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Holly Covey


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The High Holy Days of Hunting: Boxing Day

Photo by Holly Covey.

There are a few days a year when your foxhunting friends turn off their phones, set the alarm for “early,” and hit the barn at a high lope. Boxing Day is one of them!

What is Boxing Day? If you google it, you’re going to find a lot of political reports about the British foxhunting bans and protesters, because it’s a very active hunting day in Great Britain, but here in the U.S. we don’t seem to enjoy the same sort of publicity.

However we still celebrate this important foxhunting day on the calendar with few traditional things that are common to most hunts. It will be a hunting day but with a few extras!

In historical accounts, Boxing Day began about four centuries ago when working class folks were given gifts by the lords of manor homes. Wikipedia links Boxing Day to an older British tradition “where the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families since they would have to serve their masters on Christmas Day.”

The masters would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food. The gifts or money were boxed, so that other servants couldn’t see what coworkers were given and compare the amount of bonuses or gifts to one another. This distribution was not seen as alms, or charity, but as gifts for services.

While some of the historic reasons for Boxing Day have been muddied over the years, it became a foxhunting day in more modern times, coming the day after the family holiday of Christmas.

Many hunts use the occasion to show gratitude to huntsmen and staff whose service makes hunting possible, with monetary gifts from members, traditionally offered in envelopes to the hunt masters.

It is a day that many hunts expect all the members to attend, and huntsmen bring their best hounds and turnout their horses to nines, because usually a good territory is planned that will bring a lot of riding and fun for the fields. It’s sort of a job performance examination!

Of course, you can never tell what is going to happen on a foxhunt, but trust that a stirrup cup will be passed, and a tailgate (known as breakfast no matter what time you arrive back at the trailers) will be vast and delicious.

Most of the foxhunters I know would rather attend the Boxing Day hunt than just about any other equine event on the calendar, because it’s a day to meet up with old and new friends, enjoy sport at the height of the season, and have a chance to reward the people who make the sport possible. No wonder Boxing Day draws a crowd!


USEA Convention: So You Want to Build a Cross Country Schooling Course?

Photo courtesy of the Vista Schooling and Event Center, a gem of a cross country schooling destination in Aiken, SC. The course was designed and built from the ground up by Tom Caniglia, who has been intertwined in the business for over 40 years as a rider, trainer, and more.

One of the most valuable sessions at the convention I attended this year was given by course builder and new USEA board member Morgan Rowsell, who developed a handy guideline entitled, “Create A Safe Cross-Country Schooling Course.”

This probably put together the most comprehensive yet compact set of advice I’ve seen yet to help lower level riders figure out what’s what when it comes to schooling cross-country obstacles. The sheet I got at the convention should be available online for download from the USEA, and when I find it I’ll provide the link. But here’s a bit of what Morgan had to say that we all should be paying attention to.

Morgan first said that having a safety policy regarding your schooling course is absolutely vital. He listed at the top of the page several points that every policy should include, such as signed waivers, never school alone, mandate appropriate safety equipment, know and consult with local trauma centers and have a medical plan.

He feels it is a responsibility of all of us in eventing sport to be vigilant about safety – and reminded us that schooling is not always doing our best riding – and riders are not under the umbrella of a competition, and no officials will be coming to make sure you’re up to snuff. There is a difference when competing as riders are more on their game with their adrenaline is up.

The first discussion Morgan said you have to have about building a schooling course is to have the right space, a big enough area, and the right footing. A discussion of footing included some simple but important tips about mowing your field. He said that you should plan your mowing around your growing season and mow more often in the fastest growing times.

Simple things like mowing regularly keeps the grass from growing in clumps but spreads it and covers the bare spots. This creates better, more even footing. Mowing does other good things, too, Morgan said. Mowing is a safety prevention action. Frequent mowing allows you to keep the weeds down, but also allows you to look for holes and survey for obscured or overgrown ground lines, broken jumps, or other problems on your course.

Photo by Holly Covey.

He had another little tip: have a mower that allows you to use your bumper to push the jumps a little bit — perhaps 6 feet  or so — as you mow, just to move it over a little. He warned that many animals like the protection of a jump over their holes and moving the jumps keeps them from making the holes permanent, and also keeps the grass growing in empty spots and reduces damage to overused jump take off/landing spots.

In keeping the field’s footing good, he explained aggravators pulverize the roots of the turf and have specific uses, but aerators poke holes in the turf. Courses should get aerated at least twice a year, and he advised that if you have done your mowing religiously – fertilizing and seeding are not as necessary.

Morgan talked a little bit about the types of jumps that a typical schooling course should have. He feels for most schooling courses, the jumps should basically stay at the height and difficulty of Training level or lower. “You really don’t need anything bigger than Training level.  You don’t need a lot of tables or upright fences. Eliminate risky fences. Keep it safe by putting a gallop fence on a bend or slightly uphill and not on a long, straightaway approach.”

In talking about jumps (there are some great tips on the back of the Guidelines sheet), Morgan said that often there is not good quality lumber to build jumps available, and that he seeks out marine grade lumber which is more expensive, but lasts longer. He suggests that you check the integrity of the wood regularly — check screws and nails popping out and fix them — and start with proper bracing and framing so the jump is sturdy enough. “It’s important for proper construction, if you use a local builder, that they understand the concept of a horse standing on a jump, and not being able to fall through it.”

Morgan suggests that if you want to make things harder, use brush to make a jump bigger or more difficult rather than solid lumber. On corners: “When we dress a corner of flags, you will need ground lines, and your flags need to be plastic to avoid splintering and spitting and impaling a horse. You want to have a course that simulates competition but you also don’t have to put out a lot of decoration just to go schooling.” However, he reminded that you do have to make sure they don’t jump on the wide part of the corner, so a straw bale there that you replace when it gets moldy works well.

Another tip: If you are able to make a water jump, be able to drain the water from it to avoid deterioration of the jump when it fills with organic material and volunteer weeds, grass, or insects and reptiles.

Morgan suggested the following jumps as good types to start with on your schooling course: two corners, two roll tops, two wedges and a table, all in Novice and Training level heights. Putting these out in different configurations and changing their locations, in addition to ditches, banks and water, will give you a wide range of choices for schooling.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice he shared was to consult and use a licensed designer, most of whom are very approachable, happy to help you create a fun place that is safe to practice with your horse yet educational. Using the resource of experienced course designers will be one of the best investments in your schooling course.





Area II Annual Meeting Features Master Classes, Awards, Buffet Luncheon

Fabulous trophies at Area II annual meeting. Photo by Holly Covey

The Area II Annual Meeting and Year End Awards Luncheon takes place this year on Sunday, January 5, 2020, at the Hilton Garden Inn of Kennett Square, PA. We have negotiated an excellent price for the meetings, educational seminar, and awards luncheon in order for the membership to take advantage of both the speakers and meetings – to not only increase your equine knowledge but to also participate in the planning and development of Area II!

The discussion forums include Adult Riders and Young Riders, along with the Council Meeting and Organizer’s Meeting which are open to all of the members of Area II. These meetings will outline all of the various details of the Area programs in the coming year and are especially important for all area Young Riders and Adult Riders to attend.

The schedule will include meetings from approximately 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., then the educational seminar, then the awards luncheon approximately from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. We then adjourn to Kealani Farm, West Grove, PA. (about 10 minutes away) for the afternoon, where we expect the Master Class to run from approximately 2 p.m. til 4 p.m. Maps and directions will be provided. Coffee, tea, water and pastries will be available at the meetings.

The Awards Luncheon will hosted this year by everyone’s favorite, Major League Eventing’s Rob Bowersox as MC. We have several sponsors who have stepped up this year: Redingote Equestrian and Blanket Safe will be providing products for us. The new Fair Hill Saddlery will be providing gifts to all attendees.The Area is providing a delicious buffet luncheon, beverages and dessert. We have a record number of awards provided this year including several new awards: The “It’s The Luck Of The Irish” Memorial Irish Event Horse Trophy, The Full Moon Farm Junior/Young Rider Novice trophy, Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue Thoroughbred Awards in six divisions, and Suzy Gehris has sponsored the Master Rider division winners; and our new The Young and The Rest of Us Team awards are being sponsored graciously by Kealani Farm. Area II’s trophy lineup is second only the USEA’s, so it’s a beautiful way to honor all of our hard working riders for a year’s worth of competition.

Do not forget to bring your checkbook! Our annual silent auction raises funds for our programs, and donations are 501c3 compatible. We often offer entries from every event in the area and many more fun, useful or needed items! You must be present to bid and win, and settlement is done at the end of the meeting so you get to take your certificate or item home with you. The list of items donated is located at . Check it often as Holly is updating it regularly. We will accept donations right up to the start of the Annual Meeting at 8:00 a.m. Sunday!

If you would like to travel the day before and stay overnight at the hotel, book your room directly with the Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel is very close to Longwood Gardens, whose spectacular family-friendly Holiday light show will still be ending on Saturday, Jan. 4, and to many equestrian locations – horses for sale – tack shops and more. Downtown Kennett Square has some incredible antique and specialty shops which will be having great sales that weekend, too. All are within a few minutes’ drive.

Our educational seminar this year features three top experts. First, “Kissing Spine and Taking Care of Your Horse’s Back”, will be headlined by a collaboration between veterinarian Dr. Mark Donaldson and FEI dressage trainer Emily Donaldson. It will be a national level educational seminar you do not want to miss!

Mark Donaldson, VMD, DACVIM

Dr. Donaldson is a partner at Unionville Equine Associates based in Oxford, PA. He is a native of Chester County, received his Bachelor of Science from Villanova University, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1993. After completing an internship at the University of Georgia, he returned to the University of Pennsylvania for a residency in Internal Medicine. He is a member of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Before joining Unionville Equine Associates in 2005, he was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. For more information, please visit

Emily Donaldson

Based out of Sewickley Farm in Parkesburg, PA, Emily Donaldson is an international dressage rider and trainer who trains horses from green to FEI. Emily has the unique ability to enthusiastically connect with horses and riders of all abilities, and she especially enjoys training young and green horses for dressage and sport. Emily is also a sought-after coach and clinician. Emily offers short and long-term training options, lessons, coaching at competitions and clinics. For more information, please visit

The second part of our educational seminar is a Master Class by 5* rider and perennial Rider of the Year, Sally Cousins. Her master class will follow in the theme of keeping your horse sound and healthy with exercises meant to keep horse and rider progressing and Kealani Farm will again host the clinic with jumping exercises, and plenty of horses and riders demonstrating in the indoor arena.

Sally Cousins is based in Oxford, PA and Aiken, SC. She was the USEA Leading Lady Rider in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 and continues to be an active competitor at both national and international level events. She genuinely enjoys the teaching process with both horses and riders and draws on her experience riding with Mike Plumb, Bruce Davidson, and Torrance Watkins. In addition to leading an active teaching and competition program, she also runs the Sally Cousins Eventing Training Club, an online forum dedicated to collaboration, education, and training.  For more information, please visit

All participants are asked to RSVP online at: The cost is $45 per person and deadline for online signup is Dec. 27. Mail-in registration closes Dec. 17. See you there!

Horse Trailer Fender Feasting, Part 3: Cakes, Drinks & Horse Treats

Fender feasting! Photo by Holly Covey.

Welcome to part 3 of the Tailgates and Fender Feasts series! Today: Cakes, beverages and something for the four-legged beastie. The recipes I’ve included usually work well when you can’t use a knife and fork and don’t have a table to sit down and eat formally but are tired of eating gas station junk! (See “Part 1: Pack and Plan” here and “Part 2: Dips, Sandwiches, Wraps, Cookies and Breads” here.)

I’ve included recipes for: Blueberry Pound Cake, Cranberry Scones, French Apple Cake, Easy Wine Cake, Sara’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Danish, My Mother’s Irish Coffee, Hot Cocoa Mix, and Horse Cookies.

Bundt cakes are great for tailgates and fender feasts, because they can be sliced into chunks that can be eaten with fingers rather than forks. Cakes for tailgates need to be finger-friendly, so I’ve looked for recipes aren’t crumbly, don’t have sticky frosting over them, yet satisfy a sweet tooth.

Blueberry Pound Cake

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of butter, divided

2 cups plus 1/4 cup of sugar, divided

4 eggs

1 teaspoon almond extract

3 cups of self-rising flour, divided

2 cups blueberries

Grease a Bundt pan with 2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle it with the quarter cup of sugar, set aside. Cream remaining butter, add remaining sugar, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add the almond extract. Gradually add in 2 and 3/4 cups of the self rising flour, beating until blended. Drop blueberries into the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, dredging until coated, then gently fold into the batter. Pour into prepared pan, bake at 325 degrees until done and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. 16 servings.

Cranberry Scones

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup milk

1 large egg

1 large egg, 1 tablespoon milk, 2 tablespoons sparkling/turbinado sugar for tops

Lightly spray non-stick spray on baking sheet. Stir together the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in cranberries.  In a separate bowl, whisk together butter, 1/2 cup milk, and 1 egg and add to the flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened, and a soft dough forms. Drop dough by about 1/3 cupfuls onto prepared baking sheet. Whisk together the remaining egg and milk, and brush the tops of the dough with the mixture, sprinkling with the sparking sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool on wire rack.

French Apple Cake

French Apple Cake

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup granulated sugar plus more for sprinkling

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons of dark rum

2 cups peeled and chopped apples, cubed about 1/2 in. – Granny Smith, Honeycrisp best

Prepare a 9 in. cake pan  or square pan, by spraying with non-stick spray and dusting. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla and rum. Batter will be grainy but it’s OK. Fold in the flour mixture, then add the apples with a spatula. Scrape batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees about 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack, run a butter knife around the edges and remove cake to serving plate; sprinkle with sugar. This is not a very large cake but it’s easy to make and serves about 8 pieces. Better after it cools!

Easy Wine Cake

1 box of yellow cake mix

1 4.5 oz. box of instant vanilla pudding

4 large eggs

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup Riesling or white wine of your choice

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Coat a Bundt pan with non-stick spray. Combine all ingredients, mixing for 5 minutes at medium speed. Pour batter into pan, bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until done. Garnish with powdered sugar before serving if desired, but this cake is sweet enough without it if you like. Serves 8.

Sarah’s Pumpkin Cheesecake Danish

Sarah’s pumpkin cream cheese danish.  Photo by Sarah.

This recipe is from Sarah at Fair Hill Saddlery and it is terrific!

1 roll of refrigerated crescent rolls

6 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the glaze: 2 tablespoons of flour, 2/3 cup of powdered sugar, and either 4 tablespoons of heavy cream or 1 tablespoon of milk, stir til blended. Combine the first six ingredients and set aside. Unroll the crescent rolls into a rectangle on a baking parchment on a baking sheet. Here comes the tricky part: cut one inch diagonal slices down each side of the rectangle. These will be folded up over the filling. (Sort of like quartermarks – take your time and get it right so it looks cool when you’re done!)  Spread the filling down the center, then fold up the slices and tuck over each other, and when you come to the ends just fold up a little. Bake at 375 for 15 to 20 minutes until crescent roll is golden. Cool on wire rack, and glaze before serving. About a dozen servings.

My Mother’s Famous Irish Coffee

1 cup chilled whipping cream,

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat whipping cream until stiff with vanilla and powdered sugar. Save for the top.

My well used recipe. Photo by Holly Covey.

3/4 teaspoon or a single cup serving of instant coffee

1 cup hot water

2 tablespoons (or so) Irish whiskey or brandy

1-2 teaspoons of sugar

Heat the mugs by rinsing with hot water first. Then put the whiskey and sugar into the cups first; add the instant coffee and hot water, mix well, and top with whipped cream. Instead of real whipped cream, just throw a can of the spray type in the cooler. Or you can skip the whipped cream. Heck, you can skip the hot water and the coffee, too. This recipe is very old and so used, that there are water spots all over it and the amounts of the ingredients have been lost to smudging of the ink…so sort of add ingredients as you wish, and kick on!

Hot Cocoa Mix

Yes, you can make your own. Don’t forget the marshmallows (they do come in small single serving packs now, look for these in the baking aisle.) This recipe makes 24 cups, so you can cut it down if you need less, but it keeps in an airtight container in for a few months. For sugar-free, substitute Splenda for the sugar.

2 1/2 cups instant non-fat dry milk

2 cups (8 oz.) confectioners sugar (substitute Splenda for sugar-free)

1 1/2 cups unsweetened powdered cocoa

1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Sift all ingredients together. To prepare a cup, put 1/4 of a cup of the mix into the bottom of a mug. Heat 1 cup of milk to simmer. Stir milk into mix in cup well, then add 3/4 of a cup of the dry mix to it, stirring constantly. This makes awesome hot chocolate! It’s hard to pack hot milk, so it’s something you can make if you have a way to heat the milk (microwave in the living quarters, pan over the firepit or camp stove, etc.)

Horse Cookies

1 cup uncooked quick oats

1 cup flour

1 cup finely shredded carrots

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/4 cup molasses

Mix all ingredients and add a little more molasses or oil if mixture is thick. Form 1-inch balls with your hands, place on cookie sheet, bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack to cool. These are a bit crumbly but they like them! Makes about 2 dozen.

Horse Trailer Fender Feasting, Part 2: Dips, Sandwiches, Wraps, Cookies & Breads

Fender feasting! Photo by Holly Covey

This is part 2 of the “Tailgates and Fender Feasts” series. Part 1 includes packing and planning tips for bringing food appropriate for eating at events, clinics, lessons or get-togethers for cross country schooling. The recipes I’ve included usually work well when you can’t use a knife and fork and don’t have a table to sit down and eat formally but are tired of eating gas station junk! Part 2 here is Dips, Sandwiches, Wraps, Cookies and Breads, and Part 3 will include recipes for Cakes and other make-ahead treats.

These are favorite finger-ready foods I’ve brought to tailgates and events. Many are from my mother’s famous and respected recipe collection — she was an incredible cook and many are quite old. I try to make things that are tasty and hearty, where a couple of bites will taste good and are a bit healthier than a bag of chips or stale donuts from the only convenience store with a parking lot big enough for the trailer.

Recipes included here: Apples and Sweet Peanut Butter Dip, Sandwiches For Hungry Riders, Wraps For Everyone, Oatmeal/Cranberry/Nut Cookies, Criss-Cross Peanut Butter Cookies, Mini BLTs, Banana Nut Bread.

Apples and Sweet Peanut Butter Dip

4 to 6 Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, or other sweet apple such as Jona Gold or Honey Crisp; skin on. Slice into quarters and then into 8ths, discarding the core.  Place in an airtight container with a small slice of lemon to prevent browning.


1 pk. (8 oz) softened cream cheese

1 cup chunky peanut butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup milk or half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream all, refrigerate overnight, allow to come to room temperature at serving. Serve with apple wedges as dippers. You can wait to cut apples until serving, too and give the cores to your friends in the trailer! This usually disappears quickly! Serves about a dozen people.

Sandwiches for Hungry Riders

2 dozen Hawaiian type sweet dinner rolls, sliced in half

Sweet hot mustard in squeezeable dose container

1 pk. roll of summer sausage, sliced thin (don’t be cheap, use the whole thing!)

Sharp white cheddar 2-inch square slices, or any savory cheese in one-inch squares

Pack the rolls, cheese and meat in separate containers and meat and cheese in your cold pack. Put the sandwiches together once you arrive or just before serving – one slice of meat, 2 pieces of cheese in each sliced roll. A drop of sweet-hot mustard can be added, or just put out the squeezable mustard container so eaters can choose it if they want. Crackers can be used instead of bread. Makes about 2 dozen finger sandwiches depending on how thick you slice the summer sausage.

Sub/Hoagie Hint: It’s perfectly OK to purchase turkey or italian subs at the deli and toss in your cooler for later. (Turkey by far is the most preferred.) Avoid ordering with dressings like mayonnaise or oil – instead, ask for those on the side in a to-go container, so you keep the bread from getting soggy. And ask for an extra paper wrap on the sandwich. This makes a sturdier serving surface once you unwrap, then add the desired dressings, and take your sharp knife and cut the sandwich into 2-inch portions. Feeds more folks and is easier to pick up!

Wraps: My Crowd-Sourced Recipes

I asked a few friends for their tortilla-wrap recipes. Tortillas travel well, don’t get soggy like bread, and can be shared easily. Use the regular sized 10-inch flour tortillas. If you make them ahead of time (I think it’s hard to put together sandwiches on a tailgate and I don’t like the help from flies), wrap tightly in foil and refrigerate in a stack, then put in the cooler to travel, and then when you open them, cut in diagonal quarters to serve.

Paige’s Curried Chicken Salad Wraps

About 2 lbs. of shredded chicken (Paige pulls all the meat off one rotisserie chicken)

1 cup of finely chopped celery

3 green onions, minced

Optional: 1 cup diced apple (golden delicious)

1/3 cup dried cranberries (or dried cherries)

1/2 cup shelled pistachios (or slivered almonds)

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon curry powder

Salt and Pepper to taste

Stir the curry powder into the mayonnaise, mixing well; add salt and pepper, celery, onions, apples, cranberries and nuts and mix. Gently fold in shredded chicken, stirring to coat. Refrigerate several hours. Serve about 1/4 cup of chicken mix on an iceberg lettuce leaf on a regular 10-inch tortilla, roll up, then cut in half or thirds. I think this should make about 10 servings, but Paige says it goes so fast, it’s hard to keep count!

More Wraps

Lisa Burnett: Turkey, hummus, cheese, lettuce and tomato wraps

Erika Keller Thomas: Buffalo chicken, bleu cheese dressing, lettuce, tomato; roast beef, carmelized onion, horseradish garnish, lettuce (can also use spinach leaves instead of lettuce, and dijon mustard instead of horseradish); turkey, cream cheese with pepper jelly

Cheryl Microutsicos: a great low-calorie option, a wedge of Laughing Cow light cheese, open and spread on wrap, top with spinach, cucumbers and turkey

Amy Warringon: BLT on a wrap – crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato slices and mayo

Mini BLTs

These do contain mayonnaise, so you will need to make sure they stay refrigerated until served, but it’s a make-ahead favorite that ships well and tastes just like a BLT without the toast!

10 Roma tomatoes, small in size, cut in half lengthwise, with pulp scooped out

6-8 slices of crispy bacon, crumbled fine

4 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded fine

1/2 cup of mayonnaise

Stir together the mayonnaise, chopped lettuce and bacon crumbles. Add salt or pepper (optional) to taste. Place a spoonful of the mixture in the hollowed out roma tomato half, continue filling each until mixture is gone. Garnish with cracked pepper, paprika, or dill. Pack tightly in a flat container with a piece of plastic wrap on the top before putting on the lid to keep the filling from spilling out of the tomato halves. Keep cold until served.

Oatmeal Cranberry Nut Cookies

3/4 stick shortening

3/4 cup white sugar

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 3/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Beat shortening, sugars in large bowl on medium speed until creamy; beat in eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Beat into shortening mixture until well blended. Stir in oats, cranberries and nuts. Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes on the baking sheet. Remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes 3 dozen. Substitute raisins for cranberries or leave out the nuts!

Criss-Cross Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup butter

2 cups peanut butter (creamy best)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup buttermilk*

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray. Blend butter, peanut butter, sugars, vanilla and egg until light and fluffy. Add buttermilk* and mix well. Stir dry ingredients together, add to buttermilk mix and blend until smooth. Drop from spoon to a prepared baking sheet. Flatten each cookie with a fork dipped in flour in a criss cross pattern. Bake for 15-20 minutes until edges are golden brown. Remove from pan, cool on wire rack, store airtight. Makes about 3 dozen.

(*Buttermilk substitute: Add to 1 cup of regular milk 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. Stir, then let stand for 5 minutes.)  This is a very old family recipe.

Banana Nut Bread

1 1/3 cup mashed ripe bananas (3-4 usually)

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 large eggs

2 2/3 cup Bisquick baking mix

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Grease the bottom of a 9 in. x 5 in. loaf pan. Stir the bananas, sugar, milk, oil, vanilla and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in Bisquick and nuts. Pour into loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then loosen the sides from the pan and remove, cooling on a wire rack. About 10 servings, serve with butter or softened cream cheese as a spread. Packs well and also can be frozen.

Horse Trailer Fender Feasting, Part 1: Pack and Plan

Fender feasting! Photo by Holly Covey.

Events take all day, so I’ve learned to pack some food along to help keep myself from fainting from hunger and thirst. Often, my friends come over to share, and we end up setting out some food on the horse trailer fender or tailgate of the truck.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here’s a three-part article on the art of tailgating/fender feasting, for events, cross-country schoolings, clinics or lessons with your besties, including some old fashioned recipes for good tasty food that sticks to your ribs after a long day in the saddle.

When packing for an outdoor eating place, I try to make sure I am bringing things that don’t require eating with a knife and fork or sitting at a table, so these recipes have been selected for ease of eating fairly uncivilized … i.e., with your fingers. Usually, we’re standing or sitting on ice chests and mounting blocks, so we need food we can eat from our laps, and it works best to have things that can be eaten with fingers or toothpicks, or that are already cut into serving-sized pieces. Pack-along food is often eaten while driving home, too, so it needs to last all day and not get mushy, melt, or deteriorate in heat.

I also try to keep in mind when I am bringing tailgate food for a group that not everyone is going to like meat, nuts, dairy, etc., so I make sure there is a tasty variety so everyone can eat something, and don’t have to stand there watching others eat! For instance, there should be sweet stuff, some salty or savory stuff, protein of some sort, and healthy stuff like peeled and cut carrots, cut celery pieces, mandarin oranges, grapes, apples or bananas. Even someone on a restricted diet can usually snack on vegetables and fruit, or single-serve sugar-free applesauce in the small containers, which is gluten-free. They pack well and don’t need refrigeration.

Bananas are often the food of choice for riders before cross country, because they are not spicy, a source of good carbs, and take the hunger edge off. But a banana at 6 a.m. isn’t enough food to help you last the day! I’m here to help!

Hot/Cold Stuff

It’s helpful to divide your tailgate food into things that need to be refrigerated, and things that need to stay warm. As we get further into fall, having cool days is a blessing because you can put your things that need to stay warm in the insulated truck cab, while placing your cold stuff in the cooler outside on the ground under your trailer gooseneck or truck tailgate to keep it out of the sun. (Keep the lid on tight in case of stray dogs looking for samples!)


When I prepare and pack food ahead of time, I use plastic snap-on lid containers, and sort the food into containers that fit. It keeps the food from rolling around and spilling inside the container as it travels, keeps everything airtight and away from flies. Also most of these are small enough to fit on the edge of a horse trailer fender, too — because mostly I will serve right out of the containers to save space. It’s always breezy in the open fields we park in, so keeping stuff in containers helps to avoid spills and chasing blowing wrappers around.

You can get fancier and have all sorts of pretty dishes for serving, but most of your folks are going to get just a few minutes to grab a bite, so make it easy for them to load a paper plate and don’t get too worried about looks.

I have a “tailgate” container (about shoebox size with a good fitting lid) packed with coffee/tea stuff above in a large baggie, along with paper cups, paper plates, toothpicks and spoons, a good kitchen knife for cutting up food to serving size, and two kitchen garbage bags with tie-shut tops — one for garbage, one for recyclables.

Hot Stuff

For hot things, my favorites are coffee, tea and soup. An insulated carafe of plain black coffee, with a baggie of sugar packets, creamers, stirring sticks, and I’ll have open a small container of half and half nearby. Add a stack of paper cups and you are going to save someone’s (usually a freezing, half-awake parent) day with a hot cup of coffee.

My next hot favorite is hot soup, either from a crock pot plugged into a converter outlet in your truck, or in an insulated warm container. I serve soup in cups with small spoons; your eaters can choose to sip or spoon it, and also offer crackers. Any kind of chicken soup is always popular, and for cream soups I stick with some variation of tomato, mushroom, or broccoli. These are hearty, without being too spicy for those who can’t eat rich food and ride, too. Hot soup brightens even the worst day!

Hot tea is always good especially on the drive home, so if you aren’t a coffee drinker you can put boiling water in your carafe before you leave in the morning and it should stay hot enough to give you a cup of tea. Pack tea bags, instant cider packets, or even the instant soup packets. A good quality insulated carafe should keep water hot for most of the day.

Cold Stuff

For cold foods, I always pack a protein, such as hard boiled eggs, some cut or sliced small meat like summer sausage or prosciutto (dried and thus able to withstand temperature variation), deli sandwiches (see Part 2 for sandwich hints), or even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into fours so they can be shared. When I pack hardboiled eggs, sometimes I peel them the night before and cut them in half, then pack them in a container to grab in the morning from the fridge. But you can also bring them along shell-on to keep them clean and fresh, too. It is often hard to peel eggs with dirty hands, though!


Lastly, it’s always good to have a batch of cookies, sliced sweet bread, or Bundt cake chunks. Almost any kind of cookies or brownies go over well — homemade of course is the best, but I avoid doing chocolate chips in the brownies or cookies in the summer, as they make a mess when they get warm and melt. Old standbys that travel well are muffins of all kinds, oatmeal cookies, peanut butter cookies, or just brownies made from box mix – nobody turns down brownies! Other choices might be some cold apple pie or pumpkin pie wedges wrapped individually in waxed paper, or granola bars to help everyone sock away some carbs for a cold day in the saddle.


Don’t forget drinks! I am always after myself to hydrate. I now bring a gallon jug of water and pour it into my insulated water bottle rather than try to haul about all those single water bottles. A variety of soft drinks and juice for your peeps — know what they drink, and if you don’t know, this list should cover it for adults and kids: a couple of diet selections, a couple of Cokes or Pepsi’s, and orange, apple or cranberry juices along with an electrolyte type of sports drink in a couple of flavors. Along with your coffee, tea and water, that ought to cover it for everyone. Also: when you pack the cooler, fill a baggie with clean ice for drinks rather than use the loose ice in the cooler.

Little details

Wrapped peppermints are good to find in your pocket! Photo by Holly Covey.

I always have a small bowl of individually wrapped hard candies for riders to take, that can fit in a pocket, like peppermints. These are good to have whether you are a rider, groom, volunteer or nervous parent, and can pretty much stay good no matter what the weather.

Clean Up

I always pack a bottle of alcohol gel for hands, or some anti-bacterial wipes along with a roll of paper towels, so people can clean their fingers a bit before eating. I find a stack of napkins tends to blow around, so I bring a roll of paper towels instead, they work better for clean up, too.

It’s also good to remember that everyone has different tastes. You may have favorites you prefer to bring or different recipes you’ve used, and that’s great! Variety is the spice of life.

Next, Part 2 (link) and Part 3 (link)  will provide some favorite recipes for fender feasting! All with hungry horse people in mind! Enjoy! Go Eventing!

Saturday Links from Nupafeed USA

This is what a family photo of eventers looks like:

Riding Rutledges! Ciana, Colleen and Cassie. Photo by Brian Rutledge.

Colleen Rutledge, mom and 5* rider, competed last weekend at Fair Hill International on C Me Fly (20th in 3*) and one of the top event horses in America, her own Covert Rights (18th in 4* with one of the very few double clear show jumping rounds of the competition). And with Global Absolute, Colleen was 7th in the Young Event Horse championship for 5-year-olds.

And here she is, this week, with her two daughters Ciana and Cassie, ready for the Classic Three-Day Event trot-up at Waredaca Horse Trials on Thursday.

(I think no adult in the Rutledge household needs any sleep at all. And I do not want to see what their laundry pile looks like on Monday morning, either.)

Ciana, 11, is riding Daybreak in the Novice Classic Three-Day Event. Colleen is riding Castaway in the Training Classic, and Cassie, 17, is riding Connect The Dots in the Training Classic.

On Saturday, Colleen will lead off the Endurance Day competition at 8:30 a.m. in the Training division, with Cassie scheduled for a 9:18 a.m. start, and Ciana begins at 10 a.m. in the Novice division.

Good luck, ladies!

Holiday: National Mule Day

Major Events:

5 Etoiles de Pau: WebsiteEntriesForm GuideLive ScoresLive StreamEN’s CoverageEN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

U.S. Weekend Preview:

Waredaca 3DE & H.T. [Website] [HT Entry Status] [3DE Entry Status] [HT Ride Times] [3DE Ride Times] [Live Scores]

Windermere Run H.T. [Website] [Entry Status/Ride Times/Live Scores]

Chattahoochee Hills H.T. [Website]  [Entry Status] [Ride Times] [Live Scores]

Holly Hill H.T. [Website]  [Entry Status] [Ride Times] [Live Scores]

Saturday Links:

Tributes paid to amateur eventer who died after schooling fall

Jonty Evans to inspire others as a speaker, a year after leaving hospital

Reassurance over equine joint injections after human study raises concerns

A Glimpse into the ICP Faculty Teaching Days

USEA Events A-Z: Sundance Farm Horse Trials

Featured Video: We’ve officially sucked Jumper Nation editor Meagan DeLisle over to the dark side. Here she is at Hagyard Midsouth H.T. with her tail-less wonder horse, Chasin Tail, tackling Beginner Novice last weekend.

Nothing on Earth That Compares

Photo by Beth Rice.

I was just going to say, let’s all just take a breath, and stop being crazy — when a tragedy occurs, and it’s all going sideways again.

Because death affects us all very deeply.

After Ashley’s death in July, my very first cross country ride was at Loch Moy, and after a fairly good show jumping round, we went directly to cross country. Up there, in warmup, I was trying to not get too excited, and was sweating because it was really hot, and feeling a bit weak — then it hit me.

This could be it.

This could be the last time I do this. Right here. Right now. It makes you really stop to breath for a few seconds and think about what you are about to do, where you are going, and what is coming.

So all the sweating and anxiety may not have been from the heat.

I don’t know how my horse just goes and jumps all these things for me. I am grateful he does, and I’m grateful he knows to somehow squiggle, hop, step over, or negotiate an obstacle when I’m really stupid up there on his back.

So I looked down at the mane of my horse, my wonderful, super, loyal friend who has always looked out for me and done everything I have ever asked him to do. And I am grateful for his friendship. And I touched his wither with my hand, and petted him, and soothed myself. “It’s all right,” he said to me. “I know how you feel.”

And I asked him if he was OK to go today. And he said “Sure. Whatever you want, mom,” as he has been trained to do, and I have schooled and lessoned and jumped and galloped and walked on trails in the woods with him. “Sure. Whatever you want, Mom.”

And all this stuff goes through your head literally 30 seconds before start. So you find a way to concentrate on what you are doing, on getting your reins shorter, getting the whip straight in your hand, a push to the watch button, a look at the volunteer starting you with a “Thank you,” and you may as well get on with it.

So you start off. And you say, well, if it’s not good, I’ll quit. So you jump fence 1. And it’s alright so far. And you head toward the big table that is fence 2 and you say, if I am going to jump this, I am not going to approach it or jump it scared or thinking I can quit, or want to stop. That’s not the right attitude here. I need to get my head in this game right now – because it really is all or nothing.

So I channel my inner Scarlett O’Hara, and decide I’ll think about it tomorrow. And you saw my distance, sucked my leg on, softened my hand, poked my butt in the saddle and my chin up.  And when I landed, I thought, “There,” and looked for fence 3.

And so it goes. One jump, one obstacle, one question at a time. Concentrate. Adjust. Get the job done right – not just done. If you’re going to do it, do it as well as you can, be as ready as possible, train hard, school hard, think, prepare, ride to the top of your game. Every jump. Every single cross rail.

If you have done it a million times. Or if it’s the first time.

Of course, there will be bad, sad, horrible days we can’t even.

And there’s no reason for it and there’s no explanation that makes sense or gives any comfort. We don’t know when our Maker says, “time’s up.” We just don’t.

And then there will be days that there is nothing on earth that compares to a great ride on a stiff course that you really nailed, that your horse and you grew a little on. You think about it as you work or drive or wait somewhere, and ride those jumps again. Over and over. And your day is bad, your work sucks, your life is crap, but you have that.

There will be days that there is nothing on earth that compares.

In honor of my friend Melanie Tallent.

The Zen of Painting Jumps

This one needs me.

There is a place in this world for every person who takes a brush in one hand, and a can of paint in the other, and wanders into the sun seeking change.

There are jumps out there on every cross country course all over the world that need you. They lay there, naked and afraid, until you come with your brush and your can and save them.

It is often a lonely journey, this quest as an eventer-volunteer-jump painter. A single worker bee, seeking the light, takes the paint and changes the world (or maybe just the color of the big table this year).

Painting jumps allows you to think as you splash and spill. You think about bringing gloves next time. You think about falling off the stool as you climb down from a really big jump. You think about the meaning of the universe.

Many events all over the world need jump painters. And it’s a great time to get your volunteer hours, to commune with your cross country muse, to make a difference and satisfy your artistic, creative urges. Well, sort of.

Don’t get me wrong. It can be hard work. It is often hot — the better to let the paint dry. Your arm gets sore from holding the brush. There may be bees, gnats, mosquitoes, deer, stickerbushes, poison ivy, or irritating non-workers who stop by to criticize. Take them all on with a zen philosophy of, “I’m doing it — and you’re not.”

There is not much art in painting or staining a great big Intermediate or Advanced table a plain brown. But it looks imposingly beautiful when you are done, and stand back to check for spots you have missed. At touch here, a swipe there, and it’s done. You do get a certain satisfaction in completing a job, seeing it stand there, proud and ready to do its part as a part of a big important course for the event.

Of course, it is also done with a group, and in that case, can be great fun. What is better than being out on a cross country course for hours with happy people who enjoy doing the work too. You are all making the event happen. It’s the start of a great party! And you get to be there at the beginning of what will become a great event.

There is something mystical about big jumps out in a field without horses or galloping string or decorations yet. They stand there waiting to be a part of a Big Deal. They await their photographs and horses like grand servants in an outdoor mansion, graceful and elegant yet ready to serve.

But until you go and worship them with your paint and brush, they are not ready. You get to fix that. So be a painter of jumps, no matter how big or how small. The course waits for you. Go.

And Go Eventing.


The Smells of Eventing

The middle of a field in fall. Photo by Holly Covey.

You open the tack room door on the horse trailer – and the smell hits you. Or the truck door. Or the car door. Pe-euwww.

It’s that smell of sweat and horse manure. It is the thing that makes people turn around and look at you in the store. Push their grocery cart past you quickly. Wrinkle their noses and pull out a tissue to cover their mouth.

We get so we don’t even notice it, and sometimes, that’s a good thing. Horse smell is an odor I don’t ever want to feel badly about.

There are so many smells that remind me of eventing – the poopy/sweaty one, of course, but also the early morning smell in the fall of dewy, cut grass. That’s the smell of fall events to me, and it stirs my soul, because it means cooler weather and big galloping and big jumps.

Fall has a definite odor of promise, of dreams coming true, of strength and purpose. You can stand in the middle of a field at Fair Hill and smell it coming.

The smells of eventing include that wonderful smell of fresh horse breath when you put the bridle on your favorite. The smell of leather, well cared for, and fresh boot polish. The smell of a musty, opened-once-a-year secretary’s booth for the event everyone can’t wait to attend.

There are other smells too. The smell of freshly cooked hamburgers and hotdogs, the smell of french fries and ketchup, the smell of carrots and apples and horse treats once you open the package you got for your horse at the trade fair.

How about the smell of the good Wawa food you finally get to wolf down in the truck driving home from the event, or the smell of the strong coffee you just had time to carry to the truck and stick in the cupholder before leaving in the morning?

Or the acrid smell as you walk your course of freshly-stained cross-country jumps. The sharp and clean smell of newly-painted show jumps, gleaming in the morning light and shadows. The gentle perfume smell of the nicely-dressed officials who are the only clean people you run into all day.

The only place I couldn’t really think of a smell was dressage — which probably is OK, since most of the time dressage sort of has its own smell, if you know what I mean. Unless the volunteers are eating something really delicious, like chili, or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

Our eventing world is full of odors, some we love and some not so much. Yesterday, I checked the winter blanket stack, and opened up a container that alas was not washed before being packed away for the summer. I’ll let you all just close your eyes and imagine that smell. Darn. Nothing a little soap and water can’t fix, though.

Instead, I’ll leave you with these thoughts: think of the smell of your horse’s breath, and the wet grass this morning. What smells of eventing to you?

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Or I Survived Rebecca Farm

Yes, I went to The Event at Rebecca Farms in Kalispell, MT., last week (July 25-29, 2019), and I survived to tell about it. Of course, four plane flights, two shuttle rides, and 10 days out of my life were given up to this particular event, but there were so many great takeaways that it was well worth the trip.

I did not compete, but went in a support capacity for the Area II Young Riders squad, which included CCI2*-L riders, a CCIOY3* rider, and two Training Three-Day Event riders.

  • First of all, to have an event reach “Destination Event” status, it must have no less than 1,645 portable toilets, and they must be sited in the background of every spectacular photograph you take.
  • Horses who ship 30 to 40 hours are going to arrive tired, sore, and stiff, and are going to need care, experienced help to get un-stiff and in competition shape, and there’s a right way and a wrong way to get all of that accomplished in just a few days before a major championship competition.

    Photo by Holly Covey

  • Golf cart arguments are always solved by losing the key.
  • Walking helps you make friends and learn about different parts of the world of eventing. It helps you lose weight, too.
  • Chapstick without sunscreen is useless.
  • People are dumber than bears.

    On a trip to Glacier National Park, I watched a tourist unable to open the bear-proof trash can (just a couple of snaps) and drop garbage on the ground. Really? Photo by Holly Covey

  • Horses who really love what they do are incredible and deserve respect and the best care possible.

    Two incredible Young Rider horses – the venerable Paprika from the Jennie Brannigan barn, this year with new rider Sydney Shinn; and on the right, Buckharo, Kate Chadderton’s ride, 20 years young, with Jules Elliott.

  • Teenagers have a capacity for operating without sleep that is amazing.
  • Finding your favorite pair of scissors on the last day of the event after losing them on the first day is like success/not success. You only needed them about 7,498 times.
  • People who come to compete at Rebecca are serious campers. They know how to park all by themselves, don’t need no stinkin’ parking nazi, set up next to their stalls, get the awnings out, get the stalls bedded, get the grill set up and the motorbike out of the trailer before you get the first bite of your Montana Cristo sandwich at the food truck. I know. I watched this while I was in line.
  • It stays light until after 10:00 p.m. so you tire long before it’s dark there, so why not walk your cross-country course at 9 p.m.?

    The polo field at “dusk”. Photo by Holly Covey

  • Wear a big hat during the day. It looks ridiculous but saves your face and eyes from wind and sunburn. Actually, some of the big hats I saw where quite beautiful!

    Max Corcoran directs the Young Rider jogs quite stylish in her big hat. Photo by Holly Covey.

  • The Broussard family, the volunteers, and the officials were incredibly kind, welcoming, and fun to interact with throughout the competition. Having things take place over a week’s time gives everyone time and space to relax – a positive over the hurry-scurry of the east coast’s one-day events.
  • Whoever does the scheduling at Rebecca is a flat-out Rhodes Scholar genius.
  • The volunteers at Rebecca are Ah-Maze-Zing. They enjoy the farm, the sport, and the people and it shows.
  • Kalispell has a Starbucks and a Panera Bread. Thank goodness.
  • Mountains are beautiful.

    A typical view at Glacier National Park. Photo by Holly Covey

  • Eventing is a great sport everywhere. It’s even better when it’s at an incredible venue with people who love it, too.

    Big crowd for Young Riders show jumping. Photo by Holly Covey


Mid Season Takeout: What Are Your Eventing Friends Doing?

Ever have “one of those days”? Of course you do. You’re an eventer.

The day the wheel comes off the truck while you are hauling to a lesson. (My friend Cindi.)

The day the horse trailer tire shreds on the interstate, and you can’t find the Trailer Aid jack thingie, but you’ve got a bale of hay, and run your trailer’s good wheel up on $30-worth of second-cutting alfalfa flakes so you can get the spare on. (Cheryl.)

The day your newly-set show jumping course gets completely obliterated by heavy rain and straight-line winds. (Me.)

Then, you go on social media and you are heartened by the amazing and fun things like Al Rayne’s creative pool platform (using a cross country jump. Yes. Only Al. I’m waiting for Boyd to copy this. It’s in his wheelhouse.)

Watching a good friend KILL it at Devon’s eventing showcase with a 5th place finish (go, Jules!) after you had to REALLY convince her to enter the competition a month ago by repeating, $50,000, $50,000, $50,000 about a hundred times ’til she relented.

Watching the Jack Russell Terrorists kill a snake in the arena where you have to RIDE. Um, we hacked in the field instead until I got fuel for the tractor so I could drag the bloody parts out. Somehow jumping an oxer and landing in snake blood didn’t make me wild with enthusiasm. Worried a tad about juju there…

Watching Young Riders post really fun and uplifting reports on their events, almost always crediting their horse for their success, and blaming themselves if they had failures. (But of course we know there really isn’t any failures in eventing. Just education.)

So a mid-season update isn’t about what you won. It’s about what your friends are doing, what disasters you overcame and surmounted, and laughing at the funny stuff, because none of us get out of this alive, anyhow.

There is a limited amount of time to get to the Promised Land (wherever and whatever that is for you). For some, it’s a clean round at Beginner Novice (Stephanie). For some, it’s slaying the Advanced dragon; others just want to see one of their horses on a team or competing on the world stage, and are willing to wait.  (A really long time – Melissa.)

Photo by Melissa Stubenberg.

The beautiful days are really beautiful and fun and make you so forget all the crappy ones.

So, while we journey through the 12-hour days of light, and riding time is easy to get and yet still seems to have to be scheduled in, we all still  just want to get to a lesson without drama on the side of the road. I’m with you, sister.

Go eventing!

Too Hot To Ride

What to do with cross-country jumps when you get a pool and it’s too hot to ride and train. Perfect. Photo by Laura Rayne.

When I ride I am always trying to produce results for the agenda, and I know as an adult amateur I’m not alone.

We all try hard to make sure we are keeping our strength and endurance up, our horse’s condition up, our skill sets up to par in the few minutes we have each day to ride. Mostly we do this to avoid embarrassment at lessons in front of our trainers, who stand with patient dismay when we jump the offset oxer backwards.

Another big motivator: really, really hot weather. Getting up early to ride is a requirement and if you are in air conditioning all day it’s even more important, because you can’t breathe if you wait til 6 pm. And if you can’t breathe, you get stupid.

Take Monday. Predicted high heat. So of course I get up early to ride. But I had 67 new emails overnight for work and Young Riders, so I did them all first while coffee is mainlined. Then I finally get outside, an hour after I intended to start, and get the right horse tacked up.

So of course, I drop the fly whisk first lap of the first trot set and am too far from anything resembling a mounting block to stop and pick it up. Next, I forgot to hit myself with the people fly spray, which I discovered as a fly bit my leg right after dropping the fly whisk.

Then, it seems really hot and the helmet is causing my head to sweat, and the face sunscreen is dripping into my eyes and stinging them. And I go to wipe away the sweat with the hand that has the Wind-Aid on it. (That’s some strong breathing stuff if you don’t know, and has lots of tingling stuff in it.)

Now I can’t see at all and my eye, that I wiped with the Wind-Aid, is on fire. My horse is however still dutifully trotting along, my watch is beeping because I’m supposed to start the canter set, and I am trying not to fall off because I can’t see. All this and not really 10 minutes into riding yet this morning. Can I get a do-over?

It’s my own fault. I entered the event in July knowing I would have to do this in summer heat, and I deserve the penance of stupidity (seriously, who drops a flywhisk at a walk?)

I think summer teaches you that success has a lot to do with self-control. (That, and a good alarm clock.) But all good sports require self-control to develop training habits and keep going towards goals. I read somewhere that you have to keep moving if you set a goal.

Yep, I’m moving. I’m moving sweaty saddle pads to wash in the washrack, I’m moving the switch on the fans to “on”, I’m moving the horses into their stalls for the hot afternoon, and I’m moving my sorry butt to an air-conditioned couch to watch a baseball game on TV. Sorry, not sorry. Kiss my ass, summer!

The Art of Riding in the Rain

Photo courtesy of Holly Covey.

Perhaps you only ride when it’s nice. After all, a good portion of the eventing community does just that — going south in the winter to avoid poor riding weather at home further north.

But if you never ride when it is pelting rain, or taste snowflakes as they slap your face, you never get to feel the strength you really have inside you.

Adversity makes us what we are. It is all of who we are, really, as eventers.

That does not mean that we need to be iron warriors or some kind of crazed outdoor freaks, able to survive in all weather. Rather, eventing is a sport that requires a certain amount of preparation and ability to roll with the weather that an eventing competition day brings. Our sport is an outdoor one, and we have to be ready for that.

Those of us on the east coast have been very familiar with weather and how it can affect us. About 20 percent of the events in our region were cancelled last year, a ripple effect that even hit the income level of our national organization. Weather definitely changes things.

More than once in my life, I’ve hid in the corner of a stall, or in the front of my horse trailer, feeling miserable and small as rain poured down on the roof. You relish the last few moments of being dry before you step out in the downpour.

You know your horse doesn’t seem to care — after all, they are out in the pasture in all weather and often don’t seem to mind wet weather, grazing away in a downpour. They are built for earth’s variances, while us humans seem to be always finding roofs to hide under.

Riding in the rain means resolve, and preparation, and confidence in yourself that you can keep your balance and encourage your horse, no matter what the condition that comes your way. As a working student I clearly recall days when rain made the arena a lake, and yet nothing changed — riding went on.

Somehow when you are young and fearless, this seems fun. It’s before you’ve been hurt, or had a terrible accident, or had a horse die or get injured, and your life is changed forever, that you feel that way — bulletproof, waterproof, emotion-proof.

But it is those days of unknowing splendor in the wealth of confidence you rely upon when the adverse days arrive. Riding always has risk, riding in the rain even more. Those that are afraid, that decide not to run, that weigh those risks and wait for another day — that’s when risk figures larger than confidence. And that’s not a black mark — it’s the reality of an injury, a destroyed confidence, a block or limit to ability on the day.

The problem with confidence is you don’t know how much you have until you need it — so much like experience (re: the famous Jimmy Wofford quote). And sometimes, it’s not even confidence you need, but some sort of “what the hell” feeling that goes way back in your soul, to the reasons you were attracted to competition in the first place.

You try really hard not to let the dare devil part rise above the practical risk part, because you know in the end, emotion doesn’t have much of a part in success. Hard work trumps emotion almost all the time in this sport.

So what part of your gut do you listen to? The part that questions, “the ground is really sloppy, is he shod well enough, do I have the right studs, is he fit enough?” Or the part that answers, “we’ve come so far, we’ve ridden all winter in the cold, the rain, the mud, the slop, and the wind blowing down our neck. I’m not giving up now!”

There isn’t a way to make these decisions easily and I wish I could give you a roadmap for the process. You decide on your own what you feel, how you want things to go, and whether your horse is ready for this, and whether you are ready to ride him.

But you don’t know how good you are if you don’t test yourself at least a bit. It’s the quest in us — the thing that makes runners start marathons, climbers top mountains, the thing that started your life with horses — can I do this? Am I good enough? Will my desire translate into actual doing?

And so you try. You put on your jacket, pull on the gloves, and step out into the rain, and you and your horse are in it together.

It means everything. All of who you are.

Go eventing.


Rewards for Winning: Look Past the Ribbon

Unique prizes offered by Waredaca to its starter horse trial competitors. Photo by Holly Covey

For many riders, winning an event means the culmination of a dream. The importance of the achievement dwarfs the color of the ribbon.

And, to be truly fair, winning does mean you’ve done a great job and you and horse together figured it out. And even if you don’t end up at the top of the leaderboard, a really great effort should still stand for you as an achievement of note.

Last year, my very best event, I finished 9th, just out of the ribbons — but it was truly a great event where I made no mistakes, jumped double clear show jumping and cross country rounds over a course myself and my horse had never competed over before. In addition, it was the first event that my horse had stabled overnight at, too. There was no ribbon for that weekend, but I was thrilled with myself and with my horse because it just came together.

You may think that is all there is, but if you compete recognized USEA events, that is not all you gain. Because the USEA pulls out juniors and amateurs from open divisions, I actually placed as the third-highest placed amateur, and received USEA grading points for that placing. In addition, because the competition was a championship, the Area gave double points to any placing, and these points were enough to scoot my horse up the leaderboard on the Area II Year End Awards, too.

So while you may not get much more than a ribbon sometimes for placing at recognized events, bear in mind that the points you gain that are recorded do go down on your record and your horse’s record, and that is part of the entry fee you pay, too. Those rewards are important, and not always seen.

At a starter or unrecognized event, the prizes are even more fun. I attended an event in my area that has a wonderful promotion with a sponsoring feed company where kids get “bucks”, cute fake money, for things like “starting the event”,  “completing all three phases”, and “picking up their dressage test”, and of course, winning a ribbon.

The little barn group I went with had most of the riders under 12 and when I marched back to the trailer after my competition was over with the bucks in hand they all figured out they had to ride well and finish the event to get their bucks, too.

(Here’s the program set up by Waredaca.)

Of course, it’s just for fun, but I like the incentives. Picking up a dressage test means you are interested in what the judge had to say about your performance and how to improve your riding and scores. Starting means you got up at 4 a.m. and got to the barn and got your pony on the trailer. Finishing means you didn’t stop trying and cry when your pony stopped at the ditch or black pipe, but stayed on, gave him a pop with your crop, and got the job done the second or third time.

These small victories should be rewarded, and mean something. Competing today as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago I think requires a bit more of a rider. The rules are definitely more complicated. The performance level expected is higher. Winning is harder. Placing is harder. Doing well is harder. So I’m for the rewards for the small things, which in the end, are really big things – or lead to the big things.

Unlike regular horse shows, eventing competitions base your performance on getting it right the first time – there are no additional rounds to perfect the course.  In addition, dressage requires memorizing a pattern and displaying it for a judge. And finally you have to send your pony or horse down over a cross-country course that he has not seen and must jump at first asking – by you, the rider – without a trainer coaching you at the rail 15 feet away. I am in awe of a 10 year old that can do that! I couldn’t do it at that age!

Many, many Olympic medalists, USET team riders, international competitors and national champions have beloved memories of getting a clean round at Beginner Novice as a child rider, or finally remembering a dressage test without mistakes, or getting a recalcitrant pony over a nemesis ditch.

Those feats alone requires a dedication to purpose and a certain amount of self-criticism. These are hugely important concepts for young riders in particular to gain, and that is why eventing is so attractive for many families as a worthwhile youth sport. We all need to remember this. All of us, the professionals at the top of the sport, the owners of upper level horses like Tim and Nina Gardner who supported young rider Alexa Lapp with national champion event horse Cambalda, the officials, the judges, the organizers. Youth sport helps make good adults.

So if you are an organizer, a parent, or a supporter of the starter and unrecognized events, or interested in any other way — it’s worth pointing out that rewards in this sport are often intrinsic.  Any time you’ve got a kid who placed well, even if they didn’t get into the ribbons, but overcame a difficulty or just made a day without mistakes — it’s to be celebrated, no matter what color the ribbon, or even if there is a ribbon. And if you’re in a position to offer awards, and contribute to youth competing in eventing, do it. It’s needed.

Go eventing.

The Aging Eventer: What to Expect from Experience

As you age as a rider, pain becomes your motivator. Photo by Kayla Benney.

The answer to the question, “What can I gain from this?” can easily be answered by the Aging Eventer. “Pain.” Pretty much that is the state of most of my days, and most of the days of my Aging Eventer friends.

As you fossilize, yet continue to ride, you do gain all sorts of great experiences — and injuries, big and little, that follow you along the way. You body reminds you that you have done this before, and it usually hurts — as you slam painfully on the ground, and your intrepid mount scuttles away with empty stirrups flying in the breeze.

Do we muscle through these times? Yes. Do we pay for it later? Yes. But is it worth it? Yes, always yes. At least for me. Even though I have suffered through some very sore Mondays and Tuesdays at work after not-so-great weekends at events.

Often, the pain is a reminder that I should have done something differently. Made sure the stirrup pads were cleaned out before mounting with gummy mud on my boot soles. Changed to the rubber reins. Forgot to put the “Equitation In A Can” on my saddle. Walked the course more than once. Paid attention. Rode better. Been more fit. Jumped more at home. Took more lessons. Checked the dressage test one more time. Clinched the front shoes. Paid for the hock injections. Bought the nicer breeches. Gone to the bathroom before cross country. You get the picture.

Jimmy Wofford says pretty regularly that experience is what you get just after you need it. I’m a living and breathing Eventer Example of that rule. I am often wondering how on earth I’ve competed this long without knowing what I should be doing, or been eliminated more times for forgetting my armband. I wonder at my ability to keep liking this sport many times (and my family shares this wonder, trust me, I constantly am reminded of their skepticism).

You’d think, with age and experience (and treachery) you could make a case for being satisfied with what I have done. But no. There are more courses I want to ride. There are better dressage tests and show jump rounds out there and I want to see if I can do them. I don’t want to wait a minute longer to see if I can get to the Promised Land. Yes, I still — after many years of failure, many years of denial, many years of Not Quite There Yet — still want to event successfully.

The deep need to continually test oneself in this sport isn’t something we in eventing own alone. Although we laughingly refer to ourselves as routinely crazy, I think all horse sports do attract people for life. The goals are good ones. Most of the time they make us better horsepeople, better riders, and yes, better people for the dreaming and achieving.

Do you think you will event past age 60? Me neither. At least I never thought about it. I just thought I would ride until I couldn’t. And now that I am over that hill (way over it) and starting down the slope, I wonder every time I put foot in stirrup how is it I still do this. Riding now is as natural as breathing, as it should be for being well over 50 years of my life. Should I give it up? Should I let go? How much of a hindrance am I to my horses now? Because now it gets harder to get up from the falls, and it gets tougher to shake the fear of the subsequent pain if I do lose proper vertical order.

Pain is a great fear, but it is also a great incentive. I do a lot of two point, ride without stirrups, sit the trot practice and continue to really work on timing and fitness of both me and the horses. But the best thing to just keep doing is to RIDE. As much as I can. One of the problems is there isn’t much help in the way of what to do and how to do it correctly at this state of existence, since most of the people I know (who have more experience than I) are way younger than I am, still in flexible and functional bodies, and can’t relate to my creakiness.

Will I be able to hold my own against riders who are way less than half my age — more like one third? Maybe not. Yet, I don’t compete or want to compete for those reasons. I really just like to try to complete all three phases without penalties and believe me, that is tough enough in this sport!

So if you are not sure you can still keep going — or if you are young and seeing us Fossil Eventers still trying out there — know that it’s because we are just not quite done yet dreaming the dreams and reaching the goals. We may, or may not, get there. Just don’t let the ibuprofen bottle be empty.


We’re All Eventers Here: Me, Myself and I

“I know you are alone, so the minute you leave to walk the course, I will break my halter and get loose.” Photo by Holly Covey.

“Usually, I had to be in tears — that was his clue to finally get on the trailer,” said one of my fellow Event Alone Club members. Are you also a member of the Event Alone Club?

Last weekend, after pronouncing herself covered in wet mud and nearly electrocuted by her electric fence, all just prior to loading up for a schooling show, my friend admitted she was quite ready to beg for someone to come along and help.

And I too have been there. The last event of the season, I lay on the ground gasping for air after having a loss of Proper Vertical Order at Fence #11, and my first thought was, “How will I get home if I can’t drive?” Because of course I was alone. Isn’t that your first thought if you go to an event by yourself, and fall off? Of course it is. Not, “how hurt am I,” or “what is bleeding now,” but how will you get yourself back in the truck and return home?

Oh, I know you all out there have family. They are forced or enjoy going to an event. Good for you. There are those of us who don’t have enough family to ruin, or our family is just too darn smart to be caught in the truck at 0-dark-30 on the way to a competition. We’re the proud card-carrying members of EAC, and we embrace the sole survivor mentality.

Mostly, the horses know this. They are very aware there are only one set of legs and arms in the vehicle, and do their best to find a way to take out one. Step on your foot while unloading from the trailer. Bash your arm while you try to bridle them. Refuse to load when you leave, but run you over to get on to go home. Pinch your hand on the butt bar, blow hay down your neck when you tie them, poop all over your hunt coat which falls off its hanger during the ride ….

Not only the horses, but of course the vehicles also come gunning for us. I have EAC friends who have left the ramp down on their trailer and driven off, fully loaded and ready to go. Flat tires, oh the tires, so many flats, so few tools and nice good looking (single) good samaritans …. Alone, at night, side of a busy interstate and no working jack or credit card. The Cursing-At-Your-Truck app works good, though.

And the barn. Oh, the barn. It hides stuff you need when it sees you alone heading off to that show or event. The cross country bridle. Horse boots. Haybag. Water tubs. Pitchfork. Your bag of beautifully polished boots, setting next to the helmet bag, on the bench you have to walk past sixty two times in order to load all the other stuff you need. More have gotten home only to report they left their saddle on a saddle rack in the parking lot. I have heard of horses being forgotten … nah, nobody does that. Do they? (Or did they?)

To earn your Sole Survivor badge, you have to come home with something bloody, something broken, some lesson learned and some experience gained. At times, all four happen at once, and in a split second; other times, it’s a long drawn-out nightmare that takes all weekend to conclude. Would having a friend along help?

Sometimes, it might. At least a second pair of eyes to check on things left in the barn aisle before you drive off; a second set of hands to hold the broken butt bar in place until you get it hooked; a second pair of legs to run back the four miles from the end of the parking lot to the secretary’s booth to get your number in time for dressage.

It would be nice to have someone in the passenger seat, who would bring cookies and hot coffee along, not need to stop to go to the bathroom at the world’s dirtiest truck stop, or want to disappear the instant you pull onto the show grounds. Just someone along for moral support. Who could warn you when you are about to swear at the organizer for blocking your parking spot.

A person however inexperienced, who could say things like, “that safety vest bulletproof?” and, “does the horse actually jump THAT high?” And other confidence-producing masterpieces of psychological support. A person who does not worry or make you anxious unless they really think it is critical that a braid that fell out gets immediately redone even if the dressage judge is madly ringing the bell for you to enter. A person whose sum total of support consists of keeping the truck passenger seat warm all day. A person who drops your phone in the water bucket as pretty much the first task they complete upon arrival at the show grounds. Yes, these are the people we think we need.

So instead of begging, we just are so stubborn and “focused” we just decide we can go it alone. Don’t need no stinkin’ help. And off we go into the sunrise, ready to do what it takes to be a Sole Survivor. Do you have what it takes? Can you do it all by yourself? Be a proud member of the Event Alone Club, join us in our suffering and discover the truth about eventing — that it’s really a lot easier to (kidnap) bring along friends!

Take Good Care of Your Jumps! A Few Tips for Safety and Economy

Jump course winter creativity! Photo by Holly Covey.

Everybody’s got jumps — but are you taking care of them correctly?

Sounds crazy, because jumps take a beating on a daily basis in most event barns, but there are some things you can do to help keep your jump course alive and well for years of use.

To begin with, most barns that have a great set of jumps start with high quality obstacles. It doesn’t matter if you get a nice set of wooden jumps or vinyl, if they are well made and properly constructed of good materials, they should last if you are careful how you treat them.

For wooden jumps, in the east, it’s usually a good idea to look for pressure-treated wood components that touch the ground. They tend to last a bit longer and are more resistant to moisture and subsequent rot. But eventually everything gets some disintegration going, especially if they are outside or stored with ground contact.

When standards get loose feet, they are even more subject to damage; so when your standards start to become wobbly, it’s best to get them repaired or replaced. When a standard does not hold a rail securely, your horse doesn’t get a fair shake at making a proper effort over the jump; a tippy standard can come down with just a light tap, taking with it any other components of the jump and causing an unneeded crash.

With the price of lumber skyrocketing, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your wooden jumps are carefully stored for the winter if they are not being used. If you can put them inside — great. If there’s no storage indoors, they will keep alright outside, but the key is to get them off the ground, by putting some scrap lumber underneath of your stack, or some pallets. Then cover them securely. In most climates this will be okay for a few cold months.

If you bring your outside jumps into the indoor for the winter, now’s the time to check over all of the joints, the feet of the standards, check for splinters and cracks on the rails, etc. Your friend is some Number 50 coarse grit sand paper to smooth the chips and splinters, and a cordless drill with some wood screws in 4-inch or longer length.

To help loose feet stay tighter, you can place a few screws in your feet to hold them until you can get them repaired or replaced, but new screws won’t hold old, rotten wood.  Make certain you are screwing from good wood into good wood; if any part of the sharp end of the screw is visible, back it out and reset it to avoid it cutting someone’s hand when they pick it up.

Winter isn’t really the time to repaint — and here’s why. Most good quality exterior paint has temperature parameters. Any colder than the recommended temperature, and the paint just won’t seal, and it is hard to get it to dry evenly, too. So wait for warmer temperatures for painting — if you have peeling paint and really want to see fresh paint on your jumps, you can sand them a bit to smooth out the surface until you get a warm enough day.

Things that are split or broken shouldn’t be used, and you’re smart to replace them or set them outside the ring, so a horse isn’t injured on them. Especially in a smaller indoor arena, there is usually less space to avoid a jump if a horse is wrong to it. Be careful that things are safely set so there is room for a horse to go past without getting caught on a cup edge or standard foot. This isn’t always possible but some trainers use their shortest rails to keep the jump widths small and then they fit better in the arena.

If there is one thing that really wrecks a set of jumps, it’s dragging them — anywhere. Always try to carry your standards when you move them, rather than drag them, even if it’s just a couple of feet.  Yes, this is often hard to do, but it will save your investment!

When I pick up a standard, I tip it slightly to get a hand under a foot, then swing it over and carry it off the ground with both hands near the base. Use gloves so you don’t pick up a splinter. That method works for most schooling standards (single standards) or light wing standards. If your standards are too heavy to lift, cut them down, or consider using schooling standards and not wing standards for some jumps and exercises at home. Even vinyl standards should be lifted to be moved; it’s safer for the jumps’ integrity. Jumps are heavy — lift carefully. Those of you who jump really big stuff have to use the 6-ft. standards and I feel for you!

A little side note here. If you have jumps that so heavy or large in size that you find you aren’t using them much, because they are hard to move — do something about it. Make them smaller, retrofit their size, cut them in half, or sell them to a big strong person! Your jumps need to work for you.

When you move boxes, do it with help so that each end is lifted the same and not dragged or slid over the ground. This loosens the screws in the box sides, helps the plywood to splinter away from the frame, and makes it unlevel when you place it under a jump. If you don’t have help, lift it and carefully tip it on it’s end, then bear hug it to carry it — this works with small quarter and half rounds, boxes and walls that are under about 2 feet in height. I’m a little taller than 5-ft. and I can carry many jump components like this. Bigger obstacles will need two people to carry to avoid damage. And if your stuff is too heavy to lift and move, get rid of it and get lighter things that work better for you! Life is too short!

Stack jumps carefully when you move them. Photo by Holly Covey.

It’s better if you are moving walls and boxes by vehicle to turn them on their tops. It keeps the frames tighter, and if you use a moving blanket it won’t scratch the tops. When you slide a box on the open bottom, it can just cause wear and tear on the frame and screws that hold the outer to the inner. If you an aqueduct wall with an arched center, tip them on the tops while transporting. But don’t store them upside down — that allows any moisture to get inside. Instead, put them back on their feet and cover them securely.

Poles are the hardest to keep pristine, because they get so much use. They are constantly in the dirt, either as ground lines or when a jump is taken apart for flat work. I try to keep my good poles up off the ground if I am not using them, but it’s hard to do, as I’m always wanting them down for trot poles, etc. So when you know you are not going to use a pole, set it up so it’s secure and in a safe place where it won’t fall on someone, off the ground, and under cover if possible. Remove those you are not using to a safe spot outside the arena. Stepping on a hidden rail on the ground, covered with dirt or grass, has turned many an ankle!

Carry jump rails from the middle of the rail; don’t drag them and don’t try to carry too many at once (too hard on your arms!) I try not to drop poles on their ends — it can split them. I think it also goes without saying that broken or split poles should not be used; not even for a ground line! A split pole is like a spear, it’s really dangerous around the feet of a jumping horse. Instead, set them safely aside, and some day when you have the time, take out your saw and trim away the broken ends to have a good shortened “skinny” pole — usually 6-ft. is a good useful length. Sand the raw edge a little to prevent splintering and voila, you have a new skinny jump rail. Lastly, keep your poles or rails painted and sealed because they take so much abuse and are often in the dirt. I sometimes use a clear sealant over paint just to try and keep the color to last a bit longer. I repaint my rails about every two years in my climate, and my jumps are outdoors.

I remove the flowers from my boxes and the floral decorations in winter. The wind blows them around and I don’t want to chase after them. They get dusty and tired looking in an indoor if not periodically washed off and let’s face it, it’s hard to wash anything in the dead of winter. So I remove them to an empty feed sack (a bit stiffer than a plastic garbage bag and keeps the flower stems from being smushed) and store for spring. Instead, I’ll use fun things like old Christmas trees (work great for filler under jumps) which often last a few months. Or painted wooden fillers, even some large goose decoys! Anything that is safe and a bit more weather resistant, and heavy enough to withstand winter winds and precipitation.

Jumps are expensive and an important investment to your business. It makes sense to be careful how you move them and store them to keep them working for you for many years to come.


2018 in Pictures: A Year of Ups and Downs

My year in eventing, in photos. I’m bringing you all along for the ride. We had some triumphs, we had some setbacks, and we had some fun. Take a look!

In the spring, we had mud. I got the tractor epic-stuck here near my back field.

When I finally got to compete through the raindrops, things went well at this schooling horse trial while I waited for better weather to spend more money to enter the recognized horse trials.

Conditioning was a struggle — here Hamish eyes my “Stifle Mountain,” a mound of dirt to walk up and down, that we created on my flat ground.

Fundraising for the Young Riders of Area II paid off this year — we had a Dream Team in the 2* at the North American championships in July who won gold. So excited when I got my Eventing Magazine, I stopped in the backyard and photographed the cover of the kids and shared it on Facebook before I got in the house after work.

Lucky made a last attempt at eventing, here pictured at Fair Hill, but we had a bad moment cross-country schooling at Windurra later that month and decided not to event any more. He was much happier. A major plan change for him!

Guess where I went in September! It was amazing at WEG — up the hill to the rocks — had a great time on the cross country course meeting people from all over the world, and finished off the day with a generous pickup truck ride up the hill from the course builder and course designer.

Lost my sweet old dog this year. He was with us from 6 weeks to his 16th year.




A new volunteer tent at Fair Hill was so much fun!

Fair Hill’s footing was perfect and the weather was awesome.

Lucky re-routed to dressage and lo and behold he found his niche. Winning First Level Team at the PVDA Chapter Challenge show in November (Team-mates Mogie Bearden-Muller on the left and Brooke Baker in the middle)

Last fun of the year was a superb clinic at Kealani Farm in Cochranville, PA, with Olympic three-day team rider Joseph Murphy.

Notches in Your Eventing Belt

Riding alone. Photo by Holly Covey.

There are a few things eventers should have under their belts. Experiences that shape you, make you, test you and confirm you really want to do this sport. Here are a few — how many notches do you have in YOUR eventing belt? Add a few more from the list in 2019!

1. The number of horses and riders you should sit and watch jump the same cross country fence: 100. We call this being a Jump Judge, and you do it when you volunteer at an event. I don’t think anyone can call themselves an eventer until they have performed this rite of passage. And 100 is a minimum.

2. The number of sunburns you will get in your lifetime while doing Number 1: four.

3. Audit an entire clinic with an Olympic rider in a hurricane, heat wave, snow storm or flood. There is something about nasty weather that makes toughing out an educational event beyond crazy to truly insane. As soon as it is clear we are ALL pretty much all insane, the experience will change you.

4. Compete in pouring rain. If you’ve done it you know what I mean. If you haven’t, and you stick with this sport, you will.

5. Lose badly … by doing something dumb. If you’ve done it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, and you stick with this sport, you will.

6. Win something. No matter whether it’s small, or large. An eventing win is like nothing else in sport. It’s a terrific high because so many horrific lows push you down. Savor these like the notable life experiences they are.

7. Experience maddening frustration. Lost shoes. Lameness. Forgetting your course. Missing a cross-country fence. Forgetting something. Not speaking up when something is wrong. Maxing out a credit card for fuel to get home and not having any money for food.

8. Find two lucky packages of stale crackers in the truck console to eat when you have no money, are starving and have a long drive home from an event.

9. Riding alone, keeping the faith, eye on the prize, feeling sore or tired or alone and unmotivated — yet tacking up anyway. Every day.

10. Using duct tape for everything.

11. Using haystring for everything else.

12. Loving your horse more than anything and doing everything for them you can think of. Including buying new tack and horse blankets when your boots have holes in them.

13. Watching every big event online from the first horse to the last.

14. Going to Rolex every year. And not being able to say, “Kentucky.”

15. Being the best horseman in the room.

16. Being the most humble rider in the lesson.

17. Being the hardest worker in the barn.

18. Paying attention, reading the rule book, respecting officials and making it a habit to be polite and friendly to everyone at every event you attend, riding or not.

19. Understand the horse as a partner, and be able to sell them on when they don’t have fun doing eventing.

20. Make a young horse.

21. Keep an old horse going well.

22. Provide leadership to a young rider.

What’s on your list? Share your experiences! What do you think makes an eventer?

Hey Mojo … Where Are You?

What mojo looks like at the end of the year. Photo by Holly Covey What mojo looks like at the end of the year. Photo by Holly Covey

What mojo looks like at the end of the year. Photo by Holly Covey.

In keeping with the theme of New Orleans, let’s talk about the mystery of mojo.

So when we talk about “mojo,” I think we are talking spirits, endeavors, emotions, ambitions, and forms of non-thinking activity. Does that cover riding jumping horses well? I think it does.

We get the mojo when we first dream of riding a horse; then we want to ride a horse over jumps; then we want to compete; then we want to win; then we want to get on a team; then we want to win with the team. That’s sort of an unhealthy progression of “wants,” but it is fairly accurate if you know anything about eventing or grand prix dressage or jumping, that is, competing horses at the highest levels.

Those who are most successful probably have the greatest amount of mojo flowing for them in the best most advantageous direction; but alas, for the vast unwashed horde of the REST of us, mojo is a fickle mistress.

Half the time, we don’t recognize when the mojo is flowing our way; we’re halfway through the greatest cross-country course of our lives before we realize we’ve jumped all the obstacles so far basically in stride and had no scary short ones yet. The other half of the time we spend anxiously awaiting the mojo to arrive, after six chips in a row in the Novice show jumping round that your husband finally showed up to view.

Mojo and me have a tricky relationship. I need it and hope it sticks around when it drops by, but it never seems to want to stay very long. I am jealous of my friends and others whose mojo is more consistent and much friendlier to them, who seem to be able to summon it when needed. These are the people who never fall off, whose leg looks like a queen’s, whose helmet is never dirtied, horse never misses a change, saddle pads always remain clean. I hate them.

Many people do not believe in spooks, or mojo, or the Easter Bunny, but I am here to testify that in my life, I have ridden horses that do believe. Unless you have super velcro butt saddles, you had better respect the believers that you sit on. They know mojo is alive and well, and lives in the corner of the indoor with the wheelbarrow and pitchfork. It does not matter that they have seen these a million times. Your horse believes, therefore, it lives and can pounce exactly when you are trying to improve your shoulder-in.

So mojo is the thing that makes the horse spook; well, not exactly. It’s more like the thing that doesn’t; it comes to calm and provide direction. Still not believing it? Ah ha. Well, there are convincing arguments in life for just about everything. I mean, just because someone tells a lie and everyone believes it doesn’t mean it is true. And, just because something is true, and no one believes it, doesn’t mean it isn’t truth. Mojo is like that. It’s true even if you don’t believe.

It’s enough for me that my horses believe in it. I’ll trust them to judge it, I’ll take it when it comes, I’ll try to get it to stick around a bit more. Perhaps mojo is just really hard work in disguise. Yah, that’s it. I’ll bake it some Christmas cookies, leave a stocking out full of goodies for it, and pay it respect; maybe that will help. That, and two-pointing without stirrups three times around the ring. That makes mojo happy. All the ribbons and awards, and pictures and applause — just a way of acknowledging mojo stuck with you for the year because you worked pretty hard to keep it around. I think I’ve found the answer to the mystery of the universe. It’s a dirty saddle pad and sore legs, isn’t it?

Go eventing.

Conquering the End of Season Blues: There’s Still Lots to Do!

We’ve almost come to the end of the 2018 eventing season. The frenzy of jump lessons, dressage practice, gallops and cross country schooling is almost done. So what’s left to do?

For one, you can take off your helmet, comb your hair, and make plans to attend your Area and local association meetings, which usually take place at the end of the year. Most groups need input and welcome any member to attend. Even if you don’t think you will be needed, it’s still fun to enjoy each other’s company, sit down without worrying about leaving a horse in the trailer, and think about the future.

There are still a few more recognized events to be held — Area III has dates right up to December 1 and then the year starts up again in January. Maryland, California and Texas see their last events in mid-November. But for the rest of us, it’s pretty much the end of our official eventing season.

The sad part of this: a fit horse and no place to run! So find a few things to keep you and your Event Horse ticking over.

The indoor schooling shows will begin soon if you are in a northern clime — these are wonderful for brushing up on dressage and jumping. Look around online at your local hunter/jumper circuit or dressage circuit, check through the calendars of your area CTA, dressage association, or Pony Club — chances are schooling shows are listed that might fit in with your plans to keep up your training.

You can take a look at the start of the 2019 eventing calendar online at — just scroll down under the 2018 dates and the 2019 events will be listed.

Don’t forget “No-Stirrup November.” If you’re going to improve your riding, schooling without stirrups is a great way to get better. In our area we have a trainer who is offering “No-Stirrup” lesson specials — or get together with friends and practice together.

Hunting and rides with friends. Photo courtesy of Holly Covey.

Fall is traditionally a great time to get out and do paper chases, foxhunting, or trail rides — no bugs, footing is soft, and it’s fun to ride with others. Your horse will enjoy the change in scenery, too, from the pressure of competing. Do you have a friend who keeps asking you to come along on a trail ride or go cubbing (young hound foxhunt)? Now’s the time to do it!

Why not do a deep clean of your tack room? Take a good look at your tack and check over the reins, cheekpieces, and stirrup leathers while you’re at it. Look at all your billets high up underneath the flap, too, and check your girth buckles. Sometimes in the hurry-scurry of the season we miss cracks and worn places, and just a quick check can save you a bad fall if your girth or billet breaks at a crucial moment.

If you’re done for the year, consider sending your coats to the cleaners, and check all your helmets — take off the covers, look over the shells, check the buckles and harnesses. Just a look-over won’t hurt, and if you see anything that concerns you, take it to your local tack shop or helmet sales professional and have it checked out. You just can’t play around with a faulty helmet.

I usually take stock of my jumps, too. I pick up and put away the flowers and blow-away things, like cones, and store most of the dressage arena away. I will keep out the corners, just in case I want to practice figures to get them the correct size, but I anchor them with cement blocks so I don’t have to go over to the neighbor’s to pick them up after the next storm blows through.

Fall — time to put away jumps for the winter. Photo by Holly Covey.

Any jumps that need work I pull out of the ring, put in the workshop, and keep for a rainy day to repair or replace. In my climate, I can jump almost all winter, so I don’t remove all of my jumps, but I will stack poles and standards I don’t need in a dry place to keep them from splitting in wet and cold weather.

If you’ve parked your trailer for the winter, it’s a good time to check over the tires, wheels, brakes, hitch, roof, doors and windows. Fix anything needing it, make sure the openings shut tightly to keep out moisture in the winter. Check the spare, too.

If you work out of your trailer’s tack room, now is the time to de-clutter it, throw out all the old envelopes from the season’s events, and vacuum the floor, gooseneck, and corners; remove anything susceptible to moisture or cold, like tack, clothes, grooming equipment or products, and blankets. I usually put some dryer sheets in my trailer tack room to prevent pests, and keep it fresh after I’ve cleaned it. I still use my trailer in the winter but I don’t need to keep quite as much stuff in it when going to lessons or schooling shows, so I don’t close it up or park it.

Hopefully by now you’ve taken advantage of all the pre-season blanket sales and picked up a full wardrobe for every Event Horse in your barn (like my Event Horse — he has more clothes than I do). My local blanket cleaning/repair lady does an incredible job on waterproofing and repairing rips and these additions to the cleaning bill are always a good bargain in my experience — they prolong the life of an expensive turnout blanket and keep your horse from being damp.

Winter riding. Photo by Holly Covey.

I always get right to the point in coat hair growth that I say, “golly, I think it’s gonna take three hours to dry this horse off,” before I finally drag out the clippers. I hope to get to the clipping earlier this year! Some people love clipping, some hate it. Judging by the number of bids I put in on the donated body clips to the fundraising auctions, I’m in the latter category. Really, I don’t hate clipping; clipping hates me. So I compromise with just a hunter clip or bib clip on my hairiest Event Horse if I can’t find the time for a full on body clip.

The end of the season has important tasks, but one of the most important is to take a break from the training and enjoy a quiet fall ride, reconnect with your horses, take the time to think and reflect on the season’s ups and downs.

Keep working, keep trying, keep training with an eye toward the big picture. You might have had some disappointments this year, and maybe some triumphs. Savor the season’s results — all of them — and don’t worry about next season quite yet. There is time. You will get there.

Go eventing.

Fall … end of season blues. Photo by Holly Covey.




This Year at Fair Hill: A Glimpse Behind the Scenes

Photo courtesy of Holly Covey.

I have a friend who entered a dressage show on the same day as cross country day at Fair Hill, and I was shocked. Who would do that? Then I realized; there is a whole ‘nother world out there that does not think Fair Hill International is the most important event on the planet. Geez. Who knew?

It is said that the road to Kentucky goes down Gallaher Road. That’s for the competitors. I think for volunteers, our best time of the year also goes down Gallaher Road, too.

My oldest volunteer pin is from 2002. That for sure puts me in at 16 straight years of living and dying on that piece of gorgeous land at the corner of Gallaher Road and Elk Chapel Road in northern Maryland, but I also go back a few years before that. We think that I have been helping with the cross country course about 20 years. Wow, that is hard to type.

This year’s Fair Hill International renewal is now in its 30th year. While those of us who have come to know this event as our “home” international CCI feel like we have accomplished something, really, it’s not ours. It’s everyone’s.

There are people I’ve never met at Fair Hill who have worked hard every year doing something you and I don’t know about, but they are there. Every year I volunteer, I meet someone for the first time and we swap war stories about how many years we’ve been doing it and the Monsoon Year and other fun memories.

Not every job has been glamorous and gotten a photo on EN. Lots of jobs that go completely unheralded in putting on a great CCI and sporting event in the country are terribly difficult.

There are trash people and parking people. There are people who cook food for the volunteers long before a horse arrives to feed us while we work desperately on setting up. There are people who just run around on gaters and golf carts doing whatever. I am very envious of those people!

There are people who unhook their trucks from their horse trailers and go get cornstalks and mums and equipment and tables and chairs and set it all up. And have the time while doing their job to help others with questions, answer emails, make phone calls, straighten out problems and direct sponsors to their booth space.

There are people who spend hours on the phone months in advance getting sponsors, collecting checks, doing bookwork, accounting, advertising, and other minute detailed paperwork involved in an international sporting event.

These folks of course are all volunteers (most of them anyway) and love what they do. But they all have lives and kids and houses and jobs, too. And some have horses that still need feeding and stall cleaning and riding. At home. That other place you go to sleep and find clean clothes.

While we as volunteers are delighted to return year after year, we also know the importance of bringing in others to help and learn the essential jobs. Creating a family and experience goes that way. We have fun, too, in the midst of all that work. We’ve learned that if we didn’t, it made it hard to justify the time and attention. We all look at each other on Tuesday and compare the energy levels — pretty darn low.

Then … trailers with big logos come rumbling down Gallaher Road, horses start arriving, and riders start walking in, and trainers, and all the luminaries of the sport, and and we’re energized. They’re here! It’s starting!

While we don’t know how things will work in the new location, scheduled for 2020, right now and for next year we will continue at the Gallaher Road location for the CCI2* and CCI3*. As the FEI changes and moves its rules and proposals forward, we as volunteers are at the lowest end of the food chain. We follow as ordered.

But we are darn sure going to have a good time doing it! And our world, the third weekend in October, will always go down Gallaher Road and stop at a place we love to enjoy together. See you there!