Leslie Wylie
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Hawley Bennett Is Over the Moon With Her ‘Pocket Rocket’

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice at WEG 2014. Photo by Jenni Autry. Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice at WEG 2014. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Hawley and Gin & Juice caught a shooting star in the dressage ring today, laying down a top-20 score of 47.8.

With the sole exception of the Event at Rebecca Farm CIC3* earlier this summer, where they scored a 47.1, today’s score was a personal best in their 9-year history of competing in FEI events. They bested their score at the 2010 WEG, where they helped earn a Team Silver for Canada and finished 17th individually, by 4.7 points.

Hawley was all smiles when we caught up with her after her test:

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice

Looking forward to seeing this pair make short work of cross-country tomorrow! Still to come from the North American contingent this afternoon are Boyd Martin/Shamwari 4 and Selena O’Hanlon/Foxwood High. Go USA! Go Canada! Go Eventing!

WEG Thursday Morning Dressage Open Thread: Jock Paget Makes a Statement

It’s day two of dressage here at WEG! We’ll be bringing you live updates from the competition each day, so keep refreshing this page for all of the insanity (or as much insanity as there can be in dressage!) coming down the pipe.

All Things WEG: Website | Definite Entries | WEG Facebook | @normandie2014 | EN’s Coverage | EN’s Preview | FEI TV | Live Scores

6:50 a.m. EST: One American in the top 10 with Boyd still to come. That top 10 is looking fierce! We’re off to the lunch break now and will conclude dressage with our afternoon open thread at 8 a.m. EST.

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6:48 a.m. EST: Another great test from Germany coming from Dirk Schrade and Hop and Skip.

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6:44 a.m. EST:

6:42 a.m. EST: Jock and Clifton Promise have scored a 38! Just the second we’ve seen in the 30s. Jock tells Promise he’s a good boy and looks elated.

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6:38 a.m. EST:

6:36 a.m. EST: So great to see Jock back at it on such a big stage. Getting some lovely marks so far.

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6:33 a.m. EST:

6:29 a.m. EST: What a lovely mare. And just eight years old. Poland’s Jacek Jeruzal riding Flandia 2.

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6:28 a.m. EST: How cute (and spot on) is this? Video by Gamal Awad.

6:26 a.m. EST: 20 penalties separate 1st from 46th place currently. #notadressageshow

6:19 a.m. EST: Eveline Bodenmuller and Jiva De La Brasserie CH attacked their medium trot.

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6:14 a.m. EST: Another powerhouse Great Britain rider, Kristina Cook and De Novo News are underway. Looking quite relaxed.

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6:06 a.m. EST:

6:01 a.m. EST: The Brazilian team is delighted after a lovely test from Ruy. 44.2 and eighth place!

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5:56 a.m. EST: Brazil’s Ruy Fonseca and Tom Bombadill Too (how fun is that horse’s name to say? Try it) in the ring now and trending nicely for top 10.

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5:52 a.m. EST:

5:48 a.m. EST: We’re back for the final group before the lunch break. Ireland’s Joseph Murphy and Electric Cruise are in the ring.

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5:35 a.m. EST: Lovely test from Hawley and Gin & Juice. Should slide them into the top 15. Hawley looks pleased with her mare’s effort. [UPDATE] 14th place on a 47.8. Team Canada will be quite pleased! Second coffee break of the morning commencing now.

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5:33 a.m. EST: Ginny is looking focused – this pair really puts on a sparkling show.

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5:30 a.m. EST: Heads up Canada! Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice are circling!
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5:26 a.m. EST:

5:21 a.m. EST:

5:15 a.m. EST: Italy’s Stefano Fioravanti is the seventh helmeted rider we’ve seen today. Already trending towards more helmets than we saw yesterday! #mindyourmelon

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5:14 a.m. EST:

5:10 a.m. EST:

5:07 a.m. EST: Lynn talks with EN about her test today.

5:01 a.m. EST: Shane Rose’s Taurus looks quite tense today but Shane does a good job keeping a lid on it.

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4:57 a.m. EST: Qalao Des Mers another who isn’t a fan of crowd noise. Too bad he’s in front of his home crowd – big cheers for this pair! They go into ninth place with a 45.3.

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4:54 a.m. EST:

4:51 a.m. EST: Riding for the home team, Maxime Livio and Qalao Des Mers are underway now. Who else has a thing for Selle Francais?

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4:37 a.m. EST: The leaderboard remains relatively unchanged after the first group this morning. Plenty still to come, though! #watchoutWilly

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4:33 a.m. EST: We all know Donner is not a fan of crowd noise, so he naturally came a bit undone after the final halt! Lynn will take a 53.0 into cross country tomorrow.

Lynn Symansky and Donner

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4:31 a.m. EST: Nice looking changes from Donner so far. Lynn is doing a wonderful job of keeping him focused today.

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4:29 a.m. EST: Lynn really went for it on her medium trot.

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4:27 a.m. EST: USA cheering on Lynn and Donner, who are down centerline now!

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4:24 a.m. EST:

4:23 a.m. EST: Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice taking in the sights. This Canadian pair will ride at the end of the second group this morning.

Via the Hawley Bennett Eventing Facebook page.

Via the Hawley Bennett Eventing Facebook page.

4:21 a.m. EST: FYI!

4:20 a.m. EST: The only rider for South Africa, Alexander Peternell and Ash in the ring now. Lovely looking horse, but struggling to receive the judges’ approval.

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4:12 a.m. EST: Another veteran German pair, Peter Thomsen and Horseware’s Barny. Peter is a definitely one that we amateurs can look up to!

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4:08 a.m. EST: Lots of emotion for Sebastien’s connections!

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4:07 a.m. EST: We feel you, Cobie!
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4:03 a.m. EST: What an elegant horse Tarango De Lully CH is! Ridden by Switzerland’s Sebastien Poirier.

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4:00 a.m. EST: Irish represent!

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3:56 a.m. EST: Ireland’s Camila Speirs and Portersize Just a Jiff are underway now. This little horse is also giving his all, he just isn’t as big of a mover as some others we’ve seen.

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3:54 a.m. EST: Lucy looked positively thrilled with her debut at WEG. She will go into equal sixth with Phillip Dutton on 43.6.

3:50 a.m. EST: Willy Do is trying his little heart out for New Zealand’s Lucy Jackson. This pair are putting in a lovely test so far. Very relaxed.

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3:48 a.m. EST:

3:44 a.m. EST: Kim and Sparky have gone in for the individual test! Sparky is a bit up today, but if anyone can rein him in, it’s veteran rider Kim.

Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless

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3:37 a.m. EST: Good morning, Laine!

3:36 a.m. EST:

Brave in the extended canter, hope that gets him better marks. Neat first change. The horse looks a bit overawed by the surroundings.
— Event Riders Assoc (@EventRidersAssc) August 29, 2014

3:32 a.m. EST: And we’re underway! Oliver Townend and Black Tie are first in and look ready to get their weekend started.

3:15 a.m. EST: The sun is shining bright here at Haras du Pin, a welcome change from yesterday’s gloom and rain. Everyone is in cheery spirits and we’re looking forward to watching two Team USA riders lead off today’s competition — Kim Severson and Fernhill Fearless are second to go and Lynn Symansky and Donner are eighth on the schedule. William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning currently hold the lead on a score of 37.5 with two German riders on his heels, Michael Jung in second on a 40.7 and Ingrid Klimke in third on a 41.2.

Leslie Law’s Sydney Olympic Partner Shear H20 Has Passed Away at Age 24

Leslie Law and Shear H20 at Burghley in 2004. Photo: Gareth Owen/Creative Commons. Leslie Law and Shear H20 at Burghley in 2004. Photo: Gareth Owen/Creative Commons.

Our thoughts are with the many individuals whose lives were touched by Shear H20 (“Solo”), the great grey Irish-bred gelding who was successfully competed by Leslie Law in the 2000 Olympics and beyond.

From Lesley Grant-Law’s Facebook page this afternoon:

Sadly Leslie’s great horse Solo (H2O) had to be put down today. Medalist at Sydney and 2nd and 3rd at Badminton and that is just off top of my head. Leslie adored that horse and often praised him as his most favorite most consistent horse ever. Many thanks to Claire Llewelyn who gave him a lovely life post Leslie and the Jeremy Lawton and Susan Lawton who proudly owned him.

Solo was the first of two similarly striking ISH brothers upon whom Leslie would win Olympic medals for Great Britain — Team Silver on Shear H20 in 2000 and Individual Gold on Shear L’eau in 2004. Leslie and Shear H20 completed Badminton and Burghley twice apiece with no cross-country jump penalties between 2002 and 2004, finishing in the top five all but once. They were also on the Bronze Medal winning team at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. The horse was retired in a ceremony at the European Eventing Championships at Blenheim in 2005.

“Solo has realised dreams for me I did not even imagine I had,” said co-owner Jeremy Lawton in this “Horse & Hound” article published on the eve of Solo’s retirement. “For Leslie, he was the horse that finally gave him the success he had worked and strived so long for. If Solo had not been as good as he was we might never have bought Shear L’eau and Leslie might not be Olympic Champion.”

Godspeed Solo, and Go Eventing.

Donner’s Story: All-American OTTB Represents Team USA

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry. Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Heather Benson of Retired Racehorse Project researches the breeding and racing history of Lynn Symansky’s Donner, one of two American-bred OTTBs competing at WEG.

From Heather:

Not only is Donner the only OTTB on Team USA, he is the only horse that was actually bred in the USA, the rest being European imports. Recently the Retired Racehorse Project took a closer at this pair that is truly representing Team USA through and through!

Donner was foaled on April 18, 2003 in New York. His dam, Smart Jane, was a sound and tough race mare that saw 45 starts, mainly in her home state of Maryland. She etched out three wins and was retired at age six after pulling up in her last race at Pimlico.

Donner’s grandsire, Smarten, at age 17 in 2003. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com

Donner’s grandsire, Smarten, at age 17 in 2003. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com

Smart Jane relished a long distance — all of her wins came at a mile or more and she ran her best the longer the races went. This is no surprise when you take a closer look at her pedigree. Smart Jane is by the well regarded Maryland stallion Smarten, an extremely tough horse that had both speed and stamina to spare. In his three-year-old season, he had the misfortune to run into a whirlwind named Spectacular Bid but still managed six wins out of 17 starts, including the Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and American Derbies. His very high in the money (1st, 2nd and 3rd placings) percentage of 81% showed that he was game in every race he started in. Sent to stud in 1980, he would prove a cornerstone of Maryland’s Northview Stallion Station for nearly two decades. Smarten’s best runners include Classy ‘n’ Smart, a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee and dam of U.S. and Canadian Hall of Fame filly, Dance Smartly; Pennsylvania Derby winner Smart Guy; and the outstanding Kentucky sire Smart Strike.

Going one generation further, Donner’s other ancestors also passed on a huge amount of stamina and class down the line. His second dam, Synclinal, was unraced but sired by one of the best stallions of his generation, Vaguely Noble. Vaguely Noble was an Irish-bred Thoroughbred that was considered one of the top horses in Europe in the late 1960s. He beat the best of his generation, including the Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor, in the 1968 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and was promptly purchased and syndicated to stand in the U.S. at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky. There he would become a valuable source of stamina for the American market and become both a leading sire and a leading broodmare sire. His best offspring include the great turf mare Dahlia, Epsom Derby winner Empery and the sensational Exceller.

Vaguely Noble-Donner’s great-grandsire and an important source of stamina in pedigrees. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com.

Vaguely Noble, Donner’s great-grandsire and an important source of stamina in pedigrees. Photo courtesy of finalturngallery.com.

Donner’s third dam (his great-grandmother on his mother’s side) showed the family’s class in another light. Unlike her granddaughter Smart Jane, Hippodamia (by Hail to Reason) loved to run shorter distances and loved to run them fast. American-bred but racing in France, she took home the most important race for French two-year-old fillies, the Criterium des Pouliches, and earned herself the honor of Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in France for 1973. She would follow that up with a second in the French One Thousand Guineas in the following season. But it was in the breeding shed where she made a lasting mark.

Hippodamia was the dam of eight winners from her 15 foals, all bred in the U.S. Her best was Globe (by Secretariat), winner of the Grade 2 Excelsior Handicap and Grade 3 Grey Lag Handicap. Her filly Hoya was a stakes winner in France and then came back to the U.S. where she set a new course record for 1 1/2 miles at Keeneland. Her daughters proved to be stellar broodmares as well, producing 17 stakes winners in succeeding generations.

Sent to the broodmare barn in 2000 with good expectations considering her solid family and race record, Smart Jane produced a number of foals, including the multiple stakes winner Five Diamonds (by Flatter) and stakes-placed Smart Tori (by Tenpins). But it was her third foal, a 2003 colt by Gorky Park (Fr), that would make history.

Donner’s sire, Gorky Park, deserves some recognition as he may well be the source of Donner’s jumping prowess. A French-bred stallion, but the product of an American sire and dam, he raced but was successful not in the flat races like the rest of Donner’s family but over jumps in hurdle and steeplechase races. Starting his career in his native France, he was eventually imported to the U.S. and into the barn of the great trainer Jonathan Sheppard with whom he would win the Continental Cup Steeplechase Handicap at Great Meadow in 1991. Retired after his next race, he then stood at stud in Virginia and New York, siring both flat winners and several notable jumpers.

Donner’s racing career did not begin until July of his three-year-old year, likely due to his large size (17.1 hands). His first race, a Maiden Special Weight over 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Belmont Park, was probably designed to take advantage of his big frame and distance bloodlines, but he tired quickly and finished last. Started again in a nearly identical race two weeks later, Donner (racing as Smart Gorky) again finished last, nearly 30 lengths behind the winner. A new plan soon formed.

Dropped down to the $15,000 claiming level and switched to dirt, Donner showed more interest in his next start and finished in fourth. His connections dropped him down another claiming level, this time to $8,000, in the hopes of getting a win and some confidence for the youngster. Donner pressed the pace in second for the first time in his career but faltered in the long stretch run at Laurel to finish fourth once more.

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Lynn and Donner at Pau. Photo by Jenni Autry.

One a cold December day, right before Christmas in 2006, Donner’s racing connections tried once more to see if their big, gangly gelding wanted to be a racehorse. They entered him once more for a $8,000 claiming tag at Laurel Park and kept the distance to a mile. A big field went to the post that day, 11 in all. Donner raced in the pack, looking like a horse with every chance, but weakened in the stretch, disinterested or tired. A racehorse he was not to be.

Newly retired and looking for a new career, Donner was re-started and then purchased by upper-level eventer Lynn Symansky in 2008. She describes her first impression of the big young horse in a recent blog post in the “Chronicle of the Horse”:

I definitely didn’t know he’d turn into the horse I have today. He was a good athlete and showed a lot of promise, but he was rather flighty and spooky—Donner is aptly nicknamed ‘the deer.’ Some horses are the type that can fit into several disciplines, but Donner never seemed to fit perfectly into any one mold. He didn’t have the movement to be a dressage horse, he wasn’t scopey enough to be a pure show jumper, he wasn’t classic or relaxed enough to be a hunter, he wasn’t quiet enough to be a hunt horse, and he sure didn’t have the feet to be an endurance horse. But what I did know from the very beginning was that he always showed up for work.

Lynn’s work soon paid off and they moved through the lower levels quickly. By 2011 Lynn and Donner found themselves as part of the Gold Medal winning U.S. Team at the 2011 Pan American Games and in 2013, they were not only the Best Conditioned, Best Turned Out and Highest Placed OTTB at 2013 Rolex Kentucky CCI4*, they placed fifth overall, the highest placing American at the nation’s premier three-day event. They’ve had some ups and down since then but the WEG selectors had faith that, despite a less-than-perfect preparation, Donner would show up when he was needed the most. Tomorrow he and Lynn will have their opportunity to shine on the equestrian world’s most prestigious stage, representing their country on multiple levels at once!

Go Donner, Go Team USA and Go Team OTTB.

Top 5 Must-See Things at the WEG Games Village

I am a total trade fair junkie. I love to wander around and buy/lust over/eat/drink all the things. Here are a few of our favorite 2014 Games Village discoveries:

#1. This swanky gear you can’t afford.

But it never hurts to dream! I’m kind of in love with these Sergio Grasso custom boots, especially the ones with the national flags done up in Swarovski crystal. WANT.

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This super-flash shadbelly by Alessandro Albanese also caught my eye, literally. Made of a glistening wool fabric with oversize sparkly crystal buttons and pink accents, it’s DQ to the max. Whether you aim to impress judges or just blind them, this will get the job done in spades.

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#2. This ridiculous French interpretation of an American diner.

It was kind of adorable, actually. The menu was in French but the decor paid homage to nearly every American cliché in existence from personal firearms to “Happy Days” reruns. The equivalent inverse, an American interpretation of a French cafe, would probably involve mustachioed waiters in berets who delivered baguettes to your table on a bicycle.

We should have known better than to order the “Tacos and Guacamole,” which should have been called “Stale Cool Ranch Doritos and Guacamole.” The French fries, however, were an ironic win.

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Or, as Chinch prefers to call them, “freedom fries.”

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Apparently nobody wants to eat bad American food in France. Who’d have thought?

#3. This FEI selfie booth.

In a belated attempt to be technologically hip, the FEI has been really big on selfies lately. A couple weeks prior to WEG they released an app called “Horsify Me” that takes your own face and, in an unexpected nightmare twist, blends it with the face of a horse. Because that’s not disturbing at all! (I tried it out myself here.)

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Anyway, in addition to a iPad station where you could “Horsify” yourself, the FEI’s Games Village tent included a “Selfie Stable” where people could dress up like horses. Haven’t you always wanted to post a selfie of yourself wearing a creepy horse head mask on Instagram?

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#4. This horse-riding simulator.

Sure, a Racewood Simulator costs over $65,000, but unlike your real horse this one will never go lame, refuse a jump (although you can program it to do so if that’s your jam) or require costly upkeep.

This girl is test-driving the jumping model over a virtual cross-country course; dressage, polo and racing simulators are also available. According to the website, “The body, neck and head move independently and the different jumping actions are as close as you can get to the real thing.” It also includes leg sensors that respond to pressure like a horse and sensors on the bit, saddle and stirrups that will give you feedback on your weight and balance. Um, OK, that’s pretty cool. Does anyone have 65 grand I can borrow?

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Elsewhere in the Village, there was this life-sized version of that carnival horse race game where you throw balls into a hole and it makes “your” horse jump forward. Except in this case the kids do it themselves, rocking back and forth to get ahead while their parents place bets outside the gate: “If my kid beats your kid, you owe me 20 bucks.” Or something like that.

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#5. This boozy tribute to Normandy.

Forget milk and honey — this is the land of cider and cheese. (Fun fact: Unlike many parts of the country, Normandy actually doesn’t produce much wine.) These photos were taken inside a great big Normandy-themed tent that showcased the region’s exports, notably including an apple brandy known as calvados. It’s a common custom during meals to take a pause between courses called a trou normand, or “Norman hole,” in which diners partake of a glass calvados in order “to improve the appetite and make room for the next course.” Hey, whatever you French alkies have to tell yourselves.

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The Normandy tent had other stuff too, I guess.

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Keep it locked here for much, much more live from WEG throughout the week! Go Eventing.

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Starving to Death in a Mud Pit: WEG 2014 Is the Woodstock of Eventing

That is one stressed-out Chinch. That is one stressed-out Chinch.

It’s amazing what eventing enthusiasts will go through to watch the rock stars of their sport perform. Wind, rain, cold… we’ll sit through it all with a smile on our face. Yet WEG 2014, which is on track to become the least spectator-friendly international equestrian event of all time, is pushing the limits of even the most diehard fans.

First and foremost, there’s the mud. It’s everywhere and growing worse with each footstep, becoming so deep in places that it’s difficult to traverse. Jenni, who has been risking her life all day trekking back and forth between the stadium and the media tent, explains, “You just kind of have to slide through it. Also you have to keep a safe distance from other people because if one person goes down, we’re all going down.”

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Some people came prepared.

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Others, not so much.

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Dressage has just ended and, as we speak, hundreds of spectators who just want to get the hell out of here are happening upon a brand new surprise: Their cars are stuck in the mud. There are literally tractors towing them out one by one.

But hey, what’s the rush? It would’ve taken hours to get through the country backroad gridlock anyway. Let’s head back into the trade fair, snack on a crêpe and a glass of wine. Bonne chance! If there is an overabundance of mud, there is a deficit of food. During the lunch break spectators stood in ridiculously lengthy lines to get food from the only two food vendors in attendance.

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On the bright side, despite these physical and logistical quagmires, spectator team spirit refused to be dampened.

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OK, the collective team spirit might be a little soggy. But not ours!

Seriously, though, many thanks to the volunteers and event staffers who are doing their best to make the most of these less-than-ideal circumstances. Go Eventing!

 

Phillip Dutton Recaps His Test, Offers Thoughts on XC & Talks Team USA

Phillip Dutton and Trading Aces. Photo by Jenni Autry. Phillip Dutton and Trading Aces. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Phillip and Trading Aces took off in hot pursuit of morning leader Michael Jung after the lunch break, laying down a top-three score of 43.8. Jenni caught up with the U.S.’s veteran team rider after his test:

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Phillip was the last Team USA rider of the day, with Kim Severson and Boyd Martin still to come tomorrow.

Keep it locked here for all the latest action throughout the afternoon. Go Eventing!

This Video of Haras du Pin Will Give You the Creeps

Standing in the stable courtyard of Haras du Pin this morning, a wave of déjà vu washed over me. I had a chilly feeling about it, like I’d seen this place before — but where? A dream? A nightmare? A Tim Burton movie? Then it came to me: It was the backdrop of a strange sequence from the French avant garde film “Mazeppa,” which won Technical Grand Prize at Cannes in 1993 and was created by the equestrian performance artist Bartabas. This particular sequence features a horse and rider cantering across the courtyard in extreme collection, supposedly taking an hour from start to finish, then retracing their steps — backward.

OK, the sequence is obviously edited but the darky, shadowy weirdness of this place is real. Seriously, look at these photos of the stable and tell me it isn’t haunted:

Totally haunted. And why wouldn’t it be? Super-old places usually have a ghost or two. The Haras du Pin, the French National Stud, was founded in 1715 by decree of King Louis XIV….

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

…who happened to be a big fan of dressage. He enjoyed commissioning allegorical horse performances in his courtyard and showing up to them dressed as the sun, literally, in apparent promotion of his image as the center of the French universe. The Haras du Pin became known as “The Palace of Versailles for horses” and has since played an integral role in France’s breeding program. (You can read more about Haras du Pin’s history on its website here.)

Anyway, we’ll be camping out here for the next few days and if we spot any spectral apparitions, you’ll be the first to know. Go Eventing!

 

Sights & Sounds from Wednesday at WEG

Le French Chinch helps himself to a pile of croissants. Le French Chinch helps himself to a pile of croissants.

It’s a quiet day here at Haras du Pin but there’s anticipation in the air and quite a lot going on behind the scenes. We wandered around with a camera, capturing the calm before the storm. Click on any image to view the full photo and caption.

Much, much more coming at you from here in Normandy — keep it locked on Eventing Nation, and Go Eventing!

The WEG Chronicles, Day 2: This Place Is a Cluster (But At Least We Are Drunk)

The sun is setting, and Jenni and I are huddled around a bourbon barrel in the Kentucky Ale bar in the Games Village. We haven’t slept in 33 hours and are on our fifth beer, courtesy of a rowdy bunch of international reining people who keep buying us rounds because USA has won team gold. Do we know anything about reining? Not really. But hey, free beer is free beer. ‘Murica!

Our new friends include reigning double-European reining champion/German team member Alexander Ripper…

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…an off-duty French security guard-gone-wild named Vincent…

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…and a guy who claims to be the actual WEG mascot, Norman.

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Across from us, the Swedish reining team is riding a carousel…

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…and a few tents down, a French lounge singer is massaging our ears with sweet, sweet melodies revolving around the word “l’amour.”

15As random and surreal as all of this sounds, this moment in time actually makes more sense than anything else that has happened to us today.

While WEG’s organizers clearly put a great deal of effort and funding into some aspects of the games — Saturday’s over-the-top opening ceremonies being a prime example — other more practical considerations seem to have been overlooked. The parking situation is ridiculous: We drove around for an hour before giving up, going back to the hotel, and hoofing it to the venue on foot. Shuttles exist but run on “French time” along mysterious, nonsensical routes. Nobody speaks English. Internet is spotty and non-existent in the media hotel. So you can understand why, by the end of the day, heavy drinking seemed like the only logical response.

But hey, today is a brand new day. The sun is shining, there were fresh baguettes and individually wrapped cheeses on the breakfast buffet, and we aren’t even that hungover.

Viva la France!

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The WEG Chronicles: Adventures in Patriotic Packing

I’m a legendarily terrible packer. Seriously. I’ll get somewhere and have 10 shirts but not a single pair of pants, or vice versa. I’ll remember to bring socks or underwear but never, ever both. It’s not for lack of trying — it’s more like I’m always shoving clothes into a suitcase at the last minute and certain basic human necessities get lost in the shuffle.

So when it came time to pack for the World Equestrian Games, this week-long deal taking place on an entirely different continent…

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This time, I decided to go in with a gameplan. A good gameplan? Doubtful. A practical gameplan? Absolutely not. But fun gameplan? Totally.

Basically, this so-called “gameplan” just involved rummaging through my closet and dresser and pulling out anything that looked remotely patriotic. Red, white, blue… star or stripe patterns were a plus. The end result? I was so proud I posted it on my Facebook page:

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But then my WEG travel companion, EN editor Jenni, had to go out and up the ante, scoring some sweet red, white and blue pajama pants at Old Navy. Naturally, I saw her pajama pants and felt compelled to take it to the next level.

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And then she took it one giant step further.

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And then suddenly my suitcase looked like this…

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…and hers looked like this…

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…and the Chinch looked like he was about to run away with a motorcycle gang.

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Well, my flight to Paris s boarding so I’ve gotta run. Until next time, Go Eventing!

WEG By the Numbers: Horse Stats

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Watch out world, EN’s number-crunchin’, math-poppin’, stat-spittin’, digit-droppin’ chinchillas are bringing their calculators to France. Throughout the Games they’ll be taking inventory of the facts and figures that add up to the equestrian world’s most prestigious eventing championships.

Many thanks to Jenni for compiling the this hulking encyclopedia of WEG horses and riders, which doubtlessly saved our team of expert chinchstaticians approximately 10,000 hours of research, and a shout-out to Kate Samuels for her help as well.

Let’s kick off our series with a quantitative look at the field of 2014 WEG horses:

BeFunky_13.jpg234567891011Keep it locked here for much, much more throughout the Games. Go Eventing!

My Virtual Eventing Coach: Handling Conflicting Advice From Trainers

Photo:  Flickr/Steven Lilley/Creative Commons License.
Photo: Flickr/Steven Lilley/Creative Commons License.

Trainer A told me to do THIS but Trainer B told me to THAT — what gives? Lesley Stevenson of My Virtual Eventing Coach offers some advice on how to handle this confusing but common situation.

From Lesley:

Take enough lessons and you will inevitably come across some conflicting advice. How do you know which advice to take? Hands up or hands down? Quiet and still hands or vibrate the reins? Weigh the inside or outside seat bone? Or neither?? Sit to the jumps or stay off your horse’s back? Contact or loose reins? When you are an amateur rider who is still learning the ropes, it can be very confusing (and even upsetting) to get such conflicting advice! Here’s how to best handle these situations, and how to figure out which methods you should use for your horse.

The key is to arm yourself with knowledge. You may be showing at the Novice level, but there is no reason you can’t read and educate yourself to a much higher level. By reading lots of reputable published material, you will begin to see common themes. And will therefore go into each lesson already having an idea of what is right and what is wrong.

Here are some examples:

Most good authors agree that we should strive to have a straight line from the rider’s elbow to the horse’s mouth. This is the way our aids will work the best, with the horse feeling the bit exactly as it was designed to be felt. So if you take a lesson with someone who tells you to keep your hands up in the air, you will have a good idea that this is not really correct.

If all the dressage books tell you that you should ride from your leg into your hand, and not pull the horse’s head down with the reins to make him round. Then you will be ready to doubt the trainer who is telling you to pull your horse’s head down.

If all of the well-known instructors say to train your green horse slowly over his first cross-country jumps like ditches and water to give him confidence, and you find yourself with an instructor who wants you to come at his first ditch at a strong gallop “to make sure he gets over it the first time” — you will have a good idea that this is wrong.

What should you do if you are riding with someone new and one of these situations presents itself? It depends on how damaging the advice would be.

In the case of galloping up to your horse’s first ditch ever, I would have the confidence to say, “No, I don’t think I want to do that. Can we please introduce him to the concept of a ditch slowly?” This is really important, as while your horse may get over his first ditch at a fast gallop, he may look down, become scared in the air and end up harboring a fear about ditches for a long time. If he is allowed to look and figure it out quietly his first time, he will be more likely to think ditches are not a big deal.

If you are taking a lesson with someone who wants you to see saw on the reins to put your horse’s head down, or someone who wants you to carry your hands up in the air above the elbow to bit line, there is probably no danger of long-term damage for things like this. So I would tend to do what they are saying during the lesson, discard that info afterwards, and probably never take another lesson from that trainer again!

When a trainer says something that you are unsure of…. ask questions! You may find that they have a perfectly logical reason for asking you to do something out of the ordinary. For example, if I have a rider who tends to ride with their hands too low, below the elbow-to-bit line, I might have them ride with their hands too high as a temporary correction. As I always say, the best way to correct a bad habit is to exaggerate the opposite — as a temporary exercise.

Always remember that each horse is an individual, and should be treated as such. So while there are many truisms that will apply to every horse, it’s best to keep an open mind, and be ready to let the horse tell you how he will go best.

The most experienced trainers have many different ideas in their toolbox, and can just sense what methods will work best for your horse. Some trainers are somewhat limited in experience, and only know one way of doing everything — specifically what worked for them and their horse. So if you have a sensitive thoroughbred, and they only know how to get the best out of the less-sensitive warmblood type, you may find that their advice may not work as well for you. So you need to be aware of the experience level of the person you are taking a lesson from, to have an idea as to whether or not you should employ their methods. Something that works great for one type of horse may not for another.

While I believe that riders progress the fastest and easiest when they find the best trainer available to them, and stick with that trainer until they are quite solid in their foundation, getting different perspectives occasionally can often be quite helpful. And you can learn something from everyone, even if it’s what NOT to do.

Visit My Virtual Eventing Coach for personalized advice, helpful critiques, tips, articles, educational discussions and blog entries added nearly every single day! In addition members enjoy a supportive community with the ability to chat with each other and cheer each other on, plus free classifieds ads. Check it out today!

Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The First Ladies of Eventing

Sheila Willcox, from her book Sheila Willcox, from her book "The Event Horse."

Amanda Ronan tells the story of two women, one American and one British, who helped destroy the cliche that eventing was too tough a sport for the fairer sex.

From Amanda:

Equestrian is often applauded for being one of only two Olympic events in which women and men compete directly against one another. But the playing field has not always been so level.

From the 1800s forward the highest echelons of eventing competition were only open to military officers in active-duty mounted on military horses, until 1924 when the sport opened to male civilians. But it would be decades still before women were allowed a foothold in the sport. Today we salute two of eventing’s most important female trailblazers: Lana du Pont Wright and Sheila Willcox.

Born in 1937, Sheila Willcox started out as many horse-crazy girls do, in Pony Club. She grew up to be a skilled horsewoman and by 1956 was the top lady rider in British eventing with her horse, High and Mighty. They finished second at Badminton that year and came back in 1957 to win the event. The pair went on to win both Team and Individual Gold medals at the 1957 European Championships. Her return to Badminton in 1958 clinched another win, this time leading from start to finish with a 22-point lead after dressage and a 47-point lead by the conclusion of the event!

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Sheila Willcox, from her book “The Event Horse.”

Sheila returned to Badminton again in 1959 to win, again, with her younger horse, Airs and Graces. She holds the record for the only person to win three consecutive Badminton titles.

Also in 1959, Sheila and High and Mighty added another Team Gold to their roster at the European Championships. Because women were not allowed to ride in the Olympics at that time, High and Mighty was sold to a male eventer, Ted Marsh, though he was never actually selected for the Games. Sheila competed at the highest levels of the sport through the 1960s. This video from Badminton in 1968 has some great footage of Sheila riding Fair and Square.

She continued to rack up titles until a bad fall at Tidworth Horse Trials in 1971 left her partially paralyzed. She switched to dressage where she won several Grand Prix titles with Son and Heir. She was also coach of Team Canada for the 1976 Montreal Games and 1975 Pan Am Games and wrote the first book about the sport of Eventing, “Three Days Running” (1958), followed by the “The Event Horse” (1973).

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The honor of first woman competing in the Olympics goes to Lana du Pont Wright. Lana began her riding career foxhunting with her very equestrian mother, Allaire du Pont, famous for breeding the Thoroughbred racing legend Kelso.

Allaire du Pont and Kelso via the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

Lana and her horse, Mr. Wister out of Occupy, make an appearance late in this 1961 Badminton video:

The pair was selected for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games where she helped clinch a Team Silver for the United States.

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Lana du Pont Wright via the USEA Eventing Hall of Fame.

The cross-country course was slick and treacherous but Lana made it around, barely, enduring a couple of falls along the way. In the “U.S. Equestrian Team Book of Riding,” she writes, “We fell hard, Wister breaking several bones in his jaw. We were badly disheveled and shaken, but Wister was nonetheless eager to continue. We fell a second time near the end of the course, tripping over another spread. When we finished, we were a collection of bruises, broken bones and mud. Anyway, we proved that a woman could get around an Olympic cross-country course, and nobody could have said that we looked feminine at the finish.”

A true Renaissance woman, Lana also competed heavily in endurance and combined driving. Greystone Sir Rockwell “Rocky” was a Connemara-cross whose Thoroughbred dam shared bloodlines with Lana’s 1964 Olympic mount, Mr. Wister. Rocky helped her medal at the World Driving Championships in 1991. She was also one of the founding members of the United States Combined Training Association (now USEA).

Go Women in Eventing!

Finally, a Forever Home: My Struggle to Find a Horse I Can Hang Onto

I’ve never had the opportunity to give a horse a “forever home.” When I was 12, my parents generously bought me my first horse, a sorta-broke 3-year-old Arabian named Mishka, but after that I was on my own. When Mishka maxed out some years later at Training Level, the tough decision was on me: Was I content to plateau or did I want to progress to the next level? The latter meant selling Mishka and reinvesting in a horse more suitable for my goals.

When you’re a teenager and your horse is your best friend, it seems like the most unfair question in the world. Horse owners get just as attached — if not more so — to their horses as dog owners do to their dogs. Yet nobody is expected to trade in their dog for a newer model that can chase a ball faster or catch it higher in the air. A dog is your pet for life.

I cried for weeks after selling Mishka despite the fact that he went to a perfect home. He taught two sisters the ropes of eventing and the bliss of winning everything in sight, and was eventually retired to the family’s beautiful farm. From Mishka…

Leslie and Mishka at River Glen H.T. in 1994-ish.

Mishka at River Glen H.T. in 1994.

…came a 5-year-old off-track thoroughbred named Rowdy. He had a heart of gold and a generous spirit, and we successfully felt our way up the levels together. The world of eventing opened up to me and I owed it all to him. When he was 13 and in his prime, a big-name jumper trainer I occasionally clinic-ed with thought he would be a perfect fit for a student who was looking to make the move from pony hunters to the jumper ring. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and, once again, I found myself heartbroken but confident that I’d made the right decision both for Rowdy and for myself.

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Rowdy Intentions at Rocking Horse H.T. in 2006.

The next string of horses was something of a years-long blur. There was Amadeus, a scopey young Dutch Warmblood; Dan, a diamond-in-the-rough Craigslist OTTB; Esprit, a temperamental Swedish Warmblood; Gallant, a giant Hanoverian with springs on his feet; Surreal, a bonkers but beautiful Argentinean thoroughbred; and Maggie, whom I’ll forever think of as my “heart horse.”

I didn’t want to sell them, especially Maggie, but there wasn’t a choice. Their sales financed the F250 I needed to haul the horses around, paid for opportunities to train and compete, and helped me keep my struggling business afloat. In turn, I got to be the doorway through which each horse eventually passed to their rightful place in the world…

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Left: Maggie and I at Red Hills H.T. in 2010. Top right: Dan and Shannon Menestrina. Lower right: Amadeus and Jesse Krusenklaus. All photos used with permission.

…well, except for Esprit. Esprit was not my most well thought-out investment. By the time I caught up to him, he was a 10-year-old trainwreck who’d basically spent the last six years terrorizing his owner. The first time I rode him he pulled out every trick in the book: bucking, rearing, running sideways, running backwards, spooking, bolting… you name it, he gave it a go. But he was a beautiful mover and clearly athletic beneath all the crazy, so I bought him.

The change of ownership didn’t improve our relationship. He didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. In addition to his bad attitude, bottomless supply of nervous energy and nonexistent work ethic I thought he was too wimpy to be an event horse. I couldn’t even canter him in a straight line across a field. I sent him to a sales barn for a few months to be sold as a jumper… no takers, surprise-surprise. With nothing better to do, I buckled down on his training, a knock-down drag-out battle of will between a bullheaded horse and an equally bullheaded rider.

I guess we’d mutually met our match. Things got better. He began respecting me and I started to have faith in him. Then we started actually liking one another. These days, at age 15, Esprit is a brave, confident cross-country horse who, when he’s willing to negotiate in the dressage ring, is capable of a top result.

We go on bareback trail rides and I’ve used him in little-girl horse camp. He’ll always be a bit of a prince and every few months we’ll get into a brawl, but 99% of the time we’re total buddies. When he looks across the barn at me with hearts in his eyes, I know there’s a reason why our lives intersected.

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Esprit and I at Sporting Days H.T. in March 2013.

Fifteen is far from being an equine senior citizen, but for me this is uncharted territory. With age comes soundness issues, and I’ve learned the hard way to become more sensitive to that. There’s also the sinking realization that there’s a finish line out there, somewhere, to your competitive career together — and you’re probably not going to see it coming. That’s terrifying.

And, from a financial standpoint, there’s the understanding that your horse is no longer an investment that will pay off should you sell him down the road — the money you’re putting into him, and the time, you’re never going to get it back out.

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Esprit and I at May Daze.

Not to mention the doubling of vet/farrier/board expenses if you decide to take up with a second horse. A while back, just to see how I would feel about it, I placed an ad for Esprit online, complete with hefty price tag. It felt terrible. At this point in my life I could have an overflowing bank account but, without my horse, I’d just be sad.

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For once that’s OK. I’m not in the horse business anymore — I have an income that doesn’t depend on horse sales. I’m tired of starting all over once a horse finally gets good. Esprit and I have both put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our relationship, and now we finally have a chance to just sit back and enjoy one another’s company. Whether it’s an event or, on down the road, a leisurely trail ride or just a long grooming session with my 20-something year old pasture ornament, I’m looking forward to sharing “forever” with my friend.

Princess Haya Doesn’t Want to Be FEI President Anymore, and She MEANS It This Time

FEI President HRH Princess Haya opening the 2014 Sports Forum. FEI Photos/Germain Arias-Schreiber. FEI President HRH Princess Haya opening the 2014 Sports Forum. FEI Photos/Germain Arias-Schreiber.

Poor Princess Haya. Girl’s been looking forward to her December 2014 farewell party for probably eight years now but the FEI General Assembly keeps blocking her exit. Imagine being the bigwig at some company and, on the day you’re set to retire, getting duct-taped to your office chair by your own employees, who are like, “Nope, sorry, that doesn’t really work for us.”

Further complicating things is the fact that, considering the umpteen doping scandals her shady Sheikh husband has been involved with since she took office,  a graceful peace-out is probably a smart career move. And it’s not like the public is exactly clamoring for her to stick around — you may or may not have repressed the memory of EN’s open letter to the power-couple last September. An except:

Dear Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya…

First, please know that we are huge fans. Princess Haya, you have the greatest collection of fancy hats and it was so awesome when you stuck up for gay sporthorses! Sheikh Mohammed, you continually crack us up with your hilarious scowls and grumpy faces. Sure, we’ve given you a hard time in the past, but it’s all in good fun.

We know you’re having a rough year–the little doping thing, and now nobody wants the Princess to be president anymore, etc. Maybe it’s time to take a little vacation from the horse thing, eh? You know, try something new, explore the unknown. There are so many other Olympic sports out there that could benefit from your money, power and smooth charm.

Also, lest we forget, Princess Haya tried to preempt this whole mess when she was initially elected in 2006. Perhaps already sensing that the General Assembly would to try to hold her hostage down the road, the very first thing she did was propose a presidential term limit of two four-year stints. At the time, the General Assembly acted like this was a swell idea, passing the motion and incorporating it into the FEI Statutes.

She was reelected in 2010, but as the clock of her grand finale started running out, the General Assembly began backpedaling. The Princess was pretty, sweet and, most importantly, a zillion times more loaded than all the rap stars in the world combined. Princess Haya, FEI President FOREVER!!!

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Fortunately, rule-bending is a favorite pastime of the powerful. In 2013, despite growing opposition from its constituency, the FEI got together in Switzerland and drew up a petition calling for an “Extraordinary General Assembly” that could change the term-limit statutes back to the way they were.

One-hundred National Federations signed the petition, including representatives from such important horse capitals of the world as Mauritius (an island about 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa, best known for being the sole habitat of the now-extinct Dodo bird), Sudan (the Sudan Equestrian Federation doesn’t have a website; however, 12 people have “liked” its Facebook page), Chinese Taipei (they’ve never sent an equestrian team to the Olympics but there’s a first time for everything!) and, of course, Jamaica (often described as “The Lexington, Kentucky of the Caribbean”). Read EN’s full recap of the debacle here.

In a statement from Princess Haya released earlier today, she explained that her “resolve was weakened” by the FEI’s creation of a extra-special rule-bending assembly signed by 100 countries that may or may not have actual horses living in them. She went along with it for a few months but, today, finally informed the FEI that enough was enough. When her term wraps up in December, she’s out.

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“The factors that have led to my decision not to seek a third term are, for me, impossible to ignore,” she wrote. “I committed to a term limit, and that commitment still weighs heavily on me. However, most importantly, as I said in the EGA, I needed to see if a third term would work with my family.”

Way to put your glass-slippered foot down, Princess Haya. You made a commitment, and you’re not going to let the FEI’s puppetmasters sway you from your convictions.

But this is the part that really warms the heart: “I have needed to put aside some of my work for the FEI to concentrate on humanitarian relief to Gaza and other work in that sector. And I feel that this is just the beginning … To fulfill my commitments to humanitarian work and to raise my children with the time to love them seems truly overwhelming; it is clear to me that I cannot in good faith promise to give my all in each of these areas while also continuing to be the hands-on President that the FEI needs and deserves.”

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Translation: Instead of suffering through another four years of soul-sucking international equestrian politics, Haya is setting out to do something good in the world, something important, something meaningful. She’d rather go work in a freaking war zone than spend one more minute hobnobbing with you goons.

Read her full statement here. So what’s next for the FEI? Haya will finish out her 2014 term with dignity and grace, and a new president will be elected at the General Assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan, on December 14. The deadline for candidates to register their candidacy with the FEI Secretary General is September 1, 2014. Know anyone who might be interested? We might have an idea or two… stay tuned, EN!

10 Photos From the 1984 Olympics That Will Blow Back Your Feathered Mullet

The United States had a freaking fantastic 1984 Olympics. We won more gold medals than anybody …

wheaties … which was especially fitting since the Games were hosted on our home turf in L.A. The U.S. Equestrian Team was in line with that trend, dominating the medal table thanks to a team gold and individual silver in eventing and team gold and individual gold and silver in show jumping.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The 1980s international eventing, er, combined training scene was a special place in time, dominated by some of the best “get ‘er done” cross-country riders — Ginny Leng, Lucinda Green, Ian Stark — the world has seen before or since. Plus it was the ’80s, which was just a sort of crazy time for sports in general.

Who's this guy with the amazing '80s mullet and acid-washed jorts? ANDRE AGASSI

Exhibit A: Andre Agassi sporting an amazing ’80s mullet and acid-washed jorts.

I recently stumbled across this amazing 1984 Olympic cross-country photo album (CC) by Virginia Hill on Flickr, which perfectly demonstrates why ’80s-era eventing embodied insanity in the middle: #1. Jumps like this. Giant, upright, airy oxers that may or may not have a landing side? It’s the ’80s. No problem!

 J. Michael Plumb on Bluestone.

J. Michael Plumb (USA) on Bluestone, who finished 10th in the individual competition.

#2. Baby eventing legends. Even top riders were rookies once upon a time. A tale of two Andrews: In 1984, Andrew Hoy was a 25-year-old competing in his first Olympics. You can even see a little bit of hair sticking out from his helmet — that’s how long ago this was. He finished 15th individually and his team finished fifth. Hoy would go on to compete in six more Olympic games, winning one silver and three gold medals, and marry another Class of ’84 Olympic newbie, Bettina Overesch (née Hoy)  

Andrew Hoy (Australia) on Davey.

Andrew Hoy (Australia) and Davey.

Likewise, Andrew Nicholson was no silver fox when he completed his first Olympic Games in 1984. A fresh-faced 23-year-old, Nicholson finished 28th individually and was on the sixth place New Zealand team anchored by Mark Todd, who clinched the individual gold. Nicholson, too, had his glory days and another five Olympic Games still ahead of him. #3. Eventing legends in their prime. The 1984 field was teeming with riders that were already eventing household names by the time they got there. Bruce Davidson Sr.’s resume, for instance, included one team gold from the 1976 Montreal Olympics and another three golds — two individual and one team — from the World Championships in ’74 and ’78.

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Bruce Davidson Sr. (USA) and JJ Babu.

#5. Fall off, get back on. Mandatory retirement didn’t exist in the ’80s. Pretty scary looking fall of horse and rider, right?

1984 Olympics Equestrian Event at Fairbanks Ranch

Juan Redon Tavera (Mexico) and Gris.

It’s cool — here, let us give you a leg up.

1984 Olympics Equestrian Event at Fairbanks Ranch

Juan Redon Tavera (Mexico) and Gris.

#6. Questionable headgear. The first year that a helmet requirement was even mentioned in the USEF’s combined training rules was 1978. In 1982, they stiffened things up, mandating “a permanent or removable chinstrap,” and in 1986, they further specified that if your helmet fell off during cross-country, you must retrieve it and put it back on your head before continuing under penalty of elimination. But they never did make a rule against wearing your high-school band hat.

1984 Olympics Equestrian Event at Fairbanks Ranch

Daniel Nion (France) and Gerôme.

Speaking of chinstraps … remember these? The model below is Torrance Fleischmann (née Watkins), a trailblazer for women who would become the first lady eventer to be inducted into the U.S. Eventing Hall of Fame in 2003. But even she couldn’t pull off “the cup.”

1984 Olympics Equestrian Event at Fairbanks Ranch

Torrance Fleischmann (USA) and Finvarra.

#7. Safety vests still lived in the future.  Any modern-day eventer would feel naked leaving the startbox without one, but in 1984, body protectors were still over a decade away from being required gear.

Geremia Toia (Italy) on Semi Valley.

Geremia Toia (Italy) on Semi Valley.

#8. Tall, lanky riders. Is it just me or were all event riders in the ’80s shaped like string beans? I don’t know what the USET and other team programs were feeding (or rather not feeding) team riders, but my best guess is a diet of rice cakes and Diet Coke.

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Pascal Morvillers (France) on Gulliver “B.”

Kelly Plitz (CAN) and Dialadream. Photo by Scott Foss.

Kelly Plitz (CAN) and Dialadream. Photo by Scott Foss.

#9. Celebrity spectators and princely FEI presidents. 1984 Olympic diplomatic security officer Joe Payne, whose job it was to look after and chauffeur around important people, notes in this memoir that cross-country day was teeming with rich and famous rubberneckers. He recalls seeing Cary Grant and Bob Hope palling around together on course and driving officials to lavish, star-studded parties at Hope’s home. He also mentions the FEI President: “Prince Philip of course brought his own security and had his silver Jaguar flown from England and made it clear he wanted none of our drivers in his processions. A local Los Angeles man was given the task of trying to ‘chase’ Prince Philip’s procession all around the area.” FEI presidents will be FEI presidents! 2896728824_5b63b85693_o #10. And last but not least, it was the ’80s. O.J. Simpson was among the runners who helped carry the torch to the Olympic stadium. The closing ceremony featured a nine-minute version of Lionel Richie’s hit single “All Night Long” and the landing of an alien spacecraft complete with giant alien. And, of course, there was that whole Soviet boycott thing. But I think this photo of cross-country spectators says it all. 2895877035_94ee690d73_b Before you head back to the future (ba-dum ching!), check out this video of excellent cross-country footage from the 1984 Games. If you still can’t get enough, FEI photographer Kit Houghton has some more amazing 1984 Olympic Eventing photos posted here and Horse Nation has a collection of 1984 Olympic equestrian videos here. Time to bring back the gold, kids. Go Eventing!

Bad Eventer’s Doug Payne Clinic Report

EN’s blogger friend Bad Eventer is still glowing from the Doug Payne clinic she rode in a couple weekends ago at Meadowcreek Park in Kosse, Texas. She chronicled the experience in her infamous blog, Bad Eventer, and kindly offered to share it with EN. Included below are excerpts from the dressage and show jumping days, edited down slightly on account of Bad Eventer’s tendency to go on wildly-entertaining tangents. For the complete report visit her blog — here are the links: intro, dressage, show jumpingcross-country.

BE DP dress 1 (2)

 

Day 1: DRESSAGE

As I watched the first few dressage lessons I immediately saw a common theme. Doug started right out with the basics.

1. Straightness

Doug showing what happens when you ask for forward without being straight.

2. Forward

Bad Eventer and Wonderpony.

3. Steady connection

Doug gave everyone hands-on demos on how the contact should feel. Probably one of the most useful things a top instructor can do for us mere mortals. This gives you a real feel of how it SHOULD feel.

He gave a fantastic demo on why your horse needs to be straight. Here it is again in case you missed Part 1. Doug is showing why your horse needs to be straight before it can be forward. He explained if they are crooked and you send them forward they are in a perpetual state of “falling,” which is where the running off/heavy on the forehand/rushing problems tend to stem from.

Straightness was also one of the first things he addressed with each horse. Most of the horses turned out to be quite one-sided and many riders ended up having to use the same set of aids in both directions to obtain straightness. (Example: right leg and right rein to push the shoulders left and straighten the neck while going right as well as left.)

I was excited because the main thing that I wanted to work on in my dressage lesson was straightness! My guy is pretty fancy and has so many buttons that he tends to spin around like a top. He LOVES the old intermediate test where you do haunches-in and then shoulder -in down the long side. He tends to OFFER haunches and then shoulders on any straight line……. which leads to some very “creative” movements.

Doug immediately recognized that my fancy pony had “trained me not to ride him.”

He gave me an exercise which started out with a leg yield at the canter asking for counter bend, then trot and continue the leg yield.

Here is where I get to admit that…….. apparently…….. I’ve never understood what counter bend was……..

With a riding career of more than a few <cough> decades, I have found that roughly every three to four years I come to realize…….. that I still have NO IDEA what I’m doing.

This was another one of those times.

Doug used a dressage whip to demonstrate bend and counter bend, and said to think about the head and tail staying in the same place and the rest of the body changing the bend between them.

That would be different than just bending the neck to the outside, because the horse can still keep the body bent the other way. Here’s my note!

Each lesson reinforced the theme of the day: straightness, forward and steady contact, with Doug hopping on several horses for a tuneup. The changes he made in the horses were amazing with the quality of their gaits immediately going up several notches. It was a fantastic example of how “when you ride them properly, they get more beautiful.”

Here’s my favorite quote of the day, “His head is bouncing around because his butt isn’t in gear. It’s like the speedometer in your car. If the needle is bouncing around you don’t fix it by moving the needle, you fix it by stepping on the accelerator.”

Day 2: SHOW JUMPING

On stadium jumping day the Prelim/Intermediate group turned out to be…….. well……..

the remedial class.

Somehow this didn’t really surprise me…….. and yes, Bad Eventer was one of the guilty parties.

I think the gutsier ammies can often be the least…….. prepared.

We spent the better part of our 90-minute session getting completely driven over by a handful of trot poles.

We started out with four poles in a circle. Two were set on a 20-meter circle and two on a 10-meter circle. The exercise was pretty simple: canter the 20 meter poles then spiral in over the 10-meter poles……..

It turned out to be harder than it sounds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y96swpBsC8

If you listen, you’ll hear Doug say, “It looks like it would be stupid easy…….. but……..”

While cantering the poles on the circle he also did a fun exercise where he stood in the middle of the circle and held up different numbers of fingers. The point was that once you “see it” there is no point in continuing to look at the pole you’re going over. Instead you can be looking to the next pole/jump, which will save time and help you set up for it quicker. Here he had the rider set themselves up for the pole and call out how many fingers he was holding up.

The next TROT POLE exercise…….. pretty much whooped all of us.

Another seemingly simple exercise. Canter over three poles that are 66′ feet apart, and put in five strides between the first two poles and six strides between the second two.

NOT SO MUCH.

Rider after rider just didn’t get it done.

I couldn’t believe how hard this turned out to be. One horse was sooooo NOT interested in changing his pace that Doug got on him to sort it out.

Once we all had FINALLY gotten the five- and then six-stride pole exercise, he raised the middle pole about 18″…….. and that proved to make the exercise once again…….. impossible.

Here’s Bad Eventer giving it a try!! or TWO!!

I think all of us walked away with several pages of homework. And while our group hardly jumped anything besides trot poles, it was a pretty big eye opener on what everyone needed to get a solid handle on!

The other groups nailed the trot poles earlier on and moved on to course work incorporating the same adjustability exercises……..

When we spent time tackling a five- to six-stride cross country combination the next day……..

 ……..the METHOD TO THE MADNESS BECAME CRYSTAL CLEAR!!

Doug definitely knows his stuff and I finished the day with a long list of…….. must master this next……..

BE DP Book s

 

Many thanks to Bad Eventer for sharing! Have a clinic report to contribute? Send it to [email protected]

Go Eventing!

Rosie Napravnik Tackles Riga Meadow H.T.

Earlier this year jockey Rosie Napravnik expressed an interest in taking her horse, Sugar, eventing and last weekend she put her money where her mouth is. Kristen Kovatch reports.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Towery Roberts. Photo courtesy of Lynn Towery Roberts.

From Kristen:

We all know and love jockey Rosie Napravnik for breaking gender barriers in thoroughbred racing and championing OTTBs. Here’s yet another reason to love her.

Being the first female jockey ever to have ridden in all three Triple Crown races wasn’t enough. Being the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks (twice, in 2012 and 2014) wasn’t enough either.

Setting up a major donation drive to support off-track Thoroughbreds through Old Friends Retirement? Amazing. Inspiring. But Rosie’s taken it one step further, fresh off a weekend at Riga Meadow Horse Trials in Salisbury, Connecticut with her retired racer partner Old Ironsides, known to his friends as “Sugar.”

Photo via Rosie Napravnik's Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Towery Roberts.

Rosie actually raced on the big gray gelding, bringing home two victories when the gelding was in his prime but long before Rosie’s rise to fame. But as her fortunes changed for the better, so Old Ironsides’ took a downward spiral.

Rosie had made it public that she would gladly give the gelding a home when his racing days were over, and in 2008, she got the opportunity to make good on her promise. Though Sugar was lame at the time, Rosie welcomed him with open arms, sending him to her mother’s eventing farm in Maryland. Between race meets Rosie rode the recuperating gray all over the Maryland farm, jumping cross-country.

Photo via Rosie Napravnik's Facebook page.

Photo of Lynn Towery Roberts.

Rosie and Sugar stepped into the spotlight in April of this year at the Thoroughbreds For All event in Lexington, Kentucky to help showcase the versatility and resilience of the breed and the opportunities that exist for taking ex-racers and developing them into sport horses.

Together the team displayed their aptitude over fences, the ex-racer and the jockey together. As described on Eventing Nation, Rosie expressed interest in trying eventing in the future.

Photo via Rosie Napravnik's Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Towery Roberts.

And on Sunday in Connecticut, it looks like she decided to go for it, competing with her old partner Sugar in Novice. Results from Riga Meadow show Rosie placing fifth in Novice C, with a dressage score of 36.10 and clear rounds both in cross-country and stadium. Way to go, Rosie!

Go Rosie: jockey, advocate, eventer!

Thanks to Kait Schultz for the tip.

Happy Birthday, Jenni!

Jenni Autry, mustachioed madwoman Jenni Autry, mustachioed madwoman

Today, we celebrate the birthday and subsequent life achievements of EN’s fearless leader, Jenni Autry.

It is a time-honored Nation Media tradition to celebrate coworkers’ birthdays by (1) giving them the day off, then (2) Facebook stalking them in search of mortifying personal photos with which to share with thousands of readers. It’s a sick world, we’re sick people, what can you do.

Facebook stalking Jenni is neither an easy nor pleasant task. If you’re friends with her, you know that she mostly posts photos of her horses’ latest horrifying flesh wounds and her cats. Also, in case you haven’t picked up on this, Jenni is a workaholic who spends most of her time typing frantically into a computer, which makes finding photos of her engaging in “real people” activities especially difficult. Luckily, I’m an award-winning investigative journalist — here are the most scandalous photos I could dig up:

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Jenni Autry, international woman of mystery

Jenni Autry, chinchilla wrangler

Jenni Autry, chinchilla wrangler

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Jenni Autry, armed and dangerous

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Jenni Autry, compulsive gambler

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Jenni Autry, viking Vegas showgirl

OK, that was pretty tame. Maybe try harder to be scandalous next year, Jenni. As for today, all of us out here in the Eventing Nation are wishing you a very happy birthday!!!

An Eventer at USPC Dressage Festival: My 15 Moments of Fame/Shame

USPC Festival Dressage Queens, Class of 2001: I'm the third one from the left. Photo courtesy of Dalles Lee. USPC Festival Dressage Queens, Class of 2001: I'm the third one from the left. Photo courtesy of Dalles Lee.

If you put two Pony Club graduates in a crowded room together, they’ll recognize one another immediately. Not because they’ve necessarily met before — maybe they have, maybe they haven’t — but because, like Vietnam vets, they are forever bound together by a shared epochal experience.

They’ve seen the other side, man. And what has been seen can never be unseen. The neurosis is buried deep, and while Pony Club may have contributed to their development as the upstanding, high-functioning adults that they are today, it also, let’s be frank, probably traumatized them for life.

Forever, ex-Pony Clubbers are doomed to battle their obsessive-compulsive tendencies: scrubbing their tack raw, wrapping and unwrapping bandages until the overlap is precisely uniform, driving everyone around them crazy with random equine facts and figures that no sane human being should have rattling around their brain. Life is hard enough with the ghosts of horse management judges past picking through the tack trunk of your mind.

Every Pony Club chapter has one in the bunch: the type-A overachiever, the obnoxiously cheerful brown-noser, the kid who is hellbent on “exceeding standard” in every manner possible. In my pony club, Tennessee Valley, I was That Pony Clubber. I brattily clawed my way up the levels, eye on the prize and nose perpetually buried in a dog-eared manual.

I earned my H-A rating with flying colors and looked forward to attending Regional Rally and Championships East each year, my annual opportunity to pulverize the competition with my supreme riding and horse management skills. In 2001, at the ripe old age of 19, I had but one score left to settle: USPC Festival.

USPC Festival is intense. Most years the national championships are broken down into Championships East and Championships West, but every three years the whole country comes together for one  week-long monster event at the Kentucky Horse Park.

It’s the World Equestrian Games for book-smart barn rats. All the disciplines are represented — dressage, eventing, games, polocrosse, quiz, show jumping and tetrathlon — and it’s quite the sight to see: 4,000 Pony Clubbers on their best behavior running around in two-sizes-too-big polo shirts, khaki shorts and spit-shined paddock boots.

When not riding, they’re studying note cards or desperately cleaning everything in sight as they are scored not only on performance but on knowledge and horsemanship as well.

To get a feel for the amount of stress these kids are under, imagine going to an event and, in addition to the usual dressage/cross-country/show-jumping phases, you’re required to take a written test and are subject to accruing penalty points for dandruff in your horse’s tail or stray shavings in front of your stall. Oh, and you’re also competing as a team with three or four other riders plus a stable manager. No pressure!

Even though the whole affair seems insane to me now, at the crest of my youth, it was totally in my wheelhouse. 2001 was to be my final USPC Festival before I aged out and my destiny seemed clear: I would represent the MidSouth Pony Club Region as a member of the prelim eventing team, and we would win because, well, obviously. There was just one roadblock: I didn’t make the team.

Uh, probably because I fell off at Rally at the year before.

Uh, probably because this happened at Rally at the year before.

WHAT?!?!? I was devastated in the way that only a narcissistic teenager with a demented sense of reality could be. My identity was crumbling. My world was caving in. I called our District Commissioner in a panic to see what could be done. You don’t understand… this is my destiny!

Of course, since she’d had nothing to do with the team selection, it was out of her hands. She agreed to call the Regional Supervisor, and together they formulated a plan to get this whiny, sniveling, soul-crushed Pony Clubber off their backs. Their proposal: I could go to Festival… but in dressage instead of eventing. (Regional Supervisors could nominate riders to compete in the B/H-A/A dressage championship even if they didn’t have qualifying scores from Rally and USDF-sanctioned competitions.)

Like many eventers, dressage is NOT my favorite phase. Never has been, never will be. But I begrudgingly agreed and set to work under the guidance of a local dressage trainer, who psychologically beat our milquetoast flatwork into submission with his stern German accent and ice-dagger stare. We put together a Riverdance-inspired freestyle and had the music professionally edited, and ran through First Level tests 3 and 4 approximately 30,000 times. By the time July rolled around, I was as ready to go trick people into thinking I was a dressage rider as I’d ever be.

I won’t give you a play-by-play of the competition — it was not that exciting, I promise — but somehow we ended up winning the individual championship. It was a weird moment in my life, but also kind of cool: In addition to an over-sized trophy and ribbon, I received a $1,000 dressage scholarship from Iron Spring Farm and the USDF. And, most importantly, a tiara.

I’m wearing a big smile in the photo but inside I felt conflicted. To quote the Chronicle of the Horse‘s story: “Despite her new appreciation for dressage, this event competitor didn’t know how to feel when her fellow competitors presented her with a plastic tiara to signify her as a ‘dressage queen.’”

I remember acting like I was embarrassed about the win because it was “just” dressage. For weeks afterward if it came up I’d kind of roll my eyes, like, “oh yeah, whatever.” But 13 years later, I’ve still got that stupid tiara, and there’s a reason why it hasn’t ended up in a box in my parents’ garage with all of my other random horse memorabilia.

I’m more proud of it than my bratty teenage self would have ever been caught dead admitting. I think it embodies something that was, in the grand scheme of things, a much bigger takeaway from Pony Club than any ribbon or rating. It was an oh-so-gentle introduction to the real world.

Unlike Pony Club, outcomes in life aren’t merit-based. You can come at it with as much work ethic, discipline and ambition as you can muster, but things are still going to blow up in your face. On a regular basis.

You change your game plan and move on. You do the best you can and accept that sometimes it will pan out and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes it pans out in ways you don’t expect, and in those instances gratitude is the appropriate response. When you’re 19 these sorts of lessons can feel like a punch in the face, but sometimes a black eye is exactly what you need.

Since graduating from Pony Club I’ve intermittently stayed involved with the organization, teaching clinics and conducting ratings, and I even put in a short stint as a DC. I always get a kick out of comparing notes with other Pony Club grads about their lingering neuroses.

Some Pony Club pathos has left me — I’ve chilled out about cleaning tack, for instance — while other stuff, like my fear of backwards bucket snaps, is still going strong. But the most meaningful Pony Club residue is much less tangible than that.

And how the tables turn! Here I am inspecting a stable bandage at a Pony Club rating a few years back. Photo courtesy of Lakeway Pony Club.

And how the tables turn! Here I am inspecting a stable bandage at a Pony Club rating a few years back. Photo courtesy of Lakeway Pony Club.

The 2014 USPC Festival is taking place as we speak throughout the week in Lexington — check out the website for details and keep an eye on EN as we’ve got riders blogging for us from the event. Here’s wishing that, win, lose or draw, all the competitors carry away with them a learning experience and a handful of happy memories. That’s the stuff that sticks. Go Pony Club!

Event Horse Names, Part 4: Monster Truck Edition

Many eventers have turned to the world of monster trucks for horse naming inspiration, for obvious reasons. I don’t care how big and scary that cross-country course is — if you’re riding a horse named Bulldozer, you’ve got the upper hand. (Maybe not so much in the dressage or show jumping.)

For our latest installation of the “Event Horse Names,” I combed the USEA Horse Registry Database for horses that share names with actual monster trucks:

monster1

Baller, I know. Our second grouping of USEA-registered event horse names aren’t real-life monster trucks, but they could be:

BeFunky_USAF_Afterburner_Monster_Jam.jpg

Skullbuster, Widow Maker, Assasin, Shattered Dreams … I know what you’re thinking: Man, some of these names are so perfect for MY horse, I can’t believe they’re already taken. No fear! There are still plenty of monster truck names up for grabs — check out this Wikipedia list. A few of my favorites (feel free to steal them): Grave Digger, Bucked Up, Rammunition, Smashosaurus and Dragon’s Breath.

Are you the proud owner of an event horse with a monster truck-esque name? Share it in the comments section below.

Until next time, Go Eventing!

Three Cross-Country Comics That Will Have You LOLing

Longtime Horse Nation illustrator Morgane Schmidt may be a dressage rider, but she seems to have a handle on the neuroses that make event riders tick.

Morgane, mad genius behind The Idea of Order, explains her transition to the fairer sport: “If you start off the cross-country phase trying to puke your Gatorade in such a manner as to not hit and spook your horse, all the while asking yourself what was so wrong with just doing plain old dressage, you might need to reassess some things. A moment similar to the above scenario may just have been when I realized that hurtling myself over fixed obstacles was not really my forte. Good thing I realized how wimpy I was early on, as it has given me plenty of time to throw my money and effort into an arguably even more expensive discipline: hello Dressage.”

So, something like this:

2012-4-17-Contents-Under-Pressure1

Morgane did event for long enough to digest a few unspoken laws of the sport, like this one: Never tempt the cross-country gods. You mustn’t take any cross-country jumps for granted — ESPECIALLY the ones that look like a piece of cake.

2013-2-20-Course-Walking-Karma

And she clearly developed an appreciation for eventing’s many ironies:

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For more comics from Morgane, check out her website at theideaoforder.com, like The Idea of Order on Facebook, and hit up Horse Nation each Wednesday to view her latest masterpiece.

Go Eventing!