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Emily Nash


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Iowa Equestrian Community Reeling from Derecho Wind Damage

On Monday, Aug 10th, Iowans from Council Bluffs to Davenport received a Severe Thunderstorm Warning. Not an uncommon occurrence in the state of Iowa, but none of us knew what we were really facing. After weathering the storm for almost two hours, it became clear that this was no thunderstorm. Days later, we discovered that we were hit with what’s called a Derecho, or a “long-lived straight-line windstorm that is part of a line of powerful thunderstorms,” according to The Gazette. Sustained winds of 100+ mph in some areas decimated homes, barns, and crops. Nearly every home in the city of Cedar Rapids has damage of some kind. To learn more about the weather even itself, please see one of the articles posted below.

In addition to the damage to homes and businesses, the equestrian facilities in Central and Eastern Iowa were hit hard. Not only did most facilities have to operate without power for almost a week, meaning no water for most, but the damage to barns and buildings is widespread, extensive and heart-breaking. In addition to building damage, there is other facility damage such as downed trees, broken windows, jump damage, etc. While most barn owners I’ve spoken to are rolling up their sleeves and digging in, long insurance processes and a backup of building crews will keep these facilities from operating as normal for many months. At the time of writing, I had no reports of horse fatality, though I have heard of at least one serious injury.

Kari Washburn’s horse, Twist, was unfortunately hit by a lightning strike during the storm. He was found by the barn owner under a fence, covered in mud and flies. They thought Twist was already gone when he started moving a bit. He was unable to use his legs at all when he finally stood up. Due to downed trees, the local vet had to drive through a field in order to get to the injured horse. According to Washburn, “Twist is improving beautifully. He is very beat up and sore. We won’t know for a while if there will be any permanent damage. But all that matters is that my sweet boy is alive and functioning.” I had the pleasure of watching Washburn and Twist ride in a dressage clinic just a few weeks ago.

Damage at Tamarack Stables.

Tammy Lisi, owner of Tamarack Stables in Mechanicsville, IA, lost most of her property, including extensive damage to her home. Her covered arena collapsed, the dairy stall barn lost its entire hayloft and the storage barn was damaged to the point of levelling. Lisi recounted her experience immediately after the storm: “Came upstairs to the arena not having a roof, and, to my horror, the dairy barn where the horses are, not having a roof. Hay and debris is everywhere. Ran out in the wind and rain. Zeak (my husband’s horse) screams from his stall and I can see his face because the door is missing. He is fine! The chickens are all there and fine. The horses are wet, upset and fine. Then I check the outside horses. They are all fine. Huddling together and scared but fine.”

Damage at Tamarack Stables.

Indoor Arena at Tamarack Stables.

The horses on her property were miraculously unharmed, though Lisi stated her gratitude that the horses were not in the stalls in the covered barn when the storm hit. Lisi’s facility, while small, is one of the premier hosts to dressage shows in our little slice of Eastern Iowa. For years, Tamarack has hosted 3-4 schooling dressage shows in their beautiful outdoor arena. 2019 was the inaugural year for The Tamarack Classic, a recognized show. The 2020 Tamarack Classic was scheduled for August 15th, but had to be cancelled due to the damage. Volunteers have worked tirelessly over the past week to clean up debris and start the process of rebuilding. A Go Fund Me has been set up for Tamarack’s rebuilding process — you can donate here. We look forward to showing there again next year!

Indoor Arena at Northern Lights Stable.

Many boarding and training facilities were also hit. Deb Johnson’s Northern Lights Farm in Mount Vernon, IA, suffered the collapse of their indoor arena, which is less than five years old. Northern Lights has really boomed as a training facility in the last few years, hosting regular clinics with FEI Dressage Trainer Anne Cizaldo. Deb is grateful for property insurance and wanted to stress the importance of proper insurance!

Indoor Arena at Boulder Creek Equestrian Center.

Boulder Creek Equestrian Center in Marion, IA, a multi-discipline boarding and training facility, also had their indoor arena roof collapse, along with losing parts of their stall barn roof.

Field Day Eventing’s indoor arena.

Field Day Eventing’s indoor arena.

Camie Stockhausen’s Field Day eventing facility in Cambridge, IA, was also hit. Her covered arena was damaged, including a collapsed wall and torn cover. Stockhausen is an ICP Certified Eventing Instructor that trains and coaches throughout the Des Moines/Ames area of Iowa. She even recently made the trek to The Event at Rebecca Farms.

Damage at Maffitt Lake Equestrian Center.

Maffitt Lake Equestrian Center in Cummings, IA, had just wrapped up its Two Rivers Summer Festival the day prior. They would have had over 120 horses on the property when the storm hit had the festival still been running. Maffitt Lake runs recognized USHJA, recognized USDF and a strong lineup of schooling shows throughout the year. The facility had damage to temporary stabling and barns throughout the property.

Catalpa Corner Horse Park, former home to the USEA Area IV Event, was lucky to come out with little to no damage to barns or jumps, but has a significant number of trees down and will have to clear the wooded area for the time being of any jumps.

Even the barn I board my own horse at, Oak Meadow Farm in Solon, IA, is dealing with the aftermath. While we were luckier than most, we had a shelter flip onto its top, several large trees down, including a few in our outdoor arena, damaged to fencing throughout the property and had to operate with no electricity or on-property water for almost a full week. Our barn was spared as was our indoor arena.

The majority of the cleanup has come from volunteer efforts, long days of hauling toppled trees, hauling water to horses, cleaning up building damage, etc. Lisi has been appreciative of the help: “The horse community is the best. They showed up and helped us in every way possible. From helping us cancel our USDF/USEF Level 1 dressage show which was supposed to be six days later, to making sure we got a dumpster and scrap metal picked up. They are making sure we have cold water, food, and toilet paper.”

While Iowa is not the epicenter of equestrian sports by a long shot, we have a strong and active group of riders in the area. Dedicated, hard-working, talented athletes that want nothing more than to continue their riding, training and showing. We would appreciate any support, even in the form of good vibes, for our community. Kick on, Iowa.

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Clinic Report: A Mark Todd Masterclass in Dublin

Looking out on course at the Dublin Horse Show. Photo courtesy of Emily Nash.

It was pure coincidence that the historic Dublin Horse Show was set to begin that day after I arrived in Dublin for vacation. Really and truly coincidence. That didn’t keep me from enjoying this world-renowned event to the fullest. The Royal Dublin Society is an absolutely incredible venue. Beautiful main arena, with countless other competition and warmup arenas, beautiful stone stabling, and don’t get me started on the shopping (eat your heart out Land Rover Kentucky!).

Photo courtesy of Emily Nash.

On Friday, I was lucky enough to attend a master class with none other than Sir Mark Todd. Todd also judged the Young Event Horse Series (YES) classes the day prior. The masterclass was well-attended and, in true Irish fashion, included a few rain showers. This didn’t slow our clinician down as he donned another coat and an umbrella and kept at it.

The participants in the masterclass included two competitors from the Junior/Young Rider YES class on the previous day: Kate Derwin on the 6-year old gelding Fernhill Candy Crush, owned by Carol Gee, and Lucy Mcilroy on the 6-year old mare Imperial Black Pearl, owned by Angela Mcilroy.

Todd started the one-hour masterclass with a brief discussion of the key components of event riding: rhythm, balance, control, accuracy and obedience. The lesson focused on exercises to build cross country skills, especially for the young horse, in an arena. The warmup on the flat was heavily emphasized, even within such a short time frame. He emphasized the importance of transitions in the flat warmup to really get the horse working forward from the leg to the hand. If the horse is resistant, then just keep repeating until they relax.

At the canter, the riders were asked to perform transitions within the canter in two-point. He had riders utilize circles when they needed help balancing the canter. In the downward transitions he asked riders to, first, add leg, then sit up and finally close the hand (if needed). He wanted to make it clear that adding leg prior to the downward is vital to keep the horse forward and balanced.

The jumping portion started with a focus on straightness and starting to build in skills needed later on in the lesson. Riders started with a low bounce and then circling over a vertical constructed from three skinny panels.

Derwin’s horse Fernhill Candy Crush had a tendency to get a little long in front and take the reins, which Todd harped on a little bit, asking her to really focus on keeping him up in the front and not allow him to snatch the reins. Later on, he suggested landing from a fence and thinking that you had a 1.60m oxer three strides ahead so you have to sit up and ride right away. He also suggested that the rider be diligent about always doing a well-planned downward transition after completing an exercise.

Riders then worked on some skinnier fences. The vertical from the previous exercise was slowly made narrower by removing panels. A barrel was also placed on the other end of the arena which the riders were asked to trot. Todd’s theory on skinny fences was to always build confidence in training by making the jumps skinnier gradually, keep the height a little lower, and trotting skinny fences when the horse is still learning. Trotting gives the horse more time to assess the situation and the rider more time to funnel the horse over the fence. He stated that it’s always better to build confidence in the beginning rather than making it too difficult and creating a problem you have to fix.

After this brief warmup and schooling the skinny fences, the riders worked on jumping a two-stride angled line. Todd re-emphasized the importance of straightness on this line, though both horses jumped through beautifully the first time.

Next up was a coffin-type exercise using a water tray with jumps one-stride on either side. The jumps were kept as poles to start, just to make sure the horses felt confident prior to bumping up the height. Todd took this opportunity to discuss cross country position. He reminded riders to have a “strong cross country position” with their weight in the saddle and their leg on going into the coffin exercise the first time, in case the horses looked at the water tray. He also suggested giving the horse a bump with your spur around the corner to let them know something new was coming.

After this, riders put a few lines together, adding the skinny, coffin exercise and two-stride line together with a few bending lines and a corner. The riders and horses made it look easy! Todd commented that part of the reason they made it look so easy was that they kept their horses in such a lovely rhythm all the way around.

Throughout the course work, Todd offered encouragement and some more words of wisdom for the audience:

  • Always ride a little defensive on cross country.
  • Keep the distances a little short when schooling in the arena.
  • It’s always better to get a tight distance to a skinny rather than taking a long spot.
  • It’s harder to ride a skinny without wings, so practice this at home. This way, when you’re at an event and the skinny has flags, it seems easier to the horse.
  • There’s no such thing as a wrong distance on a bending line.
  • If they don’t get the right answer, just repeat. Don’t tell them off, just correct them.

Overall, it was an incredible experience. The riders and horses did a lovely job and really showed off the quality training and breeding in Ireland. One of the most interesting observations I made was the Dublin Horse Show seemed to welcome spectators from all around the country, both equestrians and otherwise. The whole event was really geared towards the general public, obvious from some of the vendors and the classes offered. If you ever have the chance to attend the Dublin Horse Show at the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, I encourage you to do so!

Photo courtesy of Emily Nash.