Articles Written 6
Article Views 8,495

Renee Russell

Achievements

Become an Eventing Nation Blogger

About Renee Russell

Latest Articles Written

An Eventer’s Last Days of Summer

Strange things have been happening this week here in Pennsylvania. The horses are shedding. There are significantly fewer flies hanging out around in the stalls. I’ve worn a sweatshirt to the barn every morning and have definitely pondered taking the sheets out of storage.

While I’d typically refuse to admit it, I think that summer is coming to an end. Although some of you live in climates that don’t have a lot seasonality (I’m looking at you, Florida), for many of us late summer is an exercise in the stages of grief. I know that I’ve started moving through this process. Who’s with me?

While we’re so lucky to be able to share the joys and trials of each season with our horses and fellow riders, saying goodbye to summer can be a real challenge. Riding during the summer always makes me feel like Velvet Brown, galloping across the English countryside on the Pie (even if I’m actually just walking around the ring or falling off like the old mom that I am).

There is something about the sunshine and the green foliage that brings an even greater sense of freedom. So when the mornings start to get cooler and the sun sets a little earlier each day it’s time to prepare for some big changes.

Stage One: Denial

Those leaves on the ground? I’m pretty sure that they’re not actually falling off of that tree. It was probably just windy today. Oh, what’s that? You wore a jacket to bring the horses in this morning? Maybe you’re coming down with something. If there’s a way to avoid the fact that fall is coming I’ve tried it, probably more than once.

Summer is the peak season for us eventers. There are shows every weekend, we can ride and stay out at the barn later thanks to the extended daylight hours, grazing is at its best and bathing the horses is a breeze. The benefits of the season are seemingly endless. It’s only natural, then, that the twilight of summer is difficult to accept.

Stage Two: Anger

Here in the northeast United States, fall can be little more than a fleeting introduction to winter and, when it comes to winter, there’s plenty to be angry about. Snow, frozen water buckets, numb fingers and toes, blankets and more blankets. I feel like I didn’t ride enough this summer and as the warm weather abates I am frustrated and, yes, a little angry that this season is ending.

The transition from summer to fall is a time of reflection and there can certainly be some lingering anger. Maybe an injury kept you sidelined or you were hoping to move up this year and it hasn’t happened yet. For countless reasons, the approach of fall can make it feel as if the walls are closing in and time is running out.

Stage Three: Bargaining

This is the part where we think about all the mistakes we made and all of the things we could have done differently, typically being completely irrational. Like, “If I hadn’t gone out for ice cream that one time instead of riding maybe I wouldn’t have fallen off in the warm-up three weeks later.”

The end of summer is perfect for trying to make up for lost time and spending as many hours in the barn as possible before it really starts getting chilly. We can pretend for a few more weeks that if we do all the right things it will just stay summer forever.

Stage Four: Depression

One day, though, no matter how hard we try, we will wake up and walk outside and summer will be over. What a sad day. There’s nothing left to be angry about and there’s no point in trying to deny it or change it. Very soon I will be moping around lamenting the change of seasons and seeing nothing to be optimistic about. Burghley weekend is upon us and it’s all downhill from there, right?

Stage Five: Acceptance

Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to realize that this autumn thing may not be so bad after all. After a few days of adjusting, that crisp breeze starts to feel refreshing. The horses are usually happy with the cooler temps and get to spend more time out grazing. Even though Burghley is over there’s still Pau and Adelaide to look forward to. And here in the States, who doesn’t love Fair Hill in October?

All in all, a change of seasons isn’t so bad. We eventers are a tough breed and we can certainly survive life after summer.

Eventers Join Forces to Aid Hurricane Harvey Relief

Recently I wrote about how eventers can give back to the world outside of our own equestrian family. In the days since Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas eventers have wasted not time in showing their generosity and determination. In the wake of an astonishing 39 inches of rainfall, southeast Texas has experienced monumental flooding and enormous devastation. With people, horses and other animals reeling from the effects of the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on U.S. soil in 13 years, many eventers are stepping up to help the relief efforts in a variety of ways.

While this week has been a busy time for eventers, between Burghley and the American Eventing Championships, hearts are heavy with the plight of Texas residents and many people are looking for ways to lend a hand to those in need.

Kyle Carter hosted a number of course walks at the AECs to benefit the American Red Cross. In addition, Courtney Cooper led an Advanced course walk on Thursday for the same cause. There are few things more enlightening than walking a course with an experienced and knowledgeable competitor, so this was a wonderful opportunity to not only give back but also gain some insight. As professionals who are likely competing several horses in addition to coaching students, Courtney and Kyle are nothing short of inspiring for finding a way to help Texas in the midst of what is surely a busy weekend for them.

Attention all AEC competitors: A donation bucket has been placed in the show office! Additionally, we’ll be posting any…

Posted by Horses For Harvey on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Walking around the course at the AECs makes you realize how fortunate we all are.

I have been watching the news out of…

Posted by Courtney Cooper on Thursday, August 31, 2017

If that wasn’t enough, Kyle and his wife Jennifer Carter have organized the group Horses for Harvey and are spearheading a massive fundraising effort to aid Hurricane Harvey victims. If you are an eventer looking for a way to help those affected by the disaster, this is certainly the place to start. Scrolling through the page it is impossible not to feel a deep sense of pride at the heart and generosity of our eventing community.

Jane Sleeper offered her coaching services at the AECs with all proceeds to benefit the Red Cross. Dozens of riders in every part of the country have already volunteered to host a full day of lessons (the dates of which are yet to be decided) at their respective home facilities with 100% of the proceeds going to those affected by the hurricane. These lesson days, organized by Horses for Harvey, have been donated by the likes of Lainey Ashker, Hawley Bennett, Jon Holling, Sharon White, Tik Maynard and Sinead Halpin, the Carters and Matt Brown.

EDIT:

Exciting news! Several riders have offered up an entire day of lessons at their home facility, with all proceeds…

Posted by Horses For Harvey on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has worked with equestrians from several disciplines to organize donations of feed, shavings and other supplies to be shipped down to Texas.

Words cannot describe the incredible generosity of the equine community as we kicked off the Hurricane Harvey supply…

Posted by AAEP Foundation on Thursday, August 31, 2017

With the vast number of people rushing to help, needs are quickly being met in and around Houston. In a Facebook video on Thursday, the indomitable Valerie Ashker, who spent the majority of last year riding quite literally across the country in her “2nd Makes Through Starting Gates” venture to highlight the heart and versatility of the OTTB, speaks about her desire to lend a hand to the people and horses displaced by Harvey. “They’re getting a lot of help right now,” she says, “They’re inundated … it’s a bit chaotic at the moment.” Valerie goes on to explain that she intends to go down to the Houston area in a number of weeks when supplies may need to be replenished and her help will be of the most value.

 

Harvey Help

Posted by 2nd Makes Thru Starting Gates on Thursday, August 31, 2017

Eventers have done a great deal already to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey and there are many more amazing plans in the making. The eventing community has come out in full force to help in the wake of a devastating natural disaster. If you are interested in helping, the Horses for Harvey page has lots of information and the AAEP is also taking tremendous action. If you don’t have supplies to donate, the donated lessons sound like a wonderful opportunity. Also, as this recent EN post pointed out, donating blood is a quick, free, easy and almost painless way that nearly anyone can help no matter how far you may be from Texas.

6 Ways Eventers Can Give Back

Did you know that Fleeceworks’ Pads With Purpose program helps support worthy causes like Halt Cancer at X? Photo by Studio Photography 406.

The eventing community accomplished an amazing feat last week as eventers from around the world raised an astounding £500,000 to help Jonty Evans secure the ride on his beloved Cooley Rorkes Drift. While I have never had the pleasure of meeting Jonty personally, he seems, by all accounts, a tremendous horseman and all-around great guy.

I think it goes without saying that the hearts of eventers everywhere rejoiced with the news that Jonty and Art reached their goal and will remain together moving forward. This is truly something to be celebrated. Riders invest so much time, money and love in the making of an eventing partnership, and it is nothing short of gut-wrenching to see such a partnership be torn apart for reasons outside of the rider’s control.

So, as an eventer and a horsewoman, I am delighted for Jonty Evans and his team and downright proud to be a member of the worldwide community that is eventing. There is a thought, however, that I just can’t shake since this wonderful news broke.

£500,000 pounds is a lot of money. That’s nearly $650,000 in U.S. dollars. Thrilled as I am for Jonty, Art and all of their connections, it is hard to ignore that number. All of that money bought one horse. A tremendous horse at that, but it certainly brings to mind a whole slew of things that could be done with such a large sum.

I’ve often heard it said that eventers “take care of their own,” which is undoubtedly true. We are so proud of our eventing family, but it is often overlooked, I think, that beyond our eventing family we also belong to the broader, global community.

I will never forget one particular trot set (among hundreds) when my dearest friend asked me if I had ever thought about how unimportant our efforts were in the context of the world. “There are kids starving to death,” she said, matter-of-factly, “and we spend all of our time teaching horses to jump over sticks.”

Having spent every minute and every dime at my disposal on horses up to that point in my life, I really had never paused to consider what I was contributing to the world.

Being an eventer is a privilege which cannot be underestimated. As much as we joke about being “broke” and share in the lighthearted struggles we call #EventerProblems, I think we all know that anyone who has the means and opportunity to event is fortunate beyond measure.

The #JontyAndArt effort stands as irrefutable proof that eventers are a powerful force for creating positive outcomes in our own community. Perhaps this accomplishment can also serve as an inspiration to extend our influence beyond the reaches of our own midst and affect more change in the world.

But how can I personally make a difference? The eventing lifestyle is time-consuming and expensive, and many of us don’t have a lot of extra money leftover at the end of the month to give to charity or time to spend volunteering. But can I be mindful of where my money is going and make simple changes to be a more beneficial member of society? Absolutely!

Fleeceworks: Last year Judy McSwain, Fleeceworks president and founder, launched Pads With Purpose with a vision to give busy event riders an easy yet tangible way to support worthy causes. Thanks to this program, giving back is easy: Pick your pad, pick your trim color (from 12 choices!) and then choose which charity you’d like to receive 10% of the purchase price.

You can choose to support Halt Cancer at XThoroughbred Charities of AmericaFeeding AmericaAnimal Rescue CorpsMission K9 Rescue and The Literacy Project. More charities will be added as the program grows.

SmartPak: Another company that plenty of eventers (and riders of several other disciplines) already know and love is SmartPak. Until I started looking into this topic, however, I knew nothing about SmartPak’s charitable work and environmental initiatives. SmartPak’s social responsibility page goes into great detail about how SmartPak gives back and strives to be a company that helps animals, people and the environment.

The company not only sells products that we all love and makes feeding supplements simple and efficient, but on top of all that they are thoughtful about their impact in the world. From horse welfare work to an exclusive line of products supporting breast cancer research and an impressive array of strategies to be more environmentally aware, SmartPak is putting in the work to help the enormous economic impact of the equestrian industry have a positive impact.

C4 Belts: One way of giving back that many eventers are familiar with is purchasing a C4 belt. The company’s name stands for “Choose your Color, Choose your Cause.” According to the C4 website, $1 from each belt sale is given to charity. When buying a belt, you vote for a charity. These votes are tallied quarterly and the allotted money donated accordingly.

We all wear a belt with our breeches, so it may as well be a belt that helps support a good cause like C4. Not to mention, these belts come in an unbelievable array of stylish colors and patterns and can be cut to size for a perfect fit.

Voltaire: Voltaire Design not only sells top-of-the-line saddles but also has a relationship with JustWorld International, an organization working with partners in the equestrian community that are dedicated to supporting children in impoverished nations by providing services and programs in nutrition, health and hygiene, education and cultural development.

From sponsoring the organization’s events to creating a line of limited edition saddles with $1,000 from each sale going directly to JustWorld, Voltaire is doing its part to give back.

Mars: Mars also has a number of impressive social responsibility goals, so you can never go wrong with treating yourself to some candy. With the involvement of Mars in the eventing community, this is like a buy-one-get-two-free deal. We get to fuel ourselves with Skittles and Twix at events while supporting a socially responsible company and one that is involved in sponsoring our sport.

Thrift Stores: A lot of barns have their own preferred style of riding apparel but whether you ride in a polo, athletic tops, T-shirts or button-downs, thrift store shopping is a win-win. During my time as a working student I wanted to dress like the professionals I was riding with every day but had very little spending money. So I went to the thrift store and got beautiful, like-new button down shirts for a few dollars a piece. What rider doesn’t love to save a little bit?

Many thrift organizations such as Goodwill and Salvation Army hire people in your local community who are in need of employment. In addition to saving money and helping people in need, thrift store shopping can also be a super fun activity.  Whether you need a date with your significant other, time to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while or a rainy day outing with your barn pals, thrifting is a great option.

 

This is just a sampling of ways to contribute positively to society and spread eventing’s “good vibes” into the world outside of our sport. We’d love to hear from you next! How do you give back? What can our sport as a whole do to give back to the global community? Let us know your ideas in the comments.

Barn Time Before and After Kids

What time at the barn looks like nowadays.

At the barn this morning I was driving the tractor while holding two kids on my lap when I realized something: This is not what barn time used to feel like. Up until a few years ago, my entire world revolved around riding and being in the barn as much as possible. I got my first barn job at 14 and never looked back. I used to think that nothing would ever stand between me and my barn time, like never ever.

As a young adult I would hear statements like, “Noah has a dentist appointment and then we’re going to Chloe’s tap dancing recital, so I probably won’t have a chance to ride tomorrow,” or even worse, “I used to ride horses back before I got married. I miss it!” I always thought that would never be me; I could not survive without my all-day every-day barn life. But here I am, married with two kids, and I get it!

Riding when you’re young and single and free to do as you please is awesome. And guess what? Riding when you’ve got your hands full with a home and a job and kids and all kinds of adult responsibilities is awesome too. These are, however, totally different experiences. Here are just a handful of examples.

Barn Work

Before kids: How many of you can remember spending all day cleaning stalls and grooming and stacking hay without a care in the world? Working in the barn was always so peaceful. It was a time to be outdoors, getting some exercise and being productive. There was often no one around, no questions to answer or problems to solve.

After kids: Nowadays, I can typically be found in the barn with a baby strapped on my back, holding a pitchfork in one hand and my 3-year-old’s half-eaten peanut butter sandwich in the other. Barn time is often a balancing act of trying to keep two humans and eight horses safe, fed and content. On the rare occasion that I have a chance to sneak out to the barn without any children, though, it is even more peaceful and meditative than it was in my younger years.

Riding

Before Kids: Riding was my life. If I was not riding, I was working in the barn or reading about riding or watching videos of my favorite riders. I had a whole life planned out with an illustrious career as an upper-level eventer. As much as I loved to ride, all those ambitions combined with a lack of know-how and resources ultimately led to a lot of frustration. I wanted to be an elite competitor but in reality I could barely get around Training.

After Kids: When I have an opportunity to ride now it is without a doubt the most amazing feeling in the world, although “riding” these days often means tacking up for my kid and leading her around. The great thing is that when I actually have a chance to ride there’s no more pressure. I know I’m not going to Rolex and I couldn’t be happier.

I get on, do my best to ride correctly and enjoy every moment of it. It’s a time of freedom from all the juggling that moms do on a daily basis. The only thing I’m responsible for in that moment is riding. And not falling off. Speaking of which …

The Unscheduled Dismount

Before Kids: We all fall off, it happens. Most of the time it’s no big deal. We dust off and hop back on because why not, right? No harm no foul. I don’t ever really remember being scared of falling and I definitely recall riding through lots of scrapes and sprains and even the occasional dislocation.

After Kids: I just recently took my first dive since becoming a parent (I’m going to go ahead and pat myself on the back for making it nearly four years!) and as I was flopping through the air, not graceful in any way, the only thought in my head was “my kids!” That was it; only two words.

When there are beautiful little humans depending on you for all of their needs and wants in life, dangerous situations can elicit a very primal and fearful reaction. And it’s not only my own falls that worry me. Being a mom has made it so much harder to continue on after hearing about terrible falls.

The Car

Before Kids: Raise your hand if you’ve got some bailing twine and a hoof pick in your car. Don’t we all? The barn car is ever so recognizable: changes of clothes, gloves, ball caps, hay on the floor and seats, probably some horse and/or dog hair and likely more than one lead rope. Some people call it messy. I like to consider it being prepared. I can count half a dozen times when having some twine in my passenger seat came in handy.

After Kids: Well if I was prepared before, I am really, really, extra prepared now. Not only do I have all of the barn essentials but now also have managed to make room for changes of clothes for three people, diapers, snacks, toys, blankets and pillows in case there’s a nap emergency. You name it, I’ve got it in my car, from pacifiers to paddock boots.

How about you guys? How has growing up, getting married or having kids affected your horse life? While there are undoubtedly unique circumstances for each of us, let’s give hugs and high fives all around for the strength and dedication that it takes to persevere when life gets in the way.

All We Need Is Love

We announced the final four in the 7th Annual EN Blogger Contest, and now we are bringing you their second round submissions. The prompt: "Eventing has been approved for inclusion in the Olympics through 2024 under an altered format, but the sport still faces uphill battles both in the U.S. and abroad. What can we do to make eventing more appetizing, engaging and understandable to the mainstream public? Share your ideas in an interesting, funny, informative and creative way." Take it away, Renee!

Spectators watch Lauren Keiffer gallop by. Photo by Rare Air Eventing Photography.

Eventing is clearly at something of a crossroads in its history. More than a decade after the twilight of the long format we still face a number of challenges looking towards the future of our beloved sport.

Horse and rider safety is being studied and addressed but still urgently needs further improvement. Events face financial strain; even the World Equestrian Games have been plagued by these woes as they were relocated from the original planned host city for 2018 after sufficient funds could not be secured. Additionally, drawing interest in the sport from the public has been a particular challenge. The very nature of the sport makes it fundamentally expensive to participate in and difficult to understand for those spectators not attuned to a scoring system quite a lot more complex than the largely recognized sports such as soccer and baseball.

Working on this query of how to better engage a broader fan base, I was continuously coming up with questions rather than answers. How can eventing be made more appealing to a mainstream audience? I initially wondered what changes in the sport itself would make it more entertaining and accessible to those outside of our own community. Changing our attire could help, but I’m hardly a fashion designer. In the real world I can honestly barely style myself beyond the trusty t-shirt and jeans combo. So that was a dead end for me. Making the scores easier to understand would be cool, but I’m not a delegate or judge or anyone remotely qualified to make suggestions about rules, format or scoring.

This manner of striking down ideas made me wonder if I had anything to offer at all in this important discussion. I have no background in marketing to suggest the best ways to attract new spectators and participants. I basically felt as though this was a conversation to be had by people who are not me.

My breakthrough came–it should not be surprising to any of you–while I was cleaning stalls. What is it about sifting through shavings that ushers clarity and creative thinking? Whatever it is, I’m thankful for it. I had spent nearly a week focusing my attention on all of the things I am not and wondering how I could write about something I’m not qualified to assess. What I realized, by my sixth stall of the day, was that I couldn’t write an article about what I am not. But I can write about what I am.

People often call me a hippie. I do love tie dye and John Lennon but, more than that, I am a huge believer in love and kindness and positive human interaction. I think that there is so much power in simply treating people well. So I can’t speak to the officials or the organizers or the owners, but I am addressing all of my fellow event riders. Intro through Advanced, amateurs and professionals alike, we can have a tremendous impact on the accessibility of our sport by being more accessible as individuals. We don’t need the “powers that be” to fix it for us, this is something we can address on our own.

I was blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime when I spent ten months working for Buck Davidson, but not long before that I was a young child from a family without the financial means to buy a pony or take lessons or enter horse shows. Every summer I would beg for my parents to bring me to Millbrook Horse Trials just to watch in amazement at the riders I had only seen in magazines, now warming up right in front of me. I spent several years this way, reading Pony Club manuals and Young Rider magazines 51 weekends a year and watching Karen O’Connor, Phillip Dutton, Bruce and Buck Davidson and countless other idols for one glorious day.

One of the happiest memories of my childhood is the day I collected pinnies after cross country at Millbrook. That day I wasn’t just an outsider; I was a part of something big and so exciting. Enamored, I worked my heart out for years until I was finally able to compete and join the sport in earnest. I think that’s what we riders can focus on: we can treat spectators and volunteers as a part of our big, amazing eventing family.

I totally get how busy and stressful shows can be, but take a moment to imagine what it would be like to engage with some of the spectators who often look a little lost. They’re standing around flipping through a program and hoping it can tell them what the heck is going on. We as eventers can reach out to begin opening a dialogue on what our sport is really about.

If you see a group of people standing on the sidelines looking a little lost, take the time to talk to them. Bring some strangers along with you on your course walk. Give your ribbon away to a kid you see watching (honestly you have enough in your tack room, right?). These are the kinds of changes that we can make (without using any additional resources) to engage the public and ensure that their spectating experience gives them a reason to come back. Maybe they’ll even invite other friends to join them.

Any eventer can tell you that the greatest thing about our sport is the spirit of friendship and community that travels with us around the country and even the world. So what could be better than to invite people into our midst by being outgoing and welcoming? I am a lower level eventer, a mom, a former working student and someone who was once very much an outsider of the eventing world. It turns out I didn’t need to be a marketing expert or a technical delegate to come up with a realistic and effective strategy to make eventing more appealing to the public.

All we need is love, guys!

The Dos and Don’ts of Working Student Life

We announced the finalists in the 7th Annual EN Blogger Contest, and now we are bringing you their first round submissions. Leave your feedback in the comments, and please offer your encouragement and support to the finalists! We hope you enjoy their creativity, insight and love of the sport.

Allow me to tell you a cautionary tale …

In the 10 months that I spent as a working student I created amazing memories, learned volumes and made an absurd number of mistakes. Luckily for you I’m going to reveal some of my own fumbles, as well as what I was able to learn from them in hindsight. Whether you are a working student currently, hope to be one someday or just enjoy a good old cautionary tale, I’ve got you covered!

DO work as hard as you can. I was a terrible rider when I first arrived, but I worked my butt off mucking stalls and helping around the barn and everyone noticed and appreciated it, especially my boss. So instead of being the outcast due to my lack of riding ability I was seen as a valuable team member.

DON’T complain. All of the other working students are tired and sore and covered in bruises and blisters too. They don’t want to hear about it.

DO find healthy, positive ways to handle your stress. I have never been as stressed as I was in my working student days. My biggest mistake was letting my stress get out of control and dealing with it in the most unproductive ways. Exercise, meditate, watch a movie, listen to music, or whatever else helps you feel calm.

DON’T take up smoking cigarettes and drinking to forget about your stress. It won’t end well. Ask me how I know.

DO take the extra time to take care of yourself. Use sunscreen, pack yourself some lunch to eat quickly between rides, drink lots of water. None of this is rocket science, but it’s easy to neglect yourself when there is so much else to do. The healthier you are, however, the more helpful you can be. Your fellow working students, grooms and employers would rather have a happy, nourished worker than a sunburned, hangry, dehydrated mess.

DON’T be selfish. The other working students are in the same boat as you, so help them out whenever you can. They’ll return the favor one day.

DO talk openly with your boss. I was shy and nervous, and this really hurt me in the long run. Looking back I can see how different things could have been if I had been more willing to talk to my boss about problems I was having.

DON’T enter a show when you know that your bank account is literally empty, just because you’re embarrassed to tell coach you can’t afford it.

And finally… DO be kind! Everyone has bad days but, as much as you can, strive to be a smiling face that sets the mood for the barn. Being kind, generous, understanding and patient will have a tremendous impact on your level of success.

About the author: My name is Renee Wright. I am a twenty-something mother of two and a survivor of the Hunger Games working student life. My notable skills include getting lost with a rig full of Buck Davidson’s horses, clipping my own horse half-bald before a lesson with Bruce Sr. and falling off of future CCI4* contenders.