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Holly Covey


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You Might Be a ‘Senior’ Eventer If …

Takes your breath away to unzip the half chaps?

You might be a senior eventer.

Senior Eventer in action.

Decide, “what the hell,” and go out cross country schooling even though you haven’t galloped in two months?

Wake up the next morning with a completely jacked up back, hips and shoulders?

Trust your horse to see the ditch? Didn’t pack a spare cartridge for your air vest?

Yep, you’re a senior eventer.

If it’s a crisis when you forget the three-step mounting block, you might be a senior eventer.

Can’t get your leg up and over the front of the flap to tighten your girth, and just let it be loose?

If you worry about your hairnet hole showing your grey hairs….

When your arthritis makes you drop your reins instead of adjusting them during the dressage test, and you get a “disorganized” comment from the judge….

Sent the horse trial secretary a Corporate Lawyer letter, but realized after you pressed “send” that you forgot it to enter on Tuesday….

When buying a new truck, deciding factor the height of the step into the driver’s seat?

You might be a senior eventer.

Know all the judges, the TD, the volunteer coordinator and the organizer at the horse trial from the time they were kids, and most of the riders from when they were still in their mommy’s womb? You might be a senior eventer.

Realize knowing everyone at the horse trial won’t help you remember the course….

Dismayed with 3:30 p.m. dressage time because it cuts into your afternoon nap time?

When you look at the photographers’ proofs online and hope no one else is looking at your decrepit form over a jump….

Can’t bear the thought of a new saddle? You might be a senior eventer.

Would rather use duct tape on your boots than get a new pair to avoid new boot blisters? Always looking for the really stretchy riding breeches? Use the horse’s special magnetic blanket on you? Wrap the “Back On Track” therapeutic wraps on your own leg or arm? You might be a senior eventer.

Click “like” on the meme that says “Age is just a number,” but reach for your handy Grip’n Grab trash picker to get the phone you just dropped?

Realize the bridle you are using is over 30 years old and could fall apart at any minute?Can’t even remember the last time you bought a new bridle? Shocked when you see the price of a new bridle, as it appears to be three times what you paid for the old one? You might be a senior eventer…

Consider hooking up the horse trailer both an aerobic exercise session, and a hot yoga workout all in one?

Forget and call the USEA the USCTA? Remember penalty zones, think you can keep going if you fall off, and still call it stadium jumping? You might be a really senior eventer!

Consider duct tape, haystring, and Super Glue the basics of life?

Have a deep and abiding appreciation for both coffee and bourbon? Sometimes both at the same time?

Save your old Rolex programs but throw out your children’s baby pictures? You might be a senior eventer.




Know Your Cross Country Obstacles, Part 2

In our first installment of Know Your Cross Country Obstacles, Holly Covey walked us through tables and fences with height/width. In this second installment, let’s look at obstacles today that differ from the classic tables. All photos, unless noted otherwise, are by Holly Covey.

Logs and Their Variations

There is not a course designer alive that doesn’t drool with delight to find a large fallen tree down out in the field! They can’t wait to get their chainsaw out and make jumps. Horses get logs. They are the most logical thing in the world for them to jump. As a rider I kind of like a great big ol’ log too, because I know the horse knows what do when I gallop up to it.




This is a portable jump incorporating a log, and you can see other portables of varying height in the background also using logs. It simulates a natural “hanging” log in this fashion but the base gives a pushed out ground line so a horse doesn’t get a foot caught under the log.




An elevated log. If this were in a competition, the decorator would probably create a ground line with straw, pine needles, mulch and flowers, or a single, centered take off spot and matching decor on the braces on each side, which is a more modern way of dressing such a beautiful natural obstacle. You could make it very fancy with flower pots across the front or big heap of straw or a big mulch flower bed – or something very simple such as the discarded trim piece from the end of the log, a shorter chunk set on its flat side right in the middle.


This is an elevated log, but made more difficult by being narrow, and here set at the edge of a down slope. The designer allows the air under the log, and here has added a ground rail, so the horse sees that the landing is downhill. The decorator will give the horse a focal point but won’t completely fill the air under the log so there is a way to peek through. This is the kind of obstacle a designer would use in front of water or a ditch or anything that might be requiring tricky footwork upon landing – it gives the horse a way to see what is coming.


A solid log does the opposite – hides what is coming up, so it requires a horse that trusts the rider and is confident they can handle whatever they can’t see on landing. This is a nice log into water here at Preliminary. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the narrow width here, either.

Even though logs technically appear to have a “false” ground line to us, the horses read them well generally, but it is still important to block them as is shown here for safety, and to prevent it from being dislodged if hit hard.

When you don’t have great big logs, you can use your smaller ones to make classic oxers. Today, our open oxers, like these shown here at Advanced, are all set with frangible technology. If a serious mistake is made, and the force triggers the right amount of pressure on the devices, the logs drop down allowing the horse to literally put its feet on the ground and scramble away without injury. I think the technology is just amazing today and am grateful these are being implemented now on all open oxers above Training level.


Feeders and Cabins

Here are two “pheasant feeder”  or “lamb’s creep” feeder type obstacles. They are so named this because they have a top and a bottom platform but are not solid in between. The rounded top feeder shown here at Training level was raised in the back to provide a more visible height line to the horse.





Here is another version of the pheasant feeder or creep feeder design, this one is more Novice level and has an A-shaped top, much like a coop, but is open in the middle with the base pushed out to make the horse take off correctly.

They are called “feeder” because livestock feed is placed under the “roof” to keep it from being exposed to the elements, and the platform keeps the feed off the ground so the animals can eat it easily. A “creep” was designed so the youngest animals could creep or crawl in and eat without the bigger mature animals being able to reach in and take the feed away. Farmers could feed the young ones without separating a herd in a field where they were all kept together. Creeps often stood out in field on their own and made great jumps if you were galloping about the countryside. It’s an old fashioned sort of obstacle that evolved from very old farming traditions.


This is a hay rack. It’s a table top, with rounded front, but spaces and sometimes even slats that go inward toward a framed platform. Here the decorator has piled hay into the hayrack, and allowed it to spill out in front of the top spread so the horse takes off properly away from the top edge. Hayracks without much at the bottom tend to present a false ground line to a horse so most designers ask the decorators to “do something” with the front. Note they have also painted the top in a contrasting color to further define the width and height. This is another jump that evolved from agricultural traditions. Learn more about cabins, houses, and barn jumps in the first installment here.


A ramp jump is literally half of a coop that evolved from foxhunting traditions. Coops were made with slanted sides and usually “cooped” or covered over undesirable things at the edges of fields, like wire fence. Some feel they were the original free-range chicken and barnyard fowl enclosures, too, and also provided safe havens for other desirable critters a farmer wanted to shelter. Coops are often built over a section of fence that the hunt field can jump in either direction – in the field, or out of the field – in order to follow hounds across the country.  Because we don’t jump obstacles backwards, we don’t need to do full coops in eventing. It’s less expensive to build and use a ramp instead (only one side needs to be constructed). Unlike a coop, ramps are meant to be jumped only in one direction. They have one sloping front side, generally no top, and may be open in the back. Pictured is a Novice ramp with a nice wide face, simple classic design.


A palisade is basically a ramp or slanted face jump and can be made with a ditch in front of it. A Weldon’s Wall is technically a palisade – basically a ramp, too.

This wall has been made more substantial with the addition of brush on the top, and at the edge of the ditch in front. You can see the face slants back. This is an Advanced presentation here.




Beautiful ramps of natural slab wood. The designer and decorator coordinated on placing the greenery at the base and sides to contrast with the ground, so the horse can see a clear take off line. It doesn’t really matter what you use as long as it contrasts – here it is just simple brush stems and branches.



Other Interesting Jumps

This is a hammock jump. Hammocks are suspended tables usually framed with trees on the sides or with the large logs as shown here. They are very air-centric – note all the space under the jump. This hammock is very wide, that is why the decorator put lots of big stickup flowers and the boxes as the ground line, and giant pillows on the top, to give perspective to the width. Like a hayrack, they need a big obvious ground line, or the horse can misjudge the width. A hammock is primarily an upper level question.


Brushed obstacles often are wonderful things to jump, like logs, the horses get brush and usually jump them well.

Brush turns a vertical into a palisade, basically. The front of this jump, below the peeled log, is called the skirt, where it slants outward. It is further made safer with the pushed out ground line, the log, which you can see at the base. This was set at the top of a road crossing and had a steep drop on the landing side. The designer wanted to ask the horse to trust the rider here and land where he couldn’t see the drop, then cross the road.


Talented course builders make some incredibly beautiful pictures with the creative way they can trim brush. I included this brushed jump from Kentucky – you can clearly see from the trodden grass which side riders were walking and intending to jump!




More brush jumps.  These are placed at the entrance to a water jump. They are intermediate and advanced, with the second obstacles, the chevrons, you can see coming up as the next obstacles across the pond.


Narrow Obstacles

This is a side view of an Advanced wedge or chevron. It is narrow and small in the front, wider and higher in the back. The brush increases the height but is forgiving should the horse drag a leg.





This narrow log oxer is quite slim and for safety, frangible.







Photo by Laura Rayne

How’s this for skinny? This was at Blenheim in England. A log wedge.








Photo by Laura Rayne

Another Blenheim wedge. Pretty thick and tall with the brush but it is angled and the natural brush is trimmed and spaced so the horse reads the length and effort.







Chevrons or sometimes called Shark’s Teeth. Pictured here in the classic V shape, with the top wide and the bottom going down to a point. They are basically ramps, with cutouts. This is a double chevron, approximately training level here, as it is narrow and tall. These are found also from Starter on up, as they teach a horse to look for the top and bottom of a jump.




A triple – another chevron set at Novice level here. These type of jumps teach a horse to seek the ground line for information about how to jump the fence, and also help a rider practice holding a line to a jump.

Even as a schooling obstacle, it should have some filler of some kind in the open spaces to prevent a horse from thinking they can leave a foot in the opening. In competition, we would decorate this with some potted plants that had some height in the spaces, taking care they were not so high they covered the top rail, but bushy enough to fill the empty spaces and prevent a galloping horse from thinking it was not a jump.

This is a tiger trap. While it is similar to the chevron type jump it is often presented with a ditch underneath, or with a larger ground line. Again it mimics a ramp but cuts out the solid face, making a horse look carefully to see how big it is.

Tiger traps should be decorated so the horse sees a ground line and the back rail. Sometimes brush or trees are placed in the V- to prevent the horse from jumping into the open spaces. You want to jump the “A”, not the “V”, as I was told.

More jumps, next!

What Do We Do? How Do We Help? What Can We Change?

We must include everyone. Photo by Holly Covey

I’ve been walking around saying this for a couple of weeks, and I think it is starting to sink in. It’s not that we have to go knock on our black neighbor’s door and ask them, “What can I do?” That, in itself, is a defeat of everything this anti-racism movement stands for. With thought, I think, you can find the answers to “what can I do?” in your heart.

So here’s mine.

If you are a part of the world, you know what is going on at the moment does relate to our sport of eventing, and to horse sports in general. We know we are primarily perceived as a white, upper middle class or above endeavor. And we have to change that. We have to.

A friend said it best: assuming someone is what they are not, could be the root of all of this. Don’t assume someone ISN’T a rider, trainer, or owner. Don’t assume they are always grooms or support staff. Open your eyes and see a human being. My blacksmith added this wisdom: “There are a lot of people in the horse world that are stuck up.”

So how do we train ourselves to change? I don’t have all the answers and am no expert, I’m just old and been around a while. Here’s a few thoughts swirling around my head on how change can be made that could be meaningful. I am sure others have more, better thoughts — but I’m brave enough to write them down for you — and sure do welcome more ideas and correction of any of my bad ideas.

I would say first: support youth.

Our young riders are our saving grace. The attitudes and thinking of kids 17 years old takes my breath away. Area II Young Rider Macy Beach marched in a BLM protest in Georgetown, DE, the day before she competed at Plantation Field Horse Trials in a JYOP division. Check out the editorial written by young hunter rider Sophie Gochman. There are lots more kids out there speaking, writing, marching and changing their worlds. They can and are doing it. Just follow their lead!

If you are in this sport and don’t know how you can help, start by supporting your Area Young Rider groups. Volunteer to assist with fundraisers, help coordinate camps, give support by donating something, offer time, funds, publicity, whatever is needed. Youth will change the world. They will change you.

Second: doorkeeping needs to change. My second suggestion is to those in leadership – when someone offers, welcome it with humility and a smile – not with a straight face and dismissive attitude. Let go of the superiority. Bring more into your fold. Stop the ever-so-slight unwelcoming look, the reserved superiority, the whispered comments behind the back, the groupthink that is, right now, unraveling a civil nation. We in horse sport are not as integrated as we should be. We are not as inclusive as we should be. Those are facts and we ignore them at the risk of losing the whole shebang. Time for that to change.

We in horse sports have to get a lot better at inclusion. In a hurry.

Be fair in all your dealings with anyone, treat all the same. This is hard to say and harder to do. I am in awe, on a regular basis, of the leaders and officials at events in our sport with long experience at doing this. We do have some incredible people who are super examples of how to behave and treat groups and competitors in sport. They are often under pressure by the parents, the riders, the trainers who are always interested only in one outcome, and I’ve watched their skill and patience in treating everyone as equally as possible.

These are our officials, our judges, and our technical delegates, and organizers. I trust many of them to the end of the earth. Because they travel, and judge, and make decisions that affect people they don’t know, they are well trained, experienced and interpreting rules and reading situations. They know a welcoming attitude saves the day, especially when you are short a couple of jump judges on cross-country day. I hold our sport’s officials in very high esteem — and expect them to embody fairness and inclusion at every event, without exception. Yes, that’s a high standard — but knowing the kind of people we’ve got in this sport, it’s doable.

I urge you to spend some time with eventing judges, TDs, organizers. Most of this class in eventing has long ago learned to practice the art of inclusion, because they know it takes a whole village to put on an event, and every single person is of value.

Third: change your behavior. Rudeness is just not welcome any more in business, in play, in sport. Parents – your kid is here to learn. Trainers – your students are here to learn. Owners – your horse is here to learn. These opportunities are not “paid for” by your entry fee – far from it. And no matter how “hard your (kid, trainer, horse) has worked to “get there”, you don’t have a right to demean, dismiss, or denigrate someone else in this sport who is there from the goodness of their heart to make your event better. Questioning those who are giving time, money and energy to making sure you have an event to go to is part of the entitlement culture, and it’s a small step from there to the bias culture. There is a dearth of the big picture view sometimes. I’m not perfect and I’m going to make manners a real goal.

Fourth: change your perspective by volunteering. Our sport’s volunteer culture has changed in the last few years and that is due to some really heavy lifting by some pretty savvy people at the top of the sport all the way to very smallest event. Volunteerism is a huge gateway to eventing, and the more support that is given for volunteers, the more we include all in our love. Volunteers make a difference. They are our lifeblood. If you can, volunteer. If you can, help coordinate volunteers. If you can, support volunteers at your local event in any way possible. If you are a trainer, rider or coach, you need to volunteer once a year at minimum. Because you have to see the sport from someone else’s view to appreciate it fully. We have come a long way since I was condescendingly branded by a sport leader as “oh, she’s JUST a volunteer” at a meeting. But it’s still there.

Here’s another thing we can do personally to effect change.

This one’s a little harder, but you personally can make a difference in your corner of the world. Do not just dismiss the racism and white superiority you see on your social media. While some say don’t get involved, I’d say pick your fights — but do call out the racists on your social media lists. At the very least, unfriend them or block them — but if you feel so moved, please explain that attitude does not have a place in your life or in your sport. Many people don’t want to engage, but if we all sit here on our hands and let it wash over us, and allow these attitudes to perpetuate, we will continue to suffer as a nation and as a sport. Keep up the relentless, unending pressure to change attitudes. It’s a narrative that we can change. Don’t be afraid to speak. Words matter.

I have been incredibly affected by the words Gamal Awad has written on Facebook. He’s a Marine colonel, and husband of Canadian Olympian Hawley Bennett-Awad. And many others in positions to know intimately what this movement is about. I’ve also read the other sides, an incredibly tone-deaf public commentary by a hunter-jumper world luminary, that prompted me to think I should really write something. Because we are people and we live now in this world, not in some fantasy island.

I’m a talker. Because I can’t shut up, I’ve met some incredibly great people in this sport. I parked my horse trailer next Mogie Bearden-Muller at a Fair Hill event not long after she moved east from California, and next thing you know I organized a clinic and she was helping Adult Riders and she got me into learning about course design. I went to an Area meeting and met Cindy DePorter, who is an FEI judge and TD, judged all over the world, now running for office in her home county in North Carolina. Volunteering, I’ve met every organizer within 200 miles and whole lot of volunteers – from all walks of life. Surgeons. Truck drivers. Corporate lawyers. Veterinarians. Bartenders. Postal employees. Clerks, supervisors, photographers, nurses, doctors, prison guards, accountants (and I think I’ve even worked with a few secret service people but they couldn’t confirm or deny). People like this inspire me with their quality and fairness. I hope we never stop welcoming all of them. Every single one has value and is needed.

I am not a perfect person, and I don’t always get it right, but this thing, this inclusion and fairness stuff — we have to get that right. Are you starting to work on it today?

Start with openness. Talk to others. Include — really, include — everyone. Say “Hi”, chat, wave, smile. (Until you are a pest! I know, I am one.) Everyone can do that. Did you speak to someone at the back gate? Did you talk to the person who parked next to you? Did you wave at a non-friend? Did you thank a volunteer sincerely? How many times did you smile at a stranger today?

To welcome more people into the sport of eventing is my small, maybe insignificant idea that could be the way we can do our small part, to bring change to the larger question of inherent bias. If you do not feel we need to do this or to make any sort of change, no matter how small, respectfully — you’re part of the problem. Step aside, please, and allow this march to continue with purpose and peace. Go Eventing.

Marked Safe from Grass: The Founder Watch

I, Grassius. Photo by Holly Covey.

Ah, spring. The eternal wonders of beautiful warm weather, bright sunshine, blooming flowers … and bright, green, growing grass.

If you have a chunky monkey sort of horse who comes with a built-in vacuum appetite, you look around at spring time and admire the beauty. Then you go dig out the grass muzzle.

Event Horse has one of those “All In” appetites. His draft cross breeding gives him a handsome physique, corresponding workmanlike appetite, and the capacity to eat to oblivion — it’s a real contrast with the horses he is pastured among. Both the retired Standardbred racehorse and a large 17-hand Thoroughbred actually need the spring grass to cover their ribs after winter, but other than a little bit more rib fat, neither change much once the grass starts growing, and they don’t gorge like Event Horse.

So after a Kentucky Three-Day Event trip one year, I came home to a funny set of slightly puffy front pasterns, and immediately put Event Horse in front feet ice, called the vet, and cried. Because I knew what happened — it was the dreaded founder, or also known as laminitis. It’s not just a fat-pony disease!

Horses over age 10, easy keepers, or suffering from insulin resistance are especially susceptible to laminitis. This is a disease that pinpoints the sensitive laminae inside the hoof, causes a metabolic overload, and destroys the blood-rich sections of the laminae that connect the coffin bone to the hoof structure. As you can imagine, it’s extremely painful, dangerous to the future use of the horse, and hard to correct once the metabolic dominoes begin to fall. Catching it quickly and early is your only real hope, they say.

Grass, ordinary old grass, causes this. And here’s the reason. Most pastures have multiple varieties of grasses, some called cool season grasses that grow fast and early, and some warm season grasses that do better in hot summer. This is what keeps your pasture green for so many months.

What researchers have found is cool season grasses are built to grow fast and quick. When they take off in spring, they create a bit of danger when they store high levels of carbohydrates due to photosynthesis. The carb stored the most in spring is fructan, while later in the year, the carb most often stored is starch.

So the big concern is the early season grasses store the fructan, that the horses, like Event Horse, overdo on when spring grass gets wailing along. When we all get too much sugar, you know it can’t be good. And the process begins to get the susceptible horse into the laminitis pathway.

When the sugar overloads, naturally occurring insulin moves the excess sugar into the horses’ tissues for use by muscles, etc. Then in the case of sugar overload, insulin goes wacky, and blood flow to the hoof is increased and inflammation sets into the laminae.  The problem with this happening in the hoof is that this is a one-way vessel. The inflammation and disruption in the hoof makes for a very dangerous situation that can result in coffin bone rotation and permanent lameness. Eeek!

This is a real layman’s explanation, and I’ve oversimplified, but suffice it to say, if you value your event horse, you really do not want them to overdo on spring grass!

Let’s let the experts take it from here: 

So, back at the Home Turf, we were quite lucky to see on ex-ray of his front feet, that Event Horse was just in a very initial stage of threat, and continued icing and medication and complete stall rest with no grain and no grass for two weeks helped us to return him to soundness. I also changed his grass consumption habits at that time and will forever be cautious about his spring turnout and other over-indulgences that could open the pathways to laminitis again. I am ever vigilant.

I annually ex-ray him and we don’t see much in the way of changes, but I learned my lesson. Now each spring, I have a protocol for I, Grassius. He must go out only for a short time. He goes out early. He comes in early. He stays in barn more than the others. He is monitored with a weight tape. I try to keep him conditioning going to work off the excess carbs. We drop the grain. And … we apply the dreaded Grass Jail. I should write this in all caps, “GRASS JAIL,” as he refers to it.

Grass Jail is Event Horse’s word for the muzzle. It’s a good accessory for this problem, meant to limit the grass he intakes, at least, that’s the idea. Wearing it allows him the comfort of being with pals and turnout as usual in his favorite pasture, but keeps the actual amount he is eating limited. I bought it from a friend, used, but sturdy and clean. I went through the online ordered ones as Event Horse found them easily removeable and quite frail when he applied his classic jailbreak techniques.

These include rubbing it off on the side of the shed, scraping it along the ground, tossing his head extensively till it flies off into the sunset, and scratching it over his ears on the butts or sides of the two horses he is pastured with. And a few other techniques I haven’t been able to catalog. Just found the fractured muzzle forlornly sitting in the pasture, abandoned. Darn.

Muzzles are not the ideal situation because some horses learn to eat right through them very well, and gobble along making the best of it. Event Horse isn’t one of those. The muzzle makes him very sad. He can drink with it. But mostly he stands, shamed, waiting for me to come and take it off. He gives up.

He finds the muzzle I currently use to be extensively difficult to remove. It blows his mind. At first, he pawed. Then tried every trick he learned with lesser jails muzzles. He went to his friends and asked for their help (They were pretty neutral. I think it’s like, “you get so much more than we do, you’re on your own here, pal.”) He pawed some more. He went to drink some water. He drug it in the dirt afterwards, making a nice mud paddy in it to lick.

And other stuff, none of which really worked. He’s a smart horse but this one got him stumped. I’ve tried to coach him, by putting grass stems through the hole by the bottom, showing him how to do it. Nope. It’s just jail and I’m stuck in here.

The reason why is it fits well, it allows him to use his lips and mouth and jaw normally, but just can’t make big honking grass bites and this is hugely concerning to him. Stuffing his mouth is really his finest skill, and it hurts him in his heart (and stomach) not to be able to practice this particular way of eating each spring. He dreams of this all winter, I am sure. (With his nightmare being the Grass Jail muzzle.)

So we are here in deep spring, I writing this, looking out the window, to three horses on the spring pasture. Two are happily grazing. One is looking forlornly in the distance, dreaming of gobbling spring grass, and cursing at me inwardly while he awaits me to come and remove it. Not a chance, fatso!

This Old Bucket Has Stories To Tell

Photo by Holly Covey.

This old bucket … it has stories.

It has been across the nation twice, once in a horse trailer and once in a moving van. It has been under the muzzles of about 20 of my horses and a few more that I didn’t own but rode and loved. It has had a lot of use and abuse over its 30 year history.

As far as I can tell, it might be the world’s oldest water bucket, at least, it’s my world’s oldest. I bought it from a catalog and had it shipped to me when I was in California, keeping horses in Woodland Hills. It was stood on for braiding to compete at Moorpark and Ram Tap and traveled to Coconino and Lily Glen and hung in portable stalls and wooden polo pony pens and on pine fence rails with haystring looped over the handle.

Then it went back to the Northwest with me and met Cindy Burge in Washington and helped carry fencing tools when I helped her build the Deep Creek Horse Trials. It followed my horses as they shipped all over the west, and then when I moved east, it came along, too.

It went into a racing barn for a while and was used for all kinds of things — carrying water, grain, bandages, grooming tools, and then when we bought our place it helped create our farm.

The bucket held tools, and paint, and backbreaking rocks that were picked up by tired hands from the track and in the ring we built. It held jump cups when my jumps got built and set up. It held boots for the barnful of horses that were exercised every day in the barn when we were busy and full. It sat sentinel in the barn aisle as it held many things safely and proudly.

It got scratched a bit, and knocked around, and hoof oil spilled in it that was a real pain to get out. It accidentally got into the garbage can a couple of times, and I rescued it at least twice. It was lost for about a year in the tractor shed, half buried under an old pallet that I thought was on a half a cement block, and which held heavy round bales – and survived. It’s biggest injury was to its handle while sitting in the barn aisle.

Its big tough metal handle got run over by a hay wagon one day. It was bent almost in half, squeezing the bucket almost shut, and I was afraid it was a goner. I stopped unloading the hay, and tried to fix it by pulling the handle back out, but didn’t have quite enough strength to get it back the way it was.

When my boyfriend heard the sadness in my voice when I told him it was probably done, he went out to the barn in the night, after a very long hard working day, and turned on the barn lights and heated up the handle with a torch and put it on the anvil and banged it back to shape and put it back on the bucket, and that kindness made me cry. That was its toughest injury, but it survived.

It had a pretty easy life after I bought new feed tubs and water buckets a couple years ago, and it held fencing supplies for a long time in the storage room. Recently I needed a bucket for something and decided to empty the fencing stuff into another container, and I set it aside, empty, for another use.

Because right now we all have a lot of time to fix and clean, I picked it up today and thought, “it needs a scrub.” And I took it to the wash rack, the old familiar bump on my leg as I carried it, and it brought back memories of the horses who drank from it. While I scrubbed it and rinsed it, I knew it was still working. Helping me think of the good days.

An old bucket holds your hopes and dreams, while you fill it with water and hang it up, or grab it and fill it with tools and walk with it banging your leg, reminding you it is still working.

Its sturdy, thick bottom won’t let that hope run out. Its heavy metal handle won’t break and won’t bend under the strain of worry and stress. It promises to hold what you need, and when you get back to the barn, it is there — might be dusty, might be scratched — but it is available for duty.

It’s just an old bucket, just something in the barn that has been around for a long time.

May everyone have an old bucket to save you.

It’s Not Funny: Finding Humor In Quarantine Paradise

I’m really trying to find the humor in all of this. We are going on our third week of jail/quarantine, and spring is dancing in with its happy face.

Something blue and Little Dog pack helping with quarantine. Sort of. Photo by Holly Covey

That happy face also has with it a lovely yellow pollen along with the lovely yellow daffodils and dandelions, making us all sneeze, our eyes water, and occasionally (gasp) cough. Well, as you can imagine, right now when someone coughs, it’s like The Black Death is among us. All panicked hell breaks loose in the household.

We frantically search for the people thermometer to see if there is a fever present. Well, if you are a horse person, you know the difference between the barn thermometer and the people thermometer. The problem is, when you can’t find the barn one, you need one, you use the people one. Right? So if you can’t find the people one … well, we ended up using the heat gun, that is used for welding and tendon hot spots … not sure that was a really good reading, though. All good so far. Just allergies.

Being home is like a wonderful vacation. Sort of. The house is getting really clean a little cleaning, I’ve caught up on the laundry, the kitchen floor is really clean pretty good,  and I’ve thought about polishing the silver. Major accomplishment: nobody has killed anyone yet, so it’s all good. Although it’s crossed my mind. And I do have lots of Lysol and bleach to clean up any bloodstains. Just sayin’.

Then you look out the door and because you aren’t working, there’s not only a load of time to do all sorts of stuff around the house, there is also a project in the barn to start, and another project over there, and big plans for that paddock, and work to be done on the … and I say, well, this is getting complicated, I need to start a list.

You do not want to see the list. It’s out of control. I can’t remember the first thing and I can’t remember the last thing, but in there somewhere I can remember two of the things on it: getting my hair trimmed, and fix the fence charger box. I started writing it in a notebook and one of the items — truth — is make list of things to do, use new notebook and date it. So … it’s in a used notebook and I stopped dating it Wednesday. Or Thursday. Whatever day. They’re all running together.

Made the grievous error of posting a political thing on Facebook, took two days to get over that. Sticking now to funny horse/people memes. The latest thing was posting something in your camera roll in a certain color. Well, I paint a lot of jumps and I have jumps in every color in the rainbow in my camera roll, so next to the cute kids in the pumpkin patch I’ve got my orange jump; next to the beautiful blue sky at the beach, I’ve got my sun and moon jump fillers with the blue background; and underneath the nice red rose arrangement on someone’s dining table, I have my red and white striped planks. I think some of my Facebook friends have unfriended me.

The horses love coronavirus. They are enjoying hanging out without much real work at this point although I am hacking a bit. I did drop their feed to avoid Severe Airs Above The Ground syndrome. Fortunately, spring is bringing grass, and that is occupying a lot of their outdoors time at the moment. Event Horse is having his time in the proximity of that green stuff limited a bit at this point.

Event Horse took a bit of exception to that last change, and busted out of his stall, with a little help from another horse who is retired here and has nothing better to do than cause trouble. So in the middle of the night, they got into the shavings pile and pooped in it and spread it all around. They knocked over some stuff. But Event Horse proved he actually knows  something very interesting — if not a bit spooky.

I have a bag of horse treats, in a container, with the grooming equipment near the crossties.

So the grooming tools were scattered, the bag was EMPTY. He ate ALL of them. I’m not sure he didn’t share them with the retired horse who was also enjoying Freedom, but I know he knows where they are. Every last one of them. Not even the dust at the bottom of the bag was left. And the empty bag was dropped ON PURPOSE in front of a horse who was not loose, almost like a horsey “up yours.” So not only do I know he knows, I’m afraid of where this might lead. If he can do that, what else is he keeping tabs on and what more can he do when I am not there to shut the gate and lock it properly?

So he’s been doing more than just standing on the cross ties at grooming time. Speaking of grooming, the hair is on full spring shed-out mode. I found a curry comb with teeth left in it, and got to work shedding out Event Horse. I grabbed a broom and was sweeping the hair into a nice medium sized pile, when one of the Little Dogs sees the broom, which is a fun toy to him, and runs in for a grab.  I was just about to get the pile nice and small — and the broom gets dragged gleefully down the aisle. The hair goes flying. All over. In my mouth. On the horse it just came off. In my socks and down my neck. And down other items of underwear which I am sure you can relate to. So fun.

To pass the time, I am taking stock of my jumps and painting them. My little dog is helping. He digs holes while I paint. Keeps him busy and I don’t have to drag him out of the neighbor’s garage when he chases their cat down the driveway. So, I’m painting away, and moving down the rail striping as I go. He’s digging away. You know where this is going. Yeah, I stepped slowly, carefully, deliberately, concentrating on getting the stripe just right … and … fell. The paint goes down. I go down. In that order so the paint got on me and all over a freshly painted rail, and a little tiny bit on the digger. Lots of swearing.

No more digging allowed! This was disappointing to the Little Dog, who then was forced to chew up a good pair of barn boots while in Time-Out.

So, realizing the outdoors was not really a fine place to be getting The List checked off today, I went back inside and decided to bake something. Except there are no ingredients in the cabinet. Somehow, essentials needed for survival are not available at the local grocery store right now. So that goal was dashed.  I don’t think olive oil and pepper will work for oatmeal cookies.

The last refuge of scoundrels is now the internet, so I got on the computer and tried to start an argument and even that failed. At this point, the television is the last thing left of civilization, but in my household, Mr. Eventer holds the coveted remote, and without control of that precious weapon, I’m dead in the water. Can’t even see that Tiger thingie. (Do I need to?)

So here I am trying to make the most of this and make myself laugh. I signed up for a daily joke on my phone. “Due to the Covid-19 restriction, we are no longer sending the Daily Joke” was the message I got this morning.  I can’t believe it. There just isn’t anything funny about it, I guess.

But the worst of all was the toilet paper problem. I was forced, almost by gunpoint, to the horse trailer tack room, to obtain a last final stash of secret toilet paper. This made me cry. It really is the end of the season when you take the toilet paper out of the horse trailer, isn’t it?


An Eventer’s Survival Guide to Staying Home: Fun Stuff Online

No Kentucky for Us this year:( Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

If it hasn’t gotten to a neighborhood near you yet, it will — the shutdown of everything. Maybe not everything, and far enough away to be safe, but still. You’re stuck inside or at home, and the season has just started — but now it’s not. What to do?

Oh, your trainer probably has a lot of ideas — not all of them probably charitable, me thinks. And your horse also has some ideas — along the lines of more carrots and less work. His ideas are probably going to work out for him if you’re in a lockdown area.

So here’s a little help.

First of all, Miss Eventer Princess, download or get out your rulebook, and read that sucker! Why? Why not? Know what you are doing. USEF Rules For Eventing — if everyone read it, we wouldn’t need TDs — right? (Insert really big smiley face here). And the recently controversial Eventing Annex 1 (bits, read the whole thing please). Another important read for eventers: the USEA Cross Country Course Design Guidelines. (Know what you are jumping).

Are you in envy of riders who get those grants? Did you know you might be eligible for one, too? Read through the USEA Foundation’s website and check out the rules for the grants they administer here. Are you a high schooler? Did you know you can get a letter in riding as a sport,  for school? Yes, the information is here. And you may be eligible for a USEF grant, here. More scholarships and grants: The Plaid HorseMichael Nyuis Scholarship. Take a look at the American Horse Trials Foundation page to learn about putting together you own account for fundraising. Southern California Equestrian Sports here is a similar organization.

Want to relive some back-when-it-was-Rolex videos? How about some of the older ones on YouTube, check these out: 20152014, 20132012 and 2011.

Oh and let’s include Fair Hill! Here’s something from 1993: one of the nine shows that USEV produced for cable television in the early ’90s. RNS Video saved them and uploaded them to YouTube, in several pieces to get around the 10-minute limit — the show runs somewhere in the 54 minute range. “I shot, directed, did the editing and graphics and co-hosted the show. Since it had such limited airtime in the ’90s, and the horse sport television industry is more or less non-present, I’m going to upload these here for those who want to enjoy them. Keep in mind this is ’93 and it’s the rules for that time when three-day was really three-day long form. Enjoy!”

Fair Hill 3 Star CCI: part 1part 2part 3part 4 with Dr. Kent Allen in there and a view of the vet box, part 5part 6 with Karen O’Connor, part 7 with Bruce Davidson and part 8.

And Buzzter Brown has a Fair Hill 2009 cross-country set here: 2010 part 1 and part 2, 2010 is a single video here, and 2011 is also one video, here.

Past history of the USEA? Here’s a pdf with some early history.

How about you? Let’s talk riding fitness: apps, articles, and how to do it at home by yourself. Laura Crump Anderson’s blogs are right here on EN: ObliquesStrength TrainingPartner UpThe Plank, 20-Minute Fitness, Mounting Block Calves, Mindfulness, Rest and Recovery (a particularly good one, I think).

So that’s good for a start! And you know I’ll have more!

Know Your Obstacles On A Cross-Country Course

We’ve seen them. We’ve jumped them. But have we really looked at them? Holly Covey takes a deep dive into the specifics of cross country obstacles.

Note to readers: this is a photo-intensive article, so unless you have good internet and can see the photos on your device it won’t make too much sense. All photos by Holly Covey.

Tables And Variations

Tables are thought of as being a square spread. There are many variations of tables, but most of the time when we refer to a table we are thinking of something that has a solid, flat top, sides, and fronts of various types. It is one of the most classic of all cross-country obstacles. Historically, there’s tables on most of the upper level events and a lot of lower level ones.

The great part of a table is it really encourages great jumping and makes cross-country fun. The bad part of a table is that as a solid obstacle it carries a certain risk to a horse and rider if they meet it wrong. Let’s take a look at what tables look like and their variations.

Above is a classic table obstacle. This table, the iconic Fair Hill table, we think may be over 30 years old. Note the space between the table and the ground on this side view. That is because the builder elevated the back of the obstacle (blocks covered by the brown mulch) while the decorator added the flower pots on the top of the deck toward the back edge – so that the jumping horse can see the back edge, and determine the width to jump it clear.

Here is a bit smaller table, with the front edge tapered and angled, and the front of the table is cut out on both sides with the double arches. This helps give the table a way for a horse that misses to slide into the space, rather than hit a solid front face. When such a table is decorated, we put some soft, hoof-friendly stuff  in front, and pull the strings off the straw for safety. When I decorate this type of jump I am quite careful to remove plastic trays or flower pots, anything that could be caught in a horseshoe or around a leg.



Picnic Table. Note the decorations on the deck (top) to define width, and the gingham table cloth pieces clearly show the slant to the facing portion of the table. The builder put the “bench” under the edge of the face to define the groundline for the horse. Again the back edge of the table is evident to the jumping horse because the table’s back portion is elevated. (Intermediate)





Step Table. (Training)

This has a flat deck with width, but the front “steps” graduate the face, so the horse can’t really get right under the deck to jump it. Note the rounded edges to all the parts the horse is jumping over. The flags on the back edge of the deck help to define the width for the horse.



This is a slanted front table, but the top edges are lined with brush. The designers and builders use the brush to increase height on what might be a smaller obstacle for the level. It is forgiving to the horse, as well. This table has a rather wide  and solid spread on the top, which you can’t see from this view, and is an Advanced obstacle as presented here.



This is a Barn with a deeply slanted face front and back, but with a flat top of some width. Novice as set here. Because it has a flat deck on the top, however narrow, it is probably considered a table, but the good slant to the front is forgiving should a horse get too close on take off. You can see the jump has been slightly raised in the back (the space between the ground and the right side is visible under the last arch on the right) to give the horse a view of the back edge. This photo doesn’t show the back edge from the angle it was taken on foot, but on a straight approach by a horse and rider it was obvious.


 Market Table.

Market or produce tables have trays  (or a slant as seen here) on the front face to provide a graduated upslope to the top of the jump. There is still plenty of height and width, but the very front is much lower than the back, so the horse can take off close and still probably clear it. (This famous last jump at Fair Hill on the International course was retired last year.) The slanted top tables are also referred to as ascending obstacles as they don’t have a flat top but a slanted top. Presented as an Advanced/Intermediate question here.



This is a smaller market “table”. While it has the slanted top, it is presented here for Beginner Novice, so the builder has defined the top with a nice round log and the tray has been filled with bright contrasting decoration to help the horse see the width.




This is a hybrid sort of table. It has rounded edges, but isn’t really a roundtop because the deck is level and not arched. Not only is is wide, but it also has a narrower face, and an open front, all of which ask a more difficult question of the horse, so it is presented here as a Preliminary obstacle. The decorator has tried to fill in the front face a little and defined the top spread with flowers but could have probably done a better job making the front look more substantial and tied the decorations in to the big round bale on the right side.



 Obstacles with height and width other than tables

While we think of tables as having those flat tops, there are plenty of variations of jumps with height and width that may slanted, rolled, or peaked tops – these mimic the arc of the jump. Because they do that, they allow the horse to get the legs out of the way, at least that’s the theory. A horse that is properly balanced, ridden correctly to the question, and has some ability will find these jumps to their liking on cross-country. Designers setting difficult complexes often incorporate the rolled top or rounded top jumps for the safety of the jumping horse who is thinking about what is coming up as he is in the air. Rolled tops are more work to build but are kinder to those making mistakes, as the horse can’t as easily catch a leg under a lip.

Rolled or Rounded Tops. These have height and width, but the tops are arched. The horse cannot see the back of the top, but because once you get past the apex of the arch, the rest of the obstacle is lower, so it follows the arc of a normal jumping horse. These are preliminary and Intermediate rolled top fences with open faces. The window in the front allows the decorations to bump out and center the horse’s take off. Notice how the colors of the paint have also created contrast between the top and bottom.

Round top jumps are one of the most common kind of cross-country jumps available today, and can be found from coast to coast.

Here is the use of a rolled top pedestal type jump at the beginning of a complex or technical question.













(Above) Here are two views of the same Preliminary jump. This is a slanted front box which can also be called a palisade, something that has a slanted front with a bit of width. Sometimes they are called ramps if they don’t have a deck on the top. Note the use of the darker logs that define the take off, and both edges of the top. From a distance you can clearly see the jump has some width to it, but not as much as the true tables pictured above.

Ramp. (Above) This jump can also be called a palisade in the FEI definitions. It is a preliminary obstacle, and has a slanted or ramped face. While the overall width is substantial, which is why it is a prelim jump, the entire face is slanted and there is no flat top, so it’s not a table. The groundline is marked with contrasting flowers so the horse can define the bottom take off. It is not so much the colors that you use but more the contrast – dark and light. The horse sees the gray ramp and green grass pretty much the same shade so it is important to get something dark and something bright at the groundline to make it stand out.

Here is a Beginner Novice bench. Benches have a back that is higher than the front. The seat portion of the bench is what gives the jump its width.

I’ve included a larger Intermediate bench for comparison.

I’ve always been taught that to avoid drawing the jumping horse into the face of a bench that the seat should be filled with something bright and colorful so the horse can see it the ground line is near the ground, and the obstacles height doesn’t start at the dark portion of the seat. Benches that are not painted or decorated can trick a horse into not reading the height correctly.

 Larger Intermediate bench with decor on the seat portion and clearly contrasting groundline.







Here is sort of a hybrid bench and roll top. This is a schooling field obstacle, so the designer wanted to be sure that it was jumpable and safe from both sides, that is why the back of the bench is in the roll. Again because it’s a schooling obstacle and probably not decorated, the front of the bench is very low so it becomes the ground line to the seat, making it less upright than a classic bench as shown above.



This is a cabin. Lots of cross-country jumps are often miniature houses, barns, cabins, sheds, etc. This beautiful log cabin replica has width and height, but the “roof” top is slanted while the front of the cabin is vertical. Notice the decorator has placed a bright (straw) groundline there at the base. Notice how that is still visible and provides contrast with the grass, even though it is in shade. You can see the edge of the roof overhangs a little bit – this construction could be considered a bit risky, as a horse that gets too close may get a knee caught under the edge. Many times these jumps will have the roof appear to be realistic but there is a design feature just at the lip to prevent that from happening – an angled board or rounded log placed on the jumping side at the edge. An Intermediate presentation here.

More house top jumps. Look at this beautiful Eric Bull cabin. We used a clear stain over the lovely cedar plank top. This jump was set in a treeline, which was shady, so the object was to make it bright and contrast with the shade. Notice the roof is flush with the front face on the bottom, no leading edges on the jumping side.

There was quite a drop on the other side! The back of the cedar topped cabin. Advanced presentation here.







A barn. It has nice contrast between the roof and the sides – light to dark. The decorator has made a natural looking ground line to soften the vertical front but added the pumpkins so the front didn’t completely disappear into the grass, and the slanted roof makes it a nice inviting jump. Novice as presented here.


More next post!

Prix Caprilli for Dummies

It’s harder than it looks. Photo by Holly Covey

Whaaaat? Yep.

Prix Caprilli. (Pronounced “pre-cah-prilly.” It’s a dressage test that uses jumps. No, I am not kidding, and it’s WAY harder than you think it is!)

A local schooling show offers Prix Caprilli dressage tests and had the link to the tests online, so being the out-of-control clicker that I am, of course I downloaded and read them. And that led to bit of research, and even more links to tests and the history of dressage, and of riding over jumps … and you get the picture, so to make a long story short, I ended up out in my arena with three poles and a diagram. Here’s the gist of it:

Prix Caprilli essentially is dressage with some jumps added as a more complete test of training. The jumps are low, and there are only two or three in the tests I’ve found. The regular transitions, gaits, circles and changes of direction are called for with the addition of either trotting or cantering (as you go up the levels) over the placed jumps. Refusals are scored as errors. There can be two or three simple verticals — cavaletti can be used — or one oxer and two verticals. In all they are quite low, 2 ft. 6 in. being about the highest height I’d set for schooling. These are simple but they are training exercises that will blow you away especially on your older horses that know it all. Hahum. Let me explain.

The three-jump pattern in the Prix Caprilli tests. Photo by Holly Covey

When I read through the tests, I thought, this is a fun set of exercises that I can set up at home in the dry spots in my ring. It looked like something far less boring than plain flat dressage, but doesn’t require a lot of jumps for gymnastics or other fancy exercises that, let’s face it, you just don’t have enough time (or light) after work to mess with. It also works well if you have to share a ring with flat riders as there are only three obstacles and they can be set so they don’t interfere with 20-meter circles, etc. So I made a copy, tucked in my barn coat pocket, and went out to the ring and set a few up.

Well, let me tell you something. If you are looking for quick and easy to set up, Prix Caprilli is the way to go. But if you are looking for quick and easy schooling exercises — Prix Caprilli is much harder than it looks! They are indeed a fairly true test of your schooling on the flat, and will very quickly — like after the first jump — give you an indication of what you need to work on.

Like straightness. Impulsion. Bending. Obedience to half-halt. And MUCH more! I was shocked at how badly I actually managed the Prix Caprilli test the first time I attempted to ride just the first half of the Training Level test. (See the crooked line below.) OK. So I’m a dummy. It got my attention, and I went back to work.

Straightness is the centering mantra of just about any dressage instructor and Prix Caprilli will bring that. All of the long lines, the center and quarter lines plus the long trot or canter on the diagonal to the single jump works on that skill. Need balance in your corners? Jumping and then immediately having to land, then turn, then transition to canter will work on that. Need to polish half halts, work on creating impulsion, bend, balance? Prix Caprilli tests work on all of that and also make you switch your balance too from jumping to flat and back again very quickly within the test. It was an eye-opener for me.

Look at this crooked track! Prix Caprilli tests are a good test of straightness. Photo by Holly Covey

As for the history of where this came from, the Prix Caprilli tests appeared evidently sometime in the ’50s or ’60s. While they may have developed in the early days of dressage, the savior of the Prix Caprilli tests was probably Pony Club. I am sure they were embraced for kids on ponies who liked the jumping but where pretty “meh” about the dressage, and disguised as yet another instance of the brilliance of a classical Pony Club education, as they give you a real feel for the essential training of dressage for jumping.

They were named in honor of Captain Federico Caprilli, the great Italian cavalry officer who studied horses free-jumping and developed the forward seat style of riding, a revolutionary theory at his time before the turn of the 20th century. (See Jim Wofford’s in-depth study of the genius of Caprilli published in Practical Horseman here.)

The tests I’ve found are set at Introductory Level, Training Level and First Level. They look as though they’ve been passed down secretively from one group to another, copied in the dark of night and posted under cover. If you go to the USDF, the USEF, or US Pony Club website, I’ll save you the bother of searching — they don’t have them. BUT I have found them online in various underground spots all over the world. Australia. Canada. Great Britain. Texas. California. Pennsylvania.

Rumor has it Lendon Gray’s Youth Dressage Festival can be credited with single-handedly saving Prix Caprilli for us in America, by writing and updating the tests and offering them in her highly regarded competition annually held in New York. Here’s the page. And she includes some judging directions, too.

I’ve linked a few tests here for your own special torture, and after a bit of experimenting, a more detailed jump set up. Bear in mind these are set for a 20m x 60m dressage arena.

I found thatj #3 was the one you can make into your oxer (should be square to be approached in both directions) and it should be set so that it is about 1 meter off the rail, to allow you to pass B comfortably without squeezing — this will not really make it centered on the quarter line but in the general area of it. It should not block the cross-center line from B to E, either, so should be set at least a meter up or down from the cross-center line. It has to be over fairly snugly so you can set the diagonal jumps and not block your line and give you the room to get to X for a 20m stretchy circle.

Jumps #1 and #2 are set on the diagonal, as the diagram indicates. You really want these in the second half (after X) of the long diagonal, but set so that they are in the no-man’s land between the quarter line and center line, so they don’t interfere with the line to jump #3. (See the video below). Walk your diagonal line carrying the pole, then drop it so it is square with your path from H to F/F to H, or K to M/M to K. Also, I used single schooling standards rather than wing standards which take up a bit more room.

Have you ever seen a Prix Caprilli test ridden?

Here’s a very well ridden test by Lisa Evans:

Here are three Prix Caprilli test links courtesy of Blue Goose Stable. Here are two 2019 Youth Dressage Festival tests written by Lendon Gray which are a bit different, with only two jumps.

Ride a test and let us know what you think! Prix Caprilli fans may have been driven underground, but as a recent convert, I can tell you that we’re still alive and kicking. Join the revolution! Ha! I’m only 75 years late!

Volunteering Soon? All You Need to Know About Bit and Equipment Checking

Holly Covey photo

One of the most visual aspects of the eventing rule book in action is the equipment check, normally taking place at the dressage phase. The volunteer bit checker, in my opinion, is one of the most important people on the grounds of the event! And here’s why:

bit checker is the person who is the end result of making the event fair for all competitors – the rulebook personified, if you will. This person checks that your saddlery, your spurs, and your whip are all within the rules and comply so everyone is riding with the same restrictions. That’s the technical aspect of the job. The rules about saddlery, bits, and dress are strict, and the bit/equipment check volunteer is there to keep it fair.

The bit check person is probably one of the first volunteers you’ll encounter as a rider when you get started on your warm-up for dressage, and because dressage is always our first test, the bit checker is our first volunteer interaction. How this person and you interact can set the tone for the day for both of you!

The bit checker has a dangerous, busy, intense, time sensitive and detailed job that they are primarily responsible for doing on their own, in close proximity to fit competition horses, under strict rules and guidance. While they do a necessary and important job, they don’t have jurisdiction to change the rules or even require a rider to change something in violation – they can only point it out and inform the rider and the officials. All this while staying safe, avoiding being stepped on, bit, or knocked over, and seeing that every horse is checked off a list!

So with all that, why do volunteers do it? Here’s the great side of the job: the chance to be up close to quality horses and great riders, to watch their dressage warm-up intimately, to learn all about the differences in horses, to learn about tack, to be a part of the competition as a valued member of a team, and to stretch your ability to work quietly and efficiently under pressure. There are few jobs as fun, important, and vital to an event as the bit checker!

We’ll be talking today primarily about national (USEA recognized) events.

Let’s talk about some notes for organizers as they plan their events:

Not everyone with horse experience is good at this. You have to be quiet around a horse and comfortable with strange horses other than your own, understand the necessity of using biosecurity measures, and be able to maintain a positive attitude around riders who are not always thinking about people (more like trying to remember a dressage test and avoid being bucked off in a busy warmup area!). Having said that, often some people just need a chance to do a responsible job and they shine at it.

It can be even more intense from a management standpoint if your event has multiple dressage arenas with tests going on simultaneously, which funnels competing riders in and out of the ring in quick order. For that reason, in my experience, even if your event does not have a lot of entries, a volunteer equipment checker should not be asked to be the ring steward in addition to bit checking, and they should also not be asked to do this for more than about 5-6 hours at a time.

It’s a job that should be set up as a team endeavor or with shorter, 2-3 hour shifts per person. Not only will this keep your bit checker from being completely exhausted, but will allow another person to learn the job, too.

Bit checkers must find horses as they arrive in the warm-up, speak to the rider about when they want to have the check, track when the rider goes in the competition arena and when they exit and must see that all the checking gets done for every rider. If there are multiple rings with several tests going on at the same time, this can get very hectic for your equipment person. In order to be organized and diligent, they should not be asked to steward in addition to checking equipment.

The best-looking bit check crew in the land! Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Organizing where the bit check will take place is key to having things run smoothly. Pick an area prominent to riders in warm-up, so riders and grooms cannot miss it. When possible, plan it so a rider who is exiting after their test has to pass by the bit check area. Remember, the rider has the option of presenting the horse for bit check either prior to the test, or directly after the test is performed.

It is important that for the latter reason, your event sets up at the dressage exit so that riders don’t blow off the after-test bit check. Having a string or path funneling them back to the bit check station, another steward stationed at the exit to remind them, etc. will prevent an unnecessary elimination and having your bit check volunteer chase riders around the grounds! There is nothing worse than paying a large entry fee, riding one five minute test, and then forgetting a bit check and subsequently not being allowed to jump.

Make the bit check station nice for the volunteers who have to be there. Give them a shade or rain tent and make it sturdy and large enough for several people to sit under it comfortably. Consider a cooler with ice to keep drinks and food cold, or a hot thermos of coffee or water for tea. Give them a table and chairs – this is a must. You have to be able to write on your checklist and it’s difficult to do this if you are standing and walking between horses – you can’t sit down and write in your lap or you’ll be up and down in the chair all day long. A table to write on is really important.

To include on the list of required items is a box of the disposable gloves. At the very least you will need 10 more pairs of gloves than the number of riders. Don’t forget to place a trash can or other receptacle to dispose of used gloves. It is smart to also have rubbing alcohol or alcohol gel on hand for cleaning and alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes for the spur and whip measurement tools. That’s what I expect management to provide at minimum. I’ll go over how these things should be used by a volunteer down a bit further on this page.

I always bring a few things with me in addition to what I expect the event to provide. I will bring a couple extra pens and pencils, along with sunscreen, a shade hat, bug spray, a spare rain coat if weather requires, and dress in layers. Another is a bag of candies! There is nothing quite like stopping a “concerning moment” with a nice piece of candy popped in the mouth. Prevents a lot of trouble!

Next, your bit checker needs a comprehensive list of riders – either an order of go or other type of organized list, set up on a clipboard that is also weather proof (with a plastic cover if needed). Multiple writing materials are needed. It’s a good idea to give them a list for each ring, and if you have a lot of riders and multiple rings, give them the option of a clipboard for each ring. Some will want to organize these lists in a fashion that works best for them, find out how they want to do it and help by providing copies of the proper paperwork – it’s not a bad idea to provide her with two copies, especially on rainy days. A paper list gets tattered quickly!

It should be required to have a copy of current dressage dress and saddlery rules (both national and international, if you are holding these divisions) with your bit checker’s paperwork and available at their station. Not every event does this but I wish they would. The volunteer isn’t there to give advice and the Technical Delegate can’t be everywhere, so having a printout saves a lot of angst in warmup.

For eventing bits, our USEA recognized events will be using this document, which is called USEF Eventing Annex 1. This is the most current version available.

For FEI events, see the current rules, here or through the FEI stewards at the event. (Most FEI bit checking will occur in the presence of FEI stewards, which have a more stringent protocol to follow than volunteers at national events.)

Here’s a nice description from the USDF Rules & Equipment publication:

“How to properly check Dressage bits. The process of checking bits must be done carefully and professionally. Safety, comfort, and cleanliness are all important. Ring stewards appointed by competition management must check saddlery and inspect bits and spurs on both sides of the horse …. Inspection of saddlery and bits must be done at the direction of the technical delegate. Inspection of saddlery and bits must be done immediately as the horse leaves the arena. (See DR126.1h(9))

The checking of the bridle must be done with the greatest caution, as some horses are very touchy and sensitive about their mouths. The bit inspector must use a new protective glove on each hand for each horse. New gloves should be put on each hand as the horse approaches the ring steward. The ring steward must be careful not to touch other items (radio, pen, whip, etc.) before checking the bit on each side. When communicable disease is a concern, any deviations to established saddlery inspection protocol must be approved by the USEF Dressage Department prior to the competition. Calipers or other measuring devices should be cleaned between each use with a non-caustic disinfectant. Approach the horse quietly, ALWAYS inform the rider of your intent and ask them to loosen the noseband if necessary.”

As a bit check volunteer, you will need to refresh yourself on the biosecurity of what you will be doing. Because it is necessary for you to feel the bit in the horse’s mouth, you will be touching mucous membrane with the horse’s own body fluid. In addition, in checking the rider’s spur, you’ll be in contact with the horse’s sweat from his sides that touch the spur, and whip also will be in contact with the horse’s skin. For these reasons wearing a pair of surgical-type anti-bacterial gloves is required. In many instances and in the training video above, the bit checker is only wearing one glove; however, it is proper to wear gloves on any hand that touches a horse.

It’s important to note that there are many good ways to do this job – this is only one way, that I’ve used, through several decades of experience – but there are always tips that others may have that are different, and it’s all good if it gets the job done safely.

Your finger should stay just over the bit to be safely in the bit seat of the mouth. Photo by Holly Covey

First, make sure you put on the gloves in the presence of the rider, so they can see you using a fresh, uncontaminated pair (Riders – this is important for your horse’s health – always ask to see the bit checker put on the gloves to insure it’s a clean pair for your horse.).

Next, do not touch your radio, clipboard, etc. once you are gloved. Approach the horse from the shoulder once the rider has halted the horse and settled him for you. Don’t walk to the front of the horse (he can’t see you) or reach out and grab the rein or bridle! All you have to do is approach gently from the neck/shoulder area, this helps the horse see you. Watch your feet, too, as you will be close to the front hooves and can be stepped on.

Reach gently with one gloved finger into the corner of the mouth (I use my index finger). This must be done slowly and carefully. Put your finger lightly on the bit starting at the joint of the mouthpiece and cheekpiece, then slide it in the mouth in front of the arm of the bit. If you do it this way, you will be in the safety space in the horse’s mouth where there are no teeth, (the bit seat) so you give yourself the best chance not to have your finger bitten should the horse close down.

Once you slide your finger in, keep it on the bit, quickly feel for smoothness and for the center joint, which is only in the mouth about two-and-a-half inches on 99 percent of the bits. Sometimes when you touch the corner lightly, if the noseband is loose enough, some horses will open their mouths and allow you to see the bit completely, and that’s great. Any time you do not have to touch the horse it is all good.

The object is to see that the joint and the bit arm on both sides are compliant with the rules. Your action with your finger should be a 2-3 second thing – don’t put your whole hand in there, don’t open the horse’s mouth with both hands, don’t part the lips with both hands, don’t feel around behind the bit or attempt to feel the bit with both hands. I’ve seen all of that done, and it’s unnecessary and wastes time.

Sometimes the noseband or flash strap is too tight to allow your finger to slip in next to the bit, and in that instance, you should inform the rider and request them to loosen it so you can complete your inspection. It is not generally a good idea to attempt to adjust tack yourself. Allow the rider or groom to do that for both safety and biosecurity.

With a fussy horse, ask the rider or groom, “what is the best way for me to see the bit today?”. I feel bridle removal is sort of a last resort, because it can be dangerous and compromises control of a horse in what is always a busy warmup area. Do your best to see what’s in there without necessarily getting involved personally in tack removal, and defer to the rider/groom’s wishes for safety and the comfort of the horse. They are responsible for the horse and are going to know what is best to expedite the process, and do not feel you have to handle the horse, in fact it is best not to. Occasionally you will have a very bad horse, and in that case, do let your TD know that horse was unable to let its bit be checked. All you have to do is communicate it, and go on to the next horse.

As a bit check volunteer, do your best not to touch horses unnecessarily! I love to pet horses, too, but that isn’t bio secure in this position, so be careful that you are wearing gloves on both hands as you interact with horses and riders. Caution your fellow stewards also to be keeping a respectful distance from the horses and not touching them unless it is absolutely necessary.

After you check a horse’s bit, it is a good idea to check the rider’s spurs on both sides and the whip with the same set of gloves, then discard them after every horse in your trash container by pulling them inside-out as you remove them. You can then wipe off your measuring devices between horses too before you touch your clipboard, pen, or radio. Generally I use my alcohol gel about every 10 or 15 horses on my bare hands just to be sure I am staying clean, and if I’m in short sleeves I will do my forearms as well.

From the USEA Volunteer Video, “Dressage Bit Check”.

With regard to hoods and bonnets, the rule has changed since the video was made. We no longer need to check the hoods for compliance, but we still must check for ear plugs, which are illegal. Riders must remove the bonnet/hood in your presence so you can see if the ears are not plugged. This must be done while you are there and not before you are available to see it removed. You no longer need to feel the bonnet, just check the horse’s ears visually.

We’ve covered most of the equipment checking that a bit check volunteer will do, but there are a couple of things you should know. When you measure spurs, it is important to measure the length of the spur from the boot heel out to the end of the spur (This differs from USDF rules). In eventing we measure from the boot, and your measuring device – some people use a U-shaped measurement cutout – has be be able to be placed against the boot heel vertically in order to have an accurate measurement of the shank. Two inches is too large!

Measure from the heel. photo by Holly Covey

If a spur is too long, I always measure it twice and measure the rider’s left and right spurs to see if perhaps they just made a mistake and grabbed the wrong one. It happens!

The last time I checked equipment at a large horse trial, we found quite a few spurs to be outside the 4cm window, so some manufacturers are making non-compliant spurs. Bear in mind this rule is for ALL phases of eventing, not just the dressage, so if you find a set of spurs that is illegal in the dressage bit check, they can’t continue with them in other phases – or face penalty of elimination. And the old “business card” measurement is not compliant!

Business card measurement: too big! 4 cm is the allowed length. photo by Holly Covey

Here’s the USEA rule about spurs:

4. SPURS. a. Spurs are optional for all three tests. Spurs capable of wounding a horse are forbidden. Spurs must be of smooth metal. If there is a shank it must not be longer than 4 cm (1 9/16 inches, measured from the boot to the end of the spur) and must point only towards the rear. If the shank is curved, the spurs must be worn only with the shank directed downwards. Metal or plastic spurs with round hard plastic or metal knobs “Impulse spurs” and “Dummy spurs” with no shank are allowed. b. Rowel spurs – Spurs with rowels are allowed in the three Tests and when practicing/warming up. If they are used, rowels must be free to rotate and the rowel must be round and smooth (no tines allowed).

You will also be charged with checking whips. Here’s the USEA rule about whips:

3. WHIPS. One whip no longer than 120 cm (47.2 in) including lash may be carried when riding on the flat at any time. One whip no longer than 120 cm (47.2 in) may be carried during the Dressage Test except in USEF/USEA Championships and USEA Championship divisions. As an exception, riders competing sidesaddle may carry a whip in the dressage test at all competitions, including championships. A standard lunge whip may be used when lunging a horse. If a whip is carried in the Cross-Country and/or Jumping Test, or while jumping any obstacle before these tests, it must not be weighted at the end or exceed 75cm (30”) in length. An adjustable-length whip may not be carried by a mounted rider.

In checking dressage whip length, it’s often not comfortable to the horse to hold up a measuring stick to the rider as they stand mounted. So I learned a little trick from the best in the business: using a second whip that is maximum length; this saves time walking a whip back and forth to a measurement device, too. Simply hold the riders whip next to your maximum whip (which you can tie a pink ribbon on, or mark in some way) and you can see if its compliant right there next to the horse. They are usually are better with this than with a measuring stick being held next to them.

It is important to read EV115 about the rules regarding saddlery at USEA events – not just dressage but for all phases. Is it legal to see a wrapped bit? Yes. Are bit guards legal? No. Is a nose net legal? Yes, with a few requirements. Can a dressage rider have a neck strap? Yes, but it has to be leather and can’t be colored vinyl strap or a belt! Is there a difference between championship dressage and a regular dressage test with regard to equipment? Yes, there is a difference; whips are NOT allowed in a championship test! Can a bonnet be tied down to the noseband? No. All these little things and more are in the rules and it’s always good to refresh your memory. I download the latest copy onto my phone usually the night before I am to work.

You will run into some unusual things – nosebands or bridles that look like something out of Star Wars, bits with funny looking rings, etc. Check your rules, then call your TD; they have seen almost everything, and will be able to reassure you that it is OK, or will want to see it. If that is the case, pull out your phone, snap a photo, and text it to your TD or official – it may save several minutes especially if they are on the other side of the grounds. This is a quick way to get an “ok” and keep things running smoothly. It’s a good idea to trade phone numbers first thing in the morning when you arrive!

If you do see something unusual, the next thing you will hear is the classic, “but the Bit Check OK’d it last week at ABC Horse Trials”. Be cautious about allowing the rider, trainer or coach to answer your question for you. Your TD or ground jury will be happy to answer your question, no matter how trivial it might seem or even if everyone within 50 feet is telling you you are wrong.

Bit checking is just one volunteer job that needs a well trained person! Photo by Holly Covey

We all have access to the same rulebook, but honestly my memory sure isn’t what it once was, and we all make mistakes. And it would be more courteous of a rider addressing a volunteer in this position to say, “I’ve used this before and they did find it within the rules, but I’d be happy to reassure you by chatting with the TD to be sure it is compliant today.”

Remember to be neutral and businesslike when finding a violation. It is often just an honest mistake, and most riders will comply, or it’s an allowed piece of equipment that the TD knows about but isn’t in the rules so you can be aware of it. Always let the technical delegate or official handle these sorts of issues, and most of the time things will be resolved in a fair and positive manner. And that is the time when the candy is useful!

Good Volunteers Come Prepared!

By Holly Covey — USEA volunteer since 1980, member of the USEA Volunteer Committee

As a sport, eventing exists for several different groups of people. There are the organizers, officials and paid workers that support an event. Then there are competitors, owners, trainers and coaches. And the third group — every bit as essential as the first two groups — is volunteers.

More than most other equestrian sports, eventing relies heavily on volunteer labor for all three phases of competition. Jump judges, stewards, bitcheckers, scribes, parking people, setup and takedown people — they are all needed for the smallest event all the way up to Land Rover Kentucky.

When we compete, we expect that competitions would attract and keep the volunteers they need. When we get to the start box, we assume that there are enough jump judges on the course to give us a tick beside our pinney number at every obstacle. We expect folks to tell us when to go in the ring for show jumping and dressage. We arrive expecting those dressage arenas to be perfect and the show jumping course to be ready.

But as organizers know, behind those expectations are literally hundreds of hours of coordination. Reaching out and communicating to find help. Once you’ve got some help, making sure they know what to do. Hoping they know, because they don’t have time to teach them. And the sigh of relief when experienced, knowledgeable folks walk into the jump judge briefing on Saturday morning to help staff your cross-country course.

Volunteers are often some of the most important “headaches” of putting on competitions today,  and there’s not an organizer alive who doesn’t have a real moment of panic when there aren’t enough jump judges, or the bit check person calls in sick. There are a lot of solutions to help organizers keep and attract more volunteers out there — and they range from cool rewards, freebies, food, and fun stuff — but I think there is a very important part of volunteering that involves everyone — all the groups — and it’s called the “shared experience.”

A shared experience is what really is the heart of eventing volunteering in my view. It’s the fun of meeting friends, of being a part of something important, and giving back to a sport you enjoy. There’s a lot more to the shared experience but there is one more thing that really makes the shared experience work for everyone — that’s education.

When a volunteer can step out of their car and walk right into a job they know and have done before, can roll with whatever the day brings, and leaves with a smile — that’s when everyone in the sport wins.

Here’s where I’m not going to give you the lecture about volunteering, but I am going to direct you to a resource that EVERYONE in this sport needs to use. That’s the incredible catalog of updated and modernized videos that were made by Irene Doo, a member of the USEA Volunteer Committee, an eventer, and volunteer coordinator for Pine Hill Horse Trials in Texas.

The USEA had an outdated video for jump judging that dated back to the ’90s and the new five-part jump judge video is really good. I highly recommend you watch all six sections especially if you are an official, a competitor, or an organizer. And there are a few more — and they cover all the essential jobs needed at most events.

Why should you watch them? If you’re a rider – you should take a look because they give you a great quick overview of the phases of the sport, the details that are required by the rules, and overall procedures for competition that as a rider you may not know, or haven’t considered.

Last year I jump judged a few times and NONE of the officials giving the briefings even mentioned the great jump judge videos — and you know, you can watch them on your phone right out in the field by your jump! So I’d like to see all the officials take a look at these wonderful educational tools available for free at the USEA website and mention them at briefings to the volunteers.

If you’re a volunteer coordinator, or organizer looking for volunteers, you should definitely put them on your list of things to do. Knowing how jobs work for everyone is always good to review. And you may find some time-saving tips and tricks that other events have used.

Links to bookmark:

USEA Volunteer Videos

USEA Jump Judge Video Set

Vimeo Jump Judge Catalogue Link

So grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and have fun!


Keep an eye on Eventing Nation each Thursday for our “Volunteer Nation” roundup of eventing volunteer opportunities for the upcoming weekend. And be sure to log your hours at Eventing Volunteers, an online portal for volunteers, volunteer coordinators and event organizers.  

Now You See It, Now You Don’t! The Disappearing Cross Country Course

Carousel Park in January. Photo by Holly Covey.

Recently, in mid-winter quiet, on a closed cross country course that still had all the jumps in place, I was able to take a stroll around a couple of the fields. As I walked, I was thinking, “What a luxury this is, to be able to walk the strides of the turning questions, to look for the lines here and there, to be able to take my time — and not worry about a horse on the trailer or getting back in time to dress for dressage!”

And suddenly it hit me: this course, as a public park, had the jumps available for walking because they weren’t put away for the winter like many other portable jump courses. So getting to walk the Novice and Training level courses was truly an extraordinary learning opportunity, because most competition courses aren’t available any more for any length of time.

Turning question on top of a hill. Photo by Holly Covey.

Years ago when most jumps on a course were not portable, fences and obstacles were built in, solidly placed in fields and woods, and lived there for a time — because someone took a week to dig them in and put them there, they weren’t going to dig them out and move them anytime soon. Courses were available for looking at all the time, or at least the more massive built-in features were almost part of the landscape at many places.

Today, think of this: our learning opportunities to walk courses are shrinking before our eyes. How many times do you walk a Beginner Novice, Novice, Training course at your local favorite horse trial? Given the time frame of most one-day horse trials, you are indeed fortunate to be able to walk one course twice at most. Does that sound familiar?

When the courses are set, they have a deadline at most events of 3 p.m. on Friday, for competition scheduled for say, Saturday and Sunday. So your fully decorated, completely-ready cross country course will be available for you from 3 p.m. on Friday to when you actually get to ride it, then when you are done, the competition is over, it might be available for a few minutes to a few days to walk — and then here comes the tractor and away it goes for another year. That’s barely 48 to 60 hours that courses will stay up to be viewed.

Permanent jumps that stay forever on courses. The foundation at Plantation, one of the few permanent obstacles we see today. Photo by Holly Covey

Years ago you could walk courses for weeks before and after events, so this new trend in the last couple of decades to the portable cross country jump has indeed cut into the educational aspect of this phase of our sport. If you only have literally hours to examine a course, to walk it nuances, to see its questions, to check footing before and after jumps, to get your lines straight, to know the ground and the paths — good grief, no wonder we see the unsure riding and unfamiliarity that we see on occasion on cross country phases everywhere. Of course every course is different and does change all the time, but the increasing use of portable, movable jumps makes courses disappear much quicker than they used to.

I know few people today, who compete at the lower levels, that have the time to walk more than their own course. Years ago we used to walk all the courses, or at least the one above ours, so we’d know what was being asked and could go home and practice or work on the next level up. When was the last time you took the time at an event to walk not only your own course but one or two other courses? I thought so. Me too!

At Fair Hill International, the course takes months to build and set, with the final touches being finished the week prior to the Saturday cross country day. As a volunteer helping with decorating, our professional course decorator, Janine McClain, works us all against the Ground Jury’s official walking day of usually Tuesday. Final touches are made and the course is available for walking officially Wednesday. Riders can look at it for two more days until they ride Saturday. On Saturday, immediately following the last horse on course we begin tearing it down very quickly — by Sunday morning it is nearly all gone!

In the field one day — gone the next. Fair Hill 2018 photo by Holly Covey

So as I walked on the dreary winter day in the park, checking the strides and noticing how the designer had set the jumps uphill and downhill, I was thinking, it’s been a while since I just walked a course to learn it, to see what was there — why is that? And I remembered the timeline at Fair Hill, and suddenly it was clear: we rush riders too much at horse trials when it comes to learning cross country. We don’t spend enough time walking and learning out in our fields and trails and paths and roads, we don’t get to think about jumps and how they are set very much before they dismantle everything and cart them away.

So the answer that came to me is this. I will make an effort this year to do my due diligence as an event rider, and walk more than my own course at the events I choose to compete. That means I will need to plan my time more carefully at the event and it may mean making some changes. I’ll need to be fit enough to walk more than one course; I may need to bring a groom along to care for the horses while I’m out there; I will definitely need to plan a time schedule carefully; and possibly travel earlier, stay later, and squeeze in more course walking in an effort to continue my own education on cross country riding. I’m pledging to include course walking as a critical part of  my riding in this sport, into my entire plan for the year. Are you, too? I hope so!

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