Articles Written 8
Article Views 18,130

Michael Willham

Achievements

Become an Eventing Nation Blogger

About Michael Willham

Latest Articles Written

Sponsorships Scams: A Letter of Warning to My Eventing Friends

If a sponsorship offer comes your way that smells fishy or seems too good to be true, think twice before buying in. Photo by Leslie Wylie. If a sponsorship offer comes your way that smells fishy or seems too good to be true, think twice before buying in. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Many of us look with envy at those riders who have sponsorships — after all, they are getting free (or discounted) horse products. Who wouldn’t want that? The following is a warning about a certain company that has been conducting a large outreach under the guise of a “partnership.”

I will be writing a second article within the next few days to go over the “boring” rules if you want to be sure not to get penalized and fined by horse sport governing body for having the wrong classification. But I wanted first and foremost to issue this warning to people to be careful of what they agree to, as there has been one company that has been conducting a huge outreach to boost their sales while perhaps behaving somewhat unethically in terms of how they are phrasing it and conducting their marketing.

It still is a fine product that is very well-known over in Europe. I just have personal issues with how they are conducting their marketing and getting people to buy their product. So by all means you can still accept their offer. I just wanted to offer a word of warning that they are doing this with MANY, many people and that it might not be all it seems cracked up to be.

I won’t name any names, but they have not only personally conned me into buying their product at a discounted price under the guise of a “partial sponsorship,” but they have also reached out to at least four of my friends on Facebook within the past few months as well, three in the past couple days. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you reading this have been targeted as well.

I was contacted by this company on Facebook a few months ago with a “partial sponsorship,” which was a discount off of their merchandise in exchange for promoting the product, putting stickers on my truck and trailer, etc. I thought, great! Sponsorships aren’t easy to come by, so anything that gets my name out there more in order to get more would be great.

However, the alarms should’ve been going off that it was very strange that a company reaches out to you with a sponsorship. That doesn’t normally happen; I won’t say it never happens, but usually you have to at least have some sort of relationship with the company. More alarms should’ve been going off when they said they found me on the FEI ranking lists, where I actually only have one point, so I’m essentially tied for dead-last.

Why would they reach out to someone based on that? Well, as you will see, it wasn’t the “sponsorship” deal that they told me and we initially agreed to.

They waited until I had received my order to contact me to tell me not to tell anyone that I have a sponsorship with them. They wanted me to keep it secret that I was getting incentivized to promote their product, under the weak claim that their distributors were getting upset that the manufacturer was doing this promotion. I absolutely did not like how sneaky and underhanded that seemed, so I told them no, I would not do that, and that our relationship is over.

I place great value on honesty and promoting quality products and companies. But I also value transparency, if I’m getting incentivized by someone, you should know that so you can take that into account. I’m currently sponsored by Nutrena and Prestige Saddlery, both quality products that I’ve been using for many years prior, but there should also be an asterisk if I talk about horse feeds or saddles. That’s just what ethical standard that we, as people being incentivized by a company, should uphold.

I was very disappointed and upset for two reasons. One, they tricked me into buying their product. They knew that just having a “sale” wouldn’t get them many customers, so they personally reached out to people via ranking lists to make it seem more personal and more of a partnership. I wouldn’t have bought the product if it wasn’t a sponsorship.

I was also disappointed and upset that they are CONTINUING to do this, offering people partnerships (or whatever phrase they are terming it now) by personally contacting them through Facebook (maybe other channels too, I’m not sure) when at the same time they are telling them not to tell anyone about it. So they’re sponsoring people, even if they aren’t “calling” it that. They are giving discounts on their products in exchange for promotion of the product.

This is still going on after they claimed they did not want me calling it a sponsorship anymore because their distributors were upset. Yet they continue with it anyway. It was someone from the family who contacted me (had the same last name as the company), although now I’ve noticed that he had to create a NEW Facebook page that he’s been using to contact people recently. Everything about it is just shady, in my opinion.

So take this as a warning: If you receive any message or request from a person representing a company offering you a “deal” or “partnership opportunity” or whatever they are choosing to call it now, be wary. As I will explain in the next article, you are entering dangerous territory in terms of being classified as a Professional. If you still want to take the discount and buy the product, then that is your choice.

I just wanted to send out this warning to my friends in the eventing community (and beyond) that this company is engaging in very shady behavior. While nothing they are doing is illegal, it’s very ethically and morally compromising, definitely in a gray area of being not forthright.

What’s in Your Ring? Pole Work with Michael Willham

This week’s edition of “What’s in Your Ring?” comes courtesy of Michael Willham, winner of the Hagyard Midsouth Long Format Prelim Three-Day in October. Michael and his 8-year-old Irish Sport Horse Fernhill Cayenne (A.K.A. “Cayenne” or “Cay”) led from start to finish and while they added 1.2 time penalties on endurance day, they were the only pair in the division to have a fault free show jumping round, locking in the win. 

In addition to eventing, he is a senior at Otterbein University, majoring and minoring in all things business (management, administration, economics, finance, and marketing) and regularly contributes to EN as well! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us one of your favorite exercises, Michael.

Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne, winners of the Hagyard Midsouth Long Format Prelim 3-Day Event. Photo by Photography In Stride.

Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne, winners of the Hagyard Midsouth Long Format Prelim 3-Day Event. Photo by Photography In Stride.

Eventing Nation contacted me to ask if I would contribute to their “What’s in Your Ring” series. Of course, I agreed, because I am always excited to pass on my knowledge to other people, even though I don’t claim to be an expert by any extreme stretch of the imagination. Perhaps that is part of the helpfulness though, I’m relatable: a mid-level eventer having some bumps along the road, trying to figure things out as I go, just like many other people.

You’re also in for a treat, because I wore my helmet cam so that you can get a rider’s eye view of how the exercise looks from horseback!

This exercise calls for only five poles, so set up and take down time is basically non-existent! However, you could keep adding on to it if you wanted to increase the difficulty!

Normally I only have a vague idea of what I want to accomplish when I put some pole exercises out. However, every week when I do pole-work, I include one thing time and time again: a 6 stride line.

Why you may ask? Well, at its foundation, I work on adjustability, which is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for many of us. I go through in the regular six strides, collect for 8, 9, sometimes 10 strides (my eventer is a little bit like a cruise ship, not the most adjustable – which is why we work on this!), and then lengthen and get it in 3 or 4 strides.

Photo by Michael Willham.

Photo by Michael Willham.

Diagram by Michael Willham.

Diagram by Michael Willham.

I set up the same 6 stride line each time in order to gauge each ride to the previous ones. Some weeks, like this video, we aren’t as adjustable. We only got down to 4 and up to 8 strides. Other weeks, we get down to 3 and up to 9 (and we’re almost at 10). It also changes depending on the saddle. Using a dressage saddle tends to add a stride, so we get down to 4 and up to 10.

It’s extremely important to know your horse though. Some horses are more adjustable than others; some horses are more adjustable one way and not so much the other. For example, my Prelim/1* horse eats distance for breakfast (without milk) and the 3 stride in a 6 stride is fairly easy for him. However we struggle to get past 9 strides in collection.

On the other hand, my retired novice-level eventer turned dressage horse struggles with lengthening, getting 4 strides on an extremely good day, but is TERRIFIC at collecting: we’re almost at 12 strides!

I also like setting up some sort of collecting, turning exercise. These are specifically for my eventer because, again, he sometimes turns like a cruise ship. I really like what I set up in this exercise. It is a set of 3 poles, set on a short 2 stride, 90 degree alternating bending line. The first pole turns right 90 degrees in a short 2 strides to the 2nd , which then turns left 90 degrees in 2 strides to the 3rd pole; basically creating an S shape. (I also threw in one of the straight line poles as a bending line just for something else to do, but it was 6-7 strides away).

This exercise can also be adjustable depending on the level, regular stride of the horse, and how difficult you want to make it. I set mine up on a short-ish 2 strides (I walk about 24 feet, with sharp 90 degree angles, with very skinny ground poles (they were about 3 feet wide, if I had to guess). This exercise really stresses the accuracy (you have to get in the middle, otherwise they’ll just miss the pole completely), collection (a short 2 stride), and turning (90 degree turns).

But you can obviously use longer poles, a little bit bigger distance between poles, and/or slightly less turning angles, especially when you’re first starting out.

*Warning* this exercise is harder than it seems! If it isn’t hard, then you’re either Phillip Dutton or you need to tweak it: shorten the distance/increase the angle/use skinnier poles/add more poles into the combination!

I also like where I set it up in the ring. I used already set up jumps in order to essentially make blind turns for him. I think this makes the exercise a more useful training tool, so that they have to be sure to listen to you, otherwise they’ll miss the turn!

I try to maintain a single lead throughout the “S” turn, since a flying change can lengthen their stride and throw off the turn. Maintaining the same lead is also good counter canter practice and helps you focus more on turning their shoulder: a very helpful tool for better jump rounds!

Again, I am not an expert by any means, so take this as advice from a fellow “amateur” competitor. (I’m not technically an amateur since I have a few sponsors, but I am in the sense that I only compete my one horse and I’ve only gone up to Prelim/1*). And remember, you can definitely do better than what I did in the 6 stride line! He was just not feeling the adjustability that day, so we only went from 4-8. I’d normally aim for at least 3-9 on Cayenne, while working towards 3-10.

Hopefully this helps someone out there! Give it a try the next time you do pole work! If you make it a routine, you should definitely start seeing some progress in adjustability! I know I did!

Thank you for sharing, Michael! Click here to read more of Michael’s EN submissions. 

Do you have an exercise to share or is there an eventer you would like to nominate for the series? Email [email protected]

How to Survive Your First FEI Event

Michael Willham is a member of the Otterbein University Eventing Team in Ohio and a regular guest contributor on EN. You may have read his articles about adventures in Aiken and tackling his first long format Training Three-Day. Now he’s back with tips about how to survive your first FEI event. Many thanks to Michael for writing, and thanks for reading!

Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne at Richland. Photo by Renea Willham.

Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne at Richland. Photo by Renea Willham.

You may have read my article last fall on how to survive your first long format event when I competed at the Hagyard Midsouth Training Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park. Well now I’ve officially survived my first CIC* at Richland Park Horse Trials, and I’m here with the next survival guide.

While my dressage and show jumping may not have been up to par with what we can normally do, the cross country is what really matters, and that was SUPER FUN!

Fernhill Cayenne and I have had random blips out on cross country since we’ve moved up this spring. A clear round in our first Prelim, a refusal at the next, a fall at the water after that, then a clear round, another fall, another clear, but never making the time. Well I was bound and determined to go clear AND inside the time, and that’s exactly what we did!

We were one of only 10 double clear rounds in the 39-horse division, and it moved us back up to finish a respectable 14th. Regardless of where we finished, I couldn’t have been happier with my boy for taking me around my first CIC* cross country double clear.

Without further ado, although they might not be as hilarious as my experience at the long format, here are my dos and don’ts of your first FEI event.

DON’T forget the white tie. I made the realization that I needed a white tie instead of my colored tie about an hour before my dressage! Luckily we eventers are a helpful bunch, and I found one I could borrow. (And then went to the store to buy my own for show jumping).

DON’T be controversial about dressage. One judge gave me a 24.55 (raw score before FEI multiplier) while the other gave me a 40.0. Don’t be the rider who has his test taken by the judges to dinner so they can discuss it further.

DON’T bust out singing “Dressage Skillz” when you see Dom Schramm. Quietly sing it in your head and have it get stuck in there, only to get renewed when you see him again and again.

DON’T get backed off when the plain brown warm-up jumps change to bright, colorful show jumping rails. Our normal double clear show jumping round turned into a 9 penalty score as we dropped a rail at the A and C element of the triple and came in one second over time. My guess is we were very backed off because the rails went from natural brown in warm-up to bright and colorful in the ring.

DON’T think the volunteer in charge of the spectator crossing path is waving you down with his red flag. I was flying past him and saw a red flag out of the corner of my eye. I yelled to ask if it was for me, then realized he was keep the spectators safely out of the path.

DO order your shadbelly many, many months in advance so you aren’t a nervous wreck when it doesn’t arrive until two weeks before the event. Four to six weeks turned into “well I can’t guarantee it will be there in time.” Luckily my buddy at Animo pulled it off and got it to me in time.

DO practice riding dressage without a whip at home. I always have a whip to re-energize his hind end, but you can’t take one in an FEI dressage test. I had my work cut out for me to keep him energized throughout the whole test.

DO watch how the other divisions handle the conditions before you go out on cross country. If you have time, watch as many rounds as you can! It really helped to see that the only good rides in the wet conditions were the truly forward and attacking rides. Anyone who backed off to the jumps got stuck at the base.

DO change your stud choice to bigger studs if conditions call for it.

DO go mudding and blaze around your first CIC* cross country double clear. After all, this is what we are all here for. (Bonus points if your horse is Irish and can switch into four-wheel drive. He knows what’s up when the weather gets wet!)

Here is the helmet cam video. Click the settings to upgrade the video quality and ride along with me on this wonderful course.

As always, a big thank you goes out to my parents, my trainers, my friends back home who were rooting for me, and my sponsors Nutrena Horse Feed and Prestige Saddlery.

A Horse of a Different Color: Elmegaardens Affair

I write this story as sort of a bittersweet ending to a wonderful career. Although it has been unofficial for some time that I am retiring Affair from eventing, this is the official declaration of her retirement. This story is my tribute to all that she has done for me, from introducing me to eventing, to putting up with each other’s green mistakes while we learn the ropes, to our final season where we placed in the top three in all five events. Do you have a "Horse of a Different Color" to spotlight? Tip EN at [email protected]

Photo via Michael Willham. Photo via Michael Willham.

Meet Elmegaardens Affair, “Affair”, a 12-year-old Knabstrupper Mare. Yes, you read that right, the keyboard did not go on the fritz. A Knabstrupper is a Warmblood breed originating from Denmark, numbering only about 1,500 in the world.

They are an extremely intelligent breed, used in dressage, show-jumping, and of course, the circus. They are known for their spotted coat genetics, very similar to the Appaloosa. However, Knabstruppers are not related to the Appaloosa. They merely contain the same genetic variation in their color that causes the differences in coat.

Not only is she wildly colorful, but she is actually quad-colored! She is white, has both black and brown spots, as well as one tiny fingerprint-sized buckskin colored spot inside one of the regular spots. She also has a spot in the shape of a heart on her hip, as well as an arrangement of spots on the side/underside of her barrel that is also in the shape of a heart.

Affair is anything but a “pony”. She stands at 17 hands tall and weighs in right around 1375 lbs. Affair has evented through recognized Novice Level with me (and one unrecognized Training level). She was my first horse, buying her what seems like forever ago, but was only about five years ago.

Affair was born in Denmark, then sold to Scotland shortly after. She spent several years out in a field being a horse until a breeder here in America bought her to start breeding Knabstruppers. Affair was impregnated over in Scotland, and then once she received the green light to travel, was shipped over here to the U.S.

In the intervening weeks, Affair lost the baby (while it was still just a clump of cells). Since it was now later in the breeding season and Affair had not done anything performance-wise, the breeder decided to ship her up to my barn to start her training under saddle until the following year.

I eventually fell in love with her and my parents ended up buying her as my first horse when I was 16. Looking back, it may not have been the smartest idea, seeing as how both of us had barely started jumping, but with Affair’s forgiving personality, the “green on green makes black and blue” cliché didn’t happen.

Affair loving life on cross country. Photo via Michael Willham.

Affair loving life on cross country. Photo via Michael Willham.

After buying her, I combined my passions for dressage and jumping into the only logical choice: eventing! We went to two shows in 2011 to get our feet wet, and then proceeded to have regular show seasons in the years afterward.

Dressage is my most natural phase and combined with her obedience and workmanlike behavior, we generally did well in it. However, the first two seasons (2012 and 2013) were very hit or miss. We’d have great dressage scores, but were still learning to be brave out on cross country and sharp with our feet in show-jumping. So almost every show we’d have a rail down or a refusal out on cross country.

The latter half of 2013 was our breakout season, before a minor injury set us back. Starting up again in 2014, we continued our success all the way through Novice level, including an unrecognized Training level event. Unfortunately, we had a major setback with another tendon injury at the end of 2014.

Affair took almost 13 months to come back from that, not starting back into full flat work until this past November. The decision to retire her was very difficult for me. Not because I can’t let go of her eventing, but because she absolutely loves jumping. Anyone who has seen her jumping knows that she has a certain pep in her step and twinkle in her eye when she starts jumping. Her ears are always pricked forward, looking for the next thing to fly over.

However, as the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” While we may not be adding the splash of color to the eventing world anymore, I have started to look into making our new splash in the “Dressage – Dressage” world.

Working around my eventing schedule with my other horse, Cayenne, I want to try to make it out to some Dressage competitions this summer at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd levels to earn our Bronze Medal. So watch out dressage world! There’s an eventer coming to take over and dizzy you with her spots (and movement!)

Saturday Video: Full Gallop Farm Prelim Helmet Cam

Collegiate eventer Michael Willham sent us his helmet cam video from his first Prelim run at Full Gallop Farm. Michael wrote the following blog about his run. Many thanks to Michael for the update, and thank you for reading!

Well, my fellow eventers, I did it. I made the jump from Training to Prelim last weekend at Full Gallop Farm’s Horse Trials in Aiken, SC while I was on my Spring Break. And let me tell you, it was SO MUCH FUN!

Now I know that many of you don’t have aspirations to make it to the Preliminary level and that’s absolutely fine. The only person who should care about what level you go is you. If you’re content and having a blast going at Beginner Novice or Novice, that is great! As for me, I don’t know how far I want to take this, but I definitely knew I wanted to at least go Prelim.

After going Training level all of last year, culminating in the Training 3 Day at the Kentucky Horse Park in October, I knew I was ready to make the move up this season. I am fortunate enough to be able to go down to Aiken and train with Phillip Dutton for two weeks over my Spring Break (I took an extra week off, you know, because: horses). I entered in two shows: Training at the first and the Prelim at the second show. I didn’t know exactly what cobwebs I would be dealing with after five months off from showing (and from being outside, darn Ohio weather).

I had prepared, prepared, and then prepared some more for this day. I have the utmost trust in my trainers, my preparation, and my horse. But no matter how much I could train for this, it was still nerve-wracking. It was only the second show of the year and I didn’t have anyone to coach me at the show or to walk the courses with me. In a strange way, I think I actually might ride better without my trainer, let me explain this seemingly outrageous statement…

Without my trainer, I take complete and total responsibility for figuring out how to ride the course, I don’t rely on being told what to do. Without my trainer, I, alone, am responsible for how I warm up.

Without my trainer, I have to employ all of my experience, all of my training, and all of my preparation without being told to do so.

Now I am not saying that I don’t value my trainer helping me at home or at shows, I wouldn’t be able to do this without them. But what I am saying is that it’s almost a sort of challenge that I have to step up to the plate, put up or shut up, go big or go home. As someone who always sets goals, is always tough on themselves, is always finding ways that I fell short and resolving to fix them, I like being challenged. And this challenge of riding without any guidance, especially moving up a level, is perhaps the biggest
challenge of them all.

Walking your first Prelim cross country course is definitely an eye-opening experience. First of all, it seemed as if everything was either a huge table or a skinny. I kept thinking “ride forward, don’t ride backwards to the jumps, keep the energy and he can jump it”. However, everything looked small once I was on Cayenne.

He is such a fantastic horse and he made all of those massive tables seem small.

Backtracking a little bit, we had a great test in the little white ring, despite it still being a little slick from the morning dew. Show jumping went great as well, going double clear over our first official Prelim stadium course. I didn’t want to know my dressage score or where I was placed though. It didn’t matter, I was just looking forward to cross country the next day. I wanted to go around clear. I wasn’t going to worry about making time, I didn’t want to sacrifice my riding and preparation for the jumps in pursuit of making time.

Cue the next day where we blaze around cross country like champs and end up coming in only 13 seconds over the Optimum Time on a course where nobody in the division made the time. I am so proud of my big, brown Irishman. It still hasn’t really sunk in fully yet, we’re a Prelim pair.

He got some huge hugs as we walked back. Tack off, sponging, studs out, hand walking, the works. It wasn’t until he was snuggled up in his box stall in the trailer with his ice boots on that I looked at the scores. We scored an amazing 24.6 in dressage, which put us in the lead. Coupled with our double clear show jumping and 5.2 time penalties out on cross country, we ended with a sub-30 final score and a first place finish at my first Prelim!

So my piece of advice, don’t let the absence of a trainer stop you from taking the leap of faith. If you’re ready for it, place trust in your preparation and go for it. This isn’t for everyone, we all still need our trainers, but there’s also a point in your training that you should be confident and capable enough to compete on your own every now and again, if you’re comfortable with that!

A big thank you to everyone who has made all of this possible! There’s too many to list. Without my parents, none of this would even be remotely possible. And thank you to my sponsor, Nutrena, who keeps my horse fueled up and ready to go.

Take the Time

Cayenne, left, enjoying Christmas Break. Affair … not so much. She’s on the “naughty list” with that face.
Cayenne, left, enjoying Christmas Break. Affair … not so much. She’s on the “naughty list” with that face.

“Time heals all wounds.” “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” The quotes about time are virtually endless (much like time itself!). It is something that we think we have so much of only to find out that it has flown past us without our recognition. We sometimes take for granted all of the time we have until something happens that makes us realize how precious this concept really is.

Perhaps I am getting too philosophical here (probably because of the philosophy class I am currently taking!). My purpose in writing this was to express my thoughts on how time relates to horses. Sometimes (or most of the time) horses’ time and schedules are not compatible with our own. We need to learn to take a step back and reexamine our priorities.

Now, I am not claiming to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I just thought that we always hear from our trainers and all-around amazing riders how to do things, but sometimes the best advice comes from people at our own level who are struggling with the same difficulties that we are. Sometimes it’s even the exact same advice, but for some reason, it clicks when we hear it from someone who DOESN’T have their act altogether.

I don’t think I’m saying anything earth-shattering here, but if just one single person reads this and has an “Ah-Ha!” moment, then writing this has been worthwhile. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s much more fun to write about horses than to do homework …

As winter break of my junior year in college approached this past December, I wanted to give my competition horse, Cayenne, a two-week vacation. Probably not the longest vacation in the world, but with my plans to move up to Prelim sometime next season and the ever-present goal to keep progressing in my riding capabilities, we need all of the rides that we can get to improve and prepare. So he got two weeks off, and then I started slowly bringing him back into work after that.

Well, apparently Cayenne decided that he liked the vacation too much and that working was hard, so he twisted his shoe, stepped on the clip, and ultimately gave himself an abscess after being back into work for about two weeks. After all was said and done, he had been off for another 2 ½ weeks between getting the abscess out, hardening the hoof back up and getting the shoe put back on. So in roughly 1 ½ months, he had been actually working for about 2 weeks.

OK, time to get back to work. I am planning on heading down to Aiken during my spring break to get the competition cobwebs out, so we need to get our butts back into fighting shape! But I realized something extremely important as I was bringing him back into work. Yes, it was difficult for both of us as we were fighting to rebuild those lost muscles, but this epiphany concerned something deeper than just muscle weakness. In having that time off, we had essentially hit a “reset button” in our training.

"Ready to go back to work, dad!"

“Ready to go back to work, dad!”

He still knew all of what I was asking for; that’s not what I mean by that. But rather, all of the areas where we had struggled before or were attempting to learn or improve upon, were reopened with a fresh perspective. In having the time off, we both moved on from our own issues. I am able to relax and approach problems with an open mind, not thinking about them in terms of how we didn’t fix them the other day, but rather how I can ask in a way that he understands and accepts.

We both wiped the slate clean in terms of not getting annoyed by each other’s inconsistencies. For example, as a training tool, we had been trying to learn how to half pass at the trot. He was starting to get it before the break, but we would get one good half pass mixed in with a couple other ones whose negative attributes came from tenseness, crookedness, lack of impulsion or all of the above.

But after hitting the “reset button,” we’re both more relaxed and not anticipatory of negative things when we are trying to work on them again. We still need to rebuild our hind end muscles, but the beginnings of the mastery of this movement are a lot smoother.

So what I have been trying to say is that you should not be afraid of taking time off and taking a step back. Sure, it may seem like you’re losing precious time to practice and ride, but it may actually help both you and your horse to decompress, chill out and re-approach things with a clean slate.

It places the emphasis back on the basics: impulsion and balance, longitudinal and lateral suppleness, and many others. Having a vacation, even just a few days, is actually a very important tool that you can put in your tool belt to bring out when you’re having issues. It certainly helped me!

How To Survive Your First Long Format Event

Michael Willham is a member of the Otterbein University Eventing Team in Ohio. You may have read an article he submitted a while ago about his adventures down in Aiken this Spring. Now he’s back to finish off the season with another article, albeit with a humorous twist!

Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne. Photo by Renea Willham.

Michael Willham and Fernhill Cayenne. Photo by Renea Willham.

My season with my new horse, Fernhill Cayenne, has gone fantastic. We had solid performances at Training all year round and I am hoping to move up to the big “P” word sometime next year.

I am here to bring you my tips and tricks for competing in your very first Training 3-Day Long Format. I competed at the Hagyard Midsouth Training Three-Day Event this October and ended up finishing my season with a win.

For those of you with a sense of humor, here are my dos and don’ts for tackling the long format. Yes, all of these things did actually happen to me! It certainly was an interesting week.

Celebrating the win! Photo by Renea Willham.

Celebrating the win! Photo by Renea Willham.

Don’t: Look like a sissy running in your first jog.
Do: Remember to run like a normal person for your second jog.

Don’t: Forget to halt at the beginning of your dressage test.
Do: Laugh at yourself for doing so.

Don’t: Fall off three minutes into Phase A.
Do: Run your butt off to catch your horse, get back on and gallop the rest of the way to make time.

Don’t: Let your fall cloud your judgment for the rest of the three phases.
Do: Be happy that it doesn’t mean elimination and kick on!

Don’t: Get tired halfway through the final phase (cross country).
Do: Dig deep and ignore the pain and numbness in your arms and legs.

Don’t: Underestimate the level of fitness required for a three-day.
Do: Make your horse fit enough to gallop all of Phase A and still have enough energy for the other three phases.

Don’t: Forget your dress socks for the jog at home.
Do: Be innovative and put your boot socks on to coordinate the right color.

Don’t: Let your nerves get to you as you are sitting in first going into show jumping.
Do: Be one of nine people out of 35 to go double clear and clinch the win!

Do: Reflect on the craziness of the three-day, be surprised and proud of your horse that you actually made it through!

Bringing Home the Blues: A Classic Feel-Good Redemption Story

Michael Willman and Fernhill Cayenne. Photo courtesy of the Willham family. Michael Willman and Fernhill Cayenne. Photo courtesy of the Willham family.

My name is Michael Willham and I am a Nutrena® sponsored rider and member of the Otterbein University Eventing team in Ohio. I got a much later start into the world of horses than many others, I started taking hunter/jumper lessons when I was 11. However, after several years, I got tired of “looking pretty” and started taking some dressage lessons, then dove headfirst into the craziness that we all know and love: eventing.

This was when I got my first horse, a Knabstrupper mare named Elmegaardens Affair.

Knabstruppers are a rare warmblood breed from Denmark known for their spotted coat coloring, but are no relation to the Appaloosa. There are only about 125 or so in the U.S and only about 3,000 worldwide.

“Affair” is an 11 year old, 17.0 hh leopard spotted Knabstrupper mare who ran away with my heart (as well as wearing a couple heart-shaped spots in her coloring!). I evented her for the past three years, starting out as one of those “blind leading the blind” situations; as I was still a green rider, and she was only under saddle for about 2 years.

I had never evented before her, and she had never evented before me, so we both learned from each other’s mistakes and progressed in our abilities.

Affair and I have had our ups and downs, but this past 2014 season we really clicked and figured everything out. We competed in six events, never placing below third place in any of them. We won three of them, placed second once, and placed third twice. We had such a great year that I was ranked the number one Young Adult Rider at Novice Level on the USEA leaderboards while she was ranked #22 Novice Horse.

Michael and Elmegaardens Affair. Photo courtesy of the Willman family.

Michael and Elmegaardens Affair. Photo courtesy of the Willham family.

We were riding high on all of our accomplishments and were set to travel down to Texas for the AECs in late September.

We had a pretty quiet week, taking it easy with our last jumping lesson and dressage lesson with my trainers Kari Briggs and Bruce Mandeville before we went to Texas. However, the day before we were to leave, I noticed a small bump on Affair’s leg. I became worried and called the vet out.

My worst fears had been realized: she had a slight tear in her superficial digital flexor tendon. My horse’s well being is of the utmost importance, so I immediately scratched from the show and started making plans for treatment and rehab.

It looked like not only would our 2014 season come to an early end, but I would also not be showing in 2015 due to the long recovery time to ensure that everything was healed before coming back into such a strenuous sport.

That was when my parents and I sat down to talk. They knew how much Affair meant to me, as well as how much my sport meant to me and my ambitions to keep progressing up the levels. They offered their financial support (as well as their undying mental and emotional support) in finding a horse with some upper level experience to “teach me the ropes” and help me move up the levels and continue showing.

I am eternally grateful for all the opportunities they have provided for me throughout my life. Words cannot even come close describe how important their support is to me.

With the help of Phillip Dutton, we found a fantastic young horse who had competed up to the one-star level in Ireland at none other than the famous Fernhill Sport Horses. It was a little nerve-wracking, as I had never gotten to sit on the horse myself, but we saw competition videos as well as videos of Phillip riding him, and we trusted in Phillip’s judgment.

A couple of weeks later, I came home from college for my winter break to be surprised by an early Christmas present: Fernhill Cayenne, a 16.3 hh bay Irish Sport Horse with springs in his feet, a heart of gold, and a glimmer of kindness in his eyes.

I spent the last two months figuring out his buttons and trying to solidify our partnership before heading down to Aiken, South Carolina for an early start to the season. In late February, we left bitter cold Ohio and 10 ½ hours later arrived in warm and sunny South Carolina.

 

Photo courtesy of Michael Willman.

Photo courtesy of Michael Willman.

We stayed at Phillip Dutton’s barn, getting several lessons from him in between a packed schedule of three shows in two and a half weeks. I didn’t quite know what to expect, because I didn’t have the chance to ride him in a dressage ring yet, or even outside!

I knew Cayenne was capable of putting in a great dressage test since he has such fantastic movement, and he certainly delivered. At our very first show together at Full Gallop Farm, we put in an astounding 22.8 dressage test and went double clear in stadium and cross country to lead from start to finish in our Novice class. I was ecstatic with how well we performed at our first show together.

But wait, there’s more! Cayenne repeated this performance not once more, but twice. We put in a 25.7 dressage test and double clear rounds at Sporting Days (along with earning third in our random scramble Team Challenge) and then again for our third show back at Full Gallop with a 27.8 dressage test and double clear rounds. After an exhausting few weeks of training and showing, we came home with three blue ribbons. Not too shabby of a start to our partnership and show season!

Not to worry though, Affair will not take it lightly that her new Irish brother is taking all of the glory. She will be fit and raring to go once my vet and I deem it safe for her to resume competing. Affair is not one to be out-done!

After our impressive showing down in South Carolina, I am planning our move up to Training level once shows start up here in Area 8. I could not have done all of this without the immense support of my passion by my parents, as well as my sponsor Nutrena, Phillip Dutton for finding me such an amazing horse, and Carol Gee for producing and selling me this wonderful guy.

Watch out Area 8, we’re taking this season by storm!