Ellie Thompson
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Ellie Thompson


About Ellie Thompson

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Eventer Struggles: Today I Tried To Ice My Dog

This morning, I diagnosed my 11-year-old Lab/Rottweiler/Mastiff/Greyhound mix, better known as “Doodle”, as a 3/5 on the lameness scale. She hopped unevenly down the stairs and trotted into the yard looking off in her right hind. I exclaimed, “She’s like a 3!”, and my husband looked at me somewhat befuddled, and continued drinking his coffee.

There are things you say and do as an eventer/horseman that much of the general public doesn’t understand. Luckily, he’s used to the weird things I say and do because his mum and sister are also riders, although somehow he managed to escape absorbing any horse skills whatsoever.

She loves the water, so I thought maybe I could ice her, but it turns out that ice and water in a bucket are not something she is interested in having any part of, and who am I to wrestle her 96 pound self into a bucket. We tried to cross tie her once for a bath when she rolled in something especially noxious, but she escaped that too. I’ve come to realize that my animal and human management skills are somewhat always equine based. I can’t be the only one with this issue. Can I?

I sometimes work in human chiropractic medicine, and I am responsible for patient intake, where I get an elaborate history of their physical issues (lamenesses) and any chronic pain. As I listen to them whine  explain every little ache and pain, I catch myself designing them a proper SmartPak based on their needs and have more than once accidentally called the glutes their “haunches” and their legs the “hinds.” I don’t know why it makes sense to me that the arms are the fores and the legs are the hinds- it just does.

I do hope “regular” people can forgive us for talking about their dog being scopey, internally considering giving their children tubes of Total Calm and Focus, clucking at them in the grocery store, suggesting a bag of fluids after they run a marathon, and looking at one another and whispering, “he wouldn’t pass the jog” when our athlete friends are injured.  The struggle to be appropriate in the non-horsey world is real.

Ken Whelihan: Compassion for the OTTB

A few weeks ago I came across a clinic offering by Show Jumper Ken Whelihan that took me by surprise. This professional rider designed a very low cost clinic specifically for the OTTB and rider that targets those who don’t often have access to a regular trainer. Having been one of those people myself at one time, I wanted to see exactly what he had to offer and the intention behind his offering. I messaged him on Facebook and and we set up a time to chat. I was very impressed, and honestly a bit surprised by genuine kindness of the horseman on the other end of the call.

Ken Whelihan. Photo by David Mullinax. Ken Whelihan. Photo by David Mullinax.

ET: What prompted the idea for this clinic?

KW: I live in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and often work with a grassroots group of riders that tend to develop their own horses rather than buy them ready to show. I also judge quite a bit and see Thoroughbreds in the hunter and jumper rings that seem to have the odds stacked against them because these are the ones that have not been successful at the track and sometimes have been through some sort of physical or emotional trauma there, making them very economical to purchase.

It’s hard on the horses to be asked to start a new career outside of anything they’ve ever experienced with an owner or rider that may not have the resources to give them what they need physically and nutritionally; couple that with infrequent access to mainstream guidance in training and you slant the odds even further against the horse and rider being successful. I want to offer more access to better training and education.

ET: So do you have OTTB’s in your barn and do you think they are valuable as show horses in the hunters and jumpers? Is it a positive that they are more accessible financially?

KW: Yes we ride and have some OTTB’s. You know I think it’s somewhat of an economy time warp now. The upper level professional riders and International riders are getting better and better and with that, the horses are getting better and better, but inaccessible for most everyone else.

Most people don’t have the resources to go shopping for 1 million Euro horses, and at that level of competition, that’s what you see. Even a good 1.30-1.40 meter amateur jumper horse can cost anywhere between $100,000 and $500,000. This makes the OTTB very desirable. I see most of the nice TB’s coming from event riders. You guys provide us a window to see them through from the track into the ring.

It seems much more economical to bring them up the levels of eventing than in the jumpers. If I pay $3000 for a horse off the track and then turn around and sell it for $85,000 three years later, this is a loss in the jumper ring. The eventers can take them off the track, teach them to jump and see where their talents lie and take them in whatever direction they choose- often selling them to the jumpers.

This isn’t a great sport for trial and error, if they are bought as a jumper and don’t turn out to be a good one, it’s a big loss for the rider and the horse. I think you shouldn’t buy an OTTB and just say, “He’s going to be a hunter”, you need to see what qualities the horse has and develop those.

ET: So are you seeing a resurgence in the popularity of the TB vs the WB in the show ring? As an eventer, I think they have always been the base of our sport, but seem to have fallen out of fashion a bit more in your world.

KW: There are so many more opportunities for TB’s in the show ring these days. The Warmblood is still en vogue, but the really top horses we see now have a lot of blood, and the TB is the foundation of all of that.

The European horses we see are often just mostly Thoroughbreds with a brand. You need a horse with blood now more than ever because a rail is just as detrimental as a time fault when the competition is so close.

These horses need to try harder when they are tired, and not give up, and the ones that don’t give up are the horses with blood. However, the horses with blood aren’t as forgiving of style and technique errors in the riding- they require better riding and more finesse.

ET: So the TB often requires better riding, but are often bought by those with smaller budgets and less access to mainstream training and horse management essentials like veterinary care, good farriers and a good nutritional background.

I can’t even tell you how many times a day I see posts on Facebook groups with questions like, “My OTTB is so skinny and I can’t afford to treat him for ulcers, should I just feed him lots of beet pulp?” and I cringe.  Is this a recipe for disaster?

KW: (laughs) You know that’s another aspect of what this clinic will serve to do. It’s not just to see who can jump what and how high, it’s to assess these horses and their needs. We will look at conformation, movement, talk about farrier and hoof care as it specifically relates to the OTTB, and really give the participants a window to the A Circuit view point on horse management. I see most of the OTTB owners really having a renewed sense of responsibility to the horse and a desire to increase the level of horsemanship. This is what I want to help them achieve.

ET: Ken, thanks so much for all of this info and thank you for offering this opportunity for the owners of the OTTB. Have you had a great response to it so far and tell us exactly how to get involved?

KW: We’ve had an overwhelming response! The Facebook post got over 200 comments in two days, and between that and my phone and email, I am overwhelmed not only by those who wish to participate, but also those that want to offer their services and do something similar in their area.

We’ve had calls from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Arizona etc., and everyone wants a similar clinic! I think it would be great for other trainers, vets and farriers to offer their time and make this happen. Details of the clinic are as follows:


Nov. 22&23,2014

Berkshire Equestrian Center
40 Perry’s Peak Rd
Richmond , MA

Host clinician: Ken Whelihan
[email protected]

“Merrian-Webster defines a “leg up” as a helping hand. It is my hope to offer this helping hand to the tb horses and their owners who have welcomed them as equine partners, competition mounts and future winners”

Stalls $45/ night comes with bedding and access to forks and carts. Stall fees are refundable up to ten days prior to arrival. After that fees will be refunded if stalls are filled off of the waiting list.

Workshop $55/day includes talks on conformation , health management , competition strategies, feeding and transport. Riding sessions with both flat work and jumping exercises with relevance to hunters, equitation, jumpers, combined training and basic dressage.

Inn at Richmond Bed and breakfast. Please call for reservations 413-698-2566
Special rate

Auditors welcome- small donations appreciated.

Deposit required: please send $90 stall fee to BEC at above address to reserve your spot in the workshop.
Please include a description of your horse and riding goals.

See you in November.

Note from Ken to Student

Note from Ken to Student



Pony Power: Tobin Calder & Big Ben at Millbrook

Tobin and Ben after their double clear XC on Friday. Tobin and Ben after their double clear XC on Friday.

Spend any time in the barns at an event, and at some point you’ll be distracted by the cuteness of some junior rider and pony pair. Today, it was 11 year old Tobin Calder and her 14 year old Fjord, Big Ben. This Woodstock, Vermont native is in her first season of competing at Novice level under the tutelage of Hilary Maddaus. She currently sits in tenth place after a double clear cross country round in her large division of 28!

Ben, like Tobin, is a fan of the jumping phases in eventing and proves that Fjords are often fantastic sport ponies.  He was also quite unimpressed by his short photo shoot today, where he decided he’d rather eat hay, also proving that Fjords really love food.

Tobin explained that she found Ben when looking for ponies to lease, and wasn’t specifically looking for a Fjord, but he turned out to be perfect.  He sports a very cute haircut, with V notches cut into his naturally bi-colored mane.


Mollie and Tobin cool Ben out after XC at Millbrook

Mollie and Tobin cool Ben out after XC at Millbrook

Not only is she riding this weekend, but she and her friend Mollie are offering dog walks for just $4.00 per half hour! You can find them in barn 14, or look for their green t-shirts with their names and “Official Event Dog Walker” titles on the back. We wish Tobin, Ben and Mollie the best of luck this weekend!

Go Eventing!

My Mane Man: Adventures in Horse Care

Mr. M after the battle. Mr. M after the battle.

You know how sometimes you just fall in love with a horse, instantly, even when it isn’t yours to ride or own? Well, this is how I felt with “Mr. M” (name changed to protect the guilty) when I met him a few years ago. I just love that big brown Irish boy.

Mr. M, however, probably doesn’t feel the same way about me as I do about him because I’m his groom. He hates being groomed. He especially hates having his mane pulled. The first time I tried it, I simply tied him near his hay in a stall, jumped on a braiding stool and started to pull it. He very gently, yet accurately, cow kicked me off my stool. “Well, OK,” I thought. I put him in the cross ties in the aisle and tried again — this time being VERY aware of his hind legs. He threatened to rear, flung his head in the air, twitched all his neck muscles like there were 4,690 flies on him, and tried to bite me while putting his shoulder into me and knocking me off the stool again. “This boy has skillz,” I thought.  I gave him a swift pop on the shoulder and told him “NO!” He glared. After trying about two more pulls, where he changed his repertoire of subtle attack just enough so that each time, I was knocked off the stool, I tried a Solo Comb. He submitted to the Solo Comb.

For a while, we had reached a truce. He would let me shorten his mane with the solo comb and thin it with scissors. But, of course, since he hates having his mane pulled, he’s also the kind of horse that grows a voluptuously thick mane in a matter of … days. Throughout the competition season, the size of his braids would grow, so I would put more braids in to keep them from becoming golf ball size. It worked for about two years.

Then, Mr. M decided he didn’t so much want to event anymore and became a foxhunter. We let his mane grow in the off season, and since it didn’t have to be braided, I didn’t so much worry about the thickness. Well, I’ve been gone to Aiken for a month, so in Mr. M’s mane growing time, that’s about three years. I returned to find a wild hairy Irish buffalo with a mane that most women could only dream of and a tail that touches the ground. If only he were a western pleasure horse. Yesterday, I ShowSheened his tail and brushed all of Sherwood Forest out of it. It took 40 minutes.

Today, I decided his mane HAD to be pulled. The old-fashioned way. I got permission to drug him a little so he didn’t get upset/I stayed on stool. I gave him the drugs. He looked calm. I put him in the cross ties and brushed through his mane with a hairbrush spritzed with ShowSheen. He glared at me, calmly. I reached down and picked up the silver pulling comb. Before I even touched him with it, he started to quiver and twitch all his neck muscles and shake his head. I glared at him this time. I pulled about three strands of mane. He cow-kicked at me, and I dodged it while staying on my stool. I was winning. I reached up to pull more. He shouldered me off the stool. “Fine then, more drugs.” I scurried in the tack room to draw up the same dose we often give for clipping. He acted insulted while I injected him, but I know Mr. M, and he likes to be dramatic.

I gave him a few minutes to marinate, and when I came back, he was standing with a hind leg propped and his two front feet were set wide apart, his “manhood” was relaxed and his head was being held up by the cross ties. “Ha, winning!” I said to myself. I gleefully hopped back up on my stool and thought about how pretty his mane was going to be. I reached for the silver comb, and he twitched his neck muscles. I could deal with that. I pulled some more. He shook his head/neck EVERY.SINGLE.TIME. I reached up to grab a section of hair and shook it out of my hands. I stopped for a minute, talked to him softly and reasoned with him. He was totally relaxed and swaying in his drunkeness. I reached up again to divide some mane into a section to pull. He threw up his big drunk head, shouldered me off the stool and gave the most uncoordinated cow kick ever. Uncoordinated, but swift. The dude has BIG feet.

I got out the Solo Comb; he wouldn’t have that either. He has had enough drugs to calm a rabid buffalo, but he can somehow rouse himself enough to run through his entire routine of tricks with enough will to make it impossible for me to shorten/thin his Irish Wild Mustang/Friesian/Gypsy Vanner mane. I am persistent, mind you. He cannot look like this.

I got out the scissors, held a crop in between my legs after showing it to him, and, finally, he let me at least cut/thin his mane with scissors and thinning scissors. As long as he doesn’t need to be braided, ever, we are going to be OK, Mr. M. and me. After his buffalo dose of drugs wears off, we are going on a hack to talk about his behavior and enjoy some 19-degree sunshine.

Horsemanship Resolutions

A small selection of favorites!

One of the coolest things about our sport, or any horse sport, is that you are never finished learning. I learn something new every day it seems. Sadly, over the years, I have seen the ways of good horsemanship often ignored in favor of whatever gets you to the show ring more quickly. This year, my resolution is to constantly improve my horsemanship. Let’s make some resolutions we plan to keep; because we all know giving up coffee/sugar/cheese isn’t going to last long!

Educate and Edit. The internet is an amazing tool for learning, but it’s also a place where anyone with access can write anything they want from their sofa…far from the barn with actual horses. Anything. I once saw a video on how to measure your horse and the girl explained that you measure your horse using your hands and counting from hoof to neck like the itsy bitsy spider. Really?? Then I made a spoof video of it and put it on the internet. See? There are no rules and fact checkers and unlike my mom’s beliefs, everything you hear on the internet isn’t true and Jesus will still love you if you don’t forward this message to 13 people in the next 4 minutes. Judging from the comments on a Facebook post in an OTTB lovers group about how to dress a wound with proud flesh, about 89% of what people post is just wrong and ridiculous. Please, don’t get your Veterinary/horse care advice on Facebook. Call me old fashioned, but I am a believer in books and articles written by actual professionals. So this year, let’s all step away from the “internet forums of misinformation” and crazy Facebook groups and educate ourselves with books and hands- on experience. My Amazon wish list has a long list of horse books that I have either read, borrowed, or want,  and if you want t place to start, here’s a list! (these are tailored to eventers of course)

1.  The Event Groom’s Handbook by Lisa Waltman and Jeanne Kane. Everyone, learn to groom and take care of your horses. Everyone.

2. Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider by James C. Wofford. This is basically the Bible.

3. The BHS Complete Manual of Horse & Stable Management (British Horse Society) by Josephine Batty-Smith. English people know stuff about horses. Read this.

4. How Good Riders Get Good by Denny Emerson. This will inspire you to quit whining and ride.every.day.

5. Common Sense Dressage by Sally O’Connor. I lack common sense when it comes to dressage and I overthink things. Dressage is hard. I like jumping. This book has lots of pictures. It helps me.

6. The USCTA Book of Eventing by Sally O’Connor, Sue Maynard, Jean Hammond, and Pat Marshall. Remember the USCTA? If not. Read this book. If so, read this book.

7. The De Nemethy Method by Bertalan De Nemethy. This is the Bible of equitation over fences and it’s VERY hard to find. I’ve been dying to read this for years. If you have a copy, you are lucky. Read it.

8. Blyth Tait’s Cross-country Clinic: The Ultimate Problem Solving Guide for Riders at All Levels by Blyth Tait. Only read this if you have ever had a problem cross-country at any level on any horse.

9. Grooming to Win by Susan E. Harris. Learn to braid well and preferably not with rubber bands. Sticky-uppy, fluffy and uneven braids are scary. Read this book.

10. Principles of Riding by German National Equestrian Federation. German people know things about dressage and training horses. Also that training scale thing is in here- apparently that’s important.

11. Understanding the Equine Foot by Fran Jurga. This is perhaps one of my very favorites. It’s AMAZING how little most of us know about our horse’s feet and sometimes shocking how little we know about farriers’ techniques etc. and how to tailor our shoeing according to each horse’s needs. That old saying “No hoof, no horse” is not just a wive’s tale. Think about how many times you’ve missed a show/clinic/lesson  due to a hoof issue. Blaming the farrier/mud/footing isn’t helpful. Learning the causes of these problems and how to improve hoof quality is paramount. Also learning to be vigilant about hoof treatments based on your horse’s  feet and learning to properly choose studs is a powerful preventative! Ok, I’m preaching. Read this book. Keep it in your tack box.

That should be enough to get you started! Read books and go Eventing!


Heading South

We're packed and ready! We're packed and ready!

I’m always a little ambivalent about heading South to Aiken for the winter, although this year’s weather has made me less so. As I’ve been crunching through the frozen puddles in the morning and twisting my ankle while stumbling across frozen mud divots in the paddocks to get to the feed buckets, the idea of sand in my shoes and Takosushi in my belly has become more appealing.

I’ve begun the process of organizing trunks for the big move down and making list upon list of things not to forget and items to be ordered beforehand. As head groom, moving 10 horses and all the accoutrements that accompany them is a daunting task. It’s not like I even have to do it alone — I have two riders, a barn manager and two other grooms to help out — but still, I feel very responsible for making sure everything is done, and I tend to get progressively more nervous until we leave.

This is the time of year when I start to freak out if people do things like remove double-ended snaps from my pile of travel buckets instead of from the drawer with extra snaps or stuff show pads in the same drawer as the schooling pads. January seems to me, like a reoccurring pile of Monday mornings, where I always worry if I can get everything done for the day and if this, that or the other is clean, able to be located or in working order.

I weirdly enjoy packing and making sure everything is accounted for and in its place, but the time before I can actually start packing is like purgatory. I start to hoard things and hide things so they don’t get used or lost — freaky, I know. I guess it all stems from my absolutely irrational fear of being unprepared and disorganized. I’m rather calm and collected in emergency situations, and I don’t become histrionic over many things, but if I get somewhere and something that I have put in the trailer is missing, I have to take a deep breath and keep my internal temper tantrums to myself.

I do things like label certain items “show” and certain items “home” in order to INCREASE efficiency and ease of use for everyone. Being labeled “show” would indicate that said item lives in the trailer obviously, but do you know how many times I find the “show” fly spray in the aisle right next to the “home” fly spray? Appalling. These are the things that I find stressful. I sometimes find myself shouting things like “WHY??!!! is the SHOW poultice in the FEED room?!!” and the bustling barn full of grooms and riders suddenly becomes empty as I see people slide into stalls and the tack room to avoid my glare.

I know, in the grand scheme of things, poultice can easily be procured at any show, but it’s just so much easier to put things back where they belong in the first place. So as I storm around the aisles mumbling to myself about why there are Vetwrap wrappers strewn about in the cross ties and why anyone would think it’s ok to put a saddle on a horse with clumps of mud still attached to its hocks, I realize that I’m being monstrous and I cannot expect people to read my mind or take the time to get every piece of dirt off of every single horse.

With that said, I get a little “micromanage-y” about packing for Aiken, but I realize that I’m the one making myself crazy and that my personal expectations of myself and others are sometimes unattainable. I find peace at the end of the day with inspirational quotes  and pictures of baby animals on Pinterest. It’s like the best free therapy ever.


See? Now we feel better. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Two years ago, I nicknamed Aiken the “Pine Tree Gutter.” Please Aikenites, don’t be too insulted; my love affair with my home in Virginia is hard to convey in mere words. I LOVE it, so my opinion of new places is jaded and far from objective. It’s just so “horsey” there. Although I do appreciate no one giving me strange looks when I parallel park a dually in downtown, sometimes at the end of the day I just need to feel like a girly human that’s not covered in horse hair and perpetually wearing boots.

I am also not super fond of communal living. Call me bratty, but I really like having my own space to recharge, and I don’t like sharing bathrooms and I wake up VERY easily, so I’m just better off alone. Everyone else chit chats about Aiken being an “adventure” and being like horse camp, and it will be so fun with the game nights and the karaoke nights and the early mornings. Meanwhile, I’m concerned about the thread count on the sheets in our living quarters and that if I hear a whinny in the middle of the night I won’t be able to sleep because I’ll think someone is colicking, or cast or out of hay, etc.

Please don’t get me wrong; I feel VERY lucky to have the opportunity to do what I love and get to travel and be in the epicenter of the eventing community (and at the same barn as the Training Sessions!), but Aiken just overwhelms me a bit. I feel VERY strongly about taking care of the horses that I groom, and our time in Aiken, albeit exciting, is risky for them.

They compete a lot, they are in a new place, they run around in tiny paddocks and freak me out, they roll in sand and sometimes eat it, they get weird skin issues in a new environment, their hay is different, they get blanket rubs, their feet get weird/different from the sandy dry ground, they are in stalls more, they travel a lot, their feeding schedule is disrupted, they get rubs from cross-country boots, they might stud themselves, there might be a tornado … the list goes on.

These are the things I think about all day every day in Aiken while trying to maintain some sense of routine for them and myself. I’m like a baby Thoroughbred — I like routine at the barn; it’s comfortable and feels safe. I feel prepared.

So I’ve decided that this year it will be different. I’m excited to go to Aiken! It’s warm, and I have managed to whine my way into having my very own living quarters (a super cool vintage Airstream trailer no less!). I am training myself to be OK with knowing that all I can do is my best for the horses. I cannot control their every move, I cannot prevent anything bad from ever happening to them and I cannot schedule myself into a frenzy.

I’m using this year as a learning year and a character-building year. I’m going to be reasonable, and I’m not going to micromanage. I’m going to be flexible, and I’m going to continue to always do what’s best for the horses without having tiny internal panic attacks (unless you remove snaps from my travel buckets — that’s NEVER OK). I’m going to be efficient, yet relaxed.

By March 1, I will be be calling Aiken “Pine Tree Paradise.” I will be OK if the show poultice is in the feed room. If you see me at TakoSushi, drinking alone and inhaling tempura asparagus, please remind me of this post. I’m depending on you EN; help me be normal in Aiken.

Now That’s REAL Horsepower

Move over winter and modern technology! Here’s further proof that horses are STILL the best, in every way.

From Jalopnik.com:

Joel Appleman was driving to work in Central Pennsylvania when he came upon an Amish horse team pulling a tanker truck safely out of the snow. Fortunately, he had his camera and captured the conquest of old technology over new.

What’s the Rush?

Diagram showing growth in young horse forelimb. Source: americashorsedaily.com

How many of us have ever been at a show or clinic and gasped or sighed as we see a rider struggle to get a young, seemingly terrified, physically immature horse around a jump course or through a difficult dressage test? I would venture to guess that at some point, some of us may even have been that rider, relentlessly pushing a young talented horse to realize its potential, not wanting to see that although talented, the animal just wasn’t ready. There seems to be this sort of unspoken, secret rush to get a great horse up the levels in eventing, but why? Are we doing what’s best for the horses?

The first time I saw Roy, he was fresh off the plane from Ireland. Almost black, rangy, and tall with an arrogant look about him. I tried to fly spray him, and he acted like I was coming at him with knives, then I scratched his forehead and led him out to his paddock; he tried to nip me on the arm the whole way there. Yep. Irish. I didn’t see him go under saddle until a few days later, but it was then that I understood why he was here. He was special, he was fancy, and he was brave — and he knew it.

Being nearly 17 hands as a 4 year old and as talented as he was might prove to be a bit of a temptation for some riders, as he could hop around a Prelim course looking bored at you, like you were making him spend his day doing cross rail gymnastics. Tempting yes, but his owner/rider Lucia Strini knew he was still growing. Between looking at his x-rays and his hind end being a good two inches above his withers, we all knew he wasn’t finished growing, and it wasn’t worth ruining his huge, yet fragile body just because he could probably be competitive at a CCI* in his 5-year-old year.

This made me glad to be a part of his life. A year later, he’s now probably pushing 17.1 hands and, thank goodness, his front end has caught up with his towering hind end. He no longer looks like an overgrown foal. He’s huge, and he’s beautiful, and he’s still fancy and talented and arrogant, and he knows it. The cool thing is he’s still going Training level, and he might just turn out to be Lucia’s first four-star horse because she’s giving him the chance to grow up physically and mentally and make each new experience a good one.

Roy competing this fall at MCTA and looking much more mature. Photo used with permission from GRC Photo.

When I think about Roy’s story and about all the things I see in our sport, I wished that his experience here would be the norm, rather than the exception to the rule. He won’t have navicular changes when he’s 9 or so much “jewelry” on his legs that you’d think he was put into race training as a 2 year old. He might not have gone to Fair Hill or Rolex yet either, but he’s more likely to be sound and competitive when he’s 15, and that’s what’s best for the horse. To be responsible riders and owners, we have to consider each horse as an individual. Sure, there are some horses that are physically and mentally mature and ready to go Intermediate at 6, but the majority are not.

After discussing this issue Dr. Keith Brady, a veterinarian at Old Dominion Equine in Keswick, Va., he outlined for me the things he takes into consideration when vetting a young horse and assessing physical maturity, therefore assessing suitability to be put into full training for competition. I also found an article written by Dr. Deb Bennett to be especially enlightening, which you can see here.

1. Radiographs: Race trainers often x-ray the distal radial radial physis (growth plate at bottom of radius) to see that it’s closed before breezing a 2- or 3-year-old for the first time. It’s of utmost importance that this growth plate is closed/fused before young horses are asked to gallop and jump. A simple x-ray is a wise choice for event riders/owners as well when starting the young horse. The “average” horse’s radial physis (growth plate) is closed early in their 3-year-old year, but this isn’t a license to put them into full time training.

Research shows that most of the growth plates above the distal radial physis remain unfused, especially the ones found in the horse’s spine. Since the spine coordinates all limbs — and is especially responsible for controlling the horses ability to gallop over undulating terrain —  it would seem wise to wait for a horse to be more physically mature before a full training schedule is initiated. In addition, their soft tissues, tendons and ligaments are still fragile and should be strengthened slowly, carefully and methodically as their workload is gradually increased.

2. Conformation: As any horse person knows, lots of horses look “adolescent” for a while, even into their 4- and 5-year-old year. The young horse may look long-legged or narrow in relation to their height, like an “overgrown” foal. They may be croup high and/or have a less prominent wither — all signs that they aren’t physically mature. When they look unbalanced, they will most likely feel unbalanced under saddle. Unfortunately, schooling/showing them relentlessly will not often help the horse become more balanced; sometimes, time to grow is the only effective training tool.

3. Size: The taller and larger young horses are, the more likely they are to injure themselves as youngsters. Although this may seem to be a gross generalization, it also rings true for big-boned and tall humans, as well as large breed dogs. Whether it is due to selective breeding for size in the equine and canine species or just because longer bones (such as cannons in the horse) are more fragile than their compact counterparts, it seems that nature is often unkind to those that grow quickly into large specimens. “Healthy, average males and females do not fully mature until they are 6, but tall, long-necked horses may take even longer than that,” Dr. Deb Bennett explains.

The responsibility of starting young horses at the correct time and not moving them up the levels too quickly ultimately lies with the riders and owners. Taking a long look at each animal and considering many factors, like those listed above, is critical for future success and soundness. It’s quite understandable to be excited about the exceptional young horse and want to realize the time and monetary investment you’ve made as a rider/owner, but a conservative start often brings the best returns over the years. There are reasons for the minimum age requirements in competitions, and making secretarial “mistakes” on entries and passports regarding age is just sickening.

Pushing young horses beyond their physical limits just because they can do it is a slippery slope. A cow can jump a four-foot fence from a stand still, so making your super talented 4 year old school Intermediate questions just because he can isn’t really accomplishing that much for him in the long run. Making him hurt or making him answer questions he’s not ready to answer for the sake of winning ribbons is NOT what eventing is about. Careful consideration of each young horse as an individual in your program is a major building block in the foundation of their training and your reputation as a horseman. The horse is, and should always be, the focus.

Dismounting from my soap box 😉 Go eventing.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Custom Phone and Tablet Covers

‘Tis the season to have absolutely no idea what to get any of your friends or family, for the umpteenth year in a row. Every once in a while you find the perfect present, but especially for horsey friends, the pressure is on. Obviously you’ll be purchasing something horse-related, but does it have to be pink and have a fat pony on it? We here at Eventing Nation say NAY! That’s why this holiday season each one of our impressive staff writers is picking one unique, amazing, thoughtful and clever horsey gift to help you along during this time of stress. Happy holidays!

Monogrammed iPad cover with equestrian design by Nico and Lala

I generally take very good care of things that are important to me, especially when those things are expensive. I have painstakingly hand-mended horse blankets and refused to let my saddles be laid on the ground, but I am VERY good at breaking phones, laptops and generally anything technology related.

Have you ever tried to explain to a cell phone repair person what exactly Magic Cushion is and why it’s stuck in the microphone of your cell phone? I have, and can unfortunately confirm that Magic Cushion doesn’t provide healing and comforting effects to a Samsung. I have shattered two iPhones, one Samsung Galaxy S3, and broken the charging port and mouse pad touch screen on my laptop — all in 2013.

Sadly, three-fourths of these were directly horse lifestyle related. I have removed my phone from a horse’s mouth (he got a little curious about what was in the cup holder of my chair while I was icing him), successfully used the rice/oven method to revive an iPhone that went swimming in a water bucket, used my cat-like reflexes to catch a phone as it fell out of my back pocket and ALMOST into the cavernous abyss of a porta potty, and found out that you can use the gator and another cell phone at night in order to find it in a field of tall grass.

Those were the success stories, but the casualties are expensive and frustrating. When I call my mom and ask for the family phone numbers AGAIN because I’ve lost all of my phone contacts, she encourages me to keep my devices in a “safe place,” but I can’t find one. Tragedy always finds my electronic devices first.

With that said, I am a connoisseur of protective cases and coverings. While I am 100 percent certain that I am not the only person who understands the #horsegirlproblems and anecdotes provided above, I am not sure that all of our horse-loving friends know that we can, in fact, protect our devices while also being fashionable. Win-win. So here are a few options for great holiday gifts for the horse person in your life!

We’ve all seen the “if it stays still long enough, monogram it” craze of the past few years, and it’s always good to personalize your technology. With these options, you can be equestrian themed as well. My first suggestion is the monogrammed iPad covers with bit detailing from Nico and Lala (pictured above at the top of this post). These are available for $70 and can be purchased by clicking here.

Tory Burch iPhone Case with equestrian design

This super cute iPhone case is HARD (i.e. will stand up to being flung out of your pocket and into the arena footing as you get bucked off), and it’s also by Tory Burch (the goddess of jog outfit flats). It also comes in blue/light blue (98 percent of the eventing world’s cross-country colors). Triple Yay! WAIT, it’s on sale here! Quadruple YAY!

Also, there are a myriad of cute cases available from the popular Dapplebay here. And for those of us who are stuck in “my crappy cell phone company is the only one that provides service at the farm but doesn’t carry the iPhone,” land, we take a deep breath, pretend that it’s OK to have an Andriod and customize our cases here at Skinit.com.

Cute Morgan horse custom phone cover from Skinit.com

Please, for the love of phones that work, get a tough case. I have the most sissified, fragile phone on earth, the Samsung Galaxy S3, and I’m stuck with it for 1.2 more years. On the bright side, you can fully customize the artwork on your case on Skinit.com and even upload your own photos, which I would suggest, since entering the keyword “horse” just brings up images of rearing mustangs. Ew. I chose the Cargo case to customize and put a cool cross-country pic of me and my horse on it; it was quite user friendly to do so!

In conclusion, help a horse person out this season by helping protect our electronic devices. We like practical gifts, especially when they are also cute, and we can probably tell you how many show entry fees we’ve had to spend this past year replacing broken phones (TWO).

Happy Holidays! Go Eventing!

What the Fox Says

William Fox-Pitt very charmingly tells us that all of our breastplates are too tight.

By now you’ve seen tons of pictures and heard numerous accounts of the excellent William Fox-Pitt clinic, kindly hosted by Morningside Training Farm; but some of us still haven’t had enough, and by “some of us,” I mean me. I have been a fan of William Fox-Pitt (henceforth called WFP) for as long as I can remember liking tall men that ride horses.

I have a collection of stalker pictures taken of him each year at Rolex, and my most prized possession is one of him and I, taken outside the Rolex vendor village the year he won. I finally got the nerve to ask him for a picture; well, I got my friend to ask him for a picture because I am rendered speechless in his presence. I am smiling so big in the photo that I have at least seven chins, and I probably frightened him with my inability to utter a simple “thank you.” Instead, just stared at him in awe like a weirdo.

When I heard WFP was coming to Virginia to teach a clinic, the level of rejoicing in my house was perhaps audible for miles. After searching for and finding the application and rider requirements, I was quite disappointed that I couldn’t ride, since I have only competed Novice level this year, even though Tartan has plenty on his resume. (Although, after watching the clinic, we would have been FINE!) And since there wasn’t a price listed, that was a pretty clear indication that I couldn’t afford it. So auditing it was, and there was nothing in the world that would keep me from it.

I offered to groom for a friend who rode in the clinic, and we set off to Morningside at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. We arrived just as the sun was rising over the amazing facility, chatted with the other riders and got ready for the day. Then … he appeared. I may be exaggerating my obsession with WFP just a little, but I have tremendous respect for him, his riding and, most of all, his horsemanship. I call him Eventing Jesus.

Admittedly, I am someone who does what I do because I JUST. LOVE. HORSES, so I am often disillusioned and perturbed when I find out that riders at the top of our sport are poor horsemen or are generally unscrupulous, and, sadly, those people do exist. However, WFP’s horses seem to always be happy in their work, fit and sound, which speaks volumes about the way he runs his yard and riding program. Judging by his record, whatever he does works — hence the obsession with learning more.

He gave a short introduction, asked the riders about their horse (the Advanced level riders went first) and then set out teaching them on the flat. Immediately, I was impressed. Sometimes, I think that extremely talented riders have a very hard time communicating with others about what works for them and their horses because they don’t get why it’s hard for us. WFP, however, is not one of these people. He was extremely intuitive about each pair and took what they said about their horses to heart, while also not letting them make excuses. He had a method for EVERYTHING.

My favorite example of this was dealing with a spooky horse. He explained that you should never punish a spooky horse who is genuinely afraid because it makes them worse. You should also not force them straight up to said spooky object/area right away to “get over it.” I’m guilty of this! He said he had a horse that wouldn’t go near the rail every single day. So every day they worked five meters to the inside, then four, then three, then two, then one — talk about patience and teaching the horse to trust you. His method for object spookiness is “slow low go,” meaning slowly walk the horse near the object while keeping its head low, and go forward gently and positively.

I learned a tremendous amount from auditing the clinic and have lots of homework for winter. But most of all, my obsession with WFP was further cemented because it’s always about the horsemanship and the horse. His goals for training young/green horses are to first and foremost allow the horse the be “who it is” and get it to want to do its job. Particularly in the jumping, the horse needs to learn to look for the next set of flags or standards. It was so refreshing to hear him tell us about difficult young horses and his methods for dealing with green moments.

It was also very nice to know that one of the most successful riders in the world doesn’t go around jumping his Advanced horses to height over courses all the time. As a groom, I’ve seen a lot of lessons and a lot of jump schools with a lot of upper level riders, and I fully believe we (as Americans) sometimes tend to “fry” our horses a bit when preparing for a competition by train-train-training them into the ground. You can accomplish just as much sharpening of the skills over fences by using smaller jumps, skinnies, lots of turns and making sure your horse is adjustable in related distances.

He was not at all “obsessed with getting/seeing the exact distance,” as we so often are; he was obsessed instead with establishing a quality canter, rhythm and being able to ride the stride you have — allowing the horse to learn to choose for itself a bit.  It was also very nice to see him ask the riders to give their horses a break by walking on the buckle — and not just in the clinic, but at home as well.

He was quite specific about the warm-up technique that works for him, and it was beyond refreshing to see riders up off their horses backs for their first canter. Having been ringside in as many warm-ups as I have at events, I could count on one hand how many riders do this.

He had tremendous advice on bit choices, saddle sizes for short-backed horses, using gags or not, and our American obsession with too-tight breastplates. I HATE too tight breastplates, and it’s an epidemic. Stop the madness! Let your horse move its shoulders so that it can jump for you! He even said, “I see all these horses with their front ends hanging; now I know it’s because their breastplates are too tight.” He said it in a charmingly English way, but it’s the truth!

If you can’t fit a fist under any given contact point on the breastplate, then it’s too tight. Breastplates were created to keep a saddle from slipping back when jumping, not as a pretty accessory to be the exclamation point to your very expensive tack ensemble. If you have to have it that tight, then the saddle is the problem. S’il vous plait, call your saddle fitter! Please, don’t get me started on my personal hatred of breastplates in dressage. I wonder what he would’ve said about that silly trend had he seen the riders in dressage tack.

Sadly, the clinic was only two days long, but the knowledge imparted was much longer lasting. We need to do what’s best for our horses and remember that horsemanship is paramount. He didn’t say that everyone has to ride every horse in a snaffle with a plain noseband, but he did tailor his advice and his choices based on the needs of each horse, NOT based on what was trendy, or what the trainers all use or what gets the job done the quickest/harshest way possible.

As eventers, we sometimes rib the hunters for being to trendy in riding style and tack choices, but we are just as guilty in different ways. There just isn’t anything better than riding a happy, engaged horse and feeling your own soft connection and encouraging leg. My goal for winter is to get back to basics and be the best rider and horseman I can be instead of “riding for the show.” I hope you’ll join me in channeling WFP and strengthening American eventing from the ground up.

DIY or Not? Eventing’s Great Debate

Liz Riley riding It's the Truth, her homebred, at Millbrook Advanced. Photo by Brant Gamma.

It’s the same conversation I’ve heard a million times. Both sides are passionate; both sides espouse anecdotes to prove their case, and truth be told, both sides are right. It’s eventing’s great debate: Is it better to produce you own horse and go up through the levels or buy a horse with experience to teach you how to get to the top? Recently on Facebook I saw two advertisements from top event riders, one titled “The way to get a top class event horse is to make it yourself” and the other titled “Want to go straight into the upper levels of eventing?! Buy one who is already made!”

Admittedly, I used to be a card-carrying member of the “DIY” side and would eagerly explain why producing your own horse and developing a relationship with it while learning together was 100 percent the best way to go. After all, could your first blue ribbon at Training level possibly mean as much if you’re riding a horse that has already gone Intermediate with someone else? Having now been a DIYer and currently riding a horse that knows more about eventing than I ever will, I believe the ribbon is just as meaningful, but in a different way.

The DIYers have much to be proud of. There is nothing like getting a young, green horse, training it yourself and ending up with a successful partnership. Whether you are an amateur and owner who wants take the horse up the levels or a pro that buys young horses for resale, the work to be done is immense. There is no better feeling than the first time your horse gleefully and confidently does the drop into the water, or gets that flying change,or gets on the trailer without a fight.

The DIYers are brave and tireless, and it’s really something to see the relationship they have with their horse. I have a great friend, Liz Riley, who was there the day her horse It’s The Truth was born, and now the pair is successfully going Advanced. Talk about being able to pat yourself on the back as a rider/trainer/owner. They have had more than their share of ups and downs, and she’s eaten dirt and dealt with lamenesses and setbacks, but she can look at the horse and tell you exactly what he’s thinking; it’s uncanny.

I, for one, cannot imagine completing my first Advanced cross-country course and knowing that I, alone, am the reason this horse loves his job and is willing to do it for me. Forget the ribbons even; just competing up the levels with my partner and best friend would be thrilling. Unfortunately, the DIYers can fail as well. We have all seen the talented and ambitious young girl get a nice horse off the track with the best of intentions, and then without a credible trainer’s supervision teach the horse to be a nervous and unrideable stopper by gunning it at big fences over and over while “teaching it to jump.”

There are lots of riders who simply cannot afford a “made” horse and have no choice but to be a DIYer, and that is fine; heck, that’s me. What I can say without any reservation is that the best DIYers take their time, have a plan and have a trainer or someone more experienced to help when the lines of communication between horse and rider are cut and they are struggling. Training and competing a young or green horse is never a walk in the park, and I hold the DIYers in great regard when they turn out a nice horse and bring it up through the levels.

On the flip side, there are the die hard “buy experience to get experience” riders. Until recently, I thought this way of thinking was for wusses, rich parents and those trying to make a team. My own naiveté was definitely inhibiting my education as a rider. Like I said before, I had always been a DIYer. I got my first horse when I was 13 and he was 4 what were my parents thinking. I grew up riding school horses, naughty horses and whatever had four legs and a tail that no one else wanted to sit on.

Honestly, I am quite thankful for that education, in that it gave me a sticky seat and a great eye for lameness. However, as I got older and more serious about riding, I realized that it’s incredibly difficult to teach something like proper lateral movements to a young horse when you’ve never sat on a horse that could do them properly. The shoulder-in was one of life’s biggest mysteries to me.  And why were trakehners so dang scary? Oh, because I’d always ridden the ditchy horses; I thought it was always a fight!

Proudly, I can now get almost anything to jump a ditch, but just looking at them once made me break out in a cold sweat. When I decided to “do horses” full time, I started to get the opportunities to sit on nicer and nicer horses, and my riding improved, and I started to get it. Now, I totally understand the parents that will put a second mortgage on their house in order to buy a safe, prelim packer for their novice rider to move up on. Not only is it about safety, it’s about education.

So began my education. Last July, Kiltartan “Tartan” came to me, and in the four months we’ve been together, I’ve learned more about riding than I have … probably ever. He’s 17, he’s grumpy in the cross ties, he loves to try to gently cow kick me when I pick his back feet and nudge me across the aisle when I bridle him, but he lets me kiss his nose and he loves long hacks and he’s the most badass eventer I will probably ever sit on.

He’s done two four-stars, nine three-stars and his USEA record is seven printed pages long. To say that he knows and loves his job would be a gross understatement. The first time I met him, I knew nothing of his record or his awesomeness; I was just feeding him and I fell in love with his bossy personality and his lovely blackness. I rode him once and was even more smitten, but soon after, he was leased out to teach a young girl the ropes at Prelim, and I secretly cried because I was struggling with my current mount and knew I would never get to ride a horse like him.

Somehow, the stars aligned and now he’s mine to ride, and he’s the star of my Instagram feed and keeper of my heart and my confidence in the irons. It’s not all easy though; he’s notoriously tough on the flat, not because it’s hard for him, but because he thinks it’s funny. Sometimes riding a horse that is well-educated makes you really doubt yourself. I am constantly asking myself, “Are my aids correct? Am I doing this right? Why won’t he put his damn head down?”

Sometimes the answer is, “You need to be more efficient and succinct and prepared as a rider.” And sometimes it’s, “He’s being an ass and laughing at me while I bask in a puddle of self doubt.” His bossiness is truly astounding, and it makes him a great teacher and a great eventer because it comes from him being comfortable and confident in who he is. I have had to learn to stop being complacent and not let him get away with being bossy on the flat. But at the same time, I know that if I mess up my turn in show jumping and have to jump at an angle or am a little nervous about the trakehner, he will take care of me.

This has made me a more confident rider and increased the number of tools in my toolbox, so to speak. These are the things you can really only learn on an experienced horse, and I’m glad I’ve been privy to seeing the other side of the coin in this debate. So whether you are a DIYer or not, there is much to learn and much to do. Try with all your might to ride all the horses you can because each one has something to teach us, and we owe it to them to be educated.

Fashion Police at Fair Hill’s First Jog

Libby Head and Sir Rockstar rock the jog lane at their first CCI3*. Photo courtesy of Libby.

The first jog up at Fair Hill began at 1pm Wednesday with the 2* horses and riders presenting first. It was unusually warm and sunny for Fair Hill which may have caught a few people off guard when choosing outfits, but I let it slide. Although a simple glance at the calendar would indicate that it is in fact October and not April, it seems that some people were not only gauging their horse’s readiness for Rolex, but also giving their spring attire a practice run. As usual, there were some dangerously short skirts paired with super pale bare legs, and some very questionable cankle-causing bootie choices, but overall, I didn’t feel the need to forcibly remove anyone from the warm-up area to go and change. Well, maybe one person. Sadly, my photographs from today died with an old memory card and I have NOTHING to offer you. The fashion police is saddened and embarrassed by losing the evidence, but promises to carefully document the Sunday jog fashions.

On a positive note, my personal favorite of the day was a simple, flattering and seasonally appropriate outfit worn by Libby Head while presenting Sir Rockstar in her first CCI3*. She wore a black blazer fitted blazer open in the front, with a lovely teal scarf that was tied in a cute knot where the fringed ends fell just below her waist line. Under the scarf and blazer was a barely off-white lace top that skimmed her hips and peeked from under the hem of the blazer. One of my favorite details was the bright orange zipper on the back of the blouse that made it contemporary and fun, where it could have looked too formal. Her bottom half was monochromatic and flattering. Black leggings and beautiful equestrian inspired black leather Burberry dress boots, fitted through the ankle but wider at the top than we would wear when riding. I definitely did a double take, wondering if they were vintage. Her lovely dark bay horse was shiny and and well presented, and her outfit complemented them both. I asked her later about her ensemble and she told me that she got inspired by searching Pinterest when she should have been paying attention in class and shopped for pieces as well as borrowing from friends. Really, choosing a jog outfit is equally as important as higher education, so we at the fashion police give her an A+.

Like I said, my photos were lost and I had to beg Libby for a snapshot. Although you can’t see any of the details from the outfit, you get the overall idea of their cute and Fair Hill appropriate attire.

Jog Tips from the Fair Hill Fashion Police

Stilettos — appropriate footwear for a jog or a good way to break an ankle? Photo by Julia Rau.

We’ve arrived at Fair Hill, and all five ponies are settled in and cozy in their stalls.  I, for one, am looking forward to the best part of any CCI event — the jogs! The first jog is this afternoon, and I’ll be bringing you updates after each jog, but first I need to let you in on a little secret (unless we are Facebook friends; then it’s no secret). Although I may be inconspicuously dressed as just a groom in jeans stained with horse saliva; a free sponsor shirt with holes in it; a makeup-free face; and a pony tail that looks like it had an epic battle with a hay bale, bran mash and a herd of rats, don’t be fooled, my friends. Underneath all that is my clean, shiny, sparkly badge — the badge of the Jog Fashion Police.

What? How do you get to be a member of the Jog Fashion Police, you ask? It’s easy! You just need naturally impeccable taste attend a ton of horse shows, watch people make the same fashion mistakes over and over again, grow tired of seeing beautiful horses overshadowed by bad outfits and unanimously vote yourself in as a member. Then your “tastefully” sparkly badge arrives — because you had it custom made on Etsy — and your mission begins. The mission is simple: rid the world of bad jog outfits and help horse girls everywhere look like real girls, even if it’s just down a jog strip for 30 seconds.

Eventers are athletes, with kickin’ bods and an unmatched work ethic. The jog is your chance to not only show off your lovely, fit partner and probable best friend, but also to represent your sport and show respect to the tradition of presenting in hand by complementing the animal. Eventing needs good press, and I have nightmares about jog pics showing up in mainstream media. So use that work ethic that we all have by taking the time to find an appropriate, flattering and seasonal jog outfit. We all make mistakes with fashion once in a while (see my perm in sixth grade for a fabulous example), but for those of you that are repeat offenders, here are the top five questions to ask yourself before you head down that jog strip:

1. Does this outfit fit me and cover all of the body parts that I wouldn’t show to the general public? This one is easy, folks. Look in the mirror. Is it too tight? Too loose? Does it cover the three B’s? Those would be boobs, belly and butt. Would you wear it in front of your grandmother’s bridge club? If the answer to that last one is no, then start over. We want you to be stylish, yet tasteful. The jog is NOT your personal runway, so let’s stick to the more ready-to-wear styles.

2. Are people looking at me or my horse? The answer here should be both. Your horse is of course clean, shiny, braided and exuding athleticism, hopefully in an obedient manner. You should complement your horse. Don’t overpower the look of your horse with anything super “loud.” Leave the chevron-patterned maxi skirt at home, no matter how many times Pinterest tells you it’s OK to wear it. By all means, throw a little pop of color in here or there to show off the coat color of your horse, but, if your horse is chestnut, don’t wear red — ever. See? Easy!

3. If I were to hand someone a bag of peanuts and a tiny soda right now, would they accept it? Listen, I’m all for tailored and conservative, and I am fully aware that a monochromatic color palette is slimming, but if you look like you could be dragging a suitcase down the aisle 0f a plane, just say no. Also, just say no to hats and 99 percent of feathered hair pieces. The 2012 Olympic jog outfits are a shining example of what to say no to.

4. Should I wear this super cute flowing, short, springy, awesome little sundress? NO. Here’s why. First of all, your legs are too pale; they are at least three shades lighter than your arms — admit it. If it looks like your legs could belong to another human other than you, that means no dresses. “But I’ll wear hose!” No. No one wears hose. This isn’t 1998 — throw them away. “But I’ll wear tights!” Maybe. Are they the right color? Dark-colored tights don’t look cute under springy, flowing sundresses, and pink tights don’t belong on a jog strip.

“What about the super cool patterned tights that are everywhere?” Probably not. From you to your full-length mirror, those cute Ikat patterned tights look presh, but from you to the far away cameraman on the jog strip, it looks like you have a skin disease. You have to look OK from far away too. As for flowing and short dresses, this is the worst possible combination. Have you ever seen that iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe in the white dress? Please don’t subject us to that on the jog strip. Running creates wind, which is not a match for flowing, and short makes it even worse. The ground jury doesn’t want to inspect your private parts, and neither do we.

5. Can I run in this? Please, for the sake of puppies and kitties and tiny children everywhere, practice this. I know you can jog your horse up for the vet at home just fine while wearing tennis shoes and breeches, but can you do it in your jog outfit and the shoes your are planning on wearing? Consider the footwear. When you put your outfit together, run a few steps. Yes? Then add the shoes? Yes? I cannot even tell you how many upper-level riders look absolutely uncoordinated while flopping down a jog strip with inappropriate footwear. If you can pick a bit that will stop a horse from pulling you around cross country, then you can pick footwear. Trust me.

Please do not choose shoes that are heavy and/or make sounds like you were perhaps wearing scuba flippers while running. Please do not wear stilettos — ever. In fact, the footing almost never permits wearing tiny, pointy heels of any type, and unless you can run in them as well as a “woman of the night” can run from the police, then don’t try it. Flats are super cute, but make sure they stay on; it’s never fun to have to go back and dig your Tory’s out of the mud.

And now for a quick note on makeup, hair and accessories:

Makeup: Wear some. We know that you are naturally pretty, but please put on some eyeliner and mascara for the jog. Do it for the photos! If you need help with this and eyeliner scares you, just walk around the barn yelling my name. I always have time for eyeliner.

Hair: Tame it. It should not be flowing across your face as you jog or look unbrushed, unkempt, recently helmeted or Rastafarian (unless you actually are). Putting your hair up — or at least half up — is best.

Accessories: We all know scarves are all the rage, but pin them down. You need not look like a masked robber as you jog or spook your horse as said scarf flies off your neck.

When you’ve asked yourself these questions, practiced running, and received approval from your BFF and your grandmother’s bridge club, then by all means, jog away. Just remember, I may look super busy tending to the horses I care for, but my badge is in my bag next to the brushes, towels and hoof polish. Don’t make me use it.

On the Tack Room Couch with Lainey Ashker

Lainey and Love Birds, Barney and Elmo

Who doesn’t have one? That old, sort of raggedy couch that perpetually smells like a wet dog and is covered in clean laundry and wraps to be rolled, boots that don’t match and spurs without a mate. Some days we end our day there, cleaning tack and hiding from one more minute out in the sun with the bugs or waiting for the vet, waiting for the farrier to finish, waiting for it to be cold enough to put blankets on. We lament over the things we miss on the weekends because of a horse show, or having to stay home from the show because our horse has a bounding digital pulse and is jogging up NQR two days before we leave. We talk about boyfriends and husbands and whether or not babies are more trouble than puppies. We whine to each other because there’s no chocolate anywhere in the whole barn and all the sweet tea is gone, and we celebrate the great dressage school we had that day, or that we finally jumped the big trekhener without getting nervous. We laugh and cry and gossip. Some things said on the tack room couch, should never leave the room, but this series is intended to get EN readers a personal look into the lives of riders and other horse professionals both in and out of the saddle. Casual and honest interviews, just like those familiar conversations you have on the tack room couch.

On the Tack Room Couch with Laine Ashker, four-star rider based in Central Virginia.

EHT: To say you’ve had an incredible season would be a bit of an understatement. From winning Millbrook Advanced to winning the AECs with Al is amazing. Not to mention the talented youngsters you have coming along. We at EN are unsure how it is you get to be such a rockstar, so we are here to find out. First and foremost, how do you spell your first name? Why does the Y seem optional?

LEA: (laughs) That’s a great question actually, funny story: So I was born and raised in California, and my name is Laine (pronounced Lane) Evion Ashker. Well, when I was a kid, a lot of the other kids on the bus, to make fun of me, named me Lame-O Laine. And so, that was kind of sad. So when I moved out East, I found that a lot of people had names like Mary Claire or Suzy Beth or whatever, and everyone started calling me Laine E, because it’s Laine Evion, so I added the “Y” at the end because I like the name Lainey. So my name is L-A-I-N-E and the Y is optional.

EHT: So the Y can be silent…

LEA: Yes, the Y is silent.

EHT: So take us through the horses in your barn right now. Who are they and what are they doing?

LEA: So number one is obviously Al, Anthony Patch. He’s a 1999 OTTB–I’ve had him since he was a four year old. He came off the West Virginia Charlestown race track and the breeder is Tom Swales out of New Jersey. Al’s had a great season thus far, and I was hoping to get the grant to go to Pau, but that didn’t work out, and probably for the better, because I’m saving his legs and he’ll start back up in Florida next year and hopefully go kick some butt at Rolex–with the WEG obviously being in mind.

Then, I have Raptor Force “Rappy,” which started out as a sale horse–well, he’s still a sale horse, he’s another OTTB. My mom would kill me for saying this, but I’m not in a huge hurry to sell him because I think he can be an upper-level horse. He will be much more competitive in a few years. His dressage is going to take longer to produce.

EHT: (interrupts) He’s MINE.

LEA: Ha ha, he’s as cute and as talented thankfully as he looks, and he’s a six year old raced and bred by Rhoda Marsh out in California. My mom found him, he’s only been competing a year and he’s done six double clear prelims, so he’s moved up quite a bit. He’s going to do Maryland this weekend and I was originally going to do the 1* this fall, but I said you know what? His flat needs some work and he had 26 starts on the track so he’s not really had a break yet so we are going to give him a longer break to get to be a horse.

Then I’ve got another one called Judgemental, we call her “Pinto Bean” and she’s owned by Sarah Greenway. She is one of my warmbloods, she’s Dutch/TB and she’s by Judgement, and she’s doing training, hoping to move up to prelim, very talented, quirky little mare, and she’s spotted so that’s fun and adds a little flair!

Then there’s my awesome Andalusian dressage horse Santiago del Escarvido aka “Diego” “Fuegs” “el Fuego” etc who competes at 4th level with hopes of Prix Saint George next year and qualifying for Devon!

And I’ve got my prized possession, Calling all Comets, who’s our homebred. He’s a four year old, so my mom sent him out to me in late June and he already did his first training level double clear, at Richland of all places, so that was his fourth event ever. He has the rest of the year off to be a baby and just do flatwork. He’s super exciting and  it’s really special that we bred a thoroughbred and he’s Jockey Club registered and we just love him. He’s got the warmblood movement, he’s a brat on the ground, a total brat, but it works for us because he’s a bit cocky and he’s the total package. He’s going to be the next one to fill Al’s shoes. I’m really excited about him.

I’m also competing Lauren Sherill’s, who’s my working student/groom/right hand person/right arm/everything, mare called Time of my Life, another OTTB. She’s a six year old with hopes of moving up to prelim soon. We are just getting some experience under her belt, while Lauren gets some experience too on one of my horses I competed called Jolly Good Sport, who Plain Dealing had, and he competed prelim last year. We are also currently training to maintain our title in the PRO bareback jumping at Fair Hill. We had our first practice today and I almost fell off at the trot. So that was good. I was like, “Oh, we’re off to a great start, let’s just go to canter.” (laughs)