Eventually we make it to the dirt road where our canters can begin.
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Across social media, the general consensus is that 2016 stunk. Like any year, there were disappointments — and for some, more then the positive experiences within those 365 days. No year is perfect. For us, 2016 was a year of lessons learned, boundaries pushed, and the importance of finding hints of humor and joy in every day.
Laughter is a necessity. Our Stubben rep extraordinaire: Andrea Manley after her brilliant GMHA cross country run.
Our farm has never been busier! We routinely welcomed friends and horses every day of the week, and enjoyed a fabulous variety of horses and riders of all levels. For the first time, we also welcomed a slew of sale horses, all of whom found wonderful new partners. My one request of any rider is the desire to learn, and it is thrilling to see them progress and enjoy their partnership with their horse.
As my Ladies and I get to know one another better, and I welcome new Ladies to Murphy Eventing, I am having more fun with each passing season. From ground poles to complex Preliminary questions, every lesson and every ride has made for a very rewarding year.
After recovering from his 2015 fluke injury, 2016 was not just going to be a test of progression. This year was a test to see if Garth could compete at a higher level than before, while maintaining soundness. We progressed from a spring CCI* and finished our season at the CIC** in the fall. He is healthy, strong, and even more opinionated than before.
Though I was assured many times that his minute lesion would never be an issue, I was tentative to push for time cross country. Every ride, I was pensive that the greater jump efforts and long conditioning sets may result in angering that soft tissue. Compulsive care, reviews and using enough ice to build a community of igloos — Garth is perfection.
2017 is where we will redefine our position at Intermediate and the 2* level. Our goals are to be competitive from start to finish, and advance to the CCI2* level mid-season.
Competing at any level would be hard to do (and not nearly as much fun) without the help and support of friends, family, and our sponsors. We welcomed some brilliant companies to our family of sponsors and supporters: sponsors Butet and Sagmae, and Stubben welcomed me as a member of their Trainer’s Program. Blue Seal Feeds, Pad Perfect, Hit-Air, and Thumper Massager continue to play an instrumental role in our success.
Farrier George Barker has worked with our horses since I was 14 years old, and has been instrumental in our progression. Although we have begun to work with Rebecca Watts to correct a stubborn quarter crack, George’s support and professionalism will never be forgotten.
There is nothing more inspiring to know there are people and businesses that believe in you, and want you to perform at your very best. The cheers, emails, text, and smiles of support have given me courage in moments of concern, and a full heart during achievements. My support network is strong and inspiring — and I am extremely grateful.
Cheers to an extraordinary 2017!
What’s in Your Ring? is an EN series in which riders share their favorite jumping exercises. It’s easy to get stuck in a training rut, and we hope this will inspire you with fresh ideas that you can take home and incorporate into your own programs. This week’s edition comes courtesy of EN blogger Katie Murphy, an accomplished eventer who has found success on horses she developed herself through the levels. Find out more about her teaching/training business, Murphy Eventing, based out of Autumn Hill Farm in Epping, New Hampshire, by visiting murphyeventing.com.
The theme of my ring is “variation.” I normally always have a gymnastic line, two sets of cavaletti exercises, and a jump course. My jump course lines are often off turns, with many options to tie fences together through roll backs, slices, or related distances that reinforce the importance of adjustability. I have horses of all levels routinely working in my ring — from ground poles to Intermediate — so it is important that my exercises be diverse and appropriate for all levels.
The gymnastic line: This grid is far trickier then it looks, and height is not important to get the most from this exercise. Verticals are the first and final fences, with a vertical placed as a middle element and rails set 9’ between them. Oxers are then set at 30’ (may need to be adjusted depending on stride and arch of the line) from the center of the grid. For the more experienced horse, I will raise these ground rails to encourage concentrated work through their top line.
It may be jumped from either direction, and linked together through a rollback oxer to oxer and back through the grid. The oxers are set 35’ from one another, angled middle to middle. The oxers may then be sliced for upper level horses, as an angled 2 stride, and used as individual fences within a course.
Cavaletti: I fell in love with cavaletti work while riding for Ingrid Klimke at the NEDA Fall Symposium. They are fantastic for improving engagement, strengthening (especially stifles), joint articulation, and suppleness. These two exercises are set on an arch –- one exercise is shorter in distance to encourage to shorter step, more elevation and collection. The longer distance encourages more forward movement from the shoulder and push from the hind.
The beauty of cavaletti is in the application — work off the outside line for more space or a bigger stride, use the middle or inside lines for more collection. At the center of each cavaletti: for walk work they are set at .85 meters, for trot they are set at 1.2 meters. If setting these purely for canter work, the inside cavaletti are set at 2 meters, and the exterior are set at 3 meters.
I always begin horses over cavaletti in a straight line at the lowest height before raising them or working on a circle. Higher is not better: I work over the middle height most often, and the highest height is only reserved for canter work with experienced horses.
Course work: I like “quick thinking” questions to keep my focus and make me work through mistakes in the moment — not several strides later. I always have a distance set for practicing an adjustable stride between jumps. Two skinnies are positioned within the ring for straight approaches, angles and slicing related distances to other fences. Additionally, I include a vertical with a crossed rail on either side to encourage straightness and a tight front end, and at least one oxer with a rail crossed over the top to encourage an expressive effort. I often have two fences positioned with a narrow path between them.
Horses of all levels are asked to work on the flat between the fences as well as over them for greater focus, straightness and working off the aids. This also tests the rider in how they prepare and communicate with their horse.
If working a horse for the first time or a green horse, all fences and cavaletti are lowered well beneath the horse’s experience, and then gradually increased in size and complexity.
Many thanks to Katie for sharing. Do you have an exercise to share or is there an eventer you would like to nominate for the series? [email protected]
The week Garth and I were to leave for the Virginia Horse Trials, I received a phone call from someone I love dearly. As a child, they told me I could be anything I wanted to be — their only request was that I be happy and able to support myself (financially).
Just days before our CIC** debut, they asked why I wasn’t selling Garth due to his higher value and the greater competition costs. They did not understand why I would continue competing Garth when I could compete at the lower levels.
I was crushed. Not because of the thought of selling my Baby G, but because they no longer recognized the rarity of making it to this level on a self-made horse. Though I know this conversation was based in love, it was also based in fear, and fear is the antithesis of success and fulfillment. With one question, they had broken my heart.
Days later, Esccord RGS and I headed to Virginia. We had a fabulous weekend, and Garth and I were confident at this new level. I have much to learn, and Garth continues to show his virtue as a once-in-a-lifetime partner. He very honestly came to a sudden stop at takeoff on cross country when asked to jump through a split tree as if to say, “You want me to WHAT?!?” We then continued on to have a fabulous ride over the rest of the course.
I am very proud to say that he may have been the fittest horse at the competition, with his heart rate dropping from 120 to 60 in the 10 minute box. I have much to learn, and Garth continues to show his virtue as a once-in-a-lifetime partner. At times, he has carried far more than just me on his back — but the weight of my world as well. He is the horse I dreamed of as a child. In 2017, we will strive to be more competitive among this elite class of competitors.
For many, a dream remains just that — a dream. For a rare few, that dream evolves into a goal and may become a lifelong pursuit. When I was 7 years old, I made a commitment to myself and my dream became a goal I would pursue with every opportunity I was afforded. With abundant thanks to Garth, and those who continue to love and support me, never questioning my goal, I am now one step closer.
If you have a dream, I would encourage you to hold on to it, embrace it, and nurture it. Ensure that it remains a part of your life and resonates within you to whatever extent is meaningful to you. As our lives evolve, so do our dreams. And the dreams of a child may not translate to those of an adult. To this day, Roger is the only family that has never questioned my goals. He has never suggested other pursuits. He has been steadfast, supportive, and my rock in times of uncertainty.
Garth and I have many sponsors to thank for their support and continued efforts on our behalf:
Vincent and Carly Eddahri of Sagmae: Vincent and I met at the 2012 4yo YEH National Championships at Fair Hill. Over the years, he has been a priceless resource regarding saddle fit and technology. I am thrilled with my “Blue Ferrari” Butet monoflap and bridles, and Sagmae equipment! Garth, Roger and I consider this team dear friends of ours, and they have been instrumental in our success.
Andrea Manley: Over the last year, Andrea has become a very close friend. Her generosity of spirit and knowledge have served as an irreplaceable resource for all things Stubben (thank you for allowing me to trial the Aramis for our dressage test!), Cavalor and Lucerne. My tack room is constantly host to the newest Stubben design, and she helped many of my clients with saddle concerns with impeccable care. Cavalor has played an integral role in Garth’s health and fitness, and Andrea is solely responsible for the beautiful pairing of feeds that meet the nutritional and wellness needs of my very special boy.
Myhre Equine Clinic: Dr. Grant Myhre, and his wonderful team know me all too well. They are my go-to specialists and have always been advocates for my horses. Their precise diagnostics and treatment plans have allowed Garth to heal from past injury without any residue. Thanks to them, I can continue to train without worry and look to the future without limitations. They are an exceptional team of professionals and horsemen.
PadPerfect: Their wonderful pads stay in place, sport our signature blue, and have worn beautifully. In all these years, I have never had to replace them!
“Horse show hangover.” For those of us who have experienced it, there is a level of pride and joy that accompanies a “horse show hangover” that does not normally accompany the regret, memory loss, or looming feeling of poor decisions of the traditional hangover.
I am hungover. Still. It’s Wednesday, three days since the Millbrook Horse Trials, and I am still hungover. I’ve never been hungover quite like this. Not during that college quad party, the night I deserted my ex-boyfriend outside a club (trust me, he deserved it), or that night that, honestly — I can’t recall. But this hangover is so much better.
Every day I am thankful for my horses, my life, and my insanely gracious support system of clients, family and friends. This weekend proved how lucky I am. Both horses shined. Garth and Deszi are different in so many ways, yet they have the same heart, eager attitude, and level of trust in my partnership with them that allows us to cruise the finish flags with huge smiles.
Garth’s dressage was lovely, but his warm-up was fabulous. That was thrilling. After our walk across the street to the rings, and waiting for our time to enter the space, we lost some of our engagement and lightness in front. But it is in there – and what a feeling. Deszi’s dressage followed, and she once again proved to be the softer, more pleasant ride. Her medium canters were sedated due to deep footing, but she had some brilliant moments to place in the ribbons.
This was our second Intermediate together, and though I was eager to cruise around with Garth, I have developed an immense respect for this level. Was I nervous? To a point, but it was more awareness of the minute amount of room of error at the Intermediate level.
With the helpful guidance of trainer Ashley MacVaugh, Garth and I had another incredible run at the level. Due to poor planning on my part, Garth had a “drive-by” in a combination and picked up his first cross country jump faults on his record. A real shame. But had that happened at two separate fences, it would have been a beautiful ride: jump the first straight, 15 meter circle right, and over an impressively wide but narrow table. His gallop has really improved this season, and even with that 15 meter circle, he was still one of the most consistent rides throughout the course, nearly making time.
Now that Deszi is for sale, I never know what ride will be our last. It is a sad thought, yet incredibly exciting once I find the right match for her. As we left the start box, her ears pricked up and she cruised into that effortless gallop stride that cruises across the terrain. She is so intuitive cross country — she just gets it, and then gets it done in style.
She was so much fun, and so easy to navigate to the fences and between combinations. What a fantastic ride. It was easy for her, and with every stride she was prepping for the next: next hill, next jump, next halt halt. She was right there with me. She made that course easy and natural. Deszi went double clear.
Show jumping for each horse was big, bold, and included a four-stride line angling two liverpools. In typical Garth style, he went in confident, spooked hard, and then catapulted over the remainder of the course. He pulled a rail at the first liverpool, as he was so concerned about what was beneath the rails that he forgot to pick up his front feet. This really caught me off guard, and had I ridden more aggressively through the turn to the fence, we wouldn’t have had the rail. He felt fantastic over the jumps, and clearly was not worn down by the cross country.
Sweet Deszi, on the other hand, did feel tired. To accommodate buyers, Deszi has missed two gallops.
Sadly, stadium was proof that I can not allow buyer interest to distract from her fitness program. Stadium is my weakest phase, and it is our weakest phase as a partnership. I over rode to an oxer and caused a rail, however the others were taken by the slightest rub on flat cups. She pulled four rails — a disappointing end to the weekend, but her dressage and cross country more than made up for it.
Aside from my wonderful horses and great rides, the weekend was filled with the exceptional people that make the eventing community so wonderful. I was there by myself, and was incredibly touched by everyone’s support, interest and assistance. Friends I hadn’t seen in years came to cheer us on, others came to help with whatever need to be done, and the cheers and videos continue to touch me days after the competition. Thank you, to all of you!
A HUGE thank you to Andrea Manley for her wonderful videos and her help cooling out the horses, and to horsepesterer David Frechette and Cortney Tetrault for their videos.
It’s been 19 years since I last cruised around an Intermediate course. There was an attempt a few years ago, but that ended with the big R. And a long drive home.
This has been a long time coming. Garth was ready for the move-up last year, but his injury delayed the progression. Deszi, hot to show she was just as capable, covered ground at substantial Preliminaries and FEI events along the East Coast, proving herself eager to conquer the Big I. So the entries were mailed to the Horse Park of NJ.
It wasn’t until I walked the cross country course that all the excitement and all the confidence met the small voice of the uncertainly within me. That little voice squeaked about the long track, the enormous fences, technical questions and constant presence of BIG. For a moment, that voice had me questioning if this was the right decision, if I was ready, if the horses were ready.
Even though I had carefully prepared for this level through lessons, carefully chosen tracks to test the three of us, veterinary care, and honest discussions with my trainers, there was still a part of me that was nervous. In that moment, I recognized that being nervous is OK. It shows that I am aware of the difficulty at this level, and that I am taking the competition as seriously as I have the preparation.
My coach, Ashley MacVaugh, was there to guide me through the course walks and warm-ups. Her suggestions and guidance were paramount to our safe ride around cross country. Having my trainer there was comforting — the same comfort I know my ladies feel when I walk their courses with them and guide them through their rides.
A trainer does not just tell us where to turn, open our stride and half halt. They help to reinforce our strengths, guide us to overcome our short falls, and help us navigate our horse to a safe and confident ride. Having Ashley there gave me confidence. I also know that she would serve as my advocate and the advocate for my horses if anything had happened.
The role of the trainer is vital to our success. However, our role as riders is even more important: We must recognize when we need to listen to our “amateur voice” and seek guidance before making a big move. Being able to embrace and experience both positions as an amateur and professional has made me a better rider and trainer.
We all need a coach. We all need someone to test and reassure us, and when appropriate, put us in a place that we may not appreciate in order to keep us and our horses safe. In that moment of learning, we are all amateurs. Recognizing that is a strength.
Garth placed fourth after dressage (and resisted the temptation to be naughty quite well!), moved up to third after a double clear stadium round and incurred time penalties cross country to place 8th. He was a star. Every skinny was galloped over straight as an arrow, he listened to my aids within a split second of communication and jumped everything without reservation. He is an incredibly cool partner.
Deszi had a tight dressage test to place 13th. The poor girl pulled a shoe at the start of show jumping, and with her huge heart, finished the course but pulled 8 rails. Her front foot was badly chipped, so I pulled her from cross country. I trust these horses every stride, and the biggest compliment and testament to my role as a horseman is that they reciprocate that trust.
It was a phenomenally successful day at the horse park. To say that I am proud of them is not enough. Garth and Deszi have incredible work ethics. They have remained the kind and enthusiastic youngsters they were at 3 and 4 when I bought them, just now better focused. To say I am fortunate to work with Garth and Deszi belittles them and their generosity that allows me to count them as my own. It is an honor to work with them and count them as my partners.
Between my three horses, I’m working opposite ends of the spectrum. Garth and Deszi are prepping to move up to Intermediate soon, and Monty just completed his first beginner novice at GMHA. Given “Big Kid’s” quick progression to Preliminary, it has been easy to forget where they started. And sometimes it’s hard to believe. Fortunately, a young horse in the string is a fabulous way to stay connected to the entire process.
Isn’t it crazy how quickly we forget where we came from? The tiny moments of small steps can quickly become shadowed by the triumphs and excitement of progression. I find that I forget how intimidating the lower levels can be on a green horse.
And I absolutely, 100% sympathize with my students. Monty has not only helped me in my way of working with young horses, but also in working with my students. As Garth and Deszi progress, I am pushing myself to widen the max oxers in order to strike a nervous chord within my riding, and it is easy to forget what many of my ladies feel as they start their course over their “max oxers.” But on Monty, all you have to do is show me a baby fence with a flower box. Beginner novice is freaking terrifying!
The Muffin began his first USEA event at GMHA like a champion. Though his eyes may be been bugging out of his head at times, he marched around the busy warm-up area like a seasoned youngster. While we were performing our test, the next rider was sent in to begin circling the ring. However, I still had not cantered. She continued to circle the ring. I continued my test. And cantered in both directions. Meanwhile, she is still circling. Monty could have cared less about the distraction, and did his best to understand the questions within the sand box. Clearly, I was more irritated by the rude rider then he was.
Stadium was a lovely forward ride with soft turns and nicely planned approaches. And, it started with a flower box. A really dense flower box that filled all the space to the front rail of the oxer. What would he do? Will he back off? He just turned 4, and though we play over fillers at home this was very busy for The Muffin. I offered a supportive, clear ride to the base and The Muffin didn’t care. This set the tone for the entire course, and he continued in a lovely rhythm without batting an eye. I just love this horse.
Sunday brought heavy rain, and a breeze that chilled you to the bones. Monty was unsure of the back-to-back trailer rides but figured he would entertain us in hopes of an adventure.
Cross country was darling: fences of every shape and size, nicely incorporating terrain and fillers to encourage a bascule. Monty set off cantering, not sure where he was going but he was going to have fun. Happily flowing to the first fence, he noticed the baseball bats, hats and paraphernalia. What was he going to do? This fence was at the end of the line with a nice option to run out. He’s never jumped flags before. Leg on, and he softly carried us over the fence. The rolltop was off a slight turn with a thick base of hay. He paused for a split second, and then cantered off the leg to the base without hesitation.
At this point, I think “We are having fun. This is much easier then I thought it would be!” And up the hill through a gallop path we went. Like a true gentleman, he calmly covered the terrain, never trying to take over, but preferred the less-traveled strip of dirt footing. As the course continued, we worked as a team and every fence became more natural. As we softly sailed over the brush, barn, ditch flower bench, water and bank, Monty casually covered ground without any worries of his surroundings. He was focused and waiting — waiting for me to build his confidence and tell him he could jump whatever was next.
We ended our course with time faults. I chose to walk down two significant hills as Monty was slipping and sliding through mud. I didn’t see the sense in compromising his confidence over a ribbon. His attitude and willing nature had already earned more pride then any rosette could offer.
Like many of us, I had the initial concern before entering the start box. Once we were on course and rode that first fence, I felt much better about the ride my baby horse and I would have. It is tricky, because as we are developing a horse, we are also developing as riders. And within that dynamic, there are unknowns between us and our partner. But as trust envelopes the partnership through practice, schooling, and with the guidance of our instructors, we build a foundation. Soon, those max oxers are quickly within reach.
A HUGE congratulations to my ladies Jackie and Missy, who both moved their young mares up to Training level and Novice level with great success!
What a weekend at the Virginia Horse Center. Garth and Deszi were entered in the CCI*, as a stepping stone to qualifications to greater goals later this season. But, when it comes to horses, plans often do not pan out.
As the unassuming TB mare has quickly exceeded the playboy Hanoverian, the weekend took a turn and became all about Garth.
His flatwork is coming along nicely, though his fitness is creating a stronger horse that often pulls me in the tack with every bounding stride. The test did not represent his ability, though it was a better effort given our focused work the last few weeks.
Cross country was brilliant, and I was very excited to test his fitness and recovery over the 7.5-minute track. Lovely fences, forward accuracy questions, and long stretches of galloping over varying terrain made for a brilliant test of horse and rider. He was a star. An absolute star. He came through the flags light off the leg and with time to spare. Despite the considerable heat and humidity, his vitals were on the lower end of the averages. I was thrilled.
He woke Sunday morning for the jog lively and keen. As we rounded the turn for the panel, he lifted his tail and jogged so huge I had a hard time keeping up with him. He was passed without hesitation. He jumped a sizable stadium course confidently and with good effort. He pulled a rail on the vertical coming out of the one-stride combination: a spook to the oxer, my left rein slipped, and we jumped the vertical out bent — that rail was meant for me. He ended in 5th place, but in my mind he earned blue.
He is a brilliant partner. Though now 8, he is still a cheeky boy often spooking at white horses in warm-up, and randomly snorting. His eye is still as calm and caring as it was as a 3 year old, and I am so proud that he has maintained his personality and softness through his training and progression. We have created a partnership based on mutual trust, and at times, humor. I adore him.
Right from the start, the tone for the weekend was unexpected. After flatting her that morning, Deszi did not pass the initial job Thursday evening. After palpations, flexions, and hoof testers, I was told that Deszi was not lame, nor was she ill. Upon re-inspection, she was not accepted due to “something not right.”
After further thought, and discussion with another FEI vet, I was still left confused, upset, and disappointed in the reasoning for Deszi’s rejection. “Something not being right” does not meet the requirements for being ‘unfit for competition’. As simply as that *poof* nearly $700 was lost, and Deszi’s season has dramatically changed.
Later, I had a lameness specialist who routinely works with significant event horses do a full evaluation. He found her to be healthy and sound. Despite the disappointment, I know the panel did what they felt was best for the horse — and the horse’s welfare is paramount. However, the reasoning is still unsettling.
Roger had to stay home for work, so Beth joined me for the weekend. She did a phenomenal job! And, together with long-time friend Holly, these two ladies achieved the amazing: keeping me clean for dressage, well fed and hydrated (I often forget to eat and drink throughout the day). It was such a treat to have not one, but two grooms support and assist — both of whom are wonderful horse people. I have never had a true groom at a competition!
Thank you, Holly Leasor, for the photos!
“The only constant is change.” — Heraclitus
When I am frustrated, upset or confused, I remind myself of this quote. It settles me, reminds me that life and all the wondrous experiences are ever changing. And, that we are ever changing. If we do not accept this one true constant, we create resistant. And who wants to resist life?
I do. There are times I want to resist life.
I would like to freeze a perfect moment and reside there. We all feel those moments with our horses. That is how I used to feel riding Garth on the flat — then life happened, change happened, and I resisted. As change is constant, my resistance has led to poor habits that do not enable progression. We have become stagnant within the resistance to change that I have created. With the help of one of Canada’s finest, I came to recognize this at Fair Hill.
“Katie, what the f*ck are you doing?”
Insert reason here (in a very small voice).
“We all have our reasons. Just stop doing it.”
He was right. Exactly what the f*ck was I doing? What the f*ck am I doing? I am trying to ride the horse Garth USED to be, not the horse he is now. I have a plan to change!
Point being: Garth scored nicely in the division of 35 and better then Deszi, however there is no reason he should not have been in the top. Deszi’s test did not showcase the variation within the gaits — as a TB, this is more difficult for her compared to the natural movement innate to the warmbloods.
Both horses were brilliant in show jumping and cross country. I need to trust to use more leg, and ride them UP to the fence, trusting that they have the tools to do their job. After watching the video, Garth needed more leg for stronger and more consistent distances. But, my God did he sail over those fences! And he does it with such ease.
I am proudest of Deszi with her performance in the show jumping. I have worked hard to give her the ride she needs to succeed, and she steps up to the plate. I fall more in love with this horse every day.
Here are some videos to enjoy:
Every day with horses presents an opportunity: to learn, to listen, to recognize. Sometimes our horses hint. Sometimes they guide. And sometimes they offer us the chance to answer the question ourselves through their guidance. My question revolved around the move-up to Intermediate. Are we ready?
Garth and Deszi are very different horses and very different rides. They vary in every possible way, from build to personality to style. Yet different in many ways, they are similar at their core. They share the same heart and commitment to their partnership with me. Although their differences vary, together they present the same lessons I as their rider must learn from.
After lessons with Allison Springer, I have been focusing on softness, lightness, and suppleness on the flat while ensuring a correct and effective position. It sounds simple doesn’t it? These fundamentals have brought to light some missing pieces within my training of Garth.
Deszi, though different in manner and style, has begun to reflect some of the poor habits I have with Garth. If I intend to perform well and train my horses competently, this must change. In one week, the three of us have become more trusting of our communication, open to feedback from one another, and softer. Garth scored a 31.1 in the Open Preliminary, and Deszi led the Preliminary Rider with a 28.9.
I also think it is time to consider an equipment change — the bits that worked for Garth and Deszi last season are now too much. I consider a positive indication of their training, strength, and of our communication.
I must practice more work over fences — and large fences. However, I struggle justifying jumping them over this size often — I do not want to compromise their soundness. Yet, I need the experience and the opportunity to correct my riding through application. With both, I need to monitor and support the canter to the fence more efficiently and effectively.
Garth is willing and very athletic that he often gets us out of difficult spots purely through his capabilities. Deszi prefers a slightly open distance to the fence, yet if either of our balance is off a bit, the quality of the jump effort is compromised. I am very eager to hear the opinions of instructors as I pursue additional education.
Cross country was big, bold, and the largest course I have run since Pine Top in 2015. Both horses were incredibly honest through the combinations, and were willing and confident throughout the course. Garth cruised around the course with a smile, happy to be back in the game one year after his last competition. His jump efforts are big and genuine, costing us time in the air. He is quick off the ground, and quick off the leg.
I need to trust his ride to the fences more — allow the half halt to support the balanced stride, and then ride the canter to the fence – not ride the distance to the fence. He was clear jumping and incurred time penalties.
Deszi cruised across the terrain easily, eating up the course. She was efficient over the fences, but still a bit reserved with her response off the leg. Similar to my realization with Garth last year, it is time to trust Deszi. It is peculiar having a quiet Thoroughbred, and I must trust the forward ride with her around the course.
Intermediate will come, and I have little doubt that it will come this year as expected. However, I have more homework to do beforehand. Safety is paramount – for myself and my horses – and I want it to be a smooth, simple step forward in our careers.
I was fortunate to have many of my ladies join us for the day, offering support and much-appreciated assistance with my two rides. Erin Cheever served as Super Groom (and photographer), Kathryn Wakeman was videographer, and Katie Belhumeur and Doug Gowen cheered us on through cross country. I often compete alone, while serving as my own groom and support system. It was a treat to have so many familiar faces there to lend a hand, and support us throughout the day!
What’s in a name? Symbolism, history, simplicity?
While my sister (an aspiring novelist), Chrissy, was visiting for dinner, we came to an agreement: When she makes it “big” as an author, she will become one of my owners. But, there is one caveat — she gets to name the horse. Moments later, we were laughing hysterically at the table.
Nearly everyone recognizes the very posh, eloquent pronunciation across the loud speaker of Piers Owen. Reminiscent of her studies at Oxford in a brilliant impersonation of the handsome British accent, Chrissy practiced announcing my progression around cross-country on her various horses:
- Katie Murphy has left the start box riding Backwards
- The Yeti and Katie Murphy have cleared the corner combination at 7A and B
- Katie Murphy and Her Bicycle have parted ways at the sunken road
- Here comes Katie Murphy riding Bareback through the water
- Riding Better Than You, Katie Murphy clears the brush
- Katie Murphy and Pogostick have been eliminated for leaping out of the ring
- Down the gallop path comes Katie Murphy riding Very Slowly
- Katie Murphy and Ilene Dover have a refusal at the drop
- My Horse and Katie Murphy have lost their way in the woods
- Katie Murphy and Hot Flash cool off as they part ways at the water combination
- Heads up! Katie Murphy is riding Yo Mama in the field
- Galloping Blindfolded over the coup, Katie Murphy is eliminated for missing the finish flags
Have a name you’d like to include? Add it in the comments, below!
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Roger and I have had the discussion: What happens when I have a serious accident? Something that takes me out of commission? Compromises our income? And, compromises our lifestyle? When you work with horses, it is only a matter of time until you break. I broke Sunday night.
I was turning Deszi out in the upper paddock for the night. Just as I stepped closer to her to remove her halter, something rustled in the timothy. Like a playful puppy, she leaped into the air and landed base-wide, angling down on my right ankle. As she reared to get away, I held on. As I tried to quiet her, I realized I couldn’t put weight on my leg. As she ran around her field, I fell to the ground and breathed deep and low like a woman on the verge of an earth shattering contraction. I swore. I swore a lot.
I hobbled after Deszi, removed her halter, hoisted myself on the fenceline, then hobbled to the house. Still breathing deep, and still swearing. This was a very bad sprain.
The next morning, a friend and sports medicine physician told me to have it x-rayed. Turns out it wasn’t a sprain, but a sizable tibial fracture. I had a successful surgery Thursday, and now Roger and I are adjusting to a significant change in roles. In this situation, you can either laugh at your misfortune, or allow it to drive you beneath a mountain of sadness. I choose to laugh. Here are a few humorous anecdotes:
- Caution tape: I was considered a “FALL RISK”. Suddenly, I felt old.
- The dogs have been very attentive – particularly when I’m in the bathroom
- I never knew my armpits could be strong (I hate crutches)
- I am getting a glimpse into our latter years of marriage: “Hunny, have you taken your MiraLax today?”
- I have discovered 7 ways to climb and descend a set of stairs
- Sponge bathing is no fun, for just one
- Do not take more MiraLax than is suggested!
- Without insurance, this surgery would have cost us $29,000. That’s a nice horse!
And the best realization: I am more nervous before entering the stadium ring, then I am going under the knife.
Even when you’re surrounded by people, it is easy to sometimes feel alone. I have been humbled and softened by the many offers of help and support we have received – some from folks that we have never met face-to-face, but know us through the horse world. Students are throwing hay, checking water, and picking stalls around their lessons, neighbors are checking-in, and I have received so many uplifting texts and emails. We are so lucky to be a part of this community.
This accident could have been a lot worse. And I am thankful that it was just a fracture (a clean one, at that). I am also thankful we have health insurance. So for now, I hobble out to say hello to Garth and Deszi. They are very confused, but seem to be enjoying their downtime. I continue to teach lessons, and have so much fun watching these ladies work their horses. It is another reason to heal well so I too may soon be in the tack having the same fun.
Yesterday, we did not come home with a ribbon — and I could not be more proud! Deszi completed the CIC* at GMHA‘s Festival of Eventing.
I have never had so much fun in a dressage ring. And I am so incredibly proud of Deszi. We worked through moments together to maintain harmony, correct positioning and continue working within the test without disruption. It was a blast! She scored a cumulative 43.2, placing us in fifth out of 15.
We had a killer warm-up for show jumping. She was jumping beautifully and listening well to the aids. Sadly we pulled three rails: one due to a slip that altered our stride, another because I rode her too deep to the distance, and I think the third was due to another close distance. Deszi just wasn’t quick enough to get her feet out of the way.
Why? I wish I had an easy answer. Part of it is that she requires a technical ride in stadium. Stadium is often my weakest phase. I think the primary reason is strength. She is fit, but she needs to develop more strength. And strength can’t be rushed — it takes time.
Cross-country is Deszi’s middle name. She is brilliant. And an absolute blast. She does not back off anything; she’s willing and bold without force or eager stupidity. Another amazing quality is her gallop. She covers ground with the ease of a Ferrari across tarmac. The stride is effortless and light, and she is so quick to adjust and accelerate. The best part is that she loves her job, she has fun, and this makes the ride fun for me. What an amazing feeling to be a part of her experience on course!
I have been thinking a lot about Deszi, her performances and her future. It has been overwhelmingly disappointing to pull rails in show jumping. And nothing adds salt to the wound like when you enter the ring in first place, and leave far lower in the standings.
However, that is ego talking — in the simplest, most honest sense. What the ego rarely recognizes is the path taken to achieve that first place standing. Deszi is 6 years old. Six. What is more alarming is that she has been in work for 14 months. I am amazed at these two numbers, as her progression has been very natural and without resistance. She is sound, healthy and incredibly trusting with what I ask of her. In a short period of time, we have built an incredible partnership. I love this horse.
I promised her that she would have a vacation after this event, and I am honoring my word. She will rest, relax, eat and hack out for the next two weeks. She may have another two weeks after that.
As we have all experienced, there is no guarantee with horses, regardless of preparation. Deszi has now performed at the FEI level before Garth. I would have never guess this would happen, and I could not be more proud of her!
A HUGE thank you to Roger and Kathryn Wakeman for all their help and support this weekend!
There are times when your goal is solely to stay in the ring. That’s it. Just stay in the ring.
This is not my attempt at modesty. Nor my attempt of crediting the horse for a successful outing. This is the one goal I had for Leo when we left Autumn Hill Farm this morning. The one goal.
Amidst some awkward transitions and tension, he tried earnestly to put his best hoof forward. Despite having a positive warm-up where he slowly relaxed in the stimulating environment, his confidence waned within the frame of the curious white cord. However, he stayed in the ring. Goal achieved! Fortunately for Leo, there was absolutely no pressure moving forward with the day as he tied for last place with a substantial 43.5.
Deszi and Garth were shaking their heads back home.
The heat was starting to set in as we tacked up for cross country. The course was classic Huntington Farm: open, rolling, inviting, natural = perfect for the young 17-hand orangutan. His warm-up was unique: a bit of dancing, sweat glistening in the high sun, and the eager “I don’t know where my feet are, and I left my brain back at the trailer, but by GOD I am going to JUMP!”
At home, Leo is a lovely jumper. Soft to the fences with the occasional quickness at the base, but he has showed huge improvement in his execution to the fence. Today, not so much. I see the perfect distance, then two strides out, he rushes forward. At least he is willing.
As we approached the start box, Leo suddenly realized there was activity out in the field. Head held high and heart pounding, Lucky Lips Louie‘s world just got bigger. He left the start box calmly and slowly moved into the canter. He was confused, but willingly jumped the first fence and cantered into the next field. The drop caught him off guard and a refusal and conversation later, we continued on.
As we made our way around the course, Leo started to get it and was enjoying himself. And I was enjoying the ride. So much, in fact, that we cantered right by the ditch. We were alerted to our technical eliminator at the water and after trotting through the dark splash, we ended our day.
Team Huntington was very generous to offer me a school over the remaining fences and to ride my show jumping. I decided to end our day there. It was a fantastic experience for him and a great place to end his first eventing experience. As far as Leo knew, a woman was just so excited to see him that she had to stop us in our tracks!
Several of The Ladies had a tremendously successful day as well: Jackie Gilbert and ALF Cross My Heart placed 2nd in BN A, and in BN B Erin Cheever and Ballygannon placed 7th, Sarah Adams and Dougal placed 6th, and Missy Alaimo and Fascinating Rhythm WON their first USEA event! I am incredibly humbled to be a part of their journey, and so thrilled for everyone’s success!
Do you remember Groton House Farm? Where everyone throughout the East Coast flocked to watch the nation’s finest riders navigate their Advanced course? Or perhaps you recall seeing Biko there when it was one of the Olympic qualifiers in 1996? Or perhaps nostalgia resurrects simpler memories: rolling hills, tree-lined drives, the stone cottage blanketed in ivy, and split-rail fencing that traversed the open fields.
Then we all read the news in an announcement: Groton House would no longer run Intermediate and Advanced. They would return to their humble beginnings that provided the foundation for so many glorious rides across the private estate.
Here is some new news: Groton House is back, and they are moving forward!
Dressage was as scenic as ever: five rings perfectly balanced within an open field, framed by woodlands and a border of fencing and cross country fences now used as spectator seating. Deszi was a star in the busy environment, and even learned to rein back Friday morning.
I have a terrible habit of not looking at my test well before an event, and SURPRISE KATIE, you have a rein back in Preliminary B. No time like the present. In fact, we were enjoying ourselves so much in the ring that we offered an unnecessary lengthening, which I thought was lovely. A laugh from myself, smile from the judge and a grimace from Deszi, and all was well. She placed third within the division of 23 with a 30.2.
Sunday we received a surprise text, noting a change in the schedule: Show jumping would now be held that morning before cross country in order to avoid the significant storm moving in over night. I am amazed at the organization, generosity, and spirits of the GHF team and volunteers. They pulled it off without a hitch, and the modified schedule ran beautifully.
The stadium was typical fashion for the venue: big, bold, and with clear expectations from horse and rider. It was a forward ride and an excellent opportunity to apply all we have practiced at home. We pulled a rail at fence two, a vertical off the turn, because I neglected to ride her straight into and out of the turn.
Another rail was pulled at the two-stride combination at the first fence: I saw the ideal distance, something caught Deszi’s eye, and she backed off at that exact moment and pulled a sloppy rail. A spank in between, and we jumped the remaining fences clear.
After walking cross country that morning, I was excited. Honestly, it was more then I had expected from the event. In recent years, many of the fences had softened in presence and the questions they posed due to age, modified structure, and changing groundlines. It was clear Groton House invested significantly in the track: gorgeous new fences, brilliant combinations with smart but costly options, and more space to gallop then ever before. It was a fantastic ride!
This was Deszi’s third run at Preliminary, and it was perfect. Instead of simply supporting her comfort level, this event was the ideal step forward for her season, boosting her confidence and expanding her education. Everything was spot-on: footing, use of the terrain, placement of fences in relation to sponsor tents and spectators, and a long galloping track. This competition is on its way back up, and once again I consider it on par with Millbrook and Fitch’s Corner.
Throughout the weekend, I was incredibly humbled by the people who came to watch our rides, some whom I have only spoken to over social media. A special thank you to all the sponsors, especially the American Horse Trials Foundation, which donated cash prizes for our Open Preliminary division. Ending in third place, Deszi earned $250. And thank you to husband Roger and Erin Cheever for their grooming support and video skills, and our incredible team of sponsors.
I used to joke that everyone should have more then one horse. Why? Because it’s fun (who doesn’t love twice the poverty?), and if something happens to pony #1, you have pony #2 to enjoy. While Garth is silently swearing about rehab and giggling at the useless effects of sedatives, Deszi stepped forward with a smile and said “My turn!”
Garth and Deszi could not be more different: Hanoverian versus Thoroughbred, raging bull versus casual elegance, egotistical frat-boy versus the demur grace of old money. Riding them is like night and day.
Moving up to Preliminary was in the cards for Deszi’s 2015 season from the start. Garth’s minor pasture accident provided a clear path for her progression. Originally aiming for the spring GMHA, I chose Hitching Post for her debut at the level due to their inviting fences, pleasant atmosphere, and consistent quality of competition. I have competed there for nearly 30 years, and I feel comfortable at that farm.
Deszi requires a surprising amount of leg (in all phases). If she had the choice, I imagine she would rather be lounging beneath a shade tree, with a carrot scone and a young stud fanning her dappled coat. She would do well in a life of luxury. However, her causal attitude and appreciation for the day should not be misconstrued as lazy, disrespectful or without conviction.
Deszi is a diligent mare, with an exceptionally calm demeanor and the wit to take everything in stride without losing focus. She is a wonderful, reliable partner.
Saturday’s competition reiterated my experience with Garth at Pine Top, just from a different angle. With Garth, it is now time to trust that I can ride him to the cross country fences out of stride: the power and ability are there, and I must trust what we have developed together. With Deszi, I must trust myself to kick her to the jump and know that with a moment of patience, our distance is perfect — but I must keep her engine engaged.
Her dressage test was focused, clear, and consistent with area for improvement. She scored a 26.8 to tie for 2nd place in a division of 18. Cross-Country was deceiving: I thought we started with a forward canter, and progressed into a gallop, however the video shows a lovely, hunter-style canter progressing into a forward canter. Her stride is relaxed and powerful, and it is easy to fall into a comfortable, quiet canter that feels bigger then it is.
Though frustrating in my difficulty to rate her ground cover, it is nice to know there is a lot more gallop in her. Over the fences, she was keen, focused, and ready to play without an ounce of hesitation. She cantered through the finish flags with a smile and easy attitude. In show jumping, I ordered one rail at fence three with a side of backward riding. Deszi handed it to me with discontent. Aside from my poor execution, I was pleased with our ride.
Last year at this time, Deszi was beginning her eventing career at Novice. I was uncertain of her ability and was not confident that she would be capable of anything beyond Training level. As her strength and suppleness continues to improve, she offers me new insight into her abilities. I think there is a lot more to Deszi than I originally thought – and perhaps that is exactly how she wanted it to be.
I have always liked Friday the 13ths. As a child, I decided to make many things with unfortunate reputations positive in my mind. Shortly after, 13 became one of my favorite numbers (alongside nine).
Friday the 13th did not bring me bad luck, black cats or other suspicious activity. It was a day of awareness, recognition and acceptance. This Friday the 13th was the day I recognized the importance of trust within a partnership.
When you have started a horse, and been in the tack as they progress through their training, it is easy to reinforce patterns and lose sight of when the roles must be allowed to evolve. There comes a point when we as riders must recognize (and have faith) that we have done our job as trainers to the horse and allow the horse to become a partner with an even share in the relationship. At Pine Top, Garth told me he was ready and showed me how I was hindering not just his progression, but our progression as a team.
I give kudos to the dressage judge. She nailed me — 5.5 on the collective mark for rider position and aids due to tension. I have never received a score that low. Ever. Well done, judge. I deserved it. By thinking I need to hold Garth together, I create tension. Garth is ready to hold himself together, and he is more then capable through his strength, balance and training. I must break the pattern of what I know and allow new change to evolve into our new strength.
We had one of our finest show jumping rounds. I rode with “active passivity” (code for “do something without getting in the way”), and although it was not perfect, it was a great improvement. My greatest disappointment was when I did not control his shoulders to the last fence, and he slipped to the left. Though we still jumped double clear, I could have avoided that mistake through more tactful riding.
Our cross country ride was the most telling. We galloped around that course confident, capable and ready for more. But, it could have been better. Garth is at a point where he can think for himself, and I need to trust his abilities. His gallop has developed beautifully, and our communication is super. To some fences, I was over-riding him to the distance, and he does not need to be “placed” to the jumps.
Moving forward, I will trust his stride and ride his stride to the fence — not ride the distance and lose the stride. Without doubt, I am certain there will be times we will compensate for one another. I am sure I will need to hold him together or place him to a fence. I also know there will be times Garth offers his fifth leg or compensates for my tension.
Every ride is a step forward, and recognizing that we are at this crossroad is very exciting! The most difficult task for me is to recognize the habits before they are put into action. Old habits die hard.
Thank you for riding alongside us!
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I woke this morning at 5 a.m. My mind was racing with images of Garth and Deszi in the dressage and show jump rings, and on the Sporting Days cross-country course. Words danced across the images like the intro to The Twilight Zone: balance, impulsion, forward, power, submission, engagement.
Though I enjoyed the picture show, I re-rode every moment working through corrections and better reactions, while planing a course of action for improvement. This went on for 45 minutes.
Deszi was very focused and willing in the ring. Her test was accurate, but lacked the thrust and suspension we have been developing. I should have quieted her stride, and rode her forward into the bridle. Her stretch circle (which I did NOT forget!), was really lovely, yet she was complacent about the second canter transition.
Before our next test, I will “perk her up” more as we circle the ring. She warmed up beautifully for show jumping: focused, keen and all business. Like a bull preparing to charge the matador, Deszi pawed impatiently at the stadium entry gate. Our round was better than those before, but still stands for improvement.
She is deceptively quiet in her canter, lulling me into a soft, slow rhythm. If I do not engage her hind end well before moving into the turn to a fence, I am too late — she often needs a good kick. A curiosity compared to the other Thoroughbreds I have ridden.
Cross-country was fun, and she is a FUN horse to ride! I have yet to ask for her full gallop on course — she covers ground so easily and does not back off at anything. She is patient and willing. Deszi ended on her dressage score sound, happy, and bright eyed.
Yet again, Garth had a lot to say during dressage warm-up. Fortunately, he kept the commentary to himself until we were leaving the ring on a loose rein. With every whinny, Garth never lost focus on the movement, or the transition into a new movement. I realized — Garth is the only male I know capable of multitasking.
Our dressage is a work in progress. Pressing him forward to showcase his powerful, big movement has been our typical approach. This also creates a lot of tension in my upper body, as I brace to hold him together and help to lift his forehand. I am focusing on the half-halt, a lighter contact, and asking Garth to hold himself up — a surprisingly difficult task when put into action.
We had lovely moments, and moments spoiled by anticipation, unclear communication, and undisciplined aids. However, our recoveries were concise and accurate. Garth was his typical spooky, reactive self in the show jumping warm-up, and I will plan to take him for a little gallop before entering stadium warm-ups, if possible.
He felt great: powerful, bold, and high above the fences. We have worked on square turns to the fences, and maintaining the haunch/shoulder alignment to the fences. I need to ride more forward to a closer distance, for a stronger jump effort.
Cross-country was great: bold, clear response to the aids, and less time adjusting to the fences. I’m most thrilled about his gallop: easy off the leg, a better stride, and the effort was minimal for him. That was a wonderful feeling! Garth also ended on his dressage score, eager for another run cross country as he tried to trot back to the trailer — whinnying for all to hear!
Deszi’s strength really amazed me at this competition. She came out of winter particularly strong, and as a coming 6-year-old, I think her body has started to settle through growth changes. Initially, I questioned her competitive future, but now I believe she is far more capable then I originally thought. She requires a gentle, well-planned ride, that is accurate stride-for-stride — an excellent partner for me and my continued desire to improve.
Garth continues to be my shining star. I often wondered if it is possible to be paired with another being, who becomes an extension of your own body. That is what our partnership feels like to me. When I sit on him, wrap my arms around his neck, or lean into his shoulder, I am calmed and softened. He is a very special horse in ways I have yet to fully understand.
The added plus is Deszi and Garth came home with blue ribbons.
Thank you for riding alongside us!
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Each trip to Aiken brings a resurgence of community, and a reminder of how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to experience something I love every day. One of the many aspects that I adore about this community is the inclination to be social. People are eager to get together, to reach out, and to share in their recent adventures.
Back home, I find it’s easy to alienate myself at our property. And although I welcome many wonderful faces to our farm, and I visit even more great people daily, I find it’s easier to be social after a day’s work in Aiken then it is at home.
Today, I met a childhood friend for lunch. We had grown up together riding spotted horses and laughing hysterically at peculiar things.
Years have past, and yet we always find a way to reconnect. She is the type of person that radiates sunshine even on the greyest of days, that immediately brings warmth to your heart and is a source of light-hearted laughter simply from the joy of seeing her. And now, she and her husband are expecting their first child later this year.
As we sat across the table from one another, and I fought the temptation to stare at the roundness where a life was growing (this absolutely perplexes me), I realized – she had grown up. Indeed, we had both grown up. As this revelation settled with me, I couldn’t help by ask – When did that happen?
Memories of the many years – decades – that had past since our early friendship flew through my mind like slides of a picture show. Time passes so quickly, and changes us. Yet there we were, friends laughing as we always have, and discussing interests and experiences that have evolved from the favorite music groups and shocking revelations of young girls to the interests and adventures of women. And yet one thing remains constant – our love of the horse.
Passion is incredible. Whether passed down from our ancestors, or from one experience that hooked us immediately, passion becomes an extension of who we are and who we will become. Children, work, and personal pursuits often guide us down an ever changing path.
Regardless of the twists and turns along the way, the passion that resides within our core can transcend the years, the trials and the experiences that otherwise change us. Even in times where we are unable to exercise our passion, the extension is still there, just waiting to connect. It never dies, and it never fades. It simply waits to be re-awoken. I think this is important to remember, and something I will remind myself of in the future.
My friend’s new family member will be blessed in many ways. He will grow up surrounded by joy, kindness and compassion, and will learn the love of animals. Congratulations! I am looking forward to seeing you both in the barn!
In 2014, I logged nearly 13,000 miles driving to teach clients and clinics. Nearly 13,000 miles of eager anticipation to see each of these ladies and their equines once again. What a journey!
It was about this time last year that Roger and I had the conversation: Shall I make a go at the horse business? I had been a “professional” by USEA and USEF definitions for nearly a decade, but had been leery about taking the leap into the profession without the security of a nine to five position.
We decided it was time, and the opportunity presented itself as if it were predestined. “Going Pro” has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
Through the love of the horse, I have met the most exceptional women. As an instructor, your role is not just to teach. It is also to support, to guide, to correct, and sometimes to inspire.
When you are invited into a rider’s barn, to climb into their tack, or are a witness to their ride, an instructor does not just witness a partnership — we witness moments that often convey intimate aspects of a person’s life.
I am sure we can all agree that our experiences throughout the day may have a direct effect on the quality of our ride and that our behaviors, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses often reveal themselves during our riding.
As an instructor, we are being entrusted by these riders as a witness to very personal moments. We become confidants, counselors, leaders, and friends. We are being trusted.
My clients are wonderful. They are inspiring. They have brought me immense joy, self-awareness and strength. Together, we have ridden through broken bodies and broken hearts, elated joy and upsetting realizations, surprising moments of discovery and magical moments of connection.
When you ride a horse, you are not just riding through a dressage test, a gymnastic line, or a cross-country course – you are riding through life. Riding does not allow us to simply strengthen the connection between horse and rider, but it allows us to strengthen ourselves, and if we allow, I believe it can heal us.
I laugh every day at my job. I witness exceptional people doing exceptional things – both with their horses, and in turn, with themselves. Referring to them as clients does not feel right, as each of them holds a special place in my heart. I am honored to be a part of their lives, and the partnership they share with their horse.
Cheers to 2015 as Murphy Eventing enters year two in this magnificent path through life. I look forward to sharing the adventure with all of you!
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Consider this a letter of gratitude, appreciation and thanks to everyone who has inspired me to be better, pressed me to recognize my weaknesses and push through them, who have humbled me, and who continue to inspire me.
- To those who have invited me into their world and into their hearts, regardless of my role as friend, instructor, confident or family. Thank you.
- For the simple truths and opportunities, I am humbled and respect you entirely.
- Thank you for your tears of happiness, frustration, elation and defeat. I have been there. In time, I will be there again. And I share in your experience.
- To the innate human responses I have witnessed: kind, cruel, and instinctual – Thank you for being raw and genuine.
- Thank you for trusting me. For believing in me. You have taught me so much, often without intention. You inspire me.
- For the words of kindness and criticism, thank you for your honest thoughts, despite the ramifications.
- To the partnership that is often forgotten between hearts – you have given me many of the opportunities and experiences I had dreamed of for so long. Our path is long and winding, and we will travel it together.
- For the laughter that consumes all composure, professionalism, and modesty.
- To this Life: Procured by fate, hard work, destiny, or simple luck, I am thankful for every day. This life has blessed me, and even on a less then ideal day, I am more fortunate than many others.
- Though Roger and I have called Autumn Hill Farm home for little over one year, this land has welcomed many wonderful people. You are family, and our home is always open to you.
I am thankful for each and every one of you.
As many of you may recall from our Facebook page, we had a guest cow for a brief period to assist Leo in his “personal growth.” The results were brilliant. Within a few days, they were nuzzling over the fence and walking alongside the paddocks together. Since then, Leo’s mind has been 100 percent intact when he sees, smells or hears our neighbor’s cows in the adjacent field. Success!
Then comes Beleza, our new 6-year-old Holsteiner/Thoroughbred resale prospect.
She is a lovely mare: kind, patient, stunning mover and jumper and very willing, but not well exposed to the ways of the world. She has never reacted with the “vigor” that Leo showcased, instead she prefers to passage. Though passage is great, I much prefer to simply walk down the hill from our arena to the barn.
So, our lovely neighbor Phyllis received another call: “Phyllis, may we borrow Ruby again?” Phyllis is so kind; she immediately said “Sure!” My first call to Phyllis had her confused. She asked if I wanted to train the cow, and when I explained that Leo was afraid of cows, it didn’t make much sense to her.
Phyllis’ family are avid farmers of the most beautiful land in our area. They had an array of farm animals growing up, including horses and cows, but never had this issue because the animals were well-versed with one another. Why a horse would be afraid of a cow just didn’t make sense. So, the second time around, Phyllis knew exactly what was happening: “Is Leo acting up?” Nope, just the new horse.
The Happy Cow
As Phyllis and her carpenter friend “Cow Whisperer John” quietly led Ruby from Phyllis’ farm to ours, Beleza was all in a tizzy. She bounced around with the exuberance of a lamb on fresh spring grass. Snorting, tail up, tearing around — Phyllis asked if she was an Arabian. Oh dear.
Ruby quietly went into her paddock, between Leo and Beleza’s pastures. She hopped around a bit, took a break, cantered down the hill, stopped to stare at the silly snorting gray creature, and then hopped around some more. Leo continued to graze casually with little care that his unique friend had returned. Ruby is a happy cow. Beleza is not a happy horse.
But she will be.
The adventure continues!
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As autumn saturates our New England landscape with leaves of golden hues and flaming reds, I have been reflecting on our season. As reflection comes and goes, my attention quickly turns to the future and what I aim to accomplish in 2015.
My dressage instructor, Leslie de Grandmaison, recommended I apply as a demonstration rider for the New England Dressage Association Fall Symposium hosted at Apple Knoll Farm. I would ride for Ingrid Klimke in front of many people. I was intrigued, doubtful of my acceptance (I am an event rider afterall, and this is NEDA), but the opportunity was very exciting! My application was sent in, and I waited. A day prior to the deadline, I received an
email: I had been chosen. I was incredibly excited and humbled.
I can count, on one hand, the number of times Garth has worked in an indoor. The many spectators seated in bleachers, at the base of the bleachers and down the long side of the dressage ring, flash photography (Garth was very surprised) and a sound system added to the exciting environment. Garth handled it well, though was difficult to connect and supple at times, and was truly a star throughout the weekend.
I was one of two event riders of the seven riders at the symposium. Cavaletti exercises began with four walk cavaletti in a straight line, then two trot cavaletti on a bend that were later expanded to four cavaletti. Canter cavaletti exercises, also on a circle, were reserved for the Prix St. Georges horses.
Garth and I were paired with a dressage rider and worked over straight and curved cavaletti lines. For Garth, she wanted him forward with a very active hind end. It was important that he always be accepting of the bit and working into the bridle. For me, my toes were to point forward and my hands were to be close to one another — with the distance of one fist between them — at all times. The cavaletti exercises helped our engagement and suppling. I worked without stirrups for a portion, which I really enjoyed!
On the second day, riders were split for private half-hour lessons. Eventers were asked to ride in their jumping saddles. Ingrid focused on my cavaletti work on a bending line at the trot. Afterward, we did a serpentine with two cavalettis on the canter line, jumped at the canter.
This was followed my two cavaletti placed on the quarterline five strides from one another; adjustability became the focus and we were asked to canter it in five, six and then four. The majority of the work was done down the line toward the spectators, and our focus was compromised.
After our ride, she discussed two bridges used for holding the reins: dressage and eventing bridges. The dressage bridge: the reins are layered and both are held with each hand, one fist distance from one another, with thumbs atop the reins and angled slightly toward the crest. In the eventing bridge, the rider’s dominant hand holds the layered rein and the lighter hand holds only one rein.
Throughout the symposium, Ingrid had several thoughts that remained consistent across all levels:
- Your hands must be perfect. All. The. Time.
- If you are going to supple, or if your horse is not accepting of the bridle, your hand stays in the same position, but you “make a game of it” by bending you inside hand’s wrist toward the crest, release and repeat.
- There must be a defined walk period between the warm-up and work phases of your ride. During the walk, the reins should be on the buckle and the horse should be allowed to relax completely.
- Half halt before every change: transitions, directions, bend, etc.
- She ends all rides with a stretching trot. The horse must move FORWARD and stretch with their nose to the ground.
- As riders, it is our job to set the horse up for success. Then it is the horse’s job to execute the movement. There were many reminders for riders to stay in the middle of each cavaletti.
She was very kind, supportive and encouraging to the horses. When I originally shared my excitement about riding at the symposium, the majority of the reactions were pensive: “Be prepared to be ripped apart.” “Do you know you’re going to be riding in front of hundreds of people?” “They are going to pick you to pieces.”
I was aware of this, and I was still excited. My only question was “How often do you get the opportunity to ride with Ingrid Klimke?” Regardless of the criticism, this was a rare opportunity, and I was thrilled to have been a part of it.
The experience also reinforced something I already knew — Garth is a very special horse. He is a lovely partner. Due to him and our partnership, I have had many wonderful experiences and opportunities. He is years beyond his age in many ways. Ingrid commented positively on our partnership, and I don’t think I could have received a better compliment.
Several times, Ingrid commented on how careful he was through the exercises, how hard he tries and that she “likes this horse.” I hold him in the highest regard and am thankful for every day that starts with his soft “good morning” whinny and muzzle sniffing through his stall bars. I adore him.
A big thank you to Erin Cheever for her video skills! Thank you for riding alongside us.