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#RK3DE Press Conference: ‘We Will See’

In the immortal words of Outkast’s André 3000: “You can paint a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.”

In the immortal words of Michael Jung: “We will see.”

The top-three placed competitors after Rolex dressage are all veteran four-star champions. And they understand better than anyone that in this sport that the best laid plans aren’t bulletproof — or even waterproof.

Michael, currently tied for first, uttered “we will see” twice during yesterday’s press conference and once again today, and the statement gains credibility with every repetition.

For three little syllables, “we will see” covers a surprising amount of ground. It sums up a competitive game plan that sounds simple — just take things one step at a time — but must be deceptively unnerving. Athletic success is predicated on micromanagement, careful attention to all the minutia that adds up to the difference between being good and being great. Simultaneously hoping for the best, planning for the worst, and being OK wherever you land on that spectrum is an impressive mental juggling feat.

No one in today’s press conference dwelt too much on the dressage competition — because, at the end of the weekend, it’s not one. When asked about his test on La Biosthetique Sam FBW, Michael’s response was short and sweet. The horse was a bit nervous in the half, reinback and canter depart, Michael said, but “everything else worked well so I’m happy with him.”

Likewise, co-leader Tim Price was complimentary of his horse, Wesko (barn name “Dash”), the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding upon whom he won Luhmühlen last year. He said the horse had been going well in the lead-up this week and that the atmosphere of the stadium today gave him a little extra “oomph” in the test. But Tim’s focus seems already to have shifted toward the next phase, tomorrow’s cross-country course.

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Tim Price at the final dressage press conference. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Tim said he has been studying how successful riders navigate the course for years and believes tomorrow’s course will follow suit: “Rhythm reins supreme.” He thinks it will suit his horse and elected to bring Wesko stateside in pursuit of a confidence-building, successful result after a boggy course got the better of them at last year’s WEG in Normandy.

“The World Games didn’t go to plan,” he explained. “I think the ground there was not for every horse. He struggled his way around and didn’t complete so I’d really wanted something where we might be able to avoid a similar thing happening because he deserves to have an enjoyable experience.”

The riders expressed optimism that the ground will hold up come what may, weather-wise, tomorrow. “I think it would be able to withstand a fair bit of rain before it starts to impact the going,” Tim said.

The forecast looks ominous…

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… but the riders are prepared to adjust their plans accordingly. Tim mentioned slowing down around a couple of the tighter turns if need be, especially toward the end of the course when the horses might be tired and a bit strung-out.

William Fox-Pitt, who sits in third on 2014 Rolex winner Bay My Hero, also acknowledged that the competition has only just begun. “He’s had a little bit of a holiday so far,” he said of “Moonie,” followed by the understatement: “There’s a bit more work to do.”

William says the course looks strong and, come rain or shine, should prove a real test of fitness. “I think it will be quite tiring,” he said, noting that even without rain “the ground is soft and it will be demanding.”

Watch the complete press conference videos:

Go Eventing.

#RK3DE: WebsiteEntriesScheduleRide TimesLive ScoresHow to Watch LiveEN’s CoverageUltimate Guide to RolexCourse PreviewTwitterInstagram

 

8 Life Lessons We Could All Learn From Pony Club Games Kids

Photo by Leslie Wylie. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Pony Club games kids know what’s up. Hang around them long enough and you’ll start questioning why we eventers do what we do. I mean, who has time to fool around with the nuances of shoulder-in when you could be out tearing around the arena in a cloud of dust with your best buds?

Earlier this afternoon I stole away from the hush-hush cathedral of four-star dressage to hang off the rail of a far different competition: the first round of the Prince Phillip Cup Games. This showdown between the top four junior (age 11-14) games teams in the country is an annual tradition and a refreshing breather from the pressure cooker that is the Rolex main arena. Spectator whooping is encouraged (no kidding, the announcer got a wave going down the sideline), there’s pop music being pumped out the speakers, and the competitor dress code is “go neon or go home.”

The competition always kicks off with a Celebrity Games Challenge. This year’s lineup: Hawley Bennett-Awad, Jen McFall, Colleen Rutledge and Allie Blyskal-Sacksen, all of whom were grinning like horse-crazy little girls as they tried their hand at games like Golf Ball & Spoon and Mug Shuffle. Which brings us to the first of eight life lessons we could all stand to learn from Pony Club games kids:

You’re never too old to feel like a kid.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Crap happens.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Anyone can fall off. It takes skill to vault back on.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Be generous with high-fives.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Sometimes, it’s OK to stare.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Never let anyone cramp your style.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Teamwork is everything.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

And last but not least… when in doubt, pony kick!

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Round 2 of the Prince Phillip Cup continues on Saturday morning from 8:30 to 10 a.m. in the Rolex stadium, and an awards ceremony will precede show jumping in the stadium on Sunday. Here’s wishing all four of this year’s team finalists — E. Pennsylvania Avengers, E. Pennsylvania Bloomability, Sunshine Region Lemonheads and Maryland Region Zigg Zaggers — the best of luck this weekend. And most importantly, have fun!

Learn more about the United States Pony Club by visiting the organization’s website here, and keep up with all the latest via USPC Facebook and Twitter.

Go Pony Club Games!

 

Watch Friday Morning’s Breakout Tests

Today’s competitors are trying their darnedest to shake up yesterday’s leaderboard, and two of this morning’s tests succeeded in knocking yesterday’s leaders off their perch.

New Zealand’s Tim Price and Wesko coasted into the top spot on a 36.3, relegating Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST to second. (Props to USEF Network’s new sports-commentators-gone-wild “The Shahannigans” — you guys totally called that one.)

Here’s his test, courtesy of USEF Network:

Moments beforehand, McKenna Shea and Landioso demonstrated tremendous poise to score a 43.7, good enough to put them squarely in the top three. McKenna may be a 20-year-old Rolex rookie but she’s sitting on one of the coolest horses in North America and we can’t wait to see this pair tackle tomorrow’s course.

There are plenty of potential game changers coming up in the final two sets. We’ll keep you posted!

Go Eventing.

#RK3DE: WebsiteEntriesScheduleRide TimesLive ScoresHow to Watch LiveEN’s CoverageUltimate Guide to RolexTwitterInstagram

More Inner Workings of Rolex Riders’ Minds

The interior of a four-star rider’s mind is a curious place, indeed. This weekend we’re picking competitors’ brains via a special Rolex-themed word association game. The rules of play: We give them a word and they tell us the first thing that pops to mind.

Yesterday in Round I, Frankie Thieriot administered the test to Angela Grzywinski, Liz Halliday-Sharp, Lauren Kieffer and McKenna Shea. Today she sits down with “it” girl Laine Ashker.

Love that Kim Kardashian made a cameo in there amidst Michael Jung and Karen O’Connor — you’re in good company, Kim.

Keep it locked on Eventing Nation all week for all the Rolex insanity you can handle… and then some.

Go Eventing.

 

 

 

What’s In a Groom’s Backpack? Rolex Edition

With his glistening bay coat, flawless braids and snow-white chrome, Sharon White’s Wundermaske has been turning heads wherever he goes. What’s their secret?

Sharon White and Wundermaske. Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Sharon White and Wundermaske. Photo by Kasey Mueller.

Sharon White and Wundermaske. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Sharon White and Wundermaske. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Rachael Livermore, Sharon’s groom extraordinaire, reveals the contents of her ringside touch-up kit.

Like a magician pulling a chain of colored handkerchiefs out from behind his ear, we have no idea how Rachael fits so much stuff in her bag. But top event grooms are magicians in a way, after all!

Sharon and “Patch” are currently tied for 18th on a 57.2. Best of luck to them going forward — here’s hoping they “clean up” this weekend! You can follow the pair on Facebook and Twitter.

Go Eventing.

#RK3DE: WebsiteEntriesScheduleRide TimesLive ScoresHow to Watch LiveEN’s CoverageUltimate Guide to RolexTwitterInstagram

 

 

 

 

What You Need to Know: #RK3DE Press Conference

Day 1 dressage leader Michael Jung. Photo by Sally Spickard. Day 1 dressage leader Michael Jung. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Day 1 dressage, man. That’s a tough leaderboard to be sitting atop.

You’ve done all you can do — and you pretty much owned it — but you can’t go basking too hard in your glory because there’s no telling no telling what tomorrow will bring.

So what’s the appropriate response? When you earn a perhaps-permanent, perhaps-fleeting moment in the sun, do you step back and admire your tan in the mirror… or do you slather sunscreen all over that pale pokerface you’ve perfected the art of wearing?

At today’s press conference, the top-three placed competitors took three very different approaches.

Livin’ the Rolex Dream

Laine Ashker laid down the test of a lifetime to earn herself a seat between two of the world’s most decorated eventers. Currently sitting in second on a 44.2 with Anthony Patch, she was radiating “happy” across the room full of journalists.

“I feel amazing,” Laine enthused. ” It’s a little bit like a dream come true. This is my eighth Rolex, I believe, and my first time in the press conference so this is pretty awesome. There’s a first time for everything! I’m extremely elated with Al’s performance and it seemed to sort of all come together today.”

We picked up on that when we saw her getting a little teary-eyed exiting the ring. One tongue-in-cheek reporter asked, “Was that an allergy?”

Laine confirmed that they were, in fact, tears of joy: “I was a little emotional. I try not to let my highs get too high and my lows get to low, but it’s been a long time coming.”

You go get yours, girl.

His Own Harshest Critic

This isn’t Phillip Dutton’s first Rolex press conference rodeo. He’s got three horses going this weekend, with Fernhill Fugitive and Fernhill Cubalawn having taken a turn in the sandbox today and Mighty Nice going tomorrow. He’s currently in third place on Fernhill Fugitive (47.3) and seventh on Fernhill Cubalawn (50.9).

Two horses in the top 10… not bad, right? But for Phillip, meh.

“I was pleased-ish,” he explains. While Fernhill Fugitive’s test was, he admitted, “about the best test he’s ever done,” he’s still kicking himself about his other ride.

“Fernhill Cubalawn started off great and I think I just went for it a bit too much,” he said. “The pressure of that got to him a little bit and he lost it in the canter so I think I could have done a little bit better job there.”

We’re disappointed in you, Philllip. JK! At least he’s got another chance at straight 10s tomorrow. “As for Mighty Nice, I hope he beats them tomorrow,” he says. “He’s working well and there are a lot of good horses going tomorrow so I think it’s shaping up to be an exciting competition.”

When your goal is to beat yourself, and you’re already in the top three, you’re probably on the right track.

Commitment Issues

Speaking of beating oneself, Michael Jung has a hard act to follow tomorrow. His morning ride today on fischerRocana FST soared well ahead of the pack on the wings of a 39.3.

When a reporter point-blank asked him which of his horses he thought would end up on top, Michael did what any good horse dad would do: refused to play favorites.

After praising his mare for a “calm and quiet” test, he stood his neutral ground. “Today she is the leader but tomorrow we will see,” he said. “Sam is in very good form but you never know.”

The last time Michael competed stateside was in 2010 when he won WEG Gold here at the Park. Will Ze Terminator repeat history here this weekend, perhaps even pack a one-two punch?

“We will see,” he repeated. A cool cucumber, indeed.

Go Eventing.

#RK3DE: WebsiteEntriesScheduleRide TimesLive ScoresHow to Watch LiveEN’s CoverageUltimate Guide to RolexTwitterInstagram

 

 

 

 

Watch the Top 5 Tests from Dressage Day 1

The USEF Network livestream is a lifeline for all the sad, deprived folks out there who want to be ringside at Rolex but are stuck somewhere much less fun.

As usual they’ve been piping it out non-stop all day, in addition to posting individual test videos so viewers can cherry-pick what they want to watch (or watch again). Here’s a recap of today’s Top 5:

#1. Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST , 39.3

#2. Laine Ashker and Anthony Patch, 44.2

#3. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, 47.3

#4. Francis Whittington and Easy Target, 47.6

#5. Goodknight and Jolie Wentworth, 50.6

See more test videos and watch the livestream as it unfolds at USEFnetwork.com.

#RK3DE: WebsiteEntriesScheduleRide TimesLive ScoresHow to Watch LiveEN’s CoverageUltimate Guide to RolexTwitterInstagram

Laine Ashker Selfie Toaster #thathappened

As we established earlier today via this word association game, four out of four Rolex riders associate the words “selfie” and “hashtag” with Laine Ashker. Girl has over 6,000 Instagram followers (@laineyeah) and has perfected the art of pursing her lips while staring coyly into the lens of a camera.

So it’s no wonder approximately one zillion fans showed up for a “selfie opp” with Laine at the Equiflexsleeve booth during the lunch break today.

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Naturally, there was a great deal of selfie-taking, including the use of a device known as the “selfie stick” typically reserved for professional selfie-takers.

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There were free-flowing bubbles — Laine’s currently sitting in second place behind Michael Jung on a 44.2, after all.

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And last but not least, there was a little dog in a pink fur-lined coat. #becausewhynot

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But there was one selfie surprise that I’m pretty sure nobody saw coming.

Selfie. Toaster.

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I know. I didn’t know such a thing even existed, either. BUT IT’S REAL, GUYS. Apparently you send in a selfie to the manufacturer, The Selfie Toaster, and they send you a custom selfie insert in the likeness of your face.

Boom. Laine’s face on a piece of toast. (Naturally, Chinch had to get in on the action.)

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Earlier this morning on the Open Thread, John joked, “Lainey and Al will be piloting the first ever selfie helmet cam on Saturday.” Don’t know about that, but she will be in it to win it come cross-country day — and she says the course looks to be right up Al’s alley. She kindly took a few moments to chat with us post celebrity mobbing about her test and her game plan going forward.

Here’s wishing Laine the best of luck throughout the weekend! Having snuggled the EN Chinch, she’s got a big dose of EN karma heading her way.

Check out additional pics from Laine’s Equiflexsleeve appearance on Facebook and Twitter. Learn more about these innovative compression sleeves, which employ a proprietary blend of multi-tensioned fibers infused with antimicrobial technology for therapeutic joint support, by visiting their website here.

Go Laine. Go Eventing!

Inner Workings of Rolex Riders’ Minds Revealed

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term “4*”? How about “Horse”? “Selfie”? “Vacation”? “Idol?”

Frankie Thieriot wrangled a few riders into playing a game of word association in the Rolex barns this morning. Their responses were all over the map — and seriously hilarious. What REALLY goes on inside the mind of a top event rider? Behold:

Love that the one association that was consistent across the board was a subconscious link between “selfie” and “hashtag” and Laine Ashker. On a related note, this excerpt from the Open Thread (which John is currently piloting): “Lainey and Al will be piloting the first ever selfie helmet cam on Saturday.” And there’s a Laine selfie opp at the Equiflexsleeve booth at 12:30 p.m. — you better believe Chinch will be down there for his annual Rolex selfie smooch. #becauseofcourse #Rolexgirlfriend #chinchesneedlovetoo

Keep it locked on Eventing Nation all week for more Rolex insanity.

Go Eventing.

 

 

Rolex at a Glance: Competitor Stats

It’s Rolex:30 and once again this year we packed our calculators. Throughout the week we’ll be crunching numbers, spittin’ stats and enriching your Rolex experience through the power of MATH. (Like, 4th-grade level math, but still.)

Let’s kick off our series with a quantitative look at this year’s field of Rolex horses and riders:

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Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST. Photo by Jenni Autry.

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William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero. Photo by Jenni Autry.

William Fox-Pitt and Bay My Hero. Photo by Jenni Autry.

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Dana Widstrand and Relentless Pursuit. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Dana Widstrand and Relentless Pursuit. Photo by Jenni Autry.

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Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lynn Symansky and Donner. Photo by Jenni Autry.

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Buck Davidson and Petite Flower. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Buck Davidson and Petite Flower. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Keep it locked on EN for more Rolex stats coming your way throughout the week! Go Eventing!

Dandelions in the Park

Rolex week is the most frenzied week on the U.S. eventing calendar, hands down. It’s easy to get caught up in all the bustle and excitement, but it’s also worth taking a moment to step back and reflect on the bigger picture. Originally published in 2012, this essay is one of the most viewed Rolex week posts in EN history — and its relevance remains. As Rolex 2015 nears, we thought it appropriate to re-share it as a reminder that this collective experience we know as Rolex is much bigger, and more complex, than we sometimes give it credit for.

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Photo by Leslie Wylie

Some people believe there are spiritual vortexes scattered around the world, energetic super-centers so powerful that you can practically feel the stuff circulating in the air. Mystics and metaphysicists flock to them — Stonehenge, the Giza pyramids, ancient Inca ruins — hoping to catch a whiff of the divine.

I don’t know how much I buy into that crystal visions claptrap, but I do think there’s something to the idea of a place retaining its history in mysterious ways. The Kentucky Horse Park, in particular, is a plot of earth that I’ve always sensed had more going on than meets the eye. There’s a magic to it, and it’s more than just the pastoral combination of majestic oak trees, plush bluegrass and pristine rural air. Rather, it’s layers upon layers of emotion, saturating the soil and rustling through the leaves.

The poetry of a flawlessly executed dressage test, the cheer of a crowd gathered round the Head of the Lake, the thunder of a victory gallop — that energy lingers in the air long after everyone has packed up and gone home. But the source of the Park’s magic is more multidimensional than that.

On Jimmy Wofford’s cross country walk at WEG in 2010, he told the crowd that there was a dandelion on the course for every heart broken at the Park. I remember looking down, seeing a patch of the weed’s sharply scalloped leaves, and wondering in earnest whose tears had fertilized them.

I’m sure I’ve got a few dandelions out there myself, not from Rolex, but from other Horse Park events that felt equivalently serious at the time. When you’re 13 and you’ve saved your $4-an-hour stall mucking wages all summer to compete at some event, only to have your pony jump out of the dressage ring … dandelion. When you’re 17 and your horse hangs a leg in the water complex at Pony Club championships and you feel like you’ve let down your entire team … dandelion. When you’re 29 and you pull up halfway around the course with the sinking realization that you’re simply not prepared … dandelion.

I could go on and on, and I’m sure some of you could, too. Certainly these moments weren’t the end of the world, but perspective is a function of the mind, not the heart.

This weekend at Rolex, there are going to be riders who don’t make it around the course. They’ll make the same long walk back to the barn that so many have before them, replaying a split second over and over again in their minds, trying to figure out what went wrong. Some of them will get a leg up on their next ride or have the opportunity try again next year. Others might not get a second chance.

If you’re at Rolex this weekend, take a quiet moment at some point to look around you. Acknowledge the dandelions and the horses and riders who planted them there. Remember that it’s all connected. Without attempt, and the risk of failure that goes with it, there can be no glory. The hit and the miss both begin with a leap.

Go Eventing.

FEI’s Strategic Review of WEG Sets Fire to Current Format

It has become increasingly obvious in recent years that, when it comes to the WEG, something’s gotta give. It’s one of those ideas that is all warm and glow-y in concept — athletes and fans from around the world singing “kumbaya” around the campfire of equestrian sport! — but dangerously flammable in execution.

Whose backyard are we going to have this thing in? How are we going to finance all these marshmallows? And did anyone remember a fire extinguisher?

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In an unprecedented admission that maybe (just maybe!) the current WEG model has some “problems,” the FEI commissioned a third-party strategic review of the Games post-Normandy (you can read the executive summary here).

The agency that compiled the report, The Sports Consultancy, lays it all out there, starting out with an outline of recent muck-ups (the gaping money hemorrhage of WEG 2010, the logistical nightmare that was WEG 2014, the pulling-of-teeth bidding process for WEG 2018, etc.) From the intro:

The FEI recognises that, as a result of these challenges, the Event risks becoming unsustainable and questions have arisen from a number of sources about its future. Should the FEI World Equestrian Games™ continue to exist? If the answer is yes, how can it sustain and enhance its attractiveness to its stakeholders?

Consequently, the FEI has commissioned a strategic review of the FEI World Equestrian Games™ to deconstruct the Event and understand what, if any, changes should be made in order for its flagship event to remain an attractive proposition and grow into a truly global major event.

Clearly we’re not the only ones who’ve been pondering the WEG’s future — or, potentially, lack thereof. Here’s a quick-and-dirty rundown of the problems the agency identified based on hundreds of interviews with spectators, stakeholders and event officials, and their recommended solutions:

Screenshot from report

Screenshot from report

Problem: Not enough $$$.

“The event format is too expensive and too complex.”

Proposed solution: Keep the eight disciplines but cut competitor numbers. Shorten the length of the event (they recommend 9-10 days) and reduce the number of venues (no more than 3-4 within close proximity to one another). Also rein in superfluous expenses like insanely over-the-top opening/closing ceremonies.

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Screenshot from report

Problem: Nobody wants to be the host.

“The sheer scale, associated cost and required independent / public sector investment is preclusive to the majority of prospective hosts … Bidders want more information during the bidding process and, crucially, also want the information contextualized and explained.”

Proposed solution: Well of course no one wants to be the host. (1) No one likes losing money hand over fist and (2) the bidding process is insanely daunting. Maybe if we give bidders a little support — wine and dine them instead of shutting them down completely — more countries will invite us over to play.

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Screenshot from the report

Problem: The sponsorship situation is a mess.

“The current sponsorship model is overly reliant on a single title sponsor, leading to an imbalance in presence and influence.”

Proposed solution: Move away from the title sponsor model to one that secures 5-7 equal partner sponsors. Not only would that increase and diversify the revenue stream, it ensures that, should the title sponsor wake up one morning and decide to take their money elsewhere, the WEG isn’t screwed completely.

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Screenshot from report

 

Problem: When the WEG looks bad, the FEI looks bad.

“Some of the negative feedback in Normandy was incorrectly directed at the FEI.”

Proposed solution: Maybe it was their fault, maybe it wasn’t, but pointing fingers elsewhere is never an effective (or flattering) strategy. Instead, the report recommends that the FEI embrace accountability and take control of their event.

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Screenshot from the report

Problem: WEG lacks curb appeal.

“The consultation made it clear that the competition has becoming slightly boring (even to established fans), less attractive to broadcasters and inaccessible to new fans.”

Proposed solution: Time to up the razzle-dazzle factor, cutting out boring “non-essential compulsory elements” and re-imagining the event format in a way that’s entertaining, engaging and TV-friendly. (Although renaming the sport of eventing, er, “equestrathon” may be taking things one step too far.)

Kid gloves, off! You can read the executive summary in its entirety here.

Turning your flagship event over to a third-party consulting agency for extensive review, then publishing the hard-boiled results for all the world to see, is a risky move, and the FEI hasn’t historically been known for its transparency.

With its new leadership in place, we’re hopeful that this isn’t a one-off but the start of a paradigm shift that will realign equestrian sport’s governing body with its constituents. We all want to see a healthy WEG in the future, whether in its current format or a revised one. Thank you, FEI, for getting the fire started.

Go Eventing Equestrathon.

‘You Become Responsible, Forever, for What You Have Tamed’

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“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

This is my favorite quote from one of my favorite books, The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 French novella. The lost prince has befriended a shy fox and they’re talking, in so many words, about relationships: the arc of their creation, the tenuousness that makes them precious, and the secret of those that endure.

“One only understands the things that one tames,” the fox explains. Later the prince recalls their interaction: “He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”

Some of the most important relationships in my life have been with horses. They’ve taken unique and often surprising shapes — I had a mare who felt like a sister, a big-hearted thoroughbred who was for several years my best friend, and an Olympic schoolmaster whom I can only describe as a mentor.

One of the most intimate human-equine connections I’ve experienced was with my first horse, Mishka, who came into my life in 1994. He was an aloof, 3-year-old, rose-grey Arabian, still more chestnut than white and only recently started under saddle; I was 12 and convinced I knew much more about riding and training than I actually did.

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Our path toward some definition of “tame” was long and paved with both blue ribbons and trips to the emergency room. He is one of the most intelligent horses I’ve ever encountered, which alternately manifested in either brilliance or a deep suspicion of everyone and everything around him.

We gradually made our way up the levels by trial and error, along the way earning national dressage honors, eventing through Training Level, and developing a reputation on the local hunter circuit for bridleless/bareback jumping demonstrations. Mishka was also a keen and surefooted fox hunter who seemed genuinely intrigued by the game, which was his modus operandi for most things in life. He might not know the rules but he by-God wanted to play — and win.

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The Little Prince’s fox explains that to “tame” means “to establish ties.” Over the course of hundreds if not thousands of hours, Mishka and I wove our partnership. Gaining Mishka’s respect was a never-ending pursuit as he typically had his own own ideas about how to run things, but we were able to reach an agreement more often than not.

As much as I tamed Mishka, he tamed me. My natural proclivities for adventure and abandon were better played out at the barn, where risk-taking meant daring someone to jump a fallen tree out on the trail, as opposed to along the cliff-edge of “real world” teenage experience.

I pulled straight As in AP classes to keep up my end of a “you can have a horse if…” bargain with my parents and spent my spare time mucking stalls at the barn. Of the adjectives I would use to describe myself today — hard-working, intuitive, brave and, yes, willful-on-the-cusp-of-stubborn — most were developed in direct response to my relationship with Mishka. We were well-matched opponents who challenged one another in ways it took me years to understand.

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I was an ambitious young rider and by the end of high school it was clear that I’d outgrown Mishka’s athletic ability. The decision to sell him seemed simultaneously unfair and necessary. The pieces fell immediately into place — usually an indicator that you’re on the right track — and he was purchased by the grandfather of two young, horse-crazy girls. Mishka went on to show them the ropes of competition and for 16 years he was loved and spoiled rotten at the family’s beautiful farm.

That wouldn’t be the end of our story. A few months ago one of the daughters, now grown, reached out to me. Her parents were selling the farm and she wondered if I knew of anyone who might be interested in re-homing Mishka, now 24 years old, snow-white with a long tussled mane, and retired save the occasional bareback hack.

My answer was immediate: Of course I would take him. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Responsibility is sometimes equated with obligation or duty, but it can also be an honor. Mishka came to live at the barn where I board my other horse, Esprit, in February.

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I don’t know much about the science of equine memory, but I can see in his dark, still-smoldering eyes that he recognizes me even after all these years apart. When I say “recognize” I don’t mean in the sense of distinct memories, the kind humans carry, but of some more deeply embedded remembrance of the things that carry meaning in our lives. I, on the other hand, have vivid memories of our exploits but was surprised to experience a sort of bodily déjà vu  as well.

When I hopped on Mishka over the weekend just for fun, his springy trot and the way he leered at shadows in the corner of the ring felt as familiar as if I’d just ridden him the day before. There are moments when time folds in on itself — past, present and future stack atop one another and then melt into one omnipresent mass. Looking out at the world between his pricked pony ears, I felt a connection to the many layers of self I’ve shed and regenerated over the years. It was a reminder that life is less linear than it seems.

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When you part ways with a horse or a human whom you have “tamed,” they’ll never be lost to you. It may feel that way sometimes, but the ties are still there, circulating, shape-shifting, consciously or subconsciously permeating your thoughts, actions and emotions. Taking responsibility means acknowledging those ties, whether by picking up the phone to call an old friend or simply taking a moment to appreciate the impact that others have had on your life.

Sometimes that connection comes full circle in a tangible way, as it did for me with Mishka. Other times, it’s more translucent. As the fox says, when he is saying goodbye to the prince, “Here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Go Riding.

New Season of ‘The Bachelor’ to Feature EN Chinchilla

ABC’s hit romance reality series The Bachelor shocked audiences last night when it announced the star of next season: Eventing Nation’s very own Chinch.

“We felt like it was time to take the show in a different direction and express some real diversity,” the show’s producers explained in a press conference. “What better way to do that than bring in a celebrity chinchilla who already has a large female fan base?”

For his audition tape, Chinch sent in a highlight reel of his world travels, which have included several trips abroad to four-stars in Europe. He noted that he enjoys deep conversation, holding paws and long walks on cross-country courses, especially if he’s being carried in someone’s shirt.

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“I’m a cultured, adventurous guy,” he explains. “People see these photos of me out there on the open road, roaming the world with my passport, and they think that I’m this free-spirited playboy who doesn’t want to be tied down. But the truth is, I’m a hopeless romantic. I’ve been chasing the one thing that’s been missing in my life — true love — for so long now. I just feel ready to take that next step.”

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Chinch explains that he’s attempted online dating, but that being matched up with individuals with similar dating profiles hasn’t yielded much success.

“It always starts out the same,” he says. “I think we’re hitting it off; it’s good for a while …”

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“…but eventually they start stepping all over me, or worse, I get chewed up and spit out.”

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He’s tried the stuffed animal route as well but admits that “there was just no connection.”

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Chinch hopes that venturing outside the chinchilla dating pool will help him find his true soul mate — although he’s gotten burned in that realm, too.

“Women flock to me at these events, everywhere I go,” he explains. “They seem so into me, like, ‘Ooh, let’s snuggle!’ But really they’re just using me to get a cute photo for Instagram. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but when it just keeps happening over and over again, it’s hard not to let it get to you.”

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“I just want someone who will love and accept me for who I am: a fun-loving and sexy yet caring and sensitive chinchilla who has a lot to offer the right lady,” he says with a sigh. “I’m looking forward to finding that someone on ‘The Bachelor,’ and when I do, I won’t hesitate to give them my rose.”

Air dates to be announced. In the meantime, keep up with all Chinch’s adventures via Twitter and Instagram.

Event Organizers Vote to Bring Back Long Format at Rolex

Torrance Fleischmann and Finvarra Torrance Fleischmann and Finvarra "back in the day." Photo: Virginia Hill/Flickr/Creative Commons License.

After a recent survey revealed that 97 percent of online forum users would like to see the long format return to upper-level eventing, organizers of the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event met with officials and representatives from the sport’s governing bodies in Lexington yesterday to approve bringing back the long format for the 2015 event.

For USEA President Diane Pitts, it boiled down to a matter of democracy. “We here at the USEA are deeply committed to listening to our constituents, and an overwhelming majority of our members wanted to see the long format return to Rolex. We are thrilled to be a part of making this dream a reality.”

Online forum user “BeginnerNoviceOrBust” has been vocal in leading the public outcry to return the sport to its roots. “Eventing was better back in the day,” she says, then revises her statement slightly: “Except for the dressage. The dressage was pretty bad.”

When asked to specify what she meant by “back in the day,” she clarified her statement: “When did that movie Sylvester come out? I think it was around then. Probably the ’80s.”

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The ’80s were, truly, a golden era for U.S. eventing when no dream seemed too big. “If a rogue bronco ridden by a cowgirl could pull off Rolex as their very first event, anything was possible,” forum user “BeginnerNoviceOrBust” explained.

The Americans took home a team gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, a feat that we have yet to repeat since, and getting it done was the name of the game, with legends like Ginny Leng, Lucinda Green and Ian Stark dominating eventing’s upper echelons. Dressage seemed like a blip on the radar when you had endless miles of roads and tracks, steeplechase and cross country looming in front of you.

Team USA coach David O’Connor agreed: “I’m always talking about the future of American eventing, but it’s important to honor the past,” he said. “If we’re going to bring back the long format, let’s bring back the rest of it as well.” Though he did clarify he would make an exception for Bruce Davidson’s hair: “That’s probably not ever coming back. Some things are just lost to history, I guess.”

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Since yesterday’s decision, organizers of the nation’s premier four-star event have begun announcing major changes that will take place in returning the competition to its golden era. First, event organizers broke the news to presenting sponsor Rolex that it had been replaced by iconographic ’80s watch brand, Swatch.

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“Swatch watches were the ultimate ’80s fashion accessory,” says Rolex Swatch president and CEO Stewart Wicht, “and also they speak more specifically to the eventing demographic. A Swatch watch is an affordable timepiece, and they’ll coordinate perfectly with cross-country colors, so there are some great opportunities for rider sponsorship there as well.”

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Land Rover was another casualty of the event’s paradigm shift and has been replaced by the more eventer budget-friendly Yugo. We can’t wait to see how the Yugo fares on this year’s obstacle course!

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In addition to the format and sponsor changes, the sport’s rulebooks have been revised to more closely resemble what they looked like in the ’80s, long before the dawn of frangible pins; required helmet chinstraps; or mandatory retirement after fall of horse, rider or both.

1984 Olympics Equestrian Event at Fairbanks Ranch

No worries — leg up! Photo: Virginia Hill/Flickr/Creative Commons License.

Despite having been given less than a month’s notice regarding the format change, riders entered in this year’s event have responded positively to the news.

Lauren Kieffer, last year’s top-placed American finisher, says, “I think the ’80s thing is pretty cool. Veronica can really pull off some bright neon colors and accessories. At first I was a little upset because air vests don’t come in day-glo colors, but then I remembered that in the ’80s safety vests hadn’t even been invented yet, so I’m in the clear.”

Defending Rolex champion William Fox-Pitt was slightly less enthusiastic. “I’m pretty sure I can get a decent ‘stache going in a month, but growing a mullet doesn’t just happen overnight. I wish they’d given us a little more notice.”

Defending Swatch champion William Fox-Pitt. Photo by Jenni Autry.

William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Best of luck to this year’s competitors. Happy April Fool’s, and Go Eventing!

Kiss Me, I’m an Irish Sport Horse!

Paul Tapner and Kilronan. Photo by Jenni Autry. Paul Tapner and Kilronan. Photo by Jenni Autry.

As athletic as they are tough, it’s no wonder Irish Sport Horses have topped the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses Eventing Studbook rankings for 8 out of the last 10 years.

Last year, once again, they dominated the rankings. The 2014 list, released in September:

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Screenshot from WBFSH.org

Koninklijk Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland (KWPN) and Hannoveraner Verband e. V. (HANN) rounded out the top 5. (View the complete list here.)

Unlike 2013, when 4 of the top 6 horses on the ISH list were competing under the American flag (Ballynoe Castle RM, #2; , #4 Harbour Pilot, #4; Cambalda, #5; Fernhill Eagle, #6), U.S. horses were conspicuously absent from the 2014 list.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Irish Sport Horses don’t have a giant presence in American eventing sport. At Rolex last year, Irish horses were the second most represented breed (16 horses) behind Thoroughbreds (24 horses)

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Who are some Irish Sport Horses who have and continue to dominate the top of American sport? In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a not-even-exhaustive list:

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Go Irish Sport Horses, and Go Eventing!

Community Rallies Around Ohio Eventer Who Lost 5 Horses in Barn Fire

Kelly and Vino. Photo courtesy of Brant Gamma Photography. Kelly and Vino. Photo courtesy of Brant Gamma Photography.

Our deepest condolences are with eventer and OTTB advocate Kelly Felicijan, whose Jefferson, Ohio, farm tragically caught fire last night. Among her losses were five horses, a pet goat and a barn cat — all much beloved.

“It’s not something you ever think is going to happen to you or your family,” Kelly said when we spoke with her this morning. Working as a nurse she sees a lot of suffering but says that experiencing it firsthand is much different. “It doesn’t really prepare you for your own loss.”

A neighbor who spotted the fire called the fire department and then Kelly at around 1:30 a.m. Kelly, whose house is near the barn, looked out the window and ran outside. Ordinarily the horses would have been turned out with access to their run-in, but with temperatures hovering around 0 with a -25 degree wind chill last night, she had decided to keep them in.

Cocoa Vino, an Arab-Trakehner she’d had for 10 years and evented through Prelim, was in the first stall on the right. Kelly tried to go inside the barn three times, but the smoke was too thick, and she emerged with singed hair and eyes.

“He’s irreplaceable,” she says of Vino. “We did our first three Prelims last year. He was a pretty phenomenal horse — he could pretty much pack me around his first Prelim and my first Prelim with my eyes closed.” Despite standing 17.2 hands and possessing a strong gallop, he recently escorted Kelly’s neighbor, who had never even gone through a water jump, around her first three-phase event. “I told her to trot every jump,” Kelly recalls. “He took great care of her.”

“Vino was supposed to live until he was 35,” she says, still understandably in shock about his passing. “He was supposed to live forever.”

By the time the firefighters arrived, the barn was a total loss. The cause of the fire is unknown; they speculate that the source could have been an electric fence charger, a power surge or even a mouse chewing through a wire, and that the barn’s tin roof held the smoke in. Kelly takes comfort in knowing that the horses likely lost consciousness from smoke inhalation, minimizing their pain.

The other four horses included a Haflinger named Nitro …

Kelly's Haflinger, Nitro.

Nitro. Photo courtesy of Kelly Felicijan.

… and three OTTBs: Astro, Royal and Rayne.

Kelly is active in the OTTB community and in particular is involved with Finger Lakes Finest Thoroughbreds, Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is to help OTTBs from Finger Lakes Race Track find post-racing homes and new careers. FLF volunteer Alex Walker, a friend of Kelly’s, wasted no time in giving well-wishers an outlet for their outpouring of generosity. A YouCaring fundraiser was set up this morning under the name “Help Us Rebuild Morgan Valley Sport Horses After the Fire.

Alex wrote of Kelly’s support of the organization and beyond:

Kelly is an integral part of our family here at Finger Lakes Finest. We can always count on her to take in the horses needing extra love, that most would pass by,  not seeing their potential. She has helped countless animals find forever homes because of her compassion, excellent horse care and tireless work.

Over the past few years, she has taken in and found homes for over 30 off-the-track Thoroughbreds, auction horses and others just needing a soft landing. When Kelly isn’t caring for her four-legged family, she is taking care of other peoples’ family members as a nurse at Geauga Medical Center. She volunteers her time while serving as a 4-H leader in her community.

“I just can’t say no,” Kelly says. “Show me the barn with the horses that nobody else wants.”

She recalls the story of an OTTB she brought home from the track despite knowing that he had a fractured ankle. Rather than giving the broken horse time off to heal, his trainer was regularly injecting it to keep the horse running despite the fact that he wasn’t even winning. Kelly rehabbed the horse herself and found him a loving home.

“Anything from ponies to Thoroughbreds — if it has four legs, I’ll give it a chance. I don’t pick my horses; my horses pick me.”

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Astro. Photo courtesy of Kelly Felicijan.

One of the OTTBs Kelly was most excited about was Astro (Jockey Club name: Alabanter). Before the fire, Kelly had just gotten 300 pounds on him (he had trouble keeping weight on because of a stall-walking habit), and he was beginning to reveal his potential: “He could jump 3’6″ like it was a cross-rail. He had an amazing future in front of him.”

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Astro. Photo courtesy of Kelly Felicijan.

Another exciting prospect was a striking OTTB named Royal (Heza Royal One), who she’d recently entered in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover. Royal was a perfect fit for the competition, which is eligible to OTTBs with nine months of training or less and culminates in a national gathering at the Kentucky Horse Park in October.

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Royal. Photo courtesy of Kelly Felicijan.

“I keep walking out there,” Kelly says. Her family advised her against it, but she says it’s been her own way of dealing with the tragedy. “I needed to walk out there and know for myself that all the horses were in the barn. I wanted to go look.”

What she saw — what was left of the barn — was mostly blackened rubble. “The were six beams and a metal cart we used to pull hay,” she says. “The horses aren’t recognizable.”

She brushes off the loss of everything besides the animals, describing the rest of it as “just material possessions.” But for a horse person who has been riding since age 5 and eventing since age 8, that’s a lifetime of accumulated equipment. The tack room was stuffed with years worth of, as Kelly describes, “hoarding”: blankets, tack including her good saddle and, she notes, a prolific bit collection.

In addition to monetary donations, the YouCaring fundraiser encourages the donation of equipment and supplies to replace those lost in the fire. Suggested items include tack, brushes, wheelbarrows, blankets, feed/hay, barn equipment, etc.

Other losses include a fueled-up tractor that blew up behind the barn, as well as her and her boyfriend’s trucks, which were parked outside. She only had liability insurance on her truck but says that the loss seems insignificant in comparison. “I don’t care about the truck,” she says.

Yet, less than 12 hours after the fire, Kelly already has her chin up. She points out the bright side of things: She is safe. Her boyfriend and family are safe. Her home, which was in danger of catching fire itself, is fine. She still has four horses to love — two that were boarded at a facility with an indoor and two horses that were babysitting other horses elsewhere.

Kelly says she has been floored by the kindness the equestrian community has shown her in the fire’s aftermath. Her vet, who was away at a conference, called in the middle of the night and offered to drive home. She’s been overwhelmed by sympathies and well wishes from friends and strangers alike. At the time of this publication, the YouCaring fundraising campaign had already raised more than $4,500 (you can visit the campaign here).

“There has been a big outpouring of support,” she says. “I feel loved.”

When Kelly shared the news on Facebook this morning, she included this request:

Please hug your horses and animals a little tighter and give them a few extra kisses. Sometimes life isn’t fair. But the only option is forward … always forward.

The Poor Eventer’s Guide to Living Large in Aiken

Most people, when you tell them you want to head south for the winter, they don’t understand. “What’s so great about Aiken?” they ask. “What difference does it make whether your first event of the season is in February or in April?” Let me tell you something: These people don’t know about you. They don’t understand your life. They don’t care about your hopes and dreams.

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And players gonna play. You’re a player. This year, YOU DO YOU.

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Just one problem: You’re broke.

Pimpin’ ain’t easy but we have good news for you, friend: You don’t have to be rich to fly with the snowbirds. All you really need is a truck and trailer, resourcefulness, and a high tolerance for PB&J sandwiches and chanky hotels. Here are a few hot tips for spreading your wings without breaking the bank.

1. Get that paper. I’m not gonna lie — you’re gonna need a little green. Thankfully, winter event season coincides with tax refund season. It’s time to take Uncle Sam for all he’s worth so you can blow it on your horse. File that return today, and in three weeks or less you’ll be on the road south.

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2. Recruit an entourage. The more fellow eventers you can talk into heading south with you, the cheaper it will be. Split gas, split hotel, split lessons, split pizzas … this can literally cut your expenses in half or sixths if you’re a straight baller like Kanye here.

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3. Find a crib. The key point to remember here is that if you have a roof over your head, you’re winning. The cheapest place I’ve found to sleep (besides my horse trailer) is the Days Inn in downtown Aiken, which offers a weekly rate of $265. You can score an even better deal if you stick around longer and find something to sublet — like this posh 3-bedroom double-wide for $495 a month.

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4. Find a crib for your horse. This isn’t too hard considering Aiken is pretty much one big horse farm. Many of them cater to the snowbird crowd, offering short-term self-care boarding. A couple of my standbys are Full Gallop Farm and Jumping Branch Farm, both of which have cross-country courses, ample room for hacking and rotational turnout. Be sure to ask about discounts for staying a week or more; at Full Gallop, for example, rates are $25/night, $20/night if staying more than 5 nights, and $350/month (shavings included!).

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5. Feed yourself (and your horse) on the cheap. I know it’s tempting to stop by Starbucks on the way to the barn every morning. DON’T DO IT. Suck it up, buttercup, and walk into the barn with a tiny Styrofoam cup of stale motel coffee in your hand and your head held high. Put the $8 you could have spent on a caramel macchiato and croissant toward a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and some jelly. Eat that for lunch. Every. Day. For dinner, treat yourself to anything on the Taco Bell menu.

As for your horse, bring as much feed/hay down with you as you can stuff in the trailer. The going rate for a bale of orchard grass or timothy from Aiken Saddlery is $14.50, which is pretty spendy (at least compared to where I live in Tennessee).

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6. Ride dirty. Nah, I’m just playin’, groom your horse before you ride. But speaking of riding there are so many opportunities in Aiken to get a jump start on your spring season — and some of them are 100 percent free. My favorite: conditioning in Hitchcock Woods, which boasts over 70 miles of beautiful sandy trails with adorable names like Tea Cottage Path, Peek-a-Boo Lane and Cathedral Aisle. There’s a steeplechase track tucked in there that’s fun to canter around and little surprise cross-country jumps here and there.

Looking for some edumacation? Lesson opportunities are endless. Decide who you’d like to ride with and ask to be placed in a group lesson if that’s an option. Not only is it easier on the budget, you can learn a lot from watching other people. If you’re in town for the USEF High Performance Training Sessions (February 11-12 and March 16-17 at Stable View Farm), GO! I audited a weekend last year and came away with a toolkit of exercises to practice on my own horse. Total out-of-pocket cost: zero dollars.

Another Aiken perk: Competitions are aplenty and cheaper than usual as, for the most part, you can just haul in for the day, thus saving $150 or whatever in stabling fees. Knock off the rust at a schooling show or dive headfirst into recognized event — there are things to do practically every weekend. Check out this calendar of local events.

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Go Eventing!

The 5 Most Popular SmartPak Videos of 2014

This post originally appeared on Horse Nation, our super awesome sister site.

SmartPak’s “If Horses Were People” YouTube series was a breakout hit in 2014, garnering hundreds of thousands of view. Here are the top 5 most-watched episodes.

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As much as we love our horses, some of their behavior is a little…weird. Imagine if you’re best friend or co-worker acted like that? That’s exactly what we did, and we think you’ll like what we came up with!” — SmartPak

#5. 104,415 views

#4. 118.739

#3. 127,271

#2. 189,767

#1. 246,597

Can’t wait to see what you come up with in 2015, SmartPak!

Go SmartPak, and Go Riding!

Who Had the Best Save of 2014?

Emily Macauley & Medici at Cobblestone Farms H.T. in July. Photo by Ethan Macauley. Emily Macauley & Medici at Cobblestone Farms H.T. in July. Photo by Ethan Macauley.

2014 was the year of sticky britches. Perhaps inspired by Rick Wallace’s valiant effort to defy gravity at Chatt Hills last year, this year’s crop seemed more determined than ever to keep a horse between themselves and the ground. Among the many amazing saves that we have witnessed in the last 12 months, eight really stood out to us as true exhibitions of iron-willed insanity.

Note: We limited the nominations to U.S. events for the sake of brevity, although there were plenty of astonishing ones overseas as well. (If you missed Mary King’s Badminton save upon Imperial Cavalier the first time around, it’s totally worth a watch.)

Without further ado, here is a roundup of the year’s top saves. Review them (click the rider’s name for a full recap of the incident) and vote for your favorite at the bottom!

Kelsey Wilkins and Cava at Virginia

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Photo by Brant Gamma.

Maddie Parisan and Hope to Star at Young Riders

Maddie Parisan and Hope to Star at Young Riders. Photo by Maddie Mosing.

Photo by Maddie Mosing.

Gina Miles and SVR Ron at Woodside

Another bridle malfunction?! Photo via Gina Miles' Facebook page, by Liz Hall

Photo by  Liz Hall.

Emily Macauley and Medici at Cobblestone Farms H.T. 

Emily Macauley & Medici at Cobblestone Farms H.T. in July. Photo by Ethan Macauley.

Photo by Ethan Macauley.

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice at Rebecca Farm

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Photo by Jessica Kerschbaumer.

Boyd Martin and Welcome Shadow at Fair Hill

Boyd Martin and Welcome Shadow at Fair Hill. Photo by Lauren Sumner.

Photo by Lauren Sumner.

Avery Klunick and It It to Win It at the AECs

Caroline Martin and Effervescent at Chatt Hills

Go Eventing!

9 Totally Random Moments From Our Virtual Office Christmas Party

What does it look like when a handful of Horse Nation and Eventing Nation writers get together (online) for a drink(s) and some Secret Santa gift swapping?

We set out to find the answer this week, which is best encapsulated by the following screenshots. Our favorite random moments in no particular order:

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">MemeCenter_1419447541897_462MemeCenter_1419446639946_718From all of us here at Nation Media, Merry Christmas!

7 Little Girls Freaking Out Because They Got a Horse For Christmas

Combing YouTube for videos of surprise Christmas horses is a much-beloved holiday tradition over on our sister site, Horse Nation, and something we always share on EN too. Grab some tissues and cry along!

From squealing to screaming to sobbing to standing frozen in a state of shock, these reactions to getting The Best Present Ever are priceless.

First up, we’ve got the happy weepers:

And the surprised squealer:

And the girl who just can’t stop jumping up and down:

And the  one who is stunned speechless:

And last but not least, because you’re never too old to be a horse-crazy little girl:

Merry Christmas, Horse Nation. Go Riding.