Amy Nelson
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Amy Nelson


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About Amy Nelson

Amy Nelson is a professional Event rider based in Rochester, IL. Owner and trainer of Hummingbird Stables, she has been riding Hunter/Jumper and Eventers for the past 25 years. She trains horses for competition, is a regional expert in OTTB retraining, and leads an active show team in Area IV. She has been a "pony person" and exercise rider at the racetrack, and competed in the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover for several years. When not Eventing, she enjoys training flat shod gaited horses, playing with her dogs, and spending time trail riding with her husband. Follow me on Instagram:

Latest Articles Written

An Open Letter During COVID-19: We Will Overcome

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

In recent weeks we have become intimately familiar with terms like “social distancing” and “quarantine.” Gatherings have been banned, businesses forced closed and some of the biggest events in the sport have been canceled worldwide. Even the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event announced its first ever cancellation in 42 years.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone. Things are changing by the hour, with new information and rules to follow. But one thing is constant: As equestrians we have always been a resilient group of people. On a daily basis we face adversity, like injuries, or falls, or inclement weather, and somehow we rise above it all to push forward in a sport that we love.

These are uncertain times. I am not aiming to be a doomsdayer, but to be honest, none of us knows the true scope of what is about to happen. In the world, but also in the sport we love. But count on this — we will continue to love our sport, and ride our ponies, and connect (virtually) with others who are the same. It is vital in today’s world that we ENJOY THE JOURNEY.

Amanda Kothe & Valentino’s Day. Photo by Becca Greene.

Many of us thrive on competition. We love the thrill of cross country, the comradery of the sport, and the time spent with our horses with the wind in our ears as a crowd (or our small group of family and friends) cheers us on. I do not know when these will happen again. I am hopeful we will be back to showing in no time, but as in the sport eventing itself, there are no guarantees. What I do know is every time you put a foot in the iron and swing your leg over, you should smile.

We are the lucky ones. We can still ride. Our passion cannot be quarantined. Our love for horses cannot be canceled. Many sports are not so lucky — weightlifters are forced to stay away from the gym. Swimming pools are on lockdown. Gymnasts are sent home. But riding will continue. Gridwork will happen. Jump schools and dressage practice and long hacks in the field will go on. At the very minimum, our beloved horses will still be cared for and nurtured (and we can sneak soft nose kisses and comforting neck hugs). Do not forget why you got into the sport in the first place. Stay connected with your riding friends remotely.  This is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of our sport. It is a temporary change.  But we will keep going. Because we are equestrians.

3 … 2 … 1 … Enjoy the ride.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Photo by Darryl Dragoo. 

Friday Fashion Forecast: Stocking Stuffers from Klip Klop Shop

As we approach the holidays, we eventers are making a list and checking it twice with gift ideas that we REALLY want … not the standard fare of mall shop items that sneak their way into stockings and packages each year.

Introducing: Klip Klop Shop! A quaint online shop stuffed with all your favorite fun eventing themed t-shirts (long and short sleeved), funky polo wraps and boots, and eye catching saddle pads! They even offer gift cards so the equestrian on your list can pick exactly what will match their style. Young people on your list, or someone with extra flair? Check out the Klip Klop Shop.

99 Problems But a Ditch Ain’t One, via

Have you ever gone to a show or clinic and looked around … someone else has the same saddle pad. You thought you were a trailblazer, but another rider is sporting the same thing! This is the eventing equivalent to seeing your same dress at prom. At Klip Klop Shop they only stock a limited number of each saddle pad design. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! So you grab that prized color scheme or pattern and know that you’ll really stand out from the crowd.

Periwinkle Marble Saddle Pad, via

Klip Klop Shop is a great place to start your holiday shopping. I tried the long sleeve “99 problems” t-shirt — the fabric is a good quality and runs true to size. It’s perfect for the equestrian on your gift list! They have other cute tees, including “Off Track and Into My Heart” and “3 Days 3 Ways” eventing tees, as well as a small variety of saddle pads and leg wear for your horse. My only drawback is they do not have a huge selection. Much like visiting your favorite vintage shop, you may have to check back periodically to find your perfect item!

Final Review
(out of 4 stars)

Cost: $$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars

Green & Pink Polos, via

An Eventer Joins the Hunt: An Excellent Alternative in the Off-Season

Bridlespur Hunt Club ( Photo by Becky Bowling.

It all started with an eventing student of mine who got into fox hunting, and a client OTTB. I went fox hunting.

I have been a hunter jumper for over 26 years and an event rider for many of those. In spite of adoring photos of the riders in scarlet coats on a crisp morning surrounded by hounds, I had never actually joined a hunt. “Don’t embarrass me,” whispered Rebecca as we rode up on our horses to the gathering area before they released the hounds at Bridlespur Hunt Club in Eolia, Missouri. Embarrass her? What could I possibly do? Literally 5 seconds later it happened. But let’s back up a moment and talk about what fox hunting entails.

Amy Nelson (on the grey) with Hummingbird’s River. Roading at Bridlespur Hunt Club.

It is sort of what it sounds like. Although these days you don’t actually “hunt” a fox … it’s more of a chase. Generally the hounds will catch the scent of a fox (or in our region of the U.S. more likely a coyote) and the run begins. It is never the intent to harm the animal. It appears in my non-expert opinion that the fox/coyote is quite fast and intelligent, and more often than not will give the pack of hounds the slip rather easily.  Fox hunting is simply noisy hounds and a super fast-paced hack, over terrain with logs, stone walls and coops built in.

Bridlespur Hunt Club ( Photo by Becky Bowling.

At Bridlespur Hunt Club they share portions of their land with an open to the public Nature Preserve, available to bird watchers and hikers. The terrain varies from rolling hills next to corn and soybean fields, to wooded areas and flowing shallow creek crossings. There are several “seasons” for the sport and several “levels.” And at most clubs you don’t have to be a member to try it out a couple of times. They offer a “capping fee” (something like $25) to join the hunt as a guest.

The “levels” are 3rd flight — mainly walk/trot, back away from the hounds a bit. The leader of this flight tries to take short cuts through the land so you see the action without being in the galloping field of madness. No jumps, or optional jumps like small logs/coops at the very end. Second flight — more of a canter pace behind 1st, seeing more action, again jumps appear to be optional here. First flight — right up with the hounds, galloping terrain, jumping up to 3′ or so, crazy people and booze.

Roading at Bridlespur Hunt Club. Photo by Bridlespur.

The seasons are Roading — generally August, puppies and older hounds who no longer can keep up with the hunt get to go along in this season.  It gives these young hounds a chance to get familiar with the whole ordeal before the real hunts begin. I had immense fun with roading, as there is no greater joy than watching an elderly hound feeling important as though he still had a job. One particular hound stayed all the way in the back with us at a slow trot during one of these rides, feeling proud of himself, with the speed his legs could maintain at his age. Is he smiling?   Green horses and newer riders are encouraged to come out during these rides as well, to introduce the horses to the chaos on a smaller scale. The puppies are a bit less intimidating with their floppy ears and drooly enthusiasm. You should attend for the cuteness alone. Roading is casual with polo shirts and tan breeches. Some even allow western tack for trail ride days, but check with the club in advance.  Some have Hunter Paces and even the elusive Mushroom Hunt — an expert on finding edible mushrooms leads a ride.

Informal hunt at Bridlespur. Photo by Bridlespur.

Informal hunts fall in September up until Opening Hunt in October. Tweed coat, ratcatcher and stock tie (apparently they prefer an actual tie, but were OK with my pre-tied tie from eventing). Brown gloves. Hair net and velvet helmet. On warmer days they wave coats for a vest, but as an eventer plan on wearing your summer hunt coat if you don’t own a vest. Formal hunts begin on opening day, and require a black hunt coat, brown gloves, stock tie.  The scarlet coats are reserved for gentlemen and ladies of the staff who have been awarded colors. Read all about the attire here.

Formal Hunt. Bridlespur Hunt Club ( Photo by Becky Bowling.

There are a few things you should know before you go fox hunting. Definitely read that your local club’s website for rules and information. Ask questions. This group of people is very open to helping you out and making sure you understand the protocol of tack, clothing, talking, and vocabulary.

So how did I embarrass my student?? For the love of all that’s holy do NOT call them beagles. In my defense they look like beagles but they are definitely not. They are much taller and larger because your average beagle would NOT be able to keep up with a galloping horse. Ok. Sounds stupid now … but the hunt is 2.5 hours away and we got up at 3:30 a.m. I don’t even get up that early for eventing! They are fox hounds. Google this. You’ll see the difference. Also … do NOT call them dogs. They are hounds. Fox hunters are polite folks so they won’t openly correct you, but you’ll likely get a tongue-lashing on the drive home from your student, and perhaps a bit of gossiping during snacks and drinks in the clubhouse after the hunt.

Learn terms like “Tally-ho,” “Huntsman” and “Whip” before you go.  Tally-ho is a good thing, apparently. And study up on attire. Just like you wouldn’t go into a dressage test with bell boots and pink saddle pad, fox hunters take their tack and attire choices seriously.

I would highly recommend the experience for eventers, especially those in regions where the event season only runs a few short months. Fox hunting will allow you to get out over terrain with your event in horse in the winter months, and weather-depending, pop over a few jumps in the off season! This particular hunt allows members to use their land on non-hunt days for schooling and riding as well. Or go on hunt days — your horse does not have to be brave over terrain when 30 horses just crossed the moving creek (quite shallow, like a water complex, at Bridlespur) in front of him … he will absolutely cross without question.

Informal hunt at Bridlespur
Amy Nelson with client horse Archy, owned by Polly Powell

It may seem a little daunting at first, but trust me, the leaders of each flight look out for all the members of their group. If you struggle or have a question or need help (say the green horse you are on gets a bit nervous), they are like the mother hen and will take you under their wing to make sure you are safe and having a great time.  I stuck to third flight and had a blast.

Cost-wise to join a club it might run as much as 3-4 horse trials, but you get the entire year as a member.  They may have a young rider (under the age of 25 for some!) or new member discount for your first year, and some offer a trainer option (of any discipline) with the idea that you’ll bring students with you to try it out and help drive membership. Oh. And there are snacks.

Bridlespur Hunt Club ( Photo by Becky Bowling.

If you’re in an a region with a short event season, check out your local fox hunting club. You might just love it! Fox hunting is basically just the cross country portion with dogs … er… hounds. And absolutely NO dressage.  Coming up on October 20th Bridlespur Hunt Club in Eolia, Missouri has the opening day hunt and blessing of the hounds. If you don’t ride in it … it’s worth coming to watch!


Informal Hunt.Rebecca Mason & Holly (the student I embarrassed by calling them beagles).

Friday Fashion Forecast: Devoucoux Cross Country Rubber Reins

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Photo by Xpress Foto.

Do reins REALLY make a difference in your performance?


I am currently campaigning two very enthusiastic event horses, plus two super green ones. If you tend to lose your reins when a sweaty horse’s neck makes them slick, or compete in hot/wet/rainy/humid conditions, or need to maintain control on a bold mount, then these reins are exactly what’s missing in your tack room.

Traditional reins get slick. Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Photo by J.McPherson Photography.

What struck me immediately was the thickness of the rubber, and how it never becomes “sticky” in hot weather.  I was extremely hesitant to use rubber reins, as over the years on client bridles I have endured inexpensive rubber reins that appear to develop this uncomfortable sticky film on them. I could not bring myself to even try rubber reins for myself. But I knew something had to be done when I kept having my reins ripped from my fingers by my strong event horses. It’s very unnerving in the middle of a tricky combination to be fumbling with retrieving your reins. The rubber on the Devoucoux Cross Country Rubber Reins has never gotten that “icky” feeling, while providing excellent grip in the most grueling conditions. This year we competed in torrential downpours, 100 degree baking sun, and everything in-between, without once having to worry about a lost rein. They are quite thick (16mm), and the connections are made of a single piece of leather for strength.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium
pc: Xpress Photo

The buckles on the Devoucoux Cross Country Rubber Reins are extremely easy to switch from different bridles. I have been able to swap them out from Hummingbird’s River’s bridle to Hummingbird’s Mendacium’s bridle in, say, two minutes, as they have had back-to-back cross country rounds at the same level! The built-in leather rein stop adds extra convenience.

The reins themselves are quite long. This is perfect for drops, and horses with longer necks. The only drawback is when I am galloping my enthusiastic OTTB on cross country, that they are a bit too long and hang down by my foot. This is not a major issue, however, since most of the time when he is listening my reins are a few inches longer in the contact. For a petite horse or pony, or in stadium rounds, you might have to simply knot the end.

Overall, I absolutely love these reins! I will never go back to traditional leather on cross country, and I love the security they give me so much, that I use them for stadium rounds and fox hunting as well.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River
PC: Derith Vogt

Final Review – out of 4 stars

Cost: $$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars (Devoucoux does offer quality leather reins, hunter rubber reins, etc.)

Friday Fashion Forecast: Eskadron ‘Pinkaholic’ Collection

If you’re like most eventers, you understand the value of dressage work. But you also don’t wake up in the morning giddy thinking about working on transitions and leg yields and suppling your horse. That all changes with the Eskadron “Pinkaholic” collection!

Eskadron Pinkaholic.

Remember when you were told as a child to eat your vegetables? Put a little cheese sauce on that and it makes it palatable! This gorgeous pink set makes dressage more palatable to the event rider, and dare I say, FUN! The Eskdron Pinkaholic set is the perfect matchy-matchy way to get your dressage work in, while having a great time doing it. A bold pink dressage saddle pad with reflective accents pairs expertly with the super luxurious fleece bandages, complete with storage case. The phrase “Ride Eat Sleep Repeat” is embroidered on the set. This collection will make your transitions better, your horse more supple, and help engage those hindquarters (OK, not really, but it will make your dressage far less tedious!!).

Not great at dressage? Look the part by matching. My mare, Hummingbird’s Mendacium, was the model for this product review and she was less than thrilled. Not because she hates dressage, and not because she was upset about the pink, but we like to compare her to the flower that grows out of a big, prickly cactus. We joke that she goes barefoot because the rocks wouldn’t DARE bruise her feet. It’s likely she bruises the rocks with her attitude. In spite of her less-than-willing participation, she managed to get some gorgeous photos! So even if you’re riding around on a feral yak in dressage warm up, rest assured that you will look put together. This was always my strategy as a young snowboarder. I was terrible. But I matched and looked darn good sipping hot cocoa in the lodge!

Eskadron Pinkaholic
Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium

The quality of this matched set is apparent from the start. The saddle pad is cushy, and the fleece bandages are extremely soft. The Eskadron Pinkaholic collection is the perfect addition to your warm up at an event, a dressage lesson, or that day you’re just not feeling it but need to get the work in anyway. I hear through the grapevine that it’s limited edition for 2019, so you’d better hurry and snatch this up before they are gone!

Follow Frantisi on Facebook and Instagram – they are the reason we have excellent brands like Eskadron in North America!

Final Review (Out of 4 Stars)

Cost: $$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: *** 3 Stars (the same set comes in different colors)


Catalpa Corner Charity H.T. Honors the Unsung Heroes of Eventing: Lesson Horses

Lesson Horse: Hummingbird’s Sheeza Easy Dream (“Lucky”) with Leila. Photo by J McPherson Photography.

There are many special awards each year at Area IV’s Catalpa Corner Charity Horse Trials in Iowa City, Iowa … but this year there is a special award for those saintly lesson horses who are the unsung heroes of our sport. This year, CCCHT presents the inaugural “Area IV Academy Horse Award!” The idea came to me at a recent mini event, when at the end of an exhausting day I saw the utter joy our Hummingbird Stables’ lesson horses brought to my students. There needs to be an award just for them.

Lesson Horse: Hummingbird’s First Commander and Dena. Photo by Amy Nelson.

The riders at this particular mini event ranged from an 11-year-old who started out riding western at her grandmother’s farm, to an adult mom with four kids of her own, a teen rider who came from the Arab Hunter world, and an adult with a job in the medical field who started beginner riding lessons as a 30th birthday present to herself. These riders put in the work each week, but do not have a horse of their own. Thanks to a lesson horse, they get a chance to compete in our sport of eventing!

The horses have varied background stories of how they came to be a staple in our lesson program, but they share one common quality: While they won’t do the work without being asked correctly by the rider, they will never punish a rider for making a mistake.

Week after week, these lesson horses jump the things, attend the schooling days, stand patiently while riders learn how to tack. They sometimes pretend they don’t understand a canter cue on a hot summer day, and periodically refuse to lift a hoof for picking. One even seems to actually be able to read the letters on the wall, when I say “let’s pick up a trot at A,” the rider starts giggling and admits that they didn’t ask her to trot. Maybe they paddle in dressage. Maybe they have the conformation of an emu. Maybe they have to be bribed with a bucket of treats to get their mane trimmed. But we forgive these quirks because at the end of the day, riders are certain that when they swing a leg over these lesson horses, that they will be safe and having fun all the way to the finish flags.

Crossing the finish flags. Photo by Amy Nelson.

When I approached Area IV and Catalpa Corner Charity Horse Trials about the idea of a special award just for lesson horses, they quickly got on board. CCCHT is a small, family event, with big goals and a big heart. This year, owner Susan Bringham is ensuring lesson horses have a chance at an award, even if they might not otherwise be in the ribbons. The Low Scoring Academy horse will receive a plaque, champion ribbon, and a prize! All riders have to do is sign up with the show secretary, Megan Clement. The horse must belong to a riding program and used for lessons to be eligible.

We are hopeful this idea will catch on with other regions! These lesson horses may not be getting scores in the 20s, but you can bet the smiles they bring to riders who might not otherwise be able to participate in the sport are worth more than any ribbon.

The deadline for signing up for Area IV’s Catalpa Corner Charity Horse Trials is July 16, 2019. The event is held at Catalpa Corner Horse Park August 3-4, 2019, and they offer Starter Level (2′ max) through Prelim. The course is set in the beautiful rolling hills of Iowa. Additional awards include a trophy and eight ribbons per division, Madison Brigham Memorial Award Low Point Overall Junior, Amanda Johnson Memorial Low Point Adult Dressage, and Iowa Pony Club Low Point Award. They have a wood fired pizza party on Friday night along with the Area IV Adult Rider Wine Social. You can follow them on Facebook for updates.

3 … 2 … 1 … (kick kick kick!) have a great ride.

Lesson Horse: Hummingbird’s Keikilani (“Lani”) with Kristi. Photo by J McPherson Photography.


Friday Fashion Forecast: Voler Caliber Vellum Rain Jacket

It seems like most areas of eventing in 2019 are turning into a rain forest. The deluge we have experienced so far the season has been breaking records all over, and canceling countless shows, cross country phases, and schooling days. The rare rides we do manage to get are amidst endless moisture.  Be prepared to get rained on, with the Voler Caliber Vellum rain jacket.

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#eventer #eventing #eventerproblems #rain

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This week’s Friday Fashion Forecast is a necessary and exciting item, fashionable and fun, but unfortunately if we talk about it, we are admitting that it will in fact rain while we ride. I have been hesitant to write this review, not because the product isn’t fantastic (which it IS, and comes highly recommended) … but by talking about the need for rain gear I am actually saying you will need rain gear for eventing. Because it keeps raining. A lot. During an event. During practice. During schooling. My theory of ignoring the elephant in the room has not made the rain go away. So here it is.

Amy Nelson in the Voler Caliber Vellum rain jacket.

Voler has an amazing water-resistant rain jacket — the Caliber Vellum Jacket — that comes in three colors for women and men: bright Orange to cheer up the gloomiest cross country rounds, with classic Black or elegant White for dressage and show jumping when formal attire is waived in lieu of rain gear. The rain jacket is made of waterproof material with vents so that you do not roast during hot summer competitions.

(Un)fortunately I have been able to test this in all types of conditions and I can absolutely say it is by far my favorite rain jacket of all time! I have tested it in big fat rain, stinging pelleted rain, sideways rain, and rain that seems to come up from the ground. Cold rain, hot rain, and everything in between. At a recent show in Kansas City, it was unseasonably cold. It poured with temps in the 50s, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could layer every warm clothing item under the Voler Caliber rain jacket and still be able to move.

Amy Nelson in the Voler Caliber Vellum rain jacket at MCPC H.T. in Kansas City, coaching student Dena on Hummingbird’s First Commander.

The fit is absolute perfection. Compared to some other rain gear that I have use in the past, the Voler rain jacket is made of a soft, stretchy material that moves with you. It is perfect for performance sports because it was originally designed for cyclists, who coincidentally ride in the same positions as equestrians. The race fit makes you look like a polished competitor, not like the Gorton’s Fisherman. It is longer in the back, so you don’t have rain dripping down the rear of your breeches, yet not so long that you sit on it in the saddle. Seriously — you have enough to worry about when it’s pouring rain without the uncomfortable feeling of rain running down your “regions.”

Even if your ride is not rainy, the Voler Vellum jacket is an excellent wind breaker as well. And the design allows your colors or show attire to peak through.

Voler Caliber Vellum rain jacket in white.

The reflective elements on the back of the jacket are perfect for hacking around busy areas where you might encounter traffic in lower light — how often have you mounted for warm up when it’s barely daylight? Thanks to its sleek design you can easily roll it up to keep handy in your ringside bag as a “just in case,” or ditch it before your ride if by some miracle the rain actually stops!

I absolutely recommend the Voler Caliber Vellum rain jacket … and if you use the code HORSE you get 15% off (discount will show up on the final page at checkout)! Like Voler Apparel? Check out their other products! Follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Really we need to all get one — because you know it is inevitable, if everyone orders a rain jacket it will not rain the rest of the year! This is science, people. So do your part for the eventing community and order one today so that this ridiculous over-abundance can stop and we can get back to enjoying the sport we love!

Voler Caliber Vellum rain jacket. pc:

Here is the best part: order ANYTHING from and use the code “HORSE” at checkout for 15% off your entire order!

Final Review – out of 4 STARS

Cost: $$ – $$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: *** 3 Stars

Voler Caliber Vellum rain jacket. Photo courtesy of

Winning the ‘Chicken Strides’

Have you ever played a game of “chicken?” Hopefully not … but maybe you have seen this madness in a movie, wherein two drivers in 1950s cars drive as fast as they can towards each other, head on, and whoever jerks the wheel and chickens out first is the “loser” (kids, don’t try this at home).

The game is incredibly stupid. As a hyperactive 10 year old I hate to admit this, but I played this game with my sister on our 10 speed bicycles. One of us pedaled as fast as she could UP the hill towards our driveway, and the other pedaled as fast as she could DOWN the hill, to see who could get to the driveway first! I think we both actually lost the game that day, although I did chicken out first and jerked the handlebars to avoid crashing into my older sister April, only to smash face first into a row of mailboxes.

But what does this have to do with riding? And why is winning a game of chicken imperative to successful jumping?

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River. Photo by Vic’s Pics.

At a recent horse trial with my enthusiastic grey OTTB River, I had an epiphany. The last three strides before any fence is just like this game of chicken. You are playing the game with your horse! If you chicken out first by creeping forward with your shoulders, or throwing yourself in a two-point before the jump: you lose! This creeping allows the horse to suck back, stop, or run out right or left. It could also cause them to go long and flat, and simply have a poor jump effort, which leads to knocked rails. If you keep your shoulders back and the horse in front of your leg, ride all to the way to the base up the jump, wait for him to start to leave the ground and then you two point, you won that game of chicken!

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River.

It is so much easier to tell if they are sucking back when you sit back. It is so much easier to avoid a run out if you block the exits to the right and left by sitting up and maintaining rein contact. I will forever call the final three strides before a fence: “the chicken strides.” (Perhaps I should trademark this?)

This magical realization came as a combination of years’ worth of lessons and experience, from Chrissy Hall of Texas showing me how to get deeper to an cross country fence on my spooky horse at the time, Dom Schramm putting my horse River in “trot fence bootcamp,” and Buck Davidson making me sit an entire jump course. And the final moment where it all made sense was at this particular show, after a horrific dressage round, where I went into stadium with a renewed gumption to take on my horse and not back down.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River
pc: Vic’s Pics

The last three strides before a fence always go as follows:

(3…) River: “Give me my face let me run at it. I MUST RUN.”

Me: “I will not. You have to have contact, and I have to sit back. You’re athletic. You can do this.”

(2…)River: “Then I will just canter in place and throw my head up in the air. I hate you. This is hard. I want to steeplechase.”

Me: “We aren’t steeplechasers. We are eventers. I’m NOT giving in. Jump or crash!”

(1…)River: “I’ll do it … I’ll crash! Let me run! This is hard!”

Me: “I’m not giving in! Jump or crash!!! I’ll ride you THROUGH this fence. JUMP. OR CRASH.

(base of fence) River: jumps beautifully with the best bascule and roundness he has ever had in his life.

(in air) Me: thinking, or possible cursing in front of this nice audience, I can’t be sure, Holy $#@!

Next fence … same thing.

We obviously need to get this worked out before our next show, but the lightbulb moment was worth the entry fees. Next time you jump a fence, ask yourself: who won that game of chicken? Did I win (I kept connection, shoulders back, leg on, until the base?) Did my horse win (I crept forward with my shoulders, took my leg off on 3 … 2 … 1 … strides, and allowed a run out or poor jumping effort)?

This is IMPERATIVE cross country. Ride every jump with the mindset of “over it or through it.” “Jump or crash.” Because I’m betting your horse would much rather choose jump. And if they do pick the wrong one, they will learn from this. Ride your “chicken strides.” Win the game.

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Photo by Vic’s Pics.

A recommended exercise for this would be a start with a simple pole on the ground. Start at the trot, sit your chicken strides … then two-point only over the pole. Slowly build this up to a crossrail at the trot, then a low Swedish oxer, then an oxer. Sitting the trot during your chicken strides makes it obvious if you won. Did you are horse just trot really big or did they actually jump? Did you give up at the last stride and throw yourself into a two-point?

You can then work your way up to cantering a low oxer. Eventually build it up to a course. To play the game of chicken, my students had to shout out after every jump who won that game  — was it them or the horse? This made them very self aware of what their shoulders were doing, and if their position was correct.

The greatest joy in this exercise is to go around a course and shout out “I won! I won!” after every jump. Ride the chicken strides. I may not win a show just yet, but dang it, I’ll win those chicken strides. It really starts to make you feel great by the end.

Why is this so important? It’s vital to win the chicken strides because in cross country, or even stadium, you’re less likely to have a run out or a stop. Riding this way helps eliminate your horse’s poor jumping effort, such as long and flat jumps, which will drop rails. If you win the “chicken strides,” your horse will more likely get to the base and go up-and-over, with a beautiful bascule.

Play chicken with your horse. And win.

3… (I’m not giving up) … 2 … (not gonna do it) … 1 … (seriously I’ll win) … have a great jump.

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Photo by Vic’s Pics.

Earth Day Equestrian: Doing Your Part All Season

Bridlespur Hunt Club. Photo by Amy Nelson.

Earth Day is April 22, 2019! The human impact on the environment has been known for decades, but lately it has become an epidemic. From garbage in the oceans to mountains of plastic bottles and water shortages, we are reaching a crisis. As the millions of equestrians around the world, we can have a huge impact on our planet! Can you imagine the global effect this will have if every single one of us makes small changes?

1. Carpool. Carpool to the barn, or ride share to a show or trail. Not only will this save gas and emissions, this will also save you tons of money! Obviously we can’t haul trailers in environmentally friendly vehicles, but we can do our part to ride share to events. Many regions have social media pages where you can see if someone has an open slot in their trailer. Especially in areas where you are going long distances, I always find this is a great time for camaraderie and fun with fellow horse people when we all ride together!

2. Reusable water bottles. It’s important to stay hydrated at an event, and even though plastic bottles are convenient, it only takes a couple extra seconds to fill a reusable water bottle. Many events now have places where you can fill them up at the show. If not, stock up at home and fill down from your tap — you can even get bottles in your team colors/logo to show how your stable cares about the earth! This can be a money saver in the long run, but knowing that you have put fewer plastic bottles in the world should make you feel good. Maybe contact your show and see if they would offer water filling stations.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium. Photo by Vic’s Pics.

3. Do electronic entries. It will save on envelopes, checks, and paper! Can you imagine how much paper would be saved throughout the year, if ALL of us did not have stacks of printed entries? Even though many times there is a convenience fee, it is only a couple of dollars, and it will also ensure your entry is in immediately. If you must print, contact your organizer and ask that they recycle entries after they are no longer needed on file.

4. Recycle! Recycling is unfortunately not available in every area, but do your part where you can, by recycling boxes and packaging from online orders of horse supplies, extra showbills, catalogs and more. Maybe start a recycle bin at your barn with your Pony Club or Show Team, and take a team trip to drop off these items. Or reuse them for starting a cozy fire in the off season!

5.  Reduce Your Water Use. Don’t waste water for your horse. Obviously we use water to wash them, give them drinks, etc., but don’t let the hose just run down the drain. Get them wet, turn it off, scrub, and then rinse. Use buckets to see just how much you use, and to save gallons at a time! Also, when offering your horse a drink of water in their buckets on the road or at an event, if they don’t drink it all, don’t just dump it down the drain. One of my students showed my an ingenious way to save this waste when we offered a drink to our horses in the trailer at a gas station — she watered the potted flowers at the truck stop with the leftover water! You could also give a drink to the plants or grass at the event. It sounds silly but that way it’s not just running down the drain for no reason. If you know you are leaving the event soon, don’t fill your horse’s bucket to the top. Give them a half bucket to start. You can always add more if they are still thirsty. But imagine how much you won’t waste!

Amy Nelson and Lyndsey Humpal at Sangchris Lake State Park.

6. Don’t use straws. Even my 17 year old stepson who is a diehard straw user recently purchased a reusable metal straw from his high school. Even he can figure out how to wash and reuse this item. If you must stop for snacks while on the road, bring your reusable straw with you. If you’re honest with yourself, chances are you have drank from the hose on a hot day, so a reusable straw is not going to kill you!

7.  Pick up trash. I ride my event horse down the road and on trails, and the saddest thing I see is trash everywhere. What are we doing as equestrians to help our environment? Pick up trash that may have blown out of a trash can, or that someone left on the road. Use it as a desensitizing tool — can you trail ride with a trash bag and pick up as you go? I guarantee you a Pony Club games champion could probably grab trash off the ground while still mounted, all at the gallop. Make it fun!

8.  For the love of all that’s holy — don’t litter. I can’t imagine that any self-respecting horse person with do such a thing. But you can also do your part if you see a piece of trash that has flown out of a trash bin — don’t just turn a blind eye. Pick up and know that you are doing your part to keep things beautiful for the next rider.

Earth Day is April 22, 2019, but we should do our part all year long. What other ideas do you have to help out the environment as horse people?

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Clinic Report: A Wake-Up Call Courtesy of Buck Davidson

It’s a hard pill to swallow when a clinician tells you what you NEED to hear … not what you want to hear. After day 1 of the Buck Davidson clinic in Kansas City earlier this month, I considered chickening out, packing up and driving home. Self-doubt crept in: “Should I even bother with day 2?” I FAILED on day 1. I plotted how we could just load up after everyone left, and drive home.

But I didn’t. I stayed. I dusted myself off and checked my ego at the door. Why? I came to the clinic to ride with Buck Davidson because I don’t have all the answers. So it would be foolish to leave after he gave me answers, simply because I didn’t like them. “Your horse is doing exactly what you’re telling him. He’s running because of YOU; he’s stalling at the jumps because of YOU.” It was like I had been stabbed in the heart. Surely this internationally known, successful team rider was wrong. Surely it’s not my fault.

Riding with Buck Davidson.

The clinic started like most others I’ve attended — George Morris, Dom and Jimmie Schramm, Leslie Law, Peter Trappmann — you introduce yourself and your horse, say a little bit about what you are working on and where you want to go. I tend to be overly honest at this stage. When others tell of their placings and accolades, I declare our “Hotmess Express” title with the hopes of finally improving. I have several horses on which I compete in eventing, and I have trained dozens of horses from track/rescue/unbroke to successful event horse. I have ribbons and championships in jumpers and eventing to my credit, including invitations with several horses to the American Eventing Championships up to Training Level. None of that mattered, so I bit my tongue.

I was here because I desperately needed help with my $1,000 Craigslist find, a spirited, complicated, grey OTTB named Hummingbird’s River. This grey dinosaur has been hands down THE most challenging horse to train and compete in my 26 years of riding. I was eager for Buck to take a look and help us. HELP. US.

I compare it to a car — your car makes a thumping noise when you drive, so you take it to a mechanic. It stops thumping. They can’t help you because they can’t find the problem, so the problem persists. Lucky for me (sarcasm dripping here), our problems were so apparent that by the end of day 1 I actually discussed with my husband the option of packing up and leave, that I couldn’t cut it, and that I should not participate in day 2. That maybe River would be better suited as a trail horse? Maybe third flight fox hunter?

I have never come so close to legitimately crying in the middle of a clinic in all my life (I generally save my tears for River’s stall, where they belong). Wasn’t it great that our problems were blatantly obvious on day 1 so Buck could help?

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River.

Chapter 1: The Truth Hurts

Buck repeated several times that the whole point of clinics and lessons are so you could “FEEL” the concept. He stressed that you could read books and tips all day long, but until you felt it, you could never master it. It was in this nugget of wisdom that he had me change out the bit I was using. A stronger bit had been suggested to me by a trainer who has seen River in action, we have used it for several rides and I figured I would use it in the clinic. A after 10 minutes of watching us struggle over fences, Buck made me switch to a snaffle.

I was skeptical (OK scared) at first, as this is a horse who has jumped up a 5-foot embankment into trees and bushes after a crossrail when I was trying to stop on a straight line. This is a horse who bolted in dressage last summer and got us the “E” when he jumped out of the dressage ring! But I didn’t pay to be in a clinic with a rider of Buck’s caliber to let my pride get in the way of learning. So … in went the snaffle.

Then, horror upon horrors, Buck singled me out in front of the entire Midwest Eventing Community (or what felt like it) and explained that my psycho grey and I needed connection. He told everyone, including me, that a short rein is a must to keep such connection. He essentially had us two-point, feel the horse’s mouth, and touch our elbows in front of our bodies (chest area). THAT is how long your reins should be, he explained.

The biggest thing in riding is for the horse to trust your hand. If they are not on the bit, they are just as disobedient as a horse running off (I perked up at this part). River has run off loads of times! The horse needs to accept your hand and leg, and really, horses don’t rush the fences — people do.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River.

Chapter 2: Baby Steps

The remainder of day 1 seemed to be a constant reminder of how everything we did as a team was my fault, and how I needed to make huge changes to fix everything. As a trainer, I had very mixed emotions on this. River and I have four years of tumultuous history together. I got him straight off the track from an ad on Craigslist, and to say he has issues an understatement. We did the Thoroughbred Makeover in 2015 where judges described him (yes, I rode him in a snaffle then) as VERY VERY BOLD and A LITTLE TOO KEEN. We finished mid-pack.

But in the midst of the struggle-bus that day 1 presented, I compared it to one of those extreme weight loss TV shows. Let’s say we started out 600 pounds. We lost 200 pounds — wow amazing — we are so thin! But to the world we are still 400 pounds, which is NOT thin. I was starting to see Buck Davidson’s point of view. We have come so far … but certainly have not arrived. The end of the session brought baby steps of improvement with microscopic victories. We had ounces of connection and a glimmer of hope when he didn’t actually run face-first into the viewing area window a fifth time (the previous four times led to viewers behind the plexiglass diving out of the way).

But really, should I even show up on the second day? Were we ready as a team to simply stay in the same clinic group? Would they quietly ask me to move down a level?

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River

Chapter 3:  I Put on My Big Girl Panties and SHOWED UP

I’ll be honest, I went to bed that night not knowing if I was actually going to ride the second day. Self-doubt, fear, and overwhelming emotions kept me up most of the night. But by morning, I had a new determination. I went through my pages of notes I had taken throughout day one of the clinic while auditing the other groups. Several fell off. Several were almost in tears. Several needed major help and improvement. I was not alone with my struggles, and the whole point of going was NOT to have Buck tell me how amazing I am and lie to my face. The point was to get help. I tacked up, put in a snaffle, chin up, here we go.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River with Buck Davidson

Chapter 4:  Something Changed

Day 2 was hands down the best experience of my riding career. River and I were starting to be a TEAM — not a well-oiled machine, but pieces and parts were coming together. I noticed Buck seemed to have a new attitude towards me as well. Simply by showing up in a snaffle, prepared to learn, asking questions and doing what he said in spite of how scary it was (he literally had me SIT an entire sizable jump course — no two point allowed) proved to him I could be instructed. I could take direction. I wanted to improve. And he was right about his statement from the first day — I FELT SOMETHING.

In sitting our entire course, I felt the base of the jump with my horse in my hand. I felt that connection. We were starting to leave every single fence UP! We did the Circle of Death almost easily, with my legs on and a short rein, turning in the air to our next fence.

We were starting to have pace! The first day he announced that to have a good jump you need three things: pace, balance and distance — and if you have two of the three, your third will be there. River and I never have pace. We dabble somewhere between fighting in place (picture a snarling, rabid wolverine with a death-grip on its face) and “his tail is on fire and we are all out running to the nearest hydrant.” Buck kept yelling, “Gallop him! Go on! Faster!” Excuse me, what? I have literally never heard this before with this horse. Now that we were working in together, we were cantering softly, and too slow!

Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Conclusion: Be Humble

The Buck Davidson clinic at West End Farm in Kansas City, put on by Twin Pony Productions, was absolutely the most challenging, most rewarding, most frustrating, most eye-opening educational experience of my career. Do the clinic. FEEL. Don’t give up — but put on your big girl panties. Everyone assumes George Morris is tough, but Buck tells it like it is and makes George look like a sweet kitten. Buck hit me where it hurt the most: the truth about flaws in my riding.

Buckisms – Nuggets of Wisdom:

  • Be CLEAR in your direction.
  • Be ENCOURAGING in all your training.
  • Horses aren’t that smart but they have a great memory. Do it even if it’s not perfect the first time, because it only gets harder from there (i.e. don’t go around the jump by accident, make them stay straight, stop on a straight line, etc.).
  • Keep your reins short — maintain connection.
  • The key to riding is to have something so engrained in them that it’s repeatable.
  • Your shoulders should be parallel to their shoulders.
  • Your nose should always line up with their mane. Don’t lean.
  • In dressage — Get a good score on the first movement down the centerline. Judges are human. If you are getting 6s and they miss a movement, you get a 6 because they think that’s what you probably did.
  • Show jumping is just dressage over jumps.
  • If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail.
  • Get your horse going! 
  • What’s the definition of insanity? Repeating the same thing and expecting a different result.
  • Use the jump as a second set of reins.
  • If you have a good seat you shouldn’t need to touch your reins. You don’t slow a horse down with your reins, you slow them down with your core. If you can’t do that, you need more core.
  • In practice — “find the line.” The line of what you’re good at, how tight they can turn, how fast they can gallop without going psycho. Then you know where the line is BEFORE you go to the show. At the show, remember where the line is. Go right up to it, but don’t cross it.

Ride in clinics. Feel. Don’t be afraid to fail in front of your peers. It will only make you better.

3 … 2 … 1 … have an educational ride.

Friday Fashion Forecast: Hauke Schmidt Show Gloves

As eventing season gets underway for 2019, depending on your region you may experience cooler temperatures as you enter at A, halt and salute at X. On those cool morning as you make your way to the jumper ring or the startbox, full of anticipation, imagine if you could bury your hands in soft warmth of your favorite barn puppy’s fluff. That’s the feeling comfort you’ll get from Hauke Schmidt Fine Riding Gloves.

You know when you try on a quality pair of field boots and the leather is soft and supple right out of the box? These gloves are just that. The pair I tried was insulated for springtime showing, and my hands stayed deliciously warm without overheating. But they have a whole range of colors and styles, from traditional class, to a hint of bling!

According to their website: “Hauke Schmidt Finest Gloves is a family business based in Germany with a fine pedigree in equine competition. Hauke’s father was a very successful, international show jumper with over 200 wins to his name. All products are produced under the personal supervision of Franz, our glove maker.” Many of the best products I’ve discovered are designed by equestrians, because they know what it takes to bring quality to the table. These gloves are just that.

Amy Nelson with Hauke Schmidt Nordic Dream Riding Gloves.

I tried the Nordic Dream Gloves with Thinsulate, and they are perfect for early spring showing. The leather is soft and warm, and the gloves provide excellent grip. As for sizing, the gloves I tried were a size 7.5. They were just a bit long in the fingers on me, so a size smaller would likely fi t… well … like a glove. I’m a petite 5’4″ with smallish hands, but as my sister says, “muscular, man hands that run a farm.” My hands are not very long, but sometimes when I get a perfect length, my fingers are too “meaty” to squeeze all the way in. These gloves have the perfect amount of stretch and give to allow an excellent fit. The nice thing is on their website they have a measuring chart for “Ladies & Gents,” so you can be sure you get the correct size for your exact hands! (I’ll be honest, I did not measure my hands — this would be a better idea in the future!)

Hauke Schmidt Gloves. Photo courtesy of

The Haute Schmidt gloves come in a range of colors and options, including black/white/navy/mocha and even “A Touch of Magic Patches” (read: super classy bling for a hint of style!) Some are designed for cooler weather in spring and fall, others expertly ventilated for the heat of the summer. They even have bright pink/orange gloves for kids and adults when you’re schooling or on cross country! The Touch of Magic are my absolute favorite. I adore bits of sparkle on my helmet, hints of style on my custom spur straps, so of course I want a touch of bling on my show gloves! See all the options here.

Hauke Schmidt Touch of Magic. Photo courtesy

The pricing is comparable to other quality show gloves, but these offer a greater range of options for every personality. And the patches are interchangeable so you can pick a different look for each phase! You can be sure I’ll be wearing Hauke Schmidt gloves in the upcoming Buck Davidson Clinic in March in Kansas City, and my first event of the season at the Kentucky Horse Park in April (not THAT event … I wish!)

Find Hauke Schmidt on Facebook & Instagram (UK Insta here).

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River
photo by Beauty of Nature Photography

And be sure to follow Frantisi on Facebook and Instagram – they are the reason we have access to these gorgeous gloves from Hauke Schmidt and loads of other equestrian products in North America!

Final Review (Out of 4 Stars)

Cost: $$
Excitement: **** 4 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: *** 3 Stars

Friday Fashion Forecast: GPA Jock Up Three Helmet

While many eventers are fresh off the excitement of their first Horse Trial of 2019, others are stuck in arenas or on snowy trails, dreaming of spring and the start of cross country. What better way to jumpstart the season (or cure the winter blues) than with a new helmet by GPA?

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River with GPA Jock Up Three (with a helmet cover)

GPA helmets are made in France and known throughout the world, with top riders in a variety of sports choosing them for protection while on course. Thanks to Frantisi, North Americans can now join the trend!

Introducing the GPA Jock Up Three. An ultra low-profile helmet specifically designed for eventing, racing, and combined driving. I’ve used other helmets on cross country in past, and what struck me immediately about the Jock Up Three is how lightweight and sleek this helmet is. As a very petite rider, I always feel a bit like a bobblehead doll marching off to cross country. Not with this GPA helmet! It uses technology to make it extremely safe without extra bulk.

According to the GPA website: “Front reinforcement in Textium (aluminum coated fiber glass)…” “Outer shell is a polymer resin with a protective grain textured black paint finish to ensure easy maintenance of the helmet. Inner shell provides shock absorption.” “Helmets sizes are scaled to minimize outer shell volume.” So basically it’s a strong helmet without extra bulk, and the smooth helmet makes it easy to wipe off on the muddiest of cross country days.

The GPA line of eventing style helmets look extremely slick — you could wear them without a helmet cover! But they also carry a cover expertly for you to be all matchy-matchy.

What about comfort? The GPA Jock Up Three has loads of ventilation, which is an obvious necessity mid-summer where temps tip the scale from “mildly uncomfortable” to “sweat-pouring-down-my-face-is-that-a-green-14-or-black-12-on-cross-country.” This helmet is so well ventilated that you will no longer have the excuse of overheating when explaining to your trainer how you managed to jump the wrong question (allegedly).

The GPA website explains that the helmet contains “a wide ventilation opening in the upper section, allowing maximum ventilation. Rear vents aid in the ventilation process and reduce the temperature inside the helmet.” And also, “Additional anti sweat lining and padding is added for optimal comfort.” Even though I was testing the GPA Jock Up Three in the winter, I can attest to this. In our arena, while practicing cross country questions with my Prelim horse Hummingbird’s River, I sweat. Even when it’s 20 degrees F I rarely wear a jacket when I ride. So at 35 degrees F, I can already see the benefits of airflow to my brain.

GPA Jock Up Three — Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River soar over brush at 4’9″.

GPA has a few designs as well including the Jock Up One, One 4s, the Jock Up Three 4s, Global Concept Jock Up, and Jock Up Arc. You can see all of these designs in their Racing Collection. I would recommend trying on a GPA helmet at your local tack shop for sizing before you order to ensure a perfect fit, as fit is paramount for proper safety and aesthetic. The nice thing is your local shop does not have to carry the exact helmet style for the fit to be correct — I went to the Tack Trunk in St Louis, MO, to try on a GPA helmet while at a hunter/jumper show at the National Equestrian Center, and fitted a helmet from their Classic Collection. The sizing appears to be uniform across their lines.

GPA Jock Up Three — Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium.

The Jock Up Three absolutely stays in place, and you won’t have to worry about it slipping on cross country. My OTTB is quite scopey and enthusiastic, so one of the jumps during my helmet test I was left behind. I had no one to blame but myself, but I was impressed that the GPA helmet didn’t budge. I could recover quickly and made my turn to the next jump without wasting valuable seconds fixing my helmet. At no point do you want your helmet to obscure your view while on course!

GPA Jock Up Three — Amy Nelson is left behind on Hummingbird’s River but the helmet stayed in place!

I tried out the Jock Up Three with, and without a cover. I am so used to having a helmet cover that I prefer wearing it with one on. But the design looks great on its own as well. I can’t wait to properly get out on course this March at the Buck Davidson Jr. Clinic in Kansas City to try it out! I will have to order a more professional looking helmet cover soon though, as the only non-branded cover I own is neon pink with a blingy skull & crossbones on the front and I would rather Mr. Davidson remember me for my riding rather than my flashy attire. Who makes your favorite matchy matchy helmet cover?? This helmet is so comfortable, and sleek … I would highly recommend GPA helmets!

Take a look at the video of this helmet, and my “cross country” riding in the snow on my warmblood mare Hummingbird’s Mendacium:

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Final Review – Out of 4 Stars

Cost: $$$-$$$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: *** 3 Stars

Friday Fashion Forecast: Acavallo Sensitive Bit — WHAT Does it Do??

Acavallo Sensitive Bit. Photo via Acavallo Sensitive Bit. Photo via

What in the world does the Acavallo Sensitive Bit do, and why is this schooling bit a game-changer for a young/green/worried horse?

When training for events you do loads of practice at home that is not performed at a show. Gridwork, poles and cavalletti are just a few examples. These help a horse achieve proper balance and build muscle memory for use in portions of the event. Why not use a training bit that can do the same? Take a look at the Acavallo Sensitive Bit.

Amy Nelson with her prelim event horse in the Acavallo Sensitive Bit.

According to the Acavallo website, the design is a “slightly arched and flattened mouthpiece (that) ensures that pressure on tongue, yaws and mouth corners, if applicable, is distributed evenly. The one-piece design of mouthpiece and rings prevents a one-sided squeezing or pinching of tongue or yaws, as well as painful irritations of the palate (no ‘nutcracker effect’).” I tried this bit on a few different horses at my farm. One that is an anxious fellow, my prelim gelding, who stresses about collection and dressage. The other was a young OTTB who came off the track recently, and is learning how to relax and carry himself properly for a future career in fox hunting.

For the future fox hunter, I normally ride him in a 5-inch full cheek snaffle. The full cheek helps with steering on a green OTTB, so most often this would be my go-to bit for horses coming off the track. Aside from creating relaxation, in my experience Acavallo Sensitive bit helped stabilize the unnecessary lateral movement in a young horse. Those that tend to be wiggly as they are learning to work through their entire body, I always use a running martingale. Aside from teaching them to not get above the bit, it also works like stabilizer bars on a bumper pull trailer. This bit seemed to work in a similar manner, allowing the horses to work through their bodies from poll to tail without the typical bulging of young horse. I combined the Acavallo Sensitive bit with a running martingale to help teach them to drive from their hind end. It also seems to work well for straightness even without a martingale.

Amy Nelson with Future Fox Hunter OTTB in the Acavallo Sensitive Bit.

In the bit there are two slots where you can put your reins. The middle slot works with less leverage, and the bottom slot gives you a bit more.  For my prelim event horse I used the bottom slot to school dressage. The difference from his normal French link was astounding. He was relaxed and soft, and was able to properly accept the contact while schooling poles and cavalletti. This is a horse we nicknamed the “grey dinosaur.” I always ride him in a 5.25 inch bit, and most tend to rub and irritate the corners of his mouth without guards. His jaw is mildly asymmetrical, so generally I see rubbing on one side. The Acavallo Sensitive Bit comes in only one size, with the claim that it fits the majority of any horse or pony.  I thought for sure it would rub. I was blown away when it fit comfortably! No pinching, rubbing, or bald patches of facial hair after using this bit, unlike many others that I have tried.

My only complaint is that because of the small openings in the side of the bit, it is impossible to lunge a horse using a standard lunge line clip. I always lunge my young horses fully tacked before getting on, so this presented a challenge. I like to see how they are going to move with all of the equipment including saddle and bridle, and for proper communication I always run the lunge line through the bit, up over their poll and connect to the other side. This bit does not allow for that. The opening is just too small. One option would be to use a lunging cavesson instead.

I was skeptical at first, but absolutely see a time and a place for the Acavallo Sensitive Bit. It is a great training tool for young, anxious horses.  According to the website, “It enhances confidence of the horse in the rider’s hand because of its quiet and comfortable positioning in the mouth, helping the horse to find its own balance. Due to its integrated, flexible steel cable reinforcement, this bit provides for a soft, yet very secure control of the horse. An ideal choice especially for the schooling of young and the correction of difficult horses.”

I would definitely recommend using this as a substitution for your dressage bit in your training regimen, also for starting young horses, and correcting self-carriage. Due to the weather — massive temperature swings in Illinois brought frigid temps and then weeks of mud — I was unable to test the Sensitive Bit in an open field. More research is needed on the “secure control” portion of the claims. However, in an arena setting, my feisty prelim event horse was able to focus and stop when asked.

According to Acavallo, the Sensitive Bit is made of an “innovative, anti-allergic plastic material instead of a heavy and/or cold metal or metal allloy.” I made a video before my first day of several weeks of testing, and that day temps had dropped into the teens. You can see how this bit is still flexible in spite of the frigid temps.

So many people contacted when I posted this video earlier in the week! One woman has a fox hunter who needs a little more leverage out in the field, but still wants softness in her horse’s mouth. She has tried loads of other bits. One woman is  a friend of mine who runs a horse rescue that works with at-risk youth in our area. Through working with animals, the kids learn valuable skills like patience and confidence. She told me they have a young horse who is very fussy with every bit, and she wondered if the sensitive bit might be the solution.

The truth is, I don’t have all the answers. But what I told them was, I saw a huge difference in the horses while using it. One horse, took to it right away, while took two rides to see a difference. In my opinion, this bit will be the answer for quite a few horses, but certainly not all of them.  Surely you don’t ride all of your horses in the same bit, because every horse is unique.

But for the price of the bit (about $55), it’s about the same as you would spend on one riding lesson in many regions. My advice would be order this bit to try it on your particular horse, in your particular situation. I was sold. If you have a youngster who is anxious and sensitive in the mouth, or your horse struggles to find balance and stay relaxed, this will be another great training tool in your arsenal.

Amy Nelson with the future fox hunter in the Acavallo Training Bit.

Keep in mind, this bit is not competition legal. It is designed for schooling at home. You school poles and cavalletti and grids at home. Perhaps try the Acavallo Sensitive Bit as well! If you have questions about trying it out, feel free to contact me on Facebook or Instagram!

Follow Frantisi on Facebook and Instagram – they are the reason we have excellent training tools from Acavallo in North America!

Final Review (Out of 4 Stars)

Cost: $$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars (this is one of many training bits from Acavallo)

Friday Fashion Forecast: Warm Ears and Audio with TooksHats!

How do you keep your ears warm under your helmet while you ride in the winter? Normal winter hats don’t fit properly and render your helmet unsafe. What if you want to listen to music while you ride … but earbuds keep falling out? Introducing Tooks — hats you hear!

Tooks Hats come in a variety of styles including the Sportec Scully, made of dryfit material, which is absolutely perfect for riders! It is stretchy and warm, specifically designed to fit under a helmet for winter sports. It not only keeps you warm under your helmet for winter riding, but also contains headphones that you can position for a custom fit to your ears!

If you have trouble with earbuds like I do (for some reason ear buds just refuse to stay in, so I waste more time adjusting them than actually riding) then you need to try Tooks. The headphones slide into the Hat through a reinforced opening in the back of the hat. It allows you to place the headphones securely inside of the fabric itself, exactly where you want them, and they stay in place with small pieces of Velcro on the earphones. They are removable for easy washing of your hat, or for storage when you don’t care to listen to music while you ride.

Tooks Sportec Skully. Photo from

Despite the size of these headphones they actually have extremely good sound quality! In addition to riding professionally for all these years, I have spent 19 years working as a radio DJ.  I know good sound when I hear it. These headphones have superior sound quality, with great definition of bass, and you can even get them in a wireless option. You can thump your dance music while jumping through grids, rock your heavy metal while cleaning stalls, and secretly listen to rock opera while perfecting your dressage.





Amy Nelson with the Tooks Sportec Skully under a winter hat.

Tooks Hats come in several colors to express your individuality. They also have winter style hats for when you aren’t riding, to listen to music perhaps while finishing farm chores. I tested the Sportec Scully with wired headphones and the wire easily tucked through my jacket to my phone for my dance mixes. It never seemed to get in the way of my riding position at all. And I actually put a winter hat over it while I was doing chores, listening to an audiobook in the frozen tundra. It provided extra warmth and was already on my head to quickly switch out for a helmet when I was ready to ride.  Tooks offers a variety of hats and styles, including a Tooks Sportband in dryfit material. This fits over a baseball cap nicely, while still fitting perfectly under your helmet.

Tooks Sportec Skully under Amy Nelson’s helmet.

Take a look at my video showing how the Tooks Hats work! These are super affordable (use code MISTLETOE at checkout for 10% off through the holidays!), so you can grab one in every color — even Pink! Absolutely a perfect stocking stuffer for the rider on your gift list.

Cost: $
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: *** 3 Stars

An Eventer’s Guide to Winter Survival

Hummingbird Stables Riding Club “Ugly Orange Party Trail Ride.” Photo by Amy Nelson.

Winter is a state of mind. The state I’m in is Illinois, and cold and snow are rampant this time of year. Our eventing season is short — it only runs from May until October in Area IV. Winter brings blowing snow, frigid temperatures, and ice, as in many regions of the world. Can’t go to a warmer region for the season? Just how do you survive? Hating winter doesn’t make it snow any less, nor does it make the temperature any warmer. The way to survive winter, if you can’t change your state, is to change your state of mind.

Step 1: Preparedness. We were lucky in Illinois that this year we had what I call a “dress rehearsal” for winter. Temperatures dipped down into the teens for a couple of days, but then rose back up, so I could see the flaws in my winter preparedness. I found the leaky lightweight hoses, last year’s tank heaters that no longer worked, and extension cords needing replaced, before we got into the thick of things. Do yourself a favor: spend the money. Get the lightweight hoses so you can pack them up in a tub after every use and store them in a heated tack room or in the house. Get the tank heaters, the insulated winter clothing, and the boots that will keep your feet warm and dry. You can’t put a price on winter sanity. As the ultimate Penny Pincher, if it means I have to skip one show to keep myself sane for the four or five months of winter, it is well worth it.

Amy Nelson & TWH Hummingbird’s Mystic Mojito.

Step 2. Stop complaining. Everywhere you look on social media people are whining and complaining about how dark it is, how cold it is, and how snowy it is. Don’t fall into that trap! It will start to bring you down. You will focus on the negative and it will be a long long winter. Whining won’t make it stop, but it will make you miserable. If you have to, block those types of posts. Stay off social media. Or better yet, follow hashtags like #winterwonderland or our own — #ENinWinter. Help us flood social media with FUN winter activities with your horse!

Step 3. Make plans. In our region and there are a host of winter hunter/jumper shows, inside and heated. These are a great way to have something to look forward to and keep yourself and your horse busy!  You’ll have fun in the offseason, whether it’s jumpers with your upper level mount or taking a green horse to a fun show to see the sights. We recently took a couple of young OTTBs to a fun show where they had everything from English and western to gaited and even speed classes. It was a great way for these horses to be exposed to lots of commotion before their eventing careers start.

Our Hummingbird Stables Riding Club has winter trail rides at a local State Park — we just had our “Ugly Orange Party” trail ride (everyone got decked out in hunter’s orange and neon yellow for a winter trail ride!). Go fox hunting with friends. Third flight is generally walk/trot, behind the hounds, like a fast paced trail ride on terrain. Join the “Polar Bear Club” — at my barn this is if you ride bareback when it’s under 20 degrees! The bonus you steal the horses body heat while you ride. Coming up, our Riding Club has a WEG Watching Party — like a Superbowl party– only we recorded the eventing portion of the World Equestrian Games and have a get-together by the fireplace with wine and snacks in the coldest month of the year.

Amy Nelson & young OTTB Hummingbird’s THE Meatloaf at an indoor fun show. Photo by James McPherson.

Step 4. Find the Positive. I started this mental exercise a few years ago because running a farm in frigid Illinois took some getting used to. My goal each day of winter is to find one thing I enjoyed about the season. Enjoy the beauty of a cardinal sitting on a snowy branch, the sun sparkling on the morning frost, or the magic of spotting a Sundog. Maybe lay by the fireplace and read your favorite horse book. What put this in perspective for me is following National Geographic on Instagram. They post a lot of photos of different groups of people from around the world and their daily struggles. Looking at a child walking miles for a drink of water makes me feel absolutely ridiculous for complaining about a 4:45 p.m. sunset, or the fact that my toes got cold when I rode my horse in the indoor arena! Enjoy the season. There are absolutely no bugs. Laugh at the pile of barn kitties snuggled up in a patch of sunshine. Use a lesson horse to pull your stepson down a hill on a sled (THIS idea was so fantastic, for the record).

Ruckus the beagle enjoys a fireside nap.
Photo by Amy Nelson

Don’t just survive winter. ENJOY the season. Now put on those warm socks, bundle up, and have a great ride!

Reader poll: What’s your favorite thing to do in the winter with your horse? Post a photo of you enjoying the cold season!

Friday Fashion Forecast: Acavallo Respira Air Release Gel Pad

Acavallo Respira Air Release Gel Pad. Photo courtesy of Acavallo

I’m pretty sure I have about 8 million half pads, wither-relief pads and assorted other accoutrement in my collection. But I recently had the opportunity to try the Acavallo Respira Air Release Gel Pad, which has me wondering why I haven’t tried it sooner! It is a low profile, discreet half “pad” that provides airflow to your horse’s back, extra cushion and saddle grip.

I tested it on my fussy Prelim OTTB and he seems to really enjoy the comfort. It definitely kept my saddle in place extremely well, which allowed me to sit quietly in position while working on dressage. In jumping and cross country rounds, this type of cushion and security would be a game-changer. Your horse’s comfort over fences plays a huge role in her performance. Every detail matters.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River with the Acavallo Respira Air Release Gel Pad. Photo by Amy Nelson

Aside from the practical use, the look was one of my favorite features. This sleek gel pad is much more low-profile than many of the other half pads that I have in my arsenal. To me, a portion of the game is looking the part. When it comes down to it, that last little half of point in dressage is your turn out. When everything looks clean and tucked in where it belongs (including your “secret weapon,” the Acavallo Respira Air Release Gel Pad) you present a professional picture. Your competitors may take notice of this has-it-all-together-look, and shake in their boots just a little as you enter the ring for stadium.

Also, as a permanently filthy individual I greatly appreciate the fact that this type of pad can be hosed off outside and hung on my fence to dry. This way I don’t have to wait until my husband goes out of town to wash all of my saddle pads in our washer! That being said, because of the material, I would definitely keep this stored in a somewhat climate-controlled environment. As we are heading into winter I have not had the opportunity to leave it in the tack room of hot trailer in a scorching truck … but I would imagine it would be better off riding in front with you in the AC. More research is needed on this, but my guess would be you should not leave it in a hot vehicle during a 110 F degree day.

Take a look at my demo video here — including my ride on my horse Hummingbird’s River using the Acavallo gel pad!

It’s so squishy. I just want to squish it. Acavallo’s website explains the science behind it, but this squishy squishy could double as a “stress ball” at a difficult show. They explain, “a multitude of little bulges with lateral holes permitting an even more effective, horizontally directed air circulation and increased shock absorption. Besides creating a cushion effect every time they are compressed, the bulges generate a flow of refreshing air that keeps the back of the horse perfectly dry. Moreover, the new open bulge structure will enable us to use less material, resulting in a substantial decrease of the gel pad weight (almost 20% less compared to previous Air Release pads).” I can attest to this — it is very lightweight and cushioning.

The neat thing about this product is that Acavallo has a variety of air-release gel pads, therapeutic pads, riser pads, massaging pads, and even those with sheepskin trim. You can find these in North America at your favorite tack retailer thanks to Frantisi (Facebook & Instagram), and all over Europe and many other regions as well. If you need help finding what you’re looking for, just message them!

Final Review

Cost: $$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: *** 3 Stars

Acavallo Respira Air Release Gel Pad. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Friday Fashion Forecast: Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots

Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots, front and hind. Photos courtesy of Eskadron.

How many times has your trainer told you to have soft arms? To be flexible, yet strong? “Don’t be so rigid!” she says. “Don’t brace against your horse, you want him to be soft and supple.” Why then would you use a cross-country boot that is rigid and stiff? It’s time to try Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots!

They are everything your riding should be — strong, yet flexible, and able to follow your horse’s movement without constricting it. You are galloping through a wide variety of terrain with a huge range of motion for your horse. Jumps, drops, banks and a ground-covering gallop. To have your horse perform his best, he needs a full range of motion in every stride.

Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots allow your horse to do just that. They also offer great protection and strength. These boots eliminate any rub spots you may have seen in the past with other designs. They stay perfectly in place through water without getting water logged. Even in muddy conditions they don’t slip down.

Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots — Amy Nelson with her warmblood mare. Photo by JMcPherson.

I tested these boots on two of my horses over the last few weeks, including in a clinic with Dom Schramm at my farm Hummingbird Stables in Illinois. We rode inside and out, on my 16.1 hand warmblood mare and 16.3 hand OTTB gelding. These boots were very adjustable and fit both horses perfectly!  The Thoroughbred we nicknamed the “grey dinosaur,” as his jumping movements tend to be quite clunky and he does not care how many solid cross country jumps he bangs against. The mare is careful to a fault, as she tends to over-jump every question by at least two feet. The conditions outside were quite muddy in spots as we had gotten a bunch of rain leading up to the clinic. The sleek design is easy to clean up even after riding in the muddiest of conditions, so a quick wipe down and they were ready for my next ride.

Neither horse had any sore spots from the boots and they protected both horses perfectly. What I really like is the flexibility of the fit. They are much more adjustable than other cross country-type boots which is great! I compete multiple horses, but they have very different body styles and bone structures. The boots have elastic and Velcro to make each boot a custom fit, and then an extra snap closure to ensure it all stays in place. They are much more adjustable than other cross country boots I have used in the past.

In spite of being the ultimate penny-pinching Scrooge, there are a few things I will never skimp on. One thing is protecting my horses’ legs. As you know: no legs, no horse. I have had a horse stud himself from an up bank out of water, where it could have torn his tendon if not for the protection of cross country boots. You spend countless dollars on horse trials and clinics, so invest in safety and comfort of your horse!

But let’s talk about the real cost of these cross country boots. I watch those clothing makeover shows, and they talk about “cost per wear” on an item. They explain that if you invest $120 on a dress, but wear it 12 times a year, it’s really only $10 per wear! I love this logic. With some of the other cross country boots I have tried, because of the design, I need a specific set of boots for each horse. So I have to buy two or three sets of boots. But the Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots are adjustable for the perfect fit on all of my horses. So, one set of boots will fit them all. The cost of the boots is divided by two or three (when the baby OTTB Hummingbird’s THE Meatloaf goes eventing in the future, these boots fit him too!). Therefore, “cost per horse” is actually less than other cross country boots. If you have one horse, you can be sure the fit is exact, and your horse will not have any sore spots at the end of your rounds.

Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots — easy wipe down after a muddy ride. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

Don’t forget — the reason we have cool products like those from Eskadron in North America is because of a great company called Frantisi. It’s not just Europe that gets all the amazing tack anymore! You can order Eskadron FlexiSoft Cross Country Boots at your favorite tack shop.

Check out all of Frantisi’s products on Facebook and Instagram. They have great contests on there too where you can win super eventing gear!

Amy Nelson and her OTTB gelding. Photo by Clayton & Rebecca Mason

Final Review

Cost: $$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars



Friday Fashion Forecast: What’s Under THERE? UnderWEAR by TomboyX

TomboyX - Penguins. Photo courtesy of TomboyX - Penguins. Photo courtesy of

It’s time to mention the “unmentionables.” There are days when it’s over a hundred degrees when you ride. You might walk anywhere between 4 and 8 miles at any given horse trial, between your course walk, and back and forth between the competition areas. Perhaps you ride several horses in a day for hours at a time at home.  Of course your horses like to play in the farthest reaches of the back 40, so you bet you’re going to hike back there to get them. Let’s talk about how the comfort of your “vital areas” are, well, vital.

TomboyX 9″ Boxer Briefs — Kiwi Birds

I know, I know … no one actually wants to have this conversation. However I have found that it’s time we stopped suffering so that we can concentrate on what’s really important, like our performance in the ring! Introducing TomboyX!

TomboyX offers a range of “incredibly luxurious, silky soft, and feather-light” gender-neutral under-items in a MicroModal fabric that “are made to hug any body, including yours,” according to their website. I tested the 4.5 inch Zodiac trunks, the 6 inch boxer briefs, and 9 inch Nude boxer briefs. Right off the bat I was blown away the super-soft fabric. A breathable stretch that they claim “never rides up,” TomboyX is right. I rode 7 horses, walked to multiple pastures dozens of times, and cleaned stalls. I paced back and forth while teaching lessons and even sat my No-Stirrup November trot. I was amazed. At no point, EVER, did I reach to rescue my regions from the ride up.

Amy Nelson with TomboyX “Zodiac” 4.5″ Trunks

Without going into the gory details, sometimes things can get rather warm. Perhaps salty. Anyone who has taken a dressage lesson with a Grand Prix trainer in Florida knows that when you finally make to the shower at the end of the day, you allegedly weep when the water touches your skin because of what feels like rope burns. Perhaps there is friction in certain areas thanks to your saddle or excessive riding. In the search for comfort, you don’t want to have a frumpy booty that looks like you are wearing ill-fitting under-items. The terms “munch butt” and “VPL” are never things you want whispered as you walk by at a three-day event. TomboyX trunks are designed to hug “every body” from XS to 4X, and have been fit-tested, according to their site. I believe this to be true; when you follow them on Facebook or Instagram you constantly see different body types modeling their products.

But why the trunks? To me there are certain skimpy skivvies that some people wear while riding that may eliminate the bunching and VPL issues, but to be honest by the end of a long day I feel that I am being split in two. Traditional brief-y underthings often have an effect that over time and miles that will actually cut your inner thighs, and also lead to a diaper-looking disaster of your derriere. Remember that one time you lunged your event horse without gloves? It feels like that, only it’s down there. TomboyX has trunks without seams or elastic in those spots. So dare I say it? NO chafing.

For everyday riding and darker breeches, TomboyX has a whole host of adorable colors and patterns! Just because they are comfy doesn’t mean they have to be basic — boring! They have a pattern for every style, like penguins, flamingos, octopus, bewitched, trick or treat, purple camo, catnap, dog days, rainbow pride, and even holiday prints! Who doesn’t love snow-shoveling, candy-cane-carrying flamingos?

TomboyX – 4.5″ trunks
Flamingo Bells

For competition days, they offer a range of nude shades for every body from the palest pale (me) to luxuriously chocolate, and discreetly keep you comfortable at the most stressful shows. No ride up. No tug. No rub. The 9″ Nude Boxer Briefs were extremely form fitting and flattering without strangling my innards. They fit like a lighter version of exercise shorts. I found these drawers are second to none with their softness and they are perfect for protecting vital areas during a hot show. Because of their design they do not produce lines or wrinkles in unflattering ways. I’ve tried other flesh-tone shorts-style items from the department store. Apparently the only humans who purchase these ghastly items are trying to fit in clothing that is two sizes too small, so they contain most atrocious control top where I can actually feel my liver relocating during my dressage test. TomboyX is so stretchy and soft, that I could concentrate on my movements and not on my pantaloons. I mean, I’m already sick with nerves before I enter the ring, so why would I want to be tortured by my scanties on top of that?

Amy Nelson with TomboyX Nude 9″ Boxer Briefs

Not that it really matters what you look like under your breeches … but these also got my husband’s nod of approval. At no point did he laugh, point, and exclaim, “what on earth are you wearing?!” as he has done in the past with my quest to find comfortable undergarments. He thought these were cute and flattering, as he was my photographer. And let’s be honest. Sometimes you change clothes in a stall at a horse trial. Someone might see you. These look like shorts.

TomboyX underwear are Eco-Friendly, ethically produced, and sweat-shop free.  So you can proudly put on these ‘pants’ with a clear conscience. Founders Fran and Naomi created TomboyX to fill a void — to fit regular bodies that anyone could feel comfortable, “regardless of where they fell on the size or gender spectrum.” You spend hours and dollars making sure your horse is comfortable, down to the smallest detail. But what about you? Can you honestly say you haven’t gone for a tell-tale tug, when no one is looking? I’m not ashamed to admit that I have. Can you say, like a popular toilet paper commercial says, that you feel “fresh as a shimmering mermaid?” If not, it’s time to try TomboyX.

Final Review

Cost: $$$
Excitement: **** 4 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: ***** 5 Stars

Amy Nelson with TomboyX Nude 9″ Boxer Briefs



Friday Fashion Forecast: After ‘No-Stirrup November’ Shop Acavallo Stirrups

Acavallo Arena Alupro Safety Stirrup. Photo by Amy Nelson.

It may be “No-Stirrup November,” but as you work on your sitting trot with yours neatly folded over the front of your saddle, can you really say you’re happy with them? Perhaps it’s time to try Acavallo stirrups.

Aside from being quite possibly the most gorgeous stirrup irons I have ever seen, Acavallo stirrups have a unique design that make them perfect for eventers. I was hesitant at first. But I am now a believer in what these stirrups can do.

When I first read the description for the Acavallo Arena Alupro Safety Stirrups, I laughed out loud. It explained that because of the construction of “flexible polymers,” that they are perfect for the equestrian with “knee, ankle, or hip issues.” Let’s be honest. Isn’t that all of us? When I read the science jargon of the material of the stirrup, and how that made it cushioning for your joints, I was skeptical. I did not see any spring-loaded action visible that would make me believe such a claim!

But as a trainer who rides in client saddles, lesson saddles, and everything in between all day long … I absolutely felt a difference. I have no idea how this works (there is an explanation of the material here). But the Acavallo stirrups felt cushy. I know it sounds crazy. But imagine jumping up and down on a cement sidewalk. In the same boots, imagine jumping up and down on carpet. The difference is astounding.

I tried the Acavallo Arena Alupro Safety Stirrup. Why a safety stirrup? I’m a professional, and a decent rider. Yet, I took a hard fall at the Kentucky Horse Park this year. My horse and I were completely fine, but it got me thinking. What if I wasn’t so lucky?

Think of a safety stirrup like an insurance policy. You get insurance for cars, homes, horses, farms, and hope you never need it. You aren’t EXPECTING an accident. But if something happens, it’s there. And unlike insurance, this stirrup is way more fun, and looks sleek and stylish! This is NOT your child’s safety stirrup. There is a locking release mechanism, that’s spring loaded. After a fall, it pops back into place with one click.

Amy Nelson takes a spill at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2018 off Hummingbird’s River.

Now, let’s talk about the grip. It seemed that every horse trial this year was Mudfest 2018! And while you make every attempt to hop in the saddle with clean boots, that’s not always realistic. There were inches and inches of rain, hurricanes, and sloshing around in knee-deep mud this show season. Need a little more grip? These stirrups have it. My favorite part is how light they are. In my experience, a lighter stirrup follows your foot as you travel up and down over terrain, unlike a heavier stirrup which seems to follow the ground. In short, I am less likely to “lose” a lightweight stirrup than a heavier, traditional one.

“Mudfest 2018” — Acavallo stirrups are grippy even in muddy conditions.

But how strong is that lightweight stirrup? What I find amazing, is they actually post the lab results for their stirrups online. As an Eventing Rulebook junkie, I love this kind of thing. I read the USEA Cross Country Course Design Guideline PDF by the fireplace when normal people read books and magazines (nerd alert! nerd alert!). The lab results for Acavallo stirrups were fascinating. You can see how many KG of pressure it took to actually have the stirrup fail (this thing stands up to loads of pressure). So you can be at ease knowing that when you take that big flier off of 4B like I did at the Kentucky Horse Park, IF you have Buck Davidson Jr. stickability (ehem), your stirrup will be right there with you. On a side note, I get to ride in a clinic with him in Kansas City this coming March of 2019, and you can bet I’ll try to find out his secret to staying on!

Safety stirrup not your thing? Acavallo makes a wide range of stirrups to fit your taste. And here’s a tip — get to know a company called Frantisi.  They are the ones to thank for distributing amazing products like Acavallo to us in North America! It’s not just Europe that gets all the cool stuff anymore. They’ve made sure you can find these Acavallo stirrups at your favorite tack retailer.

You can also find Frantisi and all their great products on Facebook and Instagram.

Acavallo Opera Stirrup. Photo courtesy of

Final Review

Cost: $$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: **** 4 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars

Friday Fashion Forecast: Alympic Equestrian Breeches

Alympic Equestrian Breeches. Photos: Amy Nelson with Violet Columbine. Alympic Equestrian Breeches. Photos: Amy Nelson with Violet Columbine.

Alympic Equestrian Breeches. Photos: Amy Nelson with Violet Columbine.

As an eventer, you’re constantly on the go, with competitions and clinics, jump grids, dressage lessons, cross country schooling … and at the end of the day all you want to do is slip into a comfy pair of jammies! May I present to you: Alympic Equestrian breeches!

I absolutely love the fit of these breeches. To me, they feel like I’m wearing pajamas. The comfort was unmatched for a long day of riding seven horses, cleaning 15 stalls, teaching several lessons, and even unloading hay (I would not recommend unloading hay in these as they are gorgeous, but surprisingly seemed to hold up without a snag!) Generally at some point towards the evening, I’m desperate to get out of my breeches and into something more comfortable … but not with Alympic!

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River in Alympic Equestrian.

According to their website, these are made to “bridge the gap between everyday and competition wear.” They stress that equestrian is a sport, so you should dress like it! I would say these breeches would make a perfect addition to your clinic wardrobe. They are flattering and comfortable, and come in fun, yet classy colors that will give you just a touch of style in a clinic setting. The “violet columbine” breech is named for the deep purple Columbine flowers that grow wild in Alympic’s home state of Colorado. They are gorgeous! The ankle area has a “sock sleeve,” which is perfect for eliminating bruising from bunchy Velcro if you are a short rider (me!!), but is long enough for the taller riders too.

Best of all? The cell phone pocket. I am notorious for dropping, breaking, stepping on, and otherwise destroying my phone. It is currently being held together by a piece of duct tape from my cross country boot kit. So to my delight, the cell phone pocket kept my now fragile phone safe and secure all day, in spite attempts by my 2-year-old OTTB “Hummingbird’s THE Meatloaf” to jar it loose (he likes to stop randomly and check the arena for snacks as if he is outside on the grass). My students make fun of my nerdy fanny pack where I normally keep my phone (I can’t afford to replace this one, AGAIN), but adored the Alympic breeches with the cell phone pocket! Even schooling cross country on my prelim horse Hummingbird’s River, it stayed in place!

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s THE Meatloaf in Alympic Equestrian.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s THE Meatloaf – Alympic Equestrian

Alympic Equestrian Breeches are a must for your holiday wish list. They are the perfect breech for warm-up days at an event, or a clinic with a top event rider. They offer luxurious colors like “Violet Columbine,” “Ponderosa Pine Cone,” “Basalt,” and “Black Lava” in breeches and jods. They even carry a white competition breech, all with antimicrobial treatment, and compression for muscle support! Alympic founder Autumn Harrier is an equestrian herself, as an amateur and later a professional, who understands the needs of a rider.

It’s time to get your clinic attire on point. In my years of riding, I have found that clinicians DO take in to account your turnout when teaching. Those who show up in neat, well-fitting attire, clean tack and horse, with a classy look, tend to get the extra attention. Because if you care about the details in turnout, a clinician will assume you care about the details in riding as well. The knee patches are grippy enough for the most demanding clinician, yet the breech is comfortable enough to audit the other groups all day long.

Check out the Alympic Equestrian website and be follow the brand on Facebook and Instagram. Use the code “EventingNation” for a discount on your order through 12 midnightEST 11/11/2018. Get that holiday wish-list started today!

Final Review

Cost: $$$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: ** 2 Stars
Variety: *** 3 Stars

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s River in Alympic Equestrian.


Friday Fashion Forecast: Anique Equestrian Show Shirts

Anique Peacock Blue Signature UV Protection Shirt. Photo courtesy of Amy Nelson.

As loads of riders are packing up to head to Aiken or Ocala for the winter, it’s time for a fresh new addition to your equestrian wardrobe! Introducing: Anique Equestrian. Like “unique,” because you’ve never been one to blend in with the crowd. As their website boasts, Anique signature ultra-light quarter zip UV Protection Shirt with “cooling smart yarn technology helps you maintain a comfortable body temperature during and after physical performance in hot weather.” It keeps you protected from the sun, while looking fantastic, and the fabric is extremely soft!

Anique Signature UV Protection Shirt – Desert Rose. PC:

As an eventer who has had sun shirts in the past, I worry about their delicate fabric. I loved how luxurious the Anique shirt feels without the burden of thinking if I move just so I will tear it. This fabric stood up to even the most rigorous ride! These shirts are machine washable (a MUST for any eventer), and I can attest to this. My angry mare of a horse Hummingbird’s Mendacium gave me a perfectly timed “green goober kiss” across the sleeve of the Peacock Blue Signature UV Protection Shirt at Hagyard Midsouth this weekend! I actually had to rinse the sleeve off in the restroom while still wearing it, but surprisingly it looked good as new.

Amy Nelson – Anique Signature UV Protection Shirt

The fit is extremely flattering, and the length of the shirt was perfect for cross country, show jumping and warm up, as it would not inadvertently come untucked. You could even wear the white shirt with a stock tie under your hunt coat during a scorcher of a show. Anique comes in a variety of colors that are rulebook allowed for hot days when jackets are waved, including “black swan” and “pure white.” Stuck in the arctic tundra for the winter?? It’s OK. Your family is desperate to get you that perfect gift for the holidays.  Just send them the link to your exact color and size choice, and be sure to use the discount code: “eventer2018” for 10% off! Anique also has gift certificates available on their website. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram as well.

The best part about Anique is their values as a small company. They believe in empowering women and giving back. As such, they spearhead a program called “Kold Kids,” which as their website explains, donates multi-functional outerwear to children living in poverty in cold climates in the United States and around the globe.  So 10% of company profits go to helping kids in Detroit, New York, and around the world.  Talk about the spirit of the season!

WANT WIN the Peacock Blue Signature Shirt in your size?  Comment below where you will be spending the winter eventing season!  One winner will be randomly chosen of all entries received by 12 a.m. EST on Nov. 2, 2018.

Final Review

Cost: $$
Excitement: *** 3 Stars
Durability: *** 3 Stars
Variety: ** 2 Stars

Devoucoux Saddles: Riding on #TeamGreen

Amy Nelson and Hummingbird’s River in the Chiberta Lab.
Photo by James McPherson.

We are less than 12 weeks away from the holidays, and as your friends and family know, only eventing gear is on your wishlist. You have gone through catalogs and circled very specific items, included sizes (human and horse), tagged them on Instagram/Pinterest/Facebook items, and even shared the ever-so-popular meme that you “wear a size 250 x 150 indoor arena.”  The truth is, if you have one item on your holiday wish list, it should be a saddle from Devoucoux.

In my quarter century of riding hunter/jumpers and eventers, I’ve ridden in dozens of brands of saddles. I’ve always been a bargain hunter, a frugal penny-pinching miser like Scrooge himself. But when one of my trainers, Chrissy Hall (who was a trainer of four-star event rider Jimmie Schramm), made the comment to me one day that “you will never win a fight against a poor fitting saddle,” I knew I had to do something.

I practice hours and hours, week upon week upon week, and yet my dressage just did not seem to be improving at all. I have a massive OTTB with a huge wither, an even bigger shoulder, and an even larger stride. When I would attempt a sitting trot I felt like a 5 year old learning how to trot for the first time on that Appy lesson pony I grew up with. On cross country I never really felt secure in my jump saddle. I felt loose as the jumps and drops grew in size, and my horse became more agitated on the landing side of every fence. As I moved up the levels, it became more apparent that practice would NOT make perfect. I needed to make a change in my equipment to get where I wanted to be and my horse to be comfortable to perform at his best.

Amy Nelson & Humingbird’s River in a Devoucoux Chiberta Lab. Photo by Derith Vogt.

My regional Devoucoux rep Kristin Heinkel from Area IV was here in a flash with samples of saddles to try on my horses. It sounds silly I know, but literally my horse chose the saddle. We tried a handful of monoflap eventing saddles, but when I rode around in the Chiberta Lab, my big grey OTTB instantly relaxed. It was less than five minutes. It’s not that he had warmed up differently. It was not that all of sudden we did an easier movement or anything changed. It was like when you try on that one pair of comfortable shoes that just fits you perfectly. He was relaxed and happy.

“Which one is this, and what is the price?” I sheepishly asked.

“The most expensive one,” she replied, laughing. Of course it was. The Scrooge in me was about to say, sorry buddy, I can’t. I just can’t. But the professional in me knew how important this was. If you have ever done a cross country course walk in pair of shoes that fit just OK … for walking around the stabling area … but then you finish a two-mile course walk and your feet ache, you know what your horse is going through. You’re sore. You don’t want to walk properly, and your footfalls change as you try to protect the parts of your feet that just don’t feel right. This must be how my horse felt by the end of a dressage test, and by the last few fences of cross country. Getting this saddle had to be done.

Of course for me as the rider, the difference of riding in a Devoucoux saddle was night and day. I could actually sit my trot in the dressage saddle! On cross country when we took the flier over that huge trakehner, I never once felt like I was loose in the tack. For long fox hunting trips and trail rides it was like a three-hour ride on a pillow wrapped in a cloud. Even my working student, who rides in a high-end saddle, squealed like a little girl at Christmas when she cooled out my upper level event horse one day in my Devoucoux dressage saddle. She couldn’t believe the comfort.

Amy Nelson & Hummingbird’s Mendacium in a Devoucoux Mikala. Photo by Merrick Studios.

The best part about a Devoucoux saddle is the detail that goes into making it. Every saddle is custom. You can read all the technical jargon on their website, which is fascinating. But I can tell you when I decided to pull the trigger, my Team Green rep went to work on exact measurements and the layout of my horse’s body to ensure a great fit. As I have multiple horses competing without a trust-fund budget, we fitted to my upper level guy with his extreme body type, and then worked on a series of pads and shims to make it suitable for my greener horse as she continues to grow.

What was amazing to me was when Jean-Michel Devoucoux himself wanted to double-check the measurements.  Apparently in his words to my rep — “We have never had to make a saddle this way before.” My OTTB has “the hugest scapula I have ever seen” according to my rep, and as his rider I know how absolutely fussy he is on the landing side of a Prelim table when a saddle slips forward onto his shoulders. Mr. Devoucoux had her drive back to my farm in Central Illinois to mark my horse’s shoulders, withers and ribcage in chalk, take photos and send them to him for final approval. He agreed with her assessment, and the billets on his saddle were moved specifically to allow for additional shoulder clearance on top of the brushing already in place!

Midwest Devoucoux rep Kristin Heinkel sends chalk outline photos to Mr. Jean-Michel Devoucoux in France.
Photo by Amy Nelson.

The difference is in the details. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. But after going through the process, and seeing how my horse and my riding has changed, I cannot believe I didn’t do this sooner. If you have one thing on your wishlist this holiday season, make it a Devoucoux. Your rounds will never be the same.

3…2…1…have a Team Green ride.

Devoucoux via

10 Things to Do on a Torrential Downpour Day

Thanks to Hurricane Florence, many of us on the east coast have found ourselves in a torrential downpour of late. It’s a fitting grand finale to one of the wettest summer in recent memory, which has manifested in cancelled events, flooding and bad footing that has made eventing a challenge in 2018. It’s time to turn lemons into lemonade. Here are some great ideas to keep yourself (and your horse) busy on a torrential downpour day!

1. Rain gear & puddles. Obviously you want to wait until the actual storm has cleared because there’s no need in risking getting struck by lightning. However, up and coming event horses, or even established ones, will benefit from practicing riding in the rain and through slop. This is the perfect exercise if you do not have an indoor arena!

For the young ones I will ride down our gravel driveway and introduce them to water for the first time by having them walk through the puddles all the way to our mailbox. For really green horses you can introduce them to a puddle on lunge line on a rainy day. Put on your rubber boots and hop in with them! It’s a nice easy day but gets their brain thinking about water crossings.

For the established horses find a spot that you don’t mind tearing up a little bit and practice riding in the mud. If you are feeling particularly saucy, put on your rain gear and ride in the pouring rain. All too often we skip this in training and are surprised when our horses are upset when it’s windy and rainy at a show … or they spook at the sound of rain hitting our rain jackets!

2. Grids, grids, grids. If you are fortunate enough to have an indoor arena, or an outdoor that drains quite well, grid work is the perfect exercise on a rainy day. You can practice your dressage with raised poles, set up jump grids, cavalletti, etc!

3. Ride bareback. If you don’t have an indoor arena, and the footing does not allow you to do more than walk, do a bareback ride. Again, this can be done down the gravel driveway, or dry path. Keep in mind if the footing is slick, you might want the security of a saddle! Challenge yourself to see how long you can ride in an actual good jumping position or dressage position without your saddle in the arena. You could even do this in the indoor over poles or cavaletti, or even jump depending on your experience level.

4. Clean and organize tack. It’s something we all like to avoid, but our trailers tend to look like an episode of “Hoarders” when we come back from a three-day event. Maybe take a rainy day to get everything organized in tubs and bins ,and clean what needs it, and sort out items you don’t actually need.

5. READ!! If you are unable to do any of the other exercises due to excessive storms or flooding, take the opportunity to stay inside and read your favorite Eventing Nation articles.  Most equestrians have a stack of magazines with great articles full of exercises, tips and excellent education that we always promise ourselves someday we will sit down and read. Now is the time!

6. Clean the house. Hahahahahaha just kidding. We all know that isn’t going to happen.

7. Go for a long hack. Walking is great for a horse’s body and brain. If you have a place where you can safely hack down the road, or on a trail that hasn’t washed away in the flood, let your horse have a brain break. It’s good for you, too. As competitors we tend to be so focused on skills and showing that we forget the bond we have with our horse.

8. Wash saddle pads. Take all your dirty saddle pads, horse blankets (winter will be here before you know it!) and wash them at your local laundromat … or at home when no one is looking. Drop off show coats at the dry cleaner — when was the last time you actually had that thing cleaned??

9. Suppling exercises. Stretching and softening are great exercises for your horse on a bad weather day. Practice a turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, free walk to medium walk, or stretchy trot if the footing will allow. Again, these can be done outside at the walk if you don’t have an indoor and the footing isn’t the best.

10. Horse shopping!!! Go online and look at horses for sale, including Sport Horse Nation, Retired Racehorse Project, CANTER USA,  etc. Because you need another event horse. You NEED one.

CHIME IN! Has your local event, schooling day or show been cancelled? What did you do on the downpour day to stay busy?