will never succeed. Catch riding all comes down to the adaptability of the rider. You have to have the feel!”

Conpardie Z wins Low Junior Jumpers today at HITS Balmoral. Thank you to the owner for making this possible! And congrats on the win Genevieve!

Posted by Burnett Farms – Michael Burnett on Saturday, July 14, 2018

Always Looking Ahead

With accomplishments such as a silver medal at the NAYC, competing at the FEI Nations Cup in 2016 and clinicing with Anne Kursinski and George Morris, we imagine it’s challenging for Genevieve to pick a most memorable moment of her career so far. While she admits that she holds her Pony Finals win in 2014 near and dear to her heart, she said she is more focused on looking forward than reliving the past.

“I want to be on top. I don’t always know how I am going to get there, but I am learning along the way.” For now, Genevieve is focusing on the six horses in her string and hopes to spend two weeks at the Mid States Falla and Fall Finale where she aims to compete in some Welcome classes and smaller stakes. The American Royal, EAP Nationals and National Championships in Vegas are also on her radar, as well as returning to ride with George Morris this fall.

Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

Genevieve finds a way to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together with the hopes of seeing her large goals come to fruition. She aspires to return to the NAYC next year, compete at the World Equestrian Games in the future and hopefully make the team for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Dreams that large may scare some, but Geneveive remains unfazed. “It’s just another step in the ladder,” she told JN with a sense of calmness and determination that leads us to believe anything is possible for this enthusiastic young rider.

Best of JN: 17-Year-Old Harry Allen Rides Like a Boss at LGCT Berlin

One of the many wonderful things about the Longines Global Champions Tour is that in addition to their big CSI5* classes, they also offer a variety of CSI2* options for up-and-coming young talent to compete at the many beautiful venues throughout the tour. Harry Allen, the 17-year-old younger brother of Bertram Allen, gave the CSI2* 1.40M class a go and not only came home with the hardware but thoroughly impressed anyone who got a chance to watch his round. Take a look below!

Harry Allen wins CSI2* LGCT Berlin with Cheese

Harry Allen everyone. We'll just leave this here.

Posted by Longines Global Champions Tour on Monday, July 30, 2018

I can only wish I rode as well as Harry does now when I was 17. Check out those perfectly executed turns! There is no doubt that we will see great things from this young man as he rises through the ranks. Today the CSI2*, tomorrow the LGCT Grand Prix? Congratulations to Harry on this spectacular win; we can’t wait to follow along with your budding career.

Go Jumping!

Best of JN: Devon Eret Kicks Cancer’s Butt & Remains In the Saddle

Devon Eret was your typical 28-year-old amateur rider trying to juggle a relatively new marriage, a demanding career and an active show schedule all at the same time. She was busy making plans for the new year as 2017 drew to a close when she found a lump in her breast. On February 23, 2018, Devon was diagnosed with stage 2, triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer. For a moment, her whole world turned upside down, but Devon knew she had a decision to make: let cancer define her or fight like hell to maintain the life that she loved. And Devon chose the latter. JN sat down with Devon to talk about how she balances treatment and training and everything in between.

Bit By the Horse Bug

The Parker, Colorado native began riding with the Pine Ridge Pony Club in Parker at the age of six and has been in love with horses ever since. She spent her entire childhood in the eventing world until she stepped away from the saddle for five years to attend college at Colorado State University, followed by grad school at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Halfway through grad school Devon came to the realization that she missed having horses in her life, so she began riding at a local hunter barn. After deciding that the hunter ring wasn’t quite for her, she started riding at Crooked Willow Farms in Larkspur, Colorado a couple days a week. In July of 2015, after she had received her Masters in public health, Devon purchased her own horse, Cabriolet, so she could focus on the jumper ring.

Cabriolet, aka Fix, helped take Devon to the 1.20m level and the duo brought home the Colorado Horse Park Summer in the Rockies Circuit Champion in the Modified Junior/AO Jumpers last year, but Devon knew she wanted to move on up through the levels. In early 2018, prior to her diagnosis, Devon packed up and shipped off to Switzerland on an international horse shopping excursion where she purchased her new mount, Calgary II, from Etter Sporthorses. It is her goal that she and Calgary will move up to the 1.30m divisions together.

Devon and Calgary. Photo by Lauren Jost Photography

“The two horses couldn’t be more dissimilar,” Devon shared with JN. “Fix is a small and quick 15.3 dappled grey Holsteiner who is super laid back and a total puppy dog. Calgary has a lot more fire and is a 17-hand bay Oldenburg who can be kind of challenge to handle under saddle and very quirky. He has already taught me a lot and I can’t wait to progress with him! I feel very lucky to have both horses.” To place her emphasis on Calgary, Devon found a wonderful lessee who Fix could help take to new heights.

The Diagnosis

Knowing that breast cancer ran in her family, Devon was very adamant about doing her self-check breast exams, which is when she found the lump that would lead to her diagnosis.

“It was the worst day of my life and something that I will never forget,” she recalled. “I honestly couldn’t believe it. I truly didn’t think people under the age of 35 got breast cancer and never thought it could happen to me.”

As the emotions regarding her diagnosis overwhelmed her, Devon managed to find a moment of clarity that would help her navigate these tricky waters. “I clearly remember waking up the next morning and thinking that I had a choice: I could either let this horrible thing define me and take over my life, or I could remain positive and continue to live the life that I loved. I chose the latter and have tried to stay positive every day since.”

So Devon tackled her treatment plan head-on. She is currently in the middle of her eight rounds of dose-dense chemotherapy which are split up over a four-month period. Once her chemo is complete, Devon will undergo surgery to remove the mass and will follow up with six weeks of daily radiation as a precautionary measure.

After the conclusion of our interview, Devon completed her last round of chemo! Photo courtesy of Devon Eret.

Despite the toll that her chemotherapy took on her, Devon made it a point to find time to ride as often as possible. During the first four rounds of chemotherapy, which included Adriamycin and Cytoxan, Devon struggled with debilitating exhaustion and continuous nausea for as long as five days, but her current chemo drug, Taxol, has given her a bit more freedom. She took things slow and steady at first for her own well-being but did not want to let the treatment hold her back for her own goals for 2018.

“During my first chemos, it took about a week after treatment to be able to ride again. And I took it very easy, mostly just flatting for 20 minutes or less. I found that I really enjoyed flatting my new horse because he has a great foundation from Europe. I get winded very easily and physically tired quickly, so short spurts of quality trot and canter was my best option. Once I switched to my last chemo, I was able to start riding three days after treatment and felt strong enough to jump about a week after.”

Devon and Calgary jumping a very meaningful fence at the Colorado Horse Park. Photo by Lauren Jost Photography.

With her strength returning to her, Devon decided to attend week four of the Colorado Horse Park’s Summer in the Rockies series where she and Calgary competed in the 1.05m low adult jumper division. The pair had a very successful first outing, placing top five in every class including a fourth-place finish in the classic. “Calgary jumped amazing and really took care of me,” said Devon. “I was completely exhausted by the end of the weekend, but it really got me excited for our future!”

Looking to the Future

With the end of her treatment nearing, Devon is focusing on bettering herself and educating others. “My number one thing I want to share with young women is the importance of self-breast exams. They are easy to do and can save your life! They saved mine. Mammograms typically aren’t recommended till 40, and that would have been too late for me. Also, listen to your body and speak up if you think something is wrong! You are your biggest advocate.”

“A cancer diagnosis can be completely life-changing. For me, it made me realize that life is short and to pursue my passion now and not wait till I’m older. I want to put riding at the forefront of my life and really focus on my goals for the next few years.”

Photo by Lauren Jost Photography

Those goals include competing in the 1.30m mini-prix in Scottsdale, Arizona this fall and moving up to the Medium JR/AO classes with Calgary. Outside of riding, she and her husband want to spend their free time traveling and seeing the world with one another. Her primary goal, however, no matter what life throws her way, is to keep riding a big part of her life.

“I feel very lucky that I have a passion as many people do not. This passion really helped bring me light when I was in a dark place. It gave me something to look forward to. There is something magical about the barn that is good for the soul. I always felt better once I pulled up to the barn and even if it was just a quick groom of my horse, I was instantly happy.” No matter what life throws her way, Devon finds comfort in that happiness every single day and refuses to let anything get in the way of her dreams.

Best of JN: From Stubborn Ponies to Stunning Jumpers with Hayley Barnhill

Hayley celebrating her win at the Split Rock Jumping Tour with Chapin Cheska. Photo by Winslow Photography.

Despite not being born into a horsey family, 25-year-old Hayley Barnhill has thrived in the hunter jumper industry and has even secured a place as a trainer in Donald and Cara Cheska’s program based out of Waukesha, Wisconsin. EN’s sister site Jumper Nation met up with the young professional to discuss when her love for horses began and what she hopes to accomplish in her professional years.

It All Started With a Stubborn Pony

The Collierville, Tennessee native and her family knew nothing about horses when she finally convinced her mom to take her for lessons when she was seven, but she was hooked from the start. Barnhill’s first pony was a three-year-old paint with a bit of a sassy side.

“I got bucked off a lot,” Barnhill joked. “I attribute a lot to the way I started; it was not serious. My friends and I would get on bareback and go galloping in the fields. We would take the horses swimming and just have fun with them. That’s when I developed a real love for horses.”

Happy Father’s Day to my #️⃣1️⃣!! Love you and miss you @dadbarney!!

A post shared by Hayley Barnhill (@hayleybarnhill) on

That love developed into a passion that could not be contained and at the age of 10, Barnhill decided she wanted to do whatever it took to turn this passion into a profession. To get herself on the right track, Barnhill began training with some very notable names in the industry as she grew as an equestrian.

“I started with Jamie Kroh, then Dave Pellegrini took me from small ponies to Medal Finals and my first Grand Prix,” Barnhill shared. “When I was at Dave’s, Michael Toukaruk and Andy Kocher were there as his professional riders and they both pushed me to work hard and still are inspiring me today with where they have come. I met Tom Wright when I was 15 and he gave me some really nice horses to ride and took me under his wing. He set me up with Tim and Kelly Goguen, Missy Clark and John Brennan for my last two junior years. I had so many great people along the way that pushed me in the right direction.”

Partnering with Cheska, INC.

Coming out of her junior career, Barnhill met Donald and Cara Cheska of Cheska, INC. based out of Wisconsin. At the time, her focus was more on the hunter ring and she found herself without any jumper mounts to show. Seeing how much Barnhill wanted to make this career a success, the Cheskas offered Barnhill an opportunity to get her momentum going.

“The Cheskas were nice enough to give me two six-year-old young jumpers to develop and sell. We continued that way until they gave me my current horse, Zephire, to market,” Barnhill recalled.

Hayley Barnhill with Zephire at WEF. Photo by The Book LLC.

The following winter in 2014, Barnhill and Zephire had several top finishes in the 1.40m and U25 classes and despite several offers on the horse, the Cheskas decided to allow Barnhill the opportunity to buy her. “Zephire helped me win my first Grand Prix and now five years later is still my top horse,” Barnhill shared. “The Cheskas also helped me find my other top horse, Beezie, who I jumped all of my first FEI Grand Prix classes on. Without those two horses, my career wouldn’t be the same.”

After many years of partnering with the Cheska family, Barnhill finally got the opportunity to join their team at Cheska, INC. just a little over a year ago. “The Cheskas are incredibly kind and loyal people. They were the ones to give me my start in the jumpers and it’s amazing to be able to come back and work for them after all they have done for me,” she shared.

While Barnhill’s passion lies in training the horses, she has been given the task of training the Cheskas 12-year-old daughter, Chapin. “I have to say, I have learned so much from teaching her,” Barnhill said of her new role as a trainer. “It has made me much more analytical about my own riding and I have started to pick apart what I do every day. It has been very rewarding to watch her progress over the last year.”

With the goal of representing the United States on the international level on Barnhill’s radar, she and the team at Cheska, INC. have begun investing in young horses in hopes of building a solid string for the future. Big dreams come with big sacrifice, however, and working your way up to the top doesn’t come easy. Thankfully, Barnhill has found a way to keep herself grounded and focus on the “now.”

“It’s very easy to get caught up with what everyone else is doing in this sport,” she shared with JN. “You have to stay focused on your path and enjoy the journey. You have to make the most of what you have and try to make every horse you sit on better.”

Gregory ES

One of those promising young horses Barnhill has played a part in molding is Gregory ES. Gregory ES is a 7-year-old gelding which Barnhill has had the ride on for about a year now. Together, the pair was very consistent during Gregory’s 6-year-old year, but the horse has really come into his own this year with several podium finishes including wins at WEF, Kentucky Spring Classic and Split Rock Jumping Tour.

“He has the best personality; he’s more like a dog than a horse. He consistently jumps clear rounds and is always competitive. He’s a very fast horse and so far everything seems very easy for him. I think he is going to be really special,” acknowledged Barnhill.

Watch Hayley’s winning jump off round aboard Gregory ES in the $5,000 1.30/1.40m Animo Youngster Bowl at the Split Rock Jumping Tour. 

When working with young horses such as Gregory, Barnhill’s primary focus is to set them up for success with each ride. “With young horses the basics are everything. Each day you pick something to work on and try to make them a little better. I think horses learn from good experiences, so we don’t set up anything that would be too difficult.”

Hayley and Gregory ES at the Kentucky Spring Classic. Photo by Shawn McMillen Photography.

With a talented string of horses to campaign and the unwavering support of her family and team at Cheska, INC., Barnhill is on the steady track to seeing her dreams through to reality. And if any obstacles or frustrations were to pop up along the way, she always keeps positive by reminding herself why she started this journey in the first place. “I do this because I love it. I love the horses. I love waking up every day and trying to make them better. You will have many ups and downs and sometimes you learn things the hard way. Things always turn around, though, and you have to have faith that if you keep working hard and doing the right things, that it will all pay off in the end.”

Best of JN: Winning the Lottery With Know Thyme

Part of my heart sank a little bit as I watched the shipper pull away with Joey inside, but another piece of me felt like this was the chance for the both of us to have a new beginning. After a few months of ups and downs in our relationship, I made the difficult decision to place Joey, my heart horse, up for sale. It was a gut-wrenching decision and one that wasn’t made lightly. However, it appeared fate would step in to reassure me I made the right choice when one of Joey’s former track connections reached out and wanted to give him a forever home. I couldn’t have asked for a better landing place for my partner of two years, but now his empty stall stared at me begging the question: who would fill the void?

Enjoying my last night with Joey before he traveled to his new home in Indiana. Photo by Wayne DeLisle

I have been casually shopping since February for a jumper who could help me eventually move up to the low adults and possibly the 1.10 in time, but the prospects were not very promising. My budget and location played a huge factor in the number of horses I would have the chance to see, but the biggest factor for me was the horse’s personality. After a run of bad luck in the saddle, my confidence was shot. In fact, I was starting to think that if it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.

I was hopeful, however, that if I found the right horse I would have the opportunity to cash in on some of the good luck I was bound to have stashed up somewhere. My days consisted of sending countless videos to my trainer only to receive back the one-word-response-of-doom: “no.” I persevered, scouring the internet for my unicorn and dreaming of what that horse would be like.

“You need a Mardie,” Jen, my trainer and friend, would say as we looked out at the handsome chestnut former stud who was enjoying his retirement in the field. Knowtorious Son, AKA Mardie, had spent his entire life jumping fence heights larger than the ones I longed to conquer and teaching countless riders along the way. I found myself silently wishing I would have met Jen prior to Mardie’s retirement so I would have had the chance to learn from him.

Mardie and the last rider who he took to great heights, Morgan. Photo Courtesy of Morgan McAlister.

When my trainer sent me a link to a plain bay Appendix gelding who had evented a bit then spent some time turned out in the field, I hesitated. I was looking for something who had a “been there, done that” attitude and who could be my Mardie; could a horse with a limited show record offer me that opportunity? And then I saw his name: Know Thyme.

He was a Mardie baby.

I figured the next best thing to the teacher himself was one of his progeny, so we coordinated a trial with his owner and breeder, Joanna Russell of Lasting Star Equestrian, and arranged a date for “Ty” to come to Jen’s farm.

The morning of his arrival I showed up at the barn a whopping three hours early. I felt like I was going on a blind date and I guess in a way I was… only this date could wind up being a lot more expensive than any other date I have ever been on.

The heat that day was unbearable and made for a less-than-ideal first meeting. Jen saddled Ty up and took him out to the ring for the first ride. Gunshots from the local shooting range down the road echoed off the hillsides around us, but Ty trudged on. I watched as he trotted around without a care about his new surroundings. Jen took one hand off the reins and put it on the top of her helmet at the trot.

“Meagan!” she exclaimed. “I found your horse.”

There were some giggles at my expense, which I think were justly deserved. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t had the best of luck since my fall during the George Morris clinic at Jen’s farm last year that resulted in six stitches to my chin. It became crucial that the next horse in my life be a bit of a schoolmaster to help me regain my confidence and get me back in the field when George returns to Altamonte this fall.

Jumping Know Thyme for the first time. Photo by Morgan McAlister.

After Jen flatted Ty and popped him over some fences, it was my turn to hop on. Despite only having limited rides in 2018, Ty was very polite and respectful. We got to know one another on the flat and Jen directed us towards a few small fences. We jumped around a small course, before retiring because of the extreme heat.

I left that day liking the idea of the horse, but unsure if I could make a decision on a more substantial investment based off of a 30 minute ride. I immediately grew nervous about the prospect of making a rushed decision and knew I needed to take a day to think about the pros and cons of the situation. Ty stayed at Jen’s farm, and I made arrangements to make the 2.5 hour drive back to the barn after I got off work on Tuesday for one last ride before he was vetted on Wednesday.

When Tuesday rolled around I was on pins and needles all day as I waited for the chance to see Ty again. Imagine my surprise when I left my warm and sunny hometown and pulled into gray skies looming in the distance a little over two hours later.

“I swear,” I mumbled to myself, “with all this bad luck I have, I am due to win the lottery any day now.” I said a quick prayer that the rain would hold off so I could ride before rushing into the barn to tack up. Typically, we take extra time to flat before our lessons, but with the rain in the distance, Jen had us warming up quicker than usual. Even with the rushed environment, Ty was chill. We walked, trotted and cantered around as a light sprinkle began.

“Go ahead and catch this jump,” Jen called, and as soon as we picked up our canter transition, the rain began to fall harder. We navigated our way around as the wind picked up and started to blow jumps down around us. Ty never batted an eye and Jen continued to raise the poles up taller and taller as we cantered around the ring. Despite all of the commotion, Ty never gave a second glance to any of the fences.

We rounded a corner and I saw that Jen had bumped some of the fences up higher than I had jumped in a long time. There was no time to second guess this new-to-me horse, however, so I gritted my teeth, put my leg on, and rode forward with confidence. Ty popped over the large fence with ease. As the course went on, I had a realization. Even though I barely knew Ty, I already knew what to expect from him. I knew I could trust him. I knew he would jump, even when the rain was blinding us both.

And I knew he had to be mine.

There is nothing like jumping a huge course in the pouring rain to make up your mind on whether or not to buy the horse. We ended the day with a light hack as the rain dripped from every inch of our bodies and I felt a huge smile grow across my face. It had been a while since I had felt that confident in the saddle and it was amazing to me how one horse could change that mentality so quickly. I waited anxiously for the vetting the following day, so I could try to seal the deal on this special horse.

My run of bad luck finally died down. I definitely “won the lottery” when I found this guy. Photo by Wayne DeLisle.

Thankfully, the vetting went very well (even though it wound up being a few hours late and by the time the vet had arrived at the farm there was nothing left of my fingernails). As I hung up the phone with his former owner after agreeing on a price, tears sprung in my eyes. I felt like my luck had finally turned around. I could see my dreams coming back into focus and knew that I had made the right decision. After all the rounds of back luck, I had finally won the lottery when I found Ty.

 

Best of HN: Bringing Home the Belgians

Two years ago during my brief stint away from horses, I met a wonderful man named Dale Gaebler. I had just moved back to my hometown and was adjusting to my new life as a “grown-up” when my dad suggested I attend the church picnic that weekend. In an attempt to bribe me to step away from my weekend full of Netflix binging he added, “there will be horses there.”

Starved for horse time, I jumped in the car and made my way to the Gaeblers’ secluded little farm just 20 miles down the road. It’s funny how these small events can greatly impact our lives — I had no clue how much this one trip would change mine. Upon my arrival, my dad introduced me to Mr. Dale, who greeted me with what I would grow to know as his trademark wide smile.

“Dale, this girl kind of likes horses,” said my dad.

“You are going to fit right in then,” Dale responded and from that moment on, the Gaeblers became like family.

With Molly, Dolly, and Dale. Photo by Wayne DeLisle

Dale took me under his wing and taught me everything I know about draft horses. His team of aged Belgian mares, Molly and Dolly, were the perfect teachers. I learned to harness them and hitch them to the cart and then after a few hours had passed, he handed the driving lines over to me.

I spent many subsequent afternoons in the driver’s seat of that wagon, listening to the chatter of the passengers behind me. Dale was a golden-hearted man who spent years building his dream farm and then opened it up, free of charge, to local churches and youth organizations for special events. Not only did he teach me how to drive and have a generous heart, but he passed on to me the ghost stories that he had developed over time to entertain the kiddos along the rides. Over time, I perfected my spookiest-sounding voice that I would use to tell those tales as we neared the darkest corner on the trail.

Photo by Wayne DeLisle

I had missed horses, but truth be told I had fallen out of love with the sport after my own far-fetched aspirations had leeched the fun out of riding. Molly, Dolly and Dale brought back that spark in a short period of time and helped settle my once-anxious heart. Dale reminded me so much of my late Grandpa John, who played a big role in molding the woman I am today, and I thought of Dale as another grandfather figure in my life.

Life changed, however, and Wayne and I moved out of my hometown and further from the Gaebler settlement so Wayne could be closer to his farm. Winter rolled around and Dale closed up for the season. Months passed and I wound up back in the saddle again, this time with a much more peaceful state of mind thanks to my time with Dale. I often thought of those two sweet mares and wished I was closer and able to swing by on sunny afternoons again for a few hours of serenity.

When we moved back to my hometown a year later, the one thing on my mind was getting back to the Gaeblers’ farm. I was even closer than I had been before and was itching at the thought of being behind those mares again. Then the unthinkable happened—Mr. Dale passed away suddenly. My heart was broken. The line at the funeral home was hours long, filled with people who had been affected by his bright and shining presence in one way or another. Dale was truly one of a kind.

That was last fall. As I sifted through my phone one day responding to a notification on Facebook, I scrolled past an ad for two big red mares with crooked little stripes down their faces and my heart stopped.

It was Molly and Dolly.

Photo courtesy of Meagan DeLisle

They were consigned to be sold the following weekend at an auction. Everything became a blur. I picked up my phone and I called Wayne sobbing, and bless his heart, he told me to make it happen.

So I did. Phone call after phone call, I tracked down the contact information for his children until I found someone who could help me. It didn’t matter what I had to do — those girls were coming home to be with me. I owed it to Mr. Dale.

I can’t tell you how much it meant to me when I was told, “Grandpa would love to see you take the girls. It would make him so happy.” That was all it took. We agreed on a price and a pickup date and the girls were mine.

On Tuesday afternoon of this week we loaded up and made the drive to Mr. Dale’s farm for the final time. The girls were waiting by the gate and eagerly loaded up on the trailer. Driving away from the farm was bittersweet. I was so happy to have Dolly and Molly in my care, but knowing that they would never drive the perimeter of that property ever again was a little sad.

The girls have settled in nicely at home and greet me in the morning with soft little whinnies. Molly nuzzled my neck as I curried away what was left of her winter coat and Dolly found herself a nice spot to lay down in the sunshine next to their hay so she could munch and relax. I stayed out with them until dark that night just soaking in their presence.

Molly on the left, Dolly on the right. Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Finally, Wayne came out and wrapped his arm around me and said, “Come on, horse girl, they will be here in the morning.”

That was the most beautiful thing I had heard in a long time.

Best of JN: 8 Show Day Tips to Help You Succeed

Show days are chaotic and it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. Check out these eight tips to help you make it through that stressful show day and put your best foot forward every time you walk into the ring, presented by Draper Therapies.

1. Sleep is Your Friend

Seriously, as simple as it sounds, a good night’s rest can go a long way. In the world of late nights and early mornings, it is not uncommon to see riders dragging themselves around the barn aisle or chugging coffee like there is no tomorrow. Lack of sleep or overdosing on caffeine isn’t always the healthiest of practices, however.

Try and dedicate a full night’s sleep the night before a show. Turn the TV off, put the phone down, and call it a night early. If show ring jitters tend to keep you up at night, try a warm shower before bed or indulging in a cup of mint tea to help you wind down. You will be amazed how good you can feel when that 5 AM alarm goes off after a solid night of sleep.

2. Cut the Junk Food

Horse shows are not always known for their super healthy meal options. Consider packing some fruit for in between classes and trade in that energy drink for a water or electrolyte-filled sports drink. Junk food weighs you down and makes you feel like… well, manure. So stop scarfing down Twinkies between classes and pack appropriate meals ahead of time. Your stomach and wallet will thank you.

3. Dedicate Some Time for “Me Time”

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the horse show, it is easy to forget to take care of yourself. Whether you are a nervous Nelly or someone who doesn’t know what butterflies in their tummy feels like, it is important to find five minutes in your day to just relax and enjoy the moment.

Photo by Alissa King / JN

So go relax by the ring and observe a class or two or listen to your pre-show playlist to get yourself pumped up. There are plenty of studies that validate that positive thinking prior to entering a competition sets you up for success. And in the (not so accurate) words of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, “horses make you happy, and happy people don’t just go out and murder their course.”

4. Clean Tack= Happy Horses and Riders

Not only should you polish every square inch of your tack because it looks nice, but it helps you make sure everything is in working order. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a tack malfunction mid-course that could have been prevented by a simple once-over while tacking up.  Common oops areas include saddle billets, bridle pieces, and stirrup leathers. Monitor and maintain your tack to lengthen its life span and make any needed repairs before an accident occurs.

5. Show Your Appreciation

A little appreciation goes a long way and there is no negative to being on the good side of the horse show employees. Keep in mind that even though we are booking some long hours on the show grounds, the staff are often putting in double what we are. A simple thank you can completely change the environment of the show. So don’t forget to thank the folks at the in-gate, have a smile when you enter the show office, and consider supporting riders from rival barns. Equestrians need all the good juju they can get. Besides, if the show staff are going to remember you by name, make sure it’s because of good reasons and not bad ones.

Photo by Alissa King / JN

6. Have a Plan

Winging it doesn’t work in horse showing. Have a structured plan set ahead for your day and back up plans for when those original plans inevitably go wrong. Know your course ahead of time, know the strides you want to take, the corners you may want to cut, and the areas where you can show your horse off. Know when your class falls in the order of go and warm up in ample time. Arrive at the barn early enough to get all your morning chores done without being rushed for your class.

Having a plan takes some of the stress of the environment off of your shoulders. The last thing we need to stress about is if we have enough time in the day to get everything done before our class.

7. Know Your Limits

Horse shows are an opportunity to show off your skills, but they are never the place to push yourself beyond your means. I am a big believer in schooling bigger fences at home than you are jumping at the show, so that when you get in the nerve-inducing environment of the show grounds you are 100% confident that you can tackle the task at hand.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t push yourself out of your comfort zone now and then. Just make sure that if you are moving up a level that you have successfully schooled that level at home and are confident in that decision. Don’t rush the process and put yourself or your horse in a potentially tricky situation. You want to feel brave when you enter the ring, so if you get to the show and just aren’t feeling it don’t be afraid to go down a level for a good experience. No ribbon is worth sacrificing your confidence.

8. Keep it Simple, Keep it Fun

Photo by Alissa King / JN

At my last horse show, my trainer kept repeating the phrase “keep it simple.” Our world can be filled with so many complications and procedures that it is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the details. For the most of us, we show horses because it is fun to us. Don’t suck the fun out of the situation by drowning yourself in thoughts or processes that aren’t necessary. Keep it simple. Keep it fun. Smile when you go around on course. Pat your pony. Recall the first time you sat on a horse and go into the ring with happy vibes. Even if you are trying to make a career out of showing horses, you should never forget how the love of horses is what drew you to the sport.

Go Jumping!

From the hunter ring to the jump-off, keep up to speed on the latest news, commentary and h/j insanity at EN’s sister site Jumper Nation! 

Best of JN: Born to Jump

Finding a foal who will not only hold up to jumping, but who will love it and make a career out of it, takes a well trained eye. With most foals you don’t have much more to go off of than bloodlines and conformation, neither of which are 100% reliable indicators of whether or not a foal will grow into the next Hickstead.

But foals like this make it a little easier!

https://instagram.com/p/BhZWpCyn_3S/

High Point Hanoverians, located in Maryland, specializes in breeding, importing, and selling Hanoverian and Oldenburg stock for sport. Currently, they stand four impressive stallions; Rosenthal, Friendscout II, Coeur D’ Amour and Sinatra Song. Each of these studs not only pass on good looks, but some pretty athletic genetics and their foals can be found competing in various disciplines with success.

This little 2018 filly is Cliche, by Coeur d’ Amour. It is obvious she has the heart for jumping just like her daddy! Cliche is offered for sale by High Point Hanoverians if you are in the market for your future superstar. She’s got it all going for her. She’s cute, shes spicy, and she loves to jump! What more could you want?

Now… how to sneak her home without my husband noticing.

Go Jumping!

From the hunter ring to the jump-off, keep up to speed on the latest news, commentary and h/j insanity at EN’s sister site Jumper Nation! 

Best of JN: Beezie Madden Wins $1 Million Dollar Grand Prix at HITS Ocala

Because when you’re Beezie, winning one Grand Prix just isn’t enough…

On Saturday, March 24th Beezie Madden was the last to go out of five who were clear for the jump off in the $205,000 CaptiveOne CSI4* Grand Prix at WEF. The challenging track had tested many of the riders entered in the class, but Beezie and her mount Breitling LS laid down two beautiful rounds to bring home the hardware.

As if one Grand Prix in a weekend isn’t tasking enough, Beezie was also set to contend the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix Sunday afternoon at HITS Ocala aboard Abigail Wexner’s Coach. The venue was overflowing with spectators, eager to see who of the 43 riders would take home the big purse. When seats filled up, fans lined the grass bank just to get a glimpse of the action.

The competition was hot all day long with riders such as Lauren Hough, Lillie Keenan, Daniel Bluman, and Cian O’Connor all aiming to take home the top spot on the podium. It was apparent from the cheers, however, as Beezie and Coach entered the ring that the duo was definitely a fan favorite. All fell silent as they maneuvered their way around Alan Wade’s jump off course with style and ease.

https://www.facebook.com/USEFNetwork/videos/1885678338132459/

As they sailed over the last jump, the crowd went wild! No one could top Beezie’s blazing fast, yet elegantly executed, jump off time of 44.479 seconds which was a whole two seconds faster than the previous leader.

The 2nd place spot went to Lillie Keenan on her longtime mount Super Sox and Charlie Jayne rounded out the top three aboard Tou La Moon.

To see the full results of the class, click HERE.

From the hunter ring to the jump-off, keep up to speed on the latest news, commentary and h/j insanity at EN’s sister site Jumper Nation! 

Best of JN: The Best Sale Ad on the Internet

Sifting through sale ads can get a little monotonous. In order to get your horse to stand out, you have to get a little creative. This seller knew she was going to need to capture her audiences attention with a little extra flair and it definitely caught our eye. Read the original post here!

“Are you looking for a challenge? A real, “wtf did I get myself into” and eventually, “that was the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had” challenge?

Do you dream of competing in the mustang makeover but want the athleticism and potential of a warmblood?

Do you have a great health care plan and an even better life insurance policy?

This 2014 16h solid black RPSI gelding might just be your huckleberry.

He has a very strong personality and is the jerk in the pasture who pesters everyone. He’s the leader of the herd and the first one to investigate anything new.

All the negatives aside, he is a very personable boy who is almost impossible to photograph because he won’t stay away from you. He’s a cute, athletic mover who will make a killer event horse or jumper for the right person. And for the wrong person he will chew you up and spit you out.

His dam is TB by Innkeeper who was purpose bred for eventing but spent her life as a broodmare. His sire is Belafonte d’Avalon, a German Riding Pony who was 2013 Area V Training Level Champion. He also completed his 30 day stallion testing with one of the highest scores ever awarded in North America or Europe.

I had plans to have him started under saddle before I ever offered him for sale because I think the wrong start could ruin him. However, I’ve decided I will try and find him the right person who wants a clean slate to start with.

Priced to sell in the 4 figures but the right person is of greatest importance. And no, this is not (at this point in his life) a great horse for your 13 year old daughter who is SUCH A GREAT RIDER unless you hate your kid.”

We can’t stop laughing and we hope this seller finds the perfect home for their horse to thrive in.

Go Jumping!

From the hunter ring to the jump-off, keep up to speed on the latest news, commentary and h/j insanity at EN’s sister site Jumper Nation! 

Best of JN: The 7 Stages of Panic When Your Trainer Raises the Fences

For many riders, the thought of raising the fences to new heights gets our blood pumping. Hours of lessons and critique have all led up to this moment — jumping a fence bigger than you have ever jumped before. It is exciting and emotionally draining at the same time.

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone isn’t easy, but it is how you get better. Those seconds before the big fence can definitely lead to some emotional turmoil if you haven’t had the proper amount of time to prepare for this undertaking.

To help you better handle your emotions when the time comes, the team at Jumper Nation has performed some experiments of our own. As a result, we have developed this “super scientific” timeline of the breakdown of emotions that occur when the fences get bigger. So next time you see the fences get bumped, never fear, you will survive … even though it may not feel that way at first.

1) The “No Big Deal” Stage.

At first glance, the fences don’t even look bigger than normal. You can almost hear the cowboy music playing in the background as you face off against this new fence height.

Thoughts associated with this stage: Whatever. No big. You’ve got this.

2) The “Ummmmmm” stage

Except … the fence does look bigger now as you walk past it and pick up your canter …

Thoughts associated with this stage: Well, this is interesting. Are you sure that is only one hole higher? Ehh … no big deal, right? You’ve got this. You’ve totally got this.

3) The “I Don’t Belong Here” Stage

Ooookayyyy now you’re starting to panic. All the things that could go wrong are spinning around in the back of your head. You begin thinking maybe it’s time to go back to cross rails because there is no way you are prepared for this.

Thoughts associated with this stage: Is my horse going to run out? Oh geez, he is going to run out. I am like 40 strides back and I can tell he is definitely going to run out. Just focus on my distance … breathe … distance … breathe …

Wait, what is a distance?

4) The “WHAT WAS MY TRAINER THINKING?” Stage

You’re 10 strides out and you’re so busy questioning all of your trainers life decisions that you have completely forgotten what contact is or how to achieve it. Obviously they have greatly overestimated your skills.

Thoughts associated with this stage: Let’s just go back to the barn, drink wine, and talk this through.

5) The “Do or Die” Stage

Suddenly you’re a few strides out and you know there is no turning back. Time to buck up and do this thing because there is no circling at this point. Find a little piece of self confidence tucked inside of you somewhere and start humming your theme song in your head.

Thoughts associated with this stage: You can do this, right? How will you ever get to the Olympics if you can’t conquer this teeny tiny, but not really so much tiny, fence? Let’s toss around some rainbows and butterflies because we are making the best of this situation!

6) The “Play Time is Over” Stage

Next thing you know, you’re in the air and you are all business. You are half shocked you got somewhat of a distance and are still on the horse, but that is irrelevant. You are DOING THIS.

Thoughts associated with this stage: You’ve got this. You are a superstar. You are the next Beezie Madden. This jump is a cake walk. There are thousands of fans counting on you to make this happen.

7) The “DO IT AGAIN” Stage

AND YOU NAIL THE LANDING. As you canter away you realize you haven’t taken a breath since you started cantering and you feel like you are going to fall off your horse, but you did it. Acknowledge that you are, in fact, awesome and canter away as your coach yells at you to do it again.

Thoughts associated with this stage:

Go Jumping!

From the hunter ring to the jump-off, keep up to speed on the latest news, commentary and h/j insanity at EN’s sister site Jumper Nation! 

Best of JN: The Pursuit of Excellence with Michael Burnett

Striking out on your own as a professional in this industry can be challenging, but 26-year-old Michael Burnett is taking it all in stride. With two talented horses to carry him up the ranks, a partnership with the legend George Morris himself, and a supportive barn family, Michael is pursuing excellence with every step of the journey. JN caught up with Michael to share his successes at WEF and his plans for the future.

Working with the Legend

Michael caught the horse bug after attending the Trader’s Point Hunt Charity Show with his father. He began taking lessons by the age of eight and found himself in love with the sport. It was roughly a year and a half ago that Michael decided to step out on his own and pursue a career in the hunter/jumper world. He established his farm Burnett Farms in Lebanon, Indiana and began picking up students with whom he could share his knowledge.

“I’m obsessed with the fact that the basics don’t change in our sport, no matter what the culture is,” Michael shared with JN. “The type of horse may vary, but the principles do not.” Michael focuses on instilling those basics in not only his students, but riders across the country. He will be returning to the Hoosier Horse Fair and Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana this year as a clinician for the second time.

Michael serving as a demo rider in the St. Louis stop of George’s clinic schedule. Photo by Jennifer Kaiser.

After participating in a large number of clinics with George Morris, Michael was invited back to become a demonstration rider for a portion of George’s 2017 clinic schedule. After riding for George in Chicago, Sacramento, Portland, Birmingham, and St. Louis, George decided it was time for Michael to take the next step in his career. He took Michael on as a student and has been instructing him through the 2018 WEF circuit, a decision that has greatly impacted Michael’s riding and career.

“If you watch George work a horse, you’ll see that by the end the horse starts to look more intelligent. The horse accepts and listens to the rider. This only happens through disciplined riding,” said Michael. “His instruction helps me to better train my horses properly on the flat.”

If there is one bit of instruction Michael has received from George that has stuck with him, it is to strive for excellence. “I admire George’s insistence on being excellent every single day, with the emphasis being on every single day,” he shared. That strict attention to detail has refined Michael’s riding style and opened his eyes up to how each detail counts in and out of the ring.

Winning at WEF

Thanks to his pair of talented horses, Michael has had an immense amount of success in Wellington. With ribbons in nearly every class he has entered, it is clear that his hard work is paying off in the ring. While his primary focus is on the jumpers, Michael has also spent the winter showing a handful of hunters as well.

With wins at WEF in the 1.35m and 1.40m classes, Michael’s main mount, Iron, has been performing consistently this winter. “Iron is very experienced as this is our 11th year showing together. He had a great career in the Junior/AO Jumpers, and following that he’s been top three in around 30 Grand Prix classes,” shared Michael. The duo also recently qualified for the International Omaha’s InIt2WinIt $100,000 Championship and will compete in Omaha later this year.

Watch Michael and Iron take home the win in a 1.40m class at WEF this winter.

Michael’s other mount, C-Max, is not to be underestimated either. “C-Max is fun because he gets better every class and that’s a great feeling as a trainer,” Michael said of the nine-year-old Hanoverian gelding. “He has all the quality that Iron does and just as much personality!” Together the pair has had great success including a second-place finish in the Minnesota Harvest $25,000 Grand Prix last fall. 2018 looks to be an exciting year for this young horse as Michael also qualified for the InIt2WinIt $100,000 Championship with C-Max as well.

Achieving Excellence

Michael intends to remain at WEF and potentially show in weeks seven, eight, ten, and eleven with his jumper mounts. Upon the conclusion of his winter in Florida, he plans to show at the Omaha International, followed by some down time for him and his horses, and then aim for Spruce Meadows this summer. While he has goals of competing in International Grand Prix classes, he places more of his focus on the here and now.

Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

“My short-term goal is just to become an excellent rider and go to the top horse shows. Competing against globally ranked riders is the best way to get better because it forces you to raise your own standard.”

JN wishes Michael all the best in his pursuit of excellence. There is no doubt that his name will be one we will continue to hear through the 2018 season and look forward to what he may accomplish.

Best of JN: Sisterhood of the Traveling Breeches – EQUO Launches New Breeches with Purpose

If you’re looking for fashionable, comfortable equestrian clothing that can make a difference, then EQUO needs to be on your radar. Known for their breathable farm to fashion riding leggings, tailored sunshirts and more, EQUO is releasing their first ever competition breeches on February 14th. JN spoke with EQUO owner and founder, Anna Dulin, about the good EQUO aims to do in the industry with the release of their new riding apparel, and how you as the consumer can change a life.

EQUO: Charitable Beginnings

With the release of their new competition breeches fast approaching, Anna knew she wanted to do more than just sell product: she wanted to help others. After all, EQUO was built by a horse lover, for horse lovers and Anna knew this platform would allow her to make positive changes in the industry. “We have an entire division of our company that caters to charity work,” she shared. “It is an integral part of our company.” EQUO’s website best describes the purpose and passion behind the mission of their EQUO Fund:

“Because we have a lifelong passion and respect for these amazing athletes – without whom our sport would not be possible – we recognize our obligation not only to the riders, but to our teammates.

The EQUO Fund was created as a way to protect and aid those teammates that find themselves in situations of neglect or need. A portion of each EQUO sale is directed to The EQUO Fund, where our resources are distributed to the organizations that provide aid to ensure that each and every teammate has the opportunity to live a long, healthy, safe and fulfilling life.”

Even with the establishment of their EQUO Fund in place, Anna knew she wanted to use the launch of their new competition breeches as a platform to assist others. “We are using this as an opportunity to make riding more accessible for others,” Anna shared with JN. “There are youth groups that are hurting for equipment and apparel for kids to ride in and we knew we could make a difference.”

Sisterhood of the Traveling Breeches

After doing their research, EQUO is partnering with multiple organizations that could benefit from the donation of gently used children’s, juniors, and adult breeches for their riding programs. “We are still open to establishing partnerships with other charities that may need these resources,” Anna included. “If there is a need, we want to help.”

And you can play your part as well. By participating in their launch offer you can receive a pair of their competition breeches in either Navy Pier, Tryon Tan, or World White for 50% off of retail price. All you have to do is fill out the form online and EQUO will provide you with a 50% off discount code, good for one pair of breeches. When your new EQUO breeches arrive, they will be accompanied with a prepaid shipping label. Simply ship back a pair of gently used breeches with the prepaid label so EQUO can help share the love.

“It’s all based on the honor system,” shared Anna. “We have everything set up to be easy for the consumer. All of the breeches we receive will be distributed to our partnered organizations to allow for these youth groups to have the apparel needed to enjoy riding, just like we do!”

The EQUO Breech

The carefully designed breeches are a nylon based fabric with a little bit of spandex weaved in to give an appropriate amount of stretch while riding. You can ride without worries thanks to their custom designed gripped waistband that keep your breeches from shuffling around while you are in the saddle. To top it all off a sock bottom allows for a comfortable fit inside your tall boots.

Photo provided by EQUO.

Currently offered in three colors, the company plans to expand their color line in the future and offer a unique yet stylish color palette. The new EQUO breeches retail at $220 a pair, but you can participate in their launch offer to get these fashion forward breeches for just $110, all while helping out young riders all across the country.

Head on over to EQUO’s website now to fill out the no commitment, launch offer form and receive your discount code. Ordering can begin on February 14th and the offer will be available for first time buyers for quite some time. “We are passionate about this,” Anna concluded, “We want to make a difference in these kids lives.”

Best of JN: Behind the Lens & In the Saddle With Giana Terranova

Behind the Camera with Giana Terranova. Photo by Ariane Samson Photography.

Twenty-three-year-old Giana Terranova has devoted the past four years of her life to capturing moments behind the lens, but this winter circuit she is balancing her growing career with her own competitive desires at WEF. She has picked up a lease for the season to help her pursue her own desires in the saddle, all while photographing some of the most beautiful horses in Wellington. JN caught up with Giana after taking home a tricolor in her first division ever with Over Easy at WEF to talk about how she juggles such a demanding but fulfilling schedule.

Where It All Began

The Southern California native’s love for horses was fueled by her grandmother, who signed Giana up for her first lessons when she was eight years old. It wasn’t until she was 14, however, that she began competing regularly when her parents purchased her first horse, Cooper, who she would show mostly on the local circuits. Giana was fascinated by photography and filmography at a young age and began a very popular YouTube channel to document her equine adventures. That love of film developed into a passion for still photography and she began taking photos at the age of 16.

Upon graduating high school, Giana relocated to Savannah, Georgia to attend Savannah College of Art and Design to major in Equestrian Studies. There she rode for SCAD’s intercollegiate equestrian team and began training with Lauren Marcinkoski of Swamp Fox Farms. In an attempt to bring in some additional revenue, Giana began actively pursuing photography as a business under the name Giana Terranova Photography.

Little did she know, that bud of an idea blossomed into something spectacular. “This last year was when I officially went into full-time photographer and made it my one and only job! What started out as just a hobby to make some extra cash for horse shows ended up being a full-time career that actually is funding my horse show career as well!”

 

Photo by Giana Terranova Photography.

Tales of a Traveling Photographer

After graduating college, Giana returned home to Southern California and began training with Courtney Hurley of Hurley Equestrian. As her business took off, horse lovers all over the country reached out to Giana begging her to come to their locations to photograph their horses.

“Depending on the time of year, I can be pretty much all over the place. Besides Southern California I also make Northern California trips and Arizona trips. I usually come to Florida every winter, as well as stops in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina in the spring. Summer I normally do multiple trips Northeast, and I’m hoping to add to that list!”

Giana couldn’t have been happier that her passion had developed into a career, but it did put a hold on her competitive desires for a while. “There’s always places to be, sessions to book, and I truly believe that constantly maintaining it and staying on that grind is what really has made my business grow as much as it has,” she shared with JN.

“However, it’s difficult for me to really find a horse that can truly be my partner because of it. I’m never really in one place for very long to be able to buy a horse or even maintain a long-term lease. Because of that I have to take what I can get, ride whatever comes along, and learn along the way!”

Giana showing her summer lease horse, Silbermond. Photo by Izzy Anderson

Ambitions Abound

Thanks to her connections with Swamp Fox Farms, Giana was able to pick up the ride on Over Easy, AKA Easy, a 15.2h Swedish Warmblood mare. The pairing that appears to be a great match as they started out their partnership together with a Reserve Champion in their warm up classes at WEF. “I’d definitely like to thank Lauren and Swamp Fox Farms for finding me a lease for my VERY particular situation,” Giana shared, “as well as Courtney Hurley for helping me become the rider I am today and getting me back into the ring competitively when I didn’t think it was possible before.”

2018 is the year that Giana plans to find a harmony between her riding and photography. “I’d really love to be able to compete consistently in the 3’ hunters at least for this year. I’d love to move up to the 3’6’’ eventually, but my ultimate goal is to be able to compete in the hunter derbies.”

Giana and Easy celebrating their win with Swamp Fox Farms trainer David Loman. Photo provided by Giana Terranova.

As for her photography, she hopes that her travels take her to new places, even outside of the United States. “I always have to thank my amazing friends, family, and clients that have supported me throughout the years, spreading my work and my business all over. Without them, this company would be nothing but a fun idea I had as a teenager!”

And for those of us who have a passion we want to turn into a business one day, Giana leaves us with this nugget of wisdom. “I guess as cliché as it is: just don’t give up. Life is going to try and get in the way and throw curve balls and the best thing you can do is just keep on trucking along. As with most great things, there isn’t a quick way or short cut to success. Working with horses really gives us equestrians a front row view on how that concept works pretty well! If you are truly passionate about your idea for a business, it will succeed.”

Best of JN: When McLain Says Jump, You Say How High: Adrienne Sternlicht’s Creative Jump-Off Course

Adrienne Sternlicht and Cristalline. Photo by Sportfot.

When there were 16 clear for the jump-off in the $132,000 Adequan Grand Prix CSI3*, coach McLain Ward knew his student Adrienne Sternlicht was going to have to get creative in her ride for the ribbons. The master himself drew up a plan for Adrienne to guide her mount, Cristalline, over an additional obstacle in the ring to shave some crucial seconds off their time. Their ride may not have been the first place round, but it definitely stole the show and drove the crowd wild. Just listen to the commentators cheering her on!

Adrienne said after the class that they “had to get a bit creative” with so much talent in the field, and with Cristalline being a naturally slower horse than some of the others in the field.

“It was exciting for me too,” recalled Adrienne. “We actually didn’t plan that when we walked. McLain told me that at two Olympics, he should have jumped the hedge and didn’t, so surely I could risk it in a three star grand prix. So I did! It was a unique experience for me and for my horse. She’s super brave. She actually responded better than I anticipated. We have to keep learning together.”

With a time of 39.36 seconds, Adrienne and Cristalline held the first place spot until Darragh Kenny shaved another second off of her winning time and Jessica Springsteen came in just 2/100s of a second faster later in the evening.

One cannot be disappointed with a third place finish against top notch competition in a CSI3* event, however, and we give mad props to Adrienne and McLain for their daredevilish attempt to get the job done. Just another reminder that your course is what you make it and a little bit of creativity can go a long way!

Go jumping.

Best of JN: Setting Realistic Equestrian Resolutions

It’s that time of year, the time that many of us dread- resolution time. It can be a challenge to set a resolution and stick to it, but we have complied a list of a few simple equestrian resolution suggestions to help you get 2018 started off right.

Arrive at the Barn Earlier/Stay Later

Most days I arrive to the barn thirty minutes early or more, which gives me ample time to give Joey or Flash an extensive grooming and once over. When we aren’t rushing through the motions, we are most likely to notice small things here and there and we are building on our bond with our horse.

Photo courtesy of Meagan DeLisle

Once my lesson is over, not having to rush out of the barn is not only beneficial for myself but also for my horses. Both of my boys get ample cool down time, paired with alternative therapies such as Back on Track Quick Wraps or time under their Accuhorsemat. Scheduling additional time at the barn also allows for more time for my next resolution suggestion….

Clean Your Tack Thoroughly After Each Ride

We are all guilty of tossing our bridle back on the rack after a quick ride now and then, but caring for your equipment as thoroughly as you care for your horse allows for a longer life span of your tack. Crack out a soft toothbrush and really clean in your saddles crevices. Inspect your leathers as you polish them up and avoid a potential stirrup catastrophe. This small change in your daily routine can make a huge impact in the longevity of your equipment and makes your barn look well kept.

Drink More Water

It is practically drilled into our heads that we need to be drinking water ALL THE TIME-which is true. Just like any workout, when we ride we are breaking down muscle fibers through exercise. In order for your body to rebuild and to reduce soreness the next day, you need to drink plenty of water. So grab a water bottle for each ride and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Improve Your Safety Perspective

Safety should be number one in everything we do, but especially when working with horses. Start with simple changes in your day to day like; walking fences in pastures and paddocks when you go out to fetch your horse, observing your equipment and the barn more thoroughly for hazards, and notifying someone each time you arrive at the barn alone and what time you expect to be done.

Read More Literature

King George Morris himself reads a new book each week and if he is constantly learning, so are we! Amazon has exceptional prices on books and many books have audiobooks available- perfect for education on the go. Currently I am reading Peter Leone’s Show Jumping Clinic and have found it to be super helpful with tons of exercises I plan on incorporating in my hacks!

Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Become an Expert

As a child, I was intrigued by breeds and coat color. As I grew, this passion blossomed into a thorough study of breed history and genetics. Now I am studying up on diets, supplements, and forages. This is not only good to know as a horsewoman who might be bringing her horses home in the spring, but it also is helping me to better understand my horses digestive needs and wants. Pick a topic related to the horse world that you may not be an expert on and become one!

Have SMART Goals

It is easy for us to set goals such as “I want to jump 3’ by the end of the year,” but it is also easy for us to get lost along the way. SMART goals help keep you on track and hold you accountable for your own success. The term SMART is an acronym that will help you clarify exactly what you expect out of your performance by a set due date. A SMART goal will be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. Get with your trainer and discuss your goals, then dissect them to be SMART goals, and hold yourself accountable.

Pursue Politeness Like the Plague

This is probably one of the easiest resolutions on this list, but it is often overlooked. In the hustle and bustle of the industry, it is often easy to forget to use your manners. Polish up on your politeness. Remember to thank the grooms and in-gate staff that keep our days going smoothly. Follow up your sentences with please and thank you. It seems silly, but it can really pay off in the long run. People take note of respectful young riders and it can often be the one thing you do to open up doors.

No matter what resolution you decide on, be firm and fair when holding yourself accountable for them. It is easy to decide on a resolution, but the hard part comes with living by them. Make a promise to yourself that you will hold strong and start 2018 off right with a resolution to make you the best rider you can be!

 

Best of HN: I Survived George Morris … For the Most Part — Clinic Recap, Part II

While my clinic experience with the legendary George Morris hadn’t quite gone according to plan thus far, I woke up on day two bound and determined to redeem myself. That is, until I got out of bed that morning and felt like 60 years had been tacked on to my age. How I was going to finish out the remainder of the clinic I wasn’t sure, but I popped some Aleve and gave myself a motivational pep talk in the mirror while I tended to my stitches.

Dun Dun Dun … Stirrupless Day

Again our day began with the course build and to my surprise, George sought me out first thing to check on how I was feeling. We made a few jokes again at Wayne’s expense (poor fella wasn’t even at the clinic to defend himself, but I think he has accustomed to his role of token clueless horse show husband by now) and I instantly felt my spirits lift.

When our session started, George pulled me out in front of the group and used me as his example. He taught us how to properly fold our stirrups over for stirrupless work and then sent us out on the track to begin our torture. The majority of our work was done in the sitting trot and sitting canter, but that didn’t alleviate the burn. After about 30 minutes of consistent work, every muscle fiber in my body was screaming for a break but I forced myself to stay strong and persevere. South was feeling his Wheaties that morning and while I struggled to keep our composure at the canter, I felt confident in our performance.

“Meagan,” George boasted over the intercom. “I’ll take your horse.”

I watched as George swiftly mounted South sans stirrups and began demonstrating haunches in and out and how to teach your horse to accept your leg. South was NOT a happy camper with this exercise and quickly grew sassier with each step. As he tossed in a few fussy movements and exaggerated kicks, I prayed that my horse wouldn’t be the horse to unseat George — but in true George fashion he never lost his finesse, even without irons.

Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

After George was satisfied with South’s acceptance of the leg, it was time to mount back up and regain our stirrups for the jumping portion of the clinic — because, you know, we weren’t exhausted enough already.

Thankfully, I did not have a repeat of the day before despite the fact that I had quite a bit more horse on Saturday than I had on Friday. Our courses were similar to the day before, just moved around the field a bit and we focused on selecting distances and sticking to them.

Photo by Anne Barry Weber

“You are a desperate housewife,” George said to another rider in my class. “Don’t ride like a desperate housewife and take whatever stride you get.”

A Gentler George

At the end of our session, George went around our group and chatted with us a bit about our day. “Meagan, do you feel you were properly prepared for this clinic?” He asked giving me the typical George look. I shook my head, I knew I wasn’t. I knew I had rushed into this for the opportunity.

I expected the tongue lashing of a lifetime, but George surprised me and everyone else in the crowd. “Be careful entering clinics, people. Clinics are meant to be testing. You do not want to be unprepared for a clinic because that can lead to unsafe situations. Meagan, you will get there. You just need 50 more hours in the saddle and you will be there.”

Throughout the remainder of the day I became aware that George was treating me differently than some of the other riders in the clinic. I began to question why he was being so kind to me and I am still not sure that I will ever have that answer. As the day drew to a close, I hopped in line for the book signing with my well loved copy of Unrelenting.

George signing my copy of Unrelenting. Photo by Anne Barry Weber

“This book doesn’t have much technical riding information in it,” he said as he opened the book up to the title page. I promptly informed him that my copy of Hunter Seat Equitation was equally as well read and his smile widened. After a quick scribble in my book, he glanced up at me and said, “You are a nice girl, Meagan. You will get there. I know you will. You need more time. You need more work on your leg, but you will get there.”

I waited until I was out of his sight to open up my book and see what he wrote and immediately felt a smile spread across my face.

Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Day Three Brings New Tests

My body was near its breaking point by Sunday, as you can imagine. My fall coupled with the intensity of our riding each day had definitely taken its toll. I made a mental note to work on my endurance and physical fitness as homework and limped around the hotel room as I got ready that morning.

The Horse Gods decided it was time to play a new card that morning by dropping the temperature from a pleasant 80 degrees to a sharp and drizzly 62. I felt my stomach knot up recalling how strong South had been the day before and knowing that this temperature drop would not help. Our course build was accompanied by on again off again rain droplets, but it wasn’t the rain that had me nervous.

George had us set up a two verticals just two strides apart, two strides out from a bank much larger than anything I had ever ridden before.

Gulp.

So I did what every rider is never supposed to do — I got in my head. I told myself there was no way I could handle that bank and before I had even mounted up, I had already counted myself out for the day.

Our flat work left me weary, but I tried my best to work with South and keep him happy throughout the day. All of the horses were a bit fresh, despite three days of hard work. With every walk, trot, or canter step I knew we were one step closer to tackling that bank and my mind was screaming, “NO THANK YOU.” As we made our way over to the bank, I said a quick prayer that I would come out unscathed.

I purposely waited to be at the end of the pack and watched my fellow clinicians navigate the bank to the small verticals two strides away. It’s just a bounce, I told myself. Just like a gymnastic at home, only steeper and scarier and overall more impossible.

I like to believe the photographer cut me out of this photo due to the look of pure terror that was probably plastered on my face. Photo by Jennifer Kaiser.

Somehow, we made it up and down the little course a few times, although I will be the first to admit it wasn’t pretty. Finally, my mind conquered my body and on a trip down the bank South let out a few little hops and baby bucks and we parted ways. I decided to just chill there on the ground for a while as I caught my breath and came to the realization that now I was not only the girl who got stitches during a GHM clinic, but now I was the girl who came off twice. Perfect.

The photographer captioned this one as “Oh no not again,” which I felt was appropriate. Photo by Anne Barry Weber.

I think I will just lay here for a while and wallow in my own shame. Photo by Anne Barry Weber.

Tears. So Many Tears.

I rolled myself up off the ground and stood and George waved me his way. “Meagan. Meagan. Meagan,” he said into the microphone around his ear. “Meagan is a sweet girl. You were not ready. What were you thinking entering this clinic if you weren’t ready?” I was so ashamed, I didn’t know what to say. I thought I was ready, but it had become apparent over the weekend that I probably wasn’t. I was about 50% there. I thought I knew what I was doing, but I needed more finesse, more time to develop myself.

“Ride with me on the golf cart, Michael will ride your horse for you. That is a lot of horse for you. That is a lot of horse for me,” he said patting the empty seat on the golf cart beside him. “You just need 50 more hours, Meagan. Where is that husband of yours? Tell him I said he will pay for 50 more hours for you or you just get rid of him, okay?” And with that he smiled and turned the golf cart to the next obstacle.

Just chilling with George. Here he was telling spectators that we had made him rich by purchasing his books and using them as coffee table ornaments rather than actually reading them and learning from them. Notice the smile I am trying to suppress in the background. Photo by Jennifer Kaiser.

Of course, I won’t lie — I didn’t mind riding with George one bit. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I had the best seat in the house. I got a first hand look at what George was seeing and I think I learned so much more that way than I would have had I continued to struggle through the rest of the day. Of course, my heart was hurt because I felt I had let myself and George down, but in a way I knew this was for the best.

My group came to a close and I cleaned South up for the final time. After auditing the 3’6” group we broke for lunch and it was time for Cassie and I to head home. I thanked Brody and Jen Robertson for being such gracious hosts and made my way over to George. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just blubbered a big thank you and even apologized for not being fully prepared upon entering and watched as that closed mouth smile spread across his face.

“You will get there, Meagan. You will. You just have to keep working. I will be back next year and so will you.”

So here I am — alive, with a few bumps and bruises and stitches, but alive. I am a different person because of this opportunity and because of my idol. So many people prepared me for what to expect. Told me George was going to tear me apart and make me cry and you know what — they were right, but they were also wrong.

George tore me apart and built me back up. He broke down everything I thought I knew and he started the building blocks of a new me. And as I drove away from Altamonte and a weekend with my idol, I did cry. I cried because my dream came true, I cried because I was braver than I had ever been before, and I cried because my idol believed in me.

Now — to be the best me that I can be. See you next year, George.

Best of HN: I Survived George Morris… With Six Stitches!

As I drove to St. Louis on Thursday afternoon I was filled with excitement and nausea — my life-long dream of riding with George Morris was finally coming true. Part of me wanted to sing to the high heavens while the other part of me wanted to run away and hide for a few months. With only three weeks to prepare, I knew I was going in as a bit of a wild card (read about my preparation here and here). With a car packed full of tack and many outfit options, I left the comfort of my home barn in pursuit of a life-changing experience. I had no clue just how true that would be.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend

After a nice flatwork session on Thursday afternoon, I arrived at Altamonte Show Stables early Friday morning to give my mount Point South the grooming of a lifetime. My coach Cassie Zimmerman and I beat the sun and all of the other riders to the barn that morning and I took those few peaceful moments to my advantage to just “zen out” and come to terms with the reality I would soon face. We had to meet George down in the jump field an hour prior to the scheduled start for my 3′ group for the course build. I was about to be face to face with my biggest idol. I won’t lie, I’m like border-line creepily in love with George Morris. I had dreamt of this day for so many years and knowing it was about to become real life was almost too much for my little heart to handle.

The other riders began drifting in to feed and groom their mounts. I cannot tell you how welcoming the atmosphere was at the clinic. Each rider was so friendly and kind. We chatted like we were old friends, all of us trying to tone down the level of our nerves before the day began. One rider, Morgan McAllister, and her mother took time out of their busy morning to teach me how to place studs in South’s shoes and make sure my tack was George-ready. I can never thank each of the riders, spectators, and Altamonte farm family for all that they did for me this weekend.

Finally, it was time. My heart was jumping up in my throat. We walked to the field and waited as I stared at the grass blades and dew that covered my once perfectly polished boots. “Are you ready?” asked Mackenzie Altheimer, the sweetest Junior rider that I have previously had the pleasure of interviewing for Jumper Nation last year, as a large white diesel pulled over on the side of the field. The passenger door swung open and out popped George.

George, the overseer of all things. Photo by Meagan DeLisle

He was all business. No time was wasted: we immediately launched into building courses. He was meticulous and prepared, he knew what he wanted and expected nothing but the best from us. We got to work hauling around heavy standards and brightly colored poles all around the field to complete his vision for the day. As we constructed a few of the fences, I felt my heart sink to my stomach — some of the questions were so technical that I wondered if I was going to be able to hold my own. But there was no time for self doubt; there was work to be done.

The first group was dismissed to tack up our horses with strict orders as to what time to arrive back down at the field. My fingers rattled as I tucked each piece of leather into its keeper. This was it. A quick polish of my boots after I mounted and Cassie sent me on my way with instructions to have fun and try hard — easier said than done!

Endurance Is Key

We hacked around the field allowing our mounts to adjust to their new surroundings as we waited for George’s instruction. Seeing him on the back of that golf cart in his 2010 Ariat Olympic jacket was too real for words: I was really on a horse in front of THE GEORGE MORRIS. That is when it hit me, my nerves were gone. I was in the saddle, my happy place, and despite the fact that I was riding in front of the one person I idolized more than anyone else, I was calm. He called for us to line up in front of him and we went around introducing ourselves. Then it was time for the work to begin.

I cannot stress to you how important being physically fit is for these clinics. Don’t get me wrong, I am not grossly out of shape but I was definitely not in shape enough for what was I was in store for. We launched straight into 45 minutes of flat work. Trotting, cantering, galloping, half seat, full seat — you name it, we were doing it. We even performed some shoulder in work to which I received a “Thereeee, Meagan’s got it!” from George. I hid the smile which desperately wanted to bloom across my face, keeping in mind the fact that Jen Robertson told me that George would eat me for lunch if my naturally smiley nature carried over into the clinic.

Photo by Cassie Zimmerman

We launched immediately into over fences work and despite being absolutely exhausted, I was excited. We started by trotting over a small log and then began working on a bank jump that was super fun to jump. South was in his element and was going around like a champ. We worked on my heel, which George would later tell me was “alright” (after he berated two of my fellow riders for their heels, an “alright” to me felt like a gold medal) and continued on. I even received a much sought-after “beautiful” from George after demonstrating a stop on a perfectly straight line out of a single fence. Our focus shifted from the bank to a triple combination with a sharp left turn to a small liverpool. While I by far wasn’t the best rider there, I was ecstatic feeling like I was holding my own amongst fellow riders with extraordinary horses and a lengthy resume of accomplishments. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

“I Can Get Back On!”

Note to self — NEVER EVER get too confident. As we rode around I felt great mentally, but physically I was fatigued. Our last line of the day was to be the rainbow triple combo to the liverpool again, bumped up just a hair but nothing too large. South’s approach to the triple was great. We got in a hair long to the first, but gathered back up by the second. I can’t tell you what happened at the third: all I can tell you was one minute I was on the horse and the next minute I wasn’t.

Anndddd down I go. Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

I lay on the ground in disarray. Did I seriously just fall off on the last line of the first day of the George Morris clinic? WHY ME? I went to lift myself up, only to be pushed back down by a crowd of people that had surrounded me, including George.

“Can she get back on or is she too bloody?” he asked.

Bloody? I’m not bloody, I thought. “I can get back on!” I said as the world stopped turning.

Amongst that sea of bodies somewhere is a dazed Meagan….photo by Jennifer Kaiser

“No. Nope. She cannot get back on, she needs stitches,” said a new voice behind me.

STITCHES? I was beyond confused. I had simply fallen off, how the heck did I need stitches? A wad of napkins was placed against my chin and two people helped me stand. Jen relayed directions to the nearest Urgent Care to Cassie as I stared down at my new Le Fash show shirt that was now covered in blood. I couldn’t piece together what had happened, nothing hurt other than the general sore feeling you have after hitting the ground. I didn’t have a headache and I wasn’t dizzy so I knew I didn’t have a concussion. I felt completely fine, but I could tell by the horrified look on the faces of the spectators faces that I wasn’t just fine.

George grabbed my shoulder, “You go get your stitches and come back to ride tomorrow, okay?”

Blood all over my new shirt…..Photo by Jennifer Kaiser

After a quick trip to the Urgent Care and six perfectly placed stitches later, I was able to watch the video of my fall and realized just how scary it was. I came unseated at the last fence and fell underneath South. His back hoof hit my helmet and slid down, the stud catching just below my chin on my jawline which resulted in a tear larger than a quarter. Two inches higher, it would have been my eye; two inches lower, my throat. It was a fall that I will never forget.

My George Morris Scar

In true Meagan fashion, I am no quitter. After a quick stop to the tack shop to pick up a new helmet and a change of clothing so I didn’t look like an extra on a horror flick, we made our way back to the clinic to audit the remainder of the day. Even just auditing a George Morris clinic is such an enlightening experience and I soaked up everything I could like a sponge, in between changing out tissues to wipe off the blood that would occasionally seep through my band-aid.

Back at the clinic to audit — hospital band, bleeding stitches and all! Photo by Anne Barry Weber

At lunch, George made his way to me to have a look at my chin. “How is it?” he asked as I proudly showed off my six perfect black sutures.

“It’s fine. Clear to ride tomorrow!” I boasted which brought out a smile on his face.

“And your husband, what did he say?” George questioned.

I grinned. While at the Urgent Care I made two calls, one to my mom who promptly freaked out and told me there was no way I could ride the remainder of the weekend (thankfully Cassie was able to talk her down) and one to Wayne. I thoroughly expected Wayne to declare that we were selling both of my horses and that this was the day I would retire from jumping but instead he simply asked, “Will it leave a scar?” When I told him the doctor said if it did, it would be minimal, he responded with, “You should let it scar. It’s not just any scar, its your George Morris scar!”

George busted out laughing when I shared that story with him and said, “You should’ve told him I hit you!” We joked and chatted a bit and then he didn’t even object when I asked for a photo with him to document the origin of my George Morris scar. With his arm around me, he gave me a quick squeeze. “You are a nice girl, Meagan. A sweet girl.”

Displaying my George Morris stitches! Photo by Cassie Zimmerman

Those words would never, ever leave my mind.

Stay tuned for Part II!