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Meagan DeLisle

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Best of JN: A Little Horsey Limbo?

Free jumping a horse is a great way to see what kind of scope they might be bringing to the table. Some thrive in this structured environment, others don’t know quite what to do with their feet yet. And then there is this horse …

10 points for creativity. -10 points for athletic ability. Hey, I can’t say I blame him. I wouldn’t want to jump that either!

Go Jumping.

Best of JN: #AdultAmmyProbs Why This Jumper is Giving Eventing a Whirl

As we all know, showing hunter jumpers on the A-circuit isn’t exactly known for being budget-friendly, but lately Facebook has been full of turmoil as show fees seem to be rising across the country. USEF raised the fee for lifetime recording of a horse from $200 to $300 in one year. Meanwhile, class fees, stall fees and nomination fees are rising, while prize money is staying the same. Here I am, scrolling through my phone and thinking: how the heck am I supposed to get time off work and save up the funds to attend more than two shows this year?

A few weeks back, my trainer and I had a heart-to-heart about my riding goals versus my budget. It has always been my goal to be as successful as possible, all the while growing through the levels at a decent pace. I had big dreams of hauling to some of the most dreamy venues like WEF, Devon or Live Oak and showing against top amateurs across the country, but with each check I write it becomes increasingly obvious that I can’t keep up with the Joneses on the A-circuit. As I rattled off some ideas of ways I could cut costs or bring in supplemental income to afford my habit, my trainer piped up and said, “or you could try eventing.

Flash and I at our first eventing derby. Photo by Jen Robertson.

The unique thing about my barn, Altamonte Show Stables in St. Louis, Missouri, is that they focus on both jumpers and eventing. I have gone on a few cross-country schooling opportunities and competed in an eventing derby in the past, but have never been brave enough to make the switch. In truth, I am horribly stubborn and once I set my sights on one day competing in the upper echelons of show jumping, I didn’t want to defer from that dream.

Initially, I brushed the idea off. I wasn’t interested in a discipline switch. I could figure it out. And then one afternoon while I sat at home staring at my projected budget and realized I couldn’t force the numbers to add up, I did some research.

Costs related to showing in the hunter jumper ring on the A-circuit include (but are not limited too):

  • Membership for the USHJA is $85 for one year or $240 for three years.
  • Membership for US Equestrian is $80 yearly.
  • Stabling fees range from $75-1,000 a week depending on the show.
  • Class fees for one division will typically add up to be around $150-300, depending on the show.
    • Also keep in mind that jumpers have nomination fees of around $100+ per class.
  • Office fees, medic fees, zone fees, ticketed schooling, etc will add up to be another $150-300, depending on the show.

If you are calculating on the low-end, I have found that I need to save around $1,500 for each show, and that number does not count trainer fees, hauling fees, hotel or food. If I did one show at around $2,500 a month, every other month, I would spend $15,000 alone in show-related expenses. As supportive as my husband is, there is no way I can convince him to support that number on top of other horse related expenses.

Costs related to competing in a USEA sanctioned horse trial include (but are not limited to):

  • Membership for USEA is $95 for one year.
  • Membership for US Equestrian is $80 yearly but only required for Preliminary level and up.
  • Entry fees range from $150-400 per weekend.
  • Stabling ranges from $80-200 per weekend, but some venues that charge higher entry fees include the cost of stabling.
  • Some events have additional fees such as grounds fees, medic fees or office fees. Typically these fees are less than $100.

I did the research on the USEA sanctioned horse trials in my area and after paying my membership fees, I am only looking at around $600 a show INCLUDING my trainer fees and other expenses. And another perk? Most events are Saturday and Sunday, while some are stretched out over three days. One day of vacation every other month versus one week of vacation every other month is definitely more realistic for a working amateur rider. (Note: The cost of an FEI competition does go up in comparison to horse trials. My research placed an average FEI competition at around $1,200 a weekend in total for my expenses.)

Showing at the Kentucky Horse Park had always been a dream of mine. Thankfully, my participation in the Retired Racehorse Project made that dream come true! Who knows, maybe I will be able to return either as a jumper or an eventer. Photo by Meagan DeLisle.

In the long run, if I wanted to go back to the schooling show circuit I could definitely afford to show quite frequently in the jumper ring. There are many tiers to the hunter jumper circuit and it can be quite feasible to show at the lower levels. However, with the practical non-existence of B-Rated shows anymore, my only alternative would be the local schooling circuit. One of my life goals has been to qualify for some sort of final but, in reality, I cannot afford to compete enough to even qualify for finals like the North American League. I can, however, throw all of my funds into trying to qualify for the American Eventing Championships and have a much better shot, financially, at being able to show enough to qualify.

There is no doubt that the eventing community is doing something right. The affordability and flexibility of schedule is definitely attractive for this jumper lover potentially gone rogue. But what does this mean for the USHJA and the other riders who share my pain? When will enough be enough and the powers that be realize they are pricing the majority of their competitors out of the game?

I challenge the members of the USHJA committee to think about their stance on the “grassroots” of the organization a little differently. Think about your working amateurs who are maxing out the time clock to afford to show, your hungry junior riders who are working off the cost of their lessons, the professionals who are scraping up every penny just to get by and get their young horse seen. There is this awful saying that my parents recite to me every chance they get, “how do you make a million dollars in horses? Start with a billion.” But I challenge you to ask yourself: does it HAVE to be that way? Or have we just made it that way? How are we impacting our industry by doing that? Are we killing it?

I have to think that in some way, we might be.

So what do we do? We make our voices heard. We remind the governing bodies of our sport that affordability and accessibility is key. We remind them that, for the majority of us, this is a hobby and if it becomes a hobby we can’t afford, we may have to turn elsewhere thus resulting in a decline of membership numbers. We remind the leaders of our industry that we are present and that our concerns should mean something to them.

For now, I am going to don a cross country vest, grab a little mane and give a few horse trials a go. I won’t give up on the jumper ring completely, but I definitely aim to supplement my show schedule with eventing throughout the year. Who knows, maybe along the way I will find that my wallet and I love it and that my riding benefits from crossing disciplines.

Best of JN: Behind the Scenes at the HITS Ocala Pony Ring

When we think of large horse show venues such as HITS Ocala, we often think of International Hunter Derbies and large, Saturday night Grand Prix classes. Some of our favorite classes here at JN, however, are the always adorable pony classes! From big bows to tiny braids, these ponies and their jockeys always seem to make us say “awwwww.” Check out some behind the scenes shots taken by Jumper Nation’s talented Dominique Gonzalez!

Horse showing= a lot of hurry up and waiting. Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

We are a sucker for a cute grey.  Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

At the in-gate. Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

Show ring preperation. Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

Best friends. Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

This pony made us all go “squeeee!” Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

Pats for the best pony. Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

Those knees! Photo by Dominique Gonzalez

Go ponies and Go Jumping!

Best of JN: Why This Jumper is Giving Eventing a Whirl

Flash and I at our first eventing derby, Photo by Jen Robertson.

As we all know, showing hunter jumpers on the A-circuit isn’t exactly known for being budget-friendly, but lately Facebook has been full of turmoil as show fees seem to be rising across the country. Just yesterday I saw where USEF had raised the fee for lifetime recording of a horse from $200 to $300 in one year. Meanwhile, class fees, stall fees and nomination fees are rising, while prize money is staying the same. Here I am, scrolling through my phone and thinking: how the heck am I supposed to get time off work and save up the funds to attend more than two shows this year?

A few weeks back, my trainer and I had a heart-to-heart about my riding goals versus my budget. It has always been my goal to be as successful as possible, all the while growing through the levels at a decent pace. I had big dreams of hauling to some of the most dreamy venues like WEF, Devon or Live Oak and showing against top amateurs across the country, but with each check I write it becomes increasingly obvious that I can’t keep up with the Joneses on the A-circuit. As I rattled off some ideas of ways I could cut costs or bring in supplemental income to afford my habit, my trainer piped up and said, “or you could try eventing.”

The unique thing about my barn, Altamonte Show Stables, is that they focus on both jumpers and eventing. I have gone on a few cross-country schooling opportunities and competed in an eventing derby in the past, but have never been brave enough to make the switch. In truth, I am horribly stubborn and once I set my sights on one day competing in the upper echelons of show jumping, I didn’t want to defer from that dream.

Initially, I brushed the idea off. I wasn’t interested in a discipline switch. I could figure it out. And then one afternoon while I sat at home staring at my projected budget and realized I couldn’t force the numbers to add up, I did some research.

Costs related to showing in the hunter jumper ring on the A-circuit include (but are not limited too):

  • Membership for the USHJA is $85 for one year, $240 for three years or $1,500 for lifetime membership.
  • Membership for US Equestrian is $80 yearly or $2,500 for a lifetime membership.
  • Stabling fees range from $75-1,000 a week depending on the show.
  • Class fees for one division will typically add up to be around $150-300, depending on the show.
    • Also keep in mind that jumpers have nomination fees of around $100+ per class.
  • Office fees, medic fees, zone fees, ticketed schooling, etc will add up to be another $150-300, depending on the show.

If you are calculating on the low-end, I have found that I need to save around $1,500 for each show and that number does not count trainer fees, hauling fees, hotel or food. If I did one show at around $2,500 a month, every other month, I would spend $15,000 alone in show-related expenses. As supportive as my husband is, there is no way I can convince him to support that number on top of other horse related expenses.

Costs related to attending a USEA sanctioned horse trial include (but are not limited too):

  • Membership for USEA is $95 for one year, $1,500 for lifetime.
  • Membership for US Equestrian is $80 yearly or $2,500 for a lifetime membership (it is important to note that this is only required for preliminary and up).
  • Class fees range from $150-400 per weekend.
  • Stabling ranges from $80-200 per weekend, but it is important to note that many shows that charge higher class fees include the cost of stabling in that fee.
  • Some shows have additional fees such as grounds fees, medic fees or office fees. Typically these fees are less than $100.

I did the research on the USEA sanctioned horse trials in my area and after paying my membership fees, I am only looking at around $600 a show INCLUDING my trainer fees and other expenses. And another perk? Most events are Saturday and Sunday, while some are stretched out over three days. One day of vacation every other month versus one week of vacation every other month is definitely more realistic for a working amateur rider. (Note: the cost of an FEI Three-Day event does go up some in comparison to horse trials. My research placed an average weekend at around $1,200 a weekend in total for my expenses.)

Showing at the Kentucky Horse Park had always been a dream of mine. Thankfully, my participation in the Retired Racehorse Project made that dream come true! Who knows, maybe I will be able to return either as a jumper or an eventer. Photo by Meagan Delisle.

In the long run, if I wanted to go back to the schooling show circuit I could definitely afford to show quite frequently in the jumper ring. There are many tiers to the hunter jumper circuit and it can be quite feasible to show at the lower levels. However, with the practical non-existence of B-Rated shows anymore, my only alternative would be the local schooling circuit. One of my life goals has been to qualify for some sort of final but, in reality, I cannot afford to compete enough to even qualify for finals like the North American League. I can, however, throw all of my funds into trying to qualify for the American Eventing Championships and have a much better shot, financially, at being able to show enough to qualify.

There is no doubt that the eventing community is doing something right. The affordability and flexibility of schedule is definitely attractive for this jumper lover potentially gone rogue. But what does this mean for the USHJA and the other riders who share my pain? When will enough be enough and the powers that be realize they are pricing the majority of their competitors out of the game?

I challenge the members of the USHJA committee to think about their stance on the “grassroots” of the organization a little differently. Think about your working amateurs who are maxing out the time clock to afford to show, your hungry junior riders who are working off the cost of their lessons, the professionals who are scraping up every penny just to get by and get their young horse seen. There is this awful saying that my parents recite to me every chance they get, “how do you make a million dollars in horses? Start with a billion.” But I challenge you to ask yourself: does it HAVE to be that way? Or have we just made it that way? How are we impacting our industry by doing that? Are we killing it?

I have to think that in some way, we might be.

So what do we do? We make our voices heard. We remind the governing bodies of our sport that affordability and accessibility is key. We remind them that, for the majority of us, this is a hobby and if it becomes a hobby we can’t afford, we may have to turn elsewhere thus resulting in a decline of membership numbers. We remind the leaders of our industry that we are present and that our concerns should mean something to them.

For now, I am going to don a cross-country vest, grab a little mane and give a few horse trials a go. I won’t give up on the jumper ring completely, but I definitely aim to supplement my show schedule with eventing throughout the year. Who knows, maybe along the way I will find that my wallet and I love it and that my riding benefits from crossing disciplines.

Best of JN: Olympic & WEG Jumpers to Be Auctioned Online Following FBI Seizure

Photo by Alissa King / JN.

After being sentenced to ten years in prison for money laundering this past November, Alejandro Andrade’s string of top showjumpers are set to be sold via online auction. The horses were seized by US authorities on November 17th after Alejandro plead guilty to money laundering. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to forfeit $1 billion and any assets related to the corruption. Those assets included real estate, vehicles, watches, aircraft and fourteen top-notch performance horses.

The horses, previously ridden by Alejandro’s son, Olympic showjumper Emanuel Andrade, will be sold February 19th-26th through CWS Asset Management and Sales.

Before you get too excited thinking you might get the deal of a lifetime on some exceptional horses, there is a catch. According to an article by Horse & Hound, interested buyers must submit a deposit of $50,000 to participate in the eight-day long auction.

That makes sense when you recognize that one of the horses listed for sale is Emanuel’s 2016 Olympic mount, Hardrock Z. Another interesting listing is Clouwni, whose resume boasts several Nations Cups performances and the 2014 World Equestrian Games. Rounding out the list of available horses are Ricore Courcelle, Reus De La Nutria, Anastasia Du Park, Boy IV, Bon Jovi, Cortina 186, Dipssy, Jenni’s Chance, Joli Jumper, Leonardo RGS, Quilina VD Laarseheide Z and Tupac Van De Vrombautshoeve Z.

Registered bidders may preview the horses at the Delray Equestrian Center in Florida January 28th-February 4th. CWS Asset Management released a statement that the horses are currently being brought back into work by a professional and are receiving first class care.

Best of JN: #AdultAmmyProbs: New Year, New Me? Maybe Not…

Sitting on the sidelines rather than showing definitely hurt. Photo courtesy of Meagan DeLisle

2018 was supposed to be my year, so forgive me if I sound a little callous when I say that this year wasn’t exactly all I had hoped it would be. Several dreams backfired in my face throughout the course of my year. I had all of these plans, items I would tick off of a checklist, and goals I would push myself to accomplish. While there is no doubt that I am closing out this year a better rider than I was in 2017, I failed to reach many of the goals I had set for myself. And, to be blunt, that totally sucks.

There are so many moving parts to make horse showing a reality, especially when you’re an adult amateur. We invest so much of our time, money and heart into fitting all of the pieces together that it is easy to get burned out when things go awry. It can be a hard pill to swallow when you look at your yearly expense sheet and realize how much you have put into something, only to feel like you invested in oil wells that were dry. That is exactly where I found myself earlier this month.

I was sitting at the bar in my kitchen, icing my aching knee and staring at a vet bill that needed to be paid, when it hit me: I didn’t do a dang thing I wanted to do this year. I spent the next week in a state of mental turmoil as I tried to make one of the biggest decisions of my life. Would I continue tossing almost everything I had at a teeny bud of a dream with the great possibility that next year would mirror this year? Or would I take some time off to enjoy my life, be a normal person, travel, spend money on myself for a change and not have to spend every waking moment of my life thinking about horses?

I have to tell you, after the year I have had, the alternative sounded so enticing.

If there is one thing I did learn this year, however, it is that throwing yourself an elaborate pity-party never really gets you anywhere. So I took a step back to re-evaluate my situation, and it dawned on me… this state of self-destruction was entirely self-inflicted. 

Sure, a couple of things went to crap throughout 2018, but had I not set the bar so high for myself, I wouldn’t be feeling like such a failure. In all reality, I had accomplished a lot over the past twelve months. They didn’t exactly meet the high standards I had hoped to have met, but whose fault was that? In trying to set milestones for myself to accomplish throughout the year, I had actually set myself up for failure. Now, rather than seeing all the good things I had achieved, I was only seeing the fact that I didn’t tick a box on a list of things my fellow competitors were doing.

So I took the month of December off to refresh my mental state and give my body (and mind) some time to rest and do you know what I found?

I missed riding. 

Photo courtesy of Meagan DeLisle.

So here I am, ready to take on 2019 with a fresh state of mind. And as we approach that time of year where every Instagram post bears the caption, “new year, new me,” I am instead focusing on “new year, improved me.” You see, sometimes setting goals (when not set the right way) can be toxic to your mental health. Sometimes, in setting goals, you are actually setting yourself up for failure. So rather than create a list of things I want to do this year, I am going to set my focus on one big goal: improving myself.

No lists of shows I want to attend. No set fence height I want to conquer. Just me, myself and I, making positive strides towards being a better rider. If in my quest for growth I make my way to a show venue I have always wanted to compete at, fantastic. If I somehow manage to survive bumping the fences up to the next level, consider it a bonus. My primary goal is going to be focusing on bettering myself in 2019.

Of course, you have to find some way to measure a goal, and I intend to do so by speaking closely with my coach about my desire to be better without the pressure of an ever-looming deadline. That is the beauty of being an adult amateur, we aren’t working against a clock! We don’t age out like juniors do. The majority of us aren’t hustling to win the U25 championships before we reach 26. We all do this because it is fun! And why suck the fun out of it by setting goals that a variety of outside circumstances can impact, leaving you feeling like you somehow failed?

So here is to 2019 and here is to the rest of you out there who are going to focus on “new year, improved me.” You got this.

Go Jumping.

Best of JN: Is Your Horse On the Naughty List? Presented by Draper Therapies

Will your pony be getting carrots or coal in their stocking this year? EN’s sister site Jumper Nation paired up with the team at Draper Therapies to ask readers where they thought their horse would fall, and the responses left us in stitches. Check out what the horses of Jumper Nation have been up to this year and thank the horse gods that your pony hasn’t picked up one of these habits. I think it’s safe to say Santa may be flying right on past these barns this year…

Leslie: “My pony Princess has been a naughty, naughty girl this year when it comes to eating healthy. From fast food (AKA stuffing her face when she’s SUPPOSED to be exercising) to taking off her muzzle at every opportunity (then throwing it in the woods or sinking it to the bottom of the pond unless I intercept her first), she considers life to be her own personal all-you-can-eat buffet.”

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Dominique: “Most horses don’t mind having their legs wrapped after a hard days work. But, of course, my horse Monami is one of the few that hate them. He’ll get bored and start chewing on them trying to find any possible way to take off this trapping monster. Once he unwraps most of it he’ll fling his leg around till it’s completely gone. He hates them so much he’ll dig a hole like a dog and bury them. The next day we’ll either have to dig through shavings or dirt from his run to find the remains of the once pristine white wraps. “

Jayme: “Turns out it’s hard to keep a 17hh horse wrapped… But he sure deserves to be on the nice list, except on days when he refuses to be caught.”

Photo courtesy of Jayme Rogers

Carrie: “My three-year-old won the hold my hay and watch this/who can get the most burrs in their mane’ contest the other day.”

Photo courtesy of Carrie Dobrin

Meagan: “Flash is the best horse in the entire world 99% of the time. The other 1% he is rolling in whatever he sets his sights on, making it extremely difficult to keep him clean for shows…”

Kate: “Kieran decided to go rogue in the night when he realized that his stall guard was ‘optional.’ Here is the little brat caught red-handed the next morning, looks like he did some re-decorating.”

Photo courtesy of Kate Stephenson.

Has your horse been naughty? Share your horses shenanigans in the comments below!

Go Jumping!

Best of JN: What to Buy Your Trainer for Christmas

Photo via Jumper Nation.

With every passing day, a new present joins the growing pile beneath my tree, but one person who is stumping me completely when it comes to gift-giving is my trainer. Shopping for horse-people is supposed to be easy for me. After all, I write countless gift-guides each week giving other people suggestions on what gifts equestrians would love. But what do you buy someone who literally has everything? What material object will truly portray my gratitude to her?

My trainer Jen picked me up a little under a year ago after my great epiphany during my first clinic with George Morris. I wanted to attend a rated show, a lifelong dream of mine that many people tick off before they even graduate from leadline. Jen adopted me for a week-long adventure at the World Equestrian Center. When things took an unexpected turn leaving me horseless for the week, Jen went above and beyond to find me a horse to ride so my trip to Ohio wasn’t a “waste.”

While we were unable to secure a mount last minute, I would call that trip anything but a waste. That trip was the start of a great partnership and friendship. Jen included me on every course walk, guided me to better stable management practices and taught me more than I could ever imagine throughout the duration of our trip. I will never forget sitting squished between her two young sons in their car seats, laughing and talking about all of our favorite memories on the way up to Ohio and back home.

Since then, our relationship has only grown stronger. We went from texting here and there to texting every day. From discussions about horse shopping to sharing silly memes, Jen became a staple in my daily life. I began making the three-hour, one-way trek to her stable every weekend just to soak up every ounce of her knowledge that I could and to enjoy her company. Since my riding has grown immensely and, in return, so has my confidence.

The hardest part about being an adult amateur is trying to make everything balance. Work, relationships, family, horses, money, it all gets jumbled up and can sometimes make this horse showing thing pretty tough. The best part about my relationship with Jen is that she goes out of her way to make it all easy. She wants me to succeed. She wants me to love this. She wants me to meet my goals. She wants me to be happy. When life gives me lemons, she chucks those bad boys right back at life and finds a way to solve every problem. Jen has gone above and beyond to help me, in more ways than many trainers would and she does it because she cares. 

So what do you buy someone as influential as Jen? What do you buy for someone that says, “hey, thanks for not giving up on me when I forgot to ride straight after the fence for the fourth time in a row?” How do you thank someone for tolerating countless texts about horses for sale… or a saddle for sale… or a trailer for sale? How do you tell someone who has let you cry when you need to and has shut you down when you don’t, just how much they mean to you?

How can I ever tell Jen how confident each “good job” or “niiiiice” made me feel? I am not sure how I am supposed to buy a present that perfectly sums up my thoughts on our late-night chats about horses, kids and everything in between. Jen has literally housed me, fed me and, to her delight, clothed me (in outfits that consist of navy and white rather than pink sparkles, of course). Jen is like a mom, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, a coach and a counselor all wrapped up into one. I haven’t seen a gift section for people of that category on Etsy.

I’m not sure that there is any material possession that could truly express the impact that Jen has made on my life, but I sure am going to try. I think the greatest gift I could give her is to be the best student I can be and to show her just how much her hard work means to me. After all, the greatest gift of all is the gift of not having to yell, “balance up” five-thousand times in one day, right Jen?

Go Jumping.

 

Best of JN: When the Budget Says No, #AdultAmmyProbs

Photo by Joanna Russell.

Life has been pretty good to me lately. I got a new show horse earlier this year, I was able to upgrade my trailer, I saved up and competed at the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover and participated in a George Morris clinic all in the same month. Everything was looking good.

And then I needed new tires on my truck. And then I had to buy one last load of hay to get me through winter. And then it was injection time for one of my horses.

And suddenly, it wasn’t all looking so good anymore.

I pride myself on my ability to budget responsibly and not allow this horse passion of mine to put my family in a bad way, but sometimes that means I have to say no. After several months of nothing but yes, no doesn’t feel so great. In fact, if I am being honest, it feels pretty crappy.

There are two different types of adult amateur riders. There are what I consider the “professional” adult amateurs who have the means to show every weekend and keep their horse in full training. I will admit, I envy these people. They are living the life I want to live, but I, unfortunately, don’t fall into that category. And I think if you were to look at the population of adult amateur riders as a whole, I think you would find that the greater majority of us do not fall into that category.

Most of us ride on the side, juggling demanding careers and families at home in between horse shows. Our tack isn’t always the newest, our cars are a perpetual mess and our budgets are definitely not limitless. But for a few short months, I got to live as if I were a part of the “other side.” I could afford to keep my horse in training and didn’t have to feel guilty when I was just too exhausted to ride after a long day at work. I got to enjoy dinner with my husband, for once, and when I did ride my horse, he was a perfect angel because someone more experienced than I am was tuning him up for me every day.

Photo by Joanna Russell.

So as I looked at my bank account and tried to blink more money into the ever-dwindling number, I felt a little piece of my heart sink. Those blissful few months were coming to an end. My horse was going to have to come home for a bit while we saved up for Christmas and so my husband could have some spending money for the hobbies he has been putting off so I could ride.

And that rated show I wanted to go to in November? Yeah… I was going to have to say no to that.

In moments like this, we have two options: we can pout and be sad that this good run has come to an end or we can regroup and sort out how we can get back to that point. I allowed myself five minutes of pouting because it’s okay to be sad, but after those five minutes were up, I realigned my perspective.

Sometimes the budget says no. That’s part of life. Horse people experience it, non-horse people experience it. Like many adult amateur riders, I have to put in extra hours to afford the horse habit, and sometimes the budget says yes, while others the budget says no. The reality of my situation is that I just do this for fun. Yes, I love it. Yes, it is what brings me happiness. Yes, if I had the means to show every weekend, I would.

But, I don’t.

I am just thankful that I am young and healthy, that I have family who supports me, that I have the ability to work for what I love and that the opportunities have presented themselves to me to compete at the rate that I do. I know I am very lucky to have what I do have and I am eternally grateful for that. And I know that if the budget says no and I want it to say yes, all that is stopping me is me.

I get to share the stories of adult ammy riders just like me every single day, and I am always inspired by the extra efforts we go to in order to pursue our passion. Many of you balance side-jobs, many of you log extra hours on the clock, many of you make sacrifices in other areas of your life just to allocate extra funds to your horse budgets. So when life gets tough and the budget gets tight, I just think about all of you out there kicking butt and taking names, and I know that I too can overcome my current financial limitations and get back on track.

Sometimes the budget says no, and you have to put in a little extra work to make things happen, but let me tell you this: it means so much more when your goals become a reality because of the fruits of your labor. So get out there and keep killing it. Adult amateurs unite!

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: #NoStirrupNovember Thoughts According to Twitter

No stirrup November, a phrase that strikes the hearts of equestrians with fear worldwide. We have survived 10 days so far and the Twitter-sphere is abuzz with thoughts around the subject. Do we love it? Do we hate it? Can we get out of bed in the morning? So far the general consensus is no, we cannot. But with 20 more days to go we have to stick together and tough it out! So take a look at what your fellow equestrians are saying as you ice your aching thighs. You are not alone!

Go Jumping!

This originally appeared on EN’s sister site Jumper Nation.

Best of JN: 8 Times Kent Farrington Stole Our Hearts

Kent Farrington: the man, the myth, the legend. A phenomenal rider, he held the world number one spot for what seemed like forever prior to having to take some downtime as he recovered from an injury. Kent seems to win all the things (like this week’s $135,000 Jumper Classic at the National Horse Show), not excluding the hearts of his fans. Check out eight of our favorite Kent moments on Instagram from our sister site, Jumper Nation!

1) Every time he makes challenging horses look easy…

2) When he takes time to acknowledge his youngest fans. 

3) That one time Kent and the Queen became besties.

4) When Kent wins all the things and celebrates like a boss.

5) When the sass is strong, but Kent doesn’t care. 

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Mood 💃🏼 Brought to you by Kent & Dublin

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6) Baby Kent, enough said. 

7)  When he handles bloopers with grace and poise. 

8) Does this one really need a caption? 

Go Kent and Go Jumping!

This originally appeared on EN’s sister site Jumper Nation.

 

Best of JN: I Survived George Morris … the Return

After a year of preparation, JN editor Meagan DeLisle got her second chance to ride in a George Morris clinic. Would her luck turn around in 2018? If you missed last year’s accounts, catch up HERE.

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pitter-pattering on our hotel window. Despite my thousands of prayers for good weather this weekend, Missouri had neglected to oblige. Today was the first day of my redemption rides throughout the three-day George Morris clinic at Altamontè Show Stable. And, as if I didn’t have enough to worry about, the temperatures had plummeted to below 50 degrees and we were guaranteed on again, off again showers throughout the weekend.

Oh joy.

Early morning alarms have become my jam lately, so I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning when we arrived at the barn. In the back of my head, there was a growing sense of dread. The weather was definitely going to impact the jump field and my horse, plus I knew eyes were going to be on me. After last year’s entertaining clinic outcome I have had countless people reach out to me with words of encouragement and in anticipation of reading this year’s recap. No pressure or anything.

So Ty and I made our way down the field on this misty morning with our game faces on. There was nothing I could do about the weather, so I just had to make the best with what I had and show George how hard I had been working.

The clinic started off with getting our horses prepared on the flat. We worked on lateral movements and collecting versus lengthening depending on the landscape of where we were. The beautiful thing about riding at Altamontè is getting to use their gorgeous jump field. The rolling terrain and wide open space give you plenty of opportunities to shine … or maybe not so much. Ty was very good on the flat, so much so that George opted to make him his first ride of the clinic which was very exciting. George’s big emphasis for our group was the way in which we carry our hands and how we should lift them to get the horse to come back to us.

Photo by Morgan McAllister.

And then it was time to jump. The courses for today were very fair, in my opinion. We started out jumping up a bank, one stride to a small vertical at the crest of the hill, followed by a two stride down the hill to another small vertical. George asked for Ty and me to go first, so I rode up a little on the assertive side to start the day off right. Thankfully, Ty had no qualms with the questions I asked of him today and took to the exercise beautifully. We have some homework to polish up on in regards to coming to a halt after a fence, but all-in-all he was a good boy.

As the ride continued, the rain morphed from a sprinkle to a noticeable drizzle. It was cold, we were wet and there was still work to be done. After conquering the bank, we moved on to jumping another exercise made up of a vertical down to a ditch in a grob and then back up to an oxer. Several horses were concerned by the bank earlier in the morning and George really laid into our group to let us know that it was our job to use our sticks and build confidence in our horses.

So as we made our way to the grob I reached back with my stick and gave Ty a little tap to encourage him forward and he went on with no hesitation. “THERE!,” George boasted behind me. “Watch her! Watch her! She’s got it!”

I waited until George looked away to break out into a huge grin. That was all I needed to get me through the rest of the day.

We continued to jump around over natural obstacles such as a hogsback and other man-made fences like an in-and-out and the infamous ASPCA Maclay wall. Ty jumped quite nicely around the course as I figured out how I wanted to navigate each jump. I am still perfecting my eye to find the best distance, but I was very proud that I wasn’t rushing to the base of each fence in a desperate attempt to find it (a horrible habit that took a while for me to break).

Photo by Morgan McAllister.

Our last exercise was a simple vertical with a grassy-topped stone wall as filler placed right in the middle of a long decline. The goal was to gallop down to the fence, find the distance and stay forward, off of the horses back. He did not want to see anyone making contact with their seat, so I stretched up and tall and let Ty stretch his legs a bit. Once the group had galloped down to it, we made our way back one-at-a-time galloping up to it. Our rides had to change based on if we were going up or down, which I found really entertaining. Not every one of my distances was perfect, but I was so pleased that the day had gone on and I was still in the saddle.

At the end of the day, we were all soaked to the bone, but I was elated with how my ride had gone. I approached George with my little buddy Ainsleigh (a super ten-year-old who idolizes George) to introduce the two. As I was getting ready to walk away, George said to me, “what was your name again? I forget when you are not on the horses.”

“Meagan, sir. I rode the big bay. I rode with you last year. I kinda sorta fell off and wound up with stitches,” I replied.

George looked at me for a second before saying in shock, “Wait … YOU are Meagan from last year?”

I nodded my head, unsure of how this conversation was going to turn out.

“I didn’t even recognize you!” he exclaimed. “You are so much better this year! I would’ve never guessed you were the same person.”

At that moment, lightning could have struck me and I would have died a happy girl. I thanked him endlessly for the feedback and told him how I turned his 50-hour assignment into more of a 500 hour ongoing project in hopes of getting better. George just smiled at me and repeated, “I didn’t even recognize you.”

That comment made all of the early mornings, the late nights, the long hours, the miles on the road and countless bottles of Aleve worth it.

Want to read how the rest of the clinic finished out for Meagan? Her recaps on day 2 and day 3 are live on our sister site, Jumper Nation!

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.