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Victoria Prince

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We Made It to Kentucky: T3D Completed!

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!  

Victoria Prince and FHF Reina. Photo by Xpress Foto.

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.

Victoria Prince and FHF Reina. Photo by Xpress Foto.

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!

Victoria Prince and FHF Reina. Photo by Xpress Foto.

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. 

The Long, Winding Road to the Kentucky T3D: T3D Minus 6 weeks

Victoria Prince and Reina at the summer 2017 event at Otter Creek, where they won their Prelim/Training division. Photo by Xpress Foto.

The classic format three-day event has long been a personal goal of mine. As a teenaged pony clubber growing up in England, I obsessively read Lucinda Green’s books about her early eventing experiences and made annual pilgrimages to Badminton and Burghley with my horse-crazy friends. Years later, as a 40-something naturalized American citizen residing in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase a horse and once again get involved with eventing. Many hours of poring over the USEA and EN websites as I moved up through Beginner Novice, to Novice, and on to the excitement of Training level, convinced me that the T3D was the right goal.

My first adult horse, Stormy, was a “solidly” built (but very photogenic) grey Percheron/Thoroughbred mare, who seemed as brave as a lion — right up to those moments when she decided a cross country fence might need a second look. I learned a great deal, won a few lower place ribbons, but over a few seasons with 20 penalties at too many events we failed to complete my qualifying rounds for the T3D. The years went by, and realizing Stormy was better suited to helping show another inexperienced rider the ropes, I moved on to my second horse.

The beautiful and talented FHF Reina, with her Percheron/Thoroughbred dam and fancy Oldenburg sire, came to me as a green rising 7-year-old who had never jumped. But her dressage breeder and trainer (mother-daughter duo Peg and Jennifer Kaiser of Forrest Hill Farm in Lafayette, Indiana) knew their filly, correctly identifying a horse who would not only be able to jump, but would also love it. Reina benefitted from a fantastic, professional, flatwork grounding and has naturally good paces, which means the only reason for less than stellar dressage scores is me.  Teaching her to jump was a wonderful experience, and with help from both my long-term trainer Steve Farkos of Winsom Farm in Beecher, IL and several others — including an especially timely clinic when Reina was a wiggly, green, Beginner Novice horse with Lucinda Green herself — I managed to nurture and not spoil her ability.

Fast forward seven years to our current goal of the Hagyard MidSouth T3D, which will take place next month in the Kentucky Horse Park. We have been to the Horse Park for the Memorial Day weekend May-Daze competition numerous times, and competing on that hallowed four-star ground is always a special treat. Today, we are six weeks away from the start of the T3D.

I have learned a lot about horsemanship in the past decade, some of it the hard way, and know there is still plenty more to learn — including a whole lot of ways this can go wrong. We have been competing in the Prelim/Training division the last couple of years, and this year schooling some serious-sized Prelim cross country fences at clinics, so I know she has plenty of jump.

By contrast, speed is not her forte; with her lack of Thoroughbred blood she doesn’t really love to gallop, and we have to hustle to make 450 or 470 mpm, especially when there are hills involved.  While Stormy may have been a chunker, she was also the great grand-daughter of Seattle Slew and definitely enjoyed a good gallop. The more elegant Reina really prefers to just lope along peacefully.  One of my hopes is that the steeplechase, and the increased fitness she will need for the T3D, will make her a more forward thinking horse — maybe even a Prelim horse before we both get too old.

We have been qualified to do the T3D for multiple years, but for one reason or another the time has not seemed right — until now. I returned from Area IV’s summer Otter Creek event, having had both an uncharacteristic stop at a jump in the water and a silly rider error in stadium (missing the finish) that led to a technical elimination, but with a plan to keep on training beyond the September Area IV championships and to go down to Kentucky in October for the T3D.

Four weeks later there have already been multiple hiccups in the plan, but I think we are still on course. Hiccup number one was that my back gave out 24 hours after I returned home from Otter Creek. Several chiropractor appointments later it’s a whole lot better, but still not 100% — let’s call it a work in progress. Hiccup number two is that one of the reasons I missed my finish in show jumping at Otter Creek was concern about Reina’s jumping; she felt awkward and seemed to be trying much too hard to make those Prelim-sized fences. Two days later flexion tests confirmed that both her hocks and her stifles needed injections, and I went ahead and got that scheduled with my regular vet. This meant she would need a few days off, so I moved straight into my conditioning schedule in an attempt to get ahead of the game.

Years earlier I had downloaded “A T3D conditioning schedule” and still had it on my laptop. Some web-surfing revealed it to be a modified version of a Sally O’Connor plan, and according to multiple riders an effective approach for a less-than-speedy warmblood horse. Remarkably, it is a nine-week plan, precisely the time I had between Otter Creek and Hagyard MidSouth, and it also suggested a horse trials at week five, right when we are set to go back to Otter Creek for Area IV championships. Surely this was a sign?

The conditioning schedule involves one long trot a week, one session with interval sets at trot and canter, and six days a week of riding with extra saddle time at the walk. I’m a University professor who also has an administrative role, live nearly an hour from the barn, and have a schedule that does have some flexibility but also takes me out of Chicago to conferences and teaching obligations elsewhere. In other words, I can’t possibly do all that on my own, especially with an iffy back and a significant other who actually likes to see me occasionally.

Enter Team Reina. Team member number one, Kathy J., lives next to the barn, teaches riding for a living, and has ridden Reina for me for several years. Luckily she adores Reina and is happy to keep riding her one day a week, and can even add a second day occasionally, but only that on her own days off. Team member number two, Jessica, sadly has a slightly lame horse right now, but in addition to being a very competent young rider she is essentially a professional groom having spent nearly a year working with a professional eventer out east. She expressed willingness to put in some saddle time, and even volunteered that if she could escape work she could be my 10-minute box person in Kentucky. Things were looking pretty good.

Victoria Prince and Reina. Photo by Xpress Foto.

Next hiccup: I try my first day of trot and canter sets, admittedly in nasty hot and humid conditions, and find to my dismay that my horse really doesn’t want to gallop for four mins at 470 mpm. The very useful Equilab app shows that we barely hit 430 mpm! Worse still, my back was not happy, my legs were not under good control, and in my attempts to speed her up I gave her a spur rub. I felt terrible about it, and for the next week fretted that maybe the whole plan was hopeless.

But the next time we did sets Kathy came along too, on her hot little Thoroughbred Frankie. This time we were supposed to add a minute of galloping at 520 mpm, the temps were down, the ground was perfect, and at that point I got seriously run away with. Not that I am complaining, on the contrary that made me so happy I was giggling about it, and even more pleased later on when I found out we hit 565 mpm for a moment. So maybe Reina can gallop after all! Although true to type, at the end of our set all I had to do to stop was say whoa, while Frankie took a few circles to pull up — hey, we can’t all be racehorses.

Hiccup three was the need for a groom. Jess found out she could not escape work for the T3D weekend after all. I emailed a few likely people but none could manage it. I even started to work on my long-suffering boyfriend, who has got quite good at leading and grazing Reina in recent years. He was too nice to say no, but probably felt relieved when to my great surprise my good friend, long-term riding partner, and fellow professor (who has a schedule even crazier than mine) offered to fly down on the Friday, be the all-important 10-minute box person, and drive back with me Sunday. With my buddy on board it seemed another problem was solved.

Then it was time for Reina’s injections. Needles in joints never fail to make me nervous, but she behaved perfectly and it seemed to go well. My vet Mike expressed jealousy of my T3D plan and told me the classic was one of his best ever equestrian experiences. Reina spent that night in a stall and then went back out with her girlfriend in the dirt lot the next morning.

All looked good at that point, but the second morning, as I checked on her after a visit to my chiropractor, her hocks seemed swollen. Taking photos of the hocks was a challenge, as Reina thought my phone was a treat that needed nibbling, but I got one half-decent one and forwarded it to Mike. He didn’t seem too concerned, and recommended a couple of grams of bute, but I spent the next 24 hours convinced she would need weeks to recover and we wouldn’t even get to Championships let alone Kentucky. The next day we all stood and stared at her hocks. Are those really lumps or was she always that way? No heat was reassuring and she was certainly walking out sound and happy, but a better knowledge of my horse’s legs was clearly called for. On the fourth day, I gave her a first easy ride, breathed sighs of relief that she felt fine, and then left town for a teaching assignment on the east coast.

While I was away, in addition to standard team Reina, I had organized a ride by local dressage trainer Korin Rinaldo, who rides beautifully and has known Reina since she was a foal. Korin then sent me video of gorgeous canter work, making we both delighted that my horse is so lovely, and full of feelings of inadequacy that I can’t get her to go that well myself. Her report that Reina had “never felt better” filled me with more dreams of Kentucky, and I gleefully walked my entry to the local Post Office right on opening day, so I could make 100% sure it went off safely.

But the very next day brought another set-back. Kathy reported she had found girth rubs, not on one side but two. Every fall as her coat changes, Reina gets thin skinned, and last year she developed a nasty girth gall in early September. I spent a sleepless night cursing myself for neglecting to remind everyone to pull Reina’s legs forward to avoid pinching under the girth, wondering just how many bareback rides my bad back might tolerate, and having horrible visions of being sent home in disgrace from Kentucky with weeping sores on her sides.

Early the next morning, requested photos from Jess popped up on my phone — no weeping sores, no lumps, just a couple of little hairless areas. Once again I breathed easier, and my blood pressure came down several notches, but not all the way to normal because now the weather was causing trouble. Where I was out east, it was sunny and beautiful, allowing me to get some human conditioning work by swimming in the Atlantic each day. But back in Chicago it was raining. A lot. In fact, the Equilab app showed a walk down the road was the best Jess could do for me, not the conditioning sets the schedule called for.

Today I flew back from the East coast, found the “Bickmore Gall Salve Wound Cream” I had ordered from Amazon on the doorstep, and headed out to the barn. The rubs really don’t look bad and the blogosphere claims close to magical healing and hair-growing properties for the salve; we will see if it works. It was certainly nice to be back on my horse for a flat lesson, albeit in our rather small indoor arena as the rain was still coming down. We finished with another walk down the road in the drizzle and I realized that she has now missed two of her conditioning sets. At least the forecast at Otter Creek for Championships the weekend after next looks reasonable, and it will be interesting to see how she copes with the long course and steep hills this time out.

My list for the next six weeks is packed. I need to work on my own fitness while not making my back worse, teach Reina to tolerate having her temperature taken, find her pulse — I know it has to be there somewhere — train her to trot up nicely in hand for the “jog,” select a perfect outfit to best compliment her chestnut coat, find a way to practice 520 mpm over a steeplechase fence, persuade the farrier to leave me her old shoes as emergency spares, gather all the necessary items for the 10-minute box, schedule her health certificate, learn the T3D dressage test, and I’m sure there is more that I’m forgetting. Oh yes, try and get a nice placing at Championships to earn a spot at next year’s AECs so we can have another excuse to go to Kentucky.

More to come!