Congratulations are in order to Vicky Prince, who last week completed her first Training Three-Day at Hagyard Midsouth Three-Day Event & Team Challenge in Lexington, Kentucky. She shared a blog post about her and FHF Reina’s journey to the T3D last month (“The Long, Winding Road to the Kentucky T3D: T3D Minus 6 Weeks“), and now she returns with a recap of their final weeks leading up to the event and the event itself!
Back at T2D minus six weeks we headed to Otter Creek for Area 4 Championships. There I learned that my horse Reina has an excellent memory. She remembered the whole course from the summer competition, including that part where she runs right past the jump in the water before circling around and popping over it. Sigh. In better news, she was jumping happily and well after her hock injections, felt confident to canter down the seriously steep hill at the end of the course, and came out fresh and ready for stadium the next day.
Even though we still had time faults, she was clearly fitter and better prepared than the month before. The gorgeous venue, sunny weather and fact my sister Penny had come all the way from England to join me at the show helped make it a lot of fun. Best of all, Team Reina member Kathy J. won the Beginner Novice championship with “Sock Monkey” (AKA Frankie), making Otter Creek a wonderful success for our Winsom Team.
Penny and I took a trip after the show, and although for a few days Team Reina were reporting a worrying bit of stiffness, it seemed to pass quickly, and overall she seems to be in very good health. Importantly, blood work showed her Vitamin E levels were normal, something we care about a lot because she had a very frightening tying up incident at the 2017 AEC, right before we headed out on cross country.
Her other parameters were OK, although her red blood cell count was on the low side. Our vet Mike suggested an iron supplement might provide extra “oomph,” and as we need all the oomph we can get I purchased an expensive bottle of highly recommended dark brown ‘gloop’ called Lixotinic.
The next morning brought a series of entertaining — if frustrating — texts from Kathy: Reina was not only refusing to eat the “highly palatable even to finicky eaters” supplement, but both she and her pasture pal Scout were prancing around the offending feed bowl, snorting and rolling their eyes in sheer terror at this outrageous alteration to delicious grain. Since then, with smaller doses, Reina has proven willing to accept this sad travesty of feed contamination, and it has come with the convenient side effect that her small, but bossy, buddy Scout no longer finds the grain worth trying to steal.
With winter approaching, Reina’s chestnut coat was thickening up. She always looks her best in fall, with her coat darkening to auburn, toning nicely with the autumn colors. At T3D minus three weeks we went for a fun trail ride by the river at Kankakee State Park. Reina and Scout were delighted to escape from home for a 12-mile romp in the park, trotting and cantering along enthusiastically, but as the morning warmed up they sweated badly in their thick coats. I gave Reina a thorough bath when we got home, to get her nice and clean ready for clipping time. It had been several years since I clipped her myself, as she has been spending her winters in Aiken, South Carolina, at Julie Zapapas’ gorgeous Jumping Branch Farm, where I have let the experts do the clipping. I took my time giving her a trace clip and managed to do a decent job, avoiding the embarrassment of a corduroy horse.
The last few weeks before the competition passed uneventfully and Reina’s conditioning regime continued. A week out we took a stadium lesson with Bernard Morauw, at Versailles Equestrian, to remind us both how to jump and get a bit of a tune up. The ground was too wet to ride cross country, but had dried up enough by Sunday to allow a final gallop at home. On Monday, we hit the road, but only headed as far as Lafayette, for evening and morning dressage sessions at Reina’s breeding place, Forrest Hill Farm, with Jennifer Kaiser. These definitely helped, but I wished I had been able to make it to FHF more times this year.
Tuesday morning, after spending the night with another good horse friend, my Tahoe was iced up for the first time this year, but we had an easy drive to the Kentucky Horse Park and settled in that afternoon. On Wednesday morning, we long format folks had our first rider meeting, getting a few of our questions answered and meeting one another. This was followed by the first of several extremely helpful sessions with the charming and informative Dorothy Crowell, this time helping us learn how to best present our horses at the jog. We were not very good students, as most of us had not thought to actually bring a horse along, but a few surprised equines were hastily rustled up.
My new friend Brittney Posey grabbed her gelding from where he was peacefully grazing in a round-pen, so we were able to see or physically practice how it should be done. We were reminded that chain shanks, if looped so a horse can get a foot through, are extremely dangerous, that the horse needs to trot from a cluck and not be pushed or pulled, as it must trot freely on a loose rein, and that you should always turn the horse away from you.
Dorothy also pointed out that we must take care not to allow our horses to get too close to others and risk a kick in the pre-jog chaos, and that we must not inadvertently force the horse to take what looks like a bad step — for example by pulling it back to a walk or starting to trot while still in the turn. I was very glad that I had read up on this in advance and done some serious practicing, but without Dorothy’s advice to stick my right arm out straight, placing my hand behind the horse’s chin, I’m sure I would have pulled Reina crooked — another way to make your horse look un-level.
I was very lucky to have kind and helpful barn neighbors, who were always ready to have a friendly chat. They also generously helped me quickly bridle Reina for the jog, when I suddenly realized I was about to miss my slot. There was no time to enact some of my plans, such as tidy human hair or lipstick, but Reina was braided, shiny, and with unusually clean socks, and I popped on a fancy hat (purchased earlier this year at Badminton), and pretty much felt the part. Dashing over to the “Rolex jog strip” also worked quite well to get Reina moving freely, and while it was a stressful one minute we were immediately accepted.
Right after that the jog we went out on the roads and tracks for the first time. Brittney and I took our pair of chestnuts out in the sunshine and decided that whatever else happened, the opportunity to trot and canter around the KHP was already a great experience. At the end of Phase A, where we found we could indeed trot a kilometer in the needed four minutes, we got our first glimpse of the steeplechase track. There we saw five imposing – but secretly quite small – brush fences on an undulating oval track next to the polo field. We were glad to know we would get a chance to school the steeplechase on Friday.
Despite the multiple days before the competition started for real, I seemed to be constantly busy with looking after my horse, riding her, walking cross country, attending information sessions, or learning the roads and tracks. On Thursday while I was out walking the course, Reina entertained people by taking an extended nap in her round-pen, including laying out flat and playing dead for a while. The horse park got gradually busier as people started to roll in for the extremely popular Hagyard team event, and before I knew it we had reached dressage day.
The T3D test is quite like Prelim Test B, held in the long arena and including leg yields. It also includes three halts (unusually starting with one at X), and it was also my first experience with two judges. I was slightly intimidated to spot USEA President Carol Kozlowski at E, although she is always extremely friendly and supportive and we felt honored she chose to come along to this event, especially given other bigger competitions were happening.
On route to warm up, poor Reina met two large draught horses pulling a huge clanking wagon. She is normally a very mellow horse, especially now that she is a teenager, but this sight was definitely a shock to her system and led to somewhat frantic jogging on the spot before we beat a hasty retreat. After that, she was unfortunately a bit distracted for the entire ride, though most of the deficits in our test were purely a result of poor/nervous riding on my part. We finished on a not very impressive 36, and my plans for next year include dressage shows to help get over arena nerves.
Right after our test I quickly swapped to jumping tack, popped studs in, donned my safety vest, and trotted smartly through the Phase A route to our steeplechase school. Dorothy provided some useful advice, then has us start out over a triple bar at speed, before turning downhill towards jump 4 of the actual steeplechase. She explained that steeplechase is cross country stripped down to its bare elements: All you need to do is change your balance ahead of the jump by sitting up tall, and sinking your heels down to bring your seat into the saddle, keep your hands low and your leg on. It’s hard to do so little, but Reina seemed to get the general idea — though as I had suspected she didn’t really see the need to gallop too fast. Dorothy talked to me about my galloping position and how this could help her get some additional speed; another thing to work on next year.
Next stop on Friday was the Lexington airport to collect my friend, helper, and groom for the weekend Ilaria. As a long-term riding buddy, she knows both Reina and me extremely well, and it was great to have her with me for a final cross-country walk before our big day, followed by a tasty dinner to help provide the energy I would need.
Saturday dawned damp and dreary. It had rained as forecast overnight, making the ground soft enough to need bigger studs, but still very pleasant and safe. As we got ready, including arranging a full array of spare “everything you can possibly think of for horse or rider,” on and under a tarpaulin in the 10-minute box, the chilly drizzle continued, with Ilaria optimistically reporting bright spots on the horizon. Just as I put a foot in the stirrup at 11:30 a.m. she was proved right, as the sun came out. Sixteen minutes later, it was pleasantly cool (in the 50s) and sunny, as we trotted out onto phase A. I felt a surge of emotion as we headed out – I was really doing my long awaited T3D!
The 16 minutes of Phase A worked perfectly; I arrived with one extra minute to spare to get my stirrups up a hole for steeplechase. We galloped out and had a slightly awkward jump over the first brush, but things improved after that. By jump 3 she was jumping out of stride as approved, though I knew we really were not going fast enough. If I had planned my start more effectively, and made a better first turn, I suspect I would have made the time — we were just three seconds late. Ilaria had hustled over on our, also oddly slow, golf cart to check Reina still had four shoes — she did — and later reported that Reina was the only horse she saw, who right after the finish flags thought slowing down was the thing to do. Quite unlike all those hot Thoroughbreds who just wanted to just keep galloping.
The 25 minutes of Phase C provided a nice mixture of walk and trot to cool down a little and recover. I didn’t let her walk for more than a couple of minutes at a time, as Julie Zapapas has warned me that she could get too chilly if I didn’t keep her moving, and we again arrived with about a minute in hand. Reina didn’t fully approve of the vet’s slow thermometer, but I was delighted that her temperature was already down to around 101.5, and her respiration rate and pulse were also good. Our 11 minutes flew by, but her TPR came down further in the box as expected, and she jogged out sound as a bell before Ilaria boosted me back into the saddle with two minutes to go.
We took a quick jog around the start box and I didn’t miss the normal frenzy of the warm up one iota as we galloped out onto Phase D. This was when the whole point of the long format really became clear. I think we had our best ever cross country round. My horse felt confident, balanced, and seemed to meet every single jump on a good spot. The technical parts like the bending line to the drop fence, and the coffin, all rode perfectly. She headed enthusiastically into both water complexes despite our hiccups at Otter Creek, and although we came in 15 seconds late, Ilaria reported I had the biggest grin on my face she had ever seen.
We headed back to the vet box, and were quickly released, as once again all her numbers were very good. I turned her straight into a round-pen to enjoy a well-deserved roll before she had her legs iced, and then put her back outside where she is happiest. Although by this point we were in a lowly 22nd place, I was still delighted with my day.
Sunday was a very chilly but absolutely gorgeous day. Given the needed early start, I was glad I had braided the night before, then left Reina wrapped up in blanket with a neck attachment back out in the round pen. Her braids were intact and her legs looked great as we pulled her in for breakfast in the half light, ahead of our 8 a.m. jog. At the jog Carol Kozlowski asked about Reina’s rather cute spattering of white “birdcatcher” spots – do they move around? Yes, they do! Another official pointed out this would make her passport challenging. I elected not to mention out that I doubted we would be needing a passport anytime soon.
Importantly, she trotted out sound and happy once again. We had a long wait to stadium, but I enjoyed my warming and tasty competitor breakfast, very thoughtfully provided by the show mid-morning, and it was fun to watch the Training level team competitors in action. Given my low placing, I was one of the first riders on the T3D stadium course, and although our first two warm up jumps were a bit awkward and lackluster, after some additional long and low stretching work she got back her usual bounce and went into the arena feeling fully ready to jump again.
We had a nice round, dropping just one rail at the third after I allowed her to get a little long and flat. As we left the ring I was delighted to receive not one but two completion ribbons. While I would love to go back, iron out some kinks, and come home with a top 10 placing, my number one goal of completing a T3D had been achieved.
Thank you to all members of “Team Reina,” my vet, farrier, multiple wonderful trainers — especially Steve Farkos of Winsom Farm — Jessie and Kathy who helped so much with conditioning, my groom and friend Ilaria, and all our other supporters for helping us reach this goal. Thanks also to the officials, volunteers, vets, grounds people and all involved with making the Hagyard Midsouth such a special event.
About Victoria: I’m a 53-year old adult amateur living in Chicago. Many years ago, in a country far far away (England), I completed my British Horse Society Assistant Instructor’s qualification before starting graduate school. Nowadays I board at Winsom Farm in Beecher, IL, and mostly train there with barn owner Steve Farkos. When I’m not riding, I am a biology professor and dean for graduate students at the University of Chicago. I live with my boyfriend Robert and our cardigan corgi Rogie. The fact that my horse’s name — FHF Reina — also starts with an R is purely coincidental.