Michelle Wadley
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Michelle Wadley

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About Michelle Wadley

I am a married, horse crazy, 50 year old (OMG!) eventer with a 6 year old son! I have lived all over the US, but my riding career has mostly been in Area V, where I graduated from high school. I have lived in Little Rock, Arkansas for almost 20 years. Someone someday will write the great love story between my phenomenal Thoro-shire Il Sogno (Syd) and me. I named him Il Sogno, which is Italian for “the dream” because I am a total opera geek, and the song “Sogno” by Andreas Bocelli is one of my favorites. In the early 2000’s before Syd, I had a bad riding accident that required major surgery on what my husband now calls my bionic right arm. I thought I would never jump, much less event, again. Syd changed all that. In 2010, unable to even walk horseback across an open field, I declared that I would qualify for the AEC’s. In 2011 Syd and I finished 17th in the Beginner Novice Senior Division at the AEC’s, our crowning achievement thus far. I took a couple of years off riding because I quite unexpectedly got pregnant and had my son, who is the greatest thing I have ever done. Adjusting to being a mom and trying to ride and compete is probably the hardest. Between and accident and a pregnancy I learned the importance of volunteering, which I did a LOT of, including adding Rolex jump judge to my resume. I have degrees in journalism and English, and I’m a total nerd. Besides horses, I love comics and superheroes, and I seriously could eat pizza and ice cream everyday. I guess that’s a good thing considering the food served at horse shows. I was a flight attendant right out of college, so I have been to every state except Iowa. I LOVE music and movies, and I used to own a tack store (!) Writing for Eventing Nation has been a dream come true. I love eventers, horses, and writing. A combination of the three? What more could I ask for?!

Eventing Background

USEA Rider Profile Click to view profile
Area Area V
Highest Level Competed Novice
Trainer Cindy Thaxton, Mary D'Arcy, Kelley Krablin

Latest Articles Written

Product Review: Noble Outfitters’ Best Dang Boot Socks & Perfect Fit Gloves

Images courtesy of Noble Outfitters.

I have terrible feet. I’m an equestrian who spends too much time in my boots, and I’m a runner. (Well. Sometimes. Off and on. Occasionally.) Anyway … I have terrible feet. Think broken toes, high arches, and ohmygosh! a bunion! So I am always on the lookout for whatever will make my feet the most comfortable (if that’s even possible!) and I am obsessed with socks.

Boot socks. I love socks with super cool patterns and really pretty colors, especially socks that match my cross country colors. However, because I have terrible feet what I am always searching for is comfortable boot socks. I found that very thing from Noble Outfitters. It’s called the Best Dang Boot Sock. And boy, they are!

Noble Outfitters raves that with all the extra features in these socks, you’ll be comfortable all day. They aren’t lying. I am now the proud owner of three pairs of these socks, and I am sold. They have a padded foot bed that runs from toe to heel, and if you haven’t ever worn padded socks before, you are missing out! It is amazing what a little bit of extra cushion can do for you feet. The top of the sock is made of a mesh panel that adds extra breathability to the already moisture-wicking fabric which is great on even the hottest days. In addition, there is a compression band that goes around the foot at the arch that is wonderful for folks with high arches (like me!) but also helps hold the socks in place.

At $9.95 a pair, you simply cannot go wrong with these socks. The one downside to what would otherwise be not just “the best dang” but the perfect sock, is the colors offered. Nothing flashy or exciting here. Just your basic black, dark navy, white and brown. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right? And they do come in medium, large, and extra large to fit almost any foot. Pretty dang good, if you ask me.

In addition to the crew sock pictured above, the socks are available in over-the-calf and ankle sock styles.

OK, so now that your feet are taken care of, what about your hands? Meet Michelle’s obsession, part two: gloves. I grew up with a trainer who would not let us ride unless we were wearing gloves. In my old age, I will occasionally venture out, get brave and ride gloveless, but not very often. Old habits die hard.

Since I started riding again as an adult, I’ve had expensive gloves and cheap gloves, technical gloves and simple gloves, summer gloves, winter gloves, LOTS of black gloves and pretty much “you name it” gloves. In Noble Outfitters Perfect Fit gloves, I have finally found a really good all-around glove that is affordable and durable and can go easily from schooling to show.

What the Best Dang Boot Sock was lacking in the color department, the Perfect Fit Glove makes up for. In fact, color was what initially drew me to them. I was looking for something bright and fun for everyday schooling. Noble Outfitters rotates patterns and colors each season. At the time they were offering a floral print that perfectly matched my cross country color scheme. That pattern has since expired, but it was around long enough to get me hooked on these gloves. Basic colors like black and brown are routinely offered, but if you’re looking for a something with a little or a lot of zing, you can try mint geo (pictured above) blue racing shadow horse (new for fall) or fig mosaic. Solid colors like French Provence Blue and Blackberry are also available making a total of 13 options to choose from.

According to their website, Noble Outfitters says these gloves are armed with a suregrip synthetic suede palm, a breathable jersey material, and reinforced forefinger, thumb and pinky. They are definitely durable, and even better, affordable! At $19.95 a pair you can definitely afford more than one, perhaps a black pair for stadium, a blue pair for cross country, a patterned pair for home … oops. That’s me.

Anyway, these gloves are pretty close to perfect. I have small hands (a size 6) so I really hate bulk, and these gloves are strong with double stitching, but light weight and they fit my hands, well, like a glove. I love that. Additionally, if you’re tied to your phone while riding or need access to it because you’re at the barn alone, no need to take them off to use technology. The Perfect Fit glove is equipped with touchscreen compatibility. A super cool feature to have.

So, if you’re at all like me, obsessed with comfort for your feet and colorful fit for your hands, while staying on a budget, check Noble Outfitters out. Their socks and gloves (and other great items) are available via the Noble Outfitters website and on a wide variety of horse-related websites. I think you’ll be glad you did!

Go Eventing.

 

 

Kim Severson Gives a Clinic in Razorback Country

Kim Severson watches a rider work on a dressage exercise. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

It isn’t often that a rider of Kim Severson’s caliber comes to Arkansas to teach. While the natural state’s eventing community is growing, and some quality riders and horses are slowly putting us on the map, Arkansas is typically known more for its barrel racers than its eventers. However, the eventers we do have are a dedicated, hard-working group of both young and adult riders, and each pair that participated was eager to soak up the knowledge this talented Olympian was ready to impart.

Saturday was primarily dressage day. “Go FORWARD!” was definitely the theme not just for the day, but for the weekend as well. Known for her ability to ride beautiful, low-scoring dressage tests, Kim really stressed the importance of adjustability and straightness as keys to success on the flat as well as over fences. The two-day clinic was held at Maumelle Equestrian Center just outside of Little Rock at the end of September. In typical Arkansas weather fashion, the morning started out chilly and so foggy that Kim could barely see the horse and rider pairs across the outdoor arena, so clinic organizer Meagan Landreth rerouted everyone to the covered ring for the rest of the day, which guaranteed the weather got warm and sunny.

The soup was thick even in the covered arena! Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

Each lesson started with Kim observing each rider warming up their horse. Every trainer and upper level rider has certain types of equipment they like and don’t like, and Kim Severson is no different. She made adjustments to girths, made suggestions about bits and made changes to the types of spurs riders were using. Then each lesson got down to the nitty gritty.

Once in the covered arena, Kim focused on a small area at the end of the arena using 15-meter circles to create straightness and fluidity at the trot and canter. She paid attention to each rider’s accuracy and balance. Is the rider leaning in or leaning forward or back? Are the rider’s hands even and centered? (This was a big one!) Several of the participants were riding new or green (or both!) horses; she emphasized the importance of riding quietly, yet effectively. While she stressed going forward, Kim also condemned the habit of incessantly “scrubbing” (or kicking) the horse’s sides with your heels to keep it moving: “Give him a good Pony Club kick, and move on!”

Making some adjustments. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography

Novice/Training group riders get ready to jump on a foggy day two of the clinic. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

After a good solid basis for effective and balanced flatwork, day two was stadium jumping day. Since most of the exercises would be focused on straight and balanced turning towards fences (anyone see a theme here?) Kim began each lesson with a simple but difficult flat exercise. Taking turns, each rider would canter straight down the long side of the arena at a somewhat extended canter, then make a 10-meter circle in the corner of the arena circling in towards “X” and then halting straight and square when asked to.

The object of the exercise was to effectively collect the canter while maintaining straightness which would in turn produce a square and balanced halt. AND perform the exercise while NOT leaning and keeping your seat bones and hands square and even. Easy right?! Ummm. Yeah. After auditing the clinic, I tried it on my horse at home. WAY harder than it looked!

Area V Young Rider Georgia Dillard gets some insightful tips. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

Once she was satisfied with the progress each rider made on the flat, it was finally time to get down to business and jump some fences. Once again there was a common theme. Stay straight; have a plan; don’t hover — SIT! Kim started with simple combinations of fences that were a couple of feet shy of being a perfect distance and then asked riders to get a certain number of strides between each one. She held them accountable for knowing what they got or didn’t get and why. Since the type and size of the horses in each lesson varied greatly, it was pretty interesting to see how each team handled what were seemingly simple demands.

“How many strides did you get? I’m not counting. Are you?”

As the number of fences increased, the importance of making turns correctly increased as well. By the end of the each lesson riders were jumping courses of eight to 10 fences, with very few straight lines, lots of 90 degree angles and quite a few rollbacks.

“The details are so important! If you’re not straight, you are asking for a problem. You have to stay organized. Don’t assume that just because you know where you’re going, that your horse knows where you are going. You have to tell him!”

Alex Muller and her super cute Mustang make an oxer look easy. Photo by Meagan Landreth.

Not above using whatever means were necessary to get her point across and help a rider overcome a habit, Kim made one lucky rider, who was leaning too much and too unevenly on one rein, jump with one hand behind her back for most of the Novice group lesson. (Thankfully, pro Sarah Bradley was more than up to the task and gave us all a lesson in perseverance and stamina and just simply gettin’ it done!) Kim talked about how she likes to start jumping at the trot because it makes riders want to go forward and helps them to encourage their horses to do the same. But for me the most insightful nugget Kim shared was a tip from Jan Byyny about not riding with your hands in your lap.

“Put your hands forward to the jump. Stay connected but put them in the center, forward, straight toward the jump.” She explained that this helps the horse know where to go and to go there in a forward manner. Again simple, but for me, mind-blowing. And effective!

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend riding in a clinic taught by Kim. She is everything that you would want and expect from a rider of her caliber. An insightful instructor who brought fresh eyes and exercises to the clinic, she is not a yell-er (“I don’t like to yell!”) And while she does expect directions to be followed, she tailored her lessons to each rider’s needs and abilities, quite often taking a rider to the side to talk quietly to them about sensitive issues instead of addressing them in front of the group. Kim encourages when needed, says, “LOVE IT!” when appropriate and corrects what needs to be fixed. I didn’t ride at this clinic, but you can bet I will when she returns.

Go Eventing.

Maumelle Equestrian Center owner/trainer Sarah Bradley goes forward. Photo by Meagan Landreth.

What’s on Your Bucket List?

Photo: Public domain.

What’s on your bucket list? If you’re like me: So. Many. Things.

Some of them simple, some of them complicated. Or expensive. Or “once in a lifetime.” Or “never in a million years.” But they are still items on the list.

From the practical, like learning to speak Italian.

To the goal driven, like qualifying for the AEC’s.

To the wow, like getting to attend Burghley or Badminton (just to watch, of course. Have you seen those jumps???)

Sometimes a bucket list item is something you haven’t ever done, but should have. And could have. And would have. For whatever reason, you just haven’t accomplished it yet, but it is totally doable. That’s the kind of bucket list item I recently crossed off.

I didn’t wake up thinking, “Today I’m gonna delete bucket list item number 23.” Nope. It was just an average Friday morning that started with dropping my son off at school and then heading to the barn to ride. Except it wasn’t. I got all the way to the barn and realized I had left both my jumping bridle and my dressage bridle at my house in an effort to get them clean. Not only was my road paved with good intentions (the bridles didn’t get cleaned) but I found myself without a bridle, which meant I wasn’t going to get ride (I did NOT have time to go all the way home and come all the way back.) Or did it?

I stood by my truck contemplating my predicament. And a foreign thought began to roll around in my adult amateur, not very fearless brain: “Just ride bareback with a halter.” Yeah. That’s a good idea. Wait. What?! While I tried to over-analyze this very unfamiliar notion to the point of not having the time to even think about actually doing it, a junior high version of myself reminding me of how much fun I used to have doing just that: Riding bareback with nothing but a halter. I reminded half a century old self that I still bounced back then and was not in any shape, form or manner in touch with my own mortality when I was thirteen.

But then … I slowed my roll and thought, “Syd the wonder pony is just that. A wonder pony. We’re not talking about running the three-star cross country. It’s just a walkabout the pasture. You. Will. Be. Fine.” After telling the devil of doubt on my shoulder to “Shut up, and go away.” I got the Syd, groomed him and headed towards the water/bank complex to hop on.

Syd is over 17 hands, and I’m 5’5″ with the world’s shortest legs and longest torso. The phrase “white men can’t jump” has never been truer than when applied to me. So … whenever I ride bareback, I use the highest bank to shimmy onto Syd’s couch of a back. This particular day, he was a bit confused, wondering where his bridle was and why I had looped the lead rope through his halter and over his head. However, in typical Syd fashion, once I rewarded his patience with a spearmint, he simply shrugged and stood still while I got on.  After the initial shock of it all, and after a few yards, we both settled down and began to enjoy the ride.

And you know what? It was actually pretty great! Actually it was really great! I found my seat bones (I was kind of amazed they were still in there somewhere), and I actually remembered how to use them to steer! (What a novel idea!) I relaxed and just let the big man walk. Really walk. Freely. Without interference from me. But most importantly, I felt a connection to my horse that was different from what I normally feel. Syd and I have been partners for a long time, so we are of the same mind a lot, but this was different and very cool. I kinda didn’t want it to end. But … time marches on and other duties beckoned. Like work and husbands and kids ….

It wasn’t until I was back in my truck and headed home that it hit me. I just crossed off a bucket list item. How cool is that?! While I am quite sure I would not have done that on any other horse besides my fabulous Syd, I was super proud of myself just the same. I conquered fears; I accomplished something; I felt closer to my horse; and I even learned a thing or two! It was the best kind of time spent with my horse and the best kind of time spent in the saddle (or out of it, as it were.) I think sometimes we get so locked in to our routines of flat one day, fitness ride the next; jump tomorrow in the field, school cross country the next, that we forget that sometimes we just need to take a deep breath and enjoy our partners. And sometimes when we do, maybe we’ll even get the added bonus of crossing an item off those never-ending bucket lists in the process.

Go ride bareback! I highly recommend it!

And go eventing.

 

The Definition of Easy

According to Webster, the definition of “Easy” is A) causing or involving little difficulty or discomfort; or B) requiring or indicating little effort, thought, or reflection. Well, that’s according to Webster. And WOW! That definition totally does NOT feel “easy” to me! See, that’s the thing. My definition of “easy” and your definition of “easy,” and even Webster’s definition of “easy” are probably entirely different things. For that matter, throw in your instructor’s definition and pretty much anybody on the planet’s definition and well, you get the idea.

The problem is how we “easily” we all throw that word around. “That math test was so ‘easy!'” “She makes cooking that recipe look so ‘easy.'” OR if you’re an eventer, how about “That cross country course is so ‘easy;'” or “That combination in stadium is super ‘easy;'” or even “Your horse is so ‘easy!'” Any or all of those things might be true for you, but maybe they aren’t so “easy” for me or for someone else.

My “easy” factor got tested in a major way recently. I turned 50. I know. I know. It’s just a number … it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look … 50 is the new 30 … blah, blah, blah. For all of my bravado leading up to the big day about age not mattering, when my birthday actually rolled around … um, yeah … it definitely affected me. I began to wonder what things in my life wouldn’t be “easy” anymore. Suddenly bucket lists became more real. Time seemed to be running out. And the idea that every goal I’ve ever wanted to reach had to be accomplished RIGHT NOW all became a very glaring part of my moment to moment reality. The word “harsh” doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt about my newly minted “half a century old” designation.

I’ll admit, most of time, I do not act my age. I would even be willing to bet that most people I come in contact with would never guess how old I actually am. And I’m OK with that! While I’m the designated “mom” at my job (most of the people I work with could quite literally be my children, including all four of my bosses!) and while several of my friends are having grandchildren, I have a six-year-old son who is an only child. So, yeah, I’m a little unusual. And I’m OK with that too! In my mind I am still somewhere around 27 years old in age. In my mind. My body and my driver’s license would tell you otherwise. But I truly believe that it’s my “determined to stay young” attitude that keeps me going, keeps me pushing, keeps me constantly trying to make the difficult things in life (and in eventing) easy-er.

I once made the comment that I was “just competing at Beginner Novice.” A very wise lady who overheard my comment quickly corrected me. She said, “Honey, don’t you ever say just Beginner Novice again. You’re out there running around jumping things on a big ol’ horse that most people would be afraid to even get on. There is no just to it.” You see, she understood the difference between my “easy” and someone else’s “easy.” It’s all about perspective, which can be very EASY to lose.

So the next time you hear a comment about something being “SO EASY!” before beating yourself up, think about all the things YOU do that aren’t easy for someone else. Then give yourself a pat on the back for being able to do them. That should be the easiest thing of all!

Go Eventing!

 

Dressage Schooling Shows Are Fun!

Syd hates his “football helmet” but I’d say we had a successful day. Photo by Savannah Meacham.

I know you read the title of this article, and I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “What?! Are you insane? Eventers don’t like dressage! The sandbox isn’t fun! We just tolerate it as the necessary evil that gets us to cross country.” OK. Sure. It might not be my very favorite thing in world, but I’m here to tell you that dressage can be fun! Especially in the low stress, no pressure atmosphere of a schooling show. I had my doubts. I did. But I gave it try, and I actually had FUN! Really!

The local dressage club here in Little Rock, Arkansas Dressage Society (ADS), puts on several schooling shows a year at local farms around the area. A couple of years ago they started offering classes for the USEA tests as well as the traditional dressage tests. It’s a taken a little bit for us eventers to get used to this idea (We do hate the sandbox!) However, it is fabulous, and I am so glad they did it!

I’ve been trying to get my groove back for some time now. It has almost been a year since I have done anything off the farm, including taking lessons. It’s just been that kind of year for me: adjusting to my son starting kindergarten, never-ending, ever-changing work schedules, my husband thinking about going back to school, and on and on go the excuses. It has seriously felt like I went to sleep in August and woke up and it was July! Time moves so fast! (DUH!) Anyway, I turned 50 a couple of weeks ago and woke up bound and determined to dust off the cobwebs and do something: a show, a clinic, SOMETHING! That’s when friend of mine texted me and asked if I was doing the dressage schooling show.

Huh? What? Did you say, “DRESSAGE!?” Ummmm … After hem hawing around for a bit, I decided to give it a shot. I was considering doing a combined test a week later and the possibility of riding my test at the dressage show first was a big draw. Add a covered arena and the fact that my rides would likely be at the end of the day (no spectators to watch the ugliness) and I was in!

I am so glad I did it!!! It was so good for my pony and me on so many levels!

  • Syd can be a bit of a jerk when it comes to loading. He had a trailer accident when he was young, and likes to use it as an excuse NOT to get on the trailer. ANY opportunity to get him loaded is a bonus.
  • I got to ride my eventing test TWICE! We need all the practice we can get (don’t we all!), so the opportunity to have someone score us twice was great. Really!
  • It was super inexpensive! And what a great learning tool.
  • I got to hang out with my friend and other horse peeps. I saw people I hadn’t seen in awhile. We laughed at how awful we were all gonna be. Horse friends are awesome friends, and it was FUN! Really!
  • No pressure! No braids, no jackets, no overnighting … we all put so much pressure on ourselves. The atmosphere here was geared towards NOT doing that. It was truly low stress, and did I mention that it was FUN? It really was!

Yes, I did win both my classes. I’m human, and competitive, and just like everyone else, I love that blue ribbon! (And I was completely shocked!) However, the win for me really was just getting out and practicing my least favorite part of my very favorite sport. I think it’s going to help my pony and me in our never-ending quest to get our groove back. I’m even checking the schedule to see when the next dressage schooling show takes place. I highly recommend participating! Besides, any excuse to hang out with horses and horse people of any discipline is a bonus. And it truly was FUN!

Go eventing!

Product Review: Toklat Classics III Saddle Pads

Toklat Classics III close contact pad in blue with lime green piping and blue binding. Photo by Michelle Wadley.

Saddle pads for an equestrian are like shoes for the average woman. It doesn’t matter how many you have, there is always room for one more. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there with a pile of saddle pads as tall as me. And I only have one horse! White dressage pads are available everywhere! (Thank goodness!) and close contact pads in the basic colors of white, black, navy, hunter and burgundy are easy to come by.

But what if you’re like me, and you have crazy cross country colors, are totally obsessed with the matchy, matchy, AND you are super picky about quality? Well, I have your answer: The Classics III saddle pad by Toklat. These pads are nothing short of fabulous! They are super durable without being bulky or overly stiff. They are made in the USA, which I love, and they are available in a variety of cuts from dressage to close contact to cross country. But the very best part about the Classics III pads? The color combinations available! It would require a degree in math to figure out exactly how many custom color combinations there are to choose from. So, if you’re like me with unusual cross country colors, or you just like to design your own pad, the Classics III is definitely the pad for you!

My favorite color is chartreuse, otherwise known as “Bien (my maiden name, pronounced bean) green.” My cross country colors are Bien green, black and royal blue. Until finding this pad line, I was hard pressed to find a pad that fit my matching criteria. Shades of chartreuse vary, so I use it as an accent color, but I still wanted to incorporate it into my cross country pad. Even when it was the hot, trendy color, Bien green was hard to come by. Enter the Toklat Classics III pad. I was able to chose my pad color and piping, which came in lime green (wahoo!), and for a little extra, I could have chosen a custom color for the binding. I chose to stick with the blue of the pad, but there are 20-plus colors to choose from.

Options are definitely the name of the game when it comes to these outstanding pads. Not only are there different styles and colors available, but also different lengths and even options like shims and extra wool padding. The price point is spot on as well. The Classics III pads start at around $60 depending upon the retailer and the style and could go as high as $100 depending on your options. The only downside to these pads is the time factor. If you need one quickly, forget it. We are talking a custom item here, so you do need to allow eight weeks for delivery. (I ordered mine from Adams Horse Supply, and I think it took six weeks.) However, for the quality, style, price and custom color, these pads are completely worth it!

Go Eventing.

 

 

Product Review: Bobby’s English Tack

Photo courtesy of Bobby’s English Tack, from their NEW website!

Love high quality, super soft leather? Hate high prices? (Duh!) Then Bobby’s English Tack is the manufacturer for you! As I’ve said before in previous product reviews (see my reviews on Kerrits GripTek Breeches and Mountain Horse Sovereign Field Boots) I am one of those people who tends to find something they like and stick with it until the product is either discontinued or the company goes out of business — God forbid! And yes, I eat the same thing at my favorite restaurant every time. I am totally one of those!

Way back when I first started riding again as an adult, and I was on even more of a budget than I am now, a friend of mine recommended Bobby’s English Tack for a high quality bridle that I could afford. Said friend was NOT on a budget, so considering her options and wise choices, I decided to give them a try. To say that I was pleased would be a vast understatement. I ordered a black dressage bridle with a flash. It was beautiful! The leather was soft and pliable, and it fit my horse perfectly. Now, granted, I am a bit of a stickler (again vast understatement) when it comes to keeping my tack clean, but I still have that original bridle. It’s now almost 15 years old and still in good shape. I realize that is in part due to my tack cleaning regimen, but good leather is good leather. Bobby’s only sells good leather.

According to their website, the family that owns and runs Bobby’s English Tack has been making high quality tack since 1880. At one point in their history, the company was even the official tack supplier for the British army. No small feat! This same quality is certainly evident today. Based in California since 1970, the one problem has been sometimes been finding a vendor who carried them. However, the search is over! Just this past week, Bobby’s English Tack launched a new streamlined website that is really beautiful and showcases their products well. The best part about it: the customer can now order directly from them! Any order over $50 (most bridles and halters) ships free, and with size charts and easy measuring instructions, why go anywhere else?

There are currently four Bobby’s bridles (two dressage and two figure eight) and one Bobby’s halter hanging in my tack room right now, including the one that is almost 15 years old. I truly cannot say enough about them. They are soft, but now too soft, the fittings are beautiful, the bridles are beautiful, and they hold up to water and wear. Bobby’s has bridles that start as low as $70 and average around $300. They sell reins, brow bands and girths as well. In addition, if you need a new part for your bridle, such as cheek pieces or a noseband, they will sell you one. The company is easy to deal with and appreciates its customers. Right now, because of their new website launch, Bobby’s is offering a free gift with the purchase of a bridle. Who doesn’t want a free gift?! So the next time you need a new bridle, halter or pair of reins, give Bobby’s English Tack a try. You won’t be sorry you did!

Visit the website here. Go Eventing.

 

 

 

It’s Okay!

I took this photo to commemorate my rock star pony’s 16th Birthday, which I forgot. But it’s OK! Photo by Michelle Wadley. 

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pressure: the pressure to perform, the pressure to succeed, the pressure to be perfect, and the pressure to do it all RIGHT NOW, immediately, as soon as possible! I could make some very big, grandiose assumptions and statements about the society we live in and how technology has sped everything up, and so on and so forth.

I won’t do that. What I will say, is this: Learn to give yourself a break. I’m preaching to myself as much or more so than to anyone else. I have said for years that I don’t ever need someone else to beat me up or break me down or punish me. I can do that all on my own. And in sad reality, I am quite the master of it. On some level I believe women are better at it than men, and if you are a mom, well, ever heard the term “mom guilt?” Add the adult amateur eventer title to the list as you struggle to juggle husband, kids, dogs, job, career, etc. … and, well, it can all pile up rather quickly.

It really should not surprise anyone that suicide and depression are becoming more and more newsworthy. In this fast-paced, make it or break it (and make it or break it RIGHT NOW) world in which we live, something truly does have to give. It’s tragic and so heartbreakingly sad that sometimes people give their lives.

The week before we lost Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain to suicide, I lost a friend. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, but he was my still my friend, and it still hurt. As someone who suffers from depression myself, I have thought and thought about what the breaking point could have been. In the end there is really no way of knowing what caused any of these haunted souls to break down. In the end, I really only know what affects me. Pressure. And perfectionism. When I am living the life of the rat on the wheel, endlessly spinning and spinning in a never-ending search for perfection that yields nothing but brain crushing pressure, that is when I start to break.

As horse people, and especially as eventers, I think we put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves. It is at the heart of what we do and why we love it. Eventers strive to be perfect at not just one discipline, but THREE. We juggle dressage and flatwork with gallop sets and jump schools both in and out of the ring. We try to schedule dressage schooling shows and hunter jumper shows around our true goals of competing at horse trials and three day events. We ice legs and pull manes and study nutrition and sport horse maintenance. IN OUR FREE TIME AS A HOBBY! To even begin to do it correctly and “perfectly” is a full time job. But what if you already have a full time job? And a family? And a life outside of horses? Ah. See. There’s the rub. There’s where the pressure comes in. (Deep breath here.)

I’m here to tell you (and again, I am TOTALLY preaching to myself here) it’s OK.

It’s OK if you aren’t perfect. Newsflash: NO ONE IS!

It’s OK if you use a neck strap every time you ride. Newsflash: William Fox Pitt does!

It’s OK if you had to miss a show because you had a real life scheduling conflict or simply just couldn’t afford it. Newsflash: Your horse doesn’t care! And we’ve all been there!

It’s OK if you skipped a day of riding because you just really needed a break. Newsflash: We all get tired and need to rest. (I know I do! I’m writing this in my pajamas.)

It’s OK if you don’t want to move up a level because you are kind of enjoying the level you’re competing at. Newsflash: I know it can be nerve-wrecking, but you are supposed to enjoy competing! And what is the rush? I, for one, am tired of rushing, all day, everywhere. Horses take time. That’s the beauty of horses.

Which brings me to my last and final point. This sport we do? Um. Yeah. It’s supposed to be FUN. We’re supposed to enjoy it. We’re supposed to love it, have a passion for it, participate in it because we love it and our equine partners. When you are smiling and having fun and enjoying something, guess what? It’s called giving yourself a break. A break from the rigors of life and a break from the stress and a break from the wheel. And who better to help you give yourself a break than your equine best friend? Because I don’t know about you, but I simply couldn’t make it through this life without the priceless depression therapy my dream pony Syd provides.

So take a deep breath. Then take another one. Give yourself a break, and realize that sometimes, occasionally, once in awhile, it’s OK.

Go eventing.

When Your Parents Don’t Ride

I’m not going to tell you exactly how old this photo is, but my dad took it of me at one of my first horse shows. I was wearing clothes that were primarily from a women’s boutique, not a Western store, and boy, did I hate those pants. This is what happens when your parents don’t ride. I love them anyway!

“How do you make your parents understand your obsession with horses when they don’t ride?” A friend of mine recently posed this question. It’s a valid one, and a question with no easy answer. I’m not even sure you really can make a non-horseperson understand this crazy, smelly, dangerous, expensive, four-legged-centered world in which we lunatic eventers reside. It just might be one of the great mysteries of the universe, or at least one of the great chasms dividing the world as we know it into those that love the smell of horse poop and those that do not.

And don’t even get me started trying to distinguish between the two very confusing categories of true horse people versus people who just have horses. And have you ever tried to explain your sport versus barrel racing or breed shows or the Clydesdales? Sigh. It’s a twisty, turny, convoluted road with no easy answers. Trying to decipher the code clearly to those you love who think you are speaking some crazy combination of Swahili and Chinese can drive you straight to the loony bin.

I understand my friend’s frustration. She’s a twenty-something, determined to make it in the eventing world professionally, horse crazy entrepreneur who is giving it everything she’s got. Her parents are dubious. I get it. They have reason to be. Blood, sweat and tears don’t even begin to cover the expense or the hardship or the darned reality of trying to make it in the horse world. And let’s be real, those of us who live the life, whether we are professional horse folks or not, do tend to be a bit round the bend. But we can’t help it. It’s what makes us tick. What makes us who we are. It isn’t just a hobby or a diversion; it’s a lifestyle, an addiction. We couldn’t change it even if we wanted to, and Lord knows there are times I’ve wanted to!

My mom swears my first word was “horse.” I’m sure she’s exaggerating (we are Southern and do have a knack for that). But she’s making a very important point. That point is that I was born with my obsession for all things equine. (I still have the very first Breyer horse I received as a gift at the ripe old age of two. I’m now FIFTY!) And not a single other person on either side of my extended family was born with this same “gift.” Not even remotely.

My mom also has a theory about my love for horses. Whenever she is asked where I get “it” from, she replies, “There are three kinds of people in the world. 1) There are those of us who are indifferent to horses. We either don’t like them or are scared of them or simply don’t care about them at all. 2) Then there are all those little girls out there who had a ‘horse’ phase at some point in their life. They loved horses as a child, but eventually grew out of that phase. These little girls will always like horses and may ride on occasion or have horse art work in their homes, but they still don’t have ‘it.’ (My mom will always pause and take a breath before launching into this last category.) 3) Then there’s my daughter. It’s just in her blood. She loves the smell of horse poop and everything that has anything even remotely to do with a horse. God help anyone who has a child that falls into this category.”

It’s impossible to comprehend or to make sense of if “it” if you happen to have a loved one who has “it,” and you do not. The love of the horse and all the the things we do to honor that love and pursue that love can seem completely foreign to those outside of the fold. It’s a mystery to my non-horsey friends why I would rather spend my vacation days getting soaked at a cold Kentucky event rather than the beach or why a new saddle is preferable to a new car or my horse gets new shoes but I do not. Ah, the unexplainable ….

In the end what I think the situation all comes down to is love. And not just love of the horse, but of each other. I have a five-year-old son. Because of my horse saturated life, I am constantly being asked if I want him to ride, if he wants to ride, what will I do if he doesn’t ride, and so forth and so on. It has given me new perspective on what my parents must have gone through (and still do go through). My answer is this: I simply want my son to follow his heart in whatever direction his passion leads him, even if it ISN’T horses and even if it IS something I don’t like or understand (like golf or baseball. LOL!) I want him to follow his dreams just like I have followed mine.

I’m sure there will be times when I’m frustrated just like my parents were when trying to buy me a piece of tack for Christmas (Thank God for gift cards!) However, as a parent I also now understand that the frustration comes mostly from wanting your child to be happy and wanting to share in something that is completely foreign to you. That feeling is love, pure and simple.

So, to all you non-horsey moms, dads, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, and so forth. Hang in there! We love our horses, but we love and appreciate you putting up with that love even more!

Go eventing!

Product Review: Kerrits Griptek II Full Seat Breeches

The Kerrits Griptek II Fullseat Breech in white, black, tan and storm. Images courtesy of Kerrits.

I am very much a creature of habit. Ask anyone who knows me. Once I find something I like, I tend to stick with it, whether it’s my favorite pizza recipe or my favorite pair of breeches. When I do happen to venture away from my faves, I usually end up right back there. Kerrits is one of my favorite equestrian clothing companies. Their story is impressive, their name is cool, and their clothes are functional, fun and budget friendly.

My “horse” closet tends to be 80 percent Kerrits and 20% everything else. And when it comes to breeches I am strictly a fullseat girl. No knee patches for me. No sir! I am all about any extra “stick to the saddle” I can get. I love Kerrits’ fullseat options, particularly the Flex Tight II, so when the GripTek series was introduced, I was quick to put them to the test.

Specifically marketed to eventers, I originally ordered a pair of Griptek II Fullseat Breeches in Bluestone, which is a bright, royal blue. Since my cross country colors include royal blue and lime green, they fit right in with the rest of my closet. I thought I would test them out. If I liked them, I would order another pair in a more traditional color, like white or black; if I didn’t I’d have an extra pair of schooling tights.

I needn’t have worried. I love them! The color is amazing and contrasts wonderfully with the sticky black of the fullseat. They are flexible where they need to be, sticky where I want them to be, breathable where they should be, and as a bonus, they don’t show all those little unsightly (ahem!) dimples we older (cough! cough!) riders want to hide. The GripTek pants are infused with Coolmax fabric technology, which is an added bonus in the humid-filled South. However, my two favorite features are the pockets (a must have for my spearmint greedy pony) and Kerrits’ Fool Rise waistband, a feature developed by Kerrits that helps keep the junk in your trunk hidden by making the waist of the pants “taller” in the back while still being lowrise in the front.

Kerrits puts a lot of time and energy into color coordinating each season’s selections of styles so that they can easily be mixed and matched. They function like a true fashion house in that sense, discontinuing the previous season’s trending color selections for new ones, while holding onto the basics such as white, black and tan. My favorite bright blue color is currently on closeout (bummer!) This season’s hot color for GripTeks is a gray-blue hue called Storm. Retailing at $119, they are a steal for a high quality pair of full seat breeches with maximum stick. The white and the tan are “horse show” perfect for dressage, stadium or cross country, and in my world you can never have too many pairs of black breeches.

I am the proud owner of three pairs of these fabulous pants. Whether you need breeches for schooling or for show, I highly recommend them for any rider looking for high quality, fashionable fullseat pants on budget.

Check ’em out on the Kerrits website here.

Go Eventing!

 

 

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Product Review: Mountain Horse Sovereign Field Boots

Sovereign Boot by Mountain Horse. Photo courtesy of Mountain Horse.

I love boots. I know I’m a horse person, and I’m supposed to love boots, but I really do! I love boots. More specifically: tall boots. I’ve tried paddock boots and half chaps, but quickly discovered that while I love my Blundstones for kicking around in, for riding, I’m tall boot girl.

Because that’s all I wear, I try to have one pair for every day and one pair that I keep for showing. In a perfect world they are exactly the same make and model, and I rotate them from show to everyday as my “barn” boots begin to wear out beyond repair. My rotation system doesn’t always work out perfectly. Sometimes a boot company will discontinue my current favorite style (horrors!) and then I’m left searching for another boot I like well enough to put into my footwear investment cycle. As this very thing happened to me around Christmas time this past year (how convenient!) I went searching for my next new favorite tall boot.

I am happy to report that I have found my latest obsession and the perfect addition to my riding addiction: Mountain Horse’s Sovereign Field Boots.

I am a huge fan of Mountain Horse. Way back in the day (cough, cough) when I started riding again as an adult, I had a pair of the old Mountain Horse tall boots, WAY before they started making boots you could actually show in. Let’s be honest, they were pretty clunky with huge soles and square tops. But I loved them. In fact, after almost 15 years of wear and tear, the zipper on one literally just broke last week. That’s the kind of quality Mountain Horse has always been known for.

Fast forward several styles of boots later for both the company and for me. Mountain Horse has truly upped its game. The new Sovereign Field Boots are BEAUTIFUL!  They look and feel like an expensive pair of custom made boots, but they come at a very less than custom price. The manufacturers suggested retail price is $389, so depending on taxes and shipping, for around $400 these boots are a steal! And if you’re perpetually on a budget (and aren’t we all!) this is very good news.

Available in black and trend-setting brown, the Sovereign Field Boot is truly stunning. I was very tempted to order a brown pair. They are just so, well, cool looking. However, everything I own is centered around the color black, so I stuck with tradition. The black pair has a subtle bit of patent leather making a swirl around the top of the calf which adds a bit of flash. With the Spanish top and tapered ankles, these boots add class to any rider’s show attire.

Let’s talk break-in time, which is always the bane of any new pair of boots. I have terrible feet: high arches, crooked toes, and they are wide. When purchasing a pair of any kind of shoes or boots, I am always most concerned with how they feel. If they are not going to be comfortable, I don’t care how pretty they are, I don’t want them! The foot bed of these boots are comfortable. Did they take a bit of time to break in? Well, yes. But all boots do. The key here is the leather, which is high quality and soft, an equation that makes breaking in time considerably less. I’m only 5’5″ so breaking in the height of the calf and allowing the boots to get that “fall” in the ankles always seems like more of a struggle for me than breaking in the foot of the boot, even with my bad feet. In that department these boots are no different. However, the overall breaking in situation was not bad. I usually start breaking in a new pair of boots by riding them on a long hack. These were no different. After two more serious flat rides, the Sovereigns were good to go!

I really can’t say enough about these boots! Once again, Mountain Horse did not disappoint. For an adult amateur who loves to look stylishly turned out and a little bit customized, but lives on a budget, they are the perfect addition to my show apparel. Really and truly they would be the perfect addition to anyone’s closet, amateur or professional. I, for one, can’t wait to wear them at my first show next month, and when my current every day pair of boots wears out, there is no question that I will invest in another pair of Mountain Horse Sovereign Field Boots. Maybe I’ll even venture out and order brown.

Check out the Mountain Horse Sovereign Boot here.

Go Eventing.

 

 

You’re not Good Enough

What pure joy looks like! Photo by Lynn Corley. What pure joy looks like! Photo by Lynn Corley.

What pure joy looks like! Photo by Lynn Corley.

Anyone ever feel that way? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? I do. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. We live in this fast paced, over-achieving, have it all exactly the way you want it exactly when you want it society. And if  you don’t get what you want when you want it or God forbid, you make a mistake about what you want, then it’s plastered all over Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Just pick your social media poison. It’s there. Sigh. Life can be relentless. And it can lead to feelings of inadequacy.

I read something recently about the nature of equestrian sports and how trying they can be mentally. The author of the article pointed out how difficult it is to win if you’re an equestrian, and how after awhile it can really begin to frustrate and even depress you. It sounds like such a simple concept, but really think about that for a second. If you participate in a team sport, i.e. basketball, baseball, volleyball, etc…chances are good that you will at some point be part of a winning team, more than likely within a season. And even if you did not directly contribute to the win, you still reap the benefits of it because you are part of the team. In equestrian sports you might compete for seasons or even years without winning a blue ribbon. Even the best of the best come up short more than they win. (Unless of course, you’re Michael Jung.) I’m no psychologist, but that has got to affect your attitude and mental state at some point, right?!

ABSOLUTELY!

So how do you get past it? How do you stop those feelings of “I’m not good enough?” Well, you don’t. They will come. But you can defeat them. There is an old saying about knowing being half the battle. It’s true! If you know those negative, dream killing thoughts are coming, just be ready for them! And learn to find your own “wins.”

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard, especially if you are lacking in confidence to begin with. However, a good place to start is by focusing on the small things you’ve achieved. Yes, have big goals and dreams, but have small, baby step ones too! The small, day-to-day victories are what keep you going and set you up for the larger, big dream goals. It truly is the small things that get you there!

A dressage clinician once told me that when you are headed to a show, break everything down into little pieces of the overall puzzle and find the blue ribbons in the small details. For instance, if your horse struggles to pick up his right lead canter, but you ask, and get it immediately, blue ribbon for you! If you struggle to get a square halt, make that your goal for the show. If you get it, winner winner chicken dinner! Don’t worry so much about your score; set a small goal for yourself and your horse. When you achieve it, reward yourself and your horse for a job well done. Allow yourself to revel in that small victory and then move on to the next issue. Eventually, those small victories will add up to a better dressage score overall. (And as eventers, isn’t that something we could ALL use?! Again, unless you’re Michael Jung.)

When I first started eventing again as an adult, I had issues and problems and things to fix out the wazoo. (Check out my last blog “Doubt Doubt“) “Never-ending” is the word that comes to mind. Once I really got going and showing, I consistently struggled to make time on cross country. I had lingering fear issues from all sorts of past craziness that had nothing to do with my current wonderful partner, I just couldn’t seem to get past them.

Part of the problem was the number of problems. I felt like I had so many things to fix that I was always putting off my speed issue. I was always fixing this, that, or the other, and not dealing with my optimum time factor. Finally it just came down to letting that pony run and taking care of it once and for all. It was a HUGE mental challenge to be sure. But the entire weekend of that fateful event, I literally thought of nothing else. I didn’t worry about my dressage (!); I didn’t worry about my stadium; I didn’t even worry about that one booger of a fence on cross country. I just constantly saw myself crossing the cross country finish line within the optimum time. It was my one and only goal for that particular event. I did not allow myself to hear the “you’re not good enoughs” or the “you can’t do its.”

I truly believe that because I focused solely on that one issue, on that particular day, I WAS good enough. I not only crossed the finish line well within the optimum time, but I finished the event on my dressage score for a third place finish and a ribbon! It might have been a yellow ribbon instead of a blue one, but for me and my pony it was a win! A BIG win!

My point in all this? Yes, equestrian sports and eventing are hard. Very hard. No matter what level you are competing in, the difficulty comes in the battlefield of your mind. Begin to teach yourself to revel in the small victories and the big ones will follow. They may not follow immediately, or all the time, but they will follow. You just have to teach yourself to look for them and truly enjoy them when they arrive.

Go eventing.

Doubt Doubt

“The only thing you should doubt is doubt.” It seems like kind of a silly quote, but if you let it sink in, really absorb it, it is absolutely the truth. Here’s another good one for you: “Fear is the mind killer” (from one of my favorite guilty pleasure nerd movies, Dune). Put doubt and fear together, and you’ve definitely got a problem. Hmmm … sounds a little like a math equation:

Doubt + fear = problem.

Okay … so stick with me here. If doubt is a negative, how about this equation?

Doubt + doubt = positive!

Right?! I mean, I am by no means a math scholar. (There is a very good reason why I have degrees in English and journalism and NOT math or anything even remotely connected to math.) But I do know that if you put two negatives together you get a positive. So when I was sitting in church on Sunday and my pastor uttered those words about doubt, my mind started spinning and I knew I had the beginnings of a blog post.

The bottom line is doubt is bad. If you’re an eventer, doubt can be “hit the ground” bad. It can be “don’t move up a level” bad, or “don’t buy a new horse” bad, or any number of other “stopped dead in your tracks” bad. The thing about doubt is that it is just as paralyzing and debilitating as its good buddy “fear.” Either/or can mean the difference in success versus failure. Put them together, and you’ve probably got a dream killing situation on your hands, or at the very least a disaster.

I have been doubting myself a lot lately. And truth be told, I have also been doubting my horse. Put the two together and the equation has looked more than a little bit like this:

Doubting myself + doubting my horse = going nowhere fast.

Let’s start with the horse issue. It’s slightly easier to deal with. I have the most wonderful, “always takes care of me” horse (check out my last post “A Valentine to my Horse“) Last fall my very faithful steed was having some issues with his front feet. Those issues have now VERY thankfully been resolved, but the period of time leading up to resolving them really shook my already shaky confidence. I went from having a horse that had refused a fence maybe six times in his entire life (he’s 16) to six times in a one-day event. Even after successfully treating the physical problem, I wasn’t sure I could trust him anymore to get over the fence, any fence.

Then winter came. And cold. And rain. Lots of rain. (It’s pouring right now!) I woke up one morning recently to the very scary thought, “When was the last time I jumped?” Maybe not so frightening if you’re a dressage diva, but if you’re an eventer? HORRORS! It’s what we live for! Something had to be done, and fast! The longer I put it off, the more ground my nemesis Doubt gained. And once doubt took hold, Fear was next.

So … back to me and my shaky confidence and the first part of the equation, doubting myself. If I am absolutely, totally and completely honest, I have never been a very confident rider. In fact, I’m not the most confident of persons. Yes, I love people. Yes, I SEEM confident and out there and secure, always meeting new people and smiling, and trying to please (I have 25 plus years in the retail and restaurant industries for goodness sake!) but inside, well … totally different story. It’s probably a little bit of an oxymoron that I AM an eventer. The very nature of the sport requires confidence. I absolutely LOVE what I do, but confident about it? Well, not so much. That’s why my horse is so perfect for me and why it’s been so very difficult to doubt him!

Back in the fall of 2010 I made the very shocking announcement that I was going to qualify for the AECs in 2011. At the time even the thought of WALKING across an open field PETRIFIED me. A friend of mine literally laughed at me, “You can’t even walk across that pasture! And you think you’re going to gallop across country? Over fences?!” In her defense, I really think she thought I was joking. But that’s just how absurd it seemed. One year later, and hundreds of hours and millions of baby steps later, and I not only qualified, I COMPETED at the American Eventing Championships and did well (17 out of 42!)

My point is this: I never for one second DOUBTED that I would qualify. I never allowed myself to doubt it. I just worked hard and believed it. Sure there were times I was afraid. Sure there were times I wanted to give up. But in the end, my lack of doubt, my belief that I could do it, carried me through.

So last week I had a trainer friend of mine jump my horse. It was a great idea for so many reasons: I knew she could feel if something wasn’t right physically, but more importantly, I knew she had the lack of doubt to get him over every fence in the field. She did. And he loved it. And he was perfect, and I had my perfect partner back. It vanquished fear, and it gave me the confidence to push away the doubt, set up some x-rails (you gotta start somewhere!) and go to work. Which is exactly what I did.

So sure, I still have a long way to go. But not as far as I did in 2010. And …

Hard work + belief = success!

Go eventing!

 

A Valentine to my Horse

Photo by One Tulsa Photography.

I started this blog last week (seems to be a trend with me lately) fully intending to finish it quickly because the love story I want to tell should be a very easy one to tell. I love my Sydder, the name my husband affectionately calls my “pony.” Then a horse died. Tragically. At an event. It was not my horse (thank you God!) but I know the owner and the rider, and it was definitely a shock, and it definitely hit home. The thought of losing a greatly cherished animal feels like a punch in the gut with a dagger. Horrible and supremely heart breaking. Thinking about that tragedy made me more determined than ever to write a love letter to my horse of a lifetime.

I first met Sydney when he was a rambunctious yearling doing what yearlings do, frolicking and playing with the other yearlings in the field where he lived. Yet somehow, to me, he was different. I was horse shopping. After leasing and catch riding whatever I could, I finally felt ready to buy a horse. While I searched for a partner that was rideable, ready to go, and within my budget, Sydney (or Syd as he would later come to be known) kept following me around, staying by the fence that was closest to wherever I was, walking back and forth and keeping me within his line of sight. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was the beginning of a very special connection that would last forever. I remember Diana, the owner of the farm and Syd’s breeder making the comment, “That’s the one you need!” And my reply, “But I can’t RIDE that one. I need something I can ride NOW.” I searched Diana’s farm several times that year for the perfect partner. Each time Syd followed me around. Each time I went home empty trailered, frustrated not to have found my next perfect partner. Looking back now, I had found him, I just didn’t know it yet.

Fast forward three years later to a fateful encounter at a local dressage show. I still didn’t own a horse. What I did own (titanium is expensive!) was a rebuilt arm from a bad riding accident. Even though I had major fear issues and hadn’t sat on a horse in almost a year, I still somehow had the desire to get back on and ride. That desire and one fateful question would change my life forever.

“So, do you still have Sydney?” I asked Diana as she rode towards the warm up ring, not really sure if I really wanted to know.”I do! He’s 4; he’s had 30 days. Better come get him!”

Two weeks later as I drove toward Diana’s farm, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to love Syd or hate him. A part of me knew that unless he had somehow become less than the stunningly beautiful unicorn I remembered, I had found my dream horse. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. I never should have doubted for a minute what an amazing thing it would turn out to be.

As we pulled down the driveway towards Syd’s pasture, he suddenly looked up from grazing, came galloping to the gate and stood, ears pricked, waiting for me. “Well, that settles it. Better go get your trailer and take him home!” A month and a bonus from work later, and take him home was exactly what I did.

Fast forward again, and it’s been almost twelve years and an unbelievable amount of living since that life-changing day. In retrospect, buying a four year old, three-quarter Thoroughbred (the other quarter is Shire) with only thirty days of training was probably not the wisest idea for a scaredy cat adult amateur coming off a major riding accident. In hind sight it is also the best thing I ever did.

Syd is patient; Syd is kind.

Syd takes care of me every. single. time.

Syd is beautiful; Syd is vain. (He is ALWAYS ready for his adoring public and paparazzi.)

Syd always knows when I’m in pain.

He greets me at the gate when I arrive and waits for me to pull away before he heads back into the pasture. (I know that doesn’t rhyme. I’m not THAT good.)

He’s loves his “green” mints but won’t touch a green apple.

He carts my five-year-old son around like Nate is the most valuable king of the world, his tender eyes questioning every footfall.

He is gentle and game and loves his job.

Syd may not be upper level event horse (although he certainly could have been!) Our blue ribbons together may have been few and far between, but he’s my Sydder. My rock. My partner. My trust. We have risen together; we have fallen together. We have tested each other hung in there together.

He’s my Il Sogno (his show name, which is Italian for “The Dream”) He truly is my dream.

Syd is my horse of a lifetime because he is perfect for me. We are perfect for each other.

The day I came to take Syd home, Diana gave me a book called Chosen By a Horse. “Because,” she said, “you were.”

I was.

Happy Valentine’s Day Syd! I am infinitely glad and blessed you chose me!

Go eventing.

 

 

 

If Wishes Were Horses …

It’s been a rough winter in the frozen south, and I for one am so ridiculously ready for spring! Can it please hurry up and get warm already?! Can we please fast forward past the next two months and miraculously find ourselves in April, all warm and perfectly shed out and fit and on the bit and jumping all the things? Oh! And while we’re wishing, can I have a million dollars, and a fully furnished horse farm with all the amenities and acreage needed? Please?

I know. Wishful thinking, right? Winter is hard. Such a simple statement, and one that we all know is true, but darn it! Winter is hard. And the irony of it all is January first. Each new year starts with such hope and promise and resolutions galore mixed in with a healthy dose of goal setting. By February our goals have shifted, and those resolutions? Well …

So far this year, I am still struggling to even set my goals. Last year started with so much fanfare and pomp, but by September, it had all come skidding to a halt. And it definitely was NOT a square one! It was disheartening and frustrating and left me with an attitude a little along the lines of “why bother?” Anyone who knows me very well will tell you that isn’t like me at all, and yet as January first came sneaking back around the bend, that’s exactly where I was.

2017 was a hard in a myriad of ways, not just in my horse world. As the calendar loomed and show schedules started to be announced for 2018, I began to wonder, “What in the heck do I want from this next year?” Even as I type those words, I have to honestly admit, I’m not sure. Well, at least not in the practical sense. Of course I’d like to win the lottery, buy the perfect farm, get a new rig, win that ever elusive blue ribbon … you know, all the usual horse person wishes. But what about setting some realistic achievable goals?

I have no idea. None whatsoever.

The past few years have been so full of such craziness and unexpected un-achievableness that I don’t even know where to start.

If wishes were horses … if goals were easily attained … if unicorns were real … if I won the lottery …

All those things. So as I sit here typing, trying to come up with an inspirational blog (for myself as much as for anyone else) here’s where I’m at. Just do (no, not the Nike slogan) wait for it … something. Just do something. Anything. Take a baby step, even the smallest of baby steps. At least you’re moving, at least you’re heading in a direction, at least you have done … something!

I could fill this blog with cliches. They are probably all true. They could be true. The problem is getting started. It’s so much easier to just sit and ponder, make lists, hope it works out. It’s the getting going that’s so hard. (Especially when it’s 10 degress outside and you live in the south!) Here are two pieces of great advice that I am hanging my skull cap on as I set my goals.

Number one: If you make a bad decision or even a decision that just doesn’t line up the way you thought it would, simply make another decision that changes the direction of the bad decision. Almost nothing is set in stone. If you sign up for your first event and you feel overwhelmed and unready, how about just dropping down a level? You are still headed toward a goal, but perhaps it’s a little easier to get to at a lower level. You’ll build confidence instead of fear.

Number two: It really is all about baby steps. Sometimes it starts with simply brushing your teeth. By that I mean, you don’t just hop right out of bed and head to work. You get ready first! So, you can’t just pull your fat, furball (cough, cough, my horse) out of the pasture and expect to go galloping over prelim fences into the sunset. How about setting up a fitness schedule for him to gradually get him and you back into slick three day eventer shape? Maybe you start with just a 30 minute hack. I don’t know! Whatever works for you, but you’re doing SOMETHING!

OK, so back to me. This blog has taken my several days to finish because it really has gotten me thinking. Life is ever shifting, ever changing. Stuff is going to happen, but it’s a law of physics that a object in motion stays in motion. I want to stay in motion, no matter what the direction. So, I have FINALLY set some goals, a couple might be a tad bit unrealistic (a girl can dream, right?!) but most of them are definitely doable; attaining them will simply require some hard work and determination. For now, I am taking my own advice and baby stepping to the beat of my dreams and so far, I have not had to rethink a bad decision. (Girl continues to dream.)

Good luck! Happy New Year!

Go eventing!

 

 

 

The Benefits of Auditing

Boyd Martin addresses a group of riders and auditors at a recent clinic at Texas Rose Horse Park. PC: me

It’s that time of year. Goals are being set; fitness schedules are being formed; diets are being (let’s not talk about diets) and clinics are happening everywhere in anticipation of the upcoming show season. Time to shake off last year’s dust and get down to business.  But what if there is a unbelievable clinic opportunity in your area with your absolutely favorite event rider of all time, and BLAST IT: you just. can’t. ride.

Don’t fret! There is an easy and often free (or at least cheap) answer to this dilemma! When you can’t ride: AUDIT! I know that probably sounds like a big “Duh!” statement, but I am always amazed at how many riders don’t take advantage of all the awesomeness auditing a clinic has to offer.

I am a huge fan of auditing. I learned to appreciate it’s benefits several years ago when I was injured and couldn’t ride. I became the queen of auditing and volunteering. A couple of weeks ago I audited a Boyd Martin clinic (you can read all about that one here.) Besides being an amazing clinic to audit (Boyd is a great teacher and  is very entertaining,) it really got me thinking about why I am such an auditing nerd.

1) Checking out the instructor and their teaching style is easy. Auditing is a great opportunity to see how a clinician teaches, and figure out where that style fits with your needs and riding goals. Are the instructions easy to understand? Do they nitpick you to death or focus on the bigger picture? Will you ride at the level you signed up for or be pushed to advance to the level? Did you learn something new or did the clinician just recycle the same old grids and ideas? Are the ideas presented in line with what your own trainer teaches or did you feel like your head was going to explode trying to understand what was being taught?

These questions may seem pretty basic, but …

2)Riding in a clinic can be expensive. Clinics seem to be getting more and more costly, especially if you are attending one given by a recognized name. Most of us are on a budget. Sometimes you need to choose between going to an event or attending a clinic or even just saving that hard earned cash for a new pair of boots. Knowing the answers to the questions I listed above BEFORE you ride can make the difference between wishing you had stayed home versus wanting to ride with the clinician again or the next chance you get. Auditing can also help you answer those questions without breaking the bank because a lot of the time auditing is free. And if there does happen to be an auditing fee, chances are it isn’t much.

3) Making friends is a bonus! Eventers are awesome. What better place to make some new friends than at a horse show or a clinic? Friends who you can look for at horse shows, get ideas from, or lament your latest elimination with. When you are an auditor, you don’t have a horse to take care of or a schedule to stay on. You can chat, listen, socialize and connect. I know theoretically you are supposed to be learning something, but it’s great to be able to have a good time while doing it. Each time I have audited a clinic, I have made new connections and started new friendships. I have even reconnect with folks that have moved out of my area that I was thrilled to see again. Auditing is a way to meet people and listen and and learn talk horse all day. For an adult amateur like me who lives in a somewhat isolated area and does not work in the horse industry this is heaven!

So the next time the clinic you wanted to ride in is full or your horse is lame or your bank account is empty, go anyway and audit! I bet you will be glad you did!

Go eventing!

Clinic Report: Boyd Martin Returns to Texas (and Doesn’t Get Run Over This Time!)

Area V Director Stephanie Reimers makes a skinny corner look easy. Photo by Remy Willey.

It was a frozen, chilly weekend that welcomed Boyd Martin back to Texas Rose Horse Park in Tyler, Texas, for a waiting-list-only clinic in Area V. In spite of the wickedly cold temps, a good number of auditors as well as riders showed up to watch the very likable Boyd instruct riders on the ins and outs of show jumping and cross country.

Several of the riders were on new horses and a few were tuning up in anticipation of a trip to Florida, but the real question of the weekend was whether or not Boyd would get run over on cross country like he did last year — cue viral video. Boyd even joked that when he sees a horse coming his way in Texas he’s a little like an abused stepchild waiting to get hit. (And just for the record Jill Treece and her OTTB Zenaria more than redeemed themselves by being one of the rock star teams of the weekend.)

Jill Treece successfully negotiates the down bank while Boyd looks on. Photo by Remy Treece.

All kidding aside, one of the best things about the clinic were all the little reminders about eyes, position, shoulders and straightness that we all know but tend to forget. Sprinkled with little bits of sports psychology thrown in here and there and spoken with a smile and an Australian accent, it made for a great way to start the year in training.

The first day of the two-day clinic was all about show jumping. Riders attending ranged in level from Beginner Novice to Intermediate and for the most part did the same fences and grids regardless of group with only the height of the jumps being adjusted. Each group started with a really awesome exercise involving two low cavalettis set at such a distance that they could be negotiated with either a bounce, one stride or two strides in between depending on the shortness of the canter.

Once that grid was successfully completed at each distance, two more of the same grid were set up to form a “y.” Riders then went through the entire grid with Boyd determining what stride he wanted them to get in between cavalettis and grids.  It was an extremely useful exercise in teaching adjustability, regardless of the size or competition level of the horse.

Boyd wraps up a show jumping lesson. Photo by Michelle Wadley.

Each two-hour lesson continued with a figure-eight exercise that focused on turns and accuracy and then finished up with some coursework. Throughout each show jumping lesson Boyd reminded riders of the importance of keeping their shoulders square and how to use their upper bodies to shorten and lengthen the strides of their horses. Leaning forward creates a longer stride; sitting up straight creates a shorter stride. Remembering this idea was particularly useful when cantering through the first grid.

Boyd took a moment with each group of riders, which ranged in number from four to six, to talk about getting out of your head and the ability to live in the moment when you’re on course. So many of us hit a rail or have a refusal or whatever the mistake is, sometimes something as simple as the wrong lead, and it throws everything off and affects the way we move forward to the next fence. He made the very valid point to just get over it and move on. The time to worry about and analyze the mistake is after the course is done, not while you’re in the thick of it. For an overthinking adult amateur like me, this advice was priceless. It’s actually good advice for life as well!

Sunday was the day all eventers live for: cross country day! The cold stuck around, but the sun was shining, and one group was even treated to the sight of a family of bald eagles circling as they jumped. The Brunsons do a fantastic job of keeping their championship course at Texas Rose in competition shape all year. Because of this riders were able to practice corners, skinnys, Trakehners and banks. The water might have been chilly, but teams jumped in and through it as well.

Ashlyn Hayworth successfully negotiates a table. Photo by Remy Willey.

After a brief pep talk from Boyd about the differences in show jumping versus cross country jumping, riders got right to it. He again stressed the importance of position, particularly when you need to be a little more behind rather than forward. This idea was particularly evident over the ditch, which gave a quite a few riders trouble. Martin’s approach to it was different than what I had seen in the past. He wanted riders to canter very boldly to it, riding strong. Once the horse successfully got over, then the rider would gradually slow the tempo down allowing the horse to look. It was a very good way to combat the horse’s fear of the unknown element of the ditch. At the end of the day every horse and rider team had successfully gone back and forth over the ditch with no issues.

While I would have preferred to ride (just couldn’t quite swing it this time around) I am so thankful I got to audit this clinic. Boyd is a super teacher, fun to watch and listen to. He was kind when he needed to be but not afraid to push riders who were ready to be pushed. His advice is relevant and spot on. But of course, the real true treat of each day were the times he actually got on a horse. I highly recommend riding with Boyd Martin if you get the chance. I know the next time he comes to Texas, I will!

Go eventing!

The Hazards of Being an Adult Amateur

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Only it’s actually more like empty bank accounts and conflicting schedules and missing work, oh my! And then there’s the never ending struggle with the “I don’t bounce anymore factor.” You know the one … the elasticity you lose once you hit, say, 30?! That inability to hit the ground that suddenly feels like the hardest marble on the planet and just hop right up get right back on? THAT!

Yes, the hazards of being an adult amateur eventer are many. Man, are they ever! We duct tape our boots together, pop endless amounts of ibuprofen, and play Russian Roulette with our work schedules and vacation days to get to that next show. And don’t even get me started on the juggling involved when you add kids to the mix! And husbands. And dogs. And …

I know! It’s a new year. Everything is supposed to be coming up wine and roses. This blog feels like a downer. Well, don’t stop reading just yet.

Because it’s a new year, I have been thinking a lot about resolutions and goals and the direction I want to head towards in 2018, and not just with my riding, but in general. Yes, I want to get fit. OK, more fit. OK, a little bit fit. Yes, I need to lose 20 pounds. OK, 10 pounds. Five pounds? I want to read more, spend less time on social media, eat healthier, drink less coffee (wait, what?!) all those things!

But what I really want is just to be able to take a good, long, deep breath. Really just stop. Breathe. Look around. ENJOY. Now there’s a word we could all use more of! As I move ever deeper into 2018, and as the month of January slowly begins to accelerate and pick up speed, what I really want more of is JOY! I want to be able to really take the time to be grateful for my fabulous pony. He’s not so young anymore (he turns 16 this year!) I quite literally need to take advantage of every single second I have with him and be HAPPY about it!

I board my horse at one of the most beautiful private farms in my hometown. I am blessed to have a great arena and cross country jumps and room to hack. I want to ENJOY all those things. Because I think (at least for myself) that as adult amateurs we get so caught up in the hazards, especially the hazards of time and money, that we forget sometimes to just ENJOY. Enjoy the sport that we participate in and the wonderful, amazing creatures we ride, and the sheer beauty of the world around us.

So yes. I am developing goals, and lists of shows and clinics to attend this year. All of that. But mostly what I really want is to ENJOY all those things.

Now I’m gonna go get another cup of coffee.

Go eventing.

Thanksgiving on Christmas

Photo by Michelle Wadley.

I know. I know. It’s Christmas, and the title looks more like a Thanksgiving article, but bear with me. Besides being an adult amateur eventer and a blogger, I am also a server at a high volume restaurant. Combine those things with being a mom, church-goer, etc. … and my circle of influence, for lack of a better word (cough-cough), becomes pretty wide. Recently I have noticed that quite a few folks, myself included (my husband just lost his dad), have been experiencing some pretty tough times. Everyone, it seems, is more than ready for 2017 to go ahead and make its scheduled exit.

I have read more than once and in several different places that when you’re struggling to find hope or struggling to feel positive, one of the best things you can do is focus on the things you are grateful for, no matter how small they seem. Somehow the simple task of being thankful shifts your brain from grumpy to grateful. This article is my attempt to do that very thing.

I am super thankful to be an eventer! Eventers are resilient and hard-working. Yes, I get frustrated when my competition schedule falls apart. Yes, I get frustrated when I don’t even come close to accomplishing even the smallest of my goals for the year. Yes, I get frustrated when it seems that all I get are setback after setback. (I experienced all of those things this year.)

BUT I’m an eventer. I am resilient, hard-working and I do NOT give up easily. Yes, some of that is just my personality, but I like to think that part of the reason I fit into the eventing community is because we are all so much alike. I have found that most eventers have that same “grab on like a pit bull and don’t let go” attitude. I love that about us, and I am thankful for it!

Eventers are also kind and helpful. Forgot your pinney holder or even your eventing watch? The eventer across the aisle will more than likely volunteer to let you borrow theirs. Making the walk of shame off the cross country course after being eliminated? (Me, earlier this season.) Twenty-two people will offer their condolences and hugs. Support is one of the things eventers do best. And did you see the photo circulating the internet showing the line of trailers transporting horses out of harm’s way when the California wildfires were raging? I can’t say for certain, but I would be willing to bet that a large percentage of those rigs were being driven by eventers.

I am thankful that eventers LOVE their ponies! We do! Our barns are cleaner than our houses; our horses eat better than we do; our boots are duct taped together while our trusty steeds get new shoes every five weeks or so … and the list goes on and on. We love our ponies. They take care of us when we forget our dressage test. They take care of us when we get them into a very bad spot on cross country. They take care of us when we lose a loved one. Our ponies are the heart of the sport we participate in. We could NOT do it without them and their willingness to give us their whole hearts. I am ULTRA grateful for that and for the amazing 17-hand pony in my life.

Finally, I am thankful for Eventing Nation. I am thankful to have a platform for my sometimes silly, sometimes crazy, always “heart on my sleeve” blogs. Thank you Eventing Nation!

Yes, Christmas is Christmas. It’s busy and hectic, and it’s been a rough year. But stop a moment to be thankful for all the good things in your life, big and small. Be thankful to be an eventer. I am.

Hug your loved ones, hug your pony, and …

Go Eventing.

 

When Life Hands You Lemons, Go Ride a Horse!

Photo taken by me as I enjoy a few moments of peace with my Syd.

It’s been a rough year for eventers. Hurricanes, both horse and rider fatalities, fires … Heck, it’s been a rough year for everyone. Me included. Earlier this evening my husband’s father passed away. He had battled quite a few health problems over the years, but the cancer that took him from us was quick. Less than a week after his diagnosis, and he is already gone. In typical blogger fashion, it really got my mind to spinning.

There are a couple of great commercials on television right now about the human condition. One is about all the crazy things we do that don’t turn out quite like we planned; the other is about how being human takes guts. One is humorous, the other is oh so true. It does take guts to be human. Life is tough, but it’s also good.

Being an eventer takes guts, too. Like being human it’s tough, but it’s also good. One of the best things about being an eventer (and a human) is being able to partner with these amazing animals that give us so much of themselves and ask so very little in return. (Unless of course, you’re my partner Syd who requires an ample abundance of spearmints at all times.) As a human, when life gets tough, as it did for me this week, I turn to the three “f’s” for support: family, friends and faith. As an eventer, I also turn to my horse.

I believe it was Winston Churchill who said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” This statement has never been more true than when you are going through a tough time. There is just something so comforting about looking through life from between the ears of your horse or burying your face in the soft fur of his neck, arms wrapped around and through his mane. If you’re an eventer or a horse person, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. For a brief few moments in our crazy human existence, the cares and struggles of the world actually seem to disappear, or at the very least fall away.

It is in those brief moments of peace that I am able to pause, reflect, cry or just simply breathe. I may not be able to solve the world’s problems or even my own problems, for that matter. My “horse” time may not even change anything. It certainly cannot change the death of a loved one. But what it can do, is give me clarity; give me strength; give me hope. Hope is what keeps human beings human and hope is what keeps us going. Horses are the masters of giving us hope.

If you spend very much time around me at all, you will at some point hear me quote a movie. I love movies almost as much as I love eventing. There is a line in a kind of cheesy, guilty pleasure movie called Center Stage that speaks volumes to me. The movie is about ballet dancers at a very competitive dance academy. At one point an instructor puts her hand on the ballet barre and tells a struggling student, “Here. Here is where you find your center, yourself …” (my paraphrase, but you get the idea). That’s what my horse does for me. He helps me find my center, myself. And as he stands at the fence and waits for me to pull out of the driveway before he walks away, my heart is able to manage a smile, even in the midst of a tough situation.

So the next time life hands you lemons, go ride your horse. Somehow I just know it will make you feel better if only for a moment.

Go eventing!

Sometimes It’s Not My Fault

One of my favorite photos of Syd and me, taken by my husband.

It’s not always my fault. I must keep reminding myself of this fact. Those of us with a steadfast, tried and true, never take a wrong step (or jump) partner tend to take for granted that it is always our fault and never the horse’s. I have one such horse.

Il Sogno is my horse’s show name, but those who love him, and there are many, call him Syd. His show name comes from my love of opera music. (I know. I’m weird. I have a background in classical music, and I’m a nerd. Go figure.) Il Sogno is Italian for “the dream” and is also the title of one of my favorite Andreas Bocelli songs. Andreas Bocelli is my favorite opera musician. Syd, my horse, is also my dream and my very favorite pony. Do the math. (Whew! THAT was painful!)

Anyway, I digress …While I have been riding for a very long time, I am by no means an advanced rider. In fact, I am anything but. While I do consider myself to have a lot of “head” or “book” knowledge, the challenge for me has always been to put that knowledge into practice. Couple this with the fact that I don’t ride with a trainer regularly, I work, have a child, I live in Arkansas, yada yada yada … In a perfect world … well, life is by no means perfect, and you get the picture.

My horse on the other hand is downright amazing. Always has been. He’s a total diva, who loves to have his photograph taken and always rises to the occasion. Me? Where can I hide. Syd never refuses, knows the movements, the pace, whatever and 95% of the time gets me out of whatever bad spot I got us into. If I had a dime for every time I heard someone say (and we’ve been together for 11 years, so it’s been a lot!) “Thank God for that horse! He sure does take care of you!” I would be rich. And it’s true! He’s beautiful! And amazing! And I love him! And he does take care of me … most of the time. When he doesn’t, well it’s somehow still my fault. I mean, he’s the fabulous one, right?!

I am a typical adult amateur. I over-analyze everything. And when I’m done over-analyzing, I start taking blame for, quite literally, everything. My horse loses weight, it’s my fault. Pulls a shoe … my fault … gets a bug bite … somehow my fault. We get a bad dressage score, my fault. Refuses a fence, my fault. I mean, it couldn’t possibly be Syd’s fault! Could it?

Back in September, Syd and I had a very well documented disastrous run at a one-day event. As soon as I took my walk of shame off the cross country course after our elimination, my self-flogging began. “I must not have been forward enough. I let him take control and didn’t make get him over the jump. I crawled around stadium. I didn’t practice my dressage test enough. I wasn’t relaxed, so he wasn’t relaxed, and on and on …” Name a vice, a flaw, a sin and I MUST have done it.  We had never been eliminated. And we’ve been a partnership for a LONG time. It MUST have been something I did. Even with the worst spot possible Syd never refuses a fence. What on earth did I do wrong this time?

Because I do read a lot, and because I do have a great farrier and a fabulous vet, who were both due to come out and shoe/look at Syd, I began to think some things through. I finally took a deep breath and listened to the nagging voice in my gut. You know that instinct that you have that if you’re like me, you never trust? That small voice said, “What if it’s something physical? Syd is a senior horse now. Or what if it’s his feet? We’ve had a crazy wet summer and battles with thrush.” I stopped beating myself up just long enough to listen, and to really stop and think about the circumstances and the environmental factors that were different since I competed in the spring. I am so glad that I did!

When my vet appointment rolled around, I greeted him with a “Can we talk about some of my worries about Syd?” Thankfully, I have a phenomenal vet who puts up with all my questions and is always happy to answer and discuss.  We talked about the differences in my horse, his movement and his attitude. After flexing, radiographs, and much searching, my vet determined that Syd DID have something physical wrong. Nothing horrible. Nothing that couldn’t be handled with some maintenance and a change in shoeing, but enough to change the way Syd competed. (And before anyone makes the blanket assumption about hocks, stifles, etc. Syd’s hocks are already maintained, and his stifles are fine.) I followed that doctor visit with a visit from my farrier. Now that Syd’s issues are being handled, he’s back to feeling like his old self, tearing up the galloping lanes like he’s seven again.

And me? Well, I learned a valuable lesson. Yes, I am not perfect. NOT EVEN CLOSE! I do make a lot of mistakes. But so does everyone else. The lesson is that sometimes, not only is it NOT my fault, sometimes, it isn’t anyone’s “fault.” It’s just life, and aging, and things happen. Sometimes you really do need to stop. Take a deep breath, slow down, and listen to that gut instinct we all have as riders and caretakers of these magnificent creatures. Sometimes it takes becoming a detective and putting all the pieces together. Because sometimes as easy as it is for me to take the blame, sometimes it’s not my fault.

Go eventing.

 

On Disappointment

Photo by Janae Day. Photo by Janae Day.

No, “Disappointment” is not the name of my horse. I’m talking about that most frustrating, aggravating, sorrowful, “make you want to lay down on the floor and throw the mother of all toddler fits” emotion “disappointment.” I have been dealing with it in spades lately.

As eventers, and to be brutally honest, most horse people know, disappointment comes with the territory. It’s the nature of dealing with another creature (OK, best friend and teammate) that has a mind of its own. It is also the nature of dealing with a sport where almost anything, including the weather, can go wrong. It is also the nature of dealing with being part of a greater organism than yourself, such a barn or a team or a training stable. Yep! There are variables galore! Just pick your poison.

If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal (or dude) dealing with the variables is infinitely easier. You, oh lucky one, are probably slightly more capable of dealing with the disappointment factor than those of us like me. I, unfortunately for our friend disappointment, am the planner, the type A-er, the one with the OCD “it must be scheduled in advance” issues. Sometimes in this fabulous, insanity filled sport I adore, I get a double dose of disappointment. I don’t like it because I can’t control it. Disappointment sometimes happens in spite of what I plan. It’s so aggravating!

I started the spring competition season with one goal: to qualify of the American Eventing Championships. I was very close to being ready to move up a level, but my dad lives in Asheville, North Carolina. I live in Arkansas. The chance to compete at Tryon and possibly have my dad there was just good to pass up, so I stayed in my comfort zone a bit longer. One crazy thing after another kept happening: missed opportunities to school; the weather; missed events; the weather, work, the weather … name it. In the end, I had only two events to qualify to compete at the AECs. Somehow, I pulled it off. Or so I thought.

One minute my name was on the list of qualified riders, the next it wasn’t. I’m still not sure what happened. I have spoken to the powers that be at the USEA, and they are trying to resolve it. No one seems to be able to quite figure it out. At any rate disappointment set in. Big time. Suddenly I was left with all these decisions to make based on what MIGHT be, not on what WAS. Talk about infuriating! To my schedule it out to the minute in all certainty psyche, it was just about more than I could take. I fretted about it and fretted about it, until I didn’t.

I had to make a choice. I had to decide. Not so much as to whether or not I was going to be able to go to the AECs or not, but as to whether or not I was going to let the disappointment of not going or not qualifying wreck me. I am an eventer. We don’t do “wrecked.” I stood up and punched disappointment right in the nose. I took back my pride, and I took back what I had accomplished.

What I realized is that whether or not I qualified for the AECs, I finished on my dressage score at BOTH of the events I completed, and I rode against mostly professionals and finished second and seventh. For me, that is nothing to sneeze at. Prior to this past season, I had almost always had cross country time faults. I had battled that demon and finally won (much to my horse’s good pleasure!) In the end, qualification or not, I had accomplished my “smaller” goal of finishing on my dressage score. Any eventer will tell you that is worth its weight in gold! At the end of the day, I still love my pony, and I still love my sport.

And THAT, dear friends, is why I do what I do. Eventing has taught me to roll with the punches, to take that frustration and disappointment and turn it into accomplishment and something to be proud of. Life lesson learned! Kick on, eventers! See you at the finish line!

 

In Memory of Arkansas Eventing Advocate and Volunteer Jack Ernst

Photo courtesy of Griffin Leggett Rest Hills Funeral Home Photo courtesy of Griffin Leggett Rest Hills Funeral Home

The eventing world lost another great man, advocate and volunteer this past weekend. John R. “Jack” Ernst, of Gravel Ridge, Arkansas, passed away on May 14, 2016. He was 83.

Jack loved horse people, eventers in particular. While he never rode himself, Jack was frequently quoted as saying, “They’re just super people.” While his accomplishments in the horse world were many, he liked to call himself the “chief flunky,” and his e-mail address attested to that fact.

Jack was a church goer, served in the United States Navy, was father to two daughters, husband to Barbara, herself a technical delegate, and helped put the United States Pony Club and eventing on the map in the state of Arkansas through rallies and horse trials held at their Jubilee Farm in Gravel Ridge.

Jack and his wife bought Jubilee Farm early in their marriage when Jack was still in the textile business. They named it Jubilee after an old Methodist hymn which sang of the year of Jubilee. The word “Jubilee” also began and ended with Jack’s initials. So began the legacy of the one of the longest consecutively running horse trials in the history of the United States Eventing Association.

While I could spend the rest of this article talking about all of the wonderful things Jack did, everything from mowing the grass on his 45-acre farm so local eventers and Pony Clubbers could come school cross country to being the head communicator for the Head of the Lake (yes, THAT Head of the Lake) for over 20 years, what I really want you to know is what a wonderful, kind, caring, selfless person he was.

A friend of mine said it best, and I TOTALLY agree, “If I could have chosen a grandfather, it would have been Jack.” That was just the kind of man he was.

Yes, Jack was the recipient of the Governor’s Award, which salutes outstanding volunteers within the USEA. Yes, he traveled all over the country as a volunteer at every event you could possibly name, stopwatch in hand (his golf cart was a fixture in the corner of the stadium arena at Holly Hill Horse Trials for years). Yes, his farm was the home to the Rackensack Chapter of the United States Pony Club.

Photo courtesy of Rackensack Pony Club

Photo courtesy of Rackensack Pony Club

But Mr. Jack (as I always called him) was my friend and my mentor. Like just about everyone he met, I loved him dearly. Mr. Jack is responsible for instilling in me the importance of giving back, of volunteering, in whatever way you can, whether it’s picking up sticks on the cross country course or scribing in the dressage judge’s box.

I remember a particular trip to the Kentucky Horse Park in the early 2000s with my trainer at the time. She was competing at the Champagne Run Horse Trials, and I was just getting reacquainted with the sport as an adult. (I had competed as a teenager way back when eventing was called combined training!)

The trip did not go as planned. My trainer Kari ended up having a pretty nasty fall on cross country, which resulted in a broken hand that required surgery. At the time, I had no idea how I was going to drive a dually diesel truck pulling a four-horse trailer all the way back to Arkansas with an injured, not happy trainer with me.

Mr. Jack to the rescue! He cut his trip short, driving the truck and trailer the entire 10 hours home while I followed in his minivan. That’s just the kind of man he was.

Photo of Jack Ernst from The Hunks of Area V Calendar, submitted by Catherine Baker: "Jack with his golf cart and timers and umbrella ready to volunteer at another event! Wonderful man that will be missed!"

Photo of Jack Ernst from The Hunks of Area V Calendar, submitted by Catherine Baker: “Jack with his golf cart and timers and umbrella ready to volunteer at another event! Wonderful man that will be missed!”

Mr. Jack loved eventing; loved horse people; and he believed in DOING, doing whatever you can to keep what’s important to you going. His beliefs came from his great big heart. It’s why so many people like me loved him and were touched by him. I would be willing to bet money that just about every cross country course in Arkansas, whether backyard or show quality, has a fence built by Jack Ernst.

And it didn’t matter if it was sleeting, the sun was shining or the tornado sirens were blaring, Jack was there to see the show go on or everyone get home safely. Jack Ernst embodied what we should all aspire to be: hardworking and generous.  The eventing world won’t be the same without him.

It’s been a great ride Mr. Jack! See you at the finish line!

If anyone has photos of Jack, please email them to [email protected] so we can include them in this article. In lieu of flowers, memorials in Jack’s name may be made to North Pulaski United Methodist Church. An online guestbook is available at www.griffinleggettresthills.com.